Bojay sat at the small table in the service room and picked desultorily at the fruit in his bowl, watching Omega. He was sleepily debating with himself whether to have a cup of kava and wake up properly, or sit here drowsily until Omega went on duty and then go back to bed. He was on again that afternoon, and usually he slept some beforehand... His offhand remark about how easy it would be to mesh their schedules had foundered on a couple of rocky facts. First, which he had, he supposed, been vaguely aware of, Ops and the Wing ran on different schedules. Omega didn't work six-to-two, he worked eight-to-four, and going in early, as he usually did to prepare for the morning meeting, didn't mean he could get off early. With the best will in the worlds, if he came straight home and fell into bed after getting off, he wouldn't be asleep much before five, and with Bojay getting off at ten, it wasn't enough sleep, and same with Bojay: waiting until Omega left before he went to bed didn't give him enough, either. And the second was that even with the best will in the worlds, and Bojay gave him points on willingness, Omega couldn't ever leave the bridge at four. Bojay wasn't sure how much of that was a nervousness about handing over to an inexperienced lieutenant, and how much of it was Tigh giving Omega too much work to do, and how much of it was just habit, but the fact was he was rarely home before five, and sometimes later. Sometimes much later.
And that wasn't counting the sectonly Senior Staff dinner on Seconday, which Omega couldn't miss, or any of the other obligations that cropped up in the Galactica's evening hours. Ah, well... the best laid plans and all that. It wasn't as if sleeping with Omega, just sleeping beside him, was objectionable, after all, the solid warmth of the other man next to him. And probably, he'd realized in the sectares since he'd moved in, having six days every three sectons where they weren't able to be together all their off-duty time wasn't such a bad thing, either. Breathing room was good for them both.
After Molecay things had gone to pieces. He and Mao had been together almost all the time, but the round-the-clock action had made that mean less than it might have otherwise. And before that, they hadn't been in the same squadron. And for Omega, Bojay had come to realize, all the daily things about being partnered were new. That Ruaraidh... Omega had basically been a guest in his house when he went home on furlon. It had been a vacation. For both of them, probably... And the day-to-day had never included someone else. Bojay didn't worry about it now, but it was true that they'd had a few adjustments to make.
He smiled to himself, remembering Omega's informing him some sectons ago, and rather acerbically, that not every horizontal surface in the place had to have something on it. "You know," he'd replied, waving his hand around, "for a Caprican, well at least what I've seen of them, this place is kind of austere. Most Capricans like stuff. This is very minimalist, almost Kenjian; makes me feel"
"At home?" Omega had raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well, it's like where I grew up, yeah, which is not a feeling I particularly enjoy. I mean," he'd turned to pick up the offending jacket and blaster, "if you're not going to use it, what's the point of having a table" And the next thing he'd known, he was discovering that Omega did in fact have uses in mind for his otherwise unoccupied horizontal surfaces...
Adjustments... He smiled again. Some were certainly easier to make than others. And for Omega, well... no adjustment would be too hard. His eyes drifted through the doorway into the front room; he could see the top shelf of the wall unit, the photos there... He smiled to himself, felt it turn into a yawn, and decided to go back to bed for a while.
Omega interrupted his thoughts with an apposite question. "Are you going to have kava?"
"I will," Bojay answered, "eventually. Leave it."
Omega shook his head but left it, turning to rinse out his own cup. "You go on break after this afternoon, right?" he asked over his shoulder.
Bojay nodded. "Yeah, it's Sixthday."
"You're not off," Bojay said, and then, "or are you?"
Omega leaned up against the counter and smiled at him. "I am, in fact. Both days, and First Day as well, which, since you're not on again till ten at night, means"
"Basically, three whole days. Nice. I think I'll disable the comm."
Omega laughed, but with a little guilty look that said he probably wouldn't be able to go three whole days without checking on the bridge at least once. "I thought we might pay dinner back on Eighthday, too," he said. "Sheba's on days, right?"
"And Cassie, too, so what do you think?"
Bojay nodded again. "Sounds like it will work," he said. "If you think Boomer and me at the same table is a good idea."
"You were perfectly civil to each other the last time," Omega said. "And I got the distinct impression Sheba means to make it work. You and Boomer liking each other, I mean."
Bojay had to laugh at that. Sheba did mean to. Boomer didn't seem to mind letting her go off with him, which was good, because sometimes you just wanted to be alone with your best friend, but the other pilot had told him in so many words a secton ago that while they might never be drinking buddies, it probably behooved them to put the past behind them and play together nicely. Bojay was more than willing to do that; he was just glad he didn't have to do it for Omega's best friend. Though he had to admit that dealing with Cassie was a balancing act in its own way. He'd heard about her long before he'd met her, on Cain's arm in the Galactica's Officers' Club. Not from Cain, of course, from Sheba.
It wasn't so much that Cain slept with her; the man had a woman in every port the Pegasus stayed a half a day in. It wasn't even that he took her seriously. It was that he did both. And that Cassie was a socialator. And virtually the same age as Sheba, possibly younger. In no way was she the woman Sheba wanted to see replacing her mother, though Bojay wasn't sure that such a woman existed. And quite frankly, he never wanted to go through anything even vaguely resembling the firestorm that he had found himself caught in when Sheba found out that Cain had put her and that lady on the same holoplayer... On the other hand, he wanted the Skipper to be happy. And on the other other hand, he didn't want the Skipper taken for a ride by some cold-blooded professional, and he was getting to that age where, in Bojay's experience, men could fool themselves... And then he'd met her, and then she'd put her life on the line with theirs, and saved his, and gotten abandoned just like they had. And been the one it looked like might actually pull Bucko out of his pointless life... And then she'd dumped him, but he hadn't seemed to mind much and she was so radiant, plus, of course, just to really complicate things, she was Athena's lover. And Athena was Omega's best friend...
