A Pirate's Life for Me
Kara comes in hot, engine smoking from a close call with a heavy raider, landing gear burning a scorch mark into the deck. She’s barely down the ladder and back on solid ground before Tigh comes charging her way. He’s red-faced and out of breath and Lee is dogging his heels with a grimace. She barely manages to hide her grin when she realizes they must have run all the way from CIC.
Calmly, she unsnaps the metal collar and hands her helmet to Cally as the XO starts raging about her reckless, insubordinate, boneheaded, blah blah blah… She stops him when he finally piques her anger at “unprofessional” though.
“It’s called walking the plank, sir,” she bites off, “and it’s a regulation maneuver when under heavy enemy fire.”
“Walking the—?! REGULATION!?” He booms. “Baah! Who the frak would authorize that bit of hotdogging?” He throws his arms out in frustration.
Kara quirks an eyebrow and looks past him, and Lee clears his throat. “I did, sir.”
“You!” Tigh gapes, open mouth and all, then whips his head around to look back at Kara, who’s not even bothering to hide the smirk she’s wearing now. “Ho, ho, I should have known.” He says, pointing at her then Lee in turn. “She’s a bad influence on the Old Man and she’s got you under her spell now too. I bet your bro—”
Lee steps in immediately, his jaw clenching hard so the muscle in his cheek jumps a little, and Kara grins harder because it’s never not fun watching Lee lose his carefully cultivated control. He’s eye-to-eye with the colonel now and there’s murder in his gaze. “I don’t think you have any frakking idea what you’re talking about,” he growls, nearly spitting the words, “sir.”
They look ready to draw daggers, and Kara rolls her eyes. She unzips her flight suit and works her arms out, grimacing. Amusing as this is, it’s getting old and that was a double shift and she’s pretty sure she smells. Plus, she doesn’t want Lee cooling his heels in the brig for the next three weeks. That would mean she’d have to step up as CAG and she frakking hates paperwork.
So she coughs and steps forward, waits till Tigh’s eyes are on her. “The turkeys always strike the same way, simultaneous rapidfire shots from port and starboard. Timing’s tight but I realized if you go vertical at just the right second, they can’t get a bead. I worked up the plan and Captain Adama authorized me to try it in the next combat strike.”
Tigh scowls. "That's crazy! A frakking risky untested stunt like that! You're just lucky they didn't—"
“With all due respect, Colonel?” Kara tries not to sneer. “I don't rely on luck. Took out three heavy raiders in less than five minutes." She flicks a glance at Lee. "I believe that's a record?" He nods and she smiles triumphantly, leveling a smug stare at the XO. "Boom, sir.”
The colonel narrows his eyes and looks away, his glance falling on her viper, which sits unharmed. He frowns and mumbles, “Well, what the hell kind of name is that anyway, ‘Walking the plank?’ What is this, a frakking pirate ship?"
Kara blinks and bites her lip, determined not to meet Lee’s eyes. She’ll bet good cubits they’re both picturing Crashdown’s spot-on imitation of Tigh as a growling sea marauder. Once the ECO had even swiped Hotdog’s jock strap and used it as an eye patch. (Thankfully it was clean at the time.)
The temptation is too much; she can’t resist. “Grr, Arrgh. Sir.”
The XO stares at her blankly for a minute, then his face twitches. She almost thinks he’ll crack a smile, but he just sighs loudly. “That's just frakking great." he says, drawling a little on the profanity and shaking his head. "Maybe I'll get one of those talking bird things. Teach it to tell you off. Save my voice that way.”
He pivots and leaves the deck, and Kara snaps a salute at his retreating back. “Aye, aye, sir,” she calls out and Lee snorts with laughter. That’s all it takes to set her off and they giggle until they’re wheezing, spouting quips about “bottles of rum” and “buried treasure” till Kara’s stomach aches from laughing so hard. Tyrol hovers nearby glaring, and they try valiantly to recover the respectable demeanor befitting the CAG and flight instructor.
Their composure lasts for a good 30 seconds, until Crashdown walks past, whistling innocently and they start howling all over again.
