note: I researched chorioamnionitis and tried to apply the information as well as I could. (Warning for potential trigger content related to pregnancy.)


She couldn't blame alcohol this time. They didn't have any, for one thing... and it had happened more than once anyway.

***

They'd survived their first winter--at least most of them had. Two deaths: the Six named Clea from a hunting accident and Jed, who had survived New Caprica's cold weather but caught pneumonia here and never recovered.

Laine was astonished that at age forty she was one of the oldest in their group. It hadn't been intentional, selecting a group that skewed young. She'd simply chosen a crowd that included some people she'd known from New Caprica and a destination that was as far from the former politicians and military crews as possible.

They'd picked as carefully as they could in the short time they had; their stretch of land was along the southeast part of this continent, two day's hike inland from a coast along the warm gulf. It was too far to go back to the continent where they'd first landed because their spaceships were now flying toward the sun. Laine resented it but also felt free; the blue skies overhead were both liberty and prison.

She'd spent three of the last four years in space. Some days all she wanted to do was dig her toes into the muddy soil and run her fingers through the green grass.

No time for that, however. It had been late fall here when they'd arrived though they hadn't really known that, at least, not in a concrete way. They'd been supplied with a few abstract facts, some gear and tools and an algae supply. Laine had some limited experience building thanks to making treehouses with her kids so she stayed with the construction crew during the wet autumn days, getting every item of clothing she owned covered in mud. Hauling rocks, using the lumber they could scavenge from their supplies and from fallen limbs--it was messy work.

Some of those not working construction did laundry during the few dry days. They'd all figured out quickly that they had to divide the work to get anything done. Survival was paramount, not finding a job to enjoy. The night they'd finished their building everyone had crowded in because it was raining again. People slept scattered across the floor, grateful for something drier than the lean-tos they'd been using in the interim.

Gods, they were so predictable. Other than minor shuffling, the spots they'd chosen that first night ended up as 'their' places... like they'd written their names on the ground. Laine was amused to discover that she actually felt possessive of her little place near the end, the male cylon against the wall to her left and Damar with her little family to her right. They'd been neighbors on New Caprica and gotten friendly; she'd babysat Damar's son Nathan a few times when he was an infant.

Ray had complained about the Two, saying something about how he didn't deserve to sleep in their shelter. Laine had replied quickly that they weren't kicking out anyone who had helped make the building. "Besides, I'd much rather have him near the outside than one of you weaklings," she'd added, and that had been the end of the discussion. It had been tempting to add in some remark about how Ray didn't seem to have nearly as many objections to the two Eights, who were pretty and flirtatious, or the Sixes but Laine had resisted.

Their winter had been mild. It snowed once, an event that had everyone outside at the same time to stare. The children in their group had quickly rediscovered the snowball. Laine had helped Nathan, who was only two, make his first tiny snowman. Beautiful as the snow was, it was a relief when it melted the next day and didn't return.

***

Early spring was when illness struck again. Laine didn't know the cause--viral, bacterial, something else. They'd gotten off lightly although she'd worried when Nathan became ill. Damar panicked and insisted that her husband hike to the other settlements nearby to see if anyone had kept any medicine they were willing to trade. By the time Evan returned empty-handed their son was over his fever.

Laine was next, probably exposed to it from helping with Nathan. The season meant that everyone had plenty to do; she had no family left to take care of her. The Two stayed in their shelter and made sure she got enough liquid to stay hydrated. She slept a lot. He was kinder to her than she expected, not replying to her cranky, feverish complaints and carefully pushing her hair back from her face when she vomited.

Later she remembered talking to him--the Two--telling him long rambling stories about her children. She recalled saying something about their names and telling him that someone had to remember them. She had made him repeat their names back to her. In her fevered mind it was important that they weren't forgotten.

Ironic that it was a cylon who was there to listen to her ramble.

***

It was warm enough now that they'd moved the firepit outside. Mild winter, early spring--Laine was sure this meant a hot summer, but better that than brutal cold. A longer growing season meant more time to figure out if they could succeed in any kind of agriculture. For now everyone was kept busy scrounging for edible plants, hunting, collecting water, all the mundane tasks that kept them alive.

She'd been trying to figure out how to make pottery. Laine's mother had done some ceramics in her artistic phase; funny to think that this might lead to something useful. So far all she'd figured out was that firing the dried clay required higher temperatures. She'd made a second firepit, further away from their building.

