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Like A Cat In Nature

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Vetinari had always liked dogs better than people. One of the reasons was that you didn't need to be smart or eloquent around dogs – the dogs understood. Another of the reasons, although he wouldn't admit it out loud, not even if he was held a crossbow to head, was that dogs liked him better than people did.

The Assassins' Guild had quite a number of dogs around all year round, from little puppies to being trained, to small pack of hunting dogs for whom the Guild was actually a bit too small, to decorative lap dogs, to senior dogs who were very happy for all your attention and the ham from your sandwich, often those dogs outlived their masters and the Guild members had the dogs around out of sentiment and were a collective responsibility.

One would expect cats instead of dogs in such a place. That was a ridiculous thought to anyone who knew something about the Assassins. Assassins are cat in nature enough not to tolerate actual felines around.

When he was a student, there was this particular dog. A dog with a capital D. The Dog if you will, but Vetinari did not will it. It was one of the bigger ones, made as much for speed as for endurance, a Ramtop Wolfhound given the silver and yellow colouring, or maybe Überwaldian Great with all the muscle-build and slightly lighter teeth than it is usual in dogs. Vetinari himself had always supposed him to be a crossbreed of the two, maybe even with a touch of a terrier, as he had very smart dark eyes.

Most often he, as in the dog, could not be found. But sometimes when Vetinari had stayed up long enough in the library, struggling thorough his math homework or a pointless botany essay, the dog would join him on the couch or jump onto Vetinari's lap. The beast was a sucker for head rubs. He had very soft ears and liked to lick Vetinari's chin when he though he wasn't being given enough attention. Sometimes he nibbled on Vetinari's hands – it wasn't begging for treats, Vetinari had soon found out, it was just his way of playing. Gently biting into knuckles and metacarpal bones, like a child might nibble on a lollipop.

The dog had a tag with the Guild's address on it, but no name.

Vetinari, many many years later in the Oblong Office sometimes wonders what happened to that dog. When was it he stopped seeing him around? What was his name even? Does any of that matter?

The summer is hot and the Oblong Office unreasonable oven of a room. Vetinari's found it possible to stay in it for an extended period of time, but unless he absolutely has to be there, he would much prefer to work somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Downey's office wis a bit cooler, but also much drier and the air is barely moving, all despite the fact the Head of the Assassin's guild has a large basin of water placed on the table besides the now empty fireplace.

'I wonder if I could help this terrible arrangement by moving some of the girls from the greenhouse here,' Downey wonders as he is going over the papers.

The man is very efficient, thermodynamically speaking, Vetinari thinks. He is barefoot, backs rested against the stone wall, sitting on the floor. He is exchanging body heat as much as it is possible without lying on the floor flat as a corpse. Out loud he says: 'I don't think any of the flowers would be pleased with the drawn curtains.'

Downey hums something. In soft agreement and hands him a document. 'Here you have it, the education system proposition I've made to.. oh, that was Flannelfoot even. I think I have a more recent one, but no idea where, I wasn't overseeing that part of the archive back in the day. But the concept is the same, it just needs a translation into the modern political correctness, all racially inclusive and the like. My focus is on the education part, however.'

Vetinari sits down into an armchair and he is oh so glad he is covered in cloth head to toe, otherwise he'd stick to the leather seat and backrest immediately. He uses the document as a fan for a brief three seconds before he bothers to read it. One of Downey's dogs decides his knee make for a great cushion.

He hasn't been expecting much from Downey's mention of education reform, it is nothing new under the sun that it is needed like salt on baked potatoes. And while Downey has the talent to stay alive and swim thorough the guild and city politics like an eel, Vetinari has... an unflattering opinion about the man's intelligence. He expects Downey's suggestion to be absolutely useless at best.

Which is why he frowns at the paper while he pets Elliot, the name of the dog as Downey has so kindly informed him. Downey has called this list a 'proposition' and 'minor suggestions.' Vetinari has been thinking about a reform. What he is currently looking at is... Well, for the lack of better words, he is going to settle for 'revolution'.

Leonardo has tried to explain to him how inspiration works on multiple occasions. 'If you imagine inspiration like a little rubber jumpy balls thrown into the room of the world, sooner or later someone will be hit with at least one of them and get inspired in the right moment in the right way,' he said then. It looks like one of those balls hit Downey very hard at some point. Or maybe it was the two in the morning blast of caffeine genius.

Instead of letting the man know he is impressed, because that wouldn't serve the right picture and Downey works properly in context of pictures, he asks: 'Isn't the city a bit too small for a dog like Elliot?'

'Small? I wouldn't think so, no. If the city is too something, it's too hot for a wolfhound like him. Or for any dog, truth be told.' And after a moment of thought, Downey adds: 'Too hot for people too.'

The other dog, Emma, yawns lazily from under the table where she has sought refugee from the ever-present heat, and then decided it is not worth the bother to got up and thus she is still there three hours later.

Lord Vetinari finds the sleepy atmosphere too much to withstand any longer. He makes his excuses and retreats to the Royal Post offices to make sure the building is still standing. He thinks: I have to do something about this as soon as possible. Mr. Gilt is getting too many people killed with results of his work not high enough to make up for it.

