When his viper lands with the familiar thud Lee can barely register the sound, let alone the sensation of solid ground underneath him. The hatch is opened above his head but he doesn't move. His helmet is removed and the air he breathes almost tastes of blood.

He'd barely made it back.

He'd barely wanted to make it back.

If he closes his eyes he can see it. Big, black and swirling death threatening to pull him in.

Threatening to take him with her.

"Major," the chief says.

His eyes snap open, the chief's grim face slowly coming into focus.

"I'm so sor..."

Lee cuts him off with his body jerking violently upward, tearing himself out of the cockpit. He shoves his way down the small ladder, roughly past the chief, nearly falling to his knees once he hits bottom.

He can feel the eyes of all the deck crew watching him, but he will not meet their gaze. Getting back to his feet he walks as quickly as he can out of the hangar. Past all the wide eyed stares of sympathy.

It's too soon, he thinks to himself. Too soon for words. Too soon for condolences.

It feels as if a part of him has suddenly gone missing. A piece of his soul ripped from existence and sucked down a black hole.

There are simply no words for that.

His breath is uneven and shaky and with each intake of air it feels as if he's bleeding. So much so that he has to put a hand to his stomach to ensure there is no sticky red substance leaking from his torso.

His name is called across the comms but he ignores it, his body taking him someplace his mind doesn't want to acknowledge. The hatch to the senior officers' bunk is partially open and he stumbles through shouting for anyone inside to clear out.

In front of her bunk he lifts a shaky hand to pull back the curtain, a small part of him wishing it's her he will see behind it instead of a copy of the sacred scrolls and two small statues laid out on her bed.

The tears hit the floor at his feet and his looks down at them curiously. He hadn't felt them fall.

Sitting on the edge of her bunk he catches the faint scent of the strange spice that always seemed to waft around her. It causes his heart to slam harder against his chest. Falling back into the bed he inhales deeply, committing it to memory. He knows once it fades it will be gone forever.

He can feel the two tiny statues underneath him and he shifts and gathers one into each hand, squeezing his eyes so tight he sees stars.

Stars...

Starbuck.

Ripping the curtain closed he shifts to his side and lets out the small sob he'd been fighting off so vehemently.

There's a hand on his shoulder and he wonders how they knew where to find him so quickly. Tears blur his vision when he opens his eyes but it's not father. It's not Dee or Helo or the chief.

Her scent comes into play again, slowly driving him mad.

Kara is laying there next to him.

Not dead, not gone.

Her eyes are sad and understanding. Her smile soft.

He lifts a hand toward her.

This visage.

This falsity.

The grief is overwhelming.

The word is on the tip of his tongue.

But he will not speak her name.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He wakes from another damning nightmare sweating and nearly screaming. His whole body quivers with the fading horror of the dream and his heart threatens to burst inside his chest.

It has been days since Kara had... He still can't think about it. He still can't acknowledge the facts. The dreams have yet to lighten in intensity.

Not even his wife's butterfly touch of concern can get his heart to slow down. The memory of the dream is vivid behind his closed eyes, tearing at the fabric of his tired and despaired mind.

It wasn't raiders. It wasn't missiles. It wasn't any enemy at all taking her out. Just a natural phenomenon of space reaching out a celestial hand and pulling her away.

Ka-boom!

Just like that she's gone.

Dee's touch is firmer on his shoulder and she moves forward to drop her chin on him. It takes all he has not to shrug her away. It's not her fault it suddenly feels as if he's doing something wrong whenever she is near him. When its Kara's eyes he can feel watch his every waking moment.

After her first attempt at condolence was met with an icy glare and stone silence, Dee doesn't speak or ask. He knows she is annoyed that he won't talk. He knows she's annoyed that it is hurting him so much.

He wonders how annoyed she'd be if she knew it's Kara sitting in one of the chairs across the room that is capturing his full attention.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He's been in the hall countless times before but never has it felt so cold.

The picture burns a hole deep in his pocket and he reaches for it hesitantly. Part of him feels that when he pins it to the wall the final nail in her coffin will be hammered home.

His father had given him the photo. Lee didn't ask where or when it was taken. It would do the job of placing her among the thousands of dedications to fallen friends and family just fine. He didn't need the details. It would only make the simple act of placing a pin that much harder.

Kara stands behind him, craning her neck to look down at her picture over his shoulder. The hairs on the back of his neck standing on end at her presence, the pit in his stomach growing larger with each lingering second.

