She splashes through the watery grave and right out the other side – she's not drowning. She hears voices before she can work out where she is.
"Are we doing the right thing?"
"Who said we were doing anything?"
"The river ... the boat – that's from you, right? That's what this is all about, isn't it?"
Sarah looks down. The planks she's hovering above aren't from the stage. They're pitching ever-so-gently. She's on a boat. It's cold where she is, cold and dark. She's hidden in shadow.
She's not alone. Crazy relief floods her senses. The lady and the admiral stand parting sunshine at the rail.
She hasn't torn them apart or away from this land forever.
The lady is speaking. "I'm not entirely sure – it's been a while since I've needed to come this way, if you'll remember."
"How can I forget?" the admiral says, his voice quiet. Heart-stopping.
The lady gazes into his eyes. She puts her hands to his chest, alternately plucking at the buttons on his uniform and spreading her fingers across the fabric.
"It's too easy to hurt and be hurt by the ones we love."
He takes her hand and kisses it. "We did sling a few arrows, didn't we?"
She snorts. "We were just being truthful – that's why it hurt; you were right – I was afraid my death would be meaningless, although mostly I was just afraid of it. What were you thinking of?"
They lean over and watch the water move as he considers.
"So many things – random – things ... Starbuck, Kobol, the arrow. Maybe if you'd trusted me, told me everything..."
"Ha! That old chestnut. There was no way. Not you, not then," she says, laughing. "You weren't ready to trust me – and I wasn't ready to trust you. I told you: truth hurts. Besides–" She grins. "You staged a frakking coup and you had the gall to think I had something to apologize for."
The corners of his mouth quirk. "Now see how you command me." He takes a moment to regard her thoughtfully. "Hera."
"President's prerogative," she says smoothly.
He taps the rail and his eyes narrow. "It took you forever to say you loved me."
"Oh, excuse me, Mr We-have-certain-responsibilities!"
"I made the first move," he says unrepentantly.
"Yeah – on a dying woman – then you backtracked. You played the responsibility card."
Sarah can tell although this battleground has been well-worn, they're not angry. She wonders how long the war has been waged.
The lady settles against the admiral's chest and gives a self-satisfied sigh. "Wasn't life a gas? Miss it?"
"Not the way I missed you."
They fall silent.
The hum of the ferry slicing through waves fills the air.
The lady sighs again. "What do you suppose is the point of all this?"
His brows go up. "You're asking me? I thought you knew. Mysticism was more your realm than mine."
"Mine? No. I just adopted the appearance of what seemed appropriate at the time. Oh, all right!" She spins in his arms to face him; her mock glare is withering. "Anything to wipe that Adama smugness off your face. It gave me some comfort, some direction – for a while."
She twists again, turning to look across the water.
His arms tighten around her; his voice is low but Sarah can still hear his question."Do you ever wonder that maybe the prophecy wasn't important?"
"Hindsight - such a beautiful thing," the lady says drily."All that worrying, all those tears – I was wretched. What a waste of energy. The prophecy was going to see itself fulfilled. It didn't need me shepherding it."
She takes time to consider her next words."We gave ourselves up entirely. At the end it wasn't even about an act of faith, well maybe for Starbuck–"
"–It didn't require your – our – belief for it to be real. In the simplest terms, what happened happened not because we followed a prescribed course of action but because of who we already were."
"And look who we were."
She considers. "Small, fearful ... defiant, brave."
In the silence that follows Sarah knows they are both remembering things that archeology can only dream at resurrecting.
The admiral lifts his head. "We were worthy."
"Ah – but worthy by whose standards?"
"Our own – and that's all that ever mattered."
"And now here we are again."
"Is that what we're doing now? Proving ourselves worthy again? Saving ourselves again?" He sounds amused. "I'm not sure I see where we come into this."
She shakes her hands in frustration."I can't explain it all – I just know we doing something."
"Saving someone else? One of Hera's children? Only – if she's heading where I think she's heading we hardly seem necessary. Most people find this part fairly instinctive."
"How would you know? We compared notes – you never mentioned a river. Besides, as I said, I'm not too sure why we're really here. Or if we're really here. For all I know you and I are just figments." She takes his hand and laces her fingers through his. "Just simple figments."
