|"I'm bored. Are you sure there's no wine?"
Tarrant didn't even bother to look up from Scorpio's controls. "You've been looking for three hours. If there is, it must be the galactic hide and seek champion."
Vila abandoned his search to sink into his chair and sigh heavily. "Four days of this? I'll go mad from boredom."
"You keep saying that all you want is a few days with nobody shooting at us. Well, unless we're extremely unlucky, that's what we'll get." They'd finally located a non-Federated supplier for the crystals they needed for Scorpio's communications system; they were en route for Kestria, four days' flight from Xenon. Four days' flight away from Federation space, fortunately; the trip was likely to be completely uneventful. Tarrant was looking forward to using that time to test out the limits of the new stardrive; he didn't like relying on something that he wasn't thoroughly familiar with.
The only downside was that he only had Vila for company, and Vila was bored, which made him possibly the most annoying person for five hundred spatials. As a general rule, Tarrant didn't object to Vila's company--until Vila had started complaining, he'd been looking forward to it--but he hadn't wanted to come on this mission, and he was already making that irritatingly clear.
"Unlucky? Get Orac to access a dictionary some time; our picture's right next to the word 'unlucky.' Servalan's probably taking a holiday on Kestria even as we speak."
Tarrant did his best to tune Vila out; it was the only way to keep from strangling him when he got like this. He turned his attention to the read-out of the diagnostic scan he'd had Slave run on the propulsion systems. They were going to need a more efficient coolant for the drive chamber, he decided; something about the new drive had cut deeply into their safety margin for acceptable operating temperatures. He'd get Orac to do some checking, find out what Space Command was using in their pursuit ships these days.
Lips grazed the nape of his neck, warm breath tickling the sensitive skin; a hand slipped around him to work the fastenings of his clothing.
Tarrant sighed. "Vila, do you mind?"
"Not at all. My pleasure, in fact." Vila's teeth closed on his earlobe, tugging gently. He almost had Tarrant's jacket open; the only thing that was slowing him down was the awkward placement of the fasteners along one shoulder.
Tarrant caught hold of the hand and replaced it at Vila's side. "I'm trying to work. If you're bored, why don't you go check the supplies in the medi-capsule? If we're going to restock on Kestria, we might as well pick up everything we're short of."
He looked up to see disappointment written in every line of Vila's highly-expressive face. He almost felt guilty about it... but they had work to do. He wouldn't ordinarily say no to the chance to spend a few hours--a few days--in bed with Vila. There was no privacy on Xenon Base; someone was always coming up with something that had to be done yesterday. No, to be fair, "someone" wasn't always coming up with something; Avon was. And Avon was light-years away. But Tarrant would never forgive himself if he didn't take this chance to check the stardrive out. Putting a drive that fast into a ship this old had to be causing some strain; he'd like to know about it now, rather than when Scorpio fell apart around them in the middle of a battle.
Vila trudged over to the medi-capsule with an air of resignation, and Tarrant returned to his readouts. They were going to need better shielding. Herculaneum would be best, but it was expensive, and the additional weight would translate into a loss of speed. He'd talk it over with Avon when they got back; maybe he'd have some suggestions Tarrant hadn't thought of yet.
He'd begun running a series of projections of the effects of various types of shielding when he once again felt Vila standing behind him. "I said not now, Vila."
"No time like the present, I always say," Vila countered. When Tarrant turned to glare at him, he bent down and captured Tarrant's mouth in a determined kiss. Tarrant's lips parted reflexively in response, and heat began spreading through his veins.
He put a hand up to push Vila away, but once it was pressed against Vila's chest, he left it there a moment, not quite able to summon up the necessary willpower. You don't have time now, he admonished himself, and gave Vila a slight shove. Tarrant got up, the better to evade Vila while he made him see reason. "No time like the present?" he quoted. "Funny how you never seem to say that when there's work to do."
"All right, maybe I don't always say it. But when there's just you, me, and four days of neutral space ahead of us... why not?"
"I've already told you why not. Hooking that star drive into the ship's systems is a bit like trying to power a pocket torch with a full-scale atomic generator. We're going to have to make some extensive modifications to the other systems to accommodate the increased power without burning out other components at triple speed, and this is the first time I've had--" He broke off abruptly. "You're not even listening."
"It's not a particularly good excuse. We've got four days out and four days back. We could stretch it to five or six days back; we may need to get the crystals before the ones we're using burn out, but there's no need to hurry back to Xenon, is there? You'll have plenty of time to do whatever you want to the ship."
"And by the same logic, we'll have plenty of time to do whatever you want."
