Chapter 1: seventeen turns of the wheel
The beginning, and the end, and another beginning.
Birdie, she's called. It was Saul Tigh’s name for her, she thinks, originally. It was only natural that the thing took on a life of its own. Little Bird. Birdling. Birdie. She is a bastard, base-born, and a branded citizen of District Twelve. Which means that she has very few rights, many hurts, and no name to call her own. She might have been a beauty, someone from another district told her, once. (Rich people from capitol sometimes come into District Twelve to pick over the children’s home for a baby. Charitable. The Right Thing To Do.)
She cannot leave. She’ll never leave. She’s branded. "Dangerous." But the lady, bouncing some other government-owned bastard (no rights, no name, no freedom, but property for the government to pawn off onto people who can’t have their own children) in her arms had appraised her, not even knowing her. Knowing who she could have been. That she was born Eleanor Aurora Adama, daughter of the Admiral and the President. But her father is long gone, and her mother is as well.
Birdie the Bastard.
A child who shouldn’t exist, a child born of many improbabilities.
The people of District Twelve at least give her the name, Adama. Should they ever overthrow the cylons, she thinks she’ll take back Eleanor, too. Eleanor Adama. It rolls so nicely off her tongue. Better than Birdie, with no surname to call her own. (It struck her when she was thirteen that she was the reason that the cylon government stripped the rights of bastards.)
Eleanor Adama would have been a beauty. But Birdie is malnourished, too-thin, and barely five feet tall. Her hair is a flat brown—dark, long, and lank. Limp, but curly on bath days. District Twelve is the poorest, and gated off from the others. Last to receive rations and supplies. Highest suicide rate. The only district without a hospital, but two orphanages. There’s barely a school, the one her mother used to run (Laura, your mother’s name was Laura Roslin) before she was executed for high treason when Birdie was eleven. Green eyes. She has her mother’s green eyes. Her skin is olive-tinged, but sallow. Cheekbones thick, and high, jaw defined, but cheeks gaunt. Her nose is straight, and long, slightly curved at the end. Curved down. Her face is wide and angular in structure, but painfully thin.
The scars—the one that curves down the left side of her jaw, the lattice-work on her back, and her thighs. The ones below her right eye that would have blinded her had she not raised her arm in time, so instead in continue on the back of her right forearm. Claw marks, from a Three. The thumb-mark is a chunk out from under her right cheekbone. More probably, but she can’t see them, cannot be bothered to keep count. Her scars are a record of her. Proof that she has battled in life, and has come out the other side the victor.
She is slim, but muscular. Her hands are small, fingers long. She lets the tips rest on the table, palms suspended above them, fingers curved. They look like spiders. They’re surgeon’s hands, though. Not really, she thinks. Doc Cottle took her on when her mother left (be good, be smart, be brave, be strong) in his makeshift clinic. She ran out of medical texts to take home years ago, but she used to read them during the long, cold nights, from her pile of blankets on the damp basement floor. Crying babies. She could never sleep over the sound of crying babies. Read Hanbridge’s Anatomy and The Complete Medical Encyclopedia instead. Eventually found the word for her memory—eidetic.
She's good for trauma. They can’t do much else. Cottle is training her for his replacement, his vision fading and hands starting to shake. District Twelve hasn’t had antibiotics for years, or surgical equipment, at least officially, and she knows that when he dies she will be running more than a supply underground with Kara Thrace Anders. No one else on New Caprica may know her, but they do. They know what lies behind the bastard’s mark. They give her Adama. She knows that she is expected to be the symbol of the resistance in return. Like her mother before her, she will sacrifice her life to the cause. Like Saul Tigh. And Sam Anders. Cally Tyrol. Tory Foster. Felix Gaeta. So many more. So many names. So many faces. So many dead, so many taken, so many questions. So many so many so many so much.
And soon they’ll look to her.
The fight is over, each district is told. Divide and conquer, she learned at her mother’s knee, during one of the brief periods of time they had lived together in the small house with the red door. Bastards are wards of the government. They can be taken away from their parents at any time. Bastards can be sold. Bastards can be experimented on. Trained. Brainwashed. They are blank slates for the government.
That isn’t to say that all children can’t be reaped. All children are subject to the Hunger Games. And the cylons an force anyone’s hands. Who wouldn’t want their child to grow up in the capitol, or District One? District Two? Go to a good school. Receive an education. Never go hungry. Never go cold. Have a roof over their heads and shoes on their feet.
But District Twelve. Criminals. Dissenters. Conscientious Objectors. The branded, who will never go beyond the gates again. The born, who can only hope to be reaped for intelligence, or talent, or brute strength, or beauty. And the rest, who pray to the Gods for deliverance. Or at least District Eleven. But they’re good people, her people. It isn’t the den of sin and crime that the government pawns it to the other districts to be. District Twelve has almost no crime at all. Only the ones the cylons perpetrate. The residents of District Twelve are good, hardworking, gods-fearing people. Hardened, and quietly-broken people, who love fiercely and protect their families. They’ve protected her. The fight will never be over in District Twelve. That is why they are condemned to that slim sliver of land.
But there is no wall at the opposite end, keeping them in. Only the ones to separate them from Districts Ten and Eleven in the circular colony. They can leave, but only to wander the mountains and never-ended forests before dying of starvation, or returning. To the ocean that is rumored to be beyond. Her mother and Saul Tigh had once wondered what was beyond the ocean. More land, they knew, but had no way to get there. Perhaps all of Twelve could leave. Perhaps they could do it, together.
They had taken her mother the next week.
(Be good, be smart, be brave, be strong.)
Birdie still dreams of the land beyond the ocean.
(Eleanor, I love you so much.)
She dreams of a lot of things.
She is Eleanor Adama: soldier, surgeon, sinner, saint. The impossible girl with the mother who didn’t age. This is the story of what has been taken from her, and the story of what she will take back.
Chapter 2: birdie the bastard
Birdie, the daughter of Laura Roslin and Bill Adama, awakes on the Reaping Day. The day does not go as anyone thinks.
She wakes up on one of the hard clinic beds, Doc Cottle prodding at her with his cane. “Girl,” he says. “Up. Patient. One of the Tyrol boys.”
“Which one?” she yawns, the stubborn ligaments in her back protesting when she unfurls from her tightly-wound ball of skin and wool blankets, clenching her hands and her toes, trying to work feeling back into them. The morning is cold, and she has not slept for very long.
“The one named after your father.” He prods her again. “Now up, young lady. If I can still get out of bed, so can you.”
Birdie swats at him, slipping on her deerskin shoes and pulling herself to her feet. “Too many…” she mutters. “What’d he do this time?”
“Frak if I know,” he mutters back, pulling a hand-wrapped cigarette from his coat pocket and lighting it, smiling when Birdie fans the smoke away from her face and wrinkles her nose at him in disdain. “But he split his lip. Needs stitches.”
“Waking me up to do stitches,” she replies airly. “Gettin’ old, Uncle Jack.”
He grumbles, his cane marking heavy steps as he follows her slowly to the front of the dilapidated, but free-standing, house that District Twelve uses as their sole source of medical care. “If I wasn’t arthritic I’d whip you, girl.”
“My momma would come back from the dead to smite you,” Birdie titters, stretching her arms out above her head. “Laura Roslin, red-headed demon, just screeching at ‘cha, chasing you to Hades.”
Cottle barks a laugh. “I was never afraid of your mother. Now go earn your keep, little bird. Not the morning for fussing.”
“Saul Tigh then, missing eye and all. He never let people give me shit.”
“Go. I should kick you out.” She can almost hear his smile. “All the sass I have to put up with. Frakking red-headed women and your godsdamned attitudes.”
"Not a redhead," Birdie laughs, opening the sorry-looking door to the front room and smiles at the young boy sitting near the wall. Young Billy Tyrol is swinging his legs; a guilty grin springs up on his face when he sees her.
The clinic is a pre-fab, one of the original houses in District Twelve; not one of the newer, but more crudely-made apartments or row houses built out of clay brick into the border walls. It has four rooms—the front, which is for out-patients and triage, the back, which is for overnights and storage, the washroom, and the basement lab they use for surgeries and experiments
The front room is set up simply, one of the long walls lined with shelves filled with jars of natural remedies and salves, and hidden deeper in the drawers are the antibiotics and antivirals and antiseptics that are routinely smuggled in by Aunt Kara’s underground.
“You’ll never get rid of me,” she answers back under her breath, voice lilting and amused. “Never, ever, ever.”
“Insolent child,” he grumbles. “I should send you back to the home.”
“But you won’t,” she replies in the same breathy, sing-song lilt, snapping plastic gloves onto her small, spidery hands. “You love me…”
There is a mini-fridge powered by the extra generator, filled with their small supply of blood (Birdie makes a mental note to cajole Uncle Galen into rounding up more people to donate after the Reaping), and a table set up in a corner laid out with basic first aid supplies, flanked by two stools, one of which Billy Tyrol is currently sitting on.
"Billy!” she scolds him. “Today of all days, when your momma already has enough to worry about! You know better.”
“Sorry,” he answers sheepishly through a mouthful of blood.
She sighs, and dabs at the gash with a cotton-ball soaked with alcohol, holding his chin in her hand as he tries to squirm away from her. “How’d he do it, Nicky?”
“Mouthed off to a Three,” Nicky Tyrol replies, looking out the window that opened out onto the crowded street; more crowded than usually expected at ten in the morning. More frantic, more frenetic. “You know how that goes.”
She hums in reply, the vague touch memory of D’anna Biers’ nails scraping flesh away from her face tingling down her cheek.
“Billy, you know better,” she says with another sigh. Little boys like Billy—sweet, young, average—can avoid the cylons’ attention. She could never, will never. She doesn’t have a name—she’d be dangerous with a name, so they took it from her to be smart—but the cylons all know who she is. “She could have killed you, had she wanted to. You got off easy.”
It's true. The cylons had done more to children because of less.
He pales, shrinking down. His eyes widen when Birdie sifts through her supplies and pulls out an old, but clean, surgical needle. “You’ll need three or four, depending on how many I can get in there, kid.”
“Will it hurt?” the small boy asks.
Birdie smirks, threading the nylon suture through the head of the needle holder. “Who were you named after, kiddo?”
“The Admiral,” he answers mindlessly, quickly. “Your Daddy.”
“Right,” Birdie says, nodding at Nicky, who comes from behind to pin Billy’s shoulders against his torso. She lifts Billy’s chin in her hand again, not even needing to lean down to do so. “And do you think he’d shrink away from stitches from a battle wound?”
Billy shakes his head guilelessly.
“Right,” Birdie replies before tightening her lips into a smile. “I’m going to numb you first though.” She turns away from him. “Doc! Where the hell you’d get to?”
“Out here!” His voice, followed by the faint smell of smoke, wafts through the window from the small porch attached to the front of the clinic. “No need to yell.”
“Sorry Doc!” she replies in a tone that does not imply much of a sense of apology. “Did you finish up the—”
“Didn’t get to put it on its shelf, but—”
Birdie pivots, hand reaching out to snatch a shining glass jar filled with a thick white paste. “—you put it on the counter. Got it. Thanks Doc!”
“Hurry up!” he barks. They can hear him pound the end of his cane onto the porch’s floorboards. “Can’t be late!”
“Yeah…” Birdie purses her lips, applying the paste to Billy’s lip. When she speaks, she addresses Nicky. “How’s Rosie?”
Nicky huffs a short laugh. It does not sound amused, just tired. “Woke up crying. Neither Ma nor Isis can calm her down. Nor Pa.”
“And how are you?” she asks meaningfully, eyes steady on her patient.
“Fine,” Nicky answers, looking away, fingers drumming lightly on his brother’s shoulders.
Birdie’s lips tighten even further, deep lines appearing around her mouth. Nimbly, she picks up the needle again, and grasps the boy’s chin even tighter. “Don’t move,” she orders him. He wriggles when she first pierces the delicate skin surrounding his mouth, her pale green eyes focused intently on her tiny, neat sutures. It takes her less than a minute to finish and then dab at the wound again with piece of cotton.
Blindly, she reaches to her side for the lid of a heavily scratched glass canister, lifts it, and extracts a piece of sugar candy. She smiles wryly, handing it to the boy. “Tell your momma that it’s to be kept moist, and that I’ll take out the stitches in a week. Now wait outside, I gotta talk to Nicky.”
Billy nods complacently, sticking the candy in his mouth and padding onto the porch. Birdie waits until she can hear him engage Cottle with idle chatter before pinning Nicky with her gaze.
“How many?” she asks forcibly.
He coughs, avoiding her gaze. “Don’t worry about it.”
He licks his lips, and for a moment all Birdie can hear is the rush of people outside, the squeak of Cottle’s rocking chair on the porch, idle chatter, the whisper of their curtains dancing on the breeze. Such a beautiful day for a death sentence, Birdie thinks, casting her eyes to the floor.
There are seven members of the Tyrol family—Galen and Maya, Isis, Nicky, Roslin, William, and Stephanie. And with not enough food and money to go around, and with Isis and Nicky being the only ones grown and Uncle Galen unable to work…
Nicky sighs and leans forward, brushing a lock of brown hair away from Birdie’s face. She trembles. So many people lost. So many of her people gone. Her parents people, who protected and raised and clothed and sheltered her and for what? So that they could walk to the slaughter while the odds remained in her favor? Her eyes cast to the floor. She knows she must look so horrible.
“How late were you out?”
She’ll let him avoid the question for a bit.
“I got back before the sun was up.” Another call in the night, another night of avoiding the guards and breaking curfew to find someone injured, someone dying. Another night spent up to her elbows in blood. “He lived, by the way.” She scuffs at the floor with the sole of her shoe. “GSW to the right flank. Cylon, of course. Guy was um…” she looks out the window.
“Yeah,” Nicky mutters with a nod. “So he’ll be fine?”
“Hopefully.” She pauses, and then turns to wrap up the suturing thread and clean the needle with rubbing alcohol. “I’ll have to keep an eye on him. He’s at home. Too dangerous to bring him here, now too dangerous to move him.”
She puts the implements back into their neat row. Her fingers hesitate over the lip of the table, tapping the peeling white paint thoughtfully.
“So,” she says, turning. “How many?”
“Will has fifteen, with his new detention stays. And you could figure it out if you wanted. You’re the one with the photographic memory.”
Birdie rolls her eyes. “I’m too tired, Nicholas. And I don’t care about Will.”
Nicky gasps sardonically. “I’m telling.”
“I already know how many tesserae Will had taken,” she tells him, leaning back against the table. The room is so full of light, she thinks. Such a nice day. But nature stoops to grieve with no man or woman. That is a privilege reserved for the gods alone. “Because Will’s a good friend and tells me these things without me having to ask, and doesn’t brush it off like it's nothin'. I just. Please. I want to hear it from you.”
Nick clacks his teeth together, systematically cracking his knuckles. Birdie watches him with something like desperation in her eyes.
“Forty-seven,” he says finally, like the words have been painfully extracted from his mouth.
She gasps. “Forty-seven. Lords of Kobol, Nick! Why wouldn’t you let—”
He shrugs nonchalantly. “It is what it is. We should be grateful you only have eleven.”
“Be grateful!” she explodes, rubbing her pale, sallow face with her hands, muscles tense with aggravation. “Yes, be grateful, Nick. I wish people would take me off the frakking pedestal. The war is over.”
He laughs, the tone of it tinged with dark humor. “Don’t tell my Dad that. Or Aunt Kara. Or the whole lot of ‘em. If protecting you makes them feel good about themselves, let ‘em. You’re important, Birdie.”
“No I’m not,” she whimpers. “I’m just like everybody else.”
“Except you’re not.”
She growls. “They were people, Nick. Just like you and me. Just people, except they went and got themselves killed for what they believed in and everybody went an’ turned ‘em into gods. Created ‘em bigger than Zeus and Hera. But they were people, and I’m just a person too. And just because I’m their kid—”
“Miracle baby,” Nicky comments dryly.
“Shut the frak up!”
“You two alright?” Cottle yells, genuine concern diluted with sarcasm. He appears in the open doorway into the clinic, watching the two of them warily.
