Notes: Finished at last. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing, guys. I might as well mention that I can see myself just maybe writing a sequel to this eventually. And by that I definitely mean...eventually. And maybe. LOL.
Days pass at a labored, painstaking pace. After the first month since she last saw him, Kara starts to hear more and more about Lee from Bill as it seems they are becoming less and less the estranged father and son they used to be. She feels this might be partly thanks to her and this gives her some great relief she never expected she would ever have.
Lee has apparently stopped asking about her. This is a relief, too.
One time Bill says to her with apparent surprise, "You never mentioned you saw Lee that other time you were home. He told me you two got to catch up quite a bit."
She sits very still on the couch next to him, keeping her eyes on the television. "Um...I guess I assumed you'd already heard."
"So you're staying in touch with him now."
"No. Not really. I mean...what for?" she says casually. "If he gets married or something I'm sure I'll hear about it from you."
Bill laughs lightly, shaking his head. Then he notices President Adar's face on the television and disapprovingly takes the remote to change the channel right away, forgetting the subject and letting her relax a little.
The gray shirt Lee brought back to her all washed and neatly folded has sat with her shoes on the floor of her closet ever since then and never been worn since. She can't help feeling like he should never have given it back. It is too clean for her to touch now. She doesn't even know how to accept something like that, the blind and unconditional pardon it offers.
One night Lee is waiting for one of his friends from the Poseidon to come over. He has been pointing out to him for weeks that he "never has fun anymore" as much as Lee keeps trying to convince him this isn't quite true, and even though most of the night is already gone he somehow found himself committed to going out with him tonight.
So he is very surprised after hearing a knock at his door and opening it to see someone else waiting there.
Kara leans against the doorway, giving a slow smile that promises no good. There is something unfamiliar and very disturbing in her eyes that seems to tell him already how this is going to go.
"Here," she says in a lazy voice, throwing him his red shirt which looks like it's been lying underneath something on her floor for months. "I didn't wash it."
She passes him and comes right inside before Lee has even been able to completely register what is going on. He watches her head toward the kitchen and just stays by the door, not shutting it behind her yet. All at once he realizes, only now, how angry he has been at her. Despite some of the last words he said to her, he suddenly feels like he can't do this all over again.
"Kara," he says stiffly as she goes to get into his cabinet. "What the frak are you doing here?"
"Hey, look," she says, finding the same ambrosia bottle they were drinking from the last time she was here, barely touched since then. "I don't know why you even buy this stuff."
He quickly shuts the door as she starts screwing off the cap from the bottle and goes over to her, stops her by pulling it away. "Dammit, Kara—I'm kind of expecting somebody," he says, starting to sound irritated.
She giggles stupidly, and Lee can conclude now that she has definitely already had a little to drink. "Well, whoever she is, I'm sure you can live without it for one night. I hear cold water is the trick," she adds with a snicker.
He angrily shakes his head, grabs her arm very hard and starts forcefully pulling her toward the door. "Hell with this," he says. "Obviously after a few drinks you can forget you've wanted nothing to do with me for three months."
He stops a few feet from the door when he hears another knock. "Great," he sighs, not looking forward to explaining this.
Kara has stopped smiling, looking away into the air with a somewhat dead expression, and she suddenly says quietly, "I talked to your father today."
Lee looks over at her, slowly understanding the meaning behind her words and then widening his eyes with shock. It all makes sense now, the beaten look in her eyes like something terrible has happened to her, why she would come to him...
They hear another knock, and Lee awkwardly looks toward the door for a moment. "Okay...okay," he just says, his voice much more soft now, touching Kara's back to turn her around and give her a push toward the couch. "Just...sit down. Hang on a minute."
She slowly starts heading toward the couch, stopping to turn and watch him as he goes outside into the hall to talk to his friend, leaving the door open a crack so that Kara can just faintly hear their soft speech. After sinking down into his couch, she sits leaning over with her arms crossed and just staring down at the table.
