Pain of sanity

Disclaimer: The characters of Battlestar Galactica are the property of their respective owners. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original situations and plot are the property of the author. Not to be archived without permission.

Author’s notes: Au story takes place after the cylon occupation of New Caprica.

 

Pain was not new to Kara Thrace, she cultivated misery and invited it into her life like a welcome guest. If things were too mundane or comfortable Kara didn’t know how to nourish her edge. As a pilot, she was sure that edge kept her alive, so the solution was simple…Create pain. Physical pain would suffice but Kara learnt a long time ago that emotional pain pushed her to top gear for longer.

When the viper pilots were grounded on New Capricia there was nothing to distract Kara from the discomfort of normality. For the ex-officer staying alive was too easy in their new home.

She hid her inner conflict behind a careless smile and a husband who didn’t mind taking centre stage. Anders was an effective buffer to the outside world. If he noticed her lack of commitment to anything real he never challenged her on it or tried to look behind her mask.

That was before the Cylons discovered New Caprica. Now kara had no buffer and no control. She was trapped playing sadistic games with the enemy. She didn’t even have a chance to fight. When the enemy invaded Kara assumed she could fade into the background and come out fighting when she had a plan. Just another faceless conquered human watching as the Cylons marched through New Caprica.

She should have known plan A wouldn’t work, it never did. She had only taken a step back from Chief Tyrol when three centurions stepped out of formation and grabbed her from the crowd.

There were no punches, no kicking, just a sharp intake of breath as her hands were swiftly bound behind her back. Her feet barely touched the ground as she was roughly dragged away. All she could see were flashes of steel and dust.

Thrown into a tiny concrete cell, Kara believed the prison would be her grave. The quip she prepared died on her lips when a centurion entered caring a long spike. Her face was slammed against the unrelenting wall. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the spike had a small metal disc at one end. Kara felt the tip pressed against her temple.

Skewered through the head was not one of the many ways Kara imagined herself dying. She couldn’t hold back the scream as the spike pierced her skull. Mercifully she passed out. When she awoke she had no restraints and was lying of the floor of what looked like one of New Caprica’s apartments. Her headache worse than any she had inflicted upon herself with too much Ambrosia. Reaching up to her temple she felt the foreign metal disc compressed against her skin.

Kara preferred the cold, dirty cell to her new cage. It was too familiar and far too human. Just like her captor with his musty smell and casual swagger. Leoben’s presence made her feel like spiders where crawling under her skin. His eyes pierced through every defence she had and she hated herself for the weakness he easily brought out.

From the moment of their first encounter on Galactica, Kara hated Leoben for his patience and the certainty of his beliefs. He had faith that he was not alone. He was not pretending to have no fear and he was not pretending to know who he was. He, unlike everyone else Kara knew had faith in his future.

As far as Kara was concerned faith was easy when you rewarded yourself with eternal existence. No matter how you behaved, you got the right to download and go again. No consequences, no questions asked. Kara had faith, but hers was born out of desperation. Profound all consuming desperation that there had to be something better, something more than she was being offered.

The problem was she didn’t believe she would ever be good enough to earn a better life. She took a perverse pleasure in self sabotage, it proved she was right. Except when she was in her viper, there was no room for doubt or self pity, there was just survival. That was her true religion.

Kara Thrace often wondered why the Cylons bothered with the easily conquered residents of New Caprica. What was left of their civilisation only survived the original Cylon attack because they ran. They were the remnants of a defeated race. What was to be gained by creating a mirror image of your former oppressors, making machine indiscriminate from flesh, revenge indiscriminate from endurance?

For a non-human she had to give Leoben credit he had manipulation covered. But the human survival instinct was something the Cylons had not grasped, despite years of trying to squash their creators. The flipside to being so familiar with pain was that it was easy to underestimate Kara’s resistance.

When he left the apartment she heard the clicking of the bolts back into place and clanging of the metal bars closing again. But she never heard him enter the room. Her only warning was the chill that spread up her spine. It was so acute she had to stop herself from shivering. That would give him too much pleasure. As he got closer she could smell sweat, like he had been running, she had to remind herself he should not smell, he should not sweat, he was a machine.

****

“Are you going to make this stop today Kara?” Leoben asked as he sat down in the lounge chair as if he was a friend dropping by for a visit. Kara remained silent, she needed a minute to steel herself against what was coming next.

Leoben took out a small rod from his jacket pocket. It looked like a thin crystal tube with tiny buttons along the bottom. Kara preferred to think of it as a pen rather than a remote control.

She reached up to scratch the small metal disc that had been plunged into her temple, the pain seemed less now. Last night she dreamt of pulling it out in her sleep. In the dream Leoben had come in and found her dead in a pool of her own blood. She liked the idea of depriving Leoben of the pleasure of torturing her but the blood had been vivid enough that she had been unable to bring herself to do more than scratch at the disc…Yet.

She felt the dried blood from her scratching and lowered the offending hand to her lap. She knew he was about to press one of the buttons on his pen and she would be lost in the abyss of his creation. But right now she would project all the defiance she could muster.

“You know what I want Kara,” Leoben said, leaning forward.

“Actually I haven’t really been listening,” she said, equally casually.

“I’m very pleased with what I have programmed for you today but I would rather not have to use it. I would rather you admitted what you know to be true.” Kara remained silent, the only sign of her discomfort was the clenching of her fist. “Just tell me that you know you are different to them. Tell me you’re better than they are Kara Thrace. That you are special.”

There was a slight twitch of Kara’s lip before she lifted her chin to look at Leoben directly for the first time since he came in. “Of course I’m fraking special. I told you that yesterday Leoben. I take great pride in being a special kind of pain in everyone’s butt.”

