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Secrets and Stars

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She’s been on New Caprica for three wet weeks before she sees Sarah Jane Smith loitering outside the school tent, nearly unrecognizable. She looks small and strange in an oversized sweater and sneakers, hair damp and frizzy with mist, and doesn’t seem to notice Laura as she scans the throng of children pushing their way through the canvas-flap doors.

"It’s nice to see that some things don’t change," Laura says when she’s close enough to touch her. Her lip quirks up – part greeting, part smirk – as Sarah Jane jumps and faces her. "You’ve been keeping busy, I imagine."

"I – quite," Sarah replies, clearly flustered. Laura notes the flush on her cheeks, pleased; it’s not something she’s seen before. The other woman regains her poise quickly, though, and offers a genuine smile. "No more than you, I don’t think."

Laura raises an eyebrow, looking amused. "If you’re looking for a story, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place," she says. "Unless you’re interested in a piece on how the new administration is allocating their resources, in which case I’m happy to share exactly what we’re working with-"

She’s cut off by Luke, a tall, slight boy who raised his hand the first day of class and surprised her more than just about any student she’s ever taught; even Gaius Baltar, "genius extraordinaire" (she can barely even think it without suppressing a snort), has nothing on the boy. He looks at her with a wary sort of surprise before turning to Sarah Jane. "Mum, what are you doing here?"

It’s barely been two months since she left office and already she’s slipping; she feels her lips forming a quiet "oh!" before she can stop herself. Now Sarah Jane is the amused one, slipping an arm around Luke’s shoulder and watching as Laura composes herself. "I finished early," Sarah Jane tells him, straightening his scarf. "Thought I’d come meet you."

"Luke!" Clyde, a clever and confident (perhaps too much so) student who seems permanently attached to Luke, makes his way out of the tent; Maria, the final member of the little group, follows. "You forgot your – oh. Hey, Sarah Jane. Luke, you forgot your blueprints."

"Blueprints?" Sarah Jane asks dubiously, looking first at Maria (who looks back with wide, innocent eyes) and then at Laura, who’s watching the scene with a perverse sort of fascination. "Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me you’re making another rocket. We’re trying to build this city, not burn it to the ground."

"It’s not a rocket!" Luke protests. "I think I figured out a way to adapt the water processing plant to use less energy. We just have to divert the Tylium fuel lines –"

"Don’t get him started," Maria cuts in. "Even the construction guys didn’t understand. They thought it was a prank."

"I told him it’d be more useful to figure out how to make a video game console out of canvas," Clyde adds helpfully, "but apparently even the Superbrain has limits." Luke looks mildly offended, but stays silent as Clyde continues, "Hey, Ms. Roslin, maybe you could give the plans to someone who knows what they’re doing? I’m sick of hearing about converters and conduits and – whatever."

Laura nods weakly, automatically taking the sheaf of paper that Clyde thrusts forward as Luke opens his mouth in protest; Maria nudges him sharply, hissing "No, it’s a good idea! She knows people!" There’s a strange sensation building in her chest, something like laughter, or maybe a breakdown of some kind. The wind is picking up and she pulls her sweater closer.

"Sarah Jane, we were going to go by the pyramid court – Dad promised he’d teach Luke how to play," Maria says, ignoring the boys as they engage in a whispered argument. "You want to come?"

Sarah Jane smoothes the girl’s hair back and meets Laura’s eyes. "Not just now," she says. "I’ll catch up with you in a little while."

Maria shrugs. "Okay. See you later. Come on, guys," she demands, and the three race off, Maria turning back to cast a curious glance at the two women now standing alone outside the school tent.

Laura finally does let out a quiet laugh. "I didn’t realize you had kids," she says.

Sarah Jane smiles, the warmth unfamiliar. "Just Luke. Maria and Clyde lived down the road back home. They might as well be mine, though."

"Maria mentioned her father; are their parents – ?" Laura lets the question hang in the air, unsurprised at the tight shake of Sarah Jane’s head.

"Alan Jackson and I were taking them to Virgon on holiday, but his ex-wife and Clyde’s mum were back on Caprica."

Laura pulls her hands from her pockets and folds her arms across her chest. "It’s freezing out here," she says quietly. "Do you want to come in?"

***

 

Laura never intended to leave behind a legacy. She’d scrawl her signature across thousands of meaningless documents to get to the few important ones; she’d appear in the background of a few newspaper photos wearing expensive suits and a fixed, unchanging smile; she’d introduce herself to countless people and know that none of them would remember her name the next day.

There’s something to be said for going from a footnote in a textbook to the most influential woman left alive to change one’s feelings about the press.

In the early days, Sarah Jane Smith had been, if not an ally, at least not an adversary. She had arrived on Colonial One shortly after the attacks and quietly inserted herself into the still-forming press corps, asking intelligent but intent questions and, on one memorable occasion, distracting Billy mid-sentence with a pair of especially tight knee-high boots. Thinking back, Laura realizes that she’d rarely seen the woman on the ship outside of the press room.

"We were staying on the Adriatic," Sarah Jane explains now, settled in a chair beside Laura’s desk and holding tight to a mug of what passes for tea these days. "Alan was helping with the engineering, he was a computer expert back on Caprica, and we weren’t about to split the kids up. I’d shuttle back and forth."

"You were a journalist back on Caprica?"

"Yes," Sarah Jane nods. She fiddles with a pen on Laura’s desk, not seeming to notice. "On Leonis, originally, but I came to Caprica in my thirties. It’s where most of the action was." There’s a wistfulness in her voice, Laura notes, one that seems to go deeper than the normal nostalgia. "I worked for the Caprica Tribune for awhile, and the Times, then as a freelancer. I took some time off after adopting Luke last year, but was going back to work when the Cylons came."

"He’s a smart kid," Laura says mildly, sipping her tea and looking at Sarah Jane over the rims of her glasses. "Very smart." A smile plays at Sarah’s lips, but she stays silent. "I suppose I should be pleased that something came from my time as Secretary."

"Oh, yes," Sarah Jane says, leaning back in her chair. "Yes, I would say so."

It’s unsettling, Laura thinks; she’s become used to being the one with the secrets, but the woman sitting across from her now clearly has a few of her own. She thinks of the parent teacher conferences she used to hold, those often painful meetings she’d come to dread over the years, and how she’d come to think of press conferences in much the same way by the end.

It’s not an easy silence, and Sarah Jane breaks it abruptly. "I voted for Baltar." Laura raises an eyebrow, and the other woman meets her gaze, steady despite the slight flush to her cheeks. "I just - I thought you should know."

Laura hums, suddenly weary, and she leans back as well. Her hair, already longer and thicker than it had ever been on Colonial One, falls across her eyes as she pulls her glasses off and sets them on the desk. "Well," she murmurs, "you’re not the only one."

Sarah Jane shakes her head, lips pressed tightly together. Laura’s eyes are sharp without the lenses covering them. She asks, "Was it worth it?"

The shadow that darkens Sarah Jane’s face is familiar; secrets, Laura remembers suddenly, often weigh more than they’re worth. "It’s easier," she finally answers, "if we’re in one place."

"I wouldn’t have thought you to be one for the easy path," Laura says. There are shapes on the canvas walls, and they’re growing darker. They’ve been here awhile.

Sarah Jane puts down her mug, eyes shining with something Laura can’t identify. She looks tiny, Laura thinks again, here in this tent, face half hidden in the shadows of the dim light, and in that ridiculous sweater three sizes too big.

"I don’t mean easier for us," Sarah Jane says.