After telling his friend something to explain having to back out of their plans, Lee comes back in and shuts the door. Then he stops and meets eyes with her a moment as she looks up, both of them just looking pacified and regretful. Then he turns and goes back to his kitchen counter, opens a cabinet to get out one shot glass. Her face changes just a little into a light smirk as he brings it with the ambrosia bottle over to her and sits down next to her. Still not saying anything for a while, he pours a shot and slides it right in front of her, as if admitting she could probably use it right now.
Kara just stays very still, staring at the glass and not touching it. She shakes her head, her face starting to look devastated. "Why did I tell him?" she says very softly. "I don't know what the hell made me...It was terrible."
"What happened?" he asks.
She draws in a long breath. "Well...I guess ever since you and him have gotten on better terms, he's been wondering what exactly brought on the change. Even though I know it wasn't just that, of course...But you did tell him we saw each other last Mars Day weekend..."
"And he realized that must have had something to do with it," Lee assumes.
She nods, starting to look miserable again. "He starts saying, 'I don't know what you said to him to try to change things, but it means a lot to me' and telling me how much I've helped him as long as we've known each other just by being there, like the daughter he never had...Of course I couldn't frakking hide how bad it made me feel to hear all that and he started asking me what was wrong and saying, 'Every time I talk about Lee around you or you around him you both act like you're hiding something.' I know I should have just lied, but I couldn't after he'd said those things, when he was looking at me like that...I'm sure you're used to the way he looks at you like he knows everything. Gods dammit..."
She finally picks up the shot of ambrosia and quickly drinks it down. They both sit looking forward in silence for a while, and then Kara just gives a long sigh.
"And then he told me to get out," she finishes quietly.
After a while Lee has a sudden thought and asks, "Did you just walk here?"
She nods. "Well...not from my place. I was at the park before. Just...sitting." She stops, thinking back on it, and then laughs a little. "I don't actually have any idea what I'm doing here. I just ended up...coming this way..."
He turns his head to look right at her and says quietly, "It's okay...I didn't really feel like doing anything with that guy anyway."
Kara smiles faintly. Then after a long moment of silence in which she seems to be summoning some kind of nerve, she starts speaking again, her tone reflective and thoughtful. "It was a really long time ago," she begins, making him look over at her again with some confusion. "I hadn't met you yet. Zak and I weren't even together yet, we'd just gone out for lunch or drinks a couple times after running into each other around the school. It was a year to the day since...well, anyway, it hadn't been a good day and I was in a really rotten mood..."
Lee almost wants to ask if she is talking about something that happened a year after her mother died, but something tells him interrupting her at all is going to break this extremely fragile moment of honesty, and he stays silent.
"So really late that night I was stupid and got in my car when I'd had too much to drink," she says. "Went for a few blocks before realizing I shouldn't be driving and then pulled over and just went to sleep there. Then a while later a cop showed up, and I had to make myself look as guilty as possible right away by giving him an attitude after he woke me up, and of course he took me in. I was short about a hundred cubits for what I needed for bail, and I had literally no friends in town right then who I could have borrowed some money from...I couldn't think of anything more humiliating than calling one of my students. And I felt like I was taking advantage of him somehow. But I happened to have Zak's number written down with me and somehow I was sure he wouldn't tell anyone about it and I could trust him..."
Lee's face is filling with disbelief as he starts understanding. She looks to the side at him and smirks.
"When I called him, he just seemed to think it was kind of funny," she continues, and then smiles fondly as she remembers. "Got a little flirty with me on the phone, if you can believe it, joking about what a nice surprise it was to hear from me. As if it was absolutely nothing serious. And after that I couldn't believe how it just...didn't seem to make him feel differently about me. At all. Gods...I can't believe he never even told you about this. When I mentioned the time I've been arrested, I kind of assumed..."
He smiles a little, shaking his head. "I guess he wasn't really as naive about it as it seemed," he says.
Kara looks forward again, still thinking back on the memory in detail, and then she shakes her head a little as her expression turns very sad. "He was just...such a good person..."
Lee's face takes on the same look as hers and then gives a sad smile. "I know."
"He deserved to have everything. Everything he wanted. Even if he wasn't qualified, all I could think was how frakking unfair it was to...I just couldn't do it. I didn't think about what I was doing. I just had to give that to him."
