Kerr Avon/Del TarrantRating:
In which Avon is a (mostly) well-mannered sadist and Tarrant is an (unambiguously) awful pain in the neck.Warnings:
Contains recreational violence.Notes:
Set after Harvest of Kairos
. Aggravation, on AO3
“What did you do with it?”
Tarrant didn’t turn or acknowledge Avon’s question. He was high up on Liberator’s flight deck busy snapping commands at Dayna, Cally and Zen even-handedly and giving the general impression of being monarch of all he surveyed.
What puzzled Avon slightly was how all the others had started to let him. Vila was easy enough; the man was susceptible to Tarrant’s version of high handedness just as he had been to Blake. Dayna hadn’t been on board long enough to think of Tarrant as a newcomer. She’d follow whoever seemed to be in command as long as they didn’t push her too far. Cally, on the other hand, ought to know a great deal better. He would talk to her about it as soon as he could get her alone.
“Tarrant.” Avon raised his voice slightly. Only slightly. He waited. As if drawn reluctantly around by the force of his will, Tarrant turned to face him .
“Do with what?”
That wouldn’t do. When Avon had woken he’d been instantly aware that the lump of Sophron was no longer on his bedside table. He’d hunted down the only possible culprit breakfasting in the galley, but despite his best attempts at intimidation the thief could tell him only that he’d been following orders.
Tarrant’s orders. Two words that really had no place being spoken together. Avon was starting to get distinctly irritated about Del Tarrant.
“You know what. Where is it?”
“That lump of rock of yours had to go I’m afraid. Orac insisted.” Tarrant’s tone was what might be described as “airy”. Avon wasn’t buying the fake unconcern for a second. This confrontation had been engineered.
“Orac insisted?” Avon spared a glance for the box and the key lying on top of it. “Since when does Orac get to insist on anything?” The women were watching |them, waiting for the fireworks to get started. Vila was hovering in the corridor behind him, doing the same. Avon did not like the idea that his behaviour was this predictable but Tarrant had stolen his rock.
“Orac made a very strong case. Your Sophron was too unpredictable and dangerous to keep on board. It was an alien intelligence, after all, Avon.”
Avon fully intended to show him what unpredictable and dangerous really meant. Very soon. “So instead of waking up the one person on board who has any understanding of either Orac or the Sophron and asking for my informed opinion, you sent Vila in to steal it while I was asleep.”
“Yes.” Tarrant said cheerfully. “You seemed rather attached to it. I thought it would be better that way. A clean break.”
The rock was no longer on board. Avon had checked with Zen before he came up to the flight deck. Tarrant must have jettisoned it in deep space, no doubt in a way that would not allow its recovery. Avon was seething with rage but he tried not to let too much of it show. He didn’t want Tarrant too much on his guard.
Blake wouldn’t have taken such liberties and Blake had had at least some legitimate claim to leading them. Del Tarrant was no Roj Blake. He was an upstart chancing his arm and Avon would have to find a way to make quite sure that he didn’t chance it any further.
Unfortunately he suspected that right now Tarrant was keyed up for a fight rather than a mere argument, which might well mean that he was carrying some sort of weapon. Avon didn’t feel inclined to play along with that. If Tarrant needed stabbing he would do it in the back and to his own timetable.
“Orac is programmed to be excessively concerned about its own safety,” he said, his voice only slightly sharp. “Its advice about anything that might constitute a risk to it should always be taken with a very large pinch of salt. If you’d asked me, I would have told you that and we could have retained a useful asset. Do try to think things through next time, Tarrant. What’s our current position and heading?”
He had the satisfaction of seeing the man flounder briefly. Avon was sure that Tarrant was mentally reviewing his statement looking for some way to escalate the argument, but he’d carefully avoided anything that could be regarded as giving offence whilst conceding nothing.
"We're in deep space in sector twelve, still, no heading as yet. I thought... "
"Good." Avon spoke over whatever Tarrant's thought might have been. "If we're not going anywhere for a day or two that gives me a chance to grow those adronite crystals I picked up last month. Zen, absolutely zero acceleration until further notice, subject to the usual emergency overrides, of course. Cally, if you're free I could do with a hand."
"Yes, of course.” Cally had been giving Avon one of her most unreadable stares. Now she strode across the fight deck towards him, apparently eager to get going.
"Fine," Tarrant said, for all the world as if they had been waiting for his command decision. "Well take a break for a day or so and Avon can do his gardening. I need to do a full manual weapons system check anyway."
"I'll help you with that," Dayna offered.
"Anyone need my help? No? What a shame. I'll be in the rec lounge." Villa said. He shuffled rather carefully past Avon, who had certainly not yet forgiven him for breaking into his room for all that it had obviously been Tarrant's idea.
"What are you playing at, Avon?" Cally’s voice was sharp.
Avon closed the door to the lab. "I was going to ask you the same question. Were you in on this burglary, too?”
"So when did you find out about it? Because you obviously knew before I arrived."
Cally looked slightly defensive. "I found out when Vila brought it back."
"Just part of the conspiracy to dump my property into deep space, then." As far as he thought well of anyone he'd thought better of Cally. So much for that.
"It wasn't yours, Avon. You just picked it up."
"And saved our lives with it and got back Liberator as a result, after our very own space cowboy had thrown the ship away. Don't tell me you sensed something terrible from the Sophron."
"Actually no," Cally retorted. "The rock was fine. It was you that I was worried about. I thought throwing it away might wake you up a bit."
"Wake me up?"
"Yes. Since you let Tarrant take over he's doing a really dreadful job of it. I thought maybe if he did something terribly stupid like taking your rock away you might pay some attention but you don't see to care about that, even."
Some telepath she was. Couldn't she tell he was furious? "I didn’t let Tarrant take over."
