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By Gemini
Page 1 of 12

Blake yawned and sagged back in his chair, the light from Avon's desk revealing the bags under his eyes, the legacy of yet another sleepless night. He shook his head, trying to clear it. "Sorry," he mumbled, screwing up his eyes and trying to focus clearly on Avon.

      "Go and get some sleep. You're half-dead already."

      "Bad choice of phrase, Avon," he said softly. "Not half-dead. Fully dead." That was what had kept him awake the last three nights, wandering Liberator's corridors in the hope of finding some answer, some solace for his problems. He was a ghost, walking undead, and the knowledge haunted him.

      Avon held up a placatory hand. "I didn't mean it that way."

      "No?" Anger bit, sudden and sharp. "Just how did you mean it?"

      "You're tired. You're not thinking straight."

      "In other words, I'm not myself. Smart of you to notice." He ought to leave. He ought to get out of here before he lost his temper and said something they'd both regret. But his feet were lead weights; his body's inertia was massive, and he couldn't leave. If he left here, there was only the emptiness of Liberator and the company of strangers. That he'd known them for more than a year made no difference; they were strangers now, because he couldn't share this with them. Only Avon had been there. Only Avon understood the full horror of the situation. As long as Avon accepted him, Blake knew that he was real.

      Avon looked tired too. Dark brown hair stranded starkly against the too-pale face. As he turned his head, the light pooled shadows in the hollows of his cheeks. The proud self-confident Alpha didn't exist here. Avon seemed to occupy less space than usual, to be diminished in some impossible way. Blake had done that, or Jorge had; the difference wasn't too clear right now. He knew that he had to leave. To remain here any longer was asking too much of Avon. For hours now, the two of them had discussed inconsequentials, the state of the Liberator's drive systems, the rules of capture in hex, the reasons for the harvest failure on Parmine, anything except the things that really concerned them. After Christiana, for that brief moment on the flight deck, they had seemed totally in tune with one another. Now, Blake couldn't recapture the moment, couldn't remember how it had felt. He was too tired to think of sex, too tired to think of anything at all. All he knew was that he needed to be with Avon, and that at the same time he should leave for Avon's sake. Avon needed sleep too, needed to be free of the memories that Blake's presence would inevitably recall. Stiffly, Blake pushed himself to his feet, steadying himself on the arm of the chair.


      Blake looked at him in surprise, frozen in mid-motion.

      "I mean..."


      Avon swallowed. "Don't go just yet."

      "I thought you wanted me to get some sleep?"

      "You need it."


      The words came out in a rush. "You could sleep here."

      Blake stared at him, but Avon wouldn't meet his gaze; he twisted his fingers together and rubbed at the back of a knuckle.

      "If this is some kind of a joke," Blake said, "I don't think it's funny. Do you really think you're going to be able to sleep with me here?"

      Avon muttered something inaudible. Blake grabbed him angrily by the shoulder. "You can't want me here. You can't!"

      Flinging him off, Avon shouted in sudden fury, "Then get the hell out of here!" and buried his face in his hands.

      Blake hesitated, torn in indecision, totally uncertain as to what he should do. Avon in this state, he didn't understand at all. Cold disdain, ironic humour, aloof superiority - all those he could handle; but these mercurial swings of emotion were beyond him. His own needs, he was beginning to understand, but what did Avon need? Was Avon better off with him or without him? He studied the hunched-over body, seeking invisible clues. Avon had said he wanted him to stay. Was that some kind of warped subconscious desire for further humiliation, or simply a fear of being left alone? Standing there, Blake felt out of his depth. In the end, it was the sense of Avon's isolation that decided him. If he went now, Avon might take that as a rejection. Surely after what he had been through, Avon might need to feel wanted, to feel that he was valued for himself?

      "I want to stay," Blake said hoarsely. "I need to be with you." He waited for a response, but none came. Avon refused to look up. Moving behind Avon, Blake rested his hands on the bowed shoulders, feeling the tension in the muscles.

      "What do you want, Avon?"

      "I don't know." The words were a tortured whisper. There was the slightest tremor under Blake's hands, and for a moment he feared that Avon was going to break down completely. Before Avon had a chance to object, Blake slipped his arms around and held him closely. "Avon," he whispered, "it'll be all right."

      "How?" Avon was really shaking now. "How can it be all right?"

      "Would it help if I slept on the floor?"

      "Yes," Avon said raggedly. Then: "Kiss me."

      Blake needed no second invitation. They embraced passionately, lips uniting in a mutual need, but even as he pressed his body closer to Avon, the other man broke free.

      "There's bedding in the cupboard on the right."



Blake awoke next morning, and stretched out to ease some of the stiffness in his back. He didn't need to inspect his surroundings to remember where he was - the events of the previous night were still clear in his mind. Sex might have been nice, but in many ways he felt happier with what had actually occurred. Jorge's memories of raping Avon were still a little too recent for Blake to feel entirely happy regarding his own desires. Lying on the floor beside Avon's bunk, he had had a far better night's rest than he had expected; a hand trailing over the edge of the bunk had kept him silent company for much of the night.

      Where was Avon now? He looked around, but apparently Avon had already got up and left him to slumber on. Blake lay back and stared up at the ceiling, trying to focus his thoughts. Avon wasn't the only person he had to worry about, there was Jorge too. He'd promised Harriman - not in so many words perhaps, but the promise had been understood by both of them nevertheless. He had to contact the clonemasters, and what was more, he had to do it before he became so besotted with Avon that he could no longer summon up the resolution to do it.

      There was a faint jagged line running across the ceiling. He spent a while fantasising what might have caused it. Metal fatigue? Something to do with the method of construction? A relic of a past battle? Recognising his mental wandering for an attempt to evade the problem in hand, Blake returned to thinking about Jorge. Why did he want to do this, anyway? Admittedly, he had been close to Jorge when they were boys. A smile came unbidden to Blake's face as he recalled a series of practical jokes that the two of them had played on their older sister - Marianne had never forgiven them for the live fish in her bed. He couldn't even recall where they had found the fish now, the public water supply, perhaps? It didn't really matter, his twin had been like himself: lively, imaginative, and totally irresponsible. Odd really, they'd both discovered a sense of responsibility as they grew older, but it had taken them in totally different ways. Jorge had been convinced that the greatest power for good lay in serving the administration, preserving law and order, and ensuring that the scarce resources available were not stolen or squandered. Roj had believed in something beyond that. Giving people the freedom to make their own decisions might lead to anarchy in the short term, but in the end a better world would emerge for all. Living in the society created by the Federation wasn't really living at all, it was just a way of surviving the journey from cradle to grave.

      Was that what he wanted? Just to revive Jorge so that he could say: Look, see I was right; the Federation really are as evil as I told you.

      To be honest, the temptation was hard to resist, but he hoped there was more to it than that. You couldn't spent the first twenty years of your life with someone without loving them. And he did love Jorge. How could he not?

      And Avon? How could he reconcile what Jorge had done to Avon? Blake rolled onto his side, and balled his fists in frustration. It just wasn't that simple. What Jorge had done was wrong: inexcusable and totally wrong. But Blake knew something of the anger and frustration that had lain behind the act. Jorge had blamed his brother for what had happened to him. Roj hadn't been there for him to fight, and Avon had been an almost inevitable victim of that fact.

      He hated what Jorge had done to Avon. It had been wrong, but death was too high a price to pay for rape. He loved Avon, but he'd loved Jorge first.




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