I felt for his pulse and found it steady if a bit fast. The knockout drops had done their job and I finally had Starbuck right where I wanted him. Asleep. "What have you done to yourself, my friend? Why haven't you come to me and let me help?"
I crouched by his side and let my eyes wander over his thin body. He obviously hadn't been eating right. He was nothing but skin and bones. Funny how our uniforms hid our bodies. Come to think of it, I hadn't seen him except in his uniform for sectons. He hadn't hit the turbowash with us in a while not even when we'd just gotten back from an extra-long patrol and none of the rest of us could wait to rinse off.
He'd felt almost brittle when I eased him down on the soft cushions. And he'd fought the drug almost desperately. I could see it in his terrified eyes. "Why, Starbuck? Why did Derek request the dorms instead of your two-person room? All he'll say is that you needed some privacy. Why is there pity in his eyes when he looks at you?"
Brushing the fair hair from his forehead, I pondered the change that had seemed to creep over the man I considered my best friend. The one who'd always been there for me, through thick and thin, in good times and bad. Why was he shutting me out this time? We'd always been able to talk to each other about anything.
What could be so bad that he'd suddenly grow quiet and sad? Gregarious Starbuck, ladies-man-extraordinaire had turned into Silent Starbuck, hermit. The only time I saw him off duty was when he came by to play with Boxey. And even that was only once a secton. It was as if he was rationing his visits to us.
"Did I do something, Starbuck? Something so terrible that you can't bear to be in the same room with me anymore? You don't touch anybody anymore, except for Boxey. And Cassie." I brooded on that for a bit, my hand still stroking the hair that felt so silky to my touch.
He spent his free time either alone or with her. No gambling or drinking. Or eating, if his ribs were any indication. I sighed and rubbed my eyes. "Sleep tight, Starbuck. We'll talk in the morning."
I got the soft blanket that I kept in the storage chest and spread it over the still figure. Tucking it around him, I gently touched his cheek. "Stubborn idiot."
Turning off the light, I left the one on over my desk, in case he woke up and was disoriented. Getting ready for bed, I was just getting ready to take off my robe when I heard the cry from outside. Opening my door, I heard the agonized groans and hurried to Starbuck's side. He was caught in some kind of nightmare, thrashing his head from side to side.
"Starbuck, it's all right. You're safe." I tried to get through to him but the drugs had him tight held and I was afraid he'd hurt himself with his abortive attempts to move. So, I lay down beside him and gathered him into my arms.
Rocking him slowly, I kept repeating his name over and over. Finally, he calmed but not before I felt the tears soaking my thin robe. He was murmuring something but I couldn't make out what. Leaning closer, I finally heard my name. But the tears didn't stop, they just kept leaking from the corners of his eyes.
So much pain and it had something to do with me. With a little sigh, he stilled in my arms and for a moment my heart almost stopped when I couldn't feel his breath. With a shaky hand, I felt for the pulse in his neck and finally found one. Slow but sure.
I held him for a moment longer than gently disentangled us and recovered him with the blanket. This must be what had driven Derek from their room. Reoccurring nightmares would soon lead to sleep deprivation with all the attendant side effects, loss of appetite, withdrawal from normal behavior, inability to talk about it. Especially for a strong man like my Starbuck.
Time to do something about it. Crossing to the communicator, I asked for a channel to Cassie. It only took a centon or two but I could feel my fingers drumming against the tabletop while my eyes stayed focused on the sleeping pilot.
"Cassie, its Apollo. I really need to see you in my quarters."
"Now?" Her voice sounded skeptical.
"Please. It's important. For Starbuck's sake."
"I'll be right there." And there was a decisive click on her end.
I've always liked Cassie but for a while, I thought she was going to snare the best wingman I'd ever had and I'd almost resented her. But she was good for Starbuck. She made him smile on days when I thought I might never see him smile again. I was a little in awe of her ability to see straight to the heart of people.
Maybe I was afraid she'd see into my heart. I brooded while I put on a pot of tea. I knew Cassie liked it and it wouldn't keep me up like the stimulating char would. My heart was a pretty empty place just now except for the family. The buzzer rang and I crossed quickly to answer it.
Cassie must have been coming back from the Rising Star to have gotten here so fast. She brushed past me and headed straight for the sleeping pilot. Sinking to her knees, she mimicked my earlier motion and brushed the hair from his forehead.
"You must have given him something. What was it?" Her voice was impatient and her glance abrupt.
"The Life Center gave me some valar. How did you know?"
"Thank the Lords. At least he won't have any side effects." She was checking his pulse and finally sat back, pushing the long blond curls from her face. She looked at me with such a searching expression before sighing. "I knew, because he only ever sleeps with me or alone. This is the last place he'd let himself fall asleep. I'm guessing you called me because he had a nightmare."
I pushed my hands in my pockets and nodded. "It seemed to be getting worse and worse before I could get him calmed down."
"And how did you manage that?" This time her voice sounded curious so I started to tell her, then realized I'd have to tell her about holding him.
