Title: Eris and Aurora, 7/7
Length: 8655 words this chapter
Rating: M. Sexual References, Language, Violence.
Characters: Kara/Lee. Adama.
Genre: Drama, Angst, Romance.


-3 years. Officer's quarters, Sparta Base Barracks.

She bit her lip, fought the desire to pour herself a glass of nectar. It'd dull the edges of her nerves, but if things got out of hand when he arrived, then the last thing either of them could afford was to add alcohol to the mix.

He was going to be angry. She hated that, hated that it terrified her. The whole of her life, she d been terrified of the people closest to her for one reason or another, and if she had to fear him, wonder about him, for the life together they were supposed to commit to in just a few months time, then she d rather have the fight out. Get it over with. Break your heart, save your soul, as momma had always told her.

This certainly wasn't what she'd planned for this particular night. The clothes she'd bought, the table she'd booked at a good place in Sparta City, the smile and the pride she'd been practicing in hope for so long, they were all for the first time Lieutenant Thrace and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Adama could finally, openly, step out together. No longer student and teacher, but as equal as they d ever get: it was supposed to be beautiful.

Now she'd just be happy to get through tonight with a whole skin, let alone a whole heart.

The fear was insidious, and had been building all day, ever since the teeth-gritting moment when Zak climbed out of his sim-suite and looked directly across the control panel at her, and gave her that grin, that hard-eyed triumphant grin. 'All clear, sir?' he'd chirped, as though he'd just aced the simulation instead of scraping through the first two scenarios and outright botching the harder tests. It was the same grin he'd used when she woke up beside him that first time, that he used when he managed to bluff her at the card table, the same grin he flashed at Lee whenever the three of them were together and Zak had a chance to flaunt a little public affection.

The result was clear, clearly a failure, of course. It had been the same problem as it had always been, the same problem she'd worked with him for months to correct, that she'd thought they'd finally managed to control: he was too slow. And to make up for it, he reacted too strongly. He was logical, and when it came to straight flying, he was fine. But his maneuvers were heavy, over-corrected, overreacted, and anxiety just made it worse.

He couldn't fly a Viper in combat. He must have known it, and now she had to acknowledge it to him.

But that grin.

Kara didn't know why, after all this time, it suddenly occurred to her that this might be the only reason they were together. They'd been together since well before he was in her class, but she'd always been an instructor, the instructor that handled the final part of basic training for Viper pilots. He knew it.

And when he tossed her that grin, that I've-got-you-now, victorious smile, she felt a shift in her surroundings, and became aware of just what kind of a corner he'd managed to back her into. Only one way out, that smile told her, and that was Zak's way. She could only hope that it was just pre-nuptial jitters, inbuilt suspicion, the part of her that could never quite trust in being loved, or her secret, secret doubts and the way she thought of Lee. Not the truth, please, not the truth.

She'd know soon enough. If Zak loved her, they'd get past this. Even if he'd started out with her because she could help him, that didn't mean things hadn't changed.

What it all came down to was that if he stayed with her now, then whatever reason he'd had to come after her so determinedly, to shrug off her initial refusals, ignore her foibles, was nothing to do with his wings. And if he didn't...

It felt like such a traitorous thing to do, to refuse her endorsement on his final check flight. It felt like tearing something out of her chest, but if the only alternative was to pass him, to live with the fear of the consequences, and her own doubts, forever, then she couldn't do it. Not when every flight he ever took from this day on could mean disaster. Nothing was irreparable. Zak would hate it, of course, but she had endorsed him for Raptor school, and for the intra-atmo craft where his heavy-handedness would nearly be an asset. If none of those was good enough, he had a six-month reroute, and then he could run his final year again. He could even request a retest, though with his scores it wasn't likely he d get one.

Apollo would back her up, help her get Zak through this.. He'd be there every step, encouraging his brother, guarding his six. That was one thing she could trust in, that Lee Adama would understand. He was all about the ideal, the principle, and even if she usually waved off such considerations, she knew she was doing the right thing.

No matter how wrong it felt.

Later, when the nectar bottle was shards in a puddle and her life was in tatters and Zak was gone, with the last of his venomous, vicious accusations still ringing in the air, she picked up the phone in one shaking, bleeding hand and thought about calling Lee.

There didn't seem to be any point, though. Zak was done with her, and that meant Lee wasn't going to be her brother. Lee was too loyal, too caring a brother to stand with her against him. Wasn't that the way families were supposed to be? She wondered if she should feel less of a sting for the thought of losing Lee than she did. It was just another unvoiced treachery, another to add to the list Zak had hurled at her.

She dropped the phone in the pool of spilled liquor and broken glass, and paused, seeing the glint of silver in the puddle: the silver spiral ring she d given him, the one he'd thrown down. Gulping breath through a throat gone painfully tight, she fished it up, slid it onto a finger, but it was too large and slipped away, even though the knuckles were swollen and bruised where they'd connected with his jaw. She tried another and another finger, eventually sliding it over her thumb, where it rested chill against the skin, a weight unaccustomed.

