The lightflyer lands with the expected jolt that proves that Martin needs much more practice at this. An armsman meets Miles the moment he exits the lightflyer and, after a short conversation, directs Miles to the library. Lord Vorkosigan wants to see him. That probably doesn't bode well.
Miles slips into the library, trying to be as light and ignorable as possible. Maybe if he seems tired, he can get this required social duty over with quickly. The whole point of heading to Vorkosigan Surleau was to avoid his relatives, not seek them out. This is the Vorkosigan family retreat; it's where they're supposed to retreat to, right? It's only sensible.
Petya's sitting by the comconsole, a District map open in front of him. He's wearing full House uniform, all shining and neat. Must have just come up from Hassadar then, Miles guesses. Petya never does full-formal yes-I-am-Piotr-Vorkosigan-cower-before-me-ye-mortals when he's on vacation. Dammit. If Miles'd been quicker, he might have managed to miss Petya entirely.
"Hi, Miles," Petya says. "Just a moment." He shuts down the map program, then turns around. "You look terrible," he says.
"Um," Miles responds. "Thank you?"
"Sit," Petya says and points to a chair. It's not a suggestion. Miles sits. "I should tell you," Petya continues, "that some days ago, when I returned from an extended tour of some of the more remote mountain communities, I discovered a message from a Captain Duv Galeni asking me for entrance into Vorkosigan House, on the order of Simon Illyan, to see if you had managed to kill yourself."
Some days ago... and Petya's still in the District? Miles feels vaguely betrayed by this lack of brotherly affection and support.
"The message immediately following," Petya says, "was from Ivan, letting me know that he had gone in with Captain Galeni and that you were in some state of shock, but were going to be fine. The message after that was from Gregor."
"Gregor," Petya says, openly glaring at Miles now, "wanted to inform me of several facts and assure me of his continued friendship with you, despite what he referred to as professional difficulties. The first of these convenient facts being that you'd washed out of ImpSec for medical reasons, the second being a request that I not push myself onto you in case you decide that your home was actually your prison, and the other issues not being immediately relevant." Petya leans forward, intent. "Now, dear Miles, would you care to elaborate on any of this?"
Miles opens his mouth and takes in a deep breath. "I've been having seizures," he says quickly.
Petya's face freezes for a moment. "Soltoxin damage?" he asks quietly.
"Cryo-freeze damage," Miles corrects. "In short, I thought they would go away. They didn't. Poof, medical discharge."
Petya seems to accept this. "Who knew about the seizures?"
"My, uh, Dendarii surgeon. And Mark."
"That's a bit of a long time to make me wait for you to say 'Illyan', Miles," Petya says eventually. "You didn't tell him?"
Petya's eyes go flinty. "You've had seizures since your cryo-revival. Not telling me, that's insulting but understandable, you may have decided that me knowing was not immediately necessary. Not telling Ivan, also understandable. Not telling Illyan? When you were on active duty? Miles, that's borderline criminal."
"Not, it turned out," Miles says faintly, "exactly borderline."
Petya's hand makes a very loud noise when it bangs on his desk.
Miles slinks down low in the chair. "I don't know if I'm allowed to tell you all that happened. There won't be a court-martial, but it's a discharge without prejudice. I, um. I had a seizure in Simon's office when he was dressing me down."
"So when Gregor said," Petya says dangerously, "that you were considered a flight risk and I should try not to aggravate the situation, he really was suggesting that you might be contemplating treason."
"Maybe? I don't know what he said. But I can't go back to the Dendarii, not with seizures. As I told Gregor -- and I did apologize to him, Petya, please don't look at me like that -- I told him that it's a null temptation. I can't do it anyway, so there's no point in thinking about it."
Petya sighs like he's in actual physical pain. Well, ulcers do run in the family. Maybe it's Miles's turn to hand them out like candy to his relatives. "Lord Miles, I would like your word as Vorkosigan that there are other reasons you are not running away to your mercenary fleet right now other than your medical condition."
"I'm not a traitor," Miles says, stung. "I didn't realize what I was doing last time, but this time? I know it would be treason, and I'm no traitor."
"Your word," Petya says patiently. "I'm too much a diplomat to not notice that you didn't just answer me."
"You have my word," Miles says, "as Vorkosigan. You have also just insulted me a lot, Petya."
"You can challenge me to a duel later," Petya dismisses. "For now, I want to know how I can help."
"Can you go back in time and stop me from being shot?" Miles asks, trying for levity.
He does not succeed. "No," Petya answers seriously, "but I am seconding you an armsman driver for your personal travel. How did you get down here, by the way?"
"Oh, I hired someone," Miles says. "Martin Kosti. He's the brother of one of the gate guards--"
"Corporal Philip Kosti, yes."
"He's heading off to the service once he hits his birthday, but for now, he's getting me around. Oh, that reminds me," Miles says. "I want to hire their mother as a new cook."
Petya shrugs. "Go ahead. Vorkosigan House is as much yours as mine, you know that. Do what you want."
That's not entirely true, entailment speaking, but Petya and Miles have been throwing the care-and-feeding of Vorkosigan properties back and forth to each other since the Count and Countess moved to Sergyar when Miles was still on his last medical leave. "Thanks, I will. You don't have to give me an armsman."
"If you'd stand still long enough, and I had enough of the Count's seconding to cover it, I'd give you two," Petya says. "I'll be sending him a priority message tonight to ask him for more armsmen, if he can manage it."
"Oh." Miles frowns. "I, uh. I haven't told them yet. About my discharge. Or my seizures."
