Lee Adama is halfway between the starboard head and the CIC when he wakes up. The process occurs in the time it takes for his left foot to lie flat on the floor; the time between his heel striking the metal and his weight shifting forward. It’s enough to freeze that foot where it lies, enough to make him steady himself on the wall and fight back a gasp. His mind has been thrown open like an airlock. Everything sucked out and replaced with a cold, weirdly comforting void. The first thing he realises is that he understands the two bullets that Boomer put into his father’s chest; understands the flash that switched her on and the effortless squeezing of the trigger.
The second thing he realises is that he no longer cares one whit for the human man who has never really been his father at all, and with that realisation the tenth Cylon model finds the web of consciousness and locks into it. It feels like coming home. It feels like losing his soul. It feels like finding it for the first time.
He is still standing in the corridor.
From behind his shoulder comes Kara’s amused voice. “Forget where you are, Apollo? You know that memory problems can come with old age.”
“Yeah, that must be it,” he says, and isn’t quite sure what he expects from his voice but it’s exactly the same teasing tone that he’s always used with her.
“Life is hard.” She gives an exaggerated sigh and brushes her fingertips down his forearm as she passes him, the kind of casual touch that she’s been indulging in more and more frequently because she knows it drives him crazy. She throws a grin over her shoulder: mockery tempered with something more uncertain. “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. You know that.”
And suddenly, with a mental sensation that is both bright and rough…he does know.
And he knows that she doesn’t.
After that, it’s a waiting game; playing the part of Captain Lee Adama on the same autopilot that’s kept him alive through scores of missions, and watching her. In the same way that he knows where the Cylon fleet is right now and he knows that Kara Thrace’s model number is eleven, he knows that he won’t be alone in this place for long.
“Athena thinks she may have decoded those signals we intercepted,” the Admiral says. “I’d like you and Captain Thrace to come up with one of those crazy plans of yours,” with a faint smile, “because we can’t spare many Vipers for reconnaissance right now. Too many down for maintenaince. You can get the exact figures from the Chief.”
Lee nods and looks at Athena, momentarily afraid that he will find recognition in her face, but there’s nothing new there. The old dead part of him still says traitor and the newest says traitor as well, echoes of insult coming from two different corners of his psyche, but another part sees her hand tangled unthinkingly in Karl Agathon’s, the way her body angles towards his.
Love’s a bitch, he thinks, and almost laughs, and doesn’t hate her at all.
“I’ve got some models set up on the table in my office,” he says, and raises his eyebrows at Kara. Still waiting.
“Sure.” She throws a salute that’s just the wrong side of deferential, and follows him.
Two hours later they’re on opposite sides of the table and she’s chewing her lip while she thinks, her hands on the table edge, her eyes dancing from one sketched quadrant to another. He can’t quite stop sneaking looks at her face, waiting, waiting, but that’s perfectly all right because he’s never been able to stop. Lee Adama loves Kara Thrace, beyond construct and conditioning, shouted out even into the void of his new awareness. It’s almost a surprise.
“What about –” she begins, her hand moving towards one Viper, but Lee catches on immediately and shakes his head.
“That leaves –”
“Oh, right, yes. Godsdammit, if we just had three more…”
“Well, we don’t.” He smiles. “Where’s that famous insanity? Come on, Starbuck.”
Smirking, “Expecting a miracle, Apollo? You should –”
She looks up at him and her eyes are wide, his name choked out of her mouth, and he’s grinning as he walks around the table to hold her up. He’s nothing that he thought he was, and humanity is doomed, but he’s still got her. Not quite what he expected, and not quite a miracle. But it’s all he needs.
They’ve been planning this frakking mission for two hours now, and Lee won’t stop looking at her. She’s used to his eyes on her, but this time there is something cautiously watchful in them, and it’s unnerving and making it hard to concentrate on the miniature Vipers and Raptors scattered across the table.
Okay, she thinks. Time to get your head back in the game, Starbuck.
“What about –” she starts, and reaches for one Viper, but Lee shakes his head.
“That leaves –”
“Oh, right, yes. Godsdammit, if we just had three more…”
Lee smirks at her, but underneath it she still sees that undercurrent. “Well, we don’t,” he says. “Where’s that famous insanity? Come on, Starbuck.”
“Expecting a miracle, Apollo? You should –”
Something cracks, ripples through her. Lee’s eyes are dark, staring into her as parts of her mind turn to liquid and slide away. She’s dissolving into darkness and static and she gasps, sucking in air that doesn’t seem to reach her lungs. Cold is sparking out from her centre to her fingertips and toes and she grips the table and can feel herself sinking.
“Lee,” she chokes out, and he moves towards her and she feels his arms wrap around her just as her vision goes dark.
When she opens her eyes again, there is a vast, humming knowledge at the edge of her consciousness, a connection to something so huge it has washed her mind clear of everything else. She reaches out, and in the ebb and flow of numbers and data, she finds herself.
Eleven. She inhales.
She slowly becomes aware of other things: Lee’s arms tight around her body, the smell of his dress blues and sweat. The constant ache in her knee, gone. Strength floods back, and she straightens, lifting her head off his shoulder to study his face. Lee looks just the same, but she knows, even before the information blinks into her mind. Model Ten.
“Well, this is unexpected,” she says, and his lips crook into the smile she loves, the one that transforms his face into that of the boy she knew at the Academy.
“I think it was harder for you.”
Kara stores that away for later, and slides her hands from his shoulders to his neck. She flexes her fingers experimentally against his throat, feels the rush of his blood beneath his skin. His breath is warm, hands sliding over her back. He’s so real.
“How long have you been –”
“About ten hours,” he says, and she laughs.
The singular slips off her tongue easily, and she remembers Kara’s loyalty to a pantheon of Gods and dismisses it; pities the woman for her blind devotion to something so false. For the first time in her life she feels like she fits in her own skin.
Lee’s still holding her. She keeps her arms around his neck, and carefully probes the link between them in her mind. It feels warm, almost tangible.
“What do we do now?” she asks.
“We’ll know,” he says simply, and she knows it’s true, they will know. She also knows that her world has collapsed and rebuilt around her and nothing is the same but this; the look in his eyes and the knowledge that she loves him.
It’s easy to rise a little, angle her head, and Lee smiles before taking her unspoken invitation, bending a fraction to kiss her. It’s the same, the same ripple of heat down her body, the same twist in her gut when he slides his tongue into her mouth. He still gasps when she drags her fingernails against his scalp, and when she does it a second time Lee lifts her onto the table, scattering the plastic Vipers and Raptors with one careless hand. She draws him in between her legs so he’s pressed up against her, hooks her heels together around him and studies his face, the flush on his cheeks.
This is the line they never crossed, drawn between them as indelibly as the wing on her arm. The woman she used to be was afraid to be happy, afraid to trust her feelings for this man; afraid of bitter retribution from the gods, and Kara waits for some remnant of that guilt – for Lee to go from pulling her closer to pushing her away.
“Kara?” he says, and she slides her hands back over his shoulders, resting them on his chest. The laugh tumbles out of her before she can stop it.
“What’s so funny?” Lee says affectionately, fingers weaving distracting patterns over the skin of her hip.
“Nothing,” she says, and flicks the first button of his jacket undone, tightening her legs around his hips. A shudder works through his body. “Nothing.”
“You know,” Kara says, halfway though her breakfast, twirling her fork in the air. “If you die, I’m going to have to kill myself?”
“Thank you, Kara, for that depressing thought first thing in the morning,” Lee says, and she laughs and picks up her coffee.
“Think of it as a bonus,” she says cheerfully. “You can never be rid of me.”
The grin she flashes him is pure Kara and makes his heart flip a little. He grins back. “My wife might object.”
She throws her toast at him.
What amuses him about the whole situation is the fact that so little has changed. Starbuck and Apollo were meeting in corners and hiding their affair from the world long before Ten and Eleven had the same necessity forced upon them. Freed of her guilt, Kara shows every sign of loving this game more than ever; she slides her hand up his thigh under the mess table and suggests ridiculous rendezvous locations until he is fighting not to inhale his juice. Secrecy is easy. Secrecy is where they’ve always lived.
So that evening it takes very little effort to manoeuvre their way around the traffic of pilots as the shifts change, avoid the crowd heading to the rec room and end up in her rack. Lee doesn’t….actually, he does know that Dee is rostered on in CIC for another three hours, but he doesn’t care, and as soon as Kara smirks and pulls the curtain shut he stops thinking about his wife entirely.
