Anders decides it’s not a wistful hallucination when he finds himself in yet another pointless standoff with Colonial Fleet officers. Although these ones have the advantage of pointing weapons at his people from inside an uncomfortably sturdy-looking ship.
“Caprican human resistance?” comes the crackling voice of the ship’s loudspeaker.
“Am I going to have to start reciting pyramid stats?” Anders yells back, ignoring the icy slither in his stomach that’s been there ever since he realised that Kara wasn’t with the rescue party. She wouldn’t have made them all stand around looking like fools.
There’s a pause, and then a brief burst of static that’s probably laughter. “Unfortunately, nobody aboard feels confident that they’ll able to call you out on any mistakes. Lower your weapons.”
“Weapons down,” Anders calls over his shoulder, wincing as the turning of his torso elicits a twinge of pain from the rib he cracked in a looting mission last month.
Within minutes their rough campsite, spilling across the borders of a natural clearing, is host to a kind of organised chaos. The resistance fighters start pulling together belongings. Some are succumbing to tears. The soldiers are milling around doing things with equipment and setting up a rough kind of perimeter.
Most of the orders appear to be coming from an unremarkable-looking man whose camouflage jacket is spotted with grease. As Anders’ eyes fall on him the man still has a loose grip on his weapon and is calling back to a girl in fatigues who is standing in the hatchway of the ship.
“Contact the other two Raptors, tell them we’ve located the survivors. Make sure you give our location on a scrambled channel – Cylons could be monitoring the comm frequencies.”
“Right you are, Apollo.”
The man slides his sidearm back into its sheath as he walks over, obviously deciding that simply being stationary in the midst of all this activity qualifies Anders as being the first point of contact. “Took us a while to track you guys down.” He extends a hand, which Anders grasps.
“Samuel Anders,” he says, nodding.
“Captain Lee Adama,” the man says in return, with a half-smile that somehow counteracts the pretension of the military title. “I’m the Battlestar Galactica’s CAG.”
“Commander of the Air Group.” He shrugs, another gesture that’s more self-deprecating than anything else. “But I do answer to Lee.”
“Or Apollo?” he asks, wondering what he’s trying to prove.
“That too.” The smile quirks again and Anders decides that he likes Captain Apollo Lee Adama.
“Captain.” Someone else runs up and touches Lee’s elbow. “Raptor One has signalled to let us know they’re almost here.”
He nods. “Clear the area, give them room to land. How many people have you got?” he asks Anders as they walk back towards the treeline.
“Forty-one.” Good, but awful at the same time. Frakking miraculous, in some ways. Attacking the farms meant that they left behind three wired-up human corpses for every live woman they rescued, and sustained enough casualties to keep a morbid kind of balance in their total headcount.
“That’s more than three Raptors will be able to manage, that’s for sure. We’ll have to make a series of constant jumps. Do you have any ground-to-air arms capabilities in case the Cylons pick up on our FTL activity?”
“Some.” A sudden shadow cuts across the sky, and normal conversation is impossible until the new Raptor has landed in a cloud of noise and dust. “Nothing very manoeuvrable,” he continues, but then the Raptor’s decompressors hiss, the hatch clicks open and he hears a familiar angry voice – come on, come on, doesn’t this frakking thing open any faster? – and he abruptly forgets every single detail of their ground-to-air defences.
Not that he’d have had time to say much more; three seconds later a beaming Kara Thrace – hair longer and slicked back, he notes – has finally struggled clear of the still-moving hatch and is running straight at him. The collision and subsequent bearhug are amazingly painful, but there’s no way he’s mentioning his cracked rib now.
“You frakking idiot, Sam Anders,” she breathes into his neck. “I missed you so much.”
“Yeah.” Frak the pain. He squeezes her just as tightly. “Me too. Could have used your crazy mind down here.”
“Off saving humanity, you know how it is.” Kara finally pulls back just far enough to kiss him. She’s sweaty and smells like the leather of her flight suit, but her lips are warm and her taste hasn’t changed.
When she breaks the kiss Anders looks around to see if his people have gotten their gear packed up, and he manages to catch Lee Adama’s eye. The man smiles again, but it doesn’t stretch as far as before. There’s a sudden impression of distance that Anders is in no mood to analyse just at this moment.
He puts it aside, hooks his arm around Kara’s waist, and goes to organise the exodus from this frakking planet.
not quite an opera
He’s on the last Raptor out. Caprican dust still spatters his boots and it feels odd to be breathing air so sterile, but there’s no regret clouding his last view of the horizon. Kara clutches his hand tightly and won’t stop smiling, laughing, regaling him with news of what’s happened in the time between. It’s hard for him to take in. Space battles and tombs on Kobol seem a very long way from his experience, but all in all, he supposes, they’ve been doing the same thing. Fighting to keep as many human beings alive as is in their power to do so.
The FTL jump makes his stomach seize up, and Kara laughs even more at the expression on his face.
“The Admiral will want to see you, if you don’t mind continuing as official spokesperson,” Lee says over his shoulder as they glide into the hangar bay. “Most of your people have been taken to civilian ships, as we’re not exactly rolling in rack space aboard Galactica, but my father wants a full debrief on what you’ve been doing and any light you have to shed on the what the Cylons are planning.”
