Lee doesn't know exactly when he realized that he was different. It was somewhere between his father's absence and his mother's broken promises, broken spirit, broken heirloom vase and the window she threw it through.
He feels detached, as though he's looking at the world through a tiny peephole from a distant plateau. He's just old enough and smart enough to know that he doesn't experience things in the same way as people around him. He rests his hand heavy on his little brother's shoulder, sees the comfort drawn from it and doesn't understand it. Zak feels everything. Too much so, in Lee's opinion. But that doesn't mean Lee's opposite extreme is the right way either.
Structure is his cure.
There are rules, guidelines, expectations, and if he forces himself inside of them then he's certain that he can attain the normalcy that he was born without.
Or close enough, at least, for everyone but him.
Kara's mother only ever tries to teach her one thing: to suffer.
Kara is a dutiful student, more so than anyone would suspect, because she figures that even pain has to be better than echoing hollowness. Screams have to be better than silence.
The physical is easy, but it's never enough. She doesn't feel it, not really. There are scars and burst capillaries and hairline fractures, but none of it leaves an imprint where she wants it most.
She tries harder.
Frak and fight and cuss and drink. She surrounds herself with, tries to drown herself in, the human condition. All with the outside hope that maybe it'll make her a little more human too.
For a while, she convinces herself that this is the way she's supposed to be. She had a frakked up childhood.
Not being normal after that is what makes her normal, right?
Zak Adama burns bright, like a beacon. Half of the reason Kara responds to his advances is the chance that some of that will rub off on her. He has so much to give and wants to give it all to her. She believes that eventually it might stop slipping right past her like that final displaced gust of atmosphere before the maglock on her helmet snaps in place and sterile, scrubbed O2 fills her nostrils.
It never happens.
But the other half of the reason is that dating one of her cadets is exactly the right amount of foolhardy, and that's good enough by itself, even if he can't change her.
Kara begins to think this is comfortable and this might work.
She and Zak date for six months before she meets his brother.
Lee Adama is nothing like Zak. He's tight and restrained, even when he's smiling, pretending to let go, as though if he relaxes for a second, everything will come spilling out. An hour in, she challenges him to a game of pool. He grips her hand too hard when she drags him up out of his chair and something passes between them.
He's undoubtedly very attractive and Kara knows she has her own charms. But still, it's not normal for her. Kara likes sex. A lot. But in general. She can't remember the last time she actually wanted sex with a specific person. She thinks that it could be how tightly wound he is, the promise that maybe he's repressing something interesting. It doesn't quite fit, but it's enough to go on with. That and the knot of heat in her abdomen.
She waits until the exact moment when Zak is completely surrounded by rowdy fellow cadets in the corner before she puts down her pool cue in mid-shot and walks casually through the door just past the last bar stool.
Zak has never had the best luck with girls. His problem is that he falls too fast and too hard. As something of a student of human nature, Lee knows there are not many, if any, people worth the amount of devotion his younger brother brings to bear.
Kara Thrace might be his worst choice ever, though. Every move, her every grin and sloppy kiss and profane barb, is massively exaggerated. Lee knows that he's more knowledgeable about faking it than most people, but she's so blatant that it's amazing to him that no one else seems to notice.
He wonders what she really wants with Zak, whether it's just the Adama name this time or the excitement of the prohibited nature of their relationship. He leans towards the latter when he catches the looks she eventually sends his way. They smoulder, for real, and Lee wonders if that's the look she gave Zak to hook him before she began stringing him along. It's raw need and, much to his surprise, he feels something of the like rising in himself.
Zak is dragged off to the triad table by some friends and Lee has a sudden powerful desire for him to stay there. Kara sets down her pool cue while balls are still skittering in zigzags across the green and barely looks at him before disappearing into the bathroom.
It's not as if she's the first girlfriend of Zak's to make eyes at him. Normally he wouldn't. It's just being messy for no good reason, not to mention it's outside of the boundaries of the role he plays.
He follows her anyway.
She's wearing pants--standard issue camo--so Lee's pretty sure she didn't plan it.
They're hanging by one ankle now, the other one freed when she wrapped that leg around his waist. His own pants are shoved down just past his hips because he really doesn't want them touching this floor, though that concern has a limited duration before he's otherwise occupied.
He's propping her up with both hands, one holding her waist and one under a knee. Her tanks and bra are rucked up over her breasts, but mostly just for show as Lee doesn't really have time to lavish attention as would normally be his wont. Alternately, her tongue is in his mouth or she's biting his shoulder and the curve at the base of his neck, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut and concentrate very hard to make sure this lasts long enough to even be considered a quickie.
The catastrophically noisy crowd in the next room drowns out the rhythmic thudding of his hips against hers against the door. She comes with a sharp exhalation and a little squeak, wide, expressive mouth trembling as she pants for breath. Lee finishes and slows and comes to a stuttering stop just as she draws in a breath to laugh, throaty and genuine and nothing like she had been before.
Their eyes meet and Lee sees nothing but himself reflected back.
Not shame or the barest hint of remorse, not the illicit thrill he expected, not a single thought of her boyfriend, his brother, in the next room. Just the fading strains of satiated desire.
And that's when Lee realizes: she wasn't faking interest in his brother. She was faking everything.
She's just like him. His world shifts in some slight, tremendous way, and he can see that hers has as well.
The hand that had been digging viciously into his bicep taps his shoulder once, and he disengages himself and lets her feet find the floor. She's grabbed a wad of paper towels and fixed her clothing before he's blinked three times.
"How long have you known?" he asks.
"I have no idea what the frak you're talking about, Apollo," she says evenly, then presses the towels into his hand and slips out the door in one smooth motion.
When Lee rejoins her at the pool table moments later, Zak is closing the last few feet between himself and Kara and smooches her loudly as he wraps her in his arms. Lee's jaw clenches. Zak spins and rocks back and forth in their hug. Kara stares at Lee over his shoulder.
She doesn't frak Lee again because she's pretty sure that Zak wants to propose and it's too precarious a situation to risk it. It requires a good deal more willpower than she expects to hold off for the rest of his visit, but Kara long ago committed to the Zak thing being a good idea and she sees little reason to drastically alter direction.
