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Title: Apologetics
Author: letterstonorah
Rating: PG13/R
Word Count: 6000
Pairings: Kara/Lee
Summary: Eros Day and an essay due for Religious Studies class collide, making Lee and Kara do all kinds of angsting. Academy era. Zero spoilers.
Warnings: depressed Lee, perhaps triggering for depressive thoughts for portrayal of clinical depression.
Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Note: This fic is a rewrite + extension of a ficlet I wrote over at BSG Epics, given the prompt "unkissed" by [livejournal.com profile] astreamofstars.


Apologetics


   
"Why didn't we ever take that first step toward removing our clothes? Were we afraid? Were we in denial? Perhaps we just didn't want it enough. Or is there a larger question? Do all of us become liars when we don't kiss those people who make us tremble and who tremble for us?"

from the poem "Unkissed" by Sherman Alexie




i.

When you wake up short of breath, your lungs all at once deficient, your windpipe narrower than a crack in your mother's ivory cup, your ears popping like so many levees breaking, your skin blistered from wear, your feet swollen from wandering town to town, the village children spitting at you as you pass, already well-learned in cruelty—when this happens, you must understand that it is not because the gods and goddesses have abandoned you, but because they, those who would try to harm you, have abandoned the gods and goddesses.

Worse, mankind has corrupted the holy words of the Lords in order to enslave you. This is not to say that the Old Ways are perfect, nor am I necessarily for the new way of the Reformists. I am for a way that I am not sure I can imagine, what with the blinders of oppression restricting my vision. I am for a way in which living becomes synonymous with dignity rather than with struggle, in which people can be and not just try to be. I am for a way in which we recognize all people as not separate from the deities, but extensions and expressions of them. You may believe or not believe in them. What’s necessary is that you believe that you, yourself, have the right to live and the right to live freely, that your existence is holy and not a blight.

from “Apologia Poetica”, by Cyria the Witch of Picon, annum 819




Kara stands in the Acheron Street subway station, out of money and out of patience. Across the platform, a man forces his bow violently across the strings of his violin, botching up the final movement of Nayzel’s Nocturne in A Minor.

If ever there was a time for ear plugs.

The Ancient Piconese word for violin, klior, comes from the verb ‘kliote’, which means “to screech, then subseqently scream, then wallow in agony as if suffering the after effects of poorly distilled, high-proof liquor.”

Really, Kara finds the instrument beautiful, just not how this poor man plays it. What a world she lives in that this stranger must depend on a skill he learned in primary school to earn his daily bread—or daily drug fix, as it may be. Kara doesn’t know, doesn’t care. Or tries not to care, anyway.

Five cigarettes sit unsmoked in the pack in her bag, but the icy weather has rendered her matches wet and therefore useless. Sleet falls without mercy outside. It’s a Winter Wonderland, but not. The pellets of frozen water sneak their way down the stairs into the Underground, invading what’s supposed to be Kara’s refuge. She checks her phone—11:32pm. This day, thank the gods, is approaching its conclusion. She leans back against the ticket machine, eyes on the commuters. The people here are society’s unloved and unkissed. They stand waiting for a train still thirty minutes away, cold, lonely, sloshed.

Kara bundles herself into her coat, wraps her scarf tightly around her neck and chin. She’s not sure if the attempt to obscure her face is successful, because the man on the other side of the turnstile is still staring at her, licking his lips like a godsdamn cliché. Around Kara, puddles of melted sleet coalesce with pools of stale urine. The lights in the station flicker and dim, seemingly possessed by angry spirits. This is a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare. Wake up, wake up yet again, and it’s still not enough.

Kara checks the time once more—11:33pm. Great. Progress.

Lee’s on his way to pick her up in his shiny SUV, and he’s taking his sweet time. The barista at the bakery kicked Kara out when she stopped buying coffee, and now the Underground station is the only shelter from the apocalyptic precipitation. Frak February. She shouldn’t have bothered going out tonight, not today of all days, but Karl promised wild dancing and cheap drinks, two of Kara’s favourite things. Anyway, she had wanted to get out, to taste the winter air and smell the bitter sweat of moving bodies.

