callmeonetrack: (Kara: Smirk)
[personal profile] callmeonetrack
Fic: Breathing Room (1/2)
Pairing: Kara/Lee
Setting: An extended timeline set during the events of Pegasus
Rating: R
Length: 12,846 words
Warning: Talk of rape

Summary: Kara and Lee adjust to their new, very separate lives on the Pegasus.Badly.
Losing you is like living in a world with no air


The air on Galactica held the faintest metallic tinge, hints of rust and acid that the Bucket’s ancient CO2 scrubbers could never fully expunge. But on the Beast, recycled oxygen pumps cleanly through new pipes. The faint plasticine odor that lingers reminds Kara of the hospitals she’d been in and out of as a kid. Its sterility permeates the brightly lit corridors, burning her nostrils and throat each time she inhales.

Once, a lifetime ago, she had gone hiking with Zak in the Picon mountains. It was supposed to be a romantic weekend away from the prying eyes of instructors and students on the base. Yet it was the altitude that had left Kara gasping and lightheaded, her pulse racing dizzily. The higher they rose, the thinner the atmosphere had gotten.

On the Pegasus, that feeling rushes back to her unexpectedly. Surprisingly familiar, as if it were just yesterday and not years ago that she experienced the same thick pressure in her chest, her nostrils flaring, shoulders hitching as she filled her lungs.

There’s no altitude in space, though, Kara thinks as she moves through the ship’s sleek compartments with their glass-paneled walls and electronic keypads.

There’s no atmosphere here at all.

***

The worst thing about being stationed on Pegasus is that there’s so many godsdamn people everywhere. The Beast is twice the size of the Bucket and has three times the personnel Galactica did even before the war, and Lee is surrounded by bodies--a constant, churning mass of humanity that is probably making Laura Roslin smile, her whiteboard count increased exponentially.

Now he waits in long lines at the mess and jostles for space at the sinks in the head, and when he crawls into his rack, the noise follows him, a strange and cacaphonous orchestra filling his head. Lee tosses and turns on a mattress that’s harder than he’s used to and tugs a pillow that’s too soft over his head to block the sounds.

There are nine other soldiers bunking in these quarters. On Galactica the bunkroom had been full of noise, too, even in the middle of dogwatch. But Lee had committed to memory Duck’s heavy snores,  Helo’s grunting sighs, the soft trilling noises Kara would probably be mortified to know she made in her sleep. Here, each sound is jarring in its unfamiliarity.

He lies still, eyes closed, and tries to breathe, deep and even, an attempt to lull himself to sleep, but instead his brain churns and churns, his breathing becoming erratic. The wall presses against his arm, and Lee shifts and wonders if this new bunk is narrower than his old one.

When Wishbone starts coughing in the rack above him, a deep rasping sound that makes Lee’s own chest ache, he gives up and opens his eyes. He levers himself out of bed, giving up the pretense, and pulls on sweats and sneakers.

Running, he sets a steady pace. By the time Lee makes it to the aft causeway on Deck E, the halls are deserted and his footfalls echo loud against the metal decking. His calves burning, he ducks through a hatch at random, an old gym from the looks of it, and drops to the dusty leather mats. Lee waits for that constant sense of claustrophobia to recede here, alone, in a darkened room at the ass end of the ship, but it does not. He sits in the quiet, the place silent save for the sound of his own breathing.

Later, when he’s back in his rack futilely hoping for sleep to descend, he’s restless again. His hand strays to the curtain, pushing it aside. Lee blinks rapidly, eyes adjusting to the harsh lighting that permanently illuminates the bunkroom. For a flash of a second, as his pupils dilate, his gaze falls to the rack across from his, and an image of blonde hair spilling over grey linens forms on his retinas. Lee blinks again and it fades, leaving only the back of Hammer’s shaved skull in its place, the moment simply a trick of light and memory.

He sighs and closes the curtain, waiting for sleep to claim him.

***

Kara shoves her helmet off, fingers scrabbling to unhitch the metal collar, even as she stands and swings a leg over the side of her ship. She’s coming off another double rotation, her blood singing like she’s on stims, even though she hasn’t taken any. Descending the ladder, Kara jumps the final few steps to the deck and rounds on the viper, her eyes going wide when she sees the damage from that direct hit she took in the last pass. It’s a wonder she even made the trap in once piece. Kara laughs shakily at the sheer audacity of it and pulls off her gloves, running a hand through her sweaty hair.

