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Back in the capital, it was still winter, but a false spring had settled in at Vorkosigan Surleau. In fact, down on the tarmac of the landing pad, it was almost hot. Gregor admitted to himself a desire to strip off decorum, along with most of his black suit, and toss them into the lake, then follow them in -- how long since he'd gone swimming? -- but good behavior reasserted itself, and he did not touch even a button. It was just as well; as he climbed the hill the breeze picked up. The old fable in reverse: the sun failing to persuade him to disrobe, and the wind keeping him clothed by force.

It was a very nice suit, anyway: new and spiffy and somber. The occasion was not formal enough for House blacks, but he was not about to appear underdressed, either. Even if the man for whom he'd donned the suit couldn't see him.

He reached the cemetery, entered and sat on the low wall. From here, he could view Aral's grave well enough. Soon, he'd approach, kneel down, light the offering he'd brought. No hurry. It had been remarkably easy to clear his schedule for the day: the words I am visiting Count Vorkosigan held their lingering magic, and he hadn't needed to specify which Count he'd meant. Though he was going to visit them both.

The stones of the wall were already warm, and the trees were not yet casting their shade there. Basking, lizard-like, Gregor closed his eyes and tipped his head back, dazzling his inner vision. It was almost possible to pretend that he was alone in the world, that his security detail was not lurking at all the points considered vulnerable, that his living host was actually going to wait patiently for him in the house below as requested, despite being temperamentally unsuited to any such--

Footsteps. A short stride, a hitch in the gait; a recent lack of conditioning revealed in the huff of breath. Gregor almost smiled. The footsteps slowed and stopped; he didn't open his eyes.

"Hello, Miles," he said.

"They told me you were here," said Count Vorkosigan. The gate creaked again. "I hope you don't mind that I--"

"It's your place. I'm the one barging in," said Gregor. He looked, then; Miles's eyes were not on him, but on the grave.

"Never. Always welcome," Miles said, a bit vaguely. "Here to see him?" he asked, inclining his head and then turning back to Gregor.

"In part. Some things I never got a chance to say."

"If only he'd answer, huh? I used to talk to graves a lot more than I do now. But I still come up, every day that I'm here. It was about time for my constitutional anyway."

"I see you're dressed for it." Black fatigue trousers, cut to fit, but the shirt... "What is that?" Gregor asked.

"Oh." Miles fingered the threadbare, gaudily-flowered cloth, flopping oversized around his small frame. "It was his. I've taken to... sorry. Should have changed."

"No. I remember it, now. It looks different on you."

Miles gave him a little ironic grimace, and gestured at the wall, a request. Gregor nodded, and Miles sat, dropping his cane on the ground. "How are you doing?" Gregor said.

"Well enough. It gets easier, a little. He left... a massive legacy. I don't necessarily mean shoes to fill, or," -- he plucked at the shirt again -- "there is that, but just all the stuff. It's keeping me busy, going through it all. Files, mostly; I'm back past the Escobaran War, on the first pass. But there are piles of artifacts, too. Memories." He paused. "Busy is good."

"Yes," agreed Gregor. "And your mother?"

"Being efficient. As you're aware." Gregor nodded. At the moment, Cordelia was efficiently tutoring the new Sergyaran Viceroy; Gregor had, pro forma though defying half his advisors, offered her the chance to stay on as sole ruler. She'd said I'm tempted, kiddo, but no, and begun to organize furiously in three directions at once. No one seemed to be sure where she would end up, but she would be well-packed when she did.

"As my father would have said, in a meaningful tone," Miles observed, "there are ways to mourn constructively, and then there are other ways. So far none of us has shown signs of drunken frenzies or more than the expected amount of weeping and swearing. Busy is good," he repeated. "As I'm sure you know," he added.

"Mm," said Gregor.

The silence lengthened; the shadows got shorter, or at least Gregor thought they must be doing that, though really not enough time passed to be sure before Miles sighed and said, "Gregor. Why didn't you tell me?"

Gregor closed his eyes again, a second's additional respite, but Miles nudged at him like a dog insistent on being fed. "Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. Ekaterin said she'd sent you a message. And you didn't just come here to visit my father."

"No. I got the message. She said... it had slipped out. She seemed quite upset, and at the same time relieved."

"Well, she has a Thing about oaths. I gather she's been keeping this one to you for well over a year. There have been stresses recently, as you can imagine, and a few nights ago she was reading fairy tales to the children and just collapsed in tears, and... they were fine; they accepted mama is sad about grandda and petted her and went away with the nurse, and then Ekaterin told me everything."

