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Beauty and the Beast

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When the cylons came again, thirty years after the last war and fifteen years since the Colonials had slid back into an unwary and determined denial, it took everyone but Commander William Adama by surprise. He had always known they would be back, had known from the moment he saw the half human atrocities that the cylons had abandoned on that desert moon a lifetime ago. Bill had been prepared, his ship still disconnected from networks, his crew kept pointed and sure by constant drilling, and his sons honed to razors from the moment of their respective births, weapons in his arsenal with analytical minds, sharp eyes and soft pilot hands.

When the half strangled yelp of a distress call from a remote outpost on the anniversary of détente was ignored by Fleet, Adama charted a jump, heart in his throat, steel in his spine and pilots fully scrambled. They were back. As sure as the nightmares that plagued his sleep and the resentment in his oldest son’s eyes, they were there; a baseship in orbit around the satellite, new and shiny and minus the scars carried by his own body, his own ship. Bill exchanged a weighted glance with his best friend and executive officer, Colonel Saul Tigh, another crumpled ex jet jock, another survivor from the old wars, no better man to have in a fight when he was off the booze. Tigh reached for the 1MC and stated the single word that Adama had ever found truth in, “Battlestations”.

* * *

“Let’s roll, Starbuck,” Major Daniel “Bulldog” Novacek barked to Lieutenant Kara Thrace, controlled urgency bleeding over the coms, across ramps, to the launch tubes. She listened to him as he switched to Tower, “Tower, Viper 236 and 145, request permission to launch.”

“Viper 236 and 145, position and hold.” Kara pushed her thrusters forward and taxied carefully up the ramp, her blood pounding in her ears. This is it. This is it. This is it. Frakking cylons. Cylons! Old Man had been right after all. Son of a bitch.

“Hanging tough there, Thrace?” Bulldog’s steady baritone flooded through her cockpit, interrupting the silent litany of the launch checklist running through her head over and over, a prayer offered to Athena on the eve of battle, and she loosened her death grip on the stick and throttle.

“Sir, yes sir,” she replied with enough brash, sarcastic ego to reassure her CAG and to remind herself that she was Kara Motherfrakking Thrace. She could almost hear him rolling his eyes.

“Viper 236 and 145, you are clear for launch,” and Kara started when she realized that Dee’s smooth voice had been replaced by the rasp of William Adama. “Bulldog, Starbuck, good hunting.”

The tube fired up around her. She ran her eyes swiftly over her instruments as she pushed her throttle to the firewall. Fuel Pressure – good, engine temperature – in the green, altimeter – set, gyroscope – holding steady. One last look to her wings confirming flaps up. She watched Bulldog’s catapult flash and he was gone. Kara took in a firm steady breath, braced for the G’s, saluted the shooter and was flung into the vacuum of space; into the first volleys of a new Cylon war.

* * *

“Turn them off! Turn them off, turn them off!” Captain Lee Adama sprinted through the startled silence of CIC, ripping network cables from the walls of the Pegasus.

He grabbed the 1MC with shaking hands and spoke loudly, in a rush, his words reverberating around the ship. “Disconnect all computers, all equipment, all platforms from any network you can think of. Battle stations!” He clicked off the mic, and turned. “Hoshi!”

“Sir!” The young man looked ill but was holding steady.

“Patch me through to Fleet Headquarters, priority Alpha.”

“Yes, sir!” Hoshi thrust the phone into Adama’s hand.

Lee didn’t even wait for the Officer of the Watch at HQ to identify himself, just plowed in, “This is Captain Leland J. Adama, Officer of the Watch on the flag ship, Pegasus. Command code Seven Two Whiskey Sierra Romeo. Disconnect the defense mainframe and disseminate a warning to all ships in the fleet.”

“Captain, this is not the time to –“

“Cylons!” Adama barked, “Do you think they can’t hack into it?”

“Captain--” The OOW was now sounding alarmed.

“Do it!” Adama shouted and suddenly, the phone was being pulled off his ear and thrown across the room.

“Captain Adama!” Rear Admiral Helena Cain shouted, “What the frak do you think you’re doing?”

“Sir,” he answered, jaw clenching, “You remember the war, remember how they disabled everything through our technology. One millisecond too late and our entire fleet will be rendered helpless. The way we’re networked together right now – ”

And Admiral Cain, never a woman to mince words or need unnecessary explanation once the point had been made, held out her hand imperiously, eyes never leaving the young captain’s. “This is Admiral Cain,” she spoke firmly into the phone that one of the crew had scrambled to retrieve for her. “Shut down the mainframe. Now.”

Moments later, a message on the all fleet emergency frequency blared over the radio and into the CIC “All Fleet, prepare for Mainframe Shutdown in 60 seconds, all Fleet prepare for Mainframe Shutdown in 60 seconds.”

Adama was wild-eyed and Admiral Cain looked at him appraisingly “Looks like that daddy-instilled paranoia just might have saved our collective asses,” she said.

The pilot just stood there, breathing, the fear laced adrenaline that had seemingly prompted his quick thinking now appeared to be locking his joints into inaction.

“Adama?” Cain asked expectantly.

“Sir?” Adama replied automatically, absently.

“Don’t you have a viper to fly?” She asked.

“Yes, sir,” he snapped and spun on his heel.

“Apollo,” she called before he hit the door and he turned on a dime to face her. “How about you show those toasters why the fleet is so eager to make you a test pilot.”

Blue eyes, suddenly icy, met hers and his lips turned up in an arrogant curve. Game face firmly on, Apollo saluted his CO sharply. “Yes sir.”

* * *

Kara almost lost her target when she heard the emergency call go out, cutting through her battle induced high. “Holy frak, Bulldog,” she breathed into their ship to ship channel as she pulled the trigger and watched the missile tear through the raider. They were fast. Faster than the simulators back in flight school had indicated.

“Thank the gods someone was thinking,” Bulldog replied and Kara let the implications of a cylon hack into the defense mainframe slide entirely out of her mind as she threw herself into the fight at hand. She felt the engine respond to her bump up on the throttle, rumbling through her feet as they pressed on the rudders. She consciously kept her fingers moving, pressing, playing the notes to a half forgotten song her father had taught her a long time ago, keeping loose, keeping supple. She concentrated on her breathing and slid back into the warrior headspace, where she concentrated on the opponents directly in front of her, spinning and swerving and dancing through debris and fighters, enemy and friendly alike.

Helo’s voice cut across her reverie, “Radiological alarm,” he said sharply. “They’ve got nukes.”

“CAG, get them out of there,” Adama said. “Galactica will take it from here. Gaeta – arm the warheads.”

Kara tamped down the will to keep fighting, keep flipping, shooting, running, flying forever and turned even as Bulldog said “All squadrons, you know the drill, disengage and get the frak away from that baseship.”

“Missiles armed, launch in 75 seconds,” Dee’s voice filtered through the frequency and the wing streaked back to the Galactica to get behind her, to let her shields save them from the blast and the shockwave.

“60 seconds,” Kara did a tight loop to see who was behind her, see if they needed help, but the vipers were coming hard and fast and the raptors were jumping out of range, so she pointed toward home and put the throttle to the firewall, Bulldog snapping at her heels.

“30 seconds.”

“Head count!” The CAG barked, and they rattled through quickly, barely pausing at the holes in the roster. Five were missing, but chances were they had died out there already. If not, they would shortly.

“5. . . 4 . . .3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .”

“Launch,” Adama said and Kara shielded her eyes as the nuke hit the base ship and flashed white.

“And the rest of the raiders?” Bulldog asked after the flash was gone and the baseship was breaking up into pieces before their eyes.

“Tear ‘em up,” Dee said.

The All Fleet frequency crackled to life as Kara, grinning ear to ear, was the first one out from behind the battlestar and racing toward the homeless raiders. “Fleet, this is Commander Adama, the nukes work.”

* * *

“You lied to me Gauius.” Baltar felt the fear rise, unbidden, to the surface at the calm quiet words. Touseled and naked and thoroughly shagged, the blonde woman who had shared his bed was suddenly setting off every survival instinct alarm he had.

“What are you talking about, darling?” he asked, trying to sound unconcerned, but he knew the panic had bled through when she started stalking toward him on hands and knees in a way that should have been sexy. He scooted away, skin crawling with the distinct tang of other, until his back was pressed against the headboard.

“The codes,” she said, still perfectly modulated, “You gave me the wrong codes.”

“I assure you, I did not,” Gaius protested. His heart was beating rapidly and he felt the fluttering onset of hyperventilation.

She stopped, inches away, and ran her hands over his face, petting him as if he was a dog she was fond of. “I believe you,” she said. And there was something close to regret in her eyes when she twisted suddenly, breaking his neck.

* * *

“SITREP, XO!” snapped Cain as she stalked across the bridge of her ship, watching the brutal choreography of an air battle unfolding in front of her eyes.

“Sir, we have four battlestars and their wings engaged with three base ships at present,” Colonel Jurgen Belzen replied.

“I can see that, Jurgen,” Cain said dryly, “what are we going to do about the three, nuclear armed cylon base ships hanging out over Caprica?”

“Our pilots have been doing a good job driving them together and keeping their fighters engaged – keeps the base ships from jumping away without them.”

“All battle stars, arm your warheads,” Cain said and opened the channel to the airwing. “Stinger, how fast will it take to withdraw all of the wings to behind the battle stars? We need to do something about those base ships.”

“About five minutes, sir,” Captain Cole Taylor replied.

“Do it. One wing at a time. We need to keep them occupied for as long as possible. She half listened as Taylor called out orders to the other wings engaged in the fight, calling Pegasus’ home first. It made Cain frown deeply at his blatant favoritism, but she didn’t countermand his instructions. There wasn’t time.

“Sir,” Hoshi called out in alarm “the base ships are arming their nukes. At this range, they will wipe out the entire city of Delphi.”

“Fall back!” Cain shouted into the pilots’ frequency,

“All wings pull back now!” She watched as the aircraft started to speed toward home.

“It will take another four minutes to get all squadrons clear. They are currently engaged at the very edge of the atmosphere to keep the raiders out,” Taylor said, panicked.

“CAG’s, we are out of time,” Cain said firmly. “Someone give me options. Can we get the Orion wing out before the base ships destroy Delphi?” No one answered. “Gods damnit!” Cain roared, “I’m not a pilot! Somebody tell me what’s going on out there!” Silence.

* * *

“We agree,” the Threes intoned, making the consensus unanimous among the models.

“So say we all,” One said mockingly, and the representatives moved to their individual consoles.

Four looked across the control room to Eight, “And you are prepared for your sister? She may be confused.”

“We are,” Eight acknowledged.

“We need to move now,” Two said sharply, “it’s the only way to salvage another chance.”

