Aeternus Eternus (you can't choose what stays)

Five-things-fic. Four other lives Laura and Bill could have lived, and one they're living now.

|| Love ||

In another life she is a thirty-something professor at a community college. She's been married, divorced (and childless) for five years when she meets him. He's a police officer, a former Marine, and an old college buddy of her closest workmate.

They're at a weekend backyard lunch, a gathering of people just for the sake of it, when he bumps straight into her, spilling his beer all over her top as her plate of food goes flying into him. It's mostly his fault for turning so quickly on the spot, but she makes the obligatory gesture of offering to clean the mess that her half of the debacle makes.

They don't know each other at all, so she feels justified in her frustration, and though he waves off her dry cleaning offer (and she him), she's overwhelmed by the urge to yell at him. Her friend only laughs at her, later, and tells her they'd make a good match.
She disagrees.
They meet again three times, each better than the first and always involving a joke about dropping their food. The third meeting is at a bar, and with a little bit of alcohol in her and the music a bit too loud, she laughs at him, and with him.

He likes her laugh.
She invites him to things after that, without their mutual pal as an intermediary, and she introduces him as a friend, and they don't think much of it.
Her cancer returns a year and two months after they first met. He sheds exactly three tears while he holds her on her couch, and then promptly pulls himself together and spends the night researching all her treatment options. She can barely see straight, but she trusts him enough to let him guide her. She hasn't had this faith in a long time. She likes it.
It terrifies her.

By some fluke- her sister lives overseas, her parents are dead, her ex-husband is remarried, her best friend is pregnant- he pulls first hospital duty, and he never misses it after that. She knows he has other responsibilities; knows that he's assigned himself keeper and caretaker of about three other friends who each lean on him with their burdens, including at least one hopeless alcoholic and a niece who loves him more than her own mother.

But still, he never misses an appointment with her, never fails to drop her off or pick her up, and always takes her couch on nights when it's all too much. He smuggles her work into the hospital for her, confiscates it again when he senses she's pushing it, and (her favourite) reads her the newspaper every day, flicking through it and picking out the articles she wants to know about. They start at the international news, then the local political news, then the latest sports star scandal, then the letters to the editor, and finish with their horoscopes. It never fails to make them laugh, if only because every day seems to warn them about opening their hearts to a romantic opportunity just around the corner.
He falls asleep in the chair by her side at one of her treatments, glasses akimbo; eliciting a soft snore with his head rested back, the paper folded over his chest. She has an overwhelming urge to move over and offer him the other half of the bed. Another part of her wants to gently kiss him awake, just to see what he'd do.

She can't say why she feels either of these things.
Love, whispers her heart.
Can't be. Being with her husband had never felt like this.

They fight exactly once, for real, and she thinks it may be too much for him to hear hard truths, and wonders if it's her place to talk about his friends and his beliefs, but she has a voice to use and a will to do so.

She takes herself to the hospital the next day, convinced the line in the sand has been drawn, and she knows it's her fault, and that nothing she says can fix it, part of her unable to feel sorry. When she stumbles out of her treatment chair, wincing, dizziness almost overcoming her, there's a hand around her arm, and an arm around her back, and she's suddenly four inches from his lips. They stare at each other for a long, hard moment.
Sorry, he says, apparently meaning about that morning's absence, but really meaning about everything.
She never expected forgiveness for the things she said. He gives it anyway.
Love, her heart whispers again.

This time she's pretty sure it means it from him.

Months and agonising months later, he's seen her ripped bare and open and she's talked him through how best to help his niece (she is a teacher after all, and that comes with some knowledge of how teenagers work), and they're sitting in her doctor's office. He's clutching her hand, face stern and blue eyes alert, whereas she can barely hear the words this pale man is telling her.
Remission, she hears. That's all she needs.

