Adama looked down the length of the table. He was well aware that Ila would have shaken her head and ruthlessly rearranged his seating plans. But he was satisfied that they were as good as they could be. Athena was in her mother's place at the far end of the table, with Boomer to her right and Boxey on her left. Next to Boomer sat Apollo, with Sheba between him and Adama. And on Adama's right was Cassiopeia, with Starbuck between her and Boxey. Couples together, and Boxey far enough from Apollo that he wouldn't feel obliged to ride herd on him, but not out from under his eye. Besides, Boxey could chatter quite happily to Starbuck, and Athena got along well with him and could quell him when he needed it.
He supposed he could have put Apollo at the far end and balanced the table a bit better, but a table never felt right to him with a man on both ends. Someday perhaps Apollo and Sheba... Or Athena and Boomer, perhaps. That was another consideration; Boomer was not yet truly comfortable dining with his Commander. He was better off not having to make table talk with him. Besides, Adama could admit to himself at least, he enjoyed having a beautiful woman on either hand.
Ila would have told him he could have that and not put couples together. But, were he Boomer, he wouldn't want to see Athena next to Starbuck. And she wouldn't want to sit next to her brother. Apollo would prefer not to have to make conversation all evening with Cassiopeia, and asking Starbuck and Sheba to sit next to each other was cruel.
Adama sighed internally. He was at least passing fond of everyone at this meal, and much more than that of most of them. And he could not deny that, even with everyone sitting with their chosen companions, there was tension in this room. And it wasn't merely the tension you got whenever you put Starbuck, Apollo, and either of them's current girlfriend in the same place. This was a strain you really didn't need a touch of psi to pick up, just yahrens of experience watching young officers...
And even Boomer and Athena seemed affected by it, so it was probably not something left over from the fight Starbuck had had with his friends over Chameleon...
Chameleon. Adam let his mind wander along that track for a moment. If you believed that heredity meant anything, and Adama believed it meant a great deal, it was hard to believe that Chameleon and Starbuck were not related after all. It wasn't so much a physical resemblance—there hadn't been one, really, barring the eyes, their color and expressions—but the old man had been so very like Starbuck... Apollo had been worried, on several counts, but on one of them at least Adama had been able, he hoped, to ease his son's mind: walking on the wrong side of the law Chameleon had been, but his heart was in the right place. And Starbuck had had the benefit of being raised well. Had Chameleon been his father, and had Starbuck grown up under his tutelage, well, things would have been very different. Now? Starbuck was, despite his shortcomings, a fine young man. And whoever his parents had been, they'd clearly produced a son of fine qualities: bravery, intelligence, passion, and abiding loyalty; the sort of things that couldn't be taught. Even if Chameleon had proved to be his kin, Starbuck was the man he was and nothing would change that.
His mind, as it did when he let it wander, returned to its original path. Starbuck would have made a fine son-in-law; it was clear he wasn't courting Athena for her money. Even before the Destruction he'd been preferable to at least two of Athena's previous boyfriends, and Ila and he had had their quiet hopes. Now, of course, none of that mattered at all, and Starbuck was an even better match, but Athena had turned him down. It was probably just as well, Adama had to admit; he wasn't sure the two of them would have dealt well together without the admittedly mixed blessing of long absences to make their hearts grow, if not fonder, at least less exasperated. Boomer would probably make his headstrong daughter a better husband; he seemed more... was there a positive way to say tractable, Adama wondered. And yet, tonight...
Tonight the only truly happy person at the table was Boxey. Everyone else was pretending. Including, he had to admit, himself, using his yahrens of experience of social dining to flirt a bit with his neighbors while paying them virtually no real attention. Even Sheba, his old friend's daughter and quite probably, soon enough, his daughter-in-law, couldn't hold his attention. Not really. Except as she was part of the tension shimmering just under the surface like those deadly jungle piscids hiding in a cool river...
Adama chuckled appreciatively at the story Cassiopeia had just finished telling him. She was an accomplished raconteur; he supposed she'd been trained in that art as well as others less appropriate for the dinner table. At least for the dinner table of a stodgy old Kobolian such as himself. Still, she was a beautiful woman, the most beautiful at the table, he supposed, though his daughter was nothing to sneeze at, as they'd said in his youth. But Cassiopeia had elements of beauty Athena didn't; she was a graceful, delicate flower, fair and fragile, with huge wistful dark blue eyes and a way of looking at you confidingly as if she needed your protection, while Athena's beauty was darker, fiercer, stronger, the beauty of a flame, or a pardos, or a finely crafted blade. Nothing confiding about her, and no intention of ever asking for help, let alone protection. Of course, Cassiopeia's fragility was all seeming, he was sure, but none the less appealing for that. He never quite trusted what he saw in her, but that didn't make it an unpleasant fiction. And of course he was sure Starbuck could hold his own; sterling his character might be, but Adama wasn't deceived by those big blue eyes, either.