"Well he has, and you haven't stopped him. What else would you call it?"
Avon was beginning to feel a touch defensive himself. “You did the same.”
“Me?” Cally sounded genuinely surprised. “What could I have done? I can’t take Blake's place.”
“Because you wouldn’t let me, Avon. You’d challenge every decision I made. Blake might have been able to ride roughshod over your objections but I wouldn’t. Dayna's barely more than a child and her only solution to problems is to fight. Vila has been running away from responsibility all his life. It’s you or Tarrant and it should be you. You know that. What’s wrong with you?”
Was anything wrong with him? Avon turned to look for the crystal seeds, thinking about it.
“If he’s out there we’ll find him,” Cally’s voice behind him had lost its sharpness. “But it could take a long time until we know for sure. Until then you have to take charge of Liberator, Avon. It’s not Tarrant’s toy.”
“And do you think Tarrant will just give it up for the asking?” He found the metal case at the back of a cupboard. “Give me a hand with this. It mustn’t get tipped or jarred.”
“No, of course he won’t.” They carried the case flat between then, placed it carefully on the bench. “He’s spoiling for a fight. That’s why he threw away the rock.”
Avon felt a flicker of renewed anger at the reminder of his loss. “I agree with you there, at least, which is why he didn’t get one. I’m not going to get hustled into a public brawl for his entertainment.”
“So what are you going to do, Avon?”
“I’m working on it.” He would have to think of something, and soon. Each time Tarrant pushed him around and got away with it would make it that much harder to get the man to back down. “Can we get on now? These crystals will take most of two days to grow large enough to be any use and the less time we need at zero acceleration the better. Liberator’s potentially a sitting duck until we can move again.”
Avon spent all day and evening in the lab. Tarrant didn't appear and he got nothing but the most routine of messages from the rest of the crew. It was late before he got back to his rooms and had a chance to think without distraction about the thorny issue of Del Tarrant.
He could try democracy, otherwise known as force of numbers. Cally was an ally, though possibly a passive one. That left Vila and possibly Dayna, although Avon didn't think the girl's opinion would carry much weight with anyone either way. It would be best to establish where he stood with Vila before things came to any more of a head. Recruiting the thief shouldn't be difficult - he would just have to persuade Vila that Tarrant was reckless and likely to get them all killed. After Kairos that should be self evident.
He changed and ate something then checked with Zen that Vila was in his quarters. It was very late; a good time to catch him off balance. As he came up past Tarrant's room the door opened and Avon stopped, briefly wondering if it was Tarrant come to ambush him. But it was Dayna who stepped out, clearly startled to see him. "Avon! Goodnight!" and she was away towards her own rooms, barefoot and with half her clothes bundled under her arm.
Avon stepped forward and caught the door before it could close behind her, his intention to visit Vila temporarily forgotten. Tarrant was lounging on his bed in nothing but a loose robe. The sight infuriated Avon further.
"What was Dayna doing here?"
"Just a friendly visit. She's a very friendly girl when you get to know her." Tarrant's smile was smug enough for Avon not to need to pose any more questions.
"No. This stops now."
"I don't see that is any of your business."
"Het family were brutally murdered just a few weeks ago. She's lost everyone and everything familiar. The last thing she needs right now is a sexual predator twice her age."
"I am not twice her age!" Tarrant protested.
"Near enough. And you're not even arguing the predator bit. You will leave her alone, Tarrant." Avon hadn't intended to start a confrontation but he was genuinely disturbed by the discovery.
"You don't get to tell me what to do." Tarrant's grin was wholly unfriendly. "You don't seem to realise that you don’t get to tell anyone what to do, Kerr Avon. On this ship you're nothing but a rather lippy computer technician. Now get out of my bedroom."
Avon considered the likely consequences of immediate violence without any great enthusiasm. "This isn't over, Tarrant. I will make sure of that." He swept out to find some back up.
Cally wasn't particularly pleased to see him. She had obviously been asleep. "What is it?"
"Tarrant's sleeping with Dayna,” he said baldly.
"You woke me up to tell me that?" She didn't sound impressed.
"So you knew and didn't bother telling me. Surely you're concerned?"
Cally shrugged. "It's none of my business, or yours. She's an adult and he doesn't appear to be making her unhappy; the contrary, if anything. She's been through a very rough time, why shouldn't she have some fun? They're both young, physically attractive and single; you might consider it inevitable."
Avon had expected her support. "You've changed your tune. I thought you didn't have any time for him."
Cally shook her head. "Not at all. I like Del Tarrant. He's fun, charismatic, impulsive." All things Avon clearly was not. " I just don't want to trust our lives and the ship to him."
"But you'll entrust Dayna?"
"That's their business, Avon. Don't interfere." She frowned at him. "Oh. You've done it already, haven't you? Which one did you argue with?"
'Tarrant. He's a totally unprincipled rogue and Dayna's vulnerable. May I remind you that you were the one who wanted me to take charge, Cally."
"Not like this!" she snapped. "Did you really think that Tarrant was going to take any notice of your diktat on his love life? What were you thinking, Avon?"
He'd been so annoyed by Tarrant's multiple offences that he hadn't been thinking at all. Cally was right; he'd been dragged by emotion into a clumsy and inevitably futile confrontation about the wrong subject entirely.
"Go back to bed," Cally suggested firmly. "Apologise to Tarrant in the morning. Goodnight, Avon." And she closed her door.
Tarrant had clearly updated Dayna on the night's events before Avon arrived for the communal breakfast. She glared daggers at him all the way through his coffee. Cally was quiet, Tarrant overbearing and Vila confused. There could hardly be a worse start to Avon's campaign to reclaim Liberator.
