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Avon's Story

By Catherine Salmon
Part 1: The Longest Day

 

"Where is Blake? You promised me Blake." Avon's voice was tightly controlled, holding back his anger at losing Liberator and his fear that Servalan would not give up Blake unless he were dead. However, it would not do to let her know the extent to which she had control. He regarded the Supreme Commander stonily and she smiled in return, stepping in close.

"Oh, Avon. Such concern for your beloved leader. It's really quite touching."

Avon clenched his fists so as not to strangle her and continued to stare at Servalan. Finally, she turned away with a sigh.

"Oh, he is here, Avon. And alive. Unfortunately, his condition will soon deteriorate. You see ...," Servalan leaned closer to whisper in Avon's ear, "his life support system requires energy of which there is only a twenty-four hour supply left on this miserable planet. When I leave with the Liberator, so does the only source of energy. Blake will die. Slowly and painfully and you will bear witness to it, Avon." Servalan paused to stroke her polished nails across Avon's cheek. "I hope you enjoy it. You so like to make others suffer."

Avon's face went white at her words. Blake could not die! Not after he had searched for him, given up Liberator for him. There must be a way to save him. Servalan had to be lying.

Her departure occurred in a blur to Avon's shocked senses. Before she left, she announced that Blake was in room 2D3, if they wished to say goodbye. With a final triumphant look at Avon, Servalan teleported, leaving Avon with his crew...and Blake.

"Avon?" Vila asked worriedly. "Are you okay?"

The others crowded around anxiously but before they could ask, Avon spun on his heel and took off down the corridor. Tarrant and the women looked at Vila who just shrugged and followed Avon.

~ ~ ~

Once out of sight of the others, Avon stopped for a moment, calming his pounding heart.

"Blake would just love this," Avon whispered softly. "Avon concerned about something other than his own hide. And talking to myself no less."

Shaking his head and taking a deep breath, he turned the corner and came face to face with room 2D3. Gently touching the door first, Avon pressed the panel on his right. The door slid open, just as he remembered. Blake too was as he remembered. Bearded and too pale, he lay quietly sleeping. The only sound to be heard, the faint beeping of his life-support system. Avon stepped to Blake's side, watching the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. His own chest tightened into a vise around his heart as he noticed that the life-support power levels were already below fifty per cent. Had Servalan been telling the truth or her usual lies? Could Blake possibly survive without proper medical facilities? Unconsciously, Avon brushed Blake's shaggy curls off his forehead.

"Sleeping the sleep of the innocent, Blake? Somehow I am not surprised. Though you might not believe me, I wish we both knew such peace in our waking hours."

Avon sighed and withdrew his hand.

"Do you think he'll be all right?"

Avon spun in surprise at Vila's quiet question, reaching for his gun and placing himself between the helpless rebel and the door.

"Avon! It's just me!" Vila cried out, backing away hastily.

Avon lowered his gun, replacing it at his side.

"I am sorry, Vila. You startled me."

"S'alright Avon. I understand. You're worried about him, that's all."

Avon scowled back at Vila.

"I am not worried. And you understand nothing."

Vila carefully looked from Avon to Blake and back again.

"Whatever you say, Avon."

After a moment of glaring at Vila, Avon returned his gaze to Blake's still form. Reaching out, he gripped Blake's bare shoulder, shaking gently and feeling slightly foolish.

"Blake, wake up."

Blake stirred slightly but did not wake.

Avon stared pointedly at Vila, who was still leaning against the door, keeping a watchful eye on the other two men. This time however, he met Avon's gaze and, after a moment, he nodded, turned, and left.

Avon sighed and returned his attention to Blake. Again, he tentatively reached out to Blake, brushing back his tangle of curls. Blake stirred at the light touch, so Avon cleaned closer.

"Blake. It's Avon."

At the sound of Avon's voice, full of concern, Blake stilled his restless movements.

"You came back."

The words were softly whispered and Blake's eyes were still closed but, somehow, just hearing Blake's voice gave Avon hope. Hope that they would find a way off this hunk of rock and, more importantly to Avon, though he was loath to admit it, hope that Roj Blake would recover. A faint smile tugged at the corners of Avon's mouth.

"Of course, Fearless Leader. Where else could I go?"

Avon was rewarded as Blake's eyes flew open at the familiar sarcastic comment. And as Avon watched the rebel trying to understand his words, Avon recognized the truth in them. He did care about Blake. If he had to call anyone friend, it would be the idealistic rebel and at his side was where he belonged. Perhaps that held the key to Blake's uncertainty. Perhaps he really does not understand why I fight by his side. He knows I care little for the masses he has devoted his life to freeing. But does he realize that I, a reluctant follower, have no choice but to follow him? Avon's musings were interrupted as Blake settled a hand on Avon's arm. Avon looked down to be met by Blake's calm gaze.

"Thank you." Blake spoke softly.

Blake's gratitude hit Avon like a brick wall and Blake must have seen the effect for he tightened his grip.

"Avon? What is it? What is wrong?"

Avon tensed and tried to pull away. This wasn't how I wanted to tell him but I seem to have little choice in the matter. Avon steeled himself and faced Blake again.

"How much do you know about your condition, Blake?"

Blake looked at Avon sharply. "Enough. Why? Is it important?"

"Servalan is gone."

Avon said it softly and Blake stared back confused and dumbfounded.

"Is she...?"

"No, more's the pity. She escaped, Blake, with the Liberator."

Blake's eyes darkened with a rarely seen anger. "How could you let her, Avon! You have given her the most powerful ship in existence. She will be unstoppable now!"

Avon flinched at Blake's harsh words and spoke without thinking. "Oh, Blake. What I have done is much, much worse."

The sorrow and self-loathing in the Avon's voice halted Blake's tirade. He saw the pain in his friend's eyes and, as usual, felt guilty for hurting Avon. Particularly, when he was already in such pain.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to blame you, Avon. I realize that you would never willingly have given up Liberator."

"You should blame me, Blake. I am more of a fool than you realize. I lost the Liberator because of a dream and now I realize that I may lose even the dream."

Avon struggled for control and all Blake could think to do was to comfort him. With all his strength, he pulled the unresisting comp tech to him, offering what comfort he could. Avon shivered in Blake's brotherly embrace. How could he tell Blake that he was going to die and that he, Avon, was to blame? Avon pulled away from the comfort Blake offered, rising to pace the room like a caged panther.

Blake was getting frustrated. "Avon, stop avoiding whatever it is that is upsetting you. Tell me."

At Blake's concerned and angry words, Avon stopped. He had to tell Blake the truth. If he were in Blake's position, he would want honesty, however painful.

"Blake, when Servalan left so did our power source. There is only enough power left to fuel the medical equipment for twenty-four hours. Unless your condition improves..."

Avon broke off, unable to continue. After several minutes of silence, he looked up at Blake. He lay quietly, eyes closed. Avon stepped closer, suddenly and unaccountably afraid.

"Blake?"

"Yes, Avon." The words, an affirmation, were spoken faintly but with calm deliberation. This man would not descend to hysterics or anger, no matter the unfairness of his universe.

"Blake, I am so sorry."

Avon lay his hand on Blake's shoulder. I wish I had words to comfort you, Blake. To tell you that everything would be all right. That Orac will find an alternate energy source and that we will get off this planet. But I have never lied to you before and I will not now. But I still wish I could ease your pain. Blake interrupted Avon's thoughts by placing his hand over the one resting on his shoulder. Avon instinctively returned the clasp with equal fervor. I cannot lose you, not after all I have sacrificed to find you! As Avon struggled for control, to find the right words, Blake spoke.

"Avon, it is not your fault and I will not have you blame yourself."

Avon turned away from his intense gaze.

"Avon, look at me! I am not dead yet. A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. Orac could find a solution."

Avon looked at Blake in surprise. Still the hopeful idealist, Blake? But perhaps Orac can...

"Avon, I will be extremely put out if you give up on me. I never knew you to be a quitter before."

Avon started at the challenge in Blake's voice. Perhaps he was right. Maybe the subsurface energy could be harnessed somehow...

Blake smiled at the thoughtful look on Avon's face. He was already trying to find a solution and Blake believed in him. Given time, his friend could do anything. But did they have time? Blake frowned, trying to banish that thought from his mind. Avon would find a way. He always had before. But what if...? Blake looked up again at Avon's face. Now was not the time for confessions. If luck was with them, they would not be necessary and if it was not, well, there would be time enough for those sentiments that Avon professed to despise.

"Don't let me keep you, Avon. Go on. I will be fine."

Avon started at Blake's words. Looking down, he stared at him for a moment and then, with a quick nod, he slipped away.

~ ~ ~

"Orac. How long must Blake remain on life support before he can survive on his own??

"Forty-eight hours should be sufficient to ensure his complete recovery. However, the station's energy banks only have enough power for 22.7 more hours of medical support. After that point in time..."

"Yes, Orac. I know what will happen!" Avon snarled at the little computer. Damn, it will take at least twenty-five hours to tap the geothermal energy with the antiquated Federation equipment.

"Orac. If Blake's life support was lost for a period of three to four hours and then resumed, would Blake survive for those hours?"

"Unknown. There is no available data on such circumstances. I can only conjecture."

"So conjecture, Orac."

"It is a possibility but not a certainty that Blake would survive. I would estimate his survival probability at thirty percent."

"A slim chance is better than none, " Avon muttered. "Vila and Tarrant can get started on the drilling while I tell Blake."

~ ~ ~

"So, Blake. What Orac offers is a partial solution. The core energy of the planet can power the station indefinitely."

"But it will take twenty-five hours to implement."

"Orac claims that you will be able to survive for a short while without the life support system. Once forty-eight hours have passed on full support, you will be able to function without it."

Avon hoped that he sounded more confident than he felt. Blake deserves better than this, Avon thought angrily. Damn you, Servalan. Blake will suffer for those hours and I will never forget that you have made me responsible for it.

"Avon?"

Avon focused in on his face as Blake licked his lips nervously. "Avon, I would like to ask you to do something for me." Without giving Avon a chance to protest, he went on. "I know that you want to supervise the core drill but, when the power cuts out, will you stay with me?"

Avon's skin appeared even paler than usual and his eyes were very dark. "Blake, I..."

"Avon, please listen." Blake sounded exhausted and not a little scared. "I know that you hate feeling helpless and that if you are active you feel better but I don't think I can do this alone." His husky voice was very soft now. "Cally is right. The worst curse is to die alone."

The vulnerable, lost look on Blake's face tore at Avon's non-existent heart. How could I refuse you, Blake? I have given you my trust and what friendship I am capable of. I would give you my life if it would save yours. But I can never say the words you seem to need. I know that I will regret this later but...

"Yes, Blake. I will stay, but you won't die. You are far too stubborn to quit fighting now. After all, who else is foolish enough to lead your rabble?

