"Did you follow my instructions?" Avon asked Vila.
With a big grin on his face, Vila said, "Absolutely."
"No unusual colours? Nothing too ostentatious?" Avon wanted to make certain. "Nothing embarrassing?"
"Would I do that to you?" asked Vila with mock horror.
Avon said dryly, "You did to Argus."
Vila said with a smirk, "You mean my advice about wearing less threatening colours?"
"Your memory is unimpaired."
Vila almost burst out laughing. "He's the one who picked the pink."
"You didn't stop him." The corners of Avon's lips curled slightly in a smile. It had been funny.
"Well, he is Argus. I wouldn't dare do it to you," said Vila.
Avon's eyebrows rose. "You wouldn't?"
Vila asked, "Weren't we here to do something?"
"Yes we were. Or rather, I was," said Avon. He looked at the closed door to the small wardrobe room that had been set up for him. Avon rubbed his palm nervously. He knew that it was irrational that such a small task should seem so daunting. His heart was starting to race but he was determined.
Vila tried to keep the sympathy out of his face. He asked tentatively, "Do…you want me to go in with you?"
"No!" Avon said in a tight voice. He said it with more force than he intended. "I have to do this." He swiped his hand across the door panel and stepped inside.
I can do this.
He applied his mind to the task. Breaking his task down to logical steps.
Need pants. Then shirt. Jacket. Avon rummaged around the shelves. He reached for a familiar and comforting black. No. Not black. Something else. He forced himself to look at the new clothes. There were so many colours now. He had asked Vila to add colours to his wardrobe.
If not black, then which? Which one do I chose? Personal choice. What did he want? What did he feel like? What colour was he? Irrational panic began to fill his mind. I don't know. Why don't I know? Why can't I do this? Avon felt dizzy. He held onto a shelf for support.
I used to be able to do this. Avon's hand curled into a fist as he tried to conquer this.
Servalan's mocking voice said in his mind, Obviously, you can't, Avon. Not anymore. I define…
"No!" Avon's fist came down on the shelf in anger and frustration. "You will not win. I will not let you."
* Avon, are you alright? * Cally's voice in his head always managed to sound calm. Avon knew that he was worrying her again. She wouldn't be projecting to him if she wasn't.
He sent his thoughts out for her, * Yes, I'm fine. Only a minor difficulty. I can manage. * If he could not overcome something this trivial, then he was useless. He had to do this, had to regain more of who he was. There was so little time and it had been getting worse every day. The patches barely helped anymore. He had to use so many of them lately that if Cally knew, she would never want to leave his side. He tried to not think of it. Avon didn't want to worry Cally more than she already was.
There was a pause and then Cally said, * Alright, Avon. Take care of yourself. * Along with her voice came a gentle wave of calm and quiet strength. Nothing intrusive. It was her normal presence brushing up against the edges of his mind, a source of peace. She always knew what he needed.
Avon found that the brief communication with Cally had helped slow his racing heart. He was able to quash down the panic without resorting to drugs. The control had returned but there was still a problem. The clothes awaited his decision.
He looked at the shelves full of clothing. He saw that there were not a myriad of colours as he had thought earlier. There were only a few. Shades of blue, white, silver and some remnants of black. Not that many but it had still been enough to panic him earlier.
Avon realized that Vila had put a lot of thought into these choices by limiting the colour selection and picking these particular ones. He recognized some of the colours from his past. It helped reduce the panic that lurked like a predator just beneath the surface.
He still didn’t know what to chose. What do I want? He could have randomly grabbed items from the shelves. Functionally it didn’t matter which colour combinations he chose as long as he had one item of each, but it bothered him that he seemed to have lost this sense of self. The capacity of wanting something for himself had been taken away from him.
No. That wasn’t quite true. There was something they had not been able to take away. He had chosen Cally. No one could take that from him, not even Servalan.
Avon knew how to decide. A soft smile touched his lips as he kept an image firmly in his mind; a mental picture of Cally as she had been this morning before she went to the flight deck.
