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All in the Mind

By Gemini
He was warm and he was comfortable and it seemed a terribly long time since he had been either. There was pain and distress lurking at the back of his mind and he forced it away. Just a few more moments of peace before he opened his eyes. Ignorance seemed a small price to pay, to forget whatever it was that was hammering at his memory with such knife-edged insistence.

      There was someone lying next to him. Someone warm and feminine, wearing perfume that would have identified her half a kilometer away, let alone lying beside him. And did it matter if it was Servalan? He rolled over and took her fiercely in his arms, because even if it was only for a few minutes, he could delay the impact of the memory by taking her. Because he knew what it was now: Blake. He'd killed Blake, and the only way he could deny that memory was by turning to life in some form. And if that life was Servalan? He almost laughed as he kissed her red-painted lips. It didn't matter any more, because Blake was dead and all his damn revolution was dead with him. There was no one left for Avon to betray.

      She was responsive, demanding, kissing him with a hunger that spoke of the passion that had always lurked unspoken between them. Her breasts were large and pressed against him. Abandoning her mouth, he moved down, seized one, suckled, let her feel the scrape of his teeth against the hardness of her nipple. Servalan writhed against him, moaning low in her throat as Avon caressed her roughly, claiming her for himself. He ran a hand down the inside of her thigh, and found her wet and ready for him. Abandoning all pretence at foreplay, he pressed his penis against her, plunged deep and swift in a single move. Each thrust was atonement for his sins. He wanted to destroy her, to lose himself inside her, to kill her, to love her for ever. Servalan was the blackness in his soul; she was all the things that he dared not acknowledge in himself.

      Their bodies moved in frantic unison; breath coming in short sharp gasps; he was suspended between heaven and hell. Then Servalan raked her nails along his back and cried aloud, and he came in a desperate shudder, spilling his life seed within her.

      

      For a minute, they lay silent, each lost in their own separate thoughts, then Servalan rolled them over and lay on top of him, kissing him slowly, languorously, tongue tracing the outline of his lips.

      Finally, Avon broke the silence.

      "What now?"

      Servalan leaned upright, seated herself straddled across his thighs. "Business. I imagine you know what I want."

      "If it's the names of other rebels, then you're out of luck: I didn't know any. If it's the teleport..." He let a smile drift over his face. "Just how badly was Scorpio damaged?"

      Servalan caressed his hipbone as she spoke. "Badly enough that I can probably save two years' research effort if I have your willing co-operation."

      "And what about my crew?"

      She shook her head. "All dead. Ironic, if you chose to view it that way. I hadn't expected you to be there. My agent reported Blake's presence, I sent men in with orders to take Blake alive and kill all the others on the base. A sharp eyed sergeant recognised you and gave orders that you were to be stunned. You were lucky."

      "Obviously some new definition of lucky."

      He fell silent, all trace of humour gone. Irony indeed, that he had killed Blake himself before her men had arrived. Blake's hands clasped his arms, and he gazed with horror into the dying man's eyes, heard Blake's voice gasping out his name. How could he have been such a fool? Ever since Anna, he'd become accustomed to betrayal. He'd allowed himself to forget the rough affection between himself and Blake, the long arguments, the times they'd saved each other's lives, the trust they'd had in one another. Blake had been unique, a man of passion and vitality, of belief and principle. Blake of all men, would never have betrayed Avon.

      She was studying his face carefully. "Guilt, Avon?"

      So she knew. Small surprise; a ballistic check on the gun would have told her that. Was that why he was here now? For her to find whether he had broken with the rebellion, to see if he would be an easy convert to work at her side? It might be a ploy to use while he sought to escape.

      "Guilt?" he said slowly. "Hardly that. You might say that we had a fatal disagreement."

      Servalan smiled. The kind of smile she used when she knew she had total control of the situation. "Then I shan't need him any more, shall I?"

      "Who?"

      "Blake." She inspected a fingernail with exaggerated care. "Did I forget to mention that part? We had an emergency cryo-capsule, just one, unfortunately, but it came in very useful. He's still in there, but with appropriate, emergency surgery we could save his life." She inspected another immaculate nail. "I'm told that with suitable care, he could make a full recovery."

      His pulse was racing; he spoke with deliberate, forced calm and hoped desperately that he wasn't giving anything away. "Another simulation, Servalan? You're beginning to repeat yourself. Besides, I shot Blake - he's hardly likely to welcome me with open arms."

      Servalan leant closer, her breath warm upon his face. "A curious choice of phrase that. Tell me, there was one thing that even the psychostrategists were uncertain of: were you and Blake lovers?"

      "What!"

      "I'll take that as a no. Blake was, after all, boringly straight. But you, you my dear Avon are as bent as they come. Gender is totally irrelevant in your case."

      He stared at her in shocked disbelief.

      "Now don't tell me you weren't aware of it; your psych profile is perfectly clear on the point. Why else do you think you stayed with Blake for so long?"

      It wasn't true. Couldn't be true. Whatever he'd felt for Blake, this had never been a part of it.

      "I could give him to you, Avon. Manipulate his memory a little. Erase those last few moments on Gauda Prime. Give him something else instead: make him remember that he's always been atracted to men, make him want you." Her voice dropped to a throaty whisper. "He could be yours, Avon."

      "It isn't like that at all."

      She ignored his protest, ran a gentle finger along his side. "Imagine that it isn't me here with you; it's Blake. Blake's lying beside you, touching you, caressing you." The finger stroked over his nipples, ran down his flaccid penis. "He needs you, he wants you, he's hard for you, desperate for you." There was a sudden warmth inside him, growing, becoming an insistent throbbing. "He takes you into his mouth." She suited action to words, and it was Blake, he could shut his eyes and it was Blake. He was becoming hard and it was agony. He reached out to grab a handful of curly hair, needing he knew not what, and encountered only a close-cut crop of black.

      "No!"

      He was abandoned to coldness. He opened his eyes and looked at her, and for a moment thought he saw pity there. Then she was all business again.

      "Do we have a deal? Blake in your bed in exchange for your willing co-operation."

      Avon stared back at her, unable to take it all in. He hadn't killed Blake. They could be together again, Avon's betrayal erased as though it had never happened. The friendship they had shared could be restored. He stared past Servalan, up at the ceiling. Friendship - was she right? Did he want more than that from Blake? The throbbing he had felt seemed to justify her words. Regardless of that, he couldn't let Blake die if there was any way to prevent it. But could he allow what she suggested?

      Servalan slipped out of bed, and donned a blood red, silken robe which settled round her shoulders like a mantle of power. Avon barely noticed. Servalan's mouth and his own images of Blake had been all he had needed to become painfully aroused. She was right. Despite their disagreements, despite everything, he wanted Blake. Wanted his strength, his passion, wanted all of Blake to belong to him. Servalan could give him it all.

      But at what cost? Would Blake want it? Blake detested the mindwiping technology, had once confessed to fearing it more than death. The death of self, he had called it. But the only other option was living without him and Avon wasn't prepared to accept that. If the cost was building a teleport? His mind shied away from that. With luck they could find a way of escaping before he'd made any significant progress. Servalan wasn't fool enough to let him work without double checking what he did. Blake was another problem - he would never accept such a deal. Servalan might remove his memories of Gauda Prime and of being shot but she'd hardly be able to take the rebel out of him and still leave the essential Blake. If she altered too much, he woudn't be the man Avon wanted.

      "Well, Avon?"

      He glanced up. She stood beside him, smiling. One red-tipped finger traced his profile. So hard to believe that they had enjoyed sex just a few minutes ago.

      "I'll give you Blake, a Blake who wants you as much as you want him. You will give me the teleport. Agreed?"

      Avon swallowed and looked away, decision already made. "I'd like to see him first."

      The smile that curved Servalan's lips made him want to strangle her, ever so slowly.

      "Certainly. Inspecting the goods?"

      His ferocious glare was ignored as she swept over to a recessed closet and tossed a non-descript black jumpsuit back at him. There were boots sitting by the side of the bed, as if she'd anticipated...

      "Guards." Two big, unpleasant-looking mutoids appeared in the doorway as he finished the last fastener. "Escort him to the medical centre." She turned away but her voice floated back to Avon as the door slid shut behind him. "I'll join you in a few minutes."

      Paying careful attention to the layout of the station, Avon obediently followed his mutoid guides down several white corridors and around two corners before they stopped. One of them pressed his hand to a key pad. The door slid open and one guard accompanied Avon inside while the other mutoid remained at the door.

      Avon's gaze travelled around the vast room. Medical equipment lined the walls, scanners, a blood recirculation machine, diagnostic couches, cutters in a clear case and other devices whose purpose he could only guess at. To his right stood a large machine with elements that he did recognise: a visual-image structuraliser, vocabulary banks and their accessories - everything needed to create a false reality. Doubtless other parts of the machine were capable of blocking unwanted memories. Something churned in his stomach for a moment, threatening vomit, before he turned his attention that which he had been avoiding. The cryo-capsule Servalan had spoken of rested in the centre of the room. The light reflected off the surface, dazzling Avon for a second before he moved closer, heart thundering in his chest. Blake isn't dead, he repeated to himself.

      Reaching the capsule, he placed one hand on the cool surface and looked at the naked man inside. Long, dark curls tumbled around a face ravaged by fate. The scar, that had so horrified Avon on Gauda Prime, drew him now. He wanted to touch it, caress it from the corner of the eye to the bottom of the stubbled cheek. Was this the love that Servalan had referred to? Or mere obsession?

      Blake's face looked oddly peaceful, almost tranquil. Strange for a man who had believed himself murdered by a friend. Avon ached to touch him, to reassure himself that Blake was alive, to deny his own act of murder. His hand rested on the capsule above Blake's face. Those strong arms would close round him, the full lips would press against his, tongue tasting him, as he would taste Blake. Avon's gaze travelled along the capsule-encased form, stopping suddenly at the ragged chest wound. He swallowed tightly, chest constricted. The damage was horrific, skin blasted open, organs exposed. Only the absolute cold of the capsule kept this man from death. Bile rose again in Avon's throat and he fought the nausea. Blake might not remember Avon's actions after Servalan was done with him, but Avon would never forget the pain on his face, the look in his eyes as he fell. He closed his own eyes. He could not think about it. He would not, not now.

      After a moment, he opened his eyes again, gazing upon other parts of Blake's body, the sturdy legs, his groin. He felt himself twitch at the sight. Blake's cock rested against a muscular thigh, long even in its quiescent state, thick...

      "Avon."

      He spun round. There was a knowing smirk on Servalan's face and Avon felt his cheeks flame. She laughed in response . At that moment, the only way that he desired her was dead at his feet.

      "Your decision?"

      Avon glanced back at the capsule. There really never had been a choice to make.

      "Give him to me."

