Word Count: 3,737
Pairing/Focus: Lee, Kara
Lee Adama tossed his newly issued uniforms onto the neatly made bed of one Jackson Spenser, the former CAG of the Battlestar Galactica. As Colonel Tigh had said, he was the lead pilot now. For whatever it was worth. For whatever any of it was worth. He was a living man on an ancient ship in a dying world. Things couldn’t get much lower.
But they had.
Every rule in his personal inventory had been flipped upside-down in the last twenty-four hours. His father, whom he hadn’t spoken to in over a year, had hugged him like the long-lost son he was, and Lee had needed it. He had been demoted from flying the ultra-modern Mach VII Viper to the broken-down Mach II. He had been present for the end of a political administration, and the beginning of one. He had seen his world destroyed, and what was left of it rescued by the man he had least expected it from. And finally, the one person in his life whom he really, truly trusted had admitted that she’d spent the last two years lying to him about how his brother had died. Yes, the world was ending. Maybe that would be better.
But the anger was bubbling within him, transferred from the father who had truly done nothing wrong, multiplied by the embarrassment and regret of misjudging the man so completely, and added to the insult of having trusted Kara Thrace implicitly. He was furious, and with good reason. It hadn’t been his father who had passed Zak through flight; it had been Kara.
What he felt for her went beyond betrayal and neared hatred. How could she have done this to him? How could she have taken Zak away and destroyed everything they had all wanted. She was supposed to have loved him. How could she do it? And why in hell would she tell him now, when his father had already been forgiven and two years had separated Lee from the pain of losing his baby brother? To ease her conscience, he answered himself. She did it for the same selfish reason that she’d passed Zak; she had done it for herself. And then, as though to make things even more confusing for him, she had turned right around and saved his ass. He couldn’t even rightly get pissed at her, because she had just saved his life!
Flopping himself down on the bed of a dead man, he rubbed his hands over his face and tried to assimilate some of what had happened. All he accomplished was finding more of the anger, the self-pity, and the pain that had crept up on him in recent hours. The adrenaline rush was ending, and in its wake was the inevitable crash. Emotionally, he was a wreck. They all were. Finally, on top of everything else, his effort to make things right with his father had flopped.
“Let’s save this for another time.”
Why hadn’t the man just said what he meant? Let’s skip this, because I’m as angry at you now as you have been at me for years, only I have reason. That was what he should have said. That was what he should feel. And if his father’s gentle, accepting expression kept coming back to him at odd moments, Lee refused to acknowledge it. He had to get some sleep. He had to get himself straight. He had to stay sane.
“Lords, I’m a mess,” he muttered aloud into the silence.
“You said it, Bro, not me.”
The voice shocked Lee, bringing his head up and around, searching for the familiar face that matched it. The face that he hadn’t seen in two years… the face he knew he’d never see again. But he was there. “I’m dead,” he whispered to himself.
Zak was sitting on the edge of the former CAG’s desk, and he just smiled. It was that same expression Lee had seen so many times when his younger brother had done something he was proud of, or was keeping some secret to himself. It was that self-satisfied, mischievous expression that Lee remembered so well. It was the expression he’d missed most, full of fun and life. Zak no longer had either, and yet here he was. “Not yet,” the apparition said.
“Then I’m crazy,” Lee reasoned, again aloud. If he was going to be seeing ghosts, then he might as well be talking to them as well. “I’ve finally lost it.”
“Probably,” Zak said amicably. “But I’m really here, so you may as well get over it.”
“Why?” That was the real question.
Zak’s expression softened as he shifted uncomfortably. “Because you needed me here,” he finally said, and then he laughed. “Who would have thought that, Big Brother. You actually need me. It’s a switch, isn’t it?”
Lee just looked at him. “Why do I need you?” Lee asked.
“You tell me.”
Lee shook his head; the kid sounded like the classic shrink, and that was how Lee reacted. “Not a chance,” he said. “You’re not going to get me to indict my mother for my own emotional instability, or some other sick psychological game. I don’t go for that.” And then he heard his own words – his mother was dead now – and the common argument he’d always used seemed flat.
“Mom’s not why you’re screwed up,” Zak told him reasonably. “You did that all by yourself. You cut yourself off, you kept everyone out, and now you’re paying for it. Now you need people, and you don’t even know how to tell them.”
