Kara vaguely wondered if Apollo really thought he was fooling anybody.
As she gingerly navigated yet another of nature's potholes on Kobol's surface, she could almost feel his intense blue eyes burning a hole through the back of her skull. As he had been for most of the day.
She knew he'd noticed; she was favoring her left side. Frak, who wouldn't? After a gun shot and – well, who knew what else those damn toasters had done to her, all of this walking, especially over unfamiliar ground in damp conditions, was wrecking havoc on her still healing wounds.
But she was Starbuck, the best damn pilot in the fleet. She hadn't traveled all the way to Caprica, disobeying every military rule in existence for nothing. She had gone to get the Arrow and now that she had, she would find that tomb.
Regardless of how much her body protested. Traitor.
Lee was behind her, watching, and not in the good way. After the Cylon attack and the death of the President's priestess, Kara had expected him to stick pretty close to Roslin. There was a connection there that Kara could not quite comprehend. Lee had been close to his own mother, whom Kara could admit looked a tad like Laura Roslin. But this bond they had forged seemed stronger than that.
The Adamas were not known for their reliance on religion. Kara could barely understand why Lee would have disavowed his father for what he must consider a wild raider chase. And she would have chalked it up to impetuousness except for the fact that Captain Lee Adama was not impetuous. That had been Zak's job, as younger brother, one he had excelled at. In turn, it had been Lee's job to keep their feet firmly planted in the Caprican soil. Kara wondered what had changed.
Maybe it has something to do with the world ending, she thought wryly, chuckling softly to herself before images of her last sojourn to her home assaulted her unbidden. Sue-Shaun's pained expression refused to leave her alone since they'd lit off Caprica and now Kara found herself waking in the middle of the night, sweat pouring off her skin as she blinked away the vestiges of a nightmare where she was hooked up to one of those beds, tubes flowing from her.
Shivering, she was able to pretend it was the damp night air. Taking another step, she tried to clear a bumpy root and caught her left boot on the solid branch. Stumbling forward, Kara managed not to cry out as her left knee slammed into the ground.
Panting, she dropped her chin to her chest, wincing as the pain in her side blossomed into agony before subsiding again. Letting out a few short puffs of air to regain her calm, Kara was about to straighten again when she felt a strong arm wrap around her shoulders.
"Didn't break the other knee, did you?" Lee teased, his breath warm in her ear as he checked her face for discomfort in the fading light. "Pretty careless."
"No, sir." Pulling out of his grasp, Kara glared at him, hard, and Lee took the unspoken hint. He backed off a step, his arm dropping back to his side as he straightened, giving her room to do the same. Nodding, she pushed her muddy palms off the ground, straightening to her full height and almost doubling over again.
"Frak me," she hissed through clenched teeth as her side again flared with pain. Clamping a hand over the wound, she felt a familiar warmth spreading beneath her fingers. Great, she'd managed to rip some stitches. Priceless, Kara, really.
Lee moved back to her side in an instant, moving with those freakish reflexes that kept him alive in a Viper cockpit. This time his arm fell more securely around her waist, pulling her against him. Reaching for the hand she'd placed at her side, he said quietly, "Let me see, Kara."
"It's fine, Lee." She was still hissing as the pain refused to leave her be. "Just a little muscle strain."
Not bothering to justify her sorry excuse with a reply, Lee instead worked his hand beneath hers, prying her fingers away one by one until he'd uncovered the now wet and red stain on her shirt. Glancing to her palm, he cursed. "Gods, Kara, you're bleeding."
"It happens," she shrugged, taking the momentary respite to lean against the nearest tree. Now that she had stopped for more than a minute, her exhaustion was catching up with her.
"What happened?" Lee demanded, kneeling before her and lifting her shirt up. She winced again as the damp fabric caught on the wound and he muttered an apology, more disturbed by how much pain she was in than he would ever admit.
"Caprica." Kara was decidedly uncomfortable with this entire situation. She did not need Lee examining her abdomen nor was she much in the mood to explain why she had two scars. Taking a deep breath and regaining a bit of strength, she swatted at his hand and tried to stand. "Back off, Lee, it's nothing."
Frak, he'd used her rank. Rolling her eyes, Kara gave him a wary look and she got the distinct impression he was fighting the urge to smile. "You pulled some stitches." Pointing to the ground at the base of the tree, he ordered, "Sit."
