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dance me to the end of love

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Caprica woke up in the cold hours before dawn. Her feet were freezing, and Gaius, typically, was an invisible lump on the other side of the bed, with far more than his fair share of the blankets piled over his head. He wasn't moving, but there was a thick resonance to his breathing that Caprica knew from long experience would be perfectly audible from the other side of the room. Gaius seemed to have gotten louder, these past few years, and Caprica could only imagine how bad it would be in another ten.

It ought to bother Caprica, she supposed; she ought to complain more. When she sat with Athena in the evenings, talking quietly together as they shelled beans or skinned game, they ought to grumble together about grumpy old men who still thought they were twenty-five, and snored like they were seventy.

But in the deep silence of the night, free from any noise of engines or machines, Gaius' breathing was the only thing she could hear. And hearing it Caprica knew he was still alive: they were both still alive.

Alive, and getting old. In daylight, she was still sometimes astonished by the sight of her own hands, the maze of rough callouses and thin creased skin that they had become. Her body, too, the skin of belly and breasts and thighs turned soft and lined and fragile.

For how many years had she lived in the same body? She'd lost count of the number - of years or of bodies - because they were all the same; she'd always been the same.

But now each coming year brought more changes, in her body and in her self. She'd learned and she'd changed; she had scars on her body, scattered here and there among the wrinkles in her skin. Each year was marked on her body: proof she was here, she existed, she was unique in the world and in the universe.

Here: with cold feet and snoring husband and all. She wouldn't give up any of it.

From the chill in the air it was close to dawn, too close to make falling asleep again worthwhile. Caprica sat up slowly. From across the bed, she considered her husband with a deep tenderness, hesitated, and left the blankets undisturbed.

The big main room was almost as cold as the bedroom, with the fire banked down for the night. Bright sparks flared up as she stirred it up into life again.

Next to it, the small rack of cut stacked wood was almost empty. Caprica added the last log to the fire and frowned. She'd have to refill it when she went out for water, an awkward heavy task made more frustrating by the need to check for scorpions or venomous spiders before she touched anything.

Outside it was damp and chilly, and very dark. Caprica washed herself quickly at the trough below the water-pipe Gaius had built with so much trouble more than twenty years ago, and filled the heavy kettle with fresh water from the pipe. Half she'd boil for tea, half she'd use to cook the grain Gaius had left soaking overnight for breakfast, and then she'd have to fill it again so she could clean up before she left for the day's work - not to mention the woodpile. Down here in the dirt there was always one more chore to do.

When Caprica went back inside, she found Cora awake and sitting by the fire. She had one of Gaius's old blankets draped around her shoulders for warmth, the tawny brown one he'd woven on the first loom he ever made. His second loom - and the weaving he did on it - was better, but since she was a small child Cora had always loved this old brown one anyway.

She smiled up at Caprica as she came into the room, standing up to help her with the kettle.

"Mother," she said. "Is it alright if I don't come with you, today? Last night Laura said I could come and hunt with her and the others in the marshes if I wanted! She saw me practicing with my bow in the far field yesterday, and -  and she said I'm good enough to keep up with the hunters now!"

Cora's face was lit up with pride and joy in herself, at being chosen, and by a girl she'd always looked up to and admired, no less.

Caprica felt panic start fluttering in her chest.

Her little girl, her beautiful youngest daughter - Cora was only fifteen. A tiny child. If she'd been born - before, she'd have five or ten years more of schooling ahead of her, safe and protected in her parents' house. Under the law she would be an adult in three years - six years, in some colonies - but she wouldn't really be considered responsible for herself for almost a decade.  

But dirtside, here, she was old enough to hunt and cook and clean and tend the gardens, and what else did adults do? Cora could read and write and make basic calculations, keep track of the supplies in a storeroom through the changing of the seasons, dig out a pit toilet, fix a grain-alcohol generator or the village aqueduct. She could use a knife and bow and arrow and even a handgun, though there were not many bullets left to spare for much practice; she knew about bacteria and viruses and the basic composition of the universe. Her brother had left their house to marry at seventeen, her sister at twenty. She'd been minding her nieces and nephews, their neighbours' children, since she was a tiny child herself.

