"Excuse me..." Helo felt a tap on his shoulder and turned slightly to look at the woman who stood just behind him. A few years older than he, she was tall and blonde, beautiful, in an overblown, soft-around-the-edges kind of way. He moved to face her fully, no mean feat in the press of bodies at the bar.
"Ma'am?" He started to take a sip of his drink, but then remembered that he had come up to the bar in the first place to refill it.
Loud voices and louder music swirled around them, adding to the thickness of the air and seeming to pool near the ceiling, along with the smoke of dozens of cigarettes and fumarillos and the heat of too many bodies. Helo fervently wished he hadn't been required to attend this latest Fleet social function, but when one was an officer on Picon and stationed, even temporarily, at Fleet HQ...
"Oh, not 'ma'am', surely." She turned a thousand-watt smile on him. "That makes me sound so old." The smile almost made it worthwhile that he'd just lost his place in the queue for the bar.
"No, ma'am," he grinned, "not old at all. It's just that a junior officer can't be too careful at these things." Given the quality of her clothes and hairstyle and the look of the jewelry she wore, there was no doubt in his mind that she was the wife of either a senior officer or a diplomat.
"Well, I'll forgive you if you don't do it again." She laid her left hand flat on Helo's chest. "I'm Ellen."
"Ellen," he glanced down at her ringless fingers, caressing his gold sash and playing with his marksmanship medal, "what can I do for you?" He knew his grin had turned into a smirk at the way she was flaunting the lack of a wedding ring, which only confirmed in his mind that she was married.
"Would you be so kind as to refill my glass? I'm parched and I just haven't been able to fight my way through this crowd to do it myself." She swayed on her feet and he caught her before she could fall from her high heels, which left her pressed against him. More likely the bartender cut you off, he thought, but didn't say it. She insinuated her fingers under the sash. "Pretty please?" She peered up at him from slightly bloodshot blue eyes and he suspected she might actually be rooting around for the fastenings of his uniform tunic.
Helo was becoming distinctly uncomfortable. "Ellen, I, uh..."
"Oh, Lieutenant, you know my name, but I don't know yours." She pouted and reached her bare arms up to cross her wrists behind his head, her empty glass dangling; he was afraid the glass would drop and shatter at any moment, not that anyone would notice in this crowd.
But then another voice broke in. "Lieutenant, would you please see to it that Mrs. Tigh makes it home safely?" Helo's eyes widened and a rush of almost panic flowed over him as he recognized Admiral Nagala. Oh, Gods. He doesn't think she and I...? The man smiled. "Relax, Lieutenant. Mrs. Tigh seems to have had a bit too much to drink this evening, haven't you, Ellen?"
"Gaurav, dear, that's hardly fair." Again she pouted, this time at the Admiral. "This handsome young man and I were just getting acquainted..." The pretty pout for Nagala morphed into a sweet smile for Helo.
"Leave the Lieutenant alone, Ellen. He hasn't been at HQ long enough to get used to these parties." He turned to address Helo, who was acutely aware that his arm was still around Mrs. Ellen Tigh's slender waist. "What's your name, son?"
Helo tried to surreptitiously lower his arm, but that only made it worse as Ellen took that opportunity to grasp his hand and twine her fingers with his. "Sir. Karl Agathon, sir."
From the look in Nagala's dark eyes, he was enjoying Helo's discomfort. "Lieutenant Agathon, please call a cab for Mrs. Tigh. No need for you to go with her," the man arched one iron-gray brow and continued, "just see to it she gets in and that the driver knows she's to go home."
Before Helo could question whether he could trust her to give the driver her real address, Ellen leaned her head on his shoulder and looked at Admiral Nagala. "You're such a spoilsport, Gaurav." She sounded much less drunk than she had just a few seconds ago. "I promise I'll go home and go to bed like a good little girl."
Nagala nodded and left. Man, I feel sorry for your husband, Helo thought as he led Ellen through the crowd to the exit. She didn't let go of his hand when she shifted to follow behind him, since it was impossible to navigate the smoky room side by side. He had to stop to let a couple cross from the bar area to the gyrating group on the dance floor and Ellen took that opportunity to grab his ass. She laughed when he jumped.
