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Needs

By Nell Howell
Page 2 of 5

Another silence ensued, this one fraught with emotion that was unspoken but tangible. Vila breathed it in, sipping at first, then gulping mouthfuls. The taste of Avon's emotion, rarely displayed, habitually covered in layers of cold: inaccessible, remote. The taste of Avon's needs, Avon's demands, Avon's wants, Avon's wanting him, Avon needing, needy. Avon weak with it; that's what he had long ago discovered. That Avon had a weakness: a need for closeness he channelled into sex. The black-ice prince was a passionate man under his controlled exterior. And there was no one in his limited circle of uneasy companions to whom he could turn for the satisfaction of that need...except Vila.

Possibly Blake, once, before Blake was lost; he suspected so, but was sure he'd never know. Not that it mattered. He wasn't jealous of whatever part of Avon Blake had had, not even if Blake had had all of Avon, much more than the slice of himself Avon allowed Vila. He couldn't envy a dead man--dead or lost; same thing. Anyway, he'd liked Blake. He'd liked him enough not to begrudge him his time with Avon.

Sometimes, he even managed not to begrudge Blake his time with Avon as he was before the madness seeded its tendrils into the darkly complex soul.

He'd liked Cally, too, and he missed her even more than he did Blake. Liked her enough not to begrudge her having had what Vila knew he'd never garner: Avon's love. At least, she'd had whatever love Avon had retained after wrestling with and screwing Blake and bearing the torment that had accompanied that relationship. Cally had had the platonic, compassionate love, whatever there was of that emotion in Avon. Perhaps Avon's capacity to feel that kind of tenderness had died with her. Or perhaps the explosion that destroyed her had transmuted that feeling into the stark unreason inexorably taking Avon over.

And what did Vila have? He had what was left, what was on offer: Avon's need. And Vila's own need in return.

"So, I'm alive." Lo and behold, his voice didn't wobble. He met Avon's hooded eyes and cursed, now, the poor light as he was unable to read anything in their shielded depths. "What's it got to do with you?"

"I saved your life on the shuttle, Vila. You are alive only because of me."

"You tried to kill me!"

In a flash of movement, Avon was on him. Avon's knee pressed into the mattress and his leather-bulked body loomed above. Avon stroked his hair in a parody of a caress before gripping it hard and yanking his head back. Vila's breath shortened. The fury riding the brown depths of Avon's eyes was all too clear now.

"How long are you going to go on about it? It didn't happen; you're alive. I saved your paltry, contemptible life."

"It's just that when someone tries to shove me out an airlock, the matter tends to linger in my mind." He projected all the earnestness he could muster in an attempt to hold off the force he had unleashed. "I can't help it. It's my mind, you see; it just works like that. It thinks nearly being killed is a big deal for some reason. Can't imagine why, no one else does, but it does just find it hard to accept it wouldn't have mattered a toss if you'd managed to find me and shove me out into space. My mind won't accept it. Got a mind of its own, so to speak. Not like yours, all computer parts, all regular and logical. My mind's human. It thinks it's important, even thinks it's got some value. Maybe even as much value as you have--talking from its point of view."

"And from your point of view?" Avon's voice was soft, almost gentle; Vila squirmed with unease against the implacable grip. "Consider your life as important as mine, do you?"

"Well. Yes?" He would have flinched at the squeak in his voice if Avon hadn't had him pinned with hardly room enough to breathe.

Avon's left hand lifted from his shoulder, the fingers relaxing from talons into delicate manoeuvrable digits. The forefinger stroked down Vila's cheek in a meandering path from the outer corner of his eye to his mouth before settling on the centre of his lips, a small pad of warmth against his sensitive flesh. Avon's head tilted as he stared into Vila's wide eyes.

"Which means that my life is as important as yours. Yes?"

"Well. Um."

"It's a simple equation, Vila," Avon purred.

The finger resting against his mouth shifted. Avon stroked the back of his hand up Vila's cheek, branding him with a pseudo-tenderness that threatened his shaky defences. Avon's vivid presence, never more charged than when he was either fighting for his life or sexually alight, was working its transmutation on him, sapping his strength and all his resolve.

