Note: this was written before the second half of season three; it reflects the information available then, even though it's set in the future. Companion piece titled "Second Winter (on Earth)" is about Helo.

- - - - - - -

The sixth time. She whispers the words while looking closely at him. He moves closer and says "Now the rest." Their lips touch, a long-awaited rite; it's like the birthing chamber, taking his first breath, when oxygen floods his new body. The knife comes too soon. He feels more alive than ever before as he lies, bleeding, on the floor.

- - - - - - -

He was walking down the sidewalk next to the wet streets. A woman called his name, her voice hoarse: "Leoben." He turned around and saw a blonde woman, average height, hair loose and whipping around her shoulders in the cool breeze. She was staring at him, intense and angry. He didn't recall seeing her before. "What?" he asked. She said something incomprehensible. "What?" he repeated, tilting his head down toward hers. She gazed a moment more, then quickly turned around and walked away, long loping strides moving her quickly down the sidewalk.

- - - - - - -

The next time he saw her he had almost forgotten that initial encounter. Near the stage he took his guitar out of its case. Stroking the wood, he smiled to himself. He looked up and saw her again--the blonde woman, looking cautiously at him. It took him a moment to recognize her. Her hair was shorter now, just covering her ears. "Hello again," he said.

She stated in a level tone: "You're Leoben."

"Yes, are you a fan?" His question startled her. She looked around, frowning at the posters advertising the performers for the evening. He was opening for an acoustic rock band fronted by a friend. He didn't particularly like the photo, but his female friends insisted it was the best. At least he was recognizable.

Turning back, she said, "You know who I am."

"Have we met before?"

She frowned again. "I guess not," she said, and looked away.

That night, she stayed for his entire set, watching as he played the guitar. While he packed up his gear, she left.

He caught glimpses of her several times in the following weeks. She didn't conceal herself, but didn't come close to him either.

- - - - - - -

He finally learned her name after he caught up with her and asked, "Do I need to talk to the police about my nameless stalker?" He'd been planning this line for several days, trying to balance humor with interrogation.

She looked surprised, then amused, and she shrugged her shoulders. "I guess I can be a stalker with a name." Her voice was low, her speech accented. She agreed to meet him at a museum.

- - - - - - -

The fifth time, he's leaning toward her, inhaling for a brief moment the smell of her hair, her skin. "You look so lovely today." Her lips curve upward and he knows what's going to happen. She reaches under her chair for the chopsticks. Moments later, on the floor as he chokes out his promise to return, he's aware of the words in his own mind: I would never leave you. He feels the weight of her pressing down his body. She looms over him, long blond strands brushing against the sides of his face, and smiles.

- - - - - - -

Kara didn't say much. Leoben was walking next to her, looking at her from the side, looking at their reflections in the windows. She, on the other hand, openly watched him. Her stares had none of the guitar-fangirl attitude. She was wary.

Inside the museum, they paced in measured steps around movable half-walls. Kara looked at the swirls of colors, eyes wide as she turned to gaze at each painting. They walked through the building three times, until they were asked to leave by a somnolent security guard waiting to lock up for the evening.

- - - - - - -

They were drinking coffee at the same place as before. She liked her coffee to taste like lighter fluid. He put up with the flavor for her sake. At her insistence, he was telling her about his job. She looked amused when she realized that he worked with computers. "Is it that obvious?" he asked her.

She rolled her eyes and said, "Computers. It wouldn't be my first guess, but it fits." He finally got her to tell him about her daily routine—learning English, the job training she's attending. As she talked, she unfolded her arms and picked up her cup again. Her hands had faint traces of colors mottling the skin and under the nails.

- - - - - - -

Sometimes she walked up to him as he was leaving work, and they wandered down the sidewalks in the evening. She talked about what annoyed her about life on Earth, her tone mocking its sillier aspects; mostly she drilled him about his memories. He lost count of the number of times she began a question with "What do you remember about..." He had never talked so much about his childhood. He asked her once why she kept asking him so much about his earlier life. "Just testing your memory banks," she responded, her tone light while her face was serious.

