Too Long Nights

part two

"Boomer, got some time after shift?" Apollo asked two days after the abortive trip to the Rising Star. He'd done some serious thinking that night, and felt like he was hanging on the edge of a decision he didn't know how to make. He needed someone else's help.

Boomer looked up and gestured at the magazine he was leafing through. "I've got time now, as a matter of fact."

"Yes, well," Apollo hedged, "this isn't a now kind of conversation, Boomer. I was thinking more over some ale in my quarters... my sister's agreed to pick Boxey up after class and keep him for a while. Which is going to cost me considerable at some point down the road, so I'd appreciate it if you could free up a centare or so?"

Boomer studied him for a moment. His eyes were calm and steady, but then again they nearly always were. Apollo could only remember a few instances where they had burned. Boomer was a man who kept his passions on a short leash. Having seen what they could do off it, Apollo understood that. "Well," the dark-skinned man said after a moment, "if I don't, she's still going to hold you for having tied up her evening, isn't she, so you'll have to do it twice, and that means you'll probably kill me... Okay. Cover me for a few centons, so I can make a call, okay?"

"If you have something planned—"

Boomer shook his head. "Not a problem," he said, "not today, not unless I don't call."

"You can call from here," Apollo offered, gesturing at his desk.

Boomer shook his head again, a faint smile on his lips. "Nope, thanks anyway, but I'm not making my private life available to the squadron. If I do, it won't be mine any longer. If you get my drift." He stood up and left the ready room.

Apollo watched him go, wondering who he was seeing. That he was was all anyone knew, even Starbuck, who was holding a book on it. Starbuck had in fact complained to Apollo just a couple of sectons ago that it was infernally hard to figure out—"just when I think I've got it figured, he shows up with that felix-in-the-dairy look while my latest contender has been sitting in the O Club all night."

"I guess we'll have to wait till he invites us to his Sealing Ceremony," Apollo had said, only vaguely interested; they'd been alone in an exterior corridor on the Rising Star, in the dark, waiting for a power failure to be fixed, and Apollo had been paying far more attention to the way Starbuck was turned to silver in the starlight pouring through the view ports than Boomer's hypothetical love life.

"Or till he turns up dead," Starbuck had said, mostly joking.

But it had been a nudge to Apollo's fading sense of... nosiness, Starbuck had called it once. Duty. Whatever: there'd been a time Apollo would have needed to know that Boomer wasn't playing with a fire that could get him in trouble. Nowadays he seemed to have all he could handle dealing with his own fires, and Boomer was a big boy who could take care of himself. He had asked Boomer if everything was all right, and had received a carefully considered "no problems I know of" in return, and had let it drop. Maybe he should bring it up again.

Boomer came back into the ready room and dropped into his seat, nodding to Apollo. Funny, Apollo thought, how different people could be. He'd known Boomer and Starbuck virtually the same amount of time, though he and Boomer had served together throughout their career, losing Starbuck for a couple of yahrens along the way. He'd met them together, getting Boomer's name from that staff member who'd embarrassed the hell out of him the first secton by trying to ensure that Colonel Adama's son wasn't in any way inconvenienced by the Academy... Apollo had finally had to get his father on the man's case to have that stopped... At any rate, he'd introduced Boomer first, then Jolly, and Starbuck as an afterthought. No more than a dozen microns between their names, yet while he sometimes thought he knew Starbuck as well as his own self (sometimes), Boomer remained a constantly faintly unknown quantity. Rock-steady and as dependable as solar fusion, but an enigma all the same.

Still, Apollo thanked the Lords of Kobol every day that they'd given him two such friends. And busted his butt to deserve them.

Once the door closed behind them, Apollo pulled off his jacket and tossed it at the nearest chair. "Ale?"

"Thanks," Boomer said, folding his own jacket and laying it on the arm of the couch before sitting down.

"Anything going on in your life I should know about?" Apollo asked, bringing out the drinks.

Boomer considered for a moment, and then shook his head. "Nope. Nothing I can think of."

"Okay," Apollo accepted it. "You'll let me know if that changes?"

"You'll be the first," the dark man agreed. He leaned back against the couch cushions and stretched his legs out under the kava table. "What's on your mind? And why me?"