“Something amusing to you, Lieutenant?”

Kara stifles a groan and rolls her eyes at the CAG’s annoyed inquiry. If she’s learned anything in her first few days on board, it’s that Captain Cole “Stinger” Taylor is an even bigger pissant than she first thought. She pivots to face him, and he’s already droning on. “Because I’m not feeling particularly amused seeing as how I’m looking at a broken frakking viper that’s gonna cost hours and manpower to fix. Hours and manpower that I don’t frakking have. And all thanks to your careless hotdogging.”

Rage rushes through her and Kara steps closer. “That careless hotdogging saved half of your squadron’s asses, sir.” She sneers, “I got blasted by heavy fire from 8 raiders out there and I took out every last frakking one of ‘em--with zero help from any of your crew, I might add--and I still landed that bird in one piece on the frakking deck!”

Stinger’s face had slowly been growing a deeper shade of red with every word, and now he barks, “Lieutenant, step back and fall in! Atten-shun!”

Her temper still roiling, Kara doesn’t move.

“ATTEN-SHUN!” Stinger yells again. “That’s an order, Lieutenant!”

Kara clenches her jaw and slowly steps back and straightens, her back ramrod stiff, one arm crisply bent in a salute. Stinger’s eyes narrow and this time he shifts closer, his foul breath washing over her face as he speaks in a low, threatening growl. “I don’t know what the hell that daddy’s boy was teaching you on Galactica-” The hand at Kara’s side clenches into a fist as the hackles raise on her neck. Son of a-- “but on my ship, you will show me the respect I deserve. And that goes for my birds and my crew, too. This is war, Thrace, not some frakking holo-band game you’re playing.”

She almost spits in his face at his presumption that she needs a reminder of that fact. But Kara controls it, her voice even, deceptively so, as she says,  “So, it’s not a game, but we’re keeping score, is that it?” She raises an eyebrow. “That’s what all those pretty little paintings on your birds are for, right?

Stinger glowers. “Let’s get one thing straight, Thrace. I don’t like you or your overinflated ego.” He jabs his finger into her collarbone but Kara refuses to flinch. “I could bust you down to rook so fast your head would be spinning.” He pauses, his voice low and murderous. “On this ship, we work as a team. No hot dogs, no superstars, just one well-oiled machine. Do you get that?”

A few of the deck crew has stilled and stepped closer, watching the spectacle of the CAG and the fleet’s top gun squaring off. The side of Kara that’s never backed down from a fight thinks if they want a show, she’ll give ‘em one.

So she shakes her head, and clucks her tongue theatrically, loud so the rest will hear. “Silly me,” Kara tilts her head. “And here I thought the machines were the ones we were fighting.”

Stinger’s face darkens with fury for an instant, and then he smiles, flashing a cold, teeth-baring rictus of a grin that shoots a shiver up her spine. “Maybe what you need is a cooling off period down in the brig until you’ve got things straight, Lieutenant.”

Kara grins then, about to tell him to bring it on, when one of the viper pilots, a tall redhead, steps forward suddenly. “Captain, sir?”

Stinger doesn’t move. “What is it, Lieutenant?”

“The Admiral asked to see you. In her quarters.”

He doesn’t turn or respond right away and tension crackles in the recycled air. Stinger keeps eying Kara for a protracted moment, and then finally smirks. “Case, show Lieutenant Thrace here where we keep the victory paint.” Then he pivots and stalks off the deck.

Kara takes a breath, her eyes fluttering shut for a second as the adrenaline and tension start to subside. She steps forward and falls into pace with the other pilot, who’s already moving towards the supply shelves..

“Starbuck, right?” The tall redhead glances furtively over at Kara. She lowers her voice slightly. “Look, LT, you better watch it. The brig is not a place you want to be.”

Kara snorts. “I’ve spent almost as many hours in hack as I have in the cockpit. It’s NBD.”

Case stops as they reach the supply shelf. “Not Pegasus hack,” she says solemnly.

