Against the smooth skin of Kara Thrace's hand, black ink looks artistic, elegant and organic. Curves, loops, little letters embedded into the recursive design; it's truly beautiful work.
Laura has seen all kinds of ephemeral art inked onto the canvas of the artist's skin, products of boredom, compulsion, some spark of the divine moving even the youngest of them. Some of them took her breath away, they were so beautiful. Back on Caprica, Laura had actually asked one of her students, a thirteen-year-old boy with chewed-off fingernails and an attitude that could strip paint from the walls, if she could photograph his hand and that he should consider a career in design.
Ten years later, he'd sent her one of his prints, worth at least five thousand dollars at the time and more by the time Caprica ceased to be, with a note.
Still got that picture of my hand? I do.
And now he is dead.
It's such a waste. Such a waste to think of the photographs the boy could have taken, of the beauty his eye could have shaped, of all the dead beauty. Worse, of all the beauty lost because of one really bad day.
"You're thinking about something," Kara says, looking up with saucy, flirting eyes as they sit close. They don't really want to risk a fire, and it's too cold to let old wounds distance them.
"Beauty," Laura says regretfully. "I used to have time to think about beauty. I used to think about things other than strategy and survival."
"You're looking at my hand," Kara says pragmatically. "I got kind of bored during the briefing and so I started, um, doodling."
"Aren't you a brave leader of the resistance?" Laura asks, running her thumb over an ink rose garden, curves and leaves and vining spirals that could be roses or chaos. The rose garden is also the meat of Kara's thumb, leading to fingernails that are short and somewhat grubby. "It should be of utter importance to you, these briefings."
"I kill Cylons," Kara says. "Until I die. That's what I do. Not really seeing the need to listen."
Laura nods, but she has heard this sort of fatalism from the young before. It never fails to dissolve in the face of a chance to live and thrive, so instead Laura takes Kara's hand by the wrist and pulls it closer to her glasses. She wants to see what Kara's drawn.
"Vines," Laura says. "You seem obsessed with recursive patterns, iterations. Curves."
"If you say river, I'm going to report you to President Baltar as being a Cylon in our midst," Kara answers, but she doesn't pull her hand away, or object to Laura's fingernail tracing over the doodling.
"It's not what I expected, that's all," Laura replies, looking at the curlicues going around the base of Kara's thumb.
"What did you expect, slashes and hatchmarks?" Kara asks. "Something a little more butch?"
Laura chuckles, smearing the ink slightly. The webbing of Kara's thumb is shadowed, though that's also the night that's coming, silently, creeping around them like doubt.
"You're always so defiant," Laura says.
"You're in jail as often as I am," Kara counters. "You're the defiant one. I'm a grunt who likes to be asked nicely."
Laura tilts her head back and laughs heartily, so noisily that someone -- possibly Tigh -- grunts a, "shut the hell up, some of us are tryin' to WORK here!" to the two women. Then she smiles sidelong at Kara.
"You used to draw," she says.
"I used to do a lot of things, including keep my husband company," Kara says, shivering. "It's frakking freezing here, you know that. We need a tent or something."
"We'll live," Laura answers, stroking the back of Kara's hand companionably. "I miss Maya and the baby."
Kara sighs and leans back against the tree that's sort of sheltering them. "I miss Galactica," she admits. "It was real dumb, you know, giving up and settling here."
Laura smiles sadly. "Yeah," she agrees. "I used to draw, too."
"No kidding," Kara says. "Like what?"
Laura thinks about all of her drawing, the way odd symbols would work their way into her design work, patterns as dense as tapestries and twenty times more symbolic, even if the only one who understood the symbols was her.
About the way she'd like to find that pen Kara was using and take the girl -- the woman, really, but Kara strikes her as still such the girl -- and use her as a canvas.
"Anything, really," she hears herself say, her mouth well-able to supply an answer while her mind is off picturing the spirals, swirls, and vines as they snaked down Kara Thrace's arm, ink as black and liquid as night.
