After a centare on the range Giles was ready to go back to the Wing area. Nobody had called him; maybe Bojay figured he was still waiting in the colonel's office. He supposed he should let the squadron leader know what the colonel had said.
He knocked on the squadron leaders' office. "Lieutenant Bojay?"
Boomer was there, as he generally was; he was Blue's exec, but he took a lot of the daily load off Apollo's shoulders. Bojay glanced at him, then stood up. "Walk with me, sergeant," he said.
Boomer said, "I can take a hike," with a questioning intonation.
Bojay offered him his half-smile. "If you don't mind," he said. "Thanks."
"Not a problem," the dark man said, giving Giles an unreadable look before saving his file.
And maybe they shouldn't have any secrets, but it was Bojay Giles was thinking of, so he just waited in front of his squadron leader's desk until Boomer left.
Bojay glanced down at his desk and then back up. "Why don't you have a seat, sergeant? We have a few things to discuss, I think."
"Yes, sir, thank you." Giles pulled one of the spare chairs up and sat down. "Did the colonel call you, then?"
"Yes, he did... First, I see the captain's put you on extra NCOD this secton. I've spoken to him; you'll pull it tomorrow and then next secton, Firstday: we've got a long patrol scheduled on sixthday and you'll need to sleep the night before."
"Yes, sir." He'd forgotten that patrol himself.
"Right. Since the captain's dealt with it, there's nothing for me to say. So. Colonel Tigh said he'd refused your transfer request. So you'll be staying in Green Squadron?"
Giles nodded again.
"I'm sorry about that, but not very," Bojay said. "I'd rather not have to replace you, especially since Lieutenant Deianara just told me yesterday that she's pregnant." He rubbed his jaw. "That means no flying Vipers for seven sectares; she's being detailed to shuttles for the near future."
Deianara was Bojay's wingmate: an ex-Pegasan like him, the only other in the squadron, and not Sealed. Giles was immediately enormously curious who the father was. Someone from Silver Spar? Or had she succumbed to the charms of someone from Green or Blue? He hadn't seen any signs of that happening. Maybe it wasn't a pilot... Maybe she'd gotten Bojay to forget about Sheba, probably when the anniversary of Molecay had rolled around a couple of sectares ago... But probably not; that look on his face was exasperation, not responsibility.
"However," Bojay was continuing, "ill winds and so on... If you wanted out of the squadron I assume you aren't irretrievably attached to Flight Officer Cree."
That was a safe assumption. Cree was better than Galactica Military Academy Class of This Yahren; at least he'd actually put in most of a whole academy tour, having been on his senior yahren field rotation on the Columbia at Cimtar. But he wasn't one of Giles's favorite people, if only because he hadn't been around long enough to learn that an academy education only made him an educated man, not a superior being. He wouldn't mind losing Cree, and it wouldn't matter much who he got. "No, sir," he said.
"Good. The captain hasn't decided who he's giving us, but I spent most of this morning going over the roster and, well, I'd like to have you on my wing."
Not Cree? Giles blinked. Then he realized that Bojay was probably as uncomfortable with most of the Galacticans as they were with him. His background, his detachment, his ill-concealed anger, his way of using the rules to hold people at a distance succeeded in isolating him from the rest of the squadron. And that isolation was one of the reasons Giles got along with him. In no sense of the word were they friends, but Giles had no problem flying his wing. And there was a selfish element in the mix: he was the best pilot in Green, too. "That would be fine with me, sir," he said.
"Excellent. I should probably give you to one of the new pilots, but RHIP after all." Bojay's voice was creamily satisfied.
Giles didn't even want to know what wheels in wheels were involved in his squadron leader's mind. That there was at least one ulterior motive here he had no doubt, but what went on among the senior officers on the ship wasn't his problem, and he didn't intend to let it become his. Instead, he'd just interpret that as purely a compliment to his abilities. "Thank you, sir."
"All right then." Bojay picked up a notepad from the desk and tossed it at Giles. "Here. Take the rest of the day and verify this inventory."
Giles caught the pad and stood up. "Yes, sir," he said, glancing at it. Ordnance. Nice and quiet.
Boomer was waiting in the hallway. "I don't see any scorch marks," he said.
Giles shrugged; his lover hated Bojay. "He made me his new wingman."
"Why, thanks." Giles grinned.
"I don't mean" Boomer broke off and shook his head. "You know what I mean."
"Yes. Wing politics. Just don't expect me to turn him down because of it."
"I don't. If I had to be in Green..." He shook his head again. "Are we good for tonight?"
Giles smiled. "We are. I've got to go do inventory in the ordnance bays, but I'll be done by shift change, no worries."
"Good. I was thinking about room service."
"You are gonna go broke."
"I don't want to stay here till the EM Mess starts serving dinner," Boomer said. "We eat on the Star we can have three more centares."
"I'm not saying no," Giles grinned, "just making an observation. I'll meet you in the shuttle bay, then, for the 2:40?"
Giles finished up the inventory as quickly as he could and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the ordnance lockers convincing himself that he hadn't really wanted the transfer after all. If nothing else, this way he wouldn't have to sit by while Boomer went into combat. And they were on the same duty schedule.
It almost worked.
At twenty till two he headed back to the Wing and dropped the inventory off in the squadron leaders' office and slid out five centons early. Back in the barracks he stripped out of his uniform and pulled out the mahogany and jade outfit Boomer liked so much, the one he'd been wearing the night Boomer had first made a move on him. They were probably going to argue some tonight, but he didn't want their ranks getting in the way.
Boomer got there just as the shuttle began taking on passengers. He was still in uniform and breathing hard. He leaned up against Giles at the back of the line and gasped, "Man, I thought I wasn't going to make it."
