The Art of Making Friends
Kara Thrace had a lot of expectations from her new life at Fleet Academy.
An escape from her mother. A place to belong. A chance to succeed.
But she didn't expect to find friends there.
She'd never really had friends. What she had were hangers-on or cronies; kids she smoked with behind the bike sheds, or hung out with on street corners with waiting for something to happen. But they weren't really friends. It was easier that way. Friends might feel they could ask why you had bruises on your arms again, or wonder why they were never invited to your house. Friends might see below the surface.
But she thought sometimes it would be nice to have one.
Kara met Karl Agathon in the second month of academy. The first chaos of basic training was over, and they were settling down into the routine of classes. She'd gone to the campus bar with a few cadets from her computing mechanics class, but drifted away from them as their conversation got too technical. She couldn't wait till her second year, when she could specialise and drop all these tedious subjects.
There was a card game in progress in the corner of the bar, and she stopped to watch it as she sipped her beer. Three of the players were frowning over their cards, intent on the game, but the fourth was just leaning back in his chair with a lazy grin. He didn't look as though he was capable of being intense about anything.
He's going to win, Kara thought, and she was right. When they all finally revealed their cards, he tossed his down with a wide grin. "Full colours."
"Not again, Agathon!" The other players groaned as he pulled his winnings towards him, and one stood up in disgust.
"That's it for the evening. I'm all out." He scowled at Agathon and headed off.
"Pity," said one of the girls at the table, pulling a face. "The game's better with four."
Agathon shrugged. "The night's still young. I'm sure we can find another player." He looked over at Kara. "How about you?"
"Me?" Kara jumped. She hadn't even realised he'd noticed her standing there.
"Yes, you," said Agathon, grinning. "Ever played triad before?"
"No." She took a step forward. It looked fun, and she always picked games up quickly. "But I'll give it a go."
"Sit down," said Agathon, with a generous wave of his hand. "I'm sure you'll soon get the hang of it."
Kara did. She quickly worked out the secret of the game was the quality of your bluffing rather than the strength of your hand, and bluffing was one thing living with her mother had taught her to be good at. By the end of the evening she'd even managed to win a few cubits.
"You're not bad," said Agathon, as they left the bar. "Want to play again tomorrow?" He grinned. "There are a few tricks I could teach you. Might be profitable."
Kara smiled. "You're on."
Agathon – or Karl, as she was soon calling him – ended up teaching her everything he knew about triad.
"Easier to work the game with two," he said, with a sly grin. "A partner can provide a distraction at a crucial moment."
He was right. It was easier, and the two of them had a profitable few months before the other first year cadets wised up and started refusing to play with them.
Kara liked Karl. His laid-back attitude could be infuriating, but it had its uses; when she got into a confrontation with another cadet – which happened fairly frequently – he was always ready with a joking comment to defuse the situation, or to use his size to intimidate her opponent when that failed. Without him, Kara would have ended up in hack a lot more than five times that first term.
Once she awkwardly tried to thank him for it, and he looked at her in genuine surprise.
"Don't be stupid, Kara. What are friends for?"
Kara stared at him, a sudden warmth springing up inside her. "So we're friends?"
Karl looked puzzled. "Of course we are." He grinned at her. "I don't share my triad secrets with just anyone, you know."
By their second term, Kara and Karl were inseparable. She recruited him for their barrack's pyramid team, and he lent her notes for all the lectures she hadn't bothered to attend when exams loomed up threateningly. They spent hours hanging out in Karl's room, smoking and swapping dirty jokes, gossiping about their fellow cadets, or just sitting there in comfortable silence.
Kara was glad to escape from her own room, because she didn't get on with her room mate. Rena Shaw was one of those high-flying and well-connected cadets to whom success came easily, the kind who would be on the fast-track to command as soon as they graduated from academy. She regarded Kara, with her smart mouth and hack record and seat-of-the-pants attitude, with barely concealed disdain, as did her group of like-minded friends who seemed to hang around their room constantly.