Birdie tunnels a hand through her dark, greasy hair, frame rigid with frustration. “Jus’ fine, Doc.”
“You’d better get going,” he tells Nicky. “You too, young lady. Get going.”
“I’m not ready,” she huffs tiredly, scrubbing her face with her hands. “Look at me.”
“Then get to the Tyrols, girl,” Cottle tells her, and not unkindly. “You need a bath. And a dress. And shoes. And something to fix that hair of yours. None of those things you’ll find here. So get.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?” she grumbles fondly, pouting at him. Nick, beside her, reaches his hand up and tugs at the ends of it. Swatting back at him, she turns to go out onto the porch. “I’ll be back later.”
“Don’t say that,” Cottle wheazes.
She rolls her eyes. “I only have an eleven in one thousand, two hundred, and twenty-three chance in not being back later.”
“Don’t tell me the odds, girl,” he says, pointing the tip of his cane at her. He turns to Nick, jabbing his cane in his direction. “You get her there on time, would you? No trouble.”
“Promise.” Nick tosses off a sharp salute, ushering a muttering—I can take care of myself, thanks—Birdie out of the clinic and onto the porch. “Billy—les’ go.”
Birdie flits down the few steps leading from the porch to the road, whistling through her teeth. “Husker!”
Landing on the gravel-lined street, Birdie turns back to see her mutt lope out from under the clinic’s porch, the long ligaments of his hound-like limbs rippling under his dulled russet-hued coat.
“The dog stays.”
Husker pads over to Billy, licking his cheek and emitting one low, loud woof, before trotting over to his mistress and butting her hand with his head. Birdie rolls her eyes at Nicky.
“The dog comes.” She kneels to the mutt’s level, raking her nails over the sensitive skin behind his long, floppy ears, giggling when he licks her face. “That’s a good boy. You’re coming with mommy, right? Mommy wouldn’t leave you behind. Auntie Maya loves you. Good boy.”
She snorts, getting to her feet and brushing her hands off on her soft black suede leggings. “You’re just jealous.”
“Gonna give me a kiss?” Nick wraps his arms around her waist, pulling her towards him, frowning when the dog steps between them.
Birdie dances out of his grasp, wrinkling her nose at him, Husker circling her feet. “Later, boyfriend. Aren’t we gonna be late?”
An hour later, she sits at the Tyrol’s dinner table with a mug of coffee—or what has come to pass as coffee—sitting in her hand as Aunt Maya brushes out her damp hair. Uncle Galen sits across her from her, fumbling with a clock that he’s trying to repair. Birdie watches as the pads of fingers slip over the wires, as he slides the nail on his thumbinto the divot of a screw and twists his wrist to loosen it. Memorizing. Taking it in. Birdie likes to know how things work. She likes to learn. To be useful, when she can. And she can never, ever, forget.
“What do you want me to do with it, honey?” Aunt Maya asks, scratching Husker’s back with her bare foot. The dog is curled up on Birdie’s feet under the table, panting. He licks at Birdie’s toes as if he can feel the tension in her muscles. Maya rubs at Birdie’s shoulders, sensing her nervousness. “I could braid it.”
Birdie nods. “That’d be nice.”
She remembers back to when she was small, back before she had to worry about tesserae and tiny slips of paper with her name—her real name—on them, and odds, and the hunger games. Back when she lived with Momma, who would brush out her long, wavy hair as it dried. Momma, who couldn’t always keep her with her, at the house with the red door, but who always protected her and always tried to keep her unruly, frizzy hair braided and neat.
“You get any good game lately?” Uncle Galen asks her, trying to make conversation. He’s on-edge. Guilty. Working himself up for the long walk to the square. “Isis said you almost got a deer the other day?”
Birdie nods, and licks her lips. “It was close. Been catching squirrel and hare recently. More than enough to get by. I’ve been tracking a bear, too. Gonna need some help to bring it down.”
Laura Roslin, Birdie thinks. The name sounds nice and familiar on her tongue. She likes the shape of the L in Laura, the sli in Roslin. Warm. Comforting. She feels close to her on the reaping days. Close to both of them, on the day where she almost feels like she could reach out and touch it, like it was a tangible thing for her to hold.
My father was William Adama. My mother was Laura Roslin. They were unmarried at the time of my birth. I was to be Eleanor, not Birdie, called bastard.
The bastard’s oath.
The only way for a bastard to throw off the catena was by being Reaped (or reaped) or volunteering to be a tribute. The bastard would act as a tribute as a trueborn child, with full privileges and rights. A week, at most, usually, before they were killed in the games, unless they were careers. Most careers were the bastards of high-ranking government officials, or the otherwise wealthy who could afford to send their begotten children to the academies for training.
And at the bottom of the stage, at the microphone, it was what they said. The bastard’s oath, to swear who their parents were, what their name would have been.
It was what she would say, where she reaped. Cast of the chain of her bastard’s name and number, claim her parents. They would test her DNA. The penalty would be death if she lied, and not a quick one. Birdie always wondered if they would allow her to claim her parents, or if they would falsify the DNA test to keep her silent. Would they have her father's DNA at all? But it isn't like they would have to test it, they know who I am...
It is, after all, because of her existence that bastards exist. The names Roslin and Adama are still strong, and if the other districts knew that Laura Roslin's child by the Admiral had survived… so they institutionalized bastardry. Used it against parents to keep them in line. Used it against the children to keep them down. Created the brand to destroy any chance they might have.
She thinks they would have to let her compete, or else District Twelve would be in revolt. They had done so before, shortly after she was born, before there were even districts...
She wonders what it would be like, to live as Eleanor Adama, for even that short amount of time. To be the child of the Admiral and the President. How would the cylons play that to their advantage? Or would they just have her killed right off the bat, in the bloodbath?
So many… so many dead. Uncle Galen’s first wife had been executed, with so many others, before Birdie was even born.
Aunt Maya’s fingers are rougher than her mother’s, she thinks, distantly hearing Momma’s airy alto as she told Birdie—Ella, she was always Ella to Momma—stories about life on Caprica and about Daddy and her older brother Lee. Told her stories as she tugged and pulled her hair into shape. But it never hurt when she did it. Just her and Momma, in their tiny little house. When she could shut the door and pretend that the world just went away.
“Birdie?” a small voice peeps from the doorway into the girls’ bedroom.
She smiles softly and reaches out one arm. A small black-haired girl ducks under it—Roslin Tyrol, all of twelve. Her first Reaping day. Birdie didn’t have her mother for her first Reaping, she remembers. Laura Roslin had been arrested and summarily executed by the time she was twelve. How pale and shaking she had been, clinging onto to Kara Anders and later, Isis, before being foisted into the group of twelves at the back of the square.
“I heard you were nervous,” Birdie murmurs into Rosie’s hair.
Uncle Galen looks up from his project, briefly, casting his eyes to his middle child. His hands shake, and he flattens them to the table to calm them. Birdie can feel Aunt Maya shifting her weight behind her, the dilapidated floorboard squeaking in protest.
Rosie tucks her face into Birdie’s cotton tunic, nodding. Her slender fingers dart out and pluck at the chain around Birdie’s neck, before pulling the entire thing out of the neckline of her shirt and rubbing the etched gold metal tags between her thumb and first two fingers.
Birdie chuckles softly. “You have nothing to worry about, little Rose. Your name’s only in there once.”
“It’s not me,” she whimpers. “Nicky.”
Birdie sighs. So does Maya. Galen staggers to his feet, and with the help of his walker, leaves the room as quickly as possible. Rosie buries her face deeper into Birdie’s collarbone, tugging at the chain almost painfully hard, causing it to cut into the skin at the nape of her neck.
“What do they say?” Rosie whispers, almost playfully, but still with a pervading sense of sadness. She encloses her hands over the tags.
Birdie closes her eyes, even though she doesn't have to. She's known what was on them for as long as she can remember. “W. Adama. Serial 204971.”
She can feel Aunt Maya wrap the braid at the base of her skull, and then pin it in place. Her hands drift down the sides her neck, and rest softly on her shoulders. As Birdie opens her eyes again, Aunt Maya drops a kiss on the crown of her head, and then walks away.
“I’ll get you one of Isis’ dresses,” she tells Birdie faintly. “You can borrow a pair of my shoes.”
Birdie inhales sharply, impulsively raising a hand to her father’s dog tags and pulling them up and over her head. The plain, unadorned chain hangs in her hand for a moment, the tags gleaming softly in the natural light. She knows every scratch, every etch. It’s palpable, and indescribable, how they feel against her chest, or in the palm of her hand. These were once his. These are all that are of him. These, and me.
She cannot put words to it, but when she folds them tightly in her palms, and can feel the rounded corners bite into her skin, the metal growing hot, the feeling of her pulse beating around them she feels… like there is a sun bursting inside her, in its angry death throes. In its birth. White and hot. It is in her blood, and it sings. Whatever it is.
Birdie carries her father with her, always.
I was to be Eleanor, an Adama.
“Would you like to wear them today?” she asks Rosie. “For good luck?”
“You don’t believe in luck,” Rosie mumbles. Nevertheless, she enfolds her hands over the tag and rotates them to face her again. “Only the odds.”
Birdie barks a laugh.
“Sometimes we just take what we can get, and say thank you, little girl.” Birdie wraps her hand around the back of Rosie’s head, and brings the girl’s forehead to her own, and hums. “Take them. You and me, we’ve got good odds. But Nicky needs some luck. And you’re his sister so they’ll work better on you than me.”
“But you’re his girlfriend,” Rosie whispers, brown eyes crossing, trying to look Birdie in the face. "You're getting married."
Birdie sticks out her tongue, and screws up her face. “But you’re his sister. So take these.” She opens Rosie’s palm and drops the tags carefully into it before curling the twelve-year-old’s fingers around them. “Wear ‘em under your dress. And then after the Reaping, give ‘em back. We’re gonna see each other after. None of us are goin’ to the Games. That’s a promise.”
Maya’s feet introduce her back into the room. Birdie and Roslin separate; Birdie turns in her seat to see the faint, ghost-like smile on Aunt Maya’s face when she lifts the red, flowing skirt and white blouse she's carrying in her arms.
“You look very beautiful,” Rosie says, clutching Birdie and Nick’s hands as they walk into square.
“You do,” Nicky agrees, before letting go of Rosie’s hand. He kisses his sister on her forehead, lingering for a moment—his fingers brush over the dog tags she tucked under her much-too-large dress, thoughtfully, almost, and then looks at Birdie, meaningfully—and then staggers pointedly away to his side of the aisle, to the very front with the rest of the eighteen-year-olds, where he is shortly joined by Will Anders, before Will ducks back to stand with the seventeens.
Will. Another one with too many tesserae in the pot, but not nearly as many as Nicky. Will, who she shared a crib with, shared a secret language with as children. Her brother in arms. Her brother in everything but blood. Nicky and Will, her two people.
We entered this world together, he told her once, back when they called each Artemis and Apollo and taught each other to hunt and use the bow and arrow. Back when they were small. Back when her Momma was alive, and times weren’t good but at least weren’t so bad. She’s barely two weeks older than him. Like twins, really. We entered this world together. We’ll leave it together, too.
Because that's how stories work. She used to be a girl, Ella, who believed in stories.
Birdie watches them, blinking owlishly, breathing calm. It is an immaculate day in District Twelve. In all over of their sorry 35 square miles of New Caprica that the city proper was settled on. She will be fine. She always is. She is Birdie the bastard. She wears two brands. She watched her mother scream in terror, scream at her to flee into the woods. She watched her mother die. She’s never broken. She’s been interrogated and tortured and did not break. She will be fine.
Birdie knows how to survive; she killed the girl, Ella, long ago.
Birdie hunts and runs and hides. She sneaks between shadows during the night, knows all the tunnels and passageways and every inch of the first wood like the back of her hand.
(She cannot forget, can never forget. Her brain chemistry does not allow it.)
“Come on,” Birdie says faintly, the words delicate in her mouth. She watches Rosie say goodbye to her family, get picked up by Isis, and cuddled by her mother. Kiss Steph, who is even smaller than her, on the cheek. Watches her wrap her arms delicately around her broken father. Uncle Galen and Nicky regard each other tersely. A nod. A handshake. Taking a faltering step forward, Birdie leads Rosie to the rest of the twelve-year-old girls in the back. “I’ll see you soon. For the tags. Keep ‘em safe for me, now. No playin’ around.”
She brushes the girl’s hair out of her eyes, straightens the bow at the waist of her dress. Rosie’s eyes water, and she clutches at Birdie’s forearms.
Birdie takes another measured breath, before reaching to remove Rosie’s hands. Steeling herself, she places the girl’s much smaller hands onto her father’s dog tags.
W. Adama. Serial 204971.
She carries her father with her, always. He can never leave her. The people who have left her can never truly leave her. She carries them with her. She lets them live on. It is what she owes. It is her duty to them. They are gods to these people, and she will leave them be. It is what she owes.
“I’ve got to go now, kid,” she murmurs, eyes above Roslin’s dark head. The child bears her mother’s name. Kinship, or something like it. Something heady, when Birdie has no blood and no name. Just a serial number of her own and the bastard’s brand.
As she walks towards the front of the square, she watches. Her eyes meet briefly with Aunt Kara, who gives her a nod. Doc Cottle, leaning heavily on his walking stick next to Uncle Galen, barely able to stand, and Aunt Maya and Isis, who is frowning. Standing in a clump of seventeens, she takes in her surroundings, watching the bookies filter through the crowds. Watches one exchange money with Doc.
Birdie wonders what odds the bookies are giving her this year. Will the cylons rig the games to pick her? Or wouldn’t they have killed her from the start, when she was twelve? She knows there are always good odds of her being picked. She wonders how many people bet on her. On Nick.
She focuses her stare on the temporary stage set up in front of the Justice Building as the roped-off portion of the square gets more and more filled. The muscles surrounding her mouth twitch involuntarily, and Birdie sighs deeply and holds her elbows, breathing out her anxiety. She feels like her mother, in the long red skirt and clean white blouse, hair cordoned back against her head. She looks like her too, people like to tell her all the time.
(Bless you, child, the man she saved last night had whispered. You're the spitting image of... before the morpha had taken him.)
The eyes, some people say. That she has Laura Roslin’s eyes, especially her stare. Or her jaw. Sometimes her cheekbones. Or her hands, of all things. Her voice, more rarely, but from people who knew what Laura Roslin sounded like outside of her presidential persona.
The stage is a small set-up, unlike the elaborate stages in Districts One or Two. Timber from the tree-line. Two glass balls, one for the girls and one for the boys, a podium with a microphone, and three chairs.
Two of the three chairs are filled by a Doral, the acting mayor, and the Six they call Caprica, who is punished for some crime yet unknown to the populace by being forced to act as the escort to New Caprica’s poorest district.
Just as the clock atop the Justice Building strikes noon, the Doral stands and steps up the podium and begins to read. It is the same as is read every year—the story of the oppression of the cylons, the mistreatment of their race at mankind’s hands. The failed rebellion, how they fled. And then came back, for justice. How they chased humanity to this mudball—although the Doral didn’t use quite the same terminology—and conquered man once and for all. How New Caprica rose over the failed Baltar regime and helped humanity. Made them survive. Built the circular walls of the city, and placed the Capitol in the center and another set of smooth, circular walls, before dividing humanity into twelve castes. Ranked those worthy of survival, and those less so.
How the civilization of New Caprica, where cylons and humans could live in peace and prosperity, arose out of the ashes with the Capitol ringed by her twelve children, just like Kobol and the twelve colonies. Birdie flinches when he gets to the part of how Galactica fell out of the sky, and was brought down in flames. How the great Admiral Adama, the symbol of the colonies’ hubris, was killed so that humanity could start anew.
But the colonists and mankind still had to pay the price for their sins and oppression. And so the Hunger Games were born. And the tesserae. And the catena, and the brands. Humanity would pay for its decadence and lechery. The children would bear the sins of their mothers and fathers, and every year, each district would offer up two tributes, a boy and a girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen in a ceremony called the Reaping.
The twenty-four tributes would be imprisoned in a great arena somewhere else on the planet, an arena that could be anything from a vast desert wasteland to an arctic tundra.
And then over the course of a few weeks, they would fight to the death.