- - - - - - -

The fourth time, she's waiting behind the door as he enters. She had broken the lock on the cabinet with the cooking utensils, and removed the heavy skillet. She swings it against his head, letting out an astonished cry at the noise it creates. She swings again and again. Pain engulfs him as he crouches in the entrance. He will need to look for all of the items that were in that cabinet when he returns.

- - - - - - -

He made a mental list: what he knew about the Colonials. Their arrival had made a huge stir; paranoia followed by pity, but the story had eventually faded into nothing. The newspapers had initially publicized the tragedy of their circumstances, and the great potential of cracking their technology. Those expectations died down when deciphering their computers and repairing and fueling their ships reached dead ends. A few of the tabloids wrote lurid gossip of killer robots, but the mainstream media had no such reports. He knew that some from the group chose to stay separate and kept their children in a private school; most simply adapted to their new lives as they were released from the internment camp.

- - - - - - -

He was walking home from shopping one day when he saw her with someone else. A tall, angular-jawed man had his arm slung over her shoulder. With his free hand he was holding on to the arm of a small Asian girl with pigtails. Kara was speaking to him, words unintelligible to Leoben, but her tone was animated, hands and arms waving in a comical dance. They were standing, unperturbed, the flow of pedestrians moving around them. The girl was pulling on the man's hand, saying "Hurry, Daddy! I wanna play!" The child finally caught Kara's attention; she smiled and pushed the man a bit, then giggled and caught up to them in quick steps.

- - - - - - -

He told her about the first time he picked up a guitar, two years ago. He loved the feel of the strings under his fingers; sliding his fingers up and down the frets to create different notes. He didn't tell her about the feeling that it gave him inside, like he was tethered to the planet for the first time since his parents' death. He didn't tell her because he didn't want to hear her laugh, and because she was the second reason he felt tethered to earth. He appreciated the irony, that a woman from another planet made him feel more a part of his own.

He moved his fingers through the air, illustrating a guitar move. When he accidentally brushed against her arm, she had the strangest look on her face. Later he defined it to himself as "do I vomit or smile?" From then on he was careful to touch her only in the most casual of ways.

- - - - - - -

They were walking in the drab winter light. He noticed her shivering in her thin olive drab jacket and took off his coat, circumspectly placing it on her shoulders. She grabbed it and handed it back to him. "I don't need it," she murmured.

"I'm not cold. You are."

Her breath hissed through clenched teeth. "I didn't ask you for this."

"Kara, sometimes you don't know what's good for you." He heard the frustration in his own voice.

She ignored him for the rest of the walk. He didn't see her again for two weeks.

- - - - - - -

The third time, she moves around the apartment, full of nervous energy. She rubs her arms, sits and sighs, taps her fingers. Such a human trait, to allow internal emotion to dictate the body. She follows him into the bedroom for the first time; he wonders if she has forgotten what she once said about coming in there. As she glances at the bare gray walls, she says, "Wow, this is great." She's looking over at him, gauging his reaction to her presence. She mocks him, "You really know how to make a woman feel special, don't you? Bring her back here, she'll just go weak in the knees."

His voice flat, he asks, "What do you want, Kara? Do you want this?" as he gestures toward the bed.

She steps closer to him, the look in her eyes daring him to make a move. She says, "No, I don't." Then she smashes in his nose with a quick upward motion, using the flat of her palm. She shoves him down and crushes his head against the floor.

- - - - - - -

Leoben was lying on his bed. Behind closed eyes he was seeing a confusion of images of Kara. Her face barely visible through a helmet, she falls through space, gravity pulling her toward a rocky yellow surface. She huddles on a bed wearing a hospital gown; she stares closely at her reflection in a mirror, its fractured lines matching the naked emotion on her face. She's little, crouching to make herself even smaller in a closet, fingers splayed awkwardly in front of her face. She sits on a sofa in a darkened room, wearing a blue robe; her eyes are moist and long damp tendrils of hair crawl down her shoulders and back. Leoben opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling.

