"You are preoccupied." Avon's flat, unwelcome voice grated against Jenna's nerves, yanking her back to the antiseptic coldness of the lab. Dain's warm and sincere face faded from her mind, replaced by Avon's ice-chiselled features.
She tried to keep the irritation from her voice as she squinted at the miniscule text on the screen and entered the next line of the equation. "I'm not."
"The lack of sound indicates otherwise," said Avon, his sightless eyes staring in her direction, giving the uncomfortable feeling that he was able to see and the blindness was a sham. Except that it wasn't. A twinge of guilt caused her to speed up her tedious typing.
"Damn," she muttered under her breath and quickly backtracked, using the pointer to block out the last sector of equations, and erasing them with a disgusted jab of the delete key. This section looked almost exactly like the previous one, except for a few minor symbols. Avon would probably declare that she'd blown up a significant section of the ship. Too bad it wasn't his lab.
She glanced over at Avon and found his eyes narrowed. "Before you say anything, yes, I made a mistake. But I'm fixing it now."
"I wasn't about to."
"Well good." Jenna rubbed bleary eyes before placing her index finger on the left hand screen containing the text to be copied, sliding it along to find the right section. This is ridiculous. Opening up the utility menu, she increased the text size. That's better. Should've done that before. Jenna bent to her task again.
Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Avon sitting cross-legged on the floor, his hand lightly resting on the wolf's bunched shoulder. You found yourself a guinea pig. It couldn't possibly be a pet. Or another slave. Her fingers stabbed viciously into the keys but there was no complaint from the lifeless keyboard.
"You need rest," said Avon without looking in her direction.
Yes, sure, the wolf needs rest, thought Jenna bitterly.
"Jenna?" Avon asked when there was no response.
"You were talking to me?"
"There is no one else in this room."
Jenna straightened up and arched her shoulders back, easing the tension. "Thought you were talking to the wolf."
"I don't need to verbalize with the wolf."
She turned and regarded them with curiosity. Avon was inserting a thin rod into the wolf's collar. "You're talking to it?"
"We are conducting experiments."
"What kind of experiments?"
Avon slid the rod out and snapped the casing back into place with a click. "Teleport."
Turning to get a closer look, Jenna realized the parts of the collar not covered by the thick, shaggy fur had the familiar pattern of the bracelets. "That's clever."
"Not really," Avon replied flatly. "You can have the rest of the day off."
The screen on the left was filled with un-entered equations and there were two more files. "Are you sure? There's still a lot of work left."
"Come earlier tomorrow."
"I will." Pushing down on the arms of the chair, she made to get up, but sat back again. Avon was facing the wolf, probably speaking to it with his mind. "Avon…I'm glad the new antidote worked."
The news had spread throughout the ship like wildfire. People rushed to visit him in the medical bay as the doctors were examining him. He must have hated the attention intruding on his privacy.
"Yes." Avon pressed on the wolf's shoulder and got up.
Jenna stood up too. There were many conflicting thoughts and feelings since she came back on the ship, but one was clear. "I'm serious, Avon. I did this to you…I'm glad you're going to be fine."
The sincerity in her voice made Avon uncomfortable. "I am too."
"I am sorry. I went over the line."
Guilt. It was a condition Avon had lived with for so long, it would be strange to be without it. The guilt tied them together closer than they had ever been. "Would you have killed me?"
The question hung in the air like an odour that could not be ignored.
"I…don't know, Avon. I wanted to. When I was planning, it felt good. I'd been reliving the moment in my mind for so long, seeing you dead instead of Blake. Shooting you on Gauda Prime. It was…"
"A form of therapy."
"I suppose so. I was finally doing something. The thought of you running around free while Blake was dead…it did something to me."
Avon's voice became quiet, his mind filled with thoughts of the man he had loved and hated in equal parts. And the final act. "You loved him."
The words surprised them both. The air was electric with the tension of unanswered questions and unexpressed thoughts.
Jenna collapsed into the chair, her legs suddenly rubbery. "I…did."
"You still do."
She was about to say something snide. When did he ever care how other people felt? There was something on his impassive face that stilled her sarcasm, an intensity. "I know it's irrational, he's dead."
"Irrationality is part of being human."
"You must hate being human."
"Constantly," he said dryly. "Now, if we're done, I have work to do."
Sharp-Eyes cocked its head. * Why would you not want to be what you are? *
* It's complicated. *
The wolf huffed a sigh and shook its head. * There are many things I do not understand. *
"I'll get out of your hair." Jenna got up again. It was strange having a real conversation with Avon but it made her feel better somehow. Out of everyone on the ship, she had most in common with Avon. It wasn't often Avon opened up enough to talk on this level to anyone, though presumably he did with Cally. "Avon, I know you're busy. Do you mind if we talked and worked?"
A faint grimace of annoyance greeted that statement. "While I work."
Avon felt for the chair at the workbench and sat down. A tray of neatly laid out parts was on his right. He slid it towards him and removed a stack of compressed green wafers. Jenna pulled out a chair at the workbench opposite him and sat down.
