It was over now. Miles and Ivan had left for Barrayar, along with the wounded mercenary they were taking to Beta Colony for medical treatment. And the body of Elena's father. Perhaps she wouldn't see any of them again – or rather, the Kline Stationer mercenary (what was her name? Quinn?) would be back in due course, but not the three Barrayarans. Ivan, who seemed to have turned into even more of an obnoxious lout since he'd started at the Service Academy than he had been when they were children (or did she just notice more, after having had a few months' respite from his company?). Crazy, funny, reckless Miles, her liege-lord, best friend, and almost-brother (well, he argued that having possibly been gestated in the same uterine replicator counted), who had, unlike Ivan, actually managed to grow up in the last few months, for various reasons, mainly to do with fathers. Hers, and his.
Six months ago, she had had a supposedly dead mother, and a father whom she didn't see as often as she wished, because his time was mostly taken up with looking after Miles. Now she had a dead father, and a mother who wanted nothing to do with her because she looked like her father. Then, she had been a girl with no hope of being allowed to fight for Barrayar, with a best friend/possible boyfriend who didn't have much chance either, and a father who was determined to find an officer as a husband for her, and make sure everything was 'right and proper'. Now, she was an officer in a mercenary fleet whose admiral's last orders to them had been to go and find a war to fight, anywhere as long as it was well away from Barrayar. Safely away from him, if he was executed for treason. And her husband, the commander of the fleet, was a Barrayaran deserter and someone her father would never, never have allowed her to marry, and she didn't care – or was that part of the attraction?
When they had turned in for the night, Baz had wanted to talk about home, and about his cousin Cor, named after a prince in a story Cor's mother had loved as a child, who was the same age as Miles and Ivan, and had mapped the tunnels in the Dendarii mountains when he was twelve, and wondering whether Cor would have decided to apply to the Service Academy to try to redeem the family's honour, or whether he was so ashamed of having a deserter as a cousin that he didn't dare…
Elena had cut him off by repeating what she had said to Miles earlier. 'If Barrayar were my right arm, I'd take a plasma arc and burn it off.'
Baz hadn't bothered to point out that even though he couldn't go back to Barrayar and she didn't want to, they weren't going to stop being Barrayaran just by not talking about it, and especially not when they were oath-sworn to a Barrayaran lord. He had just held her in his arms, and reassured her without words, until they fell asleep.
And now, in her dream, she was standing in a forest. Not a Barrayaran forest, she thought, even one that had been colonised by a lot of escaped Earth plants. The green trees and ferns reminded her of a vid she had watched a long time ago, as a child. It had started out as an Earth entertainment vid from the twentieth century, remastered as a holovid. The plot had been not too unfamiliar, if you'd grown up watching vids about how the heroic Barrayaran resistance finally defeated the evil Cetagandan Empire (and it hadn't occurred to Elena then that, from the point of view of much of the galaxy, Barrayar was just another Evil Empire).
She remembered the moment when the young hero had found out that the towering, black-armoured villain he'd been fighting against was his father – and, to make things worse, that the heroine, whom he was in love with, was his sister. One of their friends had been a big hairy alien, who reminded Elena of her Da – someone big and strong and brave and loyal, someone she loved and trusted, even if she couldn't have much of a conversation with him. But now, she felt the way the hero in the film must have done, knowing that his father was an evil, pitiless killer, and that his teacher whom he trusted had lied to him and told him his father was dead.
She remembered the moment when the villain, penitent at last and reconciled with his son, had taken off his helmet, revealing the sick, ravaged face of a man close to death. 'He's a mutie!' Ivan had exclaimed in delighted revulsion.
'No, he's not,' Lady Vorkosigan, Miles's mother, had explained. 'He probably just got badly injured, and never got the medical treatment he needed. That can happen to anyone, can't it? Like Luke's hand getting chopped off. Though why a culture advanced enough build ships that create instant wormholes to wherever the pilot wants to go, wouldn't have developed reconstructive surgery…'
'No – I s'pose looking like that doesn't prove he's a mutie,' Ivan had admitted. 'But he is, anyway, 'cause he can do weird stuff.'
