When she told him not to touch her, he didn’t.
When she told him to go, he did.
Bill Adama had been taking orders from Laura Roslin since the beginning of the end. Cut and run. Assassinate your superior. Trust the enemy. Torture a man for no good reason. Find this mythical planet, then that one.
Now she was telling him she’d been wrong.
He considered her words as he walked the halls of his ship, the remnants of his once proud crew unraveling around him. Maybe dying in defense of their homeland had been the better option. They would have died with their dignity in tact and life as they knew it more than a faint glimmer in the distant past. Instead they’d spent years being picked off one by one. Combat. Disease. Suicide. Executions. Disappearances.
Was it worth fighting this hard to get from one funeral to the next?
He could hear Laura’s answer in his head. Do we have an alternative, Admiral?
But those were the words of a woman who’d staked her life on getting to Earth. The woman he’d left sitting on the floor, burning everything she believed in, was a mystery to him.
* * * *
Laura Roslin watched the pages of the holy book burn and cursed the gods. She’d accepted her fate in trade for a better future for her people. Now that future had arrived, a bastard twin of the past.
She cursed the gods, and she cursed Bill Adama.
She’d said she was wrong and he didn’t contradict her. She’d confessed her sins to him, as she had so many times, and he’d simply listened.
She’d told him to go; he was gone.
* * * *
When he returned, hours later, Bill found her lying on the floor, clutching that damned plant she’d brought back from the surface. It felt like an eternity had passed since she sent him away. He’d sobered up some though not nearly enough.
He didn’t go to her immediately. Instead he set to the task of cleaning up. Her borrowed fatigues were on the floor along with a wet towel and discarded underwear. Ignored food trays from the galley littered her desk. The book had been reduced to a pile of ash on the charred carpet.
It wasn’t until he knelt beside her to scrape the ashes into a waste bin that she spoke.
“Gonna find us a new home, huh?”
“You know something I don’t?”
“Think they’ll fall for that again?”
He ignored the bitterness of her words. “I dunno. But we can’t just swim out to sea.”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “What?”
“Nothing,” he said, sitting back on his heels. “Just something Saul said. You want to keep the ashes?”
She sat up with a groan. “No. And get rid of this, too.” She dropped the wilted plant into the ashes.
* * * *
Laura watched Bill take the remnants of her self-pity out into the corridor where he’d deposited the rest of the garbage.
We can’t just swim out to sea.
Maybe he couldn’t, but she felt the rip current of her cancer gathering strength. It wouldn’t be long before she could simply ride it into oblivion. Until then, she was bound to care for her ailing body, which was again telling her that it wanted to sleep. She dropped her pajamas onto the bed and started to undress, removing first the wig, then her clothes.
When she heard the hatch open and close, signaling Bill’s return, she was standing in her underwear by the bed. If they’d been in his quarters, finding her like this would have sent him straight to his desk, where he’d sit with his back to her, making a suddenly urgent call or methodically signing reports until she was dressed and in bed.
Unable to watch the pained expression she knew was playing across his face, she turned her back to him. She was fumbling with the clasp on her bra when she felt his fingers brush hers away. He slid the bra from her shoulders and set it on the bed. As he helped her put her pajama top on, he pressed a kiss to her shoulder.
“Come home,” he murmured against her skin.
Another rip current she was tiring of swimming against. “I can’t,” she said. “Not tonight.”
He gently settled her top over her shoulders then ran his hands down her arms. “I don’t like you living here alone.”
“I can take care of myself.” It came out hard and defiant, and it silenced him.
She hated this, the way her frailty brought out the worst in them. She pulled her shirt closed across her shrunken breasts. Again Bill’s hands replaced hers. One by one he lined up the buttons, his strong hands working steadily upward, his breath warm against her neck.
* * * *
Bill hoped he was making things better, not worse, by helping her dress. She sounded tired, defeated, a little angry. It was impossible to guess what she wanted from him. Even after weeks of living with her, he still didn’t know if it was okay to look at her body or whether she wanted to be held when she woke in the night or if she would find it unforgivable that he’d wanted to make love with her every night since she moved in.
When he finished with the buttons, he put his arms around her and pulled her against him. Before he could stop himself, he whispered, “I love you.”
