Kara is hiding behind a shelf of missiles on the hangar deck and trying to make out the words Racetrack and Skulls are saying to each other fifteen feet away from her.
Then a Raptor boards, and she curses under her breath when she sees who is getting out of it.
Seven hours ago she was alone in a dark bathroom after she couldn't sleep, staring at her reflection in a mirror. She looked down at her left arm, turning it to examine the tattoo there very closely. It was about the tenth time she'd done this in recent days, as if it wouldn't still be there and look the same. Then she pulled up her shirt to look at her stomach and traced a finger down the long scar she'd had ever since she was held at that farm.
This scar. The tattoo she'd gotten after she married Sam. These were the visible remainders of significant experiences she'd had and remembered. They were not part of her biological make-up, the duplicatable formula for her life, but they were part of her. These things couldn't be faked and imitated. Could they?
Just thinking about the possibility made her let out a long sigh, leaning down toward the sink and resting her elbows on the ledge below the mirror, putting her face down in her hands right after she saw the reflection of her face so up close that every detail in the irises of her eyes was visible. Nothing noticeably different there either. She thought she'd heard once that unique variations in irises could be like thumbprints. Not genetic. Like a random splattering of paint on a canvas producing a shape that cannot be made the exact same way more than once.
Life experiences are meaningful because they cannot be recreated. They only happen once. Her experiences belonged only to her, only to one person. She had to believe that. Even if her memories could have been mapped out from her brain and encoded and transfered to some different and new body, that wasn't the same as transferring feelings and what those events she remembered meant to her. She knew she had made choices that got her to where she was now. She didn't just remember. Her life had been more than just a passive intake and processing of information and experiences; it had been a long path formed and changed along the way by who she was, not like a story someone else had always been telling and controlling. Not like destiny.
So what then. What.
Kara went back to her bunk only to lie down with her eyes wide open, her head still going wild. It was so much easier to just forget what she'd found and slip back into her former ignorant self who had no idea when she was distracted and moving, busy interacting with others who didn't know anything. In the dead of night when the ship was so quiet and everyone else was asleep, it was a lot harder to live in the dark with herself.
Right now, for once, she is not thinking about any of those things. Just about how she's going to get close enough to Lee and these sons of bitches without them being able to notice her first. Her initial dread as she saw him arriving starts to be overtaken with some hope. At least she won't have to be alone in this. And he could actually be safer here than still on Colonial One.
As long as she's around, at least.
Hope. If that's really what it is. She just knows she's full of something she hasn't had for a long time. Purpose. Clarity. She isn't worrying about what she is right now because at least she isn't some bastard traitor, and she's even able to make a joke about dying once before as she reveals herself with a bullet in the back of the Marine's head, because none of that matters at the moment.
Kara barely has to think. This strange and not strange form she inhabits is her, it remembers how to aim and shoot a gun without her mind carefully directing it, it acts impulsively to strike the threat and protect what it knows, the arm swaying quickly toward Skulls to shoot another round into him. She doesn't have to think before acting because more than just her mind remembers; all of her, some elusive sum of her thoughts and past and all of her essential parts knows Lee.
Ever since she came back she has felt almost detached from herself, disoriented from some kind of intense shock. But he is familiar when very few things feel that way anymore and her body remembers him, the way something deep inside her melted to frightening softness whenever he hugged her, warmth and skin and the deepening strain of movement in her, not just physically felt but shaking and altering something inside her, leaving some kind of internal branded mark over the long course of several years of her life. And her, it, whatever she is, moves to do whatever it has to do to stop them from harming him as easily and naturally as someone's hand flinches away from a hot stove without consciously meaning to.
Late one night about a year before the war started, Helo found Kara looking around the empty rec room and looking uncharacteristically frantic.
"Hey, what's going on?" he asked with immediate concern.
She looked up at him with deeply worried eyes and said quickly, "I can't find my ring."
"Did you take it off in here?"
"Yeah, I know I set it right here," she said, pointing down at one side of the table to the right of her. "Because we were going to get ready for Dipper's thousandth landing and I didn't want to get paint on it, and I was leaving my deck here the way it was and everything and I left my ring right next to it. Now look at this bullshit."
She gestured to the whole table where others had obviously been moving things out of the way and magazines and drinks had been set down right on top of the cards from an abandoned game.
"Did you ask anyone if they picked it up for you?" Helo said.
