Starbuck woke up to the smell of cheap ambrosalast week's, probably. He was in an empty room, one that had belonged to a dead pilot. He'd jacked the door, and locked it again behind him, and he really didn't give a damn if anybody had been looking for him last night. He knew he'd have woken for battle stationsan attack would have been a nice sign from the gods, in factand he hadn't wanted to see anyone else. Still didn't, for that matter.
He'd been right: he hadn't been able to get drunk enough. Oh, he'd gotten drunk enough to pass out, something he almost never did, but the pain hadn't gone anywhere; it was still right here, right outside the bright ring of anger that was his last line of defenses. He sat up, wedging himself into the corner, and let his head fall back against the wall with a dull thump. He welcomed the pain, it strengthened the anger. And he knew, inarticulately and without examining the knowledge, that he needed that emotion.
Gods damn Chameleon to the fifth hell, he thought, not for the first time. He sighed. Gods damn Cassiopeia and Apollo, too. And Sheba. And... whoever. In fact... Gods damn. Period. He reached for the nearer of the two bottles he'd bought last night. Although some of the remainder had spilled onto the floor, there were still a couple of mouthfuls left. He drank without enthusiasm. He didn't have a hangover, he never did, but he wanted to get drunk again. Maybe the pain was still here but while he was passed out he didn't have to deal with it.
Of course, nobody could get drunk on two swallows, even of rotgut like this. He looked at the green glass bottle and wondered if he should go and get some more or go on duty. Duty won, by a nose. But only because he knew that they wouldn't just ignore the fact that he hadn't shown up. Well, no, he insisted to himself as he stood up. Although there'd certainly been a time in his life when that would have been the only reason, it wasn't now. He wasn't young and irresponsible any more. Much as he'd like to be...
Just like Chameleon, that sharp voice pointed out. Go ahead. It's your heritage.
"Get stuffed," he said out loud to the beckoning darkness. "I refuse to have any gods damned heritage. I'm myself. Got that?"
There was, of course, no answer.
Not that he'd expected one. He had never gotten answers... "Big deal," he added. "I don't fracking need answers." He picked up the bottles and tossed them into the disposal chute. "I'm fine."
Sure. Whatever you say.
Starbuck rubbed his hands over his face, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes and then blowing a breath out between his fingers. He looked at his wrist chrono. His internal chrono was as reliable as ever. Even dead drunk it woke him up with forty centons to spare. He picked up his jacket and headed for the BOQ barracks. He needed to use the turbowash and get a clean uniform. Apollono, he was on late shift this secton, thank the Lords of Kobol. He wouldn't have to face him on an empty stomach. With any luck at all, he wouldn't have to face him until Boxey's party tonight, and then he wouldn't have to talk to him. But Boomer wouldn't be any happier with a pilot who showed up reeking like a still.
He stalked along the corridor doing his best to give off the impression that he'd kill anyone who talked to him. Whether he'd succeeded or not, no one did. Until he got to the barracks, of course, where he had to snarl at three of his friends. Which made enough of an impression that nobody else tried to start a conversation.
That included Boomer, who was shrugging into his own uniform in their half of the four-man suite they shared with Jolly and Cree. Technically, all single pilots were supposed to sleep in the barracks, whether the BOQ suites or the BEQ bays, but it didn't happen. Only the alpha squadron's pilots had to be immediately on hand, and that duty rotated, preceding being the ready squadron. Boomer's crumpled shirt hinted that their room had been completely empty last night, or at least a good portion of it, but peeved though Starbuck might be at Apollo, he couldn't sustain the fiction that the Strike Captain had argued that rule change with Tigh for his own benefit. Apollo had done it for morale, because the Galactica's Viper squadrons were used very hard and had very little respite. Besides, Starbuck had made good use of the liberty himself often enough, not just last night.
He didn't speak to Boomer, though; he didn't want to find out that Apollo had told him about Chameleon. It was bad enough Cassiopeia lying to him, taking his fathat bastard's part. Worse that Apollo had agreed with her, that he and Sheba had talked about it. If Boomer, too, had been in on it... He stiffened with renewed anger and shouldered past the Leonid into the turbowash, ignoring the way the other man's nose wrinkled at the smell. When he came out, he felt a little more in control of himself, and putting on a clean uniform finished the process. Once again, Starbuck was ready to face the day able to fake everyone out.