Lee caught about half of the words, so buried was he in the realization that his mother was gone now. There would be no one to call after the Triad game on the weekend, and no one to visit on leave. There would be no leave, he realized. There would be no respite. Like a hot blanket, the reality of all he had lost settled on him and threatened to smother him.
“She’s okay, Lee,” Zak told him gently. “She never felt a thing. It’s better this way; living on the run would have killed her slowly. She could never have been strong enough for it. Hell, she was barely strong enough to let dad go to work.”
Lee looked up at his brother – or whatever it was – and just stared. He’d had those same thoughts himself as he’d looked at her picture in his father’s room. And that was when it hit him. This wasn’t a ghostly visit; his overtired mind had just put his imagination into overdrive. For some reason, all the things he was going to try to keep straight seemed to be coming from his brother, whether by dream or vision or whatever. If he was going to have it, then he might as well use it. “And what about Dad?” he asked.
“Do you mean why am I here and not with Dad, or why did Dad give you the brush off?” Zak asked, leaving the desk and sliding out the chair that rested beneath it. He slung one leg over, straddling the thing backwards and resting his chin on his arms as he looked at Lee. His dark hair was mussed as usual, and his mother’s brown eyes were clear and bright, and so damned real that Lee couldn’t really believe that this wasn’t. “Because I’ve already answered one of them.”
“I have a question limit?” Lee asked, suddenly finding the situation amusing.
“No,” Zak admitted. “But I don’t have forever. I have some time, but it’s pretty rare for them to let anyone come back, even for something as important as this. I guess if they did, then people would get so confused that they never completed the grieving process. That’s why they didn’t send Mom, by the way,” Zak added. “You haven’t accepted losing her yet. It would have made things worse.”
“And rationalizing why I have which vision doesn’t?” Lee asked. “Never mind. So, how’s life after death?”
“Can’t say much,” Zak told him sheepishly. “We do have some rules, after all. You’d like that; even here there are rules. When your time comes, you’ll fit right in.”
“Great,” Lee muttered.
And there was that smile again. Zak was enjoying this. “I can tell you something cool though,” he said with a conspiratorial air. “Would you believe we had a sister?”
Lee’s eyes widened. That one couldn’t have come from him, could it?
“Her eyes are just like yours,” Zak went on. “And she would have been about two years older than you. Imagine that; you weren’t the oldest after all. Her name is Beth.” Lee just stared, and Zak gave a sigh. “She only lived a couple of hours,” Zak told him. “She was way too early, and there were things wrong genetically. She’s fine here, though. Everyone’s fine here. That’s the best part.”
Convinced that this was more than imagination and well into delusion, Lee just wanted to make it all go away. He looked away from Zak and started unzipping his flight suit. Whatever was going on, his time for sleep was limited. He needed to sleep, and then get a shower and get back to work. If he was lucky, there would be time for food in there, assuming he could make himself swallow it. But as Lee went to slide his suit down following the removal of his boots, he had to look back up. Sure enough, Zak was still there, still watching. As dumb as it sounded, he really didn’t want to strip in front of a ghost, or a vision, or whatever. He felt exposed enough as it was. “Did you have something else you needed to say?” he remarked as he left his pants on for the moment.
Zak watched him a moment and the indulgent smile left his face. “You’re mad at Kara,” Zak said. “You need to get over it.”
Ah, so that was what this was about. His conscience was simply battering him for being ticked off at his best friend. Suddenly the whole thing made a lot more sense to him. “So you’re here looking out for your girlfriend,” Lee concluded, finally finding some amusement in the situation. “Well don’t worry, I won’t stay mad long. Hell, with her I never can.”
“Yeah, I had the same problem,” Zak told him with a smirk. “But any at all is too much right now. She’s not as strong as you think, and she needs her family. That was really why she never said anything, I think. She saw what you put Dad through, and I guess she knew she couldn’t survive that. So yeah, she lied by omission. But Lee, she faced up to it when it counted. She wouldn’t have died out there and left you to hate your father.”
“She did it to clear her conscience,” Lee mumbled, unable to look Zak in the eye.
“You know her better than that. Has Kara ever been selfish?”
