The dreams had been the same for weeks now.
They always found Earth. They caused widespread panic on a planet that apparently had enough issues of its own, but after a few months – something she just knew in the dream, she didn’t experience them – they were granted asylum.
Laura would stand and watch as one by one the ships of the fleet landed in a large desert area, seemingly miles from civilisation. Tears would well in her eyes, but a smile would refuse to leave her lips. They had made it.
She could always sense Bill beside her, knowing he was watching the proceedings with the same swell of pride, relief and complete and utter awe that she felt.
Tonight though, she turned to face him as the Rising Star descended. He wasn’t there.
Laura woke with a start, panicked and frightened and at first unclear as to why. Seconds later, when the events of her dream came back to her, she still wondered at her reaction. She didn’t remember anything being frightening; she remembered overwhelming happiness and relief; she remembered sharing that with Bill…
The sudden appearance of Tory at the doorway startled her from her thoughts.
“Madam President,” her aide began, in a tone Laura recognised all too well from when Tory was delivering bad news.
She felt the fear rise in her stomach again. The same churning that her dream had caused. “Tory?”
“We just had a call from Galactica. Admiral Adama has been admitted to the sickbay…”
Laura was out of bed and gathering her clothes before Tory even began her second sentence.
“… He collapsed in CIC. He’s been unconscious since. Colonel Tigh didn’t know anything further. He called here immediately after Doctor Cottle threw him out of sickbay.”
Laura’s eyes stung, her hands were shaking, and a bitter taste lined her throat, but she was determined she would be dressed and on Galactica as soon as humanly possible, and forced her responses to recede so she could achieve that.
“We’re preparing a shuttle for you now,” Tory continued, her own voice trembling as she gave Laura the information. “I’ll wait outside,” she concluded, leaving to give Laura space to get dressed.
Not that Laura cared. She’d have dressed in front of her aide if she’d had reason to stay in the room. Sometimes, some things were just more important than modesty.
It was only seconds later, but felt like far too long, when Laura rushed into, and straight through, her office, Tory falling into step beside her. Laura was still fastening the lower buttons of her blouse.
Sometimes some things were more important than Presidential image as well.
They were silent on the descent to the shuttle, and on the journey to Galactica. Laura could think of nothing except Bill and everything that could possibly have happened to him. And possible scenarios were racing through her head much too fast for any to be articulated.
An occasional glimpse of rationality tried to tell her that she was probably overreacting. There was no need to fear the worst; but irrationality won. The worst case scenarios continued, and with them came the same abrupt sensation of being punched in the chest that had hit her when she had found out Bill had been shot. Over and over the breath was forced out of her lungs; her stomach turned; she wanted to scream that it wasn’t fair; but she knew she had to maintain an air of calm. It wouldn’t help him for her to break down. And – the rational part reminded her again – she still didn’t actually know all the facts.
Getting to sickbay was a blur. She was breathing rapidly, so she assumed she had run, but it really didn’t matter.
Doctor Cottle must have heard her enter, for he appeared from his office immediately, an unlit cigarette in his hand.
“Madam President – ”
“Is he all right?”
Cottle nodded, and Laura knew she visibly sagged as relief flooded her system.
“He’s asleep,” the Doctor told her.
“But he regained consciousness?”
Cottle nodded again.
“Oh, thank the Gods,” she whispered. “Do you know what happened?”
The doctor glanced briefly at Tory, who was standing beside Laura, and in the corner of her eye Laura saw her aide move away, obviously understanding what Cottle had not said.
Cottle then turned and, frowning as a sense of dread overcame her once more, Laura followed him into his office.
He paused after closing the door behind them, and when he turned back to face her, the sombre expression on his face did nothing to abate her fears.
“Jack?” Her voice came out quiet as her fear choked her.
“The Admiral has a brain tumour,” he told her and Laura felt her heart drop. She just stared at him, unable to speak.
“He came to me about five months ago because he was having headaches…”
Laura nodded. She had known Bill was having more headaches than he said he usually did.
“… I think it was the pain that caused him to collapse today, but the tumour is growing…. And, I can’t operate on it, Laura. The operation itself is too dangerous to even attempt up here with what limited supplies and staff we have.”
Laura managed a squeaked response as she nodded. Her heart was breaking, but she knew the doctor was right.
“What about treatment? Could that…”
Cottle was shaking his head before she was able to finish her question.
“He’s refused it.”
“He wants the resources to be kept. To help someone younger.”
Laura rubbed a hand across her face. That was just like Bill. “Noble to a frakkin’ fault!” she exclaimed, turning away from Cottle just for something to do. She couldn’t stand still.
She crossed the office and turned back to him again. “How long?”
