Avon threw the molecular joiner down. He couldn't concentrate on the teleport bracelet. Since Vila and Argus had come to talk to him, his mind kept thinking about their visits.
They all wanted to spend time with him because they didn't know how much time he had left. That was the only conclusion he had been able to come up with.
Avon got up and began to pace. He knew that this line of thought wasn't healthy for him. It would create too much emotional and psychological stress. He closed his eyes and tried to bring his mind and emotions under control. The heels of his palms rubbed restlessly against each other.
The past seemed such a long time ago. He could barely remember what that control felt like; to have the ability to suppress emotions in favour of logic. That was until they became too strong and came bursting out like an angry creature that had been held back too long.
There was a twinge of pain in his back. Avon grimaced and extended himself to stretch it, trying to relax the tensed muscles. His heart rate was increasing.
He had to bring himself back under control before it got further. Avon sat down and concentrated on the breathing exercises Cally had taught him.
Breathe. Relax. Breathe. Relax. Let go. Don't think of anything else. Focus on your breathing.
Slowly his mind calmed itself but before long the thoughts intruded into his mind again; the voices of Vila and Argus.
Avon, are you alright?
I don't want to lose you.
Avon shook his head. Let go. Don't think of anything else. Focus on your breathing.
I also consider you a friend.
And then his own voice. Will you wait? And Cally's...I will, Avon. For as long as you need.
Avon opened his eyes. The breathing exercises weren't helping and he could feel the emotions threatening to disturb his fragile equilibrium.
It was obvious that his subconscious mind wasn't going to let him go until it had achieved what it wanted. The breathing exercises were only partially successful. Just enough to keep him calm but not enough to prevent the thoughts from disturbing into his mind.
As long as he could keep the emotions under check, he might have enough mental control to process each situation. And assuming he could keep away from the nightmares.
Was it a futile hope? It had been so far. He hadn't been able to control anything in a long time. Sester had said that returning the Centre drugs to his system should re-stabilize his mind and emotional state. The control was still with him. The problem was believing it after so many setbacks and failures.
He didn't really have a choice. His mind wasn't giving him one. Avon dipped a hand into his pocket and brought out one of the panic patches. He stared at it for a moment, composing himself for what he was about to do. Avon put it carefully on the table in front of him and closed his eyes.
Calm. Breathe. Relax.
He knew what his mind wanted to process.
Rational choices were easy to make. They didn't require having to think about emotional and relational impacts on the human elements. Those factors had an adverse tendency to negate the rational choices; choices that were usually needed in order to survive or to obtain ones goals.
For Avon emotions were of little significance. They weren't abilities or skills that had practical uses. And functional associations were of more use than relationships based on those emotions. It didn't help that he also found emotions and sentiment useless indicators of how human beings really behaved.
For a man to whom truth was of utmost importance, emotions were momentary things, dependent on subjective whims and the changing winds. It made human beings unpredictable and unreliable; the two things that he hated the most about humanity and the why he felt more comfortable with computers and machines. With machines there was no concept of hypocrisy.
But that was the past.
Avon recognized a very basic truth about himself now. He still didn't attach much importance to emotions, not for himself. They had a great impact on him, he couldn't deny that and they fulfilled a personal need. He still didn't see much practical value to them. But they had become a luxury that he would indulge when he could afford to.
The most significant change was in his understanding of other people. Avon had always known that sentiment and emotions mattered to them; but he had considered it pointless exercises in irrationality. The most important difference now was the connection that if people mattered to him, and their emotions mattered to them, then their emotions should matter to him as well.
An insistent buzz was threatening to wake Vila up from a pleasant dream. One where he was showing Corinne the beaches of Gardenos. Her hair was…
"Stop that!" Vila griped and opened his eyes. It was his door buzzer that had stolen what he was sure was going to be a very nice moment.
Vila checked his desk chronometer. It was late but not too late. Unfortunately, he had a very early shift in the morning. He had been extremely late for one of his shifts and had promised to take the next one for one of the long-suffering sergeants.
Maybe something was wrong?
