Ties of Kinship

part four


Tigh put his head into the cubby after a centare. "Go home, Starbuck," he said. "I'm not going to need you again today."

Starbuck would have been happier about that if he didn't know the military well enough to know that this would be balanced—opposed—by days when he kicked his heels in an empty antechamber for five or six extra centares waiting for Tigh to finish some interminable meeting. With Adama along. Still, any time he got two centares off was good, so he didn't waste any time getting back to their quarters.

He ratted around through the drawers in the storage units looking for something to serve as a vase. In the bottom drawer in the front room he found a small ceramic jar and a picture, wrapped in a towel. Curious, he pulled it out and looked at it.

Gods. He sat down on the floor holding it carefully in his hands. This is them. She was a tall redhead, the dark red that came with grey eyes, and the kids were, all four of them, images of their father, even the littlest, who was probably three... Starbuck was no good at guessing kids' ages, but if he would have been five... maybe two. He'd known they'd existed, he'd even known their names, but suddenly they were a lot realer to him. Vespa, the oldest, had a field-ball stick in her hands and the air of a girl who lived for sports; he'd known a couple like that back at the Orphanage. The twins were a nice matched set of a boy and a girl too young for any personality to show up in the picture, and the baby was, well, cute. And Clementia, holding the little hands and smiling. Gods, if she smiled at a photographer like that, how must she have smiled at Megs in person?

Starbuck drifted his fingers across the picture with an ache in his own heart, and then carefully wrapped it back up exactly as it had been and replaced it in the drawer. After a moment's thought, he stuck the little jar back, too, and used a glass to hold the flowers.

Someday Megs was going to have to do something with that picture, Starbuck figured; put it out or get rid of it. But he'd have to do it in his own time. It wasn't his place to nudge him about it.

But seeing the family that Omega had lost made Starbuck remember his own loss, the night Cassie had made it clear to him that she was picking Paye over him. At the time, he hadn't known why his first instinct was to go to Omega's quarters instead of straight to the Rising Star, but he had. He'd hesitated in front of the door, as always afraid to try to key himself in, afraid to discover the code had been changed. He'd leaned on the doorsignal until Omega had answered it, sleepy-eyed but willing to let him in. "Do you want a drink?" he'd asked with ingrained hospitality.

"No." Starbuck had looked at him, tall and handsome and expensive. "Frack me," he'd said abruptly.

"What's wrong?" Omega had blinked himself awake.

"Nothing. What could possibly be wrong in my life—look, do you want to frack me or do I have to go to the Star and find someone else?"

"You're in no condition to go to the Star—"

"Then you frack me—"

"Tell me what's wrong."

"I don't want to talk," Starbuck had said savagely. "I don't want to drink or—just now. Just frack me now."

"Easy," Omega had replied, reaching a hand to touch his cheek.

"Frack 'easy'," Starbuck had slapped at his hand. "Hard. Now. Now," he growled, "or I'll find someone who will—"


"Don't 'Starbuck' me. Just—" he had glared into concerned dark eyes, so not the emotion he wanted, and spun on his heel. "Frack it. I'll find someone—"

And Omega had grabbed his arm, spinning him around. "What do you mean? Someone who'll what?"

Starbuck had glared at him, pulling his arm loose. "You know what I mean. You know what I want—"

Omega had surprised him then, bridge officers weren't supposed to be good at hand-to-hand. But the dark-haired man had height and weight on him, and before the blond knew what had hit him, he was struggling in an armlock, with an elbow crooked around his neck, just hard enough for control. "I know. And you're not getting it. No way."

Starbuck had fought, but to no avail. He'd ended up face down on the bed, a knee in his back and an iron hand on the locked wrist holding him in place... he'd sworn as Omega had yanked his pants down. "Swear all you want," Omega had said, "I don't care. You're not getting away from me."

"Then frack me, damn you!"

"Is that what you want?" Omega's voice had been right in his ear, his weight holding Starbuck down. "You want me to use you like a throwaway? It's not happening. You're not getting it." He had used his teeth to uncap the lube and the blond had bucked under him as he felt it squirting onto his ass.

"Don't," Starbuck had been almost sobbing. "Don't... just frack me. Now. Hard."