"Fine. Have it your way. I'll Just sit over here in the corner and pine away--" The mournful tone was completely at odds with the mischievous gleam in Vila's eyes.
"Spare me the melodrama."
"I wish Soolin were here. I bet it'd work on her."
"I bet if you tried, I'd have to mop up your blood from the deck," Tarrant said, grinning. "Now let me get back to work. The sooner I do, the sooner I'll be done, you know."
"Oh, all right." Vila rummaged in one of the storage compartments and brought out a deck of cards. He sat down in his usual flight position and started playing a hand of one of the arcane solitaire games he had coaxed Orac into researching for him.
Every now and then, Tarrant could feel Vila's eyes on him. Damn him, he was getting difficult to ignore. It wouldn't do for him to take Vila's cavalier attitude toward the work that needed to be done. What he'd said was absolutely correct; he did need to determine what modifications should be made to the ship. Vila had come along in case they couldn't make a deal for the crystals they needed; they'd prefer making a legitimate purchase to avoid cutting off their one source of replacements, but they'd steal if they had to. Since his talents wouldn't be needed for days yet, if at all, Vila was in for a boring trip. Tarrant was sorry about that, but Vila would just have to understand.
He forced himself not to look up; the disappointment in Vila's soft brown eyes was half-hidden by amusement at how easily he'd rattled Tarrant, but it was there. And having seen it, Tarrant felt even guiltier. He had to admit that the timing of the diagnostic checks wasn't crucial; he could easily run them tomorrow, or on the way home for that matter. He'd been trained to put duty before his personal concerns, though, and while duty to his crewmates had replaced his duty to the Federation, his priorities hadn't changed.
"Slave, put up the schematics of the propulsion and guidance systems on the main screen," he said.
"At once, sir." The star field faded from view and was replaced by a circuit diagram. "I trust that is satisfactory?"
"Yes, it's fine." He got up, stretching--the screens at his console were at the wrong height for him to study them comfortably for any length of time--and stood in front of the flight consoles to examine the diagrams. As he'd thought, some of the guidance controls were too old- fashioned to be able to respond efficiently at speeds like those provided by the new drive. They'd have to be replaced. "Detailed drawings of section four, Slave."
Vila got up and joined him. "What's so interesting about this lot?"
"The fact that if we've got to do a lot of fast maneuvering at top speed, we're going to be in a ship that steers about as well as Xenon."
"Xenon's a planet, Tarrant. You don't steer planets."
"Oh." He paused. "Anything you can do about it now?"
"No. I'll get some of the components we need on Kestria; we can start work when we get back to base. These modifications can't be done while we're in flight."
"Oh, good." Vila moved to stand in front of him, virtually pinning Tarrant against the console. One hand insinuated itself under Tarrant's jacket and shirt, feathering its way up his rib cage. Tarrant squirmed as the agile fingers brushed against a ticklish spot.
"Like that, did you?" Vila's hand had reached its destination; he rolled Tarrant's right nipple between thumb and forefinger, feeling it pucker and harden at his touch.
"Stop it, Vila," he said, more sharply than intended. Vila's hand dropped to his side.
"Ah, come on, Tarrant." Vila leaned in to kiss him again, this time tracing the outline of Tarrant's lips with the tip of his tongue before plundering his mouth more deeply. His hands came up to cup Tarrant's face, the fingers tracing gentle patterns along his cheekbones and temples. It would be so easy to forget about the work he had ahead of him, to abandon himself to the heat of Vila's kisses, to the familiar weight of the body pressed against his....
An officer does his duty, Cadet Tarrant. The voice of his conscience sounded suspiciously like an instructor he'd had his first year at the FSA. She'd been very big on "duty," he recalled. He wondered if she had any advice for how to fend off an extremely persistent lover without hurting his feelings. Probably not; Major Styons' permanent sneer would have been enough to do the trick.
Tarrant reached up with both hands this time, willing himself to push Vila away without any hesitation-not hard enough to knock him down, but firmly enough that there could be no mistaking his intentions. "This is beginning to get irritating, Vila."
Just as he pushed, Vila grabbed hold of his forearms, displaying faster reflexes than Tarrant had been aware he possessed. Overbalanced, they both toppled to the floor, Tarrant's fall cushioned by landing mostly on top of Vila.
Vila's smile was one of pure triumph. "I knew you'd see things my way." He wasn't taking any chances, though; he'd locked his arms around Tarrant's waist as soon as they'd hit the deck.
"Damn it, Vila, let me up! I swear, I'll put you in stasis in the medi-capsule until we get to Kestria if you don't stop this."
