I can exist being caught by your kiss
Or grant you control of my body and soul
Ask it and so it shall be
Don't let him die.
Sometimes I wish he was dead.
I like him so much. Maybe even you could say I love him. But sometimes, more often than I'm comfortable admitting even to myself, I wish he was dead.
In the daylight, or what passes for the daylight in this eternal voyage we're trapped on, I'm his friend. His loyal subordinate. His sometime wingmate. His occasional drinking buddy, gambling partner, and confidante.
But in the night, oh, in the darkness, it's all different. The dreams hiding deep inside me rise up and fill my mind with images and thoughts I don't want. That I can't escape. And I wish he was dead.
I should probably wish I was, but the sad truth is that I enjoy those dreams too much. So it's him I wish was dead.
And now he probably will be. They both probably will be. They won't leave each other. They'll live or die together.
And if they both die, life will be meaningless and I'll feel so guilty going on alone. Even though I never had him and never would have...
And if they both come back... Starbuck will never look at me while Apollo's alive.
Lords of Kobol, please: let Starbuck make it back alive and I don't care what happens. Let them both get back. Let them marry their women or each other, I don't care. Just let him live. Them. And I'll never ask for anything again.
He paused a moment. Something in her tone wasn't quite right. Wasn't that jubilance with which Sheba had greeted Apollo's return. Was almost wary. And the expression in her wide blue eyes wasn't exactly what he'd thought he'd see there. Maybe, just maybe, Starbuck's luck had held again.
He didn't say anything like that, of course, just smiled at her. "It's me," he agreed. "Like a bad decicube I always turn up."
"So I see..."
He cocked his head. "Try to contain your joy, Cassie," he said. He was glad she hadn't been down in the landing bay to greet them, glad there was no one in the life center so that they could shut a door and keep this reunion private. It wasn't like he'd wanted to come back and get Sealed, exactly, but he had a feeling this wasn't something he would have wanted to have in public.
"Don't be a fool, Starbuck," she said. "Of course I'm glad you didn't die." That was sharp enough to be true.
"But you weren't expecting it?"
"Well... no. Not exactly."
He shrugged. "As long as you're not disappointed. When's your shift over?"
She was shaking her head before he finished asking. "Starbuck, I don't know how to say this."
"Try Standard, one word at a time."
"I'm going to dinner with Bojay."
"That came out pretty clear," he said, uncertain how he felt.
"I'm sorry, Starbuck."
"It's pretty sudden," he allowed. "Boj swept you off your feet as soon as I left the Galactica? He used to have a little better... I don't know. Taste? Sense of timing?"
"No," she said, flaring up in defense. "He didn't. It's been building for a while... I think maybe we're in love."
He blinked at her. Yeah, he was glad this wasn't happening in front of a lot of people. He preferred to be the one doing the breaking up. It was better for his image. "That doesn't quite match up with the way you said goodbye," he observed finally.
"You weren't supposed to come back."
"So you said..." And then it was all clear. "I was going to off to die, so you said goodbye like that for my morale?"
"I didn't want to break up with you before you went," she said. "I wanted you to..." Her voice trailed off.
Their eyes met and held for a long moment and then he snickered. "And here I am."
She looked at him for another moment and then laughed herself. "Yes. I should have known better, shouldn't I?"
"I don't go on one-way missions," he said. "Ask Boj..." He leaned back against the wall and grinned at her. "You and Boj, huh? That might even work."
"Try to contain your disappointment," she said.
She was paying him back in his own coin, that was all, but the simple truth was he was anything but disappointed. "What can I say? You're hiding yours so well."
"We're a pair, aren't we?"
"Apparently not. But I think that's a good thing."
"I know it is." Now she came forward and hugged him. "I am so glad you're alive, I really am. But Sealing with you"
"I have to admit," he said, hugging her back, "I'm just as glad myself that we're not."
"I knew you would be if you were honest with yourself," she pulled back and smiled at him.
"Oh, don't ask too much now," he said, disturbed at the suggestion despite how glad he was. And that was disturbing, too...
"Some day you'll have to be," she said, "but you'll have to choose when that is."
"Not today, then," he said. "Take yourself off to dinner."