Blake smiled gently at Avon's sarcasm. Still afraid to admit that you feel, aren't you, my aloof friend. But I do understand. "Thank you, Avon."

Avon briefly returned the smile. "I will be back."

"I am not going anywhere."

~ ~ ~

"Avon!" Vila shouted. "The drill is almost through!"

Avon hurried over to the drill monitor, glancing again at the wall chronometer. 22.5 hours had passed since he left Blake in the medical center. He had not slept with the exception of a brief and restless nap several hours ago.

"Orac. How long will it take for power hookup implementation?"

"It will take two point one hours for the new power system to come on-line."

Vila looked worriedly at Avon. "Will Blake be all right?"

Avon continued to watch the monitor. When he answered Vila, his words were very soft. "I hope so, Vila. I will be in the medical center. I have a promise to keep."

Avon abruptly turned away, heading for the doorway. "Inform me when implementation is complete."

Without waiting for a reply, he was gone, leaving a very concerned Vila behind.

~ ~ ~

Avon stood quietly in the doorway of the medical center. Cally had been sitting at Blake's bedside but, at Avon's appearance, the Auron warrior stood. Walking softly, she moved towards the door. "He has been asleep for about three hours, Avon. Call me if you need anything."

Avon nodded fractionally as she left, all his attention concentrated on the form lying peacefully on the bed. I do not want to be here, Avon thought desperately. There is nothing I can do to help Blake now. Why can I not just let go of him? Breathing deeply, he sat down at the rebel's side, watching him sleep. Damn you, Blake. Why could you not take better care of yourself? Avon's frustrated thoughts were interrupted as Blake shifted restlessly.

"Avon?"

"Be quiet, Blake."

Blake opened his eyes and a faint smile graced his lips.

"I'm glad you're here. Stay?"

Avon stared openly at Blake's hopeful but peaceful expression. How could he accept death so easily?

"Yes. I'll stay. The new power system will not be on-line for two more hours. I'm sorry, Blake."

Avon looked away, frustrated by his helplessness and by Blake's apparent calm. I do not want to lose you, Blake. Not now, not ever.

"You really are the Fearless Leader." Avon's voice held wonder at Blake's strength behind his overt sarcasm.

"No, Avon. I am scared and frightened but there is nothing that I can do. Tears are unlikely to help at this point. Anyway, I like to leave the hysterics to Vila. He does them so well."

Avon smiled and faced Blake. "Yes, he does seem to relish his role."

Blake returned the smile for a brief moment. Wincing against the pain, he closed his eyes, reaching out for Avon's hand. Avon allowed the touch, worried at Blake's increasing pallor.

"What is it?"

"Avon, I want you to know. What I said at Star One about trust, I meant it all. If there were one man in the universe that I could call friend, it would be you."

At Avon's blank expression, Blake turned away and whispered very softly, "I just wanted you to know. In case I don't make it."

Avon continued to stare at Blake, at the shaggy curls surrounding the rebel's face like a halo. Why, Blake? Why is it so hard for me to give you what you want? I feel the same way, my foolish rebel, but I just can't say the words! I never could. He tightened his grip on Blake's hand, drawing his attention back. Some of Avon's pain reached Blake and he nodded once.

"I understand, Kerr."

Avon's eyes flashed at the use of his given name. His grip tightened a fraction more and then released.

"You should rest, Blake. Conserve your strength."

Avon expected an argument but Blake nodded his agreement and lay back, closing his eyes. Avon remained at his side and as Blake descended into sleep, he heard the whispered words, "You have to make it, Blake. I won't lose you, my friend. I can't."

~ ~ ~

Avon jerked awake. Who called me? Immediately, he looked down at Blake. Still unconscious. Then who?

 

"Avon!"

It could only be Vila.

"Yes, Vila."

Avon turned as Vila skidded around the corner and into the medical center, a huge grin on his face.

"We have full power. Orac's system works!"

Avon nodded and Vila let his sight center on Blake.

"How is he, Avon?"

Avon sighed, gazing down at the suddenly frail-looking rebel. "I do not know. Full power should sustain him but I can not tell how much damage has already been done."

Vila heard the pain and guilt behind Avon's words. I wish I could help you, Avon, but only Blake seems able to reach behind your walls. Cautiously, Vila touched Avon's shoulder. Avon looked at him with surprise.

"He'll be all right, Avon. I know he will. He's a fighter, he is."

With those words, Vila slipped away, leaving Avon alone with his thoughts. And with his friend.

Looking around carefully, Avon sighed and took Blake's hand in his. Leaning back in his chair to stretch his aching back, Avon gazed down at their entwined fingers.

"Well, Blake. I have done as you asked. Now it is your turn. Come back to us."

Avon stared hard his face, so innocent in repose, searching for some sign of awareness but Blake was as still as if chiseled in stone. Releasing his hand, Avon jumped up to pace back and forth across the room.

"Damn it, Blake! Don't you dare leave me. I will never forgive you for it."

His back to Blake, Avon could not see the flickering eyelids that signaled Blake's' return to consciousness.

"Avon?"

Avon froze in shock. Suddenly spinning round, he reached Blake's side, leaning over until he was almost nose to nose with him.

"Roj?"

Avon's voice was soft and questioning. Please answer me, Blake. Come back to me now.

At the sound of his given name, Blake opened his eyes, which widened in shock at the sight that greeted him. A slightly disheveled and extremely agitated Avon was peering into his face. Blake's heart warmed at the obvious concern in his companion's eyes. A faint smile tugged at his lips and he tried to lift a hand to Avon's worried face. Briefly brushing Avon's cheek, he let it fall back, exhausted by the effort.

"Thank you."

Blake's voice was very low and husky and his own eyes had filled, the tears spilling down his cheeks.

"For what?" Avon softly inquired, his free hand brushing the tears from his leader's face. Blake smiled.

"For staying, for your friendship. I would have died if you and Orac had not found an alternative power source. I owe you my life, Avon. Many times over."

Blake watched carefully for Avon's reaction. It was slow in coming and Avon released Blake's hand before speaking.

"You would not have been the only one to die, Blake. I could not have lived with the knowledge that I was the cause of your death. This past year without you, I have been slowly dying inside and I never realized why."

Blake's gaze was filled with puzzlement and concern, and Avon looked away.

"I realize why now, Blake. I needed...still need...you. Even without believing in your Cause, you forced me to believe in you. I had convinced myself that mankind was inherently evil, justifying my own actions. But you flaunted your goodness in the face of my certainties. You bleed for the masses, have compassion for everyone. You forced me, against my better judgment, to care again. And that bound me to you, Blake. From the London, I was held. I could not leave you even if I wanted to and, at times, I hated you for that."

Avon bowed his head, hiding his face from him. Blake was shocked by his admission but he reached out and took Avon's hand in his.

"I never realized how much this bond between us hurt you, Avon, and for that I am sorry. I felt that you cared and I thought by staying away I would help you accept that we needed each other. What had happened was my fault. I was wrong to stay away. And I will never leave you again, my friend."

Blake tightened his grip as Avon stared deeply into his eyes.

"My friend."

Avon's voice held wonder and a sense of amazement and Blake was again struck by the strength of Avon's fealty.

"Yes, Avon. Always."

Blake reached up to take Avon's shoulders, pulling him into a bear hug. He felt Avon shiver and then return the embrace. Releasing him and lying back down, Blake noticed the teardrops clinging to Avon's dark lashes.

"Get some sleep, Avon. You need it and I'll be fine now."

Blake said it gently and with a smile but Avon automatically bristled at the suggestion that anyone could tell him what to do. But Blake's grin was infectious and Avon relaxed. Standing away from the bed, Avon stretched his back stiffly, making Blake chuckle in amusement. Avon shot him his old irritated glare.

"I'll go, Blake, but you will sleep, too. Or I will send Cally to enforce my orders."

With a devilish grin, Avon slipped through the door, leaving Blake to his rest. As Avon walked to his temporary cabin and opened the door, he was surprised to find himself at peace. It has been too long, he admitted to himself. I have been alone too long. Collapsing on his bed, he only had the energy to remove his boots and crawl under the covers. But Blake's here now was Avon's last coherent thought as he drifted off to sleep. My rebel's finally back.

 

"As many nights endure
Without a moon or star,
So will we endure
When one is gone and far."

Leonard Cohen

Part 2: Long Day into Night

 

Avon sighed. Why now, Blake? Neither of us is ready to face Servalan. Yet you insist on an attempt to capture her.

Shaking his head, Avon half-heartedly returned to his work. Ever since their return to Aristo, Blake had been feverishly planning. Not only supervising the set-up of their new rebel base but also working on some secret plan to bring the Federation to its knees. Ignoring his health, he had suffered several relapses early on, which frightened Avon more than he was willing to admit. Furious, Avon had forced Blake to rest, at least temporarily. But now the doctors claimed that Blake had completely recovered, giving him free rein over his behavior once more. It seemed that all his energy was once more focused on his rebel cause.

Jealousy does not become you, Kerr Avon, he mused. I just wish that I knew what you are up to, Blake. I don't trust your fanatical streak. It will get us all killed eventually.

A sudden feeling of being watched caused Avon to look up behind him to where Blake was watching quietly.

"I see you're hard at work."

"Good morning to you, too," Avon snarled, nettled at being sneaked up on. For a big man, Blake moved very quickly and quietly. Blake's eyes darkened at Avon's words and he stepped close to the other man's side. Restraining himself, Blake gently placed a hand on Avon's tense shoulder.

"I don't want to argue with you, Avon. I came to talk about Servalan."

Avon felt his whole body tense and knew Blake would feel it, too. He looked up sharply, seeing the steely resolve in Blake's eyes that had been missing since long before Star One. The determination that had driven Blake so dangerously close to the edge was back and there was little that he, Avon, could do about it. He had to admit, he wanted Servalan to pay for everything she had done but he was not willing to sacrifice himself, or Blake, to some mad quest for vengeance. He hated the fact that all he could do was to stand by and try to protect Blake from himself and the risks he so needlessly took.

Feeling Blake's grip on his arm tighten, Avon focused again on his face.

"Tell me, Blake. What have you been planning?''

Blake's features softened at Avon's quiet enquiry and he began to speak. "You know better than anyone, Avon, how much Servalan has put us through but she is also the driving force uniting the Federation. Her capture and subsequent disappearance would have an incredible disruptive effect on the Federation, allowing the rebel forces a fighting chance. I intend to give them that chance. I am going to capture Servalan and use her knowledge against the Federation."

Avon openly stared at Blake. "And how do you propose to accomplish this feat, not to mention what you are going to do with her once you have her?"

Blake's excitement was almost palpable. "A surprise attack on her central command center. We disable their defenses with Orac's help and then I will teleport over and bring her back."