Leoben moved to kneel beside Kara, he reached for her hand, she darted to the far end of the coach. Every instinct was screaming at her to fight. Leoben ignored her snub and sat on the couch just out of her reach.

“You have to believe it Kara. You have to believe you are more like us than them.”

Kara lost her resolve, she lunged for Leoben. As he had done each time before, he saw it coming and pressed a tiny button on the device.

Kara instantly crumpled to the floor hitting the side of her head on the coffee table on the way down. At least this time she knew what to expect, there would be pain, like being struck with a bolt of electricity. Then blackness before she would be in Leoben’s world.

He called it a simulation generated from the truth she needed to see. It was more like a nightmare but that knowledge didn’t stop Kara from feeling and responding. He kept telling her that her memories created the simulation, he just prompted the setting and the characters through the neural link inserted into her brain. Leoben said she had to let the scene play out.

Yesterday’s simulation featured Kara’s mother in the lead role. When she opened her eyes Leoben was standing in the corner of the room. Sitting at the small kitchen table was Kara’s mother. At first Kara thought she had fallen asleep and was stuck in a nightmare. She assumed it was to be expected given her circumstances. Kara observed her mother trying to gauge her mood. She needed to know what would annoy her today. What behaviour that was acceptable yesterday would be punished today. Kara always waited for her mother to make the first move, it was marginally safer that way.

“So they call you Starbuck. What kind of name is that?”

“It’s a call sign mum, you know you have to earn it.”

“You think you have earned your right to humanity by flying above us? Pretending to care about those below you?”

This was not their usual argument. The dishevelled woman at the table was unusually focussed. Her words were direct rather than flippant, she normally berated her daughter as if it was just one more chore in her sorry existence. Her eyes were more piecing than usual, they weren’t clouded by anger.  Kara had no instinctual response to the observation. She sat as still as she could hoping her mother would be distracted by something she considered more important than her daughter.

“I raised you. So I know you don’t care about anything or anyone. You won’t protect humanity with your life. You will give your life to protect yourself. You take risks hoping to get lucky, hoping you can end the suffering of knowing you don’t belong.”

Don’t belong. At last there was something familiar about the conversation, her mother had said that many times. This time though Kara had proof her mother was wrong.

“I’m a Captain now,” Kara said, pulling out her dog tags to prove her identity, her membership to something.

Her mother laughed. Kara would had have preferred a punch in the stomach, she would rather be left bleeding and battered than have to listen to her mother’s cackle. Kara tried to move, to get to her feet and walk towards the door but they were not cooperating. All she managed to do was stand up and look towards the door as if she could will it to come to her. She saw a figure step out from behind the shadows into the sunlight beaming through the window. It was Dualla but not the Galactica crewmember Kara knew, this figure was more like a stranger. She was wearing a long flowing white dress, her hair was cascading around her shoulders, long and sleek. Kara thought this version of Dee looked so confident, so free, everything Kara wished should could be in that moment.

Dee glided silently towards Kara’s chuckling mother. Her mother didn’t react or show any signs of alarm as Dee reached out to her. She didn’t even flinch as Dee’s hand passed right through her. The slight distortion of her mother’s image was like a key snapping in a lock.

This is not real, this is not my mother.

Kara saw Leoben nod his head and then the searing pain returned. When she opened her eyes her mother and Dee were gone, there was no sunlight, there was just Leoben sitting across from her looking satisfied.

“She knew Kara. She always knew. What you go great lengths to deny.” He left her without another word.

She was brought a meal and even managed to get some sleep. Blocking everything else out with military precision, forcing herself to conserve her strength for the battles ahead.

****

Now here she was again waiting for Leoben’s new creation. The pain was not unexpected but just as blinding. She opened her eyes and gasped, all Kara’s senses where telling her she was standing in the corridors of the Galactica. The smell, the slight hum beneath her feet and the echoes of activity further down the corridor.

Kara felt a little more of her sanity draining away. This was her home, her real home. Except on Leoben’s Galactica there was a table and three chairs in the middle of the corridor. Sitting at one of the chairs was Colonel Tigh and standing across from Kara was Admiral Adama. Kara didn’t even consider that it wasn’t her Admiral all she knew was she needed to reduce the space between them. She didn’t notice that he wasn’t hugging her back until he pushed her away.

“You can’t replace my son Starbuck,” Adama said, as he pulled off her dog tags. “There’s no punishment you can give yourself that will bring him back.”

Kara hadn’t noticed she was in dress uniform until Colonel Tigh walked over and unceremoniously pulled the wings off her lapel and placed them on the table. Sitting down he poured himself a drink. He poured a second glass and held it out to Kara. She automatically reached for it but he pulled his hand back and drank it himself, followed by the first glass he poured.

“You know what I think Starbuck,” Tigh said, slouching back in his seat. “I think the old man’s son needed to die. He wasn’t what you really wanted anyway. Everyone on this whole fraking ship knows that. We need you to keep screwing up so we all feel better about ourselves.” Kara could feel her legs start to buckle, she learnt back against the wall for support.

Barely above a whisper she said, “I was going to fail him.”

“You only fail yourself by clinging to these,” Adama said, holding up her dog tags.

Kara let out a long breath at the sight of Dee gliding towards the table. She was in regulation uniform except for a long black coat that billowed out behind her. Dee picked up the pilots wings and placed them in Kara’s hand, gently closing Kara’s fingers into a fist.

Tigh poured two more drinks and again handed one out to Kara. This time she was too quick for him and in one swift motion Kara grabbed the mug and smashed it against the wall.

Then the pain hit again, the fake version of Galatica fell away. Kara realised it was getting harder to recover from the delusion. Every time the pain was greater and she felt drowsier and more confused when she returned to consciousness. Seeing the slight tremble in her hands Kara couldn’t help but feel like she was losing to Leoben. If not for Dee she would lose her mind completely. She would rather any other torture than the people she cared about tormenting her.

