Athena strode down the hall, wondering why the Colonel had asked her to check on Apollo. She had been worried about him and now realized that Tigh was too. Something was going on with him and his wingman. He and Starbuck deserved each other. The debonair pilot had turned into a recluse, all work and no play while Apollo was actually going out on the occasional date.
Something was going on and she was determined to find out what. It was still early enough that she could wake Apollo up and make him breakfast before helping get Boxey ready for school. Her stern gaze softened when she thought of the young imp that her brother had brought into the family. She couldn't love him more if he was flesh of her flesh.
Keying in her brother's code, she stepped into the dimly lit room and had taken two steps before realizing what she was seeing. Starbuck was cocooned on the long seat under a blanket that her mother had knitted back on Caprica, with Apollo sitting on the floor by him with his head pillowed on Starbuck's arm. She stopped and stared at the unlikely sight.
*Why unlikely? They actually look rather sweet together. Why is Starbuck asleep here and why is my brother guarding him?* Athena wondered at her choice of words. *Guarding?* Gliding silently closer, she really looked at Starbuck.
The dark circles around his sunken eyes were much more pronounced than she'd ever seen before. His hair looked lank and lifeless and his mouth was compressed as if he were in pain. *All in all, lover, I've seen you look better.*
Now her brother was frowning too. She could see that one hand was trapped under Starbuck's right ear and the pilot was drooling slightly on the firm brown hand that pillowed him. She tilted her head and thought about what she was seeing. They'd always been close but normally Starbuck was the one looking after Apollo. Even when she and the pilot were dating, if her big brother needed anything, Starbuck had always dropped everything to help him.
She shook her head and pivoted to make some breakfast char. Two cups sat on the table and when she picked them up to wash, she caught a whiff of herbal tea. The kind that Cassie liked. Athena froze and considered the implications of the three together. Her first thought was how unfair it was that Apollo had both of them. Her second was shock at the graphic picture that brought to mind.
Feeling her lips stretch in a wide grin, she shook her head and mentally subtracted Cassie from the scene. *Oh yeah, that's better.* She looked again at the sleeping pair and suddenly saw them differently. *They love each other and aren't admitting it. Well, Starbuck knows what's happening but I'll bet Apollo doesn't.*
Her hands mechanically followed the early morning ritual of making char while her thoughts flew every which way. *Cassie knows and is okay with it or she wouldn't have left Starbuck here with him. So, she's let him go and doesn't have anyone else in her life right now.* Looking in the polished metal side of the canister that held the loose char, she kept her chortle silent at the feline grin crossing her face.
*First things first. Get Starbuck and Apollo together then go and find Cassie. She probably needs to talk. Maybe a shoulder to cry on. Somebody to hold for a while.* Athena felt a flush start and flood her skin with warmth. Shaking herself free from the familiar daydream, she put the char on and headed for Boxey's bedroom.
The young man was just stretching awake and she sat on the side of his bed. "Good morning, Boxey. Did you sleep well?"
"Hi, Aunt Athena." He sat up and gave her a bone crushing hug. "Good dreams. Starbuck came and told me a great story last night."
"I know he did, Boxey. He fell asleep in the outer room last night and is still asleep. How about you and I go visit Grandpa Adama this morning and let he and your father sleep themselves out?" She suggested carefully.
Boxey tilted his head. "Starbuck's not sleeping well, Aunt Athena. I think he has bad dreams sometimes. I wish I could help him."
Athena swallowed the lump in her throat. "I think your dad is trying to help, Boxey. They just need some time to talk about some things."
"Okay. I can show Grandpa my feather." Boxey got out of bed and Athena helped him through his morning routine while he chattered on about the class visit to Eden II. They were soon ready and tiptoed out to the other room.
Boxey's eyes widened when he saw his father asleep on the floor beside Starbuck but just looked up at Athena and smiled, tugging her towards the door. They headed for Adama's quarters with Boxey talking all the way. She handed him over to her father with a terse promise to explain it all later, then made the trip for the second time back to Apollo's suite.
