authors: claira and pen
genre: angstcakes. 5000 words of it. kara/lee, kara/zak, kara/helo
rating: pg-13
a/n: thanks you to sloane

[ n e v e r   b e   w a r m   a g a i n ]


Kara's stopped screaming and is just flying. Flying and twisting and she banks left hard, coming up on a raider. She fires and hits, and turns again, searching, searching, for something to shoot.

"KARA!" Adama's voice explodes into her cockpit, and she knows he hasn't bothered scrambling the line and that everyone else is hearing this. "Stop it."

She doesn't respond, flips her viper and takes off in pursuit of one of the last raiders.

Adama's voice cracks back across space. "I'm not losing both of you today."

"Copy that, sir," she hisses back, and she sees the Cylon dart below her and doesn't think, just wrenches her viper over and she hears the engines whine, feels it shudder beneath her. She hears someone, maybe Hotdog say 'she's gone frakking insane' but ignores them because it works, she's round and firing, and the last raider explodes underneath her.

Dee calls the vipers in and Kara flips, faces the Galactica and doesn't want to land.

Ever.

*

Adama watches DRADIS and listens to Dee's commentary. The lilt in her voice is familiar and soothing, and helps to dull the tension of watching his pilots as blips on a screen against enemy blips. Sometimes he can forget, listening to her voice, what it was like in the vipers, the stars all around and the guns in your ship and the cylons on your heels. Listening to her voice, he let the blips blur as the cylons slowly disappear. He is tired, and Dee will tell him if there was a problem besides the obvious. He trusts her, and he trusts his pilots.

"Sir," Dualla interrupts his thoughts, "Apollo would like to talk to you."

"Put him through," he says, and picks up the headset.

"Dad, we've got a bit of a problem out here."

"Why didn't Dualla tell me about it?"

"She probably hasn't noticed yet. Kara was tailing this raider, and a missile tagged her - "

And Adama suddenly notices that the background noise in the CIC is dimming, and it's because Starbuck is yelling at Lee and he's never heard so much panic in her voice. It seems no one else has either.

"Dee," he snaps, "Put Starbuck through as well."

And her voice cuts mid-sentence from ringing through the CIC to his headset. " - frakking idiot! This isn't necesary!"

"It's you or me, Kara, and it's not going to be you."

"It doesn't have to be either of us, you idiot! I could have shaken it!"

"Look, Dad, if I don't shake this thing - take care of her," Lee says over her protests, and he stops broadcasting.

"What's going on?" Adama roars at both of them, fear squeezing his chest, and a jolt seems to go through the CIC. One second, two, three - and then the little blip on the screen that designated Apollo disappears.

Starbuck screams, just once, and it breaks off in a horrible, choked sound.

"Sir?" says Dualla into the total silence of the CIC.

Adama shudders and looks away.


*

She makes a harder landing than is strictly necessary, given her engine and her gears are all in working order and they're not running from the cylons. She sits there, head back, and tries not to cry.

As the canopy opens, hands reach for her helmet but she holds onto it tightly, and sits there, helpless. She turns her head and it's the Commander standing there, with a look on his face that she put there.

"What happened?" he says quietly.

She looks at him, but her eyes don't seem to want to focus.

He reaches out a hand to her, but she doesn't take it. She slowly pulls herself out of her viper. He steps out of the way, and she's able to jump down before he asks again.

"Kara, what happened?"

She can't look at him, can't look at what she's done.

"Damnit Starbuck, what happened?" Adama growls, grabbing her shoulder, and she spins to face him.

"He's dead," she says, because it's all she can say.

Then his arm is warm around her shoulders, holding her up, and she realises vaguely that they are walking out of the hangar and through the ship, people scattering in front of them.

All she can see is bright light and shrapnel.

*

The PA crackles to life. "Condition One," says Dee, "all pilots report to the hangar deck."

"Ah, frak," says Kara as she throws her cards down. "And I was winning, too."

There is a mad scramble as everyone rises from their seats, and Crashdown tips his chair over in his hurry.

"Watch it!" yells Racetrack. "It's not like this is your first time!"

"Or is it," says Hotdog, and he nudges Racetrack. "Maybe it's Crashdown's first time."

"Get your suits on faster, nuggets," yells Kara from across the room as she ducks out the door.

As the pilots slide down the ladder and onto the hangar deck, Lee nods at them. "Be careful," he says and Kara grins.

