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The Patriot

By U No Who

Word Count: 5,589
Date: 2004
Series: Mini
Rating: K+
Category: Action
Pairing/Focus: E
Warnings:
Summary:
Spoilers/Disclaimers:


Prelude Lieutenant Sophia "Whirlwind" Atwood, former Viper pilot and current commanding officer of the Battlestar Patriot surveyed what was left of her crew and gave a silent sigh. What had been a crew of 2,000 proud, vibrant Colonial Warriors was now a group of 120 exhausted and terrified young men and women. They had lost half of their people in the initial Cylon attack and had only survived because their power had been disrupted in the first blast, knocking out their computer systems and blocking the Cylons’ transmission of the virus that had infected the Colonial Fleet. They had been preparing for a jump before their systems went offline and had executed the jump out before the Cylons could target them. They plotted a second jump manually and had ended up in an unexplored region of space, beyond the Red Line.

They had just started to get themselves organized enough to start thinking about heading back to Colonial space when one of their Raptor crews brought some supplies, and an alien virus, back from one of the uninhabited planets they encountered.

Within a day all but 120 of the remaining crew were dead. And the survivors were in no condition for any type of service, even if they had been able to operate a battlestar with so few people.

Whirlwind dragged her attention back to her crew and started typing on a computer keypad. Words appeared on a large screen behind her as she typed.

//Thank you for assembling here today. I know that many of you are still feeling ill from the virus and I appreciate the effort it took to come here. Chief Thorson will be compiling a list of crew and what they are trained to do. That includes your primary specialty and any other duties you may once have been trained in. If we are going to operate the Patriot again we will need to shuffle crew assignments around quite a bit.//

Whirlwind paused and looked up at her crew. An observer would have noticed how eerily silent the crew was, with none of the usual shuffling, muffled coughs and muttered conversations that always occur in a group of any size. Whirlwind noticed nothing: the alien virus had left her as deaf and mute as it had the rest of the crew.

Chapter One Commander William Adama surveyed his crew and thought back over the events of the last few months. After the Galactica had jumped beyond the Red Line to escape the Cylons they had spent time consolidating and coordinating what was left of humanity. Just as they were about to finish and move on to another area of space, they had been betrayed by a Cylon spy in their midst. Even after three months he couldn't come to terms with the fact that Lieutenant Sharon Valerii had been a Cylon sleeper agent. Her betrayal and subsequent death at the hands of the man who had loved her had been almost as difficult to fathom as the initial Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies.

Forced to run again they had gone from star system to star system for months, always jumping as far as they could and only staying long enough to pick up whatever raw materials they could find. Then, just as life was returning to what passed as normal among the remnants of humanity, Dr. Gaius Baltar had committed suicide. The brilliant, but troubled, man had suffered from delusions since just after they entered uncharted space. He had become increasingly paranoid as time went on and his death, while shocking, wasn't entirely unexpected.

Baltar's suicide hadn't been the first, and probably wouldn't be the last. Some of the survivors were unable to recover from the shock of losing their homes, their worlds and almost everyone they had ever known. Adama knew that they needed every human they could save, but it was easy to lose hope in these troubled times.

Adama's reverie was broken by the officer manning the wireless, "Commander, Captain Apollo and his scouting team are reporting a ship at the edge of their sensors. It's too far out to make ID, and he is requesting permission to deviate from their course to investigate."

"Have him approach just close enough to make an ID."

"Aye, sir," the wireless officer relayed the instructions to Apollo and the crew waited silently. They had come so far to avoid the last Cylon attack. Could fate be so cruel as to throw them into their enemies' path again?

"Commander!" the wireless officer's voice quavered with a deep emotion that Adama couldn't identify until he heard the rest of the news, "Sir, it's another Battlestar! The Patriot! And it appears to intact and operating under its own power."

A cheer broke out from the crew and Adama allowed it to continue for longer than he would have under other circumstances. His people needed a bit of good news for once. "Have Captain Apollo approach with caution and hail the Patriot when they are within range."

"Aye, sir."

Colonel Tigh turned to Adama, "I thought there were no other battlestars that survived the Cylon attack. The Patriot is a fairly new ship, how could it have escaped the virus that crippled the rest of the Fleet?"

"I don't know, Tigh, but if the Patriot survived, maybe other ships did as well."

