Memories of Stars -- Back to School Ficathon
Title: Memories of Stars
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Characters: Um...everybody except Cassiopeia, who does at least get mentioned.
Word Count: Approx. 3,300
Prompt: Winter Formal
The battle was over, the Cylons destroyed, but only after all Viper squadrons had returned to Galactica did Athena glance over her shoulder at the XO. He nodded slightly, indicating she could end her shift. She removed her headphones and handed them to her waiting relief. "Turning the board over to Beta Shift," she said formally.
"Beta Shift" was a handsome lieutenant who had transferred to Galactica just before the Attack. He smiled at her. "I have the board," he responded, taking the headphones and plugging them in. She smiled back, but it was only a courtesy. Despite everything, there was still only one man in her heart.
She exchanged good nights with her father and headed for home. She could hear the sounds of the impromptu celebration in her barracks even before she turned the corner, and knew that even now Starbuck and the rest of Blue Squadron were involved in their own party. It was the same in all the barracks. After every successful battle, the living drank to the fallen and celebrated their own survival. While many of the women in her barracks were medtechs or bridge officers, some few were Viper pilots, the original women who had flown as Blue Squadron when a mysterious illness incapacitated all of Blue Squadron excepting Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Starbuck. Athena herself had briefly been a Viper pilot, along with her sister-in-law. But after Serina's death and the return to duty of Boomer and Jolley and the rest, Athena had elected to return to shuttle piloting and bridge duty rather than continue as a warrior. Many of the women -- sanctioned by Commander Adama -- had decided to continue their training, however. They were no longer all attached to Blue Squadron, but they were all billetted in the same barracks, which meant that after a battle, it could get particularly raucous.
The door slid open and Athena winced at the blast of noise before plastering a smile on her face and stepping through. She briefly considered having a quiet dinner with her father, but Colonel Tigh would no doubt be along before too much time had passed to congratulate the celebrants and remind them that they would still have duty on the morrow. She could put up with a few centars of noise, she supposed, and be grateful that she wasn't billeted near the men's barracks, which was sure to be far louder.
In point of fact, the celebration in the men's barracks was less noisy, mostly because in one corner, Lieutenant Starbuck, a fumarillo clamped between his teeth and a mug of ambrosa at his elbow, presided over a large and intense game of Pyramid. At the game table, the conversation was muted as each player studied his hand. Captain Apollo leaned against a wall nearby, smiling indulgently at his friends. Starbuck was aware of Apollo's presence, just as he was aware of everything else going on in the barracks, but that awareness was secondary to the cards in his hand, the cubits on the table, the drink in his mug and the sweet smoke in his lungs.
His only serious competition in this hand was, alas, from the six-year-old son of his best friend. As always, after a battle, Boxey's caregiver had brought him to the barracks, since she knew that Apollo felt it was his duty to go there first with his men. This way, he was able to combine his duties as squadron leader and father. Boxey adored -- and was adored by -- Blue Squadron, which had long ago adopted him as a mascot. Just now, he was showing his hand to his artificial daggit and asking its opinion. Muffit swiveled its ears and yapped twice.
Boxey nodded. "That's what I thought, too, Muffit." He grinned at Starbuck and laid his hand on the table. All around the table, players groaned; Apollo turned his laugh into a cough, hiding his grin behind a hand.
Starbuck sighed and tossed his cards down. "I tell ya, kid, I'm gonna stop playing with you."
"Want a chance to win your money back, Starbuck?" the boy asked with a sweet smile -- he was yet too young for an arch grin, but that would come.
"I think it's time for us to go, Boxey," Apollo intervened. "Let's leave these fellows while they still have some money in their pockets. Besides, we all have duty in the morning."
"All right," Boxey said. "C'mon, Muffit. Bedtime."
"Pleasant rest, gentlemen," Apollo said, taking his son's hand and leading him away.
Starbuck saluted with his fumarillo. "Pleasant rest." He waited until the door had closed behind Apollo and Boxey before turning back to the game. "All right, gentlemen, this is about to get ugly."
Boomer raised an eyebrow. "You mean uglier than losing to a six-year-old?"
