Snatch
by Calico



Oct.99

Disclaimer: <wide, innocent eyes> Who, me?

Rude, but not too rude, this is for julad.

Thanks go to her and Hanneke for thorough beta. yay. :)

Calico@76sg.freeserve.co.uk


His leg was going to complain about this for hours, if not years.

On realising his mistake, he told himself, he had almost turned away and walked quietly back to his room. Instead, he found himself concealed just inside the corridor at the edge of the flight deck, intrigued and invisible.

By all accounts, it was night. Not that they were very particular, just now, of course. Work and work, that was the schedule -- work and work and then finally sleep, when you're pronounced exhausted by Cally, or entirely useless by Avon.

Although, Vila thought sourly, in that case I ought to be consigned to my room all the time.

He'd planned on sleeping for a few hours, but that meant he needed a little something to wind down with. Only small glass, some Metalian brandy, perhaps; just enough to ease his reflexes, nice and soothing, until the act of relaxing stopped sending off klaxons of anxiety that he'd been dosed with another paralysis treatment and was about to get some rest on a terminal scale. Medicinal requirements, don'tcha know.

He'd discovered, through extensive experimentation -- purely for the advancement of science, of course -- that the properties of a measured blend of spirits could prove to be a bloody effective night-cap. A dark, mature brandy was always a good one, especially complimented by a shot of the lighter, rather destructive Sinian Ambrosia. Together, they tended to blur the edges of reality just enough to fall asleep, without causing incriminating side effects.

The only problem was the rather addictive nature of the result. Metalian liquor was compelling, to say the least. And the Sinian Empire made extremely good profits off their notoriously "divine" concoctions.

But this well-matched union was causing Vila some problems. Tonight, for example, he'd decided to mix enough to give him two nights of good sleep. Unfortunately, despite his best attempts at Avonesque determination, he'd already consumed the lot.

It wasn't his fault, and he wasn't complaining. A bloke couldn't have two many pleasant night-caps, after all, even if they were physically impossible to set aside after the first compulsive sip.

He'd decided it was wiser to store them separately. He kept the Ambrosia secreted carefully behind the bunk in a small, innocuous cabin, and stealthily obtained another sacred portion every night. It was a fine arrangement, if he said so himself. Although, something had gone wrong this time. Somehow, he'd meandered along to the flight deck instead.

That was surprising in itself, since when Vila thought about it, he'd come in entirely the wrong direction. Obviously, it was pure coincidence to chance upon this argument between Tarrant and Avon. Equally, it was just good manners that kept him from making his presence known.

That last bit didn't really fit with the charade, but since he was only trying to silence a couple of weak protests from his conscience, he was willing to allow a little inconsistency.

Tarrant looked angry, defiant, and as Avon rounded on him Vila could almost see the sparks. Avon, Vila was interested to note, was also showing all his personal signs of restrained fury.

Not that they were particularly unusual dynamics between the pair, of course.

"I don't care. The fact remains that you put us at risk, Tarrant. That is what your honourable whims come down to -- pointless risk."

Even from a distance, Tarrant's eyes flashed at the words. He looked ready to lash out and strike the other man, visibly furious. "They were going to die," he growled, body taut and jaw tense. Then his expression sobered abruptly, and Vila couldn't decide which mood made better use of his startling blue eyes. "They have died."

Being the focus of that intensity, Vila decided, could be compared with a political banquet at Servalan's private table. High thrills, low survival rate.

"And short of taking them with us, there was nothing we could do. Not even you." Avon paused, evaluating him. "Haven't you learnt that yet?"

Tarrant gave an angry, brittle laugh. "No, Avon, apparently not. Even though you're rather consistent, admirably so, I still find myself the tiniest bit disturbed when you walk away from a massacre."

Ouch. Utterly polite, blatantly scathing, Tarrant's voice made Vila happy he wasn't in Avon's place right now. Extremely low survival rate. Although, that was just him, the self-professed coward. Avon would deal with it. Effortlessly.

The trouble was, Vila knew Avon would always deal with it -- with anything the younger man threw at him. Tarrant's compulsive morality didn't work quite so well when his opponent refused point-blank to be impressed.

"You'd prefer I joined in? Interfering with someone else's politics would settle your conscience."

No, this didn't fall under Avon's definition of an uncomfortable situation. He was still smooth. Grudgingly, Vila admired his poise; apart from an alert attention, ready to defend and outmanoeuvre, he remained unmoved.

"I'd prefer it if you honoured your promises."

