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Patterns in the Blood

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She watches until he has become a vanishing speck, her hand still pressed cold to the thin film protecting her from the vastness of space. Everyone else drifts off: one toaster, ejected. Toaster with fear, sweat and gasping lungs and more faith in the light of his eyes than Kara possesses in the whole of her. Her hand slides down.

The interrogation room is empty. No bucket, only the faintest traces of moisture on the dark floor where water had been. The table, shoved against the wall, forgotten, is not so clean. Blood traced with fingertips sits half-dried and sticky to its surface, and Kara stands over the table, staring down. The synthesized blood of some silicon thing, she thinks; she thinks, Leoben Conoy sat here and smiled at me and made sense of his own insides. Kara runs a finger over the blood, erasing his patterns, making concentric circles, meaningless.

"Lieutenant Thrace?"

A guard at the door, black-clad, gun-clutching, nervous. Kara can't remember ever being that nervous. "The Raptor is leaving," he says.

Kara sits in the back of the Raptor with blood on her hands and feels wrung out, rib-kicked, tired of this crap. If the Lords of Kobol are real, she doesn't want forgiveness. But she wants something, something new, not an adrenaline rush, not a good frak, not anything physical.

Meaning, maybe.

*

She holds steady, without panic, for as long as she can in his house in the blue dimness. She's terrified for Sam; she's terrified for everyone, even Lee and the Old Man out there in the dark. She isn't terrified for herself, not really: he's stronger, she knows it, the memory of the way he threw her against the doorjamb and held a hand to her throat an indelible adrenaline-stamp, but he won't force her. Not physically.

He serves Kara dinner and talks, light easy conversation as though they're having an intimate dinner party in his nice little place in Delphi or somewhere. She sits still and silent. The food is ashes because the world is ashes, and Leoben talks to fill all the silences.

Kara drinks her water. "I prayed for you," she says.

Leoben glances up at her, through his eyelashes, startled and strangely coy. "I know."

It comes to Kara that maybe she has all the power here. He wants her approval. Stupid toaster -- for all his games he never bothered to master real dishonesty, not about something he desperately wants. Kara has all the power and none at all.

"You said," she begins, rising and coming over to his chair. Leoben looks up at her, a curious tilt to his head. "You said my role was to deliver your soul to God. So I will."

He bleeds out on the carpet.

After that she isn't allowed knives at dinner, but the second time she slips a knife past him anyway. The third time she pushes him down the stairs. The fourth time it's a knife again, and the fifth, a tuning fork. By then he should know better and stay the frak away, but, Kara supposes, hope wins over caution when God gives your soul new bodies on demand. By then she should be used to the give of flesh and the smell of blood, but she never is, quite.

Give her a Viper over this any day.

*

In the Sacred Scrolls there is a story of Lord Hades, who took to wife a woman of Kobol without seeking any permission. She tried time and again to flee him until she was worn down and came to know him, whereupon she stayed of her own will.

Kara has never liked that story. Be content with what you have, it seems to say.

Now she isn't so sure. Now Kara wishes she hadn't assumed the scripture to be a book of metaphors; now she wishes she'd paid attention, paid some real frakking attention to what the Scrolls were trying to tell her rather than just choosing those parts she liked best.

She will not, she will not, be the repetition of some stupid pattern.

*

Kasey makes Kara remember things she hadn't known were there for the remembering. She remembers things besides the broom handle and rubber bugs and the shattering pain in her fingers; things besides the smell of endless cigarettes, the flare of bottomless disappointment in her mother's eyes. She remembers the rare moments of terse affection; she remembers some distant morning on a piano bench, close against her father's side, That's my girl! She remembers planning in meticulous detail the sort of wonderful vigilant and above all loving parent she would make some day, until those plans were superseded by other more tenable daydreams.

So, jolted into memory by the little girl's blood dark on the stair, Kara remembers love.

Love is different than the afterglow of a good frak; that afterglow, even with Sam or Zak or (gods help her) Lee, is like a good ambrosia, not like -- like something where every last simile fails. Like the awed filling-up Kara feels sometimes wheeling her Viper through the countless pinpricks of light in space, maybe. Kasey lying so small and still under a coverlet makes Kara think of freefall, and Kasey's eyes flickering open and focused and okay makes Kara think of an even more beautiful rush, so that she must anchor herself, hold Kasey's little hand in one of hers and Leoben's in the other. That sneaky bastard.

