Avon wakes slowly. Med bay; the slight antiseptic smell is unmistakeable. He lies still, eyes closed, trying to assess his own condition. Numbness, mainly. Nothing actively hurts, which is a pleasant change. His right hand’s warmer than the rest of him; he puzzles about that, can think of no immediate explanation, gives up and opens his eyes.
“Blake.” Avon lifts his head slightly. Ah. The explanation for the hand is that Blake is holding onto it. He tries an eyebrow and Blake grins but doesn’t let go.
“And here was I thinking we were on first name terms, Kerr.” Blake’s unworried enough to be amused, so Avon reckons that his condition can’t be too serious.
“I was fairly sure that you’d know we weren’t, so please don’t call me that again.”
Blake nods, slightly more serious. “It was easy enough to tell that your message wasn’t what it seemed. It was rather more difficult to figure out what you were trying to say.”
“I was a little under pressure at the time.” Avon says, defensively. “Inventing a cipher quite literally under Servalan’s nose isn’t exactly straightforward, even when one isn’t in bloody agony.”
“I saw the place we got you out of and I got the med report.” Blake says, quietly. “You don’t need to justify yourself to me. What you managed was absolutely incredible.”
Blake’s familiar hyperbole, Avon thinks, and almost smiles. “How long?”
“From the recording of your message to us receiving it, four hours. It took us a couple of hours to make any sense of it.” Blake grimaces, wryly. “Vila figured out most of it, him and Orac. I had to supply a bit of context in places though.”
Avon hadn’t thought of anyone but Blake hearing it. Bits had been, or had pretended to be, personal. It didn’t matter. “Go on.”
“Propaganda on tech light planets is tricky, especially when we couldn’t get close because of those damn pursuit ships. We sent in missiles set to explode at ten thousand feet with leaflet payloads. That took another four hours to sort out, I’m afraid. We had to source the paper from Meros, which was a tale in itself. They… never mind that now. We were as fast as we could possibly be.” He sounds apologetic.
“Then how long?” He’s up to ten hours after Servalan left. Surely it had been much longer?
“Then things got moving. We picked up the Federation reports; the riots started within thirty minutes and over half the high ranking Feds and their guards were dead within an hour. The remaining ones hightailed it out of there and the pursuit ships left the system about 90 minutes after the leaflets landed. After that we were with you within minutes.” Blake shakes his head, amused admiration. “I’ll say one thing, you certainly know how to organise an effective resistance movement, Avon.”
“That wasn’t a resistance movement.” The memory left a very sour taste. “The poor sods were programmed; Sion’s conditioning. You could have gone in there and offered them all real freedom and prosperity, and they’d have torn you apart just as they did the Federation as soon as you said the word “computer”.” He wonders briefly how many ‘idiosyncratic computer components’ died in the uprising. It’s not relevant now.
Eleven and a half hours after Servalan. Was that all? Avon has a sudden image of something of what two weeks might have been like and he shudders.
“I should let you rest.” Blake seems reluctant to relinquish his hand. “You look like hell.”
“I could do with some more sleep,” he says. Nothing might hurt but prolonged unconsciousness still sounds remarkably appealing. He’s been thoroughly battered and he doesn’t much want to talk to anyone, even Blake, (especially Blake) until he feels resilient again.
* * * * * * * * * *
The dearth jazz fills the darkened room, spiky and discordant, Avon lies on his bed, eyes closed, trying to follow all six patterns that supposedly underlie the notoriously difficult piece. The music has become eerily familiar over the past few weeks. He’s not sure that he likes it, exactly, but it keeps him occupied.
The knock is quiet, but he knows the music well enough to pick it out. He swings himself off the bed. “Come in.”
“Am I disturbing you?” Blake steps gingerly over the threshold. “You’ve redecorated!”
“Yes,” Avon says. He intends it as an answer for both but the subtlety is lost on Blake, who turns around in the middle of his sitting room, inspecting the furnishings.