The char was finished and its smell perked her right up. Pouring a cup, she sat in the comfortable chair near where they slept and tried to get her thoughts in order. How to go about getting them together without frightening them into denial? Thinking back over the last few sectars, she realized that Starbuck was the one who'd changed. Sheba had told her some of what had happened on Iblis' ship with the white lights and Apollo's 'death'.
Athena shuddered. It still hurt thinking about that and she hadn't even seen him die. But Starbuck had. That was the key. What had Boxey said? Bad dreams. *Poor baby. If he's finally acknowledged that he loves Apollo and then has to see him die every night, that would send him right over the edge.*
She was looking at Starbuck and wondering if her analysis was right when she realized that his eyes were open and staring wonderingly at her. "Morning, Starbuck. I'm guessing that big brother here slipped you a sleeping pill in your drink last night."
He swallowed several times before he could answer. "I . . . guess so. Didn't mean to fall asleep."
"He's worried about you, love. Several of us are. Cassie was here last night so he must have called out the big guns." She watched him carefully and saw the fear in his eyes.
Starbuck moved his head slowly and watched the dark head so near his own. Athena saw all the longing and loss in that brief gaze that she'd expected to see. But this was different. Here was a man she'd held in her arms, entertained fantasies about and wondered if he was the one for her, breaking his heart over her brother.
"He does love you, you know." She spoke gently and watched him flinch.
Raising tired eyes to hers, he shook his head with a ghost of his old smile. "Not like that, Athena. I'm just a friend. It's enough."
"Is it, Starbuck? Boxey told me you have bad dreams and he wishes he could make it better. But Apollo's the only one who can do that, isn't he?"
The pain filled eyes closed again and he swallowed. "I see him dying and I can't get to him. I can't save him even when I offer them my life instead. They ignore me and kill him, again and again and again. And I have to watch."
"Have you told him?"
"He doesn't remember dying and I wouldn't wish these dreams on anybody. They just got all mixed up with some other things in my head. They'll go away eventually." Even his voice sounded dead to her ears.
"And if they don't? You're barely functioning as it is, Starbuck. What if something happens and you are too tired to react? You could get yourself killed." She probed gently and watched him flinch again.
"Worse, I could get *him* killed. I asked Colonel Tigh if I could go on training status for a while. Just until I get back to normal. Apollo deserves a wingman who can really watch his back. I'm not safe for him anymore." His hand was lightly stroking the arm at his side and Athena had to bite her tongue to keep from crying out at the hopelessness in his voice.
"You could try talking to him. He cares for you very much. You've been best friends for a long time now."
He smiled briefly. "Some friend I am. It would only make him uncomfortable. I want ..." He closed his eyes again and she saw Apollo's eyes open. "Something I can't have. Story of my life. It's better not to rock the ship. At least, this way, he lets me share part of his life. Play with Boxey. Be with them once in a while. Soak up some of the love they have for each other."
"Maybe they'd like to share more with you, Starbuck. You're an important part of their lives, of all our lives. Apollo might surprise you. He's not such an idiot that he'd turn down honest love, even if it was in an unfamiliar package." She spoke directly to her brother and watched his eyes begin to light up. She could almost see his brain begin to put all the pieces together.
"Oh no." Starbuck had reopened his eyes and now the two of them were staring at each other. Apollo raised up and his hand, no longer trapped by Starbuck's head, smoothed back the lock from his forehead.
"You guys have some talking to do." Athena got up and handed Apollo her cup of char before kneeling beside them. "Boxey is with father and you're both off duty until you get this settled." She leaned over and kissed her brother's cheek. "Get a clue, big brother. Don't you dare let this one get away."
Moving slightly, she kissed Starbuck on the lips, a chaste, sisterly kiss. "He's slow ... but trainable. I'm seeing Cassie later today and I'd really like to be able to tell her that she's back on the market." Athena smiled her feline grin. "Very, very briefly on the market. Don't make me come after you."
They both stared at her wide eyed and she laughed before getting to her feet. Waving from the door, she made sure the privacy lock was on before striding out. *Lots to do today. Give Father a brief explanation. Give Colonel Tigh an even briefer one. Plan a seduction.*
Grinning widely, she turned her brain to the details. Yes, it was going to be a busy day.
End chapter three