But Starbuck was a fine pilot. And Cassiopeia was a fine medtech. Adama would never forget the unprecedented sight of Salik taking on Tigh, like a stout digger-dagget barking at a Great Dagg startled nearly out of its dignity. I don't care if she is a civilian! I certainly don't care what her profession was! If you think we can be doctors to this whole fleet with a staff figured for a battlestar's crew, colonel, you're sadly mistaken, and I won't give up anyone who can help. And before you say she'll need training, let me point out that anyone we recruit will...
But tonight, she was as content to talk to him as Starbuck. And Starbuck seemed a bit off his game as well. And his own children...
Adama made up his mind. Taking advantage of Cassiopeia's manners he led her into beginning another, and he hoped lengthy, anecdote, and turned his attention to the table.
Ila wouldn't have approved of this, either, but he was more than just a father and a friend. He was the commander, and the well-being of his strike captain and his best pilots was his legitimate concern. The same for his ops and support staff, for that matter. He wasn't even sure this would work; contrary to what Ila had thought, he wasn't that good at it. Bending spoons was one thing, but spoons had no minds of their own. Still he felt he had to try. Summoning a skill he hadn't used in yahrens he reached out over the table and listened...
Apollo, as expected, was simply not there, all of his own talent used to wrap his mind inside a shield of privacy so strong it had never allowed him to do anything else. Sheba, her mind a coruscation of fresh grief and bright strength, was focusing on Apollo but feeling as though he wasn't returning her emotions, as though he still loved someone else... But her determination was nothing compared to that which blazed in Athena, fed on a fierce denial he couldn't get close enough to to identify. Starbuck was layer on layer, a puzzle too complex for his solving, though he could sense love and resignation in almost equal measure. Boomer was a deep stillness filled with regret and longing, but he was too unfamiliar for easy reading, as was Cassiopeia, all bright edges and almost as many layers as Starbuck...Adama felt an almost electric jolt as small fingers gently touched his hand. In the split-micron before his mind closed itself he sensed her, love and fear and worry and despair and all too strong to tolerate, let alone sort through and make sense of. It was why he didn't do this.
"Commander?" Cassiopeia's voice blended concerns personal and professional. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, my dear," he said. "Perhaps a bit tired, which is the only way I can explain letting my mind wander away from you for even a moment."
She smiled, but those cerulean eyes were still appraising. Her hand slid unobtrusively to curl around his wrist; he let her check his pulse, confident she'd find it normal. After a centon she nodded and took her hand back. "I'm not surprised," she said. "You don't get enough rest."
"So everyone tells me," he said. "But we don't live in restful times."
"No," she agreed. "We don't. Still, you should take care of yourself, commander. We'd all be in a great deal of trouble if anything were to happen to you."
"You would manage without me if you had to, I'm sure."
"Perhaps. But we don't want to." She smiled that enchanting smile at him. He could understand Cain. He could even understand Starbuck.
And he knew tonight he'd dream of Ila.
If only she could help him with their children. Because he didn't know what to do. He didn't know at all.
Bojay tied on his mask and tugged on his jacket. It was a new one and this was the first time he'd worn it. He'd nearly forgotten what a new jacket felt like, slightly stiff still. He hadn't had one in... Well. Since Molecay certainly and probably for a couple or four sectares before that. Not counting that old tan jacket someone had given him, he didn't know whohe'd been unconscious when the Galacticans had had their clothes driveand that had been nowhere near new, so you couldn't count it, really.
But yesterday he'd gone to the Exchange and picked out this dark blue jacket. He knew why he'd chosen the color, it matched the mask, but he wasn't entirely sure why he'd decided he needed the jacket. He could, and did usually, do his drinking in uniform, unless he was with Sheba and she wanted to be inconspicuous, which she did sometimes. And in those cases, that old tan jacket was a good choice. This one, new and with the silver buttons and the blue and silver embroidery on the cuffs and along the low Arian collar, this one wasn't inconspicuous. It wasn't flashy, but... He shook his head, tugged on the hem one more time, and then smoothed the lapel and stepped inside the Club.
