Title: The Family Trade
Length: 6200 words
Content: moderately graphic violence, mildly AU
Summary: Ivan uncovers a plot, and Alys uncovers a secret Simon has been keeping from her.
Alys was beginning to regret inviting Ivan. Laisa was opening a new Komarran-style business school in Vorbarr Sultana and had asked her to make sure there would be plenty of Barrayarans from the younger generation to mingle with the Komarran professors and businessmen, and Alys had thought she could rely on Ivan's well-trained manners. But although the reception had barely started, Ivan was twitchy and distracted to the point of discourtesy, looking around and fidgeting as Sera Toscane finished her anecdote, then breaking away from her almost rudely. Alys paused in her own course across the grand hall to stop and glare at him. "Don't fidget like that, Ivan. Anyone would think you were nine."
Ivan barely looked at her. "Mm?" he said. "Sorry, Mamere." His gaze was fixed on the entrance where the ImpSec guards were setting up in preparation for Laisa's arrival. Madame Vortaine was there too, and Alys sighed inwardly. Once, she had defended Ivan from the various disappointed mothers and girls he'd taken up and then dropped--he's young, he'll settle down in time, she had said when they sailed in with gunports open, even as she scolded him privately. Now, she thought that if Madame Vortaine wanted to have words with Ivan, Alys would hold her coat.
"When does Laisa get here?" he asked, finally looking back at her.
"In half an hour. As you well ought to know. I'm sure you can survive half an hour of socialising, so please contain your boredom."
Ivan nodded, but Alys could see that it was pure instinct, his mind elsewhere. She shook her head at him, but began to plot the next stage of her own course around the hall, recalling people who had to be greeted, listing remarks and relevant facts to mention--Tomas's new grandson, the investment scheme in the Hazelbright Valley region, the difficulty finding Komarran specialty foods in Vorbarr Sultana, a thousand things. But before she could go any further, Simon came up alongside her.
Generally, Alys was amused by the way Simon could suddenly appear beside his target without his approach being obvious, but this time she frowned at him in transferred annoyance. He was careful not to interrupt her when she was working, as a rule. But he took her hand and kissed it in greeting, and her frown softened. Ivan edged away. There was a shadow of worry on Simon's face, and she raised her eyebrows at him and slid her arm into his.
"Trouble?" she asked quietly.
Simon gestured to a uniformed officer on the far side of the room. "Do you know who he is?" he asked.
Alys looked, blinked once and said, "Colonel Vorsmythe. He's organising security here this afternoon." And Simon must have known him for years, in ImpSec.
"I thought Laisa had Collingwood commanding her detail."
"He's on leave. New baby."
"Oh." Simon sighed. "I know him, don't I?"
Alys saw the tell-tale marks of stress on his face, in the lines around his eyes and the set of his lips. "He's hardly the most fascinating man in town," she said briskly. "He never was the same since Jean Rousse was killed in action. In all honesty, he's a bore."
Simon's lips quirked. "Ah. Then I won't waste my synapses on him."
"I wouldn't recommend it."
"Who was Rousse?" Ivan interrupted.
"Someone who's been dead over twenty years." Alys frowned at him repressively.
Ivan, however, was not repressed. He moved a little nearer and looked down at her. "Mamere. It's important." His eyes slid sideways to Simon. "It's important," he repeated.
To Alys's considerable surprise, Simon gave a short nod. Alys took a breath. "They were--well, people said 'friends', but they were lovers. Rousse got killed when a terrorist blew up his checkpoint, and Vorsmythe was never the same after. It's not common knowledge; I only know because his wife told me." She paused. "He's only married for the heir and spare, you understand. Uterine replicators have their uses. But he must be doing well in ImpSec, to have this job. Laisa met him last week, and she liked him, so that should make the security much smoother. Good working relationships are so important." She pressed Simon's arm with a little smile.
"Definitely not common knowledge," Ivan said. "It wasn't in... well, never mind that."
"What's this about, Ivan? If you spread that around..."
Ivan ignored that, looking at Vorsmythe and at the entrance again. "You're sure it was Jean Rousse?"
"Quite sure. A bit indelicate for him to name his son after his lover. That was when Nadya told me."
"Yes," Ivan said. "Okay. Thank you, Mamere. I--I need to go now."
Simon moved a little. "Ivan?" he said, an unexpected note of authority in his voice. Alys looked between them, frowning.
"What's going on?" she asked.
