Lee cradled his younger brother in his arms as the life drained out of him. "Zak—" his voice broke over his name. He watched Zak's eyes closely, willing him to hold on, to fight a little harder, a little longer, to not leave him. But Zak's blood continued to pump out of the wounds in his chest and thigh, sliding through Lee's fingers with every increasingly weak beat of his heart. "Zak, you can’t do this."
Zak managed a faint grin. "You're not the boss of me," He gasped. The breath rattled in his chest.
"I am," Lee said, half laughing, half sobbing and sick inside. "I am, and I'll tell Dad that you won't listen to me."
With obvious effort, Zak brought his hand up to cover Lee's as it pressed hard on his chest. "Tattle tale," he said affectionately.
"Zak. No." Lee demanded, ordered as his brother's eyes rolled back in his head. "You little frakker you do not get to do this to me!" He started at the hand on his shoulder and looked up to find his cousin, Karl, standing behind him with tears in his eyes.
Karl knelt down next to the brothers and put his hand over Zak's where it still covered Lee's "Hey, Zak," he spoke gently.
"Take care of Lee," Zak's voice was fading. "Don't let him be too serious."
"You got it," Karl said. He slung his free arm over Lee's shoulders and pulled at his cousin until Lee leaned against Karl's solid frame. "I'll miss you, kid."
Reality hit Lee so hard that he lost his breath, lost his voice lost feeling in everything but his fingers, sticky with his brother's blood and pressed underneath the palms of the two most important people in his life. This was it, but words were failing. He couldn’t say good-bye, couldn’t express his love or say anything witty to make Zak smile in his final seconds. He couldn’t even force air into his lungs. So Lee leaned forward and kissed his brother's forehead, and then pressed his face into Zak's hair.
Zak's hand tightened on his. "See you on the other side, Lee." And then he was gone.
The cousins leaned on each other in the mud for a long time, even as the Galacitca border patrol swarmed around them, taking statements and stitching up wounds, studiously giving the grieving princes their privacy as they held Zak's body. The only clear thought in Lee's mind, cutting past the emptiness that he was certain would have made him simply disappear into thin air had Karl not been hanging on so tightly, was that those Cylon bastards were going to pay.
* * *
Kara sat in stunned silence with her brothers and sisters. Sharon had been captured by the Galacticans. These days misery seemed to pile on top of misery. Their father had died suddenly and unexpectedly only a month before and now this—a sister lost in a retaliatory raid to revenge the accidental death of a prince. Kara stood up slowly. "We have to go find Mom," she said.
Caprica blinked out of her daze, "You're right," she said. "She'll need us," and rose to her feet, pulling Simon up with her. One by one, the ruling family of Cylon stood. Where there had once been eight siblings, there were now seven, but Kara was incapable of giving up hope. Her sister was strong, they all were, the children of warriors in a warrior culture.
They slowly began to drift out of the room, the meeting place with the round table where the head family ruled by committee. Everyone had a vote and all votes were equal. Each member of the family was required to voice their opinion on all matters of the ruling of the country once they came of age. As the youngest, Kara had been voting the least amount of time, but she had been attending the daily meeting since she was a child and had been anxious to make her voice heard. The day she took her place at the table, next to Sharon, she had been terrified of the responsibility, but determined to make a difference. She slid her hand over the back of Sharon's chair as she followed D'Anna out into the hall.
They made their way to their mother's chambers, where Galen, who had been leading the way, abruptly stopped in the doorway and stared. "For God's sake, Galen, what—" Doral trailed off.
Kara blew out her exasperation in a short, forceful exhale before walking forward and pushing her brothers out of the way. The bile rose in her throat as she saw her mother pulling out of the arms of Kara's cousin, Cavil, hastily buttoning a shirt over her bare breasts. "What the frak, Mom?" Kara spat out, ill, as Cavil just smiled at her, making no move to straighten his clothing.
"Kara," Ellen began, "Galen, Doral—" she stopped naming names as, one by one, each of her remaining children filed into the room. She slumped onto a chair and said woodenly, "Your father is dead, your sister is gone. Cavil has been very supportive."
"He's your nephew!" Leoben's voice cracked out accusingly.
"Technically, he's your father's nephew; we aren’t related by blood," Ellen countered.
"He's our cousin," Kara stated, not looking at the way Cavil sprawled over her parents' bed. "You have known him his entire life."
"So what?" Ellen asked, anger giving edge to her voice. "I will live my life the way I see fit. Cavil and I are getting married. You are all expected to attend the ceremony. Now leave." Kara stood, frozen in her mother's room. "Leave!" Ellen cried sharply. One by one, her children filed out the door, leaving their mother with their cousin in her private chambers. The twisting of revulsion and sorrow in Kara's gut kept her awake all night.
