Title: Fashion Victim
Length: 1100 words
Content: suitable for all
Summary: Simon Illyan is the new black.
"Dance with me."
Simon was a little flushed, and he didn't wait for Alys's answer before sliding an arm around her waist and taking her hand. Alys's card had been marked for this dance already, but she didn't have time to say so before she was swirled onto the floor of the Imperial ballroom. Well, Count Vortala very likely wouldn't mind anyway; he had been slow to come forwards and was lingering in conversation with his daughter-in-law as the first strains of the waltz began.
"Is it something urgent?" she asked as he turned her, inexpertly but without actual disaster. Not that she had any objections to a rare dance with Captain Illyan under any circumstances, but this unusual behaviour betokened some complicated crisis. She hoped it wasn't that he'd discovered the musicians for the next set were actually a band of Greekie saboteurs, because finding replacements at that kind of notice was excessively challenging even for her.
"Ah," Simon said, and looked at their feet, but Alys didn't think it was because he was still struggling with the steps. "No. Not precisely. Just, ah, an escape strategy."
Alys looked back at where she'd been standing. Mademoselle Violetta Vorinnis was there, looking after them. Trailing her was Jasmin Vorkalloner. Alys looked again at Simon and said, "Ah. I see."
"I don't understand why this is happening," he said plaintively. "Cetagandan assassination squads, I know how to deal with. Becoming ... popular ... with the young ladies of Vorbarr Sultana is not--is not something I'm trained for."
Alys had to use a reasonable amount of her social training not to laugh outright at him, but she did permit herself a smile. "It's Violetta," she said. "She sets a lot of the trends amongst the younger ladies, and for some reason--"
"--some utterly inexplicable reason--" Simon interrupted.
"--for some reason she appears to have a bit of a crush on you, and now all her many friends and acquaintances are talking about you as well."
"But what do I do about it?" He nearly trod on her toes, and Alys had to pay attention to the dance to make sure they didn't come to grief, and think about how to answer that. Try not to be so quietly and intensely attractive and mysterious probably wasn't a useful answer, and she didn't think he could be persuaded to take up puppy-kicking or any other repellent hobby. "Can you do anything about it?"
"That set aren't really under my influence," Alys said. "More of a reaction to it. They're not political, at least not in the old sense." She caught a glimpse of Jasmin's face. "Though in fact, I think I am helping you. Try to smile."
The faintly puzzled grimace he gave her was not likely to be mistaken for a smile.
"No, truly, Simon. Look like you're enjoying yourself. Those girls don't like me much. From their point of view, if you associate with me like this, that will give them a bit of distaste towards you."
That brought a truer smile to his face, and his accuracy in the dance improved. "That shouldn't be too difficult," he said.
"Apart from that," Alys said quickly, "time and distance. We have the state trip to Komarr soon. I imagine by the time we're all back from that, some new thing will have caught their attention."
"So fickle," Simon replied. "I always supposed if I attracted the attentions of any woman, she would have a stronger character. And not be young enough to be my daughter, either."
"Oh, inappropriate crushes on older men are part of growing up, I think." Alys smiled in memory. "There was a time when I was head over heels for Aral."
Simon gave a helpless snort. "I can't imagine you behaving like they did. Or Aral taking it well."
"Aral's always been oblivious, and we were much less noisy about such things when I was that age. Much as I appreciate Cordelia's efforts in some areas, I don't think her influence on the, ah, manners of the younger generation is a blessing."
"No," Simon said, "I can't imagine you writing the card I found in my in-file the other day. My secretary was most amused."
Alys glanced again at Violetta Vorinnis. Olga Vorbohn had joined the little party watching Simon dance, and Alys frowned. "What's Olga doing with them?" she said. "She's not part of Violetta's set."
"She's the one who sent me a note suggesting we meet in the shrubbery later this evening," Simon said, very dry.
"Hm." They made another revolution around the room. "You should look into Olga," Alys said.
"What--" Simon began, eyes widening.
"I mean, I think she may have an ulterior motive in joining this, er, fashionable trend. Didn't her uncle have an issue with ImpSec recently? She's very close to her aunt. I wouldn't care to guess whether she means you ill, thinks she can seduce or flatter you into going lightly on her family, or wants to give you information, but I don't think she shares Violetta's opinion of you."
"And accepting Olga's invitation, or appearing to, would make Violetta furious at you," Alys added. "Even worse than dancing with me."
"Divide and conquer," Simon remarked. "We'll see how that pans out. Thank you, Alys." The dance wound to a close, and Simon bowed gravely to her, then, not glancing over his shoulder at his young admirers, kissed her hand before turning away.
Alys watched Simon proceed slowly in the direction of the shrubbery, and saw the way Olga stared, then trailed after him.
Through the musical interlude and the subsequent dance, Alys's attention was distracted. She finally saw Simon return to the party when she was in the middle of a mirror dance with Minister Quintillan, and only realised she was staring when Quintillan's head turned in reflection. She picked up the dance with an effort, spoke cheerfully to him and then extracted herself to find Simon.
"As ever, you were correct," he told her. "It was information. Apparently her uncle is not as kind to her aunt as he should be, and young Olga feels a certain partisanship. Our investigations into his affairs will be increased."
"I see. I'm glad it was useful."
"Yes. But not, I feel, useful enough that I wish to encourage this new status of mine. Would you care for another dance?"
Alys gave a shallow curtsey. "It would be my pleasure."
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/10