Chapter 2: Back to Business
After New Caprica, Kara and the Chief exchange a moment of friendship/respect.
“Captain, got a minute?"
Kara stopped in her tracks, checking her watch quickly. She had 20 minutes to eat, shower and report to a briefing. "No, but I can give you about 40 seconds Chief. What's up?"
He nodded. “Diana Seelix wants to be a pilot." Tyrol looked at her questioningly. "Passed the written with flying colors, but I thought maybe I'd get your opinion, you being the flight instructor and all."
Kara tried not to look surprised. It had been a long time since anyone had asked for her opinion on anything. The chief was looking at her seriously, expectantly, actually waiting to hear what she had to say. It was a look she’d been used to once. From her nuggets, the other pilots, Lee, even the Old Man. Back before New Caprica, when Starbuck talked, people would listen. But that was then. And now, well, sometimes she wondered if Starbuck was still down there on that godsforsaken planet, trapped in that dollhouse, and if only Kara, with her broken, vulnerable, raw edges, had made it back to Galactica.
But the Chief was still waiting for an answer and she doesn't have time for what ifs and might have beens. Seelix had been the one to recruit her for the circle. She’d been full of anger and wanting revenge. Kara knew a little about that. It wasn’t a bad attitude for a pilot whose job it was to blow toasters out of the sky. But she didn’t want any careless, trigger-happy freaks in her squadron either.
"How's her instincts? She hold up alright in a crisis?" Kara already knew the woman was tough and could roll the hard six, but you never knew how even the hardest cases could crack when their console started malfunctioning or they blew an engine. Panic was not a pilot's friend.
"She's steady. She helped us a lot on New Caprica with the resistance. Seelix got in some tight scrapes, but she always kept her head. Came up with a great plan to blow up a couple of those frakking detention centers too as a matter of fact." He grinned a little. "Actually, she kinda reminded me of this cocky pilot I used to know."
Kara didn't grin, just stared, and the Chief winced a little. "Hey, Captain, I'm-- I didn't meant to bring up--"
"It's fine," Kara cut him off, not wanting the pity that inevitably followed such reminiscing. But then she surprised herself, speaking again in a voice that was just the slightest bit hoarse. "I just wish I'd been there to see it firsthand."
"Me too, sir." He smiled tentatively and Kara smiled back this time. "If you’d been with us, those toasters wouldn't have known what hit 'em."
There was respect in the even gaze that met her own and that's not something she'd seen a lot of lately either. Touched more than she should be, Kara nodded and turned away before she could make an ass of herself on the hangar deck. Heading off towards the mess and called out. "I start flight training at 0800 sharp, Chief. Tell your new ensign not to be late."
As Kara strode down the hallway, she was surprised to find herself grinning. It'd been a long time since she had a new nugget to play with. She made a mental note to check her locker after lunch. Those old sunglasses had to be in there somewhere.
Chapter 3: The Buddy System
Kara and Helo form a friendship in boot camp.
"Remind me again why I let you talk me into that?" Helo groaned, squinting at the blazing sun overhead, one hand rubbing his forehead as they marched.
Kara smirked and hefted her weapon higher under her elbow. "Yeah, I really had to twist your arm. That was all me pouring those Picon Firewhisky shots down your gullet last night."
He glared at her and stepped down heavy on his left ankle, and Helo cursed softly, limping forward a step or two. Kara watched him and this time she did feel a twinge of guilt. The shots had been Karl's idea but staying out past curfew and sneaking back onto campus had been Kara's. As they'd vaulted over the low wall at the base perimeter where they'd be undetected by the guards, Karl had been more than a little drunk and had lost his balance, landing hard on his left foot. Kara'd had to prop him up and haul his ass back to their bunkroom and it had been hard work lugging around that tall motherfrakker.
Still, it was the least she could do. She wasn't quite sure she could've gotten through this first month of boot camp without him. Well, she could have, but it woulda been a lot less fun. Kara had known a lot of guys in her life, at high school, playing pyramid, but she'd never really had one who just wanted to be her friend before. Agathon was different.
