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.
That was how Vimes ended up naked in the Patrician’s personal bathroom. It wasn’t like that hadn’t happened before. There had been times when he’d arrived at the Palace unshaven and unslept and had a bit of a wash while drinking coffee. Once he’d been covered in mud up to his thighs, a sight that might have been appealing to some but wasn’t appropriate for a meeting in the Rats’ Chamber. And then there had been those times when he’d had a quick soak after spending the night, whether it was because an emergency meeting had lasted until dawn or because of more personal reasons.
Vimes let himself sink into the hot water in the bathtub, feeling his muscles relax. For a brief second, submerged in the water, the world was a peaceful, non-complicated thing. He came up for air, watching the glitter rise in the water. He reached for the bar of soap on its little shelf beside the rows of shampoos and started scrubbing his arm industriously, watching as layers of glitter disappeared after a few minutes and he could see skin. The water would be cold long before he’d finish scrubbing just his arms. Vimes looked up at the sound of footsteps to see that the Patrician was wearing a black dressing gown and holding what looked like a damn bucket full of something that smelled like coconut.
“It’s just lotion isn’t it?” Vimes asked suspiciously. “Let’s just get this damn glitter off me so I can get some sleep. I have murderers to catch.”
“I’m not entirely sure what Leonard put in it, but it is very effective when it comes to removing all sorts of glitter,” Vetinari replied.
Vimes nodded. He could see the outlines of the holsters that held all those daggers and sharp pins that all Assassins kept around in case of deadly visitors beneath the fabric of the dressing gown. Some nights the man even slept while wearing them. A safety issue, he’d told Vimes and Sybil. You learn caution when you grow up in a Guild that teaches how to effectively make other people meet Death.
“May I?” Vetinari asked, gesturing to the bath and Vimes. “I thought it would be best to get your hair clean first before we move onto other things.”
“Yes,” Vimes said, rubbing his eyes because he felt the slide of glitter from his forehead and it was only a matter of time before it got into his eyes. “There isn’t much of it.”
As if Vetinari didn’t know how much hair he had. Vetinari’s hands always ended up running through it during their more…intimate arguments.
Vetinari made a humming sound and there was a series of clanks as a stool was placed on the tiles and the bucket hit the floor. Vetinari sat down behind the bathtub, sighing as he adjusted his leg. Vimes closed his eyes. All in all, that wasn’t a wise decision with an Assassin just a few inches away from his neck. Cold, bony fingers ran through Vimes’s hair, applying what smelled like horrendously expensive coconut shampoo. There were probably all sorts of things in that shampoo, not just good old plain soap and clean water with some herbs stuffed in there for variety.
Vetinari’s movements were slow and methodical, as if Vimes was something precious, instead of a visibly aging copper with anger issues and more scars than he’d ever wanted. Vimes could not remember the last time anyone had washed his hair. It had always been a strange sort of pride, that he could take care of everything like this himself, thank you very much. But here he was, and Vetinari’s fingers were tracing every scar and bump as he spread the coconut shampoo through Vimes’s hair. Vimes found himself leaning into the touch.
Their time together was usually rushed, touches hurried and mouths crashing together before disentangling themselves and continuing what they had been doing before. Serving the city. Only by serving the city, with all the paperwork, all the meetings, the arrangements and the endless pulling of strings and shouting that entailed, could they continue on like this. They had become so professionally entwined in each other’s lives that it was vitally important that they stayed on the same page, even if they fought. If being a copper had taught Vimes anything, it was that being a part of a team meant that there was a greater chance of success because you had help. And Vetinari was a very competent man.
Vimes should have said no. He should have headed home and scrubbed himself raw until he’d been glitter free. He should have stayed away.
Being on the same team as Vetinari was one thing. But edging into a proper relationship with him was another. He couldn’t ignore that the man was, in fact, taking care of him. And Vimes was letting him.
He was tired of running. He was tired of being aware of just how much he could lose if Carrot changed his mind and decided to become King, no matter how unlikely it was that he’d actually make that decision. He was tired of always being on edge, watching over his shoulder to see if someone had seen that Vetinari was standing just a fraction too close, or that they tended to get along these days. He was tired of the lingering fear that if he’d let himself accept this, it would feel like cracking his heart open.
Vimes closed his eyes and leaned back, his head pressing against the Patrician’s fingers.
There was no running now. Just the sound of water and the scent of expensive shampoo and lotions. Here, in this little closed space, they could pretend that they were nothing but two men who were having a private moment after an eventful evening. They weren’t the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and the Commander of the Watch, not inside this room.
