Elena was, as always, grinning impishly. "It'll be fun. C'mon Miles, you know you want to."
Miles stuck his jaw out. "Don' wanna. Not gonna."
"Awww, pleeeaase Miles? You always play Vorthalia the Loyal. It's getting boring. And it'll surprise Greg so much if you play Voriuda instead." Elena looked at him with big eyes, pleading for his cooperation in her playroom mutiny. "I'll even let you pull my pigtails for free, no hitting. Promise."
Miles was still unconvinced. "You wouldn't hit me anyway. My bones would break and your Da would make sure Ma Hysopi punishes you for weeks, and you know it."
"I hate it when you're right," she complained. "How about I'll distract Da while you steal Silver for a ride tomorrow?"
Later that afternoon found Gregor pacing in front of Miles and Elena. "You ruined the game Miles! I'm going to tell Uncle Aral that you've been shirking your history."
"You had to have been, if you thought Voriuda would side with Emperor Lev."
"I know that! Voriuda led the rebellion. But I couldn't rebel against you, and Elena made me play Voriuda. So I changed the rules and decided we were playing a what-if game. What if Voriuda was loyal instead of Vorthalia?" Miles continued looking Gregor in the eye, but his chin was quivering. "You're not – you're not mad at me, are you?" He clasped his hands together, sternly reminding himself that Vor do not fidget. Not even if they are only seven and have managed to cross their Emperor.
"Elena? Is it true that you made him play Voriuda?"
Her face a stormcloud, the younger girl replied, "He wasn't supposed to tell you! I just, I wanted to make things a little unpredictable. Surprise you."
"Well, I was certainly surprised," he said.
"'Sides, he only did it because I told him I'd help him sneak a ride on Silver tomorrow if he did," she said with a mutinous glare at Miles.
At this Gregor laughed out loud, his still boyishly high voice filling the playroom. "Well Miles, rebellion is certainly worth a ride on your grandfather's newest stallion. But I still don't understand why you changed the story."
"Because, I couldn't go against you. You're the Emperor."
"But Miles, it's just a game!"
"That's not what the Count says," Miles pleaded earnestly. "Grandfather Piotr says that wargames are practice for war: you should never practice in play what you wouldn't do in truth. So you see, I had to change the story." He paused, thinking quickly about his options. "After all, I knew you wouldn't mind helping me get that ride."
Gregor grinned, reaching over to tousle Miles' hair while drawing Elena to him in a hug. "You're right, I don't mind, my most loyal con man."
Miles leaned forward, whispering to Ninny. "You've got to slow down Ninny."
Ninny tossed her head impatiently and pulled at her bridle. She knew she was racing, even if her foolish rider didn't.
"I know girl. I know. But you need to trust me."
The afternoon had started with Gregor pacing around Vorkosigan Surleau, his excess energy radiating off his body in waves. The Regent of Sergyar had decided that semi-annual holidays, scheduled and kept to regardless of other circumstance, would do the young Emperor good. The young Emperor, for his part, thought that maybe his regent should have heeded his desire to keep his royal person in the palace, where he could observe how Aral and Simon were handling a Greekie riot.
"I'm bored," he announced to the room. "I wish Ivan were here – I'd love to wrestle."
Miles jerked his chin. "I know how to wrestle just as well as my cousin does."
Elena hid her smile behind her hand while she watched Gregor, waiting to see how he handled Miles' wounded Vor pride.
"Miles, you are as skilled as Ivan, and were I your age and weight, I would. But I am five years older than you and currently have three stone on you," he said, carefully avoiding the subject of the fourteen inches difference between their heights or his friend's fragile bones. Gregor drew himself up to his full height and seemed to draw an invisible mantle across his shoulders. "You would not suggest that We engage in an unsporting un-Vor fight with one of Our loyal subjects would you?" He was still as marble waiting for Miles to reply.
Miles dropped his gaze, surrendering this fight as lost. "I can still race," he muttered, kicking a rock across the lawn.
"A race, of course!" Gregor's face brightened. "You can take Ninny, and I am sure Count Piotr wouldn't dare tell me I can't take Silver."
Miles thought furiously. On one hand, he loved to ride, but on the other hand, he had been all but raised on horseback, taught by the best horseman in the empire. He could outride Gregor any day, even if Gregor were on the fastest horse in Piotr's stables. "Yes! A race! But instead of a straight course, let's choose a marker on the other side of the woods. That way it won't just be a test of our horses' speed, but our skill at navigating a route." There, that was sufficient, Miles thought. And that easily, they were off, Elena having taken a hovercar to the designated end point to name the winner.
Miles was brought back to the present by Ninny whinnying.
"Quiet. I need to listen," he said. "There's a sugar cube in it for you later." He cocked his ear and heard the crashing of underbrush behind and to the east of him. Dammit. Gregor must not have found the deer path. He pointed his mount to a long gully, that he knew would take him at least a quarter hour to traverse, even at full speed. Ninny, happy to be running again, turned aside, while her rider hoped that Gregor remembered that if he kept on his current course he'd find a cattle trail that led straight to the finish point.
