Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Rating: R for stunning amounts of sexual references, especially considering I don't actually ever write smut
Word count: 8041
Summary: So I decided that Gaius has way too many issues when it comes to relating to women to not have had some odd and/or formative experiences, and he's such an intriguing character that the idea of playing with his backstory was a fun one. And I've been meaning to fic out his encounter with Roslin at the Symposium for ages, and I had to throw Starbuck in because Starbuck lives in my head and bounces balls off the inside of my skull.
This only took me three days, which is some kind of personal record for a fic of this length. Kudos to schiarire, who despite her lack of knowledge of the fandom is the kind of beta who will simultaneously pick up my typos and shamelessly encourage my inordinate fondness for Latin anatomical terms.
Seven women; seven stages; seven ages. Seven conversations.
seven conversations in the life of a genius
once upon a time
She keeps her card things in a box on the table, a box of red-brown wood inset with black glass. Gaius sits slumped down against the couch, ignoring the cream-coloured dust that the thin carpet is transferring to the seat of his immaculate uniform trousers, and turns the thing over and over in his hands. There is a trick to the opening of it, a pattern of sliding panels and twists of the wrist that he has never quite seen her do. She opens it quickly and with her back to him, most days, not out of any outright mistrust but rather the nervous and ingrained paranoia of the gambler with too much to lose.
Gaius raps one chewed fingernail idly on the side of the box and tries to remember the way her hands move as seen from a low side angle, her long white fingers with their cheap and desperately overbright rings that leave faint scratches on the veneer of the wood. He tilts the box into the light a little and frowns, locating one of these scratches. A thin double line, curving as though carved out by…by…
The red stone. Left hand, third finger. Gaius holds the box awkwardly in his own small eight-year-old hands; imagines an elongation of his still-chubby digits, carefully teases out a juvenile extrapolation based on his own knowledge. So the tips of her fingers would end up here and here and there’s a funny jerk of her left elbow sometimes that could signify a tug in this direction –
The afternoon light flickers low and burnt orange through the tilted blinds by the time Gaius gets the box open, but he doesn’t notice. The quiet click, as something moves into place and the hinges lever apart, slides into his stomach and squirms contentedly; a puzzle solved.
It’s not large; much larger and he wouldn’t have been able to open it at all, no matter how neatly he applied his mind. Just large enough to hold a pile of shining oblong coins – more money than Gaius has seen gathered in one place ever before, and he is still too young to realise how little it is even so – and a deck of cards held together with blue ribbon. The cards are glossy and catch the light, sliding instantly out of their neat pile as soon as he pulls the ribbon loose. The shapes of them (hexagons, his mind speaks up helpfully from a memory of a recent maths lesson) overlap in a haphazard manner, and Gaius spreads them out on the carpet in front of him, fingers pushing them to and fro, watching and thinking.
When the door to the apartment gives the soft blip that signifies an accepted security code and then clicks open, Gaius is engrossed in the cards and cubits, fitting them together in the nice pattern that many years later he will learn to call a bimodal tessellation. For now it’s just a matter of this goes next to that, but it’s still something.
He only realises that he’s crying when the dots of moisture on the cards interrupt the pattern.
“Why so dark, Gaius? Gaius, are you in here?” The lights come on with a suddenness that is irritating to his eyes and he blinks, looking up as his mother enters the room. Her smile is bright but not quite genuine, overlaid as it is on tense fatigue and the everpresent lines of worry at the corners of her mouth. “Oh, goodness, darling, did I leave my box open?” Her hands, the slender be-ringed hands whose action he has just taught himself to mimic, sweep down and gather the cards and coins into a messy pile.
“No,” Gaius says, but she isn’t listening.
“These aren’t your toys, dear, these are Mama’s toys. What about that nice children’s microscope from your last – Gaius, darling, are you crying?”
“No,” he says again, but concern has penetrated the breezy exterior of Charlotte Baltar’s personality and she sits down on the couch, one hand held out to her son.
“What’s the matter?”
He goes to his shoulder bag and digs out a piece of paper, laying it in her extended hand. The sticker seal has obviously been opened, and she raises an eyebrow at him. Gaius shrugs one shoulder and kicks one foot, unrepentant. Reading a note from his teacher to his mother does not strike him as morally wrong, and Charlotte does not comment to inform him otherwise.
The note is simple; a mark out of twenty for a group presentation, and a few lines of comments. Gaius can still call up some of the phrases that hurt him so deeply; lack of cooperation with other group members. Selfishness unbecoming in a boy of his age.
Maybe, Gaius thinks, only grownups are allowed to be selfish.
“Ours was the best presentation,” he says fiercely, once he is sure she has read to the end. “The best.”
“I’m sure it was, dear.” Charlotte pulls him in and drops an absent kiss on his temple, but then she is standing up and brushing at dust on the worn material of her skirt.
“They were too slow. I had to do the work,” he adds in an attempt at justification.
