Summary: Nine lives and Kara can’t stop counting.
Characters: Kara, Lee
Beta Thanks: Thank you to scifishipper
Title, Author and URL of original story: Remix of mserrada’s Cats http://mserrada.livejournal.com/25168.html
Adrenaline rushes through Kara as she stands next to her viper, unsnapping the metal collar and handing her helmet to Cally. The deckhand takes it then lingers, eyes and mouth round with surprise, but Kara pays little attention. Her gaze settles on the figure climbing from the viper still attached to the end of her gun cannon.
Lee descends nimbly down the ladder, his body betraying no sign of aftershocks from their little stunt, though Kara’s own knees still pulse with the faint threat of a buckle. There’s an almost feline grace to the way he jumps off the final rung, flight suit swishing and padded boots lightly tapping down to solid ground again.
The imagery sticks with her as he unsnaps his collar, the metal flashing under the bright fluorescents of the hangar bay as rapidly as her thoughts.
Cats have nine lives, right?
He’d almost died. Would’ve, if she’d followed his orders and left him behind. Like there was any frakking way she’d let that happen. Hell, she’d thought he’d died once already today.
Nine lives. Two down.
What about next time?
After that, Kara can’t stop counting. She counts 33 minutes 288 times and she counts the raiders she blows out of the sky and she counts the slowly emptying rows of chairs in the ready room as the days tick by. But mostly she counts the lives.
3… She stares down the gun sight, her crooked finger shaking as the cross-hairs dance against dark hair. Her heart’s in her mouth as she tries to swallow the fear down—afraid she’ll twitch and blow a hole through Lee’s skull, more afraid that frakking terrorist Zarek and his goons will gut him before she can move. A tremor shakes her hand for hours after the stand-down ends but Kara covers by clutching a glass of ambrosia and throwing another cubit on the triad pot.
4… Her crazy plan suddenly seems a million times more insane when she’s stuck behind the big table in the war room. Her bad leg throbs and she flexes her hand on the mission planning console, as sweat slides down the back of her jacket and dampens her collar. She’s helpless, waiting, unable to breathe… until Lee’s shaky voice finally echoes through the comm. Mission accomplished.
5…The huge oaf’s on top of Lee, hands around his neck on the floor of the Cloud 9 bar. She curses Zarek and the whole frakking Colonial Day gig even as she starts moving. Lee croaks out her name, but she’s got a guy on her too, pulling at her bad leg, knocking her down to the carpet even as she tries to get to the gun. Kara uses her cane to bash her way free and kicks a bottle into Lee’s grasp as she lunges for the weapon. It’s all she can do and it better be enough, because if she can’t grab the gun, they might all die in this fancy cocktail bar anyway. But she does and they’re fine, landing on their feet again. Later, she’ll haggle for the blue dress, and tell herself it’s only to celebrate their close call or the rapidly cooling memories of the colonies. When they’re dancing, she’ll look away from the red marks on his neck, and into his blue eyes, and she’ll forget for a little while.
6 & 7 …It’s only after everything goes down that it registers. On Kobol, it’s just a blur of running and shooting at cylons. First Lee is chasing Sharon, and then he’s on the ground, and Sharon isn’t going to frakking shoot him, Kara knows that, she knows it, but still she’s yelling and running and her heart is beating out of her chest. The next day Sharon’s pulling her gun on the commander, then yet another of Zarek’s frakking goons—and damned if she isn’t getting sick of that—pulling one on Lee. Shots are fired and Kara’s sucking in a breath so deep her side aches where the stitches pull. She only lets it out when the henchman falls, Lee’s gun barrel still smoking. His face is a mask, stoic and steely, and she wonders what’s really going on his head, but then the tomb happens and the stars and the grass and the smell in the air—Earth under her feet—wipes out everything else. Still, on the raptor ride back to Galactica, she’ll close her eyes and curl herself in the seat next to his until her head tilts into his shoulder and the warmth of his body is pressed to her calf and thigh. When he shifts and his forearm slides across hers, she’ll let the weight anchor her and won’t pull away till they land.
