Kara Thrace didn't need Lee Adama any more.
She had seen to that. She'd built a new life for herself, down on this planet with Sam.
It hadn't been an easy thing to do. She'd had to give up flying her Viper, and that had hurt more than she could ever express. But it had to be done. She'd needed to escape from that life, from Lee, from the twisted mess of their relationship, as much for his sake as her own.
So she had cut them both free. Free to be with other people, to be happy.
It had worked. She married Sam, he had Dee, and she was finally free of that desperate, sickening need for him; for his company, his friendship, his approval – his love.
She had Sam's love now. She was the centre of his world. He never judged her, or challenged her, or pushed her to be anything different. He loved her and accepted her as she was, and she needed nothing more than that.
Certainly not Lee Adama.
But when he arrived at the resistance camp, with Helo half a step behind him, Kara knew that it was exactly 193 days since she had last seen him. The day she had told him she was leaving the fleet, resulting in a bitter argument in which they had both said things she would rather forget.
And she knew that it was exactly 85 days since she had last spoken to him. The day the Cylons came.
Helo spotted her first.
"Kara!" He folded her into a hug. Kara pressed her face into his shoulder and hugged him back just as hard. She'd missed him so much.
"I'm so glad you're okay," said Helo finally, stepping back. "I was worried – after what happened on Caprica-"
"So was I," said Kara grimly, fighting back a shudder. "That's why I cleared out here, got away from the town as soon as possible." As soon as Sam described the man who had been looking for her, that first day of the attack. If Leoben was looking for her, she certainly didn't want to be found.
"How's Sam?" asked Helo.
"He's fine." Kara smiled. That was one of the few bright spots in the nightmare of the last few months. "He pulled through the pneumonia." He still wasn't quite back to his full strength yet, but he was definitely on the mend.
"How's the Old Man?" she asked.
Helo grinned. "How do you think? Busy plotting to get you all back to Galactica. Which is why we're here."
Kara hadn't looked once in his direction, but she knew that Lee had come over to join them, had been standing silently next to Helo for the last few moments. She couldn't ignore him any longer.
She took a deep breath and looked at him. He looked tired, and he'd put on weight since she last saw him. But she remembered the expression he was wearing all too well. Closed and hard, blue eyes sharp and fierce – Lee at his prickly, defensive worst.
He still hadn't forgiven her then.
Well, two could play at that game.
"Apollo," she said in her coldest voice, and gave him a brief nod.
His mouth hardened further. "Starbuck," he said tightly, and gave her an identical nod.
Something caught in her throat. She couldn't help but think of the last time they had been reunited after such a long separation, on the Astral Queen. Things had been so different then…but she pushed the memory away. What was done was done, and regrets were useless.
Those damned blue eyes were still staring at her. She struggled for something, anything to say, but fortunately Roslin and Tyrol came out of the tent, and the moment was lost.
Kara watched the reunion as Tyrol and Helo awkwardly hugged, and Laura Roslin took Lee's hand. Lee smiled down at her, that rare dazzling smile of his banishing all the taut wariness from his face.
Kara turned away abruptly, and went to find Sam.
They gathered in the tent, the core people who had led the resistance. Kara, Sam, Roslin, Tyrol, Cally, Doc Cottle. Kara tried not to see the empty spaces where the others had been. Gaeta. Hot Dog. Colonel Tigh.
Her mouth twisted wryly. There was one person she had never thought to mourn. Funny how things turned out.
She pushed the sad thoughts away and tried to focus on the plan Lee was outlining in clear confident tones. A far cry from his first days as CAG, she thought, remembering his awkward speeches with a grin. Still, he'd been a commander for a long time now, and Lee had never liked to fail at anything. She would bet he'd been practising in front of the mirror every night since he'd been promoted.
Lee saw her grin and stopped in mid sentence.
"Something you want to say, Starbuck?"
His tone raised Kara's hackles. How dare he act as if she was a disruptive child, holding up the lesson?
She sent him her most provocative smile. "Nothing at all, Apollo," she said sweetly. "Don't let me interrupt."
For one moment their eyes locked challengingly, and then he looked away and continued.
Sam leaned forward and took her hand. "Rather full of himself, isn't he?" he murmured, and Kara nodded.
Kara hoped the operation would go smoothly. The resistance had been planning how they would evacuate the planet for weeks, sure that the fleet would return for them. Similarly the fleet had been planning for weeks how to divert the Cylons while they got the colonists away. Still, Kara had been involved in too many ops not to know that all the planning in the world wouldn't help if something went unexpectedly wrong.
Adama's diversion plan was ambitious, and it explained why Lee was down on the planet rather than with his ship. The admiral was going to use the Pegasus as an empty decoy, sacrifice it in order to let the other ships get away. Kara couldn't help wondering how Lee felt about that. Perhaps he had come down here so he wouldn't have to see it happen.
Their own job was to get as many colonists as they could to the locations Lee pointed out on the maps, where Raptors would be waiting. They were widely spread, and Kara hoped that the Cylons wouldn't be able to block all of them.
That night, when everyone was asleep, she prayed for the success of the mission. Her idols were one of the few things she had managed to save when they fled to the woods. After so many years, their surfaces had worn smoothly to match the contours of her hands, and the cool touch of the metal never failed to steady her.
She prayed for the success of the mission, and for the safety of those taking part, naming those closest to her. Sam. Helo. Adama. Roslin.
When she had finished she wrapped the idols carefully away in her pack, hoping that the next time she held them she would be back on Galactica.