Kara fought back, of course. She deliberately annoyed Rena at every opportunity, smoking cigars with the window closed, leaving her possessions strewn across the floor, mocking Rena's friends with the most cutting nicknames she could think of. But deep down their attitude hurt. She'd seen the look they gave her in too many other eyes before, the one that said she didn't belong, that she was a waste of space, that she'd never amount to anything. Seen it from teachers, parents, other kids-
And deep down, she knew they were all right.
So it was a relief to escape to Karl's room, to somewhere she felt comfortable.
Karl was always pleased to see her, and his room mate never seemed to be there. Karl said he spent all his time at the library studying. "Never takes his nose out of a book."
"I'm beginning to doubt he exists at all," said Kara. She looked at the other half of the room, the neatly made bed which looked as if it was never slept in, the textbooks stacked precisely on the desk. "I mean, who lives like that?" There were no personal possessions, no everyday clutter…it was unnatural. "I think you made him up so you could get a room to yourself."
Karl rolled his eyes and threw a lollipop at her.
Kara had had a bitch of a day. Her astrodynamics teacher had thrown her latest assignment back in her face and told her to redo it or he'd fail her, and astrodynamics was one of the subjects she needed to pass if she was to achieve her dream of getting into flight school. Looking forward to drowning her sorrows at the bar with Karl, she'd gone back to her room to change only to find that Rena had 'accidentally' spilled soda over her last clean tank top, so she'd had to come out wearing an old one, feeling sweaty, grubby and furious.
She launched into a tirade before Karl had fully opened the door. "Karl, you will not believe what that bitch just did-"
She broke off, realising she was staring at thin air. She moved her gaze downwards to meet a pair of cool blue eyes.
"You're not Karl."
"No, I'm not," said the cadet in the doorway with faint sarcasm. "Karl's in the head, he'll be back in a minute. You can come in and wait if you want." He stepped back, leaving the door open, and went to sit back at the desk on the far side of the room.
Kara blinked in surprise. So Karl's room mate did exist, and more than that, she recognised him. He was in several of her classes, although she'd never spoken to him; he was the kind of student who sat in the front row conscientiously scribbling down every word, while she tended to sit at the back and pass notes to Karl.
She'd noticed him during the first few days of academy; well, she suspected most of the female cadets had. She remembered thinking that anyone who joined the military with a pretty boy face like that would need a hell of a right hook to back it up.
She sat down on Karl's bed. His room mate ignored her, picking up his pen and beginning to write.
She'd never liked being ignored. "I'm Kara Thrace," she said loudly.
He turned to look at her, seeming surprised that she'd spoken. "I know who you are."
"Right." Kara blinked again, not quite sure how to take that. Maybe her stints in hack had made her more notorious than she'd thought…or maybe he'd just heard Karl mention her. "And you are?"
"Adama?" She frowned. "That name sounds familiar."
His face seemed to stiffen slightly. "My father's in the fleet."
"Oh yeah," she said, recognition dawning. "William Adama. I've seen his name on the wall of honour in the entrance hall. He was a viper pilot in the Cylon war, wasn't he? Won three medals."
"Bet he must have some good stories to tell." She smiled at him, perking up as she always did at the mention of vipers.
Lee Adama didn't smile back. "He does." He bit the words off and then deliberately turned his back on her again, head bending over his books.
Kara stared at his rigid back, affronted and confused. She'd just been trying to be friendly…gods, she'd had it with these smug model cadets who thought they were too good to talk to her. She was just about to grab his shoulder and tell him what an asshole he was when Karl finally appeared, rubbing his wet hair with a towel.
"Ready to hit the bar, Kara?" he said cheerfully. "I see you've met Lee, then. I told you he really did exist."
Kara scowled. "Let's go, Karl. I've had a crappy day and I need a drink."
Karl took a closer look at her, and the teasing expression was replaced by sympathy. "So I see. We're on double measures tonight then?"
Karl dropped his towel and sat down to pull on his boots. "Don't worry, a few shots and you'll forget all about it." He glanced towards his room mate. "How about you, Lee? Fancy joining us?"
The words 'no frakking way' hovered on Kara's lips, but Adama saved her the trouble of protesting.
"No thanks, Karl. I've got studying to do."
Karl laughed. "You've always got studying to do. I swear I'm going to drag you to the bar at least once this year. You can make it my birthday present next week."
