‘Goodnight Drumknott, happy Hogswatch,’ said Clerk Evans, patting Drumknott on the back. ‘Send my love to your brothers and sisters.’
‘I’m not going home this Hogswatch, Evans,’ Drumknott said, standing up. ‘I’m staying – his lordship wants me.’
‘What?!’ Evans exclaimed, with a slight hint of exasperation. ‘I know he’s our boss and the ruler of the city, but can’t he do without you on Hogswatch Day? You went home last year!’
‘Yes, but –‘ Drumknott struggled with the words. ‘Lord Vetinari has specifically requested my company on Hogswatch.’
‘Even the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork gets lonely sometimes, eh?’ Evans relaxed and grinned. ‘At least, I hope that’s what you mean. Keeping you for any other reason is inexcusable. Even he takes the day off, surely?’
‘The city never sleeps, Evans,’ Drumknott said with a smile. ‘Goodnight, then. Happy Hogswatch.’
‘Bye.’ Evans waved at him as he left the kitchen.
Drumknott crossed into the turnwise wing of the Palace, went up three floors, disappeared behind a tapestry that didn’t look like it contained a hidden passage, but did, went up and crossed several more doors and corridors until he came to a dead end. He pushed on one side of the wall, and it swung open to reveal a suite.
For half a second, there was a knife at his throat, and then it was gone as quickly as it had come. The only clue that it had ever been present were the arms that were securely locked around him, now relaxing into an embrace.
‘This is the third time you have neglected to knock, Rufus,’ Lord Vetinari said into Drumknott’s ear. ‘You are clearly doing this on purpose.’
‘I can’t help my sense of adventure,’ Drumknott said.
‘That would explain why you insist on working for me despite this,’ fingers traced the scar on his arm, ‘and the dangerous people you meet every day.’
‘You have scars and meet those people, too.’ Drumknott was being more or less supported by Vetinari at this point, and he felt extremely comfortable and warm. ‘You insist on being the Patrician anyway.’
‘I am a trained Assassin. I am far more equipped to handle such things than you.’
‘I have you to protect me.’
Time seemed to stand still for a moment, and Drumknott held his breath, afraid that he had pushed it too far. As long as he had known Lord Vetinari, it had only been fairly recently that he had been allowed to become acquainted with Havelock Vetinari, and he was still testing the boundaries between them.
The moment was broken as Vetinari pulled away, causing Drumknott to stumble backwards before he was caught by the hand.
‘Indeed you do,’ Vetinari said. ‘Aren’t you lucky?’
‘Yes,’ Drumknott said, thinking that it was true in more ways than one. He allowed himself to be led to the sofa in front of the fire and sat down. Vetinari poured out two glasses of wine and handed one to him, and he smiled.
‘Really?’ he said as Vetinari sat down next to him. ‘You never drink for leisure.’
‘I’m wary of the effect alcohol has on one’s inhibitions,’ Vetinari said, leaning on the armrest, ‘but I think a drink, now, would not matter too much.’
‘Thank you,’ Drumknott said, conscious of the compliment being paid him. ‘But I rarely drink myself, you know.’ You probably do, too, he thought.
‘Well, if we make fools of ourselves, there’s no one here to witness it,’ Vetinari said almost cheerfully. They both glanced at Mr Fusspot. The dog was curled up asleep in his basket, snoring gently.
‘Do you think he’ll tell Sergeant Angua?’ Drumknott chuckled.
‘Possibly,’ Vetinari said with visible amusement. ‘He admires her, and how those policemen love to gossip.’
‘It’s so useful, sometimes.’
Drumknott looked into his glass and debated asking about the content – but decided against it. He wouldn’t understand even if he did. What was the worst Vetinari could give him?
Scumble, a voice in his head said, almost making him choke on his first sip.
‘Are you alright?’ Vetinari said with concern. ‘If it’s too strong, you needn’t drink it.’
‘No, it’s –‘ Drumknott waved a hand vaguely. ‘- fine. I’m fine.’ He took out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth. ‘Something just occurred to me …’
Vetinari looked at him, but did nothing further except to sample his own drink, and a different thought occurred to Drumknott.
‘Do you even know what we’re drinking?’ he said.
‘Of course. I asked the butler.’