He paused next to the door for a centon. After his eyes adjusted, he looked around the floor, searching for a certain figure. Not finding him, he made his way to an empty table for two, shaking his head at three offers on the way. He moved one of the chairs slightly to get a better look at the door, ordered ambrosa from the waiter who stopped next to him, and settled in to wait.
And who was he kidding? Didn't know why he'd bought the jacket... Didn't know why he'd gone through the racks at the Exchange looking for that Arian style Mao had liked him in, with the yoke cut to emphasize the line of his shoulder and the short waist that showed off his astrum... He knew perfectly well. Just like he knew why he was saying no to guys who'd probably give him a good time.
He stared into the amber liquid in his glass. What had he told himself when he'd come here the first time? He wasn't looking for a meaningful encounter. He didn't want to find a lover. He believed it at the time, but even if it had been true then... He'd come here once or twice a secton for the last two and half sectares, and the last six times he'd gone to bed with the same man. That wasn't exactly the Cibola experience, as He had said once. But here he was, waiting, shaking his head curtly at anybody who thought about stopping, just barely not checking his chrono like he'd been stood up, and feeling that sick, exciting trembling in his gut, half anticipation and half apprehension, that he hadn't felt for a long damn time, even for combat which had used to call it up every time he strapped on a Viper. It was like the first sectons of dating Mao, always getting there early and waiting, wondering if tonight was when the other man wouldn't show up. Only worse.
Because this time he didn't even know who the other man was.
He took a deep breath and drank half his ambrosa. If the other man never showed up again he'd never know why. Had his wife caught him? Had he died? Had his work schedule changed (assuming he worked)? Had he just gotten bored with it all? Bojay had started only coming here on Fourthday when he wasn't on second shift and Seventhday. So far He'd always been here, but for all Bojay knew He was here three other days a secton and engaging in the Cibola experience up to the hilt, so to speak. For all he knew, sleeping with Bojay was His way of... who knew? He was Caprican, and well-born, He couldn't hide either of those things, and who knew?
And just now, who cared?
He had to laugh at himself if only a little. What have you got yourself into, lieutenant? He took another drink and then paused with the glass halfway back to the table as he saw that already familiar figure heading purposefully towards him. He smiled. What indeed? Whatever it was, he didn't want it to end.
The other man came to a stop beside the empty chair, resting his hand on the back of it. "Is this seat free?"
"Yes, go ahead."
The other man sat down and raised his hand to a waiter already heading his way; some things no mask could hide, Bojay thought, and that air of breeding and money was one of them; even if nowadays it was all rather meaningless, old habits obviously died hard. In waiters anyway.
Those dark eyes turned toward him. "Buy you another?" The Cibola dance had begun.
"One, yes. Thanks." And Bojay would have given anything to know how much of the dance was necessary and how much wasn't. What the man would say if he told him how he was feeling. Because he couldn't stop the dance without knowing the answer. At this moment in his life, he needed this man too much to lose him.
He'd seen the look in Sheba's eyes when he'd said, "I guess I'd rather be here with a hole in my memory than not." She'd been scared. His "Sorry, sweetheart. I don't mean it" hadn't really convinced her. Probably because he did mean it, at least a little. Or he had at the time. Some nights he'd sat in the darkness holding his blaster and wondering...
He hadn't done that in a few sectons now. And now he scared himself sometimes. So he wasn't risking the best thing he'd found since he'd lost almost everything. He knew the steps; he would dance the dance.
"Nice night," the other man observed. "The stars are quite present and the air filtration is almost crisp, like Leafturn."
Bojay laughed. "Yes," he said. "It's virtually spring-like."
"I was thinking autumn" He paused, and then smiled slightly. Another thing given away.
For them both, Bojay realized, and mostly for him. Leafturn was spring in the southern hemispheres, and for some odd reason on most of the Colonial worlds those had the least amount of land. Close on to five sixths of the Colonial population had been northerners... Well, that was hardly a significant give-away compared to some things they'd let slip.
"I like that jacket," He said. "It suits you."
Bojay felt his breath catch. He glanced away before answering. "Thanks."
The other man finished his drink. "I was looking," he said, "for someone to go to bed with."
"You found him," Bojay said, finishing his own and standing up. The other man fell in behind him as he threaded his way between the tables towards the rooms at the back.
"Oh, yes," Bojay heard from behind him, "I like that jacket. Very much." He grinned, and then it occurred to him how odd it was, really, to pick out clothes to wear with the object of getting out of them as soon as possible. But then, he hadn't actually picked out what he was going to wear in over a yahren now. On the Peggy that hadn't mattered, all his civvies were good and he hadn't had the chance to pick up... mourning. He broke stride for a micron. That had been it, he supposed now. Mourning. No time or place for that on the Peggy.
