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"He is cute, isn't he," Cordelia said, following Aral's gaze. The ImpSec guard was waiting patiently just out of earshot for his protectees to be ready to leave. He was, Cordelia suspected, exactly Aral's type: tall by Barrayaran standards, slim and intense, not to mention remarkably handsome in his undress uniform. She checked her own reflection yet again: weird Barrayaran gown straight and uncreased, flowers in her hair like they'd grown there, the subtle face paint--makeup, they called it here--to enhance her features on correctly. Just about ready now.

Aral was making a strange choking sound.

"What?" Cordelia said.

"You don't think--I wasn't looking at--I wouldn't--"

Recognising the sounds of a Barrayar-Beta cultural collision, Cordelia turned her attention to her husband. He was pointedly not-looking at the ImpSec guard now, and his lips were pressed tightly together. His eyes, though, were unhappy.

"You like soldiers. He's a cute soldier, right there--I'm sure you noticed him. I don't have any objections. I thought he was cute too."

Aral let out his breath slowly. "Cordelia..."

"You're not going to convince me that on Barrayar nobody appreciates the aesthetic qualities of other people once they're married," she said. "In fact, I know they do--Alys has been telling me stories."

"No," he said. "But it's not a typical subject of conversation." He was recovering his balance now, entering into her scientific survey of Barrayaran sexual attitudes. "We prefer to pretend that we don't notice. And especially not in this context."

"But that's silly. Especially when you like men, and I like men, so we can even compare notes." She sighed. "I know that on Barrayar you all pretend that the only real sex is heterosexual, and anything else has to be whispered and giggled at. But you don't have to hide who you are from me."

Aral looked again at the ImpSec guard, and Cordelia noticed the way his pupils expanded. She grinned. "Well," Aral said, like a man trying out a sentence in a foreign language for the first time, "he is ... cute."

"You know," Cordelia said thoughtfully, "when we get back from this party, I could get out my old Barrayaran combat fatigues again..."

Aral's eyes, flashing back to her, were now very black. "We don't," he whispered, "have to go to the party at all."