Summary: Kara pays her respects.
Characters: Kara, Lee
Title, Author, and URL of original story: Offering by queenofthorns
Beta Thanks: kag523
She’s always been lucky. At some things anyway. The worlds ended seven days ago, and Kara’s still taking up space. With all of Vigilante Squadron reduced to nothing but space debris, way on the other side of the Red Line, there’s a hell of a lot of space suddenly opening up in the bunkroom. They only got to clearing out the lockers yesterday, a day after the days that didn’t end.
She cleaned out Helo’s stuff herself. She had walked into the bunkroom, still scrubbing her damp hair with a towel, and stopped short at the sight of Boomer kneeling on the deck in front of Karl’s locker.
Sharon didn’t seem to notice the intrusion until Kara called her name. When she looked up, Kara could see the marks of dried tears on her cheeks. She was clutching something in her hands—a book, Kara realized. Helo had the worst frakking taste in literature, all cheap thrillers and lousy cubit-a-dozen dramas.
She looked from Helo’s clothes hanging in the locker and strewn along the bottom of it to the tear tracks on Sharon’s face, to the bold splashes of color on the front of the paperback in her hands, and to the empty bunks on all sides. “I’ll take care of it,” she said.
It was a hell of a way to start the day.
Clothes, bath kits, all that useful stuff—that went back to the quartermaster, no problem. They had to clothe the handful of refugees from other ships they’d picked up, like Apollo of course, and Boomer’s new backseater.
It was the other stuff though—the cards and the cubits, the box with photos, an unlabeled music chip, lollipops and other crap—that was the stuff that caused trouble. She found a wallet full of crumpled bills and slips of paper with comm numbers on them. None of them had names, just numbers. Frakking Helo. She thought about the memorial wall over on D deck, and almost laughed at the thought of praying for these souls.
Lords of Kobol, hear my prayer. Take the souls of V-2-67-5883 and P-4-94-2117—
She snorted. Ridiculous.
They buried in space of course. The coffins had filled the port hangar deck, and Kara had wondered idly when they would run out of boxes for the dead, or flags to drape over them.
They didn’t have coffins for Helo or Ripper or Horseshoe or any of the pilots with whom she’d lived, flown, and almost died. No bodies to be launched into the void. No coins over their eyes to help them on this journey.
It was like they were just names now, names to be whispered behind closed curtains in the bunkroom, or with comms off in the cockpit in those perilous seconds before launch. Because they could stick pictures to the wall all they wanted or toss flag after flag out the airlock, but wasn’t that all they were now when they went? Just names to be remembered until the day that they weren’t.
Kara took some of Karl’s stuff for herself, just the cards and a couple of the photos from the Academy. She was one of the few people alive in the universe who knew any of those faces, after all. She figured she was entitled. Plus, Karl would’ve pilfered her crap too if she’d been the one to go first.
She didn’t want the rest of it though, and she didn’t know what to do with it. So she really didn’t know what to say when Chatterbox and Elfman cornered her in the mess and asked what they were doing with all the stuff. The pilots didn’t need to say what stuff; she knew exactly what they meant.
“Why the frak are you asking me?” she said, mind on the pile of stuff burning a hole through the bulkhead at the bottom of her locker.
“Who the frak else are we gonna ask?” Chatterbox shot back.
The CAG, she almost said, but somehow she couldn’t get the words out. Lee didn’t know these pilots. He may be their CAG, but the patch on his flightsuit still said Atlantia. He’d never flown with Helo, Ripper, Stingray, Horseshoe, Boxer, or the rest of their fallen comrades; who was he to decide what happened to their belongings? Especially when he was sleeping in Ripper’s bunk and wearing Boxer’s uniform and cleaning his teeth with the gods knew whose toothbrush.
Plus, she could easily recall his voice when they’d both been too wired on the stims to sleep properly and he’d dragged her from her rack where she was tossing and turning to the ready room where he wanted to frakking talk about the Olympic Carrier. No, Lee was too obsessed with that shit show to deal with this.
She looked around the mess. The rest of the pilots were carefully not looking her way, but she knew they were all waiting for her answer. Kara turned back to Chatterbox’s angry countenance, an idea forming in the back of her mind. “Senior pilots’ locker, 2100.”
When Kara closed and dogged the hatch at 2105, the bunkroom was full of pilots for the first time since the attack. Strange to think it was only a week ago. At times she felt like she was in one of those old stories where the days lasted for years, like she’d been gambling with Hades and when she got back home she’d find that everyone had grown old and died without her.
Well, that last part was certainly true anyway.
