Vila was happy and was looking forward to the future. For him it was both about friendship and the discovery that the person he was, may not be who he thought. He was not easily led. And the bravery he showed at times may be more his real self, rather than the one who would volunteer everyone else to face danger, as long as it wasn't him. He was determined to reclaim the person he had been. The real memories of what happened in the shuttle had given him increased confidence.
Vila wasn't a fool; he knew it was not going to be easy. It wasn't one of his magic tricks that could make one trait disappear and another one reappear again. Each one would have to be fought for. The fear would probably never go away but to have a friend who was undergoing his own struggles, made it easier. They would fight together.
For Avon, it was different. Registering the reactions of the people around him, Avon wished that he could share in their happiness. Sometimes, he wondered what it would be like to allow his mind to let go, to not see all the things which could go wrong; the infinite possibilities and solutions crowding in on his mind, all needing to be sorted out and analyzed. To stop thinking had always equated death for him.
Avon had thought that finding out the truth would give him some peace. He realized that this only gave him a half-peace. This still doesn’t resolve the most important question. Until he had an answer, he could not put this to rest. But first there was a friendship to build.
Studying Vila's cheerful face, Avon knew that for him, everything had come to a resolution. He was not only content in what he had found, he was happy. Avon envied him.
Vila grinned and started, “I saved the day.”
“Yes, you did. I’m glad it happened that way,” said Avon. There was uncharacteristic warmth in his tone. He rarely felt comfortable enough to share something personal but he knew that it was a crucial crossroads in their association. What happened in the imaging chamber had opened up a myriad of new possibilities between them. Vila had taken the first step by choosing to override his own fears for a friend. The truth of that action was something Avon understood very well. It was time for him to do something which was just as risky for him. For Avon, anything done on a personal level was fraught with uncertainty and peril; anything he could not calculate all the odds to or predict the possible outcomes for was to be avoided at all costs.
“You are?” asked Vila with surprise.
“We worked well as a team in the shuttle. It was something…I liked that. That’s why I always chose you to go with me.”
“Are you saying that you liked me? That’s why you always dragged me along?” asked Vila.
“Well, like is such a….”
“Embarrassing word?” asked Vila. He was trying not to laugh but only managed a slight smirk.
Avon looked at him blankly. It was so much easier when he didn’t need anyone; when caring was dispassionately expressed in actions, rather than feelings or acts of sentiment. To let someone else in meant risk.
Avon said, “No. Not embarrassing.” Then why? There was a far away look in his eyes. A fragment of memory. A sudden stab of emotional pain. Longing. Loneliness. Fear. A woman’s voice calling. K… He reached for the memory.
“Avon, are you alright?” asked Vila with alarm.
Avon was startled out of the recollection. He had almost made a mistake; he had forgotten to let the memory come to him. His eyes focused back on Vila. “Yes, of course,” he said automatically. His face was a study in stoicism.
“Why do you always say that?” asked Vila.
“Say what?” asked Avon, not quite understanding what he was getting at.
“That things are alright without even thinking about it? Are you really alright?” pressed Vila.
“I wish I were,” said Avon. He didn’t elaborate further.
Vila stared at him for a moment, unsure what to do with this bit of revelation. He wanted Avon to go on but he didn’t want him to feel threatened and clam up. Vila suddenly realized something. Being intimately acquainted with it himself, he recognized it in Avon.
“You’re afraid, aren’t you? That’s why you push people away. When it’s just you, there’s no one else you have to depend on. Then there’s no one to betray you or let you down or to use you or take away your independence. Or to hurt you, like Anna did.”
Avon’s jaw tightened and his face became hard and unreadable as he listened. After Vila finished, Avon stayed very still and only stared at him.
Vila thought, Am I wrong? Did I make a mistake? He had only wanted to break through further beyond the icy barrier.
Vila said, “I don’t know if I was wrong in saying it. But I don’t think I am.”
Avon said in a quiet voice, “You’re not wrong.” Again he didn't say anything further.
