Heart's Desire

by Jane Carnall

for Julie; on behalf of C&K Enterprises, UnLtd.

Avon hesitated before activating the door signal. The house was discreetly labelled Fantasies, Inc. and appeared to be comparitively small; but Avon was sure that for all the narrow front, it ran far back and probably down as well.

This was stupid. Nevertheless --

He pressed the button decisively. After a moment the door swung open and he entered onto a small hall with a single door at the far end.

"Your name?" A voice spoke from the air. Avon managed not to jump.

"Kerr Avon. I have an appointment."

A moment's pause, and the door behind him closed firmly as the door ahead opened.

"Please come in," said the voice. "Take the first door to your right."

The first door to his right led into a pleasant, spacious office, with a broad window that might have passed for real if Avon had not known that the wall faced into the house. And if the window had not shown an underwater scene.

The woman behind the desk stood up, smiling. "Please sit down, sir. Anya Rigel. How can I help you?"

Avon sat down, settling himself comfortably. Behind Rigel's head a dolphin swam past serenely. "Your brochure promises to fulfil one's heart's desire."

"That's true." Rigel leant back in her chair, smiling affably. "We can find your most secret, your deepest desire, and create it for you in this house. Anyone, anything. We guarantee your most secret wish. Money back if not satisfied."

"And your fees are high."

"Well, Fantasies, Inc., doesn't deal in mere mental stimulation. Your heart's desire will have full dimensional reality, Avon."

"I'm not interested." Avon smiled. Brains, but no heart... and therefore, no heart's desire. "Your techniques, however, do interest me."

Rigel's expression hardened. "I can't give away professional secrets."

"I wasn't aware I was asking for them. Surely it's obvious, though, that if your advertisements are to be fulfiled, you must surely use brainprint techniques."

"No comment," Rigel said dryly.

"And you must, as well as taking brainprints, be able to imprint them on android brains."

Rigel hesitated. Then, mouth curling, she nodded. "You're very intelligent, Avon. Yes. Computer-constructs only, of course."

"Thank you," the technician murmured. "But you must be aware that the difference between a computer-constructed brainprint and that of a human mind is merely of content."

"Imprinting androids with human-mind brainprints is illegal."

"That wasn't what I asked."

Rigel leant back and considered. "Am I to understand," she said carefully, "that you want this company to create an android and imprint its brain with a human mind?"

Avon smiled. "Precisely."

There was a moment's silence. Then Rigel smiled. "Very well. But it will cost you. Twice our normal price, and strictly under the following conditions. You may rent the android for up to forty-eight hours, and no longer. Under no circumstances will you remove the android from this house. After the rental, both the brainprint and the android will be completely destroyed."

"These terms are acceptable," Avon said after a moment. "And the price?"

"For how long?"

"Shall we say... twelve hours?"

She named a sum of credits that made Avon blink. "Very well." He pulled a small sealed packet out of the inner pocket of his jacket, and placed it on the desk. "Brainprint and a hologram. The android is to conform completely to the specifications."

"Our contract guarantees heart's desire. An android based on a real person may not behave exactly as you might desire," Rigel warned.

The technician smiled toothily. "Yes, that's the trouble with people, isn't it?"

He stood up to go. "How long before the android will be prepared?"

"Including environment; four hours. Allow me to show you out."

She showed him to a different entrance; one which led onto another street. "Return here in four hours," Rigel told him. "This is the customer's entrance."

Smiling, curling inside with anticipation, Avon made for an extremely exclusive restaurant a few streets away. A table had been booked; an excellent meal would be a suitable start to what was beginning to be a most promising evening. And night.


The House of Heart's Desire, the brochure had read. The front didn't look all that promising. Vila quailed, but, bolstered by the credits in his pocket -- more than he'd ever had in his life before -- he pressed the door signal and stumbled in.

"Your name?" a voice said, very politely, from the air.

Vila jumped. "Restal. Vila Restal."

"Do you have an appointment?"

"Eh? No. No. I don't."

"Please wait."

The thief stood there, shuffling. The wait seemed aeons long. At least twice he contemplated backing out the still-open door.

