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Do The Best With the Souls We've Been Given (for lizardbeth_j)

Title: Do The Best With the Souls We've Been Given
Author: lostinapapercup
Summary: Layne Ishay has never been especially sentimental or sympathetic. After Sam wakes up from a coma, watching him with Kara may help her cross that difficult line to accepting the Cylons around her.
Characters: Layne Ishay, Sam Anders, Kara Thrace, Sherman Cottle
Pairings: Sam Anders/Kara Thrace
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~1800 words
Title, author and URL of original story: Finding You Again by lizardbeth_j
Author's Notes: Dialogue in the first section taken from the original story.


A short silence falls on the other side of the thin blue curtain beside her.

"I've done this before," comes Sam's voice again, and having seen them together so many times before, Layne can only imagine what they're doing.

But that's not fair, and she knows it. He's been in a coma for weeks.

"It feels familiar," Sam continues after a moment.

Starbuck's voice swells, but it doesn't break. "Yes. You've done it before."

Somehow the thought of naked emotion is worse than her first thought. Layne tries not to listen. Soon enough Starbuck will pull the curtain open and raise the cry that Sam is awake. She'll demand Cottle.

"I think your memories will come back." That brand of optimism is rare from Starbuck. "But even if they don't, that's okay. We'll work it out together." She almost sounds tentative. "I'm Kara."

Layne presses her lips together and keeps her hands busy.

"I'm Sam."

"I know."

-

If life is a tightrope walk, as her mother was so fond of saying, Layne faces it down one day -- one step -- at a time and with all the grace she can manage from hour to hour.

Sometimes that isn't much, but what are they going to do? Fire her? This fleet has needed all the medical help it's been able to get since the very beginning. She's living proof, once ordered to perform an emergency surgery on the Admiral when she'd never been responsible for an operation before. She didn't follow the order because she was scared of the consequences if she didn't; it isn't like she had much left to lose at the time. She followed the order because trying her best to save a man and failing was better than letting her fear overtake her and watching him die, knowing that maybe -- just maybe -- she could have made a difference.

She did, much to her relief. Later that night she did something she hadn't in a while and hasn't often since: she threw a thankful prayer up to the gods. One life isn't much compared to the millions upon millions who died -- who were killed -- in the attack on the colonies, but for one woman, one desperate paramedic performing a procedure she had no business doing, it meant a lot.

She lost everyone who had any real significance for her in the attack. Her mother the retired dancer; her father the former history professor; her brother, nearly ten years her elder, and his wife. Their daughter, her sharp-as-a-tack seven-year-old niece, who idolized her. Friends, cousins, exes. All gone. If they were lucky they all died instantly in a blast and didn't have to watch each other wither from radiation or get shot down by the Cylons on the ground after the attacks.

A lot of people lost everyone they had and she knows that, but she can't pretend it's not always there in the back of her mind.

"Laynie," her father told her once, back when he still had a head full of thick silver hair that had to be pulled back in a ponytail, "just try your best. Always try your best. That's all anyone can ask of you." She's tried to remember that.

On her last visit home she saw joy written across his face when she walked through the door. He complained that he hadn't seen her for a while, but it wasn't true. She had been there just two days before, and she reminded him as gently as she could. "You don't remember?" she asked, taking his hand in hers.

He told her he was trying his best.

It seemed like all she could ask.

-

The first time she held a Cylon's life in her hands was the day she helped deliver Hera. It was an unexpectedly difficult birth that produced a tiny mewling baby, barely more than a hand's breadth, not something she ever found easy to look at and call half-Cylon. Working on sheer trained instinct, she didn't even have the chance to realize the enormity of what was going on until hours -- days -- after.

With Cottle trapped on New Caprica during the occupation, he had far more opportunity to operate on Cylons. She isn't sad that she missed it. Hearing about it, she thinks it sounds like he didn't hesitate to help anyone, human or Cylon. Once a life was put in front of him he did his best to save it, and that was all he cared about.

It's still all he cares about.

He's a better person than she is. A Cylon referred to as Natalie was her next Cylon patient, and when they first got word about the shooting and incoming patient she hesitated while Cottle began to prepare. He looked at her as though a second head had sprung from her shoulder, and then barked that they didn't have time to waste.

It shamed her.

Natalie was too far gone when they wheeled her in. The shot was effective, arteries torn by the bullet, the blood loss too great. Cottle held the Cylon's hand as she slipped away, but her eyes were too distant, drifting. She'd have bet good cubits -- if she'd had them -- on the fact that Natalie was too far gone to appreciate the gesture, but she kept her silence.