Despite the noise in the barracks, Athena was attempting to read in her bunk. Although real books had become scarce in the fleet, personal readers were numerous, and many of the classics had been reproduced electronically. She, however, was reading a tawdry romance, which was much more fun than passages from The Lords of Kobol, but the book was beginning to make her uncomfortable. The story involved a military officer, who, after a personal crisis, had jilted her betrothed because she could not believe that there was anything in her future but fear and death. This hit far too close to home. She had confronted Starbuck in the same fashion in this very room. She hadn't thought he'd take up with that...socialator so quickly.
That was unfair, she told herself. Cassiopeia had turned out to be a wonderful medtech and everyone appreciated her. It was hardly her fault that Starbuck had turned from the sweet person Athena had known on Caprica to the boozing, womanizing cad he had become after the Attack.
She tossed the reader down with a sigh. Between her thoughts and the ongoing celebration, she couldn't read. She opened her locker and rummaged around in it for clean clothing. She might just as well go for a walk. She dressed quickly and reached for her boots.
A small box, stirred from the back to the front, tipped out of the locker and fell to the deck. Athena froze for a moment when she saw it, then chided herself for childishness and picked it up, tucking it almost absently into her pocket.
There was a small observation deck not far from her father's quarters; the Commander was often to be found there contemplating the stars. Though it was by no means his private reserve, the small space had come to be known as the Commander's Walk and was generally avoided by the rest of the crew. It would be quiet there.
Since it was ship's night, Athena passed very few crewmen; she could probably have gone to the mess and found it quieter than her barracks. She passed the door to her father's quarters and nearly turned aside, but company was not what she sought.
As she had expected, the Commander's Walk was deserted and silent. A tiny bubble jutting out from Galactica's skin, no more than twenty feet of round floor roofed by an observation dome, its original purpose had been to teach trainees navigation without the aid of a computer. She walked into the middle of the space and stood, as her father often did, staring out at the silent, pitiless majesty of space, wondering if the Lords of Kobol really watched over the Colonies as some claimed. If so, how could they have allowed the Attack? How had all their lives been so irrevocably altered in the space of only a few centars?
She reached into her pocket and pulled out the small box and opened it. By the cold light of the manifold stars, she stared at the contents. The massive ring, a huge cabochon ruby set in gold, the insignia of the Academy etched into its surface, the heavy shanks carved with the symbols of the Colonies on one side and Caprica on the other, gleamed.
Starbuck's Academy ring. Most of the graduates had them, though few wore them except on special occasions. A warrior shouldn't wear a ring; it could interfere with his draw. Rings could be dangerous for other officers, also; anyone who'd ever received an electrical shock trying to repair a damaged console knew that.
She contemplated the ring for a moment, standing in the center of the observation deck, then retreated to the circular bench that ringed the outer edge of the room. There she sat, her gaze directed downward. It wasn't the ring she saw, though. It was her mother.
Ila clapped her hands in delight. "You look wonderful, my dear."
Athena twirled so that the skirt of her gown swirled out around her. "Do you think so, Mother? Oh, I hope Starbuck likes my dress."
Ila smiled. "I'm sure he will, my dear. I wish your father were here to see you. He'd be so proud."
"He'll be back any time, Mother. He promised he'd be in time to dance with me at the Winter Formal."
"Well, if you say so, my dear, but he'd better hurry," Ila said, moving to answer the doorchiime.
Starbuck and Apollo stood there, both somehow managing not to look as uncomfortable as they must feel in their dress uniforms. Now Academy graduates, they had already received their first assignments. Both were to serve under Commander Adama aboard the Battlestar Galactica, and Athena wasn't sure which was more excited: Adama's eldest son or his practically adopted son. They were only waiting for Galactica to return from her current mission -- which meant that they were available for the Academy's Winter Formal.
Athena knew that her mother daily expected an announcement that she and Starbuck were to be sealed, and while she would certainly welcome a proposal, Starbuck had yet to speak. Athena had no idea what he was waiting for -- Wintertide?
The young warriors stepped in the door and Ila glanced past them. "No Zac?"
Apollo grinned. "Sorry, Mother. I think he's found himself a girl to escort to the gathering."
"And that's a reason for him not coming to see his mother?" she mock-grumbled, stepping aside so the young men could enter the house.
