For a dead woman, with a grave marker, and mourners, and a candle-service every yahren, the woman was very happy. She only occasionally missed her family, and she'd had no friends to miss at all. She lived simply in a small house in the agro-community, near the wondrously dark and mysterious Thorn Forest, in which she could lose herself for hours. She taught children to make music three afternoons a secton, and helped young girls learn to baffle young men, and baked exquisite sweet breads whose fragrance hung in the street like perfume.
It was true that her husband was only rarely therehe travelled, on his ambiguous businessbut it was not for him, though he was charming and delightful, that she had died. She was glad when he was home, she didn't miss him when he wasn't, and that was the truth of it.
It was for the boy who finally came that she had disappeared, died and been mourned. "Ah, mon petit chou," she would say to him when he was tiny, "je t'aime, mon cher, mon ange, je t'adore..." When he grew older, she spoke to him not in Aquarian, but in Caprican, almost without accent, but her meaning never changed: "My little darling, I love you."
She would stand in the window and watch him play in the yard behind the little house, running with a scruffy little mongrel daggit whose only virtues were its love and its patience, and thank God he didn't need a guardian who could turn in a heartbeat into a monster of killing teeth and claw. She could take him into the Thorn Forest and teach him to climb trees and play hide-and-seek for the joy of it alone. And she would watch him run off with his friends and thank God she could let him, that he had friends to run off with.
And at night, when he went to bed, she would kiss his beautiful face under his thick mop of fair hair and sing him lullabies from antiquity, and when he'd dropped off to sleep, she would watch him, and sometimes she would say, if her husband was gone and no one could hear the hint, "Ah, cher fils, never will you play the game. You will grow up free and happy, grace á Dieu."
And it was true that happiness filled the little house like wine.
Until she died for true, and happiness died with her.
"Krytos is not going be happy about this." The voice was dispassionate.
The second one wasn't; in fact it was distinctly scared. "It's not my fault! Who knew he wasn't strong enough to take it? He seemed stronger than thatthese wiry old bastards usually"
"Krytos ain't gonna care about 'usually'." The third speaker seemed almost happy thinking about it.
"It doesn't matter now," said the first one. "What's done is done and cannot be undone. Krytos will not be best pleased, but at least no one else knows, nor can anyone else extract information from a corpse."
"So whatta we do now?" asked the third.
"Do?" the first shrugged. "Leave it hereyou did take precautions, did you?"
"Of course! You think I wanna get caught?"
"Wanting has little to do with it. But if only you get caught, you know to keep your mouth shut. So, we leave it here and report back to Krytos for orders."
"Whaddya think we'll hafta do next?" wondered the third.
"I don't. I leave that to Krytos." The first looked around briefly, and then turned to the third. "Check the hallway."
It was clear. The three departed, leaving behind them the remains of what had once been a human. As they went their separate ways, one of them began whistling.
Security found the old man on the Feriya, in a maintenance closet on deck 14-D, dead. In fact, very dead. One of the Security guards, far more used to broken locks than broken bodies, added to the ambiance by being sick, though he did at least make it to the corridor and avoided contaminating the crime scene.
Because there wasn't any doubt that that was what it was. It wasn't just that it was an unusual place for a suicide, or that the old man's clothes were a bit pricey for the Feriya, or even the sheer number of his wounds. It was that nobody killed himself with his hands tied to an equipment rack.
Being, and knowing it, out of their depth, they called for the investigators from the Galactica. Soon enough, Deck 14-D and both turbolifts to it were off-limits, and investigators were going cabin to cabin trying to identify the dead man or locate anyone who might have seen anything. They didn't expect much help from the people who lived on the freighter's lowest decks, and they weren't disappointed. No one knew anything, had seen or heard anything, or had anything helpful to say.
So it wasn't until the next day that Security got their first inkling that this wasn't just some criminal enterprise gone wrong.
"Really?" Reese, head of Security, leaned back in his chair and looked at his subordinate. "You're sure about this, Arras?"
"Yes, sir. We ran it through again. There's no doubt... Tigh himself initiated the original check."
"Well, well," Reese said. "How... interesting."
"Nobody's done anything with the file for the past yahren, sir," Arras pointed out.
"That's not necessarily important," Reese almost purred. "The important thing is the ID. There's no mistake on that?"
"Good... well, I think I'd better check into somebody's alibi." He paused and said, " Arrasyou haven't told anybody about this, have you?"
"Told anyone? Well, no, sir."
"But?" Reese knew that tone.
"But, the body was taken to the Galactica for autopsy, sir. I expect the medical staff there knows."
"Too bad," Reese said. "Well, then we'll have to play it without the element of surprise. That's okay, though... I don't mind looking straightforward every once in a while."
"Sir, you don't think he would wait a whole yahren to do something, would he?"
"Who knows what a terminater would do, Arras?"
"Of course, if he didn't do it, he's not a terminater, but if he didwell, we'll have to investigate the lieutenant."