He might as well start with something uncontroversial. "The crystals will take another seven hours. Then we can leave."
"Too long,” Tarrant said. "We've been in one place for quite long enough. Make it four."
"You misunderstand me." Avon retorted. "It isn't open to negotiation. They will take seven hours to reach optimum size. Nothing you or I can do will change that, however hard you stamp your feet and sulk."
"Then they will have to be smaller. We are not staying here longer than four hours." Tarrant seemed determined to press the point regardless of logic.
"They are spare parts for the teleport." Avon said, slowly and clearly as if to someone very stupid. "If they aren't full size then we risk malfunction. I imagine that you don't want to use a teleport that missed its target by ten feet."
Tarrant shrugged. "Personally I don't mind walking that far. But then I'm young and fit. I can see that it might be a problem for you."
"Ten feet on the way down is nothing, I agree. Ten feet on the way back could be rather more serious. Do you know what's within ten feet of the teleport platform? "
"Cold vacuum," Vila said. "Ugh. I think we should wait for the crystals to grow to full size."
"I don't. " Dayna's voice was sharp. "The teleport doesn't need any parts replacing. It probably never will. Avon's just making us hang around unnecessarily. Del's right- we should keep on the move."
"An unsurprising vote of confidence, and a completely unqualified judgement." Avon sighed. "I hope you don't expect your loyalty to be reciprocated. Tarrant doesn't care about anyone but himself."
"OK. Just what's going on?" Vila demanded. "This doesn't sound like an argument about crystals."
"Shut up, Vila." Tarrant said.
"What's going on is that Dayna has taken a shine to our very own wolf in sheep's clothing. Until she comes to her senses it seems that we will have to put up with her unthinking support for whatever nonsense Tarrant comes out with.” Avon stood up. “I shall be in the lab for the next seven hours. After that we can go wherever the lot of you decide. I really don’t care.” And he walked out.
"I like you, Avon." Tarrant said.
Avon nearly glanced up from the microscope. That really wasn't what he'd been expecting to hear. Leather rustled as Tarrant perched himself on the table a couple of feet away.
“You shouldn’t,” Avon suggested.
"I did like you, anyway. You were smart and cunning and unscrupulous and you cared about this ship, if not always the people inside it. A bad enemy but a good ally. Together we could have really burned up the galaxy. It will be Liberator's loss when you go."
"How fortunate then for Liberator that I'm not going anywhere." He could make out seven tiny perfect crystals in the solution as well as half a dozen misshapen discards. They needed to grow for another four hours or so before he would undertake the delicate task of extracting them and packing them in microfoam in case they were ever required for repairs.
"Aren't you? Where are these crystals, anyway? "
"Here." Avon placed a very careful finger against the petri dish under the lens.
"In there? I thought they'd be big shiny things, the fuss you were making."
Avon smiled. "Small but perfectly formed, I believe the phrase is."
"Not a phrase I find myself in much need of." Tarrant sounded, as usual, self satisfied. "Let me see them."
Avon looked up at the other man. "No, I don't think so. They are delicate and you seem to be particularly heavy handed at the moment. Why are you in here, by the way? Apart from making your declaration of affection, which I find myself unable to wholly reciprocate?"
"If we do this on the flight deck you'll keep on playing to the gallery and the others will interfere."
"They do have a say in the matter," Avon pointed out.
Tarrant shrugged off the idea. "If we settle this here they'll go along with the result. "
"Are we likely to settle this here?" Avon sat back from the microscope and took a surreptitious glance for weapons. Tarrant appeared to be empty handed. He supposed that explaining how he'd come to accidentally shoot Avon might be beyond even Tarrant's ability to bluster successfully.
"We could agree to."
Avon snorted. "A duel of honour? Winner takes Liberator, loser agrees to walk away?"
"Something like that."
"Not a chance." He smiled at Tarrant. "Do you take me for a fool? Liberator is my ship. I would never gamble her away on the outcome of whatever idiotic contest you've thought up."
"That's a pity," Tarrant said. " That was the least uncivilised way to settle this for both of us. "
"I wondered how long it would take you to get to vague threats." Avon turned back to his microscope but he wasn't paying attention to anything he could see through it. He was listening for Tarrant's next move.
A brief silence before the other man spoke again. "This thing with Dayna. It's not serious."
For the second time in five minutes Avon was taken by surprise. He'd fully expected a claim of romance and affection.
"I didn't think for a second that you took it seriously, no."
"Actually I might have tried to make a go of it but Dayna's not interested. I'm not her type, apparently. None of us are. I'm good enough for a casual fling but she doesn't have much time for me otherwise." Tarrant's hurt feelings sounded genuine but Avon didn't imagine they ran particularly deep.
"And you're telling me this because?"
"There's really no need for you to feel jealous, Avon."
Avon jerked the microscope and cursed but fortunately his crystals were still intact. "You misread me completely. I have absolutely no sexual or romantic interest in Dayna." The thought bordered on distasteful.
"Did I say that you had?"
Avon briefly reviewed what had been said, looked across into Tarrant's smirk. "A moment ago we were discussing control of Liberator. Is this new tangent of any relevance?"
"You have a problem, Avon. Don't you think it would be safest just to walk away from it with no more said? We can drop you anywhere you like. There's even plenty of Liberator's wealth to go round; you wouldn’t have to leave empty handed."
Avon pushed his chair back and stood up. He was eye to eye with Tarrant, still perched on the lab desk.
"Let me get this straight. You have decided, for reasons known only to yourself though I would dearly love to hear them, that I have a problem that involves being jealous about you. You think you can use this mysterious affliction to blackmail me into leaving. Is that right? "
"I would have preferred an honest contest," Tarrant told him. "But since you wouldn't co-operate, I have to use what's to hand. Obviously your position is untenable as things stand."