"No, I'll have to, I don't know. I don't know if any of them are still up."
After Helo helped her look for a few minutes they finally saw that someone had tossed it into an empty glass on the table where she'd been sitting, probably so that it wouldn't get knocked away onto the floor.
"Thank gods," Kara said in a relieved sigh as she put it back on her thumb, and then she sank into a chair as if the crisis had spent a lot of her energy.
Taking a seat next to her and pouring them some drinks, Helo said, "That's the one Zak gave you, isn't it?"
"Yep," she said, turning it on her finger. "Not exactly replaceable."
Just like nobody else could ever replace Zak now that he was gone. He had given her this and there would only ever be one that was special to her like it.
That was what she had always thought, at least.
They need extra ammo. After slowly making their way through the ship for twenty minutes, they find there are still too many civilians around the nearest arms locker for them to get access to it without calling a lot of attention to themselves, so they slip into a bunk room to hide there a while in hopes that they'll clear out.
"Give me your tie," Kara says after being careful to close the hatch behind them quietly, holding her hand out to him while still looking forward at the hatch.
Lee doesn't have to ask any questions before loosening his tie and slipping it off over his head. After he hands it to her she starts looking around the room, but Lee is already going for one of the chairs set around the table.
"Get me a...yeah," she says, not having to finish the request before he quickly picks one up and carries it over.
Kara knots his tie into a secure loop, using it to attach the back of the chair to the wheel that opens the hatch. Anyone quietly starting to open it would make the chair drag and warn them that someone's coming before they get inside.
So they put their guard down for a while, sitting next to each other in a bunk with the curtains partially drawn around them. The sudden stillness and need to wait quietly in the almost completely vacant duty locker makes Kara restless and uncomfortable. This is too much like the silence at night that sends her sinking too deeply into herself. She still feels some electric spark of life tingling through her whole body like a sensation she has been numb to for too long, trying to drive her to movement and action, and they need to move. They need to move.
Easily perceiving her impatience, Lee tells her for the third time since he got this idea, "Between the two of us, the ammo you've got could leave us in trouble in no time. Before we can get more from anywhere else."
She nods quickly, but the words just sound far away, not sinking in and making her feel any more relaxed. Every minute they spend waiting here is more time they lose to give the old man a chance to regain control of the ship.
"What are you doing?" she asks when Lee starts moving to get up from the rack.
"Looking around real quick," he says. "Probably won't find much, but I'll see if anyone's got anything here we could use."
She nods, and then he picks up her sidearm he was using to stick it in his belt before starting to search through all the lockers.
As Kara sits alone cross-legged on the mattress, her thoughts sending her drifting out of her surroundings, slowly drawing her hand up to touch the chain around her neck. She doesn't look down at it, just brings her fingers to touch the ring hanging on it that rests against her close to her heart. Then, even more slowly and undecidedly with her other hand, she reaches into her pocket and takes out the other chain. The other dog tag.
The other ring.
She practically has to force her eyes to look down at it and then smoothes her thumb around the second ring, picking up the first and looking at it, too. Comparing. There is nothing to compare. There's a slightly tarnished spot on the inside of the band that she's already noticed before that each of them has. They are more than identical rings, they are the same ring, and the object is not unique anymore.
A cold hollowness fills her chest and stomach like her blood has stopped flowing as she looks at them together, the ghostly presence of the secret waiting that could tear apart everything. She can imagine what people would think if they knew.
And she knows she couldn't blame them at all if was too much for them to take.
During the short time Kara was able to talk to Leoben on the Demetrius so they could try to figure out together everything they still didn't understand, she asked him things she never would have cared to find out before in an attempt to understand what had happened to her. What the Cylon God could possibly have to do with anything she was meant to do, how he could see things about her nobody else did.
"It's simple, really," he told her. "If you open yourself to God's love and see the potential he gave all of us, you can become capable of seeing the truth of the world. Our purposes are self-evident in the ways we were made. It's all right there, inside all of us. It is only worldly concerns and desires, the complications of living in these physical bodies, that keep us from recognizing what is so clearly written in our innermost selves, in our very programming."
"I don't have programming," Kara said with a mocking laugh. "You do."
"I'm not talking about software. Call it whatever you want to. Our souls, the part of ourselves that our creator alone is responsible for. Do you know what a soul is, Kara?"