"You can package your message in with mine," Petya offers. No, no, Miles was mishearing. That was also clearly not optional. "You can record it now, if you like, or do it later in your room."
"Later." Oh, blessed privacy. On the other hand, most of the comconsoles are monitored. "Which comconsoles are secured?"
Petya smiles. "The one I'm using right now. Otherwise... Illyan, in his wisdom, decided to remove the others after the Count and Countess moved to Sergyar. Something about potential security risks. He told me that if I ever spend more than a day here, he'll have the rest of the secured comconsoles returned. Until then, my lord, get used to it. As I have yet to spend more than a day here, perhaps he had a point about wasting resources."
"Oh," Miles says. He clears his throat. "Um, Petya, can I use your comconsole to record the message?"
"Certainly," Petya says and stands up. "Go right ahead."
Miles gives him a short glare, then settles down in front of it. He records a swift message, short and to the point. Discharge, seizures, but he's okay, honestly, there's no need to worry. When he stands up again, Petya is giving him a very big brotherish look.
Whatever lecture Petya wants to give him about needlessly risking his life, Miles doesn't want to hear it. "So how's the District tour going?" he asks, settling back down and putting his feet up. Go on the offensive. That's always the best strategy when dealing with concerned relatives. "I saw some terraforming on the flight in. How's that new hospital in Seligrad coming along?"
Petya gives him a look that says he knows exactly what Miles's doing, but he's going along with it. For now. "I'm going to be taking the Minister of the Interior and some of his health specialists through it next week. You are welcome to join us. Or on our later tour of the new medical school. Lord Oren and Lady Arina Vorparadijs will be joining us; they're patrons of the project and seem to be as invested in it as Cordelia is. Feel free to come along and report back to her. I'm sure she would love your views on it as an expert medical patient."
Ouch. "I am going to be getting my head examined," Miles grumbles. "And Ivan and Gregor have already teamed up on me over it, so please don't feel like you have to join them in nagging me."
"We do worry about you," Petya says, and then goes back to the change of the subject. "After Gran'da spent the last half of his life getting Hassadar up to rivaling Vorkosigan Vashnoi as it was, I think we're finally getting Seligrad up to where Hassadar was thirty years ago. In a decade or two, it might even be rivaling it for prominence. I'm encouraging a friendly rivalry between their agricultural schools and science institutes over Vashnoi and what we can do with it when the radiation finally goes down. I'm sure you'll be personally interested in reviewing those reports eventually," Petya continues blandly and Miles blushes, remembering how those have been pilling up despite his best efforts in putting a dent in them. But he can't exactly say that he was too busy saving the galaxy to have time to save his District. "As the man who owns the land, you'll have to give explicit permission for the treatments."
"Gran'da knew about you," Miles asks suspiciously, "didn't he? When he gave it to me directly. He knew about you."
Petya assesses Miles carefully for a long moment. "That took you long enough. Or...?"
"I just thought he was insulting both of us at once. You for not having kids. Me for being a radiation-soaked graveyard."
Petya looks like he is choosing his words very, very, very carefully. "I informed him of my proclivities before you were born. Along with it, I, ah, insinuated that I was physically unable to father children by normal means. He took this to mean that his hope of the line continuing was to support galactic medicine, which Cordelia took great advantage of when convincing the Hassadar District Hospital to adopt uterine replicator technology."
"That's a great attempt to change the subject to uterine replicators," Miles says, congratulating himself for changing the subject away from his medical problems. "But you're forgetting that I've met you."
"By the time of his death," Petya continues slowly, "the Count had accepted the fact that I could not be the father of legitimate children by any means. And so when the Countship descends to you, Vashnoi will be returned to the rest of it. The Count believed that by the time of my death, Vashnoi will be ready to bloom again."
Before he was born... Miles really doesn't want to think about how close to when he was born that Petya decided to tell their grandfather that Miles was his only hope of great-grandchildren. Because then he'll probably never be able to look any member of his family in the eye ever again. I wasn't supposed to know that Gran'da tried to kill me. Am I also not supposed to know that Petya dared the Count to allow the line to end with him?
But, no, that couldn't be right. They didn't know then that Miles wasn't going to be getting any younger siblings. They didn't know that it would be Miles and no one else. Petya'd told him himself that he'd always expected a sister to come along a few years after Miles. So that couldn't be right.
And all the Vor in Vorbarr Sultana know that Petya wouldn't hesitate to get married and even have some body-born children if that were the only way for the Vorkosigan line to continue. And even Petya couldn't have convinced Gran'da that he would do otherwise, if it were necessary. Gran'da would never have believed it. But, Miles thinks, Petya didn't say that he'd insinuated to Gran'da that he didn't want to, he said that he couldn't. That he was medically incapable of it. That must have been humiliating.
Miles really doesn't want to know if his parents and Petya had colluded on this, if that's how they'd bought Miles's life, with private Petya telling Gran'da about his hidden secrets and insinuating that he was sterile, and Miles's mother, who'd wanted a whole lot of children, resigning herself to having only one.
Yes, he thinks. If he thinks about this too hard, he's never going to be able to look anyone in the eye ever again without feeling once again that he killed his younger siblings before they even had a chance to be born. That he's worse than his grandfather and without even wanting to be.
"So," Miles says, because, like his medical condition, this is a subject to run away from very, very quickly, and Miles knows all about tactical retreats, "about getting a second lowland city to potentially rival Hassadar. How are things in Marigrad? Da mentioned a while back that there'd been something of a population boom."
"Yes, it's helped it grow from a small single-industry town into a healthily-diversified city," Petya says, apparently happy to let Miles lead the conversation. This is very suspicious of him. Petya must've been very, very worried about him, Miles thinks guiltily. "Finally."
