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17 August 2009 @ 11:40 pm
Fic: Testing the Waters  
Title: Testing the Waters
Fandom: Vorkosigan
Author: shimotsuki
Prompt: An early meeting between Ekaterin and Cordelia, where they try to feel each other out about Miles.
Word count: 1100 words
Rating: PG

Summary: Cordelia is the first to congratulate Ekaterin on her rather spectacular betrothal.



Testing the Waters

Cordelia tapped one finger against her lip, considering.

No matter how they handled things, the poor young woman was going to be embarrassed when she saw them. There was no avoiding it.

Might as well rip the bandage off all at once.

“Gently, now,” Aral murmured. His eyes glinted with amusement. “She’s having an unusual day.”

Cordelia grinned at him before carefully arranging her features into a welcoming smile. She leaned forward between the woman and a boy who was sitting next to her—the son, surely.

“Madame Vorsoisson,” she said, pitching her voice low. “May I be the first to offer my congratulations?”

Ekaterin Vorsoisson turned around with a gracious smile ready on her own face.

And then her gaze met Cordelia’s, and slid sideways to Aral for an instant before returning. Cordelia watched as the smile flickered, faded, vanished. The blue eyes widened; the face paled.

Come on, girl. We’re easy—you’ll have much harder tests to pass than this. And you did so well, a few minutes ago.

Then the chin came up. “Thank you, Countess Vorkosigan.”

The smile reemerged, as gracious as ever, although the face was still slightly green around the edges.

“And please,” the younger woman added, in her pleasant and admirably steady voice. “You must call me Ekaterin.”

“Welcome to the family, Ekaterin.” Cordelia let out some of the grin she’d been keeping under wraps. “If you start things off with a proposal like that one, I think you’ll fit right in.”

“It seemed advisable,” said Ekaterin. She reddened a little, but there was an unrepentant spark in her eye that Cordelia liked very much.

“Viceroy! Vicereine!” Now Helen Vorthys had turned around and noticed them. “That went rather well, don’t you think?” Beaming, she reached over and shook Cordelia’s hand, heartily.

Aral laughed his rough warm laugh. Ekaterin stiffened her spine before turning further around in her seat to face him, but her own smile relaxed and warmed a little when she saw his expression of obvious delight.

“Forever and fiercely, indeed,” he muttered under his breath. Cordelia shot him a question with her eyebrow, but he ignored her and spoke to his future daughter-in-law. “I’ve asked Miles several times to introduce us properly, my dear, but it looks like we’ll have to take care of that ourselves. It is a great pleasure to meet you at last.”

Ekaterin winced a little at the properly, but she also looked pleased, reaching around to shake the hand that Aral extended. Then she introduced a brother and another man who was apparently some cousin of her late husband’s. Cordelia was amused to note that neither the brother nor the cousin had one tenth the poise that Ekaterin had mustered after her initial shock. And they hadn’t just gotten themselves betrothed in such a spectacular, public fashion.

On the other hand, they probably haven’t been having to deal with Miles for days on end, either. That’s practically combat training.

“And this is my son, Nikolai,” Ekaterin finished, resting a hand on his shoulder with maternal pride. “Nikki,” she murmured, “the Count and Countess Vorkosigan are Lord Vorkosigan’s father and mother.”

The boy shook hands carefully. He looked curiously at Aral, too, but it was Cordelia who seemed to have captured his attention.

“Countess Vorkosigan? Can I ask you a question?”

Ekaterin covered her mouth with her hand, Cordelia noticed, as though she knew what was coming next. Well, I certainly don’t.

“Of course, Nikki.” She raised an inviting eyebrow. “What is it?”

The boy swallowed. “Were you scared? I asked Lord Vorkosigan if you were, but he said I should ask you myself.”

Cordelia blinked. It had been some time since she had been called upon to untangle the train of thought of a nine-year-old. “Scared? When?”

Nikolai frowned. “When you were attacked with the sol— sol—”

Ah. “Soltoxin,” she supplied. Miles told him to ask me? She would certainly love to know how that conversation had come about.

She watched the boy looking back at her and wondered what to tell him. “Scared” was not a word she associated with the soltoxin attack itself. The fear had come later—when the doctor wouldn’t meet her eyes. When Aral’s blind rage had turned him into a stranger.

But how was she supposed to explain that night to a nine-year-old?

And what was Nikolai really asking?

“I was confused and angry, mostly.” Cordelia huffed a laugh. “Someone was trying to assassinate my husband, after all.” She suddenly remembered what had happened to Vorsoisson, and was glad she had come out with assassinate rather than the more widely applicable kill.

The boy’s glance flicked to Aral and back. She looked over at the husband in question as well—and saw that he was looking at Ekaterin.

Of course he was. This was Barrayar, and Vorkosigans were political. Things could happen.

Ekaterin returned their gazes with a level one of her own. She was not, it seemed, unaware.

“Lord Vorkosigan told me the sol...soltoxin damaged his bones, not his genes.” Nikolai bit his lip. “Were you glad he didn’t have a real mutation?”

The boy’s eyes on her face were unexpectedly intent. Ekaterin, too, had gone very still. There were undercurrents here that Cordelia didn’t understand.

Surely Miles wouldn’t fall in love with a woman who had backcountry ideas about genetics?

