Summary: And now young Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot and throws his lover in the sand... Sam Anders and Kara Thrace invented a certain game, once. Among other things.
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Spoilers: Entire series.
Word Count: 3,700
Original Story: Survive and Advance by likeadeuce
Author's notes: Various episodes of BSG and "Blinded by the Light" by Bruce Springsteen have been quoted extensively throughout, especially BSG 3.06, "Torn."
All this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
Sphere. Arc through the carbon and oxygen molecules, calculate the distance, the angle, and thrust. Pivot. One. Nine. Eight. Nothing. Increase atmospheric oxygen by 0.07%. Pressure stable. Burn cycle complete. Resume function. End of line.
Cast on and weave the net, under and through, survive and advance. Solitary elimination, extinction and quenched ashes. Survive again. Advance. Circle and hoop, infinite circumference and finite boundaries. Status: fugue. Round and a round again. This has all happened before. The quadrilateral garden of the mad sons, scarlet Taurus, metal center by the lake. The duke's jesters, cerulean demons, madmen drummers. Final four. Jump. Shot. Canon fodder, around and a round again. End of line.
Anders blows the whistle and, of the six bodies on the court, five stop in their tracks. The last, a tall, slender girl of twelve, scoops up the ball in one smooth motion and sprints back to half court. "Foul!" Anders repeats, unable to keep a note of exasperation out of his tone. "Number six, gold!"
Number six pivots, jumps, and throws. Anders' eyes follow the ball to the rim, where it circles twice before teetering sideways and crashing to the floor. It bounces back, a near miss, and the shooter grabs for it. Still, there's no question; Niobe Cutler is a natural athlete with a beautiful stroke.
"Niobe!" Anders says as he steps over the tape line he meticulously laid out on the floor. It took an hour just to measure the lines and angles, another two to apply the tape and set up the makeshift goals. “Did you not hear me call a foul on you?"
She puts the ball behind her back, giving him a shrug. "Yeah, but I didn't do it. Artemis ran into me."
"No," Anders says, and holds out a hand for the ball. "You were moving. It's like we talked about. You need to establish your position, or the foul's on you."
Niobe raises an eyebrow and plants her feet, the way she should've been doing when she was guarding Artemis. "Why?"
He rubs the back of his neck, trying to suppress a sigh. Shouldn't it be obvious? "Because it's the rule, and playing by the rules is important."
"It's a rule you made up."
"It's a pyramid rule."
She slams the ball to the floor, the motion making her long blond bangs fall over her eyes, and glares at him through them accusingly. "You said this isn't pyramid."
Anders palms the ball when it bounces, the slap of rubber against metal loud in the sudden silence, and cradles it to his chest. "My game. My rules."
"My ball!" Niobe cocks her head and puts her hands on her hips. "You wouldn’t have anything to play with if I didn’t give it to you. No ball – no game."
Frak. Less than a week into this gig and he's managed to get into a power struggle with a godsdamned 12-year old. And she has a point. There isn't a decent pyramid ball on the Ariadne; for the moment, they're making do with this oversized child's toy. Anders has been forced to improvise what he can with that, and now, apparently, he has to write out a frakking rulebook.
"Listen – Niobe –" And then he makes a mistake; he lets his gaze flick to the side of the court, where the girl's mother is perched on an old shipping crate. Hermia's eyebrows go up -- oh, no, don't look at me -- while her daughter lets out a disdainful sniff and mutters something under her breath that sounds a lot like, "frakking stupid."
Anders takes a deep breath and turns back to Niobe. "Look. The defenders need to keep their feet in place, all right? Otherwise they have an advantage."
Artemis – the red team girl Niobe fouled, who ought to be thanking him-- instead tosses her jet-black braid over her shoulder and juts out her chin. "Isn't having an advantage the point?"
"Not according to the rules," Anders replies, measuring his words. "It’s a game. It isn't combat." Which isn't a distinction he would have thought to make, back in his playing days. But these are just kids. "The rules make it as even as possible, offense and defense. The advantage comes from being a good player. Mastering the skills. Then when you win, you know you were really better." The two girls eye each other, nodding. Sensing he has them, Anders risks a smile. "Or, that you're luckier."
"Hmm," Niobe replies, with a practiced eyeroll, "why didn't you just say that?"
"Because I was blowing the whistle.” Niobe holds out her hands, but Anders steps around her, pointedly offering the ball to Artemis. "And the foul was on your team."
"All right," Niobe says, managing to sound as if she's humoring him. But she goes back into formation with her teammates, and, when Anders blows the whistle again, play resumes without a hitch.
Anders rakes his fingers through his hair as he joins the girl's mother. "Why didn't I just say that?"
