In the Darkness

Notes: "Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning" by Thomas de Celano, translated by William J. Irons
"Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

rule

Life is not light instead of darkness; life is light that shines in darkness.
    —Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind

When you're dying, you can kill the person who's trying to save you.

I learned that lesson young. It's not the one I was supposed to learn, but I did.

When I was eight, my brother and I went sailing with three of our cousins, none of whom should have been off a leash let alone in a sailboat on their own, and the inevitable happened. Clinging to a cushion I watched one of my cousins drown, and watched his panicked flailing and clutching drown another cousin along with him. Taro didn't mean to kill Boona, but he did. And she only meant to save him, but she went down with him.

Be careful when you go to rescue a drowning man, my father said later. Be careful: he'll pull you down with him if you're not. That's the lesson I was meant to learn. And I did. But I couldn't help extrapolating, and the lesson I carried away from it was:

Don't take someone else down with you.

I tried not to. I honestly did try.

I put my arm across the bed. It's empty. The sheet's cold. My hand closes on air, chill in the Galactica's endless fight for the energy to sustain us in our equally endless flight. Cold and empty.

The Destruction took us all that way.

Oh, some of us hid it better than others, and some of us threw it off and moved on. The commander: his faith sustains him. Despite his own horrendous losses, he never yielded to the darkness, never even wept except (I think) perhaps with Apollo. He's the type who looks for the light in the darkness, looks for it, finds it, and follows it. And pulls us with him, regardless of our vision or lack thereof, towards the light.

The colonel went on as he had before: duty sustains him. His life is so completely shaped by the Service that it comforts him in his hour of grief. I heard he wept on the bridge, but he never faltered. Starbuck... is unquenchable. His light dimmed for a bit, but no more than that. I envied him for the first time: his unbearable losses had happened so long ago that he didn't know they were losses, let alone unbearable, and he hadn't lost anything new he couldn't live without. He was sad, but that was all.

For the rest of us, sad was an aspiration. For the rest of us, unbearable was real, and now. For the rest of us...

It's dark here, as well as chill and empty. That part I could change, but the lights I could put on don't have any warmth to them. I'm not sure if it's not worse, being cold and alone in the light. Like Judgment Day. Day of wrath, O day of mourning! Heaven and earth in ashes burning... Burning heat, burning cold. Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice...

Ice is slow. The Colonies burned, and we were freezing, dying not in one horrible but short inferno but slowly, in centimetrons. But just as surely. Going through the motions of living, some of us, and some of us cramming as much living as we could into the short days we probably had left to us.

The Destruction took us all the same way, though on the surface we might not show it. The Commander had his faith, the colonel the Service, and the rest of us...

The longer it took, the more some people thought it wasn't really happening. That it was over. That we'd survive... that we had survived.

Apollo, for instance, dealt with it by falling in love.

I think he was genuinely in love with her, I don't mean that. Sure, there was the boy, and that's what caught his eye first, but you don't have to get married to be an Elder Brother. Starbuck thought he was in love, too; that was why he was so conflicted about it. He wanted Apollo to be happy; he wasn't sure getting married so quickly was the right thing; he didn't care for Serina—he thought she was sly, and of course he was watching his best friend slip away from him. I watched him sit at the bar the night of the party, watching them dance together, and recognized, with a sort of dull wonder, that only six sectons ago I'd have had Starbuck's problem: how to keep my best friend from realizing I wanted him to be unhappy.

I like Apollo of course, though actually I'm not so sure that 'of course' enters into it. He's hard to get to know, reserved and shy and off-putting. But Starbuck is my best friend, ever, and when he met his best friend ever I had to choose to take second place or take myself off in a pique. Back then, it mattered, so I'd become 'oh, yeah, and Boomer' and slowly come to understand why Starbuck liked the man so much. I do like him, and I did want him to be happy. I didn't even mind that he was getting a wife and child, getting more family on top of the family he still had. I don't think I'd have begrudged it to him anyway.

I just couldn't care.

So I didn't get up and join Starbuck at the bar and try to take his mind off things. I just sat there at my table, dressed in my irrelevant best because it was easier to put it on than argue with Starbuck about it, and drank. Drinking was good. Drinking wrapped my mind up in batting so I couldn't feel the sharp edges, and fuzzed up my mental vision enough to keep me from recognizing that I was on a precipice over an abyss, with nowhere to go, just bleak emptiness stretching out on all sides as far as there was.

All sides but one. There was always the deep inviting ocean of oblivion.