Omega's voice had been hard. "No way. I don't care what you want. You hear me?" A finger had entered Starbuck, probing. He'd whimpered, and Omega had said, "This happens like I want. Not like you want... got that?"

"Damn you."

"Swear all you want." A second finger, prepping him so gently, so at odds with the voice. "Fight me all you want. I'm in charge. You don't make the calls."

"Just frack me!" Even he hadn't been able to tell if that was a demand or a plea.

Omega had, eventually. The sex had been hard and aggressive but not violent, though his words had repeatedly denied Starbuck any choices. And after, he hadn't let go, had pulled Starbuck into a hard grasp against him. "You want to tell me what brought that on? I don't like you acting like me... you're supposed to be the one with his feet on the ground. I'm the one with the death wish."

Starbuck had tried to pull away, failed, and found, to his dismay, that he didn't really want to, anyway. "Sorry to disappoint you," he'd started that flip and been even more dismayed to discover he meant it.

"Frack 'disappoint'. Try 'terrify'. What in seven hells has gotten into you?" He'd nuzzled Starbuck's shoulder, and that had been it. Starbuck had begun crying. Omega had almost instantly gentled his hold enough to turn Starbuck in his arms and gather him up; the blond had resisted for no more than a centon, and then collapsed against him, sobbing. Omega had held him tightly, securely, one hand pressing Starbuck's head to his heart and the other arm wrapped around his shoulders. "Easy," he'd murmured, "that's all right, let it out, let it go, that's all right, I've got you, I've got you..."

Starbuck literally had not been able to remember the last time he had cried in front of another person, let alone on them. He'd learned the hard lesson: crying boychildren were lucky to be left alone to cry themselves to sleep. But he'd been unable to stop that night; he had no idea how long he'd cried. It was as if every hurt he'd ever ignored, buried, or laughed at had suddenly risen up to attack him all over again. And Omega had simply let him, holding, talking, caressing... When he'd finally stopped he'd been far too exhausted to talk, and Omega hadn't tried to make him. He'd washed him, tucked him up in bed, and held him again. Starbuck had been so tired that he'd barely been able to wake up when he'd realized he'd been left; by the time he got his eyes open Omega was climbing back into the bed and opening his arms to take Starbuck back... He hadn't been able to even explain about Cassie until much later.

He'd lost all track of time, but he knew he'd never forget Omega's blazing eyes as he insisted that Starbuck was not worthless, not just another throwaway not even good enough for a socialator... Starbuck still wasn't sure it was true. Omega valued him, but that might well mean only that Omega had a warped sense of values, not that he was valuable per se. After all, look at how quickly other people he thought had valued him had stopped as soon as they found out what he was really like. Like Cassie. Like Boomer. Like Adama. ... Like Apollo.

He shook himself. Frack it. He'd been in a really good mood when he got home. So think about that. Remember what Tigh had said... as if he'd ever be able to forget that. You're the Viper pilot... Having you here playing chauffeur is damn near blasphemy. He grinned to himself. First time he'd ever been called divine outside of a bed... Which reminded him of his plans for the evening.

He shook off the melancholy with the ease of long practice and went to change his clothes into some a lot more comfortable than the uniform.

"You left early," Omega said when he came in.

"Tigh told me to leave, so I left," Starbuck grinned at him. "I never disobey an order."

"That's not what I hear."

"Someone's been telling you lies."

"I hope so, Lieutenant."

"What did you have in mind to order me to do, Captain?" Starbuck said suggestively.

"I'll think of something. Over dinner. Out."

"Do we have to?" Starbuck pouted. "I had my heart set on eating... in."

"Don't tempt me," Omega said. "We've actually been asked to dinner."

Starbuck stared at him. "Sagan, you're kidding. You're not. By who?"

"Athena," Omega said. "And, um, her nephew will be there."

"Boxey? Apollo can't know we're coming. Has she lost her mind?"

"She said he didn't object... he probably counts on her to protect the child. I think he's going to a big engagement party."

Starbuck shrugged. "That's the only kind Sheba would have... Well, you put your mind to it over dinner, then, Captain, and you'll see how obedient I can be."

"Oh, I will... Starbuck. Are those flowers? Real flowers?"

Starbuck grinned at him. "They are."

