Rating:PG-13 (some adult themes)
Characters: Laura Roslin, Kara, Lee, Bill
Prompt: Laura Roslin: Laying down you burdens
Spoilers: Spoilers for all aired episodes. Some season four spec which may have been slightly influenced by the network promos.
Summary: Three times Laura considers laying down her burden.
Author's Notes: Characters and universe belong to Ron Moore. HUGE thanks to pataka02 for the emergency beta. All remaining mistakes are mine.
Her first test came when Richard asked her to marry him. It was near the end of his first term, two years into their affair. Laura was surprised; she had never thought that he took their relationship quite that seriously. But as with every politician's promise, his offer had come with a caveat: she would have to resign her position in government. The President couldn't be married to a member of his Cabinet, not even one as far down as the Secretary of Education. In the end she had demurred, promising to reconsider once he was out of office. He hadn't exactly been heartbroken, and she often suspected that he had asked her because a marriage would give him some favorable publicity going in to the election. Her position was high enough to make her a respectable choice but not so high as to create too much of a stir about their relationship, particularly if she resigned immediately. She almost preferred that explanation, because the simple truth was that he wasn't as important to her as her work.
Oddly, the news of her cancer had only reaffirmed her decision. Laura was pretty sure that wasn't how things were supposed to go. Wasn't this the moment she was supposed to regret not having seized a chance at happiness? Instead, she felt only gratitude that she had never pursued it. With no husband and no children to break the news to, she had only the weight of her own fear to carry.
And it wasn't as though she had missed her opportunity, so much as that she had simply not been interested. Some people were driven away from family life because they feared replaying their own unhappy childhoods, and Laura had seen enough of dysfunctional families and bad parents to wish that more would share their hesitation. But that wasn't her reason. She had experienced an almost idyllic childhood in one of the nicer suburbs of Delphi. It had just been the three of them, and when she'd asked her parents why she didn't have any brothers or sisters - and because she liked hearing the answer, she asked them again and again -they told her it was because once they had her, they had everything they needed. Her father was a teacher and so he was usually the one to pick her up from school and help her with her homework while he graded, and spend the summers taking her to parks and museums. As well as to the occasional prize-fight, his passion for boxing seemingly at odds with his otherwise gentle nature. Her mother made a show of disapproval but never put a stop to it. Most days, all Dad had to do was smile that smile of his to win her over.
He could win anyone over. He told Laura once that teaching was all about the art of benevolent manipulation. A decent teacher could get his students to do what he wanted them to do; a great teacher could make them think it was what they wanted to do. Apparently he had been the latter kind; when he died of a sudden heart-attack at only 54, people came from all over Caprica to attend the funeral. She and her mother were forced to smile politely at every well-meaning former student who told them how much Michael Roslin's life had enriched theirs. Laura had thought bitterly that her father's death seemed almost an occasion of happiness for them, an opportunity to remember how he had touched them, briefly. Even at fifteen, it had occurred to her that she ought to be happy to see how important her father had been to so many people, though he'd held the same undistinguished job for all thirty years of his career. But she could hardly appreciate that when the two people he had been most important to were left broken.
Sudden, unexpected death is what everyone wants for himself, but the worst for those left behind. One day he was there and the next he wasn't, and Laura still had to walk past his classroom every day. Her mother had it worse - she'd made enough money as a trader to retire early, which made logical sense now that there would be no one to stay with her daughter while she was away on business. But it left her almost completely isolated. What little family she had lived on Tauron and couldn't afford the long trip, and she had never bothered to make any friends that weren't really her husband's. He had been all she had needed and in the end he was all that she had. When it was time for Laura to go to college she paid nearly twice as much to go to a lower-ranked school 20-minutes away.
Which turned out to be for the best, if you could call it that, because it meant she didn't have to transfer, only pack up her dorm room and move back home when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her sophomore year. They'd been able to afford a nurse so that she could stay at home until almost the end, though even with help her mother's care had occupied most of the next five years. In truth, Laura was surprised she held on that long with so little fight left in her. But the disease ate away at her slowly, and Laura thought she'd experience no greater tragedy than watching her once vibrant mother die alone except for a paid nurse. She never counted herself.
And so she had resolved to find her own happiness in more permanent things. She had many friendships - she seemed to have inherited her father's gift for winning people over - but they only went so far, and that was how she liked to keep it. At least now she knew that her work would live beyond her. Many would be the better because she had lived, and none would truly be the worse for her death. It wasn't the most comforting thought in the world, but there was a certain solace in it. It wasn't until long after the attacks that she realized that in making that decision she had saved her own life. Not to mention, put herself in place to take charge of what remained of the human race. The thought was enough to stop her in her tracks - how easily it all might have been different, and her destiny never been realized. But such thoughts lasted only for a moment. Being who she was, she simply couldn't have acted differently.