Vila certainly hoped there was some good reason for waking him up. He got up and groggily made his way to the door, narrowly avoiding stubbing one of his toes against a chair.
As his cabin door slid open, he asked, "What's the big….Avon!" Vila was instantly awake and he asked with a worried, "What's wrong?"
Avon seemed as startled as Vila was. "What are you wearing?"
Vila looked down at his pajamas. "Oh this. They're pajamas. They're for sleeping."
"I can see that. Why does it have the Justice on it?"
"Well, it's not really the Justice. I suppose it looks like it but it's the Liberator."
Avon was dumbfounded for a moment as he stared at the multiple versions of the Liberator on Vila's sleepwear.
A memory surfaced. The ship disintegrating on a monitor screen. He remembered his own ironic smile. A life for a life. The loss of Zen and the Liberator versus the death of Servalan. Or so they had all thought. There was a stab of pain in his back. Avon grimaced and clenched his teeth.
Vila's worried voice mixed with Cally's query in his head, both asking the same concerned question. "Avon, are you alright?"
He addressed Cally first before she found it necessary to come looking for him. * Just a brief thought. Nothing to worry about. *
He could tell that she was worried but wanted to give him his space. * Alright, Avon. *
Avon focused on Vila, who was looking very worried by now. "I'm fine. Just a momentary thought."
Vila asked, "Do you want to come in?" He moved away from the entrance to let him in.
Avon didn't move. "I woke you up."
Vila said, "No you didn't. Well, yes you did but it doesn't matter. I mean this must be important. You've never come to visit me before."
Avon looked beyond Vila into the darkness of the cabin. "No, I haven't."
Vila's gaze followed Avon's and he realized that he had forgotten to activate the cabin lights. "Oh." He said, " Lights." The environmental controls responded and bathed the cabin with a comforting glow.
As Avon entered he noted that the light was different from the bright one in his own cabin. Vila must have had it adjusted. It seemed to produce a more welcoming atmosphere. This wasn't a detail Avon would have considered important. The function of the illumination system was to provide light. As long as it fulfilled its purpose, any other detail was invisible to him. It would never enter his mind what effect it would have beyond that.
Why was he noticing it now?
Vila brought over a chair for him from the table and got one for himself as Avon sat down. As they stared at each other across the intervening space, Vila wondered why Avon had come.
It was very quiet. Usually Vila's active and restless mind was so full of busy thoughts that he didn't notice how silent it was in his cabin. It felt uncomfortable and made him want to fill the empty space with words. Vila resisted the urge. He had a feeling that Avon had come here for something important. It wasn't the time for their usual banter.
But they couldn't just sit there staring at each other. Vila asked, "You wanted to see me about something?"
Avon seemed to be gathering himself to say something. First his eyes darkened the way they normally did, indicating a depth of emotions breaking through to the surface. He leaned forward slightly with the familiar purposefulness of motions and the tightening of body, as if he was struggling to contain something that was no longer under his control.
By this point in the past, he would usually burst out in something negative, anger or fear that was so strong that it could almost be felt by the people around him. Sometimes his body would be so tight with tension that it seemed to tremor with the intensity of his struggle to both express and contain his own emotions. Avon didn't reach that point now but Vila could see that he was trying to contain something.
Whatever it was erupted into two words. "I'm sorry."
Vila said, "It's alright. I can see this is important."
With what seemed to be another difficult effort, Avon said, "No. It's not that."
Vila looked confused, "I don't understand."
Avon seemed to gather himself again and said, "I'm sorry for Caspar."
Vila's mouth fell open in shock.
Vila's warmly lit cabin was silent again but this time it was Vila who was staring and Avon who looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Avon clarified, "That's the planet where we found the Space Rats, in Sector Five."
Vila said, "I know what it is." He was still in shock.
Avon said, "I should never have sent you down without telling you what I was intending."
Vila added, "Or Dayna."
There was a grimace in Avon's eyes at the reminder. "Yes."
The mention of their former crewmate caused them both to fall silent. It had been a long time since either of them had thought about the young woman who was no longer with them.
Vila looked carefully at Avon's face. The other man's face wasn't impassive, it wasn't emotional like other people's but there was definitely something there. Vila said, "I was mad at you."
