TITLE: Romantic Notions
AUTHOR: Mnemosyne

Disclaimer: Ron Moore said I could play with them. Honest!
SUMMARY: They were only trying to protect her.
RATING: R
CHARACTERS: Kara/Lee, Kara/Anders
WARNINGS: Character death, some gore
SPOILERS: Through 2x15, "Scar"
NOTES:
This? Is my therapy.


The thing that would forever tickle her morbid sense of humor was that they'd both been trying to protect her. That was what was so frakking unbelievable. She was Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, Lady Untouchable, Mother of Holy Frakking Terror to any Cylon that so much as looked in her direction, but they still thought she needed their godsdamned protection. Yeah, all right, she'd been a bit slow off the trigger lately, hot blood tamped by too much alcohol and not enough sleep; but she could still hold her own in a firefight. Nothing like machine gun fire whizzing past your head to sober you up fast.

It took two months for her to convince Adama to greenlight the rescue operation, and another one for her to get Roslin to see reason. Every day that ticked by was another missed opportunity; another day when Anders might have gotten out of bed only to get a bullet between the eyes for his troubles. Despite Helo's assurances that she had something to live for now, she was beginning to doubt herself. It was a quaint, romantic notion, but she didn't think it was quite right. It wasn't quite her. She didn't feel like she was living to rescue Anders, but more like she was trying really, really hard not to die before she got the chance to fulfill her promise. They were two sides of the same coin, but her side was tarnished and greasy. Helo was too much of a softie to understand that. Being in love did that to a person, even if you loved a Toaster.

For some reason that she would never understand, Lee volunteered for the mission. After the way she'd treated him, that night after Jo-Jo's death... And all because of Anders...! Most mornings she'd wake up and try not to look at herself in the mirror, because there's only so much guilt a person can handle at any one time, and the thousand pound weight around her neck labeled ANDERS didn't need any help from an identical weight marked LEE. She already felt like her back was breaking; like it was already broken, and she just hadn't figured it out yet because she was running on adrenaline, ambrosia and nerve. She didn't relish the idea of waking up one morning and collapsing because it was all too frakking much. It was coming, though; day by day, it was getting closer. Sometimes, when she was eye to eye with a Raider, doing that dance of death... sometimes she could swear to the Gods she saw herself go up in a plume of flame, only to be gobbled up by the big black empty of space as if she'd never been at all, and so much for her Cylon destiny.

She found herself wondering if that was what had been going through Lee's mind during the attack on the Resurrection ship, as he drifted between the stars in his ejection seat and watched his oxygen vent off into space. Had it all just gotten to be too much for him? Obviously it had, or he wouldn't have told her he wanted to die. It still chilled her blood, remembering how blunt he'd been. "That's just it, Kara. I didn't want to make it back alive." Frak. How could someone just say that? How could he just say that to her of all people? His best friend. The one who kept his ass in one piece at Ragnar Anchorage. The one who called out his name during that absolutely pathetic night with Mr. Vice President. You don't just come out and say you want to die to the woman who's had a picture of you tacked up in her locker since the end of the world.

Everything was confusing. Her whole life was confusing. Sometimes it seemed like Helo and his Toaster girlfriend had more of a grip on life's chaotic twists and turns than she did. A piece of her demanded she love Anders. He'd cared for her on Caprica. He was a good Pyramid player, and a hell of a good time between the sheets. Kara had never believed in love at first sight, but with Anders, she was willing to give it a shot.

Then she got back to Kobol, and Lee kissed her, and "love at first sight" got shot out of the sky like so much Cylon garbage. It was a quaint, romantic notion, but it wasn't quite right. It wasn't quite her. Kara Thrace never did anything by degrees. When she fell in love, it had to be hard, and it had to hurt, and there had to be bruising and visible scars; the kind of scars that left switchblade shadows in her eyes. It would have been so easy to just admit she loved Lee. It would have been so easy to tell him, "I love you, you know," and then make some kind of joke about the gods getting a kick out of incest. After all, she was virtually his sister. Adama treated her like a daughter; Zak had loved her like his wife. It would have been wrong on so many levels, but it would have been easy. It would have worked.

But nothing good ever came from easy. It was too cute. It was too quaint. Loving Zak had been easy, and look where that got her.

