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Know Your Opponent

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Lieutenant Thrace,

Welcome to the twelfth annual Colonial Fleet pyramid exhibition team. Included in this packet you will find your instructions, itinerary, room assignment, and all necessary contact information.

For this special three-week assignment you will be stationed at Fleet Academy in Caprica City, where you and your teammates will practice on the newly renovated pyramid court in the Academy's state-of-the-art fitness center. You will be housed in the Adar wing of McClellan Hall and given full access to the staff mess. Professional-grade pyramid equipment will be provided to all players.

This year excitement will be high on Caprica as the Colonial Aces take on the Caprica Buccaneers!

Without reading the rest, Kara lowers the letter and gives Helo a look of eyebrows-up amusement. "You're kidding me."

"The C-Bucs?" Leaning forward with an elbow on the table, he grins. "Thought you'd like that part."

"We're gonna walk all over them."

"I think you're forgetting that they're the professionals."

"That's funny, Helo, because I think you're forgetting how they've played for the past two seasons." She leans in, holding her mail over the table. "They'll never even see us coming."

Call her crazy, but she thinks beating the pros is probably even better than making the pros.

"Anyone up for some triad?" Boomer calls out from the table behind them, and naturally Helo glances back, interested.

"Go on," she tells him with a careless nod, gathering her papers and pouring them back into the big envelope they arrived in. "I'm in for the next hand."

After three hours in the brig she wishes she still had her packet of information. There are only so many push-ups a person can do, so many times you can count the bars or your steps from one wall to the next.

Lee's visit is a good distraction. For a second she almost feels flattered that he couldn't resist dropping in on her -- she almost tells him she doubts he's ever landed his ass in a brig for any other reason -- but she's not stupid: every minute he spends in the brig with her is a minute he doesn't have to spend with the old man. Two years later, he's the same old stubborn Lee Adama: the pale blue eyes are the same and the smile is the same, but so is the hard frakking head.The decommissioning ceremony itself is another distraction. She's allowed audio, but it's rough, sitting on her stupid cot behind bars while the ceremony takes place and knowing she should be out there flying. The stab of regret in her chest sure as frak isn't for the XO. It's for not being out there and saying her official goodbye to Galactica and the old man and the past two years of her godsdamn life.

A few hours after the ceremony Helo shows up with a lollipop dangling from his mouth and a cup in his hand.

"Haven't let you out on good behavior yet?"

Pushing herself up off the floor, she stretches and walks over to the bars to meet him. "Good behavior?" She smiles blamelessly. "What's that?"

"Here." He gives her a small smile and sticks the cup between the bars in offering.

She glances down in it, grins when she realizes it's half-full of ambrosia, and takes it without hesitation. "If I got ambrosia every time I landed in the brig I'd do it more often."

"I don't remember you ever needing an excuse."

She gulps the ambrosia down, eyes sly over the top of the cup. "So this is it, huh? Ceremony's over and we're practically off-duty."

"Practically," he acknowledges. "Triad's on in the mess, somebody made some ambrosia appear, and anyone who cares about regs is looking the other way."

"Sounds like my kind of party." Handing the empty cup back through the bars the Helo, she feels a crook in her smile.

She quickly wipes it off her face when the sound of a throat clearing comes from the doorway.

"Sir," Helo responds as he turns to see the Commander. Drawing up to his full height, he takes the lollipop out of his mouth.

"Lieutenant Agathon," the old man greets him with a nod. "Give us the room."

"Yes, Sir," comes the instant response. Helo casts one quick look between the bars at Kara before he takes his leave.

For a moment silence rules the brig, but just as she opens her mouth to speak the old man gives her a frank look. "You'll be glad to know Colonel Tigh won't be pressing charges."

Colonel Tigh got what was coming to him, in her opinion, but she does offer up a genuinely relieved smile. "That's good news, Sir."

"It is," he agrees, taking a moment to look down into the palm of his hand, where she notices a flash of metal, the key to let her out. "It would be a shame for your time on Galactica to end with a court martial."

