It was very late and Avon couldn't sleep. Again. He was sitting on the terrace, staring up at the uncaring stars, thinking hard, dark thoughts. Liberator hadn't come back. Cally hadn't come back, either. But then, why should they, either of them? He didn't hear Georgie's approach.
"Thinking again, cousin Galen?" Georgie asked, sitting down next to him.
"I haven't had much else to do."
"What about worrying and arguing? You've done a lot of that."
There was some justification for that remark. Between worrying about Liberator, the Federation, and Krager and Elston, he hadn't had a moment's peace. And as for Cally--
Cally and he hadn't exchanged a civil word since the day after they arrived. It was so stupid it should be amusing, but Avon didn't want to be diverted from his misery yet, so he remained silent.
"Come into the kitchen. I've just been making myself some hot milk. It'll help you sleep."
The simplest course was to do what she wanted. He let her escort him into the kitchen.
Sitting at the counter, feeling warmer in the cozy light, Avon watched Georgie as she poured and then set glasses of hot, spiced milk before them. The spices smelled familiar to him. And there was a peculiar feeling of comfort, too-- probably just the warmth of the glass after the chill of the terrace--
"Well?" Georgie was giving him a mock frown. "It isn't poison. Drink up. It's good for you."
Avon sipped the warm, spicy milk and an old memory came floating up through the mists. Pi Grant pouring warm, spicy milk for himself and a very small Kerr in a midnight kitchen, saying,
"Drink up. It's good for you." Pi smiled encouragingly and sipped his own milk.
Kerr took a tentative sip: the milk was sweet, the glass was warm and comforting in his hands...and it had been a very bad day...perhaps Pi would understand. "Pi...Alban Brichter says we're a hotch-potch."
"A hotch-potch? Is that why-- ?"
Kerr nodded. "He says we're not a real family at all. He says we're just leftovers that nobody else wanted."
"Well, he's right about our family being a hotch-potch. That just means we're all different-- special. But we're none of us leftovers...
"We all chose each other, Kerr. I chose to adopt Del and Anna and you and your mother. And you all chose to adopt me. That makes us a family."
"But Alban says we can't be a real family-- he says you've got to be born into a family..."
"Oh..." Pi drank some of his milk, thinking. "Tell me, Kerr, you like Anna, don't you?"
Kerr considered solemnly for a moment and then nodded.
"Do you think you would like her any better if she had been born your sister?"
Kerr considered again for a longer moment, then shook his head emphatically.
"If Alban had been born into this family, do you think you would like him?"
"Well, there you are. The people we choose to love, they become family. Choosing your family is much more reliable than being born into your family-- look at Alban's family: they're stuck with him. We're very lucky to have chosen each other. We are a family." Pi smiled. "Okay?"
"Good. Now finish your milk."
Kerr finished his milk then waited quietly as Pi cleared the things away. "Ready for bed now?" Pi asked. Again the boy nodded and, as they started out of the kitchen, he put his hand in Pi's.
Tucking young Kerr in Pi said, "Kerr, remember: next time you push Alban into a fountain, don't let his mother see you do it." Then he smiled and kissed him lightly, saying, "Good night, son. Sleep well."
The picture of dripping-wet Alban Brichter was so vivid that Avon laughed-- but the laughter faded quickly because he could still see Pi's face, hear his voice, remember--
"Is everything all right?" Georgie asked, concerned. She had been watching him, and was puzzled by his abrupt changes in expression.
The sound of Georgie's voice banished the memory and brought the present worries flooding back, but it didn't banish the feeling of needing and wanting comfort, and, a moment later when Georgie touched his hand, he forgot himself enough to ask, "Georgie, is Cally going to stay?"
"I don't know," she said seriously. "She's been very lonely."
"Is she in love, do you think?"
Georgie had pondered the same question and she was sure she knew the answer: "Yes, I think she is."
"Then she'll stay."
"Perhaps. She'll do what she has to, I know that."
Avon didn't comment, but he knew Georgie was right.
"Does it matter whether she stays or goes?" Georgie asked.