Avon felt alarms going off in his head. Not only was the attack risky but the idea of Blake being the one to teleport was absurd, especially on his own. I won't let you commit suicide, Blake!

"Avon?"

Avon looked up and stared into Blake's eyes as he spoke. "Your plan is extremely risky. However, I might accept it with one minor modification."

Blake watched him expectantly.

"I will be the one to teleport down. You are too easily recognized and your sense of self-preservation is not as highly developed as mine."

Blake's face had taken on his stubborn look. "No deal, Avon. I am going whether you help or not." At Avon's furious expression, Blake raised a hand. "How about a compromise? We both go down."

Blake's face was imploring in his childlike innocence. How do you maintain your naivete, Blake, in the face of all you have seen and experienced? At least this way, I will be able to keep an eye on you. For all the good it has ever done us.

"Yes, Blake. That would be acceptable. But I want you to agree that if the probability of success becomes too low, we will pull out.'

"Still protecting you own skin, Avon?"

Belaying the harsh words, Blake spoke gently and with a twinkle in his eyes.

You know me too well, Blake. I suppose that cuts both ways. "What's mine is mine, Blake. Servalan will not take anything else from me."

Blake winced inwardly at Avon's painful admission. He shared Avon's anguish over the loss of Cally to an explosion on Terminal, just one day before help arrived. He knew that Avon blamed himself for not being able to save her and suspected that his friend's reluctance to let him go down on his own was the product of his guilt and fear. Particularly, his fear of losing anyone else that he cared about.

"I do understand, Avon. But I need you to understand, too. You are not responsible for what happens to the rest of us. You cannot blame yourself for the loss of others. The guilt will destroy you. I know that more than anyone."

Avon sighed in resignation. "I know, Blake, but have you ever been able to forget?" At Blake's lowered eyes, Avon smiled tightly, "I thought not."

"Avon." Blake reached out to comfort him but Avon flinched out of reach. "I'm sorry."

"I am sure that makes it all all right." Avon spoke angrily and without forethought, seeking to hurt as he was hurting. At Blake's wounded expression, Avon felt quilt blossom again. Why must I always hurt you, Blake? It was never my intention.

"Blake, I..."

"No, Avon. You made yourself quite clear. If you still want to join me, we will be leaving in approximately seven hours."

With one last meaningful glance at Avon, Blake walked away, leaving the other man alone with his uncomfortable thoughts.

"Damn you, Blake. Why can't you just let me be!"

~ ~ ~

The hangar bay was filled to capacity by those present to wish Blake's mission luck. His team was present and accounted for. Vila would remain on base while Dayna and Tarrant would accompany Blake and Avon. Dayna was clearly impatient to be off, pacing around the Revenge, the fighter that rescued them from Terminal. Tarrant was already on board while Blake and Avon were bidding goodbye to an extremely agitated Vila.

"Don't worry, Vila." Blake's voice was full of confidence. "We'll be back soon." He patted Vila's shoulder and turned to board their ship, his mind already lost to the task ahead.

Avon looked hard at Vila.

"Take care, Avon. Of both of you,"

Vila was rewarded with a faint smile.

"I intend to, Behave yourself while we are gone."

"I always behave," Vila replied huffily.

This time Avon's smile extended to his eyes and he nodded once before boarding Revenge.

Avon's words had been as calm as usual but Vila couldn't help but worry.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Vila muttered, heading for his cabin and a bottle of soma that was calling his name.

~ ~ ~

"Does everyone remember what they are supposed to do?"

With a collective sigh, Blake's crew turned to face their leader.

"Tarrant and I," Dayna confirmed, "will wait here in stationary orbit for one hour, after which, if we have not heard from either of you, we will teleport you two immediately and leave orbit as soon as you are on board."

"Good. Avon?"

"You and I will foolishly teleport down into the command center to Servalan's quarters. Once we have her, we will call for teleport and leave, destroying the base in the process.'

Blake smiled at Avon, reaching out to pat him lightly on the arm. "Right, people. Let's go."

Avon could see that Blake's enthusiasm had infected Tarrant and Dana. They both had eager expressions on their faces as Dayna moved to the teleport controls. Shaking his head, Avon turned to step onto the teleport pad.

"Avon? Are you all right?"

Blake's voice was as full of concern as his gaze, which Avon returned incredulously.

"Of course, Blake. We are teleporting into a highly dangerous situation with little hope of success and two children for back-up." Sliding his gaze sideways, Avon continued, "I feel just wonderful. How about you?"

Avon was looking away and thus he missed the surprise on Blake's face at his outburst. However, he did look at Blake soon enough to see the look of hurt cross his face before being replaced by an angry mask.

"I should have known better than to be concerned about you, Avon. After all, you told me you only care about yourself."

Avon winced at the hurt behind the anger in Blake's voice and turned away. "Put us down, Dayna."

"Good luck, you two. Revenge out."

"Let's go, Avon."

With those terse words, Blake and Avon were off but Avon could not dismiss the nagging feeling of danger in the back of his mind. Imminent danger.

~ ~ ~

Twenty minutes later, as they rounded yet another corridor, Avon stopped. "Blake?"

"What is it, Avon?"

The rebel stopped and turned to look questioningly at his companion. "We should have already reached Servalan's quarters. The plans you received must be wrong.'

An exasperated Blake ran a hand through his tangled curls.

"So? We go on. It will just take a little longer than we anticipated."

As Blake turned to leave, Avon grabbed his arm. "Wait!"

Blake stood still, looking with shocked amazement at the hand gripping his forearm. Avon, oblivious to Blake's gaze, went on.

"Has the possibility of a trap not occurred to you yet? Clearly your informant was a plant, Blake. We must leave now!"

Avon didn't realize how agitated he appeared but Blake certainly noticed.

"Avon, calm down. I am not leaving. This is Servalan's base and she must be here."

"Correct on both counts, Blake," spoke a quietly triumphant voice.

"Servalan," Avon hissed, drawing his weapon and stepping closer to his leader's side.

Blake's hand was on his gun but Avon could see he was shocked and confused. Looking away, Avon saw that a row of troopers had appeared, blocking their path. Avon gritted his teeth.

"This could get messy, Blake."

"It already is, Avon. More than you realize.'

Avon whirled around to see that twenty more troopers had approached from behind them. Wound tight, he turned to Blake whose eyes were filled with quiet rage. Locking gazes, they closed rank so that Avon could reach his bracelet unobtrusively. But before he could speak, Servalan gave her orders.

"Take them, alive if possible."

She smiled sweetly, as the troopers descended on the two men, Struggling, Avon activated his bracelet.

"Teleport now!"

As Avon materialized on his hands and knees, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"That was too close, Blake."

No response. Avon looked up.

No Blake.

He turned to Dayna.

"Where is he?"

Dayna just stared and Avon jumped up, activating the teleport again. "He must have lost or damaged his bracelet in the fighting!"

With a wild look in his eyes, Avon stepped back to the teleport. "Put me back down." The others just stared. "Put me down!" Avon demanded.

It was Tarrant who spoke up. "No, Avon. If he lost his bracelet, he's dead by now."

Avon started back, his eyes black, hands trembling so hard he clenched them into fists. "No. He can't be dead. Not Blake."

Slowly, Avon slid down against the wall. Dayna moved quietly to his side. "I'm so sorry, Avon. I know how much he meant to you."

She patted his shoulder comfortingly but all he could think of was that Blake had done the same thing before they teleported down. No, Avon thought. He can't be. He can't. He barely noticed, as Dayna led him to his cabin and sat him down, staying until he fell asleep.

~ ~ ~

Blake lay face down with a knee in his back. He shook his head, trying to clear the haze that was preventing him from concentrating. He had heard Avon call for teleport, so Avon must have escaped. That fact made Blake unreasonably happy, considering his own predicament.

His musings were disturbed by a hand twisting into his curls and yanking him to his knees. Servalan stood before him and he smiled faintly.

"Don't be smug, Blake. Admittedly, Avon escaped but you are the real prize, the means to the rebellion's end. Avon would have merely been, shall we say, entertainment."

Blake looked at the Supreme Commander scornfully, wishing he could wrap his hands around her so graceful neck.

"The others will carry on. My death will not incapacitate the rebels. Avon will lead them."

"Avon?" Servalan laughed. "He cares nothing for others. He abandoned you here as he will abandon your cause. Besides, Blake,..." Servalan stepped close to whisper in his ear. "I won't have you killed. At least, not until I have what I want.'

Servalan stroked a proprietary finger along Blake's left cheek, laughing at his displeasure.

"Take him to interrogation and make him `comfortable.'"

With another smile, she was gone and the guards yanked Blake to his feet, shoving him along the corridors to the cell block. Blake scrutinized the guards as one opened a cell, his cell. He was then shoved in, sprawling onto the floor. The room was dark and there were no furnishings at all. The officer who opened the door called two others over.

"Take his arms."

Blake knew struggling was futile but he couldn't help resisting as they seized his arms, forcing him into a kneeling position at the officer's feet. The face that sneered down at him could never have known compassion. There was certainly none in his voice.

"Where is your base?"

Blake stared stubbornly at the floor, gritting his teeth as the pressure on his arms increased.

"Look at me."

A strong hand seized his hair, yanking his head back, forcing him to look into the face of his enemy.

"You will call me `sir' and answer my questions. Unless, perhaps, you enjoy pain."

With those words, he released Blake, backhanding him viciously across the cheek. Blake's head rung with the impact but he returned his gaze to his opponent. Steeling himself for the consequences of his action, he spat in the officer's face. Blake watched, fascinated, as rage possessed the officer's face to be replaced almost immediately by calm indifference. Removing his baton from his belt, he spoke.

"You will break, my prisoner. All men do eventually. But I expect to enjoy the process. A great deal more than you."

He drove his baton into Blake's stomach, making him gasp in agony as he doubled over, increasing the pressure on his arms. Again and again the baton found its mark. On his head, against his chest, his abdomen. Struggling for each breath, his vision going dark, Blake wished for death. Please don't let me betray them. I would rather die. He didn't realize that he spoke out loud until his fading senses heard that hated voice.

"But your wishes don't matter any more, my prisoner. Only mine do.

~ ~ ~

"Avon, it's been two weeks. You can't believe that Blake's still alive!" Tarrant's voice was incredulous. "No one could survive Federation interrogation that long."

Avon's response was to stare pointedly at Tarrant until the young pilot looked away uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry but you must accept that Blake is gone for good."

Vila had been watching the entire exchange along with Dayna and Avon's calm made him uneasy. It usually meant that Avon was up to something.

"Avon?" Avon turned to regard Vila warily. "Why do you think Blake's still alive?"

Vila carefully watched as Avon moved towards Orac, activating him.

"Orac," Avon stated quietly. "Repeat the message you intercepted concerning

the state of Roj Blake."