“It’s impossible for me to predict.”
“Years?” she asked, daring to hope.
“Possibly. Could be months, Laura. I can’t guess.”
She just nodded as she tried to absorb what he was telling her.
“And there’s nothing - ”
He seemed to have a knack for knowing where her questions were leading. “He’s even trying to refuse painkillers. I expect his collapse today is a result of him not taking any of the ones I forced into his hand a week ago.”
Laura let out a long sigh, and a silence descended on the office as she tried to make sense of it all.
After several minutes of muddled and incoherent thought, Laura raised her eyes to meet Cottle’s.
“This can’t be happening, Jack,” she whispered, tears stinging her eyes.
“That’s what I told myself five months ago. When faced with a President dying of breast cancer, and an Admiral with an inoperable brain tumour… But no matter how hard I pray for another one, it seems the miracle of your complete remission is the only one we’re going to get.”
Laura was moving, restless again. “Gods, if I’d known it was a choice…” she trailed off, putting her hands on her hips, and then removing them again; folding them over her chest, and then deciding that was no good either. She didn’t know what to do with them and they were starting to annoy her. Or maybe she was angry at Bill.
Frustration finally getting the better of her, she let out a short scream. “Five months! I can’t believe he didn’t – ”
“Yes you can.” Cottle’s voice was calm; apparently unaffected by her little outburst. He had seen her distraught many times before. During her second fight with cancer, he had become the only person she would break down in front of. And then it was only because he told her if she didn’t release some of her anger then it would make her even more ill.
She whipped round to face him.
“You do understand why he didn’t tell you… You were still being treated for your cancer, and then when it went into remission…” That sentence just trailed off. “When was a good time to tell you? It’s been non-stop these last few months and you know it… He didn’t want to burden you with it.”
She whispered, “It wouldn’t – ”
“If you’d have found about the cancer during all this, you wouldn’t have told him,” Cottle stated confidently, “And you know it.”
Laura couldn’t dispute that. She knew it was true. With Starbuck’s return, and finding out four of their closest friends were Cylons, there had really never been an opportunity, let alone a suitable time, for Bill to broach such a subject. He had obviously pushed it to one side, as she had done with her cancer after the attacks.
Sometimes, some things were just more important.
Laura let out a shaky sigh, again, at the injustice of it all. “We’re so close to Earth,” she said softly, her voice breaking on the words.
Cottle just nodded. It had been a statement; she hadn’t actually expected a response.
“Can I see him?” she asked next.
“Sure. I think it’s best if he sleeps though. So try not to wake him…” He opened the door and she stepped out of the office first. “… I’m going to keep him here for a few days, for observation, and so I can make sure he’s resting.”
Laura’s eyebrows rose a little. “He’ll fight you.”
Cottle shrugged. “I outrank him in that situation… And he knows there’s a good reason for that.”
Laura managed a smile as she imagined the look on Bill’s face when Cottle pulled rank. His ‘anger, bubbling beneath the surface’ face always did make her smile: Which on several occasions had only served to infuriate him further.
They stopped at the curtain that was drawn around Bill’s bed, but Cottle put his hand on Laura’s arm as she started to go through.
“He gave me permission to tell you, Laura… But only you.”
Laura nodded, understanding what he was saying. “Does Lee – ”
“No. And he isn’t to be told... He doesn’t want it to get out to his crew, or to the fleet… They’ve already had to deal with almost losing you – twice – he doesn’t want them to go through it again.”
“They’re going – ”
“I told him you’d argue.”
Laura and Cottle froze when Bill’s voice drifted through the curtain.
Laura drew the fabric apart at the corner, and smiled sheepishly when her eyes met Bill’s.
“You should be asleep,” she reprimanded him.
“As should you,” he retorted.
“I agree with both of you,” Cottle offered as Laura walked into the cubicle and stopped beside Bill’s bed. “So you have ten minutes, Madam President. And then you’re both going to get some sleep.”
His parting words delivered, the doctor left them alone.
“How are you feeling?” Laura asked, before considering how lame that actually sounded, and lowering her head in shame. “Sorry,” she muttered.
When she looked up, Bill was smiling. Her own smile widened.
“You’d think we’d have sorted out our communication issues by now, wouldn’t you?” Laura asked after a few seconds, her expression becoming more serious again.
“You had enough to deal with,” he said quietly. “And then when you told me about the remission…” He smiled wistfully as he continued, “I was so happy I couldn’t bring myself to end that.”
Laura felt like something was constricting her chest. “Bill,” she said, reaching for his hand.
He accepted her fingers, stroking his thumb gently across them. “Laura, I will make it to Earth.”