Every time she's had to work on a Cylon since then she's thought about how easy it would be to put an end to them. Let her fingers fumble, work too slowly, make the wrong incision: suddenly the very tools she uses to save lives are weapons. How many mistakes would she be allowed to make? They destroyed twelve planets, killed almost all of humanity and hunted the rest, occupied New Caprica and tortured people. She tries to think of each Cylon having friends, lovers, sisters and brothers, and it never quite satisfies, even after she's set their bones or stitched their wounds or scanned their insides.

Are the five newly unveiled Cylons any different? The XO has had a long military career, Tory Foster served as the President's assistant, Chief reliably kept ships in the air for years, and Sam has been the poster boy for resisting Cylons since before he even set foot on this ship. She tells herself they're a different story.

Most of the time she believes it, and that feels like the best she can do.

-

"How's he doing? Has he remembered anything new?"

Starbuck asks some variation of the question almost every single day. The answer hasn't changed yet: he's doing well, but he hasn't remembered anything about his life with the fleet. The relief is apparent, but an edge of disappointment is always there. It's in the twist of Starbuck's mouth, the way she bites the inside of her lower lip.

Layne wonders exactly how many times she's found Sam asleep with Starbuck occupying a chair beside him, their hands touching? More than once during his coma she caught Starbuck in the bed beside him with her head pillowed against his chest.

And what is Kara Thrace? These days that seems to depend on who's answering the question.

True to form, Cottle doesn't care. Samuel T. Anders certainly doesn't care, although he doesn't remember much. After days of examinations and observation, he's making progress with physical therapy, reaquainting himself with walking and exercise after nearly two full months of lying in bed. Layne has a front-row seat to his recovery, and she notices how his face lights up every time Starbuck arrives. It's not the easygoing smile he wears when the XO and his wife visit or when Chief shows up, but it's something that illuminates his eyes in a way they don't.

The idea may be stupid, but she thinks it's hope. Like a pyramid player close to taking his team all the way to the Kobol Cup.

"You know us, right?" Sam asks as she helps him back onto his bed for rest. "Me and Kara?"

"I know you." She hesitates, unsure of how to answer. "Not well. We've never been close."

"Must mean I hadn't had much reason to come to sickbay before getting shot. That's good to hear, no offense."

She feels an unbidden smile creep onto her face. "None taken. Nobody ever wants to be here."

"And you and Cottle are every day. Hell of a thing."

"It's our job."

"It can't be easy."

"It could be worse," she admits, candid enough. "I could be President." The bad news is sometimes she hates her job, sometimes she wishes she could be anywhere else, doing anything else. The good news is she's not shouldering the impossible responsibility of making fleet-wide decisions.

"Good point." He smiles, and it's a nice smile. Friendly. It's difficult to believe he's not human, but this isn't the first time she's had that disturbing thought about a Cylon. "But for what it's worth, thanks. For all your help. I realize our people have an uncomfortable truce, and you've never once shown discomfort helping me. Not as far as I can remember."

"You're welcome." The words come out less smoothly than she'd like, surprise still evident in the pitch of her voice.

Propped up on pillows, he reaches for the bottle of water beside his bed. "I guess I keep wondering what my relationship with Kara was like before."

She steps back, hands falling to her sides, and hesitates again. This isn't the time to address rumors, and if those matter at all his wife is the better source of information. All she can tell him is what she's seen. "You had ups and downs, especially after what happened on New Caprica, but from the time you came back from Caprica with her SAR team I never saw you look happier than when you were with her."

He watches her face like it has better answers than she's capable of offering. "I loved her." He nods as though he doesn't doubt it for a heartbeat. "Barring the obvious" -- he bends his arm and lifts it, as though showing off the tattoo emblazoned on his skin -- "sometimes I look at her, touch her, and I think it's so familiar. Like a recurring dream I've had, but the details are just out of my reach when I'm awake."

"Maybe it'll come back to you. You've already beaten more odds than I'd have bet possible." She picks up her clipboard and reaches for the curtain, but before she pulls it open and returns to her other duties she feels compelled to look back over her shoulder at him. "After you were shot we had a hard time making her leave your side. She's been here every day, sometimes more than once."

His face blossoms into another smile. "If that's not love I don't know what is."

"Me either."
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