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Precession

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“Don’t lose me this time, Apollo,” Kara says, amusement dancing in her voice over the speakers.

On Dradis, the Cylons swarm like wasps, like locusts, like carrion beetles around the recently-paralyzed vessels of the Fleet. They lose the Pyxis; the Zephyr drops off comms for a long minute after its ring gets fractured open by Raider fire, and then it finally returns Dee’s hails with desperate shouting amidst a cascade of static.

Dee does her duty, efficient and steady despite the weight of glances frequently thrown her way. She does her duty, because this is war and there are lives on the line. If there is one more life than she expected to have (back) in their (her) hands, then that makes her dedication all the more essential.

Kara’s earlier words echo in the back of her mind, though. It’s going to be okay.

Dee couldn’t say why, but she believes it. Impossible certainty delivered in a dead woman’s voice, surely a trick, surely a trap, but Dee believes it anyway. It really is me.

Sam is muttering to himself, words too low to distinguish, but it’s polluting the line. “Longshot, what’s your status?” she asks.

“My guns are jammed,” he says. “My guns—” He’s in the middle of the whirlwind; any number of hostiles could lock on to him, take him apart.

Dee holds herself very, very still. Stays very, very quiet. She keeps her head down, doesn’t look at anyone else in the CIC. Calmly, calmly, she waits for his voice to come back. Her fingers tremble, once, and she grips the edge of her console so they’ll stop. It won’t happen again, she tells herself, determined to believe it. We won’t lose Sam, we can’t, not now, not with Kara—

“What the hell?” Tigh says, and she looks over at the central monitors.

“They just stopped. They’re just... leaving,” Apollo reports. Sure enough, the swarm withdraws like an outgoing tide, leaving broad swaths of wrack and ruin behind. 

“Squadrons, report,” Helo says, and among all the others, Sam’s voice comes on cue. Dee takes a steady breath, then another and another:

“Apollo here,” Lee says. “I’ll escort our bogey home.”

Bogey,” Kara laughs like he’s joking, triumphant and carefree like this is just another firefight she’s survived unscathed. “Starbuck here, and I know the way home, thanks. Someone remind me why I married this dork?”

Dee doesn’t hear what response, if any, this receives, because now the Admiral’s standing in front of her station, scrutinizing her intently. She squares her shoulders and lifts her chin to meet his gaze, unwavering.

“What do you say, Dee?” he asks.

“She sounds right,” Dee says, packing as much meaning as she can into those three words. Her father-in-law nods.

“Petty Officer Asher,” the Admiral says, turning away. “Please take over for Lieutenant Dualla. Lieutenant, Commander Tigh, you’re with me.” Dee scrambles to her feet to comply, barely remembering to remove her headset to hand it off to Asher before she catches herself on the cord.

 

* * *

 

There’s a small crowd gathered on the hangar deck below by the time Dee, Tigh, & the Admiral arrive on the catwalk. The Colonel gestures wordlessly, and the complement of marines he’d collected on the way split off to descend the ladders on either side, synchronized approaches to flank the prodigal pilot.

Lee and Sam already bookend Kara, speaking to her with wondering, incredulous expressions, hands on her arms, her shoulder, her back, as if contact will keep her anchored, keep her real. Kara’s turned away; Dee can’t see her wife’s face. The deck crew and most of the other pilots form a wary ring around them.

Chief Tyrol paces a slow orbit along the perimeter of the wide space around the trio. He’s perhaps the only one who knows what they’re feeling right now. The only question that remains is whether this is their Kara or someone else sent in her place, carrying her memories in tandem with an unknown agenda. There’s a moment where Dee imagines Kara pregnant, like Athena, and she has to swallow a hysterical laugh, appalled at the idea. One half-cylon’s trouble enough.

“You have two minutes, Lieutenant,” the Admiral says, low and firm. An order, not a favor granted. Dee suspects she’ll be asked to give a full report later. She doesn’t care.

The pilots say there’s a trick to getting down the ladder at speed, but Dee’s never really gotten the knack. She’s never needed it before.

Today, she flies, her boots hitting the deck in the blink of an eye. No one sees her coming, too focused on the tableaux in front of the gleaming white Viper. She has to shove her way through. There are a few startled exclamations until people see who it is, and then they let her pass.

For all the urgency hammering through her veins, Dee stops dead in her tracks just outside of arm’s reach. Kara’s face is twisted in disbelief when she spots her. Their husbands must have filled her in. “Two months—?” she asks, and Dee nods. “My clock says— it only feels like—”

Dee takes the last two steps between them all in a rush, and kisses her with all the sudden violence of a sucker punch, her hands framing Kara’s face in a bruising clutch, teeth cutting into lips until they both taste copper. Starbuck makes a small sound, and Dee pulls back to see a red streak vivid across her mouth. “I’m sorry,” Kara says, “I didn’t—” and Dee wants to hit her again.

