“Look, it’s stupid to send Dayna in with explosives,” Vila said, following Avon to the teleport room where the others were already gathering. “I could get through that safe in thirty seconds. A minute tops. You know I could!” Vila’s eyes were full of pleading. “Let me do this, Avon. “
“It has already been decided,” Avon said sharply, snapping on a teleport bracelet. He had gone through this with Vila before. “Dayna will go in and blow the lock. Tarrant and I will carry out the goods. You will stay here and operate the teleport with Cally.”
“Cheer up, Vila,” Tarrant said, slapping Vila on the back as he arrived. “If you want to be useful, the aft toilet could use a good scrubbing.” He snapped on a teleport bracelet as well and moved to stand between Avon and Dayna.
Dayna broke into a smile. “My father always said, ‘Never send a man to do a girl’s job.’”
“He would, wouldn’t he?” Vila sighed.
“Teleport us now, Cally,” Avon said.
Vila’s face filled with misery as he watched them shimmer away into particles.
Some hours later, Cally brought them back on board. Avon and Tarrant set the liberated chest down between them, and all but Avon put their teleport bracelets away. Vila looked on with obvious concern, though he was largely ignored.
“It was simple, really,” Dayna said. “We’d’ve been back much sooner if Tarrant hadn’t tripped the alarm.”
“I wouldn’t have tripped the alarm if you hadn’t wandered off.”
“And Dayna would not have wandered off,” Avon said, looking past Vila to stare at Cally, “if we had been teleported down correctly.”
“The coordinates were correct. It is not my fault if the layout of the building was off,” she said.
“Of course not,” Avon said, fixing his gaze on Vila. He held it for several long seconds, until Cally tired of waiting and stood to help Dayna open the chest they had brought back.
“It isn’t fair, you know,” Vila finally said.
“No, it isn’t,” Avon agreed. He broke into a vicious smile. “Rather like the rest of life, isn’t it?” The smiled faded. “But at least this way things get done.”
“Have I ever bungled a lock before?” Vila protested. “Well, have I?”
“Oh, stop complaining, Vila!” Dayna said. “You almost sound as though you want to be put to work!”
“Maybe I do!”
“How’re those toilets coming, Vila?” Tarrant called, helping the women heft up the chest and carry it off.
“I just want to be useful!” Vila shouted after them. “I am useful!” He turned back to Avon once the others had left. “What’re you standing there for, looking like you just sucked a lemon? This is your fault, you know. Blake would have put me on that job. Could have done that lock with my eyes closed.”
The first lock Avon had ever seen Vila pick had been on Saurian Major. He had confidently disengaged it without a bit of fancy equipment in under a minute. It was the sort of natural raw talent that instantly appealed to him. “It wasn’t complicated enough to interest you,” Avon said.
“I don’t need complicated,” Vila said. “I like simple. I wanted to go.”
“And here I thought Bayban had put you off lock picking for good.”
“Just proved I’ve still got it, didn’t it?” He had begun twisting the fingers of one hand in the palm of the other in a most distracting way.
“Was that ever in any doubt?” Watching Vila pick locks was just as distracting. As was watching those hands on the neutron blaster controls. In many ways it was easier by far just to let Dayna blow the locks, or operate the weapons. “I will keep it in mind in future.”
“That’s not like you. It isn’t efficient.”
Sometimes, even just sitting alongside him at the teleport bay could be dangerous. Avon had eliminated situations like that, too. “I needed someone I could trust up here,” he said.
Vila scrutinized him. “All right, now I know something’s up.”
“I have things to do,” Avon said. He returned his bracelet to its slot and then walked out of teleport room. When Vila fell into step behind him, Avon grimaced.
“You don’t say you trust anyone,” Vila stated. “Not unless you’re really distracted and thinking very hard about not saying something else.”
“We were on a difficult mission,” Avon said. “That is where my mind is right now.”
“Oh? And what about when you sent me down to face Bayban alone? You were acting off then, too.”
“I have been busy,” Avon replied tersely. He reached his quarters without encountering the others, for which he was grateful. The last thing he needed was for them to see Vila badgering him.
“Been busy for six months, have you? Because that’s about how long all this has been going on. Longer still, probably, only I didn’t notice it before. Bit easier to ignore when Blake was still calling the shots. But thinking on it, it goes way back. You were excluding me well before Del-10, but that’s when I started to notice. I thought it was Cally for a bit, but it wasn’t her, was it?”