If I hadn't grown up on the ocean, I might have thought drowning was a peaceful way to go. But I knew better. Taro hadn't been peaceful at all... Fire was better than water. But it would have to be hot indeed to be a good way to go, quick though it might be in comparison. Flashing combustion was one thing, being painfully consumed by flame another. Ice was best. Slow, but everyone said you just fell asleep at last, no pain, just drowsy numbness.

But it seemed to take an eternity. And it was so cold and lonely while it happened. Maybe fire was best, after all.

I can't say I hadn't thought about it. In fact, I'd thought about it quite a lot right after. For a secton I'd walked around with my blaster's charge safely stowed in my locker. That was after I'd scared young Cree spitless when he'd walked in on me looking into nothing and very nearly convincing myself that there was no reason in all the lost worlds not to incinerate myself right there. I hadn't thought about what the others might think, certainly not the kids like Cree who were actually looking at us senior officers for some guidance on how to behave. Habit's a hard master, and I found I couldn't abandon them, not like that anyhow.

I was still fighting it, I suppose. I certainly hadn't let a Cylon end it for me. Though just at the moment that was something I was still interested in: killing them.

Not much else, though. Not Starbuck's problem. Not Apollo's phantom future. Not the commander's hallucinatory journey's end. Ambrosa: that I could be interested in.

And maybe something else, I realized, as I stopped looking at Starbuck.

Flight Sergeant Giles was also standing at the bar, watching Apollo and Serina. Something about the way he stood there focussed my gaze on him, and I realized he was watching Apollo, not his promised.

Giles. I had noticed him before, of course, the way you do, but only in passing. He was a noncommissioned officer, I was a commissioned one, and never, but never, the twain shall meet. I had found that mildly regrettable five yahrens ago when he was assigned to us. Now, with no future to worry about, I found it profoundly irrelevant, and him well worthy of some serious notice.

He couldn't be called a pocket stud, of course, he wasn't quite that short, but he was short. And from his frequent appearance at Colonel's Mast, he had the chip on his shoulder to go with it. But lords knew the shoulders themselves were nice. All of him was, and if he wasn't a pocket stud it was only the pocket bit that was wrong. He had thick reddish-brown hair on a well-shaped head, a nice straight nose, a cleft chin that went with a jaw and mouth that were often enough clenched in anger, true, but still promised a lot... I'd seen enough of him in physical training to know he had strong, sure hands and quick reflexes, and strong thighs from what I remembered of him in a pressure suit, or workout shorts. And under angled eyebrows he had really incredible eyes, brown with flecks of green under lashes I remembered as fairly long. All in all, a very nice package, if on the small side.

Of course, I remember one of my aunts used to say, with a sideways smile, that good things came in small packages.

And I wasn't wrong about where his eyes were, and in the haze of three drinks on top of no supper I asked myself Ďwhy not?í and couldnít see well enough to find any answers. While I was looking half-heartedly for them, he pushed himself away from the bar and began walking towards me. I blinked and then realized that he hadnít even seen me, let alone made me his destination. His eyes were over my head somewhere, but the flash of green in them, and the lithe stride, made me decide to try and change his mind. He was probably headed for the corner of the room where the sergeants were (he and Greenbean and Jolly stuck together even though they were in Blue) but if I was right about him I could make him glad he was with me. Iíd be happy to if he could help the ambrosa.

So I sat there and watched him walk in my general direction, and when he got close enough I said, "Looking for a chair?"

He turned. "Yeah, I am," he said.

"Got one here," I said, adding, "though it has to stay here."

Giles grinned and sat down. His eyes flicked over me as he did, and I had the sudden notion that he'd managed to catalog any weak points I might have. We'd never had much to do with each other, weren't even in the same squadron, and it was a little disconcerting, that look; I wasn't ready for it. On the other hand, I was glad I was wearing my best for the party; I knew I looked pretty good in peacock blue and silver grey.

My opening gambit wasn't much, though; all I could come up with now that he was actually here was: "Nice party, huh?"

Giles shrugged. "Free ambrosa has a way of upgrading most experiences."

I laughed. It wasnít that funny, I suppose, but that night it seemed so. When I looked at him again, he was looking at me. Looking me over, more accurately, and those eyes, every bit as incredible as I had thought them, were smoldering with an unmistakable come-on. Just looking at him across the table I was getting hard, fantasies like Iíd almost forgotten ever having flooding my mind. He was hotÖ and I realized that went two ways. There was an actual radiant heat about him, as though his core temperature was higher than usual, or maybe as though that cocky bantam attitude was fueled by a psychic heat he could only barely control, couldnít damp down to normal.

Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice. From what Iíve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire... For one lunatic moment I felt as though all the ambrosa Iíd drunk in the past secton was burning, a bright blue blaze more blinding than all the icy fogs that ever were.

Giles wasnít saying anything. He adjusted the dark green cuff of his shirt over his chrono, looking up at me through his eyelashes, which up close were longer and thicker than a man's ought to be. I didn't think he was wishing he was someplace else; instead I got the feeling he was waiting for me to make the next move.

I wanted us out of the O Club. I wanted us in a room somewhere, naked and sweaty and all over each other. I wanted to warm my soul in his fire and be utterly consumed. That was a bit much to say all at once, though, I knew, so instead I asked him if he'd care for dinner. He looked startled—maybe it hadn't been too much to start with, after all, but it was too late now—and said yes.

Of course, we didn't leave the O Club. This was back before the Rising Star was really a feasible alternative to dinner at one of the messes. I could have eaten in an EM Mess with him, but it would have raised a thousand questions. So we only left the lounge and went to the restaurant side. Of course, that's where you have to be careful. In the Officers' Mess you won't see the commander, or rarely, and never the colonel, but in the Club, on what we call the Blue Side, you can. Not that night, though; in fact there were only a handful of people there. Apollo's Promising Celebration seemed to have pulled a lot of people in. Well, I'd known that: the other side was packed.

But that meant my presence someplace other than the party would be noticed. So would who I was with. I didn't care if my career took a hit over this—it wasn't like there was any career left to worry about—but for all Giles could be insubordinate he'd never been in serious trouble. I steered us to the buffet and tried to look like I was just hungry. For food. Giles gave me a sardonic sort of look but went along with it. In fact, he actually piled up his plate and tucked in with an appetite belied by the tight body; he had to burn calorons off at an incredible rate.

He probably burned them off just living, I thought; I could feel him burning across the table.

Wasn't there some old story about someone who slept with a demigod and was consumed in fire? Sitting there I could believe in it. I could want it... a consummation devoutly to be wished, and as soon as possible.

We made some small talk, mostly about Vipers and Cylons. Eating was a mistake; I was starting to think again. I got some ale and shoved the plate aside and tried to make my returning brain work for me for a change, tried to think of someplace to go. He lived in the EM pilots' barracks, open bays. I lived in the officer pilots' barracks, not much better for privacy. I tried to think where Starbuck went. Normally of course he didn't on the Galactica; under the prevailing conditions he did, but... either she had a cabin or he picked the most gods-awful places. The launch tubes, for instance... no, thank you. It was a big battlestar, though; there had to be a lot of nooks and crannies. Where did Giles go, I wondered. Did he save it for furlons?

I was about to ask him when the flag adjutant walked past, nodding. He didn't say anything besides "Good evening" and frankly I'm not sure he really even saw us. He had the look of someone running on autopilot, a look I'd seen plenty of lately. I said "Good evening" back to him and he went on without pausing and I wouldn't have given it a second thought except for the way Giles had gotten all still on the other side of the table.

It reminded me I was an officer and he wasn't, and quite suddenly I wondered what the hell I was doing.

Don't take someone else down with you, Boomer, I thought. But I couldn't just quit. I suppose I was too far gone to stop reaching. Still, I managed to say nothing more compelling than, "We should do this again some time." He could take that as he would.

"That sounds good to me," he said, sounding as if he meant it.

His eyes flickered at me in the dim light of the O Club, promising heat. Promising fire. Cold starves fire. Oceans drown it.

Don't take someone else down with you.

I don't think I meant to actually set a day. As it turned out, of course, we so very nearly didn't live long enough to find out whether I would have or not.

Don't take someone else down with you, and yet I almost took us all. I donít really remember the sickness. Well, none of us do, really, though a lot of them can remember the beginning. But that was me, I went down first, and I donít remember it. I do remember that planetoid, the pseudo-crawlons which made it totally unforgivable for me to just blow off decon the way I did. I donít remember why I did it. Apolloís bachelor party would have waited; hades, he and Starbuck werenít even back yet.

Charitably, everyone assumed I was already sick, my judgment affected by the disease. Maybe. I donít know. I hope so. I didnít even get a reprimand for it, which I should have, I know. It did wake me up, though. Made me realize I had to work harder at it. I tried. I did try.