“Starbuck,” the Admiral’s voice interrupts, clear and ringing. Their two minutes are up.

 

* * *

 

Sam’s arm is a warm, solid line against Dee’s shoulder as they sit side-by-side on one of the omnipresent storage crates along the corridor walls. Not far away, Lee paces back and forth across the hall in a precise, angry circuit. They’re not allowed into the infirmary; marines guard the hatch.

“What do you think?” Sam asks quietly.

“Let’s just wait to see what the results are,” Lee answers, his voice as clipped as his steps.

“Was I asking you?” Sam says, tensing up. Lee’s footsteps falter, come closer.

“Hey,” Dee snaps, looking up from the deck to pin them each with a glare. “Not the time.” She wonders if they’ve spoken at all in the last two months outside morning pilots’ briefings, back when Lee was still CAG. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Baltar’s magic cylon detector never worked in the first place, so I don’t know what they think they’re even trying to prove.”

“What if they could find out,” Sam murmurs. “What if she was… what if she is a cylon, if she has been all this time…”

“She’s not a cylon, Sam,” Lee says, and he sounds so sure about it but also so, so tired. As if he’s already had this debate with himself a thousand times on the trip between the hangar deck and this hatch. Knowing Lee, he probably has.

“But what if she is, okay?” Sam says, a strange, high note in his voice. “What do we— what’s going to happen to her? What would you do, what would either of you—?”

“I don’t know, Sam,” Lee says, halfway to a shout. “I don’t know what you expect me to say here. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. It depends on a dozen other questions that I hope I never have to ask, because I hope we never get the answer that means we have to ask them, all right?” He props his forearm high on the wall, leaning his forehead against his wrist, shoulders slumping. “All I know is, that’s our wife in there.” Not ‘my’ wife, but ‘our.’ For a moment, Dee wants to reach out to him, offer some of the support that she and Sam share. He’s too far away, though, too closed off and wrapped up in his own pain for her to reach him. “An hour ago, I thought she was dead. So right now, I’m just glad she’s in there to ask questions about in the first place.” He straightens up, his face smoothing out like he’s about to go on duty. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be waiting in the Admiral’s quarters.” He leaves, and it feels like he takes half the oxygen with him, because Dee’s lungs heave for a minute after he’s gone.

Sam tucks her under one arm, lets her catch her breath. “I’m sorry,” he says. “You okay?” Dee thinks for a minute before nodding, even though it’s not really true: she can’t remember the last time it was true. But she doesn’t know how else to respond.

“You got a shortcut, y’know,” she says to Sam after a little while. “In the Academy, we take all these classes, not just the ones you’d expect on battle tactics and military history, but also stuff like engineering, physics, aeronautics… every time that jump technology came up, there was always the same question: where does a ship go between departure and arrival? And we always got the same answer. It involved some thought experiment about a cat in a box where you don’t know whether it’s alive or dead, do you know that one?” She looks up at him.

“Vaguely,” he admits. “I didn’t… I didn’t really major in theoretical physics.”

Dee gives him a faint smile. “The point is, the cat could be either, but there’s no way of knowing until you open the box. The act of observation determines which state it’s in, but until you look, it’s kind of both at once.”

“So... Kara’s both a cylon and not a cylon,” he says, brow furrowed.

“I’m saying, even if it seems impossible, at least we know that the cat’s alive.” Dee says. “What we really oughta be asking now is: how many lives does she have left?” Sam huffs a small, puzzled laugh against her hair. “Hey, there’s a reason I’m not a jump drive engineer, okay?”

His arm tightens around her, and they wait.

 

* * *

 

The sound of the hatch opening jolts Dee from a slight doze. She feels like she hasn’t properly slept in ages, her eyes stinging as she blinks rapidly to focus them. Tory comes out first, giving them a slight, nervous glance, Laura – the President – right behind her. Dee snaps to attention, Sam on his feet a moment later.

President Roslin pauses when she spots Sam and Dee, looking surprised, then thoughtful. On New Caprica, she’d trusted Dee’s counsel about the Resistance, trusted her with her life. It feels like a lifetime ago; Dee’s not sure what’s left of the ‘Laura’ she knew then. “All right,” Roslin declares reluctantly, “Come along, if you must.” Half a step behind her, the Admiral shoots them a forbidding glance, and Dee infers that their presence will be suffered only if they comport themselves appropriately.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dee says, just as Sam’s saying, “Thank you, ma’am,” with emphatic gratitude.

 

* * *

 

As it turns out, Cottle’s tests were just comparisons to the samples he had on file, and the results are a match, whatever that means. Whether Kara’s a cylon, though, is still unknown.

She still insists she’s been to Earth. She has photos from her Viper’s gun cameras: a whole array of prints, crisp and clear. Dee trails her fingertips across one, tracing the bright round shape of a yellow moon hanging above a vivid blue-and-green world.