“It’s not exactly cosy.” Avon has replaced the ridiculous squishy chairs with a single geometric plastic one. There’s a functional desk up against the short wall and a black metal scaffold of awkward angles and uneven lengths against the longer one.
“Can I help you?” He’d like Blake to go away.
“Possibly.” Blake tries the chair, huffs in disgust and walks past Avon to sit on the bed. “I think we should talk. Is this meant to be music?”
Avon turns it down a little, reluctantly. “About what?”
“Tell me what happened on Kilva.”
“Read the med report.”
“I’ve read the med report. Three fractured ribs- impact at close range, probably one of their projectile weapons. Superficial burns, wrist and ankles. Abrasions, ditto. Torn muscles in one shoulder, sprained in the other. Minimal dehydration. As I read that you were shot at close range, chained up and left for the best part of a local day.” Blake is watching Avon closely. “Was that all?”
All? Wasn’t it enough? “Yes.”
Blake sits back, his voice dismissive. “Well, if that was all… That’s good. I thought maybe you’d had a rough time down there.”
“A rough time?” Avon is staring at him, disbelieving. “A rough fucking time? Have you any idea?”
“I have some experience with torture.” Blake tells him. “What they did to you physically wouldn’t even count as light relief.”
“Get out!” He’s not having Roj Blake telling him that.
“I’m not finished.” And, over Avon’s repeated “Get out!” Blake bellows, full voiced. “I’M NOT DONE! Listen!”
“Better. I also have some experience with trauma. Something happened to you on Kilva, and I don’t mean the stuff that the med report showed. I’ve waited a month for you to talk to me about it, or to show signs of getting over it on your own. I’ve waited for you to show the faintest interest in coming near me again, and that’s been hardest of all. We can’t fix this unless you start talking to me.”
“There’s nothing to fix.” He always finds it hard to stand against Blake’s intensity, and it feels like he’s got no solid footholds any more.
“Tell me what happened after I teleported out. Start there.” Blake stands up, draws him firmly down so that they are both sitting on the bed. “Please.”
He has nothing else, and he’s thoroughly tired of talking to himself so he starts talking to Blake. He tries to keep it as dry and objective as he can, but when he reaches the point at which Sion uses him to spark the riot he knows that he’s losing it. He tries to describe the bloodied corpses and the wailing of the injured, shot or trampled underneath an enormous crowd howling crazily for his destruction, but he stumbles over the words and finally he just falls silent.
“Is Sion still alive?”
He shakes his head. “Servalan’s people killed him. I think.”
“That’s a pity,” Blake says, calmly. “When did Servalan arrive?”
The question was easier to answer. “Not till much later. Sion got the crowd back under control and offered me as a work incentive to the most productive unit at the end of the day.” He grimaced. “I would very much like to have killed him myself. Anyway I waited in that cell for you to come for me for hours. I couldn’t work out what was keeping you, until Servalan turned up instead.” He manages a brief smile at Blake. “Not a substitution I was particularly happy about.”
“What did she say?”
He shrugs. “You know what she’s like when she thinks she’s winning.” He didn’t much want to talk about that conversation.
“Your message…I was rather surprised that you decided to try to convince Servalan that we were lovers.” Blake’s voice is carefully neutral.
“You did that.” Avon rolls his shoulders without thinking about it, a long forgotten action. “If you recall, you left bitemarks.”
“Servalan saw those?” Blake sounds both horrified and rather pleased.
“Servalan saw everything. I lost all my clothes very early on in this little adventure, remember.”
“Yes. I hadn’t forgotten.” Blake clearly decides to change the subject a little. “The message was intended to lure Liberator in, obviously.”
“Obviously.” Actually it had taken Avon several sleepless nights back on Liberator to realise that there would never have been any question of Blake leaving him to rot in a cell on Kilva for two weeks. Servalan must have known that as well. She’d just been tormenting him, very effectively. He is still furious with himself for being taken in.