"Where did they come from?" Omega lifted one of them to his face.

Oh, yes. Crimson against that dark hair. Okay, at least one flower gives what's left of its life tonight. "Oh. From the Alcestis. Perk of the job... it's gotta have at least some."

"I can't think when I last saw flowers..." Omega put it back into the water carefully. "I can't believe you brought home flowers."

"Hey. I'm a thoughtful guy."

"Yes, you are." Omega put his hands on Starbuck's ivory-clad shoulders, leaned down and kissed him. Starbuck buried his hands in the thick sealbrown hair and closed his eyes to the world. It was a long and thorough kiss, and Starbuck got lost in it... "I knew I'd like having you around," Omega whispered against his face.

Starbuck shivered. "Do you mean that?"

"I never say anything I don't mean. I'm glad you're here."

Starbuck reluctantly pulled away from another kiss. "Dinner at Athena's," he said. "I don't mind standing her up, but Boxey..."

Omega released him reluctantly. "You're right. You shouldn't let children down... but later, I promise."

"I'm holding you to that," Starbuck said. "Now you'd better get changed."

They had a brief argument, a wrangle more like, over whether they should take one of the flowers to Athena. Starbuck, who had his own plans for those flowers which definitely did not include his ex-lover, managed to win without disclosing the reason for his vehemence, and they ended up taking a bottle of nectar, unchilled so she wouldn't feel obliged to serve it that night. They strolled down the hallway, talking inconsequentially, and turned a corner to see Boomer. All three of them broke stride, but it was Omega who recovered first. After all, he and Boomer had barely been acquaintances before, Starbuck realized as Omega, not terribly subtly, moved to the inside to place himself between the two pilots.

Boomer noticed that, too, Starbuck could tell. He wasn't sure what he felt about Boomer just now... before he could select one of his emotions and go with it, the dark-skinned man spoke. "Starbuck, I was coming to see you."

That defaulted him right to surprise. "You were?"

"I'd like to talk to you for a minute."

"We're on our way," Starbuck started, but the expression on Boomer's face made him stop. "Go on," he said to Omega, "I'll be along."

"We'll be waiting," Omega brushed over Boomer with those dark eyes and walked on.

"He seems peeved," Boomer observed.

"Almost terminally," Starbuck said, "but he'll get over it. Probably."

"Look, Starbuck, I'm sorry. For," he gestured vaguely at Starbuck's face, "you know, everything."

"Hey, Boomer," Starbuck said, a rush of relief nearly overwhelming him. "You didn't hit me."

"I didn't hit anybody," Boomer said, "that's what I'm apologizing for."


"Let me finish. I'm way late with it. I shouldn't have just sat there. My mind was... I don't know. I was weirded out, but that's no excuse."

"Hey, Boomer, of course you were, after fifteen yahrens. You didn't expect that. From them, or me, for that matter."

"My expectations shouldn't enter into it. I've got no right having expectations, Bucko." He stopped dead, obviously afraid he'd forfeited the right to the nickname.

"It's okay, Boom-Boom," Starbuck reassured him in kind.

"Would you stop saying that?" Boomer said exasperatedly. "It's not. I let three guys jump you. That's not okay. I'm sorry about it—"

"And that's what's okay," Starbuck said.

Boomer shook his head. "Gods, you really are the weirdest person I ever knew."

"Thanks," Starbuck said irrepressibly.

"Are we okay, Starbuck?"

"I hope so," he said. "I want us to be."

Boomer's smile flashed out at him. "Good. I've missed having you around, believe it or not."

"I don't have any problem believing that," Starbuck said, not honestly but in character.

Boomer shook his head. "Yeah, well, anyway, if you want to stop by the O Club—"

"Actually I've been on the blue side," Starbuck grinned.

"Isn't that boring?"

"Excruciatingly. On the plus side, the food is good. And everybody behaves. Or is that a minus?"

Boomer laughed. "You haven't changed." He sobered. "That's really the point, isn't it? You haven't."

"No. I haven't." They looked at each other for a long moment, and then Starbuck said, "I'd better catch up with Omega, or he'll be back here looking for me, and he's a lot more dangerous than he looks."

"Take care of yourself, Bucko," Boomer said. "Don't crash the colonel into a barge... we need you back."

