"Like I said," Mike Yates was telling Mel, "I just assumed that
since he'd evidently given up and moved on to someone else, she
was now fair game."

Mel nodded. "That's reasonable. But from what I've been able to
gather, the date Adric and that girl went on sounds more like
something their friends put them up to than anything else."

"Those must be some friends." Yates observed, chuckling. "Wish
my friends would fix me up like that." And with someone who
looked like that, he didn't add.

"So there's no problem?"

Yates shook his head. "If he wants to try for her, I won't stand
in his way. Of course, after one evening's worth of
conversation, I'd say he'd have to have a screw loose to even
think about it."

"Well, we'll certainly soon find out." Mel agreed, feeling very
relieved. She made a mental note to have a talk with Tegan at
the earliest opportune moment, to see about coordinating

Yates looked at his watch. "C'mon, I'd better get back to the
table. Whatever the future, I'm still responsible for her

"It's only been a few minutes." Mel pointed out. "I doubt
anything could have happened in the meantime."

Mel opened the LAN room door. The two of them stepped into the
pub main room... and saw immediately the two figures in the eye
of a storm.

"I could be wrong, though."


"Come on, I know you've got a weapon somewhere in that dress
you're almost wearing..."

Her jaw set firmly. "Why should I even bother? I know you won't
believe me when I tell you, but killing you is not something I
think about all the time."

"That's not what it sounded like a moment ago."

"You are quite mistaken, I assure you."

"Fine. Then here are three reasons why. One -- as you say, it's
all I'm good for; Two -- also as you say, I've completely ruined
your evening; and Three -- I'm off the clock, so I'm about as
wide open a sitting target as you can hope to find. Oh, and Four
-- I've had an absolutely crappy night, and that would just about
be the most appropriate way to end it."

"Nice try, but I don't do requests." Her eyes narrowed, and her
voice became a sneer. "If you're that desperate to commit
suicide, why don't you ask that little wench of yours? I'm sure
she'd be more than willing to fulfill all of your sad, swamp rat

Adric opened his mouth, but cut off the retort he was about to
say. Instead, his tone became considerably lower. "I doubt she
would. Not that request, at any rate."

"Oh? She seemed quite willing to be your replacement executioner

"That too was an accident -- not that you'd ever believe it, I
suppose." He met her sneer with one of his own. "You, on the
other hand, might have been Swiss cheese if I hadn't stepped


"This is getting bad." Lucas chafed apprehensively. "Listen to
him. He's so angry, he's not thinking straight."

"He's going to ruin whatever chances he's got if he keeps this
up." Wesley agreed. "Ryoko? We've got to step in and stop

Ryoko bit her lower lip. "No." She finally pronounced.

Wesley and Lucas stared hard at her, dumbfounded.

"Look at him carefully. He's pissed, but he's forcing himself to
keep calm. I've seen him do this before. He's up to something,
I'm sure of it."

Both of the young men looked at her as if she were crazy, but
Ryoko ignored them. The space pirate girl continued to watch
Adric intently, hoping she was right.

But she prepared herself for a flying grab-and-teleport, just in


"If you think I should be grateful to you for your interference,
you are sadly mistaken." the Trakenite pronounced. "Your
pathetic friend would have been dead where she stood."

"Oh, possibly. Maybe even probably." Adric acknowledged with a
nod. "I've seen you in action, after all. I know there was a
good chance you'd have pulled something out and turned the tables
on her, maybe even have made it very fatal. You excel in that
sort of surprise turnabout. No, no, I'm not suggesting that you
owe me anything."

"Good, because I don't. And neither will I ever." she said
curtly, and abruptly made a tight about-face and began to stomp

But the Alzarian was not fazed. "I mention that," he continued,
his voice steadily rising, "by way of explaining that I'm not
intimidated by you anymore."

That stopped her. Cold.

The room went almost deathly silent.

"You know," Adric continued, in an almost pleasant tone of voice,
not even noticing that he had the room's undivided attention,
"repeat something enough times, and one can get used to just
about anything. Even death. Even pain. Especially pain. After
awhile you learn, if you'll pardon the expression, to live with
it. It becomes part of the landscape, a fact that you simply
have to contend with." His voice lowered significantly. "But as
long as you refuse to let it get to you, it won't control you."

He watched her carefully from behind, noting that her fists were
starting to clench into demure balls.

"Whatever you... or anyone else, for that matter... thinks of me,
know now that I've got at least enough self-respect to not play
this game anymore. Now, gods know I can't stop you from killing
me, so I guess I might as well not even try. But I can attempt
to make you understand that, whatever your reasons are, it won't
do you any good. In short, you've lost. I no longer fear you, I
refuse to be afraid of you." Adric took a deep breath, but
continued to look at her back squarely. "If anything... I pity
you, because you won't see what it is you're doing to yourself."

