Fic: Uncle Simon (2/2)
Prompt: Miles is the closest thing to a son Simon has.
Content: minor character death, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance spoilers in the final two scenes.
Length: 16,000 words
Summary: Simon has no children of his own. But he has an honorary nephew.
Notes: Many thanks to avanti_90 for beta-reading. Divided into two parts on LJ.
Simon walked leaden-footed out of the hospital room under the flustered and angry glare of the doctor. He did not speak or attempt to argue with the doctor's perceptions. Let Chief Illyan have a reputation for laying into his men as they lay injured in hospital; it would probably come in useful someday. Let it be believed that Vorkosigan's Dog had savaged Vorkosigan's son; that would be even more useful, right now.
Vorvolk's words fired up from his chip, almost unprompted. You're not objective about Lieutenant Vorkosigan, Captain. There's no possible explanation for these accounts in the reports, yet you've signed off on all of them. It was true, all of it: the reports did not explain the accounting, and he was not objective about Miles.
The targets were all neatly lined up: first Miles, then him, then Aral. The pattern was familiar by now, sufficiently so that he began to run a double-check of the whole situation on his chip, because the human mind was too eager to fit things into familiar patterns. But his fallible mind was not deceived. Miles had been on the take, he'd turned a blind eye, Aral was responsible for them both. Or so Vorvolk's story went. On the scale of plots he'd dealt with before, it wasn't the worst by any means, or even close, but it loomed larger than it should in his mind, and he knew why. Miles wasn't a thief. Was he?
The doctor shot him another frightened-defiant look and scuttled off, and Simon went to the nearest ImpMil security post and called up the cameras in Miles's room. The guard on duty there--who had undoubtedly witnessed their conversation--kept his eyes cast downwards. Simon looked at Miles. He was lying quietly now, awake, with the spaced-out, strained look that told Simon he'd been drugged and was still in pain. The pain was betrayal, Simon knew, the kind of pain anaesthetics couldn't help with. His chip replayed Miles's outraged attempt to get up, his furious movements, his agonised voice; it didn't replay Simon's alarm and dismay, nor his gnawing guilt, but it didn't need to.
The damning evidence, the reports, the black holes in the accounting--none of those had altered in the past fifteen minutes. But Simon could no longer believe his hypothesis, even as a supposition, not on this circumstantial evidence alone. He knew Miles; that too was evidence. He knew Miles as a man knows his dearest son. If this was some other crime, of vainglory or arrogance or rashness or one of the many other follies and errors Miles was prone to, he could believe it. Might even have been first with the accusation. But secretive crimes of greed were not in Miles's nature, and he would not lay his word, his name, on a lie. Simon had never known him to tell such a lie, not one single instance in twenty-five years of perfect recollection.
If Miles had been on the take, he would have covered for him, then moved him quietly somewhere where he would have no opportunity to repeat his crime. To avert this plot, to spare Aral the shame, to spare Miles the punishment. That was his job: to protect, and sometimes he had to protect people from themselves. But Miles was not a thief, and it was Simon who was ashamed.
His wristcom beeped, and Simon looked down at it and winced. Lady Cordelia. That was quick. He supposed the doctor must have called her. They had great respect for Cordelia at ImpMil, after all these years, and she was the obvious person. He sent the guard out and transferred the call to the comconsole in the security post.
"Simon." Her face on the viewscreen was a little puzzled, a little angry, a little thoughtful, and her tones were not so much accusing as curious. "Why are you torturing my son?"
He did not look away. "To find out if he's been stealing from the Imperium, my lady."
That made her blink and stare at him, clearly not expecting an admission of guilt. "The doctor said, but I didn't--what were you doing, Simon?" This time her voice was very sharp, a sword's edge flashing on a conference table. "What the hell's going on there?"
"Miles was in recovery from the surgery. Alert and aware, but in pain. Vulnerable. I went in to ask him to explain his accounts, which contain some very large and disturbing discrepancies."
"The doctor said you laid hands on him." Still the glint of steel.
