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Serpents in Paradise

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 6

Avon ran his hands over the stock of his weapon. Only a few years ago he didn't know one end of a gun from the other, now he'd feel naked without it. Blake wasn't the only one who had changed. Abruptly, Avon felt revulsion at the way his hands automatically caressed the gun. He held it out to Vila. "All right." He grinned at Vila's astonishment. "Deva may be right. A rare occurrence, no doubt. Vila." He paused, trying to phrase himself properly. "I want you to understand. I didn't come here looking for a figurehead. I came..."

"To give Blake back his rebellion. Right," Vila said briskly.

"You knew?"

Vila shrugged. "What else could you do? We weren't getting anywhere. Not for a lack of trying. Face it, we were always Blake's thieves, not rebel heroes."

Now Avon laughed, and it felt good for once. "No, no heroes, not us. We'll leave the heroism and self-sacrifice to Tarrant, shall we?"

"I s'pose we'll have to." Vila turned serious. "I know you don't want to talk about it, Avon, but I have to get Malodaar off my chest." When Avon remained silent, Vila was encouraged to continue. "It's not that I expected self-sacrifice from you, Avon, but you didn't have to twist the knife afterwards. 'You're always safe with me.' Hah! "

Avon closed his eyes briefly, accepting the accusation. "I think it cut me as well, Vila. For what it's worth, I regretted the words the moment I said them."

"And did you regret trying to kill me?"

"I..." Avon was saved having to decide between an evasive answer and a too-blunt truth by Blake's groan. "Get out, Vila." He pushed the thief back and shut the door.

Vila hesitated, listening for sounds of mayhem, then went to tell Deva.

Avon sat next to the bed and attempted to soothe Blake with a hand on his shoulder. Blake jerked at the touch, then sat up, startled awake. "Avon. Where? How? Is it really you, this time?" Blake clutched Avon's arms so tightly that his fingernails turned white under the grime.

"Well, at least the last question is original. Of course it's me. And what do you mean, this time?"

Gradually, Blake loosened his grip, while he searched Avon's face. "I don't know. You look like Avon, but then so did the other one. And then he killed me."

Avon made an exasperated noise. "Really, Blake. Neither of us is dead." His bedside manner may not have been according to Sigmund Freud, but Blake was responding to Avon's sarcasm where Deva's gentle coaxing had failed.

Blake ran his hand through his curls. "It's all been rather confusing lately," he confessed. "Since I lost Jenna. Avon, what about Cally and Vila?"

The other man's face went blank. "Vila is as annoying as ever."

"And Cally?"

Avon looked directly at Blake then, and Blake wished he hadn't. The brown eyes were as cold as the new-turned earth of a grave. "I made a mistake. So did Cally. She trusted me."

"I'm sorry, Avon," Blake said awkwardly.

"Well, now, that makes two of us." He straightened. "Cally expected to die fighting the Federation. And she did. A self-fulfilling prophecy. We were trying to bring down Leviathan with a pea-shooter, Blake. Perhaps it's time to call a halt, heal our wounds and withdraw. Let others continue the fight you began."

Blake's face hardened. "How long have they had you, Avon? Did you tell them anything?"

"What do you mean? No one has me. Or you, for that matter. We are on your base, Blake."

"Ah, Avon," Blake said sadly, "they broke you, didn't they?" At Avon's indignant look, he said, "There's no shame in it, Avon. I know how it is, they pick and pry at you, until you'll believe anything they say, just so they'll leave you alone." He pulled Avon to him, holding the other man pressed tight to his chest, rocking slightly and murmuring words of comfort. Avon stiffened, then sighed, prepared to endure Blake's maudlin affections as long as necessary. "Don't worry, Avon. Now that we're together again, nothing can stop us."

"Wonderful. Marvelous." Avon sighed again. "Much though I hate to offend, Blake, I think the possibilities are strong that nothing will want to get close enough to you to stop us. Is there some pressing reason why you don't bathe?"

Blake pulled back. "They might put something in the water. Suppressants, hallucinogens, who knows what."

"Direct injection would be simpler. Since when has the Federation been subtle? Go and bathe, Blake, the world will thank you for it."

"And you?"

"I will be inexpressibly grateful."

"I can't pass up that opportunity. A grateful Kerr Avon- it boggles the mind." Blake got up, smiling, and went into the attached lavatory.

Blake was as stubborn in his delusions as he was in his idealism. Now, what? Avon was entirely out of his field. He edged nervously closer to the lavatory.

The water was running, and Blake was singing some improbable tune about a drunken pilot. He had left the door open, perhaps as a sign of trust in Avon. Blake scrubbed so thoroughly that his pale skin reddened- except in oddly marked patches of scar tissue. So many scars, and most so skillfully healed, no doubt in preparation for the next round with the torturers- except for the eyelid which drooped with a cynical leer. Perhaps that had happened during Blake's escape- or had it been a rescue? He would have to talk to Deva later, find out exactly what had happened to Blake.