      "Don't be in too much of a hurry. A day for the surgery, several days in intensive care. Then you can have him. The doctors will work on his mind while he is still unconscious." She smiled, a masterpiece of insincerity and held up a small sphere between her thumb and forefinger. "Just in case you feel tempted to leave before completing your part of the deal, I have requested the surgeons to take on one minor extra task. Do you know what this is?"

      "An explosive device. Not very powerful."

      "But powerful enough to kill a man. It will be inserted into Blake's abdominal cavity. If he leaves this building, it will explode."

      "What triggers it?"

      "Do you really expect me to tell you that, Avon?"

      No, he hadn't, but it had been worth the effort. The old game: outguessing and outmanoeuvring each other. He'd played it with Blake too. He'd gambled with Blake's life before now, but then the gamble had been of his own choice. He had the right to take liberties with Blake; Servalan did not. But she had won this round, so he acknowledged her with a wry smile. Servalan flowed into his arms, and he accepted the caress, telling himself that he only seduced her to control her, and knowing that his fascination with her was nearly as strong as his love for Blake.

      Avon deepened the kiss, tightening his arms about her, then stiffened abruptly. Servalan's hands, which had been stroking across his lower back, were digging into his arse, one finger prodding at the material, forcing it between his cheeks. Angrily, he shoved her away.

      "Why Avon, so modest! You'd better get over your reluctance before Blake recovers. I doubt he'll let you be top man every time."

      "What Blake and I do, or do not do, is none of your concern." He had never done that, never had sex with a man, didn't know whether he'd be able to handle it even with Blake.

      "Oh but it is, if it interferes with your performance with me. After all, I deserve some payment for giving you Blake."

      "The teleport is not sufficient?" Resignation tinged his voice.

      "The teleport and you in my bed will do for now." One red-tipped finger traced over his lips.

      "As you wish."

      "The guards will escort you to your quarters. They, of course, will remain outside, for your own protection."

      Avon's gaze went back to the capsule.

      "The surgical treatment will begin shortly. As soon as it's complete, the psychosurgeon will finish the work. You'll have a living, breathing Blake with no sexual reservations."

      "And you'll have a hostage against my good behaviour." No sense pretending on that score. Servalan knew the hand she held.

      "I thought my bed would be sufficient inducement for that."

      Avon grinned mockingly. "I think we both recognize the truth in that."

      "Yes, Avon. We do." She looked at him consideringly. "You can see him once everything is finished. He'll be in good enough condition - our tissue regeneration techniques have advanced greatly, thanks to Blake. It seems only fitting that he should reap the benefit."

      "You expect me to believe that?"

      "Well, perhaps I should say Gan rather than Blake."

      Avon looked at her without comprehension; it had been years since he'd last thought of Gan.

      She smiled in minor triumph. "His first aid kit contained some fascinating devices - so good of you to leave them for us."

      She kissed him once, hard against his already bruised lips, before striding from the room, white gown trailing behind her.

      Gan was dead, and Blake lay in a pseudo death that only Servalan could wake him from. Avon took a final look at the capsule and followed the guards. He had little real choice in the matter. They travelled a different route to a new cabin. The door slid open and the guards remained outside. Slowly Avon surveyed the suite of rooms that was to be his and Blake's prison.

      The largest room contained several chairs, a couch and table, and a computer console. The walls were the same plain matt white as the rest of the station, except that one was almost covered with an inbuilt display of an alien landscape. One door led to a bathroom with shower, toilet and basin; the other led into a bedroom which was dominated by a large double bed. Avon walked round it. Black silk sheets covered it along with an assortment of silken pillows. He shook his head; not likely to be Blake's style, but very much Servalan's. There was a bedside table with a basket on it and Avon paused. It contained several tubes of lubricant, one of which was flavoured. Avon frowned and looked away. He wasn't quite ready to face that yet.

      Five long days later, Avon was in the lab, working at the computer, trying to set up routines to define mathematically the structure of matter. Without Orac's assistance, the task was proving difficult even though he had access to vast libraries of data. On the whole though, he regarded the difficulties as a bonus; he wanted to delay anything significant for as long as possible.

      Tired, he leaned back, rubbing at his gritty eyes. He hadn't been able to sleep, his thoughts were with Blake in the medical centre. It wouldn't be much longer now. Servalan had left a message that the surgery was over and that they had repaired all the physical damage, even most of the scar that had marred his face. They had also implanted Servalan's little device. Avon acknowledged that added problem, that the real risk of any escape attempt would be to Blake's life. As for the psych session, he had heard nothing, but then neither did he expect to. Servalan had stayed away and Avon expected only the notification that he could come to the centre when Blake regained consciousness.

      A sharp buzz caught his attention and he pressed the link-up.

      "The prisoner should regain consciousness within the next twenty minutes." A masculine voice, unfamiliar.

      Avon jumped to his feet and set off for the medical centre, guards flanking him.

      This time, when he entered the spacious room, the capsule was gone, but there was a man laying on one of the diagnostic couches. There were no medical staff in sight, but the guards remained at the door as Avon stepped closer to the body on the couch. The broad chest rose and fell in a regular rhythm and Avon felt his own chest tighten. He reached out a hand and touched the warm flesh of Blake's forearm where it rested on top of the sheet. All the physical damage of the past two years was erased; Blake's cheek was smooth, unmarred except for a small scar near the corner of his eye. The real question that tormented Avon now was whether Blake's memory and his sexuality had changed.

      He drew his hand back and stared at it. What had he done? What would he do to Blake now? His hands itched to tangle in the curly brown hair, to twist his fingers in it and pull Blake's head into a kiss. Those full lips would meet his in a moist, searching kiss and then... An image of the lubricant from their room came to mind. He'd fuck Blake, or would it be the other way around? His cock gave a twitch of response. Himself on his knees, Blake hot and hard against him.

      He rested his head in his hands. Servalan had trapped him neatly. He wanted Blake, he had him. Freedom via escape would cost him Blake's life, as could refusing to work on the teleport. Unless he could find a solution to the device, he was well and truly ensnared.

      "Avon?" A very faint whisper, but it brought Avon's head up in a hurry.

      Blake's eyes were open, drowsy-looking and confused. The aftereffect of whatever drugs they had used. He was watching Avon, a small smile quirking his lips. "I missed you."

      Avon grasped his hand and felt the solid warmth as Blake gripped him back again.

      "Where are we?" Blake demanded.

      "What's the last thing you remember?"

      Blake closed his eyes for an instant and frowned. "Klyn called to say that a flyer had just landed, and then Deva said... Where is Deva? He usually fusses over me like a mother hen."

      "Deva's dead."

      "How? What happened?" He struggled to sit up and then collapsed back again. Avon's arm slid under him, lifting and supporting, holding him upright as dizziness threatened to overwhelm him. He allowed himself to relax into the comfort of that embrace. Cynic Avon might be, but in times of crisis, there had always been that silent, unvoiced support, a touch to lead him back to sanity. And if Deva was dead, there had to be more, there had to be far worse.

      "What happened?" he repeated, not wanting to know, but needing to face the responsibility and the guilt. If he was still alive, who had paid the price for his life?

      "The last thing you recall is speaking to Deva?"

      "Yes. What's eating you, Avon? Tell me the worst, I have to know sooner or later."

      "They're all dead." So little emotion in that voice. The arms holding him never faltered in their grip. "There was a spy in your camp. She sold you to Servalan."

      So his tests had failed him in the end. They'd failed him, and everyone who'd trusted in him. And here he was now with the one man who would never have passed any of his tests - his embezzler, cynic, thief, liar and occasional mutineer. The man he trusted above any other. Ironic that. But he was tired, so tired, and he hurt in spite of the fuzziness. Something felt as though it had ripped his guts out. He pressed a hand to his stomach.

      As though divining his thoughts, Avon said, "You were shot by the troopers. Luckily they got you to a cryo-capsule in time."

      "Luckily?"

      "You're still alive aren't you?" Avon glared.

      "And how did you get here?" Blake flung back at him.

      Avon stiffened. "I chose to survive."

      Betrayal bit at him. Avon had always claimed to have a price. Had he any right to complain if Avon finally lived up to his own claims? Yes, he did; because if Avon turned traitor, the cost to the rebellion would be immeasurable. And the personal cost to himself?

      He pushed Avon's arm away, holding himself upright by sheer willpower. "So you get to live. I hope you consider it worth the cost, Avon." He gave a slight self-deprecating laugh. "And what do I have waiting for me? If they've taken this much trouble to patch me together, I imagine it must be something interesting. Trial? Interrogation? You can get so much more from a man who won't inconvenience you by dying."

      "No!"

      There was anger in that denial and Blake struggled to sort it out. For all his claims to be unaffected by emotional considerations, Avon was a passionate man. If he hadn't known it before then, Albion would have taught him that. Whichever way you looked at it, staying with the solium bomb until the last possible moment showed more depths to Avon than most people would have credited. What then, was driving Avon's passions now? Guilt?

      "Really? I never thought you that naive."

      Anger brightened Avon's eyes, emphasising his saturnine features. "You live-" he stabbed a finger for emphasis, "-precisely as long as I want you to."

      So that was the way of it, or at least the way Avon believed it to be. And if true, it gave rise to a range of possible interpretations which ranged all the way from Avon wanting to torment him, to Avon working for Servalan in order to protect him. Both, in their way, were equally bad.

      "Why?"

      "Because I hate you."

      So much passion in that voice. Only Avon and Travis had that intensity. No - there had been someone else once, someone who had spoken of love in the tones that Avon used to speak of hate. So close those emotions, so very very close, and they were both passionate men. Tam had been passionate, loving and tender, so different from Avon with his bright-edged anger and sarcasm. But the look in their eyes, that was the same - the need, the desire, the look that was for him and no other. He knew it now, knew it, responded to it, and shed a silent tear for Jenna's memory. For he had thought that he loved her. But this, this was what the tumble of returning memory told him he truly desired - the lean hard muscles of a man, the feel of a cock in his hand, the touch and smell of a masculine body beside him. The knowledge was a part of himself; he needed to confirm it, seal it, retain it forever, before it escaped him again. He needed Avon. As a drowning man must have air, he needed to touch Avon, to wake that smouldering passion into full flame, to let the heat flare between them, no matter what the cost, no matter what the consequence.

      He gazed into Avon's eyes, watched as Avon read his need, saw the quickened breathing, the slight parting of Avon's lips; then, without asking permission, he slid a hand behind Avon's head and pulled him into a kiss. Avon resisted for a bare moment, then met him with equal fervour, melting into the kiss like a man starved.

      This was what he wanted, what he had always wanted. A man, and not only a man, but Avon. Avon's passion focused on him, accepting him, demanding. Blake's tongue traced over the surface of Avon's lips, slipped inside to tease at teeth and tongue. Avon returned his desire ten-fold, arms wrapping round Blake's naked shoulders, clothing rough against bare skin. Avon was hot, even through the other man's clothes, Blake could feel the heat of his body radiating. Avon might have always appeared cool and calculating but underneath, he was all fire. His tongue invaded Blake's mouth, claiming it as his own and Blake revealed in it. What else might Avon want from him now that this passion was released?