He went through the door of the first empty room he came to. Mourning. Well, then, no wonder, he thought. He hadn't forgotten Mao, but even in highest Aquarian society a yahren was as long as you got before people were telling you to just get on with it. Back home six sectares was considered more than enough... and it had been eleven the first time he'd come here. Just under a yahren the first time he'd met Him, if you could call this meeting. He laughed softly as he shut the door, sliding the locking strip.
"What?" said the other man, leaning in with an arm on the door, a quarter of a metron taller.
"It is spring."
The other man paused, his dark eyes distracted for a micron. "Well, technically," he said, "it's"
"Technically," Bojay interrupted, "we're in the middle of damn-all and it's nothing."
He smiled, that slow smile that already did funny things to Bojay's self-possession. "Eloquently put. But then?"
"Spring. Bonfires and festivals and spending all night under the stars."
"Ummm." This time the taller man didn't pause. After a long and satisfying kiss, he murmured in Bojay's ear, "I'm a city boy, myself. But that sounds very promising." Another kiss. "Very promising indeed."
Bojay had been working on shirt fastenings when he could think of it, and now he pulled His jacket and shirt off together, baring the other man's torso. He had an athletic body, tuned with lean firm muscles that overlaid his powerful frame; it was the body of a man who took care of himself, and it was a responsive body. Bojay liked it, liked the way he could affect it, liked the way it could affect him, too.
His clothes joined the man's on the floor as they stripped each other, slowly at first but more quickly as their blood heated and their mouths and hands moved over each other's body, hungry and needy. Then the other man was on his back on the bed as Bojay crouched over him. Another kiss, deep and long, and then Bojay began making his way down the body under him, surrendered to him, wanting him. The man's hands caught at the sheet, twisting as he fought to stay in control long enough to say, "The hounds of spring are on winter's traces..."
Bojay ignored that trace of an expensive education and devoted himself to prolonging the moan it had turned into, nibbling gently while his fingers teased. There were no more words then, just sounds, panting "ohs" and moans that finally culminated in a howl as he came, shuddering under Bojay's hands holding his hips.
And then his fingers were preparing the way and the man found words again. "Yes," he said, "gods, yes, now. Please," and then they were both beyond words.
After, as they again defied custom and held each other, the man drifted into sleep. Bojay lay awake a while, listening in the darkness to the heartbeat under his ear, like music. It had been a long time since he'd heard music, or perhaps more truthfully since he'd listened to it. He'd gone through all the motions, going to the O Club and, since the Peggy was lost, here to the Star as was expected, even here to the Club, and there was always music. But all he'd noticed for a long time was the liquor. And then the men. And now the man... But music was in his blood, and now the blood of the man he was beginning to fear he couldn't do without was singing a song to him, a song he hadn't thought of in yahrens.
You know it's true: there's not much you can do, but just try and ride it through... Bojay sighed to himself and felt the other man's arm tighten a bit, as if even asleep he was attuned to his bedmate. The rest of the song played in his head, sad and yet hopeful: ...and let love carry you, 'cause only love can bring you down, and only love brings you back around... With every drop of life inside us and every heart we've left behind us, everywhere you'll find it's only love, only love...
"Maybe so," he whispered into the blackness.
Boomer came into the ready room carrying the files Apollo had wanted to look at and found Athena chatting with Starbuck. He was slouched in a chair looking up at her where she was sitting on the edge of the table leaning back on her braced arms. Her dark hair was piled on her shoulders like a cloud. It wasn't black like her brother's or father's but a dusky brown; the day of the fire, when he'd suddenly realized exactly how wonderful she was, how brave and how beautiful, it had reminded him of a stellar cloud. Today it still did, but for some reason she looked less like a woman and more like an icon, hair like a nebula and eyes like young stars, pale and cold and far away. He stood in the doorway and slowly accepted the fact that for some sectons now she'd been getting colder and farther away from him without actually doing anything to become that way. In fact, the only time she seemed a woman of flesh and blood, someone warm and close, was when they were making love. Even afterwards, even if she stayed inside his arms, she seemed to ebb away like a tide following a call too strong for him to overcome.
She was closer to Starbuck right now than she'd been to him in a long time.
As he watched, she laughed at something the blond said, tilting her head back in abandon. Then, as her laughter subsided and she shook her head slightly, she caught sight of him. The smile stayed, but in his hyper-sensitive mood he was sure it had become a little forced. "Oh, hi, lammie-boo," she said, straightening and holding out her hand to him.