Soon she'll kill him again for it. Or maybe thank him. She doesn't know.

*

Pressed with her back tight against the wall she says, "I love you," and it doesn't even come out in words this time, but a breathless whisper, like she means it. Like Leoben doesn't know she won't say the words even when the meaning is there. And it's not, frak no; love is the endless constellations of emotion she has for her daughter, and the tingle under her skin like she's waiting for a fight around Lee, and the way she always wants to laugh with Sam. Love is not this feeling of leadenness and empty spaces. Love is not the way Leoben kisses her as though she is not an assumed thing, not an easy frak and Starbuck the screw-up; and Leoben kisses her like she is worth dying for (five times) and coming back for more because maybe her mama was right and Kara Thrace is something special.

Her hand goes for the knife. Any second now. "Was it everything you imagined?" she asks Leoben. And more, he says, maybe agreement, maybe demand. He tilts his head and Kara reaches for the knife and a small noise escapes her, to fool him, to make him think he's won, and she isn't starved for honest touch, and she doesn't want to be special, and her hand closes over the knife.

Any godsdamned second now.

*

Sam holds her and she thinks of Lee; Lee holds her and she thinks of Leoben. Zak is an untarnished memory slowly fading, beginning the comingling with one-night-fraks Kara does not try to keep; and somehow one godsdamn skinjob toaster has become important, like paint and novas and all the things Kara cannot eliminate.

She dreams, endless dreams in variation. Sometimes he takes the paintbrush from her. Sometimes he comes for her before she's even found the paint. Sometimes her feet slide and skid in the white on the floor. Sometimes she stays crushed back against the wall, and sometimes she pins him to it and claws at him. But in all the variations she fights him and wants him, wants the surging heat of being wanted. And all the time she's so godsdamn scared to look, scared to be seduced or forced into being anything she is not, because she knows what she is, knows, no matter what one Cylon or her frakked-up subconscious wants to say about it.

She goes to bed braced for impact and fighting exhaustion, and she wakes up wet and sweating, too jumped up, but only just, to go looking for a frak now now now.

At least she finally knows what really going crazy feels like.

*

"I'm the same person," Kara tells him, with all the luminous conviction she has; but Leoben's right about one thing, one difference between New Caprica and now: the petty things of this world have ceased to trouble her. There might be gaps in her memory, but she remembers the important things and so knows what they are.

She lets him hold her: lost, crammed like canned fish with a half-mutinous crew, she paints a comet with his hand around hers, the other cradled snug to the curve of her waist, feeling like all of this has happened before; getting it right this time.

For a long crucial second she doesn't understand the look on Sam's face.

*

She visits the sick one. He looks at her and gives her the brief tired flash of a smile she can conjure now with eyes closed. She doesn't smile back -- nothing to be smiling about, not in this world -- but she holds his hand, watches the exhausted flutter of his eyelashes, and knows the strangeness of knowing so intimately this man who has never met her.

*

Then he leaves her: in the gray skeletal world he backs from her skeleton and the last thing she knows deserts her.

The unfairness of it is terrible, worse than the horror of the desiccated body, worse than the crushing disappointment of this ruined Earth, worse than the wrenching rudderlessness, worse even than the worst unfairness inflicted by Socrata Thrace upon her daughter. Kara had thought, in her infinite frakking stupidity, that maybe Leoben knew her, saw her, lavished such patient attention because there was something in her sorry life worth the cherishing.

Turns out toasters are good at imitating that most indomitable of human traits, betrayal, just as easy as imitating the more tangible things.

She passes him now and again in the halls, when he's on the Galactica on business. He never looks at her; none of them look at her. Maybe only the one ever cared for her, frakked-up as it was, and for the others she's just another human. Maybe she's important to all of them and none of them can bring themselves to meet her eyes. She doesn't care.

*

And here is the great irony in the life and the next life and the whatever-the-frak-this-is of Kara Thrace: Leoben was right about her, even beyond despair, even beyond losing his own faith. I see an angel, blazing with the light of God. He saw it true.

Gaius Baltar saw it true too. Maybe that's the real great irony.

