By Crystal Wimmer
1,954 words / Rated PG
The package was wrapped carefully in two layers of multiply wadded paper, both sides written on because such a commodity was beyond scarce six months following the decimation on the Colonies. Kara looked at it, turned it over, squished it a little, and finally resorted to shaking it.
It was Caprican Independence day, or would have been if Caprica had still existed. The commander had decided that all of them needed just a little something to keep them going, and with no sign of Cylon pursuit, celebration was welcome. It just so happened that by the calendar they were following, Caprica's celebration came first, and with it the traditions that had been passed from one generation to another. That was one reason Kara liked the idea so much. It was proof that they hadn't lost everything; not really.
A family holiday under normal circumstances, Kara had been beyond honored when Lee had assumed she would meet in his dad's quarters to be a part of the Adamas' celebration. She hadn't been all that surprised upon arrival to also find Colonel Tigh there. He had no family, so it made sense that William Adama would "adopt" him for the holiday, much as Lee had adopted her. It was sweet, really. A little uncomfortable, but sweet.
And the celebration had been a joy. Real food, some semblance of a cake-type product which Kara didn't really want to know about, and the traditional reciting of the Caprican history. Adama and Tigh knew it by heart, and Lee came down close, but Kara had struggled. Memorizing the equivalent of ten pages of script was daunting (granted, there weren't supposed to be any pages according to tradition, but they were a practical civilization), and having no children to pass it to made the task seem meaningless. Now, watching Lee close his eyes to recall the last few lines – one of the few oral traditions that might survive the destruction of their world – Kara made herself a promise to learn it as well. If she could memorize Viper schematics, she could learn the oral history. Okay, so she'd rather memorize parts; that wasn't the point.
The point was that at the moment, she felt a part of the family. Even with Tigh there, she felt welcome. Then again, the Colonel had mellowed considerably since the removal of anything alcoholic from the Galactica. Kara had wondered in those first days of their flight if the Commander had done it specifically because of his XO's penchant for drinking. Tigh had been "indisposed" in the sick bay, with an IV in one arm and clearly sedated. Kara only knew that because she had assisted so many of her friends down there for treatment, even while refusing it for herself. The aches and pains had seemed to come out of nowhere in the days following the battle, and the technicians had been bombarded. At the time, she had resented Tigh taking up a bed; now she realized he'd probably been sedated until he'd been through the worst of the withdrawal. He hadn't been a bad officer since. He was no Adama, but he wasn't bad. She stayed out of his way, he didn't provoke her, and they got along famously. Okay – they tolerated one another's presence without injury.
After the recitation of the history had come the gifts. You were given only one, and that from your closest relative. Tigh and Adama had exchanged items, although the boxes were never entirely opened so she had no clue what they were. The gifts were symbols, really. They were a sign that someone knew you and cared for you. The oral tradition reported that gifts had been exchanged upon the anniversary of the founding of Caprica. The first year had been difficult for the initial colonists, and survival had been no less than a miracle. So the story had been told of that first year, and gifts of the heart had been exchanged, and centuries of tradition had begun.
Now, holding a gift that was more squishy than rattling, Kara finally allowed her curiosity to get the better of her. Lee's blue eyes were dancing, and she had a feeling that there was a joke inside. She loved a good joke, and she could use a good laugh. They'd been working round the clock to allow this family time. Kara tore a tiny piece of the paper as she fought with the tape, but she did her best to preserve the paper. Finally, unfolding the wrapping, she found herself faced with a pair of socks. They weren't just any socks, but the warm woolen kind that hadn't been seen in ages. They would protect feet from aging boots, keep her warm at all hours of the day and night, and would be hand-washed rather than sent to the less-than-reliable laundry. The gift was sweet, and thoughtful, and far more personal than Lee could know. Or could he.
She looked up into blue eyes and saw a knowledge there that was reflected in his soft smile. He knew. He did know! Pleasure turned to embarrassment as she snapped her glance to the commander and Tigh, but neither were paying a great deal of attention. They had lost interest when Kara had given Lee a book that she'd kept under her pillow since the war had begun. It was an old mystery novel, but it was a book, and it was probably her most prized possession after her picture of the Adama brothers.
Stumbling an apology, she clutched her gift in her hand and amongst questioning glances she fled the room. He knew. How in hell could he know? Zak wouldn't… he wouldn't have… or would he?
"Kara?" Lee was following her. Great. Now she could cry on him.
"Not now," she called back. "Thanks for the gift. I need to go."
