[BSG fic - Tessellation]
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Rating: R for violence
Word count: 3404
Notes: I have been immensely enamoured of Kara and Leoben's relationship ever since 'Flesh and Bone' in S1, and the writers left a canonical gap in the flow of the S3 premiere that I found far, far too tempting not to fill in. So I scribbled a little last night and a little tonight, and this fell out. Spoilers up to 3x01 'Occupation'.
The broken glass is by request of dopplegl; the accompanying citrus was inserted because I knew schiarire would have wanted me to, and she owns half of my cardiac tissue.
For the record, this fic is mostly for liminalliz, who has never stopped being as crazy as I am where these two are concerned :)
She doesn’t like to think about the idea that ground living has dulled her edge, that without a uniform and a callsign she isn’t everything she once was, but there must be some truth to it; she doesn’t realise that something is wrong until it’s too late. Striding into the tent ablaze with anger and exhilaration and ideas for fighting back, she crosses straight to the bed and opens her mouth to tell Sam about the invasion. He starts coughing, though, and she reaches for the water instead.
“Sam,” she says, “Sam,” but he pushes her hand away, shaking his head, trying to speak. The words dissolve but she knows her husband inside-out by now and the urgency pulls at her, pulls at her eyes. She follows his gaze to the small chair in the corner.
Leoben raises one hand in a lazy wave and smiles.
“Good to see you, Kara.”
Her stomach lurches and ties itself into a tight fluid knot of dread.
“No.” She doesn’t even think, just stands between him and the bed. “Get the frak out of my tent.”
He tuts, letting his hand fall back to rest on his lap. His legs are stretched out comfortably in front of him. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“Kara. Under the bed,” comes Sam’s voice from behind her, rough with effort, and she starts to lean down to retrieve the gun they keep there.
“Ah-ah, Kara.” Leoben stands up in a movement so fast that it’s startling, but his smile is as kind as ever. “Don’t be stupid. This isn’t an interrogation room; I’m the one who can call for backup, this time.” His eyes shift deliberately to Sam, who Kara knows – knows – will be glaring back, and possibly mustering a rude remark. Sam, who might be dying. The knot in her stomach tightens as she straightens up, slowly, her empty palms held out in front.
“Right.” She needs a plan. She hasn’t got one. “Okay. What do you want?”
“Come for a walk.” Leoben offers her his arm and she almost laughs, but she takes it. She’s insane. He’s insane.
“It’s all right.” She can’t meet Sam’s eyes. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Kara, what the frak –”
“I’ll be back soon,” she repeats, louder, letting Leoben lead her outside.
It’s not the first lie she’s told him, but it still hurts.
She counts to two hundred and seventeen, clicking her handcuffs against the glass tabletop every time, hoping to piss him off. But he just sits there, wearing a maddeningly calm expression and not even opening his eyes. She looks around, click click click, marveling at the clean and fussy appearance of the apartment, trying not to feel too unnerved at the fact that he’s obviously been living here for some time. Not all of the Cylons arrived today, then.
Click click click. Boredom’s always been her weak point; in the end the noise just ends up slicing her nerves into tiny pieces, and she snaps.
“What the frak are you doing?”
His eyes open. “Enjoying the symmetry.”
And here they are, sitting on opposite sides of a table, and her hands are tied and his are clasped neatly in front of him. All of this has happened before.
She forces the side of her mouth into a smile. “I want my crappy ship food.”
“I haven’t got anything right now, I’m sorry.”
“What, you don’t want to stick to the script?”
He doesn’t answer, just smiles.
“So, I never see you around the place,” she drawls, taking refuge in bravado and hoping it masks her fear of the implications. “Are you my own personal Cylon model? Thanks. I’m very honoured.”
“We have a unique bond, Kara.”
“Yeah, yeah. Destiny. I’m special.” She glares at him. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“You will.” The certainty in his voice is overwhelming enough to pull her up short for a few seconds. He stands and heads over to the stairs leading up to the door that they entered through. There are more rooms upstairs. She didn’t see them for more than a moment when they came in.
“You can try,” she snaps, and then wishes she hadn’t, because she knows that he will.
“I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with you, Starbuck,” he says as he climbs the stairs. She closes her eyes but her hands are still fixed and she can’t separate them to shut out his voice – not the warm drawl of the present, and not the echo from the past. “It’s going to be fun.”