‘You don’t actually know, do you?’ Drumknott said with a laugh. ‘You just asked the butler for a good after-dinner drink …’
‘I took note of the label!’ Vetinari protested, then relaxed his stance as he added, ‘Yes, alright, my knowledge of alcohol is a little rusty. I never drink except when my aunt expected me to, when I was younger.’
‘Good. It’s a first experience for us both. What do you think of it?’
‘I don’t know,’ Vetinari admitted. ‘I suppose it’s pleasant, the flavour isn’t too strong.’
Drumknott tried another mouthful, then said, ‘The only alcohol I’ve tasted these past few years is brandy, for medicinal purposes. I used to drink with my classmates until my friend had a drunk accident and broke a leg.’ The memory made the corners of his mouth twitch. ‘We had a good laugh about it, but the incident sobered me up for good.’
‘I am glad for it,’ Vetinari said. ‘I would not hire clerks who drank regularly.’
The secondary meaning hidden in the statement made Drumknott feel immensely pleased, and he said, ‘And here you are, trying to get your chief clerk drunk.’
‘Not drunk. Just drinking. In celebration,’ Vetinari added. ‘Tomorrow is a day off for everyone, after all.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Vetinari raised an eyebrow. ‘I would not ask you to work on Hogswatch day, even if I meant to.’
‘You don’t usually take days off on Hogswatch – or any other day, really.’
‘The city only ever dozes at any given time, Rufus,’ Vetinari said nonchalantly. ‘I can’t afford to leave my post for longer than a few hours at a time.’
‘Tomorrow I’ll still be here, in the Palace. Just … not in the office.’
‘Alright.’ Drumknott drained his glass, and as Vetinari topped it up, said, ‘You’d work alone on Hogswatch –‘
‘Yes?’ Vetinari said, his voice suddenly sharp. ‘And?’
‘And … well …’ Drumknott hesitated at the tone of voice, ploughed on, ‘I’d think it would get lonely, sitting up at the Oblong Office by yourself.’
‘Does it matter?’ Vetinari said calmly.
‘It never does matter with you, Havelock,’ Drumknott said solemnly. ‘You don’t mind those feelings – I can hardly understand how you can bear it.’
‘Such feelings make one vulnerable. My duty lies with the city, and I cannot allow anything to stand in the way of that.’
‘What about me?’ Drumknott asked, voice clear and distinct while his heart hammered in his chest.
‘Couldn’t allow then,’ Vetinari said with a voice that sounded suspiciously airy. ‘You approached me anyhow, and by then …’
‘What?’ Drumknott prompted when Vetinari said no more.
‘By then, you presented far too much of a temptation,’ Vetinari said flatly, and Drumknott noticed his gaze into the fire was a little too steady. He scooted over until their knees were touching, and when Vetinari looked at him, he gave him a soft smile.
Vetinari shook his head. ‘As it is, you are a danger to me,’ he said. ‘How can I be absolutely sure that you would not betray me, you who know me so well?’
Drumknott said nothing, unperturbed. He took no offence to what was, he knew, only a matter of fact -
‘And if you were hurt, right now,’ Vetinari continued, ‘who is to say I would not react irrationally, for your sake?’
- but that flattered him.
‘Are you asking me why you’ve allowed me to get close to you, Havelock?’ he said.
‘Would you have an answer, if I did?’ Vetinari said, looking directly at him.
‘Then assume I asked.’
‘My answer is: remarkable as you may be, you, too, are only human.’
Vetinari didn’t speak for a while, as if waiting for more; feeling self-conscious Drumknott looked away and finished his glass.
‘I believe most people underestimate you,’ Vetinari said at length, and this time, he was smiling. The sight made a warmth flow through Drumknott that, coupled with the wine (he was on his third glass, good grief), made him feel somewhat giddy.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean that many people see you as nothing but a very typical clerk, and fail to realise exactly how extraordinary that is.’
Drumknott’s hand flew to his mouth at the shock of receiving the compliment and then he bowed his head, feeling grateful and humbled.
‘Thank you,’ he mumbled, and missed the affectionate glance Vetinari gave him.
They were silent for a few moments, until the sound of Vetinari placing his glass on the table made Drumknott look up. He frowned.
‘Have you only had the one glass?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Vetinari said, and Drumknott felt annoyed and embarrassed.
