Characters: Kara, Dee, Sam, Lee, and all their combinations.
Word Count: 4,161
Spoilers: Through "Taking a Break..."
Summary: Dee stares at her back, wondering what it is about Kara Thrace that has half the ship either loving or hating her, sometimes both at the same time.
Guilt's never been a good look on Lee. He wears it on his face, with pale cheeks and puffy eyes, lips thinner than usual, worry-lines across his forehead. When she married him, she didn't know him as well as she should have, but she does now.
She's pretty sure that he didn't sleep with Starbuck, and some distanced part of her can appreciate the irony of taking Starbuck's word for it. But she also understands semantics, and "he's too honorable" doesn't mean he didn't want to sleep with her. Or something. Dee's too tired of the whole mess to bother with the rest.
Whatever the case, it's over. Maybe. She knows how hard he's trying to make up for it, and she knows why. That's just the way he is, and before all this she would've said it's one of the reasons why she loved him.
"Sweetheart, don't ever let yourself settle for less than you deserve."
Mom's voice rings in her ears as she stares at her husband stretched out in their bed. She wonders which one of them is settling.
Each group of nuggets is worse than the last, and this group has two that will not stop asking stupid questions. Still too early for call signs, but Kara's thinking of calling them "Dumbass" and "Huh?".
This session is particularly painful, and it doesn't help that Lee's decided to sit in on it, arms crossed and chin low in the back row as if he's evaluating her abilities as an instructor. Great. Bad enough that he'd decided last week that loving her wasn't worth the risk. Now she feels like he's this close to writing her off altogether. Part of her thinks that would be easier, because at least she'd know where things stand. Except once in a while he'll catch her eye across CIC or the bar, or his mouth will curve and his voice dip as if he's about to tease her. Strange how quickly they went from "I missed you", to kissing at every possible chance, to whatever the hell this mess is called, but she shouldn't be surprised. She just wishes he'd walk out of this frakking briefing so she could concentrate again.
A painfully bitter mug of coffee is the only thing that keeps her from completely losing her temper as she explains for the fourth time how to re-engage formation after a sneak attack. "What happens if the raiders reappear as we're heading back to Galactica?" Dumbass asks with a look on his face to match the nickname.
"Gods, don't you know this already?" She downs another long sip of coffee. "Follow the squadron leader to the combat zone to make sure he or she's got it under control. Then pull a one-eighty –"
She flinches, breath catching on the number, mind flashing back to last week. She stares at Lee, sees him reliving the same moment with narrowed eyes and a blanched face.
"How do I know you're not going to pull a one-eighty tomorrow?"
As the moment stretches, he looks more sad than angry. Then she watches him slip out of the room, leaving her there with a dozen nuggets. She thinks about going after him, but what the hell would she say? He's right. The CAG can trust her to lead this group of idiots into battle with a hundred raiders, but how can Lee trust her to be his for the rest of their lives if she can't even trust herself?
Digging her nails into her palms, she shakes off the stupid angst and stares up at her class. "Right. Once your leader confirms that the situation is under control, pull a one-eighty and get your ass back to the ship."
While the class takes notes, she stares at the open hatch and thinks again about going to find Lee. But there's no real point anymore, so she flips through her lesson plans and starts the next lecture.
Though Dee has only known about it for about a week, Joe's Bar feels more like Lee's crowd than hers. Still, she decides to drop by after her shift. Drinking alone isn't her style, but it beats doing paperwork in their quarters while Lee hashes out mission prep with the Admiral and Tigh.
It's strange at first, sitting alone at the bar, sipping her drink slowly because she's a literal lightweight. But then the guy next to her strikes up a conversation, and things shift from awkward to good. He's got a wife and kids on one of the other ships, living their lives while he helps set up one of the algae mills. Dave's a good guy with an easy smile and some genuinely funny jokes, and it's nice to just talk to a guy without flirting or expectations getting in the way.
Joe laughs when she orders a cup of tea as a chaser, but Dave grins and asks for the same. "Gotta set a good example for all the drunks around here, huh?"
Dee grins back at him and takes a sip, then flinches when she spots Starbuck at the other end of the bar.
Starbuck – easier to think of her that way – is holding court with a crowd of both men and women who seem to find her the most fascinating person in the bar. Dee knows she shouldn't snark; she has to admit that Starbuck can tell some great stories. She even liked hearing them back before Lee and marriage got in the way. If Starbuck notices her too, she doesn't let on, and Dee decides it doesn't matter anyway. What's done is done, and she'll be going home to her husband soon enough.
A half-hour later, Dave says he's got an early day tomorrow, leaving with a promise to look for her next time he's here. She waves goodbye and turns back to the bar, just people-watching as she finishes her second drink. But when she fishes in her pocket for cash to pay the tab, someone beside her slaps a few bills onto the bar.
