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Earth Duty.

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Guy arrives at the Barrayaran Imperial Embassy on Earth as polished and pressed as any man can reasonably be expected to be after a trip directly from Komarr in a small courier jumpship. He is shown without delay to the ambassador's office and Guy sighs with relief. He'd been worried the ambassador might decide to make him wait.

"Lieutenant Allegre," Ambassador Vorbretten says. "Come in. Major Vorkeres and I were just reviewing the reports you send on ahead."

Guy steps inside and salutes the man in uniform. From his pins, he isn't ImpSec. The Diplomatic Corps, Guy realizes after too long a moment. He hasn't seen those since his days in the district academy. Well, of course he hasn't seen them. He doesn't have embassy duty and half the ones on Komarr are just ImpSec pretenders who don't bother wearing fake pins inside HQ.

"At ease, Lieutenant," Major Vorkeres says. "Why don't you simply tell us what ImpSec Komarr needs from us? It'll save time. From your reports, it sounds like time is something you don't have to waste."

"Yes, sir," Guy says. "I need a Vor."

The ambassador covers something that would have been a laugh in someone less well-mannered. "A Vor," he repeats. "Anyone specifically?"

"No, sir," Guy says, still looking straight ahead. "I just need a Vor for a smokescreen. I'll take anyone you have available, sir, I'm not picky and I don't have anyone in mind. I don't even know who's assigned to this embassy."

The ambassador is silent for a long moment, then nods. "I have someone in mind. A Lieutenant as well, but junior to you in commission date. Diplomatic Corps, he would have to be. I can't give you someone assigned to ImpSec, you understand, and this is too security-sensitive for a civilian."

"Yes, sir," Guy says. "Where can I find this Lieutenant, sir?"

Major Vorkeres exchanges a look with Ambassador Vorbretten, then turns to Guy. "We're having a small dinner tonight, strictly Barrayarans on planet and embassy personnel, to welcome Lady Arina Vorhalas to Earth. She arrived this morning. The dinner is in three hours. Get cleaned up, Lieutenant. We'll feed you dinner and when it's over, we'll introduce you to your assigned Vor puppet."

An embassy dinner? Guy almost winces. "Yes, sir," he says instead. Then he decides he may as well say it. "I only have fatigues and undress greens with me, sir."

"What, you didn't take parade dress with you when you left Komarr on five minutes notice?" The ambassador shakes his head. "If you're that concerned, you can steal dress greens from one of our ImpSec complement, you're about the average size for uniforms, yes? It wouldn't be a problem. But don't be concerned. You're ImpSec. You could wear pajamas and the Diplomatic Corps wouldn't say anything."

Major Vorkeres interjects, "to his face. But the rivalry with ImpSec is neither here nor there today, my lord."

Guy isn't sure how to take this, but he nods. That's always a safe thing to do when the Vor are deliberately talking over your head.

The dinner is small compared to what Guy had been led to believe would be the staple of embassy dinners. It is mostly embassy personnel: the higher ranking officers and Vor of all ranks. The guest of honor is Lady Arina Vorhalas, who Guy originally takes for one of the on-planet Barrayaran guests that had been mentioned. Lady Arina certainly doesn't look like what Guy would have expected the daughter of the leader of the Loyal Opposition to look like. For one, she's wearing Earth fashions. And her armsmen aren't immediately apparent. It's only when Guy looks for them that he sees them, sitting against a wall in the corner. They're in uniform, but putting on a good show of invisibility.

Guy has been seated with other ImpSec officers, grouped together to the side and seated by rank. True enough, he had been able to borrow a spare uniform from one of them. He'd introduced himself and exchanged brief professional histories with the others, but it had been made clear from their lack of conversation that the real show tonight was watching Lady Arina.

The man sitting next to Lady Arina is wearing a Lieutenant's tabs, but is clearly High Vor of some sort. All of what Guy knows about protocol is what he picked up at the district military academy, which comes down to trusting the protocol officer to know what he's doing. So if a Lieutenant is being seated ranked second to the ambassador, Guy trusts that this is perfectly acceptable in whatever strange world the Vor inhabit.

The man is young, Guy would put him at a few years younger than himself. Probably too young to have served during the last war. But he is Vor, so maybe he did. At second glance, his face, which seems to aspire to being pretty and probably succeeds when off-duty, has the strained lines that Guy has seen appear before their time on the faces of some of his former classmates, the ones who were on Barrayar during the Pretendership. Guy was on Komarr duty and would never, had someone mentioned it before, have ever considered that a kindness compared to home duty. But he had spent the last war putting out minor revolts where you couldn't always tell the civilians from the combatants, not fighting a coup where you didn't know if the man next to you was on your side.

"That's Lieutenant Vorkosigan," Captain Malison says at Guy's question. Then he anticipates him and adds, "that Vorkosigan, yes. His older son."

That explains the seating, Guy thinks. If this is more social event than military mess, as it seems from the guest of honor, it made perfect sense that the Lord Regent's son would outrank everyone but the ambassador.

Although it is strange. Komarran duty requires Guy to pay close attention to the Lord Regent's public life. Just last month, he had read an intelligence report that stated that relations between Lord Vorkosigan and Count Vorhalas had gotten so strained that they were not speaking civilly to each other and were communicating mostly through Prime Minister Vortala.

So what was the Lord Regent's son doing acting so friendly with Count Vorhalas's only surviving child? It could simply be diplomacy, Guy supposes. Diplomacy's the art of pretending to like someone to get something you wanted out of them. This could be no different.

Lieutenant Vorkosigan and Lady Arina seem very aware that they are, for all intents and purposes, serving as tonight's entertainment for the entire embassy. They are in the middle of exchanging some fond recollection of one of Vorkosigan's cousins, someone named Lady Donna, who, Guy gets the impression, is also a cousin of Lady Arina. Bloody incestuous Vor.

"And how is Pierre?" Vorkosigan asks as the first course ends. "When I last heard from him, he was elbows-deep in a design process and was, as always, reticent to discuss details until he was finished. Has he managed to build anything out of it?"

"That still remains to be seen," Lady Arina responds. "He was set to get his engineering degree this year, but he pushed off his graduation date so he could follow a course of study that he thought might solve some of the power-conversion problems that were making his prototypes turn into small projectile explosives. But he asked to be remembered to you, and wanted to know if you could send him the specs you spoke about several years ago."

Vorkosigan nods. "He did send me some scribbled diagrams that he'd done at school. I'll be happy to send them back with you. I hope he can find them useful. I know he was hoping to turn them into something for District use, although he neglected to elaborate on what. I believe he also discussed it with Oren, because he hoped it could be of use in building hospitals, and that's always been Oren's passion."

From there, the conversation descends into district internal matters that are beyond Guy's comprehension or interest, though it seems to be fascinating to the other High Vor at the table, who occasionally interject with comments or questions. The gist of the conversation, Guy understands after five minutes of pure Vor-this and Vor-that, is the establishment of a new agricultural school and the introduction of galactic medicine into a neighboring district. Why that should turn from a discussion of uterine replicator technology into a spirited debate about the marriageability of someone named Rene is anyone's guess, especially since he is, as Guy realizes after a few more minutes, approximately five years old.

Bloody Vor.

When the dinner ends, Major Vorkeres comes over to Guy and leads him to a corner, where the ambassador and Vorkosigan are conferring.

"Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan," Ambassador Vorbretten says formally. "This is Lieutenant Allegre. He needs a Vor distraction."

Vorkosigan does not seem at all surprised. "Yes, sir." He looks to Guy and offers a salute. It's absolutely perfect; Guy's drill instructors at the academy would have wept for joy. Guy knows that it's calculated. Vorkosigan probably has him pegged as one of those prole officers who take great joy in having their Vor betters salute them. Vorkosigan, at least, comes off as the sort to humor that ego instead of resent it. And why not? When Vorkosigan is on Barrayar, he's one of the highest ranked men on the planet in the social scene. Guy couldn't get into those events even as a waiter. Saluting him doesn't cost Vorkosigan anything, and it's probably calculated to flatter Guy into thinking well of him.