"Apollo is going to have to get used to you having a private life," Giles said, half teasingly and half not.
"Maybe we should think about the 2:80 from now on."
"Probably," he acknowledged. After all, Apollo couldn't get used to what he didn't know about, and Boomer couldn't tell him he was infringing regulations by sleeping with a non-com and wouldn't push it in case Apollo started asking questions.
They boarded and Boomer collapsed into the seat at the back of the shuttle. Giles sat next to him and grinned. "You're getting out of shape."
Boomer snickered. "Dressed like that," he said, "you don't need luck." Someone sat in the seat in front of them and he stopped talking. But after a few centons he leaned over and said, "We're still going to talk."
Giles gave him a sideways glance through his lashes.
"Just maybe not so long," Boomer added softly, slipping his hand over Giles's on his thigh.
They rode the rest of the way in silence, holding hands. It was something new. Giles liked it.
On the Star they made their way to the room ("our room" Boomer had said) without running into anyone they knew. Inside, Giles remarked on that. "Coming over this early has more than one thing going for it," he added.
Boomer nodded; he was taking off his blaster. "I thought I'd never get away from Starbuck yesterday," he said.
Giles grinned. Starbuck wasn't his kind of officer but somehow that didn't matter much in his case. He liked the man, liked him a lot. He'd been glad to see Starbuck was going to be his OD tomorrow. "He must be running short on cash."
"I thought so."
Boomer threw his jacket onto the table and said, "Well, we both know you're weird. And speaking of that, what the hell happened last night?"
Giles shrugged. "Nothing much. There was some kind of frack-up in the shuttle bay here, we left behind schedule so I was late. And then Brie starts to give me that, 'you really ought to leave earlier'" he pitched his voice higher, imitating Brie's. "So I told her I'd rather be on report than listen to her, and she obliged."
"Just like that?"
He shrugged again. "More or less. I was already pissed off."
"I could tell."
Giles leaned against the wall, looking up at Boomer out of lowered eyes. "It's no big deal."
Boomer's jaw clenched. Giles remembered Yaroslav asking him, often, if he knew how much his attitude made people want to smack him. He waited to see what was going to happen next, feeling his shoulders tense.
Then Boomer heaved a mighty sigh. When he spoke, his voice was soft. "Gi, for God's sake, don't be mad at me."
He straightened. "I'm not," he protested, and he wanted it to be true.
"I wonder," Boomer said.
"I'm not, Boom," he insisted. "Not at you."
"But you're angry."
"But not at you." That was the important thing.
Boomer blew out a breath. "Gi, please, you've got to learn to control that. It's going to get you into major trouble some day. And it can't be making you happy."
"I can handle it."
"Like last night?" Before Giles could answer he went on. "When you get there just say, 'Yes, ma'am, I'm sorry.' Listen to her fracking lecture." He took a step and touched Giles's shoulder. "Don't ask to be put on report."
He wanted to say he would, but he couldn't. "Two extra NCODs? I could pull that in my sleep."
"Better not." Boomer half-smiled, then sobered. "You can't keep pulling stunts like this. Apollo can't ignore it forever. You'll end up in trouble."
"Trouble is my home town," he said flippantly.
"I can take care of myself."
"I know that." He took gentle hold of both of Giles's shoulders. "But I wish you knew you don't have to. I'm here. Remember me? The one who loves you? I want to help."
"I don't need any help," he said. Boomer's eyes darkened slightly, and Giles caught hold of his wrists. "I do need you."
"Oh, gods. I need that to be true," Boomer said huskily.
He seemed to have said that right; Boomer leaned in and kissed him. Like all Boomer's first kisses it started gentle but this one got hungry in a hurry. Giles let go of his lover's wrists, wanting arms around him. They clung to each other, kissing, and then Boomer pulled away enough to start unbuttoning Giles's shirt, his mouth following his fingers from throat to chest. When he began suckling at a nipple, Giles moaned, his fingers clenching in Boomer's sleeves, feeling the Galactica's patch hard against them. His cock was throbbing already; Boomer's first kiss had been enough this time, proof he hadn't driven him away. He pushed forward but their height difference meant their bodies weren't close enough and he moaned again. "Boom, please"
Boomer's hand left his hair and stroked his cock through his trousers, giving him something to push against. Then it was gone again, but before he could complain he felt both of his lover's hands on his waist, undoing his trousers, pulling them down and out of the way. And then Boomer went down on his knees, his hands tightening on Giles's hips. Giles's hands caught at his head, that thick, springy, soft hair. Boomer sighed against his belly and began teasing him with little kisses and licks along the length of his cock. Giles fisted his right hand and hit the wall a couple of times in frustration.
Boomer chuckled. "Now?"
"Gods, yes, now!"
And then Boomer took his cock into his mouth and began working him, a hard, fast rhythm, the way he liked it... He clenched his fingers on those strong shoulders and stopped thinking entirely, giving in to the sensation and letting it take away reality and replace it, just for now, with a fantasy like nothing he'd ever known until this, like every time with Boomer. When he came, his head thrown back in the almost-agony of climax, he couldn't tell if he was drowning in flame, blood, or moonlight.
He came back to reality with reluctance, taking deep breaths and feeling his hands empty. He opened his eyes to see Boomer unbuckling his boots, his tunic already off. He wouldn't have minded being taken where he stood, but afterwards, he knew, he'd see that inexplicable regret in Boomer's dark eyes. So he kicked off his own shoes and shook his trousers off his ankles. Then he took the two steps between them and slid his hands under Boomer's. The dark man raised his head and Giles lifted his face for a kiss. Boomer buried his hands in Giles's hairhe loved both of those, could spend long centons kissing and stroking that thick, straight, russet mane so unlike his own, wondering what a summer sun would do to it. Giles held him close, wishing the words his lover wanted to hear would come more easily, would come at all. But even through the pressure suit he could feel Boomer's readiness, and his own need blended with the dark man's until he couldn't bear to wait another centon.