She hugged him again, kissed his cheek, and hurried off, a light in her eyes like he hadn't seen in a long time. He sighed to himself and watched her go, wondering just what in Hades was wrong with him that he wasn't able to stay engaged, for lack of a better word. Not that he wanted to Seal with someone who was falling in love with someone else, and not that he wished Cassie and Boj anything but happiness, but... why wasn't he annoyed that the promise of Cassie's goodbye had been empty?
Because you're empty yourself.
He shook that off with the ease of long practice and headed for the O Club. At least Apollo and Sheba would most likely not be there. And at least Cassie hadn't sent him off publicly like Sheba had Apollo.
Starbuck picked up his mug and threaded his way through the tables to the one where Boomer was sitting alone, brooding over his own grog. The Leonid had already nearly broken Starbuck's ribs in greeting, but then he'd disappeared the way he did. But Starbuck wanted some company tonight that wouldn't strain him.
"Hey, Boom-Boom," he said cheerfully, sliding into the seat next to the dark man. "I understand we owe you our lives. A good memory is a treasure."
Boomer looked up and smiled, chasing shadows out of his eyes. "You're the wing-wiggler."
"Extraordinaire," Starbuck agreed. "But I'm buying your drinks tonight anyway."
"I won't say no to that," Boomer agreed. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out under the little table. One of his feet bumped Starbuck's, nudging it companionably. "Even though you two pretty much saved us all."
Starbuck shrugged, feeling the same comfortable ease he always felt around Boomer. "Maybe so, but I never liked the idea of being a dead hero. I prefer to be around to bask in my glory."
Boomer grinned at him. "Well, you picked up enough to lie around on a rock for several sectares at least."
"Hey," Starbuck mock-protested. "This kid doesn't lie around on rocks."
"We could probably find you a cushion. You can find your own adoring ladies. As usual." He signalled the waiter for a pitcher. After pouring he glanced at Starbuck and said, "Speaking of..?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Sometimes, you know, you don't want one."
"Me I know about, but you?"
If Starbuck hadn't been looking at him when he said it, he'd have passed it off as just one of Boomer's little jokes. But there was something unfamiliar in those deep velvet eyes, something that disappeared before Starbuck could put a name to it. Puzzling at this sudden novelty in his oldest and most comfortable friend, he answered almost at random. "More times than you might think."
"Maybe if you tried concentrating on just one," Boomer said after a longish silence.
"You sound like Apollo, almost." Starbuck poured himself another drink.
"Well, you sound like you think it's possible." He was still just talking without really thinking; he was trying to remember if he'd seen that thing in Boomer's eyes before. He rather thought he had.
"Anything's possible," Boomer said lightly. "Even you settling down."
"Yeah, well don't hold your breath, my friend."
"What about Cassie?"
Starbuck laughed. "As we speak Cassie's making eyes across a table at Bojay."
"Doesn't seem to have blighted your life?"
"Not hardly. Like I said, sometimes you just don't want one around."
"Huh," Boomer said eloquently. Starbuck laughed and pulled out a fumarillo. They sat in easy silence and drank.
Starbuck watched his oldest friend through the rising smoke. Perhaps it was just him, this new quality he was sensing. He'd come very close to death a few times before, and he knew it had a tendency to make him look for someone to hang on to... But Boomer? And the thing, what ever it was... unless he was fooling himself in a big way, it wasn't in him. So he looked and thought and drank.
And maybe it was the drink, though it was only grog, but he found himself looking at Boomer as if he'd never seen him before. And liking what he was seeing, too: the sturdy compact body, dark brown like that sweet Leonid toffee or kava beans, and those dark night-sky eyes, so damned beautiful. When that thought arrived, Starbuck felt like he should have been startled by it, but he wasn't. Instead, he found himself thinking about other things he'd noticed over the years and discounted completely. When he finally spoke, it was to say,
"But you don't, do you? I mean ever?"
Boomer looked at him in puzzlement. "Don't what, Bucko?" he asked. "Did I miss something?"
"No... Maybe I did."
Boomer shook his head. "That's not that likely."
"Yeah, you'd think so... That's why."
"You know, you're not making much sense."