So she picked at him; made deliberate jabs at his tender places; places she knew she could do the most damage. Like that little corner of Apollo's heart that had the name KARA carved into it in block letters. She never gave it the chance to heal; to scab over, fall off, scar a little then fade. She made sure it kept throbbing, weeping her name in blood. If she didn't get to be happy with Lee, then there was no way this side of Hades she was going to let him be happy without her.

Dee? Dee was cute, but Dee wasn't her. That relationship didn't stand a chance. She almost pitied the pretty Petty Officer. Almost, but not really even remotely at all.

-----------------

They found their quarry in the middle of the heaviest firefight Kara had ever seen outside of a Viper. The Resistance fighters she could spot were pinned behind a low stone wall that ringed what remained of an old playground. A line of Centurions stood on the other side of the schoolyard, methodically swiveling their gun arms and shredding off layer upon layer of stone. The wall was shrinking, getting steadily lower as each sweep of gunfire sent wanton chunks of granite flying in every direction, like nature's homemade bullets.

And there, in the center of it all, was Anders.

She recognized his shoulders first, and just like the first time, it was love at first sight. How could she have forgotten what this felt like? His shoulders were broad, leading down to a trim, triangular waist. A lot like Lee, really. His hair came next; short, dark and tight. Like Lee. He was ripping off return fire every opportunity he got, and she watched as one staccato sussuration of machine gun fire took off a Centurion's head with a mighty explosion. His aim had gotten better. He looked like he fit in this atmosphere, blowing Toasters sky high and living to tell the tale. Kind of like Lee.

A lot like Lee, actually. He was really, just a bit, so much like Lee.

And the damn fool idiot was about to get his head blown off because he wasn't ducking low enough.

"Oh no you don't," Kara snarled under her breath as she peered around the tree she was using for cover, cocking her rifle against her hip. "I did not come halfway across the frakking galaxy to watch you die, you beautiful son of a bitch." She shifted, preparing to swing out from behind the tree and draw the Centurions' fire, giving the Resistance fighters an opportunity to run for safer cover. Before she got the chance to set a foot past the protective tree line, however, she felt a strong arm wrap around her waist, dragging her back into the cover of the foliage.

"FRAK YOU!" she howled, images of Simon pouring through her head; of the blond bitch; of that squirrelly bastard Leoben... Flailing wildly, she swung her head backwards and felt her skull crack against her captor's forehead.

"DAMMIT! Kara, stop fighting me!" Lee barked in her ear.

Shoving his arm away, she spun around to face him. He was rubbing his forehead; it was already beginning to bruise. "You idiot!" she shouted, raising her voice to be heard over the continued gunfire from the playground. "I could have killed you!"

"Would this be before or after you got yourself killed!" he shouted back, dropping his hand to glare at her. "Godsdammit, Kara, you don't just go flinging yourself into the middle of a firefight! That's suicide!"

Oh Gods. Anders. He was still out there.

"This is a rescue operation!" she snapped, grabbing up her fallen rifle. "I'm not going to let those metal motherfrakkers kill him!" Turning on her heel, she sprinted for the tree line again.

Months. The thought kept swirling through her head as she burst through the tree cover and started running down the gentle, grassy slope towards the battleground. It had been months since she'd seen him. Would he even remember her? Would he call her Kara? Or would he be angry that she'd taken so long and call her Lieutenant Thrace instead? She was going to have to tell him she'd been promoted to captain. He'd never believe it.

She wondered if he still had her dog tag, or if he'd thrown it away.

She was vaguely aware of Lee screaming at her to stop, but Lee wasn't going to catch her this time. Lee never caught her in time. He always let her get away, and that was one of the things that frustrated her no end. That night in the bunkroom, when she'd pushed him away and stormed out – he should have followed her. Why the frak didn't the idiot just follow her? Didn't he realize that was what boys were supposed to do? Kara had never been a girly-girl, but even she understood the simple equation of Boy Chases Girl. If he'd just followed her, she would have let him catch her. Would have let him drag her back to the bunk. Would have let him talk; would have let him force her to talk in return. She would have told him everything: about the baby farms and the scars on her belly and Anders and how scared she was all the time and how much she hated the taste of ambrosia and how much her fingers throbbed on nights when the ship got really cold and how much she wanted him to kiss her again and this time she'd promise to go slow. If he'd just followed her, she would have ended up in his bed that night, instead of drinking herself into a stupor watching the flickering footage of Scar murdering her fellow pilots over... and over... and over again. If he'd just followed her, maybe she'd have been able to admit to herself that she really did have something to live for, and it wasn't the promise of some maybe-romance a million, zillion light years away on a dead planet contaminated by Toasters.

