Word count: 4936
Notes: "I feel as though we should write pilot outmaking," said stars_like_dust. "I'd be interested in playing with what happens immediately after 'Unfinished Business'," said fahye. And lo, their powers did combine to produce this fic: five first kisses post-UB. Not in series but in parallel.
Please leave feedback here, on this post: we'll both read it, and that way there won't be comments scattered untidily between this journal and Claira's.
Gold To Iron
She sat beside him in the mess because there was no other space free. A group of civilians were visiting the battlestar, and the room was crowded. She had no idea why. The food tasted just as bad on the Galactica as anywhere else in the Fleet.
Lee shifted over as much as he could, putting two inches of space between their elbows, and barely glanced at her as she put her tray on the table. It wasn't a surprise. She'd hardly spoken three words to him since the boxing incident that weren't related to work. It was wretched, but she didn't know what to say; they were just as tangled in each other, but the knots were pulling tighter with each day that passed.
"How is your squadron?" he said finally, reaching over her for the salt and pepper, and she leaned back so he didn't have to touch her. He stiffened slightly and she bit her lip.
"Good," she replied, trying to relax, trying to see anything of her friend in the CAG sitting next to her. "The new pilots are doing well."
"I heard that Crackshot was having trouble with her landings."
Her back straightened and she reached for the glass in front of her, just so she didn't say anything she'd regret. It wasn't until she'd put it back on the table that she noticed Lee's eyes were on her again.
"Crackshot is fine," she told him defensively. "She'll get there."
"That was my glass, Kara," Lee said, quietly and with what she considered to be entirely unwarranted hostility. But she flinched anyway; it was second nature and she despised herself for it.
"Sorry." She tried to sound placating.
"What was that?" a voice beside her put in, and she turned to encounter Fuzzy's lopsided grin.
"Frak," Lee muttered to his plate.
"What?" She looked from one of them to the other. "What's the big deal?"
"Hey, everyone." Fuzzy raised his voice. "Starbuck just drank from Apollo's glass!"
Chairs were pushed back all down the table and Kara found herself abruptly at the centre of a crowd of excited pilots, Lee looking at her with a cold, reproving expression that made just as little sense as the rest of the odd business until the punchline elbowed its way into her consciousness.
"Oh, frak," she said, and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. "Kronia?"
"Ends at midnight," Hotdog said, leaning over Helo's shoulder and smirking. "And here we were thinking that nobody would get caught this year."
Of course. Of all the three days out of the frakking year for her to get absent-minded in, it would have to be these ones. Kara chewed on her lower lip and thought wistfully about Tom Zarek, who she was sure would have been behind the abolishment of the traditional calendar.
"This'll be good," someone murmured to someone else, but there were too many gleeful faces for her to catch who it was.
"Come on. I'm not…" She leaned back in her chair and refused to look at Lee. "We're not…you can't be serious. It was a mistake."
"It's the rules," Fuzzy said with the sort of calm implacability that made Kara long for violence.
"Oh, please," she said, managing to laugh. "You're a bunch of godless frakkers anyway, and we're light years away from any kind of agriculture. Why should you care about some stupid fertility festival?" But it was empty; nothing more than clutching at straws, she knew it and the others knew it, because logic had little place in this kind of juvenile, voyeuristic tradition where pilots of the Colonial Fleet were concerned.
Helo rolled his eyes and thumped that godsdamned glass on the table for emphasis. "Nice try, Starbuck. You're not going to wimp out on this, are you?"
She shot him a poisoned glare and experienced a brief moment of hatred for her own persona, for Starbuck the hotshot pilot who never backed down from anything.
Lee shrugged. "We should just get it over with," he said, and the casual disdain in his voice stung a flush up her neck and into her cheeks
She gave up and nodded, throat suddenly tight. He was shifting in his chair so he was facing her, his eyes chillingly pragmatic, and she caught in a breath. A mistake, because it filled her senses with the smell of his dress blues and that reminded her of another time, a starry night and sun-dried grass and dust and her skin warming under the heat of his gaze. She wanted to run. She wanted to feel his body against hers so badly it was a physical ache.
Some of the pilots were cheering as Lee moved closer still, the sound washing and breaking around her as he braced one hand on her chair.
It was just as she remembered; he tilted his head to the right and paused, but as he leant in the final inch something changed in his expression, shimmered across the planes of his face. His kiss was soft, gentle, and one of his hands rose and rested lightly on her cheek, keeping her in place. The kiss held, suspended out of time, as easy as breathing.
