They could not truly be separated from each other while they both lived.
The same rules and traditions that his father accused Aral of flouting and mocking tied them together. Aral had been confirmed as his father’s heir, and Piotr had no other son, save the one who slept beneath the soil at Vorkosigan Surleau.
Aral had wondered if his father might try to preempt him by producing another heir – primogeniture was the general rule, but Count’s choice also played a role, especially when the Count in question was named Vorkosigan. There would have been no shortage of Vor families willing to sacrifice one of their young budding maidens or a proven widow for a connection with Piotr, but there had been no move in that direction. Aral suspected his father knew it was not a viable plan, suspected one legacy of fighting the Cetagandans was decreased fertility – and Piotr was not a young man.
Whatever the reason was, Piotr Vorkosigan had made no move to remove Aral as his heir. However, Aral did not delude himself into thinking his father’s silence was consent to Aral’s choices. It was more likely a cloak for some sort of plan.
After all, his father had tried once to have Miles’s life support removed when he was in his uterine replicator, before Barrayar as they had known it was plunged into the Pretendership. He didn’t see Miles as a Vorkosigan, and would suffer no moral pangs about removing him. Aral would do whatever it took to protect his firstborn, would defend Miles to his last breath.
Even against Miles’ own grandfather.
That was why Aral had added yet another task to Simon’s plate – keeping tabs on Count Vorkosigan.
He did wish that they could move past the freeze. Cordelia had told him once that she saw the two of them as the irresistible force and the unmovable object (Aral was smart enough not to ask which one she saw him as). They had not always been close, but they had always had each other – the last two members of their House.
Piotr had made no connection with Miles since his birth, a fact which pained Aral. His son’s condition was a painful fact of life for Aral – all the more painful because Aral was the cause, because he had not been careful enough.
His father saw Miles as a mutant, as a horrible end to the Vorkosigans. He had been kind and gentle enough to Cordelia when she had been pregnant with his grandchild, when it had looked as if she would lose that much-wanted child, but he had been unable to understand when she refused to accept defeat. There was a sort of irony in that, Aral mused, as his father was famous for his own refusal to surrender. They had all hoped against hope, but Miles had been a pretty sad specimen at birth, with some bones fused, some so delicate they could be broken with a touch, and Piotr’s angry reaction had brought them to their current state of chilly courtesy.
They had tried to reconcile twice, but Miles was still damaged. Piotr was still angry. Cordelia still didn’t quite understand his father’s reaction. Aral still could see no way to make things better. It would take time and patience, commodities that were in short supply. He had thought that the silence of Vorkosigan House without him would have changed Piotr’s mind, but looking back he could see that he had made tactical errors, had pushed too far.
Sometimes, Aral thought it would take a miracle to change their situation.
The Regent of Barrayar had lost five pounds.
It was understandable, since he had been skipping lunch for almost three weeks to be there for his son’s swimming lessons. Five years after his birth, Miles was finally out of a spinal brace, was finally becoming fully mobile. His doctors had suggested that swimming would be an excellent form of exercise for the young boy whose bones were still brittle, with the added benefit of letting him try some motion exercises and not worrying about impact injuries. Miles had taken to the water like a fish, swimming and splashing with abandon. Most importantly, it was an arena in which he could keep up with peers like Ivan. He still looked noticeably different, with his almost-dwarfish appearance, but it wasn’t as painful as seeing his five-year old trying to move like the other kids.
Aral did not mind trading his hurried lunches for an hour or so of swimming. It was worth it to see his son moving about with ease, even being able to wrestle very carefully with him, or swim with Miles clinging to his broad back. Aral loved Miles more than he could have imagined, but he would never be able to engage in some of the activities that Aral excelled at, such as hand to hand combat. There had been a few scary moments, such as Miles attempting to jump off the high-dive board, but they had survived them. Aral had become convinced that moments of heart-stopping exasperated terror was simply normal for parents. Sometimes he wondered if Piotr had ever felt this pride mixed with fear for his sons. Sometimes he simply missed being able to share these experiences with a proud grandfather, with a proud father.
By far, the best part was the end, when Aral and Miles could spend a few minutes just floating in the quiet pool. At these times, Aral could almost forget that there were guards nearby, that they were anything but a father and son. Miles had gone from incessant chattering to near silence with the transition from the brace, so Aral was almost surprised to hear his son’s voice.
“Where did you learn to swim, Da?”
Aral thought back to the long lake at Vorkosigan Surleau, jumping off the dock into cold water, swimming until his lips were blue and his father’s armsmen drew straws to see who would jump in and pull the boys out. All his memories of swimming involved his brother swimming beside him, racing him, apparently attempting to drown him.
“In the District,” Aral said after a moment.
“Was it like this?”
Aral looked around at the sterile pool area, the warm water, the doors to the locker room. “No,” he said slowly, “It was much different. Much colder, for one. But the lake at Vorkosigan Surleau is a wonderful place to swim.”
“I wish I could swim there,” Miles said as they rolled over and began swimming to the ladder. “I wish I could see the District.”
“Soon, perhaps,” Aral said after a moment. He was already starting to think about work again, about the twenty-one things that had been on his plate before lunch. He was relatively sure that some of those problems would have hatched new ones. In the back of his mind, however, was the mental image of swimming in the lake with Miles, of Miles leaping off the dock.
Perhaps it was time to try again.