When Laura Roslin didn't die on her first night on Earth, Bill Adama was shocked, but not terribly surprised. This, after all, was a woman whose inner strength was matched only by an equally strong stubborn streak. Her determination to defy the odds even in death underlined the same obstinate characteristic that at one time had driven him far from her, and soon afterwards, right back to her.
As much as he had known what her death would do to him, he had still not been prepared to look over to her as they talked about wildlife and cabins and find that she had passed. He had gotten to spend only seconds with her, long enough to place the ring on her finger that he had promised so long ago, before having to resume piloting the raptor. Briefly he had considered simply letting the vehicle crash, ending his suffering along with hers, and perhaps transporting them to whatever afterlife it was she believed in. But he knew she deserved more. A proper burial on earth. A cabin by a stream. These were the things he could still give to her, and since he could do her nothing else, he would give her that.
A pause in her labored breathing pulled him away from the recent memory, terror gripping his chest as for perhaps the hundredth time in almost as many minutes his heart waited with hers, willing it to start again. The seconds dragged on, and just as he thought that this time had finally been the end, his hands felt her chest expand, resuming its unsteady rhythm.
The relief he experienced was a small mirror of his reaction hours ago, when he had at last been able to turn back to her after landing the craft, and realized that she was inexplicably, unbelievably still alive. Her breathing had become more erratic, with terrifyingly long pauses between some breaths, and she had slipped into unconsciousness, but she was still clinging to life. Collapsing onto the floor of the raptor he had by turns cursed the illness that was taking her from him, and praised whatever small mercy had left her with him for just a bit longer.
He brought her to this spot under the shade of a large tree, determined to have her final moments be in his arms, in the open air near the space that would become her cabin, overlooking magnificent vistas that surpassed the view on any of the Twelve Colonies. The sun had changed positions from when they had arrived, now beginning its long journey over the westward horizon, painting the landscape a brilliant glow of orange and reds, the rays peeking through the leaves of the tree to land on her impossibly pale face.
So intent was he on ensuring that every breath she took was followed by another that he didn't notice the temperature falling with the sun until he felt her body begin to tremble lightly. He cursed his shortsightedness in bringing her out here without extra blankets or implements for a fire. Logically he knew why those things had seemed superfluous at the time, but now faced with the current situation, he had to smile at the fact that even unconscious, she could still surprise him.
He was mulling his options when her slight weight shifted in his arms; her voice, barely a croaked whisper, found his ears. "Bill."
His eyes found hers, their vibrant green now muted and so very tired, but nonetheless open and searching. "Hey, you're awake in time for the best part of the show." He nodded towards the horizon before settling his gaze back on her, and brought his left hand up to cup her jaw gently, guiding it upwards to help her see the sunset around them. He watched the muscles in her face pull into a small smile. "It's so…beautiful."
Spellbound by the hue the sunset was reflecting on her face, he could manage only a simple response. "It is."
As the darkness of the night began to dampen out the remaining rays of sun, Laura coughed weakly, instantly bringing Bill back into the present realities. "You still awake?" he asked gently from his position resting his chin softly upon the top of her wig.
"Mmm, mm." In the faint hum, he could tell that what small strength she had left was rapidly waning. Determined to ensure her comfort, he made a decision.
"Laura, we've got to run back to the raptor to get some provisions, and I want to make a fire, the night is going to be cold. Are you up for that?" She nodded and he lifted her off of him to rise heavily to his feet. As he gathered her gently in his arms, she cried out. Standing straight, he shifted her slightly and she whimpered as tears of pain began to escape from behind her tightly closed eyes. Glancing in the direction of the raptor, he looked back down at her, her face and hands clenched in agony.
"Laura...I don't want to hurt you, but I've got to get to the raptor. Do you want to stay here? It'll take about fifteen minutes for me to get there and back… can you, I mean, will you be…" He trailed off, unwilling to put words to his question.
She made a sound in the affirmative into his chest, and as softly as he could he set her back down on the ground against the tree. Her body was as limp as it had been when he first carried her into the raptor, but once he had adjusted her into a comfortable position and stepped back, her eyes opened slowly again. They were laced with pain and fatigue, but also a hint of her ubiquitous gleam. He made to step away then stopped, fear making it impossible to force his body to leave her, if only for a few moments.
"Don't…. worry, Admiral. I won't run away while….you're gone." She was rewarded for her raspy effort at speech by another coughing fit, and he came close to her again, rubbing her chest gently until the hitching subsided, then squeezed her hand and pressed a light kiss to her temple. "I'll see you in a few minutes?"
She nodded, tears springing to her eyes at the memory of a similar exchange between them years ago, their situations so different, yet so familiar. He turned away again towards the raptor as Laura stared intently at the spot he had just occupied.
Determined to keep her promise to be there when he returned, Laura forced her eyes to remain open and searching in the growing darkness for as long as they could. She felt the tide of overwhelming weariness growing within her again and finally she closed her eyes and tried to focus and pull at the fading vestiges of what she had experienced earlier. She grasped at the threads of fuzzy thoughts and memory and tried to put them in some semblance of order.