Kara woke up on the couch and looked down to find that she was not in the same clothes as before. She had no recollection of leaving the couch, a shiver ran down her spine, her hair was clean and her clothes were fresh. She prayed to the gods she had not let Leoben do this. No, she told herself she would remember, she would fight back.

Leoben strolled back into the apartment as if nothing out the ordinary had happened. Kara had no idea how much time had passed since their last session.

I have to fight harder, he can’t win. Kara thought trying to pretend she wasn’t horrified that she was losing track of time.

“Don’t fight it Kara,” Leoben said, seeming to read her mind, as he pressed the button.

Kara found herself sitting on a bunk in the pilot’s quarters opposite Sam Anders. He was lying on his back throwing his pyramid ball in the air and nonchalantly catching it in the other hand. Sharon Valerii snatched the ball mid flight and jumped down to the floor from her position at the other end of the bunk. Helo closed the locker door and casually draped his arms around Sharon’s waist.

“You thought he was a new toy to play with didn’t you Kara,” Sharon said, circling Kara like a hunter herding its prey into a trap.

“You really should answer her,” Anders said, rolling onto his side to rest on his elbow.

“You were not… Are not a toy,” Kara said, attempting to step closer to Anders but Sharon blocked her.

“Fraking lie Kara. Everyone is a toy to you until you decide you are sick of the game. You got sick of him a long time ago but he’s the only toy left,” Sharon said, handing Anders back his ball. He rolled over and began throwing it in the air again.

“He knows it and you know it but you don’t care enough to let him go.” Sharon returned to her end of the bunk just watching Anders and shaking her head.

Kara looked around the cramped quarters hoping to find her only ally. “Are you here. Please be here.”

Dee stepped out from behind Helo. She looked beautiful, almost glowing. Kara thought of Dee as determined and proficient at her job, though she had never said as much in the time they had served together. Kara wondered how she could have possibly missed Dee’s unmistakable intensity and the courage shinning from her eyes.

“I’m here Kara.” It felt so intimate for Dee to use her first name instead of her call sign or rank. This was how it should be back on Galactica, the real Galactica, if it still existed. Kara questioned why she didn’t know this beautiful woman standing in front of her. How could she have dismissed her as unworthy of attention. As the communications NCO on Galactica, Dee was the lifeline back to home. She had often been the only voice of calm in the middle of a dogfight yet Kara had given her little credit for her unwavering strength in a crisis. Even when she had been promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the Pegasus Kara still considered her little more than a convenient distraction for Lee.

“Please tell me how to get out of here. I have to get out,” Kara pleaded.

“I know,” Dee said, stepping closer to Kara.

Kara reached out to touch her only lifeline. But Sharon walked through the image of Dee and slammed Kara against the wall placing one foot between Kara’s to keep her pinned. Kara could feel her former friend’s breath against her ear and she was vaguely aware that Anders was clapping in the background. Sharon’s other hand moved around Kara’s throat, pressing her harder against the cold steel of the lockers.

“You are the prize Starbuck. You are the prize everyone wants to win. But I know you can put up more of a fight than this.” Kara could feel the pressure at her neck starting to make the corners of the room fade. She knew she wasn’t getting enough oxygen but instead of fighting back Kara closed her eyes. It felt so good to think she could end this by giving in to the blackness.

Dee was by her side. “They can’t take anything from you,” Dee whispered.

Kara pushed Sharon off with all her strength, sending the Cylon crashing into the table between the bunks. Kara pounced and roughly brought Sharon to a standing position placing her in a chokehold. It was Kara’s turn to breathe in her ear.

“This work better for you toaster?” She could feel the life draining out of her captive.

Again Dee was at her side. “No Kara. Not this way.” Kara let Sharon drop to the floor strangely missing the intimate contact. Anders stopped clapping and Helo was saying something but Kara didn’t hear a word. She lent back against the wall and closed her eyes pre-empting the blackness she knew was coming.

PART 2

PAIN OF BELONGING

Kara finally had to admit that physical retaliation was not an option. Leoben effortlessly anticipated most attacks and the ones he didn’t just led to another download. Other than buying Kara time it didn’t stop the repetitive onslaught. Beating him to the remote was the key but she would have to wait until she was a little stronger and have a plan of action once she had the remote. Coming up with an effective strategy was only part of the problem, for her to succeed she would have to show more patience than her Cylon tormentor. He knew he was breaking down her reserves, he knew he was winning.

“I think you’re really going to like this one. I worked on the program all night. Remember Kara this stops when you accept your destiny,” Leoben said.

Kara’s reality changed to the pre-flight briefing room on Galactica. She turned to find Lee Adama staring at her as if she was the prize Sharon had been talking about.

“We don’t miss you. I don’t even notice you’re gone to be honest.” Lee stepped down from the podium so they were nose to nose. “You thought we couldn’t survive without the almighty Starbuck. Turns out you were mostly a liability, without you, things run to order. Maybe leaving you with the Cylons is the best revenge we can inflict on them. You think I should suggest that to the old man? Convince him to rid us of you, once and for all.”

Kara couldn’t help the small tear that ran silently down her face. She had held it together through all the other simulations but seeing Lee, her oldest and most trusted friend saying all the things she secretly feared the most was too much for Starbuck. Taking crazy risks to pull off the impossible was at some point going to be one risk to many for Lee. He would eventually get sick of picking up the pieces and Kara couldn’t blame him for that.

His eyes were so cold and penetrating but Kara couldn’t bring herself to look away until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Kara turned to see Dee and automatically took her outstretched hand. The room immediately went silent, Lee continued to rant but there was no sound to be heard.

