"Hold it right there, young man."
Boxey had tried to head straight for his room when he arrived back at his and his father's quarters after learning period, but he should have known Apollo would be waiting for him.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Apollo demanded.
Boxey stared straight ahead and said nothing.
"Don't I get an explanation for why you hit another boy in the middle of your lessons?"
"He started it," Boxey whined.
"How did he start it?" the Captain wanted to know.
Actually, it had started when Boxey had asked to copy the other boy's homework, since he hadn't done his own.
Boxey shrugged. "I don't remember."
Apollo sighed. Boxey had been getting into trouble more and more often lately. There had been several messages from the teachers, and also a few from the parents of the other children, complaining about Boxey's behaviour, both at learning period and at the Rejuv Centre. Boxey was getting into fights, he wasn't doing his homework, and he was mouthing off at his teachers.
What could Apollo do? He'd tried things his own parents had done with himself and Zac, but it was kind of hard to ground a child on a battlestar; there wasn't anywhere he could go other than the Rejuv Centre and learning period. It wasn't much use preventing Boxey from watching IFB, since there wasn't anything on the intra-ship network to interest a child. About the only thing he could do was take away Boxey's mushies, and he felt guilty for doing even that.
"I'm at my wits end," Apollo complained to his sister over a cup of java the next day. "He just doesn't listen. He doesn't care. Anything I say goes in one ear and out the other."
"You realize you sound just like Mom, don't you?" Athena teased. "I remember her saying the exact same things about you and Zac."
"Didn't she ever say anything like that about you?"
"Oh, probably. But she also had a secret weapon — Dad."
"Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of weapon." Apollo had moved on after his loss of Serena, but he had to admit there were times when he wished she were still here just for the sake of having another parent around to take care of Boxey for him.
"Why don't you do something about it, then?" Athena asked.
"Do what, exactly?"
"Find someone to help you with Boxey."
"Are you offering?" Apollo asked hopefully.
"That's not my job. I'm Boxey's aunt. I'm supposed to spoil him, remember?"
"Some help you are," the Captain grumbled. "Who do you suggest, then?"
"I don't know. I'm sure you can find someone. You have friends — and maybe someone who is more than a friend?" She did have someone in mind, but she didn't want to put ideas into her brother's head; she wanted Apollo to figure it out for himself.
"Well, maybe there is someone," Apollo admitted.
"Good!" Athena enthused. "Go for it, Apollo. You've been alone long enough."
Unfortunately, the person Athena had in mind for her brother wasn't the person Apollo had in mind. Athena discovered this when Apollo asked her to babysit the following night.
"I have a date with Sheba," he explained.
Athena could have groaned out loud, but she refrained. Sheba was definitely not the person for Apollo. "I'm sorry, but I can't. I have a shift on the bridge."
"I checked your schedule. You're on first shift this sectare, not third."
"I, uh, traded with Omega," Athena lied. She would do what she could to prevent Apollo from going out with Sheba.
"Oh. Well, I guess I can find someone else." Apollo left, muttering to himself about last-centon changes of plans.
Athena fervently hoped he didn't find anyone else.
"You want me to do what?" Starbuck asked in surprise when Apollo cornered him in the bachelor officers quarters.
"Babysit Boxey. I know it's short notice, but...."
"Let me guess. You have a date."
Apollo smiled sheepishly. "Yeah. With Sheba."
Starbuck stifled a sigh. Why was it that everyone could see that Sheba and Apollo were completely wrong for each other — everyone, that was, except for Apollo and Sheba themselves?
"Why the sudden move?" Starbuck inquired.
"It was kind of Athena's idea," Apollo said.
Starbuck could not imagine Athena suggesting that Apollo go on a date with Sheba. "What was her idea?"
"Well, you know I've been having problems lately with Boxey. He won't do what I tell him; he gets in trouble in learning period; he gets in trouble at the Rejuv Centre. He argues with everything I say."
"And this has what to do with Sheba, exactly?"
"Athena said that maybe I needed another person to help me take care of Boxey, take the pressure off me being a single parent."
Starbuck couldn't argue with that; however, Sheba wasn't the person he thought should be Boxey's second parent. But if you had asked him, he wouldn't have been able to come up with an idea of who would be the person to be Boxey's second parent. The only women Apollo had ever shown interest in were Serena and now Sheba.
"Well, I guess I can look after Boxey for a few centares. Have fun."
While Apollo and Sheba went to the Rising Star, Starbuck took Boxey to the Rejuv Centre.
Boxey played a game with a boy he knew from learning period while Starbuck chatted to a young woman who happened to be the other boy's mother. Unfortunately, their chat was interrupted by Boxey and the boy getting into a fight.
"Marcus!" screamed the woman.
"Boxey!" shouted Starbuck. He walked over and put himself between Boxey and Marcus. "What are you doing? Why are you fighting?"
"He cheated," accused Marcus.
"Did NOT!" answered Boxey.
