Party PeaceBy Sally M
Page 1 of 2
It was a lovely day. |
Avon sat alone at what had been the steps of Residence One and now were broken steps to nowhere but a pile of rubble. An ugly pile of rubble - it would be decades, maybe centuries, before this burned-out shell gained a patina of beauty, if ever.
From where he sat, he could see down into the valley, towards where the unofficial VE-Day celebrations were being held. Unofficial, of course, because the President and the remnants of his High Council had not yet surrendered, along with what was left of the Eighth Fleet and the skeletal, desertion-thinned ranks of the troops on Earth. Also unofficial, he reminded himself ironically, because most of the people celebrating were still officially on one or another - or several - wanted lists, and there were still bounties posted on far too many.
They shouldn't have come. He knew that, they all knew that, but none had refused the chance. It had been a long time...
And now he could hear the music - haunting, deep-souled music from Earth's past, Deva's choice, he would wager - and see the holographic display, crystals of pure rainbowed light falling like confetti over the canal bank. Vila and Dayna would be somewhere down there, among the lights. Jenna would be with them, despite still being officially dead: Deva and Blake's other people as well. But not Soolin, who had died on Gauda Prime only slightly less of a mystery than she had been from the start; nor Tarrant, who had survived that debacle, only to die a hero's death, in a muddy trench on a small planet near Helotrix.
"Nor Cally," a cold, harsh voice, his own voice from before, whispered in his mind. "Nor Gan..."
He wouldn't be alone if you just left him, Avon.
Strange, he hadn't thought of the big man for years.
"And am not about to now," he murmured. But at least Gan's memory didn't sting the way some others did.
Dayna had come to see him the day before Tarrant had left.
"You could at least see him," she had said, still angry, defensive - uncomfortable with him, as she always was now. "We were a team, Avon."
"Well, somewhere within the meaning of the word," he had murmured, without lifting his head from the schematics for Orac Mark 2. "If Tarrant chooses to come here, I can hardly help but see him."
"He won't, you know that."
"Yes, I know that." Looking up, with a diamond-hard smile. "Discomposure makes cowards of us all. Ask Vila."
"It is not. Del Tarrant is uncomfortable with what happened, true. His discomfort, however predictable, is neither my fault nor my problem, Dayna. Nor, I'm afraid," blandly polite, impeccable cruel, "is yours." He'd held back the greater cruelty: while wishing the young man neither evil nor much good, he had been oddly glad to hear that Tarrant would leave. That voice had echoed in his nightmares too often, far too often for him to hear it waking, without flinching.
He sold us all, Avon. Even you.
Odd that Tarrant's voice echoed in his dreams, and the others didn't; only Tarrant's and his own. Odd and, he knew, very unfair. So he had held back the cruelty of telling Dayna.
"He can come here, if he wishes. You can't deny it would be easier for him than for me." She couldn't deny it, he knew, and it had angered her more.
Tarrant had gone without coming to see him: hardly surprising. And had died a hero. And Dayna never spoke of it again.
Avon sighed and settled back further against the cool stone. Somewhere down below was a cellar in which he'd left part of his soul, but just at this minute, it didn't hurt to think of it. That pain had burned out in the greater agony a year later, as had all lesser pains. Even Vila's anger...
It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.
A faint, distant ripple of amusement touched his tired mind as he looked back down into the valley. Vila didn't drink any more, couldn't drink any more - his injuries on Gauda Prime had damaged his liver too badly for that, and complain as he would, Vila would always do what survival dictated. He'd found a place in the new group, anyway, with people older and kinder than the Scorpio crew; his skills were in demand, few bullied or sneered at the Delta who had been with Blake at the beginning, and Blake's oh-so-staid friend Deva had been willing to spend his free time researching endless non-alcoholic potions from all over the galaxy in the quest to find the perfect fake.
Now if only the fighting would finally stop, Vila might almost - nearly - sort of - be happy. Sometimes. Avon knew that they would never be friends again, and regretted it in his more honest moments, but they got by on what was left. Deva was a better friend for Vila, anyway.
"I just wanted Avon to pay for what he did," he'd heard one day, when they thought he was asleep.
"But he didn't do it, Vila," Jenna, as calm and pragmatic as she always was now. "You're still alive."
"So all right, for what he nearly did. Point is, he had to pay." A silence. "And he did, so I guess I'm not allowed to be mad at him any more." Another silence. "P'rhaps it's for the best, it was getting a little hard to always remember I was mad at him."
Jenna had surprised Avon, first by being alive at all - "It's a long story, Avon, and a boring one. I'll tell you one night when you can't sleep," - and then by her lack of anger or censure. He had shot the man they both loved, and she should have hated him for it, but from the first moment he'd woken and met her cool gaze, they had been the same uneasy not-quite-friends as before. He still didn't know why, but didn't ask; he didn't think it was pity, the pity that made Dayna so uncomfortable and Vila so forgiving, but he wasn't going to risk finding out.
"Regret," he'd said to her, as he had once to Cally, "is a part of being alive." Recalling it, he was mildly surprised that he had said it at all.
Maybe lack of sleep in those earlier weeks...
"But how large a part?" she'd asked. "How do you calculate it now, Avon?"
"Oh, I won't." That was going too far.
"Then how to calculate when it's paid in full?"
Could you kill someone? Face to face I mean. She hadn't forgotten asking him that, any more than he had forgotten his evasive answer.
"That," with a caught breath, "is unlikely to be in this lifetime, Jenna. You know that."
"Yes," with a smile as clean and unaffected as his best, but not malicious, "and I'm glad."
He closed his eyes. Thinking of Gan, Tarrant, Vila, Jenna, all of it had brought him back full circle. It always did, no matter which memory forced its way up. Only one did not, one who was outside the circle; the one who had vanished with the first signs of her final fall, and whose final fate he had never known, or in truth much cared...
"Hello, Avon," a voice he hadn't heard in over a year. He opened his eyes and gazed up into great, hollowed, amber eyes. "Servalan." "You don't sound surprised. Again."
"Oh, I can be," he smiled, "if you wish. But since your Pacification Program fell into a welter of de-pacified bloodshed, you haven't had many places left to hide."
A flash of anger touched her face, and was gone. "A setback."
Avon's voice hardened into mockery. "That's a diplomatic way to put it, isn't it?" He gazed at her for a deliberately overlong moment, at the plain clothing, the overcropped hair, the gaunt face with lines around the mouth and eyes, visible in the sunlight. As he'd noticed the last time they met, a year ago, she was beginning to age.
It had been the longest year of his life, and he'd thought of her as little as Gan.
"I'd be interested on your definition of a disaster - Commissioner."
"Would you?" Very deliberate, very careful, then a stiletto-sharp thrust. "What about Gauda Prime?"
His smile vanished. He forced down the quick, cold shudder; with difficulty, he did not look away, did not break the gaze. Servalan must have seen something, however, and her cyanide-sweet smile grew as she lifted a small but obviously, seriously deadly weapon and aimed it at his head, then his heart.
He said nothing, gazing at it with almost insulting calm. Showing fear before this woman was unthinkable, even if he felt it. And at this moment, he wasn't sure he did. You're not the sacrificial type... but that had been then, an eon away from now.
"So the rumours don't entirely lie. What did happen on Gauda Prime, Avon?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, I think not. Curiosity might kill even such a magnificent cat as you... at least, we can hope."
"It was Blake," Servalan said, and the name dripped like poison in her mouth. "It was always Blake, wasn't it? The rumours say that you killed him, Avon. Did you find your wall at the end?"
"One of them, perhaps."
"Did you shoot him?"
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