If you leave.
That's what you said. I can still hear it now, as though you've only just spoken. I still feel as disbelieving now as when I heard you say it. I guess I should have seen it coming. It's not as if I haven't been through this sort of thing before. It's just that I never thought I'd hear those words from you.
It wasn't just the words, of course. It was the rest of it. You stared at me, with that remote, cold light in your eyes. You've used that look on me more than once, but it's always been when we were playing our official roles: the cheeky, misbehaving lieutenant and the stern, reprimanding captain. You've never looked at me like that because of anything important before.
You didn't say anything else. Just stared at me, like that, with the rest of the sentence left hanging there unsaid.
Don't bother coming back. That's what you didn't say.
Sounds like some terrible corny old vid, doesn't it?
I can't believe that you said that to me. But you did.
And I can't believe that I turned and left without a word. But I did.
In all the years we'd known each other, I'd never imagined that there would be a time when you wouldn't be there. I'd never been able to imagine it, if I'm being honest. I thought that's how you felt, too. Even when you told me you were going to marry Serina, and even while I worried about things never being the same again, there was a part of me that couldn't quite imagine past your marriage. Everything beyond that point was a sort of black void of unreality. That part of me wasn't surprised when she died. It was as though the universe couldn't allow anything that would really separate us. Funny that we managed that all on our own, in the end.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I turned and left. I was the one that did the unthinkable - but only after you said the unspeakable, or implied it or... Oh frack, you know what I mean! You were there.
Boomer found me, over on the Rising Star. I think I'd had a drink or two - or three or four - before he turned up because I didn't really hear a lot of what he was saying. That was convenient. It helped me keep my attention on the pyramid game. I was playing for queen stakes in that game. And I was really cleaning up. But it wasn't enough. It was all too easy. I wanted more.
A lot of it's hazy now, but I remember the point where I staked everything I'd won, everything I owned and everything I had. Boomer stopped talking at me for a moment. He looked horrified - all grey around the edges. It made me want to laugh. You know what old Boom-Boom's like. He's pretty easygoing - not like you - and, given how long he's known me, it takes quite a lot to shock him. The thing was, he knew what it meant when I staked everything I had. It meant that I wanted to move up to king stakes. Those sorts of games are supposed to be illegal, but you can still find them if you know where to look. Why do you think I'd gone to all the trouble of getting over to the Rising Star?
Go on, give me that patented shocked look of yours. I dare you. No? I'm deeply disappointed in you, Apollo. I thought that'd get you going for sure.
Anyway, like I just told you, I wanted to laugh at the look on Boomer's face. But I didn't. There didn't seem to be any laughter left in me. So I just told him that there was no way I could lose - and then he looked even worse. I guess that didn't reassure him much because I always say that there's no way I can lose, even when I'm using my own cubits. Like I said, he knew what it meant. King stakes is everything or nothing. Win everything or forfeit... everything.
Boomer...Well, you know Boomer, how he usually laughs a bit or gets that sceptical look in his eye when I tell him that I can't lose - and gets ready to buy me a drink in consolation. He always seems surprised - surprised! - when I win. One of these days I might begin to get the feeling that he doesn't have much confidence in me.
Boomer didn't look amused or sceptical this time, though. I suppose he realised even before I put my laser on the table that I didn't care one way or the other. He couldn't know that when I said I couldn't lose I was just stating the truth.
Unlucky in love, lucky at cards. That's what they say, isn't it? Right then, I could have won anything, even with a deck stacked against me, which that one almost certainly was. I was looking forward to finding out for sure. That would have been the clincher, you know?
Guess I'll never know now. Because right when we were headed for the final hand, the hand of Sagan got in the way. Your father, I mean. Even I don't ignore a summons like that, not even when I'm off duty and ready to literally gamble my life away. Lords know how he had me tracked down, and so quickly.
They got me back to the Galactica in record time. And then the commander told me what had happened.