"That would be a tidy explanation."
She nods. "Perhaps it would be for the best. I can't be too sure about anything but there's something going on. I think I have another message to pass on."
"And we have to go all the way to the end to deliver it?" There's no clue to explain why this should cause the admiral sadness. When he turns his head, Sarah sees unhappiness in his profile.
The lady is not sad; she's smiling."Only to the end – it feels right."
He looks away. Sarah hears him murmur: "'Hope is the one thing we have never lost – though we are tired the old war.' You know, I think that's why she chose us."
The lady waits.
"'The same anger in our hearts, same desolation and loss.' She and I, she and you – we share something."
The lady's hand tightens around the admiral's."I wish I could take that away from you."
"I know you do ... but I don't regret it. Not now."
A pair of white birds swoop overhead; the lady and the admiral are momentarily distracted. When the birds have flown on, the lady speaks.
"Is there something you can offer this girl?"
"I wouldn't say I had the answers – and I know of no cure for the pain. But you've already said it: love hurts. Grief is a measure of love. As long as I felt that pain, I knew I loved. The longer I had that pain, more that love was a comfort."
There is a heartbeat between his confession and the lady's response.
"You have a good heart, William Adama."
"And you, Laura Roslin, have a strong heart."
"I know – it's yours."
They stand inseparable and silent, until the lady turns and stares into the shadow where Sarah waits.
"We're nearly there. I think I sense her. I have to give her something."
For the first time Sarah feels the substance of her body in a dream. She feels a chill breeze push against her legs and the gentle motion of the ferry cutting through the water beneath them. She feels herself a part of the dream and she steps into the light.
The lady holds out her hands. In her palms she is cupping tiny, tiny toy soldiers – and the soldiers are singing.
Sarah can make out their tiny toy expressions. The soldiers are singing to her. One at the forefront waggles earnest eyebrows her way. She giggles and then gasps at the alien sensation – the gag from before has vanished.
"'I will come for you at night time, I will raise you from your sleep. I will kiss you in four places, I'll go running along your street,'" he sings.
She cocks her head. She knows these words – if only she could remember where she's heard them.
"'We may never meet again so shed your skin and let's get started. You will throw your arms around me.'"
Sarah looks at the couple. In excitement she opens her mouth.
The lady hushes her. "Listen: it's a message."
The lady's eyes widen and she nods slowly. "From Laura."
"'So if you disappear out of the room, you know I will never say goodbye and though I try to forget it, you will make me call your name and I'll shout it to the blue summer sky.'"
The admiral's hand on Sarah's shoulder draws her attention over the rail. The ferry surges forward, splitting the smooth surface and scattering ripples. Shapes – people – line the bank, at their backs intense sunlight obscures their faces. The shoreline is becoming more distinct. It is impossible. It is the hilltop. They are on a boat on a river, and the river flows toward the hilltop.
The singing toys forgotten she dashes to the rail, her heart pounding painfully against her chest. Hungrily she searches the silhouettes, desperate for a familiar outline. And when features start to sharpen, there's barely any air left in her chest to gasp.
Her heart races and before she knows herself, the admiral is lifting her from the ferry and she feels her feet touch the ground and her sister's welcoming arms warm on her skin.
She has no words.
Even when her sister sets her back and inspects her, there's nothing she can say to express herself. Laura's eyes twinkle. The twinkle is mesmerizing. Sarah stares, not quite believing the form in front of her. Her sister's eyes; her hair; the shape of her face; her patented pose, hand on hip.
About them there are other reunions. She hears the admiral and the lady exchanging cheerful greetings. Some of these people turn curious and benevolent glances her way.
"You came all this way just for me?" A smile stretches across Laura's face and she reaches out to hug Sarah again.
Her embrace is strong and warm. The chill is gone from Sarah's bones.
"You're here," she says, finding her voice. "Oh god – you're here, you're here." And the levee in her soul breaches. Words babble and gush, rushing forth in her need for release. "You were there and then you weren't and I didn't know where you'd gone. I can't remember anything. I can't remember saying goodbye. I don't know what happened and I wasn't prepared and when I woke up it was a nightmare and I couldn't remember if I said goodbye or not, and I wasn't sure if I even could have said goodbye and I–."
