Gregor Vorbarra has never been someone who has needed to be reminded that he has to make plans for a Regency. Which hasn't stopped people from reminding him anyway, but that's Vorbarr Sultana for you. People will take any opportunity to try to score political points.
Since it's gotten out that Gregor is courting someone in earnest, it's only gotten more intense. Speculation is running rampant. According to Lady Alys and Colonel Vortala, the questions of when the Emperor is finally going to give everyone a Crown Prince and who will be the Regent are competing against each other for being the most fertile ground for gossip. And it's only going to get worse.
Because now Gregor's getting married. Now there's going to be a real line of succession. Now there's going to be the chance of a need for a Regency.
Gregor's been thinking about this for decades and making real plans for it for years. Regency legislation hadn't been anything that Aral Vorkosigan could have passed, but he'd made it clear that Gregor needed to pass something as soon as he could. Even back then, Gregor really hadn't needed the reminder, but he would have been open to taking any drafted legislation that Aral had put together. Except that Aral never did. And Gregor can see why; even beyond the fact that it could have gotten Aral accused of treason, the fact that they don't have a formal line of succession becomes a very glaring lack when you sit down to try to figure out who has the right and the suitability and wouldn't be a disaster.
And the truth has always been that if Gregor dies without an heir, the concern isn't a Regency. The concern is war.
But now he's going to be getting married. And now this is a real problem.
Gregor thinks he could draw out his family tree in his sleep, but explaining it in words is terrifying. He's related too much to everyone with any rank, and being raised by Cordelia Vorkosigan has made the reality very stark: either he can marry a relative or he has to marry a galactic. A hundred years after Xav first married outside of the Vor and a Vorbarra still could never be able to marry a prole. It just wouldn't be allowed.
There are other planets out there, Gregor knows, where they have words for relationships beyond what Barrayar has, where they can describe in one or two words really complicated inbred relationships, where they can explain that Gregor's so bizarrely related to himself that he might as well be his own sibling. Barrayar should have a word, he thinks sometimes, when his gene scan haunts his dreams, for realizing that everyone in your family tree for who knows how many generations was a cousin marriage after cousin marriage after cousin marriage.
He's much too closely related to everyone proper to even think about having children with them. Gregor knows half his court mutters that it's Cordelia's fault that Gregor hasn't found a suitable Vor lady to marry, and there's some truth to that, but Gregor thinks the introduction of the gene scan did this to everyone, not just him. Even Petya talks about how seeing how inbred he was made more of an impression than just knowing it.
Everything is already complicated enough. There's no need to keep making it worse.
Gregor hadn't ever let himself think he could get away with it. Just another fantasy that reality would grind out of him, like the idea that he would ever be allowed to serve as an officer and the idea that he could ever escape this prison. The idea that he would be allowed to marry for love was always a possibility, but the idea that he could get away with marrying someone who wasn't Vor always seemed like a dream too great, like going even an hour without his guards breathing down his neck.
Gregor had assumed that not marrying a Vor would be one more promise to himself that he'd have to break. He hadn't thought he could get away with it, not really. He'd anticipated, painfully, that no one would ever let him do it. He had honestly expected to have woken up the day after his twentieth birthday with a message from Aunt Alys with a list of suitable ladies and an already chosen wedding date. He'd had nightmares about having to convince everyone to give him time.
He knows he can thank Cordelia for the fact that they gave him time without him having to order it. But the hints began then, and it turned out that Aunt Alys did have a list of suitable ladies and a longer list of historically appropriate wedding dates. And Gregor had been adamant that he would never marry a Vor, but so long as he let Alys play baba, he could spend his own time looking for love on his own terms.
And, he smiles, thinking of Laisa, he'd found it.
But, he admits to himself reluctantly, there would have been advantages to marrying a Vor. Especially when it comes to the question of the Regent.
The problems with marrying a Vor would have been the kind of problems that came of making a political marriage between two people who didn't particularly like each other, problems that came of telling a woman that he was going to insist on gene cleaning for their children. When he had still worried that Aunt Alys and the collective glares of his Vorinnis aunts would arrange a political marriage for him, no matter how many times he told them he didn't want one, Gregor had gone over those problems in his head during those late nights when he couldn't sleep and he had imagined strategies to dealing with them, ways to assure his betrothed that it wasn't her genetic cleanliness that he was questioning, because a Vor lady could take that deadly personal.
