All Mixed Up

Chapter One: "Fire in Space"


Apollo leaned back against the seat on the shuttle and rejoiced silently in being alive, in knowing that Athena and Boxey were alive, and that his father had come through the surgery. For several centares it seemed as though the Cylons were going to succeed in taking the rest of his family from him. His father had a piece of his own battlestar in his heart, and his sister and son were trapped by fire. And that tragedy had been overwhelmed, rendered nearly unimportant by the fact that that fire was threatening the battlestar. And if the Galactica was lost, the Fleet would follow shortly.

But all was well. The fires were out, his family was alive, the battlestar would be brought back to functionality, and the Fleet would survive. And he was alive himself. He looked at Starbuck, slumped as boneless as a felix on the seat next to him, and felt the same too familiar mixture of love and exasperation that the man had been rousing in him for yahrens. When he'd missed his hold and gone floating into space above the wounded Galactica, he'd known there was no time to stop and save him. Tigh had no option but to blow the charges. He would die. He'd resigned himself to it, knowing he'd saved the Fleet, and hoping the willing sacrifice would buy back his family from Death.

And then Starbuck was disobeying orders—again—and joining him, and the two of them had somehow survived the explosion and been picked up. Like the rammet in the thicket, he thought a bit unclearly. Starbuck's actions had somehow made the difference.

Which didn't alter the fact that he'd disobyed his orders. Not to mention that he wasn't the slightest bit religious... "Starbuck, what were you thinking?" he demanded.

Starbuck shrugged. "I told you."

"You know, both of us dying wouldn't have done anybody any good."

"Both of us? Apollo," Starbuck sat upright, staring at him. "What the frack are you thinking?"

"Can't stand to see me go anywhere without you?"

"Yeah, well, I can't. So I stopped you going." He shook his blond head and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Why is it people always think I'm ready to die?"

"Maybe because you're so fracking reckless. What were you thinking, then? We could have both been caught in that explosion."

"But we weren't, you'll notice. Look, Apollo," he said when Apollo raised his eyebrows, "you were drifting. I kicked off. I had momentum. You do remember physics, don't you? Inertia, vacuum, angular velocity... Even crashing into you didn't slow us down enough. I knew we'd be clear."

"And drifting in space," Apollo pointed out, feeling irrationally less happy about Starbuck's unwillingness to die with him than he should have.

"With one very hot rocket jock who happens to want to jump you out there to look for us. Plus, I doubt the rest of Blue, or the Wing for that matter, would have just written us off. We'd have been found. It was a sure thing."

Apollo ignored the reference to Sheba, though it raised his hackles a little, an unfamiliar sensation when dealing with Starbuck. "Like your last seven-eleven system?"

Starbuck just smiled at him. "We were found, right?"

Apollo shook his head. "You took a helluva risk, Starbuck."

"Payoff was worth it." He stretched and changed the subject. "I guess Muffit is good for something after all."

"Looks like it. Thank God Boxey had him with him."

"Thank Salik for paying attention at medical school."

Apollo couldn't quarrel with that.

And then they were coming into the battlestar's one functional landing bay. Apollo was on his feet before they'd set down properly, he was so anxious to get to the Life Center and see his father, to find his family, to believe it.

Sheba was waiting in the landing bay, but Apollo only realized it when he was at the turbolift and realized he'd lost Starbuck. He turned and saw his wingmate talking to her. Starbuck's hand was on her arm, but as Apollo watched he lifted it, gesturing firmly. He was laying down the law about something, which relieved Apollo's mind of the suspiscion that his best friend might be making a move on his girl. Somehow they'd managed to know each other for a long time without that ever happening.

He almost laughed at himself. Somehow? Probably because he'd never had a girl, and if he had, Starbuck wouldn't have the time to go after her, as full as his social calendar was. Besides, the only time Starbuck had expressed a personal opinion about Serina, a real opinion, it had been to say that he was a bit jealous because Apollo was moving on to the next stage. "It's the last time we'll be like we are," he'd said.

And true as that was, still it hadn't stopped them from staying friends, though if Serina had lived it might have been different.

But right now he didn't want to waste time. If Sheba was here instead of the Life Center, if she didn't know why he had to go, he didn't want to talk to her. Not now. But Athena and Adama and Boxey would want Starbuck... "Starbuck!" he called impatiently. "Come on!"

"I'm coming," he called back and with a final word to Sheba he trotted over to the turbolift. "Just saying thanks," he said as the door shut. "Seemed a bit rude to just walk on past."

And of course he was right. "My god, how could I do that?"

"You're a bit distracted," Starbuck said easily. "Focussed on something besides yourself. She understands."

Apollo wondered how true that was, but shelved it for the moment as the door opened (landing bay to Life Center was a non-stop). He headed for the waiting room and realized that Starbuck was lagging. "Starbuck, come on."

"You go ahead; I'll be in in a centon."

"Starbuck, come on. You know Boxey and Theni will want to see you."

"I know, and I'll be there. But right now it's your family and your reunion. I'll be in the way."

"You're not in the way." Apollo shifted his weight impatiently.

"I'm not in the family," Starbuck said with a little smile. "I'll come in in a centon. This is your time. Go on; I'll be right behind."

Apollo shook his head at the other man's intransigence and opened the door. He promptly forgot all about Starbuck as he took in the sight: Adama in the lifepod, blankets draping it to make him more comfortable; Athena and Boxey beside him, she on her knees with her arm around the boy; Boomer and Cassie in the background. He crossed the distance quickly; going to his own knees, he grabbed his son and held the small body tightly, feeling tears on his face and unashamed of them.

"Oh, Boxey," was all he could manage to say. With a laugh that was half a sob he reached for his sister and hugged her without letting go of Boxey and then turned to look at his father.

Adama was still in a lifepod, perhaps, but he was awake, alert, and even half sitting instead of lying down. He smiled at Apollo, and reached for his hand, clasping tightly. "I told you I'd make it through," his father said, adding, "at least I think I did."

Apollo still couldn't manage words. He just held his father and his son tight in his hands and laughed.

Adama nodded. "I hope you'll recommend Boomer for a decoration. He pulled them all through."

Still on his knees Apollo turned to look at his old friend. He let go of Boxey and reached with both hands to take Boomer's in his. "Thank you," he managed, his voice barely more than a whisper, though he'd never meant anything more.

Boomer's lips quirked in an embarrassed little smile and he shrugged a what else? at Apollo. "We did have one casualty, I'm afraid."

Boxey's voice was heartbroken. "Muffy's never coming back, Dad."

Oh, not again, Apollo thought, but before anybody could say anything, Starbuck's cheerful voice rang out from the doorway.

"Wanna bet?"

And then that terminally irritating, totally wonderful, mechanical "Arf, arf," and, to a completely Starbuckian flourish, a blackened, stinky heap of drone dagget was wheeled in on a gurney.

"Muffy!" caroled Boxey.

Apollo picked the boy up and carried him over as Starbuck said, "You be real proud of him, kid. He saved that firefighter's life." He gestured at the man who'd been wheeled in before Muffy. "Dragged him out of a burning compartment just in time."