* * *
Lee stared at the Cylon prisoner. She was an impressive fighter. It had taken five of his father's soldiers to capture her and get her into the holding cell. Her shirt had been practically torn off at the sleeve and Lee could see the ink marring her arm. It was a large, black wing, the symbol that the ruling family of Cylon marked their children with when they came of age. "Princess," Lee said coldly.
The Cylon glared at him. "We have no titles."
"Fine," Lee said. "Cylon, you won't be harmed. You are not among those who murdered my brother. My father has ordered your continued captivity, but I will do my best to see that you are treated fairly."
She snorted. "And what is fair treatment for a Cylon in the hands of a Galctican?"
Lee moved closer to the cell and spoke evenly, "Fair treatment is ensuring that you are not touched, that you have food and clean clothes and are as comfortable as a prisoner of war can be."
"What war?" she asked, "Cylon and Galactica have not been officially at war in thirty years. The border skirmishes hardly count."
Lee's face hardened as he thought of his brother, lost to an unexpected Cylon raid along the border not two days before. "My brother was killed and you were captured in such skirmishes. Do you really think either event would go unnoticed?" The Cylon looked shell shocked. "Your people have declared war, beat my father to it by minutes. But we did sign the Delphi Convention years ago, and you are protected by those guidelines." The prisoner did not look convinced, but Lee could not bring himself to care.
He left the prison located in the basement of Karl's estate and wearily climbed the stairs. His father would no doubt kill the Cylon prisoner in a large public demonstration if he got anywhere near her, but Lee did not equate justice with revenge, and, no matter how much he wished that spilling the blood of the woman in the cell would make him forget the ache that was his brother's absence, he knew that the act would be as meaningless to him as Zak's death was to her.
"Thanks, Karl," Lee said when he faced his cousin in the entry hall.
"Are you sure you don’t need me to come with you?" Karl asked, clapping a large hand on Lee's shoulder.
"I feel better knowing that you're here to watch after the prisoner. I didn’t like the way some of those border guards were looking at her."
Karl nodded. "I'll keep an eye on them and find a trustworthy person to make sure she eats and I will see you in a few days." Karl did not clarify that it would be for Zak's funeral for which Lee was immensely grateful.
"See you soon." He shook Karl's hand and walked out the door. He mounted his horse in the bright sunlight and purposely did not look at the glass hearse holding his brother's body as he began the long ride towards the capital city, his grief stricken father, and a life without Zak.
* * *
She was late. So frakking late.
Kara scrambled over boulders and tree trunks trying to get to the family's temple in the woods. She had been sparring with one of her mother's body guards having found that the only time she wasn't actively thinking about her dead father or missing sister or her mother's new husband was when she had sweat rolling down her face and the ringing of swords in her ears. But today was not the day to get lost in physical aches.
She and her brothers and sisters had voted yesterday afternoon to disown Cavil and their mother from the family. It had not been an easy decision to make, but the country had been sliding into a dictatorship in the past month and Ellen, the woman who had taught her children to value the committee vote, had done nothing to stop it. Cavil had discontinued the daily voting sessions and Kara's mother had remained in her rooms, all fight drained out of her, a shell after the loss of her love and her child. It was something that Kara would never have dreamt possible. Yet when her turn came, Kara had used the formal royal plural and voted along with the rest of her siblings: "We agree." All that was left now was to pray to their God that they would be forgiven and that their father, ensconced in paradise, would understand. The announcement would be made in the morning.
Kara burst into the clearing, branches catching at the traditional white, arm-bearing tunic, meant to display the symbol of her family, the single wing. Panting, she sprinted to the door of the temple, but pulled up short when she saw Cavil standing in the middle of the circle of her brothers and sisters. She watched him raise his arms, heard him chant and gasped when the arms of her family began glowing, feathers sprouting out of their wing tattoos. Kara was frozen by the transformation in front of her as, one by one they turned into swans and few out the door over her head.
Cavil turned to watch his cousins fly away and locked eyes with Kara, standing in the threshold. Kara was a fighter by nature, but in this place, at this time, she would lose the battle, turn into a bird before she got close enough to run him through with her sword and then there would be no one left to save her family. So Kara turned and she ran, confident that her knowledge of the woods was better than Cavil's, who had spent most of his childhood studying the magical arts in his father's basement. She could hear no sign of pursuit, but the blood was pounding in her ears, so she dared not trust them.
