Souls of Discretion
by Calico



Jan 2001

Disclaimer: oh, shush.

The belated prequel to Snatch, set four years previously.

This is Blake's 7, people. Meaning subtext. And this is slash. Meaning subtext exploded.

A lot of people helped with this, but it's been a long time in the running so I'm gonna have to fall back on the old you-know-who-you-are song.


"Anything now?"

"No."

Patiently, Blake keyed in another set of co-ordinates. "Now?"

The inflection of Cally's voice didn't change. "No."

Avon glanced up, thoroughly bored. His work was done here; now he'd opened up the intricate circuitry Blake could stumble around to his heart's content, and Avon found he hadn't anything left to do but snipe at people. Still, the enjoyment he could glean from a little condescension ought not to be underestimated. "Give up, Blake," he said distinctly. "Not even you can sustain this relentless lack of practicality for very much longer."

He had hoped to spend this afternoon somewhere more hospitable than the teleport room, hovering impotently above the incessantly woebegone planet that housed Blake's latest campaign. "It's clearly disappeared and I, for one, cannot think of anything less productive for which my time could be used, unless you want me to try and explain the photon blaster engineering again."

Blake, resting both hands on the edge of the teleport console, ignored him. "It was down there. I'm sure of that-- I left it myself."

"Send someone down to get it, then." Avon grinned briefly, running the pad of his thumb along the sharp edge of a sub-sonic skeleton key. "But, don't send me."

"I doubt you'd allow yourself to be sent," Blake replied grimly, radiating raw exasperation, fingers working on the keypad. "Now?"

Cally sighed. "I think-- I agree with Avon, it would be far easier to put someone down there."

"I'm not putting anyone down. If we can't retrieve an inanimate object then I refuse to risk a person."

"Then send Vila," Avon suggested, leaning back in his chair.

"What?! Blake, no, you don't want to send me-- refuse to risk a person, you said--"

"Relax, Vila," Blake said absently, frowning at the console. "Go back to sleep. Zen?"

"Hey, I resent that -- I'm not asleep. Merely resting my eyelids; everyone needs to rest their eyelids once in a while. 'Sgood for your health."

"Zen, progress report."

"No further progress. The atmosphere of the planet in question remains impermeable. Surface scan remains indeterminate."

"Anything now?"

"No change has been registered."

"No, I meant... Thankyou, Zen. Cally-- anything registering?"

Cally was frowning too, eyelashes dipping as she looked down at the small screen in her hand, then rising slightly as she moved a dial delicately with one fingertip. Her lips barely moved; "No, nothing."

Avon watched her, slyly alert -- if her expression altered, he'd need to surmise the turn of events before Blake did. Cally looked up, eyes slightly hollow. "Nothing for the last half hour, nothing now. I think this is enough. Either send someone down, or we leave. It's not safe to linger if there's no chance of retrieval. I'll go. Get me a suit, I'll go."

"No."

Avon glanced at the ceiling. Blake at his most determined, most resolute, was entertaining and attractive at best... but then, he became life-threatening. "You go, then."

Blake glared at him, then sighed, wry. "Yes, Avon; I'm sure that would suit you very well."

"I'm merely indulging your martyr complex," Avon said lightly, softly returning his glare.

"And I suppose you'd wait all of five standard minutes before deciding retrieval was impossible and that you'd better cut your losses and leave."

Avon smiled to himself, gazing up into his agitated leader's dark eyes and feeling infinitely, impossibly superior. "Perhaps ten."

Blake stared at him, then chuckled. "I'm impressed by your restraint," he said, and looked back to Cally. "Now?"

Avon stood up. "Yes, Cally, how about now? We've manually adjusted our blind scan all of a micron to the left, and have only the remaining southern continent to search since the north has such a high concentration of corrodants that Blake's precious trinket will simply have ceased to exist-- how does our luck prove so far?"

If most of the escapades Blake ran were pointless, this one could be considered exceptionally so. It was dangerously pointless. At this rate, fatally pointless. And yet, as ever, Blake seemed determined to see it through.

Orthrax was a particularly disagreeable planet; Avon had worked that out from one glance at Zen's readings, and from that moment would have been pleased to let the entire messy business slip back into obscurity. Unfortunately for all concerned, Blake had stepped in and put his ample foot down.

As a planet it had, Avon supposed, a vaguely honourable history. Ravaged and plundered without remorse, just the sort of thing to get Blake's indignant blood racing. As a Federation defence testing ground it had been active for a mere four years before being abandoned, ruined -- and yet, that hardly made it unique and exciting in this day and age.

Avon had made a few succinct enquiries when he'd learnt he was to be enforced in its vicinity, and quickly discovered the extent of Orthrax's personal charm. It was, to all intents and purposes, a self-mutilating time bomb. He didn't know the exact details of the Federation's testing purposes, but the repercussions were obvious: the planet itself had an extremely high corrosive content and was plagued by frequent acid storms, due to a swirling anomaly in the atmosphere that would dissolve Liberator at a single touch. It obscured around 60% of the planet at all times, sliding round with the predictability of oil, dangerously erratic. It was foolish in the extreme to even approach the damned thing.

Avon, admitting to himself that he would pay a great deal of Blake's money to obtain personal armour that effective, was nevertheless sick to the teeth of this particular episode of Blake's indiscriminate, indefinitely puerile crusade.

Cally merely glanced at him tolerantly, then shrugged at Blake. "If there isn't another way to do this, I suggest we give up. Vila--"

"Eh? Sorry, sorry, resting my eyes again."

"--Is right; if you won't risk setting one of us down there then there's little point persisting." She glanced around the room, looking for a response.

Avon gave her one. "I agree, and so does Vila. If you've ever heard of democracy, Blake, now is your chance to prove it. Make your decision."

"Perhaps you don't realise the implications of this situation," Blake snapped back at him. "We need my--" His eyes flashed. "--Precious trinket, it could give us long term communication with Doran's associates. They're talented people; they would be worthy contacts, and we need worthy contacts. Furthermore, that was Doran's life's work. I don't like waste."

Avon spread his arms, looking around in feigned cynical amazement. "No, just look what you've salvaged so far! A wonderful charity you're running here." He dropped his arms abruptly, speaking harshly. "Blake, if you can manage to cast your mind back a full twenty minutes and remember why we left that blasted planet in such a hurry, you might realise why the chances of clear readings are virtually non-existent."

He paused, sliding a look at Cally. "Furthermore, Doran and his colleagues can be regarded as talented-- until you realise that their intellect can be substituted by the simplest of computers. Doran was the only man who had any idea of electronics whatsoever."

Blake just stared at him for a second, then said quietly, forcefully, "Did it ever occur to you that Doran didn't just wake up one morning and build a computer?"

Avon felt a tension strip through him, at the urgent tone, at the controlled dynamo in Blake's eyes. "Your point?"

"This generation isn't much to look at, I realise. But when the Federation started their testing process, four years ago, it wasn't random bad luck that they chose this sector."

