Corinne stifled a yawn as she went back to the cabin she shared with Vila. It had been another exhausting day training the women and she was looking forward to spending a quiet few moments with Vila before retiring. He always had a ready joke or some funny comment. They loved making each other laugh.
Vila was not in their cabin, he was sprawled unceremoniously outside it and snoring loudly. A quick glance didn’t reveal anything physically wrong with him.
“Vila.” Corinne bent down to shake his shoulder. “Wake up.”
Vila stirred, mumbled something incoherent and then opened his eyes. He stared blinking at her for some moments, as if he was trying to focus. Then his eyes widened and then he greeted her with a wide, happy smile. “Corinne!” He stuck out his arms and hugged her. “You’re bee-yoo-ti-ful.” And gave her a big sloppy kiss that managed to miss her lips and landed somewhere between her nose and her cheek.
Corinne sniffed the strong odour emanating from him and asked, “Vila, are you drunk?”
There was an exaggerated look of thought as Vila’s face scrunched in concentration. Then a bright, pleased smile appeared as he remembered, “Abulsulutely!”
“Oh, Vila! Why?”
Vila tried to think again. He declared, “Sester!”
“Sester did this to you?” she asked.
“Noooo! He’s….saaaad. Very….very saaaad. Needed drinks. Drinks help. Drinks are good. He…”
Corinne sighed. “I get the picture. You were trying to help him and you both got drunk?”
“Yesh!” Vila was delighted that she understood. He tried to kiss her again but his famed dexterity seemed to be missing and he kissed an eye.
“Vila! What are you doing?” Corinne asked as she gently pushed him away and put her hand over her eye.
“Kiss?” Vila looked hopefully for more.
Corinne said wryly, “Maybe not tonight. Not in that condition.”
“No?” Vila looked very sad now.
“Do you think you can get up?”
“Try.” After a few clumsy attempts, and much leaning on Corinne, Vila managed to stand, just barely. By the time she got him back into their cabin and onto the bed, Vila was fast asleep again.
Corinne sighed and kissed fondly him on the forehead. She made him comfortable by removing his shoes and loosening his clothes. It was wonderful of him to try to help a friend but she hoped that next time, he would realize that he didn’t have to get drunk as well.
Sester shocked himself awake by rolling out of bed and onto the floor. He rubbed his sore head and groaned. That was all he needed, more pain.
Bleary eyes focused and spied a bottle winking invitingly at him from the table across the room. Invitations from women and bottles of alcohol were never to be ignored. He partially crawled/staggered over and after a few missed attempts, grabbed the bottle by the neck and put it to his thirsty lips. Two gulps was all it gave him. Sester upended the bottle and shook it angrily.
Just like a bottle. And a woman. Give him a little, a taste that promised more and then…nothing. He threw the bottle across the room. He needed…more.
Kirsten wanted him; he could see it in her eyes even though she hid it well. But he didn’t want her; she was not what he needed. He required something deeper. He needed… Sester picked up a handy empty bottle on the table and threw it across the room.
Sex had always been a recreational activity for him; something casual and pleasurable. A fun release for the stresses of his life. What Kirsten offered had been tempting. Angry, aggressive sex. A temporary refuge. But he found that he couldn’t. It wasn’t what he needed. And…he found that he didn’t want to do that to Kirsten. She needed something more too and she was looking in the wrong place.
Sester laughed, an almost maniacal sound, at the ironies of life. Kirsten wanted something that he couldn’t give her. And he wanted something that Reya would never give him. “We’re all fools.” Empty words in an empty room. He needed another drink.
Sester staggered to the door and hit the panel control. The door slid open, revealing Argus. There were startled expressions on their faces as they registered each other. Argus immediately noticed the extremely glazed look in the other man’s eyes and the strong smell of alcohol. "You're drunk," he said accusingly. There was no point in talking to him tonight.
Sester was supremely drunk and very angry as he suddenly tried to shove Argus back. “Get away from me!”
Argus reacted instinctively, grabbed Sester’s clumsily reaching arms, turned him around and pushed him back into the cabin. Sester staggered and grabbed the table. He was seeing red and all he could feel was anger and pain. Pivoting around, he went for Argus with his fists. Not a good idea, but his alcohol and anger-addled brain couldn’t think of anything else except a need to strike out.