She breaks for breath, shuddering into her sister's shoulder, while Laura cradles and gently shushes her until her heartbeat stops its wild tattoo against her chest.
Sarah is almost too afraid to open her eyes. Then she laughs and spoils the moment with a sisterly dig. "You were wrong! You were wrong about death!"
She can't stop her laughter when she sees the small flicker of amusement in her sister's glare.
Dazed, Sarah watches as the unknown people about them smile, wave and start to disintegrate. Their fingers, their hands, corners of skirts, pants, flaps of jackets dissolve into the wind, a mist swirling and humming and settling on the air until no-one is left and the atmosphere crackles with particles.
Sarah doesn't know what to make of the vanished smiles.
"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, you are my heart now," Laura says.
Sarah feels her stomach lurch and she holds her sister fast. She blinks back tears. She can't have come this far – for what – for this? She clutches at her sister, desperate to stop her too floating away.
Laura's flesh stays solid.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Sarah." Sarah can't believe she's seeing Laura's annoyed big sister look again. She has no idea how her heart will survive the joy.
"Look at them, Sarah. They still here. And they're happy. Are they happy because they're dead and they're here? I don't know. They don't know. For all I know, I'm just existing in your head right now and this is some elaborate response your imagination has come up with to kick your ass. Because it needed a damned good ass-kicking!"
Sarah crinkles her nose. "You're saying you're not real?"
"I'm saying no such thing. I'm saying there's no way of knowing. But–" and here Laura looks sly, "this isn't so bad, is it?"
For once, Sarah is not so sure Laura is right. Which is strange because Laura is usually right – but on this occasion, Sarah feels she feels somehow she might be able to prove this experience is real. And that would make Sarah right, and Laura kind of wrong, wouldn't it?
Right or wrong on that particular detail, Sarah is certain her sister is right about the other thing. She cannot see them, but she can still feel the presence of those vanished people. Squinting into the sunlight, Sarah realizes their presence is in the dust.
Sarah lets go her sister and tentatively steps forward.
Latent naughtiness, like the release of pent-up spirit, bubbles up through her soul. Like an untamed child, Sarah is overcome by a desire to do something joyful and right now a swirl of dust seems to be beckoning like a finger.
This dream is inviting insanity and action.
Her sister's warning is lost to the rush of her feet in the grass as she hurtles through the dust as though it were ducks in a park. It scatters and reforms and she runs at it again and again. When she doubles over she has no breath to gasp a laugh. It's a moment worthy of laughter – she's wheeling and careening on the hillside, playing with tag with ashes.
Exhausted, she drops to her knees and her sister sits beside her.
"Finished harassing the dead?"
At last, forcing herself, she fills her lungs with air.
"This makes death look fun! It makes me look forward to–"
Laura's eyebrow arches.
"It has its charms – but I'm glad you didn't need to sleep, Sarah."
Sarah's gaze drops. "You saw that?"
"I see everything I need to see."
Sarah mentally appraises this. She turns aghast eyes on her sister; Laura grins.
"Don't look so concerned. No-one here cares if you scratch your butt or pick your nose."
Sarah's nose wrinkles."Gross."
It's impossible to tell if Laura is joking – her face is so straight ... until it isn't, and they fall on their backs in gales of laughter.
"Just so we're clear – by 'sleep' you're euphemistically referring to the lethal dose of pills I've been hoarding for a year, aren't you?" Sarah knows this can't be avoided.
"For you to get to that point – the point where you needed them – it means there's nothing left to hold on to; no earthly force strong enough to shelter or support you. It's heartbreaking – and it's hard to watch from the sidelines and feel so powerless."
Sarah chews on the thought. She thinks she understands her sister; she also thinks she wouldn't have understood a week ago but she can't say when or how the change came about.
"Why am I here?" Sarah asks finally.
Her sister rolls over and pokes her in the arm. "Only you can answer that."
"Do you think it's because I betrayed you? I couldn't do what you asked."
"I'm a little embarrassed to admit it but none of that matters, Sarah. Although gestures are lovely – and a great comfort, I'm sure – catering every whim of the dead isn't necessary for our eternal rest. Those aren't the kinds of ties the dead want with the living – well, not me anyway."
