Special thanks to peri_peteia, whose nocturnal nature means she has endured my babbling at her over AIM and sending her snippets for ruthless canon inspection. Thanks also to dopplegl, who is generally on hand to encourage things like wallkissing, and schiarire, who has thankfully little patience for my pointless stylistic gymnastics and can generally talk me down from my insecure frenzies. All remaining elaborate metaphors are entirely my own fault, because I get ridiculously attached to the stupid things.
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Rating: PG-13 for references to violence. I toyed with the idea of trying for smut but it didn't fit the style and...and...I can't write smut. The end.
Word count: 4721
Comments: Because my love for hot pilots keeps demanding expression in fic. Because Kara's POV is a bitch to get a handle on, but great fun once you get into the swing of it. Because they damn well need to talk about their issues. And because I can't seem to write Starbuck/Apollo without a fight wherein something is stuffed down clothing.
Don't ask me whenabouts in canon this is set; I have been assured by those who have seen S2 that there is a time during which Starbuck, Apollo and Helo are all aboard the Galactica, and that's as far as my pandering to canonical timelines goes.
Featuring a bucketload of punching, a generous measure of emotional crap, a handful of dreams and a few more of inedible food, and equal sprinklings of silliness and schmoop. Also includes a cameo by Helo's Innuendo-Ridden Lollipop.
The day they run out of flags is the same day that Kara Thrace and Lee Adama start a food fight in the Galactica mess hall.
There’s a connection, but it’s tenuous at best.
In her dreams they’re all Cylons, one by one by one.
“To Earth,” she says, and Adama lifts his glass in a sombre salute.
“Scheduling’s a bit tight at the moment, sir, but nothing we can’t handle.”
“You’ve done well to get this far, Starbuck. I’m proud of you.”
His arms go around her and she holds on tight, pressed against the strength of his shoulder and the comforting starched smell of his uniform.
She pulls back a little and is about to smile when she hears the click, feels the cold metal pressed against her ear.
“What do you hear, Starbuck?”
Kara stands in the queue for something that she’s trying not to look too closely at as it passes under her nose on other people’s trays. Lumps of something in a sauce of something else, with a green tinge that she’s praying is due to vegetables of some description, but at least it’s a hot meal. And at least a masochistic musing on the likely contents of her lunch is enough to draw her mind away from the look on the Old Man’s face at the funeral that morning.
She closes her eyes and wonders when it was that mourning the dead and speaking the words became just as automatic as checking her helmet collar before takeoff and landing by the numbers.
It’s doubtful she was supposed to overhear Gaeta’s whispered comment as he slid into place at the ceremony, his mouth bent respectfully in Adama’s direction – that’s all we’ve got, sir. We’re going to have to put out a request for more flags, when there’s need.
When. Not if. Nothing is hypothetical any more.
She thinks it’s the final nail in the coffin, and isn’t it convenient that the handiest metaphor is so suitably morbid, if ridiculously archaic. As though the Galactica herself is finally admitting that too many people have died; that at the end of it all there is a limit to catastrophe; that the wire they are walking on is both flimsy and finite.
But that’s wire for you. Human heartstrings are made of stronger stuff.
Life goes on.
Or doesn’t, as the case may be for those whose bodies are covered with metal and cloth, mercifully anonymous within their patterns of red, yellow, two shades of blue. Kara knows that you’re not meant to hate the sight of your own flag, but whatever swells in her chest at the sight of the insignia of the Twelve Colonies…it isn’t pride or patriotism any more. It’s too bitter for that. Negative associations rising up like bile behind her perfectly grave features.
She starts and takes the plate automatically, making a brief face at the greenish muck. “Thanks.”
“It’s going to get better, sir.” The woman serving has a thin, tired face, but she musters a smile that’s bright enough. “Word came through this morning. The mechanics on the Evergreen fixed their industrial hydroponics facilities last month, and the first crops are ready for distribution.”
“Frak,” Kara breathes, “real vegetables? Fruit?”
“We’re just using up the last of the vitaminised substitutes now, sir,” the woman affirms with another smile.