“Yeah. That’s fine.” He waits until they’re stepping off the Raptor to lean over and murmur in Kara’s ear. “Son of the Admiral, hey?”
Her eyebrows quirk in an amused expression that could mean almost anything, but before she can say anything Lee’s voice comes from behind them.
“A word, Captain Thrace?” The CAG pulls her calmly aside, and they have a hushed conversation whilst Anders stands in the middle of the flight deck and sidesteps the deck crew with a sportsmanÕs automatic ease.
Kara’s smile wavers more and more as Lee Adama’s eyebrows climb further and further up his forehead, and eventually it cracks altogether. She makes emphatic gestures, some of them in Anders’ direction. Only once does she glance over at him, though, with a brief worried smile, and that’s when his buoyant mood finally sours; he’s seen many emotions directed at him on Kara Thrace’s impossibly expressive face. But he never expected to see guilt.
“You are Samuel Anders?”
“That’s right. Sir,” he adds awkwardly, not quite sure what etiquette he’s meant to be following here. But the Admiral just blinks and looks at him without any real expression.
“Are you a relative of Lieutenant Robert Anders?”
That floors him for a moment. “I – yes. Yes. Is he aboard?” Robert’s a cousin, someone’s he’s met only once or twice, but he’s been so long accustomed to assuming his family dead that something rises unexpectedly in his chest.
“Lieutenant Anders died in the initial Cylon attack,” the Admiral says, still impassive. “I'm sorry. He served under me for three years, and I knew him both as a good soldier and a fair man.”
“Thank you, sir.” Anders doesn’t doubt it; distant as the older Adama may seem, he has the overwhelming impression that the eyes behind those glasses miss nothing and nobody as far as the Galactica is concerned.
“Now, I have no doubt you would like some time to eat and sleep before your debrief.”
“Thank you, sir,” he repeats with new enthusiasm, relieved beyond words that he won’t have to spend hours trying to pull every fact and unpleasant experience from his memory just yet. Fatigue pulls at his limbs.
“And if you have no objection, I would like to recruit you as a civilian advisor.” Adama shuffles some papers. “We could use someone with your unique experience of ground-based Cylon warfare and technology in our tactical discussions. It would carry no military responsibility,” the man adds before Anders can voice any concerns on that score. He tries to imagine the look on Kara’s face if she discovered that he would have to salute her, follow her orders, and…yes. This is probably for the best.
“Of course.” He nods. “I’d be glad to help.”
“Seeing you and your people means a lot to all of us,” Adama says abruptly, and a faint smile breaks out over that granite face. “It’s comforting to be reminded of humanity’s resilience.”
The food is nothing special, but his allocated rack seems like a dream after weeks of sleeping on blankets thrown over the forest floor. And, of course, it comes with an enthusiastic and smirking Kara Thrace. Afterwards they lie together, close enough that only a few inches of elbow stick out of the narrow rack, and talk until their throats are dry.
“What’s the story with you and Lee?” he says eventually, keeping his voice casual, certain that bluntness is the best policy to use with her. “You’ve got a bit of a weird dynamic going on.”
Kara is quiet for a moment and then looks away. “I was engaged to his brother,” she says. “Zak. He died. His Viper crashed.”
Anders waits for almost a minute before realising that this is all she will say, that she thinks he will accept that as a full explanation. It isn’t one. It doesn’t even come close.
He wonders if she’s lying to herself, or just to him.
He feels odd not having a rank, or a callsign to be thrown around with friendly ease.
When he runs his fingernails along the grooves in a pyramid ball, the octagonal pattern of stitching below the paint, he remembers that he too was a captain of something, once upon a time. But this means next to nothing now. They’re at war. It’s hard to forget.
Kara calls him Sam and everyone else follows suit.
On the whole, there was nothing wrong with his first impression; he likes Lee Adama quite a lot, and once he works his way past the cool professionalism he can tell that Lee likes him as well, albeit grudgingly. They nod when they pass in the corridors, they talk in the mess queue, they spend the occasional evening swapping lazy, careful stories about Kara. It’s not meant to be a game, Anders knows, there is very little guile and far too much honesty in Lee’s nature, but he still feels like he has to work hard to keep up. Lee has more stories. Anders pours them more drinks and holds fast to the stories he doesn’t tell.
They even go to the shooting range together, but that only happens once. Anders has survived a long, tough guerrilla existence by listening to his instincts, and they aren’t quite comfortable with being in the same room as Lee Adama and a loaded gun.
The first time he calls her Captain it’s a joke, a silly thing, but her face changes subtly and even though she doesn’t say anything he realises that there’s a line there that he’s not allowed to cross. Something not entirely military, something just outside his understanding. He keeps finding these lines, with Kara, drawn in the strangest of places and crossing the strangest of dimensions. One day he thinks he will turn around and find himself trapped inside them all.
“Frak,” Lee mutters, all but under his breath.
“Gnnhah!” Kara tenses her arm and manages to avoid the imminent brush of her wrist on the metal bench of the officer’s quarters. “Something up, Lee?”
“No, not really,” Lee says, stretched out on his rack and surrounded by lists and rosters. “I’m just wishing there was an end to this paperwork.”