Vila held his breath as Orac began.

"The message was intended for top-security Federation officials. It stated that the rebel leader Roj Blake, captured during an unprovoked terrorist attack, had refused to cooperate with the authorities. As a result, he will be executed on Earth two days hence. The execution will be by firing squad and it will be vidcast to the general populace."

"Thank you, Orac. That will be all."

Avon removed Orac's key and raised his head to be confronted by all that remained with him now of the Seven. Tarrant and Dayna quickly turned away from the pain barely hidden in Avon's dark eyes but Vila matched his gaze. Vila who had been there from the beginning. For all his supposed cowardice, only he was willing to share Avon's anguish.

"You want to go to Earth," Vila stated softly.

It was Avon's turn to look away.

"Yes."

"That's suicide!" Tarrant shouted, heedless of Dayna tugging on his arm.

Avon smiled at Tarrant. A dangerous shark's smile with no touch of light reaching his eyes. "Perhaps. But I am going nonetheless. Vila?"

Avon turned to the little thief who simply nodded his agreement.

"Dayna?"

"Of course, Avon. And Tarrant will too. Won't you, Tarrant?"

Dayna squeezed his arm tightly and Tarrant nodded his head resignedly. "I'll go."

Avon's smile was genuine this time, if only for a second. Then he was all determination.

"We leave in one hour. I will elucidate our plan once we are in flight. Anything you need, fetch it and be back on board in forty-five minutes."

Dayna rushed away to the weapons room, Tarrant in tow, leaving Vila alone with Avon.

"You really do care about Blake, don't you?"

Avon looked up from his work to regard Vila and to consider his answer, one which would satisfy him.

"He told me at Star One that he trusted me. I have been betrayed too many times in the past to inflict it on anyone else. I will not betray his trust, Vila. I cannot."

Vila smiled cheekily. "In other words, you care."

Avon's smile was faint and soon faded but the light remained in his eyes. "Go away, Vila, and let me work in peace."

The harsh words were softened by Avon's gently tone and they gave Vila courage. He touched Avon's arm and left but his parting words echoed in Avon's mind.

"I miss him, too."

~ ~ ~

Blake didn't know how many days had gone by since his capture. Sick and in constant pain from half-healed injuries, he lay on the floor of his cell. Too exhausted, he was unable to sit up, even when his interrogator returned.

"Come now, prisoner. You do not seem happy to see me. I thought you might like some company."

All Blake could do was glare back at the man who had done this to him, who had reduced him to this state. A thought unbidden surfaced. At least, Avon didn't have to go through this. He is, at least, free.

At Blake's faraway look, the interrogator struck out, kicking the rebel soundly in the ribs. Blake gave a gasp of agony before rolling over, clutching his stomach. I don't want to give in. I mustn't. Else all I have given, all those who died, it would be worse than useless. Tears sprang to Blake's eyes as he lay there, helpless at the feet of the Federation.

"I'll miss our time together, my prisoner. You have certainly been a challenge."

Those unexpected words drew Blake's attention and he leaned his head back to look up at his nemesis. "Are you going somewhere?" Blake rasped.

"No." The interrogator smiled unpleasantly. "But Servalan wishes me to inform you that your execution is scheduled for tomorrow morning."

With a final glance, the officer turned to leave.

"Goodbye...Blake."

The door shut with finality.

Execution. Well, perhaps Avon was right. You always said my bleeding heart would get me killed. I almost wish you could tell me "I told you so." That I could see you once more. There are so many things we left unsaid. I hope you understood. I could no more speak my heart than you could. All I could give was my trust. My cause demanded everything else, even my life. Especially my life. Blake pillowed his head on his arms. I just want to sleep.

~ ~ ~

It was almost time. Eight more hours until they reached Earth. Avon lay in his cabin, staring at the ceiling. Sleep was impossible.

"I can't believe I let Vila talk me into this," Avon grumbled, turning over.

His wandering gaze fell on Blake's phonograph. It had been a gift from President Sarkoff of Lindor and Blake, with his love of antiques, adored it. Avon had kept it when Blake was lost but never played it. "Maybe music will let me relax."

Avon's words were not hopeful but he selected a disc at random and turned it on. Leaning back, he cleared his mind and prepared to listen. Blake's choice of music was loud and harsh and, for a moment, Avon considered shutting it off in disgust. But then he heard the lyrics and they froze his hand.

"No, I don't claim to be a wise man

A poet or a saint

I'm just another man who's searching

For a better way

But my heart beats loud as thunder

For the things that I believe

Sometimes I wanna run for cover

Sometimes I want to scream." *

Gently, Avon shut the phonograph off and sat head in hands.

"Damn you, Blake, I don't want to care. I never did."

Finally, with a heavy sigh, Avon stood up and went to the fresher. Washing his face and combing back his hair, he returned to the phonograph, touching it lightly.

"Soon, Blake. I'll be there soon.'

Then he left, headed for the flight deck.

"We are in stationary orbit, Avon."

Avon stepped down onto the flight deck of the Revenge. "Ready, Dayna?"

Avon's voice was calm and controlled. Any concern he might have had hidden behind his usual indifferent mask.

"Of course, Avon."

Dayna rose gracefully and stepped onto the teleport platform.

"Be ready to teleport at any moment, Vila. Trace the transmission to its origin and put us down."

Vila nodded nervously, attention jumping between the teleport controls and the vid-screen where the site of the execution, Blake's execution, was already being broadcast. A quick glance at Avon revealed more than Vila expected. Avon was as tense as Vila had ever seen him. He stood quietly, jaw clenched and hands balled at his sides. Vila turned back to the screen as Blake was brought in. There was a hiss of indrawn breath from Avon at Blake's appearance. Disheveled, he looked exhausted. He limped along with two guards holding him, his hands locked behind him. As the camera turned to Servalan and she began to list Blake's crimes, Avon looked to Vila.

"Ready?"

"Yes. Good luck, you two."

Dayna smiled back and Vila put them down.

Dayna appeared behind Servalan, grabbing her by the throat, gun pressed to the Supreme Commander's head.

Avon barked, "Release him or your President dies." Avon risked a glance at Blake, who stood still, his head bowed submissively. Avon frowned but returned his full attention to the guards. And to Servalan.

"Release the prisoner," Servalan ordered, regal despite her predicament.

The guards reluctantly withdrew and Blake slumped to his knees.

"Blake!"

Blake looked up slowly to meet Avon's worried expression.

"Thank you."

The words were whispered faintly but Avon smiled slightly in return, clamping a teleport bracelet around his wrist.

"What a touching reunion. I never realized how fond you are of your rebel." Servalan's words were sharply sarcastic.

"You'll never win, Servalan," Avon snarled. "Vila. Bring us up."

They teleported, leaving Servalan alive and publicly humiliated.

"Oh, Avon. It's not over yet. Not by a long shot. Commander! Launch all pursuit ships. And send me my chief of security. Someone must take the blame for this fiasco and it certainly won't be me."

~ ~ ~

"Get us out of here, Tarrant," Avon called out as they arrived on board.

Tarrant grinned at their success. "Right away, Lord and Master."

Avon looked at sharply but quickly returned his attention to the battered man in his arms. Vila was beside them, a concerned look in his eyes.

"Blake?"

Vila's voice was puzzled and questioning and it surprised Avon.

"I'm all right, Vila. Really."

With those words, Blake pulled away from Avon's silent support, pulling himself up by leaning on the teleport console.

"You don't look it," Vila noted carefully.

Blake's calm wavered for a second but he did not reply. Avon, however, was infuriated by Vila's questioning which was clearly upsetting Blake.

"Leave it, Vila," Avon hissed.

Vila shared a long look with Blake until, at last, Blake looked away. Vila stepped back to Tarrant's side.

"Blake, can you walk?"

"I think so."

Bravely, Blake released the console and took a few halting steps. A grimace of pain flashed across his face but was banished as Avon took his arm.

"You had better go to medical. I'll take you."

Blake had bristled at Avon's authoritative tone but when he took a firm hold, a flash of fear crossed Blake's face. Blake visibly submitted, allowing Avon to lead him passively from the flight deck.

"Why so glum, Vila? We got him back." Tarrant sounded a little annoyed at the somber atmosphere.

"Have we, Tarrant? I wonder."

Dayna touched Vila's arm. "What do you mean?"

Vila looked at them both as he spoke. "They broke him. He may not have given them what they wanted to know but he certainly didn't come out unscathed. His fire is gone. He was born an Alpha. The Blake I knew would never submit to anything. Or anyone. Not to Servalan's guards and not to Avon." Vila shook his head sadly and turned away. "He finally gave up."

Tarrant looked to Dayna who shook her head and joined Vila on the flight couch, offering her silent support.

~ ~ ~

"Diagnosis, Orac," Avon demanded, glancing worriedly at a too quiet Blake. What was wrong with the man?

"Blake is suffering from dehydration, exhaustion, three cracked ribs, a half-healed broken left leg and numerous lacerations to the back and chest."

Avon gritted his teeth angrily and turned to Blake. Damn, he looks terrible. Calming himself, he spoke as gently as he could. "Get undressed, Blake, and we'll get you fixed up."

Blake looked about to speak but, apparently, changed his mind. Instead, he gingerly removed his shirt. Avon looked up from gathering the needed instruments and gasped at Blake's state. His chest was covered in purple splotches and his back was crisscrossed with scars that could only have been left by a whipping. He must be in agony! Avon thought.

"Lie back, Blake."

As Avon reached out to help him, Blake flinched away. He didn't speak. He just shied away from Avon, trying to keep as much distance as he could between himself and the other man. Avon frowned but Blake refused to meet his gaze, sitting back on his own. When Blake was prone, Avon gave him an injection of tranquillizer.

As the battered man sank into unconsciousness, Avon sighed and went to work, repairing the damage the Federation had done. The physical damage, at least.

"What else happened to you, Blake? It could not have been simply physical torture. Where is our...my Fearless Leader?"

Avon watched Blake sleep, assuring himself that the other was comfortable. Then he slipped away, taking Orac with him.

"Orac, I have a problem for you."

 

* "Bang a Drum"--Jon Bon Jovi.

 

Part 3: Waking Nightmare

 

"What through the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight...
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind."

William Wordsworth

It's been two weeks, Avon thought. Blake is not improving. Orac had given them all a full report on Blake's condition after their return to base. The physical abuse he had suffered at the hands of Servalan's interrogators had been repaired. Orac's prognosis for Blake's mental state, however, was not as optimistic. Avon remembered the computer's exact words.

"The psychic damage Blake suffered was extensive. Of all of you, Avon will understand most completely. Blake is an Alpha Elite, a dominant male. While captive, he was subjugated, forced into weakness until he gave up. His current passivity and fear is the result."

Avon heard again his own voice demanding, "Prognosis, Orac."

