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Soolin stared up at Blake in startled disbelief, eyes widening as she saw the misery in his face, the way his shoulders slumped and the weight of the burden of telling her what had happened to her friend. Whatever had happened, she knew that Blake blamed himself for it, and that angered her. It was safe to be angry; then she wouldn't have to admit that his words had hurt her.
When her parents were killed she had learned that lowering her guard, caring for anyone, was stupid, a mistake that backfired and led to more pain, and she had spent her life adhering to that principle, holding herself aloof and cool, uncommitted to any cause, to any person, knowing only the burden of her revenge. Then the revenge was complete, and unprepared for the emptiness that replaced her purpose, she had been at a loss, unable to formulate future plans, so that when Dorian offered her a place to live in return for "companionship" she had not considered the option impossible. What did it matter anyway? She did not love Dorian and had not come to love him, for to do so would be to violate her own principles of non-involvement.
Then she had learned what Dorian intended for her and for these people she had joined because there was nowhere else to go. Dorian had betrayed her, and she spent her first days on Jabberwocky expecting further betrayal, holding herself aloof from them all. Avon practised non-involvement too, and she recognised in him something of a kindred spirit, though it did not draw her to him. Gradually she watched him come to terms with some of the others, and when they did not turn on him, she was startled into curiosity.
It was Blake who had come closer than anyone to reaching her, and she had decided he made her too vulnerable and her only recourse was to go. When Tarrant was shot, she had told Blake she meant to leave and he'd talked her out of it, convincing her that he actually meant it when he expressed concern for her. It was like nothing she had experienced before, for he made no attempt to take advantage of her weakness where he was concerned - he didn't invade her cabin in the night and have his way with her, though she was fairly certain she would not have denied him that, had he wanted it. She had given herself to men before; they'd meant nothing and had served her purposes. Sometimes she had wondered what it would be like to give herself to a man who actually valued her, not as a bedmate but simply as a human being.
There was Hugh, of course, as different from her as anyone could be, open and trusting, ready to include her easily among the people he trusted, the people he liked. Hugh even liked Avon. She'd come to trust Hugh and, if forced to conceptualise the relationship, she would have called him her best friend. She would have been Hugh's lover, but Hugh did not ask that of her, though she suspected he found her desirable. Knowing Hugh, he was probably giving her time to come to terms with herself and him. He was a nice person, Hugh, and she sometimes thought she would like to grow closer to him.
But it was Blake who touched a place inside her she had never known was there. He was not perfect - no one was - and his faults irritated her as they did Avon, his obsession with destroying the Federation for one. She doubted if it could be done, at least not as easily as Blake hoped it could. She watched Jenna sometimes and knew that Jenna loved Blake. They were sleeping together too; Soolin had been around enough to know the signs, but Blake was an open, giving man, whose caring spread to everyone around him, and Jenna was a little possessive of him. She resented Avon, though she generally kept such feelings under wraps. She resented Tarrant for his possession of Jabberwocky too, and she must sense that Soolin's feelings for Blake were stronger than simply follower to leader, so she watched Soolin interact with Blake, her eyes narrowed and considering. Soolin doubted she and Jenna would ever be friends.
Soolin couldn't help watching Blake. He had a great heart, and he cared for all of them. He spent time with Soolin, talking to her about the need to take risks, not just risks with her gun but risks with people. When she formed a cautious friendship with Dayna, who was closest of the women to her age, she sensed Blake's almost paternal approval. Cally, practical and competent, was someone else she could respect, but the telepathy put her off a little: she was half-afraid Cally would read her thoughts. Cally never did, of course, and before Soolin had left the ship, after learning she had been programmed by the Federation, she had begun to grow closer to Cally.
She liked Vila, though it had taken her some time to see past his determined wall of cowardice to the man beneath. Vila made her laugh, and that was a valuable gift, for laughter had never come easy to Soolin. She had learned to hold the world at bay with sardonic humour, never quite bitter enough to turn away potential allies, but never completely open either, and she was surprised to find that Vila liked her humour better than anyone else on board, though Avon could raise an appreciative eyebrow at something she said when Tarrant didn't even get the joke. So she laughed with Vila, worked at provoking a response from Avon and joined Dayna in a delightful game of Tarrant-baiting; pure fun since she had no real interest in Tarrant.
