It isn't that I don't like Miles and Ekaterin. I do. It's just that I feel their conventional Barrayarality gets the better of them. I don't think they get divorced in canon at all. I think that Ekaterin does her degree, learns to terraform, and spends the rest of her life as Miles's helpmate in Vorkosigan's district. At least (thanks to a post-war DLS letter) Peter Wimsey eventually ends up living off Harriet's blockbuster income, thanks to the unfortunate effect of the Blitz on making one's money through property.
“You might have been sorry for him—or bewitched by him—or even badgered to death by him.”
They had said almost everything that could be said by two people who were, despite everything, still very much in love. The relief that some things had been un-sayable, that Miles had not once threatened to keep her sons from her, was almost enough to make her feel she ought to try again. But she had tried again so many times, and she couldn’t bear for them to end up as she and Tien had. If she weren’t with him, she could stop resenting him. She still resented Tien; she couldn’t bear to feel that way about Miles. Of course, she hadn’t meant to make Miles feel he was behaving like Tien, because he wasn’t and it wasn’t fair. But in the end, that was what he had understood, and it wasn’t really wrong, because they were different but the effect was the same. She had felt herself becoming smaller.
So he had accepted it in principle, and only tried to persuade her out of it every second time they discussed the practicalities, still in private, still this last time before a second time of everybody knowing and thinking it their business, although hopefully this time she wouldn’t have too many suitors pursuing her while she was still in mourning, not least because to commit adultery with a woman whose heirs lay within the requisite degrees of the Imperial succession (depending on how one counted it) was technically treason. Miles had asked for legal separation to begin with rather than divorce, and she hadn’t felt she could deny him even as she berated herself for giving him false hope.
The younger children didn’t understand and were inclined to be angry, which was only fair, too. She suspected them of secretly sympathising with their father, which was unfair and certainly none of Miles’s wish. Nicky, though, had only said that he was sorry, adding “I know Miles isn’t at all like Da, but it kind of is,” hugged her awkwardly, and been quite astonishingly helpful and civil to everyone.
They had had to tell Cordelia rather sooner than they would have liked in order to do it in person. Inevitably she had been tremendously Betan about it, even more so than Ekaterin had expected. The place was rubbing off on her now that she was spending almost all her time there, or perhaps she simply wasn’t hiding it so well. Her accent had returned with a vengeance. Nonetheless Ekaterin hadn’t been able to help feeling afterwards that she ought to apologise. She could never have managed being married to Miles at all without Cordelia, and she couldn’t wish away the happiness they had had, even if it wasn’t to be everlasting.
She had made the attempt when they were having tea together on their last day in Vorkosigan Surleau.
‘I suppose it’s a problem of how to handle an all-absorbing love without being absorbed. How to achieve the balance. Only I don’t believe I can. I let myself be absorbed, and then I fight back and it all falls apart. I wish that I did know how, to be absorbed in but not by.’
‘I don’t believe that anybody knows. It happens or it doesn’t and there’s not a lot you can do about it happening, only do your best if it does. Or doesn’t. There must have been quite a lot of women in history – particularly Barrayaran history – who wished to be absorbed and had to stand by watching it not happen.’
‘But surely – you and Aral.’
Cordelia looked toward the lake, the vast distance (and how, Ekaterin wondered, was everyone on Beta not short-sighted, physically if not otherwise) and picked up her teacup again. ‘I love Aral, more deeply than I could possibly have imagined before it happened to me. But if the only reason to come to leave Beta had been that love, it wouldn’t have been – it wasn’t - enough to make me come.
‘I’m sorry, by the way,’ she continued, ‘that I realised rather too late that Miles didn’t know that. There’s a very good reason that he doesn’t, but I hasn’t made his – or your – life any easier.’
Naturally Ekaterin’s only family hadn’t understood at all. And naturally Miles had understood how that felt. She wanted to hit him for being sympathetic.
An amicable separation, that’s what it would be. And in years to come, when they both could stand it, divorce. He was very firm that he really meant what he said about her still leading the District terraforming. She’d thought had about it, but it wasn’t as if she wanted to move back to the Southern Continent. It hadn’t been home for a very long time. Home was Vorbarr Sultana, where she had found herself, and, yes, Vorkosigan’s District. Aunt Vorthys helped her to find a house, big enough for the children when they were older. In the meantime, she had a new flat at Vorkosigan house, done in bland corporate taste. She had a suspicion that the designer Miles had sicced on it was secretly Impsec. She couldn’t take the children away from their home, and security would have made it impossible even had she wished to. She had rebuffed in horror Miles’s chivalrous offer to move out himself. Like all chivalry, she thought, one should have to be a saint to accept it without resentment, and there they would be again.
Meanwhile, Miles never could stop arguing.
‘There hasn’t been an amicable separation in the Council of Counts since Lord Vorhallen and his wife and that was hundreds of years ago in the Time of Isolation.’
‘I didn’t know about that.’
‘Haven’t you seen the holovid?’
‘You should. I’ve got it somewhere, I’ll get Pym to dig it out. Maybe – I think it was probably when Nikki was a baby.’
‘That would explain it. I don’t think I watched anything that year. I was always asleep, or watching Nikki.’
He smiled, the smile that still made her love him. ‘It was great. It made Julia Vorlegkov’s career.’
‘Oh! You mean the woman who was the lead in Crime and Just Reward.’
‘Hmm.’ Miles shook his head. ‘This is ridiculous. Not you, I mean, Julia Vorlegkov. I’m supposed to be trying to persuade you not to leave me.’
‘You can’t persuade me.’
‘But honestly, there’s been no-one since Lord Vorhallen, and that was only because they made an agreement in advance to get an heir and then split the dowry. Lady Vorhallen ended up marrying Count Vorcuche, and Lord Vorhallen had many close friends among his Armsmen. Besides, technically it wasn’t in the Council of Counts at all, because Count Vorhallen had made over his vote and retired to his estates, but wasn’t actually dead, so Lord Vorhallen was only his deputy and not actually a member. So there’s no precedent at all.’
She smiled, and knew as she did so that that was why he loved her, too. ‘Then we’ll be the first.’
* As well as Mills & Boon, there must be a Barrayaran version of Virginia Andrews.