Drawing away a little he began stripping the pressure suit off, kissing the strong muscular body he was revealing centimetron by centimetron. When he'd finished he pulled Boomer's hand and fell onto the bed, Boomer on top. "In me," he said softly. "Please, Boomer"
"Whatever you want, you know that," Boomer kissed the words off his lips. Then he found the lube he'd left in the drawer of the bedside table.
When the first finger entered him it was always a moment's struggle, his mind having to remind his body who it was, Boomer, and then he could relax, push into the feeling, wanting to be wanted so much. It was something he held close in his memory in the darkness of nights alone, this moment, when Boomer entered him and their hands were clasped tight and his knees were against Boomer's arms and those dark eyes, glazed with desire, were looking down on him...
And afterwards, when Boomer rolled over on his back and pulled Giles up against him, holding him close, stroking him and murmuring, Giles sighed, feeling, despite the warmth and the tangible love, somehow sad. Words drifted into his mind: nothing touches you. You're still that feral little beast I brought in off the street. Self-contained, feeling nothing but anger and fear... And you won't even understand why I wish that you could cry.
"I would," he said.
"Would what?" Boomer asked, puzzled by the vehemence.
"I would cry for you."
He felt Boomer raise his head. "That's nice," he said after a moment. "I'm glad to know it. But I don't plan to make you."
"I know," he kissed the dark chest under his cheek. "I know you don't."
"Gods," Boomer said, relaxing under his weight. "You're such a strange man. And I love you so much."
"I know," he said again and closed his eyes. "I know."
Giles got his drink and turned to look around the bar. The O Club wasn't really big enough for dancing, especially since they'd closed the infantry's EM/NCO Club and handled the overcrowding in the others by telling Starfighter NCO pilots to come here. Another little instance of the double standards: he'd rather be treated like a glorified private than keep hitting those glass walls of oh, wait, you're not an officer really... He shook his head. This was a party, frackit, free drinks and all you could eat. Try to stay in a party mood, Giles, okay?
He returned to his previous thoughtthe O Club wasn't really big enough for dancing. Although they'd taken up two-thirds of the tables to clear space, there was only room enough for two dozen or so couples to sway to the music, holding each other and moving hardly any distance at all. Of course, it looked like most of them liked the excuse. Those who wanted to really dance, as opposed to engage in fairly public displays of what could be called affection only by stretching the term, weren't much in evidence.
If this had been an NCO Club, people would have been yelling, "Get a room!" Giles snickered; if this had been the Daggets' NCO Club, people would have been clearing off the bar for a couple of those clinging pairs. Amazing how hets thought the worlds loved looking at them.
Not the captain, of course. He and his new fiancée were dancing together as decorously as they could under the circumstances. His idea, not hers: the look in her dark eyes as well as the way she held his shoulders said she'd staked a claim that she dared anyone to try and jump. He was publicly claimed, all right. Still, you could see what she saw in him...
If not the other way around.
Giles finished his drink and turned to get a refill. Starbuck was down the bar from him, also drinking. That surprised Giles a bit, he'd have thought the blond lieutenant would have been taking full advantage of the licensethough, come to think of it, Starbuck really wasn't much for PDA with any of his girlfriends. Nor, he supposed, would the captain's sister be much more inclined, and wasn't that who Starbuck was going with these days? Was she even here? It was her brother's party, after all. If she was, she wasn't with Starbuck.
The blond was watching somebody, though, watching covertly and... What was that expression, more in the body than the face? Giles wasn't sure. With the ease of long practice at following lines-of-sight he turned to see who Starbuck's attention was on, and was startled. Serina? Surely not Apollo... though, Giles conceded to himself, he wouldn't have had to want Apollo to realize that their friendship was changing radically. Maybe even ending, given Serina's possessive displays.
He realized he was looking at Starbuck again. He shook his head and gestured at the barkeeper. He liked Starbuck, but he didn't like him. Didn't, what was that Tauran term, fancy him. Which was odd, when he came to think of it, because the lieutenant was definitely fanciable. It wasn't his rank, either; a felix could look at a councilor and Giles could look at anybody... Hades, he'd just been looking at the captain. But ever since he'd transferred to the Galactica after flight training school, he'd had this feeling he couldn't pin down, this impression that he'd met Starbuck before, though he knew he hadn't. And half the time he wanted to avoid the man for no discernable reason.
The other half he wanted to follow him around like... He shook his head. There was no reason for that either.
He picked up his drink. All things considered, maybe he should go someplace else. Though as crowded as the O Club was, there might not be anyplace else to go. He looked around. A table in the corner was surrounded by other enlisted pilots; Greenbean's high-altitude tow-head was easily spotted. That would work.
Halfway around the periphery of the dancing floor he heard, "Looking for a chair?"
He turned. Lieutenant Boomer, alone at a table for two. That wasn't as surprising as Starbuck's being alone; when Boomer wasn't with Starbuck, or Apollo, he generally was alone. It was a bit surprising that he wasn't at the bar keeping the blond company, or holding this chair for him, but maybe Starbuck was in one of his moods. Or waiting for a woman. Or Boomer was... though why he'd be offering the chair to Giles if he was.
He should answer, he realized. He didn't usually socialize with officers, but there was something in Boomer's tone that sounded sincere. "Yeah, I am," he said.
"Got one here," Boomer said, "though it has to stay here."
