I wrote this just after I had seen Collaborators, and finished it after I'd seen torn. I didn't really make any edits after having seen later episodes but I think most of it works with cannon anyway. I think, after what Starbuck went through, it would take a little more than the Admiral kicking her out of her chair to get better. This happens sometime before that. Beginning is mostly narrative with the last half being mostly dialogue.
She was in the gym again.
Lee paced outside the doors. He didn't want to go in. He wasn't ready to face her, but she didn't look like she was going to let that punching bag go any time soon and one look at his shrinking-but-still-very-present gut was enough to tell him that he couldn't put off working out just because of his cowardice.
This wasn't the first time they had been in the gym together. She had been back on board for a month and had been in the gym for hours every night almost since her arrival. The first few nights he saw her there he didn't go in. He ran back to his quarters knowing Dee would understand, but hopefully not think too little of him for it.
After three nights of avoidance, he finally entered the gym. He had taken a deep breath to steady himself and then walked in nonchalantly. As if they were just strangers sharing a public gym. She took no notice of him, and he wondered if she was ignoring him like he was her, or if she honestly had no idea that he was there, so intent was her focus on the punching bag.
He worked for a grueling two hours, tacitly ignoring her presence and letting himself get enveloped by the rhythm and flow of his workout, the blood pounding, the pace of his breathing. When he left two hours later, soaked with sweat and utterly spent, she made no sign of recognition, still pummeling away at the punching bag.
Lee didn't pay attention to her during the day. He was dimly aware of reports of her causing problems, starting fights, and being a general pain in the ass. He had just enough resentment left in him to roll his eyes at them. Typical frakking Starbuck. There was a time when he would have gone to her. Would have called her out on it, covered her ass or pushed it to work through whatever the frak her deal was, but those days were long over. It wasn't his job to sort out her shit anymore, thank the gods. They hadn't spoken since she came on board. Was it weird? Yes. Was it painful? Absolutely. But it was for the best.
His workout lengthened into three hours as he got more in shape, and she was still there every night, starting before he got there and still pummeling away after he left. Never making any sign that there was anyone there but her, the punching bag, and her demons.
It was a small ship, and they had once been close. Word would inevitably get back to him here and there about her fights, her recent split with her husband, her trash talk and increasingly destructive behavior. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. He made snide comments in response. There was a time when his father would have asked him to talk to her. When both Adama men would care for her. Those days were long over.
She crossed a line, or several. She was thrown into the brig for several days. The cell time was well deserved and he had no qualms about it. He went to the gym that night and carried on his long workout. He had never realized until now how her relentless pounding into the punching bag factored into the rhythm of his workout.
She was still in the cell, and the gym rang with the same odd stillness that had permeated it for the past two nights when he decided to have a round with the now-free punching bag. He wrapped up his hands and approached the bag, only to find it smeared with blood. He looked in the trash to find a pile of bloody hand wrappings in there. The next day he told the maintenance department to do a trash pickup around the gym area and pushed it from his mind.
A week later she was back. Per usual, she said nothing as he entered and he kept his silence, finding the rhythm of his workout much more easily than before. He left after two hours, spent and pleased with himself as she continued to pound the bag behind him.
Dee knew about Starbuck's odd behavior. Hell, everyone on the ship knew about it. Lee mostly refrained from mentioning it in front of his wife, though she caught him incensed, ready to give her a piece of his mind after pickign a fight with one of his pilots.
"Just leave it," Dee had said. "Don't."
"No, I won't leave it. She thinks she can just get away with everything! Well I'm not-" but Dee had cut him off.
"Coming after her will only make it worse."
Lee had scoffed at that. "Make it worse? Please. She never cared what anyone thought before, I doubt it would affect her now."
"She wasn't all alone before," said Dee.
Whose fault is that? Lee wanted to yell, but he kept his mouth shut. He let it drop after a moment of silence.
He had the shock of his life one afternoon while passing through the deck. A tiny blond child ran up to Starbuck and her face transformed. Gone was the sullen glare or the hostile gaze, replaced by a brilliant smile that almost hurt to behold.