Reese stood up. "I think I'll go pay a little visit to Captain Apollo... for that matter, maybe I'll check his alibi for yesterday while I'm at it. After all, with Apollo and Starbuck it's definitely a case of 'love me, love my dagget'."
It was a fine day, Starbuck thought, as he walked along the corridor. He was off duty, after a long and especially boring patrol the day before, and better yet, there was a high-stakes game starting over on the Rising Star later this afternoon, and for once he was comfortably able to sit in. In fact, he'd been on a nice run of luck for the past couple of sectons: his bar tab was paid, he didn't owe anybody a decicube, and although it was Boxey's birthday the next day, he'd exercised the foresight to buy a present out of his winnings nine days ago. So even if he lost it wouldn't matter, and that meant he was in the right frame of mind to win and win big. If they'd been planetside, the sun would have been shining and avians singing in the trees... Nothing can go wrong today, he thought. I feel it in my bones: this is definitely one of those days.
"Starbuck!" A voice called down the corridor.
He paused and waited for Cassie to catch up to him. They'd been slowly patching things back together after Cain, and it was more than possible, given that she was both on duty today and out here looking for him, that she wanted to take him to dinner. He just might acceptit would give him a reason to leave the table while he was still winning.
"Starbuck," Cassie walked up to him. "I'm glad I found you... I've got bad news."
He looked at her inquiringly. "What kind of bad news?" He didn't like the expression on her face; it looked like bad news for him, not her.
"Starbuck," she put her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry... Chameleon is dead."
"Chameleon?" He was much more puzzled than anything else. He'd liked the old rogue, but he hadn't seen him in nearly a yahren. Just another person passing through his life...
"He was found this morning, on the Feriya. Terminated."
"Terminated? Tried to scam the wrong people, I guess." He was sorry; the old man had been a likable sort, if definitely on the 'just-passing-through' side of it. But he couldn't quite figure how this was 'bad news'. Or rather, he could but... no. No.
"Starbuck, I have a confession," she said.
He got very wary very fast. "Oh?" he said, maintaining his composure but not by much.
"He made me promise not to tell you, he said he would someday, but now... well, there's no easy way to say this. Starbuck, he was your father."
"What do you mean?" He stalled for time; it was all too clear what she meant. "The tests came back negative."
"Actually," she said, uncomfortably, "they didn't. They were positive"
And he'd known it was coming, but that didn't make it any easier to take. It hurt. It hurt like several hells... so he took it out on Cassie, trying to drive her away before she saw just how bad it was.
"And you knew? You lied to me?"
"Starbuck, he made me promise."
"You know something? At the time, as I recall, you were supposed to be in love with me."
"Starbuck" she sounded hurt.
Good. "You lied to me. I thought you hated liars."
"Starbuck, that's not fair," she protested. "He asked me to. He had his reasons"
"Oh, I just bet he did," he snarled. "I just bet he did."
"Starbuck, he asked me"
"And of course he meant more to you than I did."
"It was to protect you!"
"Oh, sure. 'For my own good.'" He put quotes around it. "Hurt him worse than me, I'll bet."
He cut her off. "I understand. It was just his little secret. Oh, and yours. And everybody's?"
"Starbuck?" She sounded puzzled.
"And how many of you knew?" he demanded. "Who did you tell?"
"Just Apollo and Sheba..." her voice trailed off in the face of his savage anger.
"Oh, great. Just great. So they know, too. Sit around and discuss it, did you? Never mind. He didn't want me to know. So why are you telling me now? Why didn't you let it alone?"
"I'd accepted it. It was okay."
"Starbuck, he was your father."
"Oh, and how he wanted that."
"I don't understand."
"Let me explain it, then." His hand went to his chest. "I'm all excited; I think he's my father. Then it turns out he isn't. He says he wants to be my friend. Okay... I mean, he's not my father but he might have known my father. He might have seen me around Umbra. And he can maybe tell me if things are... well, real or not."
"Oh," he waved his hand in the air, "just things. Like, were there purple flowers that climbed up the sides of old cream-colored houses on the edge of town and did they make the air smell like an expensive woman in the spring? Or was there really a grey felix, that people called 'The Oldest Inhabitant', that sometimes fell asleep in the road and they directed traffic around him till he woke up? Were there two really scary old ladies that lived in a blue house and daggets wouldn't go in their yard... just things. That might be real or might be dreams or might be out of a book." He stopped abruptly. That was getting too close to the bone. He didn't want her to know this. Not now. "See, he could have told me if he was from Umbra. But then he's gone. Two, three sectons, a few drinks, a few games, and then not even Siress Blassie knows where he hared off to. Well, fine. He's a con man, he always admitted it, and Sagan knows once I started thinking about it, he didn't know one fact about me or Umbra that he couldn't have gotten off that damned interview I did for IFB. All he wanted was protection from the Nomen, just like everybody said, and he took the tests because it bolstered his case and gave him breathing room, and... fine. I can live with it." He took a deep breath. She started to say something but he cut her off. "But nownow you say he was my father. And he took off on me. Again. Just like he did before. Well, fine. I don't need him. He can burn in the fifth hell for all I care."