Giles grinned and sat down. In keeping with his earlier thoughts he checked the lieutenant out as he did and found himself wondering why he'd never noticed him before. Must be the company he keeps, he thought. Next to Apollo's green-eyed, brooding good looks and Starbuck's spectacular beauty anybody else would sort of fade. But here and now, on his own and dressed in a peacock-blue jacket over a silvery shirt, he was definitely worth noticing.
"Nice party, huh?" Boomer asked.
Giles shrugged. "Free ambrosa has a way of upgrading most experiences."
Boomer laughed, throwing his head back. Giles appreciated the line of his throat, generally covered by the high-necked uniform. Then, as the laughter died, he found his eyes meeting the lieutenant's. He barely had time to wonder why he wasn't being more careful before he realized that Boomer was checking him out just as he was doing. Well, and who knew? he thought, leaning back a little. I must have noticed something.
He'd never had it off with an officer before, but then again, he'd never been allowed to relax in an O Club with them, get drunk on more or less equal terms with them, either. And that was saying nothing about card games after shift, taking their money, well, some of them anyway. This casual, deceptive informality ran counter to everything he'd ever learned about the military, especially in the 23d, but then again the Galactica's Strike Wing had been very different from the infantry even before the Destruction. He wondered what the etiquette was, whether it was even smart. Some people took sex way too seriously; breaking up with an officer like that could be problematic. You could find yourself in deep trouble.
Of course, trouble was where he flourished.
He adjusted the dark green cuff of his shirt over his chrono, looking up at Boomer through his lashes, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
He wasn't ready for it.
Boomer asked him to dinner.
Officer style, he supposed, and said yes. And dinner was what he got. A nice, in fact a very good, dinner in the O Club dining room, but unless you counted the conversation that was it. Except for an invitation to repeat, which Giles accepted while wondering why.
They never had that meal. Before the secton was out they were both in the Life Center, along with virtually every other pilot on the battlestar, coming as close to death as Giles had been in long damned time. And when they recovered, things were completely different. Again.
Giles didn't think he had a constitutional objection to women pilots. He'd never known one before, but he'd known plenty of women officers, both on the Galactica and in the 23d, and they'd never, as a class, given him the grip. And most of these new girls could fly well enough; Sagan, some of them, like Lieutenant Dietra, could fly damned well. It was that 'lieutenant' business that got to him. Especially for people who hadn't even been combat support shuttle pilots before. People who'd been, say, vid personalities...
Starbuck's being gonedeadhad thrown everyone off. And when he returned, things were unsettled in Blue Squadron for quite a while. Whatever it was Starbuck felt about Apollo, finding out that he'd married without him... Boomer had to shore him up, and Apollo, too, since they were both his friends. Giles himself was considerably more upset about Starbuck than he could understand, so he threw himself harder into his work, barely finding time for a quick conversation with Boomer, an officer in a different squadron. And things kept happening, at an ever-increasing pace: Starbuck's return, Serina's death, one more overture by Cylons, battlesthe Galactica was on perpetual alert for sectons.
But through it all, Giles would look up to find dark eyes watching him and his breath would catch.
But all crises end eventually, even if only by becoming the new normality. And one day Red and Blue came back to the welcome news that the alert was lifted. The pilots had to share decontamination chambers; fortunately not all wing-pairs got in together, so it wasn't remarkable that Boomer ended up with Giles.
"We're all off the next three days," Boomer said after a few moments. "Both squadrons."
Giles leaned against the wall and looked up at the dark man. "That's good. I feel about five-sixths dead."
"I know what you mean... I was thinking, though. You've a rain-ducat for a dinner. Maybe a relaxing evening over on the Star would pick you up a bit?"
Giles considered it. He'd halfway thought of hitting the Star looking to get laid, but he was so tired dinner with Boomer was actually more inviting. "Sure," he accepted.
"Great," said Boomer. He looked at his chrono. "I'll call over for a reservation once we get out of here. We can go after debriefing."
"I need to clean up," Giles demurred. "Something about being in a pressure suit for nine hours."
Boomer grinned. "You have a point. The 6:80?"
Giles looked at his own chrono. "That sounds good."
The door opened and they rejoined their respective squadrons. When the debriefing was over and they were dismissed, Giles headed for the barracks. He noticed that Boomer was staying back to talk to Apollo, but figured either he'd show at the shuttle bay or he wouldn't. He wasn't holding his breath, he wasn't going to worry about dinner. Besides, second in command of the Wing might be late a time or two.
Living on maybe is a short trip to Hades.
He shook his head and grabbed a towel. A good turbowash might clear his mind. He stood under the hot water for a few minutes and then lathered up his hair.
Greenbean came in and leaned on the partition between the stalls, sighing deeply.
"You know, Bean, these things work better if you turn on the water," Giles pointed out.
"Yeah." Greenbean didn't move. "Gods, I'm beat," he said. "I was going to hit the sack, but I couldn't stand myself."
Greenbean didn't even react to that, just said, "I don't have enough energy to turn on the water."
Giles laughed and rinsed his hair. "Here," he offered. "Already warmed up and everything."
"Thanks..." The tall sergeant pushed past him to stand under the hot water. "Gods this feels good."
Giles grinned. "You're welcome." He toweled off and started to leave.
"Gi," Greenbean called, "if I drown make sure they know it wasn't suicide."
"I'll tell 'em you should get a priest, don't worry."
But Greenbean came out before Giles had gone. "My gods," he said, "are you going out?"
"Gods, to be your age again." Greenbean dropped heavily onto his bunk. "Me, I need to sleep for a couple of days. You? You're going on a date."
"Dinner," he repeated, pulling on his mahogany jacket, new from his last furlon before Cimtar. "Just dinner."
But on his way to the bay he realized that that was probably exactly what this was: a date. Boomer was the kind of guy who dated... He stopped halfway down the corridor. A date? He was on a date? What the frack did you do on a date?
