Title: The Visible World
Characters: Lee, Kara, brief glimpses of Helo and Bill
Rating: PG-13 for angst?
Spoilers: through the season 3 finale
*Title from this poem by Richard Siken.
This started off as a drabble I started in May (whoa) then it grew into a full-sized fic. Jo gave me the initial prompt (will Lee trust Kara?) and I also drew a bit on her S4 wishlist over at sasa_hq. Thanks for being such a wonderful friend, Jo -- you are as patient as you are awesome.
Infinite gratitude and hugs also go to bop_radar for going above and beyond the call of beta duty.
They inform him that they are ready to take him to see the prisoner, and that’s what she is now, he thinks—not an officer or Starbuck and certainly not Kara. They’ve decided she’s ‘the prisoner.’
An elegant evasion; such a noncommittal word. Almost but not quite a person.
As he walks in, two armed marines follow. For an instant he can see her body react, tensed and coiled like a spring. Her face is still but she’s already sized them up, ready. He’s seen her knock a gun out of someone’s hands in two seconds.
Should he be afraid, he thinks, about how little fear he just felt?
Then he’s there, two steps away. Breathing the same air. The cell is suddenly too small; the light is streaming on her face.
They said she wouldn’t talk about Earth, wouldn’t say much of anything. They said she’d kept asking to see him. He doesn’t know what to believe.
He’s supposed to ask her questions.
Lee’s been through enough interrogations himself, these past two days. When he’d climbed out of his Viper a crowd had already gathered on the flightdeck, and Helo was at his ladder. Around Kara’s strangely unmarked bird there was a little space, a respectful or fearful distance. Everyone staring at the same spot. Waiting.
As he climbed down, Helo had said, “Lee, what—”
“She says she’s been to Earth,” he replied, dazed. Faces turned toward him, mouths agape. Then a detachment of marines poured in, shoving everyone back. The crowd pressed against him. He couldn’t see his father. Too many people.
He’d surged forward as her canopy had opened, but Helo’s hands restrained him—“Sorry, Major”—an old habit, calling him that—and then he’d fought them. Wild, frantic punches, he didn’t care who he hit. The swift, sharp pain that came when they finally hit back was almost welcome. It took six people to hold him down.
The Admiral had ordered Mr. Adama to be confined to his quarters, and following several hours of no contact with anyone, there had been an endless stream of questions: clipped, formal ones, from a military investigator. A relentlessly impersonal barrage. With her was an observer whom he didn’t know, to transcribe it all.
He’d wondered if his father was down in the cell with her.
Q: Why did you break formation to make a lone pursuit?
A: I was not formally part of any formation. We scrambled to meet any oncoming attack. There was a bogey on my ten and I told command that I would check it out.
He thinks: they know all this. They frakking know this.
Q: And how soon did you determine that the Viper you had followed was being flown by a pilot who resembles Captain Thrace?
He blinks at that, frames a quick reply. It is carefully recorded.
What a thing to say. ‘The pilot who resembles Captain Thrace.’ The woman who looks like Kara. They’re thinking it’s not really her. Because the alternative is—
Q: What did you do then?
A: I spoke her name.
It takes longer than it should for them to write that down. Was that wrong? Do they say ‘it’ instead of ‘her,’ now?
But I said her name like a question. He needs to think about that. Whether he still would.
Q: Did you say anything else?
Why didn’t you say more, Lee? Why didn’t you do more, ask more. Right there, so close she could almost touch your wing with hers. They may never let you have another chance.
Q: Did she respond?
He shuts his eyes; he can still hear it.
Q: And how did she respond?
A: She was laughing.
The clear, impossible sound of Kara.
He still thinks she had no right to be that happy, like she’d pulled off the greatest prank in the world.
“Don’t freak out.”
Even now he wants to shake her for that. Of course I am. Of course I did. You think that watching you die wouldn’t do that? You have no right to always be this way, coming and going and you don’t even care–
Q: Did she communicate further with you?
A: She said that it was really her. She said she’d been to Earth, that she’d take us there.
He doesn’t add what’s seared into his memory, on a constant loop: It’s going to be okay. Her face, bathed in light. Her smile.
That was for him. Even if it’s a lie, that was only for him.
The whole time he’s being questioned he thinks of better things to ask. Such as:
Out of all the other pilots out there, why did she appear on your dradis? Appear in order to draw you away, like—
Stupid. Illogical. If this is a trap, if this is a ploy, of course she’d go for him. Someone who wouldn’t blast her out of the frakking sky the second he recognized her. But how could she know which bird was yours?