"I know you're going to tell me whether I think I do or not," she answered in an almost teasing tone of impatience.
He smirked slightly. "Our souls are the only parts of ourselves that are perfect. The parts of us that will live on undamaged after our bodies die, that make it impossible for us to ever be separate from God no matter how sinful our bodies drive us to be because only God can be perfect."
"So then why would whichever Cylons designed you the way you are even give you a human body if it complicates things so much? Don't you think that was kind of a mistake if you think it's wrong to be like us? And what was the point of your God even creating us this way anyway?"
"No, no," he said. "We are not mistakes. Creation is never a mistake; it wasn't even when you invented the Centurions despite what it lead to. The mind and soul have a very complicated relationship with the body. You especially used to be a slave to yours, controlled by destructive vices and crippling fears, but even when you were being that misguided by those physical inclinations it was part of what makes you Kara.
"Existing in these forms can make us value all the wrong things the most and become consumed by meaningless and shallow desires, but it doesn't only make us sin. It allows us to experience the world as something impermanent and therefore more meaningful, it makes falling in love and making love something that happens to all of you that is touched by another rather than just your emotional self, it is what makes a mother's love for her child that was literally a part of her once as powerful as it is. Maybe we were foolish enough to think it wouldn't have the same cost as it does for you, but of course my people wanted to be capable of experiencing that. We are more than what we appear to be, more than what we know in this life, but perhaps there is somewhere that the part of me that is connected to something greater meets with my imperfect mortal body where the essence of who I am can be found. And perhaps that is why God can truly love us, as his children but not simply as an extension of himself."
Lee startles her, the shadow of his figure appearing behind the curtain and bringing her out of her thoughts. As he opens it and sits back down, shrugging out of his jacket, she closes her hand around the necklace to hide it and rests the loosely enclosing fist on her leg.
"Nothing," he sighs. "Doesn't anybody stock up?"
When she doesn't say anything back at all or even show much of a reaction on her face, still staring forward a little absently, he looks to the side at her for a long moment like he's trying to understand something he sees.
"Haven't seen much of you lately," he says quietly. "Not since Earth."
She shrugs and says, "I guess not...Yeah. How are you doing now? I'm sorry I haven't really...talked to you like this since..."
It registers very quickly that she's talking about Dee, and he shifts his position uncomfortably. "No, it's okay. And I'm...okay. You know, relatively. Considering everything always manages to get worse so now we've got a mutiny going on and we could both get executed for treachery."
He keeps looking at her that way, and she knows he probably sees that she was trying to take the subject to him instead of letting him get into talking about how she is. She knew Lee would be able to tell something was wrong if she spent much time with him, and now it seems he's been able to tell she was avoiding him a little anyway.
"Kara, I know I'm not the best person to be able to talk to about this," he says carefully, "but...how are you doing with everything that's happened? I mean...I'm sure it has to be pretty complicated, trying to...reconcile what you've found out about..."
She looks at him with a slightly cocked eyebrow, not understanding his direction. "Spit it out, Lee."
He sighs. "Well....Your husband's a Cylon."
There is a brief pause of silence before Kara lets out a short, half-hearted laugh. "Oh. That...Right." Then she grins, starting to recognize the complete ridiculousness of it and of herself and how it's going to sound before she adds, "You know...It honestly hasn't been on my mind."
And she laughs more, shaking her head, even though she knows exactly why. Compared to other things she recently discovered, Sam being a Cylon isn't that scary. After a while Lee laughs a little, too, seeming a little assured, and Kara is relieved to see that he seems to be done prodding her for an explanation about her behavior.
"My husband's a Cylon," she then says quietly to herself, leaning her head back against the wall, as Lee just stares to the side at her attentively. It is the first time anyone has said that out loud to her, at least not in a hostile way, or even tried to engage her in a conversation that might require her to finally have to say it. She shakes her head incredulously. "Gods. Can you remember...how muchweirder sentences like that used to sound? It was almost funny to try to grasp the concept. I mean...'Cylon.' The word used to mean something completely different. It just made you think of a big moving metal thing."
Lee looks away, also relaxing back against the wall, and sighs. "...Yep."
What is even stranger is how the statement doesn't fail to add up for her the way it should. After what she found out on Earth, it doesn't even seem that insane. The entire world has become unexplainable, absurd, an elaborate joke of the gods at their expense. Even if she found out she were a Cylon now, that wouldn't seem so impossible. It would actually be somewhat of a relief. To at least know...