“I was thinking,” Kara says, later.
“You were thinking? Really?” He kisses her temple and grins when she groans at him.
“Are we ever going to be done with this joke?”
“No,” he says comfortably. “Never.”
“Anyway.” She exhales. “How did they do it? I mean…I remember my mother. We’re not like Sharon, who nobody had met before she arrived on Galactica and whose family was conveniently lost. My childhood was real. Yours was real. Your father saw you grow up, for God’s sake…how did they do that? Why did we age?”
“We’re two of the Final Five,” Lee says easily, and though he’s never said it before it’s been a clear and obvious fact since they first woke up. “We’re different. You know that.”
“So we’re special.” She exhales again, her breath warm and tingling against his skin, and burrows a bit closer. “All right.”
“Do you want to talk about…everything else?” he asks, which has never been a particularly helpful question where Starbuck is concerned, but she just taps her fingers against his collarbone and looks thoughtful.
“It’s like it was all scooped out,” she says eventually. “I mean, I never really thought about it, the loyalty to humanity. Being so angry that all those people died. Feeling tied to them all, feeling obliged to defend every other being with the same combination of genes. It’s all gone.” She giggles abruptly, curling her grin into his chest. “Frak, it’s like I was born with a weight on my head that I didn’t even notice was there until someone lifted it up.”
“Very poetic,” he tells her, teasing, but he recognises the sentiment. He says: “I look at their faces and feel…nothing. Because there is no reason to feel. But I remember feeling.”
“Feelings are overrated.” Kara yawns. “Fewer feelings. More kissing.”
“Do you mean that?” he says, not entirely pretending his offence.
Kara rolls her eyes and kisses him: hard, and for a long time. “You moron, Apollo,” she says when she pulls away, but her hand is at his cheek for a soft fleeting moment and the connection between them lights up like a nova at the back of his mind.
They’re in the rec room playing triad, and Kara wishes sometimes that the link between her and Lee was far more detailed, because she would really like to know what is in his hand right now.
She glances over at Lee, and he’s not looking at Hotdog or Racetrack – he’s staring past them to where Sharon and Helo are talking on the couch and there is an expression on his face that even after all this time she doesn’t quite understand.
There is such love evident on their faces, the glint of their wedding rings as they twist their hands together. Lee’s own ring is bright against his playing cards, and she frowns and rubs her fingers down her arm. She’s enjoying sneaking around with Lee, pretending the biggest thing they have to hide is their relationship, but –
She shakes her head slightly, because what she’s thinking is human and dangerous, and tucks her cards safely against her chest when Lee leans over so that he’s close enough to speak without being overheard.
“I don’t know what I would have done if it had just been me,” he says softly, lips brushing against her ear. “I’m glad it wasn’t.”
“Me too,” she says, turning slightly so she can meet his eyes. The connection between them glows warm in her mind, and Kara decides that she’d rather that than gold rings and vows in front of pagan gods any day.
Lee smiles, and she smiles back and then Hotdog coughs violently on the other side of the table.
“Can you both get your minds on the game?” Racetrack says, raising an eyebrow, and Kara smiles and calls.
Sure enough, one day Lee wakes up knowing what they have to do next. He’s almost disappointed at the lack of (figurative) flashing lights; the command is just there, just part of the data. He thinks about it as he showers and dresses, as he kisses Dee’s cheek obligingly and ignores the customary sigh that invites him to enquire after whatever is troubling her.
He ducks into the ready room and quickly alters the rosters to give him and Kara the rest of the day off. The roster was only drawn up last night, and nobody’s seen it yet, else he wouldn’t dare. Already he is thinking in terms of suspicion and subterfuge. Survival. Then he drinks two cups of something purporting to be coffee without even noticing the taste and is very careful not to speed through the morning briefing, even though Kara is slumped in her chair with bright eyes that tell him everything he needs to know.
“Captain,” he says curtly as the others are leaving for the flight deck, and beckons her in the opposite direction. “Did you…?”
“Three steps ahead of you, Apollo,” she says. “As usual.” She pulls something out of her pocket, and Lee raises his eyebrows. Dee’s knife.
“You know, I could have just asked her to lend it to me.”
“True,” she says cheerfully. “But this way I got the satisfaction of stealing it. And it’s less suspicous.”
He checks the corridors and then gestures in one direction. “So I think –”
“Directly into the secondary power box?” She nods. “Yeah, that’ll be easiest, considering the lack of networks.”
In the end, Lee is the one who takes the knife and sharpens the wire, his fingers moving unerringly to the correct place in the tangle that fills the tiny, dusty box. Not many people bother with this corner of the engine control areas, but Kara keeps a sharp eye out just in case.
“Over to you,” he says once he’s done, and flips the knife shut.
Kara nods and they switch positions, Lee moving to the sentry spot a few feet away.
“How did Sharon do it? She just…” Kara pauses with the sharp wire poised above her arm. “This is kind of disgusting,” she says. “I’m glad I didn’t have to watch her do it.”
“Well, Starbuck, if you’re going to chicken out –”
“I am not,” she snaps. “I am merely commenting on the fact that I am about to stick a wire into my vein.”
“Duly noted.” He smiles and leans back. “Any time, Kara.”
She winces and hisses breath out through her teeth as the metal punctures her skin and disappears slowly, almost two inches of it. “Frak. All right. I’ll just –”
Lee loves the expression on her face in the moment when the virus downloads through her consciousness: open and shocked and almost triumphant, and all the more stark for the complete lack of reaction in the Galactica itself. Not so much as a spark, not a whisper of complaint from the engines.
“Ngnuh,” Kara says, opening her eyes and blinking furiously a few times as she slides the wire out. “Wow.”
They share a tight grin before Lee unwraps the gauze pad he took from Cottle’s kit and presses it to her wrist. “How are we going to explain this one?”
“We heal fast, remember?” Her grin widens. “And to think Starbuck’s reputation as a stoic was gained through such underhanded means.”
“Well, Starbuck’s reputation will help here.” He winds a bandage around and pins it neatly in place. “Make up some minor accident. And make sure you wear your flight suit or your blues for a few days, so that nobody thinks about the location of the cut too often.”
“Yes sir.” She rolls her eyes and they wipe down the wire, fix it back into place and close up the box. Nothing looks suspect.
“How long?” he asks.
“Fifteen minutes,” she says, squeezes his arm, and heads off. “I’m going to go and challenge the Agathons to a card game. They’ll be with me when the engines start to fail.”
“I’ll be in CIC.”
She laughs, the pure delighted Starbuck laugh that he’s been hearing more and more. “We’re good.”
“Just as we’re made,” he tells her, and leaves.
A quarter of an hour later, the engines stop completely. Lee’s been planning his expression of shock, and is quite pleased with it when he turns it on the Admiral. The entire fleet is contacted and told to stay put. CAPs are doubled. Mechanics descend upon the engine rooms and nearly pull their hair out trying to isolate the problem, but they don’t have any luck.
Though really, luck doesn’t have anything to do with it: Cylon viruses have improved somewhat, Lee thinks, and is surprised by the stab of pride that this notion elicits. He flies CAP after CAP with enthusiasm, finding it almost relaxing to sit in his cockpit and direct the usual sweeps without even a trace of anxiety. The skies are empty. They remain empty. The Fleet gets more paranoid by the hour.
Six hours and spare change into the crisis, Lee stands very close to his Viper, supposedly checking it for damage, and Kara wanders over with her helmet under her arm.
“Why do you think they wanted us to do it?” she asks, sounding curious but not overly so.
He thinks about it, scans the available data in a heartbeat, and shrugs. “We’d know if there was going to be an attack. Maybe our fleet needs time to get a bit closer. Maybe it’s just to spread panic.”
She smiles. “Well, it’s doing a good job of that.”
A few hours later, they’re crushed into a tiny alcove just off Hallway 4, and for once they aren’t trying to rip each other’s clothes off.
“How much longer have we got before the engines start again?” Lee says, checking his watch, and Kara reaches out and captures the data from the flow though her head.
“Just under half an hour. There’s some kind of timer on the virus – that’s as much as I got as it downloaded. You should try it some time, Lee.” She shuts her eyes, reliving the download of information pouring through her body in a cold sparkling stream. “Mmm.”
“You don’t want to know what you look like right now.” She opens her eyes to see Lee leaning back against the wall, arms folded across his chest, and she can tell from the look on his face exactly what he’s thinking. She smirks, drags her gaze down his body.
