Move most gently, if move you must,
In this lonely place...
A blackened, burnt out shell, that was all that lingered to indicate there had been a base here, the forest already creeping in to reclaim the land. Blake didn't know why that came as any surprise, why he'd thought it would be much as he'd last seen It that morning, bringing Tarrant here, never suspecting what the day would hold.
He sighed, feeling a phantom ache where Avon's shots had struck. The wounds were long-healed, even the scars beginning to fade; no reason whatever to still feel an occasional twinge there. It was all in his head--and his heart.
A hand fell on his shoulder, squeezing, and he looked around at Tarrant.
"Why don't you wait at the ship? We can handle this, there's no reason you have to."
Blake shook his head, appreciating the offer. "I do have to, I think we all do."
"I could've lived a hundred years and not come back here," Vila said, pulling his collar up at a chill breeze. "I mean, it's not like we're going to find him in there."
"There's no other place Orac could be," Dayna said.
He gave her a sober look. "That's not who I meant."
Silence after that, Tarrant, Dayna, and Soolin favoring Vila with censuring looks, while Blake just kept staring at the ruined base. The wind soughed through the trees, scattering fallen leaves, bringing a few icy drops of rain. A year ago the sun had shone so brightly, no portents of any kind in the air. Blake was glad of today's bleaker atmosphere, though. Facing sunlight, birdsong filling this bright, cheery air, would have been profane.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he said, "Let's get this over," and started forward.
It was even gloomier inside, light only dimly filtering down to keep most of the base in shadow. Enough illumination came through, however, to reveal what trespassers might have preferred not to see. A skeletal hand thrust out from debris, a grinning skull--still helmeted--tumbled in a corner as if someone had kicked it there.
Even Vila couldn't produce an irreverent comment, and it was a grimly silent procession that made its way to where the flyers had once been housed, Tarrant and Blake flicking on torches as the light grew weaker. Strange how a couple of flyers were still intact; a skeleton clad in Federation black was at the controls of one, as if he might take off at any moment.
Looking away from the macabre tableau, Blake approached the storage lockers along one wall--freezing as his foot crunched something underneath. Heart lurching into his throat, he played the beam along the floor, picking out a bony hand, but only some piece of plastic crunched under his boot. He waited for his stomach to settle before carefully kneeling, and moved to examine these remains more closely. The ragged black cloth still clinging to the bones had the texture of velour, a studded belt encircled the waist--and the bony fingers had been clutching Orac's key.
Gaze reluctantly leaving those bones, Blake shone the beam further along the floor, the light glinting off something back in a cubbyhole. Soolin went over, tugged it free, and set it up on a table.
It was Orac, a bit scratched and dented, dusty. Blake hesitated a moment, then picked up the key, taking it over to the table and sliding it into place. Orac's lights flickered up for a moment, the familiar whine starting, but then it went dark and silent once more.
"Well, that was exciting," Vila said, flinching back from Blake's glare. "What?"
"Have a little respect for the dead, Vila," Soolin told him.
"Why? I didn't know them."
"You knew one of them," Tarrant said, kneeling by the bones. "It's Avon."
Vila started, a guilty look of disbelief on his face as he took a few gingerly steps over for a closer, hasty look. "That's never Avon."
"They're Avon's clothes--he was holding Orac's key."
"Yeah, but...." Vila let it go, not offering to help as Tarrant and Dayna began to gather up the bones.
Blake watched, finding comfort in the sense of detachment stealing over him, as though he stood outside his body watching this at a distance. That wasn't Avon, that lonely pile of bones. How could it be?
He felt a hand slip into his, Soolin's voice reaching through. "You knew we'd have to find him here. Where else could he be?"
"At least we know."
That he'd died alone, in pain, thinking himself betrayed? That wasn't something Blake wanted to know.
If the man had found some peace at last, though, Blake didn't begrudge him.
"We can't bury him here," Dayna was protesting, the rain coming down harder now as Blake and Tarrant dug the grave.
"We can't take him with us," Soolin said. "It's as good a place as any."
Better than some. Blake thought of Gan and Cally, entombed in stone cold sepulchers, Jenna taken to the icy depths of space. Yes, better the warm earth, even here. And he helped Tarrant lower the bones in their shroud of canvas, helped cover the grave again, heavy rocks placed to keep it safe.
"Someone should say something," came Tarrant's voice, gentle, too-old eyes looking at him. "Do you want me...?"
Blake shook his head, took a breath, searching for words that could sum up this life, finding none of his own:
"Lie you easy, dream you light,
And sleep you fast for aye;
And luckier may you find the night
Than ever you found the day."*
Then turning, not looking back, he walked away.
Soolin didn't stay on the flight deck to see Gauda Prime left behind them. It was enough to know she had finally seen the last of the place. If ever she did believe in curses, she might be inclined to think GP was under one. It was certain no one who went there found much to cheer them.
Anyway, getting Orac up and running was of minimal interest to her. The computer would work, or it wouldn't, and it didn't much matter either way in the grand scheme of things that she could see. Blake's well-being mattered a lot more, and he hadn't been looking any too well.
He'd really had some idea, maybe they all had, that they would go back to GP and find Avon there, alive and well, tinkering with Orac. All these months, whenever some rumor of Avon came their way, Blake had been quick to pursue it, with the rest of them at his shoulder. Never to anything but disappointment.
Today was where all those rumors had to end eventually, the final letdown. But at least it was finished now; they could let it go and move on.
