Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Moore, Eick & Co.
Spoilers: For the entire series.
Thanks to: Skywaterblue and Karabair for beta-reading!
The Quality of Mercy
She barely notices Baltar's presence in the raptor back to Galactica, until he starts to talk, asking her to intercede for Gaeta with the Admiral. Laura peers at him through her glasses in mild surprise.
"You can't be serious," she says. At first, he misunderstands what she means.
"You've given pardons before," he insists. Their eyes meet, and they both know he doesn't refer to her general amnesty after New Caprica, but to that hour on the basestar with its strange, unwanted and irrevocable intimacy, when she made him bleed for his crimes, held his life in her hands and ultimately chose to give it back. She's still not sure she did the right thing.
"Don't be presumptuous," she says, and then addresses what actually surprised her about his request. "It has been a long day. I don't quite see the benefit mercy for Gaeta would have for you, so why don't you cut through the crap and tell me what you really want."
It's not that she thinks him incapable of wishing to save someone's life, but with him, there always has to be some additional reason, some benefit for himself. He has been eternally consistent in this way.
He looks as tired as she feels when he quotes her own words from their earlier conversation back to her: "Atonement, perhaps."
"I'm afraid you'll have to look for it elsewhere," she says matter-of-factly. She would have added more if she actually believed him, but Laura doubts Gaius Baltar has more than a vague notion of what atonement really means. At best, he wants to make himself feel better. In the days before New Caprica, Gaeta was always his greatest admirer, and Baltar soaks up admiration like a sponge. It must have been galling for him to find this particular admiration turning to hatred and contempt, hear that contempt from Gaeta in court in front of all the world. Yes, that has to be it; Baltar wants to play the magnanimous saviour in order to wipe out that memory.
"Please," he says, and catches her hands. Originally, he had been sitting across from her, but now, he's kneeling down right in front of her. That close, she can smell him, the way she could when binding his wounds. His scent shouldn't be this familiar; it's another presumption. Today, he doesn't smell of blood but of another woman, of sex. Trust Gaius Baltar to find the opportunity in the middle of a civil war. Yes, there was a strange comfort in that unchanging selfishness. And yet he has chosen to return to Galactica with her, and he's still pleading for Felix Gaeta.
"Hasn't there been enough death today?" he asks. He shouldn't have said that. Her mouth tightens.
"Yes," she replies. "And I haven't forgotten who caused it." She leans closer towards him, and she knows he can smell her, too, down to the cancer which has taken her over at last. "I never forget."
She's not just talking about Gaeta and the mutiny, and again, they both know it. Unfortunately, the truth is that she can't choose to expose Baltar, not now, not with the Cylon alliance such a necessity. Putting Baltar on trial for his original treason, evoking the horror of the genocide which has reduced humanity to a little over 30.000 can't be done if you want the survivors to simultaneously accept the perpetrators of that genocide now have to be their allies. Laura is not sure whether Baltar is aware of this, but he still doesn't let go of her hands. Still, when he speaks again, she hears defeat in his voice.
"Let me at least talk with him," he says. "Before they kill him."
This is what at last convinces her his request isn't primarily caused by his wounded vanity. He won't be able to play saviour, and more likely than not will find himself cursed again by Gaeta.
"Do you really think he'll want to talk to you?" she asks, genuinely curious. She has been a witness to Gaeta's attempt to stab Baltar; she has listened to Gaeta being the best witness the prosecution had to offer at Baltar's trial. What Gaeta feels isn't just a case of hero worship gone sour, it's passionate, all-consuming hatred. Laura knows about hatred, knows how difficult it is to overcome, and for the same man, too. Then again, she had never admired Gaius Baltar, had never felt more than a weary tolerance at the best of times. Gaeta on the other hand, has accepted Baltar's calls even in the middle of conducting his mutiny.
"I want him to have the choice," Baltar insists. "I – I know what it is to wait for your death surrounded by people who hate you. He doesn't deserve that."
Felix Gaeta. Reliable Gaeta, heroic Gaeta, even, when they found out he had been the resistance's secret ally on New Caprica. But he had ordered her death today, he had ordered Bill's, and he would have handed the fleet over to Tom Zarek, just as he had once handed the presidency over to Gaius Baltar. Laura isn't blind; she knows that one of the reasons things have gotten this far today was because Earth has broken them all, including her. Because she has burned prophecies and bridges alike, and has fallen silent instead of reassuring her people. There will be consequences for her, too. Once they are back, she will ask Lee to take over from her; there must not be a vacuum instead of a President again. So yes, the mutiny was partly her fault as well, and there is something tragic about Gaeta's involvement. It doesn't change the fact he has made his choices with his eyes wide open, this time around; his death is his own doing. But Baltar is right, too. Nobody should die alone. Like a flash, the memory of Billy comes to her. So young. So terribly young.
