A/N Thank you Beth for taking the time to beta check this. You were a great help. Any remaining errors are solely my own.
Walking into the President's office, the Commander missed her at first glance. The jacket of her suit was on her desk chair, but she wasn't.
On the phone when Bill arrived, Billy had just waved for him to enter.
While Bill didn't wish to disturb the President if she was resting, Admiral Cain was due to be arriving soon as well. Now that the Cylon Resurrection ship had been destroyed it was time to determine the fate of his two crewmen. Though he knew she had to be woken, he was hesitant - unsure whether she would appreciate him being the one to do it. Respectful of the fact that she would not necessarily be pleased about being seen at her most vulnerable, he turned back toward the curtain to get Billy.
Her voice low and at his side, startled him. "Leaving so soon?"
Seated in the first chair past the curtain, she had been easy to miss on the way into the room. He had been standing right beside her and hadn't noticed her.
Seating himself across from her, he took in her appearance while giving a report on the just competed mission – a report he full well knew she had already been given.
Her color still wasn't good. Unlike in their earlier meeting with Admiral Cain, there was no way that the Admiral would be able to miss the deterioration in the President's condition. Of more concern to him was Laura. She was dressed in one of her usual blouses and skirts, but in place of the suit jacket she wore her heavy cream-colored bathrobe. Her hands were in the pockets. It seemed the cold was becoming more of an issue.
"The mission was a complete success. Remarkably, we had only four fatalities."
"Captain Apollo was recovered? He is all right?"
With his head down to veil the way his lips curled at the way she spoke his son's call sign almost as a term of endearment, Bill nodded. "He will be."
"Good." She took in a breath. "Now there is just the matter of Cain."
Despite the concession of the bathrobe, she looked less weak than the last time he had seen her. He hated to admit it even to himself that she looked weak, but she did. Not in spirit, but in her physical frame it was unmistakable.
Still, that thought was not quite right. It wasn't that she looked any less weak than the last time he saw her or less tired or less dying. He couldn't quite place what it was that was different about her.
It was her resolve, he finally decided. Her continued air of determination. Despite the success of this critical mission, she gave no impression of being relieved, of standing down. Her determination, her resolve remained. It was as if she were still on an alert, still tensed, awaiting something more.
"She is late. I had hoped she would get here before you." She made the offering to the silence.
Bill raised an eyebrow. "Not starting to prefer her company to mine, I hope?"
Laura offered a half smile, but no words.
Not having anything to say, Bill merely observed her until Billy entered.
The young man didn't look well. If possible he exceeded the President for lack of color and his hands were trembling. "Admiral Cain's shuttle still hasn't even departed the Pegasus. I put in a call. Waiting to hear back."
"Good. If Admiral Cain ever deigns to grace us with her presence we can finish this." Taking in her aide's appearance, the President tried to dismiss him. "Billy, you should go."
Bill voiced his concern, but it was not for Billy. "You should go, Billy. You're looking a little peaked." Bill knew that in Laura's weakened condition any added illness could not be tolerated. Despite how devoted Billy was to her, if her aide was ill, he really shouldn't be here.
Laura lowered her voice. "You don't have to be here for this." Though they were audible to Bill as well, her words or at least their meaning were clearly intended only for her aide.
"I'll stay." He insisted as he took the empty seat next to the President.
The President nodded before offering a small bit of knowledge no doubt gleaned during her recent illness. "If you hold something in your hand, the shaking isn't as readily noticeable."
Steady as it came out of the bathrobe pocket to cover Billy's, Laura's hand was not currently in need of such artifice.
Bill sought out Laura's gaze, but it wasn't forthcoming.
The phone rang.
As Billy had the window seat and looked as though he would fall if he had to stand, Bill crossed to the President's desk to answer the phone himself.
"Adama here." He paused to allow the person on the other end to speak. "Do we know who or how?" Again a pause. "I'll inform the President."
The President's eyes narrowed. "Cain isn't coming, is she?"
He put the receiver back down on the desk. "Cain is dead."
Bill saw skepticism in the President's eyes. "You?"
Billy let out a sigh. Putting his head down between his knees, he rubbed his hands over his face.
Interested in Billy's reaction, Bill shook his head. "The Cylon prisoner is missing."
Laura's rubbing of comforting circles across the back of her young aide was the only hit of emotion to her reaction. "That's certainly an unexpected turn of events."
A slight metallic click sounded behind him. Recognizing it immediately for what it was – a gun safety being moved - Bill whirled around. He pushed aside the curtain to what passed for the Presidential bedroom. There he found the head of the President's security detail. The gun he lowered to his side now had the safety on.
Coming from the President's personal quarters, the man would have approached from behind where Adama would have been sitting, side by side with Cain.
"That will be all."
"Yes, Madam President."
If he had thought the world gone mad before, now Bill knew it as the young man paused in front of the President. The Commander watched her extract the hand that hadn't left the pocket of her bathrobe since his arrival. In that hand, she too held a gun. Taking it from her, the guard clicked the safety on before continuing through the curtain.
Although Adama had been unconscious in sickbay at the time that it had occurred, he had later heard about the Cylon boarding and the President's first excursion from the brig. He knew of her refusal to hold a gun even to defend herself.
"Thank you, Billy. Why don't you go take care of that other matter we discussed?"
She spoke without preamble as her faithful aide departed.