"Okay." Adama turned back to his work.
"Gods, what a tight-ass!" exploded Kara as soon as they left the barracks. "I don't know how the hell you put up with him."
Karl looked at her in surprise. "He's not that bad. Bit stiff and serious, but at least he's quiet. What did he do to piss you off?"
"Acted like a complete asshole," Kara snapped. "All I did was ask a question about his father-"
"Uh-oh. Bad topic. He doesn't like people mentioning his father," said Karl. "Well, I can see his point. Can't be much fun to have people throwing your old man's reputation in your face all the time."
"I wasn't throwing anything in his face," said Kara tightly. "And he's still an asshole."
"Thank the lords he didn't come with us," she said peevishly. "He'd ruin the evening in five minutes."
Karl shrugged. "Better hope he doesn't come to my birthday party then."
Much to Kara's surprise, Lee Adama did come to the bar the following week for Karl's birthday. Even more surprisingly, after chatting to Karl for a few minutes, greeting some other cadets and dodging a drunken girl who tried to hug him, he headed straight for the spot where Kara was propping up the bar.
Not that she was watching him or anything.
He stopped next to her. "Can I get you a drink?"
Kara ignored him.
She heard him clear his throat. "I said, can I get you a drink?"
Kara turned to look at him. "I'm sorry, who are you talking to?" she said in her most scathing voice. "Surely you can't be deigning to talk to me."
Adama flushed slightly, but he didn't back away. "Look, I'm sorry about the other night. I didn't mean – I was in a bad mood, that's all. It wasn't anything personal." He smiled apologetically. "Let me buy you a drink to make up for it."
Kara eyed him suspiciously. She didn't want to look like a pushover, but he seemed sincere enough. And he did have a nice smile.
"All right. But it had better be an expensive drink."
She expected that to shake him, but he just nodded. "Fine. You can choose."
Kara looked over the more expensive bottles of ambrosia on the back shelf of the bar. "Okay. I'll have a shot of Aerilon Fire."
Kara caught the hesitation in his voice. "What? You said I could choose."
"Yes, but…you do realise that Tauron Spark is far better value? It has a much higher alcohol percentage per measure-"
Kara burst out laughing. "Gods, you really are a nerd, aren't you? I'll have Aerilon Fire. It tastes better."
She half expected him to stalk off in offence, but he just shrugged and placed the order with the barman. Kara raised her eyebrows as he ordered a shot of Tauron Spark for himself.
"I thought Karl said you didn't go to the bar."
He paid the barman and turned to look at her, smiling slightly. "I don't, often. So when I do I make the most of it."
The barman put two shot glasses in front of them. Adama picked up his glass and touched it to hers. "Apology accepted?"
Kara allowed herself to smile back. "Accepted."
They both downed their shots in one swallow. Kara noticed he choked a little on the aftertaste and grinned cockily.
"Told you Aerilon Fire tasted better. Ambrosia isn't a subject for nerds."
Again, he surprised her by not taking offence. Perhaps he had been in an unusually bad mood the other evening. "Maybe not, but astrodynamics is." He lifted an eyebrow as she stiffened. "Karl mentioned you needed some help?"
"I might," said Kara tightly. Karl had no right to go around saying things like that. She wasn't some charity case, for Artemis' sake.
Her anger must have shown in her face, because Adama was now looking at her warily. "Well, the offer's there if you want it. Just let me know."
"Okay," said Kara, feeling slightly bad. It was Karl she was angry at, not him. "Thanks," she added awkwardly.
They were interrupted at that moment by some players from Kara's pyramid team, wanting to discuss tactics for the upcoming game against C Barracks. Lee Adama drifted away, and Kara didn't speak to him again for the rest of the evening, though she caught glimpses of him around the bar. He seemed to hang on the edges of the crowd, spending more time watching and listening to others than talking himself.
Until late into the evening, when Kara spotted him deep in discussion with a pretty second year girl who lived on her corridor. They both seemed completely absorbed in their conversation, barely aware what was going on around them.
It made Kara curious, so the next time she went to the head, she passed close enough to them on the way back to hear what they were saying.
She only caught a few words, but they were clear enough. "Freedom of speech…Tom Zarek…equality for all the colonies..."
