“Welcome aboard,” Blake said, clapping his new technician on the shoulder. He’d had a devil of a time locating and extricating the man—Avalon had, if anything, downplayed the severity of the crisis on Delana when they’d discussed potential replacements for Avon.
The Federation world was enduring protracted riots due to food shortages. Avalon had sent a tech team in to extract information from the Federation’s computers in the midst of this chaos, and another team to try and rally the people towards a more organized resistance. But the Delanians agreed not at all on their goals and methods (most of them didn’t think themselves political, and mistakenly hoped the Federation would see the difference between their desperation and actual insubordination), and the panic of the situation made communication and coalition-building difficult.
The tech team’s mission had been a success, but the infrastructure team’s mission had been a dismal failure. Now it only remained for all Avalon’s people to get off-world. Blake had offered them transportation on the Liberator, but apparently both teams were due to rendezvous with a smuggler who was coming through the sector in a few hours with supplies Avalon needed, and it was vital that they (minus the technician now assigned to Blake) stay where they were for the preseny. They’d use their long-range communication equipment to call Blake back if the planned evacuation somehow went awry.
Blake’s conversation with the leader of the infrastructure team had depressed him. At first he’d been tempted to stay and try and help Avalon’s people with their work, not to give the planet up entirely for lost. If Delana didn’t mount an effective resistance, the Federation would pacify the world forcibly, and there would likely be a substantial death toll. Blake so wanted to prevent that from happening that it took some time for him to accept that there was really nothing they could do.
Still, he tried to put on a brave face. The new technician, Deva, had watched the situation curdle on-site, and didn’t need Blake’s ineffectual brooding on top of his own worries and regrets. He seemed a worried sort of person in general––a skittish, wry, ginger man; thin, with a mobile face. So far, Blake liked him. Deva couldn’t match Avon for withering sarcasm, true, and it was likewise almost impossible that he’d equal Avon’s brilliance, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Deva was more committed than Avon. He seemed competent, and he had an evident sense of humor, which he’d displayed with a series of speaking eyebrow-movements when Blake had explained that when he’d told Avalon that Avon was dead as a result of torture, what he’d meant was that Avon was incredibly annoyed as a result of torture, and leaving the ship for his own good. As soon as possible. Whether he liked it or not.
Blake didn’t explain to Deva that Avon was now claiming that he didn’t like this idea (despite its uncanny similarity to his own beloved ‘bolt hole’ plans). Spurning Blake’s efforts, Avon had declined to take up the place Blake had secured for him at a perfectly good research station, or indeed to go anywhere at all. Blake also didn’t explain to Deva that Avalon’s suggestion that the Liberator head directly to Delana to pick up Avon’s replacement had drug this process out, forcing Blake to send a message to said research station apologizing for an unavoidable delay in the delivery of their new scientist. Deva didn’t need to know about either these logistical issues or about what a perverse and unhelpful bastard Avon was, because Avon was going, and Deva, at least, would hardly have to deal with him. But Deva seemed to think the whole situation was fairly bizarre even without being privy to all this information.
So—committed, competent, and blessed with a healthy tolerance for the absurd. Blake thought he and Deva might just about manage together.
“Thank you, Cally,” Blake said, nodding to her and turning to put away the bracelets he and Deva had used.
“Blake—” Cally began, standing up behind the teleport desk.
“Cally, this is Deva. Deva, let me show you the flight deck,” Blake said to the new arrival, raising his voice only slightly, effectively cutting through opposition. He suspected, judging by her Deva-ish worried expression, that he knew what Cally wanted to tell him, and that he didn’t want to know it.
On the flight deck, Blake found two people. He only acknowledged one of them.
“Set a course back to NV95, if you please. Jenna, this is Deva.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” said the man Blake had not spoken to. His tone was as dry and unforgiving as the desert Blake had just plucked Deva out of.
Jenna glanced at Avon, then back at Blake. “Our power-banks were depleted by that fast run out,” she told Blake. “I want to retain some emergency reserves, in case we run into anything and have to make a get away. I’m afraid I can only give you standard power for a couple of days.”
“Making for a slower return journey,” Blake said with a nod, a disgruntled look settling in on his face. No help for it, he supposed. And anyway––what was a few more days enduring Avon’s bizarre, inadequately-argued insistence that he didn’t want to leave? Agony, actually, for some reason, but Blake had known agony before, and he knew he could endure it well enough. Blake was unwilling to be responsible for the deaths of allies uncommitted to his work. Avon’s particular brand of grudging participation and resentment fueled Blake’s own sense of guilt when he had to put Avon at risk, and Avon’s baffling refusal to just leave filled Blake with a rage he couldn’t quite explain, which wasn’t unconnected to how even thinking about Avon's having been tortured for information only a few days before made Blake physically ill.