‘You shouldn’t have let me drink so much,’ he said reproachfully.
‘I’ve done nothing of the sort. You just kept drinking.’
‘You kept topping up my glass, knowing I would,’ Drumknott said with a glare. ‘I drank on faith that you would do the same, too.’
‘I’m sorry, then.’ Vetinari looked taken aback by Drumknott’s irritation. ‘How many glasses have you had?’
‘Three,’ Drumknott answered shortly. He put his glass down next to Vetinari’s and leaned back. ‘I won’t have anymore, if that’s alright with you.’
Vetinari scrutinised Drumknott for a moment, who pretended to not notice, until he said, ‘What did your sister say when you told her you would spend Hogswatch here?’
‘She said, with all due respect, it wasn’t very kind of you to request I stay, and wished I wasn’t “such a pushover” and couldn’t I have refused?’
‘Doesn’t she know about … us?’
At this, Drumknott blushed, and gave him a sideways look.
‘No-o,’ he said slowly. ‘I still – don’t know how to broach the subject with her.’ He looked pained. ‘She’s very … protective of me. I don’t want her to … get the wrong idea. But I’m not hiding it from her,’ he added quickly.
‘Madam knows about you –‘ Vetinari began.
‘Don’t you dare guilt-trip me,’ Drumknott cut across him smoothly. ‘Madam was your guardian and is your parent figure. My parents would have been understanding. But they’re not around anymore, and my sister is different.’
Vetinari gave him a cool look.
‘And don’t try that either,’ Drumknott said, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. ‘It doesn’t work against me.’
The look didn’t waver, but Vetinari said in measured tones, ‘No, it doesn’t. Why is that, Rufus?’
‘You wouldn’t like me so much if I were afraid of you, I think,’ Drumknott allowed himself to smile. ‘But you’ve never given me reason to be afraid of you.’
‘Really? Don’t we deal with men and women who are frightened of me every day? Do you not know why they are afraid of me?’
‘Of course I do. But those are reasons for them; none of them are reasons for me to feel fear.’
Unexpectedly, Vetinari laughed, and Drumknott felt immensely pleased with himself.
‘When I first met you to offer you the position of my personal secretary,’ Vetinari said, ‘I thought “Here is a man who is so ordinary he cannot prove to be anything other than a fascinating study”.’
‘Is that all I am to you?’ Drumknott said playfully. ‘A fascinating study?’
‘Could you wish to be more?’ Vetinari said with a raised eyebrow, and Drumknott laughed.
‘It’s almost midnight now,’ he said after a short moment of comfortable silence. ‘Are you planning to spend all of Hogswatch teasing your secretary?’
‘Perhaps I will,’ Vetinari said, and the look he gave Drumknott now was very different from the stare previous, causing the clerk to flush warmly, ‘but not, I hope, with words.’
A clock in the bedroom chimed twelve, and Drumknott found himself being gently pinned to the couch by Vetinari, the heated gaze he was receiving making his heart pick up pace.
‘Happy Hogswatch, Rufus,’ Vetinari murmured, and bent his head to kiss him, soft and almost chastely. Impatient, Drumknott tried to move to pull Vetinari closer, but he was pressed back firmly into the couch.
‘Havelock,’ he said, when Vetinari pulled away to breathe, ‘I think the couch is too narrow for this.’
‘Yes, it is.’ Vetinari gave a sharp smile, full of promise, and said, ‘Come to bed?’
Vetinari stood up and pulled Drumknott to his feet. Without a second’s hesitation, Drumknott wrapped his arms around Vetinari’s neck to pull him into a kiss much less innocent than the last. They ended up on stumbling into the bedroom and onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and breathless laughter.
‘Did you – did you say something?’ Drumknott panted as Vetinari kissed his neck while his clever hands undid the buttons on his shirt, teasing open skin as he went.
‘Hmm?’ Vetinari paused to look up at him, and Drumknott struggled to restrain himself from squirming with frustration at the loss of contact. ‘Did I?’
‘I suppose not.’ As Vetinari kissed his mouth in acquiescence, he whispered, ‘But you’re welcome’, and felt Vetinari smile.
It was Hogswatch day, and for the first time in the years since Lord Vetinari’s ascension to the position of ruler, the Oblong Office stood empty as its usual occupants lay in bed, revelling in each other’s company.