"But it's doing well?" Miles asks.
"Well enough to give me headaches," Petya says. "So, yes, very well. We gave them a second campus for the district military academy, built a new enlisted training ground to replace the one bombed to ruins in the war, put in a preparatory academy geared only to proles, got it up to an acceptance rate for the Imperial Military Academy that almost bankrupted the district academy campus we'd just built of home-grown talent... you should see our graduation rates and where these new officers are coming from. We're importing half of them, and that's a disgrace, each district academy campus needs to graduate a majority of officers from this district or the Minister of War will start accusing Da again of trying to undermine the central Academy of its undisputed prominence. Although since Da's on a different planet, he'll probably start accusing me, and that's a complication I could do without. And this is all before we get into food supply issues. We're having a grocer's boom, with all the complications that brings. I understand now why Counts used to have endless amounts of children. It's not for dynastic reasons, it's so they can delegate to their heart's content."
Miles squirms. "I can take a hint, Petya."
"Sometimes I wonder," Petya says. "As it is, I'm going to be mostly in the District for the next few months, unless there's some kind of emergency. This District tour would go much faster if I didn't have to keep coming back here or to Hassadar every few days for a security briefing or an update from my Under-Minister, or going back and forth to the capital whenever an ambassador sneezes. But it should be done before the winter, provided there are no diplomatic emergencies or otherwise to delay this again. Da's last full District tour was after Gran'da died and it took him three years to complete."
Oh. Um. Gregor didn't tell him? Miles could strangle his Emperor right about now. But he'd told Gregor he was going to the District. Maybe this is Gregor's idea of delegation. Or of cowardice. "Did Gregor remember to mention that we might be getting a Komarran Empress?" Miles asks casually. Then he can't help it. He grins at the expression on Petya's face.
"No, that must have slipped his mind," Petya says finally, after he finishes being shocked into stunned silence. "What's her name?"
"Doctor Laisa Toscane," Miles says, savoring every syllable of her name, drawing out the moment of fraternal triumph. It's rare that he knows anything even touching on politics or diplomacy before Petya does. But that might just be because he's spent most of the last decade in covert ops. Something to think about. "She's one of those Toscanes, their principal heiress. She met Gregor at that recent state dinner for a handful of new ambassadors -- I was surprised the Under-Minister was there instead of you, but then Gregor mentioned you were mountain climbing, which explains it -- and, since then, it seems like they've been conducting a typical Vorish romance: fast, intense, possibly actually chaste, and will make half the government flinch at the very thought." Miles pauses. "A bit like you and Maxim Vortala, and yes, I did hear about that one. But too late. Unfortunately."
"Maxim Vortala," Petya says with dignity, "is a friend and a colleague and a political ally. Nothing more. Do you think this Doctor Toscane will suit?"
"For the Imperium or for Gregor?" Miles asks. "For Gregor, very well. For the Imperium, possibly better."
"Mm, yes," Petya murmurs. "I can see the political advantages, if this is played correctly. Played incorrectly, of course, we'll have another Komarran Revolt on our hands, a hundred times bloodier than the last. But I'm sure Gregor has already considered that."
"From what he said, that's a huge understatement. But he's trying to court her, not her planet."
"Early days, then, I suppose," Petya says. "If this really is Gregor's idea of a quick Vorish romance, he will have to start courting her family and her planet soon enough. But if we can pull this off perfectly, the repercussions will be entirely to our party's advantage. Nothing would testify for integration better than a Komarran Empress."
"Or testify to Barrayaran, um, assault on Komarr better than a Komarran Empress."
Petya nods at him like he's proud that Miles put that together. Sometimes, Miles muses, Petya thinks Miles is still an infant, and can't add Barrayaran politics and Komarran politics together and get disaster. "Which is the primary reason that I desperately hope that this is a chaste romance."
"Also," Miles says, "she actually seems to like him as Gregor."
"I suspect it is more important if she likes him as the Emperor," Petya muses. "Gregor in the person of the Emperor would certainly alarm Komarr more than Gregor simply as himself. But if this marriage does take place, then the crown prince would be half-Komarran, and the Vorbarra Imperial line will become mixed with the Komarran oligarchy. That is something we shall have to spin very, very carefully. For once, and I imagine for the first time, the Vor conservatives and the Komarran radicals will be in perfect agreement on an issue."
"They will both faint at the very thought," Miles assures him.
"If we're lucky," Petya says. "How long has this been going on?"
"From what I can tell, since the night of that diplomatic dinner," Miles says. "But by the time I was aware of it, they were already on their, I guess, their fourth date."
"Very quickly, then," Petya says. "Hm. Do you think we should start to prepare for an Imperial betrothal at Winterfair? Or later?"
Miles shrugs. "I think Gregor was moving in that direction, but I don't know. Honestly, Petya, from the way he was looking, I think he'd want an Imperial wedding at Winterfair."
"No, that's much too soon," Petya says. "And he must know that as well." He grimaces. "I hope that boy isn't thinking of a Midsummer wedding. I swear, we should outlaw marriages on Midsummer. It's an ill omen."
"You're biasing yourself," Miles tells him. "Serg's wedding doesn't outweigh every other wedding at Midsummer."
"And Yuri's birth," Petya says. "It's not a good day for the Vorbarra family."
"I dare you," Miles says, "to make a list of everything that's happened on Midsummer to the Vorbarra family for the last, oh, two centuries. I will bet you Betan dollars to sand--"
"Yes, yes," Petya dismisses. "You've made your point. I'm a superstitious relic, and if Gregor wants to get married then, it's not going to come back to bite us all."