8… They’re in the firing range and Lee is angry, pissing and moaning about the Chief’s little project, when it suddenly just all strikes Kara as hysterical. She starts laughing and doesn’t stop, doesn’t stop when Lee takes off the goggles and moves closer, doesn’t stop until there’s not much more than a breath between them. She sucks that breath in and her head spins crazily and she can’t look away from his eyes, and then Hot Dog falls (and who knew he was even still in the room), breaking the moment, and she’s laughing again. But Lee isn’t. He’s gasping and crawling towards the door, muttering something about “no air” and slamming himself against the steel hatch. And suddenly her breath comes shorter and her head is spinning again, and there’s no mistaking it for that other feeling now. Her throat closes and she gasps and gasps and crawls toward Lee. She tries to shoot the window out, her arm swinging unsteadily away from her target. Her lungs burn as she pulls herself forward and Lee is fumbling for ammo and then together, they reload the gun. It feels heavier than a cannon and she doesn’t think she can lift it but then Lee’s hand wraps around hers, strong fingers squeezing, and her head tilts against his as they lift and aim together and then the glass explodes and air rushes into the room. She gulps it in, sagging back down and then she’s laughing again, and he is too, giddy with relief and adrenaline. Kara lets herself curl into him, her head resting on his chest, fingers patting weakly against still-heaving muscle. Her laughter finally dies when she remembers the count that resides silently in the back of her brain. This was number eight.
She’s not superstitious, not really, but the count becomes a sort of a talisman in her head anyway. It’s not number nine… so he’ll be okay. It’s not number nine… he can’t die now. Not now. Not yet.
And then the day comes.
The Old Man asks her to kill Cain, and to take Lee with her. The shock makes it hard to process, but she nods, just like he knew she would. Still, she’s been a soldier long enough to know this mission is completely FUBAR. It doesn’t really matter whether they succeed or whether they fail. They’re not gonna make it back this time, not from this. The commander might call it an assassination but she knows the truth. It’s a suicide mission.
She stalls for a while. It’s not fair to ask him, no matter what the commander—his father—says?, Kara knows that, but… she needs him. When she tells Lee that she’ll understand if he can’t, he doesn’t hesitate, but tension flickers on his face as he takes her hand and talks about trust and what they have to have. Her eyes start to fill and she reaches for him, pulls him into a hug, and whispers a thank you. He doesn’t let go for a long time.
Luckily the mission’s aborted, but when she’s back in the bunkroom and Lee is laying stiff and hollow-eyed on his rack, she thinks collateral damage has already been done. Sitting on the bed, she watches as Lee averts his gaze from her and mumbles that he didn’t want to come back this time.
For a moment, Kara just stares at him, uncomprehending. After all these months, all the gunshots and sneak attacks, sabotage and murder plots, after all of it, it comes down to this: this quiet room and Lee’s vacant eyes and his empty voice telling her he’s giving up. He’d rather be dead.
After a staggering moment, Kara stands and walks away. She moves to her locker and opens it, pulls out the item she needs and crosses the room again. Lee is staring, unblinking at the bunk above him, and she opens her hand and lets the item drop onto his stomach. His breath huffs out and his body curls upwards instinctively and then Lee’s eyes are wide and staring at it. “Kara?”
“Take it. Pick it up.”
But he just frowns at the gun—her service revolver—metal gleaming still from the cleaning she gave it that morning. He sits up and scoots back, as if it’s a snake that might bite him, so Kara drops down next to him and picks it up. She grabs his hand and slaps the stock into his palm.
“What are you…?”
But she wraps her fingers around his wrist and jerks him forward, pressing his hand and the gun barrel into her side, between her ribs.
His eyebrows raise, eyes widening. “Wha-What?”
“Do it” She spits. “You wanna end it, Lee? Then fine, do it. But you’re gonna have to kill me first, because I’m not letting you go that frakking easy.”
She clicks the safety off and watches Lee’s throat pulse as he swallows, shaking his head. He’s trying to pull back and her palm is sweating, her grasp slick, but she tugs at his wrist harder, squeezing to hold him in place. “Kara…” he protests again, but the words are slow and sluggish, “what are you doing?”
“Don’t! Don’t Kara me!” The fury fills her so suddenly it thickens her tongue and she nearly chokes on it. “We put our godsdamned lives on the line every frakking day, and somehow, some way, we make it through. We get sent on a frakking suicide mission and against every frakking odd, we make it through. You nearly freeze to death and still, you make it through. And now,” she’s gulping in air, “now after all of that you’re gonna frakking quit on me?!” Her voice cracks. “Well, frak you!”
His face is thunderstruck, mouth gaping at her, and Kara’s chest is heaving, with anger or fear, she’s not sure which. Probably a little of both.
“Okay,” he says, watching her with wary eyes. Alert eyes. “I’m sorry, okay? Just… just let go.” Kara stares at him, scrutinizing his face for a long moment, and she recognizes him again. She lets her grasp on his wrist loosen. Lee slides his hand away gently, flicks the safety back on and tosses the gun aside.