Kara hesitated for a second, the urge to pick a fight with him running strong. She could really use a good Lee/Kara row right about now. The one in the jail cell the day before as she'd convinced him not to kill the Sharon-look-a-like-toaster, just hadn't quite cut it.
But she stopped at the look in his eyes. There was something there; something reminiscent of when he'd greeted her onboard the Astral Queen; something more than just Lee being a prick and getting his rocks off by ordering her around. Having no desire to more closely examine what that 'something' might be, Kara instead offered him a mock salute. "Aye aye, Captain."
Smirking, Lee moved off a ways, jogging with ease over the uneven ground. How the hell did he do that? Sliding down the tree, Kara felt the bark dig into her shoulders. Even through her jacket she knew she'd have scratches and she didn't care.
Her eyes fell closed easily the moment her butt hit the ground. Even the cold, damp earth was a welcome respite from being on her feet. And her side was still killing her. She knew the bleeding wasn't that bad, but she also knew it had to be looked at. It would do no good for her to get an infection. Not now; not when they were so close.
She barely heard the smallest whisper of a breeze through the trees and then in ones and twos she felt the soft drop of rain on her face. It had been steadily drizzling since they'd landed, but the dense forest canopy had kept much of it off of them. Now, however, the rain seemed to be falling heavier and Kara could feel the start of it.
Lee shifted the weight of the pack on his back as he approached Kara's still form. That, in and of itself, told him how badly she was injured. Or just plain tired. Kara Thrace did not sit still.
Noting that her eyes were closed, Lee walked as softly as he could, setting down the med kit and their provisions for the night before moving to her side. Not wanting to disturb her, he crouched on his knees and reached for the hem of Kara's tanks, moving to uncover the bloody wound.
And, completely unprepared, he fell backwards heavily as Kara's right fist connected solidly with his jaw.
Blinking away the automatic tears of pain, Lee rubbed at his now throbbing face as he brought his gaze back to Kara. Her jaw was tight, her lips pressed into a firm line which was about as close to contrition as she ever exhibited. Hands clenched into fists at her sides, he watched as her chest heaved, the added pressure on her abdomen not helping the ache go away.
"You've got an odd way of saying thank you," he finally commented, sitting forward again. He made no move to touch her, even though he could see the red stain on her shirt growing larger.
"You should know better than to sneak up on me." Kara would not apologize. He'd been the stupid one. Glancing past him, she caught sight of the gear and seized the opportunity to change the subject. "I really don't think it's as bad as all that."
Following her gaze, Lee shook his head. "It's not. But we're bunking down for the night. The rest of the team is just over the ridge." Glancing up, he surveyed the large tree they were currently sheltered beneath. "I figured this was as good a place as any to set up camp."
"Trying to get lucky, Adama?" She tried to joke, but it had little effect in breaking the tension that had settled upon them.
Smiling tightly, Lee reached for the med kit, opening it and collecting some gauze and antiseptic. Turning back to her, he handed her his flashlight. "Can I take a look or are you going to take another swing at me?"
"Only if you get fresh," she countered, swiping the light from him and thumbing it on.
In the harsh glow, the gunshot wound looked far worse than it really was. Lee hissed in a breath. "Kara, this happened on Caprica?"
"Yeah, the toasters are more of a 'shoot first, ask questions later,' sort of race."
She watched him work, noting the deft way he rolled her tanks up, exposing her belly. He tried, unsuccessfully to pull the side of her pants down. He needed to expose the whole wound. Glancing to her as he quirked an eyebrow, she let out an exasperated sigh. Slapping the flashlight back into his hand, Kara undid her fatigues, moving as gingerly as she could to expose the area he needed. As she pushed down the top of her briefs, she caught sight of the second scar and felt another shiver pulse through her.
Hoping she could blame it on the weather and the damp ground, she shifted to face him again only to discover he'd moved back to the pile of gear.
Shaking out a weather-resistant ground covering, he placed it at Kara's side spreading it out. As Lee helped her onto it, she let out a small sigh, the warmth of the material seeping into her skin. It was getting awfully chilly out here.
"Better?" he questioned softly, noting the way her features relaxed.
Nodding, she took the light back from him and held it over the wound. He worked in silence, swabbing the area clean and then redressing the stitches as best he could. Lee was not a field-trained medic and there was no way in hell she was letting him try and sew her up, but the butterfly stitches they kept in the kits would work just fine. As long as she could avoid ripping them open again.
As he placed a clean pad of gauze over the wound, Lee asked quietly, "How'd it happen?"
