the rhetoric and treason of saying that i'll miss you.
of saying "hey, well maybe you should stay."
-the weakerthans, pamphleteer
This is how it all starts: at a Triad game, Starbuck's shit-eating grin across the table, a hand Helo wouldn't wish on his worst enemy, and at exactly the right (wrong) moment, someone stumbles through the hatch with a muffled curse, and he glances over to see a goddess in an ill-fitting uniform trip over her own boots and straighten with a glare for anyone who dares comment.
Helo's not a romantic sort of guy, but something in his gut flips over and he supposes this is what all the poets were jabbering on about, although having his personal world suddenly twist out of orbit and spin over into a different star system based on one dark-eyed glance feels less like true love and more like severe motion sickness. But it's a revelation all the same.
The goddess lifts her chin high and says to the room at large, "I'm looking for Lieutenant Karl Agathon."
It takes a second for his brain to catch up, and Starbuck lowers her cards and kicks him under the table. "Take five, Agathon," she says, shark-like. "I'll still be here to take all your money."
He glances at the other two guys in the game, but Ripper just nods affably and Catman has been waiting at least half an hour for the opportunity to refill his drink from his private stash, so the game goes on pause while Helo reminds his body how to pull itself into a standing position and walk over to the dark-eyed goddess.
"I'm Agathon," he tells her. "Karl, I mean. Helo. Whatever. Who's asking?" He mentally hits his head against the bulkhead. Real suave, flyboy.
She looks him over skeptically, then sticks her hand out. "Lieutenant Jr. Grade Sharon Valerii. I hear you're gonna be my ECO."
He takes the offered hand. She's got a firm grip, a good handshake. Her palms are calloused and a bit sweaty, her fingernails bitten to the quick, and that makes her less of a goddess and more human, someone to be loved rather than worshipped, and Helo knows he's lost. It's almost a relief. He grins. "Welcome to the Galactica. Got a callsign? Lieutenant Jr. Grade Sharon Valerii's gonna be a bit of a mouthful in the cockpit."
She blushes at that. It looks good on her. "Boomer," she says.
His mind leaps instantly to an incredibly inappropriate place. He shakes it off. "Where'd that come from?"
Her mouth twists wryly. It's almost a smile. "Frakked up a couple of landings my first time in a Raptor, when I was a cadet. The nickname stuck."
He thinks about the way she tripped over her own feet coming in here, and somehow isn't surprised. He likes that. Makes her less intimidating, despite the general frak-off vibe she seems determined to maintain. "You any better at cards than at landings, Boomer?"
"Hell yeah," she says, and her eyes sparkle. "Got a game going?"
"In the middle of a hand," Starbuck calls across the room. "Better luck next time. Agathon, get your ass over here."
"Didn't know my ass followed orders from the resident frak-up," Helo shoots back, grinning. "And how long have you spent in the brig this week, Thrace?"
"I know my hand," Starbuck says, eyes gleaming. "And trust me, baby, your ass is mine."
Boomer tucks a strand of brown-black hair behind her ear. "It's okay, I've had a long day anyway," she says.
"No, no, just let us finish the hand and deal you in," Helo insists.
She shakes her head again, but she gives him a smile, soft and shy, lighting up the air between them for just an instant. "Some other time."
"Yeah," he says, transfixed. "All right then." He keeps staring as she turns and heads back out of the rec room, watching the fall of her hair, the sway of her hips, the uncertainty of her step in a uniform she's not yet accustomed to. He has to shake his head to clear it, and returns to the game in a bit of a daze.
"Steady there, Lieutenant," Catman laughs. Helo smacks him upside the head and feels pretty damn good about it.
Thinking about Boomer's smile, Helo promptly forgets that he's got absolute zilch in his hand and bluffs Starbuck out of fifty cubits when she had three on a run and should have taken him down easily.
This is how to frak up a landing: in a Raptor cockpit, arguing schematics for the past twenty minutes, and Helo's about ready to whack Boomer's helmet against something hard and very damage-resistant when she suddenly bursts out laughing.
Helo blinks. "Okay, what?"
"It's just—" She waves her hand, still giggling. "Your face. Is that why you couldn't keep a pilot for more than three weeks? You scared them all off?"
"Until you," he says irritably. "Why do I always get stuck with the hotshot rookies who think a Raptor should fly like the Vipers they'll never get to touch?"
Boomer grins. "You know what your problem is, Helo? No frakking imagination. Just 'cause she's built like a bucket doesn't mean you can't get any maneuverability out of her. For example—"
Sheer instinct based on long months with rookie pilots, and his seatbelt, are the only things that keep him from braining himself on his own equipment. Helo's been flying in Raptors for years now, but he's never seen one pull a barrel roll.
