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Bottle of Wine

By Vanessa Mullen
Page 2 of 3

Next morning found Xenon base oddly quiet. Everyone seemed to be avoiding everyone else. Vila was supposed to be checking the seals on all the hatches, so he made a cursory inspection, and actually went to the effort of unblocking an air vent that had some sort of nest in it. Then he refixed the loose cover that had allowed the bird access and headed inside on the grounds that he was entitled to something to eat after all that effort.

      Half way to the rest room, he met Avon in a corridor. Vila started guiltily, which Avon appeared to totally ignore. He looked Vila coldly in the eye and remarked that there was a fault in the hanger lighting circuits that Vila should be capable of fixing.

      Vila mumbled something incoherent in reply. As Avon's form retreated round a corner, Vila slid down the wall to collapse in a huddle at its base. He was shaking, and it was crazy. He could feel Avon's lips on him, Avon's body hard against his, and he wanted it that way. There was an ache in his groin, and he wanted Avon to ease it. It was obscene and it was wrong and Vila wanted it anyway.

      He wanted to tell Avon, and he couldn't. He was absolutely petrified of what Avon would say.

      The rest of the day, Vila avoided Avon as much as was humanly possible. He found jobs to do in obscure corners, grabbed meals at odd intervals, and went to bed early. It didn't help. Even a cold shower didn't help. Lying down in bed, he clutched his pillow tightly and thought of Avon. Using his hands, he brought himself off, which helped a little, but not enough. Then he got up, flung on a wrap and went to see Soolin.

      Vila knocked tentatively on the door.

      "Come in." Well, that meant that she was still up at any rate.

      Soolin's welcoming smile turned into a frown as she took in the way he was dressed. "Vila, if you're thinking of making a pass at me; forget it."

      Vila shook his head negatively. "Soolin," he said desperately, "I've got to talk to you."

      "What about? And for goodness sake shut the door, or everyone will think there is something going on between us."

      Vila shuffled his feet. "It's about Avon."

      "Has he been bothering you again?"

      "No, nothing like that."

      Silence descended.

      "Well," Soolin demanded after an interval. "If it isn't that, then what is your problem?"

      "Do you think it's wrong for a man to want another man?"

      "Do I think Avon's queer? He was wrong to attack you the way he did, but beyond that I won't condemn him."

      "It isn't Avon," Vila said all in a rush. "It's me!"

      Soolin gave Vila a long hard look, then showed him a chair and started to make some coffee. Vila sat down. The chair was slightly over-stuffed, but it was comfortable and made him feel welcome. They didn't speak again until the mugs were full. Clutching the hot drink in his hands, Vila felt slightly more confident of being able to answer the inevitable questions.

      "Let me get this straight. You want to sleep with Avon?"

      Vila nodded mutely.

      "Then where's your problem? Avon obviously feels the same way."

      "But he doesn't." Words tumbled out with a rush as Vila tried to explain the situation.

      Soolin looked at him in disgust when he had finished. "Vila, you're an utter slime ball. Quite apart from trying to manipulate Dayna, you let Avon take the rap for something that wasn't his fault. He's going to have a sore jaw for days. Still," she laughed suddenly, "It serves him right for going along with you." Soolin drank some of her coffee and looked at Vila thoughtfully. "What makes you so sure Avon wouldn't be interested. He went along with your joke in the first place."

      "I was with him for years on the Liberator, he never looked at me then. Besides, I know he prefers women. He had a girl friend whom he thought had been killed by the Federation. He nearly got himself killed trying to avenge her. And have you seen the way he looks whenever Servalan's name is mentioned?"

      "Yes, I know. He made a pass at me once."

      Vila didn't want to know the answer to the obvious question, but jealousy forced him to ask. "What did you do?"

      "I told him it was too soon after Dorian's death for me to enter another relationship. He never bothered me again. I must admit, I was surprised when he forced himself on you like that. It seemed out of character for Avon."

      Vila stood up regretfully and placed his empty coffee mug on a table. "Thank you."

      "For what?"

      "For listening. For not telling me I'm an obscene pervert."

      "What are you going to do now?"

      "Nothing."

      "You're not going to tell Avon how you feel?"

      Vila hugged his wrap tightly around himself. "I can't. I'm too scared. You know what Avon can be like when he thinks someone has insulted him."

      He made his way back to the lonely silence of his room and finally managed to sleep.

      

Supplies were running low. Xenon produced nothing of any practical value, all spare parts, food, and entertainment tapes had to be brought in from off planet. Right now, they needed some new filters for the air supply, a supply of wire for various odd jobs, and some new entertainment tapes to replace the ones they had all seen a thousand times before.

      "Soolin," said Tarrant after checking the list. "Your turn to come with me."

      Soolin put down the gun she was cleaning and turned to Dayna. "Would you mind doing a swop with me this time? I've got a small hydroponic project I'm in the middle of, and if I leave it for more than a day or two, the nutrient flow balance will go wrong."

