Miles did his best to not hate Ivan. Really, he did. It wasn't his cousin's fault that he was all, handsome and had that kind of backwards charm that women seemed to flock to. Nor was it Ivan's fault that Miles was... how he was. He didn't hate Ivan.
But damn if he wasn't really jealous from time to time.
It was some ball on Barryar, and Miles was happy to be home while his parents were, but then Gregor had to go and throw a party. Miles strongly suspected Aunt Alys had a hand in this event, still trying to get the poor man married off and producing heirs, and of course that meant Gregor's closest relatives had to show up. This time Miles didn't have the excuse of being five systems away. Alys hadn't stopped there, however. She had arranged the party to be for the younger crowd. Eligible bachelors and of-age ladies, all mixing together with no parents or older, married siblings and children running around.
Ivan had delivered Miles' invitation himself, a smug grin plastered on his face.
"Coz!" Ivan yelled, walking through the hallway, bearing the terrifying piece of paper.
"Ivan," Miles said by way of greeting. He saw his father hide behind his papers further. Aral had never had much patience for Ivan, though he cared for the one of his very few relatives still alive. Aral would just have rather Ivan reamin alive, but not around to talk to him. "I've never seen you so excited about doing Aunt Alys' bidding."
"Yeah, but this time, its worth it."
"How so?" Miles asked cautiously as he and Ivan left the sitting room and his father to their peace. Anything Aunt Alys produced that Ivan was excited about made Miles very, very nervous. Then he outlined the guest list and Miles saw why a hound-dog like Ivan would oh-so-pleased. No fathers or brothers to bar him from a lovely young lady. "What is your mother thinking?"
"That Gregor can't meet a young lady on his own terms if her family is right there," Ivan explained. "But she's disguising it as a young person's affair to get us all out of the woodwork. Air of competition to spur on our beloved Emperor, and no lady would be pushed at him like a cow for sale by her own family. The whole idea, my genius cousin, is to get Gregor to relax."
Miles snorted. "That'll be a cold day in hell."
"That's what I thought, but don't tell Mother that. She's got her hopes, and I have mine," Ivan told him, giving him the invite. "You'll come, won't you?"
"An invitation from Aunt Alys can't really be refused, now can it?"
"Technically its from the Emperor."
"No, if it was from Gregor, it would be a plea to make sure he wasn't left alone the whole night and if we could sneak him out."
Ivan shrugged, neither confirming nor denying the truth of the statement. Miles waved him away.
"Go on, I'll be there."
"Great! I've got lots to do, and so do you," Ivan told him as he all but fled Vorkosigan house. Miles frowned at that statement and then actually read the invitation. Masked Ball were the words that immediately stood out. He had already told Ivan he'd be there, too, which meant Aunt Alys would be expecting him. There was no way out now.
Damn it. He hated it Ivan was clever. It always surprised him.
So there he was in his costume and mask, but nothing could disguise who he was. Gregor was allowed to disappear as all--most, Miles mentally correct--Vor men were built along the same lines, especially when young. Miles could tell, but that was only because he had known Gregor all his life and in close company. They had been raised as near as brothers. Still, Gregor seemed to be having a good time, none of the ladies flocked to him on pure reflex, but he was able to charm them, talk to them, interact as though he were a normal man, if only for an evening.
Miles had to hand it to Alys, she knew her stuff.
But Miles knew that he would have no such luck.
He sighed and did his best not to feel like a pariah as he watched Gregor circulate with ease, and Ivan gather a gaggle of women around him with nothing more than his silly-almost-boyish charm. The fact that both were tall and Ivan at least had done little to disguise who he was, helped.
So he waited until he could go home.
He was just about to leave when he felt a hand on his shoulder and he heard Ivan's voice heavy with labored breathing. "Miles, thank god, you've got to help me!"
"What? Why?" Miles demanded, not in the mood to help his cousin.
"Well, I thought I was talking to a girl who turned out to be someone else, and well... when you mention the wrong name at the wrong time things get awkward. But its not my fault! She wanted to keep the masks on, you know, keep it mysterious."
"No, Ivan, I don't know," Miles bit out.
"Please, Miles. Please. Then another girl heard about it and another girl and it... kinda got out of control. They all know about each other now!"
Miles gave his cousin a hard stare, but sighed and dragged him along, hiding just in time to hear the angry stomping of many high-heeled feet pass them by. They were shouting for his blood at that point, and Miles contented himself that at least Aunt Alys would have been sad to loose her son.
Correction: she would have been devastated. Miles sighed.
"Out the window," Miles told him.
"ImpSec is not going to be happy."
"They'll live. And besides, you know how to get around the protections as well as I do. Better, considering we're leaving from a bedroom," Miles said dryly. Ivan flashed a smug grin before setting up their escape.
They shimmied down the side of the palace, avoiding various pressure plates and lights, and once they hit the ground they both broke into a run. Snaking across the lawn, they eventually made it to the fence, and Ivan boosted Miles up and over, and Ivan simply climbed the fence.
"How'd you not get killed touching that fence?" Miles demanded as they ran for their car.
"The gloves and boots are made from Betan materials that are so inert not even that voltage can get to me."
Miles whistled. Ivan grinned.
"Some fathers are really protective, Miles. A lot of daughters really don't want to be all that protected. I provide a valuable service."
Miles had to fight to keep helping his cousin and not rush him back into the fence, but once in the car it was too late. Miles had performed a daring rescue of his idiot cousin, who now had half of the Vor ladies howling for his blood.
And he didn't even look all that upset now that the immidate danger had passed.
Miles sighed. Oh, to go through life like Ivan, half aware, fully stupid and lucky.