1. The colony was ash by the time the military reached it, the Cylon raiders long gone. Nothing much was left: one or two houses still standing, leaning drunkenly against their burning neighbours, a field of almost-ripe corn that had somehow escaped destruction, a few (a very few) people wandering dazed in the smoke-wreathed ruins, many of them children. The woman lay at one side of the village street, her back torn open by shrapnel, exposing bone and nerve and meat. She was young and had once been very pretty, ripped apart by machines that valued neither youth nor beauty. The MI sergeant was turning away to give his attention to the living when he heard the thin wail that seemed, impossibly, to come from her. The baby was underneath her, sheltered by her body, drenched in her blood, crying with fright and hunger and cold. Alive.
2. The woman wasn't carrying any ID that might help identify the baby and no-one came forward to claim him. Perhaps there was no-one left to claim him. The family were in-comers, one of the survivors said; new to the Thorn Forest. No-one knew very much about them. No-one was sure who the child was - the doctors thought that he had to be around a yahren-and-a-half old, maybe two yahrens — and the child didn't respond when they asked him his name. It was hard for a child that young to say 'Gabriel' properly anyway, even if he hadn't been shocked into silence.
3. First of all they called him "Starbuck's little miracle", soon shortened for convenience's sake to "Starbuck's", soon shortened even more to just "Starbuck". Sergeant Starbuck of the 9th Mobile Infantry Regiment didn't mind that the boy was gifted with his own name in place of the one the child had lost. He was actually quite flattered. The media made much of this unexpected survival. He kept one holopic showing him with little Starbuck in his arms. The child wore an uncertain, unknowing smile.
4. Little Starbuck had no visible injuries from the raid, but they were there; hidden, invisible, devastating. He regressed. He lost whatever motor skills and speech he'd had before the raid — and at that age, he would have most probably have been running around and beginning to talk, however rudimentary his vocabulary. He reacted to everything as if he were much younger. He didn't seem able to walk. He couldn't (or didn't) talk. He seemed more intent on seeing how many toes he could stick into his mouth at once. He was, said the nurses rather sadly, adorable.
5. The Colonies abandoned the Thorn Forest. Where once farms had been painstakingly carved out of the forest land, where people had dreamed of new lives, independent and self-sufficient and dignified, there was nothing now but graves and ash. The survivors were shipped back to their home planets. Little Starbuck and the other family-less orphans were shipped to Caprica.
6. Little Starbuck was offered for adoption. He was a pretty child: blond and blue-eyed with pink cheeks and affectionate, clinging ways. But prospective parents wanted perfect babies, and there was no shortage of war orphans who were pretty and blue-eyed, who could walk and learn to speak, and who wouldn't need more than ordinary care and attention. So Starbuck stayed in the state's care, first in the Caprica City hospital and then in the orphanage. The carers had little time to devote to individual children. Starbuck, it was noted, glowed and flourished whenever it was his brief turn for attention. That didn't come very often.
7. Starbuck decided that he didn't like being left behind when the rest of the orphanage children his age went to kindergarten. He was about four when he suddenly rediscovered speech and astonished everyone by getting down out of his little chair. It was as if he'd decided to open up a door inside of himself and come out to join the rest of the world. Within a few sectons, he'd reached the norm for his age. It was a proud Starbuck who went to kinder-school with his age-mates. He was one of them, now. He wasn't backward any more.
8. The authorities offered Starbuck for adoption again, with renewed hope. After all, they had a normal child, now, to put forward. But although people came to see him, and each time Starbuck presented himself, trembling and hopeful that this time his family had come for him; each time they said he was cute and adorable, but don't you have any babies for us to see? Each time, Starbuck was sent back to the nursery room to rejoin the other rejects who lived there. Each time, he cried a little. He got used it, in the end and stopped waiting for his family to come. He realised that his family had lost him, long ago.
9. The orphanage designated the bigger boys to care for the younger ones. Starbuck's big friend was Griff. Starbuck followed Griff around everywhere, a little blond shadow trying to keep up on his shorter legs, happy for any notice and attention that Griff bestowed on him. Griff let Starbuck join in the games and play as soon as he was big enough to run and catch. Griff was the closest thing to family that Starbuck had.
