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23 May 2006 @ 09:29 pm
Ficathon Fic: Fairy Dust, PG, Laisa, Gregor  
Title: Fairy Dust
Author: Jedishampoo
Recipient: thewhiteowl
Rating: PG
Notes: For thewhiteowl, who requested something with Gregor (either during the angsty Vor Game period, or his romance with Laisa). Thanks to my beta, sharpeslass! Thanks also to altariel for coming up with the ficathon idea. :) Comments, critique, all appreciated.
Summary: Laisa and Gregor find a few minutes alone, but Barrayar always finds a way to interfere. Set during A Civil Campaign.



***

Laisa Toscane was having a nicely businesslike conversation with Lord Vorsmythe when the man paused in midsentence, eyes filling with a strange, slightly alarmed look. Laisa felt the light fingers on her shoulder before she had time to turn and see who’d approached. The touch was warm and affectionate.

“Pardon me,” Gregor The Emperor said from somewhere above her, and Vorsmythe took himself off posthaste. Laisa turned and looked up, and just as she’d suspected, her fiancee looked quite imperially-satisfied with himself.

“I believe I’ve said sufficient goodnights, if you have,” he told her, dark eyes filled with humor.

“What a lovely idea,” Laisa said, and gave him her most genuine smile of the evening. “Where is Lady Alys?”

“With Vortala, for the moment.”

“Then we must be quick, I take it?”

Gregor The Man grinned for real, just for her, and took her arm. They edged their way out of the room.

Laisa supposed she should feel somewhat ashamed at the bubble of naughty excitement that swelled in her stomach and threatened to burst in a giggle. The talks this evening had been quite productive for a change, and yet here they were, sneaking like teenagers out of a ballroom still half-full of industrialists and Escobaran ambassadors.

The Escobarans had been surprisingly eager of late to reconfigure their Barrayaran trade treaties, surprisingly in favor of Barrayar despite their 30-year-old grudge. Laisa fancied this might have something to do with her upcoming wedding. Now that it looked like Komarr’s membership in the Barrayaran Empire would be more solidified than ever, ambassadors from worlds all about the Komarr wormhole nexus were more than happy to relent and cement and dance and drink till all hours of the night. So odd, to think that one’s personal connections could have galactic repercussions. It was a notion Laisa had still to become used to, as she faced becoming Empress of Barrayar.

The beautiful old-world decorations in the Imperial Residence’s halls-- now those, she had become used to, though she appreciated them no less. But the sitting room Gregor led her to was a change from the elegant hallways. It was nearly connected to his bedroom, and was smaller and less ornate than most of the other chambers. It was one of the few places in the Residence which was allowed to conceal the older, more comfy furniture. Some of it was even mismatched. There was the poufy green couch with scratched wooden armrests, the low oaken table decorated with condensation rings, the back-country hutches with their chintzy trinkets scattered here and there. Her parents, even if they’d owned such things, would never have allowed such a room to exist in their home. Laisa adored it.

Gregor shut the door behind them and went to fetch refreshments. Laisa, still feeling awake despite the late hour, wandered about the room.

They’d really spent very little time here. They were both just so busy. Nearly every minute of every day for the next few weeks was painstakingly accounted for in advance. These moments alone were a welcome respite. Laisa sincerely hoped some serious canoodling was in order.

“White?” Gregor asked, and Laisa turned to nod at him, smiling. He grinned in return and pulled a bottle out of the dented cooler, giving the bottle a jaunty little flip in mid-air before going to work with the corkscrew. Laisa laughed in appreciation of both his action and his good mood, then turned back to her examination of his various souvenirs. A little drawer with an enameled handle drew her eye.

She paused with her hand on the knob before opening it. “I won’t set off any alarms if I open this, will I?”

“Nope,” Gregor said, at the same time as the ‘pop’ of the wine cork. “It’s full of mostly personal junk. Very boring.”

“No state secrets? Are you sure?” Laisa teased, turning again.

