“If we succeed, if we destroy Control, the Federation will be at its weakest. It will be more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The revolt in the Outer Worlds will grow. The resistance movements on Earth will launch an all-out attack to destroy the Federation. They will need unifying. They will need a leader. You will be the natural choice.”
“Don't be modest, Blake. You are the only one that they would all follow.” (2x5, Pressure Point)
“Figureheads aren't too difficult to come by. Any idiot can be one.” (4x13, Blake)
“Welcome back, Blake,” Avon said once he could breathe properly again.
“Thank you,” Blake said. Gently he kissed the top of Avon’s head, which was resting against his shoulder as though they might go to sleep like this. Avon’s hair was soft and silky, and it smelled faintly of vanilla. The curve of Avon’s back, which Blake was idly stroking, was also soft, though in a different way; and Blake’s brain felt soft, wrapped in contentment, stupid with happiness. “I feel very welcome,” he told Avon.
“I’d offer to make you feel even better, but I have to go to a meeting in ten minutes.”
“Poor show, Avon. You can do a lot in ten minutes.”
“This is all sounding very familiar,” Avon said wryly.
Unable to let an opportunity for smugness pass, he continued, “And obviously I can, but what I’m actually going to do is lie here for another minute or so until I’m sure I can stand. Then I’m going to get dressed. And then I’m going to go to my meeting.”
“Important meeting?” Blake asked, the haze inside his brain clearing.
“More important than you, you mean? No, probably not, but I’m going to go to it anyway. The Minister of Education, I think. Classroom sizes, additions to the curriculum––”
“Very important, then,” Blake said. He was internally delighted that Avon had picked this day for his shuttle to arrive back on Earth. Avon’s flightplan would have told him the distance to Earth from the colony world Blake had been stranded on after what was being alternately called ‘The Short War’ or 'The Andromedan War', and the speed that the shuttle could travel at, and had produced this day as a valid ETA. Avon would have known that, and must have scheduled appropriate meetings around the hour he’d cleared in his calendar for Blake’s arrival. Off the top of his head, Blake couldn’t think of anything more important than education – and they were going to talk about it in five minutes, were they? Perfect. Everything was perfect.
“You’re right,” Avon said as though he’d just realised that education was important, too. “What am I doing here with you? Blake, this has all been a terrible mistake––”
He tried to get up and disentangle himself from the sheets and Blake’s arms, but Blake hadn’t released him so the attempt was fairly brief. Then Avon abandoned it altogether and slumped back into Blake’s arms with a smile.
“Well, we knew that,” Blake said as Avon leaned up to kiss him. Earlier kisses had been desperate things – Avon trying to take control of his mouth and savage him. This was much gentler (as though Avon was assured of his conquest and was delighted by it) but just as lovely.
“Mm. You know, I really do have to go to that meeting,” Avon reminded him between warm, soft slides of lips.
Grudgingly, and with one final caress, Blake released him.
Having checked it wasn’t a trap and he wasn’t about to be dragged back under, Avon stood. For a moment, it seemed he couldn’t remember where his clothes had ended up – Blake watched the round curve of Avon’s arse, and considered biting him and possibly dragging him back into bed – then Avon turned around, as though he could tell exactly what Blake was thinking. Blake grinned at him.
“Your office,” he said of the clothes.
“I was wondering,” Avon admitted, and wandered back in that direction, naked feet padding on the wood floor.
Blake’s clothes had been discarded in roughly the same area, so he levered himself out of bed and followed Avon, picking up his shirt from where it had been flung over a chair-back.
“Are they going to deal with recent history?” he asked, as he pulled the shirt over his head. “Zircaster, the Short War––?”
His head emerged from the collar and he found Avon inches in front of him, drawing him into another open-mouthed kiss as though he had barely been able to stand the moments they’d been separated. Apparently Avon had managed to get his underwear on in that interval, but nothing else.
Blake wrapped his arms around Avon’s naked back and pulled him closer, pressing light kisses against Avon’s smiling lips before pushing his tongue in to claim Avon’s mouth more thoroughly as Avon’s fingertips dug into his hair. Almost eight months apart had made it clear to both of them how they felt about each other – and now they were making up for lost time, as single-mindedly as newly weds.
“How much can you do in ten minutes again?” Avon murmured in the gap between the two of them. One of his hands slid downwards under the edge of Blake’s shirt – and he sucked in a breath as though he liked it when Blake caught his wrist to arrest its progress.
“I’m afraid it’s five minutes now,” Blake reminded him, capturing Avon’s other hand pre-emptively.
“And how much can you do in five minutes?” Avon asked warmly, but he drew away and picked up his own shirt from the floor.
Blake’s trousers were in the same heap. Avon tossed them to Blake one handed as he slid his left arm into the relevant sleeve of his shirt. Blake was half-way through pulling up his own underwear and almost fumbled the catch, but Avon had timed the throw well and Blake had both his hands free as the bundle of cloth hit his midriff. The specific activity was new, but the rhythm was familiar. They’d always thrown tools and weapons to each other, confident that they knew what the other needed and when they would be ready for it.
Avon grinned at him, his hands now doing up the final button on his shirt. Blake fought the urge to kiss him again – that seemed likely to end in the two of undoing their good work and undressing each other. Blake pulled on his trousers instead, watching Avon do much the same thing over the other side of the room. Across the room, Avon noticed he was being watched and raised his eyebrows. Blake shook his head, smiling and returned to his own clothes.