Avon touched the clothes on the shelves. He knew the colours he wanted. With the narrowing of the choice, his decision became less stressful. He had a rationale for what he wanted.
Not the same colours. That would be…disturbing. Not to mention embarrassing.
A different shade perhaps. Avon carefully chose several items and changed into them.
Outside the wardrobe room, Vila paced anxiously as he waited for Avon. He knew how difficult it was for Avon and how frustrated he could get with himself. A banging sound from the room earlier had almost sent him rushing in to see if anything was wrong. There had been no repetitions so he concluded that Avon may have accidentally bumped into something. Vila didn’t want to disturb him unless he had to. Avon had made it clear he wanted to do this on his own.
Vila looked at the closed door again in sympathy. It must be hard not even being able to chose your own clothes. He hoped that Avon was doing alright by himself.
It was strange thinking of Avon this way. Avon had always been strong; he had always projected that image. Avon had never needed anyone before, or at least he had never admitted to it. His protests and denials had been strong, sometimes fierce.
Vila had believed it. Most of the time. Avon and Blake were the strongest men he had ever known. They were both tough survivors; they provided strength for others. Vila had always looked to them to keep him safe, to make the decisions and to provide direction.
Things were different now, of course. Avon could barely take care of himself. He tried hard to be the man he was before; someone they could all depend on. In some ways, Avon was. Vila knew that he trusted him more than he had in the past. The Avon he had known before was mercurial. You never knew why he did some of the things he did. Sometimes he seemed to care, risking his life for them when no one else would. Then he would turn around and do something that would disappoint you and made you question what his motivations were.
Vila smiled. He was different now too; he was stronger and he made his own decisions. No one would drag him along anymore. He had chosen to stay on this ship because he wanted to follow these people’s goals, not just because someone was there to lead him or because he had no place else to go.
His choice. His decision. It felt good.
These people respected him for something more than his skills as a thief. They actually listened to what he had to say sometimes. That had felt very good.
Vila looked at the door again. Avon needed other people’s strength now. Vila was determined to help him despite his stubbornness.
The door slid open and Avon stepped out wearing his new clothes. Vila’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
Avon asked self-consciously, “What do you think?” He was wearing a soft blue shirt over black pants and a dark blue close-fitting jacket.
“It…” Vila recognized the colours. “It looks good.” Vila wondered if Avon knew what he had done.
“Do you think she’ll like it?”
Vila smiled. Avon did know. “You picked these colours because of Cally?”
Avon pulled on the edge of the jacket uncomfortably as he answered. “Yes.”
“She’ll love it.” Vila took him by the arm and began moving towards the flight deck. “Let’s go show it to her.”
Avon was dragged along reluctantly. “I don’t…” He suddenly stood still, causing Vila to stop.
He stared at Vila for a moment and then he said, “Thank you, Vila.”
Vila grinned. “That’s what friends are for, isn’t it? Let’s go.”
Argus, Cally and Reya were already gathered on the flight deck when they got there.
Argus said, “Oh good. You’re both here. I was about to find you.” He stopped and stared at Avon. The others were doing something similar. They all looked from Avon to Cally and back again.
Cally’s said with gentle amazement, “Avon.”
Avon was extremely uncomfortable at the attention and fought the urge to tug on the ends of the jacket. It felt too tight for some reason. He did not want to be here were all eyes were focused on his choice of clothing. Avon wondered if he had made a mistake.
There was one set of eyes that drew him and stilled his desire to flee. He went towards her with Vila at his side. Cally's eyes held softness and strength; love and encouragement. She was proud of him.
Avon addressed Argus, “You were looking for us?”
Argus replied, “We were discussing Sester. I questioned him after he talked to Servalan and he said that she had very little information about Grant. I think he’s hiding something. He knows more than he told me.”
Avon said, “That’s always a good position to take with Sester. What do you propose?”
Argus glanced at Reya. “Reya and Cally can question him.”
Reya wanted to say no but she agreed with the others. They had to find out what Sester was hiding. As much as she wanted to believe that it wasn’t true, she was the best person to talk to him. “Alright.”