The days melted into each other. I lost track of time altogether. I ate, slept, and flew, and in between I went through the motions. I didnít screw up again, but it wasnít because I cared any more. I just had put my head down and was plodding the course, hoping to drop in harness somewhere, not to mention soon. It was a good thing I had the reputation for quiet understatedness, I suppose: if Starbuck had acted like me everyone would have noticed. Since it was just me, everyone thought I was just being my usual self. Starbuck was distracted by Apollo, and Apollo by his astonishing grief, and I barely had the energy to notice them. The days went by in an endless grey fog. We barely got time to draw breath let alone think, we were flying so much, and I started to think it would never end.

But eventually it did.

We came back after one particularly long and uneventful day's patrol to hear that the colonel had finally decided we'd actually, if only for the moment, gotten far enough away to stand down for a breather. The battlestar's cover would be provided by pilots who were finally out of life center, and by some of the cadets and the handful (well, somewhat more than that, but by no means all of them) of shuttle pilots who'd stayed in the wing. We actually were going to get some time off; I heard Starbuck wondering audibly if Tigh had come down sickening for something. I might have joined him if it weren't that I'd been distracted by the Red Squadron pilots who landed in Alpha Bay with us: Dietra, that Apollo had given Red to (he'd told me he wanted me his wing-second, running Blue; I'm sure he meant it, don't think he was thinking about my idiocy, know he didn't have a clue how by-gods tired I was of everything by then); Starbuck's old friend and playmate, the unlovely Ortega; tall blond Barton, his unlucky wingmate; and Giles.

He had pulled off his helmet and was standing apart from the other two enlisted pilots, craning his neck and working his shoulders to get the kinks of the long patrol out. Ortega looked his way and made some comment to Barton; I could feel the smoldering heat in the glare Giles sent back at him all the way over from where we were. I was on the farthest fringe of it and still... Dietra said something in her calm way and all three non-coms went still and respectful, but I could feel the tension in them.

In him.

I could feel how alive he was. And I remembered the promise of heat in his eyes. Three days, three whole days. A lot could happen in three days. The universe could be created in one. Everything that mattered could be destroyed in an afternoon. Life could start and end in a heartbeat. Three days was an eternity, an eternity inside an eternity. And a promise of something different. Sudden destruction, perhaps, but even that looked good from where I was standing.

And so did he. The one thing I had actually paid attention to over the past sectons was him. We weren't in the same squadron, which was probably a good thing, but our flights had been going out together often, and I had found myself watching him in the ready room even more often. I'd caught myself feeling like (not outwardly resembling, I hoped) a dagget looking at a roast on a platter up on a table out of reach.

Like a shipwrecked sailor looking at distant land.

I knew better. But that day I was tired, and I couldn't for the life of me remember why it was a bad idea. I couldn't think why I shouldn't just stop pretending that there were any consequences or any future and just do what I wanted to do for change. I couldn't think why I shouldn't take him up on that promise.

If I took him down with me... well, he was going down anyway. We all were, sooner or later. We all were. Maybe I'd even be doing him a favor. That's what I told myself, anyway.

When Apollo dismissed us, Giles avoided his squadron mates deliberately enough that it was easy for me to join him in one of the decontamination chambers. He glanced up at me when I did, and the force in his gaze was almost tangible, but he didnít speak. "We're all off the next three days," I said after a few moments. "Both squadrons."

Giles leaned against the wall and looked up at me. I tried to hide what that lift of his head did to me. He didn't point out that he'd been in the same landing bay as me, heard the same orders. He just held my eyes with his and said, unremarkably, "That's good. I feel about five-sixths dead."

"I know what you mean... I was thinking, though." If you could call what I'd been doing thinking. "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, his greenish-brown eyes with those almost femininely long lashes (certainly the only thing even remotely feminine about him) drifting off to look at nothing in particular. I took the opportunity to look him over from dark russet head to slightly scuffed toe and liked what I saw. Then he looked back at me. "Sure."

"Great," I said, hoping it wasn't too obvious. I looked at my chrono; it wasn't too late, all things considered. "I'll call over for a reservation once we get out of here. We can go after debriefing."

"I need to clean up," Giles shook his head and ran his hand through his thick hair, which was damp with sweat. "Something about being in a pressure suit for nine hours."

I had to grin. "You have a point. The 6:80?"

Giles looked at his own chrono. "That sounds good."

The door opened and we went our opposite ways.

