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Avon's Smile by Anniew



On four separate occasions, Soolin reacts to Avon's smile...

The first time he smiled at her like that, she realised that she was still a child; that despite the years of self-sufficiency and the depravity of her time with Dorian, there still might be roads she was reluctant to travel. Glossy, predatory, steel wrapped in layers of silk, he'd gestured towards her, something almost theatrical in his demeanour – comic, if it hadn't been for that smile.

"Ah, well. Tarrant, is brave, young, handsome. There are three good reasons for anyone not to like him."

Such naked honesty in it, as if he knew himself thoroughly; knew his own unashamed vanity, the lengths he might go to to survive - knew that it amused him to parade all this before her. A smile daring her to disapprove, challenging her to admit her own ruthless, uncomfortable impulses; inviting her to share his ironic pleasure in the implicit confession. When Dorian smiled, it had been her cue to applaud, but this smile held no smug self satisfaction. We are the same, it seemed to acknowledge, and she had shivered and thrilled at its unguarded promise of an intimacy more adult than she had thought might be possible.

Dorian represented the very worst she could encounter in a world she had already found to be peopled with the violent, brutish and cruel. Then it had been a relief to know that she had finally found the worst; to know that as long as she pleased him (and he made no demands beyond her skill with a gun and the pleasure of her body) then this worst of men - vicious, venal, smelling of the charnel house despite all the expensive lotions and scents he layered on - would protect her from the rest and she would finally be able to stop looking over her shoulder. She had fearlessly sold him her services, finding his evil uncomplicated; something that only distantly affected her. A business arrangement which, if things went too far for her comfort, could be torn up and she would leave, emotionally intact, like a child escaping the home she has outgrown.

Now, in ways she could not logically explain, that sense of separate independence had been shattered by a smile that threatened the deepest level of her being. It terrified and baffled her. Avon was after all, very different from Dorian. He was someone who might, by some standards, even be described as a good man. Avon stood by his word, was never gratuitously cruel and could be gentle with the vulnerable. He was surprisingly accepting of Dayna, treating her rather like an untrained puppy - one he had unwillingly inherited but recognised as his responsibility. Vila and he had a relationship much more equal than an outsider might have surmised; unsentimental and based on the fact that neither expected more from the other than he was prepared to give. True, he had scant time for Tarrant and took every opportunity to lacerate him with his superior wit, but at least he was open about it. And while there was no escaping his contemptuous appraisals except by avoiding him, that wasn't so difficult to achieve. Unlike Dorian, Avon was easy with himself; choosing to be alone for much of the time and needing no validation or approbation from others. Why then, when he smiled at her, had she known that this was the most dangerous man she had ever met?

Avon's smile was the smile of a man who'd had every illusion burned away, who had been forced to face his worst nightmares and survive; who knew and admitted every idiocy he was capable of committing. The smile told her that he could see straight through the lies she told herself and that he would never trust her, or anybody, because he had found himself all too capable of betrayal and knew that she too was capable of it. She had never felt so visible, so known, and she burned to prove him wrong.

When she had offered herself for hire, she had done so believing that this was simply a business arrangement like her contract with Dorian; something she could walk away from at will. But she knew differently now. Avon's smile had effortlessly ripped through her illusion of control and shown her the passion and longing for intimacy she had tried so hard to deny; a longing that she knew he understood and, perhaps mischievously, had even offered in part to fulfil. That smile had made her his partner in the endless fight for survival that she could see stretching ahead of them, and shown her that there was no way she was ever going to leave him of her own volition, no matter how far out of her depth she found herself, or however much she wished she could. She was trapped until death in a union every bit as consuming and terrifying as the one Dorian had planned for her in that underground room, and this time there would be no one to save her.

She knows, as she hurls the notes at him, that it's over. She is prepared to meet his charming, ruthlessly accepting smile with composure, but she is not prepared for him to meet her eyes and laugh. She wants to ram her fingers in her ears, to run from the room, and is within an ace of using her gun to end it. Will it never stop? Peal after peal of laughter; crazy, unhinged and the more terrifying to her because she alone understands why he is laughing. Why he is brandishing those worthless credits so triumphantly in her face.