"So that's why he ran back into the duct," Boomer said.

Boxey looked down on the drone and said, doubtfully, "I'm glad he saved somebody, but he got burned awful badly."

"Don't worry," Apollo reassured him. "Dr. Wilker will fix him up just as good as he was before."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive," Apollo said. He looked up from the tatterdemalion drone to see his sister hugging Starbuck and tugging him over to talk to their father. He couldn't hear what Adama said to him, but the blond blushed and shook his head, so it wasn't hard to guess. For a man who bragged as much as Starbuck did, gratitude embarrassed the pogees out of him. Maybe Adama would get Tigh to write him up for a decoration. Maybe all three of them. He found himself reaching down to rub Muffy's head as if he were alive and decided to rejoin his father.

But before he could say anything Dr. Salik arrived, bearing medical authority like a sword. "That's more than enough, Adama," he said. "I count five visitors here, plus that thing. That's several more than you should have tonight. Plus," he glared at Boomer and Athena, "the two of you, and you too," he added to Boxey, "haven't been checked out yet. I don't care," he overrode their protests, "how you feel. You've been breathing smoke for centares. Get to the waiting room now and check in for a checkup, or I'll put you on report."

"Yes, sir," Boomer said.

"I'll come back, Father," Athena said with dignity.

Apollo bent down so Boxey could kiss Adama's cheek and then did so himself. "I'll be back, too," he promised. "Good night; sleep well."

"I will, now," said Adama. "You, too, son; the morning is soon enough."

Apollo nodded, his eyes feeling full of tears again. When he could trust his voice he said, "Now that there'll be a morning. I love you, Father."

"And I love you, Apollo."

Their gazes held for a moment and then Apollo followed Athena and Boomer out of the critical care unit. He didn't realize Starbuck was still with them until they sat down in the waiting room and the blond settled next to him. "I'll take Boxey if you want to freshen up," he offered.

Apollo blinked at him and then realized he wasn't exactly presenting his usual tough exterior. "Might be a good idea," he said. Starbuck took Boxey onto his own lap and Apollo ruffled the boy's dark hair.

"I'll be right back."

"Okay, Dad." Boxey seemed more okay with his leaving than he was.

Apollo ducked into the turbowash and, after using the facilities while he was there, washed his face. The cool water felt good. He stared into the green eyes looking back at him from the mirror and thought about what had just happened. He'd always been close to his father. Athena was too much younger than he for them to have been close, but they were now, the moreso since Zac and their mother had died. And Boxey... of course he was close to Boxey. But something odd was going on with Starbuck. On the one hand, Starbuck risked his life to save Apollo's, followed him into the waiting room without either of them giving it a thought, felt like part of his family to Apollo. On the other hand, the blond clearly didn't think he was, and yet...

Am I being fair to him? Apollo wondered. He couldn't picture his life without Starbuck, but was there really as much room for him as there had been? He wasn't dating Athena any more, and maybe that's one reason he felt like he no longer belonged at family gatherings. And Sheba: no doubt she was another; Apollo remembered all too clearly how Starbuck had pulled away from him when Serina had entered his life. Just because he panicked at the notion of Starbuck someplace else...

He had to laugh at that. Where else was there for Starbuck to go? And no, he wasn't being fair. Starbuck had his own life to live. Sooner or later he was going to settle down with somebody. Wasn't he? Of course he was, he told himself firmly, ignoring the protest that roused. He had no right to want to keep Starbuck single just so he could have simpler fantasies. He had to laugh at that, too. He'd bet Starbuck's fantasies didn't include how to make sure inconvenient significant others weren't around. He probably just ignored them altogether.

"Apollo?" Starbuck was rapping on the door. "They want to look at Boxey now."

That brought him out of his introspection and the washroom in a hurry. He took his son from Starbuck and carried him into the exam room, telling him not worry.

"I'm not, Dad," the boy said. "I'm not gonna get a shot or anything. Am I?"

"No," the smiling medtech, whose name Apollo couldn't remember, said. "We just need to listen to you breathe to make sure all the smoke is out of you. I'm going to put this on your back, that's all." She listened to his lungs and took his temperature and other vitals. "You're fine, young man," she said.

"Really?" Apollo asked.

"Really, captain. From what I understand, he was on good oxygen almost the whole time."

Of course. Boomer and the others would have made sure Boxey had a mask as long as they could. He picked up his son with another surge of gratitude. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," she said.

Apollo went back out to the waiting room, where Boomer and Athena were still sitting together, and Starbuck was still leaving him room between him and Athena. "Dad? Can we stay till Boomer and Aunt Theni are done?"

"I don't know," he said. "It's pretty late."

"I'm not a bit tired!"

Apollo thought that unlikely. He also thought Boxey would fall asleep soon no matter where he was, so he sat down in the space provided. Soon enough the boy was, indeed, asleep. A few centons after that, Starbuck leaned over and said, "Listen, Apollo. When you get back home, don't forget to call Sheba."

"Don't forget? Was I supposed to?"

"Were you supposed to? No. Should you? Yes."

"You've lost me."

"I know," the blond answered, and then grinned and said, "Look, even Reese could detect that you're interested in her. And she's not running. Call her. Thank her for saving your life. Apologize for not talking to her earlier; remind her about your father. That'll get to her; she understands fathers. And she likes yours."

"Maybe you're right," Apollo conceded. The idea was not without its attractions. And clearly Starbuck had something else in mind for the rest of his own evening. "I will."

"Good," Starbuck said, and leaned back, letting Athena capture Apollo to discuss making sure their father didn't overdo for the next few sectons. If possible. And when they finally left, Boomer headed back to the barracks and Starbuck, reminding them that he hadn't been breathing smoke all day, headed toward the O Club to "remedy that situation. Plus have a bit of ambrosa."

"Good night, Starbuck," Athena said. "Don't get into trouble."

"Me?" he mimed astonishment. "Don't forget what I said, Pol."

And then he was gone. Apollo shifted Boxey slightly in his arms and shook his head. "He never changes," he told his sister.

"No," she nodded, "I think you're right. Poor thing."


"Oh, never mind. I daresay he's perfectly happy, or he would." She smiled at him. "Go home and call Sheba."

"Ganging up on me," he said. But when he got home he did. And found himself inviting her to come over, since the evening was still young, though the day felt like it had lasted forever. And since he wanted someone to talk to. Even if she wasn't exactly his first choice, she was the right choice.

The only choice.


Cassie glanced out across the people waiting to be seen. They'd taken care of the serious cases, mostly firefighters with a handful of others who'd been in the wrong place; all the injured Warriors had been treated while the fire was still raging. The medical staff had triaged the rest and mostly what was left was smoke inhalation, bruises, minor burns—she had to chuckle to herself. Who'd have thought all that studying two sectons ago on burns would have proved so useful so quickly? She wasn't particularly religious but what gods there were, she'd always thought, had pretty warped senses of humor. She was tired, but...