Blowing on the damp ink as Kara's eyes went big -- after all, this was the former PRESIDENT, who was a WOMAN, and oh, Kara Thrace is such a tease, so young and androgynous but so utterly oblivious...and taking up the pen again.
"I could inscribe you with a thousand charms," Laura imagines herself saying. "A million, even."
"I liked abstract stuff," Kara is confessing, but she sounds far, far away, and she almost stands up in Laura's imagination, inscribed with the sigils of Artemis and Aphrodite and draped in only an unbleached cotton sheet that remind Laura of the ones left behind on Caprica, a life or two away. "To express how I was feeling. I loved color. Lots of color."
"It depends on the project, doesn't it?" Laura agrees, drawing her finger up Kara's forearm, where it blossoms with flowers, the ink outlines suddenly deepened with blood-red. Roses and secrets, written on the skin.
Laura could draw up Kara's hair -- which doesn't suit her -- off her neck and over one shoulder.
"I'm going to protect you," she can imagine herself telling her living canvas, who is looking at her dubiously. "Prepare you for what's to come."
Press a kiss -- only one, because Kara is not for Laura in that way -- to the nape of the girl's neck, and smell her. Very much alive as Laura began to paint on the old symbols, turn Kara's neck into a new panel of her masterpiece, in ink even blacker than before.
Tell her the story that went with each symbol as Kara drew her hair atop her head and let the sheet fall to the ground, exposing herself to the danger to come.
"Each story can teach you something," Laura would say, using the map of Kara's veins, the smooth canvas of her back, the natural motion of her muscles and bones to inscribe and create. "All stories are really the same story. But every interpretation is new, and each one changes the story."
Kara's spine is a set of pearls curving in a slow, sinuous wave that Laura twines with the serpent and the vine that appears over and over in her own work. Both of them bloom, flower, spiral out and become simulacra of the original.
"Who are you, then?" Kara asks. "The storyteller?"
Kara's body is changing with each stroke of Laura's pen, her skin absorbing the ink and making it part of her. Laura could smooth her hands over the work and it wouldn't smear, so clearly was it always meant to be part of her. The girl has become something else -- rich and strange and beautiful, and when she turns her head to look at Laura over her shoulder, Laura gasps at the beauty of it.
"I need someone to read this for me," Kara says archly. "And then I'll be like you. Able to tell all the stories."
"You're not ready yet," Laura protests. Would protest. She has such plans for this one, designs so complex it could take forever to finish.
"You don't get to have me forever," Kara replies, taking up her sheet and drawing it around her, goddesslike. "It's not smart to finish stories, anyway. Don't they all really end in death?"
A waterfall of blonde hair covers the story on the back of Kara's neck, and Laura could almost weep to watch her unfinished masterpiece walk away, unaware of how little she knows.
"Kara...Kara...wait," Laura says, unsatisfied by this turn of events. She gets up, runs after her walking canvas, as the leaves and dry grass crunch under her feet.
Kara whirls and smiles, eyes luminous. "Shouldn't you be reading your own story?"
Laura looks at her hands, which are drenched in ink and blood, glittering like Kara's eyes.
"I don't...I can't..." Laura says fitfully. "I was supposed to finish you first."
"Laura?" someone asks, and Laura feels a hand on her shoulder, shaking her out of her dream and into wakefulness. "I think you drifted off there, ma'am."
And this Kara's smile is real and quirky and confused, and Laura sobs out a long, shuddering breath. "I was dreaming," she says. "Nightmares."
"They happen to the best of us," Kara agrees. "Tigh is giving us the tent. Says you need it more than him."
"It was only a dream," Laura says and hopes it's true.
"If you say so," Kara answers. She holds out her ink-covered hand and Laura takes it to steady herself.
Laura knows better than to believe in her nightmares, no matter how compelling. After all, Kara Thrace is...Kara Thrace, and this is a world without prophecy and fate. Everything before was just a nightmare, not a portent.
Even as the leaves and dry grass crunch under Kara's feet and the patterns and symbols in the ink whisper at Laura endlessly. Only a dream.
Please, gods, let it be true.