Two helped her gather dried dung for fuel. She wrinkled her nose in disgust at the task but he'd done it without complaint. Nothing new, actually--he was probably the least talkative person in the settlement.

Person: she'd had to think of them that way now; the two Eights and their sisterly squabbling and giggling, the two remaining Sixes, who brought in twice as much game as most of the men. And the Two, who hadn't given himself a name and hadn't interacted enough for the others to start asking what to call him other than using his numeric designation. With his odd demeanor and memories of rambling speeches on New Caprica, Laine wasn't surprised.

Putting another dried piece of manure in her satchel, she asked him about it. He'd wiped away her sweat and vomit; she figured she ought to know what to call him. "Do you want us to call you Leoben?"

"That name isn't part of the path anymore."

The only reason she didn't laugh was because he sounded so serious. "Okay. Is there another name you want?"

"It's not that clear. We used to know the steps ahead but we were wrong. We have to--" he paused as he struggled to find the right word. "Atone. We can't find our true selves until we make amends."

Laine didn't know if he meant the Twos or all the cylons, but it was a frakking stupid speech. "You could spend your life paying the debt, but nothing will ever make up for my husband and children. Or anyone else. Nothing."

She grabbed for another piece of dung and shoved it into her bag, blinking back angry tears. Neither one spoke for several minutes; they edged further down the riverbank as they collected.

Straightening up, she stretched, then watched him. He was stooped over, continuing to gather more fuel. "You don't have to fix everything before you get a name, you know. It would help the others to accept your efforts if they knew what to call you." He stopped and looked at her, head tilted to the side. "It's a human thing," she concluded, wondering if he would catch the undercurrent of humor in the phrase.

"So by fitting into the pattern I can help change it."

"Maybe you should stop talking in riddles. It's sort of off-putting."

"That's not part of this cycle," he replied calmly, but he half-smiled while he said it. Gods, he'd actually made a joke. At least she thought it was a joke.

"Need any help with name ideas?"

"I would appreciate any suggestions." He sounded courtly now, an improvement over manic or didactic.

It was a negotiation, offering a name. She didn't want to offer names of people she knew who had died in the cylon attacks. Finally she blurted, "Marcus. Mark." When she was a little girl, a blond boy named Marcus who lived down the street had thrown rocks at her dollhouse. Not long after that he'd been killed in an accident; she still remembered his funeral, the first one she'd ever attended. She'd wanted to slide one of her dolls in his coffin--not as a way of saying goodbye like her mother thought, more of a that's what you get moment. Not one of her prouder memories now, but she'd only been seven years old.

Somehow it felt right, this name; a bit strange, but everything about this life was strange.

"Mark," he repeated. He nodded his head and they started collecting more dried dung.

***

The unspoken rule of no sex in the shelter didn't mean that people weren't having sex. She traded her loose-fitting clothes with a young woman who was pregnant with her first child. Laine had always wanted to shed those few extra pounds after her own second pregnancy; apparently giving up civilization was the key to weight loss.

Damar was pregnant again. Nathan was too young to understand much about the little brother or sister he'd have soon. After an attempted introduction to the idea from his mother, he ran around touching stomachs, saying, "Baby baby baby baby." At least he was getting the gender right, thought Laine. She smiled as he ran from her to another woman in their group.

They started building small houses in their clearing during the late evening hours; they couldn't spare the time during full daylight. Mark had suggested making them for the new families first; she'd gotten the others to pitch in when they weren't too tired or working on something else.

This evening she was trying to make the ground even for the interior of the hut. Kneeling and scraping the dirt with a sharp-edged rock, she stopped to wipe the sweat out of her eyes, first rubbing her hands clean on some nearby grass. She pulled her shirttail up to her forehead, noticing how much darker her arms and hands were than the skin concealed by her clothing.

Mark was watching her. When she caught him, he looked away after a second; he swallowed and breathed through his mouth before getting back to work. That brief moment was like looking at one of those trick pictures with the hidden image, when everything suddenly became visible. She hadn't thought that way about a man, any man, since the worlds ended, at least not in more than an abstract way. Pushing her shirt down again she picked up the rock without saying anything.

She's seen him smiling while watching her take a few moments to play with Nathan. He'd done jobs that kept him near her, jobs that no one else wanted to do. How could I not have figured this out before? she wondered.