"Then what do you want from me?"
"That's easy. Just be. Just live as long as you can."
Their approach is so quiet Sarah doesn't realize they've been joined until she hears his voice.
"I hope you listen to your sister."
Sarah tips her head back. The admiral stands with his arm about the lady's waist. He winks at Sarah and she scrambles to her feet, not knowing how, but knowing the lady and the admiral brought her here and she owes them her gratitude.
She searches in vain for the right thing to say.
"'Thank you' doesn't seem to cover it," she says helplessly. "I'm so grateful ... just so grateful."
Suddenly Laura is by Sarah's side, supporting her and the words Sarah has struggled to articulate flow.
"You two were impossible," she says. "Professor Renfrew's tearing his hair out just trying to work out how you can be possible. I didn't think I could be anymore. I thought it was impossible that I could ever feel joy, feel anything anymore. But you were impossible – and I realized if you were impossible – but still here – other impossible things were possible too. You made this possible." She searches their faces for any sign her explanation makes any sort of sense.
"You were a miracle," she finishes lamely.
"Whatever we are isn't as important as what you are at the moment. One day we can talk further – we look forward to it. Until then..."
The admiral stretches forward his hand; unconsciously Sarah reaches to him. The tips of their fingers graze and as they do, the admiral and the lady start to resolve, tiny parts of themselves picked up by the breeze. Their smiles never die. The admiral's voice is strong, long after he has gone. "The living are the hearts of the dead, Sarah."
Sarah's time is almost up; she feels sadness but it's not enough to weigh her down anymore. Blindly she reaches for her sister's hand before the inevitable.
Laura throws her arms around her one last time. "I'm glad you didn't need to sleep, Sarah. It's time to wake up now."
Sarah holds her breath as her sister slowly comes apart in her arms like soft, fraying electricity, and then it's over and she's alone on the hilltop in a swarm of warm light.
Sarah jolted upright.
Dawn was draping itself across the mountains in the east. The light was thick and warm but judging by the prickles on her skin the temperature had dropped at some point in the night. Funny – she hadn't felt the cold at all. A haze was already rising over the land – a shimmer of dust motes suspended in the air – like she had never left her dream.
She did not move. For minutes she sat, enraptured and, as she contemplated the landscape, she became aware of a change – a comfortable breeze starting to move in the trees halfway down the hillside.
A early morning whistle carried to her and her lips curled in a tiny smile. A beanie appeared over the brow of the hill. The head filling the hat and the body accompanying it appeared. Andrew's mouth opened when he saw her.
"Sarah?" She saw him scan the area. "Did you sleep here?"
Her grin died when she saw his horrified gaze. The hand he had started to extend froze. He was staring at the tiny plastic container that had fallen from her lap hours ago. Tiny white things scattered in the grass like rice.
"What's going on, Sarah?"
She fought her embarrassment and, grimacing, forced herself to stare straight into his eyes.
"This looks bad, doesn't it?"
She pushed herself onto her feet. Her words would mean nothing today; today would be about action.
"How much time have we got before the others get here?"
"I don't know – ten, fifteen minutes. I'm up early–"
"Ten or fifteen minutes? Right. I have something important to do, and I think you – and the Professor – should be here when I do it. Can you go get him?"
"Who? The Professor? Sarah, what's going–"
"Of course the Professor, dumbass. Who else? Just get him up here."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" He nudged the vial in the grass with his foot like he was reluctant to get any closer to it.
"Oh," she said. She stooped and picked it up. Half its contents had spilled, the rest she tipped into the palm of her hand.
"Watch this," she said. She took aim and hurled the handful out over the slope of the hill. She loved the pain as her arm arched, the strain against her chest as the pills went flying. Adrenalin like freedom raced through her body. She felt like cheering.
She pocketed the container and dusted off her hands. "Littering. Poor form, you know." Then she spun about and took off down the hill, not there to laugh at the shocked expression on his face.
Andrew didn't fail her. She was already at the top of the hill waiting for him when he appeared with the Professor.
When she tried to speak, words stuck in her mouth. She had wanted desperately not to tear up, wanted this moment to be about a joy of sorts. Before either man could ask her what was wrong she held out the urn.