By any measures of this place, this time, Cora was old enough to go into the marshes to hunt deer without her mother.

But there would be lions out there, snakes, malarial mosquitoes if the hunting party was caught in the marsh after dark. Cora was good with her bow and with a knife, but there were always accidents.

Caprica didn't want to think about Hera. She never wanted to think about Hera.

She was right to be terrified for her daughter. There was always a chance -

But most likely she would be fine. And, after all, there was no other choice but to let her daughter risk herself.

Cora had to learn this. They had to eat.

And Cora's eyes were shining so brightly as she looked up at her mother. Carefully, deliberately, Caprica smiled back at her.

"Darling, of course you can."

 

 

Caprica left Cora and the hunting party half an hour's walk outside the village, where their little stream dropped away down south to join a larger river, eventually losing itself in marshes at the broad southern end of the next valley. When the others turned to follow the stream, Caprica went west, taking a narrow animal trail up into the steep jagged hills above the settlement.

She was alone. For protection she carried a spear - a piece of sharpened metal that had once been part of a Raptor hull, set into a long wooden staff - but she didn't expect to have to use it, up in these barren hills.

As slow as her reflexes had become, these days, that was probably for the best. Caprica had killed a lioness once, twenty years ago, caught alone in the scrub; she had no illusions about what would happen to her if she met a lioness now.

But these hills were dry, and almost empty.

Near the top of this little trail, there was a stretch of flatter ground covered in just one kind of vegetation, a kind of tall shrub or low tree. It had no name, and was nothing like any plant she remembered from the countryside around Caprica City. It was thorny and shapeless, straggling branches over the rocky ground without any symmetry, and the leaves were a hard jagged greyish green. But despite its looks, around this time of year in the middle of the dry season it produced a kind of tiny edible berry that Caprica loved. Bright red and intensely sweet-sour, the berries dried well and kept well, and in the few weeks these berries were ripe she could pick and dry enough to flavour a whole year of tough, gamy meat stews and bland grain porridges.

Years ago, Gaius had made her a little solar oven up here, patched together from panelling and wire mesh that had once been part of the Galactica. What she picked in the morning would be dry enough to store by the end of the day.

The work would have gone faster with Cora there to help, and Caprica missed her daughter's chatter too, the private time between the two of them. But there was a deep joy in being alone here too. It was so rare for her to be entirely alone like this, silent, answerable to no-one.

She'd been coming up to this hillside for so many years, but she still loved this place so much, and to be alone here was best of all. She loved the view, the light, the fresh clear smell of the wind from the west. It was still a little hazy - it was always hazy, except at the height of the dry season, and then it was merely dusty - but Caprica loved that too, loved the gentle way that the mists and hazes blurred distance, let hillside and sky merge imperceptibly into one.

She'd had enough of hard lines and sharp edges on the ships, years ago.

 

 

By late morning she'd picked enough berries for the day, and had to pause for a rest. Caprica really was was getting old.

She drank from her waterbag, stintingly. Up here the only water was what she had brought with her. She'd brought food too, soft squashy cakes of cooked congealed grain, but she'd been snacking on berries all morning; the cakes could wait.

While the berries dried, Caprica moved into the shade of an overhanging rock and opened her basket. She'd made it herself out of dried rushes; it was one of her older attempts, and somewhat lopsided. She had more rushes in the basket, and, now, a little more skill in making them.

Which was a good thing, considering how often they were broken.

It never seemed to be her children or even her grandchildren who were responsible. Younger people, who had never known effortless plenty, never seemed to have any trouble understanding basic cause and effect. When her daughter Natalie had been only eight, she'd broken Caprica's clay cooking pot, and cried for three days about it; but then, Natalie had understood that it was their only cooking pot, and that there would be no more hot stewed dinners until Gaius could make and fire a new one.

No, it was Caprica herself, and Gaius, who always seemed to be careless.

At least, she thought wryly, a woven rush basket is easily mended, or replaced. Other things are not so easy.  