“What, like there’s something special about your brig?”

The pilot doesn’t answer as she selects a can of black paint and a brush, then pivots, striding back towards Kara’s scorched viper. Kara strides fast to keep up with the woman’s longer legs and rolls her eyes. “Trust me, Case, four walls, a cot, a set of bars--you seen one hack cell, you seen ‘em all.”

They stop a few steps later in front of the still smoking bird. When she turns, and presses the can and brush into Kara’s hands, there’s a vulnerability in her eyes that surprises Kara. “Let’s just say it’s not a pleasant place to be, especially if you’re a female.”

Kara blinks, startled by the implication, and stares at her, eyes wide. Is she saying what I think she’s saying? She’s about to ask Case to spell it out for her, when the pilot looks away, over to the viper, and whistles.

“Looks like that was an awfully close call, Thrace.” Her gaze cuts back to Kara and she tilts her head slightly. “Guess luck’s on your side today.”

Marcia Case turns and walks away, and Kara watches her go for a long moment, her brow creased. Finally she looks down at the can in her hand and carefully pries off the lid. She hasn’t touched paint since...Kara racks her brain...Gods, Flattop’s 1000th landing. It took the two of them three hours to get that red paint off the bunkroom floor, she remembers with a smile. For a second, the sound of laughter echoes in her ears. Kara sighs. Then she sets her jaw, swirls the brush into the dark liquid, and lifts it to her bird.

****

Lee grabs his tray from the mess counter and turns, searching the tables for a place to sit. The room is crowded, and it takes a full minute before he spies an empy space at the back. He makes his way over and it’s not till he’s almost upon them that he realizes the CAG and his cronies fill the other chairs. Lee’s step falters but only for a second. He’s still a captain, for godssake, and this isn’t the lunchroom at Caprica High.

Lee eases his tray down, and folds into the chair as five sets of eyes swing toward him, conversation stopping momentarily. He lifts his head, nods at the officers--all men, all senior pilots--clustered around the table. The silence stretches as he stabs at his plate and lifts his fork to his mouth, methodically chewing and swallowing noodles, his eyes focused on his dish. After what seems like an eternity, they resume their conversation.

“So, uh, anyway, like I was saying, Cain said we need a way to shut that hub down. If those bastards can’t regenerate, or whatever the frak they do out there, then they’re as good as sitting ducks and we can just pluck those motherfrakkers off, one by one.”

“Yeah, but they’ll pick up our signal and blast us out of the sky before we even get within 50 yards of that hunk of junk.”

“What if we go radio silent?

“No good. They’ll still see the EMT signal on dradis...or whatever the frak they’ve got.”

“C’mon, man. There’s gotta be a blind spot. We just fly right on into that and those frakking toasters won’t know what hit ‘em!”

“Maybe. We’ll need to run recon but it could work.”

“It won’t,” Lee mumbles to himself, when he can’t take it anymore. Unfortunately Stinger’s ears work better than his brain.

“What was that, Captain? You got something to add?”

Lee swallows a sigh, and looks up finally. “It won’t work. We had a mission on Galactica a while back, where we needed to infiltrate a tylium refinery they were guarding. They patrol constantly. No blind spots.”

Stinger’s staring at him, eyes narrow and a look on his face like he just stepped in dogshit. “Oh, please, Adama,” Stinger says, kicking back his chair on two legs and throwing his arms wide, “enlighten all of us with your years of hard work and experience.” Lee hesitates to answer the obnoxious prick, knowing a setup when he hears one. ““You got a better solution?”

His mouth tightens and Lee carefully lays his fork down on the tray. He’s overwhelmed with desire to tell this raging asshole to go frak himself, but Stinger, like it or not, is his superior officer. “You could try faking them out with a simulated EMP. Disables their warheads and scrambles their dradis. Might just buy you enough time to get close before they can stop you. Then it’s just a race.”

They all stare at him, their faces blank and scowling. “A simulated EMP?” one of the men finally asks, his voice dripping with skepticism. “Where’d you come up with that idea?”