It was going to be a damned long wait for that cab...
He couldn't help but notice her. Tall and blonde (unnaturally blonde, a part of his brain noted), slender and sexy, she knew how to work a room. Or, in this case, a sidewalk.
Helo's eyes followed the vision in red and black - sex on high heels. He couldn't have looked away if he'd wanted to. By the time he'd memorized every curve as she walked away, he realized that he had stopped dead in the middle of the crowded shopping zone and that she, too, had stopped. Had, in fact, turned to stare at him, a small, knowing smile playing about her mouth.
Hazel eyes met ice blue and her smile widened. Just for him. It was a predatory thing that sent a shock of heat straight to his groin. The tip of her tongue caressed her bright red lips as she studied him in turn and Helo was inexplicably glad that he had chosen to dress like a civilian this morning (jeans and a sweater), rather than military greens. Why he should care whether this woman knew he was Colonial Fleet, newly assigned to the 75th BSG, was a mystery to him and yet...
She took a step toward him, another. He couldn't move, didn't want to move. He swallowed hard and waited for her to come to him. Mere centimeters remained between them when she paused, the crowd that swirled around them having the odd effect of creating a bubble that included only Helo and this... dream.
"Are you alive?" she breathed, gliding graceful fingers from his brow to his lips. Electricity followed the butterfly touch.
Intrigued, he played along with whatever her game was. "You tell me." His voice sounded thick, deeper than its usual timbre.
With a tilt of her head that was a challenge and something in her exquisite eyes that was pure invitation, she turned again and slid into an alley between two shops that led to the deserted loading zone behind. All thought of a birthday gift for his nephew disappeared in a haze of lust as he followed.
What the hell... I don't have to report to Galactica for a few hours yet.
Kara punched him in the arm, hard. He barely noticed, his eyes never straying from the opposite side of the hangar and the couple there, watching the way her fingers touched his forearm briefly as she smiled at him, the two standing beside the raptor Helo had left only moments before.
"Damn, Helo, you've got it bad."
"What?" He looked over at his friend, reluctantly dragging his attention from Boomer, who spoke to the Chief as though no one else existed, as if the two of them weren't surrounded by pilots newly returned from a training exercise and deck crew taking care of their birds.
Kara rolled her eyes and grabbed the front of Helo's flight suit. "Come on, Raptor Boy. I can't stand pathetic and we both need a shower."
He stumbled a bit as she pulled him toward the hatch, effectively tearing his brain from fantasyland back to reality. "You volunteering to scrub my back, Starbuck?" he asked with a grin and a leer as he willingly allowed himself to be led. If he couldn't have the one he wanted... Well, Kara was always happy to take his mind off his troubles.
She laughed, the sound a little harsh, a little sexy. "No way. I'm volunteering you to scrub mine."
The exercise just ended had involved high speeds and tricky maneuvers - exactly the type of flying that got adrenaline pumping and blood rushing through veins; the only way to come down from the high was to pummel it into submission in the gym or find a warm body for a quick, hard frak.
Kara's hand slid down Helo's sleeve and her warm fingers twined with his. He leaned down to whisper into her ear, "Aw, you're so good to me," and then nipped at her lobe, causing her to purr in agreement as they headed for the showers.
Most of the other pilots were either still in the hangar or headed somewhere other than the showers, which were deserted when they arrived. Out of sight of any casual passers-by, Kara leaned back against a bulkhead and tugged, bringing Helo up hard against her. Without a word, she began to unfasten his flight suit.
Helo smiled and bent to capture her lower lip with his teeth, worked at the fastenings of her flight suit with practiced fingers. A quick, hard frak was just what he and Kara both wanted right now.
It wasn't the first time, nor would it be the last.
Boomer in the Chief's arms...
... instead of in his.
"You look nervous, Lieutenant. Are you?"