Argus took a step to the side and Sester stumbled past him and crashed into the wall with an oomph. He whirled around again.
Argus shook his head. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”
Sester said angrily, “That’s the problem! I’m not you!” He pulled his fist back and aimed for his opponent’s face.
This time, Argus grabbed his fist and held it fast. Sester stared at it with anger and confusion as he tried to pull free. Argus slowly increased pressure on the fist until the other man grimaced in pain. This caused Sester to strike out with his other hand.
Argus took this hand too. He spun Sester around and wrapped his arms around the other man’s body, holding him fast as he struggled angrily. “Let me go!”
“Not until you calm down.”
“I will calm down if you let go of me!”
“I don’t think so.”
Sester tried to kick back against his shins but Argus had positioned himself so that the other man couldn’t hurt him. Sester continued to struggle, his efforts fuelled by blind rage. Argus waited patiently while the other man expended his strength.
Sester continued trying to strike out. Anger, frustration, and helplessness. Rage at himself for a weakness that was destroying him. He fought; with his legs, his head, desperately twisting, trying to free himself from the arms that were like forged metal around his body. He wrestled until the fight was drained from him, until he was reduced to feeble jerking movements and he no longer had enough energy to even be angry. Until all he had left was the pain and the feeling that he wanted to die.
What Cally had started in the corridor was being continued, the stripping away of his defensive walls until he could no longer deny the truth. He could barely breathe from the agony of the feelings that he could not let go of. He had allowed it to become a madness that destroyed his objectivity and was consuming him. “I hate you!”
“I know,” said Argus with calm compassion as he continued to hold him. This was the last thing that he had expected to be doing when he came here tonight, but he could not ignore someone who was in such deep pain. Argus knew he was exceedingly lucky to have Reya. This man had nothing except his feelings.
The shame at his own weakness made Sester gather up his final reserves of energy and he tried to turn around and hit Argus again. Argus tightened his arms like metal bands around the other man’s body, crushing him until he stopped. Sester’s fight became a desperate attempt to continue breathing. He bowed his head in exhaustion and stopped. Argus relaxed his arms enough to let him breath easily again.
Sester’s voice was a hoarse, agonized whisper. “Kill me.”
Argus had wanted to resolve this situation, to get Sester to stop but he had not wanted him to give up. He said heatedly, “Is that it? Are you just going to give up?”
“There can’t be two of us.”
“You’re an idiot!”
Sester said with familiar sarcasm, “You’re very comforting.”
“That’s it. Insult me. That’ll make you feel better,” said Argus encouragingly.
“Dying will make me feel better.”
“I never knew you were a coward,” said Argus, trying to provoke a stronger reaction.
Sester said sarcastically, “You’re right. Insulting me makes me feel much better.”
“I’m going to let you go now. Are you done trying to hit me?”
“Let go and find out.”
Argus released him abruptly. Without the restraint of the strong arms holding him up, Sester found his legs buckling and he started falling. “I guess not.”
Argus grabbed him from behind again. “You’re a real pain. Do you know that?” He guided him to the bunk and almost heaved him on.
Sester leaned back against the wall, his eyes half-closed. The alcohol still coursing through his veins was making him very tired and sleepy. He was light-headed. “I don’t really hate you.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“I might have…just a little.” His words trailed off tiredly and his eyes were fully closed now.
“Are you going to sleep now?”
“Thinking about it,” Sester replied sleepily.
Argus wondered if he should stay for a while or leave. The way Sester was acting, he might do something silly if left alone. He pulled a chair up beside the bunk and sat down.
Sester opened his eyes, “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Argus leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You’re not leaving.”
“What a good observation. Now go to sleep.” Argus twisted in the chair, trying to find a more comfortable position.
“Are you going to make me?”
“How about a song?”
“Are you kidding? You’re not a child. Now go to sleep.” Argus got up and decided to get another chair.
“Reya will be expecting you to sing to your children.”