Nothing about this feels logical. Every sensible line of reasoning seems to fall apart. Which brings him back to—
Do you believe her?
Paralysis. Every time he asks himself this question, there’s just paralysis. How can he know? How can he begin to answer?
Then over and over, he returns to this: I need to see her.
He needs to keep a close watch on this feeling—keep observing himself, as though from a distance. Analyze his emotions. Decide what he’ll let himself feel, or it will crush him.
He lost control out there on the deck; not again. That’s what got him here.
He has to be careful.
Behind the left wall, he knows, they are watching. A tiny camera is whirring above, recording.
He doesn’t know if they are testing her, or him. Probably both.
“Lee,” she says softly, and it’s almost—shy. But Kara was never shy. “I’ve been wanting to see you.” Hesitant, almost, but as he stares she holds his gaze and doesn’t look away. She’s looking at him, and it slices through him like it always does. She reaches out a hand.
Who did they think would break?
Q: Why did you not rejoin the other squadrons at that time?
A: Raiders were closing in and she wheeled into the attack, and I followed.
Q: You engaged in combat together?
A: Yes. There wasn’t time to think. They were on us; it seemed like the only thing to do.
You never leave your leader.
Q: Why did you fail to inform command immediately of what you’d seen?
A: I don’t know.
Really the answer is: I didn’t know how to explain.
So in the end it had been Hotdog who had opened the comm link when they had swooped back among the other Vipers after the attack, Hotdog who had requested to speak to Galactica actual, and told them of Starbuck’s return. That’s when he knew that other people could see her too.
He thinks about how shaky Costanza’s voice had been, how he remained silent.
He thinks about her calm and unmoving face when the response from Galactica came. Afterward, she’d looked back over at him. She was still flying at his side.
He remembers the light around her, how she seemed to glow.
The first thing he'd noticed was the stillness. When they’d approached her cell, she hadn’t been pacing. There were none of the usual pushups. He’d expected her to be circling restlessly, desperate for movement. Instead she had been sitting on her cot, hands at her sides, staring out at nothing until she heard them and turned, and said his name.
He can’t move, he can’t manage to say anything but he still wants to answer: Kara.
The way she’s reaching for him now is strange, too—like it’s natural. Like she always did that. She’s right here where he can see her in the harsh light of the cell block and her face is exactly the same, it’s the same and she might be smiling but it’s not her usual broad grin. It’s barely there at all, just a slight tug at the corner of her mouth.
It’s not the way he liked to remember her, the way she was in her picture on the memorial wall. The look in her eyes right now is something different, something else entirely. In anyone else, he’d call it concern.
He could stand here forever making a long list of all the ways she’s different and all the ways she’s the same and it wouldn’t matter, he’d still be standing here motionless in front of her with a crushing pressure in his chest, feeling like it hurt too much to breathe.
After the third round of interrogation is done and he asks for his lawyer (Lampkin might not even show up if he called but Lee’s going to act like he would) they seem to realize that as a civilian, they really don’t have grounds to hold him. He thinks vaguely that they could prosecute him for assault, or even for commandeering the Viper, but when he asks what the charges are against him they only look at him blankly. Apparently nobody’s thought about that.
They leave, but the guards remain outside.
Is he being held as a security risk? Is he a security risk?
Now he’s pacing.
Privately he has to concede that he doesn’t even know what he’d do if they let him go. He couldn’t stay on Galactica; this isn’t his room anymore. Hell, he probably would have to call Lampkin. Not a friend, but the bastard is the closest thing he’s got to it. But perhaps no one will think to kick him out. Maybe no one’s thought that far ahead.
And she’s on Galactica and she’s in the brig. Would they let him see her? If he left without—
“She says she’s been to Earth.”
His father is standing at the open hatch.
“I know. She told me.”
He takes in his father’s ashen face. He looks like he’s aged a decade, not a day.
“You think she’s a Cylon.”
His dad walks over to him, and puts a hand on his shoulder. It’s coming, it’s finally coming. He’ll tell him what she is. His stomach twists and it’s agony, but mingled with his dread there’s a strange kind of relief. He’s going to know.
“She has—all of Kara’s memories. And you saw the destruction of her ship.” He’s searching Lee’s face like he wants confirmation. What the frak does that mean?
“Her ship was in pieces. It exploded. I saw it.”
His dad nods, slowly. “I looked at the footage again.”
It’s not really an answer, and he feels a rising panic. Something’s wrong. It’s been a whole day, haven’t they run all the tests by now?
“What does she say?”
“She can’t explain it, or won’t. She won’t talk to me anymore. She’s too angry. I—”
“Will you let me see her?”