"Yes. So," Miles ventures carefully, "Gregor."
"Of course he has my full support in this, that goes without saying," Petya says, managing to make it sound like any suggestion of not doing so would be actual treason, a vocal accomplishment that makes Miles exceedingly jealous and wondering if maybe a crash-course in diplomacy wouldn't be a bad idea, "I only wish he'd managed to find this woman ten years ago. We need as many little Vorbarras running around as can reasonably be managed." Petya frowns. "Now that's an issue. Gene cleaning and uterine replicators. I wonder...," he stares into the air for a long moment and Miles sits very still, trying not to interrupt Petya when he's plotting. "Yes, that can be managed. This is about to be a major coup for uterine replicator acceptance. And it only took thirty years," he adds bitterly.
"Um," Miles says, "yes. Please go ahead, Petya, and keep plotting political coups all over this. It'll give the rest of us a chance to acknowledge that this is a wedding, not a second version of the Komarran conquest."
"Hopefully less bloody," Petya says, still distracted with visions of politics dancing in his head. "And if I start thinking about this as a wedding," he says, eyes focusing again on Miles, "I will have to start thinking about the fact that Gregor's grand idea for matrimony will result in him giving us all a Komarran Empress. And if I think about that too hard, I suspect I shall try to strangle him the next time I see him. It's a better use of my time and energy to help make sure this union occurs, not think too hard about what this union is."
Oh. Um. Right. Because it's not like Miles really ever forgets that Petya's of the generation that had to finish the Komarran conquest and lost friends and family to a revolt that was over around the time Miles was figuring out how to walk. But sometimes it slips his mind. "I don't think he's intending this as an insult to our dead," Miles says. "I think he's interested in her."
"One would hope," Petya murmurs. "Because if he wanted to give half his government a collective heart attack, he could scarcely have chosen better."
Half his government might be an understatement. Most of them are like Petya. The very thought of a Komarran Empress is going to make them turn green and bite their tongues very hard. "Not including you, of course," Miles says. "Or the Minister of Komarran Affairs, I think he married a Komarran, too."
"I can make a list," Petya dismisses. "Alys probably already has. We could compare them, see if we're in any kind of disagreement over how much of a headache Gregor has just dumped in our laps."
"Just focus on him finally getting married," Miles advises. "I know it puts a huge smile on my face."
Petya sighs. "Yes, yes, he's getting married and I know he was holding out for a love match, so all congratulations to him for finally getting around to falling in love, but, my god, couldn't he have found some Vor lady to fall in love with?"
"As closely related as he is to them, do you think he would have let himself?" Miles asks.
"And it's much better to let himself fall in love with a Komarran?" Petya grumbles, then shakes his head. "No, Miles, no, don't bother. I understand. Of course Gregor has my full support. After I sleep on it for a few days or months, I'll probably be able to even talk myself into liking it."
Yes, Miles thinks, no wonder Gregor's letting Miles tell Petya. If Gregor had blind-sided Petya with this, Petya might have tried to talk him out of it before his brain caught up with his mouth. This way saves face for everyone. It gives Petya time to compose himself and figure out some nice and politic things to say before he has to congratulate Gregor to his face. And that shouldn't take long. Miles's seen Petya say really absurdly terrible things without looking like he's swallowing a lemon. And this isn't absurdly terrible. Petya said it himself. This could do wonders for Barrayaran-Komarran relations.
"So you support it without approving of it?" Miles asks.
"My approval, I suspect, has no bearing whatsoever on Gregor's decision," Petya says. "And I approve of a crown prince, however Gregor manages to produce one. If it must be a half-Komarran crown prince, well, he's still a crown prince."
"Consider history," Miles advises. "He's going the Xav route. Sort of."
"Xav wasn't supposed to father Emperors," Petya says. "He could do things like that. You can stop defending it, Miles. I know it does not need a defense. It's the Emperor's will, and I don't find treason appealing."
Miles frowns. "Petya, honestly--"
"It's okay, Miles," Petya says. He rubs at the bridge of his nose. "It's just a shock to the system. I'll swallow it, just give me a moment or two. I'll be fine by tomorrow. I'll send Gregor a message letting him know that you've discharged your duty in informing me--"
"Um," Miles says, "he didn't actually order me to."
"It doesn't matter," Petya says. "It's a convenient excuse. And then I can congratulate him on finally falling in love, say something nice about Winterfair betrothals, I can probably come up with something symbolic about the solstice if you just give me time to think and stop throwing things like a Komarran Empress at me when I've just spent all day in committees in Hassadar."
"I'm getting you a drink," Miles decides.
"No, that's the last thing I need," Petya says. "I watched Da drown himself in alcohol too many times. Even the great admiral couldn't turn alcohol into solutions for his problems."
"Well, you need to do something to relax," Miles says. "Have you considered dating? I hear it helps with endorphins."
"You're blunt tonight," Petya observes. "I don't see how my sexual activities have any bearing on this conversation whatsoever. And they're not your concern, Lord Miles."
Miles has seen emergency beacons that are more subtle signals. Retreat. Retreat. Now is not the right time to pester Petya about this. And there probably isn't anyone right now. Neither Ivan nor Gregor had mentioned it, and if Petya's managing to court someone without Ivan or Gregor knowing about it, Miles is in awe. "Yes, well. You can delegate to me now," Miles says. "Medical discharge, and an Imperial wedding, so I'm not going anywhere." It's strange. The thought of not going anywhere has been driving him up the wall while he was in the capital, but here he is now, trying to comfort Petya with it.