Apollo debriefed the squadrons in less than ten centons, only asking routine questions of the flight leaders and taking "what he said, sir" as acceptable, which he didnít always. Heíd been on the patrol, after all, and he knew exactly how little there was to say. He could be considerate, and nobody had had more than a day off in a long time. Not since the Cylons cancelled all furlons, and all plans. When we were done, and Dietra had headed off to dismiss the rest of Red, Apollo leaned tiredly against the wall and looked at his feet. "You have plans tonight, Starbuck?" he asked.

"Yes, I do, as a matter of fact," Starbuck said quickly. "You know theyíve let them start up restaurants and stuff on the Rising Star?"

"Yes," Apollo nodded, a ghost of a smile crossing his face just for a micron. "I wonder what Sire Uri thinks?"

Starbuck dismissed the metaphysical question with a wave of his hand. "I didnít worry about that when he was alive; Iím not about to start now. You donít actually care, do you?"

"Well, no—"

"I thought you couldnít. Anyway, I thought Iíd try it out. Iím taking Cass."

"Cass?" Apollo sounded like he couldnít remember who she was. Maybe he couldnít. "Not Athena?"

Starbuck shrugged as if it didnít matter. "Your sister told me I live too dangerously for her."

"I saw you eating dinner with her a couple of nights ago. Two-timing her isnít exactly not living dangerously."

Starbuck shrugged. "Sheís not serious about me."

"And youíre not serious about anybody."

Starbuck shrugged again. "Youíre serious enough for both of us. For Boomer, too, though heís plenty serious on his own. Anyway, Cass is fun."

I bet she was, even though sheíd recently started working in the Life Center as a medtech third class. In the old days I would have added something to Apolloís mild remonstrance, but just as Apollo couldnít really get worked up over this, I couldnít find anything to say. Why shouldnít Starbuck and Cassiopeia go to dinner, or to bed? In half a yahren whoíd care?

We watched Starbuck leave, tossing over his shoulder, "And donít go calling me for anything short of a full-scale alert, either. I can find my own way back." Apollo sighed after heíd gone and looked at me.

"I donít suppose youíd like to come to dinner with me and Boxey?"

"No, thanks," I said. I felt the tiniest twinge of guilt, but only that. Apollo was a big boy and he'd asked for this, after all, and besides, he had Starbuck (somehow, still). Anyway, there was no way I wasn't taking what I could, no matter what happened. We who are about to die, and all that.

Besides, another evening spent in Apollo's bleak company, watching him try to remember what happiness had felt like and remind himself about the boy and his father and his sister and seeing how miserable he was even with more family than anyone else on the Galactica and possibly in existence, and I would kill myself. It was that simple.

"I've got other plans," I said. "Thanks."

He managed to look interested and asked who with.

"Nobody in particular," I said. "Some of us are going over to the Star." Two is some. "You want to come with us?" I knew he wouldn't.

"No," he shook his head. "I can't."

I looked at my chrono. 6:15. Sixty-five centons. "Anything else?"

He shook his head. "No, nothing that can't wait. Don't let me make you late."

I didn't.

In fact, after all that, I got there first. Five centons' waiting found me wondering if he'd rethought, and when he showed up he caught me looking at my chrono. As he approached I grinned apologetically, and then as I took him in I felt the grin change to something much more basic. He was wearing something that actually looked new, an open-collared jacket the same dark red-brown as his hair, with a jade-colored shirt under it that made his eyes look greener than usual. It fit him perfectly. He looked good. He looked very good. He could be late all he wanted if this was the result. "You made it," I said inadequately.

"We'd better board," was his answer.

"Yes, we had."

We didn't say much on the way over; anybody looking at us wouldn't have thought twice. I don't know what he was thinking as he looked out the window, but I wasn't thinking much at all.

By the time we got to the restaurant, I'd gotten myself back together. After we'd ordered, I leaned back and said, "So. Where are you from? I mean, I know you're Libran, right? Liberis?"

Giles shook his head. The subdued lighting still picked flecks of dark red-gold out of his hair, and it looked soft. "No. Argo. At least that's where I grew up."

"Argo," I said brilliantly. "I'm not sure where that was."

"It's in the far north," said Giles; I noticed the tense. Even a couple of sectares wasn't enough to change speech habits. Or maybe he was still in denial; lots were. I'd have thought him different, though. He added, "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." I paused; my uncle Arno had had lived in Allerat for a couple of years... I shook it off. "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." I could hardly believe I'd said that. "Leontyne-on-the-Sea was its real name, in fact."

"There's another Leontyne?" Giles asked.