"What did she say, exactly?"

"To summarize," Miles said, in a wry parody of his Auditor's Report tones, "the young man who kidnapped the two of you supposedly at the behest of Cetagandan partisans, tied you up and held you at knifepoint, killed one of his fellow conspirators and three Barrayaran students, and might have killed you if my wife hadn't managed to poison him with chuffweed, an act for which you presented her with a well-deserved medal, was... your son. By our old enemy Cavilo. Is that correct?"

"As far as it goes, yes."

"And how much farther does it go? Oh yes -- the conspirator he killed was his mother. And we caught him, and gave him a death sentence. Which was carried out. I believe you were there."

"Yes," Gregor said tightly.

"Holy fucking shit," said Miles.

"That pretty much sums it up, yes."

"And you didn't tell anyone?"

"Well, I could hardly make it public. Or let it leak out." Miles made an of-course-not gesture; that was not something he'd argue, thank goodness for his political sense and general Barrayaranness. "Ekaterin knew, since she was there. And Laisa knew. And Guy. And, um, your parents."

"You told my parents?"

"Other way around. Cavilo told your father about Serg -- I didn't get her pregnant, by the way; she stole a semen sample and had an embryo made -- and then he told me, and then Serg and Cavilo turned up on Barrayar."

"His name was Serg, hm? As in, paternal grandfather's first name?"

"Well, yes; that was rather the point. Ekaterin must have told you that much. We never entirely figured out how much the Cetagandan government had to do with it all--"

"Yes," Miles said, holding up a hand, "you can explain that to me later. And how my father got involved. But Gregor" -- the dog again, whining -- "why didn't you--"

"Goddammit, Miles, I don't have to tell you everything! You are not the repository of every piece of secret knowledge that Barrayar has to offer, just because your name is Vorkosigan. You are not my fucking Prime Minister or my fucking Grand Vizier or... I do value your services greatly. But, damn it all, don't claim a right that's not yours."

Miles shrank back a little, but his challenge didn't falter. "Are you done?" he said. Gregor nodded. "You're right," Miles went on. "But I wasn't asking as... Count Vorkosigan." The hesitation before the title hadn't gone away yet, Gregor noted. "I was asking as Miles."

"I'm sorry." The apology was reflex; it sounded insincere and resentful. "You deserved to know," Gregor went on, taking aim at truth. "Ekaterin... I felt awful that I'd got her involved, put her into such danger. It's shameful, but... kidnapped by anonymous Cetagandan agents, not my fault except for being careless about security. Kidnapped by my own son... that was putting her life at risk for much more personal reasons."

"You mean the personal reasons where you spent six days pounding Cavilo into the mattress?"

"Not her preferred position, but yes. And the feelings I wanted to have for Serg."

"All right. I see that. Except... you told Ekaterin before Serg grabbed you. You came to our house on purpose to tell her, while I was off admiring the detection skills of Olivia Vorrutyer. Who, by the way, you should consider for the next Auditorial vacancy. Unless you meant to give my wife that job."

Honest Ekaterin. Milady, when you break an oath, you break it all the way. That was unfair; he'd strained her oath to snapping point, and Miles was her husband. "There are Auditors," Gregor said carefully, "and then there are counselors. Both listen, but what they do with what they hear is different. Though," he added, "Ekaterin surprised me. Not that she should have, considering other secrets to which we are both privy, but... God, Miles, your wife is amazing."

"I know," Miles said with a smug little smile.

"That bluff she tried to pull off, telling Serg that the two of us were having an affair and meant to escape the planet together" -- no, she hadn't told Miles about that -- "I just about choked. It almost worked, too. Bluffing is not really her style, though. A sort of terrifying straightforwardness, that's more like it."

"I could have made it work," Miles said.

"What, telling Serg that you and I were having an affair? You probably could have, at that." Miles made a face, and punched him in the arm. "Don't hit the Emperor," said Gregor. "Or pound him into the mattress. Darling."

"Fuck off," said Miles mildly. "All right. I bow to no one, except apparently you, Sire, in appreciation of my wife, but wasn't this a job for ImpSec, if not for the skills of one rather small and crippled Imperial Auditor?"

"I wasn't asking Ekaterin to take him down. I was asking her for advice on what to do... how to feel, even, on a personal level. As things turned out, ImpSec was busy overestimating and underestimating Serg simultaneously, while Ekaterin managed to get him just right. And we survived. And," Gregor added, "now you know how she feels when one of your investigations runs into a terrorist plot, or other such adventures."