“You do that every day. What’s gotten up the nose of the mighty Apollo this time?” Kara looks over at him, and Anders takes advantage of her shift in attention to make a flash attack. Her elbow wobbles and then her hand slams down onto the bench. “Oh, frak you.” She turns back to Anders briefly and sticks her tongue out.
“Shouldn’t try to arm wrestle with a Buccaneer, you know.” He releases her hand and punches her shoulder gently.
“Kara. It’s nothing. I’ve had a long day.” Lee gives them a tired smile that looks genuine enough to Anders, but Kara just narrows her eyes and stares him down.
“Nope,” she says eventually, leaping up and walking over to his rack. “I’m not buying it. What’s wrong?”
Lee shakes his head and surrenders a piece of paper. “Message from the Pegasus CAG –”
“Gods, that ineffectual ass again.” Kara holds the paper as though it’s infectious.
“You know, you could have withdrawn your transfer –”
“And spent all my time surrounded by clockwork soldiers, doing all that lovely paperwork? Aw, Lee, so sweet to know you care about my mental health. He’s not a bad CAG,” she adds grudgingly, “he’s just too fond of trying to fix things that aren’t broken. I mean, what is this, a proposal for more new CAP formations?”
Lee rubs his eyes and sighs. “It’s all very polite –”
“But he’s implying you’re an idiot.”
“His points aren’t all bad.”
Kara leans against Lee’s locker and frowns down at the paper. “Well, if we discount the pompous language and the total disregard for the fact that your patrols work –”
Anders swirls his drink and wonders if he can talk Kara into somehow orchestrating a trip to the Pegasus, if only to kick this poor CAG’s ass up and down the halls a little. A couple of the other resistance fighters accepted military postings on the other battlestar, and as much fun as hanging around with Kara is it would be good to see his friends again.
One look at the irritation on her face as she begins to air some of her more exciting insults lets him know that this is not the time to broach new topics, however.
He sips, smiles, returns Lee’s bemused look underneath Kara’s tirade, and keeps quiet.
Kara bears the pressure of having a civilian lover with remarkable grace; nobody is under any illusions as to the nature of their relationship, and she just grins and gives as good as she gets whenever the teasing gets rough. They talk, they frak, they play, they laugh, and yet Anders still has a niggling feeling that there’s something missing. A tiny piece of the puzzle that he wasn’t aware of until the gap left by its absence became clear.
She’s everything he remembered her being and more; and it’s the more that’s important, the more that gives him pause. It’s not that she held back, on Caprica; she gave him everything she could in the short time they had. But in this new context she is complete, and it’s that last fragment of her that he hasn’t been gifted with and he’s starting to doubt he ever will. The Kara Thrace who almost went pro at pyramid, Kara Thrace who carried an arrow and was on a mystic mission for the good of humanity, Kara Thrace who was fun and determined…sometimes, his Kara Thrace seems an illogically far cry from Starbuck, the irreverent Viper jockey. After she flies, it seems that they are always half a heartbeat out of synch.
On the whole, though, it’s a life he finds honest satisfaction in; Kara’s filthy jokes, her shifting moods, the fact that her face lights up when she sees him. The strength in her fingers as she grips his arms and moans and writhes. Her habit of waving her stogie to emphasise a point. The way she smirks and bites the side of her lower lip when she’s turned on.
And then there’s the night when she lays her head on his chest and tells him the whole story surrounding Zak Adama. Her hand clenches around his, painfully tight, but her voice never wavers.
“Only two other people in the universe know this,” she says, as though the thought has never occurred to her before, and then kisses him. “Now three.”
He takes it as the important gesture of trust that it is, and doesn’t press any further. With his arms around her he tells her about Eliza; Eliza, who was his agent and became his lover. Eliza, who he had intended to propose to after the first game of the upcoming season. Eliza, who was in Caprica City organising talk wireless interviews when the Cylons attacked.
Kara traces patterns on his skin and doesn’t say a word.
He knows how to play triad, of course; there’s precious little to do when you’re a touring sports team that is stuck in hotel rooms for a fair chunk of every week during game season, and the Buccaneers would always have at least one game going on someone’s bed or a corner of the floor.
But that’s just rules, just the technicalities of it. It takes him a while, aboard Galactica, to get used to triad games that sometimes mean nothing and sometimes seem deadly serious. After a while he feels out the rules of each particular scenario, the patterns; an uneventful day means a slow, half-hearted, friendly game. Any kind of military success immediately ups the amount of alcohol involved, the size of stakes played for and the amount of loud banter carried out over the table. A crisis – death, damage, disappointment – means very little verbalisation and a hell of a lot of communication in some kind of frakked up silent military code. Eyes and tense mouths and the echoing clatter of cubit coins. He wonders why they play at all, but play they do.
On the worst days he can’t quite stomach the atmosphere and so begs off triad in favour of slamming a pyramid ball around in one of the workout rooms where someone’s erected a set of makeshift goalboards. Kara joins him, usually, and he can forget everything bad for those hours when it’s just them and laughter and the game. But he’s getting to know her, really know her. And on the day Kat’s Viper is torn apart midair he can read something dutiful, almost unwilling, in the line of her mouth as she follows him away from the rec room. The expression doesn’t suit her face, but he can’t tell her that without sparking a fierce contrary insistence on coming with him, so instead he tells her that he wants to practice solo this time.
