Title: Risk & Reward

Pairing: Lee/Kara

Rating: NC-17

Spoilers: Takes place 5 months after the finale

Disclaimers: This is my canon.

Summary: Lee is left on this new earth without his father or Kara, and he wonders, is this it?

A/N: Hi everyone, it's been a while since I brought an offering to the fanfic gods, and in truth, this story has been languishing on my hard drive for about eleven months now. However, in a burst of creativity (thank you muses) I was finally able to finish it. And I have to admit, humbly, that it's one of the pieces I'm most proud of. I hope you enjoy it.

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He'd made it halfway up the tallest peak he could find and Lee had to take some pride in that. It wasn't as if he was a mountain climber by trade. The closest he'd come in his old life had been outdoor survivalist training on Picon, during boot camp. The real thing, with limited supplies and no end in sight, was a lot harder.

And a lot more taxing on the body, which is why he figured his ankle had given out.

He didn't have pain meds, because nobody did. Cottle had dispensed the remaining medicines among the different sets of colonists before they'd headed their separate ways and no one was allowed a personal supply of analgesics or even aspirin.

Lee had foolishly assumed he wouldn't need any medicinal help while on his first trek. Yeah, that'd been a great bit of proactive thinking, because his ankle was pounding and was more than a little swollen.

He'd been holed up in this cave for the better part of three days and he was beyond bored. He knew the ankle needed rest and elevation, two things he had given it, but as he watched the sun set once more, he thought he might go stark-raving, Baltar-like insane before another day was done.

Gods, he didn't even have a book; not even a training manual or an instruction guide to pass the time.

All he had were his memories, his thoughts and those he could readily do without.

What was left to think about now that they were here? He could remember his father, flying away in that raptor with a dying Laura Roslin in the co-pilot's seat. He could remember Romo waving farewell as he headed off with his assigned group of colonists. He could remember his last look at Galactica from space as the raptor had lifted out of her hangar bay and turned for earth. He could remember Dee's cold, blue-tinged body when he'd said goodbye to her in the morgue.

Or he could remember Kara.

Kara flying by his side during her miraculous return …

Kara begging his father, the president, even Lee to trust her, to let her lead the Fleet to earth …

Kara shooting three fellow officers in rapid succession when it became obvious he was their next target …

Kara standing at the memorial wall and staring at her own photo …

Kara standing in that field …

Kara disappearing.

He still didn't quite believe it had happened. For days afterward, he would expect to find her, around a corner, hiding behind a tree, maybe even taking a swim in the small lake they'd landed near. But she was never there and eventually, he stopped looking.

It took him two months to finally admit she was gone. And then he had to leave. Helo told him not to do it. Even Sharon said it probably wasn't the best idea, but Lee could no longer stay there, surrounded by semi-familiar things that reminded him of Kara.

It was idiotic to think he could outrun her memory; that material things were what kept her top of his mind. Lee had never needed any thing to remember her—how could you forget someone when they lived in your heart? When they shared your soul?

It wasn't an exaggeration, not anymore. Landing on earth and eschewing any and all technology had left Lee with an undeniably fresh outlook. Gone were the trappings of military life and the dos and don'ts prescribed by an arbitrary authority. Gone were the ghosts of the past, of Zak, of Caprica, of Anders, of Dee. Gone were any and all of Lee's defenses against Kara Thrace.

All that remained was his very real acknowledgement that none of this, a new life, a fresh start meant anything without her.

And she was gone. Her journey was finished and it had been time for her to leave. So, Lee was faced with the reality of a bright, shiny future alone. And he didn't want it.

He'd taken on this task of climbing this ridiculous mountain in an effort to find something else to concentrate on. He'd been doing a bang up job for weeks, finding that the distraction of survival was fairly all-consuming until he'd twisted his ankle. Now, he only had hours to sit and ruminate on Kara and her absence and how much he didn't want to do this without her.

He sighed as the darkness of night enveloped his cave. He should light a fire, already the air was growing damp and there was a distinct chill running through the wall at his back. But his ankle frakkin' hurt and he hadn't seen anything that could pass as kindling in the near vicinity. So, Lee lay in the dark and stared at nothing and finally fell asleep.

