Circles

"Ouch!"

"Hold still."

"I can't very well hold still if you're ripping out my veins!"

Stith flattened her ears, gritted her teeth, and grasped Preed's arm tighter. "Look," she said crossly to the Akrennian, "you don't hold still, I don't heal your little gash--"

"Little?" Preed asked incredulously. "I'm bleeding all over the place!"

"Yeah, you're ruining the upholstery! So hold still, or this is the last time I help you out!"

Preed winced as the Mantrin stabbed the tissue regenerator probe into a gaping slash in his arm. "Well, dearest," he said through clenched teeth, "if you want me to continue to make repairs on the Valkyrie, you'll also have to continue to give me medical treatment, because I was never trained in mechanics!"

With a grunt, Stith agreed, "That makes two of us."

"As you've made abundantly clear," Preed intoned. "And that's why you make me fix everything that breaks down around here."

"That's right, metal head," she smirked. "Maybe if you weren't such a creep you could have a break sometime."

Giving her a skeptical look, he questioned, "Are you just saying that so it's a bigger disappointment when you force me to repair the next thing that malfunctions?"

Stith offered him something that could have passed for a smile on some planet. "Got it in one, genius." After several more seconds, the probe beeped, and Stith pulled it out of Preed's arm, shaking the blood off. "There," she announced in a self-satisfied tone, "good as new. Or rather, bad as new."

"Hm, clever." Preed stared at a drop of blood that had landed on Stith's head, reached out with a slender finger, and wiped if off. "Too bad you don't care much for sanitation."

She smacked his hand away. "Preed, haven't I told you not to touch me?"

"Many times."

"So don't," she snapped, practically bowling him over with her tail as she turned around and made her way over to the sink.

Preed, however, intercepted her on her way there and smoothly removed the surgical tool from her hand. "Let me take care of that for you, darling," he said with an ingratiating smile.

Sighing, Stith informed him, "I can handle disposable probes, you know."

The Akrennian leaned against the edge of the sink and popped the top of the tool into the basin. "I'm well aware of that, dear girl. But you've just done so much for me. I feel like I should repay you in some small way."

Stith raised her eyebrows and said, "Well, throwing something away isn't going to cut it." As she exited the sickbay, she added caustically, "Maybe if you jettisoned yourself, though..."

After setting the probe down, Preed followed her down the corridor, quickly catching up. "Stith, you seem to be more...tolerable of me lately."

"That's because I'll lose my mind if I don't tolerate you." She rubbed at her temples. "But it gives me a pounding headache."

"Oh? I would think those would have stopped after three weeks."

Stith gritted her teeth and hunched her shoulders. Gods, but he was annoying. The fact that she had spent the past three weeks with him was nauseating and completely maddening. Preed was the most pontifical, ingratiating, obsequious, over-bearing person she'd ever known. Before he'd attempted to kill her, she hadn't been sure which irritated her more--his shameless flirting with Akima because he wanted to get her into bed, or his shameless flirting with her (Stith) because it infuriated her. Even worse, she had no idea which he enjoyed more. Now, however, it was everything. Every single thing about that slimy Akrennian annoyed the hell out of Stith, the least of which was the fact that he ignored everything she said. No amount of threatening could make him listen, because the simple truth of things was that he wasn't afraid of her. No, Preed didn't fear her, but she feared him. Maybe that was what bothered her the most. From the dark gleam in his eyes to his knowing, enigmatic little smile, he was...disturbing. And he knew that. Whether or not he knew how nervous he made Stith was debatable, but she would hazard to guess that he didn't. Knowing him, he would have pressed his advantage by now, and he hadn't, so...

Argh, here she was, going in circles. Again. That was all her thoughts ever seemed to do, lately. Normally, she'd blame it on PMS--screw the facts that it wasn't a symptom and Mantrins didn't even have PMS. It was Preed, she admitted to herself. Well, obviously it was Preed, but there was something about being around him which always derailed her train of thought, or fogged her mind, or... That was the part of her loathing for him that confused her. She knew what it sounded like--it sounded like a crush. A childish case of puppy love.

The mere thought was sickening, which was exactly why this inability to think straight flabbergasted her. Granted, Preed did have a little class and a certain charm, but that hardly shined through his utter repulsiveness. No, he was basically a total creep who had betrayed his friends.

Stith narrowed her eyes. "What did you think you were going to get?"

"I beg your pardon?"

She stopped walking and turned to face him. "Out of double-crossing us."

"Money, my dear. I thought you were aware of that," Preed answered.

However, Stith was not so unobservant that she didn't catch the careful note in his voice. "Yeah, right, metal head. I know you like money. But what else? You were Korso's friend. He trusted you. Are you trying to tell me that you faked him out for five years just to get a little cash?"

The Akrennian averted his gaze from her piercing stare. "It was quite a substantial sum, Stith."

"Y'know what, Preed? You're a bad liar. What are you afraid to say? That you didn't wanna die?" Stith planted her hands on her hips. "Well, I've got news for you. No one does. C'mon, spit it out. I've put up with you for this long--I deserve it." She thought of something he'd said earlier and added, "You wanna repay me? Here's your chance."

He glanced at her and warned, "You'll be disappointed."

"I doubt that."

"Oh, I think you will be." With a shrug, he said, "The universe is a big, cold place, Stith. And do you know what's out there for me?" He paused and finally met her gaze. "Nothing. I don't have a home, I don't have friends, I don't have a wife. I don't even have some poor girl I left after a one night stand." Something dark passed over his face, and he continued in a low voice, "Experience has taught me not to give your loyalty to someone easily. Well, you know what, Stith? I have no loyalty to give. No, Korso was never my friend. What he was was a useful instrument that I was forced to put up with for five years. I never valued him as anything other than a pawn--certainly not ever as a friend." He leaned closer to her and finished in a deadly tone of voice, "I hope you don't trust me, Stith. I really do."

With that chilling comment, the Akrennian stalked off down the corridor. Stith shivered and leaned against the wall, whispering to herself, "You're a terrible liar, Preed."