“No, she won’t. Besides, I don’t have any children yet. Now, will you please go to sleep?” Argus positioned the two chairs together and sat down again. He put his legs up on the second chair.
Sester had been watching him. “Why are you doing this?”
“I have no idea.” He tried a direct order, “Sleep. Now.”
Sester said, “You’re going to scare the children with that kind of attitude.”
“For the last time, I don’t have any children yet. Now go to sleep. Please.”
“The ‘please’ is a nice touch. It makes you seem less scary.”
Argus was feeling an annoyed growl develop at the base of his throat. “If you think you’re going to chase me out of here by annoying me to death, it won’t work. Now go to sleep before I decide to gag you and tie you up.”
“You would enjoy doing that, wouldn’t you?”
“You have no idea,” Argus grumbled.
“I will sleep if you tell me why you’re doing this.”
The growl escaped from Argus’s throat. “I don’t want you to kill yourself.”
Sester said with amusement, “You care?”
“I don’t,” Argus denied grouchily. “But Reya does.”
Sester stared at him.
Argus scowled. “Alright, I do care. Are you satisfied? You’re a pain I can do without but I don’t want you dead. Can we both sleep now?”
“That’s very touching.”
Argus glared at him.
Sester grinned. “Alright, I’ll sleep.” He slid down and made himself comfortable.
Argus watched until Sester closed his eyes. He yawned and stretched his arms above his head.
Sester opened his eyes again. “I’ll probably forget all of this by tomorrow. And this might just be the alcohol talking…but…I’m sorry, Jack. For everything. I never meant to fall in love with Reya and I can’t seem to stop it. I’ve tried.”
Argus grimaced. “Yes, I know. Go to sleep.”
Sester sighed and closed his eyes again. The pain was a dull ache. He thought about Reya and Kirsten. Within seconds, he was fast asleep.
The next morning, Argus looked down on the still sleeping Sester with irritation. It was time to wake up. He didn’t want to miss his regular exercise routine with Reya. And besides, he wanted to explain why he had stayed away all night. Sester looked as if he could sleep until noon.
Argus frowned as he remembered that the man had a habit of waking up late. He stretched to work out some soreness. His neck and back were stiff and exercise was just the thing to fix it.
He let out an aggravated breath and decided to start doing his stretching and limbering-up exercises.
Sester groaned and put his hand up to his eyes to block the glare of the dim lights. “What are you doing?”
“Can you do it quieter?”
“Stretching doesn’t make any sound.”
Sester groaned again, “It does when you do it.” His eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here?”
Argus stopped stretching. “You were drunk last night.”
“I…don’t remember you. Just Vila. We got drunk together. Did all three of us get drunk?"
"Do I look as if I've been drinking?" Argus bent down and touched his toes, holding the position so that he could stretch his back.
Sester looked at the exercising man and the rippling muscles that his shirt could not hide. "No, you look disgustingly healthy. Did…I try to do something last night while I was drunk? Is that why you’re here?”
“You tried to attack me.”
“Oh.” Sester looked down at his body. All of his visible parts were still there and seemed to be fairly functional, except for his aching head. “Then why am I still here?”
“I don’t take drunks seriously.” Argus stood up, grasped his hands behind him and stretched backwards.
Sester groaned. “Can you please stop that?”
Argus stopped. “You really don’t remember anything from last night?”
Sester concentrated but that only made his head hurt more. He held his head in both hands and groaned. “Don’t think remembering is a good idea right now.”
“Good. Then I can go.” Argus poured a glass of water from a pitcher and put them both beside the bed. “Drink a couple of glasses of this. It’ll help.”
“Water?” Sester eyed it dubiously.
“Yes. I have things to do.” He headed for the door.
Sester picked up the glass of water and stared into its clear consistency. “Were you here all night?”
Argus turned to look at him. “Yes.”
“You asked me that last night.”
“Did you give me an answer? I don’t remember.”
“I gave you two.”
Sester was looking at him curiously. “You’re not going to tell me what they were, are you?”
“I don’t like repeating myself.”
Sester chuckled and immediately put his hand to his aching head. “There’s something different about you.”
“While you try to figure it out, I have work to do.” With that, Argus left.