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Together at Midnight

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At the somewhat unusually late hour of 11 pm, Vetinari put down his pen, looked up at his secretary, and said, 'Would it be alright if you spent tonight alone?’

'Of course.' Drumknott finished cleaning up his desk and turned to him with an expression of calm, though Vetinari's words caused him some apprehension. 'Are you alright?'

'I'm perfectly fine,' Vetinari said. 'I will see you in the morning.'

Drumknott went over to him and kissed him on the cheek. He was relieved when this elicited a smile, as it normally did. He had been anxious about Vetinari ever since they had received the clacks that Vimes had suddenly appeared out of thin air near the university, resulting in a rumpus as he demanded the wizards take him home to see his wife. The news had seemed to cause some sort of shift in Vetinari's mood.

'Goodnight,' Drumknott said, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

'Goodnight, Rufus,' Vetinari said, brushing his fingers against Drumknott's, and Drumknott left for his room.

Half an hour later, Drumknott discovered that he had not, in fact, ceased to worry. An hour later, he found that he could not relax enough to sleep. He lay in bed trying to think, to determine if he was concerned about Vetinari simply because he had asked to be alone, or if he had unconsciously picked up a sign that Vetinari was not as well as he had claimed to be.

It was a few more minutes before he could decide on a course of action. If Vetinari really only wanted to be by himself tonight, he would not like it if Drumknott went to check on him. But Drumknott couldn't help thinking there was something more that he had not seen.

Today was the 25th of May (or rather, it had been until some ten minutes ago), and Vetinari always fell into a pensive mood on the date. Drumknott knew about the People's Revolution of the Glorious 25th of May, of course. He also knew that the people who had been there, on that day, and survived, wore a sprig of lilac every year to commemorate the date. Vetinari wore one on the date too, but Drumknott didn't think anyone knew the full extent of his involvement on that day, let alone Drumknott himself.

Well, perhaps Vetinari would understand Drumknott's anxiety for him, even if he didn't want to see him. Drumknott donned slippers and crept out of his room, utilising the palace's network of secret passages when he could to avoid being seen in his nightgown by the domestic staff. In a moment, he had arrived at the door of Vetinari's room. Glancing around to make sure nobody was nearby, he knocked on the door and let himself in.

Vetinari wasn't there.

A rush of dismay filled Drumknott as he went to the bathroom to check if he was inside. The door was unlocked, and the room beyond dark and empty.

Certainly it wasn't entirely abnormal for Vetinari to go out at night and look around his city, or even his palace, while it was asleep, but today of all days, it could not sit right with Drumknott. He hurried back to his room and dressed properly before going to the Oblong Office.

It was locked, but Drumknott had a key. But this room, too, was vacant, and Drumknott locked it up again. He could not think where to go or what to do.

Two minutes had passed with Drumknott leaning on the door of the office, desperately turning over the day's events in his head, when he heard Vetinari's voice in a soft whisper say, 'Rufus, what are you doing?'

He whirled around to face the door of the anteroom where Vetinari was standing, still in his work clothes, though they were slightly damp as if he had been out.

Havelock,’ he breathed, taking a step forward before he came to his senses, and he hesitated.

'Yes?' Vetinari extended a hand. Comforted, Drumknott took it and closed the distance between them, and was surprised by how tightly Vetinari held his hand, though he quickly let go again.

'I was ... worried about you,’ Drumknott said.

'I told you I wished to be alone tonight.'

'I know.' Vetinari didn't seem angry at him. Drumknott pressed his face into Vetinari's shoulder and said, 'I just ... had the feeling that you didn't really. If you were only going to go outside, you would have told me.'

'Where did you think I was then?'

Drumknott didn't know. 'You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.’

There was a moment of silence. Then Vetinari said, ‘I can see you are determined to worry about me. It is rather late, but would you like to come and have some tea with me?’

‘Yes, of course.’

Vetinari did not speak again until they had moved to his room and were sitting on the sofa in his room and he had brewed two cups of tea - he had never let Drumknott make tea whenever they were in his room. He gave Drumknott a cup, and sat down next to him, cradling the other cup in his hands.

‘I wonder if you are expecting me to tell you what I am thinking of tonight?’ he said, his gaze concentrated entirely on Drumknott.

‘N...o,' Drumknott said. He took a sip of tea - perfectly suited to his taste - and bit his lip in some anxiety. ‘You don’t have to tell me anything. But I want you to feel that I’m ... here for ... you ... if you need anything ...’ He trailed off and looked away, feeling the absurdity of attempting to encourage the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork to reach out to him. They had started this affair only several months ago, and Drumknott still wasn’t sure what it was that Vetinari wanted from him - if it was simply physical intimacy, or something ... more.