Ivan grimaced, seeming to shrink for a moment. "I can't explain it all now, Mamere." He straightened as he turned to Simon. "But it seems there might be something--something not quite right. I need to go and take a look at something. It might just be nothing, but--if I'm not back in ten minutes, call Laisa up directly and tell her to stay at the Residence and rely only upon Vorbarra Armsmen until it's all sorted out. But don't draw any attention to yourself when you do it."
"Vorsmythe?" Simon asked.
"I ... don't know yet. Just--" he looked not at Simon but at Alys "--just remember that, please."
Alys nodded blandly. Indeed, said a quiet voice at the back of her mind, one wouldn't wish to place any reliance on Simon's ability to keep track of a list of instructions in a crisis these days. It surprised her a little that Ivan should think of that. He wandered off across the reception hall, apparently aimlessly, and Alys turned to Simon.
"Not now, Alys," was all Simon said, his voice taking on a note she remembered from before, when he'd been commanding ImpSec through disasters great and small. "Just carry on as normal, please."
Alys gave him a look that said very plainly you will explain yourself later, but picked up her track towards Tomas Vorlakial, Simon on her arm. The wrong side, she noted: he stood at her right, his own right hand free beside his stunner. Alys's final hope that this was some boyish foolery from Ivan dwindled.
The ten minutes were only half spent when Simon suddenly looked up, froze for an instant, and then continued to move with calculated smoothness. Alys pressed his arm questioningly.
"Someone in the gallery," he murmured. "If they're following usual procedures, there shouldn't be anyone up there except uniformed ImpSec officers, and this person wasn't in uniform."
"Are you sure?"
"I haven't forgotten everything," Simon said tersely. "I'm sure. I'm going to go and check it out. You should wait here for Ivan."
They both glanced at Colonel Vorsmythe. Ever since Ivan had come out with this whole extraordinary situation, Alys had been trying to avoid staring at him. He seemed tense and on edge, but that was typical of ImpSec when a member of the Imperial Household was making an appearance, and even more so when it was the officer's first function, and Alys wouldn't have looked twice at him otherwise.
"No," Alys said. "I think I'll come with you."
Simon intelligently didn't waste time arguing. Instead he gave a short, provisional nod and they headed for a small side exit. There was an ImpSec guard on the door, but he waved Simon and Alys through without hesitation. Alys wasn't sure whether that was a good sign or not.
Once through the door, Simon stopped and pulled out his small stunner. He gestured to Alys to do the same, and Alys produced an even smaller one, silvery but otherwise unadorned. She hadn't always carried this, but Simon had insisted on it, and took her down to ImpSec's firing range regularly to keep in practice. It was, Alys thought, a measure of the kind of man he was that he felt much happier having a lover who was well armed.
They went up the stairs, Simon in front with his stunner out, Alys a few steps behind. At the top it was clear they had left the public, ornate areas of the school for the institutional underbelly, all olive carpet and beige walls and control units. There was no sign of their mystery man.
"Perhaps it was just a staff member..." Alys offered. Or perhaps you made a mistake. She didn't have to say that aloud. Simon glanced back at her with an odd half anxious, half defiant expression that told her he was worried about the same thing. They both knew how likely it was. It had only been a month ago that he had pressed the panic button to summon the full ImpSec rapid response team when he had failed to recognise Alys's driver. ImpSec had been painfully polite about it all and Simon had done a good impression of a man laughing it off, and then returned to his apartment without speaking a word to anyone for a full day, even her.
Simon suddenly tilted his head as if he'd heard something, then jogged soundlessly along the corridor and around a corner out of her sight, and Alys abruptly began to think that Simon making a mistake was by far the preferable explanation. She hurried after him, trying not to make any more noise.
Then there was a dull thud and a gasp, and Alys froze. A sudden flurry of scuffles and thumps followed, and she managed to force herself forwards again. Her hand holding her stunner was damp and cold with sweat. She turned the corner.
Simon was on the floor, grappling with a strange man in a plain dark suit and gloves. And Simon's stunner was on the opposite side of the corridor, useless. Worse: Simon was getting the worst of the fight, the man was on top of him and even as she collected herself and steadied her stunner, his attacker dealt him a heavy blow to the chest. Simon's pained gasp chilled her.
It's okay to stun them both, she told herself as she raised her hand. There was no way she could get a clear shot at the attacker. She flicked the safety off and took aim.