But now Dayna was dead and Soolin froze, feeling something congeal inside her. Blake put out a hand and rested it on her shoulder, a gesture of comfort that she welcomed and resented at the same time. If she hadn't lowered her guard, she wouldn't need the comfort.
"What happened?" she asked coolly, as if it didn't matter. Blake looked at her thoughtfully, his eyes considering and vulnerable.
Why must he always blame himself for some things, she wondered. He wasn't the only one who made mistakes. "I think you'd better tell me about it." She looked around her small flat on Ryalon Base and pointed him towards a chair.
He took it gratefully. "The mission went wrong," he explained. "I shouldn't have insisted we go after IMIPAK. We learned my clone had destroyed IMIPAK long ago. The whole thing was pointless." He shivered suddenly. "Jabberwocky secretly contacted his son who proved to have a ship full of pirate crewmates. One of them shot Dayna by mistake."
By mistake? That was a stupid way to go. Dayna would have preferred to go out fighting, hand to hand, using a primitive weapon, relishing the danger. Dying in an accident, by mistake, was not right, and Soolin averted her eyes. "I don't see why it's your fault," she pointed out, seating herself across from him and refusing to look him in the face.
"We were there because I insisted upon it, Soolin," he replied. "Avon almost died trying to heal her. If Hugh hadn't been there to break the link, he could have died too."
"But he didn't," Soolin pointed out. "Don't blame yourself for things that haven't even happened, Blake."
He shivered. "I'm sorry. I had no right to come here and tell you my problems. I know you and Dayna were friends."
It was still hard to admit such things aloud, though she had admitted it inside. Yes, Dayna had been her friend, and now her friend was dead. She shouldn't be surprised; it was the natural order of things. Maybe she brought a curse to those people she cared about, surviving while they died. She couldn't understand why Avon put such value on being a survivor. All it meant was that you kept finding yourself alone, and there was no joy in solitude.
She detected a certain unsteadiness in Blake's pose and stared at him consideringly. "You don't look well, Blake. What else happened? Were you hurt?"
He shook his head abruptly, then once again as if to deny his denial. "Servalan was there," he said. "She mistook me for the clone and drugged me for information. I'm all right, though. Hugh says the stuff's gone from my system."
"Somehow I don't quite believe you. It was never so easy. I don't see why you have to prove you're invulnerable, Blake. No one is."
"I'm all right now," he insisted. "But it was touch and go for a while. Avon had to help me work through it, and he didn't want to do it." He smiled suddenly, a bright, blazing look that startled her into smiling back, though she saw no cause for smiles. "Poor Avon," he said fondly. "He hates to admit he feels anything for anyone, but when I needed it he was there for me."
Well, that was a surprise. Or was it? She had never entirely understood Avon's reaction to Blake - not that she didn't understand he might feel something for Blake, because anyone would. It was just that, knowing how Avon felt about keeping his distance, she was surprised at how obvious he was about liking Blake and needing him around.
She wondered if she was that obvious herself. Probably. Hugh seemed to know it, though he never said so.
"But you're all right?" she asked. Her eyes narrowed. "No, you're not. You're blaming yourself for Dayna, and that's stupid. You couldn't have known Jabberwocky had contacted his son and that there would be pirates down there. Dayna knew the risks she was taking. She liked taking risks, Blake. She..." Soolin's voice trailed off as it suddenly hit her. Dayna was dead! Justifying it wasn't going to help, and nothing she or Blake could say would change it. Soolin hadn't even been there to help. Maybe she could have done nothing, but she'd never know that now. She'd stayed here licking her wounds, avoiding the others because she'd been made to betray them against her will, half afraid they'd all turn on her as Avon had and blame her. Most people were quick to blame, quick to accuse someone else.
She had finally found a place where she wanted to stay, and it had not worked. She should have known it wouldn't work, but Blake had been so sure and she had believed him. Even after she left the ship, she'd half expected Blake to invite her to come back. He had visited her, but he'd said nothing, and then she'd learned that Jabberwocky had gone on a mission without her. Feeling abandoned, she had tried to distance herself from the others but without success. The sight of Blake standing in her doorway, his eyes full of pain, had shattered her barriers, which had made his announcement hit her all the harder. With horror, she realised that she was about to cry. She hadn't cried in years; not since her family died and there had been no one to care if she wept, not since she'd learned that any sign of weakness could lead to destruction.
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