Though he rather thought that Omega's best friend was probably dead. He had the feeling that although Omega and Athena liked each other, they hadn't been particularly close before the Destruction. He sighed to himself. He was no philosopher, but sometimes he wondered about the human ability to pull joy out of disaster.
The door chimed, pulling him gratefully out of his introspection. Omega, ready to leave, opened the door and said, in what Bojay had learned to recognize as his politely startled voice, "Good morning."
"Yes, it is!" Starbuck said, with entirely too much vivacity for a man who'd just gotten off duty a centare or so ago. "Boj up?"
"Barely," Omega said. "He's in there... Is something the matter?"
"Nope, just want to talk to him."
"He's all yours. Bojaysee you this evening."
"Don't let Tigh talk you into anything!" Bojay hollered back and looked askance at the bouncy Starbuck who came into the service room. "You look much happier than you did yesterday," he said, getting up to pour himself some kava. It was clear he wasn't going to sleep anytime soon, and lately he'd found it was best to be alert when trying to deal with Starbuck.
"I am," Starbuck said. "How did you keep from talking to people? That's what I don't understand."
Bojay blinked at him. He was a couple of cups behind, it appeared. "Talking about what?"
"Love," said Starbuck, sounding like a vid commercial.
"Love? Well, I have been known to talk about love," he said, sitting down again.
"To Sheba. I bet you talked to Sheba." He wasn't pacing, but he was anything but standing still. "I would talk to Boomer, if I could find him. Maybe I can find him at lunch. If he doesn't go with Sheba. Hell, if he does." He paused. "You gonna offer me some kava?"
"Kava? Bucko, you don't need any kava. You're wired, boy."
Starbuck laughed. "I guess so... I never felt like this before. I don't know whether to hope I get used to it or not."
Bojay felt the kava finally kick in. "You met somebody."
Starbuck's smile was blinding.
"You met somebody, and you're in love. That's great, Bucko. I mean it."
"Well? Who is she? Or he, as the case may be," Bojay added, remembering who he was talking to. Starbuck may have been concentrating on women, but his heart had been elsewhere for way too long. Just yesterday, in fact, at lunch, he'd been intransigent still.
"Remember what we talked about yesterday?" Starbuck echoed his thoughts.
Bojay did. He'd been thinking about that lunch, too, this morning, if rather on and off and without any real idea what to do or say that he hadn't done or said already.
Starbuck had shown up in the O Club while Bojay and Omega were eating, only ten or so centons before Omega was going to have to get back on duty. The place was full; after a quick head movement in the blond's direction and a silent question, Bojay had waved him over to join them. "You sure you don't mind?" Starbuck had asked before sitting down. "Don't want to intrude on newlyweds, after all."
Bojay had fielded that. "Bucko, not only has it been over two sectares, but it's the second marriage for both of us." Then he'd laughed.
"What?" Starbuck had asked as he pulled out the chair.
"It's just, it's public."
Starbuck had looked at him quizzically but he'd succeeded in making Omega chuckle.
"Ah, I get it. Private joke." Starbuck had looked around for a waiter, but it wasn't until Omega caught one's eye and raised his hand that theirs had shown up. After Starbuck had ordered a sandwich and Bojay had told the man to bring him some kava and a piece of pie, the blond had leaned back in his chair and said, "Still, it's nice."
Starbuck had shrugged. "Seeing people make it for a change."
Bojay had exchanged a long look with Omega while Starbuck, apparently wishing he hadn't started the conversation, aligned his flatware with millimetronic precision. "You," Bojay had said firmly, "need to meet someone new. Megs, isn't there someone in Ops? What about what's her name? Charis?"
"I dated her." Starbuck's answer had been simultaneous with Omega's,
"She's seeing a engineering officer."
"Well, she's not the only woman up there."
"I can find my own dates, Boj, thank you."
"Well, you need to. What's it been, three sectons almost? It's not like you to go that long. Or at least it didn't use to be," he had pulled himself back, remembering how long it had been since he and Starbuck had been close.
Starbuck hadn't seem to mind, though. "Well, true... Maybe I should just give in and let Brie have her way with me."
Bojay had snickered; even though Brie had never looked his way, he'd seen her cut more than one out of the herd. And she seemed so harmless, too. "You have something against pilots? Women pilots, I mean?"
"As pilots? No," Starbuck had shaken his head. "It was hard getting used to them, but they're no worse than a lot of the men I've flown with. Most of 'em think they know me too well, though, which is a handicap when it comes to going out with them, if that's what you meant."
"I can see how that would be."
"They've been in the Wing nearly a yahren now," Omega had interrupted the repartee. "Are you still getting used to them? That's you in the plural." He never quite stopped being the flag-lieutenant, worrying about everything.
Starbuck had paused, thinking about it. "No, I don't think so. It's a little hard remembering how weird it was at first. Of course, they were all pretty good by the time most of the Wing met them, so that helped. And the ones that stayed really wanted it." He'd cocked his head. "Athena told me you talked her back onto the bridge."
Omega had nodded. "I and the colonel. Not to insult Starfighter Command, but we were finding it much harder to replace her on the bridge than you did in a Viper."
"I can see that... It's not like we got any ops people after Cimtar, just pilots." Starbuck had paused again. "It is funny, though, how hard it is for some of the guys. I mean, some of them you can't put with a woman wingmate, they just don't fly the same."
"Old habits die hard."
The conversation had stopped then as the waiter showed up. When he'd gone Starbuck had said, "The last defense of a desperate people."
Starbuck had laughed a little, self-consciously. "That's what Commander Adama said once, yahrens ago, that nobody doubted women were as brave or as patriotic or as dependable as men, but that putting their women on the front lines was the last defense of a desperate people."
"Not a bad description of us this past yahren," Omega had said after a moment.
"Yeah... What about you guys?"
