Careless WhispersBy S. Lewis
Page 3 of 31
Chapter IIIOnce he was safely within the solitude of his rooms again, Avon undressed quickly, donning his sleeping trousers. Not that he had any real hope of sleeping any time soon.
He sat in the dark and did nothing.
Or tried not to think, at any rate. But that proved to be more difficult than it might have been.
The question kept echoing in his mind: What was the truth about Gauda Prime?
His memories of that dreadful day had never really been more than a jumble of confused impressions. A flashing red light. The sounds of shouting and gunfire. The smell of sweat-drenched fear. The taste of hot blood.
Avon lowered his head to the table, resting on his folded arms. A screaming began inside his mind.
Like the screaming he'd heard that day.
On Gauda Prime.
The screams of the dead and the dying and the mad.
The world was ending.
He smiled. So: this was how it ended.
More people came running into the room, but they were not Federation troops. Guns were going off all around Avon.
Then one thought gripped him, blocking out everything else, even the fear. Blake. He had to protect Blake. Simply standing over the fallen hero was
not enough. Avon dropped to the floor, his body landing directly on top of Blake's unmoving one. His arms moved to shelter Blake's head as the battle raged on above and around them.
Foolishly, he whispered to Blake. "Don't worry," he said. "Don't worry, you can trust me, don't worry." With one hand, he patted Blake gently, feeling warm, sticky blood. "You can trust me."
Finally, after an eternity, the battle seemed to end. A heavy silence filled the room. Avon didn't look up, didn't move, didn't stop crooning nonsense into Blake's ear or patting his chest.
Someone pulled him up at last, forcing him to relinquish his bloody embrace of Blake. He moaned a protest, his sticky hands reaching out desperately for the one piece of reality left to him: Blake's dead body.
They didn't seem aware of his protest. Or maybe nobody cared. And why should they have? He was the madman who murdered their hero.
As they dragged him from the room, he kept staring back at what he had done.
The place they took him to was not actually a cell, but simply an ordinary room with a narrow cot and a toilet. They left him alone there. Occasionally, someone came in to check on him or to deliver food, which he never ate, and which would be taken away again in due course. Avon had no idea whether or not the room was guarded.
It didn't matter.
Avon mourned without even really understanding what it was he had lost.
The screaming woke him up every time he tried to sleep and it took him a long time to realize that the screams were only in his own head.
With his meal one day came some news from a kindly attendant (keeper?). "Your crew is alive," she said. "They're all recovering."
He looked at her, nodding his thanks. But the mourning and the screams went on.
Then, days or perhaps weeks later, they came and took him out of the room. Maybe they were going to kill him now. Avon felt a great sense of peace come over him at the thought. This was as it should be. This was as he wanted it to be. A life for a life.
Not that it was a fair exchange, even so. But it was all he had to offer.
It was the only penance he could make.
And, in the name of all the gods, he wanted to die!
But they only took him a short way down the hall before stopping. A door opened and two hands pushed him into the room.
There was a bed in the middle of room. And sitting up in that bed was Roj Blake. Alive.
Avon felt his knees go out from under him. Someone caught him, kept him from falling, and then helped him walk to the bed. He gripped the railing. Blake was pale and battered-looking, a wrecked knight errant, but his eyes were open.
Avon tried to speak, but could not.
Blake's hand crept along the mattress toward him, but Avon gasped and pulled away. "Avon," Blake whispered.
A von just shook his head.
"I only now...found out you thought I was dead." It was obviously a very hard thing for Blake to have to speak. "I'm so sorry."
At that, Avon began to laugh.
No one else in the room seemed to think that laughter was an appropriate response to the situation.
But Avon couldn't help himself. For long moments, his shrill laughter was the only sound in the room. He finally managed to catch his breath and find his speaking voice. He leaned over the bed, putting his face very close to Blake's and spoke. "I killed you, you stupid son of a bitch, and you're apologizing to me?"
"It's all right," Blake said. "It's all right."
Avon stayed where he was, staring into Blake's face. He could feel the other man's breath, warm and slightly damp against his skin. He inhaled, trying to suck the breath into his own lungs. "Blake," he said.
Blake smiled at him.
They tried then to take him out of the room. But he grabbed Blake's hand and held on.
"He will stay here," Blake said and even now he commanded everyone in his presence.
They did not approve, clearly, but someone eventually brought a chaise into the room, and Avon slept there. When the screams in his head woke him now, he would hear Blake's voice, offering comfort and forgiveness. Each time, the words would lull him into sleep again.
Finally, the screaming stopped. The next night, Avon moved back into his own room, although he imagined that Blake was sorry to see him go. But that, he knew, was simply his own fantasy.
So each day they were together and each night they slept apart.
They had never spoken of Gauda Prime to one another.
Not until tonight.
Avon finally got up from the chair and went to the window. Most of the lights were off now at the Presidential mansion. The party must have ended. The
only light still on was shining from the third floor.
As he watched, some movement or patch of shadow against the light caught Avon's eye. He frowned. After a moment, he went to a drawer and took out a carved wooden box. Inside the elaborate box there rested a pair of antique binoculars. The glasses had been a gift to Blake, from some politician or other trying to curry favor.
Shortly after receiving them, Blake presented the binoculars to Avon.
"Currying favor?" he said with a nasty smile.
Blake shrugged. "Well, that would be pointless in this instance, wouldn't it?"
"Ahh, but the Fearless Leader loves lost causes."
"Perhaps it would be best if I learned when to give up," Blake said wearily.
Avon snorted. "You never give up."
Blake just looked at him in silence.
Avon put the memory behind him and went back to the window. After a moment, he had the focus adjusted. Sure enough, he had seen someone. Blake himself was standing on the balcony outside of his bedroom. The guards must love that, Avon thought.
Blake just stood there, leaning against the railing and staring at ... well, it occurred to Avon that Blake was staring right at him. Or at his general location,
It made him nervous.
He sharpened the focus even further and aimed the glasses at Blake's face.
The President did not look like a happy man. In fact, the sadness visible on his face was so naked, so powerful, that it hit Avon with the force of a physical blow.
"Blake?" he whispered against the window.
Then he lowered the glasses sharply. He was neither responsible for nor affected by whatever moods His Regal Highness chose to get himself into.
After a moment, Avon lifted the binoculars again.
But the balcony was empty now. A few seconds later, the light went out in the bedroom.
Avon returned the binoculars to their case, wishing devoutly that he had never taken them out in the first place. He did not want to have the image of Blake's sadness burned into his heart, and he knew that it was.
It joined there the image of Blake lying on the floor in that room on Gauda Prime. And that of the face of the ravaged knight in the bed, the knight with the gentle voice.
Avon stayed at the window for a very long time.
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