There. Her gaze settled on one group of people. Dr. Salik had run off Commander Adama's visitors a centare ago, insisting on some post-operative quiet time, and, in fact, the commander was now sleeping deeply. But his family was all still here. Athena, a straight slash of midnight blue and silver between two Warriors, one dark and one darker in brown and gold, like a goddess of Night between her consorts of Dawn and Dusk... Cassie shook her head, unsure where that image had come from and uncomfortable with it. Especially since one of the Warriors was Athena's brother, Apollo. There was nothing wrong with him, he was just keeping his sister company, his son asleep on his lap and the remnants of tears of joy still visible on his high-cheekboned face. They were talking softly, Apollo and Athena, dark heads bent together, so as not to wake Boxey, who slumbered bonelessly and unworried in his stepfather's sure hold. He had proved to be a remarkably good father, had Apollo; in the days when Cassie had been among the few who gathered sectonly at Adama's table she'd envied the boy his good luck, falling on his feet like that. She still did, though she no longer dined with him.

On Athena's other side was Boomer, who also needed to be checked out although he, too, seemed unhurt, at least seriously. He and Athena had breathed a lot of smoke, most likely been bruised in the explosion, and he was favoring his left hand a bit, probably a minor burn. His other hand was resting on his thigh about a millimetron from Athena's leg, and his shoulder was against hers, his dark eyes fixed on her face when she turned to talk to her brother and skittering off when she turned to him. Cassie could read the signs as well as anyone and better than most.

And on Apollo's other side, certainly the one you'd pick for a Goddess's consort and the incarnation of glorious Day, sat Starbuck. His winter-sky eyes were mostly on the wall opposite him though occasionally they drifted towards Apollo and, if the captain wasn't looking at him, which he almost never was, lingered there a centon or two before returning to their inspection of someplace only they could see. Cassie sighed. It wasn't that he wasn't wanted there; he'd started to leave earlier and Apollo had broken off his sentence to reach out and hold the blond by his side, and Athena had reached over her brother to echo it, clasping Starbuck's hand in hers, her eyes thanking him for being there for Apollo, as he always was. As he always would be. It was only that he wasn't wanted as he wished to be. Cassie sighed again. But no man could be as oblivious as Apollo was without meaning it, so Starbuck stayed close enough to be reached for and yet never...

Someday he'd settle. Cassie knew all about that. Settling when you didn't know exactly what you wanted instead was hard. When you did, it was harder. She'd learned that over the past half-yahren. She sighed again. Settling cheated the one you settled for; if you cared about them, it was hardest of all, perhaps. But if they were settling, too? She'd decided that might make it work.

She put away the chart she'd been annotating on auto-pilot and crossed to the other end of the counter to look at those for the patients still waiting. After only a brief hesitation she pulled out the third one instead of the first. After so long no one would notice and there wasn't any harm in it. No one still waiting was really in need.


She looked up, protesting, "Boomer first, surely."

He shook his head, taking the chance to put his hand on her shoulder (and how often has he touched his best friend's sister in casual affection that now he is taking a chance?) and say, "No, you go. They know what they're doing."

Her pale blue eyes narrowed but before she could say anything else Thea appeared at Cassie's shoulder, holding a chartpad and saying, "Lieutenant Boomer?"

So soon Athena was sitting on an exam bench, alone with her. "Please remove your tunic," Cassie asked, controlling her voice, storing up the graceful movements for dark-of-the-night fantasies. Athena pulled off her belt and tossed it onto the nearby chair and unsealed her tunic at the shoulder, and then pulled it off and tossed it after. Against the non-regulation black tanktop she was wearing her skin gleamed like shorsa, exotic, smooth, sweet. Her small breasts pushed at the fabric as her nipples tightened with the chill. She shook her head to get her hair out of her face and said, "I'm fine, really."

Oh, yes, you are fine, Cassie thought but said, "Let me be the judge of that."

As Cassie listened to her lungs, she breathed in the subtle scent of Athena's hair, overlayed still with smokiness that enhanced it in some odd fashion. Athena sat quietly, her arms braced on the edge of the bench, and inhaled deeply when told. A purpling bruise marred the back of her left shoulder; she jumped when Cassie gently prodded it.

"Ow," she said, turning to look over her shoulder, those heart-of-flame eyes wide with surprise. "What did you do?"

"What did you do is more like it," Cassie replied. "You've got quite a bruise here."

"Oh." Athena craned around, twisting her arm backwards in an attempt to see it. "I don't remember that. It must've happened during the explosion. It doesn't hurt—except when you poke it," she added accusingly.

"Let me take some readings," Cassie said with a professional smile, glad for the excuse to prolong the visit and gladder when the numbers all came up acceptable. "You're fine," she said. "Lungs clear and everything else good."

"So I can go home and collapse?" Athena smiled at her.

"Sounds like the right idea." Cassie watched as the other woman pulled her tunic back on, her breasts rising with her movements, and resisted the impulse to help her draw that umber mane out of her collar and restore it to some sort of order.

Athena didn't even bother to do that, just pushed it back over her ears before picking up her belt. "I don't suppose you could write me a med for missing work tomorrow?" she joked.

"I would if I could," Cassie smiled back and then followed her back out to the waiting room.

Boomer and Thea were just ahead of them. When they entered the room, Apollo and Starbuck stood up, Starbuck inconspicuously steadying the captain and his armful of sleeping child. Thea had stopped at the desk; Cassie was about to join her when the door opened and Lieutenant Omega came in, his dark blue uniform turned grey over half of it and his face a bit banged up.

Athena veered from her course towards her brother and headed straight for him. "My gods," she said. "Haven't you been here already?"

Omega shook his head, smiling down at her. "No. We were busy on the bridge—"

"I'm sure," she said tartly. "But the colonel was here, getting that hand taken care of. Tellerat could have handled mopping up for a while."

"He's there now. And I'm here. And you look remarkably good, all things considered."

She snorted at him. "I am fine. You, on the other hand—" she raised her hand and almost touched the left side side of his face, red and slightly swollen. "That looks like it hurts."

He shrugged. "It does." He coughed.

Athena turned around but the cough had snapped Cassie out of her distraction. Her medical training had lasted only a few sectares and so was not automatic yet, but it did kick in when needed. "Come this way, Lieutenant Omega," she said.

When she turned to precede him into an examination room she saw Boomer looking at Athena like a wistful pilgrim who's just seen the Gates slammed on Paradise. Poor boy, she thought. Join the club.

But when she took him back out after Dr. Atilla had fused his cracked cheek- and jawbones, only Starbuck was still there. Omega left with a thank you and the blond pilot leaned over the counter in his old familiar way. "You," she informed him with surface sterness, "should be in bed."

"I couldn't sleep if I tried," he told her. "How much longer are you on?"

She glanced at her chrono even as she asked, "What's it to you?"

He shrugged. "Thought maybe you'd like to go for a drink."

