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Cynical, Black-Nailed Style

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“Archchancellor Ridcully tells me his terribly keen young wizardlings are working ‘around the clock’ to find a way to send the lot of them back home. Admittedly he said something about having to disassemble one of the University’s main timepieces to get hold of some particularly fiddly gears, but I believe the overall thrust was positive.”

“They bloody well caused a riot today. Well, all right. Indirectly. Directly a bunch of drunken idiots with talkative weaponry caused a riot, aided and abetted by the inadvertently terrifying involvement of one of the aliens.” Vimes scrubbed a hand through his hair, having taken off the dented helmet as per protocol on entering the Patrician’s presence. “Gods, those titchy little clownlets looked about to expire of pure desperate terror. Do we know what Whiteface gets up to in there? Do we want to?”

“You know me, Vimes,” said Lord Vetinari, “I do not inquire as to the day-to-day schedules of the Guildmasters.”

Yeah, thought Vimes, because you don’t bloody have to, is the thing. “Right, sir. Just as you say. But the…hell, I really can’t make myself call them trolls, the visitors are causing somewhat of an upset, to put it very lightly.”

“Indeed, Commander. And yet I find they have a certain refreshing innocence which, when paired with the occasional spectacle, offers a vibrant new viewpoint on our city’s preconceptions.”

Vimes had had a very long day. He tried halfheartedly to winch up an expression of bright interest in his lordship’s wordplay and managed a blank look of what. “Sir, do you mean that the clusterf…the fracas today actually struck you as beneficial in some form?”

Vetinari did that thing he damn well hated where he put the tips of his long mobile fingers together and looked over them at Vimes with an almost palpable air of nice of you to catch up with the class. “Commander, I am always flattered when you put words in my mouth. How are you getting along with young Mr. Vantas?”

“…I want to strangle him half the time, and approximately ninety percent of the other half I want to stuff a towel in his mouth to get him to belt up?”

“Splendid,” said Vetinari, and looked back at his paperwork. Vimes stared. After a few moments the Patrician glanced back up at him. “—Do not let me detain you, Commander.”

When Vimes had gone Drumknott appeared from the anteroom and both of them waited, heads tilted ever so slightly, until the expected thud of knuckles against plaster reassured them that all was right with the world.

~

The damn wizards couldn’t wiz fast enough, if you asked him. Whatever Vetinari thought, having a bunch of twelve aliens, some of whom were on mental par with Foul Ole Ron and his buddies, running around the city was making Vimes’ life more difficult than it really strictly needed to be. Today’s clusterfracas was just one aspect of the situation.

For one thing, he’d heard that Mr. Nutt was making overtures toward the biggest of the...what, visitors? Aliens? Alternians would have to do...to join the University’s football team. Vimes was pretty sure that would void about a hundred different University traditions and possibly cause people to turn into things, except of course Nutt himself was an orc, but that was different, at least he was one of their monsters instead of a monster from some other universe. Even if they could invent a football Zahhak could kick without disintegrating it.

Then there was the question of the glowing vampire they’d brought with them. Vimes still trusted vampires exactly as far as he could throw them, although he’d come around to a certain grudging appreciation of Sally’s capabilities, and an alien vampire was twice as offputting, not to mention one who glowed like foxfire and Talked Somewhat Like A Golem.

And the one who would not shut up about the number eight, which was pissing off the wizards like anything (Vimes didn’t object specifically to that, of course, but the threat of eldritch abominations from the Dungeon Dimensions wasn’t something he particularly wanted on his beat, either). And the little one who went around licking everything. Including Slant. He’d never seen the zombie look so utterly nonplussed in his entire career, which was, admittedly, a point in the Alternians’ favor.

And...oh, hells, all of them, really, but--

“How do you do it?”

But this one in particular. Vimes groaned faintly, but didn’t stop walking; the kid scuttled to keep up with him, scowling ferociously. “Vantas, you are perilously bloody close to being chucked in a cell for the night on the charge of Being Annoying When It’s Been A Long Day And I’ve Had Enough.”

“I’d have fucking tried that if I’d had the wherewithal,” Karkat said, glowering. “Okay, I see how you do it, you rely on gigantic fucking rocks to force people into doing what you tell them to. I never had that luxury, I had a bunch of panrotted lunatics to corral and all the backup provided by my own middle fingers. Must be nice.”

He stopped abruptly enough that the kid stumbled ever so slightly so as not to run into him.

“Firstly, let me give you a little piece of advice gratis and free of any charge, because I am a kind man: do not, ever, call Detritus or any other troll a rock unless you want to become quite a lot wider and flatter in a hurry. Same goes for the phrase ‘lawn ornament’ to refer to dwarves, only they’re much more likely just to cut your knees off.”

His voice had gone ever so slightly smoother round the edges. Vantas’ weird eyes widened. “Secondly: no. That is not how I do it, because if that’s how I was doing it there are enough good coppers in the Watch these days that somebody would have stopped me.”

