Cally took a deep breath and walked onto the flight deck. Tarrant and Dayna and Vila were there and they were all looking at her with varying degrees of curiosity and amusement.
"Sleep well?" Dayna asked, grinning wickedly.
"You must've been exhausted by... that party," Tarrant said, the double meaning as clear as a bell.
Vila's sense of self-preservation kept him silent, letting the others draw the fire, but he was hanging on every word and expression.
Cally stopped dead and faced them. "Look," she said, as mildly and as pleasantly as she could, "I know what you're all thinking. But you're all wrong." She looked at each of them to see how they were taking it and knew she'd have to offer a plausible explanation. "It's true Avon and I had a few things to-- work out between us-- " She faltered as she saw them start to grin more widely, and suddenly she was afraid, sure she wouldn't be able to protect him from their laughter, keep him from being hurt. And that's when she panicked. "Dayna, please," she said, looking stricken. "Tarrant, Vila, I-- "
"What is it, Cally?" Dayna asked, concern replacing the laughter.
"It was all just... stupidity," Cally said, trying to smile. "I was stupid. Please, don't make anything of it. Please?" She looked her plea at each of them in turn.
"But, what happened?"
Tarrant and Dayna and Vila exchanged looks. They were both concerned for Cally, liked her and didn't want to see her hurt or upset.
"Nothing?" Tarrant asked, clearly not convinced.
"Do you always cry about nothing?" Dayna asked.
"Cry. What happened at that party?"
"Yes. And who gave Avon that black eye?" Tarrant demanded.
"Yes, who? I'd like to congratulate whoever it was," Vila said.
Cally could only stare at them, stunned, all the colour draining out of her face. She hadn't imagined the conversation going this way-- this was worse than anything she had imagined. It was almost as if they knew-- Oh, Avon! What have I done?
"That was an accident. Look," Cally said, pulling herself together, "It was stupid. I was stupid. I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, what happened is over and-- so please don't mention it, especially to Avon." She looked at each of them again, pleading for understanding, waiting for their answers.
"Why shouldn't we mention it to Avon?" Tarrant asked.
"It's nothing to do with him. It was me, my stupidity and-- it wouldn't be fair."
"Fair?" Dayna asked, looking at Cally intently. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Cally said, meeting Dayna's gaze as steadily as she could. "So please don't mention any of it. Please? For me?"
Dayna and Tarrant consulted each other silently for a moment, then, reluctantly, Tarrant said, "All right, if that's the way you want it." And Dayna nodded her head in agreement.
"Vila?" Cally asked, turning to him. "For me?"
"Cally," Vila asked, eyeing her narrowly, "did you give Avon that black eye?"
All eyes turned towards Cally, but, in spite of the intent inquiring gazes, she made no answer.
"You're not going to tell?" Vila asked.
Cally shook her head at him.
"Well... I bet he deserved it," he said, still watching her face.
Cally wanted to cry, and looked it. "Please, Vila?"
"Oh, all right," Vila capitulated, sorry he had asked.
"Promise? Not a word?"
"Promise," he said, sketching a small cross over his heart.
"Thank you," Cally said, smiling a small, hopeful smile. "Now everyone can be comfortable."
* * * * *
As Avon was getting dressed, reality came into focus for him and he was a little surprised to find himself on Liberator. But that isn't so bad, he thought, pulling on his boot, Cally's on board, too--
And Tarrant. And Dayna. And Vila.
And they knew that he and Cally-- and they couldn't be avoided and they weren't going to let something like this pass unnoticed or unremarked.
Avon, you idiot, just look what you've gotten yourself into! And he wanted to-- to plead temporary insanity; he wanted to-- sink into the deck-- take a walk outside, do anything but join the others on the flight deck--
I wish it had never happened.
And then he wished that Liberator had never returned; and he wished that he and Cally had stayed on Barram; and he wished every other wish he could think of...
But, in the end, there was only one thing to do: face them down and be damned to the lot of them if they laughed. The thought worried him and made his insides feel as if they were tying themselves in knots, but he would do it. No one had ever actually died of embarrassment--
And Cally would be there; Cally would be with him; Cally had chosen him-- and that would wipe the smirk off Tarrant's face once and for all.