But thank the gods they weren't the ready squadron.
Boomer handed out assignments as if he had no idea what was going on. And, Starbuck had to acknowledge, he might not. Certainly there was no official Death in the Family notice waiting for himtoo bad, because one thing he had been certain of was how he'd react to that. I have no father; let the Fleet bury the man. Dignified but intransigent.
He found himself running a spare parts inventory, on his own. Just as well; he was ready to fake people out but he didn't actually want to talk to anyone. On the other hand, if he'd had to interact with someone it might have kept the facts at bay. Starbuck found himself talking to his datapads to keep his mind off what Cassie had said.
It didn't work very well.
He had his reasons...
Doubtless. Just like he'd had his reasons to leave his son in the care of strangers. What had he thoughtthe boy didn't want to find him? Thought he was dead? Had he thought his son was dead? Had he given it any thought at all? It was pretty obvious, in hindsight, that he'd seen that damned IFB interview before he ran into him and Apollo and Boomer on the Star. It had been broadcast several times that week, and he hadn't had a single fact that hadn't been in it.
You probably never heard of it... a small agrocommunity called Umbra... Just exactly what Starbuck had told the interviewer. Damn, but he'd wanted to believe it so much that hadn't even occurred to him until too late.
And then, well, who says the Lords of Kobol don't have a sense of humor? Joke's on you, Chameleonhe really is your son.
It's been real, but I've got to go now. Sorry it didn't work out. See you around.
I'd like to get together... He winced at the memory of his hunger to know someone who might, just possibly might, know any little thing out of his past. And that bastard, knowing the truth, I'd like that.
Sure he would.
And Cassiopeia... Starbuck snarled.
It was to protect you...
Protect him. From what? Having a family? A name? A place to belong? Even a father who was as crooked as a daggit's hind leg was at least a father... if he stuck around. If he cared. And sure he'd made good, frack, he was a decorated Hero of the Colonies, had the Gold Cluster even, but damn... he still didn't even know what his name was.
He said it was because he loved you.
Well, to be fair, why should he be any different than the rest of the worlds? Nobody ever loved Starbuck for long. Five yahrensif he had been fivewas probably the record. Whatever it took to make somebody stick with you for yahrens and yahrens, he didn't have it. But at least the son-of-a-boray could have been up front about it. Sorry, boy, there's no room in my life for you right now. Nice to meet you, though, maybe I'll stop by again when I get too old to snag a Siress Blassie...
Starbuck's head snapped around when he heard the smash, and he realized that he'd actually thrown a X544 comms board down the row of shelves. Frack, he thought. Those things are expensive. I'd better not do that again. He started to walk over to pick it up and paused. "Is somebody there?"
No answer. But the short hairs on the back of his neck were standing up, and he knew, the way he did sometimes, that there was somebody else down there. He transferred the datapads to his left hand and rested the right on his laser.
He spun around but recognised Giles's voice and managed not to draw the laser. "What?"
"Starbuck, Boomer wants you back up in his office," the younger pilot said.
"I'm not done here."
Giles shrugged. "He said it could wait. The inventory, I mean."
Starbuck hesitated, looking down the row of shelves. "Okay," he said and followed Giles out.
On their way back up, Giles, who was one of the people whose heads Starbuck had bitten off that morning, made a couple of abortive starts at saying something. Starbuck knew his bad mood wasn't Giles's fault; after five centons' uncomfortable silence, while they were staring at the doors of a turbolift, he managed to say, "Sorry about this morning. I had a bitch of a day yesterday."
"That's all right," Giles said. "I mean, I figured it wasn't personal."
Starbuck nearly asked him what the hell that meant but reined himself in. Giles was as indiscriminately friendly as a pup, and almost as annoying, but there was no malice in him. And it didn't make sense to alienate anyone who was still acting like his friend. While he was trying to think of something else to say, Giles said, "Look, I don't know what it's about, but... Security is in with Boomer."
"Security?" Starbuck echoed. Great, here it is. The Official Notice.
"Yeah." Giles knew how Starbuck felt about Securitythat whole Ortega murder thing. "I thought you might like to know..." He didn't quite offer to say he hadn't been able to find Starbuck, but the subtext was there.
Starbuck managed a fairly good imitation of his usual insouciant grin #3 and said, "I know what it's about. No problems, Giles, but thanks."