She turned in his arms just enough to kiss the underside of his jaw, his bottom lip, his cheek. Then she gave him a sad smile before climbing into bed, alone.
Not worse, he concluded, but not better.
* * * *
Laura woke to find Bill sitting beside her bed, watching her. The clock read four-fifteen. He’d left after helping her get settled. How long had he waited before returning? His boots were by the door and his jacket hung on the back of his chair. He’d been here a while.
She sat up, her back against the bulkhead, knees drawn up to her chest. She tried to pull a blanket around her shoulders but the bedding was too tangled. Seeing her dilemma, Bill knelt on the rack to separate her favorite blanket from the rest and wrap it around her. Satisfied that she was comfortable, he sat down beside her, legs outstretched, hands clasped in his lap.
Sitting this close, she was reminded of how good he smelled when he was freshly showered and avoiding the bottle that she knew was calling to him in his empty quarters. She’d increasingly begun to see that bottle as her competition; it felt good to win occasionally.
“You can’t stay away, can you?” she said.
“Not for long.”
“Did you get some sleep?”
He shook his head. “I went for a walk.”
“A five hour walk?”
“She’s a big ship.”
The silence stretched between them, taut with the weight of things unsaid. Finally, Bill broke it with a soft, “What’s going on, Laura?”
She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “Other than I’m dying and some of our best people are cylons and Earth is a frakking joke?”
Predictably, he didn’t rise to the bait.
“If the gods exist, they’re laughing at us, you know. Well, at me anyhow,” she said. “Probably at you too, for listening to me.”
“I don’t regret it, if that’s what you mean.”
“You should. Gods, Bill, you should. We’ve made the most dangerous mistake of all.” She looked at him and wasn’t at all surprised to find his blue eyes already intently studying her. “We’ve lost our objectivity. Both of us.”
“What?” she asked.
“I don’t think either of us had a lot of objectivity to begin with.”
Leave it to Bill to boil everything down to a simple truth. They’d both been heavily invested in the survival of the fleet from the start. It was hard to be impartial while balancing the fate of humanity in their hands.
“You need to cut yourself some slack on this, Laura.”
She didn’t want his easy consolation but she was so tired--of fighting, of thinking, of regret and self-recrimination. With a sigh, she tipped her head back against the bulkhead, closing her eyes against the tears that were threatening. “I wanted so badly to believe in something.”
“We all did. That belief is what gave us the strength to come this far.”
Logically, she knew he was right. Emotionally, she was terrified at the dangerous extremes that belief had led her to. She’d taken up the mantle of Pythia out of desperation, and desperate people had placed their trust in her. What had she been thinking, stepping into the role of a holy woman?
She was certain she’d violated all of Pythia’s prime injunctions many times over, even as she was swathing herself in the prophecy. A lying tongue. A covetous heart. A mind that devises wicked plots. Before learning about the parallels between the Pythian prophecy and her life, she’d rarely given a second thought to religion. If only Bill had known her before the end of the worlds, before the cancer, he would have known what an unlikely prophet Laura Roslin was.
“The first time I ever attended temple,” she said, “was the day of President Adar’s swearing in.”
Bill grunted some noncommittal encouragement. She told him how Richard had insisted that his cabinet members attend services and be seen doing it, how he thought it was important to associate his administration with strong family values. She didn’t need to point out the irony; Bill knew about her affair with Richard, thanks to a stoned confession made under the stars. She told him how Billy’s first official task had been to brief her on religious protocol and how she learned much later that he wasn’t a believer either. Then she told him why she picked Billy over the seventeen other candidates she interviewed, how he reminded her of a boy in her class the year she started teaching, and how the boy had died of a rare bone cancer during Solstice break.
What she didn’t tell him was how she’d spent the entire break agonizing over how to explain cancer and death to her students when she couldn’t make sense of it herself.
* * * *
While Laura talked, Bill had a sense that she was unburdening herself, but all he was hearing was a jumble of memories from before the fall. She talked for a long time, tracing some unseen thread back to the year she started teaching. It was a sad story but he couldn’t help smiling at the thought of her, fresh out of college, ready to change the world. He’d been the same way at that age, certain he could single-handedly defeat the cylons if only his commanders would turn him loose.
At some point he’d rearranged the pillows and coaxed her into lying down beside him. He rubbed her back as she talked, his palm tracing wide circles up and down her spine.