"Did anyone see what happened?" Starbuck asked the people around him. After talking to a few people, Starbuck had his answer: Boxey had indeed cheated, and then had hit Marcus when the other boy caught him.
Starbuck made Boxey apologize to Marcus and Marcus's mother, then he apologized to Marcus's mother himself before taking Boxey back to quarters.
"Are you going to yell at me now?" Boxey asked.
"No, I'm not going to yell at you," Starbuck sighed.
"Why not? Aren't you mad at me?"
"No, Boxey, I'm not mad at you. Actually, I'm disappointed. I thought you were more mature than that."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you remember the time I took you to the Bachelor Officers Quarters and taught you how to play Pyramid?" Starbuck asked.
"Yeah! I beat all of you!" Boxey remembered with glee.
"You won, and you didn't cheat," Starbuck reminded him.
"But Marcus was winning! I didn't want him to win!"
"Sometimes we lose, Boxey. There is nothing shameful about losing as long as you did your best and played fairly."
"What about when the Cylons destroyed Caprica and the other colonies? We lost then."
This was something Starbuck hadn't expected, and he had to think about it for awhile. "The Cylons cheated," he finally said. "They didn't fight fair. They told us they wanted to negotiate a peace treaty, and then they attacked us."
Boxey was quiet for awhile, then he asked: "Starbuck, do you ever cheat at cards?"
"I have done, in the past. But I never felt good about it, so I stopped doing it. It means more to me if I win honestly than if I win by cheating, because I won through my own talent."
"What do you do if you lose a card game?" Boxey asked.
"I pay my share of the pot to the winner, and then I practise my strategy for the next game."
Apollo came home not long after that, and Starbuck left, having given Boxey a lot to think about.
A few days later, Apollo again asked Starbuck to babysit.
"Another date?" Starbuck asked.
"Yes, another date with Sheba. The last one must have gone well, because she accepted my invitation to the Rising Star for tonight."
"What do you mean it must have gone well? Don't you know?"
Apollo squirmed. "Not really. It's hard to tell. Sometimes women give me impression that they've enjoyed themselves, then they don't accept any future invitations."
Starbuck thought Apollo had a lot to learn about women. He wondered how Apollo had made it to 30 yahrens old without knowing more about women. Serena had been the first woman that Apollo had been serious about. Up until then Starbuck had convinced himself that it was okay that Apollo wasn't in love with him, because Apollo wasn't in love with anyone, and he was spending all his time with Starbuck anyway.
After Serena died Starbuck had told himself that he would reveal his feelings to Apollo one of these days — after Apollo had finished grieving for Serena, of course. Until then, he would date around and enjoy himself. It had never occurred to him that Apollo might want to date, too. And now Apollo was dating, with the intent of finding Boxey a second parent. Starbuck knew that Apollo wouldn't consider him for a parent for Boxey. Apollo would want a woman, someone to replace Boxey's mother.
When Starbuck arrived at Apollo's quarters, Apollo was just about to leave for his date. "Make sure Boxey does his homework," Apollo said as he went out to meet Sheba for their date.
After Boxey ate his supper, Starbuck said, "Okay, your father said you have homework to do. Where are your books?"
"I don't have any homework," Boxey lied.
"Why would Apollo tell me that you have homework if you don't?" Starbuck asked.
Boxey shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he thought I did."
Starbuck picked up the Stellar Com and called Athena. "Hi, Thenie. Listen, what does Boxey's class have for homework? Uh-huh. Okay. Thanks, Thenie." He turned to Boxey. "Well, kiddo, your Aunt Athena tells me that you have some assignments to do. Let's see your books."
Boxey reluctantly took his books out of his school bag. "Why do I have to do homework, anyway? What's the use of going to school and learning all this stuff? I'm going to be a warrior and fly a viper and kill Cylons. Why do I have to go to school for that?"
"Warriors go to school, Boxey. They have to go to the Academy before becoming warriors. I know that right now what you're learning doesn't seem like it would be very important to a warrior, but believe it or not, it does come in handy. For example, take your mathematics here." Starbuck picked up a math book. "You have to know how much fuel your viper needs before you take off. Then you have to figure out how much fuel you're going to use. For example, say you want to go turbo. Your viper will use more fuel going turbo than it does at normal speed, so you have to take that into account so that you know how long you can safely stay at turbo before you have to slow down."
'That sounds complicated," Boxey complained.
"It does seem that way at first. But when you've been flying vipers for awhile, it becomes almost second nature. You barely have to think about it."
"What about reading and writing? Why do I have to know those?" Boxey asked.
"Reports, Boxey. Warriors have to write reports every time they go on patrol, and every time they face the Cylons. I have to write reports. Boomer has to write reports. Your father has to write reports, and he has to read the reports that I write and Boomer writes and all the other warriors write. Then he has to go to Colonel Tigh and tell him what we've all written in our reports.
