Vila approached the door to the medical unit with apprehension. He hadn't been able to sleep all night. The events of the previous day weighed heavily on his mind. Vila wished he had his own Cally; someone who would spend the night with him so that the nightmares would not be so terrifying. He understood now a little of what Avon had been going through the last few years.
Sester had been right. The implanted memories still bothered him. They had been a part of his mind and feelings so long that it was hard to throw them off so easily. But Vila was determined to. He pushed open the medical unit door and went in.
Cally was sitting on the edge of Avon's bed, one arm supporting his head and holding a cup of water for him to drink.
"Vila," said Avon as he noticed him come in. He struggled up to a sitting position with Cally's help and leaned back against the wall.
"Avon," said Vila nervously.
* Are you up for this, Avon? * Cally projected the question to him.
Avon responded, * Yes. Putting it off would serve no purpose. *
Cally said, * You're still tired. You should rest one more day. *
* It's a condition I am very familiar with. Don't worry about me, Cally. I promise to rest if I need to. Can you leave us alone? *
Cally hesitated; she knew that Avon would probably not rest unless she was there to encourage him to. But this was his choice, she had to respect that. "Of course. I will not be far if you need anything."
Avon nodded. After she left the room, the two men stared at each other without speaking, neither one knowing how to start. It was a place they had never come to before; a moment of mutual truth.
"So, Vila. Shall I start or shall you?" asked Avon.
"You," Vila blurted out without thinking; spurred on by years of ingrained habit.
Avon smiled. "Of course. The problem is not who will start. But where to start."
Vila sat down on the chair vacated by Cally, "How about the beginning?"
"Do we have the time?" asked Avon in amusement.
"It's important, Avon. I really want to do this."
"Alright. Since you appear to have something in mind, why don't you start?" said Avon.
For a brief instant, Vila had a panicked look on his face at this suggestion. It was one thing to want to do this, but when it actually came to doing it, fear usually got in the way. This time though, he was determined.
Before Vila had plucked up enough courage to say anything, Avon said, "Perhaps I might have something that will help."
"You don't have a bottle of something hidden away somewhere, do you?" asked Vila hopefully. He looked around the bed.
"No bottle. Just something that Servalan said."
"Servalan?!" said Vila. He didn't think that the mention of their deadliest enemy would be of any help to anyone, least of all to him. "That woman never helped anyone in her life."
"I didn't say that she would help. Just something she said might help," said Avon. "Do you remember saying that the Federation tried to condition you not to steal, but they never succeeded?" Avon asked.
"Yeah. It never took. I always ended up stealing again."
"What if the conditioning was not to stop you from stealing?" asked Avon.
"Eh?" asked Vila. "That's not possible. I mean what else would they be trying to do?"
Avon told him about the conditioning performed on Deltas who were sent to the rehabilitation centres.
"I don't remember that at all," said Vila when he finished.
"No. You wouldn't. It wouldn't serve their purposes to have you remember, that the reason why you follow blindly, is because someone conditioned you to."
"The evil, rotten, manipulative…" said Vila angrily.
"Quite." Avon was watching Vila intently as the thief began processing this information.
"Wait a minute…that means. I'm not easily led? That was something the Federation did to me?"
Avon said, "That's likely. Servalan said that you escaped before the programming was completed. It may explain why you complain constantly but nothing ever comes of it."
"Do you think my being afraid all the time could be part of it too?" asked Vila. "I mean it would be logical, wouldn't it? They wouldn't want the Deltas to be brave and do something, would they?"
Avon could see that Vila wanted to believe it. Was it more useful to tell him the truth? That he didn't know. Would affirming your hope, give you what you need to overcome your fears?
These kinds of consideration would never have occurred to him before. Avon believed in cold hard facts; the truth without the taint of irrational sentiment. But being without hope for so long himself, he realized that sometimes there were things which were more required than truth.
A brave Vila would take some getting used to.
Avon said, "That is a strong possibility."
"I always knew I wasn't a coward," said Vila.
"Just overly sensitive?" asked Avon with light sarcasm.
"You don't have that excuse," retorted Vila automatically. The moment he said it he wanted to kick himself. There had been a brief flash of something in Avon's eyes, Vila couldn't tell if it was annoyance or pain, then his manner turned abruptly cold.
