Automatic Reactions by Predatrix

Automatic Reactions

By Predatrix

(Affectionately dedicated to the Miscellaneous Caledonian, who listened to my whingeing and helped me until I finally had to write the thing.)

Nothing would have happened if Jenna hadn’t had the tendency to come and look wistfully at her prize rather often. An old friend had left it to her in his will: it was one of the most expensive things she’d ever legally owned. She knew she ought to sell it, she knew it’d be a daft idea to actually use it, but it was nice to think about it.

It was inevitable that Vila (who stole as easily as he breathed) would notice she had something stashed away. He blamed the natural skill his fingers must have been born with: interesting things seemed to call out to his sensitive fingertips, which in turn drifted into secret places until those interesting things just seemed to adhere to them.

***

It was quite big. Luckily he had a thief’s deceptively spacious pockets: forgiving of sudden impulses and never bulging. He stuffed the whatever-it-was away without looking at it. His fingers classified it automatically: something wrapped up, something light. Obviously it was important, or Jenna wouldn’t keep coming to look at it like that.

After his watch, Vila went back to his room to get quietly sozzled, and had pretty much succeeded in this object by the time he remembered the thing in his pocket. He took it out. Pure, innocent astonishment invaded a face to which such an expression was a near-complete stranger. Vila recognised the red, expensive, carefully-sealed packaging immediately, and it nearly shocked him sober. Pure Heat was the most powerful human aphrodisiac in the known galaxy. Where the hell did Jenna get it? And what could he do with it?

He considered using it on Jenna. Nah – he didn’t fancy suicide. The thing was cast-iron guaranteed to work on anything human, which meant, he supposed, that it would work on any of the crew except Avon, Zen and Orac. But he had no illusions that she’d be anything short of homicidal the next day. Best thing would be to hide it somewhere sensible and secret, and decide later. He looked again, and had the second biggest shock of his evening. There were two packets, the second lightly stuck to the first by an excess of the glue-tape-thread-and -sealing-wax arrangement which ensured that no precious iota of the expensive powder was going to escape. So he could keep one under his bed, and slip the other one back to Jenna’s locker before she noticed it was missing. On the other hand, he didn’t fancy his chances if she happened to visit it again unexpectedly just as he was about to put it back.

Poor woman, though. Keeping coming back to look at it like that, and never quite getting up the nerve. Vila knew exactly what she’d like to do with it. Seemed a pity to let poor Jenna’s scruples get in the way. Didn’t she deserve a bit of a helping hand? And (purely coincidentally) she’d be happy, and Vila wouldn’t have to risk his life getting the stuff back to her. He considered the idea, blinking in enormous drunken benevolence. He was neither a fairy nor a godmother, but he did like to see people happy. It would be like a practical joke (and Vila liked those), only fun for all concerned. Blake’s cabin lock would hold no mysteries for him, nor would the complicated packaging used on Pure Heat. He even (the clinching argument) knew exactly the drink to put it in. He rummaged under his bed for his “wine cellar”, for a bottle whose expensiveness had not hindered his picking it up. It was some sort of brandy or something. He’d sniffed at it, drunk a bit, and left it for later. One of those Alpha drinks: nice enough, but not much “go” in it. Not calculated to have you swinging from chandeliers at parties. Blake would love it. And it would have plenty of go in it by the time he thought up some sort of story to get Jenna to Blake’s cabin. Light the blue touchpaper and retire. Whooomph! He chuckled happily – he did like to think of people enjoying themselves.

Since Blake was on watch, there was no sense in delaying. Vila glided carefully through corridors, then knocked at Blake’s door to make sure. No response. Moments later, the lock ceased to resist him, and heralded only by the squeak-and-stick of a badly-maintained door, he slipped in. Clearing a table, he clinked the bottle down. His fingers, expertly deft, insinuated their way into the packaging without tearing it even a little. Pity nobody’d know what a good job he made of that. An innocuous and odourless fine grey powder rewarded his efforts. No use just trickling it into the bottle – it would either go sludgy or sink to the bottom. He kicked gently at the piles of things on the floor until one clinked faintly, then fished out a glass and spoon. By the time he’d stirred it in, and warmed the glass in his hands, there was no sign to betray that the drink was adulterated. Vila knew Pure Heat had no flavour: the possibility of discreetly dosing an unaware victim was one of its minor selling-points, if it needed any. Anyway, time to think of an excuse to get Jenna in here. Blake would be due back soon. He smiled, clapped his hands at his own cleverness, and wandered out, leaving the door slightly open. Blake was as impatient with that damn door sticking as any of them, and would probably leave it half-open and charge straight into the shower to get the dirt of the day off him and relax. That would be a nice surprise for Jenna!

***

Avon stopped. Unusual to see Blake’s door wide open like that. He decided, on the spur of the moment, that he might as well continue with their argument. Yes, the singular was correct: Avon sometimes felt that they didn’t so much have several arguments as one long one whose ostensible subject changed from time to time.

Rather to his surprise, Blake wasn’t standing there to glare at him – must be in the shower.

Although there wasn’t much clear space in the room, it looked a lot more welcoming than Avon’s own rather antiseptic box of a cabin. For one thing, Blake had gone for soft lighting, to bring out the colours, or possibly to hide the mess. Shadowy toppling heaps of papers, books and clothes covered every available space, and some that weren’t. Oddly enough, Blake seemed to prefer to keep things on the floor rather than the table, where a bottle with a familiarly exotic golden label stood in solitary splendour, one glass already invitingly poured beside it. He stepped to the table and checked. Yes, it was vintage cognac from L’Espoir – and where in space did he get that? Wasted on a barbarian like Blake, of course. Wouldn’t it be the perfect way to irritate Blake, to stand here drinking his cognac and looking as if he owned the place? Besides, it would be the nearest thing to physical ecstasy he was ever likely to get in Blake’s cabin.

He lifted the glass and took a long sip, eyes half-closed in voluptuous pleasure. Absolute perfection on the tongue and slow warmth reaching deep inside. He’d been right. This was wasted on Blake.