“I’m sure Mrs Barnett knows what she’s talking about, Gaius. Now, Mama has to get changed or she’s going to be late for her card game –”
“Can I have a real microscope?” he asks, turning red-rimmed eyes to her with a mixture of pathos and defiance that is only mostly accidental. “Maybe I could get a better mark next time. With a real one.”
His mother’s mouth twists, bitter despair and almost-guilt flashing on her face for a moment before they are elbowed aside by the familiar absent smile.
“Maybe we’ll be able to afford one next year, darling. Or maybe if Mama’s luck is good tonight.” She quickly reties the ribbon on the cards and gathers the cubits up. “Now, be a good boy and do your homework. I might be back late, and Chris might be coming home with me – you remember Chris?”
He nods dutifully, but it’s a lie. Since his father left there have been too many men in his mother’s life, one after the other. It’s never worth learning names and faces. They smile at him with false affection and never really see past his mother’s legs and large tired eyes, the way her bleached hair falls to her thin shoulders. Gaius has long since learnt that men are, on the whole, of no account; weak to a smile or a low-cut dress and never true in what they say. It is the women he notices, the few friends of his mother’s who see everything during their infrequent visits to the apartment. He notices their contempt and pity and – often – the same terminal cubit-hungry hope. The gambling souls of lower-class Aeriana, with their rushing genteel voices that play at aristocracy.
Once Charlotte has left Gaius sits on the carpet again and looks at the hateful note, rubbing furiously at his nose. After a minute or so he smoothes the paper out, his eyes tracing the truncated corners. After another five minutes he’s found one of the other packs of cards in the house, just a normal newsagent-bought pack with a drab coloured pattern on the backs. Gaius brushes a lock of dark hair from his eyes and slowly places one card at each corner of the note, the familiar clinical admiration dropping over him as the edges match up perfectly.
And after another ten minutes the pattern fills the space around him just as neatly as the quiet joy of discovering it fills up the queer ache left by his mother’s dismissive voice; the way her fingers closed hard and fierce around the cubits; the dry forgotten tracks of tears on his cheeks.
“Here, let me get that –”
“Don’t mention it.”
“It’s quite warm. For this time of year, I mean. It was cool just last week.”
“I guess. Yeah.”
“I just – because. Yes.”
Gaius gulps at lemonade like it’s oxygen and wonders if silences get any more awkward than this.
“So you’re at the Smithson Academy?”
It’s a filler of a question, nothing more. Of course he is. He knows that she knows that he is, and it might just be the only reason he scored this date in the first place. Gaius realised a good while ago that it’s best simply to smile and nod confidently when the Academy is mentioned, and let people draw their own assumptions as to what that means for his financial prospects, the social standing of his family, the circles that he moves in.
The two dirtiest words in his life are these: scholarship boy.
Gaius has learned to hate his background, to run from it, and sometimes he thinks he has not yet run far enough. Aeriana is large and has its own pockets of elitism and intellect, but Gaius Baltar does not like dwelling so close to a time and place that he would just as soon forget. The atmosphere is sweet and filtered and crushes his lungs with the desire to scream.
Keep your head down and work work work and get yourself off this frakking world.
“It’s just school, though,” he says, going for casual. “Academia isn’t all that important, to me.”
It is not the first time he’s lied to a woman and it certainly won’t be the last.
“I guess.” Cecilia. That’s her name. She gives a quirk of a smile. “So what do you do in, um, your free time?”
“Oh, the usual. Read. Listen to music.”
They talk about nothing, when it comes right down to it, but to Gaius (whose tongue feels large and disarticulate in his mouth, whose mind is muddled by a baffling cloudy weight) it feels like far too short a period goes by in which they manage to talk about everything. Everything two people could possibly talk about; or at least two people such as they. He is smart enough on a social level to realise that he can’t talk genetics or comparative philosophy or robotic design as he can with the Smithson girls.
But there is a reason why he’s not on a date with a Smithson girl, one of those oddly sexless beings with their disappointingly long uniform skirts and their hard ambitious eyes that mirror his own too well for comfort.
He is not yet smart enough on a social level to take these kinds of women at anything but face value. To understand the meaning of repression and to exploit it.
“Play any sports?” Cecilia asks, later.
“Please.” He raises an eyebrow, imagining he looks worldly. Or possibly suave. “If I wanted to be knocked around in the pursuit of meaningless pieces of plastic I could always botch an attempt to shoplift from a toy store.”
She laughs, an abrupt snort of noise that lifts the falseness on her face for a moment with the pure lightness of its spontaneity. Gaius notes with a slow pleasure how her teeth are neat and white, how the laughter widens her eyes, how her breasts press out against the blue material of her dress, how her very straight hair hangs down in two thin plaits the colour of pale apricots.
“You can kiss me, if you like,” Cecilia says, a pronouncement almost as surprising as the laughter. She looks more hesitant, but there is an odd haughty echo in her voice; a queen bestowing a prize.