“Why didn’t we do this before?” he said, more to himself really, than to Avon.
He’d wanted it, certainly, and Avon must have wanted it too, which Blake had suspected, actually, at the time, though he’d never acted on it. But it had seemed like a very bad idea back on the Liberator. They were fighting a war; they were confined within a limited space they couldn’t afford to leave; and Avon, who could be both achingly kind and generous, was often so vile about important things that Blake veered between wanting to propose to him and wanting to throw him out of an airlock.
“I didn’t ask,” Avon said. “Neither did you,” he added, summarising all of these objections and others neatly and only slightly inaccurately.
“An oversight,” Blake said, doing the much the same. Avon rolled his eyes and began looking around for his jacket.
“Actually,” Blake said as he sat down on Avon’s office chair to pull on his shoes, “I don’t recall you asking this time, either.”
They hadn’t even spoken – perhaps that was why it had finally happened. No chance to get angry at each other. The door to Avon’s office had closed behind Blake. He’d been weary and feeling awkward after the long flight during which Vila had talked at him non-stop about Avon even after Blake had asked him kindly to stop. Blake barely had time to register that the room did indeed contain Avon, who looked good, unbelievably good, before Avon had dragged him into a desperate kiss. After a moment’s surprise, Blake had kissed him back, just as desperately.
It had been their first – a strange, unexpected, crashing of teeth and lips that melted into a soft and steady heat as they worked out how they each fit around the other.
From there, Avon had pulled him into a small anteroom where there was a bed, and the cameras could be turned off, as the two of them gasped and panted into each others mouths and tugged at each others clothes. Blake’s common sense had tried to suggest he should try and talk to Avon before they fell into sex – about how he felt, whether this was the start of a relationship, whether Avon had been in love with Blake on the Liberator as Blake had been in love with him. But by that time Avon had managed to get Blake’s trousers down, and had just bent to take Blake’s cock deep into his mouth in one greedy swallow.
Later, Blake had told himself as Avon (god, he could hardly believe it was happening) moaned as sucked Blake’s cock deeper, fondling his balls with a hand that seemed to tremble, as though Avon had been waiting for this opportunity to make love to Blake for years and could barely believe it was finally happening, either. Later.
Now Avon smiled, pleased with himself and presumably with Blake.
“Well,” he said, “I wasn’t president before. I didn’t always take what I wanted immediately.”
Blake began to laugh, mostly at Avon’s joke, but also because he still found the idea of Avon (who had barely been interested in leading the odd away-mission) in charge of hundreds of planets hilarious. He understood why it had happened, to some extent, and Avon actually seemed to have done relatively well, which Blake found both touching and erotic, but it was still funny.
He continued to laugh even as Avon’s expression turned sour. “You are joking,” Blake said, trying to stop laughing in case Avon wasn’t.
Avon chose not to answer. There were a lot of acetates stacked on his desk, which looked like it was the one Servalan had probably used when this large, gilt and white office had been hers. Avon sorted through the acetates for a while, and withdrew a chip card from amongst the piles.
“I’ve sorted out a Civil List pension for you,” he explained, pushing the chip into Blake’s hand. “Services to the Restoration and so forth. You should be able to draw some cash from any cashpoint.”
So it wasn’t a joke.
“You weren’t exactly sent to Cygnus Alpha for accepting your lot and waiting your turn,” Blake said, trying to explain to Avon why what he’d said was clearly ludicrous and gentle him at the same time. “None of us were.”
Avon seemed to find that bitterly amusing – his mouth twisted in a brief rictus grin, and then distant non-expression was back. “You also have a flat at the edge of the centre ring – I arranged that for you as well. It’s small, but larger than your rooms on the Liberator, so you should be comfortable.”
That was disappointing, though Blake knew he could live with it. But for some reason he’d assumed that he’d be moved into Residence One immediately, staying with Avon until a changeover could be effected after which point Avon would stay with him.
“If you give the credit chip to a driver they’ll pick up your address and take you there,” Avon said. “I’d offer to let you wait here, but the cleaning lady generally stops by at around four – I don’t want either of you to feel awkward.”
“When?” Blake said, feeling they’d skipped several conversational tracks while he hadn’t noticed. “Not the cleaning lady––” Too late he realised he was being rude, and hastened to correct himself. “Thank you, obviously, but – when am I waiting? Waiting for what?”
“Well,” Avon said, looking confused, but underneath that looking distinctly wary as well, “I’ve got meetings for the rest of the afternoon. I’d have thought you were the last person who’d want the business of democracy to be disrupted just because an old friend dropped by.”
“What?” Blake said stupidly.
“You’re right,” Avon said, busying himself with the business of leaving, which at this point mostly seemed to involve straightening his very white gloves. “That’s not how I’d describe you either, but we didn’t have time to discuss a better word for it. Tonight, perhaps. I’ll come round at about eight.”
He leant forward to kiss Blake on the cheek – a politician’s kiss, or the kiss of an absentminded husband leaving a housewife behind as he left for work. He clearly intended it to be a parting shot, whatever it was, but Blake caught him by the wrist again.
“Avon,” he said clearly, even though he was sure he didn’t have to explain this to Avon, “I’m coming with you.”
What on Earth did Avon think he had to do that was more important than discussing the tools that would be used to mould the minds of the next generation? And that was only one of the meetings that Avon presumably had lined up for the rest of the afternoon.