The first day of boot camp she'd shown up to find she was the only girl in the unit and Kara had set her jaw, determined to ignore both the sneers and the leers for the next six weeks. But Helo had plunked himself down next to her at lunch that first day with an open, easy smile and had been dogging her heels ever since. Kara had been irritated at first, not sure what he wanted from her, but when she'd finally blown up and confronted him at the end of the second day, he hadn't backed down, just smiled that same frakking smile and said she'd looked like she could use a friend and he sure the hell could, so why not?
Why not? he'd said. Easy as that. And for the first time in her life, it really was. She watched him now as he reached down, sliding a hand into his jackboot to rub at the sore ankle, and neither one noticed their unit marching further ahead until a shadow fell over them. "ATTENTION!"
They shot up, spines straight, heels together, saluting the commanding officer who was snarling at them now. "Is there a problem here, cadets?
"No Sir!" they bit off in unison.
"THEN WHY THE FRAK ARE YOU TWO LUNKHEADS BACK HERE INSTEAD OF WITH YOUR FRAKKING UNIT?!" He roared, spittle gathering at the corner of his mouth.
There was an awkward silence, and out of the corner of her eye Kara could see Helo frown, then open his mouth, and she could just tell that the naive motherfrakker was about to spill all the details on last night. Quickly, she hefted her gun again, jabbing him sharply in the gut in the process and spoke, "Agathon's just slow, sir."
The CO's eyes narrowed. "And what the frak is your excuse, Starbuck?"
She thought quickly. "Buddy system, sir." she gulped, talking quickly. "You told us to never leave a man behind."
His lip curled but he certainly couldn't contradict himself, so Kara knew she'd beat him fair and square. She tried not to smirk. "ALRIGHT, MOVE IT, CADETS!! CATCH UP WITH YOUR UNIT RFN AND IF YOU LAG BEHIND AGAIN IT'S 20 DEMERITS AND 200 PUSHUPS FOR EACH OF YOU. MO-OOVE IT!!"
They snapped off quick salutes and jogged briskly to catch up with their squadron. Karl winced with every other step. When they'd caught up, Helo shot her a look, shaking his head, "You're gonna be the death of me, you know that?"
Kara just grinned, picturing them bickering and poking at each other in rockers some day when they were old and grey. "I hope so, Karl. I hope so."
Chapter 4: The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Being Lucky
Kara's debt balances out her luck.
Starbuck has a reputation. You’ve heard the rumors. Most of them are true. But one couldn’t be further from it.
You’re not nearly as lucky as they all think.
After your first real combat flight, after the chief strips another piece off you by telling you about Lee and you take a piece back by asking about Sharon, after you pray to the gods in a bunkroom that will never be full again. After. You take a pen and make the list, writing more carefully than you have in a long time. It fills the front of one whole page and half of the back. You read it carefully, twice. Then you rip it up.
Days after the last cycle of 33 minutes ticks down, after the Olympic Carrier, people keep telling you how lucky you were to be in hack. Lucky.
Sure. Because all it cost you was six hours in the brig and a list of names carved more permanently than ink and pulp could ever manage.
There are lots of ways you should’ve died on Caprica:
1) Fighting that toaster for the arrow
2) Trying to kill Sharon Valerii v. 2.0
3) Radiation poisoning
4) Bleeding out with a gunshot to the gut in a forest
5) Getting sliced and diced and plugged into a frakking baby factory in that hospital
But against all odds, you make it out and through and the next thing you know you’re saying goodbye to Sammy as he presses that damned arrow into your hands and you watch the hope die in his eyes even as you make your promises. Six hours later you’re back with the fleet (or part of it anyway) and regretting you ever left in the first place.
But the president thanks you and you just nod. Wasn’t any trouble m’am, you think as the stitches pull at your abdomen. All it cost you was an a piece of yourself and a chance at happiness.
Six months later and Sammy’s still dogging you whenever you close your eyes. And Kat’s dogging you whenever you open them. It’s like she’s holding a chisel to you, banging incessantly, chipping away all the pieces that make you up. The nugget pep talks, the top gun slot, the punching a superior asshole bullshit, and you let it all slide because you might be off your game on the ground but no one can catch you in the air.