“I imagine talking to Servalan is particularly difficult under those circumstances.” Blake’s probing a little, Avon thinks. He doesn’t want to sound evasive or defensive, so he goes for light.
“Oh, I don’t know. I think she might have a bit of a thing for naked men in chains.”
“She’s not the only one.” Blake says.
Avon is stunned into temporary silence. That’s either the most inappropriate comment he’s ever heard or…something else.
Blake doesn’t seem to notice his silence. “Would you like to know what we were doing while you were hanging around down there? And how we finally found you?”
He’s thought about the last bit over and over. What had he looked like? What had he said? What had Blake felt to see him reduced to that miserable figure? And, far too often, though he knows the question itself is crazy and inappropriate… how had Blake reacted to seeing him in chains?
Now Blake is offering to tell him and he finds that he’s reluctant to take him up on it. Cowardice. He takes a breath. “I would certainly like to know why you took quite so long, yes.”
Blake sits back against the wall, legs loosely crossed. “Well. When I found you weren’t with me we went back for you. Three times, I think, before I finally had to admit that wasn’t going to work. You’d vanished and the place was swarming with soldiers, all extremely trigger happy. Unlike the others I did at least had the impact absorption stuff, but as you found out it’s hardly like a force field. Close range those guns take you down anyway. The only way to stay alive would have been to go in weapons blazing ourselves, but the death toll would have been horrific and the Kilvans weren’t our enemies. Or so I thought then, anyway.
“So we regrouped on the ship, hoping you were still alive somewhere, and tried to find out what was happening down there. They don’t even use radio so it wasn’t easy, but eventually we could see what looked like most of the population on this side of the planet all gathered in their town squares. Orac was still talking about religious observance, but unless they were into human sacrifice we couldn’t see what that would have to do with you.”
He nods slightly at Avon. “Human sacrifice turns out not so far off the mark, but we didn’t know that. Anyway we could work out roughly where the ones who must be the leaders had gone so I dressed up in my finest and prepared to go knocking to ask for you back, with suitable menaces. Unfortunately Servalan’s people came tearing in just before I could teleport down. We were reduced to skulking around the far reaches of the system, arguing about what we should do next.”
“There was a good chance that I was dead already. I’m surprised that the others didn’t manage to persuade you to leave.”
Blake smiles at him. “I think you’d be surprised just how many risks they were prepared to take to get you back. The arguments were about what might work. Our fall back position was to swing by in a long orbit and teleport down while the pursuit ships were hammering Liberator’s shields. We thought we could probably get down before the ship exploded.”
“And lose Liberator?” Avon is genuinely shocked. “You idiots! I wouldn’t have thanked you for it.”
“We did think that you wouldn’t. Anyway none of us fancied carrying out that idea unless we at least had some evidence that you were still alive, or while there was anything else at all that we could try. So we took a long time over discussing it, and then of course Servalan’s message arrived.”
Blake stretches a hand out, rests it palm up against Avon’s thigh. A deliberately unthreatening touch, Avon thinks. He leaves it there because removing it would say something that he’s not sure about yet.
“I have never been so delighted, or indeed so confused, to hear from Servalan in my life. You were alive- she was very keen to let me know about the chains- but she seemed to know rather more about our relationship than I did. Which, to be fair, wouldn’t have to be very much. It wasn’t until she forwarded your message that I started to make sense of it.”
The hand on Avon’s thigh twitches. “You must have done an extremely good imitation of broken to persuade Servalan that you’d really say some of those things. She knows you, Avon, she’s good at reading people and she was completely taken in.”
There’s a question in there. Avon tries to avoid it. “She thinks her threats are a great deal more terrifying than they are. That made it easier.”
“What did she threaten you with?” The softness of Blake’s voice doesn’t fool Avon for an instant.