She squeezed his hand tightly in both of hers and swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. “Well, with the Adama determination on your side…”
“When you were ill, I promised myself every day that we would make it to Earth, and we would stand side by side and watch our fleet step into safety… I intend to keep that promise.”
Laura nodded and tried to suppress the sadness that was trying to overwhelm her. She had come to terms with leaving him when she expected to die. When she found out that wasn’t going to happen yet, she readjusted to the idea of getting to Earth with Bill; of owning a cabin by a lake; of being free of their responsibilities and able to explore the attraction they had somehow managed to fight… She wasn’t prepared to lose him now.
“Laura.” His voice took on a more warning tone now, and she knew he was aware of where her thoughts had taken her.
“I need you to stay positive, Laura,” he tugged gently on her hand and she obliged and stepped closer to him. “Do you remember the night of my promotion?”
Of course she did. She nodded.
“Never give up hope, Laura,” he reminded her pointedly.
“You too, Bill,” she whispered, praying that he was right; that his determination could win this fight for him as it had won many in the past.
He smiled, probably at her continuing the echo of their previous conversation, and she couldn’t help but smile back. She had always been amazed how much confidence she drew simply from Bill being present; and when he smiled, no matter what was going on she had a feeling everything would be all right.
“I suppose you expect me to kiss you now,” she teased, with a smirk, to lighten the mood.
“I’ve never expected you to do what I would expect,” he replied with a smirk of his own.
Laura laughed and took another step closer to him, reaching one hand to tenderly rest her fingers beneath his chin. “So you actually expect me not to kiss you?” she whispered, moving her head closer to his.
“Laura,” he whispered back, a hint of warning, placing his hand around hers as if to stop her.
“The worlds end, I get cancer, you get shot, I get cancer again, you get a brain tumour… Bill, how many more signs do we need that life is too short to keep playing this game?”
“Laura, you know why we’re playing this game…”
She nodded once. “Yes I do… Because we have responsibilities, we have duties, we’re noble to a frakkin’ fault,” she smiled as she repeated the comment she had made earlier. “But, I dream every night that we find Earth, Bill. We finally make it; there may finally be a chance for us to step free of our responsibilities… But tonight, you weren’t there when I turned to you. I don’t want to wait too long, Bill,” she said slowly, her voice barely loud enough for him to hear.
“I will make it to Earth, Laura,” he repeated, his voice as quiet as hers.
“We both know that nothing is certain in life, Bill. We might not both make it. I don’t want to arrive at Earth with regret, and I’m sure you don’t… The prophecy speaks of a dying leader. Maybe it’s me; maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s a load of nonsense. But I’m not taking any chances anymore… I can be strong enough to act in public like this isn’t happening; but I haven’t the strength to fight fear and my feelings for you.”
His thumb gently wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.
“So, it’s one or the other,” she told him.
“The press and the Quorum – ”
“Let them do what they like,” she interrupted. “Some times, some things are more important.”
His palm rested on her cheek, as his eyes bore into hers intensely. She could see his mind working through everything – his prognosis, her proposition, what the repercussions might be. His expression changed with his thoughts, and eventually she noticed the sparkle in his eyes and knew he had reached agreement with her.
She offered him a small smile, which he returned.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispered, leaning into his touch.
He nodded and their eyes conveyed their understanding that they were talking about more than just their relationship.
“You can kiss me now,” she whispered next, with a smirk.
“I thought you were going to kiss me?”
“Since when do I do what – ”
She had known she wouldn’t get to the end of that sentence.
Laura felt the tears stinging her eyes as the Rising Star descended to the desert ground on Earth. She smiled as she stood overlooking the area; half the fleet had already landed, the other half were in preparation.
“We made it,” she whispered quietly to Bill.
His arm wrapped round her waist and pulled her closer to him. “Yes we did.”
“Gonna say ‘I told you so’?” she smirked, glancing at him from the corner of her eye.
He pursed his lips in thought for a moment, then shook his head.
“Really?” she raised her eyebrows, smiling.
“Yes, really.” He pulled her even closer, kissing her temple before moving his lips to her ear to whisper, “Think of everything we’d have missed if we’d have waited until we got to Earth.”
Laura awoke, smiling, and snuggled into the pillow, smelling Bill’s scent all around her. She settled back down contentedly to return to sleep, only to wake again seconds later as her mind registered where she was.
Opening her eyes, she glanced round Bill’s quarters, and the memories of that night came back to her. Tears started to build instantly in her eyes, and she forcefully swallowed the lump in her throat, rolling over onto her back and dropping a hand across her eyes.
“I hope you’re right, Bill,” she whispered into the silence. “I can’t do this without you.”