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Indecent Suggestion

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"Mr Wyld, Mr Douglas?" 

“Yes, that’s right,” Blake said, smiling at the therapist in what he hoped was a warm, reassuring way. “Thank you for seeing us at such short notice.”

Next to him Avon was probably glowering more darkly even than he usually did, and Blake could feel himself overcompensating to make up for it. This woman didn’t need to help them, in fact she was very likely not to help them - and if she didn’t help them then Blake wasn’t sure what they’d do.

It was, he thought, typical that Avon had reserved the right to be angry yet again when if either of them was more likely to be upset at the thought of Federation conditioning it was definitely Blake. He’d been suffering from it for years, whereas Avon had only been threatened for a few hours. Admittedly, it was possible that Avon might never have been conditioned at all if he hadn’t signed up with Blake in the first place, and if he hadn’t attempted to help Blake when he’d seen him acting strangely. Blake supposed that meant he should be grateful to Avon, rather than annoyed with him, but as usual Avon made it difficult to for one appreciate a good deed done, given how much he seemed to resent having done it later. Blake had to remind himself daily that it was a defence mechanism, and that he actually found it quite endearing. Avon might as well have been shouting Don’t rely on me! I’ll only let you down! which was nonsense, given how frequently he proved the opposite. Blake had also long suspected that both the proof and the reason Avon was so afraid of letting him down were driven by the same things - Avon’s repressed sense of decency and something else he also didn’t want to admit to.  

“I understood it was an emergency,” the therapist said as she stepped back to allow them to enter the treatment room, which was plush and warm. The windows were covered with gauzy curtains, and the furniture was overstuffed and mismatched - comprising a small pink sofa, a large brown armchair, a blue armchair, and a spindly brown chair. Presumably this haphazard arrangement and soft light was supposed to make them feel relaxed in some way. 

It would take a lot more than chairs to do that, Blake thought, choosing the sofa. Avon sat in the armchair furthest away from him and continued to scowl. The therapist (whose name Blake now remembered from the door was Doctor H Morgan) began pouring some tea, presumably more of the same relaxation aid. She wore beads and a floaty scarf over what was otherwise a standard Dome-dweller’s tunic.

“Which is which?” she asked. 

Blake glanced over at Avon - they hadn’t actually decided this. In fact, he hadn’t even really been listening when Vila had told him the pseudonyms they were booked in under and Avon hadn’t even been there. In Blake’s defence, the conversation had already been going on for twenty minutes before he’d snapped at Vila that he really didn’t care, he had more important things to worry about. Vila could choose anything he liked as long as it wasn’t Rob Lake or anything else that rendered a false name completely pointless. 

Avon raised his eyebrows unhelpfully.

“I’m Wyld," Blake decided, and instantly regretted it as Avon drawled, 

Wildly disorganised, dangerous and domineering.”

Blake chose not to respond to this, though on retrospect he knew he should have gone with Douglas. He’d chosen Wyld as it was a single syllable like his own name, but Avon would have had to work a lot harder to get snide remarks out of Douglas.

“I’m sensing a lot of anger in this room,” Morgan said, handing Blake a teacup. 

“I didn’t realise you were a psychic as well as a hypnotherapist,” Avon said. He refused his own tea, one leg crossed over the other, and both his arms crossed over his front, classically defensive. Morgan sat down on the spindly chair and regarded them calmly.

“I’m not a psychic, Mr Douglas, but I am trained at reading emotions. Obviously these particular emotions are obvious, surface emotions, and I understand your scorn at my identifying them - however, it is a good beginning on the road to identifying and promoting those emotions that are more hidden. Those you have come to see me about.”

“Actually,” Blake said before Avon could say anything else unnecessarily rude, “I think we’re both more interested in repressing the negative today.”

“Of course,” Morgan said. “And, if you want to think of it that way, it does make perfect sense - particularly in this case. Now your assistant already explained your situation to me when he made your appointment-”

“Did he? Blake said. “Well, thank goodness for that.” He hadn’t been looking forward to that part at all, and couldn’t really imagine how the conversation had gone between Vila and the therapist’s appointment booking service. Or perhaps he just didn’t want to -  

Well, you see (Vila had probably said, settling in for a good chat with a complete stranger) we were on our way to Del Ten. Have you ever been to Del Ten? Wonderful place. Naturally occurring beta particles in the air - like getting drunk without having to pay for it. Anyway - where was I? Oh yes, we were on our way there, and then Bl- I mean, Mr Wyld discovered someone had put a psychic trigger in his brain. Well, I say he discovered it- he didn’t even know it was there. It was the rest of us who discovered it after he’d taken us off course, away from Del Ten, and tricked me - me! - into believing the rest of the crew were working against him. I still haven’t heard the end of it from Av- I mean, Douglas. Not a very forgiving man, is our Douglas. Anyway - that's just background information. A sort of prologue, if you like. The real problem came later, you see. After we thought we’d deprogrammed Wyld with the help of our computer, Or- er, well, with our computer. But the stupid plastic box got it wrong - because he wasn’t cured at all, was he? No. Late one night, last night as it happened, Douglas found him on the flight deck of our ship changing all the controls again - said he’d had a change of heart, and didn't want to go to Del Ten after all (I know, again!) and he didn’t care about his grand quest to reach- well, a place that’s not very important to this story. All he wanted to do was go back to Earth. Now, if it had been me, I admit - I probably would have gone back to bed. Wyld’s like that - he changes his mind and doesn’t tell us about it, but Douglas wasn’t having any of it. He marched Wyld down to the medical unit and hooked him up to the computer again and himself up to the other end. You need to have some other poor sod hooked up at the same time you see - I don’t know why. I didn’t ask. And fortunately they never asked me to do it - because it backfired, didn’t it? And now poor friend Douglas apparently has the same trigger in his brain too, not that it’s done anything, mind you. Neither of them trusted the computer after that. Funny, isn’t it? Anyway – that’s why I’ve rung you…

“I have most of the main details,” Morgan confirmed. “But if you could tell me in your own words-”

“Why,” Avon said flatly. “If you have all the details, repeating them to you is merely a waste of time, which I understand, you charge by the minute for. Ah--” He brightened with false enthusiasm. "I may just have answered my own question.

Blake leant back in the sofa and watched the two of them over steepled fingers. The fee was coming direct from the treasure room and, although Avon disliked having to see any of the gemstones being given to anyone who wasn't him, this was a comparatively minuscule amount given the service. He had some other reason to be on the attack - presumably it was, as usual, because he felt threatened. And as usual (although this time through a proxy) it was Blake who was threatening him. 

“I'm sorry you feel that way," Morgan said.

“I bet you are.”

"But this is part of the healing process. Hearing it from you will help me identify what you each believe to be the most important parts of the scenario.”

“I’d have thought that was obvious,” Avon said. “The moment when Wyld,” he leant nastily on the word as though it dirtied his tongue, “lost what little control he has of himself and put my life and the lives of everyone else aboard the ship in danger.”

Morgan turned enquiringly to Blake, who nodded. That was the most important part of what had happened. He thought at one point he must have tried to hit Avon while he hadn't known what was going on. Avon hadn't said, but when Blake had returned to consciousness to find Avon shouting at Orac, he'd noticed a dark area under Avon's left eye that hadn't been there before. In other circumstances he would have been appalled that he'd struck someone he cared about, but he'd already learned to compartmentalise to avoid further sleepless nights over having denounced the Freedom Party and presumably handing over dozens of his friends and colleagues to Federation justice. Although Avon's words were disguised as an insult, they were actually supportive. The most important thing about what had happened wasn’t what Blake had done while he had no control, it wasn’t even that he’d passed that contamination onto Avon, or that Avon now needed to doubt Orac, who had thus far been infallible. It was that Blake’s identity was in question, and that this had and would continue to put the others in danger. 

“I don’t want it to happen again,” Blake said steadily. He met Avon’s eyes across the room. “Especially not to him.”

For a moment, he thought he saw Avon’s eyes soften as they did on the few occasions Blake had allowed himself to put Avon and Avon’s safety above everything else, and then Morgan said,

“Of course. That’s perfectly reasonable. Now, if you could just describe a-”

“No,” Avon said, looking away from Blake to glare at her again. “Just get on with it.”

“It really would work a lot better-”

“We can’t stay too long,” Blake said in an attempt to smooth things over. “I’m sure our… assistant mentioned that when he called. I’m sure we’d be happy to pay more for a shorter visit.” 

Morgan shrugged her thin shoulders with a smile. “All right.” She gestured to Avon. “If you could just move to the sofa, Mr Douglas-”

“Why?” Avon said. “Is this chair particularly unhypnotic?”

“Do you make a habit of questioning every instruction given to you?” Morgan asked him. 

“Yes,” Blake said. 

Avon’s head turned slowly towards him, and he held Blake’s amused gaze for a moment, his eyes slitted, before turning back to the therapist. “Only those that seem illogical, dangerous or stupid. So you can see why Wyld would answer in the affirmative there - since his instructions are generally all three.” 

“You think sitting on the sofa is dangerous?” Morgan asked. 

“No. I just don’t see why I should.”

“Because in order to facilitate your joint hypnotherapy, I will need to you link hands,” Morgan said. “The chair you’re sitting on is three metres too far away for you to comfortably do this, and I’m afraid if you drag it across the floor you will cause scuff marks that I will ask you to pay for.”

Blake hid a smile behind his hand. Avon seemed to be considering whether this explanation was reasonable, whether he could pick up the chair to spite her, or whether he wanted to dispute the idea that hand-holding was necessary for treatment of psychological disorders. Eventually he must have decided he was beaten, because he stood with a look of long-suffering weariness, and crossed to the sofa. 

