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Aftermath
by VimesLady

Chapter 6

Since what he thought of as 'The Night with Sybil', Samuel Vimes had taken to working the night shift part-time. He couldn't sleep at night, and couldn't take lying in bed awake. Sometimes by staying up all night, he managed to fall asleep for two or three hours once or twice a day. As often as not, it was at his desk, or on the couch at home. If he got too comfortable, and slept too deeply, he dreamed. He couldn't take that, either.

He'd been good about having dinner with Sybil and, if no one came to his rescue with Watch business, he could just about force himself to stay home until her bedtime. Then he had to get out, to immerse himself in the business of the city. He spent time in his office pushing papers, which sometimes kept his mind busy for a while. Occasionally he joined a card game in the Watch House, or sat drinking fruit juice in The Bucket while other members of the Guard worked on getting drunk. But in the end the restlessness would always get the best of him, and he'd find himself where he was most comfortable, out walking the streets.

Three more days had passed, and the rain still showed no interest in moving on. The gutters were filled with fast moving sludge. Some of the poorer residences and establishments on the banks of the river were being threatened with the toxic waste disaster known loosely as flooding.

Sam hunkered against a wall of the Armory, sheltering the flame of a match long enough to light his cigar. Then he let his feet carry him across Contract Bridge.

He could cover mile after mile, hour after hour like this. It wasn't that he ignored his surroundings as he walked. Subconsciously his instincts remained on full alert, ready at all times to call his attention to anything that might be suspicious or potentially hazardous. He couldn't get lost; his feet knew exactly where he was. It was a proven method for piecing together clues, working out internal debates, or just relaxing. In short, he was traveling on autopilot, leaving his conscious thoughts to bob leisurely in the gentle waves.

Except for the past few nights the waves had been whitecaps, and the seas were filled with icebergs.

Vimes knew he should have taken someone's place on patrol, that he shouldn't have gone out alone. Being alone was not a good idea right now. But he hadn't been able to face the prospect of small talk. The duty rosters had everyone nicely paired. He was Commander of the Watch, he didn't need to go out on patrol at night.

No. He hadn't gone out with another Watchman because, good idea or not, he had wanted to be alone. He didn't want any company. No witnesses.

He'd gone out alone because he did not want to think anymore. And Samuel Vimes knew of only one sure way to stop thinking.

He turned left on Filigree Street. From here the Patrician's Palace was clearly visible. It was almost entirely dark, except for lamplight in the Patrician's bedroom window. Sam glared at it. He glared at it continually until the cobbles under his feet told him he had reached Short Street. Then he went into The Mended Drum.

Considering it was The Drum, and only shortly after midnight, it was a fairly quiet night. A couple of small fights had broken out, but they were near the back and not many of the patrons were taking notice. The look Vimes got from the owner behind the bar was what you would expect from a man who had recently watched Samuel smash one of his tables over a man's head under the guise of breaking up a fight. Without bothering to actually greet him, the man pulled a grimy glass off the shelf and picked up a pitcher of fruit juice.

Vimes reached over the counter and put his hand on top of the glass. "I want the best Bearhugger's you've got," he said darkly, "And leave the bottle."

The owner cringed. "You know what Captain Carrot would do to me if I served you alcohol."

Samuel grabbed a fistful of the man's sweat-stained once-white shirt and, with one hand, pulled him over the counter until they were nose to nose. His other hand held the burning cigar very close to the owner's face. "Yes, but do you know what I will do to you if you don't?" Vimes' glare could have burned the Drum to the ground. His growl was reminiscent of a hungry junkyard dog's.

"Fine! Okay! Whatever you say!" Sam set the owner back on his feet, and he in turn pulled down a fresh glass and a bottle from underneath the counter. Vimes dropped his money on the counter, picked up the glass and bottle, and found a table near the back, not too close to either of the ongoing fights. He glared at the occupants until they decided they were just leaving.

He sat down and put bottle and glass on the table. He looked at the whiskey bottle. It looked back at him. A couple of minutes passed.

He picked up the bottle and filled the glass.

It's not just your life anymore, Vimes. You've got Sybil to take care of. And a bloody kid, too, practically any day now.

So, there's a lot of stuff that Sybil doesn't know about. Gods willing she never will know about... about this... thing with Vetinari. She doesn't have to know about this, either.

He looked at the glass. It looked back at him.

He picked up the glass.

'You won't. You're too bloody stubborn.'

So maybe Vetinari doesn't know me as well as he thinks he does.

