SUMMARY: Fifty-three hairs in her hairbrush.
SPOILERS: Early S4
WORD COUNT: 2,860
DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended on my part.
THANKS: To all of you who so warmly welcomed me to BSG fandom with my first story and to leiascully, ninamazing, idella and amalnahurriyeh in particular for encouraging my
Fifty-three hairs in her hairbrush. She counts them, individually, picking off each one and dropping it in the toilet.
Bill is still in the CIC. He doesn't know she does this and she won't tell him.
She sleeps in his rack, in her clothes. It doesn't seem so deliberate if she sleeps in her clothes and not in her nightgown, like she just happened to drop off to sleep in his quarters, that she's not actually living there for the time being.
The mattress is harder than hers on Colonial One. It's rigid and military, but she'll get used to it. For a month on New Caprica she slept on the floor of her tent, on top of old sacks stuffed with her clothes. She can get used to anything now.
He sleeps on the sofa, snoring lightly. She enjoys the sound of those soft rumbles as she lies awake, trying to count imaginary sheep. She's not alone.
Every nerve of her body thrums with doloxan; her mouth tastes like rusty metal, like drinking from the hose in her yard as a little girl.
She bolts to the head, slamming the door behind her just in time. Tonight's dinner spews from her throat. She almost chokes.
There's a tapping on the door. "Are you all right, Laura?" Bill asks.
"I'm fine," she calls out, lifting her chin. "I'm just fine."
And she wants nothing more than for him to go away.
Eighty-two hairs. It takes forever to count them.
She watches him sleep in the half-light from her rack's lamp. His face is peaceful, its normally controlled muscles relaxed.
One arm has slipped from the bedding and hangs over the edge of the sofa. She looks at his left hand, the gold ring shining dully.
She wonders why Bill still wears the ring after so many years. What is he trying to remember?
Some nights, when she wakes in the silence, she tries to pray, but she feels nothing in response. The gods seem to have forsaken her. She has sinned and there is retribution in return.
His raspy whisper wakes her. "Laura, you awake?"
She rolls over. "What's wrong, Bill?"
"I can't sleep. I was thinking." She can smell the liquor on his breath, but he sounds sober now.
She touches his bare arm, his skin warm under her chilly fingers. "What about?"
"I'm sorry I let it get personal. That wasn't right."
She smiles. "I'm sorry, too."
They know each other so well now, know just where to bruise one another.
He presses his lips to her forehead. She hears him shuffle back to the sofa.
Seven pills in the morning, eleven at night. One pill twice a day. Two pills once a day. Some are to be taken on an empty stomach, some with meals. Some make her drowsy and some are like a caffeine bomb. Round, white pills and red, blue and black capsules. Before she takes them, she lines them up like soldiers. She wishes them luck in the battle.
After a meeting that goes on for far too long on Colonial One, she gets back to Galactica in the single-digit hours of the night. She has an early date with Cottle's IV in the morning.
It's dark in Bill's quarters and she can't see him at first. She removes her wig with a sigh of relief. It's quite itchy and hot. She scratches her head but when she takes her hand away, there is a large clump of hair in her hand. She tosses it in the toilet, her stomach muscles tightening.
She wraps a scarf around her head, fastening it with a firm knot. She doesn't want Bill to have to see her like this, her hair patchy and fine.
Once, she was terribly vain about her hair. It was always thick and wavy, probably her best feature. When she was a teenager, it was so long she could sit on it. Her mother cried for hours when she cut it into the boyish hairstyle then in vogue.
She turns on a small lamp in the main quarters and finds that he's fallen asleep in his rack, still dressed and on top of the covers. Sighing, she settles herself on the none-too-comfortable sofa.
It occurs to her that she could just climb in with him. Where would be the harm in that? But she rolls over onto her side and lets sleep carry her away.
She dreams about Richard, about the night when she begged him to leave his wife.
The dream feels so real. She can taste the wine they were drinking, a spicy red from Virgon, heavy and rich in her mouth. She can feel Richard's soft hand on her shoulder, hear him saying, "You knew from the beginning that I could never leave."
The tears slip down her cheeks.
What has happened to her precious dignity? Her pride? It has gone out the door, just like Richard does every time to return to his family.
"Tell me you love me," she whispers to him.
He kisses the top of her head. "I've got to go," he says.
After the door closes, she can hear him whistling down the hall.
She wakes with a start, her heart pounding. The bed feels so empty.
They always leave in the end. She knows this well.