Bojay had paused. "We didn't until well after Molecay," he'd said. "Of course, for a long time we didn't have any Vipers for them; it wasn't till we started flying around the clock, hot-cotting them, that we could use more pilots of either sex..."
"What about Sheba? I thought she'd been a pilot for yahrens."
"Sheba was an aberration, not a precedent."
Starbuck had grinned at him. "Oh, for a recorder!"
Bojay had grinned back. "I wouldn't be worried if you had one."
"Relying on that past tense?"
"Relying on her having heard me say worse."
"Good friend, huh?"
"Yeah... the best I ever had. Fifth Fleet wasn't bad at all."
Starbuck had leaned forward a bit. "Did you know, before you transferred, that Cain was like that?"
"No. I didn't know anything about him, not know. Just what everybody had heard."
"Why did you transfer?" Omega had asked curiously, glancing at his wrist-chrono. "There's nothing in your records."
"You've got his records?" Starbuck had sounded surprised. Well, of course, everybody knew, or thought they did, that Cain hadn't planned on leaving them.
Omega had shrugged. "We don't get rid of archived files, we've got more than enough data storage space."
That was the short answer. Bojay had sat through the long one a few sectons earlier, hearing far more than he wanted to know about memory and storage and man-centares required for winnowing through the annual Fleet Personnel Package, and how it was easier to put up with a milli-micron delay in query retrievals, so that the battlestars at least held the whole FPP, not just their sub-section of it, and that on the Galactica at any rate they held six yahrens of old FPPs... He'd listened because it was explaining the appearance of a framed and slightly cropped (no serial number) version of Mao's persrec photo, back when he was a flight officer still. Cameras had loved Mao, even BuPers cameras, and the file still-shot looked more like a portrait... He hadn't seen a picture of Mao in a half a yahren; it had been easier to listen to the explanation than say anything, and apparently easier for Omega to make it than say anything substantial. But after Bojay had set Mao up on the top shelf of the wall unit next to Ruaraidh, he had taken Omega into the sleeping room and managed, he thought, to show him how much he loved him...
"Huh... So, why did you transfer?" Starbuck had repeated the question. "I always kind of wondered myself."
Bojay had shrugged. "Somebody, I don't know who, apparently spotted me in a compromising bar being, well, compromised." He'd had to smile, remembering. "So, when I got back to the battlestar after furlon, I was greeted by the captainremember him?"
Starbuck had snorted. "Captain Charm? Oh, yeah, I remember him."
"Chalm, wasn't it?" Omega had asked with apparent innocence.
"He does get it, doesn't he?" Starbuck had looked worried.
Bojay had laughed. "Anyway, he informed me that a wonderful career opportunity had opened up in the Fifth Fleet and I ought to avail myself of it. Well, Fifth Fleet: you can imagine my thrill. So I told him he should offer it to someone who wasn't happy in his work. He told me that I was about to get unhappy, in a tearing hurry, and that's how I should take the transfer. As soon as I paid my bar bill, he added rather pointedly. So then of course I knew, and I took the transfer. I had a bad day or so wondering if he'd said anything to the Peggy's brass, but he hadn't. Although the funny part was if he had it wouldn't have mattered. I can still remember, three days after I boarded there was a party for the head of tech maintenance, his fortieth birthday, and I saw these two tech officers dancing together..." He'd smiled. "I liked the Peggy. I liked her a lot."
"I bet," Starbuck had said. "Even with Cain thrown in."
"Cain was the reason," Bojay had replied, though not with the anger he'd used to feel on the subject. "Cain made that ship; he called the shots. He took care of usall of us. We'd have died for him... See, Starbuck, you didn't know the Skipper. He was different before Molecay, a good commander. He really was. You only saw him after... We couldn't see it," he had admitted. "We all went crazy along with him so he seemed normal to us."
"We all went a bit... strange," Omega had said gently. "You may have been a little more off center than us, but then, you'd been alone longer, and since you were alone the Destruction took you harder." He'd smiled quickly. "You're fairly normal now."
"As normal as you ever were," Starbuck had agreed.
And then Omega had had to leave. After that the conversation had turned more personal. Bojay had meant to get it back on the topic of Starbuck's love life, or lack thereof, though he hadn't been sure how. Starbuck had indavertently given him an opening, though the first thing he'd said had been, "Hated seeing you go back then, but it looks like maybe it was a good deal for you. Given you didn't die after all, I mean."
"Yeah. Things worked out."
"Watching you watch him, I'd say so. You were hurting when you got here, though. Glad to see you doing better."
Bojay had taken a bit of a chance. "You might have done well to get transferred too."
"May I remind you, I would not have been here? I mean, I wouldn't have been shot up."
Bojay had bridled. "May I remind you, I got hit on the ground, not in my Viper?"
Starbuck had laughed outright. "Yes, that's right... But I wouldn't have been here, unless I'd been on something else at Cimtar. Maybe not then."
"You'd have survived Cimtar no matter what ship you launched from."
"If I'd launched. Most of the ships, less than half their Vipers ever got off. I'd probably be dead, and that wouldn't be an improvement." His blue eyes had gotten very bleak of a sudden. "Not a good thing at all."
"Granted. Don't Kobolians have a saying, something about God drawing straight with crooked lines?"
"Find one and ask him. I've forgotten everything they taught me, or I've tried to. That's how it worked out though."
"But you could make some effort"
"What are you suggesting? We have a conversation?"
"Maybe you should. Maybe you should say something"
"Oh, no. It would probably be the last conversation we had."
"And that would be worse than the way it is now?"
"Look," Starbuck had shaken his head. "I know what you're saying, but consider this. You had a lover, and you lost him. It might not have been obvious to people who didn't know you, but you were still walking wounded when you got here. You ever wish you hadn't had him?"