Giles grinned back at him in relief, but had enough intuition to grasp that Starbuck wasn't feeling chatty even if Security wasn't worrying him. They went the rest of the way in silence. Starbuck went into the squadron leader's office and paused in surprise. It wasn't just Security, it was Reese. Starbuck ignored him and looked at Boomer. "You wanted me, sir?" he asked.
Boomer didn't betray how unusual that form of address was, he just nodded and replied, "Security Chief Reese has a few questions to ask you, Lieutenant."
Reese looked at Boomer pointedly.
Boomer smiled slightly and said, "As Lieutenant Starbuck's commanding officer, I'm entitled to be present."
"If he wants you," Reese acknowledged. "So, Starbuck," he jumped right into it. "I'm sure your... friends in the medical service have passed on the sad news so I won't waste time breaking it to you."
Starbuck discovered he found Reese's astringent tone quite satisfactory. The man wasn't pretending Starbuck had suffered any great loss.
He continued. "What I need from you is: where were you day before yesterday from oh, say, thirteen to seventeen?"
Starbuck blinked in surprise. An alibi? He was being asked for an alibi? He might, he realized dimly, have felt differently if he hadn't had such a good one, but as it was he found himself laughing shortly and saying, "You think I might have killed him? For what? Running a con on me? A yahren ago, maybe"
"Starbuck," Boomer said warningly.
"What does it matter?" Starbuck demanded. "I didn't even know where he was. And day before yesterday I wasn't anywhere around the Feriya from ten to nineteen. Remember?"
Reminded, Boomer did, and relaxed.
"'Not anywhere around' isn't quite specific enough, Starbuck," Reese said.
"Well, let's see... three to four thousand micks in front of the Fleet, wasn't it?"
Boomer nodded. "About that. Maybe a bit more for some of the time."
"Oh." Reese sounded a bit disappointed. "You were on deep patrol?"
"Along with half of Blue Squadron," Starbuck said.
Boomer picked up the duty roster and handed it to the man. "Me," he said, "Lieutenant Jolly, Ensign Cree, and Flight Sergeants Giles and Marston."
Starbuck couldn't resist adding, "And don't forget the ops staffthey were keeping in touch with us."
Reese took the setback in his stride. "Okay. That seems to clear you, then... You just said you didn't know where he was?"
Starbuck nodded once. "That's right. Hadn't seen or heard from him in nearly a yahren. And I wasn't looking for him, either."
"Yeah? He was your father, wasn't he?"
"So I'm told," Starbuck said. "Found that out yesterday. My friends didn't mention it before."
"But the medical staff knew, right?"
Starbuck hesitated a minute, and then shrugged and said, "I don't know who knew. Technician Cassiopeia ran the tests, and she's the one who gave me the good news yesterday." He was watching Boomer out of the corner of his eye, but the dark man didn't react to that. Of course, he hadn't reacted to Reese's comment, either... Boomer was a good man at being stolid.
"So, you say you didn't know he was your father?" Reese asked.
"Yes," Starbuck said. "What part of 'I found that out yesterday' didn't you understand?"
"Just verifying," Reese said, almost purring.
That was bad news for someone, but at the moment Starbuck didn't much care. Cassiopeia had been on duty most of the crucial time period, assuming even Reese could believe she'd murder anyone. But even though he was so furious with Apollo he couldn't see straight, he wasn't throwing him to Reese. He wasn't lying about it, either, he just wasn't going to mention any names. The captain would probably admit to having known the truth, but he wasn't going to be able to blame Starbuck for it.
"Okay, then, thank you, Lieutenants," Reese said. "Condolences on your loss, Starbuck," he added pro forma.
"Thanks," Starbuck said, as sincerely, and watched him leave. Then he looked at Boomer. "You're pretty unsurprised," he said.
"I didn't know what he wanted," Boomer said. "But I don't suppose I am... Apollo told me. Yesterday," he added.
"My friends," Starbuck said bitterly. "My good friends."
"They thought it was for your good," Boomer said.
"That is the easiest thing in the world to say," Starbuck snapped.
"I agree," Boomer surprised him. "I told Apollo yesterday, he should have told you at the time or never."
"I might have shot him at the time."
"No," Boomer shook his head. Before Starbuck could correct his misapprehension, he proved he didn't have one by saying, "You might have shot yourself, but not Chameleon. You'd have accepted that he abandoned you... you'd have been pissed off, like you are now, but kill him? No."
