Chapter 1: The Sex is Good
1) Saving Abel – The Sex is Good
Grace gasped when her naked back pressed against the cool wallpaper, turning her head to the side, baring her neck. Part of her brain – the part that stayed detached, pragmatic, no matter what – was asking whether or not this was really happening. The human part, the bit responsible for daily life, was gasping right along with her, back arching, arm wrapping around a skinny pair of shoulders to keep her on her feet. A third part, quiet and responsible solely for self-defense, whispered that this was the last step off a high ledge, and there would be no chance of return. At least, not alive and as Grace Speaker.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked, punctuated with kissing her, on the mouth, on the neck, one hand supporting her head, the other arm twined around her back, hand cupping her ass. Grace paused, not so much for her own benefit but to see if he would too.
For one second, Grace Speaker, sole proprietor, manager and employee of Pellicool Pets, made the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork wait achingly long for an answer.
She leaned in, still clinging to his shoulders like they were the last stable thing in a World Gone Madde – and the world would have had to have gone pretty damned mad for Havelock Vetinari to be a point of stability – and kissed him again, messy, not particularly caring. “As long as I’m not just another notch in the Patrician’s bedpost.”
He threw out an arm and caught himself against the wall when she slid a hand down the front of his trousers, still holding her so she didn’t fall. What a gentleman. “I don’t exactly get around,” he chuckled.
She leaned in, cheek-to-cheek and kissed him softly. “So you’re desperate, then?”
“You talk too damn much,” he whispered, hoarse now, moaning a little afterwards, still holding her despite everything. She leaned back and kissed him again, biting his lip just a little – softly – before pulling back, hand still down the front of the most powerful man in the world’s pants.
Chapter 2: AC/DC - Shoot to Thrill
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“So what do you do with your free time?”
“You.” The sound of a playful slap punctured the muffled silence of the room. “Ow.”
“Smartass.” A rustle of bedclothes. “No, really, there has to be something.” Grace Speaker propped herself up on her elbow, pulling the cover up to shield herself against the chill of her bedroom, not quite adequately heated by the small wood stove. “I’ve known you for a couple years now and as far as I know, you don’t do anything besides work. There has to be something.”
He shrugged, eyes closed. “That’s about it, really.”
“You don’t drink or gamble or go to the track or anything?”
“I, uh, I can’t, really.” He cracked an eye. “Vices are frowned upon. Well, not so much frowned upon as exploited and used against me to bring about my death and/or deposition.”
She scowled. “I really, honestly, have a very difficult time believing that. There’s literally nothing else?”
He gave her a sidelong look. “Well . . .”
“Aha! I knew there was a ‘well’ in there somewhere.”
He sat up, and watched her for a minute before he sighed. “Get dressed, I’ll show you.” He raised an eyebrow. “Wear something warm.”
An hour later, Grace found herself standing in a dingy wood shed five miles out of the city, coat clutched tightly around herself. Vetinari pulled a sheet off of a large, shapeless hunk of something, metallic and black. Chrome glinted. She raised her eyebrows. “Okay, so I really hope you’re planning on explaining what this is, because I have never seen one of these before in my life.”
“It’s a genuine da Quirm, is what it is,” he sighed, looking fondly at the thing. “He calls it the da Quirm Muira.” He looked to her. “So get in.”
She raised an eyebrow. “So what now?”
“Get in it.” He opened one of the doors and gestured. “Go on, it doesn’t bite.”
“Forgive me, but knowing it’s a da Quirm, I have my doubts about that statement.” She slid into the leather seat, a modified carriage seat by the looks of it, and he strolled around the thing, getting in the other side, which was fitted with a large wheel, similar to what might be found on a ship but without the spokes. Flappy-looking little paddles sprouted off of it, instead. Ahead of them, the open shed door and the dirt racing track looped and twisted across the geography of this patch of the Plains, glowed in the early afternoon sunlight. “So now what?”