At his last words she spun back toward him, her face furious...
and in one hand holding a small, compact phaser which had been
hidden somehow, somewhere, on her person. She leveled the energy
weapon at the seated figure across the clearing.

"Good." Adric said, watching carefully as she began to step once
again towards him. "Now we're getting somewhere."


"Oh hell." Wesley whispered. "There goes everything." Lucas
shook his head in agreement.

Only Ryoko remained expressionless.


If looks could kill, hers would have been banned by several
intergalactic peace treaties as a weapon of mass destruction.

"I don't care about your pity." she sneered, her voice emphatic
as she advanced on the Alzarian. "And I certainly don't care
whether you're afraid of me or not. You're nothing more to me
than an insignificant, whiny lab rat with delusions of
importance. You are _nothing_, do you understand that? A
complete and utter nothing!!"

"Oh, I don't think so." he said casually, but with a slight edge
to his voice. "And what's more... I think a part of you doesn't
think so either."

For a second, and only a second, her weapon's hand dropped.

"You think incorrectly." her voice declared, but louder than it
had been. She stopped quite close to him, holding the weapon
level to his head. She leaned forward, as if about to shoot.
"There is nothing in me that would make me care the least." she

"Is there?"

The weapon became aimed at his forehead, squarely between the
eyebrows. Nevertheless, his eyes looked up and continued to lock
onto her directly.

"Go ahead." he said quickly, the words coming out as fast as he
could voice them. "Squeeze the trigger. Put more distance
between yourself and the person you once were. That's what you
want, isn't it? To have a sense of power, of control, over
something you don't have any control over." He leaned closer
toward the weapon, until it was almost touching. "But in the
process, you can't see what you're doing to yourself. You like
it too much to want to give it up."

Her hand was rock-steady, but the gun did not fire.

Adric's voice was now barely a whisper. "I stepped between you
and Ember because I couldn't stand by and watch a friend get
hurt. _Any_ friend. The same goes here." He gulped. "For
whatever reason, you've decided that killing me is preferable to
facing what you're unwilling to face. But you _know_ where this
is going to lead you, don't you? You know it, but yet you still
won't stop."

The gun pressed against him, but still the fire did not come.

"If this is what it takes for you to realize that you are
destroying yourself, then so be it. But you must understand that
you will not find what you're looking for if you continue to
travel down this road. You can shoot me, you can skewer me, you
can chop me up into little bits and use me To Serve Man. But in
the end it will not change the fact that you are running away.
And unless you actually face that fact, it will only get more

His eyes met hers, piercingly. "Do you really want that kind of
a dark future? Do you really want that kind of loneliness?" he
asked. "Do you... Nyssa?"

Nyssa of Traken stared back at him. "You can have no
understanding." she whispered, quietly, from behind firmly
pressed teeth.

Adric of Alzarius continued to lock gaze. "Then why haven't you
fired already?"

The two were locked in silence, while all around a multitude of
beings held their breath.

For a moment, it looked as if she was in the midst of backing
down. Her arm went slack, losing some of its statuesque
hardness, and some took that as a sign to begin breathing again.

Then, she fired.


For a long moment, she stared at the ashes that had once been a
person sitting on a chair. Then she lowered the phaser to her

The noise in the pub returned to its previous level. A few
whispers, a cough, and maybe a chuckle or two were all the
apparent signs that anything out of the ordinary had happened in
the last few minutes, although from time to time an odd,
questioning glance could be noticed cast in the young woman's

She didn't notice.

"Insolent... callous... ungrateful... _weasel_!" she muttered
to herself, with as much vehemence as she could muster. But the
words refused to carry the weight she felt they should. Instead,
they seemed unusually hollow, almost meaningless, said more in
form rather than substance. Rather like the void she felt that
had suddenly opened up inside.

She brushed away the single drop of moisture traveling down one
side of her cheek, and turned away. Back to Mike, she thought
emptily. He should be a lot more entertaining than...

She almost didn't notice that Mel was standing in front of her.
Open mouthed, looking somewhat in shock, as if she were seeing
something for the first time. Or someone. Behind Mel, Mike
Yates too stood looking at her, but his gaze was stone-faced. It
didn't last long, though; he tore himself away, and pointedly
marched off in another direction.

"Until this moment," Mel said, her voice strained and stunned, "I
still wasn't certain if it was all just an act or not. But it
isn't, is it? You really are that cold and heartless, aren't

The Trakenite's jaw dropped. "I beg your pardon?!??"

"You have no idea what just happened, do you?" Mel continued.
"No idea whatsoever? Did you actually listen to anything that
was just said?"

"Now see here," the Trakenite demanded, indignantly. "You cannot
consider the incoherent ramblings of a... a..."