There’s a long silence, and he thinks: so. “What does Roslin say?” Still no answer. “Look, are you going to tell me anything? Are you going to let me go at all?” He brushes off his father’s hand and turns away. “Shouldn’t you be moving me to a cell, too?”
“You are no longer confined to quarters, but we need you to talk to her, son. See if she’ll talk to you. She asked for you. We need to find out more before we proceed.”
Before they proceed. So they aren’t willing to answer his questions, but they’ll use him.
It’s almost like trust.
She's reaching for him and he sees her hair, golden in the light.
Her hair is longer. Too long. If she’s a Cylon, or a fake, they’ve got that detail wrong. Is he the only one who’s noticed?
Three steps away now. Two.
She's reaching for him and he can’t. Can’t move. Can’t say anything.
She tilts her head, giving him a searching look. “Lee, do you know it’s me?”
He’s supposed to be the one asking the questions.
The most prevalent rumor, he learns shortly after his release, is that her test keeps coming out inconclusive. In this version of the story, even the machine doesn’t know what to make of her. Starbuck, the great enigma. It seems apt.
He doesn’t believe this for a second, though. He thinks they know something but aren’t telling. They seem terrified of her, even more terrified of having people believe her. They want to control the message. The rumors about Earth are making that increasingly difficult.
It takes him a while to realize that, thanks to his words on the flightdeck, he must have been the source of most of them.
So in Joe’s bar he immediately becomes the focus of another barrage of questioning, all from people he could only consider passing acquaintances. What do you think she is? Do you think she's telling the truth? How did you find her out there? Did she say how she’d take us to Earth? Some people think the Gods brought her back to us, can you believe that? Could the Cylons have built that Viper for her? Did you know that the Chief took it apart? He confirms what he can and then begs off, saying he’s been asked not to discuss it. No one asks if he’s staying in the service. No one even brings up the trial. But then, even the people he really knows might not want to talk with him about that.
He ends up retreating to his quarters. He’s tired. He doesn’t have any more answers than they do, anyway.
Before they let him in they briefed him on the rules. He could sit, if he liked, some distance across from her; a chair might be brought in for this purpose. There will be no chair for her, no table. Just a cot bolted to the floor, nothing that could be used as a weapon or a shield. She hadn’t resisted her arrest and she hasn’t attacked anyone—yet—but she has shown signs of temper, and she has a well-earned reputation.
They also explained that for security reasons, no physical contact would be permitted.
He'd been tempted to ask: for whose security, hers or mine? But he couldn’t risk it, not when he was so close. Instead he expressed surprise that he was permitted to enter her cell at all.
Apparently, the prisoner did not respond well to attempts to communicate through steel and glass. Apparently she’d been known to stop answering altogether and state repeatedly: “I’m not a criminal. I am Kara Thrace. You want to talk to me, you’d better frakking come in here.” And then she’d move to the corner and face the wall, refusing to speak again.
So apparently, she’d won.
Lee shifts his eyes to the left wall for just a second and she sees it. He sees that she knows what he means. Or maybe she already knew; that was more likely. Clever Kara. Kara Thrace, veteran interrogator.
He can’t say anything, but he’ll let her approach. He’ll let her touch him; that, in a way, is an answer. They’re watching. Giving him just enough rope to hang himself.
She takes the last step and she’s touching his cheek for one impossible second before there’s a click from the guns behind him, and the harsh command: “Step back.”
“Okay, Sal. Hey. Take it easy.” She’s talking to the guards but she’s not taking her eyes off of his.
The marine behind him makes an odd sound before repeating the command, more angrily this time, and then he shoves Lee to the side to get right in her face. Lee supposes he’s startled that she knows his name. But it’s Kara. She knows everybody.
She knows him too. Knows how much he wanted her to do that, to reach out to him, gods she knows.
“Okay, calm down. Let’s all be calm. How about this. I’m going to stand over here by this wall and Lee can sit on my cot way over on the other side. Will that be better? Lower your damn guns.”
She flattens herself against the wall, hands raised. The marine turns to cover her every move and he’s still got his weapon trained upon her, motionless. Her body is tense and he thinks wildly, if she makes a move, what can I do? Could I stop them from shooting her?
After three seconds of indecision he moves to the cot and then they all somehow obey her; the marines lower their guns. As he sits on the edge of the battered mattress Lee realizes she’s positioned herself to both hide her face and block most of their view of him. She even turns her head toward him and winks.
Let the overhead cam try to catch that.
He can’t trust himself. Just a touch, and he’s gone.
His father had warned him one last time before he left, as if he needed any reminding: “Remember, son, we don’t know what she is or what she wants. She’ll say anything to get to you. You can’t let her.”