“It was an experiment, part of a misdirection tactics course I took at War College. I used it when--”

But Stinger’s racuous laughter cuts him off. “Oh, well, of course! This little trick the daddy’s boy picked up at his fancy War College, why that’s just gonna save the day!” The other men join in the guffaws and Lee sighs. Frak ‘em. Let them figure it out for themselves if they’re too damn stubborn to listen. He turns back to his food, and a minute later, the pilots pick up and leave.

Lee just keeps his head down, concentrating on getting to the bottom of his bowl. Pegasus’ food stores were massive; the food has spice and actual taste, but it’s all like wet cardboard in his mouth and he can’t swallow fast enough. The lunchroom’s still crowded, yet no one comes and takes up any of the empty chairs surrounding him. Lee finds himself wishing for some of that paperwork he once despised so.

Maybe it’s more like Caprica High than he thought.

***

Kara jerks upright, restless and disoriented, scenes still playing in flashes behind her eyelids as she blinks awake. That smell again in her nostrils. Phantom pain and the feel of gauze wrapping her fingers. The tall man wearing a lab coat over his BDUs, holding a red lollipop. Her mother’s brittle smile and a faint, disembodied voice echoing in her ears: “What a brave little girl, you have, Sergeant Thrace. Kara didn’t cry out once.”

She shakes her head forcibly for one sharp second, then freezes and throws back the covers. CAP’s in 45 and Taylor will have her ass if she’s late. She’s got no time for frakking ghosts this morning.

The head is full, as usual, every showerhead occupied, making the air thick with humidity. Kara bends to spit toothpaste into the sink and when she straightens, she actually sways a little, her head going dizzy for a few seconds.

“Frak me,” she huffs, mostly to herself, hunching over the sink and gripping it hard. “When the hell they gonna fix that damn thing anyway?”

Marcia, or Showboat as Kara now knows her, is at the mirror next to her and looks over curiously. “What thing?”

“The filtration system. It’s gotta be broken or something.” The woman’s eyebrow quirks skeptically and Kara blurts, “What, don’t you feel it? Like there’s not enough frakking air in here.”

The skepticism shifts quickly to what looks an awful lot like pity, and anger sweeps through her, but for once, Kara just bites her tongue, lets it drop. Marcia’s a friendly, one of the few, and she’d like to keep it that way. The Gods know she doesn’t need any more enemies.

Apparently though, their exchange was overheard. She catches more than a few hostile glances in the mirror. Then Twitch, a smartmouthed EMT who’s always giving her shit in the flight briefings, muscles by, deliberately knocking her shoulder back hard, and muttering none too quietly about “bitches who don’t belong here.”

The guy’s 6’2” and built like a brick shithouse and though that’s never stopped Kara before, the vibe in the room is poisonous. Marcia’s earlier warning about the brig, where she’ll surely end up if she takes a swing at this douchebag, replays in her head. It’s just enough to check Kara’s natural inclination to follow him and plow her fist through his face. Instead she grips the sink hard enough that her knuckles turn white and her fingers ache.

She doesn’t make a sound.

***

They’ve been on the Pegasus for nearly a week and the ship is big enough that Lee hasn’t actually seen Kara since day three. Their shifts somehow never coincide (which he highly doubts is coincidental at all), with her flying CAP or doing maintenance when he’s off, and vice versa. The ship’s big enough that they’re even assigned to different briefings and mess times. But today she walks into the mid-morning briefing, and Lee’s so surprised his own mouth falls open.

He raises a hand in greeting but Kara doesn’t even look up, just slumps into the first open chair, and drops her head down onto her folded arms. So Lee gets up and moves into the seat next to her, and leans over, pitching his voice low, “Hey.”

Her head jerks up, eyes wild. “Sorry, didn’t mean to star-” he starts to say as she fully turns to him, then breaks off abruptly. “What happened to your face?”

Kara shakes her head, a small, tired smile on her face. “Good to see you too, Captain.”

Lee stares at the purpling bruise on her jawline, feeling a sudden unwarranted fury steal through him. “What happened?” he repeats sharply.

She pulls a face, half frustrated eyeroll and half mulish stubbornness, and he doesn’t think she’ll answer at first, but then she does, her voice pitched more quietly. “Had a little disagreement with Narcho on the flight deck earlier.” Kara forces a smile but the shadows under her eyes are deep. Lee waits for her to say more, but she doesn’t. Just stares at him, her face maddeningly blank.

