The perfect three-level pyramid that should have been looking back at him was marred by the first level card which had somehow appeared from the deck when he was expecting a capstone. Starbuck sighed, and picking up the cards, began shuffling them again.
Playing pyramid on his own was rapidly proving not only to be boring but downright depressing when he couldn't even outwit himself. Not that it was his fault, particularly; his mind was mostly on Apollo, who even now was breaking the news about their relationship to his father. Apollo had had no doubts about how his father would receive it, but Starbuck wasn't so sure, so he'd decided to let himself in to his lover's quarters and wait for his return. He'd also decided that he might as well gain Apollo's full approval of his action by using the time to perfect his latest system before he began betting Apollo's pay against it. Unfortunately it seemed that either the system wasn't perfect, or his vague worry about Apollo's interview with Adama was affecting his concentration. Actually, he knew it couldn't be his system: they only ever betrayed their fatal flaw when Apollo had the best part of a secton's pay riding on the result.
Starbuck sighed again, and began dealing to himself. However boring this was proving to be, there was nothing else to do in Apollo's quarters without Apollo there. None of the quarters on the Battlestar could be termed homely, but Apollo's were bare even by the Galactica's utilitarian standards. There were none of the usual reminders of family or loved ones - not even holopics. Everything looked just as it had the day Apollo took over these quarters: functional and impersonal. If it wasn't for the evidence of an occasional sticky fingerprint on the polished surfaces, it would have been impossible to believe that a small child lived there too. It was no wonder that very few people visited Apollo socially, Starbuck thought.
It wouldn't be so bad if Apollo were a bit less obsessive in his tidiness. There was a compulsion there that Starbuck found a bit disturbing. He'd made it his mission in life to educate Apollo into the joys that a little disorganisation can bring, and had so far managed on quite a few occasions to persuade his lover into leaving various parts of his uniform discarded, crumpled and more often than not entirely forgotten on the floor of his sleeping room.
Starbuck stared in disgust at the cards he'd dealt himself. Lords knew where his brains - or his hands - were this cycle, but they certainly weren't joining forces to help him in his efforts to beat himself at pyramid. Perhaps he should just give up this attempt to distract himself and concentrate instead on congratulating himself on his past triumphs. He'd made great strides with Apollo, after all. All the OC recognised it, if the way they queued up to buy him drinks was anything to go by. The Captain was much less tightly-wound these days, much less likely to blast anybody out for the smallest infraction of the rules. And if Blue wanted to put it down to the influence of a certain Lieutenant, said Lieutenant was quite happy to take the credit, as long as it was properly acknowledged by the offer of a drink or a game of pyramid. But optimist as he was, Starbuck recognised that he still had some way to go. Apollo still wouldn't consider the mere possibility of reporting late for duty, not even when there was a warm, naked, and positively horny Starbuck draped enticingly over him. Starbuck sighed yet again as he returned the useless hand to the deck and gave up on even the pretence of playing cards. Maybe there were some things that he'd just have to accept he wouldn't be able to change about Apollo. Maybe those were some of the reasons he loved Apollo.
Yeah, right. When did Starbuck the Serial Flirt become a believer in love?
From the moment a hurting Apollo had let Starbuck hold him on the day of remembrance of the Destruction, and things had changed irrevocably. Starbuck had held his best friend, trying to offer comfort to what was beyond comforting, even while his own feelings about the Destruction were still in some sort of cryogenic store. On some level he still believed that the Destruction wasn't real. He still couldn't comprehend that it was gone, that everything which had been part of his life had gone forever. Except for Apollo.
For Apollo the day was the anniversary of the day he'd deserted his baby brother and left him to die. He'd left Zac despite the terror which had leaked around the bravado in his brother's voice. He'd left Zac alone in his wounded Viper, watching his death approach before he was blasted into nothingness in cold lonely space. While Apollo mourned Ila, mourned all those he'd failed to protect - typical Apollo, to think his presence in the skies above Caprica could possibly have made a difference once the terror had started - it was his abandonment of Zac that he could never forgive himself for. Worse than that, he could never believe that his father or his sister could forgive him for it either. He'd always lived and breathed for his father's approval; now he was almost desperate for signs that his father didn't despise him.
For as long as Starbuck had known Apollo, Apollo had been driven by his duty to the position he was first born to, and then appointed to as a commanding officer. Since Zac's death, it had become all that Apollo was.
Till that night.
That night when he had held his best friend in the privacy of Apollo's quarters, and felt the sobs Apollo was fighting so desperately to keep inside himself. His arms had tightened around Apollo, and he'd pressed a gentle kiss into his hair where Apollo's head was buried against his shoulder. And that had changed everything.
Apollo had gone very still in his arms, and it was only then that Starbuck realised what it was he'd done. But even as he'd pulled away slightly, ready to laugh off what had been an instinctive, involuntary reaction, Apollo's arms had tightened slightly around him, and Apollo's breath touched his neck, sounding like his name.
And later, when the rush of anguish had slowed and Apollo's breathing had been steadier, Apollo had pulled away slightly and just looked at him, confusion, doubt, and a painful question in his eyes. There had only seemed to be one answer possible.
Their first kiss had tasted of desperation and tears. Starbuck didn't believe in portents. Even if he had done so, he'd been too overwhelmed by Apollo's mouth opening for him to think of anything other than wonder and a sense of rightness. And then, a little later, of the urgency uncoiling in his body as he took Apollo to bed.