And then she hunted up the other bottles, as many as she had stashed about her quarters, and drank until she could sleep. Break your heart, save your soul, but she still felt damned.

+one month, six days. 1425hrs, Commander's Ready Room, CIC deck, Galactica

Marker flicked through the nose-camera pictures yet again, marveling; the cadet's bird had picked up almost all of the combat, and combined with the other retrieved data from the wreck of the kid's ship, they knew almost everything that had happened.

Starbuck had always been credited as a hot pilot, and since their flight from the Colonies commenced, she'd done nothing to dent that reputation. But what had happened here was beyond anything he'd even heard of. One pilot, even with a little unexpected assistance from a rook with more balls than brains, did not go up against eight Raiders and expect to live, but she'd done it, killed six of the enemy, saved her rook's overconfident ass at least once before she took a hit.

It wasn't so much miraculous as it was typical; from the beginning, he'd known that the silent, bruised and belligerent pilot that had been transferred to his command had a habit of pulling off the unlikely, and as Colonel Marroll had come to know her better, he'd figured that the then-Lieutenant Kara Thrace was someone who refused to give in without a fight, even up against the impossible.

Even up against Commander William Adama.

The old conundrum of irresistible force and immovable object had come to mind a lot in the past few weeks. He'd had to watch his former chief pilot swim upstream against the current of the Commander's resentment, had to watch and speculate and prepare to catch her as best he could.

"Seven to one. Hard to believe," Colonel Tigh muttered from his corner of the table, his own copies of the 'graphs fanned out before him.

"So say we all," Rhys agreed, more out of diplomacy than doubt. "But it's all right there."

"The kid says she was still maneuvering, but I'd guess that didn't last long. From that last broadside shot it looks like she had no starboard control at all. But she's fighting it, which means she was still conscious and able to try."

"She'd punch out," the CAG agreed, his anxiety obvious, though, like his old man, it wasn't from his face, which was unreadable. The young captain was clenching his fists against the ops table, though. "Starbuck volunteered for extra E-P-R training and took the cadets through it herself while she was teaching; she loves the chute courses. If the bird wasn't responding, she wouldn't hesitate to pop it."

Most trained pilots loathed it; Colonial Fleet combat pilots rarely had to work intra-atmo, and gravity was a whole 'nother issue to a pilot trained for the forgiving nature of space. Most managed to undergo the training, but anyone who helmed an attack ship or commanded pilots knew very well that for every pilot who could successfully punch out, there was one who left it too late, too long, dreaded the drop too much. It was a side-effect of being pilots who were taught - first and worst - to fly in space.

"So she's down there." Commander Adama pointed at the scans, at the red moon, and then his fist slowly closed. "Your search teams are wasted outside the gravity well, Captain."

"I agree, sir. I've laid out a standard search -"

"Do what you need to do. Get everyone out there."

The moment's silence could have been relief or surprise, but Apollo didn't linger for long. "Yes, sir."

"Dismissed, gentlemen."

Tigh got up, followed the CAG out of the room, but Marroll found himself lingering.

"Something on your mind, Marker?"

"You could say that, sir."

"I don't leave people behind any more than you do."

"I don't doubt it, Commander. I expected nothing less. But I don't think you're as cold about this as you're trying to make me think you are."

Adama's shoulders hunched. "I'm not. I'm tired and angry and I don't have time to question my past actions, but I'm doing it all the same."

"Need to hash it out? I can't promise to agree with you, but -"

The older man huffed a sort of a laugh, rough and regretful. "We don't have time for that either, you know. But I'll ask a question, if you don't mind."

"Of course."

"Did Th- did Starbuck ever discuss with you why she left Sparta? Did you ask her?"

Rhys examined the man across the table from him, saw the real question in his eyes. "Yes, of course. She was a highly recommended pilot and a commended instructor at a prestigious post, and she came to me halfway through a training cycle with nothing in her jacket but a 'transfer on request' zero-six slip and a sheaf of recent misdemeanors. I didn't want a headcase or a spoiled brat, no matter who was backing her. I asked, and she told me. Plain facts: she'd been involved with a student, and there had been a conflict of interest inquiry, and the cadet had been killed a few months before."

"Did she include me in her explanation?"

"No. I figured there had to be more than that; she wasn't in a good way when she came aboard, but it made no difference to her flying and she was exemplary on duty. I eventually called up Deak Trevis and asked him what he thought, and he gave me a few more details. He was worried for her. She'd requested transfer against his wishes, and from what he said, I figured that was because she didn't want him to have to deal with you over her mistakes."

"I wondered about that."

"Permission to speak freely, Commander?"

"I thought we were. Of course."

