It had almost become a ritual for Vila to visit the medical observation room after his shift. He didn't expect to find anything different, but he had hope.
Avon nearly died a week ago. Vila still couldn't believe what happened. Sester's information about Anna had been shocking. Vila had never met the woman Avon loved, he had only seen the holopics of her that Avon had provided and the meagre details he had shared when he was arranging to avenge her death.
It was more of how Avon shared that had told Vila how much he loved her and was still affected by her death. Not that he was ever that emotional in those days, but there was the haunted look in his eyes and the sense of stillness he got when he spoke about her. It was much more than his normal lack of expression. It was a total loss of expression.
Avon had come back from Servalan's cellar and had shut himself up in his cabin for a day. When he came back out again, it was as if nothing had happened, except for that incident with Tarrant on the flight deck.
Vila hesitated just before going inside. After a week of disappointments, he wasn't sure he could face another one.
Sester said from behind him, "He still hasn't woken up yet, in case you were wondering." Vila nearly jumped at the sudden voice. He turned around and saw the psychostrategist leaning against the corridor wall with his arms crossed casually across his chest.
"What are you doing here?" Vila asked suspiciously.
"The same thing as you, I imagine." Sester pushed away from the wall and came to stand beside him to look through the doorway.
"It's hard for you to go in too?"
"It's not difficult at all, but I'm the last person who would be welcome inside." Sester had a self-mocking quality about him these days to go along with his easy smile.
Vila gave him a hard look. It was hard to know what his role with Sester was now. He didn't know if Sester even trusted him anymore, or liked him after what happened with Avon. Sester hadn't been coming to seek him out as he used to.
He did feel bad for Sester. The man had tried to help Avon but no one seemed to believe him, apart from the Commander, of course. Argus and Cally were still hostile towards him and could barely stand him anywhere near them. He was reduced to skulking in the corridors, wanting to offer support and to show concern but knowing it would be met with hostile cynicism.
Vila tried to show him that not everyone thought the same way about him. "I think you did try to help Avon."
Sester had a lightly ironic tone in his voice. "You don't have to pretend anymore, Vila. I know what you've been trying to do."
Vila reassured him, "I'm not pretending." He hesitated and then added, "Not this time."
Sester's brow rose. "No more games, Vila? Or is this just another one?"
"No games. I didn't like doing it to you, but I thought you deserved it." Vila had been thinking about this and decided that the best way to reach Sester was with honesty. He was sure that Avon, Argus and Cally would probably call him a fool for even considering that Sester was capable of being human.
Sester asked with amusement, "And what do you think I deserve now?"
Vila looked uncertain. "Not this." He didn't know how else to reach out to this man who was supposed to be the enemy, but didn't always act it. "Come in with me," he offered. "It'll be easier with Cally if I go in with you."
It wasn't often that someone could surprise Sester. Vila seemed sincere, but of course, it could all be more of the act. For Sester, except for his fellow psychostrategists, it was hard to develop any kind of meaningful relationships when you suspected everyone. "I'd better not," he told Vila. "Cally has enough to worry about, without me clouding the issue."
Vila had an idea. "I could offer to take over for a bit so she can get some rest, then you can come in. I don't think she's left the medical unit since all of this happened."
"You're getting to be quite devious, Vila, but I'm not sure it will work."
"How do we know if I don't try?"
"It's one of those psychostrategist things, is it?"
Sester smiled, "I can't seem to stop being one."
"Have you tried?"
That made Sester laugh. "Only if I turn my brain off."
"Will you be here when I come out?"
"If you like."
The observation room next to the medical unit had its lights turned down. To Vila, it provided a gloomy atmosphere in keeping with the sombre mood that pervaded it these days. Slowly blinking indicator lights and dimly lit monitor displays seemed to be the only signs of life until Vila got closer to the bed where Avon lay.
The first thing Vila always looked at was the heart monitor display. After the scare they all had, he needed to reassure himself that Avon's heart was still beating. The next was the gentle rise and fall of Avon's chest. These were the only reassuring signs in this room.
He couldn't see Cally but he imagined she had to be nearby. Most likely in the main medical bay next door. She was never far from Avon these days.
Vila carefully perched himself on the edge of the bed and looked down at Avon. There was no movement of the eyes under lids that still remained tightly closed. No indication that there was anything other than a functioning body.
The body was there, but where was Avon?
Vila remembered calling Avon a machine once. He and Gan had been bored and were looking for some amusement. Avon had seemed the perfect target. He had been working quietly nearby, not paying any attention to any of them. Not participating in the conversations.
