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No Greater Gift

By Kathy Hintze
Page 3 of 3

Materializing on board, Cally checked Vila. There was a faint pulse. "He's still alive," she murmured, as Avon carefully picked the bleeding thief up from the floor and followed Cally to the Medical Unit. Dayna looked at Tarrant who shrugged.

"Your guess is as good as mine," he replied to her unspoken question. "Check with Zen. See if there's any Federation ships in the area."

"All right," she answered with worried eyes, then headed for the flight deck while Tarrant made his way to the Medical Unit.

In the Medical Unit, Cally cut Vila's bloody tunic from his body while Avon conferred with the med computer on his condition.

"Subject has suffered extreme blood loss, tissue damage and trauma," advised the computer using Zen's voice. "Immediate stability is required."

With Tarrant watching the monitor, they cleaned the wound. Bits of cloth had been driven deep into Vila's body by the force of the lance and had to be located and removed. Cartilage and muscle had also been torn and severed and had to be sewn back together. Vila remained unconscious during the operation, making their work a great deal easier. Cally had just finished setting up a plasma unit when Dayna came in.

"Zen reports some type of fire in the Center, Avon," she announced. "It's engulfing the whole complex."

Tarrant smiled. "Looks like we didn't lose after all."

Avon looked up and frowned. "No, we didn't."

"Then there will be no evidence left to connect us with the robbery," commented Dayna.

"Ah, but there will be an investigation," corrected Avon.

"And?" inquired Tarrant.

"And it will show that a rather large amount of currency was transferred to a certain party's private account just before the fire," explained the computer expert.

"Servalan?" asked Tarrant with an innocent look on his face.

Avon smiled. "I think it's time to leave, Tarrant. No doubt the alarm has been given and Federation ships are on their way. Dayna, I want you to have Orac monitor all Federation frequencies." She nodded and they left for the flight deck.

Avon turned back to Cally as she finished dressing the wound. "What are his chances, Cally?"

She looked up and shook her head. "I don't know. He's lost a great deal of blood. What happened to him?"

Avon hesitated before answering. "I was careless," he admitted, his eyes dark with emotion. "He opened the vault and I started in. If Vila hadn't pushed me back...."

"It would have been you?"

He nodded. "Vila said something about hidden traps activated by trip beams. The whole place had a feel about it which was disturbing. I've never seen anything like it." Silence fell between them, then Avon looked down at his hands and clothing as if just aware of the blood on them. "I'd better get cleaned up."

Cally saw the concern in his eyes as he left the room but chose not to comment on it. Returning her attention to Vila, she gently brushed the hair from his forehead. His skin felt cool to the touch, his breathing, shallow. The wound in itself was serious, but not fatal. It was the blood he'd lost and the shock to his system, there lay the danger. Drawing up a chair, she sat down and took Vila's hand in her own, trying to will strength into his trembling body.

#

Four hours passed, the door opened and Avon entered. He'd washed and changed clothes but obviously had not rested. "How is he?" he asked.

"The same," she replied, looking up. "You have not slept?" He shook his head. "Avon, you cannot help him this way. It is up to Vila now."

Avon spoke with his eyes resting on Vila. "I'll be on the flight deck."

"But Tarrant can...." She stopped. Avon needed to keep his mind occupied until Vila's condition was determined one way or the other. "If there is a change, I will contact you," she acknowledged. Avon nodded, then left the room.

Walking through the corridor, Vila's words echoed in his mind. No doubt shock had clouded his reasoning for him to say such things. Whatever reasoning Vila was capable of, that is. And yet, the more Avon thought about it, the more he was forced to face the truth. He liked Vila. And had since the pair of them had swindled that casino, maybe even before. He was irritating, irrational and troublesome most of the time, and yet, Avon found his company preferable to Tarrant's or even Dayna's on occasion. But to find out that Vila felt the same towards him was startling.

"Looks like we left just in time, Avon," reported Dayna as he walked down the steps. "Scanners indicate there's at least eight Federation ships converging on the Center."

"That should shake up the banking system somewhat," remarked Tarrant with a smile. Then, seeing Avon's expressionless face, he added. "How's Vila?"

"No change," advised Avon.

"What happened down there, Avon?" asked Dayna with concern.

"A case of carelessness," came the quiet reply.

"And I thought Vila was the best!" joked Tarrant.

Avon glared at him before speaking. "No one said it was Vila's fault."

Tarrant wisely decided to change the subject. "So, what's next on the agenda?"

Avon ignored the question and turned to Dayna. "Has Orac picked up any unusual transmissions?"

"Nothing," replied Dayna. "As far as I can tell, the fire's being blamed on a malfunctioning service drone which somehow got into the vault."

"Then the plan may go better than I expected," mused Avon, walking over to his seat.

"What now?" asked Tarrant, moving down from the pilot's position.

"We find a nice quiet place to rest, I hope," suggested Dayna. "I've had enough excitement for a while."

"A quiet place, yes," confirmed Avon, facing Zen's flickering lights. "But one from which we can watch Servalan's moves. Zen, course deviation to Zeiman III. Speed--standard by four."

+Confirmed,+ acknowledged the computer.

Turning to his companions, he added in a quiet voice, "Why don't you two get some sleep? I'll take the watch."