"You sound awfully damned sure."
"I know you, Bucko," Boomer said comfortably. "I've known you how long? A dozen yahrens? You're mad at him but you don't hate him."
"The hell I don't."
"Okay," Boomer half-smiled. "You hate him. But you're not a killer. And he wasn't worth killing, anyway."
"You're not going to tell me how much he loved me," said Starbuck sarcastically, "and how he was protecting me"
"Hell, no," said Boomer. "He was a daggit and he ran like one. Maybe he told himself it was for your sake, but you said it yourself: that's the easy lie."
"Yeah. He ran out..."
"Starbuck," Boomer said sharply enough to make him raise his head. "It's his damned character flaw, not yours. I just told you I've invested a dozen yahrens in this relationship, and Apollo has tooyes," he agreed with Starbuck's snort, "he acted like an idiot over this, but he does love you. Chameleon's the loser here."
"I'm not joining in this," Boomer said. "You want to beat yourself up, you'd better not do it where your friendsand you do have themcan hear. Fathers, despite what some of them act like, are not gods. They're just men. And they can be losers and bastards and jerks and daggits as easily as anybody else. Chameleon ran out on his responsibilities, but that's not your fault."
"Chameleon ran out on me."
"But that's not what we're going to do," Boomer said. "You are loved, Starbuck, even if he didn't."
"Look, Boomer, I appreciate what you're saying"
"But you don't believe it?"
"But he ran out on me. Twice. Not on some abstract concept of responsibility. On me."
"The man spent his whole life running and lying," Boomer tried.
But Starbuck couldn't deal with it. He wanted to, gods knew he wanted to focus his anger on Chameleon but he just couldn't get over the plain fact that he hadn't been wanted. "I better finish up that inventory," he said abruptly. "The captain'll be peeved otherwise."
"Starbuck" Boomer paused. "Okay. But this conversation isn't over, buddy. You hear me?"
"Sure." Starbuck nodded and left.
"You failed to acquire the target." The voice was still dispassionate.
"There was another Warrior there," protested the second voice. "I didn't have enough stuff for both of 'em. What was I supposed to do, kill a Warrior?"
"He was nothing," said the first. "Nobody. He was not the Mikhayelan, was he, nor one of their dependents?"
"I don'tyou mean, I should kill a Warrior? That's crazythey'll be all over us!"
"The target's a Warrior, ain't he?" asked the third. "What's the diff?"
"Precisely. Krytos wants no more delays."
"He just found out about him," protested the second. "What's a little delayhe thought he wasn't"
"Do you want to explain your position to Krytos? I thought not. Take the target at the first opportunity, excepting only if a Mikhayelan is there."
"I don't feel right about it," the second said, stubbornly, "killin' a Warrior. I ain't gonna do it."
"That is unfortunate." The first produced a small laser. "For you."
The body crumpled between the two.
"Do you have a problem with filling Krytos's requirements?"
"No," said the third. "But I'm gonna need help."
"Of course. Hire whomever you need; tell them nothing."
"Of course not."
"Then we understand each other. Krytos wishes to have the old man's son as soon as possible."
"I'll get him," the third one promised, with an uneasy look at the corpse.
"Good," said the first. "Dispose of this... there's an airlock handy." A pause, and then the soft voice, still unperturbed, added, "Oh? The Mikhayelan? He's not to be damaged, but it really won't matter if the other one is, shall we say..."
"A little messed up?"
The first one smiled. "Yes. That covers it nicely."
"Just make sure you get the target."
The second nodded. "No problem. He's as good as got."
Apollo swore silently to himself when the door signal rang again not ten microns after the first time. Then Boxey yelled, "I'll get it, Dad," and he returned his attention to the pan he was trying to assemble a cake in. He should have ordered one from the O Club, he realized now.
"Dad? It's Security!" Boxey said excitedly as he ran into the service room.
"Security?" Apollo turned to find Reese hard on Boxey's heels. "What's this about? And can it wait until tomorrow?"
"I don't think so," the man said, his eyes flickering around the room before returning to rest on Apollo with a considering, predatory gaze. "It's an open termination investigation, after all, Captain."
"Oooo," said Boxey, his eyes getting even bigger. "Who got terminated, Dad?"