Amongst the many things that Gaius has not yet learnt is the ability to play, as she is doing, upon the fact that the other person wants you more than you want them. No matter the reality – the seeming is what bestows that power, that tone of authority. Cecilia looks just bored enough and for now, the reality is: Gaius biting his tongue, fumbling to remove his glasses, pressing his lips onto hers with an awkward force.
It’s nothing like what he expected and takes far more concentration than he would like, so much so that when her hand brushes over the front of his trousers his knees almost buckle with the sensation and his mouth jerks sidelong, wet and shocked, and all of a sudden he doesn’t want to be there, doing that.
“Sorry, it’s just –”
“Just what?” she says, pulling the straps of her dress back into order with a frown.
Gaius has no idea.
“Yeah.” She glares at him, stepping backwards, hugging her arms around herself as though her clothing will fly open again of its own accord. “I’m sure going to give that a shot.”
Forgetting’s easy, Gaius doesn’t say. It’s just lying by omission. To yourself.
And he’d follow his own advice were it not for those damn conversations amongst the male students at even such a sober establishment as Smithson Academy. The ever-cruder references to prowess and sexual experience. Gaius sits on the fringes of the circle and wants to tear out – his hair? their jugular veins? something – in frustration, because it’s a world he doesn’t understand.
Thus: Cecilia, the girl with the lank plaits and the soft lips. Thus the date.
When asked how it went Gaius shrugs and looks to the side, letting a smirk hover and dance on his lips as though the details are too sordid to divulge. Telling the truth never enters his mind, but he is missing the vocabulary to improvise in coarse euphemism and as always when pressed he stammers out something stored-up and technical. He’s not sure quite why the words arrange themselves in the way they do. He thinks about her tongue and the rough wetness and he says palatoglossus and he thinks about the heady weight of her breast in his hand and he says pectoralis major.
The silence following his pronouncement is broken by laughter, sure enough, but it’s an incredulous mocking laughter that’s far removed from the normal hard guffaws. Gaius smiles uncertainly and laughs along, pitching his voice to match theirs.
He doesn’t realise why until later, and then the humiliation hits with such force that he’s furious.
the width of three fingers
“I’m Rosaly,” she says.
“Gaius.” His mouth is dry and suddenly he wonders if this was such a good idea.
Her eyes, the pale unreadable colour of smoke, travel up and down his body with a candid air of appraisal that makes him want to shuffle his feet. “Have you done this before, Gaius?”
“Yes, of course,” he says, but his voice is thin to his own ears and one delicate pencilled eyebrow disappears up into her thick blonde fringe.
“No.” Shame sets his jaw in a hard line and he’s on the verge of walking out when she smiles and her whole face softens, and then she unwraps the silky robe and lets it fall to her feet.
“What do you want, Gaius?”
Something about the way she says his name stops him and pushes him forward at the same time, his eyes tracing her body in turn but his mouth taking over the candour. “I want to learn what to do.”
“Honesty.” She steps closer, stretching her shoulders back, her nudity both comfortable and alluring. “That’s refreshing.”
“Does it get me a discount?” he counters, lifting his chin and finding steel deep in his spine, and for a moment her eyes harden and he wonders if he’s made a fatal mistake. But then she laughs, her mouth betraying an unconscious bemusement that suddenly makes her less intimidating.
“One step at a time, honey,” she murmurs, and then she starts to unbutton his trousers and the lesson begins.
Gaius feels all limbs and all awkwardness and all reaching yearning heat that starts at the groin and unwinds shudder-wise in every direction and then he feels amazing and then he feels the sweat trickle down his neck and the cotton under his forearms and then he feels a tingling exhilarated fatigue that’s maybe the best of all.
“Okay,” Rosaly says afterwards, rolling onto her stomach to regard him thoughtfully. Her businesslike manner renders him a little taken aback, but nothing will quite budge the contentment from his face. “You’ve actually got quite a bit going for you. You’re cute. Once you relax a little you’ve got quite an air of confidence. Confidence and charisma. I doubt you’ll have to pay for sex again.” And she winks in a way that isn’t really insulting but still manages to say: though you may not get it this good again. Rosaly has an attractive confidence of her own, played out in the sure posture of her rounded limbs and the readiness of her smile.
“Well, that’s comforting,” he says dryly, feeling his throat move where it rests on his folded arms.
“Oh, hush, I’m not finished. Your accent. It’s certainly not Caprican, is it…?”
“Aerianan.” He nods. “I grew up there. I came to Caprica City last month, for the university. It’s got the best programs for bioinformatics and –”
“Details, honey.” She waves a hand. “Save it for your cocktail parties. Anyway, it sets you apart, and that’s a good thing. It’s kind of refined. Makes you sound more polite than most Capricans, and more intelligent.”
Gaius laughs softly into the sheets and doesn’t tell her that he had one of the highest entrance scores in the history of the most selective university in the Twelve Colonies.