“Ah,” Avon said. “I wondered whether you might think that. As it happens, you aren’t.”
“I’m not tired,” Blake protested, trying again to laugh it off. The journey had been long, true, and Vila had barely stopped talking at any point, and then Blake had come straight here and had engaged in almost an hour of intense sexual intercourse, but this was why he was here. The work. Well, Avon and the work, perhaps, but there wasn’t even a need to prioritise one over the other at the moment, because Avon was doing the work and would presumably continue to be involved. “Even if I were––”
“I don’t think you’re tired,” Avon said. “That’s not why, but I’d prefer not to discuss this right now. Eight o’clock?” He turned towards the door again.
“Avon, if I don’t attend these sorts of things, how do you expect me to have any idea what’s going on and what needs to be done?”
“Well, obviously, I don’t,” Avon said neutrally.
“What?” Blake said again. He laughed again, trying to cover the awkward tension, feeling the situation slipping away from him as though he were hanging at the edge of a cliff and his fingers were losing their grip. “Avon––”
“I don’t want you involved,” Avon said. “I don’t want you to come to any of my meetings, I don’t want you to turn them into your meetings, I don’t want you to advise me on policy because then I might as well turn over the presidency to you now––”
“But you are turning the presidency over to me.”
“What?” Avon said, seeming genuinely surprised now.
“No, you’re not turning the presidency over to me,” Blake said as the truth became inescapably clear. “Not even just now, not ever? You won’t even take my advice?”
“Of course I’m not turning the presidency over to you,” Avon said, face twisting in a frown. “What do I look like, an idiot?”
Blake exhaled bitterly. “No, never an idiot, Avon. But you do look like exactly what you are – a man who cares more about his own wardrobe than he does about the suffering of anyone else.”
Avon flinched. “A flattering portrayal,” he said. “I had no idea you thought so highly of me. Tell me, Blake, why did you sleep with me? As a reward for my careful stewardship of your job, or more generally to get ahead? I apologise. I was stupid enough to think you actually liked me.”
“I love you,” Blake snarled, the thing slipping out as an insult when he’d wanted to say it and mean it. Later. “I just had no idea you would do this to me!”
He swung away from Avon, unable to look at him any more. He leant heavily instead on Avon’s desk, which had been Servalan’s before, and would presumably pass (following an influx of funds to Avon’s bank account) to someone equally corrupt in about thirty years after Avon had grown bored with the job. Blake felt the childish urge to sweep all the acetates and datapads onto the floor, or perhaps to pick up the desk and heave the whole thing over onto its side.
He’d been so happy, such a little time ago. And now everything he’d thought he’d had – a chance to make a difference, a clever and supportive partner – had been shown to be as false as those message tapes the Federation had shown him from his dead siblings.
Worse, he could tell he was dealing with it badly. Why had he said ‘to me’? That sounded petty – no, worse: it sounded entitled. That wasn’t what he meant. He hadn’t been lying a year ago when he’d told Avon that he didn’t want to be president. He was sure he hadn’t lied, and he hadn’t wanted it then, but over the past few weeks he’d become used to the idea that Avon had secured the job for him. Avon had never had any designs on the presidency, aside from one brief suggestion that they could use Star One to control the Federation, which Blake had assumed at the time was a botched sort of gift that Avon wanted to give him, like Travis’s death. He’d assumed this was the same thing – not something he’d wanted, but better than most alternatives, and clearly arising from Avon’s respect, perhaps even love, for him.
He’d allowed himself to start making plans, things he could do with Avon at his side.
But if Avon truly wanted to be president then not only was none of that true, or likely to happen; Blake didn’t even know the man he’d slept with an hour before. And he had no idea what such a man would do with the reins of power he’d never seemed to want.
Blake had expected to hear the swish of the office door opening, as Avon left him to his petulant sulk to deal with affairs of state. Instead there came the sound of knocking from the other side of the door. A muffled voice said,
“Mister President – your three o’clock?”
“One moment,” Avon said from somewhere very close behind Blake. Avon’s hand came to rest on his arm, and Blake almost leant into it, his body remembering Avon pushing him out of the way of gunfire; coming back for him on Horizon; holding the gap at Star One; pushing his cock inside Blake for the first time, his face so anxious and so desperate until Blake had leaned up to kiss him at which point Avon had moaned as though he were dying and stopped being so gentle. Almost. Instead, Blake focused on a particularly ugly paperweight Avon seemed to have acquired, and thought about how much he would enjoy throwing it at Avon’s head.
“I know you can’t possibly think of it this way,” Avon said quietly, “but it is … supposedly … a compliment.”
“A compliment?” Blake said, voice rising again as he turned to glare at Avon. “You told me, Avon – you told me yourself that I should do this job. You know I would do it properly. Now you don’t even want my opinion about class sizes. How is that a compliment?”
“You have always made me want to be a better man,” Avon said. “I am doing this, in a way, for you. I know how little you respect me––”
“What?” Blake said, more aghast by this than by anything that had happened so far. Instinctively, although he would never have done it on the Liberator, he tried to gather Avon into his arms, pressing kisses to Avon’s eyelids. “Avon – sweetheart, how can you say that?”
“Just a moment ago,” Avon said vaguely, “you said I cared more about clothes than about other people.”
“I was angry,” Blake protested, leaving out the fact that he was still furious.