“Time, mainly. She said the pursuit ships would leave after two weeks, by which time I would be a great deal hungrier, thirstier and more malodorous.” He pauses, wondering whether he really wants to say the next bit, but he suspects that if he doesn’t it will hang there between them indefinitely. “And, she suggested, repeatedly assaulted, as well. You saw how I was chained up. It was an obvious comment to make, in the circumstances.”
“Yes.” Blake says, and nothing else for a few seconds. Then “I’m sorry, Avon. My remark a few moments ago was deeply insensitive.”
“Which one?” As if it hadn’t mattered, as if he hadn’t even noticed. The music’s still quietly discordant in the background.
“About…finding you naked in chains attractive.”
“Ah, that one.” Avon says to give himself a little more time. “Well, do you or don’t you?” He pauses. “Or should I say, did you or didn’t you?”
“You were barely conscious!” Blake protests.
“Does that make a difference?”
“I opened that door,” Blake’s voice is harsh now, “and I was just damn glad to see you in one piece. Some of the people behind the doors I’d opened on the way hadn’t been so lucky. And then the way you were hanging, you didn’t respond- I thought you might be dead after all. Believe me, the only thing I wanted from your naked body right then was a pulse, Avon.”
Avon’s not sure what sort of answer that is. “So when exactly did you find the thought appealing?”
Blake’s hand has retreated. “I shouldn’t… it was a stupid thing to say.”
“No it wasn’t. It was a perfectly comprehensible statement, and I still want to know when exactly that particular thought went through your mind, Blake.”
Their eyes have locked. Avon’s absolutely determined. It’s important, he knows that, although he wouldn’t necessarily be able to explain why.
Blake buckles first. He’s said too much; he’s already on the back foot with nowhere to go. “Afterwards. Once or twice.” And, defensively, “It’s been a very long month.”
Hasn’t it just. Avon doesn’t say anything straight away and Blake goes on, with a tinge of aggression now, “In my head you aren’t injured, if that’s what you were wondering, or shut up in some fucking awful place waiting to be raped by some violent stranger. You’re just standing there, muscles tensed against the metal, a little sweaty, that’s all. I said I was sorry.” He stands up. “Thank you for telling me what happened. I’m sorry that I persuaded you to go down there at all and I really am sorry that I screwed this conversation up,”
“Where are you going?”
Blake turns, a little puzzled. “I thought I’d leave before I was thrown out.”
Avon shrugs. “That’s up to you, though walking out does strike me as not a particularly good way to go about getting laid. I’m not desperate enough to chase you down the corridor, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“No, I wasn’t…” Blake stops, glares at him. “Hang on. What are you saying?”
Instead of answering Avon drops to his knees to pull a box out from under the bed. He’d made the contents himself in the week after he’d got back, forging them carefully link by link. He’d known that he needed to be able to separate the feel of metal against his skin from Sion’s bloody madness and Servalan’s delicate viciousness and the expectation- the fear- of worse. In the end he hadn’t worked out quite how to achieve that on his own and they’d stayed in their unmarked box.
He shoves it towards Blake with his foot. “Open it.” Blake bends over, pauses with his hand on the latch.
“Do I want to know what’s in here?”
“Possibly not. But you’re going to open it anyway.”
Blake nods, pulls the lid up and stops, frozen for several seconds. Then he kneels down, reaches in and pulls a handful of the seeming-delicate links out.
“Is this a proposition, Kerr Avon? Or am I missing your point entirely?”
“For once you have actually managed to take the point first time, Roj Blake. Are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is, as one of our shipmates would doubtless phrase it?”
Blake runs the links through his fingers, lets them fall back into the box and looks up at Avon. “If I am being entirely honest, I thought about it rather more often than once or twice.”
“Good.” Avon carefully lets a little amusement show. “That increases the chance of this being reasonably well choreographed.”
“If we’re talking choreography I can tell you that we’re not having your so-called music on, for a start.” Blake’s still hesitating. “This is all rather sudden. Are you absolutely sure it’s the best way to deal with what happened?”
“This has been on my mind long before I ever heard of Kilva.” Avon assures him.