If Avon were the sort of man that Blake persisted in wanting to think him, he would leave right now and stop trying to annoy Blake, who must be expecting a visitor (now, that was odd…). He took another sip, just for the devil of it. Very nice indeed. And another. Rather a pity that Blake had never evinced the slightest interest in the sophisticated delights of good cognac, among other things. Not much chance of that. He took a bigger mouthful, letting it explode exquisitely on his tongue like a gustatory climax. The trouble with Blake was that he was sober, chaste, and a bad case of revolutionary tunnel vision. Avon consoled himself with a little more of the rich, complex liquor. Hedonism was far less of a chimera than abstract freedom. He took another slow, thoughtful sip. It was also more pleasant in the mouth: the flavour of the Rebellion was no doubt dry bread and failure, no matter how Blake might try to make his people yearn for the very taste of liberty. No comparison. The rest of the glassful trickled softly down his throat, and he chased the last of the clinging drops from his mouth with a regretful tongue. Oh well, if the man did decide to develop civilised tastes at an advanced age, there would still be enough to go round. After all, it wasn’t as if he were intending to steal the whole bottle.

He heard a small noise as the bathroom door opened. Quickly he leant back slightly, giving Blake the benefit of his most unmistakably arrogant expression as he surveyed the untidy cabin, and holding the empty glass with perfect casual grace.

“I suppose it would be too much to expect that you’ve come to apologise for arguing with me earlier,” Blake said, but the disgruntled tone didn’t hide how warm and relaxed he looked straight after a shower. A lovely glow to his skin. Unfair for a revolutionary leader to have such natural charm – enough to knock the socks (closely followed by every other stitch) off any admirer, and the man didn’t do a thing with it except make speeches.

“Ever the optimist, Blake,” Avon remarked. Surely it was unusually hot in this cabin. He was actually sweating. Blake was also (rather appealingly) slightly damp, though whether that was from the shower or perspiration was not clear.

“Somebody has to be.” Blake chuckled, the sound unexpectedly enticing. That voice was wasted on intoning revolutionary tracts. Now, if Blake tried to seduce the masses like a lover, rather than ranting freedom at them like a political maniac, he’d be unstoppable. But the curve of that mouth was altogether more fascinating than anything it could say. He imagined kissing Blake: a slow, deep, cognac-flavoured kiss. He wondered how far he could get before Blake objected, probably violently. Not very far. He almost felt it would be worth trying anyway.

Avon tried to think of something to say. He slid a finger down the neck of a shirt that suddenly appeared unaccountably tight. Even the feel of his own fingertip brushing his neck was enough to make him lose track of the conversation, such as it was. He was trying very hard not to imagine somebody else’s hand there. Blake, for example, had extremely nice hands. Warm and strong, and promising a good firm grip. No wonder Blake had such an absent-minded tendency to suck or chew at his fingers. There were odd moments when Avon wouldn’t mind a bit of a lick at them himself.

“You might get tired of these continual disagreements,” Blake offered, almost wistfully.

“But you’re one of my few remaining pleasures, Blake.” He swallowed. “Puncturing your illusions makes my weary days worthwhile.” Damn. Now he was nearly flirting – thank God the man was probably far too innocent to notice. He continued hastily, “Since you’re a walking affront to every belief I’ve ever had – and before you interrupt, I’m quite aware it cuts both ways – I’m incapable of leaving these arguments alone. I may be doomed in my attempts to get an idea into your head without resorting to major surgery…” He swallowed again. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to be quite that offensive.”

“Are you sure you’re all right, Avon? I mean, you’ve tried far worse ones than that about me having a hole in my head.”

“Avon?” Blake said again, obviously noticing Avon’s uncharacteristic distraction. Avon looked up. There was a hint of rich bareness at Blake’s chest, where he hadn’t bothered to pull the cream cloth into its normal modest position. Somehow the lack of visible body hair made that skin seem wonderfully, illicitly naked. Avon jerked his glance upwards before Blake could notice him staring, and admired the trace of damp clinging to the fascinating muddle of hair. He wanted to follow the complicated pattern of light and shade, colour and shape, in that tangle. He wanted to trace along it with his eyes. Then his fingertips, until he could stand the temptation no longer and filled his hands with soft, springy curls. Or maybe he’d feel the light tickle of it against his lips as Blake nuzzled under his chin for a moment before moving down to tease at his nipples. He tried not to think about that. Every atom of erectile tissue he had was already up and straining without any external encouragement whatsoever.

Damn. What was the matter with him? Well, it was becoming increasingly evident what was the matter with him (and he only hoped Blake was too unworldly to notice), but why here, why now? It wasn’t as if he was unused to the occasional foolish impulse. He’d probably deserve some sort of good conduct award for not laying a finger on Blake all this time, if he wasn’t uncomfortably aware that it was nothing more admirable than lack of nerve. Every so often, he’d visualise himself propositioning Blake. Unfortunately, no matter how diplomatic or civilised he imagined himself being, his fantasy then came up with Blake’s face looking at him with an expression of absolute horror. So, politely asking was out of the question. If he were rash enough to insist rather than simply ask, Blake would probably knock him out. He settled for ignoring the whole question, except when he was safely alone in his bed. Dreaming dreams with inventive twists around the phrase “get back to your position”, which would certainly shock Blake so much that his hair would go straight.

Blake had finally noticed that Avon was bothered about something. “Are you drunk, Avon? And what is that drink you brought in?”

“It isn’t mine. I thought it was yours.” A sudden nameless unease slipped in to join the other thoroughly-uncomfortable reactions that Avon was valiantly struggling to damp down.

“Never seen it before in my life.”

They looked at each other, and the bottle, with some confusion.

At this point there was a knock on the door. A furtive knock. The sort of knock that, had it been a colour, would be dingy. The sort of knock that implied a thief was just checking that nobody was there before slipping in and appropriating something.

“Is that you, Vila?” said Blake.

“Er, Blake… nobody’s in there with you, are they?”

Avon slipped into the only corner where he couldn’t be seen from the door, touched a finger to his lips, and slid to the ground in the shadow of a heap of something.

“No.” Blake opened the door and frustrated Vila’s immediate attempt to slip past. “Vila, if you’re going to steal anything, you could at least wait until I’m not in.”

