Everything had a limit. Metals had a certain point when they would melt, fabrics could only be stretched so far, the Ankh could only become so toxic. Commander Vimes’s patience also had its limits. Vimes knew this. Everyone knew this. It was a well-known fact all around the Disc.
And yet he had found himself nodding when the Patrician had reminded him that he was supposed to attend this museum opening tonight as a guest instead of sneaking off to patrol the streets. Vetinari had remarked that there was always the need for better security at events like these, and who was better at keeping the peace than the Commander of the Watch?
Then Vetinari had handed him the invitation card and flashed him once of those smiles that said that Vimes wasn’t getting out of this one. Vimes had argued, mostly because he always did. He’d lost the argument, of course, but he was used to losing these kinds of arguments with the Patrician. It was one he could afford to lose, not a high-risk one at all. At least he could be sure that Vetinari wouldn’t die tonight, not on his watch.
So, Vimes had come to the opening party, but he’d worn his uniform to compensate for lost time on duty and hoped that he could find an excuse to either leave or arrest someone. The only crime that evening was the horrendous amount of glitter inside the museum.
Vimes blamed Lipwig for all this glitter, as it had clearly been his idea. The former con artist had been the one in charge of opening this new museum, after all. He was the sort who would make suggestions about the benefits of glitter and people tended to listen to him when he was talking. As a result, glitter had fallen continually from the ceiling throughout the opening party. At first it had been just a nuisance to be ignored, but had quickly become bothersome as even the food and drinks developed a layer of glitter. There had been no chance that Vimes would not be on duty while also attending as a guest, if only to watch Lipwig closely. His fingers itched to arrest the man. The glitter in the air hampered Vimes’s line of sight and would probably become a choking hazard, so clearly it was a danger to all involved and its very nature could be filed as malicious lingering.
Vimes attempted to get rid of the glitter on his shirt by patting it with his hands. The problem was that they were also covered in glitter. Nothing he did was shifting the glitter, nothing at all. Asking Nobby, who had wandered inside to check if Vimes had arrested someone already, had not been productive, because Nobby did not see glitter as a problem. He saw it as a solution. Thankfully the opening party was almost over.
Lord Vetinari appeared at Vimes’s side as silently as only an Assassin could, and joined him in watching the crowd leave the premises. Vimes hadn’t seen him at the party itself, but he could imagine that Charlie had filled in for him until now.
The Patrician’s breathing was even and his expression peaceful as they turned away from the crowd. It was one of the good nights, then, one when he wasn’t in pain. The weather had been mild and Vimes could feel the difference in his joints, which did not ache as they did on cold nights.
Most of the artists who had been showing their already glittery artworks at the opening of this new museum were waving goodbye to the last visitors as the Commander and Lord Vetinari walked side by side towards the Patrician’s black carriage. Several watchmen nudged each other and gestured towards Vimes, but Vimes only saluted them promptly in response.
“A wonderful evening, don’t you agree Commander?” Vetinari asked, leaning on his walking stick. It was covered with glitter. Everything was at this point.
“Certainly an interesting one, sir,” Vimes said, running a hand through his hair and finding more glitter than he ever wanted in his hair. A lie, but a diplomatic one. Nothing ever happened at these parties except that rich people got drunk off cheap sherry. Even nobs tried to keep themselves in check when Vimes there, instinctively patrolling the area and checking for all possible secret entrances and exits.
The Patrician appeared to be completely at ease with all this glitter around them. But then again, there were reasons for that. These reasons were delicate and life-threatening at the same time, and Vimes wondered why he’d been allowed to know them. Surely the world was playing a cruel trick on him.
Well, the Patrician’s hair was slicked back like usual, but it gleamed more than usual because of the silver glitter that had apparently been in the hair product in his hair. He just looked distinguished. None of the glitter that fell from the ceiling during the show had actually landed on his hair, instead it had gathered on his shoulders and respectfully slid onto the floor. Vimes had seen himself in one of the hallway mirrors and decided that he looked like someone had deliberately coated him in the stuff.
On nights like these, after days like this of shouting and paperwork and teaching the Constables how to proceed and chasing one thief across the rooftops for the sheer joy of the chase, it was easy to forget how things used to be.
Well, not forget. He never forgot. But he put his memories of Old Ankh-Morpork aside, of how easy it had been to get killed for just walking into the wrong tavern or for saying the wrong thing out loud. The curfews and the Cable Street Particulars were a thing of the past now, just like the drumming, resounding endless fear beneath his skin whenever he used to go on patrol.