“Tell me more about me,” he says instead, reaching out one hand to run it down her spine from neck to coccyx.
Rosaly moves closer and looks amused. “Most of my clients aren’t quite so demanding of conversation, you know.”
“Maybe I like the sound of your voice.”
She smiles. “Oh, that’s good. That’s good, Gaius. Your flattery is certainly up to par.”
“Speaking of things that are up…”
A snort of genuine, surprised laughter. “Crude.”
“Oh, you liked it.” He pokes her side, daringly aloof.
“Don’t kid yourself, honey.”
So it goes, over days and weeks and evenings in the break before the university year begins, all of it blurring into one long conversation of anatomy and pleasure and whispered trade secrets. It depletes his credit balance dangerously, but it’s worth it.
He learns that there are certain places on the body where the flick of a tongue will always elicit a gasp, and that women like the steady pull of fingers running through their hair. He learns that the centred heel of his hand will fit over her hipbone, and that if the hand is then lowered slowly-slowly to lie flat her eyes will flutter closed and she will sigh with her whole body, no matter in which direction his hand extends. He experiments, pivoting, his fingers curving downwards to grasp her hip; inwards to stroke her thigh; upwards across the soft pale skin of her stomach.
He learns to quantify the dimensions and beauties of a woman’s body, to take the measure of her breath and adjust velocity accordingly, to find symmetry in her cheekbones, to hold her hands in his and show her that the space from the webbing of the thumb to the base of the fingers is always filled perfectly by the three largest fingers of the other hand, laid down across the palm.
“What are you doing?” Rosaly asks one night, her voice more subdued than usual, her smoky eyes watching him from beneath heavy lids.
After a moment; “Appreciating,” Gaius says, and realises that it’s true.
“You look very intent,” she murmurs, shifting the angle of her legs in response to the inquisitive brush of his fingertips up her calf. “It’s a good thing,” she adds, slipping back into the role of teacher for a moment. “Almost enough to make a girl feel shy.”
“Rosaly’s not your real name, is it?” he asks abruptly, moving his fingers up to stroke in slow circles around her navel.
“No,” she says readily enough. “Does it matter?”
“What is your real name?”
There’s an odd silent pause before she smiles gently; gently, but with a wary edge to it.
“I’m not going to tell you, Gaius,” she says, “but I came quite close. That means more than you think.”
“How do you know what I think?” he replies, sounding more defensive than he would like.
Rosaly shrugs. “Part of the job. If it’s any consolation, you’re harder to read than most, sometimes.” She leans in and drops a teasing kiss on his nose. “You get a vague, thinking look on your face, and then you’re a bit of a closed book.”
She laughs, her stomach vibrating under his hand. “Yes.”
Charisma and a mystery. He can learn to work with that.
And he does.
a fourth dimension
“Well, this is a…surprise.”
“Why should it be?”
“Amongst other things? You have a reputation for noticing blondes, Gaius.”
Gaius stands quite still on the opposite side of the desk and thinks about all the things that he’s not going to say: if this is such a surprise, how did you come by knowledge of my reputation? If your objection is professional, why bring up something as meaningless as hair preferences?
“Isn’t it all the more flattering, then, that I noticed you?” Delivered with his most winning smile and a sharp quick glance over the top of his glasses.
And then there’s the most telling truth at all, which he certainly isn’t going to bring up at this juncture: actually, my dear lady, you are irresistibly attractive because you are going to win me the Caprica City University Prize.
Gaius Baltar still believes very strongly in his first impressions of his own sex; men are weak, and men lie. He is no different. But he also chooses to believe that his awareness of these facts is what sets him apart; that and his intellect, which he treasures both for its own sake and for the power it bestows. The University Prize constitutes a large monetary award, which is nice, but it also means prestige, which is everything. Gaius wants to be the one shaking the hand of Caprica’s elite, giving the perfectly-pitched and admirably witty speech at the university’s graduation ceremony, having his picture splashed across the newspapers and his name set in gold on the board that hangs in the University Hall. He wants people in important places to be mentioning him in conversation, he wants the doors of the scientific and professional community thrown open to him, he wants to be noticed.
And he’s close. He’s very close. But he’s not quite in front, and the fact that he is aware of this fact is, to him, proof enough that he deserves to win. No matter what the numbers say. Standard information systems courses, even the advanced ones, do not teach one to infiltrate and read off the university records. But Gaius Baltar has never been one to stand by convention when his ability stretches beyond what is proper.
“I suppose so.” Maria does not smile but she blushes faintly and Gaius, looking at her with the intent admiration that Rosaly taught him to cultivate all those years ago, realises that she is really quite pretty in a dark, severe way. He can find something beautiful in the length of her eyelashes and the tanned skin disappearing into the collar of her crisp white shirt and the way one tendril of brown hair hangs down from her bun, promising an attractive cascade once the rest of it is released from its pins.
