That night Lee ate in the pilots' mess and slept in the pilots' bunkroom, and Kara was the only one who spoke to him. She did not apologize again, but he could feel her words between them, still. He hadn't forgiven her. He didn't even know how to begin to do that. And yet she was so devastated he couldn't hate her, either. For once he couldn't remember dreaming of Zak or of Delphi, and if he woke anyone with his screaming, they didn't break their code of silence to tell him.
He put on Ripper's dress uniform for his meeting with his father, because it was as close to putting on armor as he was going to get. And then he had to take it off again and wear tanks, because it still had Ripper's decorations on it, and Lee wasn't going to risk having the Commander tell him off for impersonating a Captain.
He found his father's quarters without help, and banged on his door at exactly 0800. The Commander, when he opened it, was as immaculate as ever, his blues pressed and perfect. But when Lee saluted like a good little soldier and stood waiting for permission to enter, he waved wearily at him. "Give it a rest, Lee, can't you?" he asked. "At least when we're in private."
"Fine, Dad. Whatever you want," Lee said, and leaned against the wall across from his father. It was too late to be the good son, so he wasn't sure what part to play. He thought of Zarek, and made a conscious effort to act like a grownup. "How have you been?"
"Alive, anyway," which puts me ahead of almost everyone," his father said dryly. "I'm glad you're all right, Lee. Gods help me, but I'm grateful you went to prison, because if you'd still been on Atlantia ..."
"There were no survivors at all?" Lee asked. "None?"
"Their Vipers shut down in mid air," his father said, very gently, as if he were speaking to someone else entirely. It was not a tone he had ever used with Lee. "It would have been quick."
"Yeah," Lee said, not much comforted. i Atlantia /i had been his first post, the first time in his life he'd gotten something he wanted. Openings on the flagship were rare; every officer he'd served with had been both gifted and well-connected. They'd worked twice as hard, and been promoted twice as fast. And they'd been his friends, once upon a time. "I'm sure it was." Not quick enough, though.
"Dad--." He couldn't forgive his father, either. He didn't even want to try. "Why did you want to see me?"
"Do I need a reason to see my son?" his father said, but the words were painful, flat. He needed a damned good reason, and he and Lee both knew it. "What can you tell me about this man Tom Zarek?"
"He was my cellmate," Lee said. "On Gemenon." What would Zarek have given, to get to listen to Lee having this conversation with his father? "I know him fairly well, I guess." It was an understatement. Lee knew more about Tom Zarek than he did about anyone else he'd ever met. But knowing Zarek and predicting what he'd do were two very different things. It was not the sort of distinction that his father was likely to appreciate: that you could recognize the sound of someone's breathing, you could watch them piss, shake them awake when they were dreaming: that it still, in the end, meant nothing.
He had thought he knew Kara once. He had thought he knew his father. "He's a good man to have at your back," he said finally, "so long as you can be sure you're fighting for the same thing. He's—ruthless. Ambitious. But honest, too, in his own way. There's nothing he won't do to win, no one he won't sacrifice if it comes to that. But maybe that's what we need. This is a war, after all."
"You've changed," his father said, like it was a revelation. "You never used to be so cynical."
Lee shrugged. "I never used to be a lot of things. Cynical is the least of them."
"The Cylons," his father said tiredly. And Lee knew that this was why he'd been ordered to come, that whatever his father had meant to say to him today it had nothing to do with Zak, or even with Tom Zarek. It was nothing but business, and it never had been, and Lee was an idiot for thinking any differently.
"We've learned that the Cylons can pass for human. That means that anyone, anyone in the Fleet, anyone on Galactica --could be one of them."
He was, despite himself, a soldier; he had studied tactics at War College and he could see the ramifications of it immediately. It was only his own involvement that confused him. "And you think I'm one of them," Lee hazarded.
His father laughed. "No," he said. "Don't you see, Lee? You're one of maybe a half-dozen people I can be sure of, people I've known so long I can trust that they are who they say they are. You. Saul. Tom Zarek. I want you to hunt them down."
"I'm a pilot, not a policeman," Lee protested. But, Gods help him, he was thinking about it already. "Are you sure about this, Dad? I mean, sure about the Cylons? Because when the civilians find out, they're going to tear each other to pieces. If there's a chance it isn't true--."