So many officers didn’t know about the darkness that seemed to soak the city before Vetinari became Patrician, about how a watchman’s life hinged on being able to walk on eggshells around certain people and how to distinguish if someone was carrying around a weapon for protection or decoration. And if they were able to use them. Hell, some of them had even been born during Vetinari’s reign. They didn’t know any other world except the one where he was Patrician. And the law applied to everyone now. They could arrest everyone. They had the connections and the numbers to trick the public into thinking that they just might have enough cells for them all. It was all about visibility. They didn’t use the lantern these days in order to be seen, not really. Not in his Watch.
And the bells were just for formal occasions these days. The sound they made didn’t fill his officers’ chests with instinctive dread and fear, because they didn’t associate the sound with running towards your mate that was already dead on the cobblestones. Old Ankh-Morpork wasn’t a merciful place. The Constables didn’t understand that being able to fight dirty hadn’t been a way to get a criminal to behave so you could arrest him, but a way to stay alive for one more night. They lived in modern Ankh-Morpork, where the sound of metal in a dark alleyway didn’t mean that murder was being committed, or worse. Often it was just a couple of dwarves having a private conversation about gold.
Lights and sounds weren’t as important as the badge and the uniform, these days. The rest of it had been there because people had looked at the uniform and raised their eyebrows or grabbed their weapons. Now people looked at the copper badges and dented breastplates and opened the doors.
Ankh-Morpork had moved on, to brighter and cleaner ways. Even the city smelled better. The machine of the city whirred along, even if it had to be shaken sometimes to get stuff out of the wheels. Sometimes it went clang, but they had enough people these days watching over a specialized part that the city was practically running itself. Still, balance was a delicate thing. Everyone had a job to do. Everyone had a duty.
And yet the memory of Old Ankh-Morpork lingered, just beyond the corner. Some days it seemed so easy to slip back into how things used to be. The narrative always wanted an old story, one that had been told a thousand times. It was important to resist that, to fight the pull of tradition. The only way forward was by changing the story. Even a little bit. Everything counted.
When his lordship stepped into the carriage, a warm breeze caused his robes to reveal calves covered in body glitter and black socks. Vimes closed his eyes so that he would not see the Patrician’s thighs, which were, Vimes knew, also covered in body glitter. He shouldn’t be able to find the Patrician in a crowd based only on a single glance at the silhouette of those thighs. But he could do it.
Vimes had not prepared himself for this. But now he was constantly aware of the fact that the only thing the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork wore underneath his robes was body glitter and socks. It was not helpful at all during important meetings.
Truth to be told, it was never very helpful. Some days, as Vimes understood it, the man would wear very short shorts or underwear that looked like short shorts, assumedly for comfort’s sake. And he’d wear warm underwear in the winter months and boots. But he never stopped wearing body glitter, even if he was willing to part with his socks. Perhaps it was just easier to pile it on rather than wash it all off every day.
Getting body glitter out of his own hair and off his hands after spending some quality time pressed against a wall in the Oblong Office was always a bit of a bother, but ultimately worth it. Sybil was better at getting the body glitter off her own hands and various body parts. But then again, she would often just leave it on and grin at them both and tell him to ask his lordship for help if he was troubled by a little glitter. Lord Vetinari had many suggestions on how to get body glitter out of Vimes’s hair and hands, most of them involving sharing a bath with Vimes and scrubbing the glitter off himself. Vimes had always declined.
Allowing Vetinari to grab his lapels before they kissed, to walk beside him at formal occasions and listening to him and his speeches about Vimes’s accomplishments and his long service to the city were deliberate choices. Kissing him back was also a choice and so was carrying him around when he got himself into danger or his leg couldn’t support him. Letting Vetinari into his life was something he chose to do every day.
Life was easier when they got along. Better too.
These were things that they did in private. All of those things could be done with minimal fuss, quietly and quickly. After they were done they would take a step back, assess the situation and continue on with their professional lives.
But the lines between their personal lives and professional lives was becoming increasingly blurry as the years passed. And now, with Vetinari looking at him expectantly from the seat of the carriage, Vimes felt reckless. They were both covered in glitter and night had fallen. If their hands brushed when they sat beside each other in the carriage, no one would see it. The darkness and the glitter would be enough of a distraction if anyone would try to look at them anyway.
And Vetinari’s eyes were very blue and gleaming with amusement.
Surely they could afford this? After all this time?
