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By Paula
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      "She was - not serious, Vila," Tarrant admitted, half-astonished to be discussing his private life with the thief. Yet it had been a long time since there had been any overt hostility between the two of them. It didn't feel odd to talk to Vila like this. "I don't think it would have worked out," he concluded. He knew he and Kella had not loved each other. The relationship had been physical attraction and convenience, no more, and they had parted friends.

      "What about Jabberwocky?" asked the thief. He refilled his glass then dropped down beside Tarrant on the bed, eschewing the room's one hard chair. Leaning against the wall he pulled his feet up in front of him, one arm wrapped around his knees and the other hand securely around his glass, staring idly into space. "Pity to leave him out." The liquor hadn't slurred his voice, but he sounded relaxed and content, ready to start rambling. Tarrant knew that Vila could hold his liquor very well, and that he seldom drank lately, and then only to be sociable, but he had a knack for pretending inebriation when he wanted to avoid work or when he wanted to approach subjects that would be uncomfortable if he were thought to be sober. The appearance of too much to drink had worked wonders for Vila in the past.

      "I know," admitted Tarrant. It seemed wrong, somehow, to exclude his link-mate completely from that one facet of his life when Jabberwocky was a part of everything else. At first Tarrant had found the idea embarrassing, as if he would be performing to an audience, but he realised that feeling had long gone. Though Jabberwocky didn't have a physical body, he could have sensed Tarrant's feelings through the linkage and shared them, and it would have been all the more special to know that he could give Jabberwocky something that he could never have otherwise. It just hadn't seemed right to inflict sex on Jabberwocky when the computer had no feelings for the person in question. Dayna wouldn't have allowed it and Kella had been a stranger. "It isn't something that can be shared with just anyone," he informed Vila seriously, for once confident that the thief would understand. Vila had filled in for him once and linked with Jabberwocky when he couldn't and Vila knew the strength of the bond as few other people did. Cally and Blake had been Jabberwocky's link-mates, too, but Tarrant hadn't discussed it much with them. Blake had not been a good match for the computer and Cally, the telepath, still missed it, since a constant voice inside her head felt normal to her, its lack to be decried. Reminding her of the loss had never seemed in good taste to Tarrant, though he welcomed her into group linkage whenever possible. Knowing how good it made him feel, he couldn't exclude her from it completely.

      Vila nodded seriously. "Too bad. What about you, Jabberwocky? Would you like a little action?"

      Jabberwocky's warm chuckle echoed through the room. The idea certainly didn't disconcert him. "It would be fun," he agreed. "But Del is right. I don't want strangers. I'd feel like a voyeur then."

      Vila started to become interested in the problem. "Too bad. Cally and Jenna are taken and Soolin - well, I'm not sure. Sometimes I think she has a real thing for Blake."

      "She was out with Perren last night," Tarrant reminded him. Since their return to Ryalon from the mission where the three of Jabberwocky's linkage programmers had joined the crew, that had been an off-again on-again relationship that half the crew expected to end in bloodshed. The brown-haired psych tech had a smart mouth and a ready quip for every event and Soolin didn't allow anyone to cross her. They were both too different and too alike to be a comfortable duo. Tarrant was prepared to watch the sparks fly.

      Vila signed. "See. All the women taken. You have to be imaginative, Tarrant. What you need is somebody who's been in linkage, somebody who appreciates Jabberwocky as much as you do. Wouldn't be fair otherwise. Would it, Jabberwocky?"

      "Evidently not." The computer's voice did sound mellow. Tarrant wondered if it would sound that way to anyone else who might access him tonight or if it was limited to this room. He also sounded amused, as if he were following Vila's line of reasoning but already knew where it was going.

      "There you are," Vila replied, raising his glass again and clinking it against Tarrant's. "Need to find somebody who's been in linkage."