If he'd just followed her.

If he'd just followed her, maybe she wouldn't be running hellbent for leather into a hail of bullets right now, screaming another man's name.

"SAM!" she screamed, raising her rifle and letting off a volley of erratic shots that went unnoticed by her Centurion targets. They were more concerned with taking out the six remaining Resistance fighters behind the wall; one skinny blond woman with a rifle and a destiny could wait her turn.

"ANDERS, MOVE!" she howled, hoping he'd hear her over the cacophony of gunfire. She'd come too far for it to end this way. She wasn't going to watch him die like this; not when she'd seen him die so many times in her head over the last four months. But the stone wall was almost gone now, and she was never going to reach him in time.

"YOU HAVE TO MOVE!" Tears stung Kara's eyes and she angrily blinked them away, pausing long enough to raise her rifle and let off a directed stutter of ammunition. A thrill of exhilaration poured through her as one of the Centurions exploded under the onslaught. One down; four more to go.

Suddenly, strong arms twined around her waist like steel cables, yanking her backwards. "Frak it, Kara, get down!" Lee snarled in her ear, trying to bring her to the ground.

"NO!" Kara fought his hold, kicking and clawing, her rifle swinging wildly in her desperation. "You had your chance! I gave you your chance! LET ME GO! SAM!"

"I won't let you die because of him!"

"Let me GO! ANDERS! SAM!"

There was a gunshot. And even though it was only one among many, it was the loudest thing Kara had ever, ever heard.

-----------------------------

This was how it went, because no tragedy is complete without a victim of circumstance.

Understand, this is how it was. Kara was determined to get out of Lee's arms, and Lee was just as determined that she wasn't going anywhere. It was a familiar situation for them: Kara trying to push him away, Lee holding on and refusing to let go. They both knew this refrain, and each knew the steps they were supposed to dance. So what that this was a physical confrontation rather than emotional? They'd had their fair share of fist fights, arguments, and heated shouting matches over the years. This one was only different because of the setting, and because if Lee let Kara go this time, there was a very good chance he'd never get her back. So he tightened his grip around her waist and refused to budge.

Kara, for her own right, was furious. He had to choose now to finally stake his claim. The idiot. The gorgeous, glorious idiot. Only Apollo and Starbuck could have the defining moment of their frakked up relationship in the middle of the hairiest furball this side of the end of the world. The Centurions had begun to take notice of them, and a shower of bullets was starting to shred the greenery ahead of the pair in a steadily encroaching wave as the Toaster drones began to spread their fire upward in addition to straight ahead. Kara didn't know why she was fighting anymore; Lee wasn't going to let her go, and if they didn't get down in the next ten seconds, they were both going to be full of more holes than a badly written screenplay. But she had to fight, because Kara Thrace never gave up. She won her battles through attrition, not surrender; and dammit, he'd made her wait so long, she deserved a little payback. So she fought.

Samuel Anders had never served aboard the Galactica. He'd never had the privilege of listening to the gossip in the rec room as everyone placed bets on how long it would take before Starbuck and the CAG finally frakked each other senseless. He'd never seen the easy flirtation that passed between the pair of them like air, or seen the way they flew side by side like they were born in the sky. He'd never heard the name Lee Adama, and he certainly didn't know Apollo.

So when he heard someone screaming his name and turned around, he didn't see the culmination of a lifetime's worth of unresolved sexual tension as Kara struggled in Lee's protective embrace. What he saw was Kara being attacked by a strange man who held onto her with arms like steel cables. She'd flown back to Caprica for him, just as she'd promised all those months ago. He'd be damned if he'd let her die now, when she was so close he could almost taste her. He watched her screaming his name as she pitched and struggled in the stranger's strong arms, and didn't hesitate.

Raising his gun to his shoulder, he took a bead and fired.

He wondered what she'd do to congratulate him on his aim.