Kara closed her eyes, letting out a deep breath. She'd known he was going to ask. This is what he'd wanted since he'd found her in the locker room on the Queen. An excuse to get her to talk about her feelings, about whatever had happened on Caprica that had her so rattled. And, as much as she despised him for it, she knew that Lee knew her too well to take some bullshit answer.
"The Cylons are well-armed." Well, she could still try the bullshit answer.
Lee fought a deep urge to scream at her. She was always so damn flippant about everything, even her own well-being. "Kara."
His tone was low and menacing and a rush of adrenaline coursed down her spine at the sound. Rolling her head to the side, her eyes locked with his and she felt her heart stop for a split second. There was that look again.
Sighing, she gave in. Just this once. "We were ambushed by a Cylon squad. The non-human variety."
Lee ran his fingers around the gauze he'd placed over the wound, watching as the skin on Kara's stomach pebbled with goosebumps at the touch. Trying to squirm away from him and only causing herself more discomfort, he placed his warm palm over her abdomen, stilling her completely. "And the second one?"
He felt the hitch in her breath as her stomach convulsed beneath his hand. Shoving him away, Kara ignored the loss of the warmth as she struggled to button her fatigues back up. Pulling down her tanks, she sat up, ignoring the pain in her side, arms crossed defiantly over her chest. "I told you, I got shot."
She refused to look at him and Lee felt his heart thunder mercilessly in his ears. "That second scar isn't from a gun shot, Kara." Did she really think he was that stupid? Guessing by how intensely she was shivering, he guessed no. She was fighting something, a memory she did not want to share. But Lee had left her alone too long, and they both knew it. They'd been on the outs since Colonial Day. And now, they were very far from home, more than likely facing a court martial should they ever return to the Fleet and they were still hiding things from one another.
Lee found it exhausting.
Kara violently trembled, drawing Lee's attention back to the here and now. Misinterpreting her shivering as further evidence of her discontent, he coaxed, "Come on, tell me." He reached out to place a hand on her shoulder.
Snapping her head around, she fixed him with another intense glare and he dropped his hand back to his side. Studying her for a second more, he watched her lips turning blue and realized that maybe her shivering wasn't all from her past experience. "Cold?"
"What do you think?" She bit back, tempted to hurl a few invectives at him, just for the hell of it. But he turned away before she could and watching his reaction was always half the fun.
She watched him set up camp, tempted to offer help, but more than convinced he'd refuse it even if she did. Fine, let him be all noble and chivalrous.
He brought her a blanket almost immediately, threatening to tuck her in if she didn't adequately cover herself. Sticking her tongue out at him, he returned the gesture before placing a tarp above where she sat, effectively blocking out the rain as it continued to fall.
Snuggling deeper into the warmth of the blanket, Kara's eyes closed of their own volition. She really had no desire to sleep if only because she had no desire to dream. Her body was desperate for rest, had been since she'd escaped the Farm. Even the last couple nights on Caprica, wrapped in Sam's arms hadn't allowed her to sleep.
Sam. His face floated in her mind's eye and she felt the touch of a smile grace her lips before her body finally succumbed to the rest it so desperately needed.
By the time Apollo had their meager rations ready for dinner, Kara was out. He scooted next to her, watching as she slept. She looked about ten when she was sleeping, her cheeks flushed a bit of pink and her hair falling over her face. She always balled her fists under her chin too and right now was no different. Even in this awkward half-sitting, half-lying position, she had wrapped her hands around the edge of the blanket and shoved them into the hollow of her neck and her head.
As he stared, his rations forgotten, Lee thought about the wounds he'd redressed. The second one, a six inch scar that ran along the inside curve of her pelvis was far too low and neat to be the result of a gun shot. And the stitches had been professional. Helo had briefly told him they'd met up with some resistance fighters on Caprica's surface, but he'd pretty much left it at that. Could one of them have been a doctor? It seemed unlikely that at the end of the world, a professional Pyramid team could have managed to hole up with one of the only surviving docs on the planet.
Something was off. He knew that. Lee knew that Kara considered him fairly clueless, but he wasn't – not when it came to her. She was family, in a weird and slightly twisted way he didn't always like to think about.
Some days, it was as if she was his sister, the long-lost daughter his father had always wanted. On those days, Lee pulled her ponytail and stole food off her tray in the mess and stuck his underwear in her flight helmet (clean underwear of course, although Kara didn't always think so).