"I never promised anyone anything."

"Don't give me that," Tarrant shot back, sharp and scornful.

Avon smiled, nastily. "No, it's true." He shrugged lightly, affecting casual indifference. "You've got the wrong man -- " His voice hardened. " -- Blake made all the promises on this ship."

Vila swallowed. Tarrant couldn't know how true that was. He wondered if that particular scar of Avon's would ever truly fade, knowing it couldn't, also knowing his life would be a lot easier if it did.

"Always comes back to Blake."

"That depends on your point of view."

Tarrant shifted, folding his arms. "So was he the reason you were so eager to go down on this planet yourself?"

Vila blinked incredulously. Intentional reference, or just coincidence? Unless he had a lot more subtlety than Vila credited him for, it looked like it was inadvertent. Anyway, Tarrant wasn't supposed to know that piece of history -- although if there was one thing Avon continually underestimated, it was the intuition of his crew.

Maybe Vila just had a dirty mind.

Although Avon's sharp, amused glance made him suspect that similar thoughts had occurred to that incisive brain as well. There again, that didn't mean much. Avon wasn't exactly the archetype of innocence.

"I went for the vaccine," he replied firmly. All trace of humour had sunk away, leaving no cracks.

"Orac could have given you the vaccine," Tarrant pointed out deliberately, as if that were the closing piece of evidence in an argument he'd just won.

Avon glared at him coldly. "If Orac could have given me the vaccine, I wouldn't have gone."

They were both over-enunciating, Vila observed. Not a good sign. Definitely an excess of antagonism. Nothing would compel him to interrupt them now -- not even if someone offered him the chance to stir the ex-president's entire wardrobe into a steaming, noxious pool of mud. Even if they threw her into the bargain. In fact, if he had any sense, he'd leave now.

"But if Blake had been down there --"

Avon smiled slightly, to himself. "That would have been a different matter entirely."

If Blake had been down there, Avon would have brought him back.

"So was he?" Tarrant demanded.

Avon just looked at him. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," he ground out, eyes furious.

Oh, he enjoyed that, even if it didn't show. A growl of admission from Tarrant was obviously just to Avon's taste in an argument.

And Vila knew, of course. Vila knew Avon would do almost anything to find Blake, and Blake would do almost anything in return, and in comparison, Tarrant was irrelevant. Taking into account his temper, it was probably a good thing that the thief knew things the pilot didn't.

Abruptly, Avon walked past him, checking something on the flight console, imperiously pressing a button.

Oh, very clever. Leave Tarrant looking at blank space; reassert himself.

"As a matter of fact, this had very little to do with Blake," Avon said briskly. He paused, turning slightly, and Vila heard more than saw a smug half-grin; "Depending on your point of view, of course."

Tarrant turned round sharply, eyes narrowing. Vila watched, impressed, as the younger man lingered between stepping closer to hear and maintaining his dignity.

"Actually," Avon added, almost as an afterthought, "this concerned --"

The name was lost; Avon's low, matter-of-fact purr didn't carry when his back was turned. Vila winced, trying to lean closer. The real problem with eavesdropping, then, was the fact you couldn't ask anyone to speak up.

Tarrant reached a decision rather fast, moving to grab Avon by the shoulder, spinning him round. "Jenna?!"

Vila froze at the familiar name. Oh, boy. Jenna. Another name he'd blocked from his head, because even through a swaying haze of night-caps there were some situations which were just too depressing to think about. If Avon were serious... it'd be nice to see her again.

Oh. But Tarrant might not share that opinion. Because, like it or not, Liberator still only had one seat controlling the helm.

Avon looked at him calmly. "Yes." His glance fell on Tarrant's hand, still clasping his shoulder, and his lips twitched. Tarrant snatched his hand away. "You've heard of Jenna, I suppose? Blonde, female, smuggler, pilot…" He paused, tasting the words. "An exceptional pilot."

And was Tarrant remembering the rumours of her notorious link with the ship's computer? From his clenched teeth, Vila had a feeling that was the case. The scowl was another clue.

"And will you find her?" he snapped.

See, if Tarrant had half the control required to dominate Avon, he'd succeed in looking indifferent, which would give him some advantage. Trying and failing didn't work quite so well. And these raw edges were exactly the sort Avon enjoyed toying with.

"It seems unlikely."

"What if you did?" he demanded.

"Concerned you'll become redundant?"

Tarrant laughed bitterly. "Well, you've always made it perfectly clear that you needed my piloting skills."