Avon plucked out the undertones and asked derisively, "You're saying that they are a threat to the Federation?"

Blake laughed shortly, audibly bitter. "They certainly aren't. Not what they've become. But, originally, yes, four years ago, this was one of the most potentially-destructive resistance groups inside the Federation border."

Avon raised his eyebrows doubtfully, then watched Blake's attention flick away as Cally said, "How do you know?"

"Avalon told me."

"Avalon, you say?" Vila asked, looking suddenly interested. That computed; he'd been practically salivating during her entire stay with them. Avon had found it rather embarrassing to be associated with him; it was almost as sickening as watching the Idealists in Action themselves. "Hey, I wish you'd tell us when you have an ulterior motive; it would make me a lot more agreeable," Vila said, then paused, briefly. "Well, that is, at least it would let me know what I'm protesting against..."

Avon almost ignored him completely, then realised he'd actually make an adequate point. "I have to agree with Vila, although I would think that ulterior is somewhat above your capabilities."

"Um," Vila said, and apparently he hadn't meant it as ammunition; "right." Then, in a tangible effort to change the subject, he bleated, "So, then, why exactly are we here?"

Blake looked firmly back at Avon and said stonily, "I came here in hope of recruiting the strength of a civilisation, and was greeted with the remains of a race." His voice was low, touched with anger. Then he sighed, seemed to brush off the emotion, and Avon felt his next words sounded suspiciously like a proposal; "Avalon also told me these people were secretive and intensely suspicious, that this was the only group that would talk to her."

"So? I hardly feel that they are unusual traits in your generic insurrectionist. One might go so far as to say that a rebel without secrets would be better defined as post-effective." He slanted a slight grin at Vila. "That's dead, to you."

"She estimated that Doran's father was the front man for a population of seven thousand dissidents."

"On that horrible planet?" Vila squawked, even as Avon asserted flatly,

"They'd never survive."

Blake smiled grimly. "You forget, this was before the Federation got involved. She also said that his son was purportedly far more enthusiastic about an alliance. Even young, Doran seemed to recognise that our best hope was to work together. It's a pity he could never truly realise it."

"Well that's nice," Vila said hurriedly, in the pause that followed. "I'm really glad to hear that. Working together, I mean. They all seemed a bit on the unpleasant side of friendly, to me, so it's nice to know they were acting in our best interests. I got the impression they were thinking about doing rather noisy torturous things to us for their own entertainment, myself." He shrugged to himself, adding, "but maybe I'm projecting."

Blake threw him a tolerant part-smile. "I don't think their suspicion extended that far--"

"But then, you have no idea who they are or what they want, so your reassurance is pure speculation," Avon finished for him, cutting in.

"Ah, spot on as usual, Avon," Blake replied cheerfully, before his voice turned assertive again, "but since Vila is still here and uninjured, it appears my speculation was correct, and so really you have no valid complaint."

"I must say your double standards really aren't your best feature -- valid is hardly an appropriate description of these pathetic excuses that you keep trying to pass off as substantial justification to risk our lives--"

Cally interrupted him quickly. "Why did you keep it to yourself?" she asked, "Why not tell us about the other dissidents?"

Blake tilted his head slightly, silent, then looked up at her and said wryly, "I suppose I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for."

Avon felt frustration snap through his voice. "Ah, well that's just wonderful," he bit off, "Yet again, Blake leads us blindly into a possibly fatal scenario on the face of some second-hand outdated information--"

"That's not quite true," Cally put in stoically, cutting him off. "These could be critical negotiations, and too much information is always an unwise battle plan when we could very easily be captured and put to trial. Avalon knows that, and also knows that Blake has the integrity to make use of whatever information she gives to him."

Blake's integrity, in Avon's opinion, required a crutch of idealism even to stand up straight. "And why didn't Avalon come herself, to reopen these essential, critical negotiations? I thought she was recruitment." He said the word like it tasted bitter, then scowled and continued, "If we must spend our lives chasing codes and planting bombs with inane single-mindedness, at least let someone else rally the masses. There are only so many places a man can risk his life in two days."

"Avalon didn't come herself because she knew there could be complications," Blake answered carefully, ignoring him strategically, then raised his hand sharply when Avon took breath to interrupt, "And actually, her information was right up to date on the Federation's destruction of that planet. She knew the Liberator was the only ship with a chance of getting someone down to the surface."

"Never mind that the surface was teeming with acid and inhabited by imbeciles," Avon added caustically, remembering the distant ruin of the northern continent as they materialised. The wreck of the planet was reflected in the inhabitants; Doran and the other mutants weren't very... aesthetic. There again, neither was Blake in his bulky, glassy white suit designed to protect against the lingering mist of corrosive vapour. It wasn't the most flattering of garments, frosted helmet and all.

Even so, at least Blake could formulate an entire sentence without stuttering off at frequent intervals to root around a crippled vocabulary for some more broken words. "Remnants of a race, you said. For once, I'm inclined to agree. There is nothing left there but remains, and not even you could convince yourself that we won't be better off without them."

Blake didn't concede an inch. "You only saw a few people; there are possibly as many as seven full communities, waiting to be freed. If we can get that box, we can grant them the chance to fight. Or, if Doran and his colleagues are the only survivors, you mustn't rule out their contribution. They are fine men."

"Were. Learn to recognise the past tense. It is, after all, where an awful lot of your ideals belong."

"Don't be ridiculous," Blake said shortly, impatient. "In the last two months we have severely disrupted the Federation's communication system and crippled the best of their fleet -- and three months ago, you would have condemned me to an asylum planet for merely making either suggestion."

"I'd still like to put your name down for asylum as soon as possible," Avon retorted silkily, then let his tone turn scathing again, "but do you really think we would have made any successful achievements whatsoever with these worthless creatures onboard?"

"Their worth depends on your evaluation system," Blake shot back. "I was talking about integrity."

"And I was talking about value."

"By value, you mean how many computer chips they control."

Blake really looked damn good when he drew down into sarcasm, Avon decided, and plus, it meant he was running out of argument. Deeply satisfying on both accounts. "I mean value to us. And those mutants are as useless as they come."

"Mutants?"

"What else would you call them? I might opt for texturally challenged, I suppose."

Actually, Avon felt he was being eminently charitable by limiting himself to disputing merely their mental and physical attributes. If he started on their courtesy, they'd be here all day. Although, admittedly, it was beginning to look as if they'd be detained for the entire day whether he kept quiet or not.

"And you don't value an effective, self-sufficient community of Federation dissidents?"

They hadn't looked very effective to him. Avon remembered their disrespect for his private space with a shudder, being crushed together as they walked the narrow tunnels to a dusty, stifled, sub-teran village. "They're planet-bound," he said simply, suddenly hoping to end the argument as soon as possible.

The only redeeming feature of the entire trip had been the freedom to be accidentally compressed against Blake by the crowd, feeling the blunt shape of his body through two large white protective suits too many.

