Painful SacrificesBy Susannah Shepherd
`Twenty-five kilos, Avon,' Orac replied.
`Only twenty-five kilos...' Avon's eyes lost focus as he thought hard and fast. `Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold.' Vila nodded and headed towards the door.
`Damn it, what weighs twenty-five kilos?' Avon's voice seethed with impotent frustration.
`Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon,' Orac announced in a smug voice.
Avon looked hard at the plastic box, then at the door Vila had just walked out of. It was still slightly ajar, and he knew Vila would be standing behind it with ears pricked.
`I've told you before, Orac, you'll have to do better than that if you expect me to kill any of them. There must be another way. We've still got time!'
He leapt to his feet and followed Vila out the door. He found him still hovering there, as he'd expected, and shoved him towards the ladder. `Get on with it!'
Both men slid down the ladder almost without bothering to use the rungs and set about stripping off the large sheets of insulation from the walls of the cargo hold, then shoved it frantically into the airlock.
`This stuff's too light, Avon! It'll never work!' Vila panted as he scrabbled at the walls then dashed to the airlock.
`Can you see anything else just lying about?' Avon snarled back. Vila remembered Orac's words and shuddered. Best not to give Avon any ideas about how to make up the shortfall.
`Only that cube on the floor, but it's glued or welded down or something. I couldn't shift it, and it's only plastic anyway. Wouldn't weigh much even if I could move it,' Vila said.
Avon slammed the airlock shut as he threw in the last armful of loose waste, spun the wheel hard, and spaced the load. Both men then bolted back up to the flight deck.
`How much weight to lose now, Orac?' Avon shouted as they dashed back through the door.
`Six point five kilograms. Remaining time three minutes, forty three seconds.'
Vila's face turned nasty. `How much do you weigh, Orac?'
The computer sputtered for a moment, and its lights flashed in an agitated pattern. `You cannot possibly be suggesting...'
`Oh, can't I?' Vila replied snidely. `I heard you say it, you little bastard--"Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon",' he mimicked. `Well, we've still got a few kilos to lose, haven't we? And I'm sure as hell not walking out an airlock in your place.'
`There is limited time left,' Orac said, its voice high-pitched with the strain. `You will need me to calculate the escape vectors once the shuttle's weight has been reduced. There will not be time for you to calculate them manually.'
`Orac's right,' Avon broke in, although he gave the box a meaningful look. `We'll have to find something else. We shouldn't have tossed that metal bar out quite so early, we could have used it to break bits off the frame. Damn it, we've jettisoned everything moveable!'
`It's no good, Avon, we're going to die,' Vila said, a hint of tears in his eyes. Avon looked at him for a moment, and a cold, calculating gleam came into his dark eyes as his face took on a forbidding expression. He took one step towards the console, where the gun lay half-forgotten in the cupboard.
`Avon, no,' Vila whispered, his eyes widening in fear. He grabbed at Avon's arms, then gasped and flinched. His eyes opened even wider.
`That's it!' he cried. `Avon, take your clothes off!' Vila stripped off his tunic, then started to pull off his shoes. `Come on, come on!'
`Vila, if this is some mad plan to go out together in a blaze of passion...' Avon trailed off as he realised what Vila was saying. `Of course!' he hissed, and started to pull at his own clothes.
Avon pulled his arms from his sleeves so roughly that he almost became entangled in the heavy jacket, but it came free and was unceremoniously dumped to the floor, followed by the black top he wore underneath. The long tight boots also provided a momentary struggle but were eventually added to the untidy pile, followed by the trousers. Avon looked up for a moment and saw Vila stepping out of his underpants then pulling off his socks.
`I'd hate to fall just a few grams short,' Vila explained, and Avon had to admit that he had a point. There was only going to be time to jettison one more load. He followed suit, feeling slightly stupid as he slid off his tight black briefs. It was also rather cold on the shuttle, and he had the irrational and entirely incongruous thought that he wouldn't be looking at his best. Strange, the things the brain threw up at the most inappropriate moments.