Avon raised his eyebrows, looking eminently reasonable. "I'm sure you and Jenna can share the responsibility."

Tarrant almost growled. "Or I can leave?"

Avon drew his gun, examining it casually. He looked back at the other man, calculating. "Oh no, Tarrant," he said slowly, closing the distance between them. "You don't have to leave."

Tarrant's eyes looked like compressed electricity, flustered and furious. One foot slid slightly backwards -- involuntary escape -- then halted abruptly. "What -- enough games, Avon. Exactly what do you mean?" he snapped, drawing up to his full height.

Vila felt like echoing that sentiment. Although he had the strangest feeling that Avon wouldn't pay nearly so much attention to him.

Close, now, Avon slid the gun back into it's holster and caught Tarrant's collar with his other hand. The surprised protest was muffled by Avon's mouth, as he was dragged down into an uncompromising kiss. Avon's gun hand rose to curl against the base of Tarrant's skull.

Well. Yes. Avon got full marks for distraction techniques, even if they were a little on the extreme side. Vila swallowed hard, and looked away. His hand pressed against his stomach, where a surprised flash of heat was fading.

There again, he might as well enjoy the simple pleasures. He watched enviously as Avon moved back fast, uncurling his fingers and breaking all contact, looking up insolently.

"After all, Jenna simply doesn't have this effect on me," he purred roughly, head tilted to one side, breathing ragged. Slowly, he drew his tongue over his bottom lip, watching Tarrant's eyes.

Flirt, thought Vila disgustedly, swallowing again.

Tarrant exhaled slowly, gaze flickering heat on Avon's mouth, dragging back up to his eyes.

Vila tried to prepare himself, reading the electricity with explicit premonition.

He failed to sustain his composure. When Tarrant moved, fingers threading into Avon's hair and tilting his head up to meet his mouth, Vila's hands tightened into fists and his mouth felt lonely. He scowled unhappily, swallowing, unable to escape the unbearably familiar taste of his own tongue.

It made it worse that Avon moaned. An aborted sound, deep in his throat, raking over Vila's ears and tightening his blood.

One of Tarrant's hands stayed at the nape of Avon's neck, the other glided down the smooth line of his back, a gentle rasp of nails on leather.

And Avon arched into him, the slut. "Oh," he murmured roughly, hands finding the other man's hips and pressing into him. "Yes, Tarrant," he breathed, approvingly, as if the impetuous young man had finally done something right.

Vila felt ghost kisses, shivering caresses, and wished he wasn't in the vicinity.

Although, he acknowledged easily, he certainly wasn't going to turn away at this point. The sight of Avon dragging his mouth down the pale line of Tarrant's neck was somehow not conducive to retreat.

Vila clenched his teeth, taking slow, ragged breaths, and struggled to stay silent.

Their breathing grew loud, irregular, as Avon explored the hollows and tendons of Tarrant's throat.

Vila's hand crept towards his neck, and he halted it sternly. Actively mimicking their actions would illustrate too much loneliness, more than the thief felt he could cope with. What's more, he had to stay relatively composed, in case he had to make a quick retreat.

His mouth twisted. Composure, yes, he could just about remember what that felt like.

But this was low, he knew, even for him. There was a burn of embarrassment cultivating somewhere inside him, and he made a mental note to stay away from the pair next time he had a serious drink. Careless apologies would be a really bad idea, as would impassioned bids for forgiveness. Yes. In his room, next time.

Tarrant was stroking Avon's back, down his sides, holding him. His breath came faster, as he tilted his head willingly, giving Avon better access. Vila shivered. Fabric grated seamlessly against fabric and skin. He couldn't see any gap between them now.

He was thieving again, he realised grimly. Stealing someone else's intimacy -- well, there was precious little out here, not nearly enough to go round, so why not? That was why he hadn't gone with Kerril, after all. Because he preferred to snatch, than generate something worthwhile of his own.

Tarrant gasped, and Vila blinked. The two figures became starkly focused again, as faded memories fell away; Tarrant's fingers threaded loosely through Avon's hair, Tarrant's lips parted breathlessly, Avon's lips invisibly occupied.

Time passed, thought Vila facetiously, wishing the sensations developing in front of him would please leave his nerve endings out of the party. Please stop tormenting him with whispered responses; please stop highlighting the reality that he was just a lonely eavesdropper. Pathetic, he heard Avon agree.

"Ahh."