He was sure that Vila's contrite expression was an act, Mostly sure. Fairly sure, anyway. While he hesitated, Vila seized the opportunity to roll him over, kneeling astride him. He could have fought Vila off, they both knew that. And he did have other things to do... but that hopeful look was back in Vila's eyes, and the other thing they both knew was that, fake or not, Tarrant couldn't resist it. He only put up a token protest as Vila bent down for another kiss.
Even the token protests faded as Vila unfastened Tarrant's clothing so that he could kiss his way downward. The cool air of the cabin and the warmth of Vila's lips on his skin sent shivers through his body. He ought to get up. He had work to do, and he didn't want to give Vila the idea that it was this easy to distract him from his duty.
He ought to get up. But Vila's mouth had closed on one of his nipples, teeth scraping lightly over sensitive flesh, and the engines really could wait a bit longer. "Stop it." It sounded unconvincing even to him.
"You really want me to?" Deft fingers played over the fastenings to Tarrant's trousers, their touch tantalizing even through the fabric.
All right, I give up. The ship will hold together a while longer. He forced a world-weary sigh. "I suppose I might as well get this over with, so I can accomplish something before we reach Kestria."
"How very practical of you. That's the sort of sensible attitude that really ought to be rewarded, wouldn't you say?"
"Oh, absolutely." He tugged at the zipper of Vila's jumpsuit. "Move your hands a minute so I can get this off you." Vila helped him slide the jumpsuit off his shoulders before pulling his arms free and peeling off the shirt he wore underneath.
Tarrant pulled Vila back down on top of him, kissing him while he stroked along the length of Vila's spine. Vila slid one hand *into Tarrant's trousers, his fingers moving on Tarrant's swelling cock in an echo of the patterns being traced along his back.
Tarrant began to work Vila's jumpsuit down past his hips. Something slid out of one of the pockets; Tarrant picked it up off the floor the floor. He smiled as he examined it; it was a tube from the first-aid kit in the medi-capsule, a gel used to soothe minor burns. "I thought you were meant to be checking the inventory in the medi-capsule, not stealing bits of it to use for your own sordid purposes," he teased.
Vila grabbed the tube back. "All right, then, if you don't want me to...." His thumb began to move in slow circles, and Tarrant's trousers began to feel uncomfortably confining. "I could always go back and finish the inven=tory. After all, we mustn't neglect our work for something as unimportant as this."
"I think it can wait for a little while."
"But what if you were to hurt yourself?" Vila said in a mock-serious tone. "We might need to know what we had in the medi-capsule."
"If you stop now, Vila, I may hurt you, and the medi-capsule won't be much help."
Vila took his hand away from Tarrant's cock. Tarrant tried to recapture the hand, but Vila had moved out of reach. "I thought you were the one who believed in delayed gratification," he said. "Why don't you get those boots and trousers off while you wait?"
Tarrant got to his feet, rather unsteadily, and leaned against the flight console to pull his boots off. Then he stopped for a minute to watch Vila undress. Vila noticed his attention and grinned. He shifted into a striptease, but got his foot tangled in the leg of his trousers and stumbled toward Tarrant.
"So much for seduction."
"Well, you're just standing there like a statue, aren't you? Had to do something to get your attention." He shook his head. "Thought you pilots were supposed to be sharp, but you're still dressed and everything."
Tarrant quickly stripped off his trousers. "That better?"
Vila's gaze traveled along the length of his body. "I'd say so." He stepped forward to kiss Tarrant again. Tarrant fought to keep from thrusting forward against Vila's hipbone; heat spread through him from wherever their bodies touched. Vila's hands were traveling down his back, dipping into the cleft between his buttocks, massaging the tight ring of muscle he found there.
"The bunk," he suggested.
Vila nodded. As he showed no sign of wanting to disentangle himself from Tarrant, their progress was slowed, but the flight deck was small. Soon Vila was easing him down onto the bunk. Tarrant raised his hips to allow Vila to position a pillow under the small of his back, then rested his legs on Vila's shoulders. Tarrant kept his smile to himself. He often wondered how the others would react if he told them how Vila, who went to great lengths to avoid work in most contexts, was perfectly willing to put forth amazing effort in bed. Then again, he didn't want Vila to realize he'd noticed. He might stop.
Vila uncapped the tube of gel, squeezing some into his palm and rubbing his hands together to warm it. One slick finger began circling around Tarrant's anus, waiting for the muscle to relax, then slipped inside him. When Tarrant had relaxed, he added a second finger. Tarrant gasped, clutching at the thin blanket. Vila withdrew his fingers, giving them another coating of gel before penetrating Tarrant again. "Glad you changed your mind?"