“Three days,” Jenna agreed, darting another look at Avon.
“This is ridiculous,” Avon snarled. Blake could hear that Avon was properly angry. He knew he should look at Avon to acknowledge it and stare him down, but he found he didn’t want to look at Avon right now: almost couldn’t bear it. “What are you going to do when we arrive at this research station of yours?" Avon continued (and Blake would have sworn he could hear Avon crossing his arms over his chest). "Physically push me off the ship?”
Sudden anger flared in Blake, and without thinking about it he whipped his head around to look at Avon after all.
“If I have to,” Blake hissed. “Because one way or another, I will be rid of you, Avon. I refuse to keep company with someone with no loyalty to this endeavor, who resents everything I have to do in the course of it. I don’t know why you’ve changed your tune, when you’ve never lost an opportunity to make me very aware how delighted you’d be to leave, but it doesn’t sway me. I want you off this ship. If you don’t care to name another destination, NV95 will do as well as any.”
Avon was quiet, his mouth pressed tightly closed as though he feared what he might say. Blake pressed on.
“Take whatever fair share of the treasure room’s contents you can enjoy without making yourself conspicuous and leaving us without resources. I don’t care what you do, so long as you do it elsewhere.”
Blake glared into Avon’s eyes, which had gone somewhat wide. As Blake had expected, it made him feel awful to look at Avon. But it didn’t change anything. If anything, looking at Avon just made Blake even more determined on this course of action.
“You'll have three days to give Deva whatever on-the-job training you care to,” Blake continued, using the anger to keep going. “Consider it a last request. I’ll even give you a fancy send-off, if you like, so long as you go.”
“A proper leaving party?” Avon sneered, responding at last. His voice was oddly quiet, and his slight smile almost disturbing. “With a farewell speech and all? I imagine I shall have some home-truths to share therein.”
“A party with drinks and a bloody sheet-cake, if you like,” Blake said, turning on his heel. “Deva, I’ll show you your room.”
Blake heard Deva say the universe’s most awkward “Nice to meet you”, and then heard the man walking quickly to catch up with his own angry (thus long and too-quick) stride away from the flight-deck.
Blake was surprised and a little impressed to find that, despite everything, Avon apparently was spending his last few days on-board giving Deva a thorough grounding in the Liberator’s systems (what he’d managed to learn about them thus far, at any rate). Blake was less pleased to hear that Deva felt honestly at sea with the ship, that he was drowning in Avon’s rattled-off instructions, that Avon was apparently trying to be patient and clear, and that Deva was nonetheless struggling.
“I’m a top-line technician,” Deva told Blake without bragging over coffee in the rec room, “but I’m not keeping up. I’ve never seen technology like this before; no one has. Perhaps it isn’t obvious if you aren’t in the field, but your Avon really is exceptional.”
“He isn’t my Avon,” Blake said shortly. Not anymore. No—he never had been. “And I know he is. Exceptional. He hasn’t taken this out on you, then?”
“Well,” Deva exhaled, “he’s made it clear he isn’t pleased. But beyond that he’s been terse and to the point—not as bad as rumor has it, actually. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand why you’re not letting him stay on? If he wants to, I mean.”
“That’s between Avon and me,” Blake said grimly.
“Avon, who isn’t your Avon,” Deva said, watching Blake as though looking for a reaction that would give him clues about the situation.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Blake asked. His voice didn’t have any sharp edges, just now. It rolled. But it rolled heavily, like a bowling ball coming towards you implacably, gathering speed.
“Nothing,” Deva said, raising his eyebrows.
“Well in that case, I’ve got work to do,” Blake said shortly, getting up. He was unreasonably annoyed by the conversation, and aware of it. It was hardly Deva’s fault that the handover would be difficult. Blake had known it would be, after all. “I’ll see you tonight.”
“Mm?” Deva asked.
“At the party,” Blake clarified, with a slightly sarcastic lilt to his voice.
“Oh yes,” Deva agreed. “Well, it’s not as if I’ve any conflicting engagements.”
The door leading out into the corridor opened. “There you are, Blake—ah,” Avon paused, noticing Deva. “I see you have company.”
“Actually I was just leaving,” Blake said.