“Those closest to us always have the power to hurt us the most.” Dee quietly said leading Kara to the chairs. “Lee Adama gives you the respect you have craved your whole life. He is a consistency you didn’t expect, he has stayed where others have run. Lee has challenged you in ways others have not dared and he deserves to have that returned. But this is not your Lee Adama.” Kara looked again at his cold eyes and this time saw straight through them. Dee was right this was not her Lee.

Dee gently brushed away the final tear and took Kara’s other hand. “Kara you need to know there is love on a different level, love that is all consuming, where there is no choice about running or avoiding. A love you won’t want to destroy, you’ll want to fight for it with every breath. It can be yours.”

Kara wanted to believe that was possible, that she could stop sabotaging opportunities for happiness. But the peace was broken and now all she could hear was Lee.

“You can’t even save yourself can you Starbuck?” Lee said, addressing her from the podium. “You must like making house with a toaster. Probably the only place you feel normal.”

Kara could handle those words from anyone else. She could force the words into a box and close the lid on Sharon and Anders and even the old man but Lee’s words would always leak out. He represented everything Leoben wanted her to disavow. If it would make Lee stop Kara wanted to give in but if she gave up the fight there would be nothing to believe in except Leoben’s version of the truth.

Dee let go of Kara’s hand and began shaking her shoulder. “Wake up and run Kara…Starbuck… Wake up!”

Kara struggled to open her eyes and found herself face down on the floor of the apartment. Leoben was looking around anxiously and the ground seemed to be shaking. There were loud blasts like bombs going off. Kara thought it had to be another simulation. Leoben never lost his repulsive Cylon composure.

Kara heard Dee’s voice. “Now! Do it now! The knife.” Kara felt the cold blade hidden up her sleeve and without a second thought jumped to her feet and plunged the knife into his stomach. With the other hand she swiftly grasped the remote from Leoben. Fighting her way out of the delusion took everything Kara had, she fell to the floor just out of Leoben’s reach.

“Kara we have to go I need you to wake up.” The voice sounded so urgent, so human. Kara opened her eyes to see Anders standing over her. Leoben still lay unmoving a few steps away. Anders roughly hauled her to her feet. “We have to get out of here. Now!” Anders said, dragging her up the stairs.

Kara didn’t know what the purpose of this delusion was, but even the illusion of escaping was preferable torture to hearing more painful words from her closest friend. She held on tightly to the remote as she unsteadily followed Anders out of her cage and into the chaos of a human rebellion.

PART 3

THE PAIN OF REALITY

Kara expected to wake up with Leoben patiently waiting to start the torture again but this was not her usual cage. There was no Leoben and there were people everywhere. It took Kara a few moments to realise she was in the Galactica’s Life Station. Spying the remote on a tray next to the cot she quickly hid it back under the standard issue grey blanket.

“She’s awake Doctor,” Anders said, getting up from his chair and signalling Doc Cottle over. Anders reached for her hand but Kara pulled it away.

“How is she doctor?” Admiral Adama asked coming up behind Anders.

“She has a drug in her system. It’s some sort of narcotic, we think. Never seen anything like it before. To be honest we’re just guessing here. I’ve asked Lieutenant Valerii to come down to tell me about this disc,” Doc said, pointing to the metal imbedded in Kara’s temple.

“I don’t want to remove it till I have more information.” He drawled lighting a cigarette.

“Captain, can you tell me anything about this disk?” Doctor Cottle addressed his patient for the first time.

“You know what it’s for. I don’t feel like playing today. Now frak off and leave me the hell alone,” Kara said, pulling the blanket up. She refused to answer any further questions and didn’t react when Sharon entered the Life Station and poked around the edges of the disc.

Kara assumed the sight of the former Cylon prisoner wondering around in Colonial Fleet uniform was supposed to be disconcerting. But it was more disconcerting that a direct attack from any of the players hadn’t come yet. It was hard to plan a counter move when the rules had changed. Sharon led the assembled group into the Doctor’s office out of Kara’s earshot.

“The disc is a Cylon simulator implant. It was used before the war to train models in different human scenarios so they could infiltrate effectively. It must have been adapted to use on humans. The drug you found is used to increase susceptibility to the simulation.” Sharon informed them.

“What like a hallucination or something?” Anders asked scrapping a hand across his face.

“A hallucination that’s so powerful it’s impossible to tell the difference from the real world,” Sharon added, trying not to show her admiration for the adaptation of the implant.

“How do we get it out?” The Admiral asked.

“We need the controller component to deactivate the disc otherwise any attempt to remove it will release a charge into Starbuck’s body that will kill her … Instantly.”

“Frak it! The controller would be back on New Caprica. Gods I didn’t know, I just wanted to get her out of there. What have I done?” Anders said.

The Admiral placed a consoling hand on Sam’s shoulder. “We have her back thanks to you. That’s what matters. There has to be another way. Lieutenant I want you to work with the doctor. Build a controller or find a way to disable the disc, do whatever you have to. Just get it done,” Adama ordered.

“Yes Sir,” Sharon responded. “But I also think given how unresponsive Starbuck was just now we have to consider that she doesn’t realise she’s actually back on the Galactica. She may think this is just another simulation.”

“I’ll convince her,” Anders said.

“She’s stubborn, we will all take it in turns to convince her,” Adama said, secretly wondering how you convinced someone of reality, especially someone like Starbuck who was prone to arguing black was white just for the hell of it.

Anders stayed by Kara’s bedside for hours trying in vain to tell her she had been rescued and that they weren’t playing a game with her. When she finally drifted off to sleep, Sam was relieved. Arguing with Kara was not how he envisaged their reunion.

