by Jane Carnall
"Avon!" Vila bounced up from his bunk as the technician came in. "Avon," he repeated happily. "Avon, it's good to see you - "
Avon locked the door and turned an icy glare on Vila. "And how did you get into the soma cabinet?"
"Eh? I'm not drunk, Avon - I'm just pleased to see you!"
"Earlier today," Avon said sourly, "I meant."
"Told Zen I needed it for medicinal purposes." At Avon's deliberately unbelieving look, he added "Well, I did, didn't I? The Liberator all shot up, you unconscious, Servalan hovering about, everyone else down on Obsidian with Federation troops hiding behind every volcano - Avon, I needed that soma!"
"Yes, I did! And so did you - if you'd only admit it." Deliberately provocative, he grinned. "You need to relax, sometimes, Avon."
"Around you," the technician noted sourly, "anyone would look tense."
"Come on, Avon, you didn't come round here just to grouse about a few measly drops of soma."
"Didn't I?" Avon lowered himself into a chair and contemplated Vila. "What did I come round for, then?"
"Well, my charm and good looks wouldn't have had anything to do with it, would it?"
"Not to mention your inane conversation."
"If my conversation's so inane, why do you come round so often to listen to it?" Vila had been edging across the room, closer and closer to Avon.
"I don't. Your mouth can be put to considerably more useful purposes." He reached up and pulled Vila down to him. The thief put up no resistance, wriggling to get to a more stable position, half supported by the large chair and half by Avon, whose arms were firmly round him. When Avon's mouth finally released his, and Vila could stop gasping for air, he laid his head down on Avon's shoulder and relaxed like a sleepy cat. Avon stroked him.
"I've missed this," Vila whispered. "How long has it been...?"
"Eight weeks, at most." Avon shut him up again.
Vila squirmed, pressing a very hard hip-bone into Avon's stomach. Arhythmically.
"Bed," Avon suggested, heaving himself and Vila out of the chair.
Vila snuggled firmly against Avon, wrapping his arms around the technician and rubbing his cheek catlike on Avon's shoulder. "Why'd you leave it so long?"
Avon said nothing. He started to undress Vila; the thief, co-operating, turned his attention to Avon's clothing. As usual, undressing the technician took longer.
"Why do you always wear such impossible clothes?" the thief demanded, briefly kissing the tip of Avon's chin.
"To occupy what for want of a better word we might call your mind."
"Just get on with it."
Avon stepped out of his trousers, and Vila hesitated. He always did. Avon always took the initiative; it was one of the unwritten rules of their relationship.
The technician pushed him down onto the bed and lay on him, grinning wickedly. "Now what?"
"Why ask me? You're on top."
"How true." Avon kissed him again, unhurriedly, then, propping himself up on his elbows, made a little trail of kisses down Vila's throat to his chest, licking at one nipple. Vila squirmed enthusiastically, making small wordless mewling noises of pleasure. He was aware that Avon preferred him to stop talking at this point.
The technician worked on Vila, as he did with most things, with concentration and thoroughness. The thief was easy to please; however, Avon preferred not to take anything easily. Only when Vila was utterly, helplessly aroused, did he roll the thief over, himself considerably excited, and reach for the ointment jar.
Even this part of the proceedings was part of the excitement; holding Vila firmly lest he wriggle himself off the bed (a genuine danger, on bunks as narrow as the Liberator's, though Vila was so distracted he'd probably never notice), Avon methodically lubricated himself and the thief.
He slid in with ease, and lay still a moment, but as Vila started to rock with excitement he lost his famed control. (It was fortunate that Vila, the only possible witness, was never in any state to realise it by this time. Fortunate for whom, Avon never bothered to reason out.) Burying his face in the hollow of Vila's shoulder, he began to thrust hard. He had an impulse to bite Vila, and did; the thief cried out. Avon came.
It could only have been moments later; he realised he was still inside Vila and deposited a gentle kiss on the smaller man's shoulder as he withdrew, sliding off the thief and rolling over onto his back.
Vila sat up abruptly. "Avon, you bastard!" His voice was high with shock and outrage. The technician blinked at him. Sex normally turned Vila into a sleepy, contented, purring cat, happy to curl up next to Avon and nap or talk quietly as the technician indicated.
"What is it?"
"You bastard, I told you, ages ago - I told you I don't like pain - it hurts! What did you have to do that for - I was enjoying it and you had to go and spoil it!"