Sleeping near him hadn't been a problem. Now it was different. She was too aware of her clothing, the bedding, everything pressing against her skin. Once she'd wondered if he slept as much as humans; now she wondered if he could hear her breathing differently, sense her awareness of his presence.

Thomas had been her partner for fourteen years. She remembered details; sex had been tender, hilarious, fun... and comfortable. They'd enjoyed the familiarity, knowing each other's bodies well enough to please. She'd forgotten about that electric cycle, that time of unknowing nervousness and anticipation, waiting to see what would happen next.

Laine half-plotted how she could have an affair with him; she eyed the area surrounding their hillside settlement, wondering where the couples had been going to have sex. Then she rejected the idea. Not him, not a cylon.

***

He didn't seem surprised that they'd ended up together in this secluded spot, undressing each other wordlessly after she'd told him not to talk. Not much seemed to disturb his equilibrium. He looked up at her from under hooded lids. Laine stared down at him; his skin was paler than hers, his eyes dark blue in the dusky light. Her knees felt cool against the grass; his hands were gripping her hips tightly. (Her husband's skin had been darker than her own, his eyes brown... don't think about that.) Laine closed her eyes and concentrated on the rhythm, because she was almost there.

They had sex two more times, casually walking downhill from the settlement in the evening. The third time she didn't think of Thomas at all. For the first time she wanted to speak, words like please and yes and Mark. She bit her lip so she wouldn't call out his name and let out a wordless cry instead.

***

She didn't end it with words; she just stopped having sex with him. Her guilt about treating him badly was outweighed by guilt over her husband, fear of feeling a connection and a thousand other things she didn't want to think about. At night she laid still in the dark, listening to Mark breathe, wondering if he would say anything to her, confront her. He didn't; he acted the same, like someone trying to fit in and doing it badly.

At times it was like it hadn't happened. So she told herself--and that even though it did happen, it didn't mean anything.

***

Some of the children and pregnant women went to gather berries. Laine went with them; she'd been feeling a bit queasy and had no desire to help gut anything that the hunters might acquire today. They hiked to the most plentiful patch, about thirty minutes from their small colony.

Reaching under the brambles required concentration if she didn't want to get scratched. When she finally straightened up she felt dizzy for a moment, so she sat down. That was when the realization hit her. Nausea, lightheadedness, her backache. She'd been feeling some of the symptoms for weeks now. "Gods," she whispered.

"You okay?" Damar asked.

"Yeah. I'm just tired is all."

Somehow she'd thought she was immune. Like turning forty had magically turned off her reproductive system (she knew better) or sex with a cylon didn't count. Though she remembered something like that--there was only one human/cylon hybrid that she was aware of. Guess that makes me extra-lucky, she thought, twisting her mouth so she wouldn't cry.

Walking back to the settlement, a satchel full of berries across her back, she thought about the risks: the primitive conditions here, the father being a cylon and therefore an unknown quantity in the equation. She considered if she could terminate the pregnancy but that was probably no longer an option, at least not a safe one here. Pressing her hand against her belly, Laine remembered that first time--simultaneous panic and tremulous joy with Thomas, realizing that their tipsy celebration over a promotion had resulted in a child. It had been sooner than they'd planned, but soon they couldn't imagine life without their daughter.

She didn't know if she could feel the same kind of happiness with this unexpected baby, but he or she was coming nonetheless.

***

The three settlements in the area had one woman with nursing experience who made regular treks through the area. Rochelle did the best she could for health problems, considering that they had only the most basic of medical equipment and no medicine. For pregnancy her most effective work was as cheerleader for the new mothers; she couldn't do much more than that. Laine watched Nathan during her brief visits with Damar.

When she saw Rochelle come out of Damar's unfinished home, Laine hurriedly passed Nathan back to his mother then asked Rochelle if they could talk for a moment. They walked past the other incomplete huts to the edge of the settlement for privacy.

"I'm pretty sure I'm pregnant."

Rochelle nodded. "How long since your last cycle?"

It hadn't been easy, calculating days. Ray's sister Olivia had been scratching tally marks on a flat rock, with a word or drawing to indicate anything noteworthy for certain days--like when they had finished the main shelter. As near as Laine could figure, her last cycle had been two and a half months ago. Eight weeks into pregnancy.

After hearing the number, Rochelle asked the other usual questions about symptoms. Half-grinning she said, "Yeah, I'd say you're pregnant. You've had experience with this before, right?"

"Two kids back on Picon."