Vila shuffled his feet. “No – I just dropped in earlier – I didn’t happen to leave a drink in here by mistake, did I?”

Avon mouthed silently, “That would be a first.”

“You haven’t drunk any of it, have you?” The thought seemed to make Vila nervous, and he stepped back.

“No.” Vila was rather well-known as a keen practical joker. Blake’s arm shot out. “What did you put in it?”

“I didn’t… it was a mistake!”

“What was it?” Blake roared.

Vila’s glance flickered from side to side. “Well, I was drunk…”

Avon gestured, what’s new.

“… and I wanted to do Jenna a favour…”

Avon’s eyes narrowed. What had Jenna to do with this? Had Blake been expecting her?

Vila muttered hastily to the end of it, “… so she had a packet of Pure Heat hidden away, and I put a spare bit of it in my best bottle of booze, and thought I’d get her to come and see you.

Avon swallowed a groan and rather theatrically put his head in his hands. That answered the question of why this whole bloody business had started. It wasn’t an answer he wanted to hear.

“But she’s discovered it’s missing, and I’m sober, and I think I’d better give up on the whole idea.” There was a sound outside, and Vila’s head snapped round. Strength was no match for streetwise experience and instinct. Blake was left rather foolishly holding empty air. He stepped back in, shut the door and turned to look at Avon, who stood up.

“I am going to kill Vila,” Avon stated, perfectly composed and through perfectly gritted teeth.

“You can’t, there’s probably a queue,” said Blake. “I should think he’s wedging himself into the smallest ventilation duct he can manage, and Jenna’s not too far behind him with a sharp instrument.”

Indeed, the desperate whine of “I was only trying to help, Jenna!” was still fading down the corridor, with the thunder of murderous footsteps close behind it.

“In that case,” said Avon, “I had better just barricade myself in my cabin and sweat it out. Don’t let anyone try to help me: I’m not going to be in any gentle mood for the next week or so.”

“I’m not familiar with the drug. But that long sounds a little extreme – I mean, why can’t you, er, just take matters into your own hands?”

“It’s not a question of orgasm: Pure Heat wouldn’t be so appallingly expensive if it simply affected the sexual organs rather than the brain as well. It’s designed to enhance experience and reactions with a partner. On one’s own, the result is…” Completely agonising. “…rather more of a nuisance.”

Avon turned for the door, trying not to run, trying not to shake. He had no intention of making an absolute and despicable fool of himself in front of Blake, of all people.

Blake caught him by the wrist to stop him. Actual physical contact made the drug a thousand times harder to control. He could barely keep his feet; that delightful tingling sensation started where the hot fingers gripped him, and then it attacked him all over. It was far less strictly genital than he would have imagined: quite simply, his skin burned for touch. All over. He was aching in the distress of being clothed, and he couldn’t forgive Blake for doing this to him, even inadvertently. Especially inadvertently. He leaned against a wall and tried not to pant. Hot and cold shivers traced down his back like fingernails. He imagined Blake running those big warm hands over every inch of his sensitised flesh. Slowly. With characteristic absorbed determination.

“It’s started, hasn’t it?” said Blake quietly. Avon nodded. As Blake released him, he managed to get some sort of stranglehold on the riot of his blood and waited for conscious thought to return.

“Let me make you feel better,” Blake said, in that husky, velvety voice that dripped sheer seduction into his ears. Unfair. Irresistible. And infuriating, because Blake was looking at him with that patient, caring, giving expression. The one that always made him want to hit Blake. This was a relief. He always enjoyed a good fight, and at this moment it would be considerably safer for both of them. If he could divert the tension into one of their usual rows, they might just manage to avoid doing something really stupid.

“Blake, you’re the last person I would want to share a moment of sensual delirium with.” And the first, and most of the others, right now, whispered the small, treacherous voice of what he devoutly hoped was the drug. “Leave me alone!” he snarled over that mockery, whetting his best glare to a black glitter which might hide the lust beneath. If he was lucky.

“Come on, Avon, I’ll let you. Don’t be shy.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt you’d let me,” Avon spat. “You cannot afford me out of commission for the next few days. I might miscode something important – or be incapable of coherent thought, let alone work. Yes, I suppose prostituting yourself for the sake of the rebellion is the one thing you haven’t done yet.” Mingled glee and misery leapt in his blood as a touch of anger twitched aside Blake’s mask of gentleness. It was, of course, exciting him even more than that holier-than-thou availability: he’d always been greedy for the brute so imperfectly hidden beneath the saint.

“You know you want me…” Inner impatience snagged at the intended calm of the words. Obstinately slow in tone, as if Blake thought he was talking to an idiot.

Avon, however, knew he himself was talking to an idiot. “Gather what fractional intelligence may be left under that monumental ego of yours and listen to me for a change. I have never given you the slightest reason for this fantasy that I desire you, and…”

“Hah!”

“Oh, that’s like you, Blake. Interrupt anybody who disagrees with you…”

“Avon, will you stop staring at my crotch when you’re telling me you don’t want me. I find it distracting.” Blake grinned the grin of a man who’d finally managed to land a good hit on his opponent.

Avon snapped his mouth shut, at a loss for words for the first time in about twenty-five years. While his conscious mind had been trying to carve contempt into the glossiest and most unbreakable of structures, the rest of him was a lascivious tide, slopping and racing over that half-forged sneer without the slightest difficulty. That tantalising hint of a shape seemed to suggest a long hard cock, full, heavy balls. He almost took a step forward. If only he was near enough to see. If only Blake was naked and he could feast his eyes on it. No – looking wouldn’t satisfy him, wouldn’t convince him. He wanted to fill both hands, fill his mouth, rub the length of it all over his blazing skin until he was quenched. He wanted everything at once and he couldn’t allow himself to have any of it.

His gaze darted around the room for something – anything – to distract himself. He met his own eyes in a mirror – no wonder Blake wasn’t that convinced by his protestations. He didn’t look entirely rational at present. Dark furious eyes blazed impurely from a white furious face, but his lips looked as red as if he’d been biting them. His hair was for once flopping in a sweaty tangle. One hand was clenched hard into the cloth of his tunic, but the small discomfort was failing to take his mind off anything. If he shuddered any harder he’d fall to the floor and either beg or foam at the mouth. He put his back against the wall again.