She knows it's true.

"I'm going to let you out, Starbuck, but there's a catch."

Game, she smiles again, her hands on the bars. "What's that?"

He looks her right in the eyes. "Avoid Colonel Tigh through tomorrow."

Her smile spreads, barely holding in laughter. "I can handle that."

Satisfied to the point that he's almost smiling himself, Commander Adama unlocks and opens the door to her cell. As she steps out, he briefly places a hand on her shoulder.

"Sir, I--" Words unexpectedly falter in her throat for a moment. Despite Tigh, she is sorry she wasn't flying today. She is sorry if she let the old man down. She's more grateful than she'd ever tell anyone that he pulled whatever strings he pulled and got her assigned to Galactica two years ago. The truth is that she's really going to miss it.

He shakes his head. "Tomorrow."

She nods. Goodbyes can come tomorrow. For now there's a boozy triad game to crash.

Shedding her shoes and socks, Kara rolls down the window and props her feet up, angling her toes out toward the sunshine.

"Really, Starbuck?" Helo glances in the rear-view mirror. "We've only got a twenty-minute drive to the Academy."

Her eyebrows arch over a generous grin. "The driver gets to choose the music. He doesn't get to complain about my shoes coming off."

He rolls his eyes, but he smiles. "I'm not complaining."

"You like my feet." Wiggling her toes, she looks sideways at him.

"They're all right," he jokes. "As far as feet go." He turns on the radio, going through the stations until he hears a mention of the Caprica Buccaneers. Like the C-Bucs fan he is, he stops to listen as he drives. "Did you see last night's game?"

"I saw it," she answers crisply, a smile tugging at one corner of her mouth.


"It was a fluke."

Helo laughs out loud. "A fluke?"

Unimpressed, her shoulders lazily rise and fall. "They won by three. And they owe it solely to Samuel T. Anders and his great arms." She doesn't miss Helo's eyes darting sideways to silently say he just bets she thinks Sam Anders has great arms, and she laughs because she'd never deny an accusation like that. "He's no Joe Harrison" -- even three years after his retirement Joe may be her favorite C-Buc of all-time -- "but let's be honest: Sam Anders can throw."

"And you really think we're going to beat them to two wins in the exhibition tournament."

"You bet your ass I do."

Being at the Academy again is a little like coming home. She spent a lot of important years in these corridors, first as a student and then as a teacher. First as a rule-breaker and then as an instructor. Even though she hasn't set foot in its halls in two years she could find all the important spots on campus with her eyes closed: the rooms she bunked in, the student mess and the staff mess, the fitness center, her classroom, the flight sim room.

(Zak's old room.)

The letter she received didn't lie about the pyramid court renovation. All the paint is new, the backboards are shiny, and the artificial turf under her when she hits the ground feels like real grass. It's the next best thing to playing in an open-air arena, but they'll have their chance to do that at Atlas soon. Only seven days until the first game of the tournament.

And if Kara's sure of anything it's that playing in Atlas is gonna feel frakking great.

"I hear we've been scheduled to have have dinner with the C-Bucs tomorrow night."

Her ball connects with its goal, rolling halfway around the rim of the hole in the backboard before falling in. Satisfied, she turns around to look at Helo. "A polite dinner with the enemy. Cute."

Retrieving the ball, he lobs it at her. "You up for some one-on-one before dinner?"

Her right hand rises, catching the ball easily, and she flashes him a big grin. "Never can say no."

"Kara Thrace," she introduces herself, one hand sticking out for a shake.

"Jean Barolay," the redhead responds, reaching out to shake the offered hand.

"Yeah, you're easy to recognize." She grins as their hands fall back to their sides. Across the large private room, near the bar, she spots Helo making small-talk with Ten-Point while Captain Sirtis, in a gunmetal gray shirt with a navy blue Colonial emblem identical to the one she and the rest of the Aces are wearing, schmoozes with Coach Jenkins of the Buccaneers. "Where's your team captain? Too good for us?"

