Work Header


Work Text:

"Stop wriggling! I nearly had it then. Never mind what's outside, it's just Mama and the new mare." Aral squints at his sister and adds another line to the charcoal sketch.

"Gran'da says he's going to give me a holocamera for Winterfair, and I'll be able to make better pictures than you can."

"That's not the same as real drawing," Aral says, and smudges his line. "Damnation," he mutters, and looks guiltily over his shoulder, but fortunately Father is not within earshot. "I want to get this right, it's for Mama, she said they were good. Just stay still a little bit longer."

"Lord Aral, the guests are arriving, it's time for you to get ready for dinner," calls one of the Armsmen from the corridor. "You'll be eating up at the pavilion tonight."

"Is Baby Padma here again?" his sister demands. "Last time he came he screamed all the way through dinner, but Father told me off for being too noisy. Let me look, let me look." She crowds around behind Aral and regards the portrait seriously, then sticks her tongue out. "Draw me like this!"

The pennants flying above Vorhartung Castle catch at his eye, wind-driven cloth snapping above the rough stone. He roughs out lines on the back of the papers the-Count-his-Father had tossed aside. The sounds of screaming fade from his ears as he works, building the great castle anew on paper. He looks again at the banners, and adds the familiar maple leaf and mountains of the Vorkosigan sigil, proud above the towers.

A sound behind him whirls him around in the chair, but it's only Father, and he looks back at his sketch, even as Father approaches to peer over his shoulder.

"Drawing again? Not a bad likeness, but--no!" Father's voice suddenly cracks like a grenade going off. "Throw that straight onto the fire, boy, and never do that again. Have you no sense at all? What do you think all this has been for?"

Aral turns around, doggedly, his hands protective on the edges of his little sketch. "What's wrong with it?"

"What's wrong with it? Have you learned nothing?" Father brushes his hand away and pokes with a strong finger at the maple leaf fluttering in the breeze. "For you, to draw this, above Vorhartung Castle--burn it. Now."

"But it's there, look, it's what I can see." He points outside, where the Vorkosigan banner flaps above Vorhartung Castle.

"If you're going to draw," Father retorts, "you need to think about more than what you can see. What's really there?"

Aral scowls, then bends over his sketch again, moving his shoulders to block Father's view of it. A minute later, the Vorbarra pennant flies over the castle too, almost completely obscuring the Vorkosigan flag behind it. Aral sits back.

"That's what's really there," he says, and knows from the annoyed sound of Father's snort that he's right.

"Put that down and come over here, or I'll get up and make you."

"No, really?" Aral savours Ges's long lines, caressing them with his pen. "And how do you think you'll do that? You haven't beat me once in the past month at sparring, or in tactics. You think you can lay a hand on me?"

"Don't tell me what I can and can't do with my hands." Ges doesn't move from the bed, but he slides his own hand up his chest, then licks his lips slowly. Aral grits his teeth and continues to draw, hand steady on the paper, capturing shape and angle, line and shadow. Ges brings one finger to his mouth and licks it delicately, circling his tongue around it and dabbling the very tip in his mouth and sucking. Aral does not allow himself to so much as shift position on his chair, despite his increasing discomfort. He ignores the friction from the tight seam of his trousers and draws it all, Ges sucking on his finger, his cock stiffening and rising as he sprawls naked on the bed. Ges watches him under his eyelids, and moves his other hand down towards his cock.

"None of that," Aral says. "You'll wait for me."

"My, you are demanding tonight," Ges retorts, but his hand stops short, dark tanned fingers splayed over the pale skin of his hip. It's a nice contrast; Aral draws it, and clenches the muscles in his own hips to keep from moving, letting all his pent-up frustration enter his drawing instead. He wants this, not a holopic but a real drawing of Ges, proof of the power of what they have.

Ten long strained minutes pass before he is satisfied with the sketch. Ges has not tired of teasing him, and is dampening his lips with his tongue, breathing a little fast and loud. Aral sets down the pen. It clunks on the table, and Ges's lips part wider. Aral makes him wait, makes them both wait, while he places the sketch carefully in a folder, then crosses the room in three long strides and pounces.

"What is that?"

Aral looks up sharply, his reverie interrupted. Captain Vorhalas is standing in the doorway of the conference room, looking up at the briefing board where Aral has been drawing. Aral raises a hand to swipe the sketch away, but Vorhalas freezes the display.

"What is it?" he repeat. "I like it."

"It's the soletta array," Aral says. "I've been thinking about it." And drawing it, his hands moving while his mind works. He unfreezes the display and leans back, rotating the image on the holoboard. "The Komarrans like it too. They love it." He adds a little more detail to the central core, where the control units and power collectors sit. The six glittering panels surrounding it seem to twinkle even in this light-pen outline. "I'm starting to think we should add it to the list."

"It's not exactly a high-value target," Vorhalas says. "Can we spare the ships?"

"This war is all going to be in the mind," Aral replies. "Komarr is weak, they don't have much stomach for a fight. And it's the space victory that matters, the wormhole connections, the stations, the bases. What we want with the planet is for them to feel defeated. Make it seem inevitable, pointless to fight back. We've seen how a conquering army can lose, with the Cetagandans. They never made us feel defeated. But holding the Komarran's own sun, their hope for the future, in our hands--well, it's not such a step from there to the idea that all their future is in our hands. I don't want this to be a bloodbath." He adds a few more lines to the soletta as he speaks, the shimmer of the panels, the connecting cables. "I want this captured intact, undamaged. We're going to need it to work. But it will be ours."

When he looks up again, he sees that three of the other senior captains have entered quietly while he was speaking. They too are studying his sketch.

"Yes, Admiral," one says. "We can capture it. Just say the word."

Aral nods gravely. On the side of the soletta array, he draws a little Barrayaran flag.

Aral hesitates between the pen and the glass. Either way he'll despise himself in the morning, for his ridiculous folly or for his equally ridiculous hangover. He picks up the pen, conscious of his father upstairs, waiting to give the Armsmen their orders to carry him to bed eventually. He might surprise the old man yet.

The face is burned into his mind a thousand times over, from real and imagined situations alike. He draws her as he'd first seen her that horrific afternoon, her expression terrified but intent. And victorious. Soaked in Ges's lifeblood, her clothes torn and hair dishevelled, the avenging angel he had never dreamed of.

He draws only her face, turned towards him, direct and unhesitating, trying to recapture that moment of awe, of horror, of shocking joy and terror. It isn't good enough. The face on the paper looks flat, lifeless. He has drawn scores of faces from memory, but hers, without the living, breathing woman before him, he cannot capture. He glares at the sterile picture, then in one swift movement screws it up and throws it into the fire, then picks up the glass instead.

"You haven't done any drawing for ages," Cordelia observes, pausing in getting ready for bed to flip through the stacks of reports and memos on his desk. "You're working too hard."

"Not possible, in this job." But Aral puts the file down and stretches out. "I haven't had any time at all. Or anything I wanted to draw."

"You could draw me," Cordelia says, unbuttoning her blouse.

"On the back of a memo for the Minister for Heavy Industry?" He waves the flimsy at her in illustration. "You don't think that might shock him a little?"

"As far as I understand it, the content wouldn't shock him so much as the fact that you drew it." Cordelia sits down on the side of the bed, not at all seductively, and finishes undressing. Aral grins, puts the memo down, and walks towards her.

"I think," he says, "art will have to wait until the morning."