"Hi Kacey," she murmured as a harried looking woman, Kacey's mother, he assumed, ran up to them.
"So sorry about that, Kara," she said. "She just slipped her hand right out of mine and ran for it."
"Oh any time," she said, sparing the woman a glance before transfixing her smile on the girl. She swooped the girl up in a surprisingly natural move as the little girl giggled madly in response. "Little troublemaker must have been around me for too long," she said, tickling her stomach.
The mother smiled up at Starbuck with something akin to hero worship. "Thank you." She reached out her arms. "Not we just gotta get you to my sister, don't we," she said to Kacey, who went willingly into her mother's arms. She stared at Starbuck over her mother's shoulder as they walked away, waving a tiny hand goodbye.
He glanced back at Starbuck to see devastation clear across her face as she hitched up a patently false smile and waved back.
Lee jerked out of his daze and swung around to find Gaeta coming towards him with a clipboard. "What can I do for you?" he asked, letting himself get swept away.
It was about three in the morning. Lee was up walking around the ship, completely unable to sleep. He had been aimlessly wandering the ship for about 30 minutes before he walked by the gym, surprised to still hear the thwacking sound of a fist against the punching bag. Telling himself he must be imagining things, he stepped closer. He had left the gym with her in it six hours ago. There was no way she was still there.
As he approached the window, he saw her like he had never seen her before. She was out of control. She wasn't just hitting the bag like she had been when he left. She was flailing wildly, punching, pounding, kicking, and crying. He watched in astonishment as she picked up a chair, he hands slippery with her own blood, and threw it at the bag. Without even pausing, she went back to attacking the bag with hands, feet, and any objects nearby. He watched her wipe the tears from her eyes, smearing blood from her knuckles all over her face until a mixture of blood, sweat, and tears dripped down her face and onto the floor, making the mat slippery. She let out a primal roar as she slipped and fell to her knees, still pummeling the damn bag.
A year and a half ago, he would have gone to her, calmed her, cleaned her up, and done anything in his power to help her. But those days were long over. Feeling slightly sick to his stomach, he hurried back to his quarters. Back to his wife.
He looked around the next morning to see his father striding toward him. "Hello, sir."
"I'm putting together a list of supplies I'm going to request from the President. I have reports from all of your officers, but is there anything you'd like to request?"
A movement caught his eye; Starbuck, walking by, looking sullen as always. He turned his attention to his father. "Um. A new punching bag, if at all possible."
If his father thought the request was strange, he didn't mention it.
Later that evening, he found himself at the gym again. Again, she was there, pounding away at the bag, taking no notice of him. Looking like the night before had never happened. He ran through the beginnings of his warm ups, making no comment. About halfway through his workout he stopped and just stared at her. There was no hint at the lack of control, and outpouring of fury and emotion he had seen the night before. Instead, she had a perfectly controlled, tightly leashed fury.
He gingerly approached, knowing well enough to keep a good distance.
She didn't acknowledge him when he cleared his throat. "Starbuck?" he said. Still nothing. "Kara?" Nothing again. He contemplated her for a minute before speaking again. "I know you don't… I mean we're not…" And once again he was making a mess of things. "I just want to…"
"No, you don't."
The fact that she even replied took him by surprise. "Excuse me?"
She still didn't look at him, but she stopped for just a moment, for the first time since he had seen her here. "I appreciate that, after all this time, you're willing to… I don't know, do whatever you're trying to do here. Bridge the gap, give me condolences, or whatever, but let me stop you right there. If you thought I was seriously frakked up before, it's nothing, nothing on what I am now. It would be best for you if you wrote me off and didn't even try."
He was speechless for a moment as she resumed her boxing as if nothing had happened. He was a moment away from taking her at her word and stepping away until he saw the trace of blood peeking through her wrappings on her knuckles. "Thanks for your concern, but I'd still like to talk to you."
"How nice for you," she said, not even pausing.
He didn't know why he was persisting. He may have come over to try to help, to assuage his conscience, but she had given him an out. His job was done. "Kara-"
"I don't want to talk to you, Lee!" she spat out, whirling around to glare at him.