"Believe it or not, I think you handled her just right." Hermia Cutler has to be several years older than Anders but doesn't look it, with sparkling green eyes and a soft smile, skin too pale from years spent under artificial light. She gives him an appraising, approving look. "I was about to say you must have girls of your own, but there's no way you're old enough."
"Actually," he says, before he has fully teased out the thought, "she reminds me of my wife."
Hermia's hand claps over her mouth. "I'm so sorry. I didn't think."
It takes him a moment to process her meaning – what could she know about him and Kara, and how? But when she lowers her hand and starts playing with her own wedding band, he understands. The fleet is full of half-marriages.
"No," he begins, awkward, "I'm sorry – when I said 'reminds' all I meant -- "
It's almost as if the thought called her voice up in his mind, and, for a moment, he's not sure it's real. "This is the most frakked-up excuse for a pyramid court I have ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on."
"Excuse me." Hermia turns, any softness suddenly replaced with sharp, parental steel. "There are children here. Who do you think you are?"
“Captain Thrace,” Kara replies, arching an eyebrow, and Anders notes the restored insignia on her fleet-issue shirt. Her hair is close-cropped again; a golden cap that won't get in the way beneath a viper helmet. “You might remember me from saving your sorry civilian ass more times than I can count.”
"Mrs. Cutler –" Anders sighs, and nods at Kara. "This is my wife."
Infinite possibilities of action, reaction and finite positions; prepare for combat but follow the rules. Be prepared to hark the song of war; be fair because the advantage comes only when both sides are evenly matched, set boundaries and play by the rules. Abort all functions on the lower decks. Relay order to all personnel, to the abyss. Advance and be prepared. Be prepared. End of line.
Spins and turns, angles and arc, burn, a perfect thought. Perfect nothing but woven nylon fibers and hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. One point nine eight pass. Three point. Slingshot finally found a tender spot; optic sensory input offline; but he will survive with his primary functions within acceptable parameters.
Ivory and etude, she too crashed to the ground. All-hot half-shot relentlessly unendingly driven to the hot spot where she, she, she was also blinded by its brilliance and yet will advance from out the embers. Three hundred sixty degrees. End of line.
Control. Gotta be a way to get under control.
She closes her eyes and exhales hard, fingers clenched around the handle of the knife. They ache fiercely, whether annoyed at her or just twinging sympathy for her frakked-up life, she's not sure, but the hard anchor in her palm helps, some. So does pulling what's left of her godsdamned hair taut enough to hurt. Control. Gotta get under control, or else she's likely to shatter the mirror and she really doesn't want to have to explain that.
Metal taste still in her mouth, and she's not sure if that's from the blade or still being just this side of the edge of drunk. Her tongue runs over the backs of her teeth, and she grimaces. Saws harder. Strands slip out of her grip, down her tanks, over her shoulders and biceps to float down, becoming that much of a blond mess on the floor.
Kara breathes out again, staring at herself, a little too wild-eyed, in the mirror. The already-cut side of her hair swings forward, just below her ear. She doesn't think about the weight remaining in her hand, yanks harder, does not think of Sam's fingers tangling in it, laughing as he tugs her head back gently to kiss her neck-- Frak.
She saws faster. Not who she is, anyway. She's not--
("You're malcontented, and a cancer. And I won't have you on my ship.")
Gods. She's not--
("No guts? You don't got a pair? You're both frakking cowards.")
She's not like--
("You've already done that, Saul. Both of you.")
Her fingers shake as the blade rips through the last strands. The knife clatters to the floor, which seems to buck beneath her feet as she makes her way to the wastebin and throws the hank of hair as if it singes her palm. Maybe it does.
("You were like a daughter to me once. No more.")
Kara retrieves the knife and sheathes it; grips the edge of the sink and stares at her reflection with hot, dry eyes for a minute before she makes herself puke, booze and bile burning the back of her throat.
She swishes, spits, and heads for the shower, standing beneath the scalding spray until her skin turns pink and the steam clears her head. Not quite human, not quite herself, but closer than she's been in a damn long time.
Getting properly dressed helps. And combing her hair. Her fist's almost steady when she knocks on the Admiral's door. He's bent over his ship, big hands strong and sure with a tiny brush and pot of adhesive, and he glances at her only briefly before turning back to it.
Kara steps up beside him, quietly, hands clasped loose behind her back. The thing needs a masthead. Waits until he's pressed the piece into place before she clears her throat, which still feels gritty. "I figured it out, sir."
He turns and stares at her for a moment, all hardass business. Then he snorts and claps a hand on her shoulder. "No, you didn't. Not yet. But it's a start."