He's still holding her hand (as though he can't let go) when they step outside, and the sun is shining and there's not a breeze or cloud as she lifts her face to it. She stops, eyes closed, head tilted back, and spreads her arms out wide, his hand still in hers.
She sobs once, happiness and grief and relief and a million other things rolled into one. She squeezes her fingers against his.
When she opens her eyes, the first things she sees is him, openly weeping, looking at her like she's the last thing he ever wants to set eyes on; like she's the most beautiful thing in the world; like he can't look away.
This time she says it out loud.
He tugs at her hand and wraps firm arms around her, asks her on their first proper date (because countless take-away containers on her couch don't count), and it's only later that she realises what he was chanting into her neck, her hair, her shoulder, over and over, like a flood, a record, a promise.

|| Home ||

In another life they are young, passionate, and completely not each other's type.

She is quiet, ambitious, and at university on scholarship because she can, not because she can't afford to go. She parties once (okay, maybe twice) a week and studies the rest, and she goes to almost every extra class (though some mornings she honestly just can't be bothered getting out of bed). Politics, history, anthropology- whatever she can wrangle around her class schedule, she does.

He is there to appease his father with academia before joining the military. He wants to fly choppers. He wants to see the world and fight for something he believes in, and maybe part of him wants to be a cocky hero, but only a small part, promise.

They meet in the library.
He only goes in there for the novels. She lives there between classes.

Her spot is down in a back corner, at a tiny table tucked between the mystery and the horror section, where very few people wander. He catches her reading a Prima instead of her text book, and takes that as his invitation to pull out the seat opposite her and smile. There is literally no room on the table between all her books, but he's only here to read, and she's apparently doing the same, and she smirks at him instead of blowing him off like he expects. It's nice impressing a girl with a single look.
Of course, a moment later the smirk shifts, and makes her look like she knows something he doesn't know, and suddenly this hot young redhead (the lighter shade is not her own, but he can tell she's a redhead anyway) is not so predictable. The wind flies out of his sails. She laughs at him.
Is he really that pathetic?
He asks her what she's doing that night and she says she's going out with a hot young jock who loves mysteries. It's the last time he'll underestimate an opponent, which is a good thing to note when one plans to go to war.

His father raised him a gentleman. He manages to keep his hands off until date number three, when he kisses her lightly at her dorm room door.
She drags him inside and makes him thankful she's in a single room, on the mixed gender floor, on a long weekend that saw most people go home.

She drops a single optional class from her schedule to coincide with his break, and mostly they use it for fooling around. He sometimes meets her at their table in the library, which occasionally turns dirty but not always, and he reads his novels and she does her work, and somehow this odd couple make it work for a whole semester, after which he knows he's going to spend the rest of his life with her, if he can just figure out how to convince her. He's a year older, and knows she won't do anything until she graduates and has a job, because she's responsible like that, and it's something he relates to, because he's responsible too now that he has her.

He graduates and goes to war.
She doesn't cry when she says goodbye.
He knows she will cry later, and it's enough to hear her say (for the first time) that she loves him. He wants to believe they're only young and stupid and their fling will pass as a chapter in their history. He thinks maybe that's not the case.

He spends a year away, returning briefly only twice, and she studies her books and reads her mysteries and writes him a letter almost every day. She posts them in weekly bundles for practicality (and not to seem too sentimental), and he savours each one, even those which are a few sentences long and speak only of boring classes. Home, he mutters, holding the letters close. He keeps them in order, and one day, a long time down the road, he'll bind them and present them to her as a journal, one entry for every day he missed her.

He returns (on his first decent leave) in time for her graduation. She doesn't know he's coming.
She runs into his arms in front of the entire hall and practically pounces on him, relying on him to catch her as she wraps her legs around his hips and kisses him senseless. He literally can't breath for being in her arms, and it takes him a second to realise she has pulled away and has spoken.
Marry me, she repeats.
He asks to think about it. She smiles and kisses him again with a giggle, hearing instead 'yes'. He smiles against her kiss and holds her that much tighter. A few people around them are clapping.

She becomes a school teacher because it's a transferable skill for a military wife, and she loves using and sharing the knowledge she crammed into her brain in those university years almost as much as she loves the children. The distance and long absences are hard, but she's an independent spirit and loves her work, and she harnesses both when he leaves, and wraps herself in him when he's home, and there is no bitterness or resentment because this is who they always were. He loves her more for that.

Each time he comes home (to her) he mends; restores. He tells her this. She laughs at him, and then tells him the exact same thing, in fewer words, with her body. It's a fair trade, he thinks.

