Forty yahrens on

It's more than forty yahrens since Apollo was killed and since he came back from the dead.  They've been married for more than thirty yahrens, a record that surprises everyone except Apollo and Starbuck.   Starbuck, of course, had wagers on it.

The humans haven't seen the Cylons for yahrens, not since before Apollo died.  On the whole, things are very peaceful.  They travel the wide spaces between stars and haven't really come across any unfriendlies for a long time.  Starbuck complains about the quiet a lot, but really, deep down, he doesn't really miss the fear and the losses.  He's come to appreciate quiet.

Adama died five yahrens ago, disappointed that they hadn't reached Earth, yet content that the Fleet was well on the way.  He went peacefully and slowly, a tired old man who had finally come to rest.   He had Athena's and Apollo's hands in his when he died and he didn't suffer.  Ila's name was the last thing he said.

Tigh's retired.  He and Cassie finally married, but they married late, too late for children.  Cassie's sometimes very regretful about that, so she spoils Athena's children and grandchildren a little, in compensation.  She's still beautiful, her once golden head streaked with a most becoming silver, and when she moves her body still falls into practiced, pretty poses that are the legacy from when she lived to give pleasure, before she learned to relieve pain.  Somewhere deep inside, she still has a little candle-flicker for Starbuck.  She still hasn't quite forgiven Apollo.

Athena and Boomer stopped at three children, although Athena wishes now that they'd had more.  The eldest, Zac, really lived up to his namesake's reputation: wild, reckless, the despair of his doting grandfather as he flitted from girl to girl. Too much like his Uncle Starbuck, was Apollo's verdict.  Zac's very short-lived marriage was at the metaphorical point of a shotgun.  He followed his father and uncles into the service, dying in almost the very last firefight they have.  He was barely 25.  He never saw his daughter.  This counterpoint to the first Zac's death in the first firefight is too much for Athena to bear very well.  She's no longer on active duty. Boomer, older and greyer and never quite as cheerful after his son's death, is colonel now.  He's thinking about retirement soon, determined not to die in harness.  He's also thinking about moving to one of the civilian ships, but he doesn't know if Athena could ever leave the Galactica.  He may go alone.  He hasn't decided.

Troy is very close to his fathers.  Troy didn't, in the end, follow his dad into the services, but Apollo didn't mind.  Apollo is proud of his son, and thinks that Troy's work as chief scientific officer is as important as any Viper pilot's.  Starbuck pulls faces about it not being as exciting, but he never interfered between Apollo and Troy before Troy's choice of career, and he never saw the need to start.  Troy is married and has two children: Apollo for his father and Serina for his mother.  Serina is taking medical training from Cassie.  Apollo (junior) is engaged to be married to the grand-daughter of Ford, who used to head up Apollo's flight crew.  He and his cousin Pol (Athena's youngest son, also Apollo) are both serving in the Viper squadrons. 

Starbuck says that there are too many Apollos these days—counting the dozens of babies in the Fleet named over the yahrens—and he's openly glad he has the original and best. 

Starbuck?  Well, he's over seventy now.  He's still hale and hearty and has all his hair, but the thick blond mane is almost white, making his eyes an intense blue.  They're still a clear blue, not yet rheumy and clouded with age.  He's well-preserved, still an attractive man.  Apollo says still a beautiful one, and Starbuck doesn't protest much... at all. 

Starbuck's head of the cadet training academy and has been for almost fifteen yahrens when an accident on landing left him with a slight, but permanent limp, and a refusal by Cassie to clear him as fit for combat duty.  He misses it still, the excitement, and grumbles most on those days when his knee is stiff and painful when he first gets up.  The cadets revere him and the legends about his exploits are legion.  Starbuck, though, has found an unexpected modesty as he's got older; a sense of perspective, maybe.  He doesn't boast, except about Apollo.  Any demand for a story about his adventures is usually countered with a story about something he and Apollo did together: the attack on Carillon, the raid on the Ice Planet, dealing with Iblis, getting aboard the last Cylon baseship.  He's very proud of Apollo.  The cadets, it has to be said, are rather too in awe of Commander Apollo to appreciate it.  They prefer Starbuck's earthier humanity.  Starbuck still connects much better than Apollo.

Apollo is just the same.  Not a grey hair or wrinkle in sight. Indeed, Troy looks older than his father.  Apollo had a difficult time, at first, as the Fleet made the readjustment to their religious beliefs.  He was adamant that he wasn't going to be set up as some religious icon, but the people's need to have something to believe in was very strong.  In most ships, they don't talk about Commander Apollo: they talk about Lord Apollo, though it's a brave man who will call him that to his face.  Starbuck does, but then Starbuck's never lost his touch for irony.

Old Sire Anton, who lived much longer than any of his enemies thought was seemly, considered Apollo to be one of his finest pupils.  The wicked old man enjoyed seeing the Council discommoded by having a Lord of Kobol living among them.  Apollo finds his eminence a useful mechanism for getting his way against opposition, but Starbuck and a remembrance of Anton's wisdom means he uses this weapon sparingly.  He's a much more political animal than he used to be.  He misses Anton's advice almost as much as he misses Adama's.