She swallows. "I'm s--"
His grip tightens, and he shakes his head. "Just do your job, Captain," he says, and his voice is graveled, too. ("Pick up that weapon and shoot me.") Gods. "That'll be all."
Her salute has never been sharper, or more grateful. "Yes, sir."
New command. Resume function. Sublime moments shine lit beacons when one realizes innate potential. Patterns and repetitions, last gleaming milliseconds, midnight marathons. Optic sensors offline, under and taut, increase probability of eventual regeneration by 24.5%. Sulfurous baritone prophets cry out half-blindly and I, I am what was, what is, what will be. Cogitate. You are secure in the awareness of self, events yet to unfold. You have yet to begin. End of line.
New paragraph. Not cavernous wombs but desired seeds, genesis sires and the agony of wanting that which she cannot have. Grasp and begin again. Resume function. Condemned eternally to idolize one and echo another; there's a hole in the bucket, a drop in the bucket, prophet tattooed veins and patch. Seven thousand, six hundred and forty-two pinpricks, neuron bright nebula, wooden masthead spokes circling, circling. The spirit is infinite but the flesh is weak, and there are two, always two, light and shadow, beloved and feared. Leap, expel saliva into the stratosphere, and fall, condemned to darkness.
She's in front of the XO's quarters and doesn't know why, except--
("You're on your own in this life. Each and every godsdamn one of us.")
But she wasn't, that morning. Her wedding day, head pounding, bright sun and warm sand, Tigh sprawled with Ellen snoring softly beside him. He laughed at her, made her laugh, despite everything. Shared a drink she didn't need and listened, which she did. He put his arm around her like he'd never touched a woman before unless he was hitting her or frakking her or both. But Kara wasn't good at that, either, and he smelled ripe and pressed the bottle into her hand, and it was all right.
She pushes the door open, and he's sprawled on his back on the floor, the air sharp with the reek of booze and sweat. The gauze over his eye socket is facing her, grimy at the edges, and his tanks are soaked and stained beneath his pits. The bottle's on its side, empty, beside him, and his mouth is slack, and the burn of her own drunken vomit is still clawing at the back of her throat.
Kara stumbles back, disgust and pity and something like a flicker of fear warring in her chest. She should pour him into bed, at least turn him over so he won't choke if he pukes. "Frak-up," she whispers instead, and leaves without a backwards glance.
Touch the face of perfection, a joy, a rapture beyond comprehension. Perfect shot. She is fire and life incarnate, perfect face, perfect grace. Tied into a lover's knot and crashed to the ground but will always come back to you. Part of me always infinitely will be with you. Weave the net, under and through, all of this has happened before. Survive again. Crash to the hot spot and rise from the ash.
Kara bounces the ball off the floor and catches it with both hands. The slap of rubber echoes in the cavernous room, now empty of everyone but the two of them. "She sure cleared out of here in a hurry."
Sam folds his arms, leans back against the bulkhead, and gives her what must be his Stern Coach Look. "Between the profanity and the insults, I can't imagine why."
She laughs. "This sure is one frakked-up pyramid court."
"It's not pyramid."
He makes a grab for the ball, but she yanks it away and, struck by a sudden memory, twirls it on the tip of one finger, giving it momentum with her other hand. "Look!" she cries, grinning. "I used to have one of these -- when I was, like, eight." She spins the ball again, watching the brightly-colored pattern blur. "Did you ever learn to do this?"
"What, an Anders man? Play with toys? My dad used to brag how he put a pyramid ball in my crib."
"And what, now that you're a grown-up, you finally get to play with the other kids?" The ball teeters, and she lets it fall, bouncing it idly against the floor. "So. What's the object of your game?" she asks, nodding at the court and trying to hide a smile. The taped lines are perfectly straight, the tape itself smoothed to within an inch of its life. Leave it to Sam Anders, the only man she's ever frakked who has to get up afterwards, before going to sleep, in order to fold his clothes. She gets a kick out of moving his boots, making 'em so they're not lined up just so.
As if reading her thought, his hand darts out and smacks the ball away from her, and he moves backwards, bouncing the ball along with his steps.
"Hey!" Half-laughing, she lunges for him, but he pivots, steps around her, and then raises his hands, sending the ball flying over his head. They both watch as it arcs toward the goal, teeters on the rim, and finally falls in.
"Yes!" He grins at her, pumping his arm in victory. "He shoots, he scores!"
"You scored?" Kara repeats. "Because you got the girly ball in the --" Realizing just what the goal is, she steps closer, peering upwards incredulously. "What is that, a fruit basket you've got nailed to the wall?" She can't repress a smirk. "What are you calling it? Basketball?"
