Starbuck first meets Helo the month after Zak Adama dies.
She's on sick leave on Caprica at the time. Take a few weeks, Commander Adama had said, without ever meeting her eyes. She runs her thumb down her shot glass and watches it leave a streak of smeared condensation in its path, before downing it in one go and slamming it upside down on the bar beside the rest. She's lost count, but she's built a line of them that's fairly impressive.
She isn't entirely beyond reason, however. She can hold her liquor well and she realizes that Ambrosia can't fix what's wrong anymore than time can, but it helps in the short run, and she's drunk that day she first sees him.
He slides through the doors with his head down and his hands in the pockets of a worn leather jacket, and she can see the silvery glint of dog tags disappearing into the rounded neck of his black t-shirt. He lifts his head and locks eyes with her, and she can tell in one glance he has the attitude of a Viper pilot, even if she'll learn later that he's really a Raptor ECO.
It doesn't matter what he is, not really, not right then. She hasn't set out looking for a friend. She just watches him, as he sits laughing across the room, and asks the bartender for another round of shots. She waits until he's had a few drinks himself, and then introduces herself.
He says "call me Helo" and that's enough for her; an hour later she'll be screaming it like she's shouting for the Gods, and for the first time in thirty days she won't think of Zak at all.
Lee came to find her the next morning. His eyes were bloodshot as he stood at the foot of her bed, but not so much like he'd been crying as like he'd been pressing the palms of his hands against them in order to keep the tears in. His hands were clenching and unclenching as he glared down at her, and beside her, naked and still asleep, Helo didn't even stir.
"I can see you're busy grieving," he says tightly, and she wonders what it costs him to speak and not let his voice break. Lee always paid such a high price for control. "I'm sorry I interrupted."
Lee never did understand sex for the sake of sex, or for the sake of grief, because he didn't really know how to grieve and he still believed in things like love. He's watching her like it's him she's cheated on, and not his brother's ghost.
He's probably got three days on Caprica, if that, because while she accepted sick leave he just went back to his post; he just kept flying, and the more she thinks about it the more she realizes he might be better at grieving than she thought. Either way, she knows she's just blown any chance of getting him to spend even a minute of his downtime with her.
"What did you expect?" she asks, and she says it harsher than she means to, but she has defenses that react on their own when faced with Lee's constant disappointments.
"Too much apparently," he says, and beside her, Helo is waking up. "Not that I should be surprised."
The echo of a slammed door is still ringing in her ears when Helo finally pulls himself up beside her. He winces from a hangover and then squints in her direction. "Who was that?"
She counts back from ten, switches and goes up to twenty, then smiles and says, "Nobody." He doesn't look like he believes her, but he's only half-awake, and he nods as he rubs at a crick in his neck.
It's not exactly proper one night stand etiquette, but she challenges him to a game of triad instead of making him breakfast, and only lets him win one time out of ten.
Kara Thrace first meets Karl Agathon the week after she's assigned to the Battlestar Galactica.
He's leaning up against a Raptor in a pose that's almost indecent, flirting with a new recruit, and she's a little startled at first, because she really hadn't expected to see him again. Kara recognizes the woman with him, vaguely, as someone she might have met in the bathroom of a bar. She thinks she might have been the one holding her hair back one of those times she got a little too drunk; Sharon, maybe, or Sue. The helmet she's holding says Boomer.
She recovers from her surprise quickly, gaining her balance with a pilot's finesse. She walks straight towards them, her own helmet held under one arm as she flashes him a wicked grin.
He flushes as recognition sets in, and Boomer glances between them, like if she looks hard enough she might be able to read the history they're hiding. Kara just holds out her hand and Helo takes it, startled. She says, "You must be the new Raptor ECO. I'm Kara Thrace."
"Karl Agathon," he says. "This is Sharon Valerii."
Kara's gaze flickers to her briefly before turning back to Karl. "Nice to meet you," she says.
He laughs and nods, fingering his dog tags out of unconscious nervous habit. "Yeah," he says. "Nice to meet you too."
"A couple of us are getting together to play cards after the practice runs," she says, "you two up for it?"
Sharon is distracted, watching someone else across the room while Karl is watching her. "I can't," she says, "maybe some other time."
Karl bites his lip before finally looking back at her. "Count me in," he says. "Someone needs to put you Viper pilots in your place."
"Oh, is that a challenge?" Kara asks, with a grin that's a little wider than she's managed in awhile.
Karl flashes her a mischievous grin of his own. "Nervous?"
Kara leans into his personal space, until they're nearly nose-to-nose, and says, "Not in the least."
They go about it backwards, but Kara has never been one for heading forward in a straight line, and all things considered, lovers first and friends later works a hell of a lot better than the other way around. They can trade insults and leer at each other for fun, but they know every place on each other's skin already and mystery bleeds to familiarity in a way Kara's never really had.
He's not so very bad at triad as she remembers, and he's smiling with a sucker held between his teeth as he lays down full colors. He's smug for a while, but she wins the next two rounds, and they're so absorbed in their personal stand-off they barely notice there are others playing this same game.
She likes the name Karl, and she says it liltingly, suggestively, in a way that makes everyone else around the table give a knowing smirk. They all call him Helo, and they don't see past what's there.
"Better luck next time," she says, as she pulls the winnings from the center of the table into her lap. Karl laughs while the rest of them push back from the table and leave with scathing glances and bitter words. "You're in a good mood for just having been beaten by a girl," she tells him.
He grins at her, widely, moving the sucker from one cheek to the other. "Maybe I don't mind losing to you."
Kara narrows her eyes, but she's grinning. "Then you must not know how it feels to win."
Sometimes they slip back, but she never calls him Karl then, he's Helo, her cute rebound guy from the bar, and she's just crazy Starbuck, the girl that beats him at cards.