Or been in a barrel-rolling Raptor.
It's not the most comfortable he's ever felt, to say the least.
"What the frak?" he yells, once his stomach has settled a bit and he's fairly confident he won't be revisiting his breakfast.
She's laughing, of all things, exultantly, like Starbuck after she's buzzed the Galactica's observation deck and left some poor innocent trysting couple scared shitless. "What were you saying there about Raptor schematics, mister?" Boomer chirps.
He doesn't have a chance to do more than gape before the CAG's voice crackles through the comm: "Boomer, this is a frakking routine test flight. What in the names of the lords of Kobol do you think you're doing?"
"Testing the flight capabilities of my bird, sir," Boomer replies cheerfully. "Never know when a little extra maneuverability will save my ass."
"You better pray for a little extra maneuverability once we get back on Galactica," Helo remarks, "because the CAG is definitely going to bust that precious ass of yours."
"Roger that, Helo," the CAG says dryly. "Boomer, test flight's officially over, land your not-a-frakking-Viper immediately."
"Yes, sir," she says, and starts bringing the Raptor in.
Helo runs a few final equipment checks. Nothing was damaged by the acrobatics, fortunately. Guess the Raptor has a bit more punch than he realized.
"I never wanted to be a Viper pilot," Boomer says quietly.
Helo blinks and turns to her. "What?"
"You were talking about all the rookies you get stuck with," she explains. "How they're all trying to compensate 'cause they don't have the chops to fly Vipers. Well, I never wanted to. I always wanted to fly Raptors."
"Really?" he asks, interested. No one starts out aiming to be Raptor pilot. Hell, even he'd briefly entertained notions of being a Viper jock, even though he knew he was too tall and that his main interest pointed more toward electronics than piloting.
"Yeah," she says. "Vipers are all swagger and flash, and they have their place. But I prefer a bird that's sturdy. Reliable. More useful and less expendable."
He laughs. "Are we talking about spacecraft or people, Boomer?"
She turns to look him straight in the eye, an odd smile flitting across her face. "Both."
The moment lasts a second too long, and he forces himself to look away. "I know what you mean," he says. "My dad owned a shop in Delphi, on Caprica. Everyone always said he was such a nice guy, good worker. But he was never gonna get anywhere big. Too many people who were more clever or ambitious or flat-out nuts. Nice, dependable guys with no particular flair only got taken advantage of. I saw it happen to my dad, and knew I was just the same. So I joined the military instead. Nice, dependable guy, who always follows orders – on a battlestar, I could actually get someplace."
"Yeah," Boomer says, watching him thoughtfully. "You could. So, what, I'm gonna have to call you Admiral someday?"
"Nah," Helo says with a grin. "Viper jockeys make Admiral. I'm thinking XO. Could do the job better than everyone's favorite drunk, that's for damn sure."
She laughs. "Are you talking about Tigh or Starbuck?"
"Boomer," the CAG yells through the comm. "Will you pay attention to your gods damned landing?" Sure enough, the landing bay is coming up pretty fast.
"Frak it," she says with a grin, and Helo grins right back.
They land a bit too steeply, and their Raptor leaves some lovely skid marks across the landing bay. The deck chief, Tyrol, is borderline apoplectic, and practically leaps into the Raptor to ream them out the second the hatch opens.
"Sorry, Chief," Boomer says breezily, undoing her flight suit as she brushes past him. "Might want to check out the damn gimbals on that thing. Really frakked me up."
"Gimbals," Helo agrees, struggling to keep a straight face. "Yeah, Chief, think she might be right. Hell of a ride."
This is how to lose a hand but stay in the game: they're up on the flight roster, just a routine surveillance flight, and Helo finds her in her rack with her hand down the Chief's pants and a wild, happy expression in her dark, dark eyes.
"Fly now, party later," Helo says loudly, and is surprised at the steadiness of his own voice.
He can't help laughing at the way they leap apart, Boomer pushing her mussed hair out of her face and biting her lip, torn between guilt and the dark thrill of getting caught. She looks more beautiful than ever.
"Right," she says, straightening her collar as the Chief hastily zips up his pants. "You're five minutes ahead of schedule, Agathon, and didn't your mama ever teach you how to frakking knock?"
"But this is so much more fun," he insists, surprised at how easy it is to grin, like he doesn't care. "Although I should've waited another couple minutes, you're right. Might've gotten a much better show."