"Listen, Boomer," Starbuck said, seriously. "I saw Apollo today. He looks like—"

"Yeah," Boomer agreed. "He does. He's a mess."

"Yeah, well... watch out for him."

"Do my best," Boomer said. "You have my word on it."

"Good enough for me." Starbuck watched Boomer walk off down the hallway. The day was definitely a good one. Maybe he'd finally hit bottom, with nowhere left to go but up? Knock on... not that there's any wood around, he grinned as he ritualistically rapped his knuckles on his own head and took the corridor to Athena's quarters.

Athena watched Omega check in the command pilot's office, obviously fail to find Starbuck, and head home with no expression of concern. Nobody can hang on to Starbuck, she thought, that's an article of faith. But nobody ever had him move in with them before, either. Are we witnessing the end of an era, here? She couldn't decide how she felt about that. I guess I need more information. Which was one reason she'd invited them to dinner.

She herself headed over to Boxey's school. The boy was standing a little forlornly near the entrance, under the watchful eyes of one of the teachers. He was looking down the corridor along which Apollo would come. I suppose his hormones are playing him up, or something, but my brother better start paying attention to his son, Athena thought. She called his name.

"Hi, Aunt Athena," he said, picking up his bag. "Am I coming to your quarters tonight?"

"Yes," she said. "Your father is—" Frack, I told him I'd tell the truth "—going to be with Sheba for dinner and afterwards."

He sighed, rolling dark martyred eyes. Normally, Athena wouldn't have had much patience with that, but since, as a matter of pure fact, she wished she could get away with that precise reaction, she let it pass. "Come on," she said.

He followed her, shifting his bag from one hand to the other. He was uncommonly quiet. It worried her. Especially when he didn't want anything to drink, or even a mushie.

"Boxey," she sat down on the kava table by the couch where he was actually doing his homework without being told—he was a good enough kid, but that wasn't normal.

He looked at her.

"Is something bothering you?" Oh, that has to win the 'stupidest question of the yahren' award, she castigated herself.

However, he was only seven and it didn't seem like such a stupid question to him. Or, if it did, he answered it anyway, shrugging. "Yes."

"You want to tell me what, honey? I don't know, maybe I can help." As long as it's not Sheba. Or your dad and Starbuck.

"I don't think so," Boxey said. "But will you answer a question for me?"

"Sure, honey. If I know the answer, anyway."

"What does 'flit' mean?"

She blinked at him. "That's not a very polite word, Boxey."

"I guessed that," he said impatiently. "But what does it mean?"

Apollo, you are such an idiot... or such a conniving bastard, I'm not sure which. Except you're exactly like Father. "Well," she said, "has your father explained sex to you?"

"You mean getting sealed? Having babies?"


"Sort of. He said when I was older I'd understand."

By osmosis, I guess, she thought disgustedly. "Okay. Well, I don't suppose you've covered it in school, either... I thought not," she said when he shook his head. "Okay. When people, grownups, are attracted to each other, love each other or like each other a lot, they usually have sex. Which starts with kissing, and gets more involved, but is a powerful and very grownup way to show how much they like each other."

"Is it fun?" he asked dubiously.

"It's like kava, or smoking, or ambrosa," she said. "When you're old enough to do it's fun. When you're not, it's not."

"So, what's 'flit'?"

"Most of the time, not always, but most of the time, people who feel like having sex with each other are not the same gender," she said. "It's a man and a woman, like your mom and dad."

"Or him and Sheba?"

Oh, Boxey, I really did not want that image in my head. "Yes. But sometimes it's two men or two women. And some people think that's not normal, because it's usual for it not to happen like that, and they say 'flit' as an insult. And there are other words that are much worse," she said, "and you shouldn't say any of them."

"What should I say?" he asked curiously.

"If you should feel the need to say anything," she said, "besides just 'couple', you can say 'same-sex couple', but really, Boxey, it's not usually necessary, any more than people go around saying 'Apollo and Sheba are an opposite-sex couple'. Okay?"

"Is that why my dad's so mad at Starbuck? Because him and Captain Omega are... a couple?"

"Yes," she said. "But you'll have to ask him to explain why that makes him angry."