Like every other emotion Zak ever feels, the undercurrent of envy towards his brother is obvious. One inappropriate flush and an exit not staggered quite enough and months of work will be overturned. She and Lee never talk about it, but she knows that he won't tell.
Most people think that without guilt, there's no reason to keep betrayals a secret. Kara knows the truth: without guilt, there's no reason not to. Plus, Lee strikes her as a patient guy.
Once she and Zak are married, once he's staked an irrevocable claim, caught the un-catchable Starbuck, she's sure that complacency will take the place of suspicion.
Besides, the intense gazes Lee directs at them, actually holding something in this time, make excitement build at the base of her spine.
When it comes down to it, Kara passes Zak because that's what a woman in love would do. Besides that, she doesn't wish him pain. If she failed him Zak would hate her and hate himself for hating her and for not being good enough to carry the name Adama. Their relationship would never survive.
No more Zak means no more Lee, as well. And she likes having something to look forward to.
The paperwork's all done in about thirty seconds.
Zak's done in a fraction of that.
The best thing about Zak's death is that Lee actually feels something. It's a dull, muted pain, centered somewhere around vague memories of fighting off monsters in the dark with a flashlight and tiny fingers clinging to the hem of his shirt. But it's there, all the same, and he grasps it securely. He sits up nights before the funeral and considers all the different ways to explore it, marks down the different paths towards which it could lead him.
At the funeral, staring into his father's eyes, Lee makes sure his words cut as much as they can. His father's pain is so much more vivid and bright. He thinks, maybe if he makes him bleed, cuts him open, lays all that hurt bare he'll be able to figure out how it works and coach the tiny, little thing in his chest to something bigger and even more real.
His father retreats off to his battlestar instead and takes Kara with him.
Lee grudgingly accepts that's an avenue better left closed.
Kara goes to Galactica primarily because there's something about Commander Adama she finds intriguing enough to humor his attempts to replace his sons with her. He doesn't immediately toss Starbuck into one of the few categories that most do, which is both rare and curious. More than that, people seem to be drawn to him. They ebb and flow around him, an island in the middle of a sea of worshipful humanity. In his domain, he's more than just a man, and part of Kara wants to understand that, thinks it might reflect on what makes her less than one.
Plus, a relatively fresh start is a good idea. Frakking your recently-dead fiancé's brother really isn't all that acceptable in any circle. Not even the ones Starbuck runs in.
It makes sense that she would rather avoid the whole mess.
She wouldn't actually. But distance does what she can't do herself.
Lee doesn't get attached. Not ever, and certainly not to his paramours. Absolutely not to anyone he's only been with once. It's not willful and he usually pretends otherwise--he's a noble man, after all--but it's just part of how he is.
Still, he thinks, cataloguing two year's worth of girlfriends and almost-fiancées, he's never had a thing for blondes before.
She fits in on Galactica. As well as she can. Better than she expected.
No one ever notices that there's nothing behind the cackle and the glare and the quicksilver mood changes. Starbuck is the perfect mask, because even when she struggles, grasping, for the appropriate emotional response it doesn't matter.
Starbuck is crazy. Starbuck is broken. But all in an acceptable way.
Kara almost believes it herself. Sometimes. She starts to expect even more. Until she lies in her bed at night and calls up every tragedy, every broken bone, and can never, ever cry, no matter how hard she tries.
They clasp hands for far too long in the middle of the hangar deck after the end of the worlds and only one thought is absolutely clear.
You're exactly who I would have chosen.
Even they don't like to be lonely.
They're last in from CAP and the few other inhabitants of the senior pilots bunkroom are already sound asleep. Lee quietly strips out of his flight suit and stows it just the same. He flinches as he hears Kara's much noisier progression across from him, the loud zip and grunting and the unmistakable sound of her balling the suit up and dropping it into the bottom of her locker. Lee grabs his kit and his towel and spins to face her, a suspicion that's been dancing through his mind for weeks now finally breaking through.
"My father likes you more," he says, voice low.
Kara turns with her hands on her hips, head cocked, and sometimes when they're alone, it surprises him how many mannerisms are really her and not Starbuck.
"Yeah. He does," she agrees.
"It doesn't make sense," he says as he opens the hatch and heads towards the showers. She follows and he doesn't raise his voice. "I'm practically perfect. Principled, noble, brave, overachieving."
"You also have really good hygiene," she offers and he can hear the smile.
"Yes, I do, thank you."
Inside the head, he peels off the rest of his clothes and tosses them in the bin, doesn't pretend not to watch as she does the same. But he leaves the spray off when he stands under the showerhead, his mind still spinning with incredulity.
"You're a complete frak-up. Why would he like you more?"
It's an issue of pride, but he doesn't care. He took the standard and made it better, only bent the strictures of a good man to make a great one. Apollo is painstakingly crafted and artfully constructed. Starbuck is messy with rough edges, paint splattered on the walls behind the canvas. But everyone clearly feels just a little bit more devoted to her.
"Perfect isn't interesting, Lee," she yells over the water now streaming down over her. "People like damage. To feel like they're fixing something."
"I didn't speak to him for two years!" Lee protests, cranking the knob on the shower harder than is necessary.
She looks at him over the partition, wheat-colored hair a slick cap plastered to her head, and grins.
"Maybe I'm just better at pretending than you."
His father is a leader of men. Powerful and unerringly respected by those less extraordinary. Validation for how well Lee's succeeded at being just like everyone else, surpassed everyone else, should come from a man who stands at the head of all that's left of humanity. There's nothing better.
It would be extremely difficult, by those standards, to argue that the President of the Twelve Colonies isn't the best sort of person around.
President Roslin expresses her pride more freely and her approval more easily. She even pretends to respect outlooks that differ from her own.
For the first time, Lee considers himself and wonders why.
Is his father like this because he's like this? Or is it the other way around?
He begins to think that there's some element of this conflict that he's missing entirely.