"And then," Miles said, tracing a pattern on the stone between them with one finger, "you didn't tell me afterwards because...?"

Gregor took a deep breath. The air was fresh and full of pleasant scents: wood and earth and a sense of new growth waiting to happen. Even in a graveyard. "Afterwards," he said, "I wanted it to all go away, though of course it wouldn't. I felt as though I'd laid a huge burden on Ekaterin, though I did not approach her for more consultations. I think Laisa talked to her, though. Laisa was absolutely wonderful, but I felt horrible burdening her as well. About the only confidant I didn't feel guilty about was Guy, and that was all him giving me reports and me receiving them with a stiff upper lip, pretending I didn't care, and even so I think he was desperately sorry for me, but it's not his job to say that. Simon... would have found a way. But I didn't tell Simon."

"And my parents?" Miles said quietly.

"Your mother knows because your father told her; he had to practically have a heart attack first, but he did let it out. Aral... I think he rather enjoyed fencing with Cavilo, trying to figure out what she was telling him and how much of it was true. She said she was warning him about Serg, but she could have been more clear about it if that was her intent. Of course, making herself clear wasn't in her nature. Anyway," Gregor went on, "once it all went down, Aral found himself in the position of involuntary advisor to a distraught and irrational Emperor, who needed to kill his son but couldn't bring himself to--"

"Shit," hissed Miles. He looked pale. "No," he said when Gregor made an inquiring noise, "it's all right. Something just... it's fine. That must have been horrible," he went on, meeting Gregor's eyes again. "For all of you, but especially... you."

"Remember the dinner party at your house? Just before Taurie was born." Miles nodded. "Aral and I were basically not speaking to each other. Laisa was pretty upset with him too; she'd called him 'the Butcher' to my face twice that week before taking it back, and she didn't mean Komarr. Cordelia was trying to make everyone see reason when there wasn't any, and Ekaterin must have guessed most of what was going on, since she kept trying to introduce neutral subjects. Barrayaran botany not being a possible choice."

"Ah. I do remember the atmosphere seemed strained. I've got a rather high threshold now, when it comes to awful dinner parties; resentment simmering under the surface doesn't necessarily register."

"It was pretty damn close to boiling point. Aral had given me a lecture like a slap in the face, while on his knees to me; he hadn't done that since... I don't think he ever had." Knelt to Count Vorhalas, yes, but not to Gregor, except on the proper formal occasions. Lectures, yes. But none that bitter. "He was crying up Vor tradition so loud I thought he'd turn into old Count Piotr on the spot; it was desperation, I think, throwing himself as hard as he could toward the past to stop me destroying the future. He was right. I never told him so."

Miles still looked pale. "He was urging you toward capital punishment." Gregor nodded. "So you took his advice; he must have known that much."

"It's not the same as telling him. I thought..." Gregor swallowed; it was still hard to talk about even after all this time. Of course, he hadn't as much as said his son's name in the last year. "I thought, and I still think, that Serg might have been helped. But he was deeply damaged; if he had any sense of morality he was keeping it hidden, and his reactions were... wrong, off-kilter, frightening. We have to remove people like that from society; in some places they go into hospitals. Here they get shot."

"Not always," Miles said, pointing at the grave perpendicular to his father's. "Or not right away, anyway. No, that's not fair; the Sergeant's morals were firm and solid. I think they were supported entirely by the twin pillars of my parents, so that" -- the arrangement of graves -- "makes perfect sense, and if they'd predeceased him I don't know what would have happened." Don't you? Gregor wondered. You're a short pillar, my lord Count, and a trifle unbalanced, but you would have served. "But we've used monsters before," Miles went on. "I mean... I'm not implying that your son--"

"He was. Also very young, very vulnerable."

"Mm." Miles paused. "My father slept with Ges Vorrutyer, you know."

"I... didn't know that. There were old rumors, but..."

"True enough rumors, in essence. I found some drawings -- did you know my father could draw? I had no idea -- and they practically cried it out. I asked my mother; she was very Betan about it, but I'm Barrayaran enough to guess what it must have been like for them. It was an actual love affair, I think on both sides, but it went wrong pretty quickly, and... well, you do know what Vorrutyer turned out like, yes? My father knew monsters."

"Including my father."

