Pairing: Laura Roslin/Bill Adama
Summary: They also serve, who only stand and wait. Laura waits for Bill to come home from a war that wasn’t his to fight.
Original Story: Penelope and Odysseus by obsessive_a101
Author’s Notes Thanks to my wonderful betas and encouragers!
Someone was always watching her. Not as a sentry watches a checkpoint, or a soldier watches a DRADIS screen…more like a has-been paparazzo and a star of a beloved bygone show. Not too close, with a touch of fondness, scraps of attention browning around the edges. The teacher, the one so good with the children, was how more and more people seemed to see her as they watched her move around the small struggling town. She wondered if they still saw the politician she’d been, or if her transformation had been completed in the Bill years.
The years of them.
The two years that should have laid the foundation for their old age, the seasons that had forged her warrior mate’s sword into plowshares. Laura had entered the passing days into her journals, a new one for each year. She’d started with the early days, marking the entries of Bill’s shore leave with discreet stars in the upper left hand corner, sketched above more prosaic descriptions of outings and building and planting. One or two, sometimes three stars, bringing a flush to her cheeks as she scanned the lines about meetings and lesson plans.
Once he settled for good, her journal was their shared log: what worked well in the garden, the PSI of the new well pump, weather patterns and repairs. She still sketched tiny discreet stars, sometimes sparse, sometimes abundant, decorating one page after another. Sometimes he or she would flip back to double-starred days with a smile, and they’d snuggle and share memories…was it the wine that season, or the unusually warm weather, or the anniversary of their first kiss?
The day the Cylons came, she made no entry at all, other than two thick black lines crossing in the center of the page.
She finished the journal with short, clipped paragraphs about the children’s progress, reminders of materials to cadge. The late-night talks, Bill coming back from Cylon meetings looking like he’d aged a year in an hour, the meetings with other settlers, clandestine and hurried in out-of-the-way places…those were recorded in her memory only.
The day he strode away, leader of the Cylon-Colonial Allied Forces, she began a new journal. Ink stained her fingers as she fiddled with her pen. Should she write down her feelings at his leaving? Or the promises he made, they both made? Should she record her fury at the Cylons, dragging an aging retiree back into a fight that wasn’t his?
In the end, she wrote a simple Admiral Adama was deployed today, taking the position of Fleet leader of the allied forces. Her pen tore the paper on the last word. She smoothed the edges back together with her finger. The words blurred in front of her eyes and she blinked angrily until her vision cleared. When he returned, she’d show him how she’d spent her days while he was gone. There would be no tear-stained pages to prick at his heart.
She pulled the watchers into her circle, using their curiosity to form alliances of her own. She outlined her hopes for the children’s education. A solid Colonial education, heavy on all things Caprican, was easy enough; she could teach that in her sleep. But the fishing traditions of Picon, the homesteading ways of the early Tauron prairie, the herb medicine of Scorpia…she pulled other adults into her tent school, mining their memories for lesson plans.
Baltar seemed to like her more and more frequent field trips away from town. Maybe he was ashamed for the youth of New Caprica to see him stumbling for the public bathrooms in the late morning, sometimes not getting there fast enough (the spaceship plumbing of Colonial One had given up months ago, never designed for years on the ground). Maybe he just liked the peace and quiet, no boisterous voices to jar his aching head.
She tried and failed to keep the pride out of the lines in her journal. New, meatier types of fish were found in a bay two days’ walk from town. A grove of trees of a type they hadn’t seen before bore huge nuts with a bready flesh and, when pressed, yielded a vitamin-rich oil. It was three days to get there and three days back.
Her journal began to list students who asked to form temporary camps at the more distant discoveries. Some parents argued, some didn’t, some joined them. The remnants of the politician Laura had been tugged at her conscience. It was the have-nots, mostly, who wanted to go further afield, the ones who hadn’t made it out of tents and into wooden cabins before the Cylons came.
And the mothers of older children, the ones solidly into their teen years, were pushing ahead with expansion as well. The conscription had taken so many of the young men and women, but the Cylons didn’t seem to process that the children passed over were growing, coming into their own strength and experience. Was the fighting going well? Was it going badly? Who among the humans really knew for sure? Everyone was well aware the Cylons had forced conscription once. They could certainly do that again if they needed more fodder.
If the people keeping an eye on Laura Roslin noticed she taught a younger group these days, or that the shantytown part of New Caprica was becoming less inhabited, they kept it to themselves. Regular vendors coming into town with new foodstuffs and medicines to trade were more than welcome. The Cylons who asked accepted vague explanations of temporary camps while the fish were running or a harvest was coming into fruition. Their attention stayed focused on their own fighting and internal politics, and their requests for updates on the humans became perfunctory at best.