“You look beautiful when you’re angry, Avon. Or is it ‘beautiful when you’re randy’?” Blake smiled affectionately at Avon’s spitting fury, as if he was rather enjoying being the composed one for a change.

Avon hissed at him, and throbbed with rage, among other things. He was trying to save Blake from having to be kinder to him than Blake wanted. Blake was, as usual, being no help whatsoever.

It couldn’t be simple lust on Blake’s part, of course. Blake hadn’t, as far as Avon could tell, ever had so much as a whisper of gossip clinging to him since he came to the Liberator, let alone visible signs of an affair (Jenna, he thought, would probably have worn lovebites like medals). Either it was that vampire Cause of his sucking out all mere human impulses, or some remnant of provincial sexual morality (not a subject the Elites ever concerned themselves with). Which left this startling change of approach as merely a new twist on Blake’s eternal martyrdom complex. Avon set his teeth and prepared to resist the irresistible.

“You’re going to have to ask for it, you know.” Blake faced him down. The intransigent expression in those hazel eyes was making Avon quiver.

“Yes, I suppose you do have some sort of obscure sexual kink about humiliating me, Blake. It’s very consistent with your general behaviour. I’m sure you’ll get what you want eventually. You always do.”

That was calculated to get to Blake. He replied, not sounding patient, but sounding as if he were trying very hard to be patient (Avon knew that tone well). “We both know I could just grab you and do it, and we both know you wouldn’t object, at the time. But I’m not that optimistic about my life expectancy if you got up the next morning and decided I’d raped you.”

“If you think I’d feel better about forced intimacy than about forced violence.” Good. The verbal battle was taking his mind off sex – not entirely, but slightly. If he could only get Blake to back off a bit, he might manage to get enough strength in his legs to run. He could hardly remember why he was fighting so hard not to submit.

“Do you need any help with that, Avon?”

Avon wrenched his hand from the front of his trousers and swore at Blake. “Don’t you realise you’re just…” His voice trailed off under another wave of heat.

“Making it harder? Oh, I’m sure I am!” Blake was grinning at him provokingly. This was unnerving. Avon had always thought Blake wouldn’t recognise a double-entendre if he fell over it. It was just Avon’s usual bad luck to discover Blake wasn’t quite as pure as he’d thought just when Avon himself was for once in no state to answer back.

Avon broke a lifetime’s habit and gave up on an argument. “I think I’d better leave before we do something we’ll both regret.” Though I’m certainly regretting not doing it.

Blake wouldn’t let him go. “You’re staying here.”

“If I have to fight my way past you, through you, or over your unconscious body I will do it, Blake!” Rational argument, in a somewhat punch-drunk condition between the opposing forces of lust and anger, was about to go out for the count.

Blake stretched an arm over the doorway and refused to move.

Avon launched himself at Blake on a wave of reckless exhilarating rage. He realised his mistake the moment he brought them both down in a tangled heap on the floor. Suddenly all bellicose intention, along with his pride, melted out of him. He wrapped his arms and legs around blessed solidity and clung on for dear life, unable to get close enough, get enough touch. Shaking with it. They were both still fully-clothed, and he wasn’t easing that desire for skin contact, but there was fullness and pressure where he needed it. Filling his arms. Calming his aching thighs. Tighter. Nearer. More. God, he needed more now, and he could still hardly move.

Warm arms slid round his back; hands began to explore with tentative gentleness. It wasn’t nearly enough. “Come on Blake,” he panted, “get me out of these bloody clothes, I’m bursting!”

Blake snorted with irritable laughter. “Typical,” he said. “You wait until you’re in such a state (caused entirely by your own stubbornness, I might add) and then you expect me to disentangle you when you’ve got me totally immobilised.”

“Get on with it!” Avon could see that Blake had a point, though. With Avon’s thighs locked round him like that, he must be unable to move, much less undress one or both of them.

Blake tried to slide a hand between them, and paused. “Are you going to be careful with me?”

“Are you going to back out now?” Avon snarled, in a tone that tried for “dangerous” but skidded wildly toward “desperate”.

“Not in the least. It’s just… you do realise, well, you could injure me…” He blushed, and blustered away into silence.

Avon sighed harshly. “I’m well aware I haven’t got either the time or the self-control to fuck you, so stop worrying.”

“What can you manage, Avon?”

“I neither know nor care,” he paused to wriggle harder, “but put it this way: if you don’t get bare flesh against my cock in the next half-minute, I’m definitely going to strangle you.”

“Budge up a bit, then.”

“Have you been borrowing Vila’s dictionary? No, don’t answer that. Just get on with it.” With a furious, sweating effort, he managed to get up on his hands and knees. He shuddered as Blake tugged clothing out of the way. The feel of cool air on his painful erection nearly made him faint, but he refused to shut his eyes, unwilling to miss a moment of it. Then Blake pulled him down, and the last of his coherent thought deserted him. Incoherent thought, however, was doing well enough all on its own. “Yes,” he sighed, and “Blake” and “please” and “now”. That was all he could manage on the verbal level, although he did seem to be capable of rather expressive and entirely involuntary whimpering noises.

It was not quite what one might call an optimal position for a sexual act. The floor was probably uncomfortable. Being naked would be much better: he missed being able to wrap his thighs round Blake’s body, for both men were now too hobbled by their trousers to be exactly mobile. His nipples were still trying to drill holes in his shirt. But these minor details were nothing: the stiff erection clamped beside his own filled his whole attention. Silky. Springy. Gently slicked with the juices of their growing excitement. Indecently satisfying. He wasn’t thrusting so much as rubbing, but he could feel every millimetre of friction flood his skin with electric heat.

The way Blake was responding to him made the whole experience even better. He’d imagined embarrassed kindness and earnest helpfulness, not this urgent rocking and writhing. Blake was murmuring softly and endlessly into his ear: “…oh yes… come on… mmmm… oh, you love that, don’t you?” licking or nibbling wickedly at each pause.