Kara hadn’t counted on Karl disappearing early in the night with a girl too young and too naïve to realize when Karl said, “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen,” he didn’t mean it at all.

Kara had scoured the club for her own easy lay, any man or woman sober enough to consent. A couple had invited her into a threesome, but she hadn’t been in the mood to have to please two people. These days, she’s barely up for pleasing anyone more than herself.

So she’d called Lee, knowing he was in the dorms doing homework. Like her, he’s skeptical of any holiday with a dress code of red and pink.

Kara is wearing black.

Her phone vibrates in her pocket, and she removes it to see a text from Lee.

I’m here. Now where the frak are you?

She treads up the stairs carefully, the steps slick with ice and sloshy snow. A sharp wind assaults her upon exiting, causing her eyes to tear up. Lee is waiting in his car across the street, the engine still running, puffing smoke out into the night.

She jogs to the SUV, opens the door, slams it shut.

“About time,” she says. “I called you, like, an hour ago.”

“The roads are a mess,” Lee says, shrugging. He’s already pulling out into traffic. “I’m surprised you even went out tonight. Didn’t you swear off this holiday last year?”

Yes, she had. Kara had once used Eros Day to pursue all the warm bodies, all the moaned secrets. Ten years ago today, her father left and didn’t come back, and Kara thought she could find him in the smokey pubs, the quiet restaurants.

“Basically, what happened was, Karl’s a d-bag,” says Kara. “I love him and all, but gods, does he have to be so horny all the time? Trust me, I totally get wanting to frak, but when I’m out with friends I like to think I show a little bit of restraint. Why do all my friends have to be sluts? I want at least one prudish guy friend.”

“I can’t believe you think I’m a slut,” says Lee. He pumps up the heat with the round dial, adjusts the vents. Kara can hear the smile in his voice, the slight variation in intonation and pitch. “I’m actually really flattered,” he goes on.

Kara’s attempt to suppress a snort completely fails. “Unfortunately, Lee, you are not a slut. Maybe by Geminon standards, but certainly not here.”

“No? I thought you said all your friends were sluts? Am I not you friend, Kara?”

Right—frak, okay. “You’re my best friend,” Kara says, scrambling to find the words to describe how she feels. “It’s a totally different category.”

The confession is as honest as she’s willing to get. All the the other stuff—she can’t dive into that right now. Lee’s been everything to her these past few years at the Academy, her anchor and support system. She won’t spoil that, not like she’s spoiled everything else in her life. The more distance between her and Lee, the better. There is something bad inside of Kara, something that her mother saw, something that had pushed away her father.

She casts her eyes toward Lee to see what he’s thinking. No use. It’s too dark. She can’t read his face.

“Want to come back to my place and order in some food? Watch some movies or something?” he asks.

“Can’t, Lee,” she says. “Got to work on my Religious Studies paper.”

“You haven’t finished that? It’s due tomorrow. Why the hell would you go out in the first place?”

Kara sighs and lets her head roll toward the window. Caprica City blares past in a haze of lights and distorted shapes. At least the sleet has let up a bit.

“Could you give it a rest just this once?” she asks. Kara locks and unlocks the door, feeling the tumbler mechanism click in and out of place.

“Well, how close to done are you? Maybe I can help,” he says. “I finished mine two days ago.”

“Of course you did,” says Kara. She rolls her eyes then crosses her arms over her chest.

“Yeah, I did,” says Lee. “Sorry if it pisses you off that I prepare for classes ahead of time, that I do my work in a timely fashion.”

“It wouldn’t piss me off so much if you were doing it because you actually liked it.” Kara stares out the front window. The street is a mess of greying slush, and she wishes she could melt the ice with her eyes, wishes she possessed that kind of power.