Then there were running steps approaching and she whirled around and nearly fired her stunner by reflex as Ivan threw himself forwards. He dragged the man off Simon with startling force and held him out to her like a kitten presenting his mother with a mouse. It took another second before Alys realised what she should do. She fired the stunner at point-blank range and the man crumpled.
Alys took hold of herself with an effort and turned to Simon. He was sitting up, blood lacing his mouth and his hand curled protectively against his chest. She dropped to her knees beside him. "Simon... I'm sorry, I wasn't quick enough, are you all right?" She bit her tongue on a torrent of words, pulled out a handkerchief and began to wipe the blood from his face, calming practical gestures. It had been a long time since she'd last seen Simon fight in earnest, and she'd never seen him lose.
"I'll be all right," he said a bit breathlessly, getting to his feet with her help. "Thank you, Ivan."
Ivan was searching the stunned man. "Nothing," he said. "Well, this proves it. Have you contacted anyone yet?"
"No, we haven't," Alys managed. For a moment she'd forgotten about whatever it was Ivan was investigating, Laisa and Colonel Vorsmythe and the rest of the mystery. She straightened Simon's tunic for him, smoothed her own hair, and pulled herself together. "We just came up here because Simon thought he saw something. We were waiting for you."
"She'll be here soon," Ivan said. "Your comm link is double-encrypted, isn't it, sir? Can I use it?"
Simon fumbled with his left hand for it, and Alys saw that his right hand was purpling and swollen, and he was very pale. Gently she took the comm link from him and passed it to Ivan. There was a first-aid kit hanging prominently between two half-open doors, part of the institutional equipment of the building. She went to collect it.
She never saw the second attacker. As she lifted the first-aid kit down, someone grabbed her from behind. Then his arm was around her, and his nerve disruptor's muzzle was against her head. The disruptor was poking a hairpin into her scalp, and it hurt. She was going to have to redo her hair again. For a moment she couldn't think of anything else.
"That's right," her captor was saying. "Drop your weapons, drop that comm link, or I fry her brains."
Far away across the corridor, she saw Ivan and Simon both laying their weapons on the floor. Her own stunner had fallen from her hand when the man had grabbed her.
Time slowed, and she could hear each beat of her heart, a thousand years between them. She could hear Simon's voice in her head, quite clearly.
You're almost certain to be smaller and weaker than anyone who attacks you, but you do have one advantage that none of my soldiers could ever have. People will underestimate you, badly. And you can encourage them, I know you know how to do that. And this will give you a chance. It'll only come once, so you have to pick your moment well, but you will have a chance.
She had first learned this sort of thing from Drou, early in the Regency, but more recently Simon had taught her even more. She felt suddenly warm as she recalled the last time Simon had been trying to show her a move, and she had ended up kissing him instead as he protested that she needed to practice. But she didn't regret it now.
"Get up. Away from the windows. Into that room, now."
Alys could see the plan. The assassin would lock Ivan and Simon in the storage room, keep her as a hostage, and stay in place to shoot the Empress as she arrived. She looked at Ivan, at Simon. I'm Vor. If my death serves the Emperor, it is a good death.
Ivan was moving slowly and carefully towards the room, but Simon was hunched over his chest, pale and steadying himself against the wall with his good hand. Alys gave a sob of fright and staggered slightly, her hip colliding with the attacker.
"Hold still, you stupid bitch," he growled. "I'll give you something to cry about."
Alys's right hand, hanging limp at her side, hovered over the sheath in her boot. Simon could see it now, and Alys realised he too was appearing weaker than he actually was. He stumbled forwards, then dropped to his knees, and Alys couldn't quite tell whether he was acting or not.
"Get moving or I shoot," the assassin said, moving slightly towards Simon, his attention divided between them. Alys went limp against him as if fainting, and felt the pressure of the nerve disruptor disappear as the assassin had to catch her. The movements were automatic, practised, lightning-fast. She twitched her skirts aside, drew her Vorfemme knife from its greased boot sheath, turned as if falling face-first into her captor's arms, and put all her weight behind the knife, up and in. It drove deep into his stomach.
The assassin made a strange noise, lost his grip on her head, doubled over, then fell, dropping the nerve disruptor. There was blood everywhere, on her skirt, on the man, spurting onto the institutional carpet. Alys backed away, out of the fountain of blood. All the strength went out of her legs and she sat down hard. Simon and Ivan were both moving, Ivan to retrieve the nerve disruptor and his own weapon and stand over the assassin, Simon to her. Alys found she was shaking.
