Vetinari looked up from his desk. There was something of a fracas going on downstairs. He could hear raised voices.
One voice was clearly recognisable as Drumknott's, but the other was slurred and indistinct. It was, however, quite vociferous...
Suddenly, Drumknott's head appeared around the door.
"I do apologize, milord," he said. "But Commander Vimes is downstairs, sir. He appears to be, er... not quite himself, sir, and he's insisting on seeing you. However, as far as I'm aware, sir, he hasn't made an appointment."
Vetinari leaned back in his chair and stroked an eyebrow. "It's all right, Drumknott," he said. "I've been expecting him..."
Vetinari sighed. "In other words, Drumknott, show him in."
Drumknott turned, but Vimes was already in the doorway. He glared angrily at the clerk. "Why, you jumped-up little—"
"Ah, Sir Samuel," said Vetinari, allowing Drumknott time to escape; the clerk gave Vimes a wide berth and scuttled out, deciding that stopping to close the door properly was not a priority. "You haven't lost your proclivity for working late, it seems."
"What?" snapped Vimes, lurching into the room. "I'm not working, sir! It's my day off."
"Your day off?" said Vetinari, spotting the bottle sticking from Vimes' pocket. "How... unusual. Any particular reason why?" He got up slowly and walked around to the front of his desk.
"Oh, I see, time to play silly buggers, is it?" snarled Vimes. "Don't tell me... could this be where you pretend you don't know what's happened, and I'm supposed to tell you everything, even though you know everything that happens in this city practically before it's happened? My word, I believe it is." He looked around the room, swaying as he tried to focus. "Well, that's okay, sir, I think I remember the rules to this one."
The Patrician's smile was strained. "Clearly my mind-reading abilities have been greatly exaggerated, Sir Samuel," he said. He grabbed a chair and placed it deftly beneath the commander's backside. "Here, I believe this is what you are looking for, Sir Samuel." Vimes fell back without looking. "And now that you're seated, perhaps you'd be kind enough to explain what this is all about?"
"Oh, come off it, sir! Don't tell me Carrot hasn't already been up here spilling the beans! He knew as well as I did how bloody pleased you'd be! I bet you had a right old laugh about it, didn't you? Oh, he earned a few brownie points for that, I expect, didn't he?"
"Sir Samuel, I'm afraid I have—"
"I'll tell you what you have!" stormed Vimes. "It's a bloody nerve. See, I could almost forgive Carrot for that, sir, because he doesn't know any better. But you, you're different! You know when your actions are hurting someone, sir, and that's not something I can easily forgive!"
The Patrician faltered slightly. "Sir Samuel, what I was going to say was—"
"What? What were you going to say? There's nothing you possibly can say, sir, and you damn well know it!"
"—was that I have no idea—"
"No, and you never bloody did, did you?" Vimes raged. "You had no idea about any of it! You sit up here in your little bloody office, and all you can think about is the city. You don't care about people! It's bad enough that this had nothing to do with Watch business, but all the time Carrot and I were together, not once did I neglect my duty! I did my job the way I've always done it and I've never let you down! But did any of that matter to you? No. All you could think about was the fact that he cared for me!" Vimes slumped in his chair and held his head in his hands. "Gods, why do you hate me so much?"
The Patrician caught his breath.
"That boy meant more to me than you'll ever know, sir," said Vimes quietly. "He made me feel like I made a difference, sir. Don't you know what that feels like? I believed in him. What have I got to believe in if I can't believe in Carrot?"
There was silence.
Vimes wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Well, what does it matter anyway?" he said. "None of it matters anymore. It's over, sir, just like you always wanted. Well done."
The Patrician's hand flew to his lips.
Vimes bowed his head. There was no anger left, just a terrible sense of defeat. He'd lost Carrot. And now, in all likelihood, he'd lost his job as well. He'd lost his pride and his sense of worth. And somehow, he was going to have to face Sybil. He'd have to explain why he'd come home rolling drunk. And if by some miracle she decided not to leave him, then come morning, he'd be left to pick up the pieces of what he jokingly termed his 'life'. And what had it all been for? For Carrot to tell him he loved him and then suddenly change his mind? Gods, he'd been a fool...
And still, the silence continued.
Vimes didn't look up; he didn't need to. He could imagine the look of disappointment. It finally crushed him.
"S-say something, sir..." he muttered. "Please?"
The Patrician shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know what to say, Sir Samuel."
Vimes nodded. "It-It's okay, sir... I understand."
He rose awkwardly, and stumbled...
...And found himself in Vetinari's arms.
Drumknott froze, his hand halfway to the doorknob. He'd been about to check in on the Patrician, but now he wished he hadn't. Through the half-open door, he could clearly see the Patrician and the commander embracing. The Patrician's face was nestled in the commander's hair, and he had a strange look on his face. He was inhaling deeply, almost as if he were... revelling in the man's scent.
Drumknott backed away, his mind racing. Damn the man! Didn't Vimes know the Patrician and he had an understanding? No wonder he'd been expected! Drumknott turned and headed down the corridor, wondering what Captain Carrot would have to say about this...
Vimes pulled himself upright. "I-I'm sorry, sir..." he muttered. "I-I should be getting home..."
Vetinari relinquished his grip. "Are you sure that's wise, Sir Samuel?" he said. "In your present condition, I mean?"
Vimes looked up heavy-lidded. "What choice do I have?" he said haplessly.
Vetinari's heart ached. In all the years he'd known Vimes, he'd never seen him looking so lost or alone. The words escaped his lips before he could stop them...
"Stay," he whispered. "I'll make the necessary arrangements."
A flicker of confusion crossed Vimes' face. "Why would you want to do that?" he said.
Vetinari's expression was unreadable.
"Why would you want to argue?" he replied.
Vimes fell onto the bed...
He was vaguely aware of his boots being removed. Then nimble fingers were moving about his clothing, loosening them and removing them too. Too drunk to resist and too tired to argue, Vimes simply closed his eyes. Within moments, he was snoring softly.
Vetinari continued, undressing Vimes fully and draping his clothes over the chair. Then he sat back and watched him. He observed the way his chest rose and fell, and the way the lines disappeared from his face as he slept. He noticed with a smile the little curl of hair behind his ear, indicating the need for a haircut. In this unguarded state, Vimes looked almost child-like. Except, he thought, as he traced a fingertip over the ravaged torso, a child wouldn't have so many scars...
He wondered how many times Carrot had seen him like this. And had loved him.
He turned away.
He hadn't foreseen Vimes' need for the boy's admiration and approval...
He forced himself to look again at his handiwork.
"Oh, Sir Samuel," he said softly. "What have I done?"