"If I ever have to play poker against you I'll remember your penchant for bluffing on a non-existent hand, Tarrant. Your stab in the dark just missed completely. "
" I don't think so. I’ve seen the way you look at me. Want to put it to the test?"
The ironic thing, Avon thought, keeping Tarrant’s gaze, was that he was far too much in control of his emotions to ever think of anyone on Liberator in those terms, however infuriating they got. If he had, of course, then it would have been Tarrant, especially after the last two days but taking advantage of Tarrant would have been nearly as despicable as Tarrant had been with Dayna. He did have some moral standards.
“I don’t have a problem,” he said. “But if I were you I would be very careful of what you were offering, and to whom.” And if the man didn’t have the sense to back off then Avon might just take him up on it. The thought made him smile. It wouldn’t come to that, of course, but it was amusing to imagine what he could do with Tarrant’s free consent. Far more entertaining than a brawl, certainly.
Tarrant smiled back, clearly mistaking his amusement for something less inimical. "Since you don't have a problem and I certainly don't, I take it that we're on?"
Gods. The idiot had been angling for this all along. "Just how will this resolve matters?"
Tarrant shrugged. "Why don't we see who ends up on top?"
He couldn't have played more neatly into Avon's predilections if he'd actually known about them. Avon was finding it increasingly difficult to make a serious effort at dissuasion. He glanced towards the lab door. Conscience demanded one last go at making Tarrant understand.
"I'm not interested in playing nicely. You will end up not just on the bottom but probably in the med unit. I don't imagine that's your idea of a good time. I advise you to think of some other way to resolve this." It was reasonably fair warning, he felt. It couldn't be considered his fault that Tarrant might just see it as a challenge.
Tarrant was laughing. "Am I meant to be intimidated?"
"You're meant to be warned."
"All right then. Consider me warned. Here?"
"Certainly not." There were items in here Avon didn't want broken. "I need fifteen minutes to replenish the solution." And to think. "After that I'll be in my quarters. If you don't turn up I won't mention it again."
"I'll be there." Tarrant slid off the desk and strutted out.
At least this would keep the man occupied until the crystals were finished. Avon dripped solution very carefully into the dish, noting a slight tendency for his hand to shake that hadn't been there before. It had been a long time and Del Tarrant's brand of machismo was going to be far more interesting to deal with than the good natured compliance of a naturally submissive partner. Also he was going to answer for Avon's rock.
He finished the task without any mistakes, collected a few useful bits and pieces from various parts of the lab and left six minutes after Tarrant had. A little preparation was going to be needed. Back in his rooms he had barely finished giving Zen its detailed instructions when there was a loud knock on the door.
Avon held the door open for Tarrant without a word then locked it behind him. Tarrant had changed into a loose red tunic cut deep down the front and tight black leather leggings. Avon was apparently intended to appreciate the overall effect and he supposed that he did, particularly the rear view. He hadn't bothered to change just for Tarrant's benefit.
"Now you give me your safe word."
Tarrant laughed. "You're not serious! I don't need one."
Avon had expected this. "Yes you do. Without it you're going nowhere but through that door again."
"I suppose if you insist. I've never had one before. What do I choose? "
Avon shrugged. "The traditional guidance suggests something that you can remember under stress, sounds unlike anything else and you aren't likely to say otherwise."
"What's yours?” And into the pause. "Come on, Avon. Sauce for the goose and all that. I might need to know. "
Avon had no intention of ending up in that sort of situation but if it got Tarrant past this rather pointless administrative hiccup... "Archimedes."
"How dull." Tarrant's eyes were sparkling. "All right then. Roj Blake. "
Avon had far better things to do that to argue. "Don't forget it. Nothing else is going to get you out of this." He stepped forward and clamped his hand against the side of Tarrant's neck.
"What the?" Tarrant yanked the empty hand away, stared at it in some confusion and crumpled. Avon caught him, lowered the dead weight to the carpet, noting that Tarrant was heavier than he'd expected: he was going to pull a muscle shifting him around if he wasn't careful.
"What the hell was that?"
"Time elapsed, Zen?"Seventeen minutes and thirty nine seconds.
He'd been dosing for fifteen. It was a bigger margin of error than he'd hoped for, not that it mattered in this case. He glanced over to Tarrant. "Any nausea, confusion, headache?"
"You're very considerate all of a sudden." Tarrant tugged on the restraints, testing. "I wouldn't have thought a little queasiness would concern you."
"It's an experimental skin contact anaesthetic. I've had limited opportunity to test it on other people. Feedback on any discomfort would be useful."
"I can't say that I'm exactly comfortable." Tarrant shook the short chain between his left wrist and the head of the bed. "This is definitely cheating."
"Headache or nausea?" Clearly Tarrant wasn't confused.
"No. But I'm not impressed, Avon, either by being used as a guinea pig for your untested drugs or the results."
"You think I should have wrestled you down by force? Or asked you nicely to take your clothes off and lie down?"
"One of those two, certainly." Tarrant tried to shift up the bed a little so that he wasn't flat on his back but the chain around his left ankle didn't give him more than three or four inches of movement.
Avon laughed. "I'd rather not have to rely on either your physical weakness or your cooperation. Your limited intelligence, on the other hand; that I'm always happy to depend upon." He had removed the tunic while Tarrant was unconscious and was reaping the benefit now as he watched muscles flexed. A sudden urge came to run his fingernails across bare skin. Slow down, he told himself. Get this right.
"So why didn't you do it properly? Run out of chains?"
He'd certainly imagined Tarrant waking up to find himself naked and spreadeagled across the bed. It had been an entertaining notion but no more than that. Two fixed points, left ankle and left wrist, gave him flexibility and his victim the illusion of some freedom. "Unsubtle as always, Tarrant. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."