“You were honest,” Avon said. “And to your credit, I have never done or said anything to disprove that statement. The best I have ever done is occasionally follow your instructions when they benefited others. No wonder you don’t respect me.”
“I respect you,” Blake told him firmly. “I wouldn’t have slept with you if I didn’t respect you. I respect your intelligence, your wit, your courage––”
“Kind,” Avon said, “but insincere. Or perhaps,” he thought about this as he extracted himself from Blake’s embrace, “no, not insincere – but not enough, either. I refuse to be a particularly intelligent, humorous and courageous follower you occasionally deign to fuck. Well, now I’m in the president of the Terran Domes. That must be worth something.”
“You realise what you’re saying sounds insane?” Blake said before he could stop himself. “And that you’re putting thousands of people’s lives in danger with this ludicrous scheme?”
“No,” Avon said. “How am I putting people’s lives in danger?”
“Because you don’t know what you’re doing!” Blake protested.
Avon smiled thinly. “Tell me again how much you respect me, Blake. I didn’t believe it the first time, but now I think I’m getting it.”
“Mister President?” the voice from outside said again, and Avon turned and walked back towards it without giving Blake another look.
“All right,” Blake said, following him across the beautifully laminated floor, “I’m sorry. I do understand exactly the point you’re making, and I can see why you feel the need to make it, but you would still be the one making the decisions if you let me come with you, if you let me help you––”
“I don’t think so,” Avon said. “And if I give in to you now, and let you come with me – well, that would just be the first in a long line of decisions you’d eventually talk me out of, wouldn’t it, Blake? Don’t argue. I know you too well. And I do, actually, respect you.”
The doors swished open and Avon stepped out into the corridor. Blake made an attempt to follow him, but either Avon had managed somehow to signal to his guards that he wanted Blake detained, or they naturally sprang into action when irate men began grabbing at the president.
“If you’ll just come with me, sir, we’ll get you a cab home,” the largest and the widest of the guards said to Blake as he was steered in the opposite direction to the one Avon had taken.
“Good luck,” Blake muttered. The Liberator had been his home and now it was off god knows where, performing the role of flagship in something probably only euphemistically called ‘the Defence Fleet’. The news feeds Blake had seen, and some of Vila’s earlier prattle, had suggested Jenna was at the helm of the fleet as its Admiral, which was something. But if she was acting on orders from this president, who knew what she was leading the fleet to? Death and glory, perhaps. Ironic given that she was working for Avon.
To think – when he’d arrived in this building a few hours before, he’d thought he might well soon have to start thinking of this place as home. Now that was ironic.
“What was that, sir?” the guard said.
“Nothing,” Blake said. He rallied himself as he had always done for public appearances. It was no good coming across as insane, foaming at the mouth with rage, even to Avon’s hired thugs. That was not how he was going to win. “Thank you very much for your help. Please do tell the president how much I appreciated his, ah, hospitality.”
“I’m sure the president will be pleased to hear that, sir,”
I bet he will, Blake thought irritably.
The taxi driver recognised him. Blake sat through a few minutes of awkward chitchat about what it had really been like on Star One, what the Andromedans had looked like, and what it had been like working with Avon, and then he lapsed into silence, staring moodily out of the window while he chewed one of his nails. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to try and convert this one man to his point of view, but apparently Avon had granted mini-cab drivers exemption from the congestion charge, which made him all right in the cabby’s eyes. That sort of viewpoint was unlikely to be swayed by small things such as institutional incompetence, or a lack of compassion for the common man.
Blake also felt tired and depressed – he would do better, he knew, after some time to sleep and plan. Better, as with the guards at Avon’s door, not to make that sort of name for himself as an anti-establishment lunatic. Not yet, anyway.
“And what have you been doing with yourself since the Short War?” the driver asked eventually. “You were a big name there, for a while.”
Blake scowled out through the window. That was an even less appealing topic of conversation than Avon. He’d tried to explain what he’d done during the last eight months to Vila during the shuttle ride back to Earth – this had been in between Vila’s tales of the many fascinating and unlikely things that had happened to him and to Avon and the others since the war. Vila had said something like, I’m sure you’ve been up to loads of interesting stuff too, Blake, in a kindly voice, but all that had happened to Blake in the same period was that he’d crash-landed somewhere inhospitable and had to recover from two broken legs, as well as Travis’s lazeron shot to his chest. Yes, he’d also helped reorganise the hospital infrastructure and had assisted in the recovery of numerous other patients, but (for all he made the effort) Vila didn’t seem to find that very interesting. Oh, and Blake didn’t blame him – he didn’t find his own trauma more interesting than the complete reorganisation of central Administration, either. But it grew tiring after a few hours, being the person whose role was to listen and prompt Vila to return to the narrative when Vila got distracted by talking about his newest clothes.
“I was injured,” Blake told the taxi driver shortly, without taking his fingers from his mouth. “Twice.”
“Hard luck,” the driver said. He nodded towards a large screen they were passing, which had just lit up in an image of Avon’s face in time for his traditional afternoon broadcast. “That could have been you, I bet. If you’d pushed for it.”
“Really,” Blake said flatly, and took to glaring out of the other window instead.
The flat Avon had bought for him to … well, presumably just exist passively in turned out to be enormous. During the four years Blake had been re-programmed to act as a model member of society, he had lived in one of the nicer apartments in the dome – the Federation brainshrinks had theorised that he was less likely to fall back into rebellion if he wasn’t dissatisfied with his lot, even in comparison with other highly privileged alphas.