His hand on her cheek tightened and he changed the angle, pressing closer and she shuddered as he forced her mouth open, and her fingers clutched at the material of his dress blues, pulling him to her as he leant into her, until there was nothing between them. Then the chair underneath her shivered with their combined weight and the precarious angle, and Lee jerked back enough to keep them upright.
His face was flushed, his eyes dark, and his thumb stroked across her cheekbone, and then he froze just as she felt the metal of his wedding ring slide across her skin.
Lee's gaze flicked slowly to the delicate black wings of her tattoo, and then he dropped his hold like she'd burnt him, turning, and his chair grated across the floor with the swiftness of the movement. There was a silence in which Kara raised her eyes to the crowd of people around them and flushed as she took in the stunned, embarrassed expressions on their faces. She looked at Lee, who was cutting up his bacon, and then down at her own plate, and sat in the horrible, suffocating silence until one of the chefs called for the line to start moving.
Finally, the buzz of conversation started up again; but it was still stilted, uncomfortable, and she wondered how long it would take to do the rounds of the ship, how long she had until the look in Sam's eyes was sharp, bitter betrayal. Again.
Lee was eating robotically and Kara reached for her glass – his glass – and then snatched her hand back. They were back to where they'd started, not talking, back to nothing, except that everything had changed. Despite everything, he was etched into her like the wing on her arm, and she couldn't get rid of either without losing part of herself.
It was bad enough knowing she loved him; worse knowing he still felt something for her, even with a wife and what she'd done to him lying between them. He'd offered her everything and she'd thrown it in his face. Now it was all she wanted, but she knew she'd already wasted her share of second chances, and the gods had shown quite clearly how far she'd fallen from their favour. The knowledge sat heavy and nauseating in her stomach.
He finished first, placed his cutlery neatly on his plate and got to his feet. She dipped her head so that she couldn't look at him and he moved behind and past her, not touching her at all.
He left his glass in front of her. She figured she deserved that.
He had been expecting complications, but of the general kind: having to endure Starbuck's drawled comments over the top of his preflight briefings, living with the stab of muted pain at the memory of their final encounter on New Caprica, and maybe – maybe, if he was honest – trying not to look at her and love her, trying to remember who he was now. A married man with a fleet of civilians to protect.
What he hadn't counted on was the distraction of her lips when he could remember what they tasted like; the way his head could be turned by her knuckles gripping a handrail just as they had once gripped his shoulders. Never before had her physicality been so difficult to separate from her personality. He would have hated her for it, for frakking him and leaving him with this frustrating set of hooks and barbs, but most of his hate had been sluiced out of his system by the scalding water that he stood under for twenty minutes – a selfish luxury, uncharacteristic – after they had finished pounding their marks into one another. No, he couldn't hate her, but he could do his very best to ignore the things that he'd never noticed so blatantly before.
Some days this almost worked, and some days it didn't work at all. Lee defended himself by allowing his radius of personal space to expand whenever she came too near. It was easier to give in to watching the way her tongue curved thoughtfully over her upper lip, and the muscles in her arms shifted as she brushed her hair out of her eyes, when the distance between them was not dangerous.
Some days he forgot. If she wasn't in his field of view then he could stop checking and doublechecking his own thoughts and concentrate on the task at hand: directing refuels, updating his flight logs (spending longer than strictly necessary in the cockpit because gods, he'd missed the feel of the controls), or writing up the neverending CAP lists, trying to minimise hostility whilst keeping things fresh enough that his pilots never got complacent.
“Why don’t you swap Racetrack and Sharon?”
He turned. Kara was slouched in one of the chairs, staring at the white board with her flight suit pushed down around her hips.
“How long have you been there?”
“Long enough,” she said, standing up. “Now step aside and let someone who knows what they're doing near the whiteboard.”
“You do realise I still outrank you, Captain?”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not better at your job.”
“I’ll make sure to pass on some paperwork.”
“Only if I get the appropriate benefits.”
“Remind me what those are again?”
“Oh, you know. The CIC shifts with our lovely XO. The respect of your pilots – “
Lee snorted with laughter. "Of some pilots, maybe," he told her, throwing the duster in her direction. She snagged it out of the air, gave him a Starbuck smirk and threw it back, and he used it to rub out Racetrack and Athena and swapped them over. "Is that what you meant?" he said, turning, but some time in the last ten seconds Kara had moved to stand behind him and the whiteboard marker in his hand left a jagged line of blue down her bare arm.
