[personal profile] singerdiva01
Title: Meetings
Rating: K
Words: ~2000
Characters: Tom Zarek, Laura Roslin
Summary: Laura, three months into her stint as a teacher on Sagittaron, attends a meeting of the Sagittaron Freedom Movement and meets an idealistic Tom Zarek. She gets an argument and far more than she expected.
A/N: Written in honor of the lovely [livejournal.com profile] laura_mayfair's birthday, whose smart thoughts on Zarek have inspired me to wonder what he'd be like as a community organizer in the early days of his activism. Hope this little AU brightens your day, Laura! (Huge thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lanalucy for an early beta. All mistakes are mine -- and probably more prevalent in the parts she didn't see!)

The moment Laura entered the meeting hall her senses were assaulted by the scent of sweat, smoke, and stale coffee, and after three months on Sagittaron, she didn’t even have to try not to wrinkle her nose. She’d become accustomed to the perfume of the working class to the point she could pick out the notes of exhaustion, the subtle hints of hope intermingled with anger and despair.

She scanned the back row, dark but for the flickers of a dying overhead light, and zeroed in on an empty metal folding chair. She pulled the zipper down on her jacket but didn’t take it off. While it wasn’t totally inappropriate for the new teacher from Caprica to attend a public forum put on by the S.F.M., she didn’t care to call attention to herself either. She had no way of knowing if any of the overall-clad men clustered by the coffee station were the fathers of her students; she’d discovered early on that parent-teacher conferences were a luxury not afforded to people whose shifts started before dawn and ended long after the sun set.

The leaders of the S.F.M. were easy to pick out in their leather jackets, here and in the streets. They’d publicly denounced their gang origins months ago but when they walked by, people still nodded at them politely and gave them a wide berth. She’d come here to see for herself whether their self-pronounced transformation into a civil and human rights movement was for real.

Fifteen minutes later, a good thirty after the official start time, the leather jackets marched onto the stage and took their seats behind the long, battered table. The din died down in waves, hushed voices falling away to be replaced by the scraping of metal on wood and the occasional cough.

She knew the man who came to the mic was Tom Zarek. She’d heard his name mentioned every time she inquired, carefully, about the S.F.M. and the consensus seemed to be that he wasn’t like the others. More educated, for one, with fewer ties to the old gang ways. He was rumored to be the one behind the group’s shift toward legitimate activism.

That sounded right, judging from the speech he launched into as soon as the room quieted. Soaring rhetoric about the heroism of the Sagittaron people first, followed by an unnecessary but well articulated history of Caprica’s oppressive hold on the colony. Even though she knew it wasn’t possible, she could have sworn his gaze fell on her when he said it was the rare Caprican who wouldn’t pass up the chance to knife men like him in the back.

He received a tired but hearty round of applause when he turned the floor over to one of his comrades. Laura noticed his face lit up at the meagre show of encouragement and she wondered if that was a good sign or a bad one. In her experience, men who did this kind of work for approval would do almost anything to keep getting it.

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to letting the workers come up to the mic in the center aisle to air their grievances. Unsurprisingly, they were the familiar ones she’d heard in those same conversations in which she learned about Zarek. Long, hard shifts at the mills. Sagittarons being kicked out of their homes to make way for the development of a new government complex. Curfews installed and enforced on the whims of off-world police forces.

Once she realized she wasn’t going to learn anything new, Laura found her gaze wandering back to Zarek. Unlike the men sitting beside him, one of whom was playing casually with a pocket knife, he seemed to be paying attention. He took notes, nodded in all the right places, and was the first to start the applause after each man spoke.

If someone had asked her three months ago what a freedom fighter looked like, she wouldn’t have described this dark haired man with an almost regal bearing. She could see his muscles defined under the tight black shirt he wore under his jacket but she’d bet money they weren’t built fighting. Frankly, he looked like the type of man she’d have fallen for back at Caprica University: handsome, serious, brooding.

Laura allowed herself to follow that train of thought before she realized the meeting was over by the resurgence of noise in the room. The men in the audience were getting up, no doubt to shuffle home for dinner or to an illegal bar for a nightcap, and the men who’d been onstage had made their way down to mingle.

She chastised herself for trying to find Zarek in the crowd and instead focused on gathering her bag from the floor and making her way to the exit. When she got to the end of her row, she found her path blocked by a group of men chatting in the middle of the aisle.

She was just about to say something when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.

“Get anything good to report back to Caprica?”

She paused, adjusted her purse, and turned around slowly. Tom Zarek was leaning casually against the chair she’d just vacated, a hand on his hip and a smirk on his face.

“You certainly have the makings of a very good rebel leader, Mr. Zarek.” She smiled at him sweetly. “You’ve got the paranoia down pat.”

He clutched his hand to his chest and contorted his features into a mock pained expression.

“You wound me, Ms….” He trailed off suggestively.

“Roslin,” Laura replied curtly. No need to get friendly with a man who’d already pegged her for a spy.

