There had been some paperwork-related problems worrying the company’s accountants that required Drumknott’s attention during the morning, so he wasn’t present when Vimes arrived for his appointment with Lord Vetinari. When Drumknott finished with the accountants, he went up to his office to see Vimes already leaving Vetinari’s office.
‘Have you already seen his lordship, Commander?’ Drumknott asked. Vimes looked a bit stunned which, while an alien expression on the officer’s face, was a fairly normal reaction to meeting Vetinari.
‘Er,’ Vimes said. ‘I think ... I think Lord Vetinari has collapsed.’
Drumknott was not the sort of person who dropped things in shock, but his grip on his tablet tightened momentarily. He raced to the door of Vetinari’s office, but Vimes stopped him by seizing his arm.
‘You can’t go in there!’
‘He needs help,’ Drumknott snapped, trying to pull free.
‘Not from you. I suspect that he’s been poisoned, and I’m treating this as a police case.’
Poisoned. The word rang through Drumknott’s head, making his voice sound muffled to himself. ‘Have you called a doctor?’
‘I’ve called a doctor I know and a couple of my men will be here in a bit.’
‘Alright.’ Drumknott nodded slowly. ‘Then let me make sure he’s comfortable at least, while we wait.’
‘I’ve already put him on the sofa, and you’re not allowed to go in.’
‘Because you’re a suspect.’
It was said quite simply, but the statement made Drumknott reel. Useless objections rose to his lips (‘I wouldn’t.’ ‘Why would I want him dead?’ ‘He means everything to me.’) and died away unsaid.
‘Please let me check on him,’ he said instead.
‘I’m worried for him. You can come in with me and make sure I don’t touch him.’
‘I will continue to insist,’ Drumknott said coolly.
‘Fine, but you leave when I do,’ Vimes growled.
‘Fine.’ Without another word, Drumknott marched to the door. He could feel Vimes’ glare on the back of his neck, but he ignored him and went in.
Vetinari was on the couch, but he was awake and sitting up, in the act of taking off his suit jacket. He gave Drumknott an impassive look when he entered, which might have reassured Drumknott that he was really alright if it weren’t for the fact that Vetinari’s face was drawn and paler than usual.
‘Ah, Drumknott,’ he said. And then, in a slightly colder tone, ‘Commander,’ as Vimes came in.
‘Are you alright, sir?’ Drumknott asked, taking a tentative step forward.
‘I’m perfectly fine,’ Vetinari said. ‘I seem to have been ... overdoing it. I’ll be recovered shortly.’
‘Perhaps you should go home and rest,’ Drumknott said, trying not to let his worry show.
‘No, I only need –‘
The sound of voices trickled in from the anteroom, and there was a knock on the door. Vimes strode over and opened it half an inch.
‘It’s Fred Colon, sir, answering summons,’ said the newcomer. Drumknott could have rolled his eyes. Was this Vimes’ idea of a guard? He glanced at Vetinari to see what he thought, but Vetinari’s head was bowed and he was massaging his temples. Drumknott’s stomach twisted into a knot at the sight, and he went to get him a glass of water from the sideboard.
‘Ah, Fred,’ Vimes said. ‘Who have you got with you?’
‘Constable Flint and Slapper, sir,’ Colon answered.
Drumknott came back with the glass, sitting down next to Vetinari to hand it to him. He felt slightly reassured when Vetinari smiled at him before taking it.
At least he still trusts me, Drumknott thought, watching him drink. He might have only known Vetinari for less than a year so far, but it was enough for him to know that he didn’t want the acquaintance to end anytime soon.
Vimes said something Drumknott didn’t catch, and then Colon burst out, ‘But what’s happened, sir? Nobby got your message and he said you said Lord Vetinari’s dead!’
‘Dead?’ Lord Vetinari scoffed. ‘Nonsense.’ He stood up abruptly, and equally promptly stumbled clumsily. Drumknott jumped up and caught him just in time.
Commander Vimes gave him a quick look, and then pushed Colon back to exit the room and presumably confer with his officers.