"Tell you what, though," she says, starting to sound more uncomfortable with the subject. "It sure explains a lot about the way he reacted when I came back."
Lee looks surprised. "You think so?"
"Sure. I see it all now: he hoped that it meant I was a Cylon. He wanted me to be. Not because it makes much difference to him, I'm sure. He was just afraid of what I'd think otherwise. I guess I really can't blame him for keeping it from me. Not when I'm the one who's made this such a frakked marriage that he has reason to be afraid I'll finally run away when things get tough. Well..." She stops a second, cringing a little, and adds, "and I think I might have said something once about how I'd shoot him myself if he were a Cylon."
Lee's eyes widen a little and then he gives a short laugh.
She grins a little and then sighs. "Can it really be worth all that to him? Sometimes I don't understand why he didn't just make it easier for himself and get out of it a long time ago..."
Lee is silent a long moment, hesitating to respond. Then he finally says very softly, "I can understand it."
With that, Kara slowly frowns, and the tone of the conversation has very perceptibly shifted. She cannot look at his face for a moment. "If that's how you really feel," she says slowly, "why didn't you just get divorced and take the chance when you had it?"
He understands that she isn't blaming him at all; she just wants to know. And he easily answers, still in a very soft voice, "I couldn't imagine then what it would feel like to know I've lost the chance forever. Now I know."
Kara has hardly moved the whole time they've been talking, as if the subject is so delicate that anything disturbed could ruin the rare opportunity for them to speak the words, and she still stays facing right forward as she feels a deep pang and closes her eyes a second.
"But do you really think we were ready for that yet?" she asks.
"Do you think that meant anything to me when I thought I'd lost you?" he says. "Yeah, maybe we would have just driven each other as crazy as ever. But there would have been some good days, too, before the end. All I could think the whole time you were gone was that...at least I would have gotten that much."
Kara's breaths start to quicken, gradually erupting into some strange laughs for a moment. "It's so stupid. All this...fighting. I've been telling myself for a while now that maybe when it's all finally over, there'll finally be a time for you and me to just...live. It's gotten to a point that I have to be able to tell myself that in order to have enough hope to keep going. But isn't this frakking perfect irony?" She gestures toward the hatch to indicate what they both know is going on outside those walls on their formerly safe ship right now. "We got Cylons to help us instead of kill us, so instead we have to start killing each other. Maybe it's not ever going to stop. Maybe that's the only way anything is going to end and we'll be the next to get shot."
"Shut up," he says with sudden fierce determination, looking almost angry. "We aren't fighting each other yet, are we? I'm not going to frakking let you get shot. It's not going to be you again."
"Can't be sure," she says, her voice so calm it somehow eggs him on more. There's a rebellion going on right now, no limits and no rules right now, and the more they talk like this anything could happen.
"Oh yeah? Frak you, like you aren't enjoying every minute of this in your own messed up way," he says, making her giggle a little.
"At least I don't have a death wish anymore," she says. "I mean, how can I? I already got it. It's like I'm free to do anything now."
Both of their faces turn more serious again. Lee appears to be struggling with thinking of the words for what he wants to say for a while, and then opens his mouth and still hesitates a second. "Kara..."
He reaches over and lightly picks up her hand, and she is too stunned to do anything as she realizes what is going to happen before part of the chain falls out of her loose palm and he notices it.
Lee takes it and looks at what it is right away, curious and innocent, not noticing yet how she has frozen still. Noticing the weathering on the dog tag, he starts to ask, "What happened to your...?"
Then his eyes shift up toward her and immediately stop to focus on the other chain still around her neck. It is like she can see the warmth leaving him as the horrifying realization sets in, and then she turns away and covers her hand over her mouth like she's starting to feel sick. No, not now not like this. "Oh gods," she moans, "I'm sorry..."
Lee is starting to understand; the seconds of silence tick by like the terrifying marching steps of something very dark approaching, a countdown to an execution. Then with what little breath he has he says, like he is only now remembering and realizing the meaning, "You said you had something to tell me...after you came back from Earth..."
Now everything she has been using so much effort every day to put out of her mind is surrounding her inescapably. The sickening smell of her own burning corpse seems to return as vivid and real as it was in the moment, turning her stomach, and she weakly gets up away from him and then leans over with her hands on the table in front of the bunk like she needs to hold onto something for support or else collapse.