Kara grinned broadly. "Total nerd," she muttered with amusement, and headed back to the bar.
"Okay. Let's go through this again. The second law of astrodynamics is that the rate of change of momentum of a body is proportional to the resultant force acting on the body and is in the same direction."
"So if a force generates a motion, a double force will generate double the motion, a triple force will generate triple the motion…"
"Thrace, will you stop that?"
"That. Stop tapping that pencil."
"It helps me concentrate."
"Well, it distracts me from what I'm saying. So stop it."
"Okay, okay. Lighten up."
"So…as I was saying, if a force generates a motion…no, you tell me. How do you write the second law as a differential equation?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know. That's the whole reason you're tutoring me, isn't it?"
"I just went over that equation five minutes ago."
"Have you been listening to a word I've been saying?"
"Of course I have!"
"Okay then, let's recap. You write the second law as an equation like this…"
"Frak it, Adama!"
"You broke my pencil!"
"Well, I told you to stop tapping it!"
"Let's get back to the textbook, shall we? Here's the equation – F is force, and m is mass…"
"I can't believe you broke my pencil."
"That's vandalism, you know."
"No, it was not."
"Destroying other people's property is called vandalism where I come from."
"Fine, whatever. Can we get back to astrodynamics now?"
"V is velocity…"
"I could prosecute you if I wanted."
"Will you shut up about the frakking pencil!"
"There's no need to shout."
"You know, Thrace, I don't have to be doing this. I only offered as a favour to Karl. I've got a hundred better ways to waste my time than trying to get the basic laws of astrodynamics through your thick head."
"So now you think I'm stupid?"
"I didn't mean-"
"Well, that's just great. You know, Adama, you're a really crappy teacher."
"And how would you know that? It's not as if you've bothered to pay attention to a single word I've said-"
"I was listening!"
"No you weren't! Right, that's it, we're done. I've had enough."
"What? You're going to kick me out? Just because I'm having a few little problems?"
"Yes. I'm not tutoring someone who can't be bothered to take it seriously."
"Frak you. Tell me, is there a good view up there on your high horse?"
"All you're doing is proving my point."
"Oh, get the stick out of your ass."
"Whatever, Thrace. Just don't come complaining to me when you fail astrodynamics."
Kara flung herself down on the grass next to Karl. "Frakking arrogant bastard…"
Karl waited until she'd run out of swear words before he looked away from the pyramid game he was watching. "Who can you be talking about?"
Kara barely resisted the urge to punch the smug grin off his face. "You know damn well who I'm talking about."
"What did he do now?"
Kara told him. In detail.
When she finally wound down, Karl just looked at her in a way that made her shift uncomfortably. "Kara."
"What?" she snapped.
"Were you actually listening to what he was saying?"
Karl continued to look at her.
"Well…some of it. I was trying to! But it's just so boring…"
"Kara. Do you want to fail astrodynamics?"
She thought of the first time she'd seen a viper soaring in the sky, of how she'd felt last month when a third year had snuck her into a sim.
"Then you know what you need to do."
"Frak you, Karl."
Lee Adama was still in his room when she went back. He listened to her awkward, half-defiant apology without comment. His face was blank and his eyes cool, and Kara braced herself, waiting for him to tell her to get out.
"All right," he said finally. "We'll give it one more try."
Kara stared at him, and then hurriedly sat down before he changed his mind.
"Shall we start at the beginning again?"
"Okay." She opened the textbook, determined to concentrate this time.
He slid something across the desk towards her. "Here, Kara, you can have this." He hadn't used her first name before.
Kara looked down to see a shiny red pencil, freshly sharpened.
She bit her lip. "Thanks, Lee."
He was watching her with a half smile. "Does that mean you're not going to prosecute me?"
"Andrews isn't going to make it."
"What?" Kara finished fastening her elbow guards and stared at Karl in consternation. "Why the hell not?"
"He got in a fight with Johnson in the mess hall and Captain Forrester sent them both straight to hack. He won't be able to play."
There was a chorus of groans from the rest of the D Barracks pyramid team.
