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Breakup Value

By Executrix
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1. "We're through!" Blake said, with the light behind him, and for a moment Avon could only watch him. Blake looked incongruously young, and wrenchingly handsome, and so happy that it made Avon jealous. But then, he expected any happiness addressed R. Blake to be labeled Compliments of Kerr Avon.

The moment passed, and Blake rushed off to check on Gan. Avon closed his eyes, seeing once again the magnetic vortex displayed on the secondary screen. The swirling red vectors reminded him of the electricity crackling between them. Avon had no trouble thinking of a central orifice that would be a suitable target for an impetuous plunge. He could do without Jenna's hand on the tiller, though.

He had told Blake to turn back, and was as usual ignored, and Blake got away with it again with corresponding damage to Avon's personal omniscience scorecard.

Still and all, in a plate of bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Avon was involved in being right, but committed to not getting killed. To fall in a glorious cause while protecting one's lover was one thing, he believed. Dying for no good reason, in a rampaging state of chronic randiness, was something else entirely.

And so, scrupulously giving fair warning (in his dread of ever attracting unearned regard, Avon always gave more warnings than the application blank for a litigators' 5k road race), he said "Staying with you requires a degree of--" *Mendacity* --"Stupidity of which I no longer feel capable."

Then Blake said something that Avon had to admit was rather clever. And then he walked away, not (and never) understanding the extent of the white-hot rage that provoked.

Therefore, Avon considered it somewhere between enjoyable cheap irony and an omen when he was not only permitted but ordered to go to XK-72. Having planned to go there on a scouting trip, he decided he might as well go there and stay there. Blake certainly wasn't dying of overwork to keep him onboard.

The snap decision made it a bit of a come-as-you-are party, but Avon had started all over from scratch before. He doubted if the research station would have a Wardrobe Room, but he was certain that he'd be offered some sort of salary for his scientific work. Not to mention some sort of capital payment for the dowry he offered. His only un-replaceable possession was Anna's picture, and he always carried that close anyway.

2. "I am offering you my services," Avon told the Director of the research station. "And, among other things, the secret of matter transmission. You and your foundation stand to make a fortune. I'm merely asking for your guarantee that you will maintain your neutrality--and protect your investment--by letting the others leave unmolested."

Farron looked at him as if he thought--no, as if he didn't dare to hope--that the services, and the other things were... services. And other things.

The possibility entranced Avon. Immediate acceptance, not scratching at stony ground. Grateful surrender, not house-to-house fighting for dominance. The quiet pace of research, interrupted by the excitement of discovery. No longer having to live with his heart in his throat (and his hands wrapped around Blake's).

"Just so long as we call things by their right names," Avon said. "I won't leave one space-borne closet for another." He stood up, leaned over the desk, and kissed Farron with gentle decisiveness. "Well?"

"I--oh!--I have to finish my shift. In an hour. Look, here's the keycode for the computer lab. I'll call ahead to let them know you're coming. And here's the keycode for--for my quarters. The lab is Room A413. My quarters are on the second level, room 18."

3.

Farron paced around his bedroom (which he always kept neat; which the domestic staff cleaned regularly; and which had been neatened several times in the past twenty minutes). He must have been winding me up, Farron thought. Or, one of our sponsors sent him, to see who's queer, there hasn't been a witch hunt yet, I should have expected it...

Then the door opened.

Avon scanned the room rapidly, poured a glass of wine from the open bottle on the bedside table, and handed it to Farron. He sat down on the edge of the bed and stretched his legs out in front of him. "Sorry I'm late...there were some things in the Mentucci-space server that didn't look quite right and I was trying to get a bit of insight into the situation. Let's talk about the computer systems for a quarter of an hour or so. I genuinely want to do that, and in any case it'll heighten the suspense."

The discussion lasted only about eight minutes. Farron lasted less time than that, surrendering regretfully to an orgasm that felt like it lasted approximately a year, while Avon was still only halfway through removing Farron's shirt using proper archeological technique.

"I'm sorry," Farron said, once he could talk. "Isn't that pathetic? But I haven't ever...well, like this. In a friendly manner. And hardly at all, to speak of. Sometimes, when I went on leave....there'd be a park or someplace. There always is."

"Yes, isn't there?"

"Or...a number to call. But not very often. Someone might find out."

They had the other half of the conversation about the computer systems, and got around to taking off the rest of their clothes. Avon thought it was a surprisingly polished performance from someone who only got a dick in his mouth in alternate years.

The hair on Farron's chest was plentiful, soft, and lighter than the salt-and-pepper hair on his head. Avon held him and kissed the back of his neck as he slept. Avon even relaxed a little himself, until the communicator on the bedside table made the wine bottle tremble.

"Director?" the voice said. "I thought I should let you know, it's that Dr. Kayn, he contacted Space Command HQ. They're sending three pursuit ships after that big experimental ship he went to."

Avon, cold-awake, grabbed his teleport bracelet from the floor and held it upright, like a pyx. "I thought I could trust you to keep your word," he said.

"I can only apologize," Farron said, his eyes still closed. "I'm afraid there's absolutely nothing I can do for your friends now. It's against all the rules, but I am prepared to let you stay here. The Federation need never know that you're here on the station. You can work here in peace and safety."

Avon settled his tunic into place, smoothing down the toggles in front, and unsnared the back of one trouser leg from his boot.

"I shall need to go back to the Liberator to collect a few things."

"Good," Farron said drowsily. "You've made the right decision."

"We'll do everything," Avon whispered, and kissed him goodbye.