Knowing that, however, doesn't stop Guy from feeling a small warmth of satisfaction deep in his stomach, as well as a deep appreciation for the rest of Vorkosigan. Annoyed at himself for it, he tries to quash it. Vorkosigan is far beyond him that to desire him is to desire the sun. He'll get burned. The sun won't even notice. Guy thinks heavy of Icarus as he returns the salute.

Then Guy looks to the ambassador. "I can't accept, sir."

The ambassador looks stony. "You wanted a Vor. He's Vor."

"I wanted a Vor," Guy agrees. "Not overkill."

"You indicated that these are sympathizers to the Komarran plight, who sympathize with their pocketbook rather than their fists," Ambassador Vorbretten reminds him. "If they were violent, I'd find you someone not named Vorkosigan. But all security analysis agrees that they aren't violent."

Guy grits his teeth.

"I can dazzle the locals," Vorkosigan says. "Just point me in the right direction. I'll give you a cover while you do the real work in the background."

"See?" the ambassador says. "He'll be fine." And then he excuses himself and walks away.

Guy can't help but curse a little under his breath. Caught. Caught with a damn Vorkosigan and the damned Vorkosigan charisma. "I wanted a Vor," he says mournfully. "Not someone presented at court before he could walk."

"Technically," Vorkosigan says, his face stone blank but his eyes showing severe amusement. "I was ten, sir. To be precise."

Guy contemplates banging his head on a wall.

Vorkosigan continues to look bland. "I'm the Regent's son," he says. "You aren't going to find someone more blinding than me in this embassy. And any request worth fulfilling is worth overfulfilling. What are your orders, sir?"

"To do the Vor thing," Guy shakes his hand in a gesture to indicate all of this social dinner circus. "In style and at length. I'm investigating a potential funding source for the Komarran revolt. I need a Vor to be Vorishly distracting and keep all eyes away from me while I do it."

"Certainly, sir," Vorkosigan says. Guy could strangle him for not dropping that completely unnecessary honorific. Guy supposes he could start calling Vorkosigan by his actual title. But then it might escalate and Guy really doesn't know how Vorkosigan is announced at court when he is. Guy has seen various holodramas, but he has no idea how the Vor manage to successfully navigate the Winterfair Ball in reality. Do they all actually already know each other, or are there nametags? On the other hand, everyone probably does know Vorkosigan. "Would this be an ongoing investigation, or only one social event?"

"If it takes more than one, I've been compromised and probably dead in a ditch somewhere," Guy says. "I know what I'm looking for, so it shouldn't take more than a few hours to do the deep digging, so long as I have those hours free of distractions. My lord."

Vorkosigan nods as if acknowledging a point, though Guy gets the distinct impression that it isn't the point Guy had been trying to make. Too late, he remembers the snide remarks he had heard from his ImpSec colleagues, about how Diplomatic Corps officers were only play soldiers, Vor weaklings who used military rankings to make themselves look and feel superior. But that wasn't what I meant! Guy resolves to stop playing this game immediately. He's ImpSec, not a diplomat. There's no point for him to speak in circles, just go to the point.

"I'm not a diplomat," Guy says. "I'm not going to play diplomat games."

Vorkosigan looks at him strangely. "That's why you have me, yes."

"No," Guy says, "because I want to get something clear with you before I put my life into your hands."

Vorkosigan straightens. Guy had thought he was at his full attention before, it turns out that there are variations of focus for Vorkosigan. "I understand," he says, clipped. "I have no expectation of you defending me. I am here to aid you, not for you to be my bodyguard."

"Oh, fuck," Guy says feelingly. "Vorkosigan, will you shut up and let me brief you?" Too late, he realizes he's left off all rank and titles from the Lord Regent's son. He refuses to let his blush show. "All I need from you is to do your Vor charisma thing. Show up, get the room eating out of your hand, and keep them there. I'm not insinuating that you're not as much an officer as I am," possibly more of one, considering that Vorkosigan without a doubt graduated from the Imperial Military Academy and Guy hadn't even been permitted to apply for officer's candidacy there, "or doubting your honor. I am simply pointing out that I don't know you and I don't know what you're capable of. And you don't know me. So can we drop all of this and actually talk to each other without me having to wonder if I just called your mother a... a commoner or something of that sort?"

Guy can't tell what Vorkosigan is thinking. It's scaring him about as much as it's probably meant to. Which is, a lot. "My name is Piotr," Vorkosigan says abruptly. "Lord Piotr if you want to be Vorish about it, which I expect we shall be whenever this dinner party is to take place. When is it? I will have to get myself an invitation, of course, and possibly an introduction, if the host does not have an established relationship with the embassy. None of this is anything you need to worry yourself with; I can make all the arrangements."

Guy nods. "I gave the ambassador all the information I had," he says. "I don't know what he's doing with it, but he'll know more about that part of it than I'll probably ever understand."

"I gave you my name," Vorkosigan says, and it sounds almost kind, "it's customary for you to now tell me yours, if not necessarily give me permission to use it."

Oh, was that what he was doing? Giving Guy permission to call him by his unadorned first name? Guy is going to have to decline that honor. It would probably come back to bite him if he didn't. "Guy Allegre," he says. "Lieutenant, Imperial Security Komarr."

Vorkosigan's lips twitch. "Going to give me your service number, too?" He waves it away. "Please trust me, Lieutenant Allegre. I do know what I'm doing. You can focus on your end of it. I will make sure my end of it is accomplished smoothly and in a way that will not distract you in the slightest manner."

And then Guy can go back to where he belongs, which is ImpSec HQ on Komarr, and not some glittery embassy with their glittery Vor, no matter how aesthetically pleasing one of them turns out to be on close glance. He's here on a mission and he's here to complete that mission as fast as possible and then return to Komarr.

"Right," Guy says, and determinedly does not think about how everyone who served during the Conquest was right and the Vorkosigans do have some kind of horribly magical magnetism and you can't help but either love them or want to strangle them, "can we go somewhere so I can brief you?"

"By all means," Vorkosigan says, and leads him to a small conference room on a lower level, all nicely underground, and it's enough like Komarr to make Guy almost miss it.

 

-----

 

The dinner party is two days away. From the aghast look on Vorkosigan's face, that's an abomination unto the gods of organizing formal dinners. Guy is kept busy enough with his side of the planning for the op that he doesn't get a chance to worry too much if it's even going to be possible, but Vorkosigan comes through, or, rather, he understands, the embassy calls in a favor, and Vorkosigan gets everything he needs.

They meet up at meals, Guy much more comfortable in his own fatigues, and Vorkosigan looking downright casual in undress greens, and feel each other out. They run through the scenarios and the intelligence requirements and Guy is satisfied that at least Vorkosigan knows what he's doing.

And then the morning of the op, with nearly all the preparations on his end finished, Guy walks into the conference room to see Vorkosigan with his tunic off and a medic fiddling with something in the bend of Vorkosigan's elbow.

"Just a minute, Lieutenant," Vorkosigan says, and the medic puts a cap on what Guy finally identifies as an implanted short-term locator chip, one of the ones, on second glance, that should last for two days. He's never seen one from this angle. The ones that come his way are usually out of the body, or inside dead ones. "Kidnapping's a concern," Vorkosigan explains. "I have another one somewhere you don't need to know about, but it's always a good idea to give the enemy one of them, because then they don't look for the second."

"We don't make that mistake on Komarr," Guy says, and is rewarded by Vorkosigan actually grinning at him as the medic excuses himself.

"Nor on Earth," he agrees. "But we're Barrayarans. Others worlds may have invented paranoia, but we perfected it," he says proudly.

Guy snorts. "So you're planning on getting kidnapped by idiots, is that it?"