"When he understood what I was asking, and why, he became very angry with me. He tried to get up. I caught him before he could collapse. If you wish, I will transfer the security vid of our entire conversation to you, my lady."
She studied him again, and he saw the sword slide back into its sheath. "That won't be necessary. When the doctor called me I thought it had to be all nonsense, but then--"
"It's not." He held her eye. As he wanted the truth from Miles, she was owed the truth from him. "Make no mistake, my lady. I chose this moment to attack. The doctor misunderstood some of what he saw, but he did not misunderstand why I was there, at that time."
She shook her head. "Oh, Simon. You idiot." Her tone was sad now, not angry. "One day you'll have to start trusting people. I know Miles can be a total pain in a lot of ways, but he's not a thief and you know it."
"I do know it," Simon said. "But ... the discrepancies in his accounting are serious. And they have given the Auditor a clear line of attack, at him, at me, and at Aral. Though he's no thief, he does need to learn care and discretion."
"Ha. Good luck with that. We never managed to teach him any. But don't stress him any further, Simon, please. He had an incredibly rough time on Earth, and before, and afterwards. I've seen the reports. Ask him for the explanation, and he'll give it to you. You know that too."
Simon sighed. "Vorvolk told me I wasn't objective about Miles, and he was right. I was too harsh on him because I was afraid I was being too lenient." He opened his hand to Cordelia. "Does that make sense to you?"
"Of course it does." She smiled a little at him then. "Don't try that again, Simon. And don't worry. He'll forgive you for it. I'll be along later on this evening to see him; try to have it all sorted out between you by then, please."
Simon bowed his head to her, and she cut the comm. He leaned back in the station chair and found himself studying the view-screen of Miles's room again. Miles was still awake, but his eyes were heavy and shadowed, the familiar look of pain. Simon sighed. He would leave Miles to sleep for a few hours, go and stall the Auditor, and come back later to hear Miles's explanation. And to apologise to Lord Vorkosigan for doubting his word.
Miles woke suddenly to the sound of footsteps outside his bedroom door. He sat bolt upright, his heart racing: an intruder? Assassins? He reached out, fumbling for his grandfather's dagger. The footsteps passed his door, halted, turned around and went back, and this time, Miles recognised them. Simon. Of course. He set the dagger down, feeling a bit foolish. There was an increased guard on the house, after all, not to mention the force-screen: intruders were not exactly likely here.
The footsteps faded and Miles lay down again, then started to wonder what Simon was doing walking around Vorkosigan House at--he glanced at the glowing lights of his clock--quarter to two in the morning on his first night here. Perhaps he would rather be back at ImpSec after all. Or perhaps he just couldn't sleep, though he'd seemed very tired earlier. Ruibal hadn't mentioned sleepwalking, or anything like that, had he?
He heard Simon moving further along the corridor, and it occurred to him that perhaps Simon needed something, and as a good host, he ought to go and see if he could help. He got out of bed and went out into the corridor, padding softly in bare feet.
Simon was standing on the landing to the back stairs, looking up and down the spiral flight as if trying to decide which way to go. The night-dim lighting made him look strangely old and small, but when he heard Miles's footsteps, he whirled around, hand moving reflexively to his hip, though he was unarmed.
"Oh! It's you." Simon took a step back. "What are you doing here?"
Miles swallowed at those too-familiar words. "I heard you out here. Is there a problem? Do you need anything?"
"Oh. I thought your bedroom was ... somewhere else. I didn't mean to disturb you." Simon looked down the corridor Miles had come from in faint bemusement, as if it hadn't been there a minute ago. "I'm fine, Miles. Go back to bed."
There was a strong note of dismissal in his voice, and Miles felt himself beginning to turn in automatic reflex before his brain woke up fully and he began to realise just what the problem was. Simon was lost. In Vorkosigan House. And wasn't going to ask for help.
"I was thinking I might make myself some cocoa," Miles said, thinking quickly. "Do you want any? Ma Kosti goes home at night, so we won't wake anyone." He headed for the stairs without waiting for Simon's response; after a fractional pause, Simon followed him down.