Whatever the way of it, though, Kara is what she is, and Kara may be the harbinger of death and Kara may be Leoben's fallen angel but she leads them to Earth, true Earth and newness and the one moment of clarity, and Kara Thrace finds meaning.

*

She sits on a rise and watches the swelling clap of pink birds rising from the lake. The air is sweet and heavy; not like the dry cold of New Caprica, not like the car-grit of Delphi, not like the dull recirculation of oxygen in space. Kara wraps her arms around her legs, chin rested on her knees, and breathes deep of this air that is like a thousand dreams and not for her waking.

A movement at her side, the flash of a patterned shirt. Kara turns her head a little to meet Leoben's eyes. There is a look in his face she's never seen before; not the machine-calm, not patient amusement, not even fear. But she knows he's the Leoben that knows her.

Kara nods briefly.

Leoben grins and that look Kara recognizes, the honest flash of happiness that used to scare the frak out of her, not that Leoben should be happy but that Kara Thrace should be the cause. It doesn't scare her now. Leoben sits down next to her, a graceful fold, a little too close. Kara feels a tight smile pull at her face, and leans against him, the shoulder-bump of camaraderie.

"What did you think?" she asks.

Leoben for a moment holds very still. Maybe he's surprised she's tangible. Maybe he thinks she'll run.

"About what?" he returns, quiet, quiet, not with carefulness but with the soft reverence used inside a temple.

"About me," Kara says. She shifts, stretching her legs out, leaning back on her arms, leaning against him. "Before I turned up dead. You thought something about my destiny."

Leoben makes a little noise of acknowledgment. He watches the birds. Kara squints at the sun and waits.

"This," he says, after a time. "I looked and I saw life. I saw constellations, I saw ... things beyond myself." He leans back on her now, a warm pressure against her side, spiky hair tickling her cheek. "I saw you and I knew that one day we would sit above this lake together and ..." He laughs, the soft laugh half breath that used to make her want to kill him. "One day we'd sit in peace. Change the patterns."

"Have we?" Kara asks.

He shrugs, jolting her a little. "Is this peace?"

She closes her eyes. "Yes."

She can feel Leoben nod. Some animal yet unnamed lows in the distance. She opens her eyes to watch the birds come circling back, clattering down on the lake and throwing out rainbows. "Kara," Leoben says, his voice caressing over the syllables, and for the first time Kara understands why she hated it when he said her name. He sounded like Lee. He sounds like Lee now, the burgeoning apology behind the word, and she's heard enough of Lee's apologies to last her a lifetime. Maybe even two. Lee apologized for anger, for faithfulness, for abandonment, for intangible things, and Leoben is going to ask forgiveness for -- what? Keeping her? Holding her? Telling her the truth? Letting her go?

"Don't," Kara says.

So he stays silent awhile. Kara watches the birds forming random patterns of wing and water on the surface of the lake. It doesn't have to mean anything.

"What will you do now?" Leoben asks.

Kara tilts her head in his direction. She doesn't quite go cross-eyed looking at his face so close. He needs a shave. He needs a whole new wardrobe but some things are old news. "What, no more insights?" she asks.

"No more insights," he agrees, and reaches over to tuck her hair behind her ear. There is no motivation to the gesture besides all the normal ones Kara's known about for years. She doesn't know why that should be so surprising, but it is, surprising enough she wants to laugh, and instead ducks her head against his shoulder until she's mastered herself.

"Thank you," she says, and looks up. "You frakked-up bunch of circuits. Thank you."

"Any time," Leoben murmurs, giving her another of those shatteringly honest grins. He doesn't stop her when she gets to her feet, but merely leans back on his elbows and squints up at her. "Where are you going?" he asks, the same question as before, but it sounds rhetorical now, a check to make sure Kara understands herself. She does.

"Going to say my goodbyes," she says.

"I'll miss you," he tells her, one of those artless statements of fact he's so fond of.

"Yeah," she says, and swallows. "I'll, uh."

"Go," he says gently. "God is waiting."

And maybe he's a little ahead of himself, because she's got others waiting first: Helo and Athena, Laura Roslin, the Old Man, and her Lee; but for the first time Kara hears Leoben's words and knows them, and goes without regret.