Avon drew back from Tarrant's throat and smiled up at him lasciviously, tracing the circle of red marks with a single fingertip. A visible shiver passed through the younger man, and he released a breathless laugh, eyes still closed.

"I was right, I see."

Avon grinned up at him indulgently, open, and Vila felt like an intruder. No-one was supposed to see that. "Go on," he murmured, leaning in again to kiss Tarrant's ear.

Tarrant made a noise deep in his throat, flickering urgency passing over his face, then relaxed again. "I always thought you functioned best -- " He broke off, and moaned. "Dothatagain. Yes. Again."

Avon laughed softly. His hand came up to curl against Tarrant's cheek, then slid round, two fingers brushing against acquiescing lips.

Vila took a deep, unsteady breath, at the sight of Tarrant sucking on Avon's fingers. Avon's thumb stroked the line of his jaw, and the thief could feel it. Vila held the air as long as he could, then allowed it to leave his lungs in a slow, silent groan.

Avon drew back again, and this time Tarrant opened his eyes accusingly. "You were saying?" Avon prompted, twisting the words into an obscene invitation. Irresistible.

It seemed Tarrant felt this as well. He took the other man by the shoulders and kissed him fiercely -- a task, Vila decided, that was made that much easier by the way Avon returned the kiss with the all the restraint of a freshly-paid two-credit whore.

So much for Avon's love of conversation.

Tarrant moaned into the kiss as Avon reached between them. The murmur of a zipper was drowned out by Tarrant's low hiss of breath, as Avon slid his hand inside, out of Vila's view.

Vila's fist tightened, and Tarrant gasped on cue. Vila grinned mirthlessly. So he and Avon were synchronised, now, then?

"Oh… no, we can't. Not here."

He didn't, Vila observed, exactly radiate objection.

Avon leaned into him, other hand palming the back of Tarrant's head, silencing the protest with formidable intent. When he drew back, all three men were having trouble with respiration. "Are you sure?"

"Ah. Yes."

Wow. Good on you, Tarrant. Well said, through all that harsh breathing and gritted teeth. Good show, very impressive. See, Avon, you aren't irresistible.

Just… almost.

"Very well," Avon managed, almost sounding collected. Not quite, though, Vila noticed gleefully.

Hey, even if it was someone else's victory, everyone should appreciate something as important as unsettling Avon.

Retaliation, though, was brutal. Tarrant moaned unsteadily under something that Avon did with the hand Vila was really wishing he could see.

"Where, then?" Avon asked, apparently overlooking the fact that the other man was in no condition to answer.

No forethought? Not very practical, in Vila's opinion. What about all those possible repercussions? Thought Avon was a practical man -- but then, just look at them. They've been thinking about this for some time.

Tarrant took a deep, shaky breath, hands sliding from Avon's shoulders to pin his arms to his sides, and ducked his head. "If you don't get your hands off me," he murmured, close to Avon's ear, "I'm going to do something you'll regret."

"Oh?" Avon made it a low, elegant demand. The thief had never realised how sultry a single word in that voice could sound.

Abruptly, Tarrant gasped again -- so when pinning Avon's arms, he hadn't reckoned with the flexibility of the man's wrists -- and turned his head to give a vicious whisper into Avon's temple.

Avon grinned faintly in reply. "Oh, but I haven't any objection. I can change them when we get back to my room."

Oh, really? Avon's room, huh? That was awfully surprising, wasn't it -- after all, Vila truly hadn't expected the encounter would be on Avon's territory where the older man had full advantage. Honestly. He felt overwhelmed with shock. And who cared if people said sarcasm was the lowest form of wit -- Vila had the patent on laughs, and anyway, no one was listening.

He shook his head slowly, gaze still locked. He needed a drink. Something to take the edge off the experience -- this was too real, he needed cushioning. His pulse was too loud, they were going to hear him.

"No, Avon. No. Please, not here." Had Tarrant been shouting for hours? "Stop." He didn't sound very convincing. "Concentrate. Listen, stop."

Avon paused, briefly. "You're very distracting, or hadn't you noticed? Especially when you do that --" He broke off on a ragged breath, eyes falling closed, then ducked forwards almost viciously and re-established a kiss.

Tarrant moaned quietly. Obviously, the thought of refusing Avon's mouth was just too impossible to contemplate. Not that Vila blamed him.

Abruptly, Tarrant extracted himself and stepped back, panting. Oh, well done, cue applause.

Vila stared at him, admiring the blatant disarray. It was a good look on him. Although, he did wish Tarrant would turn slightly, so he could get a glimpse of the result of Avon's devastating handiwork.