Kara’s mother once told her--you think you’re really something ‘cause you beat up an older guy at school? try to give a mountain a thrashing, kid. try to play three card monty with a winter storm. see the weeds growing between the cracks in the concrete? you’ll never be as strong as they are. never.

Lee sighs dramatically, putting on a show. “Sometimes you do things because you have to, Kara, not because you want to.”

“No. Sometimes you do things because you have to. Well, not me. I do things when I damn well please.”

“That’s probably why you’re on academic probation.”

“Frak you,” says Kara.

Then beautiful silence. Save for the occasional clicking sound of the turn signal, the transport remains quiet. Kara stretches her legs out, appreciative of the ample space in Lee’s SUV. It feels good to sit, to soak up the artificial warmth of the heater. Lee’s nervous habits—the way he taps the steering wheel and constantly adjusts the rearview mirror—these tics are a comfort to her. They’re so perfectly Lee. Prone toward bouts of anxiousness, he never completely relaxes, even when he’s with her.

“Have you even started?” Lee asks.

“Started what?”

Kara.”

“I know what I’m going to say. So what if I haven’t actually written anything?”

She shrugs, but the gesture is stiff and doesn’t convey the nonchalance she’d meant it to.

“It has to be ten pages. How the frak are you going to manage that? You know if you don’t get at least a B on this paper you won’t get credit for the class, which means you violate the terms of your probation, which means you’ll be suspended, maybe expelled.” He gesticulates wildly, his tightly controlled deportment loosening as he becomes angrier.

“Thanks for your concern, Dad,” says Kara, but the words hurt her more than they probably hurt Lee. She checks her phone for any missed messages, but of course, there are none. It’s been more than a decade—why does she think she’ll get a call from him now to a number he couldn’t possibly know? Because she’s stupid, because she’s weak, et cetera, et cetera.

“What if you ask for an extension?” Lee suggests.

“Major Cross hates me, so that’s not gonna happen.”

“You shouldn’t have to be in his class anyway,” says Lee, calming somewhat. He fiddles with the dials of the heater again, adjusts the temperature controls and the pressure.

Lee’s right. Early in the semester, Cross had tried to frak her—‘frak her’ as in have sex with her, not ‘frak her’ as in frak her over, which she would’ve preferred. She’d resolutely said no, had even asked her advisor about switching out of the course. But she hadn’t been willing to tell what happened, and Lee, for once, kept his mouth shut at her insistence.

“Well, what’s done is done,” says Kara. She tries not to think about it. All she wants to do is get through this night, this semester, and then it will be summer. She’ll worry about next year later. There’s no way to cross a bridge one hasn’t approached yet.

Then: “You could use my paper,” says Lee.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he says. “It’s not as good as what you’d be able to do, even pressed for time like this. But it’d be something to turn in.”

Kara can’t resist succumbing to the bubble of laughter rising in her chest. For the first time all night, she feels genuinely light-spirited. “Gods, you’re stupid,” she says between laughs.

“Why? I mean it, Kara. I’ll make up some excuse about being ill or some shit. Cross will totally buy it coming from me, and I’ll write a new paper. You turn in my essay, maybe make a few changes, and you can get some much needed rest tonight.”

“It’s wrong, Lee, immoral—and you are hardwired not to do the wrong thing.”

He shrugs, slows the car as he pulls into the parking lot of Kara’s residence hall. “I’d do the wrong thing for you, Kara,” he says.

Kara ignores the tug of warmth she feels in her chest at his words. “I’d rather flunk than steal. Anyway, you probably wrote some cliché thing about how religious unification of the colonies under Simeon’s rule led to a unified political consciousness. Boring. Frak that.”

Lee blushes. Even in the dark she can see.

“You did, didn’t you? Gods, Lee, you’re so frakking predictable.”

“At least I’ve written the paper—and it’s not like I had much choice. What else is there to say about the unification?” he asks.

