I finally got one fanfiction.net review on chapter 3 after I basically begged one of the story followers from an earlier chapter to tell me what she thought of it... which basically amounted to "I don't know anything about the characters, but nice landscape" :-(
Also, she mentioned that she hadn't received a story alert at all for that update, which may account for the viewing figures on the new chapter never reaching two digits; activity in the Blake's 7 section of fanfiction.net is pretty limited. (And, if I'm painfully honest, nothing much actually happens in that chapter apart from Blake's PoV being established, and the teleport down to the surface.)
This chapter may do better, as it's Phantom-centric -- and the one that the picture goes with.
Inasmuch as any material that's almost pure C/R romance can be termed 'Phantom-centric' or appeal to that audience... though it's hard to get an idea of what appeals when I'm struggling to get a single sentence of feedback per chapter! It is depressing finding myself effectively all the way back to the start so far as building an audience for my work is concerned; I suppose that's what you get for quite deliberately writing an improbable crossover.
Chapter 4: To See it Shining Plain
The viewport lay high in the city, up on the third level, and looked north-west, towards the mountains. Towards Angel Six: that memory came unbidden and uncomfortable, and Cris thrust it back down. If only her Angel could see Rall for himself— could know how shy and protective he was towards her, how utterly different from the jaded black-uniformed betrayer the Angel had surely been picturing when he’d spoken so harshly to forbid her his company. She had not wanted to hurt her beloved teacher; she’d tried hard to keep Rall at a distance. But surely her Angel, so wise, so gentle, could not have asked her to make her dearest friend this unhappy?
Rall had taken a few paces to one side, and stood now gazing out over the land almost as he had done when they were children— when they had painted the imagined distance with plants and animals out of old tales of her father’s, and dreamed of far countries beyond the horizon and worlds beyond the stars. Only... the young man’s hands were locked together tightly behind his back when once they would have reached out eagerly for hers, and three stiff paces separated them both. And she knew that it was her own actions that had set this new constraint between them.
From where he stood she could see only his profile, achingly familiar. The face of the boy he had been was overlaid now in memory with all the glances they had stored up between them in the last few weeks, until the shifts from old to new were blurred into one seamless continuum that was Rall, all Rall. The little dip where brow shaded into cheekbone; the long tilted runway of his nose, down which one could run a fingertip and launch it from the little bump at the end; the pale gold of the close-cropped hair by one ear and at the nape of his neck, where the regulation cut had clipped it to a mere glint; the lashes, darker than her own and quite as long, that flickered briefly and then lay quiet beneath her gaze once more; the moulding of the mouth, parted slightly as if he had meant to speak but had lost the words on an inward breath.
She wanted, with a sudden ache of eagerness, to set her finger just there in the cleft of his upper lip, in the space that seemed made to hold that exploring touch, and to brush against the line of the young moustache that had begun to come in earnest during these weeks of leave. And she should not feel this way for a friend, not at all, or recognise those same thoughts in his eyes for what they were when he looked at her...
As if the thought had somehow travelled between them, at that moment he did look at her. Their eyes met, and Cris looked down, feeling her face burn scarlet as if she had been caught out. The blood that had always risen so easily under his fair skin ran hot these days under her own. She had never had so much colour in her cheeks, so much brightness in her eyes; even Carla had begun to remark upon it. Milky pallor had flushed to rose, and even the pale braid of her hair seemed to gain sheen and strength by the day, no longer a coif but a coronet. She lay awake, sometimes, feeling the rush and thunder of this new life beating in her wrist as if it were the warmth of his pulse clasped close against her own.
She was no longer that cringing, creeping creature the world had tried to make her. The voice of her Angel had given her back her belief and her pride. But it was Rall’s heart that had brought back the strength to her own and touched a frozen statue with the first blush of breath— even as unhappiness had stolen the animation from his veins, drop by drop, with every evasion and cold answer that she gave.
He at least had never been unfeeling marble; and she had been hurting him — as gently as she could bear it — with every touch and every smile and every brush of their eyes, day after day after day.
She knew from Carla that the Borda’s refit was almost complete. Rall had never spoken of it, but she had watched the days count down in his face one by one. Her lessons with Angel Six had continued, despite his warning. A friend and nothing more, she had promised, and whatever it had cost she had kept her word in all that lay within her power. Perhaps her Angel had believed her, or perhaps he too knew that the boy’s time was running short... but all the same the old trust and comfort between them had gone, and he would not let her forget it. In trying to break faith with neither, she knew now that she had betrayed them both.
If only... if only she could show him how little he had to fear from Rall. He was her beloved teacher and comrade, and nothing could change that — no intoxication of young hearts. He spoke of her father; Rall too had known and loved the man and his ideals. For all his oath and his uniform, Rall would have helped the Operation, she was sure. But Dar had forbidden her — twice — to ask, in no uncertain terms. The Ghost would be furious... and while she might seek to disobey Angel Six, whom she loved, no-one with the breath still in his throat dared disobey the Ghost.
The little sound that escaped her was almost a sob; she felt, rather than heard, Rall come closer.
“Cris.” His voice was very gentle. “Do you remember the Floridens?”
