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Fellow Feeling

By Sally M
Page 2 of 5

     So here I am waiting for my turn at Blake's nightmares. As if I don't have enough of my own, thank you. As if none of them remember that I've been there, I've been through something like this on my own, I don't want to be made to remember what it was like.

     I don't want to do this.

     And he doesn't want me to.

     That hurts, a bit. Maybe it's because he's an Alpha, they're all three Alphas, and he doesn't want lowly Deltas crawling around his mind, but I didn't think he was like that.

     In fact I know he isn't, because he let me help him before. I've seen his nightmares. Hell, I always knew first when they were coming. Like he saw mine. Because we've both been there, haven't we? The place where they come from.

     I could always see them, y'know, even when he couldn't feel them yet. When he was going to have one of those nights. White nights. That's what he called them the first time he saw me through, and it fits.

     Funny really. Well, funny without being funny. None of the rest of them had a clue, even though I could see it clear as day, starting behind his eyes, that awful, dull, emptiness that the bastards left when they mucked around with his brain. They all watch him so much, Avon, Jenna, Cally... everyone we meet really, they all circle around him like a star. And maybe they understand him better than I do, but they never knew what to look for, so they never saw it when the mindwipe got even with him.

     So it was always me, the fifth grade ignorant, who went and dug out the strongest drink I'd liberated from our last planetfall and took it down to his cabin and left it there. And later I went back and checked if he'd drunk enough to drown the emptiness, and the pain that was just as bad whether he'd remembered a whole lot of important stuff, like all the names and faces of his followers from before, or a whole lot of nothing, like the colour of his mother's eyes.

     When it was my turn, when none of the jokes drowned out the nothingness, Blake would bring one of those bottles he pretended to believe I didn't know about to my cabin. After a while, he didn't seem to get the nightmares so much, or so bad. We didn't talk about it much, it was just one of those things, parting gift from the Federation's best.

     No wonder he hates the bastards.

     Then... well, I thought they'd stopped for him, some time after my last one. Now I'm not so sure. Maybe I just stopped looking.

     From somewhere down the corridor, I hear someone cry out. I think it's Avon. It's a long, shuddering cry of pain, choking away like a child in tears. Cally's voice murmurs over the top, and Orac is going on and on even more than usual. Then Avon cries out again. Not a sound from Blake. Yet.

     I think I'm going to be sick. I think I'm going to need a drink. I drink the swampwater.

     Then I really am sick.

*** *** ***

     Avon comes in - damn, he looks awful.

     "How'd it go?" I'm not sure why I'm even asking, I am sure I don't want to know.

     He flicks a glance at me, his eyes nearly black in a dead-white face. "Blake's under sedation again," he says flatly. "I've orders from Cally to drink some of that," with a gesture to the now-tepid swampwater, "then try and rest."

     "And?"

     "I agreed to try."

     "So what was it like?"

     "Don't tell me you are that eager to find out, Vila?"

     "No, but..." Avon, I want to ask, why'd you volunteer anyway? But I don't.

     "It has to be done," he says, almost as if he'd heard the question, "whether we want to do it or not. He is not safe until it is done."

     "You think he's still dangerous, do you?'

     "That - is not what I said."

     "Do you?"

     "Not to us. Well," with a faint, almost fragile flicker of his usual spite, "no more than we are accustomed to."

     "So what happens after this?"

     "After..?" He stares down at me, dark, bruised eyes almost puzzled for a moment, then they clear as he manages to think past the therapy. "Ah... Del 10 again, I imagine. I also imagine we will be able to force Blake to agree to rest there, if briefly."

     "Yeah? When was the last time we managed to make him do anything he didn't want to?"

     "At least some of us are prepared to try," he snarls, and I remember just how Blake talked me into locking them all in the rest room. That hurts, because I'd been trying to forget that he lied to me and I swallowed it.

     "I said I'm sorry," I mumble. "But you and Jenna didn't do much better - he said 'give the mummy a bracelet', you gave the mummy a bracelet. And you knew he wasn't thinking straight."

     Avon doesn't like to be reminded that he always does what Blake wants, even when it's stupid. He gives me one of his lesser glares, probably because it's hard to sneer when you feel like death barely warmed over then left to cool again, and walks out. I'm left to wish I hadn't thought about him looking like death. Don't want to think about death at the moment. Not when I'm already thinking about the mindwipe.

     Of course, now I'm thinking I don't want to think about them, I think about them even more. Think about one of those white nights, and sitting with Blake and telling him I wouldn't die for him.

     "I never thought you would, Vila." I can almost hear him, though it was over a year ago. "But why tell me this now?"

     "Because I'm scared."

     "You hide it well." Almost - almost amusement. It was one of my white nights actually, not his. After he told us about Travis and his first session with the butchers.

     Funny that. It should have been him, but even when he was telling us, I could feel the prickles of remembered awfulness and knew I was going to have a bad one. He saw it, and sent me off straight after we got Cally back. And he came in later, sat down and talked a little - not too much, just enough.

     "Yeah, I try to. It's just..." I remember looking up at him, seeing the memory-of-no-memory still there at the back of his eyes. "It's the nothingness, isn't it, Blake? That's what scares me. It's not dark, it's not light. It's not even empty. It's just nothing."

     "I remember," Blake said quietly. "I remember nothing, Vila. Very well."

     "Yeah." They only did him over once, they did me three times, but they did him far worse. We both knew that. "Each time it's worse than the last. And I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but - but a friend of mine told me that he'd heard someone say that they'd heard that that nothing is what being dead is like."

     "Vila -"

     "Probably not. Probably nothing like it, but I don't know, and neither does anyone else, do they?"

     "Vila -"

     "But if it is, if it is, that's what scares me, Blake. If that's what being dead is like, and it felt like what being dead might be like, if you can say it felt like anything at all, and I suppose you have to say it felt like something, otherwise we wouldn't remember what it felt like, but if that's being dead, I've been there and I never never never want to go back. Not for anything, not for anyone, I'd rather..."

     I stopped, trying to think of something awful enough that I'd rather...

     "Vila," he leaned forward, and poured me another drink, "I'd rather... as well. But you do have a choice."

     "And you don't?"

     "It never feels like I have one."

     "That's what Avon says, you know. Give the entire galaxy freedom of choice, he says, mainly by giving away your own. Doesn't make sense to me, but as long as you know what you're doing."

     The memory fades in a drift of words that sting.

     I remember nothing, Vila...

     It never feels like I have one...

     You know what you're doing...

     Avon and Jenna and Cally had known that he didn't know what he was doing when he went down to Asteroid PK One Something Something instead of taking us to Del 10. And I guess I did too.

     So yes, I suppose this whole mess is sort of, a little bit, possibly my fault as well. Maybe.

     I was lucky there. When Cally asked me - back at the asteroid, with Blake running off like a zombie with a death wish, and Avon and Jenna charging down like the cavalry wishing death on anyone else who got in their way... anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Cally asked me why I'd let him go, and I got out of answering her. Lucky that, because I don't really want to tell the others what he said. I know Avon thinks I can't keep a thing to myself - and maybe I can't, usually - but I don't really think it'd do any of us any good for them to hear what he said about them. After all, s'clear now that he didn't mean it, isn't it?

     I can keep a secret. If Cally asks again, I can lie, too.

     Stupid story, really. I wish I hadn't believed it.

     I wish he hadn't lied to me.

     I wish I could have that drink. There's more of Cally's was-hot-is-now-cold stuff, but when it's cold it tastes like something died in the swamp the water comes from.

*** *** ***


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