      It was Blake who had to break the kiss, his weakened body unable, as yet, to cope with Avon's apparent need. Gasping for breath, he traced a shaky finger over Avon's cheek, his jaw. If this was a sample of what Avon's 'hate' was like, his love was going to kill him. Dark eyes stared deeply into his and he was struck by Avon's beauty. He'd always noticed, at some level, that Avon was attractive. But now, just looking at him, touching him, despite his injuries, he felt a throb of arousal, a slow pulsing.

      In spite of the distraction of Avon's hands rubbing over his shoulders, fingers tracing patterns on his chest, the other man's words still echoed in his mind. What had Avon done to ensure their continued survival? Servalan wouldn't have saved his life if she didn't have a purpose for him and they wouldn't be together now unless she wanted it so.

      "What...what have you given her?" he gasped out as clever fingers traced round a nipple. He couldn't prevent his body's instinctive response, the arching of his back. Abandoning his exploration of Avon's features, he gripped the other man's wrist.

      "Nothing as yet."

      Avon's face appeared calm and composed, resolved, but Blake knew what he was capable of. Avon could give Servalan the teleport, his mind was a valuable tool to her. But he couldn't give her names, he'd never been that close to the rebellion. Only Blake could do that and he'd die first.

      "But you intend to."

      A faint smile tilted the corners of Avon's mouth. "I will do what is necessary to keep us both alive." His wrist twisted, breaking free of Blake's grip.

      "You expect me to accept that?"

      Avon stood up and took a few steps away, turning to stare down at Blake. "I expect you to bow to the inevitable."

      Blake closed his eyes, aware of the slow flush that was heating his face. "And what else will be expected of me?" Could it simply be lust on Avon's part? He'd never noticed Avon exhibiting desire for anyone before, except now, except him. Love or lust? Would Avon hand him to Servalan if he failed to satisfy? Did it matter? He couldn't just turn off how he felt about Avon, how Avon made him feel. He opened his eyes.

      The dark head was bowed and Avon's pale skin was faintly flushed. He looked uncomfortable, almost guilty, but Blake still ached with wanting him.

      "I didn't ask Servalan for your life to torment you, Blake."

      "Then why? Lust?"

      The brightness in Avon's dark eyes flared, anger and something else. "You know better than that."

      "Do I?"

      Avon was touching him again, fingers slipping through his curls, tangling, tugging until his head was pulled back, throat bared. Hot lips descended, brushing against the jugular. Avon's mouth opened, sucking hard. There would be bruises. Marks of his ownership?

      Sensitive fingers stroked over his bare chest, palm pressing down on a nipple, rubbing in slow circles. Blake shivered under the onslaught. The lips moved, along his jaw to his mouth, and he opened for them, Avon's tongue delving deep.

      "How touching!"

      Blake froze and Avon jerked away, spinning round to face the door. Servalan!

      "What are you doing here?" Avon snarled, moving between her and Blake's half-nude body. She stood in the doorway, or rather posed. Her long dress hugged her curves, accenting the swell of breasts, of buttocks as she half-turned. Nails and lips bright red, she was beautiful but in a way that didn't attract Blake. As beautiful and as deadly as Avon could be, yet she left him cold and filled with hate.

      "Checking on my insurance. I hope he's in satisfactory condition."

      Blake watched her approach. She stroked Avon's arm in passing and he stiffened.

      "You seem...pleased with him." She reached out, brushing Blake's cheek where the scar had been. "Nicely done."

      Blake glared at her. She was responsible for the deaths of his friends, Deva's death, and now she was using him to control Avon. He was sure of that.

      Servalan addressed Avon. "I wish to speak to you now, alone."

      Avon glared at her for a moment before his gaze shifted back to Blake. Blake focused on his face, watching a series of emotions flicker there before Avon's typical arrogant mask returned.

      Servalan hadn't missed the exchange.

      "He'll be in your quarters when you return. Now, Avon."

      With a final glance at Blake, Avon marched from the room, Servalan following more sedately, nodding to Blake as she left. What did she want from Avon? And would she get it?

      He lay back with a sigh. He still ached, but it was easing now, now that Avon was gone. Whatever had happened on Gauda Prime, the shock of being so close to death had obviously broken another of the Federation's memory blocks. Either that, or else the surprise and pleasure of seeing Avon once more had allowed his deeper feelings to emerge from the prison of his past. His memory played with Tam, recalling the embraces of a man who had been locked from his mind for almost a decade. Could Avon love him like that? Could their love become something stronger than he had known before? He held Avon's image to him and kissed him in dreams as sleep claimed his tired body once more.

      

      

Servalan's room was like her: sleek and elegant. Avon hated it. He didn't bother to look around as she entered behind him.

      "I'm not in the mood, Servalan."

      "I thought you were in precisely that sort of mood."

      "With Blake. Not you."

      "I ought to be offended." Her voice was light. "But you need me, Avon. Blake isn't up to, shall we say more strenuous activities."

      "I can wait." He stared at the fluted columns painted onto the wall; anything to avoid looking at Servalan. He needed time: time to think over the gift he had been given; time to analyse his own reactions to Blake, and Blake's to him.

      "I can't."

      Her lips were on the back of his neck, warm and moist, sucking at him, draining away his resistance. What was the point in refusing? She didn't even have to make the threat - there were a thousand different things she could do to Blake. Even the thought of that danger was enough to bring him half erect, his body insisting through some ancient alchemy that this was an appropriate response to threat. The dominant male's response to challenge he thought mockingly even as Servalan slid down to unfasten his trousers.

      Her hands delved inside, freeing him and caressing him with a slow, sure stroke. Against his will, his penis responded, swelling, a rising serpent that betrayed him with its actions.

      "You see," she said, "you do want this."

      Her mouth engulfed him, hot and moist, sucking, teasing. Pleasure arced through Avon and he wanted to scream out in protest. Servalan's nails dug hard into his buttocks, and he welcomed the pain as a counterpoint to the pleasure, gasping aloud. Suddenly, he was abandoned.

      "Strip."

      For an instant Avon hesitated, then gave way before the determination in Servalan's eyes. She watched him clinically, eyes assessing him as though he was a gigolo brought in for her inspection. But then wasn't that all that he counted for here? He let his shirt fall to the ground on top of his other clothes and watched as Servalan unfastened her dress and let it float down to the floor. She wasn't wearing anything underneath. Somehow, he hadn't expected her to be.

      Avon went to lie down on the bed without waiting to be told. She came, dimming the room lights as she did so, and balanced herself on his knees. Her hands manipulated him, cupping his testicles, jerking his cock in strokes long and short, every move calculated to bring him closer to coming. Avon closed his eyes for an instant and without warning, nails raked down his side.

      "Think: if Blake could see you now - what would he think of you, here with me?"

      "No!" he protested without thinking.

      She worked him harder, caressing his thighs with one hand sliding in between his legs, the other varying pace and rhythm as she watched his every reaction.

      Avon could feel the sweat breaking out as he fought against the stimulation, his body twisting desperately for completion even as his mind rejected the need.

      "Think, if Blake knew what you've allowed to be done to him."

      Guilt, that was all that he could think of. Guilt and the intensity of pleasure.

      "Think, if Blake knew that you'd killed him."

      Guilt. He didn't deserve pleasure, he deserved -

      Servalan's nails dug deep and Avon came in an extremity of emotions all jumbled together.

      He lay unmoving as Servalan brought herself to her own climax. She'd taken something from him, and he wasn't even sure what it was. Her eyes flicked to him, contemptuous.

      "Leave."

      Silently, Avon put on his clothes and departed.

      The corridor was empty except for the mutoid guards and for once he was grateful for their presence. Without feeling themselves, they made no assumptions about anyone else. If asked, they would merely report that he had passed this way. They could not judge his emotional state. Indeed, Avon could not judge it himself.

      He paused at the door of his quarters, fearful of what he would find. Sure enough, Blake was there sitting on a high-backed chair, dressed in a long gown. A bone thrown to an obedient dog.

      Blake smiled and held out a hand.

      "They brought me here, but I hope you'll forgive me if I don't get up to greet you. I don't think I'm quite up to that yet."

      Avon froze.

      Blake took him in in a single glance. "What's wrong?"

      He couldn't say it. Wasn't sure that he'd ever be able to say it.

      "Nothing, I'm fine."

      Blake stared at the man in front of him, shocked by the change wrought in the hour or so since they had been separated. If Avon had been pale before, he gave new meaning to the term now. His dark eyes looked huge in contrast and there was a slight tremor to his hands that had not been present before. What had Servalan done to him while Blake was coddled and brought here?

      "You don't look fine" he ventured quietly, hoping Avon would come closer and sit down before he fell down. Uncertain of his own feelings, his earlier actions, Blake was even more confused about Avon's. The touches that they had shared had held a lot more than friendship. Yet, now Avon was withdrawn. Whatever had happened, whatever his deal with Servalan, Avon wouldn't tell him, wouldn't trust him. It hurt. How could Avon love him if he didn't trust him?

      He was falling in love and it scared him. If Avon felt it this badly as well, he was probably terrified. Vulnerability wasn't Avon's strong suit.

      Some of his concern must have manifested itself on his face, for Avon sighed and sat down on the couch opposite him.

      "You're right. I'm not fine. But no, I don't want to talk about it. There's nothing you can do."

      "I could share it with you."

      A look of horror flashed across Avon's face and Blake stiffened, rising from his chair and slowly going over to join him on the couch. What was so terrible that Avon wouldn't discuss it, that the very idea affected him so? Blake reached out, fingers resting against the soft skin of Avon's wrist. The man's pulse was racing.

      "Avon, let me help."

      There was a harsh, choked off laugh from the other man. "You can't, Blake. Just leave it, at least for now."

      Unwillingly resigned to not getting anywhere for the moment, his relationship to Avon too fragile and his body too tired to fight, Blake let it go. But he still maintained contact with the other man, fingers stroking lightly across the blue-veined inner wrist. Gradually, the tension in Avon seemed to ease and soon Blake's fingers were captured, held firmly against a leather-clad thigh.

      "Blake?"

      He focused his gaze on Avon's face, waiting for the other man to turn and look at him.

      "Hmm?"

      "Just... I don't..."

      Blake's throat tightened, his mouth went dry, at the words, the pain behind them and... the fear? Silently he reached out, pulling the smaller man into his arms. He winced as the movement tugged at newly regenerated skin, but it was more than worth the minor discomfort to feel Avon's welcome weight against his shoulder. He stroked Avon's dark hair, the fine strands slipping though his fingers, Avon's body finally relaxing, resting against him. Had Avon been afraid of him? Was it the sex? He had kissed Blake with such passion that that didn't seem possible, but perhaps this was Avon's first homosexual experience. Blake felt a hand sinking into his curls, fingers tangling, tugging slightly. He smiled into Avon's shoulder, pressing a kiss to the delicate skin of his neck. Avon shivered and Blake made his decision. Tonight was too soon.