Kara didn’t know how long she fled. She ran until she couldn't run any farther and then walked until she collapsed in exhaustion, sleeping fitfully on the forest floor. When she woke up again, she recognized where she was, on the outskirts of the border town her sister had been kidnapped from. She smelled the salt from the nearby sea and made her way carefully to the shore, right up to the water line. It was a rocky, craggy place with harsh tides and ripping winds. She removed her boots and let the cold water swirl around her swollen, aching feet.
She walked slowly down the beach, until she reached the distinctive formation of rocks that marked the border between Cylon and Galactica, deliberately thinking in the practicalities of survival, ignoring the insistent voice in her head telling her that she was alone, that there was no one left to care if she survived or not. No one ever came here. There was a cave in the rocks and Kara climbed out of the surf to explore it. It was more of a deep hollowing than an underground lair and the sand was bone dry so Kara presumed that the tide didn't rise this high. It was near enough to the village in case of an emergency, and Kara knew that a fresh water river ran not half a mile from this spot. It would do for the time being, until Kara could come up with a plan. She walked back outside. The sun would be setting soon, behind the rocks. Then she would be able to sneak into the town and steal some food and supplies.
The rush of wings distracted her as the sun hit the horizon and six swans sailed into the cave. Kara ran in after them to see them transform into her brothers and sisters. She tried to hug every one of them, but Caprica was firm. "Kara, we don’t have time, we need to talk. There is a way to free us from this curse."
"What is it?" Kara asked, "I'll do anything."
"Don't promise so quickly, little sister," Doral said sadly. "You will have to remain silent for six years, not utter a sound, not communicate through writing, and in that time, make each of us a shirt out of starwort."
"Sew?" Kara said blankly. "I can’t sew."
"It doesn’t have to beautiful," D'Anna assured her. "Just something with a neck hole and two arms holes. If you decide to do this, six years is a long enough time to learn how to learn just about anything."
"But don't feel obligated," Simon said, walking over to Kara. He clasped her shoulders in his hands and looked straight into her eyes. "This is a dangerous and impossible thing we ask of you."
Kara put her hands on Simon's, "You are all I have left," she said. "You are my brother—of course I will do this for you. For all of you."
Simon nodded, and one by one Kara's brothers and sisters came forward to kiss her forehead. "We are given fifteen minutes in our human forms every evening at sunset," Galen said. "We will come to you as often as we can, but don't want to draw attention to your hiding place."
Kara nodded, an odd combination of trepidation and determination in her heart. This was not her kind of mission. No bad guys to fight, no ass to kick, but at least she could do something to save them. "So when does this start?" Kara asked as they lined up in front of her, preparing to turn back into birds.
"Right after we leave," Leoben said sadly.
Kara nodded. "I can do it. I promise you that I will set you free."
"God's blessings on you, little sister," Caprica said. "May He protect and guide you. And our thanks and love be with you as well." She pulled Kara into one last hug and Kara felt the energy shimmering around her as her sister's arms turned into wings. She fought the urge to scream into the dusk as she watched them fly away from her, leaving her with nothing but her own thoughts for company.
Two Years Later
"That is against the Delphi Convention!" Lee said sharply, slapping his hands down on the table and pushing up to a standing position. "You can’t just torture and execute prisoners of war."
His step-mother, Laura, looked back at him coolly. "I will do whatever I have to do to keep our people safe—something that you are apparently incapable of."
"How is assassinating a Cylon royal keeping anyone safe?" He demanded through gritted teeth.
"You forget how they murdered your brother—"
"I forget nothing," Lee spat at the queen. "I will not allow you to use Zak's name as a rallying cry for immoral and illegal practices like you do with your religion."
"You won’t allow me?" Laura rose, fire in her eyes. "You won’t allow me. One of the nice things about being queen is that you don’t have to answer to anyone." Lee's jaw clenched. He breathed through his nose, keeping his lips pressed tightly together and walked out of the conference room without another glance at Laura. Just outside of the door, he leaned against the wall and pressed his palms against his eyes. He briefly contemplated going to his father, the only person in Galactica with equal authority to the queen's but dismissed it immediately. She'd play him, as always. Play the Zak card, tell him that Lee was too soft and was incapable of doing the smart thing. And at that moment, he had bigger problems.
Lee dropped his hands and strode quickly to his room. He pulled out enough clothes to last a couple of days, slid his broadsword into its harness and jogged to the stables. He saddled his horse, Viper, and rode out. It was a day's journey to Karl's and Lee needed to get there fast. He had to tell Karl that the queen was planning on publicly executing his wife, the Cylon prisoner, Sharon.
The first time Lee had seen his cousin, his best friend, locked in an embrace with the Cylon, he had very nearly run them both through with his sword, the betrayal had been so burning and bone deep. He had held his blade tip poised against the Cylon's heart while Karl had put his dagger against Lee's throat. "Lee," Karl had said desperately. "Lee, don’t do anything stupid. I love her."