When he manages to return ten hours later, it is dark, the night air isn't cold, but it is certainly a much more reasonable temperature. For the sake of the old times and also just to prove himself he still can, he enters Downey's office thorough the window. Sure, the windows are open wide to let the airs exchange and it is only two stories up with a solid copper eaves all the way, plus the moon is waxing into the third quarter so the illumination couldn't be much better, but Vetinari is still feeling a bit smug about the climb, all the more because Lord Downey surely won't expect it from his Patrician.

Or rather, Downey wouldn't be expecting it if he was there. Which he isn't. If there wasn't a very unhappily looking potted plant on the table, Vetinari would be tempted to say Downey left the room shortly after he himself did. But the flower is a crimson lily-of-the-valley, so Downey had to disinfect the whole table after he brought it in here for work safety. Under the table is a snoring dog, tough to tell which one, because the moon is not that great in illuminating and Vetinari shares a lot of traits with cats, but tapeta lucidum is not one of them.

Another dog occupies the armchair Vetinari spent the morning in, and last one, is dozing off in the fireplace which has been swept clean for the summer. Vetinari thinks the dog smart, the fireplace is a fine black shale, it has to cool nicely.

The water basin is empty now Vetinari checks it. The floor creaks ever so slightly as he walks and the dog in the fireplace wakes up. It's a poor guarding beast, though, because it gets up and walks over to Vetinari for pets and treats. 'You're not getting anything out of me,' the man whispers. There is a lick on his fingers instead of a worded answer, because the other person in this conversation is an animal.

Vetinari sighs and looks around, but Downey doesn't seem to be in here. His coat is on the chair and chat artfully placed on a shelf besides a stack of accounting books. Perhaps the man in sleeping. Theoretically, Vetinari could go, the bedroom is just behind the door on his left, but freshly awakened Downey was not exactly something he would be willing to deal right now. Additionally, there was always the risk in the act of waking the man in itself, because most of Assassins have no pleasant experience with people creeping up to their bead and touching them there, and they react accordingly to it. One of Vetinari's guardsmen has been flung across the room by Downey for this very reason three times already.

Better to get going then. The Oblong Office should by now be a place where a man could be able to work. The dog follows him to the window, watching him with the smart dark eyes. He looks a bit sad and disappointed that Vetinari is leaving already.

'Stop trying to guilt-trip me.'

The dog huffs. When Vetinari's feet reconnect with the grass below the window, there is a quiet short howl to be heard from above.

He curses his stupid idea to jump down the last two metres. His thigh is giving him hell all the way to his chair in the Oblong Office. He cannot remember the last time he collapsed onto a piece of furniture and was even grateful that he got stuck to the leather cushioning despite being fully clothed.

Drumknott brings him tea. He has bed-hair and pyjamas, but keeps company to Vetinari and Wuffles all the same for another hour before he falls asleep leaning against a window.

The spring rains are short, but ferocious and plenty in number. The streets barely make it in the weak sun to dry into the damp level before the sky floods them again. The Ankh threatens to spill from its course and wash off the city, although 'spill' and 'wash' are verbs used only due to the manner of speech, as the river can be hardly considered a liquid, even at this state.

Vetinari hasn't slept well this night, which is why he is seeing the Postmaster Lipwig and Sergeant Angua in this pagan hour of 4 A.M.

Lipwig is here because he was called for. Unlike Vetinari he has been having a pleasant sleep. He seems not to be very chuffed about being dragged from his bed and dreams which aren't about being buried alive. He is, in fact, upset about this enough to be mumbling to himself in Überwaldean, mainly cusses and things about how clock and time work.

The Sergeant is almost at the end of her night shift, whose name literally ends with von Überwald, has extended a sympathetic hand, metaphorically, and her thermos flask of coffee, literally. The Patrician himself doesn't mind dusting his language skills a bit, which is why their discussion about the recent series of ambushes on postal carriages and murders of the coaches of the aforementioned carriages is held in Überwaldean, and that is why it takes half an hour to get somewhere with it.

In those thirty minutes, a lot happens: Moist manages to wake up somewhat, Sergeant Angua accidentally tells a dirty joke about cabbage, it starts raining, Vetinari concludes a talk about ambush-murderers should include Lord Downey's opinion, Drumknott slides in with croissants. Nobody knows where Drumknott managed to get fresh croissants at this time. Not that anybody questions it.

When Downey arrives, he is soaking wet. Rainwater drips off his coat and hair and shoes onto the carpet. Vetinari notices: No mud. He probably ran across the rooftops. As if he wanted to rub into Vetinari's face that he, Downey, can still run thorough the night while Vetinari can't and won't be ever able to again. The man is panting, but he isn't out of breath.

Angua stares at him as if he had grown a second head. Downey smiles at her: 'I know a lot of things are said about the Assassins, but no, we really aren't waterproof.' And that's the warmest 'good morning' anyone is coaxing out of him today.