And these are all Vor problems.
Even in all those late nights, he hadn't imagined that the woman he did fall in love with would be Komarran, with all of those complications, with all of those topics they need to resolve, and quickly, before he can ever believe she won't decide that it's too dangerous to love him, when she must be examining her own emotions the same way Gregor has to examine his, because it's not just a love match. She wouldn't just be marrying him. She would be marrying the Emperor of Barrayar, the foster son of the Butcher of Komarr. She would be marrying Gregor and his relatives and the Vor class and ImpSec and the rest of it. She would be marrying Barrayar.
There would have been advantages to marrying a Vor. Gregor had known that, had considered that at length when he tried to be Petya and take out his feelings for Laisa and look at them and then decide if he could politically afford to have emotions, and there would have been problems no matter who he chose. And he had decided it was worth it, because it is, and he can have this. He can afford to do this, he wants to do this, and he can do this. He's allowed this happiness.
And he's allowed to marry a Komarran woman.
And things have changed during his reign, Gregor would argue until hoarse. And Laisa likes Miles and she likes Aunt Alys, and wonder of wonders, even seems to like Barrayar, but that's only a part of it. Because there's the rest of it, including the rest of his relatives and the rest of the Vorkosigans, and then there's the issue of the Crown Prince.
And for all that Gregor hadn't assumed that a Vor lady would simply allow him to make certain choices all by himself, because Aunt Alys and his Vorinnis aunts still scare him sometimes, well, a Vor lady probably wouldn't have objected to them. Not the way a Komarran would.
Because one of the things they'd had to resolve before he could believe them actually, truly, betrothed, even though she had said yes, even though she had agreed, even though she had listed to him the dangers she would be in by accepting him, even with all that, there's marrying Gregor and then there's marrying the Emperor. And when it comes to so many things, she's not marrying Gregor. She's marrying the Emperor.
Like the issue of their son. And of their son's Regent, if it came to that.
The name honor for the Crown Prince is possibly the highest honor that is his and the Empress's alone to bestow, but no Vor lady would argue with Gregor's choice. Neither of his choices, the first one he made when he was young or the second one he made when he was older, when he switched the intended name order when he had found out that Petya had no intention of having children, not if Miles would do his duty for the continuation of the Vorkosigan line.
And a Vor lady would have understood the necessity of that, would have understood the need underlying the emotion to mark the Vorkosigan influence and publicly buy that loyalty for the next generation, would have understood the need of bowing to the public need of continuing the public perception that nothing could come between the Vorbarra Imperial line and the Vorkosigan Countship line. That any attempt to drive a wedge there is treason, a direct attempt to undermine the Imperium.
A Vor lady would have accepted this reasoning. She wouldn't have argued. Not with naming his son for Vorkosigans who had saved his life, who had put him on the throne, who had backed him through everything, who were widely whispered to still be actively keeping him on the throne. Not having a Crown Prince Piotr, not when one Piotr Vorkosigan had turned Ezar Vorbarra from a General of the Infantry into the Emperor of Barrayar, not when another Piotr Vorkosigan would be the Lord Regent if the Empress died first.
Because that's the rest of it. There's no need to tell him that he had to plan for that eventuality, no need to tell him that he had to stand up and decide what would happen if he died, what would happen if his wife died. No need to tell him that he had to make one choice and then choose that choice's successor, especially not when Laisa is Komarran, not when there's a chance the Counts could let her through as his wife and then drag their heels for months on her as the Regent. The Vorkosigans have a lot of practice at standing behind things and making them acceptable by sheer force of daring people to call it a scandal. This could be just one more thing that has no chance of working until the Vorkosigans throw their support behind it.
And naming a Regent is a vitally important decision. It could destroy the Imperium or save it. And once there's a line of succession to throne, there can be a line of succession to the Regency, and Gregor will start one with his eyes open. And if reality fails to comply with Gregor's hopes, if Gregor can not give his son the sentimental gift of his mother as his Regent, then he will give his son the same gift Ezar had given him, the gift of a Regent who could hold power, who could keep the Imperium together by strength of will and honor for as long as necessary, and who then would step down and give it all up. He would give his son a Vorkosigan as his Regent. As a final gift to his still-imaginary son, Gregor thought it the best choice possible.