No one would say anything if they saw them entering the same carriage. Everyone knew they had meetings every day to assess how things were going in the city. Perhaps there was a certain safety in having publicly established that the foundation of their relationship was their mutual devotion and duty to the city. Gods knew that Vimes had enough titles to show for it.
All those titles and rewards made what they were doing even more dangerous. Vetinari had piled them on, raising him higher and higher in society so that their power was as equal as it could get. Everyone knew about those titles. It was a bloody miracle that everyone still thought that they spent almost all their time arguing. These days there was a lot more staring than outright arguing, even if Sybil described what they did instead as ‘bantering.’
Glitter fell from the Patrician’s shoulders onto the carriage floor.
“I know that you are fond of the stuff, my lord,” Vimes said, gesturing to the glitter on the floor as he closed the carriage door behind him and sat down. “But did you have to approve of all this glitter?”
“The results seemed very promising,” Lord Vetinari said, brushing excess glitter off Vimes’s trousers. Vimes looked down at his legs only to see that his calves were absolutely covered with glitter. “I offer my services so that you do not have to arrive at Pseudopolis Yard with all this in your hair. I know that you don’t like to scatter glitter wherever you go.”
“I can put on my helmet,” Vimes replied as the carriage swerved to the right. “Or shave off all my hair. It is almost summer, after all.”
“I’m sure that such drastic measures can be prevented, Sir Samuel,” Lord Vetinari said, holding onto Vimes’s arm as the carriage sped up towards the Patrician’s Palace. “Are you also going to shave your legs?”
The Patrician gestured to Vimes’s calves.
“What?” Vimes said. “I will scrub them with soap and put on some boots.”
“I regret to inform you that this type of glitter is very hard to get off, Vimes,” his lordship said. “Mister Lipwig has played a cruel trick on us all. I fear that ordinary soap would not cut it. Not even the one that is infused with coffee grains and oatmeal which you keep in your office. But I do have some special coconut lotion that Leonard made- “
“Of course, you have special supplies,” Vimes said, scraping the skin of his arm with his fingers in an attempt to get at least some of the glitter off. It didn’t budge. Then Vimes dug out his already gleaming handkerchief to rub the glitter off his fingers. “I wouldn’t have expected any less.”
“It is better to be prepared,” Lord Vetinari said gravely. “Will you come to the Palace so we can deal with this particular problem?”
“What?” Vimes asked. “What do you mean, ‘we’? I thought I was just going to borrow your bathroom and head home?”
“Well, Sir Samuel,” Lord Vetinari said. “You want to be rid of the glitter. And as Lady Sybil is visiting Young Sam she is unable to help you clean the places where you cannot reach yourself…”
“Sir-“ Vimes began. He could decline. He always had.
But he’d spent years running away from this. It had been the safer option and the saner one too. Turning away and getting dressed in the darkness. Picking up his armor from the floor and buckling on the breastplate before having a quick wash and then sitting down in the ante chamber to pretend that he had just shown up early for a meeting at dawn about new developments in the Watch.
It was so much easier to dismiss what happened when the lights went off as just…additional benefits or something of little importance. But that explanation had always been flimsy. And now it had become a lie, the sort that you tell yourself because the truth scares you.
Vimes had spent years making promises to Vetinari.
Promises about protecting the city.
Promises about treating him as another human being, not someone above the law, but someone who could and would have to face the consequences of his actions.
Promises about being his sword and shield, to protect him at all costs.
And wasn’t that what devotion and loyalty were all about? Making promises that you knew that you might never be able to keep, but still making them.
Making them anyway.
In spite of everything, of all your fears and all your uncertainties.
And watching as the other person or persons responded.
Vetinari appeared to view Vimes’s promises as gifts. And responded by giving in gifts in return. They came in many forms, some of them more straightforward, such as casual touches and smiles and listening to his rants. He was used to those, after all this time. But sometimes there would be an extra biscuit on the plate Drumknott would hand him along with a cup of coffee just before a meeting in the Oblong Office. Once Vetinari had slid a plate of Distressed Pudding towards him after he’d spent a week chasing down a serial killer. Reading glasses had appeared in his desk at Pseudopolis Yard.
In the beginning, when these little gifts had appeared, Vimes had dismissed them as just another trick Vetinari was playing on him.
