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Before and After

By Nova
For Belatrix

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement.

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being ...

Ridiculous the waste sad time

Stretching before and after.

T.S. Eliot, 'Burnt Norton'.

1.

Poetry's a funny business. It's got a way of sticking to your brain, long after all kinds of useful facts have gone in one ear and out the other. I know that, because my auntie who brought me up was big on poetry and stories and sayings. Well, I call her my aunt, at any rate, even though I don't think we were actually related. I mean, she couldn't really have been auntie to all twenty of us kids. But she looked after us like an aunt would, teaching us lots of stuff that came in handy later on, when she sold us to the thieves' guild or the brothels. (That mightn't be your idea of a nice, kind auntie but it's different in the Delta Domes. Trust me, having a trade puts you well ahead of the national average.)

Anyhow, the point is, that's where I learnt the poem that kept running through my head after the stuff-up on Gauda Prime. It went like this.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.

For want of a horse, the rider was lost.

For want of a rider, the message was lost.

For want of the message, the battle was lost.

For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost -

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

I'm not sure what horses are or why their shoes have to be nailed on but the general picture seems pretty clear. Small things can have big consequences. Who would've thought Tarrant'd be the one to blow Blake and Avon away? Not me, I can tell you. Everything seemed like business as usual, right up to the last minute.

There we were on Xenon Base, running round and planting Dayna's latest crop of explosives, high on the excitement of burning our bridges. It was almost like a party. Tarrant was clowning about, Dayna was giggling madly and even Soolin cracked the occasional smile. As we ran for the Scorpio, Dayna bumped me with her hip and sent me cannoning into Tarrant.

'Hands off, Vila,' he said with a grin, shunting me back at her. 'I'm not that kind of boy.'

'Oh, really?' I camped. 'I heard you got ahead at the Space Academy by giving head to the officers.'

Then we bundled into the ship, still laughing at each other. Seconds later Scorpio was blasting out of the planet's orbit, while the base exploded behind us and Avon dropped his next bombshell - finding a figurehead to unify the Rebel Alliance, same as his last plan ... only this time the figurehead was Blake. I was just starting to get keen on the idea of seeing Blake again, when Orac told us he was working as a bounty hunter. And after that, things went downhill fast.

For starters, we ran into a Federation blockade, which meant that me and the girls had to pay a rather sudden visit to Gauda Prime. I was on guard duty in the middle of a miserable tree sanctuary when, wouldn't you know, a pair of bounty hunters dropped in and hit me over the head. Luckily, Avon turned up just in time to shoot them, although I wasn't as pleased as I might've been, because he wouldn't explain where Tarrant had got to, so I couldn't help wondering whether he'd pushed Tarrant out of an airlock. Still, we'd inherited the bounty hunters' flyer, which was a bonus. We hopped into it, followed this other flyer that went meandering past and wound up in an underground silo, fitted out as some kind of base. Personally, I would've liked to wait around and collect a bit more data, before we went charging in. But I didn't waste time saying so. When did anyone ever bother to listen to me?

Anyway, first Avon found the galaxy's biggest gun in an open locker and then we found Tarrant in the base's tracking gallery. A siren started to make a dismal 'wah-wah' sound, so I suppose we must've triggered it somehow. Avon had just shot this woman who was trying to alert the security personnel when Blake walked in, with a skinny little girl beside him. (Well, I say 'Blake', as if I recognised him straight off, but actually it took me a couple of seconds, on account of him being heavier and grimmer than before, not to mention the two days' stubble masking his face and a long scar twitching at his eye.) He stopped and stared at Avon. Avon stared back, with the gun tracking his sightline. Tarrant asked me if Blake was Blake and I said he was.

Then Tarrant said, 'He sold us, Avon. All of us. Even you.'

He put a slightly vengeful spin on the last part, which seemed fair enough, under the circumstances. But Avon didn't fly into one of his rages, the way I would've expected. Instead, he swallowed hard, tilted his head to one side and lowered the gun, then sort of stumbled towards Blake with his arms curving open.