All of a sudden that green just could be the greatest colour Kara’s ever seen; it’s not blue and it’s not red and it’s not yellow and hell, green has always been a sign of better things to come, even if said better things are just vegetables that haven’t been processed and frozen to within an inch of their lives. She forces this to the forefront of her mind as she moves between tables towards where Lee sits, determined to drive out the funeral’s images.
Lee looks up and waves a fork at her as she approaches. “Hey.”
“Heard the latest?” Her tray clatters down next to his. “New hydroponics. Fresh fruit and vegetables, starting tomorrow.”
Lee’s fork freezes in midair and he looks down at his plate. “You don’t say.”
“Mmmhm.” She stirs her own food consideringly. “No need to pretend to appreciate this muck any more.”
“Well.” Lee pushes his tray away in a firm motion. “I think I’ll hold off for a while.”
Kara’s hungry, but the point is a tempting one. She lifts her fork and inspects the contents. “Apollo?”
“Yeah?” But he knows her too well, and is pushing back his chair as soon as he catches the look on her face. “Don’t you dare, Kara –”
He’s not fast enough. She giggles with triumph as the forkful of mess hits his shoulder, and watches gleefully as shocked propriety and amused vengeance fight for control of his face.
“What’s the matter, Apollo, not man enough to take me in a real fight?” She loads up her fork again and grins, eyes purposefully wide and mouth purposefully soft. Distraction.
He doesn’t reply, but under her eyes the Galactica’s CAG melts into the carefree guy she knew in flight school and the transition makes her breath stick in her mouth and catch itself on the inside of her smile. It’s a silent miniscule thing of a pause, and only Lee Adama would know her well enough to use it as an opening. Kara gets a whole bowl full of limp carrot in the face before she can quite tear her gaze away from the unexpected mischievous curves of his face.
Matters degenerate rapidly after that.
Kara finds it amusing, in retrospect, that she’s the one whose shoulders droop a little more with each repetition of the words totally irresponsible and bad example and it’s Lee whose mouth is twitching helplessly above his food-stained tanks.
Tigh looks angry, but there’s a smug edge to his scowl that says his worst fears about their personalities have just been confirmed. Kara thinks virtuous thoughts and stares at the wall and manages not to kick him. Adama wears his usual non-expression but somehow it has severe paternal overtones of not angry, just disappointed, and that cuts away at her until she almost feels repentant.
Almost. Lee is biting his lip and her heart is soaring for the first time in weeks and there’s a whole mess hall full of people who will be smiling for days at their memory of Galactica’s CAG and brilliant maverick pilot screeching like children and shoving handfuls of soggy imitation vegetables down each other’s clothes.
They’re ordered to spend a hefty portion of their off-duty time in the brig for the next month, but Lords of Kobol, was it ever worth it.
“Your call, Apollo,” Dee says.
Helo shifts the lollipop to the other side of his mouth and extends a finger through the bars of the brig to poke Lee in the arm. “Better be nice, Apollo, we’re giving up our breaks to hang out in the brig and play cards with you two miscreants.”
“And if we cheat you’ll what, hit us?” Kara raps her knuckles against the bars and smiles.
“Dee, surely we can find something long and pointy?”
Lee coughs and tosses some cubits onto the pile. “I see your twenty and raise you…another twenty.”
Kara laughs, running her tongue over her lip, blowing smoke in his direction. “Someone’s confident.”
“Bet your ass, Starbuck.”
“Apollo,” she murmurs, smirking outrageously. “I’m flattered. Anyone else up for that bet?”
“Stakes are too petty for my liking,” Helo says, shooting her a challenging look over the top of his cards.
“Oh, Helo, you wouldn’t know what to do with my ass even if you did win it. Or Apollo’s, for that matter.”
Helo removes his lollipop with pointed delicacy. “Is that a bet?”
Dee snorts into the back of her hand.
One thing that they quickly discover about the brig – well, Lee quickly discovers, Kara’s known this from prolonged experience for a good while now – is that it’s actually one of the more peaceful corners of the ship. Lee starts bringing his paperwork along and spreading it out over the floor.