"No one you know," Apollo said as repressively as he knew how. "You go back into your room. Chief Reese and I will be right outside."
Boxey muttered something but he went, so Apollo let the muttering go. He couldn't figure out what Reese was doing here about a murder on the Feriya. Unless... No. They couldn't suspect Starbuck.
"Good idea, Captain," Reese said. "I wouldn't want my kid hearing this, either."
"Hearing what?" Apollo asked as the door shut behind them.
"I suppose you've heard who got terminated," Reese sidestepped the question, "since you didn't ask."
"Right. I understand you're the one who asked for a security check on him last yahren. Had some reason to do that, did you?"
Apollo relaxed a bit. "Yes. He was claiming to be Lieutenant Starbuck's father, but there was something about his story that didn't track for me. I thought he was probably running a scam. As it turns out, he was both."
"Right. So I understand. And you knew that? That he was Starbuck's father, I mean."
"MedTech Cassiopeia told me at the time," he said. "I've known for the past yahren."
"And Starbuck didn't? I mean, he thought the old man was, in fact, running a scam? Using him to get onto the Galactica?"
"No, actually Starbuck thought," Apollo paused. "Well, I guess he did. Afterwards, I mean. But at the time he thought that the man might really have been his father."
"He still thinks that? That it was all a scam?"
Apollo answered a bit more carefully, wishing he could remember if Starbuck had been in the half of Blue Squadron that had been on that deep patrol the day Chameleon had died. "I'm not sure what he thinks about the scam angle now."
Reese smiled. "But he knows the man was his father?"
"Yes," Apollo said.
"And so if there was a scam, it was ironically the truth at the same time?"
"And yet you didn't tell Starbuck the man was his father a yahren ago? Even though you knew he wanted to know?"
Apollo shook his head. "Chameleon thought, and I agreed with him, that Starbuck was reacting too emotionally to the news. That he was going to ruin his life. That it would be better for him and Chameleon to get to know each other as friends before Chameleon told him the truth."
"Right," Reese said. "So, they kept in touch, did they?"
"I'm sure you know the answer to that is 'no'," Apollo said.
"Bothered Starbuck, that, did it?"
"I don't think so. I mean, he didn't know it was his father"
"Bothered you, though, didn't it?"
"Oh, being put in the middle like that. Watching your best friend's father walk out on him. Knowing you were lying to him, and being used by the old conman. Bothered you, didn't it?"
Apollo wasn't sure why Reese was asking, but it couldn't hurt Starbuck if he went ahead and answered. He shrugged and said, "Yes. It did, a little, but I really thought Starbuck was better off not knowing."
"So when the old man suddenly resurfaces, you're in kind of a spot, aren't you?"
Apollo blinked in surprise, suddenly realizing where Reese was going with this. "I didn't know he had resurfaced," he said.
"Really? There was a tag on his file. You're saying it wasn't tripped?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"So, you're saying he didn't resurface and threaten to upset things by getting in touch with Starbuck?"
"No. At least, not to me. I didn't know he was on the Feriya."
"Well, that's good. But you understand I have to ask... where were you, Captain, day before yesterday from thirteen to seventeen?"
Apollo paused. Second shift started at sixteen, but he was coming in later so he could pick up Boxey and spend a centare or so with him before he went on duty. He tried to remember exactly where he'd been two days ago, and couldn't for the whole time. "I was just around," he said finally, "here, mostly, I think. I picked up my son at the instructional center at half past sixteen, and we went to the rejuvenation center until eighteen."
"No witnesses to your whereabouts before then?"
"No," Apollo said, getting angry. On top of everything else, Cassie had said Chameleon had been tortured to death. "I didn't kill the man."
"I didn't say you did," Reese said smoothly. "I'm just eliminating people as per procedure."
"I wasn't even off the Galactica," Apollo said. "You could check."
"Oh, Captain," Reese said. "If only I thought you couldn't take a shuttle without having it logged, that would solve my problem indeed."
Apollo winced internally. Boomer had told him time and again that his impatience with red tape when things needed to be done would someday come back and bite him. He'd never taken a shuttle for anything other than vital reasons, but all Reese needed to say to people was, 'he's taken shuttles before...'. He said, keeping his voice calm, "Are you accusing me?"
"Captain, I'm not accusing anybody. Yet."
"Do you have any other questions? Because if not, it's my son's birthday and I have a party to get ready for."
