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In the Company of Strangers

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There was that mental itch, an ominous and cold tickle that meant she was being followed, targeted. Not again. Whether it was based on subconscious cues from body language barely glimpsed, or something else, her sense of danger was always accurate. Mina angled towards the shop windows and stopped to stare into one as if she were interested in the clothes on display. There he was, reflected behind her: a broad-shouldered man with a hat. Mina moved slowly on, letting him get closer, then abruptly turned, passing to his right. He looked briefly startled, then put his hand into his jacket for a weapon he didn't manage to reach before Mina kicked his legs out from under him and dropped him hard on his back. "Oh, I'm so sorry! Are you all right?" she asked, crouching solicitously beside him with one hand on his shoulder and the other surreptitiously holding a needle-sharp point just behind his ear where it could easily slip between bones. She leaned closer. "Don't move," she said softly, "or that goes into your brain."

The man didn't roll his eyes in an attempt to look, as many would have, but kept them on hers.

"Why are you trying to kill me?" Mina demanded.

"You know why."    

"No. I don't. Why do you think I'm asking?"

"You might remember. You might betray us."

"And who is 'us'?"

"You know I can't say."

Mina sighed and moved the point aside, scraping it against his skin. "This will wear off in a few hours. Until then you will not be able to move or talk." She looked up at the bystanders beginning to gather curiously. "Step back and give him some air. Perhaps his airways are blocked, or he was hurt in the fall. I'll have to check." She rapidly undid the man's jacket and shirt, peeling them back to expose his chest. Nothing there. "I'll just put him in the recovery position in case he chokes," she explained, rolling him onto his side and pulling his clothes back. Ah, there it was, on the back of his neck: a tattoo of a winged horse. A Pegasus, just like hers. She sat back on her ankles. "I'm afraid I can't help much further. Is there a doctor here?"

"I can get one," someone said, and Mina nodded gratefully as she rose to her feet and slid into the crowd. She smiled slightly. At least she hadn't had to come up with an excuse to look at more inaccessible places for the tattoo.

 

The first time was on the ship from Noreviga: a middle-aged balding man who so kindly handed her a glass of wine at the second-class lunch buffet. Mina didn't know how she knew there was something wrong, but she was instantly on alert. "Please, you have it," she murmured, "I would rather have fruit juice."

There was a flash of anger in his eyes, immediately suppressed. "Then allow me to get you one."

"I am quite capable of getting my own." She tilted her head. "Or is this some sort of sexual advance?"

He grabbed her arm, a knife appearing in the other hand, and without thinking, Mina twisted away from him and bent forward, throwing him over her shoulder. He still managed to inflict a stinging cut through her tunic as he went over. Still on automatic, Mina leaped back and flung the table onto its side so that the tureens of hot stew and soup landed on her assailant who howled in pain.

Stunned, Mina stood there, shaking. How did I know how to do that? I didn't even have to think about it.

"What happened?" Wait staff hurried over, followed by curious passengers holding plates.

"She did it," one said. "I saw it all. She knocked him down and tipped the table over."

"He attacked me." Mina kept her voice calm. "I rather think you'll find he has a knife in his right hand, and it's not for eating with."

This in fact became quite obvious as the would-be killer attempted to throw it at her with a hand too slippery with boeuf bourguignon for accuracy. Two burly waiters hauled the man to his feet while he winced and grunted from the pain of his burns.

"I suggest you check his sleeves for further weapons," Mina said, and a third came forward to do so. That was when she saw the winged horse tattoo on his bared forearm. How odd. It must be coincidence. The man saw her eyes go to it and nodded at her. "Why?" Mina asked, puzzled. "Why did you attack me?"

"You might remember. And that's simply too dangerous for us."

Mina stepped back, leaning against a wall for support. Remember what? And was there some significance to their tattoos?

After Security had appeared and taken the man away to have his burns treated before being put in the brig, Mina sat down, her head in her hands, trying to figure it out.

 

Of course Mina wasn't her real name. When she had woken in a Noresk hospital bed, everything before that had been a blank. They explained that contractors on a small planet had found her under wreckage and had at first thought she was dead, but for her body temperature being higher than ambient. "Somehow you shut your major processes down," one of the doctors, Korrad, explained "It's probably a survival technique, and a good one given your extensive injuries. You've basically been running on minimum power for months while you recovered. I'd give anything to know how you did it."

