She says it so casually. As if they were back on the Astral Queen, staring each other down through a chain link fence. That familiar childlike delight lighting up her eyes. Smiling at him with that teasing smirk of her lips. If they were back on the deck he'd punch her. Or hug her. Or kiss her, or curse her name to the gods for refusing to come back. And many, many other things he's not entirely sure his body would respond to first.
He wants to tear at the glass of his canopy. To be able to reach over. To place a hand on her cheek. To touch her. To calm his confused mind and let himself know that she is really there. That this is all real. That she is real.
He hasn't said her name in weeks.
The trial, the marital problems with Dee after her death, and the latest battle of wills with his father kept him from uttering two simple syllables. It was always in the back of his mind. On the tip of his tongue. Kara Thrace was, is, in his mind just as much as battle tactics and flight plans. As much as the memories of his old life, and the future everyone yearns for. Kara Thrace is in his thoughts more than she ever was.
The last time he said her name was in front of her picture. He stood there staring blankly. Cursing himself to hell for convincing her to keep flying when she clearly didn't want to. He'd asked her to trust him when she couldn't trust herself. He touched the picture gently, her name coming out barely above a whisper.
Sam had heard him somehow. Looking back he thinks it funny that a man with a broken leg could sneak up on him so easily. At first Anders didn't say a word, letting Lee have his moment. They'd already had an awkward encounter in this spot. Something he wasn't eager to duplicate.
"Sometimes," Sam said. "I think she'll just open the door and walk over to our rack and tell me to move over."
He didn't reply.
"I wouldn't ask her where she was," he said. "I wouldn't even care if she was with you."
Lee looked at him then. Saw that he was still barely hanging on without her. That he was a shell of the man he'd been before. The drinking had stopped. A broken tibia will knock the drunk out of anyone. And Lee knows that the moment Sam hit the ground he realized the alcohol would only numb the pain for so long.
"I wouldn't care," Sam continues. "If she just came back I wouldn't mind at all."
Despite others opinions, and his own natural instinct to the contrary, Lee kept his mouth shut that night. He just let Anders talk on next to him, realizing that he needed to, that Lee himself was the only other man in the fleet who could possibly know what it felt like to lose her. Sam talked and he listened, never finding any words for himself.
"Don't freak out."
Don't freak out? Don't freak out?! He's out here in this soup of a nebula riding alongside her viper that keeps fading in and out of dradus, cylons on their asses, looking at the face of a woman who's asking him not to freak out. Some things just aren't so simple.
"It's really me."
Cylon, he thinks over and over. She's a cylon.
A simple relaxed chuckle.
And he knows it's her.
A realization that has no basis in fact, but all his instincts tell him it's true.
He wants to edge closer to her. To get as near as he can possibly get to the point of nearly flipping his viper parallel above hers so he can gaze down in awe. She has cheated death so thoroughly. She is a prophet. She is an Angel.
He remembers the first day they met. That awkward shake of hands while Zak stood over her shoulder smiling proudly and arching one eyebrow as if to say "see bro? I told you she was something."
Lee knew that the second they touched.
They'd talked only briefly. Speaking in typical paraphrases of conversation.
'Nice to finally meet you.'
'I've heard so much about you.'
Then the smallest exchange of intrigue.
'I heard you were one hell of a pilot.'
'I heard the same about you.'
And then the look. One that in time, Lee grew to know more than the ticks of his own heartbeat. Most likely Kara doesn't remember it, but he has never forgotten. The first time he witnessed Kara Thrace's playful challenging eyes. She had wanted to show him she was the best right then and there. Lee remembers thinking that if there had been a viper anywhere in sight of them she would have raced him to it.
Zak never noticed this in their exchange. At the time Lee wasn't so sure it had happened at all. Not until they met the second time. The last time he'd ever seen his brother alive. Zak had stayed on the ground while Apollo and Starbuck took to the skies, trying so desperately to out maneuver each other.
Kara chatted in his ear incessantly while she flew in literal circles around him.
'You're too methodical,' she said. 'You don't learn fly from a frakking manual!'
He remembers concentrating more than he ever had in a viper after earning his wings, while she seemed to be having the time of her life.
'Text book maneuvers are exactly that Apollo!'
He loved his brother. Stood up for him, protected him, all their lives. From bullies, from dad's expectations, from mom's drinking.
Watching Starbuck fly like she was born into it...
It's the first time he remembers not thinking about Zak in a protective way. It's the first time he remembers even letting the possibility of hurting his brother enter his mind.
It's the first time he remembers that feeling for Kara Thrace that never found words.
"It's gonna be okay."
Is it? He thinks. Because ten minutes ago he was unsure if the deck crew would even let him back into his viper after appearing as a turncoat against the fleet. Fighting for the system he believed in so whole heartedly. Defending a man so vehemently hated, letting his career fall to pieces in the process.
"I've been to Earth."
Earth? She's been to Earth?
The last time he saw her she was headed straight into the eye of a gas giant, begging him to let her go. A flash of light and a burst of black and orange and him left behind screaming at the top of his lungs. It wasn't a wormhole she jumped into. A rift. A portal. She didn't disappear. Her viper blew up right in front of his eyes and she was gone.
"I know where it is."
How? His mind won't wrap itself around the thought. Earth the legend. Earth the myth. The last and final hope for the human race. The one they'd been chasing for so many agonizing months. Kara found it. Kara who died. Kara who is dead.
Kara who is looking at him with such calm confidence he can't help but believe her. He knows her, trusts her. Deep down into his soul he knows she is right. But there are so many questions he has. So many things he wants to know.
"And I'm gonna to take us there."
He nods dumbly. He wants to say so much to her but there are too many words entering his mind to form any kind of coherent thought. It seems like no matter what the circumstance, it was always this way when it came to her.
The cylons are still behind them, bogeys popping up left and right. Four base stars and countless raiders heading their way. He can hear the danger on dradus. Hear the crew of Galactica taking them on. He needs to break off from Starbuck, he needs to fall back into the squadron and protect the fleet. But his hands won't move on the stick. His head won't turn to look straight ahead.
He prays to the gods and hopes he's not dead. That he isn't floating out in the ether strapped to his ejector seat with his eyes locked with this apparition. With Kara. He has never been completely religious. He believes in the gods. He believed in Kobol, and had been there and breathed the air. He has never completely believed in Earth. And despite all the madness, the emanate threat of danger, he believes now.
He believes in her.