"No," the Commander said, and he looked Lee in the eye, saying it. "There's no chance. That's why I want to know if you trust Zarek. Because I don't have any way of knowing for sure about Roslin."
"I'd trust Tom with my life," Lee told him. "I'd trust him with Starbuck's life."
His father looked at him with something with pity. "You're still crazy for her? After what she did to you? I love Kara, Lee, I do. But she isn't in the same place as you are."
Lee's eyes stung with tears. "Maybe," he said, blinking them back, staring at the empty wall behind his father's head. "Maybe I haven't forgiven her yet, either, Dad. She didn't kill Zak, but she put him in that Viper. You think I'm over that? But I love her, and I think--."
"What do you mean?" his father demanded. "What do you mean she put Zak in the Viper? She was his flight instructor, but that doesn't mean she was responsible."
"I thought--." But Lee couldn't finish the sentence. I thought she'd told you, he wanted to say. I thought you knew what she'd done.
"She testified against you," his father said slowly. "She as good as sent you to jail. But that's not what you meant, is it?"
Lee walked out, and his father did not try to stop him.
He was still in the corridor when the alarms went off. "Condition One," the speakers blared. "Set Condition One throughout the ship. All pilots report to the flight deck." Lee started to run.
He'd been worried that he'd panic again when the Cylons attacked, that he'd sit in his Viper in the launch tube until they vented him. But it turned out that there wasn't time to panic. There wasn't even time to think. He struggled into his flight suit and the deck crew shoved him into his Viper and launched him without so much as a countdown, and he fired his engines and shot into the middle of a battle.
It was messy and exhilarating and terrifying, nothing like the sims he'd trained in at the Academy. There there had been a limited number of possible situations and responses. There the Cylons had been limited by the laws of physics. There he'd had time to plan, because the Cylons had come at plottable intervals. That had been about winning, about beating the system. This was about surviving.
The good thing about being outnumbered was that it meant there was no need to aim. He fired, banked right, and fired again. To his left, someone took a direct hit, and he saw the Viper fall away. He could hear the other pilots swearing through his headset, but he didn't have time to do anything but react to what was in front of him.
It was over as suddenly as it had begun. The Raider in front of him disappeared so quickly that Lee slammed into a barrel roll purely out of surprise. "All ships return to Galactica ," his comm unit blared. "Stand by for combat landings."
And when he put his Mark II down on the deck, someone said, "Nice job out there, Apollo." It wasn't Kara, either.
This time he didn't look for her. Instead he went to CIC. His father was there. Lee saluted, and when he was acknowledged, he said, "I need to make a ship-to-ship call, to Astral Queen .
"Fine," his father said. "Dee, get Astral Queen on the comm. Put it through to my quarters, please.
"Of course, sir," but the smile the petty officer directed to Lee was almost sympathetic. It didn't make him feel any better.
Zarek's voice, tinny through the speaker, did, a little. "Apollo! Glad to hear you're still alive. How's Zeus?"
"Present and accounted for," Lee admitted, not looking at his father. "You heard anything about Cylons, Tom?"
He could almost hear Zarek thinking. He'd be wondering where the advantage lay, of course; what he should admit to and what he should keep hidden. He had never played this game with Lee before, but then this was for the Commander's benefit, not Lee's.
"I know what the President told me," Zarek said finally. "Is it true? Do they look like us?"
Lee clicked off the speaker and covered the mouth piece before he looked over at his father, but the Commander gestured for him to turn it back on.
"The look like us," he said. "But our preliminary investigations show that there are only twelve different models, and we've identified several of those."
Zarek must have known this. He didn't hesitate before he said, "There are almost fifty thousand people in the Fleet, Commander. You want to, what, photograph and fingerprint all of 'em? Then run some kind of recognition software and see how many doubles you get?"
Lee's father looked up sharply at that. He hadn't considered it, then. He wasn't a policeman, he was a soldier. And Zarek was a criminal; he'd know how this kind of thing worked. "How difficult would that be to do?" he demanded.
No hesitation this time either. Zarek had thought all of this out, then. "Hard," he said. "Not impossible, assuming you can put together the equipment and software. Fifty people could do it in a week, say, two hundred people a day, and two days to input the information. Tell everyone that it's a census, that you need the pictures to help people look for missing family members. The key is doing everyone, though, and the people who want to avoid it are the people you need most. They're the ones who know what you're looking for—the Cylons."
