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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER ELEVEN

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The root-compacted soil of the edge sagged under her weight, and she began to slide precipitously forward. She yelped; pushing backward fragmented her support totally. One wildly back-grappling arm was caught suddenly in a viselike grip, but the rest of her body turned as the soil gave way beneath her, and she found herself dangling absurdly feet-down over the pond. Her other arm, swinging around, was caught, too, and she looked up into Vorkosigan's face above her. He was lying prone on the slope, one hand locked around each of her wrists. His teeth were clenched and grinning, his gray eyes alight.

"Let go, you idiot!" she cried.

The look on his face was weirdly, wildly exultant. "Never," he gasped, "again—"

His half-boots were locked around . . . nothing, she realized, as he began to slide inexorably over the edge after her. But his death-grip never slackened. The exalted look on his face melted to sudden horrified realization. The laws of physics took precedence over heroic intent for the next couple of seconds; dirt, pebbles, vegetation, and two Barrayaran bodies all hit the chilly water more or less simultaneously.

The water, it turned out, was a bit over a meter deep. The bottom was soft with muck. She wallowed upright onto her feet, one shoe gone who knew where, sputtering and dragging her hair from her eyes and looking around frantically for Vorkosigan. Lord Vorkosigan. The water came to her waist, it ought not to be over his head—no half-booted feet were sticking up like waving stumps anywhere—could he swim?

He popped up beside her, and blew muddy water out of his mouth, and dashed it from his eyes to clear his vision. His beautiful suit was sodden, and a water-plant dangled over one ear. He clawed it away, and located her, his hand going toward her and then stopping.

"Oh," said Ekaterin faintly. "Drat."

There was a meditative pause before Lord Vorkosigan spoke. "Madame Vorsoisson," he said mildly at last, "has it ever occurred to you that you may be just a touch oversocialized?"

She couldn't stop herself; she laughed out loud. She clapped her hand over her mouth, and waited fearfully for some masculine explosion of wrath.

None came; he merely grinned back at her. He looked around till he spotted his packet, now dangling mockingly overhead. "Ha. Now gravity's on our side, at least." He waded underneath the remains of the overhang, disappeared into the water again, and came up holding a couple of rocks. He shied them at the thorn plant till he dislodged his package, and caught it one-handed as it fell, before it could hit the water. He grinned again, and splashed back to her, and offered her his other arm for all the world as though they were about to enter some ambassadorial reception. "Madame, will you wade with me?"

His humor was irresistible; she found herself laying her hand upon his sleeve. "My pleasure, my lord."

She abandoned her surreptitious toe-prodding for her lost shoe. They sloshed off toward the nearest low place on shore, with the most serenely cockeyed dignity Ekaterin had ever experienced. Packet in his teeth, he scrambled ahead of her, grabbed a narrow out-leaning tree trunk for support, and handed her up through the mud with the air of an Armsman-driver helping his lady from the rear compartment of her groundcar. To Ekaterin's intense relief, no one across the lake appeared to have noticed their show. Could Vorkosigan's Imperial authority save them from arrest for swimming in a no-swimming zone?

"You aren't upset about the accident?" she inquired timorously as they regained the path, still hardly able to believe her good fortune in his admittedly odd reaction. A passing jogger stared at them, turning and bouncing backward a moment, but Vorkosigan waved him genially onward.

He tucked his packet under his arm. "Madame Vorsoisson, trust me on this one. Needle grenades are accidents. That was just an amusing inconvenience." But then his smile slipped, his face stiffened, and his breath drew in sharply. He added in a rush, "I should mention, I've lately become subject to occasional seizures. I pass out and have convulsions. They last about five minutes, and then go away, and I wake up, no harm done. If one should occur, don't panic."

"Are you about to have one now?" she asked, panicked.

"I feel a little strange all of a sudden," he admitted.

There was a bench nearby, along the trail. "Here, sit down—" She led him to it. He sat abruptly, and hunched over with his face in his hands. He was beginning to shiver with the wet cold, as was she, but his shudders were long and deep, traveling the length of his short body. Was a seizure starting now? She regarded him with terror.

After a couple of minutes, his ragged breathing steadied. He rubbed his face, hard, and looked up. He was extremely pale, almost gray-faced. His pasted-on smile, as he turned toward her, was so plainly false that she almost would rather he'd have frowned. "I'm sorry. I haven't done anything like that in quite a while, at least not in a waking state. Sorry."

"Was that a seizure?"

"No, no. False alarm entirely. Actually, it was a, um, combat flashback, actually. Unusually vivid. Sorry, I don't usually … I haven't done … I don't usually do things like this, really." His speech was scrambled and hesitant, entirely unlike himself, and failed signally to reassure her.

"Should I go for help?" She was sure she needed to get him somewhere warmer, as soon as possible. He looked like a man in shock.

"Ha. No. Worlds too late. No, really, I'll be all right in a couple of minutes. I just need to think about this for a minute." He looked sideways at her. "I was just stunned by an insight, for which I thank you."

She clenched her hands in her lap. "Either stop talking gibberish, or stop talking at all," she said sharply.

His chin jerked up, and his smile grew a shade more genuine. "Yes, you deserve an explanation. If you want it. I warn you, it's a bit ugly."

She was so rattled and exasperated by now, she'd have cheerfully choked explanations out of his cryptic little throat. She took refuge in the mockery of formality which had extracted them so nobly from the pond. "If you please, my lord!"

"Ah, yes, well. Dagoola IV. I don't know if you've heard much about it . . . ?"

"Some."

"It was an evacuation under fire. It was an unholy mess. Shuttles lifting with people crammed aboard. The details don't matter now, except for one. There was this woman, Sergeant Beatrice. Taller than you. We had trouble with our shuttle's hatch ramp, it wouldn't retract. We couldn't dog the hatch and lift above the atmosphere till we'd jettisoned it. We were airborne, I don't know how high, there was thick cloud cover. We got the damaged ramp loosened, but she fell after it. I grabbed for her. Touched her hand, even, but I missed."

"Did . . . was she killed?"

"Oh, yes." His smile now was utterly peculiar. "It was a long way down by then. But you see . . . something I didn't see until about five minutes ago. I've spent five, six years walking around with this picture in my head. Not all the time, you understand, just when I chanced to be reminded. If only I'd been a little quicker, grabbed a little harder, hadn't lost my grip, I might have pulled her in. Instant replay on an endless repeat. In all those years, I never once pictured what would really have happened if I'd made my grab good. She was almost twice my weight."

"She'd have pulled you out," said Ekaterin. For all the simplicity of his words, the images they evoked were intense and immediate. She rubbed at the deep red marks aching now on her wrists. Because you would not have let go.

He looked for the first time at the marks. "Oh. I'm sorry."

"It's all right." Self-conscious, she stopped massaging them.

This didn't help, because he took her hand, and rubbed gently at the blotches, as if he might erase them. "I think there must be something askew with my body image," he said.

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