Understanding dawned on Renfrew, and he moved to spare her the discomfort of explaining herself. He looked out over the plateau and nodded. "This is the perfect place, Sarah. I think Laura would approve."
Of course, she couldn't say that Laura might not actually care now. Not the Laura who had spoken to her in her dream. And what Laura had wanted wasn't the point – that was what her sister, and the admiral and the lady ... Laura? ... had been trying to tell her.
This is about me.
"I didn't think I'd ever be able to do this," Sarah said. "Laura had this thing about recycling–"
Andrew patted the professor's back as he choked and wiped his eyes.
"–But the idea of letting her go just seemed ... impossible. Until – I don't know – I woke up this morning. I woke up this morning. And I knew it was the right thing to do. And since you were two of her best friends, I thought..."
She trailed off, suddenly shy, out of practice at wearing her heart on her sleeve.
They didn't leave her hanging. Renfrew sniffed and surreptitiously raised his glasses to wipe an eye.
"Thank you, Sarah. It means a lot to me..."
She had underestimated the old man's affection for her sister.
They stood where the hillside fell away steepest. The sun was just appearing over the mountains and cast a brilliant pink glow over the vast plateau. Sarah took the cap of the urn and they scattered Laura's ashes, watching as the breeze carried her sister out over the landscape she had loved.
They lingered, each silent in their thoughts, until the Professor hugged Sarah and took his leave. Andrew and Sarah remained. The way he fidgeted with the tassels on his beanie, Sarah got the impression he wanted to say something.
She nudged him with her elbow. "Penny?"
He wouldn't look at her; she wondered if he was still upset about the way he found her this morning.
"Something happened last night, didn't it?" he said.
"Yeah." She wouldn't lie – she just wouldn't say any more than that. Not yet.
"You think you'll tell me one day?"
She sized him up, then yawned. "Maybe – when you're ready. In the meantime, I could really do with a coffee and a change of clothes," she said, pulling at her t-shirt and grimacing.
Andrew grinned. "Hell, I forgot what you're like without your morning caffeine shot." They turned to head down the hill.
"Andrew? I really am okay. I'm sorry if– "
"You have nothing to apologize for," he said. "I'm just glad you're going to be okay. Nothing else matters."
They started down the slope just as the hilltop volunteers began appearing ready for a new day on the dig.
"We'll be up shortly," Andrew said in response to the curious looks they were getting. He turned to Sarah. "That is – I take it we'll be up?"
She reached out and, taking his hand firmly in her own, she squeezed. "Just try to keep me away."
Sarah doesn't know it but Laura Roslin and Laura Clarke are taking a moment to observe their handiwork.
She doesn't know they are listening intently as she asks Andrew Ndiaye about a song on his iPod, doesn't know Laura Roslin and Laura Clarke are giggling as they hold tiny toy soldiers in their hands and listen to these soldiers sing themselves silly.
"But – really – what do the words mean?" The older Laura says when she has brought her laughter under control. 'We may never met again, so shed your skin and let's get started?' That paints a ridiculous image in my head." She misses the baleful look on the face of the tiny lead soldier.
The younger Laura, who bears a very coincidental, passing resemblance to her companion, does not miss the expression and lets loose another giggle.
"You know something. I don't even know this song. You're saying this was a message for Sarah? From me? I don't see how that could be."
They look at each other.
"Well, if it wasn't from you, then who...?"
Andrew and Sarah have gone on ahead but the echo of their voices rises up the hillside; twin smiles appear on the Lauras' faces.
"Yeah you will throw your arms around me – oh yeah..."
Author's notes: (July 11, 2015: If you've read this far and enjoyed, please consider letting me know. This is appreciated even years later :)
Original note: Hunters and Collectors sing the beautiful Throw Your Arms Around Me.
I've no plans for a sequel; this was written with very specific themes and goals in mind. I do have a wee snigger when I think about Adama's raptor (the thought had occurred to me); a story about its discovery would very definitely have to be a comedy.
I like to think Sarah and Andrew have no idea how close they were to the most awesomest archaeological find ever, but it's probably best some of these things stay hidden. The admiral and lady are enough to upset the academic world for a while ... (I'm such an academic wuss I'm just glad I'm not in Renfrew's position).