But Mel wasn't listening. "You're not prepared to let _anyone_
get close, are you? You'd rather push them away as thoroughly as
you can than risk even the possibility that you might get hurt?"

The younger woman tried to stammer a reply, but found she

Mel shook her head once more in disbelief, then started turning
to step away. Suddenly, the red-haired woman felt the need to
get as far from the other as possible. But before she could do
so, she suddenly remembered the piece of paper that was still
clutched in her hand.

"Here." Melanie said, handing the Trakenite the assignment sheet.

"This is yours. Congratulations. From the sound of things, it
should be everything you're hoping for." And with those words,
Mel stormed off and made her way toward the three friends of
Adric's, who were at that moment whispering between themselves
and Francois.

Nyssa watched her leave, still mystified as to the entire
exchange. Surely, she thought, the woman wasn't seriously
suggesting what she thought she was suggesting...

She turned her attention to the piece of paper that had just been
handed to her. It was folded, and looked somewhat worse for
wear, as if it had been handled by a number of people in a short
period of time. She unfolded it, and began to read the summary
where she stood.

She re-read it again, just to make certain she had read it
correctly. Then, with increasing dread, she read the notes
section, which provided an outline for the background they were
proposing to add.

"No." she mumbled to herself, "Please, Keeper... no."

Then she looked up from the sheet and over to where the ashes
were piled, now about to be swept into a dustpan...

...and once more, felt the emptiness inside.


A couple of hours later, four friends arrived at Ucchan's, one of
whom was shaking so badly that he almost had to be carried by the
other three. They sat him down at a table, promptly produced a
cold, silvery can of Sapporo, and poured it into a glass in front
of him.

"I can't believe I actually did that." he was jabbering
breathlessly. "I can't believe I actually _said_ that. I'm
afraid that I've just made the biggest mistake of my life! I
_feel_ like I've just made the biggest mistake of my life!" He
turned to his three friends. "Please tell me I haven't just made
the biggest mistake of my life!?!" he pleaded.

Ryoko patted his shoulder. "Calm down, Adric. Relax. No, I
don't think you've just made a mistake." She shook her head.
"But... I don't quite know what you've done. It's so completely
out of left field that..." Her voice started to trail off,

"Whatever you did," Lucas interrupted with a chuckle, "you've
certainly made an impression on everyone there they won't soon
forget. Hell, you should have _seen_ the looks on their faces."

"Yeah." Wesley agreed, almost but not quite laughing. "Everyone
was looking at you, listening, and thinking 'Who the hell are
you, and what have you done with Adric?' It was priceless!"

"I wish I could feel that good about it." Adric said glumly. He
then chugged most of his Sapporo to calm his nerves.

"Adric," Ryoko asked not much later, after the Alzarian had
stopped shaking, "just one question. Where the HELL did all of
that come from?"

"I didn't plan it out, if that's what you're asking," he said.
The quick, rapid-fire of his speech had by now slowed down
somewhat, but it hadn't completely come back to normal. "It just
sort of, well, happened. One thought led to another and then
another and then... I guess it was a whole bunch of things --
ideas and thoughts and frustrations, things people have said,
things you guys have said, that all just suddenly rolled up
together at once."

The look the others were giving told him that more elaboration
was needed.

Adric took a deep breath. "A couple of days ago, I met someone
in the afterlife. He was lamenting the fact that he'd never told
someone he cared for how much they meant to him, and now that he
was dead, they'd never know." A pause, while Adric idly began to
run one finger tip along the rim of his glass. "Not too long ago
I met a vampire who'd fallen in love with a human, but one who he
knew would never return that love. Still, he at least took the
chance and told her. Then she died. Toward the end she was at
least willing to treat him something like a friend. He told me
it helped him deal with the grief, that at least she knew, even
if nothing would ever come of it. At least he took the chance."
A pause once more. "Then I remembered me."

They looked at him intently.

"I remembered the first time I died. I was on that stupid
freighter, looking down at the planet it was about to hit and
knowing there was a bomb on board that I couldn't stop. And I
remember looking down at myself and thinking, 'This is it. I'm
seventeen years old, and it's all over'. I'll never be able to
be what I want to be, I'll never grow up and grow old and raise a

family, I'll never be able to make plans or apologize or
anything. It was all over, barely after it had begun.

"Then I came here.

