He was lying on his back, curled awkwardly around exposed machinery, his gut aching where it had been pressed to hot metal for what felt like hours but was probably more like minutes, his face twisted and peppered with tiny burns from the sparks. Avon barely noticed them anymore, when they didn't directly affect what he was trying to accomplish. In fact, he might possibly have been asleep for some of them, dead and beyond reach for glorious minutes at a time, in some position almost exactly like this one, only earlier, much earlier in this running battle of theirs. No time for sleep now, days in, drained, depleted and damaged as they were. It's why he's here, buried in his ship's innards, mind and fingers flying, twisting, drawing every last scrap of fight Liberator has left. Zen couldn't help him now. Zen had far more pressing concerns. Like maintaining life support and manouverability with multiple hull fractures and who knew how many Andromedan and Federation ships warring for supremacy with them caught so masterfully in the middle.
Only Blake, he thought. Only Blake could have brought them to this.
Sparks bit and snarled viciously at his fingers, and he snapped out an exhausted curse. But his hands remained buried in the depths of the engines, because if it was a choice between saving them and saving his life, Avon was perfectly happy to wish his hands goodbye. Not that they'd last long without them, mind, but it was the principle of the thing. A survivalist should strive to the very end, no matter how hopeless.
Liberator was on its last legs. They all knew it. Only Zen's implacable programming, Jenna's admittedly rather superb piloting skills, and his own relentless efforts were keeping them together at all. They're limping towards a planet, any planet, any haven. Before life support failed utterly. Before some bastard got a lucky shot in. Before Jenna's exhaustion prompted her to dodge left instead of right. Before the fog floating insistently behind his own eyes caused him to wake up inside a cascade failure. Before Vila's unfailing badgering, whining and forced cheer failed to annoy him sufficiently for revival. Before Blake finally curled up on the flightdeck and surrendered to bloodloss, despite Cally's best efforts.
Before they died, in short. But damned, damned if he would let that happen.
He felt Liberator move around him, ducking into a shuddering roll to the left as Jenna compensated for the fact that the force wall had become unsustainable fourteen hours ago. He felt the shudder as something winged their uppermost engine, heard the stream of foul, piratical profanity their pilot let fly in response. Liberator screamed around him, coolant hissing above his head as he frantically squirmed his way across the room, to the panel flashing alarmingly at the latest damage, listening with half an ear as Zen calmly explained why self-repair was unfortunately not an option right now. He ignored it, hands flying without conscious direction, caution abandoned for the kind of reckless surety he had so often accused Blake of using to get them all killed.
Ah well. At least he would die vindicated. He could feel his face stretching at the thought, baring his teeth in something caught perilously between a grin and grimace. But the black humour of the situation couldn't be denied, not by anyone with an ounce of self-awareness, and of all the people in the galaxy, he was the only one he trusted not to lie to him.
Well. Maybe Vila, if they were talking life and death. Money, not a chance, but your life? That, Vila could be trusted with.
Such a shame he couldn't say the same of their valiant leader.
And then, before he had time to fully process it, Liberator righted itself around him, the sounds over the communicator from the flightdeck descended from cacophony to mere din, and he realised belatedly that it is over. The dogfight, at least. They had ... survived, apparently. Again. And a second later, while he lay stunned and blank beneath the singed metal of alien technology, he heard Vila's voice, calling him, frantic and concerned until he managed to pull himself together enough to answer.
"Vila," he rasped. "Kindly ask our illustrious pilot if, the next time she wants to do a vertical roll in the middle of complex repairs, she might deign to warn people?"
He tried very hard not to hear the obvious relief in the thief's strained voice as he suggested that relaying such a message might not, in fact, be good for his continuing health, or to feel the ridiculous surge of ... warmth ... in his chest as he slipped easily into the to-and-fro of insults between them, with occasional acidic interjections from a tired and extraordinarily cranky Jenna, soothing murmurs from Cally, and the quiet snort from Blake.
He lay there, in the belly of this ship of fools, in the midst of this bright and anarchic dream, populated by relentlessly, terminally optimistic idiots, battered and burned and barely alive, listening to the strained, comforting chatter of people he might, just, consider true friends, and somewhere inside him the laughter bubbled, rich and black and self-amused, and somewhere deeper still, where only terminal exhaustion and the very real knowledge of impending death can reach, he felt a sense of ... peace. Home. Family.
And at the thought, the eternal cynic behind his eyes couldn't help but flash a blind, diamond grin.
One of these days the irony really was going to kill him. He just knew it.