Party PeaceBy Sally M
Avon sat alone at what had been the steps of Residence One and now were broken steps to nowhere but a pile of rubble. An ugly pile of rubble - it would be decades, maybe centuries, before this burned-out shell gained a patina of beauty, if ever.
From where he sat, he could see down into the valley, towards where the unofficial VE-Day celebrations were being held. Unofficial, of course, because the President and the remnants of his High Council had not yet surrendered, along with what was left of the Eighth Fleet and the skeletal, desertion-thinned ranks of the troops on Earth. Also unofficial, he reminded himself ironically, because most of the people celebrating were still officially on one or another - or several - wanted lists, and there were still bounties posted on far too many.
They shouldn't have come. He knew that, they all knew that, but none had refused the chance. It had been a long time...
And now he could hear the music - haunting, deep-souled music from Earth's past, Deva's choice, he would wager - and see the holographic display, crystals of pure rainbowed light falling like confetti over the canal bank. Vila and Dayna would be somewhere down there, among the lights. Jenna would be with them, despite still being officially dead: Deva and Blake's other people as well. But not Soolin, who had died on Gauda Prime only slightly less of a mystery than she had been from the start; nor Tarrant, who had survived that debacle, only to die a hero's death, in a muddy trench on a small planet near Helotrix.
"Nor Cally," a cold, harsh voice, his own voice from before, whispered in his mind. "Nor Gan..."
He wouldn't be alone if you just left him, Avon.
Strange, he hadn't thought of the big man for years.
"And am not about to now," he murmured. But at least Gan's memory didn't sting the way some others did.
Dayna had come to see him the day before Tarrant had left.
"You could at least see him," she had said, still angry, defensive - uncomfortable with him, as she always was now. "We were a team, Avon."
"Well, somewhere within the meaning of the word," he had murmured, without lifting his head from the schematics for Orac Mark 2. "If Tarrant chooses to come here, I can hardly help but see him."
"He won't, you know that."
"Yes, I know that." Looking up, with a diamond-hard smile. "Discomposure makes cowards of us all. Ask Vila."
"It is not. Del Tarrant is uncomfortable with what happened, true. His discomfort, however predictable, is neither my fault nor my problem, Dayna. Nor, I'm afraid," blandly polite, impeccable cruel, "is yours." He'd held back the greater cruelty: while wishing the young man neither evil nor much good, he had been oddly glad to hear that Tarrant would leave. That voice had echoed in his nightmares too often, far too often for him to hear it waking, without flinching.
He sold us all, Avon. Even you.
Odd that Tarrant's voice echoed in his dreams, and the others didn't; only Tarrant's and his own. Odd and, he knew, very unfair. So he had held back the cruelty of telling Dayna.
"He can come here, if he wishes. You can't deny it would be easier for him than for me." She couldn't deny it, he knew, and it had angered her more.
Tarrant had gone without coming to see him: hardly surprising. And had died a hero. And Dayna never spoke of it again.
Avon sighed and settled back further against the cool stone. Somewhere down below was a cellar in which he'd left part of his soul, but just at this minute, it didn't hurt to think of it. That pain had burned out in the greater agony a year later, as had all lesser pains. Even Vila's anger...
It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.
A faint, distant ripple of amusement touched his tired mind as he looked back down into the valley. Vila didn't drink any more, couldn't drink any more - his injuries on Gauda Prime had damaged his liver too badly for that, and complain as he would, Vila would always do what survival dictated. He'd found a place in the new group, anyway, with people older and kinder than the Scorpio crew; his skills were in demand, few bullied or sneered at the Delta who had been with Blake at the beginning, and Blake's oh-so-staid friend Deva had been willing to spend his free time researching endless non-alcoholic potions from all over the galaxy in the quest to find the perfect fake.
Now if only the fighting would finally stop, Vila might almost - nearly - sort of - be happy. Sometimes. Avon knew that they would never be friends again, and regretted it in his more honest moments, but they got by on what was left. Deva was a better friend for Vila, anyway.
"I just wanted Avon to pay for what he did," he'd heard one day, when they thought he was asleep.
"But he didn't do it, Vila," Jenna, as calm and pragmatic as she always was now. "You're still alive."
"So all right, for what he nearly did. Point is, he had to pay." A silence. "And he did, so I guess I'm not allowed to be mad at him any more." Another silence. "P'rhaps it's for the best, it was getting a little hard to always remember I was mad at him."
Jenna had surprised Avon, first by being alive at all - "It's a long story, Avon, and a boring one. I'll tell you one night when you can't sleep," - and then by her lack of anger or censure. He had shot the man they both loved, and she should have hated him for it, but from the first moment he'd woken and met her cool gaze, they had been the same uneasy not-quite-friends as before. He still didn't know why, but didn't ask; he didn't think it was pity, the pity that made Dayna so uncomfortable and Vila so forgiving, but he wasn't going to risk finding out.
"Regret," he'd said to her, as he had once to Cally, "is a part of being alive." Recalling it, he was mildly surprised that he had said it at all.