Vila had wanted to get a rise out of the arrogant Alpha who didn't seem to want to socialize with any of them. He had called him a machine. Not in so many words of course, but in that clever way he used with Sester, just to prove that he was just as smart as any Alpha. For just a split second, there seemed to be a hint of something in Avon's eyes and then the cold, hard familiar mask that made Vila think he had imagined a human reaction where there couldn't possibly be any. He realized now that he had been wrong.
You never were a machine. Why did you pretend that you were? Why did you want everyone to believe that? Did you like being hurt? Or was it because you thought you would be hurt less? It didn't work though, did it? Life has a way of doing that. For an intelligent man, you can be dense sometimes.
Avon had delivered his own snarky remark and then walked out, like he did sometimes when there was a confrontation.
Vila realized something he hadn't before. Sometimes Avon needed to be saved from himself.
Cally came in. "You're here again, Vila."
Vila said jokingly, "It feels like I never left."
Cally nodded silently and went over to check the life monitors.
Vila asked hopefully, "Is he better?"
The sad, depressed look on her face was his answer even before she responded. "Physically, he's recovered back to where he was before the heart attack. There was no brain damage. All of his brain wave patterns are registering normally." This was also another ritual. Vila would ask how Avon was, and she would always give the same answer, with slight variations. The end message was always the same.
Cally reached out and placed her hand on Avon's head. "But that doesn't tell us anything about what is going on in here."
"Then why isn't he waking up?"
"I don't know, Vila. I can't even reach him with my mind. I can ‘touch' him but he doesn't seem to be aware of me."
"Cally…" Vila wanted to say something but it hurt too much to even think it. "Did…we make a mistake?"
"What do you mean?"
"Something you said before. Avon didn't want to come back. But we made him."
Cally's face had a long pained look. "I…know." Before Avon had collapsed, even with the mind barrier she had put up, she had felt a pain and anguish from him that would incapacitate most people. She didn't know what it would be like for him to wake up and have to face that again. Every time she thought about it, it made her question if she had done the right thing.
Was she being selfish? Was she only thinking of her own needs, or his?
Aurons faced this kind of pain by sharing it with each other. Humans faced their agonies relatively alone. They had each other, but it was nothing compared to what her own people shared. Avon wasn't even capable of that.
Cally had hoped that one day he would be able to draw more strength from her. With what his mind had proven capable of so far in their explorations, she thought it might be possible. But that was for some day far in the future.
* Avon, you're not alone. I will never leave you alone. *
"Let me talk to him." Sester's voice came from the doorway. Cally whirled around to face him and said with barely disguised antagonism, "Get out!"
Sester came slowly into the room. "I can help." There was no familiar smile on his face, just sincere concern. "I know you don't believe me Cally, but I don't want to see Avon like this any more than you do. Good opponents are hard to come by. I would rather not lose one of his calibre. Consider it a selfish reason but a genuine one. What do you have to lose? How could I possibly do more to Avon than I already have?" He stood a respectful, and safe, distance away from the edge of Avon's bed.
Cally had an unpleasant look on her face as she listened to him. Sester sounded just like he did when he had tricked her into believing that he was a prisoner; when he had offered a sympathetic and caring concern and encouraged her to share about Avon. He was warm and convincing and she didn't trust him one bit. She said with a nasty scepticism, "I'm sure you can think of something."
Sester heaved a sigh and turned to go.
Vila spoke up, "Cally, let him try." Even though Vila still didn't know what motivated this man, there was one thing he was certain of, Sester was telling the truth about his concern for Avon.
Sester stopped and turn to look at Vila speculatively. That was twice that Vila had surprised him.
Cally said, "You don't know him, Vila. You shouldn't trust him."
"I know I shouldn't." Vila looked at Sester. He wasn't sure why he was doing this for someone who was still the enemy in many ways; he just knew that he had to. He was taking a stand for something he knew was right. If he let himself think about it, he knew he would probably be nervous and eventually let himself be persuaded. It felt so strange to be asserting himself and not backing down. "I know you don't want to see it, Cally, but he's tried to help Avon. And he's right, what do we have to lose? What happens if Avon never wakes up?"
Sester wasn't sure why Vila was doing this, but he was grateful. He said to Cally, "I know that any promises from me would mean nothing to you, Cally, and that is entirely my own fault. I have never done anything that would give you a reason to trust me, but I would like to." When Sester was trying to sound sincere, he was very effective. His words had the ability to reach down and touch even the hardest of hearts.
Cally knew what he was though and had heard it all before. Her antagonism and mistrust was clear. "Don't use your 'act' on me, Sester."
Sester wanted her to believe him. He decided to change his tactics. "I didn't intend to tell Avon about Anna. I knew this would happen. If I had known that Avon was listening, I would never have said anything."
Vila said, "Cally, he's right. He never knew that Avon was listening. No one knew there was a transmitter in Sester's bracelet."
