in the months after his death
by Sangga

In the months after his brother's death, Kara disintegrates.

It's like watching the cliffs along the shoreline erode, watching her go down. Or seeing a tree felled, the scream of the saw and then the plummeting, the crashing, the underbrush beneath trampled in the chaos. Or it's like seeing a tower being demolished -- first the explosion, in which all air and sound and matter is hugged tight before ripping outwards in a gigantic mushroom billow, and then the collapse, slow and crumbling, graceful and brutal, as the foundations fail and the floors tumble, one on top of the other, fainting and dying.

And her foundations were never particularly strong to begin with.


one month

She snaps the rubber gloves off -- snap, like a ricochet -- dumps them on the drying rack, puts in the plug, runs the water again. There's at least two more loads to do. She examines the pads of her fingers, wrinkling up.

"These goddamn gloves have holes."

He's confused about something.

"But why did he give you galley duty?"

She shrugs, petulant but bored now. She's been here three hours already.

"Because he's unimaginative," she says flatly, picking dish-grime out of her thumbnail. Then she starts pushing dirty cutlery into the water running in the sink. "Because he's a jerk. And he's too gutless to make me do physical training. He knows I could do push-ups forever."

He knows that too. He's seen her on the parade ground at dawn, bobbing up and down, one ankle crossed over the other, arms working. Push-ups are easy, and punishment isn't supposed to be easy. But it isn't supposed to be denigrating either. Only trainees get galley duty.

He leans against the bench, watches her scoop soap powder into the water.

"You could lodge a complaint."

"Why?" She turns and stares for a second, a dull fire. She snorts before looking away. "Like I care. If this is how he gets off then he's too pathetic to complain about."

"Remind me to repeat that back to you in a week, when I catch you bitching about him in the mess."

She gives him a glare as she tugs the gloves back. Gets started on the cutlery. Mugs will be next.

He steps off the bench, moves around behind her, grabbing a stack of dirty plates off one countertop and hauling them closer.

"Don't," she says, and her face is reproachful, dead serious. "I don't want you to help."

That stops him. He opens his mouth, but he's not sure what he wants to say, until the pause gets too long to fill. She still has darkened hollows around her eyes, although he never sees her crying. She would never admit defeat that way.

"What?" she says, reading his face completely wrong. "You think I should apologize or something?"

"I didn't say that."

"You think I should go and suck up? Tell him how sorry I am, is that it?"

"Kara..." he says, hands raised and open, half-grinning because if it wasn't so sad it would be funny, how quickly she goes on the defensive. And he wasn't even baiting her.

Then she realises too, and her breath jerks out in a whoosh as she laughs at herself, humourless but getting the joke. Then a sigh. She pushes her hand, gloved and wet, through her hair, and the short damp strands fall back in front of her eyes limply.

"Ah, what the hell," she says. Turning her head now to look him full in the face, her familiar expression, dry and dark and self-amused. "I didn't have anything better to do anyway."


two months

You're starting to detect a pattern now and it's not funny.

You don't need to ask how it started because you were there, and it started over nothing. It's what people have been trying to tell you, but you didn't have the heart to believe them.

Now you know it's true. She eggs them on, coaxing larger issues out of small tantrums -- she has quite a talent for it. Over cards, over drinks, over tables, over mess trays. You wonder how her superiors put up with it, but they're obviously of a mind to be lenient. You know if she wasn't already a graduate she would never have gotten through the academy.

So this was over -- nothing. Again. Something that the guy said to her, that she shot back, that he took the wrong way, that she fanned to flame, and then when the fists started swinging she took her opportunity, milked it for all it was worth. Lashed out hard, let herself lose it, too strong and furious to be held back. She has no self-restraint.

Which is not exactly true. She has enormous control, in some areas. She's never treated him, for example, with anything less than respect. He's seen her chest swell, her face grow rigid, holding in some tide of emotion, some internal war, when they've talked sometimes. It's only that she has no balance: she can control the inside, but not the out. Not all things can be contained.

So for this he holds his tongue. Hands her a cloth-wrapped ice-pack for her knuckles, and she thanks him and hisses as she straightens her fingers, and sits quietly at the table while he wipes the blood off her cheek, doctors the cut under her eye, helps her stagger to the living area to sleep it off on the couch.

And he watches her face soften in repose, and washes the blood out of the dishcloth, and wonders if this is what they call enabling.


three months

A little bit later and he's losing patience, because she keeps trying him out, goading him now, trying to get a response from him because he's practically the only one close to her who refuses to be drawn in. He won't budge, he won't crack, but he has to keep putting up walls, fortifying the barricades. She seems to take a masochistic pleasure in battering herself against them.

Finally one day he grabs her by the wrists and yells into her face.

"Lords, will you just stop? Just STOP."

And her face is drawn and terrible, her eyes like a freight carrier coming towards him at a million miles an hour.

"I CAN'T!!" she screams back, before the breath dies in her at the admission, and her mouth works silently for a second.

In his shock he lets her go, and she stumbles back, slumps down into her chair, staring and staring.