Barolay gives her a look caught somewhere between questioning and amused. "Heard he got stuck in traffic on his way from the science museum."

"The science museum?"

"Yeah. A few weeks ago he got fan mail from one of the second-grade classes at Artemis Primary, and somehow he ended up making arrangements to surprise the kids during their field trip to the museum." Barolay's tone implies that antics like this are typical Sam Anders, but she says it with a smile on her face.

"So he spends his free time playing with kids at museums." She can't help her laughter. "Somebody give that man a merit badge."

"Speak of the devil," Barolay comments, eyes on the front-facing window.

When Kara turns to look out, she sees Samuel T. Anders getting out of a sleek sex-coated sports car, the kind made for taking curves too fast and barreling down highways. He turns a key over to a valet, smiles for a few camera flashes, and hurries into the restaurant before too much of a crowd develops.

"How was your date?" Ten-Point asks loudly when Sam finally enters the room.

"Nothing like yours." Without missing a beat, Sam puts on a magazine-worthy grin and starts shaking hands with the Aces nearest to the door. "But it was fun."

Sue-Shaun snorts out loud, but Sam lets out a laugh. "Are all pilots so cocky?"

"It's a godsdamn requirement," Kara assures him, grinning toothily over the rim of her third ambrosia.

Two seats over, a girl named Sparks from the Atlantia pipes up. "They teach it in Basic."

"I'm serious," Kara goes on, leaning forward. "I will take you on right now."

"Right now?" Sam's voice is a skeptical echo.

"Right here in the parking lot." Why not. With her free hand, she gestures grandly toward the window. "One-on-one, two-on-two, the whole team. Pick your poison, team captain."

Sam's grin crooks, his eyes glued to her, and Sue-Shaun nudges him in the ribs encouragingly.

At the head of the table Coach Jenkins looks entertained but shakes his head. "I hate to put an end to the friendly rivalry, but we can't risk an injury in an unscheduled pre-season game. The exhibition tournament is the only contractual exception to the rules."

Her gaze doesn't flick away from Sam for long. It's not hard to tell he's tempted -- in her experience, pyramid players are as cocky as most pilots -- and a little thrill of gratification sweeps up her spine at how reluctantly he nods at his coach's assessment. He may be capable of bowing out gracefully, but backing down has never been one of her strong suits. She drowns her smile in another drink of her ambrosia, but once conversation picks up elsewhere again she comes up for air, angling forward even more and lowering her voice. "You know, Sam, we don't have to call it a game. We can call it a practice." Her smile stretches, almost sweet but never anywhere near innocent. "Unless you can't stand the thought of getting your ass kicked in practice either."

She doesn't expect the warm hand on her shoulder blade as she waits outside for the valet to bring the rented van around. Before she can finish turning, Samuel T. Anders is right there beside her.

"I hear you're staying at the Academy."

She's suddenly aware of the weight of his eyes, the heat of his palm, the shape of his mouth. Her eyebrows automatically reach for the sky. "Keeping tabs?"

He lets out a low chuckle, almost intimate. "Know your opponent."

"Smart." Smile teasing, she bares teeth. "Let's see you C-Bucs be that smart on the court."

"Are you allowed visitors?"

She hadn't thought her eyebrows could go any higher, but they prove her wrong. "No one's said I'm not."

"All right." He nods as though that settles it. "What're you doing tomorrow afternoon?"

He's one surprise after another, and he has every bit of her attention. "I'm sitting in on a Basic Flight class after lunch--"

"I got the impression you were way past Basic Flight at this point, Lieutenant."

"Call me Kara." Maybe it's the lingering buzz of all that ambrosia or maybe it's just those famous arms, but she feels like she's not likely to wipe the wolfish grin off her face as long as his hand is still attached to her. "Anyway, I used to teach it, so the current instructor offered to let me at those kids tomorrow."