Bojay had thought before answering. "You're right. I had Mao and I was happy. Then I lost him and 'miserable' doesn't cover it, but I never wished I hadn't had him. But, Starbuck, it's not the same thing. I had Mao. I wasn't just hanging around the same ship as him." He'd stopped before he'd said 'fantasizing'. "You can't lose what you never had. Plus, having lost him I'm okay now. You do get over things. Time does heal, you do move on. But not if you insist on standing still."
"It doesn't work like that," Starbuck had said.
"Do you remember making a pass at me, way back when?"
"I remember," Bojay had nodded. "You can't blame me."
Starbuck had grinned slightly. "I never did. But remember me telling you why I was saying no?"
He had. Carrying a torch for a guy on another ship, a guy who didn't even want to know... "Yeah... I recall telling you to get over it and get on with your life, too, which," he'd raised a hand in only slightly mock self-defense, "I now admit was both glib and insensitive. But a good idea, any way. And I thought you were," he'd said, his eyes narrowed in confusion. After all, if you liked women, Cassie was a nice specimen, though come to think of it, a bit subdued was all Starbuck had been. "You mean, still?" Well, Sheba had thought so, but
Starbuck had interrupted those thoughts. "I was trying. But you see how well it worked. There's no point to it."
Funny, Bojay had thought briefly, how easily old habits came back. Don't say anything that couldn't be construed several ways by any other listeners. No names. No pronouns. "I thought you were friends. I'd thought Cassie"
"We are. We are. I'm not... I know you can't see it, you don't get along"
"That doesn't mean I don't see it. If our history was different..." That had trailed off as he remembered something and his crack of laughter had made Starbuck demand,
"Okay, Boj, what's so fracking funny?"
"Actually," he'd glanced around before continuing, "he's responsible for my meeting Omega. Indirectly, of course."
"Brooding about Sheba's love life one evening slipped into a rather disturbingly different vein, and I decided I really needed to get out and meet people. In a manner of speaking."
Starbuck had grinned.
Bojay had decided it wouldn't hurt to push it a bit. Starbuck had been a little dimmer than usual the past few sectons; he needed to be stirred up a bit, one way or the other. "You could stand that."
"What?" Starbuck had sounded exasperated.
"I know plenty of people. That's not my problem."
"You're getting any forwarder, you know. Sheba says Boomer said"
"That's going to take getting used to."
"Sheba says Boomer says..." Starbuck had shrugged then. "What does Boomer say, as if I haven't heard it already."
"That you wanted to marry Cassie."
"Well, yeah. If they'd gotten Sealed. But that didn't happen."
"Don't pin your hopes on that. The wrong person got dumped."
"Neither of them had their heart in it."
"She's an acquired taste," he'd acknowledged. "Are you sure it means anything, though?"
"Sure? Of course not. But it doesn't matter if it does," Starbuck had said a bit testily. "I can't quit now."
"You ever heard 'Run So Far'?"
"Of course not. You're not going to sing it to me, are you?"
"You're not an appreciative audience. But I am going to quote it."
"Some other time, Boj, I've got places to be"
"'You fly out as your smile grows thin'," Bojay had said implacably.
Whether Starbuck had really meant to leave, or his starting to get up had been part of the running joke, Bojay hadn't been sure. Still wasn't, in fact. But the blond had frozen halfway out of his chair for several microns before slowly sitting back down. "I'm not giving you that satisfaction," he'd said. "Go on. Finish it."
Bojay had. "'I sigh, knowing the mess you're in. And you know that you can't get away, and you know that you can't hide it from yourself: lonely days, blue guitarthere's no escape, can only run so far.'"
He hadn't stopped. "'I know something I ought to say, stuck here, trying to find a way, and you know that you can't get away, and you know that you can't hide it from yourself: lonely nights, traveling farthere's no escape, can only run so far. Lonely tears, after darkthere's no escape, can only run so far.'"
Starbuck had sat quietly for a centon or two and then shrugged. "So your advice is?"
"I'm not sure..."
"Can it, Boj. You don't get to hand out this felgar without admitting you've got advice. Take some responsibility. What is it?"
"Transfer," he'd said bluntly. "Go to Green. And for Kai's sake, actually try to meet somebody else."
"It's good advice," had been Starbuck's surprising answer. "There's only one problem with it. It doesn't work. I did try, well, not the transfer but that's really pointless since I'd still be in the same Wing. But I did try. You see how well it worked. What did you just say?" He'd smiled sadly. "I can't hide it from myself. There is no escape, and I've run as far as I can."
They had sat silently for a while; there hadn't seemed to be much else to say. Then Starbuck had given himself a metaphorical shake, like a dagget coming out of water, and smiled brilliantly at Bojay. "Anyway, it's nice to know you're back, nagging and all. I need all the friends I can get."
"Don't we all?"
"Yeah... I need one who'll get drunk with me."
"Unfortunately I'm on duty in just over a centar."
Starbuck had laughed; it had sounded genuine. "I'm on tonight, myself. Worse, I've got dinner at the commander's at 1850."
"Oh. I can see where you might feel like getting drunk. I'm on break after tomorrow's shift; I'm at your disposal." He had grinned. "You can sleep it off on our couch."
Starbuckhad grinned back. "Don't think I won't take you up on that. Hope Omega won't mind."
"Good... Look," Starbuck had started digging into his pockets. "I won't say I enjoyed the conversation, because parts of it I could, quite frankly, have done without, but I did enjoy most of it and the rest was probably good for me. Let me get your lunches."
"Starbuck, you don't have to do that."
"I know. It's noble of me." He'd piled some cubits on the chit-tray and said, "I won't take no for an answer. And you don't have enough time before you go on duty to argue me out of it; you've got to go change, after all."
Bojay had laughed. They'd left together, but split up outside the club.
And now here was Starbuck again, but he didn't look like he needed to get drunk. In fact, he looked like getting drunk would be a waste of good alcohol; he probably wouldn't even notice. "Yeah, I remember," said Bojay. "It was only yesterday."