“So why didn’t you mention it before?”
He offers a little of the truth. “I didn’t think that appearing that helpless in front of you was necessarily wise.”
“And how has that changed?”
Avon flashes a fast smile. “Last time someone tried to restrain me I still managed to set a whole planet on fire. Those,” he kicks the box and the chains rattle, “aren’t going to be nearly enough to render me harmless. But feel free to give it a try.”
Blake pulls out one of the metal cuffs, turns it over in his hand. “How does this open?”
“Put your thumb on the small flare halfway round.”
The cuff clicks opens, smoothly, closes the same way. “Thumbprint coded,” Avon explains.
“I thought it was a good idea to have someone on the ship apart from me who could open them. I don’t like having to rely on Vila’s professional competence; it isn’t reliable enough.”
“You’ve put some planning into this.” Blake stands up. “Now I need to do the same. Can you wait until tomorrow?”
If he absolutely has to. “Of course.”
“Good. You’ve covered up our wall. Was that deliberate?”
“I thought,” Avon says cautiously, “that I was unlikely to need it.”
“Does that metal monstrosity come down off ?”
“I’ll bear that in mind. Sleep well, Kerr Avon.” He leaves with the box tucked under his arm.
Avon looks at the closed door for a few moments. He isn’t sure whether he’s more surprised by Blake or by himself. He’s even more surprised next morning to find that he’s slept like a lamb for the first time in a long while.
* * * * * * * * * *
Blake’s got a good memory for angles. Avon can feel the insistent pull on his muscles in almost exactly the places that had been damaged before, the left arm slightly further up and out than the right. It doesn’t hurt much this time; not yet, at least.
The cuffs are as tight against his wrists as Sion’s weldings had been but these smooth, cold edges are of his own crafting. He likes the feel of them. Blake’s fingers are warm round his left ankle, adjusting the manacle, and he rather likes the feel of that too. He’s deliberately concentrating on such small sensations at the moment, keeping his mind distracted while Blake finishes up.
“Done.” The hand slides up the back of his leg and pats his bare arse. “Comfortable?”
“Hardly the point. But not too uncomfortable.”
Avon can hear Blake step back. Looking. He lets go of the smaller sensations, allows himself an image of what he must look like. He’s suspended in a wide Y shape from the steel scaffold, his ankles spread maybe 18 inches apart, and his toes just brushing the pile of his own carpet. It’s uncomfortable already, but he’s got a short while before the lactic acid in his muscles builds up to unbearable. He thinks about telling Blake not to take too long, but surely the man knows what he’s doing.
“I wasn’t going to leave you like this,” There’s a hint of reassurance in Blake’s firm voice. “I just wanted to see…” He tails off.
Warm hands run up and down his twisted biceps, then across his shoulders, currently carrying his entire body weight, and down his body to his hips. He concentrates on breathing slowly, in, out. In, out. Down his tense thighs and calves, to the metal pulling his ankles apart. He can hear Blake breathing heavily now. It’s ridiculously arousing.
Up again, and this time Blake’s not so coy; the hands go straight for his cock and his balls. He can’t move either to encourage or discourage; he is helpless to resist the slow, definite caress of fingers, or the way Blake is simultaneously rubbing his own erection up against his backside with clear intent.
He’s got little enough control over his own reactions, either. He could choose to stay silent- near silent, anyway- as Blake’s hands drag him to the precipice and push him over into spiralling freefall, but this isn’t about self control, not this time, and he doesn’t waste his energy trying to conceal his reactions. He can feel well enough what those responses are doing to Blake. Feedback loops, he thinks, giddily, as he crashes at the foot of the cliff. Sometimes feedback loops are useful, despite his natural inclination to dampen them.
“Shall we do it now?” Blake’s voice is clumsy with arousal, “Avon? If it hurts too much…”
“Stop pissing around and just do it!” he snaps. The pain’s worsening but his blood stream’s saturated with endomorphins and he doesn’t really care. All he wants is for Blake to fuck him right now.