Drumknott helped Vetinari sit down again, his heart beating so fast, he was sure Vetinari could feel it. The poison couldn’t have been in the water, he thought, because he personally bought a fresh bottle every day and nobody but Vetinari and himself could get near it. So where was it, and where could Drumknott safely dispose of it so that Vetinari would never have to worry about it again?
‘Please go home, Havelock,’ Drumknott said softly, as if he thought familiarity would persuade him, letting his fingers linger briefly on Vetinari’s shoulder before he pulled his arm away. ‘If the poison is somewhere here at the office, then you’ll be safer at home.’
‘Why has the Commander allowed you to see me, Drumknott?’ Lord Vetinari said as if he hadn’t heard Drumknott’s plea. ‘Surely you are a prime suspect?’
‘I think he’s forgotten about me for now,’ Drumknott said, and sure enough, Vimes barged back in right then and glared at him.
‘Get out of here, my men want to question you,’ Vimes barked.
He didn’t want to leave Vetinari’s side, but when he looked at him, Vetinari nodded, and he got up.
‘When you get home – or to the hospital –‘ Drumknott said, despising how his throat threatened to stick at the words, ‘please call me and let me know if you’re alright.’
‘I’d rather you simply didn’t worry about me,’ Vetinari answered. But perhaps Drumknott’s expression showed that it was a futile order, and he added, ‘Yes, I will.’
Not trusting himself to say anything else, Drumknott only nodded in reply before he left.
It was only shortly after office hours that Drumknott was allowed to go home, but he was forbidden to visit Lord Vetinari during the evening. The instruction didn’t bother him – he didn’t know if Vetinari was in hospital or at home, and if he was at home, Drumknott didn’t think he could gather up the courage to visit him there anyway.
He had been home an hour, trying to concentrate on not burning dinner instead of thinking about Vetinari, when his mobile rang. He whipped it out so fast, he nearly dropped it in his pot of spaghetti.
‘Hello?’ he said, a little breathlessly.
‘Good evening, Rufus,’ Lord Vetinari said on the other end, his voice as smooth and steady as if it had been just another day for them. Drumknott knew, of course, that assault and even assassination was an everyday part of Vetinari’s life – as a matter of fact, Drumknott had the position he had now because Vetinari’s previous secretary had tried to have the man killed – but those calm tones almost made him feel as if he had been wrong to worry. ‘I trust I didn’t disturb you in the middle of something important.’
‘Not at all,’ Drumknott said, turning the stove off and moving to sit down. ‘How are you feeling ... Havelock?’
‘I suppose it could be worse,’ Vetinari said. The very fact that he could admit to not feeling entirely himself pained Drumknott. ‘I have seen a doctor and Commander Vimes has stationed guards at my flat.’
‘Did he find out how – how you were poisoned?’
‘Not yet.’ Vetinari paused a moment. ‘But I have my theories.’
Drumknott didn’t know how to phrase what he wanted to ask next, but before he could find the words, Vetinari said, ‘Has Vimes given you any instructions?’
‘He’s only told me not to visit you at your home.’
‘Oh? Why, would you have done if he had not told you otherwise?’
‘Probably not.’ Drumknott gave a small laugh. ‘It would feel far too much like a liberty.’
‘But I wouldn’t mind if you did.’
‘Maybe some other time then,’ Drumknott said, finding it impossible not to grin.
Ever since they had first met, he’d had the impression that Vetinari hadn’t just offered him a job because he thought him suitable for the job; he suspected that Vetinari genuinely liked him. That day, Drumknott had been sitting at a crowded café by himself, and Vetinari had joined his table. Drumknott had noticed Vetinari discreetly observing a man in the café and when Drumknott asked him about it, Vetinari had answered that he was watching someone he intended to personally assassinate. Drumknott’s composure at the answer, as well as his powers of observation, had impressed Vetinari such that he offered him a job the next day. From then on, Drumknott had no objective in life except to live up to Vetinari’s expectations of him.
‘Yes, I believe it is customary to invite one’s friends over for tea on occasion, is it not?’ It was always difficult to know Vetinari’s thoughts, but Drumknott hoped the words were confirmation of his suspicions, and felt warm all over. ‘Has Vimes given you permission to come into work tomorrow?’