Helo forced himself not to fidget under the not quite friendly gaze of the blonde reporter. Was he nervous? Hell, yes, he was nervous, afraid that he would say something that would set off her reporter's instincts, that would indicate to her that there was a Cylon aboard Galactica. If D'Anna Biers finds out about Sharon...
"There's no need to be," she continued with what was meant to be a reassuring smile. And it was a nice smile, just not particularly reassuring. "I won't bite and we can stop anytime you'd like." Her cameraman - Bell? - snickered and Helo didn't know if the derisive sound was in regard to the biting or the stopping.
While Biers waited for an answer, her eyes traveled over his body, frankly interested in what she saw, and Helo felt his face grow warm. Definitely not helping with the nerves, he thought. To cover it up, he half smiled and asked, "Why don't I believe you?" As the words left his mouth, he realized he sounded like he was flirting; he hadn't wished so hard that he could sink into the floor since he was about fifteen.
She leaned against the hard back of her chair and tilted her head, causing her blonde hair to pool in the curve between neck and shoulder and her bright yellow shirt to pull tighter across her chest. This time, the smile she gave him was genuine. "About what?"
"That you don't bite."
She laughed aloud at that. "How about something to take the edge off?" she asked, taking hold of a bottle that rested on the surface of the gray table at which she sat. There were two glasses beside it, one empty, the other, half full. She opened the bottle and topped off the half-full glass, then filled the empty one with the same clear liquid and pushed it toward him. "Drink, Lieutenant. It'll help you to relax and, if I'm not mistaken, you're not on duty at the moment..."
He leaned toward the table and wrapped cold fingers around cool glass. She smiled at him again, lifted her drink and tossed off nearly half its contents in one swallow. Her eyes never left his. Ignoring the warning in his head - the alcohol would help, if he didn't overdo it - he drank. The liquid burned its way to his otherwise empty stomach and warmth flooded through him.
"Let's get started, then," she said and a light appeared on Bell's camera as he lifted it, aiming it at Helo. He straightened in his chair, praying that he wouldn't do or say anything that could harm Sharon. "What's been the hardest for you?" Her tone was compassionate, but he knew there were dangerous currents underneath.
The hardest had been the separation from Sharon. The last time he had been allowed to touch her had been on Kobol, but hostile eyes had closely monitored even that small interaction. Now all they had was a few minutes at a time, filtered by a handset and safety glass, and the watchful presence of a nearby Marine. But he couldn't tell Biers that.
He took another drink, looked over at Bell. "You'll edit this," he gestured with his glass, "out of the final copy, right?"
The cameraman shrugged, but Biers said, "Of course. I didn't give it to you to make you look bad, Lieutenant."
"Call me Helo." He had to tell her something. He replayed the last few months in his mind, finally found a snippet he could give her that should be relatively safe. "They try to turn off the human part of you, because that's what'll get you killed, but..." Helo hadn't been able to turn that part of him off, and, as a result, had nearly been spaced by a woman who had turned out to be the new president of the Colonies. He couldn't tell D'Anna about that, either, so he settled for, "When you're out in the field, it's not that easy. Nothing's that easy."
His eyes focused again on D'Anna, who looked at him now with sympathy. But there was another emotion in her eyes that he couldn't identify, a combination of excitement, attraction, and almost a kind of reverence. He frowned. He hadn't had that much to drink, had he?
She pushed back from the table and stood. "Bell, why don't you take a break." Her eyes held Helo's. "I'll call you back when I need you. Helo and I have some things to talk about."
The red light on Bell's camera faded and went out. "Sure, D'Anna. Whatever you say." She followed the man to the door, locked it behind him once he and his camera had gone.
Feeling nervous again, Helo stood and downed the last of the alcohol in his glass as D'Anna approached him. His heart skipped a beat as she took the glass from him and set it gently on the table behind her. "You're Helo..." she breathed.
She moved in closer until her body was flush against his. He knew he should back away, but couldn't make his legs obey his brain. D'Anna reached up, pulled his head down the short distance needed to brush her mouth against his. "I have to know..." She licked his lower lip and he held his breath. She kissed him, then, and by the time he thought to fight against the tide rising between them, it was too late and he found himself kissing her back.