He thinks of the last time they'd been here together. When she tearfully placed Kat's picture on the wall and he'd wandered in after her. Looking up and into her eyes he knows she's thinking the same. Of what had happened afterward. The lingering kiss that only ended when someone else had wandered in.

He wants to touch her. So much so that he honestly believes he could.

He's grateful that Racetrack walks in.

If he touches Kara and actually feels something beneath his fingers he knows it will mean he's lost a lot more than just a piece of himself that day.

He shoves the picture back down to burn once again.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

The deck crew are all gathered around a viper watching in empathy and mild bemusement at the sight of a drunken Sam Anders flipping a cubit over and over again while waving a bottle around and rambling on about Kara.

Lee knows that if he wasn't saddled with so many responsibilities it could be him up there.

"Hey Sam," he says.

"Lee," he replies chuckling. "Apollo."

Lee gages Kara's reaction out of the corner if his eye. She's staring upward at her husband with nearly the same face as everyone else. Sympathy for seeing a man in such obvious pain but also helplessness to be able to do anything about it. He sighs inwardly that it's him chosen to be the one who actually tries to help.

"Just stay there buddy," he says as if they're actually friends. "You're flying. Let's just get down and get some sleep, come on."

"I... I'm fine," he replies.

No you're not, Lee doesn't say. I'm not. My father's not. We're all not.

Sam falls on his ass and shouts a small cry of pain prompting Lee to once again ask if he's alright. He's had to deal with drunken pilots many a time, but never has he had to try and talk someone down from atop a viper before.

Anders expresses another statement of sadness and Lee's patience is really starting to run short when he suddenly jumps to his feet declaring that he has somewhere else to be. The slip and swan dive straight to the deck is the exclamation point of a grief filled exchange.

Lee runs quickly to his side and Sam is still drunk enough to not completely feel the pain. He almost envies the convenience of such numbness. He calls his name a few times and suddenly Sam's tear filled eyes are locked into his.

"She's still alive right?"

Lee's eyes hit Kara's immediately.

Yes, he wants to say. She's here. She's right next to you. She's looking right at me.

"No, she's gone Sam," he says. Kara is dead. Kara is vapor. Kara is dust. It's true. He knows it's true. He's just been lost inside of his own to mind to be able to say it aloud. "She's gone."

Kara places a hand onto Sam's forehead but there's no indication that he's ever aware of it.

"I know," he says sadly.

"Yeah."

Lee doesn't.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

The heavy bag barely moves as he punches at it weakly with ungloved hands.

He can't sleep. Again.

His tossing and turning only keeps Dee up as well and that only makes things increasingly worse between them. She wants to be jealous, he can tell. But she doesn't say anything because she knows it's a wasted emotion to be jealous of a dead woman. She merely shakes her head in frustration at him these days and usually just walks away.

Hitting the bag a bit harder than he has been he catches a glimpse of her mop of blonde hair on a wide swing. He never had an imaginary friend as a kid. He can remember Zak going on and on about his when they were younger. The strange random adventures the younger Adama would make up in his mind. Lee had tried, and no matter how hard he did he could never concoct someone out of thin air. It just wasn't in him.

Kara sits on one of the weight benches watching. Always watching.

He wants her to speak.

To say anything.

To fill this void with something other than the silence she would never be capable of in life.

It might mean he's crazy, but at least it would make him feel less alone.

He's about to say something to her when Helo walks into the gym with a curious look on his face.

"Hey Karl," he says as he steps back from the bag.

"You know," Helo starts with a grin. "My own wife doesn't call me that,"

Lee nods but can't find it in him to laugh at the small attempt of humor.

"What are you doing up so early?" The taller man asks.

More like what am I doing up still, Lee thinks. He shrugs his shoulders and mutters something about not sleeping well and Helo nods his understanding.

"What about you?" Lee asks.

"The baby," he replies but doesn't elaborate.

Silence.

Helo moves to sit on the same bench Kara is occupying and Lee lifts a hand ready to ask him to sit somewhere else, but Kara moves at the last minute, leaving him to run a hand through his hair as if that's what he meant to do.

He's still looking at her when he realizes Helo is talking again. He snaps his attention back to him but the damage is already done.

"You don't look to good," he says with genuine concern.

Lee has to fight the urge to look at her again.

"I'd rather not get into it," he replies.

"We were close Kara and me," Helo offers. "So if you ever need to, you know, talk."

"Not now," he declines, slowly backing his way out of the room. He doesn't like the way Helo is looking at him at the moment. Like he can tell something is off but can't quite put his finger on it.