Blake turned to meet Avon's gaze. Uncomfortable under that demanding, devouring, stare, Avon shifted his eyes. Then he noticed Blake's penis rising. Feeling even more awkward, Avon turned aside and reached for Blake's discarded clothing.

"Leave it!" Blake's bellow startled Avon.

He lifted his eyebrows, astonished. Blake didn't mind being observed in the nude, but his filthy garments were sacrosanct? "Certainly." He made a show of dusting off his fingers. "Radiation tongs are probably in order, in any case."

"Sorry." Blake smiled. "There are clean clothes in the other room," he offered.

"Yes. Well, why don't I fetch them while you finish in here." Avon retreated with dignity. He took his time shuffling through all the drawers, hoping that Blake would have calmed down before he had to face him again. That irrational moment disturbed him.

"Thanks." Blake had padded up behind Avon to take the clothes, surprisingly quiet for such a big man. He had a towel draped about his middle, inadequately covering a rather large bulge. Blake fiddled with the twist of towel until Avon, feeling a blush starting, turned his back.

"We need to talk, Blake," Avon said sternly, addressing a blank wall, while the rustling and clinking of cloth, leather and clasps indicated that Blake was being made decent- well, as decent as a mad rebel terrorist with apparent designs on a tired computer tech could be.

"The time for talk is over, Avon." Blake sounded triumphant and resigned at the same time. An odd combination. "But it's all right, now. I have the answer. They won't be able to get any more information out of you- out of either of us."

Alarmed, Avon turned. Blake was dressed, clean, and confident, standing with his old arrogant assurance that he knew what was right for the galaxy. And he had a weapon to back up that assurance.

"Where did you get that?"

"I've had the gun hidden here for some time. But they were careful, I only just found a power pack for it." Blake steadied the sights on Avon. "It'll be quick, Avon, I promise."

"No! Why, Blake, why?" Avon held his ground, hands held conspiciously empty at his sides. Damn that fool Vila, and double damn Deva and triple damn himself. All he had against an armed madman was his tongue. Not quite an even battle. "You've never shot an unarmed man before now. You wouldn't even shoot Travis, why me? Do you hate me that much?"

Blake's voice shook. "You know I don't hate you, Avon. I never could. Try to understand. We mustn't talk. I can't hold out any longer. This is the only way."

"No, wait." Avon thought furiously. "Blake, we could escape." The gun wavered. "You have a weapon. They won't be expecting you to resist, or they wouldn't have put me in with you. I'm supposed to show you how well we'll be treated once you give in. So they'll let us out of here and they won't be watching so closely."

"Maybe." Blake sounded uncertain.

"I want to live, Blake," Avon said fiercely. "You do not have the right to take that chance away from me."

"All right, Avon. You'll have your chance." He tucked the handgun into his voluminous shirt under the leather-thonged vest. "But I won't let us be taken alive again."

The door had been left unlocked, on Avon's previous orders. Also on Avon's orders, none of the rebels approached Avon and Blake as they made their 'escape'. Oh, they did receive a few odd looks, which Avon attributed to Blake's insistence on draping an arm over Avon's shoulder as they walked. Blake, of course, saw enemies at every corner.

"Once we get to the woods, it'll be all right, Avon," Blake whispered, nuzzling into the other man's ear. "I've lived rough on GP many times, I can take care of us out there for years, if need be."

Avon muttered, "You once called me a civilized man, Blake. That is not my idea of civilization."

Blake grinned. " 'A book of verse beneath the bough, A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, - and thou - Beside me singing in the Wilderness- Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow.' "

Avon groaned inwardly. Blake mad was bad enough, but Blake romantic, quoting Khayyam? They were both doomed. Oh, Hell. Avon braced himself. When Blake saw who was coming down the corridor the bloodbath would begin. Obviously, Jenna couldn't wait to see how Avon's miracle cure was progressing. And she'd brought company, just the kind calculated to drive Blake right over the edge. Damn.

"I'm sorry, Avon," Blake murmured. He'd noticed them, too. Blake slipped the gun out of hiding and pressed it into Avon's spine.

"Let me talk, Blake," Avon said desperately, flinching from the unyielding plexi-steel muzzle. "I can still get us out."

"Blake," the blonde woman leading the group cried out and opened her arms. She would have run to him, but the rebel tugged Avon around, revealing the gun.

"If you have any use for Avon, Servalan, you won't interfere," Blake said coldly.

"Jenna, what's..." A familiar curly head pushed through the startled group to stand beside Jenna.

"And as for you, Tarrant..." Blake swung the gun toward the pilot.

"No, Blake!" Avon shouted. "Don't! Just take 'Servalan' hostage until we get out of here."

"I could still kill Tarrant," Blake mused.

"Please," Avon said softly, "Don't kill anyone. It isn't necessary. Or have you grown to enjoy murder?"

"All right. For you, Avon. But if I see you again, Tarrant, you're dead." Roughly Blake grabbed Jenna's arm and took away the gun she was carrying. He tucked it into his belt, after giving Avon a thoughtful glance.

"Don't I get a gun?" Avon asked.

"Maybe later."

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