Sergeant Colon was extremely rattled. His workload had increased considerably in the past 4 hours, and he was certain they weren't paying him enough. What's more, Captain Carrot had left work early to visit the Patrician, and Vimes hadn't emerged from his office all day. And now, to top it all, Captain Noakes was suggesting he do unspeakable things in Cheery's office.
"Please, sergeant, just this once?" said Noakes. "It'll only take a minute..."
"But it's paperwork!" cried Colon.
"It's an iconograph!" said Noakes. "And I'm only asking you to deliver it!" He shook his head in dismay. And then, remembering some of the sergeant's finer qualities, tried a different tack. "Isn't it almost time you went off-duty, sergeant?" he asked casually. "Why not sign out now and then drop this off on your way home, hmm?"
Colon brightened up. "Well, you should've said it was urgent," he said, snatching the envelope from Noakes' grasp. "Why, I could've delivered this and been home ages ago." He bustled down the corridor and into the front office. He signed out and tossed the pen back on the desk. "I reckon someone ought to wake the commander up soon, though," he added darkly, glaring at Vimes' office door. "'Cause then we'd all have a lot less to do, eh?"
"That's enough of that, sergeant," said Noakes sternly. He half-turned his head to follow the sergeant's gaze. "We all have to do a bit extra when we're pushed, you know that." His eyes remained fixed on Vimes' door as Colon's protestations faded into the distance; but he was only half-listening; he was wondering how much longer Vimes intended to stay in there...
"You did what?" said the Patrician.
"I ended it, sir," said Carrot; he looked slightly disappointed at the Patrician's reaction. "I thought you'd be pleased, sir."
"I thought you were just going to talk to him?"
"Well, I was, sir. But then I realized it wasn't that simple. After all, you've said yourself what a suspicious... so-and-so he is, sir, and you did say you didn't want him to know you were involved. If he'd started asking questions, sir, you know I wouldn't have been able to lie to him. No, it's better this way, sir. We have to be sure." Carrot suddenly looked incredibly sad, as if the enormity of what he had done had only just hit him. "I mean, it wasn't as if I intended it to end like this, sir," he said quietly.
Vetinari stared at him for a moment, and then turned away. He was at a loss for words; and somehow, he found the look on the young man's face oddly... unsettling. He strolled over to the window and gazed out of it, while silently digesting the facts.
Several months ago, he had tried to bring about this very eventuality deliberately for reasons he now considered selfish. Put simply, he'd been irked by the fact that Carrot played such a large part in Vimes' life, not only professionally, but also... personally. He'd been able to ignore it, however, since their relationship hadn't interfered with the normal running of things; quite the contrary in fact, Vimes seemed more relaxed now than he'd seen him in years. But he was over-protective of the boy, and although he'd taken chances in the line of work before, there was a world of difference between a calculated risk and this... obsession to keep the boy safe. He'd almost lost his life because of it. It couldn't be ignored...
"How did he take this... news?" said Vetinari, speaking over his shoulder while still gazing out the window.
"Quite calmly really, sir," said Carrot; he was staring into his hands, lost in thoughts of his own.
"He didn't scream, punch the wall or hit anyone?"
"No, sir. Nothing like that."
A hand gently shook Vimes' shoulder.
"Hmm? Vimes pried his eyes open and looked up. "Oh, it's you, Noakes," he said, squinting as a concerned-looking face came into focus. "What're you doing in my office?"
"It's almost 6 o'clock, sir. When you didn't come down I was beginning to get—"
"Good heavens, I must've dozed off."
"Yes, sir, I can see you've been busy." There wasn't a hint of sarcasm in Noakes' voice; he noted with amazement that Vimes' desk was almost clear of paperwork, even though Carrot hadn't been up there since this morning.
"Is Carrot still here?" said Vimes, as if reading his thoughts. He eased himself back into his chair and stretched, then he got up.
"No, sir. He said he had a visit to make at the palace, sir. And then he was making his way home."
Vimes nodded. "So, what are you still doing here?" he said, reaching behind the door for his coat. "First day back at work and doing overtime already?" He checked in his coat pocket for something, found it, and then put it back.
"I was, er... just finishing up downstairs, sir. I just wanted to make sure everything was—"
"It's all right, captain, you don't have to apologize." Vimes gave Noakes a friendly slap on the back. "Well, I think we've both had enough for one day, captain, don't you?" he said. "I think what I need now is a bit of fresh air..."
Carrot turned the key in the lock and let himself in. He kicked off his boots by the door and then set about stripping off his armour. Then he picked up the mail, and was already opening the first letter as he moved into the kitchen.
"That'll be two sugars in mine, please," said a voice from behind him. "And let it stew for a bit, would you, you know how I like it."
Carrot spun around.
"Sir! How did you—?"
Vimes detached himself from the wall, dangling Carrot's spare key from his finger. "You said I could keep it, remember?" He dropped the key back in his pocket and glanced around the room. "I think I have a few other bits and bobs lying around too, if I remember rightly," he added sarcastically. "But I suppose I can come round later and pick up my stuff, eh?"
"Don't be like that, sir... It's not like you."
"You know, it's funny how you think you know someone, isn't it, Carrot?" said Vimes, dropping into the room's only chair. "See, yesterday I had you down for someone who would've jumped in the Ankh if I'd asked you to. I mean the way you're always professing your love for me, I'd be hard pushed to believe otherwise, wouldn't I? And yet today, you're acting like I owe you money. What makes a person change like that, do you think?"
"Don't do this, sir..."
"And then I got to thinking, well, maybe I did something wrong," said Vimes, ignoring him. "I mean this kind of relationship is all new to me. Maybe I was supposed to be a real bastard, was I, Carrot? Is that how these things work? I mean, you tell me; you're the expert here. This relationship was all your idea, after all."
"Stop it, sir..."
"Or maybe you just wanted to see how big a fool you could make out of me, is that it?"
"That's enough, sir!" cried Carrot.
"Well then, explain it to me, Carrot!" said Vimes, flying out of his chair. "Tell me where I went wrong! Only keep it simple, Carrot, because you know how confused I get!" Vimes could see he was upsetting Carrot, but he was unable to stop himself; he was angry and bewildered, and yes, godsdamnit he was hurting, and right now he felt like spreading it around. "I mean I must've done something really bad to deserve this, eh, Carrot?"
Carrot stared helplessly at the ceiling. "You shouldn't have come here, sir..."
"Well then, tell me, Carrot! And I'll leave!"
Carrot closed his eyes; it was all going wrong. Vimes wasn't supposed to be here; he was supposed to just accept what had happened and move on. But he was here because he still cared. And Carrot realized Vimes would always care, because deep down inside, he suspected Carrot still cared for him.
Suddenly it all became clear. He knew what he had to do...
He crossed his fingers.
"You didn't do anything wrong, sir..." he said. "I just don't love you anymore."
"And I don't think you ever really loved me," said Carrot, as if adding weight to his argument. "I mean how many times did you tell me, eh? Well, I'll tell you. It was just the once."
An icy fist reached in and tore Vimes' heart out. "I risked my damned life for you, Carrot..."
"Well, you won't have to do that anymore, will you?"
Vimes stared at him in disbelief. "Damn you, Carrot..." he whispered.
Carrot turned his back on him, and waited for the slam of the door.
It never came.
Vimes didn't bother closing the door as he left; the sound of his footsteps disappeared down the hallway.
Carrot waited for the sound of the latch.
And then fell to his knees and broke his heart.