Roslin asks questions, and Kara replies with the same story, again and again and again. Star patterns matching those they’d seen in Athena’s tomb. A giant gas planet with rings. A flashing triple star. A comet.

And no memory, no clear knowledge of how she got from there to here.

Roslin’s steely disbelief fills the room like a creeping, prickling vapor, even the Admiral silent as the women stare each other down. Lee is restless in his seat while Kara’s voice climbs, sure and certain and desperate for someone, anyone to believe her. Roslin asks and asks and asks again, prodding, probing, watching for a weakness.

Dee chews on the inside of her cheek, shoots a quelling glance at Sam when she sees him shift forward, his fingers curling into fists. Starbuck’s not one to need – or approve of – someone charging in to be her white knight, and this fight’s one that they’re all ill-prepared for, besides. Still, Dee can appreciate the impulse.

“Let’s go see this Viper,” the Admiral says, during a momentary lull. “Starbuck, I want you to go talk to Gaeta, see if you can match up any of these photos with our long-range scans.” Kara relaxes in fractional increments, first when he says her callsign and again when she realizes he’s giving her a chance.

On their way out, Dee catches up to the Admiral. “Sir, may I—” she starts.

“Lieutenant, I think you’ve been away from your station for long enough, don’t you?” he comments, giving her a shrewd look over the edge of his glasses.

Dee suppresses a smile. “Yes sir,” she says, saluting.

 

* * *

 

The astrometrics station is clear across the command deck, but Dee can see Gaeta and Kara’s postures grow more antagonistic over the next hour, squaring off on opposite sides of the light table. Helo must notice Dee’s preoccupation, because he gives her a sympathetic smile before he heads over to defuse the impending argument. He’s only partially successful; Kara turns on him instead, insistent and adamant.

Dee turns back to jump prep, reassuring anxious captains that yes, they’re still safe; no, they aren’t jumping because they think the cylons are about to arrive again; the Fleet’s just following the course to Earth. She doesn’t tell them that she’s seen it, seen photos, seen proof that it exists, that it’s within their reach… She doesn’t tell them that it’s beautiful, that it’s real. Really, truly real.

It’s going to be okay, Kara had said, voice calm and true. I’ve been to Earth. I know where it is. And I’m gonna take us there.

Dee tells the Fleet that everything’s fine, and she tries to believe it.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Starbuck snaps behind Dee, her voice raising enough to be audible.

Dee takes three deep breaths, and counts down to the next jump over the comms.

3… 2… 1… Jump!

There’s a sharp cry, and Dee looks around to see Starbuck holding the heel of her hand to her temple. Beside her, the Admiral looks wary and weary while Kara visibly pleads for his faith.

Someone clears their throat behind Dee, and she startles, mortifyingly. “Sorry,” Hoshi says. “It’s just. Your shift ended five minutes ago…?” The clock confirms it. She exhales heavily, giving him an apologetic look, and they start the shift-change checklist.

When she looks up again, Kara and her marine guards are gone.

 

* * *

 

This is what Dee does, almost every day she’s been on duty on the Galactica: she monitors Fleet communication; she logs incoming and outgoing calls. She helps Gaeta track ships and shipments, transports and passenger transfers. She handles over half the paperwork that the Admiral signs every day, and she makes sure it all gets delivered to the right departments at the right time.

However, she has – on rare occasion – been... persuaded to do her job with less than her usual equitable efficiency, or mistakenly dropped minor tidbits of information in conversation with her fellow crewmates. This is to be expected; in a constant state of war, of fear and anxiety and no immediate relief in sight, slip-ups are inevitable. It’s never noticeably impacted the functioning of the ship, or of the Fleet, but it’s usually improved morale.

(This is, perhaps, why Lee came to her when he wanted to sneak off the ship with Roslin, after Tigh declared martial law. And almost certainly why Tory and Tigh came to her to help rig the election, for all the good that did anyone.)

What all of this boils down to is: many, many people aboard Galactica – and a fair number elsewhere in the Fleet – owe Dee a favor or two.

Time to start collecting, she thinks.

 

* * *

 

The Six stares at the bundle in Dee’s outstretched hands like it’s a basket of snakes.

“They’re for you,” Dee says. “I’m not sure about size, but. This place always seemed… cold.” She sets the clothing down on one end of the bed, and the Six sinks gracefully to sit beside it.

“...why?” the Six asks. She unfolds the well-worn shirt, pants, and zip-up sweatshirt, catching a pair of balled-up socks before it rolls off the bed.

There's no need for pretense, to act like this gesture is anything but an attempt to encourage reciprocity. “I think someone I know might be a cylon,” Dee says, choosing her words carefully, and feels Sam stiffen beside her. “And since you’re the only other one on board…”

The Six smiles up at them, and it’s like being bathed in a heat lamp. Dee’s skin prickles. “You’re referring to Kara Thrace, yes?” she asks. Dee lifts her eyebrows, surprise and silent query both. “You’re not the only one to ask about her today.”