Avon shook his head. How could someone so guileless have survived the infighting necessary to become the director of a space station?

4. XK-72 vanished.

"You know what to do," Blake said, walking away toward the sick bay to share in the jubilation over Gan's recovery.

"Zen, Standard By Eight," Avon said, alone on the flight deck, still tasting his Judas kiss. Perhaps Kenneth didn't wake up, he thought agnostically. Perhaps he died with that smile still on his lips.

//The net is widening. It used to be that you'd pay with your life to love me--which wouldn't seem to put any very large class at risk. But now, is all it takes to touch me? To want me? To look at me?//

And, just as "Experience" is the name that everybody gives to their mistakes, "Reason" was the name that Avon gave to his superstitions and protective practices. No obsessive-compulsive ever decreases the number of rituals, only enhances them.

5. The next day, Vila, dipping toast soldier into boiled egg, and then biscuit into cuppa, said thickly, "It's not fair, really....everyone said Welcome Back! to Gan, well except for Avon, he was out here, and no one said Welcome Back! to Avon."

"Shut up, Vila," Avon said. Vila flinched; about ninety-six percent of the time when Avon said that he wasn't really angry.

"As I didn't know he'd gone, I didn't know a welcome was in order," Blake said in his bottle-of-aquavit-in-the-freezer voice.

"It shouldn't have been a surprise when I left, I *told* you I would," Avon said. //And then I came back to die at your side, when in the event I should have died at his.//

"That's just Pawn to King Four," Blake said. "We've seen it so often we don't pay any attention to it."

//Well I got bloody tired of waiting for you to mate...//

"And clearly, from your reaction--your non-action--I wasn't needed or wanted."

"Oh, come on," Vila said. "We're so bleedin' short-handed that if they cloned *me* Blake'd welcome it with open arms. 'Course you're needed. Nothing to do with you."

After the morning muster, Blake went to his sleep shift. The schedule had Vila assigned to help Avon track down some minor inconsistencies in the Component Order and Re-Supply System, which had a lot to do with looking inside cartons to see if the stuff in the carton corresponded to the program.

"Well, thanks for missing me, anyway."

"'Sokay. If you weren't here, I'd have to do the other ten percent of the physical stuff in here that you're deigning to do."

"If you want to de-bug the code once we get an idea of what's in here, then be my guest."

"First time I ever heard of a rat climbing back on a sinking ship. Lucky for you to come back, of course, but you couldn't know that first off. Why did you?"

"There was a music-hall song," Avon said. "'Father, dear Father, come home with me now.'" Blake is as addicted to placing himself in senseless dangers as the eponymous Father was to drink. I am in the position of the offspring sent from saloon to saloon to collect him."

"Don't fancy yourself," Vila said. "He did fine without you for thirty years and more, y'know. And if I had a kiddie like you, I wouldn't just take to drink. I'd get myself transported."

6. "What are you doing?" Blake asked.

"Trying to do some diagnostics, to see if I can prevent Zen from running off again at an inconvenient moment, or at least make the override conveniently available from the flight deck," Avon said, straightening up from an awkward angle with his head in one of the cabinets underneath the gun store.

"Oh, that's rich, coming from you."

"Zen's fate is rather more intimately tied up with the Liberator's than mine is. And, as you seem to have a paradoxical attachment to the ship despite your continued efforts to put it in harm's way, I thought I'd have a look."

"We haven't seen much of your smiling face since your return."

//What's that word that means both permit and punish? Sanction, that's it. Sanction.// "No one on XK-72 could have survived. And I can't help thinking that we brought it down, we brought that wrath down on their heads."

"The Federation did a nice thorough job. That's their hallmark. Well, you weren't there, what's it to you?"

"Did you meet the Director of the station when you were there kidnapping Kayn? Nice man. A bit too concerned with formulas and protocols, but it needn't have been a capital offense. I tricked with him."

"You didn't let the grass grow under your feet, did you? How long were you there, fifteen minutes?"

Avon shrugged. "I wanted the job."

"Well, don't ask me not to be disgusted," Blake said. "No emotion, no meaning."

"Oh, I don't know," Avon said. "Sometimes surprising things happen. Very quickly, delicately, like crêpe paper anemones. They don't last, the first rain leaches the color out of them, but they have a certain fragile beauty."

"Don't go on about magic," Blake said. "I want reality."

Avon hung back, fighting his instinct to close the distance with Blake. "At any rate, you might have fancied him. You like older men."

"*What*?"

"Everyone knows about you and Bran Foster."

This time it was Blake who closed the distance with alarming speed. "How dare you speak that way of something that was fine, and noble, and pure? We never touched each other. Not like that. Not like you're implying."

"Well, why not? It's not always opportunistic. The relation between a leader and his protégé can be a loving one."

At the bargain price of one blow (Avon expected Blake's anger to dissipate harmlessly after that) he would have purchased at least half-a-dozen barbed references to the thinness of the veneer of civilization, redeemable in case of any conflict (or, worse, any harmony).

When the blow didn't land, Avon opened his eyes. Blake unclenched his fists from the front of Avon's jacket. "People like you always want to drag everything and everybody down to their level. Well, I'll tell you one thing for nothing. He was a *man*. You're a wretched, puling little brat and I don't fancy children, whatever they say."

As Blake stalked off, Avon shrugged his jacket back into place and smirked at the skill with which he had managed to push Blake away right where he could keep an eye on him.

############

_Break up to make up, that's all we do
First you love me, then you hate me,
It's a game for fools..._


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