NOTES: This was originally titled 'The Winner Takes It All' after the ABBA song, and I got the idea after watching '2.04 - The Farm'. It doesn't actually hold any really big plot spoilers, and, as far as I know, it hasn't got any relationship spoilers either. At this point I've seen all the way through to '2.07 - Home II'.

Always And Never

Somewhere else, somewhere that isn't here, a card game was played.

Kara lost.

Her fists ache, even with the gloves on.

She hopes the punching bag feels worse.

Inside her, rage boils and bubbles, and she lets it spurt out, like blood from a festering wound. But there is nothing that can lance this wound, nothing that will ever change what she was, what was done to her, what she did to herself.

A right hook swings the bag to the left; she punches it squarely with her left fist as it moves. She shifts her footing, slipping right and throwing another punch at the bag.

She doesn't have the right to be angry.

Somehow, that doesn't matter.

Kara slams a roundhouse kick into the padding, watches it spin wide of its centre. She feels like the bag, battered on all sides, swinging out of control, leaking her stuffing, unable to fight back.

She hates it.

So she smacks the stuffing out of the bag and wishes that it was someone else's body, someone else's face beneath her fists.

The door lock spins and she doesn't turn as it opens. Anyone stupid enough to come in is going to get the full force of everything she doesn't want to deal with right now. Get in line, take a number, and don't complain when you become Starbuck's punching bag. Because taking prisoners isn't her style, and that's when she's in a good mood.

Kara's not in a good mood now.

"Want a partner?"

It's her turn to spin in her heels, glaring at the man who stands in the doorframe, gloves dangling from his wrist. The last person she wants to see.

The only person she wants to see.

She smiles, but the smile is thin and razor-edged. "Sure," she says. "If you don't mind having the frak kicked out of you."

Lee turns and closes the door behind him. The lock spins shut as she swings the bag out of the way, and he turns and tosses his towel to the side. If he's aware of her tension, he doesn't speak of it. They learned not to say anything about the undercurrents between them after she came back from Caprica; after he made advances and she rejected them.

Maybe that's why they are where they are now.

It doesn't take him long to get into ready stance, but those few seconds are an eternity of watching and hating him. He moves with definition, with the quiet assurance of a man who's sure of his space and where he fits in it.

It's a lie.

Kara knows his fa├žades as well as she knows her own. After these months on the run from the Cylons, after their arguments and conflicts, after their history and their present, Kara knows Lee Adama.

She's not afraid to face them.

So why is she so angry at him?

Is it because this is another lie? Another thing that seems to be what he wants, what he should have, but which she knows he hates?

Does she know he hates where he is, the path that's been laid out before him?

They circle each other, eyes watching for the next plan, watching chests for the next move.

They'll never get anywhere if one of them doesn't strike first. So Kara opens with a straight attack: a light punch to the jaw and a question.

"How's Elizabeth?"

Behind his fists, a dull flush touches his cheekbones. Or perhaps that's just the reflected colour of his gloves as he moves in and out of the shadows. "Fine." The response is snapped and the overhead lights show a tension about his mouth, but his next words are more measured.

Kara's eyes sting, but she keeps her gaze focused. Never let your guard down. Even when dealing with Lee Adama. Especially when dealing with Lee Adama. She should have learned that lesson long ago, but Lee has a way of seeping in the cracks of her defences.

She keeps her hands up, but looks for a point at which to attack as they circle. "Weren't they worried about complications?" Her strike against him is neatly blocked, his return strike is deflected from her jaw. No weaknesses there, no cracks in his armour.

She is all cracks, bleeding out of the wounds he can't or won't see.

"Doc Cottle isn't."

"Doc Cottle isn't worried about anything."

She lashes out again, watches him block, but he doesn't attack again. Instead, he dances back, and she follows, willing to be led.

It should scare her just how willing she was to be led.

"Your dad seems happy."

"Seems happy," he echoes.

Kara figures she can ask the question. She's his colleague. They've known each other for years. They know each other, inside out and upside down, far better than most people like, but not as well as most people think.

Not for wanting. Never for wanting.

"Are you happy, Lee?"

A gauntlet, laid down between them; a challenge to his indifference.

"Does it matter?"

She affects astonishment. "Answering a question with a question! Good evasion tactics, Captain."

Sarcasm. A solid bastion against him, against her. Reliable and familiar. Always works.

"What do you want me to say?" Frustration seeps into his voice; Kara can get at him, she's always known how to crawl under his skin. It once gave her a kind of pleasure. Now it's only pain.

"The truth," she tells him.

It's a lie. She doesn't want to hear the truth from him, not now. She can't afford the truth. They can't afford the truth.

She blocks his blow, returns one of her own.

"Kara..."

The truth is that their time is up, their possibilities ended. The bets are called and the cards are down, but Lee isn't a player, he's the stakes.

Anger surges; frustration swirls.

She takes one step back, out of the engagement zone, dropping her hands and peeling off her gloves. A slanting glance shows him frowning at her.

"Take the gloves off."

"What?"