"Fine. Maybe you don't want to talk, but you've been hogging the bag for weeks! Give someone else a try."
She folded her arms and lifted her chin, glaring at him. "No."
"Well then at least spar with me, because I haven't been able to-"
He broke off when she backed way up, palms out. "No, absolutely not."
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because I will hurt you."
He rolled his eyes and fought a smile. It was comforting that some things never changed. "Well that's a little cocky, don't you think?"
"No, Lee, you don't understand. I will hurt you."
He furrowed his brow. "I just mean sparring, not a fight to the death, Starbuck."
"No. I want to hurt you. Not just you, anyone. Anyone nearby, I just want to…" She blew out what he assumed was supposed to be a calming breath. "Right now, with you just standing there, I want to break each and every one of your fingers and claw at your skin and…" she stopped, for which Lee was very grateful. "I just want to hurt someone. So finish your workout so you don't get fat again, and then go back and sleep with your lovely little wife and just stay far away from me."
He took a step closer without even realizing he had done so. Years of friendship, of caring for this woman, had ingrained the knee-jerk reaction into him so thoroughly that not speaking for nearly a year and a half couldn't change it. She skittered backwards.
"Don't you frakking hear what I'm saying, Lee? Don't. Just don't even try it. Consider this a favor. I will frak your life up." The word 'again," was, he assumed, unspoken. He was silent for a moment, not doubting the truth of her words, and she got more heated. "I can't be fixed. I can't be helped. I can't learn to deal with it, and I can't frakking be controlled!"
"No one's trying to control you!" said Lee.
"Bullshit!" She visibly tried to reign herself in before speaking again. "This isn't something that can be fixed, Lee."
"So you're just going to forgo all sleep and keep beating this bag until you have bloody stumps for hands?" said Lee, his voice raising, though whether it was in anger or concern, he didn't know.
"Is it any of your business if I do?" she asked coldly.
"No. No I guess it isn't." They stared each other down before, with a muttered "Frak this," he turned and started to walk back to his jump rope. "You know," he said, pausing halfway there, "you don't have to deal with every frakking thing alone all the time."
"No, Lee, you're right. For the last four months I didn't have to be alone at all. Why I had my very own frakking Cylon keeping me company. Keeping me as his frakking pet the whole time," she spat out. "It really taught me a lot about teamwork and togetherness.
"Don't be stupid, Kara," he said, whirling around in exasperation before the impact of her words set in. "Wait. Keeping you as his…?"
"No, really, Lee. Tell me where all of this teamwork and leaning on other people came in. Were you there to help me and I just forgot? Was Anders? The old man? Chief? Who the frak was there helping me deal with it then?" she shouted, her pent up rage filling the room around them. "Now everyone's concerned? Too late. The damage is already done."
"You know any one of us would have helped you if we could," said Lee.
Kara snorted. "Some of you, maybe."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he bit off.
"It doesn't matter," she said, turning away. "Just let me be."
A very short time ago, Lee would have been all too happy to do so, but he wasn't about to let her back down now. "What the frak happened to you down there?" She said nothing, just resuming her stance until he grabbed her shoulder roughly. "Hey-"
His words were cut off as she grabbed him by the throat and squeezed. This was a new development, he thought dimly. Usually they'd just trade blows and then go about their conversation. She stared at him as he choked, desperately trying to suck in air. "I could kill you right now," she said.
He tried to test her stance to see if he could hit her elbow and get her to release him, but her stance was solid and without air, he was powerless.
"If I killed you right now," she said, her voice taking on a tone he couldn't identify, "you would stay down. You wouldn't come back." He thought that was rather obvious, but wasn't really in a position to say it. "If I killed you right now," she continued, "you wouldn't come walking back through those doors."
His vision was starting to dim around the edges, but he found it in himself to shake his head slightly. She immediately released him and he found himself on the floor, gasping for air.
"He did," he heard her say. He looked up to find her with her back against the wall, staring into space. "Every time. No matter what I did, no matter how slowly he died, no matter hard I tried to escape, to spit in his face, to make him not want me, to make him hate me, to hurt him, to kill him, to get rid of him once and for all. He would always walk back through that frakking door." She let out a slightly hysterical laugh. "You know, I think that makes that sick mother frakker the most stable, consistent man I've ever had in my life."
