“Thanks, Tory. That’s all for the day.“
Even before she could turn around and take the latest stack of signed papers out of the president’s make-shift office, Laura had bent over yet another document, forgetting the world over her work once more. There was still steam rising up from the cup of tea Tory had brought with her when she came in, but she knew it would be cold, bitter before Laura would even take the first sip.
Not Laura, Madame President, Tory reminded herself when she walked through the curtain, feeling strangely cold, detached, inside. There had been a time she had thought Laura Roslin and President Roslin were the same woman, but they weren’t. Some nights, Tory felt privileged to have gotten to know the woman behind the office; others, she wished she had never learned about her.
It was a lesson she had first learned on New Caprica, and once again, after Laura Roslin had been reinstated as president.
Laura Roslin had turned into a friend, Madame President wasn’t one. Madame President was her commander in chief, looking all like Laura Roslin but having buried the woman deeply inside of herself. Sometimes, one could still see glimpses of her, but these moments weren’t for Tory to witness, were reserved for William Adama, the man who held this strong woman’s heart if he knew it or not, if he deserved it or not.
Suppressing the sigh that seemed to be stuck in her throat, Tory put the files onto her own desk before she made her way to the small bathroom to prepare for the night. Another night, cold and alone in her cot, dreaming of better times even if a lot of people would say they hadn’t been better at all. As so often in life though, better was a matter of perspective; and if it had been up to her, she’d willingly go back, back to the hellhole, back to where she could feel almost human, and not as different as she had for all of her life.
Laura waited until Tory was out of sight, the curtain falling closed behind her. Sitting upright for a moment, she stretched before she leaned back in her seat, her gaze focusing on the cup of tea in front of her. It was a ritual they underwent every evening. At one point in the evening, Tory would come in, place a cup of tea in front of her, take the last files. It was like a sign for both of them that another day had ended.
Looking around the room, so bare of any real personality showing someone worked here – lived here, in her case – she knew she should have her tea for as long as it was hot, but somehow she couldn’t muster the energy to lift the cup. Instead she looked at the intricate pattern painted on white china, ancient Tauron symbols, reminding her of other times, of present daysand a man meaning more to her than he should.
Laura knew about Tory’s disappointment even when the young woman never uttered a word. Tory wasn’t the only one mourning the loss of their friendship. She missed the times when she had simply been Laura, a school teacher once again, a woman between many, a human being with fewer responsibilities and more friends. She couldn’t be this woman any longer. Not up here. Not as president.
Laura Roslin didn’t count up here. The people did. She was the president, she owed them to give her best to help keeping them alive. If she lost herself over this, it was a small price to pay. Still, at the end of the day, Laura Roslin, the woman who was lonely, afraid, longed for another human’s touch and comfort like they all did.
Sometimes, while she watched the tea’s steam dissipate into cold, recycled air, she wondered if she could ever be this woman again, Laura Roslin, whoever that was. However, Laura knew if she would be this woman, a simple woman again, it could only be with one person – Bill Adama. Times had changed. She had changed. Whoever she was now, she was not the woman who had set foot on Colonial Heavy 798 all these years ago.
Whatever had connected Tory and her in a tentative friendship, it was over, had to be over, had fallen prey to crushing responsibilities.
If it really was, why couldn’t she forget, though?
“Thanks for the tea, Tory. I better get going.”
“Now? While a snow storm is raging outside? Be reasonable. This will go on for at least another hour, if not longer.” Leaving now would equal recklessness. Although Tory knew from experience, Laura had a reckless and stubborn streak. Still, even she would do better to sit that one out.
“And if I don’t go now, I’ll have to find my way around the dark streets. Only last night Ana McGovern slipped and twisted her ankle in the dark.”
Tory had heard it as well. Laura had a point. “How about you stay the night?” To her annoyance, her heart beat faster at the suggestion. It was ridiculous; Laura wouldn’t think anything of the offer; yet, Tory thought her feelings had to be visible on her face.
“This cot easily houses two.” She threw a look at her cot that was slightly bigger than the standard cots the others had.
“Brian Turner always had a soft spot for you,” Laura teased, her twinkling eyes telling Tory she knew how much she hated this kind of teasing.
“I didn’t encourage him.”
Turner had been one of the men and women responsible for the distribution of the meagre resources to the people on New Caprica. Before that, he’d worked for one of the Quorum delegates. Tory had never quite liked him, but he seemed to like her all the more for it.
“Does that mean you’ll stay?” she asked, trying for a smile.
“Yes, I think I will. Sorry, I didn’t mean to barge in here like that.”
“As I said, this is really no problem. More tea?”
When Laura nodded, Tory turned to her tiny stove, filling the kettle with water before putting it on the heated surface . Now that Laura had agreed to stay, what was she supposed to do? It was one thing to spend a pleasurable hour every other day, talking over tea, quite a different one to spend a night with the woman which was in her thoughts way too often.