Miles looked away, clearly uncomfortable. "Yes. I expect that didn't help in your battle with him last year. He told me once that he regretted not handling you better over that; he shouldn't have let you find out for yourself."

"I think he wanted me to be proud of my father for as long as possible." Gregor managed to keep his voice from shaking, but Miles gave him a sharp glance nonetheless.

"As I said, it didn't help, if he thought you were similarly misguided about your son."

"Yes. A substantially fucked-up family all around, the Vorbarras. I'm praying I've broken that curse, bringing Laisa into the mix."

Miles smiled; he seemed to have relaxed. "Amen to that. And double for the Vorkosigans."

"Dammit, Miles; do you ever stop being competitive?"

"Ha! Apparently not. Sorry." His grin faded. "Is that why you didn't tell me about Serg?"

"What, because I was afraid you'd want one of your own? You had better taste in old girlfriends."

Miles waggled a hand: a relatively modest maybe... yes. "Because you thought I'd turn it into some other who-is-more-fucked-up contest. Believe me, Gregor, I am willing to yield to you on this one. I don't even want to know what you went through. I mean," he said, backpedaling, "if you want to talk about it, I'll listen. My own ears, not the Lord Auditor's."

"Thank you."

"It must have been hell. I've been thinking that since Ekaterin told me, but hearing you not-describe it, I can just... not-imagine. I can get close enough, though."

Miles gave him a you-suffering-bastard look that seemed to presage a hug, but then apparently decided against it. "This," he said, "is where a Vorkosigan should pull out a bottle of booze." He pushed aside folds of the shirt and reached for what turned out to be a small flask clipped to his belt.

"It's not even lunchtime yet," said Gregor.

"You apparently have an insufficient understanding of Vorkosigan tradition. Cheers." Miles unscrewed the top and took a sip, then handed the flask to Gregor. Tasting first to prove to the Emperor he wouldn't be poisoned: also a tradition.

"This isn't maple mead, is it?" Gregor asked.

"Brandy." Gregor drank, and coughed hard. "Sort of," amended Miles.

"Something you found in your father's desk, perhaps?"

"Um... foot locker. God knows how old it is."

"Well," said Gregor, "maybe it'll grow on me." It did, slightly. He'd been very careful to avoid alcohol during the whole Serg debacle, and since he'd begun to recover had returned to his usual ways, drinking toasts in good wine when he had guests, and otherwise mostly abstaining. He could stand to get really drunk, he thought. There wasn't much in the flask, but Miles no doubt had more -- and better -- back at the house.

But before they became incoherent... "Miles," he said, taking one more sip and passing the flask back, "how do you think I'm doing? As Emperor?"

"Huh. Well enough, I think. You've been Emperor my whole life; I really have no basis for comparison."

"Yes, you do."

"You mean my father, as Regent? I was a kid. And... he was my father. And it's different. Knowing that you're not Emperor, I mean. Saves you from... going over the edge. Whatever edge that might be. Stark raving terror, most likely."

Gregor began to laugh. "I was just remembering," he said when Miles gave him a questioning eyebrow lift, "what Ekaterin said, elaborating on her bluff. I was going to give my throne to Xav, with you as Regent. It was what no sane advisor would counsel me to do, a recipe for disaster: a cuckold with total control over an Empire abandoned by a man he'd thought was his friend, fleeing with his wife. And an Emperor barely older than I was when I took the throne. Xav the Doomed. And yet she didn't seem to think it was imprudent."

"She was improvising wildly. You say crazy things."

"Yes, but... I think it would have worked. The circumstances, I assure you, are completely fictitious, but even if it was all true, you're the one I'd trust. To be Regent, and to stay Regent. Even if you hated my guts." He waited until Miles, looking slightly stunned, toasted him with the flask, then added, "As Emperor, I wouldn't trust you a day."

Miles snorted brandy, choked, and had to be thumped on the back. "Agreed," he husked out when he could speak.

"If I live," Gregor said, "I plan to give up the throne when Xav is thirty, or earlier if he says he's ready. That will be quite long enough for Gregor the Already Tedious. But so far I think I've managed basically competent."

"Gregor the Modestly Fishing For Compliments. Gregor the Really Not So Bad. Gregor the Pretty Fucking Good At His Job, In Fact."

"Ha. Gregor needs another drink now." Miles passed the flask. "I've made some mistakes, a few of them serious, but -- wow, this stuff does grow on you -- you will notice that the only time I screwed up big enough to produce something like Serg, I was running away. When fate sticks you with a job like this, you're expected to stay with it; it's when you take those little self-indulgent depressive-episode holidays that nemesis strikes."

