It was late in the evening by the time Commander Vimes released Vetinari and Drumknott from the custody of the Watch. A Palace coach took them home. Drumknott sat opposite Vetinari and clasped his hands to stop himself shivering from the cold. Still, the occasional slight shudder would go through him, and Vetinari looked away politely – he was not bothered by the cold, but he would have offered his cloak to Drumknott if he had it.
They alighted in the courtyard and, their bedrooms being on the same floor, made their way up the stairs together. The Palace was quiet except for the ticking of clocks they passed; not even their footsteps made a noise, accustomed as they both were to moving silently.
Vetinari, of course, had gone through a great deal worse than character assassination and a few days’ imprisonment. The same couldn’t quite be said of Drumknott, however. He was more distracted than Vetinari had seen him before, and on the last flight of stairs, he stumbled clumsily on a step.
He was understandably embarrassed when Vetinari caught him by the arm.
‘Sorry, sir.’ Drumknott’s voice, though as clear and steady as it always was whenever he was speaking to his master, was soft and only audible through the stillness of the Palace.
‘It’s alright.’ Vetinari’s hand went up to squeeze Drumknott’s shoulder reassuringly. ‘You should rest for the remainder of the week, Drumknott. Longer, if you find it necessary.’
‘Will you rest, sir?’ Drumknott asked, looking directly at him.
‘Ah. No. I don’t think so. The city has gone without me for longer than I feel comfortable leaving it. But I’ll be fine, Drumknott.’
‘So will I, my lord. I’ll come to work tomorrow if you will.’
‘Mr Drumknott, I cannot have my personal secretary working at half-health, especially not tomorrow.’ Vetinari began to withdraw his hand. ‘I will be much busier than usual catching up on city affairs I have missed.’
‘I know, sir.’ To Vetinari’s surprise, Drumknott caught his hand. Drumknott’s fingers were ice-cold; Vetinari felt as if his own were warm in comparison. ‘But I don’t feel too ill. I’ll be better after a night’s sleep in my own bed.’
‘I don’t want to tax you.’
‘Yes.’ Drumknott smiled. ‘Thank you for your concern, my lord.’
It was then that Vetinari realised that his chief clerk knew him a bit too well. Drumknott knew how to persist with him, and this was clearly an argument he was not going to let up on. Vetinari only just acknowledged to himself that he wasn’t trying to hold back his answering smile.
‘Very well, if you insist,’ he said. ‘Thank you, Drumknott.’
‘You’re welcome, sir,’ Drumknott said, relaxing a fraction.
Vetinari became conscious of the fact that Drumknott was still holding his hand. Perhaps, he thought, he did not want to let go. Vetinari looked at him, and wondered if, for the past three days, Drumknott had lain alone in his cell and worried about his master. In a way, Vetinari knew, he was beginning to rely on his secretary; he wondered now if Drumknott was beginning to need him, in a slightly different way.
‘Rufus,’ he said gently, stepping closer and cupping the young man’s face in his other hand. Had it been like this for him when Vetinari had been poisoned, or when Vetinari had been imprisoned over the betrayal of Ankh-Morpork? ‘It’s alright. You need not worry about me now.’
‘I know,’ Drumknott said. Up close, his smile was wan and tired – but his gaze was steady, and almost intense, as if he felt that it was the last time he would be able to look at his master. Vetinari was not very surprised when he leaned in and pressed their lips together.
What did surprise him was when Drumknott broke the kiss without starting or giving any other indication that he had come to his senses. He just pulled away and looked at him, with deep brown eyes that betrayed his true depths, still with that faint little smile, and held Vetinari’s hand a little tighter.
‘You’re not going to let go, are you,’ Vetinari murmured.
‘Were it that I did not have to,’ Drumknott said, melancholy touching his smile. ‘I’m sorry.’
No, Drumknott was perfectly aware of what he was doing ... and Vetinari found that, somehow, he did not want to let go either – at least, not yet. He felt a little puzzled by this newly-revealed aspect of Drumknott’s regard for him, and he himself felt ... drawn to Drumknott’s touch. Attracted, possibly.
‘Perhaps you may hold on for a little longer if you wish,’ Vetinari said. ‘Would you like me to come with you?’
For a moment, Drumknott was completely taken aback. Then, unexpectedly, his expression brightened.
‘Yes,’ he said, his voice not more than a breath. Vetinari nodded, and they walked through the corridors together, Drumknott still lightly holding his hand.
Drumknott’s suite was moderately but comfortably furnished. The bed was close to the fireplace and it was obviously a room not used for much more than sleeping in, but quite peacefully. Vetinari could not say that it differed very much from how he had always envisioned it; somehow, the sight made him want to smile, almost as much from affection as from amusement.
‘You know I’m not invulnerable, Rufus,’ Vetinari said as Drumknott lit a candle on the bedside table. ‘I will die someday, just like any other man.’
‘I know,’ Drumknott said, turning to face him. ‘But it is not your time yet.’
‘And you would know when it is?’
Dismay crossed Drumknott’s features, and Vetinari stepped closer. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and pressed a brief kiss to his lips. ‘If it is I you have chosen to give your loyalty to, then you must know I would never say otherwise.’
‘I wouldn’t ask you to,’ Drumknott said. ‘Only, could I ask that you not object, if I do, occasionally?’ And he smiled, as if the absurdity of his own statement had struck him.
‘Alright,’ Vetinari said, and let himself smile back.
‘I know I cannot hold on forever,’ Drumknott said, closing the distance between them even further so that they were standing toe-to-toe, nearly every inch of their bodies pressed together, and Vetinari tried not to think about how fast his heart was beating, ‘but perhaps I can hold on for just one night?’
Vetinari looked at his secretary, and decided to trust him.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Just one night.’