"If you consider your life to be as important--or almost--as mine, then you presumably also consider my life to be as important as yours. A basic example of equilateral thinking. Even your pathetic excuse for a brain ought to be able to work that one out. Isn't that right? Vila?"

Awash in the confusion Avon's soft touch and softer voice engendered, he had time only to give a cautious nod before the fingers lifted from his face and attached themselves to his throat in a lethal hold.

Avon's voice was a vicious whiplash: "Then why did you try to kill me?"

Feeling his senses going grey, Vila kicked out with a dome-urchin's instinctive accuracy. He scrambled to the head of the bunk as Avon cursed and let go of him to clutch his groin.

"You had the gun! You tried to get rid of me! It was nothing I did--I wouldn't have tried to throw you into space!"

Avon rounded on him, his face flushed and contorted with rage no longer remotely tamped down. "You knew when you were hiding that if we didn't lighten the weight in the shuttle, it would burn up and kill us both. You hid, knowing we had only minutes left to live. How did it feel, Vila? Did you feel exultant knowing you were going to take me with you? That you were going to kill me?"

"Oh, I see." He pressed himself into the bunk's angled corner wall. "It was all my fault. I should have known. Expect I should have walked straight out the airlock myself, sacrificed myself to save you. Bad form not to do that, to force you to go through that nasty business of stalking me with a gun. Isn't that right, Avon? I should have sacrificed myself for you?"

"No, you fool, you shouldn't. But having done your best to kill me along with your own useless self, you shouldn't sit there preaching at me for having tried to do the same thing. Holier than thou really doesn't suit you. You're far too corrupt to pull off injured innocence."

"I wouldn't have shoved you out the airlock!" A spark of defiance flamed like the Devil in him: "And neither would Blake have."

"Spare me your inane hero-worship for Blake and his nauseating moral code. He's dead because of it; or locked up somewhere. Whereas you and I are still alive--because I saved us. Again. Left up to you, we'd both be dead now."

He tried to relax his fingers from their death grip on the neck of the bottle as he rubbed his other hand over the wet patch on his belly where some of the liquid had spilt. He pulled his knees up, an insubstantial but comforting wall between himself and the furious Avon.

"I still won't forget what happened--"

"Neither will I."

The clipped, implacable words hung in the air. Vila looked into Avon's eyes. He tried not to see it in the dark depths, but he couldn't help himself. It was there. Not remorse; never that. No apology, either. But beyond the anger, deeper even than the loneliness, there was the need. Avon's need for him, Vila. Avon's need: his greatest weakness. The raw, bleak knot of need deep in Avon that he would never have shown Cally, cocooned as she'd been in Avon's respect and caring. The need he was unlikely to reveal to any of their present companions, the trio of youngsters who, for all their toughness, had never known prison and the ultimate vulnerability of defeat.

Avon's need was for Vila alone to know. To use, or just to have: whichever Vila chose.

He forced a smile and relaxed his legs into a cross-legged position that displayed his crotch. Not much to display at the moment--fear wasn't his aphrodisiac--but the stirring was there now. Not that Avon had ever had any particular concern with Vila's desires or even his physical attributes, other than that he was human, warm, willing, and broachable. But all that, he sensed, nostrils flaring like a hound scenting the air for blood, could change.

His smile blossomed as Avon's eyes narrowed.

"So, here we are." He summoned a bright voice and flourished the depleted bottle. "Fancy a drink? Or is it to be right-down-to-it-and-shut-up-Vila?"

Avon's tense shoulders relaxed a fraction and he gave a small, betraying shift, easing back from him. "That easy? Am I all forgiven now?"

The sarcasm bit, but he was nothing if not used to Avon's tongue. What mattered wasn't what Avon said, but what he did. That he was here spoke loudest; that he'd come himself rather than letting one of the others check on Vila--if indeed any of them were actually worried about him at all. Avon was capable of making up much more elaborate stories than that to serve his purpose. Either way, Avon was here because he'd chosen to come.

Or, just possibly, he was here because he hadn't had a choice at all.


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Nell Howell

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