Some Questions Best
He stared up at me: a stare that permitted no caution. Avon wasn't exactly handsome; his nose too long, those pale sensuous lips not in line with conventional ideas of male beauty. Still nothing about the man was exactly conventional.
Now, freed from the heat of the survival suit, his neck was beaded with sweat, the cream cotton shirt clung damply under his arms, across his chest; I could make out shadows of black fuzz. That exposed arm, almost as white as the bandage encircling it, accentuated against the black med-bay couch. That contrast repeated in the dark hair against the pale forehead that set off his dark eyes. And yes, I am back at his eyes; I always end up back at his eyes. For what took me off guard, as I sat across from him, was their directness. They were like the eyes of a child too young to have learned that it is not polite to stare.
Don't get me wrong, Avon's stare had nothing of childish innocence about it. But what it did seem to have was a childish lack of consideration for consequences.
He stared, and I was lost. It was as simple, and as complex, as that.
And just at that moment I was happy. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be happy. Because for two long years now, it had just been pain and stress and fatigue, hollow victories that sometimes looked as if they might yield something like happiness, but could never make me forget those years I'd forgotten, those friends whose faces I'd lost. But just at that moment -- gripping his hand, seeing acceptance reflected in that brown-dark stare -- happiness was newborn in me.
His bared arm held all the fascination of the unknown. I freed my fingertips to explore that hidden softness, that rich delicateness. And then leaned to sample the sensuous promise of those oh-so-kissable lips.
'But, Avon ...' My warm words congealed. There are some things you just cannot say to a man with that look on his face. 'I thought when you came down to Exbar after me, after all that you'd said about it being an unacceptable risk...'
'Well you were mistaken! That should not be a novel sensation for you, Blake. You do seem to have something of a talent for it.'
'I would say that it was typical of you to attempt to exploit me while I am weak and in pain; however you seem to have excelled yourself. Even your usual line in imposition falls rather short of preparing me for this.'
I was never sure what drew me to Avon's cabin that evening. Certainly not hope that I had misread the rejection in his face, his voice. But surely a friend -- and surely Avon was that -- would understand my desires even when he could not share them. Maybe just an attempt to get him to stop playing that dreadful music. The tinny noise echoed round my cabin each night, slid into my dreams.
I stood on the threshold. Avon would not have left the door unlocked unless he welcomed visitors? Stood behind him willing him to stop, to pay some attention to me. Willing myself to touch his shoulder in the friendly way we used to share.
The variation drew to a close with a flourish.
'You need not touch me to let me know you're there, Blake.'
Then very deliberately putting the desk between us. Sprawling back on the bed in an arrogant pose that could -- with another man, another time, another place -- have been a blatant invitation. But presumably wasn't.
I sat straddling the desk chair, head in hands, affecting to examine the strangely designed and richly ornamented keyboard in an attempt to keep my eyes off the bed. It failed.
Avon's eyes had not lost their dark draw because I could no longer believe they concealed emotions he feared to share. Nor his skin its translucent appeal. No, I was still lost. And in this trackless unknown, my only guide a man whose voice a moment ago had reminded me of the razor wire atop a prison wall.
But I needed something from Avon. Acceptance. Or at least ...
'Avon,' I started, 'I want ... I need ... to understand what you're thinking.'
'I don't owe you anything, let alone access to my thoughts.'
'Don't you think that you might just owe me your honesty?'
'Honesty?' If anything his frigid tone had hardened. 'If you want honesty then believe this, Blake. Your kind make me sick.'
I don't remember what else he said. Perhaps I did not even hear it. And, as I reeled out of Avon's cabin, I knew that I could never face its owner again. One of us would have to leave.
Thanks to David Leavitt for inspiration.
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