“Fourth CAP.” He leans forward, rubbing at his eyes with the hand not clutching a schedule that bears evidence of multiple revisions. “Hotdog and Greenback, you and Stinger –”
“No,” Kara says. She's lying on the brig’s narrow bed, throwing and catching a pyramid ball that she nagged the guard to bring her. “Switch Hotdog with Hyper, if you’re looking for a wingman for Greenback.”
Lee frowns. “I thought they got along fine.”
“Argument in the ready room two days ago.” Kara looks over and smirks. “I was sitting behind them. You were too busy being all-important up the front of the room.”
He sighs and makes the adjustment. “I wish my pilots would talk to me about these things.”
“That’s why you’re so damn lucky to have me around, Captain.” She throws the ball again. “Besides, they think it makes them look bad if they bring it up. Dissention in the ranks.”
“Talk to them for me.” He writes a few more neat names on the paper. “We’ll pretend I haven’t heard about the dissention, for the sake of their egos, but tell them to sort out their issues before they get themselves killed. Knock their heads together a bit. Metaphorically,” he adds with a nervous swiftness that makes her grin.
“You’re getting political on me, Apollo.”
“Comes with the job.”
The CAG is everywhere, in every shadow of his face, so Kara tears up a blank transfer approval form and throws tiny balls of paper at him until Lee Adama leaps up and holds her down on the bed and tickles her until she screams.
Somehow it gets so that they don’t really find the time to talk between their imprisonments; when you’re not off duty you’re on duty, and their communication is in the reproving arch of Lee’s eyebrows when she’s not paying attention during briefings, the mocking spin of a Viper, the occasional clap on the shoulder as they run to suit up.
“I’m dying,” Roslin says.
“I know,” Kara says.
“No, you don’t.” They’re on Colonial One. The President sits down and removes her glasses, slowly. “When I die my consciousness will be transferred to an identical body –”
Kara runs through the fleet and between the stars telling everyone that they must keep the President alive, that the President must not die.
Well, that’s only logical, everyone says.
When they arrive at their destination it’s not Earth after all; they’re back on Caprica, and they’re being greeted by a hundred thousand Roslins all smiling and spreading their hands in welcome.
She can tell things are going to go badly when their longest afternoon off yet coincides with Zak’s birthday. For the first time the bars seem stifling, confining; if something starts, they’ve got nowhere to run. They stand a cautious distance apart, saying little and avoiding each other’s gazes.
Which turns out to be a mistake, because Kara’s nerves are being controlled by the thinnest of margins and when she imagines that she sees an accusation in the line of Lee’s mouth she’s suddenly yelling at him, laying her palms flat on the wall and letting the ugliness overflow. Once she starts she can’t stop, and part of her is terrified.
“You don’t get over the dead, Lee, did you know that? You get over people who dump you, people you choose to leave behind, but you can’t get over the dead. You can just try to adjust to their being gone. And learn to love others as well, if you’re lucky. But you don’t stop loving them.”
The words are clumsy and inadequate, but her skills are in her hands and not in her mouth; her mouth which cannot find a way to capture the freeze-frame despair of a heart stilled awkwardly, mid-beat, and a soul living on around it. The knifing pain of blood pushing past a broken muscle. She wills him to understand anyway, and maybe he does. Zak was my brother, Kara.
“What are you trying to say?” Lee’s face is hard, shocked into marble and steel.
She closes her eyes, fighting for calm or distraction, but there’s nothing filling her ears except for the dull buzz of the engines and her own breathing and the scrape of the guard’s chair on the floor and she cannot hear the rain. This isn’t the kind of conflict she’s been trained to handle. No throttle and no trigger. And yet they’re caught in this hideous acceleration and crossfire, despite the fact that Kara is pulling back on the metaphorical brake just as hard as she can.
“Lieutenant?” And Lee is obviously holding himself back as well, because rank is a metal wall between them when they let it become so.