And no Vor would argue with that. But Komarr could.
And Laisa hadn't. Not really. They'd put off the naming of their son until later, because that could wait. It could wait until the day they opened the uterine replicator, if need be. They could come to an agreement, and it was all right, really, if they didn't name the first one, or any of them, for Petya. Gregor understands. If it were only a childish hope that couldn't survive the reality that Gregor had chosen for himself, then, very well, it would not survive.
But a Regency is a different reality, and Laisa had told Gregor that a Regent would need to play Vor games, and she trusted his choice. That she understood that any threat that could kill Gregor would probably kill her, too. That she knew how his mother died. That she knew the dangers and she accepted him and she wanted to marry him anyway, even if it killed her, even if it killed him and left her to navigate her way through a Regency.
And it's just one more thing that needs to be resolved before the official betrothal ceremony. Before he can call himself betrothed, he needs to plan for his death, and his wife's, too. Because for all that Gregor's adamant that his Empress will stand as Regent first and foremost, he remembers what happened to his mother and to Serg's mother, too. They didn't live to see their sons grown. This planet is far too dangerous for any contingency plans to be as shallow as only naming one person for a role that might last two decades.
And so here they are today. A private dinner, he had told Laisa, and she had responded by giving him a quirky smile that said all she needed to about how funny she found the Barrayaran idea of a private dinner. It's Miles and Petya and the Vorvolks and a handful of Vorinnises and Lady Alys and Ivan and Colonel Vortala as a guest instead of on security. It's no one who doesn't know him, it's no one he doesn't trust. It's everyone who needs to know. It's also everyone who could pull off a successful coup, Gregor also mentions, because he has to think about that, he has to, but he can't let it consume him.
If the Vorkosigans want the throne, they're welcome to it. They put Gregor on it, they're keeping Gregor on it, and if they ever decide that they have had enough of Gregor Vorbarra being their Emperor, there would be a civil war that they would probably win. Aral Vorkosigan has the military eating out of his hand, still, even though he's living on Sergyar. It doesn't bother Gregor as much as it used to. When he was younger, he'd forgotten, but it hadn't taken very much to remind him. The Vorkosigans behind him mean that everyone stays loyal, and Aral Vorkosigan is the one keeping the military loyal to Gregor in the tributary system that is the Barrayaran government. Uncle Tim's always had the conservatives who've hated Aral and so have always sided with Tim, and now he's the public one holding the military in his hand, with Aral on Sergyar. Yuri's scalp haunts Gregor's nightmares; he knows by whose consent he rules. He can't forget it. The Vorkosigans could force this marriage not to happen.
But they won't. That's what Vorkosigan means. But that doesn't mean they won't show their displeasure in little ways. Ways that won't disrupt the Imperium, but will give Gregor sleepless nights, wondering if his Imperial choices are costing him his foster family.
Miles seems to accept it, although he's being very quick to not claim credit for it at all. Petya, on the other hand, is being too polite. And it's okay if Petya's very loud or very quiet, but it's a disaster if he's very polite.
The last time it had been this way was when Vordrozda was growing ascendant in the court, and then it had all crashed down like an executioner's axe when Gregor had laid the charges. He can still see the look on Petya's face over the comconsole when he'd said the words high treason. He hadn't had the nerve to tell him in person, not after he'd said it to Aral and Cordelia. He's still not sure how any of them had gotten through the rest of those conversations.
It had made some kind of sense in the foggy world that Gregor had inhabited inside his paranoia and his terror and Vordrozda's whispers. It had made sense. Gregor was acting as the Emperor, so Petya was treating him as the Emperor. It was appropriate, albeit new, but no less appropriate for it. It's been fodder for his nightmares since. Public repudiation. Public disowning. Wondering if Aral would choose Miles over Gregor. Wondering if Cordelia would. Wondering if Petya was finally deciding that he didn't like Gregor anymore now that he's was being an adult instead of a kid.
But worst of all was the way going cold and distant had been Petya's only reaction. Aral had gone on the offensive, fighting all the charges publicly, decrying it all as slander. Cordelia had tsked over Gregor worryingly, asking him very Betan questions about influences and inviting him to talk to her whenever he pleased, no matter that she wasn't his foster-mother anymore. And Petya... all Petya had done was start calling him sire in private. Started talking to him the same way he used to write him very long, very proper, very formal letters about things that didn't deserve formality, just so Gregor could have fun while learning proper Imperial protocol. All Petya had done was go very stiff, so very formal, retreated into his titles, and stopped being Gregor's older brother.