He slid a bolt into a hole on the shelf that the wheel seemed to originate from, and patted the thing fondly before pressing a little black button. Grace screamed and jumped when something under the sheet metal on the front of the thing roared to life. “It’s got an engine under there!” She turned to him. “There’s a whole engine under there, is there?”
“Yes. Internal combustion, very difficult, but after some concentrated effort Leonard was able to manage it.”
“So this is some kind of machine?” She took in the elegant curves of the interior and the soft slope of the front of the machine, midnight black. “What’s it do? Why’re we sitting in it?”
“It’s going to replace the coach, someday,” he said, with a fair amount of certainty. “There’s some issues Leonard works on sporadically, of course, and until then it’d be . . . imprudent to release it to the general public.”
“So it’s a secret?” She ran a hand warily over the black leather of the interior shelf. “Is it dangerous?”
“Not as such, and no. Well, unless I crash it, which I haven’t done in a while.” The engine revved and Grace looked to him, eyes wide. “It’s just being kept a little bit . . . hidden until the whole issue of fuel is sorted out.” He shrugged. “Right now it runs off peanut oil, but that’s impractical – peanut shortages could lead to a bit of a crisis, you know how it is. He’s nearly there with a model that runs off waste gases in the atmosphere, I’m told, but I’m sure I don’t understand how that’s going to work.”
She waved a hand. “Just for a moment, back to the crashing: how long is a while?”
“Oh, it’s got inflatable air bags that go off if you hit something or roll, so you might not die,” he said, more cheerfully than he had any rights to be. “Probably won’t die! Am I the kind of person that would go about in a deadly machine moving at a hundred miles an hour?”
“Maybe, I don’t know!” She blinked. “Is that how fast it is?”
“It’s a bit faster.”
“What’s a bit?”
“It’ll be much more enjoyable if you don’t scream, by the way.” He smirked and the engine roared again. “Ready?”
Vetinari flicked one of the little paddles on the wheel and the machine, with a roar that felt like a punch to the gut, rolled forward, already going altogether too fast for Grace. It was deeply unsettling, she realized, pressing back into the seat, how it just moved, without anything pushing or pulling it. It wasn’t right. “So how fast are we going now? Look where you’re going!” she added, trying very hard indeed not to border on the hysterical when he glanced down at a bank of gauges behind the wheel.
“I can’t check the speed if I don’t look down.”
“Bit of a design flaw, isn’t it?” Grace laughed, nervous. “So, how fast are we going? Please look quickly.”
“Twenty-five miles per hour.”
“But – But you can’t even feel it!” She looked out the front window, hands clamped firmly to the seat. “We can’t be!” She glanced to him. “What do those paddles do, is that how you go faster?”
He shrugged. “In a manner of speaking. The engine runs on different gears for different speeds, and I can change the gears with those. The accelerator is on a pedal under the wheel.”
“Why’s there a shelf in it?”
“To hold things, I think was Leonard’s reasoning. And to separate the engine from the actual bit you sit in.”
“Ah.” She sank further into the seat. “How nice.”
“Want to go faster?”
“Are you just asking that out of politeness?”
“. . . Yes.”
She sighed. “I suppose I did ask you what you got up to for fun.” She clenched her jaw, resigned to her fate. “So go on, then.” He flicked the paddle again and Grace tried very, very hard not to yelp as the thing roared forward across the dirt. “So what do you call this thing?”
“Well, other than the Muira, Leonard’s official name for it is the Self-Propelled-Horseless-Coach. I just prefer to call it a coach.”
“Surely you must see the flaw in that naming scheme? Could lead to a bit of confusion, eh?”
“I’m the test driver, not the publicist.” They slid around a corner, back end of the thing drifting wider than the front end. Grace whimpered.
“Dare I ask how fast it’s going now?”
“Only fifty miles per hour, but we’ve got a flat straightaway coming up.” Another flick of the paddles and an abrupt slowing. A minute later, the thing was airborne for a second, before landing heavily and roaring forward.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re probably insane?” She watched as he laughed a little, the machine seeming to spin on one front tire, coming to face almost 180 degrees the other way before roaring forward again. “Scratch probably.”