‘Thank you,’ Vetinari said, and Drumknott shook his head. It wasn’t something he wanted to be thanked for, and even if it was, Vetinari shouldn’t thank him for it. ‘But I have many burdens, few of which I would want to place on you.’

‘You don’t have to. If there’s anything you want from me, you need only ask.’

‘Are you sure?’ Vetinari raised an eyebrow. ‘I hope there are some things you would not willingly give me.’

In the office, Drumknott would have said, ‘No there are not’. But that was why Vetinari wanted him to say that there were, here where there were no barriers between them. It pleased him to think of that - the implication that Vetinari might want more than just sex from him.

‘There are, but I don’t think you would ever ask for any of them from me.’

‘I see.’ Vetinari leaned forward and kissed him lightly. ‘I am flattered by such faith,’ he said while still close enough that Drumknott felt his breath on his face as he spoke, and his heartbeat picked up pace.

Drumknott couldn’t think of what to say in reply, and was slightly dismayed when Vetinari pulled away. He finished his tea as quickly as he dared, and placed his cup on the small table with a steady hand.

Vetinari did the same thing before he said, ‘Do you know who was considered the leader of the People’s Revolution thirty-three years ago?’

‘Yes,’ Drumknott said, wondering if Vetinari was going to tell him what was on his mind after all. ‘It was John Keel, a sergeant from Pseudopolis who was transferred to Ankh-Morpork.’

'He made a name for himself in the city almost instantly,' Vetinari said, 'attracting a lot of attention for an officer who was considered too sensible and slow in Pseudopolis. At the time, Lord Winder was losing favour, and Snapcase gaining it. Keel was a wildcard, and many parties sought him out to get him on their side - or at least, ascertain what side he was on at all.'

Drumknot nodded. It had happened even before he was born, and even then, he had spent his childhood in the Ramtops. 'History at the time wasn't altogether well-documented,' he said. 'Much of what most people know was told to them by people who were there. Nobody even knows who most of those parties were.'

For a moment, the corners of Vetinari's mouth turned up in a smile, and Drumknott smiled back, curious what thought had occurred to him.

'One of those interested parties was the group we now know as the Guild of Seamstresses,' Vetinari went on. 'Led by my aunt. Naturally, she drew me into many of her plans. Unpredictable as Keel was, he seemed to be on the same path as she was, and she asked me to monitor him several times. I believe she rather fancied him.'

Vetinari paused and gave Drumknott a look he might have - hesitantly - described as uncertain. Drumknott wished he could think of some gesture of encouragement, and could not. But perhaps it showed on his face, because Vetinari's expression cleared. To Drumknott's surprise and pleasure, he reached out a hand to touch Drumknott's jaw and run his fingers through the loose curls of his reddish-brown hair.

'I confess I found him interesting as well,' Vetinari said. 'He behaved like a thug, but it was clear to me that it was only an act - he seemed to read the streets through his feet, and I would have thought he fought with instinct if every move was not carefully calculated.'

At this point, Drumknott would have been uneasy about a description he felt was rather familiar, but Vetinari started to scratch his nails lightly against his scalp, which completely melted away any ill feeling, and he could not say anything.

'My aunt was there when Snapcase was instated,' Vetinari said, his voice lower now. 'His first order was to have Keel assassinated, and my aunt sent me to protect him.'

'Oh,' Drumknott said. He knew that Keel had not survived. Vetinari began to withdraw his hand, and Drumknott caught it, relieved when he didn't pull away. 'Havelock -'

'It was strange. I saw his dead body, covered in more blood than I expected, his wounds looking old. And another man disappeared at the same time. But Keel was dead, and I did think I was at fault,' Vetinari said. Drumknott, sensing he needed to be quiet for now, held back his words of comfort. 'I joined the fight in honour of him, and possibly to also put off facing my aunt.' The smile that appeared on Vetinari's face this time was not at all pleasant, and Drumknott touched Vetinari's lips as if to wipe it away. The line of Vetinari's mouth softened ever so slightly at the touch, but the steely look in his eyes did not abate. 'Imagine my surprise and annoyance at discovering I was wrong.'

Drumknott, concentrating hard on Vetinari's expression, almost didn't hear him, and when he did, he found he didn't understand at all.

'Where did you go just now?' Drumknott asked.

