Two Minutes on the Way to TerminalBy Belatrix Carter
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"Why here? Why bring us here?"
*So, he doesn't know, either.* Tarrant's anger of a moment ago had faded, curiosity rapidly moving in to take its place. "Do you want to tell me about it now?" he asked, as gently as he could manage. Patience, he realized, had never been one of his particular virtues, but he prided himself that adaptability was... And, while it had taken him rather longer than he liked to admit, he *had* learned that, when it came to Avon, it was pointless, if not downright counter-productive, to push him.
"I have followed all the instructions to the letter, but it doesn't make sense."
Avon appeared to be talking to the wall, or to himself, or quite possibly to someone else not actually present. He most certainly wasn't talking to Tarrant, but, as long as he was talking, Tarrant figured he might as well try to take advantage of it. "Go on."
Avon turned to look at him again, and Tarrant found himself mildly startled by the fatigue and vulnerability visible in the man's eyes. Avon hesitated a moment, as if unsure whether it was safe for him to confide whatever it was to Tarrant, but when he spoke again, his voice was soft, all the closed-off stubbornness of a few minutes ago vanished without trace. "I first heard the signal two days ago. It was... It purported to be from Blake."
"I see." With difficulty, Tarrant managed to keep his voice neutral. *Damn it, I thought we were done with wild Blake chases!*
"He said he was injured, that he was being held in a Federation medical facility and needed my assistance." A wry smile twisted Avon's lips, but didn't displace the distant look in his eyes. "He also claimed he'd made some fantastic discovery in which I would be interested, though he failed to give details. I was told to come to these coordinates to receive 'further instructions.'" He frowned... and that, Tarrant noticed, *did* reach his eyes. "But there's nothing here."
"Are you sure it was Blake?" A vague feeling of uneasiness prickled in the back of Tarrant's head.
"I had Zen analyze the voice patterns. They did match."
"That can be faked."
"Yes, I know."
"It could be a trap, Avon."
Avon's lips quirked slightly. "I'd say that's quite likely."
"And you're just going to walk right into it?" "I am intending to take precautions." Avon didn't even sound offended by the implication that Tarrant thought he could be so foolish. That wasn't just unlike Avon, it was so unlike him as to feel as if a fundamental law of the universe had just been broken in front of him.
"That's why I didn't want you involved," Avon continued, apparently oblivious to Tarrant's surprise. "Any of you. It is my concern, and the risk will be mine."
"You care about Blake that much?" Tarrant kept his voice gentle.
Avon's eyes flickered, and he breathed out a strange half-sigh, half-laugh. "Difficult to believe, isn't it?"
"Not really." *I knew, deep down, Avon, that there was some spark of loyalty in you, after all.* "He was your friend."
A bitter smile twisted Avon's features. "He was my *lover*."
Tarrant's finely-honed military brain, exquisitely trained to rapidly assimilate information and respond instantaneously to whatever stimuli it encountered, froze up in shock. Avon merely stood there, staring ahead with unfocused eyes.
"Wh..." Tarrant choked, swallowed, and tried once again to form some sort of response. "Well..."
"Computers are receiving the identifying call sign as stipulated," Zen interrupted.
Avon turned from him as if he no longer existed, no longer impinged upon Avon's consciousness at all.
Two minutes later, they were on their way to Terminal.
Tarrant regarded the man in front of him with unqualified disgust. "You'd really do it," he said, staring straight at the bounty hunter's scarred, filthy face without flinching at all from the gun in his hand. "You'd sell all of us out. Even your own lover." He bit back on the bitter urge to comment on Avon's consistency in his choice of lovers. Even with Avon not here to hear it, it would be far too cruel a thing to say.
Blake's unscarred eye narrowed, the arrogant hardness in his face giving way to a look of suspicion. Suddenly, his expression softened. He lowered the gun to his side.
"Avon told you about that, did he?" Blake's voice had changed along with his face, becoming richer, warmer, deeper. Tarrant could almost have liked a man with that voice. Somehow, that thought just made the whole thing seem worse.
"Yes," he said, a little defiantly.
Blake holstered his gun. Tarrant stiffened up as Blake approached him, but, to Tarrant's infinite surprise, the big man merely laughed and clapped him on the back, as if they were old friends rather than new-found enemies.
"If Avon was willing to trust you with that," he said, the single brown eye staring with warm intensity into Tarrant's own, "Well, I think you must have already passed a test far more stringent than any I could possibly devise."
Blake smiled, an expression that seemed to encompass not just Tarrant and the red-haired man who stood beside him, but also Avon, wherever he was, and possibly the whole damned galaxy as well. "Welcome to the rebel headquarters of Gauda Prime!"
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