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By Gemini
Page 1 of 8

"I'd like to inspect the slaves before the auction." The sun was hot, the gravity was a touch too high, and Blake wanted to get indoors out of the heat.

      "Of course." Terrin gestured casually towards the low buildings where the merchandise was housed. His breath smelt faintly of some sort of narcotic. Did the pirates deal in drugs as well as slaves?

      Blake tried to hide his disgust as they entered the slave pens. The small cells were clean, the slaves were doubtless well fed. But in spite of the fact that the pirates' victims were kept in good condition for their eventual sale, there was an aura that clung to the place. An ancient miasma of despair, or fears that went back to the dawn of man. The hopelessness of those who knew that they stood no chance.

      It was a morbid curiosity that drew Blake here. The sight of the slaves depressed him beyond belief, the sight of men who given up, who had allowed themselves to accept defeat. Yet, just occasionally, he would see a look in a man's eye: a look that spoke of resistance, of someone who refused to submit. That was what drew him here. It was then, that in spite of all his moral misgivings about buying men from slavers, in spite of his desperate need for credits for food and weapons, it was then that he would pay out money for a human soul.

      Looking through the cell doors, he could see the pathetic ranks of men and women. The old, the young, the ugly, the beautiful. Yet there were more of the young than the old, and more of the beautiful then the ugly. Doubtless Verlis knew her market. Sometimes, Blake just looked through the door, other times, following a faint hope, he would enter within. But there was nothing here for him today. A woman with long blonde tresses who begged him to buy her, an old man who pleaded for food, a boy, barely sixteen who looked at him with empty haggard eyes. All of them, he would have helped if he could; but all he could do was to leave them and look for the rarer individual who could help him change this wretched state of affairs.

      As his guide led him out of the far end of the building, the force of the sun struck Blake's eyes. He squinted, trying to adapt to the brightness after the relative dark of the pens. There was a group of men gathered together about twenty metres away. Laughing and jostling one another, they appeared to be placing bets on something. Something on the ground. There were too many legs in the way to be able to see what it was.

      Terrin elbowed Blake in the ribs. "That one might be more to your taste. You like them with a bit of fire, don't you?" Blake smiled slightly. If the pirate chose to attribute his occasional purchases to his sexual preferences, so be it. Besides, he admitted ruefully to himself, there was at least a grain of truth in the accusation. He liked his bed partners to be independent; quiet submissiveness had never attracted him. Memory tugged at him for a moment, the mocking, sloe-eyed features of a lover long lost to him. Even thinking of Avon was painful - Blake thrust the recollection aside and concentrated on what the pirate was saying.

      "... tried to escape. Didn't get very far of course, but we staked him out. That's the normal punishment for runners."

      He could see the man now, lying on his back, wrists and ankles tied to pegs pressed deep into the sand. A crimson-clad pirate stood over him, water-bottle in hand, letting the precious drops trickle out onto the sand. "Beg for it," he taunted.

      "I'll see you in Hell first."

      That voice! Rough and parched, but unmistakable. Blake's steps faltered a moment, then he schooled himself to a steady pace. Walking around the man with the water, he looked down into old, familiar features - Avon. How he had come here wasn't immediately important; how to get him out of here, was. Don't show any sign of recognition, he pleaded mentally. If they realise you know me, it will cost me another two hundred vems.

      It was as though Avon had heard him. The dark eyes didn't even meet his, instead they concentrated on the men ringing him.

      "I'll give you three hundred vems for him," Blake offered casually.

      "He's worth more than that for his pretty features alone."

      Blake pretended to look Avon over. "Doesn't look all that special to me. He's got a pretty bad case of sunburn. Besides, look at that nose!" If Avon objected to being run down, they could always sort that out later between them. Blake could feel the anticipation building in him already. Gods, it would be wonderful to hold Avon in his arms again, to feel the passion spark between them.

      "He's easily worth a thousand. We could get that much for him at auction."

