Late one evening, as Simon Illyan lay with Alys's head cradled on his shoulder, her dark hair loose and glorious around her face, he heard her ask, "Simon, would you like to have a baby?"
He whipped his head around to stare at her, inevitably disturbing the comfortable hollow of his shoulder and neck; she raised her head to meet his eyes, leaning on one elbow. "A –" He checked himself, examining his reaction. She watched him with her sharp eyes, seeing, he knew, far more than she ever let on to the world. Beautiful Alys, powerful Alys, his Alys. After a few seconds thought, in which he considered and rejected several responses, he said, "What happened today, Alys?"
Her smile fell away, though she didn't exactly frown. It was just a shift of frame, a transition from one mindset to another. "It was just... some business with Ivan." She frowned now, but briefly. "You're almost certainly right that I'm asking because of it, but it's not what gave me the idea. I've been thinking of it for... months. Over a year, now that I think of it. There's no reason we couldn't."
"We're... not young anymore, Alys," Simon said cautiously. He wasn't afraid of her reaction, but he did not want to say something that committed him to a thought not truly his. "I know that there aren't medical bars to having a child at our age, but have you thought through the difficulties in raising one? By the time she's old enough to be out on her own, I'll be ninety, and you over eighty. If we even make it that far. Modern medicine can work miracles, but we won't live forever, even with it."
Alys rolled to lie back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. It was his turn, now, to roll in to her, placing an arm over her middle and kissing one bare shoulder.
"I hadn't thought of that," she admitted. "I should have, but the thought has just taken hold of me. Padma and I would have had a big family. We always talked about it. I love Ivan, but he just... never filled that hole. I should have thought of it five years ago, and done something then. Every year now is our enemy, isn't it?"
"No," Simon said firmly. He kissed her again, and stopped himself from starting a line of kisses up towards her mouth. They needed this conversation. No distractions. "Not our enemy. A gift. But we do need to think, seriously, about the future in detail before making a decision." He paused. "How will Ivan feel about it?" He wasn't at all sure how he felt about it, yet. He stalled, opening himself up to the idea and double-checking his reaction. Logic first, to give the emotions time to settle.
"Ivan," Alys said firmly, "does not get a vote in this."
"Alys, think about this."
Alys sighed, looking up at the ceiling. "He'll be embarrassed, and awkward at having a new little sister." Yes, he had thought she was thinking of a girl. "But he's a grown man, with his own life. He'll adjust. Probably more easily than he did to the idea of you and me as a couple."
Simon let his hand rest on her stomach. "I don't know what kind of a father I would make," he said.
"An extraordinary one," Alys answered. "Don't try that argument."
Simon nodded. He paused. "I'm not trying to argue against it," he clarified. "I just want to be sure we've thought it through." He paused again. "Alys... do you want to get married?"
As a proposal, he supposed it lacked something. He hadn't really intended it as one, but once it was out, it was there, and he didn't regret it.
She turned to look at him, and her face was beautiful and thoughtful. She was very good at controlling her expressions, but Simon was very, very good at reading them, and he knew her too well by now. She was surprised. This, clearly, had not occurred to her as a consequence of her question. She, too, was cautious, weighing the suggestion for a moment before venturing an answer. Her success in her social world was no more a chance than his success in his world, after all. They both knew that the best way to avoid missteps was to examine the ground thoroughly before one moved.
"I am happy with the way things are for us now," she said at last. "If you want it, I want it for you. And if we decide to have a child, I want it for the child."
Simon nodded, unsurprised by her answer. "I have never felt the drive for children some men feel," he said, finally venturing his own feelings on the issue. He spoke slowly, not letting himself get ahead of his thoughts. "I know the varied motivations that drive people, and I know how progenitive omnipotence can fit into those motivations, but it has never been one of mine. I think, however, that any child of yours would be a treasure and a gift, and although I have selfishly enjoyed having you to myself, if a daughter would make you happier, I want you to have one."
Alys smiled at him, like a light in the darkness. "I'll think about it."
It took her nine days.
Once they had decided, things moved very quickly. General Alys in full warpaint, as Ivan would have said: Simon loved to watch her tear through obstacles as if they were paper, using the full force of her name and history to annihilate opposition. He had done much the same thing in his day, only... differently.
His words about age and time seemed to have struck like flint on iron against her soul, lighting a fire that drove her to speed, speed, speed. They would NOT, she had explained firmly, start a child before they were properly married. So they scheduled the appointment for the day after the wedding, which she was determined to hold in five weeks. Simon imagined the Emperor's dry reaction to the timetable, after all of the pomp and circumstance around his own nuptials. Around the chaos of planning, Simon and Alys both had meetings with genetic counselors, both together and separately.
