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Waltzing With Destiny

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Chapter 1 - Their destinies spilling out before me

Some moments imprinted themselves, every smell and sound and word in excruciatingly accurate tones. Zak’s last words before his Viper smashed into shrapnel. The smell of the apartment where Leoben had held her for months. The feel of Earth’s nuclear-blasted sands. Kara left the infirmary before Ishay could add to her list, not even paying heed to Cottle’s rebuke and then reassurance to her that comas were not set in stone.

Moments she couldn’t have seen coming from a mile away. Moments she didn’t know what to do with when they happened. She couldn’t explain how yet, but her world had changed, and she was lost again.

Kara didn’t remember where Helo found her, if it was in Joe’s or if she made it to the wall of death on her own. She shouldn’t have been there, but she didn’t care. Her thumb brushed over the faces on the grainy picture in her hand, Sam’s and hers, happy even while blurred. She swallowed. She wondered how true it would be if she had to put it up as it was, putting them both where they might belong: no longer in the land of the living.

“You know, Karl,” she remembered saying, looking at the hanging pictures of Kat and Dee, “the thing about Cylons was that they couldn’t die. I don’t talk to Sam for all those weeks because he’s a Cylon, but here we go and I can’t, and why? Because he can die.”

“What do you want me to say, Kara, that it’s all your fault, what you feel now?” Helo said, standing just behind her shoulder.

Kara shook her head, a choking laugh threatening to escape. “I don’t know what I want, Karl.

“Well, you don’t want me to say that, because it’s a lie,” he said, his hand squeezing her shoulder.

But Kara couldn’t say anything back because the picture in her hand was so close to those pictures on the wall, and it was too acute and she couldn’t think about death. She couldn’t think about life either.

“I need to go, Karl,” she murmured.

She didn’t hear his response as her feet found the way to the infirmary again, stumbling a little. Sam’s bed had been pushed out of the way and a curtain wrapped around it, all set away from everything.

Cottle would have told her to go sleep off both emotion and drunken stupor, if he had been the sort of man to approach a woman worn and in pieces, exhaustedly leaning against her husband’s arm because at least here no one could say she didn’t belong. Kara’s hair splayed out across Sam’s arm, her cheek planted against the ring of his tattoo, her eyes shut and breathing on the verge of shaking, and she couldn’t even explain why to herself.

Earth, the fleet, the rest of the mutiny—it would still be there when Sam had finally gone. This was the darkness before the loss, the sick free-fall feeling, the ripping of pulling apart, and focusing on anything else would be difficult.

Her mind found oblivion for a few minutes, the rhythmic beeping of the monitors just loud enough to distract from the buzz of the rest of the infirmary around her. Kara woke later with the taste of emptiness in her mouth.

“You need to rest,” Cottle said when he came, and though he didn’t touch her arm, for which she was grateful, his words bit at her.

She glared.

“Ishay wasn’t using correct medical terminology, I hope you know,” he said pointedly. “He’s not braindead. It’s a deep coma, but you don’t need to start grieving yet.”

“Just frak off,” Kara muttered, starting to rise because she couldn’t stay around people if it would be like this. If it would be too frank, too close.

“I think not,” Cottle snorted, and this time he did touch her arm, just to stop her for a second.

Kara felt the itch of frustration and refused to look in his eyes.

“I’ve known you long enough to know that your gut doesn’t always make the right choice,” Cottle said in a low tone. “You don’t know everything.”

Kara just stood stiffly until he let go. This was about control, like it always was. That if you hoped long enough, you weren’t letting the darkness rule you. And if it turned out that it did, you’d tumble down into the abyss all in an instant. Kara wasn’t good at letting go, but her mind told her strongly enough that she couldn’t control this. She didn’t want to fall, so she had to let herself down slowly. Even if it killed her.

No one approached her the whole day, not even Helo. The mutiny was on most everyone’s minds, and Kara just ordered drink after drink, until the bullet she played with started spinning even when her fingers held it still. She stared at it, eyes blurry, and knew that this was just the preparation. It couldn’t last.