"Deep breaths," Simon said, his voice slow and reassuring, as if he'd talked a thousand agents through their first kills. He probably had. "And another. Good. You did magnificently, Alys. Now you need to get up and keep going. We're not finished yet."
"No," Ivan said. "There's still Vorsmythe, and he may have other men here. He must have set this up carefully. We have to get Laisa turned around and back to the Residence until we can untangle all this." He reached for the commlink.
Alys blinked rapidly, cleared her throat, and sat up. Then she went still. "It's too late," she said to Ivan. "Laisa's already here." The sound of the imperial fanfare came clearly through the window.
"Dammit," Ivan muttered, then looked at Simon. "Sir--" he began, then cut himself off. The immediate threat over, Simon was leaning back against the wall, and Alys realised he hadn't been faking his injuries. His eyes were vague with pain. No, Alys thought coolly, he can't solve your problems now, Ivan. For a moment, Ivan looked panicked. Then his face changed, and a man she barely knew looked out at her. "Mother," Ivan corrected himself. "You need to go to Laisa right now. Get her alone somehow, tell her what's going on, get her back to her car and guarded by people you can trust. That's the main thing, and only you can do it without attracting attention from Vorsmythe."
Alys nodded. Her mind was clearing now as the panic faded, though she avoided looking at the assassin's corpse.
Ivan looked at Simon again, then around. "I need to make sure there isn't anyone else lurking around to attack. Colonel Vorsmythe--"
"I'll manage Vorsmythe," Simon said, sitting forward again with gritted teeth. His voice was tense. "I can keep him distracted long enough."
Ivan did look to her then, his gaze clearly saying looking after Simon is your problem. But Alys had no intention of stopping him. Instead she looked at Simon a moment, said, "Very well," and extended a hand to help him to his feet. Ivan looked at them both, then said, "Go quickly. I don't think there's much time."
Simon slid his injured hand into his pocket, deliberately smoothed his face into neutral lines, and managed to walk alongside Alys down the corridor, though he did not object when Alys put a supporting arm around him on the stairs.
"Your skirt," he said, and Alys realised there was a delicate tracery of blood splattered around her hem, not quite camouflaged against the navy silk.
"Nothing to be done for it," she said. "It only has to last a short time."
He nodded, and they entered the hall again. The conversations were continuing just as they had before, as if nothing had happened in the gallery, as if nothing could possibly happen. Alys gave Simon a last assessing look as she parted from him. He was walking with his usual stern upright carriage, as if he hadn't been beaten up and injured five minutes ago: Alys thought that he would have fooled even her, on a cursory glance at least. He made his way casually towards Vorsmythe, and Alys had to turn away from him and focus on her own task.
Laisa was still in the antechamber that had been prepared for her. Alys glanced at her chrono: five minutes, then Laisa was supposed to make her speech and declare the institute officially open. Alys recalled citing the old proverb, that punctuality was the politeness of princes. She wished now she'd encouraged Laisa to be half an hour late for everything.
There was an ImpSec guard on the door. Alys put an especially forbidding expression on her face, and he pulled the door open for her with eyes carefully averted. No way to tell whether he was part of this plot or not. Inside were two more ImpSec agents, a pair of Armsmen, a flurry of secretaries and aides, and Laisa, reading her notes while a maid fussed with her hair.
"Laisa, my dear," Alys said. "A word, if I may."
Laisa looked up at her and frowned, and Alys's heart sank. She'd clearly caught her Empress in one of her less favourable moods. "I need to check this speech," she said. "I was going to do it earlier, but there were fifteen new petitions. The amount of work for this job is just ridiculous. If you want to brief me on social gossip, you're too late." She glanced at her chrono distractedly.
Alys switched to her second plan rapidly. She swept over to Laisa's side and looked at her closely. "No, that won't do," she said. "I'm sorry, milady, but you can't possibly wear that for this function. It won't do at all."
Laisa's head went up sharply, making a creditable attempt at Imperial hauteur as she looked at Alys. Alys looked back at her with the confidence of knowing that she had taught Laisa how to do that.
"I have something different for you. You've time to get changed, and you don't want to cause offense, milady." She put her hand on Laisa's arm. There was a smear of blood across her fingers, she saw suddenly. Laisa saw it too.