"Can't interfere with the education of our future pilots. Will you be done by four?"

She tips her head at him. "Yeah."

He points a finger right at her, his other hand finally lowering from her back. "You and me. Four o'clock at your Academy court, if it's available. We'll just call it settling a bet."

She barks out a delighted laugh. "What do I get if I win?"

"Other than the right to brag to the entire fleet that you beat me in one-on-one?" His own smile flares up again, confident. "We'll discuss it if you win."

A horn beeps obnoxiously, and she looks over to see Captain Sirtis in the van with half the team already piled inside and watching her -- or maybe just watching Sam Anders, golden boy of the C-Bucs -- with interest. Helo smirks at her from a passenger-side window.

"You're on, Anders," she tells Sam stubbornly, turning toward him and leaning in long enough to prod a fingertip against his chest. "Don't be late."

As she plops her tray down on Helo's table, he looks up. "I think you were talking in your sleep last night."

"I was?"

"I'm pretty sure I heard you tell Anders you'd show him how to score."

A grin spreads across her face, and she flings a spare napkin at him. "You'll full of shit."

"Just this once," he admits, taking the napkin and promptly using it. "But I'm not the one who made a date with him last night."

"It's not a date." Picking up her knife, she slaps a little butter onto her toast. "It's a pyramid game."

"I didn't hear him asking the rest of us to play."

"I didn't hear the rest of you challenging him."

He gives her the most skeptical eyebrow-furrow she's ever seen.

Amused, she smiles at him. "I'm not saying that I wouldn't frak Sam Anders."

"Then I won't call you the worst liar I've ever seen."

"No," she butts in, crunching down on buttered toast, "I'm still probably the worst liar you've ever seen."

"Racetrack was never a good liar. She could give you a run for your cubits."

"No triad face." Matter-of-fact, she gulps down some of her orange juice and then gestures to the back of her cheek with one hand. "She has that jaw tic when she bluffs. Gives her away almost every time." Pausing to take a drink, she grins. "And when you take off your shirt."

It brings a small smile to Helo's face. Racetrack's attraction to him was never much of a secret, but it was a slightly better-kept secret that he's always been too interested in Sharon Valerii to take advantage of it.

"I'm gonna miss Galactica," he admits after draining his milk carton.

"Yeah." Her sly expression fades, but slowly. "I ever say thank you for signing me up for this?"

"No." His lips twitch into another smile. "But you're welcome."

A small crowd stands in front of the fitness center by the time Kara finds her way there. She's not surprised to find Sam in the center of it, dressed in a pair of work-out shorts and a white shirt with a faded C-Bucs logo on the back.

Someone must've asked him for an autograph because he's writing something on a t-shirt before he spots her, but once he sees her he holds one hand up in a wave. "There's the woman I'm here to see."

Half the crowd turns to see who he's talking about. She only sees a few of her teammates among the gathered faces, but she flashes a big grin in Sam's direction. "What, no flowers?"

He matches her expression as she joins them at the entrance. "Sorry, I'm more into flowers on the second date."

There's that word again, her brain points out.

"I did bring you a C-Bucs cap." He points to the cap currently residing on Helo's head. "If you can drag it away from Karl. Thought you could be convinced to show your support for the team after I hand you your ass today."

"Ohh," she exhales, laughter rippling under her breath, "you are a cocky bastard." She points her chin toward the door. "Let's get this started."

Most of the group follows them aside, taking advantage of the opportunity to see Sam Anders play for free, and Sam sets his sunglasses and wallet aside, leaving them in Helo's care.

Standing in the safe zone in the middle of the court, Sam raises both hands before they square off. "Just for the record, this isn't a game. If you'd like to see a game, I encourage you all to turn out at Atlas this Friday to see your Colonial Aces take on the C-Bucs for the first exhibition game."

Snatching a pyramid ball from its home in a storage basket, she drops into a crouch beside him, palming the ball against the artificial turf.