"I could try to finish off that page of equations if you want."
Having a distracted Jenna entering the important equations was not ideal. "No."
He sighed in annoyance. Short of asking her to leave, the only way to have peace and quiet while he worked was to answer her questions. Avon dropped the handful of red-sheathed optical cables on the table. "There's something you want to discuss."
"I…just wanted to talk."
Avon's jaw tensed as he suppressed a sharp retort. Indulging wishes to talk was something he did with Cally. Though Jenna's voice seemed…melancholic, stressed. He suspected Cally would say she needed someone to converse with.
Concentrating his mind, and hoping Cally wasn't too preoccupied in the medical unit, he externalized his thoughts. * Cally. *
* Yes, Avon? Is something the matter? *
The sliver of concern, quickly quashed, made him frown. * Nothing is the matter. Jenna is here. *
* I knew that. She's entering equations for you. *
* She was. *
There was a slight pause. He could imagine the muscles of her face shifting slightly as she wondered what he had in mind. Her mental projection was tentative. * What is she doing now? *
* She wishes to talk. *
There was another brief lull. Had she put down whatever she was doing? Cally asked, * She wishes to talk about something personal? *
How did she guess? * Perhaps. *
* You wanted me to talk to her for you? *
* I'm busy. *
This time, she sent him a mental sigh. * Avon, Jenna wants to talk to you. *
The crinkles at the side of Avon's lips deepened as his frown increased. * You would prefer not talking to her. *
* Well… * This time there was lightness to her thoughts. * I wasn't going to say anything. *
* I will speak with her. *
* I will be close by, Avon. In case you wish assistance. *
"You're talking to Cally, aren't you?" asked Jenna, her eyes narrowing. "Is she coming to rescue you?" she asked. She had been watching him during the long silence. His face seemed more expressive when he was talking with Cally.
"You wished to talk." Talking with anyone else, he was like a stone.
"Does that mean you're going to?"
"You have a topic in mind."
Jenna leaned back in her chair, one elbow resting on the arm, examining his impassive face. Just how open was he to talking? "I did." She had wanted to talk about Blake and the craziness of the last few years. "Sometimes…" Her eyes took on a faraway look. "It feels like I've just woken up from a nightmare. It doesn't seem real." Sadness and pain crept into her voice.
Avon refrained from saying he was still living in one. He had no interest in other people knowing that.
"Avon…" Her eyes refocused on the man in front of her, his unseeing eyes eerie and still oddly penetrating. "You can tell me to mind my own business but…" She hesitated. Ever since they had decided to work together again, when he decided to sacrifice his own life to save Blake's reputation, there had been a connection between them, an understanding of sorts. "Can you tell me about Anna?"
"Anna?" Avon's voice was a bare whisper of shock as his face reacted, becoming vulnerable before the mask slipped back into place.
"You don't have to." She straightened slightly, preparing to leave if he shut the door on their conversation. "I've heard bits from the others. And there was that incident on Albion."
"Albion…" His voice was reflective and quiet as he remembered Grant and Anna's memory. "I will tell you about Anna if you tell me about Blake."
"I…suppose that's only fair." She took a deep breath. "Which one of us starts first?"
Even through the material of his trousers, Avon could feel the warm breath of Sharp-Eyes on his leg. "In a minute."
* Sharp-Eyes, I will send you back to the den. Return in two hours time. *
The keenly attentive wolf huffed and dipped its grey muzzle. * Very well. But one prefers to walk. * It got up and stretched, arching its back and extending its front paws. * I will be back in two hours. * The wolf nodded in Jenna's direction and padded out on silent feet.
While the creature did this, Avon sent out his thoughts. * Cally. *
* Yes, Avon? *
* She wishes to talk about Anna. *
* Oh. * There was a startled break. * She wishes to compare experiences. *
* Ah. * The experience of madness.
"Good idea," said Jenna.
"Anna was important to me," said Avon, trying to keep his tone impartial but not entirely successfully. Memories of the woman who nearly destroyed him, was a heavy weight on his chest.
Jenna stared at him, part incredulously but also partially in awe. It was like watching the inexplicable happening, finding the heart of stone had a beat.
Albion had been a puzzle, and Avon had become an enigma. The self-serving man who had been willing to sacrifice his life for people he didn't know, in memory of a woman who was long dead.
What had motivated him? Love? Guilt? And what happened later, the thing Vila had hinted to her… Had Avon become obsessed with the idea of revenge for his dead lover? Had he always been? It was hard to believe he loved anyone more than himself. "You loved her."
He 'stared' at her a long moment, perhaps thinking about Anna, or maybe he was about to tell her to shove off. She could never tell what lay behind that cold exterior.
"You once asked me about guilt."
The scene popped unbidden into Jenna's mind. The two of them in the teleport room of the Liberator, each wary of the other, testing each other. "I…was very cynical about you in those days."
"Only those days?"