"How old are you now?"

"Forty."

They talked about potential problems for a few minutes. Laine was already aware of most of them, but the discussion made it all more real--pregnant, twice the age of some of the new mothers. She wasn't sure if she was feeling weepy from the harsh facts or from hormones but she didn't shed any tears. Time for that when she was alone.

"One more thing. The father is a cylon."

Rochelle looked interested but not surprised. Curious, Laine asked, "Has it already happened in one of the other settlements?"

"No, but it's only a matter of time." Purposely misquoting scripture, she added, "If it happened before, it will happen again... especially if it's babies. I don't believe in flukes."

They headed back to the center of camp so Rochelle could see if anyone would trade for better walking shoes. Hers were already wearing out. Their kids would be the ones who thought nothing of going barefoot, mused Laine. Her generation would probably never get used to it.

***

Three months now and she wasn't any less pregnant. Laine knew that it would soon be more obvious. She decided to tell Damar first; it was easier. They were underneath a tree, using a large flat rock as target--throwing pieces of clay at the stone to pop internal air bubbles. It wasn't really an activity that required two people or much time, especially since they only needed to do this to the clay they'd be using tonight. Mostly it was an excuse to chat and get away from the smell of animal guts near the center.

Nathan was running around them, pretending to be an animal--possibly one of the things with hooves they'd been dressing earlier. He didn't have a shirt on, which was Damar's topic at the moment.

"No one has any clothes his size. He's just going to have to go without a shirt. Thank the gods that the weather's been good."

Laine laughed. "I don't think it's doing him any harm right now."

Damar looked at her. "But it's not just that. We don't have anything for them that I knew as a child. They're not going to know anything that we knew." She curved her hands around her belly protectively; at this point she was looking like she'd pop at any moment. Laine wanted to echo the gesture. "I can't believe I'm hoping that there'll be enough skin left over from one of those beasts for my son to have a shirt in the fall."

Before Laine had known about her own pregnancy she'd had the same thoughts about the next generation, only they were nebulous, intangible ideas. Now it was much more real. She sighed. "So. I'm pregnant too."

Damar looked at her, a smile blooming across her face. "I was wondering."

"Really?" Her thoughts went racing, wondering if Mark knew or who else might know.

Laughing, Damar said, "Hey, I know you better than the others here. Plus, pregnant lady! Happy to have someone else join her in her suffering."

"Gods, here I thought I was being so discreet."

"Anything else you want to confide right now?" Her looked was comically inquiring.

"Oh. It's Mark's."

"Two for two." She looked smug about having guessed right, then realized the other possible reference in her statement. "Um, that wasn't supposed to be a joke about him being a cylon."

Laine pressed her fist to her mouth and started giggling.

"Sorry!" Damar said, and laughed with her. "At least it's not Ray's, though."

"Ray's?" Her tone was horrified. "You thought it might be Ray's?"

"I was trying to make a complete list of possibilities!"

Laine shook her head. Odd how some part of her was more horrified at the idea of Ray as the father than a cylon.

As she tried to sleep that night she slid her hands around the small swell of her stomach. She'd done this with her other pregnancies--trying to picture the size and development of the fetus. So many more fears here than she'd had with her two other children. She hadn't worried about where she'd find food for them or how to guard them from real monsters at night.

Laine didn't have any idols here and had stopped praying after the attacks on the homeworlds. Nonetheless she found herself hoping that if the gods existed, they would listen as she wished for a way to keep her baby safe.

***

No more delaying; she asked Mark to join her in digging out more clay from the riverbank. When they'd gotten far enough from the camp she stopped and told him. "I'm having a baby."

He stood still for a moment, apparently trying to figure out the appropriate reaction. "Congratulations," he said finally, and smiled at her. "Another journey begins."

That wasn't the reply she'd expected. "It's yours."

If she'd been wondering about some cylon plot to get her pregnant, the expression on his face made it very clear that there'd been nothing like that. Disbelief and shock shifted into elation. "Are you sure?"

She debated over being offended but he was utterly sincere. "Yes. Absolutely sure." Even though she'd been on the verge of tears most of the day she wanted to laugh at his reactions. "I guess you didn't know this could happen."

"We thought Hera was the only one."

She said her semi-prepared speech about letting him be a part of this baby's life if he wanted but that she was prepared to raise it herself. It sounded even more awkward saying it to him than when she'd been thinking about it. He listened attentively without interrupting her; when she finished he said simply, "This baby is a miracle. God sent him to us for a reason."