Empty that glass and sometime tomorrow you'll be standing in front of him, and he'll know. Somehow, he'll know. Are you ready for that? Vetinari dispassionately using words like 'disappointed' and 'dismayed'?

Snarling, Vimes slammed the glass back down on the table. He got up and stomped angrily out of the tavern, stalking up Filigree Street toward Broadway. Toward that baleful Palace and its one damnable lighted window.

Vimes hated the Palace Guard at the best of times, and this was much more in the neighborhood of the worst of times. He approached the gate with his hand on the hilt of his sword, determined not to be deterred by the pompous, sissified, officious idiots.

"I need to see Lord Vetinari. Now."

"His Lordship will see you in his bedchamber, Commander Vimes," one of the two guards responded promptly.

Samuel faced the man, drew breath to continue his demands, stopped, blinked, and stood with his mouth open, stalled in mid-diatribe. The guard stared back, animated by performing his first, and probably only, active duty of the night, and puzzled that it didn't seem to be going smoothly.

"You may go right up, Your Grace," he prompted.

Vimes closed his mouth and grabbed his composure. "Right. Thank you," he muttered as he proceeded stiffly up through the gate.

The inside of the Palace managed to be even more foreboding than usual in the dim light. Clinging to his anger like a shield, Samuel marched up the stairways and corridors. By the time he had reached the door of the Patrician's bedroom, he was beginning to wish he had stuck with the bottle of whiskey.

"Come in, Sir Samuel," Vetinari responded to his knock. Vimes entered, closing the door behind his back with a quiet click. The sight of the Patrician sitting calmly at his writing table, not bothering to look up from his paperwork, re-ignited his anger.

"How could you have known I was coming here? I didn't even know I was coming here ten minutes ago."

"You were coming one way or another, Commander," Vetinari replied, still not looking up from his writing, "I was giving you twenty minutes grace to change your mind after you bought the bottle. Any longer and I would have been compelled to send someone after you."

"After I bought..." Vimes sputtered, "Am I under day and night surveillance now?!"

The Patrician finally looked up from his work, as though mildly surprised at Vimes' vehemence. "Certainly not. But when my Commander of the Watch appears to be jumping off the wagon, as it were, I do tend to hear about it."

"Your Commander...?! I am not your anything! You do not own me!"

"No, I never will be able to own you, Sir Samuel. I realized that quite some time ago. It came as rather a shock, really."

"Lord Vetinari, you have no right...!"

"Oh?" the Patrician interrupted brightly, "Don't I?"

Vimes' heart lodged in his throat, giving his brain time to hear what he'd been saying and to close down his mouth. He stood trembling, frozen between his anger and the fear that he was digging his own grave. I'd strangle the man on the spot, but I'd only die trying.

Vetinari put down his quill pen. "Sir Samuel, why did you want to see me? And what is the meaning of your near miss in the Mended Drum?"

Sam swallowed hard. Honesty seemed like a fairly poor choice at the moment, but he couldn't think of an alternative. "I want to know why you... did what you did... last time I was here."

The Patrician seemed to stiffen slightly. His gaze dropped from Samuel's face and back to the papers on his desk. "You've already asked me that, Sir Samuel. My answer seemed to satisfy you at the time."

"Your answer is part of why I'm so damned confused."

"Commander, it would be best if you stopped trying to attach more significance to what we did than is due. You were under a great deal of physical tension, and I provided an outlet for that. There's nothing more to be said."

"That's not what you said before. You said you wanted to... be with me... especially, apparently, when I am most annoying you. Why? Why me?"

Vetinari turned his gaze back to Samuel's face, his head tilted a bit to the side in mild interest, or perhaps curiosity. "Sir Samuel, I fear you may want something of me that I am not able to give. Tell me, do you recall when you were intending to resign, just prior to your marriage to Lady Ramkin? I felt at the time that, even before Captain Carrot... suggested... that you be made Commander, you had some serious misgivings about leaving the Watch."

The color drained from Vimes' face. Unconsciously he pulled himself to attention, his eyes seeking out their old accustomed focus just over the Patrician's left shoulder. "It took me a while to realize... I'm a copper, sir. It's what I am. I don't know how to be anything else. If I stopped being a copper, I wouldn't be anything. I might as well stop living."

"Relax, please, Sir Samuel, I'm not considering asking for your resignation. I simply would like to draw a comparison.

