Cally was busy reading and running through simulations in Avon's lab. The care of the children had put her medical studies on hold and she was trying to catch up. The Justice
was due to arrive back at General Reve's headquarters in a few days and she wanted to be farther along before she talked to Healer Garett again.
Avon was at a workbench nearby. Currently he was trying to break the encryption on the files he had downloaded from the alien research facility.
They hadn't spoken to one another in several hours. Each was content being in the other's presence. There was no need for words to fill the intervening space. It was something Avon appreciated about Cally; silence did not make her uncomfortable.
As he was working, a part of Avon’s mind was concerned about something. His subconscious mulled it over as the active part of his mind concentrated on his task.
When he was ready to talk about it, without looking up, Avon said, "Cally."
Without turning her head from the text on the screen, Cally said, * Yes, Avon? *
* Have you noticed something about Vila? * asked Avon.
Cally turned to look at him. * Why do you ask? *
* It may be nothing. Perhaps I'm wrong, * said Avon.
* What have you noticed? *she asked him, trying to solicit the information before he really did decide it was nothing.
* He appears…unhappy. * It wasn't strange for him to notice such a detail, but it definitely felt strange to broach it as a topic for discussion.
Cally wondered what he was thinking about. It seemed odd to her that Avon would care enough about something like this that he would want to talk about it. He did with her but that was different. This was someone else. However, perhaps because it was Vila, it shouldn’t have been that surprising. It could be a natural extension of Avon's desire to work on relationships with the various people on the ship.
* Yes, I had noticed that, * she told him.
Avon lifted his head from the decryption he had been working on and turned in her direction. * Do you know why? *
* I can guess, * she told him.
* Can you tell me? *he asked her.
* Why don't you ask him yourself, Avon? * In the same way, Cally had encouraged the children to develop their verbal skills; she was hoping to persuade Avon to develop his social ones. She wondered what had happened to him in the past that prevented him from acquiring such basic skills; or what was done to him. Cally had been meaning to talk to Vila but this was even better.
* I would prefer doing something for him, * said Avon.
* You always prefer doing something rather than saying something, * said Cally. * But if you want to improve your relationship with Vila, you should start talking to him. At least sometimes. This is a good opportunity. Find out why he's unhappy and then you can do something about it. One works better with the other. *
Avon fell silent as he thought this over. * The likelihood is that I will not say the right things. *
* Don’t let that stop you, Avon. It’s important that you try. *
Avon said, “Alright.”
Sester exited his cabin and headed towards the dining area. He saw Reya approaching and turned around and walked the other way.
He heard her voice behind him. "Don't do that. I want to talk to you."
Sester stopped but didn't turn around to face her. "I thought that our encounters in the corridors made you uncomfortable?"
"This is not an encounter - not your kind anyway. I came to see you."
"I see." Sester turned around. Her beauty and the bright energy of her personality always took his breath away. "I don't think this is a good idea, Reya. What if someone sees us? What if it gets back to Argus? What if he shows up?"
"When have you ever been concerned about that?" asked Reya.
"Not for myself. I'm not afraid of him," said Sester.
"You're worried about my relationship with Argus?" she asked.
"I know you don't believe me, but I only want what's best for you." He said this with such sincerity that it was hard not to believe him.
Reya really wished he would stop doing that. "And you've concluded that the best thing for me is my relationship with Argus?"
"Yes." There was a faint expression of resignation on Sester's face. "I know that you'll never be happy with anyone else. Especially not me."
"I'm sorry that this had to happen."
"You have nothing to be sorry about. It was my own fault. I should never have allowed it to get this far."
"Is there anything I can do?" In a way, Reya did feel responsible for how he was feeling. She knew that she shouldn’t, but she couldn't help herself.
Reya’s professional mind told her that this was a man who could not be trusted and that every word out of his mouth should be met with open scepticism. Her personal instincts were another matter. When he spoke, his voice wormed its way through her defences, making her want to believe him. Her sense of danger did not work when it came to Sester; in fact it had the opposite effect. She had to continually remind herself to be careful of him; to not take everything he said at face value.