"I know, but I'm not going to pull my punches here, Husker. You did what you figured was right for your kid, and I can't blame a man for that. But your kid was only half this story. Kara Thrace screwed up, but so did your son. And so did you."

Adama said nothing, and Aurora's commander gritted his teeth and went on. "I said once that your kid made a man's choices, and that's still the truth. You believed him and you made your decisions according to that. But let me ask you a question: if that kid had been just a kid, and not your son, who would you have believed?"

More silence. Marroll breathed out, flexed his hands against the edge of the ops desk.

"She wanted him to pass," the words weren't angry or reluctant; Adama sounded surprised. "She was still his fiancee during the flight test. She tried to get him through. She lied under oath to give him the opportunity to test again, risked her wings for him. I asked her, this morning, about the hearing. She told me."

"Nobody would want to believe their kid would use someone like that. Nobody could blame you for doubting."

"My other son does." There was another weary crackle of laughter, and a hint of wry amusement. "Lee and I always were at opposite ends of the same scale."

"I don't know about Apollo, sir, but I know Starbuck. And where she stands is pretty firmly in the middle."

Adama straightened, nodded, gestured at the scattered footage-stills, showing the battle fought by the red moon. "Eight to two," he murmured, traced a finger over the ragged wing of Starbuck's viper. "She's one hell of a pilot."

"Yes, sir, she is."

"I hope we find her."

Rhys blinked, nodded. "So say we all."

+one month, seven days; 0700hr SAR OPS session, Port flight deck, Galactica

There was no ops table, and the CAG was unwilling to step more than one corridor away from the flight deck, so the LSO's office was crammed with the orbital and reconnaissance pictures, the scan results and the search pattern. Going was too slow, and even with their best estimates of where Starbuck's plane would have come down, with rotation and gravitation taken into account, the search area was too large to cover. But Lee was driven and with the pilots all backing him, willingly throwing themselves and their birds into the rust soup that was the moon's atmosphere, and with the angry twist of his own uncertainty and guilt thrown into the mix, Galactica's commander wasn't about to call them away.

He'd search for any pilot, with the utmost of his resources. During his command, he'd never left a pilot behind with any doubt of their status. He had an obligation, no matter how conflicted he might be.

It was an excuse, and he knew it, but it might be the only way he could live with himself thereafter, to say he'd done his best, even if he could never put things right. Either way, chances were that Lee would never forgive him. Lee was focused on finding Thrace. Starbuck, Adama reminded himself, the woman both his sons called 'Kara', and both of them had said it with the same reverence, the same care.

Zak had said he needed her. Lee didn't, but then, he didn't need to.

He'd never had to say much, because there was never much to say, not between the two of them. So unlike, and so like. He'd never realized that, pouring affection and attention on the son who seemed to need them, and leaving the other, leaving Lee, to his silence. He'd respected the desire to do things his own way, he told himself. That's crap, came the bitter response from a conscience newly woken with the realization of his failings. That's such crap, Adama. Zak let you help him, and you liked being needed. That's the easy way to be a father.

"I'd like to retask a couple of the Raptors, sir." His son's voice interrupted his musings. "They're wasted on radio support now that we have Aurora up close to the moon; surely we can set them up at a sweep pattern, see if we can pick up traces of Starbuck's ship even if we can't find the beacon."

"That might do it. I'd run them at ten units above the hard-deck, get them to sweep for tylium and titanium, both show up hard on sensors and aren't natural to the atmosphere."

"Yes, sir. I'm thinking I'll run Boomer and Telemachus out as our recon and task the rest in Search. All of the birds are set up for retrieval, but only those two raptors are armed at the moment; they were on patrol when -"

The door slid open with an abrupt hiss, and seeing the salutes of the marine guard at the door, both men straightened from their charts. Laura Roslin, her dark red suit as crumpled as their uniforms and her expression as stern as his own, walked in, waving off her escort. The door slid shut while she stared at them.

"Commander Adama. Captain."

The president of the Colonies might only have been the last living remnant of a government, rather than a mandated president, and the head of state of less than fifty thousand people with no actual state, but Adama could not deny that she had presence. He had never quibbled with her legal authority, or denied that she was efficient and at least mostly cooperative as far as the military prerogatives were concerned, but he didn't like the rather proprietary interest she took in Galactica, didn't like at all the tendency she had to make his soldier's choices into issues of politics. And he didn't like her interest - that was not quite to say interference, but close - in matters of how he ran his ship.

Not when he didn't know at all which sides of the issues she'd come down on.

"Madam President," Adama answered after a moment; the president didn't look particularly pleased to see him, and he had to admit, he wasn't particularly pleased to see her, either. He'd hoped she'd be willing to keep her nose out of this. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were coming aboard, or I'd have-"

"It doesn't matter, Commander, I know you have more important concerns today than protocol. As do I, which is why I'll come straight to the point. Why are we still here? I know that each and every one of our pilots is deserving of the best we can give them in terms of search and rescue, but it's been nearly two days. Our fuel reserves are not limitless. You need to call it off, as soon as possible. One life, no matter how valuable, is not worth the rest of this fleet."