"Sure," Helo says turning to lie out on the bench. "You know where to find me."

"Thanks," Lee says quietly.

But no thanks.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He is so tired.

He doesn't know how much longer he can keep up being a good CAG when all his flight schedules and pilot's call signs look like nothing more than blurred black lines on the paper in front of him.

He tells Helo that he needs him to set up a dradis picket in the wrong sector, to which Helo politely informs him that he means the correct sector nine. Funny how sevens and nines can look so much like each other with bleary eyes.

Helo is looking at him the same way he had been only hours before and Lee stutters through his next couple of commands. He spots Kara sitting amongst her fellow pilots with her foot propped up on the seat in front of her, twiddling her thumbs and looking like she's waiting for her own assignment.

He shoots a quick look back to Helo, then down at his notes hoping he or anyone else won't notice his stare focused onto what they would all see as an empty seat.

They all groan when he mentions double shifts and when Racetrack makes some smartass remark about Athena checking under her seat on her shuttle runs Lee's blurring of the lines falls beyond text on paper.

"Hey, hey, you got lucky Starbuck. If I were you I would seriously consider buying a..."

Oh frak.

Kara is sitting right next to Racetrack. It's no excuse but it's the only reason he can think of for slipping so publicly. Not when he's been so good for the past few weeks at keeping her presence to himself. How could he even think of talking to her? Especially now in a room full of pilots he's supposed to be leading.

They murmur amongst themselves, their eyes quickly looking away from the podium.

"Racetrack... I'm sorry."

He dismisses them quickly, needing to be alone and collect himself.

They keep talking as they all file out of the room.

Their worried mutters sound like accusations.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Grounded?

He's frakking grounded?

No doubt his father had heard about the little slip up during the morning briefing.

No doubt his father is projecting his own sense of loss and grief onto Lee like he's done so many other times before.

They are alike in so many ways but when it comes to emotional fallout Lee knows he claims the door prize in bottling everything up nice and tight and simply filing it away.

Kara stands next to the elder Adama's broken model ship, running her fingers lightly along the cracked mast and across the figurehead she'd given him. Lee's attention slowly slips to her, mainly because he wasn't to avoid his father's intense stare.

Mainly because, if his father keeps telling him how he feels, Lee just might slip again and tell him he's not fine because Kara is not gone. That she's been next to him every second since...

He sighs and looks back to his father. This meeting is not going how he wanted it to.

He's not a security guard. He's not a marine.

Working to protect the man who is assigned to defend Gaius Baltar is a whole other mess of emotion waiting to happen. Lee can feel the time bomb slowly begin its countdown.

He wants to be in his viper as far away from the ship and all the people inside looking at him as if he's suddenly someone to be viewed with sympathy and pity all at once.

He wants to be up there.

But no, he can't be in a cockpit again till he works it out.

Kara circles the Admirals desk and Lee can't help but follow her movement, causing his father to regard him with a curious arched brow.

Right. He understands. Work it out. Okay.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Romo Lampkin is an interesting character.

Lee can't think of a more accurate description for a man who insists on wearing sunglasses in space. That and slightly paranoid, for his fear of someone listening in on his right to attorney/client privilege. The way he acts and speaks it seems as if he's well practiced in getting under people's skin.

He tosses a book Lee's way, and he sees it's one of the one's his grandfather had written. Romo throws him off even more by saying he looks like his grandfather. Lee has been told all his life he takes after his mother's side of the family.

He asks if Romo had known his grandfather and is thrown again when the man says that he hated his guts, but still learned everything he knows from him.

Lee wonders if he has the strength to put on a good show in front of this man. He gets the feeling that the slightest weakness will be pounced upon. Kara stands behind the lawyer with a scrutinizing glare but Lee won't look.

Romo's gaze is as intense as it can be hidden behind those lenses.

Don't look, Lee tells himself. Don't look, don't look, don't look.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Lee is unsure how to feel about Gaius Baltar. He's never really had much of an opinion of the man, besides a stabbing pang of jealousy after the colonial day incident that is. He doesn't know if he's really a traitor despite spending the last few months living amongst the cylons, supposedly leading them to Earth. He's not quick to jump in with the rest of the lynch mob.

Baltar doesn't seem to trust the fact that he is here, being the Admiral's son and all. He blabs on about the security situation being pathetic, and Lee readily ignores his whiny way of complaining.

He doesn't participate in the conversation. Just listens casually as Romo talks a mean grift and watches as Kara circles around the good doctor with menace in her eyes. He doesn't think twice about acknowledging her being there. The two other men in the room aren't paying him much attention.

