Title: Caveat Emptor
Characters: Dualla, Kara/Lee UST. Angst.
Rating: G.
Spoilers: erm. Exists in the post Unfinished Business universe, but no specific spoilers.
A/N, Disclaimer: not mine, because not even I can be so cruel to my inventions.

Lieutenant Dualla (too many Adamas already aboard this ship, even if it's rightfully her name, too) can't help but be comforted by the notion that she's not the only one haunted by what-ifs.

-- + --

There is refuge to be found in routine, and she finds it; if she has to be somewhere at oh-eight-forty, she's there. Free again at ten-forty, with twenty minutes to grab coffee and make a trip to the head before her watch begins in CIC. Eight hours follow in which she has neither leisure nor inclination to think about anything but what she's doing, tracing words through space, sharpening and directing them, being herself and doing something desperately necessary at the same time. She revels in it.

But nineteen-hundred comes too soon; she ignores the arrival of the PO2 at her elbow until Helo looks across at her and lifts his eyebrows in a question he will make official if she doesn't make a move. She makes a half-hearted gesture at the page of communiques and Helo's mouth moves. If he actually asks her, 'problem, Lieutenant?', she'll be obliged to answer: 'no', and that'll bring eyes from all over the room. They already itch her raw, the gazes, so she shrugs, drops the pen on the clipboard and takes her leave.

As always, she knows the schedules involved. Captain Thrace is on duty for another hour, and Major Adama will wrap up his paperwork about then; they'll pass each other in the ready room and not smile. Over his shoulder, he'll ask her how the new pilot did on CAP, and she'll make a disparaging remark and an oblique mention of the card game that's sure to be going on in the wardroom. But then Apollo will smile, ruefully, and point out that he's on late CAP. Starbuck will nod, move away down the hall to the showers, and Lee will turn back to watch her walk, his face creasing in different ways, and then come and find her, his wife. They'll eat a quick dinner before he goes on CAP, and by the time he's done, her sleep shift will be half-over and he'll be exhausted. There won't be time to talk between waking up and his briefing at seven the next morning. There won't be time for anything much at all.

So between the time her shift ends and the time it begins again, there's all too much time to think, to review and relive and revise a thousand moments when she could have done something else, made other choices. Too many minutes in which she can contemplate future decisions. Only problem is, she's always been a messenger, reacting, not acting. Until the information comes in, she can't do anything but wait.

---

Gossip used to be solidly in her purview, the demesne of Dee: eyes, ears and quiet voice of the entire fleet. After she transferred to Pegasus, the sudden shock of being very much out of the loop had shaken her almost as much as the distance she suddenly found herself at from everything she knew. No longer Dee, or PO2 Dualla, or the unofficial confidante of Admiral William Adama, she was Lieutenant Dualla, or 'sir', and if there was something she needed to know, she had to ask.

Asking came naturally at someone else's orders, and felt invasive at her own. She remembered keeping her mouth shut when there were things she should have passed on to Colonel Tigh, and how she used to disseminate juicy morsels of scandal about who was sleeping with whom. Suddenly the boot was most definitely on the other foot: Commander's fiancee, acting XO, a brevet promotion to full officer so that she had a place in the chain of command. She'd felt helplessly deaf, willfully blind but only partially dumb. She could still speak, after all, but it seemed like Lee was the only person who'd wanted to listen.

It was strange to feel so impotent as the second-in-command of humanity's most powerful ship, but she had. Back on Galactica, her new rank makes her only one of many, and at least she can hear again, the information crossing her panel unfiltered, she's relieved.

Right up until she realises that it means she has to hear everything. Even the things she'd rather not.

---

It's just talking, because they're flying, and there's nothing in the words that means anything more than face value would imply. Except, except -

"Starbuck, Apollo. This seem familiar to you?"

fuzz of static "... Sir?"

"This configuration of gravitational fluxes, doesn't it remind you of -"

"Program theta-twelve-B. Kerkoril's Well."