"You know what? As it turns out I have to thank you for that damned song. 'Can only run so far. Can't hide it from yourself.' Useful words, very useful."
Bojay froze, his cup still at his mouth, and then, nearly choking, managed to swallow. He stared at Starbuck. He couldn't possibly mean... "Did you actually meet somebody?"
"No. No meetings. Just conversation. Well, not just conversation." He grinned again, and Bojay started laughing. He could remember feeling like Starbuck looked. "Not just conversation at all," Starbuck continued. "But conversation first."
Bojay put his cup down carefully. "Starbuck. Stand still for a centon and tell me in plain Standard: are you saying you and Apollo"
"Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. Me and Apollo. Apollo and I."
"Congratulations." Bojay started laughing. "I mean it." He jumped up and caught the blond in a hug. "See?" He ruffled Starbuck's hair and then let go. "You should have listened to me yahrens ago."
Starbuck, still grinning, sobered up a little. "No. I don't think it would have worked yahrens ago... maybe. I don't know. It doesn't matter. It worked last night. And I am so. Damned. Happy!" He flung his arms out and fairly shouted the last word at the universe.
"Well, I guess," Bojay said. He hesitated to ask if Apollo was ready to be open about it; he didn't want to bring Starbuck down. And his automatic impulse to invite the two of them to dinner sometime soon was quelled by the thought that Apollo probably wouldn't enjoy being polite to him for a couple of centares in such close company. So instead he sat on the edge of the table and said, "Moral of the story: Patience pays off."
"The Big Money game, too... We're going to dinner tonight at Theni's. I can't wait to see Cass's face. She's gonna be happy. They both will, though Theni may snipe at him."
"I don't know. She can usually find something he's done. But she'll be happy." He looked momentarily almost shy as he added, "We went by the commander's this morning before he went up to the bridge."
Well, that answered that, Bojay figured. And probably explained why Starbuck was here, since the Commander lived down the hallway. "You knew he liked you."
"I know. But it's different when it happens... Man." He let out a huge sigh. "I had to tell somebody before I exploded." He took his first really good look at Bojay. "Boj... you're not dressed."
He looked down to make sure the fuzzy robe he was wearing in the chill Galactica air hadn't come unbelted. "Well, I was planning on going back to bed. Though I'm awake now."
"No, no. I'm glad you came. Listen, Boomer's probably back in the BOQ by now, since Spar's on days. Do you mind if I find Sheba and tell her? She'll be glad to hear it."
"No, go ahead. Tell everybody. Well, no. I want to surprise Theni and Cass tonight. But tell Sheba if she can keep a secret... what am I saying? Of course she can. Just make sure she does."
Starbuck paused at the door. "Thanks, Boj. For yesterday, too."
"Don't mention it." Bojay watched him leave and felt a smile spreading across his face. The Strike Captain and Starbuck... Who'd have guessed it? He shook his head and went to get dressed.
Sheba removed her helmet and then pulled the pins out of her hair, shaking her head so that it shook loose and settled around her shoulders. One of these days, she thought as she raked her hand through her hair, she was just going to cut it off.
Or maybe not. She smiled to herself, remembering the feel of Boomer's hands in that hair, the way he loved to slide his fingers through it. The annoyance of putting it up, plaiting it, pinning itwell worth it, everything considered.
She stashed her helmet in the locker and headed for the ready room, stretching out the kinks from the cramped cockpit as she went. She wondered if Boomer would be awake for lunch; he'd woken up when she had that morning, deliberately early just in case... She knew she was smiling again. Good thing her wingmate was a man and used the other locker room. It might not be a secret that Boomer spent most of his off-duty nights in her little room, but that didn't mean she wanted to listen to Harper's idea of wit. She'd known the man for seven yahrens now and he could still make her blush. And Boomer hated it; he was really a private man, even old-fashioned in some ways. Though not in others, she reflected; even if he wanted to wait at least a half a yahren for them to get sealed he hadn't waited for anything else. At least not once he'd stopped waiting for everything. She wouldn't look for him, she decided; he needed his sleep.
After all, they'd see each other again at dinner.
And that made her think of Adama. He'd asked her to dinner the night before. She'd begged off, but she knew that he wouldn't always accept her excuses. Their excuses. And to tell the truth, she was glad of that; it would be awkward, to say the least, if the Strike Captain and two of his squadron leaders were avoiding each other. But even as the thought formed she knew it was an excuse: she had lost her father and Adama had opened his arms, and his heart, and taken her right inside his family. As it turned out she hadn't been able to marry his son, but he didn't seem to hold that against her. She knew she really wanted to keep it that way.
Which meant that soon, probably the next time he asked her, she'd go to dinner at Adama's again. They both would, she and Boomer, because the commander would certainly try to accomodate them both. Of course, it wasn't as awkward for Boomer; sure, he'd broken up with Athena, but no one could reasonably expect otherwise now, and she was, moreover, happily settled. Like Boomer. Like herself. Unlike Apollo.
She shook her head. Apollo wasn't her problem any more, if indeed he ever had been. She wished he was happy, but his happiness had never really been in her power. Whose hands held it, if anyone's, she didn't know. Starbuck's maybe, but she hoped not, since Starbuck didn't seem inclined to give it to him. Assuming of course that Apollo had ever bothered to ask.
She turned into the ready room, and Apollo was pushed out of her mind by the more pressing concerns of her squadron. There was an upcoming long patrol, two of her pilots were due for evals, and one was grounded with a lingering inner-ear problem, and there was an only slightly sarcastic note from Dietra on her desk telling her that if Flight Officer Rustam continued to hang around the alert area when Green was on duty, they should either transfer him or give him a lot of extra duty to keep what passed for his mind occupied with other things. On reading it, she'd looked out into the ready room where that young man was sitting next to his cousin Hakim, looking remarkably unpenitent as the older man apparently read him a lecture. She glanced back down at the note; if Dietra was of a mind to take him, and she noticed that the other squadron leader wasn't offering to transfer Floss, it would probably be the best way to handle it. Whoever Green gave her in return for him couldn't be half the handful he was. Not that she would ever admit it out loud, but the Pegasus after Molecay hadn't been, perhaps, the best place for a cadet not yet twenty...