“It was the most incredible feeling,” she tells him, and Lee looks torn between affronted and amused.
“I’m fine not sticking wires into my veins, thank you very much.”
There’s a harsh inhalation of breath from somewhere behind them, and they both jerk and turn. Cally’s standing a few metres away, her face white, fingers splayed against the metal walls of the hallway, and Kara discovers that even Cylons can feel panic for a split second before programming takes over.
“How much did you hear?” Lee says, and his voice is cold and hard and Kara realises with a shock that he really has no feeling, except with her.
Cally is trying to creep backwards down the corridor. “Nothing,” she says, but she’s not a good liar and Lee takes three quick steps forward, his hands rise, and then there is a sickening crack. Cally falls like a rag doll.
“Check the stairs for traffic.” Lee’s not looking at her, picking Cally up in his arms. Her head is lolling at an awkward angle, and Kara does what he says.
The corridor is deserted. “Clear,” she calls softly, and Lee appears. He moves down the stairs awkwardly and arranges the body so it looks like a horrible fall.
“Check for a pulse,” he says, and she looks at him like he’s stupid.
“I know that,” Lee says dryly. “You just discovered her body. Check her pulse, Kara.”
She gets it, and kneels beside Cally’s body, checks for the pulse that is non-existent. The woman’s throat and wrist are still warm under her fingers, her eyes open with an expression of surprise, staring at the wall.
Kara gets to her feet, dusting her hands on her pants. “Does that look authentic?”
Lee nods. “Are you okay?”
“Of course,” she replies swiftly. “She killed one of us, once, remember?”
“We didn’t have a choice.” There is a tiny edge of uncertainty in his eyes that she knows is reflected in hers, but neither of them can admit it.
“Let’s go raise the alarm,” she says instead, and Lee nods, blinks, and the doubt vanishes from his eyes like vapour in a breeze.
They sprint through the ship – it’s hard to fake a sheen of sweat - and by the time they reach the CIC they’re both out of breath. Lee pauses outside the hatch and straightens his tanks, and then seems to think better of it and messes them up again.
“Ready?” he says, and she nods, and when she enters the room Lee’s arm is tight around her shoulders and she can feel the shudder working its way though his body. Adama takes one look at them both and his face loses colour.
“What’s happened?” he says, and she staggers a little, knows all the eyes of the CIC are on her, and when she speaks her voice is choked. She gasps out the news between sobs – accident, H4 stairs, Cally’s not breathing – and then turns her head into Lee’s shoulder and lets him finish the rest in a haltering voice.
She can just imagine what they look like: the proud, unbroken Starbuck distraught over the death of a friend, and Apollo breaking inside yet supporting her. She wonders whether the tears might be overdoing it a little, but knows nobody is going to call her on it on a time like this.
When Adama’s finished his orders and comes over to her, she submits to his fatherly hug and clings to him enough that she knows all his paternal instincts are rising to the surface. Perfect, she thinks to herself, and wonders how they can work this to the best of their advantage.
When Adama releases her, his face is grey, and she can imagine what Tyrol is going to look like; she’s already seen him lose one person he loved.
She lets her fingers slide into Lee’s, and doesn’t care that his wife is watching from three metres away. His fingers close over hers before he pulls her close again, and she lets him hold her in the middle of the CIC and tries to ignore the hard, hot part of her that is viciously glad it’s not her that is losing someone for once.
The engines start again, but by then nobody is thinking about why they stopped in the first place.
The funeral for Specialist Cally Tyrol is an enormous one; life on the Galactica grinds to a halt for an hour, and the pilots draw straws for the task of flying CAP while their fellows attend the ceremony. The girl was popular, likeable, married to the Chief. She was a mother. Roslin makes a beautiful speech, her voice choked with tears, and Adama sits stony-faced because there is no evil for him to stand up and denounce.
Luck is cruel seems to be the general opinion, sometimes with overtones of the gods are crueller. People avoid looking Tyrol in the eye. Lee adjusts the cuffs of his dress blues and wonders absently just how strong the Chief’s faith is in this moment.
A stifling silence lies over the crowded room, broken by the occasional whisper or sob or the scrape of a chair across the floor. Silence for respect. Silence to think about the ways in which the Specialist dedicated her life to the protection of the Fleet. Silence in which everyone is trying very hard not to think about the fact that she wasn’t blown out of the sky in a blaze of glory, wasn’t gunned down by a Centurion or even murdered by a skinjob – she just fell at the wrong frakking angle and nobody was there to witness it.
So did it make a sound? Lee thinks, and bites his lip and it could just as easily be tears that he’s fighting to hold back. He’ll have to tell Kara that one later.
The metal coffin is so much larger than he remembers Cally’s body being. It’s an honour guard of enlisted soldiers – deck crew – who step forward stiffly and fold the flag, trying not to look at each other’s faces. No shame in tears, but pride in a straight back. This is the Colonial Fleet, boys and girls. This is war. This is death.
People say their few words about what a wonderful person she was. Seelix speaks thickly about the new ship the crew are planning to build with Cally as its namesake. The morbid atmosphere is slipping under Lee’s apathy, and suddenly he wants this stupid ceremony to be over.
“And I believe,” Seelix says, swiping the back of her hand across her face, “that the CAG is going to read the final memorial prayer.”
Lee schools his face into a perfect mask of sober grief – it’s easy, so easy – and fiddles with the paper for a moment before he starts to speak. The words are not very different to those written for any of the other funerals he’s spoken at, and there have been lots of them. Gods watch over her. A better life in the place to come. It’s all so frakking hollow, useless, absurd. Laughable.
He searches the crowd and finds Kara; she’s sitting with Tyrol, murmuring to him, one of her hands resting lightly on Nicholas’s head.
He meets her eyes. They’re bright with tears.
She winks at him.
“I’m sick of playing the screw-up,” Kara says, sitting in the ready room late one rotation. Lee’s head is in her lap, and his hair is thick and soft between her fingers. “Can I just go a day without being mean or rude to someone?”
Lee smiles, catches her free hand in his. “You do it so well.”
“Years of practice,” she answers, and something on his face softens.
“What happened to you, Kara? You’ve never told me.”
She shrugs, and then realises he can probably access all the information he wants anyway. This way might be better, easier, and she fixes her eyes on a point of the wall and starts speaking before she can talk herself out of it.
She tells him about her father; his genius and insanity. She tells him about being abandoned to a mother who drank too much; she tells him about the beatings, the way her fingers broke so easily under her mother’s touch, the bruises under long sleeve shirts. Escape at fifteen, on a scholarship for pyramid, and a bad fall tearing her knee and her dreams apart until an Academy representative came to the hospital to recruit her.
When she’s finished, she makes the mistake of looking down at his face. Lee’s eyes are fixed on hers and she sees so much sympathy and caring that her voice falters for the first time.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “I’m okay.”
“It does matter,” he says, sitting up and holding her hands in his. “I’m so sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” she replies bitterly. “It was all them. Being placed with a woman who believed in suffering –” She breaks off, feeling the resentment rise like bile in her throat. “I don’t understand.”
He straightens her fingers between his and doesn’t say anything else. There isn’t much to say.
“Lee.” Dee is sitting cross-legged on their bed, staring at her hands. “Talk to me. I just feel like…” She looks up at him, somewhere between proud and pleading. “Like you’re getting further away from me every day. I think if we just talk, if we get everything out into the open, then –”
“Dee, do we have to do this now?” He hears the irritation in his own voice and hopes it’ll dissuade her, but Anastasia Dualla has never shrunk from an argument when the mood takes her and she doesn’t seem to be shrinking from this one. She leans forward and rests a hand on his arm.
“Look, Lee. I know that something is going on and I’m not an idiot, I know it probably involves Starbuck –”
“Shh.” Lee puts his fingers over her mouth, once again refusing to let her complete her sentence. He doesn’t want to talk about Kara here. He doesn’t really want to talk about anything, and there’s only one other option. “You’re my wife, Dee. I love you, I married you, and I’m still married to you.” Four statements and only one is a lie. That’s a much better ratio than in a lot of marriages Lee has observed.
Dee looks at him, steely despair giving way to something softer, and she really is very pretty. “It’s hard to remember that, sometimes,” she said, but she closes the distance and kisses him and he makes sure to kiss her back.
“I love you,” he repeats, for good measure, and reaches out to draw her to him. Her smells are familiar but no longer comforting, and the contours of her body are no longer those that he knows the best, but this is automatic. Easy enough. Lee moves like a much less complex machine than the one that he is, and holds the profanities tightly between his teeth, and kisses gasps from the lips of a woman for whom he feels nothing at all.