He crossed to them, glad his hands were full so he didn't have to return the hug she'd have offered otherwise; she'd been getting more publicly demonstrative at the same time that she was withdrawing. He wondered if she felt he was the one receding. He smiled. "Hi. The colonel know you're off the bridge?"
Her smile turned into something more real. "Yes," she said. "More to the point, so does Omega. But I'm just about out of time, so I'm glad you showed up. I was telling Starbuck, Cassie thought it would be nice for the four of us to have dinner for a change. It's too late for reservations anywhere, but the O Club is a nice place to eat, too. So I said yes, unless you've got something else?"
For a couple of microns he thought about saying no. But there wasn't any good reason to, and Starbuck knew that, and dinner with Starbuck and Cassie would be fun... "Sounds good to me," he said.
"Great," she smiled. "We'll see you tonight, then."
They watched her walk out and then Starbuck said, "Sorry. She set it up with Cass, so I couldn't say no."
"Sorry?" Boomer blinked at him, genuinely unsure what he was apologizing for.
"You look like you'd rather dine a deux."
"No, I don't mind dinner with you two."
"Really?" Starbuck eyed him with the speculative look Boomer had learned to fear yahrens ago. He started to say he needed to get to Apollo's office but Starbuck spoke before he could. "Look, buddy, for a guy who's started dropping by the BOQ just to change clothes"
"That's a gross exaggeration!"
"Yeah? Maybe," Starbuck admitted, and then closed in for the kill. "But you said it: it's an exaggeration, not a fiction. And you know what? That usually makes a guy happy. And you're not happy."
Boomer cursed the fate that had given him a friend with eyes like a raptor and the hunting instincts of a pardos. Sure, Starbuck was a much better friend than enemy, and Boomer had always been very fond of him, but sometimes he wished the blond was just a little denser, a little less observant, and a lot less inclined to meddle.
On the other hand, he did want someone to feel sorry for him, someone to listen to himthe role that was his so often, few people seemed to guess he might like to switch places once in a while. And the couple of times he'd unloaded on Starbuck, he'd never breathed a word of it to anyone else. Boomer hesitated, and then met the skeptical, worried blue eyes staring at him and sighed loudly. "I've been happier, that's a fact."
"Hah! I knew it. I don't understand it, but I knew it. So, you and me and grog after we get off."
"What about dinner?"
"Nice try, but we get off at two and nobody eats dinner at two. Well, nobody except weirdish fighter pilots. But Ops is offset by two centares, as you well know, and Cass is on till six, I think, this secton"
"You think?" he asked.
"Look, I'm not the unhappy one. We've got plenty of time before dinner, especially if we go in uniform, which I was planning on because Cass likes me in uniform."
Ordinarily Boomer would have given voice to the comment that presented itself at that remark, but he wasn't going to. Starbuck had had a bad secton himself and didn't need cracks about his girlfriend. "I don't think they'll like it if we show up drunk."
"Drunk?" Starbuck asked. "I said grog. Are you that bad off?"
"No," he denied it reflexively.
"Then no problem," the blond said cheerfully. "Now you'd better scoot before Apollo pins your ears back."
"It's not my fault I'm late."
"That's right. Blame his sister."
"I'll blame you," Boomer promised, heading off.
After shift he found Starbuck waiting for him. They took their drinks to a table in the back of the O Club bar; one advantage to the early shift the Wing was on was that there were few people in there this time of day.
"Okay," Starbuck said after they'd both had a couple of swallows of grog. "Tell Uncle Starbuck your problem."
Boomer looked at his drink, unwilling to put it into words. Once he'd done that, it would be real and he'd have to deal with it.
"Come on," Starbuck coaxed. "What's the problem? You're not happy, and you're dating one of the most beautiful women on the battlestar. Sagan, in the whole fleet. And I know you're getting laid"
"Okay, so you are serious," Starbuck took the rebuke as proof of that. "I happen to know she is, but if you are, too, that can't be it."
"How do you know?" Boomer hated feeling jealous.
"She talks to Cass," Starbuck said. "Cass talks to me. Come on, Boomer, Athena and I were over sectares ago. If we were ever really on, which sometimes I doubt. She never was in love with me, I know that much."
"She's not..." Boomer paused, staring at the wall.
"She's not what?"
"In love with me, either," he admitted.
Another pause. "She's not in love with anybody else," Starbuck offered.
"That's hardly the point. How long can you stay in love with somebody who's not in love with you?"
Those blue eyes looked candidly at him and he swallowed a curse.