"I'd give a lot to know who I am," she replied drily.

They said her memory might come back, but when after several days she still didn't know her name or where she'd come from, Korrad decided to call her Mina. Another of the doctors, Agnet, laughed and said that she had considered Peggy.

Korrad looked taken aback. "A bizarre name. Why?"

"The tattoo on her ankle. A Pegasus. Have a look, if you like."

Korrad's face had changed suddenly. "Oh, really?" He had promptly left the room, and Mina's release from hospital with the provision of enough money to get a ship off planet, preferably within a week, had happened with unseemly haste after that.

 

And now she realised that Korrad had been afraid. Mina leaned forward and rubbed her ankle thoughtfully, but the past remained hidden. In the end she had gone to search the ship's database for information on flying horse images, but all she found was a mythical beast from ancient Terran mythology.

 

They had given her a list of planets that ships leaving Norivega that week would call at, and she had picked Lindor. Korrad probably heaved a sigh of relief to see the last of her though Agnet wished her well as she left the hospital. At any rate, Lindor was a good choice, being independent, civilised, and relatively wealthy, which was probably why its name had appealed. A pity that the planet itself was not at all familiar, to Mina's slight disappointment.

So here she was, renting a series of small furnished apartments to throw anyone off her trail, and working various short-term jobs that required as little contact with the public as possible. So far they had included: stacking warehouse shelves; hand-wrapping and boxing gourmet chocolates; shelving returned book cubes at a library; quality-checking electronic components; and, currently, proof-reading advertisements which mostly meant removing stray apostrophes from plurals and adding missing ones.

Despite trying to stay ahead of them, assassins to date included: a woman driving a forklift with lethal intent (tattoo on her upper left thigh, seen as they got the prong out of her leg); a man who tried to drown her in a vat of molten milk chocolate (tattoo on his back, once they stripped him and wiped the chocolate away); a man who tried to cause a cascading domino collapse of library shelves while she was among them (tattoo on his wrist seen poking out of the pile of shelving and cubes); a woman with a high-voltage live cable (tattoo on her buttock showing through her burned clothes), and now this one. At least he had simply followed her while she was getting lunch. Perhaps they hadn't found her current job or apartment?

No, it was safest to move once again.

 

Night security at the Lindor National Museum was considerably more interesting than any of Mina's previous jobs as she could browse the exhibits during her regular patrols. There were items from the colonisation of Lindor like the dented remains of a landing pod, a reconstruction of a pioneer's hut, a diary written on paper sheets bound in leather; Mina wondered if her ancestors had also once gone to a new planet to build a new world. There were also artefacts from many places, including a sculpture (one assumed) from Epinarl, strangely disturbing in its twisted shape, but then it could be anything from that very alien culture and Mina liked imagining what else it might be: a comforting toy for young to clutch with their tentacles; a kitchen tool; a weapon; something used in a sports game perhaps. But her favourite section was the Ancient Earth Culture one with items from the millennia of Terra's history on loan from President Sarkoff's private collection: Greek pottery; Roman glass; weapons; a long carved boat with many oars; odd frilled clothing brown with age; assorted electrical devices, many of them of unknown function... Sudden mental snippet of a song, scratchy and wistful, gone like smoke. Well, why not? Some of them must have been used to play music.

Sarkoff's name itself sparked some sort of almost-memory, but then it naturally would; Lindor was a major planet, and the story of how he had been returned from exile to power by rebels was a famous one. Flash, quickly gone before she could pin it down, of a man with dark curly hair. Mina often wandered that section not just for the exhibits, but for the strange feeling that if she just tried harder, she could remember something important.

 

When her shift was over and the museum was open so that there were people going in and out, Mina would leave by a different exit each morning, walking near someone else as if with a companion, and then take a different route home via a café or bakery. She liked the brief interaction of buying breakfast and coffee, and enjoyed watching people going about their ordinary, peaceful lives. She doubted her life had been either, but perhaps one day it could be. I am a neutrino, she thought, passing through this city without a trace. And perhaps that was the best an ex-assassin (she guessed) could hope for.

Then one morning she felt someone watching her. She glanced in shop windows but no one stood out. Besides, the feeling wasn't the prickly run-or-fight one she got from being stalked by a predator. Two days later she felt the same watcher, and again three days after that.

