The first thing Sergeant Yannis Petropoulos had learned when he'd initially been stationed in the Emperor's private wing as a door guard was that he saw nothing, heard nothing, and knew nothing -- outside of the reports he made to his commander. Yannis knew, of course, that ImpSec had eyes and ears everywhere, and there was nothing he could oversee that would have escaped their attentions. It was why Yannis made painfully sure to include everything in his reports, no matter how trivial, stupid, and odd it seemed to him. If something went wrong, the first place they'd look was the person who'd failed to report it, and Yannis did not want to find himself inside an ImpSec interrogation chamber, no matter how innocent he thought he was.

Standing guard was a huge honour -- the entrance to the Emperor's wing, with the hallways that lead to his private library and bedroom. Yannis was not so honoured to be standing guard farther down those hallways; those stations were reserved for the Emperor's Own bodyguards. But an honour nonetheless, for he saw every visitor that officially came to the Emperor's door.

If there were secret backdoors, as were heavily rumoured among the staff, then Yannis had no access to see such comings and goings. But those visitations were for ImpSec and the Emperor anyway; Yannis was there as a mere guard, dressed in the Emperor's colours and trained at every sort of short range and hand-to-hand combat that was possible to stuff into one human body. Diplomacy and counter-intelligence had rounded out his training following his graduation from the Academy, learning how to turn away unwanted visitors without causing wars and how to tell when someone was about to do something that they deserved to get shot for.

Yannis had never had occasion to use the bulk of his training. Most of the people who got as far as his station either belonged there, or had sense enough to turn away when rebuffed. The most trouble he'd ever saw were on the nights of various festivities, when drunken visitors got lost and insisted that the hallway Yannis was guarding was the direction of the restrooms.

He still felt that silent thrill of honour every time he stepped into place, relieving Sergeant Arsov the same as every day for the last ten years. He carefully maintained his skills, working out with the other hallway guards, reading up on the latest developments, and following the social scene with a keen eye, paying close attention to who might have legitimate reason to wander the Palace's hallways, and who might not.

Over his tenure, Yannis had grown rather used to hearing Miles Vorkosigan's voice long before ever seeing him appear. Sometimes one never saw him appear, as he took a turn down another hall before venturing close. But his voice had a tendency to carry, no matter how much the staff insisted the hallways were soundproofed.

Yannis had initially been fascinated, back when he'd been new to his post. Carefully watching without looking, listening without appearing to pay any close attention. What he'd overheard had soon made his eyes swim and his brain numb, and he'd understood what the other guards had tried to tell him. Miles Vorkosigan was a force unto himself, and it was best to just stay out of the man's way. ImpSec was responsible for him -- if Vorkosigan had decided to assassinate the Emperor, Yannis had been assured that he was not to be held responsible for failing to stop him.

There had only been the one time when Yannis was told that Vorkosigan was not to be permitted beyond his post. Emperor Gregor had conveyed the order himself -- Yannis had never spoken to the Emperor before, had never spoken to him since. Yannis remembered it vividly -- the Emperor's pale face, tight and masked, shoulder back and tense. His new advisors at his elbow, nodding solemnly at the news of Vorkosigan's apparent treachery and the Emperor's voice had shaken, ever so slightly, when he'd said Miles' name.

Yannis had no idea how the whole mess had been resolved, the fleet of ships Vorkosigan had been accused of raising to take over the throne. But everyone knew that he'd gone to the Academy like any other Vor lordling, and had gone on to serve the Empire like any other Ensign. Soon after, his appearances in the Imperial Palace had become normal once again, if fewer and farther between.

It was, in Yannis' opinion, a good thing. Both that Vorkosigan was off-planet most of the year, but also that, when he was around, he was once again step in step with the Emperor, talking kilometer a second about whatever it was had his attention at the time. Yannis never lost his ability to tune out Vorkosigan's words, for fear his brain would seize up. But he kept his eye on them both, making sure to include everything he saw in his reports.

The day he saw the Emperor's hand slide down Miles' elbow, tugging him gently, and saw the startled and delighted grin appear -- Yannis made his report, bland and emotionless as ever. Afterwards, his commander frowned slightly but nodded, and no one ever spoke about it outside the hallways of the Emperor's private wing.

Yannis thought about the way the Emperor had looked, those days when he'd thought Vorkosigan had betrayed him. Always quiet and unassuming, nothing outwardly had changed. But Yannis could see it in the Emperor's step and the lightness in his eyes, and he thought, privately, that what no one saw, was no one's business but their own.


Miles stretched out on the sofa, wishing he could kick his boots off and find a tub of hot water to soak them in. He had to leave, soon, or he would have done exactly that. He settled for leaning back, hands behind his head, and thinking thoughts of luxuriously soft pillows, warm blankets, and absolutely no need to rise early the next day.

He couldn't actually remember the last time he'd had any of those things -- and he knew that, despite how comfortable Gregor's Imperial Bed might look, Gregor hadn't got to sleep in since he'd been about fifteen years old. Possibly once, on his birthday -- Miles thought that there was no point in being Emperor if you couldn't demand such things at least once in a while.

But he knew Gregor, and doubted very much that Gregor would ever bother with such a thing no matter how much he might need it.

"You're looking tired," he commented, as Gregor shifted through a small pile of datachips on his desk.

Gregor glanced sideways at him, amused. "Thank you, Ensign. I shall take your observation into account when I tell the Council of Counts to reschedule their next emergency meeting."

Miles waved a hand. "You know as well as I do, it isn't a real emergency. The conservatives just want to force everybody's hand -- and I bet they're hoping to catch a half dozen Counts on the other side of the planet with not enough time to make the session."

"Then it's unfortunate they cannot convene until We open the session." Gregor found whatever datachip he was looking for, and stuck it into a reader. Miles fell silent for a moment, letting Gregor skim the contents undisturbed. The emergency wasn't a real emergency; Gregor had warned him about it yesterday.

Miles had hoped he could have arranged to be off-planet, himself, but instead he would be dragging himself off Gregor's wonderfully comfortable couch and haling himself off to a cold castle with hard, uncomfortable seats, and a distinct lack of anything alcoholic to drink.

"Can we pretend we aren't home?" Miles asked, plaintively. Gregor shot him a look that needed no elucidation. Miles sighed, stretched again, and thought longingly of spending the night anywhere other than Vorhartung Castle with a bunch of grouchy old Counts.

Instead, he let himself be chivvied off the sofa and back into his uniform jacket. He didn't stop himself from frowning though he did stop short of stomping his feet. Gregor seemed amused, but Miles knew better than to test the Emperor's patience. They had already delayed enough that the Counts Gregor had hinted at earlier would have time to make their own arrivals.

Calling a session 'urgent' was a weak, obvious ploy, in Miles' opinion, to stack the votes. One he was happy to help foil even as he wished they could have delayed all night.

As they left Gregor's rooms and headed down the hallway, Miles straightened his jacket and ran a hand through his hair. Sighing, he ignored the ache in his feet that said they'd much rather be in that tub of hot water he'd thought briefly about than still stuck inside tall boots.

He felt Gregor nudge his shoulder, and he glanced up. There was a soft smile in Gregor's eyes, an apologetic one. Miles met his look and nodded back.

He waved to the guard on their way down the hallway, already thinking about what else the Counts might be up to, potential hidden agendas and unexpected politics until everything else -- almost -- had faded from his thoughts.

the end