But then you’ve got Scar in your sights and you could take the shot, you could, but…you don’t. For once, you roll out of the line of fire.
After, you raise your bottle and reach for that old list. You stumble and try not to see the pride in the admiral’s eyes or the sympathy in Helo’s or worse, the understanding in Lee’s. You bite your tongue till you taste blood so you don’t cry out that you let her have the shot. She just got lucky.
Luck that you gave her.
And all it cost you was your pride.
It takes a while, longer than you thought it would to be honest, but you finally get clearance for the mission. You make good on your promise and drag Sammy’s ass off Caprica. A bunch of others too. Better than that, the cylons turn tail and run.
You’re grinning and laughing and the Admiral tells you you’ve done good. Hell, even Tigh looks proud. You’ve never felt luckier.
A few months pass and your luck holds. It’s quiet in the sky now and you’re tired. Tired of being Starbuck. There’s a new planet, a new world down below. Second chances and new beginnings.
But you’re the fleet’s good luck charm and you’re not sure you’re ready to give that up for civilian life. You mull it over for weeks, even as you visit Sammy and think about cabins. All the while, you do the sums in your head, adding and subtracting, weighing what you gave against what you gained.
And in the end (as you tell yourself it doesn’t really matter why), you do it. Muster out. You trade your wings for feet of clay.
You have no idea what it will cost you when your luck runs out.
Chapter 5: Foodfight
The Galactica crew finds a new and strange enemy!
Shots echoed off the bulkheads as Kara fired at the enemy force rushing down the corridors of Galactica. She could hardly believe her eyes as she surveyed her targets. It was an enemy that was familiar, yet completely foreign in this context. This must be some newly engineered monstrosity the Cylons sent to frak with them, she thought briefly, ducking behind some crates to avoid their fire.
"Frak! They just keep coming," cried Helo, reloading his magazine a few feet away.
"Aim for their heads," Sharon roared over the discharge.
Kara peeked over the top of the crate, and lined up her sight on the curled green tendrils atop the tall, skinny body. She pulled the trigger and the head exploded in a fireball, the trunk falling to the hard decking. The other two infiltrators collapsed a moment later, as Sharon and Helo took them out. Quiet fell in the hallway, and the Colonial pilots rose from cover and made their way over to their kills.
It was silent as they looked at the broccoli, lettuce and cauliflower that had just been holding guns (and how the heck did they do that without hands, Kara wondered) and attacking them. Their headshots had splintered and seared some of the vegetation, but mostly they were intact.
She toed one of the corpses. "Hey, are you guys thinking what I'm thinking?
Sharon licked her lips. “They look salvagable.”
Helo grinned. "I'm getting real sick of algae."
As they picked up the enemy and dragged them away, Kara wondered if there was any salad dressing left in the mess.
Chapter 6: Power Play
Kara plays a game of one-on-one and thinks about possibilities.
Pro pyramid player or not, she’d be damned if anyone was going to outshoot her.
Kara feinted left and pivoted hard coming up against Anders’s back. She wasn’t above playing dirty, so when he grabbed for her waist, he got an elbow to the solar plexus. That gave her enough time to launch up and fire one into the goal. She smirked. Nothing but net. Well, wire netting anyway.
She turned, beaming, breathing hard. The relatively fresher air of the mountains was still a novelty. It’d been ages since she’d played pyramid, even longer since it was on an actual regulation court, and the urges to grab and shove and jump, to feel concrete scraping her knees and the stiff leather of the gloves fitting roughly over her fingers, were overwhelming. On Galactica she worked out and she ran laps but it wasn’t like this. There was a dangerous giddy rush flooding her now and Kara couldn’t get enough. It was sort of like that mixture of relief and pleasure and pain you got when you ripped a scab off a healing scar to make it bleed again -- times a thousand.
Anders looked up, bent over still, hands on his knees breathing hard, but his tone wasn’t annoyed. “What’s that you were saying about a bum knee before?”