But some days, and more lately if he was honest with himself, Kara was not his sister. She was more precious than that. They had both survived the end of the world and Lee believed there was a reason. They were here and Zak wasn't. They were here and Gianne wasn't. They were here and surviving. They were here, flying side by side every day.
But not just flying, gliding.
Flying with Kara as his wingmate … Well, Lee couldn't quite describe it. It was almost as if they shared some type of telepathic link. There was no other explanation for the number of times she'd pulled his ass out of the fire and vice versa. Sure, they had talent, but the scrapes they had pulled out of, it went beyond talent.
And that connection was more important to Lee than just about anything else. It had started to bleed over from the cockpit. Whether planning missions to raid a tyllium refinery or searching for her when there was no logical reason to believe she was still alive, they were connected now, deeper than some pseudo-sibling relationship they pretended to have.
They fell back into that familial pattern because it was easy and safe.
Lee had always liked safe. Lee was safe. He flew safe, by the book, followed regs. But now, he was on the surface of Kobol, pursuing a myth, forsaking his father and everything he had built his life around.
Lee wasn't so safe anymore.
Kara had never been safe. As a child, he knew she'd had it rough. She refused to give him details, but Lee was aware her upbringing had been far from safe. Then, she'd gone to college, become a pilot and she wasn't safe doing that either. Not because she flew decrepit Vipers or shirked her maintenance duties. If anything, Kara did the opposite, doting on her ship as if it were a child, making sure it was running far past specs.
No, instead, the risks Kara took in the cockpit were her own. She executed maneuvers that any other pilot would die trying, Apollo included. He wasn't delusional. She was five times the pilot he would ever be. When he'd first begun flying with her, he'd thought that maybe she had a death wish.
But Viper pilots with death wishes didn't survive the way Kara had. They got fried in their first dogfight and mourned in the first round of casualties. Kara Thrace was still very much alive.
Some of the pilot's thought Kara had no regard for life. That she flew like a maniac because she didn't care. Lee was starting to think differently.
Starbuck flew like a maniac because she did care. Flying and fighting were the only ways she knew to stay alive, to feel alive. Kara didn't play it safe, because to her, safe was dead.
Kara had never been safe.
And so now, they were both standing on the same precipice, staring into an abyss that could swallow them whole. And yet, they refused to acknowledge they needed one another. But he did need her. After she'd jumped back to Caprica, Apollo had only flown once or twice without her. And if he was honest with himself, he'd rather stay grounded for the rest of his days than go up without her again.
But he didn't only need her in the darkness of space. His need for her went farther than that and the thought was scary and exciting and terrifying.
And definitely not safe.
The wind picked up and Lee leaned forward, using his body to block Kara from the gust. He did his best not to touch her, her violent reaction from earlier in the evening still with him. However, as some of her golden hair fell across her eyes, Lee could not resist the urge to sweep it away. His finger trailed lightly across her forehead as he tucked the strands behind her ear.
Grateful she hadn't awoken, Lee turned back to his rations with a sigh. He should wake her to eat. She needed her strength. He braced himself for the tirade he would get; Kara hated waking up, he found himself unable to move as she began to thrash about, no doubt in the grip of some nightmare.
"No, stay away from me. You mother-frakking toaster." Her voice was muffled by sleep, but Lee made out the words and felt a shiver travel down his spine.
Placing his food down, he inched closer to her, sitting at her side. She was beginning to move in earnest now, her body tangling in the blanket and making her more frantic. "No. You can't do this. Get away from me."
Reaching for her shoulders, Lee grabbed them gently but firmly and spoke evenly. "Kara. Kara, wake up."
Gasping, Kara shot forward, her body colliding with Lee's strong form as her wide eyes searched the darkened forest for something familiar. Breathing heavily, Kara wrestled her way out of the blanket, fighting with the material as though it were her own personal demon.
Lee aided her as best he could, pulling the fabric down until it pooled at her waist. Freed from it, she shivered again, her arms wrapping around her stomach as she rocked back and forth, murmuring something under her breath that he could not understand.
Risking her reaction, Lee reached out for her, cupping her chin in his hand. Lifting her face up to meet his gaze, his heart beat sharply against his rib cage at the fear that looked back at him. "Kara," he breathed, cupping her cheeks in his hands and realizing how cold she was.