She looked at him. His blue eyes were still filled with the adrenaline high of the day. A drink wasn't all he wanted. Or needed. She sighed to herself, knowing he couldn't see it, and admitted her own need was as strong as his. Cain had cast his shadow over their relationship the same way he'd darkened a lot of things, but she'd realized that she'd been trying to recapture the past while Starbuck was the present, even if she'd realized it a bit late. (And even if they were neither of them the future she desired.) And Starbuck had apparently looked around over the sectons since Cain had disappeared again and decided he'd do better with someone who was settling, same as she had, even if he didn't know who it was she really wanted.

But Starbuck wasn't a bad second choice. Not at all. So, "Sure, Starbuck. I'd like that. I'm on overtime already. But we seem to have finished up, so I'll let them know I'm leaving."

"Great." He smiled at her, one of his best. Something was really bothering him.

"I've got some ambrosa in my quarters," she said, grateful again that medtechs got private rooms, even if they were tiny. "I'm not in the mood for a club; what do you say?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," he answered.

Back in her quarters she said, as she poured the ambrosa, "I want to tell you something about Cain."

"You don't have to," he said. "Maybe you shouldn't."

"Maybe," she admitted. "But I think I should. If we don't talk about him we'll think about him. If we are going to have anything between us but sex we should talk. I can't—"

"Of course," he said quickly. And he meant it; it was one of the reasons she was fond of him. He didn't think she should put out because after all she used to be a socialator. "What is it?"

She took a deep breath. This was going to make her sound rather cold, but she thought—hoped—that he'd like that just now. "Cain was my ticket out of being a socialator. I thought I loved him, but, well, he didn't love me enough to value my new job at all, or to want to keep me with him. I suppose he thought he loved me, but..." She laughed a little. "I don't think clients really fall in love with socialators. They don't ever get to know us."

"I know you."

"Are you in love with me?"

"I don't know," he said. "Are you in love with Cain?"

"No," she said firmly.

"Are you in love with me?"

"I don't know, either."

"Well," he reached over and took her glass and set it down with his on the table. "That's enough to start with, isn't it?"

His arms came around her. They weren't the right arms, but they'd do. As he kissed her, she put her hands into his thick tawny hair and pulled him closer. She felt his hand on her back, unzippping her uniform dress, warm against her skin. After a moment he pulled it down over her shoulders, and began kissing her throat. She let go of him long enough for her dress to fall to the floor and then grabbed his shoulders, pulling him close and shucking his jacket off. Soon she was unfastening his tunic, running her hand down his chest. He moaned softly into her throat and picked her up, carrying her into her sleeping room.

He laid her on the bed and pulled off her boots, kissing his way up one leg, his hair tickling her skin gently as his lips and tongue traced meaningless patterns on her thigh and then her belly. She found his hand and tugged and he came up along her body willingly, his mouth closing on her breast. "Oh, gods, Star," she said; his teeth nipped gently at her nipple and then he began suckling. She arched her back, burying her hands in his hair. He laughed, the sound sweet and warm on her cool wet breast, and moved to the other.

She caught hold of his shoulders and rolled over, bending to kiss him and then work her way down his body, returning the favor. He shuddered in pleasure when she teased at his nipples. She unbuckled his belt and undid his trousers, sliding her hand inside. He bucked against her; she loved his need.

Pulling away from his hands she knelt on the floor and began unbuckling his boots. She wrestled his right one off and began on the left, and gasped in unexpected pleasure when his bare foot slid under her arm and his toes gently pinched her breast. She hauled his boot off and reached for his trousers; his hands were already there and in microns they were both naked and reaching for each other.

His hand slid inside her and she moaned her own need, spreading her legs. "Now?" he asked and she echoed the word in affirmation. Then he was leaning over her, his blue eyes, hot like a young star, centimetrons from hers, and he entered her, their needs meeting and feeding each other. She wrapped herself around him, her legs and arms, pulling him closer, and then cried out as she came, shuddering as he continued to thrust. She came again and this time he came with her, their cries commingling in the air just as their bodies did. Panting, he collapsed on her and then rolled over, holding her close, staying inside her a few moments more. She kissed him, their tongues pushing gently against each other, and laid her head on his shoulder, kissing his throat, tasting his sweat.

He pushed her hair gently out of her face, drifting his fingers along her cheek and throat. "May I stay?"

She caught his hand. "You don't have to ask."

He kissed her again and then pulled away from her just long enough to draw the sheet and blanket over them. She rested against him and he cuddled her.

Just for the moment, just for now, it was good.

She felt his breathing evening out and let sleep claim her as well.


Bojay signalled at the door and then went on in. "Sheba?" When no answer came he glanced around and found a note. Boj, it said, Apollo called me and invited me over. Don't know how late I'll be back; if you want, make yourself at home. —Sheba

Don't know how late? he thought. How about don't know if. Dropping the note he went looking for an ale and then wandered about the small front room looking at the stuff they'd issued her.

Sheba's quarters weren't big, though more than what she'd had on the Pegasus, where she'd tried to not take too much advantage of her position. But they were nice. Private. He wondered how long she'd get to keep them. The Galacticans had nearly a couple of dozen female pilots, and they'd come up with separate barracks space for them, but only by dividing a section off. The squadron leaders' rooms were both in the men's side. And what Bojay remembered of Adama (and Tigh, for that matter) led him to believe he wouldn't approve of her bunking in there as she had back on the Peggy, even if everybody else was fine with it. And you couldn't very well make the woman squadron leader bunk in with the pilots while the men got their own, if small, rooms any more than you could, for very long, give her outside quarters while the men were in the BOQ.

Maybe they'd solve it by giving all the squadron leaders quarters. That would be nice for them. Or maybe they'd just hang on and hope Sheba would Seal with Apollo and get rid of the problem altogether. Though if they gave the next one to Dietra...

Well, it wasn't his problem. Not by a long shot.

He sat on the small sofa, stretching his leg out in front of him and rubbing it. It hurt, not much, but he'd been on it too much today, roped into fire-fighting. Not that he minded, but... And not that he was going to complain. The Strike Captain would love a good excuse to ground him. He found the remote and turned on IFB. Frack. Children's Centare still... that annoying puppet thing. He turned it off before two words escaped and leaned back, staring at the ceiling.

He'd wanted to talk to Sheba but he had to admit it was a good thing she was out. And that she had private quarters, at least for now. It was allowing him to get over his first reaction without anyone around to witness it. Because he wanted to be happy for her and he wasn't, not entirely. He was... He was jealous, is what he was. Not of her, in that he wanted her for himself, because he didn't. At all. And certainly not of Apollo; Sagan, no, Sheba could have him and welcome if that's what she wanted.

Which she did. Not really news, after all.

No, he wasn't jealous of her or Apollo. He was jealous of... No. Not jealous at all. Envious. He was envious of her having someone. Envious that she wasn't alone.

And that, he admitted, was not a pretty thing.

Especially since she was his best friend. He ought to be happy for her. And he was, really. It was just... If she was with Apollo, who would he talk to?

"Selfish bastard," he said out loud and got up and got himself another ale.