Argus said to Vila, "I'd like to keep you out of this part of it. It will keep him guessing about your role."
Vila grinned, "I like out-psyching the psychostrategist."
Ever cautious, Avon said, "Assuming he hasn't already guessed what we're going to do."
After being questioned by Argus on the flight deck, Sester knew that it was only a matter of time before the man tried something else. He had also guessed who they would send so he wasn’t at all surprised when Reya and Cally entered his room.
Sester had carefully planned what he was going to say. He had deliberately not told Argus anything useful.
In order for people to believe what you want them to believe, you have to tell them a little of the truth. And to make that truth seem larger than it was, you had to make them work for it. Then they would think themselves clever when they obtained what they thought they were after.
Sester had always enjoyed interacting with Reya and Cally. They were both a lot of fun when they were not so suspicious of him. He was looking forward to reminding them of it.
He would have to be careful though. The obstacles he had to manoeuvre with these two were tricky. He had made a personal commitment not to lie to Reya directly and he knew that Cally was able to sense emotional states in humans. It was going to be an enjoyable challenge.
Sester gave them a warm smile as he invited them in, “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Cally said icily, “This is not a social visit.”
There was a light accusatory tone in his voice that was mitigated by his easy smile. “I have no doubt of that. Neither of you would be here unless you wanted something from me.” He gestured to the chairs. “But things will be much easier if we can keep this civil.”
Cally sat down opposite him. “That depends on you.”
He waited for Reya to sit as well before he took his own seat. Sester sat back casually. “You know me, Cally. I always try to be agreeable.”
Cally was determined not to be taken in by his warm and easy charm. “Especially when you’re trying to be devious.”
Sester smiled at her attitude of mistrust. “And when I’m not.”
Reya had been silently listening and watching. “Sester. Is what you told Argus true? Did Servalan tell you nothing about Grant? Does she really have no ulterior motives concerning him?”
Sester regarded her with interested appreciation. She was always so direct and cut through his attempts at diversion with ease. “You already know my answer to Argus.” He gave a disappointed and heavy sigh. “But you don’t believe me, do you?”
She challenged him, “Give me a reason to believe you.”
Her sincerity was unforced. She never had a need to try to sound convincing. Reya always meant what she said. She did want to believe him.
Sester was reminded why he couldn’t let go of Reya. He was aware that he was in danger of compromising his objectivity again. It was very easy with her. He refocused his mind on his task.
Sester looked at Cally and then at Reya. He smiled amiably, as if he was enjoying himself, which he was. “Reya, I’m disappointed in you. This is a very old interrogation technique.”
Reya said, “You think that we’re trying to manipulate you into telling us the truth?”
“Aren’t you? One sympathetic questioner.” He looked pointedly at her and then at Cally. “And one decidedly not. I saw much more creativity from you when we were trapped on Papos.” His eyes widened as if he had suddenly realized something. “Ah. This wasn’t your idea, was it?”
Cally asked with suspicion, “What do you mean?”
“This attempt at manipulation wasn’t yours. Shall I guess whose it was?”
Cally said antagonistically, “Are you saying that we were manoeuvred in order to manipulate you?”
“Manipulation is such a dirty word. It’s something psychostrategists are very good at. When your side does it, I’m sure there is a much more pleasant and respectable word for it.” His easy smile quickly became an agreeably cynical one. “Don’t tell me that it was an accident that the two of you were picked to come here to question me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry. It is a valid technique and very effective under most circumstances. But against me?”
Reya said, “Are you saying that you’re not going to tell us anything?”
“I am saying that if you want me to tell you anything, then either stop playing games or be much more clever.”
Cally’s cynicism was conveyed without a smile. “That could almost be funny coming from you.”
Reya confronted him, “You keep saying that you want to help Avon. You can help him now. Tell us what Servalan said concerning Grant.”