“Ms. Roslin,” he repeated with a sly smile. “Well, Ms. Roslin, we just don’t see a lot of people like you in places like this.”

She raised an eyebrow. “People like me, meaning women?” She gestured at the groups of men filing out of the hall. “I can see that.”

Zarek chuckled and lifted his shoulders casually. “That’s not my fault. I can’t make ‘em come. Who’s here is here.”

Laura shook her head and Zarek seemed to take that as some sort of signal. When he came to her side and offered his arm to escort her out, she found herself accepting in order to finish the argument.

“And where do you think they are, Mr. Zarek? They’re at home, caring for their children. Preparing the supper these guys expect to have waiting on the table.”

He nodded at the man who held the door open for them and then turned to offer her the same gesture. “Go on.”

The wave of his hand toward the street seemed to indicate an invitation both to continue and one to follow him. She kept her arm firmly tucked in his to confirm her choice. His pleased little smirk made another appearance and she had to mentally remind herself of the larger point.

“What you would hear from the women is different but just as important, if you and your friends are really planning to do what you say you are.”

He’d steered them onto the main road once they were out the door. He didn’t pause in his stride but Laura felt his muscles tense.

“So, you speak for Sagittaron women, now, Ms. Roslin? Interesting they chose a Caprican to be their microphone after all your people have done to us.”

Laura shivered at the fury that had crept into Tom Zarek’s lilting baritone. She stopped pointedly under a streetlight and looked him in the eye. “I never said that, Mr. Zarek. I simply said you hadn’t asked them what they thought.” She looked down at the ground for a moment to regain her composure. “And I’m here, aren’t I? I’ve been here for three months and don’t you dare think I haven’t seen what Caprican oppression has done to your people.”

“Three months, huh? Well, I guess I should be thanking you for your service, then.” He jerked her arm, not hard but forcibly enough to get her attention, and she followed him again despite herself. They walked in strained silence for almost a block before Laura could trust her own voice.

“Look, Mr. Zarek, I’m not here to tell you what to do. That’s neither my place nor my intention. What I’m saying is the best way for the S.F.M. to really build a movement, gain the trust of this community to do anything other than knock a few heads, is to start getting stuff done.”

She paused, waiting for him to interrupt, but continued when he continued to stare at her pensively.

“Get babysitters so women can come to your meetings and talk about how the officers harass them on the streets and how their children are being shortchanged at school just because of their last names. Form committees to walk them home…”

She stopped speaking when her companion stopped walking again. This time the pressure on her forearm was urgent but lacking any of the anger from before.

“What did you say?”

She blinked, unsure which part of what she’d said had set him off this time.

“I was talking about the sexual harassment. The discrimination in education. Did you know they stop placing kids in school based on their last names when they run out of spots?”
Zarek winced, then his face went hard and suddenly she understood. She felt the blush rising in her cheeks. She was explaining oppression to the oppressed, again, and the familiar feeling of being an interloper came back with a vengeance.

She muttered an apology and quickened her pace, forcing him to follow. He made no further attempt at conversation until they were standing in front of her building.

“Well, you’re home, Laura Roslin,” he said with a pleased grin.

Laura gasped when she realized where he’d led her and was a bit relieved to find him smirking at her again rather than leering. The urge to slap the quirk off his face warred with an unexplained desire to ask him to take her somewhere else so the sparring didn’t have to end.

“And I can see Mrs. Ferguson was right about you.”

Laura hated being caught off balance, and the mention of her school’s headmistress, not to mention his use of her given name, had her mind spinning. Before she could speak, Zarek was untangling his arm from hers.

“Mrs. Ferguson told me you might be a good organizer. Privileged, wracked with guilt about it, but smart.” He winked at her. “The perfect person to sit on one of those committees you were talking about. The one on education I’ve been getting set up, maybe.”

Laura nodded, more reflexively than in understanding. She took a few steps backward toward her door and only stopped when Zarek let out a soft laugh.

“You don’t have to accept right away. Dinner tomorrow night to discuss it further? We can talk about all those ideas in your pretty little head.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, fury building until she heard him chuckle again. He was infuriating and frakking with her and somehow she found herself nodding again.

“Good. And you don’t have to put it on the table for me, Laura,” he said with a smile as he turned away. He glanced back over his shoulder. “I’m pretty good at fending for myself.”

He got just a few feet before Laura returned to herself. She called back at him, her voice strident in the cool night air. “I’m quite sure you are, Tom. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

His shoulders hunched but he didn’t turn back around. She watched him strut off into the night, the streetlight dancing against the leather of his jacket.

She let herself in with her key and sank back against the cool metal of the door. For the first time since she’d arrived on Sagittaron, she was scared. She'd held herself aloof from things, hadn't let herself fully connect to anything for so long, the opportunity he was handing her was as frightening as it was appealing. For the first time since her mother had died, though, she felt like she might have a reason to truly go on living.

For better or worse, she knew her life from the moment she met Tom Zarek on would never be the same.
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