"Recovery is possible but unlikely. With rest and quiet, he may regain some of his former Alpha nature."

"Avon?"

Avon blinked, startled out of his contemplation. Vila was watching him with thinly veiled concern.

"Avon, are you all right?"

Avon raised an eyebrow at the absurdity of his question. Of course not, you fool.

"I am fine, Vila. What do you want?"

Vila seemed to hesitate and he looked around carefully before speaking.

"It's Blake. I'm really worried, Avon. I think he's getting worse."

"You think?"

The reply was automatic but Avon regretted it as soon as he said it. Now was not the time and he could see that Vila certainly was upset.

"I'm serious, Avon. He's a lot worse. I stopped to say hello and he acted like he was afraid."

Avon frowned. Blake afraid of Vila?

"What exactly did you do, Vila?"

Vila bristled at the implied accusation. "I didn't do anything. I touched his shoulder and he jumped liked I burned him."

Avon's eyes widened.

"And then, when I tried to apologize, he wouldn't look at me. I don't like it, Avon. It's not like him."

Avon sighed. "I don't like it, either, Vila. But there appears little we can do about it. Orac suggested a quiet stress-free environment. He has it. I don't think badgering him to act normal--whatever that is for Blake--will help!"

Avon was almost shouting and Vila cringed back. At Vila's fearful reaction, Avon checked himself. Stop this! Scaring Vila will not help Blake.

"I am sorry for yelling, Vila. Thank you for informing me of your concerns."

Avon smiled as reassuringly as he could, hoping to calm Vila and send him on his way. I think it is about time I saw Blake for myself. Vila turned to leave.

"Vila."

He looked back.

"Where is Blake now?"

"I left him in the old greenhouse."

Avon nodded and Vila left, slightly reassured. If anyone could get through to Blake, it was Avon. Don't give up on him, Avon. He needs you.

Avon watched Vila's departure uneasily. How can I reach you, Blake? Without hurting you further? Avon grimaced at that unpleasant thought and headed for Blake's apparent last refuge.

~ ~ ~

The base garden was not only a refuge for Blake. Sooner or later, all the rebels visited it. It had a calming influence, with its warm damp air and leafy green foliage. Like Earth's tropics had been before the New Calendar. Avon never admitted it to anyone, but he enjoyed its peace and quiet. And he hated to disturb Blake here. Everywhere else Blake ventured, there were concerned inquiries and curious looks. The entire base knew that he had been captured and tortured. Seeing him now, so altered, they had to wonder what the Federation had actually done to him. Avon himself wasn't sure but he had suspected long before Vila came to him. Blake's powerful presence was missing. During the rescue, Servalan had dominated the room with her natural authority. The same authority that had always seemed so much a part of Blake's personality. It was his combination of authoritative aggression and tender compassion that had captured Avon's attention and held it.

I wonder if you will ever be as you once were, Blake. I know you are not content as you are but it is as though your will to do anything to change it is gone.

Avon touched the greenhouse door and it slid open silently. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the softer lighting. Blake was on the far side of the garden, by the pond. Avon's eyes narrowed in concern. Blake was staring out at the barren surface of the planet. Just sitting and staring. The peace and quiet seemed stifling now.

What shall I say to you, Blake? That your Cause needs you? That I need you? Avon shivered in the warmth of the greenhouse. Could he let his guard down? And what if even that was not enough?

Maybe we have been approaching the problem incorrectly. We have been keeping a passive Blake in a passive environment. Perhaps a confrontation might shock him back into some semblance of normality. At least he cannot get any worse.

Mentally hardening himself, Avon slipped quietly up behind Blake. Placing a hand softly on his shoulder, Avon spoke.

"Blake."

At the touch of another's hand, Blake jerked away, lunging to his feet and spinning round to face his attacker. Avon stared in shock. Blake was clearly terrified. He was trembling violently and Avon felt a pang of guilt for what he had done. And what I intend to do.

"It is just me, Blake. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Blake had relaxed slightly as he realized that it was Avon who had sneaked up on him. Now he flinched again at the angry tone of Avon's voice. Refusing to meet Avon's steely glare, Blake gazed resolutely down at his boots.

"I'm sorry," Blake mumbled.

Avon's expression softened for a moment but Blake failed to notice. By the time he dared to glance up, all trace of softness had vanished. Blake swallowed down an instinctive burst of fear, trying to remain calm in Avon's presence. Avon moved closer until Blake could feel the angry heat emanating from the smaller man. Looking desperately at Avon, Blake whispered, stepping back.

"Don't, Avon. Please."

Avon cocked his head, a disagreeable smile taking up residence on his lips. "When have I ever obeyed your orders, Blake? Except, of course, when it suited my purposes. Right now, it does not."

For a moment, Avon felt elation. At his sarcastic words, Blake's eyes had flashed with the anger he had always displayed when Avon was being difficult. But the flash died away when Avon again crowded Blake against the greenhouse wall.

"Uncomfortable, Blake? I thought you enjoyed my company?" Avon taunted, inwardly cursing the Federation and Servalan for forcing him to this. His actions were obviously hurting Blake and, although, he would never verbally admit it, he would rather die than deliberately inflict pain on his too sensitive friend. Resigning himself to his role, Avon scrutinized Blake's face, searching for some sign of Blake's old fire, his passion for justice. But all he saw was a confused and frightened man.

Furious beyond expression, Avon turned away before he resorted to physical violence. Breathing deeply in an attempt at relaxation, Avon could hear the rustling of the leaves in this artificial forest of theirs.

"Avon?" Blake's voice managed to sound both frustrated and frightened. "What can I do? I can't help the way I feel?"

Avon's gloom lifted slightly at Blake's heartfelt plea. At least he did not want to remain in his submissive state. He acknowledged that it was wrong. Perhaps working together, not against each other, they could find out what exactly Blake had lost.

"I realize that, Blake. And I know that your treatment at Servalan's hands is to blame. But I will not accept what has been done to you. The man you appear to be is not the man I have chosen to follow."

At Blake's downtrodden expression, Avon's voice softened slightly.

"I am not saying this to hurt you, but I want the other Blake back. The aggressive, domineering, uncompromising rebel leader. And I think you do, too."

Blake had turned away from Avon's emotion charged words, staring into the waters of the pond.

"I want him back. More than you could possibly realize."

Against his better judgment, Avon stepped to Blake's side. Not allowing the other man the opportunity to withdraw, Avon lightly gripped his shoulder, offering what support he could. Blake tensed slightly, then slowly relaxed, accepting the offered comfort gratefully. Turning his head to glance at Avon, he spoke.

"Thank you."

Avon caught his gaze.

"Thank me when you are yourself again. I have a plan. One which I doubt you will enjoy but it is the only alternative I can see."

"Tell me."

Avon considered.

"No, not yet. Come to my cabin after dinner. I will explain it then."

Blake quickly conceded and left the greenhouse. Avon remained a moment longer, considering. If it works, Blake will be as he was, whatever that means, and we will both have some bruises to show for it. But if it does not...Avon refused to entertain that possibility. If this did not work, there were no other alternatives. Blake will remain as he is. And Servalan will have won. I will not let that happen, Blake. I have lost Anna and Cally to the Federation. I will not lose you. With those determined thoughts, Avon headed for the computer center, already preparing for tonight's battle.

~ ~ ~

"Avon, are you sure this is the only way?"

Vila's voice held none of its usual banter. Clearly, he was worried about Avon's plan to cure Blake.

"Don't you imagine that I would prefer any alternative to this? Do you really think I enjoy inflicting pain?"

Vila opened his mouth, forming a cruel affirmative. But, seeing the weakness in Avon's eyes, he relented. Irritating Avon might be, but he was no sadist. Masochist maybe, for putting himself through this. But no, deep down Vila recognized that Blake was the one person Avon really trusted. He might hide his feelings but if he did not care, deeply care, he would not do this for Blake. Because they would both suffer for it.

Avon was still waiting for Vila's reply.

"Of course not, Avon." Vila's words were gentle and Avon's eyes widened at the other man's ill-disguised affection. "You care about Blake." As Avon looked about to interrupt, Vila raised a hand. "No, don't deny it. We both know it's true. You closed yourself off after Anna." Avon's eyes hardened. "And you refused to care about anything or anyone. Then Blake came along and upset your plan on noninvolvement. He forces people to care. They can't help it and neither can he. It's the way he is."

Vila sighed as Avon stared at the floor.

"He cares about you too, Avon. You must realize that."

"I know, you fool. It only makes it harder."

Vila smiled. "So it's hard. Too bad. He needs you and you need him."

Avon glared back at Vila. "When did you become an armchair psychiatrist?"

Vila grinned. "I'm a man of many talents, Avon. Just like you."

He was rewarded with a brief but brilliant smile from Avon. Patting him once on the arm, Vila stepped back.

"Good luck, Avon. For you both."

Avon glanced at his arm then back at Vila. Nodding his thanks, he was gone, leaving Vila alone with his thoughts.

"You're gonna need it."

~ ~ ~

Avon lay back on his bunk, hands cradling his head. Waiting for Blake. Letting his eyes drift shut, he sought out his memories of their time on Liberator. Any memories, good or bad, that he could use to jar Blake out his apathy. Central Control. Star One. Those were the times he felt closest to Blake. Despair was familiar ground to Avon. He understood it and could sympathize. But how to utilize that despair? Clearly Blake was not happy. Could he convert such depression to rage, to Blake's righteous fury? You said that you trusted me, Blake, Let us see how far your trust goes.

"Avon?"

Avon stared at the door. Damn! He sounds tentative already. He released the door, allowing Blake to enter. Avon considered the task ahead. Blake looked more relaxed than before, walking around the room, examining the few possessions with interest. However, he could not repress a shiver as Avon stepped up behind him. Turning his head nervously, he met Avon's hard as ice gaze. The hand Avon placed on Blake's shoulder was firm but non-threatening.

"Can you not bring yourself to trust me, just this once?"

Blake's face paled at the other man's words. An accusation back to haunt him. It was true. He had always demanded everyone's trust, but before he had been able to trust in return. Only now... Anguished, he turned away from Avon. Do I trust you? Blake thought back to Horizon, to Exbar, to Star One, to Terminal. No matter how sharp Avon's words, he had never abandoned him. And Avon had risked his own life to rescue him from Servalan. With a gentle smile, Blake turned back to face Avon.

Uncharacteristically patient, Avon was still resting a hand on Blake's shoulder, watching expectantly.

"As I said on a previous occasion, I have always trusted you. From the very beginning. I still do."

Avon smiled. "Do you trust me to do what is required to help you recover?"

Blake looked down for a moment and Avon shook him gently.

"Blake?"

Blake matched his stare.

"Yes. Do what you must."