As he turned the second time to glance, the door shut. The door in the far wall opened. The voice murmured politely, "Please come in. Take the second door to your right."

The office looked expensive. It was vast, and all along one wall ran a window that looked out onto a great open parkland, green and beautiful. Vila˙averted his eyes. He tended to suffer from agoraphobia.

"Vila Restal. My name is Vonda Aristeides. Please sit down."

Uncomfortably, Vila sat.

"What can Fantasies, Inc, do for you?"

The thief went white, then red. "I -- uh, your brochure said you -- "

He trailed off, looking at her hopefully.

"We can fulfil your heart's desire." She smiled. "Expensively."

"Oh, I can pay," Vila assured her earnestly.

"Well then. Shall I explain the procedure before we go any further?"

Vila nodded.

"We have a computer with mind-scanning capabilities. The computer will search your mind and discover your deepest desire. It may well be something you didn't expect, but we guarantee your utmost satisfaction, or your money back. Then, from information the computer gives us, we construct the androids, and the environment, of your heart's desire."

Vila went red again. "Yes."

Aristeides smiled, pulling out a standard contract-block from the desk. "For how long, Restal?"

"Uh -- twelve hours." He wouldn't bet on Avon not taking the Liberator out without him if he was late back.

"Put your thumb-print there, please."

Obediently, he pressed his thumb to the sensitised patch.

"Naturally, all information given is completely confidential, and is automatically wiped from the computer's memory banks after your rental is over. Please come this way."

Down a couple of long passages. This house was larger than he'd expected.

They entered a room with comfortable, worn furniture; more like a sitting-room than a laboratory. Another woman stood up from behind the table, smiling. "Vila Restal. I'm Anya Rigel. Please sit down in that chair." It was directly in front of the desk, and had no worrying headpieces or electrodes. "And drink this," she added, handing him a glass of a milky fluid.

Vila sat and drank, discovering that the fluid was not milk, but something that went down like liquid fire and relaxed him like adrenalin and soma. "You should patent it," he muttered, "you'd make a fortune...."

He slept.

The dose they gave him had been precisely calculated; long enough to take a brainprint and to swiftly scan it and reckon the time it would take to construct that mind's heart's desire.

Anya Rigel stared at the brainprint in utter and complete disbelief.

Startled -- she had never known Anya look surprised, not even when they had the man who wanted to have sex with an imaginary spaceship -- Vonda leant over her shoulder and looked.

"It's the same person."

"I never believed in synchronicity before."

"No need. They're obviously from the same ship, so they're both in port at the same time, so it's hardly surprising they both come and visit us." She paused thoughtfully. "Though it is odd -- "

"Odd? Our previous customer gives us this man's brainprint and wants an android of him. Half an hour later this man wanders in and he wants -- "

"Well?" Aristeides asked impatiently.

"Vonda, this is going to make us rich!"

Vila started to stir.

"Quick," said Rigel, "get rid of him. Tell him to come back in two hours. I'll explain when he's away."

Vila went unprotestingly. He found a suitable bar and had wine and sandwiches.

"All right, Anya; explain."

"Rich," Rigel repeated. "Vonda, we are about to be paid three times for making no androids. Avon wants an illegal android copy of Restal, for which he will pay double price. Restal's heart's desire is...?"

"Avon," Aristeides said. "Ah, perfect!" She did some mental calculation. "Even with the costs of the chamber and refreshments -- "

" -- trivial -- " Rigel interjected --

" -- we will make a fortune!"

"Two fortunes, by any reasonable standard."

"Wait a moment. Do the details of their fantasies match?"

"We will be giving Avon exactly what he asked for. As for Restal, he has about five heart's desires; but the desire to be loved by Avon is very strong, and includes the physical desires. He won't complain."

They both started to laugh.

Vila returned, as instructed, to the door from which Aristeides had shown him out. He was greeted by the other woman, and escorted down a long passageway to a blank, grey, anonymous room. "Your environment is not quite complete," Rigel said genially, encouraging Vila to sit down on the grey couch, the only piece of furniture in the room. "If you'll wait here, I'll fetch you through when it's ready." With a friendly slap on his shoulder, she left.