Lee's fingers are working circles against her hips on the wrong side of the thin layers of chiffon and silk. Her forearms rest on his shoulders, one scarf trailing down his back and the other down his front, her fingers loosely clasped at the nape of his neck. She feels calm and quiet, and not in the way that she can't stand, not the way that makes her want to rip out her hair and scream. She likes this and thinks she might be ready to let it last.
"It's been three months since the attack," Lee says, as if on cue.
"I know how to read a calendar, Lee." She makes a Starbuck face, all sardonicism and mockery, because she feels eyes besides his on her.
"And I know why you followed my father to Galactica," he retorts.
She leans forward and drops her voice to a whisper, breathing on the side of his neck.
"It would have been unseemly."
"Even for Starbuck," he says, still composed.
"Even for Starbuck," she agrees.
"Still, it's been three months." He rolls his shoulders, clears his throat lightly.
"And?" she singsongs, bored, and wants to know why he can't just say it.
Exasperation creeps into his voice. "And he was already a fading memory. Now there's exactly one person left in the universe who'll give a shit."
"And you don't think quality's more important than quantity?" She doesn't either, but as much as she wants this, something in her rebels at 'just because.' She wants him to want her, specifically, like she does him.
"Are you actually scared there might be something the Old Man won't forgive you for?"
"Aww," she says, baby-voiced. "Poor Lee. Still jealous Daddy loves me best?"
"I'm not the jealous type."
"Really." She studies his face. "Get me a drink," she commands a moment later.
He cocks an eyebrow at her, but slides his hands away and obeys.
As soon as he turns his back, she walks away.
The truth is: it's not a mistake.
Kara has been practicing not screaming Lee's name during sex since the day she met him.
But there's something about the look on Lee's face when Kara was his in arms. The absolute surety painted on his perfect, patrician features that he and she will end up pressed up against another wall again somewhere soon, gasping and writhing. The belief that it- they are inevitable.
He's right, of course. Lee usually is.
It irritates her, though. So does Baltar's similar smug self-confidence.
It all gets under her skin, prickly and intoxicating and gods it feels good to feel. She thinks that the only thing that would be better is making Lee feel it too, which is easy, because Baltar is every bit the narcissistic child she was counting on. And Lee's nowhere near as above jealousy as he likes to think.
Two birds with one stone. Best shot in or out of the cockpit.
What she doesn't count on is the unpleasantness of Lee's rage or the unfamiliar sting of hurt feelings. She's been faking pain for so long, made a life out it, but the reality is like an electric shock to her system.
For the first time, she wonders if being the way they are is actually better than the normalcy they both mimic. The idea of more than one person in the universe being able to affect her that way is repugnant.
She wanders for the rest of the day, eyeing her shipmates and colleagues, wondering what invisible scars they carry around from every day of their lives spent battered by the untidy emotions of the people around them.
The problem with them, as Kara sees it, is that if one of them tells the other their death wouldn't matter, it can't just be naturally assumed that they're lying.
Taking the raider is a convenient way to test the theory.
Lee entertains himself with mutiny. It's what Captain Apollo would do. What Starbuck's already done.
He's working on a hypothesis that a few more touches of rebellion and defiance are what's missing from the equation with him and his father.
When Boomer shoots the commander, Lee's troubled by the thought that he might never get to find out.
In his cell, he stares at his father's blood on his hands and digs deep.
He decides he wouldn't mind seeing Boomer die.
There are two annoying things about finding Helo.
The first is that it means Kara is not alone. The second is that his girlfriend steals her transportation, forcing her into his company for even longer. It is not that she finds Helo particularly intolerable, nothing of the sort. But the war makes Kara weary, though she would never admit it. The dire straits make everyone expect her to feel more all the time. It's like every day's a funeral, sometimes literally, and those have always been tiresome.
She stays quiet and withdrawn as they tramp through the dead city and lets Helo read whatever he wants into it. Meeting the resistance makes things more interesting. This is the kind of humanity that fascinates her the most. Kara certainly isn't suicidal, but she still thinks that she doesn't strive for life, cling desperately to it, with the same fervor as others.
For five days, she turns to a blank page and constructs a narrative in her mind. Samuel Anders is actually a lot like Starbuck, except undamaged; a little like a life she could have led. But when she sees how quickly he loves her, he begins, forcibly, to remind her more of Zak.
Being shot and abducted only heightens the drama, Kara realizes, once her initial burst of anger has subsided. The Cylons are such strange creatures. She can almost identify with their wanton desperation to be more human. Their cryptic mastermind act is just annoying, however. And she is irritated enough on principle--no one takes what belongs to her--to want to blow them all away.
She thinks, pleased, that her good-bye to Anders is like something out of an old movie. Tears brim. Lovers part. (Zak dies.) Part of her thinks it odd that Anders goes along with it all so easily. Maybe he's writing a story of his own.
Kara toys with her remaining dogtag in the heavy raider, clinks it against the silver promise ring, and finds herself anxiously anticipating the moment when Lee notices. She knows he will. He eyes the ring often enough when he thinks she isn't looking.
The confrontation she wants has to wait until after Kobol and fleet-wide reconciliations and commemorative ceremonies in stuffy dress uniforms. By the time they're circling each other in the gym, gloves laced and guards up, it's been almost two weeks since the last time they were alone. Six days since he kissed her hello in public then pretended it was just Apollo and Starbuck and not Lee and Kara.
"It was a stupid move," he says suddenly, dancing out of her range.
"I thought you didn't care." She grins viciously around her mouthguard.
He blocks a right hook, but takes a jab in the gut.
"Do you want me to?" he asks, his stare challenging.
Kara ignores him. "You don't care if I die and you don't get jealous, right?" she presses.
"Right," he spits as she weaves under one arm and tags him in the side.
"Frak anyone while I was gone?"
His footwork stutters, but he recovers quickly. "Didn't get around to it, no."
"I did," she says, eyes bright, and drops her guard.
He punches her hard in the face, and she shivers at the taste of blood on her tongue.
Petty Officer Dualla has been blatantly eyeing him ever since the conspiracy that got him and the President out of the brig. He's pretty sure that she's still with Billy Keikeiya, which is unfortunate, but Lee makes a note anyway.