"Oh, by all means. Have your party." Reese smiled. "You never know when it will be the last one, after all, do you? I'm sure I'll see you again."
Apollo watched him walk away. He can't be serious, he thought as he went back inside. He's just paying me back, jerking my chain.... He shook his head, sharply, stared at the cake pan, and said, "Frack." Then he called the O Club and ordered a cake, rush, at twice the usual fee.
"Dad?" Boxey appeared in the doorway. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he said, making the effort and smiling. "Nothing's the matter. Except that I can't cook."
"Oh," Boxey grinned at him. "Well, we already knew that."
"You want to live till your next birthday, kid?" Apollo growled at him.
Boxey giggled and fled, his father in pursuit.
Starbuck found their half of the suite empty when he finally got back. He didn't know if Boomer had already left or if he hadn't gotten in from the office yet. He hoped the former, because he just didn't feel like having that conversation yet. He didn't want to hear any defense of what Apollo and Cassiopeia had done, and he couldn't believe any attacks on Chameleon. It was too hard, believing that the image he'd constructed in long nights back in Caprican State Orphanage Umbra-Ten, the only home he could remember, was wrong at its heart, that his father, about whom he'd built elaborate if secret fantasies that had, as he grew older, settled into a simple story of love and care, was actually at fault. It was, if more disturbing, much easier to accept the judgment he'd lived with all his life: he was at fault, he was a bad boy whom no one wanted. After all, everyone had liked Chameleon...
Hell, he'd liked Chameleon.
He hated him now, of course, but he couldn't shake the conviction that it was at least partly his fault that he'd been abandoned (twice!), that if he'd been different his father would have wanted to be with him... So he didn't want to talk about it, even with people who were trying to convince him otherwise, because he couldn't quite believe that they meant anything they said. They were being his friends, because they were stuck with him or because they'd spent a long time, or something.
He stood in front of his locker staring at his clothes and wondering about going to the party. He knew Boxey wanted him there and he had even more incentive now than before not to let the kid down, but he really, really, didn't want to talk to Apollo. Apollo would be oh-so-reasonable and have good excuses and better suggestions and it would all combine to somehow put Starbuck in the wrong. Frack, even Cassiopeia had said he should go to the man's funeral, and she wasn't in the same familial-feeling league as Apollo, who was the inter-system poster boy for filial duty. As Starbuck could testify, and as Boomer could most certainly bear witness... Starbuck could have felt sorry for Boxey except that, like his own father, Apollo would never abandon his son. Demand a lot of him, probably, but never desert him. Adama loved his son. Both his sons. All his children...
"Frack," he said out loud, grabbing the brightly-wrapped box from the top shelf of his locker and tossing it on his bed. "Some days you just can't win."
He turned sharply to stare at Athena, who was standing in the open suite door. "Don't sneak up on me like that," he said, turning back to contemplate his shirts again.
"Sorry," she said. "Wear the light blue one."
He shut the locker without taking any of them out. "Actually," he said, "I thought I'd just stay in uniform."
"Well," she acknowledged, "that will save time."
He looked at her. She was in mufti, though he thought she was supposed to be on duty this shift. She'd probably gotten the evening off for the party. "Should I change?"
"Wear whatever you want, as long as you're coming," she said easily. "Boxey won't care. In fact, he'll probably prefer the uniform."
"He does, doesn't he?" He paused, and then had to ask. "Did Apollo send you here to make sure I was coming?"
"Well," she acknowledged, "he did say there was a pretty good chance that you were angry at him."
Starbuck snorted. "Pretty good? Yeah, that's one way of putting it. Did he tell you why?"
She shook her head. Her pale blue eyes were a little troubled, but they were clear and she looked directly at him; for Athena, that meant honesty. "No," she said. "He didn't. He did tell me that Boomer had ripped him up one side and down the other and he didn't want to offer me any provocation on Boxey's birthday. I told him that sounded like I'd want to clobber him but good when I did find out." There was the tiniest hint of inquiry in her voice.