"Yes," his father said thoughtfully. "There is that. Zarek, I'm putting Lieutenant Adama in charge of this. He'll liaise with you as necessary. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that this goes no further than the three of us."
"No, Commander," Zarek answered. "Thank you for the vote of confidence."
"Well," Lee's father said, not smiling. "These are desperate times. I've got to get back to CIC, but I'll leave you to it, Lieutenant."
"Actually," Lee interrupted. "If I could have a word, Commander, before you go." He flicked off the speaker. "I thought I was Ensign Adama?"
"Battlefield promotion," his father said, and this time he did smile. "Lee—you did a good job out there today. You and I both know that what happened on Caprica didn't change the fact that you were a damned fine pilot, and a better officer. You know what President Roslin said? She said that if there was ever a time for second chances, this is it. And she was right about that."
"So you're, what? Forgiving me?" Lee couldn't keep his voice from rising on the words.
But: "Yeah," his father said, hand on the door. "Don't frak it up."
When he was gone Lee turned the speaker back on. "Tom?"
"What was that?" Zarek asked, and he sounded like he was laughing. "Apollo, did you bring the mighty Zeus to his knees already?"
"I haven't mentioned your frakking elections, if that's what you mean."
"No. But it sounds like you've brought Daddy around on certain other important issues, Lieutenant."
Lee sighed. "I don't know. I don't understand him. I never have. He's been riding me since I got here, and suddenly he wants to forget everything that happened—but I don't think I can do that. I don't even want to do that."
"You having a good time over there other than that?" Zarek asked. "How's it feel to have your life back?"
"Weird," Lee admitted. "Not the flying so much, but Kara--."
"You frak her yet?" And when Lee didn't answer. "Trust me, Apollo. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. Have a couple of drinks and do it. Keep the lights on the first time and make sure you're on top."
"Yeah," Lee said. "Thanks for that." And made sure it sounded as sarcastic as possible, even though he meant it. It was the kind of advice he couldn't have asked for, no matter how much he needed it. "Focus, Zarek. The Cylons. I don't want to have to explain to my father that we spent half an hour talking about my sex life."
"Fair enough," Tom said, and Lee knew he'd heard and was acknowledging the thank you Lee hadn't been able to give him. He'd gone to prison the first time at twenty-one, and he hadn't even had Lee's military training. He knew what it was like. "The Cylons. You think your dad tortured someone to get that information, or what? You don't want to discuss it. I know. Don't you forgive him, Apollo. Not yet. Roslin has a pet scientist from Caprica who claims he can build a Cylon detector. He's a liar, or at least he's lying about being from Caprica. It's harder to fake a Caprican accent than you might think."
Lee snorted. "Never con a con man, right? Should I have him arrested?"
"Might as well. Although—it's not a half bad idea, when you come down to it, a Cylon detector. It doesn't have to work, it just has to look official. The people are going to have to find out some time, and that might help to reassure them."
"Your cynicism is so refreshing," Lee said, and then yawned so hard that his jaw cracked. "Sorry. It's been kind of a long day."
"Yeah," Zarek said, and for once he sounded almost sympathetic. "That I believe. This is enough to start with, anyway. Why don't you see if there's anyone at your end who can sort out the software, and I'll work on the rest of it."
"Thanks," Lee said. "Really, Tom. Thank you. I'll call you in a day or two, and you can brief me. Will you be on the Queen?"
"With luck," Zarek said, "I'll be on Colonial One . Later, Apollo." And clicked off before Lee could come up with anything rude to say. He got up, slowly. All the adrenalin that had kept him going through the battle and afterward had worn off, and he was tired again. He scrawled a note for his father about arresting Roslin's scientist, went back to quarters and rolled himself into Ripper's bunk. He still had ten hours until he was scheduled to go on CAP.
When he woke up it was because someone was in his bunk with him. There was a hand on his shoulder and a hand over his mouth. Lee came up fighting, and there was a squeak as he caught the person somewhere soft with his elbow. It was the squeak that did it. "Kara?" he hissed, and she flailed and hit him in the face.
He shoved her hard enough to send her rolling out of the bed onto the floor. "What the frak are you idiots doing?" someone asked sleepily, but by the time Lee untangled himself and climbed out it was impossible to tell who it was. It must have been night; the lights were dimmed and all of the occupied bunks had their curtains drawn.
