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Citius, Altius, Fortius.

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Being the all-Barrayar women's champion in judo twice means a lot on Barrayar, but means absolutely nothing off of it, according to Coach Negri. The men's coach, Aral Vorkosigan, had been slightly nicer about it, telling her, "don't expect to win anything," while actually patting her on the back.

"Ignore them," Kareen advises, leaning back on their bed, her right ankle crossed over her left. "That's what I do."

Kareen, being Vor, is here for fencing, but she's a medal contender because she hates Barrayar that much and her hate fuels her. Drou's not being unfair; Kareen said as much to a Betan interviewer this morning. Drou doesn't have it in her to be as mad as Kareen is -- it takes a lot to achieve Kareen Vorbarra Levels Of Hatred, starting with initiating divorce proceedings and a custody fight against Serg Vorbarra -- but Drou can achieve her own levels of rage just by thinking back to all of the times her older brothers called her muddy duddy Luddy. Muddy duddy Luddy could beat them all up by the time she was twelve, but that hadn't stopped them. If there's one thing Barrayarans respect, it's violence, but even that wasn't much help against the tyranny of older brothers.

She's not going to win, but she knows that. Most of the competitors, including nearly all of the Barrayaran team, are here to lose. Every two years, delegations from hundreds of planets converge on the planet Olympia for the Galactic Olympics, and all but a few of them go home as losers. Drou's going to go home as a loser, too.

But she won't lose too badly. She trains in Barrayar's best gravitic simulator along with the rest of the Imperial team. She's been training in the official standard competition gravity for five years now, so Olympia's gravity won't be a surprise. She's twice beaten the best Barrayar has to offer and she's won a few interplanetary medals. She can place in the top ten percent of the field. She just won't medal. And that's... no, that's not fine, but she's young and she's here for the experience more than anything. And if she doesn't qualify again, she has the rest of her life planned out pretty well. She has a coaching job waiting for her back home, so in twenty years she can be just like Vorkosigan: returning to Olympia again and again in hopes that her students can win the medals that eluded her.

"Cheer up," Kareen says. "You haven't lost yet."

Drou laughs and kisses her. Kareen tilts her head back and Drou starts to kiss her way down Kareen's neck and chest. Kareen sighs happily.

"I am serious," Kareen says eventually, not yet pressing her body up into Drou's mouth. But she will. She will. "You need more self-confidence. Need to look that planet in the eye and tell it how much better you are than it can ever imagine, and how dare it ever dare to hurt you. And say it until you believe it."

"Mm," Drou says against Kareen's navel. She doesn't disagree, but it's easier for Kareen to say it than it is for Drou to do it. Not everyone's Kareen. That's what makes women like Kareen so bewitching. Drou loves Kareen's self-confidence and poise and charisma and attitude, loves it without any intent of ever attempting to be the same. Maybe when she's older. Maybe when she's won more medals. Maybe when she has enough experience to say the kind of things Kareen says without sounding like it's idle bragging. Kareen doesn't brag. Kareen tells the galaxy how amazing she is and it's only stating fact. Drou could talk herself up, but she's going to lose tomorrow. She's going to lose tomorrow in a five minute frenzy, entering it in focused hope and exiting it in shattered despair. That's how it always is. And then Negri gives her a day off to lick her wounds and then it starts all over again: the training, the build-up, the competition. Sometimes she wins. Mostly she loses. It makes the wins so much better, she thinks. It makes it all worth it.

Sure, you learn more from losing than from winning, but that doesn't make losing hurt less. But she's going out there tomorrow, knowing she's going to lose, knowing that the only thing that matters is how far into the competition she goes, and she's going out there anyway. Maybe Kareen's right. Maybe Drou's braver than she thinks she is.

After all, if you don't compete, you'll never win.

Kareen twists her fingers in Drou's hair, working the braid free. "You're going to be amazing," Kareen tells her. "Trust me."

Drou kisses Kareen stomach. "I do." Kareen can't predict the future, but if Drou said that, Kareen would just point out that Kareen doesn't need to know the future to know that Drou's amazing. Kareen always thinks that Drou's amazing. Kareen's the first person in Drou's life who has thought she's amazing without her having to do anything to earn it.

And tomorrow, Drou's going to lose.

But the day after, Drou's going to sit in the stands with Gregor and help him cheer on his mom.