"Normally I would agree with you, ma'am. But in this case, we're in no danger. We have time yet. Search and Rescue is a right of all downed pilots, and an obligation I will not neglect."

"No danger? You've pulled the Combat Patrol in order to assist in the search. You have Aurora, our best reconnaissance platform, flying dangerously close to the gravitational fields of this moon, and with half our fighter-ships out of commission from flying your search pattern, I don't exactly see in what way you're making us safe."

Lee interrupted. "Forgive me, Madam President, but they're not out of commission. The repairs to each ship take only a few minutes after each flight."

"Semantics, Captain Apollo. If the Cylons attacked right now, how many vipers could you launch?"

Lee said nothing. Adama saw the frustration and anger in his son, and the pain underneath it. "Madam President, I can see you have issues with our logic, and in your place, I might agree. But if I call this search off now, I tell every pilot that remains on my deck that someday they might be left behind also. Without a definite threat to the fleet, I want to continue this search, because if it were me, if it had been me, or my son -"

"It is not. And frankly, Commander, I'm afraid that it wouldn't matter if it were." She transferred a considering gaze to Lee and then back to him. "You're making a personal issue out of this, Commander. I can understand why, and don't think for a second that I blame you for wanting to save this woman. But regardless of who she is, what she does in this fleet or why you - either of you - care, you can't risk the lives of fifty thousand other people for hers. Call off this search and get us out of here."

Lee, at the end of the table, was staring at him. The expression in his eyes was strained, fearful and questioning, but then the light seemed to go out of them, and his son's posture, buoyed by the full search and the support he'd unexpectedly received thus far, lost it's hope. Without it, the CAG's face looked haggard, and Adama felt the same fear, the same instinct to rescue, to fix things no-matter-what that he'd felt so often as a father, whenever Zak needed him, whenever his boy had asked for his help.

All that time, his older boy's determination to earn every inch, every scrap of praise, had looked like rebellion. Was he so old he'd forgotten that once, a long time ago, he'd been just as determined never to ask for help? But he could see it this time.

Lee needed his help. Lee had never asked for his help, and wouldn't now, but he needed it, all the same. And Adama could make that happen.

"No."

+one month, seven days. 1303hr. AB15512J "The Red Moon". Air reserves +133 minutes

Her leg was being a prize bitch.

She didn't like it, of course - not even her early education had made her a masochist - but she wasn't going to whine about it, not even to herself. It was almost useful, because physical pain kept her temper honed, and that kept her moving, and given her situation, it was about all there was that kept her moving. Hope was never particularly useful, and she was fairly sure that after a token gesture at SAR, Adama would move his ship and the fleet away without her. The only thing she could do was speculate that Aurora was still up there, that Rhys Marroll had used that persuasive way he had and got himself and his ship tasked with SAR.

Still, that was a hope, too, and a slim one. In between her aching leg and her temper and her determination not to just sit down and wait for death, she was too busy to think too much about other things. Lee, in particular.

'Too much' was a relative term, of course. She couldn't help but think about him as she doggedly walked, heading always uphill, following the ridge, trying to keep her footing in the gale. Couldn't help but see his face, that way his jaw tightened and worked when he was angry, how his eyes crinkled when he smiled, how his pulse beat fast in the tender cusp of his throat while they frakked, long and slow and so sweetly. Stories about seeing the scenes of your life flashing before your eyes in death might not be so bad, if all the scenery was like that, she mused, and then went back to cursing her knee for another dozen steps.

Lee's wasn't the only face she saw, unfortunately. But when his old man, eyes as blue but much icier, face as strong but craggy with fury and scars and unexpected questions, started to join the recollections, she deliberately set her foot down a little harder and let the pain blot out the imagery.

Thinking too much was as painful as her knee, anyway.

Ten more steps, and she seemed to be on the top of the outcropping, and she leaned back against a rock for traction against the wind. She had to brush dust off her wrist gauge to check her air then wished she hadn't bothered. Gods, she was stupid, passing out like that. 'Chute drills in flight school had always been something she enjoyed, and she'd never blacked out before. Hours wasted while she lay on her back, napping her air away! Exhaustion, shock, pain, whatever, were only excuses. And wedging up against this rock wasn't getting her anywhere, either.

Two hours left. A while back, she thought she'd heard a flyover, but she'd seen nothing but dust and more blowing dust, and while she seemed to be as far above this plateau as she could get, there'd been nothing since, no engine noise, no break in the stream of bloody-tinted cloud above her. "Gods," she said quietly, "I could use a little help here."

