Small ConsolationsBy Rebecca Ann Brothers
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My brother is dead. Tarrant kept repeating those words to himself, but somehow they weren't quite sinking in, even though he had virtually been with Deeta when he died, felt his brother's life fade. But there was still a sense of unreality about it, and he wasn't sure how to cope.
Well, carry on with a stiff upper lip...just as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred today.
It hadn't been too hard, on the flight deck and afterwards, to maintain the requisite good form: going after Vinnie had given him something to focus on, to keep the reaction at bay. But now, with Deeta avenged, it was harder to stand back from everything, so he'd beat a retreat to his cabin with a bottle of something from Vila's private stock. Not that he felt any better now, just a little numbed. That was the only way he knew to deal with this kind of pain.
There was bitter irony, too, in the knowledge that in another time it might have been Deeta he would have turned to for some comfort, some way of making sense of it all. This was going to take some getting used to, being alone now. It was some time since he had spent any amount of time with Deeta, but he'd always felt a certain reassurance in knowing that, somewhere, he did have a big brother should he ever need him.
Who've I got now? was his morose thought as he topped off his glass.
"You were supposed to be on watch over an hour ago."
Oh hell. Just who he didn't need to deal with right now. "Screw the watch, Avon. I'm not taking it."
"I didn't really think you would," said Avon, silhouetted in the doorway.
Then why was he here? Tarrant wondered, watching as Avon came on into the room. He felt a sort of detached curiosity as Avon made his way over, not about to guess what Avon might want; he had enough trouble figuring him out when he was stone cold sober. All these months he'd been trying to get some handle on what made Kerr Avon tick, and the conclusion he'd arrived at was that some puzzles weren't meant to be cracked.
"It won't help, you know," Avon said, indicating the bottle.
Tarrant's mouth skewed with a parody of his usual smile. "Are you speaking from personal experience?"
"More than you've had."
Tarrant could believe that. Avon finding out about his Anna had only been the latest in a series of blows...and had Avon been doing what he was now, when the computer tech had locked himself away in his cabin after killing his Anna? It hadn't seemed like good form to intrude, and then Tarrant hadn't thought Avon was the sort to drown his sorrows; he hadn't thought anyone could matter that much to Avon. Odd thought, wasn't it, that it was Avon who had been particularly supportive when Deeta died...almost as if he really did understand.
"Guess we're all walking wounded on this ship," he said, reaching for the bottle again. "Bloody pitiful, the lot of us."
Avon withheld the bottle. "Misery loves company, so I've heard."
Tarrant gave him a toothy grin. "No wonder we're all such bosom chums, then. Give me the bottle, Avon."
"No. You've had enough."
"I'll decide when I've had enough." The hurt was still there, an all-pervasive ache just beneath the surface. "What do you care anyway?"
"You're in no condition to pilot this ship, should your services be required."
"Of, of course. It's the ship, not me: Tarrant doesn't count. Tarrant just flies the damned ship and does as he's told and doesn't get any ideas that anybody gives a damn about him! Avon can throw a tantrum any damned time he pleases and Tarrant just better be around to pick up the pieces!" He stopped for air, glaring at Avon--who hadn't so much as twitched an eyebrow. Tarrant looked away, down at his glass, and drained the contents in one swallow--then flung the glass at Avon, who deftly dodged it. "Dammit, Avon, my brother died today! Doesn't that count for anything?"
"Not a hell of a lot."
It was a pity he'd had so much to drink, Tarrant was thinking as he tried to get to his feet, because he would like, very much, to punch Avon's lights out right about now. "Why don't you just go to hell?"
A wry smile quirked Avon's mouth. "Oh, I reside there on a regular basis, Tarrant. That's why I know this sort of self-indulgence is pointless."
Tarrant shook his head in amazement. "Avon, you are a real piece of work. You'll understand if I fail to give a damn what you think?" It was sheer idiocy to expect Avon to understand, to have any sympathy. The only reason he'd feigned concern before was because of the chance to get one up on Servalan. "Just let me be." He sank back into his chair, resting his head in his hands. He did not want to talk about this with anyone, to share it, least of all with this bastard.
"That doesn't help either," Avon said, and if Tarrant didn't know better he'd have sworn there was a faint note of understanding in Avon's voice--or, maybe, regret. What was he saying now? "...and no matter how much anger, regret and grief you summon up, Tarrant, nothing changes."