A few Cylons, a kindly Eight, a mystical Two, kept coming to her cabin, propelled by what, the Gods only knew. They brought scraps of information for a time, that Bill was alive and still fighting. And then even those bits dwindled, and the Twos, when they saw her, spoke of destiny and heaven. She began meeting them at her door when she saw them coming, forestalling any misguided comfort or concern with excuses of business. Teaching children on a new planet was unbelievably challenging, she told them. If she was to keep up, she needed all her time to plan and prepare.
The visits stopped. Their ending made her less lonely somehow.
She tried once, only once, to write as if she were writing a letter to Bill. The second she penned My dearest love, the walls closed around her, pressing, strangling with fear and grief. She left her home (their home) that night, walking by moonlight past the edges of town, beyond where the last path faded into brush and scrabble. She could almost feel Bill by her side, pushing aside a bramble, holding back a branch.
There was no paper to stain here, no children to frighten. The ring he’d taken off his hand and put on hers ages ago glinted in the dimness, a beacon in the dark. Let the storm come. I’ll guide you through. She held back until she found a safe level spot on the bank of a stream. She sat and finally gave in to the tears...the first, quietly slipping down her cheeks, carrying her fears, her worry.
The day would come, she knew, when she’d have to write the last words about him, the final entry, horrible knowledge replacing uncertainty. Her weeping became harsh sobs, ugly keening that twisted and ached. When it finally slowed, she was numb...too drained to face the dark walk back to town.
The groundcover was mossy and soft, and in that moment it made perfect sense to lie on her back and lose herself in the stars overhead.
He’s not in the pages of a journal. He’s up there, right up there. Peace had been her blanket that night, and she let the thought of him guide her into sleep.
That was the first night she’d slept in the open, slipping out of town by moonlight.
More would follow.
If anyone noticed, they shrugged it off as an uncomfortable but harmless coping mechanism. Maybe she was rejecting news of the fighting but others weren’t, and dire rumors of lost raptors and blasted vipers circulated among the colonials. The Admiral was dead, or captured, or lost on a bad FTL jump, or mangled in an accident, or beating the other forces back to the far reaches of space.
The rumors were never that credible, but they all had one theme in common: Adama wasn’t coming back any time soon, if he came back at all. After everything Laura Roslin had done for them, the least the Colonials could do was to let her mourn in peace, in her own way. Everyone could agree on that.
A path began to emerge where she took her moonlit walks.
Her return to town came later and later in the day. She seemed to be doing better…even the children noticed. A rumor began that she was meeting a lover on her walks (started by someone on Colonial One, no doubt) but most declared she was beginning to heal. A few (a very few) speculated she was getting over Adama, and the day would come when someone would accompany her on her walks, then join her in the cabin the admiral had built with her.
Maybe’s he’s with her, in some way we don’t understand, said others. Old women shared glances and murmured about love and mystery.
When Laura sought out a settler who’d been a miner on Canceron before the attacks, the rumors twisted, that she was looking to repartner, that she knew the Admiral was gone.
Then she met with a one-legged craftsman from Leonis, and the rumors turned again. There were secrets swirling around the former President, and her efforts in safeguarding the Colonial youth, teaching the children, and expanding the human reach of New Caprica took a back seat to more salacious curiosity.
Despite the speculation bandied about in Joe’s Bar, no one could quite get a fix on who the frontrunner was for Laura’s attention. It wasn’t Tom Zarek, although he’d been left out of conscription for reasons unknown. He’d slunk around her cabin a time or two, shared a drink once in awhile, but no one had seen anything more than that. She’d gone to Colonial One once or twice, grim-faced and angry, boot heels biting into the dirt, but even the most gutter-minded didn’t think she’d have anything to do with Baltar, even if he did cast cow-eyes at her when he wasn’t drunk-frakking an assistant or two.
She borrowed a sketch-pad from his office stock once, someone said, a departure from the lined journals she usually sought. No one knew what to make of that. Or of the black smoke that sometimes billowed from her stovepipe chimney.
Another season passed. White featherings began at her temples. A few military men returned from battle, then a few more, and still more. They ate soup made with fresh vegetables from her garden and talked about what they’d last heard of Bill Adama. A reconnaissance mission, a raptor, a missed jump. They slurped down her soup and munched on roasted breadfruit from the south settlement, shrugging their shoulders and apologizing for so few facts. Offers were made to thank her for her hospitality, encouraged by the remnants of old rumors.
Each was declined, with references to her busyness, her commitment to those who needed her. She never had to add that her heart still belonged to Bill Adama…that was a given, even with those who would take what was left.
The speculation about Laura Roslin ended the day New Caprica woke to a complete absence of Cylons.
Only Laura on her midnight walkabout, and maybe a few insomniacs, had seen the bright flashes of the departing ships. In the middle of the night with no warning, they’d left everyone wondering which side had won: were they fleeing ahead of capture, or were they off to claim the spoils of war? Would they return? Would the other side become the new occupiers? Anxiety ramped up, then ebbed, as the settlement adjusted, once more, to a new normal.