The route to the kitchen was a bit convoluted from here, and Miles walked slowly, but did not let himself look to see whether Simon recognised where he was or not. Inside, he flipped on half the lights and stared around at the array of cupboards.
"I used to know where this sort of thing was kept..." he muttered. He began to open doors, unearthing a vast number of cooking ingredients, mostly things he had no idea how to use. One large shallow cupboard held a massive spice collection: he stared in bemusement at the array of jars and canisters. Simon came over to join the search, his interest evidently piqued despite himself, and typically, he was the one who found cocoa and sugar. In fact, he found nine varieties of sugar and three of cocoa.
"Well," Miles said, studying the catering-sized jars and packets, "I suppose we could try them all and use whichever one tastes best."
"Some of us," Simon responded, "have occasionally had to cook for ourselves." He selected one of the sugars and one of the cocoas, and carried them over to the enormous main stove. Milk was easier to locate in the walk-in refrigerator, though finding a saucepan that wasn't sized to make cocoa for fifty took some time. Since he seemed to know what he was doing--evidently, cooking was something he could remember how to do--in the interests of having good-tasting cocoa Miles let Simon decide on quantities and procedure, and confined himself to following Simon's orders. It was a familiar pattern.
There was a small table and some chairs at the far end of the kitchen where the staff sat for their breaks. Miles poured the cocoa into two steaming mugs and headed over there.
"I woke up and I had no idea where I was," Simon said abruptly after his first swallow of cocoa. "I did remember coming here yesterday afternoon, in the end, but not why I was sleeping in Count Piotr's room."
"Father would kill me if I didn't give you the nicest guest rooms we have," Miles answered, trying to sound casual. "And then Mother and Aunt Alys would come around for seconds," he added, winning a faint laugh from Simon.
"Oh yes. Alys arranged for the flowers, didn't she? They reminded me of her, when I saw them."
"No dancing housemaids, though," Miles said, but that reference clearly eluded Simon. He took a sip of cocoa.
Simon was holding his mug between his hands as if warming them. "How can I get lost in Vorkosigan House?" he muttered. "It's ridiculous."
"People get lost here all the time. Martin's been working here a month, and he still gets lost sometimes. It's not that ridiculous."
Simon gave him an almost annoyed look, and didn't have to say I've worked here thirty years.
"After my cryorevival," Miles added more slowly, "I got lost here once. On my way to the attics. I went up the servants' stairs, and--there was a gap in my memory where that bit of the house had been. It was scary." He swallowed cocoa without tasting it.
Simon made a faint sound that could have been either acknowledgement or agreement, his gaze fixed on his mug as if it was the most interesting thing he'd ever seen, and Miles didn't try to meet his eye. They drank cocoa in silence and sat, both lost in their own thoughts. Then Simon tried to stifle a yawn, and Miles stood up. Mindful of Ma Kosti's comments the last time he'd tried to cook in this kitchen, he went to wash up both mugs and the saucepan, while Simon remained in his chair, obviously weary. When he was done, Simon pushed himself to his feet, and Miles preceded him out of the kitchen. He went back the front way, up to the main hall and up the wide stairs, and noticed the way Simon relaxed here. He hadn't forgotten the entire house. Still, Miles led the way up to the door of Simon's suite and pulled it open.
"Planning to tuck me in as well?" Simon asked, very dry.
"You used to," Miles retorted. "And tell me stories."
"And sing lullabies," Simon added unexpectedly. "You were a complete terror at that age. Still are, in fact. All right. Good night, Miles. Or is it good morning?"
"Still good night, in my view." He hesitated, picturing again Simon waking up with no idea why he was here, wandering around the house alone and getting lost. "You know," he said cautiously, "I have a wristcom always with me. You can just call me, if--if you need anything. I'm right here, and I don't mind."
"I'm sure I'll be fine." Simon's voice was like a high stone wall with iron spikes on top.
Miles was used to playing wall. "You never used to have any compunction about calling me in the middle of the night when you suddenly had a job for me."