He didn't bother trying to formulate an answer, his attention occupied by Vila's fingers stretching him, filling him.... Then the fingers were withdrawn again. Vila kissed him, then squeezed more lubricant into his palm and began to slick it over his erection. "Let me do that," Tarrant offered.
Vila shook his head. "Nah. You're just humoring me, after all; wouldn't want to put you to any trouble."
It was far too much trouble to argue. At least right now, when Vila was slowly--agonizingly slowly--entering him, and all of his attention was on the sensation of Vila's cock inside him, thrusting into him with that frustrating slowness, then suddenly withdrawing, leaving Tarrant arching helplessly upward.
Tarrant struggled to stifle a whimper. Vila leaned down to kiss him, first on the lips, then along the line of his jaw, down his neck, and finally, gently, at the hollow of his throat. He chuckled, lips still-pressed against Tarrant's throat so that Tarrant could feel the laughter reverberating along his nerves like an electric charge. "I appreciate your putting up a good front for me, Tarrant," he said, "but it's no good pretending. I know you'd rather be mucking about with the guidance systems, so why don't we just give this up as a bad idea?"
"If you try," Tarrant replied, his voice sounding a bit strained, "I'm going to plot a course directly to Targus and feed you to a warg strangler."
"Now that really would be a shame. And I was just getting to like you, too. Come to think of it, you might want to keep me around for a while--at least until you find out some of the benefits of being liked."
"Such as?" He'd never stopped being amazed by how much Vila talked during sex. Actual coherent sentences, too. Well, as coherent as he usually was.
"Oh, no, it's no good; you've already made up your mind."
Vila shrugged. "If you insist," he said finally--it was probably only a few seconds later, to be honest, but it felt like forever to Tarrant.
The conclusion had, he supposed, been inevitable, but it didn't stop him from feeling relieved that it had been reached. Vila thrust into him again, not as slowly this time... and waited.
"You're quite sure?"
"Damn it, Vila--"
"Just checking." Vila began to move, thrusting deeper into him, setting up a rhythm that Tarrant was only too happy to match. His hips jerked upward almost involuntarily, trying to pull Vila even farther in, his fingers twisting around the blanket with the frustration of knowing that the release he sought was almost, but not quite, within his reach.
Vila kissed him again, and Tarrant could taste the faint salt tang of sweat. Not surprising he was sweating. It had to be two hundred degrees on the flight deck; he'd have to check that out, since it was usually a little on the chilly side.
But it could wait. "I suppose," he said, his breathing ragged, "that I should take pity on you, seeing as you're being so accommodating and all."
Then Vila's hand slipped between their bodies, closing around Tarrant's cock. Tarrant groaned and thrust into the curled fist, the friction of Vila's fingers against him combining with the friction of Vila's cock inside him to send him over the edge at last.
When the world had swum back into focus, Tarrant realized that he could feel the tremors that were rippling through Vila's body, and looked up at Vila's face. He always liked watching Vila's expression when he came; the look of rapt concentration that came over him was so unlike anything he saw there in the normal course of things-except, maybe, when a particularly challenging lock was about to give way.
Vila collapsed onto him, his head resting on Tarrant's collarbone, their limbs still twined together--the only way two grown men were going to fit on the bunk, that was for certain. Dorian must have done all his "entertaining" back on the base. "You'll probably be wanting to get back to work now," he mumbled against Tarrant's chest.
Tarrant's hand rested lightly on the back of Vila's head, fingers stroking the fine, sweat-dampened hair. "I could probably be persuaded to put it off a bit longer," he said. "Since I've wasted so much time already."
Vila lifted his head. "I wouldn't want to get you any farther off schedule."
"Shut up, Vila." And to make sure that he did Just that, Tarrant puffed Vila to him and captured his mouth in a kiss.
Ten hours later, after they had--eventually--slept, Tarrant knelt on the floor next to the console that housed part of Scorpio's guidance system. He was going to have to get Orac to identify some of the changes that needed to be made; he was a pilot, not a ship's engineer, and completely redesigning the planet-hopper's systems was beyond his capabilities.
Vila was sitting at one of the other stations, dealing out yet another insanely complicated hand of solitaire. Tarrant watched him for a moment, eyes following the hands deftly shuffling the cards, his body remembering the way they had touched him with equal dexterity.
Feeling Tarrant's eyes on him, Vila looked up from the cards. "Are you absolutely sure there's no wine?" he asked with a sly smile. "I'm bored."