Not for the first time, Sam Vimes was feeling the bewildering sensation that his life was not his own. Oh, yes, he was in his own body, but that body was clad in ridiculous red tights that chafed after an hour, and surely, he didn't know this many people? They all knew him, dozens, perhaps hundreds of people crowding the house he still thought of as Sybil's. And, oddest of all, the reason they were all there that day: his son. He was half Sam, half Sybil, and a new personality onto himself. Sam knew on a logical level that he loved him, but part of him still felt awkward. Surely it should feel different than this? Didn't fatherhood change you? Shouldn't he be bursting with love, and not with confusion and doubts? Would he be a good father? Could he? Why did he feel as though the child were a stranger, even after having over half a year to get used to the idea, of talking to Sybil's midsection and patting it fondly?
A slight hush went over the room as the double doors opened, and Sybil entered, arms full of a lacy bundle that was twice the size of the actual baby, Lord Vetinari at her side. Sam hadn't seen him since he'd stormed out of the graveyard... He shook his head, trying to dislodge uncomfortable thoughts.
"...Sam and I on the left, and you'll tell him his name- oh, for goodness, Havelock, he's not made of glass, put your hand there, he's fine; and then at the high table you'll tell everyone his name and read the poem before the fish course."
Sam allowed himself the rare pleasure of seeing the Patrician ruffled as Sybil thrust the bundle into his arms, and adjusted the folds of his sleeves artistically around it. A poem, no less! Maybe today wasn't such a bad idea after all. He absently bent to feed a begging dragon the miniscule egg and cress sandwich quarter he was holding, and went to take his place at Sybil's side.
Sidelong, he watched Vetinari inspect his son. He wore new robes, Sam noted; only knowing this because of the depth of the black. The only other nod to formal attire was the jeweled Assassins' Guild pin at his throat. He seemed to be pleased with what he saw, as he formed what might even loosely be called a grin, and looked down with piercing but fond eyes in a way that was almost possessive, the look that made Sam avoid his gaze and straighten his posture. He leaned in and murmured something to the child, this time one side of his mouth noticeably quirking up. Finally, he cast that gaze over the now silent crowd, baring his teeth in a full smile. "My friends, " he began, much to the satisfaction of those assembled, "I present to you Samuel Ramkin Vimes, Marquess of Morpork." The cheer that went up was deafening.
"No more kings." Sam repeated the mantra, although it sounded hollow. He was shaken out of his contemplation of his favorite bit of wall by the proposal, where the plaster formed a small shadow about six inches to the left of Vetinari's head.
"Of course not. Our civilized times call for a Patricianship, and in these especially enlightened years, a bloodless transition. I, of course, will likely shed blood, but it is in all of our best interests to keep it tidy." Vetinari stood, leaning a little more heavily on his cane that usual. Sam suspected it was supposed to evoke a sense of guilt and obligation from him. The sockets of the silver death's head peered at him from between Vetinari's fingers. He hated the damn thing, always had. He was sure that Vetinari chose it to mock him, to remind him that one day he wouldn't be able to stand between him and death.
"You could have had your own children, you know."
Vetinari shook his head once. "I fear it would not have been wise. I had my ambitions, and I fear I would not have made an ideal parental figure. You, however... yes, you and Sybil have done well. You are a doting father, and Sybil is an ideal mother, clever and kind. Both of you have instilled in Young Sam an admirable sense of civic duty, the notion that the safety and heritage of Ankh-Morpork are sacred matters. The blood of the Ramkins mixed with that of the common man. The son of the Duke of Ankh. It is exactly what the people want, as they will in him what they wish to see."
"You planned this." Sam took a threatening step forward. "From the beginning!"
Vetinari merely raised an eyebrow.
"At first I thought you did it for Sybil, you know. Duke of Ankh! Hah! Annoying me was a bonus, though, wasn't it? But it's not as simple as that, it's never as simple as that, not with you! You wanted my son-"
"Before he existed?" Vetinari interjected.
Sam snapped his mouth shut. "Well, it is certainly convenient for you." he glowered.
"Matters are what you make of them." Vetinari returned. "Perhaps if I had not been so...focused years ago, I might have married and had my own child. Certainly Sybil would have been the first I would have asked for that honor."
It might have been taken as a thoughtless, offhand comment from anyone else... but this was Vetinari, after all. The words hit him like a stinging slap. Vetinari could have had Sybil. Well, of course he could have. Sybil had accepted him, after all, and he was hardly a prize, especially back then. Back in those days, he never had the courage to look Vetinari in the eye, but he was aware of the fact that, even now, there was a subset of ladies high and low in Ankh-Morpork who fancied the Patrician. A few years before Sam had met him face to face, young Havelock Vetinari might even have been described as beautiful; if unconventionally so. He certainly had a way with people, a solid education, a large inheritance, a title. He certainly had a friend in Sybil, even to this day. Sam would never have believed that Vetinari could sustain an actual human friendship if he had not seen it with his own eyes; how little notes and fanciful letters flitted between the palace and Scoone Avenue almost daily, how Sybil greeted him by his given name, and Vetinari responded to in kind. There were plenty of nobs who addressed the Patrician this way, but the only other person besides his wife that Vetinari addressed as an equal had the power to unleash the Dungeon Dimensions on the city on a whim.
Sybil was important, Sam knew. Gods knew how important she was to him. Where would he be without his wife? He didn't have to speculate. He'd be long dead. Maybe he'd have drowned in his own vomit face down in the gutter, maybe he would have just abused his body to the point of where he would fall asleep or unconscious, and never wake up again. It certainly wouldn't have been a dignified death. But... Sybil had seen something in him, some potential that suggested that he could become someone worth loving, someone who could become something worthwhile. Without that, he would never have had anything; no self respect, no home, no wife, and certainly not Young Sam. Vetinari must have seen something similar. The highest of the high raising the lowest of the low...
"I am merely stating that you are worthy parents. You and Sybil are the rarest of things. You are moral people. You have given your lives and your hearts to the city. How could your son not be the same, living with you as examples?"
"You would have asked my wife..." Sam was circling between feelings of inadequacy and rage, while some part of him tried to remember that Vetinari said things like this because he knew what buttons to push, loved to push him and push him to see just how far-
"Perhaps things are different still, in another trouser leg of time, and were I Lady Vetinari instead, I would have you father my child. As you are the finest man in Ankh-Morpork, I would insist." Vetinari allowed himself a smirk at Sam's shocked and outraged expression. "Do you know why I did it? Why I gave you a Dukedom. Perhaps it was a bit for dear Sybil. Indeed it made me pleased to see you squirm. Yet, the true reason? It was to give you power. The city needs you, it needs more than just myself. Far more. I could not rest in my grave if my city were not in safe hands. I do not give power lightly."
Sam bit down on his lip, trying not to feel the warmth spread through his chest. "He is too young to have this decided for him."
"Sybil is quite in agreement with me."
"You can't talk to my wife about this sort of thing before talking to me!" Sam barked, taking comfort in the new wave of anger.
"You would tell Sybil what she is not to do? Ah. I thought not." Vetinari sat again. "I would never force this upon him. I will give him everything, all that is in my power to give, and he will decide. I believe that he will decide to serve Ankh-Morpork, as we have done ourselves."
"You won't die. Not yet. Not- not soon." Please, no.
"I do not plan on it. Perhaps he will be a valiant watchman for many years before duty calls him. Still, one must plan for the unexpected."
Sam stared at his feet, attempting to process feelings that would have ended in a fist through the wall a short time ago. What had changed? A child? The memory of the scent of lilacs in the dark? He couldn't deny, especially now, that some force had tied him and Vetinari together, spiraling around each other, each rotation binding them closer together, perhaps to some greater purpose. It had an effect on him. He couldn't call it love. He would not call it love. And yet... this moment in time needed to be marked with something. An admission of truth.
"You have never asked me to bow to you." he began. "You have never made me kneel."
Vetinari looked mildly surprised. "There is no need."
"I would, you know." He managed, a choked almost-whisper.
Vetinari's eyes softened, although his overall expression did not change. "Sam... will you trust me with your son?"
Sam shut his eyes tightly, and nodded.
Havelock Vetinari had a reputation for understanding people, for knowing what makes them tick, for manipulating desires and weaknesses to his own purposes, often skillfully enough that they thought they were acting on their own. He had studied people his entire life, and had a rather accurate understanding of greed, laziness, stupidity, and ignorance. He had even understood those forces within himself, and could proudly say that he'd had fewer incidents with age. Love, however... he hated the rather tired notion that someone like him could not understand love. Of course he understood how love could motivate people for good or ill, he'd counted on that countless times. It was just that he wasn't quite sure what love was. The ancient Agateans had numerous words for love; indicating affection for a friend or family, erotic love, spiritual love... all this was sound reasoning in theory, of course, but there were types of love that really had no category. For example, he loved Madam, of course, even if she drove him half mad all the way from Pseudopolis. It was a fact that one loved one's guardian unless they betrayed that trust beyond reason; but he did not think of her with "affection". Not quite. And what of love for one's dog? Affection, certainly, but did the Agateans differentiate between love of an animal and love of a friend? Which would be more valued? Perhaps they knew that answer and didn't want to admit that their dogs were better company. It might have led to frayed tempers.
The first time he had felt what was commonly considered 'love' (excitement, lust, longing) he had been sixteen and awkward, and had watched John Keel effortlessly manipulate the city. He'd felt himself drawn to the older man so strongly, despite not knowing him, not speaking to him. He'd turned down a contract because of the feeling, because of the what-could-be-possible if he could have the city, and perhaps this man in the bargain. He was young, arrogant, and foolish, and later had conceded to himself that that had not been love. If it had been, he was better off without it.
When he was twenty-four, Margolotta asked him if he was in love with her, laughing. He knew why, now. Their friendship was fast, and their minds compatible, but he was not willing to change what he was. He suspected that was why their friendship had lapsed for so many years. Although she was always pleased to see him, he could see the apprehension in her eyes. Something in her nature recoiled when she noted the deepening lines in his face, the stray silver hairs that were too stubborn for dye. She would never say that he looked like a carcass rotting before her eyes, of course, she was too well mannered for that.
For a long time, that had been that. It was in the best interests of a successful tyrant to avoid distractions, avoid weaknesses. There was much to do, after all, and he was far better suited to the role of Patrician than that of a lover. And so he was content, until Sam Vimes stood between him and a dragon, and a dozen other dangers, headstrong and stubborn enough to insist that a trained Assassin needed a guard. He barely had time to analyze these feelings before Vimes married his oldest friend; and so, those feelings needed to be re-categorized, and then denied, and then dismissed, several times over. And all was as it should have been, until he met Vimes in the darkened graveyard, and found himself looking into the eyes of John Keel. If this was love, it was merciless, it was terrible. Surely, it would destroy him if he let it.
But there was another kind of love still; one that is not celebrated in great works of literature or melodramatic novels. Love that is quiet, patient, understanding; love that is harmonious and sustaining and not all that exciting much of the time. It had been there, just beneath the surface of his understanding, for months, perhaps years.
Vetinari was austere in his own tastes, but enjoyed choosing lavish gifts for others. Often it was to show his power and induce a feeling of obligation. Sometimes it was to see the recipient humorously baffled with the newfound object (as Vimes often was), and sometimes it was a genuine desire to see the recipient delight in his choice (gifts to Madam and Sybil fell into this category). Drumknott was a unique case. Vetinari knew that he appreciated fine things, but was too practical to indulge. It became a game of his to ask offhand and often what he would like for Hogswatch, or for his birthday, and see his clerk blush hotly and insist that he didn't need a thing, while he had already secured an ideal trinket. One evening in early Ember, Drumknott boldly approached his desk and had told him that what he truly wanted for Hogswatch was that he might keep his position. He placed a file on his desk, and wished him a good night. Vetinari spent the next hour reading an extensive argument persuading him to take him as a lover. He had to admit that it was well written. There had been a solid thesis and bullet points. It was the most absurd letter he'd ever been given. He had to admit that it was also the most endearing.
Of course he had considered turning him down. He was twice his age, for one thing, and always busy with the city. But then again, so was Drumknott... every concern of his was also his clerk's. Who else would understand absolutely everything? Who else did he spend his time with, and so contently? Who else would be so brazen to proposition the Patrician, while appearing so meek to the world? And he was loyal, so dearly loyal.
In the end, it had proven to be too tempting. The next day, Drumknott found a rose on his desk, and there had been some off-color jokes about applying for a new position, and they had embraced and kissed, and oddly enough not much fundamentally changed. There was merely a deepening of intimacy, perhaps more and more each day. This, too, was love.
"Insert-Name-Here will not be pleased." The imp scowled, tapping its foot rapidly. "You have voided your warranty-", it scolded, now pacing the length of the desk frantically.
"His name is Sam Vimes." Sam the younger sighed. "I thought I told you to remember that? Anyway, the warranty doesn't matter anymore. Mum's got him a new one for Hogswatch."
The imp stopped in its tracks, a look of betrayed dismay playing across its elastic features. "And after all these months of loyal service! It has not been easy, let me tell you! First the broken window-"
"I'm fixing your screen now." Sam assured him. "You don't want to retire with a broken screen, do you? Wouldn't you rather live at the station with a voided warranty than at the bottom of the river?"
"That was last month," snapped the imp, gearing up for another tirade. It let out a yelp as a screwdriver clattered down on the wood beside him. Sam was at the window, watching the approach of a sleek black coach as it turned onto the avenue. "Hogswatch Eve: Tea With Lord Vetinari." the imp supplied, helpfully. "Remember to Change Into Something Nice Without Mud or Blood Stains and Have a Shave."
Sam was already out the door, hurrying down the steps to the main drawing room. Hogswatch Eve seemed to officially begin with the arrival of his godfather, when his mum would finally allow them near the tables groaning under the weight of several roasts with all the trimmings, and every kind of baked good imaginable, some of them specially ordered all the way from Genua. There would be what his mum called a 'proper meal' first, followed by a steady stream of visitors until the late hours, each arrival a flurry of exchanged food and presents. After an hour or so, his father would attempt to gracefully remove himself to deliver small hampers of food and coins to certain families he 'kept an eye on'. Recently, he had hinted that Sam was finally old enough to join him, and Sam wasn't about to let him forget it.
He paused at the bottom of the stairs, a slight shyness overtaking him. He had known his godfather his entire life, but was never quite sure how to act in his company. His parents saw him often at the palace, but that was the realm of adults; Vetinari seldom came here. His dad always told him that His Lordship Is A Very Busy Man And You Must Not Bother Him. His mum, on the other hand, prattled on about how his godfather adored him, but wasn't used to children. It was a mutual feeling. He quite liked his godfather, but had never carried on a conversation with him without adult interpretation.
He could hear his mum warmly greeting their visitor, and his dad loudly protesting the extravagance of the gifts being unloaded into the house. Vetinari's clear blue eyes fixed on him, and he smiled indulgently at him as he stepped aside for his secretary, who was straining under the weight of a large box with dwarfish writing down the side.
"Happy Hogswatch, Young Sam." he greeted him, cheerfully.
"Thank you. And to you." he managed, bowing his head respectfully to his godfather before his mum whisked him away.
Drumknott, the secretary, stayed, and helped him pry open the hefty wooden crate. If he knew little about his godfather, he knew even less about this man, who followed Vetinari like a pale shadow and never said much at dinners; but now he was smiling and Sam found that it quite suited him.
Inside the crate was a clockwork train, so detailed that Sam could imagine it as an actual engine and cars far in the distance as easily as seeing it as a model in his hand, and he drew in his breath involuntarily. He prodded a minuscule coupling rod with a finger and watched the wheels spin in response. It was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
"The Strongsonn brothers spent eight months in Ankh-Morpork studying the design. I used to see them on Octeday mornings, sketching like mad." Drumknott explained, as he snapped together bits of track.
"It's amazing! I mean, it's more than- how did they get tools so small?" Sam explored the interior of a freight car, complete with realistically painted crates of fish on ice.
"Most of them have come from families of jewelers and clock makers, I understand... this engine is a Star Vanguard. You'll be riding one of these when you go to school next year." Drumknott noted, brightly.
A dark cloud had marred the perfect day. Sam frowned, chewing slightly on his lower lip. "I don't want to go to school. Even on a train."
"It will be an adventure." Drumknott suggested, although it sounded more like a question.
"I don't want an adventure, though. What can I learn in stupid Quirm that I can't learn here?"
"Well, you'll learn about Quirm, for a start."
"Why do I need to learn about Quirm when I live in Ankh-Morpork?" Sam demanded. This earned a small chuckle from Drumknott.
"I didn't leave Ankh-Morpork until I was twenty, and in the service of his lordship. It can be trying, but... you will come home, and it won't be as horrid as you think. You'll make friends."
Sam wasn't much good at making friends. Friends were the children of the people your parents socialized with because your parents said that you were friends, and put you in a room at the other end of the house as they chatted over cups of tea for hours on end. Most of them were bossy and fond of arguing. He knew some children in town that belonged to people his father knew, and liked them better for the most part, although he didn't see them as much.
"My mum said she'd write to me." he said, trying to come to a compromise between his own doubts and the optimism Drumknott was trying to offer him.
"I will write to you as well, if you wish." Drumknott offered.
"Yes, I mean. I'd like that, if you remember." Adults often forgot.
"I shall. I quite like writing letters." Drumknott smiled again, and Sam found himself somewhat reassured.
Drumknott snipped the corner of the envelope containing the Quirmian stamp before him with fastidious care before securing the envelope with a paper clip to be filed. He ran a fingertip along a line of script before slipping the neat parcel it into a larger envelope.
"I trust Young Sam is excited about his upcoming holiday?" There was a lilt of humor in Vetinari's voice. Of course he already knew the answer, as the boy took after his mother and wrote earnest letters to nearly everyone he knew. He himself could expect a letter once a week. He replied in turn, but suspected that many others returned short notes sporadically or sometimes not at all. Drumknott, however, extended his diligence to nearly everything he did, and replied to the missives with several thoughtful pages of his own. As a result, he could expect upwards of two letters per week.
"His penmanship is markedly improved this year, don't you think? The serifs aren't so clumsy. He'll rival the clerks soon. I hope that a few weeks of mucking out dragons and being run ragged by the Watch won't undo his progress." The prospect almost seemed to pain him.
"Sybil will have him writing from the Watch house twice a day." he teased. He watched Drumknott tidy his papers, a feeling of contentment passing over him. "It is eight o' clock." he noted.
"It is ." Drumknott agreed, with a smirk. "Don't tell me that you are impatient."
"Nonsense. You know the depth of my virtue. Perhaps I am feeling my age, and would like some sleep." Vetinari feigned a yawn, and thrust out an arm to catch his clerk around the waist as he approached.
"Perhaps not." Drumknott murmured, allowing himself to be pulled down.
"There are seven other days in the week to be tired." Vetinari conceded, deftly removing his lover's spectacles and placing them aside before leaning in for a kiss, tilting his chin up and shifting his nightshirt so that he could nuzzle the side of his throat, where the skin was soft and pale.
Drumknott had come to his service young, no more than fifteen years old, highly recommended by the Clerks' Guild. For the next five years, he had blended seamlessly into the palace, quietly, diligently learning and working, taking on the work that no one thought to do, until, as he was the only one to do it, his superiors realized that the place would fall apart in his absence. It was at that point, a year after the incident with Wonse, that his immediate superior recommended him directly to the Patrician.
He had initially been dismissive. A young, common, and driven man was the second to last thing that he needed- the first, of course, being the inevitable stab in the back that would come from him. But Morrow, the creaky old clerk master, had continued to pester him with recommendations as the paperwork piled up, and he had, at last, reluctantly agreed to a trial. It wasn't that he was ambitious in the usual way, Morrow had insisted. He just genuinely seems to like to work. It upsets him to see things out of order.
Still, two weeks later, Vetinari found himself weighing his favorite blade in his hand as he watched his new secretary file, and at an opportune time he held it fast to his throat. He watched the other's expression in the seemingly ornamental mirror across the office. Surprise at first, and fear flashed in the dull blue gray of his eyes, which was expected. What was not was the flicker of betrayal, followed by a resolute determination. Ah, he had thought. So this is where he fights back. Stupid boy.
He did not. He stood his ground, trembling only slightly, and raised his chin for a clean kill. The blade was lowered. He should have pushed back. Even Vimes would have pushed back. He would have relished a fight, if it were Vimes. This, however, felt wrong. It was also wrong that he found it arousing. He hurriedly pushed the thought away.
"mm." He replied, coming back to himself, kissing along the thin, jagged scar that had destroyed the last of his doubts much later. It was a rare tyrant who could trust another in his bed. It was a luxury he hadn't expected to have.
"Let me..." Drumknott was pulling off his nightshirt, and kissing down his stomach, urging him to lie back. He sighed, now completely aroused in the wet heat of his lover's mouth. He pulled back as he felt the first involuntary jerk of his hips, wanting it to last. He flipped them, taking hold of Rufus' wrists, and felt them flex in his grasp- not resisting, just testing the firmness of the grip. A moment later they were mindlessly, shamelessly rutting against each other, and it took him a moment to actually think about his movement. Rufus was thrusting against his pelvic bone, gasping at each grinding motion. Vetinari shifted his weight to press closer, tightening his grip, and was rewarded with a frantic whisper: "... my lord, my lord, my lord..."
It was over too soon. It always was. He clung to the damp, gasping body of his lover, kissing his soft, ruffled hair as the world came back into focus. "Shall you stay tonight?" he asked, inhaling the clean scent of his hair.
"Of course. It is Sunday." With that bit of mutual reassurance, they shifted apart. Vetinari was the first to rise to wash at the basin, he watched with some amusement as Drumknott neatly rolled up the soiled blanket and pulled back the worn quilt beneath it. Indeed, it was rare for a tyrant to be able to trust another in his bed, but it was altogether unheard of to trust enough to sleep in that bed as well. He smiled to himself as he snuffed out the candles.
I hope this letter finds you well. I must apologize for the brevity and lateness of this letter, as I have taken on additional responsibilities in the Undertaking for a short time. The city health initiative continues to be a difficult process, although as of late there have been some good news as we have been assured that the ancient aqueducts are stable enough to form a basis for the proposed main sewer. In addition, I have overseen an effort to entice medical experts from Klatch and Überwald to teach at the Free Hospital, as the brightest trainee doctors wish to remain on the 'cutting edge', as Igor puts it, though personally I feel that was in bad taste. I do feel optimistic as I research the statistics of non-traditional treatment, however...
Drumknott scrubbed himself raw with the odd smelling red soap, as he'd been instructed, and pulled on the stiff nightshirt, which smelled of bleach and some chemical he couldn't identify. The soap made his skin feel too tight, and he wondered if there were supposed to be trousers of some sort to go with the gown. He coughed as he opened the door to the adjoining room, thick with the stench of carbolic acid.
"You will become accustomed to it." Vetinari assured him, from his position sprawled across a slab of metal, covered only by a white sheet from his chest to his knees. He was glad to hear him speak, for he looked like a corpse laid out this way. The room no longer resembled a bedroom, in fact, having had most of the furniture removed, and everything left behind from floor to ceiling mercilessly scrubbed as hard as Drumknott himself. It looked like a morgue, now.
"I sincerely hope not, my lord." There was a stool positioned by the head of the slab, and Drumknott sat, suspiciously eyeing Igor's movements as he rummaged through the contents of a steel cart, laying out sharp and curiously shaped objects on a shelf. I would not have my arm if not for this man, he reminded himself, fiercely. I'm fairly certain this is the same one.
Igor placed an ice pack behind Vetinari's head, and began to buckle his wrists into leather straps flanking the table. "What is this for?" Drumknott asked, sharply. "I thought you said there would be no pain."
"Precauthionth," replied Igor. "He thould feel nothing but thome prethure beneath the waist. As my Uncle Igor hath taught me, an ounthe of preventhion is worth a pound of cure. You thould move your fingerth in cathe he gripth too tightly." Drumknott startled as he realized that he had unthinkingly entwined his fingers with his lover's. "Nevertheless." He moved his hand to rest atop the bound wrist instead.
Igor lifted the sheet, hooking two ends up to form a screen between patient and surgeon. Drumknott could hear some shuffling behind the screen, but could not make out a clear silhouette. "Do you feel any pain, my lord?" Igor asked.
"Only pressure." Vetinari confirmed, as Igor reappeared on the other side of the screen.
"Exthellent, my lord. Now if you will bite down on thith-" he placed a leather bit in Vetinari's mouth, and hobbled back to the other end of the slab. "If you feel any pain, juth thream." he advised, cheerfully.
This is barbaric, Drumknott thought, pressing his lips together so that he would not be tempted to give voice to his thoughts. You should have agreed to the chloroform.
"We will protheed." Igor called, from behind the sheet.
"Havelock?" Drumknott asked, quietly. Vetinari nodded slightly, and took a deep breath. Sometimes he closed his eyes, other times, they locked stares in a sort of insincere mutual reassurance. There were sounds behind the screen, scraping, clinking. Drumknott realized that he was humming tunelessly under his breath, faint worried notes as he exhaled. He smoothed back Havelock's hair, petting in rhythmic motions. He wiped his brow with a cool cloth. He felt absolutely useless. You agreed to this, he reminded himself. The alternative is unthinkable.
From the other side of the door, he could hear the reassuring steady tread of Vimes' boots as he paced the corridor, proceeding as he would any other beat. The Commander's presence was a comfort to Havelock, he knew. It was a comfort to him in turn, although that fact alone annoyed him. If the worst were to happen- unthinkable, but if...if! then, what would Vimes be able to do about it? Nothing. It would be up to him to... make arrangements. No one else knew about this but himself, Vimes, and Lady Sybil, and Igor, of course. Not even Charlie, oblivious in the Oblong Office and even now running circles around Boggis for the sheer hilarity of wordplay, knew why he was there for the week.
Havelock grimaced, and bit down on the leather. Drumknott tensed, and wiped his brow, adjusted the ice pack, and fretted. There was only the sound of their combined breathing, quick and nervous, deep and labored. Then, suddenly, it was over.
Igor unhooked the sheet, and pulled it aside, revealing a neatly bandaged area of skin. Behind him, Drumknott could see a pile of discarded linen, soaked through with blood. He tried not to think about it. Igor unbuckled his patient, and took the bit from his mouth. "How do you feel, my lord?"
"Faint. A bit... sick." Vetinari replied, honestly.
"It will pathh, my lord. Do you need the bucket?"
"I don't think so. Where is it?" His eyes narrowed, surveying the bloodied instruments across the room.
"Here, my lord." Igor held up what appeared to be a metal casserole dish. Vetinari smiled triumphantly at the congealing mass of glistening malignancy, and Drumknott averted his eyes.
"Rufus." His reached out, closing his fingers over the other's fidgeting hands. "You look awful, my dear." he whispered.
Drumknott laughed, weakly, and smiled as Havelock gave his fingers a reassuring squeeze. They parted long enough for Igor to carefully lift him and position him on the waiting bed across the room. Igor finished packing his cart, folded the hinges on the slab, and bowed dramatically. "I am pleathed to have been of thervice, my lord. I thall return to the hothpital, but my nephew Igor will be thaying to adminithter your medithine and change your bandageth as needed. It ith recommended that you drink thmall thips of water, and not attempt food until the morning. You thhould feel your legth again within an hour."
"Thank you." Vetinari replied simply, watching Igor push the cart outside, and chuckling as he heard Vimes begin to interrogate him.
"Are you tired?" Drumknott asked, perching on the side of the bed.
"I am." he admitted. "And if you could check on Charlie and send Vimes home to Sybil first, I would rest all the better for your company. I doubt I could have done this without you."
"Nonsense." Drumknott replied, but felt a twinge of pride in his chest at the words all the same.
... As usual, your parents have been particularly generous in donating to the hospital's endeavors. Your mother is organizing a gala to raise acceptance of the new doctors and their unusual ideas, which are strange and somewhat frightening to the general public. You may have read about in last Octeday's Times already. I am grateful for the help, yet I am wondering if it is possible to learn how to sleep standing up by next Sunday! I pray that I will not be called upon to dance. Until then, keep well.
"I came back for you. I know you've been watching me." Sam Vimes ventured to the end of Rope Street, feeling determined, if uneasy. Something was wrong. He could smell the Ankh from here, and the cobbles beneath his feet said Rope Street, but he'd just been on Cockbill Street, and they didn't connect, did they, and why was he thinking about this when he could be thinking about...
"I know you're there, Assassin. Come to me."
His heart was pounding, and he straightened his spine nervously, trying to look older than his scant sixteen years. There was a rustle of silk and velvet, and a shadow revealed itself to be a slim figure in shades of muted green and gray, and already he could feel hot blood pooling between his legs...
"Beautiful Assassin," he breathed. "Come closer."
"Dare I?" a familiar, amused voice responded. Delicate fingers pulled back a hood to reveal a pale, thoughtful face dominated by a rather severe nose and eyes like sapphires, gleaming with intelligence and cunning. "What do you think, Samuel Vimes?"
Sam hesitated for the briefest of seconds before pulling the other close, fingers gripping in the silky, inky hair, teeth nipping at the lips soft as petals. The Assassin's back arched, his breath hitched, and he was pressed closer than ought to be possible. Sam ventured his tongue between those lips, aching to taste him. He tasted of Bearhugger's MacAbre, and Sam was drinking him in, determined to lick the last drop of amber sin from him, even as warning bells sounded somewhere on the edge of hearing....
The breath was knocked from his chest as the Assassin pushed back, having suddenly gained a few decades and an aura of power. "Stop this." he said, simply.
"Why? You seemed to want it a moment ago." Sam pulled himself up, feeling the years coming on himself in the ache of his knees.
"I suspect you realize that you would be asking yourself."
"So..." He took a deep breath, and locked eyes with Vetinari. "If this is a dream, then, it doesn't count, does it? What difference would it make?"
"When you awaken, will you despise yourself?"
Sam clenched his fists.
"Will you be ashamed of your weakness? Will you be less of a husband, less of a father, less of a man who can resist a twenty year old unopened bottle..."
"Precisely, Commander. Precisely." And he was as infuriating in dreams as he was in life.
There was a disturbing cacophony of sounds and images as he struggled toward consciousness, angry tears stinging his eyes. Instinctively, he reached for Sybil- but the bed was cold, the covers thrown back. The vague, disconcerting sounds of his dream solidified into a chorus of excited, joyful yelps from below the window. Ah, he thought. Breakfast time for dragons. It's too damn early.
He made his way to the bathroom, turning the brass taps to the hottest water possible, pulling off his nightshirt and sitting under the tap as the tub filled around him, soothing his clenched muscles into submission. The water was waking him up, clearing the haze of his sleep-addled brain. He was Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch, sober and somewhat respected member of society, not... what he had been. He was a devoted husband and father, not a drunken waste, not... not someone his son wouldn't be proud of. He was going to have a long bath and a shave, and if he was lucky, a rasher of bacon, before heading to the Oblong Office to report to Vetinari without thinking of what he'd been thinking of, and then he'd see Nobby, which would definitely take his mind far away from what he pointedly was not going to think about.
There was a window across the room, and he could see clear across the city to the Morpork side, and past the palace, just there, between those buildings, would be Cockbill Street. He wondered, as he always did, whet his mum would think if she'd known the future, if she could see him as a nob, as an actual sober, functioning person... he'd always regret that she would never know, that she'd gone to her grave thinking he'd die in a gutter. He couldn't imagine now what sort of grief he'd put her through, without meaning to. She'd never know Sam. He wished he could show her how wonderful her grandson was, perhaps it would counter the pain he'd caused.
He sank deeper into the cooling water, coaxing the last of the warmth from the bath. His thoughts drifted to the fact that he missed his son. School breaks were too short and too few, and every time he saw him, he'd grown... it just didn't seem right, sending him away, when he'd always been home with his mum. Yet- it was true that he also regretted his own lack of education, and wanted the best for Sam, of course, and- it was better than the Assassin's Guild. Sybil had never asked, and he had never forbade it, but the conversation had hung over them unspoken for years, until a compromise had come in the form of a snobbish school in Quirm. Sam voiced concern that their son would acquire a taste for snail pâté, but it was what had to be done for the best, and Sam would have only the best for his son. This, he told himself sternly, was why he was going to stop sulking in the tub and have a shave, and get on with it.
And so, he did.
Frigid winds battered the outside of the train carriage, sending numbing drafts through the cracks of the windows and doors. Sam burrowed the lower half of his face into the wool of his lumpy gray scarf. His mum had made it for him, and it would have been identical to the other ones she'd made, if slightly more of a... parallelogram, maybe... than the others. Most people became better at knitting with practice, but his mum seemed to get worse the more times she repeated a pattern. He grinned, thinking of her gesturing with her needle as she talked, not noticing the dropped stitches, and later puckering her mouth in concentration as she added extra stitches to even out the garment.. the scarf still smelled a bit like home, which was both comforting and a little worrisome, given the nature of his homecoming. Officially, he had attained an early leaving with honors. Unofficially, he'd been told not to come back. He had an important looking document trimmed in gold foil, but his dad could smell bullshit a mile off. It may have worked with other parents, but Sam was dreading seeing his mum and dad almost as much as he was looking forward to it.
He hadn't been home in almost a year, thanks to the storms that had battered the plains and left sections of track washed out or warped. There hadn't been enough time to take a carriage the long way for the shorter holidays, so he had spent his first Hogswatch almost alone, commiserating with the other stranded students. Worse yet, the last time he had been home, his godfather had taken Rufus with him to Überwald, so he had not seen his friend in twice as long. The long letters he'd received had been the bright spot in his otherwise lackluster school life, and the ability to write pages of his worries, frustrations, and happiness to someone who could understand, someone who, to put it another way, wasn't his mum or Carrot, had probably kept him sane.
The Tower of Art was looming in the near distance, and Sam felt a giddy happiness mixed with the apprehension of showing up on his doorstep five months early. Ankh-Morpork! He could even smell it from here. By the time the train began to slow down for the station, Sam had already gathered up his bags and was ready to spring out the door. He stepped onto the platform, and startled. Rufus was waiting for him.
"Did my letter beat me here?" he asked, doubtfully. He realized that he was taller than his friend, now, by a few inches. He could see the top of his head, where fluffy snowflakes perched on strands of light brown hair that would turn golden if he'd only spend some time outdoors.
"Clacks," replied Rufus, "although I am looking forward to reading about it." He led Sam off the platform, and toward the waiting black coach. Sam's stomach lurched, suddenly feeling about ten times as anxious as he had been being called to the Headmaster's office. There was nothing for it, though, and so he climbed into the coach and took his seat alongside Rufus.
"You didn't come to take me home, did you?"
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence between them, and Sam was certain that Rufus was giving him an odd look, which he didn't like the implications of, as though he were a badly organized file. He hadn't expected to be welcomed home with open arms, but maybe being expelled was worse than he'd thought. He opened his mouth to ask, and then closed it, seeming to look out the window but watching Rufus' reflection in the glass. For months, he'd longed to tell him everything, but now that they were sitting next to each other, he'd lost his tongue. The most intimate confessions on paper were easier than small talk in person. Why?
Before he knew it, they had pulled into the palace grounds, and soon he was following Rufus inside and up staircases, until they reached the spacious waiting area outside the Oblong Office. "You will have tea." Rufus said, kindly, and slipped away. Sam sat on a plush sofa and waited, feeling ill at ease. He glanced up at the clock, and wondered how long he'd wait. The clock slowed a tick, and seemed to stop. Sam looked at his feet, and willed them to stop tapping. At last, Rufus returned. "This way." he said, with a smile. He held open the door.
The Oblong Office was both everything he'd imagined it to be, and its exact opposite. It was incredibly large and, well, oblong. There was a smaller passage connected to the back, which he assumed was Rufus' office. The floor was covered with the largest Klatchian carpet he'd ever seen, the dark red of it looking impressive while giving the chilly space a sense of warmth; at least visually. The walls were good plaster, covered over in ancient tapestries. One end of the room housed a long table and chairs to sit over a dozen people, and was dominated by a large portrait of Vetinari, and, beside it, a similar painting of his father- in full formal dress. The anchor of the room was a huge mahogany desk, and behind it, to his surprise, three windows almost as tall as the vaulted ceiling, before which his godfather stood, surveying the city.
"Ah, Sam. Welcome home." Vetinari turned, and gestured to a nearby seat, which Sam took gratefully. Rufus fixed two cups of tea on a smaller desk beside the window, and placed one before him, and one before Vetinari, before fading into the background.
