By James I. Ide

XIV, Continued...

Dayna looked very puzzled when she arrived on the flight deck for her watch. "Tarrant, Vila, have you seen Cally? I can't find her anywhere."

"I haven't," Tarrant said, frowning slightly. "Vila?"

"No," he said, emphatically. "I haven't seen her and I haven't seen Avon and that's fine with me. The pair of them nearly took my head off when they got back."

"But, where could she be?" Dayna asked.

"I don't know and I don't want to," Vila reiterated. "Best to let sleeping dogs lie, I say."

"Sleeping dogs?" said Dayna, blankly. "Sleeping-- ?"

And suddenly Tarrant and Dayna both had the most amusing thought. "You don't suppose-- !" Dayna said, grinning.

"It might explain a lot," said Tarrant, grinning back.

"What?" asked Vila, at a loss.

"Never mind. Dayna, let's take one last look around before we start to... ah... worry. Meet you back here."

In twenty minutes they were back. "Any luck?" Tarrant asked.

"None," Dayna said, straight-faced. "You?"

"None," he replied, as straight-faced as she.

"There's only one place left," Dayna said.

"Right. Vila," Tarrant said, "perhaps you'd better call Avon and ask if he's seen Cally."

"What? Not me. If you're so keen to know where she is, you ask him."

"But, Vila," Tarrant explained, "it's officially your watch and you are responsible for security. It's your duty to check on Cally's disappearance."

"Oh, yes?" Vila said, suspicious now.

"Of course," said Dayna. "And you'd better do it soon, just in case something is wrong-- "

"Yes," Tarrant chimed in. "Just think how angry Avon would be if-- well..."

"Oh," said Vila, deeply moved by the thought of Avon's wrath being directed at him. "Why me? Why do people have to disappear on my watch?" Reluctantly he reached towards the intercom switch. "You're sure you can't find her?"

"Just ask, Vila."

Resignedly, with a sigh, Vila touched the switch.

Tarrant and Dayna held their breath.

* * * * *

The shower felt wonderful and the woman in his arms felt even better and--

"Avon?" Vila was on the intercom.

With a sigh, Avon hit the com switch. "What is it?"

"Ah... Avon, er... have you seen Cally? We can't find her anywhere."

"What are you talking about? She's-- " Right here. Oh, hell. Avon leaned his forehead against the wall to think. Living on this ship is like living without skin, he realized, as some of the implications began to sink in. "I wouldn't worry about her if I were you, Vila."

"You wouldn't?"


"You're sure?"

"Yes, Vila. I'm sure she'll turn up."

"Oh. Then you know where she-- " said Vila. In the background Avon and Cally could hear Tarrant's and Dayna's muffled laughter, and, in an aside, Vila asking, "What's so-- Oh!" With that the intercom went dead.

Avon turned to look at Cally. She shrugged, grinning. It was too late now. He gave a rueful grin and said to her, "We aren't fooling anyone, are we?"

"No, we aren't."

And that simple affirmation scared the hell out of him. To have them know his feelings was almost too much for him-- how could he ever face them? He turned away, into the stream of water, letting it run over him as he tried to sort out his feelings. He simply could not have his feelings known-- he didn't want them to know he had feelings; didn't want to be the butt of their jokes. There had to be a way around it-- "It could be very dangerous for you if this relationship is ever openly acknowledged."

"And not for you?" she asked. She had guessed what he was thinking and she smiled a bit to herself as she scrubbed his back. This relationship was going to require a lot of patience.

"Not so much for me. But this has got to be kept quiet. As long as no one guesses that I-- you'll be safe as long as everyone thinks I'm a bastard and you're just fool being used by me. Do you mind very much playing the fool?"

"Easy parts to play for both of us."

"It won't be easy," he said turning to her. "I won't acknowledge you. I've got to treat you as I always have. You're as expendable as any of them. I won't do anything special for you."

"I know. I don't expect it." She wasn't saddened, in her heart she knew she was loved; it was just that Avon couldn't let his love show. Not yet. And besides, to Avon, not doing anything special only meant that he wouldn't let anyone catch him doing it-- or if they did, he'd have a good, logical explanation.

She put her arms around him and kissed him to let him know it was all right.

And then she flicked the temperature control to cold, just to take his mind off the problems.

* * * * *

When Cally awoke Avon was asleep in her arms, half atop her, his head on her breast, one arm flung over her, one leg between both of hers. He was snoring softly. Being careful not to wake him, she shifted just enough so that she could look at his face.

She'd never seen him sleeping peacefully before. Out cold or dozing fitfully under adverse conditions, yes, but never like this, relaxed and at peace. Looking at him each feature became more dear. The curve of his cheek, the line of his jaw, the contours of his nose-- even the lines around his eyes and the fainter lines which were only beginning to etch themselves on his forehead were so dear to her that she wanted to cry.

She held him more tightly and kissed the top of his head, loving him so fiercely that she thought her heart would break.

I won't let them hurt you, she thought softly to him. Not any of them. Not ever again. I won't.

As she held him, watching him sleep, she thought about what he had said, about what she could do to protect him, to keep him safe, to keep him from humiliation and embarrassment, to keep him from hurt, and when she was resolved upon her course, she reluctantly disengaged herself and slipped quietly off the bunk and out of his cabin.

Avon, sleeping the deep sleep of exhaustion and contentment, was unaware of her departure and only shifted to a more comfortable position.

* * * * *

When Avon awoke he was alone, and,for one heart-stopping moment, he thought it had been a dream. Then he saw the crushed marigolds and bits of lavender everywhere and he laughed in relief.


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