The lace itched. Aral hadn't expected that, nor that it would be so hard to keep his balance on the relatively low heels he was wearing. He bent down to pick some flowers, and held the resulting posy up with his best attempt at a coquettish simper.
"Oh dear," he said aloud, not yet attempting a falsetto, "my garter has come untied. Whatever shall I do?" He gazed around, pointedly not-looking in the direction of the familiar silhouette that didn't quite blend in with the vegetation. "But there is nobody here, my modesty is safe."
Getting into the role, he pulled the skirts up delicately, revealing a silk-stockinged leg, and then up higher until he came to the garter, and tried to get it untied. Balancing like that was even harder on the soft grass, and the layered skirts kept fluttering in the gentle breeze, making him feel decidedly exposed.
It was a glorious summer's afternoon, the Councils were in recess, and ImpSec had orders to keep everyone away from Emperor Ezar's most private and secluded garden until further notice. Perfect for another exploration of Barrayaran sex. Absorbed in dealing with the garter, Aral let out a squeak that was almost real when the officer approached.
"Sweet maid," Cordelia said, "may I be of service?"
The stocking slid down his leg as Aral turned, letting the skirts drop again, and he caught his breath as he got a good view of Cordelia. Where on earth had she got real dress greens? That fit her perfectly? She had his sword on, too, and a knife hilt visible at the top of her boot, and her hair tied back like a soldier in an old painting. And there was a distinct bulge in her trousers. He swallowed, and moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. Cordelia gave a wicked grin and gestured for him to carry on.
"Oh no, kind sir," he said at once, hiding his face behind the flowers. "It would not be right."
Cordelia pushed the flowers aside with a firm hand. "I am an officer and a Vor," she said. "You need not fear me."
Smiling shyly, Aral said, "Well, then, Captain--" and she had blue tabs too, he noticed with delight, "--my garter has come untied. Perhaps you could help me fasten it again."
Cordelia patted him on the shoulder, then slid a hand down his chest. "My dear," she said, "your beauty is overpowering me. Like all patriarchal Barrayaran men I am at the mercy of my cock and cannot be expected to restrain my, my, um, manly urges. I fear that if I were to tie your garter I would take your maidenhead as well, because obviously helping someone with their clothes means you have to have sex."
Aral snorted, then turned it into the appropriate maidenly giggle. "My dear Captain," he said, "I have longed to learn about the ways of men and women, and in fact I was adjusting my garter alongside this busy road--" he gestured to the path through the garden "--in the hope that a handsome officer like you might pass by."
"You poor thing, you are constrained by your cultural baggage and are unable to ask for sex when you want it," Cordelia responded. "Of course I will teach you how it's done."
She moved forwards, pushing Aral back against a tree, and kissed him, much more forcefully than her normal approach. Aral relaxed into it and put his arms around her, but otherwise remained passive, letting Cordelia explore his lips and mouth as if he'd never done this before in his life. It felt oddly greedy to be so much the recipient of Cordelia's kiss, and just a little, unnervingly, helpless.
But he was weak-kneed by the time she was finished with him, and keeping his balance on the heels was far more than he felt able to cope with. In keeping with his role, he pressed a hand to his head and with half-closed eyes said, "I am overwhelmed by the strange new feelings you are arousing in me," and let Cordelia catch him and arrange him on the grass to her liking.
"I shall untie your corset," Cordelia pronounced, "so that you can breathe properly, of course, and for no other reason at all." She suited actions to words, unlacing the tightly bound strings. "This is a very silly garment, you know?" she remarked under her breath. "I still don't believe people really wore it, even if untying it is symbolic of you loosening up a bit."
"Historical accuracy," Aral retorted, then reverted to character as Cordelia finished unfastening it and stroked his chest lightly, letting himself make a noise of surprise as she circled his nipples with a finger.
"And now I shall untie your other garter for you," Cordelia said, slowly lifting Aral's skirts, "and then I will finish teaching you how to have sex with a man."
She pulled his skirt the rest of the way up with a quick flick of her wrist, moving on top of him, and Aral said, "Oh, no, no, Captain, I'm afraid--"
For a moment, Cordelia stopped, and Aral recognised it as a trained reaction. Betans. He marvelled for a moment at the very idea of a place where everyone was trained and expected to stop, no matter what, at such words.
And then an old memory came to the front of his mind, and all he could think of was Ges's reaction to his 'no', and a sudden chill went over him.
How Cordelia read his body language, he didn't know, but abruptly she moved off him, twitched his skirt back down and sat cross-legged on the grass beside him. Aral took a shuddering breath.
"Let's stop for a minute," Cordelia said in a quiet voice. Aral couldn't speak yet. He stared up into the sky and concentrated on breathing.