“Are you sure?” She looks a bit taken aback, but she also shifts her weight back onto one foot and that’s confirmation enough. He is sure.
“I’m getting too used to your game,” he says easily enough, grabbing the ball from her in a swift motion. “Having only one opponent is bad for me. I need to stretch out some kinks in my moves.” She makes a half-hearted tackle, but he holds the ball above her head and injects some mockery into his voice. “Go on. Go play cards. You’re cramping my style, woman.”
Finally she laughs and raises her hands. “I guess I’ll see you later, then.”
“Count on it.”
The smile he gives her is forced, but she doesn’t notice.
He doesn’t see her later; he waits in his rack, slowly bending and stretching his aching limbs, but she doesn’t appear. He figures that if the triad game is still going it will have eased out to the point where he can feel comfortable, so he slips on a tracksuit and shoes and goes to check. There aren’t many people wandering around at this time of night, or at least what passes for night. In this world defined by clocks and artificial lighting, he finds himself craving the transitions. Dawn and dusk. Being woken by the sun shooting across his eyelids, rather than a buzzing alarm.
A handful of people are relaying printouts to and from CIC, others are yawning on their way to the graveyard shift or their racks. His feet echo oddly in the empty metal spaces.
When he’s almost at the rec room he slows down, because his angle of approach is such that he can see right in. It’s almost deserted. Kara and Lee are sitting side by side on the low table, her eyes darting restlessly and her fist pounding into her thigh in a slow, constant repetition. The expression is pure Kara: anger suffused with a succession of other emotions, one by one. Pain, guilt, something approaching fear. As he watches, Lee shifts to give her a loose one-armed hug, pulling her closer, pressing a kiss into her hair. His lips stay there, moving and mumbling in a neverending stream of what Anders can only assume is comfort, reassurance, the words that she needs to hear so that tomorrow she’ll be able to get up and do her job all over again.
After a little while Kara’s angry expression collapses into a wobbly fatigue. She closes her eyes and unfolds her fist, rubbing Lee’s knee absently before letting the hand fall.
Anders is out of their line of sight. He leans against the wall and watches them, noting with an almost amusing detachment the way his mind shuffles through a strange series of reactions: the pragmatic knowledge that losing a pilot is something that her CAG would understand better than her boyfriend, the brief pang of hurt that she hasn’t even tried to talk about it with him, the impulse to knock on the hatchway, nod at Lee, pull Kara up and take her back to bed. But they’re all held in check by the uncomfortable feeling that he’s interrupting something intensely private.
It’s somehow worse, he thinks, than it would have been if he’d found them frakking. At least then he would be justified in walking in and forcing them apart; at least then there would be an excuse for the helpless knot in his chest.
When he first met Kara he liked the fact that she was larger than life, her personality expanding and glowing under the bleached sky, but now he realises that in many ways she is in fact a perfectly particular size. Tailored to fit one place. She wears the Galactica with the same thoughtless ease as her flight suit, though the breadth of her spirit is limited only by her hands on the controls of a Viper.
It’s weird, but after a while he finds he misses Caprica.
The military is not what he knows; oh, he’s holding his own, recording everything he can remember about the farms and the Cylon technology they captured or went up against, and helping hammer out some tactical plans, but it’s still an alien environment in which many of the rules are beyond his understanding. The people around him have the understanding sewn into the seams of their uniforms. Caprica was dirty, doomed and dangerous – but it was a simple game and he was a very good player.
At least when on the makeshift pyramid court he is once again a professional, and part of him enjoys showing off in front of these people to whom civilian is an derogatory term. The crew grows accustomed to seeing him there, playing with anyone who’s willing to learn. Or anyone determined to beat the onetime captain of the Caprica Buccaneers, as Kara always is. Her tactics get dirtier and dirtier; one day she brushes her hand blatantly across the front of his pants and smirks as she spins past, but he recovers in time to grab her by the wrist and get a pinch-grip on her index finger where it curves along the ball, resorting to the playful violence she loves.
“Well, if we’re playing rough.” He pulls back on the finger and grins. “And if you’re so damn talented, I’m sure you can play with a handicap like a broken finger. Shall we find out?”
But the look on her face is one of sudden, blinding terror.
As it turns out, there are variations on triad and a couple of other card games that he suspects nobody outside the world of professional sports has ever played. One night he teaches Helo and Hotdog a corrupted version of Colourblind, winning half their cubits in the first fifteen minutes before they start to figure out the tricks. Helo’s quicker than he looks and Hotdog has a tendency to hold his cards sloppily when he’s had a bit to drink.
Anders explains a few more strategies in between hands, glancing over at where Lee and Kara are reviewing rosters for what he swears must be the fifth time that day. Kara doesn’t look impressed with their lack of progress either; she’s borderline drunk and scowling into her glass, talking to the dregs. Anders tunes in with half his brain, just in time to catch –
“– been down my neck lately about not telling you in the first place. Can’t believe you passed up an opportunity to lecture me about my loose fly, Captain, you must be losing your edge.” She lifts her head and glares. They’ve moved on from roster arguments, it seems.
“Why would I want to do that?” Lee says, not looking at her.