"Starbuck!" She was shocked.
"I'm supposed to care?" he demanded. "He left me. Twice."
"He had amnesia."
"Mighty convenient," he said. "I'll have to remember that one. He fracking left. Who knows if he was even there when the attack came. Maybe he was already gone. But either way, damn it, he left then. How hard would it have been to go through the Orphanages looking for a blond boy the right age? He never sent inquiries. You think they wouldn't have been happy to get rid of even one of us? He didn't try. He didn't," he repeated when she opened her mouth. "I was there for eleven yahrens. Eleven. That's six after he 'recovered'. He couldn't find me in six yahrens? He didn't, but that's not the same thing."
"But he did"
He interrupted her. "Sure, when he needed protection. And when I was a Colonial Warrior, a hero. When I could get him onto the Galactica... I say I'm leaving all that to be with him and what does he say? 'No, thanks,' that's what he says. 'I don't want you, I want your connections and your prestige and your officer's privileges and without them, sorry boy, I'm gone.'"
"Forget it," he said. "That's what I'm going to do."
"But, what about his funeral?"
"What about it? If I went it would only be to make sure he was dead." He laughed bitterly. "I gotta wonder, did he leave my mother flat like that? And did she say all the things you're saying... Sagan," he stopped cold. "I really am like him. But at least I never walked out on a child."
She just looked at him, clearly unable to think of a thing to say.
"And all of you knew. You all knew he'd just walked out on me, again. At least nobody said anything to me about it."
"Starbuck, he said it was because he loved you..."
"Oh, oh," he said, and his voice was raw, but not as raw as his emotions. As his heart and soul."I love you too much to stay... Gods, I should just go shoot myself now. I can't believe I ever doubted the bastard was my father." He turned to leave. He couldn't bear it one micron longer.
"Starbuck, where are you going?"
"What does it matter?"
He just kept on walking. He desperately needed to get drunk. Very very drunk. Drunk enough not to feel the pain, and not to see himself as the mirror of his father. He didn't know if he could get that drunk, but he had to try.
Apollo looked up when Cassiopeia knocked on his open door's jamb. She looked dreadful: red eyes and pale face and distressed expression. He put down his stylus and rose automatically to his feet. "Cassie? What's wrong?"
"Oh, gods," she said. "I need to talk with you."
"Of course," he said, gesturing at the empty chair. "Shut the door," he invited. "What's wrong?"
"Starbuck... no," she said quickly. "He's all right. He's just angry... It's Chameleon."
Apollo stopped halfway back in his chair, staring at her, and then sat down. "What's he done now? Decided to tell Starbuck? Gotten sealed? Produced some other kid?" He'd always halfway figured Starbuck to get angry if his father ever identified himself, and even if the man was Starbuck's dad there was no point in ignoring the rest of what he was. In Apollo's opinion, his friend was better off an orphan.
"No," she said. "He's dead."
"Dead?" he repeated.
"He was terminated, Apollo... it was horrible."
"Terminated?" He caught himself before he turned into an echo. "Where? How? Who?"
She shook her head. "I don't think they know yet. They brought his body in to us, they didn't even know who he was. I recognized him. Just barely. Apollo, it was really horrible. Whoever it was, they tortured him."
Apollo stared at her. Chameleon had been a conman, but a likable one. Even though he'd suspected his claim to be Starbuck's father had been a fraud, he'd still liked the old man, and he'd felt very bad for his best friend when the tests had come back negative. Bad for both of them if truth be told, though he'd also felt it was a lucky escape for Starbuck. For all of them, considering his announcement that he was resigning his commission... And when Cassie had told him the truth, he'd been unsurprised, though he'd wished she hadn't roped him into the deception. But he would never have anticipated hearing this. "Tortured him? Are you sure? I'm sorry, that's a stupid question. On the Senior Ship?"
"No," she shook her blonde head. "On the Feriya. They didn't say what he was doing there."
"Gods," he said inadequately. "No wonder Starbuck's mad."
"No," she said miserably. "That's not it... Oh, Apollo, I must have said something totally wrong to him. He's mad... he said he hopes Chameleon is burning in hell."
"What?" That was very unlike Starbuck. It was the kind of thing he'd reserve for someone like Baltar. "Are you sure you understood him? Maybe he meant whoever killed him."
"No," she shook her head again. "He was very clear. He says he hates Chameleon. He called him a bastard. And he's mad at us, too."
"At us?" Echo in here again, he thought. "What for?"
"For not telling him. Or telling him. I wasn't really sure what he was angry about. I don't think I've ever seen him so angry. Even when we had that fight over Ortega, he wasn't anything like this angry."
That wasn't good. Starbuck could get angry, all right, but he generally didn't let anybody see it. Apollo thought for a moment, and then looked at her. "Wait a centonCassie, did you mean, you'd told him Chameleon was his father?"