"Oh yes," Avon conceded, "I remember now. But for heaven's sake, Vila, stop exaggerating - it isn't as if I took off my belt and offered to beat you with it, now is it?"
Vila was still shivering. "It hurt, Avon!"
"It can't possibly have been that painful. I have perfectly normal teeth, not fangs."
"I was the one being bitten, not you, and it damn well was that painful!"
"Come here, then. Let's see."
Somewhat mistrustfully, Vila lay down on the bunk again, turning his back to Avon.
"Relax," the other man ordered. "I'm not about to bite your back again."
Actually, Avon noted with some concern, he had made quite a nasty little bruise, just in the middle of Vila's left shoulderblade. It was certainly not serious - he hadn't even broken the skin - but it probably was quite painful. "All right, Vila, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bite you that hard." He patted Vila's hip. "Why not go to sleep now, and if it still hurts in the morning you can get something from the medical unit."
Vila sat up again, ruffled and furious. "It hurts now and I want something from the medical unit now and I didn't want you to bite me at all!" He scrambled out of the bunk. Avon closed his eyes and counted, with conscious patience, to ten. Then he followed suit.
"All right, Vila, if you insist."
Pulling a gown round him, Vila glared. "Oh, I don't want to waste your time, Avon. Don't bother. Why don't you go back to your own bloody cabin and curl up with a bloody hot water-bottle - you don't need me just to keep you warm."
Avon flashed Vila a grin, covering astonishment. "But I can't bite a hot water-bottle, Vila."
The thief's face twisted in fury. "So get yourself your own inflatable rubber Delta, if that's what you want! I'm finished!" He spun around and shot out of the room.
Shaking his head, Avon sat down on the bunk again and pulled the quilt around himself. Vila would be back and they could sort out this problem then. There was no point in chasing off to the medical unit after him to continue this inexplicable argument there.
Dayna stumbled into the medical unit gripping her injured hand tightly and cursing. She managed to turn the light up with the edge of her unhurt hand. Vila, who had been curled up on the couch, sat up and stared at her. "Dayna, what - ?"
"I need something for my hand. Now. Move it, Vila!"
It was a nasty power burn; Vila dug out a tube of the all-purpose healing foam and sprayed her hand with it. The foam had an analgesic effect; Dayna's face relaxed markedly.
"Will that do it?"
"Should do, I think. The foam dries up and peels off in six hours, if it's not all right by then you could put a healing pad on it, but that's pretty immobilising."
Dayna nodded. "I'll bear that in mind. Thanks, Vila."
"No trouble. How did it happen?"
"Working on a gadget. I took a backflow. Just carelessness - I should have known better." She frowned. "Vila, what are you doing in here? You've got a cabin of your own, haven't you?"
The thief was clearing away the stuff he'd used. Glancing up at Dayna, he made his face deliberately blank. "Oh, I was just - in here last night and feeling sleepy - that's all."
The telepath looked up from the book she was scanning, and switched the screen to hold. "Yes?"
"Why would Vila spend the night in the medical unit?"
"I went in early this morning and he'd obviously been there all night."
Cally smiled. "He was probably after the adrenaline and soma. Did you happen to notice if there was any out?"
"Adrenaline and soma? That's a muscle relaxant."
"Intravenously, it's a muscle relaxant. Orally, it's a relaxant and a euphoric - and Vila loves it. Unfortunately, I gave him the idea, and our soma supplies haven't been safe since."
"I didn't notice any bottles out," Dayna admitted. "But I wasn't really looking for them."
"I'll check the supplies. If there's much missing, Avon can deal with it - it's his turn." She turned back to her book, and Dayna, feeling rebuffed, left the room. Just outside, she almost ran into Tarrant.
He grinned broadly. "You've hurt your hand."
That's fairly obvious. "Yes. Vila patched it up for me."
"That little idiot! I wouldn't trust him to patch up a quarrel - did you ask Cally to check it?"
"No. It feels all right. Besides, Vila's been on this ship for over two years - he must have learned something about the medical unit in that time."
Tarrant grimaced. "He is a Delta."
"It's a matter of intelligence. You had a rather isolated upbringing, but if you'd grown up on Earth, you'd know. Deltas are stupid. And Vila's a typical Delta - stupid, lazy, docile, cowardly. Look at the way Cally and Avon treat him."
Dayna had noticed. "They push him around."
Tarrant shrugged. "That's the only way to get a Delta to do any work - and he's pretty useless."
"He's a thief."