The room went greyer, and Vila slid sideways, unconscious, to the greyly padded floor.

As soon as the hypodermic implant had taken effect, Rigel came briskly back with an undifferentiated android and gestured to it to pick Restal up. The man would not wake again until approximately the time Avon should be entering his environment. And then they would both have their twelve hours.


Avon returned, as instructed, to the door from which Rigel had shown him out. He was greeted by another woman, and escorted down a long passageway to a blank, grey, anonymous room. "Your environment is through that door," she told him. "If there is anything you find you require, touch the contact to the right of the door and speak your request aloud. Please note the clock on the wall opposite. You must leave the room when or before your twelve hours are up, or you will be forcibly removed. To watch an enviroment and an android become undifferentiated is... not a recommended experience." She repeated it flatly, but added a smile that seemed genuine, and left the room.

Smiling with casual and sardonic ease to cover his rapidly-beating heart, the technician crossed the grey room to the door in the opposite wall, and as he touched it, it swung open. He stepped inside, and closed the door gently behind him.

From now on, he could afford to take his time as it came. On the clock across the wall, an oldfashioned timepiece of the first calendar, the hands stood at twelve.

The room had white walls, was carpeted in black, and the ceiling was high and arched. A window, curving up through the arch, showed nothing but a blue Earth sky fretted with a white tracery of cloud. It was growing dark, but there was still enough light in the room to see the broad bed, as long as it was wide, and a black coverlet spread over the bed.

And Vila lay neatly on the bed, clad in one of his less irreproachable outfits from the Liberator, breathing a little heavily, as his thief did in sleep.

Not Vila. Vila's replica.

No. For these twelve hours, let it be Vila.

He crossed the room with swift strides and paused to take stock of his property before waking him up.

After a moment, the replica's eyes blinked open, perfectly brown.

"Avon? What are you doing here?"


Avon must have tracked him down to this place. Quite easy, of course, since he was still wearing his bracelet... no, he wasn't. "What the hell are you doing here?" he repeated.

Avon smiled. "Hello, Vila." He sat down on the bed beside the smaller man and kissed him, holding his shoulders firmly down against the coverlet. Stunned, Vila didn't even think to struggle, too shocked to feel any pleasure in the sensation of Avon's lips silky against his own, Avon's delicately probing tongue.

When the technician released him, Vila sat up. He was shivering. Avon just didn't behave like this. Or look at him like that... as if he was a delicacy on Avon's plate, as if Avon was a cat saving the cream for last.

"What is this?" Vila demanded, his voice high with nervousness. "Avon what are you doing? What's going on?"

Avon smiled, his face alight with perfectly genuine and perfectly terrifying amusement. "I would have thought that would be obvious even to your limited mind, Vila. I'm seducing you." One hand curled round Vila's neck, the other gripping his shoulder, and pulled him forward, still smiling. "And it wasn't that painful, was it?"

I'm dreaming this, Vila thought, this isn't happening, this absolutely is not and cannot be happening.

Avon's mouth descended on his and he forgot to wonder if he was dreaming. Sensation became everything.


Vila wasn't responding, Avon mused. Although he accepted Avon's kisses and caresses with passivity, not fighting back (the technician had wondered if he would have to subdue the thief's replica by force) he remained silent, blank-faced, lacking any response save physically.

Which did at least demonstrate that he didn't find Avon's advances completely unwelcome, even if he did appear to be submitting to something unavoidable. The technician started to undress him, pulling the thin silky tunic off over Vila's head and kissing his small nipples, pink amid the fine chest-hair. The thief moaned, Avon thought protestingly, and wriggled. The technician gripped him more firmly, and started to unbuckle his belt. He yanked the trousers down, slid his hand inside the thin briefs, and tugged the tousle of hair.

Finally naked, Vila looked pink and vulnerable. Avon lay down on the bed again, still fully clothed, and teased him for a while, holding him still, pinned between his legs. The thief's breath was coming in sobbing gasps; when Avon had to release him to undress himself, he made no attempt to get away; he seemed to be unable to move.