Apollo knew that meant why not Starbuck? Somehow, Starbuck was the one he always unloaded on. Unfair to Starbuck, certainly, and Boomer, maybe; but the trio had always been Apollo & Starbuck, and Boomer. Even after two yahrens apart. Even in the early days... "Do you remember back at the Academy?"

"Remember what from back then?" Boomer asked wryly. "I'm sure there's a lot I've blocked."

Apollo laughed shortly. "Yeah, I wish... That day, second semester, when those upperclassmen jumped Starbuck?"

Boomer's eyes flickered. Oh, yes, he remembered that day, Apollo could tell. And that answered his unasked question, too. Because Starbuck hadn't acknowledged that incident when it had happened. Had never spoken of it. That day. The next. Since then. Ever... He'd accepted the essay and the calc problems he hadn't done, and turned them in without even his customary joking promise to make it up to Apollo by doing something flagrantly illegal for him, but that was as close as he'd ever come to admitting that things weren't as they should have been. The two seventeen-yahren-olds hadn't known what to do about that silence then and they still didn't fifteen yahrens later; Apollo knew Boomer had always hoped it was because Starbuck truly just didn't remember what had happened. He wished he was as sanguine.

Boomer finally spoke. "Yes. I remember that day. What about it?"

"Do you remember what you said?"

"I said a lot of things," Boomer said heavily. "We both did. Which are you referring to?"

"Actually, um, you said something about a 'mutual grope in the dark'?"

Boomer lightened up a bit. "Oh. That... Don't tell me you've been waiting fifteen yahrens to act on that?"

"Don't tell me you've been waiting fifteen yahrens to tell me it was an offer!" Apollo riposted.

"Not exactly," Boomer grinned, his mind at ease about the topic now. "So, what about it, then?"

"You implied back then that Leonids sort of think it's..." Apollo paused.

"Apollo," Boomer grinned again. "Didn't you think about this at all? You should have written it down. Leonids, as I think I said back then, think it's no big deal. Whatever two consenting adults—hell, five or six consenting adults—want to do with each other is fine as long as it doesn't result in them needing publicly funded medical treatment—" the flash of his teeth marked his gotcha! as Apollo flinched. "Seriously," he added, "a lot of people would be a lot happier if the last surviving battlestar had been the Pacifica. Of course," he reflected, "those people wouldn't have been us..."

"What do you mean?"

"I assume you don't mean why wouldn't they be us. The Pacifica was commanded by a Reformist. We don't read the Word quite as restrictively as you fundies. What's not compulsory is not forbidden; only that which is forbidden is forbidden. Like the regs..."

"You said something about the regs back then," Apollo let the reference to 'you fundies' slide. After all, Boxey was the only one who ever heard him tear down his father's teachings: Adama's visionary leadership was too important to the fleet. And until recently Adama's approval had been too important to his son...

Boomer slid further down on his spine, making himself more comfortable. "You ever read the regs?" he asked. "Like a book, I mean, not like a guideline or an instruction manual?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," Apollo confessed, leaning forward in his chair and holding his ale in a hand resting on his knee.

"They don't rewrite the regs," Boomer said. "They change 'em, but the old versions are still there. They just stick in a Point saying Article III, Paragraph A, Subparagraph 2, Point c is superceded by Point f. And then you get the pocket versions for field and office use that don't have Point c in 'em, since it's no longer valid. But you pick up a full copy and you can see what changes and what doesn't, and when; and you can get the feel of society changing, sometimes at the same time, sometimes way before or way after the Warriors did. You get the roll of history." Boomer had always loved history. He'd even tutored Apollo and Jolly in it, not to mention practically carrying Starbuck the first three semesters.


"And, the fraternization regs are old. Real old. This whole elaborate framework of who can sleep with who and who can't, grade differences and postings and chain-of-command. Rules to keep commanders from becoming sexual predators and subordinates from whoring for preferential treatment... the commander tossed a couple of those out back when he tried to replace us with the shuttle pilots. Per the regs, no way you and your wingman should have been in a relationship. But it's okay now."

Apollo knew he meant Serina. But still the words nearly short-circuited his brain.