How dangerous was it breaking up with an officer who wanted to date?
How many dates did you go on before you finally got laid?
When that thought crossed his mind he knew he was going to go. And as for the others, well, he must have done okay the last time or Boomer wouldn't have wanted to do it again. And it was as bad for an officer to be fraternizing, maybe worse.
That thought stopped him momentarily again. Was he thinking about something long-term? Dates meant that, he guessed, but was he thinking about it? How stupid was that?
But then again, who'd ever sat at a table with him and actually cared what he had to say? Yaroslav... and those hadn't been dates. Boomer might the kind of guy who dated, but he wasn't. Trouble ahead, he told himself. A nice middle-class officer who fracking dates... and then he laughed. Hades. As long as he fracks dates.
So he didn't back out, but went on to the shuttle bay, getting there at 6:75. Boomer was there, dressed almost casually in black and old-gold and looking nervously at his chrono. When Giles came up to him he grinned and then the grin changed to something a little more appreciative. "You made it," he said.
Giles wasn't sure what to say. "We'd better board."
"Yes, we had," Boomer agreed. He didn't say much on the way, just kept glancing over at Giles with a disturbing look in his dark eyes.
Disturbing in a very good way.
By the time they got to the restaurant, the lieutenant had regained his composure. After they'd ordered, Boomer leaned back and said, "So. Where are you from? I mean, I know you're Libran, right? Liberis?"
Giles shook his head. "No. Argo. At least that's where I grew up."
"Argo," Boomer said. "I'm not sure where that was."
"It's in the far north," said Giles, producing the bits about his home town that people liked to hear about. "We have white nights in the summer, even a secton or so of midnight sun."
"That means days in the winter with no sun at all. Like Allerat." He grinned. "On Leonis. Was Argo on the water?"
"A river," he said. "No ocean. Though when I was kid I always wanted to see the ocean."
"Leontyne was on the ocean. Leontyne-on-the-Sea was its real name, in fact."
"There's another Leontyne?" Giles asked, turning the conversation away from Argo and, with luck, his past.
Boomer seemed willing to talk about Leontyne. He mentioned his family, shadows crossing his dark eyes momentarily, but mostly he talked about the town he'd grown up in, the coast and the cliffs, the ocean and the storms... his childhood sounded, no surprise, a lot happier than Giles's.
Then, over dessert, Boomer realized he was the only one talking. "What about Argo? Was it a big place?"
"Yeah, it was big." Giles said baldly.
Boomer blinked, looking slightly surprised. Then he grinned a bit wryly and said, "And you couldn't wait to leave home?"
"In a manner of speaking," Giles nodded. "I signed up at sixteen."
Boomer laughed. "And my mother cried and called me her poor baby when I went off to CMA at seventeen. That was basically just university; I shudder to think what she'd have said if I had been really joining up."
This topic Giles didn't mind. "Yes, I was in my first combat before I was eighteen."
Boomer shook his head. "Infantry, right?"
Giles grinned. "Right. In the mud. If you don't take the ground, you can't control it."
"So I've heard."
Their waiter drifted by, again, and Boomer sighed. "I think they want the table." He picked up the check and reached for his wallet.
"How much?" Giles reached for his.
"You got it last time," Giles said. "How much?" He didn't mind dating, but he was damned if he'd be paid for.
Boomer looked at him and then smiled. "Here." He handed it over.
In the lounge they stood for a moment in a slightly awkward silence. Giles glanced at his chrono and said, "We could get in a game, I bet."
"Well," Boomer said.
Giles waited. The lieutenant played, he knew it. Sagan, he'd played with him.
"I was thinking..." Boomer licked his lips, then bit the lower one. "You would look like that..."
How many dates? Two, it looks like. Giles took a step closer so he had to lift his chin to look at the other man. "Yes?"
"We could get a room," Boomer said.
"We could? Then let's."
So they did.
Once they got inside Giles stripped his jacket off and hung it on the back of a chair, then turned to Boomer. The other man was standing near the bed, but he hadn't made a move to get undressed yet and he was looking at Giles with an odd expression. Giles paused. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Boomer said. He swallowed. "Nothing... It's just..."
Sagan. Was this his first time?
"I don't usually..." Boomer stopped and started again. "I didn't mean to ask you tonight. I don't know you very well yet. I intended to wait."
"But, the past few sectonsit's like death is everywhere. It's close, it's right here. But you, too. You're here, and you're so... alive. Vibrant. All I can think about is touching you, having you hold me... It's just so soon."
Giles gestured at his jacket, feeling compelled to offer. "Do you want to change your mind?"
Boomer smiled suddenly. "No. No, I don't. But I don't like one-night stands."
Giles smiled back, wondering at himself. "I don't usually leave while there's still something there."
"I hope not," Boomer said and took the two steps that separated them.
Boomer's mouth was warm and gentle on his, his hands strong and knowing. Giles slid his arms under the gold jacket and held on, feeling as though he were walking into unfamiliar and possibly hostile territory. And yetalea jacta est as the old battalion motto had it, the die was cast and he couldn't have, didn't want to turn back.
For all his professed eagerness, all the desire Giles could feel in him, the other man was starting slow, taking his time, learning Giles's body as no one else had. He shivered. This was about more than getting laid, and he wasn't at all sure he knew what was happening. All he knew, as patience ran out for them both and Boomer crouched before him on the bed, raising his hips, and their bodies joined as if they'd been created just for thatall he really knew was he didn't want it to end.
And then afterwards, as he snuggled up against Boomer's dark body, under his arm, languorous with satisfaction, he wondered how long the other man would keep him around. He already knew he didn't want to go.