Embarrassingly, she shed a few tears; not as much out of gratitude for his reaction as relief to be through with the secret.

***

She traded to get back some of her old clothes and they started making a cabin for her. Though she saw Mark every day and still slept near him each night, she didn't ask him to live with her in the little hut. She didn't ask if he was already planning to live there, either. Sometimes she felt like the only things defining her life were the things she didn't want to talk about yet.

The other pregnant women in the group were thriving. The fathers cuddled their mates and future children, fussing over each pain and cramp. Laine missed that but she still didn't let Mark into her space that way. They were wordlessly trying to negotiate how this could work, him acting as if he had to pay penance in some way, her allowing it because it meant she kept control and didn't have to let him in. She tried to convince herself that the distance was good--he was too worshipful of this child anyway, acting as though the mere existence of him or her showed that they were on the right path. No baby should have that kind of pressure.

They talked about names once. Laine was opinionated about children's names. Apparently her determination intimidated Mark, because he went along with her suggestions without argument: Jonah if it was a boy, Alisse for a girl.

Damar was the first in their settlement to give birth--a healthy daughter named Iris. Nathan spent even more time with Laine now, wanting attention from an adult now that a newborn was taking most of his mother's time.

***

Back when they'd fled New Caprica Laine had barely had time to rush into her tent and stuff a backpack full of belongings that looked useful in the rushed panic. She was glad to have the wide-tooth comb though the bright pink plastic looked out of place in this new world. Mark watched her as she finishing combing her hair; he was scraping bark from some of the loose tree limbs they'd collected earlier.

"I hope the baby has your hair," he said as he reached over and touched one of the dark curls.

She stood still until he moved away again. Keeping her tone light she replied, "My daughter had curly hair."

"Nyssa?"

He'd remembered. "Yes. She acted like I was torturing her every time I combed through it. I always threatened to cut it short, but I couldn't do it." Her daughter's curls had bounced when she ran and danced. Alec had inherited his father's straight black hair and easy smile.

One thing she'd missed when grabbing supplies on New Caprica--her only remaining picture of them. By now her daughter would be sixteen years old. Would have been. The only lives they had were past tense. Turning away from Mark's woodworking project, she decided to check on the pottery at the firepit.

***

At seven months pragmatism beat out idealism and insecurity. She told Mark that when they finished the cabin he should live there too, to help take care of the baby. He smiled and said it would be an honor, then added something philosophical about cycles that made her roll her eyes.

For Laine the 'miracle of life' lost its luster in this phase. She felt awkward and enormous. The baby moved constantly, keeping her awake at night. Everything was being squeezed by its girth: her lungs, stomach and especially bladder.

She stopped edging away from Mark. They still weren't affectionate like other couples but now she guided his hands to feel the baby's movements most days. Plenty of opportunities for that, she thought, wincing at yet another kick. Mark's enthusiasm mixed well with her weariness; she couldn't help but smile at his interest.

***

A year since they'd arrived. The autumn rains came back in full force.

Eight months pregnant; the small cabin she would share with Mark and their child was almost done. Each dwelling had barely been finished in time for the new arrivals so this was consistent.

They were scavenging for nuts, creating competition for the small furry creatures that ran around the trees. Nathan was gleefully trying to chase them, thankfully without success. After that he haphazardly picked up nuts and brought them to place in her bag, announcing triumphantly, "Here!" each time he gave her a new offering. Laine sat on the ground under the trees in spite of the damp grass; too hard to lean over now. As she cleared one area she scooted to the next spot, scrabbling sideways like a big ungainly insect.

Her ankle still twinged a bit. She'd sprained it in a fall last week, scaring Mark (and herself, truth be told) but everything had been fine. Their child was still wriggling and keeping her from sleep.

Speaking of the baby, it pushed yet again on her bladder. No one talked about this part of having a baby, she thought crankily. Loss of bladder control was just another of the embarrassing aspects of pregnancy.

It wasn't until later in the day that she realized something was wrong--this wasn't just the baby squeezing against her bladder. Mark caught her fear when she told him about leaking fluid. It was a dry night; they sat in the dark in their unfinished home, the fireplace their only light. She alternated worrying that the baby wasn't moving enough, then that its movements were frantic.

As soon as there was a hint of light in the early morning sky Mark left to find Rochelle.

