Disclaimer: Not mine. Rating: 18, language, sex, violence. Genre: Angst, Action, etc.
Spoilers: Through Kobol 2, speculation for season 2.
Pairings: Kara/Zak, Kara/Helo, Kara/Leoben.
Archiving: Please ask.
Length: 4,200 words Notes: This is fairly disjointed. Written under the influence of Gravity Kills, David Bowie, both BSG soundtracks, the Ghost in the Shell theme, Bjork, Massive Attack, Ozark Henry, Snow Patrol, INXS and the Strange Days soundtrack. This was originally written in varying tenses. I've since gone through and made it all one. shrug I liked the structure before, but this works almost as well. I've added a little bit here, and there. And this is now completely AU, given that it was written before season 2 began.

This fic is what Alicia McKenzie once hypothesized Shadowlands would become: Timelines colliding not just in space, but in time, so that time is disjointed and out of sync. I still refuse to write Galactica Shadowlands fic despite the fact that it would probably be pretty.

Thanks go out to Ryuu for prodding me into posting it.

feels a little like grace
by ALC Punk!

She is standing on the lip of the valley, staring down at the greenery when the blow comes. There is a moment before she's hit where she hears the gravel crunch under a footstep, but her reaction time is too slow. (They're too fast) It falls across her back, shoves her forward, and she watches with a sick kind of satisfaction as the ground rushes up to embrace her into darkness.

Before her hearing is gone, she hears the tumble of the river over the rocks.

--

"It begins like this."

"Like what?"

"Like this. And this. And--you like this."

"Yes."

"Good."

"Don't stop."

--

Kara doesn't remember how much time has passed since Helo and Boomer left her behind. She's been staggering and moving for days (weeks?), arrow clutched in one hand, pack slowly lightening on her back.

(I'm not leaving you behind!)

All she knows is the decay around her. Caprica, lush and full of life, is slowly deteriorating into forests of the dead. Petrified wood, snap-frozen by radiation bleeding into the soil until even the green leaves burn fast. When she has a fire.

--

When she sleeps, she remembers sitting on her rack on the Galactica, knees up, arms around them, staring at nothing.

No one bothered her until Apollo. "Kara!"

"Hey."

"What's up?"

"Do you believe in the gods, Lee?"

He shrugs, sits on the other end of her bunk, eyeing her. "Sometimes. You?"

"Maybe."

A hand smacks her ankle. "C'mon, when's the last time you ran, Starbuck? All this doom and gloom, can't be good for your reputation."

"You're a real ass, Lee."

He smirks and tugs on her foot. "Get your sweats on Starbuck, I need to get the lead out of your ass."

--

"You mourned him." Lips on her shoulder, hand drifting across her belly, coaxing a soft moan from her.

"Are you going to talk or frak?"

"Both work."

The hand touches her and she arches, then twists to kiss him, and pulls back. "You're not real."

"Are you so sure?" His smile is the same, the look in his eyes caressing her. "I can be more real than you, Kara."

"You're dead," she pushes away, rolls, and finds herself almost in the tiny fire she built, the night creeping towards dawn. Leoben isn't really there, she isn't curled in a bed. And she isn't mourning Helo again.

--

"I'm not leaving you behind!"

"This isn't a discussion, Starbuck."

"Helo--"

"Either you leave, or I'll shoot you myself."

"Helo, you can't do this, she's a frakking Cylon, you don't--"

"Leave."

"No!"

--

Dead and gone, dead and buried, dead and laying out in the sun, bones bleaching white.

No sleep, now, sleep brings only dreams. And him.

She doesn't need to deal with him, feel him touch him (taste him) or frak him. He's dead, she watched him fly out an airlock, and his soul went to the Gods.

And Helo isn't dead, either, although he might as well be, with a Cylon for a lover.

--

She wakes up, muscles aching, and finds herself with her hands tied, stretching her arms up to the headboard. A turn of her head, and the room slowly comes into focus. Leoben is standing there, watching her. And a shiver slides down her spine while her skin crawls. There's something in his eyes and stance that make her want to run. But she's Starbuck, and he will die, just as soon as she gets free.

"You're awake."

"You're dead." But her voice is rusty from disuse (she never screams in her dreams).

Leoben smiles at her, shifts and moves forward, gesturing at her bindings, "How's the head? I could make you more comfortable."

"Like I've been hit by a viper." Why is she talking to him?

"Kara, I regret the necessity of incapacitating you, but I had to keep you safe from them." His hand is gentle as he brushes hair off her forehead.