"I want to," she whispers, her voice breaking into uneven pieces. "I just...can't."

And she refuses to look at him, makes all the noises of crying, the soft desperate sobbing sounds, the trembling and the whitening, hugging herself. But no tears come out, and when he realises this something inside him expands again and he sits down and holds her hand.

She doesn't know it, but she's bought herself more time.


four months

It's the first time he's refused to bail her out. She understands. There's no resentment. She's realistic. Maybe she's even getting a little bored with the routine, but she just can't help herself. Obsessive-compulsive. It's a disease.

Maybe it's becoming part of her identity. Her slate was never really clean anyway -- not her style. Never been a forelock-tugger, an ass-kisser, a boot-licker. Who really gives a shit about all that stuff anyway? She's always known she was good enough. She doesn't have to prove that to anybody but herself.

She gets three days. He goes to see her on the second day, to tide her over.


She's doing push-ups, staving off boredom, but she stops for him.

"Hey." She stands up and dusts off. "Aren't you supposed to be training up the simulator crew?"

"I think they'll cope without me for an hour."

"You're gonna stay for an hour? That's generous."

He grins tightly as she laughs.

"Relax, Apollo." She casts a glance around the cell, the grey and the bars. "It's not that bad."

"Don't get too comfortable," he says softly.

She shrugs.

"Doesn't matter. It's quiet. I can work out. Feels kind of...homey."

She says it wryly, ironic, but he feels his soul sink a little. He takes a step closer and she comes in too, leans one shoulder against the bars, thumbs slouched into the back pockets of her pants. He looks at her face -- he seems to spend a lot of time doing that lately. It's all she'll allow him. Conversations about anything more than general stuff are practically off-limits.

"Is it serious?"

"I don't know. Is hitting an officer serious?"

"Kara," he breathes, aghast and weary.

She blinks at him, ghost-smiling, their faces almost close enough to rub noses.

"Everyone has a skill," she says evenly.

They talk some more before he leaves. He doesn't think to reach through the bars and touch her. He doesn't even know that it's what she needs.


five months

The night of Zak's birthday he's trying very hard to do nothing, to think about nothing, and he's already downed two shots of the hard stuff before the vidcom beeps.

"Is it fighting?" he asks tiredly.

"Nah, man, it's not fighting. You better come get her."

"Starbuck's a big girl, she can take care of herself."

There's a pause, as Jarvik's image glances away and back, long enough for him to get an inkling of wrong.

"You better come get her," Jarvik repeats, and now he knows it's bad, that worry is close behind.

The club is raucous when he walks in, a cacophony of clashing darks and driving music, and hundreds of bodies, and the roar of talk and laughter. It's an off-duty night, and he knows that if his brother were alive he'd be here, celebrating, partying hard with Kara on his arm.

There are so many revellers on visitor's privileges that he only recognises one person in three. He spots Jarvik over near the bar, gives him a nod of acknowledgment, then follows the line of the man's directing eyes, and finally sees her.

If this had been five months ago -- or hell, even three months ago -- his jaw might have dropped. He's enured to almost anything now, but it's still a shock to see Kara, looking like she's come straight from PT in sweatpants and a crop top, writhing on the dancefloor inside a tight surrounding circle of men he doesn't know. The press of bodies is so thick he only gets flashes of her figure between the gaps, and as he watches there's her whoop of laughter, her arms throw out, the sight of her sweat-lathered face and neck, her white teeth a counterpoint to the blackness in which she is corralled.

He is so angry he can hardly speak.

The bassbeat of the music thumps through his feet as he pushes his way up to the dancefloor. Maintaining his control, holding it in, as he moves people out of his way. And when he finally makes it to the inner circle he can see how smashed she is, but he doesn't care. Watching her slide and sway and bump and grind feels like the worst kind of betrayal.

"Kara," he says, words swallowed by noise.

The men on all sides of her look unfamiliar and hungry, inching surreptitiously closer. He drags a guy out of the circle by his shirt collar, steps into the breach, calls her name again.

Except she has her eyes and ears closed. Nothing intrudes on her escape tonight. She reaches out her hands - a stray cheek here, a strange chest there. Her hips sway insistently and her fingers skim over her body in frantic invitation, a self-obliterating wave of sensuality. Even drunk she has command of graceful motion, and she throws her head back and laughs, throaty and dark, enjoying the illusion of power.

One spin puts him immediately behind her. He steps closer to get her attention, to prove his existence, and in ignorance and inebriation she mistakes him for a suitor. The hand he reaches out to grab her with is commandeered, pressed to her stomach, and she pushes her back against him, sliding up and down in a dizzying attack of bare slick skin and femaleness and heat.

Before he can catch his breath her hands have slipped behind, grasping, coaxing, tracing the line of his flank, the curve of his thigh. Her damp hair brushes his face. She finds his other hand, laces their fingers together over her slithering hip. He can smell her - rich raw sweat.

He catches fire.

Just like that. The combination of anger and desire and guilt boils through him like a poison of wanting. It happens so fast, with such intensity, he can't tell if the wanting came first, before all of this happened.

As it keeps happening.