"They'd have to be idiots to try to kidnap me," Vorkosigan says without a trace of conceit. "I have a younger brother. There's no threat to my line, and so I'm useless as a hostage."

"You don't have the allergy," Guy tells him flatly. There's no question about it at all. Vorkosigan's in direct line for a Countship and nepotism works the other way, too.

"Yes," Vorkosigan grimaces. "Captain Illyan has made it clear that I am not permitted to die under questioning, by which he is ignoring the certainty that any smart interrogator would kill me after draining me out, so there's very little harm in me dying before anyone cracks open my mind and drains my secrets. I tried appealing the decision to a higher authority, but my father has indicated that he values my life for sentimental reasons, and those reasons outweigh security concerns. I didn't agree, and my objection has been noted for the record."

"You can't blame a father for caring," Guy says, and Vorkosigan gives Guy a lingering look.

"Things become difficult," he says finally, "when the roles of father and Imperial Regent collide. We have not yet had enough time to untangle our expectations of each other."

Guy has no idea what Vorkosigan just said, but the tone does not invite further questions, and he has to work with Vorkosigan so he should probably respect that. On the other hand, he's ImpSec. His job is to push. And while collecting intelligence from a Vorkosigan lordling is not, to be exact, his job, Guy can think off-hand of many ways it could prove useful, not the least of them being helping to foil the million and two assassination plots against Lord Regent Vorkosigan that the Komarrans think up per month.

"You want the allergy," Guy says, voice a studied neutral.

"I asked for the allergy as an Imperial favor," Vorkosigan says. "No, I didn't ask. I begged. I begged for it as a fatherly mercy. I begged for it every way I could think of, and my father refused to entertain the notion. If he had not told me to desist already, I would still be begging for it with every letter I send home."

That's not studied hatred in Vorkosigan's voice. That's earned. Guy frowns. When was Vorkosigan ever in a position to have been administered fast-penta? And that's not just hatred of interrogations in general theory, that's specific. When was Vorkosigan subjected to a rough interrogation? "Was this during your training?" he asks.

"It was at the Academy," Vorkosigan says, not having any problems following Guy's thought process. "It proved to be an experience I would not care to repeat."

"Fast-penta, in my experience," Guy says, because he'll bet all the marks he has that he's conducted more interrogations than Vorkosigan's ever watched, "can be a great tool, both for the interrogator, and the prisoner. It helps trigger memories we might not otherwise reach, and it's painless." And pain really doesn't help it, Guy wants to add, because pain causes the brain to clench and spasm like any other muscle and interrupts the steady flow of information that fast-penta was designed to obtain. Pain defeats the purpose of fast-penta as the interrogation drug of choice.

Vorkosigan looks like he's about to spit on the floor. "It's an abomination," he says viciously. "It's... it's sick. It takes the only privacy a man can reasonably have in this life, that privacy between his ears, and it takes it and it twists it and suddenly you have no privacy whatsoever, your entire life is spread out like a banquet for the interrogator to survey. It's an indignity too great. Much too great. They can watch you, they can tap your comconsoles, but the one place they shouldn't be able to touch is inside your head. That's the last vestige of privacy. Unassailable. But it's only unassailable until they break out the fast-penta. And then it's open season on everything you'd ever hoped to keep just to yourself. All your hopes, all your desires, it's all open to the plucking. Everything. They get to have everything," Vorkosigan hisses. He pulls himself up and stares Guy in the eye. "So, yes, I want the allergy. I really, really want the allergy. I hate fast-penta. It's not an experience I ever want to repeat."

"Preserving the dignity of the witness or suspect is not the highest priority," Guy says. "Obtaining information is. Most trainees find it humiliating, you know. I went through it for the experience before I got my allergy implanted, and they had me singing songs and talking about my mother's gossiping with the neighbors before they even got to the real questions."

"They weren't concerned too much with my mother," Vorkosigan says for whatever reason.

He's a Vorkosigan. Guy would bet the instructors had a list of topics to not even go near. Maybe the list of questions had even had to be approved by Emperor Ezar himself. It seems the sort of thing the Academy would have had to do. The Vor that Guy's served with -- and he can't fault any of them for nepotism, they've all been real officers, not civilians playing dress-up -- have all sworn on their name's word that the Academy doesn't treat them with gloves on, not even the highest of the High, not even Count's Heirs. Everyone is equal in the Emperor's sight. Well, all Vor are equal, though if that reform bill passes, proles will finally be allowed to become Academy cadets, too.

But that's High Vor. This is a Vorkosigan. You don't get higher without hitting royalty. If they put him under fast-penta, Guy can't even imagine how careful they would have had to be. Vorkosigan probably knew state secrets before he knew how to walk.

"Anyway," Vorkosigan says, and he turns his back on Guy. "I need to finish getting ready."

"So you decided on the uniform?" Guy asks, going, with great relief, with the change of subject. He isn't interested in getting chewed up by an angry Vor lord. Protocol problems are much easier to consider, if not necessarily more pleasant than contemplating the flush on Vorkosigan's face when he's that angry.

Yes, contemplating protocol problems are better. Turn this into a lesson on protocol, not a lesson on distraction and how to court it.

Deciding which uniform to wear had been, from what Guy can tell, about as difficult as getting an invitation to the dinner. Vorkosigan had spent some time explaining the difficulty to Guy; it essentially came down to a choice between potentially insulting some of the Komarran-sympathizing guests by wearing his House uniform, misusing the uniform by wearing duty uniform to an event not openly part of his duty, or disappointing everyone by being a Barrayaran while not wearing any kind of uniform. The last time he'd mentioned it, Vorkosigan had been muttering about talking to the Major of Protocol about it.

Guy, of course, as a serving officer on covert ops duty, will be dressed to blend in. ImpSec makes things so much simpler.

"Dress greens," Vorkosigan says. "Though I am, technically, representing myself and not the embassy, we decided that wearing my House uniform would be asking for trouble and would serve to cause a disturbance, which is diametrically opposite from our goals tonight. It's our own fault, in a way. We encouraged the stereotype of always associating the Vor with uniforms. It was always eventually going to make things annoying. So that leaves me with dress greens and probably having to write a report to put into the file on your op, rationalizing and explaining why I knowingly violated dress rules."

Guy nods. "I think it makes sense. Will you get into any trouble for it?"

"No," Vorkosigan replies. "I cleared it with the Major of Protocol and Ambassador Vorbretten, and they've given me leave to do it. At most, I'll get a snide letter from one of my instructors at school, telling me what I should have done instead, if only I'd been thinking clearer."

"You have that close a relationship with an old professor?" Guy asks.

Vorkosigan shrugs. "He's one of my uncles."

Oh, of course. Let's not ever forget that he's a Vorkosigan and therefore related to every Vor, from Emperor Gregor on down. "Do you think there is a choice you're overlooking?"

"It's possible," Vorkosigan says. "Although if I am, both the ambassador and the senior protocol officer are also overlooking it, and that's more unlikely."

"So, that's actually a no, then," Guy says.

Vorkosigan grins. "Oh, you know diplomats, Lieutenant. We will never give you a short, simple answer when a long, complicated one will do. And along the way, we will conveniently also fail to actually answer the question. Which is so shameful of us. We really should be better at being blunt."

"I'm trying to imagine the Academy classes on this," Guy admits. "Was it the only time in your life when you got points for a failure to answer the question posed?"

"We got points for style and misdirection," Vorkosigan says. "One of my classmates could take a probing question about salic descent and turn it into a discussion of interplanetary trade policy. He is, as you can imagine, assigned to a much more important embassy than Earth."

"Careful, Vorkosigan," Guy says. "I could hear that bitterness."