She flips him off as she leans back to give the Chief a long, lingering, overly dramatic kiss. "How's that?" she asks, once she's finished, her face pleasantly flushed.
He slow claps, enjoying the glazed look in the Chief's eyes and the damp sheen on her soft lips.
"Get in the damn Raptor, Helo," she orders, stalking out with more swish in her hips than usual.
Chief Tyrol shakes himself out of his daze, blushing and stammering excuses as he makes for the hatch. "Lieutenant, I swear, I—"
"I'm not gonna report you, Chief," Helo says with a shrug. "Can't really blame you for it."
They watch Boomer's retreating figure sashay down the hallway in shared appreciation, and exchange a grin.
It's not so bad, really. Tyrol's a good guy, hard to resent, and anything that puts that swing in Boomer's step can only be a good thing. It could be far worse. It could be Catman.
Besides, Helo thinks as he jogs after his pilot, he's the one who gets to fly with her, and that's something the Chief can never take away from him.
This is how the world ends: his leg hurts like a bitch, the air is hazy with heat and ozone, the crowd is increasingly restless, the gun is hot in his bloodstained hands. Helo's mouth opens before his sense of self-preservation can kick back in, and without really knowing how or why, he's traded his life for someone else's.
Once the decision is made, the harsh edges of his world smooth out and a coolness spreads out over his mind and body. He's only dimly aware of the irradiated air starting to burn his skin, of the cries and prayers of the people being left behind, of yesterday or tomorrow. His universe shrinks to just himself and Boomer, the tears in her dark eyes, the impossible steadiness of his voice. Live, he thinks at her with every fiber of his being. Live.
He spares a glance for Gaius Baltar. You figure out a way to fix this, Helo wants to tell him. You fix this, and keep her safe.
It's the right thing to do, even if his heart is screaming at him to grab her and hold her, hold her tight, and never let go.
No. She can do this. She's gonna be fine.
A touch of her hand, one last dark-eyed glance, and he can practically see the determination ripple through her body, tilting her chin up and giving her the fierceness that first drew him to her. Sharon, he lets himself think. Sharon.
And then she gets into their Raptor and he loses her for the last time.
There's more, of course; she's not safe in the air yet, and he's damned if he'll let anything go wrong and hurt her now. His body acts divorced from his mind, years of combat training taking over, crisis control. He does what he needs to do to keep her alive and safe for what little time he has left.
"It's over," he hears himself saying, repeating it again and again. "It's over."
And then he grabs his med kit and starts settling into the business of surviving, because he has nothing better to do.
This is how to make a complete and utter fool of yourself without even realizing it: her skin is slick with rain and perspiration, her hot breath is misty in the chilly night air, her hair is damp and tangled around his hands, her lips are impossibly soft, and Helo wants more than he ever has before in his life. To both want and be able to actually have is borderline miraculous.
"Sharon," he says, over and over again, completely unaware that even the name is a lie.
After, they huddle together under the meager shelter of a wide-branched tree, soaked and cold and exhausted and blissful. Neither of them speaks. Which is odd, Helo reflects, given how much of their relationship before the attacks consisted of conversation. Verbal sparring, self-conscious confidences, mindless chatter, anything to fill the space between them. Silences could be comfortable or awkward, but mostly just meant that each was too busily engaged with various Raptor duties to be much aware of the other. Now, it's almost shocking for Helo to realize that he ever spent any period of time indifferent to her proximity, but really, even in the irritating throes of unrequited love, it just wasn't in his nature to pine. Not while there were more important things to do.
He nudges her gently. "Hey," he says softly. "Talk to me."
She just murmurs something unintelligible and shifts against him to press her face into the curve of his neck. Her eyelashes tickle him and her nose is cold. He smiles and pulls her even closer. They'll talk later. If they have time.
Cylons on their tails and not enough hope to go around and if they don't find a way off this rock they'll run out of radiation meds sooner than he's willing to think about, but nothing seems more important at this moment than memorizing the feel of her curled up in his arms, the curve of her spine, the softness of her eyelashes fluttering against his neck in restless sleep.
In a few weeks, when the truth comes out, he'll hold his stomach and retch up nothing at the side of the road, sick with horror at how one calculating bitch of a toaster could have held him captivated like this. But right here, right now, all he cares about is her.
Eventually, he'll come to understand that both to want and to have is a miraculous thing, and he'll be willing to do anything to get that feeling back. Even if it makes him look like a complete and utter idiot. There are things – advanced models of household appliances, even – worth looking foolish for.
This is how the honeymoon ends: she's a frakking Cylon.
He's not really aware of anything else for a while after that.