"That isn't important."

Stubborn looked particularly nice, too. Avon concentrated on his own argument, blocking the enlivening of his pulse by Blake's clenched obsidian hostility. "They are no use whatsoever. They can't aid us, they can't support us and we most certainly don't have the freedom to help them. What is the point in leaving another signpost for the Federation?"

Actually, Blake had looked lovely during his urgent conversations with Jenna, as well -- that radiant moment as grim realisation dropped into his voice, as his grip tightened visibly on his bracelet -- but the heavy suit really didn't do wonderful things for his appearance. At least they had shed them as soon as they got back on board; Avon preferred Blake when he didn't look like a large, rustling parasite.

"We aren't running away anymore."

No, that was becoming clearer by the day; Blake liked courting danger. Twelve months ago, Avon would never have allowed anyone to take such useless liberties with his chances of survival. There again, twelve months ago, he had been about to liberate a fortune and was worrying about security; ever-abrasive sexual tension was not curling around his mind every time he neglected his guard. "That's immaterial. We can't contact them--"

Blake almost growled, eyes flashing. "We can if we can get that box."

"That box is stuck on the surface, alongside one of our bracelets -- and there is no hope of retrieving either."

The village had been a necessary and unpleasant detour to obtain Blake's latest toy, and its oblivious inadequacy had grated incessantly on Avon's nerves. In his opinion, the universe at large profited by the fact that their hosts were imprisoned on this abrasive planet and were therefore unable to inflict themselves on anybody else.

Thankfully, they hadn't been forced to linger underground in the course of duty -- although, when they emerged into the frosty sunlight, a number of their hosts decided to join them as they trekked back towards the hills. They had chattered inanely with savage words. Luckily, just as Avon had started entertaining black little thoughts about poisoning the water, they'd received a mayday from Jenna -- the dangerous part of the atmosphere was swinging round, heralding a vicious onslaught of acid that whipped round planetside, and she had to withdraw fast.

His last view of the planet had been a satisfying scattering of partially-corroded humanoids, which was fine by him. Unfortunately -- at least, from some people's point of view -- Doran had died from over-exposure to the mounting acid wind, trying to impart his gift. It was a machine tuned into a second underground transceiver on the planet, on a frequency so fine and variable they had next to no hope of catching it using the Liberator's instruments -- a fact which had put an extra edge on Avon's already foul mood.

The machine was in protective casing; they were not. To Avon's disgust, Blake had taken time to slot their spare bracelet inside it before teleporting up; it was too heavy to lift in the wind, and they only had seconds before the acid storms would come down with full force around their ears. The plan was that, although they couldn't teleport it up directly and although the landscape was scrambled after each progressive assault, they would be able to home in on the bracelet after the storms had passed.

So, it was still down there, alongside its efficient, self-sufficient, entirely illiterate community. Avon had very, very little interest in seeing either again.

"We have to try," Blake was saying firmly. "We can't leave pockets of resistance around without at least trying to contact them. What's more, they've just lost their leader."

"And you'd decided to fill that role, I assume," Avon sneered, thinking how easily Blake fell into the authoritarian deposition, how inconvenient the heating response in his skin was becoming, and how happy he was that Blake didn't know these little details that made up his day. "Our detection equipment is apparently useless, and that may be because of the distortion -- but you must bear in mind that by now, in that environment, there won't be anything left to recover."

"The casing is specifically designed to protect its contents," Blake said deliberately.

Avon felt himself bristle; when he sounded superior, Blake managed to turn him off even more than Gan used to. "During a storm of that strength?" he demanded, reigning in his attention.

"Doran clearly thought so. He died to achieve a link to life outside his community."

Avon felt he knew why. To be stuck in that company, even if you were as intellectually feeble as Doran had been, would be enough to drive anyone to electronics. "I wouldn't trust his--"

"Yes, well you don't trust anyone, do you?" Blake interrupted, "So that argument is hardly a groundbreaking revelation. No, we will wait until the storms have passed on, then make one trip down to do a high-energy planetwide scan. If we can't find it--"

"You'll bow to the majority?" Avon asked darkly. He stood up, suddenly annoyed with everyone present. "I shall leave you to it." He stalked to the door, turning momentarily to meet Blake's eye. "I suppose you've considered that a material which can withstand erosive storms might well mask the bracelet in face of our scan."

He left quickly, not wanting to know if Blake had already thought of that, and walked to the flight deck. The corridors seemed close and frustrating, leaning in on him, and he sluiced off a sensation of relief as he emerged onto the high-ceilinged flight deck.

Jenna was sitting at the helm, frowning slightly, rubbing her right hand with her left. She looked up quickly as he entered, fingers dropping to the console. "Anything to report?"

"Blake is insisting with typical groundless obstinacy that we must hang around here until that planet is accessible again."

"For a box? Surely it would have dissolved by then."

"That is the logical assumption -- but Blake doesn't think so," Avon said dryly, then heard a faint, familiar tread in the corridor.

Jenna frowned. "So we can keep contact with them-- What can they do for us?"

"Precisely nothing," Avon agreed clearly, comfortable that Blake had overheard the last of their conversation.

Jenna glanced behind him as Blake entered. She lifted her chin, sitting straighter in the pilot's chair. "I hear we're to stay in orbit," she said, tone slightly crisp.

Blake sighed, coming up beside him, saying, "That's correct," with an edge to his voice.

Avon carefully tightened; he wasn't going to give room and move away, but at that distance they could brush against each other if he relaxed too much. He wasn't sure he'd be able to control himself, this time, if he felt a barely-perceptible scrape of fabric and then the slender electric fork through his stomach when Blake pressed back and sealed the touch.

Jenna folded her arms. "I suppose that, as the pilot, I don't merit a vote?"

Avon grinned briefly. "Ah, don't worry; Blake makes all the decisions on this ship. I didn't get a vote either. Hadn't you noticed that the representative of our vaunted democracy frequently disdains to listen to anyone with a point of view that varies from his own?"

Blake tossed him a dark glare, which Avon took easily as clear encouragement. "He appears to think the merits of his own flawless reasoning outweigh any crude argument we mere mortals were to suggest. Personally, I'd have to say it isn't our argument which is crude; in fact--"

"Be quiet, Avon," Blake snarled, which was quite attractive in an aggressive sort of way, which was probably what thrilled Avon most about Blake-- but at the same time, he wasn't about to sit back in admiration when he could be retaliating. A dark invigoration was winding into him, spicing his brain and setting a sharper edge to his words.

"Yes, that's a shining example of how to get your own way; once you have proven you can shout louder than any legitimate opposition, you are free to dictate as you will."

"Avon," Blake warned, and Avon didn't shiver, he didn't, he didn't.

Jenna cleared her throat. "I don't suppose you can give me a good reason to agree with you, Blake?" She smirked. "I'd rather not side with Avon yet again."