After an eternity, D'Anna broke the kiss, whispered while reaching for his belt. It was only later, in his rack for the night and feeling guilty, that he realized what she had said. But that can't be right, he thought, even as he heard the words again, echoing in his hazy memory.
"How did you turn her against us?"
Helo picked up a magazine from the bunk across from Kara's and sat down to read, leaning back with her pillow behind his head. No one had seen her for several hours, so he'd come to her quarters in the slight - and vain - hope that she might be here. Now that he was here and she wasn't, he didn't feel like leaving. There was no one else he wanted to talk to save Sharon, who was with Doc Cottle and thus off limits to him until the examination Admiral Cain had ordered was finished.
Deep into an article that compared the candidates for what would have been the next Caprican general election, Helo heard a woman's voice in the corridor. He couldn't tell what she said or who she was, but he didn't have to think about it long; the hatch opened and he laid aside the magazine, swinging his feet to the deck.
He was only slightly disappointed when Racetrack walked into the room, rather than Starbuck. She wore nothing but a towel and ran her fingers through the long, damp strands of her dark hair. She stopped dead when she saw him.
Grabbing the magazine, he stood. "Uh, hi. I was just waiting for Starbuck." He tossed it back onto the rack where he'd found it and took a step toward the hatch, which was still open. "I'll just come back later." He'd forgotten that Racetrack was one of the pilots who shared Kara's quarters, might have decided on talking to Tyrol until he was allowed to see Sharon, had he remembered. Racetrack seemed to have a big problem with him, although she had been nicer to him since the Pegasus had shown up.
Her skin an interesting shade of red, either from the heat of her recent shower or embarrassment, she walked over and picked up the magazine. "How long have you been here?" She opened her locker door and placed it on the shelf within.
"Not long." Feeling awkward and having been stung before by her prickly exterior, he said, "Look, Racetrack, I wasn't going through your things, if that's what you're worried about."
"My name is Margaret. Or Maggie." She didn't look at him as she took clean clothes from the locker and tossed them to the bed. Her color had faded to pink by the time she turned toward him and crossed her arms over her chest, the gesture defensive. "I thought you were leaving."
With a glance at the pile of clothing on her bed, he shrugged. "I guess I am." Maybe he'd go look for the Chief after all. He wheeled around and headed toward the hatch. "When you see her, tell Starbuck I'll be on the hangar deck."
"You haven't heard? She was transferred to Pegasus."
That stopped him. Facing her again, he saw that she had her back to him, or rather her backside, as she had dropped the towel to the deck to pull on a pair of underwear. "Transferred?" he asked. Watching her, his face grew warm, but he didn't immediately look away. After a moment, feeling ashamed of himself, he closed his eyes.
"Yeah, her and Apollo," there was a little break in her voice; from the whisper of fabric pulled over smooth skin, she must have stepped into her trousers, "a couple of others."
"I don't know; I didn't ask." Her tone said that it wasn't her place to question orders. "You can open your eyes now."
Helo did and saw that she now wore trousers and tanks, though her feet were still bare. "I'd better get going..." It was hard to tear his eyes from those bare feet back to her face. It had been weeks since he'd last been allowed to look at Sharon, just look at her, not even touch her...
"You don't have to go." Maggie's face had shaded to red again. "I mean, I-" She bit her lip and broke off whatever she was going to say, sat on the bed looking suddenly lost.
"Was it something I said?" The half-hearted joke was lame, he knew, but her abrupt change in attitude had him concerned.
"It's just I..." She looked up at him and he was surprised to see there were tears in her eyes. He didn't know her well - she had only been assigned to Galactica a couple of months before he had been stranded on Caprica, so how could he? - but there was clearly something wrong. This wasn't the angry woman who gave him crap every time she saw him, nor was it the laughing woman of the last couple of days. "Helo, I have to apologize for all the nasty things I've said to you. That isn't me, or at least it wasn't me."
