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In Company

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It was one of those days, when a lot of things had been happening, both in and out of Ankh-Morpork. Vetinari had decided to take a walk in the Palace gardens to sort things out in his mind. Wuffles hadn't wanted to accompany him, insisting on his nap, so Vetinari had gone out alone.

When he came back to the Oblong Office, it was empty. There was no Wuffles, and perhaps equally ominously, there was no secretary. Drumknott wasn't at his desk in the anteroom, which was highly unusual for this time of day, when he was still on duty. And then there was the matter of his missing terrier. He exited the office and began walking up the stairs to his bedroom, on the off chance that Wuffles had somehow made his way there.

He was surprised to see Drumknott in the corridor outside his bedroom. Drumknott was hunched over in a corner with his back to Vetinari, but there was no mistaking that modest clerk's robe or those loose auburn curls.

'What are you doing Drumknott?' he asked, coming up to him, keeping his tone neutral because he trusted Drumknott to have a good reason for running off.

Drumknott hastily stood up and pulled carpet fluff out of his hair. 'Sir,' he said, visibly nervous.

One problem at a time. The case of the runaway secretary was a lot less pressing than the case of the missing dog. 'Drumknott, have you seen -' He suddenly noticed what Drumknott had been crouched over. 'Oh.'

There was a table in that corner of the corridor, with a vase of flowers on it. They were usually wilting flowers because the maids were not allowed to enter Vetinari's room, so they always forgot about that corridor. Curled up underneath the table, laying very still, was Wuffles.

'I-I'm sorry,' Drumknott said, stepping aside as Vetinari bent down. 'I was in the anteroom and I left the door of the office open in case Wuffles wanted something, and by the time I realised he was gone ...'

'Never mind,' Vetinari said. 'It's alright.' He reached out and stroked Wuffles' fur. His body was still warm, but he was unmistakeably dead, as he had tried to hide to do. Drumknott stood next to him, quiet and unobtrusive, and Vetinari found he had no objection to his presence, even though he knew he was going to have difficulty speaking if Drumknott said anything to him again.

They stayed like that for several seconds longer, until Vetinari felt strong enough to take Wuffles into his arms and stand up.

'Are you alright, sir?' Drumknott asked quietly.

Perhaps Vetinari would have resented the question coming from anyone else. But there was nothing except gentle concern in Drumknott's voice, and Vetinari nodded.

'I wish I could have been there for him in the end,' he said, trying to keep his voice even, 'but there's no point in thinking of that now.'

'You gave him a good life.'

'Thank you.' Somehow, the fact that Drumknott was trying to offer comfort was ... reassuring, and he smiled. 'You've been very patient with him and I lately too.'

Drumknott shook his head, but Vetinari felt it to be true. Drumknott had never complained or even looked upset about the presence of a dying dog in the Oblong Office, but Vetinari knew even he himself had been less patient than usual lately due to Wuffles' condition.

'I'm going to put him in my room for now,' Vetinari said. 'Could you ...?'

He did not have to put words around his request for arrangements to be made for Wuffles' funeral. Drumknott said, 'Of course.'

'I'll see you back at the office.'

'Yes. Please take your time, and tell me if there's anything I can do for you.' Drumknott offered a smile and squeezed Vetinari's arm before he moved to leave.

The gesture startled Vetinari, and it was a couple of seconds before he recovered himself. He went into his room and laid Wuffles into his basket, draping the blanket over his body. He stayed there for a while, just looking at the shrouded figure, and then he pulled himself together and went to his office. There was work to be done, and he was glad to think he wouldn't be doing it alone.