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The latest interminable party to introduce Laisa to Vorbarr Sultana society had finally wound to its limping close. Ivan, drafted unwillingly as a Safe conversational partner for Laisa amidst all the new faces, finally allowed himself to toss back a third glass of wine when the last guest left, then looked around reflexively for his mother, sure of her rebuke. But, unexpectedly, he couldn't see her. A moment later he recognised her navy silk gown. She was in a partly screened corner of the room, being pressed to the wall by a man in Imperial dress greens. No. Being kissed. And the man kissing her was Captain Illyan.

For a horrible moment Ivan thought that Illyan had somehow lost his mind--even worse than before--and was assaulting his mother. He started forward. Then he got a glimpse of his mother's face, and heard a sound that no son should have to hear his mother making. Whatever was going on there, she certainly didn't seem to be objecting.

His next thought was relief. Despite his youth, height, strength and undamaged mind, Ivan was profoundly convinced that if it came to it Illyan would have the upper hand in any confrontation.

But the relief was transitory. His mother! His mother and Captain Illyan! His mind began to fast-forward through all the times he'd seen them together. It was a lot of memories. Well, Illyan had always been underfoot at the Residence, in cahoots with Mama about everything from prospective Imperial brides to the correct colour for the blast shutters, and then since he'd been ill she'd been practically living in his pocket. But Ivan had never in a million years imagined ... well, anything that could explain them kissing in a corner like a pair of horny teenagers.

And really! Mama should know better! At the Residence, at a party, in full view of everyone! All right, so the party was over, and 'everyone' consisted of himself, Aunt Cordelia, Gregor and Laisa and a few servants, but it was the principle of the thing. You just didn't do that at the Residence. His innate honesty pointed out that not only had he kissed lots of girls at the Residence, he had once done rather more, and that it was all very traditional. And Mama was nothing if not traditional.

"Sorry to interrupt--I guess you don't want a lift back to Vorkosigan House tonight, Simon." Aunt Cordelia's Betan tones rang cheerfully around the room.

Illyan half-turned, his arm still tight around Mama's waist. He positively grinned, damn him. "I don't think so."

"Excellent. Have a nice time."

Neither of them so much as blushed. Ivan was blushing, he knew, more hotly than he'd ever done in the past ten years. How could they just talk about it like that, like Captain Illyan going home with his mother to 'have a nice time' was a normal thing?

He started forward, angry words bubbling up in his throat, and was stopped by Aunt Cordelia's hand on his arm. "Come on, Ivan. Party's over." She turned him firmly around and aimed him at the door, and Ivan extended his arm to her in helpless ingrained courtesy. They said goodnight to Gregor, Ivan operating on pure autopilot, and made their way to the door.

"Mama... and Captain Illyan?" Ivan said at last. Squeaked, he realised a moment later.

"It's lovely to see her so happy," Aunt Cordelia said. "Both of them. Endorphins, you know."

Ivan closed his eyes briefly in mental agony. Endorphins, for God's sake!

"You've had lots of girlfriends," Aunt Cordelia said, glancing sideways at him. "I don't think your mother necessarily approved of all of them, either. Why shouldn't she have a partner of her own?"

Ivan knew he would need to be a lot more drunk before he discussed his private life with Aunt Cordelia. She'd included him in one of her Talks with Miles once, and even now twenty years later the memory still appalled him. "I don't mind," he lied. "Here's your groundcar, Aunt Cordelia. Good night!" He almost shoved her in, nodded hastily to Pym and fled to the waiting taxi. "The Broken Sword," he told the control computer. He would find the other fellows from Ops and get properly drunk. Then tomorrow he could go tell Miles what he thought of what was happening in his guest suite.