And in retrospect, Gregor understands why Petya had done it. He does understand. He does. It doesn't make it easy and it doesn't make it pleasant. Vordrozda's plans needed Petya to be demonstrably disloyal and disrespectful, and, instead, Petya had responded to a threat to his brother, his real brother, his birth brother, by getting so loyal and respectful, Gregor still flinches to think about it all. The more Vordrozda picked at it, the more proper Petya got, denying Vordrozda the satisfaction of being able to call Petya a traitor, too. Vordrozda had been looking for some angle to get between Gregor and the last Vorkosigan and Petya was fighting him, without actually doing anything different in public. He hadn't needed to. He'd just... stopped being Petya in private and started being Lord Vorkosigan.
It hadn't been irreparable. That was the most important thing in all of this. It hadn't been irreparable.
Gregor had been terrified that it might have been, that Petya wouldn't trust him ever again to be his brother instead of just another officer in his service. When it had been over, he'd summoned Petya, hoping that Petya would finally give in, would finally explode at him, would finally vent out all that anger and that worry, and Petya had sat up with him most of the night, drinking with him, and he hadn't been painfully polite to him at all. It had been glorious. Gregor likes it when Petya's rude to him. It means Petya hasn't decided that Gregor's beyond help.
Gregor has nightmares about Vordrozda dying in the Great Square and they aren't as bad as his nightmares about the Vorkosigans abandoning him to a slow death in the political arena.
And this is different. This isn't treason. This isn't whispered conspiracies. And it's not about Miles at all.
Gregor wonders if maybe he was right about this the first time. Maybe this is just how Petya naturally reacts to Gregor acting like the Emperor. Maybe when Gregor acts like the Emperor, Petya decides to treat him like the Emperor. And not like when Petya lies through his teeth and says he always remembers that Gregor's the Emperor. Maybe when Petya actually does remember that Gregor's the Emperor, he treats him like the Emperor, actually treats him like the Emperor, with all the formality, with all the protocol, with all the restraint and the distance that requires.
Gregor hopes so, because if not, then Petya's really angry at him and Gregor has no idea why. No, not angry at him. Petya had been clear. He hadn't been angry at Gregor, he had been angry at the political situation. He'd been angry at what the Emperor had had to do. But he hadn't been mad at Gregor. Except that Petya says that he knows that Gregor's the Emperor, so... Uncle Arthur is probably right, Gregor thinks. If he wants to know why Petya is doing anything, he should just ask him. Trying to figure Petya out is giving him a headache.
At least it's not as bad as it had been when it was Miles between them, not Laisa.
Because Gregor's sure that Petya's not actually upset about this one. He's not being torn into pieces between his brother and his oath, not this time. This time it's just Petya being stubborn. It's nothing more. He's not leaving Gregor to stand on his own, no more private calls when Gregor can't sleep, no more sending him histories to read with little notes marked here and there for where he should really pay attention, this is important. It's not the end of their friendship. It's not.
He's not withdrawing from their relationship completely and leaving only a shell, not this time. Not this time.
Those really bizarre old rumors from Vorgorgerin's party must be right, Gregor decides. Gregor is clearly Petya's bastard son. There's no other explanation for this madness.
Gregor turns on his heel mid-pace and glances over to Armsman Gerard, who is not looking at Gregor like he wants to call his personal physician, so Gregor must not look as frenzied as he feels. "Get me Minister Vorkosigan on the comconsole," he orders.
Petya looks completely calm at the sudden call, like he's been expecting it.
"Sire," he says, bowing sitting down. Then he gives Gregor a gentle smile, so at least he can tell that Gregor's in a state. "I hear that you saw fit to give my brother the keys to the kingdom."
Gregor starts in his seat, and then starts breathing easier. Oh, damn you, Petya. How does he do it? Petya, Gregor decides, is an evil wizard who put a lasso around Gregor's heart when Gregor was a child. Gregor has to find a stick somewhere and burn it and then his family will stop being able to do this to him. He thinks that's how those stories go. Or maybe that's what family means, that they can all do this to each other. Petya's always looked green when Miles breaks his bones, after all.