Sheba thought Apollo was attractive. And he probably was, once you got past that humorless, angry inflexibility... which, to be fair, was probably exacerbated by being challenged in public in a manner which could be called grossly insubordinate, with a hint of physical threat. But Sheba didn't have that problem, and she liked the captain. Rather a lot. Liked his sister and father, too, for that matter, though there was a big difference between a family dinner, no matter how intime, and a private evening in, likely to get intimate.

He stretched out on the sofa and considered that possibility. He hoped, for her sake, that it was happening. It had been hard for her, on the Peggy, to get any. People were afraid of her father, or trying to get influence with him. But here she didn't have a father, or influence. Here, Apollo had those things, though most people didn't seem to be afraid of Adama, and it didn't much look like either of them let family influence have any sway either. Bojay sighed again. It was very probable that Sheba was hoping to get a bit of both, though; she'd never been without and she missed the intangibles almost as much as she missed her actual father, or so it seemed sometimes. She'd probably have gone to the captain's tonight even if she wasn't at least partly gone on him.

Hades, he'd probably have gone himself. If he was honest with himself—and the one thing his old man had ever said to him that even faintly smacked of paternal advice was: I don't care if you're honest with your mother, or your teachers, or your friends, or even me, though if I ever catch you lying I'll break your astrum (a statement he'd had no trouble believing) but you ought to be honest to yourself if only so's you can keep your lies straight—he would have gone if he thought the captain wanted to frack. Even though the notion of himself and Apollo was improbable at best and, what was Sheba's word?, sick-making at worst. He sighed and sat up.

He wasn't sure what to do with himself. In general, and tonight in specific. He could always go and look up Hereward, see if the tech officer wanted to go to the Club, get drunk. But that wasn't what he really wanted to do. What he wanted to do couldn't involve Hereward. Or, probably, the O Club, though getting drunk might fit. What he wanted to do was get laid.

He looked at the thought and knew it was true. He hadn't had sex in sectares, hadn't even thought about it, and now, quite suddenly it seemed, he wanted to. Needed to.

The edge had been off Mao's death for a while even before the Galactica, and now, where nothing reminded him of his lover, even the ache was receding, hidden in the general misery of everything lost. And right now he had to admit that part of that, a not very small part, was physical. He missed Mao; he probably always would; but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in lonely celibacy. He wanted to get laid. He missed Mao's laugh and his gentle wit and his dragon-tile obsession and his wide-ranging imagination; he missed his sparkling dark eyes and his rough black hair and his golden skin; but he also missed his mouth and his hands and his cock. And he couldn't replace the laughter, the imagination, the person, that was true, but surely to the gods there was in this fleet another mouth, another pair of hands, and a cock that could do for him what Mao's had.

Surely somewhere.

And if he could sit here on Sheba's sofa and even half-way fantasize about Apollo of all people, well, then it was long past time that he get out and find them.

He remembered something he'd heard in the locker room a few times. A place on the Rising Star, that recreational vessel that was allowed not only to exist, but to sell anything anybody could want to buy, within the law. Bojay doubted Adama approved, but the Council insisted on pretending the fleet was still a republic, and Adama went along with it for whatever reason. A place on the lower levels somewhere, called... Cibola. That was it. Cibola—The Golden City—a place dedicated to getting laid. Dedicated only to getting laid, if he'd heard right. Alcohol and sex, men only. Anonymous. "Sounds like a great idea if you could get women to go along with it," one of the other pilots had said with a snigger. Not exactly a... he hesitated over the adjective and then said, What the hell. He wasn't looking for a meaningful encounter. He didn't want to find a lover. He wanted someone to frack him. He wanted sex, plain and simple. And from what he'd heard, the Club Cibola was the place.

He wrote on the bottom of the note Sheba had left him: Came, drank some ale, went. Hope you had a lovely evening. Later—B

Then he left.

It took Bojay twenty centons of looking around the Star's lower levels to find the Club Cibola. It was down a darkened corridor forwards, no lights or display. On the outside it was unprepossessing, a dark rust-colored door with the golden silhouette of a domed building on it and the words "Club Cibola - Members Only" and below that, in smaller letters, "Enter". He looked around but didn't see any other door, so he pushed for this one.

The room beyond was pitch black though the lit outlines of two doors were apparent ahead of him. He took a step and then turned his head sharply, raising his hand in front of his face as a beam of light hit him. He blinked in the sharper blackness. "Na ne? What the hell?"

"Sorry for that, sir," a voice came from a speaker somewhere. "I see you're not a member. Were you desirous of joining?"

"...Yes," Bojay said after a moment, still blinking.

"Fine, sir. If you'll please take a mask from the drawer and come through the right-hand door?"

Before he could ask what drawer, the lights around the doors came up enough to show a small cabinet between them and rows of lockers on the walls. "A mask?" he asked, looking into the drawer.

"The Club Cibola maintains complete anonymity, sir. I have not seen your face."

Just my retinas, Bojay thought, but since he was here it seemed foolish to back out. He pulled out a couple of the masks; there were two kinds, as far as he could see, in various colors: some hoods and some strips of soft cloth with eyeholes. Depends on how anonymous you want to be, he decided. Personally, he was losing his hair fast enough. He picked up a dark strip of cloth and tied it on. Settling it, he pushed for the door.

In this room a man was standing beside a small table with two chairs. He wore a black and gold jacket, and a custom half-face mask, black with the club's insignia on the cheeks. "Welcome to the Club Cibola, sir," he said. "If you'll have a seat?"

Bojay sat a bit warily, and the man did too.

"This is a members only club, sir. Joining is simple, a one-time membership fee of fifty cubits, but we do have some rules that you must abide by. If you break them, you're out, and you can't get back in. We maintain complete anonymity—"

"Then how do you prevent me from rejoining?" Bojay couldn't help asking.

"After you've agreed to abide by the rules, we'll take a retinal scan. You aren't registered; it's how we knew to stop you. The scans stay in our database, secured, behind a firewall, enciphered. They never leave, and the only thing they're used for is identification on a trinary level: member, non-member, barred. If you're thrown out, your scan is marked. Now, the rules are simple. One, complete anonymity. All our members wear masks. At all times. No questions should be asked nor information volunteered which could lead to any identification. If you think you recognize someone, don't say so. If at any time you feel someone's trying to learn who you are, report them to an employee. This includes attempts to set up liaisons outside the Club. We can't prevent that, of course, but we discourage it. Two: the bar is cash, no tab. We can't run tabs if we're going to not know who you are. Three: employees are not available to do anything but serve drinks and settle disputes. You'll know them because they, too, are masked, but in Club livery like mine; this is for their protection, to prevent members from bothering them outside the Club. Four: anything you want to do with any other member or members is fine so long as all consent and no one ends up requiring medical attention, or worse. Having to call emergency medtechs puts a damper on the atmosphere for the other members. Having to call security would probably close us down. And Five: 'No' is acceptable as an answer to anything suggested by one member to another. You may say it and you must accept it. Violence of any sort is not permitted. Nor are weapons. If you have one, you may store it in the foyer in a locker before entering. Now," he pulled a retinal scanner out of his hip pack, "if the Rules are acceptable?"