"I'll ask the admiral," Laura says, conceding. "To give him some time alone with you, if that's what he wants."
"Thank you," Baltar says, lets go of her hands and gets up. He doesn't go back to his seat opposite of her, though, but sits down next to her. She wants to get up and change places, but she feels too tired, now that the adrenaline that carried her through the last hours seems to be gone. She opens her mouth to make a cutting remark that will drive Baltar away, something about how his pathetic followers will have taken his desertion, but it's only a few minutes more until Galactica, and so it's really not worth it.
Laura thinks about what people deserve, and how they spent their last hour, and about the fact that she would have made her threat to Zarek true and would have turned the lethal fire of a Cylon basestar against Galactica. She thinks about everyone who would have died then; Laura Roslin has always known the number of people on board each ship of the fleet by heart.
She remains sitting next to Baltar, quietly, and the silence between them isn't broken again.
The old ship groans around them, all the time now, and it drowns out the noises of Cottle's medical instruments and of everyone's breathing at times. The med lab is full of people, some wounded during the mutiny and still unable to be moved elsewhere, some, like Laura, regular visitors who spent nights here if they're worse than usual, and some, like the blond Cylon who calls herself Caprica Six, for reasons that are temporary but no less devastating for that.
Saul and Ellen Tigh have left, and so have the other Cylon models who came to see the Six; Athena, some other Eights, and one of the Twos. Laura has witnessed everything from afar, careful not to make a comment. She feels a distant sense of pity, mixed with unmistakable relief. On one level, she is sorry for any woman who loses a child. She does think of the Cylons as women and men now; it's impossible not to. But she's also neither deaf nor blind, and that part of her mind which can't ever stop calculating the odds has been telling her for a while that if the rebel Cylons believe they can procreate with the Final Five, they might simply decide to take their baseship, their direly needed technology and themselves elsewhere and leave the humans to Cavil's tender mercies, should he catch up with them.
Laura has given the order for an abortion once before when she thought she was dying. If Baltar hadn't come up with a way to use Hera's blood to stall Laura's cancer, Hera would never have been born. As much as Laura has come to love the little girl by now, she has never regretted having given the order to begin with. It had been based on what she thought was best for her people at the time. Sometimes she had wondered whether she would do the same thing again in a similar situation. Then Caprica Six had become pregnant, and that question had stopped being hypothetical. After Ellen Tigh's return and the arguments which ensued, it became too urgent to avoid any longer.
Nurse Ishay isn't Cottle. She still feels the instinctive aversion to all Cylons most humans do, and she venerates Laura. It hasn't taken more than a few suggestions to make her change Caprica's medication. Laura wishes she could still believe as she used to before finding Earth. She'd pray for the stillborn boy then. But she doesn't regret her decision, only the necessity for it. She hasn't told Bill; she will never tell anyone else, and Ishay is too smart to as well. There is, of course, the odd chance of someone figuring it out.
Laura gets up and walks over to Caprica's bed. The dim light shed by the instruments reminds her of the lighting in large parts of the basestar. The Cylon lies very still, but she's not asleep, either. Looking at her perfect profile, Laura remembers the first time she saw her. Her and Gaius Baltar, on a sunny day in Caprica City, a sight not understood then in its implication and remembered too late to be of use. The first time this Six named herself it had felt like a punch in Laura's stomach. Caprica. There is no doubt how this particular Cylon has come by this name.
The other woman's eyes are wide open and looking at Laura, and so Laura says, with that quiet sympathy she has schooled her voice to express so well: "I'm sorry for your loss."
It's not entirely feigned. Not just because the death of any child is a loss, and not just because Laura had to be the one who caused it; this Six has surrendered herself and her freedom when coming to Galactica with Athena, and she has been cooperating since. It does not begin to make up for what she has done in the past, but it is something.