"What happened to your--" she began, and Alys tightened her grip. Laisa blinked, then said in a tone carefully identical to before, "Very well, Lady Alys. I have a few minutes yet." She began to unbutton her bolero, and Alys looked around the room.
"A little more privacy, please," she said, with a disapproving look at the guards.
The prospect of their Empress undressing had them all on the far side of the doors within moments, and a wave from Alys dispatched the servants as well. The Armsmen had both gone to one entrance, the ImpSec to the other, Alys noted. Good.
"How long before they notice I don't have anything for you to change into, I wonder?" Alys murmured. "Laisa. There's something wrong here, possibly with your new ImpSec security man. Simon was attacked, and--" She cut off that line of thought quickly. "You need to return to the Residence, with your Armsmen and without anyone from ImpSec. Quickly."
Laisa took this in with at least the appearance of calm. ImpSec had personally drilled her in security protocols for this and a thousand other potential disasters, and she had known how to keep her head before that. She said nothing for a moment, then turned to the door the Armsmen had gone out of. Alys gave a nod.
"Your job is to get away from here, now. Let me worry about the rest of it."
"Yes. I know." Laisa paused with her hand on the doorknob. "But--be careful, Alys."
"Once you're gone, the problem will disappear," Alys said, and hoped it was true. She stood by as Laisa opened the door. The Armsman on duty gave her an enquiring look.
"I'm afraid it's code black here, Petros," Laisa said, and without even blinking the Vorbarra Armsmen swung into action. Within fifteen seconds, Laisa was in her groundcar pulling away at top speed, outdistancing its ImpSec escort. Alys ducked back into the antechamber before the startled ImpSec officers could notice her and pounce.
Laisa was safe, or at least out of her ambit now, and Alys considered what she should do next. Then she took her com link and entered a code she had not used for almost a year.
"General Allegre's office," said a familiar secretary. "Lady Alys, how may I serve you?"
"I need to talk to Guy immediately."
"It's a bit busy here--" the secretary tried.
"I'm sure it is. That's why I need to talk to him. Put me through, please, Niels."
There was a click, and then a terse voice. "Allegre here. What is it, Lady Alys?"
"General, I've just instructed Laisa to leave the institute without ImpSec," she said.
"Ah," said Allegre slowly. "I didn't think this would be wasting my time. What happened?"
Alys realised then that she still didn't know precisely what had happened, or why, or even knew for certain that Laisa was the target. She'd relied on Ivan's judgement, and so, tellingly, had Simon. She took a breath, and said, "I was informed that Laisa's ImpSec protection here was compromised. We were attacked--Simon and I were attacked--and it was clearly unsafe. It was Ivan who--who identified the problem. He believed Captain Vorsmythe to be a risk to Laisa."
"Ivan," Allegre said. There was a pause, and murmuring voices in the background. "I see," he went on. "I can't talk any further right now--the Emperor has just called for me. But I'll talk to Ivan as soon as I can. Thank you, my lady." He cut the com.
Alys could picture it all. Gregor would have been locked down by his Armsmen by now and would be demanding explanations that they couldn't give him, and calling Allegre would be his next step. At least Allegre would know enough about what was happening to be able to placate his Emperor. There wasn't anything else she could do to sort out that turf war now.
But there was still danger here. She turned again and went back into the reception hall.
Barely any time had passed, she recognised, so little that the guests were not yet beginning to grow restive with the non-appearance of the Empress. Alys scanned the room. Ivan was nowhere in sight, and it took her a while to spot Simon. He'd manoeuvred Vorsmythe out of the main hall and into the entrance-way, presumably to cut down the witnesses, and was leaning against the wall, arms folded, a familiar position but Alys suspected right now that the wall was the only thing holding him up. He was talking amiably, and Vorsmythe was trying not to be too obvious about the fact that he wasn't listening, to Alys's experienced eye. He was visibly edgy, shifting from foot to foot, head turning, brow furrowed. Alys began to make her way over, trying to seem casual, but Vorsmythe saw her and his tension rose another notch. Simon's eyes shifted to her, and Alys stopped at his look.
Vorsmythe looked between them, then moved so that he was between Simon and the rest of the room, trapping him, and Simon's face took on an intent, focused expression that made the hairs stand up on Alys's arms. Vorsmythe knew he was caught, and he had a hostage. They had given him a hostage. Alys swallowed.