- - - - - - -

Once she told him of visiting a friend of hers who was still in detention. He asked why he was still there. "She," Kara corrected. "She was out once, but she attacked... someone."

"Attacked? What happened?" he asked.

"She... thought she recognized someone, someone who had been part of the group fighting against us." Kara's words were deliberate; she weighed what to say. "So she attacked her. Neither one was hurt much, but they put her back in the detention center for evaluation. It's sad. Her husband's trying to take care of their boys, but it's not easy." Leoben pressed for more details, but she pressed her lips together in a straight line and declared that she wasn't allowed to talk about it.

- - - - - - -

Leoben asked Kara about her plans for Christmas day. "Got no plans," she mumbled back, paying closer attention to the shop windows than to his question. He invited her to Christmas dinner at his place. She laughed and said, "You know that's not one of my gods." He was persuasive. He told her that she would just be bored at home, with no classes and no work, so she might as well come over and watch crappy movies with him that they can ridicule together. He offered to cook for her. After she gave him a sideways glance, he asked her if she was surprised that he cooks. She answered no. Finally she accepted, eyes bright, a cocky smirk flashing for a moment.

- - - - - - -

She insisted on digging through his pile of photos, creating a disorganized mess on the sofa. He was moving in and out of the kitchen, alternately identifying events in the pictures and stirring food. She paused her rushed inspection when he showed her the picture of the town he was named after. "So your mom named you after this town, right?" she asked.

"She traveled to Austria when she was a teenager, and loved it there."

She mulled over that information for bit, then asked if he'd ever traveled there. "No," he answered, "I should take the time off from work, but I haven't done it yet."

"You're such a machine," she replied, her eyes crinkling at the corners.

Later he taught her how to play poker. She was a quick study. As she internalized the rules, she started teasing him, making sassy remarks to try to distract him as they played. He smiled to himself the first time she won; she beamed as she cupped the pile of coins in her hands.

- - - - - - -

The second time: he brought her the paintbrushes to encourage her to do something she loved. She sharpened the handle of one. He admires her tenacity. She stabs him in the gut and crawls over by the side of the couch, almost out of view. She's staring at the blood on her hands, hypnotized. His death takes time; the bleeding isn't fast enough for him to die quickly. He keeps talking to her until she scoots over by him again, pulls out the brush and stabs him in the lungs. He wonders if she'll paint while he's downloading.

Before he comes back to the apartment that night, he makes a detour to Sam's tent and picks up two of Kara's paintings. He hangs them on the wall near the table.

- - - - - - -

She was in a foul mood. They were eating take-out Chinese food. She ate quickly, distracted, then leaned against the sofa, rolling the disposable chopsticks in her hands. The chopsticks were cheap, and square rather than rounded; they made a soft clicking noise as she rolled them around and around. He carefully finished his plate, carried the dishes into the kitchen, then stretched out close to her. A glare at his face didn't faze him. "What's bothering you, Kara?" he asked.

She snorted, then retorted angrily, "Bothering me? Nothing. Maybe this is just me being me." He looked at her but didn't answer. She held up the chopsticks for a last examination, dropped them on the coffee table and stood up to leave. He matched her steps, catching her by the door and bringing his lips down to hers. He had intended... what? A quick goodnight kiss, maybe. Instead she jumped back, glared at him, then spun him against the wall. She pressed her lips against his, anger and excitement giving her strength. Her fingers gripped his hair, pulling it taut, and she slowed down. He heard their noisy breathing like a chorus.

- - - - - - -

She didn't flinch when he touched her. They were sitting on his couch watching the news. His arm was behind her head. Her head lolled against his shoulder; she denied being asleep when he whispered her name. He put his hand around her upper arm and started to draw slow circles, feeling the smooth texture of her skin. She moved closer, grabbed his other hand and asked him about the meaning of a word from the broadcast.