To make it humiliating to the lower castes, the cylons would pit the wealthier districts, the favorite few, against the poor, hungry masses. They allow for the careers. Require each district to make the Games into a spectacle, and shower the victor and the victor’s districts with food and wealth.
(The victors are almost always careers. The careers are almost always victors. Make the rich richer and the hungry hungrier.)
While the tributes battle each other, the colonists battle starvation and watch the decadently rich from the Capitol on the screens set up in town square.
“It is a time for repentance and a time for thanks,” intones the mayor. If District Twelve had had any victors in the past seventeen years, the mayor would read their names now. But they have none. Instead he introduces District Twelve’s mentor by other means: Gaius Baltar, who is bug-eyed and trips up the stairs before coltishly making his way to his seat accompanied by the silent glares the people he failed.
Anger coils tightly in Birdie’s veins, like cautious prey ready to fight back.
A look of abject distress flits across the Doral’s face—this is being televised across the districts and he knows that he is making a fool of himself to the cylons he answers to in the Capitol. They’ll always be the laughingstock of New Caprica. The dirty, the poor, the hardened. The hungry.
Good. They deserve it, she thinks venomously, her face not betraying an emotion. Baltar searches the crowd from his seat like he does every year—until he finds her, pales, and looks away. Gaius frakkin’ Baltar deserves it.
Eager to move on, Doral calls Caprica Six to the podium.
Cheery as ever, the Six sashays to the podium and gives her signature, “Happy Hunger Games. And may the odds be ever in your favor.”
Birdie turns back and through the crowd she can see Rosie, and Nick and Will. She turns back to the podium, and fights the instinct lift her hand to her throat, to rub at the chain that usually lays there.
There are over a thousand slips, she thinks, the world narrowing to one point—the glass bowl filled with one thousand, two hundred, and twenty-three tiny slips of paper. She feels so close to them, in this moment every year. Tangible, it’s almost tangible. Her death is almost tangible. The battle, the fight. Like them. Die like they dead. Go out fighting. Like a martyr. Mean something to the people.
(Be good, be smart, be brave, be strong.)
But her mother had wanted her to live. Her mother had given her life so that she could live.
(Eleanor, I love you so much.)
Caprica smiles, and it is somehow both malicious and somewhat sad.
(Stay alive. Now, run!)
The crowd holds a collective breath, a shuddering, pale thing. Hoping, despairing. Unlike in District One, there is no bold career to step forward and volunteer. This is not a ceremony—it is a death sentence and they will all have to walk willingly.
Birdie can look at no one.
And then—a blur.
“Roslin Tyrol,” the Six had announced primly, and Birdie remembers the world growing fuzzy as Rosie, all of eighty pounds and twelve years old and a shaking, pale thing in her older sister’s dress. The peacekeepers went for her and she cried out.
Some unnamable force propels Birdie towards the middle, her hands wringing in her tattered dress, eyes on the Tyrol siblings, all five of them, on Rosie’s tears and Nicky’s crazed eyes, looking to fight something, fight for his sister, but unable to find anything to fight at all, before moving towards the peacekeepers reaching for Rosie. On their sisters clutching to their mother.
No one to volunteer for her, not with Isis over the reaping age, and Steph below it, and Anie gone. (They were eight, once.)
Gods, Birdie thinks. She wouldn’t even make it out of the Cornucopia. I could. I’m fast. I could—one slip, one slip in over a thousand.
Duty is in her blood.
She’s just a little girl. She was named after my mother. I helped raise her. She’s Nicky’s little sister, she’s Aunt Maya’s daughter, she’s my—
The peacekeepers reach for her, to push her back into line as she steps out into the aisle, her small, quick feet carried swiftly by her trim, cleanly muscled legs. She knows how to hunt. Knows where to cut to kill. She could—she could—
It feels like that moment in detention, when they suffocated her for information, that moment when her lungs burned and nothing made sense and she had forgotten what air was, that moment before they let her breathe again. That pain, that single-minded, burning pain.
One slip in over a thousand.
The odds have always been against them.
“I volunteer!” she gasps. “I volunteer as tribute!”
Her feet carry her to the stage, the gravel squelching under her scuffed shoes. In a daze, mechanically, driven by instinct more than anything else. A bastard is no longer a bastard after they are reaped. Their father does not have to name them.
They can name their father.
She pauses at the end of the aisle and then, eyes on the widely-smiling Six, walks to her one chance out. She’ll name her father. William Adama, she says in her head like mantra, wonders how it will feel, rolling off her tongue. And then they all will know.
My father was William Adama. My mother was Laura Roslin. They were unmarried at the time of my birth. I was to be Eleanor, not Birdie, called bastard.
And then it will all begin.
There is a moment of confusion on the stage. District Twelve has never had a volunteer before. And Birdie is not exactly following the protocol.
“Lovely,” says the Caprica Six with a circumspect grin that fails to reach her eyes. “But I believe that there’s a small matter of introducing the reaping winner, and then asking for volunteers—”
“What does it matter?” says the mayor, disgruntled and tired. He looks at Birdie with a flash of faint recognition. Like he should recognize her, but doesn’t. A look washes over Caprica’s face that says the same. And then they both look at each other, and blanch in panic.
Baltar clears his throat. “Let her come forward,” he says, in a surprisingly strong voice. He holds his arm out to her.
Birdie flinches, hearing Roslin scream hysterically for her through the din, before hitting her with her solid little body, wrapping her arms around her like a vice.
“No, you can’t!” she screams. “You can’t!”
“Roslin Tyrol, let go,” Birdie tells her harshly, trying to shuck the girl from her midsection. She cannot look weak. Not if she’s to be the tribute. She cannot be weak. She cannot cry, and she wants to cry. But she will walk bravely to her death, and spare the girl. She can be like her mother. She can. She was Laura’s little girl before and she can be it again. “I said let go.”
She feels someone lift the girl from her back, and turns around to see little Rosie thrashing and kicking in Nicky’s arms. Will grabs her and pulls Birdie into a hug, before returning with Nicky to go back to their lines.
“Up you go, little bird,” Will says with a cock-sure tone.
Birdie stares at him.
“No, Will—I know what you’re—”
He gives her a push.
Birdie turns, a horrified look on her face, and begins her walk to the stage. With stiffened fingers, she rolls up her left sleeve to reveal her brands, which she will have to present to the mayor and to the Six.
“Bravo,” says the Six. She gives her a knowing stare, and a forced smile. There’s a hint of truth in it, Birdie thinks. And fear. “That’s the spirit of the Games. What’s your name?” she asks, pulling Birdie to the microphone.
She swallows hard, eye searching hard for someone she knows to be long-gone.
“My father was William Adama. My mother was Laura Roslin. They were unmarried at the time of my birth. I was to be Eleanor, not Birdie, called bastard.”
No one is surprised when, minutes later, William Thrace Anders volunteers to enter the arena at her side.
No one applauds.
They raise three fingers to the sky in silent salute, and the two of them, born together and raised together, are ushered in the Justice Building in order to say their goodbyes.
Elsewhere on New Caprica, a revolution begins to stir.
Chapter 3: with deathless face
Birdie and Will says their goodbyes to their loved ones in District Twelve; elsewhere the Resistance begins to gain momentum for the first time in almost twenty years.
Disclaimer: Startlingly enough, still not mine.
However, Eleanor Adama, William Anders, Roslin Tyrol, Billy Tyrol and Stephanie Tyrol and all the other tributes belong to me. If you ever wish to play with them, you need only ask... (Who would want to, though. Ignore me.)
Will brushes his fingers with Birdie’s as they are rushed into the Justice Building, trying to temper her rising fury with an act of camaraderie. Caprica watches the girl bring her hands in front of her, lacing her fingers together. In avoidance.
So this was the Admiral’s get. Roslin’s kid.
Caprica doesn’t know what she was expecting, exactly. She never even knew what the girl looked like, never asked. Never really cared. Probably should have. Gaius knew—knows—what she looks like.
Not like either of her parents. She’s too short, too skinny. Lithe, and skittish. Kind of coltish. She crosses her arms under her breasts to hide that she’s afraid, her fingers twisting into the sides of her shirt to keep herself from trembling.
Caprica wonders what the girl’s heart is like—perhaps it is an empty room. The orphan child, the surgeon, who picks at the hearts of others. Who relies on others, and feels nothing. There’s much to learn, when Caprica doesn’t even know if she will be allowed to live and compete. She thinks that the Ones will give the order to execute her and claim her parentage false.
A child, though.
She’s only a child.
Mercy must given to the girl. It looks like it never has before. Her face is scarred, and her hands. They’re clean, though; well taken care of. Her fingernails are trimmed and neat.
The concept of this child is strange to her.
Perhaps Eleanor Adama should not have been allowed to live, Caprica thinks with uncertain sadness. Perhaps that would have been mercy.
They file into the Justice Building; the Mayor holds the door open for her. He looks shaken. How weak, she thinks. But Eleanor Adama—the bastard, the girl, the daughter—was never supposed to enter the Games. Her name was never placed into the glass bowl of uniform little slips. She had the perfect odds: none at all.
But she volunteered.
The cylons never accounted for that possibility—that she would volunteer for someone. Why would she? The daughter had no siblings. No cousins. No family. She was alone. Why would she step forward for anyone, place herself into the position of certain death, when she had the privilege of being the bastard daughter of the Admiral and the President?
She is surrounded by Peacekeepers the moment the doors are shuttered behind them, and Caprica watches a brief expression of terror flit across the girl's face as they tear the two tributes apart. She emits a strangled sound, hands coming to her sides before reaching briefly for the Captain’s boy, who, for his part, smiles at her.
They—Caprica, Gaius, the Mayor, and three Peacekeepers—walk her down the plain, wood-paneled hallway and into a back room, where she is roughly sat down onto one of the benches. A Four joins them, wrenches open her mouth, swabs her cheek, and exits the room, before the Mayor and a Three bear down on the girl.
Caprica takes a seat.
There’s nothing to interrogate her about. She’s telling the truth. They all know it. She watches Gaius; he sits timidly next to the girl, even as Caprica’s brother and sister yell at her.
She’s strong, she thinks idly. Even as she shrinks in her seat, there’s a… measure of quiet defiance in her.
The Four returns within minutes with a print out, only confirming what they already knew. The Mayor and Three go silent, all looming over the single piece of paper, before rushing out of the small, dusty room, their shoes leaving hard sounds against the timber floors.
Gaius moves closer to Eleanor. She tries not to look at him, wrapping her arms tighter around herself. The skin on her forearms draw taught, and when she shifts her arms just so, Caprica can see the ‘B’ and the ‘12’ angry and violent against her sallow skin. Caprica wonders if the girl is similarly angry and violent. If she has what it takes to survive the Games. Her parents didn’t have what it took to survive. She wonders what she’ll be like when she’s dying. Will she go out fighting, in a burst of flames and a blaze of glory like her father and brother, or will she be hunted down, starving and panting like a dog, like her mother? Will she beg?
Minutes pass slowly, the clock—which is ten minutes slow, and getting slower—ticking loudly in the silent, empty room. It is filled with breathing and the marker of passing seconds.
“I hope they decide to let you compete,” Gaius tells her eventually, trying to put his hand on his shoulder. He falters at the last moment, allowing the girl to pull away.
She looks at him angrily. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
Caprica raises an eyebrow. She doesn’t expect to win. Not that Caprica does, but it's interesting to note.
“Thank you,” the girl mutters. “But honestly, like they’ll let me win. They can’t afford to let me win.”
“I—I’m sure they’ll—”
Eleanor’s eyes—the same hue as her mother’s, but a shade of green more intense, like her father’s—flicker to hers, before glaring back at Gaius. “My mother should have stolen the election when she had the chance.”
Gaius quiets then, folding into himself.
Shocked, Caprica watches a brief look of remorse blanket Eleanor’s face, before the Mayor re-enters the room. If Laura Roslin had stolen the election, Eleanor Adama probably wouldn't even exist. Or were Roslin and Adama frakking before Roslin gave up the presidency? Interesting.
“She’s good,” the Five says, relieved. And so Caprica stands, crosses the room, and yanks Gaius up out of his seat.
It will be interesting, this year. Eleanor Adama has nothing left to lose, and everything to gain. She nods to Galen Tyrol, who lingers outside in the hallway with his family, holding the door open for them as the cylon party recesses into the back of the Justice Building, to wait.
“Five minutes,” the Peacekeeper tells him.
His mother bursts through the door, moving quicker than she has in years and creating an all-around ruckus bigger than one woman should be capable of.
“William Thrace Anders,” she starts, and then stops, frowning at him. She tilts her head, regarding him in a way he doesn’t think she has before.
“You’re a moron,” she says, hugging him fiercely to her. “A frakking moron, boy.”
He huffs a laugh. “What did you expect from me, Mom? Never been the sharpest tool in the shed, me.”
“Too much like your father,” she mutters, pulling back and kissing his forehead. “Getting yourselves killed like you are. Walking to your death.”
“Like a frakking soldier.”
“Like a moron.”
Will rolls his eyes. This is not how he wants his last conversation with his mother to go. “You were one once, if you remember. A soldier.”
His mother sobers, sighing, holding him at arm’s length. Will feels a twinge of sadness—not for the end of his life, but for leaving his mother alone. His blue eyes crinkle, and she smooths his blonde hair away from his forehead, before whispering something in his ear.
Roslin won’t let go of her, arms locked solidly around her waist. Nick hangs back by the door with Isis, who stares at him sorrowfully as he holds back tears, hand clamped over his mouth. Uncle Galen looks ancient, Aunt Maya devastated, tears streaming down her kind, weather-worn face, Stephie in her arms. It’s Doc who approaches her first, his mouth settled into a grim line.
“You’re gonna be fine,” he starts. “Look at you. You can do this. Will’s gonna help you.”
Birdie’s brow furrows, shaking hands twisted into her red skirt.
“What if,” she stutters, eyes pasted to the floor, where her feet are stubbornly rooted. In ten minutes, she will be on her way to the Capitol and then she will never return. It does not feel real. “I’m not—I’m not worthy of this. He shouldn’t—”
“But he did,” Uncle Galen says quietly. “And now District Twelve may have a Victor.”
Birdie looks at him quickly. She wants to memorize their faces, their voices, to die with them, her family, on her mind.
She wants to forget.
District Twelve could use the food and money a Victor would bring. Use it desperately. Needs it desperately. She could keep the people from starvation. What I owe. But so could Will, if I helped him win.
“Whatever you have, hold onto it,” Doc says, leaning heavily on his cane, looking so old. “Find it. You’ve got so much, young lady. Talent, smarts, bravery. Find it in you and hold on tight.”
Birdie’s eyes well, almost painful, almost sweet. Too much, she thinks. Too much, Uncle Jack. He reaches and puts his hand on her shoulder, brings her head under his chin, Roslin moving with them, whimpering.
“Even if all you have left is an inch, don’t let go of who you are. What you are. And if you have that inch,” his voices wavers, and Birdie chokes back a sob. “Even if you have only that inch, they’ll never break you. You are who you are, my girl. Don’t let them take that from you.”
“I’m not a soldier,” she whispers back plaintively, mouth moving against his shirt. Only he can hear her.
He almost laughs, petting her hair. “Neither was your mother,” he breathes into her ear. “But they never broke her.”
“I’m not my mother,” she says.
“No,” Cottle murmurs back fondly. “But you’ve got her strength. Carry her with you. Carry both of them with you. They have to let you, now.” He looks down at Rosie. “Little Rose, give Birdie back her father’s tags.”
Birdie steps back, but remains in his embrace. “She should keep them. Someone should have them. They’ll be lost forever if—”
“Your mother left them with you,” Cottle husks.
“To keep safe, not hand over to the cylons.”
His eyes bore into her. “She left them with you, for you. Not to be treated as an artifact, or to be kept safe. For you, when you need them. Now shut up and put them back around your neck where they belong, before I hit you upside the head.”
Rosie sniffles, lifting her face from Birdie’s tummy.
“You need them,” she peeps. “They didn’t—I’m sorry they didn’t work on me, I should have let you keep them. Then I wouldn’t have gotten picked. The gods punished me for wearing them.”