Lee had to think about that one for a moment, and try as he might he couldn’t think of a single time that Kara had been anything less than generous with anyone. If he were honest, that included what she’d done for Zak. Instead of thinking of herself, she’d thought of his need to succeed – to do what his family had always done – and she had given him that. Lee wondered if she had ever considered the possible consequences.
“No, she didn’t,” Zak told him.
Lee’s head snapped up. He hadn’t said that aloud, had he?
“You don’t need to say it out loud,” Zak told him with a wink. “How do you think I know what was going on in Kara’s head when she told you what she did? You don’t honestly think they’d send me down here blind, do you?”
“They sent you?” Lee asked, doing exactly what he’d promised himself he wouldn’t: treating the experience as though it were real.
“I can’t go into details,” Zak said. “The rules are concrete, whether I want to follow them or not. Like I said, you’ll fit right in. But trust me on this, when someone is… in need, then it’s usually easier to reach that person with somebody they already know and – get this – trust. You may not have always gotten along with me, but you must have trusted me, because here I am.”
Lee looked at the ghost in resignation. “Fine, I forgive Kara,” he said simply. “Will there be anything else?” He felt distinctly uncomfortable, but whether this was conscience or the first stages of psychosis, the fastest way to get through it was to plow straight ahead. At least, Lee hoped so.
“Yeah,” Zak told him. “About Dad… he didn’t brush you off earlier. He doesn’t know that you know, Lee. Kara told you but she didn’t tell him. He has no reason to think that you’ve forgiven him, and he was just too glad to have you back to start screaming or to have you do the same. He just wanted some time to appreciate having his son back. I don’t really think it occurred to him that you might be ready to put it all to rest. Do what he asked… give it some time. He’ll be ready soon, and then you can surprise the hell out of him.”
“I thought you read minds,” Lee said sarcastically, and yet the words had made sense.
Zak blushed, which was something to see given his dark complexion. “Yeah, well some minds I don’t want to be in,” Zak admitted. “I don’t want to know what my parents really think; most kids don’t. It’s okay, because chances are we wouldn’t understand it anyway, at least not until we’re parents ourselves. You’ll know that someday.”
“Right,” Lee said sadly. “Like any of us will live long enough to have kids.”
“You’d be surprised,” Zak said. “From where I am, you can see before and after – as far as you can look in either direction – and I can promise you that things will get better. That’s about all I can say, but it’s the truth. You’ll get through this; humanity will get through this.”
Lee didn’t have anything to say to that. He thought briefly about what his brother had told him, and then jumped as Zak stood. “It’s time for me to go,” Zak told him. “I warned you that they wouldn’t give me long. But… can you do me a favor?”
Lee saw an earnest expression in Zak’s eyes, and it was something he had rarely seen when Zak was a child. There was no mischief there, only a kind of worry that was older than his years. “What?”
“The rules are odd,” Zak said evasively. “They won’t let Mom come to you because she’s too close; it would hurt more than it helped. Well, for the same reason, they won’t let me go to Kara.” He gave a long sigh, and when he looked up at Lee. “Can you… tell her I love her. Please.”
Lee watched him for a moment. “Yeah,” he finally said, seeing no harm in it. “I can do that.”
Zak smiled gently. “While you’re at it, tell her that you love her too.” Lee just stared, and Zak laughed. “I warned you that I see a lot,” he said. “Why do you really think you were so mad at her. She wasn’t just a friend who lied, she’s someone you trust. That trust is well placed, Lee. It’s okay to love her.”
Zak grinned. “Won’t work,” he said quickly. “I see what I see. And I’ve got to go. You have company.”
Lee’s head jerked sideways as he heard the knock on the door, and when they flashed back to the chair Zak was gone. Somehow, it didn’t surprise him. The knock came again, and with a frustrated sigh because he really did need to get some sleep, Lee went to answer the door. Kara stood there, hair damp and askew from a recent shower, and her eyes impossibly big. He had thought he had known what he would say when he saw her, but now he wasn’t sure. It was knowing how he wanted to tear into her that had kept him silent in the hangar when his father had given his speech; these things needed to happen in private. “Come in,” he told her.
She did so, albeit slowly and cautiously, as though she knew what he’d been feeling an hour before. She glanced around the room curiously. “I thought I heard someone else,” she said distractedly.
“Just me talking to myself,” Lee hedged, because he only half-believed it.