“Well, I’m writing about how Simeon recontextualized Medea as a villain; and that, along with his other subtle changes to these myths, led to a fear of women’s power and sexuality in the Colonies, which in turn led to religious expression that was more oppressive to women. I’ve got this in the bag, Lee.”

Kara already has the essay mapped out in her head, paragraph by paragraph, counterarguments and refutations in mind. As she leans back into the seat of the transport, she begins to relax. She can do this.

“Talk is cheap,” Lee says. “I won’t be impressed until I actually see the paper.” He circles the parking lot several times, looking for an empty space. Curfew tonight is extended to 2am, and the dorm is unusually lively for the hour.

“Have some faith in me,” says Kara.

Lee finally finds a spot and parks the transport, turning off the engine. “I do have faith in you. I have more faith in you than you do, if you want me to be perfectly honest.”

“I always want you to be perfectly honest,” she says, smiling.

“We’re a good fit then,” says Lee with a curt nod.

From inside the SUV, Kara can see the forms of lovers embracing, some staring up at the stars, others kissing on the bench that sits in front of the dormitory. “I hate this frakking holiday,” says Kara.

Lee smiles. “I’m not opposed to the copious amounts of chocolate.”

Laughing, Kara undoes her seatbelt and opens the transport door, sliding down onto the street. She pulls the hood of her coat up over her head and waits for Lee to get out.

“That reminds me,” says Kara. “Jack bought me more chocolate than I know what to do with. Can I unload some on you?”

“Gods, when is he going to realize that it’s not going to happen between you two?” asks Lee.

“I know, right? But he’s a nice guy. I’m not ready to break his heart just yet.”

They lock arms as they head to the front entrance of Aldis Hall. Kara presses her butt against the card swipe, the computer sensitive enough to scan her key through the fabric of her jeans and the leather of her wallet. The door clicks open, and Lee and Kara walk inside, heading upstairs.

Kara’s room is dark and empty when they arrive. Lee takes the liberty of switching on the light, and Kara unlaces her boots before throwing them onto the floor, wetting the carpet. Lee undoes his sneakers, sits them neatly by the door, then hangs his coat in the closet.

“Karl getting lucky?” Lee asks, gesturing to Kara’s roommate’s empty, unmade bed.

“Yeah. I highly doubt he’ll be back tonight, curfew or not,” says Kara, slumping into her desk chair. She takes off her coat and scarf, then her jeans, until she’s wearing only a t-shirt and her boxer briefs.

“Sorry. Those were a little tight,” she says, pointing to the pair of skinny jeans now strewn on the floor.

“It’s fine,” he says, taking a seat on her bed.

Kara fishes around on her desk for the box of chocolates Jack left her. She tosses it to Lee. “Here you go,” she says. “You need the endorphins more than I do. You’re such a mope,” she says.

Lee catches the box and readily opens it, breaking off a piece of a chocolate heart and taking a bite. “Of the two of us, you’re definitely the mopey one tonight.”

“Tonight, yeah, but in general, you’re the melancholy one, I’m the bright and perky one.”

“I don’t think anyone would use the words ‘bright and perky’ to describe you, Kara,” says Lee. He licks his lips before taking another bite of chocolate, relaxing back into her bed.

“Bitchy and angry. Bright and perky. Same difference,” she says. “The point is—I don’t sulk. You, however, are Mr. Sulky.”

“Mr. Sulky?”

“Yes,” Kara nods emphatically. “I’m actually working out an idea for a comic based on you. Want to hear about it?”

“Not at all,” says Lee.

“Right. So Mr. Sulky is this anal retentive Academy student by day, crime fighter by night. He wanders back alleys looking upset and wounded, and all the villains stop what they’re doing because they feel so compelled to give him huggles.”

Despite her blatant teasing, Lee smiles good-naturedly. “And you’ll be my sidekick, Ms. Angry. Once I’ve got them locked in my sulky embrace, you can go to town on them, likely while under the influence of alcohol.”

