Blake risked another glance downward. Thirty meters below lay the grotesquely twisted bodies of their attackers. He wrenched his gaze away, knowing he was just a hair's-breadth from joining them as he hung there, suspended in mid-air from the cliff's edge. Avon's hand, extending down to him, holding on tightly to his sprained left wrist, was the only thing standing between him and certain death.
With his free right arm, Blake reached up yet again for the ledge. On the third attempt his fingers caught, and he gasped sharply as the fractured bones in his wrist grated against one another. "Now."
Sprawled on the ground, Avon ignored his body's protests as he slowly pulled Blake up. His boot was hooked through the thick roots of a plant, the only leverage he had available, but so far they seemed to be holding. Trying desperately to get a firm hold on the slight rise of ground before the edge, he put everything he had--and more--into the effort of bringing Blake to safety.
But Blake's shattered wrist could not bear the strain. He dropped back, pulling Avon closer to the edge of the precipice. "This isn't going to work," he panted.
"Don't....!", Avon gasped, his arm feeling as though it had nearly been pulled from its socket. The plant's root were starting to loosen in the dry soil now. "Don't be stupid. The Liberator...."
"Won't be back for at least 45 minutes --- if Jenna can make it through." His foot found a tiny crack, and he pressed himself against the rock face, easing the burden on Avon.
"Damn it, Blake, you really ought to lose some weight," he complained.
Sweat rolled down Avon's face as he stared at Blake for a long time. The beatings they had suffered at the hands of the overly-enthusiastic guards, not mention their frantic escape, had taken their toll; Avon no longer had the strength to pull Blake out of this, and Blake could not help him at all.
Avon did not hold out much hope of rescue at this point; but he was not about to give up. Attempting to conserve what little energy he had left, he relaxed his exhausted muscles by just a fraction. That was when Blake's foot slipped.
The haze of pain lifted slowly. Avon discovered that, miraculously, Blake was still there, but the roots of the plant were tearing free under the combined weight of two grown men. His whole body was trembling under the enormous strain as well, and his lips curled back from his teeth as he fought against it, willing his hand to remain frozen in its iron grip.
"It's hopeless," Blake said, beginning to see real fear and panic in Avon's eyes. "No point in both of us dying. I should just let go--if you don't save me the trouble."
"No!" Avon was surprised at his own vehemence, at the fact that he had said it at all.
"You're not being logical, Avon." Blake smiled faintly.
"Not up to your usual standards, is it?"
Avon did not answer. The seconds passed, and Blake did not pursue his suggestion. Avon began to think he had reconsidered it.
Then Blake let go.
His boot lost its tenuous hold on the roots, and Avon found himself hanging over the edge himself now, holding onto Blake's wrist with both hands.
Blake tried to twist free. "Let go of me, Avon!"
"I will not be responsible for your death! For God's sake--it won't be on your bloody conscience! I'm volunteering!"
"I said NO! Blake, hang on to me! You're slipping!"
"Why are you doing this?"
Blake groaned. Avon's fingertips dug deep into his injured wrist as the man struggled to hold his weight. He looked down again, then back up at Avon. He wondered if he had ever really had a clue as to what went on behind those fathomless dark eyes.
"You really mean it... Don't you?", he asked as he grabbed Avon's hand again.
Avon's expression was indescribable. "Do I look like I'm joking?", he said acidly.
"I'm not sure I understand this."
"Neither do I," Avon said softly. "Damn you, Blake.... and damn your martyr complex."
"Speak for yourself." His feet found a narrow ledge, but it was too little, too late. Avon was being pulled forward, millimeter by millimeter, closer and closer to the edge of the precipice. It was just a matter of time now before gravity claimed them both.
They stared at each other, waiting for the inevitable fall. A calm acceptance of what was to come swept over Avon, and everything but Blake faded from his awareness. He had never envisioned himself going down like this, as meek as a lamb to the slaughter--or as the final sacrifice on the altar of Blake's idealism. But there was no desire now to change what he had done. It would be so easy to let Blake go, but impossible nonetheless. Blake's fate was his now, as it had always been. It was finally over.