A palpable lie. Miles wanted to demand will you only ask for my help when you want me to cut your throat for you? but there was a chance Simon didn't remember that, and if he'd forgotten, that was one thing Miles never wanted him to recall. Instead, he tackled the wall headfirst.
"My mother has a saying." He drew breath, feeling his face heat, but there was only one kind of dynamite that would bring this wall down. "You've probably heard it before. 'Let me help' rhymes with 'I love you'. Let me help, Uncle Simon."
"God, you're your mother's son," Simon said, his tone somewhere between swearing and marvelling. "All right. All right. As you wish. If I have another ... another problem, I'll call you."
"Thank you," Miles whispered. He looked at Simon, then, impulsively, reached out. Simon gave him a look that was clearly meant to say I'll humour you if I must but was belied by the little sigh he gave as Miles hugged him. "God, Simon," he said, "you have no idea how glad I am to have you home here, after all that."
"Home," Simon echoed softly. "I suppose this is as much my home as anywhere is." He let go of Miles and looked around. "Then I'd better learn my way around again, hadn't I?"
"In the morning," Miles said, "we'll go over the whole house until you've got it straight again." He looked up and smiled. "Good night."
"It occurs to me," Miles said, "that there's something I never said to you."
Simon drained his glass. Miles had all too visibly been brooding on something all evening, and Simon had a tolerable certainty that whatever it was, it would be easier to handle if he was moderately anaesthetised first. He'd often thought it would be easier to handle Miles if he was drunk, and now at last he was allowed.
The party was in full spate around them. A small party, Alys had described it, though it seemed oddly bigger when he was trying to navigate it as a guest instead of running security for it, a small party to help Laisa settle into her new, temporary position as the Emperor's Betrothed. And Alys herself was dashing around, or at least gliding gracefully but without pausing very often, guiding Laisa and smoothing her path, and Simon had concluded that there wasn't much he could do to be of service to her here, and had retreated to a comfortable sofa with a bottle of Gregor's best wine. Miles had joined him, talking of inconsequentalities, but with an edge to him that Simon recognised, unmuted by the wine he was drinking. And it seemed they were here at last.
But the bottle was empty. Miles raised a hand and one of the servants--ImpSec, and only more attuned to Alys herself than to Simon, here tonight--came over with commendable promptness and a fresh bottle. Simon recognised the delaying tactic for what it was as Miles refilled both their glasses and took a sip from his, but he let Miles spin it out a few moments longer before finally saying, "Well, Miles? Spit it out."
"I'm sorry," Miles said, very fast.
Simon had picked up his glass, but now he put it down again with a faint clink. He didn't have to ask why, or what Miles meant, and though he no longer had his chip to verify it, he was as certain as he could be that it was true: Miles had not apologised to him. Gregor had, and that had been an experience he was just as glad not to have permanently stored in his head, but Miles had not.
"I know you trusted me. And I lied. I knew it was wrong as soon as--before--I did it. And you always told me to tell the truth, whatever it was, and--"
Miles was babbling now. Simon raised a hand to stop him, then did pick up his glass and took a judicious sip. "I know you've apologised to Gregor," he said, "and you've regained his trust." A glance at the chain of office that Miles wore for this formal party. "And you've done me ... great service. Why bring this up now?" He had no need to watch Miles intently as he asked: he could read him by instinct, in the dark.
"I suppose--I suppose I was thinking about Haroche. He never apologised to you, did he? Nor to Gregor. I ... don't want to be any more like him than I have to be."
"He was a good man," Simon said. "A brave and clever officer, a worthy successor, a good man. Or so I thought. As I thought of you."
Miles flinched, but bore it in silence. Simon recalled rather too clearly how Miles had looked when he'd fired him. How he'd felt. How he'd wept. How he'd feared for Miles's life, afterwards, and wondered what he would do if he had driven Aral's son to suicide. How he'd nearly called Miles, a dozen times over the next few days, and told him to forget it, to come back, that all was forgiven... but some cold and solid conviction that he was right prevented him.
"It was the one thing I always asked of you," he said, "and always got: the truth. You disobeyed my orders, you imprisoned my men and ran rings around them, you ran your own private wars, you committed treason--but you told me the truth about it all, always. I prized that highly."