"She can do as she pleases."
"But you'd miss her."
"The rest of them would. She... pulls them together, somehow."
Suddenly Georgie gasped and bent over, her head nearly hitting the counter.
"Georgie-- ?" Avon asked, watching her uneasily, "shall I get Rafe?"
"No," she said, straightening up. "I'm fine." And she began to laugh softly. Then she gasped again.
Avon didn't understand what was happening. Georgie sounded as if she were in pain, and her eyes were watering, but she was laughing. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, it's only-- here," she said, as she pulled her robe open and took his hands and held them on her belly. "Can you feel that?"
The intimacy of his hands touching her through the thin fabric of her nightgown was embarrassing and Avon was about to pull away when he felt it: the child. The child was moving. Inside. Twisting and turning... he could feel it: life within life... it was astonishing--
Watching him, delighted to be sharing the wonder, Georgie was reminded of Rafe the first time she shared the kicking with him. Tears filled her eyes, and, a moment later, another sharp kick sent them spilling over.
Georgie's sharp intake of breath made Avon remember himself. He snatched his hands away, shocked by the intimacy and his own presumption. "I'm sorry," he said, quickly turning away, wiping one of her tears from the back of his hand, expecting her to be shocked and embarrassed, too.
But Georgie only laughed and reached out to take his hand and give it a squeeze, saying, "Don't be. I'm glad I could share it with you."
Avon allowed himself a small smile and Georgie let go of his hand, giving it a pat, satisfied that all was well. He turned back to his milk. Georgie didn't make him feel comfortable-- no, not comfortable, but she had given him something and he couldn't ignore it. "I never imagined," he said, wanting to say something, anything.
"It is unimaginable, isn't it?" she remarked. "I certainly never imagined what it would be like. You know," she went on, pulling her robe together, "before it happened, I didn't want to have a child. It's a big responsibility and it's a little frightening, too... but... well, now I think it makes life make sense. It's a stake in the future. A hope. A reason to keep trying."
They finished their milk in silence. When they were done, Georgie got up to put the glasses in the washer.
"I've been thinking, Avon," she said, coming back to stand next to him. "You should tell Cally how you feel. Before it's too late."
"I have. And you've heard where that gets us."
"You've been arguing with her," she stated, sternly looking him in the eye. "I said you should tell her how you feel."
"I'll tell her as soon as she comes in."
"Start in on her, you mean. You go to bed. Now. Anything you have to say will keep," she said, as she tidied a last few things. "Besides, you don't want her to think you've been waiting up for her, do you?" But, he wouldn't be budged; he just sat staring down at the counter frowning slightly and he wouldn't look at her again. She lingered, brushing imaginary crumbs from the counter as she watched him and wished there were more she could do to help. Then she reached out with one arm and gave him an awkward hug. "Good night. Sleep well," she said, quietly.
Georgie went off to bed, but Avon couldn't move. The hug and the memory of Pi Grant had caught him off guard. He hadn't yielded, but just for a moment he had wanted to and that was unsettling. This house, these people were stirring up old memories and things that ought not to be stirred-- why? And how could he feel so out of place and yet so-- they made him feel as if he belonged, had a right to be; they accepted him as he was. Warts and all. As Pi had. And, most unsettling of all, they all trusted him. Trusted him. Trusted him--
They had no right--
You're all insane. You must all be insane, he thought. And Cally fits right in. No wonder she wants to stay--
He went to his room and lay staring into the darkness, silently composing and rehearsing a speech that would leave Cally in no doubt of how he felt about her inexcusable behavior.
* * * * *
"Sir, we can't raise Commander Tass."
"Interference?" Taggert asked.
"On screen, sir. Almost dead center that field of junk."
Taggert watched the simulation on the screen distastefully. He and Jeffers were approaching the field from opposite sides, trying to maximize detection capabilities, but they wouldn't be within actual detection range of the junk for another thirty minutes.
"Sir! We have Doctor Farnum's signal."
"Put the position on screen."
"Jeffers," Taggert barked into the com, "have you got Farnum's signal?"