      "I'm tired, Avon. Would you be terribly offended if I wanted to go to bed. To sleep," he added quickly. Avon pulled back a bit, the hand in Blake's hair slipping down to the back of his neck. Intense, dark eyes searched his and a faint smile curved Avon's lips.

      "Perhaps that would be best."

      Did he detect a sense of relief? He must have been right. Avon was nervous and unsure, just trying to cover it. They would have lots of time to learn about each other. They'd find a way to escape, to be together, and get Avon away from Servalan and whatever she was doing to him. Raising his fingers to Avon's cheek, he placed a gentle, coaxing kiss on his lips, rewarded by Avon's response, soft lips parting, inviting him in. They shared a lazy, exploratory kiss until Avon pulled away, breathing heavily.

      "Bed."

      Blake nodded. "Yes."

      

      

Avon awoke to warmth plastered down his back and an arm draped over his hip, the hand tucked in against his belly. He pressed back, a hardness poked into his lower back, and he tensed.

      Blake mumbled something, the hand on Avon's belly moving soothingly, and Avon realized that Blake was only half-awake if that. He just happened to have done so with an erection, that was all. He remembered the feel of Servalan's hands on his arse, fingers probing and suddenly, he needed to see Blake's face. Turning, shifting under Blake's arm without dislodging it, he came face to face with a pair of sleepy brown eyes. It seemed Blake was more awake than he had thought.

      "Morning, Avon." Blake's sleepy voice was husky and it sent a tingle along Avon's nerves. He glanced down between their bodies. Blake's erection hadn't gone away, the man's cock big and half-hard, rested against one muscular thigh.

      "We don't have to do anything, Avon. Not unless you're ready."

      Avon froze. Blake was concerned for his readiness? What exactly had Servalan put into Blake's mind? Did he remember past lovers? Apparently, it was his own trepidation that was holding the other man back. Blake wanted him, was hard for him. Servalan's machinations or not, Avon wanted this, wanted Blake.

      Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to Blake's, felt them open, inviting his tongue to explore. Bracing himself, he leaned over the larger man, Blake tugging at him until he lay between Blake's legs, arms on either side of the smooth, hairless chest. Blake's hands stroked over his back and sides, settled at the small of his back, forcing their groins together. Avon moaned, his cock filling, stretching as Blake rubbed against him. This was Blake, finally Blake. Hands caressed his arse, gripping and squeezing, and he thrust down, pleased by Blake's gasping response, the upward thrust of powerful hips beneath him. They ground together, sweating. Blake was panting and Avon stared down into his face, absorbing every detail, watching as Blake tensed and gave a wordless cry, his hands forcing Avon hard against him as he came, the pressure forcing orgasm from Avon too. It was wonderful, it was terrifying, it was over far too soon.

      As Avon collapsed at Blake's side, hand resting over Blake's heart, the beat a reassuring comfort, he remembered the previous night once more: Servalan. Blake's hand covered his possessively and fresh guilt blossomed. What had he done?

      Blake's love was too strong, too powerful. His sexual confidence was too great. Surely even Blake must realise before long that this wasn't natural for him? When that happened, Avon knew beyond doubt what the result would be. Blake would hate him and he would be justified. He'd betrayed Blake, there was no other way of looking at it. He didn't deserve this warm, passionate love. Crime deserved punishment. He deserved what Servalan had done to him.

      Avon shoved himself abruptly out of the bed.

      "I've got work to do."

      

      

The lab was mechanical and sterile. Emotion wasn't necessary here. Avon concentrated on the task in hand, slowly absorbing himself in the interplay of wire and current, in the trace patterns left by electrons on a monitor screen and in the strange quantum fluctuations that allowed matter to simultaneously exist and not exist. He made a minute adjustment to a control, studied the readout and picked up a fresh tool only to drop it, startled, as a kiss brushed the hair at the nape of his neck.

      "Blake! What the hell are you doing here?"

      "Looking for you. Is that so surprising?"

      His pulse raced, heat pooled in his groin. This had to end now. It demeaned Blake, degraded him to the status of a prostitute drugged into compliance with her pimp's wishes. He couldn't feel about Blake as he did and still act this way. Besides, the further he drew Blake down the path desire demanded, the worse would be the final reckoning when Blake came to his senses. Blake had thrown off Federation conditioning before; how had Avon been so stupid as to imagine that he could get away this? What on Earth had made him so reckless?

      "Can't you see I'm busy?" he demanded.

      "Making a teleport for Servalan?"

      "That was the price for our lives."

      "And if I ask you to stop? If I tell you that some things are more important that our lives?"

      Avon rounded on him in fury half-simulated, half-real. "Is that what all this is about? Is that why you seduced me? Well, I'm having none of it. You can keep your unnatural sexual desires to yourself in future."

      "Avon!" Blake gripped his shoulders, but was still too weak to maintain the grip as Avon flung his arms aside.

      "What would it have been next? Fucking me like some damn pervert? You never used to be like this, or if you were, you kept it well to yourself."

      "You -" Blake's eyes blazed with determination "-were just as enthusiastic as I was."

      "And now I've come to my senses. It's over, Blake. Finished."

      Blake walked slowly away, then turned to look over his shoulder. "For what it's worth, Avon, I think I've always loved you. Right from the beginning."

      Avon watched him go in silence, then flung himself down at the workbench and buried his head in his arms. "Bastard," he muttered under his breath. "You bastard." He wasn't quite sure which of them he was referring to.

      

      

Avon's argument with Blake had been fascinating to watch. Servalan flicked off the monitor and contemplated her reflection in the screen. To her, Avon's rejection of Blake spoke not of homophobia, but of guilt. There was a tension inside her that demanded fulfilment; her groin ached sweetly in anticipation. Avon would be ready for her. Silken fabric flowed gently over her skin as she walked to her wardrobe to choose what to wear - she could dress for the evening later. Black, of course, to suggest power and dominance, but there were other considerations too. After some deliberation, she selected a riding outfit: knee-high leather boots, short trousers, a tight fitting jacket that emphasised her bust and a short, flexible, riding crop. She switched the crop experimentally against her leg, its sharp sting a satisfying sensation.

      Avon was still in the lab, apparently working. Servalan stood behind him, watching unobserved, as he rearranged a set of components and then restored them to their original positions.

      "Didn't you expect him to love you?" she said quietly.

      Avon spun round and rose to his feet. "Not like this!" he flung back at her.

      "Not heart and body and soul? If it's any consolation, neither did I. It worked beyond my experts' expectations."

      Avon's hand clenched tight around a metal field inducer, the sharp edges digging into his flesh.

      "You betrayed him." Her crop lashed out smartly, striking Avon on the cheek.

      Fury lit his eyes, black, wild and abandoned. His hand snatched out for the crop but he missed as she flicked out with it again, catching him on the wrist.

      "You want him." Her voice dropped to a low, throaty throb. "You need to be punished."

      The wildness blazed at her; there was hate in those bottomless eyes, but desperation too. Avon understood what she was offering, some part of him craved it, needed release from the burden of guilt that was eating away at him.

      "Come." She turned sharply, not bothering to check if Avon followed. He would.

      Her boot heels tapped a staccato rhythm down the corridor, the sound echoing crisply off the painted walls. Avon's footsteps sounded different, quieter, less certain. One way or the other, she could not lose. If Avon established a steady sexual relationship with Blake, then she controlled him through that. If he developed a conscience about using Blake, then she would use that same conscience to control him.

      Once in her room, Avon started to unfasten his jacket.

      "Wait!" Servalan snapped. "Did I give you permission to get undressed?"

      Avon hovered on the verge of rebellion, then whispered, "No."

      She walked around him slowly, inspecting him, then stopped in front of him and offered her lips up for a kiss. Avon hesitated until she nodded, giving him tacit permission. He kissed her roughly, possessively, reminding her that the battle was not yet totally won. There was an excitement in that, a strong man never failed to thrill her and the game of domination entertained far more if the opponent was a worthy one. She pressed herself against Avon, enjoying the heat of his body and the strength of his arms. Before Avon had time to contemplate any reversal of their roles, she tapped him lightly on a leg with the crop. When he failed to release her fast enough for her liking, Servalan struck again, much harder. Pleasure coursed through her as Avon gasped and let go. She laid the crop alongside his cheek, caressing it in a parody of affection.

      "You still have a lot to learn."

      He was silent.

      "Now, you may remove your clothes."

      Avon stripped slowly. There was no eroticism in the act, almost the reverse, but when he removed his trousers, he was erect as she had known he would be.

      "Turn around. Place your hands against the wall and spread your feet apart."

      He obeyed, turning his head suspiciously over his shoulder to watch her.

      "You love Blake," she said almost casually.

      "No."

      Thwack. A bright red mark bloomed on Avon's left buttock. He tensed, ready to move.

      "You love him and you've allowed him to be destroyed."

      "I saved his life."

      "You asked me to tamper with his mind - to implant false memories again - to turn him into something else for your convenience."

      Avon avoided her eye, staring instead at the wall. The faintest of tremors ran through his body.

      "You betrayed him."

      Thwack.

      "You destroyed him."

      Thwack.

      "On Gauda Prime you tried to kill him."

      Thwack.

      Each stroke left a red welt. Each stroke fired the heat within her own body. She laid a criss-cross of blows across Avon's back, none hard enough to break the skin, but each livid and painful. Apart from the occasional sharp intake of breath, he made no sound. She was so close now, could use him any moment to bring herself off, but she wanted more, wanted to score her ultimate triumph over Blake.

      She stepped closer, ran her hands up Avon's thighs, caressed his flanks, slid a hand in front and caressed the fullness of his testicles, the smooth shaft of his penis. The hair on his balls was long and wiry, each individual hair springy under her caress. She ran a finger around, tracing the juncture between body and genitals. His breathing quickened as she played with him, fondling each testicle in its sac of skin.

      "On the bed."

      In spite of the blows he had received, Avon lay on his back, obviously expecting a repetition of their last encounter. Instead of joining him immediately, she went to her dressing table and removed an elegent pair of ivory handled scissors and a small bottle of liquid. Aware of Avon's attention, she returned to the bed and sat astride his thighs.

      "Do you know what I'm going to do?"

      His muscles were tense even though his face was carefully schooled to passivity. "No."

      "Good."

      Slowly, deliberately, Servalan cut her nails. Each red curl fell on the sheet to lie stark against the sheets. When the last clipping had fallen, she picked up her crop once more and stood astride him.

      "Turn over." The crop hovered suggestively over his penis. "Turn over and spread your legs apart."

