"In a life filled with insanity," Miles said with careful clarity across the small table, "this may well qualify as my most insane moment."
Ivan put down the drink he'd been clutching to his chest, ignoring the liquid sloshing over his fingers. "Really?"
"Really." Miles crossed his arms, staring at his cousin in dismay.
"More insane than dying and being revived?"
"More insane than Ekaterin in the Council?"
Miles paused, considering that. "Okay, that was crazier. But you're evading my main point, which is that you're asking me to do something that's entirely insane."
"It's just one kiss." Ivan finally noticed his wet fingers and dabbed at them with a napkin.
"You want me to kiss you so that you'll know what it's like to kiss a man." Miles couldn't believe he was even saying these words. "You do realize I'm engaged, right?"
"I'm not asking you to marry me!"
"I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am to hear that."
"It's By. I think he's asked me out on a date."
Miles shook his head. "If you don't want to go on a date with Byerly Vorrutyer, there's a word I've heard. I think it's 'No.' Maybe you could try it."
"Have you ever tried saying no to By? I say no and five minutes later I've made reservations at a restaurant and I'm ordering an aircar and two bottles of wine and I don't know how it happened. It's worse than dealing with you."
Miles snorted. "I'm flattered."
"Do they teach some upper-level class in steamroller at ImpSec and I've just missed it?" Ivan shook his head. "Never mind. Look, just one kiss and then maybe I'll know what to do."
"Ivan, you're insane. Leaving aside why kissing me would give you an idea what to do about Byerly, and leaving aside Ekaterin, we're cousins." Miles scowled at him. "There's something seriously wrong about us engaging in anything other than a manly hug and pat on the back. And even that's nearly impossible with a big lug like you."
"Forget about being cousins. You're a guy! With..." Ivan flailed about. "Guy parts! I mean, not that there's anything wrong with people who like guy parts, I just don't know--"
"If that's how you feel, you've only proved my point about saying no to Byerly." Miles stood up. "Insane. I'm going home. To call my fiancée. You may remember her?"
As he left, he saw Ivan slumped over his drink. Miles sighed. Obviously the combination of alcohol and seemingly being the only Vor gentleman who wasn't either married or engaged had gone to Ivan's head. He probably wouldn't even remember this in the morning.
Just to be certain, Miles avoided his cousin for a few days. It wasn't difficult, what with the mop-up from the Imperial wedding and preparations for his own nuptials. Imp Sec as a whole seemed to feel the whole thing was a plot to overwork them or possibly make them hire more agents and had decided it was entirely Miles' fault.
Since goodly portions of it were his fault, he couldn't entirely take issue with their annoyance. He could take issue with being called on the carpet to round up a certain drunk cousin who was seen around town singing loudly and off-key.
"I should note that you're no longer my boss," Miles said as he stomped into General Allegre's office. "And besides, why is Ivan my problem? Can't the local police just round him up and stick him in the drunk tank like any other Vor idiot?"
Allegre stared at him for a long moment. "You're suggesting someone put Alys Vorpatril's only son into a jail cell to sober up."
Miles sighed, imagining the scene: the shouting and the hollering and Ivan vomiting on someone's shoes. And if he didn't go now, he'd almost certainly be called to deal with the entire mess by his mother anyway and she'd blame him for not heading it off at the pass. She'd look at him in disappointment. Miles winced. "Yes, I see."
"My lord auditor, you're practically the only person I can send without endangering my life and my job."
"I wish you were exaggerating." Miles sighed again. "Fine, I'll round him up."
"Thank you, my lord."
Finding Ivan didn't take long, since Imp Sec had been keeping an eye on him since he'd rolled out of the first tavern two hours before. Getting him into the aircar wasn't all that difficult either, thanks to the wonders of faithful retainers who were only going to tease him about this for the next month. Or two. Pym's lips didn't twitch at all as he heaved the staggering Ivan into the back next to Miles, but then, he had always been excellent at that part of his job.
"Ivan, you idiot," Miles said.
Ivan opened his eyes. "'m not an idiot," he said with remarkable clarity.
"Yes, you are. Do you know how much trouble you've caused General Allegre? He's going to be out to get you for the next century at least."
"Damn." Ivan closed his eyes again. "But I've got bigger problems right now."
"Tonight was my date with By. It was going really well until the bunnies."
Miles sat back in his seat and really looked at his cousin. Despite his words, Ivan wasn't really an idiot. He couldn't have survived a life swimming in Miles' wake if he was. (Although some occasionally phenomenal luck hadn't hurt either.)
"Bunnies?" Miles asked with trepidation.
"And how am I going to explain them to my mother?"
"How are you going to explain the bunnies to me?"
"Oh, that's easy. You see, By was wondering if that new pet store had some kind of Betan bunny he'd heard about that was bred to be a hermaphrodite. And when we got there, they had some and we were examining them when these three men..."
Miles rubbed his forehead and wondered if this is how Ivan felt sometimes when Miles was explaining his latest plan.
The bunnies hadn't actually been that difficult to explain to Aunt Alys once Miles concocted a story involving ImpSec, a Komarran traitor, and a traveling zoo. Of course, she hadn't actually believed the story for a single moment, but that wasn't the point. By tradition and courtesy she was required to pretend she had since Ivan was uninjured, and that was good enough.
They escaped Ivan's mother as soon as they could, Ivan doing his best not to stagger drunkenly out of the room. "I think I need some water," he said, rubbing his forehead and wandering toward the kitchen. "And maybe a few days of sleep."
Miles trailed after him in, finding himself unusually unsure what to do. Just before they reached the kitchen, he blurted out. "What about Byerly?"
"What about him?" Ivan paused in the hallway and leaned against the paneled wall. "I told you, I sent him home so he wouldn't get in trouble and lose his job with ImpSec."
"Er...the date, I mean."
"I'm not entirely sure." Ivan frowned. "There were the bunnies and things were busy after that."
"I think we have to try again."
Miles groaned. "I'm not sure my nerves or Vorbarr Sultana can survive you two a second time."
"C'mon, it wasn't that bad."
"How long are you going to be filing in the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-basement thanks to General Allegre?"
Ivan shrugged and continued toward the kitchen. "So how much worse can it get?"
"Isn't that my line?"
Grinning, Ivan lightly punched Miles' shoulder. "Yep. Isn't it fun to be on the receiving end?"
"No. It really isn't."
"Welcome to my world, cousin."