"It is a good thing you're here," Petya agrees. "And I'm grateful for it. I've been deputizing to Ivan when I've had to. If you'll stand still, I can start deputizing to you."
Oh, Miles bets Ivan'd loved that. "Just tell me how to vote and I will," he says.
"We can consult on anything we disagree on," Petya says. "You hold Da's proxy in your own right, as well. I'm not forgetting that."
Miles shakes his head. "Petya, please, you don't have to try to," he starts. "I can be your deputy, not the Count's; I'll vote how you tell me to," he finishes. "The last thing the Vorkosigan vote needs right now is to look like it's not stable." Especially if Petya's all-but-promised one side his vote and then decides to vote the other way just to placate Miles. That would really be a sign of weakness to anyone who cares to look.
"Nevertheless," Petya says. "We can discuss anything we don't agree on. " He rubs the corners of his eyes. "And thank you for being here," he continues seriously. "I was looking through the Vorrutyer tree for Donna and Pierre, because she's looking for someone Pierre can stand long enough to make his heir until he can produce one naturally, and trying to talk to Pierre these days is like-- he's driving me to distraction," Petya admits. "Donna Vorrutyer, of all people, is running the District now. And, to her credit, doing it well, but-- we need to find Pierre someone. It's madness. For all the Vorrutyer relatives, so few of them are suitable and ever fewer are acceptable to Pierre. I think Donna's ten minutes away from trying to get Pierre to appoint that twit Byerly."
"Save us from Count Byerly Vorrutyer," Miles mutters.
"Pierre's been engaged three times," Petya grumbles. "I wish this were the bad old days and we didn't let people break betrothals after they'd made them. Or, to hell with it, I wish Pierre hadn't been so careful and there was a bastard we could legitimize. We could make Donna his legal guardian and solve all our problems. I'll bet the Counts would prefer Pierre's bastard to half the Vorrutyer family tree."
"Including you?" Miles asks lightly.
"Oh, they loved me," Petya says. Miles'd known it'd been unpleasant, but he hadn't realized it'd been bad enough to merit that level of sarcasm. "I remember when Da and Gran'da had me confirmed. I was ten. I don't think I'd heard the word bastard so many times before or since. One of the Counts, I forget which one, made a rather tasteless comment about Vorrutyer bastards and Vorkosigan honor. Gran'da almost challenged him to a duel. Ezar voted for me; I remember that. And old Count Vorpatril made Padma his deputy for it, just that one vote. That was a nice bit of political theater, visibly standing with Xav's family and reminding everyone of Xav's allegiance to Ezar. And Serg was there, too, of course, breathing fire at me. I think half the bastard comments were planted by him and his friends. It's never too early to discredit a rival, after all. I did get the Vorrutyer vote as a matter of course, both for who my mother was and also because though Gran'da and old Count Vorrutyer's political alliance was never really the same after my mother died, they stood together in that conservative voting block. And no one was going to vote against Ezar, so it wasn't anything we needed to sweat votes over; it was all locked up as soon as Gran'da asked Ezar for his vote and Ezar said he would be glad to. But in retrospect, there was enough politics going on that day for two or three different coups. No wonder they waited so long to do it. Ezar's early reign wasn't known for stability."
"Oh." Miles frowns, picking that apart. "I'd thought you were confirmed earlier."
"There was some back and forth," Petya says. "The politics were mostly over my head at the time, but with Da on ship duty and away all the damn time, we understood getting me confirmed as his heir was a necessity, in case he or Gran'da died. Or both of them, there was even some talk of who would be my Count's Regent, if it came to that. But there was the issue of legitimacy. Before the vote, we did end up publishing, very quietly, a paternity test. Gran'da had it circulated among the Counts. But, yes, it was very, very quietly. Gran'da didn't want to upset Count Vorrutyer too much. It got back to Da, I think, on one of his ships, he caught some hell for having to prove I was his son. I'm not sure of the details, I really didn't ever want to know. He was never here, and there were better things to do when he did visit than ask if my existence embarrassed him, especially when, well, that's ancient history and we've tried to bury it, so let's keep it there. But as it was, the vote had to be timed exactly right to avoid the worst of the rumors about my mother, so it couldn't be done immediately or for some years while Da was still being a drunken Lieutenant with... I suspect the timing of when we did bring it before the Counts inevitably had something to do with the planning for Komarr and the realization that my father didn't have a confirmed heir when they were talking about him invading a planet. But that's only my speculation; you would have to ask the Count to be sure."
And there is more in that than Miles even wants to think about, let alone pick at, without being extremely drunk, and probably not in the same District, let alone the same room, as Petya.
"I remember when we were shoving my confirmation through," Miles says. Back then, Petya'd mentioned some of this as necessary background, but it had been as part of an emotionless, factual briefing, not Petya being angry at Miles and taking it out on ancient history targets. "You did get the Vorrutyer vote for me."
"That was damned close," Petya says. "But you remember." He sighs. "I was so close-- I nearly demanded Pierre make me his damned proxy and to hell with the complications."
"Illegalities," Miles corrects. "No one can be a proxy for two Counts at the same time. Not even you."
"Da could have revoked my proxy privileges," Petya says. "But you're right. It wouldn't have been a smart decision. And Pierre did end up casting the vote. That fiancee of his had terrible timing, breaking it off with him the night before. It was a good thing I had already planned to bring Pierre myself or he might still be there, crawled up inside that bottle. And Gregor did give his vote, and in the first round, not on a pass."