“Positive. Impsec searches this room at least once a day, you know,” he told her. The glint in his eye was positively evil as he filled the glasses so full that Lady Alys would have raised her socially-correct brows-- Laisa knew this for a fact, for she’d been on the receiving end of a few Vorish pouring lessons-- and leaned back into the couch’s poufs in a very suggestive pose.

How Laisa wanted to join him! But after all that reassurance, she felt she ought to snoop at least a tiny bit more. The drawer was full of travel magazines and show programs, and Laisa dutifully pulled them out and riffled them a bit. She was about to replace them when she noticed a little arrow scratched into the wooden bottom of the drawer. It was irregular, as if it had been carved by a clumsy hand, or a very young one. She pulled the drawer out a bit more. The arrow appeared to be pointing at a notch cut into the drawer’s side. Laisa stuck her finger in the notch.

“Aha!” The drawer below it, which Laisa had thought merely decorative, popped open. “Secret compartments!” she announced with no small bit of glee.

“They’ll have searched that, too,” Gregor drawled. “Come on over here, why don’t you?”

“Only with my booty.” The drawer had contained a cardboard box, which tinkled and thumped enticingly when she shook it. Laisa carried the box over to the table, and then collapsed into the couch. The air trapped in the cushions whooshed out like a sigh.

She felt something cool being pressed into her splayed fingers. Gregor was handing her a glass of wine. Knowing how full it was, Laisa sat up to drink so she wouldn’t spill a precious drop. “Yummy,” she said as she tasted it.

“Mmm-hmm,” Gregor agreed, and leaned over for a quick kiss. His lips were sweet and cool from the wine. So dear, so enticing, so normal. Laisa took a moment to examine him in his relaxed pose. He looked positively limp. Laisa could just fall over onto him, damn the wine--

But then she saw the box from the corner of her eye, and a less welcome thought struck her. Impsec. Laisa wondered whether or not there were secret cameras here, of all places. She thought about asking, then ultimately decided against it. There probably were. And just as likely, there were stiff men in dark clothing behind them.

Barrayar. Such old-world power, in a such a surprisingly modern package. Gregor was hers, but he was also a man of his people. When she looked into Gregor’s eyes at that moment, Laisa fancied she could see the eyes of Barrayar’s first rulers staring back at her. Of course everyone was an amalgamation of their ancestors, but here it was different, somehow. It was an aristocracy of blood, not money, that ruled this place.

One one level it was all so romantic, balm to the secret soul of a girl who’d once loved everything pink, and who’d read centuries-old stories of the knights and ladies of ancient Earth. A girl who’d dreamed of swords and sun-dappled forest paths. They had those, here on Barrayar, as surely as they had an Emperor.

Then the moment changed, and it was just Gregor looking back at her, unreadable to many but not to her. He was real, not fantastical, and she was glad the fairy-dust had been blown from him, for then she would not have found this delirious, joyful love.

Still-- those cameras! Another thing to get used to.

In a few moments, that was. Laisa decided to take another sip of her wine and give the Impsec men a different kind of show. She ignored Gregor’s frustrated moan and sat up to examine her hidden treasure. The tattered box lid was unsecured and practically fell off.

Inside was the promised junk, but of a more personal kind. Old bits of cloth were wrapped around little rocks and mini-holoprojectors which, long-depleted of charge, would not activate. But there in the corner was the strangest thing-- it looked like a child’s shoe. It was dirty, and flattened from its storage in the box. Laisa dug around for a bit but could not find a mate.

She pulled it out and shook it free from bits of tissue to dangle it in front of Gregor. “Now that cries out for an explanation,” she said, chuckling, anticipating some sort of embarrassed groan from her love.

Gregor’s reaction was not something Laisa could have ever predicted. His face went stiffer than she’d seen it in weeks, lips compressed to nearly nothing, and his eyes-- all the ages of her earlier fancies, centuries of Barrayar, filled them.

“Ah,” Gregor finally said, then was silent, and grey.

“What is it, love?” Laisa dropped the shoe back into the box as if it was a lit firecracker, and grabbed Gregor’s hand. “I’m so sorry! Please tell me I haven’t upset you!”