He’s having trouble keeping his eyes away from her discolored skin. “Kara, you have to be careful,” he hisses, voice strained.  “We’re not on Galactica anymore. This ship...” Lee doesn’t finish the thought. He doesn’t have to.

“No frakking kidding,” she spits out, cutting him off. Kara’s face sours as if she bit into a lemon. “I’m not an idiot, all right? I made one crack about his shitty landing on the hangar deck, and the next thing I know he’s taking a swing and there’s a whole crowd cheering the bastard on.”

Now his head is filled with thoughts of them ganging up against her and jumping her.

Kara must see some of it on his face, because her expression softens a little and she says quietly. “I’m being careful, Lee. I didn’t even hit back, alright?”

He should be happy to hear that. But somehow her concession just makes the whole thing worse. Kara Thrace has never once, in all the years he’s known her, troubled herself with being careful about anything. Careful is the antithesis to Kara’s very nature.

Lee’s jaw clenches but he drags in a breath and gets to his real point, the one he came over here to tell her. The plan he came up with when he was running laps last night and passed by that gym again.  “Look, Kara, I had this idea,” She raises an eyebrow, and he leans closer, lowers his voice some more. “I found--”

“Captain Adama!” Stinger’s loud voice cracks from the front of the room and he jerks upright in his seat. “If you have something to add to my briefing, I’m sure we’d all benefit from the sharing of your precious wisdom. Perhaps you have more War College tricks you’d like to instruct us on.”

Lee clenches his jaw, but says as mildly as he can, “No, sir.”

“Well good. And captain, the next time you find yourself so bored that your attention is wandering, perhaps you can spend some quality time brushing up on the raptor operations manual.”

Lee’s eyebrows pop wide and he can see Kara’s jaw drop out of the corner of his eye. She grumbles something that sounds suspicously like “frakking pissant.”

“Lieutenant Thrace, one more word and you can join him.” Lee braces himself, cringing already as he expects a stream of invectives to come tumbling from Kara’s lips. Her lips part, a snarl forming, but Taylor keeps talking. "Or perhaps you can spend your quality time in the brig?"

To Lee's surprise, Kara’s jaw snaps shut and she is silent.

Stinger turns and glares at him stonily for another thirty seconds, but Lee just stares back until he looks away. When the CAG resumes droning, he sneaks another glance at Kara. She’s staring straight ahead, not at Captain Taylor but at the empty whiteboard, that blank look back in place. For the flash of a second, Lee almost doesn’t recognize her.

One week. He wonders how long it’ll be before he looks in the mirror and sees a stranger there, too.

***

Half-past midwatch, Kara stumbles through the bunkroom hatch. The artificial lighting overhead stings her pupils, already raw and red from three days of almost constant rotations. A locker closes with a hard bang, and Kara jerks, her whole body stiffening at the noise.
Frak. She hasn’t felt this wired since the early days of the war when the cylons wouldn’t stop coming and Cottle’d forced ‘em all to take stims.

And at least back then she’d been able to bitch to Lee about it. She hasn’t even seen him once since that briefing three--or was it four?--days ago.

She grimaces and crosses the room, her eyes automatically scanning its inhabitants, noting the number and location of her fellow pilots as she quickly changes into sweats. Her sneakers are jumbled at the bottom, and she considers grabbing them and going for a run to try to burn off all this excess energy. She hit tired six hours ago and blew past exhaustion at four; there’s no way she’ll be able to sleep now. But of course, frakking Stinger has her on the frakking schedule for morning CAP anyway. If she doesn’t sleep now, she’ll regret it. Resigned, Kara jams her feet back into her boots, and turns toward her rack.

She freezes; the curtain is half-open.

It’s half-open and Kara knows for a frakking fact she closed it the last time she actually slept in it, even if it was nearly 72 hours ago. She closes it every time she leaves the bunkroom.

Kara shoots another fast glance around, but no one’s watching for her reaction. No one’s paying her any attention at all. Taking a breath, Kara warily approaches the bunk, her imagination reeling through all the presents her new friends might have left her, then yanks the curtain back in one swift move.