The two old friends turned towards the officer manning the wireless again, waiting for a sign from Apollo that they were not as alone they had thought.

Chapter Two Captain Lee Adama hailed the Patriot for the fifth time, "This is Captain Adama of the Battlestar Galactica calling the Battlestar Patriot, please respond."

His hail was greeted by nothing but static. He activated another channel and called Lieutenant Kara Thrace in the Viper flying to his left, "Still no answer, Starbuck. The ship isn't flying out of control and power consumption seems to indicate life on board, so why won't they answer?"

"Do you think it's a Cylon trap?"

Apollo considered his friend's words for a minute before he answered, "There is no way that the Cylons could have predicted where we would end up. There has to be another explanation."

"Like another spy?"

Apollo paused, remembering Boomer and the betrayal that had almost ended in the destruction of the ragtag fleet and humanity's extinction,"Let's hope not because I'm going in to take a closer look."

Starbuck, never one to pass up a challenge or a risk, followed him without comment.

Apollo continued to hail the Patriot as they flew closer. There was no answer as they came close enough to see the landing bay. Apollo made a decision and called Starbuck again, "Let's land and check this out."

Starbuck agreed and they flew in to land. They had to leave the Vipers and enter the ship through an emergency hatch designed for situations where the crew was unable to bring a ship into the bay and the pilots had to walk. Apollo paused at the entrance to the hatch, "I need you to stay here and keep an eye on the Vipers."

"What if you need help?"

"Starbuck, if I need help, it will probably be too late and someone will need to get back to the Galactica and tell them what happened."

"But..." Apollo held up his hand and she stopped speaking.

"Do I need to remind you who is in command of this mission?" he asked her.

If anyone else had said that to her, she would have lost her temper and treated them to her sharp tongue, or even to her mean right hook. But she had known and respected the Adamas for most of her life, so she kept silent and backed away from the door.

Apollo's expression softened and then he grinned at her, "Besides, let's face it, if you go you'll probably end up getting us into a fight no matter what the situation is.

Starbuck smacked him on the arm, hard enough to sting, but then she laughed, "You're probably right." She stopped laughing then, and her expression turned serious, "Be careful, Lee. I'm not the only one who can get into trouble, you know."

Apollo put his hand on her shoulder for a moment and then turned to the hatch and entered the ship.

The bay was silent, unlike the Galactica's, which was always a hub of controlled chaos expertly overseen by Chief Tyrol. Vipers and Raptors were lined up neatly and a thin layer of dust had accumulated on their hulls. Obviously, whatever had happened here, no one had left the ship in months.

Apollo proceeded cautiously into the ship, headed towards the bridge. If there was anyone left on board, they would most likely be in CIC. The silence was eerie and thoughts of all the horror films he had seen as a young boy kept creeping into his mind, no matter how hard he worked to keep them at bay. There was one in particular, about a battlestar operated by ghosts. They hadn't been friendly neighborhood ghosts, either, but evil spirits that had killed and killed and...

Apollo yanked his thoughts away from those images and tried to think of something, anything, else. He rounded a corner and ran headfirst into a person wearing a Colonial Crew Chief's uniform with a Patriot patch. They both rebounded from each other and stared in shock for a moment. The man was too tall to be a Viper pilot, towering over Apollo by at least two heads, and had the biggest muscles Apollo had ever seen on a human being. His white blond hair and startlingly blue eyes were a combination that Apollo had never seen. He assumed that the man came from one of the outlying worlds, probably a heavy gravity planet, but one that Apollo was unfamiliar with.

Apollo saw the man reaching for his sidearm and put his hands up in a gesture of peace, "I'm Captain Lee Adama from the Battlestar Galactica. We've been hailing you for hours, but there must be something wrong with your wireless system."

The man stared at him for a moment and then took a pad of paper and a writing instrument from his pocket and began to scribble furiously. Apollo watched him, becoming more and more puzzled. The Chief handed him the paper and Apollo read what was written there, //Virus took away our hearing and speech. Where did you come from? How did you survive the attack?//

"What happened?" Apollo exclaimed. The Chief cupped a hand to his ear and then shrugged his shoulders. Apollo took the clipboard and wrote, //Galactica was never upgraded, virus didn't affect us. We escaped with as many people and ships as possible and have been running ever since. Thought we were the last.//

The Chief read the words and took the clipboard again, //So did we, sir. I'm Crew Chief Lars Johannsen. Our power was knocked out by a blast in the first wave, so our computers weren't online and didn't receive the virus activation from the Cylons. We've been running ever since. At least we were until most of our crew was killed by this virus. As you see, the rest of us aren't really up to any advanced battlestar operations, so we've been here ever since.//

//All of you?!// Apollo wrote, underlining the words several times.