Then one morning she walked into a café for a coffee and pain au chocolat, and he was there. And it was a "he", a man sitting at a corner table with a pot of tea and a slice of toast in front of him. Mina let her eyes slide over him as if he meant no more to her than anyone else in the café and sat in the opposite corner, by the window where she could see anyone coming in and also keep an eye on the man through a veil of her curly hair. He differed from the others in that there was a feeling of familiarity, but no flashes of memory, nothing about the man with the platinum blond hair and sad dark eyes. He knew her though, and she must have once known him. Was he one of the Pegasus people? Or someone else from her locked-away past?

Mina forced herself to eat her pain au chocolat slowly and seemingly with her usual pleasure, and leaned back, sipping her coffee. A quick glance showed him doing the same, while looking intently at her. She looked away, quickly finished her coffee, and got up to go.

He stood at the same time, and strode to the door to intercept her. "I apologise if I was staring. I think I know you."

Mina, ready to twitch her arm to drop a knife down into her hand, regarded him coolly. "I think you're wrong."

The man's lips twitched slightly. "Are you sure?"

"No. After all, one may forget many people who don't matter."

Instead of anger, there was sudden amusement in the dark eyes. "Very true. But perhaps you'll remember me on longer acquaintance. May I accompany you?"

Mina frowned. There still wasn't a sense of danger, at least nothing directed at her, but there was a brief image of a dark-haired man with a gun. "If you like. I'm going to the market to get groceries." She would probably be able to lose him there; she certainly wasn't going to lead him to her apartment.

"Ah." A slight hesitation. "Well, now. Perhaps I can carry them for you."

"I'm quite capable," Mina said, though on second thoughts it might be useful to give him something awkward like baguettes and a large layer cake while she carried an easily deployed weapon like a bag of potatoes. "May I ask where you think you know me from?"

"We were fellow crewmembers."

"That covers rather a lot. What sort of crew?" Her peripheral vision showed him still looking at her.

"A spaceship."

Being jolted, thrown about as plasma bolts hit. Mina swallowed, her mouth dry. "Oh? And was it called the Pegasus by any chance."

Surprisingly, he smiled. "Far from it." He paused. "You really don't remember?"

"It might help if you told me your name."

"You may call me Kambel Bryn."

With that careful qualification, it was probably not his name. "Or for that matter, mine," Mina said drily.

"No. Not here."

She stopped and faced him. "Why?"

"Too dangerous."

"Here on Lindor?"

"Everyone has a price."

Mina narrowed her eyes. There was still a sense that Bryn was dangerous, but not to her. At least at this point, and Mina did want to know about her past. "All right. Forget the market. We will go to my place."

The side of his mouth lifted. "What took you so long?"

 

The thread that Mina had stretched across the top of her door was still unbroken, she was relieved to see as she unlocked and opened it. It creaked loudly at about 45 degrees, a warning feature she had added. "After you," she said, stepping aside. Bryn just raised an eyebrow and walked in, halting in the middle of the room.

"Please have a seat. Coffee?" Mina asked, crossing to the espresso machine on the kitchen counter.

"I would prefer tea if you have it. I didn't manage to finish mine."

Mina went to the tea container and, her back to Bryn, withdrew a small gun from behind it and set it to stun. "Perhaps later, then." She turned. "In the meantime, strip."

The cool, detached expression on Bryn's face was replaced by a satisfyingly shocked one. "I beg your pardon!"

"Just do it. I want to see where your tattoo is."

"I don't have one," Bryn said, recovering his poise. "I have never even considered deliberately injuring myself in that way."

"Your choice. Either undress or I'll stun you and do it myself. That will be much more inconvenient for me."

Bryn looked faintly amused. "What are you expecting? A Pegasus by any chance?"

"Exactly."

"I can assure you I don't possess one, or any other kind of tattoo."

"All the same." Mina gestured with her gun.

Bryn slowly removed his grey leather jacket, grey tunic, his boots, and finally his black trousers, laying them neatly on the sofa.

"And your underpants. I've even discovered one on a buttock."

"That must make identification to one's fellow members somewhat problematic." Bryn turned his back and briefly provided proof that his skin was as unmarred there as a baby's.

Mina swallowed and tore her gaze away. "Is that what they're for? They never asked to see mine. And members of what? I've searched for data on flying horses and not found anything relevant to the present day."

"That," Bryn said, seating himself on the sofa and putting one ankle on the other knee as if wearing nothing but black silk underpants was entirely normal, "is because you didn't search for the Flying Cavalry'."