“No, no,” Birdie answers, words like love on her tongue. “No don’t think like that.” She drops to her knees before the smaller girl. “This was fate. This was supposed to happen. Everything happens because the Lords will it—it is not always a punishment, it’s just a part of their plan. We just can't see it yet, because we're human.”
She thinks of when she was just a little girl, her long, dark hair dancing in waves to her boyish waist, barefoot in the red dust that seemed to lacquer the long New Caprican summer. During the midnight sun, when the music didn’t stop for days, and she and Momma would dance and sing and they were almost happy and weren’t hungry, until night fell again, and all the delirium went away.
She was eleven, when the Peacekeepers broke through the red door, and Momma told her to run. The festival had ended and they were exhausted as night fell at last, curled up together in her bed, warm and safe and calm, blanketed by the darkness, and hidden by the thousands of others who also slept. And while the thousands slept, the cylons took Laura Roslin away for the last time. Laura Roslin, who barricaded the door to her bedroom, pressed the father of child’s dog tags into her daughter’s hands, hoisted her out the window, and screamed for her to flee into the woods.
And then was arrested, tried, and executed.
It was the day that Birdie learned she could be a weapon instead of a girl, hiding among the trees for nearly a month and killing anything she could eat. The day Ella died, alongside Laura.
When she finally walked back into her district, mangy and greasy, half-dead and no longer a child, they seared the 12 into her arm. And the house with the red door, all that Birdie had of a childhood, was burned to the ground.
Run, Birdie thinks. Keep running. Hunt. Keep hunting. Live. Keep surviving. And stay strong.
She’s never killed a person, though. Not even a skinjob. And that isn’t even killing.
She saves lives. She doesn’t take them.
And they all expected her to be able to watch Will lay down his life for hers. Because.
She vows that is not how it will end. (She doesn’t know how, but too many people have died for her already and she will not go out dragging yet another person, her best friend, with her.)
Kneeling, she allows Rosie to loop the plain, dimly-glinting chain around her neck again. The warm tags fall into the valley between her breasts, the slight weight calming. Reassuring. Her mouth twitches into a small curve. She will go where so many have tread before her. The path well-worn by the feet of the infinite. The billions of lives extinguished in the attacks. The thousands more by the cylons since. But her journey will not end. She will have to come back, in time.
Life, through death. The snake eats its own tail. Over and over in the cycle, she thinks, remembering early Sunday mornings at temple service, sitting in the long, bleached pews with the other children of the home, or pressed into Momma's side.
It doesn’t help.
I will not be afraid.
That is a lie, and she trembles.
Slowly, she turns to Nick. Inhaling with a shaking frame, she reaches out to him—he fills her arms in seconds, his long, muscled legs carrying him across the floor in three paces. He crushes her to him, a dry, heaving sob escaping at last.
“I’m scared,” she says, low enough that only he can hear.
“Good,” he replies, lips brushing against her ear. “Fear’s good. Healthy. It’ll keep you alive. You can do this, Birdie. You can hunt better, and run faster than anyone we know. And—and you have Will going with you.”
“I didn’t want him to.”
“I should have volunteered.” His voice cracks.
“No!” she whispers forcefully. “No. I volunteered to take Rosie’s place because your parents shouldn’t have to lose any more children. You shouldn’t have to lose another sister. And they—they need you, Nicky. No one needs me.”
“I need you.”
“Promise me.” She takes a steadying breath, unable to look at him. She speaks again, cutting off the beginning of his protest. “If I don’t come back—”
“Yes, Nicholas,” she says, punching him half-heartedly on the shoulder. “If I don’t come back, move on. Marry a pretty girl without a brand. Get yourself out of Twelve.”
“Nick,” she croaks, wiping at her eyes. In the background, she can hear Aunt Maya begin to cry. “Nick you have to.”
“Not without you. I love you.” His large hands—rough, calloused, worked—come to frame her face, and he brings his lips to hers. “You’re coming back," he whispers after, while they're sharing the same breath.
“In a box,” she tells him facetiously.
His face darkens, but he doesn’t turn away. Nick searches her eyes, and she tries to keep her face from crumpling, tensing every muscle in her body as her arms and legs tingle, a heavy weight pressing her lungs against her ribs. Fingers stroking over her cheeks, his eyes ignite hers.
Rosie makes a desperate, gasping sound. “You have to try!”
A cold feeling climbs up Birdie’s back, slicking her back, making her blouse cling to her skin.
A Peacekeeper opens the door with a bang, the doorknob hitting the wall with a forcible bang. “Time’s up!” he barks.
And then they are gone—Aunt Maya kissing her forehead, Uncle Jack clasping her shoulder, Isis giving her a careful hug, Uncle Galen bestowing a solemn kiss on the cheek, Rosie refusing to let go, and Nick, tugging her out with him.
His brown eyes won’t leave.
Hundreds of miles away, two men stand on a beach, watching the waves crash onto the shore below a darkened sky.
"She finished breaking things?” the one asks.
“She broke one thing,” the other grumbles in reply, kicking at the wet sand beneath his feet. “Can’t blame her, either. How ‘bout you? You’ve got a kid in there too. You just froze up. Can’t blame you for that, either.”
Felix Gaeta tenses, shoulders rigid under his parka. “They do it every year. It was a matter of time.”
“Not for her little girl,” the man growls. “She should have been safe. She struck a deal.”
Gaeta snorts, his face as ominous as the sky. “Not all of us are so lucky.”
“Oh shut the frak up. I wouldn’t call ‘em lucky. Not those two.”
“And my Mina—”
“We’re gonna go and get ‘em.” The other man says forcefully. “This is the last year of the Hunger Games. It ends now.”
“I’m sorry!” Birdie squeaks as Kara comes through the door, gathering the tiny girl to her sturdier frame. “Aunt Kara I am so, so, sorry. I’m—”
“Don’t be.” She swipes a lock of hair out of the girl’s eyes. “Just… don’t be. Everything’s…. it’s gonna be alright now.”
“How did you—when you were a pilot?”
Kara nods, understanding. “Some soldiers went into battle with the mindset they were already dead. Some gave everything up to the Lords, the religious ones. Could always hear them praying over the radio. Some—the cocky ones, went in thinking they were the gods.”
“I thought you were god.”
“Hmm…” Kara wrinkles her nose. “Sometimes.” She hesitates, looking over Birdie’s shoulder instead of in her eyes. “Your father, Admiral Atheist, was an adrenaline junkie. Fed off the fear. Turned it into bravery. And as for your mother… all I know is that she had a habit of pushing semiautomatics out of her face.”
“That won’t serve me much,” she answers with a sad giggle. Too much like her, I think. The girl was too much of her mother. Too willing to die for others. Too willing to give up her life on the will of the gods.
Not when she promised Laura to look after her little girl. Kara Thrace was a woman who kept her promises, especially a mother’s promise.
“No guns the arena.”
“Not a good show, that would be.”
“Not at all,” Birdie replies, voice shaking, body following in suit. Kara grasps her arms, tugging her closer. “Need to find other methods. Make it more dramatic. Valiant. Painful. Slow. We who are about to die salute you.”
“Hey,” Kara says softly, dropping kisses into her hair. “Hey. We raised you right. You’re not some prissy Capitol kid. You’ve got guts. You’re half viper-jock.”
“I don’t think I can do it, Aunt Kara. I’m not a killer.”
“You can hunt,” she replies, voice hard. This girl cannot die. Laura’s little girl cannot be allowed to die; wheels have been set into motion and it will be done and in the end… this is their moment. “You can’t think of them being anything different than animals. You hunt to survive. Now you’ll kill to survive.”
“We can’t both come back.” She takes a strangled breath, eyes widening, chest heaving. “Aunt Kara we can’t—bury me next to my mother, if I don’t—if I die. I’m, I mean—I’m coming back…” Her voice deadens and trails off. “Come back with your shield or on it, right?” she intones, rubbing her palms along the soft cotton sleeves of her blouse.
Kara smiles sadly. “We shouldn’t have let the Taurons get their hands on you, half or not.”
Birdie laughs shortly. “No matter.”
Kara reaches out and lifts up her chin, forcing the girl to look her in the eyes. She gives Birdie a lop-sided grin, and Kara thinks that maybe Birdie’s seeing Starbuck for the first time. They’re equals now. The girls who went off to die. If Birdie must become a tribute, then she can become Starbuck again. After all, Starbuck didn’t die, even if everyone thought she had a time or to. Even if she should have.
“Maybe I’m already dead.”
Kara kisses her forehead, strokes her hair. “Don’t think like that. Just—don’t. Don’t fear death. You can live with it, or not be afraid of it, but don’t go off thinking like that.”
Birdie laughs again, shaking her head. Her eyes sting, and Kara wipes away the tears before they fall. “I was raised with soldiers and pilots. I learned how to die years ago, right? I’m—I’m sorry Will’s coming with me.”
Kara barely holds back a sob, and manages to do it with a thin smile. Her boy. Her darling boy. Too much like his father, and Eleanor, too much like hers. Too much to carry, for children. To high a cost, and the cylons make them pay it. “I’d expect nothing less of him.”
There is a moment of silence, and they look at each other. A woman now, Kara thinks. But the girl is long dead. And perhaps Birdie is now too.
“Eleanor Adama,” she says, forcing Birdie to stand straight, chin up, shoulders back. Stand like a soldier. A woman. The daughter of the two bravest people she’s ever known. Bravest, and greatest. And immortal. “It suits you.”
An exquisite young woman, Gaius thinks. Not even a flicker of emotion. Some tributes cried. Most did, actually. Cried and shook and carried on. These two sit in their seats in the car, looking straight forward, almost emotionless. Eleanor absentmindedly traces the scars inlaid on the thin flesh of her forearm. William looks out the window, the muscles of his face tight, eye pinched. They are older than his tributes usually are, though.
Little Roslin Tyrol is twelve. The boy who had been volunteered for, Alexander Stavrou, barely thirteen.
District Twelve does not win, he thinks tiredly. District Twelve is too dangerous to be afforded hope.
Well, they have it now. This is their shot.
The girl looks like her mother. The thought strikes him over the head, suddenly, when her gaze shifts almost imperceptibly, pale eyes casting him with a knifing glare. The kind of look to pin someone to their seat and make them squirm, make them feel incompetent.
Small thing she is, though. Gaius wonders how strong she is.
And in the next moment she is her father, serious green eyes looking mournfully at her fellow tribute. Gaius wonders if they’re dating, if that’s why William Anders decided to follow her into the arena. It’s a good story. He could spin it to their advantage, if Caprica let him. These kids could have a chance, even if their names were unfortunate.
The driver steers them down Main Street of District Twelve, towards the gates to the Capitol. How sad is it all. Every year, the faces got hungrier the closer to the gates the car got. Hungrier, and paler. And sadder. The Peacekeepers push the people back from their route as the street narrows, the neighborhood becomes more and more urban.
He turns to look at his Caprica, who is filling the silence with her usual diatribe, explaining the rest of the day to them—it would be a twenty minute drive to the Capitol, and then another thirty minutes after entering the Capitol to reach the Games headquarters where they would meet with their stylists.
If I remember correctly…
He twitches in his seat, watching Eleanor shift slightly in hers, eyes studiously avoiding his.
Of course he remembers correctly.
He looks at the boy. He had forgotten that Kara Thrace had gotten married. William looks like he takes after his mother—strong jawline, impish blue eyes, straw-colored hair. He supposes that any girl like Eleanor, even scarred and mottled as she was (he hopes the stylists could do something about that, if she was to stand a chance with sponsors at all) would want someone like him. All girls want someone like William Anders.
That would work in their favor.
Star-crossed lovers then? And she’ll need a sob story. He ignores that fact that Eleanor Adama’s life is already a sob story, disregarding it for the fact that it in the eyes of many, it is a just punishment, not cruelty. The poor, desperate child of two traitors, paying for their sins. Volunteers for her redemption in the Games, only to be followed into the Arena by her loving boyfriend… no, fiancé. Slept on a damp floor, dreaming of the day she could bring honor back to her family name.
The radio crackles softly before the chime of the news broadcast theme sounds over the wave. The reporters have been going nonstop on Reaping Day. Best frakking day in the year, in their opinion.
“And in a dramatic turn of events, District Twelve has not only its first volunteer, but two!” Gauis’ eyes move to Caprica. She reaches over to lay her hand on Eleanor’s forearm, only for the girl to blanch and jerk away. Something in the cylon’s expression softens. “And not only that—it’s the Admiral’s bastard! Who would have thought? Didn't the girl die, years ago?”
The girl’s eyes bulge, fingers twisting in her skirt once more when they replay the audio of her pleading gasp, the sound of thousands of people inhaling at once. And then, replaying the audio of her bastard’s rites.
“Her DNA has already been tested and she’s the real deal. Who would have thought the old devil had it in him? Left behind a little legacy.”
Gaius doesn’t think the girl is breathing, looking pointedly at her window, not through it, with a sharp frown on her face.
“We’ll be speaking with President Cavil shortly as to this… interesting development that has—”
“Shut it off!” he stutters, twisting in his seat to look at the driver and the Peacekeeper sitting in the front passenger. “Turn it off!”
With his second request—demand—the driver complies.
When he turns around again, the girl’s forehead is resting on the window, eyes closed.
She’ll need to work on hiding her emotions better, he thinks. She’ll get herself killed.
They are collected around the Tyrol’s table in a matter of minutes, scribbling furiously on scraps of paper, shoving them around the circle. Too many bugs. Too many spies. Too dangerous to speak. The scraps of paper enter the fireplace as soon as they are read, the flames reaching higher and higher as the frantic energy dissipates and information is spread.
“Has anyone got the list of tributes yet?” Cottle finally says aloud.
“Right here,” Isis says, from her perch near the wireless, pencil scratching deftly on yet another sheet of paper. She stands behind her father at the head of the table, resting one hand on his crooked shoulder, her slight fingers pressing into the knotted muscle.
Poor Father, she thinks. She raises her eyes. And my poor, poor Nicky. She feels it all too keenly—Pa’s anger and remorse, Nick’s desperation, the intense green hues of his denial, Rosie’s immense guilt, Ma’s sorrow, Steph’s confusion. Cottle’s deep, deep blue hue of crushing sadness (yet still tinged with a hue of hope) and Aunt Kara’s red-boiling rage and indignation. And all the others in her home—anxiety.
It’s almost overwhelming, in the amount, she muses, before opening her mouth to speak.
“District One: Rhys Phelan and Penelope Palacios. Both bastards, both careers, both eighteen. Rhys is taking his father’s name, Penelope’s her mother’s.” Murmurs ripple through the room. “District Two: Mako Hamilton and Hopewell Kimmit. Careers, seventeen and eighteen. District Three: Sean Cassidy and Artemis Cantrell. Fifteen and Seventeen. District Four: James Lyman, Jr,” someone curses, Isis does not look up to see who, but feels a burst of annoyance flow through the room in a strong current, “and Amandla Laird. Sixteen and thirteen.”
Another burst of annoyance, but also sadness. Isis wishes she knew the names of more Resistance members from the other Districts, but Ma and Pa only tell her so much.
“District Five: Dempsey Hughes, twelve… and Wilhemina Gaeta.”
Mina Gaeta she knew—the District Twelve orphan who had been adopted by Felix Gaeta when she was three, only to have her father condemned to hard labor in the Settlement for treason a few years later, and then raised in the children’s home.
Anxiety. The girl, from what Isis remembers and was told from the broadcast, was only fourteen, and wouldn’t know who to trust.
“District Six: Noah Schaffer and Samantha Baggot. Fourteen, both. District Seven: David Wilkens, sixteen, and Lorena Seaborne. A bastard. Not a volunteer, though. Eighteen.”
There are few mutterings of recognition.
“District Eight: Francis Birch and Cecilia Tarney. Seventeen and thirteen. District Nine: Roger Palladino and Lily Taylor. Thirteen and fifteen. District Ten: Quinn Hillard and… Constantina Hadrian. Thirteen, and twelve.”
Nick shifts in his seat. Mom puts her hand over his arm, fingers wrapping around his wrist. He looks down at the table, lips forming a hard line. Children. Just children. And Birdie. And Will.