'So can Luke and Leia, and Yoda, and Obi-Wan,' Lady Vorkosigan had reminded him. 'So if you look at it that way, you could say they're all mutants.'
'Han isn't,' Ivan had pointed out. 'So – he shouldn't really marry Leia.'
'I bet Darth Vader didn't look like that when he got married,' Miles had put in. 'Nobody wants to marry you, if you're ugly.'
'How hard can it be?' Ivan had retorted. 'Elena's da must've managed it, after all. Elena, was your mama blind, or something?'
Lady Vorkosigan had made him apologise to Elena and her father and Miles, and that had been the end of the conversation. But Elena had gone away wondering how her parents had met, and what they had seen in each other. She had known by then that married couples didn't always meet the traditional way, by being introduced to each other by a Baba, like the one Da was going to employ to find her a husband when she grew up. Lady Vorkosigan, back when she was Captain Naismith of the Betan Astronomical Survey, had met Lord Vorkosigan because she had been accidentally left for dead on the newly discovered planet of Sergyar, at the same time that Lord Vorkosigan had been the victim of a mutiny there and Elena's Da had pretended to kill him and hidden him safely away. Ma Koudelka had met Captain Koudelka when she was appointed bodyguard to Lady Vorkosigan, and they had fallen in love during the War of Vordarian's Pretendership, and they and Lady Vorkosigan and Elena's Da had broken into the Imperial Residence and killed Count Vordarian. Elena had seen pictures of both weddings.
She had never seen a picture of Mama. The only keepsake of her that Da had had was a lock of long black hair. She had grown her own hair as long as possible, to be like her mother. Da had told her that her Mama's name was Elena, too, but nothing about how he had met her, or where they had got married, or where she was buried.
And now she knew. There had never been a wedding, or a funeral. Her mother had been a prisoner of war whom her father had raped. And now her mother had shot him. Six months ago, she would have felt like shouting that no, it must be a mistake, Da wasn't like that, he was annoyingly old-fashioned and downright embarrassing, but not evil. But six months ago, she hadn't seen him gleefully torture someone to death. One of Elena's parents was a rapist and torturer, but both her parents were murderers. It was just as well she hadn't agreed to marry Miles. Baz might be able to cope with not having children. Miles would both want and need children, and he mustn't breed from a wife with criminal genes.
She could smell wood-smoke and see the glow of a fire, some way beyond the nearest trees. A forest fire? Or just some campers having a bonfire? Would she ever again set foot on a planet where wood was so plentiful that people could use it as fuel?
Stop it! She was not going to get nostalgic for Barrayar now! 'This is my chance to walk away from it all,' she had told Miles.'Start new, fresh and clean, somewhere else.' She wasn't going to let Miles make her into a symbol of home, any more than the memory of her father was going to make her turn herself into a perfect Barrayaran maiden for his sake. After all, she was half Escobaran, just as much as Miles was half Betan. But Miles was the one who worked at being so Barrayaran that he practically bled maple mead. Because Miles's mother had fallen in love with his father, and abandoned her home planet to be with him. Elena's mother had encountered her father only as a hideously traumatic experience, so much so that she had handed Elena over without knowing or caring whether she would be given to a deranged war criminal to bring up, or just used for medical research.
She snapped alert at the sound of someone walking through the woods. In the dim light, she could make out the silhouette of a young woman, much smaller than Elena, only a few inches taller than Miles, with long, loose hair, longer than Elena had thought hair could grow. She had cut her own hair short, after Miles had gone. Not as a funeral offering for her father. Perhaps to mourn the death of all her illusions. Short hair would be more convenient anyway, for a soldier. She had spent her entire adolescence wanting to be a warrior like her father, without knowing what her father was. Just like Luke Skywalker.
'Halt!' said the other woman. 'Who are you, and which side are you on?'
It was the princess from the vid – Elena hadn't recognised her at first, with her hair loose instead of braided. Elena couldn't see clearly what she was armed with, but as far as she could remember, Princess Leia was a lethally good shot, and nobody in that universe used stunners.