That was when Ivan rolled up. Smiling, projecting peaceful intent and calm bordering on idiocy, he ambled over to Vorsmythe and Simon as if he were oblivious to the tension between them. Vorsmythe braced, but saw no hostile intent in Ivan's approach. Alys watched in deep alarm as her son said something to Vorsmythe, a cheerful smile on his face, and Vorsmythe had to turn away from Simon to answer him. Simon took a careful step sideways, away from the danger. Vorsmythe's head snapped around, realising he was being played. A moment too late: Ivan was already making his move. Alys dashed towards them as Ivan jammed Vorsmythe into the wall.
Surprised or not, Vorsmythe was an ImpSec agent at his peak, and a moment later he and Ivan were both on the ground, and Vorsmythe was on top. Fighting for his life. Alys reached for her stunner for the second time, but before she could draw, Simon moved, kicking out with a sudden ferocity. Alys didn't quite see what had happened, but a moment later Vorsmythe was pinned to the floor with Ivan on top of him, twisting his arms behind him, and Alys reached Simon and caught hold of him as he swayed.
Then the ImpSec reinforcements arrived, and Alys realised their troubles weren't over yet. The senior sergeant stared at his commander pinned to the ground by a Vorish guest and drew his stunner, saying, "What the hell do you think--"
"Jardin," Simon said faintly, "I need you to obey Captain Vorpatril as if--as if he were me."
Alys recognised Sergeant Jardin abruptly as the man who'd come to rescue Simon from Alys's driver, and swallowed. "There's been an attack--" she began, but Jardin was looking only at Simon.
"Sir," he said crisply, "yes, sir."
"Good man," Simon said, and began to slide down the wall. Jardin and Alys caught him, and he ended up lying half-propped against Alys, grey-faced.
Vorsmythe had been swearing and arguing since he was felled, and now he gave a final kick. Alys wearily pulled out her stunner and shot him with it at point-blank range. Ivan, Simon and Jardin all flinched back.
"I've had enough of him. Ivan, Laisa's on her way back to the Residence. Allegre is talking to Gregor about it."
Ivan swallowed. "Good. Thank you, Mamere."
Then the rest of ImpSec arrived in force, and Ivan stood up and, with Jardin's backing, began giving orders. At least a dozen men began to fuss over Simon like a flock of hens with one chick, and Alys sat back at his head and didn't move.
"All right, how bad is it?" she asked him.
"However bad it is," Simon responded, "I'm sure the medics will make twice as much fuss as necessary."
If he was complaining about the fuss, it would probably be all right. He made a feeble gesture with his good hand, and Alys gave a crooked smile and leaned in to kiss him lightly on the lips.
Ivan, talking rapidly to Jardin, began to move away. Alys raised her head to say, "You owe me an explanation for all of this, mon petit."
Ivan ducked his head. "I owe a lot of people explanations," he said, and fled, no doubt to try and deal with a dubiously loyal ImpSec squad and a turf war with the Residence guards. Alys frowned at him, but the medics were starting to load Simon onto a stretcher. Alys looked at the disastrously ruined party, at Ivan receding into the hall, and at Simon, and abandoned the mess to follow him to the ambulance. Sorting this out would doubtless be good for Ivan.
It was four hours before she saw Ivan again. She trailed Simon through an array of doctors at ImpMil, waiting tensely until they stopped using words like 'haemorrhage' and 'damage' and started using words like 'straightforward' and 'recovery'. An orderly provided her with an indifferent cup of tea and she settled down to wait for everything to be done. Simon had apparently managed to break two ribs and then do himself some internal damage, along with the injury to his hand, but he was, she was assured, in no danger. All she had to do was settle down and wait, first for the medical treatment to be complete, and then for Simon to wake from the anaesthetic. The task was a little too familiar for comfort, and she was glad Simon had been taken to ImpMil instead of to the ImpSec medical department. ImpSec had been reluctant to allow him to pass onto what they considered alien and inadequately secured territory, but Alys had insisted.
When she looked up from her weary contemplation of the wall opposite, she saw that Ivan was standing in the doorway. She gave him a wave, and he came to join her. He looked down at Simon, and despite herself Alys was touched by the concern on Ivan's face.
"They say he should recover quickly. It apparently looked more exciting than it was."
"He'll be coming around from the anaesthetic soon."
Stilted and awkward conversations with her son had become a commonplace lately, but this was worse than usual. Ivan took a breath to say something, then stayed silent.
"How is Laisa taking everything?" Alys asked after a moment.