      Now, he understood but it was too late. He had accepted the pain and the degradation and there was no dignity left for him to cling too. Avon rolled over and stayed motionless as Servalan slid an oiled finger into him. The sensation was strange and terrifying. He clamped down automatically in a bid to expel her and felt the sting of her slap on his backside. At the same time, her finger forced itself deeper and touched something inside him. The simultaneous pleasure and pain caught him by surprise and he cried out. A second finger joined the first, slowly stretching him him, arousing sensations that he could not describe. The motion was wonderful, hateful. Her other hand reached under him, grasped his penis, held it in a firm circle. The fingers in his arse set up a rhythm, matched by the hand on his cock and he was lost to it, thrusting into the one hand and being impaled by the other. Servalan's cries egged him on, echoing his fall into oblivion. The last words he heard as he came were Servalan's.

      "Remember, Avon, no mater what Blake does to you in the future, I had you first!"

      

      

Sighing, Blake rolled carefully out of bed and reached for a pair of trousers. Avon had left hours ago, to do whatever it was that was keeping them alive, and Blake felt twitchy. Which was not surprising, he told himself, considering the situation. With Avon working for Servalan, it would be surprising if he wasn't worried.

      Slipping on a pair of silky black trousers, he padded over to the desk with its computer terminal. He didn't expect it to be that useful, it was unlikely to have access to anything important, but he had to do something. They couldn't stall Servalan forever. Sooner or later, Avon would have to give her what she wanted. Blake was under no illusions on that score. If Avon failed to comply, a painful death for Blake would be the result, with Avon forced to watch.

      Blake shivered as he slipped into the chair. He remembered Avon's anguish over Anna Grant, well-hidden but present nonetheless. Brown eyes had been shadowed with pain and Blake had ached for the other man, still did in fact. When Avon had first entered their rooms last night, there had been a disturbing mixture of emotions on his face, a trepidation that could have been due to guilt of fear or both. Guilt over his co-operation with Servalan perhaps. But fear? Could it simply be that he'd never had a relationship with a member of his own sex before, that he was afraid of the unknown?

      Except that it had seemed more than that. And Avon's actions in bed had been anything but restrained. He'd given himself totally to the experience and Blake had revelled in it, in the Avon he'd come to desire. Had it taken their near deaths to bring them together, to admit their need for each other? If only they had shared these feelings before, if only Blake had broken through the memory blocks before. None of the disasters would have happened. The others might still be alive.

      Shaking his head at his own thoughts, Blake tapped in a command. He needed to concentrate on the present, on what he could do, what he could change. The cursor blinked at him but refused to give up any information. Password? One set by Avon or by Servalan? Frowning, he leaned back. Why would Avon set one, unless he was working on something behind Servalan's back? Or was Avon hiding something from him?

      Shoving himself away from the desk, he paced round the room uneasily. Work space, bed, bathroom, he walked round them all, mind racing. What was Avon really up to? Was he giving Servalan what she wanted and was there anything Blake could do if he was? He was under no illusions as to Avon's loyalty, or lack of it, to the rebellion. He couldn't force Avon to refuse her. Suicide, of course, would remove him as a bargaining tool, but how would Avon react? Once, Blake would have expected the other man to accept Servalan's will as long as his own life was spared but now... Had Avon's desperation in bed been lust or love? His courting of death on Albian had to have been related to his feelings for Grant's sister. Would Blake's death drive him over the edge? He could suicide to keep the rebellion safe. He would hate, however, to be the cause of Avon's death.

      Blake flopped down on the bed and rested an arm over his eyes. His head ached. He couldn't have been wrong. When Avon had kissed him, caressed him, it had been love. Desperate, passionate, but love nonetheless. A fantasy turned into reality because Blake would never have fantasized Servalan's presence, that gave it the harsh bite of reality. His fantasy would have Avon at his side, in a big bed, in relative peace.

      He felt a twitch at his groin and smiled at himself. So long without it that the thought of Avon, naked, with him, brought the throb of arousal. Stirring against the silky material, he cupped himself, caressing his cock with the soft cloth. It would be so good. Avon caught up in passion, Blake's hand on Avon's cock, stroking, spreading the moisture that beaded at the tip, tracing over the soft head. Moans would force themselves past Avon's lips until he'd tug Blake's hands away, kiss him and turn him on his stomach.

      Blake felt himself flush, his hand stroking through the cloth, teasing himself until his erection was full and aching, hungry for release. Avon would be hungry too, encouraging Blake to kneel, thighs spread, as Avon's fingers would explore, tracing over delicate skin, brushing against the moistened opening. One, then two, fingers would slip inside, stretching him gently, carefully as Avon's other hand would slowly milk him. And then the fingers would withdraw and something larger, hotter, would be pressing into him. He'd gasp in a mixture of pain and pleasure but Avon wouldn't stop. He'd start to thrust, hand on Blake's cock keeping him hard and aching as Avon plundered his lover's arse until he'd thrust hard and come, hand tightening, driving Blake over the edge with him.

      A little stunned, Blake looked down at himself, at the sticky remains of his fantasy on his fingers and belly. Would Avon want that, he wondered with a little thrill? He knew he did, wanted Avon inside him, wanted to be inside Avon. He reached for some tissues, wiping the evidence of his pleasure away. He still had the problem of finding a way for them to escape and of figuring out how to access the computer. Maybe he'd find something if he went to the lab that Avon said he had to work in. Just because there was a guard outside his room, was no reason he couldn't go for some exercise.

      Reaching for a shirt and shoes, he dressed and opened the door. "I'd like to walk around if that's permitted."

      The guard merely nodded and followed closely as Blake set off down the corridor. Several times, the mutoid changed their path but she never stopped him until they reached one door. Clearly this one was off-limits.

      "Kerr Avon." Blake stated. Hopefully, the mutoid could take him to the other man. He wasn't learning anything but the station layout from this and that was the same as many that he'd studied in the past with Orac's help. The mutoid looked almost puzzled for a moment, and Blake felt a flash of concern, but then its expression cleared.

      "You will follow me."

      The corridor down which the mutoid led him was like all the others, white painted and sterile, yet Blake was subliminally aware of something different - it had a suggestion of life about it. He couldn't explain the sensation until he came to a door at the end and was ushered out into a small, white-walled garden. Stepping out into sunlight caught Blake totally by surprise. His eyes screwed up in reaction to the brightness and it was several moments before he became aware of Avon seated on a stone bench beside a formal pool, back bowed as he stared into the water. Roses surrounded the garden, clambering high on trellises against the walls. Scent from the blooms filed the air and he realised that he must have been aware of the smell even back in the corridor. Narrow grass paths led between beds containing more roses, each path leading towards the rectangular pool where water lilies floated in a mirrored reflection of the blue sky. He became aware that it was hot. A dragonfly hovered over the pond and then darted away in a blur of iridescent wings, the sudden motion emphasising Avon's stillness.

      Blake walked slowly along the path, grass absorbing the sound of his footfalls. Reaching Avon, he hesitated, unsure of what his welcome would be. Then, giving way to the need to express his affection, he knelt, leant his cheek against the black-covered back and clasped his lover around the waist.

      Avon caught his breath in a sharp intake and jerked forward. "Don't," he said, in a voice of quiet weariness.

      Blake refused to be dismissed so lightly. He nuzzled Avon's back through the dark fabric of the jumpsuit, only to fall back as Avon flinched at the touch.

      "Won't you take anything from me?" Blake demanded.

      "I told you, it's over."

      "And if I refuse to let it be over?"

      He caressed Avon, loving the curve of his spine, but this time Avon's reaction was unmistakable. Not revulsion, but pain.

      "She hurt you, didn't she?" Blake demanded. He came around to the front of the bench and reached for the fastening of the jumpsuit. "Let me see."

      Avon leapt to his feet, tension quivering his frame. "I am not going to let you paw me all over just to satisfy your prurient curiosity."

      "You seemed happy enough last night."

      "And suppose I tell you that the only reason you wanted me last night was because Servalan had fucked around with your memory?"

      Blake's hand dropped as if chopped off. "That's not true."

      "Oh, really?"

      "I've always preferred men."

      "And just when did you remember this?" Avon's voice dripped sarcasm. "On Liberator? Oh, yes, I can remember you making a pass at me then. Wake up, Blake! You didn't have this delusion until you were brought here."

      Blake clenched his fists, nails digging into the palms of his hands; the pain the only thing that he could focus on. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. Angry and sarcastic, Avon still looked beautiful to him, the fire in his eyes, the lean length of his body. Yet the words had the ring of truth. Nausea churned at him, hatred for what had been done to him, and the bitter pain of loss. As a boy he'd owned a glass paperweight with a flower imprisoned inside the crystal, preserved eternally in fragile beauty. It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever owned. When his sister had broken it, something of wonder had gone forever from his life to lie with the fragments on the floor. That was how he felt now, only worse. His love had been stolen from him, except that how could you steal something that had never been real in the first place? He laughed in bitter irony, head thrown back, shaking with the force of it.

      Avon's slap pulled him back to reality. "Now, do you understand?" Avon hissed. "Servalan told me everything."

      He caught the wrist, let Avon feel the strength of his grip. "Oh, I understand," he said softly. "I understand perfectly. You knew last night, didn't you? No wonder you were so hesitant, but you still let me make love to you in the morning!"

      "Blake, I-"

      "You let me, Avon!" And I wanted it and I enjoyed it and God help me, I want to do it again. "And you don't even have the excuse that she manipulated your mind." And how do I find my way back to myself? How long will it take me this time to shake off the conditioning and the implanted memories? And how will I feel about you when I'm myself again? What will it be, indifference or hate? On Liberator, I loved you as a friend - you do realise that it will be impossible to go back to that?

      He squeezed the wrist harder, ignoring Avon's wince. "We need to get out of here. We need to get out of here before I kill you."

      "We can't leave." The words had the flat ring of finality to them.

      Blake tightened his grip even more, a tiny part of him relishing the brief flash of pain that crossed the other man's face. Everything was a lie. Had any of Avon's love been real? And now Avon wanted to stay here? Was the whole thing some plan between Avon and Servalan? Had they tricked him into loving Avon to prevent him trying to escape?

      "Why?" He watched Avon's dark eyes flicker at the question.

      "Why what? Why can't we leave? Why didn't I tell you about your memories?" Avon hesitated and looked down. "Why did I have sex with you?"

      Avon gaze focused abruptly back on him and Blake swallowed hard. Whatever had happened, Avon still stirred him. Blake still wanted him, needed him, despite it all.

      "I think you owe me answers to all of those questions."

      Avon's head tilted slightly but his gaze shifted away. "Blake, you're hurting me."

      The words were very soft, not angry, which was surprising. A little ashamed at his rough handling of the other man, he released Avon's wrist, watching as graceful hands rubbed carefully at it, at the angry red marks. Hands that had rubbed him... Angrily, he pushed those thoughts away.

      "Why can't we leave? Are you even working on a plan of escape?" Blake sat down heavily.