 

 

Caprica woke up suddenly in the late afternoon. After she'd finished with the baskets she'd eaten her lunch and then napped a little, in a sheltered shady spot with the warmth of the afternoon all around her. But now it was cooler, and the breeze had picked up. She'd slept too late.

Muzzily, she opened her eyes, and was all at once fully awake. She wasn't alone.

There was a woman there, standing over her. Golden in the golden light.

"D'Anna," she said, very quietly.

Ghost or demon or angel, the other woman didn't reply. Instead she smiled.

The breeze was whipping her fine blonde hair around her. Sunlight was falling on the side of her face, leaving deep shadows on her other side. Between the light and the shadow, she didn't seem to have aged a day since they'd left her on that beach half a universe away - which was not surprising, considering that she was dead. Caprica couldn't stop looking at her. At her face, at her smile - that haunting, familiar, angular smirk.

Finally Caprica took hold of herself, and took a breath. She smiled back tentatively. And then she picked up her baskets and went back to work, packing away the sun-warm dried berries to take back home.

It was not, after all, the first time D'Anna had come to visit her.

No-one spoke about it, and Caprica didn't think that anyone else saw living people, the way that she and Gaius did. But how would she really know?

She knew that she wasn't the only one who spoke to the dead.

Usually they only appeared to one or two people at a time; but everyone had seen Laura Roslin in the back of the crowds in festivals or elections - the two were more or less the same thing by this time - or heard Felix Gaeta calling out a warning of a storm or a flood, or on a clear bright day seen two glossy-new Vipers racing by each other, far overhead. More than once Caprica had caught Lee Adama talking to someone she couldn't quite see, invisible except for a flash of sunlight on sun-bright blonde hair.

Her sister Natalie was there, the day Caprica named her eldest daughter. Saul Tigh was there, the day Caprica named her son.

And now D'Anna was standing on the rocky path in front of her, and smiling.

"Look at you," she said, not entirely unkindly. "An old woman working in the sun. What a sight to see! Who would have thought, if they saw you thirty years ago, that you would end up this way?"

"An old woman?" Caprica replied, calmly. "Yes, that's what I am. Do you think I'm ashamed of it?"

D'Anna laughed. "Are you happy?" It was almost sincere, and without conscious thought Caprica smiled more brightly, replying to the tone as much as the words.

And then D'Anna's smile widened.

Softly, almost caressingly, she said, "Caprica."

She was not saying Caprica's name.

There was nothing, for a moment, and then the world shivered and billowed all around them. Illusion, projection - all at once Caprica and D'Anna were standing in the middle of a blooming public garden in Caprica City.

There were achingly familiar flowers everywhere, showy cultivated chrysanthemums and brilliantly coloured roses. Caprica could smell the thick sweetness of them catching in her throat. There were fountains jetting up clean fresh water, neat hedges, green clipped lawns. And there were people all around them, talking and laughing and shouting - more people than Caprica had seen in one place in thirty years.

Over the sound of voices Caprica could hear the rattle of a Maglev train coming into the station. And all around her there were buildings scraping the sky, tall and shining, enough to make Caprica dizzy. It had been so long, so long since she let herself remember this -

She looked down, and saw herself in a beautiful tailored silver dress. In her young familiar traitor's body.

D'Anna had never let loving her be easy. She had never been kind. A younger Caprica had cut herself to pieces, trying to love her - trying to make D'Anna let herself be loved.

Caprica was older now, wiser, calmer, but D'Anna's cruelty still cut deep.

And yet - she was older now. Wiser now.

She stepped forward, and took D'Anna's hand.

The smiling rush of people around them took no notice.

Some things are beyond redemption or forgiveness. No universe could be large enough for that. But with the years grief and shame could soften their bite, a little. Caprica could come to a kind of peace.

"Yes," she said, softly. "Yes. I am happy."

Very slowly, the city faded away.

 

 

Up on the hilltop the sun had sunk low, near to the black line of the western hills. Caprica would need to leave soon if she didn't want to be walking down the hill trail in the dark.

But it was easy to linger here, watching the sky and the hillsides drowned in light. The greyish rock faces, angular and crumbling, had their own kind of glory, and on the stunted trees the red berries burned like flames.