      "Not if you treat him like this, you won't." Blake couldn't quite keep the anger out of his voice. He reined it in. Emotion was not going to help him here: icy logic was needed. "If you sell him now, you'll be spared the cost of his keep.

      "I could go up to four hundred," he added tentatively.

      "Want him, do you?" The pirate's leer was extremely suggestive. Had he read too much into Blake's reaction?

      "Not that badly. There's other fish in the sea." Blake forced himself to turn away. Terrin gripped him by the arm, and Blake flinched.

      "You're a regular customer. I could let him go for nine hundred."

      Nine hundred vems was still more money than Blake could easily afford. "Five hundred," he countered. "If he's a runner, that lowers his value."

      "To others maybe, not to you."

      Blake sensed an edge in the bargaining. "Ah, but if you don't sell him to me, you'll have to find someone else prepared to take a runner. You'll have to tell them, unless you want to get a reputation for unreliable merchandise."

      "All right, eight hundred."

      Blake shook his head. "Five hundred."

      "No, he fetched far more than that last time."

      This time Blake laughed; Terrin had said more than he'd intended. "Last time? So, the previous owner wasn't satisfied. Besides, that makes him second-hand goods." He was peripherally aware of a glare from the ground. Someone obviously didn't consider himself as second-hand merchandise.

      Avon's anger was fire in his veins. If Blake looked down, he knew he'd be lost. The challenge of meeting Avon's aggression, of turning it into sexual heat, had always excited him. He couldn't afford to let Terrin see that reaction in him.

      Terrin glanced down at Avon. "She said he was exciting, but too dangerous to keep around."

      He was watching Blake now. Damn Terrin.

      "Six hundred vems," Blake said roughly, "and that's my final offer. You might get more at auction, but equally likely you might be stuck with him unsold."

      "Done!" Terrin held out a hand to seal the bargain and Blake shook it mechanically. "The money's in my ship. Bring him there."

      Not daring to meet Avon's eyes, Blake walked back to where he'd left his craft. Terrin appeared five minutes later, accompanied by Avon. Avon's wrists were manacled, but then the slavers always did that. Blake practically thrust the money into Terrin's hands. The pirate smiled, with an all too knowing smile, and gave Blake the key.

      Blake was never quite sure how he contained himself until Terrin had gone and he was finally alone with Avon. Without saying a word, hands almost trembling, he unfastened the manacles. "Avon," he breathed. "You can't begin to know how I've missed you."

      The dark eye stared at him emotionlessly as he reached out to envelop his former lover in a bear hug. Then Avon's hands darted out to seize him around the throat. "I don't know who the Hell you are," Avon hissed at him, "but if you lay a finger on me, I'll kill you!"

      "Avon, what is it?" Blake managed to gasp out, his hands coming up to seize hold of Avon's. What the hell was going on? "It's me, Blake!" Avon's dark eyes stared unchanging into his. Whatever Avon was up to, it apparently didn't include his well-being.

      With a grunt of effort, Blake broke Avon's grip, sending the half-naked man tumbling to the floor. Avon stared up at him, breathing hard and with a nasty glint in his eyes. Blake gently rubbed his throat before cautiously approaching. Avon remained on his knees, clearly waiting for Blake to make the next move.

      He couldn't tear his gaze away. This was the Avon that taunted him in his dreams. Darkly dangerous, a predator who often became the prey. A possibly deadly siren, Blake mused, hand still resting against his aching neck. But the man was beautiful, arousing him even now, especially now. Maybe he recognized Blake and maybe he didn't; at the moment Blake hardly cared how or why. Avon was here after so long, dressed only in the brief tunic of a slave. Here and his for the taking. How he wanted to. The idea fired his imagination, stiffening the cock hidden from Avon's all-knowing view. Or perhaps not hidden. Avon's gaze was no longer intent on Blake's face. It was focused a good deal lower and Blake flushed as a sardonic smile graced the other man's lips.

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