Laura looked around with a start, her heart racing at the sudden change. She had been in the raptor with Bill, her heart soaring as she took in the beauty of this planet, the promise of what it held for her people and the love she felt from and for the man at her side. She felt death lurking close, waiting to take her and yet she struggled against it, determined to stay. But, at last the pull had been too strong and she felt herself fading even as she had tried to utter words to the contrary. Then she had fallen away, closing her eyes against the brilliant wash out of the lighting, and opened her other senses, ready to feel the gentle rocking of the open sea, and the lush green landscape of the shore ahead of her. Instead, when the light faded and she opened her eyes, she had found herself in another familiar yet changed place.
The soft golden glow of the lanterns on the wall of the Opera House had been snuffed out by covers tossed over most of the fixtures, and the ones that weren't covered had faded to just a slight flicker, bathing the space in an oppressive darkness. Where her other visits here had always seemed to be scored by some unseen orchestra whose brilliant music filled the air, now there was only quiet, a silence broken only when she walked to the familiar railing and peered over, expecting to see Hera toddling down the stairs as she had so many times before. Instead, there was nothing, just more of the faint flickering off the walls, and glow of a soft light shining at the bottom of the stairs.
She made her way down cautiously, the infirmities of her body lifted, but still a very real and present memory. Reaching the bottom, she followed the flood of light as it guided her towards the doors of the main auditorium that she had never before been able to enter. Stepping through now, she discovered it was dark here too, rows of seats all covered with cloths, coated with a thick film of dust. The air was stale and still, and as she began walking towards the stage she looked up to see a single spotlight flooding the stage, bathing a solitary figure in a brilliant glow. Laura narrowed her eyes, trying to make out the identity of the figure on stage, the light making it all but impossible.
She drew closer, closer than she had ever come to the stage itself, and for the first time the body didn't move, didn't turn away, and didn't try to flee through another door. Reaching the front, Laura moved down between the first row of seats and the abandoned orchestra pit, stopping only when she was directly in front of the form on stage. Looking up, she gasped when the close proximity brought the figure into focus, and when it smiled warmly at her, Laura couldn't help but smile back.
Night had fully descended when Bill left the raptor muttering a string of curses. While most of the ships were equipped with a plethora of emergency supplies, he had not taken into account the fact that most of those supplies would have likely been removed by people looking to hold onto what few creature comforts they could procure in this new land. All of the food supplies were gone, along with the emergency shelters and most of the extra uniforms and clothing. Only after coming up empty repeatedly did he find in one small hidden compartment a single bedroll and tarp. Lee and Kara had brought Laura down from Galactica in this same raptor, and he said a brief thanks to them when he found tucked away next to the copilots seat a small canteen of water and an envelope of her chamalla.
Exiting the craft, he made his way through the dark as quickly as he could, the bright light of the moon guiding his way back to where he had left Laura. Halfway there, the howl of a wild animal broke into the quiet of the night, and a sudden panic gripped his chest. He broke into a stumbling run, stopping only when he had reached the entrance to their campsite. Walking slowly towards her he breathed a sigh of relief as her chest rose and her eyes opened slightly, then widened as she took in the expression on his face.
"Laura…" He said her name as he fell to his knees next to her, adrenaline making him weak. She extracted her hand from its resting place under the red blanket covering her and slowly reached up to find the back of his head and ran her fingers slowly through the rough strands of his hair. "I'm here, Bill. I'm still here."
Pulling away from her long moments later, Bill was relieved to see that she had drifted off again, breath still weak and shallow, but he thought perhaps slightly more regular than it had been earlier. He dismissed his own thought as foolishly optimistic and made quick work of collecting nearby rocks and twigs and branches together and setting the mass on fire with his lighter. The kindling ignited readily and within moments a strong blaze was burning in front of them. He retrieved the items from the raptor that had been discarded in his panic, carefully settling the bedroll close to the fire. He took a long sip of her water, then added a dose of chamalla to it and lifted the canteen above the flames, holding it there for a few moments before removing it once the water was warmed.
He woke her with a gentle kiss to her lips, dry and parched, yet soft. She smiled into his mouth, and slowly opened her eyes to glimpse at him before closing them again tightly; the pain was getting worse.
"Here, can you drink this?" He held the canteen up to her lips, and she opened them automatically. He tipped it slightly, allowing only a few drops down her throat at a time, and she gamely tried to swallow as much as she could before the tickling in her throat prompted another coughing fit.
He rubbed circles to her front gently as he tried to soothe the spasm, careful to avoid putting pressure anywhere near the left side of her chest, where advanced disease had left her swollen and painful.
"Sorry, I know it's bitter, but the chamalla will help with the pain."
She nodded slowly in understanding, and after her breathing had steadied somewhat, motioned for him to bring the canteen to her lips once more. A few more cautions sips went down without prompting another fit. As he lowered the canteen he again brushed his lips to hers, taking the moment to leave his head pressed to hers and drink in her essence. A lifetime could never fully encompass the things he wanted to experience with her, unencumbered of responsibility, duty and disease.