"Thank you, godfather. I'm glad to see you."
"A little sooner than expected, yes." Vetinari half raised an eyebrow, and looked at him with interest. Sam found himself looking into his eyes directly for perhaps the first time in his life. It was fascinating, if a bit scary, how he seemed to see right through him.
"I am told that you received this dubious honor after witnessing a fellow student being rough with a patron of a tavern."
"Yes, sir." Sam knew it was useless to try to soften the story. "I stopped him."
"With your fist, is that right?"
"That student being the son of a Duke, who is the school's most generous patron?"
"I didn't know that, sir."
Vetinari tilted his head. "Would you have acted differently if you had?"
"No, sir." Sam looked at his feet, feeling a blush rise to his ears.
To his shock, Vetinari laughed. "What do you plan to do now that you have returned?" he asked, steepling his fingers.
"I haven't thought much about it, sir. Help the Watch, I suppose." He knew it was a half-hearted answer as soon as the words left his mouth. He liked helping the Watch, but he didn't see himself as a Watchman, though he hadn't the heart to tell his father. The members of the Watch seemed to be split between those who still saw him as a child, and those who spoke of him as being the next Commander Vimes. He couldn't be his father. No one was that tough. Besides, he suspected that Carrot would be the next Commander, if the office were ever up for appointment.
"You might consider further education?" Vetinari asked, sipping his tea. Sam gratefully sipped his own, having momentarily forgotten that he had a cup.
"I was thinking maybe I'd work at the hospital." Sam tried again. It wasn't a lie, it seemed like a worthwhile occupation.
"But?" Vetinari prodded.
"But, er, I'm not sure yet." Sam finished, lamely.
"What do you want to do, Sam?" Vetianri asked, surprisingly gently.
"I'd like to- to help people, I suppose." Sam answered, searching for the right words and coming up hopelessly short.
"Understandably." Vetinari rose, and approached the dazzling, many paned windows again, beckoning for Sam to join him. "Tell me, Sam, what do you see?"
The view from the Oblong Office was incredible, stretching across the palace grounds to the farthest stretches of Nob Hill. He could see shops on the Morpork side, dirty and ancient, leaning on each other for support; the gray-brown water of the Ankh chugging diligently toward the sea, Pseudopolis Yard through the fog. Across the river, patches of white snow in Ankh where there was less traffic to turn it to sludge, and the base of the Tower of Art rising through the low clouds, heavy with the promise of snow. A sort of brown industrial cloud rose from somewhere, or perhaps a bit from everywhere.
"It's home." Sam touched the glass. "I missed it so much." Again, he cursed himself for saying perhaps the stupidest thing possible.
"My dear boy, do you know that you are the only person to have answered that to my satisfaction?" Vetinari asked, with a small grin. "To me, it is progress. It is beauty; and yes, it is home. I am about to ask you something, Sam, and you must think on it, for it isn't something to be taken lightly. I am going to ask you to devote your life to Ankh-Morpork, as your parents have done, as Drumknott has done, and, most specifically, as I have done. Despite some of the more colorful rumors, I am not immortal, and when it is time for me to leave, I want to leave the city in capable hands. There are strings attached, I am afraid. If you accept, you will work night and day at times. You will put the city before yourself, always. It is unlikely that you will have a family of your own, and if you do, they must understand that the city takes priority in your life and in your heart. And you must keep Drumknott to advise you, always..." Vetinari seemed to lose his voice at this point, and stared out the window at a point just past the Tower of Art.
"Godfather?" Sam asked, quietly.
"I think, in the circumstances, you ought to call me 'Havelock'. That is, if you accept. "
"Yes." Sam said, the word out of his mouth before he knew he'd spoken it. The city bustled before him, and behind him, Rufus' presence... "Please, yes, G- Havelock." he stumbled over the unfamiliar syllables. Five minutes ago, he hadn't known what he wanted, but suddenly, he wanted this with all of his heart.
"We shall continue your education then, you and I." Vetinari crossed the short distance to his desk, and sat. "You have much to learn, and many people to meet, but now, you must be tired from your journey. Oh, and I had a word with your parents. I assure you they completely understand that you have acted with chivalry, and your mother has planned quite the dinner on anticipation of your return. Don't let me detain you." he added, brightly.
"Yes, sir-Hav--er." Sam stammered, sneaking a glance up at Rufus, who was seeing him out of the room. He seemed pleased enough. He'd have to talk to him later...
Drumknott closed the door behind Sam, and waited several seconds before turning to the Patrician.
"Well!" exclaimed Vetinari, eyes shining bright. "What a difference a few short years make."
"Indeed." Agreed Drumknott.
"The very image of his father, don't you think?"
"He has his mother's eyes." Drumknott felt compelled to add. "As well as her dark hair. And he's lacking, well, numerous scars."
"He's a Vimes, though. Gods help our city." But Havelock said it with fondness.
Lady Bella Rosa of Ankh, mother and many-great grandmother of several dozen blue ribbon champions and now a flameless dowager, had taken over Sam's room in his absence. She snorted in annoyance as he attempted to slide into his bed without disturbing her. "Sorry, Belly." He scratched the scales under her chin as a peace offering, and she grudgingly allowed him to pull his legs under the covers. Sam's eyes were adjusting to the dark, taking in the familiar shapes of his childhood bedroom. His stomach was pleasantly full, and he was home...
...and walking the streets of the city. The air was vibrating with life. He could feel it, like the charge in the air before lightning strikes. Echoes of voices, past and present, flowed through him, a hundred thousand stories pulsed through the air, through the cobbles beneath his feet. It was beautiful, it made him feel so utterly alive- and yet, despite the exhilaration, there was a deep pain in his chest, and one of his limbs was aching, burning, his rimward, no, left leg... something was wrong, no, more than one something, and it was calling him...
He woke with a start, suddenly feeling quite frightened and small. Belly had left for a more solitary napping place, and a loud wind howled at the window. His heart was pounding, he'd never be able to get back to sleep after that... whatever that was. He wrapped his robe around him and left the room. He could smell cigar smoke even from here, and so, he headed down the stairs to find his dad, smoking with his feet propped up near the fire, and a mug of coffee in his hand. His mum often went to sleep hours before him, being an early riser. His dad, on the other hand, had never quite gotten the hang of daylight hours. Sam wordlessly sat at the foot of the sofa, and stared into the fire. His dad tangled his fingers into his hair affectionately. "I missed you." he said, quietly.
"I missed you too, Dad." Sam rested his head on the arm of the sofa, enjoying the rare touch. He felt safe with his dad, safe and warm.
"No. Bad dream, I think. It's hard to remember." He remembered the feeling, but the details were starting to escape him. After several minutes, he looked up to his father. "Do you think I should have said yes? To Godfather, I mean."
Vimes stared into the fire. "Vetinari asked me for you when you were barely more than a week old, you know."
Sam raised his head, perplexed.
"Surprised, eh?" Vimes sighed. "I insisted he ask you, of course. But he's had things planned for years. You'll have an easier time of it than he did, at least. When Vetinari was your age, he was an inexperienced, arrogant little shit about to inherit a broken city. People were angry, half starved, frightened..." Vimes took a drag of his cigar, and his eyes unfocussed, seeing things that Sam couldn't. "He was also about to inherit an assistant keen to stab him in the back. But he had potential, and intelligence, and he learned to be humble, maybe, just a little bit. Maybe. But you've got that potential too, and you're walking into a stable situation. Vetinari wouldn't let you take charge unprepared. He'd never do that to you, or to the city. By the time you're Patrician, you'll be ready." Vimes stroked his son's cheek with callused fingers. "Never thought a Vimes could be Patrician;" he mumbled into his coffee. "I'm proud, you know."
Sam blushed hotly, and looked down, mumbling a barely audible thanks. They stayed in silence until his dad at last ground out the stub of his cigar. "Think you can go back to sleep?"
"I think so." Sam nodded, and headed back to his room. He really was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and so was able to fall asleep, but it proved to be a restless one, haunted by voices.
"Sam." He was shaken awake by his mum. It was early, too early, no matter what time it actually was. "Havelock wants you to spend the day at the palace, dear. Learn the ropes and such. I think it's a jolly good idea for both of you to spend more time together."
Sam groaned, reaching for his pillow.
"Up, now. I've made your breakfast."
Sam spent the most of the morning in Rufus' antechamber, listening to Vetinari's audiences from behind a screen. He was surprised by how little Vetinari spoke, and how foolish most of the visitors sounded trying to fill the silence. Sam was actually beginning to feel a secondhand embarrassment on behalf of the head of the Guild of Merchants and Traders when Rufus ducked behind the screen with a sticky Genuan bun and a cup of strong Klatchian coffee, leaving them with a wink.
More coffee was in order when the three were left alone, and Sam was glad of it.
"You still look exhausted." his godfather commented, as Sam started on his third cup.
"I didn't sleep well." Sam admitted. "Odd dreams. Not exactly bad, but..." Vetinari had turned his placid gaze on him, and against what he'd learned that day, he found himself filling the silence. "I don't remember much about it. It was like I could hear every conversation in the city, all at once, and I could feel everything anyone had ever felt, like I was... stretched out. And my leg hurt. I think." Sam shook his head. It sounded stupid, now that he tried to describe it.
Vetinari looked mildly concerned. "Perhaps I am rushing you a bit, as excited as I am to have you home. You should rest today. Perhaps help your mother with the dragons." he suggested.
Sam nodded. "Thank you, Godf...er, Havelock. I think I will."
Rufus helped him into his coat, and saw him out. Havelock stood by the window, watching new snow settle on the rooftops.
"When I first held him, what I told him was not his name." Havelock did not look away from the glass.
"I know." Rufus stood by him, placing a comforting hand on his arm. "Don't fret. You would never harm the son of Sam Vimes."
"Not intentionally." Havelock bit out.
"Never." Rufus confirmed, squeezing his arm lightly.
"If only I could be so confident, my love." Havelock sighed. "But, matters are what we make of them, are they not?"
"We are to attend Lady Selachii's benefit for the Ankh-Morpork Historical Society, which is in actuality a benefit to draw attention to the fifty thousand dollar diamond and emerald necklace she has recently purchased." Rufus explained, with some annoyance. "It is important that you be seen with his lordship, of course. There's nothing like a benefit to start the rumor mills spinning, and we'll see to it that they spin in our favor." He smiled with only a slight curve of the lips, the one where his eyes gleamed with satisfaction at a project coming to fruition. Sam had been cataloging each type of smile in his mind, without quite intending to. This one was a particular favorite of his.
"It's just a party. My parents have to go all the time. I'm sure I'll do all right." Sam had never been to one of Lady Selachii's 'Events', having been too young, but he'd often heard his mum talk about how delightful they were, and his dad about how awful they were. Like most things, he figured it averaged out.
"It's horrid." Rufus confessed.
"My dad says it's okay if you stand near the sandwiches."
"I'm afraid you won't have that luxury. You'll be quite the commodity once they see his lordship with you."
"What do you mean, 'commodity'?" Sam asked, suspiciously.
"It's a benefit dance, and the more expensive the dance card, the more names ladies expect to record, and the more influential the gentleman appears to be, the better the bragging. If you are seen speaking in confidence to his lordship, they will all want a dance with you. It never fails." Rufus sighed. "You have never attended a dance in Quirm?" he asked, curiously.
Sam shook his head. Much of his time in Quirm had been spent finding 'x', and pondering questions such as 'What is Truth, according to Aristocrates?'. Any dancing he had learned had been in the tavern at the edge of town, learned from people of questionable lifestyles, and belonged as far away from the ballrooms of Ankh as it literally was. "You would have heard about it if I had."
"I shall have to teach you, then. We still have a week." Rufus looked determined, and in his experience, only Vetinari could derail him in this state of mind.
"But I thought you hated dancing?"
"That doesn't mean that I can't do it." A different smile, wry and a bit shy. "This is a simple waltz, the most versatile. Four steps. You will have to lead." Rufus took his hand and guided the other to his waist. Sam curled his fingers into the small of his back. "You will be doing the mirror opposite of what your partner does." Rufus explained, guiding Sam through the repetitive steps. "You'll repeat this box pattern. Of course there are variations, but this should suffice with most partners."
Sam nodded, although his focus was more on the slender waist under his hand and the shorter fingers entwined with his own than on his feet, which seemed to be doing what they were supposed to do. Rufus' pale eyelashes were long enough to brush against his cheek when he looked downward, and he wondered how he'd never noticed it before.
"It is good form to ask the widows and matrons to dance, and they tend to prefer a waltz." Rufus noted, as he brought the dance to a halt.
"Right." Sam nodded, forcing himself from his reverie. "That was...lovely, really, and not too difficult."
"It is by far the most essential," Rufus explained, "although there lines in the dance cards for gavottes, quadrilles, and, regrettably, polkas."
They broke apart as the door opened. Mr. Fusspot ran ahead of Vetinari, yapping as he dashed excited circles around them. "Do not stop on account of me." he teased, noting the slight blush of embarrassment on them both.
"Perhaps you should take over." Rufus rallied. "Assassins are known for their elegance and skill on the dance floor." he added, to Sam.
"You have learned from the best, but I do not dance anymore." Vetinari poured water from a carafe into a dish and set it down beside Mr. Fusspot, who promptly spilled half of it on the carpet.
"You're as graceful as ever." Rufus insisted.
Sam was aware that there was a conversation half going over his head, but it was harder than usual to decipher it with his pulse racing.
"He has Sybil, as well. For the polka." Vetinari grinned. "I wouldn't ask that of you. He is a bit shy, Sam, but quite popular with the matrons." he added.
Sam's nerves wound tighter as the week went on. His mum fussed over him, and made him get fittings for a suit he'd received for Hogswatch and never worn. She taught him dance steps and drilled him on protocol until his dad laughed at him, stopping only when his mum noted that he could use a refresher, as well; at which point his dad was already halfway out the door with his helmet. By Saturday night, he was praying for some sandwiches to hide behind.
The dance was held in the Opera House's ballroom, and was already swarming with people when they arrived. Sam could understand Rufus' shyness now, as all eyes watched them intently until they were seated at the table of honor, and even then some didn't look away. Sam bowed to Lady Selachii and her daughters, and was introduced to a flurry of Guild members as the Patrician's guest, and Commander Vimes' son, with varied reactions ranging from mild distaste to overly enthusiastic praise.
"Hello, Sam." Dolores, Lady Selachii's youngest daughter, boldly held out her dance card, and Sam signed beside the line she'd tapped her finger on. She was two years younger than him, and he recalled her as a quiet child with definite ideas about fairness, who ceased to be quiet when she felt that fairness had been violated. He still had a scar on his right shin from her shoe.
"Hello, Dolores. You look lovely tonight." It wasn't a lie, with the exception of a rather crooked nose, she was the prettiest of the Selachiis, with pale gold hair and large brown eyes, and was wearing a pale lavender gown with a complicated train originating from the shoulders. He focused on the added burden of not stepping on it.
"Oh, it's been an age, Sam, hasn't it? Mummy is obsessed with this silly charity so I have to go to these events all the time, raising funds to patch up old buildings. I think it's better to focus on the future. Progress." she said, firmly. "His lordship has a good grasp on progress, now. Building new and sanitary structures for future generations." she added, with approval.
"He's done more than anyone for our city." Sam agreed. "But, the old buildings are important, too, don't you think? Look at how beautiful the Opera House is tonight."
"It's not all so pretty, Sam. There's so much of the city that's an eyesore. Wasted potential. Think of the Shades. Those people live like animals." She wrinkled her nose in disgust.
And how many buildings do your parents own there, charging more than the house is worth for each room? Sam thought, biting his tongue at the last possible second. He couldn't say things like that anymore, not if he didn't want to cause trouble- and he very much did not want to cause trouble with his godfather. He was relieved when the music ended. "It has been my pleasure, Dolores." he bowed, taking his leave of her. He stalked across the floor, taking a genuine interest in the small cuts of carved beef on toast.
"Lord Downey has been drinking and is convinced that his lordship is his ally against the Fool's Guild in a disagreement regarding a building that appeared in the back alley last Thursday." Rufus murmured, having appeared beside him. He reached for a plate. "Watch the Guild members. Watch everyone, and listen. Sometimes it can be the difference between life and death. Usually It's just a laugh, though."
Sam smiled gratefully, and watched him leave the table and bow to an older lady, extending his hand. Sam straightened his jacket, and faced the crowd once again.
Drumknott had been an early riser his entire life out of necessity; but he quite enjoyed it now. He loved the palace at this time, when the first hint of sun would turn the sky dark blue, quiet before the sunrise. Everything was calm and ordered in his little set of rooms, and he could begin the day in peace. His modest suite included his own bathroom, which was a luxury he'd quickly grown accustomed to. He bathed and shaved before dressing and pulling the blanket neatly back on his bed. One flight of stairs down brought him to a large room shared by the clerks for meals and leisure. Only the servants had woken earlier, and he gratefully helped himself to oats and coffee left on the sideboard. On the table was the Times, and he perused it as he drank a second cup, before smoothing out the pages and turning them to the crossword puzzle.
Two flights up now, and to the antechamber at the end of the waiting room of the Oblong Office. He pulled a length of elaborate cloth to ring a bell, and positioned the paper on a tray with a freshly sharpened pencil. By the time he'd checked the main inboxes, Martha from the kitchen had arrived with a small plate of Genuan pastries (he'd grown up calling them elephant's arses, but could never remember the proper name) and a pot of strong coffee. He thanked her, and added them to the tray before selecting a single chocolate from a box from Weinrich and Boettcher and placing it on one saucer.
Vetinari was already at his desk, of course. To get there before him, Drumknott would have no sleep at all, and would be using twice as many candles in his duties. "Good morning, my lord." The same greeting as always, even when they were alone. It set the tone for the day. He set the tray down, and poured two cups of coffee.
"Good morning, Rufus." Havelock would use his given name now, and they would only fall back on titles and surnames in company. It was unspoken, and one of the many ways they seemed to be able to communicate without words. "Is there any mayhem in the metropolis that I should know about?"
"No. Enjoy your crossword." Rufus took a pastry and walked to his desk, where he unlocked the massive appointment book and began to lay out his pens and paper. Havelock gave him a questioning look upon noticing the chocolate, but did not ask any questions. He will eat it, for my sake, Rufus thought, and was pleased to discover that he was right.
Sam was reading one of Havelock's books, and trying to think of him as Havelock, not "godfather" or "Bloody Damn Vetinari", as he was used to hearing him referred to, and sneaking peaks at Rufus from behind the pages when his mind wandered. He was calming to watch, moving in almost clockwork rhythm as he worked. He was pouring tea now, and Sam was sure that somehow he'd timed it so that it would still be hot once the head of the Guild of Cunning Artificers had exited the Oblong Office next door. Rufus placed two chocolates on the tray, and Sam's suspicions deepened. He didn't like the feeling he had in his chest, restless and sinking.
"Why the chocolate?" Sam asked, before he could lose his nerve. It had appeared with Vetinari's tea all week, and he knew that his godfather wasn't one for self indulgence.
"His appetite has been lacking." Rufus answered, a little distantly. He looked troubled, perhaps a little frightened.
"You should have told me." Sam closed the book, and sat up. "We're friends, aren't we. You're supposed to tell me important things."
"What things?" Rufus asked, knowing that it was a pathetic dodge.
"You love him." Sam stated, accusingly. "You love him so much, it's in everything you do, and you should have told me, before I saw it." he could feel a dull anger rising in him, disparate, but gathering from somewhere.
"I- what?" Rufus looked surprised, and then, oddly relieved. He sat facing Sam, and gave him an imploring look. "Sam... you're right. I do. I'm sorry, but, well. It never seemed to be the right time to say."
"You've had a lot of chances." Sam snapped. "Years."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sam, but... you must understand. There are secrets that I have to keep, for him, for the city. It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that, well. Letters can be intercepted."
"I know." Sam looked down. Of course he knew, but it didn't make him feel any less slighted.
"Someday, I'll keep your secrets, too." Rufus gave him a pleading look, the one he used to get Sam to agree with him. Infuriatingly, it always worked.
"I told you everything, though." he protested, weakly.
"Did you really?" Rufus asked, softly. "I'm quite sure there were things you didn't want to share with me."
There had been things, he realized. Things that he'd heard and seen at the tavern at the edge of town that were just too awkward and embarrassing to write about. Something tightened in his chest, and he realized that there was something else now, something he wouldn't be able to tell Rufus. He could almost feel something slipping between them, creating a barrier he never thought would exist. Rufus offered him a chocolate, and he took it, not wanting to upset him, and not liking how he would do anything to see him not worried or upset. "I'm sorry. You're right. I had no right to snap at you." Rufus still looked as if he were fretting, though, and so he quickly, if inelegantly, changed the subject.
"Do you ever go to the Shades, Rufus? With Godfather?"
"No." Rufus admitted. "Although I'm certain that he does, by himself, even when I ask him not to."
"Surely it can't be that bad? My dad comes from the Shades."
"Your father comes from Cockbill Street. There's a big difference from that to the Shambles. Your dad never took you patrolling there, now did he? He would know. He'd never risk you."
"How much of a difference?" Sam wondered. "Some of the Watch come from there, and they didn't grow up all bad."
"The difference is that one in four babies born in the Shades don't get a chance to grow up at all." Rufus pursed his lips, looking miserable. "If they do, they fall into bad situations. They become the sort of criminals the Guilds won't even take."
Sam cursed himself for dragging the conversation down another unpleasant route, and struggled to find something to make Rufus smile. "The Undertaking will help them." he nodded. "You'll help them. Rufus, I'm sorry. Please smile."
The absurd request actually earned a surprised chuckle from him. "It's all right, Sam. I'm not angry with you." He set a cup of tea beside him, and offered him another chocolate. "Drink your tea, you'll feel better. " Rufus tapped a short knock on the door, and carried the tray inside. Sam ate the chocolate, and drank the tea, only afterwards realizing he'd done so because he'd been told.
He knew all along that it would never be easy. He just never expected it would be quite so hard. Havelock Vetinari took a deep, shuddering breath, and turned the doorknob, into the chamber where Rufus was anxiously awaiting him. "Havelock?" Rufus was already standing, abandoning the book he hadn't had been able to concentrate on. He knew, he already knew, as he hadn't been invited in during the exam and was told to wait in the bedchamber. He knew, and asked desperately with his eyes to be told that he was mistaken.
Havelock took his trembling hands in his own, and, taking a deep breath, began. "It has spread. It seems to be impossible to eradicate. I will be able to proceed with another operation, but that will only slow it. I'm sorry." He added, seeing the unshed tears brimming in his lover's eyes.
"There has to be another way." Rufus insisted. "The wizards, they live twice as long as they ought to because of the magic, don't they. And even Lady Margolotta-"
"-would be of no help." Havelock shook his head. "The first is an effect of a sustained, yet controlled exposure to thaumic fields over a number of years, and human illness manifests in a similar form once a human is converted-"
"The magic must be able to help, they could take some of my life-"
"It isn't possible. You know that."
"Then what bloody good are they, any of them!" Rufus cried out, stamping his foot, and looking as small and ineffective as he felt. He trembled, and the first of the tears spilled silently over his cheekbones. Havelock pulled him close, and held him as sobs began to shake his slight frame.
He fought back tears of his own as he attempted to comfort him. "I will have the operation." he stroked Rufus' back , moving his hand in slow circles. "We still have time."
"How long?" Rufus' voice was muffled against his chest.
"Months, certainly. Likely not years." Havelock tightened his grip. "But I will fight it." Rufus nodded, suppressing a sob. Havelock led him to the bed, and pulled him close so that he was curled up against his chest. "We still have time." He kissed his lips lightly, and continued to stroke his back.
Rufus clasped his arms around him and pulled him into a forceful kiss, as though he could keep him forever if he was pressed close enough. He was pulling at his robes in desperation, and Havelock cooperated, until his body was bare and Rufus already half undressed. Havelock had intended to gently push him back and slowly make love to him, but Rufus moved with an urgency that demanded that their skin be pressed close as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Havelock cupped a hand over Rufus' cock, which was catching up with his general eagerness, twitching awake under his touch. It was beautiful, he was beautiful, still invigorated with youth and health. And yet, he still desired him, with his traitorous, aging, sickly body, scarred by injury, emasculated by surgery. He did not see his weaknesses as such, even when he noticed his limp and massaged his cramped leg. He saw gray hair as wisdom and dignity. Rufus loved him with a capacity that seemed boundless, and Havelock was grateful. Where would he be without him? What would he have become, without him? It would be worse than losing a limb.
What would Rufus become, without him? Guilt plagued him as he stroked his lover, careful to touch and nip in ways that he knew brought him the most pleasure. He struggled to restrain his own orgasm, even as Rufus flexed his thigh muscles, trapping his sex and squeezing it tightly, the friction testing his will. Rufus rolled over, pulling Havelock fully onto him, and wrapped his legs over him, locking his ankles. Pinned to the bed, Havelock gave him his release, before allowing himself several more rough thrusts.
Hot and gasping, Rufus still clung to him. There was a terrible silence, in which they both attempted to find adequate words.
"I want you to be happy." Rufus finally managed. "I want to give you everything."
"You have." Havelock replied, staring at the ceiling.
"There...isn't much time. You should... you should go. To Vimes. While there's still time. I am certain that Lady Sybil would allow it." The words tumbled out, terse and rehearsed.
Havelock turned, locking eyes with him. "No."
"Why?" Rufus' voice was small, and worried.
"Because I would not be pitied, for one. And because I have all that I need, much more than I deserve." He pushed back Rufus' damp hair, and kissed him gently. And if I did, you would never know what you are to me, and would second guess yourself for the rest of your life. I have been cruel enough. And yet, the temptation ached. To be with Vimes, even once, to act on the feelings coiled inside- but the price was too high. Before him was a treasure, easily damaged beyond repair. His own dear treasure, who had loved him and would look after his city in his absence.
"I will fight it to the end, because I have you." Havelock squeezed his hand. "Close your eyes, Rufus. It is too much for one day. Let us have this afternoon, together."
"I love you, you know." Rufus mumbled, against his shoulder.
"I have never doubted it, my love." Havelock held him, petting him until he fell into a light, fitful sleep, comforting him as best as he could. He did not sleep, himself. He found himself afraid to close his eyes, in case they would not open again.
Sybil's heart sank as she saw the young man at the door in Drumknott's place, nervous despite the notch in his collar that denoted him as a dark clerk. She knew the face. Ah, yes. Scholarship boy, two sisters. Mother breeds Klatchian cats. "Good Afternoon, Gregory. Is Rufus not working today?"
"No, Your Grace. I will give your regards when I see him." He bowed respectfully before knocking at the door of the Oblong Office, and opening the door for her. "Lady Sybil Vimes, my lord." He bowed again, and closed the door behind her, leaving her alone with Havelock. He turned from the window and regarded her with a grim attempt at a smile. Oh, gods, no.
She pulled him into a tight embrace. Havelock never pulled away from her, but he didn't linger, either. This time he sank against her body, tightening his grip when she loosened hers. She could feel the protrusion of his ribs through his robe, noticeably sharper. She swallowed hard, willing herself not to cry. It wouldn't help him, it would only make matters worse.
"How is Rufus?" She asked, quietly.
"Sobbed himself sick. I put him to bed." Havelock sniffed a bit as he pulled away. "It's wretched, Sybil. He's given me nothing but happiness, and I took it, knowing that it would come to this." He pulled out her chair and saw her settled before sitting himself, staring down at his tea cup. She hadn't seen him look so despondent since they were children.
"You gave plenty in return, dear; and you deserve a bit of happiness for yourself after all you've done for the rest of us." She poured his tea, and nudged a tartlet onto his plate.
"I've less than a year." He took a sip of his tea. "That's with another surgery. " He prodded the tartlet with a fork, and ate it as though it were a personal insult. "I'm only feeding this vile... thing. I don't feel like eating anymore. I force it down and it grows, as the rest of me wastes."
"You're feeding yourself, as well." Sybil said, as gently as she could, not wanting to nag.
"Rufus insists that I eat. You needn't worry as well." He wrapped his fingers around the warmth of his teacup. A long moment passed as he drummed his fingertips on the porcelain. "I'm not ready to die." He set the cup down again. "There is too much to do. Too much work to be done. I wanted so many things for the city, and I won't ever-"
Sybil stood, pushing away her chair to pull him into her arms again, kneeling so that he could bury his face in her shoulder. It seemed rather pathetic to pretend that they weren't both in tears, and so she allowed herself a loud sob, and clutched him until his body stopped shaking and they separated, too miserable to pretend that they had any dignity. She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve, and wiped at his eyes until he took it with an exasperated attempt at a smile. She produced a second one and blew her nose.
"Everything you want to happen will happen. I promise. Sam and I will help, and Rufus- I'll look after him, Havelock. I promise."
"I know that you will. I never doubted that." He had regained composure as though nothing had happened, while her nose still was red and her eyes felt gummy. Sybil drained her cup before pouring another one for herself, and attempted to steer the conversation in a less depressing direction.
"Who won?" she asked, gesturing to the side table where a game of Thud had not be reset.
"Your son, for the first time." Havelock's eyes brightened. "I tell him he is a tyrant, and he insists on thinking like a watchman."
"I'm sorry about that." she smirked.
"Don't be. He surprised me. All is as it should be. I will do my best for him in the time I have left, but if he strays too far, Rufus will see to it that he acts appropriately."
Sybil nodded. She'd made note of her son's devotion over the years, but had never said anything about it, because she wasn't quite sure what to say. Something about the way Sam looked at him made her afraid to say that she didn't want to say.
"I see both of you when he looks at me, it's wonderful. He looks me in the eyes. He isn't afraid." Havelock mused.
"It's because you've always spoiled him, dear. You should have put fear into him at least once so that he'd learn the trick." She added a few strawberries to her plate.
"He's been witness to it, and will be again. Before I go, I shall have to inform a select few who their new master is. I have no doubt they will take to him. He's exactly what I wanted."
"Yes, well, I made him to order." She rolled her eyes at her friend.
He sighed, and his eyes drifted to the portrait of Sam he'd hung to annoy him. "Sybil, how can I ever tell them?"
"I don't know." Havelock looked so troubled, so tired. "You will need to do it today, though. Sam will know if he sees me, and he'd never forgive it not coming from you."
Sam was late, that night, despite the cold rain drenching the city. She heard him hang up his cloak and helmet, and sit by the fire, in the dark. A thick cloud of smoke hung in a dense miasma around him, growing with each cigar, enough to choke a normal person. She finally intruded on his sulking to open the window, and was startled to find it was already open. Four stubs were ground into the ashtray, and he was working on a fifth, sucking in the smoke, fingers shaking.
"Five? You'll kill yourself doing that." She scolded. He'd been in there less than two hours.
"Let me smoke." He grumbled, but didn't protest when she took the remaining cigars and placed them out of reach on the mantle. She sank down onto the sofa beside him, and he leaned against her, staring into the flames.
"I don't know how to live in this city if he isn't there. I haven't known since... since things were different. Before."
"You don't want to leave?" Sybil asked, worriedly.
"No. Gods, no. Never." He smoked the cigar down as much as he could, before grinding it out, and staring down at his twitching fingers. "We belong here. But so does he."
Sybil nodded, and folded her hands over his.
Sam hadn't reacted strongly when he'd been told. Instead, his emotions bubbled beneath the surface, roiling over each other in a confusing way. He'd been hurt by the thought of losing his godfather. He'd been even more upset at the idea of losing Havelock, the man he had gotten to know as... not quite an equal, but a wise, interesting fellow human being that had completed the fuzzy outline of the picture he held in his mind as his godfather. He'd felt a stab of pain at the thought that Rufus was hurting, and a twinge of panic manifesting itself in a small voice that cried, I'm not ready in the back of his mind. But mostly, he was angry. He couldn't articulate why, but it had to do with the injustice of it all and the knowledge that he couldn't do a thing about it.
He spent almost every day in the Oblong Office, now. Sometimes he listened, sometimes he worked alongside Rufus, but frequently he'd just be there, part of conversations, working meals, games of Thud. After these he'd listen to Havelock talk about the city, about the past, about people. Havelock had been teaching him about the complicated network of secret passages the palace held, and as they walked along garden path between two of them, he studied him; wondering which things about him had made Rufus fall in love. He found that the thought of anyone else touching Rufus repelled him, but Havelock was his better in every way possible; and had earned Rufus' heart fairly, so of course he couldn't begrudge that. He did his best to push away his envy.
Part of it was surely the eyes, he thought. Havelock's eyes were exquisite, a clear, deep blue that he had never seen on another person. They fairly gleamed, adding what amounted to an exclamation point to his expressions. When they narrowed, they shot ferocious sparks, but when turned on himself or Rufus, they softened. Sam tried to imagine what he'd looked like as a young man, and vowed to find a portrait later. He must have been beautiful. The sort of beauty that made you want to drop to your knees. Powerful, too...
Sam was suddenly aware that Havelock had quietly laughed to himself. He felt his cheeks go red, and for a moment wondered if he was capable of reading his mind. "What is it?" he managed.
"Oh, nothing." Havelock waved a hand. "You just looked very much like your father for a moment."
Sam's shoulders sagged in relief. He had to stop thinking about this sort of thing while at the palace. He was grateful to see that they had reached a passage that would require him to remember a series of catches and knocks. The other side would lead up a flight of stairs and into the Oblong Office, where Rufus was laying out a file on the side desk. Mr. Fusspot wagged his tail and drummed his feet on the floor until Havelock bent to pat his head.
"You will want to have a seat for the meeting." Rufus gestured to Havelock's desk, which for some reason had two chairs behind it. Havelock nodded, and motioned for him to join him. Feeling self conscious, Sam sat in the chair at his right side. Rufus exited, and a few moments later returned, followed by a man in a somber black suit. "Mr. Lipwig, my lord."
Havelock smiled. It was a deceptive sort of grin, the kind that would have been friendly on a stranger, but Sam knew it to indicate danger for the recipient when used by Havelock. Sam had met Mr. Lipwig before, of course, even if they hadn't been neighbors, sooner or later everyone in Ankh-Morpork found themselves shaking his hand. His father disliked him, never trusting that he'd given up a criminal past, but Sam had always thought that he seemed quite friendly and sincere. He wondered what Mr. Lipwig could have done to be looked at in that way.
"Ah, Mr. Lipwig. So good of you to make time in your busy schedule for our little chat."
"I was having dinner with my family." Mr. Lipwig replied, sullenly. Mr. Fusspot bounded out of his basket and launched himself at the newcomer, who caught him in experienced arms and held him up far enough to keep the slobber from his face, a smile forming despite himself.
"Of course, look at the time. I trust your wife and daughters are well, Mr. Lipwig?" Havelock's voice was airy and pleasant.
Just for a moment, his face was a waxy mask, his grin frozen in terror. Just as quickly, his eyes came to life, and Sam wondered if he'd been mistaken in reading him. "Growing like weeds, my lord. Except for the wife. She'd smack me if I implied that any bits are growing, which is something I have not implied, of course."
"Of course. Given the hour, I shall make this brief. You will not repeat what I am about to tell you. I will not ask you not to, it is to be understood."
"It is not yet apparent in my appearance, but I am dying. I assume you have met young Sam Vimes. He is my heir. I expect you to show him the undying loyalty that I currently expect of you for myself." Havelock's tone was level, not demanding, not persuading-and yet, more effective. It was something that Sam wished he could master for himself.
Mr. Lipwig looked shocked, and then, perhaps, a bit sorry. "That's terrible. " he managed. Then, after a moment of silence, rebellion raised itself in his eyes. "Although, my lord, I didn't think that Ankh-Morpork had a succession by blood?"
"Oh, by blood, certainly. Always. Bloodline is much less of a mess, however, and a godson is even less so. However, there may be those whose minds are not entirely at ease, and I fear that the transition may be troubling to certain concerned citizens. Therefore, I expect you to smooth over any bumps and misunderstandings. A diverse city must still be united." Havelock bared his teeth now, in his smile.
"If I may be so bold, sir," Mr. Lipwig began, "I had assumed that our bargain was at an end when one of us came to an end?"
"You will find, Mr. Lipwig, that although I depart, Mr. Drumknott remains. You would be shocked to discover the power he wields."
Mr. Lipwig glanced over at Rufus, who was grinning, eyes narrowed in smug satisfaction. "It is true that a death warrant requires my signature in triplicate," he mused, "although, to be fair, so does a pardon."
"I see. 'Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss', eh? So, is that all?" Mr. Lipwig looked annoyed, but defeated.