Avon turned to glare at him. “I do not owe you any special attention.” He clenched his jaw, reflecting. “And I do not remember excluding you on Freedom City. In fact, it would seem Blake was the one doing the excluding there.”
“Well, all right. There was that one time. Before Blake left. That no one else could ever know about.”
Avon narrowed his eyes. “And I suppose I was excluding you when I took you down to help me retrieve the sopron rock?” That had been an ideal situation; the planet was completely dark at the time, which meant there had been no chance to be distracted by Vila’s hands.
“It was bloody freezing on that planet!” Vila protested. “Anyway, wasn’t like I did much down there, did I? Was mostly me carrying your gear around and shining a torch wherever you said ‘light.’ Not like picking locks or pinching goods.”
“You cannot have it both ways.” Avon hit the release for the door to his cabin and moved into the room. “Either I am excluding you or I am not. I purport that I am not and have presented irrefutable evidence to back up my claim.”
“All right, then,” Vila said, following him inside, but leaving the cabin door open. “But what about today, eh? Why didn’t you let me go with you on that one? We weren’t in a rush and it wasn’t a dangerous mission. You and I could have been in and out of there in a matter of minutes and no one would have even known we came! Instead you spent three hours running lost through corridors with Tarrant and Dayna, because you blew in a safe and tripped the alarm!”
“Get to the point.”
“The point is it’s not efficient! We could have been efficient! Why wouldn’t you want to be efficient? Why leave me up here when I’d be better down there?” He paused reflectively. “It’s not concern for my health. Know that much from Keezarn.”
Avon grimaced. “Tarrant will not bully you into something like that again.”
“That’s not the point!” Vila cried. “Keezarn isn’t even the point. Look, I’ve got three functions on this ship.” He ticked them off on fingers Avon couldn’t bring himself to look at. “Picking locks, stealing stuff and, sometimes, firing the neutron blasters! You won’t let me do any of them anymore! It’s no wonder the rest of them think I’m a great big useless lump!”
“I would think you would enjoy the holiday.”
Vila glared, then continued on, ignoring him. “Now, if I wasn’t any good at what I do, maybe I’d understand. If I blew up locks and Dayna picked them with finesse, I might see where you’re coming from. But I don’t and she’s not. And I’m just as good on the neutron blasters as she is!”
Avon’s patience was wearing thin. “You did not want to be put to work doing your precious lock picking when we needed you on Keezarn. Now you’re upset we are making do without you? You are impossible to please.”
“I just didn’t want to go down alone, Avon! You know me. I get nervous!”
Avon clenched his jaw. “I prepared you a tracer.”
Vila opened his mouth to protest, and then shut it. “You did, didn’t you?”
“One might have surmised you wanted to die by refusing it. That was one of your more stupid moves, and that is saying something.”
“Didn’t know I could trust you then, did I? What with Tarrant threatening me and the rest of you just standing around letting him.” He looked Avon up and down. “Still don’t know that I can. Won’t even go with me on useful missions anymore.”
“Keezarn was a useful mission.”
“And you sent me on that one alone!”
“Those were not my orders.”
“No. They were Tarrant’s. He went down there and made the arrangements. Me for them, least that’s what he told us. And you agreed. “
“I did not agree,” Avon countered. “I said it would never work unless he could convince you. He did.”
“By threatening to put me off the ship!”
Avon pinched the bridge of his nose. “You would rather I had sent you down with Tarrant?” Vila gave him such a look that Avon reluctantly pushed the door to his cabin closed. Voices could carry on the ship, as he well knew.
“If you’re going down as well, I wouldn’t mind it,” Vila said. With the door shut, his tone was quieter, less defensive. “Don’t really need Tarrant though, do we? Could take Dayna, or even Cally, if we need a third. Let Tarrant operate the teleport for once.”
Avon crossed his arms; being alone in his quarters with Vila was more unsettling than he had anticipated. “You are rarely reliable in a firefight,” he said.
“Don’t need to be with you covering me, do I?” Vila managed the first smile Avon had seen on him in what felt like ages.
“It would not hurt,” Avon said, pushing down the warm feeling threatening to course through him. “You realize you are the only one onboard unskilled with firearms.”