As one, the representatives closed their eyes and activated their consoles, “Coming on line,” Six said.

They spoke as one into the sudden stillness of the room, “Activate all models all locations. Plan Alpha Tango Foxtrot. Terminate.”

* * *

Gina Inviere frowned at the code she received from her sisters, “By your command.”

She clotheslined a Marine running by her in the P-way and broke his neck before taking his sidearm. Her eyes gleamed red into the startled face of a Senior Chief as she shot herself in the head.

* * *

Cavil’s eyes snapped open from where they had been closed in a show of devotion, “By your command.”

He rose from the kneeler and walked down the aisle, right out of the church. He pulled his pistol out of the pocket of his robes, a pistol that he rightfully should have been using on his sheep congregation, now cowering in fear in their pews. He swallowed a bullet away from prying eyes.

* * *

Sharon Valeri woke up and knew herself for the first time in her life, “By your command.”

In the close dark of CIC, her eyes flashed red and she raised her weapon and fired a single shot at Adama before turning it on herself.

The last thing she heard was Helo’s blurted cry of “Cylon!” before she was born again in a bath of viscous liquid, her family surrounding her.

* * *

“There’s no time. Nuke them now.”

Ensign Zak Adama, newly assigned to the battlestar Orion, knew that voice. Oh did he know that voice; the defeated resignation of it, the finality of tone and the absolute lack of inflection. He had heard it during the lowest points of his life and had found strength in it, even as he hated it.

And gods, was this going to kill Lee, haunt him for the rest of his life.

Despite the battle whirling around him, the count to missile launch winding down, Zak did a lazy half roll to see the Delphi shoreline, thinking of a time, a million years ago, when he and his brother had spent a weekend there trying to surf, flirting with red-headed twins on the boardwalk and watching the stars from the beach.

Ignoring all radio protocol, he spoke into the devastated silence on the frequency, imagining the other wings racing toward the shielding bulk of the battle stars, hoping that they made it out in time. “Lee.”

“Zak,” Lee choked out.

Zak kept his eyes fixed firmly on the water and away from the looming baseships, kept his mind on what he was dying for, and his heart with his brother. “Lee, it’s alright. It’s going to be okay.”

“Zak—”

The first memory of Zak Adama’s life was Lee’s voice telling him stories in the dark of their room about their father, the war hero. He liked the symmetry of it, liked the closing of the circle; his brother’s voice in his ear as he flew a viper above their home planet, watching the beach from the stars.

The world went white.

* * *

Lieutenant Kendra Shaw walked into the observation lounge at 0327 and finally found what she was looking for.

Lee, with his flight suit tied off around his waist and a hand pressed to the glass, staring out at the blue and green planet, half hidden by the smoky remains of base ship carcasses and Orion’s decimated squadrons.

She walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. It was cool to the touch where sweat had evaporated off hours ago.

“He’s dead,” Lee said.

“Yeah,” Kendra answered, tightening her grip, digging her nails into his flesh to ground him. There had never been softness between them, just the hard desperate edges of misfits bumping against each other in the dark. “You’re not,” she added.

“I want to be,” he said without inflection, turning his head to stare at her, the blue eyes familiar and hard and broken.

“Yeah,” Kendra said again. She pulled him toward her and harshly bit his lower lip in punishment for his words, for that thought even entering his mind, “I know.”

His hands raised and twisted into her hair.

* * *

It wasn’t until some time later, After the cylons had been destroyed and scattered, after networks had gradually been brought back on line and reliable communication had been re-established, after the security breach of the planets’ defense codes was discovered to have occurred a mere hour after the Colonies had deliberately crashed their own computers, after Admiral William Adama had been given a promotion, that people snapped out of their grateful hazes and began looking for answers. The single largest loss of life since the first parlays of the last cylon wars had occurred over the skies of Caprica, and, after the terrifying sight of raiders in the sky had begun to fade from their minds, the second guessing began. It seemed a completely useless sacrifice.

Kara Thrace accompanied Admiral Adama to the memorial service. She had known Zak slightly as The Admiral’s Other Kid when she was a flight school instructor, knew that he had failed his first check ride, but had gotten some remedial training and had turned into a decent pilot. He didn’t have Husker’s brilliant innovation or Apollo’s meticulous finesse, but he had been solid. And now he was dead and the Old Man needed someone to lean on.

Rumor was a vicious thing, as Kara had reason to know, and perception was seldom true but often taken as reality, so she couldn’t help but be made uncomfortable by the absence of a man she had never met: Lee Adama. She understood the need to lash out and lay blame at the thought of people, pilots, sitting like rubber ducks at a Picon fair, just waiting to be taken out by their own ships. 157 pilots. The mind boggled at the number. And yet, she was just tactician enough, just soldier enough, to not want to second guess Apollo’s judgment and Cain’s order. Given the circumstances, the knowledge on the ground, the fact that there had been no time to think let alone ponder. . . She didn’t like to second guess.

Admiral Cain had been adamant in her defense of Captain Adama, citing his thinking on disconnecting the mainframe that had saved them from unimaginable losses, citing the threat to the city of Delphi, a city with 6 million people living in it, but his father had been notably silent. It was people’s lives, not a numbers game. In the end, they couldn’t court martial Captain Adama because, as Admiral Cain had icily told the investigating committee, she had given the final order, but his fate was sealed in the court of public opinion. Fleet put him on a stop loss, ensuring that he couldn’t leave the military, and gave him orders, effective immediately, to be the sole keeper of the peace in a largely abandoned outpost in one of the vast jungles of Sagittaron, a bastion of criminal activity. The golden boy was grounded forever. It was the Gemenon Gazette that had finally, and with a kind of maudlin pride, told the tale of an arrogant loner who had made a preemptive decision that killed several squadrons of pilots and had murdered his only brother in the process.

Kara listened to the gun salute at Zak’s funeral, the Old Man’s hand firmly in hers, his other arm in a sling, courtesy of the cylon’s bullet in his shoulder, and sent a momentary prayer to the god, Apollo, asking him to look after his namesake, before turning her attention, nearly guiltily, back to the Admiral.

* * *

“Captain Lee Adama,” the compactly muscled man offered his hand.

“Phelan,” Phelan said, his eyes locked on the officer in front of him, waiting for an explanation for his unexpected presence in the smoke drenched club. Adama’s face was a blank mask; expression nothing but a pleasantry stretched across weary bones. He remained standing with his hand outstretched until Phelan shook it and gestured to the chair in front of his table. “So this is where they sent the infamous Captain Adama,” Phelan said conversationally.

“They figured I was only fit to play with the other animals,” Adama replied without concern.

“Hmmm,” Phelan said, pulling out a compact and cutting two lines of muse on the small mirror. “Are you here to tell me to cease and desist all illegal activity?” He asked, amused.

“I’m here to tell you that I won’t interfere with you if you don’t interfere with me,” Adama said. “Unless it’s something that’s truly offensive, I don’t give a flying frak what you do.”

Phelan considered the possibilities, a business man to the very core. He brought the small mirror to his nose and snorted a line. “Here’s the offer on the table, Captain,” he said. “I will hand you names of . . . associates who offend even my sensibilities for you to arrest – let’s say three to five names a year – and in turn, you leave the rest of us the hell alone.”

“Agreed,” Adama said, not blinking as Phelan offered him the remaining line of muse. He took the compact, holding it out nearly at arm’s length, studying the white powder on the glass. “Your working girls and boys aren’t coerced are they?” he asked.

“No more then the rest of us,” Phelan said. “We all have our own ways to survive circumstances, Adama. A situation that I’d imagine you understand better then most. May I extend my welcome to the neighborhood by one of our best professionals? On the house, of course.”

Adama brought the mirror under his nose and snorted the line in one smooth inhale. “On the house, huh?” he asked. “How about your two best professionals and a few hits of dragon?”

Phelan tilted his head in consideration. “That will be 100 cubits an hour for the extra body and 30 a hit.”

Adama looked at him with detached amusement. “75 an hour and 23 a hit,” he offered.

Phelan’s face split into a grin. He motioned his assistant to pour, watching amber hued alcohol splash into first his glass and then Adama’s. He took a sip and settled down to bargain.

* * *

“Admiral Adama,” Admiral Cain spoke coolly to the man standing in front of her desk at Fleet Head Quarters.

“Admiral Cain,” he acknowledged stiffly.

“There’s a . . . situation that we would like you to look into.”

“And what would that situation be?” he asked.

“Captain Adama has reported some unusual events around his post.”

“Why am I the one being given this assignment?”

“He’s your son, Bill. You haven’t seen him in five years.” Adama said nothing, Cain sighed. “He asked for you, said that you were the person to go to for suspected cylon activity. Skinjobs.”

“Cylon?” Adama asked sharply. “And you think he’s right?”

“I don’t know,” Cain said, “he wouldn’t give details over the phone.”

“No,” Adama said, “He wouldn’t.”

“Should I arrange for transportation?” Cain asked.

“No,” Adama said, “I’ll take one of Galactica’s raptors.

“Can’t believe you’re still on that bucket,” Cain said.

“Perks of being shot by a skinjob masquerading as a raptor pilot,” Adama smiled a little, “they put up with your eccentricities and keep battlestars alive long after their prime so you can still feel important.” So he could still have a home.

* * *

Adama stepped out of the raptor and into the oppressive, wet heat of the jungle. Before him was an ancient stone castle, large and silent, and rising out of the lush underbrush. Flowering vines had climbed the walls, leaving it covered in electric greens and hot pinks and bright oranges. The forest breathed around him, the wild call of birds and the rush of water from somewhere nearby. It looked like the building hadn’t been lived in for hundreds of years, and his heart clenched a little at seeing his son so isolated. The half hidden door swung open at his approach of its own volition, and Adama passed the enormous rose bushes standing sentinel and into the climate controlled coolness.

“Captain Adama?” He called out, taking in the wide open marble atrium, the enormous fountain bubbling in the center, the arch of the stained glass ceiling and then winced at the formality of address, not knowing how to make it right any more. It was easier when Lee was small, and he could bribe him with another story of viper heroism, grinning as the child’s blue eyes grew wide. “Lee,” he called this time. “It’s. . . your father,” he said haltingly.

“Hi Dad,” Lee’s voice floated down from one of the sweeping staircases, calm and cool above the splash of water on stone. Adama may never have been a particularly good parent, but he was a parent, and his son looked thin. And old.

Adama cleared his throat. “It’s good to see you.”

Lee walked down the stairs and stood in front of his father, eyes hard, spine rigid, practically at attention. “You too, sir,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

“I should have come sooner,” Bill answered, meaning the apology that had crept into his voice.

“I didn’t ask for you sooner,” Lee said, mouth tight.

“You shouldn’t have had to,” Bill said. He stumbled to fill Lee’s deafening silence. “I had no idea the post was like this.”