When the technician took him in his arms again, at the first touch of Avon's skin on his he seemed to stop breathing completely; then he gasped, whimpering, and pressed himself still more tightly against Avon, his eyelids tightly screwed together in rapture. At least, Avon hoped it was rapture.

He kissed the thief again, pressing his mouth open and thrusting insistantly. Rolling the thief over was easier than he had expected; Vila had gone limp on him, every muscle relaxed. He reached for the small tub of ointment, smeared his penis, and, covering his fingers again, probed gently into Vila's anus. The thief made a small noise, pleasure or fear? Avon was unable to tell.

Well, he had hours to go yet. There was plenty of time to find out.


Vila had kept his control this long by dizzily repeating the mantra he doesn't give a damn about me over and over, silently, to himself. When Avon lay down on top of him and slid inside, he lost track, felt himself thrusting back against Avon, wanting more of him inside him, wanting to swallow Avon whole and Avon to swallow him, to be safe with Avon forever and ever.... Avon's hand slid down his stomach to his erection, stroking it in rhythm with his thrusts, and he moaned and turned his head, trying to express one fraction of what he felt with his eyes. Avon kissed his cheek.

He came, flooding Vila with his warmth, triggering Vila's orgasm moments later. The technician withdrew gently, rolling over with Vila still in his arms.

The thief had lost the battle with his common sense. Adoration filled him like a flood of warmth; he couldn't speak, could hardly breathe, and it didn't matter; if he died the next minute it would be of pure bliss.

Avon was stroking his hair. He wondered if it was possible to die of bliss, because he seemed to be. Heart's desire fulfilled, lying utterly still, there was no moment but now....

Heart's Desire.

"We have a computer with mind-scanning capabilities. The computer will search your mind and discover your deepest desire. It may well be something you didn't expect, but we guarantee your utmost satisfaction, or your money back. Then, from information the computer gives us, we construct the androids, and the environment, of your heart's desire."


No. Couldn't be, couldn't be -- No wonder it hadn't seemed like Avon. It wasn't Avon, it was just an android, behaving the way he wanted Avon to behave. He doesn't give a damn about me...

Vila started to cry. He jerked himself away from the android, reaching for his clothes, and made a dash for the door. Some part of him wanted the android to come after him, so it would; and it did, but too slow. He slammed the door and was safe in the grey room, where it couldn't come. Still crying, he pulled his clothes on; he was dressed by the time Anya Rigel came into the room. "May I ask what is wrong?"

Vila shook his head, wiping the back of his hand across his streaming eyes, and choked "No."

"It was your heart's desire."

"It was what -- what I wanted. I just -- I just wish I hadn't known it was what I wanted."

Rigel nodded, not unsympathetic. That did happen sometimes. "There are over ten hours of your time yet. Do you wish to go back?"


"You may remain in the house until your twelve hours are over. The android will not be undifferentiated until that time."

"No." Vila repeated. He was shivering. "No, I'll just go back to my ship now, you needn't bother about keeping the -- android, I won't want him -- it -- again."

She guided him to the door and let him go, handing him his bracelet back at the door. When she returned to the chamber their other customer was sitting, fully dressed, on the bed. He looked up as she came in, and contemplated her bleakly. "Well?"

"You signed a release," Rigel said evenly, "making us not responsible for your heart's desire. I'm sorry you didn't get what you came for. But we did warn you."

"So you did. Don't worry, I'm hardly likely to sue." He stood up. "Even for the ten hours I haven't had."

"You are welcome to remain here for your ten hours. But the android will not return."

"No." A faint, wintry smile slid across his face. "To both."


Fortunately, everyone else was still down on the pleasure planet. Orac didn't ask stupid questions like "Why are you upset, Vila?" Why are you crying your eyes out, Vila?

Well, you see, I thought Avon loved me. Then I realised it was just that I wanted Avon to love me. Funny, aren't I?

The Liberator was quiet. He stumbled to the medical unit, slid past the current security lock, and dialled himself three bottles of soma. Clutching them to his chest, he returned to his cabin, found a glass, set the bottles and the glass down on the floor by his bunk, and lay down on his stomach, burying his head in his arms.