Miles looked nearly ready to cry. Some of that was the wine, no doubt, but not all. "And I pissed all over it," Miles whispered. "I am sorry."
"You broke that trust," Simon agreed, and let that hang in the air. "But what you should be asking me now is, have you regained it?"
The noises from the party seemed very distant now. Miles's eyes were fixed on him.
"I've fucked up in my time, you know. Not by lying, at least, not often, but in other ways. Lots of them. There was Evon Vorhalas, for one--an error of judgement rather than a--a sin, but no less terrible for that. And many other times. I never expect anyone to go his entire life without these violations. Not you, not me, not anyone. You'll screw up again, too, in your life, some new way, and I will too."
At length, Miles said, "And have I regained your trust?"
Simon did take a deep gulp of his wine then, because some memories were still too clear and he would prefer to blur them. "When I needed someone," he said quietly, "when I really needed a person I could trust to help me, who else did I ask for, Miles? Even then, after it all, who else did I trust?"
Miles's shoulders slumped, his whole body relaxing, and he seemed to sink into the sofa as if the tension had been all that was holding him up. Simon put an arm around his shoulders, and Miles leaned into him. "Thank you," he said at last. "Thank you."
He sat still for a while, his breathing slowly steadying again, and Simon felt himself relax too. He hadn't quite realised that he'd wanted this, that he'd been waiting for it. That he'd been owed it. He looked sideways at Miles, and then smiled, because Miles had passed out. Lightweight, Simon thought fondly. He looked up, and caught Alys's eye on them, a little disapproving. He probably wasn't supposed to let the newest Lord Auditor pass out drunk at Laisa's party. A very minor screw-up, but he really didn't want to spoil her evening. He made an apologetic gesture to her, and saw her response: Fix it, then.
He did so simply, nodding to one of the servants and sending him in search of Miles's armsman. It was barely a minute before Pym was standing discreetly by them.
"Ah," Pym said, taking them in with a look in which gentle amusement was not quite fully concealed. "I'll take him home, then, shall I, sir?"
"That would be a good idea, yes," Simon said. But he kept his arm around Miles for a moment. "You have children, don't you, Pym?"
"That's right, sir."
"You always forgive them, don't you, when they do something they shouldn't?"
A softer expression flickered across Pym's face. "Of course I do, sir."
"Yes," Simon echoed, "of course you do."
Though Miles was no child now, that was certain, but a man full grown in experience and pain, a man old enough to make mistakes and own them and apologise for them, as an equal. And be forgiven.
They had the conspirators all located, trapped, though they didn't know it, while they met in their anonymous hotel room. Time for the final stage of this operation. Miles looked around for Simon, but he hadn't arrived in the little shielded command and control centre yet. Miles wasn't sure whether to ask him to hurry up or not. Having Simon along to consult on this case had been very useful, multiple times over, but Lord Auditor or not, Miles didn't find it easy to tell Simon what to do. But Gregor had suggested it, and it was true that Simon's old ImpSec knowledge and contacts, patchy as they were, had been invaluable several times. They had found their gang of disgrunted ex-ImpSec men, discovered most of the plot, and were poised to swoop in.
This was the part Miles had the most doubts about. They were all retired or dismissed ImpSec agents, clever and dangerous; there were going to be casualties. But when Simon suggested going in as a decoy, Miles had finally put his Auditorial foot down. He was not, dammit, going to let an old man take the greatest risk. He'd finally got to a point when he didn't have to order people he loved into the line of fire, and he liked it that way.
He studied the line of approach, then began to swear under his breath. On the viewscreen, a slight figure was moving, leaning a little affectedly on one of Miles's longer canes, headed for the room where the conspirators were meeting. Damn him! Damn him, how dare he try to pull off a stunt like this?
Technically, Miles supposed, Simon was disobeying a direct Auditorial order, and if he ever fancied being skinned alive by his Aunt Alys he could choose to make an issue of it. But he knew perfectly well Simon wasn't disobeying an Auditorial order. He was refraining from following advice on his own territory from his own ex-subordinate and, as he'd pointed out more than once, from someone he'd once sung lullabies to at bedtime.
