Argus stood alone staring at the star field on the flight deck, his arms crossed over his broad chest, trying to come to terms with his actions and motivations. Guilt ate at him like acid.
This was silly. He shouldn't be feeling this way, but he couldn't help it. After he told the others about his deal with Servalan, they'd all forgiven him and expressed unanimous confidence in his leadership, but it only made him feel worse.
You all have a choice to make. Can you still trust me? And do you want me to continue as your leader?
They should have said no. He wished they had said no.
The responsibility for so many lives was a heavy weight that threatened to crush him. His eyes closed and his head bowed, his fists clenching in anguish, trying to shut out the faces that were always with him, the faces of the living and the dead.
If only he could fight alone and never cause the death of another friend, another comrade in arms.
One's pack is loyal.
I know. I just wish…they had a better leader. It no longer felt strange having the Wolf in his head.
The creature sneezed. One is a good leader.
I don't know, Wolf.
One is Alpha. One is leader. It threw its head up in proud confidence.
I wished I were as sure as you are.
One does not wish. One is, and one must. There is no wish.
Argus sighed. It must be nice for everything to be so simple, but the creature didn't understand his guilt and his culpability.
One understands, but one acts. One must do so for the pack.
A soft tap-tap at the doorway caused Argus to turn his head to see Avon, dragon-headed staff in hand, coming down the steps. The staff was extended before him, but not like a normal blind man trying to feel his way, it was more like a prop for show. He didn't use it once as he unerringly made his way to the couches.
Argus said jokingly, "You lost Jenna? Or did Jenna lose you?"
Avon 'stared' at him without responding.
"You know, Avon, it's hard to believe you're blind sometimes," Argus said as Avon sat down without hesitation.
"As long as you don't move anything."
"I wouldn't dare," Argus grinned, "but I'm not so sure about Vila."
"Neither am I."
Taking a seat opposite, Argus asked, "Is there something you wanted?"
Avon's sightless eyes were almost as disconcerting as his normal ones. "The decision has been made. Worrying about the rationality of it is pointless."
"That's easy for you to say." Argus sighed, "But it's not that simple."
"It is that simple. It's just not convenient."
"That's easy for you to say."
"Don't be a fool. These people need you."
This was an unexpectedly personal question. Avon hesitated before saying in a measured voice. "You are the only one they will all follow."
"I asked about you."
"There were times when your simplistic approach might have allowed for quicker decision-making."
"What does that mean?" He leaned forward.
"Of course, more thinking is generally preferred," said Avon.
"I'm starting to think you're related to Sester."
"That wasn't the thinking Avon was talking about." Sester, as he was in the habit of doing, was leaning against the doorway listening. He came down and joined them. "What Avon is trying to say, is that it takes you less time to come to some decisions than it takes him. But he also thinks you take far too little time to come to those decisions."
There was a low growl as Argus and the Wolf reacted to the intruder.
"What are you doing here?" Avon's voice was chill.
"You're not that hard to follow." Sester grinned good-naturedly at them.
"You were following me."
"That's what I said."
"Why?" The word was simple but not the way Avon said it.
"Well, you and Argus together…provides for some interesting discussions."
"You mean amusing." There was a sharp quality to Avon's flat voice that could have sliced through Herculaneum plating.
Sester's eyes sparkled like diamonds. "You know me too well."
"I doubt that." Avon's voice was a door shut in the faces of unwelcome visitors. "This is a private discussion."
"Of course, admitting how you feel about each other is very private. If you managed to say it, that is. That's why I'm here. To provide translation."
There was an inquisitive gleam in Sester's eyes. "Wolf. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The Wolf cocked its head in curiosity. This human-creature had pride that made its hackles rise but the Sester-human was addressing it directly as the Avon-Alpha did. "One understands."
"You do?" A sliver of a smile was all Sester allowed himself this time. "You understand what Avon and Argus were saying to each other?"
Argus shook his head. "Stop that!"
"You interrupted our conversation," said Sester.
"Stop trying to manipulate me using the Wolf!"
"But the Wolf understands your conversation better than you do." Sester's voice had become as expressionless and factual as Avon's normally was.
"I don't need the Wolf to say…I mean...What I want to say is…" He looked at the man whose dimmed eyes were 'staring' intently in his direction, his head tilted in concentration. "Avon, we don’t…need to say it, do we?"
There was a long, awkward silence. Sester waited. There was nothing more powerful than the intervals that begged for words.
The man to whom sentiment was a weakness said, "I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care, or, indeed, why it should be necessary to prove it at all."
"That's…what I say," said Argus. "But don't tell Reya. She'd never understand."
"Cally does, but she prefers not to."