He cried for a long time, shuddering in the warmth of his cabin, and eventually, with aching eyes and little jerky sobs, he cried himself to sleep. The soma was for when he woke up.


Avon sat alone in a luxurious private room in a highly expensive hotel and considered the problem. He was attracted to Vila; datum number one. Vila was scared of him; datum number two. Four solutions immediately presented themselves; to forget the whole thing (a non-solution); to seduce Vila with all the skill and charm at his command (which he had just tried, and had succeeded only in driving a really excellent replica of Vila away in tears); to get Vila thoroughly drunk and try again (risky: he might still get upset); or to forget the whole idea of seducing Vila, and just terrify him into bed.

The last appeared to be the only possible solution left, since the experiment hadn't worked out. Avon considered it for all of twenty seconds, and then gave up on the idea. Vila wouldn't be very entertaining terrified out of his wits and might well try to leave the ship, or complain to Cally or even to Tarrant.

He might risk getting Vila drunk, but the thief (knowing what Avon felt about his drinking habits) would be bound to become suspicious.

There appeared to be no solution to the problem, which was damnably annoying; his attraction to Vila was increasing, and embarrassing; he wanted to bed the little thief and get it out of his system as soon as possible.

Meantime, he had ordered a gourmet meal, which he didn't feel like eating, and the bed was soft as clouds. Given his usual luck, he'd probably suffer from insomnia.


Cally usually spent her shoreleave simply wandering among the fascinating, infinite kaleidescope of minds other than the four she knew far too well. The city of Ekaiyr was a pleasant place by Cally's standards; the miasmal despair of most Federation cities wasn't there, and most people seemed to be fairly happy, or if unhappy, miserable with human miseries, not those of state-creation. She wandered up and down the narrow streets that rose up the steep hills and plunged into deep crevasses between them, appreciating the clear air that hadn't come from a mechanical recycling system, the green and purple trees that were planted in every available spot and a few that probably shouldn't have been available, watched a street theatre for half an hour and tossed a few credits into the box that the smallest child came round to collect with, and as the evening drew in and stars began to appear in the clear green sky, she found a quiet bar with a cool tiled floor, bought a couple of samosas and a tall glass of lhassi, and settled down to watch the customers.

Hours later, the timer on her chronometer beeped once and she sighed, depressing the communicator button on her teleport bracelet. "Cally to Liberator."

"What is it now?" Orac asked peevishly.

Cally smiled. "Prepare to operate the teleport."

Unhurriedly, she rose to her feet and began to weave her way out of the bar. Once outside, she checked that there was no-one in sight and raised her bracelet to her lips. "All right, Orac, teleport now."

Hiatus. And the Liberator's teleport bay. "Are the others back yet?"

"Vila returned some time ago. The others have not yet called in."

Moments later, however, the communicator hummed and Avon's voice said abruptly; "Avon to Liberator. Bring me up."

He looked bad-tempered and tense. With a scowl at Cally that absolutely prohibited asking how his shore-leave had gone, he pulled off his bracelet, put it in the rack, and stamped out. Cally lifted her eyebrows and smiled after him. Either indigestion, or else he couldn't find Vila. Humans!

Half an hour later, Tarrant called in. He sounded smug. When he appeared, he looked smug too. "How was your shore-leave, Cally?"

"Fine." She deliberately refrained from asking how his had been.

He grinned broadly and told her anyway. Cally yawned. Offended, Tarrant left, which was what Cally had hoped he would do, adding viciously, "You'd better call Dayna. We'll be leaving in an hour."



"Yes, Cally?"

"Prepare for teleport. We'll be leaving soon."

"All right." Dayna stood up and kicked earth over her small fire. Collecting her bow and arrows, she considered the matter and picked up the small animal she had shot by the hind legs. "Cally. Bring me up."

The Liberator was warmer than the night forest, and the air was still. Dayna sighed.

"What's that?"

"I'm not sure. It looks like a small carnivore from Sarren, called a smink, but obviously it can't be. Feel the fur, though."