This is how to hold full colors but still lose the game: dawn is still a few hours off, but he can't sleep, so he watches the Valerii model toaster cradle her arm awkwardly and rock back and forth, shivering. Helo can tell by the creases at the corners of her eyes and mouth that it's hurting her, but she doesn't say a word. He wouldn't offer to help even if she did.
"So what I don't get," he says, darkly enjoying the way she starts at the sound of his voice, " is why you didn't just kill me outright when you found me."
"If we wanted to kill you, you wouldn't have lasted half a day after giving up your place on the Raptor," she replies shortly. "You're smarter than this, Helo, don't ask stupid questions."
Stung, he deliberately waves his gun at her. "I'll ask whatever questions I frakking feel like asking."
She shrugs. The movement jostles her shoulder, and she closes her eyes, visibly shutting out the pain. It's such a familiar little quirk of Sharon's that it makes his gut twist, and for a second, he almost lowers his gun. No. Not Sharon, he reminds himself. Cylon.
"Your hardware's clearly frakked," he says. He can't feel sympathetic toward this machine, he can't. "Can't you switch off or something? Shitty design, if you ask me."
She doesn't respond, just looks away. For some reason, this just pisses him off even more.
"Was this all some kind of sick little game for you?" he demands. "You toasters got bored with the planet once you'd wiped us all out, so you decided to toy with the only human left?"
Tears well up in her eyes, and it should be pathetic, but it makes him feel sick to his stomach. She turns her back on him and breathes deeply, clearly trying to control her feelings; but no, that doesn't make sense, she's a frakking machine, machines don't feel.
He wants to hold her so badly it hurts.
No, he wants to hold Sharon, he reminds himself. He loved Sharon, Boomer, not this piece of faulty machinery. This isn't the woman he thought he loved. This scheming, duplicitous Cylon is good for one thing and one thing only, and that's getting him off this godsforsaken planet, and then he can shoot her in the head and get back to Galactica and forget this whole miserable experience ever happened.
All he wants is to touch her. Just once. To feel her soft lips against his, fall into her dark-eyed gaze, trace patterns against her wet-hot-smooth skin…
He's so frakked.
This is how to leave your lover: well, to be honest, Helo's never been too good at leaving Sharon, unless grandiose self-sacrificing gestures are the name of the game. But that's all right, because Sharon's apparently figured out how to leave him.
He can't really blame her for it.
"Look on the bright side," Starbuck says once, in an inexplicably more cheerful and less condemning mood than usual, as her old truck rattles its way down a long-abandoned dirt road. "At least now you won't have to kill her yourself."
Helo isn't sure that this is an improvement over being told repeatedly how much of an idiot he is.
Starbuck glances over at him. "Or were you planning on bringing her back to Galactica? You couldn't possibly be that stupid, Helo."
"I wasn't planning anything," he replies testily. "I needed her to help me get off this rock. Beyond that…I hadn't thought about anything beyond that."
"You knew what she was. You knew you couldn't let her find out the Galactica's position."
He doesn't respond.
"Gods, Helo, she's a frakking Cylon!"
"Keep your eyes on the road, will you?" Gratifyingly, she does, swerving them back onto the main path just in time to avoid an overly large fallen branch. Once his heart rate returns to something resembling normal, he grates out, "I've managed to survive down here for a frakking long time, I'd rather not die in a car crash now because you can't stop reminding me how dumb I am."
"I'm not trying to – frak. Okay," Starbuck says, "I'll stop."
He really wants to believe her, but as recent history has proven, Helo doesn't have the greatest judgment when it comes to trusting women.
Still, this is Starbuck, and that was something hovering in the general area of an apology, so he figures she should get a few points for trying. And she's not a Cylon, at least. He hopes.
They drive on in silence for a while. Starbuck's one of the few people Helo doesn't mind sitting in silence with. In some ways, he's closer to her than he ever was to Sharon. Either Sharon.
"It would've been hard, bringing her back with me," Helo finally says. "Knowing that she – knowing I'd be ruining Boomer's life by bringing this Sharon there. But I guess that would've had to happen either way."
"But you wouldn't have been able to leave your copy of her here," Starbuck says, oddly subdued.
"No," Helo says. And for maybe the first time, he can admit it to himself, too. "No, I couldn't have left her."
"The Galactica copy's life isn't in such great shape anyway." Starbuck stares fixedly at the road, at her dashboard, anything but him. "Her affair with the Chief – well, he ended it, and it's no great secret that she wasn't happy about that. And then, right before I left…"
He remembers the sway of that Sharon's hips as she walked off to meet with the Chief, the wild happiness in her dark eyes, Tyrol's dazed and embarrassed and thrilled look upon being discovered. And he wonders how he ever could have fooled himself into thinking that the Boomer he'd known on Galactica had given all that up for him.