10. Starbuck had been too young when the raid happened to have real, coherent memories of it. Instead, his memories came in dreams, disturbing and inchoate, dreams of darkness and flashes of bright white light and voices raised in anger, and a woman screaming. He woke from the dreams whimpering with fear. If he was lucky, Griff would come and make sure he was all right or call the night attendant, but mostly there was no-one to hear him. He never realised what the darkness and voices had taken from him. In time, he stopped dreaming.
11. Tenth-day was always quiet and solemn at the orphanage, marked mostly by a rest from the chores and duties the orphans carried out on ordinary days. They went to Chapel in a long line, two by two, to sit in the front rows, under the priest's unkindly and distrustful eye. Starbuck liked the singing. Sometimes he fell asleep, leaning his head against Griff's arm. Griff let him.
12. Starbuck liked kindergarten and he liked his primary school, when he graduated to it. Starbuck had more than caught up with the norm for his age, he surpassed it. He liked reading and writing and he worked hard to make sure that his teacher noticed him and praised him when he did things right. Starbuck was proud of the little gold stars she put on his best work. He knew that she was proud of him, too.
13. Starbuck's primary school teacher was very pretty and she smiled at him a lot. She wasn't very old, certainly not as old as most of the carers at the orphanage. She was kind to all the children in her class, but Starbuck knew that she liked him best. Starbuck always sat alert and ready at his desk when she came into the classroom each day, pencils sharpened, daggit-eared books just so, face morning-bright and shining, wanting to please her. She smiled at all of them, but he just knew that when it reached him, the smile became special, something just between the two of them. He chorused his good morning greeting to her, pitching his voice just a little below that of his classmates so that both she and he could hear the special greeting that was just for them.
14. Starbuck worried about what she did without him at secton-ends and during the holidays. He bounced back into his classroom every First Day and at the start of every new term, eager to reassure her that he was still there and they were still special. Starbuck was shocked into a second silence when after one such holiday, there was a new teacher, an older teacher, a not-his teacher. His old teacher had gone away to another city to be married, this new not-his teacher said. Wasn't that nice?
15. Starbuck sat mute in his seat, head drooping, feeling sick. He'd thought his teacher, his real teacher, would realise that he was waiting to be found and that he wanted her to do it. But she'd gone away, too. After the first miserable shock was over, Starbuck didn't cry. He decided that he wouldn't because he knew, even then, that it wouldn't make any difference. No matter how good he was, how hard he worked to win approval, he was still lost and always would be.
16. So Starbuck learned stoicism early. And as is often the case with adventurers, chancers and devil-may-care, piratical, swashbuckling heroes, he was taught, most thoroughly, by a woman. He learned his lesson well. He learned all his lessons well, but he no longer looked for gold stars.
17. Starbuck learned his other lessons from Griff - how to play Triad, how to play Pyramid, what those mysterious creatures, girls, wanted from boys. Starbuck loved Triad and was unexpectedly clever at Pyramid. Griff said, thoughtfully, that he expected Starbuck would be good at girls, too, when he was old enough. In the meantime, Griff accepted the lion's share of Starbuck's Pyramid winnings.
18. Starbuck was about twelve when he went to his secondary school. It was a poor school, with too few teachers coping with too many pupils. The school needed a lick of paint, the books were torn, the computers and datapads outdated and old-fashioned. But Starbuck continued to do as well as he could, given the unpromising conditions. The school was impressed with him. The school talked to the orphanage about a scholarship. The orphanage said that there wasn't any money to supplement a scholarship. Orphans didn't need it; they were given enough.
19. And Starbuck was about twelve when Griff got a room of his own, now that Griff was almost old enough to go out into the world. Sometimes Griff made Starbuck stay there at night, rather than in the bigger room with the other younger boys. There were no gold stars. Starbuck got used to it.
