On the way home Vila stopped to see Milla at the Fool's Paradise, bought two of Milla's dinners to take home, and invested in a couple of bottles to go with them. He was in a good mood, and even the sound of the lute music wafting on the evening breeze wasn't quite enough to dampen his spirits: it wasn't every day one stumbled into a small fortune.
"Here," he said, holding one of the bottles out, "make yourself useful while I heat up dinner."
Avon put aside the lute and set about opening the bottle. "Are we celebrating?"
"Yes. I've come into a small fortune," Vila said, putting the dinner into the warmer. He looked in the bottoms of the two mugs nearest to hand and, deciding they were clean enough, took them over to the table and sat down.
"Congratulations," Avon said, coming over to the table and pouring. "Did someone die?"
"He'll wish he had when his wife finds out. Look," he said, and with a flourish he seemingly plucked the coin he had won out of the air.
"Gold," Avon said approvingly, and he raised his mug to the coin in salute before drinking deeply. Then, sitting down across from Vila, he looked at the coin closely. "I used to have a coin like that."
"Just like this? An old Federation Crowned Liberty? A lot of people used to have coins like this," Vila said, still holding the coin up, admiring it. "But not now. This coin's older than you are."
Avon nodded and drank again.
"'Weeping Liberty' they used to call them," Vila went on, "because of the way her head was bent-- "
"I had two of them," said Avon, pouring more wine. "They belonged to my grandmother..."
"Then they're long gone now. Shame. They'd be worth a lot."
Avon was silent for a few moments thinking, then he said, "I had them on London."
"On London? Now how could that be? They didn't let anyone bring along souvenirs of home-- especially not valuable souvenirs. I know; I was there, too, remember."
"But, I did," Avon insisted. "I had them with me then."
"Okay. You had them. So?"
"And I still had one when I was on Liberator."
"Where'd you keep it?"
"In my boot."
"You kept a gold coin, from your grandmother, in your boot? All those years?"
"Yes... all those years... but I don't remember what happened to it." Avon poured more wine for them both.
"Probably still with Liberator, scattered amongst the stars."
"I don't think so. I had my boots on."
"Well, is it in your boot now?"
"Another pair of boots, perhaps?"
"It was always in whatever pair of boots I was wearing."
"And how many pair of boots have you had since we left Liberator?" Vila asked. But Avon wasn't listening. Vila sighed when Avon went over to the bed and picked up the lute again. He was glad he had bought two bottles.
Avon made himself comfortable on the bed and began strumming idly. After a while he asked, "Vila, do you remember Cally?"
"I remember," he said, surprised at the change of subject.
"What happened to her?"
"You know as well as I do."
"Tell me," Avon said, beginning to play a chromatic scale.
Vila winced mentally: he hated listening to scales and when Avon was thinking he would practice them incessantly. "She died on Terminal." He glanced over at the warmer to see how much longer until dinner was ready.
"Did you see her die?"
"No." I only heard her, Vila remembered with a shudder. He helped himself to some more wine. "You're the one found her body."
"Yes..." Avon said, slowly, playing another scale. "I can see her dead... but did you?"
"Did I what?"
"See her dead."
"No. You left her where you found her."
"On Terminal. But-- " Avon stopped playing. "Why do I think I gave Cally my coin?"
"To pay the ferryman?" Vila asked, but Avon didn't answer. They were quiet for a few minutes, then Vila said, "She loved you, you know."
Avon played a snatch of melody. "I remember. Everyone thought she was a fool."
"Everyone thought I was a bastard."
"Everyone." Vila was watching him now, wondering.
"They were right." Avon smiled sourly to himself, watching his fingers on the frets.
"They were stupid." That made Avon glance up. "You did love her, didn't you," Vila stated, more than asked.
Avon watched the lute as he answered, "Yes."
"Did you tell her-- did you even know yourself then?"
"Probably not-- what difference does that make? It was a long time ago and she's dead."
The timer on the warmer chirped and Vila got up. "I always liked Cally," he said as he set the dinner on the table. "She deserved better."
"Better than me?"
"Better than to die on Terminal." Vila stuck a spoon in each dish and sat down. "She chose you. That was her decision. She must have had her reasons. She wasn't a complete fool."
"Vila, you astound me."
"I astound myself. Now put that damned lute down and come eat."
While he ate, Avon kept stealing glances at the coin.