Fun. No doubt.
She kills him for the first time as soon as he is stupid enough to take the restraints off her. Thought doesn’t even enter into the equation; she simply sits, tense, as the metal slips from her wrists, and then she grabs the nearest chair and swings it. She hasn’t lost her aim. Leoben’s skull actually caves in where the steel leg makes contact, and he staggers to the side for a good four feet before collapsing.
Blood starts to pool on the floor. Kara steps over it on her way to the stairs.
The lock on the door is not a surprise, but she doesn’t let it spoil her mood. Just to have the silence, without his voice surrounding her… For the first time in almost a week, Kara Thrace smiles.
The silence lasts precisely three hours. When the door opens and she hears his voice, reproving, it’s almost worse than the day he appeared in her tent. Then, she was shocked. Now she is beginning to realise exactly what lies ahead of her. She misses Sam so much that just looking at her arm makes pain, longing, coil down the lines of the tattoo and bite into her flesh.
After the first time, Leoben leaves her untied; the point has been made.
Time passes in grudging, sluicing, bubbling seconds. It’s the seventh time or maybe the eighth and she can’t even feel the pressure on the back of her neck, she’s too busy remembering not to inhale. Submerged and bumping noses with her own mortality, wearing the edge of the bucket like an icy metal necklace, she counts her heartbeat.
A jerk, and she breaks surface.
“I could do this all day,” she gasps, once she’s sucked in enough oxygen that she can afford to spit some out again.
Leoben looks amused. “Be realistic, Kara.”
“Man.” She breaks off, coughing up water. “Man. You must be really pissed that I killed you. What is this, revenge?”
“Revenge is meaningless.” Leoben shrugs.
“Why, then?” It looks like he’s going to let her talk for a while, so she wrenches her head around to glare at him. They’re kneeling on the floor. There is water soaking his lovely carpet. “You don’t want any information from me. Torture seems a little obsolete, don’t you think?”
“You know why, Starbuck.” His hand is a vice and his voice is a caress. “You know as much about interrogation techniques as I do. Why don’t you tell me?”
Interrogation techniques. There was a frakking textbook.
Without warning he pushes her under again, and after a while the black and white specks dancing painfully against her eyelids cohere miraculously into a page of text. Neat trick, she thinks with borderline hysteria. If only I’d known about that one at the Academy.
She’s talking as soon as her mouth is free: “Most of the work of interrogation can be carried out from a temporal and physical distance, beginning with the conditions in which the prisoner is kept prior to any sessions. The priming of –”
Of course, when his hand tightens on her neck and forces her under the surface, she can’t keep talking, but she recites it in her head anyway. It helps. It’s calming.
a prisoner can then be followed by any number of methods, drawing upon both psychological and physiological properties of the human mind and body. It is important to monitor closely the
Funny thing; even in the air, her eyes won’t focus.
“– administered by third parties whose identities are never salient, this keeps a distance that reinforces authority and the idea of the interrogator as an almost omnipotent –”
Twelve, thirteen, she’s lost her grip.
Torture involving constant physical contact can have little to do with extraction of information, but can instead be carried out with the ultimate aim of making a connection and developing a sense of intimacy between prisoner and interrogator that facilitates cooperation.
Leoben pushes the bucket to the side, tugs her up by her forearms and guides her to the table. Sits down opposite her. Her lips won’t move; she frowns and keeps up the silent monologue. Her recall has never been all that good. The sentences are rebelling, starting to loop.
can instead be carried out with the ultimate aim of making a connection and developing a sense of intimacy between prisoner and interrogator that facilitates cooperation.
The air seems unspeakably cold and the chill creeps down the inside of her throat, drowning her. She blinks dumbly through the sodden strands of her hair, looking at her hands; they are white, wrinkled, weak. Shivering. She can barely muster the energy to keep her lungs expanding and contracting. The text is blurring.
developing a sense of a sense a sense of intimacy
Leoben’s hands are gentle, so gentle, as they enfold her own. Gentle and warm. She feels like crying in hopelessness, in gratitude, but she is so wet already. Osmotic pressure and exhaustion keep the tears in.
“Let us pray,” Leoben says.
All of this will happen again.