Weary again, she found Sam’s side and fell asleep near him. His mind was so far away; distance didn’t seem to matter but it did. She wasn’t ready to let go. But Kara couldn’t sleep long, and maybe it was the new twist to her nightmares, the corpse off in the distance that terrified her—and she didn’t know if it was because she thought it was Sam’s, or because she thought it was her own. Or maybe her restless sleep was due to the rhythmic beat of the medical machines that spoke of things that weren’t ever going to change.

She woke when something brushed her arm. Heart twisting, she looked to Sam, but his arm couldn’t have moved. She hated herself for the moment of weakness, for begging for some kind of hope in her mind instead of just accepting the inevitable.

Then she noticed the curtain still around where she sat next to Sam, and it hung still, and no one was inside but her and Sam. But something had touched her arm.

She sat up, glanced over her right shoulder, saw a stool that wasn’t really there, and a hand that wasn’t really there but had touched her. He looked like Leoben. Only not, because he wasn’t really there either.

“Are you Leoben?” she demanded, sitting up straight.

“This time you ask first,” he said, a quirk in his lips already, leaning forward with his forearms on his knees like a priest hearing confession.

Kara swallowed a slight slur, turned towards him, angry at what her mind was doing to her now. “First and last time, if I have any—what are you doing here? Because I am not in the mood for destiny crap. Hell, I did your destiny crap.”

“You believe your destiny is so contained?” he asked, cocking his head. “That it is so small, so yours alone?” On the last word, he looked past her, eyes focused on another.

Kara’s eyes darted back to Sam, and his words rushed back into her head, ‘You remember the Demetrius. You know what it is when you have something that you have to do.’

“Your capability to understand has grown,” the Leoben who wasn’t Leoben said, and his hand found her knee.

“It was an accident,” Kara countered sharply, eyes fiercely opposite his, even as her heart seemed to clench in her chest.

“Maybe his words needed to be heard,” the man said, a slow shrug only adding to the audacity of his words.

“No,” Kara said, clearing her throat, shifting her leg away from his hand. “No, this was not a frakking destiny, not again.”

“Fear blinds you,” said not-Leoben firmly, holding her gaze. “Destiny is not always the end. Maybe the gods will bless him, give him a place among the angels for what he has done.”

“You don’t believe in the gods,” Kara spat at him, but the way death hung around his words made a nameless fear start to rise in her again.

“Not the way you do,” the not-Leoben admitted, but he looked Kara in the eye again. “But I do know that you should not fear this.”

“I don’t fear anything,” Kara said, ignoring how disconcerting the calm in his gaze was, the absence of crazed confidence that separated him from the Leoben she’d known for far longer. “Destiny doesn’t just happen, it’s something you choose.”

To her surprise, he didn’t object. He paused, looking down at her knee. “It is true,” he said. Then, looking back up, meeting her eyes with a clarity that she didn’t know how to read, “But are you going to change yourself to avoid the destiny you will choose just by being yourself? Can you do it?”

Kara stared at him and didn’t have words. Breathing in, the air rushing sharply past her teeth, she closed her eyes for a second. Losing her mind wasn’t just a possibility anymore, it was a reality. It seemed like all that she had done since she’d come back.

When she opened her eyes, there was no one but Sam inside the curtain, and she couldn’t help but feel fear mingling with the devastation that she still didn’t know how to categorize.

*******

Cottle didn’t leave her alone for long, and she didn’t hate him for it as he ordered her to leave, and she was able to lose herself in routine and duty instead of deathbed. Sam wasn’t changing, and at least for the moment it seemed like Kara wasn’t either.

She slept and woke with nightmares lingering behind her eyes, nightmares that spoke of more than simple fears. Her mind was sound enough to shower, dress, give orders, do work, eat food, drink, drink, drink, go to sleep again. Sometime in between all that were hours spent by Sam’s side, trying to come to grips with the fact that he was not waking up, and failing, and not being able to hate herself for failing.

