The Orb of Unearthly Delights was indeed a wonderful place to take your wife, reflected Miles with some satisfaction, and possibly even better the second time round. Their first trip, back when they were almost still newly-weds, had been delightful, though also surprisingly hard work. He had rather bristled at the Licensed Practical Sexual Therapist's careful orientation session, which had been clearly aimed at off-worlders in general and possibly even Barrayans in particular; he'd brushed off the repeated statement that all the real progress (how Betan to put it like that!) happened in conversations. He was, after all, half Betan, and had been successfully masquerading as a worldly-wise Betan mercenary for years. But the LPST had been right. The week had had its challenges; nothing unsurmountable and it had been truly wonderful to watch Ekaterin's confidence in exploring her desires and both their bodies grow. He'd learned a few new things, at that. But it had been hard work. This, though, this had just been fun. Time together, without either the responsibilities of a parent or of an Imperial Auditor - he was rather sorry that it was their last afternoon.
"Miles?" Ekaterin's voice broke his train of thought. She sounded hesitant. "Did you ever sleep with a herm?"
Ekaterin flushed slightly. "Just curious. I mean, I know you never had a relationship with Bel, but there might have been someone else." Miles realised, with a sudden shock, that she was breathing slightly harder than usual.
"No. Bel was the only herm I was ever close to, and I was... well, too Barrayaran, I suppose." He paused, and said carefully, "Do you, um, want to do something more hands-on with our LPST? I'm not sure how I feel about that," (A lie, albeit a diplomatic one. The idea had summoned a demonic churn of emotion, of which probably the only respectable one was bewilderment, because Ekaterin had never seemed to find the idea attractive before...). "But I'm willing to talk about it."
A perfectly acceptable Betan response, worthy of the long-buried Miles Naismith. Possibly too Betan, in fact, because Ekaterin merely blinked at him.
"Goodness, no! I'm far too - Barrayaran, I suppose." She flung his words back at him with a wry defensiveness.
"I'm relieved to hear it. I mean, my mother would never have let me think that multiple relationships were intrinsically dishonourable, in fact I remember her laying it on very thick about it the first time I went to Beta Colony. Never could work out what my father thought of it, but they presented a terrifyingly united front on the subject... But, well, I made such a mess of things the one time I did have multiple women seriously interested in me, I concluded that while some people might be able to manage such things with honour, I just wasn't cut out for it. Too Barrayaran, as you say." He smiled apologetically, and added, "So - I'll stop trying to guess. Is it really just academic interest?"
"No. No, not really. I - in the spirit of Betan openness - I don't want to sleep with anyone who's not you. And I'm not contemplating a body mod, either, nothing so drastic! But - I was browsing through the catalogue -"
"Oh?" Miles suddenly felt nervous. There were all sorts of things in the catalogue, and some of them scared him. On the other hand, she was babbling in the nervous way she'd done at the beginning of their first trip to the Orb, and he hated the idea that he might dent her confidence. It seemed serene and unshakeable now, but he knew how hard it had been won. "Tell me more."
"Well. They have these. Dildos, I suppose, but they connect non-surgically into the nervous system of the person wearing them, and. Well. It says on the catalogue that the herms who tested them say that they feel almost like the real thing -"
"What? What would a herm do with two cocks?" Miles spluttered, and then paused as his imagination supplied several wince -inducing answers. "No, never mind, I can guess..."
"Anyway," said Ekaterin, with fresh determination. "Call it academic curiosity, but I always wondered what it's like on the other end of things..
Miles, observing her flushed cheeks and widened pupils, was very disinclined to call it academic curiosity. But, dammit! Even when he'd regretted the road not taken with Bel, he'd studiously avoided thinking about its cock. Or where it might be put... He was a bit scared, he realised. He'd never been with a herm, and he'd never been with a man, either.
"But it's all right if you don't want to," Ekaterin said. "I - I would like to try it, very much, but it wouldn't be fun if you weren't going to enjoy it. Or - you could suck me off, if that's more appealing."
It was all unutterably bizarre, thought Miles. And yet... he'd always sworn he'd give Ekaterin everything she wanted.
"A good commander never asks his men to do anything he wouldn't do himself," he muttered, and Ekaterin snorted.
"Not the same thing at all, I hope! Miles, it really is OK if you don't want to."
It was all unutterably bizarre. And yet, bizarre though the picture was, he found himself picturing it, and he had to admit, the idea of feeling Ekaterin's wonderful breasts pressing against him, while a cock, was it correct to say her cock?, pressed into him, had something about it... It was bizarre, and, yes, made him more than slightly nervous, but he had to admit, it was also compelling. In fact, as he realised Ekaterin had noticed but was apparently too considerate to mention, he was already half hard at the thought.
"We can try both," he suggested. "I wonder if it has a refractory period, like the real thing?"
"I'm not sure we've got time to test it to destruction!" she protested, laughing at his sudden volte-face. "I mean, I expect we'd need to take it fairly slowly."
"Forward momentum!" proclaimed Miles, even though he privately agreed with her. "We can always take it home, if we like it... What's the catalogue number?"