He'd be skinned alive by Ivan, too, he suspected, if this went wrong now. When Gregor had suggested that Simon help out on this case, Ivan had come to find Miles and spent a fair bit of time trying to find ways to say 'please take care of him' without being too obvious about the fact that he was worried about his stepfather and his new--or perhaps finally unrepressed--adrenalin-tripping habits. Well, Ivan had been right to worry.
His heart in his mouth, Miles watched as Simon knocked on the door. Simon's movements were casual, confident, as if he entirely belonged here, and Miles had a sudden flash of memory, of Simon telling him covert ops stories when he was young.
"He's wearing a wire, my lord," said Tuomonen, who was managing the op, since Miles knew his own operational experience was getting a little out of date. "What's his plan?"
"I don't know," Miles bit out, and Tuomonen's eyes widened, then crinkled betrayingly. Miles had added the Captain to his staff a year ago, when Tuomonen completed his twenty years and took Miles up on the old job offer, and he knew Tuomonen enjoyed his work, but he hadn't forgotten what had happened on Komarr.
"Well, he is Captain Illyan," Tuomonen said, a hint of reverence in his tone. "What do you want me to do?"
"Get his wire up on the screen," Miles said. "We can't stop him now. Wait for his signal."
Simon's perspective, visual and audio, appeared on his screen and headset a moment later. Another knock, some sounds inside, muffled and unintelligible voices. Then the door opened.
They did have a booby-trap prepared, Miles saw at once as Simon glanced vaguely towards some hastily dismantled wires on the doorway, ready to be reconnected in seconds if necessary. And there were two men standing in covering lines of fire, too. But they evidently weren't prepared to blow up someone who might just be cleaning staff or an accidental visitor. That was a good sign, Miles thought. And they all looked deeply shocked to see Simon.
"Is Thierry Bisset here?" Simon said, his voice cheerful and casual. "They said to try up here..." He stepped into the room. "Oh, I didn't mean to intrude--ah, Thierry, there you are."
His gaze swept the room. There were eleven men inside, the full set of conspirators, and they were all staring at Simon. One man's hand moved up in a fraction of a salute before he stopped himself. Miles ran the cross-checks: every single man in this room had served Simon. Thierry Bisset, the conspiracy leader, who had retired from ImpSec at the rank of Colonel, started forward.
"Sir! What on earth are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," Simon said easily. "They said to try in here."
"Oh," Simon said. He faltered. "I... downstairs. One of the people I asked. I'm sorry, I can't--"
Miles saw, through Simon's eyes, the way Thierry's lips pressed together, dismay and frustration and a hint of pain. He certainly would not press Simon for more. Miles had seen Simon playing up his disabilities before, and every time he hated it. It might be over seven years since he'd sat beside Simon in the ImpSec clinic and listened to him beg for death, but there was no chance of him forgetting it. But these days, Simon seemed almost amused by his own frailties. Vulnerability can be a defence too, he'd said to Miles. Or a weapon.
"What can I do for you?" Thierry said after a pause. "I'm afraid this isn't a good time--"
"I was trying to find out what had become of you, and I heard you were staying here," Simon said. "It's a strange life, once you're out of that rat-trap. Though the new building is an improvement, I'll grant. But if this isn't a good time--perhaps you could give me your home address, we can catch up."
"Oh. Er. All right," Thierry said. He began to recite an address--not the one on file, Miles noted, and wondered which one was false--but Simon interrupted him.
"Sorry, would you mind writing it down for me?"
Again, that strange grimace of dismay, echoed by several other faces in the room. "Of course, sir," Thierry said gently. He rummaged inside his jacket pockets--Simon saw the weapons there, but said nothing--and pulled out a torn flimsy and a pen, then stooped over a table. Simon, leaning on the table with him, drummed his fingers on the wood once.
"Go," Miles said to Tuomonen. "Now."