By the time the mutiny was cleaned up, Ellen Tigh had arrived, and suddenly the Cylons remembered Sam as one of their own. As Kara sat, forgotten, she wondered who had found the idea of his Cylonity more incongruous, her or Sam. When approached by a Six and an Eight, she didn’t know what to say.

She didn’t hate them. She didn’t hate the idea of being Cylons. She just didn’t care, and she sure as hell didn’t want to think about it.

“May we keep watch?” asked the Six quietly.

Kara bit back saying that he didn’t need a Cylon guard, of all things, but the situation was different now—he had created them. Maybe she didn’t know him as well as she thought she had, and maybe she didn’t know how to deal with now. “That has to go through Cottle,” she said shortly, clenching and unclenching one fist.

The Six nodded and moved off; the Eight stayed.

“What?” Kara snapped.

“We are all worried,” she started, and Kara’s stomach started to roll with sick frustration. “But I don’t think we’re making correct estimates.”

The lack of collective in that last statement shook Kara for a second, an open second where she said nothing, just looked at the Eight who stepped in a little closer.

“If they perfected the technology that allows their minds to transfer from body to body, as ours used to do,” the Eight said, with a look that didn’t hold pity in it, “then minds must be more powerful than bodies. I think there is hope for Anders yet.” The hopeful look on the Eight’s face faltered as Kara gave her nothing, but she gave a short nod, and walked away at an easy pace.

It was the first comment that was not sympathy or the kind of empty hope that was better called faith. It lingered in Kara’s mind for a while, even if she didn’t know how to take it. In the end, she just walked on, back to the infirmary and back to Sam’s side.

She sat on the nearby stool, looked at the heart and breathing monitor, then to where Sam’s chest rose and fell shallowly on steady cue. The bruises were yellowing on his face, the cuts binding and healing, and with his eyes closed he might have been asleep.

Kara felt heartsick and leaned back, her temple resting against his still-warm arm. “You’re causing a lot of trouble, Sam,” she murmured, just for the sake of talking. “Kind of left us in a lurch, didn’t you? Can’t fade away anymore, not when they all know who you were. And you’re a hero to the Cylons. Thought you’d appreciate the irony of that.”

It was the first time she talked to Sam, but not the last. She’d been so closed before, because she wasn’t ready for the fact that he was still her husband and he might listen. Now she just hoped he could.

At first it was just the things she felt she had to say, telling him to get his act together and wake up, because he knew she’d never been that patient and neither was the rest of the world, and she was tired of dealing with it all. All the silly hopeful things that were supposed to make life better. But as he still didn’t answer, she felt disgusted at how she wasn’t addressing what was going on now, just what she wanted to go on.

Then it was like the Demetrius again, when she talked without thinking and words had true meaning for those moments, and yet this time she recognized who he was. She couldn’t not.

“I’m thinking about what Tigh said, about how you only found out you were a Cylon right when I came back,” she said one night, eyes closed. “That meant something, right? Everything’s telling me that I’m a Cylon, except you say I can’t be.” Her hand rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “You all do know how to count, right?”

All those times that she’d kept silent because she didn’t want to hear his response, his understanding, his support—all back to haunt her now as he couldn’t even look straight into her eyes. And she felt backwards.

“I drew weird paintings, you wrote a weird song,” she said another night, blinking a little too fast, tracing the veins on his arm. “Why’d we pretend we were just jocks anyways? I’m not supposed to know about the song, but still, it wasn’t new was it? It didn’t surprise you?”

He just lay still and breathed and another week passed, and Cottle stopped giving her any reports at all.

“This isn’t payback, is it?” she whispered one night, eyes burning, and if she closed them she could remember the odd relief on his face when she’d stepped out of that perfect Viper after only a few hours to find Earth. “You don’t have to make a point, godsdamnit, Sam. I get it now.”

And maybe she did, but if losing Sam was the punishment she deserved for being callous then, she still wasn’t ready to take it.

When Athena asked about her in the showers, she just answered, low and bitter, “It’s all about waiting.” It was what she said to keep people from probing deeper, finding out that she wanted to give up now before it hurt too much.