And it's such a nice day out.
Rain would be logical.
“District Eleven.” She pauses. These names she knows. “Laurel Venner… and Genna, well, Clellan now, was reaped.”
“Frakking gods,” her father swears, banging on the table with his good hand. Nick jumps. Isis wrinkles her nose. She’s missing something, she thinks, reaching down to scratch Birdie’s dog behind the ear, avoiding the mutt’s baleful gaze. The dog whimpers before curling back under the table to mourn.
Even he knows everything’s gone wrong.
Doc clears his throat, taking his flask out of his coat pocket, uncapping it with his gnarled fingers. Isis quells the urge to take it from him and do it herself. Gods, how long have she and Birdie been apprenticed under him now? How long has Birdie been sleeping on his couch? How long… how long has she been living here, too, essentially? Helping Ma with dinner and helping Pa in his shop? Loving Nicky? Swinging Rosie up on her back? Singing Steph to sleep, patching Billy up? Gossiping with Anie, before Anie died?
How many years since the fire?
How many years since Laura Roslin died?
How many years since the fleet jumped away? Since they were blasted out of the sky?
She wants to pin the past like an insect on the board—it is fragile, and dead, and so pretty and yet so weary to look at. She’d put her hand through the glass pane just to hold it in her hand, but it would still be just as dead, and her hands would be covered still in blood. And it would be crushed. Ruined.
Her memories are to be looked at, only. Not relived.
(She’s a freak, she knows. A tender, shattering lie. And all is about to change, like the leaves. Or the rose petals that flake and fall across the floor. Waiting to be swept up and pressed between the pages of the sacred texts.)
Doc raises his flask. “To Eleanor. And William. To our boy and girl. To the children.”
The rest of the room raises their glasses in unison.
(How soon we all must fall, like dead stars and dead hearts.)
They agree to meet back after sundown.
It’s disgusting, she thinks. The high, pale buildings—the skyline is familiar, it’s what she’s been looking at every day of her life. The towering monoliths behind the Capitol wall.
So much waste.
The people walk in colorful clumps in similarly colorful clothing and makeup and hair and tattoos and piercings. Birdie watches as a man casually buys food from a street vendor, fishing for the money out of his wallet and handing it over as if it is nothing. Nothing for a piece of food, like it was nothing. Hunger is only a passing sensation here.
Her stomach churns uneasily. Such… people. Are they like her at all—their powdered faces, full and rounded and clean? Walking easily among the Peacekeepers and cylons. She fights every instinct to run, wishing she had a forest her legs could carry her to. No forest here, just the buildings. So much… bigger and intimidating up close, she thinks. And they’re not even lit up, the sun still high in the sky.
The car slows, pulling along what appears to be a main avenue. The people lining the streets—they’re waiting for us, she realizes—cheer, waving streamers and throwing confetti. A spectacle. What a spectacle, what a—
Birdie thinks back to her mother’s stories about the Colosseum on Kobol, in the city of the Gods, how she had stood on the ruins when the fleet was still on the path to Earth, before the Lords sent them New Caprica as temptation and Gaius Baltar and the cylons as punishment for their sins. How humanity had evolved past the bloodlust and sensuous violence, the parade and the ceremonies of death.
She will not be cowed by them, she thinks determinedly as the car halts in front of a daunting, gleaming building. She allows the frakweasel to escort her from the car, and onto a red carpet.
She looks at Will, who nods at her.
She knows how to be a symbol. How to put on the show. How to be the daughter of these people.
If they want a show, they’ll get it.
She might be able to do this, she thinks, standing proudly and waving, leaning on Will’s arm. She will be proud. She will hold back her disgust, her anger.
Be smart, her mother had told her.
Hundreds of miles away, the sea licks at the feet of a woman. A man comes out and joins her on the sand.
Chapter 4: the children of lesser gods
Birdie and Will arrive at the Remake Center where the identities of their stylists cause a bit of a stir; the Tyrols have a hard time handling the end of the Reaping Day; the rebels watch the Opening Ceremonies.
I'm so sorry this took nearly forever. Hopefully it's worth it, and hopefully the next chapter won't take nearly as long as this one. What was supposed to be an easy semester turned out to be absolutely crazy.
Disclaimer: Still not mine and all that. The OCs, however, are mine. No need to ask permission to use them, just let me know if you are. I don't know why anyone would, but a girl can hope.
Birdie bites the barest insides of her cheek as Helena, a woman with tightly-coiled hair and shimmery gold eyeshadow, yanks a strip of fabric away from her leg. “Sorry!” she pipes in her affected Capitol speech. “Almost done, almost done. You’re just so hairy!”
She wonders why these people speak in such a high pitch, so softly; she has to strain to hear her at all. So opposite the shouted voices of District Twelve, the melting pot of accents, from the most proper Caprican to a Tauron twang, even the strange amalgation of pronunciations and affects that her peers have picked up. (Birdie realizes, of course, that she sounds nothing like her mother, or Aunt Kara, or the others. None of them do.)
Helena makes what Birdie supposes is intended to be a sympathetic face. “Good news, though. This is supposed to be the last one. Ready?”
This is no worse than the other things. Birdie sucks the fleshy inside of her cheek between her molars, clenching one of her hands in the other, nodding. The final swathe of leg hair is uprooted in a painful jerk, and all Birdie can think is, I’m not a savage.
She’s been in the Remake Center for more than three hours without meeting her stylist, who apparently holds no notions of meeting her until Helena and the other members of the female tribute prep team have addressed all the obvious problems (the skin on Birdie’s face and hands still tingles strangely from the cream they applied, tsking over her scars, oblivious to her protests about keeping them) of washing and scrubbing down a girl who, twelve hours previous, had trudged through the sewer system in the middle of the night to get to a gunshot victim.
“You’ve done very well,” says another member of her prep team, Jupiter, who looks more primped and polished than Helena. “If there’s one thing that puts a damper on the day, it’s a whiner! They call it torture, but what else is beauty?”
She smiles weakly, but as surely as she can manage.
(Yes, she has endured quite a bit without flinching.)
“Let’s grease her down.”
Helena and a second woman, Violetta, a tall wiry figure with dark red nails and slicked hair, clinically rub her down with a thick paste, soothing away the sting of the waxing and the plucking and the burning ointment for the scars.
(They left the brands, though. Of course they left the brands.)
Pulling her from the table, they strip her of the thin robe she has been permitted to wear on and off, circling her warily, tweezers poised.
Birdie realizes that this kind of examination should perturb her on some level, but has already decided to live outside these moments; made this decision long ago on the concrete floor of the detention center, a One and a Three standing over her with gloved hands. They had rent their hands over her skin; wrought broken capillaries and fingers, and she returned to live only with the scars to remind her of what she endured.
She blinks carefully. Returning slowly. She wonders if they would have noticed even if it had been with a jarring snap.
She realizes the three have stepped back to examine their work. “Excellent!” Jupiter exclaims. “A beauty, now. Such a beauty.”
Birdie curls her lips into a practiced smile (thinks of her mother, her mother’s smile, her mother’s eyes, the way her mother would pitch her voice.) “Thank you,” she says sweetly, with more than a hint of the District Twelve accent. “We don’t have mucha cause or use for beauty in Twelve.”
Be smart, Eleanor.
“Of course you don’t, you poor darling!” says Violetta, clasping her hands together in some display of pseudo-commiseration. “But now you do. And we’re going to make sure you look the part, every inch.”
“Don’t you worry,” Helena chimes in kindly. Birdie cannot help but feel a twinge of… something, for them; however she tries to tamp it down. “By the time our stylist is done with you, you’re going to be absolutely gorgeous! By the gods your parents may have been… unfortunate, but those genetics, together! Your eyes! And your hair! And your skin, after a good scrubbing, isn’t too bad either. Tans are in this season.”
“And your pores!” Violetta adds in, encouraging her. Birdie fists her hands into her robe. “They’re so tiny. And you don’t look too much like either your parents, so no one will hold it against you. You’re a sight better than last year’s girl. By Zeus she was pitiful.”
Whatever goodwill Birdie held towards them is, at that moment, lost. Last year’s girl. Last year’s girl had a name. She had a name and a family. Brothers and sisters. Friends. And a future.
“Let’s call in your stylist.”
They dart out of the room, chirping and excited. Birdie reminds herself again and again that they’re total idiots. Complete idiots. Tries to work out their ages. They must have been barely school age when the colonies fell. They are trying to help me, Birdie reminds herself. I do not want their help, but I need it all the same. You do not need them hating you. Be smart.
Birdie tugs the waist of her robe around her tightly. Far from self-conscious; she feels strangely cold, the kind of cold that presumes the autumn frost, the insidious kind that creeps and slithers into people’s chests, forewarning the hacking coughs and blue lips, red-coated palms, and funeral pyres instead of loamy graves. It’s the dead kind of cold that comes from missing someone.
It is then that she allows herself to think of Will, and how he fares. He’s much more easy-going than her. Friendlier. Like a puppy, she thinks sardonically. He spent his childhood tempering her and Nick. (Although, Birdie thinks, they had not always been this way. The kingdom of childhood makes even New Caprica easier to palate.)
It is then that she allows herself to think of Nick, prays to Artemis above that he and Uncle Galen have not torn into each other yet. Body broken, Uncle Galen is still a knuckledragger, she thinks. And Nick, with his quick-rising temper. But Isis, the calming waters in the family. The Tyrols, she thinks, and sighs.
The Tyrols. Aunt Kara. Doc Cottle. Jean Barolay. Erin Matthias. Seelix. The small, dwindling family her mother had carved out for them.
Her mother, Hera above.
(Birdie thinks of Saturday mornings in the prayer tent, before District Twelve had homes and houses. Her mother’s crooked fingers wrapped around her child’s, helping her light the candles for the Mother and the Father. How much had been taken from them. How much, Birdie wonders, was left to take. What, perhaps, she can take back. What can she hold in her hands. What can she hold in her heart, or on her tongue, or the tongues of strangers.)
I sing of golden-throned Hera. Queen of Immortals is she.
She thinks of the clothes that the prep team had stripped from her. Her father’s tags. Gone forever, she supposes, like so much else before them. One less thing to clench in her fist. Should she have tried to hold on? Should she have fought, instead of sinking?
A melancholy presses down on her small, able frame.
The door opens, and something small and fragile inside of her collapses, like a dying a star.
(In the end, it is always Eleanor, the child, who remains.)
Anie had been such a fierce girl. Sixteen, and fearless, with twenty-two slips in the ball, and eyes that dared anyone who would think to volunteer for her to defy her wrath. It’s how Nick prefers to remember her, rather than as the girl who was easily overpowered during the first night by a group of frakking careers, before getting her throat slit open for the whole frakking world to see.
And now Birdie. Ella.
She has never told him that she loves him. He knows she does, has seen it in the blatant panic in her eyes. Loving Rosie, loving Stephie, loving Will, loving aunts and uncles, that’s simple for her. And he understands it, he does. Investing in someone as a—a spouse, a partner. It’s a different kind of binding and Birdie only knows the ways it can go bad. And he can’t fault her for that. Families, they fall apart. And he knows she could never bear to leave a child behind without its mother.
He loves it about her.
He levers the axe down again and again and frakking again, chopping up enough wood for the entire block to last the night, then the week. The place where they grew up, slowly emptying and filling up with ghosts.
Eight houses that spill out onto the gravel street—the faintest sound of it squelching under their homebound shoes reverberating in the space between his shoulders. The clinic, and Doc’s house, on the left. The old Tigh place, which Erin and her family took up. And then theirs. On the right, the Anders, and then what had been the Clellans, before Seelix. Jean Barolay and her family.
And on the end, the empty plot where the house with the red door once stood.
Red, for promiscuity. For the motherfrakking godsdamned brand.
Aunt Laura had been a good woman. A good leader. Nick doesn’t remember too much about her—she was kind, but sad, with gentle, crippled hands. She never minded helping him with his arithmetic.
He likes to think that Birdie got all the best of her.
(He remembers his father throwing himself into the flames alongside the Colonel, trying to stopper the Centurions and Peacekeepers from entering the house, keeping them from going after Birdie, flying away into the night. He remembers trying to go in after him, Jean’s arms tight around his shoulders, yelling no. His mother’s terrified shrieks. His father’s body, broken by dawn. The Colonel, executed alongside Aunt Laura.)
He tries not to remember, swinging the axe again and again and again, until his palms crack open and bleed. He lifts his face from his task, realizing, finally, the tears dripping down his face, his running nose. Swiping at his face with the back of his hand, his eyes find Birdie’s dog, panting on the back stoop, panting at him expectantly.
“Good boy,” he chokes to him. “Momma’ll be back home soon.”
(He does not remember his real mother, has nothing but her service portrait to remember her by. His father’s words about the woman named Cally are few and far between, and Maya has raised him like nothing but her own flesh and blood.)
Again. And again. And again.
He’s eighteen frakking years old. He’s made it out of his last Reaping. He is going to attend this meeting of his father’s tonight. And he is going to fight.
Every breath is a heave with the axe.
He’s a man.
He remembers the look on Anie’s face. On Birdie’s. Soldiers, all. They were raised by soldiers in a warzone. It’s his time.
Startling at the hand on his shoulder, he gives a small yelp. Turns, to see Isis smiling sadly at him, gauze in her hands. She always looks at him like she holds a beautiful secret behind her back, like she’s always waiting to pull out the shiny treasure from under her shirt and show it to him.
“Come along,” she whispers. “You’re bleeding.”
He nods dumbly, following her to the clinic.
“You bitch!” By the grace of Caprica’s viselike grip, Eleanor’s hands do not wrap themselves around Ellen Tigh’s throat, despite her best intentions. “You frakking traitor bitch!”
Gaius realizes he should have expected this—the girl has clearly inherited Roslin’s stunning ability to hold a grudge and Adama’s charming preponderance to brute force. As the Peacekeepers wrestle her back into submission, he wonders if those traits could be molded into something like victorhood.
He’s happy she looks something more human now, Ellen Tigh’s styling team having tamed the girl’s hair and stripped most of her body of her scars, now just faded bronze marks against her dark olive skin.
“Miss Adama,” Caprica says, the anger in her voice barely constrained by her indomitable will. “This is your stylist. If I recall correctly, you are already acquainted. And if you do not act as you should, you will find yourself suffering for your actions.”
Eleanor’s face quickly shutters, blanking out, hands falling limply to her side as Caprica’s hand slides up to the back of her neck, nails biting into the delicate skin below her chin. “You will be polite. And charming. And whatever else I tell you to be.”
Caprica smiles. “Now, go.”
The girl follows Ellen Tigh dumbly into the styling chamber.
Strange creature, Gaius thinks. And getting stranger by the minute.
“Tell me Gaius,” Caprica says, voice alight with her unique sense of muted wonder. “Will they even let her leave the Cornucopia?”
“W-what do you mean?” Her pull, like gravity, pulls him along behind her as she walks down the corridor.
“Can’t you see her?”
“Well, of course I can see her; she’s right in front of my face.” He pauses. “Our faces.”
“A little hope is a miraculous thing, Gaius,” she tells him, sure. “Do you really think they had the Admiral’s DNA waiting on file somewhere?”
“They hardly would have had to test her DNA. Her face is in every government database and—besides, who else would have fathered Laura Roslin’s child?” They step into the elevator, rocketing away to the penthouse suite. They both catch the location of the cameras with practiced ease. “At least we have a fighter. The boy, I know little about.”
She snorts. “You slept with his mother.”
His face wrinkles indecently. “Nineteen years ago.”
“Kara Thrace was a fighter.”
“Laura Roslin wasn’t and look how the girl turned out.” The door opens, and he shrinks, letting her exit first. “It isn’t all—all genetics.”
“Is it all nurture then?”
“No,” Gaius stammers, striding awkwardly to the sidebar, fixing himself a drink.
“Nature?” She sidles up beside him.
“Humans,” she chides laughingly. “Such impossibly complex creatures. Contradictions and redundancies so inherent in your design.”
“Do you even give a good frakking godsdamned about them?” They’ve had this conversation, and its many iterations and permutations before. Cylon escort, human mentor. And child soldiers. “Is it a good frakking laugh then? Watch them go off and kill each other, while you can resurrect after getting slaughtered like a stuck pig! Different kids every year, but you all just stay the same!”