She had thought she’d get used to it too, the occupation being over, but she still went around tight as a bow string. Her nerves only loosened when she was busy with her tiny mallet and tools, lamp turned up high. Morning after morning, they tightened up again.
The shimmering sky frightened the younger children. Laura raised her voice to get their attention, then began calming them. Her youngest students hadn’t seen many spacecraft move in and out of atmo, and the Cylon Exodus had been over a year ago.
Maybe someone from one of the other settlements was starting some flight training. Enough had returned from the war. Lee was back, and Kara, setting up their home as far from New Caprica City as possible. Or maybe Helo…
She stared at the raptor as it glided to the ground. No, Karl Agathon would never let a raptor in his care get in that condition. Dented, dirty, one strut badly cracked…it was a mess.
It looked like it had been through a war.
She was running towards the settling bird before she realized what she was doing.
She’d imagined this moment so many times, her saying his name joyfully, lovingly, relief and months of pent-up hope making a song of the one short syllable.
She’d never imagined there’d be a questioning note to it.
The old man stayed in his seat as the hatch opened, slowly turning and grabbing hand-holds to lever himself up. At this angle she had to shield her eyes against the sun behind him. His frame looked different, a stoop to his shoulders that hadn’t been there before, a slight canting to the right.
His chuckle sounded like him, though.
“Yeah, it’s me.” He groaned as he stretched out to his full height, then carefully clambered down out of the Raptor. She took in the sight of him from the back. His hair was white with streaks of iron-grey, pulled back and tied at the back of his neck. He turned and the sun finally touched his face. The moustache he’d sported before had grown into a shaggy beard. Finally he smiled. The shape of his mouth and those blue-blaze eyes reassured her.
She moved closer and reached out to cup his cheek. Her second “Bill” was a declaration, strong and sure.
“It’s good to see you, Laura. I thought--” His features twisted. Then he was opening his arms and she was moving into them and there was no need for words. Those would come later, with kisses, questions, loving caresses. Right now it was enough, even critical that she just stand pressed against him, breathing in his scent, feeling their hearts beating together again.
They’d begun speaking, finally--a mix of “Gods” and “missed you” and “love you”--when the others joined them. Bill straightened and became the leader again, giving a short speech of the war ending, leaving him with a battered, barely functioning bird to bring him limping home. His arm never left her waist as he talked, and Laura realized he was leaning on her for support.
He promised more details at a later time, but right now, he wanted to go home, just wanted be with his wife.
The people who had made a habit out of watching the former president (now mostly from a sense of nostalgia) noted that the phrase “making their way” had never been more apt. The couple took their steps with a deliberation that suggested movement had become stiff, maybe painful. Their hips bumped awkwardly and it took a minute or two for arms and hands to settle properly around shoulder and waist. One or two old-timers remembered them dancing together years ago, an almost-forgotten Colonial Day celebration. Looking back, they seemed so young then.
A handful of men drank more deeply at the bar that night, toasting Bill Adama’s return, letting go of any hope that Laura Roslin might one day look at them as more than a fellow New Caprican. Talk turned to the mysterious project that had kept Laura busy when she wasn’t teaching, then speculation of Adama’s travails in getting back. Something in their community felt whole tonight, like a long-broken watch had started ticking again.
“What happened to your leg?” she asked, opening their front door.
“Took some shrapnel towards the end. If I can move around it’s not too bad,” he said, wincing. “If I sit too long, it stiffens up on me.”
He stepped away from her as they entered the cabin, turning slowly to take it all in. “I thought about this place...you in this place, so much. Whenever things got bad, I’d imagine you standing right here, by the door, saying ‘welcome home, sweetheart.’” His eyes softened. “Your hair would be moving a little, like a breeze was coming in through the window. You’d be holding your hand out, and I’d see my ring on your finger, shining in the sun.” He clenched his hand into a fist without seeming to notice, and she was surprised to see, after all this time, there was still a slight indention where his ring had once been.
She moved around him and he around her, their love and their separation, their changes, struggling to find a calm harbor. They talked of simple things.
Lee had come back in the same wave as Kara. They’d both been worried sick, not knowing his fate. They’d be there in the morning, their regular visit. The baby made traveling a little harder. Willa had her father’s eyes, her mother’s stubborn chin.
Yes, Laura was still teaching.
Some people had passed on. Some babies had been born. Baltar had stopped drinking. Zarek had become Senior Peacekeeper.
She asked about the hair, standing behind him and untying it, letting it fall, grey-white drifts around his shoulders.
No barbers, he said, shrugging. It was easier to let it go. The resignation in his voice told her more than she was ready to hear about the months he’d spent finding his way back. She hugged him hard, arms around his chest and her nose buried in his hair.