Her first pregnancy is a difficult one, and he is thankfully stationed on shore for most of it. He nurses her through long nights, and sits with her on weekends, and it's positively domestic except for the sense of illness in the air. She's hospitalised three times for dehydration, and they almost lose the baby half way through, but when a healthy son is born he weeps into her (now natural, darker coloured) hair, and the few months of agony are worth it. It's all worth it.
He'd give up flying for this, if she'd let him, which she won't because she knows he loves it too much.
Their life finds balance as she mans the fort at home and he flies his chopper overseas. They have another son and a daughter within a few short years.

When he's invalided home, a bullet just missing his heart, she hides her fear and keeps the children calm, and he decides that it's time to stop putting combat first; it's time to live for their family; it's time to love her the way he's wanted to since he first noticed her reading Prima. He pilots as a civilian, and though the hours are still long and occasionally erratic, he's home for dinner, and school plays and sports games, and he learns his children, and he loves his wife.

She becomes Principal at a grand old school that's got more management issues than the federal government, because nobody else wants the job and she is headhunted for her diplomatic skills. She takes it, and he watches her stretch her wings with power and resolve, the neglected welfare of her students her top priority. Grades go up, detentions go down, and a few short years later her students are graduating top of the state. He's happy to play house husband if it means watching her triumph. Turnabout is apparently fair play.

They read their books side by side in bed, and their children perpetually tease them with the names of mystery novel characters. He gives her the book of her letters and she cries and laughs at the same time. He thinks about the light red of her hair the day he flopped into the seat opposite her, all cocky bravado and smirk, and the way the highlights glinted in the sun streaming through the window. She laughs we he brings it up, and moans when he threads his fingers in her darker coloured hair, and no chopper flight could compare to this feeling.
Home, he thinks.

|| Safe ||

In another life he pulls her from the rubble of a half destroyed building.

She's screaming to be heard, and there's panic everywhere, and she can't see how far under the debris she is, but she's not too badly injured thanks to some well-placed beams above her. She can hear his voice calling to her, so she calls back, and though she's stuck under a small slab, a quick twitch of her limbs says that nothing seems broken. He makes a hole and clambers in, shifting the slab that has her pinned. She moves her legs enough to be clear as he pushes the slab away from her with a grunt.

And then he's hoisting her into his arms, solid and strong, as though she weighs nothing.
She's never felt safer than she has at that very moment, with her complete stranger carrying her to solid ground.
He's not rescue personnel. She knows that before she knows the colour of his hair, or the smell of his cologne or the rumble of his voice in his chest that she feels more than hears.
I've got you, he repeats, and she's pretty sure of that.

He sets her down only once they're clear of the building, and she's thankful for her choice to wear practical shoes, and that it's still too chaotic for his knight in shining armour moment to have made a scene. He's in a suit, no jacket or tie, and she's surprised to find he's older than she thought. His strength and build belay his middle age, and she suddenly feels very un-pretty, flecks of rubble in her unruly hair and a layer of clay-dust all over her. She'd only be a couple of years younger than him, she's sure.
She thanks him as he continues to look her over for injuries and his care and attention towards a total stranger makes her almost uncomfortable.
He meets her gaze and she takes the time to thank him properly, to make sure her gratitude is properly noted. They pause and look at each other for a whole three seconds. She feels like she's drowning.

With a burst she starts explaining that there are children in that building across the street and although the structure has barely crumbled (new earthquake technology or something to that effect), it's still unsound, and they need to get the children out and to a safe place, perhaps to the park across the street.
It takes less explaining than she's ever used to make him see what she's asking, and his expression turns all business as he takes her lead and goes with it, never questioning, never faulting. He runs next to her as she takes off towards the building, and they work side by side to usher the children out with their teachers, him keeping an eye on the building and her keeping a lookout for injuries. They form a guard at the door, gesturing people out, offering platitudes to the few who need them, and never once does she feel that they aren't part of a whole.