"He promised not to scratch it," Gregor manages to say without demanding that Petya tell him why Petya's decided that today is a good day to start joking with him, after weeks of not dropping that stone faced imitation of his grandfather. "And he promised to have it home before midnight."
Something about that makes color rise to Petya's cheeks and then Gregor almost chokes. Okay. So that might explain why Petya's in a good mood all of a sudden. And, come to think of it, Gregor thinks guiltily, maybe it hasn't been all anger over Laisa. Maybe it's been worry about ImpSec. Maybe Petya's remembering that the last time Illyan was indisposed, there was very nearly a coup. Just because Barrayar revolves around Gregor doesn't mean that Petya's emotions do, too. Just because Petya's angry when he's around Gregor doesn't mean that Petya's angry at Gregor. And Gregor knows that. He does. Of course he does.
"I've given him my congratulations, of course," Petya says. "Have you sent a message yet to the Count? Miles said that he'll make the formal oath at Winterfair, but if you had intended that to be at the very start of the season, my father may not arrive in time."
"No, it's not going to be before the betrothal," Gregor says. "Somewhere in the middle, I think. I'm leaving it to Lady Alys to choose a time when it wouldn't disrupt anything."
Petya nods approvingly. "Excellent idea. I suspect Miles is in a hurry, but there is a greater political situation and disrupting it could prove disastrous."
"And how is General Allegre?" Gregor asks, because two can play the game of playing fast and loose with a relative's emotions and Petya damn well deserves it after what he's put Gregor through.
"Quite well," Petya gets out, through his choke.
"I hope," Gregor says, "that you had not had plans on keeping this a secret from your family, because your brother is well-aware of it." Gregor pauses. "Mind you," he continues thoughtfully, "well-aware, but not exactly calm. In fact, he was very excitable about it, barging in to demand if I knew about his brother and my ImpSec chief. He asked me if I knew I was contributing to the rumor that, to get ahead in ImpSec, you have to marry into the Vorkosigan social circle. Miles didn't use that euphemism, of course, but I would prefer not to insult the honor of My security."
Petya looks wistfully at his desk, like he's considering using it as a shield or maybe as cover.
"You have my blessing, certainly, if that's what you want," Gregor continues. "Or, at least, my knowledge along with my active non-involvement and learned disinterest. I can't promise to keep Miles from bothering you over it, though it's possible that handing him this Auditorship will distract him until he calms down."
"I should be so lucky," Petya mutters. "He's a monster. I think he wants to grow up to be a baba."
"It's okay, Petya," Gregor says. "You can relax," well, about this, because once Gregor asks him about the Regency, Petya's probably going to go back to being very properly angry at his Emperor. "Now that Miles isn't rushing off on covert ops missions, I give him about half a year to fall in love all over again. It's okay, Petya. You can relax. Miles will do his dynastic duty with aplomb, as soon as some poor woman stands still long enough to let him convince her to come back to Barrayar."
Petya straightens in his chair and Gregor suspects he's about to lose control of this conversation.
"General Allegre informed me that you told him that you had no objections to our relationship and that it would not have any bearing on his appointment to the Chiefship. Sire, if that should change at any time--"
"It won't," Gregor says, because Gregor's met Petya and he knows his track record and, really, if Petya settles down with anyone before Miles has had two or three sons, Gregor would be shocked, and for all that Miles falls in love about a day after he falls out of it, he has yet to bring a wife home from his galactic adventures. Gregor really is going to keep throwing Miles Vorkosigan out into the Nexus. It's probably the only hope they have of Miles finding a wife. When Miles goes to balls and parties on Barrayar, he spends so much time talking to the male half of the room that Gregor would suspect he's Petya, except that Petya actually dances and plays the proper Vor lord. It's a shame that Petya and Miles are two separate people. If Gregor could somehow combine them... he would probably have someone who could be an even brighter light as a figurehead for revolts than Ivan is.
This is a really terrible day for Gregor's paranoia, he thinks.
"If it does," Petya insists, "then I would ask--"
"It's not," Gregor says, holding up his hand. Petya closes his mouth and gives Gregor a very frustrated look. "I've considered your objections and I think you're wrong. Sorry, Lord Vorkosigan."
Petya smiles at that and Gregor breathes a small sigh of relief. Okay. Good. So they can joke. That's good. That's excellent. Petya really isn't angry at him. "I don't want to ruin General Allegre's career," Petya says.