“Kara, don’t let it eat you up,” Athena warned, stepping in, looking Kara in the eye. “Just ‘cause it looks like the end...”

“Sharon, please,” Kara said tightly, and Athena, dark worry in her eyes anyways, stepped off.

Kara was flying vipers again, being the CAG, living in the fleet. It didn’t feel the same, though, as when she came back to the infirmary, sometimes with a drink in hand. Cottle dared confront her on it once, saying that she wasn’t doing herself any good. She snapped something about his smokes, and he backed off.

And with a little drink in her, somehow she could forget the gritty reality, let the surreality drown her in something almost easy. Too many hospital sounds shook her world, and so she closed her eyes, hummed something that she couldn’t even identify, just sank below the surface into whatever this was.

But two weeks of emptying everything she had to him as he lay unhearing, and it couldn’t be surreal.

“I’ve got nothing left, Sam,” she said flatly, a little tipsy even, chair next to him and head as most always resting on his shoulder. “Things are gone to shit, and we’re just pathetic and broken. Even if they needed us, they couldn’t find us, not really. Maybe if we just keep quiet, they’ll leave us alone until the end. Just us while the universe burns. What happened to survival pacts anyway?”

Her hand stroked his arm, up and down, as she readjusted herself and closed her eyes. “Hope you don’t mind, I don’t want to talk about it,” she muttered, slipping her arm gently around his. It shouldn’t have been the only comfort she could find. She forced her mind away from all this and towards something, anything, else.

Clearing the sudden lump in her throat, her voice vibrated a little, and she hummed a few notes, let them vibrate through Sam’s arm beneath her head. It made her think of Cylons again, and that mysterious song they didn’t talk about, but that was better than the alternative. More notes came out, slow at first, but she could carry the tune.

It had always been in her head, this melody, these random notes from childhood that were both happy and sad at once. Ever since she came back, they seemed to be stuck in her head, always there even when she couldn’t hear them clearly, like static on a radio. She didn’t pay them any heed, except times like now.

Humming it seemed to ease her mind, and she knew that Sam wouldn’t mind. “None of them along the line,” came the words to her head for the first time, and she wasn’t really singing but her speech-song seemed to help her. “Know what any of it is worth.”

They didn’t really make sense. That was perfect enough.

“No reason to get excited, hmm hm-hm hmm,” she lost the words. Her fingers softly tapped up and down Sam’s arm to the backing rhythm—da-da-da-da, da da, da-da-da-da. Words she couldn’t remember stuck in the back of her throat, guttural notes that yet fit into the melody.

“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view.” She found the words again, her voice steady now. “While all the women—“

Then the steady beeping changed, rapid and loud and frantic. Her voice stopped short as Sam’s heartrate doubled, his EEG monitor an erratic flurry of waves and lights. The moment of clarity was gone, and a fear gripped Kara from deep within.

“Sam?” she whispered, sitting up and looking at his face.

And then it was gone. He hadn’t moved, and his heart and mind seemed to fade back, as if they’d never changed. But they had. Music was too important, and she’d touched it before things were ready. Not sure what else to do, she lay her head back on his arm, stroking softly instead of tapping the rhythm.

She wouldn’t sing around him again.

*******

She shouldn’t have gone near music at all, in the end, when she sat alone at the piano and the Cylons’ conversation whirled above her head and yet didn’t involve her. Hera had written the notes, yes, but Kara hadn’t needed her father’s vision to remember the song. The song. Sam’s song. She hadn’t ever realized, she couldn’t have realized...

It had felt right, now, and it hadn’t with Sam. She didn’t know why when she went to him with the tape that Helo had found for her, she just knew that music could be shared now. Her eyes fell shut, and she slept with her father’s music in one ear, and Sam’s slow heartbeat in the other.

This time the peace lasted just long enough, and she woke without nightmare. Breathing in slowly, Sam’s familiar smell filled her senses and a sudden sharp pain in her chest made the air catch in her throat. Eyes still tightly squeezed shut, she could still only acknowledge that she wanted him back. She hadn’t accomplished anything in trying to let him go, trying to let herself pull away before he was dragged forcibly from her.