Unfortunately Avon’s position in the doorway meant Blake had to walk past him to get out. Since Avon had come to speak to him and not Deva, Avon didn’t do anything as obliging as walk into the room Blake had just left. He stayed right where he was. The door slid shut on Deva, leaving Blake and Avon alone together in the hall.
“Are you attempting to avoid speaking to me at all before I leave?” Avon asked, arresting Blake with a hand on his jacket. His tone was light, but there was a suggestion of simmering anger underneath it.
“I think we’ve said everything there is to say to one another,” Blake told him. He glanced pointedly down at Avon’s hand, one eyebrow raised, and then took a step back so that Avon was no longer touching him. “Several times over, at least.”
Avon favored him with an awkward, not-happy smile. “I’m afraid I still have a few things I’d like to say to you.”
“I’ll just bet,” Blake said, glowering at him. “Save it for your speech.”
He strode off, leaving Avon, who refused to trail after him, standing alone.
“Blake,” Avon called, sounding furious.
“I’m busy,” Blake snapped. “You can tell me at your leaving do.”
Blake tried not to pay attention to Avon’s vicious swearing as he headed off to his own room.
It is the privilege and prerogative of anyone let go from their job to get drunk at their leaving party, and to everyone’s slight surprise, Avon was vigilantly devoting himself to getting viciously wasted. He’d never been fired before. Even after his famous fraud had been discovered, his employers had been exceedingly reluctant to part with him, pleading with the state to let Avon remain on Earth so that he could finish working on their project from prison.
Avon had always been invaluable. To everyone. It was only Blake who apparently wanted nothing to do with him.
Avon downed drinks Vila mixed (and Vila considered recipes’ traditional proportions of alcohol to other liquids loose guidelines at best) with grim determination. Blake was uncomfortably aware that Avon was watching him as he moved around the flight deck: Avon's eyes tracked Blake as though his glare alone could laser Blake clean in half.
The promised sheet-cake, which Avon seemed to be taking as the final insult, sat on the little table ringed by the flight deck couch. Vila had tried to take a slice, but Avon had whipped his head around and glared at Vila so pointedly that he’d held up his hands and backed away. The thing positively loomed. Blake had done some icing flowers ('hidden talent', he'd said dryly when Gan had commented), and a message. ‘Goodbye Avon’.
Blake had sat the cake down with a flourish and a strange feeling of cruelty. He felt as though he were punishing Avon, though he didn’t know what for, and surely that wasn’t what this was all about. Blake felt the justice of his reasons for showing Avon the door. He just also felt a strange savage twist in his stomach at doing so—pain, coupled with the nasty satisfaction of working a sore tooth.
Whether or not it was what Blake had intended, Avon did look punished. His glare had gone, over the course of the evening, from ‘if looks could kill you’d be dead from no less than five causes’ to the sullen gaze of a faithful dog who’d been beaten.
Downing his own drink for courage, Blake closed his conversation with Deva and crossed the room to go speak to Avon. It had to be done.
“Well,” Blake began.
“Well,” Avon echoed mockingly. Blake ignored that.
“I suppose I should thank you for all you’ve done for us, this past year,” Blake pressed on doggedly.
“You suppose?” Avon drawled. His usual drawl had lapsed into a drunken slur. He’d really been going at it hard.
Blake refused to rise to this. He would do right by Avon, and if part of that involved pushing him away, then another part involved letting him know he’d been absolutely brilliant, and that his loss would be felt.
“I know you’ve never had any time for what I wanted to do, and even less time for me personally. Nevertheless, you have saved my life. Repeatedly. And for that, I’m very grateful. I’m grateful for everything else you’ve done for us as well. You’re amazing in your field, but you've given me a lot more than your expertise. For a while, you lent me your company, your advice. You’ve kept me honest, in your way, and I’ve appreciated that more than I ever bothered to tell you.”
He waited for Avon to respond—to say anything at all. But Avon gave him nothing. Nevertheless, Blake felt he had to see this through, and so, doggedly, he continued.
“And if I’ve saved your life on a few occasions, well, I’m very glad of that. The universe is more interesting with you in it, even if, as far as the reverse goes, you ‘couldn’t agree with me less.’ I’ll check up on you, remotely and discreetly, of course—and, who knows, perhaps if I survive the upcoming actions we’ll see each other again someday. I don’t suppose there’ll be any occasion for it, but you know me. Sentimental,” Blake said bitterly, draining his drink and putting the glass down on the rim of the console he was leaning against. "Well, Avon. I guess this is goodbye."
Avon regarded him with eyes that seemed darker and larger even than usual. There was something almost vulnerable in them.
