After dropping Reya off and seeing that the three drunken men were safely tucked away, Cally arrived in her own cabin. Avon stood stock still in the centre of the room, a bemused look on his face. At least he was standing.
"Avon, is something wrong?"
"Cally." He turned to face her. "Do you see it?"
Cally did a double-take. "S-see? What?" Avon's face was flushed. She immediately felt his forehead, it was slightly warmer than normal. "Are you feeling alright? What did you drink tonight?" His dim eyes gave no indication, if they had, that would have been surprising, or a miracle.
"Nothing Vila concocted, I assure you." Reaching out in the direction of her voice, he encountered her hands, took them in his own and drew her closer. "How was your evening?"
She searched his face but it was as it always was when they were alone, impassive still, but slightly more relaxed and animated. "It was enjoyable. We had a good time of sharing and treats."
"No drunken singing or men popping out of cakes?"
Cally scowled. "I heard about the men's party."
A brief smile touched Avon's lips. "Corinne, of course."
"Must men be so…"
"Disgusting?" Avon smiled.
"We are men." He pulled her closer, breathing in her familiar scent and feeling her curves fitting against his body. His eyelids flickered and he leaned in, brushing the softness of her neck with his nose as he took a deeper whiff. An explosion of swirling colours danced in front of his inner eyes. "Were strawberries among the treats?" The soft, sweet fragrance made his mouth water. It had been a long time since he'd tasted fresh strawberries. The last time had been…with Anna in Europa dome. It was a long time ago.
He had an irresistible desire to taste those strawberries again, he kissed the sweetly scented flesh, his lips parting, and the tip of his tongue tasting… "Strawberries." He pulled back in surprise. "You taste like strawberries."
"It's a special fragrance. Do you like it?"
"It stimulates different sense receptors? Producing olfactory, visual and oral effects? There are certain chemicals..."
Cally sighed. "I tried to convince the women you can be romantic when you want to be."
"Ah." His voice softened but remained flat, like silk caressing exposed flesh. "This would not be one of those moments."
"It wouldn't be high on my list."
"Then I shall endeavour to do better."
Cally brushed her fingers lightly along his forehead following the curve of his eyebrows. Her voice contained curiosity. "Avon. The scent isn't supposed to produce a visual effect. Did you say that you had one?"
Avon's head cocked slightly. "I was experiencing visual hallucinations before you entered the room. The fragrance intensified the effect."
"Hallucinations?" Her hand stopped its movement as she searched his eyes. "Are you sure you didn't drink anything Vila gave you?"
"I had the Wolf bring me a cup of water." His eyes widened. "It must have obtained the water…"
"From an unreliable source."
"I hope you don't need Vila for anything tomorrow, Avon," she said in a half-joking, half-serious tone, "I might possibly want to kill him."
"I will leave you a piece. Would you like an arm or a leg?"
Light smiles played across their faces, each aware they were no longer speaking about Vila.
"It seems we can all have primitive urges."
Avon breathed in the heady, enticing scent of strawberries and Cally's lightly scented skin mingled deliciously together. Sensual warmth spread like a blanket over his body. "I would like to have a primitive moment now. If you have no objections."
Somewhere a wolf howled in mournful misery. Dain shivered, gripped by an inexplicably primitive fear, and snuggled deeper under the blanket.
Wait a minute.
He opened his eyes a sliver and was greeted by the familiar sight of his cabin, bathed in shadows of the night cycle.
Then the pain hit, a dull throbbing ache of a brain that seemed to be swelling, trying to break free of the confines of his skull. "Ohhhh." He moaned softly, remembering, just in time, the reason for his present sorry state.
Loud noises were to be avoided at all costs, along with light, and moving more than a few inches at a time. And breathing, as even that simple act caused groan-inducing pain. Taking light, shallow, delicate breaths, he looked over to the cot in the middle of the room.
Argus was curled up like a sick puppy, pawing at his head and whimpering piteously. A thin grey blanket lay in a heap on the floor.
"Commander?" The lieutenant dared a soft whispered query.
Argus whined and mashed the pillow over his head, trying to hide from the cruel world.
Getting up was a heroic feat that Dain didn't feel up to, but Argus seemed in even worse shape than he was, not to mention the howling and whimpering was far too loud.
Dain rolled his body out of bed, fully expecting he was going to end up flat on his face and would have to crawl the rest of the way. Automatic reflexes mercifully took over and he stood up slowly, one hand on his aching head, the other desperately grabbing at the wall. The room lurched and swayed like a drunken sailor. He swallowed hard, trying to keep his stomach from travelling up his throat.
Taking baby-like steps, he made his way to the cot. Dain shook Argus's shoulder. "Sir, are you alright?"
The pillow smothered a howl of pain and complaint.
Dain knew about the Wolf of course, but he'd never had to interact with it personally and definitely not in this state. He hoped the creature recognized him as one of its pack.
"Wolf, are you in pain?" That was a silly question. Of course it was, otherwise it wouldn't be making sounds that made both of their heads want to find a hole and not come out until next year. "Wolf, I can help but you have to stop making that noise. It hurts even more when you do that."
"Rrrr?" it asked in a whining query. Two red-ringed eyes appeared and stared at him from the edge of the pillow.
"Yes, that's it. Your head hurts more if there are loud sounds."
There was a low whispered grumble at the base of the creature's throat.
Dain couldn't speak wolf but the creature's feelings were very apparent. "Yes, it's not a very nice feeling."
The grumble became a low growl that ended in a whimper of pain.
"You're right, it's terrible." He had an irresistible urge to stroke the creature's head, as he once did for a sick puppy back home. This was all very strange.
The wolf sniffed, satisfied at the description and closed its eyes.
"Commander?" Dain asked in a bare whisper.
