"I hear it's 'cause one time around just isn't enough."
"Naw, it's 'cause she's fast, man. Plain and simple."
"That girl will keep you going round and round in circles 'til you can't see straight."
"And then just when you think you've got her figured out, she throws you another curve."
She'd heard them all before, if only because they talked about her like she wasn't in the room. All the nuggets had their own theories, and of course, none of them were right. By now, only a handful of her original squadron were left alive, and as far as she was concerned, her secret was snug in the pockets of lost friends sent drifting out airlocks and cockpits alike. It wasn't much of a parting gift; simple, if a bit selfish. But on the days when she felt like a piece of herself had died right along with them, Racetrack found it strangely comforting to acknowledge that one piece actually had.
Kat had never asked. She probably assumed she would know by now if Racetrack wanted her to, and she'd be right. Besides, they were long past basics now. You don't spend a year buried between a girl's legs without knowing her mother's favorite movie, much less where her call sign comes from. If Kat hadn't asked around, or hell, even figured it out on her own, it was too late to start. Racetrack closed her eyes at the bitter irony that the one person left who knew, the very woman who'd knighted her, was the one person Kat would never ask.
Their rivalry stank of sweat, of stims and scotch and the burning stench of ego. Even with Starbuck thousands of miles away on the surface, a world apart and not heard from for months, her presence lingered in every seat of the ready room, her voice echoing down the corridor to the flight deck. Kat still looked over her shoulder before pushing Racetrack against the wall, feeding her a line about the Admiral making more rounds than usual. Racetrack wasn't afraid of Starbuck now and never was, but the nervous look in Kat's eyes made her wonder if she should be.
Racetrack's fling with Starbuck was over a year before Kat even entered flight training, but that never mattered much to Kat. The boys talked over drinks, and she had listened, arms crossed and silently seething. Like a dog with a bone, she clung to the image of that asshole frakking her girl, baring her teeth when she felt the ghost of her enemy slip by. Kat and Racetrack were two of only a dozen pilots left on Galactica, scattered across acres of emptiness and cold. But even at night, locked away in the barracks, panting and limbs tangled, not a soul within earshot, they were never truly alone.
Sometimes, after Kat had wiped her mouth on the sheet and crawled back up for a kiss, Racetrack would bury her fingers in the thick mess of hair, rest her lips against Kat's forehead, and remember how much happier they both used to be. The first month after the election had been such a whirlwind of change and discovery. Kat had been all too eager to volunteer for Adama's flight guard, and with drunken shouts of Anders Craze and settlement talk filling the halls, no one pretended to be surprised. But it wasn't until Kat kissed Racetrack outside the Mess the first quiet morning that she realized Kat hadn't stayed because Starbuck left. Kat stayed because she did.
It was a side of Kat she had never seen before, a tenderness and timidity that continued to surprise her as the days passed. She could feel a satiated longing in the way Kat's hand held her neck, strong fingers gently guiding their mouths together as they lay down. Kat could fire five rounds from a spin without breaking a sweat, but she trembled when Racetrack breathed in her ear, shaking the first time Racetrack unzipped her flight suit. It seemed so simple now, the clutter of variables stripped away to reveal a girl more afraid of her emotions than failure. All this time, Kat's swagger and misguided notions of discrediting Starbuck were nothing but thinly veiled fits of insecurity. One desperate attempt after another to prove herself worthy of Racetrack's affections. In the end, all she'd needed was a lost election, an uncharted habitable planet, and the timely rescue of the man of her enemy's dreams. Simple, really.
They fell into a pattern easily, only apart during training drills and in the Admiral's presence. They went on dates of sorts, having an entire Battlestar mostly to themselves, and every overlooked room became a new opportunity for romance. As reports of schools and labor unions trickled up from New Caprica, Kat seemed less and less worried that her bubble would burst. She had the girl, the job, and the ship, and her nemesis was too busy shacking up with a man in a wasteland to notice. For the first time since the destruction of everything she had loved, Kat had allowed herself to be happy.
Then they were found. The Cylon fleet blazed in like lightning with the promise of thunder mere seconds behind. Within minutes, Kat and Racetrack's world had spiraled out of control and jumped away. The ship felt even emptier now, galaxies away from friends and loved ones left behind, the very souls they had sworn to protect. Racetrack knew not to mention their names in conversation; Kat knew better than to leave Starbuck out of her prayers.
Things hadn't been the same since that day, and Racetrack resented the Cylons now more than she ever knew possible. She focused her anger into studying flight patterns and taking countless shifts on orbit duty, knowing the best way to hold together was to keep moving forward. Kat handled the occupation with far less grace, though she did have the restraint to only fall apart in Racetrack's arms. Outside their bunk, Kat spent her downtime with a punching bag, withdrawn from everything and everyone who tried to touch her. Racetrack hadn't realized how lost Kat could be without a visible target, as if a focal point for her rage served more as a compass needle guiding her life. Now, locked away in a metal box light years from everyone who had caused her pain, Kat had never seemed so shattered.