"And if it did, I'd be on the wrong ship?" Tarrant looked up again, wishing he had the knack of reading Avon. Once in a very great while he got the sense that he was getting close to some understanding of him, only to have it slip away. Sometimes he even thought it was a shame it turned out that way, as things might little easier around here if the two of them weren't forever rubbing each other the wrong way.
A faint smile touched Avon's mouth. "You'd be in the wrong universe altogether."
"Do you really believe that? That none of us has a chance?" Surely no one, even Avon, could be that much of a pessimist.
"What evidence do you have to the contrary?" Avon replied, making it sound rhetorical.
But Tarrant chose to reply all the same. "I've lost my brother today," he said slowly, "and it hurt--it will take some time to get used to that...some part of me will never get used to it. The...the pain will always be there...only not as bad." I hope, he added to himself, and wondered why he was wasting his breath saying this to Avon. He glanced at him, to see how it was going over, but the other man's expression was as shuttered as ever. "We're still alive, Avon; that has to count for something."
"And I suppose you're going to add that, for example, the only way someone like Servalan can truly triumph is by destroying our hope," Avon said, a slightly mocking undertone in his voice.
Tarrant hadn't actually thought of it in those terms, but, "Yes. However foolish the concept may be to you, Avon, there is something in that. Isn't that sort of what Blake was doing, maybe the only real thing he was able to achieve: to give people hope?" Why did he keep blathering on like this? He could see it wasn't making the slightest impression on Avon--and only making him look a greater fool in all likelihood.
"Is that the sort of drivel your brother was prone to spouting?"
"I...Yes, I suppose it was, in a way." Deeta'd certainly had scant use for the Federation. "And it isn't drivel."
"No, of course it isn't," Avon said, in that smugly dismissive way he had. "Well, by all means stay here and wallow in simple-minded cliches; it's unlikely you'll be needed on the flight deck for quite some time." And without another word, Avon left, leaving Tarrant to wonder just what that had been all about.
Tarrant scowled at the door, shook his head. Deciphering the workings of Avon's mind was more than he felt up to at the moment. Now, where was the bottle? Tarrant looked around for it, futilely; Avon'd taken it. Damn him, what business was it of Avon's if he chose to drank himself into a comfortably numb stupor? It wasn't as if Avon had been overflowing with words of comfort and encouragement. He'd almost been deliberately provoking, in fact, making him think of all the...of all the things he needed to remember in order to start picking up the pieces.
Tarrant sat up a little straighter, letting that idea work itself out. Had that been Avon's intent? It would be a little hard to believe, wouldn't it, if Avon simply came along and offered his shoulder to cry on. Avon couldn't reach out to people like that, nor was it in Tarrant's nature to accept it. But this sort of roundabout approach achieved the same end, and didn't embarrass anybody.
Tarrant's smile was genuine now, though not his usual megawatt grin. He'd keep Avon's little secret for him, and maybe return the favor someday.
It was snowing again. At least that meant no patrols for awhile, Avon was thinking as he stood at the cave mouth, watching the snow drift down. He hoped it would stop before dawn, as he was anxious to get away from here; the rebels were just as eager for him to stay. Only because they didn't know what had really happened, of course; only because they were desperate for a unifying leader, and mistakenly thought they had one in him. They thought he was the natural successor to Blake.
A bitter smile twisted his lips, eyes suddenly blurred to the weather, as he considered the irony of that.
Closing his eyes and drawing a few calming breaths, fists unclenching, he felt the dawning rage/misery drain. It was gradually becoming easier to cope, but that pit was ever yawning before him. Sometimes its lure was so very appealing, too; fall into it, beyond anyone's reach to haul him back, and it would all finally be over.
What was the point of going on? Had there ever been one?
Memory supplied him with an answer: a man overflowing with life and a sense of purpose, who had sought to encompass him in that purpose, fire him with the same sense of zeal and sense of destiny. Who had died never knowing that he had at least succeeded in that.
"Avon?" A hand touched his shoulder and he started, turning to meet--Tarrant. The younger man looked at him with what seemed genuine concern, though of course Avon didn't believe it. "Are all you all right?"
Avon's look implied that was one of the dumber questions he'd heard lately.