"Yes. He said Chameleon had left him twice, and he didn't care. But he was too angry not to care, you know?"
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know," she said. "He wouldn't tell me. Apollo, I'm worried about him. I've never seen him like this."
"Don't worry," he soothed her automatically. "He won't do anything like that." Though he might well get drunk and if he was mad enough... not good. Not good at all. Better find him before he gets in a fight. "When did you see him?" he asked.
"About forty centons ago." She sighed. "Apollo, he was so mad at me, I don't think he'd talk to me right now."
"That's okay, Cassie, he'll get over it. He always does, you know that. I'll check and see if Boomer knows where he is. Or Athena. You go on back to the Life Center; if he gets over it as fast as he usually does he'll probably go there looking for you."
"Okay," she agreed. "But I don't think he's going to get over this soon."
"Starbuck never stays angry long," Apollo said, trying to cheer her up. Lords of Kobol knew, he wanted Starbuck to settle down, and Cassie looked like the best bet for that there'd ever been. "Don't worry about him, Cassie. We'll find him and get this sorted out."
"I hope so," she said, standing up. "It's just... I've never seen him like this before." She opened the door and paused, looking back at Apollo. "He was kind of frightening."
"It'll be okay," Apollo said. As soon as she was gone, he called the Officers' Club, but Starbuck hadn't been in. Boomer wasn't there, either, so Apollo left a message for Starbuck and then called the Rejuvenation Center looking for Boomer.
His exec was there, but he didn't know where Starbuck was. "I think he said something about playing pyramid over on the Rising Star later today," Boomer said. "Where he is right now, I don't know. Did you check the O Club?"
"Yes. He's not there."
"Well, he is off," said Boomer, an undercurrent of amusement in his voice. "You may not see him until tomorrow. Cassie may know."
"She doesn't," Apollo said. He hesitated. He'd told her not to tell Boomer Chameleon's request, because he didn't think the Leonid would have thought it was right to keep the secret from Starbuck. "I guess I'll call Athena"
Boomer whistled. "You are in a passion to find him."
"They're pretty good friends now," Apollo said.
"But she's on duty... I don't think the colonel appreciates his ops staff getting personal calls on duty."
Frack. He'd forgotten that she was on second watch now. She'd kill him if she found out, the promotion to Bridge Officer was so important to her. Even though Boomer couldn't see him he shrugged, saying, "What's personal? I'm the Strike Captain and I'm looking for an officer."
"If that's your story," Boomer said easily; Apollo could tell he hadn't fooled him one bit. Well, that's the price you pay for knowing someone as long as he'd known Boomer. Letting him get that close... "You want me to nose around, see if I can find him?"
And that was the reward. Apollo smiled and said, "Thanks, yes. He's a bit upset, I think, he just heard that Chameleon was terminated."
"Terminated?" Boomer was startled. "Frack, Apollo, who by?"
"I don't think they know. They brought the body into the Life Center with no ID, but of course Cassie recognized him. She told Starbuck, said he got very angry."
"Rough," said Boomer the master of understatement. "Besides liking him, I think he always hoped he'd find out something from the man that would tell him something about his own family."
"Well, as to that," Apollo said, "you might as well know it now; everybody will now. He was Starbuck's father."
There was a long silence. "You don't sound surprised."
Trust Boomer to cut right through the felgarcarb. "I knew," Apollo admitted. "Cassie told me right after"
"And she told Starbuck? Frack, Apollo, of course he's angry... You didn't... I don't... I'm coming up there."
He cut the commlink before Apollo could say that this was a conversation he'd rather have after he got off duty. Not, he admitted to himself, that it would have done any good to say it, so it was probably better that he hadn't. He went ahead and called the Officer In Charge of the Bridge station while he waited.
"ICOB, Lieutenant Athena."
"This is the Strike Captain."
"What do you want?" she asked. "We haven't heard anything unusual from the patrol."
"Actually," he said, "where would Starbuck be, do you know?"
"I don't keep track of him," she said. "He's your responsibility. Why, did you lose him?"
"You could say that. Cassie told him something that upset him," he wasn't making the same mistake twice, "and she's worried he might get into trouble."
"He might," Athena said, sounding slightly preoccupied. "But he's a big boy and he can take care of himself, and if Cassie would stop jerking him around they'd both be a lot happier. Look, Apollo, I really can't chat. I don't know where he is, but if I see him I'll tell him to check in with Papa, okay?"
"I am not... Okay." He gave up. "Thanks."
He sat behind his desk, wondering if it would be the better part of valor to leave before Boomer arrived. He decided it would, but he didn't move. The delay wouldn't be anything but that, a delay, and he'd pay for ducking out worse than staying put. He called the shuttle bay and told the launch master to have Starbuck call him before leaving the Galactica and then stopped really worrying about it. Starbuck was, as Athena had said, a big boy and no matter how pissed off he was at Cassie it wasn't like he was going to do anything terminally stupid.
And Apollo had problems of his own at the moment. One problem, anyway: Lieutenant Boomer, annoyed with him.