Other people would accuse her of having a crush, but to Tory, this word was inadequate. Her feelings for Laura Roslin were more complex. Tory knew she was different from other people, knew that most people viewed her as cold, unapproachable, and maybe, she was. It was just that… it wasn’t easy to always be a step or two ahead of other people, to see a pattern where others were still trying to decipher a simple clue. Her whole life, Tory hadn’t quite belonged, hadn’t found something to stimulate her mind or someone she could battle wits with, someone who was just as cunning, had a similar no-nonsense approach to things in life. This was until she had met Laura Roslin, a woman who had put all personal feelings aside to work for a greater good.
Laura, too, was always a step ahead of things, was always planning, scheming. It was a part of what made her so fascinating to Tory. It wasn’t what pulled her like a moth to a flame, though, what made Laura a riddle she desperately wanted to solve. There was more to Laura Roslin than her absolute focus on work. Whatever she did, she never lacked compassion, although she never let it influence her decisions. Not many people knew what her decisions had cost her, but Tory knew about the nightmares, about the nights Laura hadn’t found any sleep because her own consciousness wouldn’t let her rest. Compassion… an intriguing feeling, one that made people suffer, one Tory rarely felt a hint of. Hadn’t her parents loved her? Didn’t she have some good friends throughout school, in college? So what was missing? Why was she different? Questions and more questions. Still, one thing never changed, being around Laura, she felt whole, felt accepted for what she was.
Now, she offered to share a bed with the very same woman. A beautiful, stubborn, one of a kind individual, and it made her nervous, made her feel like she had before her very first date.
Not that she thought Laura had any idea of her feelings, not at all. Not that she would ever reciprocate. No, her heart belonged to Adama, the only one who could work around the shields she liked to erect around herself. Was it too much to wish for to have Laura look at her only once like she looked at Adama? Just one single time, she wanted one of those heart-warming smiles to be directed at her. Maybe it would help to melt some of the ice around her heart.
Preparing for bed an hour later, Laura knew Tory was watching her from her seat at the small table. Something was off with Tory, and Laura was sure it had something to do with her staying the night. She wouldn’t have done it had she seen a possibility to reach home safely. But she hadn’t had any other choice, it was like choosing between a rock and a hard place. Tory… she was so different from Billy, something Laura considered a blessing. No one could replace the young man who had been as close as a… No, she had never looked for someone to take the vacant spot in her heart, just for someone to do the job. Tory was the right candidate for that. Keen, never tiring, loyal, she always got the job done. When it came down to work, Tory was more efficient than Billy, but Laura could never quite figure her out.
It was hard to get a glimpse behind the mask Tory showed the world. The young woman seldom smiled, seldom gave any indication she needed something other than food and a cot to sleep on. What was driving her? What were her plans and wishes? Laura wondered, yet she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. To let someone close meant the risk to end up hurt if anything happened to this person. She had lived through these pains far too often so she shied away from a repeat performance. The only exception was Bill Adama, although he had slipped through her defences, had found a way to touch her heart without even trying, without her being able to prevent it.
Thinking of him made her smile, made her wonder how he was faring on Galactica now. Was he pacing the corridors of his too empty ship, as he had confessed doing after the consumption of a herbal smoke, or was he reading in his cabin? She missed him, her heart ached, longed for him, but wishing wouldn’t get her anywhere. It would be another two weeks until he was scheduled for his next visit planet side.
Wearing the shirt Tory had given her to sleep in, , Laura took up some space on the cot. Tory, who had her back to her now, was undressing herself. Was there really any need for extra decency? Hadn’t they all seen more of each other in the public showers than they had ever wanted to, anyway? If Tory didn’t like it, she should try the same in the some twenty-odd years when she had to shower with people who mostly were at least a good ten years younger than she was herself. Laura knew she had a good figure, didn’t need to be ashamed. Still, she didn’t look like a twenty, thirty or even forty year old woman.
Some people had told her they thought of her as a mystery. They should try to figure out Tory.
She and Tory had gotten closer over the months, no wonder with working for the school, with their regular afternoon teas, yet there was a distance they had never bridged. Was it her own fault or had Tory kept her at arm’s length? Laura didn’t know.
Though in the end, it only needed a brief look thrown over Tory’s shoulder as if checking Laura was still there, if she was looking at her, and she had her answer. Be careful what you wish for. One look, a hint of… wanting and Laura’s heart sank. She knew that look, knew what it meant, had been at the receiving end as well as the one pining for something, someone she couldn’t have. Should she have known? Had there been any other indications? Although, wasn’t the fact Tory had conjured up the plan to rig an election quite a hint? Laura knew Tory hated to lose; she had also known that it hadn’t been all, had at least felt it. Sometimes, oblivion was bliss.
Laura quietly shook her head. Sometimes, she had a talent to march over people’s feelings.
A few minutes later, Tory slipped into bed beside her, her back to Laura.
She had to know Laura wasn’t sleeping. Laura contemplated saying something but didn’t know what. Reaching out, she touched Tory’s shoulder with her hand, a light, fleeting touch, causing Tory to turn. For once, Tory’s expression was open, easy to read in the shine of the small fire that heated the tent. Tory opened her mouth once, twice, but nothing was forthcoming.
“I am sorry,” Laura began, and Tory shook her head, inching closer until her mouth nearly touched Laura’s. Laura wanted to pull away, but didn’t want to hurt the other woman. Though then, Tory shook her head, a bitter laugh escaping her before she turned her back to Laura once more.