And in this moment, sleep still making everything clear, she felt like a coward for even trying. Angry at herself, angry at the universe, she sat up and turned off her father’s music. She was Kara—hell, she was Starbuck. She didn’t just sit and wait without a fight.

Her arsenal wasn’t large for this, but if she had resurrected somehow, seen another life, played the song of the Cylons, and done things that other humans couldn’t understand, then that was what she needed to know about. And even if Sam didn’t have the answers, maybe she didn’t need to know them to use them.

She should be terrified of what all it meant, but it had been around her for far too long for that. The days of demanding answers from Leoben, of standing off alone on a baseship with the Hybrid’s words enough to tear her world to shreds, of burning her dead body with trembling fingers because even she hadn’t wanted to know, were gone. And she’d hardly noticed.

Not waiting any longer, she sat up in the infirmary bed. Heart pounding with a sudden rush of impulse, of choosing to do something once again, she slipped off and found a stool, pulling it close to Sam’s side.

“Okay, Sam,” she said, just above a whisper. “If I’m not a Cylon, then Cylons don’t have the corner on the freaky stuff, and I’m not running from the freaky stuff anymore.” Putting one hand up to his face, she took a deep breath and held his hand in hers. Concentrating on what she couldn’t say, her mind found the one thing that seemed to connect everything.

“There must be some kind of way out of here.” The heart monitor skipped a beat. “Said the joker to the thief.” She could feel the pulse in his hand, along the side of his face, speeding as her notes came out stronger and stronger. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no—”

And then she fell.

Darkness grabbed her, hasty and strong, and she gasped for breath and scrambled and opened her eyes and—

Kara Thrace stood barefoot on a beach. A grey clouded afternoon colored the shore, and small waves lapped just beyond her feet. Stunned, out of breath without having moved, she bent to touch the wet, soft, golden-grey sand. She cupped a small handful in her palm, letting it drip out into the wash of an oncoming wave. The water swirled the last trace from her hand, leaving it cool and salty and wet.

The connection was strong, and she was projecting.

Sparing a glance to herself, she recognized the pyramid jacket that Sam had given to her too long ago, and her regulation pants were rolled up at the ankles. Squinting her eyes against the spray of the wind, she looked down the beach. The rush of adrenaline at finally daring something like this couldn’t keep her heart from stopping an instant.

Sam. Sitting on a rock, in the short-sleeved shirt that matched hers. A wooden guitar lay cradled in his arms and his long broad fingers stroked the strings. The wind played with the hair he didn’t have in reality, and instinctively Kara reached up to touch hers. It swung around her face, soft and wispy and just past her chin.

Kara didn’t run down the beach, just walked, not going to push this any further into the unknown. Notes reached her ears as she came closer, the slight twang that had followed her from childhood, that had followed him for who knew how long. This song that twisted the meaning of humanity for them all was holding them here for a moment.

Her last few steps slowed, and she didn’t know what to do with her hands. Then he seemed to hear the light splashing of her feet in the wet sand, and his eyes glanced up for a brief second.

“It’s you again,” Sam said, an easy tone as he looked back to his guitar.

Kara stopped short. Those weren’t the words she’d been expecting. “Yeah,” she breathed out, brow furrowing.

“That’s not a good sign, is it,” he commented, shifting the chord of his left hand.

Kara swallowed, stepping forward. “Sam?”

He looked up, innocent-looking blue eyes meeting her confused frown. “What?”

“This is you, right?” she asked, straight and serious, putting a hand on his shoulder to confirm that he wasn’t just a twisted figment of her imagination. Maybe her mind truly was lost, more than his.

“I’m here,” he said, with a bit of a smile and a near-shrug. Then suddenly his frown matched hers as if realization dawned on him now, and the guitar dropped to hang by its strap from his shoulder. “Kara?”

“Yeah, it’s me, Sam,” she answered, arms crossing tightly over her chest, unsure and hesitant of what was happening and whether it was a good idea after all.

“It’s not—” he started, realizing something. The guitar was pushed behind his back, and his fingers rose to brush her cheek. “Kara?”

