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“There were times when I didn’t think he’d even make it to fifty-eight.” Ivan glanced around the room uncomfortably, trying to think of reassuring things to say. Condolence visits were never easy, and this one was … well, Miles never did anything the usual way.

Ekaterin smiled bravely, “I’m so grateful for the time we’ve had, and for the children, of course. They’re a great comfort now.”

Ivan sipped his wine and thanked his mother for all those years of social training, “You know that if you need anything… I mean, I know you have the armsmen, and Gregor, but still… if I can do anything, or Tej, we’re here for you.”

“Tej has been wonderful, she really understands.”

Ivan chose not to think too deeply about that. He stumbled on, “He was so proud, and happy, with you all. I thought that he’d actually slowed down a bit, lately, I thought he was… well… growing up. In his way.”

“I did too – that’s what’s so hard to take. I should have realised that there was a medical reason for it, that he was struggling to cope… how could I have not known!” Despite her self-control Ekaterin’s voice trembled, “I should have seen-“

“He had you, me, twenty armsmen, Gregor, all the other Auditors, half of ImpSec; we all thought the same, that it was just age,” Ivan was uncomfortably aware that he was the same age as Miles, “And maturity. And the damages he’d done to himself over time. Nobody realised, not even Miles.”

“I thought… I always though it would be a stroke, like his father. Damage from that horrible Cetagandan virus. I never thought his heart would give out first.”

Ivan sighed and finished his wine, “I’ll miss having him around. It’s ironic that just as Tej and I get a posting back home, Miles… is gone.”


“Mmmm?” Ivan was lost in memories for a moment.

“Please don’t put your wine glass on the cryochamber.”

He grabbed it back quickly, looking around for a suitable table, “Sorry. Bad habit from visiting Tej’s family. They’re still using Erik as a coffee table.” He motioned Ekaterin to a nearby lounge, “Sit down for a moment. You need to rest when you can, I’m sure you’ll be busy with all the District and Count business, as well as your garden work. And the children. And all the rest of it.” Although she did most of that all the time anyway, Ivan realised, while Miles was busy Auditoring. “How long before they’ve grown the new heart?”

“Three months minimum, six to be fully grown.”

“So you’ll wait the full six?”

“I think… closer to six than three. You know what he’s like, he’ll want to hit the ground running.”

“What are the doctors saying now? Is he… is he alright otherwise? Anything else they need to replace?”

“Well they’re taking the opportunity to run full checks on him. There’s some new therapies that weren’t available until recently. And the Cetagandans have sent one of their best doctors to help – it’s actually been quite funny watching ImpSec trying to keep an eye on her without causing an interplanetary incident. The Cetas haven’t actually admitted it, but they seem to think that their virus did some of the damage, and weakened his heart. Anyway, she has all sorts of equipment and treatments that are new to us, and the Barrayaran doctors are taking a lot of notes, while they watch every step to make sure there’s no sneaky damage being done.”

“How can they be sure?”

“The Cetagandan Emperor sent a personal reassurance to me, and an official one to Gregor. After all, Miles saved his empire, twice, so he owes us a favour. And it’s an issue of honour.”

“Trust Miles to cause problems even when he’s-“ Ivan couldn’t say the word.

“It’s just for a few months. And then he’ll be better than ever, they promise.” Ekaterin’s voice was still trembling a little, but she sat straight and tall, determination to the core. “I miss him every day, but it’s worth it if he gets more, and better, time from it.”

There was a bustle at the door as more well-wishers trooped in. Ivan rose to take his leave, “Call me, any time, if you need anything. I’ll be seeing you at the Emperor’s Birthday at the Residence next week, yes? And just think of the party we’ll have when he gets out of there.”

Ekaterin grinned, “I promised the children we’d have fireworks.”