Lee's fingers had gone numb and he had dropped his sword, scratching Sharon's chest. He had backed away slowly not knowing where to look, how to act. Not knowing what to do.
"Lee—" Karl had started toward him, distress in his eyes, but it was Sharon who had held him back, Sharon who had stepped in front of Karl and looked at Lee with eyes full of sympathy and pleading.
"Lee," she had said softly. "You mean more to him than anyone in the world, maybe more than me. Don’t make him choose." And Lee had stood still, remained silent, and listened to their story. How they had fallen in love through iron bars, how the differences between them seemed so trivial when compared to their similarities. He had not acknowledged them that day, had ridden to a nearby inn and stayed there the night, trying to realign his world, but in the end, he had accepted Karl's love for Sharon and even Sharon's love for Karl. He had become friends with the Cylon, had ridden over the border to find a monotheistic priest and borne witness to their union. And now Sharon was pregnant and the queen wanted to burn her at the stake.
As Lee entered Karl's town, he began to feel a tugging, an undertow telling him that things were not right. There was a nearly unearthly silence and all the doors were shut. He urged Viper to pick up the pace towards Karl's home, and there in the courtyard he saw his cousin lying motionless on the ground, blood on his face, and a heavily pregnant Sharon being dragged bodily into a prison wagon, trying desperately to get to Karl.
"What is the meaning of this?" Lee roared. He knew exactly what the meaning of this was, had argued with the queen too long over a game already in play, a game he couldn’t win outright, but could maybe bluff to buy time.
"Your Highness," the officer in charge walked over to Lee and saluted. "We are here to escort the Cylon prisoner to the capital, by order of Queen Laura."
"And under whose authority did you injure my cousin?" Lee spoke with deadly, quiet calm and was gratified to see the officer take an involuntary step back.
"He tried to stop us—"
"So you felt that it was appropriate to harm a member of the royal family?" Lee snarled. "Go. And leave the prisoner here."
"My orders are very specific—"
"They are," Lee nodded. "I just ordered you to get the frak out of my sight and to stop manhandling a pregnant woman. You are dismissed, Captain." The officer opened his mouth to protest. "You. Are. Dismissed," Lee annunciated before turning his back deliberately and walking over to the wagon, taking Sharon's hand to help her out of the back. He grasped her arm firmly and marched her into the house, past the muttering, exiting soldiers and into the empty sitting room. "I'll check on Karl. You stay inside."
"Lee—" Sharon began, stubborn determination mixing in with her concern.
"Sharon, we are on the edge of all three of us being executed as enemies of the state for that little stunt I just pulled, so do as I say and stay put. Alright?" Lee softened his tone. "There's no time for this right now. Let me get Karl in here and we'll figure out what to do next. Now go sit down, you're making me nervous." He pressed a quick kiss to Sharon's temple before running out to Karl's side.
Blood on the ground. Zak not moving. Lee blinked and dropped next to his cousin, who was thankfully stirring. "It's okay, Karl," Lee said soothingly, running questing fingers over Karl's head and feeling a sizeable and sticky bump on the crown. "Did they get you anywhere else?" He removed his dagger from his boot and sliced open Karl's shirt. Nothing noticeable, just the beginnings of some impressive bruises. He pressed against Karl's ribs. "Nothing broken here. Can you move?"
"Sharon—" Karl gasped out as Lee helped him to a sitting position.
"She's fine. Inside," Lee said. "And we need to get you in there too. We are utterly frakked, my friend." He winced along with Karl as the larger man leaned heavily on him, staggering forward toward the door of the mansion. "Laura's decided to publicly execute Sharon, you just had to be subdued so the soldiers could get to her, so I'm guessing that cat's out of the bag, and I just dismissed the soldiers, took charge of the prisoner and essentially countermanded the queen's direct orders."
"Shit," Karl said.
"Yeah," Lee agreed. He helped Karl into the sitting room. Sharon leapt to her feet, ignoring Lee's groan of exasperation, "Gods! You are a million months pregnant and traumatized, for frak's sake!" and ran to her husband, wrapping her arms around him. Karl buried his face in her hair and they whispered reassurances to each other as Lee looked on nervously. "Okay," he cleared his throat. "Okay! Please, sit down, for my sanity if not for your safety." They sat carefully, pressed close together on a sofa and Lee summarized the situation.
"We don’t have much time, if any at all," Karl said. "If I know Laura, she'll be here soon with her circle of scribes so she can triumphantly lead the Cylon to the town center." He tightened his arm around Sharon. He looked up at Lee who was pacing the room. "There's no where to go in this kingdom that's safe from her spies."