But they didn't have a lifetime, or even the golden years of retirement to look forward to. He had minutes left with her; maybe, if he was lucky, an hour or two. Thinking about it, his emotions threatened to completely overwhelm him, and he pulled away, determined to finish his task.
He worked quickly setting up the supplies he had managed to find in the raptor. He set the small tarp up between the fire and the tree, taking advantage of its natural shade and protection. He folded the extra blanket over once, and then laid it down, setting the bedroll out on top. Laura was so thin now that even his couch and the bed in the infirmary had been uncomfortable for her to lie on in the last few days. There was so much pain he was incapable of taking from her; he would damn well fix the little things that he could.
When he was finished, he kneeled down facing her, watching as she slept fitfully against the large tree. Trying not to wake her, he carefully pulled the thick plaid blanket she was wrapped in away from her body. Reaching one hand behind her back, and the other under her legs he lifted her into his arms and carried her gently to the bedroll. As he set her down she stirred slightly then took two halting, gasping breaths before coughing violently as her ravaged lungs tried to adjust to the new position. Taking off his uniform jacket, he rolled it and lifted her head just enough to place it underneath. Her breath eased somewhat with the new position, and a slight smile came to her lips as one hand wandered back to her cheek, and the other brought the plaid blanket back over her.
"Hmmm… fire… feels nice…" She hummed something else unintelligible, her voice trailing off as her eyes closed again.
She swallowed twice, trying to regain her voice. "I said… it reminds me of the last time… we did this." She smiled again.
The memory that felt like it belonged a lifetime ago. The two of them, camping out together by another fire, after an excursion to another beautiful space. Passions and promises had been exchanged there that night. The flames had mesmerized her as they had reflected off the water of the nearby lake; his attention had been focused on watching the same reflection as it played out upon her body, seeming to set her hair ablaze. Looking back down to her now, the brightness of the fire only cast shadows across her, further blanching out the pallor of her skin and highlighting the gauntness of her face; the color absorbed completely into the dark fibers of her wig.
He reached up to stroke the artificial strands and hesitated with a moment of indecision before softly siding it from her head. He had always hated the wig almost as much as she had. They had been lucky to find one at all in the fleet, but the cut and color had been all wrong for her. She had frequently complained about how uncomfortable it was to wear, how it rubbed and abraded her skin. He let his hand move to the back of her bare head, rubbing at the spot she loved him to massage.
She moved her head into his fingertips and murmured something to him that sounded like "pockets". Unsure of her meaning, he worked his hands under the blankets and towards the small pocket in her blazer, stopping as his hand encountered something firm tucked between her jacket and her blouse. Tugging it loose, he extracted it and by the light of the fire he examined the small bundle held together by a familiar delicate white scarf. Carefully unwrapping, he found within a small book. The cover was charred beyond recognition, but he did not need to open it to know what it was.
"You brought it."
She nodded and smiled, and her shoulders came forward in what he recognized as a faint giggle. Their shared laughter promptly vanished as she was wracked with a violent cough, her body moving unnaturally as contractions forced air out of her lungs.
"Breathe Laura." He tried to soothe her with his voice, his inflection portraying calm he didn't feel. Her eyes shifted from pain to panic as the coughing continued and she gasped unsuccessfully for air against the spasms. She lifted her hand from the bed and brought it towards him, and he clasped it as strongly as he dared, anchoring her to him even as he watched her skin became impossibly whiter.
"It will be ok, just don't panic, try to relax and let this pass." He continued to speak to her in low tones, even as he saw what little strength she had left diminish with every gasping attempt at breath. Her hand became limp in his, and he saw the very instant consciousness left her body, the spasms stopping as suddenly as they started. He was paralyzed, unable to move, his eyes drawn to her chest, willing it to rise once more.
The silence was deafening, as if all sound had rushed to his ears and ceased to exist all at once. His own breath held as he waited for hers to come, his lungs burning as the seconds stretched on. Still, the silence reigned.
He began to see spots behind his eyelids as lack of oxygen tickled at his awareness. He thought he saw a movement in her body, but ignored it as a trick of his mind until he saw it again just as the darkness began to encroach upon him in earnest.
A breath. Incredibly shallow, and so very slow. But a breath nonetheless. He sucked in a desperate gulp of air and sound came back to him all at once, a cacophony of noises. It was only once he had buried his head into the crook of her neck for a long moment that he realized the sounds were coming from him. He swallowed deeply, pushing the anguish away once more, and turned his attention fully to her.
He tied the white scarf around her head, his large fingers now well accustomed to the delicate task, then crawled into the bedroll behind her and reached out to bring the thick blanket over both of them. Pulling her as close to him as he could, he laced one of his hands through her fingers, and brought the other one around her body and settled it directly over her heart, the faint beating beneath his fingertips giving him something tangible to focus on.
He concentrated on the rhythm of her heart, and willed it to continue its measured tempo. For him, there was nothing else in the universe but the beating of her heart.