Vorkosigan shrugs. "It's not like it's a great secret that this is political exile for me." He pulls his dress greens tunic out and starts putting it on. "Luckily, Earth is like every other planet: it thinks it's the most important, and so of course they are honored with the presence of the Lord Regent's son. After all, this is Earth, home of culture, home of history, home of humanity. Of course they get the bright young stars. We don't tell them, of course, that our bright young stars go to Cetaganda and Escobar, where real delicacy is required. It's not like we're one diplomatic misstep away from war around here. Officially, I am here to expand my cultural horizons. What's unofficial is not their concern and we do our best to keep it that way."

Vorkosigan fastens his collar and puts in his pins with a forceful twist. "So, as you can imagine, we take great care in crafting how I will be introduced," he says. "We didn't at first, the necessity for it was overlooked. Our mistake, we thought crafted elegance could wait and we could fall back on the normal forms. Lieutenant Lord Piotr Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Imperial Service, et cetera et cetera. The normal forms are endlessly useful, but I suppose we found the end of their usefulness: someone who didn't exactly understand my position -- and that's putting it politely -- said to me, in all seriousness, that it was so much like something out of a history myth, with a child ruler and a regent with a family history of both overthrowing Emperors and putting them on the throne, and then asked me if I thought the Emperor would live to see his majority."

Guy winces in sympathy.

"Yes," Vorkosigan says dryly. "It was exactly like that. The ambassador took me to the side later and congratulated me, off the record, for not throwing my drink or descending to profanity when I informed my questioner that I prayed every day for the Emperor's safety and apologized for not making my position as the Regent's son quite clear."

"I can see why you're careful," Guy says. "Although I think that people who don't know might assume that you being the Regent's son means--"

"Means that I'm a traitor, or nearly so," Vorkosigan finishes. "Which is one reason we've started putting Imperial cousin ahead of Regent's son in my introduction. It places me by my relationship to the Emperor, and not by my relationship to the Emperor's Regent."

"Just about any High Vor is an Imperial cousin, if you squint," Guy says.

"A fact of the Vor that we conveniently tend to forget to mention," Vorkosigan replies. "How disgraceful of us. We really should remedy that, but I'm afraid it will manage to slip my mind. Oh, well."

Guy grins. "Such a disgrace," he agrees. "Have you considered publishing a family tree?"

"No," Vorkosigan says, "although we do give them the official biographies. It's all part of the diplomatic package. We make it clear that the Lord Regent is the son of a Prince's daughter, not a Prince's son, and so cannot inherit the throne by our law."

Emperor Dorca begs to differ, Guy thinks. "Do you have an official biography?" he asks instead.

"Not on my own merit, no," Vorkosigan says. "I'm one of Aral Vorkosigan's footnotes. It's not by policy, it's just convenient for everyone. It makes things simpler. You've probably done it yourself, writing up reports on Komarran threats to the Regency." He lifts his chin in a mockery of a reporting analyst. "And as for Vorkosigan's son, no change."

To think of your entire life being demoted to a mere footnote. On the other hand, at least he's listed in the histories for his merits. The Allegre who made history did it as a traitor. "Do you find being overlooked to be unpleasant?"

"On the contrary," Vorkosigan says. "The thought of surpassing him horrifies me. My father had his name on nearly every military triumph of the last twenty-five years, facilitated the retreat from Escobar, and is now the Lord Regent. Imagine what would have to happen to me for all of that to simply become part of the life and times of Piotr Richars Vorkosigan. I suspect the only situation in which he would be known primarily as my father is if someone were to do a family biography and let me have my own little chapter, after my father and grandfather have finished taking up several volumes."

"And you're okay with that?" Guy asks outright. He certainly wouldn't be. He doesn't have grand plans of being a career man in ImpSec, which is good, because if he did, Komarran duty would put an end to that immediately. But if he can do his part to redeem his family name, he'll sweat blood and tears to do it. And after all his merit and all his pain, he damn well hopes he doesn't die as still just another relative of Armsman Allegre, doomed to bear that name without redeeming it.

"I like it when people don't notice me," Vorkosigan says, and smoothes his uniform into place. "I prefer it, in fact."

"You should have been ImpSec, then," Guy says. "Not diplomacy."

Vorkosigan frowns. "We all serve in our own ways."

"How do you manage to keep doing this?" Guy asks him before he can think better of it. "Making me wonder if I'd just insulted you without meaning to."

Vorkosigan hesitates. "I apologize," he says formally. "I didn't realize... but of course, my reflexes don't always inform me before they fire. I apologize if I've insulted you or cast aspersions on your honor. Forgive me, please. I'm too used to the company of diplomats and other lowlifes. I don't doubt that you can be subtle," Vorkosigan continues, almost kindly. "And I'm sure that you are very, very, very good at covert ops. But, ah. With all that, you... you don't exactly hold a candle to the viciousness and studied insults of the capital. Consider that a compliment, Lieutenant, please. Your company and conversation is preferable to me than half the Vor in Vorbarr Sultana."

"Um. Thank you," Guy says. "This wasn't a hazard I thought I'd have on this mission," he admits. "But I guess I should have expected it. Go to Earth. Meet a diplomat. Get protocol lessons."

"I love a willing ear to my lectures," Vorkosigan tells him seriously. "Usually the only people who listen to me are my plants."

"Your plants listen to you?" Guy asks.

"ImpSec bugs them," Vorkosigan says. "So I know they're perfectly capable of doing so."

So when Vorkosigan was saying that his only privacy was in his head, he wasn't exaggerating. "Have you considered a career as a professor? You could then spend your life lecturing, again, mostly people who don't want to listen."

"What a nightmare, for my hobby to become my profession," Vorkosigan says. "As it is, I can stop when my victim falls asleep. That wouldn't be the case if I were responsible for him actually learning anything from it."

Ha. "Speaking of lecturing any willing ear, I was surprised not to see you at breakfast this morning. Were you running late?"

"No, running early. I was seeing Lady Arina off on her quest," Vorkosigan says.

Oh, Lady Arina. Of course. Guy'd completely forgotten about her. "Are you two," Guy can't think of a way to finish the sentence delicately, "courting?"

"Arina Vorhalas?" Vorkosigan barks a laugh before he gets his face under control again. "Oh, no, no, no." Then he probably realizes what it sounds like he's saying. "No insult to her, of course, she is perfectly suitable and very honorable. But Arina has an understanding with Lord Auditor Vorparadijs's grandson, Lord Oren. They've had it for, oh, three, four years now? They aren't in any rush to get married. Lady Arina is occupied with finally getting the main district university's agricultural school rebuilt. It's a major project, it's been going on since the Cetagandans destroyed the original one in the last days of the war and it's been delayed by funding problems and, well, Yuri. His forces occupied it during the war and Prince Xav burnt down what the Cetagandans didn't manage to, when he was trying to smoke Yuri out so the war would be finished before the frost set in. He didn't quite succeed in ending the war, but he did do an amazing amount of damage to the university."

Vorkosigan fiddles with his sleeve and pulls it up around the implanted chip and presses down firmly on it with his thumb. It gives an annoyed beep as it activates and begins the hours-long acclimatization cycle to understand the body it's found itself in. Two days from now. If I let Vorkosigan get kidnapped, two days from now, we won't know where he is.

"But rebuilding the physical structure is only part of the process, of course," Vorkosigan says. "Lady Arina is on Earth to tempt as many experts back to Barrayar with her as she can, which will gave the district university a competitive edge over the other ag schools. And meanwhile Lord Oren is on Beta, studying uterine replicator technology. He wants the Vorparadijs's District to be on the cutting edge for reproductive technology and he still has another two years of study before he can set anything up in his district capital. He has Count Vorparadijs's full support, of course; he and Count Vorloupulous are joint backers of the project. They say that usually, the greekies get all new technology dead last, and they want to reverse that, they want, in ten years, for some Countess to insist on a greekie doctor because everyone knows the greekies are the best at it. But this can't be rushed. And Oren is very popular in the District. When they announce the betrothal, Arina and Oren will also announce that all their children will be born through a uterine replicator. That should help acceptance in the District."