He had a quick grin and bright eyes and she found her wary regard easing as she surveyed the rest of him. Sam Anders, Caprica Buccaneer. Tall, good arms, great hands. She smirked again, envisioning a completely different contact sport he’d probably be good at. “Busted it in college.”
Sam straightened, shaking his head, and when he looked at her, he was grinning. It was open and unreserved and Kara felt her smirk turn into a real smile. “Well, it’s looking pretty good now.”
She flinched at the words, gut churning at the other voice that immediately echoed in her head, and thought, That’s what you get for letting your guard slip. Just as quickly she shook it off. No time for regrets. (Too late for that anyway.) She had a game to win. Kara threw the ball back to Sam only a little bit harder than was strictly necessary.
“You done wheezing yet, Mr. Pro Player? No wonder the 'buccs got the worst record in the Colonial League." She crossed her arms, leaning against the goal in a lazy slump. "You just let me know when you're ready to go again.”
“I’m always ready.” Impossibly white teeth flashed at her and the smile was just a shade wolfish this time. She raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah? ’Cause I get another ten points on you,” she shrugged, “you’re gonna have a tough time finding your dignity in the morning.”
He didn’t answer, just grinned some more, letting his eyes rake down her body in a slow once over. Kara let him look for a minute then turned away, rolling her eyes even as she grinned a little. Good. Let him get distracted. She shifted, took a deep breath and pivoted fast, charging hard and grabbing the ball right out of his hand, and dropping into a forward roll to evade his clutching arms. She shot up in one smooth motion and her muscles burned as she reared back and fired into the net across the court. She didn’t need to look to know it went in clean.
Sam's eyes widened and then he huffed a laugh. “Now you’re just showing off.”
Heart pounding hard, face tilted to the sun, Kara laughed too. It flashed in her head suddenly, the life she could have lived once. No CAPs, no commanding officers. No prophecies or lies. No expectations. Just the ground solid under her and nothing but net.
She thinks she could have liked that life.
Chapter 7: Like No One's Watching
Teenaged Kara attends a ballet class for the first time.
Gods, Kara thinks in frustration, there are so many better things I could be doing right now.
She stares into the mirror, surveying the whole room and its occupants. The reflective walls of the dance studio reveal seven other 16-year-old girls (none of whom she recognizes from school thankfully), bedecked in a pastel rainbow of leotards and tights. Some even have little floaty skirts made of some kinda see-through material tied around their waists. All of them have on shiny satin pink toe shoes with blunted ends.
Kara's reflection shows her tank top with the tiny hole on the stomach and track shorts that have seen better days. She's wearing flat elastic slippers on her feet that the dance teacher loaned her, explaining patiently but adamantly that Kara couldn't do ballet in high top sneakers. Her hair is short and choppy, cut by her mother, unlike the long, gently curling ponytails or the tight, shiny buns that the other students wear.
Two of the girls are glancing at her sideways now and whispering, their faces curious yet closed, clearly judging her and finding her wanting. Kara tamps down the urge to gnaw at her already bitten-to-the-quick fingernails as they scrutinize her. She scowls at them instead, giving her best frak off look and they quickly turn away. She feels a bit better.
Normally she wouldn't be caught dead in a joint like this, but her pyramid coach had insisted Kara take the class, promising it would help her balance and agility, and make her faster and more fluid on the court. Kara doesn't take a lot seriously, but she always listens to Coach Taylor. Pyramid is her ticket out, away from this stinking town, her mother, everything, and she's not about to frak that up. So if Coach wants her to learn how to pirouette like a spinning top, then she'll learn it.
The instructor sweeps into the room and leads them through stretching exercises, then a boring repetition of steps at this long bannister that she calls a barre. Point and flex, shuffle and kick, first position, second position. Kara keeps an eye on the feet of the girl in front of her and she's a quick learner mostly. She steps on the girl's heel a few times, but Kara meets the nasty look flashed over a stiff shoulder with just a raised eyebrow, and she makes a show of clenching the fist not clutching the barre real slow. The girl's head snaps back around pretty quickly and Kara grins.