"I suppose it is beautiful here, in a way," D'Anna said, finally. She hadn't let go of Caprica's hand. Even now - even after all of these years - it made Caprica's heart beat faster

Forgiveness, redemption - none of these were more important than love.

Leaning in, very simply and easily, Caprica kissed her.

She felt D'Anna's mouth move in another twitching smile, for a moment, and then D'Anna was kissing her back, so slow and so sweet.

They parted, finally. D'Anna's hand in hers felt warm and strong, alive. She wasn't going to apologise - but then Caprica didn't expect her to. This was enough.

"You're going to die soon, you know," D'Anna said, almost regretfully.

Caprica laughed. "I know! You think I don't know that I'm old?" She knew D'Anna could hear the pride in her voice, to have lived this long, gotten this far.

But D'Anna just shook her head, unsmiling now.  

"You're all going to die. You know that, don't you?"

She tugged Caprica forward, three steps closer to the edge of the hillside, and unwillingly Caprica followed her. From here they could just barely see the village, the little houses of wood and scavenged metal, the dirt footpaths and little fields and gardens straggling down to the stream's edge.

Caprica was too far away to make out any human shapes from here, but nevertheless there were a few small specks moving: Centurions, some of the eighteen who had chosen to stay behind, to let their ship go on without them and make their lives with their other, younger brothers and sisters.

They would outlive Caprica, no doubt, and maybe her children; but that would be all. They had metal stored away for repairs, fuel and parts scavenged from the ships - but the stores would not last forever. And there was no way to make more, no way at all.

For her Centurion brothers and sisters there would not even be children as consolation for their relinquished immortality - at least, not in the way that Caprica herself had had children. There would be some consolations. The Centurions were the favourite aunts and uncles of every child in the village: protectors, guardians, silent playmates.

Beloved at last - but dying. As Caprica was dying. As her children would die.

"The village won't last," D'Anna said slowly, inexorably. "There's not enough of you to make it viable, and your gene pool's too small. Too many of you are Cylons, and you Cylons had too many children."

Caprica knew that, they all knew. They knew from the beginning what they were doing, and how it would end. But there wasn't any other way they could live. How could any of them choose to deny each other a chance at love? She shook her head around the lump in her throat, but D'Anna was still talking

"Machinery will break down, and you'll forget how to fix it. Metal will rust. Plastic will degrade. In a thousand years there won't be anything left here but dust. Throwing everything into the sun wouldn't have slowed things down in the long run, but in the short run it would have made a hell of a difference."

D'Anna laughed, voice cracking.

"You poor bastards, with your hygiene and your elections and your gods. In six generations your children will have forgotten how to read. In eight they will have forgotten that they came from the stars. Your great-grandchildren will starve in floods and droughts, and watch their crops rot in the ground, and die of parasitic worms. Your great-great grandchildren will murder and rape each other. In ten generations they will have forgotten agriculture and the wheel."

Mechanically, Caprica lifted her free hand to wipe her streaming eyes.

"Yes," she said, so softly the words caught in her throat. "Yes, I know that. We always knew what would happen."

"So why the hell would you do it? Why bother?" And at last it sounded like D'Anna really, truly wanted to know.

Caprica was never like D'Anna, not really. She'd been tempted, but she would never take the quick route, skip to the end, turn to the last page of the book to find out what happens - not if it meant she would miss out on everything that happened in between.

She took the slow way, the long path. She'd had so many years. And now Caprica was almost at her end - but not yet. Not quite yet.

"We did it because we'll live," Caprica said, husky but clear. "Before the end, we'll live. We'll keep living, and maybe one day my great-grandchild's great-grandchild's great-grandchild will watch the sunset from this hill, and pick berries, and - and think that this world is beautiful - "

She had to stop when the tears threatened to overtake her. Gently, D'Anna squeezed her hand.

"Yes," D'Anna said, softly. "Yes, I suppose that she will."

They were quiet for a while, then. D'Anna didn't let go of Caprica's hand.

And in the deep evening silence they watched the sun go down together.