Bojay paused. The setup certainly precluded any chance of attachments, which was a good thing, but... "What happens if your database gets into the wrong hands?"

"Sir," the man said with a hint of smugness, "the Club Cibola was originally a Sagittan establishment. If we could run there without the SPPE ever getting one single member's name, we can run here."

"I suppose so," said Bojay. Fifty cubits; he'd spent more than that on drinks for someone before (well, once before) and not even gotten laid. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. Sorting through the parallepipeds he put down two twenty-fours and two ones. Then he paused. Currently, as he understood it, there was nothing inherently illegal in the concept of the club, but who knew what a politician would do? Or a religious nut? Or a religious politician, the worst there was? "What would prevent a PPE, or an FPE I suppose, from joining and then arresting someone?"

"Simplicity's self, sir," the man said, his Sagittan S's obvious now. "He would have to make his arrest inside the Club, else he'd have no evidence. And if he tried that, well..." A supple shrug. "He would find it much easier said than done. Violence isn't permitted to the members, but the employees sometimes have no choice."

Bojay grinned. "Okay," he let go of the money. "I'm in."

"One moment, sir." He held the scanner up. By the time Bojay had stopped blinking from the light, the cubits had disappeared and the man was gesturing at the door behind him. "Welcome, sir. Enjoy the Club Cibola experience."

It took Bojay about two centons to find a seat and get a drink from one of the black-and-gold-clad servers. It took about six to adjust to being in a smoky, music filled room full of people wearing masks, although a good percentage of them were wearing very little else. And it took him about two more to be asked, "Hey, wanna frack? I'm lookin' for a top."

"No," he shook his head.

Two men who were passing stopped at that. "Bottoms?" one of them said.

It was that simple.

And it stayed that simple: a plain room, sex without words beyond instructions, physical pleasure. No frills, no complications.

As he looked out the window on the shuttle back to the battlestar, he fingered the soft cloth in his pocket and knew he'd be going back. "Sorry, Mao," he whispered to the stars. "Can't help it. It's nothing to do with us..."

He didn't get an answer.

But then he hadn't expected one. From anyone.


"Hey, Starbuck!"

The blond turned his head at the hail and came over to sit next to Boomer. They had plenty of time before the briefing started, especially since Apollo didn't seem to be here yet. Or Sheba, Boomer had noticed, though his own concerns were occupying most of his mind.

"Hey, Boom-Boom," Starbuck said. He looked rested. Those bright eyes flicked over Boomer and he said, "You look like hell. Didn't you get any sleep last night?"

"I'm not even going to ask about you," Boomer said. "I thought you said you were going to the O Club."

Starbuck shrugged. "I lied. Didn't want Apollo wasting time with me that he needed to spend patching things up with Sheba."

Boomer shook his head. "Apollo doesn't think spending time with you is wasting it."

"Really? That's not what he says to me." But Starbuck wasn't serious.

"No. Just shows how deluded he is."

Starbuck laughed. "Anyway, she was a bit miffed that he blew past her in the landing bay, so I smoothed her feathers down and sent him home to call her. I hope he did."

"You are utterly unbelievable."

Starbuck shook his head. "Rule number one: don't get between a man and his wife, 'cause she has the capstone."

Boomer snorted. "Maybe, but they aren't married yet. Sagan, Bucko, it's only been, what? Three sectons?"

"Yeah. But he was smitten from micron one, and that's the way he falls. Hard and fast."

Boomer thought about Serina. "True enough," he said and then wished he hadn't.

Starbuck shrugged. "So, he wants her, and she's... well, she'll be good for him."

"You think so?"

"He does... And she likes him. It'll work out, as long as he doesn't screw it up. Which you must admit he's quite capable of doing."

"Yes, he is. Maybe because it's not what he really wants?" Boomer ventured.

Starbuck cut him off. "Don't start with me, Boomer. Who's more like Serina, her or me?"

"Well..." That was sort of unarguable.

"The man wants a wife. I don't qualify. Sheba does, and she wants the job."

Boomer regarded his friend compassionately but recognized the warning signs. Starbuck was done talking about this. It was too bad, but it was Starbuck. And he supposed the blond had a point: it wasn't like Apollo ever had looked at a man, any man, or that he hadn't had his chances... He reverted back to his original complaint. "Well, whatever. You said you were going to the O Club."

Starbuck grinned. "You said you were going to bed. What? You couldn't sleep so you came looking for me?"

"As a matter of fact, I could sleep. For a while. But when I woke up it wasn't quite ten, so I went to the club for a drink. You weren't there."

The other man shrugged. "Never went. Had other plans but I didn't want to mention them in case they fell through."

Boomer leaned back in his chair. "But they didn't?"

"Nope," the blond said self-satisfiedly. "Worked out just fine."

"I thought you looked pleased with yourself."

Starbuck nearly preened. "You can be the first to know. Cassie and I are back together."

Boomer bit down on his first reaction, which was After the way she treated you? You really are a fracking masochist! and instead said, "That's nice."

Starbuck narrowed those blue eyes at him. "But?" he prompted.

"But?" Boomer shook his head. "No buts. It's nice. I'm glad."

"Yeah? You sound distinctly underwhelmed."

And you sound definitely on the defensive, old buddy. But I am not going there. Not today. Maybe not ever. He shrugged. "Sorry. Got other things on my mind. You aren't the center of the universe, you know."

"Since when?" Then he sobered. "You wanna talk about it?"

Boomer shrugged. "Later, after the briefing?"

"Sure." Starbuck slapped his shoulder. "Any time. Least I can do."

His tone was light but he meant it, Boomer knew. You didn't stay friends with him a dozen yahrens just because he made you laugh and lost your money. Well, somehow that helped, he thought, grinning, though it was beyond explanation.

So when they both finally got free, Boomer some three centares late after having been dragged into one of those long meetings that made Starbuck glad he wasn't in line for a squadron himself, Starbuck snagged them a corner table in the O Club and leaned forward. "So? I thought you'd be planning where to take Athena. Or did you want some suggestions?"

Boomer sighed and drank half his ale. "Weren't you paying any attention last night? To somebody besides Apollo? Or Cassie?"

"I always pay attention," Starbuck said, "to everybody. Don't even try to tell me you weren't sitting there trying to get up the nerve to ask her out. It was obvious. It was in fact so obvious that if you really haven't asked her yet she's probably been plotting ways to corner you somewhere and find out why the Hades not."

"Hah." Boomer finished his ale. "You weren't paying any attention to her, then."

"What are you—Wait a centon. Are you talking about Omega?"

Against his better judgment Boomer was encouraged. Starbuck looked, and sounded, incredulous. Still, he'd seen them with his own eyes. "You saw her. The centon he came in—"

"Boomer, Boomer, Boomer." Starbuck shook his head. "Yes. She walked right up to him and shook her finger in his face and lectured him. And then she went home instead of waiting for him to come out. Not to mention not hugging or kissing him... Boomer, she was treating him like she'd have treated me. Or like you would have."