"There might be some places in Cylon," Sharon said bleakly. "No one is looking for me, my brothers and sisters are gone, probably dead, Mom's married my frakking cousin, there's a war." Lee and Karl had done their best to keep Sharon abreast of the known situation in Cylon from what limited intel reports they received. Sometimes Lee thought that the three of them got along so well because there wasn't anyone else left for them to get along with.
"So," Karl said. "Just the three of us against the world."
Sharon directed a small smile at Lee and laced her hand through her husband's. "Per usual," she said.
Lee exhaled. "Alright, top of your head, Sharon, where do you think would be safe in Cylon?"
"Ironically, pretty near to the place I got captured," Sharon answered. "Right there on the coast, where the mountains meet the sea is very deserted. Or it least it was a couple years ago."
Karl looked back at his cousin. "Lee?"
"I don’t have anything better that I can think of. Go get your stuff together. We need to move now." Lee walked over to the sofa, grasped Karl's wrist with one hand and Sharon's arm with the other and heaved, pulling them up into a standing position. He evaded their attempts to hug him and pushed them out of the room before flopping onto a big armchair, trying to work the logistics of their next move out in his mind.
The sound of hooves clattering in the courtyard chilled him to the bone, sent dread racing down his spine. He stood and deliberately made his way to the hall, toward the main door, a glance over his shoulder revealed a fierce eyed Sharon and a steel-jawed Karl on the landing. "Get out of here," Lee said.
"No," Karl shot back.
"If we leave, Laura will arrest you for aiding and abetting," Sharon added.
Lee shook his head in frustration, "They are going to get all of us if you don’t go."
Karl shrugged. "Then they get all of us." The knock on the door that reverberated up to the ceiling interrupted further debate. Lee sent one final, furious look at his cousin and opened the door to the queen of Galactica.
"Your Majesty," he said, sketching a mocking little bow to his step-mother who was accompanied by the ever present body guards and town scribes and criers.
"Leland, I hear you've been confusing my soldiers by giving orders contrary to my own."
"My apologies, Madame," Lee said. "I didn't think that your orders included assaulting a member of the royal family and a pregnant woman. Had I known those were your instructions, I would have, by all means, stood aside."
Laura's lips tightened. "I ordered the transport of a Cylon prisoner."
"And I stopped it when the officer could not control his men," Lee said pleasantly. "I'll be happy to transport the prisoner for you. As soon as she has given birth and is able to travel without danger to herself or her child."
"How. . . chivalrous of you, Lee. Thank you." Laura said sweetly, eyes hard. "It is, however, completely unnecessary. I have found a local mid-wife who will sit with her on her journey. In the meantime," she pushed past Lee and into the door, "Prince Karl, you are under arrest for providing aid and comfort to the enemy," she paused, lip curling in disgust, "and for getting said enemy pregnant." Lee tried to step in front of Laura again, but her body guards pushed him to the side.
"Don't do this," Lee spoke quietly. "Do not do this, Laura." He backtracked at her stare. "Your Majesty, show mercy, I am begging you. Sharon has been nothing but cooperative and Karl is the most loyal of all your subjects."
Laura smiled, and spoke in a ringing tone that echoed through the hallway as soldiers took custody of Karl and Sharon. "Lee, you surprise me. After your brother died in your arms in this very town, blood spilled by Cylons, you would apologize for the Cylon prisoner and her lover," she shook her head, triumph in her eyes. "It's a good thing that I do not forget Prince Zak. It is a good thing that your father and I cherish his memory, as do all loyal Galacticans."
Hatred raged to the surface and flared in Lee's eyes, startling the guards enough that they pulled Lee farther away from their queen. Even the usually unflappable queen looked startled for a moment before smoothing down her pleasant mask. "You may let his Highness go," she addressed her guards. The guards dropped Lee's arms, and he remained obediently still, mind spinning over every possibility as Laura began walking out of the house. He watched in painful helplessness as Sharon and Karl were dragged down the stairs.
"Son of a—" Lee as startled out of his thoughts by the guard's swearing, looking in confusion at the puddle of water at Sharon's feet before his eyes closed in frustrated despair.
"Your Majesty," he called calmly. "I hope that midwife is nearby because the prisoner is going into labor."
* * *
Lee sat in the sitting room next to Karl, who had been cuffed to the chair. He had no idea how much time had passed. Could not even fathom how they were going to get out of this mess when the midwife hesitantly entered the room. Lee and Karl stood. "I'm sorry," she began.
"No," Karl said, and Lee moved to put a hand on his shoulder, his own gut clenching.
"She was a girl, but she was stillborn."