“It takes some getting used to,” Lee said flatly. “I’ll give you some time to freshen up and then I can brief you; if that’s convenient, sir.”

“That’s fine, son” Adama said and rested a tentative hand on Lee’s shoulder but let it slide off as his son turned to climb back up the stairs without the slightest acknowledgement of the gesture.

* * *

“Captain Thrace.”

Kara Thrace’s head shot up at the voice. “Admiral!” she said, jumping out of the front leaning rest to her feet and striding to the bars with sweat rolling down her neck. She smiled brightly at the sight of Bill Adama, who was not smiling at her.

He sighed, “What did you do this time?”

“Assaulting a superior asshole, sir,” she said, but the grin slipped off her face as Adama continued to look at her with something like disappointment. “C’mon, Admiral, I’ve been working on that one most of the afternoon.”

Adama looked at her steadily. “I’ve got a job for you, Kara. Think your CO could spare you?”

“My CO would love to spare me, sir. What’s up?”

Adama looked over his shoulder at the guard, “Corporal, can you give us a few minutes?”

“Yes sir,” the Marine walked smartly out of the brig.

“Kara,” he said, his hand sliding though the bars to brush over her shoulder in greeting, “what is the reason behind all the fighting? Your FITREPS have been getting increasingly worse—”

“You read those?” she asked, angry at the intrusion. Embarrassed in a way she wasn’t used to, didn’t like.

“I read them,” Adama affirmed. “I like to keep up to speed on your life.”

“You ever hear of a phone? A letter? E-mail?” she demanded.

“You didn’t tell me what I wanted to know.”

“Maybe that’s because I didn’t want you to know.”

“Kara,” Adama sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Kara stared at the pained expression and the lines spidering out from the corners of his eyes and wondered when the Old Man had gotten so tired.

“You were never a by the letter officer, but you weren’t a trouble-maker either. Baiting your peers? Assaulting your superior officers? Drunk and disorderlies? What has gotten into you? Since when did you want to sabotage your career, risk your wings?”

Kara wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. Introspection was a tricky thing for someone with her kind of a past, and the surface answer of complete and utter boredom wasn’t the entire truth of the matter. She knew how to lie, and lie well, but she had never lied to William Adama and wasn’t about to start now. “I’m restless, sir,” she finally said. “After the cylons came and went and I got stationed somewhere else, and—It’s just CAP after CAP with the same damn people every damn day.”

Adama’s face warmed, mouth turning up in the beginnings of a craggy smile. “Although this is not a productive way of showing it, you are a person who needs a cause.”

“A cause? Like Save the Whales?” Kara asked warily. The Admiral had been getting stranger in his old age – too much booze, too much Tigh. “

More like save the Colonies,” Adama grinned and her heart, her uninspired, unmotivated heart suddenly lurched out of its lazy beat and ratcheted up to partially interested. “You want in, Starbuck?”

“Sir, yes sir,” Kara grinned back.

* * *

“So. You and Adama,” Thrace’s voice was pitched uncharacteristically low as she slid into the chair next to Kendra and settled a tray on the table.

“Me and Adama what?” she asked, feeling the old hostility rising in her. People hadn’t bothered her about her friendship with Lee in a couple of years.

“Calm down, Shaw,” Thrace said with the smug amusement Kendra detested, holding out an envelope to her. “Special delivery. Came by the Admiral Express.”

Kendra took the envelope from her, glanced at the handwriting. A letter from Lee. “The Admiral Express? Are you telling me that the Old Man sullied himself by visiting his banished son?”

Thrace’s face darkened, “Watch what you say about the Admiral, Shaw. He’s been through a lot.”

“Yes, and Lee’s just been having a grand time living in the middle of nowhere with only the thieves for company,” Kendra snapped before getting herself back under control. “Thank you for bringing me my letter, Starbuck.” She looked at Thrace expectantly, waiting for her to saunter off to join another table, one full of laughing pilots, but Starbuck just took a bite of her sandwich.

“So, I’m going to be doing some covert ops with Apollo down in the jungle.”

Kendra poked at a browning lettuce leaf with her fork and said, “Lee’s a professional, despite it all, you play nice with him, he’ll play nice with you.”

She looked up and was caught in Thrace’s frank gaze. For once the blonde woman was exhibiting no signs of mockery or amusement. “What’s between you two, Shaw?” she asked. “What would make a straight arrow like you so loyal to the fleet’s whipping boy?”

Kendra paused, searching for the words that would encompass her relationship with Lee before answering, meeting Thrace’s eyes with her own. “He’s my friend. I trust him.”

Thrace tipped her head in consideration and, amazingly, stood up, seeming to be satisfied. “I’m going down there in the morning. If you want me to pass him a note, or whatever it is you kids do, I can carry it for you.”

Kendra watched in bemusement as Captain Kara Thrace and all her attitude strode out the door with a purpose, tossing a wave to the pilots in the corner and showing signs of being the capable officer she had been rumored to be five years ago.

* * *

“Captain Kara Thrace,” Kara said, standing within the improbability of a castle in the jungle, staring at the banished pilot, the Old Man’s son, Shaw’s friend, “reporting to kick some cylon ass.”

“Captain Lee Adama,” he said formally and walked forward. “Thank you for coming, Captain. I’ll show you to your room.”

Kara followed him up the curving staircase, sliding her hand along the worn white marble, painted with the jagged color of the stained glass above them. “What’s the situation on the ground? The Admiral wasn’t all that specific.”

“That’s because there aren’t all that many specifics,” Adama said as they walked down a long, sunlit hall hung with tapestries. “I believe that skinjobs have infiltrated the local Black Market and are the instigators of a sharp increase in gun running. It’s difficult to tell what’s going on; the government’s decision to classify the existence of cylons that look like humans has handcuffed me. Still, there are rumors about several sets of identical twins matching the descriptions of the known human looking cylons. It’s enough to warrant further investigation.”

“Absolutely,” Kara said, stopping in front of an ornately carved wooden door as Adama opened it for her.

“After you,” he said, the afternoon light flooding in from the windows catching clear blue eyes. She smiled in potentially predatory appreciation and entered the large room.

“Woah,” Kara breathed as she looked around at the enormous canopied bed, fire place and sitting area, all richly appointed in silver and blue. “Okay, really. What is this place?”

“The former winter palace of the Sagittaron royal family,” Adama answered. “I have no idea how it became a military outpost, other than the fact that it’s state owned,” he hesitated, then allowed, almost offered. “I got lost a lot when I first got here.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Kara said. “So, what’s next?”

“Next is that you’re probably a little tired and a lot dirty, so head’s over there,” he gestured to an adjoining room, “Dinner in a few hours okay?” Kara nodded. “Meet me in the front entrance at 1930 and we can talk more then. Good afternoon, Captain.”

“Thanks Apollo,” Kara said, slipping into the well known call sign without really thinking.

She watched him pause in the doorway, rigid shoulders becoming impossibly tighter before forcibly relaxing, a clear act of will. “You’re welcome, Captain.” He didn’t look back as he exited.

Kara dropped her bag on the floor, turning in a slow circle in the middle of the room. “You have got to be frakking kidding me,” she muttered before walking purposefully to the sumptuous bathroom to take a long shower.

* * *

Kara followed Lee through one improbable room after another, past walls lined with bright mosaics, paintings of scenes from plays and operas, tables inlaid with precious stones. They walked from one end of a lavish dining hall to the other, pushing through a heavily carved mahogany door into a surprisingly modernized kitchen where a small table was set for two. They sat down to eat.

“Invisible servants?” Kara asked. “Magic imps to wash your underwear and cook your meals?”

“I gave the imps the day off,” Adama said.

“That explains the lumps in the soup then.”

“I know you’ve been primarily eating in various battlestar messes over the past several years, but those lumps are traditionally called potatoes.”

Kara snorted. “Well its good, lumps and all. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Adama replied, still with the calm smooth voice and unaffected air. Kara kind of wanted to kick him. Or lick his nose. See what would break the cool politeness.

“So,” Kara said through a mouthful of thick bread, ladling more soup into her bowl,

“What’s the situation here?”

“Started with rumors,” Adama said, stretching his arms over his head briefly before settling in to tell the story. “Most things around here start that way. Talk about sets of twins and triplets in a sort of compound far out into the jungle. I thought it was another brothel – specializing in orgies or something like that. I don’t know. Didn’t pay much attention.” He stopped, and Kara could almost see him considering his next words.

“What made you start paying attention?” she prompted, patience not her particular virtue.

“About the same time that happened, the weapons flow into this town started increasingly dramatically. Lots coming in of all types, from 9mm to rocket launchers, and hints of a concerted effort being undertaken to acquire nuclear war heads.”

“Frak me,” Kara breathed. “Why didn’t you do anything?”

He looked at her mildly, “Doesn’t really work that way around here. I don’t have any back-up. Well,” he amended, “other than Phelan and his crew, but you have to have your shit together and favors on offer before you ask them for help. And at the beginning of it all, it was just separate pieces of knowledge, I didn’t put that the cathouse or whatever in the woods had anything to do with the weapons until I saw someone. A couple someones, actually.”

“Boomer,” Kara said flatly.

“I can’t really confirm it,” Lee acknowledged. “I only ever saw pictures of her and this one was dressed differently, hair was different too. I might have let that even pass, but then I saw the contractor from the Pegasus. Much blonder, but still, that cylon has an unforgettable face.”

“Well, hell,” Kara said. “This is a problem.”

"Yeah,” Adama said, “It’s why I thought I needed some help. I can handle most things on my own, but the powers that be did not in any way authorize me to reveal the fact that there were ever cylons who looked like humans. I can’t very well get Phelan’s help on this without telling him the whole story – I won’t put people in jeopardy like that.” He bit off the last of his words almost defiantly.

“Of course not,” Kara said pushing certainty into her voice, radiating bravado. “That’s why they sent me. Best shot in the fleet, outside the box thinker,” she grinned. “I’m all the back-up you’ll ever need, Apollo.”

She watched a small smile play across his face and he raised his glass of wine to her, “Then I’m glad to have you here, Kara Thrace,” he said.

She clinked his glass with hers, pleased, “Glad to be here, Lee Adama.”

* * *

Kara woke up to hot sun streaming through her window. She stretched and crawled out of bed, unused to the luxury of sleeping in, but Apollo had assured her that no one worth knowing was reachable before sunset and she needed to get the lay of the land. Apparently, there were certain ways to do things around these parts, and even though she generally chafed against restrictions, she wasn’t so stupid as to go in blind.

She stood in front of the window, staring out at the jungle, seeing the brash and beautiful jumble of color, barely held at bay by a ring of palm trees surrounding an enormous pool, Apollo swimming laps through the clear water. She pulled on a pair of running shorts and a sports bra and, after a few wrong turns, found her way out to the deck.