Anders quickly deals the new hand and cracks a feeble joke, curious as to where the conversation is heading.
“Oh, I don’t know, you’re so fond of getting us to share.” The glare is joined by a stubborn pout, Kara’s tipsy belligerence obviously looking for something to rub up against. “Should I have told the class what I did on my vacation, sir? Who I did on my vacation? Is that the kind of thing I’m meant to let my precious caring CAG know about?”
There’s absolutely nothing in Lee’s expression, although Kara is boiling with enough volatile accusation for the both of them. He does nothing but gather his papers into a neat pile and stand up. “I’m not as much of a hypocrite as I’m sure you’d like to believe, Kara,” he says, and then he leaves.
Anders watches her face over his cards and sees the exact second in which she realises what Lee has just confessed.
Later, he’ll pinpoint that as the moment when he resigned himself to losing this particular game.
“I don’t want to talk, Sam.” Her mouth slides over his ear. “Can we just…? No talking. Not right now.”
It’s getting worse. Neither of them is saying anything, but both of them are restless. Anders is chafing at the forced inaction after so many months of constant activity, and Kara is flying harder and drinking harder and eyebrows are starting to be raised. When she misses a pre-CAP briefing and turns up on the flight deck with overbright eyes and breath that still smells subtly of alcohol, Anders is discussing Cylon ammunition with a specialist who’s working on a weaponry review, and he doesn’t manage to catch her before Lee does.
The two other pilots take one look at their CAG’s face and get into the tubes as fast as possible. Kara, for once, doesn’t say a word when Lee rips her helmet out of her hands and starts his berating. She leans against her Viper and pushes her hair back with one hand. Lee is right in her face, talking with quiet fury and tight gestures, and by the look in her eyes he is crashing ruthlessly across all of the lines that Anders has been so careful to respect.
And then an inner tripwire of some kind is bumped and Kara hits him across the mouth, and then he shoves her backwards, her head slamming back against the plane, and then they stand there and Anders looks at the blood on Lee’s tongue and the grease-smudge on her flight suit.
And then Kara bites the side of her lower lip.
Anders had to learn a lot about the workings of battlestars in a short time, and it’s paying off. He’s learned how to watch, to listen, and to pay attention to the things below the surface.
The surface tells him that Lee Adama is comfortably involved with the small, neat woman with the big dark eyes who seems to live in the CIC; Dee, everyone calls her, and he’s never thought to ask what that derives from. But after a while of keeping his eyes and ears open around them – their quick kisses, the conversations they have about the Admiral, the conversations they don’t have about Lee’s complex feelings for his best pilot – he realises that there’s far more going on.
So he watches Dee closely for a while longer; watches her so closely, in fact, that one day he catches the Special Assistant to the President glaring at him and realises that he’s stumbled across the next link in the chain. It’s not a love triangle, or a love square, or even – ha – a love pyramid. It’s painful and it’s open-ended and it’s frakking messy, and it’s all but invisible to the naked eye. He wonders how many people they’re fooling, because they sure as hell aren’t fooling themselves any more.
But that’s how things stand on the Battlestar Galactica: Apollo and Dee. Starbuck and Sam. They’re the frakking posterchildren of hope and the future, and he’d be willing to bet his skill on the court that not a single one of them is actually content.
“I’m going to start basic training with the Marines. The Admiral has okayed it.”
“What?” She looks up with a violence that surprises him.
“It’s not like I’ve never shot a toaster, Kara.” He smiles, trying to defuse whatever he’s just lit. “You know how many raiding missions I’ve led. I’d just like to feel a bit more useful around here, instead of standing in CIC giving advice I’ve given three times before.”
“Oh.” She sits on the edge of his rack, frowning at him. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Why shouldn’t it be?”
“This. Us. It’ll be against regs.”
“Since when do regs bother you?” He pulls her up and holds her by the shoulders. “Come on. What’s this about? I thought you’d approve.”
“It’s just. You’re not –”
“Not what? Not military material?”
“Sam, I’m not saying you don’t have the chops for it –” All of a sudden she breaks off, looks away. Anders realises what memories this has started to drag up for her, but he’s tired and frustrated and very sick of Adamas – alive or dead – being a complicating factor in their relationship. This is about him. His life. His choices. And Kara Thrace is not the only one around who sometimes doesn’t know when to keep their mouth shut.
“Really? Because that’s what it sounds like from over here.”
“If you die…” She looks stricken and his heart warms at it, but it’s not enough.
“If I do? What if you die, Kara? Why should you get to put your life on the line every day and then tell me that I can’t do the same?”
The stricken look wavers and then hardens out into anger. Kara snaps something. He snaps something back. They fight for a long time about it, their first real fight, and while they’re screaming into each others’ faces Anders is struck by the fervent wish that this will prove to be the thing they were missing, because she and Lee are fighting all the frakking time.
Kara storms off to her own rack when he wins the fight, although it isn’t really the kind of thing in which a winner can be assigned.
“Two on your tail, Apollo.”
“Frak, Lee, brake left. Brake, you moron!”
“I – frak. Thanks, Starbuck.”
“Yeah, yeah. Watch your own ass next time.”
Listening to the comms can be agonising; he knows why Kara complains every time she’s given a grounded role in any operation. Standing in the CIC he feels so helpless.