“Right,” she said, surveying the expectant faces before her.
She pulled back the curtain on the nearest bunk—used to be Tiger’s and now it’s no one’s—revealing the pile of leftover belongings from Tiger’s locker and all of the others. She picked up the nearest item and held it so that they could all see.
“One box of condoms—” she looked at the label and grinned, “extra large. Going for…”
By the time the clock rolled around to 2300, the bunkroom was quiet again, with only a few pilots in their racks and the rest on duty or elsewhere. Kara leaned against Tiger’s rack and tried to ignore the weariness settling into her bones and her blood. The only thing she’d refused to auction had been the two mostly-full boxes of tampons which she and the other female pilots had divvied up amongst themselves.
She frowned at the pile of coins remaining on the rack. They’d used cubits for lack of anything else to bid, but perhaps the system needed improving. With a sigh, she scooped up the money in both hands and dumped it on the top shelf of her own locker. She’d figure out what to do with it all later.
When she lay down on her own rack to sleep, she let her eyes slip closed and tried not to think about the pile of silver coins that she’d been too tired to count, just as she tried not to think about the eighty-five flag-draped bodies they’d launched into space a few days ago, or the countless other bodies that hadn’t gotten such a luxury: twelve planets and one luxury liner full of souls that were gone in a flash.
Kara opened her eyes at reveille, feeling almost—for a second—rested. That faded of course when she hauled herself up with muscles so far beyond fatigued that she felt like her hands and feet and knees and elbows would never be connected again as they had been back when 33 was just the number between 32 and 34.
When she launched for CAP several hours later, she felt like she was finally waking up. Out there in space—belly to the Galactica and her cockpit the only thing between her and the endless black—her lips had turned upward into a smile before she even realized.
Bingo was flying her wing today, and he wasn’t a man of many words so they looped around the fleet in silence. That was just fine. Kara didn’t feel much like talking anyway, so instead she concentrated on the push and give of the ship under her feet and in her hands. DRADIS was clear, but still she scanned the skies for any hint of a bogey. She didn’t much trust the computers, especially after they’d learned the hard way what their enemy could do to a nav system. Mark One Eyeball was the way to go.
For a second she thought she saw something, and her hand was on the comm before she’d even processed the fact, but her thumb paused on the button as she squinted through her canopy at what, she realized, was not a Cylon raider but just stardust. Space junk. In all the nothing, sometimes these things could play tricks on your eyes.
The Cylons didn’t attack that day. It was a pretty good day, she supposed, though it didn’t much feel like it. Still, a day without death was a cause for celebration, and so her offshift found her in the bunkroom, changing into sweats and preparing for a bit of triad.
The curtain on Lee’s bunk was mostly closed, but through the gap she could just make out the curve of his shoulder and the dark tilt of his head, turned away from her. She glanced away from his sleeping form, opening her locker and trying to remember where she’d put her partially smoked cigar from the day before.
As she rummaged around in her locker, she could hear Lee’s breathing behind her. It wasn’t exactly the easy, steady rhythm of someone in slumber. He grunted, and her hand stilled on the top shelf. She kept searching, even as she listened to his hitching, halting breaths. There was a rule in the bunkroom. But when he made a sound that was not quite a cry but definitely wasn’t a shout of joy, she put down the box she’d been digging through and crossed quickly to his side.
She hesitated beside his bunk. “Hey, Lee,” she whispered. His head tossed a little against the pillow, but that was all the response she got.
He made that awful sound again then, and from her angle she saw one hand curl into a fist around a bit of the drab military sheets just like Zak used to do when he was upset, which didn’t happen very often but often enough given that he was living with her.
“Lee,” she said, gripping his shoulder to wake him. “Lee!”
He came to with a start, twisting around to blink up at her. “Cylons?” he said. There were beads of moisture on his forehead, and he was already reaching for his jock smock, crumpled by his feet.
“No, no Cylons.” She shifted, curling the hand that had been wrapped around the curve of his shoulder around the cold steel rung of the ladder. “Just trying to shut you up.”
He squinted up at her and rubbed one hand over his eyes. “Sorry,” he said, voice low. “I didn’t mean to wake anyone.”
She shook her head, saying his name again. Didn’t the idiot realize it was only 1800? Practically the first thing he’d said to her outside of a briefing (since he’d hauled her into the ready room two days prior and made her watch while he agonized over their frakking gun camera footage) and it was completely idiotic.
But he looked like hell so she figured she’d let it go. “There’s no one else here. I came in for a stogie.” She hesitated a moment before asking, then took the plunge: “Bad dream?”