Boomer had paused for a response but when he didn't get one he went on. "After all, no one's coming around, delicately inquiring whether Sheba or Bojay wants to transfer out of Silver Spar. And unless your father wants to catch a barge-load of felgarcarb for blatantly favoring you, no one will. So apparently that's okay now, though what the regs say is they can screw each other till the Endtimes and it's okay if they're not in the same squadron, since she ranks him, but..." he shrugged.

"Your point being?" Apollo was able to talk again.

"My point being," Boomer answered as if it were self-evident, "that the regs governing all this stuff are so old, there weren't any women Warriors. So who do you think was involved?"

Apollo sat there slightly stunned. He'd never given that any thought at all. Sure, he remembered that time back in the first secton at the Academy when old Colonel Lardhead—what was his real name, Lardhan? Larden? what did it matter?—had given them a snarling lecture about women Warriors being the equal of men and all that garbage (his words), and the regs and the texts saying 'he' all over the place didn't mean jack... He'd been an inspiring introduction to the service, all right. But somehow Apollo had never connected that to the well-known fact that women Warriors were well under a millennium old while the Warriors' Way had been founded more than three millennia ago... and that a reg stating that a unit commander could not have sex with his subordinates therefore meant that he could have sex with people outside his command, even though they'd have to be men, too.

He just had never thought about it. And it wasn't something anybody'd ever fostered thinking about, that was for sure.

After a long moment, he said, "And the Word?"

"Well," Boomer shrugged, "Reformed Word is a lot more liberal. But it's hard to be a Warrior and follow any Word. Really follow it. I mean, the Word says 'turn the other cheek' and 'beat your swords into plowshares', but even a devout Old-Wayer like your father kicks butt instead."

"Do you—"

"Do I what?" Boomer said when Apollo hesitated. "Sleep with men? No. Care that you do? No."

"I don't," Apollo protested automatically.

Boomer shrugged again. "Not any more. But you used to, back when we were on the Aquila. Hard when your father's the Commander, huh?"

Apollo opened his mouth and then shut it again when he couldn't think of anything to actually say in the face of the certainty, the acceptance, and the commiseration.

"Do I," Boomer continued, "think you're a bad soldier? No. Think you're going to perdition? No. Think you should lose your son? No. Any of those it?"

"Um," Apollo said. "Yes."

"Apollo, a blind man could see that something's been eating at you for the last couple of sectares, maybe longer. Something mostly good, but not entirely... Starbuck's running a book on whether you're in love and if so who with—" Boomer raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I should get in on his action," he said cryptically. "Look, you think when I leave here tonight and get back to the barracks I'm not going to find the kid sitting on my bunk playing sol-pyr and waiting to ask me what's on your mind?"

'The kid'. That was from the Academy. Apollo hadn't thought of Starbuck as 'the kid' in yahrens, nine or ten anyway. "What are you going to tell him?"

Boomer shrugged yet again. "I was planning on telling him you were grilling me on my love life. What do you want me to tell him?"

Apollo couldn't have answered him to save his soul. Which it might have done.

Boomer sighed, set his empty glass on the kava table, and swung his legs up onto the couch. He folded his hands on his stomach and stared at the ceiling. "I pretty much mind my own business," he said. "I don't get involved in other people's private lives unless they pull me. But... mind if I say something? 'Cause I figure you didn't invite me over to ask me what the Leonid perspective on sex is... I'm on the outside of this picture, looking in on it, and seeing more than you are. About maybe a lot of things I didn't realize you weren't seeing. Seems to me you hit a wall a while ago, Apollo. You suddenly looked around and wondered what the frack you were doing with your life. Nothing left to accomplish. Nothing left to prove. Except, maybe, getting a son. But you've got an heir, and three yahrens since the Destruction, you haven't given your father a blood heir yet, you're not going to. So, nothing to prove and nobody to prove it to... everybody knows you already. You've gone as far as you can go unless people you love start dying and opening up vacancies. So where are you? You've got rank, position, respect, a son... and your bed's empty. Your heart's empty. You're thirty-two, you're thirty-three next secton, what? ten days? Thirty-three, that's significant. I know; I'm closing in on it damn fast myself. So your subconscious finally got tired of waiting for you to figure out what you want and whacked you with it and now all you can think about is him. You want to know when it started? I bet I can name the day: three sectares ago, when his boards all failed and we spent six centares thinking we'd lost him, and then he was back and everything was normal. Except you. Because you woke up."

