Disclaimer: oh, shush.
The brief epilogue to Souls of discretion. Some closure.
Vila had been watching them bicker for the last hour and a half. It was almost like nothing had changed. He himself was still foggy with sleep, having been dragged up by Blake's apologetic bark at some hellish time earlier this morning. It wasn't the most relaxing way to regain consciousness, he had to say, to surface instantly into the warning that since they'd been hanging rather conspicuously around Orthrax for the last twenty hours they'd better be prepared for some retaliation.
Vila was sitting in the corner of the teleport room -- it was nice and unobtrusive, letting him monitor everything that went on without significant risk of being asked to do something nasty. When Avon had left, a few minutes ago, the level of tension had dramatically reduced. Unfortunately, now he was back. With news. It appeared, Vila realised, with a jolt of sickly adrenaline, that retaliation was suddenly very much on the cards.
"What do you mean, we're surrounded?" Blake demanded angrily, glaring at Avon as if the technician might be making it up.
Avon faced him off, actually growling; "What do you think I mean? Could it be that we've loitered around this damned planet long enough for the Federation to send in everything it's got? Or is that concept too alien to --"
"How many?" asked Cally swiftly, and Avon didn't even look at her as he bit off,
"Nine?!" Blake sounded aghast, but still made distressingly no movement toward ordering retreat.
Vila felt his voice drop to a panicked whine. "I hate to interrupt but shouldn't we be running for our lives around now?" he prompted hurriedly, as neither man moved. "Hey, listen to me--"
Blake folded his arms. "How long have we got?" He sounded resolute. Terrifyingly so. Vila had a strong feeling this was not the right side of Safe Negotiation.
"You'll never manage it," Avon warned, dangerously soft.
Blake glared at him, but directed his question at Cally. "How long before the planet becomes accessible again?"
Avon bared his teeth. "Too long," he snarled; "They'll be within firing range in six minutes -- you will never make it. And while I couldn't care less if the Federation wants to gun you down, I am not going to let you give them my head as well!"
"Twenty minutes," Cally said quietly, hovering by the door.
Blake paused, and Vila could feel his blood heating up with dread. "C'mon, Blake," he urged, agonised by the slowness. "Let's go, let's run; we can always come back, can't we? It's not like we're going far, just far enough to get out the way of their plasma bolts -- 's not much to ask, is it? Is it? No Vila, it's a perfectly reasonable request, I totally understand why you don't want to spend the next five minutes looking at the inside of a very big Liberator-shaped explosion..."
He trailed off helplessly, feeling sick, looking from one to the other. Avon looked harsh, radiating impatience; Blake was silent. Didn't they realise it was so much more fun to argue when your friend's life wasn't on the line? "Please," Vila pressed anxiously, wishing Gan was here to exchange worried looks with.
Blake looked at him tensely, then nodded. "All right."
Vila felt his heart soar... and then plunge again, as Blake's voice came hard and demanding; "I want you all in position. We're going for a fast retreat, going to get clear of the outer edge of their firing range; I want to swing round, lose them, then veer back in and take them out one by one." He looked round, suddenly impatient, and gestured Vila insistently out the door. "Go, Vila!"
Vila went, feet pounding, soles skidding.
"Avon," he heard behind him, Blake's voice quieter but still businesslike, slightly short of breath as they ran for the flight deck, "I want you next to me; this is tricky manoeuvre, and you know what to look for-- Like we discussed--"
Vila tuned it out, reaching the flight deck and finding the others already in position. He also tuned out the space where Gan used to sit, and the terror that rose up inside him every time they fired a shot, and the unholy relief he felt as the ninth ship on the screen flashed out of existence, and the new propinquity between Blake and Avon as they burnt each Federation vessel viciously out of the sky.
Jenna looked resolute, but tired, and handed the controls over to Avon before retiring. Vila watched her leave, then elected to follow Cally around until she took pity on him and gave him a shoulder rub. He didn't know if it was a telepathic thing or if she just had great hands, but she always managed to search out the stubborn points and knead them into submission. Always welcome, but especially at the moment; his fingers had started tingling worrying, recently. And he may not be an intellect but he could still read warning signs, and even if it was only stress he had a large investment in his fingers. He needed them working properly. So did the rest of them, for that matter.
At least, that was what he was going to tell Cally. She never could resist curing him -- because he was always so profusely grateful, they'd decided. Maybe he'd get round to mentioning this ache he'd developed in his belly as well... Though that probably wouldn't be wise. That complaint was due less to stress and more to strolling past the flight deck late last night and feeling the bottom drop out of his abruptly-hot stomach as he watched an overly charged drama unfold in new and exciting directions.
He couldn't tell Cally about that. He couldn't tell anyone, actually; gossip and speculation, they were practically crimes on this ship. Too inconsequential, to be second-guessing people publicly when you risked your lives every other day. Maybe the fear was of losing someone you'd trivialised the previous day. So far, Vila hadn't seen any friendships on board strong enough to wave it away. It left him with a lot of secrets, a lot of unresolved conjecture -- enough to drive a stalwart man to drink, and what chance did that leave him?
On the other hand, Cally was a telepath, and that had to be useful for something, right? She'd realise, sooner or later. Sooner, if Vila laid it on a bit thick. Sooner still if Vila suggested giving everyone shoulder rubs; even if Avon declined with typical ice, it would be difficult to remain ignorant when faced with the red nail-prints scattered across the back of Blake's neck.