"Please."

Avon stood, breathing hard, fingers flexing at his sides. He flashed an appreciative grin. "Oh," he breathed, "you look good begging."

Maybe they'd been shouting at each other, Vila mused, feeling a little hoarse himself.

Tarrant gave a ragged version of his white trademark smile. "You think this is begging?"

Even at the distance, Vila could see Avon's eyes gleam. "It bears a remarkable resemblance --"

He was cut off, muffled, and yet curiously didn't seem to mind.

Vila wondered if Tarrant would use that technique on the flight deck.

Then Vila decided Avon wasn't very good at ending kisses. He kept returning, for some reason, to taste Tarrant's mouth again. Almost like addiction. "Come on," he managed, eventually, "then."

He drew back properly, licking his lips, and took Tarrant's hand. "Unless you want to finish this here." Spreading his fingers, he waited for the other man to echo the gesture, then folded his fingers down through Tarrant's. Vila felt it, and unobtrusively massaged his knuckles.

"Not like this."

"Precisely what I was thinking."

Tarrant paused. "No, I mean, we shouldn't…" He stopped, and lifted their joined hands.

"What?"

"Well, what if we meet someone?" He sounded very reasonable.

"We won't."

"How can you be certain?" Tarrant looked earnest, and slightly pained. "I really don't think they should know."

"Of course they shouldn't, no. Listen." Avon's free hand took his collar again, catching him, to speak against the other man's lips. "Tarrant."

Vila swallowed, eyes fixed on Tarrant's bottom lip as Avon's tongue traced slowly around the curve.

"Cally," Avon began again, and repeated the action, "is in the medical room, sorting out the vaccine. Dayna --"

Vila hoped that Tarrant wasn't supposed to remember this information. Because that method of punctuation just wasn't going to do the job, memory wise.

"-- is helping her, and Vila --" This time Tarrant beat him to it, tongue darting out to brush against Avon's lip, softly licking Avon's tongue before vanishing back into the temptation of his mouth. " -- Vila is in his room, inhaling the expensive brandy he smuggled off Metalia and sulking that he isn't in my position right now."

Tarrant drew back, eyebrows raised. "Oh? I didn't know Vila leaned in this direction."

Vila winced.

Avon nodded delightedly. "Ah, yes, both ways," he informed him casually. "He has good taste… at times. Why, have I got competition?"

Tarrant laughed. "What do you think?"

"I think you just answered my question." He pressed another kiss onto Tarrant's mouth, then gasped softly as the younger man deepened the action, as hands found his hips and began to grind firmly against them.

Vila smiled grimly; the downside of eavesdropping, then, was hearing your name as the punch line of new lovers' jokes. He'd have to remember that.

"Do you want Zen to confirm the crew's positions, or are you satisfied with my word?" Avon hissed finally, panting through his teeth.

Vila froze, panicked, trying to swallow the husk from his throat, trying to formulate an excuse out of the thick, swollen fuzz that had become his brain. He held his breath.

"Just this once," Tarrant replied, lowering his voice, "I'll believe you without question."

Surely the reduced volume, Vila thought nastily, would be unnecessary if he truly believed the rest of the crew were tidied away. Although… it did give his voice a lovely ring.

"That might just be the way your voice makes me want to hold you down and fuck you into a mattress, of course," Tarrant muttered, and Vila saw Avon's eyes darken.

"Let's go find you a mattress, then."

They left, and the air cooled quickly around Vila's cramped limbs.

Sadly, Avon was right. He'd give a lot to be in that position. He groaned quietly -- yes, especially that position, being held down into the nearest available mattress and well, yes, not a good idea to think about that just now.

After all, since he hadn't stuck to Avon's convenient analysis, why should the others? He didn't think they'd look too kindly on a man who misused the flight deck in that fashion.

He looked at the space where they'd been, and swallowed hard. This felt very familiar.

It'd been pure chance he'd seen Avon sink to his knees, sucking Blake for the first of many times, almost four years ago. He'd been the soul of discretion then, as well.

In fact, Tarrant had shown impressive control. Or maybe Avon was developing a little more restraint in his old age.

He laughed softly to himself. No, Avon was simply a connoisseur, enjoying the finer things, and realising with his unfailing intuition that taking the younger man back to his room was going to be infinitely more satisfying than a blowjob on the flight deck.

Blake, well, he'd been different. Always was.

"What's going on?"

