Athena's Wedding


I can't believe it's happening. After everything that's gone on in the last yahren.

But it is. It's real. I'm standing here in my dress uniform, which I hate so much I've never even had nightmares about it, so it must be real. Athena's getting Sealed.

Sheba's been standing beside me most of the morning, hanging on my arm when she can. Thank the Lords she's had to go now. It'll be hard enough to walk Athena down that aisle without Sheba being there. Hard enough to go through with this. Father's standing beside the High Priestess, wearing his inscrutable look. I can understand that... 'Theni's his baby, his darling, his little girl. And she's getting Sealed. And on top of that...

It's Starbuck.

No wonder Father's inscrutable. Having Starbuck running tame in our house was supposed to make us all think of him as family. Not in-law family, real family. She wasn't supposed to want to marry him.

Of course, nor was I.

Gods, if only I had.

I look at him standing up there. He's in his dress uniform, too, of course... I've dreamed about him in it. The colors are perfect for him, it brings color up in his face, turns his hair chestnut, darkens his eyes... that perfect face, those shoulders under the drape of the cape, that broad belt emphasizing his hips... I look at him, but he doesn't look at me. One glance out of those coldly indifferent eyes and no more.

Apollo, you idiot. What have you done?

The only thing worse than the indifference he's showing the world is the baffled hurt I know it's hiding. Hurt because of what I asked. Baffled because it was me who asked it... that was the worst.

Of course I'd hurt him before. I'd hurt him often, sometimes badly. But I never meant to. It was always just because I didn't know. The simplest things I always took for granted were somehow things he'd never heard of, things that had kept him down, insulted him, tried to turn him into something not quite human... things I said in ignorance somehow translated into pain. But he always forgave me, he always understood I didn't meant it as it sounded.

But now he can't forgive me.

And there's no reason that he should...

This time I hurt him on purpose. Oh, not with malice. I didn't think it would hurt him. That's why it's so unforgivable. I really didn't think it would hurt him, even as well as I knew him. Thought I knew him.

I asked him, calmly and expecting a ready 'yes', to betray everything I knew he believed in. For me.

And not for me in public. For me in secret.

That look in his eyes... Gods, I wish I'd killed myself before I opened my mouth.

Boomer's standing with him. Everyone knows it's because Father's performing the ceremony, so I have to be with Athena. Everyone knows Starbuck would rather have me there, like I wanted him when I sealed with Serina. Everyone knows...

Everyone's wrong.

If he'd asked me, Athena could have walked to meet him on her own. I practically had to beg her to let me walk with her. She felt sorry for me... Gods, if she knew how badly I'd hurt her betrothed, would she even be talking to me? Maybe she would. She's only getting him because of me. My careless stupidity. My arrogance. My... I don't know a word for it. Is there a word which means what I did?

His eyes... I've kissed the hurt out of them a thousand times. Hurt I'd caused by my careless, upper-class unthinking words. Hurt the world had put there with malice aforethought. Hurt that came up in the night from the places his child's mind hadn't had words or concepts to comprehend, terrors he can't understand that wake him, fighting for calm... he always settled so quickly with me. He always loved me that much. And the last time I really saw into his eyes, the hurt was so much, so deep, so cruel I don't know if anyone can kiss it away.

I hope Athena can. I know she'll try...

I wish it was me again. Gods and Lords, how I wish I could go back a yahren and just not say the words I said. I know now what my choice had to be: Serina or Starbuck, I couldn't have both. Knowing that, I'd... I don't know. I really don't. I needed a wife. I thought so then. I needed Starbuck. I still do. But at least I could have not hurt him, I could have kept him my friend. And if the gods had taken Serina the same way, then, if only I hadn't hurt him so, he'd have come back to me.

But I told him that Serina wouldn't make a difference to us. I told him we could stay lovers...

Lovers. It's not enough of a word. Serina and I were lovers. We slept together. She wasn't the only one, though there weren't but a couple in the ten yahrens since I met him. The Lords of Kobol know, Starbuck's had plenty... he told me, I see it now, now when it's too late, he told me why. I thought he was hiding our secret, and doing it well. I didn't know he'd asked Athena to seal with him once before this (any more than I know why she said no before)... I'm sure he realized then that I'd have to find a wife. He was protecting himself from me without really knowing yet he needed to. He knows me better than I do, he just refused to believe it until I made him.

"I don't sleep with married people," he said. "I don't break up marriages, I don't help people lie and cheat..." He couldn't believe he had to tell me he had morals. He couldn't believe I thought of him as a piece on the side, an adulterer, an oathbreaker...

I didn't. I was ready to do that myself, but then half the people I grew up with had fathers who did that. Marriages of convenience... I should have known Starbuck believed in love. In vows. In happily ever after... even if not for himself.

I should have known it. He'd told me, shown me, often enough.

So why didn't I?

I don't know. And that's the gods' honest truth. I think it was because I need him so much, need his light, his wit, his joy-in-adversity, his ability to survive anything and everything... his strength. His heart. I need that so much I deluded myself into thinking he needed me enough to throw his honor away for me. When I knew that his honor was very nearly the only thing he has to call his own.

I hurt him. He couldn't believe I'd done it. He pulled away, and then, so quickly, like a prayer Diabolus hears and answers--the 'yes, but' when God has said 'no because'--she died. Serina died and I wasn't a married man anymore. And I assumed--so damnably arrogant--that it was all right now. I needed him so much I didn't even wait a day after she was buried before kissing him.

Not talking to him. Not starting over. Not remembering how easily he startled and ran when he thought he was being overpowered, put down, taken. No. Just shut the door and grabbed him.

