Argus stood outside the door to Avon’s lab, taking deep breaths, trying to rehearse what he was going to say. No matter what he said or how, he knew it was going to be bad. Avon was never going to forgive him for betraying the trust between them. He was starting to feel dizzy, it was now or never. The door slid open at a touch to the control panel.
“Computer, what were the readings...” Avon cocked his head towards the door. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Avon.” Argus walked in reluctantly as Avon’s head moved to follow his steps.
“I’ll be done in another hour.” Avon turned back to what he was doing. “Computer, repeat the...”
“That’s not why I’m here.” Argus perched himself at the edge of the workbench. “I need to talk to you.”
“Can’t this wait?” There was irritation in Avon’s voice.
“No. It can’t.”
Avon turned his head to face him. “Well?”
“I’ve done something you’re not going to like.”
Sightless eyes stared at him, making it even harder to do this. He swallowed, trying to wet a dry throat. “When Servalan gave you back to us over Papos, it was because I made a deal with her.”
“You agreed to work together to fight the Andromedans.”
“It wasn’t just that. I…" This was harder than facing a battalion of troopers naked. "…made a private agreement with her.”
Avon’s eyes hardened.
“I agreed to be her agent if she left you alone.”
Avon's lips thinned. It had the effect of a dagger plunging into Argus's heart. "What kind of agent?"
Argus grimaced. "I..." His head bowed. "…agreed to be an assassin for her."
One did not do a wise thing.
I know that Wolf.
Avon's dark eyes fixed in his direction. The silence was deafening. "You're a fool."
"I know. I shouldn't have done it. I was wrong. It wasn't my decision to make. I…" Even if he fell on his knees, it wouldn't help. "…betrayed your trust. I broke my promise. I have no excuse." He felt horrible but it was only what he deserved.
Avon continued 'staring' in his direction, making Argus feel even guiltier by the minute. “Avon, say something.”
“What is there to say? You’re the one making all the decisions.” There were slivers of sarcasm in every word.
Argus winced as they burrowed deep into his flesh. “I’m sorry. I don't deserve to be a leader. If I cannot keep trust with people who are important to me, then…I should step down.”
What is one doing?
Don't stop me, Wolf. I have to do this.
"You've said that before." Avon's lips formed a sneer. "It obviously didn't mean anything."
The slivers pierced Argus's heart. He felt sick and his head hung. "I know you don't believe me, Avon. I can't blame you after what I've done. I'm not much of a friend or a leader." His eyes sought Avon's face, wanting the other man to hit him, to yell at him, to forgive him, but he knew it was a selfish need. He sighed heavily. "You deserve someone better. Someone who won't lie to you. I'm such a fool, as you keep telling me. I'll leave this ship. It's always been yours. If you could drop me off at a neutral port, I'd appreciate it."
Avon was still "staring" at him without expression.
Argus slid from the edge of the table. "I'll gather the others together. Tell them what I've told you."
"I will speak to the Wolf."
"What?" Argus's eyes widened in shock.
"The Wolf." Avon's voice was curt.
Wolf? Avon wants to…
One hears and understands.
The Wolf opened its eyes. "Avon-Alpha wishes to speak?"
Avon's brows lifted slightly at the ease at which the Wolf was able to assume control. "Did you understand our conversation?"
"One understands the words."
"But not the meaning?"
The Wolf cocked its head. "Human creatures are strange."
"In what way?"
"One is Alpha. Until one is sickly or can no longer fight those who would challenge."
"I am Alpha in this pack."
The Wolf dipped its muzzle in acknowledgement. "Avon-Alpha." It paused. "Argus-Alpha."
"Ah. In a wolf pack, there is only one?"
"The pack has one Alpha."
"How did Argus explain this anomaly?"
"Avon-Alpha is…a friend."
"You do not understand the concept?"
"Wolf has pack. Wolf has Reya-mate."
Avon's eyebrows rose slightly. "Wolves do not have the concept of friendship?"
"One does not."
"But you accept me as an Alpha of this pack?"
The Wolf nodded. "Avon-Alpha."
The creature sniffed. "Argus-Alpha."
"You accept me because Argus does?"
"One accepts." The Wolf wriggled in the clothes that itched. It tore at the clasps, ripping the top ones.
Avon tilted his head at the sound. "What are you doing?"
"Coverings itch one."
"You're taking them off?" Despite himself, an amused smirk turned up one corner of his lips.
The creature yanked the shirt off, dropping it to the ground. "Off."
"Returning to our earlier conversation. Do you know why Argus made the deal with Servalan?"
"Avon-Alpha is one's friend."