Maybe lack of sleep in those earlier weeks...
"But how large a part?" she'd asked. "How do you calculate it now, Avon?"
"Oh, I won't." That was going too far.
"Then how to calculate when it's paid in full?"
Could you kill someone? Face to face I mean. She hadn't forgotten asking him that, any more than he had forgotten his evasive answer.
"That," with a caught breath, "is unlikely to be in this lifetime, Jenna. You know that."
"Yes," with a smile as clean and unaffected as his best, but not malicious, "and I'm glad."
He closed his eyes. Thinking of Gan, Tarrant, Vila, Jenna, all of it had brought him back full circle. It always did, no matter which memory forced its way up. Only one did not, one who was outside the circle; the one who had vanished with the first signs of her final fall, and whose final fate he had never known, or in truth much cared...
"Hello, Avon," a voice he hadn't heard in over a year. He opened his eyes and gazed up into great, hollowed, amber eyes. "Servalan." "You don't sound surprised. Again."
"Oh, I can be," he smiled, "if you wish. But since your Pacification Program fell into a welter of de-pacified bloodshed, you haven't had many places left to hide."
A flash of anger touched her face, and was gone. "A setback."
Avon's voice hardened into mockery. "That's a diplomatic way to put it, isn't it?" He gazed at her for a deliberately overlong moment, at the plain clothing, the overcropped hair, the gaunt face with lines around the mouth and eyes, visible in the sunlight. As he'd noticed the last time they met, a year ago, she was beginning to age.
It had been the longest year of his life, and he'd thought of her as little as Gan.
"I'd be interested on your definition of a disaster - Commissioner."
"Would you?" Very deliberate, very careful, then a stiletto-sharp thrust. "What about Gauda Prime?"
His smile vanished. He forced down the quick, cold shudder; with difficulty, he did not look away, did not break the gaze. Servalan must have seen something, however, and her cyanide-sweet smile grew as she lifted a small but obviously, seriously deadly weapon and aimed it at his head, then his heart.
He said nothing, gazing at it with almost insulting calm. Showing fear before this woman was unthinkable, even if he felt it. And at this moment, he wasn't sure he did. You're not the sacrificial type... but that had been then, an eon away from now.
"So the rumours don't entirely lie. What did happen on Gauda Prime, Avon?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, I think not. Curiosity might kill even such a magnificent cat as you... at least, we can hope."
"It was Blake," Servalan said, and the name dripped like poison in her mouth. "It was always Blake, wasn't it? The rumours say that you killed him, Avon. Did you find your wall at the end?"
"One of them, perhaps."
"Did you shoot him?"
Avon was silent for a moment, then spoke quietly. "Yes."
"How simply fascinating. Why?"
"I don't know."
"Oh come, Avon -"
"It's the truth - not that I insist on your understanding that term, Servalan. I shot Blake, and I do not know why." And would never know why, though he would not say that to her. It didn't matter. Knowing wouldn't change anything.
"You really did hate him, didn't you?" Almost breathlessly eager. "I would have sworn - but you really did hate him."
"At times," he sighed, "but that was not one of them."
"And yet you are still with his people. Why?"
"Why not? I am still of use, even now." He looked up into her large, brilliant, uncompre-hending eyes. "And do you care?"
"Not really. I have more important matters to think of -"
"Such as your own survival," he mocked.
"Such as finally killing you." Servalan smiled again, that poisonous, jagged-edged smile that matched the deadness in her once-lovely eyes. "I may have little left, but I have survived your Blake, and will survive you." She lifted the gun. "Stand up."
Avon looked at it, and at her ravaged face, and shook his head slowly.
"I would have thought you'd prefer to die on your feet," she said. "For the sake of your pride if nothing else."
"Why?" he said calmly. "Pride is overrated."
"You have changed." She lifted an eyebrow, then lifted and aimed the gun. "Stand up," she said coldly, "or I will kill you where you are."
"I've no doubt you can, but -" his eyes slid past her, "- not today, I think."
"Avon, you don't expect me to fall for that stale trick, do you?"
"No, Servalan," the voice came from behind her, and she whirled, unbelieving, unwilling to believe, "but you were never quite as bright as you believed yourself."
Tall and unbowed, scarred and harsh-faced and as cold as the grave, Blake stared at her with that one good eye, his own gun trained on her.
"Oh, Avon told the truth," Blake went on in that flat, soft, unemotional voice that gave even Servalan pause. "He did shoot me on Gauda Prime - but didn't manage to kill me."
Avon stirred, staring up at him with overlarge eyes. "Blake -"
"Come on, Avon," quietly, without rancour, the malformed gaze turning on him coolly, "we both recall it well enough. Once would have been careless. Three times strikes me as serious intent."
"Serious, yes. Intent..."
"But that was then, and this is now." Blake paused, then went on softly. "The past... we did things differently there."