The warm water sloshed against Vimes’s stomach and scarred arms and little by little, the importance world outside the bathroom faded away. There was no hierarchy in here, no demands that they should keep up the façade of an antagonistic-but-still-a-terrifying-team-if-needed-be relationship. Titles and robes and badges had been discarded. It was just them, no barriers or lies or fear.
Some part of him was hollering at him that he was totally unarmed and naked in a room with a trained Assassin and one who could make him disappear from the face of the Disc. The voice reminded him that he should be terrified beyond all comprehension and helpfully suggested alternative routes out of the Patrician’s Palace and to the nearest Watch House. Vimes should be running for his life, the voice said. Vimes ignored it and breathed in, feeling the warm water around him and listening to the humming sounds the Patrician made as he massaged Vimes’s scalp. In this light, Vimes knew from experience, Vetinari’s eyes were the sort of light blue one associated with open blue skies instead of the icy depths of glaciers. Vimes closed his eyes as Vetinari’s fingers strayed to rub at his temples, circling them before returning to massaging the shampoo into his hair. When he opened them again Vetinari handed him a washcloth. Vimes took it and scrubbed his own face and other parts until he could no longer see glitter on the washcloth when he wrung it.
Vimes didn’t mention the black hair dye bottle he could see from the corner of his eye near the sink or the little cosmetics bag stowed away behind a glass full of combs. The bag had, upon inspection one winter day when he’d arrived at dawn and been led in here to drink his coffee and shave, contained the sort of cosmetics that hid shadows underneath the eyes and defined eyebrows. Vimes had heard enough about these sorts of things from Cheery and Nobby to know how they worked, and Sybil had dabbed some sort of cream on his face more than once. Everyone had their little secrets.
Likewise, Vetinari wasn’t mentioning the multitude of scars and bruises as he applied the lotion to Vimes’s shoulders and upper back, tracing his shoulder blades with his fingers.
“This is personal,” Vimes found himself clarifying as Vetinari’s fingers brushed against the back of his neck.
Vetinari let go of him immediately and Vimes frowned, turning around to see that the man was putting on a pair of reading glasses, as if to occupy his hands. Or to get a better look at the back of his neck.
Vimes cupped the back of his neck, feeling the scar there that Vetinari had just touched.
“I didn’t mean the scar or my neck,” Vimes said carefully.
He’d never been good at this. Vimes had never been a man of words, as he’d been so often reminded of, mostly by Vetinari himself or by the looks on his officers faces when he was trying to make a half-decent speech about policing. So, he made do with actions, which had served him rather well in life. He nodded and reached out, taking Vetinari’s admittedly wet and lotion-damp hand in his own. “I don’t mind that you touch them either. I just meant that what is going on here is a personal matter.”
Vimes gestured between them, pointing at Vetinari and then himself several times until Vetinari nodded.
“Does that mean that you don’t think that it is important?” Vetinari asked, his voice low. He adjusted his glasses, then removed them and stuffed them into the pocket of his dressing gown.
“What?” Vimes asked. Something in Vetinari’s voice had shifted, becoming more formal. It was as if they were sliding back to how they would behave in a formal meeting in the Oblong Office. Vimes had no time for that sort of behavior. He wasn’t wearing anything, for starters. That should have been a definite clue just how informal this occasion was. Even if the Patrician was wearing a soft-looking black dressing gown, it wasn’t the Robes of Office.
“Personal isn’t the same as important,” Vetinari said. “Isn’t that what Captain Carrot keeps saying? That little line does more than a thousand treaties could when it comes to keeping our fine city from becoming a kingdom again.”
Vimes was silent for a while, concentrating on the lingering feeling of Vetinari’s hands brushing against the remains of old wounds. How many people had tried to stab him? How many had tried to kill him, in all sorts of ways? He’d stopped counting, years ago.
All these scars and wounds were personal. That didn’t make them any less important to Vimes. They were proof that he made it this far.
How many people would be willing to find the pitchforks if they’d find out about this relationship of theirs?
Many of his watchmen had been thrown out of their homes or had to leave because their families were less than accepting of who they were or how they chose to present themselves to the world. It took time to teach them not to flinch at the sight of a raised hand. But most of them had been raised in Vetinari’s Ankh-Morpork. They didn’t have to flee the city. They could find other people who understood what had happened. They understood that they weren’t alone. They’d heard of Cheery. They’d heard of Angua. Some of them had seen Nobby wearing a dress on their days off.