"Better to nip bad habits in the bud," Blake said agreeably, then sobered. "I really think these people are worth our time. There's a lot more to that planet than a single community; there could be seven thousand people down there, each one cognisant, self-supportive and extremely anti-Federation. Every man, woman and child backs the cause with total sincerity, willing to fight for their lives and their history--"

"What Blake is trying to dress up into the reincarnation of the Freedom Party," Avon interjected, meeting Jenna's eyes confidentially, "is a group of three dozen humanoids sitting down there on a ruined planet, waiting for our assistance. He says there may be more," he added casually, waving the possibility down, "but given the facts, it is hardly likely. Those mutants that are left have dwindling reproductive capability, extremely limited intelligence and a conspicuous absence of leadership since their previous headstone unfortunately forgot he had weakened defences against their daily storms."

Blake turned on him sharply. "Don't push it, Avon." His voice had dropped, roughened, into the danger range. "Doran died to establish a communication link between dissidents. It's our duty to--"

"It's your duty, in your opinion." Avon controlled his voice, making it cold, and looked directly and deliberately into the full force of Blake's glare. His pulse wasn't so easy to manage; it tightened, lighter and faster than was necessary, in a familiarly direct response to Blake's sharp edge of fury. It was worryingly exhilarating, he felt, determined not to sound breathless.

"Would you abandon an entire sentient colony to its fate, leaderless?" Blake demanded.

Jenna cut in. "Its fate?"

Avon took a shallow, silent breath, feeling the intensity waver. "The most basic calculations," he said, still meeting Blake's eyes, "grant them perhaps a single further generation before they die out altogether; basic calculations that would nevertheless be beyond the most advanced of that species." He glanced at Jenna, sardonic. "Against all odds, however, they appear to have realised their time is limited... Unfortunately, thanks to Blake, they now think we have the patience and resources to do something about it."

Jenna raised her eyebrows. "Did you promise them anything?" she asked quickly.

Blake shook his head. "Of course not."

"They didn't get that far," Avon assured her quickly. "Luckily, your call came through. Just in time."

Blake sighed. "Jenna, you realise my position. I'm asking to stay until we can get another look at the surface, that's all."

"And how long will that take?"

"I'm not sure. It's unpredictable. Perhaps, tomorrow morning."

She looked about to protest, then inclined her head. "And if the Federation turn up?"

"We can leave," Blake said reluctantly, then smiled faintly. "Or destroy them."

Jenna shrugged. "Tomorrow." She looked up. "Zen, additional request. Maintain the current scan at double capacity, and contact me if there are any developments."

"Confirmed."

"Meanwhile," she said briskly, "I think I deserve some rest. Rapid, last-minute retreat into a stable orbit may look effortless, but I noticed my hands were shaking nearly ten minutes ago. I'm certainly not fighting pursuit ships in this condition. Where's Cally?"

"I left her in the teleport area," Blake said, watching her closely. "Are you okay-- can I get you anything?"

Avon resisted from rolling his eyes. Blake trying to be a protector had a particularly ironic edge to it when he'd almost killed them all through dissolution of the Liberator by making them wait the seconds it took to force a bracelet inside that damned protective casing. It had been close enough to leave their top, nerves-of-diamond pilot shaking, but that was okay, because Blake was now rather concerned for her wellbeing.

"Nothing, thanks." She went, deliberately upright, to the wall, pressed the intercom. "Jenna. Cally?"

There was a long pause, then a click. "Cally. Yes?"

"Are you still in the teleport area?"

"Yes?"

"And Vila?"

"Disappeared. I think he wanted to sleep."

"Stay there." She walked out without hesitation, ignoring both men.

Avon watched her leave, pleased with her iciness, then looked at Blake. Blake raised his eyebrows ruefully, watching at the corridor until Jenna's footsteps died away.

Then he shook his head slowly, smiling wryly. "So, Avon. Apparently everyone disagrees with me now." He turned to Avon, rubbing his fingertips against his temple. "Thanks to you, of course."

His tone was warm. Avon ignored the curiously hot wires that tightened under his ribs. "And yet, you're going ahead with your plan nevertheless." He smiled coldly. "That shouldn't feel too unusual."

Blake took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "You never stop, do you, Avon?" He sounded exasperated, amused. "But look at it this way. You won this one -- everyone is taking your side, they all resent me; even Jenna's annoyed now. And yet-- you understand why we have to stay, don't you?"

Avon's eyes narrowed. Logically, Blake should be sulking or raging at him, looking all determined and edible, giving Avon the freedom to luxuriate in scoring a response. "I recognise that your incorrigible sense of morality makes you incapable of rational decision."

Blake nodded encouragingly. "And yet you do understand why we have to stay."

"Your thought process is ludicrously simple, Blake. Obviously I understand why you think we have to stay--"

Blake chuckled.

Avon broke off, startled. "What?" he demanded, caustic and wary.

Blake shook his head, "No, nothing." He smiled, then walked passed him, pausing at the exit to the flight deck. "I'm hungry; are you hungry?"

He was, actually, just faintly. "No."

Blake shrugged, then turned and left. Avon carefully refrained from watching him leave. Zen's dome blinked silently; after a moment, Avon's ears picked up a low, barely-audible hum.

"Zen, status report," Avon said, needing a voice to ignore. He felt mildly uneasy about Blake's attitude; it felt as if a decision had been made without Avon realising, and now Blake was following a new set of rules. Did they have a truce? More likely, Blake was trying to get something off him.

Yes, that could be it; disconcert him, then coerce him into giving his word. Probably a guarantee that he wouldn't make off without him, or something. He had a feeling that that was Blake's chief fear at present -- to be left high and dry without his precious starship. Avon couldn't say he wasn't tempted.

The hum had broken into solid noise. "The Liberator is currently in geo-stationary orbit around the planet Orthrax, a G-type--"

It depended what Blake was trying to get. Certain things could be taken rather freely, in Avon's opinion, although that was about as likely as coherence from Vila the morning after.

He walked down into the centre of the flight deck, sitting down and wishing he had some coffee. Actually, some food would be nice, too. He wasn't used to quite such close calls. Escaping in the nick of time, yes, of course, that was almost to be expected in this line of existence, but it was always safely to the Liberator, slotting back into routine. Even a routine of haring away from an entire squadron of squat, black, bullet-shaped Federation enemies; it was still familiar. To teleport back up to a more severe danger unsettled him. The adrenaline had stirred his appetites. Still, that was undoubtedly a healthy response. And maybe his were not the only piqued appetites; perhaps that explained Blake's affability.

He stretched surreptitiously, wondering if Blake was starting to break their rules. Rules: nothing overt, nothing declared, just a network of mutual distances. Easier that way, they'd decided silently. Well: Blake had decided. Short of putting himself on the line, there wasn't very much that Avon could do to counter their barely-shared acknowledgement.