"No, you aren't," Caprica Six replies, and Laura doesn't bother to protest. She is, however, highly alert now. If Six accuses her of more than hypocrisy now, something more might have to be done. They can't afford risking the alliance any longer, and if another Cylon dies for it in addition to all the dead humans from the mutiny, then so be it.
"Four years ago," Caprica Six whispers, "four years ago, on Caprica, I held a human child in my arms. It was a miracle to me. So small and alive. I felt very sorry for it, though. I knew what would happen very soon, and I wondered what that meant for the baby. Its parents might die in the blast, I thought, but not the baby; the baby could take days to starve. Or it could burn to death. It's a horrible death, death by fire. All of us have experienced all kind of deaths at some point, so I knew, you see. I knew what it was like. I felt sorry for this human child. And so I killed it."
"I see," Laura says. Her voice is still very controlled. She feels the steel under her bare feet, and hears the ship groaning around her; though she stands very near the bed, she barely hears the Cylon's soft breathing.
"I was wrong," Caprica Six says.
"Wrong to kill the child?"
"Wrong to think I knew death," Six replies. "Wrong about what God wanted. Wrong about a lot of things. But not wrong to kill this child on that day. Not with what would have followed otherwise."
Laura breathes in, breathes out, and after a while, it works automatically again. The red lights of the instruments create little dots in the wide eyes of the Cylon watching her.
"Not wrong," Caprica Six continues. "But it was still murder. It always will be."
This time, Laura can't stop herself. "One more death on the day you took so many," she says sharply. "I'm surprised you remember."
"I always remember," the Cylon says. "I always will. And so will you."
It's getting harder and harder to dress herself, to walk, and sometimes she just wants to stay in Bill's quarters or the med lab, but at other times she feels as if she has entered her coffin already, and she needs to leave just to prove herself she can. Sometimes Bill walks with her, and sometimes she walks alone, though there is a bodyguard following her discreetly if she does. Not so much to protect her as to collect her body from the floor in case she breaks down and finds herself unable to get up.
One day, she meets Tory this way. Laura hasn't talked with Tory since that day on the basestar, not since finding out Tory is a Cylon, one of the Final Five. Tory is on board to see Ellen, it seems, inviting her and Tigh to move to the basestar instead of remaining on Galactica.
"They should live with us," Tory says, looking everywhere but at Laura's face, trying for haughtiness in her tone and failing, sounding like an annoyed school girl instead. And Laura knows all about school girls. "Not here, with humans. The ship is falling apart, it's just a matter of time."
"Ellen Tigh, mother of the Cylon race," Laura says, smiles and shakes her head. It's just so absurd, still, and so is Tory in her more Cylon-than-Cylonness. Or maybe that's the cancer, making it all look funny instead of tragic. "Oh, the irony."
"No more than the irony of the secretary of education becoming President," Tory says coolly, and suddenly, Laura can't stand it anymore.
"Let's get one thing straight," she said. "You were the one who betrayed me. You lied to me for months, you let me down, you defected to D'Anna at the first chance you got, and you still behave as if I owed you an apology. Do enlighten me why."
Tory finally looks at her, stares at her, dark eyes alight in anger and hurt.
"I was at your side for two years, Laura," she says. "Two years. We went through the occupation together. I would have done anything for you. Anything. And then you treat me like a whore."
"You were the one who decided to join Baltar's little cult," Laura says sharply, and remembers the disappointment of that discovery. She had trusted Tory; she hadn't seen a daughter in her the way Billy had been a son, but it was true, they had spent two years together, she had relied on Tory, and sometimes, she had wondered about Tory as a possible successor, until Lee was ready. "What did that make you?"
"Baltar didn't order me to have sex with him," Tory returns. "You did that. And then you threw me away. That's how you treat human beings, Laura, so excuse me for preferring to be a Cylon."
There is some truth in what Tory says, and a lot of self delusion. "But what about the human race, Tory?" Laura asks, getting to what is, to her, the core of the matter. "When you became my aide, you said you wanted to serve. To serve and protect our people. And don't tell me discovering you were a Cylon made all the difference. Colonel Tigh never betrayed the Admiral. Athena chose humanity as well. Regardless of how you feel about me, how could you turn your back on your people?"
Tory hesitates. To Laura's surprise, she then stretches out her left hand and almost, but only almost, touches Laura's shoulder. Her fingers hover, and then draw back again, with the arm falling down at Tory's side.
"You were the human race to me, Laura," Tory says. "Long before I found out what I was. Always."