"You will sign a pledge of loyalty to the Marquess of Morpork." Rufus gestured to the desk.
"Sure thing, boss." He placed Mr. Fusspot down and strode across the room. He trapped Rufus between himself and the desk, though, leaning over him to take a pen, and making Rufus squirm uncomfortably in the process.
Shameless flirt, thought Sam, gritting his teeth.
He signed with a flourish, and then theatrically bowed to Havelock, and then to Sam. "Please excuse me, sirs. I'm afraid my dinner is getting cold."
"Good evening, Mr. Lipwig." Sam replied, awkwardly, watching him go.
"Well." Havelock stood, and fished Mr. Fusspot's lead out of a drawer. "That went better than we had anticipated." He snapped his fingers, and Mr. Fusspot excitedly waddled around a chair three times before running forward for the leash, and joining his master for a trip to the garden.
Rufus was counting the paperclips in the tray on the small desk.
"Um, Rufus. Don't you think that was a bit much?" Sam managed.
"He took two of them this time. I shall have to get a lid for this bowl." Rufus frowned.
"I mean, you did bully poor Mr. Lipwig a bit..." Sam tried.
"What do you think a tyrant does?" Rufus asked, sharply, and seeing the expression on Sam's face, softened his tone. "What I mean, Sam, is... is that we can't be too careful at the start. I will never risk you. I won't take chances when it comes to your safety, ever. Do you understand?"
Sam looked down, and nodded. "Thank you. I guess I should see about dinner, too. My mum's got a roast. "
Sam left the palace and made a detour on Broad Way, walking until he reached Pseudopolis Yard. He went in the front door, so that no one would question him.
"Evening, Sam." Nobby greeted him, raising his cup of tea as he reached for a biscuit.
"Hey, Nobby. I don't suppose my dad is still here, is he?"
Nobby shook his head. "Gone home. I think he expects you to be there, too. "
"Right." Sam nodded. He took the long way out, and as he passed his father's office, he threw a battered Dis-organizer onto a pile of papers.
Rufus unpacked the two heavy baskets of food that the kitchen had delivered as Sam admired the model trains lining the top shelves of his bookcases. It was supposed to have been a picnic lunch, but a sudden cold downpour had diverted them back to Rufus' rooms. It was just as well, he felt. He was in no mood to be social, and hadn't the energy to do much of anything but sit by his small fire and sigh at his cheese sandwich. Being with Sam helped a bit, though; there was something about his presence that was oddly calming. Steady, that was it. Reliable.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked, as he sat beside him and opened a bottle of wine. "You've been quiet all morning..."
"I quarreled with Havelock this morning. A bit." he admitted.
Sam paused in pouring their drinks. "And you...lived?"
"Oh, it's not like that. Not really. I mean, we do have disagreements. Sometimes. It's nothing." He shook his head. He couldn't hide his mood, after all, and it felt good to say it. "I've been doing a bit of extra work because his operation is so soon. I thought that I'd just take care of a few things that only need his signature, and I'd just work maybe twenty minutes a day more, or so. But I had some nervous energy this morning, and I somehow made it to the office before he did, and he started lecturing me on my constitution, and I told him that I could work as hard as anyone. Harder." He frowned.
"But surely he was just worried about you?" Sam ventured.
"He was." He was also right, damn him. He was feeling the extra hours pile up on his shoulders. "It's just. Well. I can't help it if I'm...well. It's always been this way, I suppose. I was born too soon, and I was never any good at heavy lifting, and I've gotten heat stroke, twice. But I've been to Genua, and to Überwald, in a carriage, for months, and I've copied the Book of Om in midwinter, with no fire, faster than any other clerk, and with no mistakes. I've worked through a dragon and two wars and the clacks and the train and... all of it. I can work twice as hard as anyone, so he needn't think of me as a fainting maiden." He was red in the face as he finished.
"Even if he was worried that you really would faint?" Sam earned a dark glare for that one. "I'm sorry, Rufus. It's just... you do look tired."
Rufus deflated now that he'd let the tirade racing through his head free, and he slumped in his seat. "I am. I just don't want him to be troubled before the operation. And I don't want him to think less of me."
"No one does. You're incredible."
Rufus was ready to snap a retort, but Sam looked utterly sincere. "My arm hurts." he continued instead. "Not so much from where I was stabbed, but under the shoulder blade. And it goes down my arm , and pinches a bit in my elbow, and down into my wrist and little finger. And I've had headaches. And everything feels a bit out of control."
"I think I can help." Sam offered. "I've rehabilitated dragons, and the principles are the same."
"Sit here, please." Sam gestured to the ottoman adjacent to the sofa. Rufus sat, and remained when Sam added, "This will hurt a bit, especially at first. But I think it'll help." He braced himself, even as warm, strong hands stroked over his back.
"Relax;" Sam began, "and tell me where it hurts the most."
He ran his fingers alongside and under the shoulder blade, gently pressing with his fingers. Rufus sucked in his breath. "There."
"Right." Sam pressed on the spot, and the pain under his finger was sharp and deep. After a few seconds, however, he felt a curious numbness, and the pain in his wrist and finger subsided, as well. Sam was pressing down again, working over the small spot in circular motions. The pain diffused from a focused, stabbing sensation to a dull ache. Sam pulled his arm back, and up, and pressed in his fingers at another angle, and suddenly, his arm felt incredibly loose.
"It helps to move the wing, er, arm. You can get under that muscle and-" something almost felt like it was crunching under Sam's fingers, and another layer of pain and tension he didn't know that he'd been carrying eased. "that can happen."
"Oh." he managed. He remained quiet as Sam's hands moved over his shoulders and neck, pressing and pinching in ways that made him shudder in pleasure. Places at the base of his skull and jaw were pressed and prodded into similar looseness. Please don't stop, some part of his mind pleaded, though the only sound he made was the occasional gasp or hiss of breath. It lasted quite a long time, and afterward he felt oddly energized, as though his blood was surging up and down his muscles much like a tide coming in and out. His shoulder was still sore from the prodding, but it was a soreness that he could live with.
"Thank you." He managed. "You learned that from treating dragons?" He gulped down the glass of water that Sam offered him.
"Most of it. My dad has sore spots. He used to make me walk on his back when I was a kid." Sam laughed.
"I think your father has more sore spots than regular spots." Rufus conceded. "Still... you are quite talented."
He could feel his mood lifting. The fire seemed cozy, not mean, the rain seemed soothing instead of lashing cold. Even the food tasted better, and he thought that he'd even obey Havelock's order to refrain from working the rest of the day. Perhaps he'd go this evening, though, just to bring him tea and apologize. Until then, he'd enjoy the company.
"He won't even notice that you're gone." Sybil reassured Rufus, as she led the exhausted, nervous man out of the room that served as a surgical theater. "Sam will watch him for a bit, but it's important that you eat something, and get a little shut-eye."
It was amazing how Sybil could get anyone to do what she wanted them to, Vimes thought. No matter how stubborn they were. Drumknott looked ridiculous, wrapped up in a robe and slippers to cover the drafty surgical robe. He let Sybil lead him to his rooms, where she would sit with him and give him her look that would make him eat what was put in front of him. Then she'd put him in bed, tuck him in like a straightjacket, and give the bed a good thump with her hand, telling him to sleep well. And he would. Sam was glad that he wasn't the one in charge of Vetinari's pet today, as it was all he could do to keep himself together.
The air in the sterile room was cold and thick with the smell of antiseptic chemicals. Vetinari was pale as the bleached sheets beneath him. Sam sat in the chair by the bedside, still warm from Drumknott's body. It was unsettling to see Vetinari knocked out and vulnerable. It felt wrong. Even when he was sleeping, some part of Vetinari was always on guard, and could spring out of a sound sleep and put a dagger through an assassin before he knew what hit him. This chemically induced sleep was different, though, and so he needed a guard more than ever. Sam wouldn't have it any other way.
The only other time he'd seen Vetinari in this state was after he and Drumknott had been attacked, and even then he half suspected that he'd been faking the unconsciousness, just a bit. He'd locked him in the most secure cell in the Watch House and bundled him with the warmest linens Sybil could find; and when he had to leave the Watch House, worry had tugged at his mind. Even though he was watched by officers he trusted, it wasn't him doing the watching. He was the leader and savior of the city. Something terrible might happen.
Something terrible was happening, and he couldn't stop it. Every morning, he reported to Vetinari, and watched as the enemy within him killed him, just a bit at a time. It frustrated him, infuriated him. For years, anyone, anything that sought to harm Vetinari went through him first, often quite literally. He would die this way, wouldn't he, just to piss him off. He wasn't supposed to outlive Vetinari.
Vetinari's face was serene in sleep. He found his thoughts drifting to the sixteen year old Assassin who'd saved his life. He stood, and pulled the covers around him, how he'd always tuck Sam into bed. He paused halfway to sitting, struck by an urge to kiss him, to press his lips to his, just once. Surely it was one of those invasive thoughts they talked about. How you'd stand on the edge of a cliff and look down, contemplating what would happen if you just jumped. Thinking about what path your life would take, and if you'd have a life at all, or just four broken limbs. Maybe that's what those thoughts were. Maybe you were seeing the future you might have, just before your own reality snapped you back into its narrative. Maybe there were other Sam Vimes who were brave enough to kiss him every day, Sam Vimes who hadn't had Sybil and Sam or sanity to stop him.
Damn it all. He brushed his lips against Vetinari's, pressing gently, and then pulled back as though he'd been caught robbing a bank. "I'm sorry." he whispered. He'd meant to say it about the kiss, but found that he meant it about much more, tiny regrets upon regrets that weren't much in and of themselves, but added up called for an apology. Vetinari was still oblivious, breathing slow and steady. He wished he could have a drink.
He sat there for what felt like hours before a change in Vetinari's breathing signaled a partial return to wakefulness. His eyes half opened, and Vimes could see a flash of panic as he realized that he was disoriented and unable to move.
"I'm here, sir. You're safe." Vetinari visibly relaxed at the sound of his voice. "I won't leave you."
He stopped fighting the urge to close his eyes, and for the next ten minutes or so, moved very little, a deeper breath, a flexing of his fingers. Finally he opened his eyes and turned his head. "Sam.." he half slurred.
Another ten minutes, and his eyes were properly focusing. "Could you help me sit up. And water." he managed.
Sam obliged, pained at the slight weight in his arms, and arranged the pillows behind him before holding a glass to his lips, helping him steady the glass.
"Thank you." he said, simply.
"Of course, sir."
"Where is Rufus?" he asked, glancing at the clock.
"Sybil made him eat and sleep. It's only been about two hours. He was stuck to you like a burr." he added.
Vetinari smiled. "I am a fortunate man."
"Not from where I'm standing." Sam sighed, and instantly regretted saying it.
"You must think differently, Commander. I have cheated death out of at least another few months. I am safe and cared for, as is my city. I have you beside me, and you have provided me with an heir. "
The way he said it made it sound... Sam looked away. "I'd give you anything, sir. It's an honor to give you my son." Sam knew that he, too, was playing tricks with words. They couldn't seem to communicate any other way.
There was a brief knock on the door before Sybil entered, carrying a tray of varied soft foods, and placing it on the side table. "Oh, poor Havelock. How do you feel, dear?"
He eyed the tray with suspicion. "Tired, but my mind is alert. What is that green thing?"
"It's lime flavored gelatin, nice and cold. Igor says it's just the thing for you. "
"Does he, now." Vetinari sighed. "And if I'm not hungry?"
"Oh, Igor said you'd be hungry. Don't fuss." Sybil held up a spoon to him, and to Sam's surprise and relief, they both began to laugh.
Nora Drumknott frowned at the satin threads in her lap. She couldn't afford to make mistakes, but it was difficult to divert her attention from her racing, anxious thoughts. Autumn in Ankh-Morpork was woefully short, and winter was long and brutal. She'd have to do something, and soon. She was fortunate to have neighbors who'd taken her in, but she knew that it would only be a matter of time before she'd worn out her welcome. There were five of them living in the room now, including herself and Ada. They were already over occupancy, but Ada was a quiet child. When the baby came, they wouldn't be able to damper the noise, and the landlord's men would turn them out.
Her husband had left them. She was ashamed of this, though it wasn't her fault. He'd been gone for days, sometimes, then weeks. It had been three months. He wasn't coming back. She'd been tempted to tell people he'd passed away, but they would all know that she was lying. Everyone knew everyone in the Shades, or so it seemed to her. She'd be thought of as a liar, a bad girl, and no one helped bad girls.
They'd done well enough when she was first married. She'd always worked, or course, but she didn't have to when there had been two incomes. They'd had two rooms to themselves, and always something nice to eat thanks to her contribution. Now, her wages couldn't pay for one room, and barely enough for anything else. She was lucky enough that she had gotten work making fancy trim, which paid better than piecework and much better than the matchbox making her roommates labored at. The stench of phosphorus stung her eyes, even at a remove; and she worried that it would make Ada ill. Mr. Moreland, her own employer, had a bad temper; and many girls were afraid to work for him. Nora thought that it wasn't so bad, since she only saw him to pick up supplies and return finished work. On the rare occasions that he was in a good humor, he even gave her scraps of lace and satin too small to be used, which she sewed onto Ada's doll. She glanced down at her daughter, who was talking to her doll, and braiding its hair. Her cheeks were beginning to look hollow. She no longer looked like the kind of girl who might own a nice doll. Nora decided then and there that she was going to put her plan into action. She was going to leave the Shades.
The next day, she scrubbed herself and Ada with cold water from the pump, and neatly bound both of their hair in braids. She was going to find better paying work, and save a bit, and find a modest room before it got too cold- but first, she'd need to see about Ada. She couldn't change her mind about this, no matter how terrible it made her feel. She had to pretend to have no emotions, until it was settled.
Together, they walked until the streets became wider, and into unfamiliar territory. They'd long passed Mr. Moreland's shop, which was the farthest she knew how to go. Ada clung to her hand, looking about her with quiet interest. At a corner, they could smell something delicious; sweet and rich and warm. Ada's eyes focused on a man with a small cart, who was selling candied nuts. Nora sighed, and retrieved five pennies to buy a bag. It was expensive, but her guilt won out over her practicality. She sat under a tree with Ada as she ate the nuts, sternly willing herself and the baby to not be swayed by hunger.
"I'm going to find work so that we can have our own room again." She explained, carefully.
"'k." replied Ada, as she ate another nut.
"You're going to stay with some nice people while I work. It might be more than a week, but I promise that I'll come back as quick as I can. Then we can all move into the new room together."
Ada looked into her eyes, and Nora forced her expression to stay neutral.
"''k." Ada finally replied. Nora sighed in relief. Now, it was time to find the Guilds. The Guilds were rich, the Guilds were powerful. The Guilds were rumored to take in children without parents.
"Excuse me." Nora worked up the courage to intercept a stranger who didn't look too intimidating. "Where is the Guild house , please?"
The man glanced at her and Ada, and shrugged. "Which one?"
"The richest one." Nora decided, firmly.
"Filigree street." he pointed. "On the corner before the Palace."
"Thank you." Nora managed, and changed direction, heading toward the large, menacing building. She didn't know where she was going, but she followed the winding streets until the Palace looked closer and closer. Finally, she saw the Guild house, somber and foreboding behind high iron gates. She paused at the gates, and bent down to kiss Ada, holding back tears.
"Now, you go to that door, and you tell the people that come that your mum can't look after you. You tell them that your mum is going to come back soon, okay? They will be good to you."
Ada nodded, and trotted off. She turned her face away, not wanting to see her daughter disappear into the dark building. Grief stricken panic overtook her, as she suddenly felt all of the doubts that she had not allowed herself to feel in her daughter's presence, lest it deter her. What if they weren't good to her, at all? What if she failed, and never saw Ada again?
She was startled by a tugging on her skirts. Ada was looking up at her, with those round, serious eyes of hers.
"The man said I should tell my mum I ain't no foundling." She wrinkled her brow as she relayed the message.
"What!" A sudden wave of anger overtook her, and she took Ada's hand and stormed up the path. She knocked firmly on the forbidding door, bringing down the door knocker with three hefty strikes.
A young man in black clothing answered, and sighed as he looked down at Ada. "Come on, kid. Get out of here." Ada held his gaze, firmly.
"This is the Guild house, isn't it?" Nora asked, shaking with rage. "You're supposed to help children like my Ada. Because of Knobless Obligay." She wasn't too clear on the meaning of the last part, but she'd heard it stated as fact. Her entire plan hinged on this mysterious term, and she wasn't about to give in without a fight.
The young man gave her a despairing look. "Look, miss, it's true that the Guild takes in foundlings sometimes. But a foundling is a baby, in a basket, left around the back gate. Maybe the parents are dead, something tragic like that. Your girl's got to be three or so. And she didn't even bring a basket to sleep in."
"What's this all about, Thomas?" An older man appeared in the hall behind the young man. He had gray hair and a bit of a paunch, and looked almost friendly. Nora straightened her back.
"Girl's trying to leave her kid as a foundling." Thomas explained, stepping aside.
"And you are this girl's mother?" The man asked.
"Yes." Nora felt her cheeks burning. "I can't afford to keep her as it is, so I'm looking for work. I'm going to come back as soon as I find a place to stay. And I'll bring you money, whatever I have after paying for the room."
"But we can't just- I mean, look at her. She'll be back in two months with this other baby. If it gets around that we took her in, then all the seamstresses will bring around their brats-"
"I am not a seamstress." Nora clenched her fists. "You take that back!"
"I don't see a ring." The boy taunted her.
"I had to sell it." She stood rooted in place, boiling over with rage.
"Thomas." The older man sighed. "Leave off, will you? She's barely a child herself. Now, miss. What is this little girl's name?"
"It's Ada." she said, becoming nervous again now that her anger was subsiding.
"While it is true that young Ada is a bit big for the traditional definition of a foundling, I think that we can accommodate her, as her stay will be temporary. When you find your work, you may come for Ada, and we needn't take any money." He scrawled something on a piece of paper, and gave her what looked like a receipt.
"Thank you, sir." She bent to hug and kiss Ada one last time. She felt now that her daughter would be safe, for now.
She left the Guild house, and looked at the neighborhood before her. She may as well start here, she felt. There were shops everywhere. There was a butcher, a greengrocer, and a cobbler. Some of the shop signs didn't have pictures. She decided that she would try those last, in case she seemed foolish in asking for work in a place she knew nothing about.
One by one, the shopkeepers rejected her. Most of them looked sorry for her. She knew that they were thinking that she wouldn't be a good worker in her condition, and wouldn't be of any use at all after the baby was born. She was tired, and hungry, and the baby was complaining, so she gave in and bought some bread and let herself cry a bit as she ate it. If no one would hire her, what could she do? These weren't even the rich shops, across the Ankh. If she wasn't good enough for these shops, she couldn't do anything but go back to the Shades. But she'd have to return tonight, because she didn't want a bad reputation. But if she returned without Ada, they'd all know what she'd done! Then she'd have a bad reputation anyway, and might have to go off and be a seamstress. She was frightened by the thought, and rose to her feet, almost running down the streets, looking for more shops to try.
She turned a corner, and stopped in her tracks. There! A shop sign showing needle and thread! She took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. She heard some fumbling from within, and then, a young man answered. He was thin and pale, and looked a bit harried.
"Hello, miss." He stepped aside, and motioned for her to step inside. "Are you picking up?"
Nora's eyes adjusted to the dark interior. There were bolts of fabric against one wall, and a large table covered with scraps. Yes, she had come to the right shop.
"No, sir. My name is Nora Drumknott. I need a job. I know it doesn't look good, but I promise that I can work. I'm working already. I can sew, and scrub, and cook, a bit." She reached into her skirts and pulled out the yard of trim she'd finished that morning, and held it up for inspection.
The man looked taken aback. "Miss Drumknott... times are bad, you see, and I really can't afford to pay someone-"
"-of your talent-"
He was running his finger over the trim, feeling the stitches. It was good work, she knew. The trim she made was for rich people, people who had a dress just to get married in, just for one day. She was glad of the custom, as it made it possible for her to make pretty things for a living. She thought the trim was lovely, but no one else had ever complimented her work before.
"Who do you work for now?" The man asked, holding the trim up to the light of the window.
"Mr. Moreland. I get twenty cents a yard."
He lowered the trim. "Really. And do you know what he sells it for?"
"As I said, times are hard, but I think I can do better. I'll pay you forty cents a yard if you turn this in to your employer and work for me, instead. "
Forty cents! Nora stood, dumbstruck.
He took her silence as hesitation. "I'm sorry I can't pay more. But you can take your meals here, and sleep in the kitchen, in lieu of more pay."
The next hour was a blur. She thanked him profusely, and asked countless strangers the way back to Mr. Moreland's shop, feeling lost on every corner. She solemnly handed over her trim for inspection, and pocketed her twenty cents. She ran out the door as Mr. Moreland went to the back to get more thread. Part of her feared that he'd come back before she'd gone, and she'd be stuck in an endless cycle of making trim for him.
She ran all the way back, keeping her eyes on the Palace to show her the way. When she returned to the shop, the man, Mr. Boult, brought her through the back of the shop to the largest kitchen she'd ever seen. There was a coal stove with a range and a water heater, an enameled bath tub with a tap, a big, battered kitchen table with chairs, and a large chest holding pans and dishes. There was a threadbare but comfortable looking sofa against one wall, on which a fat ginger tomcat snoozed. A clothesline stretched across the room, currently drying several socks. Mr. Boult had set up a cot by the stove. She remembered telling him how wonderful it was. She remembered eating soup and bread, and feeling full for the first time in months. She fell asleep on the cot by the stove, exhaustion overtaking her.
She awoke sometime later to the sound of a metal hinge and some scraping. Mr. Boult was at the stove, turning over the coals with a poker.
"Oh!" She exclaimed, scrambling up. "I can do that, sir."
He smiled at her. "I'm used to it. But if you could fill the kettle we'll have our breakfast faster."
They had tea and porridge, and she learned that Mr. Boult ran the shop alone. It belonged to his parents, but they had died the year before. He used to have a maid of all work, but he couldn't afford to pay her what she was worth, and she'd left. She told him the truth about her husband and Ada.
"I'm going to save up for a room." She explained, handing him the receipt. "And I will get my daughter back."
He looked at the paper, on which the heading Request For The Inhumation Of: had been crossed out, and under it, written: One Small Child (Ada).
"I like children. Bring her here." The words were out of his mouth before he knew that he'd said them.
That afternoon, she returned to the Guild house, and solemnly handed over the paper. Ada thought that her visit had been a great adventure, and they even let her keep the almost new black pinafore they'd dressed her in.
Mr. Boult brought his mattress downstairs into the kitchen. It worried him to see a pregnant woman in a cot, he explained, and Ada would need a place to sleep, as would the baby. Nora was thrilled with her new life, and spent her days in the kitchen, working. She worked even faster now, with good light and a full stomach. She worked harder than she ever had, because she wanted to impress. She made variations on her patterns and was proud when they sold out. When she wasn't working, she baked bread and did the things that she supposed the maid had done. Ada made friends with the tomcat. The days seemed to fly by, and when the baby came, she named him Rufus, after kind Mr. Boult.
Mr. Boult was wonderful, she decided. He never raised his voice, and he never drank. He was good to the children, worked as hard as she did, and had a way of making her laugh, at least once a day. That spring, she married him, and he finally got his mattress back.
Havelock was recovering, but slowly. Rufus had expected him to be impatient and eager to be out of the bed within a week, as he had been the last time; but he barely moved for days. Rufus' world narrowed to the small sickroom, where he fussed over him, and kept him company. At night, he slept on the edge of the bed, careful not to touch any sore spots, but always close- a hand on his arm, a loose lacing of their fingers. After several days, Havelock became restless in his mind, though his body wasn't up to rising, and so, Rufus had moved a small desk into the room. Work took on a different feel here, the closeness of the small room making them talk in softer tones. Every word was infused with a tender urgency; even discussions about foreign policy carried an undertone of we haven't much time left.
Sam joined them, but often excused himself after an hour or so to work in the Oblong Office. Rufus was glad of the help. There weren't many people he'd trust to properly file; and he was always glad of his company, as his comings and goings broke up the monotony of time. His quiet presence was so wonderfully reassuring, as well. Rufus, nervous and weary at once, would often look up to see his soft, dark eyes watching him, and somehow feel like things were going to fall somewhat into place.
Havelock had chosen well, of course. So clever, so handsome, so like his father- the last one always rankled a bit, out of Havelock's mouth; and there were still times when Rufus felt a twinge of resentment at Sam's appearance. It was times like those when he'd snap, or lash out, and regret it a moment later, when he would only see his dear friend instead; and Sam had become a friend, far more than the casual letter writing acquaintance he had assumed him to become, years ago. He'd told Sam things he'd never told anyone. He knew that Sam was holding part of his sanity together, though perhaps Sam didn't.
It was the morning of the twenty-fifth that Rufus silently admitted to himself that it was unlikely that they'd work together in the Oblong Office again. Havelock was holding on, but not getting better, and couldn't walk or stand for long . His throat tight, he kissed Havelock's forehead, and excused himself. Havelock made him promise to send his regards to his parents, and Rufus nodded, hurrying out in hopes that some fresh air would dislodge the hot misery in his chest.
The dark clerk knocked a complicated tattoo on the door before creaking it open. "Commander Vimes, my lord." he announced, and gracefully ducked out, leaving Vimes to close the door behind him.
"Sir." Vimes approached the prone figure, a twisting pain in his chest. He pinned a sprig of lilac to Vetinari's nightshirt with slightly shaky hands, and sat. Vetinari's fingers caught his retreating hand, and Sam allowed it.
"I saw Death again today." Havelock mused. Sam's fingers tightened.
"You can't do anything about it, nor can I. You can't fight Death, and I know you to be a disaster at games of strategy."
Vimes looked away, not liking how easily he could read his thoughts. Perhaps they were just inevitable.
"Your son is a fine man." Vetinari continued, using his free hand to arrange the lilac. "You must be proud, you and Sybil. Dear Sybil. She was my first friend, you know. She...protected me, when we were children. I've always wished the best for her. I am pleased that she got it."
Sam turned to face him, annoyed that he could speak so lightly at a time like this, habit urging him to snap a retort, but he felt that his throat was tight and was certain that Vetinari could see the unshed tears forming in his eyes. Still he took a defiant, deep breath, and took his best shot.
"I have always loved you." he ground out.
"And I, you." Vetinari replied, infuriatingly not shocked nor visibly touched by the confession that he was sure would destroy him. "But, I also love Rufus, and we both love Sybil, of course. And your son is such a treasure. Our sacrifices have not been in vain."
"How can you be so-"
"And I am dying, and grateful that you, at least, have Sybil."
Sam clenched his fists. He wasn't sure if Vetinari was being utterly selfish, or utterly selfless. Could he be both at once? Was he being the selfish one? How had Vetinari turned this around on him?
"You are a good man, Samuel Vimes. "
You don't believe in good men.
Vetinari raised an eyebrow, and Vimes felt rebuked, again certain that he had read his mind.
"I am not certain what awaits us after death, but I wish, and I hope, that those of us who love the city will be together again. Forgive a dying man's fanciful thoughts."
"I will be at your command." Sam replied, hoarsely.
Vetinari smiled, and slipped his hand into his nightshirt. From seemingly nowhere, he produced what Vimes had always thought of as the blade, slender and sharp as the man himself, a blade that had saved as many lives as it had taken. Vetinari went nowhere without it, he knew, but he was still somewhat surprised that it had followed him to bed.
"May it protect you, and our city. Don't blunt the blade."
Our city. It had never been our city before.
"Do I have to take it so soon? " He asked, weakly, even as his fingers closed over it.
"I trust you to protect me from now on."
"I am in pain. So much pain. I can't stay for much longer. I'm sorry. For what I did to you, when we were young."
"Shut up." Vimes growled. "Don't you dare apologize to me when you've never done your whole life. And I'll get your medicine. I won't see you suffer."
Sam sat at the side desk near the window, gazing at the sprawling city before him. A slight breeze of night air fluttered through the window, carrying a mixed scent of green, growing things and charcoal-smudged industry; it wasn't hot enough for the Ankh to lend its distinctive stench to the brew quite yet. In less than three hours, it would be his birthday. He didn't want to acknowledge it, not while Havelock was dying a floor below him. It just didn't seem right. He was going to be twenty. Someone twenty years old had no business ruling the greatest city the world had ever known. He might not know much, but he did know that.
There was no sense in brooding, though. Best to do something useful; and now that the filing was in order, he turned his attention to the battered Dis-Orgainzer in his bag. He pressed several buttons on its keyboard, waking the resident imp.
"Hello, SAMVIMES!" the imp greeted him. "It is currently nine-thirty-eight. "
"Hello, Number Four." Sam poised a pencil over a pad of paper. "You were on patrol with Sergeant Visit and Constable Noor last night like we agreed?"
The imp tapped its foot. Sam sighed, and retrieved a chocolate from the box on the desk. The imp took the offering, and ate a few ambitious bites before sitting on the remaining half. "Without my case." He agreed.
"You won't be able to fit in the case if you keep that up." Sam watched as the imp considered his seat, and gave it up in favor of eating it whole.
"Can't be seen." The imp intoned through a full mouth. "Rule one!"
"Right, sorry. So, what did you see?" He leaned in.
"No case, no paints. No picture. I can provide an approximation." The imp struggled to pick up a pencil, and drew a more or less straight line. "Clay Lane." he explained. He drew some lopsided boxes. "These are houses."
Sam sighed. "All right. Whose houses?"
"Very tired people. Some sad. Some angry. They do not like the Watch. The Watch minding everybody's business." The imp stated, gravely. "First house! Six women, some children. Don't know how many. Also, two chickens. The room is full of matchboxes. They are angry that Constable Noor is clumsy, they worry he will knock over the boxes. But he has to go through their room because in the back room there lives a bad man and he has hit his wife. He has been drinking, and she won't wake up because she is dead."
Sam was just about to open his mouth as the imp went on. "More Watchmen come! Sergeant Visit says he thinks the bad man can get better because the man is crying. He says it is because of Om. He is going to take the man to the station with him. He is only being kind. He knows what happens to bad men. We only see one house because of the bad man."
Damn it all, Sam thought, and immediately felt guilty. He shouldn't think of someone's death as an inconvenience.
"Did you read the files I told you to?"
"Number Two is filing and recording the requested information because I am a slower model." He gave Sam a reproachful look. "But I am best at pictures."
"Of course you are." Sam agreed. "Thank you."
Sam sighed as he closed the case and heard the imp lock up behind himself. Maybe the other imps would have a more useful report, leafing as they did through the station's paperwork. Then he'd have some solid numbers, at least. Statistics would be a start, then he could...
And there, he thought, lies the problem. What could he do? The problem with police reports is that they overlooked rather important points, such as how many people shared a single privy and how many people died when, and of what. Someone should be keeping track of that. The hospital was useless, as half the city was terrified to set foot in it, free or not; so he wouldn't get accurate numbers there. The Temple of Small Gods gave a rough estimate of how many bodies wound up in paupers' graves, but weren't consistent in recording the causes of death.
And death was only the half of it! What about what could be done to improve people's lives? He'd have to learn much more before he could decide what could even be attempted.
He stared out the window for quite some time, before he heard a soft knock at the door, signaling Rufus' arrival.
"Filing's in order." he greeted him.
"And I thank you, " Rufus said, placing down some parcels, "but that isn't why I'm here. I have presents for you."
"Really-" Sam began to protest, but Rufus placed the largest parcel on the desk before him, his eyes bright with pride.
"This one is from me, with regards from my family."
"Thank you." Sam replied, with a slight blush. He opened the box and pulled back several layers of thin paper, revealing plush black wool fabric. It was a winter cloak of the finest sort, the type that went around in a full circle and hood, with discreet slits for hands. Sam had just deemed it the finest piece of clothing he'd ever owned when he noticed the embroidery around the edges, black on black, but with a pearlescent sheen that caught the light. It was a pattern of stylized dragons, each one slightly different, chasing one another around the edge. Here, three little ones scampered after a proud mother, there, a fat one lounged, next, a playful youth nipped at his friend's tail. So much work, and the only person who'd be likely to even notice was the wearer!
"It's incredible," he murmured, "and the most thoughtful thing ..."
"My mother and sister did the swamp dragons. In fact, I'm the only one in my family who didn't do any actual work on it-" he added, sheepishly, and was cut off by Sam pulling him into a tight embrace.
"Thank you." He said, thickly, and reluctantly let Rufus go. He pulled the cloak on over his head, and regarded himself in the mirror across the office. He almost didn't recognize himself. It made him look so... grown up.
"You look very handsome." Rufus noted, and Sam averted his eyes.
"Havelock wanted me to give you his, as well. " Rufus handed him a small hand bound book. "Some advice he's been writing down for you. Also, he's had his coach repainted and reupholstered for you. He's let them put on the gilding, as well. And we'll see about having your crest added-"
"Keep it black, please." Sam smiled, sadly. "And I'll be sure to thank him myself."
"He should still be up. I just wanted to take care of a few things before I join him."
Sam nodded, and Rufus watched him go, before turning his attention to the files. Sam really did file well, he noted with approval. Still, it didn't hurt to be certain that everything was as it should be. His fingers leafed through the papers and envelopes, and not for the first time, he took comfort in the fact that no matter how bad things got, some small part of the world was pleasantly neat and under his control. As he got to the end, he noticed something amiss. One file had caught his eye, a bit of color in the front. He always filed maps and diagrams after the text, and so he pulled it, and began rearranging papers. The map, though... Rufus held it up to the light, and then moved the file to sit at the desk. He ran a finger over the map. There it was, a slight indentation. Someone had traced over this with a pencil, and not entirely well, either. But it only could have been Sam, after all. Again, he squinted at the map. Just a map of the Ankh and the proposed sewer channels. He'd annotated it himself, a few years before.
Puzzled, he put the papers back in their correct sequence, and was about to rise when he noticed the old Dis-Organizer. Odd that Sam should use one so old, when he knew that he favored the newest model. For a few moments, Rufus weighed his thoughts. It was an invasion of privacy to pry, of course- but he was responsible for Sam. It was his job to know everything. Still... he considered the significant weight of the old model in his hand. Well. It was locked. If he couldn't get in, it would be a sign that he should leave well enough alone. If he could, however, than it was a sign that he ought to know what was going on, for Sam's own good, of course. He stared at the screen , and thought about what people typically chose as a password. After a bit of consideration, he typed in 'dribble'.
The imp opened its door, and looked up at him.
"My dear Sam." Havelock sighed, his voice strained. Sam closed the door behind him, and felt his heart lurch. "I am going to die today." He said it without much emotion, as though he were simply explaining the agenda for any other day.
No, Sam wanted to say, or How do you know? , but could voice neither. There were three chairs besides the one on which Rufus sat arranged around the bed. Rufus wore a pained expression, and diligently held Havelock's hand in his own, not saying a word. The air felt thick and heavy around him. Silently, Sam took one of the chairs, and took Havelock's other hand. It was cold, and he clasped his other hand over it, rubbing gently to bring back some warmth. Rufus looked down, his face red with the strain of not sobbing, his lips sealed tight, keeping him from choking out a single word.
"I've sent for your parents." he added. His voice was tight with pain, and Sam realized that it was taking him all of his control to not cry out- or that he simply no longer had the strength to scream. Sam nodded. Four chairs. No one else, only the people he loved. And I'm one of them, he thought, in awe. What could he say? I'm sorry. I don't want you to go. Please stop this. I'm not ready. Why did they send me to Quirm, when I could have had more time to know you?
"Can I help?" He asked weakly. Havelock grinned with one corner of his mouth, and shook his head. His eyes drifted to the corner of the room, and then back to Sam. Sam saw him squeeze Rufus' fingers.
He startled as the door was forced open, and his father arrived, out of breath. The scene before him made him stop abruptly in his tracks, and he removed his helmet before taking the chair beside Sam.
"Sir." It was horrible to see his father look so helpless.
"Ah, Commander." Havelock managed. He was straining for breath. "You're here." The words were brimming with relief, as though the very presence of his father eased his pain. Sam looked up as his mum arrived, her face pale as parchment. She sat beside Rufus, and began to rub a comforting pattern on his back with her palm.
"Havelock, dear." She greeted him.
"Stay with me." He managed. She nodded.
He had no idea how long they sat, the silence broken only by their breathing, and the occasional strained sound of one of them trying not to make a sound. The light from the window was gray and speckled, yet still a brilliant contrast with the gloom of the sickroom. It crept across the carpet, edging closer to the bed.
