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Armsman Roic stood guard at the entrance foyer of Vorkosigan House, waiting to welcome the unexpected guests his liege was bringing. Apparently, a political meeting at the Vorhartung Castle resulted in an invitation for a couple of galactic guests to spend the night. The surprising thing was their planet of origin - Cetaganda.

It was really quite odd. He couldn't remember the last time he was this nervous. No, wait, the Winterfair wedding. He shook off the related thoughts and bittersweet emotions. Now was not the time for them. But Cetagandans... He was pretty sure that was a first for this House. Not to mention the suddenness of the whole thing. Well, he'd know soon enough what was so special about them. His comm link chirped; he gave a signal to his fellow Armsman to lower the shields and open the gate.

The Countess and the children were coming back from their visit to Beta tomorrow, so the house was mostly empty with just the basic staff present. The visitors, two of them, would spend the night and stay tomorrow to meet them. The guest rooms were already prepared.

The door opened and a trio entered. A Cetagandan ghem-colonel, according to the face paint and blood-red uniform of The Emperor's Own, he immediately noticed. Not that his lord Count didn't match him in sheer strength of presence, in his formal House uniform and with the chain of Imperial Auditor around his neck. Roic turned his eyes to the third person.

A haut. Roic had seen enough of them to be able to recognize them on sight. It was hard to guess the man's age, since Cetagandan aristocracy was notoriously long-lived, but he seemed pretty young. A youth. The Count was talking to him and regarding him... fondly? Roic caught the tail end of the conversation. "– and you must forgive me for saying it again, but I simply can not get over it. You're the very image of your mother!"

Roic blinked. Haut women were not exactly people you could meet casually. Why, with the whole not-leaving-their-Empire and the bubble thing, you'd have just as much a chance to see them as you would a quaddie. Then again, the Count has an extensive social network spanning the whole Nexus. If anyone could, it's him.

The youth turned his gaze on Roic as the introductions started and Roic felt every last molecule of air being forcefully expelled from his lungs. The eyes... The haut's eyes were grey. An oh-so-familiar grey. Roic had been watching it for years after all. His Count's eyes, his count's mother and brother's eyes. The exact shade his children also possessed; the one that Roic had never seen in another. The intelligence and powerful light shining in them, identical. There was nothing else recognizable in the face of the young haut, but the eyes marked him as a Vorkosigan.

The Count was still talking, but Roic heard nothing. He recognized that face now, from a holovid or two. The designated heir of the Cetagandan Emperor. Roic's muscles finally unclenched and his mouth felt wet again. He bowed elegantly and welcomed the Cetagandan prince and his escort, and went through the rest of the motions on autopilot.

Hours later, lying in bed, he was watched the ceiling, unable to fall asleep. He closed his eyes, trying to put his thoughts in order.

Damn. How many girlfriends had the lord Count had anyway?

***

On the other side of Vorbarr Sultana, an Emperor sat in his study, a glass of his finest District wine in his hand. His eyes were a bit glazed, but not because of alcohol. He lifted a hand, toasting the spectacular view of his city. "To my brother. And to me and a life less interesting." And he laughed.