`And we won't be needing this, will we, Avon?' Vila added in a tighter voice as he added the concealed handgun to his own pile of clothes. Avon nearly protested, but choked it down. He wasn't about to make Vila think too hard about his options if the clothes weren't enough, now that he'd lost control of the weapon. That had been a foolish oversight on his part. Vila had been demonstrating a far more calculating edge of late.
`Stop talking and let's get rid of this stuff,' Avon snarled, then bent to scoop up his clothes and headed for the door. The floor of the shuttle was cold and harsh against his bare feet. He tossed his and Vila's clothes down the ladder, then Vila climbed down and Avon followed him. The bars of the ladder bit even more harshly into their tender flesh. Avon noticed Vila kept hold of the gun. Sensible, he'd have done the same himself. Vila's survival instincts were not letting him down.
Vila made the mistake of looking up once he'd gathered up an armful of clothes, and got a prime view of Avon's naked body coming down the ladder bottom first, with a tantalising glimpse of hairy bollock each time he came down another rung. `Charming view,' he joked, and Avon twisted to look down at him.
`This isn't the time to be admiring my arse, Vila,' Avon growled as he scurried down the last few rungs and dropped to the floor. He picked up the last few pieces that Vila had missed and strode to the airlock, where Vila had already dumped his load of clothes. Avon tossed everything through the door, but the load fell awkwardly from his arms as his fingers tangled in still-warm cloth. His leather jacket fell on his feet, and he bent to pick it up.
The leather felt good against his palms, worn to softness and moulded to the shape of his body by extended wear. The very smell of it was comfortingly familiar. He ran a loving finger across a silver stud, and sighed. The things he and this jacket had been through together...
`Come on, Avon, what the hell are you doing?' Vila's voice had a high-pitched edge to it. `Throw the damn thing in there and let's space this load! We're running out of time!'
`I'm cold, Vila,' he said, aware of just how pathetically weak and disingenuous that sounded.
`I don't bloody care! That jacket weighs as much as your bloody boots, if not more! Would you rather we were warm or dead?'
Avon looked at Vila and wished, for a single irrational second, that he had the gun. Then he realised just how stupid that thought was. Good thieves were even harder to replace than favourite jackets. Vila took the matter out of his hands before he had time to react. He snatched the jacket from Avon, tossed it into the airlock, spun the door shut and spaced the load.
Vila then turned and grabbed Avon by both shoulders, shaking him. `What the hell is wrong with you!' he shouted. `Get back up that ladder and find out if that's enough!'
Good question, Avon thought. What the hell is wrong with me? He took in a deep breath and ran back to the ladder, with Vila behind him. He didn't care what sort of view he was giving him as he swarmed back upwards. He threw himself into the pilot's seat and barked at Orac.
`The shuttle's weight has been reduced sufficiently to reach escape velocity, although I will need to calculate the correct vectors to allow docking with Scorpio once orbit has been reached under manual control.'
Avon pulled back hard on the control column, pulling the shuttle into a steep climb. The indicator on the dash edged upwards towards Mach 15. `Then do it!!'
Vila followed not far behind and sat in the other seat, reaching out a hand to stop Orac sliding to the floor.
After a moment or so, Orac spoke again. `Fuel levels are now critical. As orbit has now been reached, I recommend that you shut down all propulsion units and allow Scorpio to make the docking.'
`Very well, Orac,' Avon said, and shut down the drive unit. `They must have realised by now that something is wrong.'
`And how long are we going to be stuck here waiting?' Vila asked. He was starting to feel the cold himself.
`Assuming that the Scorpio crew have realised that this vessel is unable to make a rendezvous under its own power, the journey and docking manoeuvres should take a little over half a standard hour.'
`Thank you, Orac.' Avon leaned back in the seat and gave an almost imperceptible sigh of relief. As he let go of the shuttle controls, Vila nodded across at him.
`Your hands are shaking,' he remarked.