“Didn’t realize that was a requirement for employment these days,” Vila said. He leaned against Avon’s desk and absently picked up one of the computer probes that had been left out.
Avon’s eyes trailed the movement, caught on Vila’s fingers as they extended the telescoping neck of the instrument, and fixed. “Don’t play with that,” he said, his voice hitching.
“Not going to break it,” Vila replied, fluidly collapsing the neck back down.
Stepping forward, Avon quickly pulled the tool out of Vila’s hands. “You have made your case,” he said, perhaps too abruptly. He sat the probe back on the desk, out of Vila’s reach. “Perhaps you ought to leave now.”
From his position, Vila couldn’t help but look up at Avon. “Didn’t really come to any solutions though, did we?”
“You expected we might?”
Vila suddenly stood up, and they were so close that for a moment, their shoulders brushed. They had touched a hundred times in the past, but this was somehow different, more deliberate. Startled by the strong reaction that rippled through him, Avon grit his teeth to keep from gasping and involuntarily took a step away. “I would rather not . . . continue to have arguments up and down the corridors with you,” he said, averting his eyes.
Vila, however, didn’t immediately reply. When Avon finally looked up again, he found Vila simply staring at him, a more confident smile ticking a corner of his mouth. “Rather have the row in the privacy of your own quarters then, is it?”
Avon fought not to interpret anything suggestive from Vila’s words. “If need be,” he said. For reprieve, he turned to the door, reaching out to pull it open for Vila. The sooner he was gone, the better.
“Can open my own doors, remember,” Vila said, stepping close to put his hand over Avon’s on the latch.
Avon straightened at the touch. Instead of pulling the door open, Vila pushed the latch back down. “Vila,” Avon said, warningly. Vila’s hand on his was like being touched by a live wire.
“Might’ve known,” Vila quietly said. The fingers he had resting on Avon’s curled over deliberately. “Figures you’re the type to want a thing and never be able to admit to it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Avon roughly said, jerking his hand out from under Vila’s. He rubbed away the warmth the touch had left with his other hand.
“Come on, now. Not even you can expect me to ignore something that blatant.”
“I think you were leaving,” Avon said icily. His pulse had quickened, but he refused to question why.
Vila didn’t move, just stood there studying him. Avon didn’t trust himself to touch him to push him out the door. “Don’t mind, do I?” Vila finally said. “Maybe even thought about it once or twice myself.”
“Get out,” Avon ordered.
“Best to get it out in the open, anyway, isn’t it?” Vila continued, heedless. “Especially if it’s keeping you from putting me on missions.”
Avon clenched his jaw and balled his hands into fists to keep from doing something irrational. “Whatever it is you are thinking I assure you is not the case.”
Vila arched an eyebrow and then deliberately put a hand on Avon’s chest. Avon drew in a sharp breath, but his body was rooted to the spot. It seemed he could feel Vila’s heat even through all the layers of fabric between them. “Then why’s your heart pounding?”
Those words finally let Avon react. He reached up and snatched Vila’s hand off his chest, twisting it as he did, bringing Vila closer to him. He knew what he wanted to do, and his eyes even dropped to look at Vila’s mouth. Vila was holding his breath, staring up at him, silent and inviting. It was maddening and irrational, and Avon found he was fighting a losing battle.
There was no danger here: no one could walk in on them, there was almost no fear of Vila rejecting him, and no dangerous mission to keep alert for. Only Avon’s tenacious grip on his emotions stopped him from giving into this carnal need for lust. Letting emotions control him was utterly unacceptable.
So, he released Vila, to prove that he could. He did it with such force that Vila stumbled back a few feet, until his shoulder hit the door. Vila’s eyes had changed, gone from soft and inviting to wide and worried, his eyebrows pinched up in fear.
That was good too. Vila needed to know who was in change.
“I control you,” Avon said, narrowing his eyes. “You do not control me. Is that understood?”
Vila didn’t reply, so Avon moved forward, pinning Vila in place with one hand against the door on either side of him. All he could hear now was the pounding of his own heart. Over two years of resisting and it had come down to this—all because of a pathetic weakness for watching talented hands.
It was clear Vila still couldn’t tell what Avon was about to do. His skepticism sealed the deal: it meant that despite having made such an assumption, Vila was not completely confident. Avon had managed some ambiguity after all.