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Lee awoke to the very painful feeling of his injured ankle being poked and prodded none too gently. Sitting up swiftly, he braced himself on his elbows, curious as to who could possibly be annoying him, when his entire world focused to a single face.

Kara Thrace knelt beside him, her eyes intent on his injury as she examined it closely.

He squeezed his eyes shut, certain he had to be dreaming. She wasn't here. She'd frakkin' disappeared. He opened them again, and found Kara was still in front of him, still there and apparently still intent on making his ankle worse.

"Ow," he finally hissed, jerking his ankle away from her and drawing her attention to his face.

She glanced to him, a trademark grin plastered across her features and Lee could barely breathe. It was so familiar it made him ache. His fingers itched with the desire to touch her, but he couldn't, he wouldn't, because she wasn't real. And he wouldn't go through this again.

"Frak, Lee. I leave you alone for five minutes …" She teased, sitting back and resting her weight on her hands.

He immediately lost his nostalgia and regained his anger. "More like five months," he spat back, growing more irritated when she barely flinched. "What the hell do you want, Kara?"

She shrugged. "I came to help. Going off on your own, not the best idea."

How could she possibly be annoyed with him? "Really? What the hell do you care? You're journey's finished, right? It's time for you to move on?"

He was breathing heavily, anger growing quickly to rage. She couldn't do this to him. Couldn't keep appearing out of nothing and expect him to be okay with it. How many times did she think his heart could break? "So move the frak on!"

She flinched at his words, sitting up swiftly and pulling her knees into her chest. She stared at him, big hazel eyes wide with … remorse? Lee had a hard time believing that, but even as the pain grew in his heart, even as he knew that the longer he stared the longer her memory would haunt him, he couldn't look away.

She looked almost exactly the same as when he'd last seen her. Same green fatigues although her hair had grown longer yet and fell almost to the middle of her back. Another sense memory stirred and Lee forced his eyes to look away before the wound of their night on New Caprica split open again.

"I'm sorry," she said finally, voice almost too soft to be heard.

It rankled him more. "Sorry? You're sorry? Save it, Kara. If you want to be gone, then be gone."

"I came back."

"For how long?" he demanded, sitting forward despite the extra pressure it placed on his ankle. He watched Kara move instinctively, looking for a way to alleviate his pain. His glare held her in check. "How long do I have this time, huh? How much time will you grant me, oh ethereal one?"

"I'm sorry," she said again and Lee had to move despite the pain of his injury; despite the ache that radiated along every limb from its focal point in the center of his chest.

He hefted himself to a standing position, acutely aware of Kara hovering. She rose with him, hands outstretched to catch him in case his balance should falter. She didn't have the right, he seethed, hobbling to the nearest cave wall and leaning against it. At least now he felt less vulnerable. At least now he'd be standing again when she disappeared.

"Lee, I can't explain it." She stood before him, and for the first time he saw that she was afraid. It was so rare for Kara to be scared, especially in front of him, but the look on her face, in her eyes told him she was frightened and it drew another memory out of his archive.

Standing in the memorial corridor on Galactica telling her that the fact they were both still here was all that mattered.

Closing his eyes, Lee sighed. It was all that mattered, until she'd abandoned him again.

"Talk to me, Lee." She was begging and that was almost as foreign as her fear. "Tell me how to fix this."

"You can't, Kara." He exploded. What else could he do? He'd been holding this back for months. There was no one to vent to, no one who would care. He had lost Kara again, but the rest of the Fleet had lost so much more. It seemed one person didn't matter a whole lot in the grand scheme.

"You left me. We watched my father get in that raptor and fly away and then you left too. We were finally … We could have …" He couldn't finish those statements, because in truth, he didn't know if they could have had anything together. Hadn't they tried and failed? Didn't they almost ruin Zak's life with a drunken frak? Didn't they humiliate Dee and Anders with their fight at the Dance? Didn't she destroy him when her ship exploded in the mandala?

Didn't he swear to himself he'd never get sucked in again?

"I had to go, Lee." Her wide eyes were shining and he knew she'd cry. This new Kara, the one that returned to them, cried more than the old one. He still couldn't decide if he cared. "I needed to make sure …" She took a deep breath and released it slowly, eyes fixed to the ground. Lee waited, finding that his anger was a good distraction from his pain. "I needed to make sure Sam got to where he was going."