      "No problem. I'll be glad to get away from here for a few days. Just give me half an hour to pack a bag."

      Vila watched with some relief as Tarrant and Dayna departed. Their presence made him feel guilty, made him feel like some obscene insect that they would squash if they found it crawling across the floor. At least Soolin understood. Avon? Well, Avon was Avon. Vila didn't exactly feel comfortable in the other man's presence, but he didn't want to be away from him either.

      

Soolin adjusted the lighting intensity over the bench. The Seska equipment that she'd moved into Xenon base would never supply vast quantities of food, but it made a change to have something that was fresh rather than frozen or dried. The peppers were coming on well, and there was a fleshy root vegetable the Seska had grown which had an excellent flavour when cooked.

      She picked a handfull of small sweet tomatoes and headed off to organise lunch. Often they ate individually, grabbing something from the food processor when they were free to eat. On occasion though, someone would volunteer to cook a proper meal, and the offer was usually accepted with enthusiasm. Soolin's life had never allowed her much time to learn to cook. Loosing her parents while still young, her life had become dedicated to survival and revenge with little time for finesse where food was concerned. It was Dorian who had awakened an interest in food and fine wine. He had taught her the basics of cookery and she had gone on from there to experiment. She wasn't quite sure what she was going to do with the tomatoes yet, but several ideas were beginning to suggest themselves to her.

      

Chopping liver into fine slices, Soolin didn't notice Vila until too late. Tomato already in his mouth, he grinned at her, pleased with his theft.

      "Vila, that was supposed to be part of your lunch."

      "It still is," he pointed out. "Don't be mean, Soolin. I deserve some luck."

      "Still lusting after Avon," she asked.

      Vila pulled a chair up close to where she was working. "Still," he acknowledged. "I thought it would get easier, but it doesn't. Every time I'm near him..." Vila shivered slightly.

      "You're going to have to do something about it."

      "I can't," Vila shrunk into himself. "I told you, he'll kill me."

      "Who's going to kill you?" asked a familiar voice from the doorway.

      Soolin turned round, her hand still holding the knife. "Avon, just the man I wanted to see."

      Avon eyed her warily. "I hope you're not planning to use that thing on me."

      "Not at all." She put the knife down and rinsed her fingers under the tap to wash off the blood from the liver. "I just wanted to have a word with you about Vila."

      "Don't you dare!" yelped Vila, and abandoned his chair to take up a position as far away from Avon as possible.

      Soolin ignored Vila. "Avon, what are your views on homosexuality?"

      His eyes flicked briefly to the knife where it lay on the worktop. "That's rather a tender subject at present. Vila has nothing to worry about, if that's your problem."

      "That wasn't what I meant. Would you sleep with another man if he was attracted to you?"

      "Perhaps. Would you sleep with another woman?"

      Soolin considered that. It was a fair enough question under the circumstances. "Probably not. I prefer men. You're saying that you're in the middle though, that you can go either way?"

      Avon avoided the question. "Am I to take it that you don't share Tarrant's somewhat outspoken views on the subject?"

      "I don't. Provided you don't force it onto anyone else, your sexuality is your own affair."

      "How refreshing," said Avon dryly. "A pity more people don't see it the same way. Now if you'll excuse me from this fascinating conversation, I was looking for a clean mug."

      Soolin turned her attention to Vila, who was watching Avon with the kind of horrified fascination a rabbit gives the predator that has cornered it.

      "Vila, you've got to fight some of your own battles. I'm not going to do everything for you."

      "What's Vila running from this time?" Avon inquired, turning around with a mug in his hand.

      "You," said Soolin succinctly.

      Avon looked annoyed. "Vila, the game's gone far enough. It stops here. Do you understand?"

      "It's not like that," Vila said in a whisper.

      Avon took a step towards him, threatening. "Then what is it like, Vila?"

      Vila cowered in front of him. "I... I..."

      "Vila," Avon said in a tone that indicated his patience was wearing out. "What is it?"

      Vila froze, his back to the wall, and Soolin took pity on him.

      "He wants to sleep with you."

      Unexpectedly, Avon flung back his head and laughed. At this twist of events, Vila's reaction changed from abject terror to indignation. "If you don't want me..." Vila said crossly. He made to leave, but was stopped by Avon's hand seizing his waist.

      "Oh no, it's not that easy. You have to pay a toll before you go." Avon pulled the smaller man closer, brought his head down, and kissed Vila hard upon the lips.

      Soolin watched in fascination as Vila fought for a moment, then accepted the embrace, placed his own arms around Avon and drew himself as close to the other man as he could get. The kiss grew longer and deeper. Soolin could have sworn she heard Vila moan faintly. The bodies of the two men pressed tighter together, Avon slid a hand down to squeeze Vila's buttocks, and Soolin left hastily, before her presence became an unwanted intrusion.

      Walking back to her cabin, she was aware of her own inner tension. Avon and Vila had sparked her off as well as each other. Abandoning all thoughts of cooking lunch, she selected the most pornographic tape in her collection and sat down to watch it.

      


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