Sester allowed a faintly troubled and conflicted look to appear in his eyes. It was time to reveal the only thing he was prepared to tell them. He sat up and facing Cally said, “You may not want Avon to know. He might decide to do something that could have dangerous consequences. It all depends on what kind of man Grant is. I don’t have enough information to determine what Grant would do.”
Cally said sarcastically, “Are you saying that you withheld the truth because you were concerned about Avon?”
Sester continued to sound sincere. “And you.” The truth was he was doing this because he did care about Avon and Cally. He just wasn’t prepared to tell them the full truth about the details. “I don’t expect you to believe me though.”
Cally was tired of hearing words that did not tell her anything useful. "Then prove your intentions."
Sester said resignedly, "Very well. Don't say that I didn’t warn you." He paused, as if he were weighing his words. "Servalan deliberately steered all of you to Solteral because she knew that Grant was there. She knew how Argus would react to the list of probable alien threats that she provided. She knew that he would go there."
Reya said, "She's trying to kill Avon?"
Cally was angry. "That woman's word is worth nothing. I knew she would double-cross us."
Sester shook his head. "You're thinking too simply. Nothing is that straight-forward with the Federation President. She is not trying to kill Avon. Servalan has no intention of breaking her agreement with you. She knows your value until the alien threat is over. Her interest in Avon requires him to continue living."
Sester's words made Cally even angrier. "Then why is she doing this?"
"You're assuming that Grant wants to kill Avon for the death of his sister. That might be true, providing that Grant knows what really happened to Anna."
Reya looked at him curiously, "You mean that Grant may not know?"
"I am saying that Grant doesn't know. That is the information I found out from Servalan."
A look passed between Cally and Reya; something that was not lost on Sester. He almost smiled. He had calculated this part as well. There had been a strong possibility that the crew had guessed that Grant didn't know about Anna. He had just confirmed it for them.
Sester asked them, "You know already?"
Cally said, "You haven’t said anything that we didn’t already suspect."
There was a hint of regret in his tone. "Then my information is useless."
Reya said, "It's not useless. We had guessed that Grant wasn't aware of the truth. Now we know."
Cally was still not sure of him. "Why did you try to keep this information from Avon? What did you have to gain? Or is there something else you're not telling us?"
Sester sighed again at her continued suspicions. "You should already know why I tried to keep it from Avon. The condition I saw him on the flight deck, it's gotten worse since you began to suspect that Grant doesn't know, hasn't it?"
Cally started in surprise. She hadn't noticed the correlation before but now that Sester had said it, it did seem that way. "How did you know?"
"It was inevitable."
Reya said, "I don’t understand. Why would it be?"
Sester almost grimaced as he said, "Servalan's cruelty. She knew what seeing Grant would do to Avon because of the nightmares that she…that I had inflicted on him regarding Anna. Knowing that Grant wanted to kill him, gave Avon's mind peace of sorts. Grant killing him was something he could accept."
Sester was feeling uncomfortable in the chair. He got up and began working out the stiffness he felt. "The knowledge that Grant may not be aware of the truth, changed all that. He now faces the task of having to tell Grant about Anna. Avon won't let anyone else do it. It will be like reliving the nightmare for him but this time it is a little more real because Grant is real. He wants Grant to know because he wants Grant to hate him but at the same time…
Cally said with sudden comprehension, "He wants Grant to forgive him?"
Sester smiled sadly, "Yes, because no matter who Anna was or what she did to him, Avon has never been able to forgive himself for killing her. I doubt he's even aware of it on a conscious level." A look of guilt crossed his face. "That was why it was very effective as a way to torture him."
Cally said vehemently, "You bastard!"
"Yes. I am. I was, but I am trying to help him now. That is why I tried to keep this information from Avon. I knew what it would do to him."
Reya said, "But Avon would have found out once he saw Grant."
Sester faced her. "Yes but then he would not have had the information for a week and have it work on his mind. He would have been able to face Grant fresh. It would have given him a chance to deal with it. But this way, he gets weaker every day. His mind cannot cope with the flood of memories and emotions, and it has started to shut down. His panic attacks increase because it is harder to maintain control."