"Is it bad?"

"I don't think so," she said. "Boxey, you really have to ask your dad and grandfather what they think themselves. It's not illegal, though."

"Sure, or they'd be in jail," he said.

"True," she agreed. "Anything else bothering you?"

"If Sheba has a baby, will Dad send me to the Orphan Ship?"

Over my dead body! was her instant and surprising reaction. "No," she said. "He adopted you, Boxey. You're his son. Why do you ask that?"

"Jaxon said he would. But Jaxon's a boray."

"He sounds like one," she agreed.

The doorsignal rang. "Boxey, will you answer that?" she stood up. She needed to get dinner out of the fooder and the table set.

"Aunt 'Theni, it's Captain Omega!"

"Come in," she called. "Where's Starbuck?"

"He should be here in a moment or so," Omega said, offering her the bottle of nectar he was carrying. "He ran into a friend."

"Oh, lords," she said, rolling her eyes. "Get used to that."

He smiled.

She looked at that smile and thought, Well, that's that.

"Is Starbuck coming?" Boxey bounced into the service room.

"Yes, he is, unless he gets dragged off to play pyramid," she teased him.

"He won't!"

She laughed. "You know him better than that, Boxey."

"Aunt 'Theni," he put his hands on his hips and glared at her.

"Can I help you?" Omega asked.

Athena made a conscious effort and put him into the same category as her brother. "Yes," she said, "actually, you can. You could set the table. The dishes are up there."

The doorsignal sounded again and Boxey ran to it. "Starbuck!" he caroled.

"Hey, kid," Starbuck's voice was lazily amused. He halted in the entranceway to the service room, holding Boxey, looking very pleased with himself. "Very domestic," he approved.

"Grow up, Starbuck," she said.

The evening went downhill from there. Or uphill, depending on your definitions. The four of them were sitting around the kava table two and a half centares later, glasses of ale and, for Boxey, fruit juice, scattered on various surfaces. The table was entirely covered with a hastily-improvised Trango board, constructed by Omega and Athena when they'd discovered that neither Boxey nor Starbuck had ever heard of it. Omega's memory had proved to be very good on the details of the board and the pieces, and between them they'd remembered all the rules. Starbuck, of course, had the dodecahedral dice on his person—though probably not for anything as innocent as Trango, Athena thought amusedly. Never leave home without them. The first game had gone to Athena, but Boxey and Starbuck had gotten a good enough grasp of the rules that the second game was being rather viciously contested.

Starbuck rolled. "Yes!" he crowed. "Twenty-four! Prepare to go down, people." He moved his emperor and was reaching for the empress when the alarm sounded. All three adults were on their feet before Athena's comm unit chimed.

"Athena," she answered.

"Incoming ships," said the tense young voice. "First Watch to the bridge. Scrambling Vipers—"

"Captain Omega's here," she said, "we're on our way. Boxey," she turned to the boy and stopped. What the hell did Apollo do with him?

"I'll take care of Boxey," said Starbuck. "You two better get."

She opened her mouth, remembered, closed it, and then said, "Thanks, Starbuck."

"Not a problem," he said; she was already at the door, two steps behind Omega. She barely had time to feel sorry for Starbuck, grounded at a time like this, before her own duties took over.

Omega had overridden the turbolift and was holding the door for her. As soon as she was in, he keyed it for the bridge.

"Gods," she said, "what do you think it is?"

"Not enough information," he shook his head. The man who'd been laughing over the Trango game was gone.

She shook her head. "Gods," she said again, inadequately, and hit the wall of the turbolift. "Faster, damnit."

"Athena," he said.

She looked at him.

"No emotion," he said earnestly. "Show no emotion. Emotion breeds panic and panic breeds defeat. If you're going to be ICOB, you're going to have learn to reach inside and find the calm."

"Aren't you afraid?" she asked him, genuinely curious, remembering Rigel's story of the Hesper and all the times she'd heard him—she couldn't see him on the bridge during an attack unless things went horribly wrong—his voice passionless, precise...

He smiled briefly. "Generally I am, yes, and occasionally I'm terrified... but it does no one good to know that, and me no good at all to yield to it. Don't try not to be afraid, Athena, just hold it where no one else can see it. It's all focus. I know you can do it; you're extremely competent."