Starbuck was sitting on the edge of the desk flirting mildly with Lieutenant Dietra when Giles arrived. Barton was ready to go, his notebookshe was a prolific and pretty good poetstacked up and his duty log filled out. "Man," he yawned, standing up. "I need about a laxon of kava. These dagged shifts get longer every time I have to pull one."
Giles grinned. "Must be relativity kicking in. The further the Fleet goes, the longer a centon gets."
Barton shuddered theatrically. "A more terrifying notion I have never heard... Have a good one." He handed over the identifying armband and picked up his notebooks. "Ma'am, sir," he said, and left.
Giles sat down and logged his arrival. Starbuck was telling Dietra, "Look, it's only in vids people pine for yahrens for someone who ignores them. Hang in there."
"You're sweet," she said. "But somehow I doubt even you believe that."
He shrugged. "It was worth a shot..."
She laughed at him and stood up. "Keep trying, ace," she said. "But I'm out of here. Hope it stays quiet."
"Of course it will," he said, sitting down. "It's always quiet. Am I right?" He looked at Giles.
"You are." Starbuck got fewer 'sirs' than anybody else. Paradoxically, Giles still liked him better than most officers; even when he was a jerk, which he was occasionally, he was an equal-opportunity jerk.
"How's it going?" Starbuck said. "Too bad for you you got on Brie's bad side, but I'm happy. I'd rather it was you tonight than Elin; last thing I need is someone spending all night coughing pointedly when I light up and muttering dire bits of Word when I pull out a deck of cards."
Giles snickered. Flight Corporal Elin was a very devout young man, and a real pain in the astrum. "You're too kind."
Starbuck grinned and lit a fumarello. Giles let him get it going and then started coughing, loudly, and waving his hand. The blond mock-glared at him and blew smoke in his direction.
"Starbuck, Bojay will slaughter you if you make his wingmate sick," Boomer said, pausing in the doorway.
Starbuck pointed his fumarello at the dark man. "With friends like you," he said.
"Yeah, yeah, Bucko, you're breaking my heart. Is Apollo around?"
Starbuck shrugged. "I think he went to dinner at the commander's. With Sheba. Athena's gonna be there, too, I think."
Boomer shrugged. Giles watched the rise and fall of those shoulders in that blue jacket and kept quiet. Boomer said, "Well, I guess I'm eating alone then. See you."
Starbuck watched him leave and shook his head. "I'll figure you out yet, Boom-Boom." Then he cocked his head and looked at Giles. "Speaking of which, you're in Green... any ideas who Deianara's been slipping around with?"
"Not a clue," Giles said honestly. "You running a book on it?" Already?
"Thinking about it," Starbuck nodded. "But it gets hard when you don't know what the right answer is. Just like Boomer... I think I've got an idea, and then he's gone all evening and she's in the O Club. I'll get him, though. I don't quit."
Giles contemplated that over the next half-centare while he answered the comm and made the first round of the admin area. It was unusually empty; with Apollo gone this early, nobody else had stayed either. Starbuck and Boomer were close friends, but the blond had a tendency toward selfishness. Giles could recognize it easily; what did they say? Takes one to know one? And though he did like Starbuck, there was always an edge there, something that said be careful.
"All quiet," he reported ritually as he came back into the office.
Starbuck grunted. "Of course it is." He was playing sol-hand, a complicated layout of cards spread across his desk. He was frowning at it. "This is such a pointless duty... I'll take the next two walk-throughs," he added, "so you can eat before they run out of anything palatable."
Which was one of the reasons he liked Starbuck, he was considerate of little things like that. Of course, he'd take advantage of the cot in the back as the night went on, but the officers were allowed to; Giles didn't resent him taking the opportunity when it was there. You'd have to be a fool to miss a night's sleep if you didn't have to.
Starbuck swore at his cards and swept them up. He began shuffling absently, bored already. Giles watched the cards flashing in his fingers and then, after a while, asked casually, "What you said earlier?"
"What if they've got a good reason?"
"Who? OhBoomer?" He shrugged and began dealing hands across the desk as if he were playing Pyramid. "Depends. If he's headed for trouble I'd have to tell Apollo; can't let Boom-Boom get himself cashiered or something 'cause he thinks he's in love. But if it's just him being his usual obsessively private self, I won't pay off till he's ready." He looked up. "You have an idea about him?"
"If I did, I'd be betting on it," Giles said.
Starbuck shrugged again and returned his attention to his cards. Giles opened the novel he'd borrowed from Lieutenant Bojay's desk on the walk-through. Something he hadn't read before was always a treat. The two settled into the silence of waiting.
Five centares later, Starbuck dropped his cards on the desk and stretched. "I'm turning in," he said. "Wake me at 4:50 and you can grab a turbowash before you eat."
"Sure thing," Giles nodded.
"Keep it quiet," Starbuck said and headed into the back office.
Giles stretched and returned to the novel. It was pretty good; he'd have to raid the squadron leader's library more often. When the alarm beeped to tell him it was one, he was surprised. He stood up and stretched. By his count more officers were still out than were in, but that wasn't surprising. Two corporals hadn't come in yet, either; he'd left himself enough space to put their names down if they never showed up but hadn't reported them yet. He yawned and pushed open the inner door. Starbuck turned over when the light hit his face. "Going on a walk-through," he said; Starbuck muttered something and, reluctantly, sat up.
Everything was quiet, as always. Giles wandered through the offices and halls, trying as much to wake up as look for anything out of the ordinary. There never was anything, and this shift had been typical of one with a congenial OD instead of a boray. Right up until he walked back up to the office and heard the low, angry voice.
"Calm down," Starbuck answered. "You don't want to do this."