“People are starting to suspect,” Lee says, pulling his tanks over his head, and she watches the muscles in his back ripple from where she’s sprawled out on his bunk. He’s locked the hatch behind him.
“Suspect what?” she says idly, closing her book and putting it aside.
“That something is up.”
His belt buckle makes a sharp click as it hits the floor, and she sits up, pulls her tanks and bra over her head and shimmies out of her running shorts and underwear.
“Haven’t they always?” she says, taking a deep breath as Lee slings his pants and boxers over the back of a chair. God, she thinks, she’s never going to get enough of him.
She rolls her eyes and lies back in the bunk. He follows, and she shifts so that his legs are in between hers.
“We need to be careful,” he says, pushing her lightly down into the mattress. She arches up into him, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Okay,” she says, trying to pull his mouth down to hers. “We’ll be careful.”
“I’m serious,” Lee says reproachfully. “We can’t afford another Cally.”
She nods. “Leave it to me,” she says, grinning. “I have a plan,” and pushes him over until she can straddle him, settle her weight down just right and rock her hips into his enough that Lee’s throat constricts, breath hissing out between his lips. His hands reach for her breasts, and she catches his fingers between hers, holds them against her stomach. “Are you done thinking?”
“Good.” She grinds against him again, and Lee’s head jerks back into the pillow. Now the only look on his face is lust.
Kara’s plan seems to involve an immediate cranking up of the amount of public flirting, which Lee finds puzzling for only a very short time; one of them cannot be in a particular mental place without the other catching up almost immediately. It’s clever, he has to admit; it’s very clever.
“Hey,” Racetrack says to Helo. Lee is fairly certain he’s not meant to be overhearing this conversation, so he keeps his head down over his folders and tries to look utterly absorbed in the timetables for the latest refuelling ops. “Did you notice Starbuck and Apollo after the briefing yesterday…?”
The man grins. “What do you think, worst-kept secret on the ship?”
“Try the whole damn Fleet,” she says, sounding amused.
“They’re not that bad,” Helo relents.
“No.” Racetrack pauses. “But they’re getting sloppier.”
“You’re not going to –”
“No! No. Pilots stick together,” she says firmly. “If people don’t want to see what’s going on, then we’re not going to point it out.”
And there it is. It’s simple, and it’s beautifully effective. The pilots of the Galactica have a strong loyalty to their CAG and an even stronger one, even though most of them would hate to admit it, to their brilliant egoist of a flight instructor. If Starbuck and Apollo seem to be finding a suspicious number of reasons to be alone together…well, it doesn’t take a genius to fill in those gaps, and fill them colourfully. And if the pilots can do a few little things to help them, turn a few blind eyes and tell a few white lies, then that can hardly hurt anyone, can it?
Lee thinks the irony there is fantastic.
And this, he knows, is why he is still living the charade of his marriage to Dee, when not even a sense of duty is left to tie him to her: because if there must be an illicit secret, then let it be star-crossed love. Sex in the furthest shower stall. Thrills and romantic betrayal, the melodrama of Starbuck and Apollo; let it be everything but the truth.
Besides, he’s starting to enjoy the game for its own sake.
Combat had been inevitable, and she’d been waiting with some amount of impatience for the first dogfight, to see how things had changed now that she was a machine. To her surprise, she’d found it almost the same – the same rush of adrenaline, the same tension in her muscles at launch – and the only difference was the cold prompts in her mind telling her what to do.
Now, it’s more a complex give and take with the Raiders, the lethal dance, and she’s even more reckless now she knows she’s not going to die.
This particular time, she knows how this is supposed to go: Lee will circle in, fire a burst just off the Cylon’s wing and it will go on to take out at least one of her nuggets, maybe two, before she swoops in and takes it out. The knowledge sits in the back of her mind, and sure enough, Lee’s Viper arcs beautifully through the air, missing the Raider by less than an inch, and five seconds later Nexus blows up.
Then it all goes wrong: the wing of the kid’s Viper clips Lee’s bird and there are sparks and flames and then a dark shadow against the light as he ejects from the cockpit. Her heart slams up into her throat, because there are four Raiders left, and the nearest Raptor is too far away, and even as she watches, one Raider starts a slow mindless circle towards where Lee is floating.
Something erupts white hot in her mind; she keeps her mouth closed against the scream so it only echoes in her mind, takes over as CAG, orders her pilots into formation and flips until she’s facing the debris. Her first volley of fire takes out the nearest Raider to Lee, and she swoops into the empty space it leaves. She’s Starbuck, invincible, and she ignores the icy clear part of her consciousness telling her to ignore the Raiders and stick to the plan and she spins her Viper over and around and fires and fires until there are no Cylons left and she sees Athena’s Raptor pull Lee into safety.
She lands her Viper last, scrabbles at the fitting of her helmet until she can get the frakking thing off her head and breathe air that doesn’t smell like terror and smoke, and then pushes out of her cockpit and past the deck hand. There’ve been moments like this before, where she’s made her way over to him with trembling legs, but she’s never run before, never pushed people out of her way, and when she catches sight of his face she knows he was expecting it.
He opens his arms, and she falls into him, lets him wrap her up and breathes in his sweat. “You frakking idiot,” she chokes out, when her eyes have stopped stinging, and beats at his shoulders with her fists. “You could have died, and I’d be left here –”
He pulls her close, and there’s a second where she leans up to kiss him and he does the same, their noses bumping before she remembers and jerks back because there are people around, people who are watching, and she swallows and buries her face in his shoulder.
“We need to get out of here,” he says into her ear, and she nods, slides her hand down his arm and tightens her fingers through his, pulls him out and away from the hangar deck. She wants somewhere small and silent where she can wrap herself in him.
They find a suitably dark room not far away, and she lets him go long enough to dog the hatch, and when she turns around he’s right behind her.
His face is white. “I heard you,” he says, pulling at her flight suit with shaking fingers. “You were screaming.”
She shakes her head and leans into him. “I can’t lose you,” she says into his neck, holding him so close that there’s no space between them, not anywhere. “You’re all I have.”
It’s truer now than it has ever been.
Kara has her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, holding him as though he will slip away any moment. One of his hands strokes lazily up and down her back, and for a long time neither of them says anything at all, but Lee is replaying the mission in his head with effortless clarity and eventually his hand stills.
“They’re not going to be happy with us,” he says.
He feels her shrug. “I don’t care.”
Lee tightens his arms around her and searches for a reason to care about anything beyond the two of them. He feels her fingers press gently against his shoulders; remembers that Cylon bones break just as easily and with just as much pain. His world is infinitely larger than it used to be but it is also much, much smaller; its boundaries begin at the places where their skin is in contact, and end at the corners of her smile.
“Me neither,” he says finally.
Kara is paged to Adama’s quarters early one evening, just as she and Lee are finishing up the CAP rosters for the next twelve rotations.
“What’s that about?” Lee asks, and she shrugs, putting her pen back neatly in the container because she knows how much a messy desk bothers him.
“I have no idea.”
“Say hi to him for me,” Lee says, signing his name with a flourish on the last of his forms and stretching, clasping his hands behind his head. “I’ll meet you back here at twenty-two hundred.”
She nods. She knows what he’ll be doing in the intervening time and wishes that being a Cylon eliminated emotions such as jealousy. Some of that must show in her face, because Lee pulls her to him and kisses her.
“I love you,” he says, and she knows he means it.
“You better,” she says, and he flicks her nose. “I better go see your Dad.”
Lee laughs, stands and then pulls her to her feet. He smooths his hands over her dress blues, eliminating the wrinkles, and leans in and kisses her again, long and sweet and familiar. “Go.”
The walk to Adama’s quarters isn’t long, and when she knocks, the Admiral opens the hatch straight away.
“Kara,” he says. “Take a seat.”
She does, and lets her hands rest on her knees, fidgeting with the material of her pants. She’s not nervous; she could kill Adama in any one of ten ways just using her bare hands, and if he’d found out anything suspicious he would have confronted her with marines and locked her in a cell.
Starbuck would be nervous, though, and she’s all Adama knows.
“How are you?” he asks, and she bites her lip.
“Can we cut the crap, sir?” she says, and his eyes widen. “What do you need to say?”
Adama laughs. “Still the same Starbuck.”
“I just wanted you to know something,” he says, pouring her a glass of something clear – water or alcohol, she’s not sure which. “Months ago I said something I regret.”