'Is it true?' he asked in a voice I'd never heard before. Avon always sounds clipped and in control, even when he isn't, but this voice was all slurred and helpless.

Blake said, 'Avon, it's me, Blake,' like that was the answer to everything. He took a step forward, totally focused on Avon, heading straight for the circle of Avon's arms. Meanwhile, Avon was focusing totally on Blake, as if they were the only two people in the gallery. No surprises there, for anyone who knew them as well as I did - and I wasn't exactly surprised when Avon had to test Blake one more time.

'Stand still!' he breathed and Blake did, although I could see he didn't like it. 'Have you betrayed us?' Avon asked in his lecturing voice, while his hand marked time on the air, clutching at some sort of logic. Then he lost it again and gasped, all jerky and reluctant, 'Have **you** betrayed **me**?'

That broke Blake's focus for a moment. 'Tarrant doesn't understand,' he complained.

'Neither do I, Blake,' Avon began but that fucking idiot went and cut across him, snarling, 'I set all this up.'

Well, I ask you, what was Avon supposed to think then? What were any of us supposed to think? We'd been set up often enough in the past four years, by Bershar, Lord Thaarn, Anna Grant, a passing alien, Dorian, Pella, Leitz, Piri, Belkov, Keiller, Egrorian, Zukan and Servalan to the power of ten. If Blake had decided to join the club, I was inclined to say, 'You'll need to queue.'

Avon believed it, anyway. He said, 'Yes!' with that little catch that you get when you're hearing exactly what you expected. Only he can't have expected Blake to betray him, not really, because next second his face changed. I thought I knew all Avon's expressions by heart but this was a new one on me. Shock/grief/disillusion/pain. A nasty mixture for anybody. Lethal, on Avon's face.

And Blake picked that moment to say, 'Avon, I was waiting for **you**' and come barging forward, with his hand stretched out.

So, when Avon swung the gun round and fired, it seemed like the only logical conclusion, even though at the same time it was the most shocking thing I'd ever seen. The bullet ripped Blake's shirt apart and doubled him over. He gasped, without making a sound. Avon groaned out loud and fired again. Blood spouted from the wounds, the way it does when you hit an artery. That would've grounded most people but Blake has ... Blake had more will power than most. He fixed his eyes on Avon and kept moving. And Avon shot him for the third time, more out of habit than anything else, because by then Blake was a dead man walking

Mind you, I'm not sure whether Avon realised that, judging from the way he shoved the gun into Blake's face and then narrowed his eyes, as if he was trying to focus on something a long way off. Blake brushed the gun aside like it was irrelevant - and after all the carry on, Avon let him do it. He pitched forward and the two of them clung together, Blake's hands locked onto Avon, Avon's arm making a shelf to hold him up. Then Blake's knees buckled and he gasped, 'Oh, **Avon**,' in this long shuddering sigh that must've summed up everything he wanted to say, because he was dead before he hit the floor.

The siren was still wailing, like a hired mourner at a fancy Alpha funeral. Avon flung his arms up as Blake fell, in one of those stagy gestures that were his way of saying he won't be held responsible. He couldn't turn away, though. He just stood there, staring at Blake, and we stood there, staring at him. There was a streak of blood across the epaulette on his jacket. I remember wondering how it'd splashed that far.

The whole business seemed to have lasted forever, although, according to the time-flash on the opposite wall, it was all over in less than a minute. After that, things started to speed up again. A worried little man with floppy ginger hair rushed in, did a double take and yelped, 'Arlen, what happened?' The skinny girl said, '**He** happened,' meaning Avon, who didn't take any notice, because he was busy staring at Blake's body. He went on staring while Arlen shot the worried little man, told us to drop our guns and announced that she was a Federation officer. I even had to dodge around him when I headed over to Arlen, babbling about being harmless and armless.

I'm not sure whether I was planning to surrender or do something useful but after Dayna went for her gun and Arlen shot her, I got annoyed and thumped Arlen. That gave me a unique five seconds of feeling like a hero, before someone shot me in the back. Stun guns knock you flat straight away but it can take a minute or two before you pass out. So I heard three more shots and Tarrant singing out, 'Avon!', which made me lever my eyes open, bit by bit.