The second test came when Adama refused her the raider. Though she would never have allowed him to see a break in her resolve, a part of her had been tempted to give in. The part that kept reminding her of how crazy this all was, and what if she was wrong? For the first time in her life she had seriously considered letting someone else take charge because it was easier.
Before the worlds ended she had gone to Temple at all the important times, observed all the important rituals; at first simply because she was brought up that way, and later because it was expected of her position. But she had never considered herself an intensely religious person. It wasn't that she lacked faith; she simply preferred to focus on the tangible world around her. And the rare occasions that the gods had touched upon that world weren't times she liked to remember. But now what had once been airy myths and legends were starting to take shape all around her, and she had never been one to shirk away from reality. Fact: they were living in the end-times. Fact: she had experienced visions of the Cylon called Leoben and of the twelve serpents before she had ever encountered him or heard of the prophecy. Fact: Pythia foretold a leader would arise when the human race was in exile and would bring the people to salvation, though she would suffer from a wasting disease and would never see it herself. She had, she was, and she would.
The facts amounted to something both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it meant that all of it - the gods, Earth - was real. Hope was real. And terrifying that that hope rested with her. But even though all she had ever wanted to do was teach, Laura had risen through the ranks of administration because no one else was as good as she was at doing what needed to be done. That was who she was, and she could hardly change now, when failure of leadership would mean the end of humanity.
So she practiced the art of benevolent manipulation. She had to take her chances with Lt. Thrace; where the tension between Lee and his father had been obvious even in the middle of the apocalypse, this one played her cards closer to the vest. The ease with which the Cylon had gotten her to believe in his prophetic claims was her only clue that a religious appeal would work. But as usual her instincts proved right. As soon as she mentioned her cancer the Lieutenant's eyes snapped up in recognition.
"You're not saying that you're - "
It was a fairly obscure prophecy, not something a casually religious person would know. Feeling more confident, she continued. "The scriptures tell us a dying leader led humanity to the promised land. If you go back to Caprica and bring me the arrow, I will show us the way." It was easy to inspire people when you knew how to tap in to what was important to them. At least, that was what she thought she had done.
It made a different kind of sense now.
"Let's start with what we know."
They were both going to fight her on this, Laura suspected. She had faced this scenario before, in this very room, in fact, having to convince these two to put the welfare of humanity over that of an individual. Always the same individual.
"According to your logs Captain Thrace was conveniently in the brig when the initial attack occurred, was she not?"
"Kara and Saul were always at each other -"
She silenced the Admiral with a look. It wasn't every day one could do that, but he had been in a state of shock ever since Thrace's voice had come in over the comms.
"Right. But on this particular occasion, she actually struck him, which under normal circumstances would have been enough to end her career, isn't that right?" She waited for an acknowledgment, as if explaining a particularly difficult lesson and wanting to make sure everyone was keeping up.
Lee was the one to answer. "Yes, that's right."
"As it turned out, the incident landed her in the brig, so that she wasn't among the pilots who were slaughtered when the Cylons disabled their vipers." No answer.
"Then shortly after the attacks, Thrace was stranded on a moon and nearly left for dead. She survived by piloting a Cylon raider back to Galactica just before the Fleet jumped away. It was months before anyone else managed to control it at all, yet she flew well enough to evade Major Adama here." A slight chuckle from the Major. Laura, who had once been able to read him so well, had no idea what to make of him at this particular moment.
So she moved on. "Admiral, why did you assign Captain Thrace to interrogate the Cylon who calls himself Leoben?" The formality - Admiral, the Cylon who calls himself Leoben - felt out of place with him by now, but she hoped it would serve to remind them all of their positions. They didn't have the luxury of simply acting on their individual desires.
"What with her injury, she was the only one available."
"I see. Another occasion when misfortune just happened to work to her advantage."
"Not sure I follow you, Madame President."
"When I walked into that interrogation room it was obvious that Thrace and the Cylon had formed a connection. She went out of her way to tell me what he said about Kobol and how it would lead us to Earth. At the time, I thought I was simply dealing with a particularly impressionable individual. But shortly thereafter I learned of the Pythian prophecy, and I believe we're all familiar with the rest of the story."
"You think she set that up on purpose?"
Laura couldn't help but be amused by how ... incredulous the Admiral sounded. As if the officer in question hadn't recently returned from the dead, claiming to have found Earth.
"I think she wanted to make sure I would send her back to Caprica in particular. I doubt very much that anyone else would have been able to retrieve the Arrow." The thing she didn't mention, and she hoped the others were still too stunned to realize, was that this cast everything in doubt. The vision all four of them had shared in the Tomb of Athena, the map to Earth - none of it could have happened without Thrace. And her own visions had guided them there as well. That wasn't something she liked to consider, but it could scarcely be avoided. Everything the Cylon had had a hand in was now suspect. The only question was whether she had interfered with and corrupted the true prophecy Laura had received, or whether those visions themselves were somehow part of the deception.