“Don’t,” she hisses, and much like Eleanor had gone to before, her hand encloses around his neck, slamming up against the wall. “Don’t.”
He slumps against her iron grip. “I won’t,” he concedes, easily defeated. Yes, Gaius Baltar is just that, middle aged and not quite balding, greasy dark hair curling over his shoulders, belly swollen with alcohol and years.
Laura Roslin, he thinks sincerely, shaken, should have stolen that election.
Who was it who told him she planned to, all those years ago? He suspects his old Vice President, before the cylons starved him to death on the Settlement.
Well, starved or worked. Tom Zarek had never been a fan of hard labor.
Well, he didn’t like working with children just to send them off to their deaths, but he did what he had to. To stay alive. Even suffering the hard faces of those whose lives he signed away, eighteen years ago.
Still, he wonders faintly. He had always heard that Laura Roslin went down fighting.
“Just give me moment, all right?” Ellen asks, surreptitiously wiping a tear from her hard, smooth face. Birdie watches the woman she once considered family with a removed sense of amazement. She moves cautiously around her robed body, hands folded behind her back. Birdie cannot move, not after what Ellen told her. “Who did your hair?”
“Maya. Maya Tyrol.” she answers as if speaking to a dream.
“It’s beautiful, really. Almost in perfect balance with your profile. She always had very clever fingers for that sort of thing, though,” Ellen answers back, almost defensive. This is not the woman that Birdie remembers. This is not Uncle Saul’s shrewd and callous wife. “You look… you look a lot like her. I thought, for some reason, that you would look like him. Or like your...”
“You’re new, aren’t you?” Birdie asks, just as cautious, tentatively cutting her off.
Ellen smiles breakingly. “I used to… I used to do District Two, years ago. You were still small. But… but they contacted me a few hours ago.”
What are you being punished for? Ellen shakes her head, almost imperceptibly. Not being punished, being watched. And why not put the two people you’re watching the closest together?
Ellen looks at her strangely then, before announcing in a tone of voice that Birdie remembers clearly, “You’re much too skinny. No one will like you if you look emaciated. Come. We’ll chat while we eat. While you eat.”
She follows (Aunt, echoes lonesome in the space between her ears) Ellen through a door into a sitting room. Two red couches face off over a low, gleaming table. Three walls are blank, shining navy, and the fourth is glass, spilling out over the city. Birdie’s eyes are drawn to the skyline, the fading sun setting over District One. It’s not crowded like Twelve—One is all sloping grassy plains and large manor houses, brick streets and luxurious stores.
Ellen directs her to sit (with her eyes glassy and now, Birdie can see in the light, red-rimmed) to sit on one of the couches. Pressing a button on the side of the table, she sits back, allowing the top of the table to split. From below rises a second tabletop, laden with hot, steaming foods.
Birdie then realizes that she has not eaten a thing all day.
She thinks of Anie again, thinks of how closely she might be tracing her footsteps.
She looks down at the meal, its braised meat and creamy sauces, green vegetables and golden, steamy bread, the finely-churned butter. The hunger crisis is not a lie, not a cylon-fabricated punishment, Birdie knows. Her mother knew it too. New Caprica was never stable enough to support long-term human residence, and they are going on nineteen years now of colonization now.
(Birdie eats the unattractive grain of the tesserae, whatever meat she can hunt under the Peacekeeper’s noses and without garnering the attention of the Centurions. The citizens of District Twelve can hunt, but not without an expensive license and government approval. Many, instead, have learned to bypass the system.)
(Bows don’t make nearly as much noise as hunting rifles.)
She looks up and sees Ellen’s eyes trained on her own. “How despicable I—we, must seem to you.”
“The stories, whatever they told you about me after I left Saul, and all of you, behind. They’re probably true.”
Birdie feels naked, vulnerably so for the first time since arriving in the Capitol.
Ellen Tigh has known her all her life.
Is this a ploy? Is Ellen Tigh trying to buy her sympathy the way she frakked her way out of District Twelve?
“No matter,” she says brusquely. “So, Eleanor.” Birdie, she wants to correct her. Her mother is dead. Her mother gave her the name Eleanor. The name died alongside her mother. But to defeat this, she must take up the mantle of Eleanor again, with whatever memories of her mother’s airy alto it will bring. “About your costume for the opening ceremony. My… partner, Sharon, is young William’s stylist. And as I’m sure you know, dear, it’s custom to reflect the flavor of the district in the costumes of the tributes.”
For the opening ceremonies, the tributes are to be costumed in something that suggests their district’s patron god and goddess. It’s a farce, of course, a mockery of the Lords of Kobol by the cylons who believe so ardently in their One True God. (Birdie wonders if Ellen has taken up their God, as well, if not just Cavil’s bed.)
District One, Zeus and Hera. District Two, Aphrodite and Ares. So on and so forth… and District Twelve, the gods she and Will took up as children, the hunters, the twins—Apollo and Artemis.
(I had a brother they called Apollo. Birdie brushes the thought away, makes it become errant. I had two brothers.)
“So I’ll be in a chiton?” Birdie asks. Their costumes always pale in comparison to the shimmering gold fabrics from District One, the elaborate silks and jewels of District Two.
“Not… quite.” A smile, ever so familiar, slithers onto her surgically-tightened face. “You see, Sharon and I think that the plain white cotton thing is very overdone. No one would remember you two in that, darling. And we’re both supposed to make you two unforgettable.”
She knows that smile.
Ellen Tigh had been married to her godfather, after all. She slept nights on their floor in a nest of blankets. Sat on her lap. Helped her make dinner. Fell prey to her manipulations.
“So rather than focusing on Artemis and Apollo themselves, we’re going to focus on what they represent. The sun and the moon. The light, and the Phaesporia. The light bringer. The moon.”
Birdie would like to point out that, factually, that’s not true, but she doesn’t have the… well, something, to interrupt. She feels eight-years-old again, pinned under Ellen’s permeating stare.
“No…” she murmurs, a bit dazed.
“You’re not afraid of fire, are you, Eleanor?”
“Ellen Tigh!” a disbelieving voice carries through the tunnel. “Ellen frakking Tigh?”
“Sound like I’m lying to you, missy?” A cane taps along the flagstone floor, a light bobbing along as the two figures exit out of the shadows and into the bunker. “They brought her outta retirement for this one.”
“I’d love to see how that reunion went down. Love to hear how Tigh’s gonna react to that.” Kara chuckles, eyes half-manic. “And who’s Will got?”
“Oh you have got to frakking kidding me!” Kara hisses, slamming the door behind them. Cottle hobbles to the console, lowering his body into the chair. “This was a set-up.”
Cottle eolls his eyes. “Of course it was. Now would you shut up? We have a call to make, so scramble the signal. Isis and Nick are waiting upstairs, and those two have frakking noses like terriers when it comes to stumbling on things they shouldn’t.”
Rolling her eyes, Kara sits down and puts her fingers to the worn circuit boards.
“It’s not real flame, of course, just a little synthetic fire that we’ve come up with along the way,” Boomer explains. Will nods along gamely, although not entirely convinced that he won’t be reduced to Tauron barbeque by the time they reach the center of the colosseum.
That would really just make all the advice his mother gave him completely useless.
He looks to Birdie, standing silently beside him in a simple, yet elegant, glittering navy chiton that falls to just above her knees, speckled with shiny bits of silver that fill with light when she turns just so. Will has never seen her look so… polished, he thinks, might be the right word, her skin all one texture and color and shiny, lacquered with some sort of silvery luminescent powder. The strappy sandals winding up her calves are silver as well, as well as the delicate quiver slung at her waist. An innocuous navy cape, draped elegantly across her broad shoulders and down her back, hangs on the whim of two silver clasps shaped like crescent moons.
Her face is relatively clear of make up, which leaves him strangely relieved. Her hair has been brushed into neat curls bound back in a miasma of tiny, intricate braids cascading down her back, a silver-glossed laurel resting lightly on her head.
“I want the audience to recognize her,” Ellen says fondly. “Eleanor, the girl who was on fire.”
It crosses Will’s mind that they are probably not dealing with sane people.
He stands in something looking quite the opposite. Not in construction, but in color scheme. Where his best friend is in navy and silver, he is in white and gold. Apollo, the golden boy, the sun god. (Even your coloring, Sharon had commented on his pale looks and Birdie’s dark features. Will had swallowed nervously, remembering that it had been this particularl model who had put two rounds in his namesake’s chest.)
They are whisked down the stairs into the basement of the Remake Center, where they are shuffled into another fancy-looking car. Minutes pass by in silence, both entranced by the tall, sleek Capitol buildings. Settled next to Birdie, stoic as always, he leans down to whisper to her. “So what d’you think? ‘Bout the fire?”
“You rip off my cape and I’ll rip off yours,” she replies through (whitened) gritted teeth. “I know I promised Caprica or whatever the frak her name is to—don’t look at me like that, dumbass, I’ll tell you later if we don’ fry—to do exactly what they said, but I don’t think she considered that we’d get blown up before the Games even began.”
“Where are those two, anyway?” Will asks, voice low and steady, like it is when hunting. “Aren’t they supposed to make sure we’re good an’ safe until they’re ready for us to die?”
“Dunno.” Birdie shrugs. “Dunno abou’ those two in general.”
Their eyes (blue and green, every shade of blue a shade of green) lock, and both snort before Birdie dissolves in giggles. Will rolls his eyes at her as the car comes to a stop and her shoulders continue to shake.
“Come along,” Will says, dragging her out of the car and into another cavernous basement, pulling her onto his arm. “Come along, Birdeline.”
She wrinkles her nose. “No.”
“You actually don’t have a choice.”
She goes to make a witty retort, before the concrete walls shake. Air raid, Will thinks, freezing, clutching Birdie tighter.
“No, asshole,” she snaps, tugging him along with her to follow Ellen and Sharon. She points up with a manicured finger. “The crowd. The arena. We’re under it.” She seems shaken though. She blinks at him, and then at the ground. “No heroics, all right? Just promise me. No heroics. You hear me, golden boy?”
He nods, looking only ahead. “Got it.”
They follow Ellen and Sharon to a wide open staircase, and towards the roaring crowd.
He smiles tremulously at her. “Here we go.”
They huddle in their sparsely-furnished compound, around their sparsely-used television set. Can’t get a signal this far out anyway. She can’t figure for the life of her why Saul negotiated for a frakking television set of all things, but at the moment, Laura Roslin is grateful for it.
“Can the generator even support this?” Felix asks, connecting and reconnecting wires.
“Well, we’re gonna find out,” Saul growls back, sitting heavily next to her. “Now calm the frak down, there isn’t anything else we can do but wait.” He turns to her. “You gonna be okay?”
“You’re not gonna do that thing where you puke when you’re nervous about her, are you? Because that got real old real fast. I’ll get you a bucket, though.”
“I’ll hit you over the head with it,” she mutters, tunneling her fingers through her hair.
Saul takes one of her hands in between his, gnarled old fingers threading through impossibly-young, but pained, ones. Oh, if only she’d known the consequences of taking the hybrid blood. Not that she had a choice in the matter. But still… experimental treatment indeed. Cottle had been right to be wary.
Felix reconnects something in a way that must have been just right, the screen coming to life with fizzles and crackles of dancing static. He lopes away from the screen, examining it precisely. The static clears, and he moves over to their comm station.
“We’ve got it. Try and transmit audio through, now.” A muffled voice responds through the other, and seconds later, they have sound. Laura smiles up at Felix, her expression worn and thin and grey. He returns it. “Got it. Over and out.”
“How is it being handled over on their side?” Saul asks, eye widening. She looks at him. He’s wondering if they would kill Ellen to get to the children. Even now, after all she’s done and hasn’t done, and time…
Felix drops heavily into the chair at the comm. “Meeting tonight after the ceremony. Starbuck will get back into contact with us after that. They want to do a flyover with the few vipers they’ve salvaged over the years, do some recon on whether or not the cylons are really monitoring us anymore.”
“And after—” Like magnetism or something stronger, she feels herself being pulled back into the position of leader. She is always going to be pulled there, she thinks. Even now. Especially now. She stops, the commentators giving way to the feed inside the colosseum in the center of the city.
Their signal is grainy, but strong.
Six years. She hasn’t laid eyes on her child in almost six years. Pictures, they've sent her, but they're not the real thing. Left, gave up everything, so that Ella could live. Made certain she would live.
Oh, how she was Bill’s daughter.
The opening music begins, and swells, and the camera pans to reveal the thousands of people in the stands, before slowly making its way to focus on the massive doors that the tributes on their chariots will circle out from. District One rides out first, in their silver and gold and peacock plumes, their horses costumed with large, white, feathered wings. Laura can hear the crowd roaring over the music, knows District One is always the favorite—she doesn’t care, can’t care. District Two follows, and each one after that, faster and faster.
Her heart pounds. Has she ever known a fear like this? This fear and this love? Saul grips her hand tighter as Felix’s daughter exits the gate with her partner. Mina, tall and lithe with bronzed skin and blonde hair.
Seven, Eight, Nine.
She grits her teeth painfully, the nerves in her jaw going numb.
She is so intensely proud of her, but so, so afraid. Has been captivated by this fear since the moment the Galactica crashed and burned out of the sky. Without hope, how could she protect this child? And Ella has proved herself to be so strong and so brave, so much of her and so much of Bill, this tiny mewling infant who had been born as the first wisps of dawn crossed the first morning of the long night.
Ella became her hope.
They gasp, alarmed, before realizing with the crowd’s roar—
Oh Gods, she thinks, before realizing that she had in fact breathed it aloud. The music pounds, the cheers of the crowd growing as Ella and Will (she feels guilty for not thinking of him more, sooner, for he is her godson and—but—) make their way through the arena, the camera focusing on her daughter’s eyes, green and every shade of intense and serious as Bill’s, chin lifted high. Defiant. Her child is still defiant.
There is a flicker of hope inside her, that perhaps now they can get sponsors, besides what that Twelve will be able to send them. They will have more time. (More time for them to figure how to break them out, because Laura Roslin will tear down walls and entire cities and civilizations to save her daughter’s life. Ella is not going to die. She will not allow it. All they need is…)
Eleanor will have a chance.
Saul presses his handkerchief into her hand, and Laura realizes how hard she is crying, lifting her hand to tamp down on the noises she is making.
She watches Will turn to look at her girl, Ella catching his gaze; they smile, link hands, and raise them above their hands. Partners in the cradle, and partners in the games. The crowing commentators seem stunned, Laura Roslin thinks proudly, the blue-silver and gold flames growing together and busting out towards the night, feeding off the other.
Eleanor! the crowd screams, throwing roses at her little girl’s feet.
“Now see that?” the man, some brainless Capitol crony, shouts breathlessly. “I love that! Two young people, lifting their hands up saying I’m proud of being from District Twelve! We will not be overlooked! Now I love that!”
“Well,” the other cuts in, “people are definitely going to be paying attention to them now!”
The first one laughs joyously. “William Anders and Eleanor Adama, the boy and girl on fire!”
For the first time six years, Laura Roslin hopes.
The raucous cheer in the main room of the Tyrol home dies the moment the camera cuts to Cavil. President Cavil, whichever has deigned to speak at the night’s events. The national anthem plays, some bastardized notion of the original colonial anthem. The music ends with a ringing flourish, all camera poised on the One in charge.
Maya hushes Stephie in her arms; her grumbling cries the only sound in the room full of ex-military and rebels.
“Welcome,” Cavil says with a charming smile. It echoes, the acoustics of the stadium built for resonance. “Welcome. Tributes, we welcome you. And we salute you, as you will go where no cylon can go. We salute your courage and your sacrifice.”
As custom, the camera pans to each chariot. It lingers, they notice with tentative joy, on their kids. Hope.
It is a year too late for Anie, Isis muses sadly. But she would not mind too much. Her sister Anthea Tyrol had been raised in the tradition of self-sacrifice, just like the rest of them. They had broken father’s body, and then his spirit. Again, and again.