I squinted along the floor, through a maze of Federation-issue boots, to where Blake was lying. There was another pair of boots beside him: Avon's boots, I would've recognised them anywhere. The right boot lifted and swung sideways, straddling Blake's body - protectively, you might say, except it was a bit late for that. I could tell I didn't want to watch the next part, so I let my eyelids slide shut.

But the echoes from the troopers' shots followed me down into the darkness, all the same.

2.

Whenever the going got rough, my aunt used to tell us that worse things happened at sea. I'd never actually seen the sea, growing up in the Domes and all, but auntie said it was like a giant bath and I knew about baths, because she made sure we had at least one a month. I was usually the last in line, so I got the best and worst of it. Half an hour sloshing round peacefully in the lukewarm water, with nobody banging on the door, followed by the gut-wrenching moment when I had to pull the plug and listen to the snarling, gasping, tearing sound of water going down the plug hole.

So, every time auntie said, 'Worse things happen at sea', it made me think of a giant hand pulling the plug and letting the whole world drain away. I heard that sound as I passed out in the tracking gallery. When I came to, I was scrunched into the corner of a holding cell - not the maximum security type, more the type where you stash soldiers who need to sleep off a binge. I could've tripped the locks in two seconds flat, if I'd had the energy, but as it was, I concentrated on lifting my head off my knees and looking around. Soolin and Tarrant were piled on a narrow bench, like corpses, only breathing. I couldn't see Dayna anywhere, which probably meant she was dead. And Avon was lounging in the shadows by the far wall, fiddling with a medallion on a chain round his neck.

Funny, I thought. Never noticed that before. I was opening my mouth to ask him about it, when I remembered there were more important things I needed to know.

'What happened?' I said - well, croaked, really.

Avon turned his profile towards me, shadowy in the shadows. 'Well now, how much of this fiasco were you conscious for?' he mused. 'I shot Blake. A Federation officer shot Dayna and one of Blake's henchmen. Ah, that's right - you knocked the officer out and a Federation trooper shot you. Soolin shot a trooper. Another trooper shot her. Tarrant went through the same routine. A ring of troopers shot at me. Blake's rabble rallied and shot them. Then the rabble tossed us into this cell, presumably while they decide how to dispose of us. That was twenty four hours ago, so I suspect opinion is divided.'

His voice sounded as level and composed as it had ever been. When he shifted slightly, a bar of light from the grille in the door laid a stripe across his face, like a pale half-mask. I could see that beautiful mouth of his, compressed into a narrow line. He wasn't laughing crazily, the way he'd done when Servalan tricked us over the black gold, or falling apart, the way he'd done just before he asked Blake, 'Have you betrayed me?'

That should've been a relief but it wasn't.

Avon shifted again, staring off at some invisible horizon. 'Yes,' he said, as though we'd come to the end of a long discussion. 'Yes, I think that ought to do it.'

'You've thought of a way out?' I asked, not very hopefully.

'Only for myself,' Avon said, which didn't come as much of a surprise. 'You will have to make your own arrangements, Vila.'

I decided all over again that I didn't like Avon, something I'd been deciding at regular intervals, ever since he'd tried to push me out of an airlock two months before. My head felt muddled and heavy. I let it drop back onto my knees and started brooding about Avon's nice neat summary of events. Blake dead. Dayna dead. Soolin and Tarrant undecided. (Sometimes you recover from a major stun, sometimes you don't.) A fine mess the homicidal maniac in the opposite corner had got us into. He should've been - hold on a minute, if that bunch of Feds had shot him, why wasn't he dead?

But I didn't get time to ask him that, because next minute the door swung open. I was scuttling sideways like a crab, to make sure it didn't hit me. Avon was clutching his medallion and backing away, to leave room for the people crowding into the cell. Two guards and the worried little man that Arlen had shot, so I could cross him off the body count, at any rate. He seemed to be in charge, because the guards stood back and let him look Avon up and down for a bit.