Blake moved slightly closer to the edge of the sofa to give Avon the most room possible. They tended to sit relatively close together on the Liberator, and of course Blake found himself frequently leaning against Avon’s flight seat (though he did that with Jenna too) and Avon tended to loom over Blake while he was sitting - but it seemed more awkward somehow with someone watching them, particularly because she was being paid to analyse them. 

Blake made sure to look at Avon as he held out his hand, in an attempt to prove this didn’t mean anything, but Avon was stubbornly glaring back in the direction of his abandoned chair - making it very obvious that it did. His hand came down on Blake’s almost as though he had happened to let it fall there and Blake had been inconsiderate enough not to move. Blake spread his own fingers so that Avon’s had space to slide between them, and then curled his fingers up so their fingers were interlocked. 

He’d never held Avon’s hand before - or shaken it actually. How strange. He’d tugged Avon out of the way of gunfire, and Avon had pushed him out of the way of explosions, and they’d rested their hands on each others’ shoulders and elbows. Blake had even (on one memorable occasion as Avon was clutching his injured arm on the Exbar hillside) curled his gloved hand around Avon’s hip. But this was the first time they’d linked hands - and it would probably be the last. It felt strangely civilised - the way two other people, two normal, people might have shown affection for each other, rather than by shouting at each other, threatening to kill each other, or threatening to leave. It was probably stupid, but Blake found himself enjoying the moment of stillness and the touch of Avon’s skin. He wondered whether Avon was enjoying it to or whether he was still too angry or found it too awkward to be watched by this stranger. Then he felt Avon’s thumb skate over the ball of his hand in a light, possibly unintentional caress. 

Would it be such a bad idea, Blake wondered, looking down at their linked hands and smiling, to ask Avon to dinner? Or to go one further and declare a romantic interest in him? Or to go one further and kiss him next time Avon threw himself on top of Blake, or next time he was mid-argument, eyes flashing with passion? 

Sometimes, at times like this, Blake thought that it might help. The tension was already there between them – Blake was sure it was there in the way Avon's eyes followed him and the way Avon breathed as he leant over the back of the sofa to loom over Blake. Why not own up to it? Why not try and turn it into something positive? Blake wasn't sexually frustrated exactly - or if he was, then he certainly didn't feel it was his most pressing problem - but there was no denying that it would be nice to make love to someone clever and handsome for a change, or even better to make love to Avon who was more than that. What Blake was used to these days was jerking himself off quickly and perfunctorily so he could stop thinking about it and get back to work. He could be very nice to Avon. And if they could be nice to each other in bed, they might occasionally be able to have a civilised discussion about something they disagreed about, rather than snarling at each other until one or both of them stormed off. 

Then again, perhaps it would just make things worse. At the moment, Avon didn't think Blake owed him anything. If Blake asked Avon to think of him as a friend, a lover, a partner even then Avon would think, and rightly, that Blake owed it to him to stop what he was doing if Avon asked. And what Avon would ask, what he had already asked, was that they reconsider going to Star One - or worse, go there and try and control it. And Blake knew he wouldn't be able to say yes to Avon’s suggestions, or change his mind. 

Then there was the rest of the crew to consider. How would they like it if Blake and Avon paired off, or (as Blake felt increasingly was surely inevitable) broke up? And surely a break up would force Avon off the ship. He'd threatened for months, but this would be the final straw, and then Blake would have lost Avon for himself and for the revolution forever. 

As for what it would do to Avon, who was so afraid of letting Blake down already, who was still devastated over the loss of Del Grant's sister – well, Blake didn’t like to think. Avon needed someone steady, someone who wasn't already thinking about what would happen if they broke up, someone who could put him first consistently. Blake knew himself well enough to know that none of that described him. Avon, who also knew Blake well, had presumably decided the same thing because he hadn't ever asked Blake to dinner, or claimed to find him interesting or attractive, or kissed him on the flight deck or in the corridors, though he often looked as though he wanted to. Avon had made a conscious choice not to pursue Blake. He was perfectly entitled to do that, and Blake didn't want to override any more of Avon's choices - Avon gave him enough grief over that already. 

"Close your eyes," Morgan said, "let yourself relax, and listen to the sound of my voice.”

No, Blake thought as he had before. It was better for both of them that he continue to keep a chokehold on his libido and his feelings for Avon. The only sensible thing was to continue not approaching him, not kissing him, and definitely not sleeping with him. And just like whether or not they were going to Star One, there was nothing that could change Blake’s mind about that. 

*

“Stop,” Vila said as Blake tried to step out of the teleport bay. “Are you really cured, or just pretending you are to get back on the ship?” His eyes narrowed, and he pointed a finger at Blake over the teleport desk. “What do you think of the Federation?”

“He loves it, what do you think?” Avon said. “We’ve both come back model citizens.”

“And all it took was an hour,” Blake said lightly.

He felt as though something had eased inside himself. He’d been too grim lately - oh, all for good reasons of course. Gan’s death, the failure to wipe out Control, and the persistent difficulties that had lined up to prevent them from finding Star One. But it seemed as though he might be able to move past the first two, and face the latter with equanimity. 

He and Avon made for the stairs that led to the corridor onto the flight deck, but Vila moved to stop them. “You don’t mean that. Do you? I mean, you can never be to careful––”

“Vila, of course I don’t mean it,” Blake said. “The Federation is a blight on the lives of every thinking being. It’s a parasite that leaches everything good out of the economies of the worlds it controls and gives nothing back except control and fear––”

“Now look what you’ve done,” Avon said with faux weariness. He pushed past Vila, creating a gap wide enough that Blake could pass as well and they fell into step together. Blake considered continuing his rant, just to see if it would amuse Avon, but decided against it. No matter how relaxed he felt right now, system-wide oppression was still nothing to joke about. 

“It’s all right. I believed you from the start,” Vila said, following behind the two of them. “It’s Blake I’m worried about. Are you really better this time?”

“So the doctor says.”

“Well, that’s a relief. We can go to the Kibana beach without worrying.”

Blake turned back to look at him incredulously and Vila held up his hands. “Just another test!” 

The corridor shook, and Blake, who was still half turned towards Vila, stumbled. Avon’s hand grabbed his elbow, steadying him, and Blake caught hold of Avon’s other arm to help keep his balance. The ship shook again and Avon’s hand tightened, holding him securely even though he didn’t need the support any more. Blake met his eyes – beautiful, dark, expressive eyes that showed Avon was worried for him – and unthinkingly moved his hand from Avon’s arm up towards Avon’s cheek. 

“Oh, and by the way,” Vila said, “we’re under attack. Didn’t want to tell you while I thought you might still be under the influence––”

What?” Blake snapped, pulling himself away before the next bolt hit. He strode towards the flight deck shouting for Jenna.

She was already at the Liberator’s helm, with Cally in Vila’s usual place at the weaponry console.

“We were spotted just as you called in for teleport,” Jenna explained, drawing the steering controls back towards her. “Now you’re on board, we can outrun them.” She looked up towards the monitor. “Zen – take us to Standard by Six.”

“How many?” Blake asked, peering over her shoulder as Zen confirmed the instruction.

“Three, but they’re persistent,” Jenna told him. 

Blake tightened his grip on the back of her chair as another bolt hit. “We need to accelerate faster,” he decided. “If we drop the force wall, we’ll have enough power to get to Standard by Ten and then we can forget all of this ever happened.”

“If we drop the force wall, we’ll be totally exposed,” Avon pointed out as Blake crossed behind his chair. 

Blake ignored him. He hated Avon stating the obvious in a way that implied Blake was too stupid to have thought of it when he obviously wasn’t. “Jenna, on my mark––” 

“Blake––” Avon snapped, catching him by the sleeve as another plasma bolt hit. Neither of them were holding onto anything and although Blake had been expecting the hit Avon had distracted him at the crucial moment. The two of them were hurled from their feet onto the floor, with Blake’s arm somehow wrapped around Avon in a futile attempt to catch him. Somehow this meant that he hit the floor on his back and with Avon mostly sprawled on top of him. The air had been knocked from his lungs, but Blake managed a groan as he looked up at Avon, and tried to relax his arm from around Avon’s waist so Avon could get off him. 

Before that could happen though, Avon leant down and kissed him. Rather than push him off, Blake let himself melt into Avon, his hips lifting and his hand moving down past Avon’s waist as Avon’s beautiful lips slid over his. He raised his shoulder and used it to roll Avon onto his back, covering Avon with his body and pressing him down into the floor. Avon’s tongue was in his mouth. It was a heady, wonderful feeling, and for a moment it was all Blake could remember caring about until Cally’s voice asked-

“Blake? Are you all right?”

This seemed to rouse Avon too as he pulled away and stumbled to his feet without offering Blake help up. As he returned to his chair, he had his hand over his mouth as though to hide the evidence that anything had happened. Blake got more slowly to his feet, using the force wall generator to support him.

“Just lost my balance for a moment,” Blake said. 

And my common sense, he added to himself. Less than two hours after he’d sworn to himself that he wouldn’t lay a finger on Avon, and he’d slipped worse than he’d ever done before. Admittedly it had been Avon who had kissed him, which made the Avon’s-choice argument somewhat redundant, but everything else still stood. Blake knew he hadn’t been forced to kiss Avon back or immediately start groping him. 

His finger on the force wall controls, Blake glanced back at Avon who was staring fixedly at the screen in front of him and did not look up. Well, clearly Avon regretted what had happened and it would be best to pretend that it hadn’t. At least it had stopped him protesting what was probably the best chance they had of getting out of this situation. 

“Deactivating force wall now,” Blake said, flicking it off. “Zen – increase speed to Standard by Ten.”

There was a sharp tug of force as the ship’s velocity increased, but Blake tightened his grip on the force wall controls and didn’t lose his balance. He stayed there, almost as though he were afraid to move, until Zen said, 

“Pursuit ships are now out of range.”

“Well done, Jenna,” Blake said bracingly.