"A couple," I answered, "but mine was the prettiest." I had the tense right, but I hadn't talked about the place in a long time. I found myself rambling about the ocean and the blue-walled houses with their red-tiled roofs and the high cliffs, the avians and the bracken and the storms. He seemed genuinely interested, asking questions and laughing in the right places, and I actually forgot why eating dinner with him was a good idea or a bad one and just enjoyed myself. When the waiter brought us dessert, though, I realized he hadn't actually told me anything about himself except the name of his hometown. A good listener, but I hated that I'd been monopolizing the conversation. I asked, probably too abruptly, "What about Argo? Was it a big place?"

"Yeah, it was big." That was flat and unelaborated.

I felt more than a little surprised, having expected he'd say more than that. Giles usually said plenty; he bordered on insubordination too often to be intimidated by our rank differences... Then I figured it out. "And you couldn't wait to leave home?"

"In a manner of speaking," Giles nodded. "I signed up at sixteen."

I had to laugh. "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." I paused, the vicious irony of it hitting me again. The only one in my family in the Service; the only one to survive the war...

He didn't seem to notice I'd stopped. "Yes," he said, sucking the bowl of his dessert-spoon clean and making me forget my family again. "I was in my first combat before I was eighteen."

I couldn't feature it, though I had to admit it explained things about him. Still, I could vividly remember how young we'd thought Zac, and he'd been twenty when he graduated, nearly twenty-one. Sixteen was too young to be a soldier. "Infantry, right?" I said, not that anyone who'd been around Giles for a couple of centares didn't know it.

He grinned, making it a joke. "Right. In the mud. If you don't take the ground, you can't control it."

"So I've heard."

The waiter drifted by, again, hinting gently. I sighed, not wanting to leave, not wanting to make the decision. "I think they want the table." I picked up the check and reached for my wallet.

"How much?"

I looked up to see him reaching for his. "No—"

"You got it last time. How much?"

Prickly. I'd only been thinking lieutenants made more than sergeants. But I didn't mind his attitude, in fact it was like a spark. "Here." I handed the pad over.

We stood for a moment in the lounge. He glanced around and then at his wristchrono and said, "We could get in a game, I bet."

"Well." I didn't want to play pyramid tonight. Or seven-and-eleven. Or any chancery game.

The trouble was, I didn't want to play.

Giles waited, not saying anything, those greenish-brown eyes alight with curiosity, that already familiar wariness, and maybe, just maybe, something more.

"I was thinking..." I found myself biting my lip, something I hadn't done in a long time. "You would look like that..." I let that trail off as I heard it come out aloud.

The 'something more' flared brighter in his eyes and Giles took a step closer so he had to lift his chin to look into mine. The line of his throat was achingly pure. "Yes?" he said, and his voice was low and breathy.

"We could get a room," I said, forgetting all the reasons we shouldn't.

"We could? Then let's."

Of course, that proved easier said than done. Halfway from the lounge to the rooms clerk I realized I didn't know how it worked. Would we have to identify ourselves? That wouldn't be good; while I suspected these people wouldn't care who we were, Giles might, and rightly, object to having his flagrant disobedience of the fraternization regs put down in black and white. And I wouldn't put it past the colonel to check registries. I couldn't bring myself to care about my career, but Giles cared about his, I thought. And I found I cared about making sure this wasn't the last time.

On a more prosaic note, did I have enough money with me? I didn't generally do things on the spur of the moment like this, and I had no idea if a room for the night would cost more or less than a good dinner for two. I could have them debit my payroll account, if they were set up for that, but then goodbye to anonymity... I could borrow from Giles, I supposed. Or, I thought, remembering, he might well insist on paying for half of the room himself.

I wondered if I should ask him to, but decided not. He probably had the same cash flow problem I did, compounded by having paid for dinner and being a sergeant. If he offered, that would be different.

We paused by the discreet direction board, the 'You Are Here' marker so far undefaced. I wondered, for a moment, if anyone would ever scribble 'and the good times are somewhere else' or 'and if you lived here you'd be home by now' on it. There were a couple of hostels listed, with fancy names: The Bower, and Allerande, and Golden Hours... on second thought, that one didn't sound like a hostel.

"Rooms." Giles tapped the board a little lower down, startling me for some reason. "That sounds like what we want." That tailed upwards into a half-question.

He was right. I nodded. "I'll go pay for it," I said. "You should probably wait out here. No sense looking for trouble."