Apollo noted that Boomer didn't think it was necessary to identify the 'he'. Briefly he wondered if he should challenge that, but then he gave it up as a lost cause. "He likes women, Boomer. He always has."

"He loves you," Boomer said with certainty. "He always has."


"What about Serina?"

"Actually..." Apollo felt himself blushing and was glad Boomer was still not looking at him.

"Well. Who'd have guessed? Not him, that's for sure."

"I'd have tried—"

"Too much information, there, Apollo," Boomer cut him off. "Point is, he likes women, sure. He likes sex; who doesn't? But he worships you. Always has. You think he sticks to you now? You tell him how you feel, you'll never get rid of him."

"From your lips to the gods' ears," Apollo said. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"Why didn't you ever..."

"A: not my place. B: thought you wanted the Old-Way lifestyle. And C: knew you'd never use him and lose him... you're a for-keeps kind of guy, and keeping Starbuck would have screwed up your career. Thought you'd thought about this. Should have known better."

"Yes." Apollo said simply. "To all of it... But, Boomer... I mean..." He didn't know how to say it.

"Has he ever slept with a man?" The slight pause before 'slept with' almost broke Apollo's heart. His failure, his worst and most complete failure. He hadn't kept Starbuck safe... that was the stuff of his nightmares. That was why he'd fought the assignment to the Aquila, and even thought about trying to bribe the assignments officer to get him onto the Galactica. Why he sometimes wandered into the barracks for an unannounced inspection just to catch a glimpse of an annoyed but alive Starbuck...

Boomer continued, "I don't think so. He's never said so, most of his stories are, you know, you've heard them. I really doubt it. But he would with you in a heartbeat."


Boomer sat up abruptly. "Look, we've gotten past what I'm really comfortable with. And I'm not who you should be talking to, anyway. Starbuck—Apollo, he's thirty. Maybe thirty-one. He's not a child anymore, he's a grown man. And he's not the problem. He loves you more than even he knows. He'll never tell Commander Adama's son, the blueblood, the Strike Captain. You know how he felt about himself fifteen yahrens ago. He's put a veneer on it, but he hasn't changed. You have to make the first move. But I guarandamntee you, you do and he'll carry you further than you know there is. You have to decide if you want to go there." He stood up. "The Word's silent. The Regs approve. It's you and your father, that's all. And I'm not getting between you two. But you know me and the kid are always backing you no matter what. Right?"

Apollo heard the fifteen-yahren-old blood pledge and felt a lump in his throat. He nodded. Boomer slapped him on the shoulder. "I'll let myself out. You want me to send Starbuck over here? Or you expecting Boxey?"

"Boxey'll be back soon." Thank the Lords of Kobol. I have an excuse for time to think what I'm telling my father. And my son.

"Okay. I'll tell him you failed to break me." Boomer smiled, squeezed Apollo's shoulder, and left.

And Apollo looked into the emptiness and said, "'And the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.' And I know the way to the home of light..."

Starbuck watched Apollo and Boomer have their little conversation out of the corner of his eye while he pretended to pay attention to Freya's long and involved story. It was easy enough, he'd heard it before; she tended to forget who she'd told it to. He had to admit it had been pretty gripping, the first five times he'd heard it. Now it was a useful smokescreen for reconnaissance.

After shift, he watched them walk off together. Their body language had kept him from trying to join them. Instead he went to the O Club to grab a quick drink and wait for the barracks to pretty much empty out.

"Hey, Starbuck, want to get in?" Jolly had been talking on patrol the day before about having figured a sure-fire way to win at pyramid.

Normally, nothing would interest Starbuck more than Jolly having a sure-fire way to win at pyramid, that being the way to guarantee that he, Starbuck, would almost certainly win a lot of his, Jolly's, cubits, but, "Nah, not tonight, Jolly," he said.

"Heading to the Star?" Charis asked, hopefully.

And that, too, was tempting, but still, "No. Staying in tonight."

"You?" Sheba said.

"I can see I've been too sociable," he finished his drink. "I am capable of spending a night without a card game involved in it."

"Sure you are," Bojay said, but it was lightly teasing. Amazing how much he'd mellowed once Sheba had given up on Apollo and taken back up with him. "What's her name?"