"Thank heavens for Imperial favors," Miles mutters. He's pretty sure Gregor voting early was the only thing that saved the vote for him. There are times when it's all well and good and perfectly loyal to vote against the Emperor -- if their government didn't have room for a loyal opposition, they may as well call themselves a dictatorship and be done with it -- but a Countship succession vote isn't usually one of those times, not with so much history of Counts rebelling against Emperors, and especially not when the Countship line of succession is uncontested. No one was standing against Miles as having a better right by blood or law or choice. And he'd had the Emperor's vote, so some who might have otherwise stood on principle against a five-eighths Betan mutant swung into line behind the Emperor. And it'd still been damned close.
"I've often wondered," Petya says, "what it must be like to be one of the three Counts who have to vote before the Emperor when the Emperor hasn't made it clear if he will abstain. What it must be like to cast every vote without knowing if, by casting that vote, you are making a public stand against the Emperor. Every time, they have to cast that vote without knowing first if the Emperor is going to throw in a nasty surprise and vote in the first round without waiting to see if there's a tie he wants to break in someone's favor. I've never known Gregor to throw a first-round vote in without first being forthcoming about his intentions, but there's a first time for everything. And now we're getting a Komarran Empress," Petya sighs. "A vote against their son would be treason. Forget what I said earlier, I'm glad Gregor waited this long. Ten years ago, his reign might not have survived this. But I think his power base is strong enough now to handle this and not fracture. But Illyan's going to have some rough months. I don't envy ImpSec right now."
"I envy ImpSec," Miles says. "But let's not get into my problems," he continues hastily, as Petya gives him a look that makes Miles wonder how long he'll be able to keep Petya from finding out that Miles falsified an official report, or that he cut an ImpSec courier's legs off by accident. "I can distract you with practicalities about the wedding," he offers. "Lots of politics. Gregor is probably going to ask you to give him a list of galactic heads of state and ambassadors that he'll need to invite. And then you and Aunt Alys can have fun with seating charts."
"Don't sit the Kshatryans and the Illyricans together," Petya says promptly. "They're on the verge of the probably-inevitable eighth Kshatryan-Illyrican trade war. We don't want it breaking out on our planet, or we'll be required to give an opinion on it, and the Minister of Trade and I are still hammering out our official policy on it."
"And we can't put the Cetagandans near the Marilacans," Miles says. "Or the Cetagandans near any political entity in the Hegen Hub."
"We usually stick them next to the Earth delegation," Petya says. "They're too far away to invade Earth."
Once, when Miles was young, Petya had explained this to him as trying to figure out how to assign seats for a dinner party when nearly every guest had, at one point, been married to each other and then had a messy divorce, where marriages meant alliances and divorces meant war. And in some cases, the divorces included things like the bombing of Vorkosigan Vashnoi. Or the Solstice Massacre. There's a lot of anger, recriminations, and bloodshed, was the point.
"Maybe we can get Dag Benin in the Cetagandan delegation," Miles says. "I worked with him on Cetaganda that time. I like him."
"Invite him to your wedding, then," Petya dismisses. "This is a matter of state, so it will be up to the Cetagandan Emperor who to send. If we ask for someone specifically, then they know they have leverage over us. And, while we're on that topic, please don't get married before Gregor does, Miles. There are only so many marriage circuses the capital can take before someone tries to blow someone or something up."
"I wasn't planning on getting married soon," Miles says. He frowns. "This is going to be a huge circus, though. What was Serg's like? You were there, weren't you?"
"Nearly every event," Petya winces in painful recollection. "I was a close enough relative to have to be invited to both the Vorbarra and Vorinnis events, and important enough politically that I had to go or else it would be seen as a political refusal. Mostly I tried to stick close to Da or Padma or the younger Vorinnises. That wedding just did not end; the celebrations went on and on and on. And then Gregor was born, and the celebrations started all over again. But the birth only shut down the city for a few days. Then came Serg's funeral and that shut everything down for two weeks and we didn't even have a damned body to bury. The entire thing was a farce. But we were burying his politics in that grave, so at least something lies in the Imperial Cemetery next to Kareen. I remember that Speaking you did a few years ago; I wish we could have ordered no mourning for Serg. He'd've deserved it."
"I don't think people mourn for him," Miles says. Of course you start Petya talking about Serg's wedding and he finishes by cursing Serg's memory, trying to damn him to an unmourned unremembered death. Of course. Miles shouldn't be surprised. "I mean, now. You still see people talking about Ezar, but most people don't mention Serg at all. I think Gregor's burnings for him are entirely political, too, just for show. I don't think there's any kind of sentiment."
"Gregor's burnings are between him and his father," Petya says. "And are not my concern. But I've certainly never burnt an offering for Serg. I did for Ezar, though, actually. Gran'da went a few months before he died and took me with him. And then he burned one for Negri, too. He was... it was very emotional for him."
Miles once stumbled over Petya burning an offering for his mother and crying, so he figures that's Petya's baseline for graveyard emotionalism. But it's hard to imagine Gran'da crying over anything or anyone. But there's no reason for him to have shown that to the mutie grandson, not when he had his perfect grandson around to dote over. Be fair. You never met Ezar. He died before you were born. "But Serg's wedding," Miles begins again.
"Gregor's will have to be a bigger circus," Petya sighs. "He is the Emperor, after all, and Serg was nothing but a town clown with a title. More galactic this time, too, I expect. Kareen was a Vorinnis; that wedding was essentially one half of a family tree reuniting with another half. Gregor's marriage is going to unite two planets. He's going to smash all Serg's precedents, and Ezar's too. Ezar was married in the middle of a war, after all, and rather quickly, as I recall. I don't know who was the last Emperor to marry during his reign and peacetime. I'm sure Alys will be happy to brief me when I return to the capital." Petya swears under his breath. "So much for finishing this tour by winter."