Avon steeled himself. Forcing Blake to fight back was the only way. Yanking Blake's shoulder, Avon spun the surprised rebel around. But before he could raise a hand to strike, Vila burst in.

"Avon! Blake! There's a ship landing and it says it's Jenna!"

Blake in the lead, the three men raced for the landing pad area. Bursting through the bay doors, they were brought up short by the sight of Jenna's ship. It was a miracle that it had landed not crashed. The entire surface was pitted with laser damage and one drive engine was completely destroyed. Avon sought out the rescue crew near the ship's passenger hatch and turned back to Blake.

Blake's face was blank with shock. Obviously, this was not what he had expected. Avon felt a prick of fear. Was Blake able to handle what they might find? His arm was gripped tightly as Blake walked slowly towards the crippled cruiser. The base staff moved aside to let the three approach.

"Jenna," Blake breathed, scarcely daring to speak. Releasing Avon's arm, he dropped to his knees beside her. She was clearly in a great deal of pain but she opened her eyes at the sound of Blake's voice and gave him a faint smile.

"I told you I'd never abandon you. Glad I finally found you."

Her breathing was labored and Blake looked up at Jenna's crewman Deva in concern. Deva shook his head softly. There was nothing they could do. She was dying.

Blake's eyes filled with tears as he looked down at his beautiful pilot. He had always known that she loved him but on Liberator he had been unable to give her the devotion she craved. And now, when he wanted to love her, when he could allow himself to, it was too late. Brushing her blonde locks from her eyes, he bent and kissed her check, tears splashing against the soft skin. One hand struggled to touch his face, brushing the tears away.

"Not for me, Roj. No regrets."

The words were a struggle but Blake realized that she meant them. Still, it was hard to let go, so he continued to hold her, as if he could keep her alive with his own strength.

Avon did not wish to disturb them but he had to ask. "Jenna. Who did this?"

She looked round until she saw him, standing behind Blake. Her smile for Avon was one of thanks. For taking care of Blake. As her smile faded, she spoke the name of--

"Travis."

Avon immediately turned to Blake, who had frozen still as a statue. But not with fear. His eyes only held fury and an expression of deep hatred for the Federation officer.

"Jenna. I am sorry." Avon's words were unexpected and Jenna's gaze returned to him. For once, she believed him. They had never got along but early on they both realized how important the other was to Blake's emotional well-being.

"Avon." Jenna's voice was decidedly weaker and he kneeled at Blake's side to hear her. "Avon. I'm dying."

Blake's head was bowed against her shoulder and he shivered at her words. Avon nodded.

"I would like a favor from you. My last wish, so to speak."

Avon stared back at her, unflinchingly. "Yes."

"Take care of him," she whispered. "Protect him, from himself as well as others. Be there for him as I would, as I wish I could."

Jenna's eyes were full of tears and Avon fought against his own instinctive reaction.

"I promise."

"Thank you,"

Avon stepped back and she returned her gaze to Blake.

"Blake." The curly head lifted to meet her gaze. "Take care, Roj. I...I always loved you."

Jenna fell back, exhausted, and Blake leaned over.

"I know. I always knew. And I am so damned sorry I never told you."

Jenna's eyes closed but she whispered faintly. "Tell me now."

Tears falling freely, Blake spoke. "I love you, Jenna Stannis."

A faint smile touched her lips but the hand in Blake's was limp. She was gone. Vila turned to Avon, who gestured for the others to leave. But he did not. Avon watched the others depart, then turned his attention to the distraught rebel. The memory of Anna was still fresh after three years and his heart ached for Blake. And it always hurts, Blake. The pain never goes away. But still we go on.

He knelt beside Blake, hand on his shoulder in silent sympathy.

"I can't believe she's gone, Avon. I just can't!" Blake squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his hands to his face.

Avon took a deep breath and spoke. "You must accept it, Blake. She is gone, dead at Travis's hands. And nothing, not you, not your precious Cause can bring her back."

Blake jerked away, appalled at Avon's harsh words. Raising his eyes to condemn Avon, he saw his own pain reflected there. Avon too had lost the woman he loved. His mysterious Anna. Blake's legendary compassion kicked in.

"You still miss her," Blake stated quietly.

Avon sighed and looked away. "Always. But I go on, as you must."

This time it was Blake who placed a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "Together?"

Avon smiled faintly. "If you wish, Fearless Leader."

Black chuckled softly as they rose, walking away from the landing pad. Turning pensive again, he stopped by the door, looking back to where Jenna lay.

"Avon."

Avon looked up expectantly.

"I want him."

Travis. The name hung unspoken between them.

"Agreed."

Blake placed his arm over Avon's shoulder as they left Jenna for the med techs, comforted by Avon's acceptance of his affection and confident of destroying Travis, of avenging Jenna.

Avon accepted the contract because he did not want to hurt Blake when he was still vulnerable. You are back, Blake. Aggressive, taking control, and for all my protests to the contrary, I do prefer you that way. It would not be hard to keep his promise to Jenna. He could no more abandon Blake than Blake could let him go. This was where he belonged: at Blake's side.

He looked sideways with a sudden sense of foreboding, feeling Blake's stare. "What?"

"Avon, I have a plan."

 

Part 4: When the Dawn Breaks

 

"No man, for an considerable period,
can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude
without finally getting bewildered
as to which may be true."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Not for the first time since Jenna's death, Avon surreptitiously watched Blake. He had taken the loss badly, leaving Avon at a disadvantage in trying to handle the situation. And now, another reckless plan was brewing in Blake's mind. He seemed driven by his need to avenge Jenna's death, to kill Travis. His previous apathy had been replaced by obsession and, while Avon was not sorry to see it go, at times he considered it preferable to Blake's current disregard for his own welfare. It was difficult to reconcile this Blake, moody and tense, with the compulsive yet forever hopeful rebel of the Liberator. I found you again, hoping I had changed. But it is you who have changed so that I no longer understand you, if I ever did.

"Join the club, Avon."

He started at the wistful words, jolted back to reality by the man beside him. "I did not realize I had spoken out loud."

Blake smiled ruefully. "You weren't so very loud. I was watching you. After all, you have not been particularly discrete in your surveillance of me."

Avon tensed, expecting an argument from him about trust and friendship and the need for privacy. A role reversal of sorts. He was therefore very surprised when Blake turned away, glancing at the star charts before him. They were alone in the command center. Most of the base personnel would be asleep, although some were monitoring the base from the security complex. Avon continued to watch as Blake paced away from the screen, circling the room uneasily.

"You have decided on a course of action," Avon stated, more calmly that he felt.

Blake came to a stop beside the smaller man and took a deep breath. "Yes."

Avon felt the tension in the pit of his stomach increase. Blake's voice was stubbornly determined, as usual. But his eyes held little fire, only sadness and a vague regret.

"And?" Avon prompted.

Blake squared his shoulders and turned to face him. "I asked Orac to search for Travis. He located him this morning." Blake paused, as if to marshal his strength for Avon's opposition to come. "I had Orac send a closed-beam message to him, telling him to meet me at the ruin of Terminal."

"Why would he?"

Blake's laugh was harsh and strained. "Because he wants me dead as badly as I do him. I promised him a duel, to end it once and for all."

Avon was speechless. His mind raced, searching for an argument that would sway him from such a suicidal plan. How could he possibly win? Physically, Travis was equally strong, but he had the advantage of his prosthetic hand, and he was twice as devious. Yet Avon's mind refused to accept the image of Blake defeated, dead at Travis's feet. Abruptly, he turned away from his friend.

Blake could see the turmoil raging within Avon's heart. Lately his emotions had been all too close to the surface. For a second, their eyes had met and Blake felt a stab of fear at the despair that Avon was trying to hide. He believes I'll lose. Blake smiled grimly. But if I die, I'll take that bastard with me. Sighing heavily, he sat down by the communications terminal, resting his head in his hands.

At Blake's movement, Avon turned to face him. Seeing him seated, he quietly approached. Realization was slowly seeping into his much vaunted brain. Blake was determined to fight Travis. To destroy him, regardless of the cost.

Kneeling beside Blake, Avon spoke quietly. "I can understand your need for revenge, Blake. You loved her and he killed her. But you must realize that she would not want revenge at such a cost. She wanted you to live."

He paused, intent on discerning Blake's reaction to his words. Blake simply shook his head, unwilling to meet the other man's dark-eyed gaze.

"What's wrong with you?" Avon snarled. "One minute you want to save the universe, the next you want vengeance." Avon took hold of Blake's shoulders, shaking him none too gently. "Damn it, answer me."

At that, Blake looked up. Confusion filled his face as he gazed desperately at Avon, as though to say, "Help me." Avon's mind recoiled at the pain and the truth hidden in Blake's eyes. You don't even know the answer yourself any more, do you, Blake? No wonder you have been acting so strangely. The phrase "like at Star One" echoed in his mind. Then he had feared for Blake's sanity. And now?

"So you can't or won't tell me. So be it, Blake. I won't stop you but you must hear me out first."

The weary rebel's attention focused almost instantly at the intense tone of Avon's voice.

"I can't stop you from fighting Travis. As I said, I understand the need for revenge. But I will not accept the possibility of your death. You might be satisfied to die, as long as Travis dies with you. I will not be. You see, I promised Jenna that I would protect you, even from yourself. I will not allow you to sacrifice yourself."

"Avon," Blake said helplessly, spreading his hands beseechingly, "there is no other way."

Avon refused the gesture, turning to pace away. As the silence became oppressive, he broke it. "And if I give you another way?"

Blake stepped to his side. Avon felt his hands hover over his shoulder, afraid to touch, then drop away. "I'm listening."

Avon took a deep breath, mind racing after a solution, slowly turning to face the larger man. Damn stubborn idealist. I wish that I hated you. This so-called "caring" is not only insidiously pervasive, it is mind numbing. Blake waited expectantly, watching his companion with a calm expression that even Avon envied.

"You will face Travis, Blake, but not without some insurance."

Blake's eyes hardened, his conscience balking at the idea. "It must be an honest fight, Avon. I will not cheat."

Avon fairly exploded with fury. "Damn you, Roj Blake. It will not be a fair fight. Travis has unnatural advantages and no such scruples. You cannot face him unprepared. I will not allow it."

Blake was frozen, shocked into silence. He had never seen Avon quite so upset. His eyes were cold as ice, his face chiseled in stone. But the heat of his anger radiated out, scorching the rebel's too sensitive nerves.

"All right, Avon. All right. I'll do what you ask."

Wearily Blake rubbed at his eyes, leaning back against the wall. Avon joined him, rage ebbing, satisfied that he could give the rebel a fighting chance. Waiting until he had Blake's full attention, he began.

"This is what you must do."

~ ~ ~

Blake smiled at Avon's increasing tension. "Stop worrying. It will work. If anything happens, you can pull me out, bracelet or no bracelet."

