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This Could Take All Night

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It's been a pretty good run. Part of Kara thinks she should be bitter because this is the closest it's going to get to a bright shiny future. Bitter because she's gone out with a bang once and doesn't even remember it but right now she's going to quietly fade away and knows it.

But most of her?

Most of her feels pretty frakking good. There's a sense of accomplishment, a sense of weight shaken off her shoulders, that's every bit as tangible as the warm slant of sunlight on her face, and some of the people who matter most to her still have a shot at a bright future of their own right here on this world that's so vibrant it kind of makes her heart ache.

Like Helo and his family.

Like Lee. She gives him a smile that wants to waver -- she's never been great at goodbyes that matter -- and when she asks him what he's going to do with himself now it's only partly because she's curious. It's also partly because she doesn't want him to see her go. Not again. Saying goodbye to the old man was hard enough for both of them.

As Lee looks away from her, a little boy grin crinkling his face while he gazes toward the mountains in the distance, she closes her eyes and discovers something about quietly fading away: it makes your toes feel funny.

She opens her eyes and she's not sure why she knows he won't be able to see her when he looks back, but she knows it. And sure enough, when he glances her way again he stops short, words failing him, and his face falls. He tells her and the sky and the tall waving grass that she won't be forgotten, and that's as much as she can ask for.

Then, clearing her throat like she needs to get his attention, she steps up and sticks her tongue out at him.

He doesn't notice. He simply walks right through her -- it makes her want to sneeze -- and then continues slowly through the field. She shouts at him and gets no reaction, and it's amusing enough to her that she follows him for a few minutes and then runs out ahead of him to do an awkward cartwheel that by all rights should sprain her wrist. But it doesn't and she's laughing so hard her whole midsection hurts. When she finally lets herself collapse in the grass, her eyes glued to the fluffy clouds inching across the sky, her face warmed by the sun, she stops to wonder why she's still here. Aren't there supposed to be fields of Elysium? A boat pulling into shore? Dead loved ones waiting to welcome her?

She guesses she's broken enough rules at this point that a few more don't make that much difference, and over the next few days she takes advantage of the situation.

A visit to Helo is first on her list of things to do since she never got a proper goodbye, and he and Athena don't seem to notice her at all but Hera is a different story. Hera's a watchful little owl, blinking wide eyes at her, and it's kind of nice to be noticed again. Nice to have somebody laugh when she makes faces, and it's fun but she tries not to do that too much because gods know the last thing the Agathons need at this point is to think their daughter has cracked. Despite feeling like a voyeur, she sticks around until after Helo tucks Hera in to the tune of a bedtime story about fireflies.

Next she checks in on the old man, who's roughing it on a hillside in one of the best frakking spots she's seen for a cabin so far. He talks to a stone-covered grave right about the time the sun peaks in the sky, and his tone is soft enough that she feels like she's intruding. He's doing all right, but what she told Lee is right: the old man will live and die up here. He doesn't react when she speaks up to remind him that he didn't lose everyone he loves, but she likes to think she's loud enough to get through that hard head of his.

She'd originally thought she'd check in on the Tighs after her trip back downhill, but after hearing the old man talking to Roslin's unresponsive grave her thoughts stray in a different direction. There's nothing they could do for Sam down here, but there's something she can do for him up there. If she can come back from the dead, if she can feel that she's done what she's waited all her life to do and then fade out on the breeze, she can sure as frak test the limits of her new abilities. Closing her eyes tight, she thinks of Galactica.

It takes over sixty seconds, but she feels the change when it happens. The earth beneath her feet gives way to a subtle vibration; the sound of birds in the trees gets replaced by a dangerous rattle of metal-on-metal, the electric hiss and spit of mechanical malfunction. The intense wave of heat could stagger her, but she opens her eyes and runs through the ship to the last place she saw Sam: the CIC. Around her she can hear Galactica groaning as it gets closer and closer to the sun. She feels it all, but she's past all danger at this point. When she finds Sam in the tub where she left him, wires snaking around, she throws any thought of caution to the wind and climbs over the side to join him, liquid sloshing over her legs. Sam's eyes stare straight at her, almost unseeing, but she knows he's aware of her.

