Disclaimer: All Discworld characters belong to Terry Pratchett. I own nothing. I'm just inspired to write stuff he isn't likely to. No disrespect is intended.
Author's Note: This is the fifth story in the Carrot/Vimes slash series. It isn't strictly necessary to read them in order, as each fic is a complete story in itself. But for the sake of continuity, it's probably best to read them that way.
This story is dedicated to VimesLady, who taught me the true meaning of friendship without even realizing it.
Carrot appeared to be taking his time climbing the stairs to Vimes' office. He was heavily laden with paperwork, but his progress seemed hampered more by the weight on his mind than by the armful of folders he was carrying; his big honest brow was creasing visibly under the strain. He stopped when he reached the top of the stairs and stood there for a moment with his hand on the doorknob. He closed his eyes, and for several minutes appeared to have a private conversation with himself. Finally, he gave a small nod, opened the door, and went in.
Vimes was sitting at his desk looking over the previous nights reports. He looked up as Carrot entered, and gave him a broad smile.
"Ah, morning, Carrot," he said. "Just the person I wanted to see."
"Morning, sir," said Carrot. The usual cheerfulness was missing from his voice and he didn't look at Vimes as he spoke, he walked across to the filing cabinet and dropped the armful of folders on top of it. "I'll take a look at those a little later if you don't mind, sir," he said. "I don't feel much like doing it right now."
Vimes frowned and looked across to where Carrot was standing; he had his back to him, facing the wall. His head was hanging low.
"Everything all right, Carrot?" he said.
Carrot rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, actually, no, sir... There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about..."
"Oh?" said Vimes, slowly lowering the report.
"Well, not so much talk to you about as tell you, really, sir. I've been meaning to tell you for a while, but... well, there never really seemed to be the right moment."
Vimes placed the report carefully to one side.
"Well, I've told you before you can talk to me about anything, Carrot. What's troubling you?"
"Well, it's us, sir," said Carrot. "Our relationship..."
"Carrot, I don't think this is really the right time—"
"Well, that's just it, sir," said Carrot wretchedly. "I don't think there ever will be a right time. And it's not as if there's anything to discuss, really, so I may as well just come out and say it."
"Say what, Carrot...?"
"That it's over, sir."
It should have all been so simple, thought Carrot. All he had to do was have a quiet word with the commander and everything would be fine. That's how the Patrician had made it sound two days ago when he'd summoned him to the Oblong office...
"...Ah, Captain Carrot. Do come in. I'm so glad you could make it at such short notice. Please, take a seat..." The Patrician smiled and extended a welcoming arm.
"Thank you, sir," said Carrot, sitting in the proffered chair. He took off his helmet and placed it on his knees. "It wasn't a problem, really, sir. I thought I'd drop by in my lunch hour, since you said this was more of a personal visit, rather than official Watch business."
"You came here in your own time?"
"Yes, sir. I thought it seemed inappropriate using the commander's time for personal matters."
"You did?" said Vetinari, returning to his seat. "That was very... considerate of you."
"Like I said, sir, it's not a problem. Was it something important you wanted to talk about, sir?"
"Well, I was rather hoping to speak to you as a friend," said the Patrician, quickly testing Carrot for a reaction.
There wasn't one.
"A friend, sir?" said Carrot.
"Yes, captain. You see I wanted to talk to you about the commander."
Now, there was a noticeable squirm. "With respect, sir," said Carrot. "I'm not sure I should be discussing the commander behind his back, sir." His brow creased, and then he added. "Not unless he knows about this of course."
"No, captain, he doesn't," said Vetinari calmly. "And for once, I would prefer it that way."
Carrot got up. "In that case, sir, I don't really think—"
"Captain, please sit down." The Patrician's tone was suddenly several degrees cooler. "The reason I've brought you here as a friend is because there's a certain matter that needs to be discussed. This matter concerns not only the commander, but also yourself. Now there are two ways I can go about this and I think you'll find this way preferable. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," said Carrot, lowering himself slowly into his chair. "I think I get the picture..."
"Good," said the Patrician, placing his palms on the desk. "I do so hate confusion. Now, I'd like to make it clear that I didn't bring you here for a lecture, and I wouldn't be bringing the subject up at all had it not been for the events of the past week..."
"It's okay, sir," said Carrot. "I have a feeling I know what this is about... It has something to do with my kidnapping, sir, doesn't it?"