He just wished he could figure out why.
After a centon's reflection, he got up and put his head outside his office. "Corporal," he said to the duty NCO, "Lieutenant Boomer's coming up for an emergency meeting. When he gets here, hold any calls except from the Colonel or the Commander, and no visitors. Oh, except for Lieutenant Starbuckif he calls, put him through."
"Yes, sir." The NCOD's voice was flat, but Apollo wondered, briefly, what he was thinking.
He's not thinking anything, he told himself as he went back into his office. He's not thinking anything at all. Don't be paranoid.
Fortunately, Boomer showed up before his paranoia could kick into high gear. Apollo took a few microns to appreciate himhe was wearing that peacock-blue shirt he looked so good inand then said, "Shut the door, Lieutenant," adding, as soon as Boomer had done so, "After all, if you're going to kick my ass I don't want the enlisted men to know."
"Good thinking," said Boomer acidly. "Too bad it only comes in fits and starts."
"What does that mean?"
"What does it mean? What do you think it means? How long have you known? You said, 'right after'. Right after what? The termination?"
"No," Apollo admitted, "right after the test results came in."
"You mean you and Cassie have known all along that Chameleon was Starbuck's father and you didn't tell him? He kind of had a right to know, didn't he?"
Apollo shrugged. "He'd gotten along without a father until then"
"Gods, Apollo, it's a good thing I love you so much or I'd have to bounce your head off this desk. What the hell were you two thinking?"
"Sheba agreed," Apollo protested.
"Sheba would have agreed with you if you'd said everyone in the fleet should sacrifice their firstborn, you idiot. She was in new love"
"So how come it didn't take you like that?"
"Don't change the subject and maybe it did but I knew how bad it would be for you. The point is not whether Sheba thought it was a good ideahow long had she known Starbuck then? Three sectares? That long? You've known him since he was seventeen. He wanted his father."
"The man was no good for him, Boomer."
"That's not the point, either." Boomer shook his head exasperatedly. "The man was his father."
"He was planning to leave the service," Apollo protested. "Chameleon told Cassie he was going to leave everything he loved behind to spend time with an old foolhis words, not minetrying to get back something that was"
"Okay, that explains Cassie. What's your excuse?"
"I can see the man now, telling her that Starbuck was going to leave her... Hell, what would have been more natural than him wanting Starbuck to get sealed, give him little grandchildren to quote 'get back' unquote his lost family. But no, he tells her that Starbuck's leaving her and she gets crazy possessive and betrays him"
"That's a strong word."
"Well, what would you say?" Boomer stared at him. "Starbuck gets his hopes up, invests all his emotions in this man, and then finds out he's wrong. That's rough, but it happens. But it was a lie. The man was his father."
"But he didn't want Starbuck to know."
"Then why did he come looking for him? Or was it such a long shot he never believed it was possible?"
"Well, I don't know. He told Cassie he'd tell him, someday"
"Okay," Boomer said, not sounding particularly reconciled. "Say you're right. Say the best thing was for Starbuck not to know. Why the frack did you tell him now?"
Apollo looked at him puzzledly. "Why? Boomer, he's dead. He was Starbuck's father and he's dead. He'll never get the chance to tell him now."
"Right. So why tell Starbuck?"
"Because he should know. He should bury him"
"Bury a man who didn't want him? Who abandoned him?"
Apollo opened his mouth and then shut it. That aspect of it hadn't occurred to him.
"Good lord, man, you are so clueless." Boomer shook his head, suddenly losing most of his anger. "What the hell is Bucko supposed to think about this except that he wasn't worth Chameleon's time and trouble?"
"I didn't... Cassie said Starbuck said Chameleon left him twice. I was thinking, I mean, you do get angry sometimes with people who die, especially if there's unfinished business. I thought he was harking back to Chameleon's not looking hard enough for himdid he ever mention that to you?"
Boomer snorted. "He told me he was halfway glad Chameleon wasn't his father, because on reflection he couldn't see how a man could look through orphanages for six yahrens and fail to find a kid who'd never left. And then he's foundand dumped again. No wonder he's pissed off. Why did you guys have to tell him?"
"I..." Apollo shrugged. "It's his family, Boom-Boom. I didn't tell him, as a matter of fact, Cassie did, but I would have. I'd have thought he needed to know."
"Apollo," Boomer leaned back on the desk and looked at him with dark eyes that were half sad and half amused. It was what Apollo privately thought of as Boomer's most characteristic expression, and it was one that he found almost irresistible. He so wanted to get rid of the sadness, fill the eyes with the amusement that was their birthright... He tried to focus on the words. "Starbuck loves you. You're the most important person in his life. And Cassiewell, after me she may be next, I'm not sure. He hasn't ever even thought about sealing with anyone but her and your sister... and you guys betrayed him. You kept secret the one thing you know he's always wanted to know. And when you tell him, it's when it's too late for him to do anything about it. If you weren't going to tell him then you sure as all seven hells shouldn't have ever told him."