As he turned to smile at her, his eyes snagged on Avon’s – Avon having looked up accidentally at the same time. Avon’s mouth dropped open slightly, and Blake saw the tip of his tongue dart out to lick his lips – the same tongue that had moments ago been stroking the inside of Blake’s mouth, the same lips that had been pressed against his. It almost felt like he had to physically tug himself away from contemplation of Avon and Avon’s mouth, and rather than get caught again Blake strode off the flight deck. 

He realised belatedly that Vila had been speaking to him, and that he’d only recently been shipped off to a therapist for behaving oddly. Well, it was too late to go back now. Returning and trying to pretend nothing had happened wouldn’t look any more normal. And he didn’t even know how well he would be able to pretend if Avon was still there. Surely anyone who looked at him would see that he was dying to sweep Avon into his arms, throw him down on the sofa and ravish him – assuming, of course, that Blake managed to stop himself actually sweeping Avon into his arms and ravishing him. Perhaps they’d all gone by now except for Avon, Blake thought - and then he realised he was actually trying to make it work in his mind, as a reasonable plan with achievable goals. 

“What is wrong with me?” he demanded of the empty corridor.

“Well, for a start you’re talking to yourself,” Jenna’s voice dryly said from behind him. Blake turned to look at her, slowly and reasonably, but Jenna’s expression was still dubious. “Are you all right, Blake?”

He thought about lying, but decided she wouldn’t believe him. 

“No, not really. I thought I was, but now––"

“Do you feel like turning us in to the nearest authority?" Jenna asked.

"No," Blake said vehemently. "No, nothing like that. I just feel," desperate, "distracted. I probably shouldn’t be on the flight deck for a while.”

“All right. Let me get Orac. He can take another look at you––”

Blake shook his head, and almost laughed. He could imagine how that conversation would go. 

Orac, I seem to be sexually obsessed with Avon. What do you suggest I do about it? 

I suggest you find someone else to bore with this information. Perhaps a prepubescent girl or an acetate Agony Aunt - they would be immensely suitable. 

“Orac has been wrong about my mind before," Blake said to put her off this issue without naming specifics. “No, I think I just need” a cold shower “to rest my eyes for a moment.” 

“That’s probably a good idea,” Jenna said. “Avon said you were up most of the night trying to pull Liberator apart from the inside.” 

Blake grimaced, but it was a fair point. And exhaustion, which he’d only been feigning earlier, would actually explain his poor hold on himself. He turned his grimace into a weary nod.

“If you do sleep, though, Blake, I’d like keep an eye on you,” Jenna said as he turned to go. 

“You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t trust your therapist,” Jenna said. “I know we looked in her records, but she could still be hiding something – something like an allegiance to the Federation.”

“Oh, come on, Jenna – she didn’t know we were,” Blake protested.

“I’d still feel happier if you slept on my sofa or in the rec room where we can watch you. You know you’re acting strangely, Blake.”

Well, that was certainly true.

“All right,” Blake said graciously. They were practically outside her door now, and he leant against the activation button to open it. He’d prefer even that relative privacy to being asleep in the open where Avon might wander past at any minute, finding him sprawled unattractively over one of the shared sofas and unable to defend himself.

An amusing thought struck him. “Are you going to insist on monitoring Avon too?”

Jenna grinned and shook her head as she followed Blake into her room. “I see him trying to take over the ship on a fairly regular basis. I’m not sure I’d be able to tell the difference.” 

“Fair enough,” Blake said with a laugh. He sake down onto Jenna’s sofa, and let his eyes flicker shut. It wasn’t really fair, though. Jenna was only joking, just as he was – and of course Avon did invite that sort of joke. But really he’d been nothing but supportive since Cygnus Alpha. Blake trusted him completely. 

Stop thinking about him, Blake chided himself and forced himself to relax again, and go to sleep. 

*

He woke in the dark several hours later. It took him a moment to work out where he was. Then, Jenna shifted in her sleep over the bed, and it all came flooding back to him. Presumably he should wake her if he was going to leave and wander the ship – that had been the whole point of sleeping here, after all. But he didn’t feel like he wasn’t himself. He didn’t think he was going to do anything dangerous either – just get a cup of coffee and go to the flight deck to see if anyone else was around. Jenna probably needed her sleep just as much as he had done. 

As quietly as possible, Blake got to his feet and felt around for the door button. If it was locked, he’d have to wake Jenna anyway, but after a momentary pause the door slid open. Jenna must trust him more than he’d thought – or she’d put more faith in her own hearing than was really warranted. Blake stepped out into the corridor – and almost walked into Avon, who was still fully dressed as though it wasn’t the middle of the night. 

Avon’s eyelashes flickered briefly with surprise – and then he raised his eyebrows, and resumed walking down the corridor, as though to make it clear he considered what Blake did behind closed doors none of his business. 

Technically speaking it wasn’t any of Avon’s business, except that they were all part of the same crew and what each of them did affect the others. If Blake had been interested in sleeping with Jenna, he would have weighed that decision just as carefully as he had his decision not to approach Avon and probably come to the same conclusion. It was galling to have Avon assume he’d been thoughtless and unable to control himself when that was exactly what he hadn’t been. 

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Blake told him as he followed Avon down the corridor. 

“I don’t know what it looks like,” Avon said. “There must be hundreds of reasons you could be in Jenna’s cabin for the night. I can only think of one at the moment, but then I’m not very imaginative.”

Blake reached out a hand and caught him by the wrist, forcing Avon to swing back towards him. “She was watching me to make sure the Federation conditioning didn’t take affect again.”

“Really?” Avon said with affected disinterest. “How close was she watching you from? And,” his eyes flicked downwards and then back up again mockingly, “which part was she watching?” 

He tried to move away but Blake yanked him back against the wall, his other hand coming up to bunch in Avon’s jacket. “I said nothing happened, so there’s no need to be jealous,” Blake told him. 

Avon’s eyes widened, his nostrils flaring with indignation. He made a motion that looked like it had originally been intended as a shove, but which stalled out once he had his hands on Blake’s chest. 

“I fear you must have me confused––” he managed, before Blake leaned in and kissed him. Avon’s hands tightened in Blake’s shirt but he kissed back with the same desperation that Blake felt coursing through his veins. Then came the shove Blake had been expecting earlier but, rather than pushing Blake away, Avon came with him – slamming the two of them into the opposite wall. It knocked the breath out of him, his hands stumbling on the zip of Avon’s flies. Avon used the confusion to get his own hands in under the collar of Blake’s shirt, which Blake heard tearing as Avon ripped it off him. 

“Blake,” Jenna’s voice said from inside her room. The door hissed open and Avon sprang away from Blake as though he’d just realised what he was doing. “Blake, are you all––? Jenna said. She stopped as she took in Blake’s ruined shirt and Avon trying not to look like he was doing up his trousers. 

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Avon said unconvincingly.

Jenna rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Avon. Blake, I’m going to go back to sleep if you aren’t thinking of turning Liberator over to the Federation.”

“Not tonight,” Blake said. 

“And you two could find a room. There are enough of them.”

“She’s probably right,” Avon said as Jenna disappeared back inside and the door closed behind her. Blake raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and Avon bared his teeth as he realised what he’d accidentally agreed to. “She’s right that you should be under observation,” he clarified. “Who’s on watch?”

“Vila,” Blake said, making a firm effort to focus on the watch schedule, rather than what had just happened.

Avon made a face. “Useless.”

Since Vila had only recently released a mind-controlled Blake on the flimsiest of arguments, that did seem a fair assessment. Blake could also see why Avon wouldn’t want the job of parole officer himself. Quite apart from the fact that Avon still had bruises from the previous night’s takeover bid, and was possibly under Federation influence himself still, Avon was clearly embarrassed about what had just happened outside Jenna’s room. Blake didn’t and couldn’t blame him for either of those instincts. He didn’t feel as though he needed to be watched, and he really wanted to be alone if the alternative was feeling awkward and aroused around Avon. But he also didn’t want to argue right now. He particularly didn’t want to argue with Avon now, the middle of the night, after everything they’d been through today, and when it felt like every argument could so easily combust.

“I’ll wake Cally,” Blake said. 

“You’ll have to come with me,” Avon said as though he hadn’t heard this. “There are several outstanding faults in the system from your adventure last night that I’d like to take a look at.”

“I assume you’re not asking for my help,” Blake said as they started in the direction of the sub-control rooms.

“That would be a good way of exposing the Liberator to further damage,” Avon said, “but no. I’m asking you to sit quietly and touch nothing while I work. Do you think you can do that?”

Blake huffed a laugh. “I’m waking Cally,” he said, attempting to split off from Avon down a fork in the corridor. As he did so he noticed that he must have taken Avon’s hand, or Avon must have taken his, at some point during the short walk away from Jenna’s quarters. Now Avon tightened his grip and pulled Blake back towards him by their linked hands.

“No, you––” he began, and then he seemed to realise what he’d done and dropped Blake’s hand as though it had burnt him. “Blake––” He took a step back into a doorway as Blake closed the rest of the gap between them, and looked away hectically as Blake smoothed a hand through his hair. “Blake, I think––”

“Do you think we should get a room?” Blake asked him.

“I–– No. How about Sub-control one?” Avon said, having spotted its name on the door he was backed up against.

“Good idea.” Blake hit the door-release button and the two of them fell inside.

Avon was already on him as the door closed, pulling at the shirt he’d only recently abandoned and mouthing kisses against Blake’s neck as he pushed it off Blake’s shoulders. As Avon turned his attention to his own jacket, Blake crouched slightly to be able to reach the zip of Avon’s trousers again and doing so brought his mouth back into alignment with Avon’s. Once again, as with the kiss on the flight deck, and kiss in the corridor, this kiss felt like a breath after drowning. Blake tried desperately to breathe Avon in as Avon tried with equal fervour to draw Blake’s tongue into his own mouth, sucking and biting at his lips.