"What?" He turned round slowly, mind whirring. "That's not very polite. Hello, Vila, nice to see you -- Oh, yes, Dayna, likewise." He shot her a reproving glance, groping for words. "A little courtesy improves everybody's mood. Try it sometime."

"Okay, I'll bear that in mind next time I approach you," she offered, amused.

"Good, I should think so too." Approach? How long's she been there? Uh-oh. "You know," he said, stalling for time, "on Epsilon Major they consider it the height of good manners to present someone with a vial of good cider before you presume to speak to them." He paused. "I fancy a visit to Epsilon, actually. Get into a few conversations. So how long have you been standing there?" He hoped that was innocent enough.

"Only a minute. You were frowning to yourself, and then you laughed. If it was anyone else," she flashed him a dazzling smile, "I'd have started worrying about their sanity. But since it's just you… I'm looking for Avon."

"Why?" he asked quickly, then backtracked, grumbling. "Why aren't you looking for me -- no-one's ever looking for me. Except when they want something opened, of course. Or cleaned."

"Sorry, I didn't realise you could help us." She grinned at him, indulgent and insulting. Then she shrugged. "Well, the problem is that the vaccine is actually an extremely simple formula -- but Orac kept telling us he couldn't find it."

"That does sound a bit strange. I, uh, don't think I'm your man. Need anything opened?"

She laughed. "Only Orac, to find out what's going through that complicated little mind -- and I don't think that's your strong point either."

"No," he agreed readily, shaking his head. "But I think Avon's ahead of you."

Quickly, Vila checked his memory. No, within the last four years, he'd never actually been given any reason to cover for the other man. Huh.

She raised her eyebrows. "Oh?"

"He took it back to his room. Saying something to Tarrant about a vaccine."

"Tarrant? I thought he was asleep."

Not quite yet, no. Probably not for some time. "Maybe Avon wanted company," he deadpanned, "for once."

Dayna just looked at him, nonplussed, so he nodded wisely at her. She laughed. "Those two? You'd be able to hear them arguing all over the ship!" Then she frowned. "Although…" She trailed off, eyeing him curiously.

Avon owed him. Pity this was yet another debt he was going to have trouble calling in. "Nah, just wouldn't happen. Even if Avon wasn't still caught up over that woman on Earth." He wriggled his eyebrows, leering at her. "And that rebel, too. What was his name?"

She grinned again, easily convinced. "That's true."

"So how about you and I go debate the unfairness of the world, over a couple of your unrivalled adrenaline and somas?"

"I'm supposed to be finding Avon."

"He won't want to be disturbed," he said quickly. Which was undoubtedly accurate.

She grinned at him indulgently. "Okay," she agreed. "Let me tell Cally first. If Avon's checking with Orac already, I guess we deserve a break."

Vila agreed.

He didn't know how long it would take Cally to work it out -- last time, she'd been the first to realise why their leader suddenly had more energy again, and why Avon's abrasive comments now hid three meanings as oppose to the traditional two.

They had comforted each other. Not physically, of course -- just a few conversations to verify they were both still alive and relevant, now Blake's crew of equals had a notable exception. Although Avon would probably claim that he had always been the exception.

Maybe he should tell her now? But he'd be implicated, and he didn't want that. Always better to look as innocent as possible.

But at least Tarrant wasn't the subtlest of creatures; Vila suspected he'd noticed the heat in his eyes even before Avon himself. Well, okay, maybe not. But it was a very close second place, and if Avon hadn't been paying attention, Vila'd have been right in there with instant recognition.

He'd seen it all before, of course.

And, so had Cally. So, she'd see through them within the week. Then they could talk.

And meanwhile, he'd put it out of his mind, go enjoy a few drinks with his friends.

There, at least, he had the mark on Avon. For all his other achievements, he'd never be able to do that; anything described as the technician's friend would be as false as Vila's stolen intimacy. Not that Avon would ever admit to caring, of course.

He followed Dayna down the corridor, falling into an easy banter about the superiority of leisure facilities on Metalia's contrasting continents, and tried to ignore the ache that had developed ostentatiously in his knee.

She interrupted his fervent acclamation of the viciously-hot Metalian springs. "Why are you limping?"

"I'm about to collapse, I've been sober so long," he countered piteously; the first lie he could think of.

She looked faintly annoyed at the whine, but that was obviously a lot better than the truth.

"What's more, they have these beautiful distilleries, open all hours of the day. It's such a friendly place," he continued, side-stepping back into easier conversations.


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