Cally stroked the pelt, deep and soft. "It's lovely. But what can you do with it?"

"I'll ask Zen if there's a way to tan skins on the Liberator. If not, I suppose I could just put it in a cryogenic capsule till the next shore leave."

The communicator crackled. "Cally, is Dayna back yet?" Tarrant demanded.

Cally flickered a smile at Dayna and went across to answer him. "Yes, Tarrant. Everyone's on board."


As soon as Dayna and Tarrant had gone to their cabins to sleep, and Cally safely on the flight-deck for the night-watch, Avon took Orac off to his own cabin. "I want you to contact the computer or computers of a firm on Kaire called Fantasies, Inc. Stored on the computer should be a brainprint of Vila Restal, and details of the construction of an android replica of Vila. I want you to wipe them."

"Oh, very well." There was a brief pause. Orac sounded exasperated: "There are no records of any android replica of Vila Restal ever having been constructed."

"What? That's impossible."

"The facts are indisputable. I have located the brainprints; do you wish me to wipe them both?"

"Both of them?"

"There are two brainprints stored on record. One of them is from System technology; the other appears to have been recorded by Fantasies, Inc. itself."

"And there is no record of any replica of Vila being constructed?"


"Would it be possible to construct a replica and leave no records?"

"No. The construction of an android replica of a human being is exceedingly complex. With the exception of a computer such as myself, it would not be possible to wipe the information completely from all places where the records were held."

"So no such replica was in fact constructed?"

"No, of course not. If you refuse to pay attention to the answers, why do you trouble me with the questions?"

"Shut up, Orac. Just wipe the brainprints." Avon pulled the activator out and shoved it in his pocket. A slow, predatory grin spread. "Vila," he said, softly but with immense satisfaction.

He went to the communicator and punched a button. "Vila! Vila, wake up!"

There was a muzzy sound of sleepy breathing, and Vila spoke. "Avon...? What's happening?"

"I want to see you in my cabin. Now, Vila."

"I was asleep!" Vila protested.

"You're awake now." He switched the communicator off, still smiling.

There was a tentative knock at the door, minutes later. Avon opened it, ushered Vila in with deliberate formality, and closed and locked the door.

"Sit down."

Vila obeyed him. He looked ruffled and sleepy. His eyes were pink and damp. Avon sat on the opposite chair, half-smiling. "What did you do on your shore-leave, Vila?"

The thief shrugged. "Oh...visited a couple of bars, played a few games, you know how it is."

"Yes. You didn't visit a house that calls itself the House of Heart's Desire, of course?"

Vila went red, then white. He stared at the technician despairingly. Avon knows. "How -- ?"

"I had Orac do a check," Avon said smoothly. "Either you were a customer, or their having your brainprint was purely an astronomical coincidence." He did not smile, but a hint of mocking amusement lurked at the corners of his mouth. "Well. Did you receive your heart's desire, Vila?"

He does know. How can he know? This is worse -- Worse than anything, knowing the technician knew the way he'd wanted the other man, knew maybe even that Vila had wanted the technician to hold him in his arms and stroke his hair, knew --

Vila looked so hopeless and despairing that Avon half wanted to gather him into his arms and save explaining till later. But the other half of him was enjoying being in complete control of the situation too much to let it go.


"Yes," Vila muttered miserably. "I suppose so."

"It was rather stupid of you to leave your brainprint in their computers, wasn't it?"

The thief mumbled something that might have been an apology, staring down at his hands.

"Then I only have one more question." He paused, savouring it. "Why did you cry?"

The thief's head popped up. "Eh?"

"If you wanted me that much, why did you cry?"

Vila stared at him, his mouth wobbling. Avon stared back, determined to force a reply.

"Because it wasn't you," he said at last, with bleak humiliation. "It was just a bloody machine."

Avon smiled. Vila wished he was a million spacials away. No, on second thoughts -- he wished Avon was a million spacials away. Make that two million.

"You really do think I'm a machine, don't you? If I were, it would have been one you were with. Since I'm not, it wasn't." Sitting back, he enjoyed the spectacle of Vila's jaw hitting the floor and rebounding.

