Avon at the WindowBy Nova
Page 1 of 5
Avon, by the window.|
A rectangle of reinforced perspex, opening onto a view of anonymous white buildings. The white walls of a hospital room folded around him, window guarded by a grid of bars. He gripped the cold iron, so tightly that his knuckles threatened to slice through skin.
"Regret is a part of life," he told the empty air. "But try not to make it too large a part."
Then he closed his eyes and forced himself to remember. First, a young runaway wandering dazed and desperate through the slums of Old Earth, approached by a kind, friendly man who offered him a place to stay. Assessing Mat Wyld's cathouse with a detachment that shocked its cynical owner, deciding that there were worse ways to survive than by sleeping with men like his father. Men who at least paid for the privilege and gave him extravagant compliments, even a kind of affection, rebuilding his shattered confidence and turning him into The Cat. The star attraction of Mat Wyld's establishment who maintained his detachment, avoided the lure of Shadow and other drugs and saved enough over the next five years to take himself off to the university and find his own freedom.
No, I do not regret the experience. I chose that method of survival because it was preferable to surviving the rigours of my family. It would be hypocritical to recast myself as a victim now.
A brisk nod. A sudden spasm in the hands that clutched the bars. Another memory. The London, Anna dead, himself a prisoner. His freedom in ruins and then, unexpectedly, Blake and the Liberator offering a new avenue of escape. Fighting against his attraction to Blake, able to resist while Blake was strong but abandoning the fight when Blake was almost destroyed by Gan's death. A few months of wild happiness, until a Terra Nostra henchman recognised The Cat and Servalan made sure Blake learned Avon's history in the most humiliating circumstances possible. After which Blake pushed on to Star One, only speaking to Avon when he could in no way avoid it, and then vanished into the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
Nothing to regret there, either. Blake's problem, not mine. Since he was unable to accept my past, better that I should find it out sooner, rather than later. I did not need an outraged puritan as a lover, having already proved conclusively that I do not need anybody at all.
A swift shudder of denial. Strong blunt fingers strained at the bars, their nails turning white under the pressure. He gritted his teeth and summoned up a third memory. A - go on, say it - a madman pursuing Blake across the galaxy, inventing apparently pragmatic reasons for touching down on every planet where the rebel was rumoured to have been sighted. Caught in a tightening spiral of betrayal. Starting with Tynus, who used him and died for it; continuing with Anna, who was alive after all and treacherous and - once he'd discovered that - dead again; and afterwards he'd almost killed Vila, who had not betrayed him. And then finally he found Blake and proceeded to shoot him, because by that time he saw betrayal everywhere.
Oh, Blake, you broke me in the end, just as I always knew you would. A lifetime of avoiding regret and now I can feel nothing else. Impossible not to regret what I have become.
What you have made me.
Still impossible, even after yesterday's discovery. Servalan appearing in his hospital room, resplendent in a white gown flecked with crystals, gazing down at him with wry distaste. "I'm disappointed in you, Avon," she had purred. "It's almost tempting to let this self-destructiveness run its course. But I need your expertise and the designs for the Liberator's technology, so I suppose I'll have to give you a reason for living," and she led him down long white corridors to a white door with a sliding panel at eye level, through which Avon looked and saw Blake. A rush of sensation, painful as blood returning to a numb limb, and then, just as Servalan predicted, he had decided to live a while longer.
His hands released the bars and lifted to smooth his hair. He smiled at his blurred reflection in the perspex, practising long-forgotten skills. In ten minutes time the orderly would return: Otto, the burly fool who for the last month had exercised the torn muscles of his gun-arm and injected him with vitamin supplements and washed his anorexic body with a fearful yearning delicacy.
When Otto came, The Cat would be waiting for him.
Avon, by the window.
A small sliding window in a white locked door. He peered through the gap and watched Blake toss on the narrow bed, rub the cast around his midriff, suck impatiently at his knuckles. A quick sigh, prompted by that familiar gesture, and then Avon unhitched Otto's hands from his waist and pointed silently to the lock.