This apartment was about twice the size of that one. It was only small in comparison to the presidential palace.
It was also filled with things that were not only expensive, but also often clearly very valuable antiques, of the kind that should have been in a museum or at the very least the private collection of a connoisseur like Sarkoff.
The small, grubby apartment that Blake had half expected from Avon’s initial description would have felt bitterly like an estimation of his worth. At the back of his mind Blake knew that he would have been horrified and angry to have been driven to such a place, but the idea of Avon trying to buy him was horrible too. As was the idea of what it must have cost to try and buy him.
Blake was already incandescently angry by the time he arrived at the flat, and he found the size of place and the quality of its furnishings completely unacceptable.
“We could feed a large colony for a decade with this!” he shouted at Avon, who wasn’t even there to admit his mistake. Still, it gave Blake vicious pleasure though to pull the paintings from the walls, and stack them against the doorway, to push the inlaid cabinets together and, for now, cover them with one of the expensive throws that had previously been arranged over what was fortunately a perfectly standard sofa. Everything would have to be removed tomorrow. And if possible he would try and find another flat to live in. Avon could use the sale of this one to fund a new waistcoat, or extensive leisure facilities for five of the poorest delta quadrants.
Once the furnishings were out of the way, Blake turned his attention to the electronic equipment Avon had provided, which Blake had allowed himself to keep as it was fairly standard and he would need it to achieve anything at all. To his relief, there didn’t seem to be any blocks preventing him from accessing public data (of which, to give Avon credit, there was now a lot more – in the six months that Avon had been in power, the number of accessible pages had more than quadrupled). Blake sent out a variety of messages in a variety of codes to the people he remembered knowing on Earth, letting them know he was back. He also located Avalon’s data string and pinged it with a recognisable ident so that she would come looking for him.
Then he set a quick search running to see if there was any public data about the meetings Avon had refused to involve him with today. The top result was an archived version of the afternoon broadcast Blake had seen out of the window on his drive home. Having watched all of the previous editions of Avon’s afternoon Presidential address, Blake knew this would be mostly a fluff piece. if It referred to any real work, it would refer only to decisions that had already been made long ago, decisions that had already resulted in changes that had been already greeted positively by the populace. Still – occasionally he would mention a particularly momentous meeting. It was worth looking, and Blake dialled it up.
Avon’s face filled the monitor on the wall, wearing the same closed expression Blake had seen on the billboard-screen. For a moment, Blake felt a familiar wrenching in his chest – the same pain that he’d felt every day as he’d watched Avon speaking about the good work he was doing somewhere Blake wasn’t where he couldn’t reach him.
Then Avon began speaking, “Well, it’s been another great day for freedom––” and Blake snarled,
“Pause recording,” and went to get himself a drink. When he returned with the glass of scotch (Avon had also fitted out a truly excellent spirits cabinet – allowing for some very satisfying breakages if the evening got worse), he saw Avon’s frozen image hanging over his bare living room. He considered watching more of the recording, and decided against it.
“Computer, call Admiral Jenna Stannis,” he said, slumping onto the sofa in front of the screen, which went dark, absorbing Avon’s image, and then filled with a wash of green numbers and letters.
Blake rubbed his eyes with the thumb and forefinger of the hand not holding the scotch. Talking to Jenna, whom he had not seen in as long as he had not seen Avon, would (he knew) help him to make sense of this. He could talk this through with her, and she would point out that Avon was being unreasonable, but that Blake was behaving badly, which wasn’t helping. Blake knew all of this, but he also knew he needed to talk it through before he could do anything appropriate.
“Jenna Stannis is not currently located in any of the Terran domes,” the computer intoned.
“I know that,” Blake said patiently. “Contact the Zen computer aboard the Liberator, and patch me through to Jenna.”
The computer processed this command for a moment, the numbers and letters flickering, and then said,
“Jenna Stannis is not currently located in any of the Terran domes.”
Blake supposed there had probably been limited need for any standard device to call outside Earth before Avon’s reign had begun. Perhaps the computer simply did not have the capability yet. He could probably re-wire the entire device and make it work, but it would be simpler to write a message that Zen would pick up, or he could ask Avon how to get in contact with Jenna. He didn’t want to do any of those options right now, though, so Jenna would have to wait.
“Computer, contact Cally of Auron,” he said instead.
“Cally of Auron is not––”
“––currently located in any of the Terran domes,” Blake finished with it, feeling his frustration rise again from the comparatively neutral position it had been when he’d gone to get the whisky. What had Avon done with all of their people? Given them good jobs, presumably, but sent them as far away as possible.
“Vila Restal?” Blake asked. “He must still be in this dome. He arrived with me this morning.”
Again, another pause as the computer considered this. And then it said, “Connecting you to Vila Restal.”
Blake felt a surge of triumph, even though his last experience with Vila had been strained and difficult, and he had no reason to believe Vila would have that much sympathy with the fact that Avon wasn’t involving him in the work of government. Perhaps, if he’d thought more before the instruction, Blake could have worked out a way to put this to Vila that Vila might have empathised with (“You know, Vila, Avon is just – well, he’s a bastard, isn’t he? A complete and utter bastard”), but never mind. At least he had someone to talk to who wasn’t Avon, or a stranger, about Avon.