He felt the ship turning, and his stomach ached a bit more. Back to the planet, then. He had to admit, he sided with Avon on this one; what's the point in making friends that'll only slow you down? Survival of the fittest, that's the game they were playing these days. Gan proved that. And it was only going to get worse.
He found Cally still musing over the teleport. Scanning for aquitar was a delicate process, but she seemed to like that sort of work, the detailed stuff. It wasn't for him; he preferred fiddly physical things, and left the mental intricacy to other people. She smiled as he entered, nodding for him to come and sit down.
"I'm just trying to narrow down our search," she told him, after a moment, tapping something into the console. Something blinked. She tapped quickly at something else, then frowned.
Vila nodded vaguely, happy just to be out of their atmosphere. He wondered briefly what they'd be doing, left alone again with the adrenaline of battle to work off, and then decided there was a time and a place for that sort of contemplation, and it really wasn't right now. Late at night, perhaps.
After a few minutes of silence, she glanced up at him and sighed. "This is a bit of a lost cause, really, I'm afraid."
"What isn't," Vila said gloomily.
She made a wry smile. "This is a specific lost cause."
"Let me guess: the specific loss of our latest cause."
She nodded. "You are observant."
"Just my lightning quick evaluation skills on the evidence available," he said, with a little flourish, "as usual. There's no chance of retrieval, then?" he guessed, hoping he didn't sound too hopeful.
"Very little. And even if we did, it wouldn't matter. I just realised. When Blake opened the case to put the bracelet in, he broke the vacuum. There was already enough moisture in the air to kill Doran -- the levels on your suits confirmed it."
Vila stared at her. This was, to paraphrase a genius (himself), not good. "So you're telling me, even if we get it back there won't be anything inside it?"
"I'm afraid so." She shrugged delicately. "Except some dust, I expect. Probably. I don't think the acid levels were high enough to reduce it completely"
"Lovely. A great show for all our trouble: some probable dust." Then, cautiously, he asked, "Well, who's going to tell Blake?"
She grimaced. "We may not have to. I hope we don't have to. He'll feel awful; it was just thoughtlessness, in the heat of the moment."
"Avon will have a field day," Vila said gloomily, then felt a rise of odd fury. "They've-- they've been bickering about that thing for hours," he said suddenly, voice rising indignantly. "This is just wonderful -- do you know, I almost got killed for the sake of something that dissolved nearly twelve hours ago!"
Cally patted his hand. "We all did. It's been really difficult. Which is why..."
"...We're going to keep quiet," Vila finished for her, and sighed deeply. It was inevitable, really, but still bloody unfair. All this trouble, and now he had to put on a brave face just to save Blake a bit more guilt. Honestly. He was much worse off than Blake -- he wasn't the one getting a very nice-looking blowjob off Avon on the flight deck after the rest of them had gone to bed, no, he was the one left gaping at them, getting gradually more and more uncomfortably turned on, totally powerless in the face of exclusion to the nth degree.
Cally was looking at him expectantly. He thought back, and realised the sigh had been a patent Vila-about-to-complain sigh. He felt a bit hot, again, with the turn of his thoughts, and shrugged. "It's so unfair," he bemoaned, feeling the ache in his stomach curdle into little mocking flames. "Why can't people appreciate it when I'm so nobly, heroically selfless?"
She smiled at him, then directed his attention at the screen on the tabletop. "Here. This is the zone we searched already." She traced a long wavy red line that blinked under her fingernail, then pressed a button and it curled and shifted sideways. Cunning, Vila thought, nonplussed. He tried to look keen. "Unfortunately," she said, "the landscape will have totally remodelled itself after a storm of that force-- however, I think I can compensate, so this ought to be an accurate projection. Their caves won't be affected, only the cosmetic surface."
"Rocks and trees and things," Vila hazarded, wondering how she'd managed to get hold of data on acid storms, then deciding he didn't want to know. His field of excellence was liberation; why would he need another? That reminded him...
"Yes, that's right. But since we have their caves pinpointed, we can work outwards-- and with any luck, once Blake realises it's a lost cause he'll give up gracefully--"
"You know," he interrupted politely, "I think I'm under-appreciated."
She blinked, then smiled indulgently. "And why's that?"
"My hands. My nimble, remarkably talented hands-- do you know how much you owe to them? When it comes down to it?" He paused dramatically, but not long enough for her to actually answer. "Your life, that's what. About seven times over."
"I sense you're about to ask for something."
She was in good humour: excellent. He wouldn't have to argue his case for long. And even if he did, a little coaxing would do him good, maybe tame a bit of this excess energy bounding around his veins. "See," he said, aiming for the fine line between confidante and blatant flattery, "I knew you were a good telepath. I've always said that: Cally, I've said, Cally, now she is a good telepath, a good telepath and a kind and helpful friend... I've said that. Many times. To all sorts of people. Sometimes, at great personal risk, too. Now, the thing is..."
He could still see them, polluting the space behind his eyes, making it filthy and too hot. Something wouldn't let the pictures fade. Avon's spine going bow-taut as he gasped -- sounding sweetly dazed -- and came, mouth bruised; Blake's stunned dark lust as he watched, fist working; the torn rush of their breath surging down Vila's throat, lodging painfully in his stomach. He hadn't relaxed since, the tightness reviving itself periodically, every six seconds.
Theoretically of course, he hadn't been overwhelmed with surprise to realise which direction the tension flowed, but he did wish they'd chosen another place to... settle their issues. It wasn't that he disapproved of messy spontaneity on the whole, and he certainly understood that two egos like that wouldn't leave room for considering anyone else in the universe, but-- weren't they even vaguely familiar with the concept of discretion?