And now they were locked in yet another disagreement. He'd argued logic, and Blake had bypassed him with the force of that damned will. He had won? No doubt. Blake would admit it to the rest of them? When hell froze over and Travis served them small cups of steaming, revitalising, uncontaminated tea.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, aware he was dwelling on this, then let out a slow breath and dropped his hand. Honestly: it was ridiculous. Still, with any luck that damned machine would have dissolved by the time the storms abated, and they could abandon this planet to its fate. Had he won? Blake had said he'd won. So, where was his prize?

He allowed himself a brief indulgence on the theme of prizes, then blinked. This, too, was getting far too easy -- to permit lazy fantasies of driving Blake harder, pressing relentlessly until he snapped and attacked him. It felt so natural, arguing with him and wanting him in equal measures, grown used to the contradictions, that he was almost content with their incendiary stalemate.

On the other hand, he certainly wasn't content with Blake's progressive habit of personal veto. Tonight was typical of the strange lure that gripped and reeled him in whenever he found someone whose heart was in the right place. The rest of their predicament tended not to matter; the heart, that was what Blake was interested in.

Avon looked up at the high flight deck ceiling, absently satisfied by the clean, bronzed edges. Why couldn't Blake recognise a lost cause when he saw one? It was exasperating that logic became something secondary in Blake's mind when yet another hopeless faction rose its partially-humanoid heads.

Avon's mouth tightened into a smirk. If their beloved dictator could recognise lost causes, Avon wouldn't be here today. A flicker of wry humour: No, he'd be relaxing somewhere in a dozen laps of luxury.

Although ironically, he thought, with a tinge of acquainted resentment, none of those laps would be the one he actually wanted to sit in.

Familiar feet sounded, coming towards him from the distance. Irritable, Avon wondered sharply why Blake, who could clearly move stealthily when it counted, couldn't keep quiet all the time.

There again, this way, Avon always knew when he was coming. That thought twisted, and he grinned to himself, then regulated his expression before Blake could see.

Stopping behind him, there was a moment's silent limbo and then Blake ran a firm finger up the top of his spine. Avon stiffened, startled, and then realised he hadn't flinched away. "What are you doing?" he asked coldly, then set his teeth together so they didn't shiver. His whole body felt alive, ringing like a mass of trapped iron atoms, warm and unquiet.

"Would you like a drink?" Blake's finger skated over the back of his shoulders, then lifted away painlessly. His voice was light, but there was an odd depth shadowing every word.

Avon couldn't speak for a moment. The line of his shoulders wouldn't relax, quivering indignantly with the insult of being teased and denied. "Please," he said eventually. His own voice almost caught in his throat, it was pitched so low.

There was a pause, then Blake walked around the rank of seats and sat down opposite him, leaning forwards to hand over one of two steaming cups. "Coffee."

"Yes," Avon guessed. He didn't let their fingers touch, feeling a little stripped. His mind jumped ahead: like a wire, it proclaimed. Raw, with potential connections available everywhere. If Blake touched him again, completed the circuit he'd sparked with one decisive finger, Avon had a feeling he'd short out.

He sipped cautiously, the heat and bitterness shocking some sense back into him. He met Blake's eyes, startled anew by the way they were glittering, and then set himself firmly and resolved to ignore the subtext.

"It makes you think, doesn't it," Blake mused, leaning back, still watching him.

"That must feel peculiar."

Blake grinned. "Cheap shot." When Avon disdained to reply, he continued, "I was referring to this, the ship, the risks we take. The chances."

"If you are only now beginning to notice them, I have a feeling your leadership skills have been overestimated."

Blake smiled to himself. It was a totally unsatisfactory reaction.

A warm moment later, cleanly, Avon changed his mind: ignoring the subtext was only successful when both agents participated. Right now, it felt a lot like Blake had the advantage of him. And while no, that wasn't an entirely repulsive thought, the idea of Blake feeling superior still turned his stomach.

Freshly resolved, he wondered how obscure he could make this and still get the obvious question into Blake's thick scull. There weren't very many ways you could ask a man why he'd just started flirting without inviting a certain degree of vulnerability into your side of the conversation.

"I wouldn't go so far as to compliment you with an accusation of being unpredictable," he said lightly, conversationally, playing for time, then made a decision to be relatively blatant -- it was Blake, after all, hardly a man for excessive subtext -- and let silky little needles sink into his words, "but I admit to being intrigued. What makes you approach me now, when precedent dictates that you prefer to skulk in allegedly dignified isolation?"

Blake blinked, raising his eyebrows. "Allegedly dignified?"

"Answer the question."

"Because you would?" Blake shot back, amused.

"This can't be the first subtle difference you've noticed between you and I," Avon drawled, thumb carding slowly up and down the side of his cup, tingling with hot near-pain.

"Nor the last," Blake agreed, amiably.

"And yet...?"

"And yet nothing." Blake looked at him directly. "I nearly lost a great deal on that planet, and that keeps happening, and at this rate will keep on happening, and today I realised that I was perfectly willing to allow it."

Avon's jaw tightened. "I'm not impressed by your value system," he growled, eyes narrow. Suddenly, this was serious again, all flirtation dissolved. "You may accept that your insane ventures have a high casualty rate, but there is no way in hell that I will let you waste us like casual ammunition-- I'll leave before I stand by and watch you allow it."

Blake said, deliberately, "That makes two of us." He waited for a moment, letting his words settle on the air, before stating simply, "And now, I think I answered your question."

Avon said nothing, focussing on Zen's silent dome, torn between fury and satisfaction. Blake had implied outrageous, dangerous things, the sort of things that drew the line between guide and dictator, had essentially admitted that he had settled into an acceptance that the inescapable casualties for his cause may well be his friends-- and yet, at the same time, he had answered the question. It wasn't likely to be fabrication. Avon had simply been looking for a catalyst, and it didn't make sense for Blake to take such a naked argument if it weren't at least adjacent to the truth.

On the other hand, he wasn't quite sure how to continue. He looked back to Blake, who was watching him, apparently considering. Avon recognised the expression, a smooth mix of interest and speculation, and raised his eyebrows.

Blake smiled at the prompt. "What?"

"Unless you've suddenly developed subtleties I thought you hitherto incapable of, you were about to contribute. Some question or other. I'm sure," he said, letting himself enjoy it a little, "it wasn't of the utmost importance. Even someone of your calibre isn't likely to forget something greatly significant."

Blake's smile grew, then hardened into contemplation. "Would you leave, Avon: would you leave now? After so much?" He sounded earnest and curious, but not anxious. It was an irritating mix. More so was the way he ignored the insult. It was becoming increasingly clear that Blake had his own agenda for this conversation.

Avon took a sip of coffee, savouring it, allowing himself to show shades of indulgence at the degree of lazy flirting he'd grown used to. Swallowing slowly, he let a mild smile slide onto his lips. "Like a shot."

Blake regarded him evenly. "I don't think I can believe that."

"Can't you."

"No."

Avon felt a flicker of annoyance. It shone briefly against the backdrop of ever-purring lust, then melted again. He did his best to resurrect it. "And you're so sure of me, are you?"