“And we wish you,” Cavil continues, holding his hands out to the crowd, “a Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”
The more the sun sets, Isis notices, the harder it is to take one’s eyes off the boy and girl on fire. Good, she thinks. It must get dark.
Birdie nearly sleeps through dinner, her energy all but drained after the thrill of the ceremony. She craves sleep, padding into the bedroom of the penthouse suite. Her brain can barely process the luxury, the excess, as her hands numbly sort through the clothes in the dresser for something soft to sleep in.
Baltar and Caprica had acted so strangely at dinner, displaying a perverse form of giddiness.
She shakes her head. Not tonight.
In the morning, she will analyze their reactions.
She can sleep, her body tells her. Somehow, she feels safe, her lesser brain telling her to shut down. How long has she been awake? She had barely slept for two hours before Cottle prodded her awake to sew Billy’s lip. Had that really only been that morning? Already, a clean line has demarcated her (shortly-ending, dwindling) life. The concept of before seemed so hazy. So far away. Stitching Billy’s lip seemed to coincide with watching her mother’s face in the window as she looked back—once, only once—before sprinting towards the woods.
It all runs together.
(She dimly realizes she’s also drunk.)
(She does the unforgiving math a realizes she’s had a few glasses of wine on nearly forty hours without sleep.)
She looks up from the dresser, bleary-eyed.
Her scars are gone. And her acne. And her frizz. The lines around her eyes. Her freckles. The cluster of moles around base of her left ear.
Birdie wonders if her mother ever looked into the mirror on Colonial One and didn’t recognize what she saw. She wonders if her mother would be proud of her, or angry that she volunteered so that another Tyrol girl wouldn’t have to die in the games. If she would be proud that she became a surgeon. If she would… just be proud. Of her.
Something hits her then, a sudden burst of adrenaline sparking her awake, her hand flying up to slap against her naked chest.
Her father’s dog tags (are probably in Ellen’s possession. Or gone forever. You already knew that, she chides herself.)
Her minds slowly drags her back into the day, what Ellen had said.
I thought, for some reason, that you would look like him.
Does she? She knows… she has seen pictures, of him, from his service record. Her mother had a few of the two of them together, from the year before the cylons came. But those were lost in the fire. Would she even recognize the man if she saw him? She’s the… Admiral’s daughter yes, but always Laura’s little girl, first and foremost. Hers was the hand that held hers. The arms around her frame. The voice in her ear.
She has his name. Took it, for herself. (But her mother gave that to her, too.)
(She wonders what he sounded like.)
Be smart, Eleanor.
“Be smart,” she tells herself, voice thick with sleep. She focuses her eyes harder on the mirror, imagines her cheekbones harder, her face thinner, hair redder. “Be smart. Be brave. Be strong.” She pitches her voice lower, tries again. Lifts her chin. Stares herself down. Her mother’s voice was more… it came from below. Tries again, nearly gets it.
She sighs, eyes slipping closed.
Collapses into bed.
Dreams do not come to her that night.
But the visions do not stay away.
Her mind fills of images of Galactica in the sky, her father standing with his tags in his fist, the golden sun breaking over a silver viper, the stars falling as they all burn.
Chapter 5: the girl and boy on fire
Training begins, so does the plans for the revolution.
A/N: This chapter took four months and half of one of those really big bottles of yellow tail merlot. (Edited sober, I promise.) Thanks to everyone who kicked me to update (read: Rachel, aka wibblywobblyinagoodway, aka citiesofcolor) and everyone who reviewed and hasn't given up on this story. I haven't but it's a bit of an emotional roller coaster to write. I really understand why Hemingway said "write drunk, edit sober," now. (And writing an honor's thesis in history isn't really helping the issue. But I will never, ever, abandon this fic. No matter how long it's been between updates.) Really big thanks to Daybreak for the fic rec!
Also kudos to whoever catches the ASoIaF reference.
Additionally, there is now a prequel to Down the Sky. The title is Shatter My Heart, and is easily found on my profile. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Her nights are filled of fire. She fears flame. It makes her shudder and gasp and yet here she crawls through it, hands and feet singing, her clothes burning away from her flesh. Please, she thinks. Please, someone help me. I need help.
She cannot scream, here on her hands and knees through a forest of flames. She keeps going of course, and does not look back. Oh how she wants to. She wants to look back, to the place where she was Ella and she was safe and loved and held, where her hair was brushed and braided, and the temptation is much too great, of a time where she was safe and loved and Momma held her and braided her hair—
Momma, she cries, but Momma's hair is flame red like her own used to be, when she was very, very little and Momma is aflame and so is Uncle Saul and the house with the red door, and everything is red, and terrible, and red.
She screams, until screams are hoarse and keeps crawling, her fingers blackened and charred.
Please, she yells. Please, somebody. Anybody.
It hurts, oh Lords above it hurts, the fire and she knows she came here willingly.
Please, she cries. I'm just a kid!
The stars have fallen, and the sun has gone away, and she sobs as the Galactica falls and falls and falls and she hears screaming and someone roars jump and she sobs harder, trying to get to her feet.
Help me! she screams. Please, help me! Save me, please!
A pair of unseen hands helps her to her feet; her father's dog tags appear in her fist. A voice she does not yet know yells to her run!
She looks forward, and sees Eleanor, and a face she does not quite recognize, before the flames close in, swirling around her, swallowing her whole, burning her alive...
Birdie jerks awake, heart thrumming wildly in her chest. Tamping the flats of her fingers over her mouth, she eases out of bed. Padding over to the window, she sees the sun just beginning to break over the wall. She fists her hands--not burning, you're not burning--into the sides of her soft sleep shirt, before running her index and fore fingers along the smooth, red skin marking her brands.
"Shower," she mumbles. "I need a shower."
Her skin is damp, her night clothes clinging to her skin, her hair plastered to her forehead.
"Gods frakking dammit," she mutters, stripping as she walks into the bathroom. "Frakking nightmares aren't gonna do us any good in the arena. Frak."
Will enters the dining room to see Birdie already at the table, drinking her coffee (black, one sugar) and slowly piling rolls into her mouth.
"How'd you sleep?"
She smiles weakly. "You know me. I sleep jus' fine on a damp floor."
He shakes his head slightly, walking over to the sideboard to see more food in one place than he's ever seen in his life. Wrinkling his nose distastefully, he softly says, "That wasn't an answer, Birdie."
"I'll be fine," she answers blandly over the rim of her coffee cup.
"I know you'll be fine. You'll always... are going to be fine. That's not what worries me." He decides on eggs, and bacon. Bread and jam. Coffee. He takes his with cream, because he works as the baker's apprentice and is used to it. Birdie, he knows, is far too pragmatic (tries far too hard to be Aunt Laura) to use cream and sugar. But he'll take his comforts where he can get them. He keeps his tone even, and sits down beside her. "But you're not fine, right now, which is the issue." Not that they're going to be fine at all, in a week, but he needs and wants her head to be in the right place, for several reasons.
He lets her simmer with her thoughts. There's no use in pushing her, because she'll push right back and then she won't talk at all. Will eats, listening to the clink of her spoon as she stirs her coffee, watches her watch it circle and swirl.
"It's... strange," she says, when she finally begins. "That, in a few weeks, we're going to be dead. Hunted down. Or starved or... whatever. But right now, we're the safest we've ever been in our entire lives. It's not... it's that, that makes me feel..."
"Worse?" he asks, when it becomes apparent that she's floundering for a word. He doesn't look at her yet. She must of had a nightmare, he thinks. He's known Birdie his entire life. They have shared a cradle, a childhood, and many mornings.
"I'm not used to sleeping in the same place for several nights in a row. Or... having to." She forms her words delicately, with care. She usually does, he thinks, but her voice is pitched lower than usual, and he thinks for a moment that if he closed his eyes, he might mistake her for her mother. "You know I haven't had a bed of my own in... awhile. It's jarring. To have people knowing where I sleep. But also for them to know that... and that they won't..."
She trails off again, fingers tensed on her spoon.
She hisses out a breath. "Something like that." She pauses, furrowing her brow. "I miss my dog."
Will chuckles. "You like that mutt more than you like most people."
Snorting, she answers with a dry, crooked smile, eyes cast down into her coffee, poised just before her lips. "Husker doesn't ask me questions."
Will grins at his plate. "Husker growls at anyone who comes within five feet of you."
She takes a long drought of coffee. "He doesn't growl at you or Nick. Or any of the Tyrols. Or Doc. Or-"
"He just growls at anyone who dares to come onto his block that he doesn't know," Will interrupts through a mouthful of eggs. "Remember that time he almost bit whatshisface's hand off for trying to hold yours?"
Birdie squints. "The Tauros boy? Alex? We were like, thirteen." She sighs, putting down her mug again. "They'll take care of him, right? Make sure he has food? I mean he doesn't need much, 'cause he hunts for himself and everythin', but when the weather's shit someone needs to let 'im inside to wait it out..."
"My Ma'll do it. Or Rosie and Billy. They love him. And Doc, no matter how much he bitches about him--Husker pretty much lives under his porch."
His mind turns to his Ma, and wonders what she'll do when he's gone.
He thinks she might not survive him by long.
Birdie clears her throat next him, and he knows its a subtle threat to tell her what's on his mind or she'll wrangle it out of him otherwise. She enjoys giving people orders, even though they may not be recognized as such.
"I'm just worried about my Ma, is all." Setting his fork down on his plate, he takes a deep breath. He looks after her. Or likes to think that he does. Keeps her from doing anything that will get her killed. He thinks that maybe if Birdie wins, she'll hold on. But he... he doesn't want to have to go back to Twelve without his best friend. He won't be able to face any of them, if he survives her. If... Eleanor Adama dies so that he can live.
He volunteered to go into the arena with her for a reason.
They came into this world near-on together. He'll be damned if they don't go into the Games together.
If she dies, he better be on the ground before her.
And then what? His Ma'll go on some suicide mission, taking out as many cylons as she can before she...
"I'm sure she'll..." Birdie begins, before shaking her head, cutting off her own train of thought.
"Yeah," she finishes shortly, voice oddly high. She bites her upper lip, worrying it between her teeth. She looks young, Will thinks, without her scars. They made her look... maybe not old, really, but tired. Combative, with the claw marks on her face and the scar left over from when she cracked her jaw on the stoop of the children's home. Her hair is glossy, not lanky and unwashed, her skin clear and unblemished. She looks like an airbrushed version of herself.
She looks like maybe what Eleanor Adama would have had a chance to be, Will thinks, if the cylons hadn't come back. If she had been the spoiled child of the President and the Admiral, a military brat in cushy quarters, pretty clothes, well-kempt and untouched by cruelty.
He wonders if that girl would have been his friend.
Probably, he thinks. He'd be a different William Anders as well. Maybe that William Anders, who had a mother and a father and served as... a viper pilot, maybe, instead of a baker's apprentice and with maybe more than one pair of falling-apart shoes and nothing but some dirt and an old bow to his name would be a good friend for the clean and shiny Eleanor Adama.
Would they still be friends with Nicky? Would Birdie be in love with Nicky? Would Anie have been born? Probably not... Uncle Galen's first wife wouldn't have been...
Still, he thinks. No use in navel-gazing.
She's Birdie. He's Will. They live in District 12. They are going to fight in the Hunger Games.
They hear a sound coming from the hall, and both freeze.
Gaius finds the two kids sitting quietly at the table, hunched over their breakfasts, exchanging furtive, familiar looks.
He's never had tributes who were... friends, before.
Although if he remembers correctly, Laura Roslin's daughter and Kara Thrace's son are more than... friends, despite what Caprica found out about the girl being entangled with the union leader's son. Their birthdays are only two weeks apart, which makes sense if he thinks back to the beginning of the occupation. Although, he thinks, pausing and looking at the girl, they didn't know that Laura Roslin was pregnant until she was almost into her third trimester.
He remembers the rioting, though, a few days after Eleanor was born, when Cavil had decided it was a good idea to separate a tired and sore Laura Roslin from her days-old child and detain her without charge. Gods, but he thought they were going to burn Colonial One from the inside out. They hadn't thought that Laura Roslin held so much power over the people, let alone her mewling bastard daughter.
The mewling bastard daughter.
"Good morning," the boy hazards cautiously.
"Morning," Gaius answers distantly. "Caprica will be along in a few moments."
The girl sets her cup on the table.
She probably hates him, right?
"So we start training today?" she asks warily.
He looks at the pair of them. They're matching. He thinks that was probably Ellen and Boomer's doing--the maroon tunics, black pants, black boots. The girl's hair is in a loose braid, and when she lifts an impatient eyebrow at him, she is Laura Roslin reincarnate.
But with... the Admiral's coloring.
And maybe a bit of his jawline--
The boy is all his mother, though, he thinks...
"Ah..." He starts, shaking his head to clear it. "W-what did you say?"
She's giving him the oddest look, but does at least repeat herself. "We're starting training, today, right?" She seems carefully controlled today, the heady anger from yesterday gone for now. Or maybe, he thinks, looking her fingers laced through the handle of the cup, her coffee hasn't quite reached her mental processes yet. He examines her through the lenses of her parents, like a specimen under a microscope. He knew the girl existed, of course, but never had the chance to study the progeny of Roslin and Adama up close before.
Gaius thinks it's interesting that the name she took was Adama, not Roslin, for the mother who raised her.
"Yes," he answers. "You're both due down in the training center. At ten. Promptly."
Her coloring is the Admiral's though. And her build, and the measured gaze she gives him as she traces the rim of her coffee cup. It's tempered, by hunger and dark, dismal poverty and suffering, but it is still like she has been carved from some innate bedrock of politic and war. A minor goddess, almost, power coiled in her compact frame, ready to strike. Childlike, but not at all. Mercurial... like her mother.
(Not a child? She is seventeen and yet ripe with cynicism and glower, eyes deadened unless flashing with rage.)
(Strange, at least.)
He jumps, when he notices that Caprica has slunk in behind him, when both of the children's gazes fall onto her instead of him.
"So," she says, glaring at him until he shrinks away to the food table to serve himself. "Down to business. Training. First off, if you like, we'll coach you separately. Decide now."
They both look genuinely confused. Then, they look at each other for a moment, barely any time at all.
"Together," they say, in unison.
The girls looks at him long after the boy's eyes drift back to his breakfast. Slowly, she brings her fork to her mouth when the boy speaks. "Why would you train us separately, anyway?"
"Say if you had a secret skill you might not want the other to know about," Caprica says.
Will snorts. "I don't have any secret skills. At least not from her. Least not from her."
Eleanor smiles at her food. "Will and I..." She pauses around a mouthful of eggs. "Will and I have been hunting together since we were nine. He uh, he knows my other..."
"Bastard isn't the only b-word that goes well with Birdie," Will says with a smirk. "Birdie the Brave, Birdie the Brawler, Birdie the Bitc--"
"We can hunt." Eleanor cuts him off with a grin. "Bow and arrow. Hatchet. I'm fast, and light on my feet. I'm handy with a knife. Handier than him."
"I can do traps. Wrestling. Bow and arrow, too."
Not useless, then, Gaius thinks. His tributes are always feeble, or hungry. Or feeble from hunger. Or just too skinny. Strength is strength, but it never means much in the arena if you don't have the weight to throw around with it. And hunting in District Twelve is restricted, by permit only. He knows that others get by, but with bows and arrows nearly impossible to come by and permits for the select few and few of wealth, he never thought... Kara Thrace, though. They always did say that the Admiral didn't leave his people behind unarmed, and Kara Thrace (and Roslin) knew their way around.
Anthea Tyrol, the girl from last year--he remembers who she is, of course, and knows it was hardly an accident that two Tyrols were drawn two years in a row. But Anthea, she didn't even fight at all. She went through training as hard and dedicated as possible, like... Eleanor (Birdie? What a strange nickname) and William are now, but after her one-on-one with President Cavil, she... gave up. He--he and Caprica--saw the footage that didn't make it to the broadcast or any of the replays, of her death, the first night in the arena. She just gave up. Pretended to be asleep, and let--not even a career--another tribute slit her throat.
He screams before it registers--the girl has thrust one of the serving knives between his fingers and is back in her chair before he looks up at her, eyes wide and wild. The blade quivers, stuck in the hard wood.
