Newcardiff was the type of borderlands outpost where only the disillusioned, desperate and marginally legal ended up. A planet of crumbling beige rock and sand and hollowness; where the wind shrieked across barren plains like an enraged banshee, blowing everything away in front of it, wiping everything away behind it. Saber couldn't remember visiting a more desolate place. He wasn't surprised Jesse Blue had ended up here.
Nor had Jesse seem surprised to see Saber. He'd displayed neither shock nor fear, hadn't actually said anything at all when Saber walked through the saloon doors, merely pushed a chair out from his table with one foot and waved at the bartender to bring another glass. But Saber hadn't missed the fact Jesse's other hand had flicked open his sidearm's holster strap.
Saber shifted the chair to one side so its back was to the wall, and sat. Jesse had changed little since the fall of Nemesis, he thought, studying the man he hadn't seen in over two years. The startling-coloured hair was longer, but the expression of amused arrogance was the same, the pale, pale skin was the same, the eyes as blue as bone-deep bruises were the same. His stomach twisted and hurt, just like it always had, when he looked at Jesse. Something so beautiful should be pure and fair - not pure poison.
The bartender plonked a glass onto the small table between them and the tense silence dissolved. Jesse poured a hefty shot of amber spirit into the glass, topped his own up and then gave Saber a mocking little toast before downing the liquid. Saber ignored it.
"Well, I'm sure you didn't come all this way just to have a drink with me, Tin Star," drawled Jesse, "Though you do realise Newcardiff is an independent treaty world? No dragging me back to your sanctimonious little Alliance unless you want to cause a massive diplomatic scandal."
He was right, of course.
"I'm not here on official business," admitted Saber.
And that did surprise Jesse. Wariness followed the brief flash of startlement on his face, along with a casual movement that ended with a hand on his pistol-butt.
"So what are you here for?"
Which was the question, wasn't it?
Everybody thought Jesse Blue dead, incinerated in the inferno that had consumed Nemesis. Fireball subscribed to that view and Colt endorsed it with great glee. April, he thought, hoped it was true, felt guilty she felt that way, and in some deep inner place, suspected it wasn't true. Only Saber had never believed it. Hadn't wanted to believe. Had eventually had to come find out if it was true.
But really, it didn't matter in the end that Jesse was alive. No-one could erase the past, and all Jesse could look forward to at Alliance hands was complete personality rehabilitation. The individual who resulted would have no resemblance to the man slouching before him now. He'd be honest, compassionate and moral, a repentant and productive member of society. The type of person Saber would be glad to call friend. Yet Saber was unsure he wanted to meet that man.
Jesse laughed, a flat humourless edge to the sound.
"What, you came to renew old acquaintance? To see how far I'd fallen? Perhaps the noble Star Sheriff even came here to save me," the last said with a sneer.
Suddenly Jesse was leaning over the table grabbing his wrist, rattlesnake-fast just like he always had been.
"And what if I don't want to be saved, Tin Star. Did you think of that? Or don't I get a choice?"
The hand clamped around his was echoed by a clamping sensation around his lungs. Saber wondered why he'd thought Jesse would have been changed by failure. The taste of defeat must be dust in his mouth.
"Your choices so far haven't been that wise," he responded in even tones, "You betrayed the Star Sheriffs, Cavalry Command. You even betrayed your own species, for all the good it did you."
"Yes, well, if at first you don't succeed... " Jesse smiled at him, sly and spiteful and wickedly beautiful, "And I don't think you have the right to complain about some of my choices."
There was nothing he could say to that which wouldn't either be hypocritical or leave him unguarded.
"What are you really here for, Saber?"
He woke to the sensation of warm weight down his right side and long hair across his face. Saber opened his eyes to an azure veil and lay silently with Jesse wrapped around him as the early morning sun crept across the room to the bed. Eventually his thoughts and conscience were too loud to ignore, so he carefully extracted himself and dressed. He knew Jesse was awake and watching him, but neither spoke. He stopped with his hand on the door, hesitating.
Jesse's voice was coolly unequivocal.
"Go away, Saber. I'll see you in the next war."