Avon looked irritably at Blake who was too confident, in his opinion. I certainly hope so, was what he thought, but what he said was, "Hopefully still in one piece."

Blake's heart swelled at the poorly disguised concern in his companion's voice but he respected the other man's privacy and refrained from comment. Just then, Vila and Dayna entered.

"Coming to wish me luck?" Blake inquired pleasantly.

Vila grimaced. "You're gonna need it." He patted Blake on the back and pulled his companion closer. "Dayna has a present for you."

Blake looked down at the ebony warrior who was so devoted to protecting Avon. She had never particularly cared for Blake. He knew she blamed him for Cally's death, but he could not fault her. After all, he blamed himself. Still, her disapproval had hurt.

"Blake." She hesitated and glanced at Avon. "Take this." She handed him a small gun which was met with an inquisitive stare. "It's new. Its range is over 400 hundred meters and it's very accurate."

Blake thanked her, touched by the evidence that her opinion of him had changed.

"Just don't die, Blake," she stated softly, so quietly only he and Vila could hear. "I don't think he would survive it."

With those words she left. Vila hugged him briefly, then retreated to the teleport controls. And that left Avon. Blake slipped the gun into his sleeve. "Wish me luck?"

Blake's tone was light, covering his own jittery nerves. As he stepped onto the teleport pad, Avon spoke.

"No wishes. A demand. Come back alive."

Blake's smile faded but his eyes flashed as returned Avon's gaze. He nodded.

Avon put him down, cold fear taking possession of his heart. Stop it. You can hear everything that is going on. If he gets in trouble, bring him up. Logically, there was no reason to worry. He had done all he could. The rest was up to Blake.

~ ~ ~

"Down and safe," Blake said softly, knowing that the others would be listening. He stood by the ruined entrance to the underground complex. There was no sign of Travis, so Blake started to scout around. Uncomfortable with being out in the open, he headed towards a small clump of trees. Surveying his surroundings, he muttered, "Where are you, Travis?"

"Where you least expect me."

Blake whirled around to be confronted by the dark figure of his nemesis. The space commander was barely a meter away, his artificial hand pointed directly at the rebel's heart.

~ ~ ~

Avon stiffened at the sound of Travis's voice so close to Blake. His hand, seemingly of its own accord, hovered over the teleport controls. I could bring you up now, Blake. We could blanket the area with the laser cannon. He would be dead and you would be safe. But he knew that was wishful thinking. "You would never forgive me for it, regardless of why," he muttered.

"You'd be surprised, Avon."

Avon's attention turned to the man beside him. Vila had slipped back in, nervously glancing around. "He'd forgive you anything. He cares that much."

Impossibly, Avon felt the tightness in his chest increase. He glared at Vila until he shifted uncomfortably and looked away.

"Sorry. Do you think he'll be all right?"

The cold gaze turned bleak, sending a shiver through Vila's frame. For a moment, he didn't think Avon would answer. But as Avon glanced away, he whispered softly, " I hope so, Vila. I really do hope so."

With those words, Avon seated himself by the teleport, listening intently for the chance to bring Blake back. Vila watched for several minutes. When Avon again glanced up, he was gone.

~ ~ ~

Blake stared back at his hated enemy. Amazingly, he felt no fear, only an overwhelming rage. Travis had been the one, so long ago, responsible for the deaths of his friends. Indirectly, he had Blake from Liberator and her crew, nearly costing Blake his life. And Jenna...he had taken her from him as well. Travis deserved to die. Blake was angry but forced a smile which never reached his cold, hard eyes.

"Still hiding behind a gun, Travis?"

The only sign Travis gave of hearing Blake's comment was a tightening of his jaw. "Of course, Blake. As you hide behind your `noble' rebellion."

Blake froze, barely breathing, trying to rein in his urge to kill, to stop Travis once and for all. Travis lowered his arm and said, "At least I can give up my pretense. You're so confused you can't even see your own."

Some portion of Travis's words got through to Blake. What if he is right? What if I am hiding from the truth? The confusion was clearly written across the burly rebel's face. And Travis decided to take advantage. He launched himself at the larger man, hitting him low, bringing them both to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. A knee to the groin had Blake seeing stars as his opponent forced him down, knocking the air from his lungs. Blake struggled to breathe as Travis's hands found his throat. They tightened, cutting off what little air he could get. Desperately, he gripped the other man's wrists, trying to free himself. Focusing his fuzzy vision, he saw Travis smile and something inside him broke. With one powerful twist, he rolled over, slamming Travis's head against the ground. His throat released, he gasped for breath, reaching into his boot for the knife Avon had given him.

"I promised to kill you. For Jenna," he paused, "and for all the others you unnecessarily killed. Goodbye, Travis."

Blake plunged the knife into Travis's heart. The body beneath him jerked, hands grasping at Blake's in a futile attempt at escape. Blake stared in fascination at the dying man.

"Blake," Travis whispered, "you haven't won. I have...made you...like me."

Horrified, Blake stepped back, retreating from his enemy's words. Not true! I'm nothing like you. Am I?

Desperate to get away, Blake spoke urgently. "Teleport now!"

~ ~ ~

Avon watched in concern as Blake materialized. He had heard most of their exchange and wondered at Blake's reaction. As if Blake believed Travis. Avon stared at him in consternation. Blake stepped off the platform and sat on the steps. Not surprisingly, he was disheveled from the struggle, leaves in his hair and dirt on his clothes. Most distressing were his hands. He was staring at them, at the blood covering them. Avon approached cautiously, not wanting to startle him. Blake refused to look up as Avon approached.

"Blake?"

Avon's voice was questioning as he knelt beside him. Blake simply shook his head, turning away.

"He was right. I'm no better than him. I didn't fight him for the Cause. I fought him for myself, for revenge."

Blake took a steadying breath and faced Avon. Avon flinched at the raw agony reflected in his brown eyes. He wanted to help but... Placing a hand on Blake's shoulder, he shook him slightly.

"No, you are not. He killed for no reason other than his own enjoyment. He deserved his fate.'

A faint smile touched Blake's lips at Avon's poorly concealed concern, but it was overshadowed by his demons.

"You must touch the life you take," Blake quoted.

Avon frowned. The words were Sinofar's and at the time he had thought them sentimental and foolish. He still did but how was he to convince Blake? Tightening his grip on the rebel's shoulder, Avon forced him to meet his gaze.

"Listen to me, Blake, for I will only say this once. I care little for morality or the good of your precious masses. And I have found few certainties in this universe. But one of them is that you...are a good man."

Avon stopped for a moment, trying to gauge the other man's response. Blake's posture still exuded despair but there was faint hope and gratitude in his eyes for Avon's faith and reluctant affection.

"Do you trust me, Blake?"

It was a question and yet not. Blake swallowed nervously and whispered, "Yes."

"Then believe what I say. You had due cause, you were justified, and you did the right thing. Whatever the hell that means."

Avon turned away. Had his words been enough? It was hard enough for him to admit, even to himself, how much it hurt to see Blake's self-confidence shaken. For two years, Blake had been the foundation of his soul. The one unshakable fact in his world was that Blake cared. Not just about himself or his crew but about everyone. And for Blake to doubt himself... Avon turned back to him, searching for the words to restore his faith. But when his gaze met that of the other man, he relaxed. The look on Blake's face was a combination of affection, gratitude, and chagrin. Blake stood, meeting Avon face to face.

"Sorry, Avon. And thank you."

Avon granted him a quick smile. "Go get cleaned up, Blake. You have a rebellion to run."

A frown creased Blake's forehead, giving Avon a moment of concern, but it soon vanished. Avon felt Blake's heavy hand settle on his shoulder, squeezing firmly. Their gazes locked: Blake's still slightly confused but sure of the other man's trust; Avon's uncomfortable but pleased by his friend's recovery.

"Thank you, Avon, for reminding me of myself."

Avon's smile was a ghost of Blake's. "You are welcome. But Blake, next time..."

"Yes."

"Just don't."

Blake's laugh echoed down the corridor, leaving Avon alone. Alone to ponder the pros and cons of revenge.

 

Part 5: Sunlight Shadows

 

"Everybody's got to fight their demons
And you know I had to fight mine too
It took a lot out of me, it took a lot out of you."

"Living in Oz"--Rick Springfield

 

"Where is Avon?"

Vila turned at the sound of Blake's voice. Since Travis's death, Blake had mellowed somewhat. Oh, he was still determined to destroy the Federation. In that way, he would never change. But he was more relaxed, less obsessed. Avon, on the other hand... Vila sighed, abandoning the lock he was working on, and looked up at Blake.

"Outside again. You'd never guess he was raised in the domes."

As always, Blake's expression betrayed his concern. He was worried about Avon. He was being more antisocial than usual, avoiding even Blake's company. And he had been hurt, until he realized that Avon was avoiding all of them. He was either with Orac or outside. And he never shared their communal meal any more. He ate alone if he ate at all.

Blake moved to the window, gazing out at the surf lapping against the rocky shoreline. And, at the far edge of his vision, a lone figure stood, a black shadow against pale stone. Tearing his eyes away, Blake turned back to Vila.

"How long has be been out there?"

"`Bout an hour," Vila replied. "Talk to him, Blake. You're the only one who really reaches him."

"I wish I could believe that, Vila." Blake's voice was wistful. "But if he had what I think he does on his mind, nothing I say will change anything."

"Servalan?"

Blake's gaze hardened. "Who else?"

~ ~ ~

Avon stared out at the water. It fascinated him. Nothing ever disturbed its rhythms. And its gurgling sounds soothed his jumpy nerves. Blake was coming. Actually, he was a little surprised that he had not come before. But pleased, in that he had unknowingly given him time to decide on a course of action, without the emotional jumble Blake always carried with him. As Avon looked up to view Blake's approach, he saw him clambering over the rocks. A smile lightened his face for a moment at Blake's obvious irritation. He was anything but nimble, stumbling over the rocky ground, but he too smiled as he finally reached his goal.

Slumping against the largest boulder he could find, Blake spoke. "Hello, Avon."

The slender man's eyes widened at Blake's innocent expression. Then his own gaze hardened. "What do you want? You hardly came out here just to say hello."

The smiled stayed on Blake's lips but vanished from his eyes. Damn it, Avon. Let me help you.

"To see you. After all, you have been making yourself rather scarce lately."

Avon watched Blake carefully. How much had he already surmised? Perhaps he could anger Blake enough for him to leave. "My affairs are my own concern, Blake. Not yours."

Avon's words were cold, causing Blake's temper to flare. "Damn it Avon! I'm your friend." He seized Avon by the shoulders, shaking him roughly. Just as suddenly, he released him.

"I'm sorry," Blake muttered.

Avon steadied himself against the rocks, watching the other man guardedly. Spreading his hands, Blake spoke imploringly. "I care about you, Avon. Why won't you let me help?"