“So,” she gasps out, spitting her own blood onto the back of her hand, “when is it your turn to be the prisoner again?”
He laughs. His laugh is the same as ever: frighteningly innocuous. Musical and pleasant. “Not just yet.”
Her breakfast lies on the table, untouched; she’d lifted the first forkful of egg to her mouth and he’d kicked her out of her chair. It’s a wonder her lip is still intact. Leoben's calf now has four neat punctures from the tines, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting him.
“Let me know,” and she grits her teeth, rolling, trying to avoid his feet and fists. He’s too frakking fast. Defense is the only possibly strategy, and she’s always been bad at defense. Gods, I need Lee, she thinks, in a brilliant flash of illogic, and the automatic nature of the thought hurts almost as much as her freshly-sprained ankle. She hasn’t needed Lee for months, and Lee hasn’t needed her for even longer. He made that very clear.
Abruptly she’s furious – the last thing she wants right now is to be dwelling on the past, but that’s Leoben’s thing, isn’t it? Cycles and patterns and frakking streams of connectivity.
He’s wrong. She’s a born-again believer in living in the moment, in taking what she –
(can? Right now? No. Yes. No. Get the frak out of my present moment, Lee Adama.)
In fact –
It only takes a few seconds to reach up to the table and grasp the brimming glass of orange juice, pray for the hardiness of the furniture, and then smash the rim of the glass against the table’s edge.
She’s the one who yells out as the jagged edges plunge into his neck; at least half of it is the pain from putting any weight on her ankle, but the other half is that molten anger. Leoben holds her gaze, starting to drool dark scarlet, and suddenly she would sell her soul to be flying a Viper again, blowing the toasters to pieces, with no messy fluids and no horrific organic warmth shuddering – falling – under her hands. Just the light and the shrapnel, the celebration inherent in an explosion. Endorphins and victory fireworks.
Juice and blood are mingling all over the place. Her hand drips with liquid the colour of sunset, and she raises it gingerly to her lips. It tastes foul, metallic and exciting.
“This won’t last forever, Kara.”
Wonder of wonders, he’s letting her sleep in the bed for once. At least until the bloodstains can be scrubbed off the couch. His fingers are gentle in her hair and she doesn’t want to make him angry just at the moment, so she closes her eyes and finds a stasis to drift in. Surrenders to the fiction he is writing, inexorably, in her blood and his own.
“This won’t last forever. Nothing does. There will be other rooms in this lifetime and other lifetimes and the roles will be reversed, just as they were all those months ago. That’s who we are; that’s why we are so alike. We are the two sides of God’s coin, subject to the law of probability. One of us will have our face turned to the light at approximately half of the moments that can be defined. We are laid down in a never-ending pattern, shoulder to shoulder, stretching across the fabric of time.”
His voice is lilting, soporific, eminently sensible. She can feel the transition starting to curl inside her, and almost screams into her pillow – this is what he wants, the slow, deliberate stripping away of old logic and reality.
They’re alike, are they? Perhaps so; she can be slow. She can be deliberate.
“Stay,” she mumbles, spinning the word into a vulnerable thread of sound.
He stays. He even sleeps, stretched out beside her, not touching her in any way.
She sits on the edge of the bed looking at him for ten minutes or so, and then she handcuffs his hands and feet to the frame and goes looking for a weapon. There’s a whole drawer full of keys in the kitchen and none of them fit any of the doors in the apartment. She knows: she’s tried, tried them all, and been almost driven to tears by the frustration of the exercise. It’s time to find another use for them.
When she gets back to the bedroom, he’s awake, but neither of them say a word as she kneels astride his chest and busies herself with slotting the keys carefully between her fingers. Her fist bristles with metal and uneven edges.
“You were right,” she says finally, keeping her tone conversational. “This is going to be fun.”
“You know that this is pointless, Kara.”
“Yes,” she agrees, “but you know what?” The first blow strips the flesh from the side of his face, laying bare the cheekbone. “Damn, but it feels good anyway.”
She takes her time
He never screams.
She looks at the blood that coats her hands to the wrists and shudders and thinks machine machine machine and as soon as the light in his eyes flees, leaving her alone in this beautiful room with a hunk of synthetic man-shaped meat, she stumbles to the bathroom and retches into the toilet for half an hour, shaking.