"I've never heard of them."

"Unsurprising. Do sit down. Although before you do, could I trouble you to put the heating on?"

Mina sighed. "All right. You can put your trousers and tunic on." She took the armchair opposite, resting the gun on her knee while she watched him dress. "And what are the Flying Cavalry?"

"The secret assassination arm of the Federation's Space Fleet."

"Oh!" Mina felt a cold chill run down her spine. "And that's what I'm part of?"

"No."

She almost slumped in relief. "I'm glad to hear it. I've never felt any affinity for the Federation or their politics or their barbaric grading system."

"I know."

"Do you?" Mina sat forward. "All right. Tell me who I really am."

"You are Cally, an Auronar freedom fighter," Bryn said gently. "And I am Kerr Avon."

"I… I'm Cally!" The gun fell from her fingers as the memories rushed in. She fell back, shivering as they overwhelmed her.

Avon rose and came over to her. "Are you all right?"

She tried to think, to get some clarity in the mental chaos. What had he just said? "I… I don't know." She stared up at him for a long, wondering moment. "You don't look like you," she said at last.

"Blake said you might go into shock." Avon bent and lifted her in his arms and carried her into her bedroom. As always, she had pulled the bedclothes down to air the bed while she was at work and now felt absurdly embarrassed, but Avon just said, "Ah, that makes it easier," and lay her gently down and covered her. "Do you have any brandy?"

Once again, Cally had to force herself to think though all the scenes crowding in, of Avon working while she quietly admired him, Avon's sarcasm and wit and the way the amusement just touched his eyes, Avon devastated by Anna's death, growing colder and more detached until he seemed unreachable. "No."

"Then a hot cocoa," Avon decided. "You used to like that."

He was rewarded with a faint smile. "I still do. Even when I didn't remember that I did."

 

Propped up in bed, Cally sipped her cocoa and gazed at Avon. "You look different."

Avon, sitting in a chair beside her, felt better than he had for a long time. He stirred. "Ah, you mean the hair? I dyed it to match the ID I'm travelling under. Kambel Bryn was my brother. Half-brother to be exact."

"Not just that. You look older."

"It's been over a year."

Cally closed her eyes. "You mentioned Blake. So you found him?"

"Yes." Avon looked down at his hands. "There was a misunderstanding. I shot him."

She sat upright, almost spilling her drink. "You… you shot him?"

"He was wearing an armoured vest and had a considerable amount of natural padding under that. There was bruising and some bleeding."

"That doesn't excuse shooting him!"

"In my defence, I thought he had betrayed me."

"Blake wouldn't do that!"

"Too many old friends did." Avon took a slow breath to calm the hoarseness in his voice "It was all too easy to believe."

"But what happened?"

"Blake was working as a bounty hunter and said it was a set up and that he was waiting for me. Of course I only realised later that he meant that it was a recruitment base in disguise. He had people dressed as troopers ready to go if the Federation ever found the base. A plan that worked surprisingly well, as it happens."

Cally nodded. "I remember him telling us about how it was important to be there first, like Travis was when he ambushed the Freedom Party."

"Yes."

"What about everyone else? Are they all right?"

"Ah. Let's see. Vila elected to stay with Blake for some unfathomable reason—"

"No, it's not," Cally said indignantly. "I understand why. Blake is inspiring and his cause is something worth fighting for, and living for."

"I meant unfathomable in Vila's case," Avon said drily. "Although he says he likes Blake. Dayna stayed too, and Tarrant although it took Blake some time to trust him because of his uncle. Of course there's Jenna who transports people and arms, and Soolin does some contract work for the rebels."

"Soolin?"

"She joined our crew after… after Terminal. You'll probably meet her one day." If she came back with him. Avon hesitated. "Do you remember anything about what happened there?"

"I do now. You taking us there looking for Blake, and the Liberator being destroyed, leaving us stranded."

"You don't remember the underground complex blowing up?"

Cally shook her head.

Avon's slight relief was still far outweighed by his guilt. "It's probably just as well."

"Couldn't you get to me?"