She sat back at the desk and folded over the piece of paper. Let Dietra cope with him, she thought, and then looked up, smiling, recognizing the step before he came into the office. Somebody the Peggy had been right for, she thought, and said, "Boj. How are you?"
"Middling," he said, the expression in his eyes calling that a massive understatement. "You busy?"
"Not particularly." She leaned back in her chair, waving him in. "What's up?"
"Nothing world-shattering," he answered, perching on the edge of the desk.
"Just as well."
He grinned. "You still taking things as they come? Day at a time?"
She looked at him a little warily. "Why?"
"Just wondering about your plans. You and Boomer, of course."
"Well, that sounds harmless, I suppose. When are you talking about?"
"Day after tomorrow," he said. "You're on days and Boomer's off. So Omega and I were thinking of having you two, and Athena and Cassiopeia, for dinner."
She smiled. "That man of yours," she teased him a little, "he does believe in paying back his social obligations, doesn't he?"
He laughed. "He does have better manners than I doand don't say how easy that is."
She laughed with him, thinking as she did how good it was to see him like this again after so long, easy and happy. "We'll be there."
He raised an eyebrow. "No 'I have to check with Boomer'?"
She swatted his leg. "Boomer doesn't make plans without asking me" He laughed and she turned the swat into a shove. "Anybody but you, I would ask him"
"You mean you'd pretend he has something to say about it?" he managed to get out.
She shoved him again. Boomer honestly preferred her not to check with him about things like this, but there weren't many people she wouldn't have pretended for, for his sake more than hers. She'd gotten used over the yahrens to people thinking of her as overbearing; maybe she was overbearing, she suppose, though that was better than being pushed over. But she could be herself with Bojay, she always had been able, from the beginning. Bojay knew her, better than Boomer yet, better than she knew herself even in some ways. Two people she never had to pretend for, that she could be herself with: it was too precious a feeling to express directly. "Maybe Omega will manage to teach you some manners."
"Don't put money on it."
"I won't." She leaned back and looked at him. "What else did you want?"
He sobered up but whatever it was she could tell it wasn't bad news. "There was something I wanted to tell you, in case you're not having lunch with Boomer"
"I am," she interpolated. "At least probably I am."
"Or," he went on without a pause, "in case Starbuck didn't find him before then."
"Oh? News about Starbuck?" She was intrigued, not so much about the news but about why Bojay thought she'd be so interested. Now, if he'd been here to warn her in case Starbuck did find Boomer...
He nodded. "He wants this kept secret, more or less, for the rest of the day. I mean, he doesn't want Athena knowing; he wants to tell her himself."
She raised her eyebrows. Starbuck with secrets for Athena's ear? Or Athena and Cassieopeia? "Now I'm curious. Tell me."
"You remember telling me once that he was in love with Apollo?"
It took her a moment, but she did. "That wasn't what that conversation was really about, as I recall."
"It's all that's relevant," he said.
Not as she remembered the conversation, but she wasn't going to argue the point with him today. Especially not since he was happy now. She shrugged. "I suppose so... So, what's his news? That he's not anymore? I'd like him to be happy." That was true, though mostly because if he was, then maybe Apollo would be. Maybe she only felt a little guilt about the captain, but she did feel it: not about breaking up with him, but about taking so long to break up with him. Not that trying to make it work was wrong, no; if it was worth anything it was worth working at. But there had to be an 'it' there to work at, and there never had been with Apollo, not really, work as hard as they both had. Not like there had been an 'it' with Boomer when neither of them were trying at all... "Has he found somebody who loves him back?" And that might stop Apollo sniping at Athena, which annoyed her. Sheba was getting tired of listening to the complaints.
It might, she thought, even make Apollo start looking for someone to make him happy, looking seriously at last.
"Well, not exactly," Bojay said.
"All right, you," she mock growled. "Stop stalling. You're starting to worry me. What: is he in love with me?" She raised an eyebrow. "Or Boomer?"
He laughed. "Not hardly." He paused. "By which, ah, I mean, ah..."
"Yes?" She tapped her foot, repressing an answering laugh.
"Ah... he, umm..."
"Yes? Has better taste, perhaps?"
"Stays the course better," he protested.
"We are talking about Starbuck?" she asked. "Stays the course is not exactly the phrase I'd associate with him." She was immediately sorry she'd said that; sure he'd made a pass at her, but that was when he thought he'd lost Cassie, trying to show it didn't hurt. When she'd come back to him he'd stayed, right enough. "I mean, from what people say about him..." Even while she was saying that the sense of the thought got through, and oh lords if Athena was annoyed now... Unless... Surely not. Starbuck wasn't the least bit religious. "Stays what course?"
"Apollo," Bojay simply.
"Apollo?" She stared at him.
"I thought you'd want to know."
"Know what?" she demanded. "I don't know anything. I need details!"
He laughed. "I don't have any. Only that they got together last night and spoke to the commander this morning, and that Starbuck's as close to incandescent as a person can get."
She felt a smile spreading across her face.
"I knew you'd want to know." He crossed his arms and grinned self-satisfiedly.
"And he's telling Athena tonight? I think we'll just have to drop by there after Boomer comes off duty. And if Starbuck finds him before then, he'll be just as eager."
"Excellent," Bojay said. "You can tell us all about it at dinner. You or Athena, one."
"That's a promise." She sat up and looked at her desk, and then back at him. "What are you doing for lunch?"