By manners and inclination he would prefer to bring Blake to climax at the same time. On the other hand, he was incapable of waiting any longer than this last achingly breathless moment. Blake buried his face in Avon’s neck and sucked violently in a way that fired every nerve from his throat to his prick in a second of impossible sympathetic resonance. Yes! The first long racking surge of pleasure wrenched a deep cry from him. For hours, or seconds, or no time at all, he was aware of nothing but his own rapturous satisfaction and the heat of the man beneath him. Slowly the ecstasy dwindled into sharp-sweet aftershocks, threading gently through him and finally diminishing to leave him utterly limp and drenched. Letting go of it: all the frustration, the rage, the lust, melted in sheer relieved gratitude. Bliss. Eventually he became capable of movement, and lifted his head.

“Why?” Blake asked.

“Automatic reaction,” he murmured whimsically, “I’m as surprised as you are.”

Blake sounded irritable. “I’m well aware you couldn’t stop yourself coming all over me by that stage. What I want to know is why you hate me so much you fought me every step of the way. Just tell me that. Then you’ve got what you wanted, so you’ll probably just pause briefly to kick me in the balls as you leave.”

“No. I have no intention whatsoever of leaving.” Avon smiled languidly down into one of Blake’s most sullen glowers, and purred: “You certainly don’t want me to.”

“Oh, you think I deserve a quick grope out of pity or gratitude. Strangely enough that doesn’t really appeal to me.”

“Well now,” Avon murmured, “you may be getting a faint glimmering of what I was objecting to earlier.”

“Explain.” The bright, changeable eyes glittered up at him.

“Oh, come on – ‘let-me-make-you-feel-better’, for God’s sake. So kind. So magnanimous. So unfortunately de haut en bas.”

“I don’t know the expression.”

“Roughly similar to ‘condescending’. It’s from the language they spoke on the planet that came up with that rather nice cognac, incidentally.”

“Where did you get the idea I was condescending to you?”

“Maybe from the way you’ve never, ever laid a finger on me. When I inadvertently drank some Pure Heat you decided that you could favour me with a once-in-a-lifetime mercy fuck. Forgive me for being less than enthusiastic, but your offer was far too little, and far, far too late.”

“So you decided to argue me out of it.”

“I knew it was a fairly hopeless idea to argue with you, Blake. You’re not exactly democratic at the best of times. But it was the only chance I had to safeguard my dignity and your virtue.”

Blake grinned suddenly. “That’s why you’ve stopped fighting now, isn’t it?”

“Yes. My dignity is in ruins, and your virtue is, well, rather damp. Since that particular battle is lost I will therefore stop caring about your motives and simply take you for everything I can get.” He wriggled, still a little over-sensitive, but enjoying the sensation surprisingly. Besides, the slight movement was making Blake moan a little, even in the middle of what he was trying to make a serious conversation.

“What’s that, Avon? Delusions of virility are rather unconvincing from where I’m lying – I think I’ve got just about every last drop of you soaking into me.”

Avon nipped at him for impertinence. “I’m not only somewhat chemically-enhanced at present, I’ve been suffering from sexual abstinence for longer than I care to remember. You’ve not so much worn me out as slowed me down.”

“What did you mean about ‘too little, too late’, anyway?”

Avon sighed. He really hadn’t meant to let that slip out. On the rare occasions when Blake wasn’t being an idiot, he could be too acute for Avon’s peace of mind without even trying. “You’ve probably already noticed that I’m not entirely indifferent to you, Blake.” Hoping the man would leave it in decent obscurity.

“What does that imply about your feelings?” Blake never left anything alone.

“Almost certainly nothing useful. Let it go.”

“Are you in love with me, Avon?” When he was trying to be direct, Blake’s eyes always looked as if they could laser through herculaneum, let alone the vulnerable shadows shrouding Avon’s emotions. He never let fear of being foolish stop him from saying what he wanted to say. He was also enough of a hopeless romantic to assume that the lack of indifference was in the heart rather than somewhat lower down.

Avon felt, if not angry, mildly annoyed that his anger had deserted him so utterly. It would make a good shield against impertinent questions. He opted for truth.

“Blake, you’re the nearest I’ve had to a serious lover for some time. This is complicated by the fact that you’re also the nearest I have to a friend, and the nearest I have to a bitter enemy. If you go clumping into the minefield of my heart with soggy protestations of love, the result will probably be messy. Sentiment offends me. I don’t do flowers and declarations. I’m much more comfortable with behaving like an utter bastard, particularly in the early mornings. That said, if you wish to make cautious approaches in my direction, entirely at your own risk, I can’t stop you.”

“Thank you, Avon. I never knew you cared,” Blake smiled.

“Watch it.” He hid his dangerously-slipping sneer by resting his face at the side of Blake’s neck, and cuddled closer. He was still floating on a cloud of contentment, and he didn’t especially want to pursue this line of conversation.

“Aren’t you going to lick me clean, Avon? You have made rather a mess of me.” Blake didn’t sound as if he objected particularly. Far less prudish than Avon had imagined, which was quite a pleasant surprise.

Avon accepted the change of subject in the spirit in which it was offered. “What a pity you’ve kept me talking so long. I have no objection to the flavour, but the consistency must be getting less appealing by the minute.”

“You’re much more of a weight than you look,” Blake said. “If you let me up I’ll go and clean myself off a bit.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Avon said politely. “As your disgraceful condition is entirely my fault, the least I can do is make sure you’re clean all over.” He was looking forward to this. Trying to remember to go slowly enough to give his back no excuse to ruin the evening, he got up, the prickle of discomfort in hastily-unstuck skin mingling with a touch of protesting loneliness. The Pure Heat had not finished with him, nor he with Blake. Would the shower really be adequate for the pair of them? Blake was by no means delicately built. Avon decided to check first. In the dark he could hear bottles and tubes rearranging themselves under his feet, then he managed to find the light switch. He came out with an armful of things making soft tinny or plasticky noises as they shifted in his rather unsteady hold.

“Do you have some ideological objection to using shelves, Blake?” he said, as he deposited the small heap in one corner.

“Sorry – I really was intending to tidy up when I got round to it. I don’t often have visitors.”