"You know, I like that," he says, mouth twitching. "It's descriptive. Simple."
"Uh-huh," she replies, stepping closer, teasing him. "There's just one problem, Sammy-boy. How do you get your ball down?"
In answer, he reaches for the broomstick leaning against the wall. "Still working out some of the kinks," he explains, poking through the bottom of the basket until the ball pops out and goes bouncing across the floor. "Look," he continues, "we're working with what we've got. Which isn't much. We could fit four pyramid courts in here, but we don't have enough equipment. Besides, the idea is to get these kids active, and they can't all play pyramid at once. Meanwhile --" He points up. "We've got all this vertical space. May as well use it."
"Oh, yes." She nods, mock-seriously. "Good plan. Great use for your tactical skills."
"Isn't it?" He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I'm not a soldier, Kara. Not by choice. I have a graduate degree in recreation management, for frak's sake. Meanwhile, all these kids in the fleet are going stir-crazy. I could show you studies --"
"You hate kids."
"I don't -- I never said --"
Best to nip this conversation in the bud, she thinks, holding up her hands. "Forget I said anything. You're obviously enjoying your little atonement gig, though gods know what you think you did --" And then it hits her. "A net."
"Net." She points to the basket. "Replace that with a metal rim --" She makes a circle with her fingers, then spreads her hands out. "Just a little wider than the ball. Then we get some nylon cord and weave a net that catches the ball, slows it down for a few seconds, then lets it go. You wouldn't have to stop the whole game every time someone scores."
"Captain Thrace," he says, "I believe you just offered to sew for me."
"Frak you, Anders. In your dreams."
He steps closer and puts his hands over hers. His palms are cooler than hers, softer than hers, and his breath brushes her forehead when he leans to speak against her skin. "That's exactly what I've been dreaming about."
All this will happen again. Blackbird flying in the dead of night, built piecemeal and hidden. Four and twenty, and the bird began to sing, escape route must be a certainty. The jester and the pickpocket opened the pie, all is opaque, respite is impossible given the finite programmed boundaries of our infinite souls. Reserve the ammunition and turn up the band.
All-seeing watchtower watches futures unfold, past and present and infinite omniscient. All this will--all this will--all of this--
Kara Thrace does not cry. Not now, not ever. Not feeling like she has to hold what is left of her guts in, like she's been split in two, warm sunlight on Caprica and his warm hands on her breasts, and now the only thing out there is blackness and they're four jumps away, and--
Samuel T. Anders. With his mouth and his hair, gods, he has a good face. The tilt of his head and the way he just looked at her. The way he frakked her like she was burning. Like he was. Like she was something he needed. More than that, the way he talked to her. Touched her. Smiled at her. Kara's no stranger to frakking friends, but Sam isn't a friend.
Her hand falters up to her throat, scrabbling at a phantom weight, and it's like she left a part of herself down there with him.
("You said you were gonna come back, remember? I'm going to hold you to it.")
He learned to be a soldier from the movies, like he's some kind of hero, and he talks about pyramid rules like they're Scripture and fraks like maybe she is, too. He's got the only part of her worth having on a chain around his neck, warmed against his skin.
Samuel T. Anders. Gods.
("I'm coming back. I said it; I meant it.")
All this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
Five. Crimson beams in a steel slit mask. Ocular sensors read as red, red, and time. Stops. Spin a ball, rotation, equation; speak the language of lines, angles, digits, parallel and precise parallel slingshot. Resume function. The orphan captain leader scout, captain o my captain receives neural damage, red but he will carry on within set parameters.
New paragraph. The obstinate toy soldier becomes pliant, chained and contained unknowing depths of infinite possible forevers; ashes fall down and burn; turn, survive, and advance. 15.68 degrees, set course. She crashed down and rose again. She's something more. Shed your skin. Skin. Unending multitudes of sin beneath the surface skin; despise and fear that which is like, yet unlike, yet silent and-- Rise along the X-axis and burn for a relative value of X. End of line.
Unstable along the watchtower, unsafe to venture outdoors. Upstairs, the man traded his wings for a business suit; he wants to keep his hands immaculate and do the right thing. Downstairs, a curly head is bent over wires and a wrench and he builds half-remembered shapes from his dreams, precise calculations, vectors and grease.
Not what they seem, despised and feared, madmen drummers and teenage diplomats. Verily, look upon the five who shall protect multitudes and crash to the ground. Trip the merry-go-round and turn up the band. Increase volume level by sixteen decibels. Reduce atmospheric oxygen by a relative value of X, survive, advance, aim, and--and--and--
Ocular receptor malfunction due to sensory overload.
Ocular sensors offline.
Ocular sensors offline.
("See you on the other side.")
End of line.