//There are only 120 of us left and all are unable to speak or hear.//

Apollo stood for a moment, stunned. The Patriot had once had over 2,000 people on board, what sort of virus killed almost 90% of a population? He was very glad that he had kept his helmet on and was currently breathing recycled air from the Galactica. Who knew if the virus was still active or not. He took the clipboard from the Chief and began to write, //The doctors weren't able to help you?//

//Our doctor and all the med techs died in the first wave of the virus. None of the survivors is familiar with medicine or biology so we've been unable to do anything.//

//Can you take me to the Commander?//

//Commander Zeron is also dead. Lieutenant Atwood is the senior officer and has been placed in command of the ship.//

//Sophia Atwood?!//

The Chief nodded his assent.

Apollo stared at the giant of a man for a moment. He knew Whirlwind Atwood, she had been two years behind him in Flight School. And now she was in command of an entire battlestar, or at least what was left of one.

The man gave a dry smile and motioned for him to follow him, obviously recognizing Apollo's dismay. Apollo fell in just behind him, grateful that the Chief slowed his pace enough that he didn't have to take two or three steps for every one the Chief took.

Just then, Apollo's wireless crackled to life, "Starbuck to Apollo."

"Apollo."

"You alright in there, Lee?"

Apollo smiled, visualizing his friend pacing up and down the bay in frustration. Kara Thrace was not the sort of woman who was happy to be left behind by anyone for any reason. "I'm all set here, Kara. I'm on my way to see the...commander. I need you to stay where you are and do not, under any circumstances, take off your helmet and breathe the Patriot's air. They've been exposed to an alien virus and we don't need to bring anything back to Galactica."

"And you?"

"I'm fine. I kept my helmet on. This virus killed off all but 120 of the Patriot's crew, though, so I'm going to be here for a while. Contact the Galactica and let them know what is going on, and make sure that they know that the survivors are unable to hear or speak."

"I'll notify Commander Adama. And Lee..." her voice trailed off, unable to express what she was feeling.

"You be careful, too, Kara."

Apollo turned his attention back to their journey through the Patriot. The eerie silence still bothered him, even though the cause had been explained as something more real, but almost as horrific as, his earlier imagined fears.

Chapter Three Sophia was studying a report from one of her few remaining officers when she observed her Crew Chief enter CIC. Behind him was an unfamiliar figure in a Viper flight suit. She stood up as they approached and studied the stranger. His face was familiar, but she was unable to place it until she saw his nametag. If she had been able, she would have shouted with glee, but settled for a hearty handshake instead.

//How did you get here? Where did you come from? Are there any other survivors?//

//In a Viper. From the Galactica, which isn't that far away. And yes, we have quite a few survivors. Not as many as we would have liked, but enough to start over someplace else.//

//I had hoped, but there wasn't any sign of anyone when we went back to check for survivors. How did you escape?//

//The Galactica didn't have any newer programs loaded into their computer and none of the computers are networked, so we were able to survive the initial attack. We all met at the Ragnar Anchorage, originally to regroup and attack the Cylons, but it was decided that saving humanity was more important.//

//Good. The war is over, at least for now. Have you seen any Cylons since you left the Anchorage?//

Lee paused and thought about how he would answer her question, //How much do you know about the new models of Cylons?//

//The what?!//

//The new models look human. You can't distinguish them from a human unless you cremate them and test the ashes for certain chemical compounds. We had one on the Galactica, a sleeper agent, and she called in a couple of basestars on us just when we least expected it. We were so close to losing everything and we just managed to escape. We lost over 5,000 people, though.//

//Human?!//

//I knew the sleeper agent, she worked for me as a Raptor pilot. She had a foster son, a bunch of friends and a steady and apparently loving relationship with another member of the crew. There is no way we would have caught her if she hadn't given herself away.//

//And there's no way to tell?//

//Not with absolute certainty while they are still alive. We do know what three of the models look like, so I'd be happy to look over your crew and see if any of them match the description.//

//I'd appreciate it, even if it's only for my own peace of mind. Although, we've pretty much been an easy target for months now, so I doubt there are any Cylons on board. We would have been destroyed a long time ago if there were. You just can't run a battlestar with 120 people, especially 120 people who can't hear or speak.//

//I'm sure that Commander Adama will be able to work something out, at least once our doctors figure out if this virus is contagious or not.//

Apollo's wireless crackled to life again, "Lee, Commander Adama says that the Galactica is en route and they'll be sending over a medical team. Is there anything else the Patriot needs from them?"