“Never. Not you,” Gregor said, and squeezed her hand in return, squeezed it hard as if afraid to let it go.

“Whose was it?” Laisa pressed when it appeared he would not elaborate. It had to be important; a lost child of some sort? A horrible thought filled her. “Where is the other?”

Gregor took a short breath. “It was the last thing my mother held, I believe, before she grabbed a plasma arc and was shot, and killed.”

Laisa stared for a stunned moment. When he got to the point, he really got to the point. No meandering around the truth for her Gregor. She loved him for it, but still, it was unnerving. She struggled to compensate.

“Oh, when your mother died during the-- the-- Vordarian Pretendership,” she said at last, hating the stutter. Her doctorate was in business, dammit, not history, though Lady Alys and Gregor himself had given her the shocking story. “You never mentioned a shoe.

“It was mine,” he told her. “You could get the gory details straight from Lady Cordelia, if you wished. It was a symbol, that I was still alive and well despite the Pretender’s propaganda.” He sighed.

“My poor love,” Laisa said, and leaned into his slender frame, wrapping her arms about him. Never had she thought she might say such a thing to a grown man, the Emperor of Barrayar no less, but some deep womanly instinct told her it was the right move. She felt some of the stiffness leak out of his muscles, and was glad. But he wasn’t finished.

“A pawn, Laisa. That’s business as usual, here. Understand, love?”

Laisa knew exactly what Gregor meant, was thinking, because they’d had a version of this conversation when he’d proposed. He was wondering again whether she was prepared for all an Empress might be expected to deal with. Pawns. Their children would be political playthings no matter what, but could she and Gregor protect them, or would they be bandied about in the best, bloody, Barrayaran style?

Laisa felt pretty damned protective already, and not just of their un-conceived future children. She knew she was no Lady Cordelia Vorkosigan. She knew that if she had any sanity at all, she would run as fast as her stylish Komarran heels could carry her to the nearest shuttleport, and hitch the first ride off-planet. But she wasn’t sane, she was in love. With the good. And somewhat prepared for the bad. Where else could she go but forward?

“Of course I understand. I love you, darling, and trust you,” she said with another hug, earning a bleak smile from her lover.

And she did trust Gregor. He would never gamble with her or their childrens’ lives; that was why Impsec searched these rooms daily, and followed them everywhere. The stern men behind the cameras suddenly seemed less threatening. They were the fairy dust that kept the figurehead of the Imperium alive to wear his uniforms and ride his horses and do whatever else he had to do to keep Barrayar running.

And to keep him around for her. This time it was Laisa who leaned in to initiate a kiss, trying to put all her faith in the mere touch of their lips.

Gregor pulled back and looked at her up close, eyes dark in his ever-serious face. “Are you sure?”

Laisa set a red fingernail against his chin. “I’ve answered this before, and I certainly hope you don’t keep asking. I’m very resilient, and practical. You’ve seen me handle your counts and ambassadors, right? Yes.”

“I know. I won’t. I have. And thank you.” He cheered with the teasing, and so did Laisa. Only her Gregor could have kept all those queries and replies straight.

“You’re welcome. Though I do think you should put that somewhere more safe.” His mother had practically died holding it. Laisa thought she knew why, and felt a kinship with the dead Princess Kareen in her love for this man. Barrayar was not only a patriarchy; Laisa had learned that already.

Some of that feminine fervor must have shone in her eyes, for Gregor picked the shoe out of the box and set it gently on the table before them, watching her wryly the whole while. “I believe when Lady Cordelia gave it to me, all those years ago, she meant me to keep it as some sort of memento. I forgot about it. Sort of.”

“A souvenir of battle?” Laisa asked. “I can believe it of her.” Though she didn’t believe for an instant that he’d forgotten where he’d put it.

“Souvenirs of battle would be more Viceroy Vorkosigan’s style, or Miles’s, I suppose...”

Laisa considered that for a moment. No, she thought. Gregor was wrong. Lady Cordelia would have wanted it exactly that way. “Keep it where we can see it. Then we’ll both remember the past, and this conversation.”