“This is madness,” Avon gasped as Blake broke away to allow the two of them to pull Avon’s shirt over his head.

Typical, Blake thought. Once again Avon was stating the obvious in a way that made himself look more reasonable, even as Blake had Avon’s love bites in his neck and neither of them was feeling very reasonable at the moment. Yes, obviously it was madness, and but it was just as obvious that they were both as desperate for it to happen as each other. It was the only way forward, and Avon knew it as well as he did.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Blake growled, shoving Avon back against the nearest button-studded wall so that the breath huffed out of him and he gasped into Blake’s mouth.  

“I want you,” Avon confided against Blake’s ear, his fingers busy with the buttons on Blake’s trousers.

“I knew that too,” Blake told him and Avon laughed at the mock-chiding tone, and pushed him back against the opposite bank of computers.

“I have lubricant,” Avon said, his eyes bright.

That – I didn’t know,” Blake admitted, breathless, and was rewarded with a wicked smile that went straight to his cock. “Fuck me,” he told Avon who shivered slightly at this command and kissed him again fiercely.

As Avon pulled him to the floor and divested him of his boots and trousers, it occurred vaguely to Blake that Avon had said he was going to do work in one of these rooms. He had seemed to mean it, which meant he must have been carrying lubricant with no particular assignation in mind. Did Avon always carry the stuff around?

But by then Avon had begun to suck him off and Blake let himself focus on that instead, the delicious feeling of Avon’s wet mouth around his cock followed by at least two of Avon’s slick fingers pushing into his arse.

It had been a long time, it had certainly been a very long time since Blake had had sex, but he was still fairly sure that Avon was good. He’d always thought Avon would be good, and that they could be very nice to each other, but it was one thing to think it and quite another to experience it.

He was already cresting up the heights of orgasm, his hand clenched more and more tightly in Avon’s hair. Why hadn’t they done this earlier? There were reasons, Blake knew, but right now he couldn’t— Oh god, was that a third finger? It was impossible to concentrate on anything else with Avon’s fingers thrusting in and out of him. Then Avon pulled back and Blake looked up at him hazily as Avon wiped a hand across his mouth and then quickly stripped off his own trousers and underwear.

Avon’s cock was flushed and very hard. Blake watched as Avon coated himself with lube, his hands shaking slightly, and his eyes on what he was doing. It was possibly one of the sexiest things Blake had ever seen and it was with difficulty that Blake was kept his own hands to the floor rather than finishing himself off while Avon touched himself. His whole skin seemed to thrum with need as he watched, and for something to do, something to distract himself until it happened, he grabbed his jacket and balled it under his own hips.

He’d never seen Avon naked before; he’d never even seen Avon without his shirt. There was a light covering of hair over Avon’s chest, which was narrow but muscular, over slim hips and thighs that Blake knew well from some of Avon’s tighter trousers. Despite Avon’s earlier efforts his sculpted lips were still wet from where he’d sucked Blake earlier, and his hair was still tousled from where Blake had grasped it. How, Blake thought, had the universe suddenly become so kind?

At last, Avon closed the distance between them. He bent Blake’s legs up into a position that would probably have been uncomfortable at another time, and finally met his eyes, one hand still on Blake’s thigh.

“This is really happening, isn’t it?” Avon said helplessly.

“It would be if you would just get on with it,” Blake told him brusquely. “I asked you to—Fuck,” he said, clutching hard at Avon’s arms as Avon finally pushed his cock deep into him and pulled it back. “Fuck, yes, that’s it.” He dug his fingers in more deeply, pulling Avon’s body down against him. “That’s it, Avon.”

“This really shouldn’t be happening,” Avon groaned into Blake’s shoulder, even as his hips began pounding rhythmically into Blake’s arse. “I should not have let it happen.”

“Harder,” Blake told him, choosing to ignore this as another obvious, self-protecting statement.

“I’ve wanted you since the day we met,” Avon told him breathlessly, angrily, but obeying the instruction. “I have always wanted you, and I’ve never––”

Blake pulled Avon’s head down and kissed him, pushing his tongue deep into Avon’s mouth. Avon’s hand wrapped suddenly around Blake’s cock and jerked once, twice, and Blake came with shout. Avon continued to thrust until he stiffened and gasped quietly, eyes closed. Then he pulled out and lay panting next to Blake, who was already dosing.

“Thank you,” Blake told him quietly. He had the feeling he should say more after breaking all his promises to himself, but his body was already pulling him under.

Avon would be here when he woke up, he reasoned. They could talk then.

*

Avon was not there when Blake woke up. Blake supposed he should have expected this, but the endorphins that had flooded his system so completely after the sex had made him unusually hopeful. He felt distinctly less hopeful now.

Wincing, he picked himself up off the floor, which stuck to his skin in places where the semen had dried. Wonderful.

His back and his legs ached from what he’d done a few a hours before and from sleeping on the floor. Sub-control room one had in fact not been a good idea at all, Blake reflected. To be honest, he’d never thought it had been, despite what he’d said to Avon. It had simply been there. If anything like this happened again he would be sure to specify a bed.

If it happened again. Blake rubbed his eyes and then the rest of his face. Now there was a question.

It had been good, certainly. He’d enjoyed it, and Avon had seemed to enjoy it. Parts of it, anyway. That wasn’t strictly speaking enough.

Logically there were still the same difficulties as there had been before. None of them had been resolved, even and perhaps especially the problem that Avon seemed to have actively chosen not to be in a relationship with Blake. This one was further underlined in Blake’s mind by the fact that Avon had chosen to flee while he was sleeping, despite the fact that he also apparently thought Blake needed to be watched.

Then again, Blake thought, as he fetched his clothes from wherever he’d thrown them the night before, Avon also carried opportunistic lubricant on him. If that didn’t speak of premeditation, what did?

One thing had definitely changed, anyway, and that was it was now impossible to ignore whatever was between them. They’d both made some very definite statements, Blake’s cock had been in Avon’s mouth, and Avon’s in Blake’s arse. They would have to talk about it. If they collectively decided it wouldn’t happen again, which was probably for the best, then they could move on from that.

He considered putting his jacket on, but ... decided against it.

Blake left sub-control room one and wandered in the direction of Avon’s room. If he was there, they would talk, and if not Blake would go back to his own room alone and hope he wasn’t still conditioned.

He turned a corner and saw Cally approaching from the other direction. She looked distinctly alarmed by his appearance, which Blake supposed was probably fair.

“Don’t ask,” he told her as they passed.

Because it was Cally, she didn’t, which Blake was extremely grateful for.

He found Avon’s door and knocked on it. After a moment, it swished open to reveal an Avon who had obviously just stepped out of the shower. His hair was wet and he was wearing a loose, dark robe that clung to damp patches of his body.

“You look dreadful,” he told Blake.

“Thank you very much,” Blake said, not saying that Avon didn’t. Avon had left him enough room to enter and Blake took this as invitation enough to walk in. “We need to talk,” he said as the door swished shut behind him.

“Do we?” Avon said, taking a seat in the room’s only chair. Rather than stand above him, Blake sat on Avon’s bed. It was exactly like the bed Blake never used in his own room, down to the sheets, but was somehow more appealing because it was Avon’s bed. It probably smelled like him.

Unbidden Blake recalled his own thought upon waking on the floor that if he and Avon were to sleep together again they’d do better in a room with a bed.

He turned his attention to Avon who was lounging in the chair opposite, trying unsuccessfully not to look uncomfortable.

“You don’t want to talk about it,” Blake observed.

“Do you?” Avon asked.

“Yes,” Blake said. 

“Then what I feel has no relevance,” Avon said, aggressively and infuriatingly accommodating: another obvious defence mechanism. “We had sex.”

“Yes,” Blake agreed. “Does it change anything?”

“No,” Avon said.

“Really,” Blake said. Privately he thought this was extremely unlikely, but two could play at annoyingly accommodating. He let Avon get away with it, and pushed on to his next question. “Do you want it to happen again? Do you think it should happen again?”

“Is that a proposition?” Avon asked.

It hadn’t been, but now it was difficult not to think about the fact that Avon was probably naked under the robe. Forget the bed. Blake could suck him off while he was sitting in that chair, and then Avon could—

Blake rubbed his lip very hard with his hand to keep from biting it, and then stood up.

“It wasn’t a proposition, it was a question,” he said, pacing towards the door so Avon wouldn’t see he was getting hard. That was really not helping in this discussion. He twisted his head towards Avon who still hadn’t answered.

“Do you?” Avon said eventually.

A typically effective manoeuvre but, unfortunately for Avon, this time the deflection move spoke more than it should do. He was conflicted. He would at least consider whatever Blake suggested, if Blake himself was willing to commit one way or the other.

Blake knew he could force Avon to answer first, if he wanted to. He was more skilled at evasion, even than Avon, but would that be allowing Avon to choose for himself, or was it just cowardice?

Both probably, Blake thought.

“It almost certainly shouldn’t happen again,” Blake said carefully, choosing the passive voice and not answering the question he’d posed to Avon.

“Why not?” Avon said.

None of his reasons were very flattering, to Avon or to himself. Avon must know that. By their very nature they would have to be. Speaking them out loud would make things worse, rather than better.

It was this, Blake realised, rather than the sex itself that was the step too far. If he told Avon his reasons he might as well have already broken up with him. There would be no more effective way of pushing him away.  

Because,” Blake said, as though this was final in and of itself.

“Oh, come on, Blake,” Avon said, rising from his chair at last, “you can do better than that. You were the one who wanted to discuss this, after all. Why not?”

You think it’s a good idea, do you?” Blake said accusingly.

“No, I don’t,” Avon said. “I think it’s a terrible idea for the following reasons.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “One – you’re effectively in command of the Liberator and I am effectively not. Two – you’re domineering, aggressive and single-mindedly focused on something that isn’t me. Three – you will probably die before you’re thirty-five. Four – unless I also want to die, I should leave before then, which doesn’t exactly speak of long-term prospects. Five – I don’t trust you. I have more, another hand at least – would you like them?”  

