After the Battle
A Pink Dormouse Production
"Things don't stop being scary just because you're in a relationship." Manna's Richard.
The city was coming back to life just as Travis had predicted. Everywhere he looked civilians were going about their business exactly, he supposed, as they had done two days before. Well, maybe not exactly as before: a fair few shop windows were boarded up awaiting glaziers, some establishments were too fire-damaged to re-open straight away and it would be some time before all traces of battle had been washed from the streets.
None the less, people were talking, shopping and conducting business in a relaxed manner that belied the troops posted by Del Grant on as many street corners as he had personnel for.
Most of the soldiers - all the Arcos rebels and most of Grant's mercenaries - snapped to attention as Travis approached; he liked that. Not as much as he liked having Avon by his side, which did bother him, but he supposed he would recover from that sooner or later. Besides, Avon was going to find the pair of them somewhere to stay and hotels generally preferred hard cash to heroics, when it came to settling room bills.
Travis just had to resign himself to the fact that - for the time being - his world revolved around Avon. No Space Command, no Federation, he would reserve judgement on this new Arcos regime until he had seen it in action. He needed a focus to what he did and if that was currently a person rather than an organisation then so be it.
It would help, of course, if he had any idea at all of what Avon's long-term plans were and whether he was included in them. Travis rubbed at the freshly sealed wound under his eye.
"It'll scar up if you do that."
Travis glanced at Avon.
"And you would know - " Travis remembered the extensive scarring on Avon's arms. " - Yeah, right." He put his hand into his jacket pocket. There should be rules for this sort of thing but if so no one had thought of telling him what they were or where to find them. It was hardly fair to be this close to Avon but not actually be able to touch him. Or at least he assumed they were not supposed to be touching.
Travis came to a halt outside what had once been an amusement arcade.
Avon stopped, turned and gave him a quizzical look.
"About... this," Travis said. "How does it, well, work? I mean, you're still here, I'm still here, something's obviously working right but..."
"Does it matter?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose..." He ran out of words again and looked around for inspiration. A shop across the road was evidently open for business, which reminded him just what the other craving he felt was all about. Maybe feeding one would cancel out the other.
"Tell you what," he said, "I'll get a packet of fags while you wait here. Then we can talk some more." He crossed the road without waiting for Avon to reply.
Avon tried to keep calm. There seemed little point in cutting and running, tempting though that prospect might be. His experience told him that any relationship in which one party was Kerr Avon was ultimately doomed to end messily - and sometimes fatally - but there was no reason to totally discount the prospect of a mutually agreeable, open-ended arrangement without a few more days of consideration. If nothing else he deserved a few more nights like the previous one. And besides, he reminded himself, he had given his word that he would stay as long as he was needed.
Travis thought things over as he waited in the queue. A decade and a half of one-night-stands had done little to prepare him for the prospect of staying with one person for the foreseeable future. Avon had to know more about that than he did: there was the Grant woman, and that git Avon had been seeing when he was at Cambridge, and presumably others in between. Maybe the first rule was 'don't ask about the rules'. Frustrating but something Travis would have to cope with if he wanted to make this... whatever... work.
He paid almost as much for a pack of twenty as he would have paid for an entire carton of Par's black-market supplies. Travis suspected that prices had just skyrocketed with the fall of the local Federation; he was damned if he was paying that much every time he wanted a smoke from now on.
He left the shop, lighting up as soon as he was back in the street.
"You must realise how bad those are for you," Avon said as he joined his (for the time being) partner.
"So? Considering all the crap you put into your body at university... you don't do any of that now, right?"
"Certainly not," Avon said, resolving to avoid temptation from now on. He was decided on this then, he was going to stay with Jed Travis until such time as he spotted the first warning sign that the inevitable was about to happen. It could be days, it could be months but he was not going to go through the whole long-drawn-out obsessional mess again that he had had with certain others. And Jed had all the hallmarks of being potentially obsessive; already he was a lot more attentive to Avon than he should be at this stage of things. But then, he was still catching up with his past and regaining his former identity, so maybe a little emotional immaturity went with the territory. And he did seem to have gained a healthy level of respect from the troops, whatever Del Grant might have to say about him.