“Perfect,” says Kara.

“Yes, perfect.”

She gets out her laptop and opens up a blank text document. “So I think this is where our night ends,” she says. It’s after midnight now, and as much as she’d love to chat with Lee all night—and hell, maybe do other things with Lee all night—she is going to earn an ‘A’ on this paper if it kills her.

“You know I could stay. My computer’s in the transport. Besides, you need to eat. I could heat up some noodles in the kitchenette or order us something.”

“Lee…” she says.

“What?”

“You should go. I don’t need a babysitter. I’ll finish the paper. It’ll be a struggle, but I’ll make it happen, just like I always do.”

“It’s Eros Day,” says Lee. “You shouldn’t be alone.”

“What if I like being alone?” Kara asks.

“You like being alone sometimes,” he amends. “Now is not one of those times. I’ve known you for two frakking years, and I can tell the difference between when you want space and when you want company.”

He’s such a frakking know-it-all sometimes. If he weren’t so godsdamn attractive—his eyes especially blue against the pallor of his winter skin, unkissed by the sun—it’d be easier to push him away, to fight him on this, for her right to solitude.

Maybe she doesn’t want to be alone, but that doesn’t mean he’s allowed to disregard her words.

“See, you’re already distracting me,” says Kara, picking up her notebook computer and bringing it over to the bed. She wiggles around Lee and lies down, puffing up two pillows to prop up her head, her calves adjacent—almost touching—Lee’s back. “Just go.”

“Please can I stay?” he asks. “For me? I don’t want to be alone tonight. I can be your coffee runner. I promise to be quiet.”

Kara watches him as he sits on the bed. Whether or not he wants to be, Lee is always a distraction. The heat of his body is infinitely compelling. The hard lines of his jaw are achingly lickable.

His t-shirt covers his arms, chest, and stomach, but Kara’s seen Lee half naked enough times to know he’s got a beautiful body.

“You can stay,” she says, “but please note that I’m only agreeing under duress.”

“Noted.”

They make themselves comfortable on the bed, each of them facing opposite directions. Lee’s sock-clad feet rest near her shoulders, and hers near his. She can feel his hand on her bare thigh as he settles onto the mattress, grabbing a book off the floor.

“You’re getting awfully cozy, Lee,” Kara says.

“Cozy?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding her head toward his hand on her leg.

“You don’t like it?” he asks. His palm remains firmly on her thigh, fingers furtively stroking the skin. He traces his pointer finger along the blue vein that runs along her quadriceps, stopping only when he reaches the elastic on the leg of Kara’s briefs. He hesitates, then teases his hand along the edge of her underwear, his thumb pushing under the fabric, lacing through her thatch of hair.

This—is new. While this isn’t the first time they’ve touched, and it’s certainly not the first time it’s been clear the feelings between them are beyond platonic, never has one of them actually gone for it.

“What happened to you promising not to be a distraction?” she asks, trying to keep her voice from breaking. She can’t quite believe this is happening. Lee, the boy with more inhibitions than a Sagittaron nun, is—

Kara can’t even think the thought. This isn’t real. This is a fantasy. Sometime after Lee dropped her off, she fell asleep.

“I’ll stop it if you want me to,” he says. “Do—do you want me to?”

Kara sees the crack forming in Lee’s newfound bravado, his words now less sure.

“This is a bad idea, Lee,” Kara says, but maybe it’s actually the best idea. She’s hot and woozy from his touch, floating. Instinctively, she spreads her legs, only a bit.

“You’re right,” Lee agrees, jerking away his hand. “Gods, I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s late and you look amazing, and did you know you have the most beautiful skin, and your legs look so gorgeous, and there’s something so frakking hot about you hanging around in your boy briefs like it’s nothing? And I could listen to you talk for hours. I love watching the way you move.”

Kara feels her cheeks flushing at Lee’s sudden candor.

“How long you been holding that in?” she asks, smiling.