Miles and Gregor sat in one of the seldom used visiting rooms at Vorkosigan House. The room was silent, the heavy tapestries absorbing even the clink of the heavy decanter and ornate goblets, as the two consumed the old Count's favorite wine.
"You're right," Gregor said suddenly, breaking the quiet. "Even that one time Elena convinced you to play Voriuda you found a way to stay true to me."
"How?" Miles' face was twisted in grief. "What did Vordrozda say to you to make you think I was going to rebel?"
Gregor slumped in his chair. "He said – no it doesn't matter what he said. I shouldn't have listened. Miles --" his voice cracked and broke. He rose and strode to Miles' seat. "Miles," he said again, his voice barely more than a whisper. Gregor knelt before his friend.
"Please, Highness, you need not kneel to me." Miles jerked his chin and pulled at Gregor's shoulders.
"Don't Highness me, Miles. You're right to be angry, but I've only ever wanted to be Gregor to you." Stubbornly remaining on his knees, he reached for Miles' hand. "I've wronged you, both as your friend and your liege. I beg your forgiveness."
"I'm not angry, High- Gregor. I'm--" Miles cut off abruptly, unwilling to admit his hurt. "I should have known what it would look like, acquiring ship after ship, soldier after soldier."
"No Miles, even had you a fleet of tens of thousands, I should have trusted you. Please. Please forgive me."
When Gregor reached for his face, Miles couldn't help turning into it, placing a kiss on Gregor's palm. "You know I forgive you. How could I not?" Another kiss, on the inside Gregor's wrist. "For a moment I was scared." Cufflinks fell on the table. Another kiss, in the crook of Gregor's elbow. "I thought I'd lost you – your friendship – forever when I walked into that chamber." He let himself be pulled onto the floor.
"Never let that be," Gregor whispered, returning each of Miles' kisses. As the fire dwindled each reassured the other of his continuing loyalty.
Miles woke to darkness. He stilled his panic long enough to realize that it was Gregor's arm across his face that was blocking his light. He quietly extricated himself from the tangle of limbs and sheets and went to the east window to watch the sun rise.
Miles was still staring out at the courtyard when Gregor woke half an hour later. He didn't turn when Gregor wrapped his arms around his torso and nuzzled his hair. "Gregor, we need to talk."
"Talk. Bah. That's all I do all day. Don't make me do more of it." Gregor traced the criss-crossed scars on his chest and started to nibble Miles' ear. "We have forty minutes before I have to meet with the Count your father. Let's make good use of them."
Miles twisted in his arms to face his lover. It was hard for him to think, with Gregor's clever hands stroking his back and tickling at the waistband of his pants, but he finally forced out "It's about Ekaterine."
"You've had other lovers before. It doesn't bother me." Gregor's shoulders lifted in a graceful shrug. "Besides, you didn't object to my engagement to Laisa."
Miles thought about replying, but dismissed it. Gregor knew as well as he did that the Emperor had to marry. It would be close to treason for Gregor to die without leaving an heir. And since he had to marry, better to someone he cared for and was attracted to than whatever hapless Vor lady Ivan's mother turned up. "It's not like that. Gregor, I think I want to marry her."
Gregor's face went blank as his hands dropped to his side and he took a slight step back. After a long pause he merely said blandly, "Congratulations, my friend."
"I'm not telling you. I'm asking." Try as he might, Miles couldn't keep his unhappiness off his face. He never meant to go and fall in love with an actual Vor lady who actually understood what it means to be a Vorkosigan and might actually agree to marry him in spite of that. In fact, he had carefully made sure all his romances happened to Admiral Naismith, not Lord Vorkosigan. But here he was, loving and loved by the best people in the entire universe, and it only served to make him miserable.
"You are as much an only son as I am. You've found a woman who's not only willing to marry into your madcap family, but who loves you as well. I am happy for your good fortune." Gregor was keeping his face carefully neutral, but his tone was too sincere to be anything but forced.
"Mark is also my father's son. I don't need to provide heirs."
"He may be a Kosigan by blood, but he's not Vor at heart, and never will be." Gregor stopped, realization hitting him with the force of a plasma cannon. "Miles, why are you trying to convince me to forbid this?" He knew he was on to something when Miles dropped his gaze, looking at the rugs, the lamps, the vase of flowers, anywhere but his face. He let Miles fidget a few moments more before drawing close and threading his fingers in Miles' hair, forcing him to look up. "What is it? Why are you upset now, when neither of us ever worried about Elli, or Taura, or any of the others? I may have been your first, but I've never been your only."
He paused, waiting patiently until Miles answered. "That's different. That was in space, with Naismith. Now-"
"They weren't any different to me," Gregor cut in. "I came to terms long ago with the necessity of sharing your attention." With that he lifted Miles easily onto a low table, then leaned forward and kissed Miles hungrily, all teeth and tongue and heat. He was demanding and possessive and didn't let up until he felt the sting of fingernails biting into his shoulders and the hard length of his lover's erection pressing against his thigh. "I'll share you, because I have to. But don't ever ever think that means I'm willing to let you go."