- - - - - - -

He noticed her with a group of other Colonials. They were walking inside the large mall near downtown, coats carried over arms in the artificial heat. The tall man from before was there, talking to a petite woman with a thin, pretty face and long dark hair. She was looking at the man with affection. The others were casually talking, jovial as they vied for attention from each other. Leoben was drawn by Kara's luminous smile, and he started walking toward her. One person in the group noticed him, said something to the rest, and he was abruptly the subject of several glowering looks. Kara's face looked panicked; she made an almost-imperceptible shake of her head, and he veered away slightly, not looking at the group as he walked past.

- - - - - - -

He told her he loved her. They had been kissing again near the door, each taking turns being the aggressor. For the moment, she was splayed against him as he leaned against the wall. He felt the light switch in the small of his back. Her temple rested against his chin, and she was slowly tracing the line of his neck with her finger. He said it quietly into her hair: "I love you, Kara." She didn't reply, didn't say anything.

- - - - - - -

Instead of walking to his place, they went down a shabby street to some run-down apartments. She opened the security gate and led them both down the dark hallway to the third door. As she opened the door she said, "I don't think I'm getting my deposit back." He walked into a cramped living room with one wall painted in figures and swirls of colors, hieroglyphs of Kara's muses. A child figure wandered in and out of ships; wings sprouted from a flaring sun. Canvases were scattered in the corners as well. In her bedroom, a rickety ladder had collapsed on the floor. The ceiling over her bed was vibrant with colors. Stars, galaxies and nebulae spun in orbit over where she sleeps.

He asked her, "Is that what you want to see still?"

She nodded, arms folded across her chest, hands gripping her biceps. "It was easier. Out there. Just... fly, fight, eat, drink. Everything's complicated here." Her voice faded, then she continued, "And there's so much time here."

- - - - - - -

Kara smirked at the cards in her hand and looked back at him, calculating her chances of winning. "I have an idea," she said. "If I win this hand, you have to make me dinner and deliver it to my place. For a week," she added.

"Tired of your own cooking?" he asked, leaning closer.

"Yeah, I'm tired of my own crappy meals. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm tired of hamburgers, too."

"Why don't we trade? I'll give you four cooking lessons for one painting." She hesitated. He had seen this in her since they had met; pull away, push back. His turn again to push: "It has to be a new painting, though. Made for me."

Her eyes widened; he has surprised her. "Okay," she blurted. "It's a deal."

- - - - - - -

The first kill: He knows that she will try to kill him, and has decided that he won't resist. Too easy to hurt her while he defends himself. He analyzes whether she will feel as casual about his death as he does. Logically her trauma will be greater than his. He carefully unlocks the handcuffs on her wrists. It doesn't take her long.

When he comes back the next morning, she screams. He looks at the bruises she's made on her own body while trying to escape.

- - - - - - -

His kitchen was a jumble of ingredients and dirty dishes. Leoben stood at the counter, tracing lines in the spilled flour. Kara was shoving dishes in the dishwasher, haphazardly jumbling spoons and bowls together on the top shelf. He will redo that job later. Kara's eyes kept looking at the oven; she was giddy like a child. "How much longer?" she asked.

"Just a few more minutes," he said. They wandered into the living room. Leoben stood in front of her painting again. The canvas was covered with pebbles and boulders, thin threads of water slithering around them. Kara darted back into the kitchen to peek at the oven, then came back out, a grin lighting her face. In an outburst of glee she grabbed him and twirled him around like a dancer.

Standing in the middle of his living room, her hands were on his shoulders. She was pressing her lips lightly to his, but making a funny face at the same time, trying to make him laugh. Instead he laced his fingers in her hair and murmured, "Kara, I love you." She glanced down. After a moment she whispered something back to him, not intelligible, but her tone was sweet, so sweet. The moment hovered and shimmered, like the stars in Kara's painted sky. He looked at her. She looked surprised and afraid; she wobbled. Her arms dropped to her sides. Then she grabbed him tightly, shivering. Her breath was jagged, and felt warm through his shirt. He stood there, arms under her arms, his hands linked behind her waist. He saw a reflection of them in the window, against the black sky; the line of her tense body holding on to his, his own face somber, eyes hollowed in the dim light.