"Affirmative. Position: one eight five mark zero two five. Holding steady."
"Confirming, sir... sir, they don't seem to be moving."
"Let me know the moment there's a change. Jeffers, can you raise Tass?"
"No, sir. My comm officer caught a burst of static he thought came from Tass's ship, from their last position, but it was unreadable."
"Remain on course, Jeffers. We'll have to sort this puzzle out when we get there."
* * * * *
"We're just going to sit here?"
"You can sit anywhere you like, Vila." Tarrant sounded affable, but his smile looked dangerous and his eyes glittered wildly and he couldn't stay still.
"Can't we keep the shields up at least?"
"No," he said, pacing. "They've got to have the signal to follow."
"What difference does that make? They've never come near us before."
"Yes, but this time they're going to think we've sustained damage and they're going to come in for the kill."
"It's quite simple. We are now sitting perfectly still, sending out a signal. We are playing dead. In a little while, before they can possibly come within normal detection range, we're going to put up our shields and move off."
"Oh. Good. And are we going to keep moving off?"
"I'm afraid not. It's a ruse, Vila."
"Ah. I was afraid of that."
"You see, they're going to come looking for corpses," he said, resuming his station. "And this corpse is going to surprise them."
* * * * *
Cally made the mooring line fast to the cleat on the wharf and was surprised at how cold and stiff her hands were. "I'm chilled to the bone," she said, breathing on her hands and rubbing them together. "It didn't feel so cold before."
"You hadn't beat all the way home before," Wes said.
"I could use something hot to drink."
"So could I," Wes said, as he began lowering the sail. "Did you enjoy your midnight sail?"
"Oh, yes. The cares of the world really do drop away, don't they?" Cally began gathering up her things and setting them on the wharf.
"I've always found it so. I'm glad you enjoyed it. But, I have to tell you something."
"There's a price," he said, sounding serious.
"A price," Cally said flatly. Wes hadn't seemed at all the sort to exact a price-- but she was feeling guilty for deceiving him--
"Before you can have your hot drink and a place by my fire, Captain Leah, you'll have to help stow the sails and lines and all the gear."
Though she was relieved, Cally didn't let herself laugh at his joke. Instead she asked, with the slightest whine in her voice, "It can't wait until tomorrow?"
"I'm afraid not," Wes said, looking sharply at her.
Cally sighed, feigning great disappointment.
"Do you mind so much?" Wes asked, shocked to think that he could have so misjudged her character.
"Well, I suppose I should have known," she said, still whining, but beginning to smile. "Everything that's worthwhile is always a lot of work."
"If you don't like work," Wes smiled back, "you must never buy a boat."
"I'll remember that. Now, what must I do to earn that hot drink?"
"Here," he said passing the sail to her, "lend a hand."
* * * * *
"The signal's gone again, sir."
And the question is, Taggert thought, have they been destroyed or have they just put their shields up? Tass might have crippled them, even dealt them a mortal blow. They hadn't moved in the fifty minutes the signal was monitored. Taggert reached for the comm switch. "Jeffers, I'm sending you in to investigate. Proceed with caution and we will fall in to guard your rear."
"Thank you, sir."
Taggert felt bad about that. He hated being reduced to wishing a man luck. But what else could one do when everything started turning sour?
* * * * *
Wes's house was small and cozy.
"Make yourself comfortable," Wes said, as he turned on the fire. "I'll get the hot drinks."
Cally sat on the cushions in front of the hearth and stretched her hands and feet towards the fire. It wasn't a real fire, just a holographic projection, but it was projecting real warmth and the "flames" were pretty to watch.
"Better now?" Wes asked.
"Better," she said, taking the mug he offered her.
Wes put his own mug on the hearth and went to fetch a throw from the back of the sofa. "There, that should do," he said, settling it about her shoulders.
"Thank you," she said, watching him as he sat down beside her. "This is very nice. I like your house."
"Thank you. How's your drink."
"Delicious. What is it?"
"A specialty of mine: mulled cider."
They watched the fire, drinking their cider, and after a while, Wes said, "A penny for your thoughts."