------------------------------

The first thing Kara noticed was that she didn't hear anything else. It was as if the gunshot had temporarily deafened her, and now all that made it to her foggy brain was a kind of low grade white static buzz.

The second thing she noticed was Lee's arms falling away from her waist, and then Lee's body falling away, period.

She didn't move. If she didn't move, time would stop. She was certain she'd read that somewhere before; that if she just stood still in one place for long enough, time would be put on hold. Maybe her father had told her that. It was the kind of thing he'd say in her dreams, particularly on warm nights when her mother was away and she didn't want the morning to come.

She was vaguely aware of a series of bright flashes that she realized, in some diminished capacity, were the remaining Centurions exploding. Apparently the distraction she provided had given the Resistance enough of an edge that they were able to turn the tables on their attackers.

Oh. Good.

Without the pounding rattle of machine gun fire to act as counterpoint, the white static turned to a low, maddening hum. It simmered in the back of her brain, but she refused to shake her head to clear it away. If she shook her head it would mean she had to move, and if she moved time would start again, and if time started again she was going to have to turn around.

"...Lee?" she whispered, the word sounding magnified and thick in her ringing ears. His name fell off her lips like a wheelchair tumbling down the stairs, rattling and rending itself to pieces.

Then someone was kissing her, and for one hopeful, blissful moment, she thought it was him. Only the angle was all wrong and he had too much beard and she realized too late it was Anders. "Oh Gods, you came back," the Resistance fighter breathed against her mouth, twining his arms around her body and squeezing her as if his life depended on it. It was suffocating. "I thought you'd gone and died on me." He smiled against the crook of her neck, kissing just below her ear.

Kara barely felt his lips. She only felt numb. "What... did you do?" she murmured, staring straight ahead. She wouldn't look over her shoulder. She was going to pretend she hadn't felt a warm spray of something sticky against the side of her face before Lee fell away from her.

"Took out four Centurions, that's what," he said, pulling back and grinning at her. Oh Gods, he looked like Lee. Why hadn't she ever noticed it before? Same cheekbones, same shape of the eyes. But not the same eyes themselves. No one had Lee's eyes; they were unique in the universe. "Well okay, I had some help from the others. But it's all thanks to you." He kissed her again and hugged her tightly. "Gods I missed you..."

"What... did you do?" Kara insisted, her voice growing stronger. Her muscles had gone rigid and she found it was agony to move them as she pushed at his chest, trying to shove him away. "What did you DO!"

"Kara?" Sam pulled away, staring at her in confusion. "What? What's wrong?"

"WHAT DID YOU DO!" she howled, pounding against his chest. Now that she was moving she found she didn't want to stop. The blood was surging in her veins, burning her throat and squeezing her lungs. "WHAT DID YOU DO, YOU SON OF A BITCH! MOTHERFRAKKER, WHAT DID YOU DO!"

"Kara, calm down!" Anders exclaimed, trying to still her flailing limbs. "Baby, what-"

With a strangled cry of frustration and rage, she turned her back on him, crossing her arms protectively over her stomach.

And froze.

Oh Gods. She'd turned around.

------------------

It would have been so easy to imagine Lee was sleeping, if not for the hole in the center of his forehead and the pool of blood that was steadily spreading out beneath him like a red water table. There was no tension in his face and a content smile graced his lips. If there was any comfort to be gleaned from that, it was that at least he'd died happy. For Kara, it just made things worse; she knew why he'd been smiling.

Oh Gods. Lee was dead.

It was the first time she'd put the words together in her head. Lee is dead. The thought was so foreign that for a moment, her brain refused to register the idea. Lee couldn't be dead. Lee couldn't die. Hadn't he already proven that a hundred times over? He'd survived the Cylon attack on Colonial One at the start of the war; he'd survived Ragnar Anchorage; he'd survived a prison coup on the Astral Queen and an assassination plot on Kobol. He'd survived his own idiot notions of suicide during the attack on the Resurrection ship. Hell, he'd survived her for years, and that was no mean feat. Lee was a born survivor, just like her. With a call sign like Apollo you were expected to be invincible, and Lee would never allow a simple thing like basic human mortality to keep him from surpassing expectations.