Avon swept his eyes over Vila again, and then played out the fantasy he had never allowed himself to entertain in private. Vila’s mouth yielded to his almost instantly, and he felt his tension ebb away in relief as it did. Within seconds, Vila’s hands were clutching at him, and their touch shattered the last strand of control Avon had. He groaned into Vila’s mouth, turning the kiss fierce and rough. For as much as he had admired those hands, he had never realized how much he wanted the rest of Vila too.
Vila responded in kind, his hands sliding first up Avon’s chest then over his shoulders, trying to pull him closer. It was maddening to feel Vila’s hands on his body and the thought of Vila touching his naked skin was more maddening still. Avon gave into the pull and ground their bodies together, relishing in the physical contact he had for so long denied himself. Vila clutched him in return, surprising him by matching Avon’s fervor every step of the way.
Before he quite knew what was happening, Vila was pushing the leather tunic off his shoulders. Avon had not even realized the eyehooks had been undone. He broke into a smile as he realized Vila’s talented hands were responsible.
“What’s so funny?” Vila’s breath was coming hard.
“Nothing,” Avon said, controlling his tone much easier. “Take off your shirt.”
Vila obeyed and Avon watched, not letting him up from where he was pressed against the door. Once Vila had dropped his shirt to the floor, Avon shrugged the rest of his out of the way of his tunic and pulled his jumper over his head.
For a few seconds, they just eyed one another, as if each daring the other to pull away.
“All right,” Vila said, conceding to something unspoken. Perhaps he did understand more than he let on. Vila leaned back against the door, placed his palms against Avon’s shoulders, and gently trailed his hands down Avon’s torso. It was slow and deliberate and utterly scorching.
Avon immediately wanted to flinch away and, at the same time, lean into the touch. Vila’s hands ran circles over Avon’s skin, and his breath came harder now by far than it had after their kiss. His gaze dropped to watch those long, slender fingers glide over him. It was almost surreal.
Vila’s palms ghosted lightly over Avon’s chest hair, sending a chill down his spine that ran counter to the fire in his veins. The hands moved over his nipples, an area Avon had never before found very arousing, and the feather light touch alone had Avon sucking in his breath.
He could not take his gaze off Vila’s hands. Just standing there, letting Vila explore him, seemed entirely inappropriate, but Avon found he couldn’t move. For all his demands of control, Vila was the one in charge now.
The heat of those hands travelled over Avon’s abdomen to his stomach, and then Avon was letting Vila skillfully, methodically unfasten and tug his trousers down. When they were bunched around his hips, Vila reached in and freed Avon’s cock from his pants. He was already heavy and half hard, and the cool air in the cabin did nothing to diminish that, not with Vila’s hands there.
Avon felt his knees threatening to give out. He reached for Vila at last, gripping one of his shoulders for support, but his eyes did not leave the sight of the hands stroking his cock. It was almost incomprehensible. Not only that Vila was doing it, but that Avon was allowing it—wanting it. Having the hands he had forced himself to ignore for years finally on his body was almost more arousing than what they were actually doing.
“Not so bad, is it?” Vila asked, his voice soft but rough. He was languidly slipping Avon’s foreskin up and down now, smoothing the pre-come into his skin as he did, and doing it all with the same skill and dexterity he demonstrated when picking locks. “Good even, yeah?”
“Mm,” Avon grunted. He was well beyond words now. His world had narrowed to the fiery point where Vila’s hand touched his cock. All else was dull in comparison.
Vila gave a low chuckle, and the next thing Avon was aware of was another source of heat, pressing between Vila’s hand and his cock. Refocusing, he realized somehow Vila had tugged his own trousers down and brought his own cock out. He was now confidently stroking them both, having sandwiched then up to rub together.
Avon hissed at the sight—the feeling—and his eyes squeezed tightly shut to hold it all together. That was no good though—he needed to see that hand on him, and when he forced his eyes open again, Vila added his other hand.
Avon’s fingers dug into Vila’s shoulder as he stared at their cocks pressed together inside those strong hands. His hips rocked forward appreciatively and he couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched him, or the last time he had allowed himself to feel this act was pleasure and not just another required chore.
It brought back memories of Anna and another life and he was going to lose his mind tonight if he didn’t do something soon.