"I thought you didn't understand the concept?"
"One does. Now."
"Because of what Argus did with Servalan?"
"And because of what he is doing now?"
"Alpha would not do this."
"But a friend would?"
Wolf studied his face. "Avon-Alpha understands."
The Wolf gave a single bark of laughter.
A tinge of a smile touched Avon's lips. "Let me speak to Argus."
"Yes. I don't understand though." He looked down at the discarded tatters on the ground and grimaced with irritation.
"You don't need to." Avon fell silent, his mind rapid with thought and decisions. "You're trying to make a grand gesture by leaving?"
"I…" Argus sighed in resignation. "No. I just think you'll be better off without me."
"You are not giving us a choice." Avon leaned forward. "You are not giving me a choice."
"I…" Argus's shoulders slumped as the implication hit him. "I did it again. I'm sorry, Avon. I didn't mean to. I wasn't thinking of that."
"You never do." He 'stared' in Argus's direction for a few moments. "Give me a choice."
The Wolf shook its head in puzzlement and blew out a breath of confusion.
Stop that. Argus's voice became formal. "Avon, do you want me to go?"
"That is not the choice."
"I don't…Avon, I don't want to be leader. I don't deserve it. Not after what I did."
"That is not your choice."
"You…you're taking the choice away from me?"
"Do you object?"
"Of course I do!" He looked over at Avon's harsh face. "No. I did it to you. You have every right to take it from me."
"That isn't why."
Argus exhaled forcefully. "Talking to you is like talking to Ses…"
"Don't say it."
"And just as frustrating." Argus frowned. "Alright, what do you want from me?"
"You still want me to be your partner?" His brows knitted.
"Continue leading the others."
"But not you?"
"Wolf was right, there can only be one Alpha in a pack."
"But you're the Alpha."
"Alright, there are two of us. I still don't get what you want." Argus sure he was going to get a headache.
One's head hurts.
"What was our original agreement?" asked Avon.
The tension had eased somewhat but Argus knew there was more. No single conversation would be able to rebuild their trust. "We will lead together."
"The onerous tasks will be yours."
"Thanks a lot."
"That is my condition."
"So you have all the fun and I get everything else?"
"Do you accept?"
Argus had not expected this. "Is that what you want?"
"Does it matter?"
"You know it does."
"Then yes." Avon reached out to the touchpad and turned off the modelling unit. "Were you going to leave without the Commander?"
Argus slapped a hand to his forehead. "I'm an idiot."
"You have a habit."
"I would have asked her."
"She will be relieved to know that."
"Now you're just mocking me."
A meagre smile spread across Avon's face. "You surprise me."
Argus sighed. "Can you tell me why you're willing to let me stay?"
Avon hesitated, his sightless eyes boring into the spot where Argus's voice emanated from. "You gave no excuses. Others would have."
"And if I had, you would have dropped me on the next neutral planet? Without courtesy of the teleport?"
"We'll never know." There was no smile on Avon's face.
"There's something else you need to know."
"I need to know everything."
Argus nodded. "Yes. The Wolf. I think Sester was right. It wasn't the Thaarn."
"That much was apparent."
"I deduced. It was implausible the Thaarn would have implanted such a complete personality in a short period of time."
"I think Servalan was able to use the programming. She controlled me."
Avon sat up abruptly, leaning forward. "Was able to?"
"Yes. But not anymore. I think…" His forehead crinkled. "…it has to do with the Wolf. The Thaarn's machine separated us. The conditioning wasn't designed to work that way. When Servalan tried to use a light flash to activate it, the Wolf came out and told her to stop. She couldn't control me anymore."
"You've been speaking to Servalan without telling me?" There was a dangerous tinge in Avon's voice.
"I'm telling you everything now, Avon."
"Yes, I've been speaking to her directly under a secure protocol."
"How many people have you killed for her?"
"I never killed anyone I did not agree to. That was part of the arrangement."
One corner of Avon's lips rose in cynicism.
"Yes I know." Argus exhaled noisily. "I only killed one person for her, Sevisia."
Avon's brows lifted in surprise.
"She didn't give me a reason. I'm sure it was for some nefarious purpose, but I didn't ask. I didn't mind killing him."
"Is there anything else you've been keeping from me?"
"Not that I can think of." He glanced at Avon, glad the other man couldn't see that his shirt was off again. "I'm going to have to tell the others."
"A modified version."
"Servalan was not happy I terminated our arrangement."
"You will include me in your next communication."
Argus looked sharply at him. "You want me to contact her again?."
Avon smiled and a corresponding wolf-like grin appeared on Argus's face.