Starbuck just smiled and shook his head and left.

Once in the barracks he hung up his jacket and changed into a simple cream-colored shirt and trousers. Then he sat cross-legged on the end of Boomer's bunk and began dealing out a hand of solitaire pyramid. He was using his comfort deck, old and worn to the point even Jolly could pick out the Capstone and half the third-level cards... He'd had them since before he could remember. Once he'd told himself they'd been his father's. Now he figured they'd belonged to the only slightly less shadowy soldiers who'd found him in the woods. Either way was good; both had given him life, after all. And it was somehow fitting that the one thing he'd carried forward out of the old life into the new had been a deck of pyramid cards.

He spun the cards across Boomer's tightly stretched blanket in the patterns of the more complicated twelve-roads variant. It was harder to win, but he enjoyed it. He didn't look down at the backs of the cards as he began actually playing, just letting his fingers slide under them, three and flip, four and flip, two and flip, three... Cheating at sol-pyr was possible, but pointless; you couldn't win money from yourself, unless you were clinically insane, of course. Starbuck wondered briefly if a multiple could play cards against himself, really play... But he didn't look at his deck now because he would use the information his eyes delivered to his brain reflexively, and that just wasn't playing the game, as Apollo had used to say. It's not done. Starbuck smiled to himself. Contrary to popular opinion he didn't play with marked cards. Well, not often. Hardly ever. And when he did, he nearly always played to lose, which was as good a test of your cards, your eye, and your memory as playing to win, and a lot safer. A loser playing with a marked deck probably hadn't marked them himself... Marking cards, he'd always thought, was crude. Lacked subtlety. Finesse. Style...

And if he didn't have style, what did he have?

He gathered up the cards and began shuffling, having lost the game. After that moment in the Celestial Dome two evenings ago, he'd barely exchanged a dozen words with Apollo. When they'd patrolled yesterday, Apollo had paired veterans up with newbies—okay, but that meant he and Starbuck weren't together, and afterwards Apollo had gone home to his family, and Starbuck had hung around the O Club. Which was normal enough, but then today, when they hadn't had a patrol, Apollo had spent most of the day in his office, and when he'd come out, he'd talked to Boomer. He seemed to be avoiding Starbuck, who was beginning to worry that something was dreadfully wrong. He'd reviewed every single thing he'd done over the past three sectares and hadn't come up with anything new and unforgivable. Which worried him, because it meant the problem was someplace he hadn't been able to find.

More disturbingly, that night was beginning to feel like a good-bye, something he was passingly familiar with. Something he'd never expected to hear from Apollo, though... From almost the beginning, Apollo had been his polestar, to extend the metaphor of his name—Starbuck, one of the legendary Navigators, the one who had found the way from Kobol to the Colonies. Apollo had always been there, the one constant in his night sky, no matter what he did.

He frowned and began dealing another hand, cards leaving his fingers, turning over and settling into their places as inevitably as loss... At the time, he'd thought Apollo was just sort of randomly quoting, the sort of things he thought about under the stars. But now the last thing he'd said repeated itself ominously in Starbuck's mind: the stars of the Navigator's Line go out one by one.

"You're borrowing trouble, Bucky," he muttered to himself. "Apollo's never played on your name that way. That line just goes with the others..." Not that that made him feel much more at ease. Who knows the way to the home of light? A coldness ran down his spine and he closed his eyes briefly. Sagan. What if he's sick?

He shook himself briskly, like a dagget coming out of water. Apollo wasn't the kind of man who avoided physicians and the life center if something was really wrong. Besides, looking at it honestly, that was a flight of fancy beyond what Apollo would ever use to attempt to break bad news. His manner of doing that was much more inarticulate. Though, granted, he'd never had this kind of news to break before... Still, stepping away from his fear, Starbuck couldn't see that the people Apollo would have told first, his family, had been acting like they'd heard anything like it.