It's rare that the act doesn't feel at least partially like a chore. They keep it up, have always kept it up, more out of necessity than enjoyment, more out of overall convenience than the tiny hope that one day they'll be a real boy and girl.
But the more Starbuck and Apollo spar and flirt and scare each other half to death, the more it feels like maybe Lee and Kara are leaking through. The personas are more fun than they've ever been when they have each other to play off of, when they have the potential to create a legend together. When there's an edge of real panic in his voice and a sliver of genuine need in her embrace.
She feels like they've all been drunk for the better part of three days. And that's fine, she's done worse. But it's like there's this knot between her shoulders that she can't seem to reach. That frakking raider just won't die and that's not how the story's supposed to go because Starbuck is Starbuck. Then Kat's just making it worse, because who the hell is she anyway, some upstart nugget, pretender to the throne, and what the frak is up with that?
She's the best there is. It's not pride, just fact. She can't say 'I love you,' 'I'm sorry,' 'I care,' and mean it, but she can shoot anything out of the sky.
It's frustrating, maybe even infuriating, which she might be enjoying if only it weren't so obnoxious.
Then there's Lee's neck. He's slouching in his chair with his head thrown back, complacent, and there's a bead of sweat trailing down it. She wants to lick it.
"I don't even remember their names," she says instead.
"Well, let's see," Lee says and begins to count them off on his long, slender fingers.
It's a lot, Kara thinks, only half listening because it's just now occurred to her how miraculous it is that they're both still alive. Something flutters in her chest and it might be a sense of wonder.
"You know, the president says we're moving towards some bright, shiny future," Kara begins carefully. "But you and I are never gonna see it." Lee just looks at her curiously, unsure where she's going because self-pity is mostly beyond them, much like regret. They made their choices and if they ever start to bother them that much, they'll just make different ones.
Kara continues, like she's just figured out a riddle or named a song to which she could only remember the tune.
"We keep going out there and one day some metal motherfrakker is going to get lucky and blow us out of the sky."
Lee snorts in amusement. "Do you really think that either of us could have ever had a bright shiny future?"
"Not really." She shrugs. "But maybe we should get what we can while we can anyway?" She knows he wants this. Her. Either of them could have just about anyone in the fleet that they set their minds to, certainly anyone on Galactica. They don't, though. Because ever since she came back, the draw between them that started the day they met keeps them pulled tight and ready until there's only one person they really want to make them snap.
But they started a contest some time ago and both of them are unwilling to give in first. She doesn't think that they're sure what exactly the terms of surrender are, but this doesn't feel like it. Not quite.
"I'll drink to that," he says, pouring carefully.
Kara ignores her drink and meets his eyes. "So, why don't we?"
"Why don't we what?" he asks, staring at her mouth.
The stumble back to the bunkroom seems eternal and it's only due to Lee's intervention that they don't start losing clothing until the door is safely barred. His hands are everywhere and his mouth is searing hot over hers. They stumble against a locker door and the edge of someone's bunk, unwilling to lose contact for even a second, before she tugs him over to the table in the middle of the room.
She's got nothing left but her bra and he's down to his boxer briefs. The cold metal against her back contrasts with the heat of his body over her and she hisses with mingled shock and pleasure. She can feel him straining against the final thin layer of cloth between them and he jerks his hips forward suddenly and colors explode in front of her eyes. She wants to moan, but what comes out sounds more like a strangled sob. Something is spreading through her and not just the gorge of sensation that sex brings--distracting from, but never filling, the emptiness. There's something else this time that she can feel from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She gasps back another mewling sound and she realizes what's mixing in with her desire, almost overriding it. Relief. Joy. As though she's been waiting for this, needing this, on some level far beyond the physical. He kisses her whisper-soft on her shoulder and more feelings crop up that she can't even give a name.
"Get off," she says quietly.
Lee smiles against her neck. "I'm trying to." His expression is tender when he looks at her and she doesn't even know if he realizes it. She can't take it.
She bucks under him and he understands that she wasn't just talking dirty. When she shoves at his shoulders, he moves to the side, breaking the cage of his arms. She slips out from under him quickly, and turns her back to him before she can see his face again.
"Hey," he says, and places a hand on her arm. She snatches it away and looks for her underwear. "Hey!" he repeats, anger seeping into his voice. "What about us?!"
She whips around. "I just wanted a good lay," she declares, enunciating every word clearly. "You've been offering for long enough." She has spent her entire life wondering how it would be to be more like everyone else, to feel more like everyone else. But this. This is consumptive and terrifying, even worse than the little hurts of the last time they really fought. It feels binding, not freeing the way it was when they frakked in a bar bathroom on Caprica twelve billion lifetimes ago.
"There is nothing here," she reminds them both, one hand on her heart. "You get that better than anyone." She taps two fingers lightly against his bare chest. "Nothing."
"Yeah. I know," he says dismissively. "Which is why I'm the closest thing to a friend you have. What's wrong?"
She struggles for an excuse. Starbuck doesn't work on him, but it doesn't have to work. It just has to give her time to think. She needs to clear her head.
"I'm hung up on a dead guy, all right?!" she yells. "And it's pissing me off."
He stares at her in abject confusion for a long beat and she can practically see the considerations of Zak turning around in his head. It was a relationship that he witnessed, about which he empirically knows the absolute truth. When what she's actually referring to clicks in his mind, he stares at her with one eyebrow cocked so severely it's in danger of meeting his hairline.
"You mean, Anders?! The resistance fighter on Caprica?!" His face betrays hesitant amusement, as though he's heard a joke but isn't sure whether he's meant to laugh.
"Yeah, well, he's dead so-" she begins, but has no real idea where she's going and, as such, is happy when he cuts her off.
"Oh, Kara please," he says incredulously, closing the distance between them. "You are fine with dead guys." His tone is a gentle reminder, as if she's gone away and forgotten who she really is for a second.
She pauses for a breath too long when she looks at him, and she can see the beginnings of realization on his face.
He tilts his head. "Maybe you just don't want to admit that there's a living one that you can't deal with."