Cassie was making kava when Athena came into the service room. "Morning, my love," she said. "Will you get the fruit and lay the table?"
Athena pushed the fair curls off her neck and kissed it gently. "Good morning to you. Of course I will." But she wasted a few moments watching Cassie's neat movements before crossing to the fooder.
Cassie set the cups on the counter. "We should ask your brother to dinner sometime soon."
"Well, not tonight," Athena said without even thinking about it. And then she said, "Why?"
"Why?" Cassie sounded genuinely surprised. "Thee, he's your brother."
"Well, I'm not saying I'll never talk to him again," she said, putting the bowl of sweet berries on the table. "But have him over? For dinner? Even if Starbuck isn't here? Why would you want to do that?"
"Because he's your brother."
"That doesn't stop him from being a pain in the astrum," she said.
"I don't know why you fight with him."
Athena pulled bowls down and set them on the table with a little more force than necessary; she could hear the thump herself. "He's mad at me for stealing you from Starbuck. As if you were a piece of property. And I should be unhappy so Starbuck isn't. He didn't even love you." She paused. "I mean, not really, not as much as I do. I mean"
"Thee, I know what you mean. It's true, all of it. And I left Starbuck and would have if he'd loved me, really loved me, and he's not that unhappy about it. And if I'd married Starbuck and then you'd started dating women I'd have been miserable. But that doesn't answer my question."
Athena took a deep breath and turned around. Cassie was filling cups with kava, but she looked up as she put the carafe back on the heater.
"I didn't ask why he fights with you; I asked why you fight with him."
Athena stood in silence as the other woman put the kava on the table and sat. As Cassie reached for the fruit, Athena sat down herself and said, "It's the same thing."
"No, it's not, Thee. You don't have to respond to him when he says things, even if he wants you to. You can ignore him. You can change the subject. You don't have to let him get to you."
"That's easier said than done."
"Yes, it is. But..." Cassie paused, covering her thought with a long drink of kava. "Thee, you know I wouldn't normally say anything, but the two of you... It's not good for you. Either of you. I don't know how or why it's like that, you don't hate each other, but"
"I don't either," Athena admitted. "I've been thinking about it lately, but I don't know when it started, or why. We got along better when we were both children, but then he went off to school"
Cassie reached across the little table and touched her hand. "I'm not blaming you. It doesn't really even matter how it started. It's just, it's not good for you. You worry too much about what he says, and what he meant, and then you snipe at him and then, well, then you end up all worked up and angry, like you were last night."
Athena turned her hand over to squeeze Cassie's briefly.
"And last night," the blonde added, "he didn't even say anything. You were just... anticipating."
"What can I say? When you're right..."
Cassie looked at her earnestly. "It's just... I want you to be happy, Thee. If I thought you were one of those people who were happy sparring all the time, it would be different. But you and Apollo, you don't enjoy it..." Her voice trailed off.
Athena didn't answer. They didn't, it was true; it was equally true that she could have, if it had been different. If it had been lighter. Not so personal. Not so... serious. Not Apollo. She blinked away a tear.
"Thee?" Cassie was worried. "I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."
"No." She shook her head decisively. "I was just remembering," she had to pause a moment and swallow. "Remembering how Zac and I used to spar sometimes. That's all. And you didn't remind me of him; just being alive reminds me of him."
"I wish I'd met him. Starbuck talked about him, sometimes. He sounded," she smiled, "fun."
"He was." Athena smiled. "He always was. And I don't always cry when I think of him, either. In fact, I usually don't, anymore. I don't know why I started to now."
"No, don't be." She hoped Cassie believed her; she'd suddenly realized how much she did actually want someone to talk to about Zac. Zac and her mother... Starbuck. She could talk to Starbuck, of course. But it wasn't Starbuck she was in love with. Cassie must have lost someone. "Don't be," she said again, but the comm chime cut her off.
"Oh, felgar." Cassie got up to answer it. After a moment she came back into the service room but stayed on her feet. "I'm sorry, Thee. That was Dr. Paye; there's been a little accident in one of the ordnance bays, a couple of people hurtnothing serious but they need some extra hands in the Life Center. I have to go in early."
"Of course." Athena was already used to long medical hours. If Cassie made the jump from medtech to surgeon, something she'd said she was considering (with, Athena gathered, considerable nudging from Paye, if not outright shoving), then they'd probably get worse. Could be worse. And it made her feel oddly... proud. "Go. I'll see you later."
She thought about what Cassie had said during the morning. It was one of those mindless days, the kind when nothing happened that hadn't happened a million times before and that didn't take any part of your mind to get through. Remy, beside her, had all the annoying little routines of Viper telemetry to pay attention to, and all the usual housekeeping had to be done, but she had plenty of time to think about other things.
And plenty of things to think about.
Mostly herself. Cassie was right; whyever it had started, if she kept on with Apollo like she'd been then, not soon but surely, she'd lose her older brother as well. And the way she'd seen it happen before, cousins on her father's side, seeing each other every sectare or so but not really, never saying anything worth saying, not friends anymore. She didn't want that.
Even if Apollo did.
Because what she didn't want was to be the Athena who deserved that. So she was going to do what Cassie had suggested. She didn't know if she could talk to Apollo about this, not the way he could stiffen up and go all distant. She certainly couldn't control him, that she did know. But she could stop letting him control her. She could break the pattern, stop responding to him. Stop giving him reason to respond to her. She smiled to herself. She could stop being a rival and be content with being a sibling. And just maybe she would be. Content.
She started, reflexively scanning her boards and hearing Remy snicker. When she looked up at Omega she hoped she wasn't blushing; this was hardly the way to achieve that calm, contained command persona she was aiming at. When Omega's mind wandered (it had to, even if only to Bojay, she insisted to herself) the rest of him stayed on focus. I have got to learn to do that, she thought as she said, "Yes?"