"I mean, most people..." He tried again. "I mean..."
"Maybe you're just more sensible than me," Starbuck said. "But my point is, if you love her and you Seal with her"
"She'll come to love me? Maybe. More likely not; more likely she'd come to hate me. And why would she Seal with me anyway if she doesn't love me?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Maybe she's lonely. Maybe she's given up looking. Maybe... Hades, Boomer, I don't know. All I know is she told Cassie that if you asked her she'd probably say yes. So you're home free."
"Home free? Probably say yes is Home free?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Well, she probably wouldn't have told Cass if she didn't know Cass would tell me and I'd tell you... My guess is, it's a nudge. Ask her."
"I don't want to ask her if she doesn't love me." Boomer heard himself say that and knew it was true. All of it. He and Athena were just not meant for each other and better to break it off while they were still on speaking terms. "And she doesn't. So..."
Starbuck shrugged again, pushing his mug around on the table in a little circle. "I don't get it."
"You want to get married, she's willing, now you won't."
"Starbuck, she's not in love with me."
"So? Like I said, she's not in love with anybody else, either."
"Starbuck..." Boomer stopped. "Oh, what's the use?"
"Look," the blond said, "I'm not saying you should ask her"
"Yes, you are!" Boomer protested incredulously. "You just said, 'ask her'!"
"Well..." Starbuck paused, and then grinned crookedly. "That was then, this is now."
"Only you would dare use that for a centon ago." Boomer shook his head. "And I know, I know, a centon ago isn't now... So don't bother defending yourself, buddy; just tell me what you are saying. Now."
"Well, look. You're in love with her, right? And," he held up a hand, "don't tell me what she's feeling, 'cause that's not what I asked. You," he pointed at Boomer, "are in love with her, right?"
Boomer hesitated. He'd meant what he'd said earlier; he wasn't sure he was still in love with her because he didn't think he was built to love one-sidedly. But, on the other hand... He just didn't know if he was built to see her every day feeling like this, either, and not... He wasn't used to being hit upside the head by his emotions and he wasn't sure how to deal with it. Short of asking if he could get assigned to one of the frigates, that is, and that really had no appeal. Unlike Athena. Even now. Maybe...
He hauled his mind back from where it had gone. "Yes," he said.
"Yes, you heard me say your name, or yes, you're in love with her?"
"Sometimes I love her so much it hurts," he admitted. "When I think I'm losing her... But, Starbuck, if she's gone"
"She's not gone. She's right here. Dragging you to dinner andother places, and believe me, I know: if she wanted to dump you, you'd be bagged and curbed by now."
"So," he overrode Boomer's protest. "You love her. She's not in love with anyone else, and she's willing to date you. All I'm saying is, don't stop now. It's only been a couple of sectares, right? Just because Apollo goes down hard and fast doesn't mean his sister will. Give it time. You're worth having and she may come to realize that. If you walk away while she's still uncertain, you'll never know."
"And if I give it more time and she finally does dump me?"
Starbuck sighed softly, but he didn't look away. "Only you know whether that'll hurt worse than not trying. You're usually as tenacious as an Arian cold-caller smelling a sale. But it's your life."
Boomer slumped back in his chair. "Is it? Sometimes I wonder."
Starbuck laughed shortly. "Well, that's what happens when you get serious about somebody. Anybody, let alone someone like Athena."
"I suppose you're right about that."
"Oh, I know I am. Loving someone takes your independence first thing." After a brief pause, he added, "Not that that's a bad thing. Or so I've heard."
Boomer sighed. "We're a pair, aren't we?"
"Hey," Starbuck protested pro forma, "I'm not the unhappy one. Me and Cass are fine."
Boomer didn't push it. "Glad somebody is."
This hadn't been such a good idea, after all, Cassie was forced to admit to herself about halfway through dinner. Boomer and Starbuck were friends, and she didn't want to try to keep Starbuck away from his friends, especially if Apollo was going to get married on him again. She'd barely noticed the first time, since she hadn't been interested in Starbuck, but it had taken a toll on him that she hadn't been able to help becoming aware of as she got in deeper with him. It might even have been part of why she'd gone running back to Cain: at least he didn't have anybody but his daughter. And his career, of course.
She closed the door on Cain, firmly, and went back to Starbuck. She wanted him to be happy. She wanted him to keep his friends, and to set up a pattern where they could be together even after things changed. After he became the single man. Or even after he got married himself... she wanted him to know that if he decided to join Apollo and Boomer in wedded bliss she'd do her best to make it as close to that for him as she could.