“It’s alright, I’d always suspected.” He flicked the paddles once, twice, and the thing surged forward. The track stretched ahead of them, dirt sprayed behind them.
“So how fast now?”
“Well, a hundred now.”
Grace watched the Plains whip by and the track disappear ahead of them, a fluttery little feeling in the pit of her stomach. A hundred miles in an hour. Good thing there was only one of these – the world would become too small for comfort at that rate. You could get to Genua almost in a week, practically.
As the machine decelerated, she released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Whoa.” They slid around a corner and weaved through a zig-zag in the track before slowing down and rumbling to a tame speed. “Whoa.”
“You like it?” He looked over to her as they came to a stop, in the middle of the track.
“I . . . I didn’t dislike it.” She lifted her hands up and noted the tremble. “It was a rush, that’s for sure.” She looked over, mouth quirking into a smile. “No wonder it’s your hobby.”
“What makes you say that?” She slid across the seat and propped her elbow on his shoulder, running a hand through his hair. “I like where this is going, I have to say.”
She kissed him once and fussed with the front of his coat. “Job like yours? The track or cards wouldn’t cut it, not to get your adrenalin up. You just drove a machine a hundred miles per hour and you’re hardly even fazed.”
He waited for her to finish kissing him before mumbling, “It is one of those negative things that comes down to the job, I guess.”
“But you know what?”
“I can think of something else that will get you wound up.” She lay back in the seat and smiled, flicking her coat open at the throat. “And I bet you haven’t done this sort of testing in this machine yet.”
He raised an eyebrow and smirked. “I have not.” He bent over her and they kissed again. “But if you ever meet Leonard please, please do not tell him about it.”
Dedicated to Clarkson, May and Hammond. <3
Chapter 3: Can't You Hear Me Knocking
"Are you busy Friday?" he asked her one rainy afternoon. She looked to him, sitting at the counter, flipping through a dusty old history book she kept around. He caught her puzzled expression and raised an eyebrow.
"Good." She watched him flip through the crackling old pages and pause, presumably to read.
"Why do you want to know if I'm busy on Friday?" She turned away and resumed watering the rabbits. "I honestly hadn't planned that far ahead."
"It occurred to me the other day that I have never officially bought you dinner."
"Yes you have. Lots of times." She shot him a look over her shoulder. He hadn't moved. "Weren't those official?"
"I mean, never in an actual restaurant. I assume take-out only counts for a bit."
She'd stopped filling the water bowls and took a breath, being sure to keep her voice even and calm. "Bit risky for you, isn't it?" she asked, lightly.
"It doesn't have to be." He pulled a pencil out of her mug of office supplies and scribbled something in the book. "I have a few disguises at my disposal." He chewed on the eraser for a second. "How about seven?"
"Sounds . . . fine." She took a breath and finished with the rabbits before she moved on to the guinea pigs. "Seven is perfect. I'll have Erica mind the shop for me for the last couple hours."
"Perfect, I knew that girl would come in handy for something. Where do you want to go?"
"I think you're supposed to pick, traditionally." She turned and caught his expectant expression. "Oh, fine. There's this nice Agatean place called Sakana. I'll meet you there, shall I?"
The remainder of the week was . . . distracting, as far as Grace was concerned. Or perhaps it was mundane, and it was Friday that was distracting. Which was silly, she reflected, Friday night, when she found herself going through her wardrobe for something suitable to wear. After all, she and Havelock were on first-name terms, they'd known each other for almost five years now, and they'd been . . . knowing each other in the far more innuendo-laden sense for nearly four. He knew her, she knew him. It wasn't as though this was a blind date.
So why did she feel like it was? Possibly, she thought to herself, because this was the first time they'd actually gone out together, even if he would have to come up with some kind of disguise to manage it. And when you went out you had to talk, really talk. There were no distractions or things to do to break up awkward pauses. Not that there were any, anymore, but if there were, there wouldn't be anything to draw attention away from it.