Apollo knows that Starbuck's aging.  The Mask doesn't allow for illusions.  When he looks at Starbuck through the Mask he can see every white hair and the way that the skin around Starbuck's eyes and mouth is drawing in.  He can see, and the Mask even calculates for him, the degree to which Starbuck is beginning to stoop, shoulders rounding, so he's a little shorter than Apollo now.  The Mask measures those moments when Starbuck's breath comes shorter, his stamina more fleeting. 

Apollo's finding that hard.

It's hard because Apollo loves Starbuck.  He loves Starbuck more than anything he can say.  And when he takes the Mask off and is Apollo—not Lord Apollo, or We, or even not Commander Apollo—he can't see the aging skin and whitening hair.  His fingers can smooth the wrinkles away and card through hair as thick and soft as it's always been; and still he can lick his way into Starbuck's mouth to share a kiss that is all the sweeter for its familiarity. 

Perhaps he doesn't kiss Starbuck as often as he used to, because Starbuck tires more easily.  Starbuck, while still vibrantly alive, is less physical than he used to be.  Apollo doesn't complain.  He's not tempted to look elsewhere (never has been, Stannor notwithstanding), his own un-aging body adjusting to the lesser demands Starbuck makes of him.  It has to be enough for him, because the alternative is too terrible to think about.

Because recently, now, like something tickling in the back of his head, he can feel the waiting presence of the People.  It won't be long, in their terms.  It hasn't really been long (in their terms) that they've had to wait for Apollo to join them, but it will be all too soon when he does.  A few yahrens, maybe even another ten or fifteen, and he'll lose his last real link with humanity.  There won't be anything to hold him, then.  Not when Starbuck's gone.

The People are content to wait.  And if Stannor sometimes feels a tinge of annoyance at Apollo's choice, he's content that, in the end, he'll win. 

Starbuck won a battle.  But Stannor wins wars.





Twenty yahrens after that:

They reach Earth, just in time.  Starbuck walks on shaky, insecure legs on the Promised Land, Apollo's strong arm holding him up, smiling at the sounds and smells of the place he's striven to reach for more than sixty yahrens.  It takes a little while for the Colonials to negotiate a settlement with the Earth authorities and find a place to call New Caprica, and all the while Starbuck fades and fades.  He dies in winter, before the house Troy is building for them is finished.

Apollo never lives in the house. 

Apollo never lives on Earth, although he leaves Starbuck there.




And fifty yahrens after that:

When Troy is an old, old man, a boy is out in the night when he shouldn't be out, exploring the old cemetery where their great hero lies.  But young Zac doesn't care much about what he should and shouldn't do, since the world is there for the taking, to be loved and enjoyed and it's filled with excitement and adventure.  His great-grandfather tells him that it's a family trait, and Troy laughs softly when he says it.

The graveyard isn't empty.  There's a stranger there, sitting beside the hero's grave.  Zac's never seen him before, this tall man who's little more than a shadow against the gloom.  But once his first fright is over, Zac's natural resilience has him bouncing back, and it doesn't take much coaxing from the stranger for Zac to tell him about Starbuck and Apollo, and the terrible sad ending to their story.  There's been books, Zac says, and plays and films.   Only Starbuck's here.  We don't know what happened to Apollo, but my Grampa says he's still out there somewhere.  We wonder if he misses Starbuck and my Grampa and everything.

Apollo smiles at the boy's chatter.  He has been there since dusk.  Fifty yahrens ago that night, Starbuck sighed and closed his eyes, and Apollo truly died.  Starbuck would have laughed at the thought of them being romantic heroes. Apollo asks if they could find someone beautiful enough to play Starbuck and he doubts any answer the boy could give: although Apollo's almost all People now, a little bit of him is forever Starbuck's. No one could be beautiful enough to play Starbuck.

Zac shrugs, because although he's proud of the family legends, really it was all so long ago.  Apollo doesn't press for an answer.

Anyway, it's time for him to go.  Starbuck is long gone.

Apollo's blind, because long ago, a lifetime ago, he promised Starbuck that the Mask would never be there between them.  He took it off once he located the grave.  Starbuck never liked listening to Apollo's voice, distorted by the Mask, so Apollo made certain that, if Starbuck can hear him, wherever Starbuck is now, he can hear Apollo and not the Masked One.  But Starbuck's not there to hear.  This is a sentimental gesture, with no-one here but this callow boy to witness it. 

Long ago, his father (dead how long now?  Apollo can't remember but the Mask will calculate it for him) gave him a Kobolian medallion, which he in turn had given Boxey.  Troy had returned it, when Apollo left.  Apollo had brought it to leave with Starbuck, and he loops it carefully around the thin memorial stone.  

Your Grampa's called Troy, right?  Tell him this is here and that I brought it.

When he puts on the Mask, he sees that Zac looks like Troy, when Troy was still Boxey and Apollo, young and callow himself, was gasping with the surprise of fatherhood thrust so suddenly upon him.   Zac looks scared when he sees the Mask, looking from Apollo to the grave and stuttering.

Tell him I still miss Starbuck, says Apollo, and tell him I still miss him.



2021 words


Note: I wrote this several years ago, prompted by some artwork of Mask done by a friend, and found it on my hard disk recently. It struck me that Starbuck and Apollo deserve some sort of real ending, and here it is. I leave it up to you to decide if it's a happy one.
November 2011