She punches him to make sure that he shuts up, then jams her tongue down his throat when he looks like he might say something anyway.
He's caught off guard enough that when she slams the hatch behind her, he doesn't follow.
She tries to look overwhelmed when she runs out of both names that Lee recited the night before and that she gleaned from a quick look through some of the files in his office. She's still dead tired and has one frak of a hangover and holding her full cup up is actually starting to hurt her shoulder. But it's worth it.
Kara wants to turn around and laugh at what she's sure is a hilarious look of indignation contorting Kat's features, impotent rage at having her one moment hijacked. Knowing that it's there will have to do.
"To all of them," Lee says, after a lengthy silence, joining her toast.
She figures that they're okay.
Lee hasn't the faintest idea where Dee found her pink dress, but it's flattering enough. Much more so, certainly, than the clearly unresolved issues between her and Billy, brought unavoidably to Lee's attention by the fact that she keeps talking about him. When the man himself shows up, Lee sighs inwardly and excuses himself to the bar.
Kara already knows about the date, which is something, but Lee also knows she's going to end up here eventually. He remembers the way her civvies, all in black, hugged her body as she sauntered out of the pilots' duty locker, and this is the best bar on Cloud Nine. Of course, when she does show up, it would be much more effective if his date is being his date and not hashing out her feelings for her maybe-ex and his debate club ring.
Lucky for him, that becomes the least of his problems.
Dee's kneeling over him, crying and mumbling, and his shirt is soaking wet under where her hands are pressing into his chest. He wants to say something, but every breath sends spasms of agony through his body.
Lee tries to turn his head to look for Kara and passes out.
The first few times Lee comes to, Dee's the only one who's there. He supposes that it shows admirable dedication. He's also very glad for the excuse of trauma, recent surgery, and a morphine drip, so that he doesn't have to try to think of a response to her passionate entreaties that he never leave.
Kara doesn't show up until late in ship's night, presumably after she's seen Dualla retreat to her rack. It bothers him, though he wishes it didn't. Even as Starbuck, she had every right to be at his side. Apparently, she chose not to.
She doesn't pull up a chair, just looks down at him as he lay there, and her face is inscrutable. Maybe it's his own anger or the drugs dulling his ability to read her, that or she's starting to learn how to hide from him too.
"If you were really that raw about it," he croaks. "You could have shot her."
She sneers. "I didn't do it on purpose."
"Right," Lee snaps. "Thought you were the best shot in or out of the cockpit?"
He expects a retort, but instead she clenches her jaw, turns, and flees the infirmary.
"Yeah, we're okay," he says, and she buries her face in his shoulder.
It feels good to hold her, her body pressed tightly against his. He breathes in the smell of her hair and is disappointed when she pulls back, just a little.
"When are you going to say goodbye to your girlfriend?" she asks, brow furrowed.
"It's a few hours until my transport leaves. I'm sure I'll catch her."
Kara doesn't respond, just licks her lips, and Lee makes a decision. She beats him to it though and her lips press against his. He wastes no time prying her mouth open with his tongue and is only spurred to kiss her more deeply when she grabs at the nape of his neck.
They bump into the table and Lee hears one of his carefully packed boxes of belongings go crashing to the floor. The boxing gloves make a dull thud on impact. Kara's other hand starts pulling at the belt of his BDUs, and he disengages their mouths.
"You're not going to ditch me right after the prologue again, are you?" he pants.
"Shut up," she growls and claims his mouth again before pushing him down into his bunk.
"Door," he manages, one bit of coherent though hanging on by a thread after his jacket's crumpled on the floor and they're clawing at each other's tanks. Kara manages to get her arm free and drops her tanks and her bra outside of the bunk before pulling the privacy curtain shut. Good enough, Lee decides immediately, even though he knows it's not.
She straddles him and writhes, and it's almost too much even though they both still have pants on. He tugs her forward and their bare chests press against each other. He feels the hard points of her nipples against his skin as her mouth finds his. She kisses him languidly and when he opens his eyes, she's looking at him. Just staring. He's seen that look before. Last time he thought maybe he was drunk enough that he was imagining it, until she left him standing there, still at half-mast, for no reason he could decipher. She was spooked, fear's not familiar on her, but it is familiar. But whatever it was, and is, she's clearly decided it's not enough to chase her away this time. Or maybe, he thinks, it's an acceptable risk. Like the still unbarred door or the ones they take every time they climb into their Vipers.
The grapple to get rid of their pants is complicated by Lee's insistence on having his mouth on one of her breasts throughout the endeavour. They're dextrous enough to succeed anyway, and the remainder of their clothing ends up stuffed near their feet at the end of the rack.
When she finally sinks down onto his length, she lets out a long, obscene sigh and Lee throws his head back hard enough that it feels like he bumped it against the frame, pillow and pallet aside. They sit there for a long moment joined, completely, before she begins to roll her hips and lift herself up and back down on her knees.
Three years, four months, and seventeen days since the first time, but he still remembers it vividly. This is different, better, and he can barely believe it. He has no idea how they managed to wait that long and he knows he never will again.
She cries his name, loud, when she comes and collapses forward, her forehead on his chest. He holds onto her hips and works the angle she established until his own climax comes crashing through his body, leaving him trembling. She slides off of him and plops down on her side between him and the wall, looking at him serenely.
He kisses her and then again, breaking the silence with soft, wet sounds. Then his eyes catches the digital readout on the clock built into the wall.
"I have to get on a shuttle to my battlestar in forty-five minutes," he says.
"Mmhmm," Kara responds lazily, apparently much more interested in running one of her feet up and down his left calf.
"Thanks to you, I have to take a shower before I see Dee," he informs her.
"I don't care," she mumbles kissing his neck as she dances the fingertips of one hand around his navel.
"I know you don't." He grins. "Just making an observation."
In the end, with fifteen minutes remaining, he takes a five minute shower, expedites packing by deciding to have the bulk of his meager possessions sent over to him, and gives Dee a kiss on the forehead and a few comforting words in an alcove just off the hangar deck.