'Commander Elena B- Elena Jesek, of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. I'm no friend of the Empire.' Well, she hadn't said which Empire, after all. They certainly weren't friends of the Cetagandan Empire, and she hadn't said that the Dendarii weren't working for the Barrayaran Imperium, only that she, personally, had no affection for it.
Why was she even worrying about this? It was only a dream based on a vid she'd watched once! Elena Jesek and Leia Organa weren't even from the same universe, let alone the same war! Elena began to curtsey, remembered that she wasn't being a demure maiden any more, and held out her right hand instead.
The princess shook it. 'The war's effectively over, anyway,' she said. 'The rest is just going to be mopping up, and trying to construct a workable form of government out of what remains, and making decisions, like should humans set up a rehab centre for the Greenies of Mimban, on the grounds that it was human miners who got them addicted to alcohol to make them easier to control, or should we just pay compensation to the planet and leave it to the other sentient natives, like the Coway, to work out the details?'
'But in the meantime, the people here are having a victory bonfire?' said Elena.
'That's further away. What's over there is my brother organising – my – father's [she ground out the word as if it choked her] funeral pyre.' She shrugged. 'Frankly, it would have been simpler just to leave him on the Death Star when it blew up. Appropriate, too, for a man who spent his life blowing up planets. But – well – some people are sentimental.'
'Especially boys,' agreed Elena.
'And much too forgiving.'
'I won't be able to be there for my father's funeral, but I don't regret that,' said Elena. 'A friend of…' (mine?... his?..) 'ours is taking his body back to his home planet. He'll want to burn a death-offering to him. Probably every deathday for the rest of his life.' If Miles wasn't convicted of treason, and actually got to have a rest of his life. Elena didn't want to think about the alternative. But if he did, he would surely spend it bringing news to the dead: 'Look, Grandfather, I DID become an Admiral – well, only by conning people into believing I already was one, but it worked out, so NOW are you okay with Sergeant Bothari not letting you kill me when I was a baby? It's all right, Sergeant, I made sure Elena was courted properly, with a Baba interceding between her liege-lord and her betrothed's liege-lord, I mean, okay, it was just me in a headscarf playing all three parts, but I was the nearest they'd got, right?'
'My brother's the same,' said Leia. 'The sort of person who keeps on wanting to believe there is some good left in his father WHO HAS JUST CHOPPED HIS HAND OFF!'
'And was there?' Elena found herself asking.
'Was there in yours?'
Elena considered. Everything she had thought she knew about her father had seemed to crumble away, to be exposed as a fake, just an act he was putting on to keep his job. She remembered Miles's voice, pleading with her mother: 'Until I was four, almost five, I couldn't walk, only crawl. I spent a lot of time looking at people's knees. But if there was ever a parade, or something to see, I had the best view of anybody because I watched it from on top the Sergeant's shoulder.' Miles had known her father better than she had, after all. Miles's parents had known him for much longer than either of them, and trusted the Sergeant to guard their only child. And if actions spoke louder than words, how could a single violent action be THE truth, the only truth that mattered, and nearly eighteen years of kindness be a lie?
Because he had never really repented of being the monster her mother remembered – because he had been a psychopath all along, and had just been biding his time? She remembered Miles's look of sickened horror when he had seen her father rip that pilot's neural implants out. Miles had been standing ready to intervene if his Armsman got too rough in the interrogation, but he clearly hadn't been expecting anything like that. But she remembered, too, the look in her father's eyes when Miles had warned him that the Count his father would hear of this. It wasn't the fearful look of a criminal expecting punishment, but the guilt and shame of someone who knows he has let down the people he looks up to and wants to please.
'I think he wanted to be good,' she said slowly. 'It was just that he wasn't sure what "good" was, unless there was someone to tell him. And – until a few months ago, I hadn't seen him when he wasn't with people he could trust to be his conscience for him. And neither had our liege-lord, so he didn't know that he might have to specify things like, "I want you to find out the information from this prisoner without torturing him to death, please."'