'I'm Deva, Blake's computer technician,' he said finally. 'Kerr Avon, I've come to tell you that the revolutionary tribunal has sentenced you to death by firing squad for the murder of Roj Blake.'

I got the shakes then, not so much from what he'd said as from the way he said it. You could tell Deva had really liked Blake and yet he didn't sound angry, more sad than anything else. It was scary to think of someone being that understanding, even if they'd had twenty four hours to mull it over - although I found out later that Deva can't help trying to make sense of things.

I didn't want to look at Avon but I felt as if I had to ... and when I did, he was smiling. Not one of his crazy smiles, one of the nice ones, which made me shake even harder.

'Unfortunately for you, I am currently protected by a personal force shield,' he said. 'Of course, you can always leave me here until I starve to death but I suspect your rebels would find that symbolically unsatisfactory. Therefore, I propose a bargain. If you will permit me to see Blake, I will permit you to execute me.'

Well, that explains why Avon's still alive, I thought, ignoring the rest of it. Nice of him to share the force shield idea with me and the others.

The guards weren't too pleased with him, either. 'Don't let that murdering bastard anywhere near Blake,' the bigger one growled and the woman snapped, 'He's in no position to try cutting deals.'

Deva didn't take any notice of them, though. He just nodded at Avon and said, 'A sensible solution.' Then he turned to me and added, 'Why don't you come along too, Restal?'

That startled me, because I hadn't realised he'd even seen me there. As he bent down to haul me to my feet, he tucked an arm round my shoulders and leaned in close.

'You know Avon better than anyone, now,' he murmured. 'I'd like to call on your expert opinion, if it becomes necessary.'

As a computer technician, this Deva was a good psychologist. I couldn't remember the last time anyone had paid me a compliment like that - or called me 'Restal', instead of 'Vila' or 'hey, you', come to think of it. So, even though I was quite clear that I didn't want to see Blake being dead, I fell into line and followed Deva out of the holding cell.

It could've been a nasty business, walking through Blake's base with Blake's killer, except that Deva sent the guards on ahead to clear everyone out of the way. The big guard tried to thump Avon as he pushed past but his hand bounced off the air a few centimetres away from Avon's back, which proved the force shield was working. Then the three of us strolled down the corridor, chatting like civilised men. Well, Deva and Avon chatted, anyhow. I just bobbed along in their wake, pinching myself every now and then to see if I was real, wondering whether I'd feel any better if I stopped and threw up.

At one point Deva said, 'I see you adapted Blake's Freedom Party medallion as the control panel for your force shield.'

'So you recognise it?' Avon said, not particularly surprised or interested. 'Yes, I found it on Terminal, when I searched the underground rooms after the explosion that killed Cally. A significant turning point, as it happens. It proved Servalan's claim that Blake was an illusion to be one of her habitual triple bluffs - although I should have known that already, since no computer program could have come up with some of Blake's more telling gibes. Once I had the medallion, it was only a matter of establishing whether he had been killed in the explosion. Since I saw no other bodies, I concluded that Blake and the medical team must have been transferred to a second Federation cruiser, before Servalan confronted me.'

'That's right,' Deva agreed, following the whole thing better than I could. 'When Servalan didn't return, Roj talked most of us into deserting and joining the rebel cause. We ditched the rest of the crew at Freedom City and went on to establish the Gauda Prime base. Roj always hoped you'd turn up again but he couldn't bring himself to contact you directly ... more's the pity.'

'Oh, I wouldn't waste time on pity,' Avon told him. 'A singularly unproductive emotion, or so I have always found.'

After that we walked on in silence till Deva stopped outside another door, where the guards were waiting. My stomach lurched, worse than in freefall, and for a moment there I thought I really would be sick. But somehow I got up the nerve to stumble through that door. I grabbed hold of a handy medical trolley, wiped my eyes a few times and finally managed to focus on Blake. He was lying on a table covered with a white sheet. Eyes closed. Big hands crossed on his chest. Face very calm and young and peaceful and beautiful, in spite of the scar.

Totally and irretrievably dead.