      "I have been working on it, but there are difficulties that you aren't aware of." Avon appeared to hesitate as if deciding exactly what to tell him.

      Frustrated, Blake rested his head in his hands. "Just be honest with me, Avon. For once, just tell me the truth."

      He could hear Avon move, stepping closer until Blake could hear the soft rasp of his breathing. Unease coiled in his stomach. What could possibly be making Avon so uncertain?

      "Servalan did more than mess with your memories, Blake. She had something extra added during the surgery to repair your injuries." Blake felt his blood start to pound. Added something? "An explosive device, in your abdominal cavity. If we leave the building, you will die."

      So that was it. Servalan had won where he was concerned. He felt a hand briefly brush his shoulder and froze for a moment before glancing up. By then, Avon had moved a safe distance away. Blake's eyes narrowed. He had an implant. That shouldn't prevent Avon's departure.

      "Why are you still here?"

      Avon was staring into the pool of water, body tense, and impossibly, the tension seemed to increase at Blake's words.

      "If you need to ask that question, then Vila was not the only fool on Liberator."

      Avon kept his face turned away, leaving Blake to concentrate on his own thoughts. Avon wouldn't leave without him, wouldn't risk his life in an escape attempt. Did he actually care that much? Blake had thought so before, even on Liberator, but how much of that was real and how much part of whatever sick game Servalan was playing? If Avon was refusing to attempt to escape, he was either doing it for Blake or for Servalan.

      A sharp flare of jealously shot through him. Was that it? Servalan wanted Avon for his beauty and his brains and was using Blake to hold him... did she even need to? She was beautiful in a deadly sort of way. Perhaps Avon wanted to stay. But still, why sleep with him unless Avon really did want him? Unless he had had sex with him because he wanted Blake to love him.

      Confused, Blake approached the other man, not touching, just standing behind him. He could see the increase in Avon's breathing rate but the dark, sleek head never moved.

      "If we found a way around the implant, or if you were on your own, would you take the risk and find a way to escape?"

      Avon spun round to face him, fear and loathing an unexpected combination on his face.

      "Yes," he snarled. "And if I could kill her in the process, I would do that as well."

      His first instinct to sooth Avon's fear, Blake reached for his shoulder, then stopped, remembering Avon's earlier reaction to his touch. Blake's stomach felt full of lead. They might have messed with his mind and body but Avon was not unscathed either.

      The fine hands were tightly clenched and Blake reached for them, fury filling him as Avon allowed that small touch.

      "Those times you left, to meet with Servalan, to work, that wasn't all that happened, was it?"

      "No." The word was sharp, uninviting of further questions but Blake wasn't going to accept that, not his time.

      "Avon, let me..."

      "I really wish you wouldn't. It'll heal." The resignation in Avon's voice scared Blake more than he wanted to admit. Physical abuse definitely but what else had been done to Avon to leave him this way? His anger over Avon's actions was fading under the other man's obvious distress. He'd find a way to deal with Servalan over this. Avon was not to blame for her actions. He should have told Blake the truth but... Why would she do it though? Why make him love Avon? Unless she'd guessed somehow that Avon had feelings for him and wanted to use that against him. If Avon might have left him once, he certainly wouldn't now.

      Cautiously, he brushed his fingers against Avon's cheek. Such soft, smooth skin, to think of the rest of it being abused... He let his hand drop. That was the programming again. He had to think on the mental level, not the physical.

      "Let's go back to our rooms. And you can tell me everything you can about the implant. There's got to be a way around it."

      Avon nodded silently and they set off, the guard joining them in the corridor but not crowding them. Not surprising really. He glanced down at Avon, noticing for the first time the lines of stress and pain. If there was no way round the implant, he wouldn't let this go on. Whatever sick pleasure Servalan got out of abusing Avon had to be stopped. If he was what was holding Avon here, he'd have to take himself out of the picture, and maybe take her with him.

      Blake opened the door to their room and waited for Avon to enter, then shut it pointedly in the guard's face.

      "Right," he demanded. "I'm going to take a look at your back."

      "That's not necessary." Avon was stiff and defensive.

      "I think it is."

      Avon stared at him for a long moment, then removed his shirt with obvious reluctance. Blake caught his breath sharply as Avon turned to reveal the angry weals hatching his back and vanishing down below the waistband of his trousers.

      "How the hell did that happen?"

      "That is none of your business, Blake."

      Like hell it was none of his business. If Servalan thought she could do this to his lover, correction, to his friend... The distinction was so damnably hard to maintain. This body that she'd abused was one he'd held and caressed. Blake forced away memories of the morning and concentrated on practicalities. At least the skin wasn't broken so there was no risk of infection, but Avon had to be in considerable pain. There ought to be something in the bathroom. They seemed to have been equipped with virtually everything they might need in the way of toiletries and first aid. He made his way into the bathroom and rummaged through the cabinet. Depilatories, cleansing foam, lubricant. He stopped, drawn by some impulse he couldn't identify and unscrewed the cap. The familiar smell pulled him back across the years. Tam sat astride his thighs, hands liberally coated with gel which he was using to anoint Blake's penis.

      No!

      But it was so real.

      Angrily, he flung the tube to the floor and grabbed some anesthetic ointment from the next shelf. Avon still stood, lost in some silent dream of his own, as Blake returned. He squeezed a dollop onto the palm of his hand and began to apply it in broad, generous strokes across Avon's back. A mistake. He was already half-hard from the memory of Tam and touching Avon, even like this, simply aroused him further.

      Damn Servalan!

      He tried to concentrate on the task in hand, smoothing cream into the welts, but his mind kept on presenting him with uninvited pictures. He was kissing Avon on the neck, caressing his breast as well as his back, sliding his hands lower to dive into his trousers.

      He stepped back abruptly, breathing hard.

      "I'm sorry. I've got to stop for a moment."

      The bed was close; he collapsed on the edge, burying his face in his hands, unheeding of the ointment getting in his hair.

      "Bad?" Avon asked with rare sympathy.

      "Bloody awful. Why did she do it? Why, Avon?"

      He sensed rather than saw Avon's hand reaching out towards him.

      "Don't touch me!" He hunched tighter, focused on Servalan as a way of shifting his thoughts. She'd set him up, and she would never have let the result of her experiment go unobserved. "You realise we're almost certainly being monitored," he said.

      "That didn't seem to bother you this morning."

      "I wasn't thinking about it then." This morning, making love to Avon had seemed the most natural thing in the world. Even if had been thinking of watchers, he would have refused to feel shame. Now, he burned inwardly at the thought of Servalan's laughter. "We weren't discussing how to get out of here then."

      "It can't be done," Avon said. "It's impossible to jam whatever transmitters she's using. I don't know the frequency and any broad spectrum jamming would set off every alarm in the place. We could wrap you up in a hundred kilos of lead shielding, but you wouldn't be able to move and she'd guess what we wanted it for anyway. Face it, Blake, we're stuck here."

      "Or is it that you don't want to escape?"

      Blake sprang to his feet and paced the room in irritation. He stabbed a finger at Avon. "What hold does Servalan have over you that's made you give up? Fear? If it's pity for me, you can forget it." He let his voice fall into a mimicry of Servalan's. "Poor Blake, so terribly sad isn't it. He's desperately in love and it isn't even real. Be nice to him, Avon, play along with him." He pounded a fist hard on the back of the chair. "Well, it's not going to be like that. I won't play her game."

      "But that wasn't the game at all. Was it, Avon?" Servalan stood framed in the doorway, balanced on impossibly high heels, her long black dress sweeping the floor in an elegant curve. Over her shoulders hung a midnight black cape. Covering both cape and dress in striking contrast was a tracery of silver wire weaving an intricate mesh over the entire surface with here and there a solitary gem threaded onto the structure. As the door closed behind her, Avon grabbed at his shirt and stuffed his arms back into the sleeves.

      "Then what was the game?" Blake growled, stepping between her and Avon.

      "Protective?" She raised an elegant eyebrow. "I thought you didn't want him any more?"

      He took a step closer, hands shaping into fists by his sides. "Why did you do it?"

      "It gave me Avon. You still don't understand do you? You're trying to deny your feelings for him and that forces you to deny his for you. As long as I have you, Avon will do exactly as I want."

      He didn't dare look around, wouldn't shame Avon by asking him. Facing up to the truth simply made life more difficult. Avon has slept with him because he wanted to, before his conscience, always a tardy organ at best had caught up with him and reminded him how Blake felt about mind manipulation. Avon loved him, and Blake, the real Blake, couldn't love him back. He had had little choice before, now he had none. They had to get out of here.

      Servalan's neck was slender and bare, the hood of her cloak falling behind her shoulders. Blake grabbed it, twisting her neck to within a bare fraction of snapping.

      "You're going to escort us out of here."

      "Impossible." The words almost choked her and he eased the pressure slightly while making his strength clear. "The guards have orders not to disarm the transmitters under any circumstances, even if my life is in danger. The only way you can leave here is as a corpse."

      "You're bluffing."

      "I trust Avon not to risk your life."

      "Don't bet on it." Avon's voice sounded rough. "It might just be worth it."

      "Three small explosions in the abdomen?" Servalan's voice was sweet and mild and Blake was totally unprepared for the effect it had upon Avon.

      "No!"

      He twisted his head and caught the haunted desperation in Avon's eyes before it vanished behind a stone mask. Fear like that was a terrible thing to behold.

      "There's another way," he said softly. "Take her cloak and dress. It may not be ideal, but there's enough wire netting there to make a Faraday cage."

      Avon blinked at him as though coming out of a deep sleep. "It might work," he said slowly, "but you can't afford to leave any gaps bigger than a centimetre or so in size and you'll have to make sure you cover your feet as well as your head - waves can reflect in almost any direction."

      Blake smiled in relief. "Then get me some wire to sew it up with."

      Avon stared at Blake for a moment longer before turning once more to Servalan.

      "You heard him. Take off the cloak and dress." He held out his hand as she held the cloak out toward him.

      "Even the tiniest gap will kill him. Are you willing to risk that, Avon? Blake's internal organs scattered around you."

      For a second, Avon froze, flashing back to Gauda Prime, to the smell of Blake's blood, the sight of the man he couldn't live without, dying at his feet. Concentrating hard, he swallowed and pulled back, the material clenched between his fingers. A gentle touch brushed his shoulder and he flinched.

      "Avon?"

      "I'm all right, Blake." But of course he wasn't, wouldn't ever be after what he had done, what he had wanted to be done to Blake. Desperately trying to ignore both the warmth on his shoulder and Servalan's insidious gaze, he worked away at the material, carefully separating the delicate wire from the silky material. Silky like the skin that had caressed his only this morning, that never would again... The material tore and he glanced up, guilt chipping away at his control. But Blake's attention was elsewhere, though his hand remained on Avon's shoulder. He was watching Servalan.

