Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Summary: Earth is not shining. That's the first thing she notices.
Genre: angst, romance
Characters: Cassiopeia, Starbuck, Athena, Apollo, Sheba, Boomer, Adama, Boxey, mention of Serina
Pairings: Starbuck/Cassiopeia, Starbuck/Athena, Apollo/Serina, Apollo/Sheba
Warnings: post-series, character deaths, violence, dark themes, partially based upon Glen Larson's unfilmed plans for season two
"For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?"-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Earth is not shining.
That's the first thing she notices as they draw close, and in retrospect it should have been a warning sign telling them to turn around, to go back while they still could, to drift in space a millennium instead of entering the planet's atmosphere.
They never thought. They never thought...
Sheba never saw Earth.
Cassiopeia was there in Life Station as always when they carried her in, burned and broken, her last moments a blur of raw anguish on Apollo's face, the sorrow in Boomer's eyes as he reached to lay a hand on his shoulder only to have it shrugged away, and Adama's fingers taking her's and carefully prying them away from the hypospray clenched in her palm as she followed his gaze and saw Sheba's eyes open and staring, frozen in death.
Sheba would never have belonged to Earth, she knows, not without the endless field of stars and the viper's controls at her fingertips. She would have hungered for that, longed for what had been and not what could.
They send her body quietly off into space and Cassiopeia thinks it's fitting.
After that, Apollo died.
Somewhere against the blackness of space his ship collided with an astralon, and exploded on impact, shattering across the galaxies into pieces of light. Starbuck couldn't save him, no one could, because Apollo had wanted to die for so long.
He hadn't truly been alive since before Zac was killed, before Serina died, looking for danger around every corner, as if staring death into the face was the only way he knew how to survive, and even looking after Boxey couldn't give him something to live for. For a while Sheba might have been able to save him, to paste him back together, and make him whole, but he'd been a ghost too long even then. It had only been a matter of time before the danger became too real, the odds too great, and Apollo burned himself up, pulling Starbuck with him, like a star locked in orbit around a dying sun, and if not for the slightest distance between them that day, the viper darting left instead of right, it would have happened just like that, because, even if he couldn't save him, Starbuck would never have let Apollo burn alone.
When Apollo died, Cassiopeia felt only a sudden rush of relief, like a heavy weight lifted from her shoulders, in the moment before she shook it off like a poisonous crawlon, hating herself for thinking that way, reaching for Athena as she broke down into tears.
Starbuck and Boomer mourn, of course, but more in the way one mourns for a relative long unseen and nearly forgotten, for there was little of Apollo left by the end, and all the loyalty in both of them couldn't make up for that. This time there's no ship of lights and no miraculous recovery, and after a while Apollo's name is silently folded up and stored away like the dress Cassiopeia wore when she was a socialator, a part of a life cut off and laid to rest.
She knows it's selfish to be grateful that Apollo didn't live long enough to destroy anyone but himself.
She supposes, at first, she stole him, as much as one person can steal another, from Athena, and even from himself, the reckless and careless man he used to be. They're named like the stars, both of them, so it's only fitting that they should find each other, like the stars through the glass of the celestial dome, two set on a single orbit.
In her dreams, she stands watching as the Vipers straggle in, counting and finding the the number one less every time. Boomer climbs out of one, face looking like death itself, grim and terrible, and eventually he meets her eyes. He doesn't speak, but she already knows, and she turns, running back to Life Station as if she can pretend it's a lie, that he's coming back, just like always.
After a while Athena comes and reaches out to her, eyes misty with tears, and she wants to pull away from her, to shut herself off from the expressions of sympathy and grief she's seen on others' faces too many times now. Athena looks at her for a long moment without speaking, and then whispers "I loved him, too."
And then in the micron before she wakes up she remembers that Athena is no longer the same, distant and cold, and if she remembers that she loved Starbuck once she'd never show it now. In a way, she blames him, for Apollo, maybe even Sheba and Zac, and she gave him up long ago.
It's only a dream, but Cassiopeia wakes up shaking.
