Title: Defending the House
Prompt: Count Piotr tries to get the Vorrutyer family out of his son's life - by any means possible.
Length: 2500 words
Content: abusive relationship, implied rape, Old-Barrayaran attitudes, difficult father-son relationship
Summary: Piotr is a dirty fighter, but so is Ges Vorrutyer.
Piotr paced across the library. He wasn't sleeping so well these days, a consequence of getting older, perhaps. It certainly wasn't because he was worried about ... anything. Aral was a grown man now, not an infant. And he only came home half the time these days anyway. But still, it had been three days... Piotr turned sharply on his heel and went over to his desk. Petitions from the Hassadar courts for his attention. That was a fit reason for a Count to sit up late at night. He picked them up and began to read, but did not sit down, his feet still pacing their anxious rhythm across the library carpet.
There was a sudden noise outside: the main door opening, loud angry voices.
"He threw up all over my taxi! Just look at it! I want payment, or--"
"--or what?" That was Armsman Prentiss, on door duty tonight. Piotr finished his circuit of the room, set the flimsies down on his desk, and walked with slow deliberate steps towards the door.
There were three people in the entrance hall: Prentiss, stiff and angry; a short middle-aged man Piotr presumed must be the taxi driver; and a third figure lying on the tiled floor, mumbling inarticulately. Ah.
"Good evening," Piotr said quietly, and the taxi driver whirled around. Prentiss braced to attention, then glared at the taxi driver.
"Go on, you, out of here. Enough."
"Not without my money, I'm not--"
"What is this?" Piotr asked, still quiet.
"My lord Count! This man is demanding unreasonable--"
"I picked this young idiot out of the gutter," the taxi driver said across this. "He said he was a Vor lord and he told me to bring him here. Didn't have a mark on him, but he said I'd get payment when we arrived. And then he threw up all over my taxi, it's disgusting. I won't be able to work for the rest of the night now, not till it's all cleaned, and that'll cost you. I've kids of my own to feed."
Piotr sighed. "Pay him, Prentiss. Outside, if you please." He paced slowly forwards, and the two men retreated, closing the door, though he could hear their continued bickering in the courtyard, words muffled by the thick walls. He looked down.
Aral was shirtless and barefoot and filthy, smeared with his own vomit and with blood. Unarmed, too, utterly helpless. Piotr contemplated the driver who had seen him like that, picked him out of the gutter and taken him home on Aral's bare promise of payment, and opened the door again.
"Pay him what he wants, Prentiss, with my thanks," he said, and Prentiss braced to attention again. "He's earned it. Then get back on duty." He closed the door and looked at his son.
His son, his only son, his heir. And what a son he was for a man to be proud of, indeed, this repulsive drunken wretch, the talk of the town for his exploits and scandals, wasting his every opportunity, his every good quality, keeping the worst kind of company, a revolting object. What had he done wrong, to be left only with this for a son? Had he not been punished enough in his life, without this great shame on his House?
He had said most of that to Aral last week, to no avail. What was the point of saying it again? He sighed, then bent down over his son.
"Come on," he said, "you're going to bed." He heaved the boy up, pleased to find that he still had a soldier's strength in his back and arms.
"No," Aral mumbled, then more loudly, "No! No! Stop! Don't touch me!" He struggled against Piotr's grasp, then broke away altogether and crumpled to the floor. Piotr stared, then felt the glimmerings of a deeply unwelcome understanding. He stood unmoving for a moment, then knelt at Aral's head and took Aral's face in his hands.
"Look at me," he said, infusing his voice with the same firmness that encouraged young horses over high fences. "Aral. You're at home. You're disgustingly drunk and I'm going to take you to lie down and sleep it off. Do you understand?"
Aral's eyes struggled to focus on him, then he sighed and mumbled, "Da."
That was a name Piotr hadn't heard from him for a long time, and for a moment he held himself still.
"Sorry," Aral added a moment later, his eyes fluttering closed again.
"Very well. Up you come." He lifted Aral again, and this time Aral didn't fight, just stumbled blindly along. Piotr decided not to attempt the stairs, nor Aral's own bedroom, instead going back into the library and depositing Aral on a broad comfortable sofa. He'd be better there, really.
