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By Willa Shakespeare
Page 1 of 10

He drew a circle that shut me out-

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win

We drew a circle that took him in.

'Outwitted' by Edwin Markham

They were taking rather too long with the 'softening up' session, Avon thought. After killing Blake he hadn't much resistance left in him. If it wasn't for the small remaining pleasure of frustrating the Federation he would have given them whatever they asked. Then there were the others- he'd failed them; by rights his death should be more prolonged and painful than theirs. But enough was enough. It had gone beyond pain quite some time ago. Didn't they have a proper interrogator?

He'd been expecting one, and was obscurely disappointed that he would not have the opportunity to match wits with a trained man. He should have shot himself when he had the chance. Killing several guards in the tracking gallery ought to have bought him instant oblivion. Instead they'd carefully aimed at non-lethal areas- right shoulder, leg and arm, mostly. And then their medic patched him up, and simply turned him over to the troops. It was insulting to a man of his intelligence.

"Ah!" he grunted as a boot landed directly on his wounded shoulder. It was bleeding again, he noted in the distantly logical part of his mind that still insisted on calculating the odds and possibilities for survival. He was so far into the negative numbers that his best hope seemed to be enraging a guard into giving him a quick death.

"Best you can do, coward?" he taunted, weakly. He smiled, his blood-spattered lips curling in derision. The grin widened as he saw the guard's face, bright red with anger. A boot drew back and aimed for his face. This guard was a large, muscular individual. With any sort of luck at all, this would be a killing blow.

"No!" One of the other guards dragged Avon's attacker back enough so that the boot added to his misery, rather than ending it.

After that, Avon stopped trying. His body curled up around the pain, and noises came from his mouth, but he was no longer paying any attention. Eventually, the blows stopped and there was a new pain as his body was roughly pulled upright and hard hands clamped onto his arms. He was dragged though several corridors, listening to some poor bastard moaning all the while. A door opened in front of him and the grip on his arms shifted. There was a moment of freedom as they released him and he flew through the air. Then he hit the floor.


Avon moved his head, trying to evade the cold, wet thing that covered his face. The wet receded and he blinked to clear his vision. He blinked again at the impossible sight- Blake, kneeling beside him with that eternally concerned look on his face, the look that always drove Avon wild. "What..." he coughed, racking his aching ribcage with lines of fire, to bring up a mouthful of blood, followed by a fragment of shattered tooth.


He accepted the cup of water and the strong hands that held him upright, balanced against Blake's knees, while he drank. He tried again. "What sort of game are you playing at, Blake?"

"Game?" Blake looked even more ingenuous. He stuck a finger into his mouth and gnawed at it for a moment. Then he said, "There are no games here, Avon. Except the ones the guards play." A fleeting expression of true fear played across his face.

Coming more into focus, Avon noticed that this Blake was different from the one he'd shot, pale and unscarred- at least unscarred on his face, the rest of him was hidden by a prisoner uniform identical to Avon's. "There was another Blake."

"Did he do this to you?" Blake asked, his arms wrapping around Avon carefully, mindful of the damaged flesh he held.

"In a way. He led me into this trap. I killed him," he added, as an afterthought. He regretted it when Blake's arms tightened. He felt the blood rush from his head, and wavered on the edge of consciousness.

"Sorry," Blake replied, loosening his grip. "Can you stand? There's a bed here- of sorts. Better than the floor, anyway."

Avon thought about it, but his legs refused to function, only twitching erratically at his command. He let his head drop back to rest against Blake's chest. "No."

Blake nodded, and put one arm beneath Avon's legs, preparatory to lifting him. "Try to relax. I won't drop you." He stood, bringing Avon with him. Despite Blake's care, the movement jarred a hoarse cry out of Avon, who wrapped his hands tightly into Blake's shirt in reaction.

After that, Avon's recollection of events was hazy. Later he dimly recalled coolness on his body, as he was tenderly bathed. He was unable to help as he was redressed, unable even to stop shivering, until a large, warm presence settled beside him. Utterly exhausted, he fell asleep.

"Please, don't."