His mum was the best at keeping silent, her face a stony mask. Her eyes were all that gave her away, as she continued to stroke Rufus' back, and Havelock's arm. His father's breathing was heavy and strained, and an occasional small sound emitted from Rufus, despite his best efforts. Mr. Fusspot made an occasional worried whimper from his basket. Havelock regarded them all in turn, and seemed to take some comfort in them, as he strained to take deep, long breaths. His gaze drifted past them, to the foot of the bed.
"A moment." He muttered, looking mildly annoyed. He pulled his fingers from Sam's hand, and reached for his dad, who took his hand in his own without question. He turned his head on the pillow to regard his mum, and then rested his gaze on Rufus. Havelock watched him, straining under the effort of his breaths, and smiled. Then, he closed his eyes.
The next few moments seemed to disregard time, as too many events were crammed into too few seconds, and would remain distorted this way in Sam's memory. Rufus had gone pale, his eyes reflecting not so much grief as horror, as he stared at the hand in his own. His grip tightened, his eyes widened, and his lips parted, but made no sound. Sam's instinct was to go to him, but the bed separated them. In that same moment, a horrible cry arose from his father, a tortured, angry sound that seemed more animal than human. He stood, knocking back the chair, and stormed out of the room, nearly ripping the door from its hinges in the process.
"Sam!" His mum cried, and raced after him.
Rufus was still looking blankly at Havelock's fingers entwined in his own, as though frozen. Sam stood, and felt the ground tremble beneath him. Pain seared up his left leg, erupting as a sharp pain in his chest. He took a staggering step before his body folded in on itself. Rufus' attention was finally wrenched free, and Sam was aware that he was rushing to his side. His worried face was the last thing he saw before hearing the crack of his skull connecting with the hardwood floor.
The sound of a billion conversations combined into a dull hum that rose and fell around him. He was in the dark, on his knees, struggling to stand. The road was muddy beneath his hands. Where was he? Don't you know where you are, his father's gruff voice rang in his head. Don't you listen to your feet?
"I don't know." He answered. He struggled upright.
"Why have you come here?" A familiar voice asked, accusingly.
"Rufus?" Sam strained to see through the darkness, feeling around him for support. A light began to shine before him, dull at first, but intensifying.
"Why have you come here, child, with me in mourning and my husband not yet cold in my ground?"
The light condensed into a matronly form, a tall, proud looking woman wearing Ephebian robes and a shining helmet. She carried a shield and trident, and looked down her noble nose at him. Sam knew her as the goddess Morporkia, especially as she was, upon closer inspection, made up of newsprint. Every gesture was the stroke of a pen, her features not so much alive as animated.
"I'm sorry." He got to his feet, and bowed to her. "My name is Sam Vimes."
Her eyes narrowed. "I know Sam Vimes." Her tone implied that he was wretchedly inferior to his father. "You come here, in my grief, and say that you will rule me."
"I didn't say-"
"Oh, but you will. And even if you don't say it, you will. I was weak when others took me. Not so, now. Vetinari has made me strong. Now, I am stronger than in the years of the Empire. And you will not treat me as others have, or I will turn on you, as surely as I have turned on them. I will turn my torment on you." She dropped her shield, and the pain he'd felt in his leg intensified, and flooded through his body; until his mind was also flooded with suffering, and hopelessness. Then, as suddenly as it had struck him, it subsided. She had put up her shield once again. "Now tell me, child, what kind of husband you shall be?"
"I won't hurt you. I promise. Please, I only want to help you." And perhaps it was because she sounded like Rufus, he reached for her, wanting to pull her into his arms and comfort her. But, her face was not so much like Rufus as it was like his mum in a disapproving mood. Still, he looked her in the eyes, until her expression began to soften, and she faded into darkness, leaving only a crumpled piece of torn newsprint in the mud.
"Sam? Sam, dear." He opened his eyes against his will. His head ached. He was in a bed, and had an ice pack under his head. The ground was no longer shaking.
"I'm okay, Mum." he managed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."
She pushed back his hair fondly, relief flooding her features. His father was beside her, still looking frightened at the state he was in. Sam noticed that his father's knuckles were bandaged, and that he was bleeding heavily through them.
"It's okay, Dad. I think I just got a bit lightheaded."
"I'm going to call the doctor in."
His mum watched him go, and sighed. "Poor thing. It' s the stress, I expect. You'll be all right, Sam. Your father and I are staying here tonight as well. We'll be just one room over, so don't you worry."
Sam wondered if he should object to being babied, but he was rather glad to have his mum within shouting distance, and so he said nothing. His father returned with a young doctor, who poked and prodded him and insisted that he would be just fine, although it took a lot of repetition to convince his father. He gave him some tablets for the pain, and left as quickly as his parents would let him.
"You just get some sleep, dear. You'll need it."
"But Rufus-" Sam suddenly remembered the haunted look in his eyes.
"That man has been through hell today, Sam, and needs to be left alone," his mum said, firmly. "He'd only put himself out worrying about you, as well."
Sam relented, and allowed his mum to tuck him in. He'd always hated how snug the covers were pulled as a child, but found it rather reassuring tonight. His parents kissed him, as though he were still five years old, and closed the door behind them.
He stared at the ceiling, and tried to piece together the bits of what he'd dreamed when he was unconscious. Every once in awhile, he fell into a light, restless sleep, in which snatches of images played at the edge of his mind, confusing his memory of Morporkia.
The next time he opened his eyes, it was to the sound of his father's heartbroken sobs through the wall, each one loud and untamed, as though they were being ripped from his lungs. His mother's muffled voice was there, too, and as his dad's noise lessened, her own jagged crying took its place. They're setting each other off, he thought, miserably. He fought to get the covers loose, and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Rufus was alone. That can't be right. He stood, and felt the room sway, before collapsing on the bed again. He felt himself slipping asleep, and with a sigh, gave in.
He awoke to a gentle knocking on the door. Rufus entered, illuminated only by the dull blue light before sunrise. He wore a black suit, and a blank expression.
"Good morning, my lord." He greeted him. "We have much to do today."
Rufus pulled out the chair behind the Patrician's desk- no longer Havelock's, he must stop thinking of it as such, and gestured to Sam to sit. He did so, albeit reluctantly. He looked like he was expecting to be chased out from behind it, but allowed Rufus to seat him.
"I'm sorry I didn't see to you last night, my lord." His ribs still ached from sobbing, and there was an occasional sharp ache in his chest; not the sort of warmth caused by emotion, but a twitching strain that felt muscular; something he'd never felt before. It came and went, and each time he wondered if this was how one felt before one's heart gave out. He'd seen men collapse in the street before, clutching their chests before dying. Maybe he ought to be concerned, he thought, distantly, but found that he really didn't care either way. It was an interesting thought that felt like it was about someone else.
Sam actually flinched. "Rufus, please, do you have to be that formal?"
"Not in private, but we should get used to it." Rufus sighed.
"Anyway... I was about to apologize to you, for the same thing. I would have come, if I were able to..."
"I know." Sam said, looking down. "But you shouldn't have to alone, okay?" He looked like he was about to break down, but was holding himself together in the tradition of centuries of Ramkins. Small mercies, Rufus thought.
Rufus took in the sight of Sam, looking frightened and small behind the desk, despite his impressive build. He had put on a black robe, the traditional clothing of a Patrician. He was fidgeting with the cloth cap in his hand.
"It's optional." Rufus admitted. "He started wearing it because he was going a bit thin on top." He didn't know if he was about to laugh or cry, but his lips were screwing up into something alternating between a smile and a frown. He'd never see Havelock again. Never...
"I think I'll wait, then." Sam looked at the file on his desk. "Do I really have to be Lord Morpork? I sound like a knob."
"That is your title." Rufus pointed out.
"Can't I just keep my name?" Sam asked, giving a doubtful look through the paperwork.
"If you wish, no one would object to Lord Vimes." Rufus decided. "We'll let the Times know, and that will take care of it."
"How many people did you call to the throne room?"
"Not many. The Archchancellor, of course, and the guild heads. The various high priests, and, of course, the palace staff and clerks will be there to ensure that there aren't any...scenes. Miss Cripslock and her iconographer only, from the Times, and I have already given her the approved interview. We have to settle this fast, and then we can focus on...on the funeral and procession." Rufus glanced at his watch. "This is the one time in your reign that you are required to be on time. The less time we give the guilds to gossip, the better."
Sam nodded, and followed him out of the office and down to the throne room. It was still dark, even with all of the candles lit. Faces peered through the darkness as Sam stepped up to the podium, where Archchancellor Ridcully waited with the formal paperwork.
"His lordship Vimes will take the oath." Rufus projected his voice to reach the back of the hall, and set the notes before Sam, before taking three deferential steps back.
Ridcully looked Sam up and down in a glance, and nodded.
"Sir, is your lordship willing to take the Oath?"
"I am willing." Sam responded.
"His lordship shall swear upon the holy book of his choice." Ridcully declared, gesturing to a heaping pile of books, scrolls, and pamphlets; and the hungry eyes of the assembled clergy converged on Sam.
"I swear by... all of them." Sam said, weakly, to the dismay of the ecclesiastics; but continued in a firmer voice; "...and by the city itself. Morporkia."
"Could be worse." Ridcully nodded, shooting a sharp glare of warning to High Priest Ridcully and a sour looking Omnian whose mouth was half open in protest. "Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the citizens of Ankh-Morpork and its environs; and cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?"
"I solemnly promise so to do so."
"Will you swear your life to the protection and governance of Ankh-Morpork and its citizens, first and above all sundry concerns?"
"Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the sacred union of State and Education? Will you preserve unto the Professors and Department Chairs of Unseen University, all such rights and privileges as customary? And will you to the utmost of your power cultivate the rich tradition of Culture and the discipline of Pedagogy by enforcing an exemption of levy? "
Sam's eyes narrowed. "I see you're strayed from the script, just about here." He tapped the page with the top of his pen before cleanly drawing a line through the offending question.
"Damn. Well, can't blame a man for trying. Do you promise everything else, then?"
"Then sign here, my boy, and good luck to you." Ridcully held the scroll open, and Sam signed neatly at the bottom. "Your father's a fine man. Damn good. We're in good hands." He patted Sam's back, almost knocking him off his feet, before turning to the clergy. "All right, the lot of you, clear out."
The assorted priests grudgingly obeyed, though he heard the Omnian scolding Ridcully. "Pedagogy! You ought to be ashamed!"
Sam stood mute in the flashes of the iconographer for a moment, before Ridcully began to shoo him, as well. Rufus gestured for Sam to follow him, and ducked into a corridor that led to one of the private staircases. It was done; it was legal. He'd moved quickly enough to establish Sam before the guilds knew that Havelock was even gone, now all there was to worry about was keeping him safe from decidedly illegal actions.
Another chest pain made him pause, and Sam placed a hand on his shoulder. "What is it?"
"I don't know. It feels just... hard to breathe." Rufus allowed Sam to pull him down to sit beside him on the steps. He took deep breaths, but they turned into jagged sobs that he tried to stifle. Wordlessly, Sam put an arm around him, and stayed close as he rode out the fit of tears. He gulped for air, and tried to steady his breathing.
"I think I'm all right now." he said, feeling the need to apologize. Sam held his arm the rest of the way up the stairs and into the Oblong Office, and for that, he was grateful.
Lady Margolotta and her secretary arrived that day, as vampires could travel almost as quickly as clacks. She told Sam that he looked like his father, and asked him if he played thud. She looked tired and sad. He was glad when his mum arrived to entertain her. Rufus had gone off with her secretary, a tall, curvaceous woman who turned the heads of half the palace staff. He'd be lying if he didn't admit to a small spark of jealousy, but overall was glad for the distraction. There were some things that Rufus shouldn't have to do, regardless of his traditional duties, and collecting the death mask was one of them.
Sam carried it to the gallery to the side of the Oblong Office, where the masks of former Patricians hung like morbid trophies. He was glad that he'd never seen it as a child, it would certainly have given him nightmares. It still might. He set the box down on a cabinet, and opened it, carefully lifting the heavy piece up, and hanging it on the waiting mount. He stepped back, wondering if he had to adjust it like a picture frame, and finding the thought so odd that he almost laughed. He looked down, not wanting to see Havelock's face because he knew that he'd lose his composure. His gaze fell on the cabinet itself, which contained an assortment of museum boxes. Upon closer inspection, he could see that they were labeled in Rufus' neat writing. According to the label, he was holding Lord Snapchase's snuff box (with concealed blade). He realized that he was in a carefully curated museum of Patricians.
Thinking that today couldn't possibly feel more surreal, Sam wandered the hall, snooping through the carefully annotated possessions of dead men. Lord Winder apparently had a favorite pornographic scroll from the Agatean Empire. The pictures told a story that seemed to be mostly about farting. Sam wondered how many he'd read to have a favorite. One Patrician was fascinated by pigs, and Sam thought he was probably the least eccentric. At last, there was nothing but the cabinet under Havelock's mask. It was mostly empty, save a box of iconographs and a small box labeled: keepsake of Madam Roberta Meserole. The black velvet box contained a gold locket bearing a simple diamond-cut V. It unfolded into eight sections, each one containing a picture of Havelock, from an imp's painting of a baby to an iconograph clipped from the Times under glass. She seemed to have updated it every few years, so that he held the span of Havelock's life in his hands. It was a mother's locket.
Sam felt his eyes tearing. He remembered when Madam Meserole had passed away several years ago, because it had all seemed so odd. Rufus had written to him about Havelock's aunt being ill, and coming to Ankh-Morpork to die. She'd been quite fond of Rufus, from what he'd heard, and he'd been very upset, in that quiet way of his. Sam was home from school when the funeral happened, and his dad had worn formal dress without complaint, for the first time Sam could remember. His dad was a pallbearer, and he'd only said that she was a very important lady, with a kind of reverence he didn't show to nobility. And it had dawned on Sam that evening that quite ordinary people die quite unexpectedly, and it threw him into a fit of anxiety. Of course he knew his entire life that his dad had a dangerous job, but it had always seemed, well, a fun kind of danger, because he never actually died. And Madam Meserole didn't look like an old lady, and so maybe something terrible might happen to his mum, as well. And now all of those feelings came back to hit him in the gut, paired with the knowledge that Havelock was gone, and that had always seemed the most unlikely thing of all. There was no Ankh-Morpork without the Patrician, was there, and the rest of the world only mattered in relation to Ankh-Morpork, and now he was aware that he was shaking with sobs. There was only him, and he couldn't be enough.
Slowly, he got control of himself, until he was merely sniffling. He opened the box of iconographs, and began sifting through them. It was unsettling to see Havelock so young, in some of them. There were reproductions of paintings as well, all carefully numbered to be displayed. Young Vetinari wore his hair long, as was the fashion back then. He really was beautiful, in an odd sort of way, Sam mused. Especially with that hair. He considered what Rufus would look like if he'd grow out his hair and quickly came to the conclusion that he'd be too distracted to concentrate on much.
The last few pictures were of Havelock cradling a baby, a possessive adoration in his eyes, and Sam realized he was looking at himself. His mum was beside him, looking radiantly happy, while his father shyly snuck a gaze past her to watch Havelock. They'd all had such high hopes for him. He couldn't disappoint them now. He replaced the iconographs neatly and stood, slipping the necklace into his pocket.
He walked along the hidden corridors until he found Rufus, in the garden. It was Havelock's favorite place, so much so that he requested to be buried there. Sam had spent many afternoons working in the concealed garden, and wondered how different it would feel with Havelock's grave there, or if they would be able to bear working there at all , now. He stepped out of the shadows of some trailing vines, and stood beside Rufus, who was gazing down into the waiting grave.
"It's not him in that casket inside." Rufus began, unsteadily. "Not really him. Just his body. And that's all this is. Just the garden. It shouldn't feel like this."
"The memory is real." Sam offered. "So anything that reminds you of him is just as real."
"I took a lock of his hair, as well. It doesn't feel as real as having him here."
"It isn't." Sam agreed, looking down. The grave was deep, the edges cut sharp. Rufus would have been the one to make the arrangements, and Sam wished that he'd thought to take charge of that, as well.
"That bit of grass is mine, you know." Rufus pointed to the space beside the grave. "He wanted me to have it. It's odd, knowing where you'll end up."
Sam placed a hand on his arm, in an attempt to comfort him. He managed to lead him to their bench, where they sat in familiar silence. Finally, he retrieved the locket, and placed it in Rufus' hand.
"I think she would have wanted you to have this. It makes more sense than keeping it locked away."
Rufus traced his finger over the V, and sighed. "No one else could have raised him for him to turn out as he did. She was a force of nature." He unfolded the locket, and gazed at the small pictures. "She changed everything."
"She was his mother's sister, right?" Sam asked.
Rufus nodded, grinning with one side of his mouth. "Son of a whore he might have been, but they can't call him a bastard. Which is all that matters when it comes to tiles and inheritance. She made sure he followed up on everything, the titles, the money, the scholarship, everything."
Sam was taken aback. "You don't really mean that."
Rufus nodded. "Why do you think the Seamstress Guild even exists? Or why they'd always defy the other guilds for him? He protected them. His father was an Assassin, of course, and from what I understand, rich enough to become Madam and her sister's sole client. Assassins lived well in Genua back then. Politics required the Assassins, they used to joke that you could make a killing there."
Sam stared ahead, befuddled. He couldn't imagine Havelock coming from that.
"What was his father like?" he ventured.
"Well. From what I know, he reminds me a bit of Charlie, but don't you repeat that." A small smile appeared, for the first time in days. "He liked drinking and women more than anything, and so he loved Genua. Madam said that he wasn't really like a client, after all that time. I think they were friends, really. Only one night during Carnivale, his lordship and his lady friend awoke with a hangover and a set of matching rings. So he laughed it off, and took his new wife to Ankh-Morpork, where people had to treat her like a lady. They thought it was rather amusing. Madam always insisted that he had a bit of magic about him, being conceived at Carnivale..." Rufus suddenly looked embarrassed, as though he had said more than he'd meant to, and coughed.
"He really did love her, I think. They were happy in Ankh-Morpork for a time, but her ladyship passed away, and an Assassin in mourning becomes reckless, and doesn't last long. So, he was sent back to Madam, and suddenly he had a dozen aunts. You can imagine how it was, a house of unmarried women acquiring a pretty orphan. They were good to him. But he saw the way they were treated, and saw to it that anyone treating a working girl like that saw the end of a rope once he became Patrician."
Sam nodded. "That makes sense." he concluded. "It's different, in Quirm. I knew some seamstresses and tailor boys there. They thought I was quaint and sheltered for using those words, you know. 'A whore's a whore', they'd say, but that's a terrible way to think, isn't it?"
Rufus smiled. "He'd be happy to hear you say that. But you never told me about these friends."
Sam tried in vain to fight back a blush. "It wasn't like that, I swear. We were just friends." True, he'd bought them drinks and food when they were down on their luck, and true that they'd repaid him by teaching him how to kiss, which was a great source of humor for the lot of them. "I mean. I didn't take advantage, or anything."
"Of course not." Rufus said, gently. He clasped the locket around his neck, and tucked it under his collar. "Will you stay with me, this evening? I feel... horrible. I don't want to be alone until I'm too tired to care."
"Of course." Sam agreed. "But it's getting dark, and we should get ready for dinner. I need you to help me with conversation. The Low King is supposed to be here at some point tomorrow."
Sam took him by the arm, and led him out of the garden. He'd have to come back all too soon, but he was glad to see the back of it for now.
Rufus sipped his heavily sugared tea. Nothing else seemed to stay down for long. A bite or two at a time, if he was lucky. His body had turned against him, not letting him eat or sleep as much as he knew that he needed, and still that passing ache in his chest. He checked the legal documents one last time, as he knew that not feeling well could make him careless. He sighed, and gathered the files, closing the door behind him and heading down the side stairs to deliver them to the other clerks.
"...haven't gotten a direct order either way. I'm a bit concerned, to say the least. And has anyone been feeding Leonard?"
The room went silent as he entered, a dozen clerks shifting their attention to any piece of paper at hand.
"I saw him this morning. Don't worry." Rufus frowned, taking in the guilty stares. "I understand that this is a difficult transition for all of us. " It seemed to be the kind of thing you said at a time like this, when no one knew what to say.
"You don't look well." Said clerk Brian, who was deficient in the art of subtlety. "Can't do shite if you're walking into walls, Rufus." He went back to tinkering with a mess of cogs and levers.
"What Brian means," said clerk Margot, "is that we understand that you'll need to delegate your work for awhile, until his lordship is settled in."
"Thank you." Rufus sighed. "As it happens, I do have orders to give. Regina Rust holds a grudge against Commander Vimes and is likely to attempt to contest his lordship's claim on the Patricianship. I am fairly certain that Colin Selachii will do likewise, and if so, Valentine Venturi will join in out of spite. I want them all warned, and watched. They get one warning, so make it plain. One move against his lordship, even an attempt to harm him afterward and I want them inhumed. Volunteers? Not you, Brian. Allen, Keith, Maura."
He didn't linger. Though he considered the other clerks close friends, a sort of secondary family- they knew him too well. They could see how weak he was right now, and if they knew just how weak, they would try to relieve him of his duties, out of kindness; but there was too much to do, too much at risk to let Havelock and Sam down. He'd overseen the lying in state, tried to look past the catafalque holding up the casket without bursting into tears, past the Watchmen guarding it, Vimes refusing to leave his post through several changes of the guard... He tried in vain to detach himself as a seemingly endless line of people shuffled inside to walk by the casket, every last person in tears. Some were quietly weeping, some were making a show of it, but every last one seemed at least somewhat genuine, and that, at least, gave him a cold sliver of comfort.
Now, it was time for the funeral.
Despair would get him nowhere. Routine was what he needed, to give shape to the hours before he was fairly certain that he would finally lose his mind. He rang for tea, and gathered the paper, and went to the Oblong Office. He placed the tea and newspaper before Sam.
Why aren't you Havelock? The angry thought rose from somewhere deep inside him, charged with resentment. In that same moment, Sam flinched. Surely he couldn't have heard...?
"Sam?" Rufus asked, guilt rising up in his chest. "Are you all right?"
Sam shook his head. He was staring at the Times. The cover was an ink drawing of Morporkia, dressed as a mourning widow. "Are you?"
"No." Rufus admitted.
Sam placed a hand on his arm, and Rufus realized it was slightly shaky. "I'm worried about my dad. He won't say a word to anyone. Even my mum is worried, and she never worries about him. Even Carrot is."
"He needs time to think." Rufus managed, weakly.
"I'm worried about you, too." Sam sniffed, pretending that he wasn't. "You don't have to go to the funeral, you know. I know it must be ..."
"I do. " Rufus sighed.
"Because..." Rufus considered it. "The city is a living thing, you see. Everyone has a role to play. The Patrician is its brain, the Watch is its conscience, even the King's men take care of the waste. Everyone has a part to play. And I am the part that breathes, blinks, tells the blood to circulate, and does everything else that needs to happen without it being thought about, things that need to happen every day for the city to work. Someone has to remember to do the invisible things. So even if I want to give up I can't, because I promised Havelock that I'd do this for him. " It sounded absurd, put into words, but Sam just nodded, sadly.
"Did you see outside? People keep bringing flowers. I didn't think there were that many flowers in the whole city. And I'm pretty sure that little kids are bringing crayon drawings. And I'm supposed to live up to him, and I'm nothing, really."
"Don't be frightened. You're the future Duke of Ankh, the Marquess of Morpork. You're the Commander's son. I won't allow any harm to come to you."
"Harm?" Sam asked, distantly. If he wasn't worried about harm, then what? Rufus wondered.
"Your father will lead the procession, followed by the Watch, and the guild representatives. We'll be in the carriage in the back, behind the... the rest of it. The procession is going to go down the street of Small Gods, and make stops at each major temple. Then it will circle back to the palace, and it's only our guests and the Watch to the garden for the burial, and then... then it will be over. You won't have to say anything. Nor will I. " Was he trying to comfort Sam, or himself? He didn't know, anymore.
A clerk arrived at Scoone Avenue that morning with a letter sealed in all too familiar black wax. He'd found Sybil weeping over it. She'd shaken her head and handed it to him, wiping at her face with the back of her hand as she rose to make a pot of tea. Vimes read the neat, impersonal lines of script, bequeathing a number of personal possessions to them both, and a sum of ten thousand dollars apiece to the City Watch's fund and to the Sunshine Sanctuary. He followed Sybil into the kitchen, and sat, silently staring at the steaming mug before him.
"I'm not home today." Sybil declared, stirring honey into her tea. "I don't care who comes knocking. I'm going to muck out the stables."
"I have a pile of muck waiting for me, too." He hadn't left the house since the funeral. People had stared at him, leading that monstrous parade, and they'd all seen him in tears, not knowing what to do. They'd be asking him, next. They'd be asking him what was going to happen now, and he didn't have the answers.
He felt as though all of his strength had been sapped from him, and all he wanted was to close his eyes and not wake up. He wanted to be blind, roaring drunk; until he didn't know his own name. Instead, he smoked, and stared at the fire until it fell to cinders, and Purity would light a new one, occasionally leaving a sandwich before she left. For once in his life, he didn't want to wander the streets. He might as well take advantage of the odd mood and take care of some paperwork.
Sybil merely nodded, not even giving him the usual "jolly good" for willingly doing something he disliked. He drained his tea, and patted her shoulder before forcing himself to his bathroom. He took a hot bath and scrubbed his skin raw. He shaved three days of stubble as thoroughly and carefully as he could, and combed his hair. None of it made him feel any better, but at least he looked presentable at first glance. He sat, staring at the dagger on his dressing table. He picked it up, wondering at its light weight, its perfect balance. He didn't know how to use the damn thing, not properly. Part of him worried that he'd wind up breaking it... but still. He strapped it to his chest, and was surprised by how little he noticed it. It practically felt like part of his body after a few minutes. He finished dressing, and took a moment to carefully pin the black armband to his sleeve that he knew, deep down, would become a permanent part of his uniform.
Someone had thought to provide him with a mourning cloak, and he was glad of it as he stepped out onto a side street. There was something comforting about black clothing at a time like this, when he didn't want to see or talk to anyone. It covered the gleam of his armor, and the red of his uniform, as dirty as it could get. It lent him camouflage, especially now. All of Ankh-Morpork had donned black overnight. The nobility moved in masses of black satin and jet, and the rest of the city had fallen back on their drabbest garments. Even the poorest had found bits of black crepe to wear as armbands and tie to hats. He pulled his hood lower, over his helmet.
He went in the back door, and took in the towering piles of paperwork with a sigh, his motivation leaving him. He especially didn't want to talk to the imps today, and the little buggers were the only way he'd get any actual work done. They had, however, made piles in his absence, containing papers that needed to be signed or filed, and he could do that much without assistance. He worked diligently, signing and shifting the sorted papers until all five neat piles had been dealt with. The greater pile, on the floor, could be handled some other time. Without direction, he found himself staring at the wall, wishing that his brain could turn itself off.
You left me, you bastard.
Maybe he'd allow himself a bit of a cry. No one would see him, after all. He stared ahead, allowing himself to sink into the dark, miserable comfort of self pity, but his eyes merely watered. He couldn't make himself sob anymore. He must have used it all up. His hand drifted down, to the desk drawer he kept locked. Of course he'd replaced the whiskey. He hated that part of himself enough to do so. It wasn't the MacAbre, but it was pretty good for what wound up in the evidence locker, and everyone had assumed that Nobby had taken it; Nobby himself had probably been disappointed to find it gone. He could do this, just once, go off to a hole and get drunk enough to forget for just a few hours, and sleep it off.
He unlocked the drawer, and held the bottle in his hands.
You know it's wrong, and you're doing it anyway.
Sam growled at his own thoughts. I deserve this. I need this. All I want is a few hours of peace. All I want is to stop feeling this way, just for a little while. I've been good, gods, have I been good. I never touched it. I never touched him. And still I'm suffering while he buggers off and gets to be dead.
He stood, shoving the bottle into his pouch, and pulled on his cloak, leaving though the window. Tears blurred his vision, but his feet knew the way, through dank alleys, over a broken fence, down a half flight of crumbling stone steps to the back of the stables. He pulled out the bottle, and stared at it again.
Sybil will be disappointed in you. She'll give you the Look. Sam would be embarrassed, a drunk piece of shit like you for a father. He's going to be a Duke someday. He's the damn Patrician now.
Defiantly, he broke the seal. I gave my life to this damn city. I gave my only child to you, and you left me. All I want is an hour or two of peace.
There was a hayloft, no one would know he was there. He'd forget, and sleep it off-
He cursed a blue streak as he stumbled, crying out as he hit the floor face first. He scrambled with his hands to catch the bottle, and his fingers cut open on broken shards. Painfully pulling himself to a sitting position, he watched most of the whiskey drain into the muck between the cobblestones in despair. Perhaps a shot remained in the broken bottom of the bottle, and his own blood was swirling a pattern in it. He stood, ready to give a good kick to whatever had tripped him up, but nothing was there. He'd tripped over his own damn feet. Impossible! It wasn't even muddy, and he knew every damn cobblestone... absently, he'd begun to suck at his wound in an attempt to dull the pain and clean the wound. The whisky, sharp as paint thinner, overpowered the taste of the blood. He spat the blood and booze out on the cobbles. Foul stuff. It wasn't worth it. He had to get out of there, before he changed his mind and drank what was left, as bad as it was. Pressing his sleeve to the wound, he scurried out the back passage. Igor could patch him up, and then everyone would know where he was, and that would keep him from going back. At least, for now.
As days turned to weeks, Ankh-Morpork picked itself up and brushed itself off, seeming little worse for wear; although the black remained. If anything, the black intensified. Merchants rushed to fill the gaps in wardrobes. Mourning was here for the season, and half mourning the season after; longer, if the fashionable dressmakers could convince the nobility. The trade in widow's weeds, black gloves, and flowers flourished, the latter piling up daily on the steps of the palace.
It pleased Rufus, in a way; but he could tell that life went on behind the veils, and hearts were not as heavy as his. Why should they be? Even he was having trouble with sustained mourning. There were times when his whole body and soul would ache, and other times when he felt a curious blankness, a feeling as though he were only slightly connected to the body doing his daily work, and that body feeling as though it were underwater, moving slowly, difficultly, but ultimately not feeling much of anything at all. Sometimes he wondered if he was losing his mind, being able to feel the pain one day, and not the next. Surely he should still be able to, when he still thought of time in terms of the number of days since Havelock's death.
Sam seemed to be taking to the Patricianship well. Rufus helped as much as he could, of course. Havelock had always relied on his having helpful files ready, but he brought twice as many to Sam. Someday, he'd need less, but for now, he needed to appear in complete control of absolutely everything. Keeping up with politics and serving Sam's tea filled the gaps caused by the small cracks in his life, but just barely. There was always Octeday, when work was less, and sorrow crept into his idle mind. Sam was always happy to spend the day off with him, though. Rufus knew he was wretched company, but still, Sam smiled at him, and made sure that he wasn't left alone. It meant a lot to him, but whenever he'd open his mouth to voice his gratitude, he'd feel foolish and wind up saying nothing at all.
This Octeday, he was forcing himself to the land of the living. He did his best to focus his mind on happier things as he strode down Peach Pie Street. A twinge of guilt passed through him as he turned his key in the shop's door. He hadn't visited in over a month. He had always managed to come at least every other weekend, unless he was away from the city. Once inside, he locked the door behind him, and took a deep breath of comforting air, which smelled of silk, dyes, and faintly of roast chicken. Gone were the dark frock coats of his childhood, replaced by colorful ceremonial garments and military braid. His family had found a niche in the market, and now supplied the nobility with their overwrought garments of velvet and beaded embroidery. His mother and sister had a waiting list of nearly a year for their fancy work, a fact that made him proud. But, on Octeday, all work ceased and the doors were locked. He pushed past a rack of doublets and though the door that led to the kitchen, the room that took up most of the ground floor.
"Mum? Dad?" It was too quiet.
"Here." His father called, emerging from the cellar with a sack of potatoes.
"Where is everyone?" Rufus peered around the strangely vacant room. There were two floors above this, but they were mainly used for sleeping and storage. Even the front parlor had been pressed into service as Ada and Ian's bedroom, since everyone gathered in the kitchen or the shop during the day.
"Your mum's picking up the cake, Gavin's late at the Post Office, but will be back in time to eat, Isobel is at the guild house, and won't be back to eat, and Ada and Ian went to the opera for their anniversary." his father ticked off the names on his fingers. "But you'd have known that, of course." he teased.
Rufus blinked, realizing that he had not, in fact, remembered. He usually sent a note to Ian a few days before the date, because although his brother-in-law had many admirable qualities, a recollection of important dates was not one of them. He was glad that he'd thought to bring a bottle of the syrupy desert wine that his mother liked, at least.
"It's all right. You've had a lot on your mind." his dad said, gently, as he began to peel the potatoes.
"That'll be only six, then." he replied, fetching the correct number of plates from the cabinet. Royalists to the last, his parents had long ago hung a woodcut print of Havelock above the sideboard. He used to find it mildly amusing, but found his throat tightening now that he'd noticed that a wreath of silk millinery flowers had been constructed and hung around the portrait. He looked down, and busied himself with laying out the place settings.
"We've missed you, though." his father added. "How is young Lord Vimes?"
"A blessing, really. He's clever and has a good temper. Very dedicated too. I'm proud of him." he admitted, feeling glum again. He ducked into the pantry to fetch the silverware and salt, and to take several deep breaths so that he wouldn't tear up. While the entire kitchen showed evidence of his mum's care, being orderly and scrubbed within an inch of its metaphorical life, the pantry was truly her domain. Shelves were meticulously stacked with provisions, crisp squares of kitchen linens, orderly jars of spices, jams, fruit, and pickled veg. He used to spend hours here as a young child, admiring the Spartan order of shelves, tidy baskets full of onions and potatoes. She never let the larder get low or the bread go stale, and he remembered a point in his life where he was convinced that the tiny room held all the food anyone would ever need in the world. It was a comfort, even now.
"His lordship left me some money." he began, as he emerged . "Really more than I'd ever need. And, well. I'm happy in the palace, but I was thinking that maybe you and Mum would like a little place in Ankh."
"Rufus... I appreciate it, you know that. But your mum would never leave the shop. And you've already paid for two guild educations, we couldn't have done it on our own back then..."
"You did it for me. I was glad to help." he said earnestly, sitting beside his dad. "Let me help the business, then? I'll work out the numbers with Ada. And maybe you can take a holiday, at least. There's lovely outings to Quirm on the train these days."
"Don't think I can't read you." his dad replied, after a long pause. "You're upset that his lordship has left us, and you see that we're getting old. But we're not that old, not yet. You needn't fret for a long time, gods willing. And even then, your sister will look after us. You worry too much." he added.
Rufus considered this. His father was the calmest person he'd ever known. He couldn't remember a time when he'd seen him overly anxious or even angry, even a business deal gone wrong would result in a mood that might be described as moderately annoyed, and even then, not for long. Yet, he'd never steered them wrong. "You're right." he concluded. "But at least consider the holiday?"
His father laughed, and gestured toward the space by the window where his mum and Ada worked, two comfortable chairs and large looms facing one another near the window; even now containing partially embroidered pieces and a basket of work waiting to be taken up.
"I'll try to convince her. That's all I can promise. Ah, speak of the devil."
Rufus saw the way his mum's face lit up as she entered, and felt doubly guilty for his extended absence. "You came." she smiled, cupping his chin in her small hand, and dusting a microscopic bit of lint from his shoulder. She tapped the tip of his dad's nose as she passed, a gesture that used to make himself and Ada roll their eyes at each other, as much as when he'd kiss the top of her head when passing her loom. Now, he realized just how much he missed things like that, like when he and Havelock would share a glance after closing the door on a guild leader, or when Havelock would sometimes drape his cloak over his shoulders, still warm from his body.
She retrieved the package from the table where she'd temporarily placed it, and brought it to the sideboard, where she cut the twine and unwrapped the paper to admire the cake. Before she turned back to them, her eyes darted to the portrait of Havelock, and she bowed her head for a moment, closing her eyes. Another small gesture. Havelock had been good to her, he knew. Every Mothering Sunday, she'd received a bouquet of flowers with a card thanking her for her son's service. The flowers were pressed and kept with the cards in an album, which was in turn kept on a shelf in his parents' bedroom, displayed high up like a holy relic. Rufus looked away.