Athena waited, her hands clasped before her. She was surprisingly nervous, but her unease evaporated at the expression on Starbuck's face when he caught sight of her. "You look magnificent, Athena," he said, offering her his arm.
As expected, the XO did not let the celebration last too long. Barely a quarter centar after Apollo had taken Boxey off to bed, Colonel Tigh was in the doorway reminding the warriors that they had duty in the morning. He waited while the last Pyramid hand ended -- Starbuck lost the hand, but won the game -- and the barracks was straightened, then took his leave, tossing his congratulations to the victorious warriors over his shoulder.
Starbuck found himself, quite uncharacteristically, unable to sleep. He lay there for a while, staring at the underside of Boomer's bunk, listening to someone -- Jolley, maybe? -- snoring, then sighed and got out of bed. As he was pulling on his boots, Boomer spoke.
"You have duty in the morning, Starbuck."
"I know. I can't sleep. I'm going for a walk."
"Don't be out all night," Boomer said, not even opening his eyes.
Out in the corridor, Starbuck turned irresolutely from side to side. He had no destination. Perhaps he could go see Cassiopeia? He knew she often kept late hours; she might even still be in the life center. Or...maybe he could talk to Athena. No, not Athena; her duty shift would have ended about the same time as Blue Squadron reported in. She'd be long asleep by now.
Finally, his feet picked a direction; he wandered where they took him, his thoughts straying for some odd reason to a long ago dance he had taken Athena to, in the old days, before Baltar's betrayal and the Attack. He'd been seeing Athena for some time, almost since he'd met Apollo, in fact.
Even though Apollo's father came from a patrician family, none of them had ever rejected Starbuck, the orphaned child of unknown parents. Apollo had stuck by him in the Academy and they had become the closest of friends, so it was only natural that Starbuck should accompany his friend home for term breaks and holidays. There, he'd met Apollo's younger sister, and been immediately captivated by her expressive eyes and wealth of dark hair. He hadn't admitted to anyone, even himself, that he was falling for the girl, not even after she, too, entered the Academy and he saw more and more of her.
His . . . love -- yes that was the word, might as well admit it -- for Athena might have gone unspoken forever. After all, she was the daughter of the great Commander Adama, a patrician, a hero and member of the Council of Twelve, but for Apollo's uncanny perceptions. One day, he'd punched Starbuck lightly on the arm and suggested that it was time Starbuck asked Athena out.
Athena, it turned out, had agreed.
Their relationship blossomed, grew, thrived. Not too terribly long after that first date, Starbuck had approached Apollo.
"Ol' buddy," he began, "there's something I'd like to ask you."
"You don't need my permission, Starbuck," Apollo said, after Starbuck had tried for some centons to figure out what to say next. "You probably don't even need to speak to my father, though if you want to observe the old forms, that's fine. The person you really need to talk to is Athena. Why don't you ask her to the Winter Formal?"
Which is how he ended up being welcomed by Athena's mother, while Athena glowed like a fairy princess in the back of the room. He said something to Ila -- he didn't remember what -- because all his attention was on Athena. Well, except for that bit that was hyper-aware of the little box he carried in a pocket. He said something to her, too, and offered her his arm.
Athena glanced up at a slight noise, but saw nothing. When she heard nothing more, she concluded that Galactica was just creaking. A few Cylon shots had gotten through and though they had caused minimal damage, some stray noises were to be expected. She looked through the observation panes, remembering how the stars had glittered that night.
"Look at the stars," she exclaimed as she and Starbuck stepped outside for a breather. "The sky is so clear tonight."
"And yet its beauty pales in comparison to yours," Starbuck replied gallantly.
Starbuck found himself walking in the general direction of the launch bays. But as much as he loved his Viper, he had already spent enough time with her today. No...he wanted something less associated with noise and death. Some place quiet. Some place serene. He snapped his fingers. He knew just the spot. He turned on his heel and headed for the little-used observation deck near the Commander's quarters.
Memories played through his mind as he walked. Athena's dress had been the least of it.
When they arrived at the gathering, Athena and Starbuck were almost immediately whirled away into a dance. Apollo, who had no partner, laughed and went in search of his younger brother to get an introduction to Zac's new girl.