For the first time, Grace realized that actually talking to Havelock Vetinari – not just doing a crossword, or rambling about whatever occurred to either one of them, or even having sex – was a far more terrifying prospect than it seemed on the surface. She stared into the depths of her clothing and muttered, "Well, bugger it all, then."
She wasn't surprised when he showed up five minutes late, and therefore wasn't offended. When you're secretly seeing the tyrant of the city, you have to allow for a little tardiness. She smiled and raised an eyebrow, sipping her martini. "I ordered a drink, I do hope you don't mind." He slipped into the chair and looked around. "I like your glasses more every time I see them, you know." She caught his expression. "Would you relax? I even got an alcove thing." She gestured around. "All nice and concealed."
"Good idea. How'd you manage it?" he asked. "It's packed out there; did you just get lucky?"
"I told them you have an embarrassing medical condition that requires utmost privacy." He scowled. "It was that or wealthy vampire Assassin, and I figured the further we were from the truth in that respect, the better."
"Which medical condition am I afflicted with?" He was still scowling a little, but she could hear the trace amusement in his voice. "Just so I know when I have to start faking symptoms."
"I didn't specify." She giggled as the waitress appeared, cautiously, as though expecting some sort of horrible deformity.
"Tequila, triple sec and lime on the rocks," he said, gently, before the waitress fled. "You definitely specified a condition," he hissed, smirking.
"I maybe – maybe – mentioned oozing rashes and unpredictable and violent seizures."
He put his face in his hands. "Oh gods. Well at least it'll be peaceful."
"And no one will suspect it's you." She leaned back in her chair and took a sip of her drink. "I'm a genius, you can reward me for it later. Nice drink order, by the way; clearly you can take the boy out of Genua but you can't take Genua out of the boy."
"I like it," he defended. "It's good."
"Tequila makes me violent," she muttered, setting her glass down. "Violently ill, that is."
"It's not for everyone." He looked over the menu while she looked over his disguise. He noticed. "What?"
"You have grey hair."
"Care to elaborate on that?"
"Nope." He smirked. "It's all part of the mystery. I'm an enigma."
"You're something, that's for sure." The waitress returned, with the drink and salads, in delicate little bowls. Grace watched him pick at it. "You should eat that, it's good for you."
"It's green. The orange stuff isn't bad, though."
"That's the dressing and it has positively no nutritional value whatsoever. The lettuce, on the other hand –"
"Limes are green. Avocados are green. Apples can be green." She raised her eyebrows and took a bite of salad. "You love those. There's a crucial flaw in your logic, somewhere."
"Well they all taste like something." He frowned and grudgingly ate some of the lettuce. "Lettuce doesn't taste like anything. Tastes like crunchy water, which is just weird."
"You're a very strange man, has anyone ever told you that?" She laughed when he raised an eyebrow and gave her a polite look. "Silly question, I suppose. You have any idea what you want to eat?"
"Anything's fine, really." He shrugged. "You pick, it all sounds interesting. Well, I mean, aside from the avocado roll. That sounds delicious."
"It's rolled in seaweed."
"Yeah, so? Seaweed's fine." He caught her expression. "What's that about?"
"That's two green things in one foodstuff."
"Well avocados don't count, because they're delicious, and seaweed's not green, it's more brownish." He paused. "Brownish. Green. Breen."
"That's a real color, you know." She penciled in the orders on the flimsy printed options sheet and set them on the side of the table for the waitress to take.
"I do know. We should use that for the crossword next week. It's such a nice word, breen." He took a sip of his drink and rolled the word around once more while Grace laughed. "Breen. I quite like it, really. Breen foods are on the okay list."
The dinner went on, and no distressingly awkward pauses occurred. Names for colors were invented, or remembered, and Grace discovered that Vetinari would eat basically anything you put in front of him as long as it wasn't green and didn't come from a mammal or bird. "So who's the strangest person you've ever met?" she asked, laughing, stirring the remains of her soy sauce idly.