Tarrant sighed. "Well, I've got all the gear we'll need. Now, if the weather will just cooperate."
Avon looked past him, to the pile of anoraks and camping equipment. They were going to cut out for Vanash, one of the trader cities on Gauda Prime, 20 kilometers south of these caverns. They had worked out that, allowing for the weather and Tarrant's bad leg, it would take them four to five days to get there, and had planned accordingly. The rebels had contacts there, and one of them had turned out to be an old mate of Tarrant's from his mercenary days. The man had arranged with Tarrant to get them off GP, no questions asked--and no blabbing about it to the rebels.
Something would probably go wrong, Avon supposed, but he couldn't stand staying here much longer. The memories alone were bad enough, but having Blake's rabble coming to look for him for their next move, trying to make him their new leader--he couldn't take that, not again. He'd never sought that responsibility, and certainly would not take it now. He'd killed their hero...and given them a martyr to rally more support.
But he didn't think they'd thank him for it, should they ever find out the truth.
"What do you suppose they'll do when they find out we've gone?" Tarrant said, sitting down opposite him and stretching his long legs out.
"Who cares?" Avon didn't look at him.
"We're the only ones left who know what happened."
As if he didn't know that, Avon thought. Sole survivors...nine people, three computers, two ships--and he and Tarrant were all that was left. Travis was long gone, and Orac destroyed before Servalan could get her claws on it...and her, he'd finally got the bitch. When the rebels were rescuing him and Tarrant from her they had come face to face again, and she'd dared him to kill her--put the muzzle of his gun right to her breast, so certain of her power over him. There had been such an astonished look in her lovely predator's eyes when he'd pulled the trigger. She'd watched him kill Blake; how could she have thought he'd hesitate over her?
"You could stay," Avon told Tarrant.
"No, I couldn't. My hands are hardly clean."
"You didn't know him."
"But I knew you."
"So did he. It didn't keep him alive." Nor Vila. Avon had always supposed he'd miss the little thief--his fool--but the reality of not having Vila around had been harder to grasp than he'd anticipated. Of course, he'd lost Vila long before they ever came to Gauda Prime.
He sighed, shifted position, wondering what twisted whim of fate had left him with this tiresome puppy. And why did Tarrant keep hauling him back from that pit?
"What are your plans when we get to Vanash?"
Tarrant blinked at him, blue eyes guileless. "Zimmer will provide us transport off this hellhole. I thought I told you that."
Avon smiled, the kind that didn't reach his eyes. "You did. It's the us and the we that I find hard to believe."
Tarrant shook his head. "You're a sad case, Avon."
Well, that was certainly true enough.
"And what is," his mouth quirked, "our destination to be?"
"Tyndor, I thought."
"Did you?" Well, a pirate planet was as good a place as any, he supposed, and felt a twinge of nostalgia as he remembered the way Jenna would ice him when he used that term--they were Free Trader bases, she would point out, never making it clear how there was a difference. "Going back to your old line of work then?"
"Why not? I did rather well at it."
"So you've said."
"You don't believe me?"
"Well now, it did strike me that you were a little too keen on convincing me." And why Tarrant should want to impress him was anybody's guess.
Tarrant produced one of his toothy grins. "Then you're in for a few surprises."
"Oh, good. We know how much I like surprises."
Tarrant shook his head, stood up and went to the cave mouth. The snow had stopped, and there was a pinkish glow to the east. He strapped on his backpack, held Avon's out to him. "Do we go?"
"To be smugglers, mercenaries?"
"It's what we're good at."
Speak for yourself, said Avon's expression. For him, a little boredom wouldn't come amiss. The revolution was over, so far as he was concerned; it had fallen at his feet with Blake. "I still have debts, Tarrant." For what might have been.
"Sometimes little wars accomplish more than big ones."
Meaning Blake had overreached his grasp? Well, maybe; but if anyone could have brought it off, Blake would have been the one.
Avon took the backpack, put it on. "Why are you doing this?"
"I owe you. For Blake, and Deeta."
Avon nodded. "You'll regret it."
Tarrant grinned. "I expect so."
Avon shook his head, wondering how he'd never twigged to it before that Tarrant was a masochist. "Let's go," he said, and they stepped out into a world of white, heading for a new beginning.
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