Athena and Starbuck danced for what seemed like ages and Starbuck's doubts evaporated every time he looked into Athena's glowing eyes. This was the woman with whom he wished to spend his future.
At the first break in the dancing, he drew her outside into the cool night air. They made small talk, about the clarity of the night sky, about the gowns of some of the women, about Galactica's impending return. Finally, Starbuck had reached into his pocket and pulled out the box.
"Listen, Athena," he began -- not particularly auspicious. He cleared his throat. "I want to ask you something."
She stilled, her magnificent eyes on his face.
He cleared his throat again and held out the box. She took it, opening it silently and gazing at the contents, then raising her eyes back to his. She waited.
At last, the words he'd rehearsed came back to him. "Athena, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
The smile that bloomed on her face defied the winter cold, and then she threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, yes! Of course, I will, Starbuck." She backed up and looked at the ring again.
"I'll find you something more suitable when I can afford it," he hastened to assure her. "I wish I had a proper heirloom to pass on to you."
She shook her head. "No, Starbuck. This is a gift that I will always treasure. It's perfect. And even heirlooms have a beginning."
Athena looked out at the stars, a single tear sliding down her face. She had felt so alive that night. So happy. And she had had a full year to cherish her happiness. She'd graduated from the Academy, been posted to Galactica as was tradition: if at all possible, the children of battlestar commanders were posted to their parents' commands. But then, on the eve of the supposed peace, the Cylons had attacked. Her mother, her brother, so many of her friends and extended family were gone. Even with her father's promise of Earth, she could no longer see a future, no longer feel any emotion other than dread. Whenever Apollo or Starbuck launched their Vipers to the stars, Athena felt certain that, like Zac, she would never see them again. But when they returned, she felt only a slight relief that slid at once back into dread.
She lowered her gaze to the ring again. The tear tremored at the point of her cheek, then fell and splashed on the ruby's surface, turning the etched Academy insignia into a tiny ocean.
"Oh, Starbuck," she said. "I'm so sorry."
A warrior's instinct, or some quality in the air, warned Starbuck that there was someone in the Commander's Walk and he hung back a moment to see who it was. No one wanted to intrude on the Commander if he was seeking solitude himself. But the bowed head was dark, not silver -- Athena, not her father. Dark curtains of hair hid her downturned face, but he could see in the dim light that she held a small, and very familiar, box.
How odd that on this night, their thoughts should so obviously run in parallel -- further proof, as far as he was concerned, that they were meant to be together. Oh, he was very fond of Cassiopeia -- she was a sweet person -- but Athena had always been his true love, since he was a lonely teenager folded into the Commander's household like a homeless puppy.
He heard her whispered apology and almost replied to it, but something held him back, and as she stood to leave, snapping the box closed, he retreated down the corridor. He could manufacture a meeting...but, no. He turned back toward his barracks and let Athena go her way, the memory of stars, lace and biting cold his only company.
She had broken off the engagement, she should return the ring to Starbuck. But...in the desolation of her heart, a tiny seed lay waiting, and that tiny hope that someday, somewhere, they could yet be sealed, despite the Cylons, despite the other women on whom he turned his eyes, despite everything, made Athena tenderly replace the box in her locker, gently close the door and go to bed.
This story is set after "Lost Planet of the Gods," the episode in which Boomer and Jolley skip decontam after a mission and all of Blue Squadron (except Apollo and Starbuck) get sick, the fleet finds Kobol, and Apollo's wife Serina is killed. Depending on how you count, this is either the second episode of the series or the fourth and fifth episodes. Either way, it's the second story.
This is the premiere of this story -- no one else has read it, so any screwups are completely my own.
Also, according to the Battlestar Wiki's List of Terms, a centar is analogous to our hour.
In due course, I will most likely post this to my writing journal, lallis_folly.
Obviously, since I was ten (and then eleven) years old when Battlestar Galactica aired, I did not create any of these characters or this universe. I cannot claim ownership of them. Those glories go to Glen A. Larson and Universal and no infringement is intended. Also, this is my first disclaimer, so I hope it says what it's supposed to.