****

Lee had been fully briefed by his father about Starbuck’s situation. He wanted to be by her side from the moment he heard but with all the civilians to relocate and the reintegration of the Pegasus crew after the ships destruction Lee had been flat out. It was four days after her return before he could get down to Life Station. Anders was asleep in a next-door bed. Kara turned away from him as he neared.

“Not you again. Please,” Kara whispered.

“Kara it’s me. Gods Kara it’s good to have you back,” Lee said, fighting the urge to pull her into a hug, he knew it would not be welcome. Lee didn’t think he could hate the Cylons any more until that moment. That they would try to break Kara, that it seemed as if they had succeeded, horrified Lee to the core.

Lee was so lost in his own confusing feelings he didn’t notice Dee enter the room and stand behind him. She’d come down to offer Lee her support, or at least that’s what she told herself. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt compelled to see Starbuck, to see for herself if it was really true. If it could possibly be real that the Cylons had broken the all mighty Starbuck. Dee like everyone else needed to believe in heroes wining against the odds. Saving the fleet countless times had earned Kara the hero title even if they didn’t see eye to eye on a personal level.

“Gods Starbuck…Kara… Please you have to believe this is real. It’s me. You are on the Galactica.” Lee put his hand on her arm to get her to face him but she roughly pulled out of his grip.

“Go away,” Kara quietly said.

Dee pushed Lee out of the way and slapped Kara across the face hard enough to leave a read mark. She grabbed Kara’s shoulders and pulled her up to a sitting position.

“Starbuck! This is real. You have to snap out of this or the Cylons win.”

Kara locked eyes with Dee. She placed her hand on top of Dee’s arm to confirm she was solid. But she still said nothing. Dee looked at Lee hoping to transfer Lee’s hand to Kara now that they at least had her attention. But Kara squeezed tighter. Anders got up from the bed and stood beside Lee, nobody knew what to do next.

“You called me Starbuck.” Kara finally said. Dee didn’t know what to say. She looked to Lee and Anders for help but received nothing.

“Oh Gods help me,” Kara said, pulling Dee closer so her head rested on Dee’s chest.

Dee was shocked to hear those words coming from Starbuck. She didn’t think the woman before her was capable of asking for help. But she couldn’t ignore the pain in the request or the terror in Starbuck’s eyes. It was something she had never seen in Kara Thrace but she knew she wanted to make it better.

Dee no longer looked to Lee and Anders, she wanted to do this herself, she wanted to put the fiery determination back into Kara’s eyes. Dee couldn’t fathom why it felt so good to be needed by Starbuck. Nor did it make any sense that it felt so warm and safe to be so close to her, like being bathed in sunlight after a long winter.

****

Doc Cottle and Sharon had to concede they had exhausted all the options. There was no way to get the simulator implant out without risking Starbuck’s life. The only good thing was that the implant had stopped producing the drug. The down side was Starbuck was experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which made her an even more frustrating patient than normal. Starbuck had become so objectionable the Doctor decided she needed to be rehabilitated somewhere other than the Life Station.

With Starbuck refusing to be around anyone but Dee the only option was for Lee to temporarily move out of the quarters they shared so that Starbuck could be cared for in privacy.

Anders voiced his objections to the plan, he wanted to be the one to take care of his wife. Lee remained obstinately hopeful that Starbuck could fight it, if he had to give up some comforts for her to get better than that was the least he could do.

Kara heard Sharon or Athena as the crew were calling her, telling the doctor they needed the controller otherwise it would be fatal to remove the disc. But she still guarded the small devise just like she had the knife she plunged into Leoben. There was no way she was giving it up. It was all she had to hang onto. She had to be sure this was the Galactica.

“Time for your meds Starbuck,” Dee said, bringing water over to the bed and dutifully dolling out two yellow tablets. Dee noticed Starbuck’s hand was shaking even more this morning and the sweating had returned. Automatically dousing the cloth beside the bed in cold water she began to pat her patient’s forehead. Kara stared at the tablets.

“Starbuck the doctor said every four hours. Do I have to get him down here?”

“They don’t work anymore,” Kara said.

“If it’s getting worse Starbuck then I need to get the doctor,” Dee said, getting up to leave.

Kara grabbed her hand, “Call me Kara.” Dee tilted her head like she had been given an instruction she didn’t quite understand. “Please.” There it was again the look in her eye that Dee couldn’t deny.

“Star…Kara…” It sounded so intimate, so unlike the way their relationship had been to date. “I can only do what the Doc told me, if it’s not working we have to tell him.”

“I can’t give in. Leoben wins if I give in.”

“Kara we’ve had this conversation,” Dee said, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Leoben is not here. You’re on the Galactica. You’re safe now. You have to start seeing it the other way around. If you don’t start trusting you are home then… Yes Leoben does win.” Kara reached up to touch the disc. “We will find a way to get that out Kara I promise.”

Kara closed her eyes wanting to believe. She could feel the remote tucked up under her sleeve. It was all she had…That and the look in Dee’s eyes. The intensity and fire behind those eyes, it seemed real. Kara popped the tablets in her mouth and swallowed, that would be her concession for now.

“It will take the edge off Dee, no doctors,” Kara ordered.

Kara fell back into a restless sleep. Dee was starting to understand why Anders and her own husband put up with Kara’s behaviour. When she focused on you and gave you her undivided attention, it was like getting a hit from a drug. Like you were special. Anders and Lee had of course tried to visit but Kara had sent them away immediately. Dee tried to suppress the part of her that felt satisfaction at the expense of their rejection.

****

It had been three days since Kara moved into Dee quarters, the room had seemed small before but now with a single bed tucked into the corner for Dee you could barely take two steps without bumping into something. The two women had developed a routine. The pain had subsided somewhat and Kara was even eating a little. Sharon and Doc Cottle stopped by several times to do more tests, Sharon even bought in a makeshift controller but there was no effect.