“Hey,” she said, when he finally came to a rest.

“Hi,” Apollo ducked under the water and pushed his hair off his face.

“Judging by your tan, it looks like you spend a lot of time out here,” Kara said, not bothering to hide her perusal of his biceps. She figured that if he didn’t want people looking they wouldn’t look like they did. The beaded water was really a nice touch. A warm sense of amusement rose in her when she saw him frankly appraising her bared arms, legs and abs as well.

“Nothing to do during the day,” he said, resting his arms on the deck and squinting up into her face. “So I generally hang around out here, eat, drink, whatever, until I head to the clubs for dinner.”

“This is an official post?” she asked. “I wish I’d been banished five years ago.” Kara knew it was a mistake the minute the words flew out of her mouth and she watched Apollo’s eyes ice over. She added quickly, trying to fix it, “You were in a bad situation and got a raw deal – they were wrong to punish you like this.”

Apollo smiled pleasantly, “Not a punishment at all, though right? Big house, sun, a pool. Excellent drugs and world class sex workers only a thirty minute drive away. It’s like vacation.” He pushed himself out of the water. “Take what you want from the kitchen. I’ll meet you in the entrance hall at 2000.”

She stared at Apollo’s retreating back, wanting to make peace, but not quite knowing how.

“Frak,” Kara muttered.

* * *

That night Kara joined Apollo at precisely 2000 wearing jeans and a red t-shirt, her knives safely tucked into her boots. Adama was wearing a black t-shirt tucked into BDU trousers. “Shouldn’t we be, I don’t know, more incognito?”

“The people we’re meeting tonight already know who I am. Phelan’s the closest thing to an ally I have around here.” Apollo said.

Kara felt wrong footed. She didn’t like the tension from earlier coloring things, lack of trust making a potentially dangerous situation more dangerous, but she wasn’t sure if bringing it up was going to do anything but make it worse. “So what’s the plan?” she asked, feeling vaguely like she had just completely wussed out.

“How do you feel about cards, Starbuck?” he asked, opening the front door and gesturing her outside.

“As in something to do by the pool tomorrow?” She walked out, turning to watch Adama lock the behemoth doors behind them.

“As in joining the nightly triad game at Boss Phelan’s establishment,” he swung into the driver’s seat of an open topped, no-doored jeep and started it up. “It’s his favorite way to appraise the new people in town. He does it on most first meetings.”

Kara clambered in and fought the urge to hang on to the edge of her seat when the jeep lurched forward onto a nearly invisible path into the jungle. “Is that what he did with you?” She asked.

“I was there to come to terms on a business arrangement,” he answered. “No cards necessary.” Kara nodded and listened to Adama’s run down of the usual players and how they fit into the Black Market, the compelling pull of society’s underbelly keeping her interest, helping her not think about the strange animal shrieks and the enclosing darkness of the forest.

* * *

For once, Kara found herself completely outmatched at the triad table. It wasn’t that she was the best card player ever, but she enjoyed the game and usually did better than average in the wardroom and the ready room. Fortunately, despite the obscene amount of wealth possessed by most of the people at the table, they were literally playing for peanuts. “We are business men, Captain Thrace,” Phelan had said to her. “Why gamble our money in cards when there are more interesting and profitable venues that can be invested in?” She had watched with narrowed eyes as Phelan had greeted Apollo with a smile and a warm embrace, had seen Apollo turn down the offer of muse and then dragon with a quick shake of the head and a completely unselfconscious, “Not tonight, I’m driving.” She had very nearly choked on her ambrosia when the house’s Madame had perched on the arm of Apollo’s chair and he had slung an arm around her waist in a friendly squeeze and continued to play one handed.

“I fold,” Kara said, the frustration bleeding into her game.

Phelan looked up in surprise, “You should have a pretty good hand, are you certain?”

Kara glared, positive that the deck wasn’t marked and that no one was standing behind her until the answer occurred to her. “You’ve been counting cards.” She shot an appraising look around the rest of the table, from the dark haired Aquarian woman who dealt in furs to Lee Frakking Adama. “You’ve all been counting cards. Isn’t that usually against house rules?”

Phelan grinned. “I am the house, Captain, and I say that you use all the advantages at your disposal, including your brain.” Kara had no idea if she could count cards and wasn’t in the mood to give herself a headache trying. “Now,” he said, and he must have given some sort of sign because the rest of the table was suddenly empty save for Adama and the woman on his chair. “Shevon,” Phelan said with amusement, “that means you too.”

“If you say so, Boss,” she smiled flippantly before pressing an open mouthed kiss to Apollo’s lips. “Will I be seeing you later?” she asked.

Adama shook his head. “Some other time.” Shevon faded into the background of the smoke filled club and Kara managed to keep her jaw from dropping.

Phelan pulled out three cigars, leaning over and offering the flame to light Kara’s. She took short shallow inhales until the tip was glowing and then relaxed in spite of herself at the taste and scent of good Caprican tobacco. “What brings you to our neck of the woods?” Phelan asked mildly. “You aren’t replacing our captain are you?”

“Not at all,” Kara said a little warily. She wasn’t sure what story Adama had given the boss, if any.

“She’s here to help me with a classified project,” Apollo said, blowing a lazy smoke ring. “I wish I could give you more information, but I can’t. We’re going to be doing some basic reconnaissance, some poking around in the supply chains, looking into the rumor of the compound out in the jungle, that sort of thing.”

Phelan looked at Adama sharply, “You aren’t putting my people at risk by not letting me in on this, Adama. We have a deal.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Phelan,” Adama said. “In fact, you are much better off not knowing the details. It’s safer for you and yours this way.”

Phelan looked at Adama appraisingly. “I believe you, Lee, but Captain Thrace is a virtual stranger.”

“I vouch for her,” Apollo said immediately.

“You?” Phelan said incredulously. “Forgive my disbelief, but you aren’t the trusting sort.”

“I’m not,” Adama admitted, “but Captain Thrace isn’t here to screw with your operation or take my place. She’s an accomplished pilot, has been trained for covert operations and was sent specifically by my father.” He held up a hand as Phelan spoke up in protest. “The admiral and I have many issues,” he said, “but he would not send someone down he couldn’t trust to watch my back. As Starbuck here is surely coming to realize, watching my back means keeping you happy.”

“Look Boss, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do, I just want to complete our mission with minimal collateral damage.” Kara said, startled by the apparent friendship between the two men.

Phelan looked at her thoughtfully. “Now that sounds familiar,” he said, glancing over at Adama who nodded in acknowledgment. “May I buy you another drink Captain Thrace, or perhaps something stronger?” he asked, “Lee has already mentioned that he’s driving.”

“Another ambrosia would be great,” she said. Phelan gestured and a moment later Shevon appeared with a bottle of top shelf liquor before disappearing again.

“So, the mysterious compound” Phelan mused, going back to the conversation. “Don’t know much about it at all. Some of the residents of that place, or at least people we suspect are residents, attend the farmers market in the square every Saturday. I’d start there if I were you, even if it is a few days away. Be subtle,” he looked between the two of them, and Kara felt vaguely like she was being talked to be a stern teacher.

“I’m the soul of discretion, Phelan,” Adama said, slumping lazily in his chair with both legs sprawled out in front of him, smoke curling around him from his carelessly held cigar.

“You’re a blunt instrument,” Phelan said and then turned his gaze to Kara, “I suspect that you aren’t any more capable of subterfuge than he is.”

“Like Adama said, I’ve had training in covert ops,” Kara said, trying to keep the defensive edge out of her voice.

“Yes, well, you aren’t the sort of woman who blends,” Phelan said mildly. “Go home. Come back tomorrow for dinner, I’ll see if there’s any more information out there and we’ll talk about the art of invisibility.”

Dismissed, Kara and Adama rose from the table and walked out to the jeep. The cloying, humid air clung to her skin and she could occasionally see the stars through the canopy of the trees.

“How often do you go there?” she asked, breaking the silence once they were driving back towards the castle.

“A few times a week,” Adama said. “He’s my ticket into that world and I need to keep up friendly relations.”

“Friendly relations, like with Shevon?” Kara snorted.

“All I need to do to keep up good relations with Shevon is pay her,” he said.

“And the drugs?” she pressed. “It isn’t any of my business, but I got the impression that you’re into some pretty hard core stuff.”

“Occasionally,” he said, unconcerned. “Nothing that would affect my job.”

The frustration that this man elicited in her was sharp and visceral, a strange, unprecedented reaction to a stranger. “Damn it, Adama, you know better than that. This is a dangerous place with no real allies -”

“I realize that,” he said. There was a long pause where she could practically hear his hesitation. “I use sometimes, and it’s just easier to pay for sex then deal with a real relationship. I’m careful though. Now.” Kara remained silent, watching his profile in the faint light of the dashboard. “Kendra abuses me via email, Phelan throws me leads on real assholes involved in child prostitution and gun running and sometimes I go to the club and play cards or get high or pay someone to sleep with me. . .” He shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a life.”

Before she could stop herself, Kara reached out a hand and squeezed Adama’s knee once before letting go at his puzzled expression. She knew all about losing oneself in the haze of alcohol and sex, trying to forget about broken fingers and broken hearts and long gone fathers and sharp, hateful words and drifting through life without a purpose.

Chapter Text

“Phelan’s right,” Kara said, laughing in spite of herself at the forced casual walk she and Apollo were taking around and around the farmers market. “We really don’t blend.” She bumped her shoulder into Apollo’s and he rolled his eyes in agreement.

“Well, while we’re here, we might as well stock up for the week,” he said, shaking out a large canvass bag and making a beeline for a stand.

“Oh no you don’t,” Kara said following on his heels. “I hate cauliflower.”

“Haven’t seen you cooking the meals,” he said, picking through the vegetables.

“Excuse me for not wanting to encroach on your domain,” she shot back, taking the sleeve of his t-shirt and pulling him away from the offending cauliflower and pointing him in the direction of the green beans. “You pour wine and listen to music and chop things. You commune with boiling water.”

He let out a startled laugh, grinning at her with humor filled eyes and Kara stopped dead in her tracks at the transformation from distant to touchable. “Come on Kara,” he said, wrapping a hand loose and easy around her wrist and tugging, “let’s find you some vegetables so you can grow up to be a big strong pilot.” She grinned up at him almost involuntarily at the use of her first name and his hand tightened briefly on her wrist as his eyes flashed with heated interest. “Green beans it is,” he said softly, clearing his throat and stepping back. He let her wrist fall and she followed him to the next stand, looking around the square while he dug through the piles of beans.