Vila’s face appeared on the screen. He looked awkward, which wasn’t a good sign. He also seemed to be wearing a coat. “Oh, hi Blake,” he said, with a quick flicker of a smile. “Long time no see. Listen, I’d love to chat, but––”
“Vila,” Blake said firmly, before Vila could weasel out of the conversation, “did you know that––”
“I’m just about to go out,” Vila said, equally unwilling to be dissuaded.
“––Avon plans to actually stay on as president?”
“You see I’ve been away a long time,” Vila said. “Collecting you, actually.”
“And worse––” Blake said.
“And I promised Sherey that we’d go out when I got back.”
“––he absolutely refuses to consult me about anything,” Blake finished triumphantly. “Did you know that?”
“Yes,” Vila said. “I mean no. I mean – what was the question again? Actually, no, don’t tell me – I do have to go out. I promised. But, er, I promise I’ll call you soon, Blake. Computer – end call.”
His image faded rapidly in from the edges of the screen, and then was replaced by the earlier frozen shot of Avon’s face.
“You paused this recording three minutes and twenty-two seconds ago,” the computer said. “Do you wish to resume playback?”
“Yes,” Blake said irritably, “why not?”
As Avon started talking again (“New figures show that our GDP has increased by approximately––”), Blake got up and went to re-fill his glass.
Four and a half hours and six glasses of scotch later, the computer received an encrypted request for a voice conference from an unknown source.
“Request accepted,” Blake said, genuinely excited for the first time since he’d entered the flat. He sat forward on the sofa. Avalon, surely. None of his contacts on Earth had reason to conceal their identity, and he hadn’t managed to send a message to Jenna or Cally yet.
“It’s eight o’clock,” Avon’s voice said from the speaker by the monitor. “We had an appointment of a sort, but I don’t recall you actually agreeing to it, and I didn’t want to come round if you were still angry.”
The part of Blake that was drunk, and still wanted to lash out, considered swearing at Avon and telling him to go away. But the rest of him remembered the decision he’d made while the guard had been escorting him out. He needed to be taken seriously, particularly by Avon. He needed Avon, perhaps more than he’d ever needed Avon before. At the moment, Avon was stubborn and intractable, but wasn’t he always? Avon had never exactly welcomed the idea of accompanying Blake on hit-and-run missions to Federation bases; he had held out longer than the rest of the crew against the idea of going to Control, but Blake had persuaded him – or, actually, in that case Avon had merely changed his mind. But it showed it was possible for him to change his mind.
It wouldn’t be possible for Avon to change his mind if Blake pushed him away, though, if he showed himself to be unfit for the power and respect that he wanted Avon to give him.
“I’m not angry,” he said carefully.
“You’re lying,” Avon’s voice said, sounding slightly amused.
“Possibly,” Blake agreed, thinking, So much for that.
“So, I shouldn’t come round.”
“Oh, I think that’s your choice, Avon,” Blake said. He rolled the latest whisky around in its glass, leaning back against the cushions. “Possibly the choice of your security people, depending on what you think I might do to you.”
“I don’t think my security people need to see what I think you might do to me,” Avon said.
Blake raised an eyebrow. Avon’s voice was warm and insinuating – it had effectively done what it had set out to do and gone straight to Blake’s cock. Blake shifted on the sofa in a way that did almost nothing to disperse the tight feeling in his trousers.
He hadn’t been thinking about sex all afternoon. The issue was not whether or not he was sexually or even romantically attracted to Avon, and it never had been. The issue was whether or not the right policies were going to be made for the citizens of the former-Federation at this extremely delicate point in history. Taking sex from Avon now he knew what Avon intended to do with him (nothing at all) was a terrible idea. It would make Avon think what he was doing was acceptable, and it felt ... seedy. Blake knew he could potentially sleep with Avon enough that Avon felt bound to him and relented and gave him access to Space Command or the Ministry of Education, or that he could sleep with Avon just enough that Avon became addicted and then strategically withhold favours, but he did actually like Avon; more than like him. And while he’d done some terrible things for the cause of freedom in the past, Blake did still have some self respect. It wasn’t a good idea to do that to either of them.
“You’re right – you shouldn’t come round,” he said.
“I– All right, I shouldn’t, but what about if I want to?” Avon said, trying for the same relaxed, confident tone of his previous statement, but missing. He hadn’t expected, even after everything that had happened, that Blake would turn him away. It should have felt like a triumph, one that hardened Blake’s resolve, but actually he found Avon’s sudden uncertainty … sweet. Appealing.
“We don’t have to have sex,” Avon’s voice continued and Blake pressed the whisky glass hard against his lips. He liked the way Avon said sex. He liked the way Avon said most things, but this was particularly interesting. “I just want to talk.”
“Fine,” Blake said, after a moment, “if you insist – we can talk. Computer – end transmission.”
There would be more than enough time, he thought as he got to his feet, to take care of himself while Avon took a car from the palace across the city to the apartment. That would keep him from being even slightly tempted by sex when Avon was here. Twice in one day was already far more than Blake thought probable or reasonable – three times (twice within a few hours) would be impossible. They could talk, and then Avon could go.
Someone knocked at the door. Resigned, Blake put his glass on the floor and walked over to press the door release. Avon, of course, but far earlier than should have been possible. He was wearing the same crisply starched clothes as he had been wearing in the broadcast, and when Blake had been shown into his office earlier. He looked good – dangerously so. A few more minutes would certainly have helped, but this apparently wasn’t the sort of day where Blake got what he wanted or needed.
