Laisa looked out of the glass room and watched the snow blanketing the Residence grounds. She tried to catch Gregor's eye from across the room, to reassure him. He was still tense about this meeting, she knew. He'd spent days planning the quiet family dinner they were supposed to have had last night. Fortunately or unfortunately, blizzards were not subject to the Imperial will.
She felt the tension knotting her stomach, and tried to look more confident than she was. Her father was standing stiffly, staring at the doorway. She shot him a quick warning glance, remembering his look when he'd found out who would be standing opposite him at his daughter's engagement. Only the threat implicit in Lady Alys's raised eyebrow had kept him quiet. The head of those Toscanes had lost more than one family member at Solstice.
There was a sudden hush as Lady Alys Vorpatril swept into the room. She was followed by Countess Vorkosigan, and - oh God, he's really here - Count Vorkosigan. Gregor's face broke into a smile as he went forward to welcome them.
Laisa had seen vids of the Butcher of Komarr all her life. But seeing him in the flesh was different. It was amazing, she thought, how Aral Vorkosigan's presence seemed to change the atmosphere of the room. Despite the obvious signs of old age, his every movement carried an air of suppressed power. People cleared a path for him seemingly without realizing it.
But the delight on his face as he clasped his foster-son's hand was perfectly genuine. The Viceroy and Gregor embraced each other for a few moments, then they drew apart and Lady Alys gestured to Laisa. She came forward and took Gregor's arm. He was still smiling, obviously tense and happy and awkward all at once, and that wonderful, perfect smile melted her heart and took all her fears away in one go. The conquest of Komarr was a thing of the past. He was her future. The politics, the ceremony, the sheer incomprehensible Barrayaranness of his life... it was all part of the package, and she would take it all for the sake of the man she loved. Including the man who would become, for all practical purposes, her father-in-law.
Lady Alys performed the introductions. “Viceroy Count Vorkosigan. Dr. Laisa Toscane.”
The Viceroy took Laisa's hand and bowed low over it. “Dr. Toscane, my congratulations. It is a very great pleasure to meet you at last.”
“My lord Viceroy. The pleasure is mine, sir. I have heard a great deal about you from Gregor.”
That was true. Gregor had assured her earnestly, several times, that the story was a lie, that Admiral Vorkosigan had not ordered the Solstice massacre. That she would not be the daughter-in-law of a mass murderer. Countess Cordelia had promised her the same, though Laisa had had the distinct impression that she was choosing her words carefully.
Laisa hadn't dared to ask either of them, how do you know?
But this was important to Gregor. And what was important to Gregor was important to her. So she put a smile on her face and exchanged pleasantries with the man before her, and tried not to let the doubt show.