The pilot grinned, superior. "Oh yes, Vila and his delicate skillful hands. How much use is a thief most of the time? Blake put up with him, Avon keeps him around, but he's deadweight most of the time. If I were running this ship, I'd make him pull his weight or put him off."
It's more than the way they push him round, though, Dayna thought. The way Cally and Avon ally to tease him. The way Cally treats him - indulgent, protective. And Avon insults him but when you insult Vila, Tarrant, Avon glares. The three of them know each other. When the three of them are together, I feel like an outsider, no matter how friendly Cally is. She looked up at Tarrant. And you do too.
Avon came round the corner. He looked paler than usual, and his hair was almost on the verge of being untidy. "Have either of you seen Vila?"
"Good morning, Avon," Tarrant said pleasantly. "No, but it's a small ship."
"He was in the medical unit earlier," Dayna added.
Avon nodded and went past them both. The gunfighter gazed after him. "Do you think he heard?" she asked in a low voice.
Tarrant shrugged again, contemptuously. "Who cares?"
Of course, Vila was no longer in the medical unit. Avon routinely checked the soma supplies, but no more was missing than Vila had taken yesterday. If he tried to search the entire ship, and assuming Vila wasn't deliberately hiding, under the floor or wherever, he could probably track the thief down. But it would take hours, and he had work to do. Vila would surface eventually.
"Avon was looking for you," Dayna said casually. She was playing a game with a small portion of Zen's self-awareness, and winning for the first time in four weeks. She did notice Vila's sudden jerky reaction, and turned to stare at him. On the screen, her projection went down in symbolic flames. Dayna cursed imaginatively. "Zen, did you save that?"
"Good. Reload in five minutes. He's been looking for you all day, Vila - where have you been hiding?"
Vila's shoulders jerked in a nervous twitch that could hardly be called a shrug. "Oh - just around. Why does he want me?"
"He didn't say. Oh, thanks for the hand. It's fine now."
The thief smiled, luminous and delighted. "Did all right then? What are you working on?"
"I'm not. It's just a game. Mistress of the Universe."
"Oh.... I never managed to get past Skeletor." Fifth level. Better, Dayna supposed, than might have been expected from a Delta.
"Avon should be in his cabin right now."
Vila nodded. "I know. I'll be going then."
+BEGINNING RELOAD IN ONE MINUTE+ Zen announced, just as Vila had wandered back off the flight deck.
"Hold it a minute, Zen. Who else plays this game?"
+KERR AVON, ROJ BLAKE, VILA RESTAL, JENNA STANNIS, AND DEL TARRANT; ALSO THE ONE CALLED ORAC+
"To what levels?"
+THE ONE CALLED ORAC HAS PLAYED THE GAME TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL EIGHT THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND FORTY-THREE TIMES. ROJ BLAKE AND DEL TARRANT HAVE EACH REACHED THIRD LEVEL. VILA RESTAL REACHED FIFTH. KERR AVON REACHED FOURTEENTH. JENNA STANNIS REACHED TWENTY-THIRD.+
"How far up do the levels go?"
+THAT INFORMATION IS NOT AVAILABLE+
"Thanks a million, Zen."
+GAME NOW RELOADED. COMMENCING LEVEL NINE.+
Vila had no intention of going anywhere near Avon's cabin. He took a long and tortuous route to his own cabin to avoid going past Avon's and checked that the door was still locked before he opened it. The cabin was empty. He heaved an enormous sigh of relief and locked the door again behind him.
Avon came out of the bathroom and looked Vila expressionlessly up and down.
"Where have you been all day?"
"What are you doing in my cabin?"
"Trying to find you. Where have you been?"
"Trying to find me? Wouldn't Zen make you up a hot water bottle, then?"
"I wanted to find out what you were so upset about last night."
Vila's face twisted. "I told you, Avon - I don't like being hurt."
"I cannot believe that one, small, inadvertant bite is the real issue."
"That's not the point. You said you wouldn't." Shoulders hunched, Vila turned away towards the door, his eyes stinging. "Might have known you didn't mean it," he muttered.
"I apologised once." Avon's voice was a thin hard edge of annoyance. "How many times do you want me to apologise for forgetting once?"
"It's not even that," Vila said miserably. "You don't really give a damn about what I want, do you? You push me around and you insult me and then you walk in here and treat me just the same all over again, and you expect me to go along with it."
Avon shrugged. "You like being dominated. It excites you. You encourage it."
The thief fidgeted. "Yes... but only when it's not real. You act as if it is real."
