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Outwitted

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 10

Avon shrugged. "It worked. I wouldn't have survived this long, otherwise."

"Yes. I see how well you've done."

Stung, Avon replied, "I was fighting the good fight, in your name, for reasons that elude me. I lost the Liberator and Cally looking for you."

"Cally?" Blake gazed at Avon with pity.

"Follow your own advice. Leave it. I'm sorry I told you."

"I'm sorry, too. I had always hoped you and Cally..."

"I said, Leave it."

"What about Vila and Jenna?"

"We never found Jenna. Perhaps she returned to her pirate friends."

"Free traders," Blake corrected, absently. "I hope so. And Vila?"

"I don't know." Abruptly, Avon tried to turn away. He hissed through his teeth at the wave of fresh pain.

Blake was there, holding Avon, and soothing him, rubbing gently over Avon's back. "Don't. I think you've a few cracked ribs."

"Among other things," Avon agreed. "Vila was with me," he said, the words drawn from him unwillingly. "Along with my pilot, and two women."

"Then they might rescue us?"

"I doubt it. I was- distracted- at the time," Avon thought back to himself standing over 'Blake's' corpse. "Tarrant called me as he died. I don't really remember Dayna and Soolin and Vila being killed, but I saw their bodies. No, I don't think we can rely on outside help. Unless you have a few loyal rebels champing at the bit for their chance at a glorious end."

"No."

"No? Whyever not? Have you lost the ability to inspire suicide?"

Blake didn't react to the acid tones. "I don't know what I've lost. Maybe I'm useless without Liberator, without you. There, that should feed your ego. I led rebels on half a dozen worlds. We failed more often than not. I got tired of seeing those young, trusting faces, of watching people die believing in me."

"Yes." Avon's agreement was flat, his gaze distant.

"I found a planet where I couldn't do any harm. On Gauda Prime the Federation is a minor player. The natives and the mining consortiums can slaughter each other entirely without my help. I had a small trading post, and managed well enough."

"Until the bounty hunters came."

"As you say- until the bounty hunters came. I'd gotten careless and was an easy catch. Servalan heard, somehow, and came for me." Blake gave Avon a sidelong glance. "She paid the hunter in her usual fashion."

Avon grinned. "Scratch one bounty hunter."

"I expected to be taken back to Earth for trial, or shot out of hand, or tortured for old times' sake. Servalan told me I was forgotten back on Earth, that you were the important one now, and I was nothing more than bait. I swear I never did cooperate with her, Avon. I don't know how she used me. I've done nothing but sit in a cell and wait."

Avon frowned. "Orac. It tracked you here. Servalan must have wanted to be sure of Orac. So she had two Blakes. The real one to convince Orac, and a fake to lure me out into the open. It all makes sense, now. Except for one thing. Where is Servalan? Why isn't she here to collect her prizes and gloat?"

"The guards tell me she's on her way. You were a long time coming, Avon. She had other plots to control."

Sensing a rebuke, Avon snapped, "What a pity I kept you waiting. I had other plots of my own to tend. I only came for you when they all fell through."

"I gathered it was something like that." Blake moved closer. "I'm sorry. Sorry that all my dreams led you to this."

Avon relented, and said, in a milder tone,"Well, now, as I told Vila a long time ago, you led, but I chose to follow. For what it's worth."

Blake smiled. "It always meant a lot to me, Avon. Thank you."

"Don't mention it." Avon settled more comfortably on the narrow cot and closed his eyes. Slowly, his breathing evened out.

Blake looked down on the battered face of his friend. "Sorry, Avon," he whispered, leaning close to brush his lips gently over the closed eyes.

Avon's eyes opened, wide and startled. Blake wasn't quite quick enough to put on his bland mask. Avon drew a deep breath, angry, then cried out as the pain struck. "Leave me alone," he said in as threatening a tone as he could manage, pushing Blake's comforting hands aside.

"No. You're hurt."

"I'll kill you if you ever do that again."

"Do what?" Blake said, despairing. "Show that I'm human? Two years is a long time, Avon. Long enough to fall in love, too long to hide it."

"This explains your noble 'sacrifice', anyway. Enjoyed it, didn't you?"

Blake flushed and lifted his hand to strike. At the last instant, he stopped, and patted Avon gently on the cheek. "You aren't that stupid, Avon. Rape is rape regardless of your sexual orientation. It would be different with you."

"No. It would still be rape, only with a different victim."

"Don't you know me better than that? I would have given anything to be your lover- anything except your friendship and the small measure of trust I'd thought I'd earned."

