Title: Behind the Curtain is the Veil
Setting: Unspecified episode, near the end of the series
Word count: 2000
Beta reader(s): With all my hugs to the brilliant wicked_sassy – I cannot thank you enough honey. Also to newnumbertwo for her A/R shippery support – thank you! Any errors left within this are totally mine.
Written for the bsg_epics pentathlon.
It was a soft swing. The air bubbled with it, rippling along with the tinkling laughter and waves of conversation—most cheerful, some not—the sounds issuing from couples who sighed into one another's eyes at the soft rustle of breast brushing against arm and hair against cheek. (The darker sounds from those who stared at the floor in loud, foot-tapping silence, all to prolong the argument that little bit more for pride or self-harming pleasure's sake.)
It was a little cavern of human activity, he mused, space given tempo by the faceless radio voice, crooning about the world and love being a slice of cake or pie - one there to poison or to make whole depending upon the tortured nature of the man or the will of the woman.
(She shakes her head.)
The whole place seemed like a world within a world, set around two frothing stars that threw light out into a galaxy of empty space, except where it was dotted with pockets of passion. It seemed full of meaning and yet devoid for being a house of cards.
He was not as gloomy as he sounded. Not sad or tired. Just in the moment. Eyes following the dust and leaves waltzing outside the window. Ears matching the brassy splurge of trombone in time to the old man's cane. Nose sniffing at the traces of cigar smoke and cinnamon on his breath. It was a world in tune with discordant notes. Chocolate and salt. As it should be. He longed for a brandy chaser with his coffee - it would make the late afternoon all that more pleasurable.
"This seat taken?"
A woman’s voice.
For that alone, he offered the vacant chair up. The smile, hair, and face made him want to stand: he was old-fashioned that way. He didn’t, though. Just grinned in invitation - a lazy stretch of lips, white teeth showing - the dash of brightness perfect against his skin. Hers in answer was just as lazy, though with a slight touch of hunter about it. Red. Bright. Curling with lines of charm. (She eased down into the hessian chair and it squeaked as she sat. She added an eyebrow twitch at the chair’s protest.) Too much charm, he reasoned, and the kind that comes from being all-knowing, and making him feel like he knew nothing.
She had a leather purse with her. Not new, but well made. As she opened it, he saw a book inside, also not new, but well-thumbed. Other things: oddments of makeup. A bottle which he presumed to be the scent she wore (one which added to his own of spice and smoke), flavouring the air with something woody and even more heady... not perfume… aftershave, she was wearing aftershave. He could also smell smoke lingering about her hair. It was not the bitter tang of cigarettes, but, cigars, a real cigar. (Not his brand.) Malty, natural... Like beeswax worked into the table top or oil into her purse. He'd already been high on sensation, reading into everything, but in a few short moments, this woman had ramped that up into overload.
He wondered if she knew.
She curled her one leg over the other, and the plum coloured pencil skirt rode up.
Of course she knew.
She smiled the smile of polite disengagement and tilted the novel that was now in her hands. Her precariously balanced glasses teetered at the edge of her nose. He examined everything. He couldn’t help it. Cataloguing people and assessing his environment was his job. He wouldn’t be a very good cop if he didn’t.
Opposite, she licked her bottom lip.
He quickly looked down at her hands.
Her nails were buffed, he noted, not painted. Her fingers bare of any band. (An assessment for his job.) Nice cleavage (which he wasn't going to feel bad for viewing – her eyes had marked him before she busied herself), an intent look, humour in the lines around her features.
"Are you going to keep staring?" she inquired levelly without looking up after she’d turned two pages.
The bark of laughter built within him. "I was going to ask about your book."
"Really? Well, you know, where I come from, asking someone what they are reading in a public place, such as a bar or on a bus... It's a step away from being labelled weird."
He did laugh then, just a little, as his mind ran down paths to find the fountain of perfect rejoinders. Flirty ones. It took him a few breaths. And when she sighed and raised that eyebrow again indicating she was waiting and not at all reading, out it popped - "Okay. So, where does staring come in that scale of measuring social rejection?"
(More of a giggle this time.)
She cleared her throat, still not looking up, fighting a smile. (He hoped). “Not sure… yet.”
“Hmm. Sooo, shall I stare some more?”
He liked the sound of her voice. Breathy, soft, measured.
“My book is very interesting and staring could also be considered… odd.”
An impasse of conversation, he thought. The kill or cure of any first meeting. He felt the need to babble, and he never babbled. He wondered if she was feeling it too; after all, she’d started the conversation. He might’ve been content to stare and wonder—not that he really was—about the book. He took a sip of his coffee. Black, cold now, thick under the shiny skin of oil and dust, and tasting all the better for it.