She had waited for Kat to throw her last punch in the round before speaking, though she knew Kat would ignore her anyway. Racetrack walked into the rec room and sat on a weight bench, resting her forearms on her knees as she leaned forward. Looking down at her interlocked fingers, she opened her mouth and hesitated. There wasn't anything she could say today that would elicit a response, nor was there the day before or the three days before that. In a way, the staccato of slaps against the vinyl was conversation enough, or so Kat seemed to think. Racetrack toyed around with converting the patterns to Morse Code before remembering Kat had never bothered to learn it.
"What do you want," Kat said between sharp punches, never taking her eyes off the bag.
Racetrack looked up, surprised, and paused again. She missed that voice. "Admiral wants to see your flight plan by 1800." It was a lie, but it might keep her talking.
Kat shifted her feet and fired another sequence of jabs, exhaling harder with each thrust. She looked tired, and Racetrack realized Kat was probably ready to leave but too stubborn to risk walking out now, lest she be followed. After 16 months of reading Kat's moods, she knew she could wait this out if she had to.
The minutes stretched on like hours, each punch keeping time as they sat in consensual silence. Racetrack lost count of Kat's circles around the bag and finally walked over to place herself between it and Kat. She stood with her arms loosely at her sides and face blank, her body more a plea than a dare.
Kat was not amused. "Move."
"Hit me." It was as casual a request as passing food across the table.
Kat scowled and stepped around for a clear shot at the bag, but Racetrack moved with her.
"What is this?" Kat asked, annoyed as hell, shifting again and still blocked.
"I want you to hit me."
"Do you." Kat's arms were down now, simply circling the bag at a slow pace as Racetrack followed.
"You obviously wanna hit someone. Might as well be me."
Kat stopped and stared her down hard. "Get out of my way, Meg. I'm not gonna ask you again."
"When did you stop calling me 'Racetrack'? You're still 'Kat'," she shrugged, crossing her arms as she leaned her weight against the bag. She prepared to duck if Kat threw a punch, confident she'd seen enough of them to judge their average speed and height.
Kat stepped in closer and stood inches from Racetrack's face. "Do you really wanna get into this."
"I'm not afraid of you," she replied plainly, as Kat's fist landed an formidable blow inches from her face. Racetrack didn't move. "Talk to me."
Kat laughed away the impression she had failed to make, yanking her gloves off one at a time in frustration. "Yeah, like you really don't know."
"Maybe I don't. Why don't you tell me."
"Because I don't wanna frakkin' talk about her anymore!" Kat yelled, throwing a glove across the room for emphasis. "She's not here, Meg. I am."
"And now the Admiral has put you in charge of getting her back, and you're gonna do it because you're the CAG and it's your job," said Racetrack.
Kat grinned angrily and shook her head. "You must be just loving this."
"How long do I have to be with you before you'll believe that I'm with you?" Racetrack countered.
Kat looked away to keep herself composed, the sting in her eyes overshadowing the ache in her arms. "You know," she started slowly, mouth half open and squinting against the pain of honesty, "every time somebody calls you 'Racetrack', all I can think about is her hands all over you."
Racetrack held very still. She'd waited over a year for this, to reach this place Kat had buried so deep inside her.
Kat spoke softly, still avoiding Racetrack's eyes. "I know she gave you that call sign. Everybody knows why."
"No. You don't." She stood up straighter, offering sympathetic eyes if Kat would only look at her.
"Are we done here? Cause I'm a little tired." Kat turned and headed for her duffel bag, picking up her stray glove on the way.
"Ask me," Racetrack said, still standing at the bag.
"You know what? I don't care. I really don't--"
"Ask me, Kat."
She froze but said nothing, too stubborn to speak the question hanging in the air between them. The dull echo of engines roared in the distance, noticeable only now in the glaring quiet of the room. Kat turned for the door.
"There's a pin on the coat in my locker."
Kat stopped and turned her head slightly, listening.
Just when you think you've got her figured out, she throws you another curve.
"A sun," Racetrack continued. "I know I've showed it to you."
Kat realized she was expected to participate. "Your father gave you that."
"He bought it at this track he used to take me to when I was younger called Besden Hill. He knew I liked horses at he wanted me to see some. Ironically, the souvenir shop didn't have any horse pins, so he bought me a sun instead." Racetrack's voice quivered slightly. "He picked it because he said I was the light of his life."
Kat met her eyes at this, suddenly aware this story hadn't been told since the attacks.
"I wore the jacket when I showed up for my first day of boot camp. Starbuck was one of the officers overseeing us. She saw the pin and asked me where I got it."
Kat looked back down, ashamed at the rage she'd carried inside her this long.
Suddenly, Helo's voice filled the room. "Lieutenant Katraine, please contact CIC immediately, Lieutenant Katraine."
Neither girl moved for a moment. "I gotta--"
"Yeah," Racetrack said warmly, "go on."
Kat nodded once and headed for the door, now wanting to stay for the first time since Racetrack had come in. "I'll see ya."
She stopped and turned back around without a word.
"I never loved her."
Kat let the words sink in, both the truth and implication of them, before replying, "I should have asked a long time ago."