Starbuck considered. Like Apollo, she'd thought Chameleon wasn't the greatest father he could have had; unlike Apollothough every word the man had said needed reevaluation nowshe'd understood that a rogue father was better than no father at all. She hadn't met Chameleon, she hadn't had time to decide she liked him enough to lie to Starbuck for him, and she might not have decided that anyway. Might not have. Their relationship was now solid and strong, but then it had been fraught with sharp emotions; it was still tangled up by all the complications that sex between friends can bringincluding his rash decision to ask her to seal with him after the Destruction and her refusal. It had annoyed her considerably when he'd started dating Cassie so soon after proposing to her, but they'd managed to clear the air between them. They weren't well suited to each other, and she knew it as well as he did, though gods knew his choices were generally doomed from the start and hers... well, that was an equine of a different color, that was for sure.
Starbuck still marvelled to himself over her. Emotional fidelity, never mind sexual, was a hard thing for him to comprehend when it was part of a strong reciprocal bond, like Apollo and Boomer, for instance. Part of him now wondered if this might not be just another of Chameleon's little presents to him; a six- or seven-yahren-old child was certainly capable of picking up on the nuances of adult interactions even if the details were over his head. Just look at Boxey and the way he grasped that Boomer was of central importance to Apollo. But when, as with Athena, the emotion was, not merely unreciprocated but unexpressed... Starbuck couldn't fathom it.
But he'd known Athena too long not to believe in it. She'd at the very least wanted Omega since the first day he'd stepped onto the Galactica's bridge, and the longer she worked with him the deeper her emotions ran. But she'd never said a word to him or, as far as Starbuck knew, to anyone but himself. The bridge officer's marital status had caused her to lock down her feelings in the first place, and when he was bereaved by the Destruction, she'd been too shy of seeming cold, or predatory, or just plain tacky. And then his own emotional shutdown had rendered him unapproachable...
"Anyway," Athena said, and Starbuck realized how long he'd been standing there without speaking, "I told Apollo that you didn't need to be reminded that whatever your and his feud was about Boxey wasn't involved and that you'd certainly be coming... I was right, wasn't I?"
"Yes," he said, "I was planning on coming. I still am. But I'd take it as a personal favor if you'd keep your brother as far away from me as you can tonight. 'Angry at him' doesn't really begin to cover it, and I don't want to mess up Boxey's party. But I've been on edge all day, and I don't know if I could stop myself from fighting with him if he gets on the topic again. Or even," he added honestly, "if he just says hi."
"Are you going to tell me what the fight's about? Or do I have to corner Boomernot," she added, "that he'll probably tell me."
Starbuck thought Boomer might, but what he said was, "We shouldn't turn Boxey's birthday party into a stage for our fights."
"You mean an arena," she said, "and it's too late. Much as I love my brother, if you and Boomer are both on one side and he's on the other, and scared to tell me what he's done, I'm already agin him."
Starbuck smiled involuntarily, and then said, "Did you hear that Chameleon was dead?"
"Yes," she said. "I took the early shift today, and it came up on the Security brief." She cocked her head. "That's what sparked this?"
"Turns out," Starbuck said as casually as possible, "he was my father."
She stared at him, her pale blue eyes wide with surprise. "But the testsoh, my gods. Do you mean to tell me my brother kept that from you? But I thought the man wanted to know. And what about Cassie?"
"The man," said Starbuck, "didn't want to know. Apparently it was a huge surprise to him when his scam turned true. He convinced Cassiopeia to lie about the test results. She told Apollo. And Sheba," he added as an afterthought.
"And they didn't tell you?"
"Cassiopeia told me yesterday."
"Yester" Athena's voice failed her halfway through the word. "How professional of her. And I'll kill him. I truly will. Not in front of Boxey, butoh, Starbuck."
"Look," he said, turning around to pick up Boxey's present, "I don't want you to fight with Apollo over this"
"You can't possibly be making this into something he's right about," she said sharply, taking his arm and turning him around. "It's unconscionable of him. You know how he feels about family. And it's worse for her: she had an obligation to tell you the truth about those tests."
Pushed into defending Apollo, Starbuck felt some of his anger slipping away. "He thought I'd be better off. He was probably right. Besides, how much 'family' can you say he was?"
"Apollo believes in blood," Athena said. "That's why he's so vocal about Boxey being his son, to convince himself that he really doesn't have to get married again and produce a child of his own. Just ask Boomer how obsessed my brother is with thathe got it at our father's knee. Metaphorically, since Apollo is a better father to Boxey as far as actual parenting goes than ours was to him."
"And yours would win medals compared to mine," said Starbuck. "Just... just let it rest, Theni. Please?"
