In Avon’s view, there was nothing more infuriating in the universe than having to acknowledge that Blake might, just might, have been right about something.
Well. That was perhaps, an exaggeration. But only a very small one.
It was better to focus on that right now than on other things though. Avon had always found that focusing on just how cross he was with Blake for whatever it was that Blake had managed to do to annoy him this time was far better than dwelling on anything else that might, potentially, hurt.
Or, in fact, dwell on the fact that he was stuffed into a mortuary drawer with Vila half on top of him, listening to see if they were going to get caught by someone he had considered … important.
He bit the inside of his cheek, glad that Vila couldn’t see his face. Vila was annoyingly observant about people sometimes, more so than anybody else on the Liberator, even Cally. It made him extremely useful if you weren’t entirely sure how to play something but was also deeply irritating on occasion. This would definitely be one of those occasions – if Vila could actually see his face anyway. As Vila couldn’t, it hardly mattered and he was free to feel unhappy in peace.
How could he had been so stupid? Surely after Tynus, he ought to have known better than to trust old acquaintances? But Tynus had been different from Gahl, he always had been. Gahl had been intelligent, quick, had understood things that Avon said and agreed. Tynus had been similar but he’d always been a little weasely. Oh, they had been sexual partners, yes, but that wasn’t the same as being close, not in Avon’s view. Sex could be completely casual and usually, in Avon’s experience, it was, despite the ridiculous declarations that most people insisted on attaching to it. Sex did not automatically bring closeness nor loyalty.
Which didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of seeing sex as more important. Quite the contrary. He just was more careful with those people who he offered the more important parts of sex to. Or at least, he thought he was.
Perhaps he wasn’t quite as good at that as he’d thought.
He had always prided himself on being clever with people. Only letting in the ones that could actually be trusted. And somehow … somehow …
“You aren’t claustrophobic, are you?” Vila’s voice was rather unexpected in the darkness behind him.
Damn. He’d let himself get sentimental and it had become obvious, even to Vila when Vila couldn’t see his face. He tried to control his breathing and answered Vila as curtly as he could. Sentimentality was a weakness, a stupid weakness. He was above that, of course. He always had been.
It just went to prove once again that you could not rely on other people. That you couldn’t trust any of them, even if they seemed like you could. Even if they seemed as though they wouldn’t disappoint you. The only person he had ever been able to rely on was Anna and it was he who had failed her.
Oh Anna … he did not want to think about her, not here. Not right now. That would make him think of other things, worse things. Things he did not want to think about. Ever.
Vila suddenly seemed to wriggle, dragging his arm up over Avon’s hip and then onto his chest. Automatically, Avon yanked away from the uncomfortably intimate touch.
“What are you doing?”
“Sorry,” Vila said, sounding contrite. “It’s just my arm was going to sleep. There’s no space in here.”
Well, that was certainly true. He was closer to Vila than he’d ever quite intended to be, tell the truth. Still, sparring with Vila was better than thinking and he decided to jump into it.
“I suppose I should consider myself luck the rest of you is still awake.”
“Fat chance of sleeping in here!” Vila sounded far too cheerful for someone stuffed in a cold mortuary drawer. “They didn’t even bother to put in a pillow.”
Typical Vila, inane comments in a time of crisis. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant though. Sometimes, it was even rather amusing – not that Avon ever intended to let Vila know that.
“I doubt anyone has ever complained.”
It was actually helping him not think until Vila blew it with his next, ill-thought out sentence.
“And you know, you’re a lousy bed partner. Are you always this awkward and unyielding, or is it just because we’re stuck in a drawer and people are trying to kill us.”
Avon found it very hard to take in the last part of that sentence. He was too focused on the first.
“You’ll have to ask Gahl. He was the last person I regularly shared a bed with.”
He had not particularly meant to tell Vila that. He had not particularly meant to tell anyone that. It was too revealing, too … unfortunate. It was not their business. Not anybody’s business. And it would give Blake an excuse to look at him with sympathy, make noises of understanding. Avon did not like being understood.
Was Vila going to be understanding now? Which was more unbearable, being understood by Blake or by Vila? Actually, that wasn’t a question, Blake was worse every time. And with Blake’s understanding might come with something else and Avon wasn’t quite sure that he was ready for that.
No. He knew damn well he wasn’t ready for that.
Not that he was in love with Blake. Or even liked Blake. He wasn’t so stupid, never could be so stupid. Blake was … good-looking in a certain sort of way. And yes, there was a certain … pull there. But Blake was “married to his cause” as people rather nauseatingly said. Avon preferred to see it as Blake being blinded by stupidity, unable to see what was in front of his face. Stubborn and stupid and strangely admirable for all of that.
“No thanks,” Vila said and it took Avon a moment to work out the question that Vila was actually answering, his mind had been so far away. “He seems like a bit of a scumball to me. Choose your friends more carefully next time, Avon.”
It was rather comforting to hear Vila be blunt and tactless. Certainly comforting to hear him be flippant about Avon’s ill-advised confession. At least he were not disturbed by it.
“As you once observed, Vila – I don’t have any friends,” he said because it was better to get back into their usual parry-and-thrust rather than think any further.
“Course you do,” Vila said, which wasn’t really playing the game at all. “What about me? What about Cally? And Blake?”
That last one was a little too close to the bone. It needed to be crushed instantly.
“Blake? Scraping the barrel a little early there, Vila.”
Vila ignored the interruption and continued to ramble. Avon let the rambles wash over him. Irritating as it was to admit, perhaps he could consider Vila a friend. Not a bad friend either, as long as you didn’t mind the fact that the man was an aggravating coward who didn’t know when the shut up and was beginning to show a tendency of drinking too much wine. Cally was a good friend too with the added bonus that she could actually shut up when you wanted to – and the added disadvantage that she never held an opinion back if she wanted to offer it. Even Jenna wasn’t a bad companion – they were not terribly close but she was pragmatic and strong.
And Blake …
Well. Blake. He was Blake.
Perhaps he wasn’t so entirely terrible.
“Avon. Vila. Stand by to teleport.
Avon felt Vila give him something that was definitely a hug before the strange sensation that heralded teleportation hit him. He decided not to comment on it. Doubtless Vila would only deny it anyway. Or look smug, as though he’d won some sort of victory. Which of course, he hadn’t.
Then they were lying on the floor of the teleporter and Blake was bending anxiously over them both.
“Are you all right?” he asked, looking at Avon as he spoke and offering his hand to help Avon to his feet.
Of course, Avon did not accept the hand. There were far too many people watching for that. However, he did allow Blake a nod that he supposed could be counted as courteous.
Vila started babbling about how long-suffering he was then which was useful as it meant Avon didn’t have to say anything else. Blake didn’t say anything else to him either but he put his hand on Avon’s shoulder, very briefly and squeezed before moving away.
Avon decided not to protest. He told himself it was because that it could have been worse, far more patronising and annoying and even gloating (because Blake was not above gloating, he knew that) As it was, none of them said anything about his unfortunate choice. Blake simply said that they would be moving on and that was all.
It was almost decent of him really.
It was possible that there were worse people than Blake to give his loyalty to.