It won't be my fault, not this time. The thought reverberated through the cold, dark void deep within his soul. The emptiness expanded, engulfing him as it often did, but this time he did not fight it, welcoming its numbing relief now. Anna had filled that void once, but since she had gone it had grown so deep he could have lost himself in it forever. Anna... Anna, I should have died instead of you. The void echoed with the pain her memory brought. Anna.... The darkness beckoned still, and he did not fight it, sinking into its comforting depths. He was tired of fighting... so tired... it wasn't going to happen, not again. Blake will not die because of me, because I failed him. As I failed her...
It was finally over... Anna.... Blake....
Sound reached him through the blackness. His thoughts were sluggish, but he gradually recognized the unwelcome intrusion for what it was. His bracelet was chiming, and Jenna was calling his name.
The darkness receded, a glimmer of light filtering down from above. Blake...
Blake managed to reached up and hit the transmit button on Avon's bracelet; his own had been taken at the prison. "Jenna, Gan! Get down here fast! And bring another bracelet!" He looked at Avon. "Are you going to make it?", he asked, suddenly alarmed by the dazed look on the man's face.
Avon blinked a few times, then his eyes finally focused. "Be quiet and don't move," he said, the muscle cramps in his arms unbearable. "Unless you really want to die before they get here."
"Not that I mind the results," Blake said to Jenna as she ran a scanner over another of his bruises, "but why did you get back so soon?" Cally was there too in the med unit, tending to Avon's injuries.
"Orac picked up some pursuit ships being directed in. I thought it best to come in early for you--looks like I was right. What happened down there anyway?", Jenna asked.
"Not much that was good. Kemera was already dead when we got to the prison, and they caught us instead. Fortunately, they didn't figure out who we were, although they did try." He ran his fingers over the brace on his wrist. "They made Avon watch while they 'questioned' me. You know the approach--tell us what we want to know, and we won't beat your friend to a pulp."
"That worked marvelously, I'm sure," Jenna said sarcastically. "Avon doesn't have any friends." Avon had no reaction.
Blake frowned at her for a moment. "Avon found an opening and got us out of there before they did any more damage." His interrogator would not be going anywhere for a very long time, if at all. Avon had gone after the man with a ferocity Blake had never witnessed in him before. "We escaped, but then we picked the wrong direction to run in. Namely to the edge of a cliff."
"But how did you end up like that, hanging over the edge?" Cally asked, looking up as she finished with Avon.
"Because they didn't exactly wave good-bye when we left," Avon said, climbing off the table. "Three of them caught up with us. We disposed of them all, but the last one tried to take Blake with him."
"Obviously he wasn't successful," Blake said. He realized that those were the first full sentences Avon had spoken since being rescued; everything else had been in monosyllables. "But, if you hadn't arrived at just the right moment, Avon and I would have joined him anyway." He looked back at the computer expert, who turned away and went silently out the door. Blake moved to follow him.
"Oh, no you don't," Jenna said. "I'm not through yet."
Blake walked slowly along the corridor, lost in thought, the soft leather shoes he wore barely making a sound against the deck. He rounded a corner and drew back just in time to avoid bumping into Avon. Both men instinctively reached for each other to steady themselves, but then Avon pulled away abruptly, giving Blake one of his coldest stares before continuing on his way.
"You're a fraud, Avon."
Avon hesitated, but kept walking.
"But all the same, thank you for saving my life. I owe you one."
Avon stopped and turned around. "Oh, no. We're even, Blake. You helped me get off the 'London', and now I've paid you back--in full. I don't owe any of you anything, and you do not owe me," he said icily, then turned from Blake again.
He had gotten a few paces further when Blake said, "Was that for my benefit or for yours?"
Avon whirled around. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Think about it, Avon. It shouldn't be difficult to figure out."
Avon stared at him. "Don't push me," he said, his voice low and dangerous.
Blake was silent, waiting until Avon had turned away again. "Why do I have the feeling that you wanted us to die together? That somehow you're disappointed that we were rescued?"
Avon froze for a moment, and Blake knew he had been right. The darkness, cheated of its prey, called to Avon again, but he recovered quickly, and when he turned there was nothing in its expression but cold fury. "Don't play games with me, Blake. I won't tolerate that from anyone, you least of all." He stalked away, disappearing towards his quarters.
Blake stood thoughtfully for a time. "Playing games, Avon? Isn't that what we've been doing from the beginning?" he said to himself. "Why can't things ever be easy with you?"