That thought worked like a charm. He finished getting dressed and set out for the flight deck.
* * * * *
Avon paused in the entryway, looking at Cally, hoping she would look at him. But she was talking with Dayna and didn't see him. He had half a mind to go striding over to her, pull her to her feet and kiss her, but the other half of his mind was curious to see what her reaction would be to him--
"Avon," Tarrant said, as blandly as he could. He had been watching Avon watching Cally and he didn't like the smug look on his face.
"Tarrant," Avon acknowledged, coming onto the flight deck, still looking at Cally. She didn't turn; she must not have heard. "What's our heading?" he asked, very clearly and a bit loudly.
"Rim bound, no destination," Tarrant replied, watching Cally himself now. She didn't seem to have heard Avon-- or she was pretending she didn't. Dayna had heard him and glanced his way, but Cally kept talking to her as if nothing had happened. Looking back at Avon, Tarrant was pleased to see the beginnings of a frown. Obviously there was a game being played here and, though he longed to know the answers to a few pertinent questions, he held his tongue. Cally didn't want anyone to be uncomfortable-- fat chance of that!-- but a promise was a promise. "Just lots of open space," he continued. "We're still keeping a sharp eye on our back trail. No sign of pursuit. After Cally's watch we should be able to stand down."
"After my watch! Thanks a lot."
So. She hadn't gone deaf. Avon was puzzled and beginning to feel uneasy. Cally still hadn't looked at him, hadn't even acknowledged his presence. He didn't know exactly what behavior he had expected, but this wasn't it. He made himself look away from her.
"That'll make it twenty-four hours without sign of pursuit," said Tarrant.
"At least we don't have to worry about that infernal tracking device this time," said Dayna.
"Lord, yes! You should take a look at it, Avon."
"I intend to. Later."
"Just don't turn it on. The range is unbelievable. Ask Orac." Pleased that Cally was handling herself so well, that she was ignoring Avon, Tarrant smiled over at Avon, and was even more pleased to see that Avon was looking... hurt? He probably deserved it, no matter what Cally said.
"I will ask Orac. Later."
Avon went to his station and pretended to check readings while he tried to figure out what was going on. They all knew-- he knew they knew. He caught Tarrant and Dayna watching him and he saw them exchanging oblique looks, but they weren't subjecting Cally to the same treatment. In fact, Cally seemed untouched by it all. She was telling Dayna about Barram, about sailing. Friendly and smiling as ever, but, she seemed to have total amnesia about him. She betrayed no sign that they had ever shared an intimate moment, much less-- and there was nothing in her eyes to indicate that she had ever said--
Hurt and angry, feeling like a complete fool, he turned to leave and found Vila in his path. They stared at each other for a long moment and then Vila moved aside, without saying a word, and Avon left the flight deck. Avon's back had been towards the others, so only Vila knew that it was Avon who lost the staring contest. And Vila found that disturbing.
"Well," Vila said, as he turned to survey the rest of the company. "Do you suppose," he inquired of no one in particular, "something bit him?" Stony silence met his inquiry, but he wasn't to be put off so easily. He didn't understand what was going on, but it had a nasty feel that he didn't like. "Was it something we said? Or," he asked, pausing to look directly at Cally, "was it something we didn't say?"
Cally looked defiantly at Vila. She didn't like the nasty feelings, either, and she hadn't been prepared for the hurt she felt knowing Avon was being wrongly condemned as a thoroughgoing bastard, but it couldn't be helped. Nor could she do anything about Tarrant and Dayna who were both bristling in her defence--
"Drop it, Vila," Tarrant said, warningly, but Vila ignored him, until Cally dropped her gaze and then, with a shrug, Vila turned away, saying, "Of course. None of my business, anyway."
"No, it isn't. Don't mind Vila, Cally," Dayna said. "We know how moody Avon gets."
Cally only smiled wanly, and Dayna put a friendly arm around her shoulders and gave her a comforting squeeze.
"Ow!" Cally yelped.
"What's the matter?" Dayna asked.
"It's nothing," Cally said, rubbing her shoulder.