“I can see why. Not many would fit, for one thing.” Avon shed his clothes neatly and carefully, discreetly presenting himself to be admired. Also shamelessly admiring Blake. Even if he wasn’t the innocent Avon had imagined, he appeared to be moderately diffident in such an exposed position. Typically, he was refusing to admit it, so Avon just went on looking.

Blake didn’t move. No man is at his elegant best hot with sexual arousal and embarrassment. He lay there blushing in the rumpled, sticky wreck of his clothing, obviously struggling to look calm and confident. Cock tapping impatiently at the warm curve of his belly, every hair on his body seeming to prickle with tension, that cream top he was wearing rucked right up under his armpits. Very fetching. Avon was thoroughly enjoying his own comparative self-possession, until Blake gave up on dignity in favour of display, parting his thighs a little and licking his lips.

Avon was suddenly struggling with the impulse to jump Blake and do it all over again. Hurrying into the bathroom, he busied himself getting the shower to the correct temperature. He heard a chuckle from the other room. The drug must be playing hell with his normal inexpressive expression – Blake hadn’t had the slightest difficulty reading his face just then. He nearly did rush back and leap on Blake. No. Slow and thorough would be far more satisfying for both of them, and he refused to give Blake the impression that he was accustomed to no better than a quick bout of rather involuntary frottage.

He washed quickly and efficiently at first, then languidly blatant as he heard a step behind him. The soft heat of water flowed over his skin, and he could almost feel himself being looked at. It was exquisite. Then he was gathered into a warm, wet embrace. Water tried to trickle between close-pressed bodies. Naked skin slid against him. He closed his eyes and wound his fingers into wet curls, tilting his head back. Blake chose to take that as an invitation to kiss Avon breathless. Avon reeled, drowning in kisses, steaming with sexual heat.

He felt a lump of soap pushed into his hand. Oh yes – he was intending to get Blake clean, before he’d got so distracted. Stepping backwards out of most of the water, he coaxed Blake to follow him, and soon slid a lathered hand caressingly over that beautiful chest, teasing, hardly touching. Blake arched nicely to meet him, and Avon spread his hand for a long, full caress, then closed it, pinching a nipple between his fingers in passing. Blake groaned, into Avon’s mouth, because Avon was kissing him again, and retaliated by flicking roughly at Avon’s nipple. Avon widened his mouth in a desperate and successful effort to avoid biting – even if it was from sheer enthusiasm, he thought it would rather put Blake off – and leaned against him. The inconvenient necessity of breathing was getting in the way, so he fell back to gulp hastily for air, then butted forward to nibble at Blake’s neck. Blake, meanwhile, grabbed the soap, rubbed it briskly, then left it perched precariously on the side of the bath as he soaped Avon’s back and buttocks with a few commanding strokes.

“I didn’t get my back sticky,” Avon sighed

“Shut up, Avon, I’m doing this because I like it,” Blake replied.

“If you’re fool enough to do more work than you have to, I suppose I can… put up with it.” Interrupted by a gasp as Blake slid an inquiring finger between his buttocks. “And I’m sure that’s not sticky.” A perfectly-timed pause. “Yet.”

By the time the soap fell in and made a mad dash for the plughole, Avon’s body, if not his mind, was as clean as ever in his life.

“Don’t you want to wash me, Avon?” Blake managed a ludicrously hangdog expression.

“Feeling neglected?” Avon retrieved the soap and prepared himself to wash Blake seriously, if he could manage to keep from being distracted. Keeping his fingers virtuously from Blake’s nipple, concentrating on flatter, calmer territory. So eager to feel the little tight peak against him, though, that he bent without thinking to kiss and lick – and made Blake roar with laughter as he fastidiously spat the taste of soap out (as decorous and offended a sound as a cat’s small sneeze). Even as he rinsed his mouth out, Avon forgot the momentary displeasure. When Blake’s chest was all clean, Avon slid his hands slowly down as Blake stretched upwards. Blake might be encouraging him with better access, or he might be self-conscious about the size of his belly. Avon smiled: there was no part of Blake’s body putting him off. It would probably need hoses of ice-cold water to put him off – if the water didn’t sizzle hot on contact! He went on, halfway between simply soaping and frankly fondling, worshipping that swollen cock with both hands and single-minded attention, oh, he could enjoy this for ages! Blake probably couldn’t, though, he thought regretfully, as Blake forced his hands still and pulled them to neutral territory. Taking pity on him, he got Blake clean in two minutes of efficient, impersonal washing.

Avon took the towel first, rubbed himself dry quickly and practically, and dried Blake with merciless, tender attention until he squirmed. Clean and hot and very welcoming.

Blake led the way to the bed and sprawled there, waiting. Time for Avon to start in earnest – now, which end should he start at? Work his way upwards, perhaps. He sucked suggestively at the toes, then stroked, just short of tickling, up the sole and back to the heel, caressing slowly upwards. Yes, far more sensitive feet than Blake had probably ever noticed. He was gradual, deliberate, careful; it must have been the most delicious torture for both of them. Firm, muscular legs. He couldn’t resist gripping harder, digging his fingers in a bit just to feel that tightness. Does that hurt, Blake? he thought. Not enough to stop either of us, apparently. He smoothed the little pain away. The urge to cram his whole body against all that generous expanse of skin made him ache, but he was enjoying the slow progress too much to stop. He licked at a sensitive spot between knee and thigh, then rubbed his thumbs upwards in slow circles, stopping to rest a moment and admire the view. Despite that bare chest, Blake had as much of a pelt as any man lower down, and it set off the beautiful genitals nicely. It must be a physical impossibility for that cock to get any bigger, but it seemed to lift and fill a little every moment he looked at it. Flattering, and tempting. His mouth was dry. His hand twitched, curving involuntarily… Take it slowly, he reminded himself. Removing himself from immediate temptation, he moved upwards a bit, trailing a finger up the line of hair to the heaving chest. Good. It was costing Blake a bit of effort to hold still, too.

“Come on, Avon. I’m ready for you, or hadn’t you noticed?” A low, throaty whisper, underlined by every touch of inviting body-language Blake could muster. Avon trembled a little with greed.

“Considering how well you resist me in my right mind, Blake, this may be the only chance I get. I intend to be thorough.”