Lee only waits a week before he makes Kara his new CAG. People on Pegasus don't know them well enough to really suspect anything, which is extremely convenient. They just think that the admiral's son is desperate to prove his worthiness for this new post and long, late night tactical and personnel discussions with the CAG are part of that. After all, the last time anyone on Pegasus saw them interact, it wasn't even friendly, much less something more. Kara acts extra cranky about it all just in case.
But for all that long, slow, steady fraks in the relatively massive commander's quarters is the most fun she's had in a very long time, Kara can't help but resent the fact that he still has a girlfriend on the ship across the way. It's literally impossible for Dee to mean anything to him, but as much as she's enjoyed its role in her sex life before, Kara doesn't like jealousy from this end at all.
"It might give leeway for more suspicions if I'm not seen as otherwise involved," he insists. "Besides, the distance will eventually take care of it easier than I could."
Kara's not a patient woman.
She pours it on strong to get the old man to approve the mission back to Caprica. She realizes after the fact that with two battlestars and more than enough planes and pilots, things are looking up so much that she could have scaled it back. She decides it was more than worth the expenditure if he happens to mention her desperation to Lee. Anything to make the gesture more grand.
When they jump back, she's actually surprised that Anders is still alive. She can't help but appreciate that amount of resilience. Or just plain bullheadedness. Either way, all's the better.
She's disappointed that Lee isn't in the hangar when she introduces him to the Old Man like he's her prom date or her first steady.
She's sure he'll hear about it though.
He feels her breathe him in for a split second when she hugs him. He missed her too, but the man standing at the opposite end of the bunkroom is almost enough to make him forget that. He looks joyous and oblivious and Lee briefly considers putting him out an airlock.
Kara puts on quite a show, and Lee gets the point. She was probably right about Dee, who's clinging tight as ever, separate postings and seeing each other once a week or less be damned. But he has no intention of admitting it. Not after Kara makes him watch her slobber all over a should-be-dead pyramid player.
Primarily, Lee just wants to press Kara up against the desk in his quaters, make sure that all she can taste and feel and see is him. He wants to make her scream his name until it's the only one she can remember.
Lee's supposed to be catching a shuttle over to Galactica to meet Dualla, but Kara pulls him into the tactical room and yanks his pants down to his knees anyway.
"You're going to have to explain that," he says, later, when her leg knocks one of the model Vipers from the board onto the floor, where it lands with a distinct crack. Kara ignores him, concentrates instead on the way the board's backlighting surrounds Lee with a dim blue halo of light as she looks down at him, adding an ethereal quality to his beauty.
She runs one hand up under his tanks. Lee's hips jerk up violently and she knows he won't last much longer. Kara slides a hand down her own stomach, but Lee grabs it and kisses her fingertips. His jaw is clenched as he strains for control.
"Not yet," he instructs.
"You're- late," she says around a moan and grinds down harder. "Soon- I will be too."
Lee's the one who approves the shuttle schedules after she writes them up, and is well aware of her planned trip to the Salpica. It shows in his eyes. She revels in the way they burn.
"Break the date," he says, voice raw in his throat as he grabs her hips hard enough to bruise.
She digs her fingernails into his forearms. "You first."
Neither of them misses the worlds as they were in any profound way. There's one pair of jeans that Kara liked. She left them in a locker on base during her last leave. Lee's travel-sized bottle of his preferred brand of shampoo ran out a long time ago. That's more or less where it ends. They have each other in a way that they didn't before the Colonies were destroyed, which supplants most other concerns.
They don't feel a need for a home the way that other people talk about it, cloyingly sentimental, as if it has some inherent meaning other than what they ascribe to it. They do know possession; they like to have spaces and things that belong only to them. But a billet or a locker or an office work just as well as anything else. Their names drawn (gasping or panting or screaming) from each other's lips work even better.
But even they understand what New Caprica means. It means lifetimes measured in years, instead of days and a forever that doesn't end in fire.
"I love you, Kara Thrace," Lee declares as the long grass rustles against their bare legs.
"I love you too," Kara replies and means it.
They can have a future now and that's what he wants. One without games and secret trysts. For a moment, she wants it too. It's easy to imagine them together almost like regular people.
Except, Kara can't help but wonder, if the line between Starbuck&Apollo and Lee&Kara blurs, if they show this to the rest of the world, what else might they give away? After all of this time their personas have stopped being costumes and become armor. They aren't just hiding who they are, they're protecting it.
They're different. Less in some ways and more in others, and he's going to lay them bare. Kara has so little to give and Lee wants it all. And the scariest part is that the more she's with him, the more Starbuck frays and the less Kara cares that it's happening.
It's not a good idea, she decides. Things are fine, safe, the way they are.
The answer becomes clear when she remembers her plans for Zak. Remembers Lee's patience. That would have worked out perfectly without the accident. This time, it should go off without a hitch.
"We got married! Can you believe it?"
Kara watches the anger in Lee's eyes and waits for that familiar shift. She likes to see the exact moment when flares of rage and jealousy fade, and he slides right back down into passion and need, only a little more charged than it might otherwise be.
Sam still has his arm around Lee, and Lee's eyes never change.
Kara realizes how drastically she's miscalculated.
She has Sam get a tattoo of a wing on his arm. She pretends she's flying in his embrace. It doesn't fit him at all, but he shows no real sign of figuring it out.
New Caprica is like Old Caprica in a lot of ways. Like life before Lee.
Kara fraks and fights and cusses and drinks. She subsisted on exactly that for a very long time and now should be no different.
But even though she knows it's not possible, this time she feels emptier than she did before.
Lee finds it ironic that for all his differences, both actual and assumed, he lives his life just like any other unhappily married man who covets another woman.
Kara's not entirely lying when she breaks it off with Sam as soon as they're back on Galactica. She's restless and bored. She does want to lash out and no longer has a convenient Cylon to kill over and over. So, really, it's better for him to be as far away as possible. What she feels isn't about him. Never has been.
But it's so easy to keep calling him back and sending him packing. He always answers, and she's more wired than she's ever been. It's like being on the same ship as Lee again makes her close enough to feel him. It's gone beyond an itch; he's thrumming through the walls and the floor and under her skin.