"I've got her tab, Joe."
Dee looks up to see Starbuck there beside her, close enough to touch but staring straight ahead. "Thanks, but I can –"
Starbuck shrugs. "Least I could do, huh?"
And the weight of last month's secrets and lies hangs in the air like cigarette smoke.
Dee curses her inability to think on her feet. Always too careful about saying the right thing, keeping her words focused and calm. A great quality for a communications officer, but totally useless for a woman standing next to the other woman she knows her husband still loves. Before she can come up with a speech, Starbuck drums her nails on the bar and exhales.
"He chose you."
Dee blinks. "What –"
"That night last week." Her head bobs and twitches before turning toward her, and Dee shivers at the strange look in her eyes. "I cornered him in the ready room. Told him I'd leave Sam if he left you. The big romantic gesture, huh? Didn't matter. He chose you."
It's Kara's turn to blink now, and in the dim light Dee can see that her eyes are red, her face lined and almost pained. All those big speeches fail her now, and though this woman's saying she nearly stole her husband, Dee suddenly wants to touch her arm, to say that she's the one who's sorry.
Gods, she's never felt so frakked-up and frakked before.
It doesn't matter, though, because Kara slaps the bar again, leaving the cash there. Another quick glance at Dee, then she mutters, "Just thought you'd want to know that," and walks away.
Dee stares at her back, wondering what it is about Kara Thrace that has half the ship either loving or hating her, sometimes both at the same time. Why her husband loves this woman so much. Charm and beauty don't really matter that much in the real world, but it'd be easier to hate her if Kara looked like a goddess, if she had a sparkling laugh and witty repartee. Then Dee could just chalk it up to superficiality, to guys being guys. But it's more complicated than that, and she thinks that if she could just figure out why Lee's so obsessed with her, she could put it into perspective and find a way to get past it.
Kara's full of hard edges. Rude, but probably more from cluelessness than intent. She grins a lot, but she's never seemed very happy. Back before Dee ever thought about getting together with Lee, she remembers watching him and Starbuck at the triad table – the way they sparked off each other, how he seemed a little more alive when she was there. She'd noticed the same thing as she listened to them over comms. It was fascinating. She used to think that it was just Lee's personality, that he'd be the same way once they got together. Now she realizes it was all because of Starbuck.
She's young, but she's not stupid. She suspects there was more to it than just "He chose you", but she's not sure she wants to know just how much more. She wonders why Kara would even tell her about it. Guilt, perhaps? Maybe Dee just needed to hear from her that it was over, that Lee wasn't just slinking home to his wife again.
Dee blinks at Joe, who's holding up a bottle of cheap ambrosia, and she suddenly feels every ounce of her two earlier drinks. She shakes her head and smiles a no-thanks, then stands up and finds that her legs aren't as wobbly as they should be. Sitting here obsessing over Starbuck and Apollo wouldn't solve anything, and she's tired of trying to figure out the mess. Her husband's probably home waiting for her – not Kara – and she suddenly wants to see him again, to remind herself that he's hers now. Not completely, because Kara's always going to be there around the edges, but he's hers in the ways that count.
Never thought she'd miss New Caprica. Never thought she'd wish life were that boring again. Still bored up here in space, but this way's much worse. At least back in the months before the Cylons showed up, she'd known what to expect. These days, Kara wakes up every morning, straps herself into a viper, and shoots out the launch tube. Just waiting, waiting for the Gods to finally call in a favor and make good on her frakking so-called "destiny". And she sees that damn mandala painted everywhere –her stupid apartment wall, the side of an ancient temple, the backs of her eyelids when she pretends to sleep.
It's eating her alive. She knows she's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she's smart enough to act like she doesn't give a damn, that she's forgotten all about those ugly swirls of red, blue, yellow. So she drinks and smokes, takes pointless risks on pointless CAPs, fills out paperwork, goes to bed and doesn't sleep. It's her own version of "boring".
Kara wants to talk about it, just to have someone smart knock some sense into her. But Helo's busy with his rugrat, and Adama wrote her off months ago. President Roslin might understand – she's into that mystical, prophetic bullshit – but they barely speak the same language, and the woman's always made her a little uncomfortable.
Once or twice, she does talk to Sam about it. Naked, because words are easier that way. He kisses her neck, says it's going to be okay, that she's Kara Frakking Thrace, and no Cylon or mandala's gonna get the best of her. She elbows him and says he sounds like he's trash-talking about the Panthers on one of those old talk wireless shows back in the day, and that makes him laugh until he forgets what they'd been talking about. But he doesn't understand, not really, and sometimes she thinks that's what she loves most about him. "Boring" can be good, in its own weird way.