She can no longer count the hairs. She doesn't even try. She's stopped using the hairbrush, anyhow.
Tossing and turning. Every muscle aches tonight, as if she's been in a fight. Perhaps she has been. It's her versus the abnormal cells growing in her breast. Destiny versus the basic human desire to survive.
Sometimes she's tired of the battle. She wants to rest. She'd like someone else to shoulder her burdens for a time.
A paradoxical reaction to doloxan tonight—she's tossing and turning, not from body aches or nausea, but lust. Hormones gone wild, perhaps. Her body wants so badly to be touched. It's tired of being assaulted by needles, tubes, drugs. It wants to be loved for a change; it wants kindness.
She remembers those few, precious nights together on New Caprica. Hours stolen from eking out survival on that unfriendly planet and his duties on the ship. Making love as the wind howled outside the canvas walls of her tent.
And she remembers their conversation when she returned after he saved them all. They were both so logical, so damn determined to put duty and honor first.
"It's for the best," she said, looking at him over the rims of her glasses. "We just...we just can't. Now while I'm president. It's a conflict of interest, to say the least."
"You're right," he said, nodding sagely. They were doing the right thing for their people.
She's pretty sure she could have him here, in this rack, right now if she asked. Bill would make love to her with his usual tenderness and thoroughness. He's a wonderful lover; she remembers this all too well. It would be so easy.
Too easy. She has a limited quantity of energy. It has to be channeled towards her work, her survival.
She can't need him. Not right now.
Sometimes when she can't sleep, she imagines his voice, reading to her like he does in sickbay. The rumbling cadence of his voice as he reads the day's lurid mystery.
"I aimed the gun at him, looking into his dead, steel gray eyes. 'Go ahead,' I said to Johnson. 'Just try me.' He didn't flinch."
She wakes, coughing, a dry, unsettled rasp from deep in her lungs.
In between coughs, she hears Bill stir, his footsteps to the bathroom and the water running.
He's by her side. "Here," he says, handing her a glass of water.
She gulps the cool water, such a precious commodity.
"Better?" he asks.
She nods, rolling her neck to get the kinks out. The doloxan is fighting hard tonight, settling in her muscles.
"Your neck hurts?"
"Everything hurts," she says, well aware that she sounds like she's whining. Laura Roslin is not a complainer, normally.
"Lie on your stomach," he says, sounding like he's ordering a nugget to scrub the officer's latrines.
Her face pressed to the pillow, she feels the bulk of him settling on and around her. It's a pleasant weight.
His hands slip under her blouse. "Laura, why do you sleep in your clothes?" he asks, sounding amused.
"I don't know. I guess it seems more…appropriate."
"It's bad enough that the president is sleeping in the admiral's quarters. We couldn't have her in a pair of pajamas. Gods, no." He chuckles.
He kneads her muscles, untying the knots with sure fingers. She sighs under his touch. Whoever would have known that Bill had such gentle hands? Those hands have fought in a thousand battles, have killed and saved lives.
"That's good," she mumbles. In fact, she might be drooling a little into the pillow.
She falls asleep as his lips touch her spine, hot against her chilly bones.
He wants so much to be needed, she thinks before she drops off.
Time to wave the white flag.
At least a little.
She kneels by the sofa. "Are you sleeping?" she whispers, her mouth dry.
He sits up. "What's wrong?" Like all good officers, he's instantly awake.
Strangely, she doesn't even know quite what she wants. Something real, something to hold on to.
"Bill, this is silly. Come to bed with me." Her heart starts beating faster.
"Is that a good idea?"
"To sleep," she says, firmly. "That sofa is not comfortable."
She doesn't know if she wants things to change. She doesn't know if she can handle it. She's probably making a big mistake.
But I want this, she argues with herself. And so does he. She knows this as well as she knows her own name.
"If this is what you want, Laura," he says.
"Yes," she replies.
The rack is much warmer with him in it. His body puts off a steady heat, his arms wrap around her.
"You're a hard nut to crack," he says.
She smiles. "I know I am."
"It's a good thing I'm a patient man."
"I appreciate that." She shifts around to kiss his cheek. "You don't know how much I appreciate that."
When she looks in the mirror, a stranger stares back at her. She seems to have aged ten years in a month. Her cheeks are hollow, her eyes dull. Her skin has a yellow tinge to it. There are new lines etched around her mouth and under her eyes.
"Beauty is only skin deep," she mutters to herself.
"What's your happiest memory?" she asks.
They're side by side in bed, their feet tangled together.