Boomer thought about that. "You know, you're right."

"Of course I am. Don't forget, I dated her."

"I am trying to forget that," Boomer interrupted.

Starbuck grinned. "We weren't serious."

"You asked her to marry you!"

Starbuck shrugged. "She said 'no'. Besides, it was right after the Destruction. Everyone was a little crazy... though thankfully she wasn't crazy enough to say yes. Anyway, she was friends with him back then, too. Has been ever since she came on board. But it's no more than that."

"You're sure?"

"I know what it's like to date someone who's using you to get someone else jealous, and I know what it's like to date someone who's thinking about someone else. She was neither. She's not even remotely in love with him. Ask her out."

"Huh." Boomer leaned back. He hadn't been able to get her out of his mind for more than a few centons at a time all day. But he'd always come back to seeing her with the tall flag-lieutenant, both of them so elegant in their blue uniforms, so obviously belonging together. But if Starbuck was right... "You're sure?"

His friend smiled at him. "I'm sure. Go for it, Boomer. You'd be good together. You're about as far from me as there is, after all."

Boomer grinned but his heart wasn't entirely in it. Poor Starbuck. It was so easy to take him at face value, but Boomer knew better. For all his surface fickleness, he'd been steadfast in his heart for eight yahrens. Cassie didn't deserve him.

But that wasn't his business, Starbuck had made that clear enough. So he just grinned and said, "I will, then."

"Now's a good time," Starbuck said.

"Oh? You have plans tonight?" Boomer teased him.

"I'd like to," Starbuck answered in kind.

So Boomer gathered up his courage and called her from the club's comm. "I was wondering—"

"Come on," Starbuck mouthed at him.

Boomer waved at him in irritation and turned his back. "I was wondering if you might like to go out to dinner."

"Tonight?" She paused, but before he could interpret her tone and choose between answers she said, "Yes. That would be nice, Boomer. I'll need to change. Would you like to come here? Or should I meet you... where? The shuttle bay?"

He had been thinking about the O Club, but he heard himself saying, "The shuttle bay. In a centare?"

"That'll be fine. See you then." She hung up.

"Frack," he said. "I need reservations."

Starbuck laughed. "Be firm, Boom-Boom, or she's gonna run you ragged."

"A little late for tonight, Starbuck."

"All right, don't worry. Uncle Starbuck is here and he'll fix it." The blond reached over and took the comm from him. "Lieutenant Starbuck... Tonight... No, it's not for me. Now, listen," his voice became cajoling. "I know you have a table; you always have a table. You won't turn Colonel Tigh away, will you?.. Well, then; Lieutenant Boomer can have that table as the colonel's not going to be able to make it... Of course. Would I forget you? Eight-fifty." He hung up. "You owe the maitre d' a forty-cubit tip when you get there. The Bower. Eight-fifty."

"Forty cubits?" Boomer protested. "I won't be able to buy dinner if I give him that much!"

Starbuck heaved a martyred sigh. "I thought you were the responsible one. You don't have a mere..." he did a quick sum in his head "...hundred and fifty cubits?"

"Mere? Starbuck, I'm not going to be able to keep this up!"

"Don't worry, she won't expect you to. But she'll appreciate the effort on the first date. Take it easy, buddy, you're gonna pass out."

"Not before I kill you, I won't."

"Ah, ah, ah," Starbuck waggled a finger at him. "If you kill me I won't be able to lend you any cash."

Boomer stared at him. "You've got cash?"

Starbuck shrugged. "Come on, you need to get cleaned up and changed."

Boomer followed him. "My life is out of my control, isn't it?"

Starbuck laughed. "Oh, yeah. Totally."


Athena came in without signalling and looked around her father's quarters. Funny how home-like they'd become when the first time she'd set foot in them they'd seemed so austere and empty. Of course, part of 'home-like' was the little boy whose caroling laugh filled up the emptiness and drove austerity out the airlock. Boxey was kneeling on the floor beside his grandfather's chair with Starbuck on the floor across the game table from him; the Trango board was spread out on the table and occupying the attention of all three. Apollo was some distance away, watching the game; still in uniform he'd probably come in too late to join them. He glanced up when the door opened and smiled at her, gesturing with his glass. She crossed over to join him, picking up a drink for herself along the way.

"Dinner's a bit late tonight," he said and kissed her cheek. "Just as well since both of us are, too."

She smiled at him. "Not too late, I hope; I'm starving."

"No, maybe fifteen centons more. Long day?"

"Long enough."

"Sit down, relax a bit." He gestured at the chair next to him.

"Where's Sheba?" she asked cunningly, already knowing that she was spending the evening with Bojay, keeping him company because this was the anniversary of his lover's death in some pointless fire-fight on the Delphinian homeworld.

"She said she couldn't make it tonight," Apollo answered. "She had something else to do, something she couldn't put off."

Athena looked at him closely. He didn't appear disturbed. Did that mean she'd told him and he just wasn't passing it on, or she hadn't but he didn't care? If she had told him she was with Bojay, she must have convinced him that there was nothing in it, he was entirely too serene. Athena wished she knew how much he knew... if he was this calm without knowing where Sheba was, either he was totally in completely trusting love and not showing his usual possessiveness (hah) or he wasn't at all.

"Why?" he asked before she could decide if she wanted to pursue it.

"Just wondering," she said easily, deciding not to. "She's been here for the last sectare. I was wondering if you two had had a spat."

"No," her brother laughed. "We haven't. Not a cross word... thanks to Starbuck apologizing for me the other evening." He nodded at the blond, still deep in the Trango game and apparently not paying any attention.

"I was wondering about that, too," Athena smiled. "What's he doing here? Not that I mind. Probably," she added darkly with a brooding glance at Adama.

"Father said he asked him to come. Don't be paranoid; he recognizes a lost cause. He said he's missed him, that's all. He likes him, too, you know."

"Yes. I have, too," she admitted. "It seemed wrong for him to be gone, but..." But she hadn't felt right about asking him to come.

"Yes," Apollo agreed. After a moment he added, "I'm glad he's here tonight: Boxey's been complaining he hasn't seen much of Starbuck in a while." He looked sideways at her. "You should have asked Boomer."

"Why do you say that?" she parried.

He laughed again. "I saw you the other night, coming back from the Star. At least I assumed so; you looked like you'd been somewhere expensive."

"We had," she nodded. "It was nice of him but silly."

"Silly?" He raised his eyebrows. "Theni, you aren't going to break Boomer's heart, are you?"

"What kind of question is that?" she snapped, not certain why.

"A reasonable one—"

"Reasonable?" she demanded. "What do you think I am, a lamia out to add another man's head to my trophy shelf?"

"No, of course not. But he's serious and you're calling him silly—"

"Apollo, that was our first date. Just because you can decide in an evening doesn't mean other people can, or even if it does it doesn't mean I can. Or do. I never thought of Boomer as a date till he called me that day. I don't know how I'm going to end up feeling about him. But I certainly have no intention of breaking his heart." She glowered at him. "Your neck, maybe."