“You’ve built another teleport,” Blake observed as he stood back to let Avon enter.
“What?” Avon said. Then he laughed slightly. “Ah, no – I was waiting outside. I’m glad you let me in – I’d already sent the driver home.”
That should have been insulting – Avon had been so sure of himself and his victory that he’d just waited until Blake backed down – but again, Blake was taken by surprise by his own feelings. The idea of Avon, the president of a galaxy, lurking outside in a corridor, trying to sweet-talk his way into an apartment he owned was ridiculous, adorable and funny, like a cat suddenly drenched in cold water. Blake grinned at Avon, who could have lied about the whole thing to make himself look better. Avon grinned back. For a moment it was like none of the past few hours had happened and they were back at the newly wed stage of their relationship again.
“Would you like a drink?” Blake asked, moving towards the kitchen.
“Water,” Avon said. “Thank you.” He looked around for somewhere to sit, and then up at the walls where the paintings he had perhaps hand-selected no longer hung.
“Well, I love what you’ve done with the place,” he said wryly as he accepted a glass of water from Blake. He settled himself on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other. It was a large sofa, but not large enough for comfort. Blake pulled a spindly chair off the pile of furniture by the doorway, and sat on it, about a metre away from Avon.
“I take it all that will be gone by tomorrow,” Blake said, gesturing towards the pile with a hand.
“I’ll have someone collect it,” Avon agreed.
“There are other people vastly more in need of the credits it must have taken to purchase it than I am.”
“I thought you deserved it,” Avon said, which he might have meant to be flattering, but which was like a spark in a thatched roof.
“You thought you could buy me off,” Blake retorted.
Avon’s mouth twisted. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I thought you knew me, Avon. Nobody who knows me would seriously think for one second that I would willingly spend the rest of my life sitting around in a luxury apartment, doing nothing while unjust laws were passed and enforced.”
“I never expected you to,” Avon said. “I thought you might refuse all this, but I wanted to offer it to you anyway, because I do think you deserve it.”
“For what exactly?” Blake demanded. What could Avon possibly think he’d done that was worthwhile, given that Avon refused to let him do any of it again? “Being a good fuck?”
Avon ignored all of that, though he did wince slightly. “As for doing nothing, no – I didn’t expect that of you either. I don’t want you involved in my work––”
“––which is the only thing worth doing.”
“Actually, there are several other things you could do,” Avon said. “Some are things that only you could do. Leading the new teleport design-project, for example––”
This time it was Blake’s turn to scoff. “I hardly think building you a new cash cow is the sort of rewarding work that will help me sleep at night, Avon.”
“Then you haven’t thought about what the teleport could do in the right hands,” Avon said, his face gaining some animation at last as he leant forward. “The Federation would have used the teleport to deploy troops of conquest. My government would use it to transport food, to move colonists onto new homes, to evacuate populations from the scenes of natural disaster––”
“And for conquest?” Blake suggested.
“I already own more of the galaxy than I thought likely,” Avon said. He smiled slightly. “I don’t think I need any more, do you?”
Blake shook his head. “There are other places that we could and should help.” He shifted himself from the chair to the sofa, so he was sitting next to Avon where he could properly command his attention. “What about worlds where the Federation still rules? Or there are plenty of other dictators who are just as bad – Epheron, the planet where I crash-landed, is only neutral in the sense that it wasn’t part of the Federation or a rebel stronghold. The people there live in poverty, the medical facilities are appalling. That’s why it took me almost six months to recover the use of my legs. We should at least consider helping them.”
“Or,” Avon said, as though this hadn’t happened, “if you don’t want to be involved with the teleport project––”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to be involved with the teleport project,” Blake said firmly. “I agree––”
“If you don’t want to be involved in the teleport project,” Avon said again, his gaze losing focus again, “you could be very useful as an ambassador, like Cally. Lindor, Horizon, Albion – all of these places would welcome you with open arms.”
“I agree that this government could use a teleport for good,” Blake persisted. “What I don’t necessarily agree with––”
“Or, if you’d like to stay on Earth, we’re beginning to gain access to the restricted archives––”
“––is the scope of what those ideas are,” Blake continued. “Avon, will you please listen to me!”
“Not until you stop trying to tell me how to do my job, no,” Avon said, his gaze snapping back to Blake’s face. “You can be sure I won’t try to tell you how to reverse-engineer the Liberator’s teleport system.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Blake said, leaning back against the arm of the sofa. “I expect you’d be better at it than I would. Or at least have a valuable contribution to make.”
Avon smiled thinly. “Possibly.”
Feeling suddenly exhausted, Blake said, “How long is this going to go on for, Avon?”
“I don’t know,” Avon said after a moment in which he presumably considered pretending not to understand what Blake was asking, and decided against it. “I expect at some point we’ll hold democratic elections, and I won’t be voted back in.”
“So you are planning on holding elections?” Blake said, raising the hand that had been rubbing his eyes so that he could look at Avon. The matter-of-fact way Avon had stated the issue surprised him for some reason, though it shouldn’t have. Clearly it surprised Avon that it was even under debate.
“Why replace one dictatorship with another?”