Cally couldn't deny that, she didn't know either. Avon hadn't told her.
Vila continued trying to defend the enemy who wasn't always the enemy. "Servalan wanted to hurt Avon but Sester didn't. He's been keeping this information to himself. He was willing to go against Servalan because of Avon."
Cally asked Sester "Is this true?" There was still a tone of scepticism in her voice.
Sester emphasized, "Yes, Cally. If I could have prevented this from happening, I would have. I really tried to. Are you going to let me try to help Avon?"
Vila had convinced her to at least consider Sester's idea. She said, "Tell me what you're going to do."
Sester replied, "Unfortunately, I can't. I would like to, but it won't work if I do."
Cally reacted badly to this. "I knew it. You only want to play games with our lives. With Avon's life."
Vila wasn't sure what Sester was up to either. He was hesitant between believing the man and suspicious because Sester was being secretive. Vila hated secrets. He didn't like that the Alphas always seemed to think it necessary in order to get their own way.
Sester tried to diffuse Cally's hostility, "I know how it appears, Cally but consider it this way. If I was trying to harm Avon, wouldn't I choose something less suspicious and more likely for you to believe?"
This man was so deviously good at manipulating people that Cally knew she couldn't be sure of anything with him. He sounded sincere, but he always did. He had made a good point though.
Sester said, "To make matters even worse, I need to be alone with Avon when I do this."
Cally said angrily, "You...."
Before she could go off on a tirade, Sester interrupted her and said, "Think, Cally. I may be all of the things you think I am, but there is one thing you know I'm not. I am not suicidal. We both know what you'll do to me if I hurt Avon again."
Sester's psychostrategist brain offhandedly noted all of her thought processes as they passed across her face; anger turning to indecision and then reluctant but still hostile acceptance.
She said with fierce warning, "Remember that."
Sester almost smiled because he knew he had won, but his face remained impassive. He could not afford to antagonize Cally. There was something he was about to do that neither Cally nor Vila would allow him to if they knew.
Sester said, "I need the receiver unit for this." He held up his bracelet-adorned wrist. "I know you have it because Avon had it. I will not do this unless I can be certain that this will remain between Avon and myself."
Cally's glare would have pierced Herculaneum plating. She went to a nearby drawer and took the small receiver unit from it. Handing it to him, Cally said in warning, "This had better work, Sester. For your sake."
Sester smiled pleasantly at this barely veiled threat and took the unit. "Now, if you don't mind, Avon and I have something to discuss."
He waited until Cally and Vila left the observation room.
Sester studied the unconscious man for a moment. He suspected that Avon was not entirely unconscious. He was aware of everything at some level, he just wasn't acknowledging it. Sester thought he knew why.
He said to the silent man, "They don't really understand you. Not fully. Not even Cally."
The others only understood the parts of Avon that impacted them. As a psychostrategist, Sester believed that he knew more about him than anyone else. It was why he was very effective at breaking him down and peeling back the layers that would leave Avon vulnerable.
"You don't want to live anymore because you made a horrible mistake, and someone else paid for it with their life." Sester looked towards the exit that Cally and Vila had just used. "You came back because of them. They need you and you don't want to let them down, but you didn't realize how hard it would be. That's why you've stayed unconscious. You're afraid you will try to kill yourself if you do come back all the way, but they won't let you. Because of your connection to Cally, you know she will be able to stop you. They won't leave you alone."
Sester wasn't sure but Avon's heart monitor seemed to be beating a little faster.
"I will make you a promise, Avon. I can make this promise because I'm the only one who can. I am an enemy who respects you. When you feel it is time, when you think you have done all you need to do for these people, I will help you kill yourself."
The observation room seemed deathly quiet as Sester waited to see if he was right. It took so long that he wondered if he had miscalculated.
Finally, Avon's eyes opened and he turned his head to stare at Sester. For along time he said nothing. It was hard to know what he was thinking and then he said, "I will hold you to that promise." Avon turned his head away and contemplated the ceiling. His eyes were deep in thought.
"You know that they'll kill me right afterwards. If they find out." When Avon did not respond, Sester smiled wryly. "You don't really care, do you? As long as you get what you want. We are enemies after all. You probably see it as your final act."
Avon asked, "Why?" His head turned slowly to face Sester. There was naked suspicion in his eyes. "You know the consequences. Why are you doing this?"
Sester shook his head slightly and said, "Why do you insist on asking questions that you don't want to know the answers to, Avon? You don't have to know everything, not if you want to keep your illusions intact."
Avon's said with a snarl of warning, "Don't push me, Sester."A slow pleasant smile returned to Sester's face. "Shall I tell them to come back in now?"