She's wondering how long this is gonna last and if the guys will still be practicing at the court on Mountain View after she's done here, when the music starts. It's a classical piece--the teacher calls it an adagio--but Kara only knows that it's beautiful.
Notes, low and resonant then sharp and keening, slowly unfold in a simple but haunting melody. It's being played on some sort of string instrument, violins perhaps, but it reminds her of the music her father played on their piano when she was a child. Kara has almost forgotten the sound of it. Her mother never plays any music in the house, and this is a far cry from the fast, driving beats of songs she hears on the radio.
The instructor calls them to the center of the floor and begins walking through the steps of a routine. Kara tries to pay attention but the music is echoing more loudly in her head now. The melancholy, plaintive tones steal under her skin, thrum in her blood. Swaying, she closes her eyes, and the world recedes. Kara forgets about having the wrong clothes and the wrong hair. She forgets about her mother and her coach. For once, she even forgets about pyramid.
Instead, she dances.
Chapter 8: Primary Colors
Kara does some redecorating while held captive on New Caprica.
Everything’s grey here on New Caprica.
From time to time, Kara wonders what happened to the clear blue sky, the fluffy white clouds, the yellow sun bright enough to burn that she still remembers from the day of the groundbreaking.
She thinks—once and only once—as she looks out the impenetrable windows and sees the plumes of smoke trailing from the small explosions around the city, that maybe her life would be quite different now had it been overcast that day.
But then a new Leoben comes down the stairs, spouting those same old platitudes about patterns and rivers and streams, and she thinks: maybe not.
The apartment looks like her old one on Caprica (they must have done that on purpose) but it is monochrome, monotone, and that monotony is what slowly drives her crazy. Every day, the same grey box, the same dance with the cylon, the same scrabbling for sharp edges unseen to snatch and hide and bide her time with.
In between, she wishes for her paints, craving the primary colors: the blue of the sky, the yellow of the sun, the red of…
When she stabs him in the neck at dinner that night, the blood (how can they bleed so much these frakking metal things?) spills onto her hands. Kara smears it on the rug, leaving big bold fingerprints behind. She surveys her handiwork and she smiles.
The red gleams bright against the grey.
Chapter 9: Not a Stranger to the Rain
Kara and Bill talk at Zak's funeral.
She doesn’t move after the casket is lowered into the ground and the clumps of dirt have been tossed onto it. Mainly because she’s not sure where to go.
There’s a quiet murmur from the other side of the grave where Lee and his parents are standing, looking tense and angry and sorrowful in turns. He catches her eye and she looks down to the ground again, resolutely studying the open hole that is rapidly shrinking and growing darker. Only one edge of the metal box is visible now. Tears prick behind her eyeballs, but Kara flinches them back and refuses to indulge herself.
Involuntarily she glances again over to where Lee stands, bracing his mother, practically holding the woman upright now. He doesn’t catch her glance this time, because he is focused on his father, his face mottled with rage, mouth sneering. Kara catches the words “fault” and “pressure” and watches as the Commander’s shoulders round slightly. The man’s carriage has been impossibly rigid since he stepped on base and asked her to take a walk with him yesterday, and to see him, still a virtual stranger to her, slump even this infinitesimal bit bothers her more than it should.
But she’s been on the receiving end of Lee’s ire more than once and she can’t make herself cross the distance to them and confess her sins. Not now, not today. There are risks even Starbuck can’t afford to take.
Instead, she waits. The small crowd of mourners has mostly drifted away leaving only the family (and herself) behind. Kara is grateful that none of her students nor the other instructors came to the graveside.
Suddenly, the skies unexpectedly open, a deluge of quick beating rain blanketing everything. Kara raises her head, welcoming the stinging nettles of it on her cheeks. Under the cover of the sun shower, she lets the overdue tears trickle down her face and neck, running down into the collar of her dress uniform.