“It’s not going to happen, is it?” Tory’s voice was quiet, defeated, and Laura felt even worse. The tangled webs human beings wove.
“No, it’s not. But I hope we will keep up our regular tea.” What an inadequate thing to say. People who congratulated Laura on her political, on her verbal skills should see her like that. Yet, maybe Laura could get to know Tory after all, build a friendship. She’d try at least.
“Tea and sympathy,” Tory mumbled. Then with a voice that sounded more like her usual self but was utterly fake, she continued, “But of course. It’s not as if there are many things to enjoy down here.”
There wasn’t, and sometimes, tea and sympathy were all you could expect.
They both fell silent, and although Laura listened to Tory’s breathing evening out after a while, it took her much longer to fall asleep. Her thoughts were whirling. Tory wanted more than she could have, Laura wanted Bill but knew a real relationship wasn’t possible, Bill wanted the same but was often too busy to blame himself for too many things to enjoy the moments they had.
Humanity deserved to be served, Laura would give everything in her to help this cause along, but survival didn’t come with a promise of happiness. As a teacher without any real power, she couldn’t do much to help the people’s destiny, but she could at least try to be a friend to her former aide. Tory was young, there was still life to be lived, love to be explored. She should open her eyes to what could be. If Laura could be a friend along the way, she would; if not, she’d have tried.
It was much later when she fell asleep, that the winds howled around the tent, accompanying her all the way into her dreams.
“Thanks for the tea, Tory.”
Not even bothering with a nod, Tory left what counted as the president’s private quarters, even if a curtain was the only thing separating this space from the rest of the ship.
Hearing a soft laughter, she knew she was already forgotten, most probably had been dismissed before the cup of tea had found its way on the small table beside the president’s couch. If the admiral had wondered why she hadn’t offered him a refreshment, he hadn’t complained at least. Although, he seemed to be too engrossed in being with the president to really care.
Would the president even notice if she stopped this daily ritual? Tory was under no illusion it meant more to her than it ever had for the president; still, it was her only connection to better times – a sign of how desperate and dire these times usually were when New Caprica counted for better.
Sitting down with a glass of recycled water, facing the fresh stack of papers awaiting the president’s office’s attention, she allowed her mind to drift for a minute, back to the night it had become obvious there would never be more than maybe a tentative friendship between Laura and her. Sure, they had still seen each other nearly every afternoon – only when the admiral wasn’t around, though – had even built a fragile friendship. However, it had never been enough to warm her heart; these conversations hadn’t helped her last through the lonely nights.
“Oh, Bill,” she heard the president giggling slightly, and wondered how the dry humour of the admiral could have managed to release this utmost compelling sound. Never had Laura released it in Tory’s presence, but she wasn’t the person the president really wanted to be with, the person around who she lowered her guard. How long? How long before Tory realised the futility of her feelings, until even the last shred of humanity inside of her would run cold? What would it make of her? She didn’t know, didn’t quite care.
Taking the first reports, she began to work, only to realise a few minutes later she had forgotten to take a report the president had signed earlier when she had gone in to tell her the admiral was on his way. If everything worked out according to schedule, the courier from the Atlantia would arrive in ten minutes. Cursing her own distraction, she got up, really not wanting to intrude now.
She should call out, maybe clear her throat, but something had her all but tiptoe toward the curtain, drawing it back enough so she could take a peek inside.
The admiral was sitting beside the president now, her glasses in one of his hands, while the other was cupping her jaw. They were smiling at each other, their gazes locked, and so much was said although they both remained silent. They were in love with each other. Knowing it was one thing, but seeing it so blatantly displayed, it was like a kick into her stomach. As her hand let go slowly of the curtain, she saw how their faces tilted, slowly nearing each other before the curtain had fallen closed completely.
Tory had known the two of them were intimate since their very first time, the quiet contentment of Laura having given her away. Yet, she had never been privy to such private a moment.
Facing the courier of the Atlantia, she found some lame excuse which the young woman swallowed without further comment at the sight of her. Did she look so scary? So cold? Lost? Surely not lost, although she felt this way.
Her own tea being cold by now, she still wrapped her hands around the cup, losing herself in her memories. How Laura had turned the night they had spent in one bed, searching out Tory’s warmth, snuggling close, mumbling Adama’s name. A stab to Tory’s heart, yet she had been unable to refuse the other’s woman’s warmth, her scent, to feel her close only once.
Looking into her cup, no steam rising up any longer, she sighed. A change was coming, she could feel it. Changes seldom meant something good, and Tory doubted it would this time. Chances that were lost would never come back again. The road not taken would always remain lost in the mist of the past. Doors closed wouldn’t open. Forward was the only way to go. Although why, when she looked ahead and only saw darkness and no light?
The soft rumble of the admiral’s chuckle was heard through the curtain. Tory bit back a snort. Darkness awaited them all, and the admiral was a fool if he refused to see it.
Grabbing the nearest report, she shut out all thoughts, the voices, the longing of her heart. She was good at her job, so it was what she did. Always. Until the darkness would swallow her whole.