“You’re a beautiful woman,” Gaius says earnestly, placing his hands on the edge of her desk and leaning forward in one swift, eager movement. “And I just admire you so much, the way you engage your audience, the passion you put into everything you do…”
Lies, lies, lies. Personally, Gaius has never taken a less engaging course than the one lectured by Maria Coppelia, and therein lies the problem. Boredom has dragged his marks down by an alarming amount, and he knows that to claim the overall top position at the end of the academic year he will need a near-perfect score on his final paper.
There are easier ways of attaining perfection, Gaius knows, than spending a couple of excruciating weeks hammering out dull figures and pointless physical jargon.
“You know that there are university regulations against this kind of thing, Gaius,” she says, but her gaze is fixed on the messy array of pens and staplers in front of her and he smiles. He’s winning. “And I’m quite a bit older than you are –”
“But we’re physicists, Maria.” Gaius sits on the edge of the desk, pushing some folders out of the way, injecting his voice with enough intimate courtesy to make her look up. His smile widens and softens; we’re in this together, it says. Just you and me against the world, and we know more than they will ever know. “We know how little time means. It’s just another form of dimensional space, after all, and space has meant nothing since we have learnt to move faster than light.” That’s good, that’s very smooth, scientific and poetic all at once.
She just looks at him for a while, the protest regarding regulations forgotten. All to the good. In his experience, people follow rules as long as it is convenient to do so. At least she isn’t married, and she hasn’t mentioned a boyfriend at all; married to her work, he supposes. That’ll make the process even easier.
“I don’t know that this is a good idea,” she begins, and he knows he has her.
“I’m sure it’s a dreadfully unwise idea,” he breathes, leaning forward and tugging at the nearest pin in her hair. She makes a small sound of protest but her bright brown eyes meet his with a coy glance that makes him want to laugh. This isn’t going to be so bad at all. “But is wisdom everything? Is work and intellect all we are?” A few more pins and her hair comes tumbling down in rough curls that drop past her shoulders and suddenly soften the sharp planes of her face.
“Certainly not,” she says, with a swiftness that surprises him, and she licks her lips. The sheen is magnetic, lovely.
“Sometimes it’s worth it to slow down,” he says, bare inches from her face, “and try for a perfect moment.”
Maria stands up, suddenly, and walks around the desk until she is standing between his legs. The dark intelligence on her face is subtler but still present, the perception in her eyes dimmed by lust but there, somehow, sketched around the iris. She rests her hands on his shoulders and he kisses her, softly, deepening it after mere moments.
“Why stop at one?” she mutters against his mouth, and he laughs.
“Because it doesn’t do to get used to perfection,” she says absently, surprising him by answering what he thought was a rhetorical question.
His hands start to untuck her shirt at the back and she doesn’t say anything more. But those words stick with him, for some reason, echoing in his head during quiet moments right up until the day Gaius Baltar is announced the top student of the Caprica City University’s graduating class, and the winner of the University Prize.
Look for me at the ceremony, Maria says when she hears the news, I’m so happy for you, Gaius.
But as Gaius shakes the hand of the university’s Vice-chancellor, flushing and beaming under the harsh stage lights, he looks out and sees only a sea of faces and hands applauding and adoring him, and it’s the most perfect moment of his life and he thinks: I could certainly get used to this.
The best thing about that interminable weekend of lectures and politics that is the Caprica City Symposium is, Gaius thinks, the open tab on the bar during the evening cocktail parties. Gaius is fond of bars; he likes to sit on the smooth wooden stools and swirl the ice in his glass and order drinks for the prettier girls who pass by, toasting them and smiling winningly when they look around for their mysterious benefactor. He’s not paying a single cubit for the damn drinks and they still look flattered, dissolving into giggles and flirtatious glances. Popularity has never been so cheap.
He likes to put his chin in his hand and amuse himself by looking at the coloured bottles, inventing names for drinks and deciding their alcoholic composition by random mathematical algorithms involving the height of the bottles, the ratios of their labels, where their colour falls on the electromagnetic spectrum.
Tonight he drinks double-strength ambrosia with a lot of ice and lets his eyes roam the room.
“I enjoyed your speech very much, Dr. Baltar.” The voice is unfamiliar, pitched warm and low but with a dignity that puts him on guard.
“Why, thank you, Ms…?”
“Laura Roslin. I’m the Secretary for Education in the President’s cabinet.” Laura Roslin has eyes to match her voice, warm and guarded, and she smiles as she extends a polite hand.
“Delighted.” Gaius takes her hand in both of his and bows, just a little, a courteous gesture that raises the edges of her smile even further. “And even more delighted that my little talk was to somebody’s liking. I do tend to go on and on, and I’m afraid I bored half the audience to death.”
“Not at all.” She inclines her head, the dark auburn waves of her hair falling forward. “You brought up some fascinating points.”
Gaius keeps his smile fixed and thinks idly that she might have been worth his time when she was fifteen years younger and might even be worth it now if she were anyone of consequence.