He caught her drift. No more worrying about her. “Brilliant Laisa,” Gregor the Man said. This time, when they kissed, neither of them drew back any time soon. This was their time, alone. Impsec, shoes, Gregor’s adoptive family: Laisa forgot them all in the feel of his careful, deliberate fingers on her shoulders, and the urgent taste of his lips. He wasn’t just Barrayar’s, he was hers, and Barrayar better damn well just remember it.

The comconsole chimed just as things were getting most interesting. “It’s Ivan Vorpatril, Sire,” Gregor’s night secretary said through audio-only. “Should I--”

Gregor leaned his forehead on her chin. She could feel his bone-deep sigh through their embrace. “Ivan never calls on that line.”

“Then you’d better answer it.” Laisa swept away a moment’s pique. She would have to work harder to find the perks in this Empress business. Other than the horses, and the sun-dappled forest paths, and of course, Gregor. Perhaps after the wedding she could order them all beheaded. Yes, that’s exactly what she would do.

“Put it through,” Gregor the Emperor said.

End

Disclaimer: Characters created by Lois McMaster Bujold: no copyright infringement intended, and no money was made from writing this.

 
 
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lyraslyras on May 24th, 2006 04:40 am (UTC)
This is lovely. I wondered where you were going with it at first, but I like the way you weave in Laisa's irritation at Impsec and then her later acknowledgement that Impsec might have its uses. A really well-written scene - I especially liked Gregor's "careful, deliberate fingers", which strikes me as very apt!
Jedi Interdictor: Regency by itami_kitsunejedishampoo on May 24th, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I ALSO wondered at first where I was going to go with it-- there's got to be so much going on in both their heads, really. And Gregor is fascinating, as is his careful way of going about things. (My roommate keeps picturing him as Ioan Gruffudd; not sure what I think about that.) Thanks again for your comment, I appreciate it!
laryna6: Sparda/Evalaryna6 on May 24th, 2006 05:21 am (UTC)
I like this.
Jedi Interdictor: ryoga contemplativejedishampoo on May 24th, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying so! :)
Ekaterin Vorkosiganekatrin1 on May 24th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)
wow
Thank you for this story, I absolutely loved it. :-)
Jedi Interdictor: howl heart by mejedishampoo on May 24th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: wow
Yay, thank you for commenting! :)
philomythaphilomytha on May 24th, 2006 08:40 am (UTC)
Lovely! I liked the distinction between Gregor-the-emperor and Gregor-the-man. It's good to get a look inside Laisa's head, too - LMB doesn't give us much, but she must have had quite a struggle to acclimatize herself to Barrayar. I also liked Gregor's attitude towards the secret compartments in his room, that ImpSec would have been there first. Gives an insight into why he's so reserved - there's nowhere other than the inside of his head where he can keep secrets. And brilliant use of the shoe. I'd never thought to wonder what had happened to it, but it makes perfect sense.
Jedi Interdictor: howl heart by mejedishampoo on May 24th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! My roommate helped with the shoe idea by reminding me of it. I can't imagine being Gregor, and having 24-hour security, so that one was never truly alone. No wonder he ran away. :) Thanks again, I do appreciate it.
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on May 24th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, the shoe!
Jedi Interdictor: gastonbook by peaces_iconsjedishampoo on May 24th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
Yup, my roommate reminded me of its existence! (I suspect it burned with the rest of the wing, but hey, maybe not.)

Thanks for commenting!
jetta_e_rus aka Жоржеттаjetta_e_rus on May 24th, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
Excellent!
I adored this honest, sincere and wise talk between two person who have fell in love with each other but have the sense of Barrayaran reality yet.
(And at the end, then Ivan was going to appear, it was a surprise for me. This charming touch gets all picture suddenly at the exact time point).
Jedi Interdictor: Howl by lj user=Peranieflyjedishampoo on May 25th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
I did want to give it a setting everyone recognized... and though it was subtle, everyone did, yay!