Vorkosigan sounds viciously pleased by this.

"You seem... impassioned," Guy says, because maniacal isn't a polite word to use.

"I am a believer in uterine replicator technology," Vorkosigan says. "Had my step-mother insisted on using it, my brother would not currently have a life expectancy of six years."

Guy has heard many things, some of them contradictory, about Lord Miles Vorkosigan. None of them are anything he'd care to repeat in Vor company, let alone the company of Lord Miles's brother.

"I was only surprised by your acquaintance," Guy says carefully, "because I'd thought your father and hers were political enemies."

"Lady Arina and I knew each other as children. Her younger brother and I were childhood friends, and her uncle was Rulf Vorhalas, who served with my father. He died at Escobar." Vorkosigan's tone invites Guy to come to the conclusion that the rift between Count Vorhalas and Lord Vorkosigan began then. Guy isn't going to contradict that. Let Vorkosigan think that Guy's buying into the party line.

"I imagine that could cause some bitterness," Guy answers carefully. Not as much bitterness, of course, as Vorhalas's son attempting to assassinate the Lord Regent. But if Vorkosigan isn't going to mention it, Guy won't either. "The Lord Regent was very public about not supporting the invasion, and then reaped all congratulation for the successful retreat."

"All congratulation has been forced on him, not claimed by him," Vorkosigan says. "He considers the entire fiasco to be highly dishonorable and he's refused all congratulation to his face. He prefers not to speak of it, saying only that he considers it a personal failure that he could not have retreated from the invasion before it began, instead of after. And for my own opinion," Vorkosigan continues darkly, "I think that if the Conqueror of Komarr says your plan is stupid, he's probably right. And I think that failure weighs on him the most, that they were honoring him for one conquest and then not listening to him about another, and he could not find a way to make them listen. And thousands died for that failure."

"Including the Prince," Guy says.

Vorkosigan frowns. "Yes, of course. It was a great tragedy. A tragedy with continuing repercussions. In fact, one of the reasons you're stuck with me, I'm afraid, rather than being issued with someone less conspicuous to Komarrans, is because I can't do anything involving Beta Colony or Escobar, and operations having to do with those planets are occupying a great deal of time, personnel, and attention right now. And, unfortunately, there's currently an arrest warrant for me on Beta Colony, so I can't enter their embassy or they'll try to arrest me, and then we'll have a severe diplomatic problem."

"And the Escobaran embassy as well?" Guy asks.

"No, they just refuse be polite to my face, which is problematic enough for diplomatic purposes. But they won't try to clasp me in chains and ship me back to their planet to stand trial. It's my father they want, of course. Pretty badly. I think there's a bounty on his head big enough to buy a planet. We're working on it, and on Beta Colony as well. It's all in the long steady process of being disappeared; one of these days we'll find something they want and demand all charges be dropped in exchange, but for now, the long and the short of it is that I am limited in my activities, which means that I am generally always available for emergency work that has nothing to do with Beta or Escobar. And so, congratulations, you get me," Vorkosigan grimaces. "I know you would have preferred someone less conspicuous, but I'm all that could be scrounged up on short notice. Hopefully, that will change soon, but it's a process. We only recently managed to get my brother his inherited Betan citizenship that he's entitled to under their constitution. It's about time; he's two and we've been applying for it since before he was born. Perhaps by the time he's old enough to visit, his mother will be able to accompany him without us having to worry that the Betans won't allow her to leave."

"They're that upset?" That hadn't been in any of the briefing materials on threats to the Regency that Guy had seen. But why would it be? He's in Komarran Affairs. Beta Colony and their threats to the Regency would be Galactic Affairs's problem. It's only Guy's concern if some intrepid Betan tries to team up with an equally intrepid Komarran.

Vorkosigan's face is very, very blank. "Beta, last I heard, thinks my father brainwashed Lady Vorkosigan, kidnapped her, and forced her to body-birth a child. The fact that Miles eventually came out of a uterine replicator does not help us at all; from the Betans's perspective, the soltoxin damage makes things worse because now, not only have we kidnapped their war hero, we've poisoned her son. As you can imagine, they are very unhappy with the idea of any Vorkosigan having diplomatic immunity. We hope," he continues after a moment, "that it will all die down by the time Miles is old enough to visit his grandmother and other relatives on Beta. We have all made our choices and we live with the consequences, but Miles is an innocent. You should listen to the Betans's propaganda sometime; they really hate us. The emotional intensity is staggering."

"They can't hate your family as much as Komarrans do," Guy says. "It seems like every week, we're tracking down a different Vorkosigan assassination plot." And sometimes it's not every week, it's every day.

Vorkosigan smiles ruefully. "We seem to have a talent for gaining enemies," he agrees. "The Cetagandans would very much like to get their hands on my grandfather. This is not to suggest that my mother's side of the family doesn't have their share of enemies, but the Cetagandans succeeded in killing Pierre le Sanguinaire."

"And yourself?" Guy asks. "Made your share of enemies?"

Vorkosigan shrugs. "None of any real interest, no. I try to be neutral. My grandfather is a staunch conservative, my father is suspected of being a progressive, my step-mother is Betan. No matter where I stand on politics, I am standing against someone who holds my loyalty. And so I endeavor to remain neutral and therefore offend everybody equally."

"But it allows you to maintain a friendship with Count Vorhalas's daughter," Guy says. "Without that being seen as improper, I suppose?"

"Oh, it's very proper," Vorkosigan says. "Lady Arina made her choice of betrothed before Escobar, before her brothers's disgrace. We never courted each other and I was well-known as a friend of the family. Continuing that acquaintance even after Lord Carl died for dueling, that brave drunken idiot, and even after Evon died on the wrong side of the war, is merely unusual, but nothing close to scandalous. And Lady Arina is not a blushing, sheltered Vor maiden. She graduated from the Agricultural and Engineering Institute in the capital a few months before Escobar. And she's playing political games with the best of them to bring this project to fruition."

"Is building a new ag school that controversial?" Guy asks. "Two of my siblings are currently attending the one in my home district. From their complaints about the cut-throat competition for admission, I'd assume Barrayar needs more and larger schools."

"Yes, but Arina's bringing in talent from Earth," Vorkosigan says. "She says new ideas from outside are important. Others say it's her duty to support her district before supporting galactics. Your district...," Vorkosigan looks at Guy thoughtfully.

"Guess," Guy dares him.

"You're in intelligence, so your accent could mean anything," Vorkosigan says, staring at Guy but looking through him, "and you're on Komarran duty, so that's doubly dangerous to assume. It sounds like you're city-born; at a guess, one of the larger ones in the Vorville's District, maybe the capital or maybe not. I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with the regions or cities there to place that guess more exactly. You have Vorbarr Sultana around the edges, but ground in, it sounds too old and ingrained to be a product of military training or you being assigned to the capital. I'd guess you're Vorville's District-born, but your parents or grandparents were from Vorbarr Sultana or were garrisoned there for long periods of time. And then were evacuated, at a guess, if they were district-born and not merely district-assigned... considering your age, I'd suppose because of Yuri, not the Cetagandans. Count Vorville took in evacuees..." Vorkosigan trails off, his eyes focusing in the distance before he blinks. "Allegre. Of course."

Guy stands perfectly still, doing his best not to show a reaction. Vorkosigan's a descendant of Xav, but that doesn't mean he remembers the names of the armsmen who had helped kill Prince Ivan. Or if he does, that he would make the connection. A conversation about the notorious Armsman Allegre is not a conversation Guy wants to have ever, and especially not with the man before him, especially not when Guy is sure Vorkosigan could provoke him into saying what he's thought for years, that Louis Allegre had obeyed an order from his Emperor, as he was oath-sworn to do, and he was only called a traitor because Yuri had lost the war. And Vorkosigan knows armsmen, he knows their loyalty, he knows it's one of the greatest honors a district-born man can achieve, and to serve the Vorbarra family is one of the highest honors on Barrayar. By becoming one of the Emperor's men, Louis Allegre was supposed to have elevated his family name, not tainted it with treason.