"But there are other things to read too. There are stories about what it was like in Caprica before the destruction. There are stories about famous warriors. And there are the Books of Kobol, too. Your father reads those to you, doesn't he? And people read them in the chapel."
"What about history?" Boxey asked. "Why do I have to learn that?"
Starbuck was beginning to admire the boy's persistence. "Don't you ever wonder what it was like before the destruction, Boxey? Or even what it was like before the war?"
"There wasn't anything before the war. The war has been going on forever."
"It only seems like forever, Boxey." Starbuck smiled sadly. "Believe it or not, there was life before the war, many, many yahrens ago. But we need to learn about the war, too, so that we find out what our ancestors did when they were fighting the Cylons. We can learn from what they did — both their victories and their defeats." He picked up the mathematics book. "Now, let's take care of your homework."
Boxey was in bed when Apollo returned from his date. "How did it go?" he asked Starbuck.
"I got him to do his homework," Starbuck answered. "Did he give you any trouble?" Apollo asked.
"Not really. He's stubborn, but I'm stubborn too, and I have a few more yahrens' experience in being stubborn. How did your date go?"
"Really well," Apollo said with a grin. "We're going to go out again the night after next — that is, if I can get a babysitter." He looked at Starbuck hopefully.
"What happened to Athena babysitting for you?"
Apollo frowned. "She always seems to have a shift on the bridge when I need a babysitter."
Starbuck thought that was rather odd, because he knew Athena hadn't been working tonight. He'd spoken to her, after all. He decided not to say anything about it to Apollo, though. Athena must have her reasons.
"Damn right I have my reasons," Athena said when he asked her. "My reasons are that I don't want Sheba to become my nephew's stepmother — or my sister-in- law."
"What's wrong with Sheba?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"Nothing's wrong with her, exactly. She's just not the right person to be sealed to Apollo, and I don't think she's cut out to be a parent."
"What makes you say that?" Starbuck asked.
"She's a complete Daddy's girl," Athena told him. "She doesn't want a husband. She wants a father. How can she be a parent when she still needs a parent herself?"
"Well, you know, your refusing to babysit Boxey isn't stopping Apollo from going out with Sheba. He's got me babysitting instead."
Athena sighed. "Well then, you're going to have to say no."
Athena raised her eyebrows.
"Come on, Thenie. You know how I feel about Apollo. It's one of the reasons you and I broke up, after all."
"Of course I know," Athena snapped. "What I don't know is why you're enabling him to go out with Sheba when you feel the way you do."
"Like I said, I can't say no. Whatever he wants me to do, I'll do."
"Even if it means losing him to Sheba — for good?"
"Even that," Starbuck said. "What I want most is for him to be happy. If he's happy with Sheba, then I guess I'll have to accept that."
Athena sighed and wondered, not for the first time, why Starbuck had had to fall for her brother and not for her.
Over the next few sectons Apollo continued seeing Sheba, and Starbuck continued to babysit Boxey. Starbuck was enjoying spending time with his honorary nephew, and wished that he could be Boxey's second parent instead of Sheba. But it looked as if Sheba was the person Apollo had in mind to be Boxey's stepparent.
One thing that Apollo had noticed was that Starbuck was apparently having a positive influence on Boxey's behaviour. Boxey's grades were improving, and there had been no more complaints from his teachers or his classmates' parents. "I don't know how you did it," he said to Starbuck, "but whatever you've been doing, keep it up! Boxey is doing his homework, and he's not getting into fights with the other kids. How did you do it?"
"I don't know," Starbuck said with a shrug. "I don't think I did anything specific. I'm sure you had more to do with it than I did. After all, you're with him a lot more than I am."
"Maybe you're just a natural with kids," Apollo said. "If you and Cassiopeia ever have children, you'll be a great father."
Children with Cassie? It wasn't what he wanted in life, but if he couldn't have what he really wanted, maybe one day he would Seal with Cassie. Maybe one day he would have a child or children of his own.
"So are you and Sheba going out again tonight?" Starbuck asked to change the subject.
"No, tonight we're staying in. She's going to have dinner in my quarters so that she can get to know Boxey. After all, if she's going to be his stepmother one day, she should spend some time with him and he with her."
"I guess so," Starbuck said.
"Is something wrong?" Apollo asked. "I thought you'd be happy that you don't have to babysit tonight for once."
"No, nothing's wrong. I've just become so used to babysitting for Boxey that I haven't bothered making any plans."
"Starbuck, I am ashamed of myself," Apollo said in a guilty voice. "I didn't realize I was making you give up your social life just to babysit for my son. Why didn't you say something?"
The Lieutenant shrugged. "Nothing to say. Not like I had anything else on the go. Besides, I like spending time with Boxey."
"You really should have children of your own, " Apollo told him.
"Maybe one day."
"You seem melancholy all of a sudden," Apollo noted. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Starbuck said. "I just realized how long it's been since I've been on a date myself."