"I can help," Miles offers. "I was planning on spending my birthday in the District anyway. I haven't had a vacation that wasn't medically-forced in a long time."
"You can, if you like, join me on the tour," Petya says. "Although please don't feel like you have to; you are certainly entitled to a vacation. Feel free to head off on your own and ignore my itinerary. But if you go off on your own, please check my notes for the places you're visiting first. We can't have them doubting the existence of Vorkosigan omniscience. Or, at least, Vorkosigan communication."
"I'm better at communication than omniscience myself," Miles says. "But I can't speak for you, of course."
"You know how to communicate? That's news," Petya mutters. "Anyway, when you return to the capital, we can coordinate our social schedules so our entertainment plans don't overlap or get in each other's way. Vorkosigan House is more than large enough for the both of us to conduct public lives without difficulty. Just let me know if you plan to entertain in the main dining room and I'll do the same, so we don't find ourselves in a scheduling mess."
"I hadn't planned on throwing any large parties," Miles says. "Have you been?"
"Nothing of note," Petya says. "I've of course entertained the more senior officials in my Ministry, and had some Ministers over. And Prime Minister Racozy, of course, along with the Lord Guardian for a private conference. But otherwise, I have yet to rejoin the social scene with renewed vigor; I just haven't had the damn time. But please feel free to entertain. If Gregor really is going ahead with this wedding, I might find myself with some kind of diplomatic emergency that would make me cancel on you at the last moment, but please don't let that stop you from organizing your own parties; you can play host as well as, if not better, than I can."
"Those aren't dinner parties you've been having," Miles informs him. "What you're talking about are meetings that include food and are at Vorkosigan House instead of someone's office. I'm tempted to throw a huge party just to remind you what a party actually is."
"If you wanted a real party," Petya says, "it's a shame you didn't make it in time for Gregor's Birthday. Now that was a party."
"Ivan'd mentioned something about that," Miles says. "He said you looked like you were about to strangle someone by the second hour into the Birthday Dinner."
"It was that obvious?" Petya asks. He shakes his head. "First there was the Betan ambassador, who is a big fan of Cordelia and wanted details about how the settlement of Sergyar is going; from the tone of the conversation, it seems the Betans are still skeptical of our treatment of their war hero. And then I was waylaid by some more galactics interested in Sergyar, which nearly made me miss my turn in line. And then Gregor decided to ask me to pay next year's tax in maple mead when I was on my knees and made me laugh, damn the boy, so I spent the rest of the night trying to explain it away without, of course, mentioning that the gift was in any way actually a tax, because of course, the Vor pay no taxes, that's prole nonsense. Thankfully, Commodore Koudelka and Commodore Vorinnis between them were able to pull me away from the worst of the vultures swooping, trying to peck me to pieces to see if the Vorkosigans were showing weakness by failing to adhere to tradition at the most traditional of times, that is, the yearly show of public fealty to our Emperor, and how dare the Vorkosigans, and so on, you know how it goes. It got better later, once the worst had retired for the night, either due to drunkenness or exhaustion; Commodore Vorinnis enlisted Lord Auditor Vorthys's wife's help in trying to get me to concede a point on the Cetagandan invasion that I've been arguing with him about for years, and that carried us through until dawn." Petya pauses thoughtfully. "He's still wrong, of course, but he made a good showing of it."
Miles is pretty sure Petya's been arguing history with Count Vorinnis's younger brother since before Miles was born. He's equally sure they are never going to stop arguing about it. Petya's wasted as a diplomat; he should have been a history professor instead. He certainly seems to like it more. I should introduce him to Galeni. "You're wasted as a diplomat," Miles starts.
"I've often thought so," Petya says. "What brought on that revelation?"
"Well, for one, I don't think you're naturally polite," Miles says. Petya smirks at him briefly before going back to his usual supreme lack of expression that's honestly worthy of ImpSec's high command. "I mean, you put on a good show, but I think it's all an act."
"Fascinating," Petya says. "Did you take a course in Betan psychology in between all your spy adventures?"
"No, this is just natural talent," Miles says.
"Miles," Petya says, "you didn't notice when I introduced you to my lover when you were about sixteen."
"I've gotten better since then," Miles informs him. "Wait, lover?"
"It ended shortly after," Petya dismisses. "And I wish him all happiness in his current, ah, well, with his marriage. I don't envy him his reality."
Miles frowns at him. Then he remembers a snatch of conversation he'd heard at that diplomatic dinner. "Which reminds me," Miles says, frown deepening. "You and Dowager-Countess Vorreedi. When was that?"
Petya blinks at him like Miles is back to being young and oblivious. It's not very flattering. "Last year, Miles, when we all thought you were dead. We did our best to keep it quiet, but, well-- we kept it as quiet as anything can be in society between the Birthday and Winterfair. Our courtship only lasted a few weeks until you had the wisdom to come back alive, for which I thank you."
Miles's mouth works a few times before he gets out. "How?"
"Lady Alys, of course," Petya answers. "I'm surprised you have to ask. Grete was old Vorgustafson's second daughter, you remember, the first one married one of the Counts with the poor judgment to be on the wrong side of the Pretendership and then volunteered to help settle Sergyar after her husband's execution. Alys and Grete were at school together, and we had been in overlapping social circles around that time. When I asked Alys for help, I expected it to be a difficult problem, but Alys, happily, remembered Grete and that Grete and I had gotten along in the past."