      She was almost naked, the dress puddled on the floor at her feet. Clad only in a white satiny bra and panties, she was alluring. Avon knew well how much a disguise that was. The white was an ironic choice. There was nothing innocent in her nature. The pain still flaring from his back and the tenderness between his cheeks provided an ample reminder of how perverse, how cruel she could be. She'd played him like a puppet, yanking all his strings. Even now, he felt a mixture of mild arousal and loathing, both of himself and of her.

      He watched as Blake stepped toward her, bending over to pick up the dress with its precious metal decorations. One eye on Servalan, he returned to Avon's side and began to work at the wire himself. His broad, strong fingers were surprisingly nimble. Or not surprising, Avon told himself, considering their time together. He felt a sudden pulse in his groin and damned himself for a fool. They might not escape and even if they did, Blake was lost to him. Forgiveness was not the issue, Blake's desires were. And his true desires were not for other men. It was foolish and dangerous to want what he would never have again.

      He looked up again to find Servalan watching him.

      "Don't you like what you see, Avon?" Her voice was soft and sultry, the same voice she used when she welded the whip. "I can't believe you didn't enjoy it."

      Avon felt the blood drain from his face, his pulse starting to pound. He hadn't wanted it, hadn't enjoyed it. Had he?

      "Leave him alone." Blake snarled. The rebel's face was dark with rage. "Haven't you hurt him enough, you bitch?"

      There was real anger in Blake's voice but his hands were still busy. The wire was mostly free of material and Blake was wrapping it over his feet.

      "Oh, Blake." Servalan approached him, reaching out to run a red-tipped fingers through his thick curls. He suffered her touch without pulling away. In fact, he gave no reaction at all. "Nothing is finished yet."

      "Your stalling tactics won't work, Servalan," Avon said. "We are going to get this constructed, and do it before the guard knows anything is wrong. You were the only one to monitor this room, weren't you?"

      Blake's head lifted to stare at Avon.

      "I can't imagine you letting anyone know what exactly what you were up to," Avon continued. "Did you record the video?"

      "Of course. And if something happens to me, that's not the only video that will be released to the public, Avon."

      Avon's fingers faltered in their construction of Blake's headgear. If she was telling the truth, Blake would know it all. She'd never let them escape without making him pay for the attempt. Blake would know that the man he had slept with, the man he had always trusted, had tried to kill him.

      "All the Federation ever shows are lies and propaganda," Blake interjected. "No one in the rebellion will believe you." He paused. "But even if they did, it wouldn't matter. I care about Avon, he's my friend. You may have twisted that, but it changes nothing. If I did love him, I wouldn't be ashamed if everyone knew."

      A faint smile twisted Servalan's lips. It made Avon very uneasy.

      "What about the guard, Blake?" he asked.

      "What about him?"

      "Well, we don't exactly seem to be possessed of an embarrassment of weapons."

      "He won't be expecting an attack. We should be able to handle him."

      "And her?" Avon knew Blake could hear the loathing in his voice. He no longer cared. He reached out for Blake, starting to encircle his head with the wire. His fingers inadvertently brushed against the skin of Blake's cheek. He felt a tremor in the body next to him. "Blake?" Brown eyes looked unhappily into his.

      "I'm sorry," Blake said. "I can't help the way I'm feeling. I want you. I know it's a lie, a sick joke on Servalan's part, but I..."

      Blake's wants were obvious, his body reacting to Avon's touch even if his mind told him not to. Fresh guilt flooded Avon. Blake apologizing for feeling what she made him feel? What Avon had wanted him to feel? Avon shook his head.

      "Taking on the burdens of the world? It's not your fault, Blake."

      "But you want..."

      "I know what she said." Avon rushed out. "My... desires are not relevant here."

      "But it's making it harder for you."

      Leave it to Blake to worry about Avon's problems. "I can handle it. We have far more important things to think of now, escaping alive, for one." He went back to fixing the wires, trying hard not to touch the other man, to make it worse for Blake. Each accidental touch caused a reaction to race through the big frame, though it was quickly stilled. Securing the last bit of wire, Avon stepped back. Blake's hands quickly traced over the wire cage and he smiled.

      "Ready?"

      Avon nodded.

      "What about me?" Servalan's voice was jarring, startling Avon, she had been silent so long.

      "Unless you want to parade round your station half-naked, I think we'll leave you here. Tied up, of course. Avon, tear up one of your shirts."

      Avon tore several strips and began to wrap them around Servalan's wrists. Blake had moved back slightly, putting himself between the two of them and the door to prevent any attempt on her part to break loose and warn the guard. Avon was uncomfortably aware of Blake's fierce gaze. He knew it wasn't directed at him though, particularly as he fastened her wrists securely behind her and Blake spoke.

      "Why that particular scenario, Servalan? Wouldn't physical torture have been more satisfying for you? You know that once conditioning has broken down once, it's likely to do so again. That makes me a poor subject for it. So why that? Just to torment Avon?"

      For a brief second, Avon wished he had gagged her, knocked her out, done anything that would have prevented her answer. Because he could see in her eyes that she thought this was her last chance to dig the knife deeper, to destroy any relationship he could have with Blake, to try and destroy him. She was going to tell Blake the truth.

      "Torment him? On the contrary, Blake. I gave him exactly what he wanted, because he wanted it. After all, in return for pleasuring me, I wanted him to be pleasured. And he wanted you. Besides, he was tormenting himself quite enough for having -"

      Avon didn't even remember reaching out. One moment he had been listening to Servalan about to destroy his life, the next he was holding her broken neck between his hands. Blake slapped at him in fury, knocking him to the floor, the wire mesh covering his hand leaving a bloody graze on Avon's face.

      "Why do I find it so easy to believe her?" he demanded. "What else haven't you told me?"

      Avon stared at him, eyes taut and barely under control. "Does it matter?"

      Blake stared at Servalan's upward gazing eyes that now saw nothing unless it were the fires of hell. "Oh yes, it matters." What was it that Avon didn't want him to know? What was so terrible that he'd rather face Blake's suspicion than have him know exactly what was wrong? Servalan's hold over him had been terrible indeed. But then again, if she'd had one hold, why did she need another? And then he knew. Not the details, but he knew what Servalan had done and why and he didn't know whether to hate Avon more than he pitied him. The knowledge simultaneously focused his hate and allowed him to relax.

      "I'm not leaving here until you tell me." He matched action to words by sitting on the bed. "I'll find out anyway, eventually. You heard what she said: if she dies, certain vistapes get made public."

      "You have to leave!" Avon stood in front of him, hands reaching out seize him, but not quite daring to touch.

      "No, I don't."

      Avon was virtually on the verge of panic and it fascinated Blake to see the cool, collected computer technician so distraught. He felt oddly calm himself, almost as if Avon's fear forced him to the opposite reaction. He was playing with Avon as a cat toys with a mouse: a pat here, a pat there, claws not quite hidden behind the velvet. Which way would the mouse run next?

      "Then I'll go without you."

      "Fine." He watched, fascinated as Avon headed for the door, and halted as if tugged by an invisible string.

      "Blake."

      It was too much. Even with the damning knowledge that Avon had asked Servalan to edit his memory, he couldn't totally ignore the pain in that cry. He got abruptly to his feet. "Go out, distract the guard, and I'll get it from behind." Avon might be able to pass relatively freely around the complex, but Blake in his wire garment would arouse instant questions.

      Avon gave him the briefest of nods and kicked Servalan's corpse away from the door. Standing straight, he changed before Blake's eyes into a model of smooth unconcern and strolled through the door to chat casually with the mutoid outside. Indifferent in the way of its kind, the mutoid answered his sallies with bland logic, but turned to watch him as he moved around and drew its attention away from Blake. A heavy blow from Blake's clubbed fists knocked it over and Avon stamped on its neck as it hit the floor. Avon grabbed the gun and they were off. Minutes at the most stood between them and detection. As they approached the area where flyers would most logically be kept, they slowed, taking corners one at a time and checking before sprinting around them. Another mutoid died as Avon shot it from cover and then they were in the hanger. Blake looked around for the launch controls, but was shoved aside by Avon as he found the panel that opened the doors.

      "Stick a finger through that mesh and it could kill you."

      Reluctantly acknowledging the truth of that, he stood back and let Avon manipulate the controls.

      "Can you make the doors close after us and jam them?"

      "Of course." Avon didn't even look at him, merely adjusted a few further controls.

      The curve of his neck and back as he bent over the console was a poem, the cleft of his buttocks an invitation. Blake let that awareness rest easily within him along with the knowledge of the power that he had. He hadn't finished with Avon yet. His luck had turned and he wasn't going to miss any chances. The sleek form of the small scout ship that stood beyond the surface flyers was more than he could have hoped for. The shape of its fins spoke of a modified drive system, its matt surface and gentle curves spoke of radar invisibility and led him to expect a detector shield inside as coverage against other scan systems. When Avon stood up from his work, they both sprinted towards the scout, acting in unspoken harmony like the team they had once been.

      While Avon took the craft up, Blake shed the wire protection from his hands and arms, then, free to move more easily, he slipped into the co-pilot's position and began to run a series of checks. Whatever came after them, they stood a good chance of making it clear out of the system. But he didn't think there would be much. The planet below was green and agricultural, Servalan's base being the largest establishment for many miles in an areas that showed no sigh of any large cities at all. There had only been two space-capable ships in the hanger. It all fitted in with what he had begun to suspect. Servalan had been working on her own without Federation backup. A major gamble on her part based on the hope that she could have got a working teleport from Avon. Could she have? Blake had his own theories on that score.

      He ran a hand down Avon's arm to attract his attention, noting Avon's hastily stilled reaction with amusement. "Put her on autopilot, I've set the detectors to notify us if anything comes close enough to spot us."

      "Blake?" There was confusion in Avon's voice, understandable under the circumstances.

      He slid the hand up to tangle in Avon's hair and held his head immobile. "Now you're going to tell me what you did."

      "I shot you."

      It had to have been something like that: something almost, but possibly not quite, unforgivable.

      He tightened his grip, pulling the hair almost from the scalp. "Why?"

      "I thought you'd betrayed me. Tarrant said you'd sold me. I was wrong, but by then it was too late."

      Tarrant - the foolishly brave young man with the curly hair. If he'd escaped to rejoin Avon that could explain a lot, although Avon must have grown a lot more paranoid over the years to have believed the bounty hunter act to be for real. Something churned inside his gut, stretching the recently healed flesh. Avon had done that? Blake couldn't remember and acknowledged that he probably never would. Traumatic amnesia - he'd seen it in badly injured men before. If you took a head injury or came close enough to death, then the brain lost all recollection of the event and of the time immediately before it. Betrayal - he could believe in that reason, the dark shadows in Avon's eyes backed up his words. In time, he might even have come to forgive Avon for that, for a misunderstanding, but what had come after had been deliberate and beyond forgiveness.