And they’d shown up at the Watch Houses and sought him out and explained what had happened. They’d told him about the sort of abuse that no one had talked about when he was young, words tumbling out because they’d spent a lifetime repressing them.
There were other stories, about beatings and sharp words and that neighbor everyone in the street was afraid of. Stories that would never even have be spoken of outside of wash-houses and kitchens and in between greetings at family events, just a few years ago. The idea of keeping that sort of thing to yourself just in case those people might come for you was disappearing. The Watch was efficient now. And Sammies couldn’t be bribed to keep their mouths shut.
These new Constables had trusted him to understand and to help them. There was something very gratifying about seeing someone who’d gotten away with stealing someone’s peace of mind for years on end and never thought he’d get caught, open the door to see that the Commander of the Watch was on his doorstep.
The news about that happening had made its way around the city in less than a day.
And then they’d come back and made the oath. Because they said that others like them didn’t know that there was help out there and people out there that accepted and understood them. Someone needed to help out and they damn well weren’t going to stand by and ignore that. They were going to do something about it.
“It’s the sort of sentence that can be twisted to hurt people,” Vimes said, looking Vetinari in the eye. “Someone gets beaten up or abused and someone could say that to them. And then it’s just their personal problem, see? Not something you should make a fuss about and certainly not something you should bother to report to the Watch, right? But lots of people are in all sorts of pain every day because that sort of thing just happened to them, right? So, they’re not alone. Violence is a big, important problem in society. It’s not some sort of personal failing that you just have to deal with on your own.”
Vetinari’s hand rested on Vimes’s shoulder.
“Things can be both personal and important,” Vimes said, turning around completely in the bath to look at Vetinari. Water sloshed as he moved. “Idiots, the lot of them, those who don’t think that something can’t be both.”
Vetinari smiled. He didn’t let go of Vimes’s shoulder. They were silent for a long moment, staring at each other.
“Here we are,” Vetinari said after a while, wiping layer after layer of glitter off Vimes’s hands and shoulders. There a rush of air as he stood up from the stool. “All is well?”
“You can join me, if you can stand all this glitter,” Vimes offered and motioned to the coconut-smelling and glittery water, wondering where he’d gotten to this point in his life where he’d even say things like that to the most powerful man in the city. “Better not waste all this hot water on me.”
“I don’t think the water was wasted at all,” Vetinari said, holding onto the edge of the tub. Vimes turned around in the bathtub, water sloshing as he adjusted his legs.
There was a whisper of cloth and a clank as a cane hit the floor. The water rose as Vetinari sat opposite him in the bathtub.
“That is because your opinion is biased, sir,” Vimes said. “You think that glittery hot water is a normal thing to see in your tub.”
“Sadly, there is not often a dashing police officer in there as well, so I hope you’ll forgive me for my lapse in judgement.”
“Just this once,” Vimes said, picking up the soap again and scrubbing his other arm while Vetinari reached for the handle of the bucket and dragged it towards him so that he could continue his work of coating Vimes in the stuff.
Vetinari could have ripped him apart, in theory. He could have taken away his badge, his titles, his entire life. After all, Vetinari was a tyrant, even if he was Vimes’s own tyrant. Vetinari could have stood up and left, leaving behind this…odd thing they had going. Instead he continued his exploration, looking up periodically to see if Vimes was still on board with continuing what they were doing.
Vetinari’s hands ran up and down Vimes’s calves and sides, slow and decidedly not clinical. There was a thick layer of glitter in the water by now. Then he moved onto Vimes’s stomach and sides, where the glitter was scarce but still just as stuck. Still, the touch was a gentle one, almost reverent. His fingers brushed over softness that Vimes spent most mornings refusing to look at, buttoning his shirt and pulling the chainmail over his head. Goodness knew he had enough layers to hide it. Vetinari didn’t make any jokes. He didn’t say anything at all. There was no hint of disgust in his eyes as he slipped a washcloth over his hand and began removing the lotion and glitter mix on Vimes’s chest or stomach.
Vetinari didn’t seem to think that there was anything wrong with Vimes’s body. He didn’t make any comments about Vimes being too well-fed or about the multitude of scars.
Instead, the expression on Vetinari’s face was one of intense concentration. As if Vimes was a fine work of art that he wanted to polish up a bit. He looked up when Vimes made a sound in the back of his throat, lifting his hands up in the air as if to indicate that he wasn’t holding a weapon. As if to indicate that he hadn’t meant any harm.