Tarrant has turned away; bewildered, disgusted, convinced again of his own rightness, probably rehearsing the moment when heroically he will at last find the way to save them. He is, after all, the good egg; the straight, clean-cut dashing pirate, yoked unfairly to this degenerate failure whom he has not and will not kill because uncomfortably, he is actually safer with Avon around. Dayna, every motherly instinct aroused, attempting to coddle him as she would an injured pet, has gone for the soma and sympathy. Later, when he rejects it, she will throw herself anew into the endless task of creating the perfect weapon to keep him safe, and find a little solace in Tarrant's bed. Vila, understanding the magnitude of their failure and angered by the sympathetic echo of pain the laugh has triggered, reaches for the bottle and will soak himself in booze until even the echo of an echo is stifled.

But she cannot deny herself the truth.

She knows he laughs because the joke's on him and he is glad of it. Like all the others he has attempted to love, she has finally had enough. Oh, she will not, cannot leave him, but nor can she, will she, forgive him. This was it, their chance of safety. Enough gold to make them rich, invincible and free from threat. He has failed her and handed her security to Servalan.

And of course she has failed him too, as he always knew she would. She failed him right from the start by pretending she could accept it when he told her that they could never win, could only seize this moment. Finally she has to admit that it was never enough.

Still that laugh, on and on, flinging his challenge to the uncaring Universe: Just you and me again. Come on, then, if you're up for it. Show me what you've got! I'm not afraid.

Oh, she might have forgiven him for not having broken. She will never forgive him for rejoicing that he is once again alone.

He's sorting out spares in the teleport area when she finally tracks him down. She knows they'll need these when they leave, but it adds another layer to her turmoil; that he can appear so calm and focused when they are abandoning their base... no, not just a base - abandoning their home, she realises with a jolt. That's how she sees it. Home. Xenon has been the nearest thing to a home she's had since she was eight.

She wishes so much to blame him for its loss but some bedrock honesty forces her reluctantly to admit he had no choice. It was that or run, and none of them, apart from Vila, had wanted to run - cooped together in Scorpio for days, weeks, months; sailors shipwrecked in the cold expanses of space, sustained only by the hope that they may sight another suitable planet to hide on, the ramblings of the resident drunk their sole entertainment. This, of course, is what faces them tomorrow. A small part of her is lost in admiration for the audacity of the scheme he devised. A larger part rages that he could not, would not, see that Zukan was never going to bow his neck to an outlaw like him. Rages that Avon was such a fool ever to trust him, that he wasn't better at negotiation.

It's not his failures that are burning her brain, though; she has always accepted, if never quite forgiven, those. What drives her mad is his refusal to acknowledge that they are more than just another point lost in the game he plays with fate. She's too battle hardened to expect him to be a knight in white armour, but the petty revenge he enacted on Tarrant when Zukan betrayed them; that horrible smile Avon had given as he sent him down to find Zeeona's remains... this appalled and frightened them all. It has driven her to seek him out and demand... demand... she doesn't know what she wants to demand - an explanation, perhaps an apology, definitely reassurance. She knows that if she doesn't confront him, she'll punch a hole in the wall or waste their remaining ammunition shooting rats, or perhaps, cutting her losses, even turn her gun on him.

"Why, Avon?"

It's all she can manage; hardly eloquent, as he will point out, but at least her voice is steady and cool. He doesn't even bother to turn around. He assesses the module he's removing and selects a smaller screwdriver from the set ranged neatly on the chair he has positioned in the bay. Applying himself again to his task, he replies off-handedly:

"You will have to be more specific if you expect me to engage in this conversation. Mind reading is one of the few skills I have never mastered."

It's the response she expected but inwardly she flails against it. Oh, not games, Avon, please not mind games. I'm too heart-sick for games. Just this once, open an unguarded window so I can reassure myself you still have a soul, because I fear, I very much fear, that you have mislaid it. Aloud, composed:

"Why did you smile when Tarrant went after Zeeona - is that specific enough? You sent her to her death, and then you smiled. Why?"

Deliberately she steps forward into his space, closing the gap between them, close enough for him to feel the warmth of her breath on the back of his neck. She wants him to know she is there, to force him to acknowledge her.

"Tell me why, Avon. We deserve an explanation. You cannot just ignore our feelings if you want us to allow you to stay with us. Prove to me that you're not just another sadistic, power-mad maniac like Dorian."

At first he seems unaffected by her words as he calmly stoops to replace his screwdriver on the chair, but then he straightens quickly, forcing her to take a backward step, then pauses for two deliberate seconds, his back still turned to her. This, and the angle of his head, suggests she's rattled him and she catches what sounds like the faintest of weary sighs before he turns. But his face shows nothing except polite enquiry, and his eyes when she meets them, are black and empty. She shivers mentally; a spark of anger, even amusement, would have been reassuring. His voice reaches her, uninflected, cold:

"Histrionics, Soolin? I expect them from Vila. I hired you for your detachment and sense."