"You've had plenty of opportunities to leave. And yet…"

Avon glared. "You have systematically waded your way through my bolt-holes and made them all fundamentally uninhabitable. I don't have anywhere to go; there is no viable alternative. Face it, Blake, you have made very sure that I won't leave."

"No I haven't," Blake said, simply.

Avon's glare was frozen, so it still looked like a glare, despite the fact Blake kept unhinging him. Stubbornness; he'd never quite worked out how to save his arguments in the face of Blake's flat contradiction. "You have engineered circumstances--"

"No." Blake touched his shoulder briefly to interrupt him, and shook his head. "I have made no attempt to keep you here."

"But you want me to stay."

"I need a full crew, and you are an integral part of it... but yes, you're right, I want you to stay."

He knew that. He'd known the answer before he'd asked. It shouldn't have meant anything. Avon was at a resentful loss as to why something glowed inside him at that moment. "You don't show it."

Blake looked amused. "You, the master of reticence, are berating me for not showing that I want you to stay?"

"You," Avon mimicked, "surprise me by knowing what reticence means. Given your recent behaviour."

Blake sobered. "Today? Today, Doran made a request of me; an honourable request. Do you object to me trying to fulfil it?"

Avon tried not to sound as if he'd been having this conversation with himself for the last two hours. "I have little problem with your charitable impulses when they are at least superficially advantageous. When the risks are at least outwardly outweighed by the gain. Normally," he said, surprised by his own charity, "you have a vague justification for risking my life."

Blake raised his eyebrows. "And yet...?"

"And yet I object to decisions being made that place me in extreme jeopardy without a reasonable degree of consultation." He paused, grim deadpan. "Or even, without any consultation. Whatsoever."

"In what way am I placing you in jeopardy?"

By existing, Avon thought sharply, but said, "Do you expect me to believe that hanging around this self-consuming mudball is free of risk?"

"Relatively."

"I suppose I shall only be relatively dead, then."

Blake nodded decisively, "Exactly." He sounded suspiciously amused.

"Well now, that's a comfort," Avon said, fighting down exasperation.

Blake looked thoughtful. "I suppose, you could accuse my actions today of being autocratic." He smiled, and continued reasonably, "Which, when it comes down to it, is exactly what they were," and drained his cup, and set it down on the table.

There wasn't very much sarcasm Avon could think of to counter that. "Well that's something we can agree on," he said eventually, feeling as if the conversation was moving without him; the atmosphere felt brisk.

"I'm sure we can find other things to agree on," Blake mused, then he'd moved -- briskly -- and sat down next to him, half facing him, and he casually cupped Avon's jaw with three warm firm fingers, tilted his head, and placed a light kiss against Avon's mouth. Avon froze, eyes widening. Blake drew back, and suggested, equitably, smiling, "but do you really want to spend the rest of the evening talking?"

"We argue," Avon felt obliged to point out, blinking. He wondered sharply if this scenario was actually taking place in his imagination. "We don't talk."

Blake's smile widened. "Thank you. I rely on you to make the distinction." His voice was rich, with amusement and more. His eyes dropped, and Avon felt distinctly aware of his own mouth. Blake had kissed him. Maybe, some day this century, he'd recover. Blake said, matter-of-factly, "Shall we?"

Avon was left in no doubt as to what he suggested. He said, faintly, "Your seduction technique leaves a little to be desired."

"You're not interested?"

"Did I say that?"

"No. In fact," Blake continued casually, using one finger to stroke a strand of hair behind Avon's ear, "if you refused now it would probably be an affront to universal inevitability. Also, with the recent treatment you've given me, you'd be a bit of a bastard to reject advances now I'm finally officially making some..."

"Oh?" Avon said, hating himself for leaning into Blake's hand. "Are you implying that I am somehow obliged to you?"

"With the way you've been carrying on? Putting me in agony on a daily basis, to say nothing of a quick grope down on your favourite self-consuming mudball -- I'd say that's grounds for a little obligation, wouldn't you? In fact, if there is any poetic justice at all, I should need only click my fingers and you'd be there."

"Where?"

"Wherever I wanted." He smiled, almost wistfully. Avon wasn't sure if you could have a wistful predator. His stomach tightened, as Blake's eyes stripped him suddenly. "At my feet," Blake said, gritty and yet controlled; "that would have a certain charm to it."

"You're awfully sure of yourself."

"Well." He smiled again, lazily confident. "For a subtle man, Avon, you do let your body talk too much."

Blake's hand dropped and stroked the back of his knuckles beautifully across the firm secret of Avon's cock, and they both knew he was hard, Blake's eyes said they both knew, and it felt good, and he wanted more, and Blake's eyes said they both wanted more. Blake's eyes also said the talking was over.

Avon had a feeling he was putting too much emphasis on Blake's eyes. But then, he'd always felt his own weakness was when his mask broke there, too damned responsive for his own good, so why should Blake's dark gaze be any different?

He met it calmly, lips aching. Blake touched his hands, taking them and resting them on his shoulders, and Avon could feel that heat and power and confidence through the sturdy cloth of his shirt. His fingers tightened, almost involuntarily, itching to draw him in, and Blake's mouth twitched knowingly, and Avon felt known.

He needed a comeback. He wanted to get the last word. He also wanted to sway in and taste, and submit, to slide into his lap -- or perhaps, be pulled into it, those hands manoeuvring him to whatever position Blake deemed appropriate. Voices were springing up in protest -- this was insanity -- but they were muted behind an odd mental gauze, powerless to be heard. He was really warm. He was warmest under his hands, slid to curve around either side of Blake's neck, perilously close to a grip.

"Where, did you say, you wanted me?" he asked eventually, shocked as he said the words, because that went against every rule he'd come to live by: fight Blake to the last syllable.

Blake raised his eyebrows. "Acquiescence, Avon?" he drawled, amused, leaning closer, and then his gaze darkened: "Good."

His arm snaked around Avon's neck and pulled him in, mouths meeting harshly, totally, Blake's other hand pressing Avon's chest back into the couch, pinning him back and leaning over his body, elbow digging into the back of the seat. Avon quickly decided that some things weren't worth fighting for, and resistance against a kiss like this was one of them. He didn't really want to be a top, did he?

Coffee, they'd both been drinking coffee, and Avon liked coffee -- so maybe that was why this tasted good. It did. Really good. It tasted dark and vicious and erotic, and his chest was tight because Blake's hand was strong and uncompromising, and his pulse was getting faster because he felt like he was being attacked, like he was being taken; a dark, vicious, erotic assault.

He could hear his breathing coming faster, irregular, snatched. It dizzied him. Would he be able to drink coffee again without thinking of Blake? Did he care?

His mouth was released, suddenly wet and cold, and Blake angled his head back deliberately until Avon was panting vaguely at the ceiling, head resting on the top of the seat, throat free to be kissed. Blake kissed it. He licked, as if savouring, sucking slightly at the skin. Avon tilted his head back further, arching against the hand still holding him down. He felt a slow rake of teeth across his adam's apple, painless but unmistakable, and images shot through his mind. Blake's thumb stroked across his chest, one short path, branding into him.