It was sincerely meant, far more so than her angry, pain-prompted and half-hearted asides of the last ten hours. Despite everything, she actually did have faith, but it was a faith tempered by long pragmatism. The scriptures she'd known since she was a child had spelled it out clearly: Gods didn't save you. They only ever gave you the means to save yourself. But right at that moment, Kara didn't see any way to get herself off that rock, short of growing wings.

She turned, meaning to follow the extent of the ridge, hoping that beyond the veil of dust there was another hill. Ten minutes she climbed, step by painful step, and found herself at the edge of a crater of some kind. The grit skidded under her boots, and she overbalanced and slipped down, the hillside giving way before her, dust kicked up against her visor glass, leaving her blind and sliding and her knee wrenching until she landed, furious and in agony, in the shadow of the curve of a massive metal wing.

"Thank you," she said then, as she let her eyes play over the cracked viewport, the otherwise unmarked chassis. "I mean that. Thank you, Lords."

+one month, seven days. 1442hr, Galactica Port Flight pod.

The old man was on the flight deck, he could tell - the slight hush, the way the movements he caught in his peripheral rippled, people stepping aside, people saluting, people's heads turning - and Lee wasn't really sure he was ready for that. And he didn't have time, not then, not right now because he needed to get his godsdamned deck in order. Because they needed to find Starbuck, find her and bring her home.

But they weren't going to.

"Lee?"

It wasn't 'Captain' or 'CAG', either of which would have been normal, and it sent the PO2 and the flight schedules skittering away, which left Lee without the camouflage and trappings of his job. This was his dad, on the flight deck. This was someone he sometimes felt he barely even knew. "Yes, sir?"

A wry expression crossed the old man's face. "I know you're busy. But -"

"But this isn't the time or place for heart to hearts, exactly," Lee couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of his tone. "I have to get the deck ready for jump."

"The crew are on it. Please, Lee -"

Lee didn't want to hear pleas. His own went unanswered, after all. "Don't worry. I don't blame you this time."

"Perhaps you should. I know this won't be ... easy -" The words might have been an apology, but they dried up. "I'm sorry, son."

Lee grit his teeth to stop the flood, though he wasn't sure if it would be accusations or tears or nausea when it came, or all three. "We stayed as long as we could. I get that," he gritted. "I know we have to move on. It's the logical -"

Gods. The air in his chest seemed to vanish: logical, to leave Kara behind, not knowing if she was gone already or if she'd choke down there alone, waiting for him to find her. One of the philosophical reasons for fraternization codes was to spare him this, spare his old man, spare the ship the agony of abandoning their own, but even if he'd never touched her, even if he'd just stayed at a safe distance and been professional, this would still feel like he was leaving the best part of himself behind.

Roslin's voice echoed in his memory, the final, cold command given ten minutes since: clear your heads. Well, he couldn't, but he could pretend. He had a lot of practice at that.

"It might be. But it's not right, all the same." The commander's hand on his shoulder, his father's hand. "Lee..."

Two days ago, this man hated Kara, Starbuck, Captain Thrace; two days ago he'd hated Lee almost as much, because Lee didn't. The sympathy should have felt false, but it wasn't, the anguish in the set of his old man's eyes felt like a reflection of his own. The dichotomy twisted in his chest. "Will you tell me," he heard himself ask, and couldn't quite regret the shaking in his voice, "why we stayed? It wasn't for Kara. It wasn't for Starbuck. Was it for Zak? Was it because of Zak?"

The hand on his shoulder tightened. "It was for you."

Lee nodded, turning away, not wanting the burning in his eyes to become tears for too many reasons. "Okay."

His father nodded back, and he started to say something that was drowned out by the harsh shrieking of a contact alert. "Frak."

The Commander was already at the comset, and Lee cast his eyes across the deck: it was his own bird at Alert, with Hawkins' 'seven', and a 'two' from Aurora's complement being set up in the ready zone. Lee tugged the closures on his flight suit shut, caught the helmet tossed towards him by a crew-spec. "Load me up, chief," he yelled on his way up the ladder, and fit himself into the seat, adjusting his helmet and the air-intakes, the metal seal-collar that secured both making an audible click as it locked. "LSO, Apollo," he tested his coms, "check my signal and tell me what the frak's going on?"

"Signal's good, Apollo, looks like you're clear for launch. And we've got a Cylon signal, looks like it's coming up out of the moon's shadow. No clear read on it, not sure how many there are. Moving too fast for a shuttle or transport."

"Raiders then. I'm on it. Get me out there."

"Roger, Apollo, you are clear for launch."

He engaged thusters, felt the cat kick in, felt the force punch him backwards in his seat. One couldn't breathe for the duration of launch; the lungs didn't inflate, and the pressure of trying could crack ribs. It didn't bother him. It had never bothered him, but this time he felt it even less, because it already hurt to draw breath. Especially knowing that Kara - Kara, ohgods, was running out of air herself.