'The Small Gods cemetery. Oh, do have some flowers sent to the Duchess to congratulate her on her son's birth, won't you?' Vetinari said. It was such a normal, everyday thing to say, that Drumknott was almost startled into smiling. 'I met the Commander there. Or ... it seemed to me, for a moment, I met Sergeant Keel.'

A silence fell. Vetinari looked at Drumknott expectantly, and Drumknott internally panicked - he could see that Vetinari wanted him to deduce his meaning by himself, and he frantically wracked his brains for the answer.

'They are the same person?' Drumknott said at last. 'But how ...?'

'The bolt of lightning that struck the University. The wizards say it caused some magical accidents, including sending Vimes more than thirty years back in time.'

'And he took the name John Keel?' Drumknott's brow furrowed. 'But Keel was a real person from Pseudopolis ...' Vetinari did not say anything, and Drumknott wondered if it was simply because he wanted Drumknott to figure it out for himself, or if, perhaps, he found it difficult to say. 'Oh,' he said as understanding dawned. 'The wounds on Keel's body were old - did - did he die as Vimes arrived, and Vimes took his place? And when he came back to the present time ... he left the real Keel's body in his place.'

'That is the likeliest explanation,' Vetinari nodded with satisfaction. 'Well done.' Then he shrugged. 'It is really somewhat absurd.'

Absurd? Another realisation occurred to Drumknott. Vetinari said he had admired Keel, and had possibly blamed himself for his death. To find out that that had not been the case at all, after all this time ...

'He was an important figure in your past,' Drumknott said slowly.

'My aunt truly believed that Snapcase was the future,' Vetinari said. His fingers twitched in Drumknott's grip, and Drumknott held on tighter. 'She was shocked when he proved her wrong within the first five minutes of his rule, particularly in that way. Many people were.'

Drumknott could only imagine it. He had never known any Patrician other than Vetinari, but the scars Vetinari's predecessors had left behind were clearly apparent. Drumknott felt a rush of gratitude that Vetinari should be the man who he served, and not some hateful or insane lord who would only drive the city into further ruin. He wondered now too, what it was that Vetinari was feeling. Even now that he knew his thoughts, he could not begin to speculate on his emotions. He had learnt a long time ago that Vetinari's cold demeanour hid a great deal more than anyone would suspect.

'Was that what ... made you decide to pursue the position of Patrician?' Drumknott asked.

'It helped. I owe much to my aunt, who has always been very much concerned with the wellbeing of the city. It is possible I would have even chosen a different career path were it not for her.'

'I'm glad,' Drumknott said, looking into Vetinari's eyes. 'The city is infinitely fortunate to have you, and I am glad to have the opportunity to get to know you, even a little bit.'

'A little bit?' Vetinari smiled, and while it was not much different from most of his other smiles, Drumknott thought it was the nicest smile he had ever seen. 'My dear Rufus. I sometimes fear my affection for you is obvious to anyone who has ever known me for more than ten minutes altogether.'

'It isn't at all,' Drumknott said hastily, colour rising to his face. 'Really.'

'Not even to you?'

In the brief moment Drumknott took to think about what answer it was that Vetinari wanted him to give, Vetinari said softly, 'No, Rufus, don't think of what you should say. Tell me the truth.'

'No, it isn't,' Drumknott admitted.

'I see.' To Drumknott's consternation, Vetinari pulled out of his grip, but he didn't think it was right to insist holding on when he had already done so once. 'I apologise for that,' Vetinari said, and Drumknott looked at him in surprise. 'You unfailingly appear to know my every thought, I thought you would notice this one too.'

Drumknott opened his mouth to apologise, then realised that it would be ridiculous to do so, and was happily saved the agony of coming up with something else to say by Vetinari speaking again.

'Thank you for letting me talk to you. I have so often resolved my own inner conflicts by contemplating them alone in the past, I had forgotten it can be helpful to voice one's thoughts to someone else.'

'You're welcome,' Drumknott said, rather embarrassedly. Vetinari's request that he be honest had thrown him off, and he pulled himself together to say, 'But you needn't thank me for that. I'm honoured if you feel you can confide in me.'

'I do,' Vetinari said, and suddenly leaned in close enough to kiss. 'Though I still cannot say for sure if that feeling is justified.'

It was possibly the least romantic thing anyone who was about to kiss someone else had ever said, and Drumknott said as much. Vetinari seemed genuinely amused by this.

'Allow me to make up for it in other ways,' he said.

'Of course.' Daringly, Drumknott put an arm around him, pulling him close. 'Only tell me, would you speak to me again if there was some personal matter troubling you?'

'I shall do my best,' Vetinari said. He kissed him, and they finally retired to bed together.