“Still on about the way I don’t find you attractive? For an intelligent man, you can be very unobservant. You’ve never caught me looking at you, I think.” He grinned. “Sometimes I made myself dizzy whipping my head round to stare in the other direction before you noticed.”

“Even on the infrequent occasions when we were being civil to each other, you never made the slightest advance in my direction,” Avon said, honestly puzzled.

“I kept trying to get my courage up, but I never quite dared. I had no idea you’d take it as a compliment. As for the rest of the time, well, when we argued I kept having this mad fantasy of shoving you down and…” Blake hesitated.

“Fucking me into abject and complete surrender?” Avon supplied, licking his lips.

“… but I thought you’d kill me if you knew.”

“I’d have thrown myself on your mercy and the nearest flat surface. My subjection would, of course, be strictly temporary, but you know that.” Avon stretched, making himself very available for Blake’s delectation. “You realise this conversation is doing no favours whatsoever for my attempt to take things slowly.”

“You do seem to be a bit tense, Avon. Would you like a massage to calm you down a bit?”

“Why not?”

Blake eventually found the massage oil – not something he’d often used, obviously. He did seem to know how to give a massage, though. Blake worked at Avon with hard pressure until knots he hadn’t noticed seemed to dissolve, until his back was a flowing length of relaxation poured over the insistent sexual tension like hot toffee over frozen ice-cream. Blake didn’t stop there, but changed the touch from practical to erotic, teasing every inch of Avon’s warm soothed flesh. Feathering a light touch all the way down his spine, from delicate nape to sensitised tailbone. Again and again, then stroking out to his sides. Avon was a little restless by now, but didn’t dare move in case he missed something. The hands moved down to his arse, spreading him, pouring a soft cool flow of oil between his buttocks, making him sigh with pleasure and spread his legs to expose himself further.

A finger slid in; startlingly intimate and exciting after the chaster touches on his back. Unhurried fingers caressed their way into him for what may have been a long time, and certainly seemed like it to Avon, who was getting impatient. It felt good. It felt more than good. If only he wasn’t quite so bloody cock-starved he’d be perfectly content to lie and enjoy it for hours. The drug was making him so appallingly conscious of his own need, inside and out, that he felt hollow with want, a mere thin skin stretched over an insatiable ache. He moaned, a little plaintively. Those big fingers knew just what to do to him, but they were nowhere near filling that craving. He moaned, louder.

“Am I hurting you, Avon?” Blake’s voice was a little amused.

No.” Avon’s voice modulated to a wail of wanton disappointment as the fingers slid away. Blake would probably like it if he begged seductively, but he was much too far gone for that.

“Now fuck me,” he snarled, spreading himself open with impatient hands. He could hear the wet sound of Blake slicking himself up with the oil, could hear him sighing a little with pleasure at that first touch on his cock. Avon didn’t want to move, but he was enjoying imagining the expression on Blake’s face, imagining how exposed he himself looked.

Then the bed shifted under Blake’s weight, and a fuller, blunter pressure began to stretch Avon. It must have hurt, at least a bit, at least at first, but in that state of relaxed desperation Avon was simply gloriously aware that at last he was getting what he wanted. Blake’s arms, framing him, trembled with the effort of control.

“Comfortable?” Blake sighed intimately into Avon’s ear, chasing that hot whisper with a licking tongue, grunting a little with effort. Avon didn’t reply, relishing the feel of heavy, massive heat against his back, sliding a little with oil and fresh sweat. The sensation was so beautifully satisfying that Avon nearly sobbed as Blake’s weight carried him the last bit of the way. Perfect. Just lying there, transfixed, was nearly enough for Avon. He couldn’t writhe, couldn’t cry out, could barely think. All of him seemed concentrated on that few inches wrapped around Blake’s prick, clutching and gulping avidly for his fill of it. Utter stillness for a moment, then Blake slid back, nearly all the way out, then filling Avon with a long slow stroke. Again and again. Blake was trying to grope for Avon’s cock, probably to make sure he was enjoying it.

“Don’t,” said Avon, gasping at the thought but twisting away.

A wordless, disappointed noise.

“I’m too damn close, Blake. The moment you touch me I’m going to come, and I would prefer to wait for you this time.”

Blake answered that by thrusting much harder and much faster, keeping a bruising grip on Avon’s hips. Yelping with sudden pleasure, Avon clawed mindlessly at the bed, then at as much of Blake’s back and sides as he could reach. He’d have apologised for being a bit rough, but Blake seemed to like it, if chewing at Avon’s shoulder and growling softly was an indication of enjoyment. A few more long ferocious strokes, with Blake grinding himself in viciously at the deepest point, and he was just as far along as Avon, if that hammering heartbeat was anything to go by. Then Blake finally got a hand under Avon, none too gently. Blake did indeed have a good firm grip, just as he’d thought earlier, and Avon groaned, deep, letting Blake pleasure him with deeply-buried cock, tight hot hand, yes, that’s done it, and there was wet come flooding deliciously into him and out of him with every movement. Wriggling a little to make sure he hadn’t missed any of it, God he wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week and it would be worth it, then lying still in utter, luxurious, satiated content.

“Liked that, did you?”

“Perfectly adequate, thank you, Blake.”

“Adequate? Adequate? If you’d come any harder you’d have chopped me off at the balls!”

“Adequately perfect, then, if you insist.”

“Wake me up if you need any more,” Blake promised, rashly.

“Of course.”

***

Much, much later, after remarkably little sleep had left him remarkably refreshed, Avon woke up. He rubbed himself discreetly against Blake’s hip. Not a twitch. Seven times was clearly enough to exhaust the resources of Pure Heat, and he’d never enjoyed a piece of scientific research quite so much. He’d certainly exhausted Blake’s resources, come to that: the man had been more-or-less asleep (if accommodating) for the last three.

He moved to disentangle himself, and Blake muttered “Oh God, not again, Avon, I just can’t…”, but appeared to wake up in sheer relief when he found himself in an empty bed.