Kara was still barely sleeping and when she did, she usually seemed in distress. Dee had heard her name and Leoben’s called out a couple of times. But mostly Kara just mumbled something about not belonging. They didn’t talk much. Kara was mostly unresponsive to anything Dee did or said but at least she was compliant with her medication and hadn’t objected to Dee reading to her to pass the time.

Dee worried that Kara had shown very little emotion. Kara’s lack of control over her emotions were practically Galactica folk lore, her highs, her lows, her temper and her inability to stay still were legendary. Yet she had lain in the bed for days, blank faced and apart from the spasms, mostly rigid. That was until Sharon entered the cramped quarters for one more unsuccessful trail. When the hatch door closed Kara couldn’t help the small tear that fell down her cheek. It was a heartbreaking sight to see the defeat in Kara’s eyes.

“Would it be so bad to just decide to believe us Kara? You don’t need the simulator out to get on with your life. Nothing is stopping you… But you.”

“I can’t risk losing everything again if I’m wrong. I won’t survive it. I know I won’t.” Kara replied picking up her mug and bringing it to her lips not noticing there was no water left.

“You’re losing everything by staying cooped up in here. Can’t you see that?”

“Frak it! You just don’t get it!” Kara yelled throwing her mug against the wall. A small piece ricocheted off the wall and slashed Dee across the cheek, narrowly missing her left eye.

“Oh Gods! Dee I’m sorry.” Kara quickly grabbed a cloth to wipe away the blood. “I’m sorry your life is on hold. I’m sorry I’m such a frak up. I just don’t know who I am. What this is… Gods … I…” Kara didn’t’ know how to continue. The scratch was superficial and didn’t need any more tending but Kara didn’t want the contact between them to end and began gently stroking Dee’s cheek.

“You are not a frak up Kara. You are the only one with enough courage to keep us all alive. The only one with enough passion to keep us all fighting. You’re Starbuck. I know who you are even if you don’t. You belong here.”

Kara hadn’t heard anything accept ‘you belong here.’ All she could do was focus on Dee’s lips, they looked so inviting. Kara couldn’t fight the desire to devour. She hungrily enveloped Dee in a lingering kiss. Kara finally felt the fog start to clear, she almost felt alive.

Realising Dee was matching her fervour she felt the electricity building between them. Kara took that as encouragement to immediately begin tugging at Dee’s clothes. Dee breathlessly broke off the kiss to take hold of Kara’s hands.

“There is something I want to do first, something you need more.” Dee stood and led Kara over to the bed and slowly took off both their tanks.

Kara was confused, wasn’t this exactly what they had been doing over there only with a lot more haste. Dee pulled Kara onto the bed and curled up behind her with her hand draped over her abdomen. “You need sleep Kara.” Dee whispered in her ear. “I’m here. You’re safe.”

Kara felt anything but tired with Dee’s silken skin so tantalisingly close. All she wanted to do was kiss every inch of Dee’s body and so much more. She could feel Dee’s slow calming breath on the back of her neck. There was such purity to the moment that Kara almost wanted to cry again. It was like all her frustration and all her pain was being dissolved. Despite herself, she closed her eyes, gave in, and was asleep within minutes.

“Gods help me. You belong with me Kara Thrace.” Dee whispered before she too fell into her first restful sleep since Kara’s return. Waking up to see Dee back in the tiny bed in the corner Kara assumed she knew why Dee had left the comfort of the bed.

She regretted last night. Of course she did. Kara reasoned. Everyone always regrets getting close to Captain Thrace.

As quietly as she could Kara put on some sweats and left. She had nowhere to go but she needed out of the room. Even though everything that had happened was nothing like any of the other simulations, Kara couldn’t shake the feeling that Leoben was going to appear around every corner. It had been difficult to keep the remote hidden in such tight quarters. She fingered it in her pocket as she tried to ignore the concerned looks from the passing crewmembers.

Every cell in her body longed to just give in and believe she was really back on the Galactica. She missed being whole, she missed flying, she missed Lee and Anders. As if her feeling towards those men hadn’t been confused enough before Leoben’s games now it was an impossible situation. She had nothing to give either of them. She was just a shell, completely hollow on the inside and slowly crumbling on the outside.

Dee woke up and felt a sense of dread when she saw the empty bed. Waking up a few hours ago she had gone to her own bed to quietly read for awhile so Kara could sleep peacefully. She must have fallen back asleep. Lee was the first person Dee thought to call. He had enough experience with Kara’s rotating moods and chaotic behaviour to know where she might go. Lee directed her down to the hangar deck.

Dee spotted Kara stroking her hand along the frame of her Viper. The deck crew and pilots were wisely giving her a wide birth. Dee kicked herself for not realising sooner, for Kara to feel real and whole again, she needed to be flying.

“We’re going to get you back out there Kara.”

“I think I have to,” Kara replied.

“Good, let’s get you cleared by the Doc and see what we can do.” Kara couldn’t look at Dee, she was afraid to see the regret in her eyes. Dee turned Kara away from her Viper and gently raised her chin so Kara had to look at her.

“Hey, I thought we were getting somewhere. I thought you were starting to trust me.” Kara desperately wanted to tell Dee how close she was to letting her in but she couldn’t afford to show any weakness. So she expertly dodged the question.

“Life Station it is, then back here, right?”

“If that’s what you want,” Dee said.

Kara’s medical check up went better then she expected. The Doc saw no reason to keep her from going out. His only condition was that she fly a Raptor, her body wouldn’t hold up to the G forces of the Viper. For once Kara wasn’t going to fight it. Dee hurriedly consulted with the Admiral to find a suitable objective for Kara, it wasn’t enough to just be flying, she needed purpose.

