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The ventilation system in a spaceship is calculated to precise tolerances. There is no way that there can be less oxygen in Admiral Vorrutyer's quarters than anywhere else.

Simon Illyan reminds himself of that firmly, not for the first time, and fights to keep his breathing even.

“You used to like it,” purrs Vorrutyer, “when someone watched.” He hardly glances over at Simon; this is all about Vorkosigan, and Simon wonders again if the Emperor and Negri truly realize just how deep the Admiral's...obsession...has grown.

Simon's orders amount to “Keep Aral Vorkosigan under your eye, and keep him alive.” He had expected the first part to be harder than the second, at least until the actual fighting started; a proud man doesn't usually take easily to a watchdog, and once-Admiral-now-Commodore Vorkosigan is a legend, near to a god, to most of the men on this ship. He has discovered he was wrong on both sides; Vorkosigan bowed his head to the Emperor's orders and has suffered Illyan's constant presence with an edged and distant patience, but keeping him becoming increasingly difficult.

Allowing Vorkosigan to kill the Admiral (or, he thinks reluctantly, the Prince) would probably break the second half of his orders. Stopping him, Illyan thinks, is...also becoming increasingly...problematic.

He is perfectly capable of recording what he sees on the memory chip while his mind wanders, and he becomes suddenly aware that he has been doing that, and that in this situation he cannot afford to have his reactions slowed by even a fraction of a second, and he brings his attention forcibly back to the Admiral and the Commodore.

Vorkosigan had been called to the Admiral's cabin to answer a question of fleet logistics better addressed to a much more junior officer, and hardly worthy of the the Admiral's attention, and Vorrutyer has made scant effort to sustain the pretense. He is circling Vorkosigan now, teasing and touching. Vorkosigan stands at attention, perfectly still except for the occasional faint shiver in the hands held rigidly at his sides, and the even more occasional jump of a muscle in his jaw or neck. He cannot, Illyan reflects somewhat sadly, lie with his eyes; they are blazing, and Illyan is shamefully glad that that rage is directed at someone else. He wonders if Vorrutyer actually wants to die--actually wants his former lover to snap and kill him. Any sort of personal sacrifice, or even discomfort, does not seem much in keeping with Illyan's observations of the man.

Perhaps...Vorrutyer reads something different in the grey eyes. Illyan fixes his eyes on their faces so that he can pretend not to see where Vorrutyer's hands are. “You haven't changed,” the Admiral breathes, so quietly that even Illyan's trained ears almost miss the words. “Not where it counts. You remember what we were to each other, Aral. You still want me, don't you?” His arm jerks, and Vorkosigan does too, minutely, and Simon wonders if he really is going to have to step in. Vorrutyer is behind Vorkosigan now, pressed against him, and Vorkosigan's breath comes faster, and his eyes...have changed.

“Don't you?” repeats the Admiral, practiced command in his voice.

Vorkosigan has to gather breath before he can answer, flatly, “No.”

“Liar,” Vorrutyer whispers. “You desire this. You always have, and you always will.”

“No” Vorkosigan says again, in the same tone.

“Look me in the eyes and tell me that.” Neither man moves. “Look me in the eye, and tell me that you don't want me, that you no longer desire me, and I'll stop. You can't do it.”

Vorkosigan turns without stepping away, so the two men are face to face and body to body, and when he speaks there is the faintest hint of growl behind the flat voice. “I don't want you. I no longer desire you.”

Simon thinks, sickly, quietly, as though if his thoughts are soft enough the memory chip--and through it Negri and the Emperor--will not hear, that now he knows what Vorkosigan's eyes look like when he lies.