"Same technique that works with Boxey when he has the occasional bad dream. But this is routine for Starbuck, isn't it?"
She looked back at the pilot and I could see the struggle on her expressive features. He was beginning to stir again and this time I watched as she bent close to him and began a soothing murmur. After he quieted, she kissed his forehead and stood up.
I motioned her over to our small dining area and poured us both a cup of tea. She held it in her hands and gazed into the cup as if it had the secrets of the universe in it. "Every night. The same nightmare. Over and over. I can't tell you what it is. But it's very real to him and it's eating his soul alive."
She'd started off in a normal tone of voice but by her last word, there was nothing left but a whisper. I shivered in the warm room and gripped my cup a little harder. Two columns of steam rose between us and I saw her looking at me with such a sad look.
"What can I do to help? Will he tell me what the dream is? When I ask him tomorrow."
"Probably not. But I can tell you that it involves someone he loves very much." She paused and took a sip of tea. "May I ask you a question?"
"What happened when you confronted Count Iblis, three sectars ago?"
I felt as if she'd punched me in the stomach. I tried very hard not to think about the events that led up to my ... death. Neither Sheba nor Starbuck talked much about it either. But if it would help my friend, I would do so.
"Does his dream have something to do with then? Oh Lords, something must have happened while I was ... out of action. Something that he's reliving every night since." I ran my hand through my hair and looked in those big blue eyes so like Starbuck's. "I'll tell you what I remember."
I spent the next centar going over the time when Iblis insinuated his way into the Fleet. We'd finished the tea and she'd calmed Starbuck out of another nightmare by the time I was talked out. She sighed and reached out her hand across the table. I held it in mine for a long moment while she looked into my eyes.
"What is Starbuck to you, Apollo? A lucky wingman? Childhood friend? Buddy? Just why do you care if he's having nightmares?" Her voice was completely noncommittal. "Is he making mistakes on patrol?"
"No. Of course not." I jerked my hand away. "He's my friend. I'm worried about him. I hardly even see him anymore. He only comes over to play with Boxey. As soon as he's asleep, Starbuck can't wait to leave. We hardly ever talk except for orders on patrol." I was up and pacing now. Trying to explain how I felt when I wasn't sure myself just why I was so upset.
"I miss that mischievous look in his eyes right before he pulls a practical joke. He hasn't made a joke in sectons. We don't even play Triad anymore. I just want the old Starbuck back."
"I don't think he's coming back, Apollo." She said it quietly but with a certainty that broke my heart. "Somewhere during the Iblis incident, Starbuck faced reality. It wasn't a very pleasant reality but it was all he had. I've heard so many of the warriors and even Command Staff tell him jokingly to 'grow up'. Well, he finally did. The new adult Starbuck can't remember how to play anymore. Life is too short for that. The closest he can come now is watching Boxey play."
I know I opened and closed my mouth several times. I must have looked like a fish out of water. Suddenly, I was remembering several incidents in the last sectar when Starbuck had been the voice of reason. He'd taken responsibility of a situation and calmed the belligerents. I'd heard of other times when he'd done my job for me so I wouldn't have to take notice of a hot headed young Viper jockey.
Her voice went on relentlessly. "Actually, you should be flattered, Apollo. He's patterning himself on you. Ask Colonel Tigh why your paperwork load has gone down so much that you've been able to go out twice this sectar. Of course, you'll have to tell him why you want to know because Starbuck swore him to secrecy."
Starbuck? My devil-may-care Starbuck? Doing paperwork? She watched me like a hawk and then leaned in for the coup de grace. "He even asked me if I wanted to be Sealed so if anything happens to him, I'll be taken care of."
My brain shut down completely. Sealed. Starbuck.
"I told him that wasn't necessary. We're friends. And I'd rather keep his friendship. Poor thing looked relieved and disappointed at the same time. But I'm not the one he's in love with. And we both know that."
She rose gracefully from the table and came to my side. I was still trying to think of something to say but I was mute. Her eyes searched mine, looking for something, I'm not sure what. Then she gave a little sigh and shook her head, muttering something under her breath that sounded like 'clueless'.
"He should stay under for another four hours. But you better call the Colonel and take him off duty tomorrow. His reactions will be slowed dangerously. He shouldn't be flying. Try and get some sleep, Apollo. This whole mess will still be here in the morning."
And she left. Left me standing there like an idiot, full of questions I couldn't even put into words. I turned off the lights and went back to sit by Starbuck's side. He looked so peaceful, lying there. He'd gone so deep that not even the bad dreams could find him. I watched his chest rise and fall until I could feel myself begin to relax.
Maybe if I just closed my eyes for a bit, I could figure out what I should do. What I *could* do. To help my friend. Starbuck. I brushed the hair off his forehead again and he turned slightly, trapping my hand under his head. I left it there. Right now I needed to touch him and make sure he was here. Safe with me.
Maybe just close my eyes...
End part two