“Who else?” Sam interjects.

“The President, of course,” the Six answers, but she’s still staring at Dee. “...I remember you. Dee, isn’t it?”

Dee’s tongue goes thick in her mouth, some instinct in the back of her mind shrilly screaming danger! She nods, almost regretting having asked the guards for some privacy.

“Anastasia Dualla,” the Six says carefully, as if remembering, or prompting. “It’s good to see you well.”

Dee freezes, and then her stomach does a slow, roiling churn. She takes a step back, bumping into Sam, and his hands come up to catch her shoulders. Steady anchor now, when she had none then. It’s enough for her to come back to herself, to regain some composure. “You—” Dee tries, tasting ash, tasting bile, tasting shame. She swallows hard. “You were there, on New Caprica. On Colonial One.” With Baltar, she doesn’t say, not wanting to speak his name.

The Six nods, and there’s something like sympathy in her eyes. “You said then that Kara was all you had left.” Her eyes flick to rest on Sam, then slide away again just as quickly. “Clearly that’s not true anymore. So: what is she to you? Now?”

Dee presses her mouth into a firm line. This woman isn’t the one with the power here, not now; Dee’s not obligated to answer anything to get the information she wants in exchange. She didn’t have to beg just to get in the door.

“She’s our wife,” Sam spits out, looming behind Dee like a furious sentinel.

The Six looks at him, really looks for the first time since they walked into her cell, and her eyes go wide. “I remember you, too,” she says. Dee can feel the sharp intake of Sam’s breath as much as hear it, in the rapid press of his ribs against her spine. “We met on Caprica, in the parking garage. I’m glad you survived.”

“You… you’re the one who killed that Three for me, let me escape,” Sam says, and exhales heavily in faint amusement. “Small frakking universe.”

The Six’s regard slips away from Sam again. “So you married her. Both of you…?” There’s something bitter to how her mouth curls. “I’m sorry.”

“So she is...” Dee says, trailing off when she realizes that there’s no surprise in her voice, in her mind. Kara’s a cylon, she thinks for the first time, believing it; it sounds too like the truth to shock her.

“Oh!” the Six says, shaking her head. “Oh, no, I don’t know if she’s one of the Five. I… don’t know who they are. We're inhibited from even thinking about them.”

“So you wouldn’t be able to tell us even if you were looking one in the eye,” Dee says, feeling defeated. Sam’s hands grip her shoulders in a quick, convulsive clutch.

The Six shakes her head again. “Afraid not.” She lifts the sweatshirt from the pile, stroking the washed-soft fabric.

“Then why are you sorry?” Dee can’t help but ask.

“In my experience, the more personalities involved in a relationship, the faster it falls apart,” the Six says, pulling the sweatshirt on, wrapping it tight around herself. “I should warn you: the more you sacrifice, the less you’ll have left, in the end.”

“I’m sorry you’ve been hurt,” Dee says. “But that’s not true, not for us.” She very, very carefully doesn’t think about Lee.

“How can you be so sure?” the Six asks, and instead of the sneering challenge it could have been, it seems like genuine curiosity.

“Our wife just came back to us from the dead,” Dee points out. “After that, some things don’t feel quite so impossible.” Adamas have the tendency to take the long odds, she’d told the Tighs once, the last time she’d left Pegasus.

“I’m sorry I won’t be there to see how your faith is rewarded,” the Six says. “But... thank you for the clothing.”

 

* * *

 

Cally comes into the infirmary, deep circles under her eyes as she looks around.

“If you’re looking for Cottle, he’ll be out in a few minutes,” Dee says, patting the chair next to her. It’s a little late for a scheduled visit, but then, that’s one of the reasons she picked this hour for her own business. “Everything all right? How’s Nicky doing?”

Cally drops gracelessly into the empty seat like the gravity plating’s acting up. “Nicky’s fine. I don’t know how to thank you and Gaeta for all your help with him,” she says. “I just can’t sleep. My mind keeps racing, and it’s stupid, but I feel like Galen’s acting weird and…” She scrubs a hand over her face. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t be complaining to you; you’ve got enough to deal with.”

“I’m kind of glad for the distraction,” Dee says. “All you probably need is a good night’s sleep. Maybe ask the Doc for some sleep meds tonight? And in the morning, you should go down to Dogsville. There’s an apothecary there with a friend who works in hydroponics – I hear she’s got a tea that’ll knock you right on your ass.”

Cally lifts one corner of her mouth, something too fragile to be a real smile, but trying anyway. “Sure thing,” she says. “So I gotta ask: what’s the deal with Starbuck? Her ship’s brand new, and I hear she’s been saying something about Earth—?”

Dee doesn’t know how to explain it, but anything’s better than just waiting here alone. So she gives Cally a quick rundown, omitting the parts that the Admiral had declared classified.