"Are things not working out between you and Cassie?"
"Things haven't really been the same since Cain was here."
"We really haven't spent much time together lately, have we?" Apollo asked, realizing that he had no idea what had been happening in his wingmate's life lately. "I've been spending too much time with Sheba, I think, and not enough with you. Let me make it up to you. I'll cancel my date tonight and get Cassie to babysit for Boxey, and you and I can go out and have a drink."
"Don't cancel your date on my account, 'Pol," Starbuck insisted. Though he wished he could have Apollo to himself for an evening, he knew that this was an important date for his friend. "We can go for a drink another time."
"You're sure about that? I don't think Sheba would mind." She'd better not mind Apollo added mentally.
"I'm sure, 'Pol. Go on your date. Have fun. Don't think about me." Not that you ever do think of me, not anymore Starbuck thought to himself but didn't say.
"We will have that drink, Star. Sooner rather than later," Apollo promised. He couldn't imagine not thinking about Starbuck, but he had to admit to himself that once he was with Sheba, Starbuck would be far from his mind.
"What do you mean Starbuck's not coming tonight?" Boxey pouted. "He always comes over, at least once a secton."
"Tonight you and I are having a guest, Boxey. You know that I've been seeing a lot of Lt. Sheba lately. Well, I want her to meet you, so she's coming over tonight. That's why I'm not going out, and that's why Starbuck isn't coming over."
Boxey continued to pout.
"I want you to be on your best behaviour tonight, Boxey — company manners. I know Starbuck's been teaching you some things, and I want to see them in action."
Boxey thought for a few centons. One the one hand, he wanted his father to continue seeing Sheba so that Starbuck would keep babysitting when Apollo was on his dates. On the other hand, he didn't like the idea of his father getting married again. He didn't know Lieutenant Sheba, but he'd heard his Aunt Athena talk about her, and didn't like what he had heard. He considered acting us just to get Sheba to leave, but he was afraid that if he misbehaved it would reflect badly on Starbuck.
Sheba arrived not long after that — late, Boxey noticed. She brought with her a toy that was much too young for Boxey, but he thanked her anyway. After all, he was on company manners.
"What a nice little boy you are," Sheba said in a syrupy tone. "And so polite! I guess all the stories I've been hearing aren't true."
"What stories are those?" Apollo asked.
"The stories about Boxey, of course. I've been hearing some of my girl friends talking about how your son is so badly behaved. They wanted to warn me about him, you know. But obviously those stories were wrong."
"Obviously," muttered Apollo.
Apollo served dinner. Boxey's table manners weren't perfect, but were pretty good for a child his age. Sheba commented on them, much to Boxey's embarrassment.
After dinner, Sheba and Apollo sat sipping java while Boxey retired to his room to do his homework. "How is Starbuck these days?" Sheba asked Apollo. "I haven't seen much of him lately. He's almost never in the officers club or the Rising Star. Can't he find a date?" She added a little laugh at the end of the last comment as if to indicate that she was really just joking.
"Actually, Starbuck has been spending a lot of his free time here looking after Boxey so that you and I can go out," Apollo told her.
"Starbuck has been looking after Boxey?" Sheba asked in surprise. "Apollo, are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" Apollo asked.
"You of all people must know Starbuck's reputation. I know he's your friend &mdash though I don't know why — but surely he's not a good role model for a child. Think about it! All his drinking and gambling and whoring? What kind of example does he set for Boxey?"
Apollo was getting angry. "One of those 'whores' Starbuck dates happens to be my sister," he reminded Sheba. "Starbuck is a warrior. When I was trapped on Equellus, Starbuck took very good care of Boxey. Since he's been babysitting Boxey so that you and I could go out together, Boxey's behaviour has shown a significant improvement. Starbuck is the best role model for Boxey there is. Most of all, Starbuck is my friend, and I don't want to hear you talk about my friends that way."
"Well, after you and I are Sealed I guess you won't be seeing much of him."
"Why not? Like I said, he's my friend — my best friend." Sealed? He didn't recall asking Sheba to Seal with him.
"A man's responsibility is to his wife and children first. Friends are secondary, or possibly further down the priority list than that."
"Who says you can set my priorities?" Apollo inquired.
"As your wife, it's my responsibility to run the household, isn't it? That includes deciding on our schedule, deciding who we associate with and when."
"Sheba, have I actually asked you to Seal with me?" Apollo asked.
"No," she admitted. "I just assumed...."
"Do me a favour. Don't assume. I haven't asked you, and I don't think I'm going to ask you. I think you should leave now."
Sheba's mouth gaped open, but she didn't say anything other than, "Good night, Apollo." She gathered her things and left.
So it was that Apollo and Sheba stopped seeing each other. Because Apollo was no longer seeing Sheba, he no longer needed a babysitter, and Starbuck stopped coming around. Apollo and Starbuck still did things together, but Starbuck didn't see Boxey anymore. After a couple of sectons of Starbuck's absence, Boxey's behaviour started to deteriorate. He started getting into fights at learning period again, and he talked back to his father more.