"No, good hunting," she corrects. He grins back.

"Good hunting." She brushes past him, and feels his fingers whisper soft against her palm.

Kara climbs into her viper and puts on her helmet. She glances across the deck at Lee, but he doesn't look over his shoulder at her.

She grins at his back anyway.

She slides her canopy shut, and readies for launch.


*

His quarters are cold, or maybe it’s him, and his brain is still playing catch up with reality. Kara’s standing in front of him, smelling of smoke and vipers and he has nothing to say. Surely he should be feeling something?

“Kara,” he says, and moves closer because she’s swaying on her feet. “Kara.”

She’s still holding her helmet, and it slips from her fingers and smacks into the floor. She doesn’t even blink.

“He’s gone,” she says, sounding strangely like a bewildered child. “Why?”

Adama wants to say because he loved you, but the words are heavy and might break her. He puts a hand on her shoulder instead but she tries to shrug it off.

“I wish it had been me,” she whispers.

“Don’t say that.”

“You don’t think that?” Her eyes burn into him and he doesn’t have an answer. “I’ve killed both your sons, sir. You don’t wish me dead?”

And for one awful second, the universe tilts and spins and he sees it as if Kara Thrace had never existed, Lee alive, Zak alive - and he wishes her viper had exploded, wishes she’d never become a flight instructor, wishes she’d never frakked her knee playing pyramid, and his hand tightens on her shoulder. She flinches beneath his fingers and he glances down at her. She’s pale and shaking, looking at him like he’s her one chance at salvation and the guilt makes him nauseous.

“I have never thought that,” he says. “I never will,” and her chin trembles and she sags forward into him.

“I’m sorry,” she says into his uniform, desperately, “I’m so sorry,” but the last words are punctuated by sobs.

Take care of her.

He tries to breathe.

*

"I'll see your keyring and raise you this candy," Hotdog says, and much eyebrow raising and murmuring ensues.

"You've been holding out on us, Hotdog," Kara says.

Racetrack peers over Hotdog's shoulder at his cards and laughs.

"It looks like he's still holding out on you, Sir," she says. Hotdog throws his cards down before grabbing her and tickling.

Kara wonders if they're frakking.

"Hey, keep the noise down, nuggets!" yells Crashdown over Racetrack's squeals.

"Jealous, sir? Want to be touched inappropriately by Hotdog?"

Oh yeah, thinks Kara. Definitely frakking.

"No, but I'd love to be touched inappropriately by you, Racetrack," Crashdown replies, and everyone laughs.


*

Darkness, white explosions, playing cat and mouse with Cylons. He’s so close she can see his face, coloured blue in his viper and she’s reaching out to him - no no no, Lee, no - and then he’s dust and shrapnel and gone and she’s screaming, screaming, and she’s waking up, smelling her own sweat with her sheets tangled around her legs. Someone is looming over her and she wrenches backwards, her head snapping into the pillow, and then she realises it's Crashdown and his hand is tight on her shoulder.

“Starbuck,” he says. “It’s okay.”

She hears breathing loud in the silence, and then realises it’s her. She swallows.

She can’t stop shaking.

“I’m sorry,” Crashdown says. “It’s just – you were screaming – “ he trails off, looking uncomfortable and Kara fills in the rest with the way everyone is carefully not looking at her.

“Oh.“ She sits up, pushes herself off her rack. “I think I’ll get a glass of water.”

Even she knows it’s a bad attempt at normalcy.

The head is dimly lit and cold, and she rests against a wall and tries not to hear the talking that started the moment she shut the hatch. Goosebumps break out over her skin, and she slides slowly down until she’s sitting on the floor.

She’s still there, still shivering, four hours later.

Later that day, she finds the doctor and asks for something to help her sleeping. He gives her a little dark blue bottle half full of pills and doesn’t ask any questions, and she stuffs it into the pocket of her coveralls and walks away.

When she gets back to her rack, she pulls the curtain and spills the tablets out over her pillow. She traces patterns in them with her fingers and wonders how many nights she’ll have to take them before she can sleep without seeing Lee die in front of her, or feel his body against hers, or see him smile at her over the triad table.

She counts them into groups of seven. Three weeks, three days.

It’s not going to be enough.

*

"Two pair of socks," Kara says, calling Gaeta's bluff. He smiles ruefully and throws his cards down on the table.