This from a man who took a Cylon from the brig and swore her in as an officer of the Colonial Fleet.
Athena’s one of the kind they know about, though; and in his Dad’s eyes, at least, her motivations have been made clear. But they know nothing about these other five, if she’s one of them. They don’t have any idea what they might try to do, what program they might have. Athena’s no help there, either. In this, Cylon and human are equally at a loss.
He thinks about the wings lying in a drawer of his father’s desk. He’s not going to ask for them back, not even if it might give him a chance of seeing her again. He’s also pretty sure the Admiral doesn’t want him to ask, but he’ll still hold the fact that Lee hasn’t against him.
They told him to find out as much as possible about what she claims to know about Earth. Find out her demands.
The thing is, he bets her demands are simple: Get me the frak out of this cell. Call me by my name.
She’s leaning against the wall and he doesn’t know what to say. His orders are to ask about Earth.
“So are you here to let me out?” she says. “I never could stay out of hack for very long, but this is getting old.”
He looks up and there’s a wry smile on her face. Is she trying to joke around with him? Now? They’re long past the time when he could just walk up to her and drawl: this seems familiar.
“You’ll talk to me, right?” She’s still looking at him, but now her brows are drawn together. “Lee?”
“Kara,” he whispers.
“Okay,” she says. “Good. I guess.”
He thinks about how desperate he was to talk to her, all that time. Now he’s here and he’s managed one word. He wishes they were out there in the nebula again, alone.
“So.” She rests one foot on the wall behind her, fiddles with the hem of her tank. “I guess they’re still running my Cylon test, huh?”
He’s startled into the truth. “No. I’m pretty sure they’ve run it. But they won’t tell me the results.”
“Confidential, then,” she says. “Top brass only?”
She’s noticed his civilian clothes. Is this information new to her? He wonders suddenly how many people they’ve let in to see her. The Admiral. Roslin, definitely. Or Tigh. Tigh would be vicious. Anders. She must have asked for him, too. Even now, that gets to him. Gods damn it, Lee, stop.
“A lot must have...changed, when I was away.”
He has to look down because he’s so frakking angry he could scream. Understatement of the year, Kara. While you were away? We didn’t exactly know you’d be back.
He feels hot all over. He has to grip the edge of the cot to stay in control and there isn’t enough room in here, not nearly enough distance between them.
“Are you—” she pauses and he doesn’t know why. Her voice is strained; another mystery. “Your dad says...you’re different.”
He makes a faintly strangled noise. Opens his mouth again, and shuts it.
Un-frakking-believable. Different. Oh, great, Dad, he thinks. You won’t talk to me, you won’t let me see her, and you’re talking about me and our problems with someone who you think is a Cylon?
And she thinks she can talk to him about this, now? What the hell does she think she’s doing?
“Different,” he says finally. “Yeah. I suppose I am different.” He looks up, stares right at her. “Did you think that watching you die wouldn’t do that to me?”
He hadn’t intended to shout; it echoes loudly in the tiny room. Even the marines shift on their feet, and one half-raises his gun. This only makes him want to laugh.
Her face twists.
“I’m sorry,” she says, and he can barely hear it. Barely believe it as he watches her shoulders hunch up, and when she looks at him again he goes cold inside, because her eyes are wet. She’s on the verge of tears. “I had to do it. I—I know what that did to the old man, too.”
And this can’t be Kara because Kara doesn’t do that. This isn’t her.
They’re spilling out across her cheeks anyway.
“I don’t think he meant to tell me anything,” she says, and drags a hand across her face. Two thin streaks, and now they’re gone. “He meant it as an accusation.”
It’d be better if she hit him, yelled back--anything but this. Because she’s in front of him, crying. In front of everyone. Kara doesn’t cry.
Does he have it wrong? Was it wrong to expect that she’d be exactly the same?
He’s standing before he even knows it.
He can plead with his eyes, because she’s looking at him now. Please don’t anymore. Please. She holds his gaze for a long time.
Finally she says, “Why are you here, Lee?”
Frak it, he’s going to walk over to her. Let them see it—let them try and stop him. He halts just in front of her; he’ll stand there as long as it takes.
She doesn’t move from the wall.
“I wanted to see you.”
“But they wouldn’t let you come before,” she says, and he gives a half nod. “I saw them take you away.”
She’s looking at his face, frowning; he knows his left eye is still swollen and bruised. It looks worse than it is. “I’m supposed to be asking you about Earth.”
She laughs at this, strangely enough. Laughs mixed with sniffles. “I’ve been trying to tell those bastards, I’ll tell them about Earth when they let me out of this cage. I need some guarantee that the minute I tell them they won’t put me out an airlock.”