“No, you’ve said more than enough,” Blake said, making for the exit.

“And you’ve said effectively nothing,” Avon said, following him. “Is it any wonder I don’t trust you? Even one reason, Blake––,”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Blake snapped.

That was true, but Avon seemed not to have been expecting it. Encouraged by this, and high on his anger at Avon’s character assassination of him, Blake pressed on. “I don’t want to hurt any of the others, if it goes wrong or even if it doesn’t. If it does I could lose you, and you know I cannot afford to do that and still take Star One. I don’t want you to ask me anything I can’t give up, like Star One, and of course, the fact that you think it’s a terrible idea to get involved with me is obviously not a massive aphrodisiac.”

Interestingly Avon seemed still to find this list surprising, rather than insulting. “I’ve already asked you to give up Star One,” he pointed out.

“Repeatedly. Yes, I’d noticed,” Blake said sourly.

“I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t. Given that fact, it’s not exactly a good reason for avoiding a relationship,” Avon persisted, closing the gap between them more completely. “Unless you’re implying you don’t currently consider anything I say and that you would if we exchanged bodily fluids more regularly.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Blake scoffed, but he could see what Avon was getting at.

He could also see down the front of Avon’s robe, which really had been tied very loosely, and now had to struggle to continue to make eye-contact.

“I’m not being ridiculous,” Avon said. “I’m simply, ah, examining your reasoning. And you must think there’s something in this, or you wouldn’t have mentioned it.” He raised his eyebrows as a prompt when Blake chose to remain silent.

“All right,” Blake said eventually and very unwillingly. “Yes, right now you don’t really expect me to say yes. If we were sleeping together, I would still have to say no––”

“But you’d find it more difficult."

“Actually, I thinking it would be more upsetting for you,” Blake retorted, though there was something in the other suggestion as well.

“Ah, and we’re back to your first reason,” Avon said, almost purring now. “Interestingly, this is almost as flawed as the other one. You see, you imply you don’t think your behaviour is currently hurtful. Actually, I could pick out several examples that have been so offensive I’ve considered leaving you at the next planet. Take, the affair at Horizon, or our attack on Central Control--”

Blake grimaced. Not his finest hour, nor did he want to go into it – he felt bad enough about that as it was. “What’s your point, Avon?”

“Simply that your reasons for not sleeping with me are fallacies,” Avon said, beginning to drag the zip of Blake’s shirt downwards. “All of them describe our current situation. In fact, you’re more likely to push me off the ship by being unnecessarily arrogant and ungrateful, than you are by fucking me regularly and possibly breaking it off at a future date. So, why not try it for a while?”

The conversation had taken a rapid turn somewhere, turning on the knife-point of Avon’s mood, which today seemed more than unusually fay.

You still think it’s a terrible idea,” Blake pointed out.

Avon’s hand clenched in Blake’s shirt. “Convince me,” he said firmly, meeting Blake’s gaze with very wide eyes. Then he shuddered and Blake realised that, without consciously choosing to do it, he’d been stroking Avon throughout most of the conversation. His right hand was inside Avon’s robe clenched around what was now Avon’s very large erection.

“Don’t stop,” Avon hissed as Blake tried to pull back. He gripped Blake’s hand with his free hand and began to move it slowly, shutting his eyes as Blake allowed it to happen. “Tell me my reasons are as bad as yours.”

Now he was aware of what he was doing and Avon had begun whimpering slightly, it was remarkably difficult to concentrate on the argument. He wasn’t even sure how they’d got to this point, and whether it was entirely ethical that he seemed to have rendered Avon more cooperative by fondling him rather than reasoning with him. Avon had been making sense, though, and Blake forced himself to concentrate even as Avon’s fingers tightened in the fabric of his shirt.

“What would make you trust me?”

“Fuck,” Avon groaned. Clearly, he hadn’t expected he would have to be involved in the conversation as well. “You could – ah, tell me what you were planning before you thought I might reasonably find out about it.”

“All right, possibly,” Blake agreed. Put like that, it seemed reasonable, and possible. He looked down again at where his hand was slowly pumping Avon’s cock, and tried not to think about how much better that cock would feel in his mouth. “And? What else?”

“You could also … explain yourself more often,” Avon told him. “This is an unexpectedly good start. I wasn’t expecting you’d tell me your reasons for rejecting me, or explain yourself at all.”

“So that’s one,” Blake said. He licked his lips. “Two, if you count the fact that I’m finding this conversation difficult not because I’m thinking about the Federation’s injustices, but because I am desperate to fellate you.”

He noted Avon was now biting his own hand, still clenched in Blake’s shirt, and unlikely to answer that one.

Three,” Blake continued, pressing on, “are you planning on leaving me?”

“Not right now,” Avon told him hoarsely. “Faster.”

“So, even if you’re right,” Blake said, pretending a calmness he didn’t feel, “and we are going to die very soon, which I obviously don’t accept, your relationship prospects with anyone are all equally short. Agreed?”

“Yes,” Avon hissed. “Speed up, you sadist.”

“So – no, hang on a minute, Avon – by your own earlier logic, you might as well allow me to make you feel better in the short term. Do you agree?”

Yes,” Avon said. “Accepted.”

“Good,” Blake said. “How many more of these do I have to counter before I can suck you off?”

“That’s enough for now,” Avon said breathlessly, and let himself be pushed backwards into the chair.

Blake yanked the robe roughly apart and knelt down between Avon’s thighs. Taking Avon’s hips in his hands, he pulled himself forward, glancing briefly up at Avon, who looked wonderfully hectic, before bringing his mouth down over Avon’s cock. Avon was so close that Blake was almost disappointed when after three brisk, hard sucks, Avon’s hands tightened in his hair, holding him down, and Avon came, whimpering into his mouth.

It had been intoxicating while it lasted though, and Blake felt no more relieved as he swallowed Avon’s semen and was gradually released. He felt he was now merely waiting for Avon to get hard again so he could try again, more leisurely this time, more expertly, so he could thoroughly enjoy the weight of Avon in his mouth and the ways Avon might react.

His own cock was straining against his trousers, but it felt like a secondary concern until Avon pushed him backwards, down onto the floor.

“The bed––” Blake began, because it was less than a metre away, but Avon had already ripped his trousers open. Blake lost the end of his sentence, as Avon was licking him, slowly and deliberately, one hand gripping him firmly at the root while the other caressed his balls.  

The blowjob Avon had given him the day before had been good, but seemed almost functional in comparison to what was happening. It was as though Avon had heard Blake’s plans for him and was determined to one-up him before Blake could get there. It was almost ruthless as Avon found the places that made Blake gasp and grab at him and swear, and exploited them relentlessly.

“Christ, you’re good at this,” Blake told him, and Avon rewarded him with a mumbled laugh and a stronger suck that, at last, sent Blake over the edge.

*

“You do realise,” Blake said, propping himself up on an elbow, “that all of your problems were with me, they all required me to change in some way. Whereas none of mine implied there was anything wrong with you at all.”

Avon had graciously allowed Blake to move to the bed once Blake had finished coming to his satisfaction. The two of them had dosed together for a time – Blake hadn’t realised until now how much sleep debt he’d built up, but apparently it was a considerable. Even after he’d woken again, they lain together for a while in an oddly companionable silence, Blake tracing patterns on Avon’s chest with a languid finger.

“Would you like a pat response to that, or do you require a real one?” Avon asked now.

Blake laughed briefly in surprise. “Try the pat response, and we’ll see how we go from there,” he suggested.

“Well, obviously, you are––”

“—the problem,” Blake said with him. “Yes, all right, very funny,” he continued wryly as Avon smirked back up at him. “The real answer then?” 

Avon made a face, though it was clear he also wanted to give it by the way he’d phrased his initial answer. “I doubt I’d recognise myself two years ago,” he said. “I’ve changed, and am probably still changing, as a direct result of meeting you.”

This was delivered with an air of ironic detachment, to disguise it, even after Avon had flagged it up as being the truth, as though he couldn’t bear to be taken seriously and wanted to be taken seriously at the same time. Touched by the unexpected sweetness, Blake leant down and kissed him gently.

“Or I suppose you might have been being polite,” Avon said, back up in the registers of humour again. He frowned comically. “Yes, on second thoughts that does sound more plausible. So, what was it? Which of my many failings gave your libido second thoughts?”

“Nothing.”

“Remembering our earlier discussion about trust.”

“There really wasn’t anything,” Blake said, laughing.

“I genuinely have no failings? Well, it’s a surprise, I admit.”

“No, no, no,” Blake said. “You’re rude, arrogant, frequently thoughtless, fantastically mercenary––”

Avon looked rather put out at this list, even though he’d insisted on it. “Yes, well, thank you for answering the question,” he said dryly, starting to get up

None of that gave me the slightest pause,” Blake told him, pressing Avon back down into the bed with a hand. “Everyone has failings – you’ve reminded me of several of mine this evening. I didn’t find any of yours off-putting enough to make me forget the good qualities that made me want you in the first place.”

This seemed an acceptable enough explanation that Avon was willing to relax back into the bed. “…Good qualities?” he prompted vaguely.

“Mm,” Blake said, grinning as he dropped another kiss on Avon’s upturned mouth. “You’re clever,” a kiss to Avon’s chin, “handsome,” his jaw, “funny … brave––”

Brave?” Avon repeated dubiously as Blake’s lips closed around his nipple.

“Demonstrably.” Having sucked hard enough to leave the nipple erect, Blake continued down Avon’s body towards the end of the bed. “Resourceful,” he said and dipped his tongue into Avon’s naval. “Determined, loyal, you smell incredible,” he added, breathing in the heady scent of Avon’s groin. “And your refractory period––”

“—is not usually this short,” Avon said as Blake began nuzzling at his stiffening cock. He sounded both embarrassed and expectant. It was somehow deeply appealing, and exceptionally Avon. Blake wanted desperately to make him happy, and was pleased all over again to find that in some way he was allowed to.