“Blake,” Avon murmured in an intimate tone, swaying slightly with inebriation. Blake wondered, with a rising heart, whether Avon might finally be preparing to draw on the kindness he sometimes unmistakably displayed—about to give him a proper farewell. Blake so wanted to part as friends, even if they hadn’t been able to manage that closeness when they’d lived and worked together. He selfishly wanted to think Avon was out there in the galaxy thinking well of him, just as he’d think well of Avon.
“Blake,” Avon repeated, “you utter, utter bastard.”
“What did I do?” Blake asked angrily. Here he’d poured his heart out to Avon, and as usual—
His train of thought was entirely derailed when Avon punched him. Blake was significantly sturdier than Avon, so took the blow without reeling (except, perhaps, internally, in shock). But Avon followed this up by launching himself at Blake like a crazed cat, shoving him back and sending them both toppling over the back of the flight deck couch, right onto the sheet-cake. The solid table that bore it also bore them (albeit with audible protests).
“You fucking—cad,” Avon snarled, mindlessly seizing a fistful of cake and shoving it into Blake’s face. “You stupid jackass!”
“I’m trying to protect you!” Blake shouted back at him, struggling to push Avon off.
“Protect me? You insufferable, patronizing—” Avon breathed harshly, seemingly unable even to finish the thought. Blake wiped cake out of his face and felt that aching knot in his stomach twist again.
“Should we—get them off one another? Or something?” Deva could be heard asking in the background.
“I think we should let them talk it out,” Gan said decidedly and tactfully.
“And I don’t want to get in the middle of it,” Vila added.
“I don’t care if I have to beg,” Avon told Blake, his eyes blazing. “I’m not leaving until you or I or the both of us are dead, Blake, and I expect it’s most likely to be the last option.” He shook Blake, or tried to, but only ended up pressing him deeper into the poor, befouled sheet-cake.
“Why the hell not?” Blake yelled into Avon’s face.
“Because I love you, you idiotic son of a bitch,” Avon hissed, kissing Blake aggressively. (Blake was too distracted to hear Jenna’s “Oh god, finally”.)
Avon pulled back and Blake gazed up at him dazedly.
“And you wanted to replace me with some mid-level ginger yes-man?” Avon demanded.
(Behind him, Deva rolled his eyes, largely embarrassed for them at this point. He couldn’t get too annoyed about that comment. Avon was better at this job than he was. Deva wasn’t particularly uncomfortable with that. He liked the odd game of squash, but he wasn’t a world-class athlete, and he didn’t feel shamed by that either.)
“Deva is nothing compared to me,” Avon insisted (Deva thought that was a bit harsh). “Nothing, Blake. You need me. You need me if you plan to take Control, even if you don’t want me. Who’s going to protect you when I’m gone?” His tone had gone wild—Avon seemingly couldn’t decide whether he was threatening Blake or pleading with him, forcing rational arguments down Blake’s throat or abjectly declaring himself to the man.
“I don’t want to let you go,” Blake shouted back. “I hated the idea of you getting hurt, and I hated that it was my fault—”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Avon assured him, despite still sounding furious, even as he stroked cake out of Blake’s hair.
“I love you,” Blake told him. “I am completely and utterly and stupidly in love with you. How on Earth did I not realize I loved you?”
“You don’t,” Avon argued with him.
Annoyed, Blake shoved a fistful of cake in his face, at which assault Avon gawped ridiculously. “I do so, you supercilious little bastard! Don’t tell me what I feel!” He kissed Avon just as forcefully as Avon had kissed him, not minding the icing.
“This is so much second-hand embarrassment I don’t think we’re even going to need that karaoke machine,” Vila observed.
That, Avon heard. He shoved Blake back down into the cake, away from him.
“You rigged up a karaoke machine?” he asked Blake, suddenly in deadly earnest.
“What?” Blake responded eloquently, covered in first and second-hand icing.
Avon scrambled off him at speed, producing a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping off his face. “We may have reconciled, Blake, but opportunities such as this come along rather more rarely than you might expect. I have always wanted to try this, and I have never before been sufficiently intoxicated to consider it.”
A drunken, unholy light illuminated Avon’s eyes. Blake found it simultaneously exhausting, attractive and deeply worrying to look upon.
“I should probably protect you from yourself,” Blake said, trying to stand. Avon gave him a hand.
“Oh, I think you’ve done enough of that for one lifetime. Vila!” Avon whirled. “Set up the machine.”
“Can you sing?” Blake asked, clutching Avon’s hand as though to stop him from taking the microphone, before it was too late.
