I thought this story up after a conversation with entropy_house on her post this week about losing a beloved cat, Bernie. This is in memory of four cats--my Sigi and Petra, Alpo of Finland, and Bernie of Florida--and is set just after the last episode of Blake's 7. Cut for length, sentimentality (though there's some snark too), and the certainty that no matter what your beliefs are, this will contradict them.
This also answers a request kerravonsen had.
Through the Gate
The last thing Vila saw as his sight faded was Avon falling, the insane smile now a grimace of pain. They must have died at exactly the same moment, because when the blackness cleared, they were the only two people standing on the road outside the gates. The gates were magnificent: gold and ebony, inlaid with intricate pearl designs.
"S'pose this is it then."
Avon said nothing.
Vila looked at the gate-keeper, a tall, silver-haired man in white robes. He looked even more haughty than Avon in his most arrogant moments. "Er, going to let us in, then?"
The man looked down his nose. "Your companion may enter. You may not."
"I don't suppose they allow thieves in," Avon said in a voice like ashes.
"Oh, and murderers are all right, is that it?" Avon's eyes were bottomless and black, but Vila held his gaze angrily. What could Avon do to him here?
"You may enter, Kerr Avon." said the gatekeeper, and the gates slowly parted.
Avon took a step forward, and looked back at Vila.
"He does not belong here."
"Story of my life, that," said Vila, looking through the opening at the beautiful park beyond. The lawn looked like green velvet, the flowers stood neatly at attention, and everything was so perfect and bright it almost hurt his eyes. "Suit yourself." He turned away. "Didn't fancy it anyway. I bet you have to have good manners to fit in, and know all the right cutlery to use."
He looked back the way they must have come, but there was only darkness there. The road, however, went past the gates, winding away over the hill. He started walking.
"Why do you delay, Kerr Avon?" asked the gatekeeper.
"Let my friend in too." Friend? Had he really said that?
"He has gone."
Avon turned, and he could see Vila trudging away from him, already surprisingly far down the road. "Vila, wait!"
Vila kept walking.
"Vila! Come back!" Avon hesitated, then ran after him.
Vila followed the road downhill and very soon he came to an old run-down farm surrounded by a badly-maintained stone wall. He stopped and looked over it into the muddy farmyard. The building was almost a ruin, its paint peeling off in great strips, and the yard was strewn with dispirited straw and misshapen bits of wood. A man in a dirty brown tunic sat on a rickety stool, whittling away at one of them.
Vila was about to walk on, when a cat jumped up on the wall.
"Hello!" said Vila. "Aren't you beautiful."
She was a light brown tabby with amber eyes which looked full of serene wisdom. "Prrrrrow!" she said, stretching.
Delighted, Vila reached out to stroke her, and she pushed her head at his hand. She was so soft and warm and velvety; he wondered if she would let him cuddle her. As if she understood, the cat stood on her hind paws and put her front ones on his tunic. Vila leaned forward until their noses touched, then he put his arms around her and held her, his cheek pressed against her warm, clean-smelling fur.
"You can come in if you like," the man said. His eyes were gentle and kind.
"D'you let thieves in there then?" He remembered a story he'd read once.
"Why, do you plan to steal something?"
"Course not! I only ever robbed people who could afford it!"
"Besides, it wasn't the stuff I took that was so important, it was--"
"The getting of it. Yes, I know. And I know who you are." The man's eyes seemed to look right into Vila's soul. "Come in. The gate's open."
It wasn't even latched. Vila pushed the crooked wooden gate aside and went in. The cat jumped off the wall and wound around his legs as he stared around. Now that he was inside, it was quite different. The grounds were full of shady trees, flowers, and running water; the farmhouse looked like all Vila's ideas of home made real; and even the sun shone more brightly. Another cat, a dark little tabby with a white nose and paws joined the first one. She sat on her haunches and looked up appealingly at Vila, and meowed softly. Vila bent over to touch her, and she promptly rolled onto her back to reveal a white tummy with one small island of colour. Vila tickled it and she writhed with pleasure. Then he saw a rat scuttling towards him over the cobblestones. He blinked, and shouted with delight, "Ratty!" He picked the rat up and held it against his shoulder, stroking it happily. "I missed you so much!"
He hugged his pet close, and looked at the man. He was different too. He was younger than Vila had thought, sitting on a three-legged stool in his clean, homespun clothes, turning a chair leg on a lathe. Twists of honey-coloured wood lay about his feet where small animals pounced on pieces and each other. A very tiny kitten made his determined way towards Vila, sat down, and looked at him solemnly with dark blue eyes. Somehow, Vila knew this one hadn't been anyone's pet. He knelt down and reached out his hand for the kitten to sniff, then touched it gently on the head. The kitten meeped, and Vila lifted him gently and held the tiny creature tenderly in his hands.