A familiar figure caught her eye. “Lee,” she hissed sharply, adrenaline spiking in her veins, “I swear to the gods that’s Sharon by the tomatoes. Don’t move!” she admonished as he began a very unsubtle turn. “Just look at me and use your peripheral vision.”

He turned more slowly, clutching green beans in one of his hands and looked at Kara. “I think I see her, but she’s just on the edge. Do you think she’ll recognize you?”

“I have no idea,” Kara said.

Lee thrust his handful of beans into the bag and put both hands on Kara’s shoulders, turning her a little so that he could get a better look. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, that’s exactly who I saw before. I doubt we’re both wrong.”

“It’s her,” Kara said grimly. “It’s definitely her, or her model at any rate.”

“Alright,” Lee said turning back to the vendor and making a hasty purchase. He made a show of tucking more green beans into the bag, talking swiftly and quietly. “My thought is that it’s too risky to follow her back to the compound because chances are good that she knows exactly who you are.”

“Agreed,” Kara said. “Want to keep an eye on her here and see who she came with? Some other model is probably less dangerous. Plus it would be a good idea to know what as many models look like as possible.”

“Probably,” Lee nodded. “I really don’t want her to see you—how do you feel about going back to wait in the jeep?” Kara glared. “Yeah,” Lee said ruefully, “that’s what I thought.”

“Over there,” Kara said, motioning with her chin toward an enormous tree, the area underneath partially obscured from the square by thick hanging vines. Lee grabbed her hand and laced their fingers together, keeping Kara’s back to the cylon and strolling towards the tree. He parted the vines and they stepped through them. Kara cuddled up close to his side and Lee wrapped an arm around her shoulders, so that they looked like a couple enjoying a private conversation if anyone looked their way.

“We have a pretty good view of the center of the square.” Lee was pressed close enough that his voice vibrated through her. “Let’s just hope she doesn’t move.”

They waited in silence for long minutes, until Sharon was joined by an older man and a woman. “That’s your blonde, right?” she asked.

“Yup,” Lee said, and Kara committed her face to memory as her heart ratcheted up at the proof that there were still cylons among them.

“I’ve never seen that man before though.”

“Me neither,” she said. The cylons, all carrying baskets full of food, conferred with one another for an extended period of time before turning together and walking out of the square and disappearing. “Holy shit,” Kara said shakily. Lee’s arm dropped from her shoulders, but he remained standing close. “It’s not that I didn’t believe you,” Kara said, “it’s just that – there they are.”

“Yeah,” Lee said, running a hand through his hair and blowing out a long slow breath. “Same here. Getting your confirmation makes it much more real. I wonder if anyone knows anything about that man. Too bad we didn’t think to bring a camera.”

“I can draw him,” Kara said. “I’ll draw him and we can send it to Fleet Headquarters and see if they know anything.”

“That’s a great idea,” Lee said. He looked at the mostly empty bag in his hands. “I don’t suppose we can finish shopping first?”

“Yeah, let’s finish up here and that get back to the fortress or whatever you call it.”

“I call it home,” Lee said.

* * *

“Aaron Doral,” Kara read off the information she’d obtained from Fleet Headquarters from her sketch of him. That guy actually contracted as a PR guy for the fleet. He committed suicide during the war.”

“That’s it?” Lee asked, reading over her shoulder.

“That’s all they’ve got,” Kara confirmed. “Seems like a lot of his information was erased from the system somehow. Covering his tracks?”

Lee’s head thumped forward and on to her shoulder, groaning a little, “Or clerical error – I’d say that’s just as likely.”

“True,” Kara reached up and patted the top of his head, shivering a little as his warm breath rushed down her back. She leaned forward to look more closely at the computer and Lee stood up straight and began pacing behind her. “So, what do we do with this information?”

“Keep an eye out for him and the people he talks to?” Lee said. “Figure out who the cylons in the town are as best we can without alerting anyone. We have really good feelers in the weapons supply chain and things don’t seem to be escalating. Certainly no nukes have been acquired, we’d have heard about that one.”

“So what, play it cool and gather what we can before going in guns blazing?” Kara asked, spinning her chair around to face Lee.

“There are only two of us,” he said. “As good as we are, it isn’t all that prudent to run in blind.”

“No shit,” Kara said. “And here I was thinking I’d go up against an unknown enemy with my knife between my teeth and a grenade in my pocket.”

“You brought grenades?” Lee’s face lit up

* * *

Kara stared at the seven faces she had hanging on the wall of the office. Calling it an office was a stretch, but, despite the precious stones inlaid in the desk, it was equipped with computers and all the things necessary to maintain a small, jungle surrounded bureaucracy. Lee was out getting mail and running errands, something Kara didn’t do very often since the Sharon model cylon was the one most seen in the town and Lee had been a fixture before the cylons had come to the area, so they clearly weren’t overly concerned about him. She had been living in the castle for two months, and they had made slow but steady progress on the cylons, identifying models by sight and getting sketchy information back from the fleet. They hadn’t been successful in following the skinjobs yet, but mostly because they were being careful and trying not to spook them.

In the meantime, Kara and Lee spent most mornings out by the pool, the afternoons in the office and a few evenings a week at Phelan’s. It was an oddly comfortable situation. Lee vacillated somewhere between prickly acquaintance and genuine friend, but Kara could give as good as she got and was learning to know when to just let him stew, when to pick a fight and when to say something outrageous to make him laugh. Fortunately, the good days outweighed the bad, and in matters professional she’s never worked with anyone better suited to her intuitive style than Apollo and his meticulous logic.

She heard the front door close with a boom and Lee lope up the stairs, taking them two at a time. “Hey, Kara,” he said as he strode into the office. “Any news about the seventh suspected cylon?”

“Nothing,” Kara said. “I think they’re done humoring us, to be honest.”

“Humoring us?” Lee asked absently, thumbing through the mail.

“C’mon Lee, the replies have been as brief as possible from the beginning. Out of sight, out of mind.”

He looked up sharply, “They’re cylons.”

“They’re brass and we’re screw ups in the middle of nowhere,” she countered.

He flopped into the chair next to hers, scowling, but his face broke into a smile a few seconds later.

“Letter from Shaw?” Kara asked. She was still unclear about the nature of Shaw’s relationship with Lee. She just knew that letters, emails and calls from the small lieutenant made Lee smile, and there was an ugly corner of her heart that resented the hell out of that.

“Yeah,” Lee said, smile still firmly in place.

“What is she to you?” Kara asked. “She can’t know about Shevon.” She didn’t want to piss him off, but Kara was curious.

“I haven’t been with Shevon in awhile,” Lee frowned at her, “Not since you got here.”

“Well, you’ve been pretty busy,” Kara said. “You don’t have to answer, I was just curious.”

“No, it’s fine,” Lee said, considering. “Kendra and I were never really together. We were more than friends with benefits, but knew that it wasn’t going to be a long term romance or anything like that.” He tilted his head and smiled, eyes distant. “She’s the only one who cared about whether I lived or died. The only one who made me stay in touch. The only person who got really angry on my behalf and who never blamed me for the Orion. She’s my friend,” he said finally. “I trust her.”

“That’s what she said,” Kara said. “Exactly what she said – that you are a friend and that she trusts you. Is that all it is?”

Lee focused all his consideration on her, “Is that all? Kara, when all is said and done, having someone you can count on is all that matters.”

Kara blinked at the sudden lump in her throat. “Yes, well–” she tried to think of somebody, anybody, who inspired such blind faith in her life. Matbe Lee's dad. “Did you find out anything about the gun running?”

Lee looked at her closely, but answered. “I saw Brian, one of Phelan’s guys, in town. He said to come by tonight, that they have some information about it.”

“Okay,” Kara nodded. It was still strange to her that they went to one of the club of the Market’s most notorious bosses and considered it a safe place for information gathering, but this was another world entirely, where everyone lived on the wrong side of law and order, and were only discernable by the varying shades of gray.

“From what he said, the flow of weapons has slowed down.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Could be,” Lee said nudging her foot with his. “Or it could be that they suspect that someone’s on to them.”

* * *

“Oh gross,” Kara whispered, flicking a hairy spider off Lee’s sweaty back.

“It’s the jungle, what did you expect sneaking through it would be like?” He hissed.

“You could say thank you for getting an enormous, man eating bug off you.”

“Shhh! He isn’t that far ahead of us.”

Kara rolled her eyes and pushed in front of Lee. He pressed a hand against the small of her back and she turned her head to see him shaking his head ruefully. “Days like this, I really miss flying,” he said softly and then dropped his arm.

She swung her hand back, letting their fingers tangle quickly in understanding before disengaging. Up ahead, the lone cylon, a Simon model, tramped through the woods, seemingly without concern. It was the first real opportunity that had taken to discover the location of the compound, having found the suspected model, one unknown to both of them, disappearing alone and on foot into the jungle.

The twig snapping was the only warning she had before she was suddenly on her back and pinned by one of the young, male cylon models. “Kara Thrace,” it said into her face in a disgustingly intimate tone. And then he was gone, hauled off her by one supremely pissed off Lee Adama.

“You don’t touch her,” he growled, both hands full of cylon shirt as it struggled to get to her, almost whimpering in obscene need.

Revulsion whipped up Kara’s spine, and she pulled her kbar from her boot and held the knife to its throat. “How do you know me, cylon?” she spat.

It reached for her with both hands, sliding them down her arms before Lee got both arms around it and forced his hands down. “You are mine; I have seen it in the stars,” he said.

Kara unceremoniously slit his throat. “Oh gross,” Lee said, and she looked up sharply to find him half grinning at her and dropping the body to the ground. His face changed in an instant. “Hit the deck!” he yelled, and Kara dropped hard and fast to the forest floor without thinking twice. She heard two shots fired and looked up in panic to see Lee without a mark on him, just cylon blood on his hands. She turned to see the cylon model that they had been following bleeding out on the ground.

“Well frak.” she said. "We’re going to have to find someone else to follow now."

“And we’re going to have to do it more quietly,” Lee answered. “Are you okay?” He held out a hand and she let him pull her up. He kept hold of her hand and looked her over carefully.

“I’m fine, but we need to get out of here right now.”

Lee nodded and began an easy jog back toward the town, her hand still in his.

* * *

“How does he know who I am?” Kara asked, completely creeped out now that the rush of adrenaline was gone. “Thank you,” she added when Lee handed her a dripping bottle of ale, dropping next to her to dangle bare legs into the pool.

He took a long slow sip of his own drink. “I don’t like it,” he said finally. “I can’t think of any possible positive reason for him knowing and wanting you.” His face was stormy as he looked sightlessly into the trees.

Kara hooked her ankle around his in the water. Lee looked at her in surprise, but she just stared straight ahead. “Well, he’s dead now at any rate. One less to worry about.”

“Yeah, but now we’ve confirmed that people are onto them. It isn’t like we hid the bodies,” Lee said gloomily. “Now what?”