He thought. "Well . . . Ah, there's been a few." He tapped the rim of his glass. "Well, there's this Doctor, I still seem him sometimes, when he drops in. He's probably the oddest person . . . He's got this blue box and it's . . ." he paused, looked at her, and smiled. "It's very unusual, suffice to say."
"What about Lady Margolotta?"
"She's . . ." He shrugged, helplessly. "She's who she is." He laughed a little. "And a little strange. But never mind her, you'll meet her one day I'm sure, and you'll find out for yourself." He took a sip of tequila, having long since decided to forgo the extra ingredients. "She'll figure us out sooner or later, despite my best efforts."
"Well, I'll have to keep a stake around just in case."
"I should hope it's not necessary," he said, and she didn't notice the very gentle note of warning.
She smiled, content, and sighed. "Why did you decide to do this? It's been lovely, but it's a bit out of the ordinary for you, isn't it?"
He sat back and swirled the remains of his tequila and ice cubes. "Would you believe me if I told you it's because my godsons assured me that this is what normal people do when they're dating?"
"Your godsons are eight and ten." She laughed softly. "And disturbingly enough, I do believe you'd take dating advice from an eight and ten year old. Did you really ask them?"
"I might have."
She leaned onto the table and beckoned him in. "You want to know something?" He leaned in until she could whisper into his ear, "You are without a doubt the strangest, most clever person I've ever known." She kissed him on the cheek, enjoying the little rush of being able to do that in public view, whether or not anyone knew he was the Patrician, or just a bloke with a very unfortunate medical condition. "I like that in a man, I think." She could feel his smile, and she rested her head against his, just for a moment.
Chapter 4: P!nk - So What
4) P!nk – So What
Erica leaned on the counter and cautiously pushed the coffee mug toward her employer. Grace spared the mug a disgusted glance before pushing it away. "I can't imagine what I was thinking in the first place," she snapped. Erica, wisely, remained silent, absently scratching one of the bunnies behind the ears. "Honestly, like anything could work with . . . with that job. Ha!" She made a face, rolling her eyes. "With the city in the equation. It was like an affair – it always was." She slammed a fist on the counter, sneering. "Good riddance, I say."
Erica hadn't seen the fight, but apparently it was a little less than forty-eight hours old. She had come into the shop to feed the animals and ended up cleaning up the emotionally radioactive fallout. Grace glared at the coffee cup, sitting on the counter next to a half-finished crossword, and pushed the puzzle to the floor behind the counter before taking a distinctly resentful sip of coffee. "Bastard." Erica just nodded and waited. Soon enough, Grace had slid one hand up over her eyes and sniffed. "He didn't even care."
"I'm sure he does, miss."
Grace sniffed again and wiped the first of the tears away. "Like hell he does. This is his damn job, ruining lives. He's a life-ruiner." She pounded her fist onto the counter again before sweeping off the stool and into the back room. Erica heard the door to the attached apartment slam and – very quietly – a choked-back sob. With a sigh, the girl resigned herself to letting this thing run its course, and set about tidying up the shop.
Half a city away, Lord Vetinari sat behind his desk, working on the latest budget report with a ferocity Drumknott hadn't seen from the Patrician in quite some time. He cleared his throat, cautiously, because his Lordship was a complex man, and Drumknott was not entirely convinced he wanted to know the exact reasoning behind his newfound intensity. "Sir?"
"What, Drumknott?" Drumknott blanched. Vetinari rarely called him by his last name when they were alone, unless he was cross or exceedingly distracted. Based on the fact that he'd almost snarled (and here we must remember that almost snarling for Havelock Vetinari is, truthfully, a far sight away from the normal barometer for such a reaction, ranking for less perceptive people than Rufus Drumknott around 'mildly annoyed') in conjunction with the use of his clerk's last name, Drumknott was willing to bet money that his Lordship was both distracted and cross. And since things seemed to be ticking along well enough in the city, and all the day's meetings had finished hours ago, while the sun was still sinking below the horizon and the stars were just starting to peek into the sky, Drumknott figured it could only be one thing.