"Thanks a lot, Apollo," she said, laughing, but she was too close and his apology staggered to a halt, caught neatly by her proximity and the smell of her hair, everything he'd been trying and failing to ignore. By the time her gaze lifted from the pen mark to meet his again, Lee's body had made some firm decisions, seemingly without consulting him. Leaning in wasn't a conscious thought; neither was dropping all the pens so he could thread his fingers though her hair and tilt her head back; neither was spinning her so she was pressed against the white board and he could push a leg between hers and trap her, kiss her slow and deep. Her hair was smudging his neatly written tables. He didn’t care.
Two days later, when he ran his fingers down a faded line of blue, she shivered.
She was furious, and a matching anger was crackling off him.
"What the frak do you think you were doing out there?"
"My job, Captain."
"You call that your job?"
"I kept three pilots alive."
"You nearly died!"
"So did you."
The undeniable facts thus snapped out and exhausted, an uneasy silence fell. She wanted to say a lot more, gods, so much more, most of it obscene, but the sheer volume of her anger was causing a bottleneck. A blockage that tasted of bile and terror, jammed up on the back of her tongue.
Lee almost spoiled it all by scrubbing a hand across his face and sighing, but when his hand fell away the look he gave her was irritated and bordering on patient. Frak that.
"We nearly die, Kara," he said. "That's what we do."
"Well," and this was no good, she still couldn't talk properly, so she pounded her fist against the wall instead.
"Well? Come on. It's not like you wouldn't have done exactly the same thing.” Curse his tongue, his fluid scathing tongue. “And I wouldn't have had to try a stunt like that if you weren't cutting your turns too fine, leaving yourself open."
"I needed –" she tried, meaning it's different when it's you.
"It was too risky, Kara."
"It worked, Lee." Finally, some articulation; she fought down the worst of the fear, pulled her mouth into an unimpressed smirk and aimed her most disarming glance straight at his face. "What happened to 'we nearly die'?"
"But not today," he practically yelled at her, and pushed her back into the hallway, one hand tight on her neck and collarbone and the other curling around her back. One step, two, three and then her shoulder blades hit the cool metal of the wall and she couldn't see his expression any more in the darkness of the alcove.
"Not today," he said again, his tone gone rough.
"I can't move," she said shortly, "Lee," and she couldn’t. He had her locked in. It was almost unbearable with the acid adrenalin coursing through her, too many chemicals in too small a space, something was going to change. Maybe blow up. Her knees were starting to weaken.
"Get some frakking sense into your skull, Captain," he ground out, and she could hear the fuse in his voice. Activation energy, building and building. "You don't need to prove your insanity to me."
A lightning calculation told her that there wasn't enough time to argue this out with him before the inevitable explosion, so she rose on her toes and kissed him as hard as she could, teeth and tongues clashing with spikes of pain but that was okay because it meant she was alive and so was he. She kissed him until the pressure of his body meant she couldn't actually breathe and she had to wrench her mouth away.
"Call it even?" Lee said, his voice showing cracks, and she let her head sink down to his shoulder and let his strength hold her up.
She opened her mouth to say even but don't leave slipped out instead, by accident, and she felt Lee's breath stutter in his chest.
"Kara," he whispered and she pressed her face into the warm soft skin of his neck and held back fiercely all the other things she wanted to say, and then his arms tightened around her and the words bubbled up like they'd been pushed out of her by the pressure.
"I couldn't. I can't lose you –"
"Shut up, Kara," he said, and she gave up standing and they slid to the floor, pressed against the wall in the dark. His head came down to hers and he pressed a line of awkward kisses to her temple, the side of her face and she shook and fisted her hands into his flight suit and held on.
She'd been back on rotation for fifteen CAPs before he scheduled them on together, and he was well aware he wasn't fooling anyone. The CAG only ever flew with a squadron leader into combat, as it meant a weakness in CAP somewhere else, and Kara knew that as well as he did.
She didn't say anything, though; and when he read out the shifts, he thought he even saw a glimmer of something like a smile on her face before it was ruthlessly suppressed. That was enough to make him wait in something like nervous excitement for the next three days.
When he arrived at the hanger bay fifteen minutes early she was already there, leaning against the wall, watching the deck crew prep her bird with sharp eyes.
"Finally think you're ready to keep up with me again, Apollo?" she called, not even looking over at him.
"I finally think you're enough up to scratch that you won't be a disgrace as a CAG's wingman," he returned, the banter easy enough. She looked at him for a moment, yeah right inscribed across her features
He ignored the look that Tyrol gave him when he climbed into his Viper. Launch took too long, and all he wanted to do was get out there. He could see the same impatience in the way she was drumming her fingers against the glass canopy as they waited for their birds to be pushed back into place.