He whispered his assent.
Her fingers twisted on the rung and she bit down on the inside of her cheek. “Want to talk about it?”
There was a pause, and for a second he had that same look on his face that he’d worn that day in the ready room, the two of them slouched in the front row while the light from the projector flickered over them. “Not really,” he said, and something of what she was feeling must have shown on her face because he actually cracked a smile. “That’s a relief, huh?”
“Damn straight,” she said, releasing her grip on the ladder and moving to perch on the bench. “Do I look like a therapist?” She punctuated this with a punch to the arm.
“Anything’s possible,” he replied. “The crazies are running the nuthouse these days. They made me CAG.”
“You have a point. The last CAG would probably…” And just like that, she remembered that someone else used to sleep in this bunk and that there were a pile of coins on the top shelf of her locker, spoils from the dead weighing her down.
“Your cigar?” Lee said, after she’d been silent too long.
“Right,” she said, standing and turning her back to him as she went back to her locker. The stogie was there, on the shelf, behind the box she’d been looking at before, but she couldn’t reach it without the tender skin of her wrist brushing up against cold silver and her arm jerked back as though stung, and to cover the motion she ran her shaking hand through her hair as if that had been what she’d intended all along. She shivered slightly, head bowing and thinking that Ripper would’ve told them both to stow it, to get over themselves and get back in the cockpit and do their godsdamn motherfrakking jobs. Yeah, he was a real charmer, their CAG. Now he was stardust.
She picked up the cigar and shoved it in her pocket before closing the door and turning around to face Lee again.
“Hey,” she said, “since you’re awake anyway…come join the game.”
“Maybe later.” Then he was reaching for something in his bunk that he couldn’t see. “Here. Take these for stakes.” He was holding something out to her and when she saw the glint she blinked and only stayed still for the cold metal of her locker door against her back reminding her that these cubits weren’t the same as the ones she wished she didn’t have.
She didn’t pull away, but she didn’t move to take them either. “Thanks,” she said, mustering a smile, “but we play for real stuff now. You know, clothes…” And cigarettes and soap and socks and any motherfrakking thing they had left.
Lee gave her that look, and she knew he thought she meant something else and she let him.
“It’s okay,” she tossed over her shoulder, “I never lose.” With one hand on the hatch, she turned back to him, and she didn’t know why, but she asked, “Need anything?”
Thirty seconds later she was tossing him her lighter and thirty minutes after that she was reaching over her winnings (piled high) to light up her stogie with the business end of Gaeta’s cigarette, and sure enough, she didn’t lose.
Of all the things to get to her, it was the smell. She’d just walked back into the bunkroom after getting bored of robbing Gaeta blind, and she had a new sweatshirt, three cigarettes, a couple batteries, a new razor, one half-used bar of soap, a dog-eared paperback that was only slightly better than the stuff in Helo’s collection, and an old porno that she didn’t want herself but she knew would be selling big from now on out. As soon as she walked through the hatch, though, she noticed the smell of smoke. Not smoke from a cigar though, but smoke from something burning, really burning, like a pyre.
When she pulled back her curtain, she found Lee had left the lighter on top of her pillow. How thoughtful. She dumped her winnings and picked up the lighter, thumb running lightly over the smooth plastic. It wasn’t a fancy thing, just some bit of junk she’d picked up along the line somewhere or other.
She glanced over at Lee’s empty bunk, and thought about asking him but he was still in the rec room and besides she didn’t much feel like chatting anyhow.
In her locker, there was the picture. Some days she could open it up without hardly seeing those two (three) faces. Some days.
Seven days after the worlds ended, Kara stands inside Launch Tube Three in the unused starboard hangar. Her pockets are weighed down and her hands are full. She kneels on the deck and puts aside her burden. Then, one by one, she takes the coins from her pockets and sets them on the floor, counting under her breath.
(Helo, Ripper, Horseshoe, Boxer, Stingray, Tiger, Bigs, Monkey, Jolly…)
She has more than enough. Lucky. One for each to pay the ferryman’s price, and a handful left over. This she sets aside.
The Olympic Carrier.
She picks up her idols, still wrapped in cloth, and retreats from the tube. When she’s safely on the other side, she looks through the view window at the neat rows of coins, laid out like coffins. Then she unwraps the statues and holds one in each hand, feeling the smooth, cool weight of each.
“Lords of Kobol, hear my prayer. Watch over the souls of those lost that day…”
Then she hits launch, and the coins are flushed out into space. For a second, before the outer doors close once again, she can almost see them all, tiny specks of light like stardust in the black.