Despite all his resolutions earlier, Blake leaned forwards and pressed his lips to Avon’s, opening his mouth when Avon didn’t draw away, and pushing in to rub Avon’s tongue with his own when Avon sighed into him. He could blame the alcohol later if it seemed later like a bad idea, but at the moment it felt good, as good as Avon was trying to be. Avon’s hands came up to grasp his shoulders, and then push him backwards gently.
“You really do have a very low opinion of me, don’t you, Blake?” Avon said softly, his nose still resting against Blake’s, pressing lightly into his cheek.
“I don’t,” Blake assured him. “I have such a high opinion of you, and what you’re doing here, that it hurts not to be a part of it. Can’t you see that?”
“You are a part of it,” Avon said, threading his hands through Blake’s hair. “You are the reason it is happening. You are the reason I am doing any of this, and incidentally the reason I’ve done anything at all since I met you aboard the London.”
Blake shuddered against him as Avon kissed him back – that was the confession he had almost expected Avon might make earlier in the day, but, as with Avon’s insistence on the business of democracy, this took him by surprise in the straightforward way it was said, from Avon, of all people, who must truly mean it; who must, in fact, mean it even more than he claimed to, if he’d been able to say this much out loud.
“Stay here tonight,” Blake told him huskily between kisses as he tried to climb further into Avon’s lap. “We can talk more in the morning.”
“My answer will still be the same in the morning,” Avon said, but his fingers had already strayed to the zip down the front of Blake’s shirt.
“I know,” Blake said against Avon’s neck. His pulse was trembling. “Stay anyway. Please. For me, Avon.”
This time it was Avon’s turn to shudder. “I never said I was going to leave,” he reminded Blake. “But I certainly like being asked to stay. You should have tried it on the Liberator.”
“Stay,” Blake growled, pressing his cock against Avon’s thigh, rubbing against him. “Stay,” he told Avon again as he thrust into Avon’s slick, tight body on the bed Avon had bought for them to fuck in. “Stay. For me. Avon, stay. Stay––”
“Fuck,” Avon hissed. “Yes,” he gasped, orgasm clearly about to wash over him, “yes. Anything, Blake. Anything you say.”
Blake woke the next morning to find Avon dressing in the dim illumination of the digital clock, the soft drag and swish of him tugging on his clothes the only sound in the room beyond the creak of the bed springs.
“Computer – lights on,” Blake said and watched Avon jump in the suddenly bright light. “Twenty-five per cent,” he said too late, his eyes screwed up against the illumination. He relaxed as the light dimmed and looked back at Avon, who had almost finished putting his clothes back on.
Avon looked good in the gloomy lighting, his hair darker and the crisp white of his shirt seeming to glow slightly like his teeth when he smiled.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Avon said as he adjusted his cufflinks.
“How thoughtful. Pity it failed,” Blake said, pulling more pillows from Avon’s side onto his so that he could support himself in a sitting position.
“I won’t bother next time, but you seemed tired.”
“Charming,” Blake said.
“Believe me, I had no complaints last night,” Avon said, smirking, “but I thought you were probably tired nonetheless.” He leant down to kiss Blake goodbye, with far less formality and a lot more tongue than he had kissed Blake goodbye the day before.
“You’re off, then, I take it?” Blake asked, as Avon drew back. Avon nodded. “What’s on the presidential plate today?”
“Meetings,” Avon said without much interest. “Followed by more meetings.”
“Well, with people, generally,” Avon said. “One meeting will, I think, also be attend by a dog, but that is the exception.”
“I would never have guessed,” Blake said wryly.
“If you could have worked it out yourself, you shouldn’t have asked,” Avon said. “Actually, there is one meeting you could come along to if you’re planning on taking up the teleport project work––”
Blake shook his head.
He was tempted by the idea of attending an actual political gathering inside the palace – presumably once he was inside it would be more difficult to get rid of him, though that hadn’t helped much the day before – but he’d mulled over Avon’s suggestions last night after Avon had gone to sleep. Better not just to dismiss them out of hand – that was what Avon would expect him to do, and was less than he owed Avon. But Blake knew he hadn’t come back to Earth just to build Avon a teleport device.
“You’re not thinking of taking one of the ambassadorial positions?” Avon said, looking suddenly worried. “I didn’t think you would. Earth has always been at the centre of all your plans. I thought it would be the teleport job, or that you’d refuse everything.” He sat down on the bed next to Blake’s legs, and leant into the hand that Blake brought up to his face. “You realise that if you go to Lindor, then we’ll hardly see each other, and of course if that’s what you want––”
“I’m not going to Lindor,” Blake said soothingly.
“Hardly a comfort. Albion is almost as far away,” Avon said. “And the less said about Horizon––”
“No, no, no. You were right the first time,” Blake said. “I have to stay on Earth. It’s what I’ve been working for all this time, and no – I don’t mean to take the archival job or sit around doing nothing, either.” Avon arched a curious eyebrow, and Blake said, “If there is, at any point, to be an election, you’ll need at least one credible opposition party to stand against you. I like to think I am a little more than credible.”
Avon started laughing, but it was warm rather than mocking. “Not a bad idea, given that you already criticise my ideas on a regular basis, and I already choose not to listen. Why not get paid for it?”
“If the people side with me, you may have to listen,” Blake told him seriously, “even before I’m officially in office. That, Avon, is democracy.”
“Yes, well, good luck,” Avon said, kissing Blake again and getting to his feet. “I’ll be back again at eight.”
“Have a nice day at work, dear,” Blake called after Avon wryly as the door closed behind him.