He'd been Apollo's first male lover. And his last. Starbuck grinned to himself at that thought as he stretched himself out, his feet comfortably resting on the seat opposite his. He might not have had anything much in his life until that day at the academy when they'd been paired off as Triad partners - nobody else wanted either the charity case or the poster boy for nepotism - but since their first, awkward beginnings, a friendship had grown which had become the only constant in Starbuck's volatile life. And now he knew that his Pol loved him and he'd finally found the home he'd spent so many years searching for.
The only slight niggle that was becoming less of a niggle and more of a cause for alarm was the length of time that Apollo had already spent with Adama, breaking the news. It was possible that the Commander had got out the ambrosa on hearing the news, but somehow Starbuck doubted it. Adama had always treated Starbuck courteously, and often with a fondness that, Starbuck was sure, spilled over onto him because of his usual proximity to Apollo, but Starbuck was under no illusions. He'd seen the way Adama extended the family circle to include Sheba when Cain went missing; he'd also seen the way Adama said nothing when the truth came out about Chameleon. As long as he knew his place, Adama accepted him. When his place became alongside - or on top of - the Commander's son and heir-apparent, things might be rather different.
Deep in rather depressing thought, Starbuck was taken by surprise when the door opened suddenly to admit Apollo. Anticipating Apollo's first move, Starbuck reluctantly removed his feet from the seat opposite him and sat up properly. The lack of an instant criticism of his behaviour warned him. His first proper sight of Apollo's face chilled him. Pale and shocked, Apollo wouldn't hold Starbuck's gaze, but turned away from him.
Damning Adama and whatever he'd said to upset Apollo so, Starbuck stood and crossed the floor to the unnaturally still figure. His arms went around Apollo and he pulled him close, ignoring Apollo's momentary resistance. It was only for an instant, and then Apollo turned around and pulled Starbuck into the tightest hold he had ever known, so fierce that he could feel every inch of Apollo's lean body tense against him. And then Apollo let him go and stepped backwards.
"The Commander -" he said, then had to stop as his voice failed him. He cleared his throat and struggled on. "This - us - we can't."
He'd sometimes wondered if it would hurt when the Cylons finally got luckier than him and their lasers stopped his heart. No imaginings had ever come close.
"Why?" It burst out of him, both accusation and plea.
And the only answer he got was a succession of hollow, meaningless little phrases that might have come out of Apollo's mouth but which had Adama stamped all over them. Good of the fleet - trust in the squadron - bad for morale, motivation, confidence.
But he wouldn't - couldn't - give up so easily. There was a foolproof system somewhere - he just had to find it.
Apollo paused for a moment in that interminable list, and his flat dead voice wavered. "I tried, Starbuck. I said I'd resign. But there's no one else. I have to stay."
The hurt in Apollo's face made him glad, suddenly, that Apollo could feel just a little of the pain that he was causing.
"Nothing you do now can change that fact, Apollo."
"I have to make sure it wasn't in vain." Apollo's eyes were bright, suspiciously so. " Starbuck, if I give up on our people, if I let them all die, I might as well have stayed with him that day. I could have saved him."
He looked away then, at Starbuck's rude noise of disbelief. He knew as well as Starbuck how they'd been outnumbered.
"At least he wouldn't have been alone," he said, very quietly.
"So you're going to spend the rest of your life making up for the choice you made that day?" Starbuck's voice was urgent, trying to get through to Apollo because he knew he was losing him, that Apollo was slipping away from him.
But Apollo's eyes met his again, and when he saw them, he knew he'd already lost. Apollo had given up hope. He'd accepted that he had no right to his own life, to be anything other than his father's pawn.
Starbuck said nothing. Apollo had made his choice. And those parts of Starbuck that the Destruction of the Colonies had left untouched knew that this was the real Destruction. There was no shining hope left for him to follow. Adama, in holding out that hope to his people, had taken it from Starbuck.
"Well maybe you do have to make up for it," and Starbuck's voice trembled with fury. At least, he thought it was fury, as he stepped forward and shoved at Apollo, forcing him backwards. Away from him. "But I don't."
"I'm sorry, Starbuck."
And the inadequacy of it only fuelled Starbuck's rage. "What, you're sorry that you've deluded yourself that have this bigger responsibility than I can possibly understand? You're sorry you ever fucked me and made me think I meant something to you? Or you're sorry I'm not taking this like an obedient little daggit and making it easy on you?"
The pain in Apollo's face was nowhere near the pain in Starbuck's heart, but it was a start.
"Well frack you, Apollo, and all your high-and-mighty sounding ideals. Just - frack you."
He made it to the door before he faltered. Even through the red mist, he knew that if he walked out now, it was final.
He knew that he could do it for Apollo. He could say something to show that he understood, and that he would shrug off the hurt he'd been dealt. He'd been doing it all his life, after all. Insouciant, that's what they've always said about him. Insouciant Starbuck, who nothing ever touches for long. He can take it or leave it all with a smile and a hand of pyramid.
But not now. Not even for Apollo. Especially not for Apollo, who didn't care enough about him to fight it. All those nameless people, some abstract concept of duty, all of that meant more to him than Starbuck did. When it came right down to it, Apollo was no different from anybody else.
So he turned and walked away.