He laughs, the sound of it almost hostile. “Since I met you.”

Kara looks away, eyes anywhere but on Lee’s face. He’s sitting there in front of her, putting it all out there, and never before has his bravery been so clear. Of the two of them, he’s always been the strong one. He’s the one who pushes her.

“Lee?”

“Yeah?”

“I—” she starts, but she can’t finish. The words are stuck somewhere between her brainstem and spinal chord, never making it to her mouth. “I should really work on my paper, Lee,” says Kara, regretting it almost immediately.

Lee’s face falls, literally falls. Muscles collapse. Eyelids flutter briefly shut.

“Right,” he says. “I should get going anyway. I need to look over my paper then get some sleep.” He stands, gets his shoes and coat, refuses to look her in the eye.

“Lee.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “See you in class tomorrow.” He stands by the door for a moment, leaning against the frame."Good night, Kara." With that, he turns and leaves. 

For several moments, Kara stares at the door, wanting so badly to chase after him. She would catch up, grab his hand. They would embrace. There would be hot, riotous kisses. 

Instead, she begins to write. She knows that she can’t always have what she wants, that she doesn’t have the right to.

ii.

Living here, amidst these strangers, practicing customs ugly in their unfamiliarity, praying to goddesses whose faces are pretty rather than beautiful, their statues waifish and tinny, made of breakable porcelain rather than the stone they use to fashion the figures of the male gods, I cannot help but feel betrayed, that the mothership has left without me on it. Who are all these people around me, speaking in a tongue so very coarse? Where have my people gone? Have I been left behind, or did I, in fact, leave them behind? Regardless, I cannot shake the feeling that I am somehow wretched, and I wonder when I crawl toward Demeter, sobbing, will she open her arms to me, or cross them coldly?

from “The Confessions of Kastia,” by Kastia Lyal annum 1704




Kara finishes the paper at 7:26am, one hour and four minutes before class.

That means she has time for a shower, a quick coffee, and short trip to the chapel at the center of campus. Kara thinks about texting Lee, but what could she say? Sorry for blowing you off when you confessed your undying love for me. Have I mentioned lately that I’m in love with you but know I don’t deserve you? Kthnxbai.

Like she predicted, Karl never returned to their dorm room, and she relishes in the momentary privacy, a luxury at the Academy. After her shower, she sits completely naked on the bed as she towels herself dry.

Later, when she arrives at the campus sanctuary twenty minutes before Religious Studies, she hesitates before entering. The wooden doors, large and baroque, intimidate rather than invite. Inside, candles burn. A priestess stands at a podium, glasses drooping down to the bridge of her nose, as she fumbles through pages of some religious text. Kara sits in the back row of the pews, removes her idols from her backpack, squeezes them tightly in her hands.

“Lords of Kobol,” she prays, whispering, “I believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in you.” She says it over and over, as if begging for it to be true.

Then, there are tears. She lights a candle and leaves.


iii.

The universe is too heavy for even the gods to lift. What accounts for all this mass? Neither planets nor stars nor asteroids. It as if we’ve gazed upon the whole world, but are able to see only a tiny fraction of it. I posit that this mysterious bulk, this Dark Matter, if you will, is the weight of those immaterial things that we know to exist but cannot exactly witness with our eyes. Feelings. Consciousness. Grief. Heartbreak. Loss.

from Dark Matter and Other Theoretical Drivel, by Ishai Moltab, annum 1959



Lee gets up because he has to get up. He pulls on a t-shirt, some sweat pants, some flip-flops. Bonus points if he can do this without allowing himself to collapse in a pile on the floor, without yielding to the overwhelming impulse to lie in bed forever, never again forced to stand.

He makes it, this time. He wonders if there will be a morning when he won’t, when he’ll just stop.

He walks to the washroom, towel slung over his shoulder. In the hallway, another student smiles at him. Lee smiles back. This is what he’s supposed to do.

