Spoilers: Only through ‘Lay Down Your Burdens’
Rating: PG (bordering on G – so unlike me)
Pairing: Ellen Tigh and Tom Zarek
Background This was written for nyuszi for the The Why Can't We Be Friends Ficathon. The only prompt given was the pairing. I chose this particular twosome after seeing Kate Vernon at Dragon*Con. She made me want to try my hand at writing Ellen Tigh. Thanks as always to my wonderful beta k_julia who scramble to help get this thing postable.
From the outside, it was impossible to tell what the place was. Only Dionysus, haphazardly painted on some pieces of scrap metal and hung above the entrance differentiated it from every other tent on the narrow street. Worn fabric covered the entrance beyond which was a hodge-podge of chairs and crates that served as seating. Old fuel drums were being used as tables. The one thing that suggested the true nature of the place was the bar itself at the opposite end of the tent. It was a surprisingly well constructed, sturdy, and a rare example of craftsmanship. There was obviously pride taken in its creation, and pride was something in short supply on New Caprica. It had become increasingly rare prior to the Cylon invasion; now it seemed to Zarek it had all but evaporated. On his way here he had passed one blank, hopeless expression after another.
Zarek was somewhat amazed to see such a large crowd inside - large by current standards. People rarely felt safe meeting to talk anymore. Since the Cylons arrived people had begun to just disappear, sometimes not long after taking part in a seemingly casual conversation on the street. Given the Cylons’ fear of groups gathering to lead an uprising, he’d expected this place to be one of the first to be dismantled. Perhaps they believed drunken colonists were less likely to present a threat and one thing there seemed to be no shortage of was homemade alcohol. He also wouldn’t be surprised to learn there were a few spies among them, utilizing loose tongues to gather information.
A burst of laughter interrupted his thoughts. Laughter. It could still be heard coming from the children occasionally, from the ones too young to know what was happening, but he couldn’t recall the last time he heard an adult laugh in such a manner. On closer inspection of the bar he saw the long blonde hair, the coat falling off of one shoulder revealing a silky dress underneath, and the highly impractical choice of footwear. It was Saturday and come hell or Cylon occupation, Ellen Tigh was still going to treat herself to a night out.
Zarek crossed the short distance to the bar and as he slid onto the stool he simply said, “Ellen.” It was enough to divert her attention from the man pouring the drinks; not a bad looking guy, but not someone who would have caught Ellen’s eye before. He’d seen her work a room. It was mostly the power players, the gentlemen who could do the most to benefit her in some way that she was drawn to. Those individuals were nowhere to be found now and, in their absence, it seemed she was willing to settle for a reasonably pretty face. Or the man in control of the booze.
When Ellen turned to him, her smile broadened. Whether out of familiarity or predatory instinct he wasn’t quite sure. In a manner much too cheerful for their surroundings she said, “Why, Tom, what a pleasant surprise. I had no idea you still walked amongst us civilians.” She leaned in, pausing for just a moment before quietly asking, “A night off from pulling Baltar’s strings? Though I suspect that job has fallen to the Cylons by now. I guess it frees up your time to be social.”
From his experience, Ellen often missed her target. But this time it was as if she was the god Apollo, striking swiftly and hitting the mark. The truth was that she was right. He’d done a magnificent job of manipulating Baltar, achieving a degree of power he had sought for most of his life. And here he now sat, in the world he had helped to create.
Still, this wasn’t Adama or Roslin taking aim at him, besting him, it was Ellen Tigh and he wasn’t going to allow her even a small victory. He smiled back at her, trying to mask his bitterness before going on with carefully chosen words, “Not all of us are blessed with your social skills, Ellen. I don’t believe I’ll ever make the inroads in the fleet that you have.”
“Oh, Tom,” She laughed once again, the smile she wore growing impossibly wider. Then she leaned in even closer, so close her cheek grazed his, and whispered, “I think it’s safe to say you’ve screwed far more people in the fleet than I ever could. And just by seducing one man. That’s a far bigger accomplishment. Pity us all that Laura Roslin was immune to your charms.” She leaned back, picked up her nearly full glass, and threw it back. The glass drained, she slammed it down on the bar, sending the bartender hurrying to refill it.
Zarek was surprised, not just by her sharp response, but at the mention of the former president given her husband’s history with her. “I wasn’t aware you were such a supporter of Laura Roslin’s. Your husband certainly relished seeing her behind bars. I was under the impression that his actions so often followed your counsel.”
“My counsel?” He noticed the amusement in her voice. “How diplomatic of you, Tom. My husband has served under Adama for so damn long he sometimes needs to be reminded of his own abilities…and when to put them into action. The people needed a leader. It was necessity that he step up and do what needed to be done. I’m not sorry, not for any of it.”