“...do you think she’s a cylon?” Cally asks, disgust evident in her tone.

Dee’s not surprised. They’d both survived New Caprica together, and Dee hasn’t any stones to throw regarding ill will towards cylons, either. But it doesn’t seem that simple, not anymore. “...I think she might be,” Dee answers finally. Cally’s lip curls. “Don’t look at me like that, what if it were Galen? Thinking he was dead for two months and then he walks onto the deck one morning—”

“Don’t even joke about that,” Cally blurts, shaking her head.

“I’m just saying,” Dee says, holding her hands up in surrender. “We’ve for sure got two cylons aboard who betrayed their people for us – for love, apparently. And if that’s true, then I’m not so scared of my wife being one. I’m just glad she’s back.” She tips her head back against the seat. “Well, if it’s the same her, that is. That’s what I’m worried about.”

“...do you believe in the gods?” Cally asks after a minute, quiet. Dee lifts her head to look at her, but her head’s bowed, restless fingers picking at a loose thread on her knee.

“Not exactly,” Dee says. “But I’m starting to think there’s something…

Cally’s forehead creases. “Baltar’s God?”

This surprises a bark of laughter out of Dee, and she covers her mouth with one hand. “Oh, gods, no. No. Not even a little. But maybe…” Dee says, pondering aloud. “Maybe believing in us, in the people I love, is enough.”

Cally smiles, wavering but getting stronger, soft and vulnerable. “I dedicated Nicky to Ares and Apollo,” she says. Dee remembers; she also remembers centurions gunning Nora down in the temple afterwards, but she’s not going to mention that. “I feel like I have to keep believing, keep going no matter how… how tired I get. Like I made a bargain with them to keep him safe. It’s just. It’s just really hard, sometimes.”

Dee knows the feeling, New Caprica memories crowding close and thick in the back of her mind. If she’d had to pick patrons for a child back then, Ares and Apollo would have made a lot of sense. But they’re not gods known for being gentle with their adherents, either. “Yeah,” she says, reaching over to squeeze Cally’s hand. “Yeah, it really is.”

They both fall into silence, each lost in their own reverie.

 

* * *

 

“I’ve finished the first scan,” Cottle tells Dee. “We’ve got twenty minutes ‘till the next jump, so if you want to keep her company, I’ve got another patient waiting.”

“Sure,” Dee says, and catches his elbow before he goes. “And thank you. Really.”

His eyebrows pull together in a dubious tangle. “It’s no skin off my ass,” he says dismissively. “Especially not after all you did for all those girls who… Well, it’s the least I could do, not that I think anything’ll come of it. All the other tests showed bupkis.”

“No harm in trying, though, right?” Dee says.

“Yeah, no harm in trying,” he concedes, and leaves to find Cally.

Dee turns to the door to the MRI room, and feels her feet turn leaden in apprehension as she realizes that this will be the first time she’ll be alone with Kara since she came back. What do you say to a resurrected spouse, anyway? she thinks. Hey, how was the afterlife? Did you decide to come back because you were bored, or—?

Dee shakes her head sharply. Cally’s not the only one who needs sleep.

Medina, one of the marine guards, opens the door for her as she approaches. “You sure about this, Dee?” she asks in a low murmur.

“No,” Dee says. “But I think we’ll be fine, thanks.”

Kara’s head snaps up as Dee comes in, and they both stare at each other, the door latching loudly in the wary silence.

“Dee—” Kara says, hopping down off the scanning bed. Dee’s hands lift, palms forward between them, and Kara stops, face twisting in anguish. “Dee, it’s me.”

“...lift up your shirt,” Dee says. She doesn’t want to do anything else, say anything else, until she knows. The MRIs aren’t for her; she has her own metrics. Kara frowns. “Please,” Dee says, her voice breaking a little.

Kara’s expression turns mulish, but she drops her jacket and peels up her shirt quickly enough, crossing her arms in front of her when she’s done. “Is this some kind of back-from-the-dead hazing thing?” she asks, voice getting that cutting, sarcastic edge that means she’s feeling vulnerable and hating it. “Or did you just miss my tits? ’Cause I can take the bra off, too, if you want.”

Dee suppresses a grimace. “This isn’t—” she starts, and sighs, stepping forward, lifting her hands up again, placating instead of defensive. Kara’s pants are slung low on her hips because they won’t let her have a belt, and right above the waistband, Dee can see two scars on her abdomen. One’s from a bullet that Kara used to show off all the time, and the second is the one she doesn’t like to talk about ever. The one from the Farm.

Small details, ones that the cylons wouldn’t necessarily replicate, right? Dee’s not entirely sure how the resurrection process works, but adding bullet scars and removing ovaries seem like a bit much.

“Show me your right arm,” Dee says.

