Painted Full Of Tongues
Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues
Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2
"Do you know anything about Starbuck's latest squeeze?"
"Latest squeeze?" repeated Apollo.
"Dunno why I'm asking you, since you never like to gossip." Boomer took a long pull at his mug of ale, sighed in satisfaction, and wiped the froth from his top lip with back of his hand. "Surely you've noticed? Heard the gossip? Seen the difference in the way Starbuck's behaving?"
"Starbuck seems pretty much the same, to me," said Apollo. He sipped at his ale in what Starbuck, had he been there, would have described as a nice, lady-like way. "What's the latest, then?"
"Word is that he's off the market. I mean, really off the market, tied up with someone so special that he's not available. Have you ever heard that one before?"
"Bloody unnatural, if you ask me. But it seems to be true. The girls have all given up trying to catch Starbuck's eye and he's given up flirting. It's like the universe shifted half a parsec on its axis. You must have heard about it!"
"You must go around half-comatose," muttered Boomer. "Anyhow, Starbuck is definitely hooked by someone and the ladies are settling for us lesser mortals. Even no-hopers like Giles are getting some action."
Apollo raised an eyebrow at this rather unkind aspersion cast on the admittedly gauche and retiring Flight Sergeant. He didn't have to say anything.
"You know what I mean. Giles would be the first one to tell you he's shy, only he'd stutter so badly through the confession that you wouldn't work out more than one word in three. That boy goes scarlet with embarrassment saying good morning to his best friends. He nearly dies when he has to speak to a girl. And have you seen how they treat him? They barely know he's there, most of the time. But Giles—" Boomer paused for effect and said, impressively, "Apollo, Giles is seeing Bree."
"Bree?" Apollo glanced over to a neighbouring table where half a dozen of his female pilots were obviously having a girls night out. Bree was among them: pretty and vivacious, delicate and tiny, and not looking at all as though she had the best kill-rate against the Cylons in the whole of Red Squadron. She was a looker, was Bree, and in demand. He couldn't imagine her and Giles. But it was quite possible that Boomer's theory about the ladies' chagrin over Starbuck was accurate: they all looked morose.
"She's quite something, is our Bree. And she's going out with Giles. Astonishing."
"You're a malicious old gossip," said Apollo, grinning. "Giles may be shy but he's one of the good guys."
"Yeah, yeah. I know that. I wasn't getting at Giles. The point I'm trying to make here is that the rest of us have a chance at last. Starbuck's not putting himself about anymore and the ladies are pining for some action." Boomer finished off his ale. "I'm taking Sheba to dinner," he said, giving Apollo an oddly tentative look.
"Good for you," said Apollo, indifferent. "You might want to watch Bojay, though. He's got plans in that direction."
"But you don't?"
"No. I don't."
"Okay. I don't mind crossing Bojay, but it would've been a dirty trick if you'd been interested." Boomer blew out a little noisy breath and finally, thought Apollo, got to the crux of what he wanted. "I was hoping that you'd noticed what was going on."
"I don't do gossip, much," admitted Apollo, like it was a personal moral failing.
"I thought you might tell me who it is."
Apollo finished off his beer, regarding Boomer thoughtfully over the top of his mug. "Tell you who it is?"
"He usually tells you everything," insinuated Boomer.
Apollo let his mouth twitch, the closest he'd come to smiling. "Does he? There's a bet on, isn't there? How much have you wagered?"
"Of course there's a bet on. And a secton's pay." Boomer looked briefly apologetic. "I thought it might be Athena?"
"She's seeing Grant."
"And Cassie's been stepping out with Omega, did you know?"
"That's another juicy rumour that got by me. Do people not tell me things because I'm the captain?"
"No. People don't tell you things because you're an innocent." Boomer signalled to the steward to bring more alcohol. "Damn, I was hoping you'd give me a bit of an edge."
"Sorry. You'll have to work it out on our own. No, I won't have any more, thanks. I'm doing the dutiful son bit with the Commander tonight and I'll need all my wits about me. See you tomorrow."
Boomer grunted and waved a hand in farewell.
Sheba joined him in the turbolift. He smiled at her.
"Little bird tells me you have a date," he said.
Sheba rolled her eyes. "This ship is a hotbed of gossip!"
"Funny that. I almost never hear it."
"You must be deaf, then. I tell you, Apollo, I could be out there in my Viper in the cold of space, on my own and no-one to see me, no comms and no-one to hear me. and sneeze. I guarantee that when I land, sixteen people will ask me how my cold is before I get more than three feet towards the decon chambers." She huffed a bit. "It's impossible to be private anywhere on this ship."
"I don't have a problem." Apollo thought about it. "I think. I hope not, anyway."
The doors whooshed open on the level where Sheba had her quarters. She stood blocking them so they wouldn't close. "You're you," she said. "You probably just don't notice. Who told you about my date, then?"
She laughed. "I suppose he's allowed. Hey, listen, do you know who Starbuck's seeing? That's the real juicy bit of gossip at the moment."
"Boomer asked me that, too. His excuse was he has a bet going on it. What's yours?"
"I'm just nosy," said Sheba. She tried her most winning smile and poked Apollo familiarly in the ribs. "Go on. You can tell me."