Avon grinned incorrigibly. It made Blake rather long to encourage him. “Not even slightly.”
“Oh god,” Avon moaned into Blake’s pillow the next morning, hung over, dehydrated, shagged out and more embarrassed than he had ever previously thought it possible to be. “I’m going to have to leave after all.”
“I think we all knew that was in you, really,” Blake said, less tactful than he might have been. He was also insultingly conscious, having woken up twenty minutes ago and bravely soldiered forth to settle a few matters and to get the two of them beverages.
“Shut up, Blake,” Avon groaned.
“Oh come on, Avon. It was adorable. I even made Vila give me the viz-tape he made.”
“I have never been ‘adorable’ in my life, and I have no intention of starting at this late hour. What did you have to promise him for it?” Avon asked.
“You don’t want to know,” Blake said with a grin. “Unfortunately it seems Zen also recorded your musical turn. Vila tells me it’s taken to broadcasting the file at random. From what he can get out of Zen, it’s doing it in revenge for something you did to its circuitry last week.”
Avon contemplated this state of affairs. “Blake,” he said after a moment, “what if we both leave?”
“We’ve refused to give up the Liberator to the combined might of the Federation's forces,” Blake pointed out. “We’re not leaving due to morning-after regrets.”
“True,” Avon agreed. “Perhaps we should just kill everyone we know instead.”
“I’m afraid that’s also out. I’ve told you before, we need a crew.”
“Well, what do you suggest?”
Blake exhaled, drawing shapes on Avon’s warm back with the tips of his fingers. “We’ll simply have to brazen it out. Pretend to be utterly unashamed of all of it.”
“And you expect them to believe us?”
“Not really, no,” Blake admitted, “but then we’re in love and having raucous, still-slightly-sticky-with-icing sex and they aren’t, so who’s really winning here?”
He handed Avon a mug, and Avon took it with a wince (occasioned by having to make the effort of forcing his brain and limbs to work together), which was succeeded by a pleasingly grateful expression. Avon put the mug on Blake’s side table, turned over on his back, and frowned.
“I want a shower,” Avon pronounced with monumental decision.
“Anything your heart desires,” Blake said grandly.
“Well then, I want you to come shower as well,” Avon said, modifying his demands.
“Probably a good idea,” Blake snorted into his mug. There hadn’t seemed much point in tidying up for the run to the galley—everyone knew, after all, where he’d spent the night. Well, in his own room, as always—the point was that they all knew who he’d spent it with, and what the two of them had spent it doing. Or at least they knew the general outlines: Blake hoped the specifics remained vague. Especially the specifics involving Avon fucking him hard while giving his planned (simultaneously impressively bitter and impressively romantic) leaving speech.
“Thank you for a very interesting party,” Avon said politely, as though he hadn’t, a few hours ago, brutally taken Blake while extorting promises of non-abandonment.
“Oh you’re very welcome,” Blake said, running his hand down Avon’s stomach and giving his thigh a pat (he'd prefer to squeeze his arse, but Avon had made the region temporarily unavailable—perhaps in the shower). “Let’s never do it again.”
Deva expected, in the wake of the sheet-cake affair, that he’d be rejoining Avalon’s fold shortly. To Deva’s surprise, however, Avon informed him that he could stay on as Avon’s research assistant and like it. Deva didn’t know that he did like the idea, wonderful learning opportunity or no. But just as Blake hadn’t given Avon a choice about leaving the Liberator, Avon offered Deva no opportunity to reject the offer.
Initially Avon, still with his hackles up, regularly walked by and checked Deva’s work, muttering things like 'Amateur hour' and 'Replacement! Ha!' and ‘As though I were disposable’. But after about a week, Avon calmed down and began to treat Deva like an appliance. This was generally better, though Deva still had to remember not to talk to Blake unnecessarily in front of Avon. When he occasionally forgot himself and had a casual conversation with the man in Avon’s presence, Avon's facial expressions offered a blatant testimony to his having formed some connection in his brilliant but erratic mind between the fact that Blake had wanted to use Deva to replace him as a computer technician and his non-transferable romantic relationship with Blake. At these moments, Deva wished he’d climbed into an escape pod when he’d heard the words ‘not actually dead’. But on the whole, Deva found himself useful and relatively happy on the Liberator. It was perhaps the highest-drama branch of the rebellion he’d been associated with thus far, but the banter and the catering alike were of a high standard.
The ruined sheet-cake had had to be thrown out uneaten, which represented a sad waste. Blake regretted this profligacy, but largely had other things on his mind.