It's his wedding, Padma thinks with a small smile. He's supposed to be the one nervously pacing, eating up the floor with his strides. He's supposed to be the one tearing at his hair and looking panicked.
And he is panicked, of course, but only a little. This is the right choice. Doing this, doing this now, is the right choice. It's the right time, the best time, the only time.
"Breathe," Padma suggests to Petya.
Petya scowls at him and tugs reflexively at his House uniform tunic. It probably would have been one of the last major occasions for Petya to wear his cadet parade dress, but then Serg had the good judgment to die. It's not too dangerous now for Petya to go around dressed as a Vorkosigan instead of as an officer in the Emperor's service.
"This was a terrible idea," Petya says for probably the hundredth time. Today. "There's still time for me to run and get Timmy Vorinnis. How about him instead? Or Arthur Vorinnis. Or... really, any of the Vorinnises."
"Stop protesting," Padma says. Two years ago, it would have been stop struggling, with a playful cuff at Petya's shoulder, or mussing up his short hair, still stubbornly curling about the edges. And maybe in a few years, they can return to that ease and familiarity, but it's still too soon. Petya's still flinching even at words. "You'll do fine."
Petya looks at him dubiously. "You keep saying that, but--"
Padma can fill in all of the objections. Petya's given him all of them except for the one that's really standing between them. Or, to the point, not standing between them.
Aral isn't here. Aral's not even on planet. It had been clear from the start when they'd begun planning the wedding that Aral probably wouldn't be able to stand as Padma's Second. Padma had asked him, if only for form's sake, but they'd all known that Aral couldn't have gotten leave for it. Aral was off with his leper colony then -- not that anyone would have ever mentioned that term around Petya -- and a disgraced broken-back officer was not going to be getting leave to attend a wedding, no matter how large and how Vorish and how politically important. Since getting command of the leper colony, Aral'd only been on planet long enough to have very private, very mysterious conversations with the General Staff that are now, of course, still very private, and not at all mysterious.
And now Aral's the hero of the Escobaran defeat, but the situation is still the same. If they'd had any idea of when Aral would be released from his duty of cleaning up the last of the retreat and negotiating the treaties, maybe they could have delayed the wedding so that Aral could stand here, so that Aral could be the one in front of Padma trying not to show how nervous he is, so that Aral could stand as Second and bear witness.
But he's not here. Aral's baby is standing here instead of him.
Well, it serves Aral right, damn him to hell. Padma's spent half his life standing as Aral's Second. If he'd known that was what it meant at the wedding, that he would be adopting Petya as his younger brother, nearly as his son, that he was setting himself up for talking Petya out of trying to stow away on one of Aral's ships when he was barely old enough to understand what duty meant; or inviting himself to stay over at Vorkosigan House during Winterfair break one year when Aral'd had three months home leave and spent maybe three days of it both sober and with his son and Petya had needed someone to put him to bed, someone who wasn't the Count, someone who wouldn't expect him to stand up straight and be the proper Vor Lord and not cry; or who would listen to him talk about Carl Vorhalas and would talk him out of blaming himself when that boy decided that dealing with constant political intrigue at the preparatory academy was enough and he wasn't going to try for a commission and even more political intrigue, and then, the very next night, talk Petya out of withdrawing his own application for the Academy... well, it serves Aral damn right.
This is just the next turn of the page. Now it's Padma who's getting one relative when he really needs a different one.
"No objections, cadet," Padma says sternly. Petya straightens reflexively, then glares at him.
"I like it better when you scolded me by calling me Lord Piotr," Petya says. "You sounding like General Vorpatril is going to give me nightmares, I just know it."
Better that than the nightmares Petya already has. And if they're picking and choosing nightmares, Padma would prefer those, too, instead of Serg and that damn shark smile and that cold voice, pressing onward, pressing further, demanding everything.
It's very nearly funny. The timing of this wedding was supposed to send a message to Serg that Padma was taking Prince Gregor's birth as a sign that it was permissible for Padma to have his own heirs, the way an Imperial heir usually gives everyone else a chance to breathe and have their own children without being accused of political machinations.
But that was merely buying Serg off while assuring Padma and Alys's happiness at the same time. But now? Now it's politically, vitally necessary. An unmarried grandson of Xav, a widowed mother of the next Emperor... last year, getting married meant that he was signaling that he wasn't going to try for the throne. Today, getting married means that he's signaling that he won't try to marry Princess Kareen and steal the throne. Last year, it would only have been an attempt. Today, mere speculation could get him killed, because he really could do it, if he wanted, if he had the support, if he saw no other choice to avoid an even worse civil war. He's not sure what's more terrifying, the thought that he would start a war to prevent another one, or that he really would have enough support to steal it and keep it.