Of course, whenever she actually sees him, he's still in his snit.
That only makes it worse.
His delighted giggle still plays in her ears like a song, and she gasps out a chuckle as he tries to hold her battered face between his gloved hands. He gets almost close enough to kiss her before his legs give out, saving them from that bit of uncharacteristic carelessness. But then none of this has exactly been discreet given that they've literally had an audience the whole night. She goes down with him since he was the only thing holding her up.
Once she catches her breath she cranes her neck to see out of the ring and notices that both Sam and Dee are long gone, as is everyone else.
With great effort, Kara rolls over and throws her arm across Lee's chest, her face smushed up against his shoulder.
He is very, very carefully cleaning blood from her nose. It's not broken, but it'll hurt for some time. She's holding an icepack against his left knee, his leg resting across her lap and she hasn't bothered to ask him what time his wife expects him home (or if she does at all). Neither of them really cares right now, when they haven't been alone together in over a year. She's pretty sure they're mostly through being concerned about the lines, the ones others draw and the ones they draw themselves.
"You ever think that we could have been different, Lee?" Kara asks, pausing to wince as he applies one bandage and then another to the bridge of her nose. "You think we could have taken a different path? You know, somewhere, somewhen far away from here."
"What?" He smoothes her hair away from her face, checking for any missed cuts or contusions. "Like, a hiccup in the Cycle of Time and we died on the Colonies or we're both Cylons or whatever?"
"A hiccup in the Cycle of Time and maybe we were like everyone else and this-" She traces a bruise on his cheek with one finger before pressing her lips softly against his. "None of this, ever happened."
"No," he replies. "I never think that."
Lee runs his tongue along her bottom lip and Kara luxuriates in the feeling. Then she's distracted by trying not to lean against the dradis console. The cockpit of a raptor isn't the most awkward place they've ever done this but it's close. Lee was saying something, but given that he was mostly whispering it into her mouth, Kara hums an interrogative at him and he repeats himself.
"I can barely look Dee in the eye," he says, holding his mouth a hairsbreadth from kissing her. "She sees through it. She's not stupid, you know."
She nips at his lower lip harder than she intended. Jealousy doesn't niggle at the back of her mind anymore. It comes in sudden, hot stabs now, after so long apart. She's still trying to get used to it.
"You feel guilty," she accuses.
He kisses her a good three more times before he answers. "I didn't say that. It's just...unfortunate."
"Mmm," she replies noncommittally as he insinuates a hand up under her tanks.
"We really should do something about it," he continues.
He noses at her cheek and kisses her neck. "It's a little fast, but let's just push the divorces through."
"But, Lee." She presses her palm against his cheek and gives him wide, devout Starbuck eyes. "Marriage is a sacrament." She grins into his mouth, darts out her tongue, teasing. "I made a vow in the sight of the gods."
In response, Lee pinches her nipple and hikes her leg up over his hip.
"My husband ordered me to risk my life to save yours. So that's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to bring Starbuck back to Apollo."
It's a testament to Kara's acting ability that she doesn't groan and roll her eyes. Or it could be the morphine making her sluggish so the intent in her brain doesn't make it to her face and her mouth before she can stop it. In either case, she wonders how Lee could possibly deal with that level of self-righteous martyrdom on a daily basis.
She presses against the haze of pain and drugs, looking for a Starbuck-appropriate response.
"He won't cheat," she lies. "He's too honorable."
"I love Sam. I hate Sam. I love Lee. I hate Lee. I have to cheat just to keep all the pieces nice and neat."
It's weak and leans too much on Little Girl Lostdom even for her, but her hands hurt so much and she just doesn't have the faculty for this right now. She probably deserves the slap.
It does clear her head for a moment.
"You aren't just some pathetic loser who can't keep her pants on," Dee says. "The Old Man loves you too much for that. You sleep with my husband because you want to. Not because of your frakked-up childhood or whatever else you want to blame for your choices."
Kara mentally marks another one down for Lee. Anastasia Dualla really isn't stupid.
In the end, Sam practically orders her to go to Lee. It's quite noble, and masochistic, of him.
A hope that he'll get over her darts, fleeting, through her mind.
"So, Major," she says, cutting him off in a corridor. "If I leave Sam will you still leave Dee?"
He answers her in a nearby supply closet.
Lee keeps his couples' billet and Kara moves out of the senior pilots' racks. Technically, Lee's supposed to give up the space since he's no longer married, but being the CAG has its benefits. In another time, it's not something that they would have done. But it turns out that change is not impossible for them. And the looks they sometimes get in the halls are so much less than they once expected and, obviously, don't bother them at all.
Really, it's not as though it's unfair. There's a couple living there, married or not, and everyone knows it.
"How could he not know?" Kara asks for what Lee is sure must be at least the sixth time.
"I don't know!" he says as he runs his hands slowly up and down her back. "And I really don't care at the moment."
"Sam knew we were frakking around when it was still supposed to be a secret and he was living on another ship." She slaps her hand against his bare chest for emphasis.
"Maybe he's just not acknowledging it." Lee grabs her hand and tugs her forward from her straddled position, until she's leaning over him, their noses nearly touching.
"It doesn't make any sense," she says as he kisses the tip of her nose. "We're the most important people in the universe to him."
"I wouldn't be so sure." Lee shrugs. "Have you seen the way he's been looking at the President lately?"
Kara makes a face and then kisses him, wiggling her hips against his as if to chase the thought from her mind.
"When's your next CIC shift?" she asks a few minutes later. A slow smile spreads across her face. "Maybe I'll come down and ride you on the main console."
Though he's quite sure that Kara can feel exactly how his body reacts to that suggestion, Lee protests anyway.
"There are other people there besides him, you know. That would be rude."
"So is your father not mentioning your divorce," Kara retorts.
She dreams she's in her apartment and that stupid swirl of colors is on the wall.
It's pretty lame as dreams go. She usually prefers that they involve sex.
A Leoben appears behind her.
Kara rolls her eyes and stabs it in the neck with a paintbrush.