There‘s nothing there but a folded piece of paper on her pillow.

Frakking paranoia. Shaking her head at herself, Kara grabs the note and reads the quickly scribbled words. Then she shoves it in her pocket, yanks the curtain closed once more, and leaves quarters.

The aft wing on Deck E is dim, unlike the rest of the ship. No bright flourescents down here and the hatches are the old fashioned kind, no fancy electronic panels on them. It’s also deserted. For a second, as her footsteps echo on the metal decking, Kara wonders if it’s a setup. But no one’s following her, she made sure to check, and the likelihood that someone could replicate that textbook-perfect handwriting...

She approaches a hatch that’s ajar and the numbers match the ones on the note. Through the opening, Kara can see athletic mats and a punching bag in the corner and not one of those  electronic bikes and nautilus machines that the “workout centers” closer to the pilots quarters hold. She slips quietly through the hatch.

Lee’s standing in the center of the mats, barefoot, in just shorts and tanks, dark head bent low as he swings his arm in circles. She stands in the doorway for just a minute, watches muscles tense and ripple under pale skin as he stretches. It is good to see him, she thinks, with no irony this time. Something loosens in Kara’s chest and she takes a breath, her deepest in days, and exhales slowly. The hiss of it cuts through the room’s quiet like a dagger, and Lee’s head rises. “Hey, you made it!” His eyes are wide with surprise, his mouth gaping slightly. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

There’s something about that look, a familiarity in the expression that she hasn’t seen since...before she left for Caprica, maybe, and her gut twists unexpectedly. Kara turns away, shrugging off her hoodie, her movements deliberately slow, as she tries to get rid of the stupid grin tugging at her lips.

“Barely,” she snorts. “I think if that jackoff CAG could schedule me 24-7 he would. Gave me a double CAP then made me do frakking gimbal checks on the hangar for third shift. Then, the second I climb out of the godsdamn cockpit, he’s on my ass about how he needs my flight reports again because he conveniently misplaced them.” The anger's already fading in the telling. It’s a relief after almost two weeks of biting her damn tongue. She smirks. “He’s lucky Laird dragged him off to fix some crisis. I was about a breath away from asking him if he’d checked up his ass, seeing as how his head is always up there anyway.”

“I’m sure Taylor would’ve loved that.” Lee raises an eyebrow, as he bends, gripping his ankles, and Kara watches the muscles in his back flex and loses the train of her thoughts for a second.

She nods as he straightens and looks expectantly at her. “Probably would’ve sent my ass to the brig for insubordination.” She grimaces, her lips compressing into a tight line. “Seems to be his favorite threat.”

The thought of it loses some of its power, here in this deserted room with just Lee, though. Kara rolls her shoulders, hears an audible click as the muscles unclench. She breathes in, and for once, it doesn’t feel like there’s a compression band around her ribs.

“Maybe we should report him,” Lee muses, after she opens her eyes again. Disgust creeps through the words.

“To who? You think Cain gives a crap about her CAG giving us a hard time? Gimme a break, Lee.” She drops into a lunge, and he does the same, his movements the mirror image of hers.

“Look, I can handle his petty bullshit, but scheduling you practically around the clock like this? It’s dangerous, and it’s not gonna do Cain any good if the Fleet’s best pilot starts falling asleep at the frakking stick.”

Kara raises an eyebrow. “Kinda ironic considering the precious and scarce racktime the Fleet’s best pilot is giving up for your little social call here? So, to what do I owe the honor?” He doesn’t have gloves on, but he’s wearing sweats and he’s stretching.... “What? You couldn’t schedule a sparring session at a normal hour?”

A guilty look  flashes in Lee’s eyes briefly, but disappears as his face tightens. “Not sparring. Self-defense.”

Her gut clenches at the words, the tension flooding back suddenly. Kara glowers at him, even though she’s not fully sure why she’s arguing. “I can take care of myself, Lee. Always have.”