Some of them might need a bigger push than others, however, she was reflecting upon reaching her destination. She pressed the call button, then tried the door when that brought no response. It opened at her touch; no peevish baritone barked at her to go away, so she stepped through and let it close behind her, refusing to be daunted.
"You really think that's going to help?" She indicated the empty glass he was refilling.
"And your alternative would be...?" He didn't raise the glass, only swirled the coppery liquid, gazing into its depths.
"You could try grieving." Soolin moved closer, sitting beside him on the couch.
A sad smile quirked his mouth. "What if the grieving never stops?"
"It will; it does."
He met her eyes. "When did it for you?"
A wry smile claimed her mouth now. "A week from tomorrow?"
There wasn't much humor in his brief laugh, but he set the glass down and rested back against the cushions. "It's finding him like that, imagining what he felt...." He sighed, creek-water eyes filling as he looked away, a restless hand swiping through disordered curls.
Soolin grasped his larger hand in hers. "I know. I think we all wanted to believe he'd somehow landed on his feet."
"His luck seldom ran that way. I just wish..."
"That he could have known I didn't betray him."
"I think he did. I think he must have known, even as he--"
"Even as he shot me?" he suggested when she faltered. "You could be right," he added, falling silent, lost in thought.
After a time he sat up straighter, releasing her hands. "Thank you, but you don't have to sit here minding me. I'm not going to do anything dramatic."
"Well, I did wonder," Soolin admitted. "When you love someone as much as you did Avon--"
A puzzled look came into his eyes as he interrupted, "And how do you think I loved Avon?"
"Very...passionately, I should think." She felt a little uncomfortable, put on the spot, voicing what had only been idle speculation until now. "You don't seem like someone into casual affairs."
"I've had my moments." His laugh was much closer to normal now. "You think--you all think?--Avon and I were lovers?"
"It...seemed a reasonable conclusion to draw."
"Hmmm, I doubt Avon would have agreed." Some of the sparkle was back in his eyes as he watched her. "As it happens, we weren't, lovers that is." Then he sobered just as quickly, eyes filling again. "Maybe we could have been, though, maybe that would have changed everything."
Or made it ten times worse, Soolin thought. She reached out to swipe away a tear, let her hand linger against his cheek, looking into his face, as always liking what she saw. Not Avon's melancholic beauty, nor Tarrant's angel-with-attitude looks, but a perfectly good face: a little worn and battered, and the scar had been unnerving at first--she no longer thought he'd be handsomer without it.
On impulse, she leaned in to touch her lips there. Then, before her nerve deserted her or he put her off, she pressed another kiss to his lips, not insistent, tentative, waiting to see what he'd do.
Expecting one of a dozen lame rejections, she was surprised when he asked, "Is this because Avon and I weren't lovers?" Voice soft, eyes gently teasing, hands resting lightly on her shoulders.
"Well, let's say it makes me a little more optimistic of the outcome."
A smile crinkled his eyes, warmed them. "I don't want pity."
"Trust me--you're not getting any," she promised, leaning in for another kiss, nothing hesitant about it this time, nor did she taste reluctance in his mouth as his lips parted to her tongue, welcoming her, his hands in her hair as he matched her.
When they parted at last, both breathless, Soolin said, "Pity poor Avon--missing out on that," and it brought another smile to his face, though she doubted the melancholy was yet far off. Before it could return and claim him, she tugged him to his feet, not meeting a lot of resistance. "The bed might be a good idea." She was already at work on the fastening of his shirt.
"One of the better ideas anyone's had lately." His hand found the zipper at her back, slowly tugged it down, skimming her out of her clothes rather neatly in fact.
"So these casual affairs," she said, trying to concentrate as his hands became familiar with her, her own traveling over his smooth chest and broad back, "were there a lot of them?"
She could feel him smile against her throat. "I'm thinking about it," he said, glancing up at her, then taking her mouth as he lowered her to the bed.
Waking slowly, Blake was disconcerted at the soft warmth resting against him, then as he recalled the night's events he opened his eyes, stroking strands of golden hair back from her face where it rested against his shoulders, an arm flung across his chest. Better than drinking himself stupid, he supposed, and found it hard to come up with reasons he shouldn't have let this happen. Not loving Jenna hadn't made her death easier to deal with, loving Avon more would not have made that pain more bearable. He was mourning all those regrets, the things that would never be, and found he didn't want to live like that any longer. This might not be love, but if the possibility was there, he wouldn't be the one to slam shut the door.
"So what happens now?" Soolin asked, awake and watching him.
"What do you want to happen?"
A beautifully evil smile gracing her mouth, she slid a hand under the sheets. "You did say you didn't want me taking pity on you," she said as her fingers wandered.
"Do you hear me begging for mercy?" he countered, snagging a hand in her hair and bringing her mouth to his.
Oh marvelous, just what he loved: snow, three feet of it, and still coming down, cold drafts blowing in from every corner. Small wonder local costume consisted of several layers of wool, leather over that, and fur to top it off. And much as he hated it, it might not be a bad idea to let his beard grow after all, better than risking frostbite. Somehow he lacked confidence in the local treatment for such maladies.
Sighing, dropping into a chair by the fire, Avon wondered just how long the winters lasted in Skrimford, and supposed he might as well start getting used to them. Somehow he suspected he might be stuck here for rather a long time.
--the end, more or less--
*from "the Isle of Portland," by A.E. Houseman