She inhaled sharply at the very real-feeling touch, and couldn’t stand over him like this, not when the moment felt so strange. Kneeling, resting a knee in the wet sand, she tried to rearrange her thoughts in response to the odd surprise of this projection. “Listen, Sam—”

“Kara,” Sam breathed out again, a strange emphasis, eyes wide with surprise as he met hers and his fingers brushed back through her hair.

A stinging pain came behind Kara’s eyes, because this didn’t seem right, but she needed it to be. “This had better be really you, Sam,” she whispered.

“I’m not dead,” he murmured, eyes drifting past her for a second.

“No, just lost,” Kara answered, now recognizing the emotions swirling on his face. The awkward moment was gone; this was Sam she saw. “You remember, right?”

Then he rose to his feet, his hand on her shoulder helping her up. “We don’t have much time,” he said, looking back into her eyes. Then, a sudden grin crossed his face. “Kara, this is projection.”

Seeing his face so alive, so awake, Kara couldn’t help but let out a short bark of a laugh. “That’s right. And Sam, I don’t know exactly why, but I’m hoping that you somehow might have the answer to how I’m doing that.”

“But not here,” Sam said, nodding, looking around worriedly.

“No, I’m here to bring you back,” Kara said, nodding up into his face, and a flood of memories of golden Caprica came back to her. Her confident smile faltered a little. “We can do this together.”

Sam brought a hand up to his face, looking overwhelmed for the moment.

“Sam?” Kara asked, short, needing him to stay with her and not drift before they could leave this illusion for good.

“Yes, we need to get out of here,” he said, putting his hands on her arms as if to feel for sure that she was real. His gaze was straight into her eyes, deeper than she’d been able to handle for weeks now. “There’s so much happening, so much I need to say.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Kara breathed out, nodding. “But not here; not when this place makes you forget just who I am.”

“I didn’t forget,” Sam said, frowning. “I recognized you before, I just—”

“Never mind,” Kara said, urgent again, bringing her hand to rest on his shoulder. She feared that any moment this might fall to pieces. “It can all wait, Sam, really. I don’t know how, but somehow that song of yours was mine too, and I used the connection to get in here.”

“Kara, I’ve tried to get out,” Sam said, looking pained.

“I know, but I have a plan,” Kara said, taking a deep breath and then grinning.

“Like always,” Sam said with a slight cock of his head.

“You trust me, right?” Kara asked, caught up in the exhilaration of being on the verge of making this all worth something.

“To the ends of the earth, baby,” he murmured low, and he felt suddenly close, not too close but almost, closer than he’d been in so many months.

“Good,” she answered after a slight swallow. “I’m getting you out, all right? No goodbyes.”

Sam nodded, closing his eyes. “No goodbyes.”

Reaching for his hand, holding it tight, Kara shut her eyes and breathed in tightly. “Just listen for the music.”

Her breath failed her as the world spun, darkness wrenching her back gasping, and—

Kara Thrace was out, sitting by Sam’s hospital bed, his hand still in hers.

His eyes were closed, his head marked with faint bruises, his body still. But his heart beat, and she could see the breadcrumb trail of his mind on that brain monitor. She gripped his hand tighter—now or never. It was just crazy enough to work for her.

The melody trickled to her mind as she felt for the connection, note by note, and her voice didn’t falter as she started to hum. Strange how she could remember how it all fit now. From the first verse to the chorus, and she was just about to reach for words.

A massive burst of light leapt to life on the monitors, and even though she expected it her voice almost faltered. Sam’s eyes snapped open before the first word could pass her lips.

It was all real. The glare of the lights, the twisted cords and electrodes, the crumpled blankets, the damages of life on her face and on his. And their souls were back to reality.

“Found you,” he said through dry lips.

A lump rising in her throat for a moment, Kara realized that she’d brought him back, she’d kept her word again. Her smile was tight with overwhelming emotion, hand squeezing his, but it was real and she knew his eyes could see it. “Ready to get back into life?”

He didn’t need to say yes.