But then suddenly Baltar is looking right at him as if he's suddenly realized something is different. He follows Lee's eyes to where Kara stands unnoticed in the room, and turns toward her as if he knows she's there. Looking back to Lee with his head tilted in a slight scientific intrigue and a knowledge in his eyes as if to say 'I know exactly how you feel.'

Shock, fear, and disgust hit him like a wave and he stands suddenly to the surprise of both men.

"Are we done here?" He asks.

Romo nods, though his long stare at Lee is nothing short of scrutinizing. The lawyer offers Baltar one last bit of advice before they head out in to the corridor.

Lee catches the doctor's eye one last time.

He sees himself easily becoming that man if his mind keeps slipping like it has been.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

It's funny how quickly things can go to hell, Lee muses to himself as he waits in his father's quarters.

One second they're all chasing a cat around and under a raptor.

The next second they're all falling back from another bomb.

The third second the chief is on the horn reporting the incident to CIC.

The fourth second Lee is told to get his ass moving to the Admiral's quarters.

Kara sits on the edge of his father's desk staring down at a birthday card left on top of a service file. Lee can't see whose it is, and the Admiral comes storming into the room before he has a chance at a closer look.

His father immediately starts shouting questions more than asking them. Lee shouldn't feel surprised anytime his father starts to second guess his actions and motives, but every time it has happened since he was five years old, Lee can't help the boyish shame that comes from being chastised.

Lee sighs and half pays attention to that temper, looking instead at how his father seems to be fraying at the ends just like he is.

"You could have died," he shouts with more anger than fear of the fact that it really could have happened. "Plain and simple."

Something snaps inside of Lee. He is tired of being treated as if he's a simpleton who doesn't have the slightest idea of how to conduct himself. Of being rerouted in his life because the people around him assume he can't deal with his emotions on his own.

His father is obviously hurting, but gods damn it so is he.

"She's been gone two weeks," Lee fires back. "I didn't realize the clock was running."

That hits the old man sharply, and he falters a little.

"Stop," he says weakly.

Lee won't stop. Not now.

"No, I'm sorry," he continues. "Because maybe we're just built differently."

And the statement couldn't be truer. Kara standing off to the side of them, scrunching her nose at the sight of this Adama pissing contest over their grief of her, is a constant reminder of that fact.

"You stop," his father seethes. "Don't you dare quantify my loss."

Lee meets Kara's eyes over the shoulder of his father.

"You have no idea," Lee throws at him. "You have no frakking idea!"

"What you think yours is deeper?" the Admiral counters.

Kara moves closer to Lee and he wants nothing more than to welcome her with open arms.

"Well..."

"Yours is greater?"

Yes! Lee wants to shout. Mine is deeper! You have no idea what it's like dad, he doesn't say. To have to see her everywhere, every day, like I do. To be around her and not be able to talk to her, to touch her, or even share a drink like we used to. You don't know what it's like to feel so damn helpless because she's dead and you couldn't do a frakking thing to save her.

So yes dad, mine is greater, because the simple fact is you didn't have to watch her die.

He wants to say all of that and maybe he should. But somewhere in the recesses of his mind talking with such open honesty with the old man would be breaking some kind of unwritten rule. Lee Adama never breaks the rules.

Lee feels almost out of breath from the wordless tirade and he doesn't pay attention to anything else his father is saying. When he's dismissed, he doubles over in the corridor, the energy draining from him and folding him in two.

Kara's hand strokes his hair as he attempts to collect himself, and he knows the feeling isn't real.

Kara isn't there.

Kara is gone.

But for now, he lets himself pretend.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Romo is a damn difficult man to put a bead on. His constant flow of half truths and ability to tell person and cylon alike, exactly what he thinks they want to hear. No matter if it's really a lie or not, makes him near impossible to read.

Lee admits that maybe the truth itself is overrated. He himself being guilty of never quite expressing it that way nature intended. Always holding something back. Always keeping something to himself. He shares what his grandfather had always told him about being good, but not too good.

Romo says that everyone has demons.

Lee can feel Kara the instant the words are said.

He continues on about his grandfather and the law and the wanton desire to know why people do what they do. Why they can be capable of so many dastardly deeds and then instantly wish for some act of compassion to compensate for such flaws and shortcomings.

Then Romo turns on Lee and his not so hidden need to constantly break from his father's shadow.

He makes it sound as if Lee is doing this by choice just to get a rise out of the old man.