His grip on Blake's shoulders tightened; definitely a grip, by now; perilously close to a plea. Avon felt his blood squirming around under his skin, running quickly through his veins and leaving him hot and eager, too hot for pride, too eager to wait, and then Blake's chuckle brought him back to himself with a start.

"I always thought you'd like that, but I didn't realise you'd actually purr," Blake murmured, words hot against the skin of his throat.

Avon struggled to dredge up a response. "Interrupting this is not the best way to keep me onboard," he said sharply, through gritted teeth. His voice had dropped to the range he usually reserved for dramatic effect. "Reticence suits your conversation significantly better than any other use for your mouth."

Blake drew back, and Avon fixed him with what felt painfully like an ardent glare. Blake stroked his cheek with the side of his thumb, shaking his head fondly. "You're something else. You always were."

Exasperation flowed through him. "I'm fully aware of that." His hand dropped to Blake's erection, feeling its weight through rather strained trousers. "Now, were you planning on hiding this all night, or does it give you a thrill to see me beg?"

Blake's hand came down heavily on his, and Avon pressed down obligingly, moulding his palm around the base of Blake's cock. It felt obscenely good. Blake took a slow, audible breath, and let it out. "At this rate," he said bluntly, voice ragged, "it would probably kill me to see you beg."

Avon smiled, all teeth. "And what a waste that would be."

Blake laughed breathlessly, pushing his hips up into Avon's hand. Avon stroked his thumbnail up the tight metal teeth of his zip, then flattened his hand slowly and began a slow stroke downwards. Blake's eyes widened briefly, then he grinned. "Vila was right to call you Fingers, then."

"I multitask," Avon said quickly. "Not for Vila. Don't get any ideas."

"Do you do requests?"

"Have you a request?"

Blake paused, and released his hand, and his eyes burned into him, and he seemed to reach a decision. "Yes," he said clearly, slowly. "Stand up."

Avon shivered, quite aware that Blake was accustomed to ordering him around in that tone of voice, and obeyed. His palm tingled at the loss. He wondered for one wild moment if he might keel over, and stepped back.

"That's right," Blake said approvingly, then stood and walked up to him, chest just short of touching chest, Blake's eyes just a fraction above his own. Avon was reminded shockingly of several public arguments, facing off with angry words.

"Do you have a purpose, or merely desire a change in altitude?" It wasn't his best shot. It wasn't even worthy of bearing his voice. It was, however, the only thing he could come up with at that moment.

Blake's hand strolled casually up his arm, then reached the flat of his shoulder, then pushed down. "Kneel," he said quietly, and then flashed a killer smile. "You know you want to."

You don't know what I want, flicked through Avon's brain, and then it occurred to him that that was entirely untrue. His knees flashed protest at him briefly, and then he was at Blake's feet, steadying himself with his hands curved around Blake's hips, face terribly, brilliantly close to the hot bulge at Blake's groin.

He leaned back slightly, tilting his head into Blake's hand, breathing through his mouth. "And?" he said faintly, trying for insolence and finding that his aim was utterly untrue.

Blake stirred one finger up the back of his neck. "Do you want a step-by-step directive?"

"That would be difficult, since I doubt you will be capable of speech for very much longer." Actually, Avon wasn't sure he could bear to hear Blake giving instructions on giving head. Although, he hadn't lied. He didn't need a tutor for this situation. Life-support equipment on standby, perhaps, but not a tutor.

"Can you prove that?" Blake moved his hand, fingers pushing up into Avon's hair, tilting his head down.

Avon blinked twice, dangerously close to swaying. He could feel the heat rolling off Blake's skin, seeping from his palm into the back of his head, infusing him utterly. He took a slow breath and began, fingers confident, sliding the button from its tight home, drawing the zip down carefully, then holding it open with the flats of his hands.

Heat rose again, filling his lungs, tinged with sex. He licked his lips, seeing the solid outline of Blake's cock pressing hotly at the confines of thin black cloth, and slid one finger under the taut waistband to peel it away. How long had he wanted this?

Blake shifted on his feet, planting them wider apart. Avon smiled gratefully, wolfishly, and ducked down to lick once at the warm, glossy pink tip. Blake hissed faintly, and he felt a little jump beneath his tongue. Filthily satisfying, and so very visceral. He eased the bunched fabric down, caring little to none about where it fell, and sucked the hard head of Blake's cock slowly into his mouth.

It swelled tangibly between his lips, and Blake's hand tightened in his hair. Avon felt dizzy again, not breathing, simply wickedly aware that not only was he having sex on the flight deck, it was sex with Blake, on the flight deck, on his knees.

He reeled: he wanted to sway into him, strip him, confirm that glorious strength; wanted to roll over and get taken carelessly across the pristine cream seats; wanted to somehow extricate himself from this situation and deny it ever happened, because that was a lot neater than this unfamiliar ragged acquiescence. Blake's word.

"Ohh, like that," Blake breathed, then gave a shaky laugh as Avon moved deeper. "I can't believe... you'd do this."

Avon felt his stomach tighten, implications prickling through him like phantom sensation. Blake's skin was hot under his hands as he got a better purchase, sinking down until his mouth was gloriously full. Then, he sucked. Blake's gasp was almost like pain. Avon grinned, working his restricted tongue against the silky underside of Blake's erection, mouth aching suddenly with salt, making him catch his breath.

He drew back and slid it slowly from his mouth, tilted his head, then licked a slow wide line down to the base. His head swam again, hot with intent, as his tongue lapped leisurely at plush, sweat-tainted skin.

Blake made a hoarse noise, so Avon did it again. Amused, he realised his mind was working as if with a calculation, recording responses; what made Blake squirm, what caused a pulse against his lips, what made an involuntary shiver flick through the hand in his hair. There was a slim area beneath the crown that, when Avon rubbed his tongue firmly over it, made Blake stutter shadowy sighs. If he sucked hard the same sweet point, the next time he licked over the head his tongue would find another slickness of fresh, salty approval.

Blake liked it deep, Avon decided, concluding abruptly that that just wouldn't do. He slid one hand down and took Blake's cock in his fist, lips hovering above it, then breathed out hotly on the tip. Blake was breathing slowly, raggedly, audibly struggling from control.

Avon took another quick sip of air, then exhaled again. A definite twitch, swelling in his hand. Opening his mouth wide, he began to sink down, still exhaling softly, not touching the shaft, feeling a shade of pressure changing in his mouth as it was filled without contact. Then as the blunt head hit the back of his mouth, he closed his lips and sucked sharply, and revelled silently in Blake's short, burnt gasp.

He did it again, and Blake cursed. Avon smiled, trying to keep his teeth neutral, feeling his cheeks hollow as he sucked harder. His grip loosened, teasing down to finger his balls, smile growing wider when Blake jerked against him.