Sester put his hand up and said, "Stop acting as if you cared. It only makes it worse."
He had an almost irresistible, natural impulse to feel her body beneath his. He imagined crushing her resistance with his desires… Sester tried to exorcise the thoughts from his mind. He almost took a step backwards, away from her. "What do you want from me, Reya? Why were you looking for me?"
"How did you know that I needed something from you?" she asked.
"Would you be here if you didn't?" he asked with self-mocking sarcasm.
There was a flash of guilt in Reya's eyes. She said, "You're right."
Whatever it was, Sester could see that she was reluctant to bring it up now. "Ask me."
Reya told him, "It's too dangerous to let the Federation know about the children or that there are Aurons still alive other than Cally. Their existence and that of Kaarn must remain a secret."
Sester already knew what she wanted. "You're concerned that I will tell the Federation. Or more specifically, that I would tell Servalan?"
"Yes," replied Reya.
“You know that if Servalan ever found out that I knew, and didn't tell her, she would most likely kill me? And that would be the least unpleasant of her options."
"I know that it's asking a lot."
Sester studied her face and found what he expected to find. "You know that if you asked me not to tell her, then I wouldn't?"
There was a troubled expression on her face. "I know."
"It would be the easiest and the only sure way to know what my answer would be. As a psychostrategist, I would not hesitate to use such an advantage in order to achieve my aims. Don't you think that your goals are worth ensuring my cooperation?"
"I can't do that to you. I want you to do it, because you want to do it. For the sake of the children and for the last of Cally's people. And because you don't want Servalan to win in this way."
It was more than just her beauty that drew Sester to her, Reya believed in him. She had no reason to, she just did. It was one of the reasons he found it hard to let her go. He didn't want to disappoint her.
"I promise you, Reya. I will not tell Servalan or the Federation about the children, the Auronar or Kaarn. I do not want to see them harmed either." There was an unforced sincerity in his manner. It was a simple statement of truth.
Again, Reya wished he would stop doing that. She had to face another (appalling) truth; she could not do her job where Sester was concerned. I will have to talk to Argus. She felt as if she had failed him again but the security of the people on the ship was more important than her own personal considerations.
Vila was tending to his shift on the flight deck. He was bored and depressed. His stomach didn’t feel well because of all the ice cream and he really wished he had made a trip to the medical bay before starting.
He was working his way to a very foul mood. The flight deck was empty of people except him, which suited Vila just fine. He didn't want anyone around right now. Any unfortunate person would probably run off soon enough. He increasingly wished that he had decided to stay on Kaarn with the children. The fact that he hadn't was a mistake he was regretting.
Avon came down the steps to the flight deck.
Vila turned around to see who it was. "Cally's not here. Argus isn't either. In case you were wondering." He tried to sound civil; he didn't want to scare anyone off right away.
“I know where they are,” said Avon as he crossed over to the couches and sat down facing him.
Vila did not feel sociable right now. Deciding that Avon was probably here to work on something, Vila ignored him. He looked down at his panel to run over the reports from the daily systems checks. He could have asked Zen; it would have been much easier, but Vila didn’t want to talk to any computers either.
As he did this, it was quiet, which wasn't unusual. Avon rarely felt a need to say anything unless he had to; but even the quiet was bothering Vila, because it was a silence that had someone else in it. He glanced up to see what Avon was doing, wondering when he would finish and leave. Vila saw that Avon was staring at him. He wondered how long he had been doing that. It made Vila feel uncomfortable.
Vila said with irritation, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Avon had been analyzing the situation, trying to decide how to begin. Vila's attitude told him that things had progressed beyond just simple unhappiness. Avon doubted if he was the right person to deal with this. It was better handled by someone with more experience, or at the very least, with more sensitivity.
