'I will, Elli.'

Miles's return from Komarr to Barrayar was uneventful. He arrived back at Vorkosigan House in the quiet of a late winter evening, to find it warm and lit and ready for him. Tomorrow he would formally invite company to dinner, he decided, Duv and Delia and the rest of the Koudelkas, by choice. But tonight he dined in the kitchen with his Armsman and Ma Kosti; his cook was a little scandalized, either by his stepping out of his role or by his invading her territory. But he told her a string of jokes until she laughed, and snapped at him with a towel as if he were one of her boys, which amused Pym no end. Corporal Kosti ducked in at the end of his guard shift, to be properly fed as well, and to play with the kittens who now lived in, or rather, obsessively escaped from, a rag-padded box near the stove. The corporal and Ma Kosti caught Miles up on all the news from Martin, now suffering through basic training with all the bragging complaints that entailed.

After his late supper, he took himself off to his wine cellar. Ceremoniously, he selected a bottle of his grandfathers oldest and rarest. Upon opening it, he discovered it was going more than a bit off. He considered drinking it anyway, for the symbolisms sake. Then, decisively, he dumped it down the bathroom sink in his new suite and went back for a bottle from a much more recent batch that he knew to be very good.

With a wineglass of the best crystal this time, he sat in the incredibly comfortable chair by the bay window, to watch a few fat snowflakes dance past in the garden lights, and to hold his own private wake. He toasted his ghostly night-reflection in the window. This was what, Admiral Naismith's third death? Once on Jackson's Whole, once in Illyan's office, third and last and astonishingly painful, resurrected and dispatched again by Lucas Haroche. On his first death he'd been in no position to enjoy a proper wake—frozen lost luggage, he'd been—on the second, his grandfathers dagger, opener for a redder wine, had held more blandishment than the brandy. He settled back, and prepared to ration himself one hour of self-pity along with his wine, and be done with it.

Instead, he found himself leaning back in the warm chair, laughing softly. He swallowed the laugh, wondering if he'd lost his grip at last.

Just the opposite.

Haroche was no miracle-worker. He wasn't even a stage magician. He'd had no power then or ever to give or withhold Naismith, though Miles felt a cryonic chill, thinking how close he'd come to delivering himself into Haroche's hands.

No wonder he was laughing. He wasn't mourning a death. He was celebrating an escape.

'I'm not dead. I'm here.' He touched his scarred chest in wonder.

He felt strange and single, not to be in pieces anymore. Not Lord Vorkosigan ascendant, not Naismith lost, but all of him, all at once, all the time. Crowded in there?

Not particularly.

Harra Csurik had been almost right. It wasn't your life again you found, going on. It was your life anew. And it wasn't at all what he'd been expecting. His slow smile deepened. He was beginning to be very curious about his future.

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