The Admiral was only too happy to help and informed Lee of the change of plans for the next mission. Dee returned to the Life Station with Kara’s flight suit in hand. Kara could normally change into the suit in less than thirty seconds but today she wanted to savour the smell, the feel, what it represented. She kept telling herself Leoben could not create all this. It had to be real. But her fears won out and she placed the remote safely in her pocket and followed Dee back to the hangar bay.

Lee and Helo were waiting at the bottom of the ramp to a Raptor. Lee gave Dee an enthusiastic hug. It didn’t go unnoticed by Kara or Lee that Dee quickly pulled away from the embrace.

“Hey stranger,” Helo said, resisting the urge to hug his old friend.

“Hey,” Starbuck replied without meeting his eyes.

“It’s good to see you,” Lee said. Seeing Kara’s agitation Lee launched straight into the mission parameters. It was just a standard recon mission to a planet to check for water. Lee wanted desperately to be the one to go with Starbuck to make sure she was okay but Doc had made it clear it had to be just Dee.

“Sorry your first time out isn’t a Viper but I…We need you out there so this is where we start.” Lee said as he reached out to Starbuck and for the first time since her rescue, she didn’t pull back. “It’s really good to have you back. We’re going to beat this thing Starbuck,” Lee said earnestly.

Kara nodded. She had too many swirling emotions to do more than that. She followed Dee into the cockpit and hoped nobody noticed how much her hands were shaking. Game or not she was getting to fly.

Dee remained quiet for the thirty minute journey to the planet, she wanted to give Kara a chance to take it all in and hopefully not deny the evidence in front of her. Kara was glad for the silence she wanted to be free of all the voices in her head just for now. To let go of everything else but the stars and the control over her destination.

Unfortunately, the control didn’t last and Kara found herself fighting to gain altitude after the Raptor was sucked into a strange but powerful eddy. The funnel had appeared out of nowhere and tossed the Raptor around like it was a toy. Kara managed to gain enough control to stop them from being pulverised into a mountain range but it was going to be close.

“Hold On!” Kara yelled without a trace of fear. This was what she was born to do, nothing else existed. With every ounce of strength she guided the Raptor to a clearing and hoped for the best.

Kara knew she was going to be covered in new bruises from the restraints but she was alive. Kara turned to see Dee slumped in her seat, her head resting on the control panel. She was unconscious.

“Hey, I can’t have my nurse maid quitting on me. Come on Dee show me those beautiful eyes of yours,” Kara said, taking off Dee’s helmet and softly patting her cheek. “Come on don’t quit on me now.” Dee slowly started to open her eyes. “How do you feel any pain, dizziness?”

“Um…no…I think I’m okay just a little dazed.” The cut on Dee’s cheek had reopened and was starting to bleed. Kara retrieved the med kit and tended to the wound. “Starbuck saves the day again,” Dee said, trying to erase the worried look on Starbuck’s face.

“You mean Starbuck nearly gets everyone killed again.”

“Oh please.” Dee wasn’t buying into the pity party. “You know dam well if anyone else was flying we would have smashed into the mountain. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t claim to be better than everyone else and then act like you’re not worth anything.”

Kara raked her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. “Why did you leave the bed this morning?”

“Didn’t pick you for the let’s talk about it type,” Dee teased. That was not the kind of question you were usually asked after a near miss crash on an unknown planet. But maybe it was normal for Kara, Dee mused.

“Normally, no. Talking is not my strength. I would much rather hit or frak just ask Lee.” At the mention of Lee the atmosphere changed, the silence seemed far more acute. “Do you love him?” Kara asked.

“Do you?” Dee responded. Normally this was where Kara would end a conversation or make a flippant remark. But this seemed too important to go unanswered.

“I love him in a way I will never love anyone else. He’s a part of me, sometimes the good part, sometimes he brings out the worst in me but I am not in love with him.”

“And Anders?” Dee whispered.

“Anders is my fallback position. I needed someone who doesn’t judge and doesn’t challenge. He deserves better I know.” The admission felt better than she imagined, it made things clearer. Lee was her family, Anders was her shield against having to expose herself to something real. “You haven’t answered either of my questions.”

“I didn’t leave you this morning Kara. I just didn’t want to wake you. I moved back to the other bed so I could read.”

“Next time I would rather you wake me up, otherwise I tend to jump to stupid conclusions,” Kara said, relieved she had been wrong. “And Lee?”

Dee took a deep breath, “I guess Lee is my fall back. I love the idea of Lee. He is everything I should want and everything that should make me happy. He deserves the truth too.”

“And that is?” Kara promoted unconsciously digging her fingernails into her palms.

“He deserves to be set free because I have never felt more alive than I have in the last few days. I can’t go back to anything less.”

Kara slumped at little trying to fight the dizziness. “It’s real, it’s all real,” Kara mumbled. The realisation hit like a wave. She was free.

“Kara are you okay? Hey, stay with me.”

“It’s real.” Kara repeated pulling Dee into a kiss. As soon as their lips met Kara wanted every sensation to occur a FTL speed. Dee had a different idea, she took Kara’s face in her hands and tenderly dictated the rhythm. Kara didn’t know a kiss could be so passionate yet so gentle. Dee’s soft caress was so entrancing Kara wasn’t even aware she had relinquished control. Dee trailed her fingertips down Kara’s arm and was about to use her other hand to unzip Kara’s flight suit when the object of her desire pulled away.

“This time there is something I want to do first,” Kara said, reaching into the secure pocket in her flight suit. She held out the remote to Dee.

“Kara?” Dee questioned.