Vimes started walking again; after a moment, he heard the kid catch up. “But you threaten people all the time!”

“You noticed that, did you?”

“Look, I don’t get it,” Vantas said. There was a hint of childishness in his voice, and he apparently noticed it as well because he cleared his throat and started again in a lower register. “You just...said ‘disperse all ye fucking people’ and they did. You didn’t even shout!”

“Here’s another free piece of advice, I’m feeling excessively magnanimous today: sometimes people pay more attention to you when you don’t shout.”

“Maybe you weird humans do. With us it’s more like...the loudest asshole with the biggest weapons is in charge unless you can get a bunch of fucking morons to stop acting like fucking morons and work together for two seconds in a goddamn row.” He wasn’t staring up at Vimes any more; a glance to the side showed that those weird grey-red eyes were intent on the street instead. Vimes couldn’t imagine it was all that much of an improvement, specially since it hadn’t rained in a while and a great many carts had been past. “I didn’t know what the fuck to do, okay? I’m like...I’m not exactly the universe’s finest example of anything, let alone a goddamn leader, I was a gigantic fuck-up from the blood to the horns, but, fuck, someone had to do something or we were all going to die...”

This time when Vimes stopped he looked more thoughtfully at his annoying alien shadow. Vantas’ nubby little round horns were pointed forward, his gaze still fixed on the ground; Vimes was aware, suddenly, of the fact that he was still just a kid. Even if he had teeth like something out of a nightmare and swore more than almost anybody Vimes had ever met.

“--What?” Vantas demanded, becoming aware of being looked at.

“You said something about blood. Remind me about the significance.”

“Fuck, I thought we’d been over this enough times, the hemospectrum is everything, do I have to fucking spell it out for you or draw a picture, I’m a mutant, okay? Nobody, nobody at all, on my planet is supposed to bleed this stupid fucking red, and here I am on a planet where every asshole does. It’s probably ironic enough to amuse that bulgesuck Strider.”

“Your society sounds like an absolutely wonderful and very well-adjusted nightmare. It might surprise you,” Vimes said, acidly, “that we have--or rather had, although a number of people would like to use the present tense--something similar here. When we say blue-blooded we mean it metaphorically, but some vague quality in blood is apparently important enough to dictate who gets to be in charge and sit in the biggest chair with all the shiny twiddly bits.”

“Fucking bluebloods,” Vantas muttered.

“In so many words. The stockbooks of the city, showing all the noble breeds. A very long time ago Ankh-Morpork had kings; an ancestor of mine got his name in all the history books as a villain for chopping the head off the last of them. Just recently that’s been rewritten a bit, there’s a statue of him now, but people still remember Stoneface Vimes the regicide.”

Vantas had been staring at him with growing intensity. “You have ancestors?”

“Everybody does, kid, it’s basic biology.”

“No, I mean...fuck. This is...A really long time ago there was this troll rebel, okay? With mutant candy-red blood. Couldn’t show his blood color or they’d cull him, didn’t have a fucking sign. That’s a thing that is a big deal for us. He pretty much went around saying, hey, this hemospectrum hoofbeastshit is fucked, let’s quit culling people for no reason and judge trolls on merit instead of color value, so of course the motherfucking empress had him tortured and executed, can’t have that kind of heretical shit going around, oh fuck no, people might actually fucking wake up and decide to not be assholes for the rest of their lives, and, well...”

“And you’re his descendant,” Vimes said.

“Yeah.”

“And you had to...what, fight off some kind of vast overarching supernatural plot to destroy everything, disguised as a game, while trying to keep your delightful group of friends from killing one another by accident?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re how old?”

“Six sweeps, I don’t know what that is in your stupid human years, I think Aradia said like thirteen?”

“Huh.”

They walked on in silence for a little while before Vimes said “You think you can manage to either switch out the word ‘fuck’ from your vocabulary for an hour or two or talk via sign language or interpretive dance?”

“...what?”

“I’m considering taking you home to dinner. My wife is the best of women and puts up with a great deal, but I doubt Sybil will stand for Young Sam to learn all the words just yet.”

Vantas didn’t reply at once. Vimes glanced over and noticed that he’d gone an odd sort of dusty mauve color, and realized that the kid was blushing: red blood under grey skin. Kindly he stopped noticing this.

“...you’d take me to your hive?”

“House,” Vimes corrected. “Bees live in hives. People live in houses. Sometimes under bridges, but mostly in houses.”

“Whatever. Stupid language barrier.”

Vimes didn’t reply, but when he glanced at Vantas again he realized he’d never actually seen the kid smile until now. If you ignored the lethal teeth, it wasn’t a bad smile at all. Even if he was still kind of frowning, as if he didn’t quite know how to stop.

Vetinari was bound to look knowingly over his steepled fingers the next time Vimes saw him, but at the moment Vimes thought that smile might be worth a couple of knowing looks.