Apollo didn't know what to do. This time, though, instead of asking his sister for advice, he went to Starbuck. "He was doing so well all the time I was seeing Sheba, and now all of a sudden he's back to the way he used to be. I don't know what's wrong. Things were fine one day, and then the next day things went to Hades."
"Have you asked him what's wrong, why he's behaving this way?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"No," Apollo admitted. "Do you think I should?"
"Couldn't hurt, could it?"
The next time Boxey threw a tantrum, Apollo snapped at him. "Boxey!" Then he stopped himself and remembered Starbuck's advice. "What's wrong? Why are you acting this way?"
"Why doesn't Starbuck come over anymore?" Boxey demanded. "When he was here he was teaching me how to be a warrior. Now he's not here anymore. I liked it when he was here."
"You're throwing a tantrum because you miss Starbuck?"
"You never talk to me about being a warrior. If I ask you why I should do my homework, you tell me 'because I said so.' Starbuck said I should do my homework so I can be go to the Academy and become a warrior. When I ask you what it's like to be a warrior, you change the subject, but Starbuck always tells me the truth, good and bad, about being a warrior."
"I don't talk to you about being a warrior because I wish you didn't have to become a warrior. You should be able to do what you want to do when you grow up, not become a warrior just because it's what everyone else is doing," Apollo told him.
"But I want to be a warrior!" Boxey insisted. "The Cylons killed my mom. I want to be a warrior so I can kill Cylons. But you don't want me to be a warrior."
"I don't want you to be a warrior because I don't want you to get killed like your mother did. But if being a warrior is what you want, then you should be a warrior. But wait a few yahrens until you're older, okay?"
"Okay," Boxey agreed. He was about to go into his room and do his homework when he stopped and asked: "Dad, you know how some kids just have a mom and some kids just have a dad, and some kids are orphans.... Do any kids have two dads instead of a dad and a mom?"
"I suppose so. I mean, I don't know any, but I'm sure that it's possible. Why do you ask?"
"Well, sometimes I wish I could have two dads — you and Starbuck."
Him and Starbuck? How could he and Starbuck be Boxey's parents? It sounded like a good idea, Apollo had to admit, but he couldn't imagine Starbuck settling down — especially not settling down with him. They could be roommates, Apollo supposed, but that would seriously cramp Starbuck's bachelor style. There wasn't a cabin big enough for two adults to have separate bedrooms as well as a bedroom for Boxey. In fact, Apollo's quarters weren't actually meant for two people. He'd given Boxey the bedroom and he slept on a convertible bed in the main room. No, the only way Starbuck could live with them would be if Starbuck shared a bed with Apollo, and Apollo couldn't imagine that happening except in his wildest dreams.
Apollo had to admit to himself that when he'd first met Starbuck all those yahrens ago he'd felt an immediate attraction to him. He'd thought the attraction might be mutual, but Starbuck had never acted on it and Apollo had been too shy to do anything about it himself. Starbuck had always been very popular, especially with women, though Apollo could tell that some of the young male cadets had shown feelings for Starbuck that went beyond mere hero worship. But as far as he knew, Starbuck had never returned those feelings.
Apollo decided to forget about the idea of Starbuck living with him and Boxey. It wasn't going to happen. But he could at least invite Starbuck to come over more often. Since he'd stopped dating Sheba, Apollo had usually gone to the officers club with Starbuck, rather than inviting Starbuck to his quarters.
A few days later Apollo approached Starbuck after they finished their patrol. "Would you like to have dinner with me and Boxey in my quarters tomorrow night?"
"Sure thing," Starbuck said, surprised. "Why the sudden invitation? You don't normally invite me to your quarters. We usually go to the officers club."
"Well, Boxey misses you. He wants to see you."
"Of course it has nothing to do with you wanting to see me," Starbuck muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" Apollo asked.
"Nothing," Starbuck lied. "What time is dinner?"
Boxey was, of course, thrilled to see Starbuck and monopolized his attention through the meal. But he willingly left the grownups alone so that he could do his homework. When he was done he brought it to Starbuck to look over. Then he said goodnight and went to bed. Apollo was amazed at how cooperative his son was being.
"You are such a good influence on him," Apollo said to his friend.
Starbuck shrugged. "I don't know what I'm doing that's so special. You're his father. You're the one who is most important in his life."
"I don't know what you're doing either, but whatever it is, it works."
The two men spent the rest of the evening drinking ale and just talking. It was a more intimate setting than their usual times together at the O club or the gambling tables, and Apollo wished they could have more times together like that. Then he thought to himself: why couldn't they? Just because he couldn't ask Starbuck to live with him, it didn't mean that Starbuck couldn't come over again.
"We should do this again," Apollo said suddenly.
"Do what?" Starbuck asked.