You can sit here for centares and make up stuff to scare yourself to death, he told himself firmly, or you can wait till Boomer's back and get it out of him. He gathered up the cards again—this game was shot, he'd been just going through the motions as if he had an audience—and sorted them into new-deck order. Once that was done, he began shuffling, the worn hexagonal shapes sliding through his fingers into preordained patterns. Stacking a deck, now; that was so much more classy than marking it. Hard with such an old deck, but Starbuck's hands were more than skilled enough. He dealt five pyramid hands, cards turning over once in the air to land face up on the blanket: a bad loser, for the guy whose money you already had enough of; two tempting hands, for guys who might have sense; one teaser with two second level pyramids, neither perfect; and his own hand, a modest perfect second-level purple... and discards and seconds completely covered so even if everyone stayed in the game, no one's hand improved enough. He smiled and gathered the cards up again.

How long could Boomer stay? Would he come back here after leaving Apollo's or head off for his mysterious inamorata? Or the O Club? No matter, he'd be back here eventually... Boomer was always where he was needed. That didn't mean he'd talk, of course, but Starbuck was adept at nagging the other man. He always had been, when the topic was Apollo. He wasn't sure just how much tolerance the Leonid would have had for him without Apollo's being involved... wasn't at all sure if Boomer really approved of him in Apollo's life, no matter what he might say. Starbuck shivered again. The flash sizzling in his blood and nerves had made it hard to understand words by the time Boomer had found him, but his heightened senses had picked up the anger. Justified anger, he'd always known that; how could he have been so stupid? How could he have let that happen?

Damn. He hated the way that memory kept, well, flashing for want of a better word into his mind at the most inopportune times. Hated worse how the only clear memories were the bad ones. That and the burning need he'd fought for a secton. But Boomer had stood by him then, even if he was angry with him, and Apollo hadn't wavered, almost hadn't seemed surprised... Starbuck swore at himself again, and then yet again when he looked at the cards and realized he'd misdealt. Like a fracking amateur, one hand with five cards and one with seven... He gathered the cards up again and just shuffled for a while, indulging himself in the elaborate cascading styles that he generally didn't use at a table.

When he was calm again, he shuffled simply three times, reordering the deck, and dealt. That was more like it...

"Remind me again why any of us ever play cards with you," Boomer said. He was one of the only two people in the worlds Starbuck's subconscious let sneak up on him.

Starbuck surveyed the hands, five perfect third level pyramids, his in purple with the Capstone. He smiled sweetly at Boomer. "Look at that. What do you suppose the odds are against that happening?"

"What I suppose is that the odds hadn't a damn thing to do with it," Boomer said.

Starbuck's smile became genuine, and he said, "To answer your question, you have faith in my innate honesty and unwillingness to use my skills to fleece my squadronmates?"

Boomer should have laughed and said something like, 'No, I have faith in your wanting us to watch your back in combat,' the sort of truth-in-jest's-clothing he specialized in. But he didn't. What he did was cock his head and say, in dead earnest, "Yes. I suppose we do at that. So," he pushed the cards across the bunk and sat down. "There's a reason you're playing cards here instead of your own bed? As if I didn't know?"

Starbuck gathered up the deck, aligned it, and laid it down in front of himself. "He tell you what's been bothering him lately?"

Boomer considered his answer for a few centons before he gave it. "Yes, he did."


"And, I'm not telling you. It's his to tell, and I think he's going to, pretty soon now."

Starbuck let his frustration with that answer show. Boomer grinned at him and then did what only he ever did do: reached over and ruffled Starbuck's hair.

"Don't worry too much, Bucko. I think the colonel's son is going down."

Starbuck stilled, staring at his friend. 'The colonel's son'... they hadn't called Apollo that in yahrens. Both of them had fought to separate Apollo from the colonel's son, fought hard, knowing he was a prize worth fighting for. But the colonel had had him for seventeen yahrens before then, and still had him in fact, and it was a hard fight. Frankly, Starbuck had never expected to win; he'd been satisfied if Apollo could just forget the colonel's son for a few centares at a time. After a long moment he repeated, "Going down?"

Boomer nodded. "Think so. I really do."


He shook his head. "It's his play, Starbuck. I told him you and me were backing him—"

Starbuck just nodded. Of course we are; what else?

"—but he's got to do this. And he'll tell you what when's he ready. Couple of days, tops." He reached over and picked up the cards. "Any chance you can teach me how to do that?"

"I can teach you," Starbuck surrendered; the Leonid had his 'I-will-not-be-moved' look, and that didn't lie. Try again later. "But I don't know if you can learn."

And the next day Starbuck found himself spending the entire duty shift checking spare parts inventory.