"Outclassed and outdone by Starbuck yet again." He shakes his head. "I'm going to be traipsing around CIC in bare feet pretty soon."

"Yeah," continues Hotdog, "but then you'll win that other bet. And won't it be worth it to see the look on the XO's face?"

There is a silence as all around the table look at Gaeta.

"No," he says, and everyone laughs. "It'll be a disaster!" He throws his final pair of socks at Hotdog, who catches them and refuses to give them back.

Lee pokes his head through the hatch. "Are you reprobates still at it?"

"Lee!" Kara grins. "It was for a noble cause!"

He steps into the room, laughing. "A noble cause?" he asks in disbelief.

"Apparently," says Gaeta deprecatingly, "fleecing me for the purposes of humiliation is a noble cause."

"I'll lend you a pair if you need the extra padding," says Helo.

"Please tell me the padding isn't going to be put down his pants," Kara says, and the laughter starts again because the look on Gaeta's face is priceless.

"Take my place, Captain, I'm begging you."

"Yeah, Lee, prove your manhood."

"Starbuck," Lee says as he takes the seat offered by Gaeta, "I'm a Captain. I don't need to prove my manhood." He raises his eyebrows suggestively, and she tilts her head back and smirks.

"That's good," she says. "That's good to know."

The room fills with laughter again, and Lee bets big.


*

It's twenty-five days after, and things are falling into a sick parody of normal; she eats, sleeps and flies, but people don’t sit with her at breakfast anymore, and Crashdown lets her win at triad when he’s got full colours. Someone takes her bottle of ambrosia out of her locker. She walks in on two pilots discussing her in the rec room, and they start when they see her and one starts apologising but she passes them without saying anything.

Once, she thinks, she would have cared.

*

“This is stupid,” she says, but she doesn’t move away as his lips trace a path down her neck. “We’re going to get caught.”

“We won’t get caught,” he says into her skin, and her fingers flex on his hips.

“You said that last time, and Cally found us.”

“She said she wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“You believed her?”

“No.” He sucks lightly on her neck and she hisses and pushes him away.

“Nice try,” she tells him. “But you are not giving me a hickey.”

He licks his lips, steps towards her and she wonders if she’ll ever be able to look at him without feeling what that mouth can do to her. Unlikely.

“I’m going to play triad,” she says, backing away. “Get that grin off your face before you join us, okay?”

“Win some socks for me,” he says as she closes the door, and she laughs.


*

She’s drenched in oil and smells like the insides of a raider, and Adama sincerely hopes she's not dripping onto his carpet.

The circles are dark under her eyes.

“What am I here for?” she says, and even her voice sounds tired. Adama hates himself for what he’s about to dump on her shoulders.

“Would you like a drink?”

“Spit it out, sir,” she says, her fingers picking at her coveralls, and he does.

“We need a new CAG.”

Silence, and then she laughs. “You can’t be serious.” Her face stills. “No. No frakking way.”

“Kara – "

“I can’t, sir,” she says wildly. “I can’t.”

“You can think of someone better?”

She shrugs, twists her fingers deeper into the orange until the material is pulling tightly across her hips.

“Why won’t you?” he says finally.

“I thought that would be clear.”

“Enlighten me.”

The muscles in her jaw tighten. “With all due respect, sir, I’ve watched the two people I’ve loved explode in front of me, and I couldn’t do a frakking thing about it.”

“Deal with it,” he tells her, ignoring the way her eyes flash. “We need you.”

“No.”

“Lee died for you,” he snaps, and she flinches in shock. “Why don’t you earn that?”

Her hands clench by her sides and then she spins on her heel and marches out of the room.

*

"I heard a rumour," mutters Gaeta as he leans across Dee's console. Dee grins.

"Excellent. What is it?"

"What are you going to give me for it?"

"Oh, what? No way!" Dee exclaims a little too loudly, and the people around her look up. She waits until curious eyes and ears get bored before she leans in closer to Gaeta. "I got nothing!"

"Oh well," he shrugs. "You'll just have to hear it through the normal channels." He grins at her and pushes away from her console.

"No, wait!" She reaches out and grabs his arm. "Favour. I'll owe you a favour."

Gaeta pauses, before leaning back in. "Any favour?" he asks slowly.

"How good is the rumour?"

"It's pretty good."

"What favour do you want?"

"Help me win a hand of triad against Starbuck."