Vila was mortified. "Oh, god. I'm sorry, Avon. I don't know why I said that. I didn't mean to. It just came out."
Avon stared at him without responding. The false memories of Vila's hatred were still too fresh; and the real ones of Servalan's delight in telling him that it was his own fault even as she had Vila torture him.
Avon had reacted according to an old ingrained instinct; one that instantly put up thick walls, turned him cold and dispassionate and very capable of responding back with equal, if not more malice . It was the survivor; except that this survivor had not fared well at the Detention Centre. It had kept him alive but it had been little more than a living death; life without a reason to live.
He was trying to change that now, to find a different way to survive. Avon finally responded, "I would have said that once. To you."
Realizing that Avon was making an effort as well, Vila said, "Well, we both used to say a lot of things. I really am sorry, Avon. I should never have said it now."
"Apology accepted." Avon shifted to a different position, his back was a bit sore this morning; probably a result of the stress the past few days.
It was time for some more truth. Avon said, "I was never very pleasant to you. Some of the things I said could have been…" The corners of his lips lifted in an ironic smile, "Less abrasive."
"I gave as good as I got," said Vila.
"Yes, you did," said Avon. "You showed distinct signs of intelligence, at times."
"So did you," said Vila with a grin. Then he turned serious again. "Avon. I never thanked you for all the times you saved our lives. None of us did."
"I never needed any," said Avon.
"I know and you never wanted any. You have a strange way of showing that you care," said Vila.
"It was self-interest, Vila. Nothing more," said Avon.
"'I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care, or why it should be necessary to prove it at all?' Do you remember saying that, Avon?"
Avon looked startled. "Of course. I'm surprised that you do."
"I didn't understand it then but Cally did. I asked her about it later. She said, that what you said, and what you did were two different things and that I should pay attention to what you do. I think she knew the truth about you from the start. She knew you cared about us."
"I never could hide anything from her," said Avon wryly. Though she had never mentioned it to him, he wasn't surprised that she had known even then.
"And then that creature in the underground room. Do you remember, Avon?" asked Vila.
"You mean that madman, Dorian? He was insane, Vila. You can't take what he said seriously."
"You're only saying that because he accused you of caring. And you would die rather than to admit it. The creature in the room. I think it could read our minds. Dorian needed people who cared about each other. The creature sent him to us. It knew you cared even though you would never admit it."
Even though Avon had wanted to mend his relationship with Vila, even though he was trying to find a different path, all this talk of caring made him uncomfortable. Vila was right; he would rather die than acknowledge it to anyone. He hadn't even been able to admit it to Cally yet. He had been like this for as long as he could remember. In many ways, overcoming this inability would be as difficult for him as it would be for Vila to overcome his many fears.
"And what are you admitting?" asked Avon.
"Me?" asked Vila.
"Are you admitting that you care?" challenged Avon.
"I thought we were talking about you?"
"Well, now we're talking about you," said Avon.
"But you haven't said anything yet."
"That's not fair," said Vila. "Well, I'm not saying anything if you don't."
Avon glanced at the door through which Cally had exited earlier. He admitted, "I haven't told Cally yet."
"I have to tell her first," said Avon as he continued to stare at the closed door. He wondered where she was.
Vila nodded. "You should."
Avon "Yes, I should." He looked at Vila again.
Vila said, "I was never that much of a friend. You may have been mean at times but at least you saved my life. I can't say the same thing."
"I didn't expect you to," said Avon.
"But that's the thing, you should have been able to," said Vila. "That creature said we cared about each other, and that includes me. Maybe Dorian was insane."
"There are many things we did, that neither one of us are proud of," said Avon.
"And many things I didn't do," said Vila.
"I'm sorry, Vila."
"So am I."
For a moment neither of them said anything, they only stared at each other, unsure what should come next.Vila seemed to make up his mind about something. He said, "I want to start over again, Avon. I don't know what we had before but I want us to be friends. Real ones this time." He held out his hand towards the other man.
Avon looked down at it. He said, "You realize that this will not be easy."
"What's life without a little risk?" asked Vila with a grin.
Avon said, "I would like that." They shook hands.