"Louis Allegre didn't," Gregor says, "and if anything was going to stop General Allegre from being in charge of My security, it's that kind of treason. What you're doing with him isn't treason. Scandals aren't treason, no matter what you might think."
Something beeps out of sight and Petya looks to the side and then back at Gregor. He looks apologetic. "Sire--"
"I'll see you tonight," Gregor says. "An hour early, I do still need to discuss something with you. Some ancient history."
Petya nods and then bows again. Gregor ends the call and then starts pacing again.
Tonight. A few hours from now. He can do this. They can do this. He won't let this fail. This is too important.
It's a private, family dinner, which means that everyone knows that Gregor has some kind of agenda for it. If this all goes to plan, which means that Petya doesn't run screaming, it will be to inform everyone of his choice. His Vorinnis uncles will probably be relieved. Colonel Vortala less so. He'd seemed so hopeful in the ImpSec risk analysis of Petya and Allegre's relationship that it might actually lessen the complications of Petya conducting a public life.
Petya arrives promptly, an hour early. As they'd planned, Laisa takes him to the side first to talk to him about how trade arrangements are progressing. It takes Petya a few minutes to relax, but, Gregor notes happily, he's relaxing. That's good. That's excellent. The first time Laisa and Petya had had a conversation, Petya had been so tense, he looked like he was about to snap in half.
Gregor feels like he's been warning Laisa constantly about the Vorkosigans. The first time, she'd said that she understood that they were his family. But he's kept trying to warn her. Forget about Aral Vorkosigan's public persona, forget about the Lord Regent and the Prime Minister, forget even about the Great Admiral or the Butcher, because Aral Vorkosigan is the man who hated Gregor's father and kicked and screamed while Ezar was forcing him to become the Regent, and then turned around and held the Imperium together for sixteen years, who never committed any treason to the throne, not even when Gregor nearly gave him cause.
And Gregor's never going to outlive the insinuations that he's a Vorkosigan puppet, but he's learned to ignore them, because the Vorkosigans would never overthrow him, because Gregor sometimes thinks that they decided when Gregor was a child to sacrifice him to the monster that is the Imperium in exchange for saving themselves from it, and he can even forgive his grandfather for offering them that choice, now that he knows what Serg was like, now that he knows what kind of choice was staring Aral Vorkosigan in the face: take the throne for himself or hold it for a boy who might grow up to become too much like his father.
And these are his relatives, but there's still too much history there, because Gregor's a Vorbarra, and for Aral Vorkosigan, Yuri's massacre was what killed his mother and his siblings, and for Petya Vorkosigan, Serg being a sadist meant that Petya lived with the reality of an Imperial cousin who could have him tortured any time it pleased him and did have him interrogated at length. Even Ivan, because the last two civil wars taught him a stern lesson that he should never show the Imperium his true face or else he would be killed like his father and his grandparents.
There's a large hole in the Vorkosigan family tree and two generations of orphaned Vorpatrils because of the Vorbarras.
And when his relatives forget he's the Emperor, they really forget he's the Emperor. They all have a very unwritten permission to ignore and even utterly destroy all protocol in private. Gregor had mentioned Miles, who is prone to trying to give Gregor orders, as a living example, and Laisa had mentioned that she hadn't been aware that Petya had a personality until she'd overheard him viciously deconstructing seating plans with Alys, so she could well believe it.
And it's dangerous, having people he has decided he can trust. But if he can't trust them, he'd rather die to learn it than to survive it and never trust anyone. That was the truth he'd learned from Vordrozda.
"It's time," Laisa says, and Petya looks from her to Gregor and then back again.
Might as well start with a shock. It can only get better from there.
"Did I ever mention," Gregor says, "that I had originally intended for Miles to succeed Simon?"
Petya's face goes very pale. "I'm sorry, Gregor," he says after a moment, "could you repeat that?"
"I am sure you heard me," Gregor says. "And now you're interested in shouting at me," he notes quietly. "Interesting."
"Are you," Petya says lowly, "a bloody fool, or did you hit your head on something? I desperately hope that Illyan put you off that delusion the first time you mentioned it to him."
Laisa, next to him, looks like she's about to burst out laughing. Maybe she hadn't believed him before about the Vorkosigans, but Gregor imagines she does now.