"Sam." Her hands find his shoulders. "I need you to forget commands and functions and coordinates. Just listen to me."

It takes her off guard when he blinks twice in quick succession, but she'll take that as an okay, baby and run with it. There's a stream on Earth that winds near the base of the old man's new territory; she starts to describe it to him: the cool rippling water, the thick patch of trees nearby, the handful of red-and-white wildflowers peeking above the grass.

That's where she wants him to be when this is over.

*

The sight of Hot Dog bathing Nicky on the edge of her sun-dappled stream makes her momentarily forget to wonder about Sam.

(Shouldn't dead people have some kind of internal alarm that lets them know when people who matter to them have died?)

"Brendan Constanza. Look at you, family man." She laughs to herself, then wiggles her fingers in a wave meant for Nicky. "You know, Hot Dog, I've got good news for you. There are women left in the fleet who will love the idea of a single man with a baby." It's not her thing, but she knows they exist.

Nicky lets out a crow and his little hands splash in the water, and she thinks the kid's got the right idea.

Nobody complains when she moves a few feet down and strips her clothes off. Nobody complains when she wades into the stream until the water licks at her hips.

In fact, nobody says anything at all until she hears a low appreciative whistle behind her. She whips around and her heart lodges firmly in her throat. "Gods. It took you long enough."

"Frakking stream covers a lot of ground." Smiling, Sam reaches up and rubs a hand over his shaved head. "You're looking good for a dead woman." Inspired, he peels his clothes off with an ease that belies the weeks he just spent lying first in a hospital bed and then in that special tub the Cylons rigged up. The tattoo that ripples on his arm reminds her that no matter how frakked up things got he's still her Sam. Human, Cylon: it doesn't matter at all. And human or Cylon, he still looks godsdamn good.

She raises her arms like she's modeling her skin for him, then grins and crooks a finger at him. "You should come here."

He halts after a few steps forward, like he can make her believe he's not planning to join her as soon as possible. "Why's that?"

"We need to see if you make me want to sneeze."

He grins and shakes his head, not understanding. "Kara, you're definitely not allergic to me."

"Just come here."

She doesn't need to tell him again. Behind her, she hears Hot Dog leaving with Nicky, and for a split second it reminds her of all the times she and Sam kicked him out of the room so they could frak. With the stream creeping up his thighs, Sam stops about a foot in front of her. It's not close enough, so she reaches for him, barking out a laugh of uncensored delight when her hands connect with his arms, warm muscle, and manage to pull him toward her. Their bodies bump together, and before she knows it he's laughing along with her even though she doesn't think he gets it yet.

He will.

*

When the sky is dark, dotted by pinpricks of light, Kara lies back in the grass, her hair fanned out around her head, and looks up.

Sitting beside her, Sam leans back on his elbows. "That was a great trick you did."

Her eyes slant sideways toward him, eyebrows rising. "Sam, you've seen that one before."

He laughs. "I don't mean that tongue thing."

"It is a great trick."

"One of my favorites," he admits, his voice a rasp of appreciative memory.

"Mm." She grins smugly at the sky. "I could tell. But what did you really mean?"

He turns toward her, a smile on his face despite the seriousness of his tone. "You-- died months ago, Kara. When you flew into that storm you really frakking died."

Her eyes return to the sky; she shrugs her shoulders and takes a second to moisten her lips. "Trust me, I'd take credit for the comeback if I could."

"You don't know how it happened?"

She bends her arms at the elbows, lifting her hands with her fingers spread wide. "Sam, your guess is as good as mine."

"What about your field trip to Galactica to see me?"

Her lips curve. "I suck at goodbyes."

"Yeah, you do." He exhales a short laugh. "Can't seem to make them stick. So why could people see you before when they can't now?"

Reaching out, she puts her fingers over his lips. He takes advantage of the situation by kissing her fingertips, but that doesn't stop her. "I don't know, Sam. Honestly. I've been operating on pure gut feeling for ages, and if there's one thing I can tell you it's this: I did what I was supposed to do, and it feels really frakking good. Like frakking-after-a-pyramid-win good. Or pulling off a last-second save in a Viper." It's a gratifying feeling she wants to bask in.