She weaves against him dangerously, lets slip his hands so she can curl her arms back, up and around his neck. Then she tilts her own head to one side, to give him access, grinning with her eyes closed, biting her bottom lip with anticipation. His cheek is on hers, and her panting fills him up, and his fingers squeeze convulsively, making rough indents on her skin.

She makes a noise, desire-filled, a whimper or a sigh, and he hates her suddenly for being unattainable, and himself for covetting what he can't have. But he can't stop, he can't stop himself, and with his eyelids fluttering closed, and his mouth on the delicate spot behind her ear, he whispers the only prayer he has left.


And finally, dazed and breathless, she looks up and around. Her eyes snap so big and she pales so suddenly she looks like she's going to pass out. One of her arms is still crooked around his neck, her fingers feathering his hair.


His name sobs off her lips, as her body jerks and turns in the circle of his hands. He can't quite bring himself to stop touching her, like he can't quite control the flush in his face, or the heaving of his breath, or the accusation of his presence.

She brings her hands up to the crown of her head in denial, elbows lifted, cheeks whitening further. "Oh...oh...oh," she whispers, and her hands flutter down towards his face in supplication, then dart back before they touch his cheeks because she'll never do that, she'll never beg, and touching him again would only be adding sin to sin. She uses her palms to cover her mouth instead, her eyes gasping distress over her fingers.

Her ghastly anguish releases him, and he releases her, so she can back off shaking. Speaking through the intensity of their staring is an effort, but he makes his throat work and says what he came here to say.

"Go home, Kara."

And she lets out a curdled moan, and wraps her arms around herself and stumbles back, stumbles away, pushing past bodies, forcing an exit out of hell. He can see she's weeping.

And one of the men standing next to him sneers and says, "Ah man, you made her go!", and Lee turns and punches him so hard that he breaks a finger, and gets three days in the brig for striking a civilian.


after his death

At least he's had plenty of time to think.

At the end of his three days, when he hears the jangle of approach, he picks up his jacket off the cell cot and slings it over his arm, making ready for fresh air. No one is more surprised than he is to see her walk up with the guard. After keying the door, the guard leaves them alone. Kara being well-versed, he's pretty sure she can show him the exit.

For the moment though she just stands there. It's interesting. He can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Kara has been at a loss for words. She clears her throat.

"Thought I should come and bust you out. Considering...considering that you're in here because of me."

He just waits. It's obvious there's more.

"I just wanted..." She clears her throat and tries again. "I just wanted to say I was sorry."

She's managed to meet his eyes, and he nods, speaks softly.

"What are you sorry for, Kara?"

She stops and swallows.

"I'm sorry for...for groping you in the club."

"You didn't know it was me."

"I think that makes it worse."

He shakes his head.

"It doesn't matter."

Her face speaks confusion, a certain alarm. For such a good Pyramid player she is surprisingly readable. But maybe she's only like that with him.

"I'm sorry for getting you in trouble," she goes on desperately.

"It was my trouble. I punched the guy. I got punished for it. That's fair."

"But you did that because of me."

"You'd already left."

"Lords," she gasps, ducking her head, and he can see she's either going to cry or explode, "you really don't wanna make this easy, do you?"

Maybe forgiveness, like punishment, isn't meant to be easy. Is this how it's all supposed to go? He's not sure. He can feel jittering, building strength, something smashing around in the hollow core of his bones, but he waits, then repeats again.

"Kara, what are you sorry for?"

Her head snaps up, moisture brimming, cauldron boiling over.

"For treating you like shit, alright? For being an asshole. For making you clean up the mess all the time, for all the stupid frakking selfish stuff I do, Lee, that I can't seem to stop, that you must hate me for, and I --"

He steps forward then, grasps her by the arms, and her wriggling and self-admonitions cease when they are eye to eye.

"I don't hate you, Kara. I just...couldn't do that."

And it's like a Jump, a moment in space and time when life warps and bends and goes slow and speeds up, and when the moment passes she is still staring at him, eyes going wider and wider, and she sags suddenly, so he feels that if he let her go she would puddle on the floor, the way his jacket has already abandoned form and gravity at his feet.

"I lost him," she whispers, all the blood draining out of her face, like she's only just realised. "I lost him, and I can't bring him back."

And he feels an immediate chill, and also a sigh, somewhere on the inside. He lets his hands slide down her arms to her wrists, a gentle touch.

"It wasn't your fault, Kara."

"I lost him," she says again, dazed.

"It's gonna be okay," he murmurs back, trying to believe it himself, drawing her in closer.

"I'm sorry," she says into his chest, fainter and fainter. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Shh," he whispers into her hair...

He knows that he is a weak strut, a poor support, but in the short term it will do, it will suffice, it'll hold.

She'll hold.

In the months after his brother's death, Kara accepts a commission to the Galactica, and Lee chooses carefully, the Atlantia, and he knows it will be a long time before they meet again. And in the years to follow he sometimes catches himself, his fingers squeezing - open and close - reliving the sensation, trying to catch the memory of her, her warmth and her scent, safe in the circle of his hands.


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