They sat in companionable silence. “Maybe we lay low for a bit,” Kara suggested. “Much lower then we’ve been doing. Lull them into a sense of security.”

“We have no idea what kind of timeframe we’re working under,” Lee countered.

“No,” Kara admitted, “but we’re pretty damn sure that they don’t have a nuke yet, remember? This was your argument months ago.”

“True,” Lee said, sliding his foot briefly up Kara’s calf before re-linking their ankles. “But in the meantime, they’ve been amassing a very sizeable weapons cache – who knows how much they have? I really don’t like the idea of letting them continue unchecked, especially now that we’ve alerted them to our presence.”

“We aren’t really in a position to do anything else,” Kara argued. “The Fleet’s all but ignoring us, we aren’t authorized to tell Phelan or anybody else the skinjobs exist, let alone that they’re living in the woods. Right now, all we can count on is you and me.”

“I guess,” Lee said, making Kara unaccountably angry.

She pulled her feet out of the water and stood up abruptly. “Let’s go see Phelan,” she said shortly. He looked up, confused. “Well, if you don’t want to lay low, let’s bring our cylon sketches and see if we can find anything out over there. In all our secrecy, we’ve never done basic detective work, never asked around, maybe it’ll give us a fresh perspective.”

“Okay,” Lee said standing up, a puzzled frown on his face. “Kara, are you—”

“Go get dressed Apollo,” she cut him off as she began walking towards the house. “Meet me in front of the fountain in twenty minutes.”

* * *

She felt his eyes on her all night long as she flitted around the club, talking and flirting and bull dozing her way through anyone and everyone, showing the sketches, laughing loudly, drinking too much, placing indiscriminate, lingering touches on arms, thighs, chests, and still he watched her.

A hand closed in a vise around her bicep. “What game are you playing, Captain Thrace?” Phelan demanded in her ear as he led her away from the crowd. He hadn’t called her that in awhile.

“What are you talking about?” she demanded, wrenching her arm away.

“You have Apollo all twisted up, paying attention to everyone one but him.”

“I am gathering information,” she said. “We do it all the time."

“Nice try,” Phelan said warningly. “Fight, frak, I don’t care, but don’t play with him.”

Kara scowled, “What are you, his father?”

“No,” Phelan said, and for the first time Kara truly saw the menacing potential of one of the Black Market’s most powerful bosses. “His father left him to rot, as did the rest of your polite society. He was bleeding out in plain sight, but he pulled his own ass together when no one else would help him.”

“With drugs and sex,” Kara spat.

“With whatever he could hang on to when the world wouldn’t stop spinning.” Phelan said, stepping back with a sneer. “And then you come along; make our boy smile again. Even Shevon doesn’t mind the lack of business because it’s good to see him relax.”

Kara said evenly, “It really isn’t your business, Phelan, for all that you consider him one of yours.”

He studied her closely before nodding. “He isn’t an easy man, Kara. We all know that. But he is a good man, and that has to count for something in this world.”

“It counts for a lot,” Kara said. “I just don’t have it in me to coddle and coax him into trusting me.”

“He does trust you, more than I’ve ever seen him trust anyone.” Phelan said, surprised. “Surely you know that.”

“Sometimes,” Kara said.

He patted her arm. “Take it from someone who’s seen Lee at his absolute worse, on a bad dragon trip, waist deep in all the sex workers I employ and screaming for his brother,” he paused, and Kara could see him trying to read her face, gauging if the information put her off. She maintained her expression, heart breaking for her friend. “You’re good together,” he finished. “And you know I’m picky when it comes to my people.”

“Lee is one of your people,” she snorted but Phelan interrupted her.

“Don’t question that,” he said warningly. “He’s had my back in some difficult situations when he could have stayed home and minded his own business, like a lot of the people around here do.” Kara opened her mouth to question, but he stopped her again, “and it’s none of your damn business. What happened between me and him will stay between me and him.”

“Fine,” she said shortly. “Then what happens between me and Lee stays between me and Lee as well, Boss.” Kara gave Phelan another quelling glance before shifting away from him and through the crowd. Most of Lee’s secrets were seemingly laid bare to her – open to be sorted over and picked apart and she felt a shudder of revulsion at the thought of anyone knowing all the ugly parts of her soul like that. Maybe that was the problem.

She squared her shoulders and made her way to Lee’s side, snagging two shots along the way. She tilted her head toward a quiet corner. “It occurs to me,” she said, “that I know everything about the worst thing that ever happened to you, your most shameful moment. Everyone does. It was just splashed all over every newspaper, and then your father quasi-adopted me as a replacement, and then I was sent down here and told about your drug and sex coping mechanism.”

“Nice,” Lee said wincing, “is this why you’ve been ignoring me all night?”

“No,” Kara said, “but on the whole trust issue, I guess I figured out that you trust me as much as you can, as someone who knows the worst about you but likes you anyway but that I haven’t told you a damn thing about the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’ve had the luxury of keeping my shame a secret,” she paused. “And don’t think I’m going to forgive you for making me take on the role as the emotionally mature one in this friendship.”

“Hey,” Lee protested.

“Oh, please,” Kara cuffed the back of his head. “You’re a walking basket case.” She handed him a glass and clinked hers against it. They shot the ambrosia together and then Kara took a deep breath and a leap of faith. “Now let me tell you a little story about letting my mother die alone.”

* * *

It had turned out that there were people that the cylons talked to on a regular basis, people they even had standing appointments with, so Kara had found out at Phelan’s. Kara had the raptor hovering over the castle, far enough from town that they wouldn’t see it, waiting for Lee to talk to her. The frequency crackled to life, “Subject has left the chapel and is headed toward his vehicle.”

“Copy that Apollo, what’s the bastard driving?”

“A bright red truck, can’t miss it, it’s parked in the square.”

Kara started to fly slowly toward town not wanting to alert the cylon to her presence early. She kept the altitude higher than optimal viewing because she didn’t want the sound of the engine alerting people to her presence. “Okay, Starbuck, he’s leaving the square, taking a left on Fenton Road.” Kara sped up a little, just in time to see the red truck disappearing into the jungle on the well worn road. She followed along the narrow track, losing the vehicle for miles at a time as it disappeared and reappeared, just trusting that she could read the narrow space between the trees well enough until finally, she came upon a break in the jungle large enough to see the truck pull into an ungraceful cinderblock of a building mostly hidden by the shadows of trees and dense vines. It was a damn shame that she was flying an unarmed bird – they didn’t load weapons on aircraft that weren’t flying CAP, training or combat flights. She noted the GPS and wrote down the coordinates before turning tail and flying home.

She had been high enough that no one should have heard her, fast enough to not be in sight more than humanly possible, but there was still a decent chance that she had been spotted. There was no helping that though. As Lee had said, they had no idea about timeframe, about the plan or much of anything really. The only thing that was certain was that there was an enormous compound full of cylons collecting weapons, and that was all Kara really needed know.

* * *

They stared at each other gleefully over dinner in victory after having called Admiral Cain with the whole story. It was all so easy, just send a single aircraft in the dead of night and blow the frak out of the building. Lee was still a little concerned with the after details, like the supply chain and what if there were cylons somewhere else, doing the same thing, but Kara thought he was borrowing trouble.

“So, we should spend the whole day tomorrow by the pool,” Kara decided. “No recon, no Phelan’s, just us being lazy.”

“Sounds good,” Lee said grinning. “Assuming they didn’t see us, we should have a pretty stress free day.”

Kara threw a roll at him. “Stop raining on my parade, I’m sure we’re fine. It’s almost over.”

Lee’s smile faltered. “Yeah. I guess it’s the end of the Starbuck and Apollo adventure.”

“Lee, you’re not getting rid of me that easily,” she hesitated, before speaking softly, quickly. “I’m up for orders in six months or so, and after single handedly saving the worlds, they should give me my pick of assignments. I’ll just get them to write me orders to here.”

Lee’s face was unreadable, “You’d want to stay down here?”

“We can do a lot of good down here.”

“They probably won’t let you, but I really appreciate the thought,” Lee smiled.

Kara shot her hand out across the table and grabbed his. “They can’t blame you forever, Lee. You weren’t wrong.”

“Kara,” he squirmed. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s a huge deal,” she corrected. “And – and I want you to know that I think you did the right thing. I think you offered your honest opinion and saved Delphi.”

“I killed a lot of people. My brother –”

“Your brother died in a viper saving Caprica,” Kara said clearly. “He was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Colonies. Don’t take that away from him. From what I know about Zak, he wouldn’t blame you.”

“No,” Lee smiled sadly, turning his hand to lace his fingers with hers. “No, he didn’t.”

* * *

Lee dropped a bundle of letters on Kara’s head. “Mail call.” She rolled over and glared balefully up at him, silhouetted against the bright sky. “I would be more intimidated if you weren’t half asleep,” he said. He took off his shirt to bask in the sun, tilting his face up.

Kara’s eyes had just closed again when she yelped at the feel of an ice cold water bottle rolled across her bare stomach. Her arm shot out and caught Lee’s wrist, half-heartedly bending it backward in warning. “And now?”

“Suitably cowed,” he said, and she laughed in surprise, a little breathless, as she felt his teeth close lightly, playfully, over the heel of her hand.

“Truce?” she asked.

“Mmph,” Lee said, and they disengaged, Lee to fall back into a drowsy stretch and Kara to go through her mail. She squinted at an official looking letter.

“Any calls from Fleet?” she asked, idly opening the envelope.

“Nothing. Kind of make you wonder what they do all day if this doesn’t warrant their immediate attention.”

“Huh,” Kara said, sitting up reading the invitation. “Looks like I’ll be talking to a whole lot of the brass very shortly.”

* * *

“I have to go,” Kara said, watching with frustration as Lee’s face almost imperceptibly shifted, feature by feature, into pleasant blankness. “It’s your dad’s retirement, I have to be there.”

“I understand,” Lee said.

“No, you don’t,” she said sharply. “If you did, you wouldn’t be looking at me like that.”

“Kara,” Lee said, taking both of her hands in his, grip warm, eyes cool, “I understand. I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it.”

She nodded reluctantly, twisting her hands to grasp his wrists. Silently cursing at the deeply entrenched defense mechanism that had him automatically waiting for the worst thing to happen. “I’m coming back.” Lee nodded, staring down at their hands. “Lee,” Kara said, and he looked up, meeting her eyes. “I’m coming back.”

“Of course you are,” he half smiled, “We have a job to finish.”

Kara pulled her hands free and grabbed his shoulders, digging her fingers in hard. “We do,” she acknowledged, pushing herself recklessly past the barriers they still had built between them, “but we already talked about this - if you think I’m leaving you down here to bask by a pool sipping frozen daiquiris on your own, you are out of your mind.”