No, Guy thinks, this is never a conversation he wants to have. With anyone. Because he's really not interested in finding himself defending a man who helped an Emperor murder a Prince.

"We're French-speakers at home," Guy says, choosing to indicate that he had interpreted Vorkosigan's last to be a comment on his likely origin and not him putting pieces together. "I was educated in the district capital and attended the military academy there. I have never been assigned to Vorbarr Sultana."

Vorkosigan raises an eyebrow at him.

Guy hesitates and then says, "You're correct; my family left Vorbarr Sultana during Yuri's war. My family is liege-sworn to Count Vorville."

Vorkosigan nods. "And you're on Komarr duty," he comments. "Will you try to transfer out or do you intend to stay?"

"I hadn't given it much thought," Guy admits. "Staying alive month by month in Komarr is hard enough."

"You should consider Vorbarr Sultana," Vorkosigan says, "if you get a chance to choose. The capital is a good post for any ambitious young officer."

And much more politically dangerous than Komarr, where at least the worst they can do to you is blow you up. Capital duty can blow your entire family up, pile disgrace on your family name for decades to come. "I think I like Komarr, actually," Guy says. "You may not know who the enemy is, but you know who the enemy isn't. You can rely on the man next to you not to shoot you to advance his own career."

"Good point," Vorkosigan says. "It wouldn't be my choice, but what I want is the opposite of career advancement. But I'm an anomaly. You should consider it, Lieutenant, if you get a choice of assignments."

"Trade in a set of domes for the insane maze that is ImpSec HQ?" Guy asks. "I'll pass."

Vorkosigan shrugs. "Just... keep it in mind," he says carefully, "if you want--"

Is he trying to get me to ask him for some Vor nepotistic favor? "I'll earn my promotions," Guy says.

Vorkosigan freezes. Guy isn't even sure he's breathing. Then he exhales sharply. "No...," he says softly. "That wasn't what I meant at all." He looks down and then back up at Guy again and his mask is back in place. When did it drop? What did I just miss? Guy could be furious at himself for missing that. He has no idea what just happened and that's a disgrace to his silver eyes.

Vorkosigan swallows hard and his fingers curl over the bend of his elbow. "I'll take my leave now," he says, not looking Guy in the face. "I'll meet up with you at our agreed time to leave, Lieutenant."

"All right," Guy says to him and watches Vorkosigan tidy up his things and go, still trying to figure out what just happened.

 

-----

 

Vorkosigan is back to his usual self when they meet up for the final op prep. Or, at least, Guy supposes, looking at him, he's back to the usual self he's been showing Guy. Willing to talk, but not willing to get too close. Not willing to talk to Guy like he's a friend instead of an ImpSec interloper who will be gone as soon as his mission is over. He's back to being purely professional. And that's good, Guy tells himself. He needs Vorkosigan at his most professional tonight.

Guy double- and triple-checks all his gear while a tech tests Vorkosigan's earbug. It's ImpSec standard issue, with a comm link disguised in the translation circuits. While Guy watches, Vorkosigan palms it out of his pocket and swaps it out for a dummy one. It's seamless. All Vorkosigan has to do is swap the standard issue one for the one he will be handed tonight when he walks in and he'll be on comms all night without any problems.

They practice the signals for one last time and then Vorkosigan goes off with a medic for a short moment. "Sinking the locator chips," Vorkosigan explains when he returns. "They won't show up on scanners now."

Guy nods. With one final check, they leave the safe confines of the embassy for the dangerous uncertainty of the op.

And then it all, amazingly, goes close-enough to plan. Guy slips inside the security perimeter and finds his way to the target. He holds his breath carefully and listens for any alarms, for any signs that someone has noticed that something has gone wrong, that there's someone where there shouldn't be anyone.

Through his earbug, he hears Vorkosigan start to charm his way through the crowd. Guy takes a deep breath and gets to work.

Four hours later, he's done. He extracts himself from the situation carefully and is able to breathe a sigh of relief when, finally, he slips into the side of the waiting ground-car. Vorkosigan is still chattering in his ear. Guy makes two clicks at him through the comm to indicate that he doesn't need the distraction anymore. Vorkosigan's tone doesn't change. Guy clicks at him again, hoping that the message got through, then settles in to wait.

He waits an hour and a half before Vorkosigan climbs in next to him. Before Guy can verbalize his amount of annoyance at Vorkosigan wasting time, Vorkosigan loosens the collar on his dress greens and says, "Lieutenant Allegre, thank you very much for the lovely evening. I had a wonderful time."

Thrown, it takes Guy a minute to get his full share of anger back. "What took so long?"

Vorkosigan gives him one of those looks that Guy translates as meaning who replaced your brain with a root vegetable? Good question, Guy could ask him the same thing. "I can't just leave in the middle because your mission is finished. I was only able to get away this early because I gave them some line about midnight being the traditional Barrayaran time for guests to make their excuses and leave. Told them it was an honor of the Vor thing for the hosts's comfort, and we must always be honorable."

Early? He calls this early? "The point," Guy says lowly, "of covert ops is to get in and out as quickly as possible."

Vorkosigan sets his jaw. "A state of affairs about which I am intimately aware, I assure you. Unfortunately, you are covert ops and I am not. If your mission had required a covert ops agent, that was a requirement you should have mentioned to the ambassador when requesting your Vor distraction. In the future, should you require a covert accomplice for an ImpSec mission, please state that at the beginning, not the end."

Guy glares at him, but desists. This isn't an argument to be having now. "Did anyone suspect?" he asks.

"There was some surprise," Vorkosigan says, "and pointed remarks. We'll be going over the transcripts very carefully later, but I might have made some contacts that will be useful in the future."

"So the night wasn't a pure waste for you," Guy says. "How nice."

"Waste not," Vorkosigan replies, and for some reason, he's actually smiling. Guy will never understand the Vor. Ever. "We shared an agenda tonight, Lieutenant, but there is always the diplomatic agenda in play. The official policy of the government is to work towards full and peaceful Komarran integration. We see the revolt as an inconvenience we must work around, not a sign that we should bomb Komarr to rubble and start over. If there is anything I can do or say to help these people see that we're not trying to destroy their wealth and privilege, and are willing to work towards making them richer and better connected, then I'll do it."

"And the next thing you know, they'll be letting Komarrans into the Academy," Guy says.

Vorkosigan's smile disappears. "Proles will be let in starting with the next class," he says quietly. "It's not official yet, but the Lord Regent ordered the Academy last year to prepare for it. And if letting Komarrans in, too, will help towards integration, then I don't see the harm. We'll have to be careful about which Komarrans, of course, but Komarrans in general as a group? I can see the benefits much easier than the risks."

"Visit Komarr some time," Guy says. "You'll see the risks."

"You know as well as I do," Vorkosigans says, "that if the revolt was even a tenth of the size larger, we would be unable to hold the planet as it is, and probably would have to bomb it into oblivion to keep control of the wormholes. I don't forget how Dorca held Barrayar against the Cetagandans, and the Komarrans are a lot better supplied than we were against the Cetagandans. We're winning, Lieutenant. We haven't won yet, and we could still lose, and I'm not discounting just how much further we have to go, but I think we're making progress. It's slow progress, to be sure, and it's... I've had friends who've died, too," he says, probably having run out of the official line on Komarran integration and going for what he really thinks about when he thinks about Komarr, "a lot of them, and I had friends who died fighting Vordarian, even some friends who were on Vordarian's side--"

What? "What?" Guy asks.