"Gavin's got the promotion at the Post Office." she declared, proudly gesturing to the cake. "So it's for him, as well."
Her words broke the spell of gloom that Rufus felt himself slipping back into. "I'll help with that." he offered, taking the potatoes from his dad and doing his best to stay out of his mum's way as she darted back and forth from pantry to stove. He avoided facing Havelock's portrait for the rest of the evening.
Sam sighed as he faced the mirror, and attempted a grave expression, which merely looked serious. He wondered for a moment if he should try growing a beard, before dismissing the idea. He'd look like he was trying too hard, which really, he was. It just didn't do to let it show. He lacked the warts of Old Stoneface and the scars and scowl of his father, instead inheriting the porcelain skin of the Ramkins, which wasn't very intimidating. Power and wealth were on his side, but age wasn't, so he'd have to rely on quick thinking to deal with the various guild leaders he'd be meeting with today, not one of whom looked to be under sixty.
He lived in the palace now, in a large, comfortable room on a floor he shared only with Rufus. He'd chosen a room where he wouldn't have to walk past where Havelock had died. Willikins had brought over his clothing and books, and, to his horror, an ancient stuffed toy dragon named Blue, as his two year old self had lacked originality. Thankfully, the remainder of his childhood things remained in Scoone Avenue. He'd put away these possessions and added his school trunk, where he kept his clockwork tools, Rufus' letters, and the sketchbooks he used to draw diagrams and observations. The large room seemed to engulf and absorb his belongings. It would be hard to tell much about the room's occupant without reading the spines of the books. It was a pleasant deep blue color, though, and Sam knew that he would grow fond of it. It just seemed so... grown up, when what he was used to was a sparse boarding school room or his room at Scoone Avenue.
Most of his waking hours were spent in the Oblong Office, which was at least comfortably familiar to him. Also, there was Rufus, which made up for a lot of discomfort. Long days of work were broken up by the companionship of his closest friend; broken up, as well, when he would stand close or lean over him to pour tea or notate a document, so close that he could smell him, and the warm, fluttering feeling would pass through his chest, and sometimes through his stomach and straight to his groin. Sometimes, his thoughts drifted to memories of his friends in Quirm, being driven half mad with kisses in the dark of the old tavern. Only now, Rufus took their places in his fantasies. Sam thought him beautiful, even though he was aware that it wasn't quite the correct word. Rufus was plain, although pleasant to look at, and had a symmetry of features that was lovely in its own right. Sam memorized each trait, however, and found pleasure in the smallest details he noticed. He was happy when Rufus was near, he always had been, even before his feelings had taken a turn for the... romantic. And sometimes, when he was feeling particularly glum or nervous, he wondered if he'd jumped to Havelock's offer just because he wanted to be near him, not realizing how woefully unprepared for the job he was. There was something more, he was almost always certain, but... there was Rufus, as well. The more time he spent with him, the more he desired him, as love is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Rufus entered the room, and Sam guiltily snapped his thoughts back into focus on the report before him.
"You have a visitor." Rufus began. "From the Watch, so I accepted him. Sergeant Visit-The-Infidel-With-Explanatory-Pamphlets . I thought I should... warn you." Rufus was holding several colorful pamphlets under his clipboard.
"It's all right, Rufus. You can let him in." Visit tended to put people off, but Sam was used to him.
Rufus nodded, and moments after his exit, Sergeant Visit was ushered in. The door clicked shut behind him, and he stood uneasily in front of the desk.
Why is he so nervous? Sam wondered. He's seen me in nappies. And it's not like he's not used to doors slamming in his face...
"Good afternoon, my lord. I, er..."
"You can still call me Sam." Sam said, gently.
"Yes. Sam. Well. You see, Commander Vimes doesn't know I'm here." He blurted out.
"You don't need his permission to speak to me." Sam said, both of them doing the best to ignore that while what he said was technically true, it was only a technicality.
"Sir." Visit nodded. "I'm here on behalf of Mr. John Newmann. He is currently a condemned prisoner, and he doesn't know that I'm here. No one does, sir. Mr. Newmann was arrested following the murder of his wife, Charlotte. He admitted to a charge of domestic violence, and was under the influence of alcohol. I was the officer to make the arrest, sir, and he confessed and came quietly.
The wardens attest that he has been a model prisoner, sir. He believes that it is right and just that he be hanged, having taken the life of his good wife. I have met with him several times since, and his guilt and grief is a horrible thing to see. He has accepted a gift of the Book of Om, and has prayed daily. I was moved by his plight, sir, and believe that his is a soul that is capable of being saved, and perhaps, redeemed. In no way do I condone his crimes, but I believe that he may be rehabilitated in a way that could be of service to his fellow citizens, and in that spirit I have come to ask for you to review his case and offer him a reprieve in exchange for a non fatal sentence, mercy being the word of Om."
Visit had lapsed into the earnest tone of his impromptu sermons, and took a deep, shuddering breath at the end, remembering that he was overstepping his boundaries, at best. Sam looked into his honest brown eyes, and then away.
"Would you be able to prepare personal observations to accompany his case file?"
"I have already taken the liberty, sir. And a copy of his file from the station." He added, guiltily, as he placed them on the desk. Sam's eyes flickered over the details: name, address in a bad neighborhood, uncertain and choppy history of employment.
"I will consider it." Sam replied. "I cannot promise anything yet, but if you will come back in a week, we'll discuss it."
"Sir... may I ask one more favor? It's just that Commander Vimes doesn't know-"
"He won't hear it from me." Sam nodded.
Visit saluted, and Sam could see his shoulders sag with relief as he walked out the door.
The afternoon sun cast long shadows across the Oblong Office and streamed distorted light across the long table where Sam spread out an array of papers. Every now and then, an imp would rearrange the papers, and he'd scribble something in his notebook. It had been hours, and as the day wore on, there was less note taking, and more staring. Rufus approached him with the tea tray, waiting patiently as two imps cleared a space before setting it down. Sam made a gesture with his hand, and they scampered into their boxes. "Tea already?" he asked.
"It ought to be your dinner." Rufus scolded, gently. "Is everything all right?"
"I don't see why he deserves a lighter sentence." Sam finally replied. "But, I think... I think I ought to do it. And not just for old Washpot. I think maybe he could tell me things..." Sam took his tea, and frowned down at the papers. "I need to know more about the Shades, you see. The worst of it. I think that If I knew more, I'd understand what to do."
"What else is there to know?" Rufus sighed. "It's a cesspit. Quite literally. Imagine the worst, and there you have it. You don't need to get... hands on, as they say. You are the Patrician." he said, pointedly.
"If the Patrician isn't above the law, then he isn't above his citizens." Sam protested.
"That doesn't mean you have to get personally involved."
"It means exactly that! If I could get him to introduce me to a few people, maybe-"
"Don't talk madness." Rufus snapped, and then felt horrified for speaking out. "Forgive me, I just..." Rufus sighed, and pulled out a chair to sit. "I can get information for you. You don't need to meet with a murderer. You certainly don't have to see the place for yourself. Please, Sam." The feeling of overprotective fear was becoming more frequent, these days. He'd never feared for Havelock, not like this. Havelock had always protected him. It was unpleasant to be the one doing the protecting, especially as he wasn't trained for it. "Why do you feel the need to do this?"
Sam 's eyes were slightly unfocused as he answered. "You wouldn't believe me. It's just something I have to do."
"You would always tell me anyway." He gave Sam a pleading look . Sam looked down, suddenly looking rather small and shy, and then, he began to speak.
"The city talks to me. And she wants me to help." Sam's ears were burning with embarrassment, now. "That's the only way to describe it. Sometimes I feel a bit... dizzy, I suppose... and I know that it's her, in my head. Or sometimes I'll have a dream that I can't remember, but I know that she's cross with me, and she, well. Hurts me a bit. To get the point across, I'm sure. I don't ever feel like she'd kill me, or anything, because then I couldn't do what she wants me to do. See, I told you it would sound stupid."
Rufus felt his stomach dropped. It was just as Havelock had feared... "It isn't stupid, not at all. They say in the Ramtops that the land knows its ruler." It was cowardly to dodge the truth, he knew, but for Havelock...
"She doesn't know me, Rufus. She's not sure who I am. She knows Havelock, she knows my dad, and she's angry that I'm not Havelock. And I want to tell her that it's going to be okay, that I'll do the best that I can, but it's like she can see inside me and know that the best that I can do isn't going to be good enough-"
"Stop that right now. You're young. That's all. Of course you're good enough, and you're only going to get better with practice. Havelock never made mistakes about people, you know. And the way you were brought up-"
"Well, yes, that does seem to come up a lot. My parents are great people. Leaders of the city. My father faced down a dragon, reformed the Watch, became a duke, brokered interspecies peace, and my mother founded a hospital and a dragon rescue, and finds time to knit in between. Havelock's the best ruler we've had in a thousand years, savior of us all, and ten thousand times cleverer than I'll ever be. And just because they want me to be great doesn't mean that I'm anything more than a kid fresh out of school with nothing very remarkable to credit himself with. Don't you see? If everyone thinks I'm going to be the next Commander Vimes, the next Lord Vetinari- well! They're setting themselves up for disappointment. But the city, she thinks I'm supposed to be... more than I am." Sam had risen, and was pacing around the table, glancing up at the portraits of Vimes and Havelock as he spoke, but not meeting Rufus' eyes. "And she's angry that I'm holding back this greatness that I. Do. Not. Have. And she's lashing out more and more."
Rufus placed his hands on Sam's shoulders, stopping him in place. "You haven't been given a chance to show anything, yet. But I know that you're clever, and kind, and... you had better sit down, with me, please." Rufus led him to the settee, and sat beside him. "Havelock loved you very much." he prefaced his confession, carefully. "He'd always wanted you for his own, you see, and at first it was because he also loved your parents very much, and had no heir of his own. But he would have chosen someone else if you hadn't grown to be the sort of person he could trust with the city, love or no."
Sam nodded, uneasily. "I don't think she's convinced."
"She will come around to the idea. Grief is a terrible thing." Rufus pursed his lips, and glanced away. "She's known for years. Havelock told her, in a way, when he named you."
"How do you mean?" Sam sniffled a bit, and tried to hide it.
"He told you more than your name, you see. He told you that you were to be his heir, that you were one with the city, and that you were meant for her. He married you to Ankh-Morpork before you had a name, and perhaps that is why she's a bit confused as to what to call you." It was a relief to admit it, a terrible relief.
"Do you think the city listens to things like that?" Sam asked, eying the skyline through the window.
Rufus sucked in his breath. "Quite possibly. Madam always believed that Havelock had a bit of magic about him, being conceived at Carnavale. He always thought that was silly, you know. He was no wizard, of course. Not even the Archchancellor mentioned a thing remarkable about him in that area, and he'd have noticed, and said. But, perhaps there was something... magic that wasn't wizard's magic. Something about how he was able to regard the world, and pinch here or pull there, and all of the strings did his bidding. He was a remarkable statesman, of course, but sometimes... sometimes it seemed more than cunning. More than luck. And he thought that was nonsense, until the first time that you had that nightmare, and he worried ever since that what he'd done had caused it."
Sam was quiet for an uncomfortably long time. "My dad said he could talk to rats." he said, after a moment. "It was really true, then."
"He loved you, Sam. He never meant-" Sam cut him off with a single shake of his head.
"When I was at school, I was always miserable. I always felt alone, you know. I'd cry myself to sleep and not tell a soul. I was always homesick. The gloom never lifted until I was on holiday. I used to tell you some of these things, you know. And when you'd write to me, I was happiest, because you listened, because you understood, because you were ... you were home to me. And all that time I was hurting, it was her punishing me for going away. I took something important that belonged to her whenever I stepped outside her borders. I thought it was homesickness. I thought it was headaches. For seven and a half years, I thought it was just headaches. "
Rufus listened in mute horror.
"Now you tell me that the one person I have always believed was infallible was some kind of ... of fairy godfather, who burdened me with this curse! None of the other students got 'homesick' like I did! I thought there was something wrong with me!" Sam was gritting his teeth, and gripping the arm of the settee so had that his knuckles had gone white. "What about you, then? Was any of it real? Did you care about me, or were you taking a vested interest in the city?"
"Go away." Sam's voice was quiet, as he faced the window.
Rufus went. He collected the incoming clacks messages and distributed them in their proper pigeonholes. He drank a glass of wine to soothe his nerves, and then another. He spent a full ten minutes just feeling wretched, and then went back to the Oblong Office with a fresh pot of tea.
Sam was where he'd left him, and didn't stir when he placed the tray beside him. He took a deep breath. "If Havelock were here, he'd say that he was sorry. He was never above that, if it was deserved. So I want to apologize for both of us. He never meant to hurt you. Never. And you would be important to me even if you weren't Patrician. If Ankh-Morpork were razed to the ground by an army today, Sam, I'd stay loyal to you in the dungeons. And part of it is for Havelock, yes, but part of it is for you. Quite a lot of it, in fact."
Sam moved over slightly, and Rufus took a seat beside him. "None of it changes how I feel about either of you. I wish it did. I wish I could stay as angry as I ought to."
"I know." Rufus let Sam take his hand, and intertwine their fingers. Sam was so kind, so gentle, so calm after such an upset.
"Do you remember when I was being bullied that one spring term? And weeks later, I finally wrote to you about it, and you sent a clacks straight away to tell me that it would be all right. And it never happened again."
"I do." Rufus could still remember the anger that had fueled the long message to the headmaster that had tied up the Grand Trunk for over an hour.
"I never properly thanked you. You're always there to help me. Even when the city was lashing out at me, you were always my light in the darkness." His voice was soft and low. Sam was close now, and Rufus was suddenly aware of the space between them, of the softness of the expression barely covering a smoldering lust. He was aware, too, of his own pulse racing under Sam's touch, aware, too aware, that Sam was a grown man now, and quite a handsome one at that.
"Whatever it is you are looking for, please don't look for it here. I beg of you." It came out in a rushed whisper, unplanned, and sounded every bit as heartless and horrible to Rufus as he expected it was as his own words registered.
Sam's expression instantly changed to one of amiable good nature as he pulled away. "Tea's going cold." he said, quickly, and began to pour out two cups. He let go of Rufus' hand to do so, and Rufus fought the urge to cling to him. He rallied his brain for something to say, some topic to cling to that would float him away from this disaster.
"I was thinking that we could redo the criteria for the city census. It's almost been ten years as it is, and a lot has changed since then, population wise. We could be extremely specific in regards to income and type of housing, which would give you more to work with... and in regard to Mr. Newmann, it is sometimes advisable to not have a reason other than the fact that you are a tyrant. You can, and may, dictate what you feel will give you what you need to effectively rule. It's only paperwork, after all. I'll fix it for you." Rufus was speaking fast, calculating the ways he might put action behind his apology.
Sam placed down his teacup. "Could you make a category for amenities? Fireplaces, indoor taps, windows, doors, privies, and the like?"
"Anything you wish." Rufus said, and meant it.
There was a plain brown file box in the back of the wardrobe; small, unassuming, and infrequently handled. Rufus retrieved it, and held it in his lap, staring at the marbled paper exterior for several moments before opening it. Beneath several layers of tissue paper was a single rose, pressed under glass. It had been cut from the hot house in the winter garden, he knew; he knew the exact rosebush from the vibrant red hue. He used to smile at the plant when he passed. He tried not to think about it so much, now. There were cuttings from the Times, back when an iconograph of Havelock was still a novel thing. There was a lock of hair tied with black crepe ribbon, taken from Havelock's corpse a moment before he had to say goodbye, forever. Beginning to end, all in a box, a box not even Havelock had known existed.
He carefully wrapped up each artifact before replacing the lid on the box, but held it in his lap a bit longer, not wanting to put it away so soon. Sam, with his love of natural philosophy, had quickly grown fond of Leonard's company; and so it was no surprise that he had agreed to let Leonard construct a memorial on the edge of the palace grounds. He'd even issued a statement that he former Patrician's Day would continue to be observed, as well as the new one. Vetinari's Day. It was very kind, Rufus thought, but he would need to practice his reaction to such sentimentality. If he couldn't even look inside this box without tearing up, how was he going to face a statue? Sighing, he replaced the box, and closed the wardrobe door on it.
He'd never loved anyone but Havelock. His entire life seemed fitted to the purpose. As a child, he'd been sent with his sister to Mrs. Malicia's dame school, where it was quickly discovered that he had a good head for numbers. Afterwards, with his sister's help, the family's income increased enough to send him to the Clerk's Guild, an investment that was thought to be miniscule in return for a trained clerk looking after the shop's finances. He was a day student in order to save on room and board, though the Guild's definition of 'day' often began and ended in the dark. It was a miserable place, to be honest, but he'd enjoyed learning and at least could look forward to his mum's cooking once a day, which was more than could be said for some of the other students.
His life changed course one winter day, when an elderly clerk in a severe, old fashioned robe had visited, and taken the boys one by one into a side room for questioning. The questions were odd, the sort that didn't seem to have a direct purpose- he couldn't remember most of them, for they were vague, and hadn't seemed important. The next day, the same man went to the shop, and spoke to his father. He, along with four other boys, were to go to the Patrician's Palace, and be trained to work for his lordship. His parents had been so proud that he couldn't have become the shop's clerk even if he'd wanted to.
He'd been afraid that the palace would be a place like the Guild, except that he couldn't go home at night. He'd been pleasantly surprised to find that young clerks were each given their own room, thoughtfully containing a small desk and bookcase in addition to the expected bed, nightstand, wardrobe, and wash stand. His room had a worn out but expensive Klatchian carpet and heavy drapes in shades of green. Shared facilities at the end of the hall contained indoor, flushing privies and a room with four enamel bathtubs. Coordinating bath times with the others was certainly easier than the familiar experience of discovering that the tub had been temporarily converted into a dye bath and filled with fabric, complete with the knowledge that he'd be the one scrubbing rings of color from the enamel once it was removed. The food was good, even if it wasn't his mother's cooking, and the other clerks were kind to him. He was proud to have money to send home. And, most importantly, he worked for His Lordship, the man who had made the city safer and more profitable every day.
The older clerks didn't seem to fear his lordship, which he did, at first. Clerk John explained to him that the while they watched each other for corruption, for the most part they protected one another; and the Patrician protected them, in turn. Despite this, it was still frightening to serve the man directly, at first. He was an Assassin. He was the most powerful man in the world. And then, he had held a knife to his throat, and his mind had gone curiously still. I am loyal. He wouldn't. He knows I am loyal. But if he does... then it is his lordship's will.
It lasted only a moment, and then he was released. Shaking, he gathered the papers he'd dropped, and resumed filing. He was frightened, he was angry, but he was also too frightened to run, and too proud to cry. He'd passed some sort of test. He couldn't ruin it now. He carried on as he had, for the rest of the day, saying nothing unless he was spoken to; and from then on, his lordship's voice was softer, his kindness greater. He was taken into his confidence, and smiled at, and from there it was difficult to say just when he realized that he was smitten. It was odder to him to think that what was there was genuine friendship, that someone as common as him could be so important to the Patrician. It made more sense to think that he'd fallen for someone beyond him. But then there had been Vimes, and Mrs. Palm, and others, and he'd realized that class barriers were not absolute for his lordship. The smiles, the confidences, the concern shown to him were real; and that did more to grow his love than anything.
Now, Havelock was gone, and the future was dreadful and uncertain, and much lonelier.
He stared at the wall for awhile, and startled at the sound of a knock on his door. Sam was there, looking uncertain in his robe and slippers. "I saw a light." he explained. "Are you okay?"
Rufus glanced at the small clock on his desk. "I hadn't realized it was so late." he admitted. He stepped back, allowing Sam in to sit beside him. Sam pointedly said nothing, and Rufus sighed. "I'm not okay tonight." he admitted. "Would you like some tea?"
Sam nodded, and Rufus sent an order down on the dumbwaiter. His relationship with Sam had become a tricky thing. He was his friend, but also his servant. He was his servant, but also his advisor. Lines he shouldn't cross now crossed each other, making it unclear where his place was- and now Sam looked at him in such a way that he was afraid to think on it for too long.
"You're meeting that prisoner tomorrow."
"Yes. And you are changing the subject." Sam challenged him.
Rufus sighed. "Not by much. Your schemes are part of my worries."
"Rufus, I'm only going to the Tanty. I know everyone there, well, this side of the bars; anyway. "
"The Tanty is fine. It's your plan to poke around the Shades that I object to."
"I'm only going to the Tanty." Sam objected.
"Then why have you traced three maps, and made a mess of the census files?"
Sam looked away. "I didn't want to worry you. And I'm not going anywhere else tomorrow."
He was still young, still unsure. Rufus sighed. "I will help you in any way I can. I only want you safe." They sat with their tea, and partially out of habit, partially out of a desire to soothe him, Rufus clasped his fidgeting hand.
"I'll be honest with you from now on." Sam said, quietly, as he stroked his thumb across Rufus' hand. "But, you have to promise to come to me when you're upset, if it's too much. I can hear you sometimes, in the back office, trying not to cry. "
"It passes." Rufus sighed, somewhat embarrassed by that revelation. "I promise to come to you." he relented. He couldn't discourage bargaining after all, it was an essential skill for a politician.
"That's all I wanted. Will you be all right for the rest of the night?"
Rufus nodded, and stood. "I'll come to you if I need to. I think we'd both be better for some rest, though."
Sam nodded. "Okay, then. Goodnight."
Rufus saw him out, and spent a few moments gazing out the window at the city, still bustling with activity despite the late hour. The night breeze was cool on his cheek as he turned away to blow out the candle.
"Sybil, dear, so good of you to come!" Lady Selachii crooned, smiling widely as her butler ushered in her old and influential friend.
"It is kind for you to invite me, Sylvia. I do really need to get out a bit more. You know how it is." sighed the duchess. "Hullo, Dolores, dear."
Her youngest daughter nodded dutifully, if a bit defiantly. (Life was never easy, was it?)
She knew, or at last, could imagine. Sybil had been close to Havelock- too close, some might have said quietly, if she wasn't a Ramkin, and his death had been hard on the poor thing. She'd taken to wearing trousers and mucking around in dragon filth more than usual; keeping to herself and rejecting more invitations than strictly necessary. Of course one didn't celebrate at a time like this, but honestly, what good was it to pretend to be dead as well? Being married to an Assassin gave her a practical view of such matters, she believed. One must be firm and sensible.
At least Sybil had new mourning clothes made, which was either an indication that perhaps she had been too close to Havelock, or perhaps just that she could no longer fit in her old ones. It was lovely black velvet and rather slimming, unlike the blue she preferred that secretly put Lady Selachii in mind of the entire circle sea. Of course, Sybil didn't have to worry about her looks. Her wealth had been enough to secure her a husband (she'd heard that the vulgar, coarser sort actually preferred a bit of excess flesh), and Havelock had been kind enough to bring him up to her level... as much as was possible, anyway.
"Sybil, dear, I'd like to introduce you to the young man I have told you so much about. This is Mr. Harold Jay, whom the Historical Society has recently consulted about the carved facades. Mr. Jay; let me introduce you to Her Grace Sybil Vimes, Duchess of Ankh."
"'Lady Sybil' will do, Mr. Jay." She said, as she accepted a cup of tea. The man was not quite young, but not going into middle age without a fight. He was dressed like a clerk, with his dark hair neatly slicked back and his suit aiming for greater things than it was made for, but his jaw was square and he had the build of a fighter. "So, you are an expert in stone carvings?"
"Only the ones on my own house, I'm afraid; though there are dozens of examples of stonemasonry intact that are similar. Lady Selachii was kind enough to show interest in an article in the Times mentioning my office."
"It's rather awful, you see. There are examples from the Century of the Platypus, half buried, or covered in graffiti." Lady Selachii wrinkled her nose. "Mr. Jay showed the Times a wall in his office that was covered in writing about Offler."
"That's an odd subject for graffiti." Sybil mused, cutting into her quiche.
"Not graffiti, writing." Lady Selachii corrected. "It's ancient! There are bits and pieces all over the Shades."
"So, another building saved by the Historical Society? It is a lovely idea, Sylvia, and you are so resourceful, but of course I'd be happy to help in any way I can. Have you chosen a site yet?" Sybil asked.
"Not a site, Lady Sybil," replied the young man. "The Historical Society is interested in purchasing some of the stonework to restore and display in the Royal Museum. "
"Sadly, the examples we saw were beyond saving. "
"At last, your Society is being sensible." grumbled Dolores.
"Really, Dolores! Really." Scolded her mother. Sybil saw the young man try not to smile.
"Sam is overseeing a bit of building at the Treacle Mine Road station." She hastily offered. "Modern facilities for the officers."
"And young Sam?" Lady Selachii recovered. She liked Sybil's studious son, who had come out almost a Ramkin, despite the father being a mongrel.
"I hardly see him anymore, he's so busy! I'm very proud of him, I must confess. He's so dedicated, just like his father. It's a new challenge every day, or so I hear."
Sam looked up from his reading as Rufus caught his attention with a quiet cough. "Commander Vimes is in the antechamber, my lord." he said, in warning tones. "I would not recommend the customary wait."
"Did he say why?" Sam asked, helplessly. Since Vetinari's death, Carrot had come alone to standard Watch briefings.
"'To see my son.', end quote. He's in a difficult mood. I am familiar with these. Remember what Havelock taught you about difficult moments."
"Ah." Sam said, wondering how Havelock had ever found this sort of situation amusing. "I suppose you'd better send him in."
When the door opened again, his father strode ahead of Rufus with the sort of grim expression that suggested that although he was not holding a weapon, he didn't need one. It was a look that Sam had occasionally seen from a distance, but it had never been directed at him; the worst he'd ever endured was a sort of half-hearted, exasperated anger that quickly evaporated.
"Sir," he growled, before Sam had a chance to decide if it would be better to address him as 'Commander' or 'Dad'; "It has come to my attention this morning that an inmate awaiting Mr. Trooper has mysteriously left the Tanty, and has taken his paperwork with him. Incidentally, he left this in its place." He slammed his hand down on the desk, startling Mr. Fusspot, and leaving behind an envelope bearing a black wax seal, deeply embossed with a simple 'V'. "Care to explain?"
Sam tried not to stammer, tried not to square his shoulders, but remain calmly seated. You are the one who sets the pace, who sets the tone. The looks, the noise, can pass right through you, and they shall. They didn't, but he could pretend that they did.
"This was an unfinished decision. I reviewed the case and believe that the condemned could better serve the city if he were rehabilitated." He hated that it was only true because he'd left out all of the details that made it a lie. He hated that he knew that his father saw right through him, as well.
"It's a cut and dry case. Man has a bad day, goes to the pub, comes home and takes it out on his wife. He choked the girl. He admits it. You know the law."
Sam sucked in his breath. "Yes. The law is that the Patrician may pass final judgment on a death warrant."
His father's expression changed to one of incredulous rage, before snapping back into the familiar scowl. "If you think this scum deserves any pity because he was drinking, let me set you straight right now. He knew what he was doing. Maybe he didn't mean to choke the life out of her, but he had control of his own damn hands. There's no booze strong enough to make you kill someone. He made a choice to get drunk after he got angry. He made the choice to live half his life in the gutter with a wife to look after! You don't get to give up responsibility like that. The son of a bitch needs to hang."
"Even so." Sam replied, quietly.
His father glared, but the anger subsided, as though he had drawn it all back into himself with a deep, measured breath. "Why did you use his seal?" he asked, eyeing the letter.
"I don't have one. And it seems a bit of a waste, when all I'd do is get a 'V' in a different font." And people know and respect Vetinari's seal, he thought. 'Never discard something useful, my dear Sam.'
"Well. I'm certain that you're busy." His father sneered, turning on his heel and closing the door behind him.
A moment later, a loud bang startled Sam as he leaned back into his chair and attempted to settle his nerves. Mr. Fusspot whined.
"This is terrible." He groaned.
Rufus patted his shoulder, offering him a glowing smile. "On the contrary. I think things are starting to look up!"
A steady downpour of rain had discouraged the criminal classes of Ankh-Morpork, and so Sam Vimes had a rare day away from the Watch House. He was loathe to admit it, but the rain discouraged his aging joints, was well. He rested near the fire, watching the indoor dragons as they negotiated for space close to the hearth. Listlessly, he lit a cigar, and tensed as he heard the door creak open.
"Ah, sir." He addressed Sam, with a quirk of his eyebrow and a wave of his cigar, still feeling mildly annoyed.
Sam hesitated in the doorway. "I'm not here for Commander Vimes, you know. I want to see my dad, if that's okay."
Vimes placed down his cigar, chastised. "Of course it's okay." he mumbled. Sam closed the door behind him, and took his place at his father's feet. An elderly dragon waddled over and arranged itself in his lap. He absently scratched at its scales.
"You never come to the palace anymore." Sam began.
No, he didn't. The whole damn place felt like him, not to mention the paintings about the place. It made him feel like his chest was being crushed in, made him feel old, useless, and miserable. Made him feel like he didn't deserve to be alive if Vetinari had to die, made him feel something between guilt and rage that Death had taken the wrong one. He had no way of explaining it to Sam.
"I know it's got to be difficult to have to ... answer to your son. I mean, to be...outranked. I didn't mean to go over your head. I just knew we were going to disagree, and I thought I could avoid-"
"Gods, that's not it at all." Vimes shook his head. "I don't come because... I'm not ready to." he finished, weakly. "And I fought Vetinari tooth and nail, at least once a week. It's not you, Sam, not at all. Even if we don't agree." he added, sharply. He couldn't help himself.
The tension left Sam's shoulders after that, and he leaned back against his father's legs. "I hope you come soon. I'd like working with you."
"Hmph. You think you'd like it." Vimes retorted. "You'll be asking for Carrot back within a month."
A peaceful silence settled between them, broken only by the crackling of the fire and the snores of the dragons. "Dad?"
"Why'd you fall in love with Mum?"
Vimes opened his eyes. Sam's gaze was resting on the iconograph of him and Sybil on their wedding day that hung above the mantel.
"Because she was too good for me." He answered, honestly.
"I'm serious, though." Sam pressed.
Vimes shrugged. "So am I. When else was a girl like that going to look twice at someone like me? She's a nob. Educated. Rich. Good looking. Practical. And a good person on top of everything else. I didn't deserve to even think about it, just a drunk from the Shades. The only reason I'm not dead is because of a massive lapse of judgment on your mum's part, Vetinari's, too. Should have died in the gutter." he admitted. "I just got lucky." It was easy to say these things now that they were in the past, and he'd been spared that fate.
"That's not true at all. I always wanted to be like you." Sam continued to gaze at the iconograph, and Vimes felt that acute form of embarrassment that comes with undeserved praise. He changed tactics.
"So, who's the girl?" He asked, picking up his cigar again.
Sam froze in place. "What girl?"
"The one that made you ask about your mum." He replied, happy to have gotten the upper hand, and actually curious.
"There's no girl." Sam answered, directing his eyes to the fire, pointedly away from the iconograph and his father's gaze.
"Dwarf? Werewolf? Troll?" he began, in a teasing tone, but faltered as Sam didn't reply, and other options made themselves available in his mind. "Er, golem? Not a zombie?" he asked, desperately, his worry growing with each question. "Not a-"
"No! Human." Sam stammered, and turned red.
"Aha!" Vimes exclaimed, just before the full implication hit him. He was quiet as his brain digested this.
"I'm sorry." Sam said, in a small voice.
"Why the hell should you be sorry?" Vimes asked, gruffly.
"It's just- well. I thought you'd expect things. Grandchildren." He explained, miserably.
Vimes hesitated. He did want grandchildren. There were few things that could make him as happy as having another chance to relive what he'd had with Sam, to hold a child in his lap to read to, to take exploring the city, to make Hogswatch Eve a bit magical again. But, didn't he have enough? Hadn't he had a better life than he'd hoped for? Didn't his son deserve the life he wanted to live?
"I risked not having grandchildren when I gave you to Vetinari." He finally answered. "Patricians aren't family men. They usually don't have anyone, for safety's sake. " New worries began to form. Had he doomed Sam to a life of solitude before he'd realized the reality of the position? Would he seek out company anyway?
"I trust him." Sam wrapped his arms a bit tighter around the snoozing dragon.
"Would I?" Vimes asked, sharply.
"You'd better tell me who it is." Vimes sighed, defeated.
"It's Rufus." he mumbled.
Vimes frowned. "Who?" His mind searched to place the name. "Not- what, Drumknott? That little mouse?" he exclaimed, before he could help himself; eliciting a small, offended noise from Sam.
"Vetinari trusted him." Sam almost snarled.
"Yeah, well, that's another problem, I'd guess."
Sam sighed in defeat. "It is. He's not interested, not in the least. So you can just forget we ever talked about it, please."
"Sam, it takes a long time to get over losing someone."
"I said he's not interested. It's okay."
No, it wasn't. Any fool could see that. Vimes found himself offended by the thought of his son being rejected by the little clerk, even as he understood the pain that would cause it. He cut another cigar.
"How long has this been going on?"
"Years, I think. But I only... realized since I came home."
"And you really think he'd make you happy?"
"That'd be up to him." Sam murmured, gazing wistfully into the flames.
"Sam..." he weighed his words, carefully. "If you still feel this way, months from now, you've only got two choices. Either harden your heart to him, or make him yours. Otherwise, you'll walk into that office every day, and see what you can't have, and if it isn't the death of you, you'll wish it were."
"He's my friend. I'm happy when I'm with him, dad. It'll have to be enough."
"It won't be. If you never listen to anything I say again, listen to this. I'm not proud of a lot of things. I've done some good for the city. I've worked hard. I'm going to be remembered for a lot of things, but the one thing I'm really proud of was raising you. So you'd better listen." he finished, weakly. "I don't want that for you."
After a long moment, Sam nodded. "Okay, dad... and thanks."
Awkward silence loomed again.
"Your mum's doing dragon things. We could get Klatchian takeaway." he offered.
"I'd like that."
"Extra hot." Vimes agreed, glad to be on stable ground once again.
Sam wasn't the first to try pinning Ankh-Morpork to paper. Vetinari had started the national census, which intended to give a sense of the number, ages and employment of citizens. Clerks had confidently strode out in all directions with neat forms, only to return with them filled with entries such as:
Surname: ? Given name: Dave
Age: ? 30?
Occupation: examiner of underclothing
Address: No one's business
Forms were redesigned with multiple choice answers, but the process was still far from perfect.
Then there was the time that the Free Hospital had attempted to pinpoint the locations and severity of miasmas in the city by hanging animal carcasses on high poles, to see which rotted first. The meaty bones were gone the next morning.
Despite this, Sam sat at the long table with lists of statistics, marking each category on a sheet of onionskin paper printed with a map, patiently dotting each response on a corresponding address. Laying one sheet over the city showed an estimation of the distribution of income, another sheet on the number of people in a household. There were sheets for disease, for causes of death, for employment, for all sorts of crimes, and soon, he hoped, for more detailed information about the dwellings. Occasionally, he'd rise from his work, and shuffle the papers around, laying one sheet over another, looking for correlations, and making notes in a small book.
Rufus was recording the month's pay increases for promoted government staff, but snuck frequent glances to the other end of the table, watching Sam as he worked. Havelock had the same dogged focus, he remembered. He could be absorbed in thought for hours, frequently aided by any number of props. Some of the guild leaders thought that it was a sign of insanity, but Rufus approved, having always considered oddness in the pursuit of intellectual matters a sure sign of genius.
"Rufus." Sam's voice broke him out of his reverie.
"Yes?" He was on his feet, ready to attend.
"Look at this." Sam stood back from the table. The sheets were stacked high enough to obscure the original map, and showed through perhaps three layers. Sam was pointing at a section of the Shades where red dots clustered on several layers. "That's the infant mortality and general mortality sheets. "
"What did you expect?" Rufus asked, with a sigh. The area was near Shamlegger Street, but off the main road, a series of side alleys and courts without names and likely without permit. "It's the Shades." He didn't like thinking about those red marks. One of his earliest memories was of his mum waking from a nightmare, and his dad rushing to wrap his arms around her more in an effort to stop her from shaking than to merely comfort her. He'd learned years later that she'd been dreaming of two dead children, and no money to bury them; and that these dreams occurred more often than he'd like to think.
"It's not just that." Sam placed another layer on top. "The income doesn't change in this area. It's far enough from the tanneries to escape the miasmas. There's no cause that we have so far that explains why these streets are so much worse off than the rest of the Shades."