Kara gives her a wry grimace but holds it out. Dee steps closer, wrapping her hand around her wife’s wrist, twisting it upwards so that she can look at the soft inner line of it. The inked text just below her elbow is slightly blurred around the edges, as faded with time as Dee’s always seen it. She traces her hand across the letters, and Kara’s hand clutches in the empty air at the ticklish touch.

“Turn around,” Dee says, and Kara must understand what’s going on, because she does, propping her elbows on the scanning bed and leaning forward so that the skin on her back is stretched in a smooth arc under the light. The heavy, blocky pyramid catches Dee’s eye first – got it to cover up an ex-boyfriend’s name, Kara’d explained once, rolling her eyes at her past self’s stupidity – but that’s not what Dee’s looking for.

“Should’ve taken off the bra, after all, huh,” Kara says dryly.

“Don’t,” Dee says, and hooks her thumbs under the band to pull it up herself. And there, between Kara’s shoulderblades, is the mark Dee’s looking for.

 

* * *

 

It wasn’t what Dee expected. The four of them crowded close around the paper, Kara tipping it this way and that, peering at it appraisingly. It was almost abstract, symmetrical and neatly-segmented shapes rendered in stark black and white.

“It looks Tauron,” Sam said.

“It does,” Lee said. “My grandfather had ink like this, and some of his friends. I asked him about it, once, and he said each mark was a story, but not ones he could tell me ‘till I got older.” His mouth quirked at the memory.

“Not just Tauron,” the Mnemoscine corrected in a voice like fallen leaves from her seat on the other side of the table. “Ha’la’tha.”

“That sounds familiar. I think I knew a girl once…” Sam started, then frowned.

“Can’t remember the name of one of your adoring C-Bucs fans, Sammy?” Kara teased, and he scrunched his nose and leaned into her until she lost her balance a little, stumbling and snickering as she righted herself again.

“What does it mean?” Dee asked finally.

“You wanted a wedding mark, something for all four, of all four, and so,” the woman said, reaching up to take the paper from them. She set it on the table and began pointing at different segments of the design. “Here, the wide, steady earth,” indicating the large crescent at the base, “the bright, warm sun,” tapping a circle between that crescent and a smaller one that faced the opposite direction, which she traced next, “the bow of the huntress, and the guiding star.” That last was a four-pointed shape towards the top, with sweeping rays that fragmented the dark space around it, a line dropping all the way back to the base, linking each central shape together, to the whole.

“But—” Lee said, forehead rumpled.

The Mnemoscine rapped her knuckles against the table and stared up at him with an imperious tilt to her jaw and the cloudy gaze that was the mark of her order. Everyone knew that you didn’t argue with a Mnemoscine; you didn’t tell them what you wanted them to ink. That’s how you wound up going back for cover-ups.

This was how it worked; this was where faith took over, and Dee had gotten used to leaping, by then.

It also… felt right, though Dee couldn’t explain it any better if she’d tried. “I like it,” she said decisively, and from the way Lee blinked, he hadn’t been expecting hers to be the first endorsement. “I think I’ll get it, even if no one else does.” She could show it off to Felix, laugh about her impulsiveness with Lee when they’re old and gray. Look at it in the mirror, sometimes, when she wanted a reminder, a visible tether beneath her skin.

“To be sure, I’m jumping the gun on this one somewhat,” the old woman said, sensing their hesitation. “But I won’t be around by the time you’ve grown into it, and I want to make sure you have it when you need it.” She lifted the drawing from the table, holding it over her shoulder. “Aleta, time to work!”

Her acolyte slipped into the room and took the paper reverently. “If you’ll follow me,” Aleta said, her eyes still a clear, rich brown, “I will have the honor of bestowing the mark the gods have revealed.”

Lee looked visibly relieved at this, and Kara snorted at him. “You didn’t really think the theobule was gonna be the one to ink us, didja?”

And it was ‘us,’ in the end. Each design was slightly different, according to placement and some arcane reasoning of the acolyte, but all four had the same set of symbols in the center. After Dee had hers set between her shoulderblades, Kara got hers there, too, the edges a little spikier, the corners a little sharper. Then Sam had hopped onto the table, rolling up his sleeve and making exaggerated faces at the pain while Aleta added a dancing, weaving row of dots along the sides. Lee had gone last, pulling off his shirt, tapping two fingers over his heart.

“I like the idea of carrying on a family tradition,” he explained. “Even if it skipped a generation.” And, appropriately enough, his had extra swooping shapes framing the sides, wide black tapering lines adding movement and emphasis to the design. His looks more Tauron somehow, like the symbols on their oldest buildings, in their company logos and the designs of the banners at their spaceport.

“Guess we’re all Adamas now,” Kara declared, a faint wistful echo lurking in the back of her voice.

“I’m still not changing my name,” Dee said.

“...yeah, me either,” Sam added, and Kara choked on a laugh.

