The RoadBy Deirdre Hughes
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|When Scorpio returned to Xenon Base from Malodaar, Vila immediately and silently disembarked, and went to his quarters, and locked the door. Avon said nothing, but he looked at each of his remaining crew in turn, and smiled an odd sort of smile, and left also.
Tarrant stared down at the flight controls and began post-flight procedures.
"Something's wrong," Dayna said worriedly. She looked to Soolin, who merely looked back, her gaze more aloof than usual.
"You've known him longer than I," she said reasonably, though she had a terrible suspicion of what had happened. She did not want to discuss it with Dayna or Tarrant, however.
"Can't you guess?" said Tarrant acidly, not looking up. "Did you see that smile, Dayna?"
"It can't have been that bad," she replied positively, then got up, Soolin following her. "I'll see you at dinner, Tarrant."
He sighed quietly, with resignation. "All right."
Soolin stopped in the hallway and watched Dayna disappear, then slowly headed in the opposite direction. Vila's mobile face had been unusually still. And she had been watching Vila, earlier...when he and Avon had debarked from the shuttle.
Avon she knew was not as 'right' as he might be these days, but she had come to trust Vila to behave in a certain way. Vila complained, Vila was the Devil's Advocate to Avon, Vila made jokes when they had lost yet again; he provided a measure of security in the endless struggle, and Soolin had come to value that. So she did not go to Avon for her answers; she went to Vila, and knocked on his door twice.
Not surprisingly, there was no answer, so she called his name. "Vila? Let me in."
"Go away, Soolin."
"What are you going to do, shoot me?"
She could hear the wrongness in his voice, and stood silent a moment, wondering what to say; but then the door slid open. "All right, what do you want?" Vila said in a flat voice, his eyes focused on the wall behind her.
Soolin stepped past him and stood just inside the door. "I want to know what happened."
"I bet you do," Vila said in the same dull voice.
"I have a suspicion already, but I would like to hear it from you."
"Oh, really. Did Avon send you here?"
Soolin noticed that he briefly faltered before saying Avon's name. "No, he didn't. This was my idea."
Long pause. "You can go away now," Vila said, and sat on the edge of his bed, which was made up with prison-barrack neatness. "Go on. Try and get Avon to talk, why don't you." Not once did his voice vary, did the familiar lilt enliven his speech.
This may be a mistake, Soolin thought. She stood before him, almost closer than she felt comfortable with, and rested one slender hand on his shoulder. "I want you to tell me. You aren't yourself, and I would like to help."
As though she wasn't even there, he slowly curled into himself and covered his face with his hands. "Help. You can't, Soolin. We've all lost, we just haven't realized it yet."
She couldn't say anything to that. As it had once or twice before, Vila's foresight chilled her to the bone, and she suddenly felt as small as he so often tried to make himself. She, the strong one...her voice came out oddly, "He did. He tried to kill you, didn't he? I'm sorry."
"I--know he didn't mean it. Except he did--"
"It wasn't Avon I was sorry about."
Vila slowly lifted his head and looked at her for a long time. She held her face absolutely still, her eyes earnest. "Thanks," he said, into the strange hush that had fallen. "I think you'd better go."
With sudden certainty Soolin replied, "No, I don't think so. I think you need me to stay."
"I'm all right now. As all right as I'll ever be."
"You've never been this insistent about being fine before."
"That's because--" He stopped and looked downward. "Because I'm lying." He sighed deeply.
Soolin moved a fraction closer and slipped her arms around his shoulders, holding him against her. After a split second of resistance Vila's arms came around her waist and clung. After a time she lifted one hand to lightly stroke the back of his neck.
Gradually his arms relaxed and he pulled away. "Soolin--"
"Quiet." She sat beside him and pulled him into her arms, discovering the breadth of his shoulders with surprise. "I might need this too, you know. If you don't mind, I'd like to stay the night."
Vila sighed again. "I'm not really in the mood for that. And it won't save us, anyway. I was never one to...."
"That wasn't what I meant. Even if you just want--"
Vila laughed, though only briefly. "A temporary comfort is better than none?" His face sobered. "Can't you feel it? We're all going to end up dead." More quietly, he said, "I should have died with Cally."
Another long pause. "Do you have a shirt I can borrow tonight? I don't want to walk back to my room."
"There," he said, indicating the clothes cabinet. She rummaged until she found something with short sleeves. It was a black shirt she had never seen him wear, made of a silky fabric; when she turned to show it to Vila, however, he was gone. The sound of running water through the door of the bath told her where he had gone.
When he came out, dressed in sleeping trousers, she realized that perhaps tonight would not help, but maybe, someday, there would be a brief moment for them...no matter how futile.
The two of them curled into the narrow bed, and clung together. As Soolin stroked her companion's back with long strokes, she heard him mumble, half asleep, "It's the end of the road at last."
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