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Words of One Syllable

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Gregor,

When did I fall in love with you? I looked for my perfect Lady Vorkosigan for years. But even when I thought I’d found someone, I couldn’t share all of myself with her. I’d locked parts of myself away, because I wanted to be someone else. She wouldn’t come to Barrayar and I couldn’t give up Barrayer for her. All those years, I spent searching for someone. I never dreamed of loving you then.

Finally, after I’d betrayed you and myself and Simon, after I’d destroyed the life I’d built for myself, you asked me to stay. You didn’t order me; you asked. You let me choose my life, then you trusted me as your Voice. You believed in me, when I’d barely begun to believe myself. I treasured your belief and your trust, but I didn’t love you then.

For years, we dined together. Rode together. Rolled our eyes when Aunt Alys talked about precedence. Plotted ways to torture Ivan. Talked. I enjoyed your company, but I didn’t love you then.

I was still dreaming of my perfect Lady Vorkosigan the night I asked you what you were looking for. I remember what you said. You wanted someone who wanted you in return, with or without the Imperium. You wanted someone who could be your equal. You wanted to know someone as deep as the soul, and be known in return. You wanted me. You loved me. You asked me to consider the possibility, then you said that if I chose to forget that conversation, you’d never speak of it again. Gregor, I couldn’t forget. You put yourself in my head and I couldn’t get you out. I knew I’d always wonder if we didn’t try, but I didn’t love you then.

We dined together. Walked in the gardens together. Sneaked into the kitchen for junk food together. Talked. Held hands. Kissed. You looked at me across the room and I found myself wanting you. Then one night, as I watched you coddling your cat, I felt again, as I’d felt a few times before, that I’d passed through barred gates to see parts of you that you’d never shown anyone else. And I realized that, somewhere, sometime, I’d fallen in love with you.

My mother said once that you have three choices when someone lays everything at your feet. You can take advantage, you can run away, or you can lay everything you have at their feet in return. You offered me all of yourself. I love you. I want forever with you. I’m no longer afraid to give you all of myself or take all that you have to give.

When did I fall in love with you? I don’t know. But I love you more every day.

Miles

***

Gregor,

Ivan is writing this for me. I wanted to write you, but I can’t. I can pick up the pen. I can see the letters. But I can’t remember how to make them. So Ivan is writing this for me.

I made you a promise. I promised to stand with you on the last day of Winterfair and make my betrothal vows. I want to do that. But I am afraid. I am afraid I won’t beat this poison, that I won’t be able to keep my promise. Ghale says that the damage will be irreversible in another week. And I’ve gone from having good days to having good hours. I want to keep my promise. I am fighting to keep my promise. But sometimes, I am afraid.

You asked me what I needed from you. I need you to remember that I am Barrayaran, and I am Vorkosigan, and I am Dendarii hillfolk, and I’ve never learned how to surrender. If the antidote doesn’t arrive in time, if Ghale says the damage is irreversible, I still will not surrender. I will make do and we will have a victory. It may not be the total victory we want, but we will win something.

If the antidote doesn’t arrive, if we know that I will break my Winterfair promise, then come. Bring Henri and Alys and Simon as witnesses. I will make my betrothal promises here, even if Alys has to prompt me with each word and Ivan has to hold me up. And promise me that you will go on, that you will lean on the people who love you, let them see that you need them, and that you will live. For I plan to win a victory, even if I lose this battle. And all you have to do is live and ask the right question when you are ready.

Miles

Gregor, Miles told me to give you this if the damage became irreversible. I’m very glad you’ve won so many victories. Congratulations on the birth of your first grandchild. – Ivan

***

Gregor,

The letter you wrote yesterday is lying beside me, even though I can recite every word. I want to write words that stir your soul, as your letter stirs my soul. Seeing your Armsman, letter in hand, makes my heart soar. Your words make me giddy. I cannot write a letter like yours because there is no poet hidden in me. But I do wish I could.

I did not expect yesterday’s betrothal ceremony to mean so much to me. We had already made our promises. So I expected the public ceremony to be just a step on the journey we’d already begun. But listening to you, I found that the ceremony meant more than I expected. I woke with a headache, I grumbled about the ruffles and the primping and the silliness of Aunt Alys insisting that we stay on opposite sides of the Residence. Then I walked into the Glass Hall and saw you standing there, looking at me, waiting to promise me in front of family, and friends, and all of Barrayar that you would love me for the rest of our lives. That moment was worth all the fuss and formality. Our betrothal was a celebration of finding each other. It was a promise that I will have time to know you, and you will have time to know me, deeper than the soul.

I am very tired. And I still dread the circus of an Imperial Wedding. But I also look forward to seeing you, standing in our wedding circle, looking at me. And I look forward to telling you, and our families, and all of Barrayar, again, that I love you and plan to love you for the rest of my life.