"But," Apollo repeated, "it's his family."
And Boomer repeated, "You are so clueless. It's no wonder your personal life is all screwed up."
"It can't be that bad," Apollo said, a sudden notion coming into his head. "You're in it."
"Yes, well" Boomer broke off as Apollo slipped out of his chair onto his knees and slid his hands under that iridescent shirt. "Cut that outwhat if somebody comes in?"
Apollo half-wished somebody would. "Nobody will," he said, nuzzling Boomer's flat stomach. "I told them to stay out."
"Apollo" Boomer's breath hissed in through his teeth as Apollo's right hand tightened on his buttock and his left began undoing his trousers. "Are you insane?"
"Maybe," Apollo said, kissing the warm dark skin. "You have that effect on me..."
"Gods," Boomer said. "You've lost your mind. What if your father should come in? Or Tigh? They won't be put off by that little corporal out there."
"Let 'em." Apollo found that thought exhilarating. He pulled on his lover's trousers, noticing that he lifted away from the desk's edge to help him in spite of his words. When Boomer's strong legs were bare to the knees Apollo reached for his balls, pausing to say again, "Let 'em."
Boomer's own right hand came to rest on Apollo's head. "It's your career..." he husked.
"If only I could make this a career..." Apollo said, gratified at how quickly he'd gotten Boomer to quit protesting this time. Maybe he too had wished somebody would find them... don't fool yourself; no 'maybe' about it, he realized. Then he quit worrying about it and licked the dark cock already coming to attention under his ministrations. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, Boomer's hand clenched on the corner of the desk, tendons standing out from the deep-brown velvet skin. That's it, he thought, you need this. You need me. He kneaded the muscles under his hand, digging his fingers in slightly, while he gently massaged the balls in his other hand. Boomer moaned softly, and without looking Apollo knew his head was thrown back, his eyes closed, his whole compact, sturdy body offered, vulnerable and open. The image was as exciting as the feel and the taste, and Apollo stopped licking and opened his mouth, taking Boomer's cock inside.
Boomer moaned again, still softly, but abandoning his native caution to the pleasure engulfing him. He lifted his hips off the desk to thrust. Apollo pushed against his thighs with his now free left hand, pinning his lover and holding him still. He wanted to control the tempo, wanted Boomer to be his... as always, the very thought made him pick up the pace a little, and the other man's breathing quickened as he pushed against Apollo's hands and mouth, wanting, needing...
He came with a surge and barely enough warning for Apollo to be ready to swallow, but he did, all of the salty, Boomer-flavored essence that made life worth living. As the dark man settled back, panting and trembling, Apollo sucked at him, and then licked him clean with long, laving tongue-laps and little kisses, which he scattered across belly and thighs as well. Boomer's hand carded through his hair as he did that, and then he pulled Apollo upright for a deep kiss.
"I'm still annoyed with you." Boomer's voice was still husky.
"Of course," Apollo acknowledged.
Boomer held him close, rubbing his hands in circles along Apollo's back. "What about you?"
"I'm fine," Apollo purred against his throat. "Besides, I'm wearing a pressure suit... and you're annoyed with me. Later? After I'm off and you've cooled down?"
"Don't want to cool down too much," Boomer laughed.
"I'll warm you back up," Apollo promised. "You'll come?"
"Second shift," Apollo reminded him. "It'll be midnight... he'll be asleep. Come?"
"You know I will." Boomer pushed Apollo's hair back out of his face. "But I'm warning youif you run into Starbuck you better make damned sure he knows I didn't know. In fact, you can tell him I still don't."
"Okay," Apollo promised him. "I will. Now, will you look around and see if you can find him?"
Boomer nodded. "He's probably gone over to the Star, to drink instead of play cards, but I'll see if I can run him down, make sure he's not getting into too much trouble. He and I can drink and abuse you."
"Don't stay out too late."
"I won't." Boomer pulled his clothes back into order. "Fix your hair," he recommended, smug in the knowledge that no amount of passion could muss his. Then he pulled Apollo to him for a quick, but thorough, kiss, and left.
Apollo watched him go, feeling the idiot's grin he was wearing, and then shook himself and got back to work.
Boomer spent a few centares looking around the Galactica for Starbuck, but didn't find him. None of Starbuck's myriad acquaintances, nor his few friends, had seen him, either. Boomer was more worried about their friend than Apollo was, but then again Starbuck generally kept his darker side from the captain. He'd told Boomer, yahrens ago, that Apollo had enough to worry about without adding him to the mix. Since Boomer agreed, he didn't generally disillusion Apollo about Starbuck's carefree nature, and acted as the blond's confidante himself.
Still, he wasn't overly worried about him. He'd checked with all the shuttle pilots, and Starbuck hadn't taken any of them off the Galactica. There was a limited amount of trouble even Starbuck could get into on the battlestar, and Boomer figured he'd probably found a sympathetic ear attached to a willing body with an available bed. If he didn't show up in the morning, then it would be time to worry. He ate a late dinner at the O Club and thought about what he'd say when his friend came to unburden himself... at least he could be genuine in his indignation all the way around this particular problem.