And that part was working. It was the other goal that was falling apart before her eyes. In fact, what she was seeing might render the first goal moot.
Because Boomer and Athena were working way too hard at it.
She'd hoped to put her own little doubts to rest by seeing them together; hoped to be able to tell herself that yes, Athena's hesitancies were just normal jitters. Hoped to put her own desires down with a powerful dose of seeing-it-with-her-own-eyes. Instead, what she was seeing was Athena trying to convince everyone that she loved Boomer, and Boomer trying to convince himself that she wasn't out of his reach.
She sighed softly to herself, covering it with her glass of iced water. She liked Boomer well enough; he'd never indicated by word or action that he even ever thought about her past, though by the same token he'd never shown any interest in her. But he apparently wasn't who Athena really wanted. She hated to meddle, but it would have been (will be, she corrected herself) hard enough to watch Athena settle down happily; she couldn't watch her make a mistake. She'd give Boomer some time to figure it out himself, but if she had to... Starbuck was still fond of Athena himself, he could
She choked on the water. Starbuck's hands deftly removed the glass from hers and pounded her firmly on the back. "You okay, Cass?" he asked.
She looked into his blue eyes. "Yes, thanks," she said, clearing her throat. "I'm fine." Across the table Athena's pale eyes were concerned. Cassie felt her own eyes falter and drop; she covered it by taking another drink and a deep breath. When she'd steadied herself as she'd been trained to do, she announced that she wanted dessert. "Something chocolate."
And when Athena said, "Ummmm. Now and later," with an arch look at Boomer, Cassie knew she was right about half of it, anyway.
Surely the gods couldn't have senses of humors this warped. Athena didn't seem the slightest bit interested in Omega whenever they talked; in fact, she seemed to consider him as a cross between Cassie herself and her brother. But she wasn't in love with Boomer, and she wasn't in love with him in that desperately positive way that said there was somebody else... And why wouldn't she mention somebody else in those late night girls-together talks unless...
She looked back up at Starbuck. She didn't love him, exactly, but she so very nearly did. There were so many things about him that were lovable. Like the concern in his eyes at this moment. She smiled at him and picked up the conversational thread she'd dropped earlier. He smiled back, relaxing.
He was fond of Athena, probably as fond of her, almost, as he was of Cassie herself. If not fonder, she reminded herself; he'd asked Athena to Seal with him. It was Athena who'd broken it off, if rather raggedly. If Athena was regretting that, if Athena wanted him back... He'd be happy with Athena, if she loved him. Happier, probably, wouldn't he? Sure, he'd be settling, still, but... And Athena, she knew how he felt about Apollo. If she'd come to realize that that didn't matter to her, that she wanted him anyway...
Cassie felt her heart behaving like something out of an old fay-tale, turning to something very like stone. She didn't love Starbuck but he was her best chance at anything like happiness. But she couldn't hold him if Athena wanted him. Even if Athena wouldn't ask. She couldn't...
She'd known it was going to be hard to see Athena happy.
She hadn't known it was going to be this hard.
She reached for the last little straw floating on the surface of the lake where she was drowning and reminded herself that she could be wrong. Just because all the pieces fit didn't mean there weren't bits from two puzzles. There were other men on the battlestar Athena would think she couldn't have, after all, married men and, and, the colonel, and... well, others. There were plenty of others. Don't go off half-cocked and dump Starbuck before you know Athena wants him, she told herself. Find out first.
"Do you want to come in?" Cassie asked him at the door. She always asked him unless she really didn't want him, which was something he'd always picked up on anyway. He'd figured out a long time ago that his waiting to be asked was something she liked. For that matter, he liked hearing it out loud that she wanted him, so he supposed it was one of those win-win situations. Of course, though some people wouldn't have believed it, he didn't always say yes, and when he did he didn't always sleep with her. There were other things in life.
But he said yes tonight, though he was fairly sure she wanted to talk first. Or just. Something was bothering her. Several somethings, actually, he thought; he'd seen one of them hit her between the eyes at dinner, though he had no clue as to its nature. They'd been talking about children, about Boxey and Boomer's nephew and Zac, and he'd contributed a couple of anecdotes about kids he'd known, and Athena had wondered about bringing kids into the circumscribed life of the Fleet, but unless Cass thought he was hankering after his own kids, which he'd made it pretty clear to her, he thought, he wasn't, he didn't see how that could be it.
And something had been bothering her for several days nowsuddenly Starbuck felt the floor drop out from under his feet. What if she were in that half of a half of a percent of birth control failures? If she was pregnant they'd have to get married. It would have the virtue of making up his mind for him, but he wasn't at all sure he wanted to, not like that. Calm down, Bucko, he told himself, that's probably not it at all.