"Starbuck," she said, "you aren't... you can't believe a word that came out of that man's mouth."
"Oh, his words were great," Starbuck said. "His actions, on the other hand"
"He didn't know you."
"Theni, pleasenot tonight."
She looked at him and then let go of his arm. "Okay. Not tonight. But soon..."
"Sure," he said. Why did everyone want to talk about this? All the talk in the universe wouldn't change the facts. But the longer he could put it off, the better. "We got a party to go to," he said, offering her his arm.
She smiled up at him and took it.
Cassie brushed back her hair and wished, absently, that it was still long enough to chew on a strand of. That was an old habit, and so a comforting one, and she could have used some comfort right now. Regardless of what Apollo said, she didn't think Starbuck was going to get over this easily. He was very, very angry...
The Life Center was dark. For once, there weren't any patients, and Dr. Salik had finally been badgered into going home and resting. Cassie had sent the other two techs home, too, wanting to be alone so she could mope in privacy. Like Starbuck was, probably, somewhere, unless he'd gone to Boxey's party that she'd swapped shifts with Darla over, so she could take her daughter...
Of course, the difference was, if she'd been able to, she'd have been with Starbuck, while he'd have gone to ground somewhere, like he had last night, and wouldn't come out for love or money. Love... She laughed a little bitterly. He wouldn't do anything for love, now. He wouldn't believe in it ever again, even as little as he had.
She'd looked for him yesterday, but he hadn't been anywhere. She'd seen Boomer once, looking, too. Boy, she remembered ruefully, he'd been angry with her. Well, he should have been. Just like Starbuck had the right to be.
She sighed. She'd known he wasn't going to be happy, but she hadn't expected him to be so angry he wouldn't listen to her. If she'd had any sense, she supposed, she would have. She'd been thinking only that he wouldn't want to find out from Reese, that it would be better if a friend told him, someone who loved him... She sighed again. She'd probably blown that.
She reached for a tissue and wiped her eyes. It was her fault, she had to admit that. She shouldn't have kept the secret. She should have gone straight to Starbuck and told him, regardless of what Chameleon said. She should have gone to Starbuck first. But she'd felt closed away, like Starbuck didn't want her, and she was already in the wrong because of Cain, and at least Chameleon had liked her... And then he'd told her what she'd suspected already, that Starbuck wasn't just going to resign his commission, leave the Service, but that he was going to leave her.
It hadn't occurred to her for sectons that Chameleon could have stopped all that, simply by not going anywhere. It would have been hard for Starbuck to leave with Chameleon if the old man hadn't left. It wasn't until Chameleon dropped out of sight altogether that Cassie realized what he'd made her do to Starbuck, what he'd conned her into doing...
Oh, this was no good. She couldn't concentrate on her work. All she could think about was the things he'd said. Not just the angry words he meant more to you than I did. He can burn in the fifth hell for all I care.that was Starbuck blowing off steam. If that had been all he'd said, she wouldn't have been worried any more than Apollo was. But Apollo hadn't heard the other things. She'd been too upset to explain it to him, especially when he was trying so hard to cheer her up, but she'd been truly scared by the other things. By I really am like him. By I love you too much to stay. By Gods, I should just go shoot myself now. I can't believe I ever doubted the bastard was my father.
It wasn't that she thought Starbuck would shoot himself; he wasn't physically self-destructive. He took very good care of himself that way. Well, except for drinking. And smoking... But he wouldn't shoot himself. What he would do was find someplace to hide away and feel sorry for himselfas he had every right to doand not let anybody anywhere close until he'd figured out how to pretend he wasn't hurt. Like a felix, he'd walk around bleeding inside until he dropped dead before he'd let on...
She wiped her eyes again. And he'd never forgive her for having heard the things he said. All that about Umbra. And his mother. And I really am like him. The next time he saw her, he'd be all insouciant and careless, and his eyes would be shuttered, and she'd never, ever get another look inside them.
And now she knew that was the only thing she wanted to look at ever again.
Tears fell on her keyboard. She grabbed a handful of tissues and laid her head down on the desk in her arms and cried.
And she didn't hear the door hiss open in the waiting room behind her.
|< previous part||next part >|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
|Original Fan Fiction|
Star Wars |
Power Rangers |
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
|Go Back to List of Karen's Fiction|