"Is there something you wanted to talk about?" asked Avon.
For some reason, Avon's question made Vila even more irritated. It wasn't just the fact that he had no idea what Avon was asking; it was the thought that someone who didn't have a clue how he was feeling would be here asking him questions.
"Why would I want to talk to you?" Vila couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice; not that he was trying very hard. He was feeling depressed and sorry for himself and he wanted everyone to leave him alone. He wanted Avon to leave him alone.
Avon had to think about Vila’s question. He didn't know why Vila would want to talk to him either. He wasn't someone who could help. This was something outside of his experience. It felt strange doing it, but Avon was determined to try; this relationship was important to him.
Deciding that this was going to require a little more creativity and effort on his part, Avon said, “You appear to be having some difficulties lately.”
"It took a genius like you to notice that?" asked Vila with a snide tone. "Or did Cally have to tell you?"
Avon wondered if helping someone was supposed to result in being verbally attacked. He decided that it must be his approach with was provoking this reaction. A more direct manner was required. "No one had to tell me. It may be beneficial to talk about it. I’m trying to offer assistance."
“What could you possibly do to help me?” asked Vila angrily. He was intent on pushing everyone away. His voice dripped with cruel sarcasm. “You can’t even help yourself. Have you even noticed that there are clothes with colours other than black in your size? Maybe I should come and help you pick some out, shall I? You’ll have to wait until after my shift ends though. I mean, not that you’re even capable of taking a shift; we've had to take all of yours. Argus doesn't think you're able to handle one yet, does he?"
Avon didn't react to what Vila was saying; there was no expression on his face. There wasn't anything Vila said that wasn't true. It was a painful reminder of his current condition. He might be able to manage occasionally, even display a flash of his former intelligence now and then, but he was far from being the man he used to be. What occurred this morning had shown him that. He couldn’t even handle a conversation with Vila without it turning into something ugly.
In the past he would have returned biting sarcasm with equally nasty remarks; using aggressive wit to augment the emotional walls which shielded him from the daily struggles of living in a hostile galaxy. Because of Servalan, he had learned that walls didn`t always protect you from what you fear the most.
Avon got up stiffly. “I should leave you alone." It was no use being here. He only seemed to be making the situation worse.
“Yes, you do that,” said Vila dismissively. “And don't come back," he muttered to Avon's retreating back.
Avon’s foot reached for the first step that would take him away from this encounter that had gone so badly and thinking that he should stick with things that he was good at; namely anything that didn’t require dealing with people. He stopped in mid-step. Avon recognized what Vila was doing; it was something very familiar. He had done it many times himself. Vila was trying to push him away and the best way to do that was to use something that hurt. They were finally touching an area Avon understood. He came back and sat down again.
Vila was glaring at him because of this re-intrusion into his flight deck time.
Avon said, “We agreed that I would stop calling you a fool, but if you insist on acting like one, I will have no choice but to call you one. I know something is wrong. I know you’re trying to push me away. You almost did a very good job of it. However, I’m the expert at it, so you won’t be able to get rid of me that easily. Now tell me what's wrong."
“When have you ever cared about how anyone feels?” Vila still had a sarcastic attitude; it fit his current mood. Avon’s words had not changed that.
“In the past, you would have been right. How people feel has rarely been of concern to me. I have never understood its importance. For me actions didn’t just speak louder than words; they were the only language I recognized." Avon paused for a moment as he realized something. "Something is causing you to lash out and to push people away. It is fitting that it should be me.”
Vila was both shocked and confused to hear this from Avon. He had been determined to remain angry and miserable but this admission from Avon was the last thing he was expecting. In the old days, Avon would have responded to his jibes with equal hostility; matching each snark with one of his own. It was what Vila had been hoping for. He needed to take his feelings out on someone and Avon had seemed the perfect target; but Avon had not come here for himself, he had come specifically to reach out to Vila.