He immediately comes beside her and puts his hand to her upper back with a light touch. "Kara, it's okay," he says, his voice faltering a little and failing to make it sound like anything is okay. It's all wrong and she doesn't even know how it could be any better. She should have told him already. She should have never told him. She should have avoided him and it forever.
"No," she says, shaking her head and nearly in a panic. "I'm a frakking idiot...I'm so sorry, Lee, I don't know what to..."
"Hey. Hey." Finally his voice comes out firm and certain as he takes a tight hold of her shoulders and forces her to stand up straight and face him. Her eyes still can't look at him for a moment, so he gives her an aggressive shake. "Kara. Gods dammit. Look at me!"
Still giving heavy, shaking breaths, she listens and looks directly at him.
"Tell me," he says, now speaking gently.
Her eyes fill with overwhelming sadness as she shakes her head again and her posture sinks hopelessly. "I love you," she suddenly says in a desperate voice, and she sounds almost like someone who is saying goodbye. "Okay? That's real, it's not something somebody has simulated so I can pretend to be...I know it, I don't just remember that I'm supposed to. I wish I had more of an explanation, but I don't have any answers for you. I don't understand it any more than you can, but I'm telling you it's still me."
He keeps holding onto her with a very strong grip, just staring at her with some awe.
"Yeah, I know, I don't sound very much like me," she says as if to attempt to lighten the mood, though she still sounds a little frantic. "I guess it's a lot easier to say it now that it's one of the only things I can be sure about anymore."
Lee takes in a long, uneasy breath. Then he says steadily, seeming to have to force the words out, "What did you do with the body?"
Now she is the one who starts looking shocked, her eyes widening as she hears him able to say it so blatantly after piecing it together. "What? I...burned it." She feels his hold on her shoulders tighten even more in reaction to hearing it, like he's staying rigid with the strong effort to hold himself together. "I followed the signal to the remains of the other Viper...My Viper. It crashed there, somehow. And I burned it...or her. Me." She has to pause a second, blinking her eyes slowly. "One of the Leobens was with me when I found it, but nobody else knows."
After a long moment of taking all of this in, he is finally able to give a small nod. "Good," he just whispers.
As if the only thing he is worried about upon hearing all of this is what it could mean if anyone else finds out. Kara looks at him in disbelief, hesitantly reaches up to touch his shoulder, and then he just pulls her into a tight embrace. He turns his head to the side to kiss her head and says softly, "Don't worry about me. If you have to live with this then I can sure as hell handle it."
She grabs handfuls of his shirt as she holds onto him and closes her eyes. It lasts for only a few seconds before he says, "We have to go. Now."
Kara nods, getting back into the present moment and with that starting to feel much calmer. She pulls away from him to retrieve her sidearm. Then she stops, looking down where he left the other chain on the bed, and picks it up.
"Lee," she says, stopping him from heading toward the hatch. He turns back around to face her, and she doesn't meet eyes with him as she takes his hand, puts the chain with the ring and tag in his palm, and then just walks past him without saying any more. He takes the time to look down at it in thought just for a few seconds and then puts it around his neck and hides it under his shirt.
The burden of the knowledge already feels less heavy now that they are both carrying it, each of them wearing one of the two. As they prepare to leave the room, the world seems to resume motion, with no time for thought. When this mutiny is over they'll be able to see how much they can really live with, they'll have to face the frightening stillness after the gunfire.
Right now, though, everything makes sense again, and they just have to move.
Lee remembers very well another time that he thought Kara was gone and then she returned in an unexpected way. In a different form. When he first saw the name "STARBUCK" arrogantly marked on the wings of the Raider and had to laugh with elation, he felt like he had somehow known all along, even if he couldn't put his finger on what was different and strangely familiar about this Raider.
"Okay, but I'm telling you, it's got to be her," he laughed over the com. "This thing is flying with some serious attitude."
The way she flies in a ship, her ridiculously hyper drunken laugh, the force she uses when teasingly punching his arm that actually hurts, the ways she responds to him kissing her. Nobody knows all of these little things that make her Kara better than him. Even the way she breathes is a sound he'd recognize anywhere. He would know it if she was some kind of replacement now, not her anymore.
He has to believe this. Even if it doesn't prove anything, he knows that if the belief is not enough, maybe love never is.