"Protecting me from the other toasters? I thought that was only Boomer's game."

He sighs and reaches up to loosen her bonds, "If she has a failing it is that she thinks too slowly, at times."

"I'll keep that in mind the next time I kill her." Empty words; Boomer is still alive (please). Yanking her hands free, she shoves them into his chest and pushes. He staggers back enough for her to swing her legs around and stand.

"You can't leave."

"Frak you."

His arms slide around her. "They're looking for you, Kara."

--

"You're everyone's salvation."

"Frak that."

Lips on her breasts, murmured words while he uses his tongue to make her writhe, "Salvation and devastation all rolled into one. Humanity's hope."

"Shut up." She hates the desperation in her voice. (this is wrong)

"No." Fingers slide into her, thumb brushes up, circling once, twice, "I must make you understand, Kara."

"You don't exist--" but she's panting with need, now, wet and slick and the word 'please' is floating on the tip of her tongue, waiting for her to gasp it out.

"If you say so, so shall it be."

She wakes in the forest, cold and alone, and slides her hand into her pants, stroking herself.

It doesn't take her long to come and then she lays there, trying not to think about what it all means.

--

It takes her more than an hour to believe Helo is really alive (ok, less than that, but she's Starbuck, she figures she's allowed a curve for learning your best friend isn't actually dead).

"So, you survived."

"With Sharon's help." He acknowledges, fingers carefully sorting through the meagre medical supplies (too much used on Starbuck's cuts and bruises, but she didn't complain).

"With it's help," she corrects.

"She's not an it."

"She's a frakking Cylon." Avoiding his eyes, she stands, trying not to wince as her ribs pull in irritation. "I don't understand how you can--"

"I'm not letting you kill her."

Something about that hurts. Kara snorts, "Why not?"

"She's carrying my child, Starbuck."

"Well, whoopdidoo. Let's have a frakkin' parade, then, because I'm sure the Cylons are." Shaking her head at him, she hobbles towards the entrance to their little hideout. "I can't believe we're having this argument."

"The Cylons have nothing to do with this--"

Starbuck laughs, the sound strange, "You think they would have kept you alive all this time if they didn't have a reason for it, Helo? Are you so frakking stupid that you knocked the toaster up and didn't ask her why?"

That stops him. "I..."

"You haven't even considered it, have you?" She sneers, "All this time spent having Helo's Leave From Hell With Sex, and you've only been using the brain below your belt."

"You have no idea what it's been like!"

--

"Adama visit you?"

She looks at him, her view upside-down, and snorts, "The old man has better things to do then come visit me in the brig, Helo."

"Yeah," he pops the sucker out of his mouth and smirks, "'specially not when it's time number--well, actually, do they keep count, or have they given up?"

"Frak you." But there's no heat in the insult, in fact, she's feeling pretty mild. Probably the alcohol.

Helo chuckles, "Havin' fun laying down, Starbuck?"

"Why, yes, Helo, it's better than being hit by stupid civilians." She retorts, not moving from her position on the cot, her legs draping off one side while her head dangles over the other. It would probably be uncomfortable, if she were paying attention.

A snort, and then he steps back, "I should go before some of that immortal Starbuck idiocy rubs off on me."

"I rub good!" She shoots back.

They both laugh.

--

Starbuck leaves the valley. She thinks there might be a proverb in the thought, but then shies away from the idea, because his faith wasn't so counter to her own.

That thought is something she shoves into the box labeled Leoben.

"This box to be opened in a million years," she calls, tone almost jaunty. Something that might be a squirrel darts across her path, and she laughs, almost dropping her cigar.

It's the first sign of wildlife that isn't dead, and she wonders if that's supposed to give her hope.

Not that it matters. She continues heading north.

--

"You miss him."

Kara doesn't turn from pounding her fists into the bag, feeling the satisfying weight of the impacts. "Miss who?"

"Helo. Boomer mentioned him the other day," Lee moves up and grabs the bag, holding it as she punches harder. "Said you two were good friends."

"Yeah."

"How long had you known him?"

"Does it matter, Captain?" She demands, not stopping, "He's dead."

"Of course it matters, Kara. He was your friend."

"Yeah, well, maybe it matters to you." Her hands drop and she starts undoing the ties on her gloves, throwing one towards the bin. It misses.

Something about the way it lands just short makes her laugh. And then she's crying, and hating herself and hating him (both of them), because he doesn't say anything, just wraps his arms around her and lets her cry.

