"Drinking." Aral raised his glass illustratively.
"Throwing up," Cordelia countered. "Hangovers." Both of which Aral might well be demonstrating later on. "I could name a dozen better drugs for euphoria and relaxation, without the side effects."
"Doesn't go well with the drinking," Cordelia said. "At least, not if I'm dancing with you. My feet are going to have bruises tomorrow. Also, sexual harassment."
Aral set the glass down with an ominous thud. "Who?" he demanded.
"Nobody's bothered me. But Alys has told me stories."
"I'll have them horsewhipped," Aral said. Cordelia opened her mouth to answer that, but Aral distracted her by leaning precariously over and pulled her feet into his lap. "Besides, I didn't step on your feet."
"Oh yes you did." She wriggled her toes, and Aral ran his hands over the tops of her feet, circling her ankles, his touch incongrously gentle. Such broad strong hands didn't look like they could be so carefully controlled. She leaned back against the arm of the sofa and smiled. "But I'll forgive you. Don't stop."
"There must be downsides to Betan parties," he said after a minute.
"Mmm," Cordelia said, because he was rubbing the soles of her feet, releasing the evening's worth of tiredness and tension. Tonight's sandals had not been the worst Barrayaran ladies' footwear Alys had provided, but they were close: some day she was going to give up and wear combat boots under her ballgown. She pulled her mind back to the question. "Oh, there are. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable orgies with strangers can be?"
Aral's hands tightened on her foot, then he reached for his glass and drained it. "Er," he said.
"There's always at least one person in tears by the end. And pulled muscles. And some idiot who thinks the goal is to have sex with every other person in the room. And it makes an awful mess."
She decided to stop the description, because Aral was gaping at her instead of rubbing her feet. "Betan parties aren't always--are they?"
"Oh, God, of course not. Though there's generally a few people going at it in a corner by the end of the evening. Or more publicly."
"Ha," Aral said. "Didn't you see Lord Vortala and Emmie Vorvayne? The curtain wasn't covering the alcove as well as they thought it was."
"A universal party activity at last," Cordelia said with a grin. "Having sex." She nudged Aral's hand with her foot to encourage him, and he resumed his work, his grip warm and sure. She leaned back against the sofa, melting blissfully. "Mmm, that's nice. And speaking of having sex..."
Aral made an encouraging noise and ran his hands up her ankles and under her skirt. Cordelia contemplated the relative merits of the sofa and the bed. On the one hand, not having to get up was a plus, on the other hand, much more room in bed.
Aral took the decision from her by saying, "Sex in public places may be a universal party tradition, but I think I'd prefer the bed."
"I'll have to get up," Cordelia complained mock-pitifully, and Aral laughed and began to scoop her up in his arms.
"Aral," she gasped, laughing and alarmed at once, "be careful!"
He carried her a full three steps before she twisted loose and dropped to her feet beside him. He grinned and kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around him and led him towards the stairs to their suite. "Cross-cultural understanding," she said. "I'm all for it."