So here he is, Lord Padma Vorpatril, not-a-Prince-thank-you, marrying Lady Alys Vorinnis. It's also very nearly funny. They've been dragging their feet on this, forcing delays and observing all of the forms of the most traditional of traditional Vor weddings, to buy them as much time as possible, to try to buy their safety. And now they have to get married as quickly as propriety allows, to buy their safety.
Because there's going to be a Regency and it will probably be Aral as Regent and Aral will not need, among other things, an unmarried cousin who could be used as a figurehead for revolts.
Padma nearly has whiplash from all the reversals, and it's not just news of the death toll catching up with him in the darkness, all those late nights, every single night, when he closes his eyes and can't stop thinking about all they've lost. And Serg is dead. He has to focus on that. Serg is dead. Ges is dead. There's some good news amongst all the bad, and he's Padma Vorpatril. Finding good news amongst the bad is what makes life worthwhile. Xav taught him that every day.
And he's getting married today.
As it is, they're teetering on the edge of impropriety, because official mourning for the defeat only ended a month ago. But political necessity outweighs sentiment, as ever. Ezar's illness is public knowledge now and they're headed for possible anarchy when Ezar dies, so the last thing any of them need is horrible speculation about Xav's descendants. Padma suspects that it's a good thing for Petya that he's not even two years older or he'd be getting married, too. Although they probably would have waited on Aral's return for that. He hopes. Although that's all speculation anyway, so it's useless to waste his time on it. Especially not today.
Because today he's getting married. His parents aren't here and Gran'da and Gran'ma aren't here, but Padma lit offerings for them every morning for the last week, and he'd had a different relative with him each time, each one standing in a parent's place. This morning had been Uncle Piotr, standing sternly with him in the Imperial Cemetery, admonishing him about duty and never, ever flinching.
Padma hasn't gotten around to telling Uncle Piotr yet that marrying Alys was his and Alys's idea, and Countess Vorinnis playing baba was a mere show to make it all look as proper as it would have to, with the groom being Xav's grandson and the bride being the Princess's cousin and closest confidante.
And, even ignoring all the politics and all the reality, Padma wants to get married. He loves Alys. He wants to be married to her. He wants children with her. He's nervous, of course he's nervous, he's getting married today, but he's so happy he could nearly burst.
He knows he's lucky; he doesn't need Uncle Piotr speaking to him about the realities of political marriages to teach him that. He knows he was lucky to fall in love with a suitable woman, a woman he might have been matched with anyway. And he hopes that Uncle Piotr is at least being his kind of gentle when he talks about it with his grandson, because, for the most part, Petya looks like he wants to hide under things whenever someone mentions the inevitability of his marriage. And Padma can't even tell him that arranged marriages aren't the worst things ever, because, damn it all, Padma attended Aral's wedding and he knows how that ended, and, worst of all, so does Petya. And Petya's good at hiding under things, damn it all even more. It's always a struggle to get him out once he's decided he likes the view from under the chair, thank you very much, Cousin Lord Padma, and he would be pleased to stay there and never come out. Stubborn bastard. Sometimes he's worse than his father.
"I think he's already arrived," Padma says. "Are you going to suggest him as my Second, too?"
"No." Petya runs one hand across the back of his neck and looks out the open door to where a Vorinnis armsman is doing his best imitation of a statue outside of the closed door to the room where Alys is getting ready. "No. I just don't want it being me to--"
"Remind people that I'm Xav's grandson? I think they already know that. They aren't likely to forget." Padma gives in to the urge and ruffles Petya's short hair. Petya freezes and then exhales sharply. He leans in and rests his head on Padma's shoulder and exhales further, relaxing by increments. "It's going to be okay," Padma murmurs. "Let me be the one who's nervous, okay? Just because I'm a lazy officer doesn't mean I delegate everything."
Petya gives a short, rueful laugh. "Right. Of course not."
"And no one's going to screw up the wedding," Padma continues. "Alys would not be pleased with anyone who tried."
"She'd fillet them and feed them their own guts," Petya agrees.
"Exactly," Padma says. He pulls Petya's head back and looks him over carefully. "Are you going to be able to do this?" he asks. "Stand in front of everyone and act in my place, aid in my wedding, perform all the duties I ask of you and all the duties I don't, stand in a father's place for my children if I cannot, and be a friend for my wife? Can I trust you, Piotr?"
Petya swallows hard, but doesn't look away. "Yes, sir," he whispers. "Always."
Padma kisses his forehead. Enfolding his Second's hands in front of witnesses would be traditional, but, in this case, suicidal. The secondary benediction is going to have to serve in the place of everything that's still too dangerous to try. It's going to have to serve, just like Padma's had to serve in Aral's place, just like Petya has to serve in that place now. "Thank you, dear cousin. There's no one else I would rather have here."
Petya looks like he wants to contradict that, but he nods anyway. "Thank you, sir. I-- I won't screw this up. I won't."
"I know," Padma says. He brushes his right hand across Petya's hands briefly as he turns. "I trust you."