Kara was on her feet. Without a word, she grabbed Lee's arm and hauled him outside. He was glad he hadn't bothered getting undressed. "We have to stop meeting like this," he said. "People will talk."
"You were making this noise," she said softly, "in your sleep. Lee--."
"You don't ever have nightmares, I guess. Not Starbuck. She's invincible, inhuman, even."
"Shut up," Kara said. She wasn't crying. Not yet. "I dream about the frakking Olympic Carrier every time I close my eyes. Every pilot—probably everyone in the Fleet—has nightmares. But not like that. What did they do to you? Lee?"
He walked away from her, because he had no words to describe watching his brother die, or Delphi, Gemenon, the Astral Queen, the way his father made him feel. She followed him. Men didn't walk away from Kara Thrace. She got in front of him and shoved him back against the wall, and he wondered how he could ever have thought of her as delicate. Her hands, on his wrists, were as strong as steel.
"Frak me or fight me," he said. "But either way, let me go."
She kissed him, but her fingers loosened. He had not remembered how she tasted, how she felt against him. But he knew she hadn't been crying on Caprica. "Don't," he said against her mouth. "Please. Don't do it unless you want to." But his hands were free; he brought them up to cup her face. He loved her. He would forgive her anything. He would frak her here in the passageway if she asked him to.
There was someone coming. Lee heard the footsteps at the same time she did, felt her tense against him. Let her go. They were on opposite sides of the hallway by the time she came around the corner: one of his father's enlisted officers. She saluted Lee and Kara, and stood at attention while they saluted back.
"Sir," she said to Lee, "the President wants to see you. She's meeting with Commander Adama in his quarters, and she asked that you be sent for."
"Tell her I'll be there in fifteen minutes," Lee said with a sigh, and glanced over at Kara. She gave him a smile that was dangerously close to her old smirk, and his heart turned over. When the noncom was gone he closed the distance between them and kissed her again. In fifteen minutes he could do her here against the wall, and not satisfy either of them. But it would be a start.
"Go," Kara said. Maybe she could tell what he was thinking, or maybe she was thinking the same thing. "It's the President ."
"This isn't over, Thrace," he said, but he kissed her forehead before he ducked back into quarters to change.
This time he did wear Ripper's uniform. Roslin wouldn't know the difference, and it fit like it had been made for him. It looked good on him, too; his eyes in the mirror were cool and steady, and for the first time in a long time he recognized the man looking back.
The first thing Roslin said to him was, "Congratulations on your promotion, Lieutenant." The second was, "I'm sure you have your reasons for arresting Dr. Baltar."
Lee couldn't think what she was talking about, but he hadn't gotten to the top of his class at the Academy without learning to talk to teachers. "Yes ma'am, I do." He looked past her to his father, but the Commander's face was expressionless. He was enjoying this.
That quickly, Lee had it. Baltar must be the scientist Zarek had suspected of having the wrong accent. "There are some questions I'd like to ask the doctor. It's a matter of Fleet security—you'll understand if I can't go into it here." And something he'd learned from Zarek; he let his eyes cut away from her to his father, and back to her, as if to say, You understand, him I can't trust. Roslin smiled at him, and he knew she'd bought it.
"Well. As long as it's important," she said, and he smiled back.
"Yes," he said. "In fact, if you'll excuse me--."
"Of course, Lieutenant," his father said, standing up. "Dismissed."
Lee saluted and fled, before he found himself confessing to the President that he'd arrested Baltar on what amounted to a whim.
He found the CIC without to much trouble this time. "Get Astral Queen on the line," he said. "I need Tom Zarek over here straight away."
"Oh," the comms officer said, sounding surprised. "But he's here, Lieutenant Adama. He came over with President Roslin. From Colonial One ."
Frakking Zarek. It was a good thing they hadn't had a bet on it. "Have him sent for," Lee said. "I'll want him to meet me in the brig."
He had to admit, when he saw Baltar he understood Zarek's point. He'd been in three prisons on two planets, and he'd never seen a man so clearly guilty of something as Gaius Baltar. It didn't mean he was a Cylon, or even a sympathizer—but he could remember what Roslin had said, about forgiveness at the end of the world. If Baltar couldn't even forgive himself, what must his crime have been?