Avon looked down. `Yes. An unfortunate but unavoidable side-effect of physical exertion and adrenalin.' He looked across at Vila. `Yours are too.'
`Well, that's an unfortunate side-effect of being scared shitless.'
The corner of Avon's mouth quirked up and he gave a brief laugh. Then he reached across and took Vila's hand in his own. `You're also hurt,' he said, turning the hand over and looking at Vila's bloodied palm.
`I cut it on a sharp wall bracket, pulling that insulation off.' And it was a good thing he had, Vila reflected. If he hadn't snagged the cut painfully on the studs on the arms of Avon's jacket as he was about to plead for his life--well, to plead for another few minutes of it--he mightn't have realised how to lose those last few kilos. That reminded him that he was sitting here stark naked with an equally naked and apparently unselfconscious Avon holding his hand. It should have been a strange feeling, but it wasn't. They had very little left to hide from each other after all this time.
Avon stroked a thumb gently across Vila's palm, tracing a line parallel to the cut. `There's nothing left to bind it up with.'
Avon knew how important his hands were to him, and was acknowledging it in his usual roundabout way. Vila closed his eyes and swallowed. The thumb brushed his palm again, tickling against the sensitive skin. The unexpected gentleness of the gesture unleashed a sudden wave of emotional relief, and Vila tried and failed to hold back the deep convulsive sob which rose up in his chest. He squeezed his eyelids even more tightly shut, but the betraying tears still leaked from between them.
He half-expected Avon to pull away sharply and sneer at him for his childish outburst, but Avon remained unusually silent as the sobs continued to wrack through Vila. Slowly, Avon's warm hand made its way up from Vila's palm, along his bare arm, and came to rest on his shoulder.
`Don't cry,' Avon whispered, and Vila felt warm breath tickle at his ear as the hand continued to rub his tense muscles. `You're safe with me now, Vila.' Vila's sobs gradually eased, although the tears continued to escape down his cheeks from beneath his closed lids.
When Vila felt Avon's lips on his face, gently kissing away the tear tracks, he almost leapt out of the chair with surprise, but Avon's hand on his shoulder held him in his place. His eyes flew open and he saw Avon watching him, his dark eyes composed but questioning.
Vila met Avon's mouth with his own, tasting the salt of his tears on Avon's tongue before he took in the more essential taste of Avon himself. He couldn't remember afterwards who had moved first, but they found themselves on their feet, entwined in a deepening kiss, hands roving over the soft bare skin covering rib and muscle.
Both were breathless by the time they separated, and Avon wondered whether his eyes were sparkling as much as Vila's were despite their red rims. He didn't know quite what had moved him to reach out for the distressed man--a deeply buried memory of comfort disguised as pleasure, perhaps, back in the days before the weight of responsibility had robbed him of the capacity for either solace or fun.
Regardless of his motives, his body was rather insistently telling him not to stop what he'd just been doing. Avon stepped in for another kiss, and then became aware that Vila's body was giving him similar messages as their rampant erections collided. They both gasped with the arousing sensation, and Vila laughed.
`We'll never live it down if we arrive back on Scorpio looking like this,' he joked. He reached down between them and caressed Avon's cock, making him groan and throw back his head.
`That's unlikely to make it disappear, Vila,' Avon cautioned in a husky, unsteady voice.
`No?' Vila murmured, pumping Avon gently.
`Well now, not for a while, anyway.'
`Do you want it to disappear?'
`Not too quickly, no...' Avon's voice trailed off as Vila's fingers worked their magic touch. `Ohhh...'
`I don't want to make a mess. We've got nothing to clean you up with,' Vila breathed into Avon's ear as he moved into position to nibble and suck at Avon's throat for a moment. He then dropped to his knees on the flight deck floor, and Avon moaned with anticipation. He moaned even louder as Vila took him gently into his mouth.