While I clung to the trolley and stared, Avon walked straight over to the table. He let go of his medallion and lifted one of Blake's hands, cradling it between both his own hands.

'Look, Deva!' the smaller guard said urgently. 'He's dropped the force shield. We can take him.'

Deva turned on her. 'Leave him alone,' he said in a fierce whisper. 'That man loved Blake. We're giving him what he wants, now and later.'

Looking back on it, I have a feeling Avon must've heard him. At any rate, he leaned forward, touched the dead hand to his heart and kissed Blake on the mouth, as if he was still alive.

'Goodbye, Blake,' he said, terse and expressionless as always. Then he swung round and said to Deva, 'I am ready now.'

He didn't wait for the guards to march him out. He just strode right past them - and past me too, like he didn't even recognise me. It was a relief at the time, although it's been torture ever since. I shuffled my feet, wondering whether this was my chance to make a break for it. But Deva seemed to think I ought to be there at the execution and somehow that unassuming little bloke had a way of getting what he wanted. So I found myself trailing along behind the rest of them, desperate for a pee, desperate for a drink.

Oh, hell. Just plain desperate.

When we got outside, every-bloody-body on the base was waiting for us. They made a hungry sort of noise as they caught sight of Avon and then, two seconds later, they shut up. I'm not sure why. Avon wasn't looking noble or tragic or anything like that. As a matter of fact, he made the whole business seem kind of ordinary, asking where he ought to stand, unbuttoning his jacket so his white shirt would be a better target. Somehow, that finally convinced me that he'd been planning this all along. I mean, he could've used the force shield to escape, couldn't he? But instead he must've switched it off after the Feds shot at him and let the rebels shunt him into the cell, so he could bargain for a last look at Blake. I can't say it struck me as something worth dying for but - oh well, each to his own taste.

Half a dozen guards lined up in a row, fumbling nervously with their blasters. Someone went to tie Avon's hands behind his back and for the first time since I'd laid eyes on him in the holding cell, his calm cracked. He flinched away, eyes showing too much white, hands flinging up the way they'd done when Blake collapsed. If I could've run then, I would've, only my feet refused to move.

Then Deva stepped in, saying, 'There's no need to bind him', and Avon calmed down again. He accepted a blindfold, tied the knot himself and stood there with his hands clasped in front of him. I'd seen him stand like that so many times on Liberator - teasing Blake, provoking Blake, challenging Blake, testing Blake, demanding Blake's attention and getting it ... up to a point.

I think my heart must've broken then but I didn't notice at the time, because I was waiting for Blake to come out and tell us it was all a joke - or for the rebels to say, 'All right, we scared you good and proper, now let's go and have dinner' - or for Avon to produce some brilliant apology that'd win everyone over.

None of that happened, of course. Instead, Avon lifted his chin slightly. Deva said in a strange, strained voice, 'Shoot to kill. Aim for the heart.' Half a dozen loud bangs made me jump. A red rose sprouted on the white shirt and Avon jerked sharply, then toppled backwards. I could tell straight away that he was dead, because I'd never seen him look that relaxed before, not even when he was asleep.

After that I thought I could go and find a drink at last but wouldn't you know, next minute Deva was grabbing my arm and steering me over to Avon's body. His face didn't look peaceful, not like Blake's face. It just looked empty. There'd been this complicated, irritating, dangerous, bloody magnificent collection of things, called Kerr Avon, and now all of that was gone. **Bang.** Over.

I said, 'Give me a fucking drink, you bastards' and passed out.

3.

When things like that happen, they happen in a rush. Then you spend the rest of your life sorting it all out.

For the next few weeks I kept remembering this fairy tale my aunt used to tell us, about Oliver and the Confucians. Oliver went travelling round in his supersonic spaceship, way out past the edge of the galaxy. First he visited this planet full of giants, where he got into trouble because he was so much smaller than them. Then, after he got away from the giants, his supercomputer told him the next planet was full of tiny, thumb-sized people, which made us kids think he'd be all right this time. Only when Oliver landed, he couldn't see anyone there, so he had a nap on the grass - and he woke up with hundreds of tiny ropes tied onto his hair and his fingers and his toes and his dick, pinning him down so tight that he couldn't move a muscle.