"No," Karl whispered, tears in his eyes and Lee tightened his grip. "How is Sharon?"
"She's fine," the woman said.
In tragedy, Lee found his solution. "Guard!" and the man who had been guarding the entrance hall came in.
"Release the prisoner so that he can go to his wife."
The guard began to protest. "Where the hell is he going to go, soldier?" Lee demanded. "He just lost his child. I will go with him." Still the guard hesitated. "You may tell the queen as soon as you unlock his chain if you wish," he said dismissively. "She's at the mayor's estate, I believe." The guard looked relieved and unlocked Karl from the chair.
"Quickly, quickly," Lee muttered under his breath to his shocked cousin as they climbed the stairs. Lee jerked his head and the guards at the bedroom door stood aside and closed the door deliberately in front of them. "I'm sorry," he said, moving quickly to the other side of the bed. Karl and Sharon were weeping in each other's arms. "I'm so, so sorry, but this is the only chance we have."
"What the frak are you talking about, Lee?" Karl rasped, tears on his cheeks.
"Remember that passageway in the closet that leads out to the stables, the one that Zak used to use to sneak the mayor's daughter in here?" Karl's eyes lit up in recognition. "I can’t believe I have to do this to you now, but it is the only way. It's dark, minimal guards. . ."
"Sharon?" Karl asked.
"I heard," she said dully. "I don’t know how well I can walk."
"I'll carry you," Karl said, picking her up. Lee was already grabbing towels, as many as he could find, random articles of clothing, matches and a candle. "What are you doing?"
"I have no idea," Lee said helplessly, "I—she just gave birth and—I don’t know."
"It's okay," Sharon said. She sounded so defeated. "You have plenty. Let's go." Lee dove head first into the closet, pushing shoes away and rolling up the rug. He opened the trap door and lowered himself in. Fortunately, it was large enough for a tall man to stand. With a little luck, they would be out of the mansion by the time Laura got back and over the Cylon border in a couple of hours. Karl lowered his wife into the passageway and Lee held Sharon for the seconds it took for Karl to close the closet and drop into the passageway. He reached up and slammed the trap door shut behind them and took his wife back into his arms immediately. Lee lit the candle and peered at the walls, moving until he found what he was looking for. He lit the torch and pulled it out of its sconce, blowing out the candle and tucking it into his pocket.
They didn’t speak, just moved down stairs and several hundred yards to the end of the passage. Lee took a deep breath and opened the door in front of him. The stables were dark, and he sighed in relief. He turned to Karl. "Horses? I think they'll bring too much attention, but can you-"
"I'll carry her," Karl affirmed, kissing his wife's head.
Lee briefly touched Sharon's cheek. "Sharon?"
"I'm alright, Lee."
"Okay. In all of the confusion, I left my sword on Viper's saddle. I'll grab that and we'll go." They moved quietly out into the stables. Lee found his horse. He had ordered them to stable Viper in the confusion and he was glad to see that they had taken good care of him. "Hey, boy," Lee spoke softly, giving Sharon the torch to hold. "Where did they put my stuff?" He saw his bags in the corner and grabbed his sword. "I'll be back soon," he assured Viper, stroking his nose before leaving his stall. Lee slid the harness onto his back so that his sword hilt rode over his left shoulder and took the torch back from Sharon, blowing it out to keep them obscured in darkness. "Let's go."
They moved out, keeping off the streets and away from street lanterns, out of the village and into the night.
* * *
Kara had reason to know that a person could get used to anything. Loneliness, hunger, sewing, never speaking or laughing, which had turned out to be the easiest part because there was no one to speak to and nothing to laugh about. She wasn't even halfway done either. Kara threw the shirt she was trying to sew out of the prickly starwort flowers against the wall of her cave and poked at her fire a little. The boredom though; she never got used to that. Living day after day in a cave by the sea. Going to the river for water, scavenging for berries, fishing, sewing, practicing her fencing with an invisible partner. Every now and then seeing a brother or a sister for fifteen minutes as the sun set. She knew they were around though. She had seen the feathers and flashes of white. They were watching as best they could.
Kara could see glimpses of the full moon in a clear sky, so she rose, dusting her hands off on her pants, and walked out to enjoy the breeze. A sudden movement caught her peripheral vision and she saw figures moving toward her from the Galactica side of the border. She didn’t think that they had seen her yet, so she ducked back into the cave, taking her sword in hand and watching intently. As they crossed her line of vision, Kara felt the breath catch in her throat. Two men. And the big one was carrying her sister, Sharon. The moon was bright enough that she was positive it was her.