"My class was," Vorkosigan starts, then shrugs. "Mine was the last Academy class to graduate before the war, and we'd already lost a full term and then some to fighting riots in the capital after Escobar. And we were the second class that entered the Academy after the Komarran conquest. When we were seventeen, we'd all thought we'd be sent to secure Komarr for our children's generation. And then there was Escobar, and then there was Vordarian. We didn't expect it. Civil war was our father's fight, not ours. We'd made friends with boys who'd been on the other side from our own parents, because that war was over and it was our job to reunite the Vor again after Yuri and Xav had torn us apart with their loyalty games. And then we found ourselves sworn to officers who'd joined with Vordarian, or we got confused in the chaos, or we believed Vordarian when he said Gregor was dead and my father had killed him, and so we thought Vordarian had the best claim. That war tore my class apart, Lieutenant. And then some of the survivors were sent to Komarr and then got blown apart. And the only way to honor that, what they did and who they were, is to make doubly sure that we never have another civil war and that we end the revolt as peacefully as possible. And that is what I'm working towards; in all honor, I can do nothing else."

Guy considers the list of the dead against this information. "I served with Ensign Vortugalov," he says. One of those poor unlucky souls caught in the Halomar Barracks the night it went up.

Vorkosigan nods. "Yes, he was one. He was at a party in the capital when Vordarian seized power, and he decided not to return to HQ. Which was smart of him, because his commanding officer was one of Vordarian's loyalists. And so was his father, of course, which made things complicated." He sighs. "He was a really good tech," he says. "And then after surviving what Barrayar could throw at him, he didn't survive Komarr."

"A lot of men haven't survived Komarr," Guy says. "But the Barracks going up... that was a bad night for everyone."

Vorkosigan nods. "We had some of those during the war," he says, then squeezes his eyes shut. "My side," he says. "The Emperor's side. There were some bad nights."

"You served," Guy says. At Vorkosigan's horrified look, Guy continues quickly, "it's written in lines on your face."

Vorkosigan rests his head back against the seat. "I spent the war hiding in the Dendarii Mountains. Non-combatant. Vordarian wanted me dead, and the Mountains were the safest place for me to hide. I didn't fight the war, Lieutenant."

Uh-huh. And Guy would bet Vorkosigan could produce witnesses to testify to it. Witnesses oath-bound to Count Vorkosigan and who would be supremely careful in what they were saying, so the questioner would think they were saying one thing when it fact they were saying something else. Guy knows that type of stonewalling loyalist very well. He sees them on Komarr all the damn time.

"You said you'd graduated by then," Guy points out to him. Better work on your story, Vorkosigan. It has holes.

"I went AWOL," Vorkosigan replies. "It's all in my file. It was waived after, of course. All deserters were pardoned, and I was pardoned with them."

Sure, Vorkosigan deserted. And Guy's a Vor. Well, in case he'd been wondering, that's proof right there that Vorkosigan isn't ImpSec. ImpSec is a lot better at lying about the existence of secret orders. Vorkosigan isn't nearly as smooth at deflecting away from it. Instead, he's all but confirming that his cover story is terrible.

"And so you got sent to Earth," Guy prompts him. Because Vorkosigan clearly needs a lot more practice at this.

Vorkosigan smirks. Actually smirks. "Yes. To live down the shame of it all."

They arrive back the embassy before Guy can answer him. And then Vorkosigan is led away by Major Vorkeres for his debriefing, and Guy heads towards the ambassador's office to meet with the ambassador and senior military attache to deliver his oral report and tell them his conclusions.

Vorkosigan is waiting for him outside the ambassador's office when Guy is finally done. He's wearing what looks to be very expensive civilian clothes, and he's cleaned himself up. Guy hadn't realized he'd been in there that long. Then he checks the chrono and almost winces. Yes. Time flies when you're discussing Komarrans.

But... "It's done," Guy says, in wonder, to Vorkosigan. "Your ambassador promises to handle the rest of it on this side of things, and I think he actually will."

"Nice to have an embassy to provide back-up, isn't it?" Vorkosigan asks. He gives the impression of leaning against the wall, though he is of course too Vor to do any such thing. He is standing perfectly straight, as always. Guy could balance things on his head. He thinks he'd like to try. "You're finished, then, all but the reports. Congratulations."

"Thank you," Guy says, still a little shocked. "I've been given leave. I'm realizing slowly that I'm actually on Earth, historical Earth. And I've been given leave."

"I'll show you around," Vorkosigan offers. "You know us diplomats. All play and no work. I can show you the sights."

"I--," Guy starts. "I'd like that."

 

-----

 

Vorkosigan's idea of showing him the sights seems to be a walking tour of London. They wander through the historical districts and then Vorkosigan cuts through a few streets of high-priced boutiques with an apology before they find themselves among more entertaining company.

"What are your vices?" Vorkosigan asks. "Entertainment, drink, company, London has it. You have to catch a jumpship, so I caution against drink, but otherwise, name it and you can find it within five square blocks."

"What's your vice?" Guy asks instead.

"Culture," Vorkosigan grins. "History of all kinds. London's great for it. The last person I showed around, we went to a museum dedicated to their old royalty relics, and laughed ourselves sick making tasteless jokes about inbreeding. But maybe that's just a Vor perversion."

"I'll pass on that, thank you," Guy says. "You Vor keep your perversions. What else do you suggest?"

"You said you have siblings," Vorkosigan says. "Are there any souvenirs you'd like to pick out for them? I imagine you wouldn't be allowed to tell them where and when you'd got them, but I suppose you could lie and say you found them in a bazaar on Komarr. Or simply do the ImpSec thing and refuse to explain."

Guy looks around, taking in the sheer architecture of this ancient city. "I think I'd like to keep walking," he says. "I'll take memories ahead of trinkets."

Vorkosigan inclines his head. It's almost a bow. "Your wish, Lieutenant. And I must congratulate you on how well you're not acknowledging the perimeter guard." Guy tries to protest but Vorkosigan doesn't give him a chance. "I know they're there and who they are and what their job is. And my job is to not disturb them. But it's good that you know they're there. It makes it all simpler."

And Vorkosigan leads him through the city like he's been conducting wide-eyed tourists around for years, pointing out historical landmarks and more recent events. Guy does end up buying a small souvenir for his parents, a glass bowl of Betan manufacture that he's sure can easily be found on Komarr.

Vorkosigan, for all his wanderings, does seem to have a specific destination in mind, and Guy is content to let him lead him towards it. He's given himself into Vorkosigan's hands as a tour guide, and he's happy to play that part.

And then they reach the end of Vorkosigan's wanderings. Vorkosigan leads Guy into a small privacy bubble a little removed from the crowd swarming around them.

Vorkosigan looks nervous.

"And now the moment of truth," he says. "This would be far simpler if you were Vor; we have signals and we wouldn't need to risk talking openly and bluntly about this, but we don't have accepted signals for this sort of thing in the Service. I hope I haven't been misreading you, but I know there's a chance that I have been, or when offered, you would decline. And therefore, Allegre, this is when I ask you something and take a risk. You can, if you so choose, report this to your superiors, file an ImpSec report, and congratulate yourself and feel good for doing what is right and proper, spying on the Vor. Or you can take me up on the offer," he says, quieter but more determined, "and while I don't dare ask that you not report it, I hope you don't."

As Guy turns that over in his head and again a second time to make sure he's heard correctly, Vorkosigan bends forward and brushes his lips against Guy's. "There is a hotel nearby," he murmurs. "We are never going to lose the ImpSec perimeter and I wouldn't try if I could -- too dangerous by far. But it's not their primary job to spy on me, merely make sure I am safe. If I were to go into a hotel with you, a fine young upstanding ImpSec officer, they would turn their heads."

"ImpSec knows, certainly," Guy starts.

Vorkosigan's hand is suddenly not where it was before. Guy realizes that his response hadn't actually been any kind of denial of interest. "Mmm, yes, and my father, too, of course, for years. But there's knowing and then there's getting a detailed report on it along with the actual important reports coming in from Earth. I try not to waste my father and Illyan's time."