Lee didn't find that to be a satisfactory explanation. "Well, Kara, that's very thoughtful, but it doesn't change anything. I can't trust you. So, we're done."

Even as he said the words he wanted to take them back. But his pride was hurt and if there was one thing the Adama men knew well, it was head-swelling, ego-inflating pride. Besides, he had to protect himself. Finding reasons to live on this planet were hard enough. Loving Kara and then losing her again would just lead to him eating his gun. In spite of everything, that was still something Lee couldn't bring himself to do.

Kara stared at him, and blinked once, a tear falling down her cheek, which she quickly wiped away. She glanced to her side, arms folded over her chest, and nodded once. "Okay." Taking a deep breath, she looked back to him, her face stony. "I get that your mad and I get why. But we're not done, Lee."

He let his head fall back against the wall behind him, not caring that it hit hard and he'd now have a headache to go with his ankle sprain. Now, after six frakkin' years, Kara had finally decided to fight for them. He wished he could appreciate the irony.

"You want to be mad, fine. But we're not done. I'm back, for good. And I came back for you."

He couldn't look at her, couldn't admit to the sincerity in her eyes. She just kept drawing him back in and he kept allowing it. He knew it was the height of insanity to repeat the same pattern expecting a different result. And yet, Kara Thrace had always been Lee's personal definition of insane.

There was no other excuse for how she made him feel, what she could make him do, why he loved her so completely. It was beyond insane.

Lee wanted to come back from the beyond.

"Just go, Kara." He was so tired and the effort of standing was too much. His body felt twisted and spent as if wrung like a wet cloth. Sliding down the wall, he stretched out his injured leg and dropped his forehead to the top of his other knee. "Just go."

He didn't bother looking up to see her reaction, didn't bother trying to take it back. He wanted to, he wanted her to stay, but even more he wanted to know she wouldn't leave again. He knew she could never assure him that she was back for good. And he couldn't take the uncertainty—not anymore.

"I will be back, Lee." Her voice sounded like no more than a whisper and when he did finally lift his eyes, he was again alone in the darkening cave.

He fell asleep with tears on his cheeks.

---- ----

Next time he woke, it was dark again. But unlike the past four nights, there was an unmistakable orange glow in the cave and the feel of warmth running down one side of his body. He let out a slow breath and didn't even bother to look up.

"What are you doing, Kara?"

"Don't you get cold?" Her voice wasn't that far away, but it wasn't close either and Lee was grateful. There was no coming back if he touched her. "It doesn't look like you've lit a fire once since you've been in here."

"I haven't." He didn't want to talk to her. He kept his eyes shut and prayed for sleep.

Then she snorted, a familiar noise that cracked his heart. "Of course, the all-mighty Apollo. He who feels no cold."

It hit just a little too close to home. "Frak you," he hissed, propping himself on his elbows and catching sight of her. She was indescribable when captured in the light of a fire. Hair shining gold and orange, cheeks flushed pink and red. She was only a few feet from him, a long stick and a knife in her hands. The shavings in front of her implied she'd been whittling it for a while. Lee didn't think she had much farther to go—the end was a wicked point.

His eyes dipped to the homemade spear. "For me?" he asked caustically, not surprised when her expression went from surprised to smug.

"Very funny. No, it's for hunting. Some idiot convinced the Old Man that we should send all of our weapons into the sun. So eating's proving a little problematic." She went back to her task and Lee found himself staring. Every movement was precise, sure and true. She really was back, Kara, Starbuck, whatever he wanted to call her. She was here.

He wanted to be angry. Anger was easier to deal with than sad, depressed, morose. But the anger wouldn't come. Even as he recounted all her sins against him—New Caprica, Anders, the mandala, five months ago—he didn't feel angry.

He felt like he wanted to cry. Because here she was, back within his reach and he still wanted her, even though he knew losing her would be the end of him.

A sound Lee didn't recognize echoed in the cave and he realized too late it'd come from him. Rolling onto his side, he felt shame take up residence with his sadness. He couldn't be weak, not in front of her. Then she'd know she owned him and then she'd destroy him.