He took a deep breath and his smile was sudden, blinding. Beautiful. Familiar in spite of its rarity like the polite disinterested expression could never be. “I’ll keep the blender cold for you.”

“Do you think you can stay out of trouble for a week without me here to watch your back?”

Lee leaned in close, hands barely resting on her hips, breath ghosting against her lips, eyes going hot, voice dropping deep, “Trouble is not nearly as much fun without you.”

Kara’s heart stuttered. She nudged her nose gently against Lee’s, the thrill of promise singing through her veins as he bumped back and skidded along her cheek, lips brushing against her earlobe in a not quite kiss. “Hold that thought,” she said softly.

He pulled back to look in her eyes. “Make the wait worth my while?” He asked, face open.

“Naturally,” Kara said, her cocksure grin making him laugh, like she had hoped it would. She hugged him briefly, and he pulled her in hard before letting her go. She picked her bag up off the floor and slung it over her shoulder, pausing before turning to leave. “Seriously. Be careful. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Seven days,” Lee said easily. “Two days to Galactica, two days back, one day for the retirement ceremony and two for you to brief the brass and get some missiles on your raptor. I’ve been living here for five years. Cylons or no cylons, I think I can handle a little time on my own. Just don’t be late.”

“Way to jinx it,” Kara muttered, squashing down a sense of unease at leaving a man behind, leaving a friend behind. Leaving Lee behind. She would be back. Seven days.

* * *

The retirement ceremony was stupendously boring, as was the party after. At least she had been allowed to fly the Old Man’s lovingly restored viper as part of the festivities, able to make faces at the speeches in the privacy of the cockpit.

She was introduced to plenty of brass, most of whom had been instrumental in banishing Lee to the ends of the solar system, and found herself trying to shake off a sense of irritation at Adama for laughing with them, talking with those who had used his son as a scapegoat, for standing by when they did it. Kara looked down at her flight suit and was irritated with herself for flying Adama’s old viper as some sort of child substitute. She harnessed her frustration into something more productive, like taking advantage of the open bar.

“How is he?” a soft accent in a firm voice.

“Hi, Shaw. I’m fine, thank you, how are you?” Kara asked, frustration finding a target in the lovely, contained woman who had had Lee’s body, and who still had his friendship and his unwavering trust. Shaw just looked at her. “He’s doing pretty well, actually,” she said, giving in because anything else would make her feel foolish.

“Good,” Shaw answered. “And how are you, Captain Thrace?”

“I’m good,” Kara said, slightly surprised that she meant it. “Aside from being stuck here when there are more important things to be doing.” And more important people to be doing them with. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“I was picked up as Cain’s aide last month.”

“Good for you,” Kara said. It would never have been her choice, but being an Admiral’s aide was a great tic in the box of career building. Shaw nodded her acknowledgement and slid onto the bar stool next to her and looked at Kara closely for a long time, her lips curving. “What?” Kara demanded sharply.

“So,” Shaw grinned fully. “You and Adama.”

“Shut up,” Kara muttered and then motioned to the bartender for two shots of ambrosia.

* * *

“Hey, it’s me,” Kara said to Lee’s voicemail. “The bastards have moved the last debriefing back again. It’ll be tomorrow now,” Kara frowned, “and even if it doesn’t happen, I’ll still be leaving tomorrow, 1800 at the latest, so I’ll be home in three days. See you then,” she paused. “Apollo, I really wish you would frakking pick up your phone.” Kara ended the call, putting down the receiver with a soft click. Ten days and she was still in meetings on the Galactica. Lee hadn’t answered the phone. Not once in the four days she had been trying to catch him, to tell him she’d be late, to let him know that she wasn’t leaving him to rot in that cylon infested jungle by himself.

* * *

“We will be suspending your mission in Sagittaron, Captain Thrace. You may return to your post with our thanks for helping us out in such a delicate situation.”

“What?” Kara demanded. “No! There are cylons in that jungle with a supply chain of weapons going through as fast as water through a frakking fire hose. Cylons, sir!”

“We appreciate your dedication, but nothing you have told us is conclusive.”

“Conclusive!” Kara felt like screaming, “I’ve seen the bastards.”

“Yes,” said a white haired admiral, one of the seven sitting on the board, “So you say, but very few people have really seen the human models, sketches and photographs alone can be mistaken in high stress situations.”

“I worked with a skinjob for two years,” she said in disbelief. “I was standing in CIC when she shot Admiral Adama. I know what Boomer looks like.”

One of the admirals spoke sharply, her eyes hard, “The cylon threat was neutralized five and a half years ago. I believe that you believe what you saw, but it is the conclusion of this body that Captain Adama is simply trying to find his way back into the good graces of the fleet and the Colonies.”

“You are going to get us all killed.” Kara gritted, rising from her seated position at the round table.

“That’s enough, Kara!” Bill Adama spoke, and it felt like a slap to her face.

“I don’t think so, Admiral,” Kara said coldly, glaring at him before turning to address the rest of the table. “I can’t tell if this is still some ill-conceived vendetta against a frakking captain or if you are so far into denial that you are willing to let the worlds blow up just to prove yourselves right.”

“You are out of line, Captain.”

“You’re out of line, sir,” Kara snapped. “I am going back to Sagittaron and Captain Adama and I are going to break up the cylon ring.”

“You will do no such thing,” a Gemenese Admiral said. “Think long and hard about this, Captain, are you really willing to throw away your career on the say-so of an officer who not only is responsible for the deaths of the Orion wing, but who has taken to recreational drug use and solicitation?”

Kara began to laugh, feeling the harsh ugly barks roll out of her and into the affronted silence of the conference room. “You’re unbelievable,” she choked through the suffocating waves of near hysteria. “Frakking out of your minds. Where did you get that information from, one of the child pimps you have locked up? Who the frak cares? Lee Adama could have just let everything go – let it all just roll under the bridge. Instead, he’s dismantled the more disgusting elements of the black market, eliminated some of this solar system’s most prolific gun runners and is now trying to make you, make you, stop a new cylon invasion. If I were him, I’d’ve walked in there and offered to help them burn Fleet Headquarters down to the ground with all of you inside.” She looked over at Admiral Cain, who was tight lipped but held her gaze steadily. Kara would bet good money that Cain hadn’t voted to suspend, but she was remaining silent nevertheless. And then there was the Old Man.

“Captain Thrace,” Bill Adama spoke in a weary tone, “report back to your ship. Your CO is expecting you. You have CAPs to fly."

“You miserable bastards,” Kara said with feeling before stalking out of the room.

* * *

“Captain Thrace, come back with that raptor, you don’t want to get into any more trouble than you already are.” Bill Adama’s voice drifted over the frequency and into her ear.

“Sorry, sir,” Kara said tightly, betrayal wrapped firmly around her heart, “That’s just not gonna happen.”

“Damnit, Kara!” the Old Man’s voice held an edge of desperation, “You know I fought for the mission to continue, but they voted against me. As the other admirals pointed out, the last time someone put their trust in Lee we lost the Orion’s wing. I lost Zak. I love Lee, but he is not worth you ruining your career.”

“The last time someone put their trust in Lee, he saved her life,” Kara said, “And he’s worth a hell of a lot.”

“You can’t let your personal feelings for him get in the way of your judgment. You should know better.”

“You should know better because he’s your son,” she hissed in anger, dialing the first jump point back to Sagittaron. “And in case you didn’t notice it, I’m backing him up on it. If his word isn’t good enough for you, then why isn’t mine?” She waited in the dark of space, watching the Galactica and her familiar, scarred hide.

“Report back to the ship, Captain. Now.” Kara closed her eyes briefly, hating to disappoint Adama, even now, even while he was brutally disappointing her.

“Good-bye, sir,” she said firmly. “I’ll send you a postcard when Lee and I are done saving the worlds.” She jumped.

* * *

Kara landed the raptor and practically sprinted out the hatch. The door to the castle was hanging open on a single hinge. “Frak!” she whispered furiously, pulling out her sidearm and flicking off the safety.

Her echoing steps and the running water of the fountain were the only sounds in the place. “Lee!” she called. “You left the door open.” She moved carefully up the stairs, listening hard, but could hear nothing.

Kara searched from the top down and found no one. She did find Lee’s weapons though, and shattered glass in the kitchen, and a rising sense of panic.

The sudden, booming chimes of the doorbell startled her into a gasp, and she moved quickly and quietly into the foyer, weapon first. Phelan was standing in front of the fountain, both hands up.

“I saw the raptor fly in and came as soon as I could,” Phelan said.

“Where’s Lee?” Kara asked, moving closer, weapon trained on the Boss.

“That’s what I came here to tell you, Thrace,” Phelan said. “Put the gun down.”

“How do I know you didn’t sell him out?”

“Oh you managed to do that yourselves,” Phelan said angrily. “All your inelegant poking and unsubtle prodding, not deigning to tell me the score so that I could help; and then you left him out here alone in this isolated castle. This is not a game,” he ended on a shout. “Gun runners are some mean motherfrakkers and you two are babes in the woods when it comes to dealing with this shit.”

She lowered her weapon. “It’s just. . . I was late,” she said, by way of apology.

“I’m a little worried about him too,” Phelan said gruffly. “Now, will you tell me what the frak is going on?”

* * *

“So if you know where he is, why didn’t you go get him?” Kara demanded, sliding extra clips of ammo into her tac vest.

Phelan glowered at her. “Unlike you and your missing boyfriend, I don’t like running into situations without all the information. And since you chose to keep me out of the loop about the frakking cylons until this moment, it’s a good thing I didn’t.”

“And you’re sure he’s still alive?” Kara demanded, adjusting the strap of her thigh holster so that she wouldn’t be forced to look into Phelan’s eyes or think to hard about the question.

“They called in a doctor yesterday, one of Shevon’s regulars, and he treated Adama for fairly minor injuries – scrapes, bruises, looks like he’s been roughed up, but nothing permanent. I doubt they’d bother with a doctor if they wanted to kill him right away. Son of an admiral, even a disgraced one, is worth more alive than dead.”

Kara nodded, letting out a shaky breath. “Okay. I need a building layout, number of people inside--’’

“Not my first dance,” Phelan said dryly. “I know what you need.”

* * *

Kara moved through the halls of the compound she and Lee had discovered, feeling like an avenging angel, slipping into the calm hum, riding the charge of danger and leashing her fear into a honed edge. She was built for war. Her comrades moved more silently then she did, thieves and smugglers being used to the machinations of stealth and hiding in shadows, whereas Kara had always masked herself with loud words and large gestures, but, she noted with satisfaction, she cut throats as effectively as any of them.