 

* * *

 

Dee strokes her thumb over Kara’s tattoo, seeing the freckle at seven o’clock on the sun, the familiar unevenness of the rays around the star, wondering how far cylons would go…

Well, they nuked twelve planets and chased the last of us halfway around the galaxy, she tells herself. So: pretty far.

Still, Kara’s skin trembles under her hand, goosebumps raising at her touch. When Dee presses her mouth against the smaller crescent, Kara’s breath hitches just like it used to. She smells the same; her sweat tastes the same when Dee pulls back and licks her lips. All of it, everything still the same.

“Dee,” Kara says, quiet and broken, and Dee leans back, letting Kara turn in her arms exactly the way she knows she will. Kara kisses her, careful and deep and thorough, like she’s trying to prove something, like she’s trying to tell Dee everything without words, trying to make her believe. She breaks away, gasping for air in between words: “Dee. I’m not. A cylon. Please. I—”

Dee drags her close again with a hand on the back of her neck, fingers tangling in the fine hair already coming loose from its ponytail. Kara’s hands land on her shoulder, on her hip, pull her in tight like they’re doing this in a cramped pilots’ rack, trying not to knock elbows and knees on the walls, trying not to roll out. Dee kisses her until she feels something unwind in Kara’s posture, becoming pliant and yielding and relieved.

Dee disentangles slowly, enough that she can catch Kara’s gaze, focus on her face without going cross-eyed. She cups Kara’s cheek with her palm. “Even if you’re a cylon,” Dee says, catching Kara’s face with her other hand as it turns away, making her meet her eyes, “you’re still Starbuck, you’re still Kara, you’re still my wife. Do you hear me? I still love you, and trust you, and I believe you when you say you’ll show us the way to Earth, okay? I’ll go with you, even if no one else wants to. Just don’t d– disappear again.”

Kara wrenches away, snuffling wetly, mouth stretched in a quavering grimace as she blinks rapidly. “Don’t,” she croaks, “Don’t say that, Dee. How— How can you even—?”

“Because I believe that you’re you, toaster or no,” Dee says. “I believe that you came back to us for a reason. ...and, y’know, statistically speaking, when Starbuck wants to do something that looks stupid, it usually ends as a net win for everybody.”

This surprises a damp, staccato burst of laughter from her wife, and then more sniffling as Kara swipes at her face with her fingers, the back of her wrist, trying to clear away the tears. Dee retrieves her discarded shirt, and Kara takes it, giving her a faint smile in thanks.

“Oh thank the gods,” Cottle’s voice cuts in from the speakers. “I was worried for a minute that I’d have to turn a hose on you two so I could run this next scan.” Dee hides her burning face against Kara’s shoulder until she thinks she’s regained a few shreds of composure, and then leaves to let Cottle work.

 

* * *

 

“Sam said the same thing, you know,” Kara says later as they wait.

“...what?” Dee asks, slumped in her chair, staring at the ceiling.

“When you came to get me, in the memorial hall, he was telling me…” Kara’s mouth twists in something like a smile. “He was saying that he didn’t care if I was a cylon. That it wouldn’t change anything between us. That he still loved me, no matter what.”

“Sounds like Sam,” Dee says. “Not me, though. I do care whether you’re a cylon. I’ll be royally pissed at you if you really have been lying to us this whole time. I’ll take you down myself before I let you pull a Boomer on us.”

She doesn’t think about holding the Admiral’s slack hand, the pool of blood around his body glowing unnaturally bright, lit from below by the command station. Kara would never.

Her Kara would never.

“That’s more like it.” Kara snorts. “I told Sam that if I found out he was a cylon, I’d put a bullet between his eyes. Then the ship jumped and I— I started losing it.” That explains the state Dee had found them in: tense, anxious, Kara coiled as if about to flare into violence. In an echo of that moment, Kara hunches over her knees, arms tucked close across her midsection. “The ringing... the way to Earth... it’s getting weaker. It was so clear, like it was coming from the next room. ...I can feel it slipping away. Even without jumping, as we move, it’s fading away. If we keep jumping, it’ll be gone, and we’ll never find it again. I don’t— I don’t know what I’ll do, I can’t just sit here—”

Dee faintly hears the familiar rumble of the Admiral’s voice out in the hall, and gets to her feet. “You might not have to much longer,” she says. “Gods willing.”

Kara shoots her an uneasy glance, but pulls her shoulders back and her spine straight nonetheless.

 

* * *

 

“See, there and there,” Cottle says, pointing at the films. Dee doesn’t know what they’re looking at, but she trusts the doc enough to let him handle this part. Beside her, Kara looks strung out, vibrating like a plucked wire, even her desperation made more intense by exhaustion somehow.

“What am I looking at?” the Admiral asks.

Cottle takes a breath, and pauses. “Long answer or short?” he says.

Short,” President Roslin says with emphasis.

