ImpMil was quiet when Gregor arrived, the lighting in the hallways dimmed, the staff going about their work with the quiet competence of the night shift. They stopped as he passed by, those in the military saluting and the civilians bowing. He returned both gestures with a grave nod, and proceeded up to the third floor, which was even quieter. Visiting hours had ended long before, but Gregor's schedule had not permitted him to come until now. He hoped Miles wouldn't mind.
His guards, paranoid even in one of the most secure buildings on Barrayar, preceded him into the hospital room. Moments later he was allowed in; he dismissed the guards immediately to stand outside and turned to get a proper look at Miles for the first time.
He was very rumpled and bleary-eyed; obviously the guards had woken him. He seemed surprised as well, but then, there would have been no reason for him to expect any visitor at all, much less Gregor, at this hour. "Sire," he said, struggling to sit up despite the severely restricted mobility of his arms.
"Careful," Gregor said, hands coming up to help seemingly of their own volition. He forced them down again before Miles even noticed, fearing that too much overt concern would somehow give him away. "Don't strain yourself." He would have liked to sit on the edge of the hospital bed and use his thumb to smooth away the pain lines, always present but rather deeper at the moment, around Miles's mouth. Instead he seated himself in an uncomfortable bedside chair and folded his traitorous hands in his lap. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore," Miles said, giving up his struggles at last and slumping back. "And ready to get out of here."
"Your mother told me you're leaving for Vorkosigan Surleau tomorrow," Gregor said. He did not mention his own fleeting wish, when Cordelia had mentioned it, that he might contrive to keep them all in the city somehow, so that he could see Miles once or twice more during his leave. It had been a foolish notion, and one that Gregor had been able to quash almost immediately. "That will be restful, at least."
"Yes. Which, I have to say," Miles added, his gray eyes narrowing slightly, "my stay here hasn't been. Did you know Simon came to see me today?"
"Ah – yes," Gregor replied, with the utmost care. He forced himself to meet Miles's gaze, though he wanted badly to look away. "I did. And I'm sorry for the way it was done; I knew he was planning to speak to you while you were home on leave, but I didn't realize . . . I'm sorry."
Miles looked away. "Gregor," he said, very quietly, "did you really think . . . ?"
"No," Gregor said, equally as quiet. "No, I didn't, not for a moment. But Henri . . . well, we could not account for the expenses from the reports you'd sent. I am so very sorry, Miles, for the way it was done. But at least now we know what's really going on and can take care of it."
Miles sighed in what might have been relief, or simply weariness, and leaned his head back. "It's all right," he said. "I guess that'll teach me to send my reports more regularly."
"Indeed," Gregor said. And then, feeling rather daring, "I always look forward to reading them, you know."
Miles lifted his head. "You read them?"
Gregor nodded, smiling. "They're very entertaining. Educational, too. I have to live vicariously through someone," he added, when Miles gave him a skeptical look. It was true, and the paucity of reports the last few months had worried Gregor more than he had been able to express to anyone. There had been several weeks where they had not known where Miles was or what he was doing or if, perhaps, something had happened to him. Gregor had lost sleep thinking about the myriad possibilities, and come very close once or twice to telling Simon that he wanted Miles brought home for good, that he was too valuable to the Imperium to risk in such a way. He had held his tongue, however, and now Miles was home, albeit temporarily.
Temporarily, and not alone.
"Anyway," Miles said, apparently willing to let the matter rest, "yes, Mother and Elli and I are leaving for the lake tomorrow, as soon as they let me out. I don't think Da can get away, though, especially now."
"I'll see what I can do," Gregor said. "If we get the matter of this peculation charge settled, he might be able to take a few days."
"Oh. Thanks," Miles said, a hint of surprised gratitude in his voice. Gregor made a throw-away gesture to indicate that it was nothing. Miles looked steadily at him for a few seconds, in an assessing sort of way, and then said, "Er, Gregor . . . I don't want you to think I don't appreciate the visit, but . . . why are you here?"
Gregor had practiced this – well, not practiced, not really, but he had thought about it. It was one of several questions he'd been sure would come up in the course of his visit. "I thought . . . well, when your mother told me what had happened with Simon, I thought – I wanted to apologize." Miles's eyebrows shot up. "And you are leaving for the lake tomorrow as well; I wasn't sure there would be any other opportunity to see you before you left again." There. That sounds reasonable for a liege lord and childhood friend, yes? He hoped so, anyway.
"Oh," Miles said. His eyebrows lowered, but he still looked faintly puzzled. "Well, thanks." He glanced away for a moment, and glared at the arm braces in futile annoyance before looking back at Gregor. "When did you see Mother?"