He sighed to himself. Sometimes Apollo was so clueless it was almost painful. The Caprican was so immersed in his family that, even though he frequently hated the expectations and demands theyread: his fatherput on him, he couldn't comprehend not being part of them. Not having those expectations to complain about. Not being wanted so overwhelmingly. Not, in fact, being wanted at all.
Boomer's own family had always wanted him. There was that yahren when his parents had been fighting so badly over his father's drinking that his great-aunt had swooped down and sent him and his siblings to stay with their mother's brother in Caprica City, but having extended family that interfered like that was the opposite of no family at all. So he couldn't really understand what Starbuck felt like. But he knew it was bad.
And worse now. It had been bad enough that he'd been orphaned, especially since, even before the number of orphans reached epidemic proportions and there was simply no way to even hope to get them all homes, children of unknown parentage stood so little chance of getting into families. After the Cylons began reaching the central system worlds as well as the outer, colonies-with-a-small-'c' worlds, it was worse. Appeals were made to people to take in any children that were related to them, even peripherally, rather than let them enter the overcrowded child care system, and even so there were tens of thousands... And many people didn't want to adopt children whose bloodlines were unknown, like Starbuck's, so even little babies were left in orphanages, especially on Caprica, Libris, Tauron, and Sagitta. It didn't matter how bright and attractive Starbuck had beenand he'd been, still was, very bothnobody had wanted to take a chance on his unknown blood...
And now he found out that his father had met and rejected him. It wouldn't surprise Boomer at all to learn that Starbuck firmly believed that Chameleon hadn't really made any effort at all to find him, ever, and had been stunned to discover that his little conbased on a layer of truthhad backfired into the whole truth. After all, the man had run like a scalded felix when he'd learned that he was, in fact, Starbuck's father. Sure, Cassie had told Apolloif Apollo's version was correctthat Chameleon had done it "for Starbuck's sake", but honestly...
Boomer shook his head again. As often as Apollo bitched about the way his father interfered "for my own good", you'd think the man would have learned to see through that by now. But Apollo had his blind spots, like everybody else, and Boomer had learned to accept them yahrens ago. No point in complaining about them now. Apollo truly, honestly believed that Starbuck owed his father filial respect now that the man was dead. That Starbuck didn't feel like that... what he, Boomer, would have to do was make sure that Apollo didn't make Starbuck feel like he ought to feel differently, that he was supposed to "honor" the man who'd run out on him at least once if not more, and add a load of guilt to the anger and the self-denigration he was struggling with as it was.
That was something else Apollo railed against while accepting on some bone-deep level there was little sense in fighting: filial duty. Gods knew Boomer had had to come to terms with just how much Apollo was willing to give up because it was something he thought of as his duty to. His best bet, he figured, was to remind Apollo that even at its best Starbuck's family wasn't remotely similar to his aristocratic one. If he had to, he could hit his lover up the side of head. Hard. Several times.
Boomer found himself smiling at the thought. He must be more annoyed than he'd thought.
He checked his wrist chrono and decided that Boxey would be asleep by now and whoever Apollo had roped into putting him to bed for these few daysnot Athena, she was on second watch herself this secton, probably a child care workerwould be gone. He'd have done it, but Apollo shied from asking him... too close to the bone. And it obviously wasn't Starbuck.
He remembered when Apollo had gone missing. Starbuck had stepped in and cared for Boxey, preempting not only Boomer but the Commander and Athena, too. She'd been happy enough to let Starbuck do it; her affection for the boy was real but she wasn't prepared to take him on full-time. Or, Boomer thought, to let her father cast her in a domestic role even in his mind. Both Adama's surviving children fought him, though in their own, very different ways...
But Starbuck had told him, bluntly, that he shouldn't take Apollo's son. "First," he'd said, "I can do it better. I'm not his loverhis secret lover. I'm his best friend, and I'll get all the sympathy, support, and help I need. Second, you're his exec; you have to handle the wing and what his being gone means there. And third, you take Boxey and you'll find yourself telling Adama some hard truths about his son that he doesn't want to hear and that Apollo will wish you hadn't said when he comes back."
"When?" Boomer had said, so afraid that his usual optimism had gone missing.
"When," Starbuck had repeated firmly. "You'll see."
And of course, he had. And of course Starbuck had been right. It had been hard enough dealing with Apollo's absence without seeing his son every day. (Not to mention that he still had a smoldering resentment of Serina no matter how hard he tried to turn his facade of acceptance into the truth.) That whole episode had been the hardest thing he'd ever had to live through...
But he had lived through it. And Apollo and he were closer now than they'd been in while, because Boomer had realized that losing Apollo to death was far, far worse than sharing him with someone. For that matter, he thought now, he'd been sharing Apollo, in a way, ever since they'd known each other. He might not sleep with Starbuck, but he loved the man far more than he'd loved Serina.
