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By Teri White
Page 2 of 4

Blake swore.

He crouched quickly and sought, rather more desperately than he had intended, a pulse in Avon's neck. When he found one, reedy and faint, but definitely there, he relaxed just a little.

The question was: What now?

Well, there was really no time to think about it, not in this place, at any rate. He made, by necessity, a quick decision.

Standing, he glanced around again, spotted what he needed, and started to work. One large, flat piece of wreckage would serve as a makeshift stretcher. With great care, he slid the piece of metal under Avon's body. He then removed his own vest and cut it into strips, using them to secure Avon in place.

It would have been better not to move him at all, of course, but that was not an option. This whole area would soon be thick with patrols. And there would be no help to be found by contacting the base, even if the radio in his flyer still worked after the strafing it had just received from the gun-runners' weapons.

His untidy but reasonably efficient little operation here on Gauda Prime was about to fall apart. Blake knew that very well, had known it for some days, but he had somehow lacked the energy to do anything about it. He was tired and tired men made stupid mistakes.

To wit: Arlen.

He'd originally thought her trustworthy and yet again he'd been proven wrong. By this time such disillusionment was scarcely a surprise.

If, as had been stated, there was only one person in the galaxy who truly trusted Roj Blake, there was, likewise, only one he fully believed in. They were one and the same: Kerr Avon.

As he tied Avon's arms down securely, Blake tried not to dwell on the fact that if Avon died, he would truly be alone in an increasingly lonely galaxy. Blake did not like to admit, even in his own mind, how much that thought terrified him.

Efficiently, he completed the preparations for their journey.

It was a slow trip through the woods, dragging his burden behind him. Blake grimaced with each bump they hit, knowing that every jolt might be causing Avon even more injury, but knowing that there was nothing to be done for it.

The time had come for the Bounty Hunter to vanish.

* * *

When Avon awoke, his first feeling was one of complete panic.

It was dark and he couldn't move at all, even his hands. Desperately, he struggled to sit up.

A hand rested on his shoulder and there was the damp feeling of a whisper very close to his ear. "Shh, Avon," Blake said. "There are enemies outside."

Avon stilled. "Blake?" he whispered.

The hand just patted his shoulder reassuringly. Surprisingly, he actually felt somewhat reassured.

They remained that way, silent in the darkness, Blake's hand on him, until finally they heard a flyer depart. Then Blake moved away and lighted a candle. "This hovel is shielded from the heat seekers," Blake said conversationally as a dim and shivery glow filled the small room. "So we are safe here, for the moment."

Avon only half-listened. He was thinking about his body. There had been that one excruciating bolt of pain, but now there was only numbness again. "Where, exactly, is 'here'?" he asked after a moment.

"One of my boltholes on this planet." Blake smiled at him. "I did learn a few things from you during our time together, Avon. I knew the day would come when my cover would fail. So I made preparations."

"You apparently gained some wisdom in our time apart, as well."

"If I have, it has not come easily."

Avon looked at the man Blake had become: the scarred face, the new and unsettling cynicism in his eyes, the very bearing of his body, which seemed constantly prepared to deflect a blow. Or worse. "So it seems," he murmured. Then he gave a carefully wry smile. "In any event, you seem to be coping quite well. My inspired crusade to rescue you seems, at best, superfluous."

Blake shook his head. "All this," he said with a wide gesture, "has simply been a way of marking time."

Avon chose not to respond to that. Instead, he glanced down at his arms. "Am I your prisoner now?"

Blake looked startled. "What?"

"Perhaps you are planning to collect the bounty on me? I understand it is quite substantial."

"Of course not," Blake said. "I tied you only so that there would not be more damage done during the trip here."

Avon frowned. "I think that what damage I already have is quite sufficient, is it not?"

Blake busied himself with untying Avon's arms and did not look at his face as he spoke. "I'm afraid there seems to be some serious injury to your spine," he said softly. "I have given you an injection for pain and something to ward off infection, but...there's nothing more I can do."

"I am paralyzed," Avon said in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Yes. At least for the moment."

Avon closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Then he looked at Blake. "Well, I appreciate the trouble you have taken to bring me to shelter," he said formally. "Given the circumstances, there is one more thing you might do for me."

"What's that?"