Armsman Tomas arrived a moment later, unordered but well-practised in this, a bundle of necessities in his arms. Piotr took a jug and poured Aral a glass of water. "Drink this," he said, lifting Aral half-sitting and suddenly feeling like he had when Aral had been so ill, that summer when he was ten, before... before.
Aral obeyed meekly, and let Piotr and Tomas clean him and strip his foul clothes away, dress him in some rather childish pyjamas, and make him comfortable on the sofa, wandering in and out of awareness as they worked. Once he was clean and covered with blankets, he began to snore.
"You may as well go to bed," Piotr said to Tomas. "I'll sit with him. I wasn't sleeping anyway."
Tomas cleared up the mess and silently left. Piotr pulled up an armchair and stared at Aral. "Dammit, when is this going to stop, Aral? A bit of carousing is one thing, but this... and the rest of it. You're Vor, you are Lord Vorkosigan, and you let him use you like a two-mark whore." He'd seen the bruises and scratches as he undressed Aral, unmistakable hand and finger marks on his body, the deeper cuts of knives. He pressed his lips tightly together. Away at war, yes, men grew close to each other, that was understood and he'd been there himself, but here in town? And Aral was his heir; if he was going to ... do that, he should not be so obviously beneath other men. But Ges led Aral around like a prize bull with a ring through its nose.
There had to be some way to put a stop to this. He'd tried sending Aral to work in the District: Aral had spent three days incapably drunk, had crashed the Vorkosigan groundcar in Hassadar's central square, and then Vorrutyer had caught up with him and carried him back to the capital. And after what had happened with the duelling, he had no influence to get Aral a space posting, and half the General Staff would turn on him if he tried, since Aral was patently unfit for any critical post. Short of locking his son in a remote cottage in the District and posting guards on the door, he couldn't see how to get Aral away from Vorrutyer.
Aral turned over on the sofa, and his eyes flickered open. He stared around, visibly confused, until his gaze landed on Piotr. "Oh," he mumbled. "How did I--where's Ges?"
Piotr flinched, but answered, "Not here. Thankfully. You took a taxi home. Go back to sleep, boy."
"I thought he was..." Aral said, but his voice trailed off again and he dropped back into his stupor as quickly as he'd woken.
And that was the other half of the problem. Aral's entire world revolved around Vorrutyer, he wouldn't hear a word against him, wouldn't listen, wouldn't see, wouldn't think. Even after ... whatever vileness had passed between them, earlier, Aral's first thought had been for Vorruyer. If he had been blackmailing Aral, threatening him, coercing him--those things Piotr could have defended against, could have protected Aral from. But Aral wanted him, wanted that mutant-hearted son of a spavined mule, and the more Piotr reviled him, the more defensive Aral became.
Which left tackling the problem from the other side, and driving Vorruyter away, forcing him to drop Aral. But he could no more get a distant posting for Vorrutyer than he could Aral, and there were so few lines of attack. He wasn't susceptible to blackmail or slander, not when his every repulsive activity was common knowledge in the town gossip. Nor could he be bought off or distracted away, when it appeared there was nothing he wanted so much as he wanted Aral: Piotr had seen the crazed Vorrutyer fixations before. And there was nobody else who had any influence over Vorrutyer that Piotr could find, none of the senior members of the House, and most certainly of all not Vorrutyer's parents. He had found out all he could about the man, once it was clear he had his claws deep into Aral, and it had made for sickening study, but revealed no handles he could grasp either.
The only thing left was an accident, but that would be very difficult, so soon after the three 'accidents' Aral had already left in his wake. It would have to be perfect, beyond perfect, so perfect that even Aral himself--who had drunkenly accused Piotr of wanting to murder Vorrutyer several times already--would suspect nothing. So perfect that Ezar and Negri would suspect nothing. And that was a high bar for a man who hadn't arranged an assassination for years.
He sat back in his armchair, testing out ideas and finding them all inadequate, his eyes resting on Aral. He looked so like a child still, in sleep, a stupid, rash, foolish child who'd got into trouble too deep for him to handle and couldn't get out again. If Olivia had been here, she might have been able ... but it was no use thinking of that. It was the one thing he had known not to say to Aral: your mother wouldn't like you doing this.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by yet more voices at the door. A busy night, indeed. "Lord Aral has retired for the night," Prentiss was saying stolidly.