"Sir, uh, the paperwork is, with, er, the exception of the budget report, all caught up." He held a sheaf of papers aloft. "There are, of course, the non-urgent reports, however they can wait until tomorrow . . . ?" He left the sentence hanging.
"Leave them on my desk," Vetinari said, tone completely neutral. Had he been anyone else, Drumknott would have expected shouting. "You may retire for the evening, Drumknott." Get out, screamed the subtext. Drumknott nodded, bowed slightly, and fled. When Vetinari heard him vacate the hall, and the office was totally silent but for the ticking of the clock in the anteroom, he leaned his elbows onto his desk, face in his hands. Conscious that someone might still take it upon themselves to show themselves in, he stood, limped to the door, threw the bolt and leaned back against the heavy wood, head back, staring blankly at the ceiling. Then he sighed, closed his eyes, and slid to the floor, elbows on his knees and head cradled in his arms.
He took a deep breath – and had this been absolutely anyone other than Havelock Vetinari, you would have sworn he was struggling not to cry – and let it out slowly, right hand clenching and unclenching rhythmically, cathartic. "You stupid fucker," he mumbled, to himself and the empty office.
Three more days went by, and Erica heavily contemplated arranging a meeting with Rufus Drumknott, if only because Grace was still acting ridiculous and had started to show signs of becoming an anarchist, often speaking of overthrowing the 'hot but utterly idiotic and bureaucratic dipshit government' to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen, including customers. For everyone's sake, Erica had taken over front-of-house duties, giving Grace time to balance the books and take inventory as well as draw up the weekly crossword for the Times(1). This was the reason why, on Thursday night, Erica didn't finish locking the front door in time to run to the back room after the bell tinkled over the back entrance door but before the screaming started.
"I can't believe you, you godsdamn idiot!" There was the sound of the apartment door slamming. "I'm calling the watch for breaking and entering, so help me if I don't, and trespassing too, just for godsdamn good measure!" Somewhere in the back, crockery broke. Erica winced.
"I tried to understand you, I really did. The hours, the erratic drop-ins, the fact that practically everything I bloody do these days has to be some big fucking secret! But no, not anymore! I'm done." The bell jangled again, as if someone had been pushed up against the door, or had backed into it. Erica tried to look busy with the puppies.
"I even overlooked the damn vampire, and you know why? Because I thought it was for the city, part of the job. Ha!" Grace chuckled. "The whole world thinks you're the most maniacal, twisty-minded git we've seen in the past millennium and they don't know the half of it! Part of the job my ass. Well you better listen good, bastard, because I. Am. Finished. I'm sick of the lying, sick of the secrets, sick to death of waiting for you to tell me the damn truth like your dumb fuck puppet."
"Grace let me just –"
"Just what? Explain everything away? I'm sure you'll do a damn fine job of it too, but I'm not playing this game anymore. You want control of everything around you? Fine. Control what you have with the stupid city, because I refuse to be part of that." The door opened again, bell jingling. "Now get out." Seconds later, the door slammed shut, followed by the apartment door. Erica hung her head and scratched a puppy under the chin.
It was another seven days before anything else happened. Grace amended the crossword, on Erica's suggestion, despite the fact that 'the whole world ought to know anyway, the bastard', and she would slip into her apartment occasionally, returning with bloodshot eyes and newly-applied mascara. But beyond that, things appeared to return more or less to normal, until Commander Vimes walked in. He nodded to Erica before proceeding to the counter, where Grace was seated.
"I don't know what in the hells is going on," he said without preamble, "but whatever it is the two of you have to work it out."
Grace sniffed. "Nothing's going on, Commander. No-thing."
"My ass it isn't," Vimes snarled, lighting a cigar despite the prominently-displayed 'No Smoking' sign. "Vetinari hasn't slept at all in over a week and his clerk's about ready to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart and you have on fresh mascara."
Grace glared. "You're too damn nosy. There's nothing going on."