Avon got rid of the worst of the stickiness and hunted down his clothes. He was pleased to find them, if not actually clean, not shouting their tale of debauchery from the rooftops. An increase in shipboard gossip was not a good idea. Soon he looked more-or-less his normal, calm self, nothing betraying how he still ached pleasantly all over. He smoothed his boots on and stepped towards the door without a word, only to be halted by one of Blake’s heaviest and gloomiest sighs. Whether it was post-coital tristesse or simply Blake’s tendency towards black moods and self-pity, Avon didn’t really want to know. He turned round anyway.

“It’s all a dream for you,” Blake said, resentfully. “You’ve got your clothes back on and that bloody expression back on, as if to say ‘never again’. I’m the one that can’t forget this. I mean, I can’t imagine you waking up blissfully happy tomorrow morning and inviting me to live with you.” He sighed again, even deeper and more moody.

“Oh for God’s sake, I thought we’d been through the unedifying little details already. You do have a tendency to talk things to death.” He sat down on the bed. “Blake, as you would know by now had you had the good taste to make advances to me rather earlier, I never wake up blissfully happy. It would certainly drive me mad to live with you: if you leave your laundry for another couple of months you’ll end up with compost. If you paw me, make eyes at me, or call me by my personal name in public, I shall feel tempted to shred you and throw the bits out of the nearest airlock. Other aspects of a sexual relationship are privately negotiable.” He paused. “I think that covers everything. Now I am going away because I intend to go to sleep, between clean sheets, as opposed to stewing in semen and massage oil for the rest of the night.”

Wild impetuous joy shone from that expressive face. Now Avon sighed. Oh well, the man was marginally less impossible happy.

“Do I get a goodnight kiss?”

Avon kissed him, brisk and firm. Blake kissed back, more warmly, with a long hug, then fell back, spread-eagled in utter exhaustion.

“G’night, Kerr,” Blake mumbled, already half-asleep.

“The trouble with you, Blake, is give you an inch and you take several spacials.”

***

Vila gave Jenna the second package of Pure Heat back. It was worth it for a quiet life, and he didn’t fancy several weeks or months looking over his shoulder and jumping at sudden noises. It would interrupt both his sleeping pattern and the acute attention he preferred to keep on all the diverse little activities that made life interesting. She sold the Pure Heat for an extortionate profit: it had unaccountably lost its glamour for her.

Since as far as Vila knew nobody had drunk the doctored cognac, he was at a loss to account for the way Avon seemed a lot more, well, forgiving lately.

Until he came back from a particularly nasty three-day job. Not only had he spent three days in a horrible combination of lots of waiting and hiding with occasional outbursts of very hard work, but the beautiful glittery thing he brought back was a fake, according to Orac, and its retail value was invisible under the most powerful microscope. No good for either the crew’s collective resources or Vila’s own personal Just-In-Case fund. The thought of how much money the stupid owners must have wasted on (useless) security was no consolation whatsoever. He hadn’t even had anything nice to eat to take his mind off the boredom and fear: a packet of concentrate and a rather small flask of water were the only things that would fit on top of the extensive tool collection that just might have been necessary.

He hurried to the ship’s small kitchen. It was ship-night, but (wouldn’t you just know it) Blake was tucking into a late-night snack and Avon, of all people, was sipping at a vile high-caffeine drink beloved of those who had to deal with computers. He could hear them talking as he came in.

“… Blake, you idiot!”

“Oh God,” said Vila, “the last thing I want just now is having to watch one of your bloody rows.” Oh dear. Too tired to be sensible. He really shouldn’t have said that. Avon was going to stamp on him in the rhetorical equivalent of hob-nailed boots. Oddly enough, now he stopped to think, they didn’t look particularly tense.

“Oh, Blake’s not that bad,” said Avon, allowing the most subtle of smiles to touch his eyes. “I’ll make a heroic effort not to argue with him if it puts you off your feed.”

Vila nearly fell over. Allowing for Avon’s usual arrogant belief that everybody else was Altogether Trying (not himself, not even possibly), that was an extremely gentle remark. What had changed?

He dialled up a squashy sort of pudding, full of calories, cream and booze. Comfort food, and as far as possible from the unpleasant human fuel that was concentrate. After a few spoonfuls, he began to mellow slightly, and sat back with a sigh.

“Nice to get back to real food instead of plastic.” The moment he finished speaking he was aware that it was a stupid comment. Avon was no doubt going to make Orac-like remarks about concentrate not being plastic, about the “real food” being synthesised as well, and about the vapidity of Vila’s conversation. Vila looked down at his plate.

“Yes,” agreed Avon calmly. “There are times when only the real thing quite manages to fill the gap. Plastic isn’t nearly as satisfying.”

Vila was tired and concentrating on the gooey delights of the trifle. However, he was still much more observant than Avon had ever given him credit for. Avon’s tone of voice was resolutely unsuggestive, but Vila was good at looking without being seen to look, and Avon probably didn’t realise the reminiscent expression on his face was a bit of a heavy hint. The dead give-away, of course, was the way Blake appeared to be trying to stifle a bad attack of hiccups. Vila knew how he felt – Avon would kill them if he caught them laughing! He could also see Avon whispering very very quietly and very very discreetly into Blake’s ear: he wasn’t quite sure whether he’d heard it right, but it was something like: “God, but this conversation is getting me hungry…”

Blake cleaned up his plate and cutlery with impatient and unnecessary clattering, said “Good night” to no one in particular, and headed for his cabin. Avon sipped at his drink, obviously in a little discomfort, and equally obviously trying to make it absolutely clear to Vila that he wasn’t following Blake about.

“Off you go, Avon,” Vila said, taking pity on him, and on the fact that he himself would rupture something if he had to hold the laughter back much longer. “You’re knackered, go and fall down before we have to pick you up off the floor.”

Avon darted a sharp glance at Vila (who was relieved that his expression seemed blankly weary enough to pass muster). “Good night,” he remarked abruptly, and strode quickly and stiffly for the door. When he heard the characteristic squeak of Blake’s door, Vila gave way to laughter at last, nearly weeping into the remains of his trifle. Another thought struck him, and he laughed even harder.

The food synthesiser was brilliant, but there were one or two things that it didn’t do at all well. Look at poor old Avon – belting down the corridor in search of a decent bit of stuffing!

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