"Are you serious? You want me to help you cheat Starbuck?"

Gaeta shrugs. "Just the once."

Dee looks around, casts about wildly for some other favour to owe him. Finding none, she nods her head, resigned.

"Deal. But this had better be good."

Gaeta leans in closer, and whispers, "Apollo and Starbuck. Cally caught them in a supply room."

Gaeta draws back and Dee can tell he's feeling smug. She laughs.

"Please. That's old news," she tell him, and his face falls. "What station are you tuned to?"

"How long have you known?" Gaeta says, and she gives him points for trying to keep the whine from his voice.

"Now,
that would be telling."

*

It's late when he receives the summons to Adama's quarters, and the Galactica is quiet. Adama's still in full uniform when he opens the hatch and Helo feels absurdly nervous.

"Karl," Adama says. "Sit down."

Helo sits, waits, waits, and waits. "Sir?" he says finally, and Adama turns.

"How much did you know? About them?"

It's not the beginning Helo expected.

"Most of it," he says, after a pause, because Adama is not a fool and Lee is dead, so there's no point in lying. "Kara's pretty easy to read if you know her."

Adama nods. "How is she going?" he says, pouring water carefully into two glasses. "She won't talk to me."

"Sir?"

"I think she thinks I blame her for Lee's death," Adama tells him, handing him a glass, and his voice is steady and even and not the voice of a man who has lost both his sons to vipers. "It's not her fault."

"She doesn't see it that way," Helo says. "I - " and he pauses, because he wants to say I'm worried she's going to do something stupid and I don't think she cares about living anymore and she's taking pills to help her sleep, but they all sound so melodramatic spoken out aloud. It doesn't make his fear any less real.

"I'm worried about her," Adama says, completing the sentence for him. "She's - more reckless than I've ever seen her."

Helo doesn't say anything because he knows it's true. Tyrol's already had words to Kara, many times, about her treatment of her viper (she pushes the engines harder than they can handle) but she always walks away in the middle of his second sentence.

"Can you - " Adama pauses and looks vulnerable for the first time in Helo's memory. "Can you watch her for me?"

Adama's hands tremble just slightly on his glass of water, and Helo nods. He doesn't say that he's already watching her as much as he can, that he listens to the gossip around the ship and takes a note of everytime her name is mentioned. "I will," he says.

"Good."

There is an awkward pause, and Helo stands. "I'll keep you informed, sir", he says quietly and Adama nods.

"Thank you."

When Helo turns to shut the hatch, Adama's sitting almost slumped in a chair, and there's a look of something like despair on his face. Helo walks away wishing he hadn't seen it.

*

Cally has been on shift for four hours, and Chief Tyrol has only yelled at her once, and she hasn't been yelled at by any pilots, making for a pretty decent shift thus far. So when the Chief tells her to go grab some tools for him from the supply room around the corner, she just grins and heads over.

"And make sure they're the right size!" she hears him say as she opens the hatch.

"Did you want them in pink or blue?" she throws back over her shoulder, and then stops dead, one foot in the room, and stares at Apollo's hands on Starbuck's waist. She shuts the hatch behind her, and turns back around.

They are both still standing frozen, looking at her, Starbuck in amusement and Apollo in panic, and Cally shakes her head and grins. "Captain. Starbuck," she says, nodding at them, and Starbuck gives her a little wave.

"Nice to see you, Cally," she says, and Cally laughs.

"Just here to get some tools for the Chief," she says, stepping around them. "Don't stop on my account."

"Cally," says Apollo, stepping away from Starbuck with a hand outstretched. "This isn't-"

"Don't worry about it, Captain." She can't help smirking. "It'll be our little secret." She digs around in the toolbox and finds what she needs, and then makes her way back past them. "Have fun," she says, and hears Starbuck laugh as she closes the hatch.

She doesn't look back, but she does keep grinning.


*

He sits up the back for her first session as CAG, to give her someone to look at if it gets hard. He needn’t have worried. She's calm, collected, and nothing like Starbuck. Helo notices many pilots exchanging confused looks, and wouldn't be surprised if they noticed the difference, too.

The only time she slips is at the very end, when her fingers tighten on the podium and she looks out over all the pilots.

“Good hunting,” she says, and then the words slip out as if she can’t help them. “And be careful out there.”