She wonders what would happen if she talked to Lee. He'd roll his eyes at the religious crap, but he'd still know exactly what to say. Two years ago, she would've gotten him drunk, blabbed, and blamed it all on the booze the next morning. But that's dead and buried now, and they can only seem to talk to each other these days via comms (she ignores how his wife's listening in) or through some weird code that's about CAPs instead of relationships. It's all so gods-damned pathetic, and when she's lying in bed alone, she thinks she'd give it all up – the kissing, the i-love-yous, the chunk of her heart with his name on it – if they could just get past all this crap and be okay again.
She eats algae to dull the mandala's sting, and she gains seven pounds. Lee would probably make a sympathetic joke about it if they were friends again, but they're not. She chases away the hunger with happy hour at Joe's, pretends not to notice Dee across the room, and then gets drunk enough to go make amends with her. Gotta pay penance, even if it's just "He chose you" and some crumpled bills on the bar. And it hurts more than she lets on, but at least it's made this night a little less boring.
Some of the New Capricans brought back a virus that has finally made its way over to the Galactica. The bug hasn't gotten to her yet, so Dee's stuck with double-shifts while one of the other comms officers sweats and retches it out of his system. She sympathizes, of course, but the overtime is taking its toll. Rubbing her neck, she heads back to quarters after work and mentally reviews all the things she has to do before the next fourteen hours in the CIC: two status reports to complete, laundry to fold, and she should really put together some kind of gift for one of the recruits' wedding next week.
When she opens the hatch, she finds her husband sitting on the floor, surrounded by clothes, checking two socks for a match. She laughs, then laughs harder at his puzzled grin. "You hate doing laundry."
He shrugs. "I'm almost out of clean underwear."
They're still joking around ten minutes later when everything's put away. She closes the drawer and asks if his next project is to learn how to sew. "Maybe you could use one of those bedsheets to make me a couple of new shirts."
Lee rolls his eyes. "I know how to sew – not very well, but I can handle a needle and thread. I can also cook a decent dinner and push a mop across the floor, thank you very much."
"Lee Adama: every woman's dream husband." Before she even finishes, she realizes what a stupid thing it was to say after all that's happened. But she's really not in the mood for a fight right now – he's been trying hard these days, and she still remembers Kara's words the other night – so she puts on a smile and quips, "Next time the floor needs vacuuming, I'll be sure to let you know."
They spend the next few minutes getting dinner ready, and if he's uncomfortable about what she'd said, he doesn't let on. His face looks lighter tonight. Younger. Maybe even genuinely happy. She remembers how their marriage wasn't always such a minefield. Back in the days of orbital patrol, they'd actually talked and been comfortable together. She has photos of them hanging out in the rec room, some dried flowers he'd given her for their anniversary. There's a crack on the mirror from when they'd accidentally knocked it over while dancing and singing off-key. It was never completely perfect – the specter of Kara had hung between them even before her return – but they'd felt like a couple instead of just a husband and wife.
Whether or not he truly deserved it, she recommitted herself to him last week. It'll take a lot of work to get back to the way things were, and they might never get back there again. But choosing to stay with him means that she needs to start looking for the good instead of expecting the worst. She knows it won't be easy and might just fall apart again, but this is the life she chose. He's the man she married. So she takes the chair opposite him and tells him all about her day as he listens carefully. Maybe guilt is what's making him try so hard, but right now she's more than happy to accept it.
"We need to talk."
He stops her after the post-shift briefing, and though the room's wide open, she feels cornered. She doesn't have time for another argument, not with training reports to write and a new bottle of homebrew in her locker. Kara starts to tell him she's through talking about all this crap, but her mouth snaps shut at the look on his face. Not mad. Maybe concerned. He raises his eyebrows, almost as if he's saying please, so she shrugs and slumps down in a chair as he dogs the hatch.
She remembers the last time it was just the two of them in this room. How pathetically nervous she'd been as she decided to lay it all on the line for him, to take a chance just this once. She can't even feel humiliated about it now, because him choosing her was never going to happen. She grinds her teeth and shoves all that crap to the back of her mind. Whining about it wasn't going to change anything. Might as well move the frak on.
"Captain –" Lee takes three deep breaths – loudly enough for her to count – and that sets her on edge in a different way. He frowns then takes the seat next to hers. "While you were on CAP, I sat in on President Roslin's interrogation of the Cylon prisoner. She asked for you by name. Said she had a message for you from the Leoben model."
Kara swallows back a sudden sour taste in her throat, her mind filling with garish images of the mandala, of Scar and Leoben and ... and .... oh, shit.