He shrugged. "I don't know what I can tell you, Sheba."
"See?" she said, derisively. "You just don't notice things."
"And I'm deaf and, according to Boomer, comatose." He glanced up as the door alarm gave a peevish little toot and a light flashed. "Someone's called the lift. Better go. Have a nice time."
"I will. Find out and tell me, okay?"
He grinned and let the doors close.
Athena was at the regular supper with their father, of course; and equally of course, was totally unsubtle about the quest for information. She was even more unsubtle than Sheba and Boomer and that, thought Apollo, was saying something. Valuing his life, he didn't say it aloud.
"I know that you know," she said, when their father was off to one side talking to Colonel Tigh about something that interested neither of his children (and probably didn't interest the Colonel either). "He tells you everything, so don't think you can put me off with your usual tactics."
"What usual tactics?"
"You look vague and say you never listen to gossip. You always, but always, avoid a direct answer. You answer with a question or a shrug or something that sounds like an answer but isn't really. It's really rather clever of you because most people go away thinking that you don't know anything and that you're too pure for gossiping. Well, you don't fool me."
"I don't know what you're talking about," protested Apollo. "No-one ever tells me the good bits. I'm always the last to know."
"Nonsense. Your best tactic is pretending that you're incredibly good at being dense about people, Apollo, but both you and I know that most of it is a sham." She paused. "Well, maybe not a complete sham because sometimes you are just dense—"
"—but not where Starbuck's concerned. You're never dense there. But you do cover for him."
She glared, and Apollo hoped he looked suitably contrite for running interference for Starbuck when Cassiopeia was in the frame. Anyway, how could he explain to his little sister why he did it? He didn't think she'd believe him if he said that he was trying to protect her, but really, he'd just wanted her eyes opened. It had been in her own best interests.
"No, I don't," he said, feebly.
"Yes, you do. So, you will tell me, right now, who that little snake is seeing. He always tells you what he's up to, I know he does. Spill it, big brother. Who is she? Who's the new woman in Starbuck's life?"
"How do you know there's a new woman?"
"You're just using the tactic of answering with another question and hoping I'll get diverted, I don't do diverted. I want to know who she is."
Apollo nodded. "Okay. You cornered me. But Athena, I know nothing whatsoever about any new woman in Starbuck's life. I swear it. On my honour as a warrior."
She stared at him, eyes narrowing, channelling their father in one of Adama's more moralistic, you-won't-wish-to-deceive-me moods. He stared back and made a helpless little shrugging motion. Athena drew in a deep breath and blew it out again noisily. "Oh," she said, disappointed.
"Yeah," said Apollo, and he was never so delighted in his life when their father, realising his children had been left to their own devices too long, pulled them back into the conversation and demanded their opinion on some obscure point of Kobolian doctrine. He was, for a centon or two, quite indulgently fond of the old man.
For a centon or two, anyway.
"So," said Colonel Tigh, as he stood up to leave. "What's this I hear about Lieutenant Starbuck?"
"Have you heard something about Lieutenant Starbuck, sir?" said Apollo, and was conscious of his little sister in the background, making derisive and uncomplimentary faces at him.
"Oh," said Tigh, clearly disappointed. "I'd hoped you'd know."
Apollo smiled and shrugged.
Athena rolled her eyes.
"I heard one or two bits of news about you today," said Apollo. "Tell me, do you have any wagers running at the moment?"
"Just the one. Why?"
"About who it is you're seeing?"
Starbuck looked wounded. "Why would you think I'd be controlling the betting on something like that? I mean, how insensitive do you think I am?"
Apollo merely looked at him, cocked an eyebrow, and considered that he'd learned the art of evasion from a master. Equally, he was better than his little sister at channelling his moralistic father; he'd had more practice.
Starbuck grimaced. "I'm not doing it directly, of course, because no-one would bite then. Sergeant Pershing's running the betting for me and we operate through a lot of cut-outs and intermediaries to make sure no-one knows that I'm in on it with Pershing. I get sixty percent… we get sixty percent."
"Thought so," said Apollo. "I've had half a dozen people corner me today wanting to know who the new woman is in your life."
"Did you throw out any hints?" asked Starbuck, intensely interested.
"No. Did you want me to?"
"Nah. It's probably better to keep 'em guessing. It'll push the odds up."
"As long as you have a good and romantic reason," said Apollo, dryly. "Don't worry, Starbuck, I kept your little secret, at the trifling cost of deceiving Boomer, Sheba, my sister and Colonel Tigh—Dad acted all disinterested, by the way, but I have my doubts about how sincere he was in that. They'd all heard that you were, and I quote, off the market, giving up flirting, and unavailable because you'd been snaffled by someone special."
"Well, for once rumour is telling the exact truth. Cool."
"Really?" asked Apollo.
"Really. Well, I guess I owe you for keeping my secrets safe and allowing me to make a killing on the betting. How can I ever repay you?"
Apollo smiled. He rolled over onto his back, and Starbuck followed him, keeping his long lean body pressed up close.
"Well," he said. "Why don't we start with a blow-job and see where we go to from there? After all, if you're seeing someone special, it only makes sense to prove it to me. Otherwise I'll think it's all idle gossip."