Avon was looking at him passively, without saying anything, He had chosen to accept the cost of his admission. It was up to Vila to chose what those consequences were.
This was the last thing Vila had been expecting to do at this hour. Thinking about the past hurt sometimes. It was something he had avoided doing for a long time but for their relationship to move on, they had to deal with things that both of them tended to steer clear of.
Avon had taken a big step. Vila knew how hard it was for a man like him to deal in sentiment. Maybe it was time for him to do the same. For him it was equally as hard but for the opposite reason.
Vila said, "You'd never done that to me before. It hurt me. More than I could ever admit to you or anyone. It seemed like you were just using me like everyone else. Most days I couldn't tell if you cared or not. I wanted to believe that you did. I told myself that you did. But not that day."
Avon gave the barest nod of his head.
Vila continued, "I know why you did it."
Avon finally spoke, "It doesn't excuse it."
"No. It doesn't but…" Vila paused for a moment, trying to think. It was a time for truth between them and the truth was, neither one of them were sterling examples of humanity. There were times that they were but there were many times they weren't. They were just two men trying to survive in a world that tended to crush people like them. It had made them jaded and mistrusting; it gave them both highly developed senses of self-preservation. Neither of them wanted to hurt anyone but neither did they want to be harmed.
Vila said, "I knew if we didn't get new engines, we would've been dead in space in a few months. We were desperate. We needed someone to provide a distraction. One of us had to take the risk."
"It didn't have to be you," said Avon.
"Yes, but why did it have to be you or one of the others? Why shouldn't it have been me? I should have volunteered. I knew more about the Rats than any of you...but...," Vila faced another truth about himself. "I'd have probably given it away if you had told me. I've done it before. I never did handle that kind of stress well. Is that why you didn't tell me?"
Avon was obstinate, he wanted Vila to be angry with him. The last thing he wanted was what Vila was giving him. He was doing this because Vila's emotions were important to him, not his own. "It still didn't make what I did right. I used you."
There was no look of hurt in Vila's eyes or anger. There was only something that Avon didn't understand.
Vila said, "Avon, when Servalan sent that assassin after us, why did you take the risk yourself? Why did you have yourself beaten up? And why did you bring me along to watch?"
Avon was surprised at the change in topic. Were they finished with what happened on Caspar? Had anything been achieved by his admission?
He said, "We needed to get information on Servalan's plans before Cancer succeeded in killing us."
"But you didn't have to do it that way. Your plans usually make sense and you avoid 'pointless' risks. I mean, getting yourself pounded to a pulp is pretty pointless. It wasn't the smartest thing you've done. It ranked right up there with having yourself tortured for five days to get revenge. Why did you do it? And why did you bring me along so I could watch?"
Avon's eyes narrowed. "You think that the two are connected?"
"I think the three of them are connected. What you did to me on Caspar, what you did to yourself on Domo and what you did to yourself for Anna."
Avon rubbed his wrist absently. "You're mistaken."
"I don't think so. Sester told me that a lot of times people do things without knowing why they do them but it doesn't mean there isn't a why."
"When did you start listening to him?"
"Well, I don't, not really. But he's a psychostrategist. There are some things he does know about. I thought I might learn something."
Avon stared at him. Vila was in the process of changing as much as he was.
Vila extended his hand out towards him. "I'll forgive you for what you did if you forgive me for not volunteering to take my share of the danger."
Avon looked down at the unexpected gesture and said, "They're not the same. What you did or didn't do doesn't make what I did any less wrong."
Vila said, "No. That's true. But it works the other way too. What you did doesn't excuse what I did either. We both used each other. Can we forgive each other?"
Avon's purpose tonight had been to give Vila what he thought he needed from him. He had never anticipated anything in return. Avon reached out and grasped Vila's hand. "We can."
In that gesture, there was no ambiguity about how they felt about each other. "I will make you a promise, Vila. I will never do that to you again."
Vila said in return, "And I make you a promise too. We're in this together. I'll try to take my share of the danger. You might have to ask me, but..." Vila grinned. "I'll try not to say no."