“Something’s happening in your homing pigeon’s brain every time we jump,” Cottle says.

“...something?” the Admiral asks.

“I’ll be damned if I know what’s causing it, but I don’t think it’s psychosomatic, either; this spike here in the parietal lobe occurred before the anxiety response.”

Roslin steps forward, hmm’ing to herself a little as she peers at the scans. “It’s still… all in her head,” she muses aloud, and Dee feels Kara bristle beside her.

“With all due respect, Madam President,” Cottle says, “Everything we experience is all in our head. In a manner of speaking. Just because it happens there doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Roslin gives him a sharp, sidelong frown.

“Madam President,” Kara says, her voice stripped bare and raw, naked pleading in her eyes like Dee’s never seen before. “Please. You… you had a vision once, remember? The Arrow, the Temple. I went down to that planet with you and it was a frakking toaster party. A lot of good people died, remember?”

Roslin stares back at her, blinks once and then twice before responding. “...yes, I do.” Giving nothing away.

“I trusted you,” Kara says. “On a vision. That’s it: a vision!” She shows a flash of teeth, a moment of frustrated snarling before she pulls it back, swallows it down. “I saw Earth. I saw it with my own eyes. And it’s calling me back.” Her voice raises, turns to iron, to steel, adamant: “We’re going the wrong way. ...why can’t you trust me?”

“Starbuck, that’s enough,” the Admiral says, and she whirls on him.

“If you think I’m a cylon, then shoot me. Throw me out the airlock.” Adama wouldn’t, but the president would, and so Kara turns back to her. “I’m no more a cylon than you are, and you know it.”

“I wish I did,” Roslin says, finally.

Kara looks incredulous. She’s burning now, blazing so bright that Dee can hardly stand to look at her without aching in sympathy. “I’ve put my life on the line for this frakking ship. I’ve ate, slept, and fought next to the people I love, I have pissed off my friends. I’ve broken more rules than I followed. I frakked up, okay? I messed up! But it’s all that I have.” Her voice drops again, almost a whisper but for the certainty giving it strength. “These people are my family… and none of us belong here.”

This hits Dee right in the gut, and she looks around: Kara, Adama, Roslin. All of us, family, she thinks. Suddenly, she misses Lee – Sam should be here, too, but Lee’s absence feels like she’s woken up without a limb. He was always better with words, the way Dee is with numbers, the way Kara is with a Viper, the way Sam inhabits his body: effortless, deft, invincible.

The Admiral looks at Dee, then. “What do you say, Lieutenant?” Dee appreciates that he’s deliberately given her so much time with Kara, but there’s another side to that generosity: he expects her to report on what she’s observed honestly. It’s a hell of a responsibility.

I’ll have to be enough, Dee thinks. I have to try. She takes a deep breath. “May I speak freely, sir?” she asks. Roslin blinks at her.

“Go ahead, Dee,” the Admiral says, his face shuttered.

“Ma’am,” Dee starts, then swallows, lifting her chin. “Laura.” If Roslin was surprised before, she’s downright shocked now. But Dee lets the moment hang there, lets Laura remember the last time Dee called her that name. Lets her remember what Dee – what they – did every day for months on New Caprica, what she did every night, working for the Resistance. How far Dee’s willing to go for her family. Laura’s eyes flicker, just a little, and the hard line of her mouth softens by a fraction, grudgingly, and she nods. “I truly believe that this is my wife, and I believe that she’s who she says she is. But what I believe isn’t important. We have proof that Kara’s not making this up. She feels something, senses something that we can see, right there. You don’t have to trust that it’ll lead us to Earth. I only need you to believe that something out there is hurting my wife, and I want to find out what it is. Just… let us track it down. Please.”

Roslin smiles. It’s not a nice smile, but neither is it cruel. It’s simply… there, like she’s too busy weighing the odds to do more than move her mouth. “...Bill?” she asks, tilting her head towards him but not looking away from Dee.

Family, Dee thinks again, in something close to prayer. All of us, family, and none of us belong here. Under Adama’s scrutiny, she tries to radiate certainty, assurance, resolve, her posture unyielding.

The Admiral’s gaze turns inward, thoughtful. “...Dee brings up a good point. Not knowing what’s causing this could create a fatal blind spot at the worst possible moment. I’d rather find out what’s done this to one of my pilots,” and his glance lingers on Kara, on Dee, the unspoken words one of my daughters hanging in the air, “than get bit on the ass by an unknown unknown later on.”

Roslin hums thoughtfully again, staring at the scans for another minute, tapping her forefinger against her lips. “...what would you need? Hypothetically,” the President asks the Admiral, and Dee’s forgotten what relief felt like until right this minute, tension draining from her bones in a rush, leaving her giddy and light-headed.

Kara’s hand finds Dee’s, squeezing hard, and now – at last – she looks like a woman who’s cheated death and knows it.

 

 

 

* * *