Petya's fingers tighten around his wrist. "Did it somehow," he says, carefully and evenly, "escape your notice that Miles is both Vor and Vorkosigan? Did you never hear the slander that the Vorkosigans own ImpSec? Aral Vorkosigan's dog ran ImpSec for thirty years. Ezar Vorbarra's familiar was born a Dendarii hillman. And you were going to put a future Count Vorkosigan in that position? What possessed you to ever think that was a good idea? I'd thought you understood this utterly, Gregor, that if there is one position on the General Staff that is not for the Vor, it's ImpSec. It's political idiocy. ImpSec has to, it must remain separate. I thought you understood that concern--"
"Is this about Serg or about you?" Gregor asks, matching his cool tone. "I know what my father did with his secret police. And I knew all about the Vorkosigan reputation and that conflict of interest when I told General Allegre that I would not consider his relationship with you to have any bearing whatsoever, either positive or negative, on my decision about his promotion."
"You're trusting someone in this scenario too much," Petya says. "Although I can't decide who at the moment."
"I trust you with my life," Gregor says. "For obvious reasons."
"You just told me that you're knowingly trusting me with your security," Petya says. "Forgive me if I'm not overjoyed by this."
"I have reasons," Gregor says.
"I didn't think you would do it without reasons," Petya mutters. Gregor smirks. "Does General Allegre know that you don't actually care if he puts his loyalty to you above his relationship with me? That you are knowingly opening yourself up to a coup?"
"There may come a point," Gregor says after a long enough pause to make Petya rethink what he just said and the implications, "when his loyalty to you, being, of course, second to his loyalty to Us, could save the Imperium. Or hold it together. And while I truly did not take that into consideration with his appointment, I will gladly make use of any benefits from it."
"You're looking Milesian," Petya says. "What noose are you putting around my neck now, Gregor?"
Gregor takes a short breath. "Lord Vorkosigan," he begins steadily, "in the event that We die before Our son reaches his majority, will you serve as his Lord Regent?"
Petya sputters. "Y-You're mad."
"I did say," Gregor says ruthlessly, "that we were here to discuss ancient history."
"That has no bearing on present day," Petya immediately objects, as if by reflex alone.
Gregor ignores it. He's had a lot of practice. "If I predecease my Empress, she would stand as Regent and you would serve to help in any way she required. My mother wasn't permitted that honor, but I think we've come far in the mean while. Don't you agree?"
Petya looks at him sourly. "Yes, sire."
"But if we both die, our son will need someone to stand as parent and as Regent. You may, if you choose, decline the honor of standing as a parent. I know the implications are... fraught. We will not require that one man play both parts. But We will require a Regent. You are our first, and We desire only, choice."
Petya looks aside towards the wall for a moment.
"Get out and say it," Gregor murmurs to him. So what if Petya's decided this is too rude to voice. It can't be anything worse than what Gregor's already thought.
"Komarr would be upset," Petya says. "It would be taken as a severe insult. Your children will be half-Komarran; their Regent can't be a Vorkosigan."
"We think," Gregor says, "that perhaps--"
"It was in my lifetime, sire," Petya interrupts him. Laisa looks a little startled. "Miles would be different, I grant you that without question. But I lived to see it. Had I been anyone but my father's son, I would have been sent to Komarr to fight the revolt."
"At some point," Gregor says, "it is time to accept the past and move on. It is probably true that some of Our subjects will never believe your father didn't order the massacre, but I -- We -- cannot allow that to bloody your name forever. We cannot flinch from allowing a Vorkosigan to do something for fear it will insult Komarr by giving honors to your family."
"Honors are one thing. You're talking about handing me -- no, you're talking about making Lord Regent into a hereditary position." Petya frowns. "Dangerous, Gregor. Very dangerous."
"Why not?" Gregor smiles slightly. "It's already true. Your grandfather the kingmaker, your father the kingmaker."
"My brother the Lord Auditor," Petya says. "If you really want a Vorkosigan, consider him instead. I don't want this honor."
"Can you imagine Miles holding a Regency government together by strength of will alone for even two years?" Gregor asks.
"Yes," Petya replies. "And so can you, if you try."