"Frak." Kara kicked angrily at the tarmac. "If we're a player down we'll have to pull out. Just because Andrews can't control his temper-"
Karl looked as if he was tempted to make a comment about pots and kettles but Kara glared him to silence.
"Maybe we can find someone else to play," he said instead.
"Yeah, right," said one of the other players. "There's only fifteen minutes before the game, and half the barracks are away on that survival training course."
"There must be someone."
Kara frowned, struck by a sudden idea. "Karl, is Lee around?"
"Yes, he's up in our room. Studying, as usual."
"I'm sure he said he played pyramid at school…hang on."
She ran across the pyramid court. Fortunately D Barracks was only just around the corner. She hurtled up the stairs to the first floor, almost knocking over several people on her way, and burst into Karl's room.
Lee turned round from his desk, raising his eyebrows at her sudden appearance. "Hello, Kara."
"Lee. You've played pyramid before, haven't you?"
"Just answer, Lee. It's important."
"Well…yes, I used to play at school, but-"
"Great." She pulled him to his feet. "Get changed for a game and hurry up."
"Kara, I really need to finish this assignment-"
"Lee, let me spell this out for you. We are playing C Barracks in fifteen minutes and we're one player short. If we can't get a replacement we'll be disqualified from the tournament. So for once, could you just think of something other than your frakking assignments?" She gritted her teeth and forced out a final word. "Please?"
Lee stared at her for a moment, eyes bright with amusement. He chuckled.
"You said please. Did that hurt?"
"All right, all right, I'll play. Meet you outside in five."
Kara was half expecting to have to chase him up, but of course he joined her in exactly five minutes, punctual as ever.
"You owe me a drink for this though, Kara. Maybe several."
"Fine." Kara pulled him down the stairs.
"What's the vacant position?"
"Oh, that's fine, I've played there before."
Kara was surprised. He seemed the type to play defence to her. More suited to his temperament. But they didn't have time to switch the positions around now.
"Look, no-one's expecting anything of you, Lee. Just try to keep up and pass to me when you can, okay?"
"Okay." There was an odd expression in his blue eyes. "I'll try not to embarrass you."
She should have figured it, Kara thought afterwards. Nothing about Lee Adama was ever quite as she expected.
Lee didn't just know how to play pyramid, he was damned good at it. Nowhere near as good as she was, of course, he wasn't on the pro level, but he was better than most of the other players on the team. Looked like he wasn't a complete nerd after all.
She watched him with mounting surprise and indignation, and during half-time she grabbed his arm.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"That you could play like this. We could use you on the team."
A wistful expression flashed across his face, but he shook his head. "I haven't got time to waste playing pyramid."
"For the gods' sake, Lee, you can't spend your whole life studying."
Something flickered in his eyes. "I can't afford to flunk out, Kara. My dad-"
The whistle blew for the start of play, and Kara was glad of the interruption. She knew Lee's dad was a topic best left alone.
What really surprised her, she decided as play resumed, wasn't so much Lee's level of play as his style of play. She'd been dead wrong in pegging him as a defence player. He fought for each point as fiercely as she did herself, tackling other players without mercy and going for opportunities wherever he saw one. She hadn't realised he had such an aggressive streak under that quiet surface.
He worked well with her, too. He seemed to understand what was going through her head, passing the ball at just the right moment to set up her shots. It was almost uncanny.
They won decisively, and Kara decided she was going to make Lee a permanent member of the team even if she had to burn his textbooks and drag him to the matches at gunpoint.
She didn't have to go to quite those extremes. It took some nagging, but Lee finally agreed to join the pyramid team. He obviously enjoyed the games, and Kara had a suspicion that he was glad her nagging had provided him with an excuse to allow himself to play. However, he still spent what Kara considered to be a ridiculous amount of time huddled over his books.
Which was why she ended up in the campus bar one night drinking alone. Karl was away on survival training, and Lee had some test to prepare for that was apparently so important that it was even proof against her pestering.
There was no-one Kara really knew there when she first arrived, which meant she spent an hour on her own sitting at the bar and drinking far more than she usually did. To the point where pushing her way into a triad game with a group of third year cadets seemed like a good idea, and cleaning them all out of their last cubits seemed like an even better one. She was flying so high on ambrosia and victory that she didn't really notice the black scowls some of the other players were sending her.