"You know I once shoved a meat fork through his throat?" she said almost conversationally as she turned to look at him. Mutely, he shook his head. "He had just cut up my steak for me, because, you see, as his grand love, I had to be pampered with fine meals but I couldn't be trusted with a knife. He stepped away and I shoved that fork right through his throat. Didn't hit his jugular. I sat down and ate my steak while he drowned in his own blood."
That sounded a bit more like the Kara he had known and loved for years. Gods, she could be terrifying when she wanted to be.
"Then I had to sit and wait, with his cold dead body on the floor in front of me, until he came back, cheerful as you please. One day, he told me, I would embrace him, look him in the eye, and tell him I love him. He had seen it, he said."
"What did you say?" asked Lee, finding his voice.
"I told him he was insane, of course," she said. "But then one day, he walked in with a child. It was mine, he told me. From the day on Caprica when they cut into me. They took one of my ovaries and… anyway, I was her mother."
Lee had been in the process of picking himself up, but her words made him drop back onto the floor. His eyes widened.
"I hated her. She was just this child and he wanted us to be this sick little frakking family unit, but she was… she came out of everything they did to me and…" She looked up at him and he saw tears in her eyes. The words started tumbling out of her mouth. "I hated her. I hated her and then I took my eyes off her for two seconds and she fell but she was alright, and… and I had never been so relieved in my life. She just smiled at me... and I loved her. The sick bastard made me love that child."
"What happened?" asked Lee, his voice breaking.
She cleared her throat and wiped her face dry, trying to look casual. "She wasn't mine." She have a humorless chuckle. "It was idiotic of me to believe she was, really. I should have been thrilled. When we landed on the Galactica, her rightful mother saw me with her and started crying. She thought her little girl had been dead when the Cylons took her." She swallowed a few times, as if that would help her get herself under control, then she broke down, sliding down the wall, wrapping her arms around her knees and crying.
She was a complication he didn't need. She was anger and confusion and pain – a definite fast track to heartache. She was a surefire way to make his life a living hell, but right now she was crying like he had never seen before and he didn't have it in him to just walk away and do nothing. He walked over and sat next to her, wrapping his arms around her.
"I am such a frakking idiot," she said between sobs.
"You are many things, Kara Thrace, but an idiot is not one of them," he told her.
"When Sam got me out, I ran back for Kacey. He was there and I… h-he was blocking my exit and he just wanted me to… so I just did. I kissed the little frakker, told him I loved him just like he wanted, and then sank a knife into his gut. Right there in front of the kid. I don't even know what the most frakked up part of this whole shit storm was. Why did I do that?"
"You had to get close enough to stab him," said Lee.
"Was that really why? I don't know anymore. How can I not be sure? How did he know it was going to happen?" she asked, looking him dead in the eye. He opened his mouth, having no idea how to respond, but she had already broken eye contact. "I'm an idiot, Lee."
"You're not… well you can be an idiot," he allowed with a ghost of a smile. "But not about this. The Cylons are experts at frakking with people, but what they did to you was…" Horrifying. Awful. So painful it made him want to cry. He felt her pain keenly and he wished more than anything that she no longer had that effect on him. "Not your fault," he finished. "You're not an idiot. You're a terrifyingly strong woman who's been through way more than she ever should have had to. You're the only one I know that could come out the other side of an experience like that," he said, standing up.
"I'm not though," she said from the floor.
"I'm not on the other side of it," she said looking up in confusion. Her expression, behind the tears, said quite plainly If I was, I wouldn't be crying on the frakking floor, you idiot.
He looked at her for a moment, taking in that purely Starbuck expression before speaking with absolute certainty. "You will be." He held her gaze for a moment, letting her see his absolute faith and certainty.
He said nothing about the trash talk she had been spreading around. When she showed up for her shift one day with shorter hair, a pressed uniform, and a clear look in her eyes, he barely suppressed a smile.