He’s breathing a little more shallowly now. Airlock.
“You expect them to let you out?”
“I expect to save all of frakking humanity.” She seems stern now. Not angry—determined. “And I’m going to get out, whether or not they’ll let me.”
He doesn’t know what to say to that. Her demeanor carries more of a threat than if she’d simply been raging. What if she’s a sleeper Cylon, even now? What if she still doesn’t know what she is?
But she’s a triad champ, and he’s not masking it well. “I’m not a Cylon,” she says fiercely. “I’m not.”
He can’t stand how much he wishes he could believe her.
“I saw the Eye of Jupiter my whole life. The mandala. Ask Helo. Ask Athena. This is my destiny.”
She’s still waiting. It takes a while before she realizes she’ll get no reply.
“I can’t really explain it, all right?” She gestures with her hands, lets them fall. “But the Gods—” She sighs. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m trying to convince you, here, when I already tried and failed with the religious nutjobs. I’m pretty much screwed.”
He almost does laugh at that because it’s strange to hear her use that old insult from talk wireless, the one reserved for Sagittarons and Roslin’s staunchest supporters. He was even branded one, for following her to Kobol. Lee Adama, atheist skeptic religious nutjob. She had never let him live that one down.
If she knew where he stood with Roslin now, she might laugh too.
“You say you went all the way to Earth—” He calculates the distance, impossibly large. “But…it’s just too far for you to be back already. You just can’t physically do that, especially in a Vi—”
“I’ve been gone longer than you think. Look—” she says, just as he’s about to challenge this too, “There’s something I need to know, Lee. About the Cylon test.”
“I told you already, I don’t know what it says.”
“But does it matter?” She steps off from the wall and suddenly she’s looking straight into his eyes, she’s too close. Too close. “Does it?”
Trust her to still be able to do this to him, cut through everything he’d wanted to say and make it all seem pointless anyway. He feels like he’d been struck hard in the stomach.
“I need to know.” And now her voice is strange, because it seems somehow desperate: “Or we really have nothing to talk about.”
He shoots a look over at the guards, then beyond her at the wall, and clears his throat. This is frakking insane. This is impossible, unfair. They’d never trust him near her again—frak, they didn’t trust him anyway—but Kara is already shaking her head, hands on her hips. There are many tests and he is failing them all.
“No, Lee, just answer. Don’t second-guess, don’t think about who’s listening in. This is just you and me. I need to know.”
Only a second—not even that—and everything hangs in this stillness, her quiet breathing, her too-calm face, her eyes on his. He knows. He shudders, takes a slow step back.
“No,” he says quietly. “It doesn’t matter.”
Nothing in her expression changes. He's looking at her and he wants to touch her so badly, but he can’t even let himself try. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. “I don’t know—I can’t say what I think you are—I can’t even say yet that I believe you about Earth. But that doesn’t matter.”
Because you're alive.
It comes to him with dizzying clarity just how much he’s willing to do. How dangerous he is, what he’d risk. She might be a trap, a Cylon, anything, but he wouldn’t let them hurt her. He’d get her away.
He can’t tell her any of this.
He leans against the wall, puts his face in his hands. She just watches as his laugh comes harsh and strange and thin, and his shoulders shake. “I think they knew. That’s why they wouldn’t let me near you.”
Everybody had known but him.
“Hey. Look at me.”
She’s reaching for him and he can’t. He stumbles back, hits the leg of the cot.
She’s crushing him into a hug now and it’s insane, it’s impossible how good this feels. How impossible that she should be here, warm and alive, where her hair can brush lightly against his cheek. She laughs and he feels like he can’t press her close enough, like he’s in a freefall, flipping over and over and it will never end. The guards are already rushing to separate them as she’s whispering don’t worry into his neck, but that’s impossible too. They’re coming and he has to let it happen.
“Hey, Lee,” she yells suddenly as they’re pushed apart, “They’ll let you come back. I told you more than I told anyone.” He realizes she’s talking to Roslin and his father as much as to him and she’s smiling even as they shove her back. “They need us!”
They’re shackling her. Like that will help. She rolls her eyes at them a little as she holds out her hands, as if to say: you know there’s no way in hell they could do this unless I let them. She’s smiling.
She’s smiling and it is the most familiar, beautiful, ordinary sight in the world. He knows it too well; it slices right through him.
He’ll never get used to it.
They come to take him away after that, in a matter of seconds. But he watches her as long as he can, turning his head for one last glimpse. The look in her eyes is just for him, and she’s saying it’s going to be okay.