"You're right, I still am. Habit. But if it means anything, I am less cynical."
There was a dry chuckle from Avon. "Go on."
"Wait a minute; aren't you supposed to be telling me about Anna?"
"So I was."
"You…always knew about guilt, didn't you? Because of Anna? But you never told us."
Jenna nodded in acknowledgement, realizing Avon still considered this too personal to share but he was making the effort. "You know, we might have thought about you differently if we knew about Anna."
The words came out before she could think about them.
"That's doubtful," said Avon.
Another thread of memory tugged at her consciousness. "You cared about your brother too, didn't you?"
"I agreed to talk about Anna."
"Yes, sorry." As she looked at Avon, he seemed different, more vulnerable.
Dared she consider…more human? Why had it been so easy to think of him as uncaring? As only thinking about himself? Next to Blake, he seemed to have a heart of ice. But she had known how the sphere had affected Avon when it showed him his brother. He had barely been able to speak at first, his head in his hands, clearly distressed. "You were saying about Anna?"
His face turned away from her slightly and his eyebrows drew closer together. "If at anytime I could have given my life for hers, I would have."
"Like you did with Cally?"
Pain tightened his throat. "I promised myself I would kill those who murdered her."
"Vila told me about Shrinker. He sounds like a nasty piece of work."
The pressure on his chest refused to let up. "He was."
"Vila also told me about the Detention Centre."
There was the barest curl of a grimace as he remembered the dark hours in the cell, the blood and the screams. "Vila talks too much."
"I'm glad he did." Avon didn't just look human, he looked hurt and damaged. "Avon…why did you subject yourself to that? There must have been safer…" Less painful... "…ways to find Shrinker."
The tightness became hard. "There was only one."
"I don't believe it. An intelligent man like you? You had ORAC and the Liberator."
"I…needed to do it. For Anna." His fingers kneaded his wrist.
"You had yourself tortured and risked getting yourself killed…for Anna?" She leaned forward, her forearms resting on the edge of the workbench.
"Yes." The short word seemed the hardest one in the human language. "It was madness."
"It was guilt…and love. You survived and she didn't. It eats you up until there's nothing else." She knew what it felt like, how it choked every breath and how the beat of guilt pounded in your ears until it drowned out everything else. "It scrambles your mind, your reasoning; it makes you do things you never thought you would. It…blinds you to everything except revenge. Avon…I didn't realize. I didn’t think about what I was doing until I saw you." Guilt was a punch to the gut.
"What they did to you. When they destroyed your eyes…I…wanted to stop them." Misery soaked every pore and she was filled with anger at herself."I don't know what I was thinking." Tears welled up at the corner of her eyes.
"Love and guilt are powerful motivators."
"Y-yes. Can you ever forgive me, Avon?" Jenna asked before she realized what she was doing.
"We are all gripped by our obsessions. The people who are important to us."
"Yes," she sighed heavily, "we were."
She looked up at him slowly. "Yes. I wished…I understood that from the beginning."
"You did not understand obsession then."
Her eyes widened a bit. "You always knew, didn't you? Because of Anna." She remembered angry words on the flight deck, the accusation of fanaticism.
"I loved Blake. But…I don't think I understood him, not until the end. He seemed…"
"Like an honest man?"
Jenna smiled, remembering the first days when Blake's aura had overwhelmed her common sense. "He was a brilliant sun. He cared and he wanted to help people. I'd never met anyone like him."
"Romanticism," Avon said derisively.
"Whatever you call it…that's the effect he had on me."
Avon shook his head. "Even later?"
"He was human. Sometimes he made me angry. When he lied to us and broke his word at Control. That hurt. It felt like…" Her heart was pounding in her chest, so hard it hurt. "I loved him, Avon and it felt like he betrayed me. I was ready to chuck it in and go with you. I was fed up. Things were never the same afterwards."
"The romance had lost its lustre."
"I suppose, but he was still Blake. He was still trying, even if I didn't like everything he did."
His heightened awareness of sounds, especially of voices, made every word seem magnified to Avon's ears, from the way Jenna's breath caught when she talked about Blake, and the anguish and pain that was so tangible, he could reach out and touch them.
It was like this with Anna and Cally. Irrational and powerful sentiments that were burning fires touching a heart that was determined to remain cold. Of course, his expressions were much less demonstrative. The demons were in the emotions, the gremlins that wreaked havoc with logic and sensibility.
"He was human, Avon." She searched eyes that would never reveal anything to her, even if he could still see. "I loved him for that."
"Why did you leave him?"
"Why did you?"
"Ah." He could feel the knots of tension in his arm. Jenna was right. Blake was someone they all had hope in, even him, at least a little at first, though he would die before he would admit it to anyone. People who believed in anything, and particularly any one, were fools. And someone like Blake, who could never afford to think...
Avon had always been far more sceptical than the others were. In the end, when he had been proven right, when Blake repeatedly revealed himself to be as flawed, perhaps even more than the rest of them…what Avon had never been able to forgive Blake for, was being fully human.