“Even if it’s that love that killed them in the first place,” spills out of her before she can think, continuing her tirade as though he’d never spoken. Brake malfunction, she thinks with a certain wild amusement. Now we’re really frakked.
Lee’s voice softens. “That really isn’t the point here.”
“Yes! Yes, Lee, it frakking well is.” It takes all she has to keep her mouth set and hard, her shoulders firm, her knees locked and holding her in this illusion of control. “I loved Zak too much, and he died.”
“Kara.” He makes as if to grab her by the shoulders but she steps back. Contact will kill her, snap the muscle in two. “It wasn’t your fault –”
“Bullshit. There’s no getting around this one.” Something that could be a laugh bubbles and subsides behind her lips. She forces herself to look at his face. “Tell me that if I hadn’t loved your brother he would still be dead.”
He can’t do it. She keeps her eyes on his and behind the clean tense blue of them she watches all the meaningless, comforting arguments swirl to the surface and die unsaid. Some part of her crumbles a little further, because it’s been two years and the gods haven’t granted her redemption yet and maybe she was holding onto some stupid belief that even though her bronze icons of the gods can’t erase the guilt, this model of Apollo carved out in flesh and blood might succeed where the others have failed.
But the angry pain in his face sweeps that hope away as well.
“It was a mistake. They happen. And I seem to remember someone saying something about putting them behind us and moving on.” That hurts more than she’ll admit, her own words thrown back in her face as though she’s not even worth his.
“You haven’t forgiven me yet, have you?” she says, her voice too harsh.
“Not everyone can be perfect all the time, Kara,” he says, but he doesn’t say of course I have and she sees how much it costs him to tell the truth. As sick as this is making her feel, she thinks it would have been worse if he’d kept on pretending.
“Not everyone becomes a murderer.” It takes a moment for her to register the slow paling of his face and the ripple of muscle along his jaw, but then she remembers the Olympic Carrier and feels like punching herself. A handful of months and already there are too many scars to keep track of.
“I suppose not.” His voice is low, dull.
Frak. “Look, can we just –”
“Just what, Kara? Forget it all? I’m sure that would be very handy for the both of us, yes.”
“This is what happens when you start frakking overthinking everything, Lee,” she snaps, angry beyond words in that instant, because everything was so much easier to manage when they ignored the fact that they’ve never actually talked about Zak since her confession on the day of the attack. When they both pretended to have adjusted to everything and pretended to believe each other’s facades.
“You’re the one who started this, needing me to bear witness to your annual plunge into self-loathing –”
She’s really not sure what he would have said after that; she doubts he is either, because there’s a rhythm to this game and she plays along beautifully. Nowhere to run. Her arm flies out in a solid blow that he has little chance of avoiding completely but enough wits and anticipation to block.
And after that it’s just a matter of following familiar steps, his foot darting out and her fingers quick and sharp at his shoulders, but there’s a dangerous edge to Lee’s tight frown that she doesn’t think quite fits the music and it makes her sloppy. Makes it easier for him to slip over and under her guard, so before she knows it her shoulder slams against the wall of the brig and she gasps with the unexpected pain of the contact, trying to twist around and pull him off balance, twisting her hands in his tanks and tugging. But the leverage is wrong, and her shoulder is already aching with the dull heat that means she’ll have a motherfrakker of a bruise, come tomorrow. So when she hisses through her teeth and pulls, Lee just takes a heavy step closer to serve as counterbalance and lets one forearm fall onto the wall, taking his weight, and before she can stop to reconsider any part of this situation she leans up the bare two inches and kisses him hard enough to hurt.
For a moment that is all they are; two pairs of lips crushed together and biting-pressing-hungry, the music of the dance emphatic and discordant, the space between their bodies compressed down like water to the point of buckling and imminent explosion.
And then (boom) Lee’s breath releases in a long audible rush, hot and moist across her mouth, and he straightens his arm enough that they’re standing apart, just breathing hard. Her eyes are wide but she can’t quite bring herself to look away for the space of exactly seven heartbeats.