The Sergeant stops staring, now Lipwig is staring, but he is staring straight in front of himself, and he has been doing so for some time already. Vetinari tries to poke him. There is no reaction.
'Yes, Your Lordship?'
'Your coffee...?'
Angua looks at Moist. 'Oh Scheißekatze.' She actually looks a bit terrified. 'Have you noticed how much he has drank?'

Downey is the fastest to cat. When you are the master of poisons, you ought to be ready to save somebody from an ugly overdosage, even if it is just Klatchian coffee. He has to pry his flask out of Moist's fingers, and he expresses a light distress upon finding out it has been emptied dry. 'It wasn't a good brandy,' he whines without really meaning it, 'but it was mine.'

Vetinari wonders out loud if Downey has considered cutting down the alcohol a bit. Downey says nothing to that. Angua suggests to return to the topic of the murders and the post, and maybe keep an eye on Lipwig

In the end, Downey agrees to poke around a bit and sniff out who is or are this troublemakers. That is his phrasing, the sniffing out. He says it with a snicker while glancing at the Sergeant. Vetinari is for once glad that Moist isn't fully to his senses, because he isn't exactly a dumb man and might figure out a thing or two if given enough hints. Speaking of that, he'll have to have a talk with Downey about for how long he has known about Angua's... about Angua.

The Assassin smiles, the flicker of light in his dark eyes letting know that there is far more thinking and dot-connecting done than the man lets to show. He steers the conversation away: 'Fine, let's get this guy home then. His fiancée wouldn't be pleased about not having him. She ain't no woman I'd like to see pissed off.'

'How comes?'

'She attends to the Guild's summer courses. Every year for the... past half decade? Throw me a bone here, Sergeant.' With joined efforts the white-haired Assassin and the fair-haired Sergeant lifte up the Postmaster, and looking much like a trio which had quite overdone the party, they stagger out of the Oblong Office.

Well, Vetinari thinks, at least the two of them are getting along. Who knows, perhaps the Watch and the Assassins start being civil around each other.

It's winter. There is two feet of snow on every more or less horizontal surface outside, and given the amount of snow everywhere, a lot of surfaces are now more or less horizontal. Everything is cold and covered in the ugly Morporkian slushie of frozen water grinded into flakes.

Some people who claim Ankh-Morpork to be Hell would say that the Hell has frozen over. Those people are greatly geographically mistaken.

Vetinari has crashed on Downey's couch and has close to zero intentions on getting up. Downey is curled up on the same coach, head in Vetinari's lap. He looks lovely like that, sleeping. It's peaceful. So little things are peaceful lately. Or maybe they are peaceful and he just hasn't the time to appreciate them.

Downey's office is warm, Elliot and Emma are basking in the dim orange light in front of the fireplace, the hot water running thorough pipes is preventing absolute silence from creeping in. Vetinari runs fingers thorough Downey's hair – there is no resistance, no twitch of muscles, no panicked waking up. Like many times before, Vetinari thinks: Mine, he is mine, all of this is mine, this trust, this gentleness, this softness, all of that is mine. And then, like many times before, he wonders when has he become so possessive, so selfish in this oddly caring way.

He would love to continue this leisure, but unfortunately he still is the Patrician and he has a lot of work trying to keep this city from falling on itself and devouring its life from inside out. On the other hand, he has taken the work with him, so there is no need to leave this very charming company he is currently enjoying. Vetinari thinks about lighting a couple of candles, but then why to bother? It's full moon, all he needs to do is to draw the curtains open and maybe sit a bit closer to the fireplace to get all the light he needs to read.

He stands up, gently pushing Downey's head off his lap. Not like it wasn't a great place for that head, but Downey is currently very asleep and freshly out of bath, the towel is still damp, so the night is more likely than not not proceeding that way.

Vetinari walks over to the window and draws the curtains open. For a moment he enjoys the view. The snow has the great quality of covering a lot of imperfections, although it makes all the dirt, stains and grease to stand out. Ankh-Morpork has never been a pretty city, it has never been nice and speaking about it, it has never been kind or grateful either. It has probably been more trouble than it was worth. And it is worth a lot. Not everything, granted, but a lot. It's worth staying up this late going over the reports from the Dark Clerks instead of snuggling into one bed with Downey and maybe persuading him to stop nibbling.

'Good grief, look at me, becoming all romantic,' Vetinari whispers to himself as he returns to the couch drowned in moonlight.

The couch is occupied. By a very large grey dog. No, no, stop, take a breath, stop simplifying everything you see. What Vetinari is seeing is a dog-shaped creature in what could easily be a dog-shaped space if it wasn't wrapped in a towel.

Well, this is something Downey has never mentioned.

Nevertheless, he sits back down, after all this is only unexpected and it is nothing besides unexpected. With one hand, Vetinari reaches out for his folder of papers, with the other he pulls Downey closer. It wakes him up.

Vetinari can feel the whole wolf body tense, although whether to attack or run away he is not sure. The dark eyes, oh so smart dark eyes, are suddenly full of fear. Vetinari pretends not to notice any of this.

'Hush, that's just me,' he says as he moves his hand behind the very fluffy ears to give a head rub. Downey is such a sucker for a head rub. He's always been.