“I think most of the glitter is gone by now,” Vimes managed as the Patrician leaned back and began coating his own arms in goopy lotion. They had never spent time together like this, lingering in each other’s presence. He’d only gotten glimpses of that soft expression throughout the years, snatches of it mingled with something that he was hesitant to name whenever he’d done something that Vetinari considered to have been enormously beneficial for the city.
Looking at the Patrician like he was now, half-covered in glitter and totally vulnerable, Vimes was having a problem defining their relationship as something that existed as a byproduct of needing to let off steam or a silly crush he hadn’t managed to get rid of.
What was the man thinking, allowing Vimes to see him like this?
Vetinari valued distance and logic and control and remaining mysteriously aware of everyone’s motives. No one ever seemed to know what he was thinking, except perhaps the late Wuffles.
And yet, he kept betting on Vimes. He kept looking at high-stake situations and then at Vimes and deeming Vimes as likely to overcome all obstacles. He put him in charge of the Watch. He kept giving him rewards and leaning on him and asking him for his opinion on all sorts of things.
He sent Vimes to other countries on the Disc when it seemed that things seemed like they were getting out of hand there. And Vimes would find a way to do his job, which resulted in the situation being stabilized and no harm coming to Ankh-Morpork. These days he only had to mention that he’d send Vimes for a visit for high-ranking and influential people to reconsider their life choices and behave themselves. When Vimes had mentioned it, Vetinari had just nodded and said something about Vimes being a man who had arrested two armies.
Vetinari counted on Vimes to keep the peace. To keep Carrot in his role as Captain, instead of becoming King. Carrot did most of that job himself, of course. And now there were others who also kept an eye on Vimes and he on them.
Vetinari had bet the future of Ankh-Morpork on based on how Vimes would react. He’d let Vimes arrest him. He’d kept the axe in the table.
Vimes wasn’t the only one in this relationship that had made promises.
And now Vetinari was watching him.
“I could also-,” Vimes began. “If you want me to help you. My hands aren’t as soft as yours, if you hadn’t already noticed.”
He scooped some water into his cupped hand and used it to get rid of some of the lotion on his bicep and waited for Vetinari to make a longwinded explanation about how he had all sorts of loofas and cloths that were more soothing to the touch than Vimes’s calloused hands.
Vetinari was silent for a moment before scooting closer to Vimes and handing him a little bucket full of clean warm water that had apparently sitting by the side of the bathtub all this time and one of the multitude bottles of shampoos on a shelf above the soap shelf. And then he nodded.
Vimes got to work. He poured the warm water over Vetinari’s head and shook the shampoo bottle. It was one of those fancy shampoos from Quirm that promised to make hair dye last longer. Still, when Vimes massaged the shampoo into Vetinari’s hair while the man leaned back, effectively baring his neck, so none of it would get into his eyes, a little trail of black hair dye slid down Vetinari’s neck. Vimes could see silver hairs glinting among the mass of black.
“Ever think of letting it become grey?” Vimes mused, brushing a thumb over the little dent behind Vetinari’s ears, left behind by the reading glasses he pretended that he didn’t need. He wasn’t sure where this question had come from, but these days Vetinari had acquired the habit of holding onto Vimes’s arm as they walked beside each other in the Palace. He spent most of his time during the more public meetings sitting down behind his desk too, especially in the winter months when his leg bothered him more than it did when the weather was better.
“Perhaps when I retire,” Vetinari replied, a strange smile on his face. Vimes could see the faint lines around his eyes when he did. “Until then, I have to keep up appearances.”
“That would be a sight to see,” Vimes said, reaching for a washcloth and scrubbing at Vetinari’s arms and narrow waist until there was no glitter left. He knew that he wasn’t being as careful as Vetinari had been, but the water was becoming cool. The Patrician was all sharp elbows and knees, but he closed his eyes when Vimes smoothed the lotion over his chest and arms.
When had the city become so stable that Vetinari allowed himself to dream of retirement?
Vimes had imagined his death a thousand times over, trying to prepare himself for every possible threat. It was a part of his job, Vimes had told himself. He’d already seen what could happen if the man was shot. But he’d never let himself imagine Vetinari leaving the city behind.
“Would it?” Vetinari asked, his voice gentle. “Are you going to leave Ankh-Morpork and join me in the countryside?”
Vimes didn’t dare to look up. He wasn’t sure what he’d see in Vetinari’s eyes in that moment. Instead he ran the washcloth over the man’s calves as softly as he possibly could.
“You never know,” Vimes managed. “I certainly never expected that I’d ever end up here covered in glitter.”