“I said that I used to think of you as a daughter, and not anymore.”
She masks herself with Starbuck’s insecurity, and drops her head just after he sees that look on her face. “I remember.”
“That isn’t true.”
She lifts her head again, and Adama’s face is softer than she’s seen it for months.
“You are like a daughter to me,” he says quietly, “And I am so proud of what you’ve become in the last months.”
She lets a warm flush rise on her face; Starbuck was told that she was loved so rarely that Kara lets both wonderment and gratitude shine in her eyes. “Thank you,” she says, appropriately soft, and Adama pulls her up into her arms for an awkward, fatherly hug.
When he lets her go, she sits back down, keeps her posture a fraction vulnerable, and takes the glass he offers her. He sits next to her and clinks his glass with hers.
“You’ve seemed happier lately…” he says after they drink – and it is alcohol, after all – and she knows he’s fishing for information. It’s a shock to realise that he really would be happy if she was the one his son loved, even over the loyal and sweet woman currently sharing Lee’s bed.
“Well,” she says, and then flashes him a cocky grin. “It’s because I’m a Cylon.”
Adama stares blankly at her, and then breaks into laughter. She laughs with him, and tries to dismiss that part of her that hurts with the knowledge that as a human, she was never enough. The next hour flies past as she tells him the gossip from the ship, the happenings on the hangar deck, the name of the man on the Rising Star that all the pilots think Gaeta might be frakking.
Adama’s in the middle of telling her an embarrassing childhood story about Lee when something in his unguarded face twists her stomach. He trusts her, loves her, where her own race did nothing but make her existence full of unrelenting pain. She feels disoriented for a second, unsure of where her loyalty lies, caught between who she was and the mechanics that make her up.
“Kara?” Adama’s voice breaks into her thoughts, and she shakes her head, gives him a sleepy smile.
“Sorry, sir. Big day.”
“I’ll let you go,” he says, and kisses her forehead. “Sleep well, Kara.”
“You too, sir.”
She gives him a jaunty salute, and walks away to wait for Lee in his office, tries to make sense of the conflicting emotions running through her. The cool stream of data is soothing, grounding, but this time it’s not enough.
Lee is fairly sure that Dee is still awake when he slips out of the bed, despite the regularity of her breathing, but she barely moves and he doubts she’s surprised; hurt, yes, but not surprised. Not by now. He dresses quickly in tanks and running shoes, so that he can claim insomnia and nervous energy to anyone from the graveyard shift he might encounter on the way to his office, and even jogs the short distance there.
When he enters the room Kara is sitting in a chair with her legs stretched out in front of her, and the look she gives him is thoughtful.
“I don’t think I would have shot the Old Man,” she says slowly, without preamble. “If that had been the order. Not without question.”
“Whoa.” Lee shakes his head and goes to sit down. “Where did this come from?”
“I’m not…oh, I don’t know.” She shrugs and looks uncomfortable, but pulls her legs in under her and sits up a little straighter. “It’s not that I particularly care if he dies, you know that, but…there’d have to be a reason.”
“Questioning orders? What kind of soldier are you, Starbuck?” And he means it as a joke, but her expression becomes even more mixed.
“I have no idea,” she says. “I have absolutely no idea.”
He can tell she wants to keep talking, so he just lets the silence settle comfortably. Sure enough, she fiddles with her own fingers for a while and then takes a slow breath.
“I thought it would be fulfilling, you know? We’ve been doing all these things because the orders are just there, and I thought that now that we know what we are…”
“But you can’t forgive them,” he says softly, remembering, and her glance is grateful.
“Not quite. And…well, I’m not a perfect machine, Lee. You were in danger and I went against my programming without even thinking about it.”
“So why aren’t we feeling the way we’re supposed to feel?” Lee says. We. He meets her eyes and remembers her white, frantic mental scream and admits to himself once and for all that he’s never been a perfect soldier either, no matter the outwards display. Not as a human and not as a Cylon. This woman keeps getting in the way of his idealism, and he knows that he would betray any allegiance at all if it meant keeping her safe.
“They screwed up.” She hoists her feet into his lap and smiles for the first time. “They stuck us together.”
Lee considers. “We’re ideally placed –”
“Oh, no doubt.” A wave of the hand. “We’d be the perfect Cylon sleeper agents if it weren’t for the fact that we’re kind of, well…”
“Dysfunctional?” he suggests, and she laughs.
“The Cylons might think that love is the missing ingredient in their recipe for God’s children, but if you ask me it’s the worst virus that could have been set loose in us. Look at Sharon.”
Lee frowns. “But she feels loyalty to humans now.”
“She chose loyalty to humans,” Kara corrects him. “Because she’s in love with a human. But if push came to shove, do you really think she wouldn’t sell out the entire Fleet for Helo’s sake?”
“Point.” He rests a hand on one of her ankles and rubs gently. It’s true. The mental vacuum where his unthinking loyalty to humanity used to be has not been filled in with a similar loyalty to his own race, and that’s all there is to it. “And Sharon is precedent enough to show us that we have a choice.”
She still looks a bit uncertain, but a pleased smile is creeping across her face. “We can just choose…nothing? Not to act on anyone’s behalf?”
Lee can feel their next assignment, clear and present in his consciousness. He ignores it.
“It’s not our war,” he says, and likes the shape of it in his mouth. “Not if we don’t want it to be.”
The Fleet finds a new water source, and it doesn’t come as any kind of surprise to Kara to find out from Helo later that it was being guarded by one of each of the seven human Cylon models. She can’t even find it in herself to care when he tells her how easy it was to kill them all, how the Cylons seemed to have been caught by surprise. She tries not to roll her eyes and wonders if she was ever that stupid, that gullible.
The water that Roslin and Adama are so happy about tested clean, but will make a lot of humans sick. She doesn’t care about that either.
Leoben’s the only one who lived through the fire fight, and only because he surrendered immediately, pleading that he had information that would keep the fleet safe. The marines brought him back to the fleet, and he’s been in high security ever since, repeating that the only person he will talk to is Captain Starbuck – also predictable, Kara thinks, and the Admiral gives her the option of half an hour with the machine before she’s under orders to throw him out the airlock.
She takes it, and Lee walks her down to the cells.
“Are we in any trouble?” she says quietly, flipping her folder shut.
“No,” Lee says. “I checked the – you know, the mainframe.”
“The all-knowing Cylon mind?” she says, quirking an eyebrow. “We really should think of a snappy acronym for it or something.”
“You’re impossible, you know that? Anyway, Leoben doesn’t know we’re Cylons. None of the Seven do.”
She nods, tucks her folder under one arm.
“Be careful,” Lee says, and she salutes. After a moment, he offers his hand; the model CAG sending one of his officers off for duty, but there’s a tightness in his grip that matches the fear in his eyes.
“Don’t let him hurt you.”
There’s nobody standing in earshot.
“You’re talking to a Cylon,” she says softly, and he smiles, but it’s weak and dissolves again as she drops his hand and steps back. She remembers how easily Cally’s neck snapped under his fingers.
“I promise he won’t hurt me,” she says. “Besides, he’s in love with me.”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Lee replies, and leaves her. She knows he’s gone to stand behind the security officers monitoring the vid feed from Leoben’s cell.
Leoben is exactly as she remembers, and she smiles when she sees him. “Leoben. Long time, no see.”
“You look beautiful,” he says, as she sits down opposite him. “You haven’t changed.”
She wants to laugh, but that would give too much away. “You had something you wanted to say to me?”
Leoben’s still studying her, head tilted on one side. “Don’t you see the patterns?”
She remembers coming home to a house and finding that her father had left her. She remembers the fanatical gleam in her mother’s eyes and fear so real it tasted like blood in her mouth. She remembers watching Zak’s Viper crash into the ground, the ball of flame erupting a heartbeat later. She remembers a blonde haired girl being ripped from her arms and the relentless, consuming despair of the woman she’d been, desperately seeking the approval of the Gods she believed in and never finding salvation.
“I do now,” she says, and she does, and hates him for what they did to her. “Why did I have to suffer?”
“To bring you closer to God,” he says. “To understand things that other humans do not.”
“Why?” she says, her voice holding no hint of the hard, cold rage in her belly.
Leoben smiles. “You have a destiny.”
“What is my destiny?”
“You’ll know when it is time.”