Lee is a mechanical toy. Wind him up. Watch him spin. See him fizzle then die. Do it all over again, ad infinitum, until it’s almost as if he’s a Real Boy.

He feigns happiness, laughs at jokes he knows should amuse him but don’t, raises his hand at the appropriate moments in class, eats tasteless food in the mess, waves at the first-year who crushes on him endlessly, salutes his superiors, arrives to class early, reads a book about democracy trying to feel anything other than all-consuming deadness, confesses his feelings to the woman he loves, acts fine when she ignores it, takes a pill that gives the bottomless pit he’s falling down a bottom, talks everything out with a psychiatrist who is kind but probably can’t help him, sings songs he likes on the radio, watches the news just so he has enough fodder for tears, calls his mother and wishes her well, ignores voice messages from his father, sends his little brother update emails, thinks about Kara, dreams about Kara, wants Kara.

Lee wants everything. He’s allowed none of it.

In the washroom, Lee drags a razor along his cheek, the white shaving cream on his skin melting away as the metal meets his jaw, cutting him smooth. When he finishes he sets the shaver down on the porcelain basin of his sink, splashes cool water on his face, and dries himself off with his towel. This is Step One to survival—investing in the hoax of living. Faking it—Lee wonders if he’ll ever get to the making it part.

Back in his dorm room, he checks his cell phone to see if Kara’s texted. She hasn’t. Why would she?

He dresses in ‘As for Class’ uniform. Gray, wool slacks. Short sleeve, white, button-down shirt, patent leather oxfords. He gels his hair. He is as neat as can be. He is a soldier in training, a man in training, a person in training.

The quarterly bells of the clock tower chime, and he heads for class. He feels the sun over his skin, the wet grass beneath his shoes, the scratchy material of his jacket. Living in these moments, absorbing every detail, is the closest he gets to feeling something like okay.

Kara is already sitting in the back of the room when he arrives to their Religious Studies class. She has bags under her eyes, and her hair is wet—presumably from showering—but even so she is a flickering flame. Her shirt is untucked, her shoes are unshined, and her hair is in the messiest ponytail Lee’s ever seen. She is the military version of chaos.

It’s wrong, but Lee feels better when he’s near her.

He smiles at her, testing the waters, and she smiles back, waving him to come near. He takes he seat next to hers, smells the shampoo in her hair, the soap on her body.

“Did you get ‘er done?”

“Don’t I always?”

She’s been crying, Lee can tell, but he doesn’t say anything. He hears it in her voice, sees it in the light redness to her eyes.

“Yes, you always do,” he says, wanting so much to reach out and tuck the strand of loose hair behind her ear.

“About last night—”

“It’s okay, Kara,” says Lee. “I shouldn't have layed all that on you. Guess I got caught up in the holiday spirit.”

“So you didn’t mean any of it then?” she asks.

Lee shrugs, emits a sound that't not unlike a grunt. He unpacks his bag, laying out everything in its proper place on his desk. Blue, black, and red pens in a row. Notebook. Folder containing his essay. Yellow highlighter. 

“Are you seriously not gonna give me a straight answer? Well, Lee, did you mean it? Don’t punk out now.”

Students flood the class, and Major Cross is scrawling notes onto the board.

Lee wonders, what is there to lose? The one real thing he has to hold on to? So what? “I meant it, Kara. Of course I meant it. I’ve never not meant it. And further, I will always mean it. Happy?”

She smiles, turns aways, blushes. “I mean it, too,” says Kara, even though she hasn’t even said anything to mean.

Still, Lee understands, can’t help his own smile. “Mean what?”

“Basically, what you said last night—me, too—but for you.”

“You think I have gorgeous legs? Why thank you,” says Lee, enjoying the way Kara’s eyes roll when he teases her. These moments that he’s with her, he understands what it feels like to be a normal person. She’s not a cure, but certainly a salve.

“Don’t make me take it back,” she threatens, pointing her pencil at him as if it were a stake.