Kara shudders out a long shaky breath. “What the hell was that, Lee?” she hisses. “What happened to you out there? Giving up like that? That’s not you!”
His jaw tightens a little, and she’s glad to see it. Let him get pissed. It’s better than the blank stupor he was wearing. “Yeah, well, maybe I don’t know who I am anymore.” His brow creases with consternation. “Maybe I don’t know who anyone is. I mean, my Gods, Kara, we’re-” his voice rises, “we’re murdering people we don’t agree with now?”
She frowns and shakes her head. “Look, Lee, I don’t know why the Old Man and the President thought it had to go down that way. I guess they have their reasons.” He shakes his head, disbelief written on his face, and Kara sighs. “But it’s like you said, right? Trust. Your word, my word.” She shrugs. “Their word. We have to trust each other. Or we’re frakked.”
“Yeah, and look how that turned out,” he grimaces. “I broke my promise. I wasn’t there for you.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” she says. “You had to eject. Your suit ripped.” Her throat goes dry. “You almost died.”
Lee’s face is pained. “When I was floating out there, I could see everything. The vipers and the battle, and it all seemed so far away, you know? It was quiet and peaceful, and I didn’t want to go back there.” He ducks his head and clears his throat. “So, I just… I had my hand over my suit and… I just… let go.”
The confession overwhelms her and Kara lets her head fall. She stares at the metal decking and tries to breathe. Her voice comes out tired and small when she speaks. “Do you have any frakking idea how many times it’s been, Lee?”
There’s a pause. “How many times…?”
“Nine. Nine frakking times!” Saying the number out loud makes it more real and something breaks inside. Kara’s exhausted suddenly and the fatigue lends a giddy edge of not-quite laughter to her words. “You’ve almost died on me nine times, and we’re running out of lives here. And I just,” her voice is breaking and she’s stumbling over all the words, “I don’t think… I can’t… Gods…”
Then his arms are surrounding her and Lee’s pulling her closer. Kara’s own arms rise automatically, clutching at his back. Her forehead thuds against his shoulder, and her nose fills with the scent of his skin, and it’s all she can do to keep breathing. But she’s not done, and she mumbles the rest against his collarbone. “You can’t leave me, you stupid, frakking idiot. I need you, alright? .”
Lee makes a noise and then his hand is cradling the back of her head, and his lips are brushing her temple. “You told me you didn’t.”
“Yeah, well, sue me,” she sniffs. “I lied.”
He makes a choked off noise that might be a sob but might be a laugh and Kara knows suddenly that it’s going to be okay. She closes her eyes, but she holds on.
Half a minute later, Lee’s voice is a soft rumble in her ear. “Nine lives, huh? You were counting?”
His tone is light, almost teasing, but when Kara lifts her head, she sees something deeper on his face. She’s not sure she’s ready for that. One confession a night strikes her as more than enough. So instead, she jokes, “Kinda hard not to when I keep having to save your ass.”
He raises an eyebrow and demands proof, so Kara ticks off the near-misses and close calls. “…And this was nine.”
“Hmm. Actually, you left out that time I mutinied against Tigh and I thought he was gonna airlock me. And the time the Centurions boarded the ship and we barely were able to hold them off. Oh, and there’s also…”
Her eyes are wide as she listens and when he finally stops, Kara’s silent for a moment. The stupid count was wrong anyway. They blew past nine lives ages ago and kept going. There’s something freeing about the realization and Kara feels lighter. So she grins a little, and says to Lee, “You know, for being such a morally upstanding citizen and all, you ever notice there’s an awful lot of people who seem to want to kill you, Apollo?”
He grinned. “Yeah, but it’s okay. ’Cause I’ve got you on my six, right, Starbuck?”
She thinks he probably expects a snappy comeback, but suddenly she doesn’t think she can joke about it. So Kara just looks into his eyes and she nods slowly. Always.
He stares back, and he starts to get that look again, the one that makes her nervous, and it occurs to her suddenly that she’s still in his arms and they’re staring into each other’s eyes and this could all get very dangerous very quickly. So she pulls away and slides back to the end of the rack. Lee blinks, and if he’s disappointed…he hides it well.
“You know,” he says, after a beat, “there’s an old Tauron saying that if you save someone’s life, then you’re responsible for that life.”
“Yeah? So what does that make me? Your guardian angel or something?”
Lee tilts his head, staring at her, then grins. “You, Kara Thrace, are definitely no angel.”
But everyone has a skill.