“Yes, I think I’d like to test that assumption, if it’s all the same to you,” he said. He tongued the damp slit before taking the head into his mouth with a quick suck, and pulling back to kiss the end of Avon’s cock as Avon’s hands threaded through his hair. “Probably repeatedly.”

Strange, Blake thought as he licked a long stripe down Avon’s erection, how completely and how quickly things can change. It was now almost impossible to imagine not choosing to sleep with Avon. His arguments had been (Avon was right) entirely inadequate, given what they both stood to gain. And just like whether or not they were going to Star One, there was nothing that could change Blake’s mind about that. 

*

A few hours later Jenna rang the intercom (“Avon, Blake’s been missing all morning. Did you take my advice, or should we all be worried?”). Blake disentangled himself from Avon’s bed linen and pulled on most of his clothes while Avon grinned louchely at him and told Jenna he thought Blake had gone back to his room.

After one final lingering kiss, Blake staggered off in that direction, carrying his boots rather than spending the time needed to tug them on. The crew would have to find out eventually – Jenna practically knew already anyway – but given that how they would react was one of the things Blake was still worried about he wanted to approach it properly. He’d be able to think about how it would be possible to do that after a shower, some solitude and a change of clothes.

Blake’s room was two corridors away from Avon’s. Blake now thought of this as a severe inconvenience, but it was actually extremely close. It should have been possible to get there without being seen, but as he turned the first corner he met Cally again. She gave him an enquiring, incredulous look and Blake considered explaining why he was carrying his boots and that it was nothing to do with being mind-controlled by the Federation … but it seemed like the wrong time.

“Don’t ask,” he said again and retreated down the corridor again.

They were still a days’ space flight from Del Ten and so there wasn’t much to do on the flight deck. Generally, Blake used this sort of downtime to flex his engineering muscles, but, as he and Avon and agreed the previous night, nobody was very keen for Blake to do that at the moment. He spent the morning reading more about their destination, though his hope was still that they’d find Docholli in the hotel Orac had identified, and spend almost no time there.

In the late afternoon, Avon, who had been allowed to work on Liberator’s systems, wandered in to make some scathing remarks about the Altas’ understanding of wave-form technology (“pathetic”) and bring Blake a cup of coffee. Once Avon had left, Blake spent a few minutes drinking the coffee and attempting to learn more about Del Ten’s chief exports (organic chemicals, ash, iron, and fish) and why they were important. Then he decided that he was probably more interested in the wave-form technology discussion, and requested Avon’s location from Zen.

“Back in a moment,” he told Jenna, who watched him go with a shake of her head.

“I’m busy,” Avon told him when Blake explained why he’d come. “And incidentally, that is not a very convincing story.”

He activated the door-button and it swished shut, leaving Blake out in the corridor and Avon to get on with his work. Blake hesitated for a moment before admitting to himself that he probably had been more interested in seeing if Avon fancied a mid-afternoon hand job than he had been in the Liberator’s workings, and turned to go. As he did, so the door swished open again and Avon, who had also had a change of heart, said,

“Actually, I’m not that busy,” and pulled him inside.

*

Blake spent the night in Avon’s room, and in the morning they reached the ultra-planet Del Ten.

After a short group discussion, Jenna and Cally teleported down, leaving Vila to watch the flight deck, Avon to watch the teleport, and Blake to try and not sabotage the mission. Normally Blake would not have allowed this, not even under the present circumstances, Docholli was his thread to follow, and he was the one who needed to destroy Star One. He would have argued against it long enough and well enough that even Jenna would have given in, but he was finding there was a lot more serotonin in his blood than he was used to and that this allowed him to accept the others’ decision relatively calmly.

He watched Jenna and Cally successfully disappear, and turned to go and check on Vila. Avon tugged him back.

“They might need a fast pick up,” Blake protested as Avon shoved him up against the wall next to the speaker-grill and began unbuttoning his trousers.

Avon grinned wolfishly. “If they do, I’ll stop.”

Vila could walk in, any moment,” Blake said, though he had already unzipped Avon’s trousers and got his hand in under Avon’s underpants.

“Then, you’d better be quick,” Avon said, kissing him and jerking his cock with equal ferocity.

After they’d both tidied themselves up, Blake returned to the flight deck where he found Vila snoozing in his chair. After that Blake felt he should probably stay on the flight deck and make sure everything was all right. Avon called in a few hours later, asking if Blake would come and look at something very interesting he’d just seen on the teleport readout.

To Blake’s mind this story was about as unconvincing as his own earlier interest in wave-form tech, and it was with regret that he told a rather peeved Avon that he’d come and look at it after the others got back.

Until that happened, though, Blake was plagued with unwanted thoughts about pressing Avon down over the teleport desk (how uncomfortable could the various buttons and levers really be?) and taking him roughly from behind. He almost cracked, he almost left Vila on the flight deck asleep, a part of him arguing that Vila was unlikely to come anywhere near the teleport section if he wasn’t conscious. It was unthinkable – no, it should have been unthinkable, but it definitely wasn’t. Blake turned the idea over in his head for some time as he tried to focus on Del Ten’s mineral wealth and listened with half an ear to Vila’s snores. 

When Jenna and Cally did call back in, it was with bad news (“No sign of him. I’m sorry, Blake, but it looks this was a false lead.”) but Blake was relieved.

“Come back up,” he told Jenna. “We’ll talk about what to do next once you’ve had time to rest.”

He left Vila to take them out of orbit, and walked briskly in the direction of the teleport area. Half way there he met Jenna, Cally and Avon approaching from the opposite direction.

“There was a Federation cyber surgeon there a few months ago,” Jenna began. “That seems to be what––”

“Sorry, Jenna,” Blake said, “can it wait? Avon, I think you wanted to show me something about the teleport readout--”

“Oh … yes. Yes, I did,” Avon said, very unconvincingly, and let Blake steer him back in the direction he’d come. Once out of sight, the two of them fell into the nearest room, which happened to be a storage cupboard, and Blake took advantage of the fact that Avon was still carrying personal lubricant in his jacket.

Afterward a quick shower, Blake returned to the flight deck where the others were sitting around the main seating area drinking a strange green concoction that Vila must have made. There was an empty glass, but Avon seemed to think having taken a full one was a mistake and handed his to Blake without comment. It tasted not unpleasantly of mint, and Blake sipped at it, his other arm flung over the back of the sofa behind Avon, as Cally explained what had happened on Del Ten.

It seemed there wasn’t much more to it than Jenna had already told them in the corridor. She and Jenna had infiltrated the hotel where Docholli was supposedly staying and found evidence that a former Federation surgeon calling themselves Quail had indeed been there. This had been what Orac had picked up. Unfortunately, on further investigation, Cally had learned from the staff that Quail had been a young woman. The photographs they had of Docholli, meanwhile, showed him to be a man in his late sixties or seventies. While it wasn’t completely impossible that a highly qualified surgeon had been able to change his own appearance substantially, it was unlikely enough that Jenna had called the mission to a close.

What they would do now was effectively now down to Blake.

Blake looked round at the faces of his crew, all of whom with the exception of Avon were in some way anxious about what he would say. If he named a destination, it could be a trap. It would also probably be somewhere dangerous – that was why Vila was anxious.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Blake had no more idea than the rest of them. He thought Avon probably knew that.

“There’s not much we can do,” he said, looking round to see if anyone disagreed, “except wait for Orac to find us another lead.”

As he had when left behind on the ship earlier, he felt relatively calm about this, too. It simply didn’t make sense to get angry about something he couldn’t fix. He would just have to be patient. Eventually Orac would find something useful, either in someone’s records or in a Federation communication – the Federation were, Blake and Orac agreed, almost certainly looking for Docholli too.

“While we wait, we could try actually looking for the parts we need to repair the detector shield,” Avon said. “That might be more effective than our current approach.”

“You mean, getting shot at?” Vila suggested.

“Hoping the right parts happen to be in the same places as the cyber surgeon we also need,” Avon clarified. “Which has been spectacularly ineffective.”

“Causing us to get shot at more than we’d like,” Blake agreed, moving the conversation along. It had been his decision that had kept them from pursuing the parts earlier, but the situation was different now. The detector shield would be very useful. “It wouldn’t be a bad use of time.”

“We might also consider collecting Avalon’s computer expert,” Avon continued. “Whatever Star One is, I’m sure I can do something with it, but a second pair of hands might save us time once we do get there.”

That also seemed a reasonable argument – Avon was getting good at those. The idea that they might pick up someone who would understand his specialism had made Avon look almost excited – Blake had hardly ever seen him look that way, apart from in bed or during the first few days aboard the Liberator. Why not give him what he’d asked for?

“Do we know where Avalon is?” Blake asked.

“Her last report was from a mobile base, five days out past Baalesto,” Cally said.

Not good. Baalesto itself was ten days out from the Liberator’s current position. A lot could happen in fifteen days. Blake had hoped Avalon was closer. He worried his fingernail with his teeth – and then noticed Avon’s lidded eyes on him as he did so. So that was distracting, was it?

“It’s some journey,” Jenna said, clearly thinking the same thing Blake had thought earlier. “I don’t think we should leave this sector. It’s central – what if Docholli turns out to be on some backwater planet in sector nine?”

“What if he’s on Baalesto?” Blake countered. He’d already decided to do what Avon had suggested. The earlier this conversation finished, the earlier he and Avon could excuse themselves.

“If he is, it’s only ten days away,” Jenna persisted.

“I think we can take the risk,” Blake said. He turned to Avon. “Would you want to find the parts first, or recruit the specialist?”  