--

The second day, he lets her leave the room, and she explores this little (perfect) cabin in the woods. It has all of the basics a human could need. And he's a Cylon, so she wonders if the cabin was built for her.

Not that it matters. There's no way out, just yet. But there will be. He can't keep her chained here forever.

She finds an axe next to the stove.

--

"Who's looking for me?" She demands, struggling against the iron grip.

"The others, I've blocked them, for now. But eventually, they will find you." He looks down at her. "I can't let you leave here. Not yet. Not until you're ready."

"Ready for what?"

"To live."

Abruptly, she finds herself shoved backwards and lands awkwardly on the bed. "What the frak do you think I've been doing?"

"Surviving."

--

"Helo didn't know."

Sharon's voice comes out of the dark, and Kara is glad Helo went off to scavenge. "That's great to know."

"He didn't know until, until it was too late," there's shame in her voice.

Kara has to remind herself that Cylons aren't human. That this woman, who she's known for years, is not real. She's a personality constructed inside of a program, and at any moment, she could rip Kara to shreds. "After you'd frakked him, of course."

"I--I wasn't supposed to. Not then." Her voice stops, then starts again, cracking, "They wanted him for something I couldn't, I couldn't do it."

"That's fabulous, honey."

"Please don't hate me."

Kara's laugh echoes in the small room, "You want me not to hate you? You're a frakking toaster. Your people massacred mine, and you want me not to hate you. Boy, are you living a delusion."

--

She lets him fuck her bent over the table. There's something oddly ritualistic in the sounds he makes as he thrusts in and out, in the way her skin dances under his touch. She thinks it shouldn't be like this, but she's tired and past caring.

Later, she scrubs her skin until it's raw, and wonders who she's trying to convince.

--

"You're Kara Thrace."

Kara is flopped on her back, staring up at the stars and ignoring the kid who's wandered over to stare at her.

"I mean, wow. THE Kara Thrace. This is kind of an honor."

What a geek. Kara tilts her head enough to see the kid standing there. Tall and gangly, he grins down at her, clutching a lollipop in one hand. "Yeah? How'd'ya figure that?"

"Did you know they even talk about you in bars on Picon?"

Kara snorts, "You've obviously been listening to too much gossip, kid."

"No, really?" He laughs and waves the sucker at her. "I'm Karl."

"Nice to meet you, I'm sure."

He drops next to her without asking, flopping back on the grass to join her in staring at the stars. "I'm going to be up there, one day."

"Sure you are, kid."

"And so are you."

--

"Better?"

Kara pushes Lee away and shakes her head, ignoring her raw eyes and nose. "Frak off, Apollo."

"Fine."

She ignores him in favor of getting herself to her feet and staggering over to the bin to shove both gloves into it.

"It's natural to mourn him, Kara."

"Frak off."

Lee just looks at her for a moment, then leaves.

The fight drains from her and she sits on the bench, staring at the wall. Maybe mourning him was all right. But it meant giving up the hope that Helo was alive.

--

The green of the forest below startles her, and Kara stops to stare, wondering. It's a brilliant green, greener than the withered trees she's been seeing for the last days (and days and weeks, she's lost track of time). She figures this is what the poets meant by 'verdant'.

She's been traveling so long, the days have blended together. And seeing something alive stops her cold.

It's a valley. Long and winding, and she thinks there must be a river at the bottom to keep the grass so green.

And how many times can she think of green and growing things, here in this broken, desolate planet?

If she had breath to laugh, she would.

--

The first time she has sex with Karl, they're inexperienced and he fumbles when he touches her, but she knows what she wants. Her hands guide his, and if it isn't everything it is when she does it herself, she still likes it.

Afterwards, he apologizes for being so bad, and she mocks him for being an idiot, which makes him blush. She thinks it's cute and ends up kissing him, which leads to the second time she has sex with Karl.

He learns fast, she has to admit, because this time, it's much better.

--

"Kara," he says her voice like a caress, and she realizes that he's looking at her breasts while she washes her arms.

"Frak off."

"I can't let you go. Not yet."

She turns from him, wants to cross her arms over her breasts (and she doesn't want to know if he stripped her, before), but doesn't. Her shirts will have to be enough until she can get her flight jacket back.

"I think it's different, this time." He says, hand touching her shoulder, fingers sliding across the nape of her neck. "I'm the stream, you're the stone."

"Oh, frak off about that crap." And she turns and knocks his hand away, intent on moving past him.

Leoben's hands close on her shoulders, holding her. "Kara..." He bends over and kisses her.