“It’s the controller Dee. I need you to take it. I trust you with it more than me,” Kara said, trying to steady the trembling in her hands as she placed the remote in Dee’s palm. Dee didn’t know what to say, she couldn’t believe Kara had it the whole time, the one thing that could have healed her. “I had to be sure Dee. It was the only thing I had to hold onto. I know it doesn’t make sense but I thought as long as I had that then Leoben couldn’t hurt me anymore.”

It did make sense to Dee in a twisted sort of way. It was also clear that Kara had just entrusted her with the most precious thing she had to give. Dee wanted to crush the tiny controller, pulverise it into dust. She felt contaminated by the Cylons just holding their abhorrent invention. But she showed none of that to Kara, she closed her fist and put her other hand on Kara’s cheek.

“I won’t betray your trust Kara…Ever. I’ll make sure he never hurts you again.” Kara wasn’t sure she could believe that Dee could hold all the malevolence in the universe at bay, but it felt good to hear the conviction in her voice anyway. “But first we have to fix the Raptor and get this to the Doc.”

“Yes Sir,” Kara said, giving Dee a mock salute.

Luckily there was minimal damage to the Raptor, the undercarriage and landing struts had taken most of the impact so landing back on the Galactica was going to be a little tricky. There were a few cracks on the outside hull that Kara prayed to the Gods would hold. She had done the best patch up job she could do for now. The sky seemed clear but the last eddy had appeared out of nowhere so there were no guarantees. Both women thought leaving was preferable to waiting to be rescued and risking another Raptor crashing.

Kara was just about to leave the planet’s atmosphere when she heard someone whisper her name. “Was that you Dee?” Kara asked fearing she already knew the answer.

“I didn’t say anything,” Dee replied.

Kara…Come back to me KaraI’m here waiting for you. You’re so close. Just turn the Raptor around…You know you can’t fight it anymore.

“Frak! No… No… No… Leoben no!” Kara screamed clutching her helmet.

 

PART 4

PAIN OF LOVE

“Kara! Kara! What’s wrong?” Dee tried desperately to get Kara’s attention. “Kara…Starbuck!” Kara was eerily quiet and began to turn the Raptor in the opposite direction to Galactica. “Kara what are you doing?” Dee’s panel lit up and the all too familiar Dradis alarm sounded. “Dradis contact! We have to get back now.”

“He says I have to go to him,” Kara responded calmly.

“Frak! Kara I don’t know what’s going on but there’s a base ship practically on top of us.” There was still no response from Kara. Dee realised she was locked out of the helm controls, she had no way of stopping Kara. “Kara please I need you to fight it,” Dee pleaded. “They’re launching Raiders.”

“Lieutenant,” Kara said, finally seeming to snap out it but she looked like she was only holding on by a thread. She could sense Dee’s fear and she didn’t blame her one bit, fear could keep you alive. “I need you to be prepared to dump three quarters of the Tylium on my mark.” At Dee’s confused look Kara explained. “Less weight more speed, or at least a short burst. I’m going to skim the atmosphere and sling shot around the planet. I’ll need the burst to break free.”

“Yes Sir,” Dee said. “Incoming Raiders.”

“Don’t worry, this time they don’t want us dead. The frakers will follow us and hopefully without the burst they won’t make escape velocity.”

Kara could still hear Leoben calling to her in her head. He was urging her to head towards the Basestar. The compulsion to obey was so strong Kara was drenched in sweat with the effort of drowning him out. She focussed on staying out of the Raider’s firing zone. She was dimly aware of Dee radioing Galactica telling them to get ready to jump. The Raiders were aiming for the engines so it was reasonably easy for Kara to evade even though she had to compensate for the clumsiness of a Raptor.

The sling shot manoeuvre was a huge gamble that payed off but the voice was so loud in her head Kara only just managed to hold on long enough to crash into the Galactica landing bay. Every fibre of her being was screaming at her to go to Leoben. She ripped off her helmet and began maniacally scratching at the disc, she was drawing blood but she didn’t care, she wanted him out of her thoughts.

Dee was getting out of her helmet to try to stop Kara hurting herself when Kara stopped scratching and started to restart the Raptor’s engines.

“Get out now!” Starbuck yelled at Dee. She was just lucid enough to realise she didn’t want to deliver Dee to the Cylons. “I have to finish it.”

Dee screamed at the deck crew for help hoping with assistance she could drag Kara away from the controls. “No Kara. Not like this.” Both women could feel the pull of the jump engines. Kara let out a spine-chilling scream and collapsed to the floor.

****

Kara woke up several times after the disc was removed, she didn’t remember much after taking off from the planet. All she was aware of was that Dee had been beside her bed every time she woke up telling her she was safe. Kara fell back into a deep sleep and found herself dreaming she was back in the apartment with Leoben. He was sitting on the couch waving Kara over to join him. Kara didn’t feel the normal gut wrenching dread nor did she feel compelled to obey his silent command. Dee stepped up behind Leoben. Smiling she nodded to Kara and taped Leoben on the top of the head. His body went up in flames but nothing else was burning around him, there was a burst of light then he was gone. There was nothing left of him not even ash. The room faded away and Kara and Dee where left standing in the middle of beautiful field of grass. Dee beckoned for Kara and she immediately responded. Dee reached up to take off the bandage at Kara’s temple and lightly kissed the small scar.

“Do not be afraid. I see all of you. I see Starbuck and I see Kara Thrace. You have been given permission to begin again. I grant you the power to start the life you are meant to live. To shine like no other. To be adored like no other. It is your right. Nobody takes it away. Accept this gift and you won’t need to run anymore.” The field turned to grey and Kara found herself back in the Life Station with the real Dee right by her side.

“I accept,” Kara whispered. Dee tilted her head and looked into green eyes that were again shining with fiery tenacity.

“Welcome back,” Dee said, leaning over and carefully kissing Kara where the disc had once been.

THE END

For lovers of words and women.

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