Miles is no longer the only person who knows the location of the Emperor of Barrayar. It’s a remarkably pleasing thought, a huge weight off Miles’ small shoulders. As is the knowledge that someone besides himself is aware of what actually happened on that Komarran balcony.
In theory, Gregor isn’t actually Miles’s problem any longer. The two of them got through a war zone together and out the other side in one piece and Gregor is now safely back under the extremely vigilant silver eyes of ImpSec. The more personal, private, problems have been passed on up the chain of command to someone far more equipped to deal with them than Miles - namely his mother, Countess Vorkosigan. Altogether a rather neat resolution and a relief. His duty done, Miles should really be focusing on the next task in front of him - preparing to rejoin the Dendarii Mercenaries and becoming Admiral Naismith on a more permanent basis than he's ever had to attempt before.
Unfortunately for Miles’s peace of mind, he still had that little subordination problem. Trusting his superiors to know what they were doing somehow seemed to be beyond him. For evidence see his personal history, his military career to date, and the fact that Gregor and Simon were currently considering the best ways to utilise a mercenary fleet to further Barrayar's interests - all the better to keep Miles far away from any normal chain of command. So while Miles may be sure that sending Gregor his mother's way was the right call under the circumstances, the feeling of responsibility he feels towards Gregor hasn't faded yet. As a result he can't resist the urge to stick his nose in and make sure.
Which is why he finds himself in Gregor's personal quarters paying a call just a week after his promotion, the glow of which hasn't faded yet either. He starts of by regaling Gregor with a description of Ivan's reaction to his new red collar tabs, complete with dramatic reenactment – Admiral Naismith's flat Betan accent is far from the only impersonation in his repertoire. Once their laughter had faded, Gregor poured them both more wine and looked at Miles expectantly.
"Not that I don't always appreciate an opportunity to mock Ivan, but I assume that's not actually why you're here?" Gregor raised an extremely aristocratic eyebrow at him. "After a status report are we, Miles?"
Caught, Miles scowled back. Sometimes they knew each other far too well and Miles didn't particularly like it when that knowledge worked to Gregor's advantage rather than his own. "Yes, if you must know. You and Ma both seemed a bit jumpy at dinner the other day. I wanted to check in. See what was up."
"I did as you suggested. I did promise after all. We talked a little. About why I jumped." Gregor paused and looked down at his hands, folded together loosely in his lap. "It wasn't the first time I'd thought about death as a means of escape, you know. Just the first time, between the alcohol and the talk about my father, that I found the will to act on it." He looked up at Miles then, not quite managing to meet his eyes but still watching his face closely, observing his reaction.
If Gregor was waiting for Miles to be shocked by this revelation, horrified, he was doomed to disappointment. Miles had had time to get over his initial shock, to think things over and do some research. More than enough time to realise that suicidal urges generally came not in single spies, but in battalions. It was horrible of course, on both personal and political levels. Miles had reached the conclusion, more than slightly panicked at 3am, two days after arriving safely back on Barrayar, that on balance a suicidal Emperor was at least a little better than a homicidal one. Same end result for the Emperor in question but less collateral damage for others before hand. He had no intention of sharing that line of reasoning with Gregor, with anyone. He'd felt utterly sick just thinking about it and proceeded to get as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible. He'd been avoiding the thought at all costs ever since. Thinking about it as something that was happening to Gregor was hardly any better. Gregor, who even as a child had seemed so cool and self-assured, capable in a way that Miles was convinced, even now, that he himself would never manage. But then perhaps it made sense for someone as self-contained as Gregor that the worst threats would always come from within.
It wasn't something that Miles could readily grasp. His own few brief thoughts of suicide had been more along the lines of intellectual puzzles: what objects in this room could I use to kill myself? Having answered the question to his own satisfaction he had always moved on - never stopping to consider actually showing his work, as it were. He'd always focused his own frustrations outwards; looking for problems to solve, things to be done, things to be fought, walls to throw himself against. But that was hardly the kind of behaviour an Emperor could allow himself was it?
Miles had no real idea of how to make things better for Gregor, if they even could be made better. In the absence of other ideas, he was settling for at least trying not to make things any worse. In this case the best reaction, he thought, was probably no reaction and to hope that Gregor kept talking. To him, to his mother, it didn't matter. Maybe even Ivan wouldn't be a completely terrible idea as a last resort? After all, saying these things out loud surely had to be better for Gregor than bottling things up until he snapped and threw himself off another balcony. Perhaps one without conveniently located plants next time. miles quailed mentally, but kept his expression under ruthless control.
"And did it help? What did she say?"
"She hugged me, rather a lot actually. Said she was sorry she hadn't noticed that things were that bad." Gregor had gone back to frowning down at his hands, then picked up his glass and frowned at that instead. It was rather unfair, Miles thought, the wine was excellent as it always was in the Imperial household and didn't deserve to be made a target of the rather intimidating Imperial frown. “She sent over a pile of reading for me, mostly medical texts, but some poetry too. It was all very Betan, of course. But comforting, I think.”