"Yes." He examined his palms again. "I thought you were dead," he said finally, his voice rough as he remembered falling to his knees, thinking, Oh Cally, if only everything had been different. But how could they have been after him losing Anna, after never having truly had her, after Cally losing her whole family and people and becoming more detached and separate? And he had stood up in the rubble and turned away and decided to shut off all the grief and caring so that it wouldn't hurt when he lost anyone else, as he knew he would. He looked up. "You had an obviously cracked skull, and your legs were crushed. I didn't know that the Auronar dealt with severe trauma by shutting down and sequestering memories. Blake had to tell me that." He looked up with a slight bitter smile. "Of course, he'd researched your people after you joined the crew. I was extremely remiss not to have."

Cally tilted her head. "I know people don't interest you as much as things, but surely all data is useful?"

Was that a smile in her eyes? Was that too much to hope for? "I blamed myself. And so did the others." Avon spread his hands. "So I went looking, and when I didn't find your body, I went to Noreviga, as I knew that only the Noresk had the technology to create such a convincing simulation of Blake."

"Of Blake? On Terminal?"

"Yes. He wasn't there." Avon rubbed his hands together briskly in an attempt to dismiss the weight of guilt. "So it was all for nothing."

Cally regarded him with an understanding sympathy he had to look away from. She finished her cocoa and set the mug aside. "Tarrant and I saw two of them, and they were fair, like Noresk. I also thought I saw a visual image structuriser, so they must have used that. But why did they even look for me?"

"Some of their people were missing so they searched for life signs. You were fortunate that it was the Noresk. Others might have given you artificial legs."

"Perhaps I could have had them weaponised, like Travis's arm."

That was definitely a smile. Avon cleared his throat. "They called you Mina, from 'Terminal'."

"Oh. I did wonder."

"A doctor called Agnet put me on your trail. You might like to know that your other doctor, the one who called in the Flying Cavalry, was killed shortly after you left. They don’t like loose ends, and they certainly didn't like him knowing about them."

"Which is why they came after me. Though surely they could have checked their records."

"It's a very secretive organisation. All agents operate alone."

"That makes sense." Cally slid down in the bed. "Thank you for finding me, Avon," she said softly.

"Then you—" Avon took a deep breath as it was difficult to say, "—forgive me?"

"Given that I'm alive and well, it seems churlish not to."

"Ah." Avon shut his eyes briefly, surprised at the warmth of his relief. "I doubt the others will so quickly, though they'll be very pleased to see you."

Cally frowned. "But you and Vila are friends, and Dayna looks up to you."

"Not the word I'd use, but, well, let's just say it has not been the case for a while." Avon had no wish to describe what happened over Malodar, but Cally deserved to know about the year after Terminal. "It wasn't easy for any of us. Everything we tried failed, and almost everywhere we went, there Servalan was."

"I thought she was dead!"

"Yes, well, cockroaches are hard to kill. She uses the name Commissioner Sleer. And—my fault again—our ship Scorpio had a tracer on it which wasn't found until Blake's computer tech looked over the wreckage." Avon shook his head as if to dislodge memories, and stood up. "But tell me, why do you have a Pegasus tattooed on your ankle?"

Cally smiled. "It's really just above it. They did it to babies born in the clone programme to tell them apart. Zelda had a unicorn." Her smile widened.

"What amuses you?"

"You in bare feet. I've never seen your feet."

"I have no idea why that should strike you when other… sights didn't get a response."

Cally rested her chin in her hand, her eyes twinkling. "Ah, but you didn't see my response. Your back was turned."

Avon hurriedly left before she saw the sudden pleasure on his face.

 

Cally was sleeping soundly—Avon had checked on her and stayed to watch her peaceful face for longer than was strictly necessary—so he quietly made himself a cup of tea and sat in the armchair. Cally's gun, he saw, was still on the floor. He picked it up and examined it, shaking his head: stun charges only. He considered getting his considerably more lethal weapon from his jacket, but remained sitting, enjoying the quiet and the fact that Cally was in the next room. He closed his eyes and let the gun fall into his lap as he slowly relaxed.

He was sleeping when the apartment door opened, silently until it hit 45 degrees. At the loud squeak, Avon leaped up, dropping the gun to the floor. Ignoring it as it would take too long to pick up, he threw himself at the invader. They both landed on the floor, rolling over and over to hit the coffee table which tipped, breaking the fruit bowl on it and spilling its oranges. The distraction of unexpected citrus enabled Avon to get the upper hand, pressing his forearm into the man's throat. "Idiot!" he growled. "I'm Flying Cavalry and I'm handling this." He heard Cally's door open.

"If you are, where's your tat, then?" the man wheezed.

"Not in a place I'm willing to show you."