"Frackin' hell I don't. Get him out here or I'll find himand you won't be in any shape to stop me."
Giles froze. That was Lieutenant Nestor, of Silver Spar. And he sounded drunk and determined as well as angry. Not a good combination.
"Put down the blaster and you can chat with anybody you want"
"No Galactican is telling me what to do. That's been the problem all along. And now you borays can't even keep your hands off our women"
Giles drew his own blaster, having figured out that Starbuck had probably left his in by the cot. The blond might just be finding out what he'd been wondering about, but it didn't sound like a good situation. He should probably go into another office and call Security but he hadn't been trained to leave someone behind, especially unarmed.
Unfortunately, pilot's uniform boots weren't made for sneaking around in, especially on deck plating. Two shots greeted his arrival at the door, even though he was being as quiet as he could, and he dove inside, ducking. But it wasn't necessary because the shots hadn't been at him. Not those.
A blond man sprawled in blood. Dim lightmoonlight. An enemy. Pain. Fear.
Six yahrens' training and a dozen's experience changed his reaction this time. But the end was the same. Death. Bereavement. Pain.
By the time the shots had brought pilots out of the barracks Giles had left Nestor's body where it lay and was holding Starbuck to him, rocking back and forth with unseeing eyes. He didn't react to anyone, not Greenbean, not Bojay, not Boomer, and he didn't speak. When the medical team got there, they had to sedate him to get him to let go.
"When I was your age I was trouble, too. Not as much trouble, but then again, I don't think I had as good an excuse. My father didn't know what to do with me."
Giles was curious. "He kick you out?"
"No. He put me in the army." He added into the silence, "It's where I learned to be a cop, in military security."
"I ain't gonna be a cop," he said, the bad grammar underscoring his insistence.
"The mind boggles," Yaroslav agreed. "But you could do a lot worse than a term in the service. They'd feed and clothe you, house you, teach you a trade... pay you," he added. "Make you hirable."
"Army..." Giles had never seriously thought about it. He knew all about the war, of course, though no Cylon attack had hit Libris; he could recite the big battles like the Cosmora Archipelago, though his knowledge of them was generally gleaned from public vids and old newsmags. He hated the Cylons with a proper patriotic fervor, since it wasn't possible to think of them as anything but implacable enemies of the whole human race, but the notion of fighting them was brand new. He turned it over in his mind and kind of liked it. "You think they'd take me?"
"Well, not now. You have to be sixteen and you only might be. More importantly, you'd never pass the entrance exams."
"Why bring it up then?"
"Settle down. You could learn enough to pass them: you're more than intelligent enough. But you'd have to work at it."
Giles bristled again. "I can work."
Yaroslav grinned. "I hope so."
So he'd stayed six sectares in Yaroslav's apartment, sleeping on the couch and eating enough to grow another ten centimetrons. Yaroslav brought home books and study-guides and went over the work. He'd needed coaching in maths, and he'd hated it. Someone sitting beside him, telling him how things worked, showing him how to do something: it brought out his worst attitudes. But Yaroslav rode out the insolence and backed away from the anger. More importantly, when Giles would get over it and walk up and drop the maths workbook on the table beside Yaroslav's ale, he accepted that as all the apology needed.
Fortunately it was only maths where he needed anything but pointing in the right direction. He was a slow reader, but he could get through anything he needed to, and as the sectons passed he improved. And what he read he didn't forget. Mostly though, he was powerfully motivated. He didn't need to be told that if he blew this chance he'd be in the streets again; that was the only thing that made any sense. None of the man's friends were comfortable when he was around; he'd heard several of them tell Yaroslav he was asking to get murdered in his sleep. The man didn't seem worried about that, but it was only reasonable that there was a limit on his... whatever it was that had made him take Giles in in the first place. If he wanted Giles in the service and he failed to get in, that would be it.
He passed the entrance exams with a good solid score, not enough to have anybody recommend him for officers' training, but high enough that the recruiting sergeant put a six-yahren term to him as a possibility. "It's two yahrens more, sure," he said, "but you'll be on a higher pay-scale the whole term. Plus, you'll qualify for an advanced Occupational Specialty."
"Well, a tech school, maybe, like comms repair. Or flight."
"Flight?" Giles sat up straighter.
"Sure. Infantry Landing Vehicle. We like to have several back-up pilots, you know, just in case. You interested?"
He signed for it without a second thought.
The thought of flight school kept him quiet and mostly tractable during boot camp, though he didn't make a single friendnot surprising since he tended to take out his anger at the DIs on his fellow trainees. When the second mail call in a row brought him a letter from Yaroslav he answered, short impersonal letters that slowly got longer as he discovered the cathartic value of words on paper. And then he finished all the training, nearly a yahren after he'd enlisted, and was deployed to his battalion.
They were on the Ares, a troopship in the First Fleet. For the first time he found himself part of a community that expected participation from him. It hadn't been true in the tech school, where studying had been enough of an excuse for standing-off, and it hadn't been true in boot camp, where it was understood that the short term only required obedience and physical effort. It hadn't really been true with Yaroslav, who had, Giles now realized, walked carefully around him as if afraid to make him bolt. But 2d Platoon Gamma Company 4th Battalion of the 23d "Black Dagget" Division was different. You couldn't go into combat with someone you couldn't trust, and it was hard to trust someone who kept himself to himself. It wasn't even all that possible to live with him in a bay of forty. And it was all too easy to take care of that someone in a permanent fashion in a firefight.
So Giles learned to get along with his peers. It wasn't easy, and it didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't without gettingand givingmore than one or two bruises. But slowly he bonded, at least on the surface, with the members of his fire team, and his letters to Yaroslav began to refer to other people by name.