"I know what the score is like. I've seen enough of the other
realities to know that most of the time, I don't even get this
far. I certainly almost never get another chance. But rather
than recognize Outside as a second chance, I kept brooding over
the results of my first. Over the writers who would rather abuse
me than genuinely use me, over the stupid fans and their petty
grievances, over not having a future to live up to, over
everything that I could possibly have done wrong -- real or
imaginary. I forgot what it was like to be young and frightened
and rebellious and a little cocky, and instead just let myself be
defined by everyone else's low expectations. Until, that is,

"Suddenly, I looked at things and realized that there were two
paths in front of me, each going in different directions, but
each mutually exclusive of the other. One path was the easy one,
where I could accept things as they were and just try to live
with it. Safe and complacent, but no challenges, nothing
changing, everything staying exactly as it was, the only
opportunities being whatever was handed out. The other path was
not as easy, not as certain. Not safe, not complacent. Nothing
was given away, everything had to be striven for, sometimes by
making difficult choices. But... the potential would be far more
satisfying. A future of some kind, not of their making but my

"I decided tonight that I couldn't live any longer with the way
things were.

"And the only way I could see to put me on that path, to make
sure they all understood I wasn't going to take it anymore, was
to make the one confrontation everyone assumed I didn't have the
guts for. They have to understand, really understand, that I'm
serious. It's not a strength or weakness thing, it's... I refuse
to be treated as anything less than an equal, by any of them.
For any reason. My name is Adric, not 'Dead Boy'. And they have
to recognize that. All of them."

He sighed, resolutely.

"Somehow, someway, I'm going to find a way out of this mess. I
don't know exactly how, yet, but someday I'm going to find a way
and take it. Forget continuity, forget canon, forget what
everyone else thinks is or is not acceptable. I'm going to go
forward _despite_ them all. I've got to. It's the only way I
can live with this. If they can't handle the simple idea that I
refuse to be what they think I am, well, that's their problem,
not mine."

"But what about...?" Wesley asked.

Adric shrugged his shoulders, but seemed to deflate somewhat. "I
imagine she's rather angry with me at this moment. Probably
furious. I've just managed to put a severe dent in her entire
rationale, after all, and I doubt she'll appreciate it " He
sighed, and gazed down at the table. "But... it had to happen.
She especially has to understand that the old days are over. I
_will not_ be a victim any longer, hers or anyone else's. And I
have to find a way to make her understand that, to get her to
start thinking of me as a real person, not as an abstraction.
Otherwise..." He sighed. "If it's ever going to happen, that's
the only chance there is to make it work..."

He suddenly looked up from the table and at his friends, and
realized they were all grinning at him.

"Don't take that to mean..." he said, hurriedly.

"Uh huh." Ryoko assured him. "Don't worry, Adric. You know
we'll only take it to mean exactly what you think it means."

Adric rolled his eyes, and wished he could at least learn to keep
his big mouth shut.

Wesley looked up, just as the door to Ucchan's slammed shut. The
look on his face changed noticeably. "Um, sorry guys. Someone
just came in I'd like to say hello to," he said, and without much
more explanation, got up from the table. The three watched as he
trotted over toward a young girl with long, very dark hair and
goddess markings on her face, who in turn had just arrived with
her two older sisters and one of those sister's boyfriends.

A few minutes later Sanson, Jean, and several crew members from
the _Nautilus_ came by and dragged Lucas away, excitedly
discussing among themselves various submarine-related engineering
problems. At least, that's what they claimed, although Adric
suspected it was more than a coincidence that several of them
just happened to position themselves near a table that just
happened to be occupied by a certain blonde-haired woman in blue,
19th Century attire.

Ryoko and Adric watched the goings-on for some moments in
silence, each wrapped in each other's thoughts.

Finally, Adric turned to the space pirate. "Um, Ryoko?"

"Hmm?" she mumbled, in surprise.

"I know I don't show it sometimes, but... I wanted to say thank
you for everything you guys have been doing for me. Or have
tried to do. I know I can be a bit of a jerk sometimes..."

"You're not a jerk." Ryoko denied. "You just... needed a bit of
a boost, that's all. Besides... remember when you told her about
not wanting to see a friend get hurt? Same applies here.
Whatever else those idiots out there think, _we_ think you're
kind of cool. We're your friends, Adric. And we hate to see our
friends get hurt."

Adric digested that information. "Thank you." he said finally,
after a moment's thought. "I don't know if you can ever
appreciate how much it means for me to hear that."

Ryoko and Adric watched silently as Wes and the dark-haired girl
sat down at a table together.



"Some of the things you said to her. They didn't sound like the
words of someone who didn't care. In fact, they sounded an awful
lot like the words of someone who cared a great deal."

The Alzarian made no immediate response to that observation.



"I'm telling you this honestly. I don't know if you guys are
right about her. I actually still think it's all rather

Ryoko's catlike eyes glanced in his direction. He seemed to be
staring at nothing in particular.

"But..." he continued, turning towards her in all seriousness, "I
think I would like to find out."

Ryoko gave him a short, muted laugh.

"I hope you do, Adric. I hope you do."

24 June 2001

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five

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