Cylon blood was as red as a human’s, a fact that she had realized when she had witnessed Boomer’s perfunctory suicide in CIC. It felt like human blood too, as yet another blonde cylon model slid noiselessly down the wall, spilling the sticky liquid over her hands.

She glanced over at the slim, short man next to her, Brian, one of Phelan’s most trusted lieutenants. He nodded significantly at the door in front of them. Lee was in there. She nodded her understanding, indicating that she would go in high and he should go in low, and he flashed her a thumb’s up before turning to talk in complicated sign language to the other members of their fire team. Gods, what a motley crew, but they were good. Very good.

And then she was at the door, pulling her sidearm as she tucked her kbar in her belt, testing the knob, finding that it turned easily. She had half a second to count the thirteen cylons and one shirtless, bruised Lee Adama tied to a chair in the center of the room before they all started shooting.

Having only killed five off the mark, Kara and the others were forced to drop their guns as they moved further into the room. They were in too close quarters in for shooting and were going to start hitting each other. She slipped into the calm of the fray, blade back in hand, and swung into a loose limbed, soft kneed stance, using short, economic stabs to open cylon flesh, to spill rich, red blood on the floor. She was untouchable, unattainable, invulnerable in the pale static of her head, able to anticipate moves and read eyes the way she never could without the truth of destruction raining around her.

The cylons had overcome their surprise and were fighting back with skill and strength, but Phelan’s crew fought dirtier and smarter, and Kara fought harder than she ever remembered fighting in her life, even back on the playgrounds of her childhood, back before she knew better, wasting her time defending the honor of her mother. She slid her knife between the ribs of one of the male cylons and into the place where humans tended to have hearts, twisting to make it hurt, and then kicked him to the ground. She spun to find more, but saw only allies standing.

Bits and blurts of sound started bleeding through, heralding her slow return to normalcy. She blinked carefully and regulated her breathing, watching her team meticulously cleaning their weapons and searching cylon bodies for money or jewelry – the spoils of war. She couldn’t look at Lee in anything but pieces, right knee, left shoulder, a foot, an ear. There were bruises everywhere underneath the rope, but nothing looked broken from where she was standing.

Brian touched her arm, told her that he and the others were going to search the rest of the compound and, with an emotional intuition entirely lacking in all of the Marine teams Kara had ever worked with, he closed the door behind him, leaving her alone with Lee.

With the blood of their enemies striped across her cheek, dripping from her knife, the adrenalin of battle still coursing through her veins, Kara raised her head to meet Lee's eyes. Instead of accusation she saw acceptance, trust opposed to betrayal. The relief that shot through her nearly forced her to her knees. Instead, she walked toward the chair. The ropes were tied tightly, biting into his bare chest and arms, wrapped multiple times around him from shoulders to hips and again at the ankles, binding him, holding him down, containing him, twisting him into a motionless, wordless shape that didn't suit.

Kara carefully wiped her blade off on her shirt and moved closer. Lee raised a single, questioning eyebrow, expressive even when there was a gag that seemed to cover half his face and she felt the left side of her mouth quirk up in response. "I told you not to get into trouble," she said leaning in close but not touching. "You never did follow orders very well, did you?" Lee's other brow lifted in disbelief and Kara grinned fully, heart pounding. Her voice sunk deeper, a raspy growl in her throat, and Lee's eyes darkened as he started to strain against his ropes again. "If you stay very, very still, Captain, I'll free you. Think you can let go of your inner control freak for me?" He froze and then relaxed completely, and that was answer enough for her.

Kara brought her knife up so that he could see it and moved it slowly toward his face and, taking care not to push, not to mar the strong, clean lines of his jaw and cheekbone, slid the thin blade between the press of the cloth and his flesh. Their eyes caught and held, her pulse fluttered, as their one point of contact rasped against stubble before tearing cloth slowly until Lee's mouth was free. Kara kept the flat of her knife against his skin for a moment, an extension of her hand, her self, sharp and shiny and prone to cut. He didn’t say a word, just stared at her with disconcertingly open blue eyes.

Her breath caught at his stillness, she could taste the quiet in the air, heavy on her tongue, nearly drunk on the knowledge that she could do whatever she wanted to Lee right in that moment and he would let her, wouldn’t even say a word. Kara smoothed the knife down his cheek, traced the tip lightly along his jaw to the center of his chin. She leaned in and placed a soft, closed mouth kiss to his lips, moving to stand directly in front of him when she pulled away. His eyes never left hers.

Carefully, she slid the blade, bumping over Lee's chin, skimming down the column of his throat, tracing over his upper chest until it rested against the rope that trapped him. Kara broke Lee's gaze to look where the ties cut into his flesh, wincing. "Gods, Lee," She said, pulling herself out of the breathless silence of trust to purposely and quickly saw the binding from his body. The ropes fell from him, and Kara dropped the knife after cutting the ties from his legs to trace her shaking fingers over angry red stripes on his skin.

"Kara." She looked up at the half whispered word, pulled back into the strange peace of a moment ago when she looked into his eyes. "I'm fine," Lee said. "I'm fine." She swallowed, nodded, and slid her hands up his biceps, pressing into the solid bulk of Apollo's shoulders, still strong enough to carry the weight of the world. His hands were restrained behind his back, wrists bound together, making the muscles in his arms more apparent, pushing his chest a little forward. She looked up when Lee's head tilted, a smile playing across his mouth at her distraction.

"Did I say you could talk, Captain?" She growled low in her throat, suddenly, fiercely wanting the control he had offered up, wanting his submission to her whims, his trust in her motives. The faint curve of his lips remained but he stayed obediently quiet. Kara dragged her hands over his shoulders until they met at his neck, circled it, squeezed lightly to see how far Lee'd let her go. He didn’t flinch, but she felt him swallow tightly against her thumbs where they pressed into the hollow of his throat and she saw that he was afraid.

He was afraid of this, giving up his tightly won, closely worn control, but he would do anything for her, let her do anything to him. The knowledge hummed through her that she could choke him right now and he wouldn’t move. She had never asked for this kind of responsibility, but the gods were not in the habit of asking her what she wanted.

Kara released her hold on Lee's neck, stepping back and standing straight. She picked up her knife from the floor, taking the time to circle its blood-stained steel around Lee's navel before switching it closed and tucking it into her boot. Quickly stripping off her filthy shirt, Kara watched as a terrible, painful need swept over his face, the look of someone who had wanted without being able to have for too long.

She moved forward, grasped his shoulders again and straddled his lap, sealing his mouth with hers in one full, wet swoop. There was no time for sweet words or confessions, she didn't even know if there was any gentleness to be had between them, but his teeth bit down on her lip and she invaded his mouth with her tongue and pressed as closely to his bare chest as possible, gasping at the heat of his abused skin against hers. She felt his arms shaking with the strain of not being able to touch her, felt the heat and hardness where she ground down against him, felt his panting breath, his desperate lips, his pleading stare, as they kissed with their eyes open.

She tore herself away from his mouth, scrambling down to her knees and unbuttoning his pants with shaking hands. Kara pulled his erection free and leaned in and dragged her tongue up the hot length of him before sucking him into her mouth, tilting her face up in time to see Lee's eyes close, his mouth open and wet and red and she almost stopped what she was doing right then to taste his lips again. But he throbbed warm and hard and alive, so, so alive that she bent to the task. Inhaling his scent, tasting his skin, nothing artful, no teasing games or false starts, just you're here, I'm here, I'm Kara, you're Lee, my mouth, your skin, and this is all that matters. Hearing him gasping, hearing him muttering above her, "please, please, please." Without looking, just breathing more heavily into his body, she pulled the knife from her boot again, pulling her mouth free, pushing intimately closer, face buried in his chest, she reached around and felt for the ropes around his wrists, cutting him free even as he continued to beg, "please, please, please."

She may have sliced his wrists a little, couldn’t bring herself to care as his hands, which had to be numb and aching were suddenly grabbing at her face and yanking her up and into another kiss as the knife clattered to the ground again. They scrabbled down her body, fingers bumping over ribs and digging into her hips before he uttered a final, "please" against her mouth and she nodded because gods yes, anything. Anything at all. Their hands tangled as they freed her from her pants and Kara was totally out of patience. Frak the boots. She stood, shoved her trousers to her ankles and turned her back to Lee, his tongue sliding up her spine as she slid down his body and onto his length.

They both froze. Kara's head thrown back and her mouth stretched wide, Lee's head dropped forward, face pressed between her shoulder blades. Then he hesitantly slid both arms around her, snaking one under her bra to cup her breast and the other across her middle, sliding his fingers gently up and down the spot where waist flared into hip. He pressed a series of full mouthed kisses in a line from her left shoulder blade to her right shoulder blade before leaning his forehead against the nape of her neck and breathing "Kara" into her skin.

And she began to rock. Sliding up and down languidly, facing a room full of dead bodies of the people she had killed to save a monster, Kara felt her own demons recede as she whispered his name into the air. "Lee."

* * *

The moonlight painted shadows across Kara’s wet skin as she slipped through the water with easy strokes, entirely nude. Lee sighed his appreciation, sitting on the side of the pool with his feet dangling in, drinking champagne directly from the bottle. She emerged from under the water, blonde hair sleek and silver in the bright night, pulling herself half out of the pool, hands braced on his knees. He tilted his head down, pressing lush, open mouthed kisses to her lips, cupping his hands underneath her elbows to pull her higher, closer, burying his face into the juncture of neck and shoulder. Blowing deliberately down her body, making her flesh ripple with goose bumps.

She laughed. The breathless laugh that never failed to shoot straight to his heart and groin in equal, dizzying measure. “Afraid to get a little wet?”

He let her slide down his body, reveling in the feel of her as she dragged down his skin to stand on her own feet in the pool again. “Just thought we should talk first,” he said. “Short conversation,” he hastily added when she narrowed her eyes.

“What’s there to talk about? The compound was cleared, that supply chain dismantled, the jackasses finally released pictures of the skinjobs to the public to prevent something like this from happening again, Phelan gave us a hell of a lot of booze to celebrate. It’s just you and me, Lee. I say we enjoy it.”

He tangled his fingers in her hair, leaning down to press his lips to the crown of her head. “What about us?” he asked, feeling needy and foolish to be asking such a question at such a time, but not quite able to help it. He wanted to laze idly in this pool, in this jungle, with this woman for the rest of his life, but things hadn’t been easy, or good, or even real in such a long time.

“What about us?” Kara asked, idly running a finger from his knee to his foot and pressing a kiss to the inside of his calf. “I told a few Admirals, including your father, to take a flying leap. I’ve been assured that, should I be allowed to remain in the service, they’re going to exile me with you anyway.”

“And. . . that would be okay with you?”

Kara shook her head in disbelief before taking Lee’s hands and yanking him into the pool. She dunked him hard and he swallowed water as he laughed into her kisses.