"So what exactly are you doing?" Tarrant had managed to prop himself up lopsidedly on his free elbow. The intended impression of casual ease was rather ruined by his other hand wrapped around the chain above his head.
Avon started to unbuckle the belt around his own shirt. "Taking advantage."
He could see Tarrant thinking, watching him strip half naked. Deciding how to play this, given his limited hand. There. A decision, the expected one.
"Do get on with it then. I came for the sex, not to hear you maunder about experiments."
Avon smiled at him. "Oh, you'll get that. When I'm ready."
"I'm sorry, old chap. Takes a while, does it? That’s middle age for you." Tarrant said. "Maybe a treatment for impotence should be next on your lab schedule."
Very funny. The body on the bed was undeniably rather well put together and the chains enhanced it nicely but Avon wasn't yet feeling anything like overwhelmed with lust. It wasn't a problem. He knew what he needed do about that.
Tarrant would let him get close, partly because the man was starting to get aroused despite his predicament (the leggings didn't hide much) but mainly because he'd be waiting for an opportunity to turn the tables with Avon in reach. That's why Avon had left him enough rope or absence of it to hang himself. So when he slid one leg over the leather clad thighs and knelt looking down at the man below him Tarrant did nothing but reach out with his free hand to slide his fingers through the sparse hair on Avon's chest and grin a challenge up at him.
Avon swung his weight forward as he grabbed Tarrant's loose wrist and forced it down by the man's ear. The body bucked ineffectually several times then went still. Tarrant was breathing fast, eyes on his.
"Why did you take my rock?" Avon asked, pleasantly enough.
"I told you. Orac."
"You told me the excuse. Now you're going to tell me the reason." His free hand mimicked Tarrant's caress across the chest, then his fingernails dug in hard, scratching a red furrow across the skin. No blood. Not yet.
Tarrant hissed discomfort. "Ow. Stop that."
"No." He did it again, this time across the taut stomach.
"Is this the sort of thing that gets you off?"
"One of the things. Are you going to answer the question? "
" Fuck off, you bloody amateur. Dayna's fingernails are sharper."
Quite possibly, but she clearly didn't use them. The only marks on Tarrant were the ones he was leaving. Avon went for a twisted nipple, saw Tarrant's eyes narrow slightly with the pain.
"This is pathetic. Is it all you've got?"
Avon slid a small metal stylus out of his trouser pocket, held it up for Tarrant to see. "I also have a laser scalpel. It produces a focused laser beam that penetrates soft materials to the specified depth. One millimetre."
The line he drew was no more than a faint white mark across the skin.
"Three millimetres." Blood beaded intermittently along the thin line. "As you can see, it doesn't hurt. Not yet. Shall I go to five now, or shall we have a chat about my stone first?"
"You're crazy," Tarrant told him.
"You were warned." He wondered if that would produce the safe word but if Tarrant remembered his get out he wasn't yet ready to use it. "Five." He sliced neatly through the laced thong holding Tarrant's leggings together from waist to groin. Tarrant's exposed erection seemed surprisingly robust.
"Get that thing away from me."
Instead Avon stroked the tip upwards from base to head. Underneath him Tarrant convulsed, desperately craning his head up to see what was happening. "Fuck!"
"This one also has a vibrating field function." Avon held it up again. "Would you like to guess which one it’s set to now?" He brought it down towards the reddened nipple.
"I couldn't captain Liberator with you arguing all the time." Tarrant snarled at him.
Avon's hand paused. "Go on."
"We were going to fight in earnest sometime. I wanted it done with. I don't enjoy your unremitting hostility. I'm an easy going sort of guy."
"As long as you get your own way."
"Yes, obviously." Tarrant grimaced up at him. "Liberator's a pretty good set up. The others I can work with. You were the fly in the ointment, so to speak."
"Which explains everything except why you tried to get me into bed. "
Tarrant smiled despite the proximity of the probe. "An imminent fight always makes me rather randy and you've got a nice arse. I thought it would be as good a way as any other to distract you long enough to get the jump on you, given the way you'd been looking at me. That's your question answered. Time to let me up."
"Not yet," Avon told him. "We've finished the interrogation, that's all. I still need to make sure you're going to stay in line."
The beam sliced right through the centre of Tarrant's nipple, five millimetres deep, and he shouted. More in shock, Avon thought, than pain, though it must smart like hell. Blood welled immediately all the way down the line. Now Tarrant was starting to be worth looking at.
Avon waited for him to catch his breath.
"The others will be in here..."
"Zen's put up sound dampening fields in all the surrounding corridors. You can scream as loud as you like."
"Are you going to carry on slicing me up until I give you that bloody safe word?"
Avon had no desire to push the man into bringing a premature end to his entertainment. "No. I'm going to carry on until I'm ready to move on with proceedings." He smiled. "A couple more screams and a little more blood will probably do it. I'm a man of straightforward tastes." His tastes were being met enough already that he was finding straddling Tarrant's thighs still clothed uncomfortable but he couldn't let the man up for a second. This might have stayed moreorless technically consensual but Tarrant was anything but submissive.
"You're a vicious bastard, Kerr Avon. "
"You stole my rock and you tried to steal my ship. What did you expect, kisses?"
Tarrant narrowed his eyes. "Do you even know how to kiss?"
Avon wasn't adverse to a demonstration at this point. It was a rather hot kiss on both sides even though Tarrant made an entirely predictable attempt to bite him and buck his hold off half way through. He retaliated with another welling red line, this time from cheek bone to jaw. He'd never done this with the facility of a med unit like Liberator's before. It allowed all sorts of liberties that normally would be socially inexcusable.