Gregor nods in acknowledgment. Also thought of that, Petya. You aren't going to outmaneuver me here. "Now imagine all the trouble your brother would gather around him like a storm cloud. He's a magnet. Contingency plans for a Regency are, by their nature, plans We put in place for scenarios We hope desperately do not happen. But if there is to be a Regency, We need it to be as steady, if not steadier, than the last one. Your brother," Gregor points out, "once entered a war zone accidentally and ended up with an Admiralcy of a mercenary fleet."
Petya's lips twitch. "I suppose a Miles Vorkosigan Regency would be... eventful. It would land on its feet, but it would be eventful."
"And eventful is exactly what is not needed. We cannot allow chaos."
"There are other men," Petya says.
"Name one," Gregor orders, wondering how Petya is going to play this. Will he decide to follow in his father's footsteps and suggest half the government at him as potential candidates?
"Vorvolk," Petya says immediately. "As uncontroversial as any Count can be, aggressively unambitious. Utterly boring, and very safe."
"Henri has a great mind for finance," Gregor agrees. "But there is no way he could hold a government together for two months, let alone potentially twenty years. His head for numbers is not matched equally by a head for politics. But he would be of use to you."
Petya gives Gregor a chilly smile and inclines his head at him, nearly a bow.
"Are you now," Gregor continues, "going to follow in your father's footsteps and suggest half the government to be Regent instead of my Minister of Galactic Affairs?"
"I suddenly have a lot more sympathy for my father," Petya muses to the wall. "When he told me repeatedly that he was certainly never going to be your Regent, I thought it was a great example of self-delusion. He meant it, but no one else believed a word. Padma Vorpatril called him names for pretending that becoming your Regent was anything other than a foregone conclusion." Petya frowns. "Said it was the one trap the great strategist couldn't evade. I am not a great strategist, and you've clearly been planning this for years." He sighs. "Cordelia."
"Betan," Gregor allows. "But it's not just their genetics, as you must know. Other factors come into play. I am perfectly willing to break convention and name a woman who isn't an Imperial relation, but you would need to name me someone younger. As well as someone with any hope of being confirmed by the Counts. I grant that if we allowed the Countesses a vote, it would not be a problem."
"I don't have proper military service," Petya says. "I never had ship duty," he says to Laisa, and then shakes his head. "I am being unutterably rude. You're both asking me."
"Yes," Laisa says. "We are both asking you. We have considered all objections, Lord Vorkosigan, and you are our choice."
"Your objection has no merit; none of Our officers has served in every area. This is why you have advisors."
"Racozy will give me endless headaches," Petya says.
There it is. Gregor does not give in to the urge to grin. But Petya's stopped kicking at him and started acknowledging that it's a foregone conclusion and making plans for how to manage it.
"And you will give him headaches in return," Gregor says. "You already do, to hear him tell it. I know you can work together, and he worships your father."
"I'm not my father, Gregor," Petya says. "We Vorkosigans aren't interchangeable."
"You," Gregor stresses, "are my choice. Your father was my grandfather's. He required a military hero, a man who could hold the Vor in his hand and keep the throne from being stolen away from me. I require a man who can hold a three-planet empire together. A man who can answer to the isolationist fanatics on their own terms, because he's Old Vor enough to understand their fears, but progressive enough to never share them. A man who can speak to the conservatives with his grandfather's voice and the progressives with his father's. A man who can speak to other worlds as Xav did, with honor, with reason, on their own terms and on ours, and in the Emperor's voice. A man who thoroughly understands what it means to be Vor. My lord Minister."
Petya rubs at his temples. "I see," he says shortly. "This is a very pretty trap you've set for me. And I see why you would want this settled as early as possible. Who would be told and when?"
"Everyone at the party tonight. That's why they're here. They all need to be informed immediately and you will need their support," Gregor says. "And later, I will send a message to your father to let him know that he can relax. When the prince is born, I will introduce it into the Counts. At the same time as they confirm my son as a legitimate heir, they will confirm my choice of his Regents."
Petya sounds like he's choking on a groan. "You'll be painting a target on my back for twenty years."
"You're a Vorkosigan," Gregor tells him. "It's been there since the day you were born. But enough of this."
Petya nods at him, understanding. He stares at his fingernails for a moment and then goes down on one knee in front of Gregor. He offers him his hands.
Gregor takes Petya's hands in his. He looks Petya in the eye. "Your answer, my lord."
Petya takes a deep breath and slowly nods. "Yes, sire."