"She tried to kill herself, Helo. Well, official story's something about an accidental weapons discharge, but…"
That was the Boomer he thought he'd fallen in love with, the one he'd insisted to this Sharon was his one true love and other shit like that. He should feel something. He should care.
He does care.
Just not as much as he cares about his Sharon.
It's worth knowing, even though he doubts he'll ever see either of them again.
Starbuck hastily changes the subject to bitch about the godsforsaken condition of the road, and neither of them mentions the Sharons again for a while.
This is how to commit treason: gunfire echoing in the hazy air, Starbuck cowering down in the dirt, pale and bloody, a Cylon Heavy Raider descending upon them like the wrath of the gods – and then Helo puts two and two together and comes up with five.
That's when he realizes exactly who's flying the Cylon ship.
He doesn't have time to think about it, to consider any implications beyond the immediate and obvious sense of disaster averted. After all, there are still Centurions to be dispatched, and a trembling, blood-soaked Starbuck to be fetched; and then Sharon's urgency, rushing them all on board the Raider, scanning the skies for any hint of other Cylon ships in pursuit.
Anders is crouched over Starbuck, off to the side of the ship, murmuring softly as he examines her injuries and starts cleaning off some of the blood spattered across her face and chest. They neither need nor want Helo's assistance; but there are other injured men and women among the resistance, and he keeps himself busy throughout the flight ripping shirts into bandages and talking soothingly to the worst hurt, calming them.
His own mind is anything but calm. Sharon is only a few feet away, deftly piloting the Raider back towards Resistance headquarters on Ten Point's directions. There's no console as such, none of the machinery usually in evidence to pilot a spacecraft, but she's somehow rewired it or plugged herself into the mainframe or something to override the Cylon ship's normal navigational systems, whatever they are. Her arm seems to be healing well. She still doesn't look pregnant, but then, it's barely been six weeks since they first made love. Nowhere near as long as it feels. And worse, now that the mission's accomplished, she's done as promised and beyond, and he doesn't have to close his eyes to imagine the silky fall of her hair, her creamy smooth skin, her dark, dark eyes—
She's a toaster, he reminds himself savagely. This isn't normal.
The Raider starts to set down, and she glances over her shoulder at him. Just for a second, their eyes meet.
She fraks up the landing.
Some damn machine she's turned out to be.
Helo forces himself to wait until every last other human being has disembarked from the Raider, every wounded resistance fighter carried off, every last gun fetched. Sharon doesn't stir from the computer terminal, even though he's pretty damn sure she doesn't have anything left to do with it. The last set of footsteps recede down the hatch and away, echoing dimly in the stillness.
And then without a word spoken between them, she's in his arms, tilting her head up and pressing her mouth to his, and he holds her tightly, too tightly, quite certain he'll never let her go again.
He kisses her mouth, her neck, the soft sensitive spot just beneath her ear, her eyelids, the corners of her mouth, her lips again. Her heartbeat is fast and stuttering against his chest, her fingertips press into the back of his neck, her eyes are heavy-lidded with desire. She's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen – and then thing shifts softly and almost imperceptibly into person in his mind, and he knows he'll never be able to shift it back.
"Stay," he realizes he's saying, over and over again, whispering the word hoarsely into her ear. "Stay with me."
"I've already given up everything else for us," she murmurs back. "There's no way in hell I'm giving you up as well, Helo."
Helo presses his palm to her still-flat stomach, rubbing it lightly with his thumb, and kisses her again, and again, and again.
He should shoot her in the head. He's an idiot for having fallen in love with her. She's a frakking toaster. This is treason.
He couldn't care less.
This is how it all starts: in the Heavy Raider again, Sharon's eyes wide and unfocused as she connects to the mainframe to plot their jumps back to Galactica, Starbuck huddled in a corner clutching the Arrow of Apollo to her chest like a promise, and Helo's gut twists in nervous anticipation of whatever's going to happen to them next.
With a shuddering sigh, weirdly erotic, Sharon disconnects; she blinks rapidly a few times, her eyes gradually regaining focus.
"You okay?" Helo asks, rubbing her shoulder gently.
"Yeah," she says. She grins up at him, suddenly wicked. "Betcha you've never been in a barrel-rolling Heavy Raider before."
He laughs, the knot of tension in his stomach unraveling. "Seriously, though, Sharon, is everything—"
"Don't worry about it, Helo," she says gently. "We're good."
The ship jumps.