The arm pinning Tarrant's wrist was starting to ache badly. The man could slip his grasp if he wasn't careful which might not turn out so amusing. Avon suspected that Tarrant would happily beat him bloody right now even with one wrist chained to the bed. He needed to move things on.
Business before pleasure. "You and I," he told Tarrant, "are going to start getting along."
"It doesn't look like we’re getting on particularly well from down here."
"You can't have Liberator. Even if you got rid of me somehow, Cally doesn't want you in charge. Vila won't cooperate. Dayna's not going to play along for long. We didn't work that way even when we had Blake though it didn't stop him trying it on occasionally. If you want to stay on board then you need to change your attitude "
"And follow your orders, I suppose?"
Avon shook his head. “I'm not Blake. I don't have a mission for the ship. I'll use Liberator when I have need of her but I'm not going to waste my time trying to keep you lot in line the rest of the time."
He flicked the probe to vibrate to add another touch of persuasion and yes, it seemed Tarrant was keen enough for more of that, pushing his hips up against Avon’s hand The feel of the writhing body, the sight of its newest decorations, the poorly muffled sounds that Tarrant was making and the taste of the man’s bleeding mouth still on his tongue; Avon was impatient to be done with conversation now.
He forced himself to keep talking even as he started to grind his hips against those below him, Tarrant’s cock now thrusting hard and irregularly into his fist. "Think of it this way -wherever you want to take her we'll go, if you can persuade the rest of us that it’s a good idea.”
He paused, wondering whether he should let Tarrant, already closed-eyed and panting, come right now. No, better to make that orgasm conditional on him getting what he wanted. He let go, knelt up to drag his own trousers down past his hips and bent down again to lie flat along the red streaked chest and bruise Tarrant’s mouth with his as he thrust down against the man’s stomach. For a few moments they simply rutted up against each other before Avon pulled himself up again.
“Which is why you and I are going to make a serious effort to get on."
He was about to outline a particular way in which he felt they could both get on right now, which just happened to involve the lubricant that he’d left in arm’s reach under the bed, when Tarrant caught his breath, opened seemingly guileless eyes, smiled up at him broadly and said, very clearly, "Roj Blake."
Avon froze for a full three seconds. Then he climbed off the bed in one swift move, keeping out of Tarrant's reach, and flicked the switch on the remote for the cuffs.
Tarrant sat up, wiping a little blood out of his eye. Smears of crimson ran across his jaw and chest. He stretched his freed leg out straight, grimacing. "Cramp," he told Avon.
"You could just have told me," Avon said, annoyed. It was surely obvious even to a complete amateur that it was a lousy reason to use a safe word.
"Ah, but I’d been dying to say it all along. It’s just as much fun as I imagined. Your face was a picture.” Tarrant said, cheerfully.
Avon’s temper snapped. "Get out!” He was feeling extremely uncomfortable and he had the nasty feeling that he'd just been played. It was hard not to let his eyes drift to that bleeding mark on the man's face, knowing that Tarrant would go straight to the med unit and make it vanish.
"I'm not in any hurry." Tarrant patted the bed beside him. "Want to have another serious attempt to get on? Or doesn’t it work for you without the handcuffs?"
For a moment Avon was tempted but Tarrant had used his safe word just to screw with Avon's fun. He wasn't prepared to reward such outrageous behaviour by now doing things Tarrant's way.
"I think you'd better leave now," he said, more calmly, rearranging his trousers into a semblance of decency.
“Don’t sulk, Avon. You really are woefully lacking in a sense of humour sometimes,” Tarrant told him. “Anyway, I’m not sure that I want to go wandering around the ship in the wreck you’ve made of my clothes. And my skin, come to think of it.” He was still sitting on the bed, his hand loosely stroking his erection. "Someone would be bound to ask what had happened. And I suppose that I'd just have to tell them."
"Trying blackmail again, Tarrant? "
Tarrant shrugged. "I just thought you might prefer me to be able to suggest obliquely that a reasonable amount of very hot sex happened instead of having to tell them that actually you threw a hissy fit and ended up jerking off on your own in the shower."
He wasn't falling for that one. Popularity contests weren't something he cared about. "I have no intention of suggesting anything to anyone. What scurrilous gossip you decide to spread is entirely your own affair. No-one listens to you about anything anyway."
He tossed the red tunic over. It was long enough to be decent on its own, just. "Out."
Tarrant threw up his hands. "All right. You win. I'm sorry I ruined your game. I won't do it again. Come back to bed, Avon. Please."
Avon considered, very briefly, the idea that Tarrant's apology might be sincere. It was possible but the odds didn't seem good and the risks were too high. "Nice try. Now get out."
"Be like that then." The tunic went on over his head. "You're not the only fish in the sea. Zen, message to Dayna please. Ask her to meet me in my rooms in five minutes. Shall we see how my pussy cat likes your little scratches?"
"Countermand that order, Zen." Avon snapped. "I told you to leave her alone!" The thought of anyone else touching the marks he'd made was intolerable.
"Now if we were sleeping together I might take some notice of your opinion." Tarrant stripped off the wrecked leggings and draped them artistically over the head of Avon's bed.
Why on earth had he even allowed the man onto the ship, let alone into his bedroom? Del Tarrant had been obvious trouble right from the start. When he'd judged that the man had no conscience he hadn't expected to be proved right quite so comprehensively.
“If,” he started, carefully, “I consider…re-engaging, then you will get those marks healed straight afterwards, without letting anyone see them.”
“Embarrassed?” Tarrant smiled at him. “I guess being outed as a sexual sadist doesn’t exactly fit the ultra-rational emotion-free image. People might start to question some of your motives. All of your motives, probably. I know I’m doing it right now.”
“I’m not interested in your speculation. I’m waiting for your answer.”