'My father tortured a lot of people,' said the princess bleakly. 'Including my boyfriend. And me. It's…' she shuddered. 'I can manage to blank it out, most of the time. It's just that – I've seen so much carnage that I can't go back to being an innocent girl who'd get angry if I saw a pet being ill-treated. And I can't talk about it to the others, because Luke pretty much still is innocent, and Han isn't going to admit that he ever was. And I'm twenty-three and I feel old!' She paused from her rant, making an effort to control herself, and added sombrely. 'My father was trying to turn me to the Dark Side. And if I go on hating him, I suppose it'll mean he'll have succeeded. Was yours like that?'
'No! He just wanted…' – Elena remembered her own rant not long ago about her father expecting her to be a perfect maiden sacrifice for his sins – 'he wanted to protect me from all the darkness in his mind, and in his past. He wanted to give me the sort of innocent, peaceful life that he'd never had the chance to have, and it didn't occur to him to ask me if that was what I wanted.'
Where had that come from? It wasn't as if her father had ever told her anything about his childhood, or his family. There had never been any, 'This is where I went to school,' or, 'I'll help you write a Winterfair card to your Grandmama and Grandda.' Elena wondered why she had never wondered about that. After all, grown-ups usually did tell children about their own childhoods – just simple comments like, 'When my Dad was on leave from the Astronomical Survey, he taught me how to make kites like these,' or, 'You're much better at riding than I was at your age – your Grandda must be pleased that someone in this family inherited the horse-mad gene!' But they generally only talked about cheerful memories – they didn't want their children to have to deal with stories like, 'How I had to fight in a civil war from the age of eleven after my mother, brother and sister were murdered.' Perhaps Elena's father hadn't had any happy, innocent childhood memories that he could share with his daughter.
She remembered the time that Miles had hacked into a computer to try to research her family background for her. He had told her that her grandfather's name had been Konstantine, the same as her father's, but – she realised now – he had taken care not to let her see the screen. So – perhaps her father had been illegitimate, too? Perhaps he, like her, had been the result of rape – maybe a Cetagandan invader's rape of a Barrayaran woman? Or had he been an orphan, or abandoned? Or had his parents tortured him, like Princess Leia's father, so that he ran away?
Miles's parents seemed to accumulate orphans. They had brought Gregor up after his mother was killed when he was five, and when Elena had spent her summer holidays with them, Lady Vorkosigan had been like a mother to Elena, too. But now it occurred to her that Miles's parents had been parent-substitutes for her father, too – even though Lady Vorkosigan was younger than he was. They were people who loved and accepted him, gave him stability and boundaries, and – as far as they could – taught him what was right or wrong. It was just that when he was away from them for too long, away from any driving imperative except needing to protect both his young liege-lord and his daughter, he reverted. If anything ran bone-deep in him, deeper than rage and violence, it was the urge to protect those he cared about.
'My father raped my mother when she was a prisoner of war,' she said. 'But – my best friend's mother was another of the prisoners they captured, and she wasn't angry with him or afraid of him. She told me he was a hero – that he'd done something very brave, but he didn't remember any of it, and I shouldn't ask him, because trying to think about what happened in the war made him ill.' She found herself putting the pieces together, remembering the vid, and how the hero's father had finally rebelled against his evil liege-lord and killed him to protect his son, but had been mortally wounded. 'I think – an officer ordered him to rape my friend's mother, and he decided he wasn't going to take this any more, so he refused, and killed the officer, and rescued my friend's mother. But – I think he was wounded – maybe the officer managed to shoot him with a nerve disruptor, not badly enough to kill him, but badly enough to damage his brain, which is why he doesn't remember what happened – and why he didn't know that he'd raped my mother.' Captain Koudelka had been shot with a nerve disruptor, too, but in his case it had left his intelligence alone and damaged his physical mobility. And Lord Vorkosigan had found jobs for them, because they were old friends of his. Elena didn't know what had happened to Lord Vorkosigan himself in the Escobar War, but she had overheard Lady Vorkosigan referring to the three of them as 'the walking wounded'. Barrayaran medicine wasn't up to galactic standard now, but it had apparently been far more primitive twenty years ago.