"Nemesis," said Miles, "does not usually steal your generative fluid and--"

"Give it to the Cetagandans. Oh yes; that's only one of the loose ends. We don't know what Serg was doing on Jackson's Whole, either."

Miles shuddered. "Let's hope we don't find out."

Gregor took another drink; the flask was running low. "They tortured him," he told Miles. "He had a fast-penta allergy -- Cetagandan gift, one assumes -- so they hurt him to make him talk. I let it happen -- I think that's what I'm least proud of, in the whole sorry saga -- and it was mostly useless. He talked, all right, a constant stream of gabble that was plausible enough they had to listen, but essentially nonsense when investigated. Someone trained him to do that; he was an actor by trade, so someone in the theatre perhaps. They gave up soon enough, thank God. I was about to start pulling out my own fingernails."

"Shit. There was nothing good about this, was there?"

Gregor considered. "Well, I got to snuggle with your wife. Aside from that, no, not really." He swallowed down the rest of the dreadful brandy.

Miles produced a second flask, from the other side of his belt. "Ooh. Time to get serious, then," said Gregor.

"I was going to ask one more painful question, and then let you talk to my father, and then we can have lunch and drink some more and--"

"Go swimming," Gregor suggested.

"Are you bloody crazy? The lake is freezing. You'd have to order me in under pain of death. Which... you can technically do, but I'd consider it a frivolous if not criminal order." Miles handed over the flask. "You can go swimming. I'll watch."

"What's the question?"

Miles waved a hand at their surroundings. "Power of suggestion," he said. "Where'd you bury him?"

Gregor laughed. "Vorbarra vault. Unmarked. It was one of the few times I've done the you-may-not-question-me-I'm-the-Emperor act full-out. Took the body, had it interred secretly. I plan to go once a year and burn an offering, as long as I live. My mother's there; maybe she'll... ease his soul. I'm not sure I believe in souls, but I do think the ritual helps. At least the living."

"And where'd you bury Cavilo?"

"That's two questions. I don't know where she ended up. For her, I have pity but no desire to burn offerings. Though I did..." He felt in his pocket for the little bag. Reaching in with two fingers, he took out a lock of dark hair with a little gray in it. "She wasn't blonde anymore," he explained to Miles. "When I cut it I thought... well, I suppose I knew what would happen to Serg. Then, when it was time, I just couldn't. But I saved it, and I thought she might have something to say to Aral. If that's all right with you."

"I think he'd be... amused. Go right ahead."

"I have Laisa's offering too, so it won't be improper."

"Excellent," said Miles. "Got a knife?" Gregor handed over Serg's knife, without mentioning its origin, and Miles sawed off a hunk of hair. "Say hello for me," he told Gregor. "I'll meet you at the house for lunch. And a presumptuous little wine that we drink out of real glasses. Keep the flask."

He limped off down the hill, shirt glaring in the sunlight, and Gregor rose and went to the grave. After setting up the little brazier, he knelt down -- awkwardly; it was an unaccustomed posture -- and looked at the stone. It was not going to speak to him, so he had better start.

"Hello, Aral," he said. "I wanted to say I was sorry. It's Gregor... your son."


Miles seemed preoccupied through lunch, but then recovered himself in planning their afternoon. An hour or so later, Gregor found himself lying on his back in a boat, under a blazing sun, still in his suit but with his shoes off, lake-scented breezes wafting over him. Well, fish-scented; Miles had insisted on the fishing, and it had been moderately successful. He had entertained Gregor along the way with tales of other fishing expeditions, real and metaphorical, more and less successful, including one about Simon, with quotes, that left Gregor snorting and determined to take his former security chief to task about the elephant.

ImpSec, lurking in the bushes, had clearly not been thrilled about the idea of two middle-aged drunken louts, er, supremely important men going out in a boat alone, but Gregor had given the Imperial don't-worry wave (rationed very carefully these days) and climbed aboard. He wasn't worried; for one thing, Miles was less drunk than he appeared, or at least had been drinking less than he tried to make Gregor think he was. Something to do with his medical condition, no doubt. Or...

"You have made me drunk in order to take advantage of me," Gregor intoned, opening one eye to see Miles's reaction.

"In a boat? Are you insane?"

"Probably you should stop asking me that question. There are implications."

"Ah, um. Sorry. No, I have no designs on either your virtue or your purse. I... wanted to see you relax a bit. And lo, another stunning success!"