She left the bar and wandered back towards D Barracks, tossing a cubit in the air and laughing as it slipped through her fingers.
Then three of her triad opponents emerged from the shadows and cornered her against the wall of the library.
She could have talked herself out of it if she'd been less drunk. But she was too far gone to control her tongue, and when they accused her of cheating she lost her temper and said a few things she probably shouldn't have, and before she knew it one of them was slamming his fist into her face.
Kara reeled back against the library wall, struggling to catch her breath, and knew she had no chance. Not against three of them, certainly not in her current state. Maybe she should just give them what they wanted and hand over her winnings…
No. Frak that. They were her cubits now, she'd won them fair and square, and she wasn't going to give them up without a fight. She clenched her fists, yelled defiantly, and fought back.
She took one guy out by kicking him in the balls, and had the satisfaction of breaking another's nose before he swung hard and knocked her to the ground, keeping her there with a vicious kick to the ribs.
Kara gasped with pain. Everything blurred for a moment, and she struggled not to vomit as someone yelled above her. There was a crack and a thump and a groan, and then someone grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet.
She struggled to escape, swinging out with her free hand.
"Kara, don't! It's me!"
Now she seemed to be hallucinating. "Lee?"
"Come on!" He started to run, dragging her along with him. The world came back into focus. Kara looked back to see one of her attackers struggling to his feet, and ran.
They didn't stop until they reached the safety of D Barracks and Lee's room. Kara dropped down onto Karl's bed, wheezing heavily.
Lee knelt down next to her. "Are you okay?"
He looked at her more closely and grimaced. "You're going to have a black eye. Who were those bastards, anyway? Three against one…" His mouth twisted in disgust. His face was flushed and his eyes bright, and he looked more animated than she had ever seen him. That aggressive streak coming out again. "Here, I'll get you a damp cloth." He picked up a bottle of water from his desk.
Kara barely registered what he was saying, still too bewildered by what had just happened. One minute she'd been facing total defeat and a probable stay in sick bay, and the next…
"What were you even doing there?"
"Well, I finished revising, so I thought I'd come to the bar and join you. Good thing I chose the path by the library and saw them attacking you."
"And you just pitched in?" Kara blinked at him, her breath catching.
Kara glared at him, trying to ignore the stupid lump in her throat. "Dammit Lee, you could have got yourself hurt."
Lee looked irritated. "Kara, I know how to handle myself in a fight." He glanced down at his right hand and rubbed it ruefully. Kara could see the grazes standing out on his knuckles, red and angry.
She started to laugh. "I was right."
Lee looked confused. "About what?"
"I figured that anyone who'd join the military with a pretty boy face like yours had to have a hell of a right hook."
She giggled loudly and then broke off abruptly as she realised what she'd just said.
Damn it. Me and my frakking big mouth. Why can't I learn to keep it shut? After he's just saved my ass too…
She bit her lip, waiting for Lee's mouth to snap shut, for his eyes to ice over as he told her to frak off, but then he surprised her yet again.
Kara had never seen him laugh properly before. It lit up his whole face, banishing his usual cool reserve and transforming him into someone warm and approachable. She felt something twist in her stomach.
Damn. He really was too pretty for his own good. Or should that be her own good?
It took Lee a good thirty seconds to stop laughing.
"You really have no idea of the meaning of the word tact, do you?" His blue eyes smiled into hers, and Kara swallowed.
"Hey, you're the swot around here, not me," she said awkwardly.
"How could I forget?" Lee turned away, picking up a flannel and dampening it with the water from his bottle, and Kara could breathe again.
He pressed the damp flannel into her hand. "Here. Hold that against your eye."
Kara did as she was told. It did stem the throbbing a little.
She realised Lee was watching her with that irritating half smile of his. "What?"
The half smile grew into a smirk. "So, you think I'm pretty?"
Kara resorted to her most sarcastic tone. "Don't let it go to your head, Adama. Pretty's not my type."
"I'll remember that," said Lee solemnly.
He didn't stop smirking though, so she had to throw the wet flannel in his face.
And from that evening onwards Kara Thrace had two friends.