The park slowly fills with people as the surrounding buildings empty and emergency crews arrive, but they manage to herd the children into a single group, and comfort them as the teachers focus on head counts and first aid.
You're safe now, he keeps saying. He's rocking a small girl on his lap, tears streaming down her face as he gently tends to a nasty cut on her shin.

You're safe now.

She picks up a little boy with much the same injury and joins him on the grass to share the med kit he's working from. The boy can't be more than five, and he's clearly shaken as he clings to her neck.

You're safe now.
She's gentle with the boy; she knows she has a knack with children. Apparently so does he, given how gentle his voice becomes with them and how patient he is in talking them through their tears. They tend the wounds one by one, and the little girl and boy that they first recovered don't leave their sides, both still sniffling through their fright.

She leans across and shakes his hand, formally introducing herself, and he laughs at how absurd that seems now that the panic had died down. She laughs with him. She's not above seeing herself as ridiculous. She thanks him again for being her hero, and he says he's very glad he saved her.
He asks her to go with him for drinks, once they're all sorted. She suggests there's no time like the present eve, and that's surprising because she's normally a very cautious person and a homebody, and it takes a heard of girlfriends to get her to set up a date. And maybe it's hero worship for him lifting her from the wreckage, but she watches him soothing the girl at his side, and there doesn't seem to be a dishonest thing about him; his heart is on his sleeve. She thinks she'd like to use her lucky escape to get to know this perfect stranger, and if having a building fall on you isn't reason enough for a drink, she doesn't know what is.
His soft words wash over her and she smiles, catching his eye with a coy smile, and a feeling like the turning tide washes over her and settles somewhere under her ribs.
You're safe now.

|| Need ||

In another life he has many vices and very few virtues, and the things that set him most over the edge include booze, boxing, rage and occasionally lines of something illicit. He's a professional soldier, but there is no war anymore, and nobody wants to start another one, and all of his friends adjusted so well, but that was his life calling and he just wants it back.

They are both young, but not enough to blame their mistakes on youth.

She finds him in an alley, covered in his own sick and bleeding from the knuckles and face, and it doesn't take councillor's training to notice that almost every one of his vices was involved in tonight's activities. He's barely conscious as she walks him to the nearest emergency room- mercifully only a few blocks away- and he's asleep on a bed before he realises that she's staying with him.

She doesn't know him. Honestly, usually she doesn't care about bums and being charitable or whatever. She has a job at a clinic, and she's good at it (helping people- teaching them), and when she leaves there of an evening she leaves it all in the office.

She usually doesn't care.

He usually doesn't cry.

She thinks if he hadn't looked like a lost puppy she would have just left him, but most street thugs she knows don't wallow in their own vomit, sobbing their hearts out while their faces bleed, propped up by a brick wall and little else.

She waits with him until he's sober enough to answer the nurse's questions.

He turns to her and the first thing he asks is if she has some place better to be. She only shrugs, because it's this too-bright hospital ward or a too-quiet apartment. And he's quite intelligent under all that pent up anger.

His eyes burn into her, even still half drunk, and she thinks it might be the first time anyone has actually truly seen her.

They end up talking about their favourite comic book heroes, after she makes some sarcastic quip about his fighting abilities and he counters that she has no idea what she's talking about.

His favourite character is the one with the sword and shield- justice and righteousness wrapped up in one.

Hers is the invisible one with inbuilt shields.

He tells her she's tougher than she looks, and it takes her a good few minutes to recover from that.

After a few hours they let him go, hands bandaged, head stitched, fluids administered, and he is now self-aware enough to feel ashamed at still being affected by the booze.

It's the early hours of morning, and they walk the streets side by side to sober him up, talking about heroes and villains from their favourite novels, debating the merits of feudalism, criticising the government's newest education policy.

He doesn't lean on her, but he can't leave her either.

She gives him her number when he asks to see her again, and hopes that her gut instinct is right because she feels brave standing beside him. He's about as broken as she sometimes feels, and somehow they make up two halves of a whole, and it's wonderful.

She still feels brave when she walks away from him in the dark of night, his aura surrounding her like her own shield.

He watches her walk all the way to the corner before he looks away.

He waits three days before calling.

She agrees to come to his latest boxing match on the condition that he joins her at an addict's meeting at her clinic. He makes that deal, because he has to see her again, and he'll do anything to make it happen.