He was so still. Why was it she'd never realized how motionless death was? Or perhaps it was just that she was so used to watching him move. Crisp, precise motions; economic. Lee didn't believe in ostentatious displays.

She dropped to her knees beside him. His eyes were open and staring, turned green by the acid yellow Caprican light. That was wrong; Lee's eyes were blue. Bright, piercing blue that changed with his mood. Her hand itched to reach over and close that horribly glassy gaze, but she didn't want to remember him having green eyes. As it was, she'd never be able to think about him again without automatically picturing a round red hole in the center of his forehead, dribbling blood down past his eye and over the bridge of his nose. Memories from their days at the Academy flew unbidden past her eyes, and in each and every one of them, his face got bloodier and bloodier.

She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered.

"Lee," she whispered, slowly curling forward until her forehead came to rest on his stomach. He was still warm, and she gasped for air. "Oh Gods, Lee. Lee, Lee, I'm so sorry, please...! Please don't do this! Please!"

Fisting her hands in his camo jacket, she dragged herself up his body and pressed her face into his throat as the sobs broke free. After a few seconds she realized she was screaming. A hand touched her shoulder and she smacked it away.

"I... I thought he was a cylon," Anders stammered, and she could hear the guilt in his voice. Well frak him. Guilty? He felt guilty? Son of a bitch, she'd show him guilty!

"LOOK WHAT YOU DID!" she howled, sitting up and staring over her shoulder with streaming eyes. "Look what you did to him! You ANIMAL! You MURDERER!"

"Kara?" Helo. "Kara, what the frak, I could hear you screaming all the way back to the Raider!"

She didn't say anything. She didn't even look at her friend as he jogged up behind them. She kept her flashing eyes pinned to Ander's guilt-ridden face, and seethed.

"What's going-" Helo started to demand, then stopped cold. "Oh Gods..."

"He's dead, Helo," Kara said. The screaming had stopped now, and everything was cold. Her blood was cold; her voice was cold. Each syllable was an ice cube deliberately dropped down Anders' spine. "Lee's dead."

"H...How?"

"Are you blind, Helo? Someone shot him. In the head." She felt a surge of violent satisfaction when Anders winced.

"I swear to you," he rasped, voice husky with shock. "Lords of Kobol, Kara, I thought he was a cylon."

She smiled, gazing up at him through her lashes. Anyone who knew her -- really knew her – would have turned on their heel in an instant and started to run. When Sam didn't so much as blink, Kara knew without a doubt that he didn't know the first frakking thing about her.

No regrets then. This was going to be easy.

"Sam?" Her voice was sugary sweet. "Are you listening to me?"

He nodded, looking shell-shocked.

"Good. Because there's something you have to understand. I spent months thinking about you. I couldn't get you out of my head. You turned me into a drunk and a lousy pilot, and I still couldn't shake you. Every night I watched you die in my head, and it was driving me insane.

"So I spent more months convincing my higher-ups that you were worth saving. That it was worth the time and effort to come back to Caprica and rescue you and the others. And they let me come for you, Sam. They let me take a couple of heavy raiders and a skeleton crew and they sent me back here to pick up you and as many of your cohorts as we can squeeze into those tin cans and fly home."

Her hand tightened in the fabric of Lee's camo jacket, and she swallowed the hot lump of tears that threatened to choke her.

"Do you understand all that?" she continued, eyes burning as she fought the urge to blink. If she blinked she was going to start crying again. "I poured every ounce of my strength into coming back here and bringing you back to the Fleet alive. I couldn't stand the thought that I'd left you here to die, after promising to rescue you. I couldn't do it. I still can't. When I make a promise, I stick to that promise. Understand?" Nothing. "I said do you understand?"

This time, a faint nod.

"Good. Because I want you to listen, and I want you to listen closely."

It took a concerted effort to force her knees to support her as she slowly pushed herself into a standing position. Advancing slowly, she never broke contact with his eyes as she spoke. "I'm going to make you another promise, Sam. Can you guess what it is?"

"Kara-" he murmured, broken beyond repair, and she didn't care.

"Shut up." There was no emotion in her voice. She couldn't remember how she was supposed to feel. Was she supposed to be angry, or sad? Or was she supposed to feel betrayed? Elated? Just what the hell was supposed to fill up that cold, aching hole in her stomach?