She shook her head, saying no more. She was certain that her voice would shake as much as her hands were. Oh Lords, he knew.
"Kara, stop!" The last command was accompanied by hands on her arms, turning her to face confused and hurt blue eyes that weren't at all familiar, and yet were. But they weren't brown, and they weren't hers, and yet they knew. "I'm sorry," Lee told her, looking her in the eye with an apology that couldn't be mistaken. "It was a joke, supposed to make you smile and remember something special. I didn't mean… I didn't think. Lords, Kara, I'm so sorry."
She shook her head, unwilling to break down in the passageway of the Galactica. One person too many already knew. She wouldn't explain it to others. And yet the socks were held tightly in her hands.
Lee gave a furtive look around, then tugged her into a maintenance closet. He flicked on the light, closed the hatch behind them, and faced her. "Talk to me," he ordered.
He was her best friend, but this… "I don't have anything to say," she told him in a shaking voice. "You know it all anyway, apparently."
Lee shook his head, his smile softening. "Not all. Enough, I guess. I just wanted to make you smile. I'm sorry if the memories are painful."
She closed her eyes. "How much do you know, and how do you know it?"
Lee sighed, obviously not wanting to answer.
"Spill it," she said, and was horrified at the break in her voice. She tightened her grip on the soft socks to steady herself.
"It's a thing with brothers," Lee finally said. "No, Zak didn't kiss and tell. Don't ever think that. But… one night, we got into a game of cards. You know how he was at cards. Anyway, loser had to tell a secret. He told that you wore socks twenty-four-seven. Wouldn't take them off, except to shower, and then you kept a pair on the edge of the sink. One time he hid them, and you wouldn't get out of the shower until he brought them back."
"I hate cold feet," she said in a sullen voice.
"He thought it was sweet," Lee said gently. "Everyone has something about them that's unique. You wear socks. Always. I've seen it here on the Galactica, too. You wear them to the showers, even knowing they'll get wet, and when you get a good pair you don't let them go back to laundry."
"Did he tell you how he kidded me about wearing them all the time, even…"
Lee laughed gently, and put his arms around her. "Yeah," he said. "And maybe that was the sweetest of all. He said that was what he gave you for CI day, and that you blushed ten shades of red. I just wanted the smile. I didn't associate it with… that. I just wanted to see you smile."
Kara gave in and lay her head on Lee's shoulder. In the dim lighting and confined quarters of the storage room, the secret didn't seem so fearsome. Yeah, she wore socks. When she and Zak had made love, they had been all she would wear. And yes, he had teased her. Constantly. Relentlessly. It shouldn't have surprised her that Lee knew; it did surprise her that he remembered.
"They're nice socks," Lee said, and his voice was a rumble in her ear. "One of the Gemon ladies knits, and she needed some favors, so we made a trade. They're hand made, and she promises they'll be warm enough to stay even these cold floors. Metal and feet don't mix. She's working on a second pair, so you can wash one and wear one. It wasn't supposed to hurt you, Kara. It was supposed to…"
"Make me smile," she finished for him. "And it did that."
"I didn't see a smile," he complained.
Reaching up on tiptoe, she kissed him gently on the cheek, and tucked her head into the crook of his neck. He might not see it, but he could feel it she was sure. "Thank you," she said softly. "I wasn't very gracious in my acceptance. The gift is wonderful, and the thought behind it was perfect."
"It didn't… I mean, I thought you might… you loved Zak…"
"And probably always will. But it brings back good memories, Lee, not the bad ones."
"Happy CI day," she said softly.
With a kiss to her forehead, he returned the sentiment. "You too."
And with his arms around her, protective and reassuring, it was a good day for Kara. She tucked the warm socks to her chest and just let him hold her, let him be the strong one for a while. Maybe sometimes she had to do this for him, but the trade-off was mostly equal. That was what friendship was about. "Lee?"
"Hmm?" He sounded drowsy, but not upset.
"Can you… I mean… I don't know the tradition," she admitted. "Do you have a copy."
"I can get one," he said. "Or I can teach it to you the right way."
"That would be nice," she told him, closing her eyes and resting herself fully against him. "I may never have kids, but if I did…"
He pulled back slightly to look at her. She missed his warmth and hold, but she knew how to get it back. Looking him in the eye – green meeting blue – she smiled. It was mischievous; it was spontaneous, and it was real. He smiled back and tightened his hold as she had known he would. Friends knew one another, and if they knew all the secrets – not just the ones she wanted to share – then maybe that was okay too.