With her sitting in the front row (an avid boxing fan apparently) he wins this underground match, and she is impressed at how able he actually is in the ring. Her first impression of him was not a good one, but she's starting to see the man under the mask, and a part of her feels an overwhelming desire to set him back on a path that doesn't lead to self-destruction. She sees his military tattoos along his arm, rippling under the pressure of his punches, and a picture of a broken man emerges. Another picture (of a war hero torn from his element and thrown in a world he doesn't understand) sits idling underneath, and she thinks briefly of her father, so angry at the world. She's starting to understand him.

If he notices a change between them when the fighting stops, he doesn't say.

He joins her at her meeting and lets her coax a story out of him, and as he talks (to her, his eyes never leaving hers the whole time), he feels his burdens get lighter and his worries fade, and for an entire blissful hour he doesn't think about drinking.

He doesn't mind that this woman he barely knows now holds all his deepest, darkest secrets; he just knows he needs to keep her by his side. He thinks his found his most dangerous vice yet, and he doesn't tell her that.

He thinks she might know anyway, which she does.

He falls hard off the wagon a few weeks later, and manages to stumble to her door. She puts him on her couch and spends the night glaring at his (snoring) drunk ass, arms crossed where she sits in the other chair, furious at herself for caring so much. She has no illusions about saving him. She's been counselling for too long and fallen into that trap too many times to think that she alone can fix his problems. But she's almost got him pegged, and she must do what she can, because she's forgotten what her life had in it before his nightly calls kept her company, and she thinks it wasn't much.

It's just her, and her apartment, and her neighbour who is young and sweet and like a little brother she has to look out for. And her landlord who is younger than her but still wants to bang her on the kitchen counter like a whore. And a fake plant. And an illness that won't go away, but isn't getting worse for the moment.

And now him.

When he wakes up she eventually tells him that she's sick (because they're friends now and she's heard enough of his problems to be even), and he looks like he might pass out again. So she quickly explains that it's okay for the moment, and she's getting treatment, and it's degenerative and progressive, but very slow, so don't worry, she has years yet, maybe a lifetime. She makes him tea at her tiny sink and he walks over to her, eyes boring into her, telling her she's the only thing in his life that makes sense.

I need you, he says, to keep me steady.

Under his fierce gaze she knows exactly what he's talking about.

He doesn't fall off the wagon to booze again, and she'd like to think she has nothing to do with that, but she catches him looking at her sometimes, like she might disappear before his very eyes. It's disconcerting to be so necessary.

He's in her bed after two months, not because they're drunk (he still drinks, but only with her and only a little bit), and not because he won a match (she lost ten bucks on him tonight), but because she just couldn't take the way he was staring anymore, because it felt like fire, ice and a wind knocking her down.

He maps her body with gentle fingers (and how his rough and calloused hands can be that gentle is beyond her); tracing her like she might break, and for a moment she thinks she might cry, except he won't touch her the way she wants and it's frustrating as hell. With a roll of her eyes she flips them over and shows him she won't break at all. He makes her fly first and brings her down with gentle caresses, and she tries to fit this man with the one in the alley, and she can't. He has transformed before her very eyes, and somehow she has too, because a few months ago she wouldn't have gone out for drinks at a bar with a man (and his group of crazy friends) and brought him back to her apartment. A few months ago she wouldn't have accepted a bunch of flowers for her tiny table, smiling shyly as he tucked her hair behind her ear. She wouldn't have laughed out loud at her landlord's haircut. She certainly wouldn't have let her boyfriend (is that the right word?) keep a draw of his stuff at her place.

She tries not to feel the burden of that.

You don't know how much I need you, he whispers into her neck, much later.

She thinks she might.

|| Fall ||

In their time she is already dying when everyone else joins in, and he doesn't like her when he's forced to be her ally.
It doesn't matter that time either.

They always fall together.

Note: I wrote this today on my phone between work and food, because I had that second part in my head and had to write it down. It kind of grew a mind of its own, and eventually became a self-imposed five-things fic. My first ever Adama/Roslin fic too. Reviews are my crack.