Kara felt the rage rise, welcomed the flood surging from the never ending blandness of the monastic existence that was her life. She burst out of the cave, running over the soft sand with her sword raised high. The big one blurted in surprise, but the smaller man silently and quickly drew his sword from where it rode above his shoulder and whirled into her, raising his weapon in time to counter her sharp downward blow. Kara bared her teeth in a feral grin. She had been looking for a fight and appeared to have found it.
Not wasting any time, she disengaged their swords and moved forward aggressively. He assumed a defensive stance, but not a truly defensive attitude, she noted, parrying her thrusts while observing her style. They moved down the beach, practically racing to the surer footing of wet sand, and Kara felt the cold water of the ocean lapping at her bare toes as she spun into a crouch, whipping her blade along with her to try to take out the man's knees. He jumped over her swing and countered with an underhanded slice that caught along the back of her thigh, the slight sting signaling first blood.
Kara's heart pounded with exertion and exhilaration. The stakes were high, but God, she was enjoying this, living again at last. Her opponent began the familiar strong wrist roll, designed to strip the blade from her hand, but she countered forcefully, sliding their blades together in one long rasping stroke, forcing them in closer to each other as their weapons met and held for a suspended moment. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth at the sudden darkening of his eyes as her breasts brushed against his chest, and then he was spinning off her, using her sword as an anchor to push away, feinting slightly and countering her blow with a barely quick enough flick.
The clanging and scraping of steel catching steel played in counterpoint to the relentless surf, the flash of metal in the moonlight and a worthy opponent's appreciative eyes. The encouraging yells of her sister. "Kara!" He got in close enough to try to hook her knee with his in an attempt to bring her down and she almost forgot herself and laughed as her sword slipped easily through his guard and slid down his ribs in a teasing, shallow cut before he swore and kicked her away with a foot to her stomach. "Kara!" She staggered backwards from the impact but then flipped her weapon, changing her grip, and brought the pommel down hard on his shoulder, something that she knew from experience would send a numbing shock down his arm to his fingers before dancing away. "Kara! Lee! Stop!"
Kara moved back and down into a defensive crouch, noting that her enemy did the same, eyes never leaving hers. "Kara, is that you?" She watched as the larger man slowly carried her sister into her line of sight and set her gently down, keeping a protective hand on the small of her back. "Oh my God, Kara, I thought you were dead! I thought all of you were dead," Sharon sobbed out and, heedless of the sword in Kara's hand, wrapped her arms around her.
Kara wanted to ask what the hell was going on, wanted to explain what she was doing so far from home and why they had all disappeared, but she couldn't, so she just held Sharon as tight as she could with one arm.
"Why aren't you saying anything?" Sharon asked abruptly. Kara shook her head in apology, eyes pleading. "You can't talk?" Kara nodded, paused with a helpless shrug. This was an impossible situation to describe, even if she had been allowed to. "Okay," Sharon said, sliding her hand over her little sister's hair. "Okay." She seemed to wobble on her feet and Kara looked at her more closely. She looked different, weak. Pregnant. She surged back, bringing her sword up again, attempting to push Sharon behind her as she moved. Her opponent came forward to engage before Sharon spoke again. "I swear to God I am not in the mood to deal with this right now. Kara! Lee! Drop your swords!"
Kara watched in amazement as the man she had been fighting, Lee, tightened his lips but obeyed. "Sharon, you need to sit down" the big one spoke with such tenderness that she blinked.
"You do too, Karl, you've been carrying me for hours," Sharon answered. And the man named Karl reached out his hand as he sat in the sand. Sharon walked gingerly over to him and let him pull her down into her lap. "Kara, this is Karl, my husband. Karl, this is Kara, my sister. And the man you were trying to kill is Lee, Karl's cousin and my friend." Kara's eyes bugged out. Husband? A Galactican husband. Clearly she was not the only one with a tale to tell. Her instinct was still to pull her sister away from the hulking man and his observant cousin, but Sharon. . . Kara trusted Sharon, and there was a larger part of her that was so tired of having no one to rely on but herself.
"Nice to meet you," Karl said affably but wearily. Lee merely nodded briefly, tilting his head in consideration, eyes still locked on her. Kara didn’t think they had ever moved from her since they began their fight. A strong man, she decided, one who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and didn’t trust easily. She found herself smiling at a kindred spirit. Lee's eyebrows raised in response.
"Is there somewhere close we can bring your sister? Somewhere safe where she can rest?" Lee asked and Kara nodded and motioned to cave, the light from her fire could be seen flickering inside. Lee hesitated, looking at Karl and Sharon in concern. "Your sister had a baby today, but she was stillborn."