"Lee?"

Frak. He curled into himself, arms crossed over his chest and he turned his back on her and the fire. He refused to answer her.

"Lee, come on. What's wrong? Is it your ankle?"

He almost laughed in her face. Sure, his ankle hurt, but it was nothing compared to the yawning emptiness he felt without her. That was pain and it appeared his mind could no longer deny it. He wiped angrily at his cheek, refusing to admit he was actually crying, despite the puddle that formed under his nose.

"Lee, would you frakkin' talk to me?" She sounded angry and he wondered what gave her the right. She had made it perfectly clear her journey was done and wherever she was going he wasn't allowed. He should be angry and he had been until right now, when he just wanted to die.

He saw her shadow above him before he saw her face. Hazel eyes glowing slightly gold in the firelight as she knelt beside him, a hand resting on his shoulder. He wanted to tell her to frak off and leave him alone. But it hadn't worked earlier in the day and he doubted it would work now. Especially when he appeared so pathetic.

"Lee." She breathed his name like a prayer and he had to shut his eyes, had to try and shut her out. But her hand on him, her hair tickling his chin as she shifted and lied down beside him was too familiar. The feel of her breath against his lips as she moved her hand to his cheek, only inches separating them, was like a gift.

She started stroking his face, his stubble scratchy against her palm. He kept his eyes closed, because it was his last defense. But he admitted to himself that her touch had already undone him.

"Tell me what to do, Lee," she whispered, and he heard the sadness in her voice. "Tell me what to do and I'll do it."

"I can't do this again, Kara," he admitted, eyes still shut tight, voice cracking. He was so beyond embarrassed now he didn't even care.

"Do what?" Her voice was low and soothing and Lee marveled at it. She had never sounded like this before, so giving, so willing to do what he needed.

He took a deep breath and then another and then forced himself to look at her. He had too; it was only right. He had to see the look in her eyes, on her face when he finally admitted it. "I can't love you again."

Her hand froze against his face and he shuddered as the weight of his confession settled in his chest. It was the truth; if Lee loved her again, the next time she left, he'd be nothing. Was that what he'd fought so hard for?

Was this? He could admit, without reservation, that the reward he'd imagined after fighting for four years wasn't this. It wasn't this empty planet, this empty life. His life now, with no CAPs and no Cylons and no Kara—that was empty. He was empty.

But that void paled next to the knowledge that Kara had been standing before him months ago and had left him again.

Her hand was gone and he watched as she rolled up into a sitting position, knees tucked up tight to her chest. She stared over his prone form, no doubt looking into the fire and he would have given anything to be privy to her thoughts. Did the idea of leaving him again destroy her as much as it did him? Did she even understand the level of ruination her absence brought crashing down around him?

"I thought …" Her voice caught and he watched her struggle to form words. Almost too fast for him to see, she turned her head and brushed at her cheeks and he knew she was wiping away tears. He felt sickly vindicated. "I thought things would be different now," she finally rasped, face still turned away from him.

Despite the heaviness of his limbs, he forced himself to sit up. "Why? Because you came back again? Kara, how many times do you think I'll survive this?" Why couldn't she understand?

"I'm back for good," she turned to him with a plea written plainly across her features and it hurt him to shield his heart from it.

"That's what I thought after you came back from the mandala. But you left again." He had stood in that cell and kissed her and told her he believed and she'd still left him again, after a presidency, a mutiny and an alliance with the Cylons. After a kidnapping, a rescue and another home.

"I never said that," Kara reminded him quietly and Lee realized she was right. "I never said I was back for good. I never said I wouldn't leave again."

Lee's heart stuttered in his chest as he began to hope. He cursed his weakness, but he could not deny it. His eyes landed back on hers and he felt another sob lodge itself in his throat. Oh Gods, was this really possible?

He watched her hand cross the small space between them, watched as she clasped his hand in hers and drew it up to her chest, placing it right over her heart. Her heart that was beating a strong, steady rhythm against his palm. "I never said it, Lee. Not then, not on New Caprica, not after the exodus. I never promised."