Major Cross convenes class, goes on and on about the Purists and the Reformists, and Lee believes yes, fine, okay, in this particular moment, living is not so bad.

iv.

Without hope, we can achieve nothing. Yet, who has hope? Who is stupid enough to hold on to such a thing? It is the most fragile of feelings, and nonexistent in most of us. Comparatively, despair comes easy, tapping gently on the door, inviting itself in. What’s more, to become lost in hopelessness is the most logical of things to do. The events of the past do not give us much to be hopeful for after all.

That is why we must have faith. We must believe something better is possible, even when history argues the exact opposite is true.

I advocate foolishness at every turn. No one with sense ever did anything worth while. We must be stupid in our courage, reckless in our bravery. We must know that despite all reason suggesting the converse, we will make it.

from “The Speech on Mount Ipha following the Massacre at the Red Temple,” President Leyona Leir, annum 1971.



After class, they head to Kara’s room. Kara needs to sleep, and Lee wants to talk. They move in silence, their locked arms taking on a strange significance. This is how they’ve always walked together, the gesture so casual and platonic—and yet, Kara’s arm feels about ready to explode being so close to Lee’s.

“Want to grab a bite first?” asks Kara. “I haven’t eaten anything at all since lunch yesterday.”

“In the mess?” Lee says, frowning.

“I wouldn’t wish that place on anyone,” says Kara. “There’s a coffee shop right off campus with the best pastries. Come with me?”

“We’re not allowed off campus on week days without passes,” says Lee. “You know that.”

“So? No one will know. Come on. Live dangerously.”

“If that is your definition of living dangerously, I think you need to turn in your bad girl badge,” he says, pulling her in closer with his arm, their hips bumping. The wind is cold, and the sun is not nearly bright enough, but next to Lee, Kara is warm.

“So are you coming or what?” she asks.

“I’m coming with you—but under emotional duress.”

“Noted,” says Kara.

They buy hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, still warm from the oven, and eat them on the way back to Kara’s residence hall. Kara can barely stand up, her lack of sleep finally catching up to her, and she lets herself lean against Lee. 

“What time is your next class again?” he asks once they make it to her dormitory. He takes a seat on the bed, removing his shoes.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Kara. “It’s not like I’m going. I plan to be asleep until at least four.” She stretches and yawns, removing her slacks, shoes, and button-down, crawling in the bed next to Lee in nothing but briefs and a bra. “I’m cold, warm me up,” she says, tugging him so that he’s lying next to her.

“Well, you did just take off all your clothes.”

“Uncomfortable,” she says, too tired to say much more.

He looks at her for a long moment, as if thinking about something, then tucks some of her hair behind her ears. “I love looking at you,” he says. He says it like it’s a secret he’s been concealing his whole lifetime.

“I love watching you think, love the way your brow furrows, the way you bite your lip. It’s like watching a mechanical clock, the gears moving so beautifully,” says Kara. She’s pretty sure it’s the most trite, hackneyed thing she’s ever uttered, but she means it. She’s action and impulse. Lee is measured and precise. She is in love with his neat lines, adores the way they contrast with her messy scribbles.

She bobs her head forward, resting it on Lee’s chest. “So tired. Adrenaline wearing off.”

“Sleep then, Kara,” he says, pulling the covers over the both of them. “But promise we’ll talk when you wake up?”

“I don’t make promises,” says Kara, yawning.

“Then answer me one question now.”

“Yeah?”

“Are we—are we doing this? For real?”

“I don’t know about you, Lee,” says Kara, “but I don’t nuzzle my head into someone’s chest unless it’s the real deal. Now shut up, and don’t think so much—even though you look very pretty doing it.”

She grabs the lapels of his shirt, squeezing them as she falls asleep. This is the only way she knows how to beg him not to leave.

When she awakens hours later, he’s still there, his arm wrapped possessively around her waist. She is happy. She thinks maybe she deserves this. 



End.


If you read, please take the time to comment. <3

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