And Kara lets him, because she's tired, suddenly, of fighting. And he tastes like blood or she tastes like blood, and it doesn't matter because this is wrong, he's a frakking Cylon. She should be fighting him, hitting him, beating him (he only broke when it was all over, when he was standing in the airlock, and she knew why he was looking at her, and couldn't inot/i go to him). She'd tried to kill Boomer, but she was letting the trickster live.

It's Leoben that pulls away, that sets her back gently on her feet and turns to poke at the food.

Kara wonders for a split-second, if this is how her life will always be.

--

It's a week before the forest she travels through begins to go dark and withered. Kara stops picking berries, then, hoping the ones she's already eaten don't make her sick. They don't, but she finds things in the forest. Dead animals that are almost unrecognizable through the decay. Their skin peeled and blackened, their blood long-spilt into the ground. Yellow-white bones stained by the sun and the cancer of radiation that slowly spreads through the Caprican soil.

She doesn't eat for an entire day after that.

--

She flies two CAPs before Apollo catches her alone coming back from the showers. "Hey, Kara."

"Lee."

He lets her move past, then coughs, "Are you--ok?"

"I'm fine." Her voice is almost convincing, even if she still feels oddly vulnerable. But she will be damned if she will fall apart and cry again. Helo would have mocked her. The thought makes her flinch, and she wonders if she can beat someone for more ambrosia.

"Ok. Are the others..." He hesitates, fumbling with this new responsibility for pilots he doesn't know. "Are they fine, too?"

Kara thinks about that, then turns back and tugs him into the storage locker that's conveniently there. They don't need anyone over-hearing Starbuck discussing the emotional stability of her friends. "They're tough pilots, they'll live. But you might want to keep an eye on Fickle. Don't let her go out with Catseye. They were both--" Her eyes flicker away, then back, "--let's just say one might let the other quietly disappear."

"Why?"

"They had families, Lee. Families that are now dead, and no time to mourn for them."

--

The first time she dreams of Leoben, she's in her rack on iGalactica/i.

"All of this has happened before."

"Yeah?" She stared down at the blood on his face, and knew this was wrong.

His hands touch her, slide up her legs as if he's worshipping her in some ritual that will never get old before its time. "You were the interrogator, don't you remember?"

And she jumps as his warm breath slides across her naked flesh.

--

"Look," says Helo, "We know where they are. To the north. All we have to do is avoid them, and we're set."

"No."

"What?"

"We head north. We go right where they won't expect us to go. And maybe we take a few of them down with us."

"That's suicide, Starbuck."

"It's life, Helo--" She turns from him, sees Boomer--it. IT--looking at them. "You got a suggestion? Maybe your toaster friends won't find us there?"

"Helo's right."

"Karl is never right."

His first name feels suddenly intimate, and she wonders if that's because no one's called him that since flight school.

"Kara, we are not going north. They'll--"

"They'll what?"

Abruptly, he paces away from them both, then comes back. "You have to leave us here, or they'll catch us."

--

Fickle slips through the CAG's fingers before he has a chance to check up on her. Specialist Simmons finds her and is sent to sickbay to be sedated. Kara stands over the body of her friend and wonders if this is how it always goes, or if life is just one gigantic cosmic joke.

They hold the memorial swiftly, the suicide something no one wants to talk about. Captain Apollo says a soft eulogy, tries to set an example, and fails. But it's enough that he sets a watch on Catseye, ostensibly to give her grief counseling.

Kara misses her morning run with Apollo the next day, but the day after she's back, as cocky as ever. All smiles and flash, smirks and jokes.

No one sees the darkness under her eyes and guesses the real cause. It simply looks like fatigue. They're all worn down, bent into threads and wondering when it will end.

Kara runs and Kara flies and Kara laughs, fights, jokes, punches, kicks, screams--and fails.

--

Leoben's tongue slides across her belly, dipping into her navel. She arches, hating him, hating herself for this reaction, but unwilling to stop him.

She feels alive.

--

"There's a Cylon base about a week from here," he tells her as he makes breakfast. His movements are quick and decisive. "I think you should go there, it won't be as heavily guarded since they're looking for you further south."

"Yeah?" Kara has gotten used to steady meals (she doesn't ask how long it's been). "What's there?"

"Ships." A brilliant smile breaks over his lips, part-grin, part-joy, and something she can't name. "Raptors, a viper or two, even a few raiders. You'll find something you can fly."

"And where am I flying to?"