“The parts,” Avon said. “No,” he reconsidered, “if the specialist is any good he should have most of them.”

“Right. Zen, set a course for Avalon’s base,” Blake said. He stood, brushing the outside of Avon’s neck with the knuckles of his outstretched hand as he did so, and walked over to the computer on his way out of the flight deck.

Zen’s amber lights flickered as he approached. “All commands issued by Roj Blake must be confirmed by another member of the crew before they are acted on.”

Blake had forgotten that direction would still be active. Jenna had implemented it the previous night, with his blessing, but it was going to get old quickly. Blake pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand, and gestured back towards the crew with the other, asking for their help with the computer. “Jenna?”

“Order is not confirmed,” Jenna said, crossing to the pilot position.

“What?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, beginning to make preparations for departure. “But the Roj Blake I know would never give up on Star One so easily. Zen, put us into orbit around the nearest planet. Cally?”

“I’m not giving up,” Blake insisted.

“I can’t sense anything unusual,” Cally said, “but I do share your concerns. Blake, you are still acting oddly. You must accept this.”

“But I’m not acting oddly,” Blake protested, trying to laugh it off. He didn’t feel as though he were controlled, and what would the Federation have to gain from sending him on a quest to find shield parts?

“You’re also extremely distracted and unfocused, which has dated from your recent experiences.”

That,” Blake began, his face heating, “isn’t –– Listen,” Jenna probably knew already. He could ask her to tell the others later when it wasn’t quite so embarrassing, “I still want to find Star One as much as ever.”

“Then you won’t mind us staying in orbit while Orac finds us another lead,” Jenna said.

“Ladies, ladies,” Vila said, getting to his feet, arms spread wide, “there’s obviously nothing to worry about.”

“Well, there speaks the voice of reassurance,” Avon said sarcastically.

“It’s just that Teal and Vandor have signed a peace treaty,” Vila said, joining Blake over by Zen.

“I’m sorry?” Blake said.

“Merged their empires,” Vila said, slinging an arm around Blake’s shoulders. He grinned harder. “Entered a mutually beneficial trade agreement, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I speak for everyone when I say, No,” Avon said.  

“You think we should go to Teal?” Blake trying valiantly to make sense of whatever it was Vila was saying.

Vila sighed and took his arm back. “Blake,” he said, pointing at Blake, “and Avon have slept together at last. Blake wants to get back into Avon’s pants – that’s why he’s being so nice to him. Blake is also distracted, which is because he’s thinking about how to get back into Avon’s pants.” He swung back to Blake. “Right?”

“I do also think it would be a good idea to fix the detector shield,” Blake said defensively. Vila whooped, Avon excused himself and began to leave, and Jenna, grinning, said,

“I suppose that would explain it.”

“What does this have to do with Teal and Vandor?” Cally asked, still some way behind the others, as Blake crossed to the door in time to catch Avon before he reached the corridor.

“I’ll persuade them,” Blake told him quietly.

“It’s a joke,” Vila explained to Cally. “A metaphor. They’ve been at war, and now they aren’t.”

“And I’ll kill Vila,” Blake continued, which prompted a reluctant smile from Avon. The others were still occupied so Blake risked pressing a kiss to Avon’s temple, and was relieved when Avon allowed it and even turned his head towards Blake so Blake could kiss his mouth. That kiss turned easily into a deeper kiss, Avon leaning into him, fingers clutched tightly in Blake’s shirt.

“Right, they’re at it again,” Jenna’s voice said.

“Told you,” Vila said as the two of them broke apart, Avon flushing slightly but this time determined to hold his ground. Grinning, Blake pretended to be interested in the radar screen set into Vila’s terminal as Avon resumed his own station.  

He should have acted sooner. He should have explained himself to the others – of course they’d found it suspicious under the circumstances. Of course, they had. But it was all right now. They would fix the detector shield and find Star One. It was all going to be all right.

“Admittedly,” Vila was saying thoughtfully, leaning over the sofa, “the joke would have worked better if Blake hadn’t been too shagged out to remember the fake names we gave the shrink, but I think it still works, even if you don’t know the context. And any time you want to make a treaty with me, Cally, just let me know. My diplomats are very good.” He hastened to explain, “That means--”

“This time I think I can guess,” she said dryly.

“How exactly does Wyld and Douglas get you to a Teal and Vandor treaty?” Avon asked.

“Eh?” Vila said.

“I’m trying to understand how you mind works,” Avon said, resuming his seat next to Cally. “For self-protection if nothing else. The codenames were––”

“––Teal and Vandor,” Vila said, not looking quite so amused any more.

“No, they weren’t,” Blake said. “Avon’s right – they were Wyld and Douglas.” He felt a sudden drop in his stomach. “Weren’t they?”

“No,” Vila said. “At least, that’s not what I told the receptionist.”

Avon twisted in his seat, darting a wild, accusatory look at Blake to be sure he’d understood what, of course, they all now understood.

While it was broadly possible that this was Vila’s idea of another hilarious prank, it was no longer likely. Now he’d put his mind to it Blake remembered how it had been. The therapist had asked whether they were the people she’d been expecting, and Blake had agreed. At every moment where they could have provided more information that would have disproved their identities as this other couple, Avon had shut down conversation, and Blake had allowed it. They hadn’t wanted to make her suspicious, and so they’d left it as though could have been anyone. 

“Call Morgan,” Blake said grimly.

*

“I doubt this will be any comfort to you,” the therapist said from Zen’s screen, “but given the nature of the hypnotic command I gave you, it would have to be unsuccessful if you never felt anything for each other. It’s been extremely unsuccessful on the people it was intended for, for example.”

Morgan had apparently realised her mistake almost immediately. Her next appointment had been another Wyld and another Douglas. On Blake’s instructions, though, Vila had not left her with a forwarding address, and so she’d been unable to contact the Liberator to rectify the problem.

The other Wyld and Douglas had come to her for relationship counselling. Morgan had been asked by their assistant to instil a hypnotic trigger in each of them, one which would compel them to act immediately on any sexual impulses they felt towards the other. They were, she told Blake (Hippocratic oath flexible on this occasion) having a dry spell in their relationship. They were angry at each other all the time, they had blazing rows in front of their friends, Douglas had threatened to leave on several occasions.

Actually, Blake thought wryly, it wasn’t too dissimilar to his and Avon’s situation when you thought about it.

“This is all very interesting--” Avon said, especially waspish.

“It’s also worth noting that hypnotism isn’t like straightforward conditioning,” Morgan continued, “though it can interact with it. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

“That must be why nothing happened,” Avon said for what was the third time during the conversation. “But,” he said, picking up on his own line of argument as though it hadn’t been interrupted, “we came to you for a specific reason, to remove specific conditioning. Due to your professional negligence that conditioning, which endangers our entire crew, is still active.”

The two of them hadn’t consciously decided to lie to Morgan. If there had been a conversation Blake might have argued that they might as well tell the truth – it was clear that with each of Avon’s protestations she believed him less. But Avon was clearly furious and, worse, he was hurt. He would not admit that, though, either to Blake or to the stranger who had done this to him, and Blake wasn’t going to force him to. The others had tactfully left them alone for this one, so there was nobody else to contradict him.

“It is very important,” Blake said, falling back into the peacemaker role he’d taken the first time he and Avon had met Morgan. No matter that once again he was feeling just as hollow as Avon was angry. This had to be done. “If you could see your way to helping us, that would be appreciated.”

“First, tell me truthfully who I would be helping,” Morgan said.

They had investigated her background before going to her the first time. Orac thought Morgan’s personality type and education suggested she could well have rebel sympathies. Her brother had disappeared two years previously. She would have been conditioned to believe he’d emigrated, but Morgan’s profession meant she could be more likely to resist or reject this conditioning than other people might have.

A uniquely powerful supercomputer had twice hacked into her appointment booking line. She could also clearly see the two of them were standing on the flight deck unlike anything manufactured in the Federated worlds. Under the circumstances, Blake thought Morgan probably already had quite a good idea who she would be helping.

“Roj Blake,” he said to Avon’s clear disgust.

Morgan smiled. She did not look surprised. “The hypnotic trigger I implanted would have overridden any other conditioning while it was active. It’s very difficult to layer effects. The brain tends to reject them. So, you could simply continue as you––”

“Unacceptable,” Blake said firmly.

“In that case,” Morgan said, “I wonder if you could give me some more information about the initial trigger. Your colleague was understandably vague when he made the appointment.”

Avon paced away, irritably, leaving Blake to recount the story of the course interceptor Glynd had used to drag him away from Del Ten, Avon’s destruction of the device and Blake’s subsequent recovery; how that followed by a remission that Orac had failed to counteract and which had then rebounded onto Avon during what should have been a de-programming session; how Orac had then suggested if they were dissatisfied they should seek out a human professional instead, who would at least be paid to listen to their trivial whining.

Blake explained all of this in as neutral a tone as he could manage, even though the events were both mortifying and distressing. He thought his voice might have wavered at a few moments though as Avon returned from his stalk around the flight deck to stand with him again, the edge of Avon’s sleeve brushing the edge of Blake’s. That was pratcially as close as Avon got to a full show of support.

“I can’t be sure without you returning for a full examination,” Morgan said thoughtfully. “Which,” she added, seeing Avon was poised to object, “I am not for a moment suggesting you should do.”

“Hardly suspicious at all,” Avon said sarcastically.  

“But I do have a theory,” Morgan continued. “Your brain, Mr Blake, has been subjected to numerous rounds of different sorts of conditioning.” Blake set his jaw and tried to seem as though he found this to be a fact, just as any other, rather than deeply troubling. “These commands have been layered crudely over the top of each other and while you have recovered from some of them on your own or through therapy, others could still be activated. As I say, I can’t be sure, but what I believe may have happened is that your computer – Orac – was only instructed to remove the trigger this course interceptor used, but it was a much earlier trigger that was affecting you at that particular time, and which rebounded onto--?”