Argus's eyelids fluttered and his eyes opened. He groaned, "Don't shout." It felt as if an axe had split his head open and the contents were spilling out. He rubbed his sore head.
"Sorry, sir." Dain nearly mouthed the words. "Do you want me to go to the medical unit and get something for the pain?"
"Oh. You're going to be sick?" Dain's eyes cast around for a large container. He might need one too.
"Ohhh. Yes, I know what you mean, sir. I'll go and get it now." Dain looked dubiously at the door that seemed a mile away. He'd be lucky if he could crawl that far.
Dain spied the triangular comm unit on the table. That he could manage. Barely. He made his way over, depressed the button and said in a reluctantly louder voice, "This is Lt. Dain. I need someone from the medical unit to bring pain medication to my cabin. Several strong doses. It's an emergency."
"This is Cally, Lt. Dain. What is the nature of the emergency?"
The normal-sounding voice was like an angry roar. Dain winced sharply and covered his ears. "Please, not that loud."
Cally's voice became softer. "I see. I'll be right there."
Cally gently slapped several pain patches on Argus's neck as Lt. Dain administered his own. "You shouldn't drink so much."
Argus's eyes seemed to be in a permanent wince. He really wished they'd turn the lights down, or off. Dim lights weren't dim enough for him. "But it was a bachelor party."
Cally sighed. "Yes, I know. But still."
"It's almost a tradition."
"You could start a new one."
Argus put his hand to his head and wondered what Cally's reaction would be if he asked for another patch. "Then it wouldn't be as much fun."
Cally eyed him dubiously. "This is fun?"
"You don't get it." He really wished he didn't have to think about anything. It hurt too much. Plus he had a sneaking suspicion he had to do something today but couldn't for the life of him remember what it was. "It's not about the day after."
"Maybe it should be."
Argus shook his head stubbornly and winced at the motion. Maybe Avon had the right idea with amputation. Maybe he'd felt like this before. "Is Avon alright?"
"Avon didn't get drunk. He drank water."
"I knew he wasn't human," Argus grumbled.
"Though I think Vila managed to sneak something into that water."
"Good old Vila. I should give him a medal."
Cally gave him a hard stare.
Argus looked down in embarrassment. "Maybe not. Did anything happen to Avon?"
"He was seeing colours and he developed a mild fever."
Argus and Dain looked sharply at her. Argus asked, "He can see?"
"Not in the literal sense. The substance Vila used, activated the optic centre of Avon's brain."
"Is that good?"
"It means if we can replace his eyes and optic nerve, his brain will be able to process the visual signals normally."
"That's good." He was feeling much better with this news and stood up. "Ohhh." And sat back down.
"Slowly. The medication has a great deal of alcoholic damage to neutralize."
"You can sound as sarcastic as Avon sometimes."
"Once you feel able to move, I suggest you run. Reya is waiting for you."
Argus's eyes became as wide as a full moon, his mouth dropped open and he slapped his hand to his head. "How could I forget that?"
"Yes, how could you?"
Vila (who felt like death warmed up, had a cold compress pressed to his aching head and was trying, with great difficulty, to put on a light purple shirt) and Corinne were dressing for the bonding ceremony when the door chime rang.
"Who could that be?" asked Corinne (who was a vision in a pink and purple dress and, in Vila's opinion, far too cheerful for this hour of the morning) as she checked if he was decent enough for visitors.
Vila cursed the person who invented door chimes. Even the pre-prepared shot of pain killers and his grandmother's sure-fire cure for hangovers, was not helping this morning.
"Don't know," he whispered.
The door slid open.
Vila gulped. "Avon?" The pain in his head just magnified ten-fold.
"Vila." Avon's voice was colder than the vacuum of space.
"Are you alone?" he asked nervously.
"Who else did you expect?" Avon, in a smart silver leather jacket and black turtleneck and trousers, entered the room with measured steps. Jenna waited outside. Avon's head turned towards him, his sightless eyes, like lasers boring in his direction. "A firing squad perhaps?" he asked in a flat tone.
Vila looked anxiously at Avon, as Corinne looked curiously at Vila.
Corinne asked, "Is something wrong, Avon?"
Avon's answer was a 'loud' stare at Vila.
Vila put his hands up defensively, "Now, just a minute. I didn't mean any harm. It was just a…"
"I knew you weren't going to drink anything I gave you."
"You tricked Wolf." Avon's tone rubbed harshly against Vila's ears.
Vila winced. "Well, it wasn't hard."
"The creature trusts the members of its pack."
Vila felt like a heel. "Well, I wanted you to have fun."
"What was the chemical used?" Avon's voice remained unemotional but rose in a demanding volume.
"I don't know. I mean, I'm not a chemist. But it's called Lover's Sight, if that helps."
Avon nearly choked, remembering the previous night with Cally. He barely managed to maintain an emotionless tone. "Quite."
"Nothing went wrong, did it? I mean…" Vila's face fell. "I know you think fun is playing with your computers but I thought…you really didn't like it? Well, of course you didn't. That's why you're here. Honestly Avon, I was only trying…"
Avon cut him off with a curt lift of his hand.
Vila fell silent and considered amputation. A dark cloud seemed to be hanging over his head.
Avon's dark eyes continued 'staring' in his direction before he said with a blank face, "Cally enjoyed it."
"Oh," Vila said morosely. "That's nice." He looked up suddenly. "Cally enjoyed it?"
"I will bring a chemical analyzer to any future festivities."
"Avon." A grin spread across Vila's face. "I have more of that…chemical. In case you wanted to do an analysis." His tone became suggestive. "A complete analysis."
"All knowledge is useful."
"And I bet Cally would love to know its chemical composition."
At that, the corners of Avon's mouth twitched in the hint of a smile.