His eyes closed and he allowed himself to release a heavy sigh before breathing deep again. "What are you saying, Kara?"

He heard her inch closer, refusing to open his eyes again and be confronted with the devastating beauty that was Kara Thrace. Especially when she kept looking at him with such tenderness, such love, such … promise. It was too much for him to hope.

"Look at me, Lee." It wasn't a demand or even an order, it was a request and Lee realized he'd heard scant few of those from her lips in quite some time. He willed his heart not to lose itself even as he knew it was a foolish request.

His eyes opened and there she was, glowing and beautiful and so real he could feel her, could feel their hands clasped together against her chest, could feel her breath on his cheeks again, could feel the heat of her body that was warmer than any fire. Please Gods, he prayed silently. Please, don't take her from me again.

She studied him with large, luminous eyes, her other hand alighting back to his cheek. Her fingers played with his now long hair where it hung over his ears. It was in desperate need of a cut, but he hadn't bothered. Who was he trying to impress? Now, with her staring at him, he thought maybe he'd need to dig out his razor.

Full, red lips he'd memorized years before turned up into a knowing smile and he saw tears hang at the edge of her lashes as she told him, "I never promised you before, Lee that I would stay. I wanted to, a thousand times, I did, but I just … I couldn't." She swallowed hard and then kept going, her voice growing more hoarse by the second. "But I knew, I guess I always knew that there was something else I had to do. I knew that whatever destiny I had, you couldn't come with me. So I never promised."

Kara leaned forward and Lee watched, eyes open as her lips met his. It was a chaste kiss, when comparing it to their history, but it sent a warmth spreading through his body he'd thought long lost. He fought his natural reaction to cup her cheek and hold her closer; to open his mouth and deepen the kiss. He couldn't go any farther, couldn't fall any harder until she said the words.

When she pulled away, there were unmistakable tears falling down her face. She tipped her forehead to his and took a deep breath, before whispering, "I never promised then, Lee, but I'm promising you now.

"Kara." She couldn't be wrong about this. He couldn't take it; his heart, his body, his soul would not survive another disappearance. "Please."

She kissed him then and he let her. He couldn't help it. It had been too long since he'd allowed himself to enjoy this, to feel anything beyond anxiety and nerves. She started slow, a lingering kiss to his upper lip and then his lower, before covering his mouth with hers and darting her tongue out to taste him. Lee moaned, his arms encircling her tight and drawing their bodies together before opening his mouth and returning her fervor.

When Kara mewled from the back of her throat, the one noise Lee had never been able to resist, he felt himself pitch over the edge. If she disappeared now, he'd be damned for all eternity, walking this lush new earth with no purpose, no destination except to join her in Elysium. But his body no longer cared and his mind was quickly capitulating as well.

Lightheaded and needing to breath, Lee pulled away reluctantly, gulping in air before his lips began a hot trail down Kara's cheek and toward her throat. When he found her pulse point, beating strongly beneath his tongue he latched on tight and Kara's hands, now wrapped in his hair, tightened as she arched against him.

"Lee." His name fell from her lips and he fell right along with it. Hands spanned her back, keeping her close as she straddled his waist, somehow managing to never break the seal of his lips on her neck.

She consumed his senses and she defined everything Lee was, in this moment, today, tomorrow, for all time. The feel of her fingers lightly scratching across his scalp made him mad for her and he felt his body pulsing to life. He had honestly never thought he'd feel this way again. No one had ever inspired as much passion in him as Kara. And now that she was back and she was touching him and she was his … Everything was different.

Breaking his hold on her neck, Lee trailed his lips across her skin bringing them back to hers and claiming what he'd always known was his. Kara Thrace belonged to no one, but one night, long ago, she had admitted to loving him. And that was all he needed. He didn't need to possess her, he just needed her. His tongue swept into her mouth and she giggled from the back of her throat, causing his groin to burn with more need. He realized suddenly they were both wearing too many clothes and began working on the buttons of her BDUs, even as his lips stayed latched to hers.

"Lee," she breathed again, this time breaking away from him and panting, gasping for air. Her forehead rested to his shoulder and even as Lee continued to work on her pants, he placed his lips on her ear, worrying the lobe between his teeth. She shuddered against him softly and then her fingers were a flurry between them, working the buttons of his shirt, pushing it back off his shoulders. Her warm fingers on his flesh forced him to pause, forced him to stop for a moment and take a breath.

