One Enchanted Evening

A Vorkosiverse Fan Fiction

By Scott Washburn

This story includes characters and settings created by Lois McMaster Bujold and are used without her permission or knowledge.

"Ekaterin?"

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry."

Miles Vorkosigan gripped the arms of his chair and could not quite meet his fiancé's eyes. They were sitting on the porch of Vorkosigan Surleau and the summer stars were just starting to become visible as the long day drew to a close. It had been a very good day, too, and he desperately hoped that he wasn't about to ruin it. It had been three weeks since Gregor's wedding and things had finally settled down enough for them to get away from the capital. So he and Ekaterin and her son Nikki had flown down to the family resort on the Long Lake and spent the day swimming and riding and relaxing. Dinner was over and Nikki was off with some of the armsmen's children and they finally had a few moments to themselves.

"Sorry?" said Ekaterin, her eyebrows arching up in puzzlement. "What about?"

"About what happened. About what I did. The garden and that awful proposal I made to you at the dinner. I know I apologized in the letter I sent, but I never actually said it to you, face to face." Now he did look in her eyes. They were regarding him very thoughtfully.

"Well, I did accept your apology, but I guess I didn't do that face to face, either, did I?" She smiled slightly and Miles relaxed slightly. "So now I tell you, face to face, that I forgive you, Love."

Miles sighed and closed his eyes. "Thank you."

"But…"

Miles' eyes popped open.

"But what?"

"I do have a few… questions."

"Questions?"

"Just things I've been wondering about."

"Oh?"

"I've been thinking back about all that's happened since I met you. And the one question that keeps popping up is: when?"

"When? When what?"

"When did you decide that you'd fallen in love with me? It does make a bit of a difference, you know."

Miles thought about that and slowly began to nod. "Yes, yes, I guess it does. If Captain Tuomonen's guard could imagine me—us, I suppose—murdering your husband to run off together then the timing does become a bit… critical, doesn't it?"

"A bit. And I can't help but wonder when you realized. Of course, you were very polite, right from the start, and after Tien's death you were so kind, trying to help out me and Nikki. But that might not have had anything to do with love and it all could have just been the fact that you're a very good man." Miles looked at her and saw the smile on her face, shrugged and dropped his eyes.

"But then on the transfer station, in the infirmary, what you said there…"

"What did I say there?" he interrupted, puzzled.

"Never mind. At the time I thought it was just friendly banter, but in light of what followed, I have to think that by that point you had… made up your mind. So, at some time between our first meeting and the transfer station, but when?"

Miles laughed nervously, furiously trying to remember what he's said on the transfer station. "ImpSec should recruit you as an analyst, dear. Maybe we should break out the fast-penta."

"But it doesn't work on you, remember?" She was still smiling, thank God. "So you'll just have to answer on your own. If you want to. I'm not interrogating you, Miles."

The hell you're not. But she does have the right to ask. And you started this yourself, smart boy!

"I think… I think it was during your own interrogation with the fast-penta," he said at last. Her smile faded and she looked surprised and a bit wary. That hadn't been a pleasant experience for her.

"Really? What… happened?"

Miles hesitated and then let out his breath. "Okay, full disclosure. I was… I was attracted to you from the first. Not 'love at first sight', mind you, I'm just attracted to women who look like you. Tall, elegant, brunettes. Purely physical, nothing more at that point. And I don't go around murdering the husband and trying to trick every tall brunette I meet into marrying me!"

"Glad to hear it." Her smile was back, but just a little one.

"So at that point it was nothing more than just my being physically attracted to a good-looking woman. Well that and…"

"And what?"

"It seemed like you… weren't very happy."

"Really? It was that obvious?" She looked startled.

"Maybe not obvious, but I had grown up with, and then spent much of my career in the company of women who weren't Barrayaran. Women who knew they were the equal of any man…"

"Your mother, and that Admiral Quinn."

"Yes, and a few others. I could tell that you were smart and capable. It… irked me the way Tien didn't seem to give you the respect you deserved."

Ekaterin frowned. Her late husband hadn't been deliberately cruel, Miles knew, but he'd been an ass and the hurt he'd inflicted on Ekaterin, deliberate or not, wasn't something she'd want to be reminded of. "Hardly enough to fall in love for, though," she said carefully.

"No, and I didn't. Not then. But I guess I had started to care about you. You seemed like a nice person and I liked you." He paused and stared at her. "What… what did you think of me at that point?"

"I wasn't sure what to think. You weren't like anyone I'd ever met before."

"Did… did my physical appearance repel you?"

"No, no, not really. You have a good face and the rest… well, I guess I was a bit curious, but I wasn't really thinking in those directions at that point." She blushed slightly and Miles really wanted to ask more, but no, he was answering her questions now.

He cleared his throat. "Well, anyway, then when I discovered your files on Vorzohn's Dystrophy I had reason to be worried about you. I had no idea if you had it or Tien or Nikki."

"You were worried? Why?"

"I don't know, really. Maybe I was already thinking about you as a friend. I try to help out my friends if I can. I don't know."

"I was horrified when you told me you'd found that, you know. I'd kept it a secret for so long and here you show up and find out about it in one day!"

"Sorry about that. Well, considering how things turned out, maybe not all that sorry."

"Or maybe not sorry at all?"

"Uh… well…" he shrugged and tried to smile. "So where was I?"

"You liked me."

"Well, I did! And when we went shopping and Tien wasn't around you seemed to relax and let your personality come out and I could see that you were smart and funny and when we fell in the pond you didn't even get mad at me and could laugh about it…"

"I was worried you'd be mad at me."