Sports helped. Giles wasn't a Triad player. He'd never played it and certainly never followed it. Joining the service didn't change that; Triad was still something he barely noticed except when the platoon leader, Lieutenant Barr, gave it his not-very-good shot. But where the division's officers had a Triad league, the enlisted had treyball. And he was good at treyball, the poor man's Triad: after all, all you needed for that was the intersection of two buildings and a ball, and even in Riga district there was something about a summer afternoon that encouraged pick-up treyball.
Giles quickly slammed his way to the top of the platoon's league, and then the company's. He was consistently in the quarterfinals or better for the battalion and three times got to the divisional finals, winning once, mostly on nerve and fearlessness. Treyball, after all, true to its working class origins, was played in regular clothesshorts and a waist-length short sleeved shirt. No uniforms. No helmet. No shin guards. No pads for your elbows, knees, shoulders, arms... if you hit the wall you sucked it up, and if you ran into the other player you both went down. Giles's nature was made for treyball, and his success helped establish him with the company.
It also caught the attention of Gun-Corporal Orion, a lanky dark-haired Caprican who was not a bad player himself. Although his proposal that they play treyball doubles was doomed from the beginning, they hit the EM bar to kill the pain and several centares later Orion leaned in across the table and said, "'No' will be enough, but... You ever make it with another guy? 'Cause you're hot."
Giles froze, staring at Orion. Then he finished his drink, trying to decide what to say. The fact was, girls didn't move him. Fifteen sectares of being in communal turbowashes and locker rooms and living bays proved that men did. But he'd never willingly gone with a man, and the times he'd done it coerced he hadn't enjoyed it. That was a long time ago, you were a kid, he told himself. Guys make it with each other every day... it can't be good for just one of them. "Not really," he said finally.
"Not really? What does that mean? I mean, you want to?"
The certainty that he could cripple Orion gave him the courage to act on his desire. "Yeah," he said. "I do."
It was good. He enjoyed sex, enjoyed it considerably. It wasn't particularly transcendental, but it was fun, more fun than anything else he'd ever done. Orion taught him a lot, overcoming his reluctance to frack after a couple of sectons. A finger inside him while Orion sucked him off convinced him that there was something in it for the bottom guy and after he'd done the other man a couple of timesthere was no mistaking how much Orion liked being donehe got fairly drunk and let Orion do him. And enjoyed it, though he did generally need a couple of drinks first.
Then the 23d got into the Shellafy campaign and Giles discovered an even better pleasure: combat. Slaughtering Cylons wasn't like killing people, or even like killing rodents, for that matter. The officers told them Cylons weren't really even alive, some kind of cyborg-lizard thing. And the adrenaline high was better than sex. Really.
After the Colonials had secured Shellafy, he wrote Yaroslav a long letter about the whole thing, from the first drop to the last mop-up. Buried in the middle was Orion's death when his fire-team's position was overrun by Cylon grunts.
Yaroslav's answering letter put far more emphasis on that than Giles had. He read it over a couple of times and decided that the man had misread him. "Thanks for the thoughts," he wrote back, "but Orion was just a buddy. We had fun, but we weren't even in the same platoon."
In his next letter Yaroslav didn't refer to Orion again. Three sectares after that an official communication arrived from the LPPE, telling him that Lieutenant Yaroslav had been killed when he'd answered a call on a domestic dispute, and another from Yaroslav's advocate, who told him when the funeral was and that he was the sole heir.
Giles felt numb. He ought, he thought, to have been sad, but sorrow wouldn't come. Anger did, of course, but mostly he felt... nothing. The battalion commander, who had seen the official notice, assumed that the address, which Giles had perforce given as his own, meant that Yaroslav was a relative, and he found himself with bereavement leave. It was easier to take it than explain why he didn't want to.
He got to Libris in time to attend the funeral. He stood bareheaded in the clichéd but appropriate rain and ignored the stares from Yaroslav's friends and the other Lippies. He hadn't been expected, so the eulogy was delivered by Yaroslav's divisional commander, but they asked him to say a few words. By now he understood why, but that didn't help him know what to say. At least he wasn't expected to quote Word; there was a priest here for that. In the end he'd fallen back on the simple truth: "He took me in out of the streets. He taught me what I needed to know. He got me into the Service. He was good to me. I owe him."
People told him they were sorry for his loss. He thanked them, glad the rain on his face hid his lack of tears, and wondered if this emptiness was what loss felt like. After the interment the advocate rescued him from standing alone watching everyone else go off. In the office he explained about the modest bank account and the apartment, which turned out to have been bought several yahrens ago. Giles asked about Yaroslav's family, which made the advocate blink in surprise, but he said only, "The lieutenant's parents both passed on ten yahrens ago, and he had no siblings." Then he handed Giles a filing folder. "These are your letters to him, corporal. There's a half-finished one to you, as well, that I thought you'd want to have."
Giles didn't read that until he was back on the Ares. It was indeed half-finished, but it wasn't one Yaroslav had apparently ever meant to send. It was dated five sectares ago, just after Shellafy. There were several paragraphs of pleasantries about weather and his job, another about the promotion board Giles was going in front of (had gone in front of but never had the chance to tell him the results of), and then: I'm glad, I suppose, that losing your friend hasn't caused you any pain. But on the other hand, I'm worried about you. Nothing touches you. You don't love anyone. I'm not even sure you're fond of anyone. I didn't succeed in domesticating you one bit. You sit on the couch and purr when you're warm and fed, but inside you're still that feral little beast I brought in off the street. Self-contained, feeling nothing but anger and a healthy, self-preserving fear... And you won't even understand why I wish that you could cry.
And Giles didn't understand it. Any more than he understood why he tucked that letter
away in his locker, even though he never read it again.
|part 1||part 2||part 3|
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