"That," Caprica drawls, a slow grin slinking across her lips as the fire dims in Eleanor's eyes," is mahogany."
"He," the girl answers, and Gaius notices for the first time a glint of auburn in her hair, "is our mentor. He shouldn't be ignoring us."
There is a pause.
"She has a point, Gaius." Without so much as an askance gaze, Caprica reaches over and wrenches the knife from the table, and hands it back to Eleanor. "What else can you do with this?"
The girl curls her fingers around the handle, a cascade of tiny fingertips and delicately manicured nails against the gleaming silver, before she tests out the density, the weight of it in her palm.
"Where?" she asks, pushing back her seat from the table to stand.
Caprica gestures to the long swath of wallpapered wall, obverse a wall of long, gleaming windows.
Eleanor traces her lower lip with her tongue, before starting forward fluidly, more fluidly than he thinks he's seen anyone move in a long time, and her body picks up a sudden but... eloquent, speed; her arm rolls with the throw, the knife leaving her hand and spiraling towards the wall, lodging itself parallel to the floor in the exact center of an elaborate spiral pattern. It happens quicker than he would have thought, and then the boy stands, handing her two more serving knives. She adjusts them in her grip, heaving them in unison, each hitting the wall inches on either side of the first.
"Very good." Caprica's smile is feline, but proud. She claps slowly, crossing one leg over the other. "Isn't that right, Gaius?"
He opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again before answering. "Right." He smiles, and it's small. "And what--what about you, William? What can you do?"
"He came in second in the district wrestling competition last year," Eleanor cuts in, shifting her weight to stand with her feet a shoulder width apart. She's a bit bow-legged, Gaius notes. "Only after Alexander Tauros, who's more than a foot taller than 'im. Will's the baker's apprentice. You should see the shi--stuff he has to be able to lift and move. And he can hunt, like we already said." Her voice grows fierce, and protective. "I know we don't look like much to you fancy Capitol people, but we can fight."
"Birdie can climb trees. Higher and faster than anyone I know." Birdie(really?) looks at him, a puzzled expression on her face. "What?" the boy says with a laughing shrug. "You'll be up in the trees picking off people with a bow and arrow. And she's a surgeon's apprentice, so she's got those skills."
She rolls her eyes. "Will can make a weapon out of almost anything. I've seen him make his own spears in the woods before. And he's got a good eye for camouflage, and he's got the patience of a god. I'll be too small for hand-to-hand combat, but he can stand his ground with most of the other tributes. I've seen them. He's their size, or bigger."
He remembers Samuel Anders being a tall man, and an athlete, of course. His son...
"Yeah, I'll fight them. Because I'll have to." The boy rolls his eyes. "You're the fastest runner, long and short distance, in the district. When the Careers get the better weapons and I can't outrun them, I'll be frakked."
"So I'll get the weapons, in the Cornucopia--"
"Aren't you both getting a bit ahead of yourselves?" Caprica's smile doesn't falter, but Gaius can tell she's bemused, from the way tiny lines appear at the corner of her eyes, in the divot between her brows. "Only one of you can win. This partnership, while... touching, truly, won't serve you very long in the Arena. Sponsors, yes... after all, they're already calling you two the girl and boy on fire... but in the end, if you get to the end, it can only be one."
Artemis and Apollo. The broadcasters, the sponsors, they were lapping it up, indeed. The smiling and enigmatic Eleanor Adama was already a... not a darling, but a definite object of interest. And the boy who volunteered to go with her, was a topic of lesser discussion himself. He'll be relegated to sidekick. He almost wishes she had gone with Roslin-Adama, though. It would have sounded so patrician, very capitoline.
Is that how he should play her though? Sympathetic to the cylon cause. The daughter, paying for the sins of her parents. Dutifully... obediently. A mimic, of the proper fashions and proper ways and proper... beliefs. But what to make of the boy, then? His mother is no quiet and tasteful rebel.
They should be pliant, and dutiful.
Gaius can see, though, from the way she stands, from the way she threw the knives, from the fire waiting behind her eyes, twisting and smelting into iron--she will not be pliant. Not in her core. She has good manners when she wants to, he can see. An easy smile. She can speak well, eat with poise. Laugh. She'll play the game, yes, take her assigned role, but at her heart, at her mettle--
Eleanor Adama is very dangerous.
They get the recon on the location of this year's Arena fairly quickly.
"Starbuck's flying the blackbird to scope out how much monitoring we get. Actively, that is. We can handle what they throw at us, but with the little bird in the games, any sort of activity on our ends is gonna make them raise their hackles," Felix reports.
Laura spreads the printouts over the chart table, letting him overlay them with the maps.
"Right," she answers, watching as the former lieutenant lines up latitudes and longitudes. "Do we know anything, preliminarily?"
"Arena's close to home this year. It's a helpful coincidence. Although, any attention on it's gonna be noticed right away and there'll be little delay between the toasters dispatching forces and them gettin' to the ground," Saul replies.
"They've closed down their bases on most of the planet, though," Laura muses. "Have they consolidated or liquidated?"
"Or lost," Felix supplies.
"Or lost," they echo, very well remembering other circumstances and conditions of their exile. Lost, in the thousands, at least, since their last attempt at anything like revolution. And here they sat, across the sea. The bay, really, on an area she and Bill had named the Northern Neck. Isolated, heavily wooded, a good stretch of land high on a hill, good to hold. They had almost built an airfield, before the rebel cylons had been eliminated and the rebels punished for collusion and treason.
Not a loss, she can imagine Bill telling her. It had been a retreat, on the cylon's terms. And a few of her own.
"Which base are they using for the games?" Laura asks.
"The one along the 22nd parallel," Saul reads off a report. "So nearer to the city than to us. Makes sense. Starbuck and Chief report that the carrier is secure. We get the air field ready to go and they can fill it."
"How many birds do we have in our possession?"
"As many as we have pilots." Saul chortles, reaching for his hipflask. "As much good that'll do, since most of 'em haven't been in the air for goin' on twenty years, but we'll take what we can get."
"Air strikes would be limited to the Capitol and District One."
"And we're not doing that until after the kids leave the Capitol," Felix adds on, voice sharp. "As much as I'd like to head off the games, it's not gonna happen. And I'm not dropping a bomb on my daughter." His eyes flicker up from the maps, to Laura, inclining his head towards her slightly. "Or yours."
"Or Starbuck's," she says pointedly. "Or any of the others."
"No, just them prissy Capitol kids," Saul says gruffly. "Now where the frak is the Arena, Gaeta. Is it where we thought?"
When it first started getting bad, with Baltar, Bill had had given them the arms to stage a coup. And in case of the worst... three warheads. Non-nuclear, but... and the military tech to launch them, remotely.
(Laura swallows hard, swallows it all down. Three warheads. Could three warheads have saved his life? Saved Ella's childhood? Saved them all? She remembers how he took her hand, that night, the first time she saw him in months, with Baltar disallowing him from shore leave. How they spent that night in the raptor, together, in a nest of blankets, whispering to each other in candlelight after spending the day burying the missiles. He took her hand and shut the hatch behind them, laid her down, and she can still remember the weight of him between her thighs.
And before the morning light they flew back beyond the far edges of the tent city, and he was gone, with a press of his lips to her sore knuckles and the promise of her return to the presidency, her legs sore from the night's exertions.
And that was the last.)
She bought Ella's life with one of those missiles.
(They didn't know what the effects of Hera's blood was going to be, back then. They had been careless, and reckless, all hurried and urgent passion, love made in the shadows, love whispered where Baltar's spies couldn't hear. Only now, with all these years gone by... how could they have known? And what would they have done, if they had known? Would they have decided to have her, not knowing what they did?)
Bought her daughter's life, bought her daughter's way out of the Games. Bought their little... hideaway on the Neck, bought exile over death.
They had given the cylons the locations of two of the missiles.
And the third, if Felix was correct...
"What?" Her voice is sharp.
"It's not where we thought. It's not outside the Arena."
Felix rechecks his coordinates, before pointing to the point marking the burial site of the third undisturbed missile. Laura moves to stand over his shoulder, lips tightening. "It's inside the Arena."
"Frak." Laura eyes Saul when he takes a swig from the flash. For all the times she's trusted him with Ella's life... "So what the frak do you propose we do now, Madame President?"
"I'm guessing no one has any suggestions on how we could... break in, do they?" she asks, straightening her shoulders, almost prim, even in tattered pants and a ratty sweater. Smiling grimly, she paces away from the table.
"And there's no chance the cylons know it's there, right?" Felix asks, sitting down with a heavy thud and a heavy exhalation of breath.
"No," Saul says.
"Unless you know where it is, it's almost impossible to find," Laura says. She was there when it was buried, in the recesses of a small cave, it's tiny entrance obscured by foliage. It was nowhere notable. A few hundred yards from the closest water source, and someone would have to know to look for the cave to find it. There'd be little reason just stumble upon it... unless they were hiding, or running for their lives.
But even still, nearly twenty years with exposure to the elements, would it work?
Probably not. They had intended to use them within a few months of burying them.
"Who else knows about it?" Felix asks.
Laura looks at Saul, deferring to him.
"Ah..." He shifts his weight off his bad leg, pulling up a folding chair to the table and sitting on it. "Chief, Anders, Cally, Foster, Cottle. Starbuck."
"Any chance Starbuck got the recon back before the Reaping? Pieced it together?"
"And told her son?" Laura finishes, tone doubtful. "She'd have no need before the Reaping, and I doubt she'd go spouting that information in a government building. We have to think of a way to get into the Arena. They're-they're only guarding it so people can't get out, correct? And the cylons do go in and out during the games, to collect the--the bodies." She falters for only a moment, lacing her fingers at her waist.
(She knows what they're calling Ella. The Girl on Fire, Artemis incarnate. But no, her little girl was named for another fire. She was named for the dawn, curling up over the horizon at the end of a five-day night. For the girl who, squalling, pulled her out the fugue she had fallen into after the Galactica was shot, burning and screaming, out of the sky. She had laid in bed for months, stomach swelling, tear tracks drying on her cheeks. Hope, so quickly vanished. Maybe it would have been kinder, if it had dwindled, if Bill hadn't returned. Maybe then she could choose to believe that they had moved on. That somewhere, out there, the man she loved, the father of her child, was alive. That he could still come back. He had gotten her letter, and it had killed him.
Eleanor Aurora, named for the dawn, with a shock of red hair on her tiny head and Bill's serious, calm, gaze.
She's just a child. Her baby. Even if it's been six years since she sent her running.)
"We don't have anyone on the inside anymore, Laura," Saul pronounces, looking, for once, his age.
(He had held her hand during the labor, had been the first person to hold her daughter. If, twenty years ago, someone told her that her closest friend and ally would be Colonel Saul Tigh, she would have laughed at them. Time has made strange ironies for them all.)
Saul snorts. "Okay."
"Even if, Laura," Gaeta says. "How would we get in contact with her?"
(Eleanor Aurora. She had named her for the day, not the night.)
"We can't," Saul says derisively. "It's a useless discussion. We'll get the vipers, use this as our launch point. Get as many of our people as out as possible. Do what we can with the rest."
He snorts again. "War ain't pleasant, lady." Dryly, he laughs. "Gods, I swear sometimes you're still a naive little schoolteacher."
"Really, Saul?" Her eyes narrow, and she flattens her hands out on the table. How many rounds in detention. How many rounds in front of Cavil. The questions, first. And then drugs, while she was strapped down to a table. Threats, against her child. Bile at the back of her throat as they broke her fingers, one by one. Screaming. Don't answer. Don't give anything up. Don't breathe. Don't move.
The first time they took her, Ella was only a few days old. She was still bleeding, from the birth, muscles sore, her thighs and belly in shreds as they ripped her baby from her arms, dragged her out of Cottle's makeshift clinic.
Of course, they couldn't take her while she was still pregnant.
They held her for twenty-four hours. By the time they dumped her back at the clinic, Saul Tigh had nicknamed her daughter Birdie, and the name was sticking.
Gods frakking dammit, Saul.
"You have a shadow," Will murmurs. Birdie fights the instinct to tense, scanning quickly to her periphery. "She's the one from District Eleven. Ah... Genevieve Clellan."
Birdie nods, going back to tying her knot. "Her father was one of my father's pilots."
"How'd she wind up in Eleven, then?"
Birdie tries to send him a look that says that he should already know the answer to this question. "Her father was a suicide bomber. But her mother... people worked to make sure she wasn't at the bottom of the heap, for what her father did."
Will looks at her with an eyebrow raised.
"It was the right thing to do," she whispers back, indignant.
He lifted his hands off his knot, flexing his fingers and raising his eyebrows in something like retreat. "I know. I know it was."
Birdie sighs, looking back to get a better look at the twelve year old. "She's tiny. Maybe what, eighty pounds soaking wet? She's no bigger than Rosie."
"Yeah," he comments dryly. "That may be the point."
"I got that."
"Shut up." Her glare cuts through his roguish grin. "She's little, Will."
"But look at her." He gestures with his chin. "She's a good climber."
Birdie rolls her eyes. "I thought we had a discussion this morning at breakfast that climbing and being small wasn't gonna get any of us very far against the Careers."
"Birdie," he hisses. "We don't have the time, or the--the whatever, to take anyone else on, let alone a little girl. Didn't you volunteer to take the place of one of those? Who you love and promised to come back for?"
She appraises Will cooly. "Genevieve is a child. And I doubt she was reaped by sheer luck. Look at her odds."
"Sometimes it happens."
She tightens her smile, standing as the trainers hail them to stop for lunch. Wiping her hands on her leggings, she moves to walk in front of him. So what? So what if she'd be... dead weight? Wasn't she, for most of her life? Does that make Genevieve's life less valuable? Less worth saving?
Eat lunch, she thinks. Stop being angry, it isn't going to help you. Don't be angry at Will. He's being smart. Weren't you just telling him that you had to be smart?
Will grabs her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry, but we can't."
"Why not?" she asks, voice low. "The Careers have their alliance. We can't we?"
Will laughs, almost dragging her to a table. "Because they're well-trained. They get the sponsors. They know what they're doing. We don't."
"We could," she says. They could. Genevieve. Wilhemina Gaeta. Laurel Venner. All familiar names. All kids with parents who were in the Resistance. They could pull it off, she thinks. It doesn't matter that they're poor, or younger, or unskilled. Strength in numbers. Genevieve is so small, with her little blonde braids. Amandla, too, Birdie thinks. Amandla Laird.
Birdie takes a breath, looking around, spreading her fingers out on top of the table, looking at the Careers, eating and laughing and joking. "We eat together."
"They don't trust us."
"Genevieve is little. She won't think not to trust us."
"Her mentor will have told her not to."
"She was following us, earlier."
"Still..." Birdie muses, fingers toying with the end of her braid. "We should work at the same station as her, in the afternoon. She's our best bet. Gods, Will, what could it hurt? She's just a little kid, you said so yourself."
He sighs, shaking his head, before looking at her with his devils-may-care smile. "You're going to be the death of us, you know?"
She just laughs.
Laura Roslin wakes up from her nightmare with a jerk and a silent gasp. Fire. Always the fire. She dreamt of a crying baby in a basket, of the house with the red door, of heaven and of Hades.
The first day of training was over, and she barely restrained herself from drinking as the talking heads debated Ella's odds, placing her between a triumphalist two to one and a deprecating twenty to one... Gods.
She dreams of Ella, dead, laid out like a sacrificial virgin on a gurgling stream of flames and ash. No. She was supposed to be the sacrifice. It was supposed to be her life, never her daughter's. She had insured that.
"Gods, sweetheart," she mutters. She wasn't supposed to volunteer.
She just wants to hold her, like she used to be able to, and kiss her face.
(Laura Roslin just wants to cry, but she can't. Not yet. No, she'll save her baby, and her people, first. She can't afford to cry, not yet.)
She turns over in her bed, kicking off the covers.
She dreams the Galactica, burning in the sky, Bill, tags dangling in his fist before dropping them into her palm, closing her fingers around them, the golden sun breaking over Starbuck's viper, and the stars falling, as they all burn.
Reviews are very much appreciated, but thanks if you've read all the way to the bottom!