"Have you talked to Alex about this?" said Nikolai.
"Oh, Alex," said Helen. "He may be my twin, but he's such a kid, you know."
Nikolai did know. Alex's idea of excitement was sneaking butter bugs into Miles' shower. Whereas Helen—"Mama, then," Nikolai suggested.
Helen bared her teeth. "If you breathe one word of this to Mama—"
"All right, all right." Nikolai raised his hands in surrender. He didn't mind, really—he'd made his peace with his duty, as Helen's older brother, to listen to all her personal dramas. It could be worse. She could be bringing them to Uncle Ivan. Or Uncle Mark. "Why don't you tell me exactly how it happened?"
"So Da's got this friend, they worked on a case together a few years back, I don't know," Helen said. "And he lives off-planet, but he and his wife and stepkids are on Barrayar for a visit, it's the first time they've been. The wife and stepkids, that is, he's Vor and stuff. And he and his wife and Da and Mama were talking about, God, politics, and we were supposed to entertain the kids."
"Been there," said Nikolai wryly.
Helen grinned. "It wasn't so bad. Jin's all right. He just wanted to see the horses, anyway, and Liz and Taura were falling over themselves to show him. They thought he was cute." Helen made a face. "And Mina's . . . nice."
Nikolai raised his eyebrows and made a please-go-on noise.
"Yeah." Helen's eyes went unfocused for a moment, and a smile, less sharp-edged than her usual one, spread across her face. "She was showing me a genetics project she's doing for school, about arachnids—it was fascinating. So I wanted to show her something of mine. And I thought of that history project I did last year. Madame Levy-Strauss said it was the most interesting collection of historical artifacts she'd ever seen. Da helped with it."
"I'll bet," said Nikolai. He was beginning to see what must have happened, and bit the inside of his cheek so he wouldn't laugh. "So you said, 'Want to come up to my room and see my—'"
Helen buried her face—which was scarlet—in her hands. "How was I supposed to know that Yuri means something different on Kibou-Daini?" she wailed.
"Perfectly understandable," Nikolai assured her. "And that's when she kissed you?"
Helen's head, behind her hands, bobbed up and down.
"Well . . ." said Nikolai. "If this Mina's nice, I'm sure she'll be a—a lady about it. Just tell her it was a misunderstanding, and you don't want to do it again."
"Hey." Helen lifted her chin, sharp and self-possessed as ever. "I didn't say that."