He nodded, but flashed me a cocky grin at the same time. "I thrive on trouble," he said, but then moved off to look at a holoquarium.

I blinked at his back and then caught the flash of his teeth in the screen and realized he was watching me. I was glad he was too far away to see the blush I could feel in my cheeks. Thrived on trouble, did he, I thought as I headed for the desk, and wasn't quite sure what to make of that.

"Single?" the clerk asked, barely hiding his skepticism.

"One bed," I said.

"One night?" I hesitated, thinking about those three entire days, and he nudged me. "We discount the second night, sir."

For half a centon I wondered how many people scraped up everything they could spare and then some to buy a night or two away from the Gemini and her sister ships, but then I thought of the pilots' barracks and hot brown eyes and I said, "Three nights." It took my last cubit, but if it came to that, I wouldn't mind two nights alone.

If it came to that. I hadnít slept alone in a long time. Well, alone in the room. That would be nice, even if thatís all there was. Alone, with no one looking at me, worrying me... Just meÖ

I stared at the coldness for a moment, and then grabbed the keycard and went in search of warmth.

Once we got inside Giles stripped his jacket off and hung it on the back of a chair, and then turned to me. I stood by the bed—hard not to in such a small room—and looked at him, suddenly unsure of myself. Giles paused, not moving, just looking at me. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," I said, and wondered what was. "Nothing... It's just..."

Those eyes stared at me, pupils dilated more than the half-light of the room warranted. He didn't say anything, only stood there and waited.

"I don't usually..." I stopped. "I didn't mean to ask you tonight." Had those felix-quick reflexes of his actually tensed before that last word was said? Was I reading too much into him? I couldn't stop now, I had to explain myself. As if I actually understood my self. "I don't know you very well yet. I intended to wait."

"But?" That was neutral.

"But, the past few sectons," I tried to find the words as much for me as for him. "It'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..." I stopped, didn't say 'being consumed by you.' Didn't even think 'being saved.' I shrugged. "It's just so soon."

Giles gestured at his jacket. "Do you want to change your mind?" He didn't sound like he wanted me to say yes.

I smiled, suddenly sure. "No. No, I don't. But I don't like one-night stands."

Giles smiled back. "I don't usually leave while there's still something there."

"I hope not," I said and closed the short distance between us.

I kissed him slow, despite my need; apparently old habits were stronger than I would have thought. Giles slid his arms under my jacket and held on, responding hungrily. The height difference was odd, at first, but most men managed it with women, and Giles certainly seemed used to it. It didn't slow him down noticeably, at any rate; it wasn't long before he stopped responding and started demanding. Maybe he just wanted to be sure I was sure; I don't think he'd have stopped easily.

That was okay with me; I didn't intend to stop either. I buried both of my hands in that thick reddish-brown mane of his and kissed him until I started to get dizzy.

He pulled my shirt loose and I felt his hands on my bare skin; they were warm and strong, and they made me want his skin. I didn't stop kissing him while I unfastened his shirt, even though the collar had some sort of finicky little loops that I nearly ripped off. I preserved the shirt, though, having I think the idea in the back of my mind that I'd like to see him in it again, and tossed it blindly in the general direction of the chair his jacket was on. And then I slid down his body to my knees, licking him as I went, tasting him.

He was warm, and hard, and very fair where no solar light hit his skin. His nipples were darker, and they hardened under my tongue, and he shivered. I felt his fingers strong against my skull for a moment, and then he was pulling at my jacket. I let go of him so he could have it off, and my shirt, but then I tackled his belt. He was willing enough to help me with that, and then I had his cock under my lips. He tightened his hold on my shoulders and made pleasurable little noises, pleasured and pleasing, and I teased at him, scattering licks and kisses along the length of his cock and then moving to his flat belly. He almost whimpered as I kissed his thigh, and turned so his cock was nudging my cheek.

I chuckled. "I've got other plans for that," I said.

"Then," he said, his voice breathy, "there's no reason for you to be on your knees when there's a bed not two steps away."

I stood up, and we finished stripping each other quickly. It took him a moment or two longer, since his trousers were tangled around his ankles, and that gave me the advantage. As he straightened up, I pushed him, and we ended up on the bed, me on top. Not that he seemed to mind.