So that was the moral of the story. The tiny Confucians were even bigger trouble than the giants.

The first time I started obsessing about Oliver and the Confucians, I was convinced I was heading straight into my second childhood. But after a while I worked out what I was on about. Compared to the likes of me, Blake and Avon were giants, right? So what had stopped Blake from coming back to the Liberator after the Andromedan invasion? Why had Avon gone and jumped to the conclusion that Blake had betrayed him? Why did that throw Blake so badly that he forgot how to handle Avon? And, most important of all, if the two of them fancied each other (and by now it seemed pretty fucking clear that they had), why hadn't they bloody well done something about it, while they were on Liberator together?

Yeah, well, I knew the answer to that last question. Actually, I could think of half a dozen answers. Jenna going on about 'real men', as opposed to 'pathetic queers', with the implication that a real man would be making a pass at her, not arguing with Avon. Gan telling us how they dealt with queers on the farming planet where he grew up: apparently, castration was too good for them. Cally looking superior and explaining that they didn't have those kinds of perversions on Auron. (Well, of course they don't. The galaxy's packed with refugee Auronar queers.)

And the Scorpio crew was nearly as bad. Tarrant went to a boys' school, then the mostly-male Space Academy, so queer jokes were second nature to him. Dayna would look puzzled every time the jokes started, like she couldn't believe anyone was really that weird, and Soolin would look blasˇ and tell another bizarre story about the things Dorian got up to, which made it sound as if being queer was the same as being into piercing, power plays and paedophilia: or worse. Blake probably copped the same sort of stuff at the Gauda Prime base. I mean, even freedom fighters grow up listening to the Feds' anti-queer propaganda. Judging from what I've heard, Servalan may've been the only person in the entire galaxy who took Avon fancying Blake for granted - and that wouldn't've helped much, seeing how she used it against him.

**'You were my greatest ally, Avon. You made it easy, because you wanted to believe ...'**

As for me, I was the worst of the lot. That crack I made, just before we left Xenon Base, was fairly mild by my standards. I collected queer jokes from every bar I drank in, to top Tarrant's jokes, and every chance I got, I'd be slapping someone's wrist and going, 'Ooh, better watch out or people'll think you're queer.' All right, I only did it to make sure no one ever accused me of fancying Avon. But it wouldn't've helped much, either.

No wonder Blake and Avon never got it together, what with all those hundreds of tiny ropes tying them down.

After I'd worked this out, I lay on my bunk for a week, muttering, 'My fault, Tarrant's fault, Jenna's fault, Dayna's fault, my fault', like some kids' counting rhyme. It was pretty depressing. I don't like feeling responsible. So, in the end, I pulled myself together and set off on a tour of the local bars.

There were a lot of bars on Gauda Prime, back when the penal code was suspended. The main drinkers were miners and bounty hunters - in other words, big burly men with muscles like billiard balls and hair-trigger tempers. It should've been easy to get into a brawl with half a dozen of them but would you believe, they tended to take one look at me and steer clear. Even when I managed to pick a fight, bloody Deva always happened to come wandering in, right at that moment. He'd say something quiet and unassuming to the miner or the bounty hunter and next minute I'd be back where I started, leaning on the bar, pouring drink after drink down my throat and feeling just as rotten as ever.

It took me longer than it should've to see the obvious solution ... but fuck it, if Deva wouldn't let me pick a fight with anyone else, that gave me a copper-plated excuse to pick a fight with him, didn't it? Next time he wandered into one of my bars, looking unassuming, I went marching straight up to him.

'Stop following me round,' I snarled. 'Don't you have anything better to do?'

'Not at the moment, Restal,' he said, staring at me like a sad puppy. 'Let me buy you a drink and I'll explain.'

It wasn't the drink or even him calling me Restal that did it. Fact is, that sad-puppy look really got to me. I followed him across to a fairly quiet table in a very dark corner, where he sat me down and stared at me for a while longer.