"Not much. Either that or I'm a lot drunker than I think I am. Or you are."
"Just drunk enough," Starbuck said softly. "Just enough." He pulled some cubits out of his pocket and dropped them on the table. "Let's go someplace else."
Boomer blinked at him but stood up. "Sure," he said agreeably. "Got someplace in mind?"
Starbuck hadn't let the easy access to the Rising Star cause him to lose track of places to go that weren't full of other people. After all, sometimes you were confined to the Galactica and sometimes you couldn't afford the Star, and sometimes you just didn't want to wait as long as it took to get there. So where to go wasn't a problem. What he was worrying over a little bit was, what to do if he was wrong about what he'd seen in Boomer's eyes at the table just now, in the landing bay earlier, and in flashes over the last dozen yahrens.
Drunk, he supposed, was the best excuse. But somehow he didn't think he'd need much of an excuse even if he was wrong. Boomer and he went further back than he and Apollo. The Leonid was always there, in the background... always there. He'd seen a lot worse from Starbuck than a misplaced pass and never so much as flinched.
In fact, that was the biggest risk of this whole notion: Boomer was a solid, steady, decent man who always saw several metrics below the surface. He wasn't easily dazzled. And he could do a lot better.
But he never has.
Starbuck held that close and warmed himself at it.
"Sagan, Starbuck, how do you find these places?" Boomer turned around in a full circle and took in his surroundings. "And how do you get inon second thought, don't tell me that. I'm sure I don't want to know."
Starbuck grinned at him. "Nice, huh? It's for visiting VIPs. I figure we aren't going to get any of those any time soon."
"Nice. That's a word for it. This bar is fully stocked," he added as he peered into the cabinet.
"Well, sure, I'm not crazy enough to actually steal anything. When housekeeping comes through they'd notice, and that would be that."
"Would you look at the size of that bed? And how thick is that mattress?" That came from a man who'd slept on a two centimetron pad for the last dozen yahrens. "Oh, gods, I feel like I've died and gone to heaven."
Starbuck crossed the front room and looked in. Boomer had sat down on the bed and then flung himself backwards on it, sinking into the thick bedding and closing his eyes. He looked eminently ravishable; Starbuck swallowed hard.
"Is IFB available here?"
"Probably," said Starbuck. "I don't come here to watch vid."
Boomer sat up. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you don't... You want to talk about it?"
Starbuck blinked. "About what?" he said carefully.
"Cassie," Boomer said. "I'm here if you do."
"Oh." Starbuck almost laughed. Casually he walked over to the bed and sat down on the foot of it. "No, not really. That doesn't matter."
"Come on, Starbuck. I mean, I know what I said earlier, but you were pretty much, weren't you? And now it's over. It's got to mean something."
"Oh, it means something," Starbuck agreed cheerfully. "It means I'm free."
Boomer looked at him for a long centon. "You mean that."
"Yeah, I do. Cassie and me, that would have been a huge mistake for more reasons than I can even count. It was fun for a while, but," he shrugged.
"Well, in that case, I guess congratulations are in order after all."
"I hope so."
"I have to admit, a free Starbuck is somehow more natural."
"You have to be free before you can make a commitment."
Boomer looked at him. His eyes widening a little was the only sign of emotion. Then he nodded once, to himself more than to Starbuck, and said, "So, you're planning on that? More congratulations, I guess."
"I really hope so. Though it might be considered a trifle vain. More my style than yours."
Now his emotion was easily read: honest confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"You congratulating me for getting you." Into the silence that followed that Starbuck said, "I really hope I am."
Boomer stared at him, swallowed once, and said nothing.
"I'm such an idiot," Starbuck almost whispered. "I can't see what's under my nose. And I don't know what to do to get it now that I have... Tell me what to do, Boomer."
And then Boomer took a deep breath and unveiled the emotion in his eyes. Starbuck could have fallen into those dark depths and drowned there happily.
"Just ask," Boomer said softly. "Just ask."
So he did.
Oh, Lords of Kobol. How wrong can I get? And how right?
He came back alive. You brought him back.
And then he looked at me. Came to me. Gave himself to me...
I said I'd never ask for anything again. And I won't.
What is left to ask for?
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