Avon surrendered completely to the sensation of warm wet mouth, of the tongue which stroked and licked and circled, of the lips which sucked ever harder and harder, of the hand which pumped insistently at the root of his throbbing cock. When Vila's other hand crept around from its grip on his arse to fondle his balls, Avon let out a strangled wail. Vila chuckled, sending exquisite vibrations throughout Avon's body. And then when Vila curled his tongue around to tease the very tip of Avon's cock, then ran his tongue hard down the underside and took him in deep and relentlessly once again, Avon arched his back, shivered and came. Vila lapped at him greedily, sucking him dry, then gently licking him down until his spotlessly clean cock began to subside.
`Sorry,' Vila said in a completely unapologetic tone, his own voice now as husky as Avon's, `I made it disappear.'
`Probably for the best,' Avon managed to growl, as he drew Vila back to his feet and folded him in his arms for a deep kiss. He savoured the tangy taste of his own cum mingled with the taste of Vila's mouth, only dimly remembered after all this time. Vila's neglected cock was pressing insistently into him, slipping against the sweat-soaked skin of his belly as the smaller man writhed in their embrace, desperate for release.
`All right,' Avon said, `I can't have you turning up looking like that, can I? And as you so observantly noted, there's nothing to clean us up with if you lose control and come all over me.' He lowered himself to his knees, noting ruefully that Vila had found it far less of an effort to drop to the hard floor.
He took a moment to savour Vila close up, then ran a hand experimentally along the solid column of flesh. Vila's sturdy cock twitched in his hand as his body urged Avon to satisfy him, and Avon was only too ready to oblige. He gently pushed back the soft folds of the foreskin to expose the flushed velvety knob beneath, and ran his tongue across it as faintly as he could manage. He lapped up the droplets of clear viscous liquid, salty like Vila's tears, kissing him as he had kissed his face, softly and tenderly.
The cock surged again in his hand, and Vila leaned his weight back against the shuttle console. Avon took him deep within his mouth, realising that Vila's arousal was already well advanced. His cock was thick but not overly long, and Avon bobbed his head to accommodate the whole shaft, deliberately relaxing his throat so he didn't gag as he sucked hard at the thick root.
Vila called out and began to thrust slowly as Avon deep-throated him, letting lips do the work normally done by hands. Vila gripped hard at Avon's shoulders and ran passionate hands through the dark hair as he fucked Avon's mouth. Avon held on as the gyrations became more and more energetic, although it was becoming more and more difficult. He owed Vila something, he felt, as restitution for the hurt and fear he'd seen in Vila's eyes when he'd realised Avon might have to kill him. How better to wipe out a presentiment of death than with the most basic and satisfying affirmation of life?
Vila gave a strangled howl as his orgasm ripped through him, and a jet of hot liquid spattered against the back of Avon's throat. He suppressed the urge to cough and spit, and instead used his whole mouth to milk Vila, taking his essence on to his tongue and swirling it around Vila's hot hard cock, before swallowing it down and sucking more gently.
Vila's fingers were still tangled in his hair as Avon finally pulled free and looked up into the soft brown eyes that watched him from a face split by a very silly grin. Avon smiled back, feeling far happier than he ought to after losing all shreds of self-control and indulging in fellatio with a common--all right, perhaps not so common--thief. One might think he'd never been in the company of a naked man before.
The arch and contented smile on Avon's face reminded Vila of a very self-satisfied and well-fed cat, which perhaps wasn't so far from the truth, he mused. He reached down and grabbed him by his muscular upper arms, helping him to his feet. He noticed Avon was half-erect again, but when the dark man followed his gaze he just shrugged.
`Leave it, it'll disappear on its own this time.' Vila smirked and Avon grinned back as he recognised the echo of his earlier words. `My advancing decrepitude works to our favour,' he added. Ten years ago he'd have been as hard as the first time round by now, he thought ruefully.
`We shall be docking with Scorpio in three minutes,' broke in a peevish electronic voice, and both men jumped appreciably.
`Shit!' Vila exclaimed, `the little bastard listened to the whole thing!'