"She then insisted on returning to Caprica to rescue the Resistance, arriving back here just in time to bring a message from the Cylons. A message which resulted in our settlement on New Caprica." And Baltar's rise to power. Laura wasn't sure what the purpose of the settlement had been -it had only served to demoralize both human and Cylon and to delay their search for Earth, which Thrace was now insisting she could guide them to. But given that she knew Baltar had been working with the Cylons from the beginning, she couldn't fathom that it had been a coincidence.
"She was then captured by the same Cylon at the start of the occupation, effectively keeping her out of harm's way for the duration. "
Wearily, Laura sat down on the couch, next to the Admiral, removing her glasses with a sigh.
"And finally, there is the fact that two months ago, Captain Thrace died. Her ship blew up right in front of Major Adama here, not to mention all the witnesses in CIC. And now, here she is. And really gentlemen, what other facts do we need?"
"You're right." Lee was the one to speak, finally. At first, Laura wasn't sure if she had heard him correctly. "You're right. Kara died, I saw it with my own eyes. And now she's here, in the flesh, and we all know that the only way that happens is if you're a Cylon. One of the enemy." He was getting warmed up now, his voice taking on the cadence of his impromptu speech on the witness stand earlier that same day, though it felt like a lifetime ago. The memory of that was enough to make her distrust his words. She was right.
"But that's exactly the part that doesn't make sense. Before this happened, Kara was the last person anyone would have thought was a Cylon."
"Everyone is the last person you would think is a Cylon, Major, until they aren't." Laura rose again and resumed her pace around the room, then faced the Major directly. "Lieutenant Valerii was a trusted member of your crew until she walked into the CIC and shot the Admiral in the chest. You both know this. You just can't accept it in this particular case."
"She's right." Bill's head was in his hands. "To tell the truth there's a lot more reason to think that Starbuck's a Cylon than that Boomer was."
"But that's exactly the problem. Boomer was the perfect spy. She was quiet, orderly, disciplined. Competent, but not a hotshot. She never stood out. The only time she broke the rules was in her relationship with Tyrol, but that was a calculated risk. She never gave anyone the slightest reason not to trust her."
Bill caught his son's eye, and Laura's heart sank as she realized where this was going.
"Dad, Kara gave us every reason not to trust her. What she confessed to me about Zak - " here Laura thought she understood the look that passed between them. Colonel Tigh had told her about Bill's son who didn't have a hope of getting his pilot's wings until he got engaged to his flight instructor. "Her constant insubordination. And... there's more that went on between us that you don't know about. Believe me, Kara did everything but worm her way into my affections."
"And yet she did. Despite everything you say she did work her way into both of your affections. You both trusted her with your lives - with the lives of everyone in this Fleet."
"Right! And forgive me, Madame President, but we weren't the only ones who placed our trust in her. If Kara had come to you at any point before she died, and told you she was having visions, would you have listened to her? You listened to her before, when she asked you to put the search for Earth on hold to rescue a handful of people off of an occupied world. Why would she do the one thing that guaranteed that no one would ever trust her again?"
"Are you actually suggesting, Major, that all the overwhelming evidence that Captain Thrace is one of the Cylon only serves as proof that she is not?"
"Well, there's another fact that we haven't considered yet. The fact that if your gods are real, this sort of miracle can happen."
Laura sat in the observation room outside of the Cylon's - Thrace's - prison cell. Not that there was much to observe at the moment; she hadn't taken kindly to her imprisonment, and they had finally brought in a couple of Marines to sedate her just to shut her up. Bill was sitting next to her, though neither of them spoke. She knew there was no point in arguing with him now. His atheism had always had more to do with emotion than logic; he simply didn't like the idea of there being powers in the universe so far beyond the possibility of human rebellion, or truths that were indifferent to his own sense of what ought to be. And now that his lack of faith was the thing keeping him from his heart's desire, he would rebel against that too. She had known from the beginning that simply having Thrace executed wasn't in the cards, but now she suspected that her release was only a matter of time.
Still, she knew she could influence the Admiral in terms of how much freedom he gave her, whether she had access to others outside of Galactica. She could control how far her influence was allowed to spread. The only, slight doubt that remained was whether it was the right thing to do.
Laura knew that she couldn't trust the future of humanity to what might very well prove its greatest enemy. But could she categorically reject the idea that the gods might have selected another to bring salvation, perhaps even one of the enemy? Pythia said that the Leader would die before reaching the promised land. It would be something of a bitter pill if someone else had managed to fulfill that prophecy only for the gods to grant her a reprieve. Leaving her demoted from Dying Leader to simply dying. But if Thrace was lying, that meant that the path that she had helped set them on couldn't be trusted either.
The previous tests had been easy, in retrospect. Her actions had followed inevitably from who she was. This time the answers were nowhere to be found.