He turns to mirror her, bent so they're almost face-to-face, and gives her a grin so big and self-assured and ready that she feels it all the way between her thighs. "First to five wins. Your ball."

She hardly needs prompting. Before he can close his mouth, she's on the move, reaching out one hand to keep him at bay while she crashes into his personal space and swerves around him.

The advantage of being abrupt doesn't last: he's fast -- he lives up to that pro title -- and he's after her in no time. She gets off her first shot a split second after he slams against her from behind. She hits the ground hard, halfway under him, but not hard enough to take her eyes off the ball's arc into the goal.

It goes in, rattling into the cage, and the whoop she lets out has never even heard of good sportsmanship.

Sam doesn't seem to mind. He's still wearing the same big frakking grin, and he pushes himself off her, hurrying to fetch the ball. As nice as he seems to be, he's not so nice that he lets her score a second time in quick succession. He works his advantage of height, of longer legs and longer arms, and before she knows it the score is 2-1 in his favor.

She sticks to him like a shadow, throws all her weight on him any time he manages to put some space between them. Her hands demand the ball, unafraid to bat it right out of his hands, and when she regains possession and gets back into the safe zone she smiles dangerously at him before making another break for it: three steps and shoot.

For as many advantages as he has, Sam has a serious weakness: she's seen him in action. She's watched his games; she knows how he plays. When he comes around her left side with his dominant hand up to block her from the backboard she's facing, she jumps like she has springs on her feet, throws all her weight against his right side, and switches her aim to the opposite goal.

Taken off his guard, he staggers against her but doesn't fall. He watches the ball disappear into its goal and doesn't miss a beat before running after it.

There's a calculating look in his eyes when they face off again in the central safe zone. He's efficient, swooping past her in two long steps, and the fact that she can't stop to ogle the rippling of his arms or the strength in his calves doesn't make her any less aware of him. When she sees he's going for a long shot, she leaps at him, arms around his midsection, and drags him down to the ground.

But it's too late: his third point attempt is good. So good, in fact, and so clean that it's almost a shame he's not playing a televised game. She lets out a low whistle. "Hell of a shot."


As she runs after the ball she can't help thinking it's hot to be the reason he's so sweaty and out of breath. As he shadows her and his hand falls on her thigh, she can't help thinking that's hot, too.

Catching her breath, Kara clasps Sam's hand and allows him to help her up.

"That was a great game," he tells her over the burst of applause from their ever-growing audience, and he makes a point of gesturing toward her like he's pointing the audience appreciation her way. It's cute. Unnecessary, but cute. "How long have you been playing?"

"Fifteen years now. Almost went pro myself."

"Really?" He raises his hand to the group -- "Thanks, guys" -- before walking off the court with her, pyramid ball in hand. "What stopped you?"

"Blew out my knee." Wetting her lips, she wipes the sweat off her forehead with the back of one hand. "Didn't play again for about a year."

His eyes travel down her body to her knees and then make their way back up. "Your knees seem fine to me."

She doesn't even try not to smirk. "You can hit on me harder than that."

Dramatically clearing his throat from a few feet away, Helo tosses Sam's wallet over. Sam catches it neatly -- "Thanks, man" -- and even though someone behind them shouts Hey, Sam! his attention doesn't stay off her for long. One more time he gives her that easy grin. "Tell you what, Kara: I know this great bar two blocks from Atlas. You go with me after this weekend's game, no matter who wins, and I'll hit on you as hard as you want."

"You've got yourself a deal," she promises as Helo's measured steps catch up to them.

"I'll hold you to it." Sam takes his sunglasses back, hooking them on the neckline of his shirt, and shakes hands with both of them, Helo first.

She doesn't think it's her imagination that his hand lingers in hers. It doesn't do the same things to her that getting caught underneath him or taking him down to his knees did, but it's still good.

As Sam turns to be polite to a few impatient fans, Helo removes the C-Bucs cap and places it carefully on her head. "Next time you're the wing man."