"It was a perfectly sensible thing to do, Miles," Petya says, "I don't know why you're looking at me like that. Grete and I both have decades-long support for uterine replicators. As well, the new Count Vorreedi is one of the loudest-spoken proponents of their use, so the Vorreedis wouldn't have any cause to complain. It was a perfectly sensible courtship. And thanks to your continued existence, happily, a perfectly unnecessary one."
"I am very happy to still be alive," Miles replies. "And it's so nice to know that you value my life."
Petya flinches. "Miles--"
"No, no, I get it," Miles continues quickly. "I cut you off earlier before you could fuss over me and take my temperature and try to put me to bed like you did when I was a kid and broke my bones and made you sit there and tell me stories, and I get that you still really, really want to treat me like I'm seven, and get annoyed at me because I won't let you. And I know this is your idea of a defense mechanism, but--"
"I shouldn't do it to your face," Petya interrupts him. "And I apologize for doing it. It's rude and your mother would have words with me for it."
"--it's you, and I know that this, this is what you do instead of chaining me to the planet and smothering me with worry--"
"But sometimes, Miles, I can't help but want to shake you and demand to know if you value your life half as much as the rest of us do."
"--like I said, I know you worry way too much about me, and that can't be healthy and it's actually insulting that you think I can't take care of myself and need my big brother to ride in with the cavalry--"
"And then I start to wonder if you have a damn death wish. Do you, Miles? Because it seems so often like you do. There have been so many times I've wanted to beg Gregor to take away that damn fleet of yours so you'd stop trying to find new and more interesting ways of committing suicide by proxy."
Oh, that is too far. Petya can't expect Miles to sit there and take that. Not after he just spent months dead. "It's not suicide by proxy--"
"Miles," Petya says firmly. "You cannot be insulted by this. You cannot-- please consider that when I ask you if you value your life half as much as the rest of us do, that I have reason to believe that you don't."
"You've spent the last ten years throwing it this way and that! We thought you dead last year. And now you're shrugging off seizures like they don't matter to your continued existence."
"--I'm going to take care of them, honestly, Petya, I am, well, I will eventually--"
"So, my lord brother," Petya winds down his rant, "when I ask you if you actually care if you live or die, it's not a useless or rhetorical question. I am actually curious, and very concerned."
"I am going to get the seizures taken care of," Miles insists, slunk down a little in the chair. So he's going to let me actually finish a sentence now? Thank you for your kind generosity, Lord Vorkosigan. Except that Petya looks like he's about to either cry or hug Miles like a rag doll. And it's hard to maintain that angry edge when Petya looks like he'll shatter if you poke him too hard. "And I do care, Petya, really, I do. And Gregor did take my fleet away, well, Simon did, but he said that he'd talked about it with Gregor, so Gregor was actively involved in it as well. And I have a medical discharge, so that's going to limit me, and Petya, please, I am going to take care of this. I don't have a death wish. And I'm going to be hanging around the capital until Gregor manages to get married, probably, because that's going to be the political event of the century. So I'm not walking in front of plasma cannons anymore, please believe me, Petya, I swear, I'm not going to hurt myself."
Petya sighs heavily. "You don't know what it was," he says quietly, "to hear that message from Ivan. To see-- and then you were fine, as always, and my heart was in my throat for only a few minutes at best, but it's not a relief. It's only a temporary stopgap, when it comes to you. Because you always find ways to get yourself into messes. And then you get yourself out, all credit to you, but to think I'd hoped that your treason trial would be the worst of it, and then you'd stop doing this to me. To us. I should've known better. And, damn it all, I'm sure Gregor would call this aggravating the situation, but, Miles, there's only so much more of this I can take before I throttle you."
"I'm not going to do it anymore," Miles insists. Aggravating the situation? Gregor thinks that little of him that he thinks he can't take Petya giving into the urge to shout at him until his face turns red? Just because his parents have tried to give him autonomy and space doesn't mean that Miles isn't used to Petya trying to smother him with worry. Aggravating the situation now would be Petya doing something like getting married anyway, despite Miles being alive and well and in the capital.
Although he wouldn't be entirely surprised if Petya does. Petya's so addicted to playing wall that he might decide to keep playing it, even when the wall isn't there anymore.
"And I'm not going to run off to the fleet," Miles continues, "and I'm not a traitor. I'm a civilian, actually. And so are you." He pauses. "Both of us at the same time. That's a first, I think."
"We may not hold commissions," Petya says, "but we're liege-sworn Vor."
He's clearly gearing up for another discussion of treason and how to avoid committing it. Miles heads him off at the pass. "And speaking of that liege," Miles says. "Weren't you going to call Gregor tonight? It's getting late in the capital. You wouldn't want to wake him up to give him your congratulations on him falling in love."
"I was thinking tomorrow, but... perhaps you're right." Petya taps his fingers distractedly against his thigh. "Immediately would be best. Can't have our Emperor thinking that one of his Ministers is going to make this into a problem. How close do you think he is to proposing-- no, no, I can and should ask him myself." He stands up and starts to rummage through a pile of comm cards, then looks over his shoulder. "Do you want to witness?"
Miles jumps up. "No, no, that's okay." It's not cowardice, it's a tactical retreat. "I'm getting hungry, so I'm going to forage in the kitchen. I'll be there if you, uh, want to reassure yourself of my continued existence."
Petya gives him a half-hearted glare, then pulls out a blank comm card from where it'd been artistically hidden beneath ten other blank comm cards.
Miles slips out of the library as Petya starts to place the call and he closes the door behind him. He sags against it in exhaustion. Then he perks up.
"That could have gone worse," he tells himself, and then heads off to the kitchen.