Silly pride. You can’t afford it anymore. Not that you ever could. But you never saw that. If only you would let us help you once in a while. It wouldn’t have to be so hard, thought Vila.
Vila did understand. That pride and independence was something Avon had always relied on to keep him alive. Never trusting others enough for them to betray him and never admitting or showing weakness was as important to his survival as Vila’s own survival techniques. Their individual coping mechanisms had served them well and kept them alive in the harsh environment they lived in; where the only thing you could trust, was that no one could really be trusted. It did not make for healthy friendships or relationships of any kind.
Argus’s voice could be heard from the other side of the room, “Avon, are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” said Avon as he closed his satchel went towards him.
“Shouldn’t we wait for a bit?” asked Vila.
“Why?” asked Argus. For a moment, Vila didn’t know what to say which wouldn’t embarrass Avon and draw attention to his physical weakness.
Vila replied, “All that crawling through the tunnels. Shouldn’t we take a breather first? Get our bearings?” Avon looked fine now. Vila wondered if he had imagined the look of tiredness on his face; but he knew that his eyes had not mistaken the slight tremor.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” said Argus. “Avon and I will check out the complex. You and the others will wait here. Vila, you really should get Reya or Cally to set up a physical conditioning program for you when we get back to the ship. It’s not healthy being this tired after only going that short distance.”
“Well…I…,” Vila was at a loss for words at this turn in the conversation. This was not what he had in mind. "My condition is just fine." He glanced quickly at Avon again and discovered that the other man was watching him. Vila couldn't stop a look of guilt from appearing on his own face.
Avon's lips tightened. He was aware that Vila had been watching him and could guess why. Avon was grateful that Vila had chosen discretion but now it seemed that he was about to say something. Avon said quickly, "We should go."
"Yes." Argus nodded and they both headed towards the door.
Vila blurted out again, "No." He couldn't help himself. Instinct told him that Avon shouldn't go yet but he couldn't find a way to communicate what he wanted without embarrassing him.
"What's the problem now, Vila?" asked Argus. "I already told you, you don't have to come yet. Get some rest." He reached for the door panel.
Vila said, "That's not it. It's…."
Argus said, "Vila, if you have something useful to say, then say it. We can't delay any longer." He was starting to lose patience. Humouring someone who would not speak his mind wasn't something he was prepared to put up with on a mission. They didn't have time. Every moment they delayed meant that the enemy was one-step closer to achieving their goals.
"I do have something useful to say. I just don't know how to say it," said Vila.
Argus stared uncomprehendingly at Vila. "We don't have time for this, Vila. We'll discuss it when we get back."
Vila gave Argus a hard stare, trying to communicate with his eyes that Argus should pay attention to Avon. Vila wished that he had Cally's telepathic projection ability. He didn't dare look at Avon again. In fact, he was trying to avoid looking in his direction at all; he was sure that Avon was staring at him.
From the way Vila was acting, Argus had a suspicion. He glanced at Avon without moving his head. Avon seemed fine; except for a thin sheen of sweat on his brow. Argus understood; he wondered how he had missed it. Avon had seemed so much better the last little while; able to keep longer hours and working harder than he had been able to before. It had been easy to forget how fragile he was physically. Argus looked at Vila again. Vila gave a barely discernable nod when he saw that Argus understood.
Argus said, "Yes. Vila’s right. It’s better to leave the two of you here. We can’t risk either one of you until we know precisely where we need your skills.”
Avon turned to look at him sharply. "What are you saying?"
Argus kept his tone neutral and professional. "This is a recon mission. I should take one of the scouts. It doesn't make sense to risk you and Vila. Your skills are needed later."
Avon's eyes narrowed and he looked at Argus and Vila. He didn’t like what was happening; he knew what Argus and Vila were trying to do, without seeming to do it. Avon refused to be an object of pity. “Is that your tactical decision?” he asked acidly.
“Yes,” said Argus; his face was implacable. “If something happens to you on this recon, who will handle the security computers and disable the defence shield? Unless you think that Vila can do it.”
Vila said, “I bet I could. Why don’t you go, Avon?”
Argus said, "That's true. I've seen you disable computer controlled locks."
"You're not serious," said Avon, his voice rising. "The technologies of complex security systems are infinitely more difficult than single function apps."