Nothing new so far. She lets her gaze drop back to the glass of water in her hand. Streams and rivers lead somewhere, she thinks, and tips her glass so a pool of water splashes onto the tabletop, spreads out across the metal. She drags her fingers through it, leads it to the edge and watches it trickle over, pooling on the floor.
“When will it be time?” she asks.
“Kara,” he says, his voice that of a parent placating a child. “Be patient.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, sliding off her chair and onto her knees in front of him. “I should have listened to you earlier.”
She can see the suspicion in his eyes, and holds his gaze until he blinks.
“You still have time, Kara,” he says, and she leans in and watches the light play on his hair, the sweat beading on his forehead.
“Tell me,” she says, close enough that she knows her proximity is distracting him. “Tell me what I need to do.”
“It’s not time.”
“Please,” she says, and touches her lips to his. He shivers, holds still for a moment and then his hands rise to her cheeks and he kisses her back. He tastes like she remembers, different to Lee, she thinks dispassionately. His mouth is clumsy, the angle off; she lets him slide her mouth open with his tongue and kisses him deeply until he believes she means it. She knows Lee is watching.
She pulls back just enough that she can speak, her mouth still brushing against his. “Leoben,” she breathes, and his eyes light up in triumph.
“You will find the way the Earth,” he says. “I have seen it.”
His eyes are still on her lips, and he’s leaning in again when she puts a hand on his chest and shoves him back. She gets to her feet and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.
Leoben stands as well. “Kara?”
“I don’t think your river is going where you think it is,” she says, and then knocks on the glass. The guard unlocks the hatch.
“Put this thing out the airlock,” she says, stepping out of the cell. “Admiral Adama’s orders.”
She hears Leoben’s breath hitch.
“Kara!” he says, and he sounds desperate and when she turns, he’s got his hand pressed up against the glass. “You can’t do this.”
She smiles, and steps closer. She raises a hand and lets it hover for a second, just off the glass, and waits for exactly the moment when the look in Leoben’s eyes changes to relief.
Then she drops her hand. “I can,” she says, and walks away.
Lee raises his eyebrows when the blue-tinged figure of Kara falls to her knees in front of Leoben’s chair, raises them further when she leans close, and then lets them plunge into a deep frown when she closes the distance and kisses him.
“What’s she doing?” The security officer sounds bewildered.
“Interrogation,” Lee says, not even bothering to pull his voice back from a snap. “This model is in love with her. She’s using that to get information from it.”
“Frak,” the guard says.
“Yeah.” Lee leans sideways and rests the side of his forehead against the cool metal wall. Leoben has his hands at Kara’s cheeks, and that’s Lee’s thing, and he loves her and admires her talent for pretending more than he can say, but does she really have to look like she’s enjoying this quite so much? The trickle of hot, nauseating emotion is familiar, and he doesn’t even try to bury it with the calm of necessity. He’s pissed off and by God, he’s allowed to be pissed off. Kara looks at Leoben and whispers something with that tender, hesitant expression on her face, and he whispers something back, and Lee is considering the wisdom of punching his fist through the feed screen when she puts her hands on Leoben’s chest and shoves.
“Huh,” the man sitting in front of Lee says, sounding satisfied. “That wiped the smirk off the damn toaster’s face.”
And it certainly did. Lee watches as Kara leaves, as she closes the hatch, and as Leoben presses his hand againt it. The camera hasn’t got enough resolution to show what’s happening on the other side of the hatch, but after a long moment Leoben’s hand drops and he takes a step back, stumbling almost as though he’s been hit. Leoben then proceeds to kick the chairs over, and he still looks furious when the guards come to take him away.
Lee leaves the security room and catches up with Kara on the way to her debriefing. There’s no time for anything more than a quick exchange of glances and nods before the Admiral arrives.
“Thank you, Captain,” Adama says, and beckons the both of them into his office. Lee stands quietly at the back of the room while Kara stares at a point somewhere between Adama and Roslin and makes her way through a description of events that, as far as Lee can tell, is pretty much accurate. Roslin’s breath catches when Kara reaches the part about finding the way to Earth, and there’s even a faint light of hope in Adama’s eyes.
“It’s…gone?” Kara says uncertainly, at the end, letting her perfect soldier mask crack a little bit. Lee feels like applauding.
“Airlocked.” Roslin takes her glasses off and gives a warm smile that is entirely at odds with the efficiency of her tone. “Thank you again, Captain. I appreciate how difficult this must have been for you.”
“Thank you, Madame President. Admiral.” She salutes, and Lee follows suit.
“Dismissed,” Adama says, favouring them both with a smile of his own, and Lee doesn’t look to see if Kara is following before he leaves.
As soon as they are far enough away, she’s practically dancing. “Well?” she drawls, digging an elbow into his side. “Go on. You can start telling me how brilliant I am any minute now.”
“I’m sure Leoben thought you were brilliant, yes,” and then Lee’s kicking himself because he sounds all of seven years old and he’s a Cylon and this is kind of ridiculous, really. He opens the hatch to his office and they step inside.
“Man, someone’s overreacting.” Kara gives him an amused look as he collapses in a chair. “It got me what I wanted to know, and that’s all it was. An effective technique. Are you seriously going to insist on being jealous of him over that?”
“Yes,” Lee says firmly. He catches her by the arm and she grins, taking two steps closer and then straddling him on the chair. “And it’s not like you have a whole lot of moral high ground here.”
She leans back slightly, forcing him to tighten his grip on her wrist to compensate for the change in balance. “Oh, really?”
“Really.” He lifts her wrist and kisses it absently. “Are you going to pretend that you’re not jealous of my wife?”
And ah, yes, there it is – her weight shifts forward quickly and something challenging lights up her eyes. “If I was, I think the moral high ground would be entirely mine, thank you very much. I kissed Leoben for less than a minute, and you still sleep with Dee regularly. Don’t even try to compare the two.”
“So you are jealous, then.” He lifts his hands and puts them at her waist.
She laughs, but it’s not quite as careless as he thinks she’s aiming for. “Of course not. I’m a good Cylon, Lee.”
He doesn’t say anything, just looks at her with all the dubiousness he can muster, and eventually the look on her face slips to accommodate a hint of guilt.
“Jealousy,” she intones, planting her hands on his shoulders, “is a weak, human emotion.”
“Oh, bullshit,” he says, and takes her face in both hands, and kisses her until she doesn’t have the breath to laugh.
Sam sits down across from her at lunch in the mess, and it’s such a shock that she doesn’t quite know what to say. She’s barely seen him since the dance; he’s been on another ship, helping with the construction of a new day care centre for the Fleet’s small children.
Now, objectively, she decides she has excellent taste in men when it comes to their physical appearance. She remembers being attracted to him, remembers his hands mapping her skin, but in terms of emotion all she can muster is apathy.
If she wasn’t a Cylon, she thinks, she might feel somewhat bad about that.
“I want a divorce,” Anders says. She’s confused for a second, and then she remembers that she is, in fact, still married. To him.
“Oh,” she says. “Right. Sure!”
She realises a heartbeat later that the expression probably wasn’t the most tactful, and Sam looks almost mournful as he stares at her arm.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“No, you’re not,” Sam retorts, and she thinks about arguing, but she had really really good sex with Lee that morning, and can’t bring herself to even try.
“I think it’s best for both of us,” she says instead.
“I’ll send you the papers.”
“You do that,” she says cheerfully, and he glares at her, and gets up, taking his tray with him. He sits down next to Jean, which is just fine by her.
“I’m glad you could make the time to see me, Captain Apollo,” Roslin says, smiling at him. “I know how busy you are.”
“Anything for the President,” he says easily, clasping her outstretched hand. Roslin doesn’t release him immediately, though; she takes his hand in both of his and looks at him fondly.
“I’d like to think that it’s not just your stalwart patriotism that makes you glad to visit me, Captain. We’ve been through rather a lot, and I think we can claim friendship by this stage.”
Lee swallows down the burst of amusement that greets the word patriotism, ducks his head and gives her Lee Adama’s slightly embarrassed grin. “That’s a fair claim, Madame President.”
She gives an unladylike burst of laughter and bats him in the arm. “Oh, sit down, Apollo. Ignore the fact that I’m the leader of the Colonies and give me the gossip from Galactica.”
“Hasn’t my father been keeping you properly informed?” He sits, leans back in his chair and relaxes.
“Are you telling me that my CAG isn’t further ahead of the pilot scuttlebutt than his commanding officer?” Roslin fires back, and Lee wonders momentarily at how far she’s come. At the freak of administration that left this eminently adaptable woman in charge. Humanity has been much luckier than it could have been.