He waited for the signal from his wing, the other alert Viper, to appear on dradis, and it didn't, and it felt all of a piece, the massive wrongness of this life they were living and the destruction of the Colonies becoming all the more intimate: he'd lost the last bit of living he'd been able to hold, lost it on this red rotted moon. What could he expect of reality now, but that he'd be out here solo, facing down whatever the Fates would send?

His self-pity was nearly as nauseating as his grief.

The raider was alone, too; the incongruity should have stood out. More things Lee-the-man couldn't understand and didn't have time to contemplate. Apollo-the-pilot just turned his ship, flicked the thumb-guard off his munitions array and lined up a shot.

Missed.

The raider skittered out of reach, an unfamiliar stutter in it's flight; he thrust forward, pedal down, dumping more fuel into his engines. Range was good again and he grabbed at it, fingers of twenty-mil fire lancing out, but again the target skipped, twisted, writhed out of reach. Disappeared.

He was angry, he was afraid. He was looking to kill something, anything, because if he didn't -

"Frak. Slippery bastard," he growled, inverting to check his blinds. A glimpse of gunmetal grey caught his attention: there. Right there, the sinister shadow, hovering in his wake. Why wasn't it firing? Didn't it want to kill him, just as much as he wanted to kill it?

Once more, he set up the shot, traced it forwards, wanting to feel that impact, that explosion. Once more it slipped away, strange shudders and uneven flight vanishing into the shadows again. Gone.

Above him. Then it moved, turned over. Presented it's belly for the kill.

Star -

"It's Kara", he breathed. Disbelieving, happy, filling up with what seemed like the first real breath in two days. "Kara," he repeated, louder, for everyone listening as well as for himself. "It's Starbuck. It's written under the wing."

+one month, seven days. 2122hr, Galactica Sickbay.

The antiseptic smell of sickbay and the rustle-clink of curtains weren't the things that woke her, weren't the senses that came alive first. It wasn't what she could see, either, because she couldn't see anything, her eyes gummy with sleep and sedatives. And it wasn't pain, despite the lingering pulse-throb of her knee. It was the pulsing brush of warm air, someone's breath, on the back of her hand, the one her dulled nerves eventually told her was wound in someone else's fingers.

Lee's, of course. He'd fallen asleep sitting beside her infirmary bed, his head fallen forwards onto his free arm and then to the blanket beside her thigh, their hands linked in front of his face. Lee, Apollo, Captain Adama, sentimental goofball with the adorable smile and the universe's fastest blush. She rubbed her right hand - carefully, avoiding the tubes and needles attached - across her eyes to try and see him better.

He was deeply asleep, despite being bent and cramped into his plastic-chair-bed-edge configuration, but his tanks and BDUs were clean and his cheeks well-shaved. He looked a hundred times better than he'd looked, stuttering and smiling and damn near as loopy on sheer relief as she was, beside her stretcher on the hangar-deck, however long ago that was. He'd looked pretty damn beautiful to her then, all the same, wrinkled nose, sweat and stubble and all, desperate to kiss her - she knew that look by now - and worried and happy all at the same time.

She'd wanted to kiss him, too, protocols be frakked. The medics prevented that. And she wouldn't wake him to do it now, but she smiled, and sent another prayer to the gods, relief and gratitude all the more heartfelt for the fact of Lee.

The rustle-clink of curtain-rings on metal rods was louder now. At the end of her bed, in fact: the noise didn't wake her CAG, though. Nor did the involuntary way her muscles tightened and her fingers clenched under his. Kara flicked a concerned glance at Sleeping Beauty for the near miss, then looked back to her new, and not nearly so welcome, guest.

"Don't worry, Captain. The good doctor forced a sedative down his throat an hour ago, with my approval. He'll sleep a while yet."

"You didn't order him to his bunk, sir?"

Adama half-grimaced. "It doesn't do me much good to issue orders I know won't be obeyed, Captain. I'll settle for what I can get, at least where Lee is concerned. He agreed to a shower, food, and the drugs as long as he could stay here. I tried to insist on another bed, too, but apparently that was a step too far."

The wryness in his expression softened the harsher lines of his mouth, giving his smile a hint of the charm she recognized so well in his sons. "He's out now," she offered. "Maybe we can bring in a cot, at least? He'll be cramped up for weeks if he spends much longer sleeping that way."

"That might work," the old man nodded. "I'll see to it."

Silence was thick, for a few moments; Kara had no idea what to think. Lee's dad - Zak's dad - wasn't glaring, wasn't raving, hadn't hauled his son off her and was now standing at the end of her bed, his eyes questioning, but steady. She returned the look, ignoring the way her tension made the throb of her knee burn. "Sir?"