"We'll get more information." Rufus assured him. Eventually they would run out of things to catalogue.
Sam's eyes remained focused on the small area. He seemed to be on the verge of speech when there was a tapping at the door. Maura, a dark clerk, awaited him with a smile.
"Leonard has put the finishing touches on Lord Vetinari's tribute, my lord. He's anxious that you be the first to see it."
Sam smiled broadly. "We would be honored." He stood, and Rufus followed them downstairs and outside, to the edge of the Palace grounds. He was curious despite himself. Leonard had sworn his crew to secrecy and had the area surrounded with large sheets of canvas. Not even Sam knew what he'd done, trusting him with a parcel of land, a dozen skilled craftsmen, and quite a lot of money. They were nearing a path now, edged with transplanted lilac shrubs, arriving at an oddly beautiful octagonal structure, dominated by large cut glass windows.
"I was expecting a statue or something..." Sam began, as they neared it. He pushed the door open. "Oh."
Rufus ventured in. It was a large , eight sided room, perhaps only twenty feet in all. In the center of the floor, a bronze likeness of Havelock stood slightly larger than life, his expression clever and wise and just so, as Rufus had been used to seeing him; a representation created by someone who knew him well and saw him often, as Leonard had. He leaned lightly on his stick, and in his other hand hung the ceremonial key to the city. At his feet sat a small bronze terrier. The arched windows were fitted with a pattern of eight sided stars in varying shades of violet, bathing the figure in a glow as the sun shone through them.
"It's beautiful. Incredible." Sam breathed, circling the statue. Rufus' throat was tight, and he could not say a thing.
"Oh, I'm so glad that you think so, my lord." Leonard began, with a sigh. "I always begin with such high hopes, you know, but as you go, you see things you'd like to change, always, to the last minute. It's wretched to see something so clearly in the mind, and to not follow through... I wanted to do my best, you see. He was a blessed man, he was, the best patron and protector anyone could wish for."
"If I ever fail to live up to your standards of a patron, tell me at once." Sam grinned.
Rufus approached the base of the statue, and ran his finger over the simple inscription: Lord Havelock Vetinari. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and he couldn't stop them, so he simply turned his back to the others. He was aware of their chatter, aware of Maura and Leonard's voices... cut glass, help from the University, even...
Sam was beside him, then, a gentle hand on his arm, offering him a handkerchief. He took it, miserably wiping his eyes, and blowing his nose.
"I didn't thank him." He managed.
"They went outside. Are you all right to talk?"
"My lord!" Maura exclaimed, pushing open the door. "Look!"
Sam went, and Rufus followed, and then stopped in his tracks. In the half hour or so that they had been inside, the lilacs had burst into full bloom.
"How wonderful!" Leonard was exclaiming. "The gods smile on my work today, after all. How kind of them to bless us with such beauty!"
"People have been saying that they've seen him." Mused Maura, in an awed voice. "That he appears and disappears in shadows."
"That's not funny." Snapped Rufus.
"The University helped to move the lilacs." Sam said, gently. "It's probably just the residual magic-"
But Rufus had already broken away, hurrying back to the Palace.
Those in good neighborhoods might have admired the bright foliage as the trees lost their green for almost two weeks, before a howling storm ripped them free. The majority of the city felt the first bite of autumn as wet, bitter winds that rattled shutters and chased bits of garbage down narrow side streets. Rufus fastened the window in his study, and added a bit of kindling to his small fire.
Despite the gray day, he felt... fine. Which was disturbing, because he hadn't felt fine in months, and suspected that this was disrespectful. Thinking on it, at a remove, he came to the conclusion that he didn't feel fine, not really. He felt nothing, which was even worse. What good was wearing mourning clothes every day, if he wasn't sincerely feeling pain? His fingers clutched the locket under his collar as he tried to summon the feeling of love that he had- must still have! for Havelock. He knew that he loved him, it was just that he couldn't make himself feel the happiness of a fond memory. If he pushed himself far enough, he could still feel pain, he could feel despair; and that was better than nothing. Better than not feeling anything but cold, strange emptiness.
He settled on feeling lonely, which was easier to feel than the pain of loss, yet was still a feeling.
This brought him to his next problem: Sam. It was a problem that wasn't going to go away, even if Sam wouldn't mention it. Sam had become dear to him over the years, he was his closest friend and comfort, now that Havelock was gone. Rufus frowned at the paper in front of him, which he'd folded into two equal columns. The first row had been easy.
- he is my dearest friend. I am comforted by him. He is always concerned for me, above his own self.
Rufus paused, reflecting on Sam's wiry body, straight nose, soft, dark eyes, and porcelain skin.
Sighing, he moved on to more complicated thoughts.
-he is lonely, and has years of a lonely life ahead of him as Patrician.
-he would be in danger if he looked to bed someone he couldn't trust. I would never forgive myself if he, or the city, were in danger. I swore to Havelock that I would protect him with my life.
-any normal person wouldn't think twice about it. He's the most coveted man in the city. I am only a clerk.
-I am hurting him simply by existing, and he won't say a thing because he's kind and decent.
The other side of the paper challenged him with its blankness, making him confront less pleasant things.
-Commander Vimes would not be pleased.
-he is very young, still...
But not so young, really. He could still remember collecting stamps for his nephew's first stamp book, and now Gavin was an assistant manager at the Post Office, keenly climbing the ladder of civil service with no sign of stalling. Young people don't stay young as long as you stay grown, he mused. But-
- outliving me would cause him pain.
Rufus took a deep breath, and began to write what he feared thinking about the most.
-Havelock said that we would be together again. If I don't believe that, I have nothing.
-I don't think I know how to feel love anymore.
There. The worst of it was out of his head, neatly penned to paper. Writing things out had always helped him before, but now... so much for logic. He crumpled the paper and tossed it into the fire, watching it burn to ashes. He sighed, and climbed into his bed, turning down his lantern.
There was... that sort of loneliness as well, he reflected. Of course he could take care of things himself, but it wasn't the same as being with Havelock, skin to skin. He forced the thought from his mind, scanning his brain for something to think about to fill the void. There was always work that needed planning, for one, and Hogswatch shopping would need to be done soon... none of which was quite distracting enough. He tried to make his thoughts blank, then, and let fatigue take over.
Though they were essentially alone in a carriage under attack halfway to Überwald ; he knew he was safe. Havelock stirred from his sleep and stepped out into the snow, and now there were muffled screams and a loud thump that rocked the vehicle. He didn't have to look up when the door opened again to know that Havelock had emerged victorious, without so much as a drop of the bandits' blood on him. The surface of his skin was cold as he slipped under their shared covers again, but his pulse was racing with adrenaline... no words needed to be spoken as he pulled away his nightshirt, and warmed Havelock's skin on contact, blood pumping through his veins, fresh from the kill... Rufus bent down, eagerly taking Havelock's blood engorged cock into his mouth, sucking firmly, deeply, tasting his skin...
He awoke a sweaty mess, and tossed aside the covers. Let's try this again, he thought, stripping off his nightshirt and changing to a fresh one. He went to his bathroom and splashed cold water on his face- and just then, he thought he saw something in the mirror behind him. Eyes wide, he fumbled with the lantern, and held it high. He stepped into the study, turning up a second lantern, and hovering his hand over the bell pull. He could have half a dozen dark clerks in mere seconds, if anyone was there...
... but there was no one there, was there? He was fairly certain, now. The only routes onto this floor were always closely guarded by dark clerks in addition to the Palace Guard. No one got through but him and Sam without an escort, including servants, and the windows were watched, as well. No, it was his overactive imagination.
Except, it really did feel as though there were eyes on him...
He picked up his lantern and hurried into the hall. He paused at Sam's door. What had he been thinking? How would he explain? But, he ought to be certain he was all right...
Rufus knocked sharply. "Sam?" he called, uncertainly.
"Rufus? " Sam's voice was groggy with sleep as he opened the door. "Are you all right?"
"I..." Had a dream? Never mind what about! Saw something? Thought I saw something? Thought something was looking at me? each response was worse than the last.
"I'm fine." But he wasn't.
Sam looked at him long and hard, and nodded. "Come in." He pulled back the covers, and slid back into bed.
Rufus set down the lantern, and stood awkwardly at the nightstand.
Yes, what will happen, what will he do to you, if you get into his bed? An unbidden part of his mind whispered.
"Rufus. It's cold." Sam complained, holding up the corner of the blanket.
Rufus got in, and pulled the covers up to his chin. The bed was still warm from Sam's body, though they weren't touching.
"It's ... silly." He began.
"You can tell me."
"I... I don't know. I'm just... I'm sorry I bothered you. I wanted to be sure you were all right." It was at least half true.
"You don't have to tell me, either way. It's fine." Sam's voice was quiet, contented.
"Thank you." He closed his eyes, and felt safe.
Somehow, Sam was not surprised to awaken under the watchful eye of Morporkia, who stood at the end of the bed, watching him intently, a thoughtful expression crossing her features. He could sense her before he could see her, and was getting better at telling reality from the place in his head that she controlled. The bed seemed to be the only solid thing around them, and Rufus was gone.
"My lady." He sat up, resting on his knees, and bowing his head respectfully.
"You bow to me." She said, amusement in her voice, but also a bit of preening pleasure.
"Of course." Sam risked a glance up. "I don't know what the others did to you, but I'm sorry. I want to help, if we could... talk..." He braced himself, waiting for her to lash out with her temper, and flinched when she laid a glowing hand on his cheek. He could feel her, reaching into his mind, sifting through it, looking in places he had assumed were private. He fought the urge to push her away, fearing her reaction.
"Son of Sam Vimes." She slowly drew her hand back.
"Ramkin." This she said, with hesitation, and a hint of approval.
"Why do you see me this way?" She gestured to her glowing form, curvaceous and regal despite being made of newsprint.
"That's how you look in the Times." Sam managed.
"I mean, you think I am beautiful." she laughed. "Sweet child. You were brought up to worship me. Not in so many words, no. But worship me you do, as much as your father, perhaps even more. He would die for me, yes, but he is not in awe of me. It has been a long time since I was courted so nicely." she added. "Not even my beloved Vetinari knelt to me."
"He gave everything for your sake!" Sam protested.
"Yes. I demand it. And I will demand it of you. Your love. Your worship. Your life's work. I will have all of you. I will consume you, and if I please, I will allow you to rule me."
She's trying to frighten me, Sam realized. Trying to see if I'll try to overpower her if she corners me. She's the frightened one; mourning, sad, and lonely. He chose his next words carefully.
"I only rule in your name, my lady. With your blessing." He began, cautiously. He did not say, "please don't be afraid." He knew it would enrage her.
"I see." She nodded. "You are not my beloved Vetinari, " she frowned, crawling onto the bed to face him. "but- perhaps, you shall do." She leaned forward, and kissed the tip of his nose. There was something...businesslike about her manner. Seamstress, that's what it reminded him of. He didn't like it.
"Vetinari was my godfather. He gave me to you. I promise that I won't harm you. I'll bring you stability, honor... anything you please. And you're right that I worship you. I love you more than I could say. You are the most important city in the world, and my home, and... I'll do what you want. I'll never abandon you."
"And what do you want?" she asked, coyly.
"Just... peace. Let's work together. Rather, let you be the goddess, and I'll be your servant, and we'll make the city thrive. That's all."
"I saw what you want. You think of him always."
"I-" It was impossible to lie, of course. She was pushing him, seeing what buttons to press, what his personality was-what his essence was. Pushing to see if he'd be a Mad Lord Snapchase or a Homicidal Lord Winder, or was this just her way of courting?
"All I want is to not want what isn't mine." It was the diplomatic truth.
"You all want something, in your heart of hearts. The best of you take what you can get. The worst of you use me as a means to an end."
"That's horrible. I'm sorry."
"Even my Vetinari dreamt of a collar to tame the raging beast; even though the master's voice was more than adequate."
"Not to tame you?" Sam asked, confused.
"What do you think?" she laughed. "I think not!"
"Then-" But then she had swooped down on him, pushing him onto his back, her face inches from his own. Her features shifted, and became Rufus'.
"I think you will be a good husband, of your own accord." Even her voice was right, and it sent shivers through his body. He could feel the warmth of his body, the pulse under his touch... If only it were real.
"Such devotion should be rewarded. You shall have your heart's desire as we consummate our union."
Sam wanted to protest, but she was kissing him, and it was better than a dream because he could feel everything as though he were awake, could respond, could have Rufus for his own-
"But you aren't him." He sighed, between kisses. Her hands were wandering now, and he didn't want to protest, because it felt so good.
"You do not want me as I am, dear husband."
"I do." It only seemed right. Besides, having a dream of Rufus that was too real hurt in a way that he couldn't quite articulate.
She shifted again, and became... more or less flesh and blood. Very much like the Times portrayed her, true, but older, and worn, as though she'd been living rough. Her bosom sagged a bit, and one of her teeth was gray, but she was still regal, still beautiful in a fierce, old fashioned sort of way.
"You're lovely." he managed.
"What an odd boy you are." She said, fondly, as she slipped a hand into his trousers. "Now, lie back, my dear, and think of Ankh-Morpork..."
Rufus awoke slowly, savoring the sensation of being half asleep with no need to rise to full consciousness too quickly. He was content, and warm-and in Sam's bed. Fuzzy thoughts gave way to memories of the night before, and he groaned. At some point in the night, he'd migrated from his side of the bed to curl against Sam's body.
He sat up carefully, so as not to disturb him. It was then he realized something was wrong. Sam was frozen in place, limbs stiff, and mouth open, trembling.
"Sam!" He gripped his shoulders, and shook him. Sam's body convulsed under his touch. His face was pale, drained of blood.
At least he's lying down on a soft surface this time.
A small whimper came from the back of Sam's throat, and the tiny noise made him angry. How could she hurt Sam, so kind and dedicated?
"Leave him alone!" he scolded, shaking him again. "He wants to help you!" He swung a leg over his friend's thrashing body to better grip him. "Please, stop. For Havelock. Please stop hurting him." He whispered.
He was becoming frightened, and was wondering if he should call for a doctor when Sam opened his eyes. He gasped for breath, and gazed up at Rufus, adoration in his eyes despite his disorientation.
He doesn't know where he is, but he knows who I am. Brief feelings of guilt tinged with relief to see him well were short-lived, however, when Rufus realized where he was. Sam's erection was pressed against his inner thigh, and his own legs were spread wide...
He scrambled up. "Are you all right, now?"
Sam sat up. "She came to see me. She...didn't hurt me."
Rufus glanced at the clock and sighed. It was early, even for him, but there was no going back to sleep.
"Don't get up yet. Rest a bit... Shall I bring you coffee?"
"Will you share it with me?" Sam asked, shyly.
Rufus nodded, grateful to have a practical task to attend to.
Vimes knew that he was dreaming, because he was there. He didn't want it to be a dream, though, and so this fact stayed at the back of his mind, nagging its way into his thoughts, a sort of background noise. The majority of his thoughts were on Vetinari, who stood facing the large windows in the Oblong Office, hands clasped behind his back, praising him for his contributions to the city. He was to be offered some grand reward with an indulgent grin, as though the favors Vetinari had granted him were mere trinkets. He knew how this went. He waited.
"It seems, Commander, that I am at a loss. I fear there is nothing more to give you." Vetinari turned then, and strode the few short paces to face him.
"Sir." It was a safe response. Good gods, he was beautiful. It was the eyes that he'd missed the most. Why had he spent so many years avoiding looking into them?
"Except, perhaps, for one thing."
You, Vimes thought. The man himself, the ultimate, elusive prize. He'd have Vetinari. After a lifetime in which his feelings for the man had slowly, grudgingly changed from resentment bordering on hatred to a love that pulled at every fiber of his being, Vetinari was finally going to reciprocate. This was the point in the dream where he would stop himself, before he regretted it. This time ... felt different.
"What is it called, a concubine?" He asked, standing his ground.
"I think the word you are searching for is 'consort', Commander, though I am tempted to agree to the former."
Vimes took a slow breath. "And do you want this, then, or is it just a prize to give?"
Vetinari raised an eyebrow in inquiry. "And would you accept it, if that was all that it was?"
Yes, thought Vimes, and hated himself for it. He'd take what he could get. That wasn't who he was, but he'd make this exception for the man who had changed what he was.
"How fortunate it is then, that I love you so dearly." Vetinari's voice was soft and gentle, and held a measure of regret.
This is madness. "I suppose there's a ring, or something?" he managed.
"Yes." Vetinari tapped his chest, where the stiletto blade was fastened to him under his uniform.
That's going too far, Vimes thought, as a dull anger filled him and tears pricked at his eyes. It's a dream. Let me just have this dream. Don't go and bring that into it. Bastard.
He let Vetinari tilt his chin up and kiss him. He drew his arms around his slim body, and clutched his hands in the familiar black robe, gripping tightly so that he couldn't slip away. "Don't go. Not yet." He was suddenly terrified that his fingers would pass through thin air. It had to end. Dreams ended.
"You're hurting yourself." Vetinari scolded.
"You left me." It came out in a resentful snarl, and Vimes felt childish even as he said it.
"And if I promised to stay by your side?"
"You'd be lying." He clutched tighter, until his fingers were cramping.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not." Vetinari was stroking his hair. How odd. And then he felt it slipping away, and he fought to stay under the influence of sleep.
Vimes reached instinctively for Sybil, needing the comfort of her soft body against his. His groping hand found nothing but pillows. He scrambled out of the bed and down the stairs, a sudden panic filling him. She was there, wasn't she? She had to be there, she always was. He'd remember if he'd been left alone, wouldn't he?
He stopped abruptly in the doorway of the kitchen, where Sybil was reaching for the tea canister. "Sam?" She looked worried. He shook his head once, and threw his arms around her. She held him tight, and didn't barrage him with questions. She always knew what to do.
"Just a dream." He managed, pulling himself away from her with great difficulty. "Sorry."
"Don't be, dear." She kissed his cheek, and pulled out a chair. "Chin up, now. I'll make you some breakfast."
Vimes watched her as she fumbled around the range. There was a lot of bacon going into that pan. She knew how to read him.
"I love you so much." The words left him before he realized he'd spoken, and were followed with a rush of embarrassment.
Sybil looked up from the stove, one side of her mouth quirked up in a grin. "I love you too, Sam." She set the mess of bacon, eggs, and toast on the table, and sat across from him.
"You're going to the Palace today?" Of course she knew that he was. She was talking him down, giving him a thread to follow back to real life. He felt himself calming down, even though he knew exactly what she was doing.
"First thing. Did you have anything you want me to bring to Sam?" Sybil could do wonderful things with bacon, such as half burning it to charcoal. He chewed appreciatively.
"Well, yes, now that you mention it. I'm using my influence as his mother to rope him into a tea party on Sunday. Sylvia's fundraising, you know, and some of the girls from Sto Lat are visiting the Sanctuary, and it would do them some good to make some connections. And perhaps he'd bring Rufus around."
Vimes stopped chewing. "When did he tell you?"
"Tell me what, dear?"
"About Drumknott. And him."
Sybil gave him a questioning look. "And is there an... understanding?"
Vimes blushed hotly. "I... er. No. It's just that he... when did he tell you?"
"He didn't. I'm his mother, Sam. I know. It's a miracle the rest of the world doesn't."
"So you knew, and didn't tell me?"
"Suspected, dear. It's a bit different. "
Vimes sighed. "I was going to tell you. Soon. "
Sybil laughed, and refilled his coffee mug. "Oh, Sam, he'll be fine. One way or the other. And I promised Havelock I'd keep an eye on his young man."
Havelock's young man, Vimes thought sourly. He couldn't deny it, really. If he had been Vetinari's terrier, than Drumknott was a cherished lapdog: small, fussy, and lost outside the Palace grounds. But the longer he was Vetinari's young man, the longer his son would suffer for it. Sybil thought Sam would be fine, but she didn't know the half of it. She'd never had her heart ripped out. He'd never allow that.
"So, when is this tea? I'll need to know when to get out from underfoot."
"I'll give you the invitations. You could join us, dear." She smiled.
"What have I ever done to you?" he grumbled. But the memory of the night before was fading, and the coffee and bacon were sticking to his ribs. He felt as though he could maybe face another day.
Rufus hadn't had to think about his wardrobe in months. He'd ordered two black suits while Havelock was ill, both practical, and intended on wearing them out. He hadn't expected that he'd need something formal, as well. He had only one formal black suit. He'd ordered it a few years earlier for his visit to Überwald. Miss Healstether sent him a fashionable magazine, and he took it to his family to have something made that would be impressive at court. They had been a little too enthusiastic, in his opinion, and he'd had to put his foot down quite firmly to convince his sister to not embroider little bats on the collar. The end result was an impressive and somewhat old fashioned mix of silk and velvet that made him worry that he'd look too flashy, knowing that Havelock would wear fine but plain wool- but Havelock had merely smiled, and said that Margolotta had been pestering him to show off a fine jewel at these events, and not be so somber. He'd been flustered, but Havelock had called him beautiful again in Überwald several times; endearing him to the suit. Miss Healstether liked it as well, but suggested pointedly that some ornament would have perfected it, perhaps some bats or spiders? The argument that this wouldn't be as practical didn't sway his usually logical companion. Fashion, he was told, wasn't practical.
He stared at his reflection in the mirror as he tied his laces. He hadn't looked this pale and tired the last time he'd worn this, but that had been a different time, a different world where Havelock was alive. He'd never be part of that world again. It didn't seem right, how someone could stop existing in such a short time, to go from alive to dead in a moment, permanently scarring the world, causing the kind of suffering he'd do anything to escape-
Not quite anything, said a traitorous voice in his mind. You know where the poisons are kept. You know which ones would be painless.
He looked away, and took a deep breath. Sam. He lived for Sam now. Someone had to look after him, so that he could look after the city. The city was what was important, more than any of them or their troubles. He wiped his spectacles clean, and headed for the coach yard, where Sam was already waiting. Sam made an effort to not stare, but Rufus could feel his eyes on him, tracing the curve of his legs under the stockings, the nipped in waist of his coat, and in turn did his best to feel ashamed, and not pleased by the attention. Neither of them said a thing about it as they rode to Scoone Avenue.
Lady Sybil's teas and meals were always enjoyable because they were rather informal, as these things went. Ramkins didn't feel the need to impress. They'd never had to. Dragons were shooed from the dining room, but only halfheartedly. Half of them returned in minutes, the bolder ones standing on hind legs to catch a glimpse of the tabletop. Lady Sybil served the finest food on Agaten plates that were hundreds of years old, and worth more than a mansion, and yet never seemed worried if something broke. It was a contradiction that had always puzzled and upset Rufus on some level, though he could never quite articulate why; possibly something about the world disobeying rules so blatantly. Still, he liked Lady Sybil, and would much rather be in her house than in the homes of her guests.
Lady Selachii was there, of course, always looking for Lady Sybil's favor. She had brought her youngest daughter and a guest- the man with the runes from the Times. Rufus was certain he'd heard the man's name in passing before this but couldn't place where. He was introduced to five other women, including the Dowager Duchess of Quirm, whom he'd met before. There was a lot of talk about dragons, and the Museum, each party looking for small gaps in conversation where they could insert a plea for their cause. He listened to the strands of conversation intently, cataloging trivia while passing around plates of dainty pastries, and offering short, noncommittal responses to questions about politics. Ah, Sam had asked three questions in a row to the man, that was one too many. He mustn't think Sam was interested in him particularly. He placed his hand on Sam's knee under the table, and squeezed gently. Sam turned his attention to his mother, and asked about her current champion dragon. Rufus removed his hand, and resumed listening, finishing another cup of tea before the party wound down.
Lady Sybil pulled him aside once everyone had left. "It was good of you to come, Rufus. I know you and Sam are both so busy."
He shook his head. "It's an honor. I should be thanking you."
Sybil clasped his shoulder. "I did mean to talk to you, dear. I know that things haven't been easy for any of us, but especially for you. And I was hoping that Sam would be home to see you, but he stays on patrol until he's absolutely certain that he won't have to wear a suit and socialize." This she said a little sadly, and Rufus felt a bit sorry for her. "And, well. I know that you have a family of your own that you probably don't get to see nearly enough, but I'd like for you to think of us as family as well, all right? It's just that Havelock worried about you so much, and while I know that you're strong... well. I've always been so fond of you, and so has Sam. I don't want you to hesitate to ask for anything. So if you ever feel lonely, or if you need anything- anything at all- we're right here, all right, dear?"
Rufus nodded, unsure of what to say. "Thank you, Lady Sybil-"
"Just Sybil, please. I mean it." And she gave him a hug, a very nice, tight, soft hug that he was reluctant to end.
"Everything all right?" Sam asked, as he climbed into the waiting coach.
Rufus smiled. It wasn't hard to see where Sam had gotten his kindness from. He nodded.
Once assured, Sam stared out the window, preoccupied with an unspoken thought. Rufus didn't press him, though, as he had enough to think about himself.
"No. Absolutely not, Sam." Rufus tried to look stern, though he had to look up to do so. "This isn't a game." Sam stood before him in a threadbare suit and briefcase scavenged from the clerks' old clothing bin that would make its way downstairs to the servants, who would pick through it before selling the remainder at the shonky shop.
"Do you think the Cable Street Particulars are playing, then?" he challenged him.
"You ought to leave this to the Watch, at that. That's what the Peculiars are for." Please, be reasonable.
"I can't tell my dad. He would go mental. " Sam almost wailed.
"And why is that?" Rufus prodded, feeling smug at having herded him straight into it. "Because it's dangerous, that's why!"
"She wants me to go." Sam looked away, obviously uncomfortable. "I don't know exactly what I'm looking for, but she... people are hurting, Rufus, and it hurts her in turn."
Rufus deflated a bit. Sam never mentioned her unless he had to. He knew that she terrified him, although he wouldn't admit as much, and the way that Sam tried to put on a brave face brought out every protective urge that he had.
"I'm going with you." he declared, and was secretly pleased at the alarm in Sam's expression. See how it feels to worry for someone you care about? A snide part of him thought, though mainly he was frightened for both of them, now. But he'd been to the Shades with Havelock often enough... and Sam is not an Assassin. He isn't even a watchman, and I am a clerk. I doubt I could defend myself with a letter opener. Rufus shook off the thought. He had to stay with him.
"You are my responsibility." He should go straight to the Commander. He'd put a stop to this in a moment- but, there was a sacred trust between a Patrician and his secretary. He sighed. The shadow of Commander Vimes would always loom over him. Funny how the man would have such influence over both men he...
"I know this is important to you," he added, in a softer tone. "We'll find out what it is that she wants of you."
"Thank you." Sam said, in a quiet voice. "I did think it through, you know. It won't be as dangerous as you think. I'm going in daylight, in disguise, and I don't think people will bother me. Us." he corrected.
"That's optimistic." Rufus sighed.
"The Shades are a series of tight neighborhoods, right? Any outsider is likely to be treated with mistrust at best, and aggression at worst. So, I wondered, what kind of stranger could go about freely? Someone people know doesn't have any money. Someone you want to avoid. Someone who isn't enough of a threat to bother confronting." Sam pressed the latch on the secondhand briefcase, and grinned as a stack of colorful pamphlets spilled out. Rufus took in the picture in a state of awe. If he didn't know Sam for who he was... it worked.
"Do you really think you can be convincing?" he asked, weakly.
"Oh, yes. Old Washpot has left hundreds of these in Pseudopolis Yard. I did a little housekeeping and read up. And, I have been praying with Mr. Newmann."
The last bit surprised him. "Were you really? Don't you worry that Om would find your lack of sincerity a bit disrespectful?"
Sam shrugged. "I hope not. I mean, really, I just wanted to talk to him about things, but you know how Omnians are. It's easier to pray than not to. I learned some prayers, so it wasn't a loss."
Havelock would have thought this way, he realized dimly. He wasn't sure if it made him feel any better. Sam didn't have a spark of magic in him to see them through.
And so, that was how he found himself alighting from an unmarked carriage at the edge of the Shades, just before the streets began to narrow and veer in broken paths. Sam had added the ubiquitous large brimmed hats that the Omnians wore to their ensembles, so that anyone staring them down quickly turned away. The hat was all that they needed to see.
They turned onto a residential street lined with grubby brick buildings. Here, people had attempted to scrub them clean, their attempts made apparent by the curved dents on the front steps, where housewives attempted unsuccessfully to scour them white each morning.
"Havelock had those installed last year." He gestured toward a cast iron street lamp with shatterproof railroad glass shades. He was rather proud of them, as he'd been the one to suggest the new glass. No storm could crack them and douse the flame. The material had previously been reserved for trains and clacks towers.
"We'll need more, maybe twice as many." Sam mused.
"There's one on every corner." Rufus protested. They had been expensive.
Sam gestured to an alley way, barely wide enough to notice. "It needs to be consistent. The lights illuminate, but they take your night vision. You get to here, and, well."
Rufus nodded, feeling anxious. He certainly wouldn't have noticed. He'd never had to notice before.
Sam stopped at a pump, and began scraping some of the mineral buildup into a vial with a penknife.
"Please don't... touch things." Rufus frowned. "You might catch anything!"
"It's all right." Sam assured him, ignoring the advice. To Rufus's distress, Sam had begun walking in the direction of the Shambles, where no one scrubbed their doorsteps at all.
"We're headed into a bad area." Rufus hissed.
"Isn't that the point?" Sam asked, radiating the hopeful innocence of an Omnian missionary.
The Shambles are only partially on the map, on any map, really. The crumbling buildings on the maps were, at Rufus' best guess, about two hundred years old. They bent in places they shouldn't bend, and sunk little by little into the abyss of Ankh-Morpork, so that every decade or so the doors on the ground floor needed to be shaved down in order to close. Soon they'd only be able to rent those rooms to dwarfs. These houses were the basis for the more questionable structures, quite literally, as they would fall over without the old brick structures to support them. They were made of bricks that hadn't been fired properly, rotting wood, and mortar that never seemed to fully dry. A persistent damp fog hung low in the narrow lanes where clotheslines crossed between every available window, drying rags that quickly accumulated soot. Alleys and yards were capitalized upon, becoming illegally constructed shelters, goat sheds, work sheds. During the first census, Clerk Martin had told him that he'd found people subletting inexpertly dug extensions of cellars, literal holes in the ground, and that some of the back gardens were nothing but a cesspool, a hole of filth without even a drain. You didn't want to know what happened to the cellars when it rained, he'd said grimly.
Despite the chaotic layout of the district, Sam was moving with a sense of purpose, as though he had a destination in mind. Rufus followed him, keeping his eyes peeled for trouble. They reached the corner of- Oxpens.
So this was it, was it, where his mother had lived in filth and misery, but made it sound like a fairy tale, where the hard working girl toiled in the cinders and was rewarded with a better life. So this was where he was conceived, in one of these rotting houses with broken windows, and a goat, an actual goat, inside of that one on the corner. The whole place smelling like piss, and a seamstress doing business right out in the open, and some boys not older than five shoving each other and using words for actions they certainly weren't old enough to know about, though the seamstress certainly wasn't helping matters in that sense. He took it in, and felt ashamed.
"Rufus? I thought I lost you." Sam doubled back.
"Where are we going?" He looked back to Sam.
"I'm not sure. I think she's telling me where. My feet are telling me where."
He hurried after Sam, and wished that he'd thought to ask some dark clerks to follow them.
Rufus hurried to keep up. The farther into the Shambles they wandered, the more the expression on Sam's face frightened him: slightly unfocused, determined, and yet, his feet went where they needed to go, neatly stepping around obstructions that slowed Rufus down. Sam gradually slowed to a halt, and gazed at the rotting shacks around him as though seeing them for the first time.
"Is she hurting you?" Rufus demanded, as he was finally able to pause to catch his breath.
Sam shook his head. "No. I'm doing what she wants."
He stuck close as Sam ventured into a courtyard so narrow that he had assumed it to be an alley. He turned as he felt eyes on him, sharp as daggers.
Two women stood in the closest doorway, watching them suspiciously. Neither of them could have been much older than he was, but their eyes seemed to be much older, and colder.
"Good afternoon." He tried, tipping his hat. "Have you heard the good news of Om?"
"And what's that, then? Is he raising the dole?" she asked, shaking the dust out of the rug she was holding, quite deliberately in his direction, he noted.
"You aren't the usual lads." The other noted. "Someone off 'em at last?"
"We are from ze Reformed Omnian Brotherhood of Quirm." Sam offered, assuming just enough of an accent to sound as though he was trying not to have one. "We have come to Ankh-Morpork to spread ze good news, that is-"
"Do much in the way of charity, do you?" Asked the younger. "Only we're busy, you see, hard workin' women, and we already has the religion from the usual lads. So I can't be wasting my time."
"The usual...You attend services?" Rufus asked, his heart sinking. They'd be sure to know they were fakes.
"We attend regular." Affirmed the younger.
I bet you do, for the handouts. I bet you attend every house of worship in town, and I can't blame you, I'd do the same.
"Of course, forgive us." Sam pulled tuppence from his pocket and handed it to the girl. "I am sorry that we do not have more to give, but we share what we have. I would like to share a gift to warm your hearts on such a cold day." He opened his briefcase, and pulled out a handful of pamphlets.
"Will warm the hearth at least." Said the elder, taking them.
"It is nice to meet such kind ladies." Sam said, flashing them a handsome grin. "Good women of Om. We wish to know about Ankh-Morpork, where we may find ze souls most in need of 'elp."
The elder woman finally seemed to budge. "You want to turn around and go back where you came from, brother. You go down this street and you'll be in a bad neighborhood, and no mistake. No place for a lad like you. Why'd you need to come here, anyway? Everyone knows they're sinnin' over in Quirm, filthy minds, no offense, plenty of work there, I'd assume."
"Probably had to make their own church on account of forn sinning." Agreed the younger, though she looked secretly intrigued. Rufus could tell that they were only being tolerated due to Sam's good looks, and even that wouldn't buy much time.
"Our differences in philosophy are mainly concerning ze diet. Of course we do not eat ze tortoise, most humble and revered of creatures. Our brothers in Ankh-Morpork object to ze eating of shelled creatures, however, which is part of our proud cultural heritage. But, ze snail is not ze tortoise." Sam continued, earnestly.
The women were beginning to look bored and put upon, and began to withdraw into the building. Rufus took the opportunity to pull Sam away.
"That was rather awful, and not inconspicuous." He scolded. "And those women are right, you know. We should turn around before-"
But Sam was not to be deterred. "Can't we give them money?" he asked, doubtfully. "I mean, secretly. Can't we-"
"What happens when their husbands come home, and ask where they got it? What if they accuse them of theft or whoring, what if they're just drunkards who take the money? And it's only a moment until it's needed again. One meal. I know you know this, Sam. It's common sense."
"I know that, in the long run... but one meal is better than nothing." Sam looked wounded. "Why do you suspect everyone here, just because they have less?"
Rufus crossed his arms . "Because they do. And when you have less, you scheme more, or you die. "
"My father saved our lives." Rufus spoke in a clipped voice, not showing emotion. "If my mother had stayed where she had, if she'd had to work all hours instead of nursing me near a warm stove- if she hadn't even a stove at that- I would have died, like children die here every day. My sister and mother probably wouldn't have lasted the winter. And she's lucky that her man was the sort that just left, without doing much harm. You saw what happened to Charlotte Newmann. It happens all the time. When people get desperate, they get selfish, they get violent."
"You're going to help them. You're just going to be smart about it, all right?" Rufus' voice softened, and he patted his arm. "We're going to see what you came to see. Count drains and privies, that sort of thing. And when she sees that you're paying attention, she'll leave you alone to do some good." It was a good plan, he had to admit. It sounded nearly harmless, even to him. He hoped it sounded plausible to Morporkia.
Sam stopped in his tracks, closing his eyes and shaking slightly. Rufus was beside him in a moment, steadying him. "Let's go home." he murmured. "Please, Sam. Enough for today. I'll make you some tea, we'll have a nice fire to sit by..."
"We're here." Sam's eyes opened. "This is it." He looked up at a massive building of dirty brick, five floors high and just as long. It was a squat giant, casting a cold shadow along the length of the narrow street. Half of the windows were boarded over, but it was clearly in use as a residence. Rufus wished that whomever Morporkia wished Sam to meet could have arranged it on neutral ground.
He followed Sam up the rotting stairs to the front door, which opened onto a dark foyer containing a musty smelling staircase in the center, and doorways to halls on either side. He could make out a dull green wallpaper from the light of a small window under the back of the stairs. From all directions came the muffled sounds of living: voices, babies crying, dogs barking; overlaid with the smell of boiled cabbage and cheap tobacco, and unwashed bodies that was almost a physical force in itself.