And the next day Apollo took some personal time, and Colonel Tigh called Starbuck to the bridge.

"He wants what?"

"Your opinion on the recently graduated cadets," Tigh repeated.

"Really? My opinion?" Starbuck wasn't sure if he was flattered or wary. He was definitely confused.

"Don't ask me why, Starbuck," Tigh said. "I don't know why your opinion rather than Apollo or Boomer's. Or Jolly's."

"Or pretty much anybody's?"

"Yes," Tigh said. His eyes weren't as annoyed as his tone; Starbuck had figured out long ago that Tigh appreciated it when he didn't pretend he wasn't who he was. Tigh continued, "Just give him your opinions—maybe that'll break him of wanting them and we'll all be happier."

So he nodded and waited to be told to come in.

Adama was sitting behind his desk; disconcertingly, he rose when Starbuck entered. Sagan, he thought half seriously, maybe I'm sick... "Come in, Starbuck, come in. Have a seat. I understand you've flown half a dozen patrols with the new pilots by now?"

So they talked about the newbies, and an awkward, stilted conversation it was, too. Starbuck had the uncomfortable feeling that Adama was dancing around a topic he didn't quite dare to bring up, never getting close enough to give Starbuck a clue. When they'd about worn the subject out, Starbuck decided he should get out while he could; Adama wasn't somebody he wanted to play at the best of times, which this wasn't.

"If that's all, sir?"

"Yes," Adama said. "I believe it is... Starbuck," he added as Starbuck stood up to go.

"Sir?" Starbuck turned to look at him, a weary silver lionet who suddenly looked his age.

And as uncertain as Starbuck had ever seen him look. "Starbuck... you do know how fond I am of you."

Okay. Very weird. But he did know, at least he thought he did, so he answered honestly enough. "Yes, sir. I do."

"I hope so. Because I really am rather fond of you. And my children are. All of them," he added. "I thought I'd heard your name a lot when Apollo was young, but Zac..." He smiled. "Did I ever thank you for taking Zac under your wing when he was first assigned here?"

Not exactly, was Starbuck's first reaction. He'd been under the impression, in fact, that it had more than less annoyed Adama that Zac had followed him around like a puppy. Without even going into the whole why did Zac die question... "I liked Zac very much," he said.

"My wife loved you, too." Adama looked down at his desk for a minute, and then back up at Starbuck, standing by the chair feeling rather stunned. "I thought it was important that you know that. In case you weren't sure."

Well, at least Starbuck was on sure ground here. "I was very fond of Siress Ila," he said quietly. "She was a wonderful person."

"Yes. Yes, she was. Thank you for saying so, Starbuck," Adama said, as quietly.

Starbuck waited a centon, and then, when Adama said nothing further, left. Wow, he thought to himself as he waited for the turbolift. That was very strange. He leaned against the wall of the car when it came and wondered if perhaps he should find a quiet corner with a terminal and hack into the life center's systems and find out just exactly how much longer he had to live. Because it was starting to feel like the answer was 'not very.'

Back at the ready room he found a note from Apollo—'Theni's taking Boxey tonight. If you're free after shift, stop by.

So, he spent the remaining centare of the shift wondering whether he wanted to go or not. It was, of course, a wasted centare, because there was no way he wasn't going...

"Uncle Starbuck!" Boxey charged around the corner and collided with him. "Uncle Starbuck! You came!"

"Sure did... I thought you were going to—Hi, 'Theni," he said as she turned the corner as well. He straightened up with Boxey in his arms.

"Hi, yourself," she said. Her pale blue eyes were alight with something, he wasn't sure what.

"I'm really glad you came tonight," Boxey said.

"Boxey," Athena said warningly.

"I didn't say anything!" he protested, wriggling.

She held out her hand. "Come on. Let's go."

Starbuck put him down. "What's up, 'Theni?"

"Never mind. You'll find out." She smiled enigmatically at him and reached out to push his hair back off his forehead. "Not that it matters, I suppose," she added maddeningly. "Have fun, Starbuck. Come on, Boxey."

Starbuck watched them walk down the corridor and then walked around the corner to Apollo's quarters. He stood there for a couple of centons, wondering if he wanted to go in at all. But then he rang and did.

part onepart two part three


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