“Frak, Lee,” she says then, her tone disgusted, her tongue running over her upper lip. “Now look at what you’ve done.”
“I’ve got an idea for a new training exercise.”
They’re in the brig, which is normal, and the bed is somehow wide and soft and comfortable and they’re lying side by side. This, too, seems perfectly normal.
He traces formation plans on her bare stomach with his fingertips. “We’ll fly out in front and draw the others away from Galactica, then you’ll open fire on the left group and I’ll take out this one here, Kat through Ice Cap –”
“Lee, what –”
His fingers move up and along the curve of her jaw and he looks down at her, earnest and strong and determined and utterly simply Lee.
“You’ll help me, Kara, won’t you?”
They’ve been acting frightfully, determinedly normal for almost a week now. Kara feels like scratching off her skin, but she’s playing along because apparently the last thing the Galactica needs is a CAG with issues that he’s actually acknowledging. Not that anyone else is doing a better job with their own issues. She supposes it’s a frakking military tradition.
“Done. For once. Triad?”
He sighs and lifts his eyes to hers, breathtaking in their sudden bemusement. “Fight?”
She’s on her feet and flexing her hands in a bare instant, beaming at him. “Lee Adama, I thought you’d never ask.”
This time Lee has her pressed against the bars with her tanks half off before the guard outside coughs and they hear Tigh’s footsteps coming along the corridor.
So Kara has a stunning bruise across her cheekbone in shades of violet and ambrosia, and she smiles and hums little tuneless things as she pounds a dent out of her Viper. So it takes a while for the furtive conversation being carried on behind her back to crystallise into audibility.
“…off steam again.”
“Isn’t there a gym for that kind of thing?”
“The gym doesn’t have a bed.”
Kara whirls around, bent on destruction or at least severe humiliation, but ironically enough Kat has the razor reflexes of the well-trained pilot; she’s already grabbed Cally’s elbow and they’re scurrying in the other direction.
“You know,” Helo says, “I’m waiting for the XO to remind you that there’s a rule against fighting on board ship.”
It’s Lee who laughs first. “We’re already in the brig. Unless they decide to throw us out an airlock, there’s not much that can be done.”
Kara finds this illogically hilarious, giggling into her hands until Lee pinches the inside of her arm so hard she gasps.
During their last stay in the brig they discuss whether or not their fights count as dissention in the ranks if they’re not really disagreeing on anything.
On that, ironically and nonsensically, they do disagree, though this is mostly because they haven’t got anything else safe to talk about. Lee says yes and Kara says no and she only wins the lazy semantic argument when she brushes her tongue across his ear and pulls his wrist up behind his back with the exquisite, ruthless timing that makes her so damn good at what she does.
Lee cries mercy, but fights dirty as soon as she releases his arm. She taught him that one, once upon a time.
The guard has long since learned to look the other way.
When she’s next summoned to the CO’s quarters, Adama gives her tea – real tea, with leaves and everything, Lords only know where he got that from – and looks at her with the same steely eyes that Lee was wearing on Zak’s frakking birthday when everything started to crack. She meets them without flinching and realises that this is what Lee could become, what he is already heading for; his mother’s face and his father’s cold resolve, the humour in his mouth pushed down and away until it can be seen only on the rarest of occasions.
It won’t happen. She won’t let it happen, not even if she has to force every smile out of him herself.
“Lieutenant Thrace,” Adama says, in the slow calm tone that means he’s already planning his next three moves in this conversation and she’ll never be able to catch up, “are you sleeping with my son?”
She lifts her chin, looks the Commander of the Colonial Fleet in the eye, and lies.
“You know that Fleet regulations forbid any kind of relationship between active members, especially during times of war, in the interests of maintaining vital objectivity?”
“Yes, sir.” She holds her breath, trying to work out the best way to fight for something that doesn’t even exist. Yet. She’s never been good at reasoned argument, and screaming and jabbing her fingers in his face isn’t exactly going to work on the Old Man.
Adama blinks abruptly and his face is a stone wall. Giving her nothing.
“It hasn’t been objective for a long time, has it?”