"Where are we going?" he asked, not liking the look of the stairs. The banisters seemed solid, but the floorboards were crooked.
Sam shrugged, and turned left, knocking on the first door. An old woman answered, and the source of the cabbage smell became apparent.
"Come in." She hurried them into the drab little room, in which a small stove boiled in the corner. There was an old table in the middle of the floor, with milk crates doing duty as chairs. A paper print depicting Offler took up most of the spare wall, and a small window, against all odds, was dressed in a clean lace curtain.
"Cooper." She supplied. "And no, I'm sorry, I haven't read your book. But I fear we're running out of time for the other priest to get here. Would you say a prayer for our William? I'll get you a cup of tea." Sam was escorted to the other side of the room that held a bed piled high with blankets. Somewhere in there was a very small boy. Rufus saw his thin, miserable face peer out from beneath the covers. Sam sat on the upturned crate beside the bed, and turned to him, leaving Rufus at the mercy of Mrs. Cooper.
"Sit, dear." She put a pan of water on the cabbage.
"Is young William your son?" he ventured.
She snorted. "Don't flatter me, young man, you're supposed to be honest. Grandson, and the last I have left. " She had the grim, stony look of someone who refused to shed any more tears. "It's the miasma, you know. Eleven kiddies gone this month on our street, but he's looking much better this morning. He might pull through with a few prayers." She added, hope vying with worry in her tone.
Rufus hesitantly accepted the cup of tea he was offered. This place was making his skin crawl, and now Sam was sitting with a boy with... something contagious. His Sam! He had to get him out of here. He raised the cup to his lips, but only made a gesture of drinking before setting it down politely.
"Do you and young William live alone?"
"My daughter and her three girls live here with us." She confirmed. There was another knock on the door, and Rufus was relieved to see one of Offler's priests on the other side.
"Forgive me, dear, I didn't even ask your names. This is Father Jim."
"John." Rufus shook his hand. "And I'll let you take over your flock. We were just keeping Mrs. Cooper and young William company."
Sam said his goodbyes, and Rufus hurried him out to the street.
"Cholera." Sam said, sourly.
"It's a... thing. The invisible animals in the air and water that make up the miasma. This one spreads through water when it gets dirty. I've read about it. It's killed a dozen children last month before going away. Dr. Lawn told me that it seems to come and go every few years." Sam's voice was tight, and he almost looked as though he were about to cry; although he wasn't sure if it was sadness or anger. Perhaps both.
"We're going home." Rufus said, firmly. To his relief, Sam nodded.
"Do you know what he said to me?" he snarled. "He thinks it's kind of the landlords to subdivide the place into those miserable little rooms so that there's room for everyone to have a place to live. He's only six. I'm going to find whoever owns this place and throw them in the scorpion pit!"
Ah. Anger, then. They stalked on in glum silence.
"Hey, no. That's bad for you." Sam stopped, distracted by something in the gutter. Upon closer inspection, it was an emaciated swamp dragon trying to eat a tin can. Sam dug into his pouch and produced a bit of coal, before kneeling and offering it to the wretched creature. He made a series of clicking noises before it came to him, refusing to eat from his hand, but letting Sam stroke its scales when the treat was placed on the curb. It swallowed and tried to flame, but produced only a small spark.
He carries dragon treats. Of course he does. Rufus felt a small smile forming on his lips, despite the grim day.
"No flame?" Sam asked, sadly. The dragon looked hopefully at Sam's pouch. He picked it up, and bundled it under his cloak. "I have to do something." he explained to Rufus, miserably. "We'll get you home and cleaned up so that the sanctuary can find you a nice family." Something happened to Sam's voice when he talked to dragons, something that made him seem more like the Sam he knew and less like... like the Commander, he realized. It was the anger.
A short time later, they exited the Shades. Rufus was glad to climb into the carriage, which was blessedly airtight and warmed with heated bricks, one of which was quickly taken over by the tiny dragon. He took Sam's hands into his own, rubbing them to warm them. Their fingers were cold even beneath their gloves.
"We're expanding the Undertaking to fix this." He said, closing his fingers around Rufus'.
Rufus nodded, and leaned close. "Please don't go looking for trouble again. You could get sick, you could get hurt. I don't know what I'd do-"
He wasn't certain which one of them moved first, but there was a fraction of a second where their eyes met, and then Sam was kissing him, firmly at first, parting slightly before a gentler brush of lips, darting his tongue into his mouth in a way that unexpectedly made him shiver and whimper. Somehow he was half on Sam's lap, straddling his thigh, and his arms were locked tight around Sam's shoulders. He felt hands ghosting over his back, sending pleasant chills up his spine, and still they were touching, small caresses that never fully separated from one long kiss.
He came to his senses as the carriage slowed to a halt. Heart pounding, he looked into Sam's eyes, dark with lust and need, and was suddenly ashamed of the desire that was overtaking him, frightened of what had been unleashed between them.
"Ihavetogo." He managed, fumbling for the door handle.
Stupid! Careless! What have I done? He hurried through the courtyard, and up a back stairway. You've complicated things, that's what! He's your charge! He's Havelock's heir! He's the Commander's son! They all trusted you! And you belong to Havelock, and you'll never fully belong to him, or... please let Havelock forgive me. Forgive me! I'm yours, your servant, forever. Havelock, forgive me, I must see you again, or there's no point to anything. I'm so sorry. Forgive me.
Somehow, he made it to his rooms, and had the sense to lock and bolt the doors before collapsing on the bed in tears.
Sam sat stunned, the tingling sensation of the kiss still on his lips and tongue, his heart hammering. He'd done it. He'd kissed Rufus. And Rufus had kissed him back, sighing, back arched, almost grinding against his lap... before coming to his senses. What had he seen in his eyes? Fear? Even worse, disgust? No. He'd felt the sincerity of his kiss. There was no denying that something had repelled him, though.
Sam sighed, and stepped out of the coach to ask the driver to bring him to Scoone Avenue. Once there, he scooped up the snoozing dragon and carried him to the stables, and pulled on his jumpsuit and mask. Had he been too rough? He didn't ask him, first. He must have been startled, at the very least. He couldn't have asked though, how many hundreds of times had the request to kiss him formed on his lips, only to have his voice choke in his throat?
He bathed the dragon, searching its skin for nicks and pests. He oiled its wings and buffed its scales, clipped its jagged talons and rubbed ointment into rough spots. He settled the dragon into a secluded, empty stall with a bowl of sulfur fortified feed, and stopped a moment to admire the hatchlings before scrawling a note to his mum, which he tacked on the door.
It was dark by the time he returned to the palace. He knew he'd have to do something tonight... talk to him, somehow. He couldn't just see him in the morning and pretend that nothing had happened. He was beginning to get an inkling of what his dad had warned him about, and he didn't like it one bit.
"My lord?" Clerk Harris approached him as he neared the stairwell. "Lady Selachii's daughter is here. She's been waiting in the antechamber of the Oblong Office for an hour."
"It's Octeday." Sam replied. "She can come back tomorrow."
"She thought you'd say that, sir. She claimed that she was a dear old friend of hers and that you'd be happy to see her. Also that she wasn't going to leave."
Sam sighed. "Typical. I'll see her, but she's going to have to wait a bit longer. " He gestured to his dirty suit. The clerk nodded, and hurried off.
Sam grumbled to himself as he made his way to his rooms. He meant to take his time bathing, just to make a point, but found himself hurrying. The sooner he dealt with whatever this was, the sooner he could see Rufus. He sighed as he pulled on a black robe, and took a back route to the office. He didn't bother to light a fire before ringing a bell to allow his guest in.
"Hello, Sam." Dolores sauntered in, chin up, carefully practiced moves to show off her stylish new dress. Sam sighed.
"Hello, Dolores. What is so important that it can't wait for tomorrow?"
She frowned. "Well, as you're not one for small talk, I see, the future, then."
"Your future." She clarified. "Being Patrician is undoubtedly the most consuming of careers, after all. You sacrifice all of your time and energy... if you're not careful, your youth will slip away unnoticed."
"I'm not worried about getting old quite yet." Sam's eyes flicked to the clock.
"And, as the last of the Ramkins, you have your legacy to think of as well. Family matters are such work. The paperwork alone! You can't trust clerks, not with the important bits. "
"That's what clerks are for. They're trained to do paperwork." He didn't want to leave it too late...
"...and since our mothers are such good friends, I like to look out for you. Really, though. You need someone with a level head to help with this sort of thing. Someone from a good family. As good as the Ramkins. So I was thinking, perhaps we should set the date sometime early in the spring."
"What?" Sam was jolted from his thoughts. "I'm sorry, Dolores, but you've got the wrong end of the stick. I'm not interested in getting married!"
"You say that now, but..."
"I'll say it later, too. I'm too busy. I'm married to the city."
"What! Don't be silly. You're a man, Sam. You have needs. You can't marry a city. Are you going to spend the rest of your life in this room, with no one but your clerk for company, and that silly dog as well, and go to a cold bed every night?"
Something in Sam's expression snapped, and she faltered, talking a step back. "It's for your own good."
"No." Silence hung in the air.
Sam was horrified to see that she was tearing up, her face turning red as it scrunched into unladylike expressions as she tried to hide it. "Please, Sam, you must!"
"Look, there's plenty of men that would be happy to-"
"I need to be married before I start to show." Her face was beet red, her fists clenched. "Tell me what you want, and I'll get it. I'll get it done. "
Sam balked, and then sighed. "Why are you coming to me? What about your-"
"He's common." She snapped.
"So? We could use some new blood in the nobility. There's nothing wrong with being common."
"My father would be angry." She said, darkly. "You have no idea of what I'm dealing with. No idea."
Sam bit back a laugh. "Oh? You don't think my father's a sight when he's angry?"
She glared at him. Sam took in the silence, as an uncomfortable thought nagged at his mind. He knew nothing of Lord Selachii, save that he was a high ranking Assassin. His mum and Lady Selachii were friends, of a sort, and yet- his mum, who had a kind word to say about everyone, had never mentioned Lord Selachii at all.
"I'll help you get away." He decided. "I'll give you some money, and an armed guard, and you can go someplace far away from here. My clerks can make up papers."
"If you tell anyone what I've told you, I'll never forgive it." She snarled, and stormed out.
Mr. Fusspot rolled over in his basket and whined.
"Well, you are silly." He sighed. Mr. Fusspot wagged his tail and went back to sleep.
Sam gazed up at the portrait of Havelock that, beside his father's, dominated the Oblong Office, and sighed. "You'd know what to do. You always did." he sighed. He snuffed the candle, and left the back way, nervously trying to think of what he'd say when Rufus opened his door. It was getting late, and the lights were dimmed. Most of the staff had settled in for the night. May I kiss you again? May I do more? No, too obvious. Too clumsy.
It was so dark that the dimmed lanterns served as barely more than guideposts along the corridors, the kind of shadows that seem to have substance. The drafts seemed to be a living thing, swirling around him, rubbing against his skin like a cat. He paused at the doors of the winter garden, the warm glow from the lanterns inside tempting him to stop a bit. It was a good idea, really. Flowers might be able to say what he couldn't. He lifted a candle from its sconce and opened the door.
The delicate fragrances of spring hit his nose, so strange against the backdrop of windows covered over with ice. He turned up a lantern and critically surveyed the multitude of exotic blossoms before him, searching for the most impressive one. Then, something nagging at the back of his mind caused him to turn. Growing along a tall trellis was an old rose bush, its leaves and thorns artfully jagged, its red blossoms perfectly formed from the tight crimson buds to the flame-like ruffled outer petals. Sam selected a large flower and pruned it from the bush, and carefully snipped away the thorns. Feeling emboldened, he hurried up the back stairs.
He took a deep breath as he knocked on the door, holding the single bloom before him like a talisman.
Rufus opened the door slowly. "I knew you'd come." His collar was unbuttoned, and he was flushed red from his ears to his chest.
Sam held out the flower, and Rufus gave it an odd look, hesitating before taking it. "Thank you." he said, quietly. "Please do come in."
There was a pile of crumpled papers by the sofa. "Don't mind these." Rufus poured him a glass of wine, and topped off his own. Sam noted an empty bottle beside the papers. Where is he putting all of it? he wondered, before finally finding his voice. He seemed much too small to still be standing after a bottle and a half.
"What are they?"
"Lists, if you must know. It helps me think."
"We need to talk about-"
"I've made a list." Rufus adjusted his glasses, and took a deep sip of his wine. "One. About us, item 1A. What happened today and we'll go backward from there."
"Today, at fourteen minutes past six, we experienced a moment of disorientation that led to -"
"Rufus! I want to kiss you again! Then talk."
He blinked, and then nodded. Nervously, Sam leaned in, tilting up his chin before kissing his lips gently. "I've wanted to do that for so long." he sighed.
Rufus was looking askance at the rose, looking on the verge of tears.
"Do you like it?" Sam asked, anxiously.
"You were in the winter garden. Near the far window." he said, distantly. "I do like it, very much. But Sam, what happened today, it's going to keep happening if we aren't careful."
"I want it to happen! Don't you?" Sam asked desperately.
"I'm quite a bit older than you."
"I'm not a child." Sam sulked. "I know what I want. You don't have to act as though you're some predator taking advantage."
"Oh, I know you aren't. You're a very handsome man. But still a young one, and... I'm probably going to die years before you, you know. And you get attached, you see, and you don't deserve that kind of pain." Rufus consulted a crumpled paper, and crossed a line with a dull pencil.
"If I lost you today, I'd be destroyed. It's already too late for that."
"I worry about if I can love you properly, you see. I'm not sure if I love you. But I know that I have to be sure, to get it right, because I love you too much to get it wrong. So it's important, you see." Again, he topped off his glass.
"Rufus, maybe you shouldn't-" he reached for the glass, but Rufus waved his hand away, crossing out another line on the paper.
"...and Havelock said that I would see him again. And if I love you, I might forget how much I love him. And then perhaps he won't see me again." His fingers clutched the glass tightly.
"Oh." Sam suddenly felt very small. "I'll... I'll wait. years. Forever. As long as I need to. I'll wait. And ... and you can leave me, at the end. You'll be with him. I promise. I just... I just want what I can have." he concluded, miserably. Havelock is the better man. You know this.
"It scares me."
"I know." Sam cautiously put an arm around his shoulder, and Rufus leaned against him. "It scares me, too. All I know is that I'm sure of this."
"I don't want you to be lonely. I've only ever wanted the best for you."
Sam tactfully moved the glass to the far side of the table.
"Would you let me... I mean, if we take it slow, would you..."
"Do you think that Havelock ..." he looked as though it were too wretched a sentence to finish.
"I think he'd want you to not cry anymore." Sam said, quietly. "I've made a mess of courting you, haven't I? I'm sure Havelock managed better."
"I proposed it to him."
"You- proposed?" Sam asked, confused. "With a ring?"
"With a proposal." Rufus clarified. "A sixteen page document . Thirteen drafts. A convincing argument. And you got this." He waved the grubby paper in the air. "I could have done better."
"You needn't have. I'm sure that he would have been open to just a question. Being with you every day... the temptation must have been... well. It's strong. I know."
"He never noticed me." He murmured. "Always loved the Commander. Needed to write it down, and pray he didn't make me leave the palace. He could have turned me out of the palace. That's how important it was. I risked that. I could've lost everything, could've been turned out of the palace if he didn't want me."
".. What?" Sam's voice froze in a sort of horror.
"He never acted on it. Would never. She was like a sister to him. He never said a word. Not on his death bed. Never. And then there was you, and he'd have done anything for you. Would have never hurt you. Never. "
Rufus didn't seem to notice the way that Sam was silent as hundreds of loose threads suddenly wove themselves together in his memory.
"But I think that I do love you, really, and perhaps he'd forgive me that." The words were a faint sigh.
Sam's attention snapped back to the situation at hand. "I love you so much. Please. Please give me a chance."
Rufus leaned up, and pressed his lips against Sam's throat, causing goosebumps to rise across his body.
"Yes, that'll do. And you'll fuck me like they do in Quirm." It was a slurred half whisper, and the profanity went straight to Sam's cock.
"!!!" he exclaimed, or so it seemed to him. There weren't any words. There was just lust, raw, jagged want. But Rufus was slumped against the sofa, eyes barely open. He suddenly understood the urge, the near need, to punch a hole in the wall.
Carefully, he slipped his arms under Rufus' body, and carried him to the next room where he placed him on the bed. He pulled the blankets over him, and had enough presence of thought to leave a glass of water by the bedside before leaving, the memory of his words ringing in his head, making his heart pound too quickly for sleep.
Rufus startled as a persistent ringing jolted him from slumber. His limbs felt like sandbags, his head felt like fluffy cotton, and the sun was up. He leapt from the bed, snatching up the alarm clock that had betrayed him, and realized that the lever for the alarm had not been pushed. The ringing resumed, and he followed it to the sitting room. He opened the door to the dumbwaiter, and retrieved a large covered dish. On the tray was a sealed note from the Oblong Office.
Jumbled memories from the day before made themselves known, and he groaned. He snatched up a crumpled paper and made note of the items that had been crossed off. Well.
It seemed like every bit of his body ached or protested. His bladder forced him to his feet, and he used the momentum to get to the bathroom, where he used the privy, brushed his teeth, and splashed ice cold water on his face. He retrieved his bottle of headache pills and investigated the contents of the tray, which turned out to be a full breakfast and, blessedly, a large pot of coffee. He usually ate light breakfasts of whatever grains the kitchen provided, yet found himself devouring the plate of greasy meat. By the time he'd finished the pot of coffee, an hour had passed, and he felt almost human.
He gathered up the crumpled papers, and fed them into the fire one by one. He loaded the dishes and empty wine bottles into the dumbwaiter, made his bed, and put the rose in a glass of water. He noted that it hadn't wilted despite its ill treatment. He placed it on the mantle, and sighed.
You love him. You must look after him. Although the thought still worried him, he had to admit that it was a relief to say it, to not hide it. He drew a bath and sunk into the hot water. It will be all right, surely. He isn't Havelock... but he is Sam. My Sam...Ye gods, I am never drinking again.
Now that he had resigned himself to the fact that he was going to go to bed with him, a tired sense of relief flooded him. He could now allow himself to think of him as a lover... and as sweet and gentle as Sam was, there was something dangerous and powerful about him, lurking just beneath the surface. Something he was certain he could awaken in bed. It was a tantalizing thought. It had been so long since he'd been touched, so long since he'd been forced down and fucked the way he could never ask for until he was in the heat of the moment, in the privacy of the bedroom, held in the iron grip of a trained Assassin and the lord of all the world. He could never have that again, but the son of the Commander had strong arms, surely...
After his bath, he bundled himself in his robe and slippers, and hesitated as he reached for his locket. I am still yours, despite this. He guiltily pulled it over his head. I can still be yours, and be with him. I can still serve him and love you. I'll lose my mind if I can't. So I must. It doesn't mean that I've forgotten. It can't. He briefly considered going to work, anyway, but Sam would be cross, and he really was tired. He spent the day reading and drinking tea, dozing on and off as he sat beside the fire.
It was becoming dark when Sam knocked on the door, stirring him from a light sleep. "How are you feeling?" he asked, shyly. Rufus noted that he eyed the rose on the mantel with pride, but uncertainty.
"Better." Rufus replied, as he shut the door behind him.
"About last night..." Sam hesitated.
Now or never, Rufus thought. He reached up and slid his arms around Sam's shoulders, and leaned in for a kiss. Sam eagerly returned it, pulling him up in his arms, and caressing his back. Sam could kiss in a way that sent shivers though his body. He wondered what else he could learn.
Sam paused before placing his hand on the belt of his robe. Rufus undid the knot, and pulled the garment away; remembering after a moment to step out of his slippers. Hesitantly, he reached for the locket.
"You don't have to." Sam placed a hand over his. "I understand."
Rufus nodded. "I didn't want you to feel as though there was a third in the bed." he mumbled.
"I'm the third in the bed. But I don't care. I know how it is. I know better than anyone."
"I don't mind." he insisted. "Not when I get to be with you."
Sam's eyes were roving over him, and he felt a flush of embarrassment to be standing naked before someone fully clothed. He reached for Sam's collar, and Sam assisted in quickly stripping away his own clothing; revealing a very handsome young man indeed.
"You're beautiful." Sam whispered. Rufus knew he was nothing of the sort, but smiled anyway. Sam was practically shaking with nervous desire.
Has he ever? No, I don't think so. "It would be a good idea to get to the bed." Rufus offered. Sam scrambled for the next room, and he had to suppress a smirk. "Sit down." He said, gently. Sam obeyed, eyes focused on him as he knelt by the edge. He was already hard, his cock twitching, its red head straining for contact. Rufus took him into his mouth, and Sam hissed out a strangled whimper. It was odd, he noted, that he could tell the difference in shape from Havelock's. He let it fall from his lips, and licked the underside from its thick base to the sensitive area under the tip, before falling into a familiar rhythm; plunging deep, flicking his tongue across the slit, pulling it back into his mouth again.
"I'm not going ... to last long!" Sam hissed in warning. Already, his knuckles were white from clutching the end of the bed, and he could feel his muscles strain as he tried to hold his hips back from thrusting; but Rufus gripped his hips and quickened his pace until Sam yelped, and he felt the hot liquid fill his mouth.
He pulled back and swallowed neatly, smiling to himself as he realized that Sam had collapsed backward on the bed.
"I told you I was-" he began, as Rufus crawled onto the bed beside him.
"We needed to clear the air." Rufus insisted. "and we have all night." He leaned his head against Sam's chest. "I want to spend the night with you. In that big bed that you have, after we both have a nice dinner. "
"You are too practical." Sam sighed. "Er... Before this, I haven't..."
"I'm going to teach you." Rufus replied, and to his surprise Sam was already half hard again. Oh, to be young...
"Let's hurry with this dinner, then." Sam sighed, and Rufus laughed for the first time in weeks.
Little was said during the light supper, and Rufus' insistence of redressing in his robe for the short walk down the hallway seemed unnecessary to Sam in his impatience, although he did pause at the doorway to pull Rufus into a kiss. He struggled to open the door and tug at the knot of the robe while not breaking the kiss, until Rufus pulled away to assist. He managed to get them both on the other side of the door, and watched as Rufus somehow calmly adjusted the lanterns.
"Nothing shakes you, does it?" He mused. "I can see that you want it as much as I do, but you're taking the time to fold your robe... where are you going? "
"You don't want to sleep in a wet spot, do you?" Rufus retrieved an extra cover from the wardrobe.
"You're..." unbelievably frustrating. "Thorough. I should have expected."
"Thank you." Rufus seemed to take it at face value, as he spread the coverlet across the bed. Sam found himself wondering if he'd eventually learn to be hard at the sight of a blanket.
"Come here, Sam Vimes." Rufus grinned. Sam obliged, and ran his hands over Rufus' back, admiring the way that the pale moonlight reflected from his body. He pulled him toward the bed and once there, continued his exploration, nervously drifting his hand down his thigh and between his legs to feel the perfect pink erection, slightly distracted by the fact that Rufus' hands were squeezing his backside. He distantly recalled what he knew beyond the obvious from stories in the tavern and the two illicit books of questionable content he'd obtained in Quirm. The whole time, lantern light shone off the gold locket between them.
"Tell me what he did to you." He whispered. "I mean... what you like." The words brought unbidden thoughts, of Havelock's piercing blue eyes, of his attraction to the youth in the portrait... of how oddly exciting it was to think of Rufus' reaction to the man, though he had never consciously thought of it before; and the fact that Rufus now wanted him, when he had known a man like that as a lover.
Rufus kissed a line down his jaw to his collarbone. Sam felt something cool and wet in Rufus' hand, and realized that he had also thought to bring some sort of lubricant. He leaned back after applying it, and stretched his arms over his head. "Hold me down." He practically purred. "Don't let me go. Press all your weight against me."
Sam nervously straddled him, and took a slight wrist in each hand. "Are you sure about this?"
Rufus nodded. "Please, Sam."
Rufus' breath hitched as he tightened his grip and leaned forward. He trapped Sam's cock between his thighs and squeezed, pushing his own against Sam's stomach as he slowly rolled his hips. Sam took to thrusting with the rhythm, short, quick thrusts that kept him trapped between the hot, slippery flesh.
"Is this... this...?"
Sam pushed, spurred on by the flexing of his thighs. Nothing had ever felt this good, nothing... his grip tightened, and Rufus gasped. "My lord!"
Was that for him? Or was it for Havelock?
"Yes, your lord. Your lord." He whispered. "Mine. "
Rufus' back was arching, and he held him down with all of his strength. It was his last coherent action before he came, Rufus thrusting against him, the hot spurt of seed against his belly being more than he could stand.
He unlocked his fingers, and lay breathing hard against him. He shifted , pulling Rufus into a more comfortable position, and leaned close to kiss his hair, and then his cheek. To his horror, he tasted tears.
"I'm sorry!" He gasped. Rufus' wrists were red where he'd gripped them. Had he hurt him? Or worse, was he weeping for Havelock?
"It's all right, Sam." Rufus returned his kisses.
"I've been so lonely." he explained. "It's just... I don't know what I'd do without you. I've been so lonely that it hurts. "
"Was this too fast?" Sam asked, cautiously, eyeing the locket.
Rufus shook his head. "You saved me, Sam. I'm not as strong as I ought to be. My duty is to my lord and city, even above my own duty to Havelock as a man. So I must carry out his work, but even above that- I must carry it out for the city. And there are times when I'm just so tired, and so lonely, and... and I have the keys to the poison cabinets. I have the roof, as well. And it's tempting, on those days when telling myself, 'you must do your duty to the city' is a quieter voice than the one telling me that Havelock is just on the other side, just there, waiting for me. But then I tell myself, you must stay for Sam, and it's enough. It's enough to fight for. When I'm with you, I'm not lonely."
Sam clutched him tightly. "You are strong. You've always been my strength. Please, let me know if you ever think that again. Please, I need you."
Rufus nodded, and nuzzled his neck in response. Sam stroked his back, and idly let his hands wander, pressing a finger between his legs. Rufus startled.
"This is a ...Quirmian thing."
"It is, yes. So I've heard. A lot. It's supposed to feel good."
"It does, it's just a bit... unsanitary, don't you think?"
"Gods. We're going to have a wash after this, anyway. Maybe try to enjoy it a little bit?" Sam asked, sleepily.
Rufus nodded, and leaned his head against his chest, sighing slightly when Sam found a sweet spot to rub.
Sam was drifting off to a contented slumber, and was vaguely aware of Rufus cleaning him with a cloth, of shifting his position, of skin pressed to skin as he breathed his lover's scent. He was warm and happy as the events of the last few days were tidied away by sleep. And all was peaceful, until a terrible fright passed through his chest, startling him out of sleep, heart pounding.
"Sam?" Rufus' voice was slurred with sleep.
"Nightmare, I think." Sam replied, uneasily. "I don't remember anything." But something nagged at him. Something was wrong, but he didn't know what, or where, or if it had been all in his head.
"Shh, Sam." Rufus wrapped his limbs around him, so that he was neatly against his back, and pressed soft kisses to the nape of his neck. Sam slowly relaxed as he focused on the sensation of the gentle kisses, and let the caresses lull him back to sleep.
It was a frigid, wet night, dense with fog and other miscellaneous airborne dirt and filthy slush underfoot. Despite that, or, more likely, because of it, Sam Vimes was on patrol. It wasn't an official patrol, though he wore his uniform and kept a sharp eye on his surroundings. Dukes didn't have to be outdoors on a night like this. Only the most desperate or needed were. It was blessedly quiet.
Vimes stepped out of the wind and lit a cigar. Breathing out, he tried to conjure the feeling of Vetinari's presence from memory. He'd often stand with him, barely speaking, just by his side, or behind him. Vimes would swear he'd feel him there before seeing him. He never once admitted it, but he enjoyed the company. It was dreary enough tonight that he could almost imagine it, a quiet exchange of words that would end with a rustle of silk as the man disappeared on a good night, or a loud row on a bad one.
He could feel it tonight, could almost swear that it was real, that he could glance beside him and none of this horrible nightmare would have happened. He resisted as long as he could bear, before confirming empty space at his side with a sigh. Vetinari was gone. Sam, his own Young Sam, was the Patrician now, and was doing a fine job of it. Vimes went to see him each morning, marveling at the fully grown man before him. The thing he used to love best about watching Sam was seeing Sybil in him, the same eyes, the odd expression or turn of phrase. These days, he was also seeing Vetinari in him, somehow, in his tone and mannerisms, almost as though Vetinari had been right there in the bed with them.
But Vetinari was gone. He had to remember that. Maybe it was the reason he'd gone to see the little shrine to him the night before. He couldn't quite explain what made his feet bring him there. He'd avoided it long enough... but once he was there, he balked at the large pile of cut flowers and letters piled before the statue. He'd mentioned it to Fred this morning, and found out that it wasn't an unusual occurrence. There was usually a small crowd at the gates, leaving flowers, dog biscuits, and... prayers.
It doesn't work like that, you fools. He's gone, don't you understand? He understood the urge, of course. He remembered what the people of Borogravia had done to their Duchess. But that had religion behind it, didn't it. Ankh-Morpork embraced dozens of religions, and seldom very strictly or seriously. People had worshiped the Duchess. The citizens of Ankh-Morpork were there for the novelty or for the hope of profiting from a gesture, like the ones who rattled the spoons at Anoia's little temple for fast cash. They didn't put effort into worship, and that was really what was needed for power, wasn't it? He'd read some of the notes in the pile, and they read like badly spelled letters to the Hogfather... mostly. There were a few desperate ones that Vimes wished he hadn't read. Der my lord, plese sav or dater Sally who is dying in hospital. Lord Vetinari, please make my father stop drinking... out of those, there were a handful that something could be done about. He'd been able to determine the authors of a few, and he'd stuffed them into envelopes with stacks of paper money. He slipped one of these into a letter slot now, and continued on his patrol. He's gone. He couldn't have helped you even when he was alive. I'm sorry.
He was proceeding in a state of self pity when he heard the crash, a loud noise in the near distance followed be several screams. He broke into a run and accelerated toward it, deeper into the Shades. There were golems plodding diligently in the same direction, but no smoke. He skidded as he turned a corner and saw the gap in the street, a high pile of wood, brick, and assorted rubble where a building ought to have been. Golems were patiently pulling debris loose and propping up beams. There were people inside, but no way in!
"I Am Glad You Have Come, Mr. Vimes. We Need Carriages To Go To The Free Hospital." Vimes blinked up at Dorfl, who had plodded over to him, shaking him out of his horror.
"Of course." Vimes managed, doubling back the way that he came. His heart was hammering by the time he reached the stables, out of breath, and banged on the windows until someone answered. A few barked words and a promise of generous payment had every horse quickly roused and saddled. He sprinted off again to Pseudopolis Yard to find Igor, and then headed back to the scene of destruction, although at a much easier pace.
The golems had pulled aside much more of the rubble by this time, and Vimes could see that most of it had fallen down into a cellar. Watchmen had arrived and were struggling to keep onlookers away from the heap, so he joined them, grateful to have something useful to do. The first stretchers were being loaded into the waiting carriages, and a flash of light flickered behind him.
"Put that godsdamn thing away, Otto!" He roared, unsure of where the fury had come from but knowing that it had found a target in the otherwise unobtrusive vampire. It wasn't the best decision. The crowd thickened around him now that it realized that the Times had arrived, and he spent the next several minutes barking orders to the assembled officers as well as the crowd itself.
There were people being brought out of there, children, even...
Eventually, the sun rose. The building was nothing but a hole roped off in yellow, with neat piles of bricks, stones, and wood beside it. The carts had come and gone, some to the hospital, some to Small Gods, with Cheery in tow. The golems had left for their jobs. He had to do the same.
Sybil was waiting for him. "Eat this and take a bath. I've fixed you a clean uniform." She said, accepting a grubby kiss on the cheek. He did, and then set off for the palace. "I expect you to come back and sleep." Sybil added, handing him his helmet. "Before tonight, Sam."
"I'll try." He managed.
Drumknott was waiting for him in the antechamber, and ushered him in without the usual wait. "Good morning, Commander. His lordship will be pleased to see you." There was a hopeful nervousness in the little clerk's voice that worried him.
Sam was sitting at the long table, staring blankly at the morning's copy of the Times. He looked pale. Drumknott pulled out a chair for him, and a cup of coffee appeared before him.
"I know." He replied, gruffly. "We're looking into it. I'll know more by this evening." He hadn't read the Times article yet, but he knew that they knew even less than he did. The iconograph was ghastly, though, and Sam's eyes were focused on it.
"We will be issuing chitties to cover the expenses of housing for the tenants." Drumknott offered, smoothly, and Sam nodded.
"Sam, things happen. It's not your fault." Sam's head snapped up, and fixed him with a haunted look.
"Look, it's plain that you're shaken up, but... bad things happen sometimes. And just because you're the Patrician doesn't mean that you can control everything that happens in the city. It's the first time something like this has happened since you're been in charge, so it's natural. It isn't easy to be the boss sometimes." He added gently, patting his son's arm as he tried to decipher the strange expression that flashed across his face before disappearing. Vetinari's influence on him again, he thought.
"The Commander is correct, my lord." Affirmed Drumknott, who was hovering a bit closer than usual. He refilled Sam's cup. It wasn't like Drumknott to worry, but... Sam wasn't Vetinari. He hadn't learned to deal with disasters yet.
"Right. Is there anything else we need to go over?" Sam seemed composed now, and Vimes began his daily report, more to go along with him than anything else.
He'll be fine. Vimes thought, fiercely. He'll be fine. I won't let it be any other way.
"Sam?" Rufus approached the desk where Sam had been sifting through tall piles of city records for the past several hours. "You didn't touch your dinner, or your lunch, and you've barely had a sip of tea," he prodded.
Sam looked up at him, his expression pained. "I'm not very hungry." He explained, before looking down again, sinking back into gloom.
"Please eat a bit. For me." He added. Sam looked up again, hesitantly, and reached for the plate on the edge of the desk. 'For me'. Such a useful phrase, Rufus thought, as Sam swallowed the first bite. "I could have it heated." He offered, but Sam shook his head. He cleared away the dishes when he'd finished, and returned to find Sam once more immersed in paperwork.
"Sam-" He hesitated.
"She warned me, and I didn't do anything about it. She brought me to the exact spot." His voice was flat. "So please don't tell me that it isn't my fault."
"I'm not going to tell you that it is, though. Sometimes things just are." He'd always had a problem accepting that idea, himself. It was maddening to him that some things refused to be categorized, or could be one thing and its opposite both at the same time. Havelock had taught him to accept that, more or less. "We'll have the Guild of Engineers' report in two days. That will tell us more than second guessing yourself."
Sam surreptitiously wiped his eye with the back of his sleeve, but kept a blank face. "I should know as much as possible."
"You're working so that you don't have to think." He knew that feeling all too well.
"I am thinking! I can't think of anything else! He was only six, Rufus, and he'd seen more than anyone ought to ever have seen, and I let him down, and his family, and his neighbors!" Sam's voice rose unexpectedly as he stood, knocking over a stack of papers. Rufus stepped back, unsure of how to react to the sudden outburst. "I should have seen it. She was showing me what needed fixing. The whole damn place about to crumble around me. I didn't see it."
"I didn't see it, either." Rufus offered, gently. "And even if we had, and had planned to do something about it, it was only hours before. There's no way we could have fixed it in time."
"I could have gotten them out." Sam sighed, miserably.
"Quite a few people are recovering in hospital." He offered.
"Quite a few are not." Sam snarled.
Rufus took a few hesitant steps forward, and wrapped his arms around him. Slowly, Sam's body stopped vibrating with anger and shook with heavy breaths, holding back tears. "I haven't felt her since it happened." he continued, in a small voice. "Maybe she's angry with me. Disappointed. Maybe I've failed her test."
"No." Rufus said, sternly. "Do you think that Havelock never made a mistake? We're going to make this right, or as right as we possibly can. I know you. You won't let this go until everything possible has been done to remedy it." He squeezed him tighter.
"Havelock would have waited for the report." Sam nodded.
"But you have a kind heart, which is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. It does mean, however, that you'll need to practice what Havelock taught you more than most people. Politics require horrible periods of not knowing, then not knowing everything, then adjusting your plan to fit what you know. Over and over. In the meantime, there's... crossword puzzles, for one thing. The dog needs walking. Papers need signing. And so on."