Lee reaches over as if he's going to touch her knee, but then he pulls his hand back. She focuses on his movements, keeps her eyes wide open because if she blinks, she knows what she's gonna see.
"Kara, what happened when the Cylons kept you prisoner back on New Caprica?"
Something inside her cracks and crashes. She's not gonna cry, not gonna fall apart in front of him or any other frakking person on this frakking ship. And she wishes that she hadn't screwed him over so damn many times, that they could just do an FTL jump back to the day of the dedication ceremony on New Caprica. She'd find an excuse for them to just stay on the ship so that they couldn't get drunk and naked and shout "I love you". And then she wouldn't have frakked everything up so badly. She loves him so damn much, more than she wants to love anything in this gods forsaken universe, but right now she wishes they could go back to when they'd just been friends.
"Kara?" he repeats, finally touching her knee, and the look on his face makes her wonder if maybe they can go back.
"Are we friends?" she blurts out.
He pauses long enough for her to actually get worried, but then he nods. "Yeah, we're friends."
She hates talking about her life. Better to just get on with it than to act all emotional and stupid. But he's here, and even with all the shit in the past, she knows he understands. So she starts talking before she can remember why it's better to keep it all locked inside. She tells him about those four months with Leoben, all his lies that almost sounded true. She tells him about Kacey, how she'd been a mom for a few weeks, feelings that even Sam doesn't know about. She talks about drawing that mandala over and over throughout her life, just thinking it was an interesting shape, but now it scares the hell out of her. She almost wants to talk about them, but that's still too raw and awful. Right now it's better just to have him listen.
By the time it's over, her throat is raw and her hands are sweaty, but at least she's made it to the other side. He reaches over and laces their fingers together, and she realizes she doesn't want to kiss him, that the cheating and rejection and all that frakking pain have faded at the edges. Still there, yeah, but not so awful anymore. And for the first time, Lee doesn't try to say something stupid and profound to make it all seem bigger than it is. He's just here, and she's glad.
Only one nightly shuttle over to Sam's ship, the Tarbadek. Kara sits in the hangar and watches flight prep, and just as the civilian pilot announces departure, she crosses the deck and gets on board. The flight lasts forty-three minutes, with a couple of stops along the way, and she sits up front and watches the pilot because it's easier than figuring out what she's going to say to Sam, or why she's even coming to see him.
But once they land, she feels strangely excited to be there. Hasn't been to the Tarbadek many times, but she knows her way around it already. She finds Sam in the mess hall, chatting with a few friends about politics, of all frakking things. It's kind of cute. Slipping up behind him, she covers his eyes and leans in to murmur, "Hey, husband."
Sam laughs a little too loudly and wraps his arms around her waist. "Check it out, guys. My wife shows up ten minutes after we run out of booze. Say what you will about the military, but they know when to come in and save our asses."
Kara frowns and pulls away. "I didn't bring you any alcohol." Is that the only reason you thought I'd come see you, Sam?
Can't blame him for thinking that, though, so she kisses the top of his head and smiles. "Just wanted to see you." His eyes narrow, but then they light up with a smile even bigger than hers, and that makes her feel good. Really good. She tells him to ignore her and get back to their political chat, while she rubs his shoulders and doesn't bother pretending to listen.
It's kinda enjoyable, though, just being here with him. And she remembers how they'd been good at this back on New Caprica, how the sex was great but hanging out with friends was sometimes even better. She still wishes she could change that morning when she'd nearly choked on fear and ran away, dragging Sam to the priest because it was easier – safer – than the alternative. She wishes she could get rid of all the pain she's caused by just climbing in her viper and blowing it away like a Cylon. If she had a do-over, she's not sure she'd marry him again – or if she should've married Lee when he still wanted her – but right now she's glad she has Sam.
An hour or so later, she follows him back to his small private room, laughing at his jokes about not knowing what to do with her when she's sober. It stings a little, but she's pretty sure he's just teasing her, that he doesn't really think she can only be with him when she's drunk. Yeah, they've had a crappy time of it lately, but he's going to be her husband for the rest of her life. Might as well start making good on the "better" part of "for better or for worse".
She forgot a change of clothes, so she strips down to her underwear and grabs one of his shirts, noticing the surprise on his face. "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache," she quips. C'mon, Sam. You remember how to just sleep with me, right? We're about more than just sex, aren't we?
"Glad you came by," he says as he gets in bed. Yeah, he remembers, and she loves him for that.
She wraps herself around him, pulling the covers up and resting her head on his shoulder. He kisses her forehead and mutters, "Love you, babe," and almost immediately falls asleep. She closes her eyes, and of course the mandala shoves its way back into her thoughts, but she refuses to dwell on it tonight. Right now her world feels almost okay again, and she holds on to that feeling for dear life.