“Look, Lee, about what I said…”
“I know,” he interrupted. “And I won’t tell you that I understand, but I do know that you loved him and you wouldn’t have hurt him for anything.” He watched her eyes widen even more at that. “Let it go, Kara,” he suggested, and then added as he realized it was true, “I have.”
“But, your dad…”
“Deserves an apology,” Lee admitted. “Although he did before I knew the truth, and for the same reason. He loved Zak, too. I was just… too mad to see it.”
“Quite a change of heart,” Kara commented as she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the metal wall. Lee grabbed the chair, turned it around, and sat in the same position his brother had moments before. “Why?” she asked.
Lee thought about that. He sure as hell couldn’t tell her he had been seeing the ghosts of brothers past. He decided to go with his first impression of the matter instead. “I’ve thought about it,” Lee admitted. “Hell, I haven’t thought about much else. Right now… we need each other. The Cylons are bad enough; we don’t need to turn on one another as well.”
Kara nodded, accepting that. “Well, that’s what I came to talk to you about,” she told him with a shrug. “I know you have to be tired.”
He gave a shrug because truthfully he felt better than he had. “I’ll live,” he decided.
She smiled at that and moved towards the door.
“Kara?” She turned just as she reached the hatch and looked over her shoulder at him. “You do know that Zak loved you, right?”
She stood there for a moment, saying nothing. Her eyes became bright, and she swallowed several times. “Yeah,” she said, but she didn’t look so sure.
He walked over to her and did what he’d been wanting to since he’d seen her doing pushups in the brig two days before – Lords, had it just been two days? – and put his arms around her. She was still for a moment, and then her arms went around him and she squeezed tight. “I love you too,” he whispered in one ear.
Kara squeezed tighter, and when she pulled back her eyes were wet, although he couldn’t see any tears. Hell, maybe she had needed to hear it. She didn’t say anything, but she nodded, sniffed, and let herself out through the hatch. Lee watched her walk off, her long stride moving her quickly away from him, and felt like he’d honestly done the right thing. There was no point in hating her.
Which left him only one other thing to do. He pulled on his boots, slid his arms back into the flight suit, and made the short walk to CIC. Once there, he reported to his father and requested to speak to him alone. The Commander nodded, gave a couple of quick orders, and escorted him into the war room towards the back of CIC. “What is it?” he asked urgently. “A problem with the squads?”
“Um… no Sir,” Lee admitted, to his father’s obvious confusion. “I just needed to say something.”
He watched his father’s face fall, even as relief washed over it, and wondered which emotion went with which remark. “Go ahead,” he said, with clear resignation in his voice.
“I tried to say this earlier, but… Hell, I don’t blame you for not listening. I never even tried to listen to you.” Lee tried to sort his thoughts out, but he didn’t have a lot of success. “Sir, I just wanted to say… I’m sorry. You tried for so long, and I never even listened. I couldn’t even meet you half-way. I know you loved Zak – still do – and I know that I made it worse on everyone. I don’t have an excuse, Sir, it was just… easier to be mad than to miss him.”
His father had listened, but hadn’t spoken. After a moment longer, Lee swallowed heavily and – thinking this was no less than what he deserved – he turned towards the door. “Son?”
When Lee turned back, it was to see his father’s hand extended. Once more his dad was making the first move, but this time Lee knew he had to do his part. He reached forward, grasped his father’s hand, and the two held tight for a moment. It was all that was appropriate in the public setting of CIC. With a nod, Lee reluctantly took his hand back, and started once more for the door. Just as he reached it, he had a thought and turned around. “Dad, did you and Mom…”
“Did you have any other kids?” he asked in a rush. “Or was it just Zak and I.”
The Commander looked confused for a moment. “Your mother had one more, well over a year before you were born. She was just old enough not to be a miscarriage, but not old enough to survive.”
“Beth,” Lee said softly.
His father’s eyes widened. “How did you…”
Lee gave a shrug. “Must have… heard Mom say something. I can’t really remember. Good night, Commander.”
“Good night, Son.”
Lee was silent as he made his way back to his room, took off the flight suit and boots, and finally got into bed. He looked at the dark corner of the desk as he drifted off, wondering if he saw a shadow there. He decided it didn’t matter. He had the feeling that someone was looking out for him, and for the moment that was enough. It would have to be enough.