"When you depart, please be so kind as to leave me the means with which to end this farce called my life."

An expression of complete and utter stupefaction settled on Blake's face. "What?"

Avon reached out and closed his fingers around Blake's wrist. "Do not abandon me to the forces here," he said urgently. "Let me, at least, die with some dignity in a time and a manner of my own choosing." His hold on Blake tightened. "I would even prefer to have you kill me yourself, if that seems best."

Blake was staring at him. "Is that what you truly think of me, Avon? If so, I wonder that you bothered to come at all."

Avon was still holding Blake's wrist. "I beg your pardon?"

Blake leaned over him until his face was only an inch from Avon's. The nearness gave his words a terrible air of intimacy. "I have no intention of abandoning you here, Avon." Distaste entered his voice. "Or of killing you, either." He straightened. "You are coming with me."

"Oh, well, that is the kind of noble and stupid gesture that I would expect of Roj Blake." Avon finally removed his fingers from Blake's wrist. "Perhaps I was overestimating the amount of wisdom you have acquired in my absence."

"You have frequently underestimated me," Blake said mildly. "But never the opposite, so far as I know."

"Listen to me, Blake. A man on the run from an entire galaxy has little use for a helpless cripple. I would do nothing but slow you down and undoubtedly hasten the moment of your own death."

Blake was busy now, packing a leather knapsack with medical supplies and various other items he evidently felt were important. "Then we will die together," he said with an odd sort of cheer in his voice.

"Idiocy," Avon snapped.

"Perhaps." Efficiently, Blake closed the knapsack. Then he came back and sat beside Avon again. "Tell me, Avon, that you do not really believe I would simply leave you here. I would like to know that someone in this damned galaxy thinks better of me than that."

Avon sighed. "Perhaps I only hoped that you had learned better over the past two years."

Blake smiled. "Thank you." He bent to examine Avon's arm. "I don't believe this is broken," he said, his fingers poking and probing carefully.

"So all is not lost. I can use my arms. Perhaps there is hope for us after all."

"I am filled with hope," Blake said firmly.

"But you are an idiot, remember?" Avon was quiet for a time, not objecting to the soft massage Blake was giving his sore shoulder. "You have a plan, I suppose?"

"Yes. There is a small shuttle concealed not far from here. We shall leave Gauda Prime at dawn. The patrols are quietest then."

"And after we are away from this malignancy of a planet?" Avon said.

Blake finally stopped his fussing with Avon's arm. "I have no idea. Frankly, I'm tired. The revolution will have to struggle on without me, at least for a time."

"Do you think they will allow that?"

Blake was now interested in some injury on Avon's head. He cleaned away the dried blood and studied the cut. "The Federation?"

A faint smile danced around the corners of Avon's mouth. "No. Your beloved rebels."

"I hope so." Blake gnawed his finger in the old way, as he thought. "Speaking of rebels, what happened to your crew?"

"I teleported them all down." Avon stared at nothing for a moment, then shrugged. "They have one another and, more importantly, Orac." He frowned. "I do rather regret the loss of Orac. Having it would be a distinct advantage to us."

"My shuttle would not hold them," Blake said.

"It doesn't matter. They are better off away from us. Away from me, at any rate."

Blake took a bandage from his surprising store of supplies and applied it to Avon's head. "I don't know the others, of course, but how will Vila feel about that?"

Avon gave a short, bitter laugh. "Vila will be the most pleased about being rid of me." He stared at Blake. "I recently came very close to sacrificing his life in order to save my own."

"I doubt you would have actually done it," Blake said.

"Do you?" Avon looked away. "Then perhaps I have changed more than you know. He certainly thought I would. I thought I would. None of my so-called crew would have doubted it."

Blake, mercifully, was quiet.

"I was possibly quite mad by that time," Avon offered. "Things had not gone well for a very long time." His gaze darkened. "There was my obsession, you see, and a man obsessed is never quite rational."

Blake grimaced. "For which, I assume, you blame me."

Avon, perhaps feeling somewhat merciful himself, did not respond to that.

"I think it is time for another injection," Blake said. He prepared the injection and lifted Avon's arm. "So we leave them. Your crew, I mean."

"Since there seems to be no other choice and since I truly believe they are safer on their own," Avon said, "we leave them."

Blake nodded.

* * *

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