A/N: First foray into Big Love. Hope you enjoy.
Barb can pinpoint the very second she lost faith in her husband.
Because it's the second she realises Nicki no longer believes wholeheartedly in him.
It was such a minor moment, such an inconsequential scene that purged her soul of that shining, unquestioning belief she'd held on to for two decades.
It was nothing Bill did, nothing he said. It was not one of the dire turns of fate that have battered her family for years, now—that would have made sense. Instead, it was just another squabble with Nicki, just another of the million battles for power, which play out by the kitchen sink almost daily in the Henrickson household.
Now that it's gone, she can't quite fathom its existence in the first place.
"What is this, Nicki?" She holds up the opened mail.
Nicki's eyes show barely a flicker of distress, before every defensive wall gets slammed into place. "It's a bank statement, Barb," she points out the obvious, scowling with unnecessary anger.
Barb shakes her head. "This is almost ten thousand dollars, Nikki! How can you keep this from the family? Where did you even get it?"
"Sometimes I run a few errands for momma. What of it?"
"What errands?" Barb asks, already knowing it was something horribly unethical if not outright illegal.
"Just errands," Nicki replies—the secrecy Juniper Creek breeds bone deep never waivers.
"Nicki!" Unless she screams, Nicki rarely grasps the severity of the situation. "How can you keep hiding things like this?"
And Barb sees it coming—the sad twist to Nicki's lip that hides a dozen motives for every word spoken.
How could she ever possibly like someone so brutally manipulative, so cruelly selfish?
"Barb, I can't always ask for things from Bill! How can I, when he already works so hard just to pay my debts? But sometimes I just want to buy tiny things for the kids—for Cara Lynn. She's never had things just for herself, just because. And I've already asked Bill to do so much, too much, for a child not biologically his. Is it so wrong of me to keep something, just so I can buy the children a few treats without feeling guilty? But, if it's such a problem, of course I'll simply close the account…"
And Barb knows she's being lied to. She knows she's just been manipulated. Those sky-blue eyes are wide and guileless, but the aggressive stance gives away the lies in those pretty words. But she can't do the right thing. Not when Nicki pleads so cleverly.
"No, Nicki. Keep the money. Cara Lynn should have those things she missed out on growing up." So should you.
Nicki smiles victoriously. It turns her plain, blunt features into something impossible to turn away from. (Sometimes Barb gives in to see the rare smile, not just because she knows Nicki will never stop fighting.) But there's something not quite right. Usually Nicki would gloat for longer, but instead she turns away, washes another dish mindlessly.
"You should do the same, Barb."
It's that seemingly careless statement, so flippant Barb knows it's hiding a million more secrets that changes everything.
In their early years, when Bill still spoke of his home with blind hatred, she'd believed their life would be simple. It didn't matter that Bill was a Henrickson, grandson to the prophet of a community that defiled the very essence of Mormonism with every breath. They'd live an easy life, beautifully entwined with the real church and move beyond Bill's sordid beginnings. If her career had never taken off quite the way she hoped, if somehow she became more mom and lessBarb, still, it was more than enough.
They both tried. She's sure of it.
But the compound…It seeped so slowly, so silently into their lives that neither her nor Bill noticed the noose that bound them ever tighter. Frank usually wanted as little to do with them as they with him, but Lois, Joey, even Wanda-she'd known they'd be a part of her life forever and she'd never minded. But she'd never accounted for Roman Grant's presence.
She should have.
Bad blood doesn't wash clean.
There was unfinished business and Barb had never questioned it. Why should she? What was Roman to her, but an aging confidence man with scripture on his tongue and the thin veneer of the tainted piety of a false prophet?
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
(She'd never met him.
She never knew)
Still, she believes they could have lived normally, away from Juniper Creek, away from Roman.
If only she'd never got sick.
Radiation was a distant memory, the rounds of chemo now blurring together, just endless cycles of illness where she swung between waiting for a day when she can live again and hoping there were no more days
Bill is ragged, desperate. She can see it, even if no one else can.
She needs the surgery. There's no other option.
They can't pay the hospital bills they have now, let alone any more.
It's on one of her sicker days when she meets Roman.
She'd begged Bill, knowing what Roman's help would entail, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
She's in bed, too unwell to even dress herself. Her bags are packed neatly in a corner, in case she needs to go to the hospital. Bill knocks, but only Roman walks in.
Bill waits by the door, smiles weakly at her.
Roman is both less and more than she expected.
His skin is slack with age, his hair slick, his body withered and frail. It should be anticlimactic, an unimpressive end to a terrifying myth. Instead, he walks to her bedside in his out-dated suit and removes his hat respectfully while those dark brown eyes, filled with infinite compassion, never leave hers. She's absolutely captivated.
"Oh child," he breathes. It takes every ounce of self-control, but she doesn't flinch when he cups her cheek lightly in his weathered hand. She's already nauseous, but with all that intensity focused solely on her, she can't even concentrate on what he's saying. Yet, when he pauses and waits for a response, she knows what to say.