It’s only another moment or two before a shadow falls over her and the raindrops stop falling where they may. The commander stands tall, blocking out the sun and holding an old-fashioned wooden-handled umbrella over them both. Kara wants to grab it from him and toss it aside, explain that she doesn’t need the shelter. But when she looks at Zak’s father, the pity in his eyes stops her. She wants to tell him to save that too, but she can’t.
His words from yesterday still echo in her head. “You don’t need to explain anything.”
But she does. She has to tell him what she did. She opens her mouth, waiting for the words to come, but she’s distracted by Lee angrily charging past them back towards the cars. Caroline is nowhere in sight. She doesn’t mean to, but her eyes track him as she frowns.
“Lee is…not taking things very well.” The Commander’s deep voice startles her. “He blames me for pushing Zak too hard.” The old man flicks a glance at his eldest son’s retreating form. “Maybe he’s right.”
Kara swallows hard and opens her mouth again, but he speaks first.
“Lieutenant Thrace,” he pauses, then starts again. “Kara,” the commander says seriously, “I have a proposition for you.” She stares at him, welcoming the distraction of curiousity.
“I’d like you to come serve on my battlestar.”
Kara is stunned. Immediately she wants to say no. Not that the chance to fly again isn’t incredibly tempting, but her life with Zak was here. As a child, she followed her mother from planet to planet, living in dozens of houses but never a home. Even with him gone, she’s not sure she’s ready to leave it behind. Hell, she hasn’t even changed their sheets yet.
More than that, she’s not sure why she’s being offered this when it is far, far more than she deserves. “Why, sir?”
“Call me Bill.” She nods, even though she knows she never will, and he smiles, his stern countenance transforming. She imagines she sees a trace of Zak in his face. “You’re family now.” Her throat tightens painfully and Kara tries again to force the words of confession out, but they won’t come.
She watches the commander’s gaze steal back to the car Lee is climbing into. “I wasn’t around much when Zak and Lee were growing up. I…I’d like to know more about my boys.” He turns to her, deep blue eyes locking on hers. “Maybe you could tell me about them.”
Kara’s stomach clenches. How can she deny him this second chance? She, who would sacrifice anything to the Gods for one. Kara realizes suddenly that the Gods have a frakked up sense of humor. Her decision is made.
“I guess I better keep calling you sir then after all.”
The Commander smiles almost shyly and reaches down to squeeze her hand just as he did during the service. Kara holds on.
“Sir, I…I’m so sorry. I—“ she falters, voice breaking, unable to go on.
He reaches out and clasps her shoulder. His hand is warm and heavy and comforting. “Family, Kara.” His eyes twinkle a little with myrth. “Someone told me once that it means never having to say you’re sorry.”
It shouldn’t work but it does. The knot in her chest loosens and Kara feels something stir inside her. It feels like hope.
“I should go. They’ll be waiting for me at the house.” Kara nods, dreading the idea of having to face more people. Or one in particular anyway. “Would you like to ride with me?”
Slowly, Kara shakes her head. “Thank you but… I’d like to stay here just a little longer.”
He nods and passes her the umbrella handle. The commander pivots and walks away, his footsteps crinkling in the wet grass. She waits until she doesn’t hear them anymore. Then she closes the umbrella and tilts her face to the sky.
The drops are light and infrequent now, the storm passing.
Kara takes a deep breath and waits.
She hears nothing.
Nothing but the rain.
Chapter 10: Child's Play
"The Mighty Starbuck, babysitter extraordinaire?"
Kara Thrace didn’t think she’d ever been so exhausted in her life. Slowly, she trudged back to her cabin, a little girl balanced on each of her hips and a little boy clinging to her shirttail with dirty hands. She had spent the day teaching the kids how to make mudpies—and then preventing them from making each other eat those mudpies. It had been a long afternoon.
Checking her watch, she picked up the pace, trotting into the clearing behind her cabin and rounding the front porch to find three anxious parents awaiting her. They looked at their mud-covered urchins and in impressive unison shouted “KARA!”
