He was hiding. Well, as well as an Emperor could ever actually hide, avoiding might have been a better word, but whatever it was, Gregor thought he was succeeding admirably.
“Are you hiding?” said a quiet voice behind him. Miles. He sounded amused. He didn’t have to talk to the man.
Gregor turned his head a little, and kept his voice low. “No,” he replied with a sigh. Not any more. “More like delaying the inevitable.”
Miles smirked, “I did notice the Illyrian Ambassador was helping himself to his fourth glass of wine.”
The Illyrian Ambassador was a perfectly nice man, but a perfectly nice man who liked his wine, and always wanted to talk to Gregor, at length, about the beautiful girls of Illyria and what wonderful wives they would make for him, and while Gregor would love to have not so quietly told him that he wasn’t really looking for a wife (a small lie, he wasn’t looking, but other people like Lady Alys were enthusiastically looking for him, whether he wanted her to or not), Illyria and Barrayar were currently in the middle of some rather delicate trade negotiations and he couldn’t really afford to be seen to be impolite, let alone insulting to a senior member of their negotiating team.
“Why are you even here? Apart from clearly taking pleasure in my pain. I thought Simon said you were ... elsewhere.” Gregor knew perfectly well where he’d been, but you never knew who was listening.
“I missed you all terribly.”
Gregor just stared back at him, disbelieving.
“Okay, so that’s perhaps not the whole truth.” Really? You surprise me, Miles.
“I assume ….?“
“ … you’ll hear about what happened in due course? Sadly for me, I believe so.”
Excellent. Wouldn’t want to trouble anyone, but I am, you know, sort of responsible for the Empire. “Miles. When I sat down to breakfast two days ago, we weren’t at war with anyone. Please tell me that’s still true.” He wasn’t sure how much of that statement was in jest.
Miles looked mildly offended, but a slight grin was playing around his lips. “Give me some credit, Gregor ...”
I always do.
“... if I was going to start a war I’d at least make sure someone else looked like they’d started it.”
Gregor tried to summon up a glare, but was fighting a losing battle against Miles’s innocent face, which he used very well for someone who had absolutely no reason to be using it.
He heard someone clear their throat, and he spied Simon lurking behind Miles. The hiding had really not gone well.
“Sire. Lieutenant” he said the last a little ominously, Gregor noted.
“Can I borrow the Lieutenant for a moment? If you have no other need for him, of course?”
“None at all, Simon.” He gave Miles a sinister grin.
“Excellent.” He gave a short bow. “And I uh, believe the Illyrian Ambassador is most anxious to discuss something with you, Sire.”
Everyone’s a comedian this evening.
“Thank you, Simon.”
“Not problem at all, Sire.” He said it wth a perfectly straight face. The man was a marvel.
As he followed Simon through the archway opposite, Miles looked back with a mock hurt look on his face, ‘None at all?’ he mouthed. Gregor shot him a small smile. Maybe later.
As he turned back around, a gentleman in a silver suit with a wine glass that looked like it was glued to his hand appeared around the corner. An aide in a black gown was following a few steps behind, clearly making sure the the Ambassador wasn’t about to make a complete fool of himself and the state of Illyria. From the look on his face, it didn’t look like he was having a lot of success.
“Your Excellency, there you are.” Only slightly slurred speech. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad.
“Ambassador, how lovely to see you again.”
“Thank you. Can I just say how glad I am that our two nations are working together, and might indeed in the future have further reasons … “
Then again maybe not.
Gregor walked into his private office where he was disheartened to see that the pile of reports that he’d left six hours ago had grown even higher.
However, he was glad to see his message had gotten through. Miles was sitting in the chair opposite the desk. A wine bottle beside him on a little side table and two glasses.
“Helped yourself, I see.”
Miles shrugged. “Want one?”
Gregor undid the two top buttons on his dress uniform. “Please.”
Miles poured another glass and handed it to Gregor, who sat down in the chair beside Miles rather than the one on the other side of the desk. He put his feet up on his desk.
“So, tonight was delightful. You always throw the best boring diplomatic functions I have ever had the pleasure of attending, Gregor.”
Gregor laughed. “I’ve been through worse.” In retrospect, he really had. In the end the Illyrian Ambassador had been practically restrained. He sipped the wine. More of the Vorbarra good stuff. They were getting through that this evening. His Treasurer was probably having fits.
They sat in silence for a moment. He was relaxing. Slowly. Gregor had always been comfortable around Miles. Even in a crowded space station, fighting for his life, he felt better because Miles was beside him. With a quick quip and a way to bring him crashing down to reality if need be. They were both that to each other, he guessed. Ever since they were boys.
“Are you going to tell me about the diplomatic incident you’ve caused?”
“And ruin Simon’s surprise, don’t be silly. It’s not that bad really. Simon or Father would be beating down your door if it was. I just needed to be out of there fast.”
Always a good sign. Gregor made a note to talk to Simon very early the next morning.
“Well, it’s good to have you back. I missed you.”
It sort of slipped out before Gregor could stop himself. It wasn’t a lie; it wasn’t nearly as much fun around here without him. Not that running an Empire was really overflowing in the Fun Department, but it did have its moments, and Miles often provided them. They did have a habit of coinciding with the Oh Hell What Has He Done Now Department. Still, they didn’t tend to say things like that out loud. Not in the tone of voice Gregor has used.
Miles appeared momentarily surprised, but recovered quickly and looked right back into Gregor’s eyes. “Me too.”
He knew this couldn't last. How could it? Gregor was a realist, had to be by profession. He had duties, and one of those was to produce heirs. Barrayar needed a stable monarchy, and Gregor knew that better than anyone. He would not be responsible for a repeat of the unrest of previous years. He just wouldn't. But for a while, this was theirs. Until it couldn't be anymore.
Gregor stood up, picked up his glass and the wine bottle and walked towards the door.
"Coming?" Realising what he’d said just as …
“I hope so.” Miles was grinning, like he couldn’t quite believe Gregor had given him a gift like that.
Gregor tried his best to glare and adopt the We Don’t Find You At All Amusing, Lord Vorkosigan expression he’d nearly perfected, but ended up snickering despite himself, and opened the door.
Miles followed and came to walk beside him. A little too close perhaps, but who was to say.
He had no doubt Simon knew. Simon knew everything. But he also knew when to keep his mouth shut and let Gregor make his own decisions if it wasn't threatening Gregor's life. And this wasn't. Far from it.