Prince Serg's body was never recovered, but his grave was laid next to Princess Kareen's in the Imperial Cemetery. When Gregor had been a child, his Lord Regent had taken him here on the anniversary of the defeat at Escobar and stood a few steps away from him, lost in his own memories, as Lady Vorkosigan helped Gregor cut his hair and light the offering.
He'd never cut his hair before arriving. Lady Vorkosigan said it was to give him the maximum amount of time ImpSec would allow the Emperor to remain in the open. If Gregor had to set up the offering at the site, he could stay longer. If he delayed, he could stay as long as he wanted.
Lady Vorkosigan said, the point is, you stay as long as you want to.
Gregor had asked the Lord Regent once and Aral Vorkosigan had given him a heavy look and told him to take as much time as he pleased in remembering his father.
Gregor is twenty-seven now. He can feel Illyan tense at his back and, beyond Illyan, he can sense his protection detail spread out in the cemetery. It had been cleared before he had arrived and Gregor wonders if any of the other relatives of the dead are cursing their Emperor for making them wait, hungry, to honor their dead.
Let them wait. He's their Emperor and he requires this from them. Today, and on the day of Vordarian's fall, he will make them wait.
Gregor cuts his hair carefully and he can hear Illyan's sharp inward breath as the blade comes so close to Gregor's head. The dawn light reflects off the blade as Gregor sheathes it.
He puts the hair, carefully but not reverently, into the bowl. He covers it against the wind and pulls a flimsy out of his pocket.
There is no way for Gregor to disperse the ghosts of Escobar and he doesn't think he would if he could. Too many died in the battle for one gravesite offering, offered in pieces across twenty-three years, to be enough.
He opens the folded flimsy. The infant Elena Bothari looks up at him.
Daughter of a war crime. His father's responsibility, if not his direct fault. Raised by her mother's rapist. Played with Gregor in his childhood. And now freed in his majority. Yesterday, Gregor had given Illyan the order to purge the charges against Elena's husband. They could both now come back to Barrayar if they chose. Gregor does not expect them to do so.
But the point isn't forgiveness. The point is the Emperor's honor.
Gregor folds the flimsy again and puts it in the bowl, fingers caressing the sharp creases as he does. The point, he imagines Lady Vorkosigan saying, is to live well and live with yourself.
Gregor thinks he can live with himself. Not as well as he had before he had known about his father, but ignorance is never meant to be a desired state.
"Hello, sir," he whispers to the grave. "I'm your son. Recognize me?"
He hopes not. He hopes that if his father could see him now, Serg would not know him as his own. Gregor knows himself to be more Aral Vorkosigan's son than Serg Vorbarra's, but his genes are Serg's and his early memories are of an Imperial childhood, with Serg and his mother and his grandfather and Captain Negri. He remembers Escobar as a terrified time and then everyone kneeling to him and he didn't understand why.
He's twenty-seven years old and he thinks he knows now what it means to be Emperor.
When he had found out what his father had done, he had run. From the legacy his father had left him. From the Imperium his father had bequeathed him. From the rights and responsibilities that defined him as his father's heir and might, one day, define him as his father's successor.
Gregor knows now what it means to be Emperor.
It can't be only to be not-Serg. He never knew Serg, but he has lived for most of his life with the legacy that his father left behind him. He had played as a child with the result of an atrocity that Serg had committed, and known nothing. And ignorance did not excuse it. There could be no apology he could give to Elena to erase history and there is no restitution he can give her that would not be seen as an insult. But he can move forward. He can find a way through to the other side.
And he has chosen this path for himself. He will walk it until he dies.
Gregor lights the fire and watches his father's legacy burn. He will burn it all, if he can.
If he lives long enough.