Lost in his thoughts, Avon realized they had moved to the bed, though he could not remember how. All he knew was he soon had Vila on his back as he leaned over him, and still those hands were in place. Only now did Avon allow himself to thrust into them, to grind his cock against Vila’s. He held himself up with one hand, but the other reached down and found Vila’s. His fingers slid over Vila’s and that was maddening enough, but his touch seemed to tell Vila what to do.
Vila’s grip tightened where Avon touched, and that impossible heat grew hotter still. One of Vila’s hands lifted away, and Avon suddenly found his hand on two cocks, and he squeezed them together so hard he made Vila cry out. At last, Avon tore his eyes off Vila’s hand and focused on his face. He continued squeezing and stroking while Vila’s hand guided his direction. Avon made it rougher than Vila had been willing to go, but he could see in Vila’s eyes that it was not rougher than he could enjoy.
Vila’s feet found purchase on the bed and his hips lifted as he thrust hard into their hands, gasping as he did. Vila closed his eyes and threw his head back, his groan swallowed up by the heaviness of his breathing. It was an uncontrolled reaction and Avon had to grit his teeth to keep from coming at the mere sight of Vila writhing in pleasure beneath him. That watching Vila lose himself in the pleasure Avon was giving him would give him pleasure was almost incomprehensible. Just being with Vila was so far beyond anything Avon had ever envisioned.
Vila’s other hand gripped Avon’s shoulder, fingers digging possessively into the flesh there. He sucked in his breath and though his hips still worked desperately, his eyes had opened again, to stare up at Avon. Sweat clung to Vila’s brow, and tossing his head back had tousled his hair, but his eyes were focused on Avon’s and his mouth was open and inviting. There was no mistake that Vila knew where he was and who he was with and that was adding to his enjoyment.
It sent a flare of emotions Avon was not prepared for surging through his body. It was something he couldn’t explain or quantify and in that moment he was not even able to try. He clenched the bed sheets with his supporting hand, bent his head to try and kiss Vila and came instead. His body trembled as he did, the hand on their cocks worked harder to keep the momentum. And Vila’s was there too, squeezing them where Avon wasn’t able to squeeze, stroking them where Avon couldn’t stroke. And then Vila was coming too. Feeling that hard cock release alongside his own as he himself came was a bliss unlike anything Avon had experienced.
He panted into Vila’s mouth, unable to breathe let alone kiss him, and just held their cocks together. It was Vila’s hand that lapped up their come as it came, combining it to slick it back down over their cocks, making them slippery as they twinned together and emptied. It shouldn’t have meant anything; it shouldn’t have affected Avon at all, but the thought of what Vila was doing and the feel of that heat rubbing into him sent fire running through Avon’s veins.
Vila stretched up and kissed him as he worked his hand, his strokes growing slower as they finished. It was a more languid kiss now, more tongue than teeth this time. Avon could have stayed like that forever; each with one hand around their cocks and Vila’s other hand rubbing circles into Avon’s shoulder. It was only exhaustion that prevented it. Avon’s left arm was not strong enough to keep supporting his weight after such a powerful orgasm, and his legs were still weak from it as well.
With some reluctance, Avon broke the kiss, slipped away from Vila’s hand, and collapsed on the bed beside him. Their thighs remained pressed together, and their shoulders touched. Avon knew if he sat up, he could look down over Vila’s naked body. Instead, he kicked his boots and trousers the rest of the way off and rolled onto his side. There, he looked at Vila’s gasping profile and decided not to consider why watching Vila shuddering as he recovered from orgasm appealed so much to him.
After a few seconds, Vila noticed the gaze and tilted his face toward him, a completely satisfied smile curving his lax mouth. “That’s Avon,” he said, between pants. “Always full of surprises.”
“Mm,” Avon mused. He wasn’t sure what he had expected Vila to say, but that wasn’t it. “Ironic, coming from our newly aggressive coward.”
“Worked out though, didn’t it?” Vila said, staring back up at the ceiling. He swallowed hard, struggling to catch his breath. “You’re not mad?”
“No,” Avon said. “I have wanted—” He cut himself off, considering his words. Sex, and the contentment that followed, had made his tongue freer than usual. Vila glanced back, so Avon lowered his eyes, dropping them to look at the hands now resting on Vila’s stomach. Just the sight of them over that flat abdomen sent a thrill through him that he knew would have affected him considerably more if he had not just come so powerfully.