‘He hasn’t told me not to, so I’ll go. Surely you’re not?’
‘You need to rest,’ Drumknott said as reproachfully as he dared. ‘And what if it was something at the office that poisoned you?’
‘Good. We will know to rule out anything at my flat.’
‘And I want to speak to you tomorrow.’
‘Oh.’ Of course, there was nothing Drumknott could deny him. ‘Yes. Alright. Very well then.’
‘I shall see you tomorrow then. Goodnight, Rufus. Take care, won’t you?’
‘Goodnight, Havelock,’ Drumknott said, and hung up.
It was several moments before Drumknott moved again, deep as he was in his thoughts. Vetinari had never told him to take care before. Did he fear – or suspect, perhaps, was a better word – that Drumknott might be an intended victim of the poisoner too? It was inconceivable, Drumknott thought, that Vetinari had said it as a simple adieu. But whatever way you looked at it, Vetinari had expressed concern for Drumknott’s well-being – and Drumknott couldn’t deny that it made him feel almost happy.
Almost. He was still extremely anxious about Lord Vetinari. He trusted the man, and Vetinari had been as self-assured as ever, but unease would still worry away at Drumknott.
He was pleasantly surprised when he received a Snapchat from Vetinari later at night. Though he knew quite a lot of people in the mafia used Snapchat to send secret messages, findings its feature of quickly deleting pictures and texts highly useful, it always felt rather bizarre to him that such serious men used a social media app that was generally considered the territory of teenagers.
It really didn’t help the impression when it turned out that it was a picture of Wuffles, whom Drumknott had only met once before, curled up and apparently dozing on what Drumknott surmised was Vetinari’s bed, with the caption, ‘He hasn’t left me alone all day.’
Drumknott was sorely tempted to screenshot it. He thought it was the cutest thing he had ever known Vetinari do ... but he couldn’t have Vetinari knowing that. He took a picture of the (somewhat sparse) view out of his flat window, captioned it ‘He’s not the only one worried abt you’, and sent it in answer.
‘Don’t lose any sleep over it,’ came the reply over a picture of Wuffles again, this time with his head raised and eyes alert.
‘I won’t,’ Drumknott promised over a snap of his bedspread.
He tried to keep his promise by thinking of the fact that Vetinari probably wouldn’t have sent him the Snapchat if he was badly ill.
The next day, Drumknott got caught up in traffic on the way to work. Normally his workday started too early for him to get trapped in a traffic jam, but then again, this was London. A part of the road had become damaged or something, and traffic had to be redirected. He sent a message to inform Vetinari that he would be late.
Fifteen minutes later with no reply, Drumknott was fighting worry again. He tried to tell himself that Lord Vetinari might have gone to bathroom without his phone, or he might be having breakfast, or he might be caught up in work. But he fidgeted, and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, and kept switching between channels on the radio.
When he finally arrived, he hurried through the car park and fair skidded into the lift. He didn’t run when he got to his floor, however. Lord Vetinari wouldn’t approve of that at all.
But Drumknott couldn’t help hesitating outside the office door. He hoped very much that his fears were unfounded, and that when he knocked, Lord Vetinari would call him to come in, and yesterday’s incident would remain an isolated attack on his lordship – just one of many. He couldn’t bear to think of the day turning out any other way.
He knocked. There was no answer, though Drumknott waited. Heart beating a mile a minute, he pushed open the door.
Lord Vetinari was not at his desk. And then Drumknott realised that this was because he was on the floor.
‘Havelock –‘ he said, more out of shock than an actual attempt to rouse him. He rushed to his side and kneeled down next to him. At least Vetinari was breathing. Drumknott knew he had no hope of carrying Vetinari to the sofa by himself, so he gently placed Vetinari’s head in his lap and took out his phone to call Vimes.
His hands were shaking so much he had to use voice control to dial, and even then he had to clear his throat once or twice before his voice was steady enough for Siri to recognise.
‘What?’ Vimes said as way of greeting, and if Drumknott wasn’t so agitated already, he would have felt annoyed.
‘I’m at the office with Lord Vetinari. He’s collapsed again,’ Drumknott said shortly.
‘What?’ Vimes said so loudly, Drumknott winced, and Vimes hung up, cursing.