By the time he comes back, some time near dawn, she’s sipping coffee and watching the grey skies. Perfectly composed.
Almost a month and a half passes before they even talk about it. That’s just fine with her. Mostly he does the cooking, but occasionally she succumbs to the mind-numbing tedium and attempts something of her own. The fully-stocked kitchen is both confusing and luxurious after a year of naked flames and scratched dishes. There are books to read. Every tenth day she lets herself pretend he isn’t a crazy, sadistic Cylon bastard, and they talk philosophy.
Today is not one of those days.
“I suppose it was cathartic for you.”
He’s standing near the paintings, looking at them – Kara suspects – so she doesn’t have to look at him and so maybe she’ll feel like talking. She’s sitting on the couch, worn out by the strange kind of fatigue that results from days of enforced inactivity.
“Don’t analyse me.” She closes her eyes. She’s got a thin blade under her loose trousers, held against her shin with a hair elastic. He might know this. He might not. So goes the game.
“I didn’t know you had that much violence in you, Kara.”
To be honest, neither did she. She still can’t think about it without wanting to throw up again. But she opens her eyes again and meets his gaze with the polite, blank smile that she’s almost perfected, and shrugs.
“I admit, I’m a little hurt that you feel the need to keep doing that. But I forgive you.” He smiles back, nods, benediction in the tilt of his head. “I forgive you.”
It’s all right, the context makes it all right, but then he looks at her with that awful expression that means I understand you completely and he says it again.
“I forgive you, Kara.”
And it’s too much.
“Frak you,” she screams, lunging out of her chair and across the room, grabbing at him blindly. The impact as they slam into the wall sends a bolt of pain through her locked elbows. “Stop saying that, you frakker…”
It’s not until he starts laughing that she feels the cycle of time in the throb of his neck’s pulse against her furious, encircling grip. He takes hold of her wrists and looks down at her; down, gods, she’s lifted him clean off the ground. She waits two seconds, three, half-expecting – what? Phantom arms pulling her backwards (it’s all right, sir, we’ve got it secured) and forcing her into a chair, the prisoner once more.
The adrenalin floods out of her and she’s exhausted again. She releases her hold; turns, walks over to the stairs with the sound of his rough, amused breaths following her, and then curls up on one and looks at him through the ragged diamonds of wire.
Leoben rubs a hand over his neck and adjusts the collar of his shirt. Then he shrugs and pulls a chair over to sit next to her. His expression is odd; unreadable. She’s used to his transparencies, false though they may be.
“The gloves are staying on,” he says, gently. “In case you were wondering.”
“Frak you,” she says again, leaning her head against the wall. It’s weak; she’s too miserable to summon the vitriol.
Silence, for a while. He watches her and she watches him right back, weirdly comforted by the grating between them. He is easier to take in, fragmented like this, divided into identical shapes that never quite meet at the edges.
His hand lifts abruptly and he places it against the lattice, fingers up, palm facing her with its lifeline curving down like an accusation. She searches it for regeneration, for the myriad breaks, and finds nothing but the illusion of mortality. That’s all she has and all she exploits: the illusion. It’s never quite enough.
He doesn’t say anything and she knows what he wants, what he expects. No glass between them this time. One of them might still be about to die; it might still be him.
She lets out her breath and matches her palm to his. She cannot think of a single reason not to, at this point in time, and she is caught up in the symmetry.
“I prayed for you,” she says.
After a moment his face breaks into a soft, genuine smile.
She pulls her knees up to her chest, her free hand loosely gripping one ankle. “I prayed,” and she swallows, works past the dryness in her mouth, “for the safekeeping of your soul.”
“And was your prayer answered?”
“Well, you didn’t die, did you?” She tries to smirk, but the muscles of her face no longer recognise that kind of humour and pain pulls her lips tight. “Here we are.”
“Here we are.” He leans closer and looks at their hands for a moment, calm, curious.
“Was it a disappointment?” She won’t pull away first. She presses against the metal, harder, harder, feeling the patterns imprint themselves onto her palm, feeling his skin filling the gaps. “To die and live again, when you could have touched eternity?”
“It wasn’t my time. I didn’t make it to God,” he says, softly. “But one day I will.”
“Let me help you with that,” she whispers back.
Their faces are very close, his eyes very wide; she barely has to aim the blade.