“They’ll be all right.” It’s Lieutenant Gaeta, nodding and giving him a sympathetic smile. “They’ve survived far worse than this.”
“No doubt.” His smile doesn’t feel quite right on his lips. A few weeks ago someone told him a story from the very first day of the war, about how Kara managed to slot together her Viper and Lee’s powerless one, getting them into the landing bay at the very last minute. That’s the way they are, in the minds of these people: forever locked together, a single invincible entity, the great ship Starbuckandapollo.
“Galactica, Starbuck. Recon party destroyed.”
Tigh exhales on something that’s almost a laugh and shakes his head. “Bring them in, Dee.”
“Yes, sir.” Dee bends her head and flicks switches. Anders doesn’t know how she does it, standing there and working so deftly when it’s her who’ll be the first to know if the man she loves is about to die.
Or maybe that’s the point.
“Permission to – ?” He’s still getting used to military protocol.
“Off you go, Private.” Tigh isn’t even looking at him.
“Sir.” He manages a salute, claps Gaeta on the arm and leaves for the flight deck, pleased at how surely he moves from one place to another these days.
Kara has the familiar adrenalin-infused glee on her face as she leaps down from the cockpit, but it fades as she looks around the deck. “Where’s Apollo’s Viper?”
“Isn’t he coming in after you, Captain?” The Chief frowns.
There isn’t even a moment to digest this before Dee’s voice comes over the speakers, tight and urgent. “Galactica command to starboard hangar bay and flight deck. Prep for emergency landing. I repeat, prep for emergency landing. We have an apparent Viper malfunction.”
“Frak.” Kara kicks a trolley. “He was fine, he told me he was –”
“Hey. Come on.” Anders pulls her to the side, away from the scrambling chaos. “He’ll be all right.” But he never quite believed it from Gaeta’s lips, and he can tell she’s no more convinced. Her eyes keep straying to the side, wide and frantic.
Alarms blare periodically and there are a series of nasty thumps that send shivers through the metal under their feet, but thankfully nothing that sounds like an explosion.
“Hangar bay sealed,” the Chief shouts after what seems like an eternity. “Let’s get the CAG out of that plane.”
Even Anders winces at the sight of the Viper as it’s towed into the deck, cracks spiderwebbing the front screen and deep scratches down the nose.
“Lords,” Kara murmurs, her eyes wider than ever. “How did he see anything?”
“Looks as though he ran into some shrapnel. It fried the comm systems,” the Chief shouts over to her, and Anders almost smiles: Operation Defuse Starbuck. “He wouldn’t have been able to let you know about the damage.”
Once he’s been helped out of the cockpit Lee looks pale and shaken, and he sways on his feet as he removes the metal collar from his neck and hands it to a crew member. Kara squeezes Anders’ arm once, hard, and then storms across to where the CAG is standing.
“Motherfrakker!” she yells, and then throws herself at him with insane force. Lee wobbles even more alarmingly but closes his arms around her and they stand there, just stand there, for over a minute. The crew manoeuvre around them patiently, exchanging knowing glances. Allowances have to be made. After all, it’s Starbuckandfrakkingapollo.
Anders’ thoughts are interrupted by one of the other Marines, reminding him to check into the range for target practice at 1400 hours, and when he next looks over Kara’s hands are fisted awkwardly in the shoulders of Lee’s flight suit and she’s staring at him as though she’s attempting to get a medscan of the bones of his face through sheer force of will. A smile keeps trying to start on her lips; trying and then sputtering away and then trying again, like an engine on a cold day.
He’s not sure which hurts most: the moment when he realises exactly what she feels for Lee Adama, or the moment after that, when he realises that he’s not actually surprised in the slightest.
The effort it takes him to act oblivious is probably roughly equal to the effort it takes Lee to act like he isn’t jealous, but neither of them would dream of dropping the act, so they cope by avoiding each other until they have the energy to smile. Mostly, it works out fine.
One night he opens his mouth to ask her if she really loves him, but closes it almost immediately because he knows what she’ll say, he knows what the answer is, and he knows that they’re not the same thing.
What’s frakked up about the whole thing is that Anders knows this: if Kara had to choose between them, one to live and one to die, she’d probably still pick him.
It’s not love. It’s guilt, and it’s duty, and it’s the simple fact that her head tells her that her boyfriend has higher priority than her captain. And Kara listens to her head far more than most people realise, because it’s a damn sight less complicated than listening to her heart.
And what’s really frakked up is that Anders now knows this: she liked him better when she didn’t have him. When she could carry him around like an invisible shield against life and love and Lee. When he was alive enough to be an excuse, but dead enough to feed the guilt that keeps her on a narrow crazed trajectory through her own existence. Actually having him there is finally derailing her, disturbing the ecosystem, knocking them all out of orbit, any of a million scientific metaphors that he could name.