"Standby and I'll check." Apollo turned back to Sophia, who had been waiting patiently, obviously aware that he was communicating on his wireless, //The Galactica is on her way with a medical team. Commander Adama would like to know if there is anything else you need.//

//No, we're all set for supplies, but please thank the Commander for his speedy response.//

Lee nodded and activated his wireless, "Apollo to Starbuck."

"Go ahead Lee."

"They're all set, Kara, but thank Commander Adama for Acting Commander Atwood."

"Will do."

Lee turned back to Sophia and they began to "discuss" on paper what they had done since the fall of the Twelve Colonies.

Chapter Four Sophia walked down the corridors of the Patriot, which were now almost as full and busy as they had been before the virus killed most of the crew. It had been over two months since the Galactica doctors had determined that the virus was no longer contagious. Unfortunately, they had still been unable to determine the cause of the virus and so had been unable to cure it.

Sophia had ceded command of the Patriot to Colonel Tigh and currently had no duty assignment. It had been decided that extra staff from the Galatica, mostly refugees from other Fleet ships that had been destroyed, would take over operations on the Galactica. The former crew of the Patriot had been allowed to remain, as there was still plenty of room, and Sophia acted as liaision. It had been an uneasy relationship, due in large part to the fact that Tigh had no patience with her inability to communicate vocally. The Patriot crew had developed a system of flashing lights based on an old nautical code and with it they were able to communicate emergency traffic throughout the ship. It was a system that Tigh refused to use and relations between the old crew and the new XO were strained at best.

Sophia had heard that Tigh once had a serious drinking problem, but had not observed any signs of it over the weeks. She had observed that he had a very short fuse on his temper, but since she couldn't hear him rant and rave at her, and he refused to write when he was angry, she had weathered his tantrums with ease.

All things considered, things were going much better than she ever thought they would again. The one person who treated her with icy silence was the Galactica Crew Chief. She hadn't been able to determine why Tyrol was just shy of insubordinate to her, as she had never met the man before the Galactica came to the Patriot's aid. It was a mystery she was determined to solve, however, as she had developed a great respect for him and wished to mend whatever had gone wrong. That respect had started to grow when an old friend of hers had started writing to Sophia about Tyrol and his fierce devotion to his people and is duty long before the destruction of the Twelve Colonies.

Another mystery she wanted to solve was what had happened to that friend, Sharon Valerii. She and Sharon had known each other before Sophia left for the Academy and had kept in touch over the years. So far, no one she had asked would answer her questions and she was beginning to get worried. She hadn't had a chance to speak to Lee Adama in a while and was looking forward to his next semi-official visit as she intended to see if he would answer her questions.

Thinking of Lee reminded her that he was due to arrive from the Galactica at any moment. She quickened her pace and smiled and nodded to the people she passed on her way to the flight deck. The crew that had come over from the Galactica and from some of the other ships in their ragtag fleet had blended in well and all except for the Commander felt as if they were family.

She stepped out onto the flight deck just as Lee's Viper was being lowered and stepped up to open the hatch and give him a hand in exiting. He smiled at her and mimed a small bow in thanks. She mouthed the word. "Kara?" and looked around. He shook his head and pointed in the general direction of the Galactica, shrugging his shoulders.

Sophia mimed disappointment, as she had come to enjoy Kara's company. The two women had much in common and, although both were generally more comfortable in the company of men, had become close friends. It was unusual to see Lee without his close friend and Sophia wondered what had happened to keep Kara on the Galactica.