Reya asked, "Servalan wanted this to happen?"
Sester was looking increasingly guilty. "Yes. She wanted me to tell Avon because she knew the effect it would have on him. You were never supposed to know that she was behind it. I was meant to suggest the idea as a possibility."
"She wants to hurt him," said Cally. She was angry at Servalan and Sester but most of all she was angry at herself for not knowing sooner. I have been closer to Avon than anyone. I should have known!
Sester said, "In her own twisted way, Servalan misses Avon and she misses the control she had over him."
Reya's voice had lost some of its suspicion. "You weren't supposed to tell us of Servalan's involvement?"
"But you did."
Sester looked at both of them. "I hope you won't let her know that."
Cally was still wary of him. "Why do you work for such a woman? What do you get out of it?"
Sester said, "You would never understand so I won't try to explain it to you."
Reya wanted to press him further but his tone did not invite further questions.
Sester had told them what he intended to. It was nothing helpful, but unbeknownst to them, it was not meant to be. The most crucial information, he had kept to himself. Avon could never know it.
He said to them, "I wish that I was able to do more. Now that Avon knows about Grant… I hope that he will still be strong enough to face him and to resolve this, but Cally you must watch Avon carefully. Reya and the others can protect him from Grant but you're the only one who can protect Avon from himself."
While Reya told Argus and Vila what Sester had said, Cally wanted to speak privately to Avon. She led him to their cabin. When the door opened and they went inside, Cally stood astonished at what she saw, or rather at what she didn't see. The cot that Avon normally slept on beside her bunk, was gone. The old bunk was also gone, replaced by a wider one.
Turning towards him, her voice came out in a whisper, "Avon."
Avon put his arms around her and held her close. "Are you pleased?"
He had done so much today to try to give her something more that it filled her with a sense of apprehension, as Sester's admonition rang in her ears.
You're the only one who can protect Avon from himself.
Avon was trying to rush things. She was afraid of what it might mean; fearful of why he thought he had to do this. Cally hugged him fiercely; as if by holding onto him, he would not slip away.
Avon was surprised by the intensity of her response. He tilted her head up. For a moment their eyes locked and then they kissed each other.
Ever since that first night their passion had not abated, it had only deepened. They were finally able to explore the intimacies possible between an Auronar and a Terran who had an unusually sensitive mind.
Their hands explored each other's bodies as they helped the other to undress. Cally was careful as Avon still had involuntary reactions that triggered fear and repulsion. Her caresses were as much with her mind they were physical. Each slow, gentle stroke was accompanied by the soft brush of her mind against his. The physical sensations and the mental ones fed and intensified each other. His barriers softened as he allowed her more access to his mind.
Avon felt closer to her than he felt to anyone else before. He had never trusted anyone to this extent before, not even people he cared about, not even Anna. Every step with Cally had that self-protective part of himself screaming not to do it, but his physical and emotional need for her demanded it.
Each day he could feel time slipping away from them as he lost further control of his mind. He wanted to do this while he still could; for her and for himself.
Avon pushed down the paranoia and fear, letting her seek the joining she was afraid would never be possible. It was a frightening thing to do, something completely against his nature. Cally was gentle, letting him take the lead on what he was willing to do, as she continued to caress his mind and body. Helping him to relax. Encouraging him.
She whispered his name as he allowed her in further. * Avon. * Her presence was soft and caring; providing the peace and security he needed.
Avon was filled with trepidation as Cally lightly touched areas that he had always kept deeply hidden. He could feel her curiosity but was relieved when she didn't pry further.
Was she afraid of what she would find? Or was it only because she respected his privacy?
Avon's breath caught in his throat as her mind found an area of desire. His self-doubts and insecurities were swept away as they fell onto the bed and concentrated on seeking the places where the other was most sensitive. Slow and sensual, teasing and gentle, and finally intense and overwhelming ; each one reaching deep into the other, until, at the height of their release, each touch of flesh caused tremors of pleasure through their joined consciousnesses.