“You could’ve said something before, you know,” Vila said, quieter.
One of Vila’s hands absently rubbed his stomach as Avon watched. He envisioned that hand on his cock again, slowly drawing out come and rubbing it back in, and grit his teeth at the memory that he would now never be able to escape from. To control the emotion that rose up in him, Avon fell back upon rote memorization. “I have never understood why it should be necessary to--”
“Yeah, yeah,” Vila said, cutting him off. He rolled onto his side to face Avon. “But that was nice, wasn’t it? Not irrational at all; just human nature. And we’d have never done it if I hadn’t said something.”
Avon clenched his jaw, glaring at the ceiling. “I find such matters excessively complicated.”
“Excessively complicated, am I?” Vila said, eyebrows rising. “Wait’ll Tarrant hears that.”
“Vila,” Avon began.
“Don’t worry, I won’t really tell anyone,” Vila said. He sighed and sat up. “Best clean myself off and get going, anyway. I’ve things to do, after all. Uncomplicated things. And I’m sure you do too.” Vila swung his legs off the bed, and Avon suddenly reached for his wrist before the thought to do so occurred to him. After all of that, he found he very much didn’t want to be alone. “You may use my shower, if you’d like,” he managed.
Vila looked down at the hand on his wrist before glancing back at Avon. The crease between his brows faded slightly. “Might be easier that way,” he said, though his voice remained hesitant.
“It would.” He released Vila’s wrist.
Vila stood and wandered toward the en suite bathroom. Having been in Vila’s cabin before, Avon knew they were identical in layout, but he watched Vila look the room over in detached amusement. “There are towels in the cabinet,” Avon said.
“Not going to make me drip dry, then? Nice of you.” He still did not proceed into the shower.
Avon sat up, feeling more confident. “I may just incinerate these while you’re in there though,” he said, stretching out his leg to toe the pile of Vila’s trousers on the floor.
“Don’t like my clothes, either?”
Avon smirked. “They are somewhat less offensive when you are not wearing them,” he admitted. “That light blue is not your color.”
Vila appeared in the doorway of the bathroom again, crossing his arms over his bare chest as he leaned against the frame. “Not my color, eh? Dunno if I should be taking fashion advice from you.”
“You look better in warmer colors,” Avon said, practically. “Earth tones. Or natural.”
Vila grinned, uncrossing his arms. “Natural, eh?”
Avon finally let his eyes sweep Vila’s naked form. Certain parts he studied rather more appreciatively than others. Vila was a great deal fitter and more attractive than Avon had ever given him credit for. Certainly his hands were appealing, but the rest of him was not at all bad. “Natural is much better. I ought to ban you from wearing this color again,” Avon said.
“You could do with some warm colors yourself,” Vila said, smiling. “All that black and grey washes you out.”
“I am being serious,” Avon said, getting to his feet.
“So am I,” Vila replied. “I like blue.”
“Like it, don’t wear it. I think if you put that color back on, I may have to do something about it.”
“Oh?” Vila’s eyebrows rose and his smile broadened. “Like what?”
Avon resisted grinning. This was a game and he was enjoying it entirely too much. “Incineration. I think I mentioned that.”
“Not while I’m wearing them, I hope.”
“I suppose I could tear them off first,” Avon said.
Vila beamed. “That a promise?”
“Perhaps. It is an unflattering color.”
“Know how to get a rise out of you now though, don’t I? Light blue. I’ll remember that. Hold you to it,” Vila said. He swept his eyes over Avon as he approached and bit his lower lip. His cheery mood dimmed slightly. “You know, it’s a big enough shower for two,” he mused.
Grinning at last, Avon stepped into the bathroom and joined him.
Afterward, they lay together in Avon’s bed, naked, damp skin touching. It had not been difficult to get Vila back into the bed. The hardest part was convincing him that Avon was serious about wanting him to stay longer. Once they were under the sheets with the lights out, Vila curled on his side, an arm wrapped around Avon’s middle, and it was clear he hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place.
“Didn’t figure this,” Vila murmured in the darkness. “Dunno what I did, but it wasn’t this.”