That stops him, it's a question he seems to think she's stupid to ask, and the look he gives her is part-resigned, part amused adoration. "To your people. I told you, Kara, you're the only one who can bring them the light. The arrow. It's your destiny, Kara."

"The light, huh?" She grabs the plate of eggs without thanking him and takes a bite.

--

She doesn't know what wakes her.

A sound, a footstep, something. But when she scrambles up, gun out, wildly pointing at nothing, Helo and Boomer are gone. Her pack is there, but no note (Helo can't write worth shit, anyway)--and she realizes they've left. Left her alone to make her way back to iGalactica/i. As if she wants to do this alone. She wants to throw something at them, to hit them both, to shoot Boomer through the head--

Instead, she gathers herself and takes stock. And then she heads north (only direction left, and she's Starbuck and damned pig-headed, but she thinks she's right. Damnit.)

--

It doesn't surprise her to discover Catseye is one of the survivors of the explosion in the hangar bay.

But her mind isn't filled with the present, it's filled with the past. Zak tangled with Helo, and part of her guilty that she's mourned Helo and never mourned Zak. Maybe it's because she isn't responsible for Helo.

It's easier to remember Zak.

--

"Kara!"

The voice hails from behind, and she turns, trying to ignore the pounding in her temples. "Hey."

"Hey." He isn't gangly anymore, his body filled out, his muscles gleam when he sweats. But he still has the same damned lollipops. He waves the current one at her. "So, I heard about you."

"About me?"

"The major? Come on, Kara, everyone's talking about it. You got drunk and--"

"Karl." Her tone must have warned him because his mouth snaps closed. "I'm hung over, and you're an ass."

"So are you."

That makes her laugh, which she regrets almost instantly. "Oh, gods. When I'm not about to puke, I'm going to kick your ass iso/i hard."

--

"How long will I have?" She asks it while he's not paying attention. He's tucking himself back into his pants, straightening his shirt. And she's ignoring the feel of him still on her skin.

"Long?"

"Once I leave here, how long before they find you? Before they track my movements?"

Leoben frowns and turns to look at her, "Kara--"

"How long."

"I've been resisting them... A week?"

"Good enough."

The blow is swift and clean, the axe sinking into his neck with frightening ease.

It scares her that he doesn't even look surprised as he falls.

--

She dreams about him almost every night after Helo and Boomer leave. They're visual, visceral, vivid dreams, and she's too much the realist to care what it says about her that the Cylon she tortured is now the man who makes her scream. Sometimes, when she wakes, she's bitten her lip and the taste of blood reminds her of staring at him across the table.

Too often, her hand slides into her pants, and she can't quite remain soundless as her memories make her orgasm. It's sweaty and dirty, and if there were time, she thinks she would scrub her skin raw to remove the taint of him.

But she still dreams, and she still wakes, and he still screams.

--

"You can't shoot her, Kara."

"Why not?"

This is the fourth time they've argued about this.

Or maybe the fifth.

Helo looks at her, just as tired as she is, and repeats himself. "You just can't."

--

Kara takes one last shower, scraping her skin nearly raw.

It's not enough, but it will have to do. She ignores Leoben's body as she roots through the kitchen for food. The pack is definitely heavier as she leaves by the front door.

She stops at the river, filling all of the water bottles she scrounged from the cabin. The pack should last her until she makes it back to iGalactica/i. The arrow is strapped to the side, carefully wrapped so that it doesn't catch the sunlight. She's still unsure how long she's been trapped here, the air of the valley has always felt too still and timeless.

It's almost enough to make her feel hopeless.

For a moment, squatting there, she stares at the water and considers the easy way out. Slipping into the current, letting it drag her down to the depths.

But she isn't Fickle. She isn't Catseye or Zak or Helo or Boomer.

She is Starbuck. And she might be a frak-up, and she might be too late, but she is going to survive. And she is going to take the Cylons down if it takes her a lifetime.

After finishing her tasks, she stands and slings the pack up onto her shoulders. Her ribs no longer protest the movement, and she pulls out a cigar and sticks it between her lips. She sets out towards the north end of the valley.

--

Leoben Conoy is a liar, a trickster god with a silver tongue and a penchant for being beaten. He's a Cylon, one of the machines which destroyed her people. He believes in circular time, reality, and a God she doesn't know.

His attitude reminds her of a young man named Karl Agathon.

All of this goes through her head while she lets him touch her skin, slide his fingers into her and make her whimper.

She figures if it's all happened before and will happen again, who is she to break the cycle?

-f-