I looked at myself in the mirror and sighed. "You look like death warmed over. Nobody in his right mind would go out with you. Even if there was somebody you wanted to be with." Splashing water on my face, I quit tormenting myself with the dark circles under my eyes and the lack luster lock of hair that persisted in hanging over my forehead. I was too tired to care anymore.
Rubbing some color into my cheeks with the rough towel, I looked around the cubicle that I called home. At least I had it to myself now. My restless sleep had sent my last roommate to the dorms so he could get his own rest. I seemed to be physically incapable of sleeping more than a couple of centars at a time. Then the nightmares started and I always woke myself up before I started screaming.
Hanging the towel neatly over the rod, I avoided looking in the mirror. Cassie was busy tonight or I'd go over to her place. Smiling, I thought about the beautiful woman who meant so much to me. Friends, real friends are hard to come by and she was a true friend. These days, we mainly just hung out together.
If she was tired, I'd give her a back rub and tuck her in to sleep, leaving quietly with a blown kiss from the open doorway to make any onlookers think she was still awake. If I collapsed on her, she soothed away my aches with her strong hands and lulled me to sleep with a lullaby, tucking me in and watching over me until I woke up.
She's the only one who knows about the nightmares, the only one who knows why I'm not fooling around anymore. Cassie and I love each other. Purely platonically. Smiling fondly, I stride restlessly from my room and begin to roam the corridors, trying to decide what to do with myself. Too tired to concentrate on a game of chance. Flirting doesn't have any savor anymore.
Of course, I end up where I most want to be. Outside of Apollo's quarters. It's still early enough I can play with Boxey for awhile and watch the good Captain out of the corner of my eye. I've gotten real good at using reflective surfaces to keep track of him without betraying my interest.
Interest? More like obsession.
Why do I torment myself like this? I am definitely an idiot. He's a woman's man with a long list of ladies ready and able to take over for Serina. But he's still mourning her. Thank all the Lords of Kobol. Sheba wants him but he doesn't even see her. I've probably prayed more in the last yahren than in the whole rest of my misspent life. One of the goddesses must have a soft spot for a feckless fool like me because each one's been answered.
Pushing the panel by the door, I wait for Boxey to run and answer it. That's his job and he does it well. I lower my eyes to meet his and instead find myself looking at Apollo's crotch. Well, that's inspiring, not to mention embarrassing. Forcing my eyes up, I quirk an eyebrow at him.
"Did you just tie him so he couldn't answer the door or am I later than I thought?"
His eyes crinkled with laughter and he motioned me in. "Nope. He got worn out today and he's getting ready for bed early. Without protest!"
"Wow, he must have run his teacher ragged." I grinned and felt his presence soak into my senses. He'd been running his hand through his hair again and it was disordered just a bit, the way I love to see it. He looked good rumpled ... I quickly cut off my treacherous thoughts before they could go further down that road.
"Starbuck!" Boxey's head stuck around the door and he came shooting out and over to us.
I swung him up in the air and caught him again into a hug. He smelled of soap and tooth cleaner. He hugged me back and I felt tears in my eyes for a moment.
"Well, Boxey, I hear you were pretty busy today. Too busy for a bedtime story?" I rested my cheek for just a moment on his tousled hair.
"Nope!" He imitated his father exactly and made me laugh. I waved at Apollo and carried the little imp into his bedroom.
The night ritual takes a little time since his pockets have to be emptied and each treasure shown to me before being put into its proper place. A leaf from Eden II with an explanation of the tree it came from. A feather from one of the birds that fly free within the great space. It was a beautiful soft feather, yellow and fluffy. Boxey held it so gently as he spoke of the small bird that had fluttered overhead them and let fall a feather. 'Just for him', he assured me.
So, I tucked him in and told him a story about a yellow bird who flew in a great forest and had many friends whom he visited everyday. He was asleep before I'd named two of them. For a long moment, I sat by the bed and watched him sleep. All that restless energy, finally still beneath the warm blanket. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and fought the urge to lay my head down on the side of the bed and catch a little nap.
But there was no excuse for that so I forced myself to my feet, holding onto the back of the chair when the dizziness caught up with me. More deep breaths and I was ready to say goodnight to Apollo. Turning, I stopped abruptly at the sight of him watching me. I almost panicked but locked it down with everything else I couldn't show him.
"That was a good one, Starbuck." His whisper echoed across the small room, straight to my ears.
I brushed past him with a grin. "Well, I come by my storytelling ability honestly. I'd better get out of your way now."
His hand landed on my shoulder and stopped me in my tracks. "No, I need to talk to you about something. Can you spare some time?"
I was almost too busy processing the feelings to answer him. "Um, sure, Apollo."
He squeezed once and let go. I'd never known that my left shoulder was an erogenous zone before. His warm imprint made the rest of my body seem pretty cold and lifeless. All the nerves in my arm were tingling and sending little happy messages to my brain. If I really concentrated, I could still feel each individual finger and exactly where they had rested.
But he was beckoning me over to the long seat and offering me a glass of ambrosia so I shook myself out of my self-induced trance. Crossing over to him, it took some doing but I managed to take the glass without touching his fingers. I was already jumpy, no sense in making it worse.
"What's up? Something I can help with?" I took a deep drink and almost choked. This was the good stuff, not what I was used to at all. But there was a little bitterness to it that also threw me.
"We've got a pilot who seems to be having a bit of a problem." Apollo sat down next to me and I could feel the heat of him all along my leg, even though he was a hands breath away. "Boomer is worried about him and I have to admit that I am as well."
"Not doing well on patrol? Or getting in trouble back here?" I leaned forward and took another drink. It was way too dangerous to sit back like he was.
He gestured with that long lean hand. So tanned and strong, I felt my eyes drawn to it. "Neither, actually. He's become a bit of a hermit. He's drawn in on himself and doesn't talk to anyone about anything. Quite a turn around for him."
I tried to bring my brain to bear on the problem but my thoughts were fuzzy. I couldn't seem to take my eyes off his hand and when it touched my knee, I think I stopped breathing. Twice in one day was too much. I'd gone so long without a touch of any kind that this one threatened to overload my senses.
Struggling, I tried to respond to his concern but I seemed have gone numb. I couldn't feel the glass in my hand anymore and I watched in horror while it tilted towards the floor. But then his hand was there to catch it and he slowly placed it on the table. Everything was in slow motion and I tried to let him know something was wrong but I couldn't make anything work.
"Starbuck." He had his arm around me and the room was tilting crazily while he laid me back on the seat. "Sleep now. It'll be better in the morning."
*No. Mustn't sleep. Not here.* Muzzily, I tried to tell him but that hand was back, brushing the hair from my forehead.
"Sh-h-h, Starbuck. You're safe. I'll be right here." His eyes were as warm as his hand.
Right here. I smiled inside at his reassurance. Safe. Maybe just a moment. Make a nice bedtime ...
End part one