“Good. I thought she would be. But what was up with the pair of you at dinner then, if things went well?”
“I took the rest of your advice and asked her about my father. How many of the rumours I'd heard were true, how bad he really was. Her reaction to that was not at all as you predicted.”
“Really?” Miles sat up straighter, surprised. “What did she say, then?”
“She told me that if I was looking for someone to be my father's judge and jury she certainly wasn't qualified and that it was facts I wanted, it was ImpSec I should be talking to. That they doubtless had every detail of Serg's life written down somewhere. We were in the middle of a rather awkward silence – I was rather surprised – when your father arrived with some urgent business following on from the Hegan Hub treaty. I got another hug before she left and more book discs than I know what to do with, but we haven't actually spoken since except in public.”
“That's... Unexpected.” Miles frowned down at his own poor wine glass. “I mean, Ma's got a point about ImpSec, but I was sure she'd tell you what she knew if you asked.”
“It seems not. Did she talk to you? You told me you'd heard things about Serg, is that how? From your parents?”
“No. They've never said anything to me. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've ever heard either of him mention his name.”
“No one ever does. I learned more about my father from history books than from anybody who'd ever known him. Ironic really, isn't it? Emperor of three planets and they feed me the same story they give out to the proles – Prince Serg the war hero.” Gregor shook his head bitterly. “All my life I've trusted your parents and Simon to tell me the things I needed to know, but they kept this from me. Why? They can't have expected me to stay ignorant forever.”
“Expected? Perhaps not. Hoped, maybe?” When exactly would you have had them tell you, Gregor? When you were four years old and had just lost both your parents and your grandfather? At eight, at sixteen? How could knowing then have helped you? How could they have told you without hurting you? That's the last thing any of us wants, you know.”
“I know, Miles. Of course I know that. I just can't stop thinking about it, about him.”
“Well, do you think having more information would really help with that? I mean, to pick a random example, I know far more about my father's romantic entanglements with Ges Vorrutyer than I ever want to know, just by not being blind or deaf. And that's before I remember that Da's first wife was Vorrutyer's sister. The last thing I want is to know any more about that particular mess.” Gregor's expression was appalled. Looking at him, Miles wished briefly for a camera. He grinned wickedly and pressed on. “D'ya think I should be worried that it might be in my genes? There've been no signs so far, the closest I've come is a bit of gentle flirting with a Betan herm, but it might sneak up on me someday...”
“Enough! You've made your point. Stop talking to me about the sex lives of the Vorkosigans! That's the last thing I want to think about!”
“Well, secrets are tricky that way. Having more information doesn't make it easier not to think about it. How do you ever decide that you know enough? When do you stop? Besides, it's not Serg you're really worried about.”
“No? Enlighten me, what am I worried about?”
“You're afraid you'll turn out to be just like him. That in the end, genetics will tell. I'm sure my mother sent along plenty of dry, academic articles explaining how genetics doesn't work that way, but that's not the sort of reassurance that's exactly comforting when you're alone at night with only your fears for company. Not when you're afraid to trust yourself. No amount of detail about Serg will ever be enough to fix that problem.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“So what we need is a different approach to the problem. Someone who you can trust to stop you if necessary. Which brings us back to my mother, I think. She practically raised you, if you'd ever shown any inclination along those lines do you think she'd have hesitated to whisk you straight off to Beta Colony, ImpSec and the Imperium and even my father be damned? Either to get you actual therapy or, and knowing Ma I really think this is more likely, taking you to the Orb and finding someone to teach you how to do things properly. God, she must have given you the sex talk too, right? Love is a gift in any form... respect for yourself and others at all times... communication and consent...”
“And somehow we're back to sex lives of the Vorkosigans again. Please stop trying to be comforting Miles, I don't think I can take much more of it.”
“Heh. All right, if you insist, sire. But whether or not you decide to look in to your father's past, let my mother help you with the rest all right? I prescribe her special brand of Betan therapy and lots of it. I expect it to consist of horribly intrusive and personal questions, lots more hugs, and a graduate level crash course in psychology.” Miles kept his tone light and got a laugh out of Gregor in return. “You know, Ma sent a message with my father for Elena. I think you could stand to hear it too. She said home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. No matter what it feels like, you aren't on your own with this. You might be Emperor, but none of us are afraid of you.”
“Miles...” Gregor seemed lost for words. And that, Miles judged, was more than enough of that for one day. Perhaps for one lifetime.
“And now,” he proclaimed. “I propose a raid on your kitchens. Maybe they'll have more of those pastries from last time. Do you think it's too soon to scare your security by trying to get there undetected? Practise our covert ops skill before I'm set loose on the galaxy?”
“I'm beginning to feel pre-emptively sorry for the galaxy. We could just stay here and let my highly trained security forces bring the pastries to us, you know.”
“But where's the fun in that? Come on Gregor, live a little!”