For a moment, Drumknott felt completely lost and alone. He didn’t know what to do, or how he could help Vetinari feel better. After a thought, he undid Vetinari’s tie and unbuttoned his collar, trying not to think about how intimate it felt, and hoping Vetinari wouldn’t see it as an impropriety. It was a couple of seconds before he realised that he was stroking Vetinari’s hair with one hand, and he knew he was doing it more to soothe himself than to help Vetinari. Vetinari probably wouldn’t have approved.
It was more than a minute before Vetinari stirred, and Drumknott hastily dropped his hand. Vetinari opened his eyes, though somewhat muzzily.
‘Rufus?’ he said.
‘Yes, Havelock.’ Drumknott had to swallow around the lump in his throat. ‘I think I should get you out of the room. There’s a sofa in the anteroom too.’
‘Will you help me there?’
‘Of course.’ Drumknott’s heart squeezed in his chest. As if he even had to ask!
They stood up together, Vetinari leaning quite heavily on Drumknott, though he was clearly trying not to. Drumknott, whose workout schedule consisted solely of running after Vetinari during gang disputes, wished he could have told him not to worry about it.
‘Thank you,’ Vetinari said once he was sitting down. His hand went up to his collar, and he seemed surprised to find his tie already half off. Drumknott felt slightly nervous about it, but Vetinari made no remark, and only pulled his tie off completely, folding it in his lap.
‘Is there anything I can get you?’ Drumknott asked.
‘May I have a glass of water? Or perhaps bottled water would be safer.’
‘Would you mind having mine? I haven’t opened it yet.’
‘Not if you don’t.’ Drumknott handed it to him. ‘Did you leave mine in the office? I would rather you not go in there.’
‘Don’t you go in there either.’
Vetinari’s eyes flickered to Drumknott’s face, as if checking to see his expression. ‘I will have to in a moment, because I believe I’ve discovered where the poison is.’
‘Let Vimes get it.’
‘Oh, I don’t want Vimes to know just yet.’
‘Then let me get it.’
‘Why not?’ Drumknott said, feeling a little hurt. Did Vetinari not think him capable of retrieving it? Surely it couldn’t be particularly strenuous a job.
‘I don’t want you to be affected by it.’
Despite himself, Drumknott only just restrained a smile. He felt moved. ‘I don’t want you to be affected by it either.’
‘And if we deferred to each other, we would reach an impasse,’ Lord Vetinari said smoothly, but he didn’t sound angry. ‘I know my limits, Drumknott, and I insist on doing it myself. If it reassures you in any way, I won’t go in immediately.’
‘Alright,’ Drumknott said, letting the issue drop with reluctance. But he trusted Vetinari’s words.
Vetinari took a sip of water, eyeing Drumknott thoughtfully. Then he closed the bottle and gestured to the sofa.
‘Come here, please. I need to say something to you, and quickly before Vimes arrives. I’m surprised he’s not here already.’
‘There was a roadblock holding up traffic when I drove here today,’ Drumknott said as he came over.
‘That would explain it.’
As Drumknott sat down, Lord Vetinari leaned back against the sofa with a sigh. Some colour had returned to his face, but he still looked drawn. Drumknott wished he could help or comfort him in some way.
‘You will see me continue in this condition for a while,’ Vetinari began. ‘I need Vimes to discover who is behind this for himself.’
‘Do you already know?’
‘I think so, but I believe we can make the most of the situation if I pretend not to for now. Meaning I will need you to pretend the same as well.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘Ah, good. I was afraid you would protest.’
‘Why would I protest?’
‘Because I am going to allow myself to be poisoned in small doses to keep up the pretence.’
Drumknott was quiet. He didn’t know what to say.
‘Must you?’ he said at length. ‘I would rather be poisoned in your place.’
‘Thank you, but it wouldn’t be of any help,’ Vetinari said. He was smiling, almost as if amused.
‘I wish you hadn’t told me then,’ Drumknott said, who was as close to feeling annoyed with Vetinari as he had ever been.
‘I didn’t want you to worry about me.’