For a moment, Laura doesn't know what to say, and Tory's face becomes stony again, her voice sharpening like a blade.
"And now that humanity is sick and dying, I'm just not interested anymore."
Once the crew starts to drag the dead bodies of Cylons and humans out of the CiC, while everyone waits for the raptor to rendezvous with the fleet at the meeting point and guide them to the planet Kara Thrace has found for them, Ellen Tigh approaches Laura.
"I don't know whether you've noticed in the chaos after the shooting began," she says. "Tory is dead."
She hadn't realized until now. Compared with the magnitude of everything else that happened – that last jump, their very last, the opera house becoming truth, above all, though, so many survivors when death for everyone seemed to be such a certainty – it shouldn't matter, shouldn't be more than a footnote. As it is, Ellen's words resonate in her, with a curious echo. All the drugs, all the medication, that has to be it.
"Dead," Laura repeats.
Ellen looks drained. She is and isn't the same woman Laura had abhorred when meeting her at a dinner party a few years ago. There is a new certainty about her, a self assurance that doesn't rely on her looks, and sometimes, as in this very moment, a serious precision. On the other hand, Laura has watched her drink, laugh and tease her husband like the Ellen of old, and she certainly can be as irritating.
"I want to give her a funeral," Ellen says. "Galen killed her, Saul is busy with the ship, and I don't think anyone else cares. So could you exert your presidential powers before they just flush her and everyone else out into space?"
We all end up flushed into space, Laura thinks, and then realizes this might no longer be true, not for much longer anyway. Not with the new planet below. Not if they were lucky.
"Do you want a funeral for anyone else as well?" Laura asks, with just a trace of sarcasm, though the question is genuine enough. Ellen regards her for a moment, then apparently makes up her mind.
"Yes," she says. "Boomer. And," she hesitates for a just a moment, her eyes resting on one particular body on the floor, "John."
It takes Laura a moment until she realizes whom Ellen meant.
"You can't be serious," she said.
"He was an evil sadistic bastard, I know," Ellen replies. "He was also my firstborn. I created him in the image of my father. And yes, he's better off dead. But I still want a funeral."
They have just been given nothing less than a miracle. Laura looks up from Cavil's dead body and finds herself watching Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six, both still appearing slightly dazed and as out of place in Galactica's CiC as Laura herself feels. She thinks about accepting the unforgivable as a part of oneself, which is not the same thing as forgiving it, and she thinks about choices made and made again.
"Fine," she says. "A funeral for all three." But she won't order any of the soldiers who had just lost their comrades to do it. With an effort, she raises her voice. "Dr. Baltar," she calls. The ongoing efforts to restore some semblance of order in the CiC are quite noisy, but one can always trust in Baltar picking up the sound of his own name. He turns and makes his way towards her, the Six at his side. Neither of them protest when Laura tells him what she wants, what Ellen has asked for.
This could have been it as far as Laura is concerned. She doesn't think she has more than an hour left before the meds she has drugged herself up with will lose their power. Maybe it's the wish to do something, anything, maybe it's the sense that she belongs more with the dead than the living by now, and maybe she just wants to be sure these particular dead stay dead. And maybe, just maybe, the fact Gaius Baltar was there for Felix Gaeta just a few weeks ago tells her she can be there for Tory as well, Tory's betrayals notwithstanding.
They are an odd little group, near the airlock that has served for funerals before, and never will again after this one. There are no flags covering these bodies, though Laura is tempted to drive a stake into Cavil's, just to be sure. She thinks of asking Ellen why Tyrol killed Tory, but ultimately doesn't. As for Boomer, they have been told how she died by Kara Thrace, during that brief time when a truce was in place while everyone was waiting for the download which didn't take place. Baltar, being Baltar, can't resist the opportunity to say a few words. It reminds Laura of his endless speeches over the wireless and the way she had to listen to them in her illness, until the words ceased to have meaning. He catches her look, stops speaking and retreats while Caprica Six steps forward and kisses Boomer on the head, silently. Ellen does the same with Tory.
"Just to make one thing clear," Laura says under her breath since Baltar has somehow managed to end up next to her again, uninvited, "if you dare to speak at my funeral, I will haunt you for the rest of your days, and I promise you, you will never ever confuse me with an angel, Gaius."
She speaks so softly that the other two don't hear her or at least can pretend not to. But he understands her very well, very well indeed.
"I know, Laura," he replies. "I know."