"I can't believe you still remember the sim designation."

"I can't believe you don't. It was Colcanon's favorite trick scenario. He used to pair this up with a debris field for every so-called hot shot in every class he ever taught."

"Did he ever get you with it?"

"Huh. Of course not."

"Me either."

Silence. Which means they are flying wingtip to wingtip in a waltz that's only intimate if you consider the size of the dance floor. There's a whole universe out there, but they stick close, magnetised.

"Can't believe I didn't know you then; they should have teamed us up."

Another little pause, then Apollo answers, and his voice has a crackly quality that isn't the fault of the antiquated receiver-set's foibles. "Yeah. Should have, Kara."

Lieutenant Dualla (too many Adamas already aboard this ship, even if it's rightfully her name, too) can't help but be comforted by the notion that she's not the only one haunted by what-ifs.

---

Old habits die hard; she's so used to listening that her mind trips switches without conscious inclination. Walking through the mess, she'll hear someone say "Adama" or "Apollo" or "Thrace" and her brain starts taking notes. She hears "Dualla" a lot more now than she ever did on Pegasus. It's so second-nature to simply pay attention that she no longer even considers it as impolite. It's just what she does.

It's harder to do wearing officer's pins, because people are a little more guarded, but she can do subtle. She can talk and listen at the same time, too. Lee once accused her, laughingly, of having recording devices in her pockets, because five people might be talking but she hears and remembers every word. She'd giggled at the time, because once - a long time ago, back in basic - she'd used one of those little minidisk sets to do just that. It was how she taught herself to really listen.

At some point, the realisation occurs that she should be happy for what she's hearing when she eavesdrops on pilot gossip on CAP or listens in on the card-table chat while she's across the room reading reports. She should be glad that - at least, as far as anyone else can tell - whatever's between Starbuck and Apollo so far hasn't yet won anybody any socks, razors or battered paperback novels. The wry thought that nobody has yet offered her a chance to place a bet in the revamped - and escalating - pool occurs to her in the middle of another lonely breakfast, and she sits at her table, coffee cooling in the cup, and smiles at nothing, because it's not really that funny.

---

No, they're not screwing, not frakking, not making love or cheating, yet. After all, she'd walked into this situation with her eyes both wide open and firmly shut: she knew, and didn't want to know, and so had set the terms. Loving someone else, even wanting someone else - those weren't offenses, weren't breaches of contract; they were inclusions in the fine print, the part that nobody ever bothered to read.

Oh, she imagines that they've kissed, too, and that stings a little. She's been awake when he's come back off shift or off CAP or off a stint doing evals with his squadron leader, and the tension in his muscles had little in common with the way his eyes were tired and sad. He likes to take his wife in his arms, press a cheek against the top of her head and lean on her; he's heavy, and sometimes she has to shift a little until he realises and adjusts.

Dualla wishes he'd forget to come back to their quarters. Wishes he'd lose some of the dedication to duty that's so integral to who he is. Wishes he'd just give in and frak Kara Thrace, because it's what he wants. Because then, she'd have something to reproach him for that she could claim wasn't part of the deal when they got married.

---

"Hey, Kara?"

"Yeah, Lee?"

"Remember Gamma-fourteen?"

There's a thrill of her electric laughter, Starbuck's cackle. "Frak, yeah. On my mark, Apollo?"

"I'm set."

The raptor pilot on patrol with them sort of gasps into their helmet mike, and Dee imagines she's seeing what he's seeing, some impossibly smooth, insanely dangerous maneuver that could wrap their Vipers around each other in a crumpled, fatal knot. Could, but doesn't. Imagines their dizzy spiral held in place by locked gazes through visors, canopies and a few feet of intervening vacuum. Imagines that the push-pull of their maveuvering thrusters brushes against the surfaces of their ships, like warm breath over skin.

There's silence for a long time after that. Then: "Galactica, Apollo. CAP's coming home."

She acknowledges, her voice the same as always. But she's just thinking: where's home?

-fin-

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