The man smiled and reached forward to touch Vila's head with the same tenderness, and Vila looked up at him, his face filled with wonder.
Avon would have passed the farm by, but something caught his eye. Was that Vila over there in the scrubby-looking field beyond the old house? The fool was sprawled on the ground talking to some animals. It appeared that he'd found his natural conversational level at last. Avon was about to turn away with a sneer, when it struck him: Vila looked happy. For some reason, that made something deep inside him twist and hurt.
"May I come in?" he said to the man in the yard.
"No." The man's eyes seemed to bore into him.
Avon regarded the lock on the rickety gate. It looked like the one at Central Contol on Earth. The gate looked low enough to climb over, but when he put his hand out, it met a force field. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because of what you've done."
Suddenly Avon could remember everything: his cruel jibes at so many people with lesser intellects; killing Anna; his decision to never let anyone close again; his pretence that Cally's death hadn't mattered; his deliberate cruelty to Vila to distance himself so that if Vila died too, it wouldn't matter; his shooting of the unarmed Blake; not once, not twice, but thrice; and how he'd laughed at the end because he'd succeeded in freeing himself of all ties at last, only to be cut down in his moment of self-liberation.
His knees buckled and he fell forward against the wall, his face pressed to the rough stone, groaning in agony. If only... if only he could roll time back and take a different path. He'd give anything not to make those mistakes again, anything at all to change it so that he didn't have to see the hurt, accusing, dead faces.
He'd give his life.
"Ah," said the man.
But he didn't have a life to give.
"You may come in now."
Avon straightened up. The lock on the gate was gone; now it was just a simple latch. Hesitantly, he reached out a hand to touch it, then lifted it and went in.
It was different now he was inside. He stood in a beautiful, well-laid-out garden, and what he'd thought was a run-down hovel was a house of clean and classical lines.
"It still hurts," he said.
"It will stop in time. Healing takes a while."
Avon took a shuddering breath and felt that his life was beginning again. "Thank you," he said.
The man did not answer. He was holding a piece of unworked wood, his hand running slowly and gently over the grain.
Avon found Vila lying in the grass, his chin in his hands and his feet in the air like a child.
"Vila. You have a rat on your head."
Vila grinned. "Yeah, it's Ratty! He was my pet when I was a kid."
"I see you used your usual paucity of imagination in naming it." Avon said. He looked at Vila with sudden affection. In front of him sat a black and white cat of great dignity, with a crown of wildflowers on his head, dipping over one ear. Avon shook his own head in disbelief. "Did you put those flowers on that animal?"
"Not me," said Vila, sitting up. "Someone else must've." The cat jumped onto Vila's lap and began a deep, rumbling purr which was strangely comforting. Vila reached out and put his arm around a black cat nearby who leaned against him contentedly, the tip of his pink tongue just showing. Vila pointed into the distance with his other hand. "There's the biggest cat I've ever seen. Think it'll let me cuddle it?"
Avon raised his eyebrows. "That's a lion, you--" He stopped at the laughter in Vila's eyes. "Very probably."
The black cat walked up to Avon, sat down, and looked at him. Avon looked back. There was something in the cat's eyes that showed he'd been hurt, yet he still could trust. It reminded him of... someone. Feeling rather foolish, Avon bent over and touched the cat. His fur felt surprisingly pleasant, and Avon ran his hand over the cat's head and down his back. He straightened up, not realising that he was smiling.
He looked out over the rolling green hills, dotted with white houses. People strolled in pairs or small groups, deep in conversation. They looked like philosophers or scientists. Ah yes, that was much more his idea of paradise. Avon took a step, then looked back at Vila, loath to leave him. "Vila..."
"It's all right," said Vila, grinning up at him. "We'll run into each other again. Got all the time in the universe, you know."
"Or out of it," said Avon.
"Took yours getting here."
"The gatekeeper wouldn't let me in at first."
Vila blinked. "Gatekeeper? What d'you mean? I just had to push the gate open."
Avon was staring at a man in the distance, waving his arms with enthusiasm as he talked to a small group. Was that Blake in those ridiculously huge sleeves?
"Nah," Vila went on. "He was making a chair, didn’t you see? He's a carpenter."
Avon started to walk towards Blake. He'd made it right with Vila, he wasn't sure how, and now he had to find the others. "If he's a carpenter," he said distractedly over his shoulder, "he isn't a very good one. Didn't you see the scars on his hands?"
Notes: my Sigi and Petra are the first two cats Vila meets, and Alpo and Bernie are the ones Avon sees him with. kerravonsen's request was that Avon be redeemed.
The cats: my Sigi and Petra, Alpo of Finland, and Bernie of Florida. Click to enlarge.