Clear blue eyes fixed on her, he studies her face. "So your days of being visible and solid are over?"

It makes her laugh a little; she's pretty sure she feels solid enough to him. "I wouldn't say that."

"Well, if you wouldn't say that, I have a proposition for you."

"Oh, really?" Grinning sharply, she rolls onto her side so she can face him. "I like the sound of this."

"I think that you should teach me how to do it too."

A second away from laughing right out loud again, she arches both eyebrows. "I don't know if that's a skill you can teach."

"Hey, I'm a quick study, but if you can't" -- a smirk cuts across his face -- "then just say so."

There's nothing like a little competition between husband and wife. "I can do it." Tipping foward, she aims her grin at him like a weapon. "And lucky for you, Sammy, I don't mind doing charity work."

*

When she says she's going to do something she does it. By noon the next day she's just about mastered quickly and quietly fading back in. It's not as easy as fading out, which she does quickly when Gaius and his Six of choice -- Caprica -- stroll by. And she guesses that makes sense. Luckily, she's got nothing but time.

"You'll feel it right down to your toes," she tells her self-professed quick study of a new student.

He opens one eye at her, breaking his focus. "Are we still talking about the same thing here?"

Her grin bares teeth. "We'll figure that out once you pull this off."

Beneath the distraction of flirtation, she can tell this is bothering him and will right up until the moment he gets that sensation she keeps describing for him. He's like a kid learning to swim or ride a bike.

(He's like Zak wanting to learn to fly.)

A sliver of her wants to remind him that she's not even sure he can do this. For all she knows it has something to do with her so-called special destiny, but she's too stubborn to give up, too stubborn to entertain the thought that she can't help Sam with this.

"If you go solid again will you walk right through me?"

She shrugs her response. "Want to try it?"

His mouth sets in a line, but he nods once. "Go for it."

Closing her eyes, she relaxes her shoulders. For her it feels like a matter of releasing tension in her body and operating on sheer gut-level force of will. Whether she needs to or not, she breathes deeply, feeling for a few moments as though she can measure her life -- her afterlife? -- out breath by breath. The telltale tingling in her toes lets her know when she's done it.

When her eyes open, the expression on Sam's face is intent. He reaches out, his hand moving toward the side of her face, and she thinks they're both a little disappointed when his hand ghosts through her, insubstantial when his fingers should touch her cheek.

Disappointment tightens his jaw.

She scrunches up her nose in lieu of scratching it. "Here. Hold your hand up."

Pulling his hand back, he holds it up between them, palm facing her and fingers spread. She holds up her hand to mirror it, close but not touching. The expression on his face says he doesn't know what she's thinking but he's game to find out, and that's her Sam. She smiles at him, self-assured enough to look encouraging.

"Don't close your eyes," she insists. "Keep them on me."

A hint of a smile quirks a corner of his mouth. "Eyes on the prize."

"Now you're talking, Sammy." A laugh rises in her throat, and she could swear she feels the heat from his hand.

It starts with their fingertips, feather-light, the kind of slow seduction they've never really been through. Their fingers weave together; their palms touch. Her free hand reaches to explore his arm, traces the ink that brands his skin, rises higher until it can latch onto his shoulder. When she looks him in the eye he's grinning like it's his birthday and she's just showed up at his door with no clothes on and two bottles of ambrosia as her only accessories.

Her hands skate up past his shoulders and the sides of his face to rest on either side of his head. She misses his hair -- she's missed it since the day they shaved it all off -- but the truth is a sharp pang in her chest that insists she'd rather have him without hair than not have him at all.

"You were right about my toes. We'll work on the hair next," he cracks as his hands find their way around her to rest against the small of her back.

"You don't like the bald look?"

"Frak no. Don't tell me you do." His hands knead her back, urging her forward until they're pressed together and then sneaking under the hem of her shirt.

"Not gonna lie, Sam. You're hotter with hair."

"It's all right." He's watching her lips like the act of forming words is the greatest thing he's ever seen her do. "I know a few ways to make up for that."

Humming in approval, she laces her fingers behind his neck. "Prove it."