Avon continued, “I can't say that I fully comprehend it but I know that it’s important now. It’s important to you. That is why I’m here.”
With wariness but no longer any antagonism, Vila asked tentatively, “Are you saying that you care?”
Avon fixed him with a steady gaze and said, “Yes.”
Vila still couldn’t believe his ears. “About me?”
“You are the only other person in this room,” said Avon with light amusement at Vila’s surprise and bewilderment.
“I don’t know what to say.” Vila was flabbergasted. Now he felt bad at his earlier words. “I’m sorry about what I said before.”
“You were upset. You needed an outlet for your emotions.”
“Still doesn’t excuse it,” said Vila.
“Are you going to tell me why you’re acting like this?” asked Avon, getting back to the reason why he was here. It was still something that needed to be resolved.
Vila told him, “I miss the kids.”
Avon processed this information but no matter how he tried, he could not understand how missing the children would lead to this kind of aggressive behaviour. He stayed silent, hoping that Vila would explain further.
Fortunately, Vila obliged. “This may sound silly to you but the children love me and I love them. I really miss them.”
The strength of feeling in Vila’s voice touched several chords of memory in Avon's mind. He remembered the nightmare from this morning. He realized that he did know what it felt like to miss someone so much that it hurt; that without them, nothing seemed worthwhile anymore.
Thoughts of Cally filled his mind. He didn’t know what he would do without her, he hoped that he would never have to find out. Those days they had been out of touch had made him realize how much a part of his life she had become and how much he missed her when she was gone. It had filled him with anxiety.
Against his conscious will, Avon’s mind brought up old memories of a love that had been an illusion. He didn’t want these memories now, but they refused to let him go; they still haunted his nights and troubled his days at inopportune moments.
No matter how much he regretted it now, Avon could not deny the fact that he once missed Anna like this too.
“I see,” said Avon.
“You do?” asked Vila, wondering if this was really Avon or if some alien entity had possessed him.
“You find it surprising?”
“Well…yes,” said Vila.
Avon said in a quiet voice, “I missed Anna. And I don’t know what I would do if I lost Cally.”
“You love them both,” said Vila with understanding.
There was a raw honesty when Avon talked about Cally and Anna. “More than my own life.”
Vila was touched by the truth in Avon's voice. The last time Avon talked about something this personal was only by necessity. Avon had found out where Anna's killer was and he needed the crew's help and cooperation to set a trap. The details he had revealed about his relationship with Anna showed them a side of Avon that none of them had ever seen before; at the time, it had made him almost seem human.
This time, it was different. Avon didn't need anything from him, but he was offering something.
There was something Vila had to know. “Avon. Do you still love Anna?”
Avon looked away and stared out into empty space. “Sometimes. It’s hard to reconcile the Anna I knew with the one in the cellar. I try to convince myself that it’s not rational. But…”
“But you’re still human,” said Vila.
“I’m a fool, Vila.”
“It’s not foolish being human,” said Vila.
“Isn’t it?” asked Avon.
“Does Cally know?” Vila asked.
“That I’m a fool? I’m sure she suspects.”
“I’m serious, Avon.”
“I love Cally. Anything beyond that is unimportant." Avon changed the topic. "Can we address your problem now?”
“There’s not a lot we can do about it,” said Vila.
“Unless we go back to Kaarn,” said Avon.
This talk with Avon had helped Vila put things into perspective. He remembered why he had chosen to leave the children. His responsibility was out here. Being on Kaarn was more for his own needs. There were too many people and aliens who would have evil designs on the children. He had to sacrifice his own needs if he was to help make the galaxy a safer place for them. The only way to make sure of that was to defeat the enemies who would do them harm.
Vila studied the man before him. He had been wondering if Avon had decided how much he was willing to change. Vila had his answer now.
Vila had his own answer too. They were both going to change.
He said to Avon, “No. I have to stay. I have work to do.”
Vila realized that it might not be too bad after all.