Simon's gene scan was not completely clean, providing an interesting diversion of a few days. A recessive strain of a minor mutation from the Time of Isolation lurked in his make-up: "Very easy to filter out," the doctor had assured him. It had never provided the lymphatic interference suffered by those with paired genes, but lurked as a time bomb to hand on to his children. Now, it was erasable as part of a checklist. Their world had come such a long way, Simon mused.
He had confessed it to Alys at dinner that evening, and she had waved it away. "Fifty years ago, we would never have known," she said. "It's an absurd notion that mutations are somehow damaging to the essence of the person we know. We'll screen it, of course, for the sake of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but it is just another technical detail."
He hadn't answered that verbally, just kissed her hand, and the crinkle of her eyes rewarded his gallantry admirably.
"What is happening tomorrow?" he asked.
"I have the first fitting for my gown," Alys answered, shifting smoothly into logistics. "You need to choose your suit, but that's not until the afternoon. Ma Kosti has agreed to handle the catering – and what a find she was for Miles; I'd be tempted to steal her if she wasn't so easily borrowed – but she wants us to try a tasting of a few options tomorrow evening. We'll dine at Vorkosigan House and try some of several entrees. I need to call the florist again. Honestly, it's getting much easier to understand Cordelia's wistfulness about elopements; this wouldn't be nearly this complicated if the guest list were less overwhelming."
Simon listened to her talk about the challenges and victories, filling in the encouraging noises she needed to keep her going. She was glorious like this: she needed these challenges. When she came to the end of a thought and needed a new prompt, he provided: "I think that having a baby will be very good for us."
She lifted an eyebrow, inviting the explanation. He opened a hand palm-up. "You're... more alive again," he said. "The way you attacked Ivan's problem last summer, and now this... you've been bored, Alys. I think we both have. We need new projects, and we need them to be for us and our family, not just for others."
She thought this over for a moment. "I think you're right," she said. "I feel younger."
"Well, the child will fix that," he said dryly. She laughed, and he kissed her on the forehead. "Can we meet for lunch tomorrow?" he asked. "Between the dress fitting and the suit? I'd like a chance to slow you down for an hour."
"Michele's?" she suggested.
There was some tradition about not seeing the bride before the ceremony, and Alys was holding to it as firmly as she held to most public traditions. "It is bad luck," she told him firmly. There was something in the set of her jaw when she said that which made him wonder how much Padma's ghost was haunting her. He had agreed without argument.
Now, though, he wondered whether the tradition was really designed to give women the upper hand by ensuring that their bridegrooms were thoroughly undone by nerves before the event began. Women, he knew, had things to do, preparations to undergo the day of the wedding. He had only to put on his suit. And wait.
Their appointment with the clinic was the next morning, but they had already done most of the work. Tomorrow's step would be not exactly a formality, but an act of great commitment, like the signing of a covenant, and underscoring of today's event. Kareen Marie Illyan was not yet anything in reality, but in her hearts and minds she was already real. There shouldn't be any difficulties.
These thoughts carried him through the day to the event itself, when he walked with Aral Vorkosigan beside him to the wedding circle and took his place. Aral squeezed his elbow unobtrusively, and Simon gave him a brief smile. He meant it to be a wryly grateful smile, but he suspected it came across a bit more idiotic than that: schoolboy giddiness and nerves giving him a horrifying death rictus for a few seconds. Ah, well. The crowd would be tolerant. They always were for weddings.
Simon had been to several weddings, and he didn't think any of them had made the poor groom wait quite as long as he was forced to stand, watching for Alys's arrival. Tension set his nerves to twanging, and he rather suspected if anyone in the crowd had sneezed, he would have tackled Aral to the ground, reaching for a stunner that wasn't there. Thank God it wasn't allergy season in Vorbarr Sultana.
When he finally saw her, all the tension and all the waiting fell away between two breaths. She wore a simple dress, straight falls of white silk with a long-sleeved jacket. It was demure and modest and heart-breakingly beautiful. Her dark hair was pinned up under a beaded veil, sparkling with some kind of jewels; a strand of pearls echoed the graceful line of her collarbones.
She was a goddess, wisdom and light and beauty, and she was coming to him. She was to be the mother of his child. She was to be his wife. He was to be hers, in truth and in law.
She placed her hand in his. Their eyes met, and they smiled. Then, together, they turned toward the future.