"She's not exactly happy. Gregor was, um, talking to her. She knew people would want to shoot at her because of ... everything, but you can't really be prepared for that sort of thing."
Alys remembered the Pretendership. She'd grown up with Barrayar and the security precautions of the High Vor, and even then her first close-up experience with violence had shocked her. This hadn't been that bad, for Laisa, but she must feel it all the same.
"Are you all right?" Ivan blurted out suddenly.
She'd killed a man today. Every time she closed her eyes she saw him collapsing, the look of shock on his face fading into nothingness, felt the awful mixture of triumph and self-disgust. "I'm fine," she said. But she was dreading the night, especially since Simon would be here. Perhaps she'd just stay. But she was getting a bit creaky for spending all night in a hospital chair.
Ivan all too obviously didn't believe her, but Alys turned back to Simon. He was beginning to rouse, his breathing growing deeper and more rapid. Ivan leaned back against the wall. After a few minutes, Simon's eyes opened. He looked at her blankly, and his left hand moved in a gesture Alys hadn't seen for a while, searching for his chip. She caught his hand and pressed it between her own.
"Alys," he said hoarsely. "What ... where..."
"Everything's all right," Alys said. "You passed out after the ImpSec cleanup squad arrived; you're at ImpMil; you've had surgery and you're going to be fine."
"I... oh." He squeezed her hand. Alys wasn't sure he was tracking her properly yet.
"Everything's fine," she repeated. "Laisa's safe and they're sorting it all out. All you have to do is rest."
"Mm," he said. He lay quietly for a while, orienting himself, and Alys twisted her fingers in his. After a few minutes, Simon focused on Ivan.
"You're here," he said. "Debriefing over?"
"So, explain yourself. How did you know?"
Alys looked around at that.
"It was what Mama said about Jean Rousse. The thing is, we'd been investigating an anti-Komarran group for some time, and we'd pinned a lot of their activities down, but there was this mysterious connection they had whose codename in their organisation was 'Rousse' and we didn't have any leads on him at all. And then Mama told me who Rousse was, and I noticed one of the men who was on duty at the reception was someone we'd brushed up against in the investigation, and I just thought that it must be connected. And it was. Vorsmythe had been very careful, setting this up and getting all his men in place, loyal men and conspirators both, but that was his mistake."
Alys stared at him. "You're ImpSec," she said accusingly.
Ivan looked at the floor, but Simon said, "Yes. Counter-intelligence."
"Ivan is in ImpSec. My son is in ImpSec," she repeated. "And you knew all along." She turned her head between the two of them. "And you didn't tell me. Neither of you told me."
Ivan and Simon had identical looks of pained helplessness on their faces now. Ivan, more experienced in arguments with her and not handicapped by strong painkillers and post-anaesthetic fog, retorted, "If it comes to that, you never mentioned your own little spy ring to me. I had to find that out from By."
Alys glared at him. Ivan glared back. Simon raised his head. "It appears to be a family talent," he said. "And I did ask both of you to keep your covers solid." He struggled to prop himself up in his elbow, and even as she moved to adjust pillows and make him comfortable, Alys couldn't help noticing how effectively he was distracting her. Damn the man. She kissed his cheek anyway.
"ImpSec!" she cursed under her breath. Both men flinched. Alys exhaled, running her hand absently along Simon's arm. Then she turned to Ivan and looked at him properly, seeing how tired he was, noticing the contrast between his weak, purposeless bearing and the steadiness in his eyes. He was perfect for this job, and Simon had seen it and used it, just as Simon had seen her own possibilities. She laced her fingers into Simon's decisively. She couldn't fault him for this. She couldn't fault either of them.
"Very well then, Ivan," she said. "Keep doing a good job."
Ivan had very likely been commended already by Gregor and Allegre for this afternoon's save, but he still looked absurdly pleased at her words.
"Now go away," she went on, leaning forward to give Ivan a quick kiss on the cheek. "I want to be alone with Simon."
At that, Ivan moved with considerable speed towards the exit.
"He's a good officer," Simon said. "You can be proud of him."
"I am," she admitted. "I have been for a long time." She sat back in the chair. "As have you, I deduce. How many more of my friends and family do you have on a string, I wonder?"
Simon gave her a faint, enigmatic smile. "You know I can't answer that."
"Ivan," Alys said wonderingly. "Working for ImpSec."
"A family talent," Simon said again. "I think he takes after you."
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/10