He looked down at the newspaper he’d picked up to appear to others like he had a reason to spend the day watching from a corner. His eyes found headlines that he was sure weren’t the truth—if there was such a thing—then twitched on to images made up of lots of dots—another semi-truth—then back over to her. She was watching him. She didn’t look away to be caught staring but also didn’t appear as flirty as she had before. She looked… determined.
“So the book’s interesting, huh?”
“You’re staring at me now.”
“I know.” Unashamed, not bothered. She was cool and calm, like an autumn morning. But it was another impasse. Her responses now didn’t flow or play and he wasn’t sure if he liked it. He found it fascinating, though. He began to share some of the determination sculpting the lines of her face and jaw.
“It can’t be if I am more interesting to look at,” he continued after a few seconds that feel like two minutes. Two seconds that had left his standard remote gruffness at breaking point, odd considering he'd sat here for the three hours previously sedate and happy, a statue observing the passage of time not bothered by moss or birds—or so he’d wished to appear.
“Oh, the book is very interesting, but my looking from it to stare at you does not preposition its lack of interest in comparison to you.”
“But?” He sensed there was a but. Or a for. And he was right.
“For you are a puzzle.”
(From outside, there’s a heavily drawn breath, and there comes a waft of cigarette smoke mixed with bleach and blood.)
“I’m an open book.”
She looked up at the ceiling, seemingly in contemplation, and fabric shifted around her shoulders. The colour was good on her, he thought. The casual wrap around her shoulders over a white shirt played with the highlights in her hair and meshed with the green flecks in her irises. He was glad he’s shaved this morning. Glad he’d put on his nice suit to drink coffee – it was something he’d learned from his father, like gloves in mourning – dress nicely whenever you go out and no one thinks anything of you. The suit is the mark of the man... part of the machine. A man conforming. A man with a job. A man with a family. A man with a purpose not clandestine.
(Beep. Whoosh. Beep. Beep. Beep.)
She smiled her smile again and picked up her book again. “If that’s so, then there’s no need for me to read it, then is there.”
Ouch, he thought. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
Ouch, but now he was sure of what he’d suspected from the beginning, sure of every little bit of misdirection. Of every careful selection. The place, her dress, her scent. She’d known him before he knew her. Spotted him, seen through his choice of the well-done Tauron. He settled back. Oh, yes, now he was sure. Sure of this meeting. Sure of her… he watched her uncross her legs. Well, as sure as he could be.
(The curtain snaps two cubicles to the right.)
And then it came to another impasse, for now the game was afoot, the chase was on, and all those other aged Caprica City Docks slang terms for his art, and he was reluctant to break the play. To shatter the illusion that this was anything other than two strangers at the misty edges of a connection. A drink, the offer, an exchange to dinner and possibly sex. To say something now, he’d be the one who had caved and broken the dance of deliberate misdirection.
She read on in silence, or appeared as if she did. Her eyes following words across the pages, lifting with the static loops of black on white. Oh, she was good.
He’d come to watch for his mark and instead, had been marked, hit and was buttered up like a Jupiter-day dinner.
(She laughs again. Coughs. Then really coughs.)
He stays silent as he passes her a tissue and a glass of water.
“Bill?” she manages after a few sips, finally in command of her breathing.
He smiles. “I’ll stop. I know it’s bad – never said I was a writer.”
“But you wrote it for me,” she states.
“Yeah.” He sets the tattered handwritten notes by the side of her, covering up the line of the drip, and then takes her free hand in his.
For a moment, he just brushes her knuckles with his thumb.
“Oh, is the Great Admiral Adama lost for words now? How would Cop Adama deal with that?”
Bill laughs. “He’d be more sassy than me for a start.”
Shaking, she sets her glass back on the side table. He makes no move to help until it’s completely there and then he shifts it back further so it’s sure not to fall. She gives him a look when he’s done and his white flash in response.
“Cylons can project... I dunno, I just thought I'd give it a try. Write us a story, one where we could've been something different.”
“I like what we are.”
“So do I. But… I want...”
And it’s obvious what he wants. Laura settles back and then touches the crumbled, reworked pages waiting for him to finish.
“If there's something after this...”
“I know there is,” she says firmly. She looks pale, her skin sallow under a thin sheen of sweat.
“Yeah... But I’m not so sure. I don’t have your faith. So this, this is a daydream for me... if not. One I can have now.”
“Hmm,” she offers, with a tired, but knowing twist to her lips.
“So, do I get a say in it?”
“Does it have a rating?”
Bill blinks, then glances over his shoulder; eyes seeking beyond the intimate circle of light around her bed for clearance, making sure Cottle and everyone else was out of earshot.
“We've danced around one another for long enough, Bill. Too long. How about…” Laura shifts closer to him—the movement bunching up her thin ward gown—to whisper in his ear, “We get straight to the naughty bits, huh?”
Her twinkling eyes have him picking up the pages to start reading faster than ever; their other hands locked together tight.