When Lee had settled in she began to bombard him with the questions that had been plaguing her of late, //What happened to Sharon Valerii? She was my friend, I have a right to know, Lee.//

//Well hello and how are you, Lieutenant Atwood? I'm just fine, thank you for asking. Starbuck isn't here because she’s swabbing the deck back on the Galactica. Don't ask, it's a long story.//

She glared at him for a moment, //You've been hanging out with Starbuck too long, her sarcasm is rubbing off on you.//

Lee laughed, //Probably true, but what in the Twelve Colonies has got you so upset?//

//I'm sorry, Lee. This has just been weighing on my mind lately and I can't seem to find anyone to give me any straight answers.//

Lee sighed. Ever since he had found out that Sophia had known Boomer he had dreaded being the one who had to explain what had happened. //I'm sorry, Sophia, but Sharon was the Cylon sleeper agent I told you about.//

She sat there, unable to write, shaking her head in dismay. It took her several minutes to recover her senses enough to write, //I was afraid to accept that it might be true. I KNEW her Lee, she and I wrote letters to each other, we...//

Sophia stopped in mid-sentence. Who knew that both of her mysteries would be solved all in one shot. Tyrol had been one of the people she had asked about Sharon. Tyrol, who Sharon had said she was falling in love with and was breaking all sorts of regs to be with him.

//Well, I just answered my other question.//

//What was that?//

//Why Tyrol can't stand me.//

//I don't think it's you. He just...well, it was a difficult time for all of us, but especially for him, because...//

//I know, Sharon told me. I can't say that I approved of the breach in regulations, but I can understand it. You can't choose who you love.// She quirked an eyebrow at him and smirked, //Besides, in a different time and place I wouldn't mind breaking some regs with him, either. He is SO my type!//

Apollo blushed furiously and changed the subject, //I am sorry that I didn't tell you. I just couldn't think of the words I needed.//

Sophia smiled, taking pity on him. //I understand. If the situations were reversed, I would have had the same difficulty. At least now I know how to go about mending fences with Chief Tyrol.//

Sophia sobered and Lee looked at her questioningly.

//I just feel so useless sometimes. We all do.//

//We?//

//The old Patriot crew. None of us is able to contribute anything meaningful to the operation of this ship. It just gets difficult sometimes.//

//I wish I could say or do something that would help, but...//

//I know, I understand. Besides, you're a lousy liar and I'd never believe you.//

Chapter Five Several decks away from where Sophia and Apollo sat and talked, a blonde woman looked furtively around her and then entered a small maintenance close. She opened up several dusty panels and reached behind a large pipe, coming up with a small black device. She activated a button and then hit a smaller button twice. She placed the device back in its hiding place, wiped a very satisfied smirk off her face, and exited the maintenance room unseen.

A few hours later a tech from the Galactica was calibrating her instruments by scanning the Patriot when she picked up a signal that was suspiciously similar to one that had brought the Cylons down on their heads several months ago. She looked up at Lt. Gaeta and he came over to her station, "Sir, I was just calibrating my instruments when I picked up this signal."

Gaeta scanned her findings and his face paled. "Keep this quiet for now, Ensign. I'll be right back."

"Aye, sir."

Gaeta hurried as quickly as he could for the Commander's office without appearing as if there was an emergency. The crew, sensitive to any change in routine, noticed him and tension filled the air. What could it be now?

Commander Adama opened his door and motioned for Gaeta to enter. Seeing the tension in the younger man's face, he closed the door, "What is it, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, Ensign Sutherland was calibrating the sensors when she picked up a signal from the Patriot. It's very similar to the one we intercepted when Lieutenant Valerii was discovered to be a Cylon agent."

"Get Tigh on the wireless and then have both ships start an unscheduled drill. If there is a Cylon onboard the Patriot, we may buy some time with a drill instead of an alert."

"Aye, sir."

Both ships began drill preparations. Sophia, somehow sensing that something was wrong, headed for CIC. She met Tigh just outside his office and motioned towards the door, indicating that she needed to speak to him. He seemed about to refuse when he saw in her eyes that she would make a scene and grudgingly followed her into his office.

//What's wrong?//

Tigh hesitated, wondering how much to tell her, then decided on the truth, //There's a Cylon onboard, They sent some sort of signal and there is probably a basestar or two on their way here right now.//

Sophia hesitated for a moment, thinking hard. //I have a plan, but I'm going to need to contact my old crew.//

Tigh narrowed his eyes, thinking. After a moment he decided that it didn't matter as other plans were already being enacted. He nodded tersely at her and then left his office. Sophia turned to the system she ahd devised to communicate with the survivors of the alien virus and sent a quick message. She received replies almost immediately from everyone and quickly set certain plans into motion. She left Tigh's office, handed him a note, and waited for him to read it. His eyes widened and he looked at her for confirmation. She nodded, once, and he looked at her with deepening respect. He inclined his head in respect and affirmation and motioned her on her way.