`Orac,' Avon said smoothly but with a touch of menace, `you will recount the events of the last twenty minutes to no-one, do you understand?'
`I fail to see why anyone would possibly find those events to be of interest, Avon. Your conversation with Vila was of no intellectual merit whatsoever,' Orac replied, and Avon gave a delighted chuckle.
`At least it's not a gossip, I suppose,' Vila conceded grudgingly. He slipped his arms around Avon's waist from behind, and was rather surprised when Avon tolerated the gesture. `Oh well,' he sighed, `back to normal now, I suppose. Being shot at, scared, all that sort of thing.' He pulled him tight for a moment. `Thank you,' he whispered, then let Avon go.
Avon hesitated for a moment, then stepped away and picked up Orac. `Let's get down to the airlock. The sooner we get off this benighted thing, the better.'
`Get down to the airlock, will you?' Tarrant said to the two women. `Oh, and, Dayna, can you fetch those spare coveralls that Orac asked for?'
She giggled. `I wonder why they need them? Slave didn't say.'
`Just be on your guard. Something funny's been going on on-board that shuttle.'
By the time Dayna had collected the clothes and joined Soolin at the door, a last few metallic clanks indicated that the docking of Scorpio and the shuttle was nearly complete. Shortly after, Tarrant informed them that it was safe to open the airlock door and let Avon and Vila through.
Soolin stood alert with her gun drawn as Dayna opened the door and threw it wide. She stepped back as the door on the other side pushed open. Both women stood speechless for a moment as the two men came back on to Scorpio. They both then had to struggle hard to restrain their laughter.
Avon strode on board with all his customary arrogance and elegance, Orac held strategically to cover himself from view. Vila shuffled behind him looking considerably less comfortable, his hands clasped protectively over his groin.
`What the hell happened to you two!?' Dayna asked with a delighted laugh, while Soolin cast an appreciative glance over Avon's body. The strain of carrying Orac was accenting the muscles of his shoulders and chest in a very eye-catching way. It was just a shame that Orac's casing was obscuring the most enticing parts of the view.
`It's not funny!' Vila protested. `We nearly died out there. Egrorian did something to the shuttle to weigh it down, we had to space everything to get out of the atmosphere! And I mean everything!' He threw an uncertain sideways glance at Avon.
Dayna's laughter died away as she looked at both men. `Sorry,' she said, then looked more closely. `There's blood on you! Are you hurt?'
`I cut my hand stripping the shuttle,' Vila said in his best sympathy-seeking voice, and stretched out his palm for inspection. Dayna's lips twitched again and he made a sudden grasp again for his groin as he realised he'd just exposed himself to the girls.
`Did you bring the coveralls?' Avon asked, managing to sound bored with the whole situation. `I for one am starting to feel the cold.'
`Oh, of course.' Dayna reddened a little and handed the clothes to the men. Avon gestured with a nod of his head that she should lay his on top of Orac, while Vila had to free one hand again to take hold of his. Vila hunched as he turned around to try to gain a little privacy. He heard a choked-down snort of laughter from Soolin as he bent over to put his feet through the legs of the garment. He pulled the coveralls quickly up over his hips, heedless of the blood he was smearing all over the material, and fastened the zipper.
As Vila turned back to face the women Avon gave him a pointed look, then stepped behind him. Vila wished he'd thought of that. He turned back again to take Orac from Avon's hands, and almost dropped the little sod when Avon gave him a wink and a smile as he handed Orac over. A fleeting smile, true, but a smile none the less. He had to wipe the grin from his own face as he reluctantly turned around while Avon got dressed.
Vila wasn't surprised when Avon stepped back beside him and didn't offer to carry Orac, even though he could feel his hand starting to throb again. He gave Avon a quick look. How was it that he could make even these functional olive overalls look tailor-made? He was pretty sure he looked like a shapeless sack himself.