As the door slid open, he faced Blake for the first time in two years. If you exclude our brief violent confrontation on Gauda Prime and that, at present, is precisely what I must do. Blake looked up and focussed directly on Otto's eager hands.
"Still playing the whore, Avon?" he rasped, mouth dragging down to match the scar that twisted his eye socket.
Avon nodded. "Astute as ever, Blake. Not very kind, perhaps, but then you were never as kind as you believed yourself to be. Do you wish to continue trading insults or would you prefer to escape?"
"Get me out of here, if that's what you've come for," Blake growled and turned his face away.
They loaded him into the chair that the orderly had commandeered. Otto wound a bandage round Blake's scalp and eyes, to conceal the identifying curls and scar, and they wheeled him down a succession of corridors, two anonymous grey-uniformed attendants going about their business with unobtrusive certainty. Avon tensed as they shunted the chair through the front doors but they reached the medivan without incident and hoisted the chair inside. The engine kicked and the van sped away.
Fifteen minutes of twists and turns before it stopped abruptly. "Where are we?" Blake demanded, speaking for the first time since they had left the hospital.
Avon touched his arm briefly. "No questions," he warned. "The driver might recognise your voice."
He kept his head averted while he positioned the chair on the hydraulic platform. Otto chatted easily to the driver, who appeared to have noticed nothing out of the ordinary. "We'll stay here to settle this fellow in," the orderly announced, waving the medivan off, but instead of entering the apartment complex, they steered the chair around the side of the building, where Otto's groundcar was waiting. He settled Blake on the back seat and turned to kiss Avon long and hard.
"I could get into trouble for this, if anyone works out how your mate escaped," he said, breathing fast. "But you're worth it."
Half an hour later Avon was standing in Otto's tiny flat, watching the orderly unwrap Blake's bandages. Hazel eyes blinked at the light and fixed Avon with a hostile stare.
"There you go," Otto said cheerily, patting Blake on the back. "You got a good friend in this one. He wouldn't come away with me unless I rescued you from the Federation's clutches as well. Say thank you," and when Blake continued to stare inimically, "All right, I'll thank him for you."
He reached Avon in a single stride, pinning him to the wall with a hungry kiss while his huge hand groped for Avon's genitals. Over the orderly's shoulder Avon watched Blake's mouth convulse in disgust, so he allowed the kiss to continue for a minute longer before he raised his hand, caressed Otto's bull neck and pinched the jugular nerve. As Otto slumped to the floor, Avon swept past the wheelchair to raid cupboards and find a dressing gown cord and a supple leather belt. He trussed the orderly securely and checked the benches, breath hissing out in relief as his hand closed on a thick wad of hundred credit notes.
"Good," he said crisply. "The fool managed to obey orders and access my account. Now to disguise you, Blake."
He picked up the grey hair dye, half-hidden behind the stack of notes, and returned to the wheelchair. Blake glanced up with a frown. "Fool?" he repeated. "Yes, I suppose he was a fool for trusting you."
Avon smiled brilliantly. "Then you must learn to be a fool as well," he said and began to colour Blake's hair.
While the dye sank in, he searched the flat and unearthed the costumes that Otto had bought in preparation. Two sets of Mahometic garments, a patriarch's robes for Blake and a woman's robes for Blake's companion: himself, of course, though the orderly had believed that Blake's sister would be joining them. The black veils concealed everything but a pair of dark long-lashed eyes. He washed Blake's hair in the small handbasin and dressed him with impersonal efficiency, then knelt by the orderly's body to check his pulse.
"Will you kill him?" Blake asked from the chair.
"I think not," Avon said, standing. "There has been enough killing already, wouldn't you agree?"
As their eyes met, the angry stare wavered. So Blake is not ready to acknowledge Gauda Prime: not yet. Avon dialled the number of a shuttlecab firm and rolled the wheelchair out to the lift.
Next step, the spaceport and freedom, of a sort.
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