Or was she simply projecting what she'd seen in the vid onto her own family? 'Do you know how your father died?' she asked.
'No,' said the Princess shortly. 'And as long as he doesn't come back as a ghost, I don't care.' Then she, too, thought things over, and added, 'I thought Luke killed him, and that was why he was so upset. But – why are you asking, anyway?'
'I was just thinking – it's probably a lot simpler for villains who repent and then die. If a villain repents and then survives, he has to work out how to live a decent life and try to be a good parent, without having any idea what being a good parent looks like.' And her father, who didn't even know how it was that he had a daughter, had done his best. Whereas her mother, who had assumed she was going to be used for medical research, hadn't had either the compassion to bring her home to an orphanage on Escobar, or the moral courage to have an abortion and put her out of her misery as soon as possible. What kind of person did THAT? But still, she'd have been really traumatised, was clearly still traumatised all these years later.
'Do people really come back as ghosts, in your world?' she asked.
'Jedi can. Why? Don't they where you come from?'
'I'm not sure. It's probably just an old superstition, but I think it's part of why people burn grave-offerings – to keep dead friends at peace, and stop dead enemies from haunting you.'
'But you said you don't plan to burn a grave-offering for your father. Which is he?'
'I don't know. And it's more that – I can't face burning a grave-offering for him, yet. But I might, one day. And – if your father ever comes back as a ghost and wants to apologise to you, are you going to forgive him?'
'I don't know. I might – one day.'
The dream was starting to break up and blur now, randomly mixing images from the vid with people Elena knew. Miles befriending a young female Wookiee and persuading her to join the Dendarii. Miles turning out to have a twin he never knew existed. Miles being frozen and needing to be rescued from some gangster-run planet – well, maybe those parts wasn't so far-fetched, Elena thought, remembering the cryochambers that the most critically wounded casualties were kept in until they could be treated, and the conversations she had overheard among the other mercenaries about the power games between the assorted Great Houses of Jackson's Whole. (Houses, as opposed to Hutts?) A young man – not Miles, but Miles's twin – finally coming face-to-face with his father, the man he had been brought up to believe was the brutal henchman of the Evil Emperor – and watching horror-stricken as his father collapsed from a heart attack.
Oh well, at least all that lot had been the usual nonsense of dreams. But the conversation with Princess Leia had felt unsettlingly real.
Goodbye, Da, she thought drowsily as she awoke on the space station, with Baz snoring beside her. I couldn't be the daughter you wanted, and you couldn't be the Da I needed, but you did your best, and – I don't want to hate you.
Goodbye, Mother. If you can ever face seeing me again, and if you're ever willing to talk about it, I want to know – was my father simply cruel and ruthless with you, or was it more complicated than that? If he'd actually intended to hurt you, would you even be alive?
Da, I know you would never have allowed me to marry Baz, but you are my past, and he's my future. I want to make a fresh start. But then, that was what you were trying to do, too, wasn't it? And starting afresh by forgetting the past, or denying it or lying about it, doesn't work.
I need to grow up and learn to be a person, before I'll be ready to be a daughter again. But then – one day, I'll be back.
Author's note: Baz's cousin is an OC who appears in the fanfics Improvisation by fawatson and Victory Conditions by likeadeuce (both published on Archive Of Our Own) as a fellow-cadet with Miles, Ivan, and Kostolitz.
I was inspired to write Vorkosigan/Star Wars crossover fiction after reading Always in Motion the Future by avanti_90, also published on Archive Of Our Own, in which AU versions of Bujold's characters appear in the Star Wars universe. I also always wished there were more fanfics about Sergeant Bothari, but I don't feel ready to write a story told from his point of view, so I decided to write about Elena trying to understand him. If Leia comes across as slightly OOC in this story, please bear in mind that this is because she's being filtered through Elena's imagination, based on dim memories of a vid Elena watched years ago.
Quotations from The Warrior's Apprentice are in italics.