"I've got a place here in the capital now," Simon was saying as Thierry wrote, and for a horrible moment Miles thought he'd misinterpreted Simon's signal, his voice was so perfectly casual. "Not too large for me, but there's room when the grandchildren come to visit--" and the door blew in.
Simon's view of the next thirty seconds was deeply confusing, even for someone used to following command headset data. He ducked down, and someone rushed at him, and his wire gave off nothing but blackness and the sounds of feet and shouts and stunner fire. Miles switched to the commandos' views, and tried desperately to find Simon. He was lying beneath another man, not Thierry, but the man who had nearly saluted when he'd entered. Rewinding rapidly, Miles saw that as soon as the door had broken down, the man had flung himself on top of Simon. And half the men there had looked not to Thierry for orders, but to Simon. Reflexes, indeed. Miles swore under his breath.
He saw it was secure before Tuomonen gave the all-clear, and jogged at the fastest pace he could from their nest to the conspirators' room, pushing past commandos and arriving just in time to see the conspirator being dragged off Simon. Miles ran over.
"You damn sneaky bastard," the conspirator was saying half-appreciatively, looking at Simon and entirely ignoring the commandos. "Sir."
Simon extended a hand, and at a nod from Miles the commando let the ImpSec conspirator pull Simon to his feet. "As ever," Simon replied. "I'm sorry to see you here, Baudin." To Miles he added, "Baudin used to command my personal security detail, once. Until he starting turning up drunk on duty. His wife had died, but ... well. Can you do anything for him?"
"We'll see," Miles said. "Take him away, but hold him separately from the others," he added to the commando, and they watched until the room was cleared. Then Miles glared at Simon. "Dammit, that was far too dangerous--what on earth got into you? You could have been killed!"
"I'm fine, Miles, stop fretting," Simon said placidly. There was a strange little smile on his face. "I knew you were there, after all."
Miles ground his teeth, hovering at Simon's shoulder as they headed out of the building and towards the waiting lightflyer. "I'll go back with Simon now," he said to Tuomonen. "Congratulations, you get the mopping up. I'll be back later on, and you can always contact me if you need anything."
"Yes, my lord."
The only hint that Simon hadn't found the entire experience as easy as he feigned was the way his hand gripped Miles's shoulder to help himself into the flyer. But he was smiling as he sat down. "It worked very well," he said.
"By the skin of your teeth," Miles retorted. "If you ever pull a stunt like that--" Self-awareness finally caught up with him, with the dancing light in Simon's eyes. "Is this revenge, Simon?"
Simon ... smirked. "I wouldn't say I was above a little revenge now and then," he said, "though Sasha and Helen have most of the market cornered on that these days. But in this case, I thought you were letting emotion cloud your judgement. I knew I could distract them enough to reduce the risk of casualties, and I have never prioritised my own safety above my--ImpSec's--men."
"You wouldn't have had to answer to Aunt Alys if it had all gone wrong," Miles muttered. "Or Ivan, or Tej, or the kids, or Father and Mother, dammit."
Simon only looked at him. "Now that," he observed, "is revenge. I notified your parents that you were missing in action three times. And I notified them of your death."
Miles winced. "Did I ever say I was sorry about that? I am. Though I still don't think I could have done anything else."
"Mm. Perhaps not." Simon leaned back against the seat. "Still," he said, "I enjoyed that." He looked deeply content, like Zap the cat after a satisfying prowl laying down the law to the other Vorkosigan House cats. Miles shook his head and sat back opposite, letting his own post-combat nerves dissipate. It had all gone well, in the end. Perhaps Simon was owed a little revenge. And a little fun.
They drove back to Alys's apartment building, and Simon and Miles both noticed the extra security vehicles around the place, and the Vorbarra armsman at the door. Alys had visitors. The armsman scanned them quickly, then waved them both past, and Simon unfastened the door. He was home again.
A wall of sound hit them both, followed rapidly by a small missile colliding with his knees with a battle cry of, "Grandda! Grandda!" A second, smaller missile struck a moment later. Grinning, Simon bent and scooped up both his namesake and Elizabeth, one in each arm.
