If Simon had thought to get an equally cheery greeting from Alys’s son, he was badly mistaken. However, given Simon’s ability to size up a situation in less time than it would take for Miles to create one, it was obvious he’d taken in Ivan’s landed carp expression — pop eyes, dropped jaw working without success to actually get words out, the whole nine yards — his own location (sitting quite comfortably at the foot of his bed, right next to Ivan’s lady mother), their deshabille (both without shoes, Alys’s hair down), and the relatively early morning hour, and had immediately understood quite well the reason for Ivan’s outraged silence.
He wasn’t grinning, Ivan gave his former superior credit for that much consideration at least.
“Simon.” he finally managed. The fact that he’d jettisoned proper Imperial Service protocol for greeting a (really very recent) superior, even a retired superior in civilian dress, spoke volumes. He turned his anguished, landed-carp eyes to his mother.
“Hello, dear,” Alys said, as calm as if she was welcoming Ivan to the dinner table. At her own house. Without Simon Ilyan, recovering former ImpSec head, sitting beside her on a distinctly rumpled bed, his hand only recently withdrawn from hers. “This is an unexpected pleasure. I’ll call for more coffee.”
To Ivan’s horror, she accompanied that unexpectedly welcoming sentence with quite the most glorious, relaxed smile he’d seen on her face in months, possibly years. She was happy! Worse, she was unembarrassed!
Ivan thought he might choke on his own tongue. “Mother.”
He couldn’t get anything further out. Perhaps I should strangle on my tongue; it would be easier than standing here and making conversation with … with ... maybe Ilyan could call me ‘Ivan, you idiot,’ and make everything go back to normal?
It was his own fault, he supposed drearily. He should have called ahead, if only he had called ahead, why in the name of everything that is, was, or would be holy hadn’t he called ahead? Or at least knocked before waltzing in?
“Ivan, dear, close your mouth. It’s unattractive.”
Ah, that’s the mother I’m used to. Now, if Simon would just disappear like a puff of smoke, all will be well with the world.
Out of sheer habitual reflex, Ivan obeyed, clamping lower jaw to upper teeth with an audible click. When his mother’s gaze sharpened considerably at his continued silence, Ivan tried to switch to some sort of polite social mode. “ I, uh … didn’t mean to intrude.”
No, wait, I did mean to intrude! Or I would have if I’d had the slightest warn—
His mouth fell open again, then shut, hard, again. Miles, you horrible, nasty, very secretive, miserable cousin of mine, I am going to hunt you down and kill you. No, worse, I’ll get Gregor to assign you to Imperially Audit the laundry on Kyril Island. Perhaps for the next 10 years.
His cousin knew. It was Miles’s house (Ivan conveniently disregarded the sheer mass of Vorkosigan House, and the reality that someone could hole up in one corner of the ancient pile and not be noticed for years by someone else at the other end) he had to have known. Did he think to tell his own cousin what his own cousin’s mother was doing? No. No, he did not.
Of course there was that little matter of Miles investigating Simon’s chip sabotage perhaps keeping him too busy to deal with anything else, but that was a trivial thing compared to what Ivan was being forced to digest right now.
“You haven’t intruded dear. We’re in the middle of planning our trip —”
“Trip?” Oh God, he thought, his voice had just broken like a 12-year-old boy’s.
“Yes,” Lady Alys continued blithely. “After Gregor’s and Laisa’s betrothal ceremony, before everything gets too insane ahead of the wedding, we’re going down to a little place on the south coast. Simon’s suggested it.”
“Uh …” Ivan said. Quite smoothly under the circumstance, he thought.
“It’s a secure location,” Simon said, as if this would be a comfort. “I never got a bad report from that area, and very few people from Vorbarr Sultana are even aware that there’s a nice little resort there.”
Ivan felt his head bobbing up and down like one of those bird-headed things made to sit next to a trashy drink and dunk their heads it. The kind of trashy drink they’d serve at Simon’s nice and undoubtedly prole little resort, Ivan thought.
“This has been lovely, dear,” his mother said, giving every evidence that she was beginning to think quite the opposite. “But unless you can think of something intelligent to say, perhaps you’d better go see what Miles needs you for.”
“Has he called?” Ivan asked, startled into actual speech.
A few further awkward seconds passed with the three of them staring at each other — or rather Ivan staring at his mother and Simon, Simon gazing speculatively at Ivan, and Alys beginning to knit her brow in Extreme High Vor Disapproval at her son. Finally Ivan straightened, with as much self-respect as he could muster, gave a nod to Simon and a bow to Lady Alys, and fled the bedroom suite.
He refrained from slamming the door, out of fear that either Simon or his mother would call him back to reproach him for doing so, then hot-footed it down the corridor to the nearest set of stairs. He took them up two at a time, heading like grim death for Miles’s bedroom. We shall have words, Coz ….
His speed and trajectory meant that Ivan didn’t see or hear Simon and Alys collapse, laughing, back onto the bed, or see his mother actually kick her feet with glee. Which was, on the whole, probably healthier for his blood pressure.
“I can’t help but feel a little sorry for him,” Simon finally said.
“Don’t,” Alys said, settling her head comfortably in the crook of Simon’s neck and nuzzling it in a most unladylike fashion. “After all, he didn’t bother to call ahead.”
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