“Don’t fret, Avon. Your secret will be safe with me.”
He wasn’t sure that he believed that for a moment but on the other hand he couldn’t see what Tarrant had to gain by gossiping about how he’d let himself be mistreated. Short of conducting a mind wipe he was stuck with Tarrant knowing anyway. He'd have to do some digging into the man's history to find a counter balance. Given that Del Tarrant clearly had the morals of a polecat in heat it shouldn't be difficult to find something damning.
"And now for the re-engagement?" Tarrant suggested.
“Zen, how much time until the crystals are ready to be removed from the solution?”Two hours, fifty three minutes and 7 point 48 seconds.
Tarrant’s face had stopped bleeding. After being screwed around so comprehensively Avon really wasn’t in the mood for nice straight sex. What he wanted to do right now was cause some serious and preferable noise-inducing discomfort to the cocky bastard sprawled across his bed.
He walked over to disentangle the cuffs. “Zen, confirm sound dampening fields are in place,”Confirmed.
“Good.” This time he didn’t want to have to hold Tarrant down; his arm was still aching. “Wrist.”
“Pervert.” Tarrant said cheerfully and offered his wrist. Avon clamped the fetter on, moved behind him, “And the other one.”
There was a noticeable pause before Tarrant stretched the other wrist behind his back. Avon fastened both together, shortening the chain between them to a couple of inches. “On your knees.” He used the other chain to attach an ankle back to the bed.
“I’m going to check on my crystals. I shouldn’t be long.” He recovered his shirt and walked out.
“There you are. I was about to try your rooms.”
Avon sat down at the microscope. “Is there a problem?”
“Have you thought of anything to do about Tarrant.”
“Yes.” If she would only leave him alone there were a couple of things in the lab that were going to help considerably.
“I’ve been talking to Dayna, and I think maybe you should go a little easy on him. He’s apparently a bit of a sensitive soul, underneath.”Recorded message from Del Tarrant to Kerr Avon.
Zen said. Aaaaaarrrrgghhhhhhh!
The full throated scream echoed around the lab and into the corridors around it. Cally was staring at Avon, horrified. “Zen, what’s happened? Where is he?”
“Cancel that, Zen. It’s all right, Cally. It’s his idea of a joke. Zen, priority message to Del Tarrant. You’ve just scared the living daylights out of Cally. Would you like to tell her you’re all right?” Message transmitted. Recorded message from Del Tarrant. Sorry Cally, didn’t know you were there. Tell Avon to hurry up, will you? I’m bored.
“You really don’t need to worry,” Avon told Cally. “Whatever that man might be, sensitive is not on the list.”
“Just what are you two up to?”
“Working out our differences.” Supposedly. He peered down the microscope, counting. Still seven perfect crystals in enough solution for them to finish growing. He hadn’t really needed to check up now, but it had been a good excuse for going to the lab. He’d thought being left tied up might unnerve Tarrant a little. He should have known better. “I need to get back. Tarrant bored is about as safe to leave on his own as a three year old.”
Cally wasn’t leaving until he did. It didn’t matter; he’d just decided on a new approach to Tarrant anyway, which didn’t require any additional equipment. He walked with her back towards his quarters, a couple of corridors before hers, but as they approached the damping field he stopped.
“You’d better go round the other way. I’ve got another zero gee experiment set up in the room next to mine and the vibrations of walking past the door could affect it.”
“You should have said that before,” Cally pointed out. “I’ve already been this way twice this morning.”
"At least don’t do it again.” He watched her turn off with a little relief and then stepped into the odd silence that swallowed his footsteps and the sound of his breath. Tarrant could be yelling his head off and Avon wouldn’t know until he crossed his threshold.
Tarrant wasn’t yelling his head off but he was talking to Zen, something which he broke off as soon as he saw Avon. “How are the shinies?”
“Still growing.” Avon considered the other man, still kneeling on the bed in the red tunic and nothing else. “Are you going to scream again now I’m here to appreciate it?”
Tarrant grinned at him. “Make me.”
Oh good. Matters were so much easier when he had unambiguous consent.
Avon had three aims in punching Tarrant in the face; to make it hurt, to make it pretty and to make sure that Tarrant couldn’t articulate two short words clearly enough to make him have to stop too soon. And if the third one wasn’t precisely staying within the spirit of the rules, well, Tarrant hadn’t exactly been playing fair either. Avon did stop once he’d broken at least one cheek bone and possibly the man’s nose and there were plenty of cuts bleeding nicely into the crimson fabric. He stepped back and rubbed his battered knuckles, waiting for Tarrant's response.
“Ow!” Tarrant said. He sounded both astonished and aggrieved. “Was that necessary?"
"You were... "
"... Warned. Yes. I remember. I just didn't expect... Are you planning to do it again?”
He’d done all the damage he needed to. Blood was roaring under his skin once more. Instead of answering he took hold of the loose material around Tarrant's shoulders and dragged the man forward until he overbalanced, landing on the soft bed on his face, the tunic rising up to uncover his bare arse . Tarrant's hands tugged uselessly at the chain between them but he said nothing, even after he'd got his face free of the pillows.
Avon gave the exposed rear a proprietorial pat, watching Tarrant's bloodied face give nothing away. A lack of protest was consent enough; he pushed his hand down between the solid thighs to the soft flesh crushed against the bed. As he'd expected it hardened slowly between his fingers. Tarrant hadn't been that badly hurt. He continued patiently until he had the full length of Tarrant's erection sliding enthusiastically along his hand and the bed. His other hand freed his own from the tight trousers again.
"Are we going to do this properly this time?" he asked. "Because if you pull a stunt like last time you won't get another chance."