"I wanted to remind you," he said, ignoring her reaction, "that I am taking a personal day tomorrow and you will need to attend the morning meeting."
"I remember," she said. And although she hadn't been thinking about it today, she had stayed up late for two nights after he'd first told her. "I'm ready."
He nodded. "I'm sure you are. I also wanted to ask you and Cassiopeia to dinner Eighthday."
"That would be nice. I have to check with Cassie, but I'm sure we can make it. It's not like there's a lot of things happening she could have signed us up for this morning."
He smiled. "That's certainly true. I hope you can come; to be candid, we still need a few extra people to buffer Bojay and Boomer."
Athena smiled back. "They get along pretty well, considering."
"Considering. I'd like to see them just get along, period."
Athena nodded. "It'll happen," she said reassuringly. "I'm sure we'll be there; I'll let you know this afternoon." As she watched him walk back to his position she thought he probably wanted her there more because he and Boomer had so little to talk about. Even if she hadn't wanted to go, the thought of Boomer and Omega making small talk all evening would have made her. She hated Cassie's old job, thought about it as little as possible, but she had to admit that what Cassie would say, jokingly, was true: it had certainly taught her how to talk to anyone. If she and Omega got distracted by shop talk, and Sheba and Bojay wandered off conversationally the way they could, Cassie could keep Boomer entertained, and enjoy it while she did.
And if Boomer could put aside his past with Bojay and start over, then she could most certainly do it with her own brother. Tonight was probably not the night to have him as a guest, no sense in setting up a situation in which he might, on past form, feel compelled to be sarcastic, but soon. His squadron was on the midnight shift and then days, so there would be many opportunities.
"You taking lunch?" Rigel interrupted her in the middle of her resolution-making.
She looked at the time on her console. Running late, but the Life Center had been busy. "Yes," she said, standing up. "Thanks."
But apparently the accident had been taken care of, and Cassie had already gone to lunch by the time Athena got there. She joined the blonde in the dining hall, grabbing a sandwich without paying much attention to it. "Hi, love," she slid into her seat. "I almost missed you."
Cassie smiled apologetically. "You know how it is. And my boss is as bad about us going when he says he can spare us as yours is about personal calls."
Athena laughed. "Oh, I doubt even Salik can rival the colonel."
"Maybe not. Anyway," she shrugged gracefully, "missing each other at lunch won't kill us." Her impish grin lit up her face. "Once in a while."
"Ummm. I suppose. As long as we see each other at dinner. And after... By the way, Omega asked us for dinner day after tomorrow."
"Eighthday?" Cassie asked.
"Yes. That day after tomorrow," Athena teased gently.
Cassie stuck out her tongue, pink like a felix's. "What did you tell him?"
"That as far as I knew we didn't have anything on, but I'd let him know."
Cassie smiled quickly. "Tell him yes." She paused. "Will Starbuck be there?"
"He wasn't mentioned. Sheba, and Boomer," she added.
"That'll be nice; we haven't seen them in a while."
It was true; the three women had gone out a secton back, but they hadn't seen Boomer. Hopefully he'd gotten over being embarrassed, Athena thought as she said, "Yes, it will. And we'll see Starbuck tonight."
Cassie nodded and stood up. "I'd better get back," she said. "I'll be home in time to help with dinner. I hope."
"Me, too." She reached out and touched Cassie's arm as the other woman started to pass her. "Cassie" At the last micron she decided to save her resolution for in private. "Have a good rest of the shift."
Cassie smiled at her. "I'll try. See you later."
And it was later; Cassie showed up only fifteen centons before Starbuck was due. She was still in the sleeping room getting ready when the door chimed, so Athena answered it.
"Hi," he said. She couldn't quite decipher the expression on his face, and that made her wary. "Not too early am I?"
"No; barely early at all. Why don't you come in?"
"I brought some one," he said. "I hope you don't mind."
"Mind? Why would I mind?"
"Well," he said, "it's an imposition."
"It's not an imposition if it's a girlfriend," she said. "You know how we feel. Is it? A girlfriend?"
"Well... not exactly. Close, but not quite."
She realized she was blinking at him. She stopped with an effort and narrowed her eyes at him instead. Not quite... After all this time, had Starbuck gotten another boyfriend? Or just a boyfriend, she supposed; you could hardly say that he'd had one before this. Had someone feeling liberated by recent events made an offeryou could hardly doubt that Starbuck would catch a man's eye, after alland had Starbuck decided to take him up on it? And all things considered, how did she feel about what her brother would think?
And was it any of her business? Hadn't she decided to be herself and let Apollo be himself, and stop letting him have any control over her? Hadn't she? And didn't she want Starbuck to be happy? Not to mention Cassie?
And what better time to start than now?
So she let herself smile and hug Starbuck, saying, "I do hope it's the 'girl' part that's not quite, and not the 'friend'."
"Well, come in," she pulled on him, calling over her shoulder, "Cassie! Starbuck's brought a friend."
"A friend?" Cassie came into the front room, eyes sparkling. "Really? How lovely! Anyone we know?"
"Yes, is it? And where is" She was looking down the corridor in the wrong direction she realized when she heard the footsteps behind her. They sounded a bit tentative; she wondered why he was nervous and if it was her and then she turned around and saw him, looking just a bit sheepish but happier than she'd seen him in yahrens. She couldn't believe her eyes.
"Athena." He hesitated and she wondered if she'd gotten that hard for him to talk to. "You have room for one more at the table?"
She reached for him, wrapping her arms around him. He was startled for a micron, and then he pulled her close. For a centon they stood silently holding each other. Was this what their father had kept him behind to talk about the night before, she wondered, or had he reacted to the changing times on his own, or had Starbuck
"Thenie?" he said softly, and she realized that it didn't matter. It didn't matter at all. All that mattered was what she did, now and from now on.
"There's always room at my table for you, Apollo," she said softly. "Always. Come on inside."
|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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