He was astonished when Vila catapulted himself out of his chair and flung himself at the technician, hugging him hard. "Then it was...it was...you? You...want me? Maybe? Just a bit, anyway?"

"Careful, Vila, you'll talk yourself out of it."

"Avon," Vila said, as though he could find nothing else to say, and buried his face in Avon's throat. "Avon."

The technician pulled himself and Vila up out of the chair, and began to pull Vila's tunic off. "You haven't changed since you came back, have you?"

"Eh? No...I went to sleep."

Avon said nothing, but stripped Vila off neatly and quickly, brushing the thief's hands away when he tried to reciprocate. "Shower, Vila."

He followed the smaller man through to the bathroom and watched him into the shower cabinet, passing him the soap. Then Avon began to undress himself, hanging his jacket up neatly, placing the boots side by side under the stool, keeping half an eye on Vila. He came out damp and pink and clean enough to satisfy even Avon's fastidiousness. The technician took hold of his wrist and pulled him back to the bed.

Vila lay down obediently, scooting underneath the quilt. His pulse was racing. Avon lay down beside the smaller man, tucking the quilt around them both and pulling Vila into his arms. The thief jerked as though he had been electrocuted at the touch of skin on skin, and lay still, shuddering and clutching at Avon as though to a peak of granite, the only solid thing in a whole icy shifting ocean.

Avon kissed him, moving his hands over Vila's back, down to knead at the cheeks of his ass, nibbling at the thief's neck. He moved his knee to part the other man's legs, hearing Vila moan as he felt the silky brush of Vila's groin against his own.

All too soon, Vila came, crying out incoherently as all his muscles seemed to clench, whimpering as the pleasure drained from him. Avon held him as the thief's tiny whimpers died away, as he began to relax into a sommnolent lump. Irritated, Avon shook him. "Vila?"


"Roll over."

"Oh... oh, right, sorry." Vila heaved himself over onto his stomach and settled himself more comfortably, as Avon parted his buttocks and began to spread smooth cream between them. Half-dozing, he felt Avon's erection slide past his relaxed muscles without pain, and a faint sigh, as his hips rocked, gently, rhythmically, against Vila's bottom. Avon was so damn self-controlled, Vila thought. If it wasn't for the prominent evidence, you'd barely know he was turned on at all. He didn't make a sound; only as his hips bucked and he came, spurting into the thief, did he break his silence, a brief cry that might have been of pain rather than passion.

Well, now Avon had come too maybe they could both get to sleep. He was still tired. When the technician withdrew, yawning, Vila turned over and snuggled closely to Avon, hoping the technician would again hold him in his arms and stroke his hair.

"Vila. Don't go to sleep."

"What, again? I'm worn out, Avon," Vila mumbled.

"No. You have to go back to your own cabin."

"Eh? Can't I stay here with you?"

"Don't be silly, Vila."

A spark of pain lanced through him; the thief sat up suddenly, shivering and tearful, his eyes on Avon's face, pleading. "Avon -- Avon it's not fair, you know what I wanted -- "

Avon detested sharing a bed with anyone, especially one as narrow as this. But looking at Vila's unguarded face, crumpled with distress and fear, he knew he could not drive the thief away in tears again. Not again.

Avon reached up and pulled Vila, unresisting, down again. "Don't be a fool. The bed's too small for two people to sleep in; if you insist, I'll see if Zen can get us a double bed for next time. Stay a while if you like, but I don't want to wake up all cramped tomorrow. We have things to do."

"What?" Vila wanted to know, still apprehensive.

Avon began to smooth his hair with one hand. "For one thing, doing something about that larcenous pair in the House of Heart's Desire. They cheated us both out of a very large sum of credits."

Vila, wide-eyed and thoughtful, shook his head. "I don't care. I got what I paid for."

"So did I, I suppose," Avon conceded.

The thief stayed awake until Avon's breathing changed, and carefully arranged himself so that the technician would have no cramps to complain about tomorrow. If he and Gan could manage to share one of these bunks, he was sure he and Avon could do it. He wondered, briefly, what Avon had paid for; and slid unknowing into sleep.



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