He removes his glasses and rubs his eyes. It's been a long day for the both of them. He has to think a moment. "I have a lot of them, believe it or not."
"Oh, I believe it." There's so much she doesn't know about him. He had a whole life before the worlds ended.
"Probably holding my sons for the first time," he says, his voice low. "Realizing that I was a father, that we'd created those small people."
"That's beautiful." She shuts her eyes and tries to imagine a younger Bill holding a squirming infant. She has to suppress a laugh, thinking that one of those infants was Lee.
"Graduating from flight school is right up there. My wedding day. Finding out that Lee was still alive. Finding out that you were still alive after the evacuation..." He lets his voice trail off.
"You needed that thorn in your side again," she teases.
"A lot of my happiest memories involve you. Seeing you in that red dress on New Caprica. Watching you laugh as you tore up those cards and broke the pencils. Throwing your ass in the brig was a pretty damn good one."
She kicks him in the shins, but not too hard. She's tough but fair.
Tonight she removes her wig in the privacy of the head, while Bill is reading out on the sofa.
She clasps her hand to her mouth in horror after the wig is off. She has hardly any hair left. There are huge bald patches everywhere on her skull, and what remains are sparse colonies of frizzled brown.
For a long time, she's refused to look at herself in the mirror without the wig or the scarf. Now she knows why.
"Oh Gods," she hears herself say, her voice ragged.
She starts rummaging through Bill's toiletries, looking to see if he has electric clippers. She finds them at the back of the cabinet. They make a harsh buzz once she presses the button to turn them on.
She's about to start shaving away when she hears him knocking on the door. "What are you doing?" he asks.
With a sigh, she sets down the clippers and opens the door. He might as well know what he's dealing with. How ugly she's become.
His expression doesn't change when he sees her. He spies the clippers. "Is it time?" he asks.
She nods, unable to look him in the eye.
"Let me help."
She sits on the toilet seat and lowers her head, her eyes trained on her hands, clasped in her lap. The clippers switch on and she feels them running across her scalp.
"I shaved my head once, when I was young," he says over the buzzing. "I was only thirteen and I wanted to look like a pilot."
This makes her smile.
He turns the clippers off. "All done."
She looks up at him. "I need a moment to myself." She doesn't want to look at herself in the mirror with him in the room.
"Are you sure that's what you want?"
He touches her shoulder. "Laura, you don't have to do this alone."
"I know, Bill." But she is resolute.
He walks out of the head and shuts the door.
She stands and peers in the mirror. It's worse than she thought. She looks just like her mother in her final months, frail and bald. She looks like death, like a corpse.
She presses her fingers to the bridge of her nose. She will not cry, she will not cry, she will not cry about this. It's only hair, for Gods' sake.
The sobs break over her like the salty waves at the beach anyhow.
You don't have to do this alone.
He's afraid of living alone. She's afraid of dying alone. What a pair they are.
She stumbles out the door and he's there to catch her.
"Shh," he soothes. "It'll be all right."
"I'm dying," she mumbles into his shoulder. "It'll never be all right."
He kisses the top of her head, her bare scalp. "It'll be all right. Because I say so. I know; I'm the admiral of the Fleet."
She can't help it, she starts laughing, through the tears that are making the shoulder of his t-shirt all wet.
"I'm the president," she says. "I know everything, not you."
"Have you always been this stubborn?"
"Gods, yes," she says.
Her mouth finds his. It's the only home she knows.
"Good," he says. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Her body is sick; it is weak. She is too thin and bruises easily. Climbing a flight of stairs makes her lose her breath sometimes. She wants to sleep all the time, yet she's plagued with insomnia and aches right down to the very bone. Every day her skin seems more fragile and pale. She can feel herself fading.
But she can still walk and talk and think. She still laughs sometimes, sparring with Bill and Tory. She can still command the Quorum's attention with one stern look. She can still make ruthless decisions. She can still ponder faith, destiny, free will and the future of the human race. She can still wonder why her faith has fled her.
She can still make love to him. Her body remembers him well, even after so long. It welcomes him. She can still give and receive pleasure. It still responds to the touch of his fingers, his tongue, his cock. Her body has not betrayed her completely yet. It can still reach out and grab fleeting moments of joy.
Her body has not given up yet and neither will she. In the morning, she will rise from the bed she now shares with Bill to face another day, another set of critical decisions, yet another crisis. She will stand on her two feet for as long as she has to, as long as it takes to fulfill the prophecy.
She will bring them home. She will.
She sleeps. She doesn't dream, she doesn't ache.