"At that price, I'd be robbing you."
"I don't mind. What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking how nice and warm-- " Cally broke off annoyed with herself. That wasn't it, wasn't at all what she was thinking. And she felt she had lied to Wes enough about herself. The thoughts running through her head were so complex, though. "I can't explain," she said at last.
Wes nodded, sipped his cider, before he asked, "Have you given any thought to staying?"
"Yes," she said, slowly. She wanted to be honest with him. As honest as she could be. "I've thought about it a lot."
"Have you decided anything?"
"I'm not sure the decision is mine to make."
"Whose decision but yours could it be?"
"It isn't so simple." She looked into his eyes hoping to find some answer there, but what she saw only confused her more. "I wish it were," she said, sadly.
"Tell me, Leah. You know I care about you."
Cally could only stare at him. She hated that he had to call her Leah; hated that she had to be dishonest--
"Tell me what you want," he said, reaching out to take her hand in his.
"I want-- " she said, looking down at their hands, "I want everything Georgie has. I want my life to be simple and straight forward-- "
"Do you actually know anyone whose life is?"
Cally had to laugh. "No. But I wish mine were. Lately I've been feeling trapped-- caught up in events... I feel as if all my choices are being made for me."
"That happens sometimes. It passes." Wes shifted closer and put his arm around her shoulders, holding her comfortingly close.
"I know," she said. "But, I can't even choose my own life anymore. I made my choice years ago and now I can't change it. Ever."
"I don't believe that," he said, quietly, drawing her closer until her head rested on his shoulder. "Everyone has choices, can change."
"I can't," she said, letting herself be drawn into the comfort. "I want to, but I c-can't..." And she began to cry.
Wes held her and rocked her until she fell asleep.
* * * * *
When Cally awoke Wes was beside her, watching over her, smiling down at her. The feelings of warmth and comfort and closeness lingered and she smiled in return.
"Sleep well?" Wes asked.
"Better than I have," she admitted. "Thank you."
"You are entirely welcome," he said and he kissed her.
Cally returned his kiss. It felt wonderful to be held, it felt wonderful to be wanted, to be loved-- and she wanted to feel all those feelings again, wanted to feel like a woman instead of an empty husk, wanted to be like Georgie, loved and loving--
But something wasn't right. Wes was wonderful, but something wasn't right and it wasn't fair to either of them and there was just too much to think about now. "Wes," she said, as gently as she could, "I can't."
"Can't?" he asked, drawing back to look at her. "Can't," he stated, clearly disappointed.
"Not now," she said. "Not yet."
"Not now, not yet." He groaned and rolled onto his back, throwing his arm across his eyes. "The lady says not now, not yet."
"I'm sorry," she said, laughing a bit at the histrionics.
"But she didn't say never." Laughing ruefully, he sat up beside her. "I can wait."
* * * * *
It was close to dawn when Avon heard the flitter and, a minute or so later, Cally's light steps. He listened hard until he heard only silence, then he slept. A little.
* * * * *
"Zen, take us out of here," Tarrant said, almost calmly, turning control over to the computer. His piloting had been nothing less than miraculous, but it was wearing on the nerves and Dayna and Vila were just breathing sighs of relief and beginning to relax when--
"Did you see that! Did you ever see flying like that! Did you ever see shooting like that!" Tarrant whooped, and grabbing Dayna he began dancing her round and round. "Three direct hits and there's nothing left but stardust! Am I a hot pilot or am I not?"
"You are, you are!" she agreed, laughing in relief.
"And that's that," said Vila.
"Avon should have been here to see me! You'll have to tell Avon. You must tell Avon! Promise me, Dayna. Promise me you'll tell Avon all about it! Every detail. Promise!"
"Oh, Avon, just you wait, just you-- " and down he went, unconscious.
"Hot pilot. I can't wait to tell Avon," said Vila staring down at Tarrant.
"He saved your skin," Dayna said tartly. "Come on, help me get him to sick bay."
"He looks quite comfortable. Can't we just leave him?"
"Lend a hand, Vila, or you can walk back."