‘That really –‘
The door nearly banged open. It was a heavy door so it was almost impossible to really slam it, but Vimes brought it pretty close.
‘How did you get out of your flat?’ he demanded, glaring at Vetinari. ‘My officers have been posted there this whole time!’
‘I left through the front door,’ Vetinari said so icily, Vimes visibly deflated. ‘That your officers did not see me is an issue you should bring up with them.’
Having been shot down by one, Vimes turned to the other. Glowering at Drumknott, he said, ‘How long have you been here?’
‘I called you the minute after I arrived,’ Drumknott said, his face carefully schooled free of any expression or emotion.
‘Yes,’ Vetinari cut in, colder than ever. ‘He was not here when I signed in. You may check the car park log for the record of his entry.’ When Vimes continued to frown, Vetinari said, ‘You are wasting your time suspecting my secretary, Commander.’
Vimes scowled, but he turned away and said, ‘We need to search your office, sir.’
The Commander went in, followed by several more officers. To Drumknott’s irritation, a couple of policemen positioned themselves outside Vetinari’s office door, so he couldn’t continue his conversation with Vetinari. Perhaps it was just as well. He didn’t know whether to continue rebuking him about allowing himself to be poisoned, or thank him for defending him in front of Vimes.
‘I think it would be best if I worked here for now,’ Vetinari said airily, standing up. He actually winced for a half a moment, and Drumknott’s heart stopped, but then the expression was gone as if it had never been. ‘Do you mind if I use your desktop, Drumknott? There should be company laptops lying around that you can use.’
As a matter of fact, Drumknott did mind. He’d much rather Vetinari just return home. It was obvious he wasn’t fully recovered. But Drumknott knew that Vetinari trusted him to do as he was told, so he nodded and went to find one.
At least Vetinari appeared to get better as the day went on. He sat at Drumknott’s desk, and Drumknott sat on the sofa, their only acknowledgement of the policemen stomping around the office, the lack of casual conversation. It was possibly the longest stretch of time they’d spent in a room together so far, but Drumknott felt unaccountably lonely where he hadn’t before when they had worked in separate rooms, Drumknott seeing Vetinari only when he was called.
During lunch, Vetinari told Drumknott – quietly, because he didn’t want any policemen stopping him – that he was going out to meet someone. Drumknott tried to communicate his concern with his eyes, but if Vetinari saw it, he made no sign.
When it became clear to the officers, some twenty minutes after Vetinari had left, that he had escaped under their noses again, one of them called Vimes. Drumknott could hear every word Vimes yelled at the corporal who had called him, though the phone wasn’t on loudspeaker. Then, presumably, Vimes told them they might as well take a lunch break if Vetinari had done so, as the officers then left Drumknott alone too. Vimes was apparently following Vetinari’s advice to not suspect Drumknott.
The cleaning staff, who had been too afraid of the policemen to come into the anteroom previously, crept in a few minutes after all the officers had left, and worked around Drumknott. Drumknott for his part had no desire to go anywhere for lunch. He had packed sandwiches, as he did most days he suspected Vetinari wasn’t going to ask him to accompany him out on business. He seldom took proper lunch breaks anyway. Lord Vetinari hardly ever did, so Drumknott didn’t see why he should laze around for a whole hour and a half either.
He continued working for quite some time into lunch, and the cleaning staff had long left before Drumknott decided to make work on his meal. When he put his laptop aside and stood up, he was surprised by the dizziness that overtook him. Perhaps he wasn’t sufficiently hydrated. He tried to reach for his water bottle and discovered he didn’t know where it was. Thoroughly disgusted at himself, he attempted to sit down again, and accidentally did so on the floor before passing out.
Next thing he knew, he could hear someone shouting. He wished they wouldn’t, because his head hurt terribly. He couldn’t even recognise the voice, though he had the nagging feeling he should be able to.
Somebody else spoke in a much more even tone, and for a single absurd moment, Drumknott thought it was himself because he felt his body hum with the vibration of speech. Then he realised that this was actually due to the fact that the person who had answered was holding him.
Then he understood what was happening. The door slammed – or tried to – and Drumknott opened his eyes – or tried to.