"Get together like this — you, me and Boxey. Just have dinner and sit around and talk. We should make it a regular thing."
"Well, you know, Apollo, I'm still hoping to have a social life of some sort with a woman, or two or three."
"Oh, of course," Apollo said, disappointed.
Seeing the look on his friend's face, Starbuck added quickly, "But until that happens, I'd be happy to keep coming over."
Apollo was pleased to hear that, but he wondered how long it would be until Starbuck found a new girlfriend.
For his part, Starbuck wondered why his presence was so important to Apollo. It had to be because of Boxey. He wished it were because Apollo himself wanted Starbuck there, but as long as he had a reason to spend time with Apollo, he'd take it. Not that he didn't enjoy spending time with Boxey as well, of course. After all, if by some chance he were to make a commitment to Apollo as a life partner rather than just a friend and wingman, that commitment would include Boxey.
Best not to think about that, though. It wasn't going to happen. Now that Apollo had started to date again, he was bound to find a suitable partner — suitable female partner — before too long, even if things hadn't worked out with Sheba. After all, Apollo was the Commander's son, and he was probably high on the list of the fleet's eligible bachelors. Starbuck was at the very top of the list, of course, but he had no plans to settle down with anyone — anyone but Apollo, of course, but he didn't think he had any chance of that.
For the next couple of sectares Starbuck showed up at Apollo's quarters at least once every secton for a meal and conversation. He helped Boxey with his homework and told him carefully edited war stories. After Boxey went to bed he spent time with Apollo. They never ran out of things to discuss, even though they spent a lot of time together on patrol.
But Starbuck didn't want to get complacent. Yes, he enjoyed the time he spent with Apollo and Boxey, but he began to think he was enjoying it too much. It wouldn't be like this forever, no matter how much he wished it would. He'd always been suspicious when he got too much of a good thing, because he knew that sooner or later it would be taken away from him. Best to stop it himself before Apollo, or worse, some new girlfriend of Apollo's, stopped it for him.
He didn't have the chance to get complacent. The Cylons saw to that. For almost a sectare the Cylons attacked every single day. Starbuck, Apollo and the other warriors were out engaging them for centares at a time. They didn't get together for meals except for hastily grabbed ones at the officers mess. Starbuck and his wingmate had little time to talk to each other, except for necessary communication during battle.
When the emergency was finally over and it appeared that the Cylons were going to leave the battlestar alone for awhile, Starbuck decided it was a good time to go out, get drunk and celebrate. Apollo was left alone in his quarters with Boxey. Athena had warned him that during the time she had been caring for Boxey while Apollo had been busy with the Cylon battle, Boxey had become a handful. She had even considered calling in the Commander, since he had been the one to straighten out her and her brothers when they were children, but of course the Commander had been much too busy on the bridge.
Boxey wasn't misbehaving so far, though. He was, in fact, unusually quiet. Something was wrong, obviously, so Apollo asked what it was.
"Why hasn't Starbuck come to see me?" Boxey demanded.
"Boxey, you know that the Cylon attack occupied both me and Starbuck over the last few sectons."
"But it's over now. You're here, so why isn't Starbuck here?"
"I guess he wanted to do grownup things tonight."
"Grownup things like what?" Boxey wanted to know. Apollo was at a loss for words. He couldn't exactly tell his son that Starbuck wanted to get drunk and have sex with any available woman who presented herself.
"I don't know, Boxey. I think he just wanted to be with other grownups and celebrate defeating the Cylons."
"You're a grownup," Boxey pointed out. "Couldn't he just be with you? He likes you, doesn't he?"
"I guess. I don't really know how Starbuck feels about me."
"Then why don't you ask him?"
Apollo marvelled at the simplicity of a child's world. If you wanted to know how someone felt about you, why not ask him? He just couldn't imagine himself asking that of Starbuck. He didn't want to know the answer.
"Grownups don't ask each other questions like that," Apollo answered. "I don't know why."
"Grownups sure do some dumb things," Boxey muttered as he went to his room to work on the homework he'd neglected while staying with Athena.
"We sure do, Boxey," Apollo sighed.
Starbuck avoided talking to Apollo about coming over for another evening together. He managed to find reasons to not come over. He wanted to spend time with Apollo and Boxey, but he figured it was just easier not to start up their social evenings again, rather than start them only to have Apollo put an end to them. But he missed those times. He missed the intimacy he'd found with Apollo, as well as the time spent with Boxey.
As for Boxey, he did his best to behave, but he continued to pester his father about Starbuck. Why wasn't the Lieutenant coming over anymore? Apollo didn't have answer for him. To tell the truth, he didn't know why himself.
Meanwhile, Starbuck was missing his time with Apollo and Boxey more and more. He kept telling himself that he'd been fine before he'd started going to Apollo's quarters for intimate dinners, and he'd been fine before he started babysitting Boxey. But he wasn't doing a very good job of convincing himself. So he spent more time at the officers club and at the gambling tables. Sometimes he picked up a woman, but he found that his heart wasn't in it. He never spent more than one night with any woman.