      Delicately, he took Avon's lips in a kiss, still imprisoning him by his hair. "Honesty deserves a reward, don't you think?"

      Avon was tense, mistrusting and rightly so. Blake kissed him harder and felt the precise instant when Avon's resistance began to collapse. Avon's arms slipped around him, and when Blake finally released his lips, the protest was faint. "You don't really want this."

      "But you do." Blake allowed the threat to seep into his voice. "You wanted it badly enough to destroy me. You need to be punished."

      Avon mentally flinched away from the bitter anger underlying Blake's words. It was true. He wanted Blake, wanted him badly enough to do almost anything - he had already done the unthinkable. Any anger Blake felt was justified.

      But Blake was wrong if he thought that this was what Avon wanted, the way he wanted it. Last night and this morning, that was what Avon had wanted, what he needed now. A gentle lover, who wanted him as much as he needed Blake.

      Hands carded through his hair, roughly massaging his scalp, and he closed his eyes, blocking out the accusation in Blake's.

      "Don't."

      The grip on his hair tightened to the point of pain, forcing his head up and back. "Look at me, Avon."

      Blake's brown eyes held his, expressionless, all the tender emotion that had once coloured them bleached away. This time Avon's response was physical as well as emotional. His hands came up and pushed at the bigger man's chest. Blake released him with a slight push and he staggered back.

      "What did you go to Servalan for, Avon? If you wanted love from me, what did you want from her? What you deserve?"

      Avon shivered as Blake stepped closer, but stood his ground, glaring up at the other man. He'd always hated physical intimidation, never acknowledged it, and wasn't about to start now. One large hand reached out, brushing against his shoulder, pressing the fabric against the welts marring his back. It hurt, a painful yet somehow pleasant sensation. Avon felt a tiny throb of arousal pulse through his groin and felt the urge to run, the same urge he had felt when Servalan touched him. He'd even felt that way the first time Blake had touched him, except that that time it had only lasted for a second. The warmth, the affection and desire Blake had expressed had bound him as effectively as Servalan's physical trappings. She had forced him to stay. Blake made him want to stay. Even now, knowing that Blake was angry, knowing that Blake didn't love him, could never feel that for him now, he still wanted the other man.

      "Blake, I..."

      "Don't say it, Avon. I don't want to talk to you or listen to you. You wanted me? Well I want something rather specific from you."

      Blake grabbed his shoulders, and before Avon realized what was happening, he was on his knees, face pressed against the metal wiring covering Blake's crotch. It pressed painfully against the tender abraded skin of his cheek and he protested, trying to pull away.

      Blake let him go and he crouched there, watching as Blake started to remove the rest of the wire casing. Avon watched, with trepidation and fascination as the wire came off, followed by Blake's shirt and trousers. Naked, the faint scaring on Blake's abdomen was visible. Avon wanted to look away, a small part of him screamed at him to do so, but he couldn't. Hesitantly, he reached out, warily expecting Blake to strike out. But Blake's hands remained loose at his sides as Avon's hand brushed the tender skin, feeling it tense under the sensitive tips of his fingers. So smooth, only fading lines revealing the damage, the least of what he had done to Blake.

      Resting one hand on the smooth curve of hip, Avon edged closer, pressing his lips to the evidence of his actions, of his fear and his desire. Firm hands settled into his hair, cupping his skull, a gentle pressure that increased as he resisted until he finally capitulated, a sharp pain flaring in his chest. He was guided lower, the soft swell of Blake's semi-erect cock rubbing against his cheek.

      "Do it, Avon. You know you want to. I know you want to."

      But not like this, Avon thought. This isn't how I want it. But you'll take it, an insidious voice whispered, a voice he recognized as speaking the truth. The hands on his head caressed his hair but the pressure never fully released and, licking his lips, Avon brushed them against the smooth surface of Blake's cock. There was a faint sigh from Blake and glancing up at the shadowed face, Avon traced his tongue along the pulsing vein. His own cock gave a small throb as the flesh under his tongue gave a pulse, swelling. He smiled at the response. Conditioning or not, Blake was responding to him, body wanting even if the mind didn't want to recognize it.

      Wanting to provoke a more intense response, he opened his mouth, swallowing Blake deep, feeling him swell to a full erection, filling Avon's mouth, overfilling it. He couldn't take him all, he knew that, so he worked on the tip, swabbing, caressing it, providing the suction that would drive Blake to the edge and over it. This might be his last chance to have Blake; he might as well make it an occasion for Blake to remember.

      A harsh moan, fingers gripping convulsively in his hair, Blake thrust into his mouth. Avon gasped, choking on the bulk. Too much, he tried to pull back, struggling for air. But the hands on his skull were unrelenting, holding him firm as Blake used his mouth.

      Suddenly, he was released, head shoved away as Blake withdrew. Blake's hand encircled his swollen cock, thumb smoothing over the tip, collecting the moisture. Avon watched mesmerized as he caught his breath. Blake reached down and pulled him to his feet, the thumb that had caressed his cock stroking over Avon's bottom lip, forcing it's way inside. Obediently, Avon sucked on it, tasting Blake, salty and bitter as he swallowed.

      "You want more, don't you, Avon? More than my cock in your mouth, you want my cock up your arse."

      A red haze momentarily clouded Avon's vision. Blake's form wavered before him. Hands were on his clothes, pulling at them, undressing him. As he stood naked, his vision seemed to clear and he saw them both. Blake, all clean lines, anger still evident in his stance and in his face arousal even more obvious. Powerful, attractive, exciting, Blake had always held that for him. Glancing down, Avon was uncomfortably aware of his own degree of need. Despite the lack of reciprocal stimulation from Blake, he was achingly aroused, cock hard and throbbing with desire, desire for Blake.

      "On your belly." Blake's hands travelled over him, guiding him down onto hands and knees. Compared to his words and earlier actions, Blake's touch was surprisingly gentle. So gentle, in fact, that it hurt, a reminder of what would never be. "I don't want you thinking of her." The ache in his chest flared. He didn't want to think about that, nothing Blake did to him could possibly match the horror of her actions, her motivations, and his unwilling response.

      Hands rubbed up and down his back, soothingly, until they reached his buttocks. There they paused, briefly hesitated, making Avon tense with a mixture of fear and anticipation. He could hear the rasp of Blake's breath, feel the damp heat against the back of his neck as his cheeks were spread. He held his breath as fingers probed, he gasped and flinched as, dry, they pressed in painfully. He clamped down painfully, one of Blake's thick fingers deep within him. Sweat broke out across his back and face and he panted, face buried in his arms.

      He couldn't stop a sharp cry from escaping as the finger roughly withdrew. A hot hand caressed the side of his face, fingers pressing against his lips.

      "Take them, Avon. You know where they're going."

      He shivered and took them in after a moment's hesitation. Bathing them in saliva, he hoped it would be enough. Even lubricated, Blake would be hard to take - and he was not in the most careful frame of mind.

      The fingers withdrew, returning to his arse, slipping inside with a bit more ease. Avon relaxed and enjoyed the slow exploration, one long finger brushing his prostate, sending shivers down his spine and the blood throbbing to his cock. This time when the fingers withdrew Avon arched up and back, presenting himself. He heard a soft gasp.

      "Beautiful."

      Had Blake said that? About him? Avon's questions were driven from his mind as Blake suddenly thrust hard. A moment of white-hot agony flared and a cry tore lose from Avon's throat. He was stretched to capacity, painfully aching as the throbbing slowly receded, Blake holding still, giving him a moment to adjust.

      "Was it this good with her? Did she make you beg for it, Avon? Or was it merely a choice between the whip and satisfying her?"

      Avon's thoughts whirled. Had he begged? The aching pain in his arse was fading, a slow thrust from Blake bringing a sliver of pleasure along with the pain of abraded tissue. He struggled to press back and up, seeking the pleasure behind the pain and heard Blake chuckle. He felt himself flush with humiliation but at the same time one of Blake's hands slipped round his hip, nestling between his thighs, gripping his still erect cock. Despite the pain, he hadn't lost his arousal and now Blake was fuelling it. Fingers caressed and squeezed him, a thumb circling the tip, poking at the slit, making him groan with pleasure. All the while, Blake was thrusting into him, stroking his prostate as Blake pleasured himself, taking them both higher.

      At the edge, Avon squirmed desperately, needing his release, needed Blake to be the one to give it to him.

      "Please" he whispered, unable to see Blake's face, almost glad of it, afraid of what he would find there. A tongue swabbed his ear, tracing the edge before plunging inside. He squirmed and Blake gasped.

      "Since you asked." A sudden twisting thrust and a tightening of Blake's fist sent Avon over the edge. Lights flared and dimmed as Avon's muscles clenched tight, his cock spilling over Blake's pumping hand. He felt rather than heard Blake's groan as he too reached orgasm. Heat flooded his insides as contractions still gripped him and he milked Blake's cock deep inside. It was wonderful and terrible, exhausting and terrifying. He collapsed under Blake's weight, asleep before the bigger man withdrew, unaware of the tears that stained his own cheeks or the ones that Blake wiped from his own face onto Avon's sweat-sheened back.

      

      

Blake stared down at Avon as he lay collapsed upon the floor. Conditioning was a powerful tool indeed, but you had to understand how it was used. Blake considered no one more expert than himself on such a subject. Servalan had needed Avon, not just for days, but for months, years, as long as it took to build a teleport from scratch. If she'd had another lever, she would never have used Blake - ergo, Avon was not in love with Servalan and probably hated her. You could brainwash a man, radically change his thinking, but such things were not permanent and the effect on the personality could have results that you didn't want. Unless backed up by regular doses of the suppressent drugs that destroyed all initiative and imagination, you had no long term guarantees. The greater the change, the greater the chance of the subject reverting to normal as Blake had done. So - brainwashing Avon was out unless the change was minor.

      On the other hand - Avon had strong emotions where Blake was concerned, he had always known that. It was a little hard to forget someone saving your life. Servalan had used Blake's life as incentive, had threatened telling him that Avon had shot him. But that hadn't been enough, she'd taken out further insurance, offered to change Blake's sexuality. A perfect scheme, he could almost admire her for it. It gave control over Avon and had no chance at all of backfiring. Because Servalan had done nothing to him. His memories were too real. She hadn't altered his mind at all, she'd simply removed a last memory block from his time as a 'model citizen'. He loved men, he always had done. He ran a hand over Avon, loving him in sleep, unable to forgive him awake.

      Besides, it was impossible for him to love Avon, because Avon didn't love him. Servalan's final jest. It wasn't Blake's mind she'd played with, but Avon's. Such a little change, to turn platonic love into physical desire and so little chance of reversion with Blake loving him in return.

      He toyed briefly with the idea of telling Avon the truth, thought again of the way Avon's body had felt, hot, tight and infinitely desirable.

      No, on the whole, he thought he'd keep things the way they were.

      

      


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