***

They made it back hours earlier than she'd expected, though it still took most of the day. Rochelle was winded but immediately started work in spite of it, listening to Laine describe what had happened while examining her.

"Your temperature is a bit higher than normal," Rochelle murmured. Firmly pressing against Laine's abdomen she asked, "Is this more tender than usual?"

Laine gasped at the pressure. "Yes." Her eyes watered.

After listening with the stethoscope Rochelle took a deep breath. "Okay, I think you have an infection of the amniotic fluid. It fits with the timing and your symptoms."

"What does that mean for Laine and the baby?" Mark asked.

"Laine will be fine. The baby... well, the sooner he or she comes out, the better its chances. At eight months it's developed enough that it could survive. But those odds are a lot worse here than they would have been in the fleet. We can't induce labor and we don't have antibiotics to treat it when it gets here."

She turned back to Laine. "With as much amniotic fluid as you've lost, labor should begin soon. Anything that helps it start sooner, you should definitely do."

Laine grabbed her arm as she was turning around. "Did my fall have anything to do with this? I fell down last week."

With a sympathetic look Rochelle said, "I doubt it. Infected fluid is one of those mysterious things--does the infection cause early rupture of the membranes, or does a rupture lead to the infection?" She shrugged. "What I can tell you is that the bacteria that generally causes the infection is already present in most of our bodies and that usually the membrane protects the baby from it."

She patted Laine's hand. "You didn't do anything wrong to make this happen. Now get up and start walking."

***

Laine walked for hours, sunset into dark, keeping to the established paths around their settlement. Mark stayed with her, holding a torch that did little to help light their direction. They took short breaks; Laine tried to sleep but couldn't shut out the panicked thoughts.

Shortly after sunrise it started raining again; Olivia ran out and handed them an umbrella that someone had hoarded all this time. Mark held it over her. The bright yellow ducks parading around its edges were incongruously cheerful in the cool grayness.

Walking wasn't enough to prevent her from noticing that their baby was moving less and less. She didn't say anything to Mark; there was nothing he could do anyway.

The rain turned into drizzle. Looking over at her small house Laine saw that Ray and Damar's husband Evan were working quickly to finish it, along with Cathy and Deb, the Eights.

Finally the contractions began. She clutched Mark's arm for a moment while letting the familiar pain wash over her. After a quick check with Rochelle they went back to their path around the settlement. Her legs hurt, her ankle burned and she had to pause every time another wave hit. Come on, baby, hurry up, she urged.

***

Daylight again. Jonah barely cried after his arrival--a thin wail that sounded feeble even in the small room. He sobbed quietly as Rochelle cleaned him up but that seemed to exhaust his small body. After Rochelle swaddled him she listened to his heartbeat, face serious.

"His heart rate is accelerated," she told them. Handing him to Laine she said, "See if you can get him to nurse. If he's going to fight the infection, he needs nutrition."

Mark sat against the wall watching them, face pale. He bowed his head and mumbled something--Laine finally realized that he was praying, addressing a heavenly father.

It took both Rochelle and Laine working together to get Jonah latched on to her nipple; he suckled briefly, then fell asleep. After his nap they tried to get him to nurse again without success. His body didn't tense up the way her other children had when they were unhappy and hungry; he was limp. Occasionally he gasped or grunted.

He hardly opened his eyes. Laine watched carefully as Rochelle counted his breaths per minute. She remembered holding her previous children, counting their breaths when they'd been ill, hand lightly splayed across the chest. By mid-afternoon Jonah's breaths were too quick; he was struggling for air. Then the count dropped, and dropped again. Eventually Rochelle slumped to the floor and shook her head. "I'm sorry. If we had some way of giving him extra oxygen and nutrition..." She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands.

Laine and Mark took turns holding him, looking at his tiny features, perfectly formed; his little hands (such long fingers, tiny nails like specks) half-clenched near his face.

He stopped breathing after nightfall.

***

Evan dug the small grave the next morning. Ray took it upon himself to say the traditional words to Polydectes, the receiver of many--their euphemism for Hades. The old fear of saying his name remained. Laine found herself stifling hysterical laughter that Ray was earnestly offering this prayer at the burial of a half-cylon baby... and then wondered if Mark resented it, or if he had been planning his own words.

He didn't say anything, though. He stood still, a statue among the others who mingled uncomfortably while offering condolences, only moving when Laine tugged gently on his arm.