A worried Boomer confronted him one evening. "I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm beginning to think that you are spending way too much time drinking and gambling and womanizing. I mean, I know that's your thing, but there is such a thing as too much, and you are doing too much."
"You wouldn't understand," Starbuck replied.
"Try me. You'd be surprised at how much I understand. For example, I understand that you are no longer making your weekly visits to Apollo's quarters. What happened?"
"Nothing happened," Starbuck answered. Indeed, that was the entire problem. Nothing had happened, except that he was now even more in love with Apollo than he ever had been.
"Nothing happened," Boomer repeated. "Was there something that you wanted to happen?"
He was getting way too close to the truth. Starbuck played dumb. "I have no idea what you are insinuating, Boomer. My visits to Apollo and Boxey had to stop during the Cylon attack, and they never started again. That's all. So I have to fill up my time, and this is how I do it. This is how I've always done it."
That part, at least, was true. That was the way Starbuck filled up his time, except that before the Cylon attacks, he'd been doing less of the drinking, gambling and womanizing, choosing to spend more time with Apollo and Boxey.
Boomer decided it was time to have a casual word with Apollo. He caught up with his Captain after a Triad practice. "So what's new, Apollo?"
"Nothing at all, Boomer," Apollo replied.
"Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought you'd been seeing Sheba lately."
Apollo pulled a face. "That turned out to be not such a good idea."
"Oh-oh. That doesn't sound good," said Boomer. "Let me buy you a drink, and you can tell me all about it."
Apollo hadn't actually discussed his breakup with Sheba with anyone, so he was grateful for the offer. He spilled the entire story to Boomer's sympathetic ears. Boomer found it interesting that the trigger for their breakup seemed to have been Starbuck. "So Starbuck was babysitting for Boxey, and Sheba didn't approve," he commented.
"That's right," Apollo confirmed. "I don't understand it, really. Sheba has fought the Cylons alongside Starbuck plenty of times. She knows he's a good warrior. Besides that, when Starbuck began babysitting, Boxey's behaviour improved quite a lot. So did Starbuck's, for that matter. He started spending more time with me and Boxey and less time at the bar and the gambling tables."
"That's interesting," Boomer said, "because I've noticed that Starbuck has been spending a lot more time at the clubs and the gambling tables lately and less time with you. Did the two of you have a fight or something?"
"No, nothing like that. I don't know what happened. After we finally routed the latest Cylon attack, he stopped coming over. I miss him. So does Boxey. I'm worried that Boxey is going to start falling back into old behaviours and getting in trouble again."
"Have you talked to him about it, asked him why he doesn't come over anymore?" Boomer wanted to know.
"No, I haven't said anything," Apollo admitted.
"Because I don't know what to say." "Tell him the truth," Boomer suggested. "Tell him what you told me that you miss him."
Apollo was beginning to think that Boomer had been talking to Boxey. Just as Boxey had suggested Apollo ask Starbuck how he felt, Boomer was suggesting that Apollo tell Starbuck he missed him! Apollo wasn't so sure that he liked the direct approach.
What did he have to lose, though? Starbuck was no longer spending evenings with him. It wasn't as if he was going to be getting any less attention from his wingmate than he was already.
Then he had an idea. He'd tell Starbuck that Boxey missed him. That was true.
The problem was actually finding Starbuck. Their communication on patrols was generally limited to actual work-related subjects. Starbuck didn't seem willing to talk about personal stuff, and Apollo wanted to speak to him face to face anyway. But after their patrols were over, Starbuck was gone in a flash. This was getting to be rather annoying. Finally, he decided to look for Starbuck in the O club.
Starbuck was indeed in the O club, and he'd had a few drinks by the time Apollo caught up with him. "Apollo!" Starbuck shouted cheerfully. "I haven't seen you in here in a long time."
"That's because I generally spend my evenings at home with Boxey."
"Of course you do." Starbuck tried not to think about the evenings he had spent with Apollo and Boxey. "How is he? Doing okay at school? Behaving himself?"
"He's doing all right, but he misses you. He'd like it if you came over more often, like you used to."
The alcohol that Starbuck had been drinking loosened his tongue. "What about you, Apollo?" he asked.
"What about me?"
"How do you feel? You keep telling me about Boxey. Boxey wants to see me. Boxey wants me to come over. Boxey misses me. You never tell me what you want. If you told me that you wanted to see me, that you wanted me to come over, then I'd do it. I'd be there in a flash. But you never say that. I'm beginning to think that you don't want to see me, that you just tolerate me because of Boxey."
"That's not true!" Apollo protested.
"Isn't it? Then why don't you ask me to come over because it's what YOU want? Apollo, you and Boxey are the closest I have to family in my life. I value that. But I know it's temporary. I know that you're going to find a new girlfriend sooner or later. If it's not Sheba, it'll be someone else. After all, you're handsome, you're intelligent, and you're the Commander's son.