He had some scars, old scars white against his fair skin. I'd have thought them souvenirs from the infantry if he hadn't been so curt about his childhood (you're still a minor at sixteen, at least on Leonis you were). Maybe they were, but I doubted I'd ask. Certainly I wouldn't ask tonight. I slid my hand across his chest, well-muscled but not obsessively so, and followed with my tongue. I found a spot just over his collarbone, a couple of fingerbreadths from the pulse that beat in the hollow of his throat; he shivered when I ran my fingernails over it and moaned when I bit, gently, and his heartbeat sped up. I stayed there a couple of centons and then moved straight to suck on his nipple. His hands clenched on my arms hard enough to make me glad I didn't show bruises, but at the moment it only made me laugh.

He took the opportunity that gave him and heaved, landing me on my back with him astride, and then he was kissing my throat and chest. I arched my back as he worked his way down along my body and then I couldn't stand it any longer. I rolled over in his loose hold and raised my hips.

"Frack me."

"Lube," he said, reaching for the drawer. "They must have some—"

"God, I don't care." I pushed back against him, feeling his cock hard and springing on my thighs. I wanted it in me. Now.

"Nyet," he snapped, the only word of Libran I know. "If they don't—" That turned into a 'hah' of satisfaction, and I felt his hand on my astrum. "Elbows and knees," he said.

I did it, leaning forward and offering my astrum to him. His knees nudged the inside of mine, pushing them further apart, and his hands, slick and yet still warm, gripped me. A finger slid inside, and I moaned; I wanted more. I pushed backwards. Another finger, and his other hand slipped between my legs. He rolled my balls together and made contact with my prostate at the same micron, and I pushed back harder. "Now," I said, "now," or at least I hoped I managed to say it. Either way, he understood me and pulled his fingers out. His hand left my balls and he gripped my hips and his cock nudged at me.

I couldn't wait for slow, didn't want it. I rocked backwards against him, moaning against the pillow as I was breached and then filled, the flaring pain turning to pleasure almost at once as the head of his cock stroked against my prostate. "Okay?" His voice was roughened.

"Hard," I said, rocking forward and then back again.

It was all he needed.

It was everything I needed.

He rode me hard, his balls slapping into my aching ones with every thrust. I could feel his hand stroking my astrum between his lunges, slick and warm. His other hand came around my leg and grasped my cock, tight and also slick, and he pistoned it in counterpoint, sliding his hand down to knock against my balls from in front as he slammed into me from behind. I could hear him but I didn't understand anything he was saying, lots of long o's and oy's. Libran, which I didn't know. Not that I was thinking about it, only hearing his voice washing over me.

I braced against my elbows, wordlessly moaning, and the universe went dark beyond blackness behind my closed eyes. Every nerve in my body sizzled with heat and pleasure, and every thrust pushed me closer to oblivion.

When we came, it was so close together I wasn't sure who was first. His heat filled me and I felt him surrounding me and in that moment, in that hot darkness, I found the annihilation I'd been craving.

Of course it didn't last. When I returned from that sweet oblivion to the more substantial darkness of the room and the bed and Giles in my arms, I lay quietly for a few centons. He wasn't asleep, either, but neither did he seem to feel like moving, or speaking. He lay nestled up against me, under my arm, his face in the hollow of my throat, his hand on my shoulder, and one of his legs between mine. I could feel him drowsing off, his breath warm on my throat. He was warm against me, warm and comforting. I ran my hand gently along his shoulder and back and he nuzzled a little closer. His sun-deprived skin was pale against mine, my arm a dark band against his back. The palm of my hand bled into his body; I couldn't see where I stopped and he began.

After a few more centons I pulled the cover over us and thought how lucky it was we had the next day off. I wondered how hard it was for a noncom to get an overnight pass. I wondered how big a bastard the colonel would be if he found out. I wondered what Apollo would say if he did. And I wondered when I'd stopped worrying about that, because while I was still, it wasn't anything like strong enough to make me wish I hadn't done this.

I tightened my hold on him and he shifted in the darkness, finding a more comfortable position, his steady breathing never changing. I smelled his scent—his hair, his sweat, him—and felt the warmth of him through my entire body.

Donít take someone down with you when you go. I had tried not to. But in the end I hadn't been able not to reach out, not to grab, not to hold on. In the end I hadn't wanted to go, and so I hadn't been able to let go. I don't think Giles had any idea I was in need of saving, but... I hoped he'd meant what he said. I'd make sure there was something there for as long as we had. Because Giles wasnít going down, I already knew that. And if I held on to him, neither was I.

As long as I could hold on. As long as I can hold on.

As long as he's there to hold on to.

The bed is still empty. The sheet's still cold. And the air is still chilly.

I don't want to be alone any more.

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Original Fantasy:
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