"Rather like fishing with Simon. Thank you for the hospitality."

"Not leaving, are you?"

Gregor opened the other eye and looked around meaningfully. "No," he said.

"Good." Miles sat back too. "We really are pretty damn lucky, y'know?"

"Indeed. Could be worse," Gregor said in a lugubrious imitation of himself.

"It has been, apparently. Don't... don't ever do that again, all right?"


"Bottle yourself up. I know it's what you have to do, Emperor-wise, but you have friends. We don't mind being burdened, seriously. If anything like this... well, let's hope not. But talk, dammit. Doesn't have to be to me. If Ekaterin can help, call on her."

"I was planning," Gregor said, "to visit in order to formally apologize for... the incident. You should be present."

"What, as chaperone? Or in case you start confessing something else and trip over another usurpation plot?"

"Ha," said Gregor.

"An apology would be appropriate. But the way it works is, you say you're sorry and then you don't hesitate to come back and do it again."

"Mm. So that's your secret."

"No, I..." Miles seemed to recognize he was being baited. "No debts, is what I'm saying. If anything, we owe you a debt. For... being a steady hand on the tiller of state."

"An appropriately nautical metaphor." Gregor closed his eyes again, feeling blissful. "I'll do that," he said. "Unbottle." That seemed a good metaphor too, considering the drinking.

"Thank you," said Miles. "And I will unburden myself too, as appropriate. I hope... it won't be. So, um, did you have a good conversation with my da?"

"He was very illuminating. Like his son. I think you were right about Cavilo, too. I did catch a flicker of a wry smile. He said -- while still alive, I mean -- that he liked her."


"Not that they were much alike. Perhaps she shared something with... old beloved enemies? In a tidy little well-shaped package."

"Huh," Miles said again. "Did she try to seduce him?"

"I gather yes. Let's hope we're still prey to seductive women at that age, eh? Though I suppose it could just have been her autopilot."

"Yeah. Oh yeah." Gregor snorted. "You never told me," Miles went on, "how... it was."

"Oh my God, Miles. I mean," Gregor added loyally, and truthfully, "it's better with Laisa. But..." He whistled, long and low. "As sacrifices to the Empire go, not particularly painful. Well, the handcuffs pinched. And then the biting--"

Something struck him in the knee. He looked up, and saw that Miles had hit him with a fish. "Hm," Miles said, looking at it. "You were right, Sergeant. Just as well. Regicide is a capital crime. Even if deserved." He grinned, rather wildly. "The fish of justice flies one way," he said, and tossed it in Gregor's direction.

"I seize the fish of justice," Gregor called out, and lunged upwards. The fish's trajectory took it over the side before his hand reached it, and, inexorably, he followed it. He hit frigid water with a splash, face-first, and went under.

"Shit!" he spat out when he'd surfaced. "Fuck!" Spring was an illusion; and the water here didn't get warm till summer, anyway. Treading water, as best he could frozen solid, he looked up at Miles, who had finished making desperate belay-emergency-rescue no-really-it's-okay gestures at their watchers, and was holding out a hand.

"No. Counterweight," Gregor gasped out, "insofar as you can," and when Miles had moved to the other side of the boat, grabbed its side. He managed to pull himself up and in with pretty much one steady motion -- there was some point to regular workouts after all, beyond Laisa admiring his physique -- and then collapsed in the bottom of the boat, laughing uncontrollably.

"Ruined my suit," he said when he could speak. He sat up and began unbuttoning the tunic. Pulling it over his head, he realized just how cold he was. He got the shirt off too, and shivered.

Miles took off the flowered shirt -- he was wearing flannel underneath, having anticipated at least the chilly breeze -- and handed it over. "Here," he said. "You should probably keep it, in fact. Fits you better."

Gregor was about to demur, but something in Miles's expression persuaded him. He put it on, hatching a plan to get a smaller version of the shirt made for Miles's next birthday -- and maybe a somewhat larger one for Mark -- and then felt around for the bottle of decent brandy they'd brought along to chase down the apparently obligatory beer. Tomorrow, or probably this evening, he was going to feel like he'd been kicked in the head by a horse -- and that was even if Miles didn't follow through on the plan to go riding -- but right now, though he could have been warmer, he really couldn't have felt better.

"To all our families," he said, raising the bottle. "They may kill us yet, but without them we'd never have existed. So I suppose we should be grateful."

"Amen," said Miles.