On the other hand, Boomer loved Starbuck, too... Which made this whole mess just that much worse.
Well, he said to himself as he walked down the corridor to Apollo's quarters, I'll think about that tomorrow.
He keyed himself in, ready to wait for Apollo to come home.
"Dad?" A small voice inquired.
He turned to see Boxey, rumpled and sleepy-eyed, standing in the doorway to his room. "Nope, it's me," he said.
"I thought you might be Dad, Uncle Boomer," the boy said.
"Well, I might have been, but I'm not. What are you doing up this time of night, Boxey? Having trouble sleeping?"
"I had a bad dream," Boxey said, softly.
"Come here, scout," Boomer invited. Boxey scrambled up on the couch beside him and leaned into his shoulder. "What kind of dream?"
"Cylons were coming to get me," the boy said, looking at Boomer's shirt buttons. "They were in the hallways and nobody could see them, not even Muffy."
Useless git, was Boomer's automatic reaction to Muffitt II, but he stifled it as usual. "There are no Cylons anywhere close," he said, rubbing Boxey's back. "They couldn't get past the patrols, and they couldn't land without the Ops crew noticing, or the mechs. And they couldn't get past Security"
"Dad says Security isn't worth"
"I'm sure he does," Boomer cut off the almost-certain obscenity; he hated to hear Boxey use them and still wasn't comfortable disciplining Apollo's son, so he tried to prevent the occasion from arising. "But he means as detectives, not guards. Anyway, Cylons aren't invisible. If they were, their eyes would be invisible, too, and then they couldn't see anything, either, and that would be pretty useless."
"Really. If their eyes were invisible then light would just go through them, and you can't see if you can't make light stop on your optic nerves."
Boxey thought about that for a while, and then gave a happy little sigh and snuggled under Boomer's arm. "Are you coming to my party tomorrow, Uncle Boomer?"
"Wouldn't miss it, scout," he answered.
"Good. I'm going to have whole platefuls of mushies," he said, "and presents. Dad and Grandfather say I shouldn't say about the presents, but it's my birthday."
"Yes, it is," said Boomer, "but they're right: if you don't talk about presents people are more inclined to give them to you. After all, they're presents, not tribute."
"Things people have to give their lords," Boomer said. "From the olden days. Like kings in the Book."
"Ivory and alnug wood and spices and stones?"
"Exactly." He hoped Boxey wasn't going to ask him what alnugs were.
"Well, I don't want tribute," Boxey said firmly. "I want games and books, not ivory and stones... or underwear."
Boomer laughed. "I know what you mean," he said. "But you really should be in bed."
"Will you tell me a story, Uncle Boomer?"
"Sure." He picked Boxey up and headed for the boy's room. "What story do you want?"
"Uncle Starbuck started to tell me one about Dad fishing but Dad wouldn't let him finish. Do you know it?" he asked hopefully.
Boomer laughed. "Oh, yeah. I know it." He tucked Boxey in and sat down on the bed and told him the story, which involved not only Apollo falling overboard not just once, but twice, but also Starbuck"beginner's luck", Apollo had insisted; "Starbuck's luck," Boxey said and Boomer had to agreecatching a trophy game fish while Apollo ended up with nothing but a vicious trash bottom-feeder. And a sunburn.
"What about you, Uncle Boomer?" Boxey asked sleepily. "Did you catch anything?"
"I caught dinner," said Boomer.
"That's good," Boxey yawned mightily.
"Okay. Time to sleep." Boomer tousled the boy's hair, turned off the lights, and went back into the front room.
Starbuck's luck, all right. Everything unimportant in his life turns to gold. He hoped the man had found a snug haven for the night.
By the time Apollo got in, Boxey was sound asleep. He checked on his son and then dragged Boomer into the sleeping room, where he fulfilled his promise to warm Boomer back up. In fact, he nearly wore Boomer out, almost as if he needed the physical reassurance that his lover's exasperation wasn't stronger than that. Boomer was more than willing to give him that reassurance; an ardent Apollohot questing mouth, strong probing fingers, passion alternately fierce and gentle and in the end driving into him with a single-minded need to possess and fulfillwas the single most overwhelming experience in his life, and each time was better than the last.
At this rate, he thought in a contented daze holding Apollo close-wrapped in his arms and legs and body, wanting to never let go, by the time we're sixty I'll be ten yahrens dead from ecstasy... I can live with that. He kissed Apollo's neck and shoulders, tasting the salt of his sweat. "I love you," he murmured.
"Love you, too," said Apollo softly. "Don't go tonight."
"Boxey?" Boomer said reluctantly. He didn't want to leave, but Apollo didn't usually ask him to stay unless his son was elsewhere.
Apollo yawned and tightened his own hold, as though afraid Boomer would get up and leave. "You're on early shift. He won't even be awake when you leave. Stay."
"Yes," Boomer said.
Apollo made a wordless sound of contentment and relaxed into Boomer's hold, asleep within microns.
Boomer lay awake a while longer, but when his sleep came, it was sweet.
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