He'd always been better at hand-to-hand than me. Before I knew what had happened I was on the floor. "She's not cold in her grave yet," he said to me, his eyes raw. "How can you--" He didn't finish it. I don't know what he was going to ask. I couldn't have answered anyway. And then he was gone.

And was a pleasant stranger from then on. Boomer's the only one who knew we were... what? Not fighting. Estranged, I suppose. Everyone else thought we were as we'd always been. Boomer knew we weren't even what we'd been at first. I realize now I never thought about what Boomer wanted, how he felt or what he thought when I seduced our room-mate. I just assumed he didn't mind late nights at the library, or coming along to provide some cover. I always thought he did it for me. I learned different. He was so solidly with Starbuck solenite couldn't have separated them. I look at them now, and Boomer looks back at me with dark eyes that wonder how I could have screwed up so badly. How I could have thrown away Starbuck's love.

Boom-Boom, I wish I knew.

My only consolation, such as it is, is that I didn't hurt him even worse. I didn't hunt him down when Cassie dumped him, and I didn't actually say the words I thought of when he and Athena announced their engagement. I actually had my mouth open to tell him I wouldn't threaten his marriage if we got back together, but I saw the look in his eyes and I closed it again. There was a flash of relief, and I knew if I'd said it he'd have gone to Tigh and transferred out of flying, resigned his commission if he had to, done anything at all to get away from me.

So here we all are. Who's happy today? Athena, I suppose. Sheba. Cassie looks a bit melancholy but I daresay she'll survive; if Starbuck was with her it wouldn't cheer me up any so I don't give a damn. Boomer's pissed off at me, I know he thinks Starbuck's making a mistake. Athena, too. Father's not best pleased, no matter how well he hides it. That bridge officer who loves my sister so much he can't even say her name for fear of betraying it--'the commander's daughter,' he always says, I've heard him--Omega: he's not happy, though he's doing a better job of being happy for her than I am for Starbuck.

You'd think I didn't want him to be happy.

I do, though. I swear to the Lords of Kobol I do. I just don't think this is the way.

And if that's me being arrogant again, well, that's me. I just don't think Starbuck will be happy married to Athena. Not married like this, that's for sure. Not out of pain...

They're stirring a bit in the seats. Straightening at the altar. It's time.

Oh, gods. It's time.

Athena gives me a level look as we start down the aisle together. It's not a bridal look. Not a happy look. It's the look she used to give me when I thought I was fooling everyone and she knew what was going on. It's the 'get your act together, Apollo' look she perfected at the age of three.

It scares me. I don't know why.

I look away from her and find Starbuck looking at me. Those blue eyes... eyes I've looked into a million times. Eyes I've lost myself in. Found myself in. They're looking at me like a drowning man looks at land.

I stand beside my sister and look at my best friend. My lover, once. My other self, once. Always. He looks at me. Nobody speaks. Nobody moves. Not him. Not her. Not Father or Boomer or the Priestess.

I don't think this is strange. Starbuck and I have stopped Time before.

We stand and look at each other. And suddenly, so suddenly I have no idea how it happens, I know one thing for certain: Starbuck still loves me. No matter what I've done to him, he still loves me. And I have one chance to take that hurt out of his eyes, out of his heart, out of his soul. And if I don't take it, I might as well put my laser to my head and pull the trigger. I won't want to live, and Life won't want me.

"You can't marry Athena," I say. I'm not begging and I'm not ordering. I'm just stating a fact.

"Why not?" he asks.

Nobody else says anything at all.

"I love you," I say. It's not the first time I've said it. It's the first time I've said it when anyone else at all was around. And this is in front of everyone else. Even IFB is here.

He blinks those eyes at me. They're clearer, calmer. They're not ablaze the way I love to see them, but it's better. "And?" he asks.

It's his right to ask. I don't mind. I answer him, simply, for the first time in my life just saying the pure truth with nothing added, nothing held back, nothing polished or tucked away. "And I want to live with you for the rest of our lives. I love you. I belong to you. Please don't do this."

He kisses me. There in front of God, IFB, Father, and Athena. And I don't know which is scaring me most. And I don't care. I wrap my arms around him and hold on and open my mouth and my heart and if he'd dropped me to the floor and taken me right there I would have screamed his name in joy... but he doesn't. Instead, after an eternity he steps back and says, "Seal with me."

I want to say, is it legal? I want to say, have you thought about this? I want to say, but what about our careers? I want to say so many things, things I've been brought up to think about saying, things that would change his mind maybe or slow us down or make us sensible.

I say, "Yes."

And then I think of Father. And I look at him.

And damn.

He's smiling. A big, happy smile like I can't remember when I've seen last.

Boomer's beside him. He's grinning like a dagget. Even the Priestess has got that oh-look-they're-so-sweet smile.

I sneak a look at Athena. She's smiling, too, mostly in happiness but a little in relief. I worry a micron she's hurt, and then she hugs me and Starbuck both at the same time, whispering in my ear, "Took you long enough, Appy. I was beginning to think it wasn't going to work."

I stare at her. At Father. At Starbuck. Whatever I might have said I don't, because those eyes...

They're blazing with joy.

And Father hands me a Sealing warrant. "You'd better sign this, son," he says, "so we can get on with this." I look at it--it's filled out for me and Starbuck.

I look around and realize, I've been had.

I don't care.

I'll be had again tonight, and for the rest of my life. No matter how little I deserve it, he's forgiven me. Again. And if he, they, had to force my hand... I needed it. I really did. Like I need him.

Athena tells me afterwards to think of this as a dress rehearsal. She killed two avians with one sling-stone today; she cornered her bridge officer while he was overwhelmed with relief.

I'm walking my sister down the aisle next sectare. I'm looking forward to Athena's wedding.

the end


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