In that moment of simply being, of simply feeling her, warm and whole in his lap, he met her gaze and knew he'd die a million times just for this. Warm, brown pools of light and love gazed at him and Lee felt the press of tears behind his own eyes. Gods, how many days and nights had he prayed for this? For this miracle?

Ducking his head in embarrassment, he took a deep breath. He knew it was foolish to be worried about Kara's impression of him now, but he couldn't help it. He already felt vulnerable enough.

And then her hands were on his cheeks and she was tilting his face up to hers and Lee had to look at her. Offering her a soft smile, which she returned, Kara pressed a soft kiss to one cheek and then the other, before whispering, "I'm really staying this time, Lee. I promise."

Words after that were unnecessary. In moments, they were both down to bare flesh, Kara's shining body laid out underneath him, her hair a halo around her head, her eyes dancing, her entire being singing in harmony with Lee's. He covered her mouth again with his, drinking her, tasting her, licking inside her mouth, willing them to become one person.

She returned his ardor with her own, hands grasping at his shoulders, short nails digging into his skin so hard he knew he'd be marked in the morning. Gods, he didn't care.

The weight of his body pressed against her, and Kara gasped, breaking the contact of their mouths as his arousal drifted over her heat. He could feel how wet she was, could already smell how much she wanted him and it made his body painfully aware of how close and how far apart they still were.

Shuddering, Lee braced himself on his elbows as Kara snaked one hand between them and wrapped her fist around him, pulling just slow enough from root to tip and Lee was sure he'd explode on the spot and make a mess of them both. But before he could beg her for mercy, he felt Kara shimmy under him just so and then position him right at her entrance.

As her movement stopped, Lee risked one look at her and his heart almost beat out of his chest. Flushed and breathless she raised her mouth to his and whispered against his lips, "Please, Lee."

He needed no other invitation. Sliding inside her with one strong thrust, he wrapped one arm around her waist as her back arched toward him, pressing her full breasts against his chest in the process. He cried out with her, an incomprehensible sound of pure joy, of completion and just held her there, close to him, even though his entire lower half was screaming at him to move.

When some of the tension in her body had lessened just seconds later, Lee felt her hands back on his biceps, felt her lips back on his neck sucking at the skin and lapping up his sweat like a cat with cream before she murmured, "Gods, it's better than I remember."

Lee chuckled then, he couldn't help it and then pulled out slowly, almost leaving her warmth completely before plunging back in. This slow draw and fast thrust was a pace he couldn't keep up for long, but it felt so damn good, he couldn't stop. Kara's hands flexed against his arms with each movement and soon her hips were rocking in counterpoint to his own making their shared sensations even more blissful.

A few beads of sweat dripped into his eyes, but Lee blinked them away quickly, not wanting anything to come between him and this vision of Kara. Her lips were everywhere, sucking at his skin, brushing across his temple, branding his and Lee kissed her back with everything he had, swallowing her cry as her body finally pitched over the edge. He followed her in seconds, the delicious feel of her inner muscles clenching him tight too much for his body to resist.

He almost collapsed on top of her, panting, breathless, sated, but dropped to the side at the last minute, their bodies still joined, his arm still around her waist, his face by her shoulder. He could feel the shudder of her body under his arm as she fought to control her breathing. It was minutes before either of them could speak.

Lee was almost afraid words would ruin the moment, but with a gentle glide of her hand over his sweat-soaked shoulder, Kara nuzzled her face against him and whispered the only words he needed to here.

"Love you."

In that moment, for the first time, Lee was grateful to the Gods—for giving back to him his only reason for being.

Pulling her tighter to him, Lee raised his face above hers, watching as her heavy-lidded eyes opened slowly to regard him through a haze of contentment. Leaning toward her, Lee pressed a soft kiss to her lips, first on her top lip, than her bottom as she had done to him earlier. Pulling back not even an inch, Lee held her gaze and murmured, "Never leave me again."

Kara's only response was to smile and pull him closer before planting another searing kiss to his mouth.