She briefly thought that she had it easier; she had an excuse to curl on the bedding because she was recuperating. After a while Laine didn't notice if Mark was in the room or not. She slept, one hand curled around the stomach that had lost most of its girth. Rochelle left after the first day; another emergency elsewhere and Laine wasn't in any danger.

Mark made sure she had enough to eat and drink, his movements automatic. They didn't speak beyond the basics. She didn't know what this meant to him, how much he truly understood. Cylons didn't experience childhood; until recently they hadn't known permanent death.

She thought about this when she could rouse herself to caring.

Damar checked in regularly, leaving her young daughter with someone else during her visits. She made consoling statements, phrases like "You're not to blame" and "It could have happened to anyone" bouncing around the cabin. Laine acted like she listened, nodding and responding at the appropriate moments. Inside her mind the echoes were you didn't really want this baby and all your fault.

Nathan peeked around the doorway while his mother was there but he must have been given strict orders not to come in.

***

She went back to the main building and picked up a bowl of nuts to shell. Laine hadn't meant it as a sign that she was well again, but everyone seemed to take it as such. Their cautious greetings and sincere condolences were oppressive.

Rochelle had been right--physically she'd been fine after the first couple of days, her body recuperating normally from the pregnancy. Still sore but not feverish. Another day or two (or three, she'd lost count) of bleak emptiness, staying in the cabin.

It was still like that but she had a bowl of nuts to shell; something to do other than hear her own guilt. As she carried the bowl back to her cabin Nathan trailed behind, sucking his thumb. After Iris was born he'd started the habit again.

Sitting cross-legged she crushed the shells against the large flat rock that served as a table, then carefully picked out the kernels. Hearing a noise, she looked up and realized Nathan was standing in the entrance again, watching her work. Gods, she didn't want to be his second mother right now or put on a facade for him. Sighing, she motioned for him to come in.

He was edging closer to his third birthday; normally Nathan was a chatterbox. Today he sat quietly next to her, trying to copy her hand movements.

Mark left the next day; she didn't know where. It didn't really matter.

***

After a week of sleeping alone in the cabin that had barely been finished in time, Laine went back to the central building and picked a new spot near the center, abandoned after the second cabin had been completed. It was closer to the fire; when she couldn't sleep she used the dim light from the coals to make or decorate pottery, then set it to dry in the corner. The collection of bowls, pitchers and other useful objects waiting to be fired grew larger. Sometimes she picked up a piece that was half-dry and carefully etched in small spirals or geometric patterns.

A couple expecting a baby in late spring took the cabin at her bidding, repeatedly questioning if she was positive that she wanted them to have it. Echoing her reassurances, she wished they'd stop asking. She was tired of people wanting her to talk.

Mark came back after a month, bringing with him a large bag of salt and another filled with clay. He reclaimed his spot near the edge of the building. His eyes were hollowed and his hair looked grayer than before. Laine hadn't known that cylons could age. Hell of a way to make that discovery, she thought.

Damar was hesitant about bringing Iris with her when they worked together; Laine had told her not to be an idiot, that her daughter needed to be with her mother. She held her carefully when Damar offered, feeling the little girl's warmth and quick chest movements as she breathed.

It wasn't until she looked after Iris and Nathan for an afternoon that the tears flowed again. She waited until Damar came back to retrieve her children, then hiked down to the riverbank and cried until her throat hurt and her eyes were puffy and her chest ached from the sobs. Laine had wept the first few days after Jonah died, when she was in the cabin, but taking care of Iris made it hurt again. Her little boy would never grow to be that big, wouldn't suck his thumb or play peek-a-boo or look for her face out of all the others.

***

She gradually resurfaced. After a while pretending everything was normal felt like less of an act.

As if to spite her, the winter had fewer cloudy days than the previous year. Her grief felt different here; before, when she'd been aboard a ship and heard the news of attacks on the homeworlds it had seemed disconnected. The understanding that she'd never get to see her husband or children again had seeped in, like a flood slowly covering a field. This time it had swept through, the reality present because she could see the stone that marked her son's gravesite every day. It didn't stop her from catching a breath each time she heard someone else's baby cry, though.

She'd been able to say good-bye to him. Some days that was a consolation.