She looked briefly out through the tent flaps, checking out of habit that everything was quiet and secure, counting the guards patrolling the perimeter.
Everything was as it should be, though the camp was unusually quiet. Normally there was someone moving around at night, drinking or playing cards or talking quietly. But tonight everyone had gone to bed early, knowing they would need all the rest they could get before the op tomorrow.
Except one. There was one person still awake, sitting outside a tent not far from her own, looking up at the stars. Kara could only get a glimpse of his profile in the moonlight, but she knew who it was. He had never been able to sleep the night before an op.
She paused for a moment, tempted. Her muscles tensed, ready to stand and walk over to him and sit by his side. She could tell him that she was sorry for the terrible things she had said the last time they met. She could put her hand in his, and ease his fear and her own by sharing it.
She almost did it. But then Sam turned over in his sleep, murmuring, and she looked back at him, and knew she could not. Her place was with him now, not with Lee.
It was better that way. For all of them.
She concentrated on that, and not on the ache in her throat and the hollow feeling in her chest.
As their Raptor landed on Galactica, Kara couldn't help yelling in triumph. Sam grinned at her and responded with a whoop of his own.
She couldn't believe they had done it. It hadn't been easy. Some groups had never made it to their Raptors. Others had been blown out of the sky. They had lost some of their own group, gunned down or lost in the chaos. But they had got most of the colonists away.
The Raptor doors opened and they spilled out onto the hangar deck. Kara looked around her in wonder, hardly able to believe she was really back here. There had been times over the past few months when she had never thought she would see this place again. She breathed in the familiar smell of grease and engine oil, took comfort in the familiar clank of the deck under her boots.
She was finally home.
"Kara." It was Laura Roslin, looking as if a heavy burden had been lifted from her shoulders. "Sam." She smiled at both of them warmly. "Somehow I knew you two would make it through."
"Are we the last?" Kara asked, trying to work out what was going on. She had listened to the comms in the Raptor, but it had all been chaotically confused.
Laura shook her head. "Not quite. Apollo and Helo are about to land. They're the last. When they do, the Admiral will recall the Vipers and we'll jump away at once."
Kara nodded. "We need to get away from this place as soon as possible."
She heard the last Raptor touch down behind as she spoke, and then Dee's voice came over the comms, recalling the Vipers. Kara watched the combat landings with a stab of envy. Still, it might not be too long before she was back in the cockpit herself. Everything was different now…
The last Vipers landed, and Dee began the countdown to the FTL jump. Kara mouthed the numbers along with her. She couldn't wait to get away from this place, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she reached zero and everything distorted around her.
When the world steadied again she pulled Sam into a tight hug.
"We made it," he muttered against her hair, sounding shocked. "We really made it."
She pulled back and grinned at him. "Of course we made it," she said cockily. "I'm Starbuck – I always make it. As long as you stick close to me-"
He grinned back. "I think I can live with that."
The door of the last Raptor had opened and Kara saw Helo step out. She waved at him.
"Hey, Karl! We did it!"
He looked up, startled and then saw her in the crowd. He blinked and raised one hand briefly.
Kara tensed. That wasn't like Helo. Why wasn't he grinning, or shouting back at her?
"Kara?" Sam looked worried. "You all right?"
"Something's wrong with Helo," she said shortly, and started pushing through the crowds towards him. Sam followed.
Kara kept her eyes fixed on Helo. Was he wounded? She couldn't see anything obvious, but…
Finally she reached him. Now that she had a close look at his face, could see his pale, dazed expression, she knew something was definitely wrong.
"Karl." She gripped his shoulders, scanning him for wounds. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"
Helo swallowed hard. "No. No, I'm not hurt."
Kara dropped her hands, glared at him. "Then what is it? Don't lie to me, I can tell something's wrong."
"It's not me, Kara, I'm fine," Helo insisted, and Kara relaxed slightly. But as her focus on Helo lifted, she was suddenly aware of the other thing that had been niggling at her as she pushed through the crowd, past the people who had just got off the Raptor. A sudden feeling of dread knotted her stomach.
She had only been paying them half her attention, but her soldier's eye had still noted them. And there was one person who had definitely not been among them. She would have known. She always knew when he was near.
Her heart started to thump so loudly that it echoed through her head. She pushed past Helo into the Raptor, looking round wildly.
It was empty.
No. No, no, no. This can't happen. It can't.
She stumbled towards the cockpit, needing to check that too. Just to make certain…
Both seats were empty. Of course they were.
Her heart was thundering now.
Helo and Sam were still outside the Raptor. Sam was looking puzzled and worried.
"Kara?" His voice was full of concern, but Kara ignored him. She was locked on Helo. Her world had narrowed down to one question and its answer.
Helo didn't reply for a moment. Kara couldn't bear it.
"Where is he?"
She waited for him to say that Lee had left on another raptor, that she had just missed him in the crowd, that he would be here in a minute and the world would be right again.
But Helo didn't. He took a deep breath and met her eyes with such sadness that Kara flinched away.
"I'm sorry, Kara." His voice was gentler than she had ever heard it. "Apollo didn't make it."
"What do you mean, he didn't make it?" She was half-aware that she was shouting, of Sam's bewildered and anxious face, but none of it really registered. None of it felt real, nothing felt real. It couldn't be real.
Lords of Kobol, please. No. Not him. Please.
But it was too late to pray. Too late for anything.
The words fell heavily from Helo's mouth.
Author's Note: Bear with me on this one, folks! It's all written except for some tidying up, so I won't keep you in suspense for long. As always, any feedback is appreciated.