"Hera," Sharon said softly. "Her name was Hera." Kara's heart cracked for her sister. And she finally let go of the sword and moved in close to clutch her hand, hoping that Sharon knew just how sorry she was.
"Karl," Lee said softly. "Do you want to bring Sharon into the cave? I can fill Kara in. Then I'm going to go back to your place."
"Are you out of your frakking mind?" Karl asked. "Laura knows that you helped us."
"Yeah, but she can’t prove it," Lee replied. "I'll tell her that it was an error in judgment to let you see Sharon; that we struggled when I realized your plan, that I followed you as best I could but lost you in the dark. It would take a heck of a lot of proof for her to feel safe accusing me directly of treason. I can’t leave Galactica to the queen's mercy. You know that. It's better if I go back."
"Not better for you," Karl said stubbornly.
"I can bring you supplies, information, keep you safe. Plus," Lee said trying for lightness, "then I can sleep in a real bed."
"Princess," Karl said, unsmiling, but Kara could see that he was resigned to play the part that his cousin needed him to.
Lee shrugged, "Can I help it if I'm accustomed to the finer things in life?" He and Kara helped Sharon up and then Lee pulled Karl to his feet. "Take care of her. And yourself," he said as Karl hugged him. "I'll be back inside of a week I promise." He squeezed Sharon's hands before Karl carried her into warm shelter. "Your sister will be in soon," he assured her.
Kara was left alone with Lee on the beach, watching the couple make their slow way into the cave. "He loves her," Lee said and she turned to meet his earnest gaze. "And yeah, he knows she's a Cylon, but he loves her anyway." Kara felt her heart stutter unexpectedly at the intensity in the eyes of a man who had been trying to kill her mere minutes before. She watched him swallow tightly, felt the heat rise between them and she felt her lips curving hesitantly up before she bit her lip and looked away.
"I—hardly know where to begin," Lee said. He walked wearily over to pick up his sword and slid it into the scabbard, shrugging off the harness and dropping it unceremoniously on the beach. He slumped to the sand, exhaustion apparent in every clumsy move, and stretched out on his back with a bone deep sigh. His shirt rode up, showing a strip of muscled torso as well as the thin cut that Kara had caused. She shivered, seeing her mark on him, hand reaching automatically for the slice on the back of her thigh. Lee frowned in concern, forehead wrinkling. He rolled up onto his elbows. "Did I hurt you? I forgot." Kara rolled her eyes and shook her head, dropping to the sand next to him, gesturing for him to continue. Lee considered her a long moment. "I bet that you have quite a story to tell." Kara shrugged a single shoulder, dropping his gaze. "Maybe someday," Lee said softly and Kara rolled her head sideways to look at him. He lay heavily back onto the ground again as if he just couldn’t prop himself up anymore, linking his hands behind his head and holding her gaze. Brief shyness flickered in his eyes and Kara watched as he visibly pulled into himself before turning his head to contemplate the stars.
Lee started and stopped a couple of times, but in the end, he began the story with his brother's death and ended it with a moonlit sword fight. Kara listened intently to Lee's nearly inflectionless telling of such a personal accounting for all involved, sitting with her arms around her knees, looking out onto the ocean. She was relived to be listening to another human being and tremendously grateful that God had seen fit to send Karl and Lee into her sister's life. She found herself inching closer, trying to offer some comfort in presence if not in words.
Kara started at the soft touch on the back of her thigh and turned her head to watch Lee trace a single finger up the slice in her pants, over the cut he had inflicted. "I have to go," he said throatily, sitting up. Kara's face fell. "Hey," he said, sounding surprised and pleased. "I'll be back. You have my cousin in your cave. Is there anything you need or want?" Kara considered then mimed painting, dipping an imaginary brush into an imagery blob of paint and smearing it around an imaginary canvass. Lee grinned, turning his face charming and young. "A pony?" Kara pushed his shoulder. "Alright, painting stuff. Anything else?" Kara scowled, but pretended to sew. "Thread? A needle?" She nodded and then shook her head to his further inquiries. There was nothing else she could think of. She had been living without for so long.
Lee closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as if centering himself before pushing off the ground. He grabbed his sword and buckled his harness back on, shrugging into it. Then he held out a hand to Kara. She took it, allowed him to pull her up. They stood for a too long moment, a soft smile on Lee's face that she felt echoed on her own. "It was very nice to meet you Kara," he said finally. She tilted her head and smiled wider squeezing his hand lightly. He pulled his hand back slowly, almost reluctantly, long enough that the tips of his fingers lingered against the tips of hers. The smile slid from his face and Kara could almost see the responsibility layering itself back onto his body. With a shake of his head he turned and walked back toward Galactica. Kara watched Lee with a heavy heart until he disappeared into the night.