‘Just stay still for a moment, Rufus,’ came Vetinari’s voice, calmingly. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Not so bad,’ Drumknott managed to say, though feebly.
‘Why ask if you already know?’ Drumknott successfully opened his eyes. They were on the sofa and Vetinari was, yes, holding him. Drumknott’s head was leaning against Vetinari’s chest, and he wished he was well enough to savour the feeling. He felt deliciously warm and almost content.
‘Was that Vimes earlier?’ Drumknott asked. ‘What was he saying?’
‘I wasn’t fully paying attention,’ Vetinari said. Drumknott knew he was lying. Probably he thought Drumknott didn’t want to know, and if that was the case, Drumknott trusted he was right. ‘Here.’ To Drumknott’s regret, Vetinari helped him sit up and lean against the sofa instead.
‘What ... happened?’ Drumknott said as Vetinari handed him his water bottle.
He wondered if he had imagined the concern that briefly appeared on Vetinari’s face.
‘I apologise,’ Vetinari said, and Drumknott concluded that he had not. ‘I did not realise the cleaning staff would replace the air freshener in here with the scent I prefer to have in my office.’
‘It’s ... the poison is in the air freshener?’
‘Yes. I have taken it out, but I would like you to go home now. I will find someone to drive you back in your car.’
‘Yes?’ Vetinari cut him off sharply.
Drumknott swallowed. Now was clearly not the time to argue. ‘Will you call me later?’
‘Very well then.’
After several hours’ sleeping it off, Drumknott awoke feeling refreshed, hungry, and wistful. He knew that in all likelihood he would not have been of much help even if he had stayed at the office, but he still wished Vetinari hadn’t sent him away.
Determined as he was not to laze about, or think about Lord Vetinari, he was into his third cup of tea and a lot of old files that he were due for review, when he received a call. He answered it with an absent ‘Hello?’
‘Good evening, Rufus,’ Lord Vetinari said. ‘How do you feel?’
‘I’m feeling much recovered, thank you,’ Drumknott said, relaxing. ‘What about you?’
‘I’m perfectly fine. You will be pleased to know, Rufus, that your getting poisoned in my place was of help.’
‘I’m glad,’ Drumknott said, and he meant it. He was smiling broadly. It was very tempting to say ‘I told you so’. ‘Has Vimes discovered who ...?’
‘I am confident he will have done by tonight. I’m afraid I had to drop him a hint. After finding you collapsed today, I did not like to risk prolonging the state of things.’
‘Why not?’ Drumknott said, feeling puzzled. Vetinari had appeared so confident about letting himself be poisoned earlier. Drumknott was surprised his views had changed.
‘No particular reason,’ Vetinari said glibly. Drumknott’s brain immediately kicked into high gear at the words, trying to understand. Not that Vetinari had never hid things from him before, but he had never pretended that he had done something for no reason. ‘Are there any policemen on guard at your home?’
‘I think so. A couple have been strolling around the street for several hours now. I’ve found some smudges on my window too, but I believe those are from the guards you have on me.’
‘Is that so,’ Lord Vetinari said, and Drumknott offered up a silent apology to the poor assassins whom he had just landed into trouble. ‘Just as well. You needn’t come into work tomorrow if you wish to rest, Rufus.’
‘Thank you, but I don’t.’
‘Yes, I thought you would say that.’ Even through the way he was carefully paying attention to every word, thinking of every possible meaning for them, Drumknott smiled. ‘In which case, if Vimes really does solve our little problem tonight, would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?’
Despite the shock that electrified his brain, Drumknott knew that he couldn’t hesitate. He couldn’t give Vetinari the wrong idea, not for a moment. ‘Yes,’ he said, a bit too quickly, but it probably helped, ‘Havelock – I would like that very much.’
‘Good.’ Vetinari’s voice was even and betrayed no emotion, but Drumknott felt confident placing a wager on the probability that he was smiling too. ‘I shall see you tomorrow then.’
‘Goodnight,’ Drumknott said, and ended the call.
A minute later, he had given up on the idea of going back to his papers without a grin. It was utterly impossible.