He looks straight at her now, speaking softly. "Kara. I know," he says again.
She turns her face to look in the opposite direction of him a moment, wiping at one of her eyes.
"Look at me," Lee says, and waits until she does. "You did it because you loved him. This didn't happen because you didn't love him enough. Or because we...deserved it somehow, or because I was a coward and joined the service instead of finding my own way and he was following my example when he was never really cut out for it. It was an accident. Okay?"
She shakes her head a little, smiling darkly. "It's easy to say it, huh?" she says.
He smiles back, an admission that it's not that simple. "Yeah, well...It's time one of us was at least able to say it."
Kara sighs, thinking a while, and then seems to struggle a moment to bring herself to speak again. "Are we okay?" she then asks softly.
This time when he smiles at her, it is very warmly, with a kind of final calm. "Sure. We're okay."
She grins a little, almost guiltily, and asks, "You sure you aren't still a little mad at me?"
He shrugs. "Maybe. I'm sure I'll get over it. It's not like I didn't...you know...have my own part in what happened, after all."
She grins again with a soft, almost nervous-sounding giggle.
Lee's face starts looking vaguely troubled, and then he says, "Just...let me know what to expect from you, okay? If you're going to take off and vanish without a trace again because that's what you have to do, try to make sure you say goodbye."
She looks at him a long time, her eyes becoming a little sad again. Her voice coming out just faintly, she says slowly, "One day I'm going to hurt you so badly that you won't want to keep letting me come back."
The words do not completely pass him, sinking in as a briefly serious look in his eyes, but then he just smirks a little. "I don't think so. I've sort of learned my lesson now."
"I'm serious. That's what I do."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to see," he says lightly.
She rolls her eyes a little, sighs heavily as a thought comes to her. "I have to go now," she says. "I've got a frakking dental appointment early tomorrow..."
He laughs a little, standing up along with her.
"Thanks for the drink," she says as she starts walking with tired reluctance toward the door, and he knows she means a lot more than that.
"Hey," he says, touching her shoulder, and she turns to face him again. He hesitates a little awkwardly for a second, then steps forward and pulls her into a hug. She accepts it easily, bringing her arms around him securely and closing her eyes, and he feels her breathing very deeply as if with great relief. There is the strong instant feeling of something locking tightly into place, a very heavy latch dropping.
"Don't worry about my dad," he says softly. "He'll forgive you. Just give him a while."
She gives a tiny nod with her face still buried tightly in his shoulder where it still fits so snugly. Then after a while he slides his hands down her arms a moment as he pulls away and goes to open the door for her.
Kara stops in front of him, feeling the need to say something more. "I'll...um..."
He just nods knowingly. "I'll see you around."
She smiles softly, nodding. "Yeah." Then leaves through the door, feels his eyes on her watching her leave down the hall as he keeps standing in the doorway a while, but just smiles to herself a little instead of turning and giving him a last look.
As long as Lee takes no risks, he ends up watching his life fall into a comfortable pattern and stay neatly folded into its confining and orderly shape. He is perfectly comfortable and healthy this way because this is the kind of person he is. He thinks, calculates, measures the practicality and chance of failure before making any move. And whenever she comes along again she always turns this safe order in which his life is arranged into a demolished wreckage, never failing to leave her mark that way. A stitched gash on his knee, pieces of a broken bottle with sharp edges like the angles of her body that feel so familiar to his hands in the dark, something he should know better than to touch if he wants to protect himself.
And yet he'll always keep letting her return through his door, because he knows with all the warnings she gave him about letting her come back the one thing she wasn't considering is that one day she might actually want to stay, and he hopes he isn't just unbelievably stupid for believing in her more than she does.
Because the sharp angles still fit too perfectly against his smoother ones, impossibly but undeniably, completing some not yet entirely beautiful but meaningful shape. Because after such a long time there is something detestable about the safety and order, the easy and mundane pattern, and even though he knows how it is probably always going to go, there is something about the reckless and destructive force she brings with her that feels like the only real breaths of air he gets in between the cold and clean spaces. After too long of missing it he will take it as long as she'll stay around before the moment she says, "I have to go now," and then all goes quiet again.