He was still watching the man when Zarek came in. "He's talking to someone," Lee said without turning around. "Someone who isn't there. See the way his head is tilted? He must be insane."
"Yeah," Zarek said. "You think we should let it go?"
Lee looked at Baltar's pale, sweaty face for again. "No," he said finally. "I mean, he's definitely done something . Besides, I have to justify arresting him somehow. Roslin's on my ass as it is."
"She's something, isn't she," Zarek agreed, smirking. "Okay, then. How do you want to play this?"
"Oh," Lee smiled. "I don't think it will be too hard. Bad cop, bad cop."
"I love you, I think," Zarek said, as they went in. And, almost without pause, "Dr. Baltar. I hear you've been a naughty boy."
Baltar actually flinched as they closed in on him. "There must be some mistake," he said desperately. Lee knew his type: they thought they were smarter than everyone else, that the rules didn't apply to them. And when you caught them at it they pissed themselves.
"Really?" he demanded. "A mistake? Is that what you call it? A mistake would be my breaking your fingers and then finding out you're innocent."
"But Apollo, you don't make mistakes," Zarek said from the scientist's other side. He already had hold of Baltar's hand.
After that it was just a matter of writing down everything down. And it was good, too, better than Lee had imagined. He hadn't expected such passion. "I'll find a sketch artist later and see if we can get a drawing of this blond Cylon thing," he said to Zarek afterward. "It might help us i. d. her if she turns up again. What do you think we should do with him?"
"Let Roslin handle it, I guess," Zarek said. "Or we could just throw him out an air vent."
Lee glanced over at him. He looked tired, and a little sick, the way he had the night the captain of the Astral Queen died. Like he'd seen too much.
"What?" Zarek asked. "You're staring at me, Apollo. I know you don't have much in the way of social graces--."
"Does it bother you, what we did in there?"
Zarek sighed. "It would bother me if it didn't. You do your job, but you don't have to be your job. Now more than ever."
"I liked it," Lee said softly. "I was good at it, and I liked it."
"You didn't," Zarek said, and there was no doubt in his voice. "You didn't like it, and you weren't even all that good at it. You don't have the imagination for it. There are a thousand things you're good at, but torture isn't one of them. Deep down, you're still your father's son."
"I'm not. I won't be." But Lee couldn't help wondering if it was true, if he wanted it to be true.
"Then you're in luck. Haven't you heard? It's the end of the world, and you can be anyone you want."
"What if I don't know what I want?" They were almost back to the CIC, and Zarek stopped and leaned against a bulkhead. Lee stopped, too.
"I'm going to tell you something you probably don't want to hear," Zarek said. "You need to frakking get it together, Apollo. You aren't irreplaceable. You want to fly Vipers, you fly. You want to be in politics, or work security, or go back and sit in a cell and play cards with Mason, that can be arranged. No matter what you choose, life will go on for the rest of us. You don't choose anything, life will still go on. This self-pity's not real attractive, though. You don't have to work for your father, and you don't have to make his choices."
Zarek was right. Lee didn't want to hear it, which probably meant it was true. "I hate you," he said tiredly. "Gods damn it." He sat down where he was, on the floor. "What am I doing?"
"Making an ass out of yourself, as always," Zarek said cheerfully, sitting next to him.
"They do need pilots, you know. More than anything else, except water and fuel."
"Oh, I know." Zarek yawned. "It's just a frakking waste, is all. Your dad has some crazy plan to find Earth, did you know that? But I figure he's making it up. Give the people hope, all that fine, noble Caprican crap. The truth is we're probably going to die somewhere out here in the middle of nowhere. We'll run out of water or fuel or we'll starve or the Cylons will get us, but we aren't going to get to Earth—if there even is an Earth. So the way I figure it is, we might as well do what we want. I want to be on the right side for once. I want to be part of a government that works, that actually helps people. And I wouldn't mind getting to know Laura Roslin a little better."
"I want--," Lee said thinking about it. It had been a long time since what he wanted mattered. "I want to frak Kara Thrace. And probably marry her. I don't want to interrogate people and throw them out of airlocks. I want to fly. I want to be part of what you're building." He stopped, embarrassed.
"Well," Zarek said, smiling. "What are you waiting for? Go. Win the girl and change the future."
And Lee went.