He makes it sound as if he's doing this despite his own misgivings about what the law, and the people who broke it, and what it had done do his grandfather.

Romo is pressing so many buttons Lee's curiosity is piqued to the point where he can't overcome the compulsion to want to keep going along with the ride.

He asks one more question about Romo's story he had told the six. About the woman he loved. About getting over her.

The man in the sunglasses tells him it was true.

Kara shakes her head.

And Lee knows that it wasn't.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

It seems as if Lee just can't get away from things exploding.

Romo lays in a lays in a bed in sick bay looking slightly scratched and bruised but not completely worse for the wear.

Kara stands on one side of the bed while Lee stands on the other.

Romo's demons, it turns out, is a nasty habit of taking things that do not belong to him.

The president's glasses. One of his father's buttons. The prosecuting attorney's sandals.

Lee finds himself oddly understanding of why this man feels the need to take these things. To pour people into a mold of how you want or need them to be. He gets that. Romo gives him a shyster's grin and tells him he's catching on.

He wonders...

"So what did you take from me?" He asks.

Turns out he didn't take anything. But Romo admits to wanting to snatch up Kara's picture from his pocket.

Lee's hand immediately checks that pocket, feeling a small relief that it's still there.

Oddly, the man says he didn't end up swiping it because Lee has had enough stolen from him already.

He looks at Kara knowing at least something this man has to say is true.

Romo looks to the side of the bed where Kara is staring, then back to Lee with a raised eyebrow.

"Demons?" The lawyer inquires with the hint of a smile.

Lee nods.

Frakking demons.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He's back in his father's office being re-instated as CAG and receiving a rather unexpected apology. Lee wishes he had a camera to capture this moment, as few and far between an admission of being wrong, ever comes out of the old man.

It's heartfelt at least. He is sorry for making it worse.

Kara stands so close to him that their shoulders almost touch.

It's not his father who has made it worse.

Lee sighs inwardly and slightly chews the inside of his cheek. He's about to shatter this healing moment.

He tells his father that he wants to assist Lampkin in preparing for the trial, which of course is met with immediate rebuttal.

He presses. His father presses back.

Lee throws the fact that it was he himself, who had given him Joseph Adama's old law books, to which the elder admits to another mistake.

Two in one visit, Lee thinks. It's some kind of record.

He can feel the venom coming up again, so many unresolved issues rising to the surface whenever they are at odds with one another.

He takes Kara's hand, not caring for once what the sensation of her touch will imply.

He needs her. He needs her strength.

He needs something other than the same day to day activities that don't seem to be working in his favor for dealing with his grief. Romo had planted a seed, and Lee wants to see what happens if he lets it grow.

He needs to know why man can be capable of such atrocities against another. He needs to know why people do what they do. Why they wish and hope and dream to correct it all with one little act of compassion.

His father can't tell him these things. Kara can't tell him these things.

He needs to find out for himself.

His father calls him a pilot and Lee goes for the jugular, firing back that with Zak gone, and Kara gone, he merely needs someone to carry the flag.

His father calls him a pilot and his son, and he will not look across that court and see him on the other side. He is told to report for duty.

Is that and order?

He is told he's in way over his head.

Is.

That.

An.

Order?

His father is through giving him orders.

He squeezes Kara's hand.

Lee is through taking them.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

He pulls out the picture slowly, caressing his thumb softly against her face, and can already feel the absence in his pocket. Kara's hand is resting on the space on the wall next to Kat's photo right where hers will go if Lee can bring himself to put it up.

Looking into Kara's eyes he can feel all the missing parts inside himself seem that much emptier.

He reaches out a hand. Gods does he miss her.

He closes his eyes and in one quick motion, almost like ripping off a band-aid, the picture goes up next to Kat.

There. It's done.

Just like she wanted.

Kara still stands next to him when he opens his eyes and he laughs sadly to himself.

She is still here. She isn't going away.

He honestly didn't think she was continually around because he couldn't let go of her picture, but it's a whole other reality to have to deal with once he sees it's true.

Sam Anders hobbles into the hall and Lee takes a quick step back, gathering his bearings, before turning to greet him.

"Hey, how's the leg?" he asks.

Sam calls it his lucky break, and admits that he'd been using it as an excuse not to come up here. Lee is partially grateful for that. He doesn't know what kind of questions there would have been had Sam come up and not seen her picture anywhere.

Sam admits that sooner or later you run out of excuses.

Lee looks at Kara and knows that it couldn't be truer.

"It's hard to let her go."