On a whim, he punched the comm channel open. "Don't try anything stupid, Starbuck."
She paused in the act of adjusting her helmet and poked her tongue very deliberately in his direction, but all that came across the comms was: "What say you push us into the tubes a little early, Chief?"
Lee was too far away to tell, but he had a feeling Tyrol was rolling his eyes.
An hour into CAP proper she was flying just ahead of him and he stopped, content just to watch her Viper manoeuvre through space. Even when she wasn't trying, she was the most graceful thing in the air. He could pick the exact moment she realised he wasn't with her anymore; a heartbeat where her Viper slowed, and then she was reversing backwards, sliding underneath him so fast he barely saw her.
She was laughing by the time she pulled out, her Viper lazily circling over his and he hadn't realised how much he'd missed hearing her sound happy. Missed flying with her, missed her, in more ways than he'd yet been able to vocalise – and then she flipped over, rolled until she was facing him and killed her thrusters so she was as still as he was.
"Enjoying the show?"
He didn't reply for a moment, and then he felt the shock of vibration as the nose of her Viper nudged his, a shudder that worked its way through metal and rubber and shivered up through his body.
"Hey," she said, her face blue and smile brilliant. "You alive in there?"
She was all he could see.
If she'd been the type to keep count, she would have been able to say that it took two days, one hour and seventeen minutes to go from admitting that she had missed Lee Adama to admitting that she was still in love with him. There were no fireworks and no ground-shattering epiphanies, just an evening when she visited the head before turning in, stood in front of the mirror and splashed water onto the still-sharp bruises on her face.
"Trying to wash yourself pretty, Starbuck?" came Lee's sleepy voice from behind her, and she ducked her head so that he couldn't see the reflection of her grin.
"Frak you, Apollo," she said, and spun around to flick a double handful of water at him. Lee tried to dodge, caught his heel on a wet tile and slid off balance, grabbing at her to stay upright.
And that's all it was: Lee's hand clenched absently around her upper arm, her own amusement and his bitten-back curse. When their eyes met she knew that they were in trouble, because somehow the months had slipped away and they were exactly where they'd always been: Starbuck and Apollo in a room full of cold hard surfaces, something frighteningly important flaring up between them.
Lee took his hand away from her arm, but he didn’t step back. She swallowed hard and reached for the words that would brush this away, but grew sick of her own cowardice before the syllables were even half-formed.
Live with it, she snapped to herself, and "What do we do now?" she said aloud, and didn't notice that she was echoing herself until the words were already out, because that was the question and it always had been. She held herself still, trying desperately to ignore that part of her that was waiting for the blow to fall; for him to betray her just as she had betrayed him.
Lee let the pause stretch on until she was sure she wouldn't be able to stand another second without screaming, and then he looked away.
"Tomorrow I'll tell Dee," he said, flat. Another echo, and her heart lurched with the finality of it. "Tomorrow."
"Are you…are you sure?" she said, because the last thing they needed now was another disaster. Not when they'd so recently started talking to one another again, let alone anything more important. All of this has happened before she thought with slight hysteria. "Maybe we should wait and just…"
Just something, anything, just not this, because this pattern ended with someone being left and she knew a lot about the reversal of roles, but Lee cut her off before she had to fill in the blank.
"I am in love with you, Kara Thrace." And he still wasn't even looking at her; it didn't sound like any declaration of love that Kara had ever encountered or expected to encounter. "If there is one thing that the past months have taught me, it's that I can't make that go away simply by wanting it to. I am so in love with you that every time I look at you I –"
He broke off, and in the second of pause she felt the pressure in her lungs give way and release the air she’d been holding in while he’d been talking. Each word had been so precise and dispassionate, the semantics suffocating her – gods, the strangest thing she’d ever felt.
Lee continued, gaze somewhere to the left of her, over her shoulder. "Waiting…leaving this any longer will just hurt Dee more, and she doesn't deserve that. She's a good woman."
Finally, finally, he looked at her, and Kara began to realise why he had been acting so detached. His voice was perfect, but his eyes gave him away: he was just as scared as she was, or more so. She’d hurt him badly, the last time around.
"Ka –" she started, and bit her lip. Those godsdamned frakking cycles. "I love you," she said instead. It was harder than the yell, lacking the momentum and slight distance of the phrasing - starker, and softer, but no less true now than it ever had been.
Lee didn't say anything, and she thought maybe it hadn't been enough. She tried to think of a way to articulate her emotions, accepting for once and for all everything she felt for him, the enormity of it, and couldn't. So she raised her hand instead and started to lean in, tried to rest her palm against his chest, but he caught her hand in his own and lowered it gently.