Of course, Vetinari was right. Vimes had the perpetrator under lock and key by three in the morning, and by six, had interrupted a meeting of guild leaders with a well-placed axe. Vetinari was really quite pleased, but Drumknott resented the axe. He hated seeing good furniture ruined.
Perhaps seeing Drumknott’s expression, Vetinari said, ‘It will do the black market good to know not to cross Scotland Yard in future.’
‘I had hoped they would have got the message when Commander Vimes assaulted Lord Downey in front of half of Scotland Yard and none of the other officers paid it any attention.’
Vetinari smiled. ‘Are you still agreeable to taking dinner with me tonight?’
‘Of course,’ Drumknott said, an uncontrollable smile breaking out on his face. He wished he could stop; he was sure he was making a fool of himself.
Fortunately, despite its seeming impossibility in the morning, Drumknott did manage to concentrate on work during the day. It was such a relief to have things back to normal that Drumknott easily slid back into the rhythm of things – though he did ask Vetinari if he wouldn’t like to change the air freshener scent, and he agreed that he would. He only waved a hand when Drumknott asked him what he would like to change it to, however, so Drumknott just replaced it with peach, which was his own favourite scent.
As the day came to a close, Drumknott’s heartbeat kept picking up pace in anticipation. He didn’t know what Vetinari wanted from the evening – if it was just supposed to be a friendly dinner, or if he wanted ... more. Drumknott only knew that, whatever it was that Vetinari wanted, he was prepared to give it to him.
‘Would you mind if I made you something at my flat, or would you prefer to go out?’ Vetinari asked as he put on his coat. Drumknott’s heart gave its most violent lurch yet.
‘I’d like to go to your flat.’ Drumknott realised he had never imagined Vetinari as being able to cook before, but he couldn’t imagine him as having a cook either. ‘I’ll help you cook.’
‘Good. I’m not particularly good at it myself.’
‘I can’t imagine you being unskilled at anything.’
‘You might be surprised, Rufus. Shall we go in your car?’
‘You know I didn’t bring my car today,’ Drumknott said mock-sternly.
‘I thought it would be polite to pretend I didn’t.’
‘You don’t need to pretend with me, Havelock.’ Drumknott felt touched despite the absurdity of the statement. ‘I’m not – I mean, I know you.’
‘Sometimes I wonder if I know you,’ Vetinari said as they made their way downstairs. ‘You are a very private person, even more than I am in some ways.’
‘Of course you do,’ Drumknott said hastily, hoping Vetinari couldn’t see his blush. ‘I don’t think anyone knows me better than you do.’ Besides ... you know everyone.
‘I hope you’re not saying that simply because you have few acquaintances beside me, Rufus.’
‘Even if I had many, I’d still rather you knew me better than anyone else.’
The whole reason Drumknott had gone to work by train instead of car was that he would feel awkward driving them both, especially since he didn’t know where Vetinari lived. He knew Vetinari had a chauffeur, and sitting with him in the back of a car, even an expensive one, was far preferable to driving.
They talked of business during the drive, most probably because Vetinari didn’t want to speak of anything serious in front of the driver, and it was easier for Drumknott to talk of mundane topics. He was always tranquil in Vetinari’s presence, and he knew it was one of the things Vetinari liked about him, but he was currently feeling unaccountably nervous. Vetinari wouldn’t ask anything more from him than he wanted to give, he was sure of it, but –
‘On second thought, I don’t even know what I have at home,’ Vetinari murmured, almost to himself, as he unlocked the front door.
‘I’m sure there’s enough to put something together,’ Drumknott said in the most casual tone he could muster. ‘Or perhaps we could order something.’
‘You mean order takeaway?’
‘Yes.’ Drumknott smiled. ‘You’re going to tell me you’ve never ordered takeaway in your life.’
‘Not since I was in school. It was considered an interesting experiment.’
Drumknott would have gone on to tease him about this stereotypical wealthy-person behaviour, but Vetinari ushered him in at this moment, and all speech left him.
He had always known that in spite of his wealth, Vetinari was relatively frugal. Though his clothes were fine and expensive, and he knew how to order from a French restaurant, Drumknott knew that Vetinari wouldn’t dream of buying new furniture where the old was still good, and he never turned on the heating when it was above eight degrees. This apartment, then, was a clearly a family relic – if apartment was the word.