Both of them were startled. "Avon, it's you who needs the rest," exclaimed Dayna.

"Your concern has been noted, Dayna. Now, leave me."

"Look, Avon," began Tarrant, then stopped. From the expression on his face, it was obvious Avon wanted to be alone. "Come along, Dayna."

"But Tarrant!"

"No buts, Dayna," he insisted. "We've been relieved. Anyway, you promised to show me that new gun you've designed."

Dayna's worried eyes lingered on Avon. "It's not quite ready yet," she told Tarrant.

"Then let's see what you've got done," he urged, taking her arm.

Avon watched the pair depart, welcoming the silence and solitude. Settling into his seat, he tried to concentrate on what Servalan's reaction would be when the High Council found over one hundred billion credits in her personal account. But his thoughts kept turning to Vila and what he had said in the vault. Avon tried to convince himself Vila was delirious, the pain had affected his mind, but it just didn't work. Vila had meant what he said and no amount of rationalizing could erase that.

#

In the Medical Unit, Vila's vital signs improved a bit and Cally was hopeful for the first time. His condition was far from certain but at least some progress had been made.

The wall comm signalled and the Auron moved to answer it. "Cally, how is he?"

"There's been a slight improvement, Avon." Her tone was non-committal. "But it's still too early to tell."

"I see."

Cally heard weariness and something else in his voice. "Avon, you must not blame yourself. What happened to Vila was not your fault."

"Perhaps," he returned, watching the blackness of space slip by on the forward viewer.

"Will you please get some rest? Zen will alert us if there's any trouble."

He smiled wanly. "In a little while, Cally." Switching off the costs, he leaned back and closed his eyes. The image of Vila impaled by the lance would not leave his mind.

#

Six hours after leaving Mephisto, Vila Restal opened blurry eyes only to close them again as the glaring light overhead struck. Squinting until he grew accustomed to his surroundings, Vila saw Cally asleep on the adjacent med couch. Obviously he was on board the Liberator.

Vila felt very, very sleepy and his shoulder ached, but the pain was nowhere near what it had been. The last thing he remembered was...was what? His mind drew a blank. The security device striking and an image of Avon hovering over him came to mind, but beyond that, nothing. He reached up to rub his shoulder.

The movement woke Cally who intercepted Vila's hand. "Don't, Vila," she scolded, her face lined with fatigue and worry. "You'll damage the new skin. How do you feel?"

"I ache. That is, my shoulder aches something fierce," he complained. He looked around and added worriedly, "Where's Avon? Is he all right?"

"He's fine," she advised, smiling at the relief in his eyes. "As for your shoulder, some of the muscle tissue was torn up along with a good portion of skin. It will be tender for a while but there was no permanent damage."

"I'm glad to hear that," he sighed, wincing a bit as he moved his arm. "I'm afraid I really botched it this time."

"In what way, Vila?"

"I was so sure of myself. Master thief, no lock I couldn't open, and I forgot a simple security device," he said angrily.

"That's not the way Avon tells it," she explained. "He said it was his fault."

Vila's face brightened. "He did?"

"Yes."

"He wasn't delirious or anything when he said it, was he?" Avon rarely admitted making mistakes and never where it involved Vila.

"No, I do not believe so," she replied, puzzled at the expression on Vila's face.

The wall comm beckoned. "Cally?" Avon's voice sounded very tired. "Has there been any change?"

Cally smiled and walked over to the comm. "He's regained consciousness, Avon. I think he'll be fine."

"Thought you were rid of me, didn't you?" called Vila.

Vila could not see the expression of relief which crossed Avon's face nor his smile at Vila's remark. "What makes you think I care one way or the other?" Avon snapped back.

Vila looked dismayed. "Well, if I were gone, who would you fight with?"

Avon replied without hesitation, "Tarrant, although his arguments would probably make a good deal more sense than yours. Out."

Cally could not help but laugh at Vila's rueful expression. "Sleep is what you need now, Vila. So, go to sleep."

"You sound just like Avon, Cally," he grimaced.

"Sleep, or do you wish...." She held up a sedative.

"No, no. I don't need that." I already feel like a pin cushion, he thought to himself.

She smiled and dimmed the light. "Good night."

"Good night, Cally," he mumbled and closed his eyes.

#

Voices penetrated his sleep, rousing Vila to consciousness. "He'll be all right, Avon," whispered Cally. "How many times do I have to tell you? His shoulder was torn up a bit, but it will heal. Somehow, that mechanism managed to miss all the vital organs."

"Yes," remarked Avon. "Vila said someone in his youth wasn't so fortunate."

Damn, thought Vila to himself. When did I mention him? Vila tried to remember, but his mind refused to work.

Cally's voice drew his attention. "You haven't slept in sixteen hours. You're exhausted, Avon. Will you get some rest now?" Avon smiled at her, then nodded. "I will in a minute. Go along now." Cally lingered for a moment, then left the room. Silently, Avon approached the couch and looked down at Vila. In a quiet voice, he murmured, "You weren't wrong, Vila, I do like you."

Vila was so startled he nearly opened his eyes and had to fight to keep himself still. Only after he heard the door close, did he dare open them. Wonder crossed his face, then he smiled. "I'm glad, Avon, because I like you, too." With a sigh, he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.


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