Miles

***

Gregor,

I am watching you, writing a letter to our new son, a letter that he will not be able to read for many years, telling him how you feel today. I said I would write him, too, write him about the joy that I felt when we opened the replicator this morning. But I’m watching you, remembering the look on your face, the way you held him. And I remember last night, when I woke and saw you staring into the night. You wanted him so much, but you were terrified. Afraid that you would fail him, that you would not be the father he needs. So, I’m writing you, instead of our son, to remind you of what we both learned from my father.

Love him. Spend time with him. Play with him. Teach him. Expect him to do his best. Hug him when he fails. Let him try again. Praise him when he does well. Discipline him. Let him take risks. Support him, even when he terrifies you. Let him make his own life. Grumble when he doesn’t write home. Apologize when you make mistakes. Love him.

You will not do everything right. I will not do everything right. But we will both do our best, together.

Miles

***

Gregor,

I’ve thrown four versions of this letter away. I simply cannot write as eloquently as you do. So this will have to do if I’m to drop it off at the station before the wormhole jump.

I was – I am – incredibly angry. And I was afraid. Afraid that we would go too far, say too much, say something truly unforgiveable. So I left early. I ran away from you – again – because I was afraid. You know that, of course. And because you love me, you are afraid, too. Afraid that your worst nightmare is coming true, that you are losing someone you love, that I won’t come back.

Remember though, that I love you. I don’t understand why you chose me, why you love me. I have never understood that. But I love you. I love your quiet strength, your unflinching devotion to duty, your deep reserve, your fear of hurting others, your passion, your tenderness. I love the way you make me feel as though I make your life better just by existing. I love you.

And because I love you, I will return. Even though I am angry, and afraid, and running away from you, I cannot imagine living without you. I will return. And when I do, we will work through this, because we love each other.

Miles

***

Gregor,

I’m sorry. I’m very sorry. When you called, I was struggling with the ribbons in our daughter’s hair. It was not going well. Perhaps she should start a fashion for very short hairstyles for little girls?

Sorry, I got off track. This is supposed to be an apology, an abject apology. I should not have sworn at you. I should not have called you that name. I should not have used that language in front of our daughter. And I should not have let her leave my side until I had filled her mind with stories and poems and songs and many, many other words. It is my fault that she repeated my words in front of the new Komarran counselor. I am sorry.

I thought of offering you sexual favors, but I think that might make matters worse at the moment. But if sexual favors would help, please say so. I cannot bear your silence much longer. I am very, very sorry.

Miles

***

Gregor,

I have been lying here, watching you sleep in the chair they brought in when you refused to leave me. I am glad to see you when I wake, but I worry when I see you so tired from caring for me and the children and Barrayar. You are not taking care of yourself, so I must take care of you. In a few minutes, I’ll wake you and let you talk me into taking a sedative if you’ll go home to bed.

Years ago, when I was lamenting that I couldn’t write love letters like yours, Mother told me to begin with words of one syllable. How are you? Can I help? I love you. She said those were classics. Tonight I’ve decided to add to her list.

Go to bed. Sleep. Take care of yourself. I love you.

Miles

***

Gregor,

Have you ever heard of a silver anniversary? This courier ship has a little collection of twentieth-century novels, some of them hilariously bad. The one I’m reading now begins with a murder at a couple’s silver anniversary party. Apparently, on old Earth, family and friends threw a party for the couple, to celebrate 25 years together.

Today is the anniversary of the day you asked me to consider whether I might come to care for you. If I weren’t stuck on this ship in the middle of nowhere, we could celebrate with another dinner on the balcony tonight. I’ll be home for our next anniversary, the day I said I’d like to try. It’s more than 25 years, of course, but we should celebrate that anniversary privately anyway. Perhaps you’d like to plan something? And we can go a bit further than a kiss this time, right? God, I miss you.

Anyway, I think we should revive the custom of silver anniversary celebrations. Mention it to Delia for me, will you? And remember, since it’s a party celebrating our marriage, no one can complain if we slip away early for a reprise of our wedding night.

I love you.

Miles

***

Gregor,

We’ve always known that I would probably die first – too much damage from the soltoxin, the cryofreeze, the poison, plus all the damage I did to myself in my covert ops days. Lately, I can feel death creeping closer. I may have another year, but I’m not sure. Perhaps I’ll have enough time to tell you how I feel when you are ready to face the inevitability of my death. But you struggle so against the mere idea of losing someone you care for, that you may never be ready. So I’ll try to write my feelings down, though writing was always your strength and my weakness, to give you a few last words for the years ahead.

From the first time you kissed me, I wanted you. I still want you now.

I love sleeping beside you. I love waking up to you. I miss you when you aren’t here.

I remember, years ago, you kissed every scar on my body. Then you said, “You have beautiful wrists.” I’ve treasured that memory for years, because only a man in love would notice.

If I could change any part of my life, I wouldn’t, because changing my life might mean losing you.

Our children and grandchildren are my greatest treasures. You are the joy of my life.

If my mother was right and souls are eternal, my soul will be waiting for yours.

I love you.

Miles.