“How could I forget?” She laughed a little, swallowing back awkwardness. “Big soft woolly giants, with pea-plants in their ears and toenails made of diamond from the hills themselves; we asked Daddy to tell that story so often, and every time he tried to change even one word in it you would protest...”
He was protesting now, making a game of it to take her back to the safe ground of childhood and shared tales from this same viewport, because that was all she had let him give her and the only terms on which he could stand here at her side; stand so close that the clean polish-and-uniform scent of him swam in her head as he spoke.
So near... and yet no nearer. She knew now that he would never move to close those last few inches that parted her mouth from his, though his eyes held the same overwhelming awareness as her own.
For as long as she wanted it and for her sake, he would play the game. Because she had asked it of him. Because she had made it very clear to them both that it was all she was permitted to take.
Something twisted painfully inside her and she put her arms around him on impulse, feeling him stiffen, resting her head on his shoulder where the high uniform collar was stiff against her cheek. Every muscle in him was taut and wary; but after a moment his grasp tightened around her in return, stiffly and cautiously, as if afraid she might break.
“Rall—” She did not look up. Her fingers found a fold in his tunic, twisting there. “There are... no blue hills, are there?”
His arms yielded; gathered her closer.
“No.” And the voice above her was not that of a boy: adult, honest, grave. “I’ve seen scans of the whole planet from orbit, Cris. There’s nowhere — nowhere at all — where such a secret could lie hidden. It was a tale for a motherless child: a sweet dream... I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry...” She tightened her other arm around his neck, turning her face into his warmth. “It was an ideal— an idea. You can always believe in ideas.”
She lay for a moment hidden from the world, listening to his breathing, quick and light. A tiny stiff rustling that puzzled her briefly was her own eyelashes, brushing against his collar as she moved; Cris raised her head a little and leaned against the warm line of his jaw, her lashes flickering fragile butterfly kisses along the side of his throat. He had gone very still.
“Cris”—an oddly distant voice—“that tickles—”
She’d kissed him so many times in the past, and pressed her cheek to his with the easy, unthinking affection of a child. Cris took a breath now — not a child, not a child any more — and set her mouth gently against that place, kissing the tickle away. A trail of soft impressions up the strong line of his neck, where the skin roughened a little beneath her shy touch... She stood on tiptoe to press her lips high against the familiar comfort of his cheek, and then slowly down in exploration towards the corner of his mouth. She felt him swallow, hard. “Cris...”
Rall pulled away to look down on her. His eyes, so close to her own, held drowning depths, wanting her and yet holding back; his voice cracked a little into an awkward lower register. “Are you... afraid?”
She could feel the tremor of urgency running through him, and her own legs were suddenly uncertain beneath her.
“No,” she said quietly, wondering at herself as the shameless heat leapt up across her face with the truth of it. “No, Rall, I’m not afraid.”
“That’s good.” He swallowed again, his eyes wide and dark on hers. “Because— I am.”
“Oh, Rall...” Her heart ached suddenly for the admission and she held him more tightly, feeling his arms about her tremble a little to the hammering leap of his pulse. And in the end — as his mouth came down on hers at last with clumsy eagerness — beginning was easy.
Cris closed her eyes, lifting her face to his as warm, uncertain lips tried to kiss across her own. How could you embrace a mouth, after all? She’d always taken it for granted; no-one had ever mentioned this, the awkwardness as lips parted and there was nothing against which to press a kiss... His mouth slid along her upper lip, enclosing it within his own in an improvised yielding caress, and she did the same, sensing the faint riffle of the young moustache there as his mouth moved in answer against her lower lip beneath. She let him kiss all round her mouth, tender and hesitant, neither of them sure how she was to respond, then slid the point of a shy tongue into that cleft above his lip which she had longed to touch, feeling his breath hot against her cheek. His nose brushed past her own, and she abandoned kissing to rub against it, opening her eyes to find his gaze a little rueful in reply.
It was... damp, and very intimate. But it was not as simple — or as exciting — as other people made it seem.
Cris sighed and nestled into his embrace, the beat of his heart steady now and comforting. A sudden thought brought her bolt upright, eyes widening in guilty remembrance.
“Rall— I have to tell you something—”
“You’re in the resistance. I know.” His eyes had crinkled a little at the corners, laughing down at her; she had no idea whether she should be shocked or afraid or simply glad. “I’ve known it for a while, Cris.... I won’t tell.”
One hand slid up to cup her face, turning it slightly to one side, and he leaned down to fit his mouth carefully, experimentally, sidelong over hers, lips and tongues parting on soft, shared warmth, at first cautiously and then with an almost painful hunger. And all at once it seemed that kisses could be very exciting after all.
Cris pressed closer against her lover with a gasp, letting intoxication sweep her away. If only her Angel could see them now — she spared a brief but heartfelt thought — if only he too could know how truly happy she was—
High above in the roof, surveillance camera 3V7/L754 jerked round violently on its mounting, losing focus, and burnt out in a curl of acrid smoke. The lethal overload that carried enough power to kill a man spent itself, impotently, on the insulated girder, and died like a howl of pain.
And in the far chamber beneath the Garnier Centre the images played on and on behind Erik’s closed eyes in the eternal dark; and ungloved fingers could not claw them away, or a raw throat give voice to the anguish that screamed of betrayal... and of all-consuming love.