"May I sit, Captain?" he asked, gesturing at the chair on the other side of the bed. More disturbed by the courtesy than the burgeoning ache in her leg, she nodded, and he lifted the seat into place, lowered himself into it. He exhaled, loud enough for her to hear over the little noises of sickbay, and then leaned in, his hands lightly locked together on the edge of her bed.

"I will admit that I don't know you very well, Captain Thrace, but I think you are as impatient with small talk as I am, so I'll get to the point. I might have been wrong, but it'll take me a while to learn to trust you as an officer. I'm aware of just how much I've misjudged you, how unfairly I've treated you. I wish that knowing those things would make that trust easy, but it doesn't."

"You had your reasons," Kara muttered, her hand still trapped in Lee's. She brushed a thumb along the side of his palm. "Believe me, I can understand that much."

"I thought they were good ones."

"The best," she replied. "And the worst."

"I can't make it up to you," the old man went on, after another silence. "Not what I did, not what my son - what Zak did to you. Apologies don't mean a lot, except as an admission of how much both of us frakked up."

Kara felt her own half-bitter grin twist into place. "You Adamas weren't the only ones. I had my share."

"Best and worst reasons," the commander echoed. Then he shook his head. "We were all wrong. But the final responsibility is mine. No, I know what you're thinking, Starbuck -" and Kara blinked, to hear the call-sign used instead of the rank or surname. Almost as though to an equal. "Zak let me believe what he wanted me to believe. And I did what I did because I believed just that, that you betrayed him. But the fact that he went that far, that he tried to use you like he did, that he would even try? That's my failure."

"You must have done a lot right, though," she said, let her eyes slip sideways to Lee's rumpled hair where it brushed the blankets. "And Zak, too. I don't know why he - why things happened the way they did, but I do know that he was an amazing person. There were just things he wanted too much to wait for."

Adama nodded.

They looked at each other, frankly, without rancor.

"What happens now?" she asked, turning back to look at the other, silent part of this conversation; his face was bent away from her, pillowed on his left forearm, but she could see the sharp arch of his cheekbone, the curve of his neck, the tight whorl of his ear. Her leg throbbed, and her uncertainty scratched at her, and he was the closest thing to comforting she had.

"Well, Cottle says you're going to be off the flight line for a while -"

"Frak," Kara closed her eyes. She'd thought that was the case, but after everything that had happened - was happening - she'd indulged in a little more hope all the same.

"- And that leaves me with a problem. I've got to have a flight instructor, and we can't afford any more fuel for training flights, so Marroll and I have cooked up a temporary solution. Until you're back on deck, that is."

"Marker's always full of bright ideas."

"I think you'll like this one. I'm going to reassign you to Aurora."

Kara didn't say anything, didn't think she could bear to comment. A week ago, being out of the Commander's immediate reach would have been a relief, but since then, she'd been run ragged, shot down, stranded on a chunk of really ugly rock and nearly died, and - guilt trips and old wounds and frat regs aside - she didn't want to give up the one thing that had made her dogged determination not to die make sense. She tightened her fingers around the sleeping reason's hand.

Adama glanced at the linkage, went on, his face unreadable. "Marker's engineers have the basic sims consoles aboard Aurora back online, and Gaeta and his crew have updated the programs to reflect ... current circumstances. You'll take your training squadron with you, and you'll serve as acting XO for Marroll when you're not teaching."

"Sir."

"And you'll do it from a comfortable seat, too. Cottle says you're off that leg until he says otherwise."

"Great."

"And I'll expect you to keep the CAG fully informed, of course."

"Of course. Sir."

"When you're back in the cockpit yourself, we'll set it up so you're nominally under Rhys's command, even though you'll be flying off this deck. Once your nuggets are qualified, we'll re-task them as the Aurora squadron, keep the command structure solid."

The intention couldn't be what she was reading into it, could it? He couldn't be tacitly paving the way for -

"Give me time, Starbuck. I don't trust you yet, but I can learn. As you said: I have the best of reasons." The old man stood, pressed his hand against her shoulder. "Feel better." Then he moved to the end of the bed, rounded it only just so far that he could touch his sleeping son's hair, then disappeared through the gap in the curtains.

Kara could have sworn she felt the universe shift.

"Wow," said a sleepy voice from the blanket at her hip. "Did he just - no. I must be dreaming."

"Frak, Lee. How long have you been awake?"

"I am? Wow. Not long, I guess. Long enough to know we'll be on different ships for a little while."

"This is okay with you?"

"None of this is okay, exactly. You're hurt. My dad's actually being my dad and not my superior officer, and if I read any of this correctly, the Commander's putting you back in the command structure nominally under someone else's orders. Which means -"

"No fraternization. Technically, at least."

Lee nodded, rubbed his neck.

"And it's not okay?"

