Title: Keep Breathing
Summary: The grief he feels ripping him apart inside is not his to show on the outside.
Date: 5.20.2007
Rated: PG
Catagory: Ficlet
Characters: Lee and Kara
Spoilers: Season 3
Credit: The title comes from the Nickelback song "Far Away".

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, RDM does and I am just borrowing them.

This is my first fanfic. I wrote it for purely selfish reason after "The Son Also Rises" aired but now that it is done, I decided to share. I hope it touches you the way it does me!

Lee doesn't remember flying back to Galactica after Kara's life was extinguished in a ball of flames before his eyes. He doesn't remember stumbling out of his viper and puking in the nearest trash bin. He doesn't remember Chief's hand on his shoulder or the stunned looks on the faces of anyone on the flight deck. He vaguely remembers the shower he took only because he had wandered under the flow of water while still in his flight suit, his hands shaking too much to get the zippers and clasps undone. He feels numb and the tears never come. Some of the other pilots in the head stare but most turn away and they eventually leave him there alone. Is there a condolence for a CAG loosing one of his pilots? Is that what she was?

Dee hugs him when she returns from CIC when her shift ends. It is a brief embrace and then she helps him into bed, picking his soaked flight suit off the floor without a word. His body shakes and part of it is that the energy has drained from his body and the other is the terror that he will loose control of his emotions in the arms of his wife over the loss of his lover. Is that what she was?

Sam arrives on Galactica and takes up residence in the hanger bay as if she will saunter back in like she has done so many times before. Lee has seen it enough times to want to hope, but he can still see her ship explode like a Colonial Day firework. But Sam, he waits, his constant companion a bottle of booze. Sometimes the Chief or another knuckledragger patiently moves him out of the way of a docking viper or weapon loader. Cally sympathetically brings him food from the mess but later decides that hunger might eventually convince him to leave. Everyone knows, all too well, the condolences that are appropriate, they have all lost someone since the cylon invasion, she is not the first and will not be the last. When he gets too drunk and belligerent it's Lee that they summon to talk him down. His pain is right there, contorting on his face and Lee somehow keeps himself together. He feels the strongest when Sam needs him to be, but he actually envies him the most in those moments. It is Sam's place to be consumed with grief, not his. She was another man's wife. Is that what she was?

In the following days, the silence around him is heavy and when the occasional word or sound intrudes into the fog surrounding him, he is startled. He is exhausted but sleep does not come often. When it does he dreams of their last conversation and he awakens drenched in sweat with the fireball before his eyes. He is haunted by his decision to put Kara back in her viper just as she had put Zak in his. The irony is not lost on him, it stares him in the face. Had he let his feelings cloud his judgement the way Kara had? She had not wanted to be the one that crushed his brother's dream. Lee did not want to be the one that drove the steely-eyed viper jock over the edge and in the end the result was the same for Zak's finace. Is that what she was?

He finds himself outside the rec room during a rowdy game of triad and for a moment he finds himself straining to hear a particular voice rise above the others, celebrating a winning hand. He instinctively scans the room, desperate to hear her laughter one more time. The room goes deathly quiet as the pilots blanky stare back at him. He coughs and says "As you were" and the revelry gets back underway. In a corridor he sees a flash of blond and his breath catches in his throat and his eyes dart to recognize the face, to hope it is the one he longs to see again but an ensign turns her head as she laughs with her friend.

Old habits are hard to break. In the ready room, while he briefs the pilots, he searches for the familiar face- she must be late, hung over as usual. A part of his mind thinks of something witty to reprimand her with when she comes in tardy with a smartass comment. Another part of his mind remembers that she is gone, she will not be swaggering in, taunting and challenging him from her seat in the front row. He is lost in these converging thoughts when, suddenly, a wisecrack from a female gets the group laughing and his heart jumps as a certain energy, generally associated with her, fills the room. As if on cue, he responds to the familiar pattern but it is Racetrack with the remark and not Starbuck the hot-shot-problem-pilot. Is that what she was?

He meets with his father and he can hear the strain when he speaks. The model ship that the Admiral so delicately built with his own hands is mangled on a shelf nearby- destroyed by his own hands.. Her ship was in pieces and so is his father's. He mourns for the closest thing he has ever had to a daughter. He orders Lee to work it out like he did when Zak died, as if he the emotions he has bottled up are for the loss of a sister. Is that what she was?

Being assigned to security for Dr. Baltar's defense attorney provides a distraction, he is fascinated by Romo Lampkin.This stranger seems to see right through him and seems to say things to him even when he addresses someone else. Like everyone else, does not give Lee permission to grieve but he at least acknowledges that it is there under the surface when no one else will look him in the eye.

He manages to find a way to keep her close, putting the photograph in his left pant pocket where he can occassionaly let his hand linger when he needs to draw strength. He promised her that he would put her next to Kat in the memorial hall. She had asked him, not her husband, as if in the end she knew it would be him that would follow through. They were unbeatable team of Starbuck and Apollo. Her out of the box thinking and his by the book execution had become legendary in the fleet. Even when, on a personal level, they disagreed or hated the sight of one another, he knew she always had his back and her final request was for him to have hers. Surely, in time, he could do it for a friend. Is that what she was?

Lee walks from Baltar's cell to his quarters after the vedict and finds himself becoming numb again. Dee has left him, Lampkin has gone off to reap the benefits of his successful defense, his father has virtually disowned him, and he has resigned from the military. So when Gaeta announces condition one throughout the ship, at first he fails to react. This is no longer his war. Then, just like that, instinct and adrenaline kick in and he knows his place is in his viper, wings or not, he has nothing to loose and they are already missing the best pilot, the guardian of the fleet, Galactica's top gun. Is that what she was?

Out in his ship he doesn't have to think and for the first time since Kara's death his mind is clearer, the fog is lifting. His reflexes take over and although he is flying straight into the oncoming raiders he is strangely calm. This is easy out here in space, there is no time for feelings, nothing to hide or pretend. It's more black or white out here- kill or be killed. The world can go away because what maters right here and now is blowing cylons out of existence. Anger, guilt, fear, and pain can all be cathartically eased by the adrenaline rush of a fight for your life. Maybe this was why Kara was such a good pilot, everything behind the Starbuck mask could be expressed in the heat of a dogfight, pounding thruster petals, careening through space, and blasting away at the enemy.

A bogey pops up on his dradis and he doesn't think beyond calling it in over the com, he just reacts, rolling his viper out of formation toward the blip on the screen. But the unkown disappears and then toys with him, unlilke any cylon he has ever faced. He is caught off guard, when the nose of a ship comes alongside his viper and he thinks, for a moment, that he is hallucinating. The weeks of stuffing his grief deeper and deeper inside himself are coming back to haunt him, surely. The knot in his throat threatens to strangle him, but there, beside him, a few feet and two canopies away, is the face he has yearned to see and the voice in his ear that says his name is the one that he has longed to hear. His own voice seems to be stuck but he manages to get her name out from his frozen jaw. And then, there it is, the smile on her cheeks that lights up her eyes.The laughter that follows is music to hear and she is speaking but it's not the words he hears. He is concentrating on the sound because the pain in his heart is, suddenly, not the same one he has bourn for weeks. He has lost everything that has ever meant anything to him and yet, here, in this moment at the end of the world, during a cylon attack of all times, he is given back the one thing that he now knows he does not ever want to live without. Now the pain he feels is the overwhelming knowledge that this beautiful vision is a gift, one he is not sure he deserves. Kara Thrace is alive and real and Lee Adama knows what she was and what she is. She is everything.