Tarrant nodded, wincing at the movement. "Provided you can avoid breaking anything else in the process."
Avon smiled at him. "I think I can manage that." He hauled Tarrant over onto his back by his shoulder and ripped the low cut tunic apart, flicked a fingernail hard against the cut nipple to start it bleeding again. "Spread your knees."
Tarrant grinned and complied. It was quite a sight. Avon retrieved the lubricant from under the bed. "Before or after?"
"Before, definitely. If you're going to be rough I need the high. And if you want to put that sarcastic mouth of yours to some sweeter use for once... "
Avon gave him a dry smile and dropped down the bed a little to do what he'd been told. Tarrant was a loud and appreciative audience, writhing on his bound hands and yelping rather satisfyingly whenever Avon nipped instead of licking. Avon spun it out a little just for fun, but he had his own satisfaction very much in mind by now and before Tarrant had finished panting through his climax Avon was pushing his way, not particularly gently, between the man's thighs.
He settled with his hands either side of Tarrant's shoulders, rather pleased with the way the muscles stood out as the arms twisted backwards. Black clots of blood congealed on the man's upper lip from his battered nose. The swelling around the broken cheekbone closed one eye. The other peered up at him, still bright and curious as Tarrant shifted to accommodate him better.
"Any chance of losing the cuffs? They're digging into my back rather."
The remote was on the table, four feet away. Avon couldn't reach it without stopping what he was doing. He really didn't want to do that. He supposed that he had better do it anyway. Getting safe worded twice in one morning would be more than anyone could reasonably tolerate.
"Don't!" Tarrant said as soon as he started to pull back. "I was only checking."
Avon looked down at him. "Of course you were. Do you think," he asked, dry as desert sand, "that you could possibly shut up, keep still and behave for just ten minutes?"
"That's how you like your partners best?"
"It's how I would prefer everybody, but particularly in bed, yes. If you can't scream nicely be quiet."
"And they say romance is dead!" Tarrant caught his look. "Not another word, I promise."
It was much better without Tarrant talking. Avon could focus on the small noises instead, the sharp intakes of breath when he jolted the man underneath, accidentally or often enough deliberately. Tarrant wasn’t fighting him but he wasn’t exactly having fun either; now that the man’s own arousal was gone his injuries were clearly starting to tell.
Avon was long past feeling sorry for him. Tarrant tied and helpless, damaged, in pain, crushed beneath him and tight around him; he was building towards a high he'd not felt for years. At the back of his mind was the awareness of the safe word that Tarrant wasn't using, the knowledge that this was still just a game, but it felt real enough to have him bare his teeth, laughing, as he clamped his hands over the twisted shoulders and moved harder and faster, Tarrant snarling back at him in undeniably genuine agony. God, there, yes. He closed his eyes, temporarily lost in sensation, pulled away and rolled over to lie flat on the bed.
"More like four."
"What?" For a moment he had no idea what Tarrant was talking about.
"Minutes. Not ten."
"Then you owe me six more silent ones. Shut up."
"You promised me the med unit. Let me up and I'll leave you in peace." The sharp edge of pain sounded under the bantering voice. Avon reluctantly acknowledged his obligations and stood up, slightly dizzily, to get the remote.
"Do you need any help?" he asked.
"I'll manage." It was a short enough walk and the med unit controls were straightforward. Avon took him at his word. He wanted a long shower before cleaning up the room's mess and heading back to the lab. Your presence is requested on the flight deck, if you are currently not otherwise occupied.
Avon glanced up at the rather unusually polite message. "Who's requesting it?" The request came from Del Tarrant.
No surprise there. "Who else is currently on the flight deck, Zen?" All members of Liberator’s crew except Kerr Avon are on the flight deck.
They were doing aftermath in public, then. Could be interesting. "I'll be there in ten minutes."Acknowledged.
Avon finished sealing up the crystals and storing them away. Eleven minutes after the last message he was striding onto the flight deck. "What's up?"
Tarrant looked unmarked and full of energy. "Avon. At last. Have you heard of the Taglian Confederacy?"
"Zen, give Avon the details that you just gave the others.
Avon listened to a long spiel about an unimportant sounding star system which had just taken the opportunity of general galactic chaos to declare independence from the Federation. "And?"
"Tarrant knows one of the new leaders. He thinks that we should drop by and see if there's anything that they need our help with. They are apparently quite well off but almost completely isolated now." Cally said.
"And what do you think? "
She glanced round at the others. "We thought it sounds like a reasonable proposition."
Avon raised an eyebrow at Tarrant. " So why aren't we already on our way? "
"Without the agreement of one fifth of the crew? " Tarrant sounded astonished at the idea. "Shame on you, Avon. I understood that this was a co-operative venture. "
"Did you, indeed?" Avon shook his head. "I refuse to be held responsible for any consequent disasters. "
"That's a yes?"
"It's not a veto. Go if you all want to. I don't have any specific objection, this time."
"This co-operation business is easy," Tarrant said lightly. Avon considered the long and eventful morning and concluded, not for the first time, that Tarrant was something of an idiot.
"Don't count on it happening again. " His voice was deliberately chilly.
"Again? That's a bit enthusiastic. I hadn't even started to think that far ahead." Tarrant smiled at him. "Shall we just stick to going to Taglia for now?"
Oh God. Tarrant was going to do unsubtle innuendo at him. In public. Forever. Avon was pretty sure that he really had done nothing bad enough in his entire life to deserve that. Tarrant might have conceded control of Liberator for now but he was clearly going to cause a whole new set of problems, not all of which could be solved with the judicious application of handcuffs and violence.
Avon found himself wondering briefly if it was too late to shoot the man in the back when no-one was looking and dump him out of an airlock but aloud he just said “Taglia it is. Zen, set a course...”