"Don't argue, Lee. Just take off the frakking gloves!"

She sees the moment of hesitation, then agreement. He strips off the gloves, tosses them in the corner and faces her, waiting. But his stance is no longer defensive, and battle gleams in his eyes.

People believe she goads him into recklessness. They know nothing of Lee Adama.

And now they face each other. No more pretences or paddings; this is the meat of what and who they are and all they can be to each other: hurt, pain, and an endless fight that will leave them both bleeding, aching.

Nothing new there.

Skin slams up against skin as she strikes and he blocks. They dance around each other, giving hits, taking hits. Her muscles ache with her blows and his, and his lips pinch as her fists land on his flesh, inflicting pain on him as he has inflicted it on her.

Kara hates what he's done to them.

Circle. Guard. Watch.

She hates what she is.

Kick. Twist. Block.

She hates that she hates the situation they're in.

Strike. Punch. Hit.

She wishes it was her.

No. No. She doesn't. She doesn't want that, never wanted that.

Except for the part of her which did. Just a little. Possibly. Every now and then.

Her uppercut takes him in the gut, unexpected and unblocked. He reels back and she's on him in a moment, working out her rage and pain on his body because there's nothing else that will satisfy her.

There's nothing else that is allowed to satisfy her.

Lee takes her blows, endlessly blocking but never attacking. He lets her relieve her emotions on him with her fists, using his own skill to keep her from seriously injuring him.

She can let go with this man, confident that he can take what she gives him; and he can let go with her, knowing that she will hold him at bay. But they can't be what they want to be to each other, however well they work in tandem.

They were friends, colleagues, wingmates.

They could have been more.

They won't be.

There comes a point where it's no longer a fight; they're both on the floor in a tangled mess of limbs and skin. So close to sex, but not, her forehead resting in the curve of his shoulder as she gasps and sobs with exhaustion - nothing to do with what she and he have made of them.

His arm slips around her, holding her, sheltering her, and it's only a temporary shelter. He can't give her what she needs - no man can. She learned that painfully, one disappointment at a time.

But of all the men she's ever known - all the men she felt something for - Lee Adama came the closest to that cold, empty nothingness she calls her heart. Closer, even, than his brother, who she loved as best she was able and who could accept what she gave.

Kara looks up, and his face is too close. There is hunger in his eyes, in the brush of his mouth over her cheek. There is hunger in the hand that reaches for his jaw, in the turn of her lips towards his.

She pulls back. Even she has her limits of shamelessness.

"I...I'm sorry." He says it in the tones of someone doing an unpleasant duty. The best of Stoic Lee Adama. "Kara--"

She looks at him, a quick flash of warning, leavened by humour. "No takebacks, Lee."

It silences him, turns the pale cheek a warm shade of heat.

He said he loved her, once, and she pushed the point. He backed away after that, and she got the message. His barriers were as well crafted and inviolable as her own.

The world spins as she stands. So she bends over, hands on her knees, giving herself a moment's space to reorient.

And when she stands, he's watching her and the world is still out of joint.

They hold gazes for a moment, standing to sitting, blonde to bruno, woman to man, pilot to CAG. And his gaze is naked, fire-bright and bittersweet: he won't have what he wants and neither will she.

He holds up his hand, a plea. She takes it and helps him up because whatever else has happened, he's Lee.

But she breaks their connection because there's too much in him that she always and never wanted.

She can't have him. Not now, not ever.

A smile touches her lips, and her mask crackles beneath the strain. She hopes it doesn't show the inner fragility she tried to hide, but it's hard to tell. "You'll make a great dad."

The fingers on her wrist tense. He looks away. "Kara--"

"I'm off to get a wash," she says, interrupting him. She won't let him speak; she doesn't dare. There are times to break the rules and there are times to play the game and stand by your losses.

Kara knows she's lost.

She can't fight this and she won't. Because he deserves a woman who's not a screw-up, who wants his children, who can give him the home they're all searching for.

Still, she wishes he wouldn't let her walk away, wishes he didn't let her push open the door, glance back at him without another word. His expression is the hurt-confused look of a man who doesn't know what to say. Kara's always known she confuses him; she enjoyed it in her own way, familiar and safe.

Maybe that's why they are where they are.

Not-tears sting her eyes, and she won't have them fall, not before him. She assays a smile and knows it falls short. But it's all she has to offer him.

That and the belief that she's okay with this, that it doesn't hurt, that they're good.

"See you at the game later?" Just cards this time, no hearts. Never hearts.

And he accepts her gage. "Yeah. See you."

As she walks down the corridor, away from the gym, Kara forces herself to assume a blank expression. She will not cry, she will not grieve, she must not turn around and go back. There is no way back.

Kara Thrace wants him, but she wants him happy, too. And happiness is not for them. It never was.

She's the loser in this game. She always was.

The winner takes it all.

- fin -

FEEDBACK: Absolutely essential! I was determined this was going to be a one-shot, and then the morning after I finished it, I suddenly had an idea for a sequel. So...we'll see.