In Ivan's mind, Vorkosigan Surleau had always been a place for nasty surprises. There'd been the time Miles had discovered that guerrilla supply cache hidden in the mountains, and Ivan had let himself be talked into playing the Cetagandan invader, only to discover the weapons were still charged. And the time Miles had wanted to sneak into his father's reception and Ivan had gotten caught under the wine table. And the time Miles had proposed the snowboarding expedition on the roof and Ivan had crashed through the boards into Count Piotr's bedroom. And the time...
The point was, all the nasty surprises had involved Miles. So it was completely unfair that the first time Ivan went to Vorkosigan Surleau without his cousin, his mother was doing this to him.
"But Miles is supposed to be Uncle Aral's heir," he insisted. It had no more effect than the last three times he'd said it, only eliciting a disapproving frown from Lady Alys.
"Do please try to be sensible, Ivan," she advised. "You know perfectly well that your cousin can never be Emperor-in-waiting, not without starting a war. Which would entirely defeat the purpose of the plan." She paused thoughtfully. "Aral will probably wish to keep Miles well away from the planet, until things are... settled. It might be best for him to spend some years in a galactic posting."
Of course, thought Ivan. Of course Miles got to escape, his slippery little cousin always escaped, leaving Ivan to face the music. Ivan had spent half his childhood standing in front of his mother or his aunt or his uncle, trying to explain why it was all Miles' fault, and no one ever listened.
When Miles came back, Ivan was going to yell at him for this. It would be useless, of course; being angry with Miles was always useless, unless you happened to be Uncle Aral. And if Miles came back, he might have to put his hands between Ivan's. Ivan's mind boggled at the thought.
Uncle Aral! Of course. "There's no point," he told his mother. "You'll never talk uncle Aral into this." Yes, that was it; take cover behind his uncle. The old man had been sixteen years as Regent without so much as looking at that camp stool, they wouldn't shove him onto it now without a good fight. For all that his uncle had been the terrifying bogeyman of his childhood, Ivan had learned early on that he made a good wall to duck behind.
"As a matter of fact," replied his mother coolly, "I already have. Your uncle has agreed that this is the only way. So stop whining, Ivan."
Oh, no. Ivan wondered what dirty tactics she'd used to win that battle. If Uncle Aral had surrendered, it was probably best not to find out. He cast around desperately for an argument that would work, and failed to find one.
But all her dirty tactics wouldn't stop the next battle. The last civil war had killed Ivan's father and the one before that had killed his grandparents, and now there was nothing left to stand between Ivan and the family tradition. Miles wasn't here, Miles was off gallivanting around the galaxy while his family struggled to keep the planet alive. And Gregor, whose job it was supposed to be, wasn't here either, damn him. And Ivan's mother was standing here condemning Ivan to his fate - and how did she manage to stay this calm?
Ivan knew the answer, of course. She was Vor; she served Barrayar. And Uncle Aral served Barrayar too, body and blood. He'd sit on that camp stool if he had to, he'd fight the war that followed if he had to. He'd commit treason - and it was treason, because Gregor wasn't dead, he couldn't be dead, damn him again.
Ivan just wanted to live.
There were entirely too many things he still had to do. He hadn't been to the Orb. He hadn't kissed Donna Vorrutyer. He did not think the Emperor's heir – if he survived long enough to be that - would be encouraged to kiss Donna Vorrutyer.
He looked down to the long lake despairingly, and caught sight of the Emperor lounging by the shore in swimming trunks, a uniformed servant waiting to fill his glass with wine. The scene was only slightly spoiled by the platoon of ImpSec guards standing around armed to the teeth. And the wide half-drunken grin on the Emperor's lips, an expression that Gregor would never have worn.
The Emperor-who-was-not-the-Emperor waved languidly at Ivan and his mother as they passed by. Ivan gritted his teeth and returned a perfect bow. Every moment that they kept up the deception was one more moment they were all alive.
It was entirely and completely unfair that some people were allowed to enjoy this.
“I know!” he said, a sudden hope rising. “We could make him Emperor, he's actually enjoying it! He already looks like Gregor, a little bit of plastic surgery-"
"Be quiet," said Lady Alys, and Ivan stopped in his tracks at that tone. "The future Emperor cannot speak so flippantly of the fate of his empire. This is not a responsibility you can evade, Ivan. This idiotic behavior of yours will have to stop, and I suggest that it stop now."
With those parting words she swept away, leaving Ivan to stare at her back frozenly.
They weren't just expecting him to stand in the middle of a bloody succession war and survive. They weren't just expecting him to get married and settle down and have lots of baby political pawns for them to play with. They were going to expect him to be competent.
Ivan stood looking over the long lake and contemplated jumping into it, but ImpSec would fish him out in seconds. So he settled instead for praying desperately that Gregor would come home, alive and well and in time, and swore that when he did, he'd shove him in the lake.