She wakes up with a start, which itself wakes up Lee. She sees the whites of his eyes as he blinks groggily in the darkness and mumbles incoherent questions.
"It's nothing," she whispers. "Go back to sleep."
He collapses against the pillows on command and Kara wraps his arm more tightly around her waist before she closes her eyes again.
She trusts her eyes more than dradis, especially in these conditions, but when she chases the raptor nearer to the storm system, Kara regrets that fact. The familiar colors and pattern look back at her.
"You have to be frakking kidding me," she says. A second later the heavy raider comes screaming towards her.
The Chief and about six deckhands all stare at her Viper, completely unharmed despite the collision Kara knows she felt. Lee and half a room of pilots watch her gun-cam footage and no one sees anything.
"You have to be frakking kidding me," Kara repeats.
She sees a battered, little girl with long, blonde hair disappearing around corners and gazing at her out of mirrors. It's clearly not Kara though. This little one's pain shines bright out of big, doleful eyes.
Kara's never had eyes like that. Or pain like that, for that matter.
She does wish it would stop, though. She knows the exact ways in which she is crazy and has no interest in others being added to the list.
Lee finds her in the memorial hall. He's fresh from talking to his father. About her. She wants to make a joke about long overdue conversations, but it doesn't amuse her really, so she refrains.
"You ever think about where you want to go?" she asks him idly, waving a negligent hand at the rows and rows of overlapping snapshots.
"Not really." He half-shrugs.
"Yeah, me neither."
He crosses the hall to sit beside her on her makeshift stool and she realizes that he's worried about her. He presses his side against hers.
"So, what's the verdict?" she asks.
"I convinced the Old Man that it's my decision."
"Oh," she says and turns to lean towards him. "And what's your decision? Am I grounded for being nuts, Major CAG, sir?"
"Do you want to be?" he responds, letting his forehead touch hers.
She considers it. "Not just yet." There's something out there, clearly. She's going to find out what it is.
"If you're really, really scared, I might be convinced to fly your wing." He's not joking and they both know it.
"Like Apollo could ever keep up with Starbuck," she scoffs. He pecks her on her lips, but pulls away when she holds him there for something more ardent.
"I have a briefing," he explains. "And what do you know? So do you!"
"You're really boring sometimes," she says, and he slaps her ass when they both stand up. Kara turns to follow him down the hall, but pauses when she notices a puddle of vividly colored candlewax. The mandala stares up at her, defiant.
She drives her heel into it and smears it along the floor.
Exactly seven seconds after she stops responding over the comms, Lee realizes, all in a rush, that this is something he can't do. There's no question about it, no chance he could be mistaken.
He cannot live without her.
For the first time, he understands what the apocalypse feels like.
Kara sees the canopy crack and feels her head snap back. When she opens her eyes she's in her old bedroom and the Leoben is there.
Her head throbs. He's talking about mandalas and destiny and death, and she's sorely lacking anything to stab him with. The scene shifts again and he stands beside her, thankfully quiet, as they watch her last fight with her mother.
"She waited there for you to come back," Leoben says, after the other Kara has disappeared out the door. "She died five weeks later, alone."
Kara has no ready response for that and she's not going to expend the effort for a figment of her imagination.
"Why didn't you come back?" he presses, staring intently at the side of her face.
Kara watches her mother, bent over with anger and misery, cracking around the edges. The scene shifts once more to something that is not from Kara's memories. Her mother is in a bed with clean white sheets, dying.
"You were afraid to watch her die," Leoben prompts and sweeps his arm in the direction of the bed. Kara realizes that he wants her to go over to it.
"No," she corrects, speaking for the first time. "No. I wasn't."
"You were!" he insists and it seems odd for a hallucination to have strains of desperation in its voice. "She wanted to teach you to embrace death, not be afraid of it. That was her lesson to her daughter. The one you need now."
Kara's brow furrows as she studies the dying woman in front of her and tries to recontextualize the memories of her childhood.
"No," Kara decides matter-of-factly. "She wanted me to hurt because she hurt and I was too small to do anything about it." His face contorts, a mixture of confusion and disgust as he gapes at her and everything around them seems to waver, shuddering. "It's very common," Kara assures him and then it all blinks out.
She's back in her cockpit and realizes that she's in a steep dive towards the hard deck of the gas planet. The raider is entirely gone when she looks in every direction for it, and she's snapped out of any remnants of her daze when Lee's voice cracks over the comms, yelling her name.
Kara wrenches on the stick until she thinks her are arms are going to pull out of their sockets, but she makes the turn, kicks in the burn, and comes back.
Lee covers her entire body with soft kisses, and holds her to him, stays inside her, long after they're finished. This is how she knows that he believed for some length of time, that he had lost her. She pets his hair and knows that she'll never let that happen. She'll never allow their world to end.
"What did you see out there?" he asks finally, propped up on one elbow beside her in their bed.
Kara burrows further under the duvet and shrugs.
"Life, death. A hallucination." She pulls one hand out and wiggles her fingers at him. "The other side."
Lee chuckles, and under the blanket, he traces a pattern against her belly.
"Are you getting religion on me, Kara?"
"Nah," she shakes her head, grinning. "It wasn't for me."
He's clearly distracted by trailing kisses from her shoulder down past her clavicle, but he manages a response nonetheless. "I have no objections to letting all of that be for someone else," he says and the end of his statement is muffled as his head disappears under the covers.
"So say we all," she recites dutifully, then cackles when he blows a puff of air into her navel.
The fleet and the war and the search for the latest path to salvation chug along. They remain as they ever were, the lines continue to evaporate, and, eventually, some begin to notice. Those who consider themselves closest to them crawl slowly, inch-by-inch, to the truth. By consensus, the war, the neverending fight, is blamed for this fundamental breakdown of humanity in two of its greatest heroes.
They don't offer any corrections, but neither do they humor quiet attempts to 'fix' them.
They're still needed. They do their jobs as well as they ever did. And one-by-one, bit-by-bit, the others leave them be outside of those contexts, keep their distance. Until a space opens around them, an invisible, universally understood perimeter in which they are left absolutely alone.
They're fine with that.