She’s the first out of the room, and there is a moment of hush in the room before the pilots start moving. By the time he makes it to the hatch, she’s lost herself in the maze of passageways, but he knows where he’ll find her – same place he found her last time he was looking for her, before the world ended.

Ten minutes and a wrong turn later, he finds the room; level five, old abandoned office with windows – there are so few windows on the Galactica - and she’s there, sitting on a table. Her body is perfectly still, one hand holding a cigar, and she's staring out into space as if it holds all the answers instead of the questions.

“You okay?” he says from the doorway, and her shoulders tighten.

“Fine,” she says, not looking around. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

He sits down next to her, carefully not-quite-touching. “You did good.”

“Thanks.”

“Adama wants to talk to you.”

“I’m sure he does.”

“He’s worried about you.”

“I’m fine.”

“You keep saying that.”

She shrugs again, and grinds her cigar out on the tabletop. The smell of burnt paint rises and burns the back of his throat. “And how are you, Helo?” she asks him. “Are you fine too?”

“Frak, Kara. You’re not the only one grieving.”

Her face flushes and then loses colour, and she grabs at him, her fingers sliding down his arm and clutching at his hand.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry. I just – “ and the last word breaks somewhere and she leans into him as if someone cut the strings holding her up.

“I know,” he says, and puts one arm around her shoulders, pulls her closer. “I know.”

She doesn’t cry. He wishes she would.

*

The next time a Cylon patrol turns up, the viper squadron returns without Joker. Lee can’t stop looking away from the empty seat during the debrief, and he doesn’t talk to her all afternoon. Or the day after that, and by the next, she’s sick of it and corners him after a session in the vipers.

“Have I done something?” she says, and he doesn’t answer. “Frak, Lee,” she says, turning to leave but he catches her wrist, pulls her back.

“I’ve been thinking,” he says, not letting go of her. “I don’t know if this - us - can work.”

“What are you saying?”

He looks carefully off to one side of her. “Maybe the regulations were there for a reason.”

“Oh, because you’ve always been
objective,” she retorts, and his fingers tighten painfully around her wrist.

“You’re too reckless, Kara,” and there’s a note of desperation in his voice now, and she pauses.

“I’m not Joker,” she says finally, and his eyes close, open and then he’s looking at her as if he could never get enough. She can’t move.

“I’m not going to die,” she says softly.

“Good,” he says. “Because – ” and he stops and wrenches her forward, until she’s pressed against him from top to bottom, and his hands are digging into the small of her back.


*

He's not quite sure where he's going when he leaves the gym. He is, however, positive that it's not fair, all the shit they're being put through. The end of the world and everyone dying and frakking cylons. And it's been a good ten seconds since he last thought about her, but he remembers Sharon, and wishes that he didn't.

Sulking seems like a good plan, so he turns and heads towards the pilots quarters.

There was a moment there, when they were on the run and worried about running out of anti-radiation meds and cylons were after them, that he was really happy. It was pouring down with rain, and he was tired and Sharon was sick, but he knew, with perfect, absolute clarity, how much he loved her. And he was positive that she loved him back.

It broke when the sun rose, but still. At least he had it.

He's disgusted by his inability to maintain a perfectly good sulk for more than two minutes. He pauses at a bulkhead to nod at a passing officer and consider that perhaps he's a cylon, but then he shakes his head at his own stupid, horrible joke. Joke of the universe on him, yeah, but he made it home. Good mood restored, he considers changing course and heading for the ready room, but thinks perhaps he should look for Starbuck, and continues on. He reaches the hatch to quarters and pushes it open, and she's standing in front of her locker.

"Kara," he says, and she winces.

*

She’s praying when he walks in, and she almost drops the idols in surprise. He wasn’t due back from his meeting for another hour. “Lee,” she says, flustered, and he walks towards her.

“What are you doing?” he asks, and she can’t read the look in his eyes.

She’s casting around for something to say when the photograph she’d propped up in her locker floats to the floor. He stoops, picks it up and she has to hold herself back from snatching it out of his hands. The muscles in his jaw jump and her fingers clench around the statuettes.

“It’s still about him?” he says softly, viciously.

“It’s the only photograph I have.”

He shoves it back at her. “What am I, some kind of consolation prize?”

“Frak you,” she snaps back, and hates herself for trembling. “I loved him. I’m frakking allowed to grieve on the day he died.”

Lee’s face flushes, tightens, and Kara knows he forgot the date.