Avon hadn’t figured on this either, but then, he had never let himself think on any of it at all. It was impossible to imagine it lasting until morning, though he did not want to let go of the way Vila’s hand on his chest or breath on his neck made him feel. “I am full of surprises,” he quietly said.
“It’s true,” Vila agreed. “And here I thought I had you all figured out.”
“Mm.” Vila hesitated. “Knew you a bit before you knew me, didn’t I?”
“Did you?” It was news to Avon.
“’Course I did. Considered myself a respectable thief, you know. Top in my game. So when some new guy showed up on the scene from out of nowhere, and walked off with several million in Federation credits, you’d better believe I found out all I could about him.”
Avon was silent. His crime was well known aboard Liberator, but that Vila had known the details long before Avon had admitted to them was something else entirely.
Into the silence that had descended, Vila said, “What happened to her?”
“She died.” He hadn’t even flinched at the question, but he didn’t know what that meant. Vila’s research had been most thorough. “They killed her. Tortured her, to get to me.”
This time, Vila was quiet.
“Her name was Anna.”
“Anna Grant,” Vila said. “I know. Del Grant was her brother.”
That was something of a shock. “You knew? Even then?” It was a struggle not to sit up and stare at Vila in bewilderment.
“Wasn’t hard to figure out.”
“But you never said anything.”
“Would you have wanted me to?” Vila’s palm flattened on Avon’s stomach. It wasn’t intimate, but still somehow possessive; it both bothered and greatly appealed to Avon, and settled him considerably. “Thought about it. If just to let you know I knew. In case you wanted to talk about it . . . .”
Avon’s initial reaction was to push Vila away and storm off. Only, that wasn’t what he wanted at all; it would solve nothing, and then he would be alone. “I haven’t talked about her since . . . since Albian.”
“You don’t have to, now, either,” Vila said. “Just . . . I had to say something, after all this. Wouldn’t feel right knowing what I do and not mentioning it.”
Avon couldn’t explain the tightness in his chest.
“I can go, if you want,” Vila quietly said. “Knew it’d bring up unpleasant memories.”
“No,” Avon said, and that was easy enough. Asking him to stay was hard, but saying no wasn’t. “Anna was very important to me,” he said. He lifted his hand in the darkness and placed it over the hand Vila had on his chest. Finding the right words to say was difficult, but touching that warm hand—touching Vila—helped. “Sometimes . . . I think I shouldn’t be allowed happiness when she’s dead. When she died because of me.”
“That’s understandable enough,” Vila whispered. “But you didn’t kill her; the Federation did.” Vila shifted closer and his warm breath touched Avon’s shoulder just before his lips did. “And she didn’t hack into the Federation banking system without knowing the risks.”
Avon held his breath, staring hard at the ink-black ceiling. “She can never enjoy another sunset, smile or laugh or love another man,” he breathed. “How can I?”
After that, Vila was silent for just the right length of time. He kissed Avon’s shoulder again and said, “She didn’t give her life for you to make yours miserable.”
Avon drew in his breath, aware how shaky it sounded. He was grateful for the darkness, so that Vila could not see his face. “I love her.” His voice was almost too quiet. “To stop is too much like betrayal.”
“So don’t. It isn’t a competition.” Vila’s hand tightened around his middle, his mouth placing more kisses on Avon’s shoulder. “You can have more than one.”
After so much time, such affection was almost cloying, but Avon needed it. He desperately wanted to be needed; to belong somewhere, with someone. It took everything in him not to pull Vila into his arms and press his face into Vila’s neck; to not become irrational from the release of so many pent up emotions. “It isn’t fair,” he said, his voice tight.
“So, do your best to make it up to her?”
Make it up to her.
Avon let out his breath. Could he? Would destroying the men who destroyed her give him any closure? Killing the ones who had killed Anna appealed to him greatly. After tonight, he knew he also wanted far more out of life than the aimless existence he had been leading since he had lost her.
Yes, revenge for Anna. It was so simple in its logic. It made sense. It was, in fact, the only course of action that had made sense in months. He had a fantastic, powerful ship and had just let himself drift in it for far too long.
“Yes,” he decided, and purpose and power flooded through him at the word. He rose, leaning over Vila. “Revenge for Anna.” Bending his neck, Avon found Vila’s mouth in the darkness and as strong hands pulled him closer, he let himself delve into that welcoming warmth.