Title: Father Frost
Length: 1500 words
Content: fluff, suitable for all
Summary: Father Frost makes a delivery to the Imperial Residence.
The Winterfair Ball had ended, and Alys had seen off the final guests and was making her way up to her rooms for tonight at the Residence. Gregor had quietly said to Cordelia that he would like it if everyone--meaning all his relatives--stayed at the Residence tonight before they set off for Vorkosigan Surleau and the real holiday, and nobody had had the heart to refuse. Besides, it was convenient in this weather. By long-standing tradition the Winterfair Ball finished earlier than most of the major events, but it was nice to be able to walk upstairs still holding a glass of champagne instead of having to swap her dancing slippers for fur-lined boots and layers of wraps before venturing out to the groundcar and the snowy streets. Alys finished the champagne and set the glass down on a side table, then turned for the stairs.
A siren shrieked a bone-splitting alarm, and for a moment all Alys could think was that it was lucky she'd just put the glass down, because she was sure she'd have dropped and smashed it otherwise. She whirled around, but saw nothing. If that was a false alarm, at this hour, at Winterfair--but the siren continued, and Alys looked up. Ivan was upstairs in his bed... she was just picking up her skirts to dash up to him when two green-uniformed men came towards her.
"Milady, come with us, please," one said, while the other, less polite, took her firmly by the arm. "Quickly, if you please."
"He'll be evacuated by his own men upstairs, don't worry," the guard said. Alys recalled that from the drills: there were ImpSec agents assigned to all of them, and they were each supposed to go with their guards rather than wait for each other. She hadn't liked it in the drills, and she didn't like it at all now, but the two guards were propelling her away from the stairs and through a small door, and she couldn't even hear herself think over the noise, much less argue.
The palace was buzzing with activity now in response to the alarm, people moving about and doors opening and closing as the siren continued its complaint, and Alys was almost dizzy with it as the guards whisked her through several more corridors and then through a door and outside into a large courtyard. The winter air hit her like a knife, and she recoiled, but the guards propelled her on.
"Point D-6 is nearest," one said to the other, and they crossed the snowy courtyard, went through an archway and into part of the old stables. "Stay here," the guard said, coming to a halt.
"What's happening? Where's Ivan? Gregor?"
"I don't know, milady," the guard said. "Stay here," he repeated, and the two guards took up positions nearby.
There were other people assembling in the courtyard, servants and staff gathering a little way apart from her, talking in alarmed voices. A squadron of ImpSec guards also appeared, and Alys wasn't entirely sure whether they were protecting the staff or watching them. She pulled her thin wrap around her more closely and shivered. In here she was out of the wind, but that was about it.
Another gaggle of ImpSec men came whisking through, and Alys recognised Captain Illyan amongst them. She moved nearer. "What's going on?" she demanded, catching his eye.
He half-paused his swift steps. "I'm sorry, milady, I don't have the details yet. The intruder alarm sounded, near the Emperor's apartments. You'll be safe here." He hurried on again without waiting for her reply, making a vague apologetic gesture as he did. Alys grimaced, huddled closer into her wrap, and stood still, cursing anyone who thought that Winterfair night was the right time to try to break into the Imperial Residence, then cursing anyone who thought this unheated stable was a sensible muster point for anyone at this time of year.
Five minutes later the ImpSec gaggle returned, all looking tense and worried. This time Captain Illyan peeled off from them and came towards her, and Alys forced her chattering teeth still, ready to question him, but he said nothing, merely stripped off his uniform greatcoat and passed it to her, then carried on his way at an even brisker pace. Alys was too startled to speak, but she lost no time pulling it over her ballgown and turning up the high collar. The sleeves were long enough that she could curl her hands up inside them, and it was warm from Captain Illyan's body, and for a moment she felt almost charitable towards ImpSec.
It was ten more minutes before anything else happened, but Alys felt rather less miserable by the time one of the guards touched his earbug and came back to her. "It's over, milady, you can go back inside."
"What happened?" Alys repeated yet again. "Where's Ivan?"
This time the guard spoke into his comm and answered her question. "Lord Ivan is with Lord Miles," he said. "They're being taken to the Regent. You can go up if you wish."
She hadn't realised how worried she'd been until this moment. "Good," was all she said, and picked her way across the snow to the nearest door. The dancing slippers were not going to survive this, she thought as she tried to stamp the snow off her feet. She headed back through the servants' passageways into a main corridor, her frozen legs and face gradually thawing out. She shrugged out of Captain Illyan's greatcoat, then draped it over one arm. No doubt he would be around with explanations soon enough.
Indeed, she met him at the top of the second flight of stairs, his face flushed. "My lady," he said. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more help to you earlier."
"I presume you can tell me what happened now," she said, a little dangerously. "On Winterfair night, for pity's sake. Can't your intruders pick more sociable hours?"
"Ah. Well. There's a reason for that," he said.
"Yes?" she prompted after a moment.
"It was Father Frost," he said. "Or rather, it was some junior impersonators of Father Frost attempting to personally deliver a gift to Gregor who neglected to clear their movements with Security first."
Alys frowned at Illyan and rubbed her forehead. "It's two in the morning and I've had four glasses of champagne. Explain yourself, please."
"It was Miles. And Ivan. Wearing Father Frost costumes, sneaking into Gregor's bedroom through one of the emergency escape passages. With a gift."
Alys stopped walking and glared at Illyan. "You mean all this upset was because--and everyone got marched outside--because of those idiot children?"
Illyan, unexpectedly, said, "It was our fault as much as theirs, my lady. My men really should have been able to positively identify them before sounding the alarm. They're rather embarrassed about their mistake now."
"I imagine so. But Ivan should have been asleep in bed, if he wants Father Frost to visit him tonight. And Miles too. They're with Aral and Cordelia now, is that right?"
"Yes, my lady. But Gregor's there too, and--and I've undertaken not to tell him the whole story. So that he'll still get his present from Father Frost."
"He's a bit old for presents from Father Frost," Alys said tartly.
Illyan made an unusually expressive gesture, extending a hand. "I think he'd enjoy this one all the same. It was Aral who said not to tell him the whole story, just that Ivan and Miles were sneaking around and triggered an alarm."
Alys sighed. "Very well. I'll keep their secret." She realised she was still holding the greatcoat, and smoothed it straight. "Thank you for the loan," she said.
There was a little smile on Illyan's face as he took it back. "It was no trouble, my lady. I'm afraid we didn't quite think through all the muster points in all weathers." He made a little bow and offered her his arm. "Shall we join the others?"
She took his arm, feeling the relaxation from earlier in the evening starting to return at last. "Father Frost," she said. "Well, and to think that yesterday I was telling Ivan he needed to stop sulking in his bedroom and get into the spirit of the season."
"I think it's fair to say he's done as you told him."
"And at least it wasn't a real security breach." Alys thought it might be a bit longer before she saw the humour of the escapade, but her anger was leaving her now.
They rounded the corner to the Regent's private study, and Illyan hesitated outside the door, and offered her a small smile. "Happy Winterfair, my lady."
She returned his smile, carefully. "Happy Winterfair, Captain."
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/10