For a moment it felt worse than his punches, but his face had opened, changed after that quiet confession, and he hadn't released her hand yet.
"Kara," he said, and he didn't sound angry at all. "For once, let's wait until we won't be hurting anyone else to do this."
Kara had a feeling the hurting would happen either way, and when she saw Dee's face the next day she knew that she was right. Try as she might, she couldn't stop looking at the other woman, trying desperately to read her angles. Dee caught her staring and she felt guilty heat spreading across her cheeks, but after the initial moment Dee's expression became even more complex and she looked Kara straight in the eye.
"Believe it or not," she said, quietly, "I don't blame you."
"I don’t," Kara said before she could think about it. Her mouth was dry.
She swallowed. "I don't believe it?"
Something flickered in Dee's face that might have been humour had it not been so drenched in fatigue and that painful shadow. "Right."
"Don't…" and she couldn't believe that she was saying this, but she needed to snatch at the guilt before it was out of her grasp entirely, or she would never live with herself, "…don't blame yourself."
That humour again, even darker this time. "Oh," Dee said, "no. I blame Lee."
Word spread, as word did, and Kara spent the day trying to avoid flinching at the kaleidoscope of emotions that were aimed at her in the corridors. The satisfaction was just as bad as the reproof. She eventually found Lee in the ready room, sitting in the front row of seats and turning a bottle of something lethal-looking over and over in his hands.
"Planning on drinking, Major?"
"I was considering it. But…probably best not, this time," he said, and looked at her. Kara felt like squirming, felt ridiculous and exposed and like her own heart thudding away in her ears was the loudest thing she'd ever heard.
"So," she said.
"So." He kept looking at her.
She wanted to laugh, but Lee was looking so serious that she wasn't sure she could. He put the bottle on the next chair and stood up slowly and she watched him approach, her pulse tight and expectant in her veins. He slid his arms around her, bending his head and kissing her carefully and it was all wrong; the angle, the emotion, the formality of it. She felt paralysed, not knowing what to do or how to fix it; not once had kissing Lee ever been this constricting. It had been everything from impetuous to angry to sweet but it had always seemed right and she wondered, wildly, if they were incapable of this when it wasn't wrong or illegal or they weren't attached to other people.
He pulled away before too long and the dreadful awkwardness in both of their faces would have been enough to make her cut and run were it not for his hands, still resting in the small of her back like they belonged there, like that one part of them still remembered how to fit together. She didn't quite want to pull away from that.
Silence, taut, for a moment.
Then Lee's mouth twitched and she found herself laughing and laughing, giddy with relief, his hands still sure and warm and his laughter meeting her own. He leaned in until their foreheads were touching but didn’t try to kiss her again, just grinned and laughed and was her Lee Adama, the one she had missed so badly.
"We are…" she gasped out "…so bad at this."
"Moron," Lee said fondly, and slipped his arms all the way around her and held her tightly. Kara closed her eyes, rested her chin on his shoulder, and thanked the gods with every spark of faith left in her that they had seen fit to give her her best friend back.
"All right, Adama," she said, pulling back and then stepping back, missing the contact but determined to work with the distance for a while. She sat down on the floor, her back comfortably against the podium, and gave him a cocky grin. "What sorts of scandalous things happened aboard my ship while I was down on that rock?"
"Starbuck, Starbuck." He smiled and sat down too, crossing his legs. She took advantage of this and planted her own feet squarely in his lap. "You are such a gossip."
She rolled her eyes and beat her heels against his ankles, once, commanding. "Spill, Apollo."
It wasn't exactly how she'd imagined they'd spend the evening – in fact, it wasn't even close – but just sitting there rediscovering the ways in which they fit, beyond the physical, was the most fun she'd had in weeks. Lee wound out the dreary months aboard two skeleton ships into a story of pointless tiny personal things that filled miniscule holes in her, holes she hadn't even been aware of until the details slid home and brought her closer to being herself.
Some of his observations were so wicked that she found herself laughing again, and shifting the angle of her body away from the podium so that she could punch him in the arm. She had just calmed down completely when Lee leaned closer, gave her a look so serious that her breath caught, and said: "So, do you want to try that again?"
She dissolved helplessly and must have done something or said something in between the giggles that was enough of an affirmation for Lee, who lunged forward and kissed her as though she wasn't trying to laugh out of that mouth; as though they'd done it a million times.
Kara made an undignified sound as his weight threw her off balance and she fell back onto the floor, and they were still laughing a little, and it was messy and crazy and wonderful and not awkward in the slightest.