"Where now?" Travis asked, breaking into Avon's thoughts.
"Just let me check." Avon felt in his pocket for the card giving details of his chosen hotel. He read the address then flexed the card so its display changed to show a map of the local streets. He glanced at the street sign next to the shop door. "This way."
Travis dropped the cigarette butt to the pavement and ground it out under his boot then looked up at the entrance to the hotel. It seemed to have come through the battle unscarred with not one mirrored windowpane so much as cracked but he supposed that these sorts of places always did. The high and mighty always needed somewhere to stay, whichever side won. It was not what he would have chosen but then Avon had always aspired to expensive tastes.
The doorman eyed them suspiciously but Avon walked past him without a glance. Travis tried to do likewise, suddenly very aware that he had had no time to change his clothes since the battle. They should have gone back to the ship first, picked up some different clothes, maybe even had a second shower apiece. But it was too late now.
They entered into a vast expanse of glass and chrome. Travis hesitated again but Avon strode up to the reception desk and returned moments later with a card-key.
"Tenth floor," he said, "we may as well use the lift."
Avon was oddly surprised by how few staff were in evidence, although he expected their ranks had been depleted somewhat by the need for soldiers. There was no lift-attendant for a start. Somewhat of a relief, it transpired, since Jed pulled Avon to him as soon as the doors closed.
"I want you."
"You have me. What do you want me for?" Avon surreptitiously hit the emergency stop button.
Jed released him and stepped back. His sudden awkwardness was endearing; it would be almost describable as sweet were it not for the sheer number of deaths he had been responsible for the previous day and in all the battles before that one.
"Tell me you aren't going to suddenly vanish like you did before."
"When?" Avon was pretty sure he should know but the exact reference escaped him.
"Few years ago. I was in Londondome on leave so I went to the flat in Barons-Talgarth. You weren't there, no one even knew you. Then I went to your parents..."
Oh. Shit. Avon stepped away from the wall and silenced Jed with a kiss.
"I got in with the wrong people, I had to get out of that dome, while I fixed the records. Then once I was safe there seemed little point in going back. Jolyon was offworld, you were offworld - as far as I knew there was little point in contacting my family again. I didn't go back to Londondome in the end until just before I met Anna. If I had realised that you..." To be honest it would probably have made little difference back then but there was no point in arguing the fine details while stuck in a lift.
"So you aren't going anywhere without telling me?"
"I don't think we need to discuss this here." Avon hit the stop button again and the lift smoothly re-commenced its journey.
Travis followed Avon into the room and looked around.
"Can we afford this?" He was going to have to ask Avon to lend him money the next time he needed a packet of smokes never mind anything else. Tomorrow he would have to get a job. Any job, just as long as long as it paid so he could feel vaguely like he was supporting himself.
"The Liberator had considerable resources. I invested a proportion of my share, which gave me a modest emergency fund. So yes, we can afford this for a couple of weeks, certainly long enough to find somewhere permanent."
"Well, so long as you don't mind having me around." Travis spotted Orac sitting on a table. "Where'd that come from?"
"Grant's men brought it over for me after I reserved the room. I also arranged for some clothes to be delivered, I assume they'll be to your satisfaction."
"You're such a flash bastard at times."
"And you're complaining about that why exactly?" Avon sat on the bed. "You wanted a proper bed and I found one for you."
Travis sat down further along the edge of the bed. In spite of what Avon had said in the lift, he still needed reassurance about where he stood before he made another move on Avon. The whole situation was far too real for his liking. And far too outside his control for him to feel comfortable about it.
"Do you... d'you really think we can make a go of things?"
"I see no reason why not. Orac informs me that there is a place for me at the University of Arcos and I see no reason why you should not find lucrative employment; these people seem to see you as a hero of sorts."