"God did not send you. Bill did. And if I—if I heal it will be because God willed it. Not because you answered His summons. I do not want your help." In her position it should sound foolish, but there's nothing but restrained dignity in her voice. Or so she hopes.
"Barb—" Bill starts, but without looking back Roman lifts a hand and Bill goes silent.
"You do not like me," Roman says with certainty, as If it is her soul laid bare before him, not her sickly body.
"I don't know you," she says, diplomatic even now.
"You don't like me," Roman states again, unfazed. "You don't like Juniper Creek, you don't believe in The Principle and I represent all of that."
Barb doesn't respond, just holds his gaze evenly.
"While you hate what I represent, you hate a part of your husband. A very important part. Never forget that."
Those words haunt her.
When she says yes to Nicki, yes to Marge, it's the words of a man she hates that give her peace. Bill was born from Juniper Creek, born from polygamy, and she loves every inch of him, even The Principle which was carved so harshly into his core.
"You are an idealist Barbara. You won't take my help, because you think my beliefs wrong. But where is the wrong in living? Where is the right in dying to prove a point?" Roman says gently. "Who will pay for your high-minded ideals?" He gives a sad sigh, before continuing seriously, "Idealists, Barbara, are the most dangerous of all God's creatures."
He has none of Bill's open passion, none of the fire in his voice that she associates with his charisma. That greatness they speak about has softened with age, or practice. It doesn't cut at you until you have no choice but to agree or bleed. Roman's charisma is subtle, simple, almost beautiful.
He asks again, so kindly, if she'll accept his help; Barb nods, eyes shining with tears of relief.
Never again does she underestimate Roman Grant.
With one simple loan, Bill enters Roman's chessboard and no matter how hard she tries, she can't make him forfeit the game. She might have tried harder, because if Orville was a prophet, if Bill was his rightful heir, then why does a man like Roman Grant exist?
But she gives in, because when Roman walks out her door, he leaves his daughter in his place.
Nicki sits by her side and fights for her when her body is too ravaged by the cancer to fight for itself. There's not a single day when Nicki gives in to reason. It doesn't matter that even the doctors shake their heads, and Bill loses hope, and the plans for his remarriage after her death are already laid, still Nikki fights.
(I can't, Nicki. Not today, Nicki.
You can! You will! Today, tomorrow, and every day I still have breath in my body!)
If Roman's charm was quiet, undramatic, Barb's certain it's because Nicki drained the theatrics from him at her birth.
Barb carries on, past the point most give in, simply because she has no other option. Not with Nicki holding her hand, glaring and tossing carelessly cruel remarks around, shaming her into living. Nicki speaks as if death was just another annoying task she would deal with when she found the time between cooking and washing and how could Barb even complain, let alone think of giving in?
She doesn't like Nicki. She can't.
She doesn't like her cool gaze, the bitter words, the severe clothes.
She especially doesn't like the way Nicki stares at her home, at the small luxuries, that odd mix of longing and scorn never fails to make her uncomfortable.
Barb hates that when she is too tired to eat, Nicki sighs long and put-out. Those work-roughened hands that move so quick and proficient, surprisingly gentle as she pushes Barb forward, as she does those humiliating things Barb can no longer do.
She hates Nicki.
She hates the way Nicki watches her husband, her children, as if they're already hers.
She hates that Nicki fights tirelessly, unendingly, with no doubt about the outcome.
(She loves Nicki. Tirelessly. Unendingly. With no doubt about the outcome. )
Every year of their marriage continues the same way.
When Barb flinches, when she doubts—Nicki fights.
When Bill claims to have the priesthood Nicki is smug and unsurprised.
(I never thought otherwise.)
When the new church starts, Nicki smiles winningly.
(Barb, how can you possibly doubt?)
When the enmity between Roman and Bill comes to head, Nikki shakes her head, but never once hesitates.
(He's our husband—we follow where he leads.)
Barb wants to believe in Bill, she really does. But she remembers Roman's liquid brown eyes, too clever and not quite sane, and thinks that must be what people mean when they speak of god-touched.
But always, always, Nicki is there, shaming her with her fearlessness.
Whatever Roman was, he was a fool the day he so thoughtlessly tossed Bill his most unwanted child. Nicki may be as fierce as Adaleen, as mad as Alby, and near as compelling as her father, but she wasn't theirs. Not anymore.
And so Barb has faith—faith in Bill.
God would not send them Nicki, if they were not meant to fight.
But those words.
You should do the same, Barb.
It wasn't cash saved for a rainy day. It wasn't going on treats for the kids or for herself.
Nicki was hoarding, preparing for the worst, for the day when she had to fend for herself.
Nicki was no longer certain of the outcome.
She was prepared to lose Bill.
It left Barb cold and terrified.
Barb takes a tea towel, drying as Nicki washes. It lessens the trembling in her hands.
When they're done, neither woman moves from the sink. They stare unseeing out the window.
Nicki links their hands and Barb stops trembling. Those warm, capable hands had saved her once before. And they wouldn't stop fighting now. Maybe they never would. Because reason, loss, death—none of it could change Nicki.
She refuses to let go of Nicki's hand.
(Barb no longer believes in Bill.
But she holds tight to her faith.)