“Raptor Five is away, sir,” Dualla informed the Admiral. “Prometheus has cleared it for landing.” At his nod she picked up the comm handset. “Raptor Five, you are cleared for landing. Hands-on approach, t-minus four minutes.” She replaced the handset, and the transmission went back to being broadcast over the speakers.
“Wilco, Galactica,” Racetrack’s response echoed through CIC. “Readings nominal, setting course heading two-six-niner-five....Frak!”
An explosion was heard, followed by eerie silence; something had gone wrong on the Raptor. Gritty feedback signified that some kind of communication had been quickly re-established.
“Frak me, Galactica,” yelled Racetrack. “We’re in a flat spin, RCS thrusters stuck in full position. We are on a collision course with...Colonial One. Starting eject sequence.”
“Hope to see you all real soon,” added Skulls.
Bill snatched up a handset, not noticing his hand was shaking. “Auxiliary power?” he barked. “Avert your trajectory!”
“Negative, Actual,” came Racetrack’s nervous response. "Systems unresponsive, fire in the engine tube. Sorry, sir. Impact in approximately...ten seconds. Racetrack out.”
“Ejection complete,” confirmed Gaeta moments later from his station by the DRADIS.
In his mind, Bill was paralyzed by fear. Some subconscious part of him took over, ordering a SAR team to pick up Racetrack and Skulls and telling Saul to hail Colonial One to warn it of the impending impact. But it was too late.
“The Raptor has made impact with the port side of Colonial One,” Dualla reported.
He leaned heavily against the console. It was times like this in which he most resented the constraints of command. He wanted to be on the emergency response squad right now, being the first to see for himself whether she was all right. Instead, he’d have to wait.
He’d lost more than one love to spacecraft accidents before. He didn’t think he could bear to go through it again.
Love. He needed to tell her. If he still could.
He needed a drink. But all of it would have to wait, he acknowledged to himself as he returned his attention to the crisis at hand.
He wanted her close to him.
Since they'd left New Caprica, since she’d resumed the Presidency, he hated that she lived on a different ship. If she lived with him, he and his people could protect her, keep her safe.
It was an impossibility.
He'd spoken to her briefly after confirming with Cottle that she was uninjured. Her voice was slightly shaky and she was distracted as he overheard her reassuring others that the ship would be all right, that she wouldn't be reducing the number on her whiteboard today. He told her to stay close to her marines in the undamaged part of the ship, that he'd be over as soon as he could.
They had certain responsibilities.
And after his shift finally ended and Bill boarded the Raptor that would shuttle him over to her, he hated that one of his own pilots had nearly killed her by crashing into her ship. Only a small shift in space or time could have meant he’d be planning a funeral, not a mere relocation.
She should be immortal.
He’d offer her a place to stay on Galactica, he decided the instant the Raptor left the flight pod. Her and anyone else from her staff she needed close. Quarters were tight, but no more so than Colonial One would be with half the ship under repair. He’d find a way to make it work. He knew from experience that there were many beds on his Battlestar: 5,388, not including the civilians’ rag-pile lairs in Dogsville. He shook his head, thinking of Laura slumming in Dogsville or the pilots’ duty locker.
She should be in his bed.
“Sir?” Starbuck interrupted his thoughts, unwittingly pulling him back from the precipice of erotic fantasy. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “We’ve got the docking collar secured. You can go ahead in.”
She was waiting for him, sitting alone outside the room that Cottle had repurposed as a triage area. She wore a ragged sweater wrapped over her suit and a somewhat dazed look on her face.
"Laura," he breathed in relief at seeing her. She stood as he approached, stiff as he tentatively placed his hands on her upper arms in a quasi-hug. He had to touch her, feel her, to reassure himself she was really there.
"Been an exciting day over here," she said dryly. "Are your pilots all right?"
"Little shaken up but physically fine," he said, dropping his hands from her shoulders and placing them at rest.
"Oh my gods, Bill. Tory and I looked up and an instant later saw this huge flaming thing heading straight for us. I'm so relieved they got out in time," she said.
"We got off lucky," he said. "A dozen injuries, no fatalities."
She hummed her concurrence. "Would you mind helping me retrieve some essential files from the damaged area so we can move them to the lower deck? Most of my aides are still being treated," she said, gesturing to the room on the other side of the curtain from which various moans and groans could be heard.
He wasn’t ready to get right to work. After a quick glance around to ensure that they were alone, Bill gave in to his urge to touch her, wrapping her in his strong arms. “I almost lost you, Laura,” he whispered as she relaxed against his body. He cradled her head against his shoulder and stroked her hair as they rocked together gently.
“Not today, Bill,” she said, pulling back with a sad smile. “Not yet.”
He carried a stack of files twice the height of hers as he followed her through Colonial One’s only corridor. “You know,” she said as she set the papers down with a sigh, “I am so busy, I almost never make it down to this end of the ship. And now I’ll be living here for gods know how long until they can repair the bulkheads.”