"I'm sorry, Theni. I didn't mean... It's just... Boomer's my good friend."

"I know that." She lost her anger suddenly and laughed.

"What?" he asked warily.

"I was just thinking about you, mother-gallying all your pilots the way you are Boomer. No wonder you don't have any spare time."

He grinned ruefully. "I suppose your point is that he's a grown man?"

"Well, for Sagan's sake. I certainly hope so."

He shook his head, his green eyes light with laughter. "I've heard as much as I want to. He may be my friend, but you're my sister after all."

"You don't often act like my big brother, though. Thankfully."

"Now what do you mean by that?" he pretended to demand.

She poked him gently in the chest. "You haven't tried to interfere in my love life in a long time."

He caught her hand for a centon. "You don't exactly welcome my... attempted interventions."

She shook her head, laughing a little and leaving her hand where it was. "Who would? But you haven't tried in yahrens, except when I was dating Starbuck." She intended to add, jokingly, What? I'm not good enough for your friends?, but a sudden somber expression in his eyes stopped her.

"And I was right, wasn't I?" he said after a centon.


"Maybe?" Apollo stared at her. "Maybe? You nearly put him out of commission for days."

"I was angry at him." Angrier than she'd ever been, before or since, and uncertain why, she'd taken it out on Starbuck without really thinking about what she was doing. He'd accepted her apologies, but it hadn't taken long for that relationship to fail, too.

"Why?" Apollo asked in that reasonable tone that made Athena want to smack him sometimes. Didn't he ever have emotions he didn't understand, couldn't chart, couldn't explain? Was he always so rational? "I mean," he went on, "if you didn't want to marry him, what difference did it make?"

But she was ready for him this time. She'd had sectares to figure it out, after all. "He'd just asked me to Seal with him! And not two whole sectons later there he is making out with some little tramp he picked up on a freighter!"

"I thought you liked Cassie."

"I do," she said impatiently. "That's not the issue."

"'Some little tramp'? The Lords watch out for Boomer."

She rolled her eyes and exhaled in exasperation. "I barely knew her then! And maybe you think it's reasonable for her to make out with Starbuck on twelve days' acquaintance, and maybe it even is, given him, but the point isn't her. It's him. It's him I was mad at."

"Still are, it sounds like."

She took a breath and used one of Omega's quick silent recitations for calming down. "No. I'm not still mad at him. Just at me for expecting something else."

"You're sure you're not still a little in love with him?"

"Starbuck? I'm not still in love with him, in fact I'm still not in love with him. That was the real problem with us, you know." Or do you? she wondered. You never did want him dating me... Who were you trying to keep single, Appy? Me? Or him? She cocked her head and looked at him. "That's the difference, isn't it?"


"You're worried I'm going to break Boomer's heart; back then you thought Starbuck would break mine."

He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. "Well, Starbuck can do that."

She looked at him again. Could he possibly not realize? No. He had to know—

"Then Boomer has a chance?"

"Boomer has a chance, of course he does," she answered, "though to get back to your suggestion, it's a bit early to bring him home to 'meet my parents', in a manner of speaking."

"That doesn't sound—"

"Apollo, we've had one date. Give it a rest. I like him, I really do, but," she added with malice aforethought, "don't expect us to announce anything anytime soon. If you're expecting someone to take the heat off you, look to Starbuck. He'll be happy to oblige. As usual."

"What's that supposed to mean?" His green eyes were wary. "Starbuck's not interested in Sheba."

Lords. She had to laugh. "No, idiot brother. I was talking about attention, not your girlfriend. I'm assuming you can get away from her on your own, if you want to."

"Oh. Of course you were."

"Next time we can all three bring dates. Sheba, Boomer, and Cassie."

"Cassie?" There was a couple of microns' flicker of something in those green eyes and then he smiled. "You mean they've made up? That's great."

Is it? she thought sourly and wondered why. Starbuck had certainly made it clear he wanted to get back with the blonde, and she'd done her share of crying into her ale at Athena's table about her incredibly stupid decision to leave him for Cain... and since Cain was dead and, presumably, no longer cared, and Apollo apparently never had or at least never would... "Yes," she heard herself saying, "they have. Possibly even for good this time."

"Well, well, well. I'll have to tell Father he'll need to put an extra leaf in the table next time."

He wouldn't, of course, the table was already big enough for ten... She chuckled. "Now we just have to find Boxey a girlfriend. And Father."

Apollo stared at her in horror. "Boxey's only six, and Father can't—one of these days I am going to terminate you. And I'll get off, too."

"You're so easy," she riposted.

"I'm going where I'll be appreciated," he said but spoiled the effect by adding, "Coming?"

"No," she shook her head. "I've got a couple of things to think about. I'll be along in a centon or two."

"I hope one of those things is Boomer."

"Yes, okay, one of them is. Now get."

She watched him head over to harass his nearest and dearest, wondering briefly if Sheba had ever seen him in this mood, one he didn't often share outside the family, and sighed to herself. She turned around on the chair and rested her chin on hands crossed over its back to watch the menfolk. Funny, she'd almost called them 'her' menfolk. Her family. And looking likely to be all the family she was going to have.

She didn't love Starbuck. She didn't think anybody who really got to know him could love him, not wanting-to-Seal-with-him love. Oh, maybe if they were the self-sacrificing walk-on-me kind, the I-don't-mind-if-you-don't-love-me type. She wasn't. Starbuck was a like a third brother, she loved him dearly, but she'd never love him.

The question was: would she ever love anybody?

She didn't want to end up feeling about Boomer the way she did, more or less, about all the boys and men she'd ever tried to establish a relationship with. Eamon, Denys, River, Miroslav... Starbuck, though since he'd been in her life before, was Apollo's best friend, she'd stayed his friend. Or maybe because he didn't really want her any more than she'd ended up wanting him?

Whatever, she wanted to fall in love with Boomer.

Still, she'd meant what she'd said to Apollo; more, she didn't want to fall for somebody in a single evening. Falling in love that fast was just asking for serious differences of opinion on things that really mattered to you. And then, unless you had a certain kind of mind—a mind which, like dark eyes, might run in her family but had definitely skipped her—you'd have to fight a lot. Or stop talking about things that counted. And either one, it seemed to her, would doom you.

Doom, she snorted silently. Don't get so melodramatic, Athena. Besides, she knew Boomer. Not as well as Starbuck, of course, but he'd been a visitor to their house on occasional furlons since he and Apollo had been stationed together even earlier. There would probably be no big surprises from him, beyond of course that he suddenly wanted to date her. Maybe that was why she felt as if she were holding back; maybe she mistrusted his sudden desire, feared it would vanish as suddenly as it had come.

Or maybe there was just something wrong with her.

Oh, damn it all to the back of the seventh hell, she thought abruptly and went to join the others. She and Boomer would be just fine.

Just fine.

Prolog Chap 1 Chap 2 Chap 3 Chap 4 Chap 5.1
Chap 5.2 Chap 6.1 Chap 6.2 Chap 7.1 Chap 7.2 Epilog


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
Original Fan Fiction
Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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