When Jonah would have been two months old Laine started practicing with the clay to make a figurine--a statue of Artemis, who watched over children and over women in childbirth. After making one that pleased her, she put it in the pile of drying pottery. She planned to give it to Rochelle when it was finished. Laine didn't know if Rochelle was religious but she figured that the nurse would know someone who could use it if she didn't want it herself.

Mark slipped back into the edges of her consciousness, or maybe she slipped back into his. Figuring out how to co-exist should have been familiar territory by now but it felt new; raw scar tissue redefined who they were. They didn't avoid each other, though she didn't seek him out.

Laine eventually noticed that he was making more of an effort to connect with the others. Either that or losing their son breached a barrier; he was still quiet but maybe that shared experience of humanity made the difference. Mark had always been useful; now people thanked him for it. Ray worked with him minus the snide remarks from before.

***

Ever since the frantic time when she'd tried to figure how far along her pregnancy was, Laine kept track of the days more closely. Spring now; four months ago Jonah was born. He was conceived about a year ago. She wasn't sure how she should react to that particular anniversary.

Nathan was 'helping' her to fire more of the dried pots today. After gathering kindling and placing it in the bottom of the pit, he stayed in the main building long enough that Laine went to check on him. He'd fallen asleep on her bedroll. Smiling at his sleeping form, she took the newest pile of dry clay objects outside and finished the preparations for firing them.

Later she helped work on another cabin, going to check on the fire periodically. They lost fewer pieces during the firing process now but it was still a game of chance; no one had enough experience to create a consistent product.

As the sun went down she stayed near the firepit, staring at the logs burning under the stack of pottery and layered dung. Mark came and sat next to her, handing her a flask that she'd made months ago. She took a drink of water and passed it back to him. Uphill Nathan was running around near his cabin, Evan chasing him in that half-play, half-aggravation that she remembered from thousands of bed-times with her own children.

"I'd give anything to have him back." Mark didn't have to explain who he meant. His face was half-lit by the flames, the sky beyond turning to coral and blue-gray.

Laine looked back at the fire. "Yeah," she said. "I know." In her bitterest thoughts after Jonah's death Laine had argued to herself that their son hadn't been real to him in the same way he'd been for her; he'd been a symbol or miracle or something other than a baby.

Maybe he'd been all of those things but she'd stopped telling herself that Mark didn't feel the same hurt. He was a father and his son had died.

"How can anything make up for it?"

She felt like she'd been having this conversation with him from the start; him asking how to fix everything, her telling him that he couldn't. "Nothing does. Nothing makes up for the loss of a child."

He didn't flinch or look away from her. So many thoughts running through her mind--she didn't know what to say first. She shrugged. "Sometimes peace is more important than being right."

He murmured, "I used to see God in the patterns. Now all I see is death and endings."

Laine had thought more than once that the cylons' one God was even more capricious than their own, if what He had wanted was the death of humanity. Not much of a god if his children had to kill others in some vengeful tribute.

"I don't know about God or the Gods. But the family I had before is still part of who I am even though they're gone." She didn't have the words to express it, how even with those she'd left behind multiple planets ago, even with the early deaths she expected to see here, she still valued the challenge of life. Her mother used to say that if you live only for yourself, you wither and die. Here it was literally true. Perhaps she'd moved on because she didn't have other options, but she could still define what these other ties meant to her.

"Maybe you're looking for the wrong pattern anyway," she told him with a small smile. It wasn't the design he'd probably wanted but he was still a part of their small community. The cylons and humans were bound together in a twisted, knotted mess; not pretty, but it functioned now.

"Just so you know, it never stops hurting. But you'll go on and eventually it won't hurt as much." Not much comfort for someone who was newly experiencing mortality himself.

The sky was almost black now, stars appearing in their usual abundance. "I think it's time," she told him. Using a large curved fragment from a bowl that had cracked in the firing process she began scooping sand over the flames. Mark helped her move enough of it to smother the fire. They walked back to the shelter in silence.

***

Something settled in her own mind after their conversation--that there was no resolution. She'd had a son; he was half-cylon. On Picon she'd had a beloved husband and two beautiful children with him. Maybe all those facts shouldn't co-exist, but they did.

The next night Laine picked up her bedroll and moved it back to the empty spot near Mark. "Hey," she said, feeling suddenly awkward now that she was lying next to him again. She thought back to their earliest conversations. Reaching in the dark she took his hand. "Jonah. I promise I'll remember him."

After a moment he moved closer to her and tightened his grip. "Me too."

She fell asleep before he let go.

Fin