"I didn't mean that. I meant..." Travis trailed off as Avon moved closer, interrupting his train of thought. "Oh forget it, let's just fuck and worry about things later."
Now that idea suited Avon just fine. No tedious discussion of what they were doing with each other, no need to avoid making any more promises, which he might not be able to keep and - above all - no pointless expression of feelings. He lay back and tucked his arms behind his head.
"What do you want to do?"
Jed rolled on top of him, pinning him down.
"I want to do you."
"Any preference as to how?" Endearingly gauche was fine for so long but Avon would have to put some work in fairly soon and bring Jed a little more into line with what he wanted in a partner.
"Whatever works." Which currently seemed to consist of very light bites to Avon's throat.
Fair enough. Avon moved his hands to under Jed's jacket, holding him in place and staring to knead tension out of muscle groups.
Travis buried his face deeper into the space between Avon's neck and the collar of his jacket. The smell of smoke and blood and dust and leather overlaid the scent of whatever that soap was they had found in the showers at the Administration Building. And under it all was something essentially Avon. Something that had imprinted itself on his brain those nights on the pursuit ship and caused him to take unjustifiably long showers every morning of their journey bar the last.
Travis gasped and pulled away. The intensity of his reactions shocked him yet again. This time he could not even blame going too long without, or heat of battle.
"Too much." He sat up and started unfastening his boots.
Avon quirked an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I don't want to... you know... be all over before we've even started." This was ridiculous. He should be able to keep things under control a lot more than he was managing right now, when they had hardly even started to actually do anything. As for what Avon thought of it all... well that hardly bore thinking about.
Travis felt Avon's arm slide around his shoulders.
"Try thinking about it less."
"Yeah, right." Travis got one boot off and started on the other, trying not to think about how much his hand was shaking and how much effort it was taking to make the other one work properly.
He finally managed it and swivelled around to look at Avon.
"I still don't get it. Why me?"
"Because you are marginally less irritating than you were as a teenager. In fact these days you are mostly tolerable."
Travis stared at him.
"That's one of your great understatements, isn't it?"
Avon stared back, unreadable.
"Oh, bugger it." Travis realised there were more important things they could be doing instead of talking. He slid around and leaned in towards Avon, willing his body to obey him and just stop over-reacting.
"Just relax," Avon told him, wondering if all this could possibly be as new to Jed as it seemed to be. Maybe they had rushed into something that was beyond Jed's abilities to deal with and they should just back off and start again. But that meant finding an explanation that would not scare the other still further, when he was already far too tense. Avon felt a little resentful of being forced into a situation where he absolutely had to be the responsible one but he cleared that though quickly from his mind and concentrated on the more pressing problem. Only one possible solution raised its head, a little clichéd perhaps but clichés tended to become clichés because they worked.
"Strip." Said that softly it was a request rather than a command, nothing that should unduly worry anyone.
Travis pulled back and stared at Avon. He - oh, so selfishly - wanted Avon all to himself for as much of the day as possible, which as far as he could see meant stringing this out for as long as he could. Not something he would find easy - if he could manage it at all - with the pair of them getting naked straight away.
"I told you, I don't know if..."
"Trust me." Avon kissed him quickly and lightly then slid off the bed and walked purposely across the floor and into the bathroom.
Travis stared after Avon then shrugged to himself and began to remove his clothes, taking his time and even going to the effort of folding each item and placing them all on a chair by the bed.
Avon had still not reappeared so Travis lay back on the bed to wait. He had just closed his eye when he heard the click of the bathroom door. There were soft footfalls on the carpet then the mattress shifted as Avon sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Don't look; just turn over."
Travis tried to suppress a shiver. He had very mixed feelings about this turn of events, although he would neither voice them nor allow himself to decide exactly why the situation both excited and unnerved him.
"You can trust me, you know."
"I know." Travis rolled onto his stomach and hid his clenched fists under the pillow. He felt Avon's hands on his shoulders and dug his nails into his palm. Then Avon's thumbs were caressing him and he slowly uncurled his hands.