He spins the everyday gossip of the ship into amusing stories for her, drinks the very weak tea she pours out – she’s trying to hoard her leaves for as long as possible, she says with a smile – and time passes painlessly.
“Well, it’s good to know the little dramas of human relationships have been carrying on as usual,” Roslin says eventually, and sighs. “It makes up for the larger ones.”
Lee frowns. “Are you worried about anything in particular, Madame President?”
“Just little things, really, but there have been more little things lately.” She cups her chin in one hand and gestures at the mass of papers lying across her desk. “That incident when the engines froze – I know they started up again on their own, but what if it happens again during combat, or just before a jump? We’ve been having problems with insurgents on the Rising Star. I’m told that couple of the bulkhead seals are starting to get leaky. All of the Vipers and Raptors need more maintenance than we can give them, and there have been far too many midair malfunctions. I think we might be running out of luck at last.”
Lee sits very still and can’t help but feel satisfaction – purely academic, but still genuine – at the ease with which he and Kara carried out their missions. It’s true, they didn’t do anything major, and they stopped doing anything at all a while back, but it’s another indication of just how frakked the Fleet would be if the Cylons really put some effort into it.
“But I’m sure you’ve got enough troubles of your own. Thank you, Captain,” she says as they stand, and the politician bleeds out of her and leaves a very human woman who has stitched together a delicate family for herself. “You don’t know what it means to me that we can still talk like this.”
Lee injects more warmth into his answering smile than he’s given anyone for weeks. Excluding Kara, of course. “I know where my loyalties lie,” he says, keeping his tone light, making sure to pluralise a concept that has become so utterly singular in his mind. Democracy and military, humanity and Cylon race…no. He is loyal to only one person now.
“Hold strong,” she says. “I believe that the Leoben copy that Captain Thrace interrogated was speaking the truth. We will find Earth.”
He doesn’t say: Leoben said Kara will find Earth.
He look at her, her firm hopeful smile, Laura Roslin the prophet who was pulled back from the jaws of death and who believes so strongly in her own ability to be right. He looks at her and thinks if I wanted to I could frak you over so badly, so very badly. You and all of humanity.
She should be thanking her false gods that the two of them are just as broken as Cylons as they were as humans.
Kara is lying in her rack, half on top of Lee, who isn’t complaining. Her arm is thrown across him, and with her body caught between him and the wall, the smell of his skin wrapping around her, she’d be perfectly content if there wasn’t one question floating around in her head, one that has been bugging her for days now.
“What’s up?” Lee asks, and she wonders when he got so good at reading her that he doesn’t even have to be looking at her face, and then decides she doesn’t care.
“It’s just – what are we going to do?”
“What do you mean?” he says, dragging his fingers up and down her forearm.
“In the future. Are we going to stay with the Galactica?”
“I don’t know,” he says, and she knows he’s thought about it as well. “I can’t think of anything else we can do.”
“This ship,” she says. “You know it’s doomed. The other three are just biding their time.”
Lee nods, and his fingers are gentle on her skin.
“I’ve checked so many times, but I can’t find out how much time we have left here.”
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t want to die,” she whispers, and Lee looks at her, and by the lines on his forehead she can tell he’s confused.
“You’ll just download. So will I.”
“Do you know that for sure?”
“Where else would we go?”
“We haven’t been very good Cylons,” she says. “I – ” She cuts herself off, and curls her body into his even more. Lee’s arms tighten around her, and she knows he understand the fear she can’t articulate. He’s her world, he’s everything, and she can’t think of a worse torture than being trapped somewhere where he isn’t.
“We need to think, then,” Lee says, and he sounds so calm and so Lee that she relaxes into him. “We need a plan.” He pauses. “So…any ideas?”
“Apollo, are you asking me for ideas?”
“No, let me savour the moment.”
“Shut up, Kara,” he says, but he rolls over so he’s facing her, their heads on the same pillow. He reaches out and tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear, his hand lingering on her cheek.
“Leoben said I’ll find Earth,” she says finally, closing her eyes as his thumb brushes over her lips. “Maybe that’s what we could start thinking about.”
“You believed him?”
“I don’t know,” she says honestly, opening her eyes again to Lee’s quizzical expression. “But everything else he’s said has come true.”
Lee’s eyes seem to narrow slightly. “We could run away,” he says slowly.
“Elope? That’s so sweet, Lee. We could ride off into the sunset together.”
He shuts her up by kissing her, which is pretty effective, and kisses her until her mind is humming pleasantly and she’s shamelessly pressing against him. Then he stops.
“We could find Earth, you know,” he says, his fingers sealing her mouth against any protests. “We could steal a Raptor.”
She bites his fingers, and Lee whips his hand away with a bitten-off curse. “I don’t know why I love you sometimes,” he tells her, checking his skin for blood, and she waves away his glare.
“I hate to be the one to point out the problems with that idea, but there’s nobody else to do it. One, fuel. Two, food. And then there’s that third part where we have no frakking idea where Earth is.”
“Use your smart Cylon brain, Kara. We know where every fuel reserve is. We know where our fleet is now, how many ships are deployed at any one place and where they’re going to be.”
She digests this, and feels a prickle of something like excitement creep over her skin.
“So you’re not just a pretty face after all, Lee. Who knew?”
“That was all I was good for?” he says lazily, and oh, she knows that expression very well.
“Well,” she says, as he rolls on top of her and pins her hands on the pillow next to her head. “Not quite all.”
“So you should be.”
He shuts her up for a long time after that.
The information appears in his brain while the Chief is complaining about Flipper’s landings, and he can tell from the almost infinitesimal flinch of her shoulders that she’s got it as well.
The Chief continues without pausing for breath, of course, and Lee cuts in. “We’ll deal with it right away,” he says, unable to keep all of the urgency from his voice. “Starbuck?”
“Right,” she says, just as briskly. “Thanks, Chief.”
Tyrol looks just a bit bewildered, and starts to reassure them that it’s not that big a problem, but Lee claps him on the arm. “We’re on it, Chief.”
He can feel Kara practically shivering as they stride across the deck. “Frak,” she says under her breath. “Frak.”
“Keep it together,” Lee says, far more harshly than he means to, and squeezes her arm fleetingly to offset the anger. He’s not angry at her. “Ready room, now.”
The loud clang as he jams the hatch wheel is enough to make them both jump. Kara sits down in the front row of seats. “Well,” she says. Her voice is higher than usual. “I suppose it was too much to hope for that they’d just write us off.”
He runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head. “We’re too valuable. Our identities haven’t been compromised the way Sharon’s have, and I think they were saving us for something big. Bigger than all the things we already did.”
“Lee, frak, stop pacing,” she snaps, and then bites her lip. “You’re making it worse.”
With great effort, he halts himself and holds onto the podium, wanting something to anchor himself on.
“Okay,” he says. “We need a plan.”
He wishes he could retreat into the cool vastness of the Cylon mainframe in his head, but all it’s pulsing with at the moment is the knowledge that they’re going to be replaced with more amenable copies, and soon. “How long have we got?”
Kara’s face slides to blank for a few seconds, and he knows she’s checking the data stream in her head for any kind of information. “Soon,” she says. “Within a week. We must be finally pissing them off.” Her face twists to something Lee would only generously call a smile. “Looks like we’ll be leaving for Earth a little earlier than scheduled.”
“We’ve got to get out of here,” he says uselessly, and there is silence for a moment, the only sound Kara’s boots tapping impatiently on the floor.
“The recon,” he says finally. “The one scheduled in three days. We can use that.”
She nods slowly. “Okay. How?”
“Think, Kara.” Her eyes narrow at his tone but he cuts her off before she can reply. There is panic coiling in his gut, panic for both of them. “We’re Cylons. We know where they are, and we know they’re one step ahead of the fleet when it comes to Earth. We can go to those coordinates and start there.”
“We need a heavy Raider,” Kara says. “That way we can –”
“Yeah, we’ll be able to jump to the Colonies if we need to, for supplies.”
“And the Seven won’t suspect,” Kara finishes. “All right. Good. That could work.”
They stare at each other a moment, and then Kara lets out a long, shaky breath. “We need to fake our deaths. That way they won’t be able to put copies of us on the Galactica.”
He feels a certain amount of grim triumph at the idea; he’s damned if he’s giving either side an advantage in this race. “We can do that,” he says. “That will be easy enough.”