She looked so forlorn, sitting there barefoot, biting her lip. He sat beside her, carefully keeping a bit of distance between them. "If you need to talk to someone..." He gave her a wry smile. "Kara tells me I'm a good a listener."
Her eyes dropped to her hands, which were folded in her lap. "My whole family was wiped out, my grandmother, my fiance, my brothers, and when you came back here, with her, it just all hit me, you know?" Helo said nothing, holding himself still, not knowing what to say that could possibly make her understand about Sharon. "She's one of them, one of the ones who murdered my family."
Her voice fell silent and he realized that she was watching him, waiting for some kind of reaction. "I know," he finally answered. "Believe me, I know. My whole family was wiped out, too, my sisters..." It hit him then that he'd never see any of them again. "Racetrack..." She soundlessly corrected him. "Maggie. I don't know what to say to you. All I know is that she's different. I would've died at least half a dozen times out there, if it weren't for her. For that matter, we all would've died a couple of weeks ago if it weren't for Sharon."
She closed the distance between them, then, startled him by laying her head on his shoulder. "I didn't know about your family. I guess I just, I dunno, thought there wasn't anyone you'd lost, for you to have so easily accepted her."
He laughed, the sound harsh, and put his arm around her, because that seemed to be what she needed just then. "If running from her for two days and then shooting her is easy acceptance, okay."
"You shot her?" She sounded shocked.
"Yeah." Something he very much did not want to talk about with Maggie. "Tell me about your grandmother." She'd mentioned the loss of her grandmother even before the loss of her fiance, so Helo thought she must have held a prominent place in her life.
"Our parents died when we were very small, so she raised us, my brothers and me." She leaned into him again and he felt her smile against his arm. "She was a crotchety old bitch to everyone else, but she always had a smile for me. Said I reminded her of my mother. And she was always, always singing." Her voice broke. Helo knew it the moment the tears began to fall, the warm drops striking his shoulder. He shifted, reached up to touch her face, brushed more tears away with his thumb. "Gods, I miss her," she whispered. "Why couldn't I have died, too?"
"Hey, don't talk like that. We're alive, Maggie. There has to be a reason for that. There has to be more than just waiting for them to kill us." He kissed her on the forehead, a feather-light touch, stroked a hand over her still-damp hair. When he pulled back to look at her, the tears were still there as her eyes met his.
But then her eyes dropped to his mouth, lingered for a long moment before again rising to meet his. She kissed him, tentatively at first, and then with more confidence when he didn't pull away, didn't stop her. At the touch of her tongue at his lower lip, unthinking, he opened his mouth, let her in, tasted her as she tasted him. And then she was leaning back into the mattress, pulling him with her.
Their kisses became more urgent. It was becoming harder and harder to think. Gods, he wanted her. She stroked her hands down his back, caught his tanks and pulled, tearing her mouth from his only long enough to yank them over his head, kissed his chin and throat before returning to his welcoming mouth. "Helo," she breathed, "I want you." Her words echoed his thoughts.
And that's when it hit him. This isn't Sharon.
Stunned by what had happened, what was happening, Helo pushed away from her. This is wrong. He looked down and their eyes met, Maggie's as wide-open as his and equally as shocked. He noticed for the first time that her eyes were brown, as dark as Sharon's.
He scrambled off the bed, away from her, away from temptation, his feet tangling in his own tanks and nearly tripping him. "I can't do this." Realization that he was leaving dawned in her eyes, quickly followed by hurt and then anger. "I'm sorry," he said, bending to retrieve his shirts.
"Sorry? You're sorry?" Tugging the gray tank over his head, Helo backed warily away as Maggie swung her bare feet to the floor and her beautiful brown eyes searched the room, no doubt for something to throw at him. He turned and headed quickly for the hatch, pulling on his second tank, as he heard her locker door open behind him. He stepped through the hatch into the corridor just as the magazine he had been reading caught him in the back of the head. All he could think as he closed the hatch to prevent more missiles from finding him was that he deserved far worse.