Vorkosigan pulls back and grimaces in distaste. "Which is why I mostly abstain and tell myself to ignore it. But I don't want to, not this time, not with you. Your whole face lights up when you smile, do you know? You should smile more. And you need to know, if you go through with this, with me, that you will come to the attention of the Lord Regent for sleeping with his son. He will be handed your security file. He may even read it. I hope very much that it won't have a detrimental effect on your career or your family, but I cannot speak for ImpSec in anything. The ambassador sends messages on to my father about my activities. I doubt he wants details and I doubt he pays attention to them when he gets them, but for all I know, Illyan has nothing better to do with his spare time than run analyses on if I am endangering the Imperium or my family. He doesn't need reports on that from ImpSec Earth, they can generate all they want on Barrayar."

"Will it affect my security clearance?" Guy asks. At some point in the last minute, he notices with some amusement, he went from speculating about it to assuming it will happen. Guy's had stranger briefings, but he's never had a briefing before someone tried to take him to bed. Then again, he's never gone to bed with a Vor. Maybe this comes standard with extra syllables before your name. You get privilege, but you have to warn people before you have sex. What a strange trade-off.

Vorkosigan shrugs. "One way or the other? I don't know. I don't talk in my sleep, so I'm not required to limit myself to going after men who have equal or higher clearance than I do. I hope it won't affect you negatively, but I know that if it were going to, my father would make sure I didn't know about it. He has a strange paternal desire to spare me from nastiness like that." Vorkosigan grimaces further. "It's amazing the things Lady Vorkosigan can get him to do. I don't particularly like it."

Vorkosigan is expecting him to turn him down, Guy realizes. Vorkosigan is clearly an idiot who has never done anything on a whim, or probably ever had a proper one-night-stand that wasn't endlessly negotiated in advance. He's a Vorkosigan, do you think he's been allowed? "Vor aren't the only ones allowed to take risks for what they deem worth them," Guy says. "My file isn't anything interesting and an extra security report on me having no personal discretion will have to be weighed against all the other reports about my professional discretion. And you would know your own risks here better than I would."

"I don't make a habit of sleeping with anyone who isn't at risk because of me," Vorkosigan says meditatively. "Possibly because then I would certainly be at risk from them. I know ImpSec isn't likely to kill me when my back is turned; they would have done it by now."

Which even Guy can understand isn't actually an answer. "And will this have a negative impact on you in any way?"

"If it were, it would have already," Vorkosigan dismisses. "And as I pointed out to Illyan, all things being equal, I don't have a wife and children they would have to protect, so I'm actually doing them a favor. And my father is not going to have any objections. So long as I'm not indiscreet, he will continue to ignore it."

For values of ignoring it that apparently mean being given a security report on your son's lovers. Guy thinks that the day he understands the Vor mindset will be the day after he dies.

"My father will protect me," Vorkosigan says, turning fully to Guy, "it's a matter of honor for him if he doesn't. But he's made no oaths of protection to you other than the ones he's made in general to the men he commands. I can't-- I can't offer you anything other than risk in return for a much smaller amount of pleasure."

Guy wonders when was the last time Vorkosigan had sex, if this is how he prefaces it. Then again, if he's mostly sleeping with his own class, they'll already know it all. And probably have their own high-ranked protectors.

"Shut up and take me to bed, Vorkosigan," Guy tells him. "We're on leave, we're on Earth, we're tourists. And I want to see the sights."

Vorkosigan laughs. "That's the worst line I've ever heard," he murmurs.

"No, that was yours," Guy corrects him. "'Come to bed with me, it could ruin your career!' As these things go, yours isn't an enticement, it's trying to convince yourself not to take the risk."

"I can't offer you anything--"

"I'm not asking for anything," Guy sighs. Bloody worrying Vor. Well, bloody worrying Vor who have valid concerns about maintaining their reputation, because reputation is everything to them. A Vorkosigan scandal could damage the government. Whereas Guy's danger here seems to be never getting another promotion. Vorkosigan has cause to be worried, but only about himself and his family, Guy thinks. He doesn't have any cause to be worried about Guy. "Really. I just want to get you in bed and see if you can keep up this stone face act of yours with your clothes off, writhing beneath me in pleasure."

"You make excellent promises," Vorkosigan says. "But--"

"It won't hurt your career, or so you said," Guy says. "And you know I'm not about to tell anyone, the same way I know you're not going to tell. So ImpSec knows and the Lord Regent." Yes, Guy, keep telling yourself that this isn't the most insane thing you've ever done. But he doesn't have some dream career to ruin. He's on Komarr duty and has a politically-inconvenient relative. He's never going to be a twice-twenty-year's man and he's fine with that. He doesn't have a grand career planned, so there's nothing for some scandal to ruin. As a risk, compared to Komarr duty, this doesn't even compare. "But this isn't going to leave security-classified files. So what's your concern? That I'll decide that you're not good enough in bed to justify all your worry over it? You don't have to pay me in enough pleasure to outweigh the risk. They aren't measured in compatible scales."

"I-- you-- you make me want to break all the rules," Vorkosigan confesses. "All my careful little rules."

"Good." Guy grins and kisses him.

The hotel proves to be as convenient as Vorkosigan had promised and Guy contemplates giving the perimeter guard sort of signal, but decides against it; he's sure by now that Vorkosigan can read ImpSec signals and isn't sure what he would signal in any case. ImpSec, after all, does not have a signal for please don't look while I seduce a diplomat. Or even while getting seduced by a diplomat. Guy's not sure who's doing the seducing here. But it doesn't matter.

It takes less time to get Vorkosigan out of his clothes than it probably did to get them on, and Guy's fingers skip over the locator chip that he can't actually see. He imagines he can feel it humming happily. There's still a few hours left on it, he realizes. This has all gone so fast. And then Vorkosigan pins him to the bed by his shoulders and breathes into his ear, desperately, "tell me if I'm hurting you, please, tell me."

And Guy pulls Vorkosigan's head down and hisses, "you can't hurt me, shut up, and fuck me."

"I could hurt you more than you know," Vorkosigan objects, but then Guy forces his thigh between Vorkosigan's legs and Vorkosigan finally shuts up.

Well. He doesn't entirely shut up, but he does stop talking.

When it's over, Guy finds himself focusing and unfocusing his eyes, staring at Vorkosigan, who is staring back at him. Vorkosigan's dark hair curls slightly at the ends and Guy wonders what it would look like if Vorkosigan didn't have to keep it to regulation length. He imagines tangling his fingers in Vorkosigan's hair, holding on. Guy blinks and shakes his head ruefully. Stop going for the pretty ones who could eat you for breakfast. This one put a knife under the pillow and he's in bloody diplomacy of all things. Guy kisses Vorkosigan's shoulder.

"You make me wish I were allowed to keep you," Vorkosigan whispers, and Guy knows he wasn't meant to hear it, that Vorkosigan probably wasn't even aware he'd said it out loud.

"Yes," Guy says, going for an ironic tone, "it's such a shame the Vor can't ride down through a town and steal proles for their amusement anymore."

"Oh, we still do," Vorkosigan says brightly, but there's a shine in his eyes. "We just call it recruiting these days."

There are a lot of things to say to that, but Guy can't think of one that wouldn't sound like he just accused Vorkosigan of recruiting him for this. And that would be disgusting. "I should get back to the embassy," he says instead. "The jumpship won't wait for me."

Vorkosigan nods. He rolls over briefly and then stands up. He rummages through the pockets of his trousers while Guy gets dressed.

As Guy moves to leave, Vorkosigan presses something into his hand. "My private comconsole number," he says, almost shyly. "It goes to Vorkosigan House in the capital and all messages are forwarded to my current posting. Should you ever want... protocol lessons." He gives Guy a smile and it's a real smile, spontaneous and wide.

Guy's mouth goes dry. "I...," he blinks. "I may take you up on that."

"Good." Vorkosigan ducks in close and brushes his lips against Guy's. "And look me up if we're ever on the same planet again."