"Realism adds to the excitement."
"It doesn't if you know what it's really like!" Vila snapped, really angry now. He turned and glared up at Avon, tears forgotten. "You wouldn't be so smug if you'd ever spent a single bloody week as a Delta in the domes! I don't mind playing at it. It bothers me when you act like you think I really am your property."
Avon tilted his head slightly, curious. "Why now? Because of Tarrant?"
"I hate Tarrant," Vila said flatly. "He thinks he's wonderful. And he thinks I'm useless. And you don't do anything to stop him."
"We need a pilot."
"We need a pilot, so I have to put up with it?"
Avon had no intention of ever allowing Tarrant to really hurt Vila, but a good pilot was a necessity and Vila was not the only one whom Tarrant irritated. "You could try fighting back."
The thief started to shiver. "He's bigger than me."
"It wasn't a serious recommendation." Avon crossed the room and pulled Vila into his arms. "Now, are you over this neurotic little worry?"
Vila jerked back. "I meant it, Avon! You don't give a damn about me, and I'm finished with you using me!"
Avon looked disconcerted. "Vila..."
"You never bloody listen to a damn word I say, do you?"
The technician lifted his eyebrows, mocking and cynical. "Well..."
The smaller man, shivering violently now, wrapped his arms around himself and turned away again. "Please," he said bleakly. "Please, Avon, just go. I really don't want... I don't want to."
It was almost instinctive to say "Shut up," and move in on Vila. The thief never resisted the inevitable, and Avon knew he could look pretty inevitable. "Vila - "
"Still here?" the thief asked morosely.
"Obviously. What the bloody hell do you want?"
"Want? What the bloody hell do you think I want, you effete Alpha pinhead? I want you to respect me! I want you to stop insulting me in front of Tarrant! I want you to listen to what I want some of the time! And I'm sick and tired of that wonderful Federation officer walking around with a smug grin on his face trampling all over me and you could bloody well help me fight back instead of watching it with a smug grin all over your face!
"You are calling me an effete Alpha pinhead, you Delta-grade manic thief?"
"Why, you - !" Vila caught the glint in the technician's eye and stopped mid-yell. "You bastard."
"My parents at least knew each other's names; unlike yours."
"Abuse turns you on, does it?" Vila asked benignly. "A whole new perversion."
"What makes you think that?"
"Either you're pleased to abuse me or you left your computer in your pocket."
The technician sighed heavily. "I am surrounded by illiterate peasants who can't even misquote correctly."
"You aren't surrounded by me... yet."
"Come on out," Avon drawled wickedly, "the house is surrounded."
"Come wherever you like, just so long as you clean it up."
Avon took a swipe at Vila's hair. "Foul-mouthed urchin."
"Teddy-bear molester," the thief grouched with affection.
The technician pulled off his jacket and dropped it on the floor. He sat down on the bunk beside Vila and started to pull off his boots. He threw them, accurately, at the jacket. His poloneck followed, then his shirt. He had to stand up again to pull his trousers off.
"You're normally tidier," Vila observed.
"I'm normally calmer." Avon started to undress the thief. "I don't know why I put up with you."
"I know why I put up with you," Vila observed, as Avon peeled his tunic off and glared at him.
"You're the best lay in five spacials," the thief said happily. He ducked a blow, kicked his boots off, and curled down beside Avon, letting the other man finish undressing him.
He was still glaring as he lay down. "Only five?!?"
Vila pretended to concentrate. "Well... maybe six, on a good day."
Avon bared his teeth in a heartstopping, dazzling grin. He rolled over on top of Vila, pinning him down. "Only six?"
"Seven," Vila gasped. "No - eight! Nine and a half!"
"Can the little Delta count above ten?" Avon crooned.
Vila paled. "That's not funny," he said abruptly.
The technician blinked. "You're right, it's not. I'm sorry."
"Do you always have to spoil everything?"
"Probably." He touched Vila's face gently with the back of his hand. "But I'm still the best lay in nine and a half spacials."
Greatly daring, Vila reached up and ruffled Avon's hair. When the technician did not snap at him, he pulled the other man's head down to his. "I like you," he whispered. "Mostly."
"This is a mess," Avon answered in a normal voice. "I hope you realise that."
The thief shrugged. "All Deltas are slobs."
"You're allowed to make Delta jokes, but I'm not?"
Vila smiled. "Just remember that, and we might manage to hold together another couple of episodes. You're still the best lay around."
"And you're always a neurotic little worry."
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