"You'll find a new girlfriend," Starbuck continued, "and maybe you'll want me to play babysitter again. That's fine. I like spending time with Boxey. Sometimes I even pretend that he's my son for a couple of centares. And when I was with both of you, I liked to pretend that the three of us were a family. But you know what? I never get to spend any time alone with you, just the two of us. That's what makes me wonder if there's some reason you don't want to see me."
Apollo was completely and totally stunned. He had no idea what to say. He didn't know how to answer Starbuck's accusation without revealing too much of his own feelings.
Getting no response from his wingmate, Starbuck sighed. "Apollo, go home to your son. Or go find yourself a new girlfriend. Don't hang around here if you can't even talk to me."
Taking a deep breath, Apollo said, "Actually, Starbuck, I kind of miss you, too."
"Kind of miss me?"
"I do miss you. I miss the conversations we used to have. I miss you being there with me and Boxey."
"Well why the frack didn't you say so?" Starbuck demanded. "Like I said, if you'd told me you wanted to see me, I'd have been there."
"I'm telling you now."
"Better late than never," Starbuck said philosophically. "Tell you what. I've had a few drinks, so tonight isn't a good time for me to be with you and Boxey. But if you want, I'll come over tomorrow night."
"I'd like that," Apollo admitted. Why was he suddenly feeling shy around his wingmate and best friend, someone he'd known for yahrens?
The next night Apollo waited nervously for Starbuck to arrive. Again he wondered at the strange feelings he was having. Why was he so nervous about a visit from Starbuck? It made no sense.
Boxey, of course, was thrilled that Starbuck was coming over. He tried to behave, but his excitement made him more hyper than usual. Suddenly he asked: "Dad, why are you acting so weird?"
"I don't know how to explain it, but you're acting kind of like you did when Lt. Sheba was coming over, like you're on a date."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Boxey. I'm happy that Starbuck is coming over, and that's all."
Boxey chose not to say anything else, but Apollo could tell that he was once again thinking 'grownups are weird'.
Starbuck finally arrived, and Apollo relaxed a bit. Boxey took care of most of the evening's conversation. He'd already done his homework just so that he could show it to Starbuck.
Even though he knew that Boxey wanted to stay up and spend more time with Starbuck, Apollo put him to bed at his usual bedtime. Boxey didn't protest, for which Apollo was grateful.
When Boxey was in bed, Apollo commented to Starbuck: "I don't know how you did it, but I am very grateful for how you turned Boxey's behaviour around."
"I didn't do anything you couldn't do," Starbuck replied.
"That's true, but the problem is that I didn't do it when I should have. I didn't discipline him properly."
"Why didn't you?" Starbuck asked.
"Because of Serena. Every time I tried to scold him or punish him, all I could think was: 'This is a little boy who has lost his mother. If he's misbehaving, it's probably a reaction to her death. How can I punish him for that?' So I didn't. You saw the result."
"I'm just glad I could help."
Apollo then finally broached the subject that he had been wanting to bring up since his conversation with Starbuck in the officers club the night before. "Look, Starbuck, you know how you said you liked to pretend that Boxey was yours and that we were a family.... Would you like to make that a reality?"
"What do you mean?" Starbuck had no idea what Apollo meant by his question.
"Move in with me and Boxey so that the three of us can really be a family."
"Apollo, your quarters are barely big enough for you and Boxey. There isn't room for three people."
"There would be if we moved to Married Quarters." Over the yahrens since the Galactica and her fleet had fled the Colonies the crew had added a few more ships here and there. Some of them had been remodelled to serve as living quarters so that the refugees no longer had to be crowded together in ships that were too small for them. Some of those quarters were for families with children.
"Married Quarters? Apollo, that would mean...."
"Yes, it would," Apollo replied to the unspoken statement. "That would mean that we would get married."
"But Apollo, surely you don't mean that you would marry me just to make Boxey happy."
"No, I wouldn't marry you to make Boxey happy, though that would be a welcome side effect. I would marry you to make me happy, and hopefully to make you happy too."
"This is kind of sudden," said Starbuck, stunned.
"Is it? How long have we known each other — 20 yahrens? More? Has either of us had a successful long-term relationship with a woman in all of that time?"
"What about Serena?" Starbuck asked.
"I'm not denying that I loved Serena. I can't say that I know what would have happened if she hadn't been killed. But I know that I love you, and I know that I want us to be a family, a real family — you, me and Boxey."
"Why didn't you ever say anything before?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"Because I am ridiculously old-fashioned and didn't want to admit that I'm in love with another man, even if that man is my best friend and soul mate."
Starbuck was at a loss for words. Finally, all he could say was: "I wasn't expecting this. I don't know what to say."
"Say yes. Say that you'll marry me and be Boxey's second father and make us a family."
"Yes," said Starbuck.