She came to a stop directly in front of him and stared up into his blue eyes. Blue. How dare he have blue eyes, when Lee's had been reduced to green.

"Samuel Anders," she murmured, her breath washing over his chin. "If I ever see you again, I'll kill you. If I hear your voice; if I breathe your air; if you come near me; if you think about me; if I think about you. If any of those things ever happen, I will personally put a bullet between your eyes." She reached up and jabbed her thumb against his forehead, knocking him backward a step. She advanced, keeping the distance between them tight. "Do you understand me? I will kill you where you stand, you asshole motherfrakker, and it's better than you deserve."

"Kara-"

"You're not listening, are you?" Clucking her tongue, she reached forward and closed her hand around the dog tag that hung from his neck. Tearing it away, feeling the chain snap, she used the opportunity to calmly draw her sidearm and press it to his forehead.

She smiled.

"I'm taking you back to the Fleet like I promised," she murmured, and dreamily cocked the gun, accentuating each sentence by tapping the muzzle against his forehead. "And then I'm going to tell them you killed Apollo. And then I'm going to turn you over to the Old Man. And then I'm going to laugh, because of all the wonderful things I could do to torture you, it's nothing compared to what he'll do when he finds out you killed his last living son."

She traced the gun down Anders' cheek, leaving a long red welt in its wake.

"We leave in ten minutes," she hissed, rapping her gun barrel sharply against his jaw. "I suggest you find somewhere else to be until then. And don't even think of not showing up. I found you once, and by the Lords of Kobol, I'll find you again."

Anders stared at her. He looked like he wanted to say something; probably another weak ass apology, as if words meant a damn thing anymore.

"Anders?" This time it was Helo who broke the silence.

The Resistance fighter looked past Kara's shoulder at the Raptor pilot. "Helo?" His voice was a plea.

"Sam," Karl acknowledged, voice stony. Then. "This is the part where you run away."

Anders swallowed, and took a step backward. "I thought he was going to kill you," he murmured, gazing into Kara's eyes.

Tears blurred Kara's vision as she leveled the gun at his face, hand shaking. "I don't care," she whispered, and she didn't. "I hate you." And she did.

Anders spared her one more longing look, then turned on his heel and bolted away. The other Resistance fighters had gathered around the Centurion remains near the playground, watching the scene from a distance, too shocked to come to their leader's defense. As he charged past them, they parted to let him go.

------------------

Helo helped her carry Apollo's body back to the Raider. Kara demanded to carry his shoulders, so his blood could drip on her shoes and coat the palms of her hands. When she curled up in a corner instead of taking the pilot's seat, Lee's body cradled in her lap, Karl didn't say a word. He calmly set about doing the pre-flight checklist and waited for the refugees to arrive.

Lee's eyes were still open, but at least in here, out of the light, they were blue again. Kara tenderly smoothed his hair, oblivious to the fact that the back of his head was gone. His blood was sticky and lukewarm; his skin was cool to the touch. His eyes were blue, but now so were his lips, and the hollows of his cheeks.

"Another Adama under my belt," she murmured, giving him a watery smile as she rubbed at a bloodstain on his cheek with her thumb. "That's two I've managed to kill. Aren't you proud of me? I'm being productive."

Blinking, she felt a wash of tears sluice through the grime and gore that coated her cheeks. Bending forward, she pressed her trembling lips to his temple, then rested her chin on the top of his head, rocking him gently.

"Don't worry, Lee," she whispered into his blood-soaked hair. "I won't let anything happen to Adama." She kissed the crown of his head "I promise, I'll go next. Okay? Don't get too comfortable over there in Elysia. You're going to have to drag my ass out of Tartarus. I'll be the one pushing the rock next to Sisyphus."

He'd do it, too. He'd fight through the literals of hell and high water to bring her out of fireand into the light. He'd been doing it for years already; why should something like death make a difference? She'd always be the screw-up and he'd always be her hero.

It was a quaint, romantic notion, but it didn't really feel right. It didn't feel like her. With her track record with Adama men, she'd end up damning him right along with her.

And the beautiful fool would do it anyway.

"Hopeless romantic," she whispered, and tenderly closed his eyes.

THE END

AUTHOR'S END NOTE: I know I'm horribly cruel to Anders in this story, but honestly... I don't care.