“It’s up to you,” said Argus.
Avon stared at both of them for a moment. He recognized what was happening, he was being manipulated.
Friends and enemies; they all wanted to control and manipulate him. Sometimes he wondered if there was any difference between the two. The end effect was always the same, it didn't matter what the reason was. It was one human being overriding the will of another and replacing it with their own; removing their right to chose. Avon needed choice; for him it represented freedom. Without it, he was little more than a puppet for someone else; as he had been most of his life.
He had always hated it; and the last three years under Servalan's control had made it even more than hate. Avon had promised himself that he would never allow anyone to do this to him again.
He said, “Very well. I’ll come with you. Vila can stay and handle the computers if anything happens.” He made a movement towards the door.
“What?!” exclaimed Vila. Nothing seemed to be going the way he expected.
“Avon.” Argus called his name to stop him. Avon turned back to face them. His voice was tight and controlled; his eyes were dark with suppressed anger. "Don't try to manipulate me, Argus." It wasn't just a warning. The room went deathly quiet. "If you have something to say, say it."
Argus was in no way intimidated by Avon's tone but he didn't want to push him; he had never intended for the other man to feel threatened. He had been trying to help. Argus knew that this was an issue which needed to be resolved, but they had more pressing matters at the moment.
His eyes locked onto Avon's and his voice dropped in tone. "Avon, lets discuss this back on the ship. Now is not the time."
The tension in the air made the others feel uncomfortable. They all seemed to be holding their breaths. If Avon's stares were like daggers, Argus would have been checking for holes. In turn, Argus was like an immovable object.
Now is not the time. Avon recognized that Argus was right; in order for them to do what they needed to do; he had to concede the situation. He would postpone their confrontation until later.
Avon's eyes were like hard granite but he said, "Agreed. We will discuss this later."
Argus realized he had made a serious mistake but there was no time to correct it now. They had more serious concerns. "You will stay here?" he asked Avon.
Avon replied guardedly, "For now."
Argus nodded solemnly in acknowledgement; he knew that Avon had just answered a completely different question.
After Argus left with the scout, Avon sat down on the ground and leaned back against the wall. He closed his eyes and tried to rest, but he couldn't. The words and tone of the confrontation kept intruding into his mind. Avon could hear someone sit down beside him. He asked, "What do you want, Vila?"
"It wasn’t Argus's fault," said Vila. "It was mine. I'm the one who tried to be clever."
Avon opened his eyes and turned to stare at him. Vila was looking worried and guilty. Avon closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall again. He said, "It has nothing to do with you."
Vila asked, "How can you say that? I'm the one who started it. I saw that you were having problems before. I wanted to say something. But with your stubborn pride, I knew you wouldn't take it well if I said something."
"You would be right," said Avon, still with his eyes closed.
"Don't take it out on Argus. He was only trying to help. We both knew that you wouldn't want us to, that's why we did it this way," said Vila. "You know, if you would only let someone help once in a while or at least admit that you are human sometimes. Things wouldn't have to be so hard."
"It has nothing to do with that," said Avon.
"How could you say that? What else could it be about?" asked Vila. "You don't like feeling weak and you don't like anyone knowing that you could be vulnerable."
Avon opened his eyes and looked at him. He said, "Don't get involved in something you don't understand."
"Oh yes, I'm an idiot. I wouldn't understand anything," said Vila sarcastically. "Then why don't you tell me?" He was not going to be pushed off that easily.
Avon sighed tiredly and leaned back against the wall again. "I didn't suggest anything about your intelligence. I don't want you to be caught in the middle of something that could become ugly."
"You were thinking about me?" Vila asked with surprise.
"Don't get used to it," said Avon.
"Don't worry, I won't." Sometimes, having an old Avon remark was less disconcerting than one he didn't expect. Vila said, "Avon."
"You insist on pursuing this?" asked Avon.
"Not if you don't want me to," said Vila.
"I don't," said Avon.
A period of silence fell between them as each man was wrapped up in his own thoughts.
Vila could not let it alone though. "Avon."
"You're not going to let this go, are you?" asked Avon resignedly as he turned to face Vila again.
"I can't. What kind of friend would I be if I did?" asked Vila.