Avon had been muzzily aware of Blake leaving the narrow cot. He had assumed Blake needed to relieve himself, but Blake's pleading voice roused him. Slowly, he levered himself over onto his side. His mouth pinched. Two guards had come in to the cell. Blake was on his knees before them, in an begging posture that infuriated him. Blake should kneel to no one, no one at all. He opened his mouth to say so, then shut it again as it occurred to him that Blake would be punished for Avon's pride.

Blake twitched, and glanced at Avon, his eyes desperate, sending a message. To stay out of it? "He's hurt too badly," Blake said. "Please, leave him alone."

"And what about us? We have to have our fun." The nearest guard said. They had their helmets off, and Avon didn't care for the revealed expressions of anticipated pleasure and avid cruelty.

"You can have your fun. I'll... do whatever you like." Blake's sidelong glance now was unmistakable. Stay out of it, Avon.

It was logical. Blake was far better able to withstand whatever amusement the guards had in mind. Still, it grated to watch Blake kneel and beg those scum for Avon's sake.

"Well, then, do it. If you're good enough, we won't bother your little friend. Yet." The guard stood, relaxed and confident as Blake approached, still on his knees. "Yes," the man said, a deep, guttural sound, as Blake's hands worked at the fastening to the guard's trousers.

Avon's mouth went dry. Somehow, he hadn't realized exactly what the guard meant, which was unwontedly stupid of him. "No," he whispered.

Blake lifted his head and turned, giving Avon a furious glare. "Leave it!" he ordered. Under the anger, there was fear. It was the fear that made Avon obey.

He shut his eyes, refusing to watch as Blake resumed his ministrations. But he couldn't stop his ears, or shut off his imagination. The wet, sucking noises continued for several minutes, punctuated by the guard's grunts and moans. There was a particularly loud cry, followed by a heavy sigh. After a pause, the noises began again. After they stopped the second time, Avon opened his eyes. Blake was still on his knees, breathing rapidly, his head held down to the second guard's crotch. The guard smiled and shoved Blake roughly away, then did up his trousers. He looked past Blake's sprawled figure to meet Avon's eyes. "You ought to take lessons from him. He's learned how to give in. You will, too." The guards left, slamming the cell door behind them.

Blake rolled to his feet and went over to the tiny sink provided. He spat into it, rinsed out his mouth, then drank from his cupped hands. He ran his wet hands through his hair, then straightened and returned to the cot where Avon lay, watching him.

"I've been here a long time," he explained, in reply to the silent reproach of Avon's eyes. "That was nothing."

"Nothing? You cooperate with them in the most degrading manner possible and you call it nothing?"

"If you think that was so degrading , you're still an innocent, Avon." Blake cocked his head to one side, considering. "Maybe you are. Although I really don't see how you could have gone through prison on Earth without gaining an education." An eyebrow rose. "Especially with your looks."

The color rose in Avon's cheeks. "I received my 'education', as you call it. But they had to take me, Blake. I never gave myself to any of those bastards."

"Pride is a luxury. If I fought them, I'd be crippled, or worse." Blake looked away from his cell mate, then back. His gaze was as level and self-assured as ever. "I couldn't afford it, not once I learned they'd set a trap for you."

"What has that to do with it?"

"I didn't want to die, and leave you here alone. Why do you think they put you in with me?"

"I assumed in hopes we would say something revealing. We are being monitored, are we not?"

"I think so, yes. But that's only part of it. I paid to have you brought to me. I paid with the only coin I had, willingly."

Avon shook his head. "Are you that desperate for my gratitude? Do you think I will now follow you unswervingly- on the highly remote chance we don't die here- because you have made the ultimate sacrifice for me?"

"Gratitude." Blake laughed, bitterly. "From you? You've made it clear that you despise me, that you wish we had never met."

"I never said that."

"You said it with every look, every sneer, every little arrogant pose. I tried to ignore it for two years. I kept telling myself he really isn't a cold-hearted bastard, he's simply afraid to reach out, to show his true feelings." Blake laughed again, a short, harsh bark. "I fooled myself. I wanted to be your friend, to teach you what friendship meant. What it meant to be loved."

"Oh, I know all about friends and lovers They're the ones who turned me in to the Federation."

"I see." Blake got up and paced the length of the cell. "And naturally, you've decided to make certain that will never happen again by never having another friend or lover."

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Willa Shakespeare

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