“I can’t wait to see your face again,” she said, her hand running over the unkempt beard. “But if you want to leave your hair like this…” She laughed, then he did, and more pieces of them, the whole they formed, slipped into place.
They walked through the prosaic steps of homecoming: the food and drink, his first bath in ages, the words left unsaid as they looked, then touched, re-learning each other’s flesh, the changes and the constants.
Questions hovered around them, each hungry for the details of the other’s past months, wanting to erase the absence while knowing they couldn’t. Bill’s eyes fell on a new space, a workbench, bits and pieces of metal and stone he didn’t recognize. Tools he didn’t remember them owning.
“I’ll tell you later,” she whispered, shrugging off her last piece of clothing and welcoming him back into their bed.
It was slow, then fast...awkward, then sure. It took only minutes to adjust to new aches, some stiffness in the joints of both that hadn’t been there before. They giggled and chuckled in the dark, thankful they had a bed now, reminiscing about hard ground and burlap pillows. Then the tinder caught and they moved together again, wordless, in perfect harmony. The hard tellings, the painful sharings would come in time, but for now, joy was waiting to take them and they grabbed it willingly, gratefully.
Bill came slowly out of the first deep sleep he’d had in ages. Something was different...not the cabin, or the homey smells of toast and what passed for coffee here. Not the warm scented space next to him, still holding Laura’s impression. He did what he’d come to think of as his personal systems check. There was something strange…
There was a ring on his finger.
A pang shot through him...he’d meant for his ring to stay on Laura’s hand for the rest of their lives. Why would she--no, this wasn’t the same ring. The thickness was off. And there was a roughness around the band he didn’t remember.
“Honey?” he called, pulling on his clothes.
“In here,” she answered.
He joined her in the kitchen, greeting her with a fierce hug, still not quite believing he’d really made it back. He held out his hand, the gold shining.
“Where’d you get this? And when? I love it,” he added, hoping he didn’t sound too questioning.
“I was going to give it to you after breakfast, then I remembered waking up to your ring on my finger that time I was so sick,” she said, giving him a soft smile. “It made me feel so cared for then. I decided I wanted to give that to you.”
His heart swelled. She must have bought this, or bartered for it, long before he came back. So not just a token of love...it was a sign of her hope, her belief he’d return.
They sat down to eat. Somewhere between the toast and the eggs, she told him the story of his ring.
He put his fork down and listened, sitting still as a statue. Something in her eyes told him this would hurt to hear.
She’d given in to despair one evening. Everyone she saw was a reminder of him, of his absence. Why was this person, that person, here and not him? She had to get as far away from the wrongness of it as she could. She’d been at her limit and she couldn’t...she broke off then and couldn’t meet his eyes. Her story continued. She’d fallen asleep way out of town and wasn’t looking forward to waking up. If she could have stayed in the dark forever, star-gazing and thinking of him, she would have.
Morning had come, and she’d noticed something sparkling in the stream next to her. Just a few at first, then her gaze focused on the sandy bottom and she saw more. Tiny gold flecks, scattered across the streambed like a thousand stars. A hundred thousand. A million.
She’d brought a handful of gravel and gold flakes to a miner in town. He’d told her what to do, how to sift and wash through the grit.
The miner had understood when she declined his help at the stream. She accepted his offer to craft a crude smelting bowl, and to find her a substance that was close enough to borax.
It was a learning process, she said, gesturing to the faint scars on her arms Bill was just now noticing, but she got better as time went on.
Bill held her hand, kissing reverently along the marks, as she talked.
Another man in the settlement had been a jeweler eons ago, before the attacks. He’d shown her how to make the forms, draw the gold into shape, hammer out the finish.
So much trouble, he said, humbled.
I needed something to keep me busy, after school let out. After just...surviving another day, she responded, her voice shaky, worry echoing even now, with him sitting in front of her.
She put off finishing it, though. She’d do the last step when he came back, she said.
The hope, the fear in that last sentence, the when, the unspoken if brought his first tear, then the next.
Before she’d started breakfast, she went on, she’d gone to her workbench one last time, gently filing and polishing until it shone in the early morning sun, memories keeping her company. He’d been sleeping so soundly, she had been able to slip it on his finger without waking him, even when she’d gently lifted his hand to check the fit.
It’s beautiful, he said, looking at his ring through still-watery eyes.
Beautiful, he said again, and this time he was looking at her, and the final piece of Bill-and-Laura clicked into place.
They never took their rings off after that. Not when digging in the rich black garden dirt formed calluses under his. Not when Willa, then little Zacharya used hers as something to teethe against.
Not on her last day.
Nor on his.
And when Bill and Laura met again on the grassy banks of the Shore, the sun caught the rings on their joined hands.
They glowed with the light of a thousand stars.