"I'm so afraid that she's shunned me." Sam admitted. "That I'll lose everything. I can't explain how it feels. She's always been there, even when I didn't realize it. I don't think I can live without that. Without her. I've never not felt her. I just didn't know the difference. If I stopped feeling the city, if I can't do this, if I lost you..." The fears tumbled out, quickly.
Rufus bit his lip. "I didn't know it was quite like that. I didn't mean for you to think it wasn't important. I'm not going anywhere." He added. "But Sam, please, you have to stop tearing yourself apart before there's anything that you can possibly do. For me." He added. Sam looked at him uncertainly. "Let's close up for the night and build a warm fire." He suggested.
"I'm not feeling very..."
Rufus kissed him. There was nothing for it. The only thing that had a chance of winning over Sam's misery was his lust, and even that would need some convincing. He couldn't see another way around it.
"How can I enjoy myself when this is happening?" He asked, quietly. "It's not right..."
"It's essential to learn to compartmentalize. There will always be terrible things to contend with, but you will put them in their folders, and file them away. You'll always know where they are, and you'll be able to access them at a moment's notice. Ankh-Morpork cannot be run from a messy desk. You are the Patrician, after all. You address problems. They will not address you."
"It feels so cold."
"It isn't. You'll see that. You have to save your anger for when it matters."
He could feel Sam's body responding to his touch, slowly coming around to his point of view. "All right." he agreed hesitantly, though eagerness was already gleaming in his eyes. Rufus kissed his lips lightly, and broke away to retrieve and tidy the papers.
He could feel nervous excitement building in his stomach as they walked together to Sam's bedroom. Once there, he refreshed the fire, and turned to Sam, who pulled him into a slow kiss.
"I know that you're trying to make me feel better. I'm sorry if I've been..."
"Don't dwell." Rufus replied. "Kiss me again." Sam complied, and Rufus guided them to the sofa, where he settled half in Sam's lap.
"Was it always men for you?" Rufus asked, in a lull while they watched the fire.
"Hmm? I'm not sure. I mean, girls are nice to kiss, and soft, but well. There were some boys." Sam had gone red, and looked away.
"Your friends." Rufus prodded.
"Yes. There were some of both."
"But one boy in particular?" he guessed.
"We were only friends." Sam insisted.
"I know. It's all right."
After a moment, Sam shifted, and Rufus worried that he'd ruined the mood with his line of questioning. But Sam merely crossed the room, retrieving a small book from his trunk before returning. He pulled a cheap iconograph from its pages, showing a young, pale haired man in, well, not much at all.
"This is Stefan. He had these iconographs made to, well, advertise. I don't have a proper one of him."
"You two were?"
"Friends." Sam said, flatly. "You can't be anything but with a tailor boy or seamstress. It isn't sincere, otherwise. But he kissed me quite a bit, and told me stories, and, well. My imagination took over from there, I suppose. I'll get rid of it." He concluded, but Rufus put his hand over the paper.
"I understand. It doesn't bother me. Keep it." He replied, thinking of the weight of the locket around his neck.
"What about you?" Sam asked, shyly.
"I'm not sure, to be honest. I never was around girls much except my mother and sister. By the time I was old enough to think about it...well. It was always Havelock." He concluded. Sam nodded, idly turning the small book around in his hands. Rufus could just make out the title: La Courtisane.
"Was that also a gift?"
"No. I went looking for it, in a shop in a street that was off limits to students, hoping that no one would recognize me."
Rufus thumbed through the pages. His Quirmian wasn't fluent like Sam's, but he didn't really need it. Not with such descriptive diagrams and pictures.
"What sort of seamstress buys a how to manual?" He wondered.
"They don't. Men do." Sam laughed. "Things are... more relaxed in Quirm. It only looks like it's meant for a woman to read. Men like to know what to do to each other, what to ask for from a tailor boy."
"Page sixty-seven." Said Rufus, picking one that looked straightforward and not meant for a contortionist.
"I'd quite like it."
Sam glanced at the page. "So would I. " He placed the book aside, and began to undo the buttons on Rufus' trousers.
Rufus watched in amazement as Sam knelt, and hiked down his trousers to the knee. Had he just asked for a incredibly specific act with just a number? Perhaps it would be more popular in Ankh-Morpork than Sam seemed to think. His thoughts drifted, though, as Sam began to kiss his inner thighs softly, and nuzzle the tender skin at the base of his cock. His tongue traced patterns on his skin, and then, he focused on his bollocks, pulling one into his mouth and gently beginning to suck at it.
Good Gods. Is it supposed to feel that good? He trembled, and Sam's hands were on his hips, holding him down sternly.
Rufus watched through half-lidded eyes until it became too much, and his hand drifted down to touch himself. He pulled and pinched in just the way he liked it, the entire time Sam's mouth on him... coming close to the edge, he slowed, only for Sam's hand to rise and clasp over his, forcing him to continue stroking. Every time he felt too close to the edge, Sam would gently tug down on his bollocks, keeping him in a maddening state, neither here nor there. Without realizing it, he had begun to kick with his right leg, until Sam firmly held it down. He could feel his lips curving into a grin against his skin. He knows what he is doing to me, he thought, teetering on the edge again. He startled as Sam's hand came down hard on his backside, the sudden sting of the slap making him cry out and come hard, unexpectedly.
"Well?" Sam asked, coming up for air.
"Pick a page." Rufus sighed, happily.
"Sir." Vimes greeted the statue, without the trace of irony he'd had when he first started doing this. I'm losing my mind. He methodically lit the circle of candles around him, and sat on the visiting bench that was built into the small room. The air felt warm, though the braziers had run out of fuel for the day. He supposed it must be an illusion caused by the glow of the candles, combined with the sharp contrast of the cutting wind just outside the small shrine's doors.
He began his nightly inspection of the offerings with a sigh. Why am I doing this? He asked himself, as he did every time. Word of answered prayers had gotten around, and the pile grew by the day. He could say it was the right thing to do, and that he could do it, as he had the means. That was the rational answer. The irrational answer... he glanced up at the sculpture. You're spending time with a statue. Idiot. He's dead, remember? But... it feels like him, here. More than it does outside.
The candles filled the air with the smell of beeswax. He closed his eyes. Bastard kept his office colder than this, and there's a damn snowstorm outside. Same candles, though. Never changed them. Just like him to do that, really. He changed everything by letting it be what it was. How was that possible?
He sighed at the letter in his hand. "Looks like I'm paying a dowry. Do people even do that anymore?" He asked, not noticing until the words were said that he'd said them aloud. He narrowed his eyes at the statue. "Don't give me that look."
The snow was piling up, and the pile had been sorted. He knew he should leave. A familiar misery filled his chest. I should stop coming here. I have to stop. The distant chimes of the Omnian church signaled midnight...You'll worry Sybil. She knows something isn't right. Can't have her worry. Go home. Yet, he was loathe to leave, as he always was. He wished that he had someone to talk to, someone who wasn't a statue. Someone who wouldn't become concerned for him. He'd always envied the religious sort, who could tell anything to their gods, and be certain that they gave a damn about what they had to say. It's not that he didn't believe in the gods- he knew they were there, on some level-, he just didn't believe that there was anyone watching out for him, in particular. At some point during his life, he'd just stopped trusting in the unknown. About the time you pinned on a badge, he thought, grimly.
Nevertheless, there was a prayer of sorts rising up inside of him, a single, tired thought, that began, please, and then tapered off. Please, what? Please make this not have happened. Unrealistic. Not even the most devout Omnian could expect the universe to sort itself out around his particular life problems. Please... let them be together? He didn't want to die. He loved his wife and son, he loved his work. There were bacon sandwiches and cigars. There was the city. He didn't want it to end. What, exactly, did he want? Feeling self conscious, he knelt.
I loved you. I can't tell anyone how it feels with you gone. I'd sound insane. Please, make it stop. I don't know how. Please.
Of course, nothing happened. He hadn't expected anything, had he? He snuffed out the candles, hurriedly. Sybil would be waiting up for him, even though she always pretended that she was doing something else. He closed the door behind him and trudged across the palace lawn, which was already collecting greasy snow, the air tasting oddly of tin.
Sam tentatively called out in his thoughts, waiting for Morporkia to answer.
"Sam?" Rufus' sleep-slurred voice brought him back to himself.
"I thought I felt her." Rufus' arm tightened around him, reassuringly. "Maybe I was dreaming." He concluded, trying to hide his disappointment. He settled back against his pillow, and entwined his fingers with Rufus'. "It's all right, go back to sleep." He closed his eyes, and reached out, again. Please don't be angry. Or are you hurt? His eyes snapped open. It hurt you, didn't it. But people die in the city every day. Why did it hurt so much? Was it something I did? That didn't seem right, either. He stared at the ceiling, trying to piece together his thoughts. The more he thought about it, the more he felt certain that it had been pain, not anger.
Talk to me. Please. I don't know if I can help if you don't talk to me. He did his best to feel optimistic. He'd solve this soon enough, and she'd be back with him, and hopefully in a better mood. True, he'd had less headaches since she'd been gone, but he didn't feel whole without her- and maybe they could work things out, and get along. Also, he had Rufus, which was more than he'd dared to hope for. He found it difficult to put into words just how much he adored him, fearing that he'd sound silly; but it was true. The fact that he was allowed to hold his hand and feel his warm body against his was a miracle. He loves me, he thought, a feeling of gratitude passing over him. He tried to ignore the second, inevitable thought: Even if he does cry for Havelock in his sleep.
In his dream, he walked with Havelock, not remembering that he was gone. He worked alongside him, and was content. They sat together on their bench in the garden, watching Mr. Fusspot bark at a butterfly. The sun was bright, and a slight wind rustled through the leaves of the trees. He leaned his head on Havelock's shoulder as he felt his arm tighten around him, his lips press a kiss to his temple. There was no urgency, for here, Havelock was alive.
Snatches of the dream surfaced as he woke, and he grabbed frantically at the wisps of memories that were fading from his mind. He cursed himself for not realizing it was a dream, for not spending the time with his memories more productively, of not writing everything down and etching it into his brain as it happened. He was back in reality, a cold winter night in place of a lazy summer evening. Alone. And on this day, as well. He felt the hot pinpricks of tears welling in his eyes, fueled by a sudden wave of self pity.
Well, not quite alone. He rolled over halfway, and took in the sight of Sam's sleeping form beside him. Enough firelight was shining through the tightly pulled curtains of the bed to outline his chest gently rising and falling. He slept beside Sam most nights, these days; when he'd only shared a bed with Havelock perhaps thrice a week. He always stayed when Sam asked him, but also found it difficult to go on nights when he said nothing, but gazed wistfully at him after kissing him goodnight. Besides that, he'd been so lonely, and it had been so terribly cold outside, that he'd much rather be here, in the warm nest of covers, beside him.
He carefully tucked the covers around Sam's shoulders before slipping out of bed to prepare for the morning in his own quarters. Even with the dying fire giving its best, he shivered as the draft from the window hit him, a sharp contrast to the warmth of the bed. He had taken his breakfast and laid out his pens by the time Sam arrived, looking excited and apprehensive.
"Good morning. Would you look this over again, please?" Sam retrieved a file and held it out, shyly.
Rufus glanced down, and took the file from his hand. It was the plan for the underground railway station nearest the palace, the final piece in a project that he'd worked on for over a decade; and one of Havelock's most ambitious projects. Between the dwarfs, the guilds, and the inadequate budget, it had been pure stubbornness that had kept him from delegating the project... well, that and the fact that it was for trains under the city. And that it pleased Havelock. Still, he felt his stomach sink as he took the folder.
"I thought this was finalized?" He asked, fighting to keep the note of complaint out of his voice.
"Take a look." Sam replied, smugly.
"You... named it after me? The station?" He managed, his voice wavering.
"I want people to know how hard you worked on it. I want... I want you to be part of the city. I want people to see it every day, for years. Happy birthday." He added.
"Sam... you can't just..."
"Tyrant, remember? Harry King has his name slapped on half of the trains in town. My parents have paid into this station, so I should be able to name it as I please as well. "
"But people will suspect that we are..."
"They will think it's a political favor." Sam assured him. "Everyone knows that you've put yourself out for the Undertaking, for years."
"Thank you. My parents will be proud." He managed, reaching up to pull Sam close. A station!, he thought. For underground trains! He was so heady with the excitement that it took him a moment to notice how inquisitive Sam's touch had become.
"Your father will be here in ten minutes." He reminded him, as Sam's fingers hooked into his belt.
"You always make him wait anyway." Sam protested, nuzzling the skin behind his ear.
"We can't just-"
"Not all the way, then? Just ten minutes? " Sam pleaded, pressing closer.
"Five minutes. And just kissing. We haven't time."
"We have ten, just let me -"
"Seven!" He compromised, frantically. Sam's knee was between his legs now, quite an unfair move.
"Seven." Sam agreed, pulling his belt loose. Rufus groaned as Sam began to suck him, inexpertly but hungrily. He rolled his hips to increase the sensation, one eye watching the second hand of the clock- perhaps he could make it happen in only a minute or two... yes, he was just close enough.
He backed up against a table enough to half sit, and reached into Sam's robe, feeling for his erection. He pulled forward in tight, rough strokes. Three minutes...
"Rufus!" He hissed. I won't last if you-"
"I know." He continued until Sam's body stilled, and his warm seed flooded his hand. He let the thought send him over the edge, gasping as he fell back onto the table, splayed out and exposed as the Commander's portrait locked eyes with him, looking down on him... he tore away his gaze, certain that those painted eyes were somehow still watching him.
Sam was pressing soft kisses to his chest as he sat up, fumbling for his handkerchief to clean them.
"Shh..." Sam soothed him.
"It's already eight minutes." He managed, carefully cleaning Sam before lacing him back into his trousers and inspecting his robe for evidence. "Close your robe. And open a window. And-"
"He can wait another five minutes, surely..."
"He'll have to." He agreed, hastening his pace to brew the strong coffee and feed the fire. It had become incredibly important to him to impress the Commander, to show him that he was a flawless servant to his son. It was something he couldn't quite put into words.
"You don't need to rush!" Sam protested, as Rufus continued to bustle through his tasks at high speed.
The Commander didn't seem to notice anything amiss, thankfully, and even complimented the coffee. With a sigh of relief, he retreated to the antechamber to retrieve the post from its pigeonhole. He shuffled through the letters until one made him pause. It was a penny Post Office kit letter, hastily addressed with no return. Placing down the rest of the pile, he took a letter opener and neatly tore an opening. Inside was an article torn from yesterday's Times, urging the public to appreciate the culture offered by the Ankh-Morpork Historical Society's presentations. There was another paper in the envelope, too: an old ledger of the cheapest variety, listing a number of addresses on Shamlegger Street, and neatly cut as though with a razor. There was no letter of any kind, no explanation. Even the paper that came with the penny post kit was left blank. He frowned, examining it again, and paused when his eyes fell to the middle of the ledger.
#88 1/2 Shamlegger, Newmann
He tucked both papers into the envelope and placed it in his desk, and formed a neutral expression as he returned to the office to top off the Commander's coffee.
Rufus startled as the bell rang in the antechamber. Sam had never used it to summon him before, and Havelock had stopped using it years ago, except in the rare circumstances where he was deliberately putting on a show; in which case he was fully expecting his cue. The lawyer had been in attendance for less than ten minutes, he hadn't been expecting to show him out for another ten. He had good timing, a solid understanding of how things out to go in the Oblong Office. The bell had seldom been needed, and it felt like a personal affront.
He opened the door just as the old vampire was leaving, and held it until the lawyer's soft footsteps had ceased to echo on the stairs. Quietly closing it behind him, he turned to the desk, where Sam was sitting with a stony expression.
"I need the carriage, please." He began to gather up the files on the desk, and slipped them into a leather envelope.
"Where are we-"
"You don't have to come."
Rufus ducked out into the antechamber and called for the coach, before darting back inside, but Sam was already descending the back stairs. He hurried after him, brazenly, and defiantly jumped into the carriage before the door closed.
"Rufus-" Sam sighed.
"What is it?" Rufus stammered, only just now reflecting on how inappropriate his hasty actions were. He had no right to question his master's wishes, after all, and he'd never dared push his luck with Havelock so far as to directly disobey an order... but there was something going on here, something that made standing between whatever this was and Sam, protecting him as best he could, more important than anything else.
Sam looked away. "I'd rather you didn't-"
"Why?" Sam's gaze was lowered, and he looked angry and ashamed all at once.
Rufus waited an agonizingly long time as the carriage ambled along. "My lord..."
Sam winced at the address.
"Sam..." he corrected himself, adjusting to his lover's reaction, "You can tell me anything, you know." He managed.
"I know. That doesn't mean that I want to."
"You'd think less of me. Of us. I already do." His words were terse and uncomfortably clipped.
Us? Rufus realized that the carriage had turned onto Scoone Avenue.
"I never would."
Sam turned on him, with a frown. "We are responsible for this. Not just that house, but a good chunk of the Shades. It's all ours. It's Ramkin land for centuries. So don't you dare tell me that you can accept that. Don't you dare be so low."
Rufus opened his mouth, and closed it again, remembering how quickly the lawyer had left. He looked down, and moved away from Sam, to give him room. The tension was thick between them, and Sam glared straight ahead, almost vibrating with anger.
Once they stopped, Rufus followed him at a halting distance, since he hadn't been forbidden not to, and because he was already in over his head anyway. Sam entered the main hall, and his dark eyes flashed with rage as he tore an ancient looking portrait from the wall and hurled it against the stone tiles, kicking in the subject's face for good measure.
"Sam! What is the meaning of this?" Lady Sybil emerged, trailed by several curious swamp dragons. "And your grandfather's portrait, as well! Is this a way to behave, young man?" Her voice rose in pitch and volume the more she spoke. She looked frightened.
"Did you know about Shamlegger street?" Sam growled. "And the rest?"
"What are you-"
"DID YOU KNOW?" He roared, fists clenched, and Rufus ducked along with the nearest swap dragons, in case he threw something else; and he probably would have if Commander Vimes hadn't appeared and gripped his wrists.
"Don't you dare talk to your mother that way!" He growled, forcing Sam back against the wall as he struggled to break free.
"And you, " Sam continued, "You are even worse! It's all in your name. Did you go along with it, like you go along with everything else? Like when you let her throw coins to the servants, or let the servants turn their backs to you? Well, Mister Vimes? You bloody hypocrite!" Sam kicked out, and caught his father off guard, forcing a leg out from under him.
"Sam!" Lady Sybil cried out.
Vimes shoved back, hard, and Rufus winced as he heard the sharp crack of the impact. "You ungrateful-"
"RRRRrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...rrrrrr." A voice interrupted, from somewhere around Rufus' ankles. The Commander's eyes turned on the elderly, toothless dragon, and it inched backward, until it was completely under an ottoman. "rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr." It continued to protest, stubbornly.
Vimes seemed to see his hands for the first time, and released his grip, shaking.
"Dad..." There was still anger there, somehow, but Sam's eyes were wet, and he looked... exhausted, Rufus realized.
Vimes drew his arms around his son, and pulled him tightly against himself, swaying slightly.
"Mum... I didn't... I mean...I..." Sam's voice was muffled against his father's shoulder, his fingers clenching the worn fabric of his uniform.
Lady Sybil drew in a deep breath, her bosom rising regally. "I think that we should sit down and have a cup of tea." She declared, placing a hand on Rufus' shoulder. The change in her tone of voice reassured the swamp dragons, who looked between her and the rest of them before trotting after her. Vimes reluctantly loosened his embrace.
A short while later, over tea and biscuits, Sam spread out papers on the table, and began to explain his findings. The Commander's face grew darker and fiercer the longer he spoke, and Lady Sybil looked ill. Disagreements broke out. Vimes hadn't taken stock of the Ramkin wealth when he married. There were lawyers that did that. (Rufus suspected that a part of him had been intimidated by the scope of his wife's fortune, but thought it was wisest to keep that to himself. ) Lady Sybil, on the other hand, knew that her father owned large tracts of land across the city, but could not recall Mr. Honeyplace ever saying anything about the Shades, though she knew that he collected rent on the Assassin's Guild freehold.
"So, who is collecting the rent on Shamlegger Street?" Rufus wondered, checking the papers line by line for the second time.
"We're going to find out." Vimes snarled.
"Not before you don't have a vested interest in it." Sam insisted. "Sell the land to the city. It's the only proper way."
Lady Sybil nodded. "He's right, Sam. You'll sign it over in the morning, and then go from there." She took the paper from Rufus' hand and placed it neatly in the file. "You must be getting hungry." She stated, the tone of her voice lifting the tension in the room. "Sam, dear, why don't you and Rufus stay for dinner? I'll ask Purity to make room for two more."
"I'll have the coach collect us later." Rufus offered, and Sam nodded. He couldn't help himself from pausing in the hallway as he heard Vimes begin to speak.
"So... are you and he..."
"He said yes." Sam replied, shyly.
Vimes let out a tense breath. "Good. And you're sure of this, now?"
"Yes. I think... it's for life. If he lets it be." Sam replied, sounding a bit more confident.
Rufus hurried to the front gate before he could be discovered.
"We will send flowers to your mother in the morning." Rufus decided, placing his spectacles on the side table and pulling his feet out of warm slippers before quickly taking shelter under the heavy quilt.
Sam nodded, turning down the lantern before pulling the bed curtains closed. "I really am sorry." He managed, feeling his cheeks redden. Rufus turned over to face him, and he could make out a small grin in the dim firelight that seeped through the small gaps of the curtains.
"Don't be too sorry. You were magnificent."
"The way you stood up to your father... that was brave. He's a very strong man. And quite dangerous when he gets angry." Rufus explained. He pressed a palm against Sam's chest. Something in his voice made Sam's pulse race. Still, he couldn't be dishonest.
"He'd never hurt me. Not even in a rage. I wasn't thinking like that at all."
"I understand." Rufus nodded, his fingers absently touching his throat, and Sam knew he was thinking of Havelock. "You're right. It was still brave to make a stand." And suddenly the thought of the locket didn't matter at all, because Rufus was softly kissing his lips, and trailing his fingers through his hair. He was... lovely, Sam thought, desperately. He was everything. And then, the kiss ended, and Rufus was curled against him, and he was holding his delicate hands in his own.
"You like dangerous men, don't you." Sam asked, pointedly, remembering the glint in his eyes when he'd spoken of Havelock's skill, the way his breath would hitch describing his absolute confidence in his ability to cut down any threat. He'd assumed it was the thought of being protected that was the appeal, but was coming to believe that there was more to it than that. He wondered what it was that he saw in him, then, when he could do little more than land a solid punch.
"Sam... I do love you. I'm sorry if I've given you a reason to doubt it. I do want to live out my life with you. I just thought it didn't need saying."
"Did you hear...?"
"I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. "
"It's all right." Sam replied, thankful that Rufus couldn't see his expression. "I, er. It's just. My dad, you know. You never told your parents, have you?"
"No. It wasn't safe for Havelock, or for them. Your father... well, he needs to know. About us. It's different."
"They must think you're lonely." Sam thought of the many iconographs Rufus had shown him, from the stiff, expensive studio portrait that his father had insisted be taken of his new family on his wedding day, to the stacks of candid shots resulting from Rufus' gift to his mother of a small iconograph box and imp of her own.
Rufus laughed. "They think I'm odd. I've told them that nothing could make me happier than to live and work in the palace, and they've come to believe me. It's not a lie, just a politician's truth."
"As long as you're happy."
"I think... I think that I am."
A comfortable quiet descended between them, until Sam sighed. "What are we going to do about all of those houses? We can't leave them the way they are. We'll have to rebuild somehow, without displacing the people, and make it affordable..."
"First, we purchase the land." Rufus chided, gently. "You're always so impatient."
"People are living out their lives in squalor. I have to be." Sam sighed. "And... every time I close my eyes, I see ..." He found that he couldn't finish the sentence. He believed me when I told him that he'd get well, that he'd be okay.
"At least... at least whoever is collecting the rent and taking advantage of them wasn't hired by my parents." That was the only comforting thought in any of this. He wondered if his grandfather had a hand in it. That sounded about right, the old miser. "I hate being a Ramkin." it slipped out, without his meaning it to.
"Don't. It gives you power and influence. And your mother is a Ramkin. She's one of the kindest people I know."
"It's rubbed off on my dad, though. And me. I played on a rocking horse inlaid with rubies while those children went hungry, and I feel awful about it."
"Your father went hungry as well. It's no sin to live comfortably if you can, after having so little. Your parents are downright modest compared to the rest."
"I know. And it makes me ashamed to even know the lot of them. I don't know how my mum tolerates them, any of them. She sees what they are, and yet she smiles at them, because it's polite, but polite isn't always right-"
"You forget that she's playing a game, as well. Politics happen in the drawing room as well as anywhere else. We've relied on your mother's skill to soften any number of negotiations. Havelock considered her invaluable to domestic policy."
"I know." Havelock had often lectured him on the importance of wealth and titles. While Sam had trouble imagining what good wealth was if it wasn't used for something practical, Havelock had explained that even the appearance of great wealth was sometimes sufficient, though it certainly didn't hurt to have the gold to back it up. He'd been surprised to learn that despite the ancient lineage of his family, the Vetinari fortune was a mere sliver of his own; at which Havelock had laughed and claimed the argument won. Still... Havelock had clout for all of that. "What We Have We Keep", indeed. Well, it is time to give back, in spades.
"You're a Vimes through and through." Rufus assured him. "You'll do what's best. We'll send in the Watch to clean things up, and-"
"No, not the Watch. That's a bad idea. We don't want to frighten people, and if word gets out that the Watch is in the neighborhood, the people we want to question will scatter. Though maybe someone from the Particulars..."
"What we need, " Rufus yawned, "is bureaucracy, a straightforward line of command that everyone will be familiar with. No weapons, but direct authority from the Patrician. Someone to take charge of the situation, and collect the correct rent, which we will establish on a curve of market value while we rebuild. Of course, they will need to establish themselves as the sole rent collector and point of reference for the entire neighborhood. That is what will bring our fraudulent collectors out of the shadows, and we can call the Watch then. We need someone personable, perhaps with assistance from a clerk."
"No, that's not going to work in the Shades. Maybe we need to send in the Watch after all. It's too dangerous for a clerk, and the dark clerks... aren't really...personable?"
"Neither are watchmen who are given a clerk's job. I've a candidate in mind."
"I don't want to force any of the clerks to take it."
"Oh, don't fret. It's going to be an enviable position. I think it shall even come with a hat." Rufus mused, sweetly.
Moist hadn't said a word since entering the Oblong Office, but entire paragraphs were forming in his mouth, kicking at his teeth to get out. Most of them were rows of asterisks. He bit them back.
"I know that you like to move fast, so you'll start Monday morning." Drumknott's smile was downright irritating. He didn't have the people skills that Moist had, so it wasn't a smile that could convince you that its owner had your best interests at heart, nor even one that knew that it didn't, but was sorry to have to smile at you anyway. Oh, no. He was enjoying this.
"He likes you." Adora Belle had said one evening, her grin just as evil. "I've always had a feeling about him, you know, trailing after Vetinari like that. It's a compliment, Slick. Boys pull your hair when they like you." She exhaled a cloud of smoke, and refilled her glass.
"I hope you're not teaching the girls that." he countered. "You didn't like getting your hair pulled, did you?"
"Oh, they never liked me for long." She shrugged.
It seemed quite unfair to Moist, who had never pulled a girl's hair at all. Not that he ever had a chance, with the Sisterhood of the Plain Potato Church ready to chase off children of the opposite sex with a ruler.
"I have a family, you know. I can't just go off to live in the Shades. I haven't even made up my will."
"So you keep reminding me. Was that why you were scaling the walls of the Lawyer's guild last Thursday evening? I know they keep odd business hours, but really..."
"Look, I don't want to live in some rat hole while I get shot at! That's all! My kids have to see me. I'd prefer they didn't see me in a box, is all."
"You won't need to sleep there." Drumknott decided. "But in order to gain the trust of the neighborhood, you will need to be available for extended hours."
"Vetinari is dead. Don't you think we're even?" he snapped.
He was sorry as soon as the words left his mouth, as the confident mask the little clerk wore cracked for just a split second, and he was suddenly aware that he was still dressed in full mourning, when the rest of the city had moved on to half mourning already. Moist, who got on with people and prided himself on the fact, was actually fond of him when he wasn't bent on making his life miserable.
"Without Lord Vetinari, you would be dead. You would not have your wife, or your daughters, or that nice house that you live in. You would not even have your name. All he has ever asked for was your loyalty, and on behalf of the city that supports you." Drumknott's words were thrown like daggers. Moist wanted to die of embarrassment.
"You have stolen a total of forty-six pencils, eight hundred fifty-four paper clips, three pens, and two dog biscuits. " he added, tersely. "The people collecting the rent on these properties are the lowest sort. The combined value of the amount collected over the past ten years is over twelve times the amount you have stolen in your previous career. The amount of rent these rooms are actually worth is far less."
He spread out a crinkled piece of paper on the table. "We were sent this ledger by an anonymous source, which is a partial list of the tenants on a house in Shamlegger Street. His lordship has gained the confidence of a prisoner who once lived here. It has been confirmed that the rent collectors are thugs who collect as they please, and threaten the tenants. If the money isn't collected, something else is, even if it is of no use to them. Possessions. Food. Blood. Even a woman's honor."
Moist opened his mouth and shut it again, in horror.
"You are going to stop this, Mr. Lipwig, because I do not believe that you are a bad man, despite it all." Drumknott finished, quietly. "This should protect you from the occasional blackjack." He opened a box, and produced a sturdy bowler hat. Moist took it.
"Can I bring Gladys?" he asked, weakly.
"I have a hat for her, as well." Drumknott admitted, and pulled a box from behind the desk, as large as a Lipwigzer and tied with a bow.
"-and Thunderaxe insisted that he needed more dwarfpower to get it completed in the next year, when we're already a half million over budget." Rufus complained, frowning at the papers spread around them on the table. "We're already disrupting traffic patterns for four months more than we'd planned, but I can't sign off on a bill of this size, I just can't."
Sam ran his finger over the neat columns of figures three times, and they refused to become smaller under the total line. "We can't skimp on the Shades." he insisted. "If we want to bring money into the area, the best way to do it is to be sure that people have a reliable way to make it to a job that pays more than what's available down there. I'm sure the main line would be enough for now. The side street stations can wait."
Rufus sighed. "It's the main line that's the problem. It's not undisturbed earth at all. It's centuries of Ankh-Morpork, and not the flimsy bricks they've been knocking away until now. He's saying that there's layers of things from the Empire. Fired stronger than a mountain, packed with mud, and dense as day old dwarf bread. And we don't have any way of knowing exactly how much of that is the truth."
"These dwarfs have always been honest with the city." Sam replied, tapping his fingers on the edge of the table.
"Yes, but the size of the bill... could you be surprised if they inflated it a bit, if they've gotten a bit comfortable with their appointment?" And without the threat of Havelock hanging over them, he thought, but didn't say.
Sam sighed, and wished again that he'd had Morporkia with him, he'd become unsure of himself knowing that her presence was gone. Not expecting anything much, he reached out with his mind- and frowned as he felt information come to the forefront of his mind, things that seemed to him that he'd always known, but had been long forgotten. First of all, he knew that Thunderaxe was right, in the oldest part of the city, civilization was layered to a depth of eight point four miles. He knew this as surely as he knew that the network of ancient tree roots only buried a hundred feet, yet spread out over thirty feet horizontally , interweaving with neighboring roots , anchoring the soil, in the springtime sending tree sap up trunks at a rate of -
Sam took a staggering breath, but something was pulling him under. The voices of the trees, the voices of the rocks, the voices of the tiny creatures and countless humans, trolls, dwarfs, golems, gnolls, cats, dogs; everyone chattering over one another into a deafening clamor. It was the city, the land, and without Morporkia- without a filter that could make sense of it all to his own limited human mind. He panicked, and only felt more overwhelmed as he struggled, the air knocked from his lungs, his senses of sight and hearing shutting down, until he couldn't feel his body at all, just a sense of falling, of being pulled. He wanted to cry for help, but had to mouth to scream, no lungs to rationalize why he couldn't get enough air.
Sam. He didn't exactly hear the voice, he felt it. It was familiar. He trusted it.
Up now, Sam. Focus.
Sam desperately wanted to squeeze shut the eyelids that he couldn't feel. The presence wrenched him away from the grasp of the roots and voices, lifting him up, toward the surface.
Sam found that he could breathe again, and took a deep gasp of air, though he couldn't see, or even feel most of his body.
As he broke the surface of his hallucination, a chill passed through his chest. Havelock!
He felt Rufus holding a cool cloth to his forehead as his vision swam into focus. He was frightened, on the verge of tears, and Sam moaned something to reassure him.
"Sam..." Rufus wrapped his arms around him, covering him in kisses. "Oh, Sam, you scared me..."
It was Havelock. I know I'm not mistaken. Sam shook in Rufus' arms, the other taking it as a physical reaction.
I have to tell him. I have to. I... I can't tell him. I'm not ready. I'm not ready to lose him yet!
"Shh, it's all right. You just had one of your nasty turns." Rufus was stroking back his hair, muttering reassurances against him.
"I must have fainted. " Sam managed. "I... tried to talk to her. It went wrong. I think I was hallucinating." Yes, it was a hallucination. It wasn't real. There was no way that was real.
"What did you see?" Rufus asked, quietly.
"I saw... everything. All at once. It was overwhelming." Sam shook his head. "I didn't have her there to make sense of it. I saw... everything all at once."
"Enough for now, then. Let's get you to bed." Rufus had ignored everything for his sake. Sam looked down.
"Before that... I think that you should sign off on it. I saw... I knew, somehow... that they weren't lying. I saw the layers of the city. In a rush. I ... "
"Now's not the time for that. We have to balance the budget-"
"I'll pay the difference. Whatever it is. "
"Sam, you can't just use your own family's fortune to-"
He shook his head. "Who cares? Who's getting it when I'm dead? Doesn't matter. Doesn't-" his head was swimming , and Rufus looked almost offended, but Sam didn't have it in him to piece together why.
"You need to rest." Rufus insisted. "Now."
Sam nodded, allowing himself to be lead to his room. Rufus pulled off his shoes, and turned down the covers, and kept an arm around him while his head continued to spin.
"I'll get you some medicine." he said, gently.
Sam made a small agreeable noise. Rufus, he thought, was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
The odd thing about dying was that he felt aware of his body, for the first time in weeks. His entire body, its shape, its breath, still inhaling and exhaling out of pure habit, for it wasn't needed now. The agonizing pain that narrowed his existence to experiencing its torture vanished in an instant, and his head became clear. It was like opening a window to a cool breeze in a stuffy room.
Death looked surprised that he had addressed him first.
NO ONE EVER THANKS ME.
"I assume it must be the shock of it all. I've seen you for days. Why?"
YOU DO NOT KNOW?
Vetinari sighed. "I appreciate the confirmation." The room below him was almost faded into obscurity, but he could still see it, faintly. "I cannot go. I am sorry. You have been most helpful."
Death sighed. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL.
"Isn't it?" Vetinari raised an eyebrow.
IF YOU STAY, YOU WILL FADE AWAY. YOU WILL CEASE TO REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, AND YOU WILL BE UNABLE TO FIND YOUR WAY BACK. YOU HAVE LIVED WELL BY YOUR OWN MORAL CODE. THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR.
MOST WITCHES UNDERSTAND WHEN IT IS TIME TO LET GO, Death prodded, sounding faintly annoyed.
"And if I remember who I am? How much time would there be?" Vetinari steepled his fingers, thoughtfully. "Assuming I am vigilant in the mental discipline of remembering who I am."
YOU WOULD HAVE A CHANCE AS LONG AS YOU ARE ALSO REMEMBERED. I FEAR THE ODDS ARE NOT GOOD.
"They seldom are." Vetinari sighed. Below him, he could sense the chaos of the room, the swirling emotions of his family. Misery, grief, shock, rage- Yes, that last one was Vimes. He seized on the anger, and felt it flow into him like a current of potent magic. He felt tethered, solid. Rufus was kneeling over Young Sam; and something powerful and somehow familiar was pulling at the boy- he had to go to him.
"Yes, it's worth the risk."
SQUEAK, replied the Death of Rats.
"Thank you. I hope I do not need it."
Havelock Vetinari turned his back on the black sand of the moonlit desert, and plunged toward the light.