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The first time, Alys thought the cramps were a normal side effect of pregnancy. She rested as she could; took the mild analgesics pregnant women were permitted. When the cramping got bad enough she went to the doctor, who told her the unfortunate news and eased her through the rest of the process.

Alys was more taken aback than grieved. The doctor seemed more upset, and kept offering consoling observations about her general health and youth. “You’re the most vital young woman I know,” he said. “I was certain you’d have little trouble.”

Padma was also more disturbed than Alys herself. “We’re still young yet,” she reassured him, the words falling off her tongue easily (despite the obvious nature of the statement, which had struck her as inane when the doctor had said it to her). “We’ve plenty of time.”

“Of course,” responded Padma, smiling reassuringly back. “I’m just glad you are all right.”

The second time she was much farther along, though not nearly close enough to delivery. Worse, the cramps hit her hard right in the middle of a ball. She tried to slip away unobtrusively, but Padma would make such a fuss. The time spent at the hospital was longer, and left her more exhausted. She had become more attached this time, too. Bonded. It was hard not to, carrying it around all day. She had started to feel the little fluttery movements.

“Maybe we don’t have to have children,” offered Padma, biting his fingers.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Alys. “Of course you need an heir.” For family Padma had an uncle, Count Vorkosigan, and one cousin, Aral, who had no children nor even a wife, and who was likely to die from war, politics, or his own idiocy at any time. Padma needed somebody of his own.

“I need you, Alys,” Padma pleaded. “I can’t lose you.”

Maybe this was supposed to be romantic, but to Alys it just seemed silly. Padma didn’t ‘need’ her. Then she considered who might take her place, what his next wife might be like, who might influence her. Perhaps Padma did need Alys.

“Well, I need children,” she said. “What else am I going to do all day, if I don’t have children to look after?” Sure, all the balls and dinner parties, tea parties and gossip, they were still enjoyable and entertaining now, but they were bound to grow tedious after a while, weren’t they? Especially as her sisters and her friends had children and she didn’t.

The third time she hadn’t even told Padma she was pregnant, so she didn’t have the burden of telling him she no longer was.

The fourth time she followed all the instructions her doctor provided: eating, drinking, and doing nothing more and nothing less than a pregnant woman needed. Fortunately, that proved to be fairly unrestrictive. Living temporarily without coffee and wine were the most difficult, but easy compared to living permanently without children. When the bump became obvious to Padma, she refused to let his worry infect her. “Stress is bad for babies and mothers,” her doctor had told her. “I know it’s difficult, given your history, but worry won’t prevent a miscarriage, so try to let it go.” More obvious, inane advice, Alys thought. She didn’t worry. She lived, and she enjoyed her life.

Until that murdering Vordarian’s coup. Her parents had despaired of Captain Lord Vorpatril’s lack of intelligence, lack of ambition; but she loved Padma for his affable, easy-going nature. He wouldn’t be the cause of any woman’s or child’s distress. This violent tearing apart of the city, the country - that’s what came of cunning and ambition. She’d much rather there were less of it than more.

Padma did well enough at first, finding them a discreet place to hole up in, venturing out only for provisions. Kept himself sober, too. He only broke down when her time finally came, two weeks overdue but with this dreadful civil war still fighting all around. When Padma remembered he was a Vor under siege, he lived up to his duties; but she could see the terror from her second disastrous pregnancy flood his eyes and he cracked.

“Alys, love, you need a doctor. I won’t know what to do, how to make sure--. I’ll be right back, love. I’ll take care of you.”

“Take care of me by staying with me!” Alys begged.

He shook his head, terror still stark in his face. “Only the doctor can. Need the doctor. I’ll be right back, love.” He kissed her forehead and went out the door.

“God damn you, Padma!” she hissed after him. Later, she would regret that those had been her last words to him. Much later. And then not for long, damn him anyway.

Ivan’s lusty wails were an excellent sign of his health, but now they needed him quiet, quiet, quiet. “Vor don’t cry,” Alys whispered to him. “Vor don’t complain. We serve, and we bear what we must.” She didn’t know or much care what traits exactly Ivan might grow up to have, but she was determined upon one thing.

Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril would not be a coward.