AN: This was inspired by Aaron Douglas's spoilerish comments about the Final Five Cylons as well as the rumors about season 4.5. It is a Kara/Lee romance, but it's also much more than that. It's a full ensemble piece that explores key questions of the series: what are the Cylons? what is the origin of the Final Five? where did Kara go during Maelstrom? what is the origin of the disaster on Earth? It's a very intricate piece and I think probably will necessitate a good deal of close reading. Each chapter offers heavy foreshadowing for subsequent chapters, and everything weaves together eventually. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Also available at my LiveJournal (see my profile for link).

Standard disclaimers apply.

A Flash Before the Eyes

by cliosmuse

Chapter 1

A flash before his eyes, as bright as a supernova and as painful to the retina. He gasped; faltered; threw one hand to his forehead, the other out for support, his eyes squeezed shut tightly.

"Sam? Are you all right?" Tory – to his left.

Samuel T. Anders opened his eyes and was confronted once again by the grey, desolate landscape that surrounded him, surrounded them all. "I... I don't know. Something –"

The flash again. More intense, this time. He fell to his knees in the ash, clutching his head in his hands. Images surrounded him. Not just the explosion, but others as well. A television screen, depicting hundreds of similar blasts around the world. A little girl, eyes turned up toward him, afraid. A blond woman before him. How did she get in here? Her mouth moves rapidly, words indistinguishable through his mental haze. A swing set, charred and ruined, creaking uneasily in the fenced-in park across the street as he runs from the apartment building, girl in his arms, pulled by the woman who still speaks to him with calm purpose but whose words still make little sense. Throngs around him of others, running. And then another blast, louder than before, that sends him flying.

He jerked his eyes open again; gasped. "Sam! Sam! What's wrong?" Tory's voice pulled him into the present. He was on all fours, knees and hands buried in radioactive dust. He pulled himself up into a squat, elbows leaning heavily on his knees. Others had begun to gather around, curiosity a good distraction from devastation, though they kept a safe distance.

"I've been here before. I've been here before."

"What do you mean, Lieutenant Anders?" He looked up after the voice into the face of Laura Roslin. Laura Roslin, the dying leader of the Twelve Colonies, who had led them to – what? This? Ruin? Home?

"I mean – I mean that something's coming back to me. I remember. I remember being here. I remember the war." He looked down at his arms, which mimed the tight grip on that small, blue-eyed child. "I remember my daughter. I remember her dying." His eyes scanned the gazes of those around him, their expressions ranging from terror to calm and everything in between. His eyes settled on the calmest among them, a sea of tranquility behind her glasses (the only thing that revealed her confusion was how tightly she gripped the admiral's hand). "We've all, the five of us, been here before. We just didn't know until now." He paused. "I need to see Kara."

"Why didn't you tell me?" She wasn't sure quite how long she'd been walking (sometimes running) after silently slipping away, away from that ruined (gleaming) city of skyscrapers and monuments and homes and offices, away from the cluster of Colonial survivors, too consumed by their own grief to notice her departure. What she was sure of was that he was behind her, matching her step for step.

His answer held disappointment, though. "It wasn't my job to tell you. I didn't know."

"You said you were my guide."

"I said you had a destiny. I didn't say that I knew precisely what that was, or how far back it extended. But I didn't need to tell you. You knew. You saw Earth. The smell, the feel of it on your skin. And it was like you'd been there before. Like you'd never left."

She looked back at him, sharply. He shrugged, not needing to explain to her the depth of his knowledge. She sighed and kept walking in silence. Striding forward, with purpose, toward something – something she wouldn't know until she saw. Something she felt growing stronger and stronger the closer she got. "Like I'd never left."

When he woke up, he was in pain and the girl was gone. He looked across the room from where he sat on a worn and tattered sofa. They were in a coffee shop; the blond woman was sitting at a high counter, scribbling something on a piece of paper with gloved hands. Aside from the gloves, she was dressed in cargo pants and a tank top, her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. Across her back he saw the straps of a gun holster. "Where is she? Where's my daughter?"

She didn't look up. "I'm sorry, Samuel. She didn't make it."

He choked on a sob. "What?"

"There was another blast. It threw us half a block uptown. You were badly hurt. You've been unconscious for almost a day. I pulled us in here. She died almost immediately." Almost...

"What about my wife?"

The woman sighed. "Manhattan is gone, Samuel. There is no one left alive." She reached her hand to the right of her, snatched something, and tossed it to him. "Eat something." His hand shot up to catch it. (Reflexes intact, I see.) A chocolate-chip muffin.

He looked at the object in his hand. Dropped it to his lap as if burned. Too much. Too much to comprehend at once. He sat up, barely noticing the pain that shot through his abdomen, buried his head in his hands. "No, no, no, no."

And then she was beside him, shaking him violently by his shoulders. "Pull yourself together, Samuel. We've got things to do. We've got people to find. I found you first because I thought you'd be best able to help me. Don't tell me I made a mistake."

He shook his head, his face wet though he hadn't thought he'd been crying. "Found me? Why the fuck would you want to find me? Who are you?"

"I found you, Samuel, because you have a destiny." Her lips played into the smallest of smiles. "And you can call me Starbuck."

"Starbuck? Like in the book?"

She cocked her head at him, as if thinking. "I suppose so." She paused. Grinned, though her gaze was severe. "'I will have no man in my boat who is not afraid of a whale.' Do what I say, Samuel, and you will live a long, long time."

Tory shook her head rapidly. "This is bullshit. I don't remember anything about this place." She looked around, desperately. "Sam, you're imagining this."

"No, he's not." His uncovered eye was glazed over, as if he was watching something at a great distance. His pupil glowed, as if reflecting some cosmic fire.

The first thing he remembered thinking was: "Why the fuck did I decide to work in New York?" He had been a beat cop in Minneapolis until his drinking problems caught up with him (perhaps part of the reason he never made detective). Discharged and in disrepute, he found work as a private security guard in an office building downtown. It paid the bills; he still drank. And now that Helen had gone, taking the kids, he drank alone.

What he never could quite figure out was what pushed him to that dark place. Why turn to the bottle? He had a family; he should be satisfied. But night after night, alone in his squad car, the emptiness had seemed to strangle him.

After Helen had left, children in tow, he'd decided to leave. New York City seemed an obvious destination. Despite the expense of the place, he wanted nothing more than to go somewhere where he could disappear into the wallpaper. Saul Tigh was not meant to be a standout.

So the first thing he remembered thinking, when the first brilliant flash met his eyes, as he dove underneath the desk he manned at the U.N. building, was: "Why the fuck did I decide to work in New York?"

The second question he asked came much later, as he wandered around the deserted city in search of some hope, some evidence of life and that the whole world didn't look like this place. When the blond woman and her friend found him, gun in hand, sitting in the middle of Central Park, the question that surged through his mind was: "Why in God's name wasn't I with my family?"

"What does this mean? What in the gods' names can this mean?" Four miles into her wandering, as night fell, she began to walk faster and faster, more and more deliberately, until at last she found what her senses had been directing her toward. The crack in the windscreen was familiar. The dried blood, now blackened, told a story. The callsign on the side was hers. She touched a hand to the jagged edge where the wing had ripped away from the body of the vessel, then pulled her hand back as if scalded.

"What does it mean? Perhaps it means we can step twice into the same river. Perhaps it means there are second chances. Perhaps it means what you're afraid it means, or perhaps it means something very, very different. But it certainly means you've been here before."

She shook her head violently. "No. No. That –" Gesturing at the sunken form in the cockpit. "That is not me. That can't be me."

Leoben smiled. "It means you never left."