Servalan didn't understand, that Avon could see, and cared less. She had edged a little closer to where he sat on the steps, and he was still all too aware of her own gun, still pointed, if not at his heart, too generally in his direction for comfort. "Blake -"
"Did you hear us?" Servalan overbore him, her attention seemingly fixed on Blake, her hand loosely curled around the gun. "He hates you sometimes -"
"I've always known that. Though I'll admit," Blake glanced across at Avon, "I did think that was one of the times, Avon."
"He hates you. He tried to kill you." Servalan smiled and shrugged, using the movement to half-turn back towards Avon, her eyes glittering, voice delicately persuasive. Avon could only marvel at her, still scheming, still trying to twist people. "And you still pretend to trust him?"
Blake was still looking at Avon, and his answer was not for her. "No, Servalan. Not that you would understand," his deep voice traced with the same contempt he had always shown her, "but for what it is worth, I've never pretended -"
From far below them, a cheer and a burst of multi-coloured light exploded into the sky. It was half a second's distraction, and snake-swift, she struck, her hand lifting and tightening on the trigger aimed at Avon.
The roar caught him by surprise - reeling back a little, he stared blindly at the place where the gun had been, at Servalan's hand - or what was left of it. Shock held them both for a minute, then she screamed.
Blake had barely moved, but to fire. "Avon?"
"I'm all right."
"Get out of here, Servalan. The next one will take your head." His voice was still cold and detached, uncaring. "Crawl back into your ruins and wait for death."
She took a step back. "You're still a fool, Blake," and her honeyed voice rasped a little with the pain and the hatred. Avon was oddly glad for the pain; she had given so much, it was only right that she be given some back. But he wasn't sure he wanted Blake to be the one to kill her.
Blake smiled - a cool smile, not quite real but not quite the cold simulation too many people had seen in the past year - and flipped open his communicator. "Blake here," he said clearly, as much to Servalan as to the people receiving. "Tell security there's an intruder on the grounds."
"You mean besides us," Avon added sardonically.
"Get rid of her. Oh - and tell Dayna Mellanby it's the prize she's been waiting for."
Servalan choked, a horrible, hissing noise of despair. "Avon -"
"Everyone has to pay, Servalan," he said softly, recalling as in a dream the attraction he'd once felt for her, the lust/loathing/whatever it had been. It had hurt - but as Blake had said, that was then. "I already have. Now it's your turn. Goodbye."
She took another step back - stared at Avon for a minute - then turned and ran, away from the palace, towards the tangled growth of overgrown forest, that was the only place left to run.
"Blake, she could still be dangerous."
"I doubt it, but we won't take the chance." He spoke into the communicator again. "Party's over, Deva, get our people back to the ships." He cut the link. "Dayna still disapproves of me," he said calmly, "but that might bring her round a little. The woman won't get away."
"Don't under-estimate -"
"I don't," Blake said, "but she has nowhere to go."
"I know the feeling."
Blake holstered his gun, and sat on his heels beside Avon. "She doesn't matter any more. She never did, really." He sighed. "You shouldn't have come, you know."
"It seemed like a good idea." Avon looked up and met his gaze, still a little distant, as it was to everyone these days, but gentler. Blake would never be what he was, he'd been hurt too badly and too often, and Avon knew he had done more than his share of that. "I should have known that if it seemed like a good idea, it wasn't."
"Oh, I don't know," Blake said thoughtfully. "It was quite interesting. No wonder you wouldn't tell me why."
"You managed to forgive me quite well without it."
"Didn't have a choice, did I?"
"Don't be a fool. You could have -"
"Maybe I didn't want to."
There was a silence. "Still," Blake said finally, oddly inconsequential, "it was quite a good party."
"Until she turned up," Avon agreed, sitting up with difficulty. "And at least you finally -" his lips twisted, "- came back."
"Yes... well, I did say I would."
"That was a long time ago."
"To be honest, I don't think I believed it myself then, or afterwards." He reached out and pushed Avon's hair from his forehead, his touch more tentative than usual. "I left too much of myself out there for it to mean much anymore. And you?"
Avon didn't want to think about that. "I still want it finished, Blake," he said quietly. "I always did."
"And you still wish to be free of me?"
"That - no. But I do want it finished. And," voice dropping, "it will never be, will it?"
"Yes, it will."
"We just won't live to see it."
"No." Avon paused, then gave a clumsy half-shrug. "You know, I can't help wishing you'd told me that at the start."
"I can't help sometimes wishing I'd known." Blake stood and looked down at him, an odd expression on his face. "So at what point would it have made a difference to you?"
Avon pretended to consider. "At the start," he said finally.
Blake laughed - not much of a laugh, true, but close enough, the first time Avon had heard that laugh in months, years. "We'd better go." He bent and lifted Avon up, carrying him as easily as a child, careful for the shattered spine despite the fact that Avon would never feel any clumsy move, would never - in the wake of his injuries from Gauda Prime - feel anything there again.
His payment, if not yet in full.
"Avon?" And the sound of Blake's voice, calm, concerned - aloof if not unkind, forgiving if not quite forgetting - and above all alive, was his redemption.
He still wasn't sure which was going to be harder to live with.
"Are you all right, Avon?"
"No," he said wearily. "I'm not. But I will be."
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