“That’s very kind of you.”
“President Adar has often mentioned your name to me as someone whose word carries great weight in the scientific community, and while I’m perhaps not quite as conversant in the upper echelons of today’s scientists as I should be, it is a great guarantee that he holds you in the highest regard.”
“Again; very kind,” he murmurs, picking his way carefully through that sentence, searching for traps and cobwebs and finding none. She doesn’t seem to be selling him any ideas or enlisting him to any causes, just making diplomatic conversation. The flattery is enough to compensate for any shortcomings in her age and appearance, he thinks with a generosity smoothed out by the alcohol in his blood. “Adar has been nothing but a friend to me, and I hope you’ll pass on my respects. Such a pity he couldn’t make the last day of the Symposium this year.”
“When duty calls…” She shrugs and clasps her hands tighter around the glass balanced between them. “One of the curses of public office, I’m afraid.”
“Rather you than me.” Gaius sends her a wry smile and sips at the ambrosia.
“Ahmm.” Not quite a laugh. Her eyes glint in the dim light. “And I’m more than happy to leave the lofty heights of scientific thought to the professionals. I was particularly interested in your proposal of reviving old Cylon technology in order to create entirely new forms of artificial intelligence.”
Gaius feels his pleased expression solidify into something more genuine because the woman wasn’t just making polite untruthful conversation like everyone else in the room; she actually had been listening to his speech. The warm ball of his ego sends out a pulse of confidence and his back straightens.
“Well, of course nobody wants to see a repeat of the Cylon wars – dreadful business, dreadful, my parents told me stories –” Just because she’s being honest doesn’t mean he has to follow suit; any memories of his father are long gone by now, and Charlotte’s stories, when she noticed her son for long enough to tell them, were breathless renditions of her games and social gatherings.
“Of course not,” Roslin murmurs in a go on tone that Gaius loves.
“But really, where was our mistake? In making artificial beings that had the capacity to rebel. Before they turned on us the Cylons did make things easier, and it’s deplorable that we’re still living in fear of technology. We’ve had our warning now. With careful, defensive programming it should be more than possible to recreate the most useful models whilst keeping them entirely under our own control.” He’s slipping into speech mode, adjusting the lapels of his jacket and fighting the urge to look around for a camera to smile into.
“Do you think public opinion would support your views, Doctor?”
“Obviously, people are still wary, and that’s a perfectly sensible position to take.” His smile says otherwise, but the diplomatic pitch of his voice is perfect and he knows he won’t be called out. “But they’re also always eager for ways to make their lives easier.”
“Human nature.” She nods, taking a minute sip of her drink.
“Exactly. Humans are an advanced, intelligent species, and we’d be very foolish not to fully exploit that intelligence simply out of a misplaced fear of some toasters we once made the mistake of giving guns and independent function.”
“I wonder sometimes if it’s wise,” she says, looking down at her glass, “that we rely so heavily on the infrastructure we have created for ourselves.”
He honestly doesn’t understand. “Surely we have little choice?”
“Little choice. Indeed.” She looks away and rubs at the side of her neck. He notes absently and automatically that there is no wedding band on her finger, despite her age and her faded retrospective promise of beauty. Politicians tend to be family people, so it sparks his interest for a bare moment.
“Adar and I had a fascinating conversation on the topic of artificial intelligence and public opinion just last month,” he says, striking out on instinct. “Perhaps you should raise it with him.”
“Perhaps I shall.” And there it is. Her whole face shimmers.
Gaius quirks his mouth and tells himself that his instincts when it comes to women just keep getting better and better. Adar, indeed. That was a puzzle and now it’s solved and Gaius can feel his interest in the woman waning rapidly.
“If you’ll excuse me, I must talk to…” Vague handwave.
“Of course. It was a pleasure talking with you, Dr. Baltar.” She gives another one of those warm but oddly distant smiles and then melts into the crowd.
Gaius drains his drink and orders another for himself and one for that charming redheaded thing wearing the silver mesh top, yes, that one in the corner, and ten minutes later he’s forgotten the Secretary for Education entirely.
“Do you know,” Gaius says one day, lying propped up by cushions, “I think my absolute favourite part is when you’re half dressed.”
“What?” She looks up, amused.
“No, really, darling, hear me out.” Gaius crooks his forefinger and presses it to his upper lip, an unconscious pensive mannerism that he picked up from his first boss. When he still had bosses. Before he decided that consultancy had such a nicer ring to it and paid like a dream. “There’s something just so appealing about the sense of anticipation.”
“Like this?” She pauses in the act of stepping into her stockings and balances there, her long limbs perfectly still.
“Oh, that’s lovely.” He inspects her, tilting his head from side to side. “Just lovely.”
“Hmm.” Her foot comes out of the stockings. Goes back in. When Gaius can bear to move his gaze to her face there’s an indulgent, teasing smile waiting for him.