She suddenly heard what he'd said earlier. If I'm going to be In Charge Of the Bridge??? What does that mean? But she didn't have time to ask him, and she was ashamed of even having the thought while the alarms were going off.. It did serve to distract her from her fear, though, which meant that when the turbolift doors opened, she could follow him onto the bridge as calmly as he appeared to be. She tapped Briony on the shoulder and slid into place, fixing the earpiece as she scanned her boards.

It didn't take long to get the picture: over ninety attack craft, somewhere between a Viper and a Raider in size. No carrier on the short-range scanners—the long-range scanners were already looking. Athena sorted the voices on the five channels and on the bridge itself with the ease of long practice, noting that half of Second Watch was still in place. Omega had gathered up the reins in Tigh's absence. Adama's, too—Father must have been at Apollo's party—she realized. She also realized that they could have put Starbuck in a Viper; Blue and Silver Spar Squadron weren't launched yet, they were nearly all of them on the Rising Star. She found the shuttle bringing them back, got an arrival time, relayed that to Omega, who acknowledged in between sequencing commands for the laser defense turrets.

"Red and Green Squadrons launched," Rigel reported. "Two-thirds of Purple and Gold launched. Preparing to launch remainder of Purple and Gold and half of Yellow. Awaiting arrival of Blue and Silver Spar pilots."

"What an engagement party," Falco murmured from his position near Athena.

She agreed with him, but silently.

"Where the frack did they come from?" Altair said in frustration.

"Belay the chatter," Omega remarked mildly. "Launch available Blue and Silver Spar fighters with the rest of Yellow."

"Have you found the base ship yet?" Tigh had arrived at some point.

"No, sir. Still scanning."

The battle was unfolding around them. Blue and Silver Spar arrived, launched. Adama came onto the bridge. The enemy was avoiding the Galactica and concentrating on the smaller, civilian ships.

"Found her!" Dathan announced. "On the board."

Athena took a single glance—it was pretty far away. No wonder those ships were big and went up spectacularly—startling the Vipers who'd made the first kill by the size of the explosion when fuel contacted internal atmosphere, both on fire...

"Have we tried to talk to them?" Adama demanded.

"We've gotten no response to any attempt on any frequency," Omega said. "We've picked up their transmissions; that gave us their comms capabilities, but nothing."

"We have no choice, Commander," Tigh said.

"No," Adama said heavily. "Send two squadrons after their base ship."

Blue and Silver Spar, last launched, took the mission. Athena heard her brother and Sheba bantering as they sped across the distance, and then she turned her attention to the immediate vicinity and the defense of the fleet.

And then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over. It happened like that, all the time. You could get whiplash: dead calm to frenzy to dead calm again. Or nearly, anyway. There was mopping up to do, battle damage to repair—mechs and medtechs just getting started as everyone else unwound. Viper recovery ops were underway; Athena listened long enough to verify that Apollo and Boomer were still alive and then she pulled off her headset, handing it to a subdued Briony.

Her hands were shaking so she stuffed them into the convenient pockets of the long skirt she'd forgotten she was wearing until she nearly stepped on the hem moving out of Briony's way. She saw Omega's pale blue shirt and, picking up her skirt, climbed the steps to the main dais where he and Tigh were talking. She blinked, realizing her father was gone already. That was unusual. She supposed he was fielding calls from the Council. She wondered if she should care, and decided she was too tired to.

Omega was speaking when she got to them. "—picking up ion trails. Nothing clear, but we're prepping reconnaissance probes now."

"Be careful," Tigh said. "We don't want to shake these people up any more than we already have."

"Yes, sir."

"Any ideas at all on what sparked this?"

"No, sir. It could simply be that we're here."

Tigh nodded. "Take the con, captain," he said, rubbing his eyes. "I have a feeling I'm going to be in front of the Council at metaphorical first light."

"Yes, sir," Omega nodded. "I'll call you if anything turns up."

Tigh nodded. Omega turned, saw Athena, and said, "I'm staying. If Starbuck's still at your quarters, just send him home."

She nodded. "If he's taken Boxey home, I'll make sure your jacket gets back to you."

"Thank you," he said and turned back to his work.