20. Starbuck was fourteen (probably) when Griff left and went into the military. Starbuck was one of the older boys by then, responsible for the good behaviour of the younger ones just as Griff had once been responsible for him. Starbuck saw them to school, helped with their homework, taught them how to play Triad and Pyramid. When he escorted them into Chapel each Tenth Day, the little ones leaned up against Starbuck and slept through the long service. Sometimes, Starbuck closed his eyes, too, and forgot what it was to be lost. Sometimes he closed his eyes and wondered where Griff was and what had happened to him.
21. Starbuck was fourteen (-ish) when he discovered that he was charming. He discovered that he could make all of the girls and most of the boys giggle and blush when he smiled. He discovered that he could divert a teacher righteously angry about a missed assignment, or an orphanage supervisor angry about missed chores or an illicit Pyramid game. Being charming worked. So Starbuck spent a lot of time looking into the mirror and practising until he'd perfected the smiles, the sparkle, the brightness about the eyes.
22. And Starbuck was around fourteen when he kissed a girl, properly, for the first time. He enjoyed it. Starbuck liked girls. There were some very pretty girls at school. The boys chased after them because the girls expected them to, and Starbuck was the best at it. He knew exactly what to do and say to make them like him and even though Starbuck was an orphan and penniless, the girls liked to walk with him between classes. The girl who won (temporarily) Starbuck's erratic attention preened for the entire period of possession and cried when he forgot her and moved on.
23. Being fourteen (estimated) was, on the whole, a very good time for Starbuck.
24. Starbuck was fifteen, then, when he was lured (or did the luring? Who can say?) into a quiet part of the park by one of the local sirens and discovered that kissing was just an aperitif. Starbuck enjoyed the main course. Starbuck most definitely liked girls. Often. Starbuck liked boys, too. He didn't play that way with younger boys: he had enough memory of Griff to avoid that. But those his own age or older — well, they were a different proposition. Fair game, and the game was his to play for. Boys were different: stronger, less breakable, more athletic, more furtive. Different. Starbuck liked boys, but he was careful to keep that hidden. Starbuck was around fifteen when he realised he just liked sex.
25. Starbuck discovered that charm would work to advantage in many circumstances, that it could win him more interesting rewards than could mere hard work. And as is often the case with adventurers, chancers and devil-may-care, piratical, swashbuckling heroes, Starbuck used his charm to get the things he needed and wanted. He began to charm his way through life, another lesson learned, another game won.
26. It had been yahrens since Starbuck had looked for gold stars. Now he abandoned hearts, as well.
27. Starbuck had always known that he'd go into the military when he was finished with school. The state that had cared for him since infancy required pay-back from the citizen it had taken such care to create. It was tradition, one that demanded his unquestioning acceptance. Starbuck knew that there was no such thing as choice.
28. Starbuck didn't want to enlist. He had a dim, but realistic, feeling that all the charm in the world wouldn't do much to alleviate being subjected to authorised tyranny. At about sixteen, he looked long and hard at the limited options he had and went and talked, charmingly, to his teachers. A yahren's worth of free extra lessons later, Starbuck took the Academy scholarship. Logically, he didn't have a chance. How could he, with such a minimal education behind him? But somehow, with all the extra tuition, he scraped through.
29. Starbuck was proud of his scholarship. It gave him bread and board and books at the Academy in term-time for his entire four-yahrens there. The orphanage said that there was no money for him for Yule and the summer breaks. Starbuck looked long and hard at the orphanage and the minimal care it had provided him all his life. He concluded that it wouldn't be hard to leave it behind. So Starbuck said he'd manage, that he'd find his own way. Starbuck was proud of his scholarship. It gave him bread and board and books — and a real chance.
30. Starbuck had a game plan, of course. Starbuck expected that he'd be out of his academic and social league to begin with, so the day that he arrived at the Academy, he hid the nervous tension and wore his charm like armour, all guns blazing. He was gratified (and a little surprised, despite his track record) that they all seemed to fall for it, like wheat before a scythe. Somehow Starbuck had expected rich kids with families to be more... oh he didn't know... sophisticated, maybe? But they were as susceptible as anyone else.