“I don’t deserve you,” he says, awed.
“But you think you do, Gaius,” she says in that voice like honey that’s been left in the sun. “You like to think you do.”
“Maybe just a little.”
And maybe he does, a little or a lot.
It’s an arrangement out of a dream; parties, conversation both scientific and titillating, and…the sex.
He wonders whether she sleeps with other men, he wonders if she knows he sleeps with other women and he wonders why, when the whole relationship is so blessedly casual and string-free, he doesn’t tell her about them. He wonders if he’s actually worried about what she thinks of him, and he wonders why he feels guilty.
It’s not like he’s betrayed anyone.
And perhaps that’s not quite the right term; string-free. It was what they agreed, certainly, a comfortable adult thing with no strings attached. But she seems to wrap herself in strings he can’t quite see, invisible creeping cords that caress him like cobwebs, and sometimes he feels like he’s living inside one of those knots that are deceptively loose until you try and pull free.
He dreams about the strings.
In one dream he’s being tied down and her fingertips dance across his chest and in another their hands are bound together at the wrist like an archaic wedding ritual and in the worst one of all the strings form a noose and hang him (traitor) until his face is purple and the breath has rushed out of him like a vented airlock.
But in life and daylight there’s nothing to worry about. She’s beautiful, she’s a professional, and she honestly seems to like him. Eighteen months now. Nobody fakes for that long. She does mystery better than he does, which is new, and unnerving though it is he loves it when she just lies there and watches him as though he is something under a microscope, something to be studied and memorised and marvelled at.
“Have you thought any more about my offer, Gaius?” She walks over to the bed and leans over, sliding onto his legs, stockings and silk slip creating far too little friction on the smooth sheets. She pushes forward, her hands on his shoulders, smiling slowly. “Gaius?”
“I – ah – I don’t know, darling.” His hands drift up and start fingering the material, working it upwards from her hips.
“It’s just an exchange of skills, you know,” she purrs in his ear, her breath hot. “Practically legitimate, when you think about it.”
“I do try not to mix business and pleasure,” he whispers, on autopilot.
“Now you’re lying to me, Gaius.” Her hand is gripping his chin all of a sudden and it hurts. She has arms like wire. He looks at her, nonplussed – he can’t exactly not, the way she’s holding onto his jaw – and just when he’s about to start feeling scared the smile melts back onto her face again.
“I am having a bit of trouble with the integration of the new schematics,” he allows, distracted by her eyes.
“You know I can help you, Gaius,” and the iron grip on his chin becomes a caress. “We can do great things together, you and I.”
“Great things like infiltrate the Ministry of Defence, you mean?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, it’s just that I –”
“You know my company would be the best for the contract anyway, don’t you?” she says with a hint of submission, shifting her hips.
“There is that.” Gaius bites back a moan.
“Our proposal is easily the most cost-efficient. I showed you the drafts.”
“And it’s not as though there’s a war on.”
She laughs. He’s not sure why.
“And they really shouldn’t have that kind of fallible security in their network in the first place.”
“And you’re very pretty.”
“Who are we justifying this to?”
“I have no idea,” he says, laughing, burying his nose in her hair.
“So it’s settled?”
The straps of her slip are sliding from her shoulders.
“Yes – yes, all right, yes.”
“Good boy,” she breathes. “Good boy.”
Gaius Baltar is not and has never been a religious man, but he pays homage to her with his lips and hands and all the words he can muster, worshipping the impossible perfection of her limbs, her face, the slow seductive tilt of her lips. And despite the desire washing through his body and clouding his cognition a small part of him is aware that this time he’s the one being played, but she kisses him as though he’s the only human being in the world and he knows that he doesn’t care.
“Enjoying Colonial Day, Mr. Vice President?”
“Indeed I am. And what a delightful dress, Lieutenant Thrace.”
“Just something I found at the bottom of my locker, doc,” she says, her smile quicker and more friendly than he’s seen it before. Something about the music, the tight warmth in the air, the perpetuation of the laughter around them…everything is looser tonight. Fluid social dynamics. Gaius feels his heart speed up a little.
“Admit it,” he says, tightening his grasp on her waist just a little as he pulls them into another turn. “You won it in a card game.”
“Ha.” She smiles, butting his shoulder with her chin. “No, really. It’s been tucked away, waiting for a celebration where I’m required to look pretty.”
“And is that such a chore, Lieutenant?”
She tosses her head in an uncharacteristic, girlish motion, sending the loosely held curls of her hair bouncing on either side of her face. But the grin in between is Starbuck’s. “So far it hasn’t been too bad.”
“Well, it’s certainly nice to see it getting some air,” Gaius says, fingering the material where it crosses her shoulder. “It’s very…blue,” he adds with artfully inept hesitation. An old trick, so automatic it’s hardly a trick at all.