"What in the world for? It was my fault!"

"Yes, but you were high Vor and we certainly looked foolish and I've noticed that the high Vor don't like to look foolish."

"Hmm, I've had to put up with looking… strange my whole life, a dunking in a pond wasn't much by comparison."

"I suppose not."

"So we'd had a good day—until I mucked it up in the bubble car by mentioning the Vorzohn's Dystrophy. I was just trying to help…"

"I know."

"So I suppose the stage was set: physical attraction and some emotional attraction, too. Plus sympathy. But you were married and had Nikki and there was no way I was going to do anything under those circumstances."

"And then Tien died."

"Yes, and at least I don't have to prove it to you that I didn't plan that."

"No. The Komarrans told me that much on the transfer station while I was waiting to be rescued."

"And, of course, you have my word," pointed out Miles.

"Yes, I have your word. Which I always believed, you know. Even after… after…"

"The mess with the garden?"

"Yes." Her smile was gone now. Clearly there was still some hurt left from that fiasco.

"I didn't lie about liking your gardens," he said, not sure if this was the right thing to talk about. "I saw them before I found the Vorzohn's Dystrophy files. And I liked them. They were beautiful. I even thought about the vacant lot next to the house. All before. So that was the truth, too… before I twisted things. I'm sorry."

"So you've said." A little smile returned. "But it was my interrogation that made you think you loved me? Why? It seemed so very strange at the time—from my perspective."

"I'm sure it did. But as for why… well, as I said I guess all the feelings were already there, I just needed something to make me realize what my feeling meant."

"And it took my fast-penta interrogation to do that?"

"You… you looked so beautiful."

"What?"

"I know it sounds crazy, but you did. And when you said that it didn't hurt and Tuomonen thought you meant the drug, but I knew that wasn't what you were talking about and suddenly it all just came together and I knew." Miles took a breath and stopped. He was babbling.

"How… interesting." A strange expression was on her face and her mouth twitched up slightly at the corners. "So women need to start adding fast-penta to their make-up kits? What a revelation."

"I… I don't think it will work for everyone."

"Oh, so just I need it?"

Miles wasn't touching that one, so he forged ahead. "Of course, even once I realized what I was feeling, I didn't have a clue what to do about it. You surely didn't need some clumsy suitor barging in at that point and I'm hardly the image of a knight in shining armor come to rescue the damsel in distress anyway."

"You've managed… once or twice."

Now they both smiled and he reached over and squeezed her hand.

"But what really clinched it," he continued, "was after the Komarrans gave up on the transfer station. I had been worried to death about you, of course, but when I found out what you'd done, it took everything I had to not fall down on the deck in front of everyone and laugh. Oh man! That was beautiful! I've always admired strong, brave, capable women and you proved you were all of those things and more. "She looked like she was going to say something then, but he raised his free hand to stop her. "I always knew that I wanted something more than just an… ornament for a wife. But so many Vor women I've met seem to be little more than that. Not their fault, our society expects that of 'em. But it's not what I wanted. I guess that's why I kept looking at galactic women. But then you… I already loved you, but when I saw who you really were, what you were really capable of, I knew… I knew you were the one." Then he winced and looked away.

"And thus my brilliant plan was born."

She looked at him for a long time and then nodded. "Thank you, Miles."

"I could talk to Gregor about getting you that medal."

"Never mind, never mind."

They sat in silence for a while. The stars were fully out now and it was cooling off. They'd have to go inside soon. "So…" he said, eventually.

"Yes?"

"When did you… decide?"

"I suppose I have to answer that, don't I?"

"S'only fair."

She was quiet for a while but then said: "I think most of the pieces were in place, as you'd say, by the time we were on the transfer station. But it took me a lot longer than you to realize what they all meant. I didn't have the advantage of watching you being interrogated with fast-penta, I guess. Although the scene at dinner was probably as close as I'll get. Alcohol seems to serve with you."

"True," answered Miles sadly.

"But I was so furious at the time over the garden that I didn't really stop to think about what it all meant. Once I did… well, I was hurt, and I was disappointed, but at the same time I couldn't forget what you'd said and I had to ask myself why you'd said it and what it really meant. And then there were all your friends…"

"My friends?"

"Yes, all the people around you. They all seemed like really fine people, and they all admired and respected you—even when they wanted to knock your head against a wall like I did just then. I couldn't believe that you'd deceived them all. If they thought well of you then maybe… maybe I was wrong."

"Oh you weren't wrong! I'd been a world-class idiot."

"No argument. But your motives… I couldn't ignore your motives. Or not for very long, anyway. And then the way you were willing to take all the heat from that horrible rumor about Tien, and even agree to stop seeing me to make my family back off. Well, all the pieces sort of fell into place. In the attic, I think."

"The attic?"

"Yes, the attic."

"Huh. So you didn't ask me to marry you just because Richars had pissed you off?"

"No, my love. I just… I just took advantage of the tactical opportunity." He looked at her and she was grinning.

"Strong, brave and capable, like I said. I love you. Really."

"And I love you. Really."

They were quiet again, but it was the most pleasant and companionable quiet Miles had known. The air was clear now. Full disclosure. From this spot they could move ahead into the future—together. After a while he shivered slightly. It was getting chilly and he hated being cold. Ekaterin noticed, and stood up and drew him along with her hand.

"We'd better go inside," she said. They turned and walked toward the doors. "And speaking of tactical opportunities, was that a connecting door I noticed between our rooms?"

"Uh, well, yes, I believe it was." Suddenly he wasn't cold at all.

"Good," she said and pulled him closer.

Yes. A very good day, indeed!