“I know,” he actually winces and rolls his eyes, like he was waiting for this. “I know you can, Kara, but gods, just listen to me for once, alright?!" Lee steps closer, his voice tight, and she holds her breath, marvelling, not for the first time, at how damn easy it is for them to fall into this rhythym, this relentless push-and-pull. He lowers his voice, as if someone might be listening even though they’re in the frakking bowels of the Beast. "Stinger put me on guard duty yesterday, down in the brig and--”

“Guard duty!? First he tries to bust you down to raptors and then--”

“Shh, wait, wait, just listen, alright,” he insists. “They have a prisoner down there. She’s a cylon. Remember that Shelley Godfrey, the reporter on Galactica?”

Kara nods slowly.

“It looked like her, that model,” he grimaces a little. “But Kara, she was beaten. Badly. And...” he stops, his mouth twisting, and recognition floods her. So Case was right. She feels bile rise in her throat despite how lightly Lee is treading. “And worse, according to the marine down there." His gaze is sharp, eyes intent on hers. “We need to stay alert. This ship is...it’s dangerous.”

Kara’s used to seeing Lee concerned. Concerned, pissed off, mildly annoyed and about a jillion different expressions in between, but this look, this look makes a shiver race down her spine. So she just nods, one quick bob of her head, and his face changes, and gods, that look--it’s fleeting but unmistakably grateful, and Kara turns away again because it feels like someone spun the FTL drive up without giving warning.

She swallows hard and toes off her boots, kicking them aside, then steps forward, trying to focus her scattered brain. Kara hasn't taken self-defense classes since the Academy. Tentatively she shifts into a defensive position, raising her hands in front of her. “Start like this?”


Lee turns a critical eye on her, starts circling Kara. He stops behind her and nudges her right heel with the side of his foot, widening her stance. She feels the solid warmth of him at her back, and then his fingers are curving around her biceps as he repositions her, squaring off her posture, and Kara has to actually shut her eyes, her nostrils flaring. The way her body reacts to his touch is so visceral and so immediate that her knees nearly buckle. It occurs to Kara that she can’t remember the last time someone laid a hand on her without intending to do damage.

“Hey...you OK?”

Lee’s voice is soft in her ear and Kara steels her nerves, her chin lifting and her voice edged with more impatience than she actually feels.. “Yeah, yup. Let’s do this if we’re gonna do it, Apollo.”

Amazingly Lee doesn’t push, just circles around to face her and nods, then advances, reaching out as if to grab her. Kara ducks, spinning away. Energy thrums through her again, but with purpose now, as she begins to assess Lee’s movements, anticipating and dodging and striking with better timing as she remembers the way his body works. And the way hers does around him. They find a rhythm, and for a while, it’s almost like dancing.

"Good," he says, some minutes later, as she spirals smoothly out of his attempt at a chokehold once more. “Next time, don’t just evade, make a hit to the--” his breath whooshes as Kara strikes out.

“Solar plexus? Yeah,” she answers, flashing a grin. “Think I got that one.”

“You know this is self-DEFENSE right?” Lee wheezes, bent over. “You’re supposed to be fending off an attack, not striking first, Kara. And gods, you don’t have to hit with full power.”

“That wasn’t full power.”

Lee lifts his head, eyes narrowing slightly as he straightens. Kara shrugs. What’s he expecting, that she’d just roll over and simper like those bridge bunnies on Galactica he’d been teaching?

“I’m just saying, you could take it a little easier, that’s all.”

“Aw c’mon Lee, aren’t you the guy who was just saying we had to get serious. Now you want me to go easy? Where’s the fun in that?” And this is fun. It’s been so long she almost forgot what that felt like. Kara smirks a little and shrugs, feigning innocence. “Unless, you know, you can’t handle--?”

He’s moving before she even gets the last word out, and the next thing Kara feels is the thump of her back hitting the mat. Lee’s face is close, his eyes glittering, “I’m sorry, what were you saying? I was too busy schooling your ass to catch that last bit.”

Kara grins in answer, so wide it makes her cheeks hurt.

Three hours of parrying and blocking later, she collapses again to the mats, sweaty and breathing hard. Kara sucks in deep lungfuls of air, and thinks it’s about damn time they fixed the frakking filtration system. That weird empty plastic odor is gone. All she can smell now is sweat and leather and Lee.

CAP’s in four hours and her body protests as she clasps his outstretched hand and lets him pull her up off the mat. Kara just grins and takes another deep breath.



Part Two

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. <3
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