Planning the game out, they'd discussed this. Cordelia had been uncertain about it, but Aral had insisted that the maiden had to say 'no' a few times to prove she wasn't immodest, and that was what happened in the song, and if they were going to do it they should do it properly. And Cordelia had agreed, with the caveat that she was not going to physically restrain him, even for play. Knowing where Cordelia's own scars lay all too well, Aral had been happy with this condition. Now, though, he thought he understood a bit better why she had been so hesitant.
He reached out and took her hand and held it hard, pushing the memory back, focusing his attention on Cordelia again. She was his dear Captain and he could trust her as he had never trusted anyone, he could place his life in the palm of her hand and know it would be safe.
At last he smiled a little and, in an exaggerated falsetto, said, "No, no, Captain, you will sully my maiden innocence and leave me a dishonoured woman."
Cordelia squeezed his hand, her grip strong and more reassuring than any words. I love you and I won't ever hurt you and we are only playing a game together. She searched him with her eyes for another moment, and he gave a little nod. The bad memory had returned to its nest in the back of his mind with all the others, where they always lived, present but no longer blocking his enjoyment. He smiled and pulled her closer.
She stretched out on the grass with him and kissed him and held him for a while until they were both relaxed and comfortable again. Then she grinned and slipped back into character, straddling him and dropping her voice. "Don't be afraid," she said. "For I am a Vor and an officer, and I have honour enough for us both. And besides," her voice went even lower, a warm growl in his ear, "it will feel so good."
Aral was caught between a delighted snicker and a maidenly giggle, which turned into a gasp as Cordelia unfastened her trousers easily, as deftly as if she'd been wearing them all her life. Of course, she had.
"Oh, that's better," she muttered. "I forgot I'd be wearing these. Men's trousers are a bit more generously cut here."
Aral stared in delight. They'd bought a standard Barrayaran strap-on, and she'd tried it on and made a funny face. "It isn't bad exactly," he remembered her saying, "but I think it must have been designed by a man who didn't really think about how it was supposed to work on a woman." And she'd written to her mother, and to Aral's utter mortification, a short time later they'd received a parcel from Beta containing, amongst other things, the prosthetic that Cordelia was wearing now. A gift from his mother-in-law, a woman he'd yet to meet. Cordelia had laughed at his embarrassment, and Aral had to admit when they tried it that it was vastly better than the Barrayaran version. He didn't pretend to understand the artificial biology of it all, but he had helped get it on the first time and seen the tiny sensor-transmittor pads which had attached themselves to Cordelia, and he knew as he reached up and circled the head with his fingers that Cordelia could feel it. She swallowed, then said, "Now I shall make you a woman." She palmed a small tube into her hand and pushed Aral's legs apart. A skirt, he discovered, was surprisingly well suited to this--perhaps the only way, he thought, that skirts were more convenient than trousers. Cordelia would probably have something trenchant to say about that.
He hadn't expected it to be very different from the usual way this went, now, but it was. Cordelia's fingers were as deft and careful as ever, and she used them with the confident awareness of exactly what he liked, but he did almost nothing in return, just letting her touch him as she chose. And when he tried to talk, to tell her what was working, she moved up and put her lips on his. "Ssh," she whispered, "you don't know anything about that."
Still, he was panting by the time Cordelia said, "And now I will make you mine, and I will marry you when I return from the war."
"Please," Aral gasped, "please." His voice caught in his throat. "Sir..."
Cordelia's breath drew in sharply at that, and she rolled him half over to make this more convenient--he wasn't as flexible as he'd once been--and began to press in, going more slowly than he would have liked, taking her own pleasure at her own pace. But from this particular position there wasn't much he could do except wait as she thrust into him.
He heard her exhale, a long intense sigh of pleasure. "Oh," she said in a wavering voice, "I always forget how ... how different this is. God, Aral..."
"Sir," was all Aral managed to say, drawing the syllable out urgently, and Cordelia thrust harder and faster until Aral was shaking with need.
Then it all unwound at once in sweat and breathless moans, Aral's eyes closing and his back arching, feeling Cordelia shuddering above him. Sensation streamed through him, making his hands tingle, and he lay spent on the grass, Cordelia a pleasant weight over him.
They lay like that for a while, then Cordelia rolled off him and he turned to face her in a languid movement, pulling her into his arms.
"Well," Cordelia said when she'd recovered her breath, "if that's how it's supposed to go in the song, no wonder it's so popular."
Aral grinned. "Two verses later she has an unexpected baby, but essentially, yes."
"So all she really needs is a reliable contraceptive, and she's sorted. I think the peasant girl and her soldier have it much better than the blushing bride and her lord."
Aral pulled her close to kiss her, and whisper in her ear, "I think we have it best of all."