"How did you earn it? By risking my life, by using me at every turn? You may never have had me in your bed, but you might as well have done it."

"What did I do? Seduce you to my cause? Pervert your self-preservation instincts into a quest for justice? Corrupt your cold logic with a touch of humanity? Oh, I do apologize, Avon. For that, and for almost everything else. But I won't beg your forgiveness for loving you. Loving you is punishment enough." He paused, then added, "And reward enough."

"I doubt it."

"It gave me something tangible to fight for, something I could see everyday. On the flight deck, we'd fight, and I'd tell myself, the Federation did this to us, made us afraid of speaking our minds. In a free society, I could have told you I loved you. You'd probably have laughed at me, but at least I could have said it."

"I wouldn't have laughed at you."

"No?"

"I would have broken your neck."

"Would you really?"

Avon couldn't meet Blake's eyes. "Possibly not. I might have settled for breaking your nose."

"That I could believe." Somehow the argument had ended. Avon was no longer tense in Blake's hold.

"You know, we did have enough troubles without your confession," Avon said.

"Still, I'm glad you know."

Avon sighed.

"Get out of the way!"

The shout woke Avon. He was still incredibly weak, and it still ached to draw breath, but he struggled up onto his elbows when he saw the guards had returned and brought several others. Blake was fighting them, barehanded against their numbers and their guns. "Blake, no!" he shouted, ignoring the stabbing pain in his chest.

Blake turned toward him, and a rifle butt rose and fell against the rebel's head. Blake crumpled. Avon was out of the cot without realizing it, but the three steps to Blake's side were beyond him. He fell, landing gracelessly on his side. Something gave within, and a rush of blood came from his mouth and nose, choking him, even as a red blur filled his vision. It became impossibly difficult to breathe. He tried to pull himself to Blake, but the red blur deepened to black.

"That was incredibly stupid of you, Avon." Servalan smiled down at him as lovely and lethal as ever, her feminine grace and elegant sable gown contrasting with the hard glitter of her predator's eyes.

Privately, Avon agreed, but he kept his mouth shut and his face blank, denying Servalan her victory. He'd awakened in this convalescent bed over a week ago, unnecessarily tied down, and with the astringent taste of anesthesia lining his throat. The doctor in attendance had hovered, nervous, and exceeding solicitous of Avon's health. The attendants had been even more careful in their tending of his body, but none of them would answer any of his questions, or remove a single one of the restraints. After a week of that, even Servalan's visit was welcome.

"You pierced a lung, with your ridiculous leaping about like a jack in the box. Pointless heroics are Blake's style, not yours."

"What about Blake?"

Having gotten a response, Servalan laughed softly. "Oh, I'd rather talk about you- and Orac. And possibly the drive my men have salvaged from the wreckage of your ship."

Avon's lips tightened, and his eyes blazed.

"Well, if it means that much to you... Blake has a hard head. He's fine. Unless it suits me to have him otherwise." She ran her hand through Avon's hair. "I found it quite amusing, viewing the surveillance record. Who would have ever guessed? Of course, there was his trial...all those sweet little boys... Did you have a comment, Avon? No? Frankly, I never thought he was your type. If you like, I'll kill him for you."

"Don't do me any favors."

"I shouldn't mind. Then I could collect the reward for him. Bureaucracy is so terribly slow to react to shifts in the political tides. While you and I know Blake is a burned-out pathetic shell, they are still eager to pay for his head. And pay very handsomely." She paused. When Avon remained silent , she shrugged. "As you like. I think I'll let my men play with him first."

"No." His hands clenched uselessly; her slender arms were just beyond his reach.

"Why not? Do you perhaps secretly return his affections? I had wondered why you turned down all my offers." She made a moue, her perfect red lips pouting.

"I refused you because you are a serpent, nothing more than an attractive hide wrapped around a venomous soul."

Servalan smiled. "Oh, you do have such a way with words, Avon." She leaned forward to whisper into his ear. "But you'll have to find better ones than that to keep Blake alive. Starting with 'Orac is located at...' ."

"You must think me a fool. Blake and I are dead men the second you lay your hands on Orac."

"Not necessarily. If I turn your corpses in, I receive the reward and the accolade of the Supreme Council. Much though I value their regard..." Servalan smiled even more brilliantly than before. "And much as it would pain me to disappoint them, you are worth more to me alive."

"I find that hard to believe. What is the combined bounty on the two of us - five, six million credits?"


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