Eventually, Laura fell silent. He was drifting off to sleep when she said, “I’ve missed this.”
He knew exactly what this meant: the nights they’d spent in her tent, lying together in the dark, talking about their pasts and their future while they recovered from the overzealous lovemaking that always followed his arrival on the planet. He smiled as he recalled the times they’d wanted each other so badly that he’d simply lifted her skirt, pulled aside her panties and buried himself inside her, unwilling to waste the time it would take to undress.
With the urgency gone, they often retreated to Laura’s makeshift bed, where they spent hours talking, laughing, and touching until they found themselves making love again. He enjoyed those second rounds most, the way he could stay hard so long for her, bringing her to one orgasm after another until she finally urged him on to his own climax.
The memories rushed in so vividly that he couldn’t control his body’s response. Suddenly uncomfortable, he pulled one of the blankets across his groin.
* * * *
As much as she tried to avoid making comparisons, there were times when Laura found it difficult to ignore the stark contrasts between then and now. Watching Bill settle the blanket over the bulge in his trousers, she was struck by how much they hid from each other now. There was a time when Bill’s reaction to his arousal would have been to unzip his pants and proudly show her the effect she had on him, certain that she would take him in her mouth or straddle his hips without hesitation.
The memory of that easy intimacy made her heart ache with loss. They’d had a future then, even if it was a grim one, and they’d had each other. Now, each passing day felt like a missed opportunity.
It had become painfully obvious that Bill wasn’t going to make the first move. Whatever pedestal he’d placed her on, she was going to have step down from it by herself. Knowing that he still wanted her gave her courage. Still, she wasn’t ready to take that first step today.
She asked him when he was due in CIC.
He glanced at the clock. “In a couple of hours.”
“Will you stay for breakfast?”
“You’re hungry?” The surprise--and hope--in his voice was painfully obvious. His arms tightened around her. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that feeling better was merely a detour on the path to getting worse.
“I guess I am a little hungry,” she said.
“Should I call down to the galley?” he asked, starting to sit up.
She put a hand on his chest to still him. “Not yet. Let’s enjoy this a little longer.”
She felt him relax beside her until the rhythm of his breathing evened out. In sleep, his hands sought familiar places. One cradled her head, perhaps searching for the hair that he caressed only in dreams now. The other stole under her shirt and came to rest in the soft curve below her ribs.
Lying in Bill's arms, Laura considered her options. Fate had wrested choice from her. With the prophecy no more than a charred ruin, she’d been handed a chance to reclaim her future.
She would begin again. Time might be short, but she would make the best of it.
* * * *
For the first time in years, Bill awoke to the warmth of Laura’s body beside his. Though they’d shared his rack a few times after she moved in, by some unspoken agreement, one of them always slipped away in the middle of the night.
He did a quick mental inventory and was relieved to find that his hands hadn’t strayed into territory that would require an apology. While his brain couldn’t forget that he and Laura were no longer lovers, his body often did.
Beside him, Laura yawned and stretched.
“Hey sailor,” she said, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Smiling, Bill kissed the top of her head. That was the way she’d greeted him on his first visit planet-side, and on every visit after. The term shore leave was yet another thing about the military that she assured him made no sense.
He turned onto his side, tucking one arm under his head.
“Good morning,” he said.
Resting her forehead against his, she slipped a finger under the chain of his tags. The brush of her finger along his neck sent a shiver down his spine. He captured her wayward hand so he could settle it on the mattress between them.
She twined her fingers through his, a smile lighting her face. “I could get used to this,” she said.
They had gotten used to this once. He pushed aside the memories of the heartache he suffered when it ended. Laura was smiling. He wouldn’t be the one to take that away from her today. Returning her smile, he asked, “Is that invitation for breakfast still good?”
“As long as you’re buying.”
With a laugh, he reached for the comm unit by the bed.
Something had changed for her, he could tell by the sound of her voice, by the way her smile lit up her eyes. While he was tempted to ask about it, he decided it could wait. He added the question to his growing list: How were they going pacify the fleet? Why was she skipping her treatments? When would she be ready to move back in with him? All things they would have to confront eventually, but not today.
Today they were going to have breakfast and he was going to be a little late getting to the CIC and that was all the future he needed right now.