Thanks so much for commenting! :)
firefly_124: biologicalwealth by asefirefly124 on May 24th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a brilliant interaction between these two. So touching! And nice touch having Ivan ring in at the end.
Jedi Interdictor: howl earring by silchijedishampoo on May 25th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thank so much for commenting! I do love the couple. I don't think I've hated any of the couples in Bujold (though I wasn't so fond of Quinn)...
Speschul and interesting in equal parts: reticentempressqueenortart on May 24th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
That is very lovely, I have a soft spot for Laisa and this captured her very beautifully.
Jedi Interdictorjedishampoo on May 25th, 2006 11:10 pm (UTC)
So do I! Have a soft spot, that is. :) Thanks very much for commenting.
Could use a little more cowbell: bujoldthewhiteowl on May 24th, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is wonderful. Gregor versus his Emperor persona, Laisa going through his stuff, dealing with the danger of being Emperor, the shoe.


“Ah,” Gregor finally said, then was silent, and grey.


Oh, poor Gregor! That's a twist at the heart bit, there.

And Ivan coming on the comm at the end. It'd nice to see what was going on, and why Laisa needed to fic her blouse. ;)
Jedi Interdictor: howl earring by silchijedishampoo on May 25th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting, and I hope you enjoyed it! :)
maiasauramaiasaura on May 25th, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)
It’s Ivan Vorpatril, Sire,” ....“Ivan never calls on that line.” Perhaps after the wedding she could order them all beheaded. Yes, that’s exactly what she would do.

Fabulous! Thank you so much for joining the challenge! And Yes, I WAS watching to see if you'd post!
Jedi Interdictorjedishampoo on May 25th, 2006 11:16 pm (UTC)
Woohoo, thanks for reading, ma'am! So are you writing something? ::hint hint::
quietannquietann on May 25th, 2006 02:38 am (UTC)
lovely. You take two or three tiny bits of canon, and here is this wonderful story...

I do hope that after Ivan's call, Laisa got her wish for some serious canoodling!
Jedi Interdictor: jedishampoo by me!jedishampoo on May 26th, 2006 03:48 pm (UTC)
Of course she did! After the call to Impsec, that is, and the short, very short, discussion of why Ivan might have been calling. ;) Thanks so much for commenting!
Nico: joyvilakins on May 25th, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
You capture them both very well, especially the private and imperial Gregors. He so deserved her.
Jedi Interdictor: nerds are <3 by mejedishampoo on May 26th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for commenting and saying so! It's tough, trying to do justice to LMB's characters.
leadensky on May 26th, 2006 02:24 am (UTC)
I'm caught between "aww" and "heh". Laisa was not my favorite character from ACC, but you've helped flesh her out.

And done a good job with Gregor as well - the man *does* have a backstory, oh, yes.

- hossgal
Jedi Interdictor: gastonbook by peaces_iconsjedishampoo on May 26th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
I always wished there had been MORE Gregor, and Laisa as well to justify her catching him. ;) Thanks so much for commenting!
Altariel: Gregoraltariel on May 26th, 2006 09:03 am (UTC)
Wonderful job, such a romantic yet realistic conversation between two adults in love. Thank you!

“I know. I won’t. I have. And thank you.” [...] Only her Gregor could have kept all those queries and replies straight.

Absolutely spot on Gregor!

I loved this bit too:

Perhaps after the wedding she could order them all beheaded. Yes, that’s exactly what she would do.

She's so upbeat and so grounded - absolutely perfect for him.
Altariel: Gregoraltariel on May 26th, 2006 10:29 am (UTC)
Forgot to say - I loved how it segues into the scene with Ivan, which is one of my favourite "what is Gregor in the middle of doing when he gets summoned away" moments. I'm inserting your scene before that now as semi-canon :-D
(no subject) - jedishampoo on May 30th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - altariel on May 30th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
filkferengifilkferengi on May 27th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
Nicely done! Nicely 3-dimensional fill-in.
Jedi Interdictorjedishampoo on May 30th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for commenting! :)