Well, Ekaterin and her son were just going to have learn to deal with Betan opinions. Let’s rip off another bandage.

“What I think,” said Cordelia tartly, “is that the Barrayaran attitude toward people with mutations is simply inexcusable. We should fix the harmful ones when we can, and be careful when we are planning for reproduction. But no one should be denied the right to full participation in society just because his or her genome is a little different.”

“Oh,” breathed Nikolai. A very large smile lit his face.

She glanced at the boy’s mother, looking for clues. Ekaterin’s face revealed nothing but an unexpected look of gratification.

Most interesting.

Cordelia smiled, bemused, as René Vorbretten returned to the Speaker’s Circle and the chatter in the gallery—and on the Council floor—died away.

She had a feeling that Ekaterin wasn’t the only one who had passed a test here today.

. * fin * .

.
 
 
 
fuzzyboo03fuzzyboo03 on August 18th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
Oh, excellent! I've always wondered about this moment and you've so nailed Cordelia.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 05:26 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you thought this was right for Cordelia.
LJGljgeoff on August 18th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
This is great! It fits right in, and the voices and wonderful.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
Thank you for the encouraging words!
jncar: pink flowerjncar on August 18th, 2009 05:21 am (UTC)
What a lovely little scene! I think you captured the voices of Cordelia and Aral expertly. It felt so familiar--like I was reading an outtake rather than fanfiction.

And I loved Nikki's probing questions. You handled that deftly.

I really enjoyed this--I'm glad I made the time. It's been too long since I've read one of your fics.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 05:41 am (UTC)
Thank you! What a compliment, to hear that you thought this sounded like an outtake. (Someday, I'll have to break out of my Cordelia comfort zone and try actually writing Miles, heh.)

You are the reason I started reading this series in the first place, and I will always be grateful for that. :D

Edited at 2009-08-18 05:42 am (UTC)
philomythaphilomytha on August 18th, 2009 06:05 am (UTC)
This is brilliant! Perfect Cordelia, lovely Aral (he has mellowed on retirement, hasn't he?) and bonus points for a wonderful deployment of Nikki. I do like Cordelia's mental observation that having to deal with Miles is good training for dealing with awkward situations gracefully. Very well written.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the comment! I love the glimpses of Cordelia and Aral interacting that we see in some of the later books, and wanted to try writing some of that telepathy rapport. And in this scene in canon, Miles doesn't actually mention seeing Nikki talking with Cordelia...but I can't imagine he wasn't bouncing with curiosity (and nervousness) to ask his question.
lilachighlilachigh on August 18th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
Great little fic. The voices are spot on.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words!
Kathryn A: SFkerravonsen on August 18th, 2009 07:33 am (UTC)
Eeeee! ♥ Cordelia.
shimotsukishimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
Me too! She was fun to write. Thanks for reading.

(Nice icon! Is that the skellytum?)
(no subject) - kerravonsen on August 18th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
girl_called_sun: competence (bujold)girl_called_sun on August 18th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)
Cordelia's voice is perfect, and Nikki, too. Lovely.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you!
Sylvia: butterflysylvia_rachel on August 18th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
Oh! Oh! Oh! ::squeals and claps hands::

This is wonderful :D
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
:) Thanks for the encouragement!
The Espresso Addict: coffee cupsespresso_addict on August 18th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
Very believable dialogue -- echoing someone earlier who said it read like an outtake. Thanks for posting!
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much -- I'm glad it felt believable.
Country Cousincountrycousin on August 18th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Great! Very much enjoyed it!
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you, and thanks for reading!
Adinaadina_atl on August 18th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, they probably haven’t been having to deal with Miles for days on end, either. That’s practically combat training.

Oh, hell yes.

I love how you have Cordelia navigating waters that the reader knows better than she does, especially about mutations. She's willing to risk offending her soon-to-be daughter-in-law by saying what she says, but instead gives one of the firmest reassurances she could have given to Nikki and his mother.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, hell yes.

;)

Thanks for the observation about how I set Cordelia up; that was fun to try.
That was great to read, but - capplor on August 19th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: That was great to read, but - shimotsuki on August 19th, 2009 07:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: That was great to read, but - quietann on August 21st, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: That was great to read, but - shimotsuki on August 21st, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
dianedswdiane on August 18th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
Lovely story, very nicely done, and I also think you captured all the characters wonderfully.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
fawatsonfawatson on August 18th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
It had been some time since she had been called upon to untangle the train of thought of a nine-year-old.

Nice touch this - amidst quite a number of other nice touches! It is a very believable story with that indefinable 'Bujold style'.

Well done.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words!

I've been glutting on Vorkosigan books for the last month (Memory to the end in one giant gulp); it's actually been hard to keep 'Bujold style' from invading my fics in other fandoms. Black-humor internal monologues FTW.
VorWombat: biowombathouse on August 18th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
... happy sigh.

Adroit and touching. Thank you!

Also, icon love.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you!

Also, icon love.

:) You tell 'em, Kareen. (But I need to do it over again in a better graphics program; it's looking a little fuzzy...)
(no subject) - wombathouse on August 19th, 2009 01:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shimotsuki on August 19th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shimotsuki on August 20th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wombathouse on August 20th, 2009 10:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on August 18th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
This rings true.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 18th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you!