Before they reach Earth, Adama dies.
It's his heart that finally gives out, they say, even as she knows it never gave out at all, it was simply broken too many times and unable to heal again. He'd lived a long and full life, seen enough yahrens to bury his wife and both his sons, and watched his dream grow more distant with every centon they wandered through space. His death was sudden but hardly unexpected, and the Galactica's sorrow is tinged with an air of resignation, as if it was only a matter of time in the end.
As they send his body off into space, Cassiopeia doesn't look at it, keeping her eyes on the Golden Cluster pinned to Starbuck's uniform, glittering in the light like the stars outside, her fingers tightly woven into his as if they're already sealed to each other, as if that will still happen.
She's seen enough of death already.
At the time, everyone says it's a tragedy that he never lived to see his shining thirteenth colony, that Adama, who held onto that hope above all others, should have seen it even from a distance before he died. At first Cassiopeia agrees with them.
Later, she knows better, of course.
Earth is not shining, and there's no time to save anything, to help anyone because there's explosions of lasers and weapons she can't identify, and she feels her hands, numb and cold, grab for Boxey in the crush of running people and fall short. The world spins, blurring into red, so much of it her eyes burn, and green sprawled beneath the red, and then there's a scent of ambrosa and fumarellos and a blur of brown swimming in front of her eyes. An arm comes around her, followed by a smaller hand clasping her's, Starbuck holding her and Boxey, dragging them away from the horror.
He puts them into the mouth of a cave, and he's talking to her but she can't understand him, meaningless babble like a child learning to speak, drowned out by Boxey's sobs and the pounding of her heart in her ears, a wall of blood pulsating inside her head. She reaches for Starbuck, and it no longer matters if it's weak or selfish, she only wants to cling to him and not let go, to keep someone. But he's already gone, shouting and Sagan, help him daring the Cylons to focus their attention on him.
Her fingers dig into the palms of her hands, nails cracking with the sudden pressure, a scream clawing at her throat and not escaping. She doesn't know how long she's silent, and Boxey drops into an exhausted sleep, tears dried on his cheeks.
And then, sometime before dawn, a hand reaches into the cave and clasps her's, a familiar touch. Her eyes open and see his face, and she's up in an instant, clinging to him against the scent of blood and grime, gasping sobs as he holds her, and there's no words to say and no voices left to say them with.
It didn't last long in the end.
Across the galaxies the cylons followed, and they lead them directly to earth, a shining beacon through the darkness that might have hidden the thirteenth colony from the metallic eyes of that race. Earth had no preparations and certainly no warnings, and for all the fear of visitors beyond the stars there were few who believed in them enough to create some form of protection. For a long time Cassiopeia thinks they're the only three who survived in the entire universe, living on and owning the barren land like ancient statues in the desert guarding something that's long ceased to exist.
Boxey grows lanky and wild, her hair lightens under the harshness of Earth's sun, and Starbuck seems older than his yahrens, the lines on his face felt in the darkness as they cling to each other.
Then after a while they begin to find them, the nearly feral children who run in packs like lupins, the hollow-eyed men and women who were too young to remember what life was like before, those with gray hair and looks of desperation on their faces who remember too much. All of them circle each other, frightened yet aching, and finally some of them seem to come alive, speaking halting words in rusty voices, asking names and places, questions whose answers they already know. It no longer matters whether they came from earth or elsewhere because they're all survivors, the strongest, the most fortunate, or some hand of chance that dealt a Perfect Pyramid to one and a forfeit to another.
They're named like the stars, both of them, and all stars eventually fall to earth. They don't always burn out and cease to be, but merely change.
Earth is not the shining planet Adama dreamed of, not before the cylons and certainly not after. But it is a home, a place to heal, a world in which to start over, to have a third chance to learn to live. The ground, burned and scarred, begins to heal, and when spring comes the survivors turn from scavenging to rebuilding a little at a time, planting and raising, putting up homes and tending to children.
Earth is not shining, but she thinks it could be, in time.