‘I thought you said you lived in a flat,’ Drumknott said.
‘This is a flat. It is one half of a house split in two.’
‘How long ago was it split in two?’
Vetinari’s only answer to that was an amused look in his direction. ‘Let me make you a cup of tea.’
There was a small table in the hallway Drumknott followed Vetinari down, on which Vetinari tossed his keys, and paintings hung on the walls. Drumknott didn’t know much about art, but they impressed him.
‘Have you always lived here?’ Drumknott asked. He couldn’t resist reaching out to touch the ancient, faded wallpaper. It made him feel like he was walking through a house preserved for its history.
‘More or less. As a child, I lived out of London until my father passed away; then my aunt brought me here and I lived alone after school.’
‘And you’re telling me you can’t cook?’
‘I only know so much,’ Vetinari said pleasantly.
He switched on the lights to the kitchen, and waved Drumknott to a chair at the table. This too was no assembly IKEA table – it was made from solid wood and patterns were carved onto its surface. The chair cushions were faded too, but well kept and still comfortable.
‘Shall I see what we can have for dinner?’ Drumknott asked without sitting down.
‘You’re my guest,’ Vetinari said.
‘I did say I was going to help.’
Vetinari didn’t say anything as he placed teabags into a teapot, so Drumknott went over to examine the fridge. It was sparsely stocked. He wondered if Vetinari planned all his meals and bought things exactly as he needed them. Perhaps he even had the exact same schedule every week. It would be characteristic of him.
‘Will salad do?’ Drumknott said.
So they made salad together while they drank tea and chatted. They didn’t talk about anything important, and as the minutes passed, Drumknott got the distinct impression that Vetinari was waiting to say something important to him. It was a few minutes before Drumknott realised what it was, and another moment before he decided to help him.
‘Havelock,’ he said as they sat down, ‘why did you invite me over tonight?’
As Drumknott had thought he would, though the movement was so slight anyone else would have missed it, Vetinari tensed.
‘Did I not say I would?’ Vetinari said, his voice as calm and controlled as ever.
‘Yes, but inviting an acquaintance over for tea and dinner are different things. You know that ... don’t you?’
‘I do. And if you know that, then I am sure you already know why.’
‘I wanted to make sure,’ Drumknott said, relaxing in relief that they were on the same page, ‘so that you would understand why I said yes.’
For about a minute, Vetinari made no reply, merely poking at his salad unseeingly.
‘I see,’ he said.
‘Well ... I am glad we have clarified that,’ Drumknott said somewhat awkwardly. He turned his attention to his plate and began eating in silence.
‘Do you know,’ Vetinari said after a while, ‘why I did not suspect you of having poisoned me?’
Drumknott was sure he did, but he said, ‘Why?’
‘It would have broken my heart to think that you had.’
‘That’s not true!’ Drumknott laughed. ‘It was because you knew I could not have had the opportunity to do so without you noticing.’
‘That too,’ Vetinari said with an extremely handsome smile.
Feeling much more at ease, Drumknott leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his mouth. Vetinari was still under his touch, but only for a second. He kissed back, almost tentatively, and Drumknott felt happier than he could ever remember being.
When they broke apart, Drumknott remained with his hands on Vetinari’s shoulders, and said, ‘What was it that made you ask me out? Did you realise my feelings for you when I worried over you?’
‘No, it was my feelings that your concern made me aware of,’ Vetinari said. His eyes were – perhaps not full of feeling, but there was warmth there where there wasn’t before, and he raised his hand to touch Drumknott’s cheek. ‘I was flattered when you expressed anxiety over my condition. It had not occurred to me until then that you might care for me more than merely as your employer.’
‘I never would have thought that there could be something beyond your powers of observation,’ Drumknott teased. ‘Particularly not my feelings, which I have always feared to be entirely transparent.’
‘I am biased when it comes to you,’ Vetinari said. ‘It is possible that, even if I did have reason to suspect you, I would not have out of affection for you.’
‘You needn’t worry about that,’ Drumknott said, leaning forward again. ‘You can trust me.’
‘I know,’ Vetinari said, and kissed him.