"Yes, captain. It has everything to do with your kidnapping."
Carrot bowed his head. "Sir, I realize what I did was foolish. But in future, I promise to—"
The Patrician waved him into silence. "Captain, that's not why I've brought you here. What happened to you was unfortunate, but it wasn't your fault. What concerns me is the way in which the commander handled the situation."
"But, why, sir?" said Carrot, suddenly confused. "He got me back safely, sir, everyone knows that!" He caught the look on Vetinari's face, and then added, "Didn't he, sir...?"
Vetinari rose slowly and moved around to the front of his desk. His expression was somewhat... pained.
"Carrot," he said gently. "Since you and the commander have become... involved, he's developed a serious disregard for his own safety. And, I'm afraid, it's forcing me to reconsider your relationship with him."
"But, sir!" said Carrot, emotion straining his voice. "You know that's not true!"
The Patrician held up a placating hand. "Carrot, I know how fond the commander is of you, and it's only natural he should want to protect you. But he has become reckless. And I find it unacceptable."
"The commander's never been reckless, sir!" said Carrot. He looked close to tears.
"Carrot, your loyalty to him is admirable, but you have no idea what he went through trying to get you back. He almost died trying to protect you."
"He acted almost without thinking, Carrot. He charged headlong into the situation because you were in danger. Don't you see, Carrot? It's this fondness he has for you that's making him this way."
"Then this is all my fault?"
"No, it's not your fault, Carrot, it's human nature. Anyone would do the same." Vetinari sighed sadly. "But Commander Vimes isn't just anyone, is he, Carrot? He's an important man. The city needs him. I need him. I can't afford to lose him over something as..." He flourished his hand.
"...insignificant as our relationship," Carrot finished for him.
Vetinari met Carrot's sad, blue gaze.
"Carrot, I wouldn't be appealing to you unless I thought it was necessary. But your relationship with him also makes you responsible for him. If it's to continue, then I must be assured of his safety."
"You could just order him to be more careful, sir," said Carrot hopefully.
Vetinari sighed. "You know he wouldn't listen to me, Carrot. Besides, I don't want him to know I'm involved. You know how he'd feel about my interference."
"So, what do you propose I do, sir?"
"Talk to him; make him see sense. He listens to you, I know he does."
"He won't want me acting as his nursemaid, sir."
"Then find some other way. Do whatever it takes. If you care for him like you say you do, then now's your chance to prove it. Save him from himself, Carrot. Do what you know is right..."
The words had resounded in his brain. "Do what you know is right..." And so he had done what he thought was right. But that hadn't made it any easier...
"O-over...?" said Vimes. He was still staring at him. He looked stunned.
"I realize it'll come as a bit of a shock, sir," said Carrot. "But you see, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was a mistake."
"I mean we shouldn't have gotten so involved in the first place, sir. Not really..."
Vimes blinked, uncomprehending. Ice-cold fingers were twisting his insides. Suddenly, it became difficult to breathe; his chest muscles constricted; his intense feelings of discomfort prolonged by the fact that time appeared to be standing still. He grasped mentally for something to hold on to, but found nothing; his brain felt as if it was filled with cotton wool. Carrot was still talking, but his words weren't registering; he was speaking a different language, and everything seemed surreal...
"I-I wasn't expecting this, Carrot..."
"No, sir, I realize that."
"I mean, after everything you told me..."
"Yes, sir, I realize that too. And I meant everything I said at the time."
"A-at the time...?" Vimes looked up; his eyes were empty.
"It had to end sometime, sir. You always knew that."
"Well, yes, I know, but I thought—"
"Best not to think about it too much, sir, eh?" said Carrot. "It'll be best for everyone in the long run, you'll see." He turned away; the look on Vimes' face was unbearable.
Vimes' gaze fell to his desktop. He looked over it while he searched for something to say. He reached for the reports and slid them in front of him. He sat there staring at them, his eyes unfocused, his hands lying flat on the desk.
"Well, that's the end of that, then..." he said numbly.
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Do you mind...?" he said. "I think I'd like to work on my own for a little while."
"No, sir, of course not."
Carrot headed for the door, resisting the urge to turn around and look at Vimes.
The door closed quietly behind him.
Vimes closed his eyes...
And the bottom dropped out of his world.