Vimes risked looking at the Patricina’s face, which looked oddly peaceful.
“Besides, you are the big-picture man on this team, my lord,” Vimes said. “I’ll just keep solving cases as long as I can until I’ll have to hand over the baton to Angua.”
He knew that Vetinari had his own thought about the future of the city. Asking about them would only cause Vetinari to lift an eyebrow and make an vague comment. Well, he’d find out eventually.
“And then we’ll see what happens?” Vetinari mused. “I’ll have a word with Sybil. It is difficult enough to get you to go on your holidays…”
“We both know that I’m not going to obey any other Patrician,” Vimes said, watching as at least three layers of glitter slid off the Vetinari’s calves as Vimes slid the lotion covered washcloth over skin. “At least not for long. And I wouldn’t be happy about it. Besides, if you don’t end up burying me before you leave the city, I don’t think that I’ll last long in the Watch that’ll evolve in a city without you in charge. Things would move too fast for me and I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was supposed to retire when I married Sybil, so I’m already too old-”
“Where you go, I go,” Vetinari whispered, his hand covering Vimes’s own. “Is that so?”
“It’s been that way for years, my lord,” Vimes replied. “Glad you noticed.”
The washcloth moved, almost as if on its own accord, up to the Patrician’s knees.
Vetinari nodded, almost bowing his head.
The Patrician’s thighs were thin but sturdy just like the rest of him. Vimes ran the washcloth over the deep, dark scar on the thigh where Vetinari had been shot, all those years ago. The glitter slid away.
“Me and Sybil would live in a separate house, of course,” Vimes continued. “You would live in that cottage you talked about and still have all the privacy you’d like. And we wouldn’t drive each other insane that way.”
Vetinari made a humming sound and closed his eyes.
Trust was a complicated, multilayered thing. And yet so very simple.
The same could be said about love.
Vimes dug his fingers into the muscle of Vetinari’s thigh, fingers circling the worst knots until Vetinari sighed, his breath shuddering and leaned into the touch.
“Continue,” Vetinari said, his voice low.
Vimes nodded and used both hands to massage his thigh and hip, careful not to brush the more delicate parts. He stopped when Vetinari’s breath hitched and the water had become noticeably colder.
Vimes wasn’t sure who initiated the first kiss, but soon Vetinari’s hands were cupping his jaw and their noses were bumping. They broke for air, foreheads touching as they breathing in air that was probably around twenty percent coconut lotion. The second kiss was gentle and Vetinari’s eyes were soft when they parted. Things gradually got more interesting, hands roaming and breathing hitching.
Afterwards, Vimes found some luxuriant towels in one of the cupboards and they did their best to dry themselves. Vimes was amazed that there was only a smattering of glitter left on his calves when Vetinari handed him a blue dressing gown and some night-clothes. There was even a pair of clean underwear.
“Are you going back to the station?” Vetinari asked, running a hand through his hair. The sight was far too appealing. The man knew what he was doing. “It’s only a few hours until dawn.”
“We’re having an important meeting about the future of the city,” Vimes said, watching as the Patrician picked up his cane. “Been up all night talking, after all.”
“Indeed,” Lord Vetinari said, flashing Vimes a smile. Vetinari disappeared into his bedroom and Vimes got dressed, the soft material of his nightshirt cool against his skin.
When he opened the door to the Patrician’s bedroom he saw that Vetinari was fiddling with the covers on his bed, his stoop more prominent now that he wasn’t wearing the robes of office. It was an oddly soothing sight. Vetinari’s spare silver reading glasses were on the bedside table and his spare cane was leaning against the wall.
The bed was narrow, but they still fit, even if that meant that they were very much wrapped around each other, limbs tangled and skin touching skin. Soon Vetinari’s breathing became even. Vimes arranged the covers so that they covered them both. He had learned the hard way that if he didn’t do this Vetinari would consider that a straight-up invitation to hog the covers or begin a damn fight about who should get more coverage. Sybil usually solved this problem when Vetinari stayed over by bringing more blankets and comfortable pillows to their bed.
Vimes closed his eyes.
In the morning, he’d wake up to the scent of shaving cream and the sound of running servants. If he was lucky, he might get an egg with soldiers for breakfast.
There would be thieves to catch and reports to make. He’d stand beside Vetinari in front of the big window in the Oblong Office and watch as the city marched on into the future. The city would continue to do that with or without them in it, and wasn’t that a strangely comforting thought?
Vimes let himself drift off, sinking into a deep, all-engulfing slumber.