Aral Alexander is not having a good day. In fact, he is having a perfectly terrible day.
What happens first is that his sister, his sister!, cheerfully informs him that she is having sex (his sister!) with the Crown Prince (of all the people on the planet, WHY???). When Aral clears his throat, perfectly politely and reasonably and not like some old Vor barbarian out of a holovid, no matter what anyone says, to ask the very reasonable question, Lieutenant Vorkosigan just rolls her eyes at him. "We're not doing it for the sole purpose of pissing you off."
When Aral tries appealing to a higher power, Uncle Petya does not make the day any better. "I know," he says. "Certain people have been reminding me very pointedly of the year."
"I think it's a good thing," Uncle Guy puts in. "I'm relieved to discover that what I'd thought was a Vorkosigan inability to conduct a functional courtship isn't actually genetic after all."
Uncle Petya gives him one of those looks that mean disaster when he's looking at Aral like that, but apparently just make Uncle Guy laugh and laugh. That's even more not fair.
"They were gene-cleaned," Uncle Petya teases. "The evidence doesn't necessarily support your conclusion, sir."
Oh, god, this is going to be unbearable if it continues like that, Aral knows from long experience with his strange relatives. He rolls his eyes at both of them and sees himself out.
He finds Nikki in the basement, messing around in the workshop. Aral hops up onto a stool and watches him. Nikki lets him have his distance and, after making Aral hold things for him and then tighten a screw, says, "Sasha, what the hell's your problem?"
"Lena's," he hesitates and, no, he couldn't say the word to Uncle Petya and he can't say it to his big brother, either, "dating--"
"Yeah, I know," Nikki says. "So?"
"What would you think if Arthur said he was dating his cousin?" Aral asks, because Nikki's best friend and partner in crime, erm, business, is the perfect substitute for the annoyance that is his twin sister. This is just like the time she and her friends from the Academy completely-not-accidentally saved the Imperium and wouldn't let Aral come along with them. It's not fair. Lena has all the luck and all the adventures, and all Aral gets are University exams and disapproving relatives who mostly don't want to hear about how Aral is going to be the Vorkosigan to rebuild Vorkosigan Vashnoi with the sheer power of science.
"Well, he's not, so that's pointless," Nikki says reasonably. "So I'll tell you to go read your gene scan and point out that you and the Vorbarras are about as closely related as, oh, me and Count Vorsoisson, if even that close. What are you, third cousins, some level removed, with almost no chance of your other ancestors being within ten generations of each other? That doesn't even count on Beta Colony. What's your real problem?"
Aral opens his mouth. Nikki looks at him like he's a hopeless case. "You don't even know, do you?" Nikki asks. "This is just a knee-jerk reaction to Lena getting one-up on you in your constant sibling rivalry."
"We do not have a sibling rivalry," Aral gets out through clenched teeth.
Nikki pats him on the shoulder. "Of course you don't," he says, "you're just that much a Vorkosigan that it bothers you that our sister fell into a love match with someone that, a hundred years ago, she'd be forced to be marrying."
Aral blinks at him a few times. "That hadn't even occurred to me, actually."
"Yeah, me neither," Nikki says, shrugging, "but Mama and Uncle Petya were having a quiet argument about it that wasn't quiet enough when I hitched a ride with them down to the District last week. I tried not to listen, but if they didn't want me to overhear, they shouldn't have done it when I was there. Mama asked him if he was happy about it, he said of course not, it's dangerous, it's a Vorbarra. And then she threw Vor conditioning back at him. Arranged marriages, the whole thing. It went on like that for a while."
Aral gapes. "Did everyone know about this but me?"
Nikki looks unapologetic. "Probably, yeah."
Aral bangs his head very softly against the work bench. Nikki rubs his neck companionably.
"What am I supposed to do?" Aral asks desperately. "Am I supposed to go up to him and say, if you hurt my sister, your highness, I'll gut you? There are about twenty million people around who would kill me before I could even finish that sentence. And Lena would be one of them."
"Maybe you shouldn't threaten violence to the heir to the throne," Nikki suggests, and he's being reasonable again. Why can't he see that Aral is suffering? This just isn't fair. Nikki's always been on his side in the constant battle between Aral and The Adults. And Lena used to be on his side, too, and now she's decided that she's going to make Aral's life miserable by being the proper Vor lady for the first time in her life and date someone suitable. So not fair.
"This day is terrible," Aral grumbles. "Just you wait, Taura's going to tell us all that she's running off to race lightflyers on Komarr, and, I don't know, she's taking Gran'ma with her to be her flyer tech and general manager."
Nikki laughs and ruffles Aral's hair. "See, I told you. It's not the end of the world. Hey," he says, picking up a hammer, "you want to help with this?"
"You do not understand the depths of my annoyance at you," Aral says later to Lena, who is looking absently perturbed as she reassembles her standard issue nerve disrupter.
"Did you really destroy that thing Nikki's spent the last decade trying to build?" Lena asks, completely missing the point.
"You're completely missing the point," Aral tells her, "and, also, yes, but it's fine, he was just testing it to destruction to see how it would fall apart. And we achieved destruction."
Lena shakes her head at him, being very disappointed in Aral's magical ability to achieve maximal structural damage with minimal effort. It's a special talent. "Still not dating him for any reason having to do with you," she says, bored.
"I know," Aral says, "and you're an adult and you can make your own decisions without input from annoying brothers and since when do you care about dating who you're supposed to date? He's-- he's Vor! Since when do you date Vor?"
Lena shrugs. "Since he asked me during that thing that time, you know, when he was trapped halfway underneath a packing crate when we were narrowly escaping those smugglers. He said he'd actually first asked me earlier, when we were looking into that bribery scandal on Sergyar, but I was too busy shooting people to notice." She shrugs again. "Why?"
Aral looks at her, horrified. "You've been dating him for a year and I didn't know?" He crosses his arms. This is the worst day ever. "And you didn't tell me!"
"I told you today," she says. "It's not my fault I didn't realize you'd freak out about this. You don't have a crush on him, do you?" she asks belatedly. "Because if you do, you should have told us that before, if you're going to hold it against us."
"No," Aral says, and wishes he had a handy work bench he could bang his head on again. "No, I don't have a crush on him, and no, this has nothing to do with any sibling rivalry we certainly don't have, and thank you, Nikki, it's just-- he's Vor! A Vorbarra! We grew up together! You talk about him like he's your stupid little brother!"
"That's not fair," Lena interrupts. "I talk about Stefan much more fondly. He's still in that cute phase, when being an idiot is endearing."
"Stefan didn't know about this before today, did he?" Aral asks suspiciously.
Lena looks contemplative. "Come to think of it... yeah, he probably did."
"How come everyone knows everything before I do?" Aral asks Elizabeth plaintively an hour later, still nursing his broken ego.
"I'm guessing because they pay attention to something outside of their lab," Elizabeth says. "You should try it sometime."
"That's being stereotypical about scientists," Aral informs her, but still gratefully accepts her offering of a filled wine glass. "And I'm not that bad."
"Yes, you are," Elizabeth says, but follows it up with, "but we still love you anyway, even though you're dense and have the social skills of Stefan when he was a toddler."
Aral covers his face with his hands and moans pitifully. This has been the worst day ever.