And if he's thinking of Boomer, well, she's thinking of Lee.
Starbuck first meets Gaius Baltar the day Helo dies.
She thinks of it as the day Helo dies and not the day the world ends because people are, essentially, selfish and self-absorbed. She can't understand the end of the world, can't comprehend it, can't reconcile the reality that every face, every baby and set of lovers she ever saw walking the streets outside her apartment are dead. So she doesn't try, doesn't think about it, but Helo is missing in everything she does, every card game and good-natured bet and every lollipop that isn't his.
It's easier for her to forget entire worlds than it is to forget one friend, but she tries not to wonder about that too much, either, or about what kind of person something like that makes her.
She doesn't pay much attention to Gaius at first. She has other things on her mind, like Cylons and survival and it's all she can do to keep on her feet. Still, she notices him, can't not. He might look a little like the type that might be able to blend in, but he doesn't, he stands out, and even if he's as scared as the rest of them he doesn't look like he's given up, and even that early on, a lot of other people had.
It turns out that he comes in handy, after all. He even saves the day a few times, and every time he does something no one else could have done she offers up a little prayer for Karl, the reason he was there. She's not so much grateful as resigned, and so guilt-ridden that she can't celebrate without thinking of him.
Caprica fades into a hazy memory with a little time to dull it, and she wonders if it looks as much like a graveyard as it does in her dreams.
Life has a way of getting out of hand, and there's no shore leave, no reinforcements and no downtime. She lives on a razor edge, ready to fight, ready to die at the sound of an alarm. Even for her, it's a strange way to live, and sometimes she needs a little something to drown it out.
Tigh uses ambrosia, and sometimes she does too, but for fear of ending up like him she has other vices to balance it out. She gambles, and fights, and she's reckless in more things than just flying. Sometimes she needs another body, someone to fall into, to share with for a little while because they're all in the same boat here, and it's a little comforting, and a little sad.
Lee's too dangerous to turn to, he's got a little too much power over her, and Helo's gone, so she ends up under Baltar. It's Lee she's seeing, his hold on her is stronger than she thought, and it's his name she says; an amateur mistake, to be sure. She won't be able to fall back on Gaius again, his ego is a little too fragile to recover from something like this.
Baltar is awkward with her later, his tone is clipped and edgy, and he doesn't meet her eyes. Lee picks up on it, probably knows, can probably guess. It's not that big a stretch of the imagination, and Lee's seen this kind of thing enough times with her before.
She doesn't dwell on it, though, because that night it isn't Lee she's thinking of. She's thinking of Baltar, the movements of his hands, rushed and a little too rough, sometimes, too tender the rest, and she's thinking of Helo, dead in the middle of a dying world; and all she can think is, you gave up your seat for him?
Kara first meets the Sharon copy the day Karl comes back from the dead.
Her ribs are bruised already and it hits like another blow. She thought maybe she was dreaming when Karl came out of nowhere and took her in his arms, thought maybe she might be dead, but Sharon seems real enough, it seems real enough, standing there with its arm in a sling.
He says he knows what she is, but that she's different, that she's carrying his child. Its gone with her ticket home not ten minutes later. Men are stupid.
She's too worn down to hold anything against him, and he looks a little broken, like her. The streets are all empty and quiet, and she's had dreams like this, dreams where she's standing in the middle of a city screaming for help and no one else is there. But she's not alone anymore, and Helo's still Helo, she can see it in his eyes. He'll rally his spirits soon enough and start smiling again.
Karl Agathon was an optimist. Not even an apocalypse was going to change that.
The first night in the truck she kisses him, because she needs to touch him, needs the human contact, needs to know he's alive. He lets her, but that's all he lets her do. Sex with them is always about forgetting, and Helo thinks he's found something worth remembering.
She doesn't hold it against him, she's still dizzy on the fact he's survived, still gets a little thrill every time he laughs or smiles or looks her way. He's alive, and everything, the betrayal, the bruises and broken skin, has all become worth it. Karl is still the best friend she's ever had, and Anders will do for forgetting.
She doesn't even call him Lee.
They both make it home, but it's hardly status quo. She's smoking a cigar in her bunk when Helo wanders in; he's spent the night with the Cylon, she can see it in the way he rubs his neck and shifts his feet like he's been standing for hours.
"Those things'll kill you," he says, nodding at her cigar.
She flashes him a grin. "And wouldn't that be ironic?"
He gives her a playful shove, and she folds her legs under her so he can sit down beside her. He takes the cigar from her fingers and brings it to his lips, sucks the smoke in like air. He starts coughing the moment he brings it down again and Kara laughs.
"I'll never understand how you stand these things," he says. He hands it back to her and replaces it with a strawberry sucker.
"You worry about your teeth," she says. "I'll worry about my lungs."
He laughs and it's almost normal, almost sane; but she's just forgetting again. There's nothing normal about this.
"Should we go play triad?" she asks.
"I don't think anyone wants me around," Helo says, but he's taking it in stride like everything. She doesn't know if that makes him well-adjusted or even crazier than she is.
"Screw 'em," she says, and means it. She'll take Helo over the lot of them any day, and even Lee was on her nerves lately. He was always on her nerves, always too close. He kissed her when she came home.
She tilts and braces herself on his shoulder, and he rests his head on hers. She keeps telling herself that they had a destination now, a place to search for, but she's thought that all along and it really isn't all that different now that it's true.
She closes her eyes, sucks in a little more smoke; because maybe it's crazy, but it makes it easier to breathe. Karl takes one of her hands, interlocks their fingers with a strange studied care, and says nothing.
He doesn't need to. She can feel the pulse in his wrist beating against her own, and that's more of a comfort than words could manage, anyway.