She asked him if he wanted some tea. He said yes, thinking it might help her to have something to do. He leaned up against the counter in her service room and watched her neat movements in the small space. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe a little blonde girl would be nice. Maybe... He couldn't wait, so he nudged her a little. "You thinking about what Athena was saying?"
"Athena?" she turned sharply, spilling some tea on the counter.
"About babies," he said, taken a bit aback.
She stared at him searchingly for a centon and then laughed. "Oh, no. I'm not pregnant."
And now that it wasn't looming over him, he kind of missed the idea. Before he said something irrevocable, he made himself ask, "Then what's on your mind, Cass?"
She paused, and then put the kettle on the burner and turned to him, her deep eyes troubled. "There is something," she said.
"What is it?"
"Starbuck, I have to tell you something."
"People are always telling other people things," he said. "Usually it's to make themselves feel better."
"No, Starbuck," she said.
"No, not you. I mean, you don't take any pleasure in hurting me, I know that," he gave her a smile. "Hurting yourself, that's different. Like having to tell me about Cain..." He reached out and touched her cheek gently. "Maybe you just think... anyway. Have to tell me something means I'm not going to like hearing it any more than you're going to like saying it. You and I, we're beyond that. Or maybe we never got that far. But whichever, you don't have to tell me anything. We're fine as we are."
"It's not about me. Or you. Well," she paused, biting her lip for a moment. That made him want to kiss her. He waited. "It's about Chameleon"
She broke off because he'd moved his hand very quickly to rest his fingers on her lips. "No, Cass," he said. "I don't want to hear it. Not from you. He'll tell me... whatever it is. Or he won't."
"Starbuck," she said, or he thought that's what she said, her lips moving under his fingers.
He turned his hand, catching her delicate jaw in it, leaving his thumb on her lips. "No, Cass," he repeated. "I don't want to hear it. Whatever it is, you shouldn't tell me. He will if he wants me to know. And if he doesn't, well. Then he won't tell me, and I'll have to choose which possibility to believe, and he'll have to live with my choice. But you shouldn't get in the middle of this."
She pulled away from him and he let her go, and they both knew he was. He sometimes wondered what it would be like to be so much at the physical mercy of your lover, wondered sometimes if women thought about it, wondered how they couldn't... It argued a certain difference in outlook if nothing else. And it probably explained some women he knew. He reined in his mind back in, wondering why it had to always go skittering around like that. He'd be so much happier if it would just stay where he told it, not run off thinking about any fracking thing it wanted to.
She interrupted that old and fruitless complaint. "I am in the middle of it, Starbuck."
What had that old charmer said to her, Starbuck wondered. He'd known for days, ever since the test results came back, that Cass was hiding something from him, but he couldn't blame her. He'd put her in the way, telling Chameleon what he had. It hadn't even been true; oh, sure, he'd thought occasionally of sealing with Cass, and he might just do it when Apollo did with Sheba, but she wasn't the only woman he'd ever thought of sealing with. She was the fourth, if you counted Abby from Umbra Ten, sweet Abby dead now these... good lords, could it be fourteen yahrens? He shook Abby from his mind with the ease of long practiceshe barely hurt at all by nowand said, "No, you're not. Not really. No, Cass, listen: whatever he told you he only told you because you're a medtech and you already knew something, right?"
She considered that. He held his breath while she did. Truth was, he didn't want to hear whatever it was, because there were only two things it could be and he'd hate them both. And it wasn't like they hadn't crossed his mind already...
"You're right," she said. "I don't think he'd have told me anything if I weren't the medtech."
"Then," he said, feeling relieved, "you don't actually know anything. It's a professional confidence. Keep it. Whatever it is, if it ever comes out, or never for that matter, I won't blame you."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, I'm sure. And if I change my mind, which maybe I will if he dies or disappears again, I'll let you know. But it's on him, whatever it is. It's not on you, and he didn't have the right to make you feel like you were taking sides." He caressed her cheek again. "Don't worry about it, Cass. It's between him and me, whatever it is."
She caught his hand in hers and brought it to her lips. He let her, and then lifted a finger to brush a tear away from her long lashes. "I mean it, Cass. Whatever he told you, forget it. I don't want you to tell me, though I love that you wanted to."
"Star." Her voice broke and he kissed whatever else she'd been going to say off her lips.
He had the presence of mind to turn off the burner before he picked her up.
|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|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
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