`Are we going to stand here all day?' Avon asked sharply. `Come on, let's get away from here.' He stalked through to the flight deck and barked orders at Tarrant. `Undock that shuttle and ditch it. I've had enough of Malodaar and Egrorian, take us back to Xenon.'
`What the hell happened?' Tarrant asked, curious enough to ignore Avon's tone, which was even more imperious than usual.
`The shuttle was too heavy to reach escape velocity,' Avon said. `We had to jettison everything.'
`But how? You got back all right the first time,' Tarrant asked, puzzled.
`I don't know, and frankly, now that we're back in one piece, I don't much care,' Avon snapped back. `Just ditch it.' He swept his eyes from Tarrant to the two women, who were watching him curiously. `Well now, I'm sure the rest of you can cope on your own. I'm cold, I'm tired, and I'm going to bed.'
Vila felt his heart drop as Avon stalked off towards the tiny cabin at the back of the flight deck, where there was just enough room for a bunk and a wash-unit for their longer space voyages. Typical Avon, he'd let his guard down for a moment, show you that there actually was a human heart under all that ice, then go all cold again and back-pedal so fast it was a wonder he didn't spread-eagle himself against a wall.
Avon turned as he reached the cabin door. `Come with me, Vila,' he ordered, `and bring the medical kit. You'll be no use to me at all if that hand gets infected.'
Vila gave him a broad grin, grabbed the medical kit, and almost dashed for the cabin.
Soolin waited until the door closed behind Avon and Vila, then leaned back against her flight position in violent, silent shudders of laughter.
`What is it?' Dayna asked.
`Yes, Soolin, let us in on the joke,' Tarrant added.
Soolin wiped a tear from her eye before she answered. `Come on, Dayna, you saw them when they came off the shuttle. Where was all the blood?'
Dayna frowned for a moment, then her eyes widened in sudden understanding. `It was mostly over Avon!'
`Yes, and where? Over his shoulders, and his neck, and his chest... and I think I saw a handprint on his arse just as he turned around to get dressed.' She was pretty sure that's what she'd seen. She'd been looking closely enough.
Tarrant spluttered, and Soolin nodded. She held her hands out in front of her, miming the cradling of a head in front of her groin. `Add to that the imprint of a set of console buttons on Vila's bum, and, ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.'
Dayna's hand flew to her mouth, and she was uncertain whether to be horrified or to laugh. `And Avon had grubby knees, too!' Her eyes widened even further as she tried to imagine Avon going down on anyone, let alone Vila.
`Well, I'll be buggered,' Tarrant said in a shocked voice.
`I doubt it,' Soolin answered him with a twisted grin. `Those two only had eyes for each other--well, Vila did, anyway. Avon's trying hard to pretend nothing was going on. Somehow I doubt we're going to see much of them until we get back to Xenon.'
Vila rolled over and pressed himself even more closely into Avon's arms. The cot was so narrow that he didn't have much choice, but he snuggled up tighter anyway. His palm itched a little where Avon had smeared the healing cream and strapped it neatly, before putting the cream to a much more intimate and rewarding use.
`They'll all know now, you know,' he said conversationally.
Avon pulled his head away a fraction, just far enough to be able to look Vila in the eyes. `And do you care?'
`No,' he replied, `I suppose I don't.' He kissed Avon gently, all his passion spent.
Avon gave him one of those rare, dazzling smiles--the old, sane version. `Good. I suspect that this is not the first time this room has been put to this purpose.'
`Huh, it's the first time I've got to put it to this purpose.' Avon chuckled and moved so that Vila could nestle his head back down on his shoulder. They lay in a silent embrace, with Avon gently stroking Vila's back. The sweat on his skin had dried, and he was soft and warm to the touch.
`Would you have done it, if it had been the only way?'
Avon was silent for a moment. `Perhaps,' he whispered. `But it wasn't the only way, was it,' he added in a stronger voice.
Vila had tensed a little in his arms as he spoke, but he relaxed again as Avon's lips brushed his forehead.
`I'm glad about that,' he whispered back.
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