"Discontented with the President's interference and unwilling to wait a few more days for nature to take its course, the Admiral decided to hurry the dying leader along. Shot and killed in the assassination attempt. Her crew knew her. They would have believed it."
He made no attempt to conceal the hurt and disappointment from his voice. "You planned this without discussing it with me?"
She met his gaze unabashedly. "It wasn't something that was open for discussion. It had to be done."
Nor could he conceal his disbelief. "You were just going to let me wander into a gunfight unaware?"
She remained unmoved. "Forgive me for saying so Bill, but you didn't get to where you are today on your looks. I was confident you would be able to pick up on things as they unfolded."
At the brazenness in her words and eyes, he couldn't help but comment, "And you certainly didn't get here on looks either, Madam President."
"I don't know about that, Commander." She spoke with more than a hint of amusement. "I am aware that I am looking a little faded at the moment, but back on Caprica I managed to turn a head or two that I maybe shouldn't have."
The tenor of their conversation was certainly changing quickly.
To his lifted eyebrow, she offered a wicked grin. "You wouldn't believe how far a bit of intelligence, a flash of leg, and a dash of mathematical absurdity can get a girl around here."
Not quite believing any of it, he smiled. "You don't look faded to me."
The halving of her smile told him that she didn't quite believe him either. "I ifeel/i faded." Again the tenor shifted dramatically. "Bill, we're talking days now, not weeks. You need to realize that."
Unable to say anything to that, he looked down to his hands clasped together in his lap.
"It had to be done and I couldn't be sure that you would follow through. You have to live with your decisions and the actions that you take, Bill. I realize that can be quite limiting. I'm under no such limitations."
She paused, waiting for him to meet her gaze. When he did, she continued. "Bill, you need to understand that there is nothing that I would not do to ensure the safety of the people of this fleet. To ensure your safety. Bill, it is absolutely vital to this fleet that you remain alive."
She repeated it for emphasis. "Nothing."
He thought that he had understood on Kobol where he had met her to put their family back together, but it was only now that he truly realized the full measure of her devotion to the fleet. And now to him. He didn't mistake her emphasis on him as a declaration of love and adoration. He knew it to be a mark of the trust and respect that had been building between them.
For some time now, he had been aware of certain emotions developing in him - emotions that strayed beyond trust and respect. However he was aware that these sentiments were exclusively his own. The woman before him had spent the past few months wholly consumed by her devotion to the fleet and the task of fulfilling her supposed role as their dying leader. She hadn't the time or the mindset for anything beyond that.
Had they had the leisure of unlimited time, how might things have progressed?
Too often, he had to stop himself from wondering.
"Laura, I would have made the call. If it came to it, I would have made the call."
"When? Before or after she did?" She leaned toward him, almost sympathetically. "It's okay to admit it, Bill. You choked. You couldn't do it."
She held up her hand to forestall his response.
"I don't say it as an insult. No, really I don't. What we have, the way we are, it's worked for us. It's worked well. We complement each other."
She was right. They made quite the pair. His near death experience had softened him. Her experiences while dying had hardened her. The differences he supposed between having been briefly near death and really getting to experience it. Sometimes it was difficult for him to reconcile this woman with the 'schoolteacher' he had met at the decommissioning of the Galactica not six months earlier.
"Look Bill, I don't mind playing the heavy, but we both know that that isn't a luxury that you will be able to enjoy for much longer. You've grown soft, Bill, but you are going to need to step back up."
As he stated to protest, she again cut him off. "Commander, I have no illusions about how much longer I will be around. You need to step up. You are going to be completely alone in this. I frakked up, Bill. I miscalculated. I thought I could hold out until the election. If I was being more pragmatic about the time I had left I never would have chosen Baltar. At best he will prove incompetent. At worst I can't even begin to fathom."
He wanted to assuage the guilt he saw in her eyes. "You didn't exactly have a lot of options at the time. Given the choice between a terrorist and …" was there even a single word that could adequately describe Baltar? "Sometimes you just have to go with what you have. Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six."
She stared him in the eye. "Bill, what the hell does that actually mean? 'Roll the hard six?'"
He was tired of talking about what he knew was soon to come. He was tired of hearing her talk about it as the forgone conclusion that it was. He wanted to see the hope back in her eyes. He wanted to see her laugh at least one more time.
He deadpanned, "Damned if I know. I just like saying it."
As he had hoped, she couldn't help but laugh.
But all too soon she was back to the business at hand. "What now? A state funeral with full honors?"
She scoffed. "You'll forgive me if I sit this one out. But not to worry, you have my word, the next one I'll be front and center."
He recoiled at her gallows humor. "I should get over to the Pegasus. See what more I can learn."
"Yes, you should." She agreed.
He was at the curtain when she said it again.
"There is nothing, Bill, absolutely nothing that I wouldn't do."
"What about you, Bill? Are you able to say the same?"
He paused before responding and when he did, his voice was hesitant not because he was uncertain, but because he knew her question was not a casual one. It hadn't escaped him that she still seemed to hold her resolve even after the news of Cain. It suggested to him that there was something else – something at least as equally distasteful, yet to come.
"If it was something that had to be done." He finally replied.
He remained; hand on the curtain, waiting to see if she would ask it of him now or if she would wait.
"Thank you, Commander." It was said as a dismissal.
"Madam President." He offered in return before continuing out.