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Intelligent Disobedience

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"I want Evon Vorhalas."

His breath still coming quickly from the race to get here in time, Illyan stood in front of the cell door. "No, my lord."

There was blood on Vorkosigan's shoes. Lady Vorkosigan's blood. Illyan had seen the vid-recordings, had seen the surgery turn from complex to disastrous, had seen Vorkosigan's face as the doctors worked frantically to stop the bleeding, to restart her heart, to bring her back from death. Vorkosigan had stood by and watched, frozen, stricken, until the doctors pronounced her 'stable', a word that in Illyan's experience meant little beyond 'probably won't die tonight'.

"I gave you an order, Commander. Let me past."

"No, my lord."

Vorkosigan had come directly here from the hospital with blood on his feet and murder in his eyes. Illyan had been monitoring the security footage, not constantly because his work went on even if Lady Vorkosigan was dying on the operating table, especially if Lady Vorkosigan was dying on the operating table, but often enough to know that Vorkosigan was in a terrified, terrifying rage and that rage was spilling out into the only action he could think of. And Illyan knew what must be done, and that it was something he could not ask of his men.

"Do you obey my orders or not, man? I want Vorhalas."

Illyan did not allow himself to flinch as Vorkosigan took a step closer. "Not now. You're in shock. Go and get some rest."

"You didn't see any of this coming," Vorkosigan whispered. "You let him get past you and he got Cordelia. Now get out of my way."

Illyan didn't move, didn't allow Vorkosigan to see that he had landed a blow. "No."

The next blow was physical. Illyan saw it coming, but did not raise his hand to defend himself from this one any more than he had the other. Vorkosigan struck him hard to the cheek, staggering him backwards, then followed it with rapid blows to chest and stomach. Illyan crumpled, head ringing and breath stopped as his diaphragm spasmed uncontrollably.

"Damn you, Simon Illyan."

Illyan did not attempt to rise. He was fairly certain he'd fall if he tried. Vorkosigan had never pulled his punches when he sparred with his men, but these blows had been made with every ounce of his grief-stricken rage. He managed to gasp out, "Nothing you do here will change anything. And he's a prisoner. My prisoner."

"Damn you," Vorkosigan repeated. "She stopped breathing twice. Her heart stopped. She nearly bled to death. He did this to her."

Illyan pushed himself half up, leaning back against the cell door, blinking hard to clear his vision. "I know." He saw tears on Vorkosigan's face, and tried to get to his feet.

Vorkosigan moved forwards and pulled him upright. Illyan struggled for balance and breath. "Why don't you... come into my office?" he choked out.

Vorkosigan gave the door to Evon's cell one final burning look, then turned sharply away, hauling Illyan with him.

His chip dumped an image in his head, an angry man out walking his dog. He'd kicked the dog in the ribs, then dragged the animal along on the leash behind him. At least Vorkosigan didn't have him by the neck. He made no resistance as Vorkosigan all but flung him into his desk chair and stood over him, furious as only a man who's broken his own possession can be.

Illyan raised his head. "Sit down, my lord." He met Vorkosigan's eye now, met and held for five unsteady breaths. Then Vorkosigan broke, dragged up another chair, spun it around and slumped onto it backwards, his upper body supported only by the back of the chair. For a while neither of them moved.

"I wouldn't--" Vorkosigan began at last. "I wasn't going to-- she told me not to-- God, Simon." He took a deep breath. Illyan inhaled too, and smelt blood, and looked at Vorkosigan's shoes. Vorkosigan was looking at them too, white around the lips.

Illyan's chip pushed an image into his active mind, a vid-recording from Vorkosigan's file, one he had viewed a year ago when he'd first been assigned to this man. The murder of the Political Officer on the flagship. The whole thing had been recorded, implacably, by the ship's security system: Vorkosigan entering the bridge, striding across to where the Political Officer sat, hauling him out of his chair and throwing him to the ground. Vorkosigan's officers watching stunned and paralysed. Vorkosigan lifting the man up again, pinning him to the wall, then snapping his neck like a farmer killing a chicken. It was hard to see on the dark leather of the service boots, but Illyan made out the browner stains of the blood of the Komarran oligarchs. And the expression on Vorkosigan's face then was almost the same as it had been a few minutes ago. Illyan knew then just how close to death he had been.

"It's different now," Illyan said quietly. "We have Vorhalas. The law will punish him. It's different."

"Yes," Vorkosigan whispered, then broke into a cough.

Soltoxin poisoning, the chip pointed out. Not for the first time, he wished he could brush the chip aside like an importunate subordinate. But the chip continued to enumerate what was before his eyes. Vorkosigan had left his own hospital bed to stay with Lady Cordelia during the surgery, had come here driven by depths of fury and adrenaline that Illyan could only infer, and that strength was going to run dry soon.

His body, less coldly objective than the chip, still flinched when Vorkosigan stood up abruptly. But Vorkosigan merely reached for the first-aid case that hung on a wall. He cracked it open and pulled out a cold pack, then leaned in and placed against Illyan's cheek.

Pain was not recorded by the chip, and sometimes Illyan forgot that it was real. But the relief of pain was unmistakeable in the way his thoughts flowed more easily, his ability to act and react grew. He reached up and took the cold pack from Vorkosigan, hand covering his lord's for a moment.

"Thank you," he said, and without actually telling Vorkosigan to sit down again before he dropped, he let his gaze point back at the chair. This time Vorkosigan collapsed onto it, succumbing to another coughing fit.

"I'll drive you back to ImpMil," Illyan said after a moment. It was a job any of the Regent's guard could have done, but the fewer people involved in this, the better. This was one story that he did not want to circulate. The throbbing from his cheekbone was growing less, and the stunning effect of Vorkosigan's attack on him was wearing off now. He gave the necessary orders quietly into his wristcom, one eye on Vorkosigan, but his lord did not argue. The immediate storm was past now, Illyan judged, and what was left was an ill, exhausted and devastated man.

But ill or not, Vorkosigan's charisma was undimmed. He allowed Illyan to help him to his feet and escort him to the groundcar, his face a blank now. He did not speak on the short drive back to ImpMil. Illyan had ordered away the swarm of medics who had wanted to retrieve their patient, and only the regulation guards were waiting for them at the entrance. Illyan opened the rear door of the groundcar, and Vorkosigan reached out for his arm to help himself out, the gesture automatically possessive, then stood facing him.

"I am sorry, you know, Simon. You did right. Will you come and keep watch with me for a while?"

The chip immediately pointed out the never-ending list of tasks he was supposed to accomplish tonight. Illyan ignored them. "Of course, my lord," he said, and followed Vorkosigan in.