You believe in duty too much, Apollo. I've told you that before. After that little scene of ours, any normal person would have gone off and methodically drunk themselves into oblivion. Any normal person would have gotten involved in a pyramid game and played for ridiculous stakes until something gave, one way or the other. And any normal person would have felt so miserable and empty after all that that he would have ended up going back anyway. A normal person would have gone back and asked for forgiveness, because even sacrificing his pride is a small price to pay for getting rid of that black void of unreality that I told you about a little while back.
But you're not a normal person, are you? No. Instead of doing all that you go off on patrol and get shot down and... And you call me irresponsible!
How your viper ever made it through the atmosphere, never mind actually made it to the ground more or less in one piece, I'll never know.
Yes, the Cylons were still around and it was dangerous and a thousand other reasons why I was ordered not to launch, but you couldn't have really doubted that I'd come after you, could you? I've done it before, and I'd do it again. It's one of the laws of the universe. And you'd do the same for me. Have done, actually, if you remember.
I wish you'd say something. Or at least open your eyes.
My viper isn't the mess that yours is, but it won't fly again. And there's no chance of communicating with the Galactica from down here. Even if we could, it'd only bring those tin cans down on top of us.
The Galactica should be able to find us, assuming that they fight the Cylons off sometime soon. Assuming that they don't have to leave this sector and can't come back for two lost pilots. And what's two pilots compared to guarding what remains of humanity, after all? Can't you hear the commander saying that, with that sorrowful throb in his voice? It breaks me up just thinking about it.
But there's still no laughter left in me, so I don't think about it. I sit here, and I watch you. I bathe your face with a rag that used to be part of your uniform. And I think about how we ended up like this. I wonder how long...
Your breath catches in your throat, and so does mine, for a heartbeat, until your chest starts moving again. Up and down, up and down... In another time and place I'd make the obvious comment about that, and you'd probably roll your eyes before you smiled and we reached for each other and... But now it's all there is to tell me that you're still with me.
Stop scaring me like that! I've got an image to live up to, you know, and pulling stunts like that isn't doing it any good.
I think I'll have to threaten you. What about if I use your own words?
If you leave.
And yes, I'm leaving the rest of the sentence hanging, just like you did. But the part I'm not saying isn't 'don't bother coming back.' You remember that song that was popular the first summer after we met? We used to laugh about it. It was one of the first things we laughed about together. 'If you leave me, can I come too?' That was how it went. It was funny then, when we didn't understand.
Anyway, that's my threat. If you leave me, I'll come too. In fact, I already have, or else I wouldn't be risking my boyish complexion anywhere near this sand-blasted excuse for a planet.
You can't get away from me, so it's easier just to stay. That was the next line, wasn't it? Something like that.
You know, now that I think about it, I'm surprised that you didn't... Oh Lords! Apollo! I knew there was something wrong about all that. I just couldn't see past the wrongness of the whole situation. You usually say exactly what you mean. It's not like you to leave something just lying there unsaid, especially something that important. But you let me think that that was...
Okay, okay. You should know by now that I'm not very good with words. Not words that really matter. I'm fine when it's all surface, but when the words really mean something, because they're coming from someone who really means something - means everything - to me...
You were expecting me to remember the song. That's what you meant, wasn't it? And I missed it. All I could see was rejection, when all the time...
'If you leave me, can I come too? We could always stay.' That's what you meant. And you expected me to remember. But I didn't. Until now.
And I could have stayed. But I didn't. And now...
Well, 'Pol, I'm not leaving you now. I'll never leave you. And if you leave me... If you leave me, I will come too. And then you'll have to spend all eternity with me reminding you that I left the winning hand of the greatest game of my life for you, and there's never going to be any chance of finishing it.
That a good enough threat for you?
I wrote this story as a response to a songfic challenge on the bsgslash list... a long time ago. It was inspired, very loosely, by a song that is so old that it's on an album in my record collection. It's got one of those titles that sticks in the mind: "If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?" by Mental As Anything