"She and Captain Quinn joined me for dinner tonight."
"Oh?" Miles said. Gregor felt his heart constrict a little at the way Miles brightened at the mention of Quinn's name. He had known from the fact that she'd accompanied him all the way to Barrayar that they must be serious, but he had somehow not been prepared for the little ray of happiness that had suddenly lit Miles's face. "What – what did you think of Elli?" Miles asked, rather nervously.
"She is a very striking woman," Gregor said. This was another question he'd tried to prepare for.
"She is that," Miles said, leaning back with a satisfied air. "I'm glad you met her. I've been thinking . . . well, she would make an excellent Lady Vorkosigan, don't you think?"
Gregor could not help freezing, ever so briefly. Serious, yes, of course he had known they were serious, but marriage? So soon? He swallowed. "I'm fairly certain Captain Quinn would be excellent at anything she cared to try her hand at."
Miles frowned. "That's . . . vague. Would you like to tell me what you really mean?"
Gregor looked away. In that moment it was impossible for him to sort out what was his own jealousy and what was a gut feeling that this Quinn woman would never consent to be what Miles wanted her to be. And, behind that, there was the sudden, blooming fear that her refusal to come and live on Barrayar would take Miles away from him for good. If it came between choosing between the Imperium and beautiful, brilliant Captain Quinn, which way would Miles jump? Gregor had the feeling he knew the answer, and it made him feel sick.
"Gregor?" Miles prompted after a few seconds.
"Miles, she – she calls all downsiders 'dirt-suckers,'" Gregor said, deciding in favor of honesty at the last second. "Do you really think she could ever be happy on Barrayar?"
Miles was quiet for a moment. "I don't know," he said at last. "It's occurred to me, don't think it hasn't, but . . . Mother adjusted, after all."
"Yes," Gregor said slowly, "she did. But Elli . . ."
"Is stubborn," Miles finished, and then smiled fondly. "Not that Mother isn't."
"It's a . . . different sort of stubbornness," Gregor said delicately.
"I know." Miles gave a short laugh. "Believe me, I know. But . . ." He sighed. "I have to try. And besides, Gregor, what Barrayaran woman would want me?"
The words stuck in Gregor's throat, as they always did. I want you. I've wanted you for years now. You can stop searching, I'm right here, and I want you, all of you, more than Quinn ever could. She doesn't know you like I do, she can't. I love you.
"You might be surprised," he finally managed.
"I doubt it," Miles said bitterly. "To be a Countess, maybe. But Quinn loves me without any of that – despite it, really. Maybe even enough to become a dirt-sucking Barrayaran."
Gregor doubted it, and something in Miles's voice made him think Miles doubted it too. For a moment, Gregor thought about . . . what? Declaring himself while Miles was practically tied down in a hospital bed? Frightening him away from Barrayar and Gregor himself more thoroughly than anything else could? Ensuring that he would never come home again? No. You hold your tongue and someday he'll be back for good. He has to. And if Quinn is with him . . . well, what difference does that make? He'll never be yours anyway.
"I should go," Gregor said, standing. His throat ached and he was suddenly weary beyond telling of a charade he could not hope to end – ever. "I'm sorry for coming so late and waking you."
"No, Gregor, I'm glad you came," Miles said, looking up at him and seeming a little startled. He supposed it had been abrupt at that, and he hadn't actually been here very long at all.
"If you have any time in Vorbarr Sultana before you leave again," Gregor said, in an attempt to cover the awkwardness, "you should come for lunch. You and Elli, I mean," he corrected himself swiftly. "And your parents."
Miles nodded. "I'm not sure I will have much time, but yes, thank you."
Gregor nodded, collected his guards, and left. It was only when he was alone in the back of the groundcar on the way home, with the darkened city streets of Vorbarr Sultana sliding past outside the tinted windows, that he let go, and folded in on himself, face in his hands. He almost wished he'd had the courage to say something after all; breaking his silence might feel good. Scary, but clean, somehow, like plunging into the lake from one of the high rocks at Vorkosigan Surleau had always felt. Or maybe it would have just hurt in a different way, the sharp pain of outright rejection instead of the dull ache of unrequited love. At least there was a certain poetry in the latter that he could appreciate on an aesthetic, if not visceral, level.
It didn't matter, though, Gregor thought, straightening up from his hunch. He could wait, forever if need be. Miles would come home someday, and then . . . well, and then nothing, probably. But at the very least he might finally say something, even if it were without hope of his feelings ever being returned. Yes, maybe then, when it was safe, when Miles was no longer bent on running away at every opportunity, when he was less afraid of himself and Barrayar. Then, and only then . . . he could take a chance and see what might happen.