"Did I hurt you?"
"It's nothing, just a little bruise" Cally said, staring off absentmindedly, trying to think how she had gotten-- Avon didn't know his own strength. Unconsciously she reached to feel the matching bruise on her other shoulder.
Tarrant, Dayna and Vila all exchanged looks and all drew the same unsavoury conclusion. They all knew that Cally hadn't had any bruises when she came on board-- bruises would have been clearly visible in that dress-- and now she was reluctant to talk about it, so...
"Cally..." Tarrant began, not knowing how to broach the subject.
"It's nothing, really," she said, a little annoyed that they were making such a fuss about nothing. "I'll put something on it."
"But, Cally-- " Dayna said, faint but pursuing.
"I'm fine." She was tired and getting hungry and not feeling very inclined to talk. "Oh, look," she said. "It's almost my watch. I'd better go get something to eat. Excuse me."
"Cally-- " Vila called, making one last effort before she left.
Without turning or breaking stride, she called back, exasperated, "I'll put something on it, Vila. I promise."
They had tried.
* * * * *
Avon went to find the tracking device.
He had been prepared to acknowledge his relationship with Cally, been prepared to--
Damn it. He had wanted them to know that Cally--
And now he wasn't even sure that any relationship existed.
I wish I hadn't been such a damned fool, he thought. I wish-- and then he remembered. He had gotten his wish: it was as if nothing had happened. Nothing. And the sense of loss was almost overwhelming.
"Be careful what you wish for, Kerr, you might get it."
If I had to get one of my wishes, Pi, why couldn't it have been the one--
"The Fates don't let us choose, Kerr. Be careful."
He glared at the tracking device for a long time before he was calm enough to even begin to concentrate on figuring it out.
It had taken a long time to convince himself that he didn't care.
* * * * *
"Well," Tarrant said to Dayna after Cally left. "What do you make of it?"
"I don't know what to make of it, but I don't like it. And I'm sure that whatever happened, it's all Avon's doing."
"What do you suppose they had to-- work out between them?"
"Cally's in love, that's certain," Dayna said. "And she has been for a long time."
"What about him?"
Dayna gave a derisive snort. "That'll be the day!"
"Though... there was Anna-- "
"He shot her, if you remember."
"Yes..." Dayna was silent for a few moments. "Cally must have told him her feelings," she concluded.
"If she did, she was right about being stupid."
"You know Cally-- "
"Incurably honest. Yes, but, why tell him?"
"Well... she's a woman and he's a man, after all. And sometimes I've thought he doesn't seem to be completely disinterested."
"But Cally wouldn't settle for that, surely."
"For being used? I'd say it depends on how much in love she is. And I'd say very."
"Lord, yes... and he'd do it, too," Tarrant said, disgusted by the thought. "The bastard."
"Do you suppose they'll... continue?"
"I hope she doesn't get hurt too badly."
"I'd say that hope is a bit late."
Dayna sighed in agreement. "You don't suppose he really-- "
"Cally won't talk and I'll be damned if I'll ask Avon."
"Yes, that's the kind of question that could get you killed. We'll just have to watch and wait."
Vila listened and wondered. Avon a bastard? Certainly, but, he'd seen the expression on Avon's face when he came onto the flight deck and looked at Cally; and he'd seen Avon's expression when he left the flight deck--
And what about Cally? Cally a fool? Not likely. Not that much a fool... not about this.
And, say what you will, Avon wasn't that much a bastard.
But Tarrant and Dayna were pretty fairly convinced. Perhaps he should say something--
No, he'd keep his own counsel. His opinion didn't count for much with Tarrant and Dayna, anyway. Let them figure it out themselves. If they could.
* * * * *
After her watch Cally went looking for Avon. Everyone else had retired for the night, but she found him in the galley.
"Hello," she said from the doorway.
"Yes?" He went about his business, not looking at her. The spices were in disarray and he couldn't find the ones he wanted.
"What are you doing?"
"Is everything all right?"
"Yes, just fine," he said, opening one of the jars to sniff the contents.
Sometimes Avon was nearly impossible to read, but, "I know a lie when I hear one," she said, coming into the galley.