Abruptly, her eyes sting. Is she hurt by this reminder that she is only his employee, even though it was her choice to redefine their contract as a purely business one? There still seems to be yet another layer of self-deception to peel away before she can get to the truth of the way she feels about this disturbing man. Is she going to agree to Tarrant's suggestion that they ditch him before it's too late? She allows a little heat to infuse her voice and renews her challenge:

"You smiled, Avon. You smiled as you sent Tarrant down to find Zeeona, knowing what the radiation would have done to her. Why the smile? Revenging yourself for Virn, were you? Was that it - simple revenge? "

At least revenge is something she can understand, and at last there is something behind those terrible, empty eyes; unfathomable, uncomfortable to engage but reassuringly there before it vanishes again. He leans back against the wall, ironic, poised. Acting, she hopes.

"Revenge is never simple, Soolin. You should know that better than most."

She brushes this aside, although she recognises the layers it contains. Anna. The men she herself had spent so many years stalking and killing. But it's more important that he answers her properly; that he proves he isn't the psychopathic madman that Vila insists he has become. She tries to connect with that fleeting look:

"It may not be simple, but does it explain why you smiled?"

"No, it doesn't. I owe none of you any explanation for my actions. Without me, you would all be dead and if you want to survive again tomorrow, I suggest you get out now and leave me to finish salvaging these spares. I'm sure you have much to organise before we leave. Those hair ornaments and fluffy little toys that are so essential to your future wellbeing won't pack themselves."

How often he treats her like a disobedient child! How often she allows it. Only this time he must be made to realise that they are not children. He has stopped being their protector and they need to know they are safe with him, that he is still sane. Knowing that it is no idle threat she is making, her gun appears in her hand.

"You do realise how easily I could kill you, Avon? The smallest movement is all it takes."

His reaction disarms her. A trace of amusement quirks his mouth as he registers the gun; he slowly holds out his empty hands to each side inviting her to witness that he is unarmed, and then he turns smoothly to the teleport, ostentatiously presenting his back to her.

"If you intend to shoot me, Soolin, then hurry up and get on with it. I'm tired, my back is hurting and I want to get these spares dismantled before midnight."

Check and mate! She finds herself blinking back a sudden rush of tears, resisting a longing to reach out and hold him or to beg him to hold her. Instead she finds herself asking in a small, almost beseeching voice:

" Is it worth it, Avon? All this effort to survive? "

Swifter than light, he answers, engaging her fully for the first time, his eyes animated with the only comfort he can give her. The only comfort he can give himself. The answer which she realises has always bound her to him.

"It beats the alternative."

She thinks she can see the edge of that smile on his face again as she holsters the gun, acknowledging silently that he has won. A smile she suddenly realises that just might be a grimace of pain.

The pulsing sirens surprisingly arouse no answering pulse of pain in her body. She is numb, comfortable even, so probably dying. The lights glare red and each flash reveals another slumped body or corpse. It's impossible to tell how many are still living; whether any of her companions have survived this last stupid fiasco - apart from the murdered and his murderer, both effectively dead, but posed like statues in a tableau too poignant to be natural, and now the focus of the action.

"Have you betrayed me...?" A ragged question, rasped from a throat raw from years of unshed tears. He seems to her broken by this last betrayal; ironically his this time, and she feels relief that it is finally over for him, that he has finally lost his will to fight. But now the troopers enter the base, faceless behind the bars of their black helmets, surrounding him and the bloody corpse at his feet, guns raised in challenge.

And in disbelief, she watches him transform; his body straightening as adrenalin floods his veins, head rising as he assesses the threat. Theatrically, hypnotically, he turns to face each armed trooper as they move cautiously into an enclosing circle of guns, deliberately engaging each separate pair of eyes as if to warn them of approaching death. And they gaze back, a reluctant audience; immobile, mesmerised by his daring. Deliberately he lifts each foot in turn, placing them so that they now protectively straddle the body of his friend, and he slowly raises his own gun.

He smiles. That familiar, sweet blend of resignation, acceptance, defiance. This may be the last challenge he accepts, but she is elated to see it. She feels, as her eyes close against her will, that at last she could unreservedly, willingly, place her life in his hands.


All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.


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