She looked at him for a minute and turned around, nearly running into Tigh. He was standing there quietly, watching her. "Colonel?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Just 'Tigh'. We're off duty," he said. "Do you mind if I walk along with you?"

"Of course not," she said.

They left the bridge, making their way through the press of people. He seemed a bit preoccupied, and no wonder, so she didn't intrude on his thoughts. But when they reached her quarters she said, trying out his name for the first time—her father had never let his children be so ill-mannered, "Tigh, would you like to come in for a minute? Something to drink?"

He looked at her and then he smiled. She'd always thought he had a nice smile; now she realized nice was an insipid word. He had a beautiful smile, one that softened the stern lines of his face and crinkled the corners of his eyes. She smiled back. "I'd like that, Athena," he said.

"Starbuck and Boxey may still be here," she said as she keyed the door open. But her quarters were empty. Omega's dark blue jacket was still lying where he'd put it when they had settled down for Trango, and the game and the glasses were still where they'd been, cluttering up her front room, but Boxey's book bag and Starbuck's gold jacket were both gone, as were they. When she turned on the lights she found a note from Starbuck:

'Theni, I took Boxey home. He wanted to see his father and I gather he might not come here tonight. I absolve you if he beats me up. S
She shook her head. The sad thing was, he might, the way he'd been acting lately. Oh, well, I refuse to make his problems my problems. She turned to Tigh. "Have a seat," she said, "I'll get some ambrosa... or would you rather have kava?"

He quirked an eyebrow upwards. "Actually," he said, "if you have any of that grog that's cold?"

"I do," she said. "Pardon the mess... but, as I said, Starbuck and Boxey were here."

He laughed. More than she thought the witticism was worth. It must be release from the tension of the last few centares, she realized when she found herself joining in the laughter. Instead of sitting, he gathered up the home-made Trango board and pieces while she picked up the glasses and went into the service room for more ale. When she came out with the glasses he was standing in front of her storage unit, carefully sorting all the Trango pieces by color and value.

"Sorry," he said, taking the glass from her. "I'm a bit compulsive, or so I've been told."

She found herself smiling again. Gods, you wouldn't think I'd known this man my whole life, she thought. Settle down. "It is easier to start playing if you don't have to sort it all out before you start," she said.

"You should get a real set," he said.

"I doubt it's a high priority," she said. "Besides, Boxey loves this one. Omega let him help make it."

He looked into his glass. "I'm pleased to hear that Apollo let his son visit with Starbuck."

She shrugged, still slightly out of charity with her brother. "I think he's more concerned with losing a babysitter than he is with his son falling under a bad influence."

"Nevertheless, it's a good first step."

She looked at him quizzically. That had been a rather abrupt stop. But before she could make a remark, he said, "I don't want to talk shop, though."

"Fine with me," she said. She wouldn't have minded talking about the battle, and she really wanted to know what Omega had been alluding to in the turbolift, but if "shop" meant her family, she didn't want to talk shop, either.

He looked at her for a while without actually saying anything, and then, unexpectedly, he chuckled. "I might as well just say it," he said.

"Say what?" She realized she was biting her lower lip.

"I'm old enough to be your father. I've known you since you were born. I watched you grow up and become a fine officer as befits your family. I've admired and respected you. But, in the past few yahrens, as we've worked together under these, um, interesting conditions, I've discovered my feelings changing." He swallowed. "I love you, Athena. I realize you don't think of me like that, but... I'm hoping you'll give me a chance. I don't mind being second choice," he added.

Athena looked into his eyes. She felt as if the universe had been shifting under her feet for the past secton or more. Starbuck, settling down. Apollo, acting like a lunatic. Omega... and now Tigh. But deep in his kava-colored eyes she saw a promise she'd given up on seeing. A shiver ran down her spine. "Tigh," she said and touched his face. He kissed her palm. "You may be old enough to be my father, but you aren't my father. I've never thought of you like that. And maybe—"

"Maybe?" he asked and then kissed her fingers.

"Maybe you can be my last choice." She leaned forward and kissed him.

His arms came around her, holding her close. She pressed her body to his, and felt his strength. "Stay," she said into his throat.

"Yes," he answered. "As long as you want me."

Part one Part two Part three Part four Part five


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