Another nod, and a short, tired laugh. "The different ships thing? No. Not at all. If the frat regs had meant anything much to me, we wouldn't be here. And my dad being ... well, my dad - frak, Kara. I don't know. It's been a long time since I could think of him as just... dad." Lee closed his eyes, tilted his head up at the ceiling. "Not really sure how to... process."

"Me either."

They sat, silent for little while, not looking at each other.

"It's all he can offer, though, you know," Kara said, after a moment. "I'm... grateful."

"What?"

"Lee. He's saying it's okay. That we're okay. That he's not going to fight us over this, that he's not going to hate you because of me. I - that's more than I'd ever expected."

"You want his approval?"

"Not for me, Lee. Just for you."

"He says he can learn to trust. I'm not sure - I don't know. I think he'll try. I don't know if I can learn, either."

Silence stretched out between them for a moment, but it didn't feel like distance. Just quiet, just silence. Just two people who, for the first time, let go of their guilt just enough, just enough to hold onto each other instead. Kara laced her fingers through the hand holding them.

"You were trying pretty well to kill me, back there," she pointed out.

"It's occasionally an urge, with you," he shot back. "Admittedly, I'm glad I didn't."

"Not going to tell me you weren't trying that hard?"

"Nope."

"Nope?"

"I just spent the last thirty-six hours trying to save you, Thrace. I was busting my ass to kill Cylons after that, and you -" He shook his head. The miraculous nature of her return to the fleet had already become pilot legend. "Must say I'm glad I didn't kill you this time, though."

"Well, let me know when the urge comes up again. Have to say, that raider is a pretty sweet ride."

He laughed, but the look in his eyes was more about urges, and rides, of another kind. "If I'm going to kill you - or you kill me, Starbuck - I can think of better ways."

+two months, two days. 1700hrs, Starboard Pod, the Museum deck, Galactica

Commander William Adama accepted the salutes of the twelve new Colonial Fleet pilots, returning it with a smile that was probably two-thirds relief. Cylon contacts had been rare since the tylium mission but frequent enough to keep his pilots on edge. Twelve new sticks to call on would give enough room in the roster to let people start to recoup.

One by one, the kids - they looked so young! - filed past their CAG to accept their wings and Viper insignia. One by one, they shook his hand and stepped up to their Instructor, who pinned them on. Each one got a smile and a few words from both Starbuck and Apollo. Each one stood straighter for it.

Bill Adama still walked cautiously around Captain Thrace. He'd been briefed by her a few times since she'd been posted back to Aurora a month before; each time, their interaction seemed to ease: a little here, a word there. They'd discussed mutual friends in the Caprica City Viper School, discovered the PT officer who'd kicked her ass in basic had a liking for the same ridiculous 'nothing but the rain' jody that he'd suffered through in his own basic training, thirty years before. They had a mutual but silent agreement to look after Lee.

He'd never be quite comfortable with her, he knew. Whether that was the weight of a guilty conscience, or the scars of a two-year battle not quite yet healed, he wasn't sure. But he was sure, now, watching the new Buck Squadron take their places in the ranks of pilots mustered in Galactica's hanger bay, that it was worth it, worth the regret, worth the constant reminder of old wounds, to see these kids earn their wings, to see the numbers of his people - Galactica's and Aurora's - growing instead of thinning. To see Lee smiling at him, saluting with his new crew.

President Roslin smiled at him, too, a knowing, gentle kind of a smile that made him all too sure she knew what was going on in his head.

When the accolades were given and the ceremony concluded, a party atmosphere took over the hanger bay. The plex-glass window that sealed off the starboard pod would be coming down soon, and the flight deck re-opened, but for now it made for a hell of a place to celebrate. Adama wove through the crowd, seemingly meeting with every one of his crew not currently on duty.

Except his son, or Starbuck.

Wondering, he stepped back up on the podium, scanning the room. After a moment, he caught a glimpse of Lee, his arm firmly wrapped around Thrace's hip, heading for the main hatch back to the body of his ship. The two moved easily, though Thrace still limped a little, and while most of the pilots and crew stopped to greet them or heckle them or exchange a word or two, it was obvious to all that Starbuck and Apollo were leaving together, and everything that meant.

Rhys Marroll appeared at his elbow, offering a glass of something amber and rich. "Should I stop them, sir?"

The pair had paused for a moment, not far from the hatch, to talk to someone; the decorative lighting the Ministry of Education had put up in what was to be the centerpiece of their museum cast a brilliant glow around the two of them. In the halo of it, Bill Adama watched his son smile, smile and tug Kara Thrace a little closer. Kara threw her head back at something Lee said, and laughed.

"No," he replied at last, and took a deep, appreciative sip from his drink. "Let them go."

- fin -


Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and will leave a quick message of feedback for me. This story was a long time in the writing for me, and I appreciate the reviews; I'm slowly restarting my writing engines and plan to work on a few well-loved pieces again now that this is done.

Again, my thanks for stopping by!

Leda