'It's a risk but I'll try it,' he said finally, talking to himself. 'Restal, I've been thinking about you a lot lately and this is how I see it. Blake and Avon loved each other. I loved Blake and you loved Avon. Logically speaking, I believe that means the two of us might have a chance together.'

It was the daftest idea I'd ever heard in my life. Me as a stand-in for Roj Blake? That was almost as funny as the idea of Deva standing in for Kerr Avon. I couldn't help laughing, only somehow I went on too long. Tears started chasing each other down my face, so fast that I must've looked like a human waterfall.

'You stupid bastard,' I choked out. 'No one can take their place. They were giants. We're just little people, you and me.'

'You may be right,' Deva said, looking even sadder. 'But they're gone and we're still here.'

I hated him for that, because it was true. I'd had this feeling that, if I could only put the blame in the right place, it'd somehow bring Blake and Avon back again. But it wouldn't. They were - **bang** - gone, for good or evil.

Over.

Finished.

Done for.

Never, no more.

I tried to tell the stupid bastard how much I hated him but it wasn't as convincing as it might've been, because of the way I kept hanging onto his hand. He said, 'Oh, Vila' and whipped out a nice clean hanky, to mop me up, but the minute he shifted closer, we started kissing instead.

Then three big hairy miners lumbered over and said they weren't having queers in their bar, so I got the fight I'd been looking for, after all. Except that, when it came to the point, I found I didn't want to let them kill me. Actually, I wanted to kill them. I didn't get quite that far, of course, but I did a lot of damage and so did my unassuming mate Deva. Last thing I remember from that evening, he was breaking a bottle over a miner's head and screaming, 'This one's for Blake!' He felt terrible about it next morning but l managed to talk him out of going back to apologise.

It's a bit awkward, having sex with someone for the first time when you're both covered in cuts and bruises. But it can work all right, if you set your mind to it.

4.

'Better a live dog than a dead lion,' my aunt used to say. I agree with most of her sayings but I'm not so sure about that one. I mean, Avon's dead. Blake's dead. That lion cub Dayna's dead. On the other hand, Soolin's working for the Terra Nostra, shooting shadowheads at a hundred credits a pop, and I know Tarrant's alive because we see him on the vidscreen every now and then, standing behind Commissioner Sleer in his pretty uniform, showing off his perfectly toned body and his perfectly empty eyes.

Think about it. Which of them would you rather be?

As for me - well, I suppose you could say I'm happy. Funny thing, I fell for Blake's computer tech and I ended up with Blake's computer tech, just not the same one. Mind you, that little joke shows you how, even though I'm still with Deva, I still think about Avon. It'd be kind of embarrassing, if I didn't sometimes catch this faraway look in Deva's eyes that tells me he's still thinking about Blake.

When that happens, we tiptoe round the place for a while, giving each other a bit of space, making sure we don't accidentally drop a mention about the past. We concentrate on our jobs at Deva's training school for budding revolutionaries - revolutionaries being Gauda Prime's main export, now we've kicked the Feds off the planet. (Deva runs the school and teaches theory and computer hacking. I teach lock-picking, pickpocketing and survival tactics.)

Then we come home and cook ourselves a nice meal, open a nice bottle of wine and sit by the fire, being kind to each other. 'Every dog has its day,' my auntie used to tell us kids and she was right about that. Deva and I are the living proof of it.

But we miss our dead lions.

Tarrant grinned even more toothily and said, 'Well, that just goes to show you can't trust everything you hear, hanging round queer bars.'

Dayna sighed dramatically. 'You're both disgusting,' she announced.

She shoved me away and Soolin caught me in mid-stumble. 'If you think that's disgusting,' she drawled, 'it's lucky you weren't around when Dorian brought ten boy contortionists back to Xenon for a week.'

It was scary to think of someone being that understanding, even after they'd had forty eight hours to mull it over, although I found out later that Deva can't help trying to make sense of things.

I couldn't imagine being that understanding, even if I'd had forty eight hours to mull it over, but I found out later that Deva can't help trying to make sense of things.


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