"Except that the two of you are totally miserable." He shook his head. "I didn't even know he could be miserable."
"Can we not discuss this in front of Erica?" Grace looked to her clerk. Vimes ignored it, still fixing her with a mild glare. Grace sagged and sighed. "I broke it off – it's not my fault the man lies through his teeth at every opportunity and couldn't manage to tell the truth if his life depended on it." Vimes scowled around the cigar. "It's true! He's got that vampire woman, gods know what the deal is with those two, and I refuse to be the piece on the side – the local flavor. Plus, I never know when he's going to be around and when he isn't, and I can't bloody stand how I'm a big secret."
"Surely you must understand the last two though?" Vimes asked mildly. "It's for your own safety, Grace. And Lady Margolotta isn't . . . Well, I can't presume to know but I would hazard to guess that she's not what you're thinking."
She crossed her legs delicately and sniffed again, sticking her nose into the air. "Be that as it may, it's the principle of the thing."
Vimes sighed. "All I'm saying is at least have a discussion with him. You either need to work it out or get closure, and soon – I am not dealing with an anarchy movement led by a pet store owner, nor do I feel like dealing with the fallout and assassination attempt inquiries when Vetinari inevitably passes out from exhaustion." He gave her a pointed look. "Good day, Miss Speaker."
Grace watched him go before she picked up her pen sucked on the end for a moment. Then, deliberately, she wrote a note on a scrap of crossword draft, folded it up carefully, and held it out to Erica. "Take this to the Palace, if you please. Make sure you deliver it to Drumknott."
Erica did and, later that night, made sure she was still finishing up her evening chores when the bell over the back door jingled. Not stopping what she was doing, she nevertheless tuned her ears and listened keenly as she could without being obvious.
"You look like the seven hells," Grace said, tone firm. "Have you slept at all?" Silence. "So no, then."
"You have blue mascara on."
"It's Erica's. I . . . ran out."
Awkward silence descended. Finally, Grace sighed. "Gods, Havelock," she groaned, voice muffled, as though she had covered her face with her hands. Then, more clearly, "I'm sorry for going off like that. I don't know what I was thinking."
"You were angry," he replied. He even sounded exhausted, Erica marveled. "You had every right to be."
"Not like that, I didn't."
"No, no, I think you did." He sighed. "I'm sorry too, it's just . . . I've never done . . . this before. Never had to manage it. I wasn't being honest, and I wasn't being fair."
"I should have understood better. I know it's mostly for my own protection but it's just . . . it's so hard sometimes. But it's got to be, doesn't it? We can't possibly have a normal run-of-the-mill relationship, not without someone getting killed."
"I can do better though." He sighed again. "I'll have to budget hours, and schedule things more often and . . . I mean, if you really want the entire convoluted Margolotta story I suppose I could volunteer that too."
"I don't need the whole story right now," Grace said quickly. "I just need you to be honest: are the two of you a thing?"
"Were you ever a thing?"
"Sort of. Not really, though. Age differences and all."
"Are you interested in becoming a thing?"
"Will you explain your utterly bizarre relationship with her one day?"
"Any time you want me to." Erica heard Grace sigh, and when she spoke again, she could hear the tension had gone out of her boss's voice.
"Then that's all I need, for now. We can talk about the other stuff – the hours, the secrecy, all that junk, later. Right now you need to sleep."
"You can stay here tonight."
"Thanks." Erica smiled and set about finishing cleaning the litter in the rabbit cages. When she went to leave, half an hour later, she noticed the door to the one-room apartment was open, just slightly. She decided to pull it shut to keep out the noise in the morning, when the animals started waking up. As she laid her hand on the knob, she saw a sliver of the bed in the little room, Lord Vetinari curled up in it, Grace comfortably snuggled up against him.
Erica smiled once more and shut the door.
(1) Although since two of the week's clues were 'bloody-minded tyrannical bastard' and 'heartless fucking dictator', Erica wasn't entirely sure this was a good idea.