“My eyes,” she says, releasing his arm for long enough to wave her fingers underneath said features with just a hint of awkwardness. “It brings out the blue in them.” And it’s such an out of character observation for her to make that he forgets the rules and the tricks and he stares at her in outright surprise. After a moment she looks away, bites the inside of her cheek, and then sweeps a challenging gaze back to meet his. “Another girl, at the Academy. She helped me choose it for the graduation ball. Told me that thing about the eye colour, made me practice until I could use kohl without poking my eyeballs out. Almost poked hers out, the first time she suggested it,” she adds, with the mutinous flash that he knows.
“Well…it certainly does. Bring out the blue.” And this time the hesitation isn’t feigned, the stumble of thought and the hitch in his breath occur not of his own volition, because now that he looks at her properly her eyes are a calm blue-green that he can’t remember having seen before, certainly not in those same eyes when set atop the olive and drab brown of regulation tank tops or pilot suits.
So for a moment they dance in silence, just the hum-hiss of breath over the music, and Gaius struggles to find something that he knows in the situation. There are the comfortable mathematical differences in the wavelengths of blue and green light, there is the feel of her distal phalanges resting over his scapula and there is the light chemical mingling of her perfume and his cologne into something altogether different but not unpleasant.
Round and round and around again. Coordinated steps. The music changes.
“So Captain Adama was just being polite, with that look of adolescent shock?”
“What?” Her face changes a little; nothing alarming, just a shift of the jaw and a spark of the eyes, but he curses himself for mentioning the other man’s name. Though tacking ‘adolescent’ on…yes, that was good. Reminding her which is the mature gentleman, out of the two of them, and shoving down the voice that says she might not want a mature gentleman, not really.
“He graduated with you, isn’t that correct?”
“Oh.” She nods and moves a little closer with the slower beat of the new song. “I didn’t end up wearing it. Helo bet me seventy cubits I wouldn’t turn up to the ball in my tanks, my uniform boots, and a short skirt he gave me as a birthday joke.”
“So of course you did.”
“Obviously.” Starbuck smirks a little at the memory. “But you tell anyone about any stores of feminine knowledge I may or may not possess and I’ll let the nuggets use you for frakking target practice, newly elected Vice President or no,” and there’s laughter in her tone, below the customary careless bravado. “I have a reputation to uphold.”
“Your secret is safe with me. Kara.” And he lifts his hand, directing her into a laughing spin, smiling and helping her when the material attached to her wrists gets tangled at the elbow, and the slip into first name basis goes by without comment.
And later when the music has slowed down and down and died away altogether and there are abandoned bottles and glasses and plates scattered on the tables like a freeform art exhibit and they stand leaning against the wall, close, she calls him Gaius.
“So did the dress enjoy its first outing?” he asks.
“I think it might have,” she says, fiddling with her almost-empty glass, sending him a quick grin.
“To many more.”
She snorts. “Yeah, right.” But she lifts her glass and clinks and they drain them in unison before setting them down to join the rest on a nearby table. “Like I said, it was just waiting for a celebration.”
“I think we all were,” he says softly, looking around the room. Most of the crowd has dispersed; a handful of groups and couples stand in corners, drinking or talking or swaying to the remnant of a half-caught song. From the corner of his eye Gaius watches Colonel Tigh be pulled out of the room by his wife, the woman smiling too widely behind the glass of ambrosia she holds in her other hand. It’s true. Humanity’s survivors needed this evening, political implications or no.
“Well,” Kara begins, with a tone that could go almost anywhere, and Gaius lets the tricks take over because it’s that or let this go and even in the darkness her eyes are shadowed blue and he’s been half-expecting to feel thin brown fingers on his arm all night but the only blonde head in front of him is Kara Thrace and he wants her so badly all of a sudden that his stomach clenches.
“Thank your dress for a wonderful night,” he says, stepping forward and slipping his arms around her and kissing her cheek; too low to be just friendly and too light to be demanding. She doesn’t pull away. The next kiss goes on her lips, which open slightly under his and Gaius feels the gorgeous giddy rush of power he’s been flying on all night redouble.
“Is this –?” he asks, a breath in her ear, and then he pulls back. It kills him to, but he pulls back, and he’s not even sure why. Any other girl he’d –
but he stops that right in his tracks because any other girl is not the right way to be thinking.
The look on her face makes his stomach twist again and Gaius Baltar is stripped down to the pure animal forces that he is sure no Cylon could feel; fight or flight or sex. For a moment any of the three seems likely for either of them because Kara’s eyes dart to the side and then back, quick consideration mingling with gratifying heat and a flitting shadow of an expression that he doesn’t like at all because it could almost be resignation.
But then she says, “Sure. Yes,” and she smiles like a laser and the way she tangles her fingers in his hair isn’t resigned at all, and so Gaius forgets that shadow entirely for precisely two hours and fourteen minutes.
Ah, Lee –
Under the lights and the sheets her eyes aren’t blue at all but a terrible guilty grey.
She doesn’t speak as she leaves.