"Ha," Miles observed, also grinning, "you can see who's more popular than her poor old Da."
"Hello, Da," Elizabeth said, but wrapped her arms enthusiastically around Simon's neck. Only a little sticky, Simon considered. Alys was doing well.
They went into the living room, where a beautifully chaotic scene was spread before them. The Crown Prince was carefully dismantling one of Simon's old ImpSec commlinks, aided and abetted by Sasha and supervised by Ivan. Tej and Laisa were sitting on the carpet, which was liberally decorated with toys, along with Helen and Xav and a puppy, and Alys was serenely enthroned on a sofa with baby Sonia on her lap and little Kareen snuggled in on one side, reading a story, apparently oblivious to the chaos.
Tej rose to her feet as they entered, though Laisa remained seated, helping Xav fit the pieces of a small wooden puzzle together. "You're back! Did everything go smoothly?" She beamed at him sunnily. Ivan turned too, and Simon thought he caught a flash of relief on his face.
"Yes," Miles answered, "we got them all caught and rounded up, all safe." He said nothing about Simon's unauthorised role in this, and Simon smiled.
"It went beautifully," he said. "Elizabeth, if you want to get down, you can just say, you don't have to kick me."
"You behave yourself, Lizzie," Miles put in. "Don't kick your Grandda Simon."
"Down!" Elizabeth promptly demanded, and Simon deposited her on the carpet, and she pounced on the puppy.
"I thought we were just having Miles's children here," Simon remarked to Alys. "While Ekaterin gets sorted out with her new design commission. Did I forget something?"
"No, that's right," Alys told him, "but then Ivan had the day off and thought he'd bring the family around, and then Tej was talking to Laisa and we decided to have a general visit." She made a swift grab to stop Sonia chewing on the edge of the book. "To give everyone something to do while we waited for news."
With Laisa's parents on Komarr, Tej's on Jackson's Whole and Aral and Cordelia on Sergyar, he and Alys were the only grandparents within a week's travel time most of these children had, and Alys was enjoying it to the full. Simon was enjoying it too, even if the rate of breakages in their penthouse seemed to have increased exponentially in the past few years. He ran a thoughtful eye over the Crown Prince and Sasha, who had also appropriated Christos's toolkit for their engineering experiments, but Ivan seemed to have them well in hand.
"Play lightflyers with me, Grandda," little Si demanded suddenly, and Simon laughed and held the child under his arms and swooped him around the room, taking off and soaring and taking evasive action from a sneak attack by Miles, and winding up with a spectacular crash landing on the carpet, narrowly missing Elizabeth and the puppy.
"Again, again," Si said through hysterical giggles, bouncing back up to his feet. Simon sat up more slowly, also laughing but aware that he'd crash-landed a little harder than he'd intended and was already going to have bruises from his earlier activities. Ivan came over.
"I think it's my turn, you rascal," he said, retrieving his son and extending a hand to Simon. Simon let his stepson help him up and dust him off.
"No trouble with the conspirators, then?" Ivan said with excessive shrewdness.
"Nothing Miles and I couldn't handle." But Simon rubbed his hip ruefully anyway. Ivan, watching this, gave an oddly parental sigh. Fatherhood really had changed him, Simon thought, it was rather charming. He went over to the sofa and sat down beside Alys. She leaned across and kissed his cheek, her hand trailing over his leg in a way that reminded him that later on, when all the grandchildren were gone, his bruises would doubtless get all the loving attention they could stand. She passed baby Sonia to him.
"You sit here a bit, love. I'll go have a word with them in the kitchen, and we'll all have tea now that you're home safe."
She bustled away, and a moment later, Miles, who also looked a little tired, came over to take her place, leaving Ivan and the ladies to the more active supervision. Simon surveyed the room.
"I never would have imagined that I might be coming home to something like this, one day," he said. "I didn't know you could get grandchildren without having children first."
Miles gave him an amused look, reaching out to catch little Kareen before she crawled off the edge of the sofa. "I don't know, Uncle Simon," he murmured. "After all these years, what makes you think you didn't have children?"