31. More so, some of them. It made the second part of the game plan easier: find the one who can help you the most and stick close, become his new best friend. Starbuck assessed them, chose his target well. If you were going to charm, he reasoned, charm to a purpose. The quiet, gauche son of Commander Adama, Commander of the Galactica and member of the Council of the Quorum of the Twelve, was a purpose. Apollo ticked all those influential boxes.
32. Starbuck was a little surprised (but perhaps not gratified, not at first) when he realised, only a few sectons in, that he may have charmed Apollo, but Apollo was captivating him. He couldn't work it out. Oh, he could figure out why he liked Boomer, the third side of the odd little triangular friendship that they struck up over Triad, since the other scholarship cadet in their yahren had much more in common with Starbuck than he had with any of the rich kids. But Apollo? Starbuck shouldn't have thought about him except as someone to be charmed into smoothing Starbuck's way in the military, in life. Instead he found himself thinking of Apollo a lot.
33. Starbuck taught Apollo how to play Pyramid, how to laugh at the dreadful things that life could throw at you (even if what Apollo knew as dreadful never got much worse than handing in an assignment late or getting a slightly disapproving email from his father), even how to relax a little with the ladies. Starbuck taught Apollo that for some people, life was a game to be won or lost according to the turning of a card. These were the lessons that Starbuck had learned himself.
34. But as to what Apollo taught Starbuck - well, sometimes that kept Starbuck awake at night, trying to figure it out. Because Apollo didn't set out to teach Starbuck anything at all, except offering the help Starbuck needed with grammar or study research or expressing himself well in essays on military jurisprudence, where Starbuck's education had been lacking. Apollo looked at Starbuck and just didn't seem to see the adventurer, chancer and devil-may-care, piratical, swashbuckling hero that he should, logically, beware of. Instead he trusted Starbuck, he had an unshakeable belief in Starbuck that Starbuck found troublesome to live up to. And to Starbuck's confusion, he wanted to live up to it. Starbuck found that it was easier to meet Apollo's expectations, than confound them Sometimes, he got a little cross about who, precisely, was manipulating whom.
35. When Apollo's mother met Starbuck, she smiled at them both. It was an odd smile, as if they were made of glass and she could see right into the inside of them. Starbuck liked her. He thought that Apollo was very like her. When Apollo found out that Starbuck was spending his holiday living in a hostel for the homeless and working on construction sites, Starbuck said that Apollo showed how much he'd profited from his (Starbuck's) teaching in wily gamesmanship. It was true. Apollo didn't bother getting into an argument about friendship and loyalty and charity: he merely told his mother and stepped back to watch. Siress Ila did the rest. Starbuck said she kidnapped him.
36. So Starbuck spent his summer with Apollo, instead, that yahren and every yahren. Starbuck had his first experience of a family, that summer. Athena became his little sister too (with Starbuck nobly repressing his normal reaction to the adoration she offered) and even Zac relented, after a few days of dogged jealousy about the attention Starbuck got from Apollo that should rightfully be Zac's. Starbuck blossomed a little in this unusual environment. Apollo seemed pleased about that, self-satisfied, as if he'd achieved something.
37. Starbuck was bewildered on their Graduation Day. He should have been delighted: that careful assessment four yahrens earlier meant that he'd made the most advantageous friendship. It couldn't be coincidence that he and Boomer were offered postings on the ship commanded by Apollo's father. But Apollo had refused to serve there. Apollo was going to the Columbia. Starbuck didn't quite know how to deal with that. It hadn't been in his game plan, to have Apollo go some place without him, and it was too late to change ships. He didn't like the thought Apollo going somewhere without him.
38. Starbuck missed Apollo like he'd miss his right arm. Boomer missed Apollo too, but Boomer was always the sensible one. What can't be cured, must be endured: that had to be Boomer's philosophical motto. It wasn't Starbuck's. They wrote to Apollo every secton, Starbuck scouring his replies for hints that Apollo had found other friends, more important friends. Little things reassured him. He sent Apollo a cubit once, Apollo's share of the profits from a less than successful Pyramid system. Apollo wrote back that he'd had it pierced to wear with his daggit-tags, for luck. Starbuck laughed at that, content that Apollo still didn't see the adventurer, chancer and devil-may-care, piratical, swashbuckling hero. Apollo just saw the friend who sent him lucky charms.