She tried to wrench out of his grasp, but she wasn't strong enough. Her side was still killing her and her nightmare had shaken her far more than she'd ever want to admit. But judging by the way Lee was regarding her, he already knew. Damn Adama men and their insight.
Lee opened his mouth to question her again, but Kara stopped him. "Lee, there's nothing I want to tell you, so just drop it."
Stung by her stubbornness, Lee inched closer, refusing to give up. "You may not want to tell me, but I think you need to."
As she fixed him with another hard glare, Lee countered, "Since when has you burying your emotions ever been a good thing?"
"Go to hell." Her voice was barely more than a rasp and if she'd said the words with a bit more conviction he might have thought she meant them. But instead of holding his gaze with a blazing one of her own, she'd simply bowed her head, all movement stilling as she released another shuddering breath. "Just …" Her voice was shakier than only moments before. "Just go."
Kara wished she had the strength to argue. She wished she wasn't stuck on this damn planet in the middle of the night with no where else to go. She longed for Galactica where she could just pop out of her bunk at any time and go running through the corridors. Or down to the weight room where she could work off some steam by benching twice her body weight. But wishing didn't make a thing so, and Kara knew that better than anyone.
"I'm not going anywhere, Kara." Lee's voice was firm and Kara found herself forced to meet his eyes. Those damn blue eyes that gazed on her with such understanding she had the distinct impression he was reading her soul. "And we have all night for you to tell me what the hell happened back on Caprica."
Sighing once more, Kara counted to ten and when she again met his gaze, her eyes were clearer than they had been for a long while. "Lee. I know you want to help. I get it. And I know that I haven't exactly been acting like myself since I got back, but I'm asking you, just this once, let it go."
Lee's lips pressed into a thin line. He wanted to push. One of two things would happen if he did; she'd either get really pissed at him and close off completely or she'd give in. History dictated the former would be the case and honestly, Lee couldn't handle more distance from her right now. No matter how badly he wanted to know what had happened.
Releasing a huge sigh, Lee nodded. "All right, just this once."
"Because you love me?"
His eyes snapped back to her face, a bit of relief washing over him as the corner of her mouth quirked up into a teasing smile. "Yeah," he told her, trailing his fingers along her cheek. "Something like that."
They held the stare for a few minutes and Kara did her best not to lean into his touch. His palm was so warm against her face, his touch so comforting she found herself desperate to press her bruised and weary body along the length of him and bury herself into his warmth. But that would cross a line they had only skirted in the past. And Kara feared even stepping a toe over that line would shatter something between them that could never be fixed.
"Are you hungry?" he finally asked. He didn't remove his hand or move away and Kara was grateful.
Shaking her head, she told him, "No. Honestly, I'm just tired."
"We should sleep," he agreed, glancing above at the sky. "We'll have to be on the move pretty early."
She nodded, but remained sitting. Kara had no desire to move away from him. Regardless of how cold it was and how much she needed his body heat, Kara also realized that she felt safer with Lee than she had in a very long time.
"It's kind of cold," he commented lamely. He was trying to think of a reason to sleep close to her, maybe even with his arms around her. Guessing by the smirk on her face, she'd seen through the charade.
But she didn't call him on it. "Yeah, freezing." Sighing, she glanced back at the makeshift bed and said lightly, "I'd hate to wake up with frostbite."
"So, you know, maybe we should, ah-"
Giggling softly, Kara could not help herself. He was so cute when he was flustered. Tugging on his hand, she slid down onto her back, lifting the edge of the blanket. "C'mon Adama. I know you're full of plenty of hot air to keep us both warm."
Grinning, Lee took the tease in stride, unwilling to start anything that could remotely be considered a fight, in case she revoked her offer. As he settled down, she rolled onto her good side, her back to him. Almost instantly, Lee spooned her, one solid arm sliding under her neck, while the other came around and rested gently against her stomach.
Releasing a sigh of relief, Kara moved her hand down and threaded her fingers through Lee's as they rested against her. She already felt a million times warmer and safer and she murmured a silent prayer to the gods for bringing Lee into her life – no matter the short-term costs.
Lee's body tensed as he molded himself to Kara. She was reassuring and solid against him. He relaxed as she entwined their fingers and taking it as a sign of acceptance he buried his face into her neck.
She shivered a bit as his few days of stubble tickled her skin, but made no comment that he should move. Instead, she nuzzled her face against his strong forearm beneath her head and allowed her eyes to close.
In moments they were breathing in rhythm, gliding through a dreamless sleep.