"Good god, Avon," Blake muttered, and then he hissed, as Avon's hand crept back up and started squeezing gently.

Avon wondered when he'd last felt this hot, this hard, this mischievous -- going down on Blake was even more exhilarating than the terrible thrill as they'd felt Liberator stroll effortlessly away from the London, granting new life. That was dangerous to know; dangerously exhilarating. He could feel Blake's thighs tensing under his fingers, hips pushing forward in blind nudges, and it hit home again, this was the flight deck, anyone could see them, this was the flight deck and he really didn't care because Blake was going to come in his mouth, and Avon was taking pains to make it unforgettably addictive.

He made a fist again, sliding easily over spit and precome, and released Blake's erection until only the firm head remained in his mouth. His tongue tingled, tasting warm heavy salt, licking it away eagerly again and again and hearing Blake begin to come apart above him.

The hands at his head were flexing, rubbing his shoulders mindlessly, pressing him closer; he leaned in, sucking firmly, speeding his hand and circling his tongue and then swallowing, and that did it, Blake was coming over his tongue and his fingers were locked in Avon's hair, and he was gasping and breathing hard, pressing down into his throat, and Avon let him, pretty close to passing out himself, because he hadn't realise Blake's climax would effect him at all, let alone like that.

When Blake stepped back, Avon licked his lips and stood smoothly, trying not to tremble. He was aching all over, hot and unfinished. He wiped his mouth with his fingers, trying for stability, and licked his lips again. The hands glided out of his hair, down to his waist, and paused there. "You're... awfully good at that," Blake said languidly, "Immorally so," affectionately, refastening his clothes with a pleased wince, then reaching for him and leaning in to kiss his neck. Avon made a low, startled noise, tilting his head back willingly, suddenly crowded with shivers and in danger of shaking.

"Mm," Blake said, voice warm with approval, licking a thorough, gradual path up to his ear. Avon shuddered delicately when he bit the edge of his jaw, breathing harder. Lightly, Blake licked his earlobe. "Do you want to go somewhere? My room?"

"No. I want to finish this."

Blake leaned back, and grinned. "Pushy."

"Wouldn't you be?" He sounded earnest; Avon recognised himself as a shade away from desperate.

"Oh, certainly," Blake replied airily, bracing one hand at the small of Avon's back while he thumbed open the fastenings of his trousers with the other.

Avon sucked in a sharp breath of air, tense right through his body, as Blake took a direct, firm hold of his erection and began to drag his fist slowly up and down. "Well, then," he managed hoarsely, before his eyes fell closed, and he arched blindly into the very-real Blake that had a very-real grip, sliding wildly in the knowledge that this was not his imagination.

"You know," Blake murmured, sounding calm and collected as his hand moved faster. "You really look amazing like this."

Avon grinned distantly, then bit back a moan when Blake's breath surrounded his ear. He reached out, curling his fingers into the tough fabric of Blake's tunic, gripping hard. His other hand went to the nape of Blake's neck, fingernails scraping slightly against his skin. Blake made a low noise in his throat, stroking harder. "I should have done this a long time ago," Blake told him.

"You think?" Avon snarled breathlessly, faintly, hand sliding down from Blake's lapel to drag him closer. Blake's hand felt practised, confident, stripping back the numb edges of his awareness until there was nothing but this incessant, delicious stimulation.

"That's right," Blake said softly, grimly, and Avon realised sharply that this was what it was like to be taken by a man with an ego that matched his own. The assurance was overwhelming, flooding through him with the mercy of an efficacious aphrodisiac. He moaned harshly, head slanted back and full of swarming stars, when the bar of Blake's arm at his back jerked him abruptly in, torsos crushed together, Blake's hand working between them. His cock touched the fabric of Blake's tunic and a gasp spiked out of him.

"You're so satisfying," Blake murmured, voice shockingly close to his ear.

It was beginning quickly, a whisper of new sensation building, building, tainting his blood with fire, sensation swelling, gathering, his toes curling as pressure built hard and fast and sliced up endlessly. He arched helplessly into the other man, and that made it worse, and he was distantly aware that if Blake's hand hadn't been supporting him he would have stumbled to the floor.

It nearly tore his brain in two.

He half-slumped forward, prying his fingers away from Blake's neck, bracing himself with Blake's shoulders. Blake said something blurred, and he didn't feel capable of distinguishing it. "Mm," he said eventually, when his breathing had slowed to a heaving silence.

"Mm?"

He could feel the rumble of Blake's voice through his cheek, and lifted it from Blake's shoulder. He wondered briefly if he'd have an imprint. At least Blake didn't go in for studs. He straightened, stepping back, blinking at the other man. "Mm," he confirmed, then raised his eyebrows politely. "You were saying?"

Cheerfully, Blake licked his fingers, then wiped his hand on his sleeve. "Yes," he said conversationally, "I was thinking we should have done this sooner. It strikes me now that I was right. This level of intensity is dangerous. I mentioned it to you before -- twice, in fact -- but," He grinned wickedly. "you weren't necessarily in a suitable state of mind to take it in."

Avon focussed on him stupidly, then rallied. "You over-endorse yourself," he said matter-of-factly, ignoring the way his pulse hadn't yet fully calmed down. His knees ached pleasantly. The rest of him was thrumming with low-grade satisfied completion. "I could probably bring myself off twice as hard in half the time."

"Your voice just cracked," Blake observed fondly, unperturbed, then stroked his thumb over Avon's ear. "Come here."

He kissed him soundly, and Avon hardly noticed anything but the sliding, focussed rasp of their tongues, slick and hot and lazy. It left him breathless yet again, but he was damned if Blake was going to hear about it.

"I need to change," he said eventually.

Blake looked mildly wicked; he drawled, "I like you perfectly well as you--"

Avon pressed his fingers over Blake's mouth, temporarily wildly delighted that he now had another means to stem that ridiculous flow. "You need to change, as well."

"I'm hurt."

"I was referring to your clothes, although..."

He looked at Blake assessingly, slyly, then flashed a smile. "I work by a rule of thumb."

Blake didn't seem phased by the non sequitur. "Oh?" he said, politely.

"To charm attractive people, I treat them as if they are smart; to charm brilliant people, I treat them as if they are sexy." He nodded at the door. "Let's go."

Blake slid an arm around his shoulders, and Avon found, to his horror, that he leant into it quite by instinct. He could feel raw, roughened lines of teeth-marks along the inside of his lips where he'd set his teeth in preference to biting. He traced one shallow groove with his tongue, tasting subtle metal, wondering if Blake would taste it the next time he kissed him. "You don't treat me as either," Blake pointed out.

"No."

Blake paused at the entrance to the flight deck, and glanced at him. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you just paid me a compliment."

Avon tugged him forward, and they started walking down the corridor. It was purely incidental, he decided smugly, that they made a mutual beeline for Blake's quarters. "Blake," he said casually, "you never know better."


Epilogue

Avon poached from Edmund White.

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