39. Starbuck waited on the flightdeck for centars, the day that Apollo — Captain Apollo — was posted to the Galactica, waiting eagerly for Apollo to arrive. Yet when Apollo came down the shuttle ramp, Starbuck was taken with a sudden reluctance, an inability to move that Boomer took advantage of, grabbing Apollo in a huge bear-hug while Starbuck watched, uncertain. It was shyness, Starbuck realised, and when he finally recovered enough equanimity to shoulder Boomer aside and hug Apollo, his heart gave the most alarming thump. He understood why.
40. Starbuck thought that it was odd, being under Apollo's command. He teased Apollo, of course he did; and he frankly acknowledged that he was anything but a joy to command. But he had one advantage over everyone else on the ship. Anyone could have been Apollo's wingman, and made a good job of it, but Starbuck elevated it to an art form. It was his job to tease Apollo, to lighten up that too-responsible nature, to make Apollo laugh, to keep Apollo safe. It was more than his job. It was meaningful. Starbuck wondered if he was getting as depressingly philosophical as Boomer. On the whole, though, Starbuck thought not. Every time he felt a bout of philosophy coming on, he got Apollo to finance a new Pyramid system. That usually cured him.
41. Starbuck held off for a little while when Athena joined the Galactica. Her adoration hadn't changed. He just wanted to be friends, really, but she was the closest he would ever get to Apollo, and Starbuck was never good at resisting temptation. Starbuck was sorry when it put a strain on his friendship with Apollo. Apollo was angry with him, suspicious about his intentions towards Athena. Starbuck didn't have any intentions. Starbuck felt trapped — unable to stay, unable to get away. For a while, until Apollo got used to the idea, Starbuck got a heavy feeling in his chest whenever he saw Apollo and the way that Apollo's lips thinned down with displeasure.
42. Starbuck was pleased when Zac joined them two yahrens after Athena. Zac's tenure was short. After the battle, when Starbuck had got his damaged Viper back to the Galactica and had had time to realise the magnitude of their losses that day — not absorb it, just realise it — he'd hidden himself away in the turboflushes on Beta deck, away from Apollo. Starbuck could give silent thanks there that Apollo was alive. Starbuck could hide there, because it was his fault Zac was dead, his fault that he'd connived at the little scam to give Zac his first (and last) real patrol. Starbuck didn't want to face Apollo. Starbuck didn't think that Apollo could ever forgive him. Apollo found him within the centar. Starbuck tried to apologise, stammering — but Apollo held onto him and cried, and said that Starbuck could feel guilty about Zac if he liked, but Apollo felt guilty that he was grateful, so grateful, that it hadn't been Starbuck. Starbuck later came to the conclusion that his (Starbuck's) wits had been unusually addled by the day's events. He was reading too much into what Apollo had said. Far too much.
43. Starbuck realised that Apollo didn't really stand a chance against Serina. Everyone was clutching and grabbing - Starbuck too. He was appalled to find himself asking Athena to marry him. He was never so grateful for anything as when she turned him down. Apollo forgave him that, too, when he heard. But Serina — how could Starbuck compete with Serina? She offered what Starbuck never could: a family. She offered Boxey. Starbuck knew his Apollo. He knew that Apollo thought that redemption for Zac was somehow manifesting itself in Boxey. Starbuck couldn't compete with that. He comforted himself with Cassie. He thought that he and the socialator had a lot in common. They were both lost. Redemption, thought Starbuck, is not for everyone.