And unwillingly, Avon responded to that plea. "Because you cannot."

Avon's gaze was cast down, so Blake gently touched his arm. "You intend to go after Servalan."

A thrill raced up Avon's spine. "Yes," he hissed, pulling away and wrapping his arms around himself.

Blake followed his path. "Revenge is not the answer, Avon."

"It was for you."

Avon regretted the words as soon as he spoke them. Blake's face went white and strained as he fought for control. Avon watched in guilty fascination as Blake struggled to control himself.

"No, it was not the answer. It almost destroyed me. If you had not been there..."

Avon held up a hand. "I know. That was uncalled for. But I am not like you, Blake. I am no saint and I will do anything to protect what is mine. She threatens me and she threatens this base. I will killed her. I will be free."

Blake shivered at the malice in the other man's words. "Not alone. Tell me."

For a long moment, Avon simply stared at him, weighing the pros and cons of revealing his plan. But in the end, what convinced him was the look in Blake's eyes. No matter the cause, he could not abandon Avon any more than Avon could abandon him. And if Avon died in the attempt to destroy Servalan, he wanted Blake to know he cared too. That his efforts had not been entirely in vain. Avon felt Blake's hand resting lightly on his shoulder. Sighing softly, he nodded.

"I will tell you, Blake. When we return to base."

Blake held his gaze for a moment. As they turned to head back to the compound, Blake's hand remained on his companion's shoulder and Avon made no attempt to remove it.

~ ~ ~

"So, Avon. We're back at base. Tell me about your plan."

Blake's tone was light, belying his nervous concern. Avon had been even more stuff than usual upon their return, as though closing himself off from everything and everyone. And as he turned to watch Blake, his gaze seemed to pass through him. Blake shivered. Perhaps, Avon's cabin was not a wise choice after all. It had Avon on the defensive, shutting Blake out despite his attempts to reach him.

"Sit, Blake."

Avon's voice was firm and Blake sat, gingerly, on the edge of the bunk. Avon looked down, standing directly in front of him.

"I have decided to call Servalan to me with an offer of an alliance. Against you."

He cocked his head, waiting expectantly for Blake's response. He was not disappointed.

"She'll never believe it, Avon. You rescued me. Why turn against me now?"

Avon's smile never reached his eyes. "Oh, that's the beauty of it, Blake. I learned her lesson well on Terminal. You believe what you want to believe. I will tell her we fought, that you sent me away. And I will offer the teleport in exchange for her protection. She will jump at the chance."

"And when you are face to face?" Blake's voice was solemn.

"She will die. By my hand."

There was little emotion in the words, simply a cold fury that sent shivers down Blake's spine.

"And how will you escape after she is dead?"

At that, Avon turned away. Blake stood, placing a hand on Avon's arm to pull him around. "How, Avon? Without a teleport bracelet? We would hardly let you leave with one."

Avon refused refused to meet his angry gaze. "I will carry a bracelet in my jacket. After she is disposed of, I will call for teleport."

"No."

"Be sensible, Blake, for once in your life. A bracelet would be a dead give away that I intend on returning to you."

Blake's face darkened and he spoke ominously. "Are you suggesting that you do not?"

Avon kept silent as Blake paced away.

"Let me go down with you. In case she brings troopers."

"And if I refuse?"

Avon's eyes challenged Blake.

Who is in control here, me or Avon? Blake wondered. He made up his mind. "I will not let you go alone. Take me or forget Servalan."

Avon's eyes narrowed. "You have no right."

But Blake interrupted with a roar. "Right? I have every right. You're my friend, damn it. I could not--cannot--live with your death. I will not!" Blake punctuated his words by shoving Avon back so that he sat down abruptly on the bunk.

He stared up at Blake rebelliously. How dare you try to keep me from my revenge. I don't want you there. I could not live with your death any easier than you with mine. I will not risk you. Avon closed his eyes, sensing Blake kneeling before him, hand on his knee. Blake reached up, gently shaking his shoulder.

"Please, Avon. Let me help."

And Avon opened his eyes, seeing only compassion and affection in his brown eyes. Blake's hand dropped away.

"Yes, you can come."

Blake smiled in relief but Avon did not. Their trials had yet to begin.

~ ~ ~

"Blake?"

"Ready, Avon."

Both men were standing by the teleport. Servalan had taken the bait, or was laying a trap of her own. Either way, it was time to face her. Vila stood by the teleport controls, nervously glancing from one man to the other. Avon was absorbed in concealing a knife in his boot. Vila shivered at the menacing aura surrounding Avon. Clad entirely in black leather from head to toe, he was indeed formidable looking. As Avon straightened, Blake stepped beside him. Not for the first time, Vila was startled by the contrast between them. Blake was larger but less threatening. His soft tan and green suede a gentle counterpoint to Avon's rigid black garb. Blake reached out, as though to calm Avon, but withdrew as Avon's attention focused sharply upon him. They both stepped to the platform.

"Put us down."

Vila sought out Blake's gaze. Take care of him, Blake. Take care of you both.

"Good luck."

And they were gone.

~ ~ ~

"Down and safe."

Avon removed his bracelet and held it out to Blake who gingerly received it. Turning to leave, Blake paused. "Avon. Be careful."

Avon smiled tightly and turned his back, heading across the valley towards his meeting with Servalan. Blake watched for a moment, then concealed himself in the brush. He checked his blaster. Avon might have to restrict himself to a knife but he definitely did not. Adjusting his position, Blake settled down to watch, alert for any sign of danger to his friend.

Avon was scanning the surrounding area. She should be here. Unless Blake is right, that it is a trap.

"Hello, Avon."

Servalan stood behind him, smiling sweetly. And she appear to be alone. She stepped closer, pressing a hand to his chest.

"So," and she licked her lips, "what are you offering, my Avon?"

Avon's smile was wolfish, his eyes ice cold. "Well, now, that depends."

"On what?" she whispered seductively.

"On the cost," he replied, seizing her by both arms, covering her mouth with his. She responded, sliding her arms round his back, tightening her grip. Avon broke the kiss, breathing in the scent of her. The scent of death. So easy. It would be so easy to kill you now. One sharp twist and your neck would snap. Lost in his thoughts, Avon failed to notice the troopers emerging from a nearby stand of trees.

But Blake did notice. "Avon, behind you!"

Avon whirled, using Servalan as a shield. Two troopers went down under Blake's fire. And the remaining trooper turned to face him. Ignoring his captive, Avon pulled his knife, preparing to throw it at Blake's opponent. But Servalan snatched it from his grasp, knocking him off balance, burying the knife deep in his chest.

"No," he gasped as he crumpled at her feet, clutching his breast, gripping the shaft of the knife. Servalan backed off, glancing towards Blake. He was running towards Avon and her trooper lay dead behind him.

"Avon!"

Blake knelt beside the wounded man. Avon was breathing heavily, face paler than usual with the pain of his wound. Avon's chest was covered with blood, the knife still protruding where his hand had slipped away. No, Avon. You can't leave me.

"I'll try not to die," Avon whispered, guessing his thoughts.

Blake's eyes widened. He had to stop the bleeding. He reached out to pull Avon against him, when he felt his head yanked back and the prick of cold steel against his throat. He swallowed convulsively.

"Servalan."

"Yes, Blake. It seems that I will be able to eliminate you both at once. I must thank Avon for bringing you along."

Blake could see the fury clouding Avon's gaze, mixing with the pain. Blake tensed. Maybe he could...

"Don't move, Blake."

The grip on his hair tightened.

"I would not like to kill you before I am ready."

To affirm her statement, she flicked the knife up, leaving a moon-shaped cut under Blake's eye. He tried not to flinch, gasping a little at the sharp pain, bringing his fingers to his face. They came away bloodily. He sought out Avon's gaze and found it concentrated on Servalan. Then, inexplicably, it shifted, focusing beyond Servalan. Blake could feel her turn to follow Avon's stare. Just as suddenly, Avon pulled the blade from his shoulder and threw it. Blake heard Servalan's sharp scream as she fell. He turned, as Avon crawled to his side, watching her where she lay. But she lay still and Avon leaned against Blake's shoulder wearily.

"Free," he whispered. "She cannot hurt anyone now."

Blake held Avon gently against his chest, clipping the teleport bracelet around his wrist.

"Vila, bring us up."

~ ~ ~

"Avon?"

Avon turned slightly, acknowledging Blake's presence without rising. Blake took it as an invitation and joined him on his rock. For a few moments, they sat quietly, watching the rhythmic motion of the waves. But soon, Avon glanced up, wincing at the sight of the scar under Blake's eye. How close I came to losing you. She would have taken such delight in killing you before my eyes.

"How are you feeling?"

Blake was watching him sideways with a great deal of concern.

"Better," he replied shortly.

A few more moments passed in silence.

"Avalon said that the Earth government has collapsed completely. The rebel force on Earth is planning a takeover."

Avon faced Blake. "Congratulations. It is what you wanted."

Blake smiled slightly and shook his head. "It is not all I wanted."

"No?"

"No, Avon," Blake chided gently.

"So what do you want?" There was genuine curiosity in Avon's voice.

"I already told you, Avon. I want to help you."

Avon's eyes darkened but before he could speak, Blake placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"I was so afraid that I had lost you." Blake bit his lip and looked away. "I need you, Avon. Your friendship, even your contrariness. Don't shut me out."

Avon closed his eyes against the tears that threatened to spill. You were afraid of losing me. Oh, Blake. He opened his eyes to see Blake watching him again.

"I am sorry, Blake. It is the way I am."

"Would it be so terrible to change?"

"Difficult."

"I see."

Blake looked out over the water. I have no more words, my Avon. None to convince you. Caring is always worth the pain.

"Blake, when Servalan cut you..."

Blake regarded him intently.

"I would have given anything to kill her."

Blake didn't smile but his eyes shone. "Frightening, isn't it?"

Avon just nodded.

"You saved my life. Again."

"As you did mine."

"Thank you." Blake waited for a response but none was forthcoming. Struggling to his feet, he offered his hand to Avon who glanced up then away. But he took it and Blake pulled him to his feet. Avon stumbled against him, holding on to keep from falling. Blake returned the embrace and Avon allowed it. When Blake released him, he stared deeply into Blake's eyes.

"Thank you...Roj."

Blake's smile was blinding, forcing a small answering one from Avon.

"You are welcome...Kerr. Let's go home."

Avon nodded, walking back to base at Blake's side. Where he belonged. Where they both belonged.

 

"For all of the times that you struggled in an effort
To work your way back upstream
And all of the times you've held on to it
When most of us had lost the dream
For all of the ones who have walked with you
By your side or way back home
Maybe much more than any of us
You know that no one is really alone."

"It's a Possibility"--John Denver


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