Just a massage then: he could handle that. And maybe some extras after: that was usually good too. Nothing to get stressed about at all, he realised as muscles that had been knotted up for who knew how long started to return to something more normal. They really could take all the time they wanted to get where they were going; no one was going to interrupt them and he no longer had to worry about being dismissed from a Service he had left more or less of his own free will. Fuck it but that felt good. How on earth did Avon know so perfectly where to place his hands?
Avon was impressed with his achievement so far. Jed needed very careful handling but he was just so appreciative in return. The bruises on his back from the day before were faded down to yellow already so he had obviously had someone run a re-gen over them at the same time as he had had the cut under his eye seen too. Which was good since it gave Avon leeway to really work out all the tension in Jed's back.
He found a lot of scars lower down: small ones that would fade in time, which looked like they had been made by the repeated application of steel-toecapped, studded-soled boots. And a surgical scar almost the length of his hand down Jed's right flank. He followed it with one finger; Jed twisted to look at him.
Fair enough. Avon returned to his primary task. It definitely seemed to be having the desired effect. Jed was steadily relaxing: stretching out on the bed next to Avon and breathing far more evenly than previously.
He moved his hands back onto Jed's shoulders. The right presented no problems but the left was an interesting technical challenge. The prosthetic arm was a very fancy bit of kit indeed and it was not as easy as Avon would have expected to figure out where exactly where the internal parts fused with actual anatomy. Somehow trial-and-error seemed even more risky when investigating experimental technology attached to an actual person than when the same technique was applied to an alien spacecraft one just happened to have found oneself on board.
Sitting next to Jed, he could not make a full comparison of the two areas. He leaned across and swung his right leg over to the other side of Jed's body. Jed's shoulders tensed. He pushed himself up onto his elbows.
Not good. Avon moved smoothly back to sitting on the side of the bed.
"We'll go back to how we were, shall we?"
Jed nodded and lay back down. Avon set to work on his shoulders again, slowly exploring the points of attachment of real and artificial muscle groups.
Avon was just about making progress when his gaze was drawn yet again to the scars covering the hollow of Jed's back. For some reason they brought home to him exactly what the Federation had done to the man. More so even than the footage he had seen of Jed's botched interrogation (if it had been botched, the men had almost been acting as if someone were giving them instructions). Or maybe it was because he had seen the security tapes first that the scars had this effect: he knew what had been done to cause them and something of what had been done to Jed afterwards.
"You stopped." Travis rolled onto his side and looked at Avon.
Avon sat on the edge of the bed staring into space.
"If there's somewhere else you need to be... well, I'm not going anywhere today, I can wait for you to come back."
Avon shook his head and then looked at Travis.
"I'm sorry. It's not anything to do with you. And of course I'm not going anywhere. Shall we continue?"
Travis rolled back over and buried his face in his arms.
"It might be easier if I get on there with you now."
"Go ahead." Travis felt a twinge of... something... creeping up on him again as Avon straddled his thighs. This was just Avon giving him a back rub. No one was going to hold him down. No one was going to ignore him when he told them to stop. No one was going to... Then his head cleared again and it really was just Avon soothing away this new panic, making him feel all relaxed and fuzzy and - suddenly - incredibly turned-on again. And what Avon had started to do now was just serving to increase the last of those.
Avon pressed his thumbs into the same spot again.
"Oh, fuck. Oh Christ. Oh, hell. Oh..."
Avon slid his hands to either side, around Travis' back and under him.
"Oh yes. Oh please. Oh..." Travis thrust once into Avon's hands and that was it. He was coming and it was better than the night before, better than flying, better than surviving the grimmest battle.
He had expected to feel, if not actually be, alone afterwards. But Avon was there with him still, resting a hand on Travis' hip and looking at him with a reassuringly amused expression. Travis smiled.
"You're good at that you know. Better than - well anyway give me an hour and I might be able to move enough to suck you off."
Avon smiled back at him.
"That might just be acceptable."
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