Bill surveyed the low-ceilinged room, crowded with a makeshift Presidential desk, several cots and chairs, and a small swarm of confused- and tired-looking people.
He should say what he’d come here to say. But caution drew him back, made him dress up the cherished notion in vague innuendo.
“Quarters look a bit cramped,” he said, raising his eyebrow. “You know you’re always welcome in one of my beds.”
At Laura’s smirk, he knew she’d gotten the meaning of what he was trying to say. From her silence, he knew she wouldn’t have been receptive if he had been any more forceful in his suggestion.
He knows her well enough that he should have realized that no matter how he’d said it, she would insist on staying here: independent, among her people. Undistracted.
“In a manner of speaking,” he added lamely.
He felt like he’d let an important opportunity slip away. The adrenaline flow that had spiked out of fear for her safety had receded; his confident resolve that he would make her come with him so he could protect her seemed silly as she stood before him, whole and unharmed.
“I know,” she said softly.
A rap on the hatch announced her arrival, somewhat unexpected but entirely welcome. She’d been in and out of his quarters all day, but always with other people around. A glance at his watch told him it was nearly 2200 hours. It had been a long, long day.
He started to rise from the rack, where he’d been reviewing the updated fuel consumption reports and a projection of the Fleet’s tylium refining capabilities now that the strike had been resolved. The numbers looked good; they would soon be back on the road to Earth.
“Bill?” Laura called, closing the hatch behind her.
“Be right there,” he replied, tossing the reports aside and pushing himself off his rack with a grunt. He rubbed his eyes and considered putting his jacket back on, but shrugged. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen him in tanks before. He did, however, figure that decorum required that he at least fasten his pants for the President.
He met her in front of his desk, where she was setting down a folder. “Proposals for the work rotation program,” she said. “I thought you’d be interested, since it will affect the civilians living on Galactica.”
Bill nodded. “Thank you. I’ll take a look at it.”
“Later,” she said, backing away from the desk toward the leather couch. “I have something for you that I found while I was arranging my new living space on Colonial One.” She kicked off her shoes and sat down, patting the space next to her.
“Oh yeah?” he said as he complied with her unspoken order and turned to face her.
“It’s … a present. Well, more of a promise, really,” she said with a mischievous smile. She leaned back into the soft leather and tucked her feet up under her body.
“Laura...what is it?” he asked, genuinely curious about what could have brought her here, apparently not on business, at such a late hour.
“As you said a couple of days ago, we have certain responsibilities,” she began. “And I just wanted to let you know that while that is more true than ever right now, there are times when I very much wish that was not the case.” Her eyes drifted from his face down to his chest and well-muscled arms, and a pretty flush crept across her cheeks when she realized she’d been caught staring.
“But it is,” he said.
“But maybe one day it won’t be,” she replied forcefully. She unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse and reached into her bra. Her movements were slow, deliberate; clearly, she knew he was watching, and had no reservations about pressing her advantage as her fingers trailed over the swells of her breasts.
“Do you remember this? Hmm?” she asked, holding out to him a tightly rolled cigarette undoubtedly containing New Caprica’s finest psychoactive leaf. “Being silly and carefree together? Holding each other beneath the stars? Touching each other, giving and receiving comfort, being human?”
He nodded slowly, taking the joint from her fingertips, rolling it between his own fingers. “I remember all of it,” he whispered brokenly, not looking at her.
She tilted his chin up with her fingers and looked at him intently. “Keep it here, keep it safe. And I promise that one day, when things quiet down enough that we find ourselves with a few hours of free time, we will have that for ourselves again. The good times.”
“The good times,” he echoed. “They were.”
“We will smoke that joint.” She grinned. “And then I will make myself welcome in one of your beds.”
“Here?” he asked. He didn’t mean as opposed to one of Galactica’s other beds.
“Here,” she affirmed. “We have responsibilities, we are making our way to Earth, but Bill, I don’t want to wait until then. Life is too short.”
He chuckled. “As soon as I heard that the ship was damaged but you were all right, my instinct was to go over to Colonial One myself, throw you over my shoulder, bring you back to Galactica, and never let you out of my sight again.”
“My hero,” she said sweetly. She reached out to pat his hand. “Thank you for not doing that, Bill.”
He straightened up. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Madam President.” Looking wistfully down at the joint he still held between his fingertips, he asked, “You sure we can’t smoke this tonight?”
Her lips settled into a firm line as she tried to suppress the mirth beneath. “Not tonight,” she said, moving to rise and slipping her feet back into her shoes. “But soon.”
“It’s not enough to have hope about finding Earth for the Fleet in order to keep going,” he said. “You and I, we need hope for us. That we’ll live life as people again.”
She nodded, pleased at his comprehension. “Now you’ve got it.” She reached down to take the joint from his fingers and walked over to a bookshelf, pulling down a familiar tome and opening it to a random spot. Page sixty-one being as good a place as any, she tucked the promise between the pages before replacing the book. Giving him a heartbreakingly beautiful, if ironic, smile, she told him, “And for the record...I never doubted it.”