Vila waited for a moment and then he continued, "I always thought that you were born like this. That you were cold and didn't feel anything. That you didn't care about anyone else, even after what Cally said. Then you told me about Anna. That look you got when you talked about her. I’d never seen it before. Even your face was different. Not hard like it is normally. Almost…” Vila was going to say vulnerable, but he knew that Avon would probably not react well to that, instead he said, “Well, I knew then that you never were as cold as you pretended; you must have always felt guilty for surviving when you thought that Anna had died because of you and you still loved her very much. I didn’t really know how much until after you found out she betrayed you and you still couldn’t leave her. How did you end up like this? Was it something the Federation did to you too, like they did to me?”
Avon looked startled. He had never considered this before. Until now, he had barely reacted; Vila was touching on too many things he would have preferred not to talk about. Why am I like this?
Kerr…the memory of a voice intruded into Avon’s mind. It was definitely a woman. Gentle. For a moment, he could almost remember…something. Don’t reach for it, he reminded himself but then it was gone.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Vila. Not right now,” said Avon. He was starting to get a headache.
Vila said, “I’m sorry if it brought up bad memories. I can’t imagine…”
“Vila, stop,” said Avon firmly.
“Alright.” There was something else Vila wanted to talk about but had been hesitant to bring up. “Avon. The memories of the shuttle and Malodar aren’t the only ones I have. I also remember being in a cell. And…I’m beating you up. I don’t know where those come from or if they’re just memories Servalan planted.”
Avon hesitated and then he said, “It was my cell at the Detention Centre. The memories were real.”
“I beat you up? Is that why I did it before in the medical unit?” Vila was feeling ill.
“Servalan did it,” said Avon angrily. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“But she used me! Why?”
There was a brief twinge of pain in Avon’s eyes as he said, “Because we were friends.”
Vila asked in a faint voice, “How many times?”
Avon grimaced as the memories of the pain resurfaced; it was almost as if he could feel it again. He turned his head away. “Enough.”
“I hate her,” said Vila heatedly.
“Not as much as I do,” said Avon with equal passion.
“One of these days, we’ll kill her together,” said Vila.
“I have to kill her,” said Avon. There was a frightening intensity in his voice.
Vila agreed, “You have more reason than any of us.” Vila studied Avon for a moment. The other man looked tired again. He wondered if Avon would ever fully recover physically. Vila said, “Avon, I know that you don’t want to let anyone in, except Cally. And I understand that. I’m not asking you to. But I want to be a friend you can depend on. I won’t promise that I always will be. But I promise that I’ll try. Servalan wanted to destroy us. She was able to use me against you. I don’t ever want that to happen again.”
Truth was such a rare commodity these days that when he heard it, Avon was always surprised. Vila wasn’t giving a promise based on a fleeting sentiment. It was a real promise which recognized the reality of human weaknesses.
Avon said, “I don’t know if I am capable of being the kind of friend you’re hoping for. But I would like to try.”
Sester smiled to himself as he looked out over the balcony of his suite. The afternoon air was warm and full of the smells of living things. There was a pleased expression on his face. Since the encounter in the training hall, Reya and Argus had been together constantly. He doubted if Reya had told Argus about the encounters in the corridors. That meant that she was deliberately trying to avoid any situation where she could run into him without Argus present. Sester found that very interesting. Despite her protestations to the contrary, he knew there was something between them. From Reya’s reaction to him, he knew that she was nervous around him; almost afraid. Sester wanted to know what the fear was an indication of. He had felt her rising desire when their bodies were almost touching. He wanted to know if it was just a physical attraction or something else much deeper.
Every instinct as a psychostrategist told him that this was not a good idea. But he needed to know. It was a dilemma; a puzzle to be solved. He didn’t want to hurt her and he respected Argus; but the need to find out was something that would not let him go.
It was time to become even more creative.
He saw three familiar figures walking down a path. It was Reya, Argus and Cally. They were talking together, laughing and enjoying each others company. Sester wished that he could be with them.
Avon sat in the imaging chamber room after Vila had gone. His mind was busy planning. He had asked Vila to not tell Cally that they were finished, so that he could have some time alone. Avon sat down at the control panel. He looked over the controls and began testing some of their functions.
Programmable inputs. Very flexible design. Similar in some ways to the Pleasure City technology. Good.
Avon set to work quickly. One last question to be answered. He knew that none of them would agree with what he wanted to do. But for their sake, and for his own, he had to do it. He knew he needed one other person to help. Avon smiled; he knew the perfect person. This person would not be able to refuse.