It was late afternoon when Vimes arrived back at the Yard. He knew that by now most of the Watchmen would be out on duty somewhere, and the few remaining people in the building would busy themselves studiously with paperwork the minute he walked through the door. On another day that might have bothered him; but right now, it was exactly what he needed.
He paused at the front door, taking in a deep breath, attempting to steady his nerves. Then he entered, closing the door behind him. He walked through the front office, his eyes immediately scanning the room, looking for Carrot.
He wasn’t here.
“Er, does anyone know where Captain Carrot is?” he said, to the room at large.
Constable Jenkins’ head appeared over a large pile of paperwork. “He went out with Nobby about an hour ago, sir. There was a minor disturbance in Filigree Street. Captain Carrot offered to go and sort it out.”
“Oh, right, fine, fine,” said Vimes. “Well, as soon as he gets back, tell him I want to see him in my office, would you?”
“Will do, sir.”
Vimes climbed the stairs to his office, trying his best to look calm.
Just act normal, he told himself. No one here knows a thing...
He opened the door and went in. He leaned back against the door and ran his hands over his face, trying to maintain a grip on his sanity.
How did I ever get into this mess? he thought. Life was so simple once. I went to work, I did my job; and I went home again...
The Patrician had tricked him into opening his big mouth.
Now all I do is sleep poorly and constantly look over my shoulder, worrying who the hell’s listening to my damned conversations...
They were going to have to end it. And it was all his fault.
How in the hells am I going to tell Carrot?
Vimes dragged himself over to his desk and slumped wearily into his chair.
Gods, I feel so damned tired...
He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to remember the last time he’d had a good nights sleep. In that unguarded moment, another thought, one he’d pushed deliberately to the back of his mind, slowly began edging its way to the forefront.
I’m going to have to give up Carrot...
Why did that thought bother him so much? He wasn’t the one who’d started this relationship, after all. He already had a wife who loved him; he didn’t need Carrot. Did he?
He reached for the bottom drawer of his desk, as he always did when he was too strung out to remember the bottle was no longer there.
If I ended it all now, would it really matter? That much?
He slammed the desk drawer closed, hard. Annoyed because he’d reached for it out of habit, but mostly because he knew he was fighting a losing battle with himself, trying to pretend that Carrot meant nothing to him.
I’d been afraid of this and yet I’d done nothing to prevent it. That night at Carrot’s place, I should have just got dressed and gone home, instead of staying and... and allowing myself to fall for... godsdamnit!
He ran a hand through his hair, suddenly realizing his hands were shaking.
He loved him, didn’t he?
He could pretend all he damn well wanted; he knew he couldn’t lie to himself. He loved him; he just wouldn’t admit it.
Vimes leaned on his desk and covered his face with his hands, wondering, not for the first time today, if things could possibly get any worse.
Nobby and Carrot arrived back at the Yard some time later. Vimes could hear their voices downstairs.
“But, I told you...” Nobby was saying. “It’s just a reflex action...”
“Nobby!” said Carrot, aghast. “You deliberately kicked that man in the—”
“Well, I ain’t no good at talking to ’em like you are, am I?” said Nobby, rolling his eyes.
Carrot frowned. “Well, I don’t think you were really trying that hard.”
“I was!” said Nobby hotly. “But it’s like my boot always acts faster’n my brain. It’s prob’ly got summat to do with the blood supply, I mean, it’s all downhill to my feet, innit?”
“Er, Carrot?” said Constable Jenkins, cutting in. “The commander wants to see you in his office. He’s been waiting for you...”
Carrot's expression suddenly changed. “Okay, I’ll be right there,” he said, forgetting all about Nobby’s insalubrious enquiry techniques.
Carrot entered the office. He could tell something was wrong as soon as he saw Vimes’ face.
“What’s the matter, sir?” he said, looking concerned. “You look as if you’ve seen Death himself.”
Vimes snorted. “Oh, if only you knew how true that was, Carrot.”
Carrot came closer. “Sir? Are you okay?”
Vimes rubbed his forehead, edgily. “I’ve been to see the Patrician, Carrot.”
“Yes, I know. I was there this morning; he was talking about you.”
“Well, I bloody well know that!” said Vimes, trying desperately to maintain his self-control.
Carrot frowned. “Sir? Is there something wrong?”
Vimes took a deep breath. “He knows about us, Carrot... He knows because I told him.”
Carrot stared at him, his expression unreadable.
“Did you hear what I said, Carrot? He knows...”
“I heard what you said.”
Vimes braced himself; fully expecting Carrot to take a swing at him.
Carrot eyed him sideways. “Why would you do a thing like that, sir?” he said carefully. “Tell the Patrician, I mean?”
“Because he led me to believe he already knew; that you had already said something, anything, I don’t know...”
“And you really thought I’d say something?”
“No, of course not,” said Carrot, still watching him. “So, what did he say when you told him?”
“He, er...” Vimes swallowed, he’d been dreading this part. “He said we’d have to end it, Carrot.”
Carrot’s face remained impassive.
Vimes held his breath, slightly thrown off balance by Carrot’s reaction. He’d been expecting a row, a jab in the eye; tears even, but not this.
Suddenly, Carrot spoke. “I think I know why he’s doing this,” he said slowly, almost to himself.
“I should have realized it before.”
“Carrot, what are you talking about?”
“Every time we talked he would bring the same subject up,” said Carrot. “He always wanted to talk about you; always asking the same questions; what sort of relationship we had, how we got on with each other, that sort of thing...”
Vimes shook his head. “But, I don’t understand, why would he want to know that?”
“I’m not sure,” said Carrot. “But it was almost as if...”
Carrot suddenly reached into his pocket and pulled out a bunch of keys. “Here,” he said, shoving them into Vimes’ hand. “Take these. Go back to my place and wait for me, there’s something I need to take care of.” He turned and headed for the door.
“Just do it!”
“But... where are you going?”
But Carrot was gone.
Vimes stared at the bunch of keys in his hand, his mind teetering on the edge of the abyss. His fist closed around them as he closed his eyes, hoping that Carrot knew what the bloody hell he was doing. Because if he didn’t, then things really were going to get worse...