Sester shook his head and smiled.
Whack! Jenna hit Lt. Dain with a stick padded on both ends with large knobs of soft black material, at least it was supposed to be soft until it hit her. They faced each other in the combatant's circle in the gym, each trying to get past the other's guard. They barely noticed the dozens of others using the various equipment dotted around the room.
"You still have a great deal of anger." Dain said calmly as he brushed off her stick with his own.
"Yeah, well, you would too if you were me. Yieee!" She hit him again, this time a solid thump on the arm that she could feel in her own bones.
When they first began these 'exercise' sessions, she was wary of hitting him too hard, but when it was obvious he barely felt it, she put her full strength and anger into each strike.
Jenna was fairly certain Dain was allowing her to hit him most of the time. He didn't seem that incompetent with his own stick the times he hit her. She wasn't about to say anything. The lieutenant was a nice young man who was trying to help her.
She tried an overhand strike. Thuck. This one only hit Dain's stick.
Dain was young but not as young as she first thought, early 30s but with a boyish face. He was so excruciatingly polite and calm that she wondered what it would take to rattle him.
This time, she attempted a feint first and then a forward lunge. Dain leapt back quickly. "That was good, ma'am. Almost got me that time."
"Not even close."
"Well, maybe not." He put his stick up in close guard position and Jenna followed suit. They bowed to each other. "It was a pleasure, ma'am."
"It was too, lieutenant."
They hung the sticks back on the racks along the wall. Jenna picked up her towel and dabbed the beads of sweat trickling down her face. Dain did the same, wiping with broad strokes and hanging the towel around his neck.
He asked, "Same time tomorrow?"
"If I can get away."
"You and Avon don't get along?"
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
"The ferocity with which you hit me. You must hate him a great deal. It must be difficult working together."
"I don't hate him." Her hands wrung the towel, twisting it in knots. "But…I don't like him. I never have."
"Would it be too forward of me to ask why?"
"Yes, it would."
"Sorry for prying, ma'am. I only wanted to understand."
"So you could help me further?"
The lieutenant's ears took on a slightly pinkish tinge. "I wouldn't presume to be able to. That kind of thing is out of my league."
"But not whacking people over the head?"
Dain rubbed the side of his head where Jenna had hit him at the beginning of the session. "Maybe being whacked over the head would be more accurate."
"Thank you for trying, lieutenant. You're probably the only person on the ship who bothers to be nice to me."
"They don't hate you, ma'am, but it is hard to forget."
Jenna bristled at the continued use of the word she didn't like. "Lieutenant. There is something you can do that will help me tremendously."
"Anything within reason, ma'am."
She smiled at his caution. "Stop calling me, ma'am. It makes me sound like your mother. I'm only…well, let's just say I'm not your mother's age. Just call me Jenna."
Dain nodded. "I will, Jenna. And, if you don't mind, I will also tell the others to stop calling you ma'am."
"That would be greatly appreciated, lieutenant."
After annoying Avon and Argus some more on the flight deck, Sester returned to his cabin to think. Kirsten was waiting outside for him. "I was wondering where you went to."
His eyes searched her carefully. "You don't have those handcuffs, do you?"
"This early in the morning?"
"What was I thinking?" he chuckled as he opened the door and let her enter first.
"You were thinking. Just not with your brain." She brushed past him, the sweet scent of flowers in her hair drifting close, reminding him of spring on Rungar 5.
"We psychostrategists have many talents." He followed the flowers in.
“I just bet you do.”
“And which of my talents would you like to see today?” It seemed a long time since they’d played their games together.
Kirsten sat at the edge of the table, her legs showing invitingly below the knee-length burgundy skirt, a promise of further delights. It was a call Sester found hard to resist as he stepped closer, enough that she couldn’t swing her legs without touching him.
“I want to talk.”
He leaned forward, his voice like raw silk, “I can do more than talk.”
Kirsten kissed him, her mouth hot and ravenous, parting his lips. Their tongues touched, wrestled, and explored each other like wet sinuous snakes, reaching deeper in a hunger to taste more. Sester’s arms circled her waist, his rising interest pressing up against her legs as Kirsten brought him even closer, one hand at the base of his neck as her other hand slid his shirt up.
At the back of his mind, Sester wondered when she would stop and leave him frustrated or would she continue, finally allowing their bodies the release they both craved. He didn’t know which he wanted more.
Kirsten pulled back, her hand pressing on his chest. “I really would like to talk.”
He leaned forward but her arm stiffened, pushing against him. “We can’t do both?”
“Not the way we do it.”
He grinned and took a step back. “I suppose not. What did you want to talk about?”