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Til Death Do Us Part

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Gregor said, "All right, now you can look," and Laisa opened her eyes and instantly began to laugh.

Gregor's arms stayed around her, and after a few seconds he was laughing too. They stumbled together to the double bed with its brightly colored homemade quilt--the only place to sit down in the tiny space--and fell onto it together, laughing and clinging to each other. Every time Laisa thought she might manage to stop laughing it occurred to her that she had just married the Emperor of Barrayar and the long-awaited secret refuge from that months-long ritual ordeal had turned out to be a tiny stone building barely big enough for a bed and what looked like an iron woodstove. She didn't know whether it all seemed equally absurd to Gregor, or if he was just laughing at her. She didn't much care.

Eventually the obvious and necessary question occurred to her. It was that--the fact that it was obvious and necessary, that she had married the Emperor of Barrayar and so had become not only Empress but the sort of person to whom this was an obvious and necessary question--finally put a stop to her laughter.

Laisa lifted her head and looked around. She had had her eyes closed from the lightflyer to the door, but she had gotten a glimpse of the place coming in, and there was a wide plain of white around the one dark roof. She had heard the quiet sound of men letting themselves out so that Gregor could lead Laisa inside. Now there was silence.

"Gregor," she said, still smiling because she couldn't stop smiling, and her husband was smiling back at her. "Where are the Armsmen going to sleep?"

"Ah," Gregor said, and he checked his chrono and smiled. "Well."

Laisa raised her eyebrows.

Gregor stood and offered her a hand up, which Laisa accepted. He kept his grip and led her to the tiny window by the door, which gave a view of the place in the snow where the lightflyer wasn't.

"They're maintaining a security perimeter a kilometer out," Gregor said, speaking to the glass. Then he turned abruptly and looked her in the eye as he said, with a slight smile that did not for an instant make Laisa believe he was joking, "So if you really are a deep-cover Komarran assassin, now is probably the best chance you'll ever have to complete your mission."

Laisa grinned, trying desperately not to cry. This--not the nights they'd shared at the Residence--this moment now, with Security a kilometer away, was as naked as her husband ever could or would be with her. Even now he wasn't absolutely sure of her. He couldn't be. It wasn't in his nature. But he would have her anyway, willingly, with his eyes open.

Laisa pressed their joined hands against his heart and kissed his knuckles, then his lips. "Come to bed. It'll be easier if I wait until you're asleep."