And like in any ecosystem, problems in one place send out ripples. Even the rumour mill seems uncertain as to what the frak’s going on. Starbuck is mercifully sober but flying with even more reckless abandon than ever, and Apollo is terse and withdrawn. Nobody’s seen him anywhere near Dee for at least a week, and the Petty Officer herself is reported to have done three shifts straight before almost collapsing from exhaustion and overwork. Billy shouts in the President’s face; in one version of the gossip he even threatens to resign. It’s totally unstable and totally dangerous and even Anders can see that it’s rapidly becoming a totally unacceptable state of affairs for a military ship. The Admiral calls his son to his quarters every other day. The CAG responds by shouting at Kara, who ends up in the kind of filthy mood where she wants to rip at something with her teeth; generally it’s Anders’ clothes, but he has a feeling his jugular would serve just as well.
And so it goes. Anders grits his teeth and rides it out, refusing to be the one to escalate this whole mess. In CIC he stands near Dee and forces himself to send her quick smiles. When she returns them he sees a flash of kindred spirit, an acknowledgment that whilst some things can’t be salvaged, they can be avoided. She’s jumped clear of the hurtling wreck that is Starbuckandapollo. The way she holds herself speaks of bruises from impact, but nothing compared to what she would have suffered through if she’d held on much longer. The look in her eyes says: Billy Keikeya is a good, kind man who loves me and who I love well enough to put in the effort. I’ll make it work.
The pragmatism there is sickening, but calling her out on it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy.
He starts a morbid kind of game with himself, betting on whether she’ll dump him before or after she finally fraks Apollo. Knowing the Galactica, there’s probably a similar bet going amongst the deck crew. The odds are in a constant state of flux, but his personal forfeits remain the same: before, and he’ll tell her that he’s fine, that he’s been expecting it, that it’s for the best.
After, and he’ll pretend to be surprised.
She frakking well deserves that much.
When he recognises pity in the sidelong glances that are thrown his way, it’s the last straw; he decides that he is sick of playing games where he’s always on the losing side. So he changes the rules and follows Dee’s example: he jumps clear.
“No you’re not.” Her face, her gorgeous, open face, is swimming and flickering between grief and fury and resignation and a hundred other emotions, but he catches glimpses of relief where there’d normally be shock. Suddenly he’s had enough, he’s had more than enough. He wants to tell her that you don’t frakking well drag out relationships when you’re in love with someone else, that she’s been treating him like shit and she knows it, but he doubts he’d get more than three words out before she punched him. And he knows now that violence has never really solved anything for them.
“No, I’m not.”
Three words. He walks away.
He’s not sure if he thought everything would just click into place after that, everyone sidestepping like dominoes along the screwed-up web of guilt and attraction that he unwittingly became tangled in the moment he fell for Kara Thrace. The girl should come with a frakking warning sticker – major strings attached – he thinks, and smiles despite everything. He’s out of the web, now, and past the regret and lingering resentment there’s some of the same relief that he saw written on Kara’s face.
And of course it isn’t neat, because nothing ever is. It’s slow and tentative, this untangling of the knot they’ve created, and like every knot the unravelling begins at the extremities.
Chief Tyrol, whom Anders has found to be a startlingly comprehensive source of gossip, swears up and down that Specialist Cally heard Billy and Dee arguing in the starboard bathrooms. But the next time Anders sees Dee in CIC she’s as calm as ever, her mask of professional conduct holding up beautifully right up until the President’s next visit to the ship.
“Petty Officer Dualla.”
“Hello, Mr Keikeya.” Something works behind her strained smile as she takes the folder of printouts from him, but the young man just gives a stiff nod and follows the President off deck and towards the Admiral’s quarters for their briefing.
It’s just luck, really, that Anders is still watching Dee as she opens the folder and skims the first printed page. She jumps as if pinched and stares after Billy’s retreating back. It’s quickly stifled by one slim brown hand, but the brief glance Anders catches of her smile is dazzling.
Kara finally breaks the silence from behind the protection of rank, stopping him just as he’s leaving the rec room.
“Captain.” He salutes her. And yes, it feels about as ridiculous as he thought it would.
For a long moment she doesn’t say anything, but when he starts to open the hatch she steps closer and lays her hand over his. The contact is almost a shock.
“This wasn’t the way it was meant to work out,” she says, low.
“I know.” The wheel of the hatch is cold under his fingers, but her hand is colder again. He sighs. “Five days, Kara. It’s not exactly enough to build a lifetime on.” And now he is being hypocritical, because he was damn well prepared to try. But that’s not what she needs to hear.
“I don’t have a lifetime, Sam.” Her hand drops and she takes a deliberate step backwards. “None of us do.”
“Then maybe you should stop wasting the time that you have,” he says, knowing that he sounds harsh despite his best efforts. He spins the wheel and is gone before he has to look at her face.
The rumour mill is getting impatient. He can tell by the rising unlikelihood of the stories. Apollo and Starbuck are frakking every night. Apollo is impotent. Starbuck is pregnant. Apollo has given her an ultimatum: the bottle or him. It’s better than the telewireless. Anders is waiting for someone to tell him that the Old Man is planning to adopt Starbuck and they’re tortured by their imminent siblinghood.
The real Apollo and Starbuck seem completely oblivious to the fact that half the ship is keeping a nervous eye on them. On any given day they could be totally ignoring each other or insulting each other’s flying over the comms, which is near enough to normal so as to make little difference, but the sensation of gathering stormclouds is still there.
And then one day Kara has a split lip and refuses to rise to Helo’s jibes about it; she just touches her fingertips to her mouth, winces, and then smiles.