"Lemme up, then. I'll show you mine." The assassin scrabbled for the knife he had dropped.

"The anticipation is almost too much for me." Avon kicked it out of reach and grabbed an orange which he jammed into his opponent's mouth. He clamped the man's nostrils shut while trying to get his knee onto the man's flailing free hand.

"Oh, really!" Cally stopped to pick up her gun. "Do stop playing hitty-fighty and let me get on with it." She fired and the assassin slumped.

'I almost had him," Avon objected. "I was going to pinch his nostrils until he passed out."

"Yes, while he shot you! He'd managed to get a hand into his jacket."

"I could have handled it." Avon stood up and brushed himself down.

"Yes, I could see that." Cally glared as she crouched beside the attacker. "And my floors are clean, by the way."

"I doubt he was."

Cally pulled his trousers up, then his sleeves. "Oh. On the inside of the elbow. How disappointingly unimaginative."

"Tell me," Avon said, "why didn't you shoot to kill?"

"Firstly, because I always tried to find out who they were and why they wanted to kill me. Secondly," she gave Avon a severe look," because I'm not one of them."

"One wonders how you survived this long."

"I've always incapacitated them, and when they're hospitalised they're dealt with. The Lindor authorities now regard anyone with that tattoo as gangsters and deport them."

"Then it's fortunate they've never seen yours." Avon looked down at the unconscious man. "So what do you plan to do with that one?"

Cally tilted her head and put a finger to her chin. "It's usually happened somewhere in public with witnesses. I suppose we could leave him somewhere to be found."

"With an appropriate injury. I suggest," Avon removed the assassin's gun and reversed it to use as a club, "to the head." He brought it down viciously.

Cally winced.

"He did try to kill you," Avon pointed out. "I could have retaliated in kind."

"Thank you for your thoughtfulness," Cally said gravely. "What now?"

"Now we leave him in the alley behind your building." Avon caught the man under his arms.

"And once again I have to move." Cally said, resigned, as she picked up the feet.

"I'll help you pack," Avon said as they manoeuvred the body to the back stairs.

"I don't have much, and nothing I mind losing. I always rent furnished apartments."

"I have a comfortable hotel room which is an immediate solution." Avon regarded the stairs with interest. "I suggest that he acquires some injuries which would explain his presence at the bottom of these."

"Good idea." Cally released the feet and watched as Avon held the body upright then let it fall forward to tumble head over heels to the bottom. "Should we have removed the orange first?"

"Not at all," Avon said deadpan. "Biting into it obviously distracted him so that he missed the top step."

"And the impact forced it in." She smiled. "I must say that I like the touch of humiliation. I strove for it in my previous encounters."

"Thank you." Avon nodded and smiled briefly. "We work well as a team."

"We do."

 

"This is a very nice hotel," Cally said, sitting on the large three-seater sofa. She patted the seat beside her. "Come and sit, Avon."

Avon hesitated, then seated himself at the far end.

"When I first saw you in the café, before I knew who you were, I thought you looked sad. And now I can see that you are. You once said that regret is part of being alive, but that we should keep it a small part."

"I remember. However that advice turns out to be somewhat difficult to put into practice."

"The past," Cally said gently, "is past, and we can't change it. That doesn't mean that we forget it. Well," she smiled wryly, "amnesia aside, of course."

"No." Avon looked straight ahead.

"But we don't have to let it ruin the future. I cannot change that everyone on Auron is dead and that I couldn't do anything about it, but I can try to live my life well anyway. Otherwise they win."

"Yes," Avon said softly.

Cally shifted towards him and reached out to touch his arm. "Perhaps what we do in the future will make up for the past."

"Perhaps." Avon turned to look at her with tentative hope. "So we begin again?"

"Yes!" Cally squeezed his arm. "And we can start by enjoying life. I've been skulking around in hiding too long, and there happen to be some very good restaurants near here that I'd like to try."

"Hmm." Avon raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

 

"I do apologise," Avon said later on that night, "that I only have the one bed. A failure in anticipating possible outcomes. I shall take the sofa."

"That's not necessary. It is a very large bed." Cally sat on it and bounced a little, then gave Avon a teasing sideways glance, then looked up, suddenly serious. "I am willing to try it if you are," she said, making 'it' so much more than sharing a bed.

"As am I." Avon looked down at her, his eyes warm. "It has taken us long enough." He leaned forward and kissed her.