And it’s the truth. Regulations are all very well, but when you get right down to it: objectivity isn’t subject to whether or not two people are frakking. Hearts will betray you more effectively than anything else.
There’s a long pause, and Adama looks into the bottom of his cup as though there’s a map to Earth hidden in the tea leaves.
“I think I’m getting deaf in my old age, Starbuck.”
“Sir?” But she can feel where this is going, and her eyes widen.
“I don’t think I heard anything that might have been said in the last few minutes. And I know better than to put any stock in whatever garbage the rumour mill’s churning out these days.”
“Understood, sir.” Fighting to keep the grin off her face is excruciating.
She runs for it, only letting the laughter out in huge gasps of relief once she’s sure he won’t be able to hear her.
They’re flying, just flying, routine CAP, and her bird is handling like a dream and when she looks to the side she can see Lee’s frown of concentration through his helmet.
“Hey, Apollo.” She shoots ahead, breaking formation, and flips her Viper around so that she’s flying reverse in front of him.
“What’re you up to, Starbuck?”
She doesn’t know.
“Starbuck, Apollo. Do you read me?”
Her hands are skimming the controls and she looks down at them, frightened.
She opens her mouth to say Lee, I’m sorry, but no sound can come out before her thumb presses down on the trigger.
When Lee finds her she’s sitting on the edge of her rack, breathing, thinking, the brief euphoria mellowed out into a pensiveness she doesn’t indulge in too often. He stops a few feet inside the hatch and leans against the nearest wall, close enough to touch, not saying a word.
She doesn’t really want to look at him but she does it anyway, and sees the same grudging knowledge that she’s just worked out for herself: if they don’t determine where they stand, they’ll end up drifting. Kara Thrace has just obliquely won the right to love Lee Adama, and she intends to keep her feet firmly planted so that this doesn’t get snatched away from her like everything else. To use it as an anchor, not an extra pair of wings. It’s the only way to be sure.
It’s not the only way to be safe, but she’s pretty sure that safe is a state of being that ceased to exist a very long time ago.
In the end they speak almost in unison, words tumbling out like carelessly rolled dice.
“Just because I didn’t stop loving him, it doesn’t mean I don’t –”
“Just because I haven’t quite forgiven you, it doesn’t mean I don’t –”
Kara wonders if she’s expected to say something profound or romantic or smart.
“Oh,” she says, instead.
“Yes,” Lee says.
They stare at each other and she can feel her heart jumping inside her ribcage.
“I told your father we’re sleeping together,” she says, after a while. Conversationally.
Lee’s face goes from wary affection to twisted shock in about the time it takes to flip a Viper. It’s fantastic.
She shrugs, shifting the position of her head where it rests against the upper rack. “It was a conversation that was going to happen sooner or later, Lee. And I’d rather it happened with just me and the Old Man, because otherwise the two of you would start being all official and Adama-like and you’d get your solemn CAG face and he’d start quoting the rulebook –”
He throws a half-hearted punch but she dodges easily, and just like that the tension is gone.
“And the fact that we aren’t sleeping together, this didn’t seem important?”
“It’s only a matter of time, Lee.”
He laughs, his face unfolding into the true smile she sees so seldom these days. “Is that so?”
“You know it.” She grins, standing up and sticking her face into his personal space so that she can leer pointedly.
“That’s Starbuck. Always has to be right.” Lee’s hand lifts to trace the faint bruises that ring her neck. His fingers press into the hollows of her skin, gently, the soft throb of pain delicious but not enough. So she holds onto his shoulders and kisses him with an open mouth until his fingernails dig and scrape across her collarbone and his other arm pulls her against him, hard.
When she throws a punch of her own, he doesn’t dodge at all.
Later she finds the laughter hidden around his lips and teases it out insistently with her fingertips.
Later she forgets to be smart and he forgets to be perfect and they both forget, for a moment, how to breathe.
Later Lee whispers her name into her hair and Kara thinks that this is it, this is the answer; this is why humanity is worth saving; this is what it means to hear nothing but the rain.