Anders finally meets Laura Roslin, the schoolteacher who became President who became a religious symbol, when he is called to Colonial One to offer an opinion on a confidential matter. Billy ushers him in and they exchange a quick glance, a quick nod – gods, it’s like they’re a frakking club. Veterans. Survivors of the wreckage.
‘A confidential matter’ turns out to be a more exhausting debrief on the issues of fertility and the methods the Cylons were using than any he’s had before. Roslin stops him and starts him and checks his memories against information given by Sharon. Anders wants to ask if something in particular is happening, but Roslin has a reputation for playing her cards close to the chest; and besides, he’s military now. The delicate politics surrounding that fact are enough to give him a headache, so he just draws diagrams and confirms statements and eventually Roslin rises with a warm smile.
“We really appreciate all the help you’ve been to us, Private.”
“Thank you, Madame President.”
He does feel useful. Nobody asks him if he wants to transfer to the Pegasus. Nobody says a single word about Kara, and for the first time since leaving Caprica he thinks he might be starting to be seen as a person in his own right.
The first time he actually sees them kiss he waits for the jerk in his gut, but it doesn’t come. He’s been expecting it for far longer than he wants to admit, although…he was expecting something different, if he’s going to be completely honest about it. Kara’s bruised lip. Strength in her fingers. Some hint of the tension that’s always bubbled between the two pilots.
But it’s been just over three weeks since Anders left her fighting tears in the middle of the officers’ quarters, and when he finally walks into one of the workout rooms to find them pressed up against a wall he almost doesn’t recognise them. Of all the ridiculous things. Their eyes are closed, Lee’s hands cupping her face and resting at her waist, hers curled up against his chest. Anders steps back and watches them from the hatchway, adjectives presenting themselves in his mind: slow. Careful. Deep.
It doesn’t look exciting, or dangerous, or rough, or spontaneous, or any of those things he would normally associate with Kara Thrace.
What it does look is real.
Anders lifts his chin and smiles in the face of the few remaining pitying looks and soon enough they disappear. He trains with the Marines and contributes to discussions in CIC. He starts a rough kind of pyramid tournament, adjusting the rules for half sized teams to allow for the ever-smaller fraction of the crew that is off duty at any one time.
He makes a point of sitting next to Kara in the mess, sometimes, asking after the pilots and goading her with hints of physical ineptitude until one day she tosses her water in his face and cackles at his dripping expression of shock. The very next evening she turns up and challenges him to a one-on-one game, fouling outrageously whenever the referee’s line of sight is blocked. Said referee is Hotdog, who knows better than to contradict his flight instructor’s word when she’s got that dangerous smile on her face, and so Anders loses by an embarrassing margin.
“Same time next week?”
She grins and tosses him the ball. “You can leave your dignity behind. Or bring it along, so I can wipe the floor with it again.”
“Amateur’s luck,” he teases, matching her grin, and although it’s not quite okay and not quite comfortable…it’ll do. Everyone alive in these days, caught between the end of the world and the promise of the next, has learned not to question what they have.
coda: new game
“Is this seat taken?”
“Hmm? Oh, no, go ahead.” Anders waves half a bread roll at the hopeful-looking girl and she slides in next to him.
“You’re Samuel Anders, right?” Her smile is almost frighteningly bright. Anders gropes around for his cup of coffee, needing some kind of defence against such enthusiasm. He’s not quite awake enough for this.
“That’s right.” He takes a long gulp; Kara might tease him about being the only person aboard Galactica who actually likes the coffee, but it’s a damn sight better than what they had on Caprica, and what it lacks in flavour it makes up for in caffeine.
“Ensign Davies. Call me Judy.”
“Sure, Judy. Nice to meet you.” He wonders if he can get away with mouthing help to Kara, who’s sitting a few places down on the other side of the table, but settles for rolling his eyes the next time she glances his way. She smirks and lifts her mug; she’s all yours, Sam.
Ha very ha. Anders manages to survive almost ten minutes of cheerful flirting before Davies finishes her bowl of tinned fruit and bounds away as abruptly as she arrived.
“Lucky you, mate,” the man next to him says around a mouthful of bread; one of the deck crew, the face is familiar but Anders can’t quite put a name to it. “Ensign Davies doesn’t easily let go once she’s latched onto someone. She was quieter for a while after Crashdown died on Kobol, but you’ve obviously caught her eye.”
Kara is sniggering into her mug and he debates throwing his crust at her, but Lee and one of the Marine Captains duck through the hatch just at that moment, discussing some operation or other, and he sticks it in his mouth instead. He doesn’t need to start developing a reputation as a troublemaker quite as early as some Viper pilots he could mention.
He finishes off his coffee and spins the mug between his hands, not really listening to the messhall chatter, just letting it wash over him. It doesn’t feel like home just yet, but it’s no longer a cold metal space filled with strange people. Maybe it’s the uniform. Maybe he’s letting go. Maybe the rules of whatever he’s playing are letting themselves be bent, just a little.
“Briefing in five, Kara.” As Lee walks past his hand rests on her shoulder, just for a moment, and Anders doesn’t think she even realises that her own hand comes up in a silent tactile response, brushing the place where his fingers lay.
Maybe there are some things that don’t need rules.