“Frak,” he says, and runs a hand through his hair. “Kara. I’m sorry.”

She turns her back on him, wraps the material over and over the idols, and places them back in her locker. She doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know how to tell him that this day always makes her feel sick with guilt, but this morning she woke up and looked across the room at him sleeping and felt happier than she’s ever been.

She hears a long exhalation behind her and then his arms wrap tentatively around her waist.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, quietly, and she leans back into him, so that her head rests against his shoulder and his arms tighten around her. He doesn’t say anything else, and Kara knows that one day they’ll have to get better at the talking thing because Zak still hovers somewhere over them.

But for now, his breathing is warm on her neck, and it’s enough.


*

“How do you do it, Helo?” she asks him.

“What did I do?”

“Are you coming in or out?”

He steps into the room and shuts the hatch behind him, and she starts stripping off her flight suit, wrenching the material away from her body.

“Kara?”

“It’s nothing.”

His good mood floats away. “What the frak is up with you?”

“I’ve had a shitty day, okay?” she says, as the suit drops and she steps out of it. “And I’d like to know how you stay so frakking happy all the time.”

“I don’t.”

“Yeah, well, it seems like it,” she says, and he watches as one tank top and then the other fly up over her head and are dumped unceremoniously on the floor. She’s not wearing a bra.

She turns around and catches him looking, and something shimmers dangerously in her eyes. He’s seen that look before and knows what it means, and opens his mouth to say something, anything that will stop this from happening but it’s too late and she’s pushing him up against the table. Her fingers slide around his neck and pull his head down, and then her mouth is hard on his, desperate and he’s kissing her, hands skimming along the length of her bare back. She whimpers.

It’s enough to jolt him back to reality, just as her hands slide under his shirt, tugging the hem up. He grabs her wrists just as her fingers splay across his stomach.

“Kara, no.”

“Please,” she says, and her breathing sounds like sobs. “Please, Helo. I need this.”

Her body is trembling under his hands and he knows this is wrong, wrong in so many ways incalculable, but Kara's just about desperate enough to do anything and that scares him, and he tries to let that justify what he knows will happen next.

He steps back and locks the hatch, but before he's turned around to face her, her fingers are already pulling his shirt up and over his head.

So he lets her peel his clothing off and tries hard not to think as her mouth brushes his neck, shoulder, lower. Her touch is nothing like Sharon's, and that makes it easier. Her body is ever so slightly frailer than he remembers, the shadows of her ribs thick in the half-light, and he tries to be gentle because he doesn’t want to leave fingermarks on her skin.

It’s easy, too easy. He knows exactly how to make her writhe against him and within minutes she’s close, so close, gasping please and now into his collarbone. He doesn’t hear his name once. And then he pushes her over the edge, not gently, and she clenches around him and he’s falling too.

They land hard.

*

Kara breathes into his collarbone. The sweat and sex and synthetic fibres from his uniform all mix together, and the scent is unappealing. She laughs and coughs as she breaths out, and kisses his skin as she sits up.

"You find it funny, do you?" Lee asks, and softly twists a nipple. Her breath hitches.

"Oh yeah," she gasps, "like that." Her voice catches as his hand wanders further down her skin, and she places kisses along his shoulder. She eases herself onto his body and they shudder together.

"Kara," he says, and his hands find her hips, press gently. "Kara."

She smiles, leaning into him until her forehead touches his, and he smiles back. "Lee."


*

When she lifts her head from his shoulder, she’s pale and biting her lip. "What have I done to you?" she asks and her voice sounds like glass breaking.

He places his fingers roughly over her mouth. "Don't over think this," he says, and she shakes her head.

"Frak," she whispers, and slides off him. The air is cold on his damp skin, and he sits up. "Helo -"

"It's okay," he says, because maybe if he says it with enough conviction, she'll believe it. "It's okay."

"No," she says. She's still trembling. "No," and she reaches for him, pauses, and her face cracks.

And then she’s sobbing so hard her shoulder blades are shuddering under the palm of his hand and she half turns and buries her face into his shoulder, at an angle that must hurt her neck, and some part of Helo says finally, because not even Starbuck can be that strong all the time.

He counts to ten, and thinks of Sharon, like always.

Kara's tears are warm against his neck.

*

After, they rest there, quietly breathing.

"I should -" she starts. He gently closes a hand around her wrist.

"Stay," he whispers.

She does.


*

[ b a c k ]