Sophia hurried down towards the Crew Chief's office, hoping that Tyrol, who had been training a new Patriot Crew Chief, was in his office. She had something to give to him before she carried out the rest of her plan. She saw Tyrol in the bay and met him halfway across it. She handed him a note that said, //Prepare to evacuate all personnel from the Patriot immediately, per Colonel Tigh.//

//What?//

//It's a decoy, it will allow the Galactica and the rest of the fleet to escape.//

Tyrol nodded, already setting up a mental plan for the evacuation.

//People first, then supplies if you have time. But only if you have time.//

//Understood. Is that all?//

She shook her head and handed him a packet that was about six inches thick, //Do me a favor, only open this if I don't make it to the Galactica.//

He hesitated, unwilling to take it from her. //I'm sorry, Lieutenant, I...//

//Chief, I know we've had some issues. But please, I don't have time to argue.//

//Actually, sir, I just wanted to say that I didn't want to hear any words of gloom and doom.//

She smiled, touched his arm lightly in gratitude and then left the bay. Tyrol stared after her, bewildered, and then snapped his attention back to the task at hand, "Cally!"

In the chaos that followed, no one seemed to notice that none of the Patriot's original crew left their ship.

Chapter Six Just as long range sensors were picking up several large incoming Tyrol noticed that the old crew of the Patriot were nowhere to be found. He stopped Apollo as he was exiting his Viper, in preparation for the upcoming FTL jump. "Sir, where did the Patriot's crew go?"

Apollo looked at the deck, unable to meet his eyes, still too flabbergasted by Sophia's plan to speak without losing control. Tyrol read the truth in his eyes and his shoulders slumped, "All of them?!"

"I didn't know anything about it until it was too late. I..." Apollo's statement was interrupted by the warning for an FTL jump. He hurried off to his station, leaving the Chief behind. Just as they prepared to jump they saw three basestars enter space by the Patriot. As planned, the Patriot self-destructed, taking three basestars and 120 brave souls with it.

The afterimage of the titanic explosion stayed with the survivors long after they departed, a sacrifice that was never to be forgotten.

Weeks later Tyrol stared at a small package in his quarters, forgotten in the chaos that followed their most recent flight. A flight that would never have been successful if not for the sacrifice of the woman who had left it in his care. How could he have forgotten about this one small remnant of an entire crew? Still, he hesitated, knowing that this would put the final seal on what had happened, making it final and all too real.

Finally, he reached for the packet, sat on his bunk and began to read the letters contained within.

//Chief, I know that you and I have not seen eye to eye on a lot of things. I spoke to Apollo a little while ago and now I understand why. I knew Sharon before I left for flight school and we wrote to each other often throughout the years. I know that it will take a long time for the intensity of your feelings of betrayal to fade, if they ever do, but I want you to remember this, if you remember nothing else I have ever said, and that is that Sharon loved you with all her heart. I don't know how a Cylon could love, but she did love you. I know that you are scowling at these words, angry at me for even saying it, so I have enclosed all of the letters she ever sent to me so that you will know I speak the truth. She did not have to send those letters to keep her cover as a human intact, no one would have noticed if she had never written to me. I believe with all my heart that the words she sent to me are her true and honest feelings, no matter what happened in later years. You may not be ready to accept that truth, but I wanted to ensure that it is there for you when you are ready. You are a good man, a loyal and honest man, a leader who anyone would be proud to follow.

It was a pleasure getting to know you through Sharon's letters to me, and it has been a joy getting to know you for myself. I only wish that I could have known you, and all the other fine men and women on the Galctica, better and for far longer. But, it is no longer my time in this universe. There is no place for me and for my crew. At least we could do one last useful thing before we had to go. Take care of yourself and your crew.//

The letter ended and Tyrol thumbed through the other pages, catching quick glimpses of phrases like, "wonderful man", "gentle", caring, and finally, "I love him." He closed his eyes, clenching the letters in his hand, and a single, silent tear trailed down his cheek.