"Oh, he is here, then? How impressive. I wouldn't have bet five marks on him getting more than a hundred metres from our door."
Piotr's whole body tensed at that voice, slimy and insinuating and dangerous, like some poisonous snake out of legend, and his hand unconsciously slid to the hilt of his dagger. Damn Prentiss for being fool enough to give that information away.
"Well, that won't be a problem," Vorrutyer continued. "I'll go right up. I'm sure he's told you to admit me any time."
Aral certainly had, and after the third time, Piotr had stopped countermanding the order. At least when Vorrutyer was here, he could keep an eye on them both. He controlled his hand, and went into the hall, closing the library door behind him.
"Vorrutyer. Get out of my house." He jerked his head at Prentiss, who obediently retired to his post outside the door, leaving Piotr alone with his enemy.
"Out," he repeated as Vorrutyer didn't move.
Vorrutyer smiled and stepped closer to him. "I'm sure you don't want to upset Aral. He's so ... difficult ... when he's upset these days, isn't he? But I can manage him. And our party's not over yet. I don't know why he should have run away from all the fun."
"He's in no condition for a party," Piotr stated. "Get out."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Vorrutyer's smile was uglier for its sweetness. "He's so relaxed when he's drunk, he'll do anything, my darling Aral. Anything at all," he repeated, dragging the words out lasciviously. "It's great fun for everyone. Especially if you can watch."
Moving almost without thought, Piotr seized Vorrutyer by the collar and jammed him into the wall. "Shut your mouth and get away from my House."
Vorrutyer only licked his lips. "How like him you are, my lord Count."
Once, he might have run a man through for such words. But challenging Vorrutyer to a duel was one strategy guaranteed to fail, even if he could bring himself to sully his swords with that vile blood. Instead he muttered, "I'll have to wash my hands after this," and drove a hard punch into Vorrutyer's jaw. The snake crumpled.
"Kinky," he said, half sitting on the floor and rubbing his face, but his heart clearly wasn't in it now, and Piotr smiled sourly. It wouldn't solve the problem to have Vorrutyer physically afraid of him, but it wouldn't do any harm either, and the body was very good at remembering those who had hurt it.
"Lord Vorkosigan," he said, "is enjoying a quiet evening at home with his father. I'm sure even you must spend time with your parents on occasion, and I'm sure you enjoy it."
That was almost as good as another blow to the face. Vorrutyer's eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. Piotr knew all about Vorrutyer's troubles with his father, and his mother too, every ugly detail. It wouldn't hold him away from Aral, but it would hurt him, and right now, that would be enough to content Piotr.
"You wouldn't care much for what Aral says about you," Vorrutyer retorted, but Piotr could hear the lack of control in his tone now.
"I didn't know you'd had any conversations with Aral when he was sober," he responded, "and I wouldn't place any great value on what's said by fools in their cups." He advanced on Vorrutyer, slowly, calling upon every ounce of menace he could project. "If Aral chooses to go with you, I'll not stop him," he whispered, "but while you're under my roof, you will obey my Voice. Now get. Out."
Vorrutyer glared at him, but broke. He stood up before Piotr could drag him to his feet by his collar, and retreated to the door.
"I'll call again another time," he said, a parody of a society matron, and went out. Piotr stood still for a while until his pulse steadied. For a minute he considered calling Prentiss to him and venting the rest of his frustration on his ineptitude, but then shrugged. Tomas would deal with that in the morning. In the meantime, he had a son who needed him, whether he knew it or not.
Aral was snoring now, deeply asleep. Piotr resumed his seat at his side. It wouldn't last, not even for a day: Vorrutyer would be back, again and again, would snap his fingers and Aral would jump. All he could take pleasure in was this tiniest of victories. But Piotr had fought long campaigns before now, with worse odds and greater reversals. He would find a way.
Aral had tossed the blankets half-off while Piotr had been gone. He pulled them straight, smoothing them over the boy with unnecessary fussiness, hand resting on his shoulder. "You damned fool child," he said quietly, "it's time to come back home."
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/90