      An idea occurred to Tarrant that hadn't registered before and he lifted his eyes from the contents of his glass, considering it. Slowly he raised his head and slanted a suspicious look at the thief, who was sitting quietly, a smile on his face, staring at nothing in particular.

      "Why, Vila," said Tarrant suspiciously, though a hint of amusement ran through his voice, "are you trying to proposition me? Is that why you're here - and with liquor yet? I suspect I've been a bit dense not to notice."

      The older man looked up. His eyes were bright and wary. "And if I am, then?" he asked, not giving anything away. Tarrant thought he looked braced and alert and ready to backpedal like mad at the first sign of rejection. It must have taken an effort to come in here and work around to the subject when Tarrant had been so unresponsive earlier in the rest room.

      Vila? Tarrant frowned as he mulled over the offer. Strange he'd never considered that before. He had no innate objection to sex with men, though he generally preferred to take his pleasure with women. When he and Dorn had deserted from the Federation, they had never considered a relationship of that type. Vila might not have been the pilot's first choice, but he wasn't a bad choice, either. The way Tarrant felt tonight, he needed to be with someone, and he needed someone who wouldn't object to Jabberwocky, because to exclude his link-mate now, when he was still thinking of Dayna and Tanz, would only convince Jabberwocky that he was to blame for Tarrant's depression. He was afraid that he had hurt his link-mate's feelings with regrets about Dayna, as if he had made it into a choice between them. He hadn't really done that and he wanted Jabberwocky to know. Maybe this was the best answer of all, someone who had been, if briefly, Jabberwocky's link-mate, someone Jabberwocky loved unreservedly, someone, presumably, whom Jabberwocky would not reject out of hand. He sent a quick question into the link, to make sure that the mindship would have no objections. He wouldn't inflict something distasteful upon his link-mate. Jabberwocky had been married when he was still entirely human, and he might have reservations about being included in a male pairing.

      //Distasteful?// Jabberwocky sounded surprised at the question. //I love Vila. He is always welcome in my mind. If you want to share with him, I would join you gladly.//

      That was what Tarrant needed to know. He looked back at Vila and smiled. "If you mean it, then Jabberwocky and I think it's one of your better ideas." He was beginning to find the idea intriguing, and a quiver of anticipation ran through his body.

      Vila was surprised and gratified. "You're not just saying that? It isn't 'It's only Vila. Do this, Vila, do that, Vila, now go away nicely, Vila, and never mention it again, is it?'"

      "No, Vila," the ship assured him. "We are bound through the link. Come in and see." He drew Vila into link mode - Tarrant was always there but the addition of the thief made this link feel different. It was smaller than the group one, more self-contained, and it held both warmth and apprehension. Tarrant realised this could never have happened between him and Vila without the link and Vila had been hesitant because he had known it too. Maybe he had needed someone to share with tonight as much as Tarrant did, and realising Tarrant was feeling alone and rejected, he had decided to take a chance and make the offer.

      Vila sucked in his breath in open delight at the awareness in the link. "It feels nice," he whispered. "We're not here to make the ship work or to save somebody from Servalan. Just here for pleasure." Vila had always been a hedonist. Now he set aside his glass and moved warily closer to Tarrant, still half afraid the rules would change.

      "No," soothed Jabberwocky in both men's minds. "The rules have not changed. Whatever happens is right."

      Taking that as permission, Tarrant put his glass on the bedside table and eased his arms around the thief, knowing as he did it that Vila would slide closer against him and offer his mouth for a kiss. They pressed their lips together, half afraid it wouldn't work, that the arousal would not be there, but they were wrong. With an unexpected burst of feedback it flowered between them, as if the link could fling feelings back and forth and intensify it. Telepathy could do that, Tarrant knew. He and Jabberwocky had discussed it before, knowing that feelings shared in link mode were always intensified because the one partner could feel the other's responses as well as his own. That was why the group always came out of link stronger, because they had momentarily become a part of each other and the sympathy and understanding lingered, even with Avon.


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