“Frak them,” Kara says, her eyes bright with anger, the remnants of fear and adrenaline. “They should have left us alone.” She balls her hands into fists, and then – so surprisingly that Lee can’t believe the sound – she laughs.
“Leoben always said I had a destiny.” Her smile is as cruel as Lee’s ever seen it. “Somehow I don’t think this is quite what he meant.”
When Lee announces he’s taking Starbuck with him on a recon mission, nobody blinks. In strictly professional terms, it goes against everything taught at officer school, but they are Starbuck-and-Apollo now, always mentioned in the same breath, and so it just seems a natural development. Kara thinks it helps that, luckily, both of them have been cultivating such excellent moods over the last month as part of the smokescreen – the general consensus within the squadrons right now is that Starbuck and Apollo need every bit of alone time they can get.
Kara adopts an air of impatience that increases with every intervening day between the briefing and the recon. By the morning of the mission, most of the pilots can’t look at her without smirking.
They’ve both spent a day smuggling things onto the Raptor, hiding them under seats and tucking them behind navigational equipment. Bottles of water and ration bars from the mess. Spare changes of underwear. Lee manages to crush some warmer clothes – jackets, trackpants, socks - into the box containing spare parts, and when she rolls her eyes at him he points out that flight suits won’t be necessary after they steal a Heavy Raider, and if she wants to spend more time than him bonding with her flight suit, that’s fine by him, but he’s not going anywhere near her. She concedes that he might have a point.
She even feels slightly guilty raiding Helo’s locker for a few of his paperbacks and triad cards, but she figures that if he ever works out it was her, he’ll forgive her when she’s dead. They leave their own lockers untouched.
An hour before they are due to leave, she’s sitting in his office for the last time. Lee’s fingers are dancing over the keys of his computer, face lit by an eerie blue glow, and she’s filling out the last of his paperwork in her trademark scrawl. Starbuck and Apollo, together to the end.
“I’m going to miss this place,” she says idly, flipping her pen around her fingers before entering Hotdog in the last blank spot on the CAP roster for next week.
“Really?” Lee says distractedly. As he’s concentrating on entering a twenty-six digit code into the computer correctly, she waits politely until he’s finished before going on.
“Mmm. It has some very good memories.”
Lee’s ears turn slightly pink, and it’s only because she knows Cylons are mostly incapable of embarrassment that she recognises it for what it is; Lee would dearly love to engage in a repeat of some of those activities right that moment, and when he looks up at her, she gives him her most practised innocent look.
“We don’t have time for that now.” He scrubs a hand over the back of his neck, looking pained. “What’s the change in coordinates?”
“You’re no fun.”
“You’ll get your fun later. Coordinates, Kara.”
She stretches her hands above her head, her tanks rising just enough to tease him, and Lee sighs. “Kara…”
“Change the last eight to a nine. Simple mistake and the Galactica will think we’ve ended up in the middle of a planet.”
“Are you sure?” Lee catches a look at her face. “Forget I said that.”
“I intend to. Just remember to change it back when we’re on the Raptor.”
“Why me?” he says, typing in the change. His face is lit by green for a second, and then the screen reverts back to blue.
“You’re the ECO. That’s your responsibility.” She kicks back on her chair and catches the pen he lobs at her. “Done?”
Lee nods, and switches the computer off. “Ready to elope with me?”
“You’re still married, remember?”
“An insignificant detail.”
“An insignificant detail,” he says, and enjoys the smoky glare he receives from Kara.
“Maybe I have a problem with it.” She gets up from her chair, straightening the papers on his desk. “I signed my divorce papers.”
He can’t help laughing. “You want me to divorce her in the next half hour?”
“You could think of something.”
“You are being ridiculous.”
Kara’s scowl deepens. “If you don’t, maybe you’ll lose certain benefits you’ve been enjoying, Major,” she says, and Lee grins and gets to his feet, throwing his jacket over the back of his chair. He wonders whether his father will keep it as a memory, or whether it will be recycled for the next CAG – and then he realises that as Kara is standing in front of him with her hands on her hips, he has more pressing things to think about. Like the continuation of his sex life.
“We’re about to be officially proclaimed dead.” Lee puts his hands on her shoulders and turns her gently, pulling her back against his chest. “I don’t think she’ll consider herself married. I think there was a clause in the vows about it. Something something until death parts us.”
“What if I consider you married?”
“Then,” he says, lips brushing against the back of her neck, loving the fact that he can call her out on this, “you’re going to be very, very frustrated.”
He tilts his head and sucks lightly at the point on her throat that he knows drives her crazy. Kara shudders, head dropping forward, fingers curling against her thighs and he slides his palms over the soft curves of her hips.
“I thought you said we had no time?” Her voice has dropped an octave, and Lee grins against her skin before stepping away and picking up his bag.
“We don’t,” he says. “But we will in an hour.”
“God,” Kara mutters under her breath. “See if I go on any recon missions with a bastard like you, Apollo.”
“Empty threats, Starbuck.” He grins and opens the hatch. “See you on the flight deck in ten.”
The flight deck is more crowded than it really should be before a plain recon mission – the pilots are standing around barely restraining the whistles and grins, and to Lee’s great surprise even Adama comes to see them off.
“I asked him,” Kara says softly, and then walks forward to hug the Admiral before climbing aboard.
“Isn’t that a bit sappy for Starbuck?” Lee murmurs as the door of the Raptor slams shut.
“He’s about to lose most of his world, Lee,” she says, unconcerned. “May as well give the man a happy memory or two.”
“What about you?” He looks sideways at her as they strap themselves in. “Packed enough happy memories?”
“Enough for a lifetime,” she says, but not without a hint of sobriety. “This is the right thing to do.”
Lee nods, quickly changes the coordinates in the Raptor computer so that they don’t end up in the middle of a planet, and opens the comms for their departure. She’s right. Maybe they’re special, maybe their destinies are obscured, but he knows that this is the best path.
The jump goes perfectly, and in no time at all they are sitting in empty space. They have ten minutes to wait before the Cylon patrols leave the Raider storage area, so Lee just plugs in their next coordinates and lets them hang there, suspended in nothing.
“How long do you think it will be before they miss us?” Kara says. She unbuckles her seat straps and he does the same.
“Three hours, tops. Then they’ll do the routine check on the coordinates, and Gaeta will have to tell everyone he sent us to the middle of a rock. Exit Starbuck and Apollo.”
She grins, and he watches her wrap her arms around her knees and hug her legs to her chest. Her face is gleeful.
“What are you smiling about?”
“I’m just imagining our funerals. Roslin will cry, you know.”
“Of course she will,” Lee says scathingly. “She loves me.”
Kara waves a hand at him, and he catches it and pulls her off the pilot seat and into his lap. She doesn’t complain; she sets her hands behind his shoulders and grins at him.
“Can you imagine the legend we’re going to become? Starbuck and Apollo, tragically killed. Together. I wonder what they’ll say about us in the speeches.”
He shakes his head. “You are completely shameless.”
“Kara Thrace,” he says solemnly, “was a fine officer who displayed courage and loyalty above and beyond the call of duty. When faced with the threat of Cylon forces, she responded with all of her talents –”
“With all my talents! Oh, that’s nice. I like that.”
“With all of her considerable talents,” Lee says, and the humour is bubbling up in his chest now. Kara’s squirming on his lap, all soft curves and wide laughing eyes and distracting weight, and he leans up and kisses her hard. She tightens her arms around the back of his neck and opens her mouth against his, but just as Lee is about to suggest the removal of certain pieces of clothing, she pulls away and breaks into a sudden burst of laughter.
He looks at her. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, I’m just thinking,” she says, and then hisses as his fingers duck up and under the collar of her flight suit, at the back.
“You were thinking?” He scrapes her neck lightly with his fingernails.
“Don’t even start.” She squirms some more, and he’s proud that even after all this time he can make her feel so much. “I – just – Lee – find it amusing that we’re doing exactly what they all think we’re doing right now.”
He laughs, angles his fingers just so, and kisses her deep and slow when her mouth jerks into proximity. “They won’t be expecting the next part, though.”
“So say we all,” Kara says, leaning back and saluting with two fingers.
“Don’t forget the slow clapping.”
“Oh, God.” She dissolves into laughter. “We’re horrible.”
“But we’re together,” Lee says, and kisses her jaw. “And that’s all that matters. Now, why don’t you go and check our shields, and then we’ll grab ourselves a Raider and go find Earth?”
“Bright shiny future,” she whispers into his hair, and then laughs. “Sounds like a plan.”