"A quieter one," remarked Avon.
"When have you ever known me to be quiet?" asked Vila.
"There's always a first time," said Avon.
"I like to save that for a special occasion," said Vila.
"Every day is a special day with you, Vila."
Vila grinned. "Flattery doesn't work with me."
"You surprise me," said Avon.
"You're trying to avoid talking about it, aren't you?" asked Vila suddenly.
Avon hesitated and then a quickly suppressed smile crossed his face. "Don't ever let anyone say that you're an idiot, Vila."
"Can I quote you next time?" asked Vila.
Avon's face went blank and he leaned tiredly against the wall again. "What do you want from me, Vila?" Speaking with Vila was draining the little energy he was trying to conserve. The only thing he could think of now was the injector he had hidden in his equipment satchel. Avon knew he couldn’t go on without it; he had to find a way to use it without allowing anyone to see it.
At Avon's reaction, Vila wished he hadn't said what he did. He knew that Avon was trying; he didn't want to discourage him. After seeing him struggle this past year, Vila knew that despite his outward toughness, Avon had a vulnerability that he would never admit to; and now more than ever.
Vila said, "I don't want you both to do something that you'll both regret. And with both of you being so stubborn and proud, I can see that happening."
Avon could see it happening too. He was afraid of it. Argus had given him a place where he could feel safe again; he hadn't had that in a long time. It wasn't about the physical danger, they would always have that; but Avon didn't want to be used again, he didn't want to feel powerless again. In offering a partnership, Argus had given him power over his own life. To Avon, it had meant a great deal. But now it had all been destroyed.
"I will not allow anyone to manipulate or control me again, Vila. I can't. What Servalan did to me…" There was anguish and pain in Avon's voice. "I can't live through that again." His jaw tightened; after all this time every fibre of his being still remembered.
"But Argus is not Servalan," said Vila.
"It doesn't matter," said Avon.
"But it does. It has to," said Vila.
"Not for me."
"Would you leave if you can't resolve this with him?" asked Vila worriedly. He didn't want to see Avon leave.
"I think he will," said Avon.
Vila was confused, "You think Argus will leave?"
"No. He will find a way to make it work," said Avon.
"Oh," said Vila, then his eyes widened. "You're testing him."
"He made a mistake," said Avon.
"And you're making him pay for it. That's a cruel way to do it, if you ask me," remarked Vila.
"For this to work, it's necessary," said Avon.
"And what if it doesn't work?" asked Vila.
"He understands what's at stake for me. He'll make it work," said Avon.
"It sounds like you're manipulating him," said Vila.
"It may look like it, but it's not," said Avon. "Vila, I need to rest now."
"Oh. Right. I'll leave you alone then."
Reya was keeping watch on the flight deck and monitoring the comm channels in case the group on the planet needed assistance. She was checking something at the neutron blaster control station when she heard a voice behind her.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
Reya turned to see Sester leaning against the entrance to the flight deck.
"How long have you been standing there?" she asked with suspicion.
"Not long." He came down the steps. "Don't worry, I wasn't watching you. That's what you were afraid of, isn't it?"
"I don't have time to play games, Sester," said Reya as she returned to what she was checking.
"I know. That's why I'm offering my help," said Sester pleasantly as he crossed over to the couch area and sat down. "I have no ulterior motive."
"I find that hard to believe," said Reya absently.
"You didn't find it hard to believe once," said Sester.
Reya looked up from the controls and said, "Don't do this, Sester."
"Do you want me to leave?" asked Sester.
"What you're feeling isn't real."
"You think I'm being influenced by Vanora?" asked Sester.
"You're a man. You're all affected."
"You know my feelings for you started long before this," said Sester.
"I don't want to talk about this, Sester. It's not the time."
"You're busy. I can see that." He got up and started walking towards the exit. Sester stopped next to her and said, "You won't always be able to avoid it. One day, we'll have to talk about it."
Reya met his eyes with her troubled ones. "I know."
She looked so miserable that Sester had the urge to put his arms around her; but for her sake, he refrained. Reya was right, he shouldn't be on the flight deck with her; not with the way he was feeling. With Argus off the ship and Reya alone and vulnerable, he hadn't been able to resist. He needed to see her.
"I'll go." With that, he left the flight deck.