"Your intuition?" He heard her rummaging around behind him, but didn't look.
"Then you know that everything's-- " Avon gasped in surprise as the ice went down his back. All his anger and hurt came boiling to the surface. He slammed the jar he was holding down and turned around quickly to grab Cally by the shoulders, intending to shake her, yell at her--
"Fine?" She winced when he grabbed her, and the grin she had been wearing faded quickly as she realized that he was truly angry. "What's wrong?" She asked, concern for him banishing the pain from the bruises.
He couldn't speak. After a moment, he pulled her to him and kissed her savagely. And when she kissed him back, he pushed her away, held her at arm's length, asking, "Damn it, woman, what are you doing to me?"
"Loving you?" she asked, hopefully.
"I don't understand!"
"What don't you understand?"
"You," he said, giving her a shake. "I thought you-- I thought I-- but-- you wouldn't even look at me."
She had never heard Avon incoherent.
"You mean in front of the others?" Cally asked in surprise as a glimmer of his meaning came to her.
"Yes, in front of the others. Why?"
"But, I thought that's what you wanted," Cally said, confused. "You said it would be better if-- "
He remembered now. "I did, didn't I?"
Cally nodded solemnly, watching him.
"It probably is better this way," he said. Avon the bastard, Cally the fool. It was better this way, wasn't it? This way he still had his dignity, still had his privacy, still had Cally. Why did he feel he had lost something valuable?
"Yes?" He noticed that he was still gripping her shoulders tightly, and relaxed his hold.
"Is it so easy to forget that I love you?"
"Yes." It was. And hard to believe. He put his arms around her and held her tight. Why should he care what the others thought? It was none of their damned business, anyway. And he certainly didn't need their good opinion--
"Isn't that ice beginning to melt?"
"Yes, it is."
"Aren't you going to do anything about it?"
"Yes, I am. Later."
He kissed her thoroughly before, reluctantly, he let her go. Then he unbuckled his belt, gave his under tunic a twitch and the ice fell and went skittering across the deck. Cally laughed and Avon smiled self-consciously.
"What were you making? Can I help?" she asked, picking up the ice.
"Nothing." He picked up the spice jar and turned to put it back. After closing the storage door he paused, leaning on the counter. "No one must know," he said, his back still to her. "No one."
"That has been settled."
Without turning to look at her he asked, "Will you..."
His need. "Whenever you want me; whenever you need me. For as long as you want me and need me." Cally waited for him to turn to face her. She wanted to rush into his arms, hold him, but there was something she had to know first. "And you? Will you?"
The silence seemed to go on forever before Avon found the one answer he could give. "Have I ever said no?" As soon as he said it, he knew it was completely inadequate, stupid-- it wasn't anywhere near what he wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come. There were never any words lately.
He turned around and when he saw her, just standing there, staring at the deck, rubbing her shoulders, he was sure that all she could remember of him was pain; he was sure that he had lost her. And he couldn't let her go; couldn't let her make a fool of him. She had to stay with him, she had to show them that he-- damn it, he wanted her--
But he couldn't make her stay. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could give her, no way he could hold her--
Then he heard her sigh--
Patience, Cally was thinking as she stared at the deck. It will take a lot of patience... but he's worth it.
She smiled to herself and sighed--
And he grabbed her by the wrist, dragging her out of the galley, down the passageway, almost at a run. Her astonishment was so great that she went with him, unprotesting, unquestioning. She was even more astonished when they reached his cabin.
Before the door had fully opened he was reaching inside, his right hand playing with the lock while he continued to hold her right wrist with his left hand. She hadn't even got as far as wondering what he was doing when he pressed her right index finger to the touchplate. Unbelieving, she stared at him as he punched his confirmation code. And it was done. He let go of her wrist and thrust her out into the passageway. The door slid shut behind her.
She turned and stared at the closed door trying to think what to do next. She looked from the touchplate to her index finger and back again before she made up her mind, and then--
She knocked on the door.
There was a pause. "What is it?"
"It's Cally," she said. And she waited for his response.
And she waited. Waited, index finger poised before the touchplate, but not daring to move, not daring to breathe, until--
Only then did Cally open the door.