She left a gap for Avon’s real name. Avon scowled and said, “Vila Restal.”

“Rebounded on your friend … Mr Restal,” Morgan said. “If you asked the computer to remove all the conditioning that could have been enough.”

Blake gave an exaggerated sigh. “You just didn’t ask the right question,” he said whimsically to Avon.

“Plausible,” Avon agreed. “And it would be just like Orac to pretend to be incapable to avoid having to do anything else.”

“You and he both,” Blake said, grinning, feeling more and more like joking now they had a likely solution. “Vila,” he reminded Avon, who stopped looking bemused and rolled his eyes instead. That made Blake want to kiss him. Despite knowing the trigger in his brain was pushing him to act, he probably would have kissed him if Morgan hadn’t snapped,

“Gentlemen, focus.”

“Right. You get Orac, I’ll call Jenna,” Blake told Avon, business-like again now. Avon nodded and made for the exit. “Doctor Morgan, you have been incredibly helpful. If you’ll just wait a moment, I’d like to ask one of my crew to step in here before you remove the conditioning --”

“I would still advise a full examination afterwards, if possible,” Morgan said. “I can understand why you wouldn’t want to come back here, but there are a few neutral colleagues of mine you could approach for a second opinion.”

“I’ll certainly consider it,” Blake said, privately thinking that if Orac could be relied upon again then he’d prefer never to see another medical professional again. One had caused more than enough trouble.

He leant on the communicator button. “Jenna, can you come to the flight deck, please?”

“Val Eyim of Vandor is a specialist in recovering de-conditionees,” Morgan continued from Zen’s screen. “He’s very good.

“Is everything all right?” Jenna’s voice said.

“Best to be careful."

“Or there’s a very good psychologist on Kainnessos called Jorgi,” Morgan said as Jenna signalled her agreement and signed off. “He’s a defector from the Federation, so I’m sure you’d be safe. Or how about – I know. There's a very good friend of mine, also a defector, currently on Freedom City. He’s a cyber surgeon so this isn’t exactly his field, but I know he was involved in deep conditioning. His name’s Docholli, but he’s not going by something else at the moment for obvious reasons – I can try and remember what it is. Or if you’re out in the eighth sector, you could try--”

Avon arrived back onto the flight deck with Orac in his arms. “This obnoxious calculating machine confirms the good doctor’s theory,” he said, dumping the computer unceremoniously on top of his station. “Apparently it has enjoyed the peace and quiet brought by obscurity – however briefly. Where’s Jenna?”

“Hang on a minute, Avon––” Blake began, but by then Jenna had appeared at the top of the steps, Cally in tow behind her.

“Blake, is everything all right?”

“No one said there was a party,” Vila said, arriving from the same corridor Avon had.  

“If there was, we wouldn’t have invited you,” Avon said sourly.

“Would everyone just be quiet for a moment?” Blake said, voice slightly louder than normal. “Thank you,” he said at a more restrained volume as silence fell. He could feel a rush of adrenalin, the same heady feeling he got when a plan was coming together, when his luck was beginning to turn, and when Avon smiled at him.

“Doctor Morgan,” he said, “would you just repeat the name of your cyber-surgeon friend on Freedom City for me please?”

*

It might have been a trap, but Orac said it probably wasn’t. One thing at least seemed to be almost certain, though - Docholli was on Freedom City. He was living in a low-rent flat down in an area called the rink and attempting to draw as little attention to himself as possible. To that end, he wasn’t practicing surgery, he was living off donations that were wired to him from a number of contacts, ostensibly including Morgan. This would, Blake thought, have drawn the Federation’s attention to him eventually, but thus far it seemed possible that they hadn’t found him. Orac thought he'd picked up someone who might be Travis on a ship called the Barlee, which wasn't due to dock for another week.

The Liberator was currently in stationary orbit above Freedom City. Jenna, Cally and Vila had gone down, Vila almost bouncing with excitement and telling anyone who would listen that good things did eventually happen to bad people.

Although Morgan had removed the trigger, Orac had subsequently pronounced him completely free of any form of conditioning or hypnosis, Blake had agreed to stay behind again. Jenna and Cally had done well on Del Ten; they were more than capable of doing so here as well. While angling to be part of the party who went down Vila had also pointed out that if it was a trap, Travis would probably be looking for Blake. Anyone else would probably be less visible, particularly those who knew how to blend in, which, no offence, Blake had never been very good at.

It was a fair observation, even if it was motivated by self-interest, rather than revolutionary zeal. Blake had accepted it. Just. He didn’t think he was that bad at going under cover, and it was a Tuesday, which meant there was apparently some sort of carnival going on. He could have worn a costume if necessary – Jenna and Cally were wearing even more extravagant dresses than usual and Vila had found some sort of jester outfit. A mask would certainly have helped – but all of that aside, Blake had accepted the argument.

Of course, it helped that he also had his own self-interested reason for staying behind. Avon had withdrawn to his room after their joint therapy sessions had concluded. He had flatly refused to take part in any of the discussions about who should go down to Freedom City and was therefore staying behind by default. He wasn’t entirely sure that if he left Avon behind with one of the others that Avon wouldn’t convince Orac to teleport him down to Freedom City where Avon could get permanently lost in the crowds and never have to deal with what had just happened. Or rather – Blake was fairly sure that Avon wouldn’t do that, but the idea that he could, or might, was too awful for him to allow it as a possibility. Even completely in his right mind, it seemed he would put Avon ahead of personal involvement in the Star One quest. That would have troubled him earlier.

He set the others down and received Jenna’s confirmation that they were down and safe. Having done that, Blake turned towards the stairs leading back into the ship. He saw that Avon had come in at some point and was leaning against the doorway. Avon looked good, dressed in a silver tunic, tight black trousers and knee-high boots, an enquiring expression peaking his eyebrow and the corner of his mouth.

Blake felt the familiar urge to stand and sweep Avon into his arms, but he didn’t. He chose not to at this particular moment and was able to act in accordance with that choice. While it had been generally devastating to learn that he and Avon had only been compelled to sleep together, Blake had to admit it was a relief to know he wasn’t now the kind of person who was only able to concentrate on sex. It was a relief to be able to make choices again.

“The others have gone down?” Avon said and Blake nodded.

“Well,” Avon said, “what do you want to do until they get back?”

The tone of his voice and the fay tilt of his head made this seem like an invitation to repeat what they’d done the last time most of the crew had gone down to a planet without them. Avon was even leaning in approximately the same spot.

“I want to talk,” Blake said carefully. “To you – that’s why I stayed behind.”

“Do we need to talk?” Avon said, pushing himself away from the doorway.

Blake raised his eyebrows. This wasn’t Avon avoiding the conversation – he genuinely seemed to mean it.

“I thought we did,” Blake said as Avon leaned against the front of the teleport desk.

“Ah. You think brief humiliation is a better reason for staying away from me than the fact I might tell you not to go to Star One,” Avon said. “Well, I can understand that. It wasn’t a very good reason to begin with.” 

“No,” Blake said, “that’s not—” He changed tacks. “I take it you do want to continue this,” he considered a number of words, rejected liaison, and eventually decided on, “relationship, then?”

“Do you?” Avon asked, batting it back again.

Blake inclined his head. “Morgan’s right – nothing would have happened if we hadn’t felt something for each other. Repeatedly,” he added, remembering the previous days’ regular retreats to bedrooms and cupboards with only minor chagrin.

“Agreed,” Avon said.

“You should also know that that everything I’ve said to you over the last few days has been true,” Blake told him seriously. “That wasn’t the hypnotism talking.”

“Or your attempt to, how did Vila put it? Get into my pants,” Avon said.

Blake huffed a laugh. He really didn’t think it had been, though if Avon had wanted to push it he supposed he had been forced to resolve the reasons against sleeping together conversation because he they both wanted to sleep together again quite badly.

“Will you have dinner with me tonight?” he asked.

Avon smiled and leaned further forwards over the desk, closing the distance between them. “I’ll even let you screw me afterwards,” he promised and Blake met that invitation by leaning in and kissing him. One of Avon’s hands came down hard on the directional controls to give himself some more balance, Blake pushed his tongue into Avon’s mouth, and then Avon’s knee was on the edge of the desk and Avon’s body weight had shifted forward onto the desk.

“On second thoughts, let’s skip dinner,” Avon said breathily and Blake laughed into his mouth.

“You’re sure you’re not still hypnotised?”

“I have no idea, but don’t let that stop you,” Avon said, dragging Blake upwards and back on top of him. “We never did get ‘round to fucking on the teleport desk.”

This was probably having all sorts of bad effects on the Liberator’s facilities, but Avon was hard underneath him, grinding up into him, and almost certainly not hypnotised. It felt wonderful, and lots of parts of Blake wanted to continue, yank Avon’s trousers down and take him roughly as requested, but--

“No, I’m sorry, I know I’m not because if we don’t have to talk, then I do have to go down to Freedom City and help the others,” Blake said, disengaging himself. Star One was too important – yes, Avon was important too, but one shag amongst presumably many others to come was marginally less.

Avon made a face, but allowed Blake to get off him. The two of them gathered themselves again at opposite ends of the room. Eventually Avon said, “I overheard the others. You’ll need a costume.” Blake nodded thoughtfully and was about to explain that a mask would suffice when Avon said firmly, “Robin Hood.”

Blake raised an eyebrow and so did Avon.

“Is than an entirely decent suggestion?” Blake asked.

“It certainly isn’t,” Avon said flatly. “I want to see tights, and I want you to still be wearing them when we have to dinner tonight. I ought to get something out of this.”

Blake grinned and moved over to fold Avon into an embrace. “You know I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He brushed the hair out of Avon’s eyes.

This at least prompted a smile from Avon. “Yes,” he said, allowing Blake to kiss him again. “I trust you.”