44. Starbuck tried to be sorry when Serina was killed on Kobol. He was sorry for Apollo and for Boxey, who was a nice kid and who liked his Uncle Starbuck far better than his dead mother had. But although Starbuck tried to be sorry about Serina, his memory of Kobol wasn't the sad, tragic memory of her death. It was a memory of laughter and saying that it was against regulations to hug a junior officer unless Apollo meant it, and Apollo hugging him anyway, softly saying Starbuck's name in his ear. Fright, anxiety about his capture, anxiety about Baltar's real intentions, shock at Serina's death; all these faded beside that one great truth — Apollo meant it. That was a memory to cling to while he sorted the cards and considered his move.
45. Cain came back, and Cain left again. Starbuck didn't quite know what to make of that great adventurer. Starbuck knew what Apollo made of Cain, that Apollo didn't approve, and Starbuck was thoughtful about that, taking from it what lesson he could. More proof that Apollo didn't like adventurers, he supposed. Starbuck wasn't so sure about Apollo's views on adventurers' daughters. Starbuck watched from the sidelines as Sheba made her game-play and saw the way Commander Adama smiled in approval. In consequence, Starbuck forbore to make his own opening bid. He put his cards aside, unplayed.
46. Starbuck was blindsided by Chameleon. Much later, he was able to see how well that consummate adventurer and chancer had run the scam, and very much later, he was able even to admire it. When it was all over, Starbuck knew deep in his heart that Chameleon was indeed his father, but he'd managed almost thirty yahrens (approximately) without a family. If Starbuck couldn't get the one he wanted, he wasn't prepared to accept just any substitute because it happened to come along. Starbuck was able, after a little while, to accept the incident with a shrug and a bland smile. Starbuck knew that Apollo watched him carefully, was there whenever Starbuck needed to talk. Starbuck told himself he wasn't fussed about talking about Chameleon, but any excuse to spend time with Apollo was to be treasured. Especially if it got Apollo away from Sheba. Starbuck found himself especially treasuring the thwarted expression on Sheba's face.
47. Starbuck knew that Apollo didn't remember being dead on the Ship of Lights. Starbuck remembered it. For sectons afterwards he woke in the night, shaking and sweating with fear and loss and devastation. Cassie offered uncomprehending comfort, but Starbuck slowly drew away from her. She wasn't enough. Starbuck found himself often needing to touch Apollo - a hand on Apollo's shoulder, a hard grip on Apollo's arm, feeling for the reality of bone and muscle and sinew. Starbuck never told Apollo that he'd offered to take Apollo's place. He had never burdened Apollo with anything he didn't think Apollo was ready to shoulder. He didn't think that Apollo was ready to shoulder that.
48. Starbuck really didn't like Apollo going places without him, even when it meant going onto a Cylon baseship. After all, it was his job to be Apollo's wingman, to tease Apollo, to lighten up that too-responsible nature, to make Apollo laugh, to keep Apollo safe. Safe, dammit. He'd failed on the red planet when Iblis cut Apollo down; Starbuck would be eternally damned if he failed on the baseship too. Nor did he. Starbuck got them back. And Starbuck knew where to find Apollo when they got back, when Apollo ran away from the medals ceremony. Starbuck found himself saying that Iblis killing Apollo like that had made him think about himself, about his life, about Apollo. Apollo had looked back at him, quizzical, questioning. That's when the cards fell from Lady Luck's pretty hands, and Starbuck seized his chance.
49. That's when Starbuck tossed his game plan out of the airlock. That's when he kissed Apollo. That's when Apollo sighed and got his hands behind Starbuck's head and pulled him in closer. That's when Starbuck realised that Apollo was kissing him back — was... kissing... him... back! That's when Starbuck pulled Apollo down to the floor, half-laughing, half-tearful because Apollo was saying that he loved Starbuck, that this was what Apollo had been waiting for so long, and oh God, yes, Star, please.... That's when Apollo opened up to Starbuck and took him in, Starbuck gasping as he thrust and kissed and loved. That's when Starbuck stopped being something separate and alone, and became, for the first time, joined and complete.
50. That's when Starbuck learned that Apollo had always seen the adventurer, chancer and devil-may-care, piratical, swashbuckling hero and had always loved him. And that's when Starbuck learned Apollo had also always seen the lost, mute child and, being Apollo, had given the child a home.