And once chilly morning, when the scent of lilacs had been heavy in the air, Vetinari had unceremoniously taken his arm as soon as he’d stepped into the Oblong Office, led him to a chair and picked up an old medical bag. Vimes had stared at the bony fingers gripping his own wonky ones, and hadn’t managed to bring himself to snatch his hand away. Before he knew it, he’d sat down and watched as the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork had berated him for his injuries. Then Vetinari applied a cold salve onto the back of Vimes’s hand and talked about dusting off his medical degree. Vimes had watched as the man dabbed at Vimes’s still bleeding knuckles with a clean handkerchief and disinfected the whole thing before bandaging his hand.
“Going to kiss it better too?” Vimes had joked, watching as Vetinari closed the medical bag with a satisfied expression. Vetinari had looked up and straightened his back.
Vimes’s heart had sank, feelings as if his innards had frozen. His legs had twitched, ready to run for it. But he was rooted to the chair. Vetinari’s eyes had met his, cold and terrifying.
“If you’d like, Commander,” Vetinari had replied, sounding just as calm and collected as if he were in a meeting with the Heads of the Guilds. Then he’d lifted Vimes’s hand to his lips and brushed his lips against the bandage.
Vimes’s heart had skipped a beat, his thoughts grinding to a screeching halt. All the excuses he’d maintained throughout the years became utterly useless. He’d found that he’d gripped Vetinari’s thin hand in his other, non-bandaged hand and that his thumb was tracing slow circles on his palm.
There was no use pretending that they were just brothers in arms who enjoyed the occasional shared kiss and heated argument. They were in this for the long run. That had always been the case. The moment Vimes had stepped into that cell, all those years ago and seen how the door was made, had just been the start of a long road.
They’d spend the rest of their lives hiding this relationship anyway. It would never be mentioned in the history books, or even their letters or messages. There would be no paper trail. And even though people always gave themselves away and there would always be clues, those who knew were those who could be trusted to keep it secret.
“I fear that I need to wash away most of it as well,” Lord Vetinari said, running a hand through his hair. “It does not do to be covered in glitter when one is hosting a meeting for important diplomats from around the Disc.”
“My lord, you are always covered in glitter,” Vimes reasoned.
“Nonetheless,” Vetinari said, looking down at his fingernails. It was as if he was wearing nail polish that was more glitter than actual colored polish. The carriage sped through the city, leaving behind it a faint trail of glitter as Vimes shook his head and up-ended his pockets while the window was open.
“What would your staff say if they saw that your bathtub was covered in all sorts of glitter?” Vimes asked. “Not just the fancy stuff you use?”
“I’m sure that they would have seen you coming in and deduced that I kindly allowed you the use of my personal bathroom in order to clean up so that you would be presentable tomorrow morning for the meeting,” Lord Vetinari said.
“How nice of you,” Vimes said.
“Well, you are an extremely valuable citizen, Commander,” The Patrician replied. “They know that just as well as anyone on the street.”
“Yes, well-,” Vimes began, but was saved when the carriage slowed down in front of the Patrician’s Palace. Vimes looked down at his hands and imagined hours of scrubbing until every single towel and brush in his own bathroom would be wet and covered in glitter and his skin would be red and raw. He sighed.
The Patrician practically had stars in his eyes. He knew that Vimes knew that he was the solution to this problem. Vimes scowled. He could go home right now. He could walk home through the city and just spend a few days until the glitter would leak off because of the sweat and armor polish.
He looked down at his thighs. The glitter had somehow managed to leak into his waistband by way of his shirt and then further on. His thighs were probably just as glittery as Vetinari’s thighs. It was in his underwear too. There were some places where glitter just should not go. At least not unfamiliar glitter that he didn’t know how he could clean off.
Vimes felt like a man who had been climbing a steep mountain and grabbing every single flimsy branch of those bushes that always grew there, only to realize that he was always going to lose his grip.
“How hard is it to get off?” Vimes muttered, patting his thighs as if to check if he’d see if glitter could somehow sneak through leather. He left two handprints and hurriedly smudged them.
The smile on the Patrician’s face was the sort that should be outlawed. Where had the man learned that?
“It’s the sort that chafes, isn’t it?” Vimes asked, rubbing his hands together to try to get his palms to become a glitter-free zone. He had no time for his thighs to become red and raw because they rubbed against cheap glitter. He had enough scars already.
“Fine,” Vimes said as he stepped out of the carriage and Vetinari promptly fell into step beside him. “I’m not going to enjoy it, I’m warning you now.”
Vetinari looked far too pleased for a man that was likewise covered in far too much glitter.