Blake does exactly what he’s told. It’s not comfortable at all. As the numbing effects of his climax wears off Avon’s hurting a great deal now, his wrists and shoulders screaming objections to having to still bear his considerable weight and his body bruising against the scaffold by Blake’s enthusiastic assault. It feels as if he lacks all volition, not even a participant, just a body to swing a little back and forth, to be crushed against the bars as Blake digs his fingers hard into Avon’s hips to steady him and thrusts.
It doesn’t feel anything like his fears at all. He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s not really helpless. Not this time. He throws his head back and howls a mixture of glorious pleasure and agony, and Blake responds with smothered laughter, his teeth sinking deep in the nape of Avon’s neck.
Too much. That last sharp pain’s too much and he’s ready to say so when Blake shudders his climax and in almost the same breath reaches up to thumb the cuffs open. He catches Avon as he falls backwards and lowers him carefully onto the carpet. “Easy.”
There’s another silent scream as Avon’s shoulders rotate down, and then it’s just the rush of blood through his arms that makes him grimace.
“Of course.” Avon reaches over his shoulder to poke at his neck, gets a flicker of pain that sets his teeth on edge in response and lets it alone. “Bed.”
He lets Blake hook an arm under his shoulders and help him to it. Lying on his back he closes his eyes and mentally catalogues what hurts. Aches, mainly, and maybe the odd bruise where he’d come into contact with the scaffold a little too hard. The cuffs hadn’t chafed at all- he’s rather proud of that.
“Was that anything like what you wanted?” Blake asks carefully.
“Close enough.” Any closer and he’d be in the med bay right now. That’s not out of the question in the future, as far as he’s concerned, but probably not a good way to end tonight’s proceedings. He doesn’t want to scare the man off, after all.
What he wants right now… he’s halfway through concocting a scheme to get it when it occurs to him that he can simply ask. It’s an odd thought; he’s used to getting his way with Blake by manipulation, by argument or by sheer force of will. Mere suggestion is sometime of a new idea. He tries it out. “It was a bit short on mouth to mouth contact but we could remedy that right now.”
That works. Blake sprawls half on top of him, sweaty skin cool and damp against his, and kisses him until the aches have been long forgotten and Avon has drifted into an exhausted sleep. He wakes a little when Blake leaves him, murmurs a small complaint into the empty space.
“Go back to sleep.” Blake is taking down the chains from the scaffold. Avon can hear the quiet chinks as they are returned to the box.
“Why are you doing that now?” He’s waking a little more now, enough to process a little of the situation.
“Because you need to sleep and I need a distraction.”
Avon shakes his head a little to wake himself. Blake’s still naked, and (he blinks) quite erect. It’s an appealing sight. “I imagine that I can distract you effectively enough.”
Blake unloops the last chain with a scrape of metal against metal. “I didn’t want to disturb you, not after that.”
“I’m awake now.” He is, and getting distinctly interested in proceedings.
“So you are.” Blake has obviously noticed his interest. He closes the box up, shoves it back under the bed. “Nothing rough.”
“Oddly enough I was about to say the same thing.”
Blake fits himself around Avon’s body. “How about this?” He spits on his hand and wraps it round both of them together.
“That will do.” It feels damn good and he doesn’t have to move, which given his aches and pains is a bonus. He closes his eyes, lets Blake kiss him and bring them both off with laudable competence.
“I never imagined,” Blake murmurs afterwards, “that you’d be like this in bed.”
Avon’s eyes flick open. “Like what?”
“Lazy?” Blake’s voice is amused. “Is that the right term? I would say passive, but you’re never that."
“The correct technical term,” Avon says dryly, “is ‘submissive’, I believe. And if you ever so much as think about using it in connection with me I’ll tear your guts out with my bare hands.” He means it.
Roj Blake just huffs laughter at that before curling up against his side on the narrow bed to sleep.