She set Kacey and Hera down and they went running to Julia and Karl’s sides, then she pried Nicky’s grasp free carefully. Hot Dog was there to pick him up rather than Chief or Boomer today, and even after a year, the boy was slightly more reserved with him. He walked slowly over to Brendan, wearing a shy smile. He’d always been a solid, strong little boy and Kara swore he grew more every day. Not for the first time, Kara wished Cally could see him now.
“Lords, did you just let them roll in the dirt all afternoon?” Karl wrinkled his nose as he pulled off one of Hera’s socks (they’d all taken their shoes off before playtime because shoes were still difficult to replace) and a small stream of mud trickled out. “Athena’s gonna kill me,” he mumbled.
Kara lifted her hands, palms out. “Hey, free day care here, remember? Don’t be knocking my methods.”
“Yeah, she might start asking us to call her God again,” Hot Dog snorted, picking Nicky up and settling him on his shoulders. “See you tomorrow, Starbuck. Thanks.”
Julia was crouched down, using a cloth to wipe as much of the mud as possible off Kacey, who was babbling excitedly. She raised her eyebrows. “Mudpies, huh? I guess this is why all my daughter can talk about anymore is her afternoons with ‘cool Aunt Kara’?” But she smiled when she said it.
Kara was glad to have reconnected with the Brynnes on Kobol. It hardly stung at all when she heard Kacey say “C’mon, Momma.” The little girl skipped forward a few steps, before stopping suddenly to turn back and beam at Kara, her little arm raising to snap off a salute.
“Dismissed, Nugget.” She said sharply, but not sternly, and grinned. “See you tomorrow at 0800 for target practice.” Kara had fashioned little beanbags and a series of small hoops she’d woven from thick vines. It would have to do till they got around to creating a pyramid court down here.
She rested a hand on her hip watching them go, and felt an arm slip around her shoulders. “Face it, Kara,” Helo said quietly in her ear, voice light with amusement, “You’re pretty good at this.” He squeezed her gently. “Who woulda thunk it, huh? The Mighty Starbuck: babysitter extraordinaire.”
“Yeah, well, figured I should do something useful till I’m back in commission.” She slid the hand on her hip over to her stomach, and flicked an eye towards Hera, who'd wandered a few steps away chasing a butterfly. Still close enough to reach though if the need arose. “Wasn’t my first choice, but options were a little limited.”
Karl dropped his arm and turned slightly to her, letting his eyes roam up and down her frame. “Oh, I don’t know. Barefoot and pregnant looks pretty good on you.”
She glared as he broke into loud laughter. “Don’t make me hurt you in front of the kid, Karl.” She felt a little thump against her hand and smirked. “Either of them.”
He teased, but Kara felt bolstered by Karl’s words. Maybe…maybe she wouldn’t frak this up too badly after all. When Cottle had banned her from working with the engineering corps and threatened to restrict her to bed rest after a few close calls, Kara had thought she’d go stir-crazy with nothing to do. Volunteering to watch the children had been a last resort, but she was hoping practice made perfect.
Truth was, she enjoyed her time with Kacey, Hera, and Nicky far more than she’d ever expected (some days she even felt like a child again herself.) But it was hard work, even being a part-time caretaker. Her hand rubbed gently at her swollen stomach. And of course, there'd be no giving this one back at the end of the day. It was a toss-up at any given moment as to whether that scared or pleased her more.
Helo nudged her elbow. “So, you’re gonna name it after me, right?”
Kara shot him an incredulous look.
“What? It’s a good name and hey it works for either sex. Karl, Karla.” She rolled her eyes. “Hey, it’s better than Leland Jr.”
Kara struggled to keep a straight face, but lost it, breaking up into giggles. She only ever called her husband Leland when she wanted to annoy him. Ok, and a couple times during sex, till he’d had to take very inventive measures to shut her up. Still giggling, she made a mental note to try that again tonight.
“Hmm. You’re right,” she said when she’d caught her breath. “Maybe we should name it after you.
She nodded, her face breaking into a huge grin. “Doofus has a nice ring to it.”
He grabbed for her and Kara danced out of his reach, ducking behind Hera and sweeping the girl up as a shield. They played a silly game of tag that lasted till dusk and Kara no longer felt tired at all.