He didn’t really expect any further explanation or apologies, yet he couldn’t just let it end there. “I see. You were only doing what was in the best interests of the fleet by encouraging your husband to seize power. And if you should happen to benefit...”
Ellen’s demeanor suddenly changed. He saw the muscles in her shoulders tense. The plastered-on smile disappeared. Her eyes became steely, focused, and fierceness crept into her voice that while not completely unexpected, still took him aback. “Don’t lecture me on taking power, Tom. And don’t try to convince me that your actions have been so selfless. Cut through the rhetoric and declarations of doing what’s in the best interest of the people and at its core it’s what best gets Tom Zarek what he wants. You hitched your wagon fast enough to Roslin when you thought she could take down Adama. But then you found out it wasn’t her goal, it wasn’t about power that you seem to think everyone else is corrupted by, it really was about the fleet and earth and trying to save what’s left of us. But Baltar, Baltar wanted it all like you Tom, the power, the glory, being the big hero.”
Zarek felt his frustration with the conversation, more precisely, her, grow. She was right, no good would come from dwelling on the past. And, at the time, he’d been convinced his motivations were just. “Roslin would have had us continue to run, indefinitely, on the hope of finding some place that may not even exist. I’ve dealt with too many politicians, their promises and betrayals and complete failure. Baltar at least was a fresh start. He wasn’t mired down in how things were and maintaining the status quo.” He paused before dredging up old resentments. “Too few people remember what I fought for. They just remember Tom Zarek the terrorist. I couldn’t get the support to win the presidency, but through him, maybe, maybe I could help rebuild this society, make it what it should be.”
Ellen snorted and took another swig of her drink. “You want to build a society, Tom, you need someone who has a pair.” Pointing a finger at him to add emphasis, she finished her thought, “And that’s Laura Roslin.” She laughed at her statement and, despite his earlier irritation, he was hard pressed not to join her. She continued her line of reasoning, “Roslin would scare the hell out of the Cylons. She’s far too persuasive. Persuasion, Tom, that’s where power lies. You don’t have the gift, and neither does Saul, but Adama, Roslin, they can tear people apart, bring them back together, and make them all think it was for the greater good. I bet if she had to she could convince the Cylons she’s their precious god who’ll lead them into the light or whatever the frak it is they want.”
Zarek laughed. Not at the absurdity of the statement, but because part of him believed it was true. “Ellen, your ability to find optimism in any situation is amazing.”
“You, Tom, are too much of a cynic.” There was a suggestion of pity in her remark. “You can’t give up hope. There’s always something to fight for, you just need to find what it is. I have Saul.”
Zarek chuckled at the comment. “Saul? That’s what you fight for? I seem to recall once having a conversation with you about agendas and rather selfish motives.” He took a look around their surroundings before going on, “In a slightly nicer establishment than this. And I do admire that about you, Ellen, your honesty. You’re always true to who you are. Not many people can say that about themselves.”
“And not many people would be so kind. Most people prefer pointing out that I’m a drunken, loudmouthed, promiscuous bitch.” Zarek couldn’t help but note more than a hint of satisfaction in the statement. “Yet, he loves me. Not many men would put up with what he has and most see him as weak because of it. I see it as strength. To be loved without condition, without expectation, I think it makes him the one good choice in my life. One thing I can be proud of. And the one thing to hold onto.” For a moment she looked introspective, sincere and Zarek felt as if he’d perhaps just seen something that no one else but Tigh ever had.
“Your world is so small, Ellen.” He watched her brow crease and eyes light up. He could only assume she was preparing to unleash her ire, but before she could say a word he stopped her. “No, Ellen, that wasn’t meant as an insult. I’m just pointing out the difference between you and me. You make the most of what you have. For you, love, survival is sufficient.” He paused before admitting something to her that he could barely acknowledge to himself. “I needed to be recognized. Finally getting my freedom and making it this far when so many have died...it wasn’t enough. Maybe being forgotten for twenty years will do that to a man. I won’t be forgotten now though. Assuming any of us make it through this.”
With far more confidence than he could have mustered she told him, “We will. Adama’s a stubborn bastard. He’ll be back. He won’t allow the Cylons to win.” She smiled at him as she slid off the stool, just a little off balance from the drinks. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go find my husband. Nothing much exciting happening here tonight...any night really.” It was the first time he sensed disappointment from her. She shook his hand in the same polite, gracious manner as she had done when they first met and said, “I assume I’ll be seeing you here again. Until next time.”
As Ellen headed towards the exit, she let the coat remain off the one shoulder and swayed her hips from side to side making sure every man in the room was focused on her. She appeared full of self-assurance. Zarek turned back to the bar, focusing once more on its craftsmanship. He wondered if the man who had created it was still alive, if he felt his time and effort had been wasted. But it was still here, he was still here, and maybe there was still hope.
Now I need an Ellen/Zarek icon to go with this. ;)