"You say that if you were not a copper, you would be no one. In fact, you would still be a husband, a soon-to-be father, and the Duke of Ankh. But what, Commander, am I, besides the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork? Who would I be if I ceased to be that? I do not intend to find out if I can avoid it. But to remain completely secure in this position, it is necessary that I adhere to certain restrictions. I must be what people expect me to be, what they subconsciously wish me to be. I must be, to put it simply, without weakness. I cannot trust anyone too implicitly. I cannot depend or rely significantly on any one person. I cannot care deeply for any one individual."

There was a moment of silence. Vimes swallowed hard. He was no longer just out on a limb, he was clinging to the buds of the smallest twig. But if he let it go now, Vetinari's next words would be along the lines of, 'It's getting late, don't let me keep you.'

Samuel took a deep, shaky breath. "But I think you do."

The Patrician rose from his desk and walked to the window, his back to Sam, looking out into the wet, foggy night. He carried the quill pen with him, which he rolled absently between his fingers. This time the silence seemed to stretch tight enough to break before he finally spoke.

"For two and one-half days, I could not locate you. Even with Captain Carrot's help, I could not locate you. I would not have thought it possible for someone to disappear in this City so completely that I, having set my mind to it, could not find them. Not if they were still among the living.

"So at the end of the second day, I began to prepare myself for the eventuality that you might be dead. No, I should say I began trying to prepare myself.

"And then, on the third evening, word was brought to me that you had been found, that you had injuries of unknown severity. I made a polite comment about it being good news, and that I was pleased that I wouldn't have to appoint a new Commander of the Watch. I made it known I wanted a copy of the doctor's report at his earliest convenience. Of course, when the report did come, I showed no special interest in it. Not until Drumknott had closed the door behind him."

There was something foreign in Vetinari's voice now. An insidiously growing intensity. "I made it quite clear that I didn't particularly give a damn. I remained, as always, cool and unconcerned. And all the while my very soul was weeping and gibbering with relief, all the while I was half insane with the joy of knowing you were alive. Do you have any idea How. Much. That. Cost. Me?!"

The quill pen in his hand bent and shattered, unnoticed. When he turned to face Samuel, his eyes were the exact opposite of the cool gray ice Vimes knew so well.

"You are correct. I do rely on you. On your passion, your wit, your instincts, even your ridiculous proletarian ethics. I do depend upon your existence. I do trust you, insofar as I trust you to be Samuel Vimes. And I do... care... deeply... about you.

"Ten days ago I yielded to temptation. I acted on those feelings. I put myself, and you, at risk by doing so. I am worsening that risk with every word I utter. So tell me, Sir Samuel, are you satisfied now with my answer?"

Sam dropped his eyes from Vetinari's, turning his gaze to the floor. He felt elated and ashamed and frightened and relieved. His brain cells bounced around randomly in the confused concoction. He was being bombarded with half-formed sentences, all clamoring to be said at once, and none of them seemed particularly wise or appropriate. When he could take it no longer, he took a deep breath, cleared his throat, swallowed hard, and let the first thing on his mind take over his tongue. "You can make me angrier than anyone I've ever met in my life. I spend pleasant hours plotting your demise. You manipulate me like I was a marionette, and half the time I probably don't even know you're doing it. Gods, you've made me a bloody duke, and I'm still not altogether sure of your motives for that damn move! I want to hate you, but...

"You set up the Guilds and made crime legal, for gods' sakes. And for the first time, the bloody city works because of it. You forced us, forced me, to accept dwarves, trolls, even the undead as members of the Watch, and that turned out to be a damned good thing. It's all politics, treachery, and duplicity with you, plotting and scheming and twisting the truth. But it's always for the good of Ankh-Morpork, not Havelock Vetinari. And you're, well, fair. You may use human beings as though they were nothing more than cogs in your pet machine, but you don't make them feel that way. Sometimes I think you hate the rich nobs in this city at least as much as I do. And if you kick someone, you don't expect them to feel honored."

Vimes stopped to catch his breath. He looked up and found Vetinari regarding him with what appeared to be genuine interest. He was so wound up he wasn't even sure of what he'd said so far, but he wasn't done yet.

"I said you can't own me, but the fact is you do own a part of me. I'm a copper, I serve the law and the city and the people, but I also serve you. I'm your terrier, as they say. I'd risk my own career to protect yours. I'd lay down my life to save yours without thinking twice. I really want to believe that it's because that's my job, to protect the Patrician, not the man. But that's just damn bloody lying to myself. I'm not sure I'd remember how to be Commander of the Watch if anyone else was Patrician.

"I can't say that I like you, because I don't. But I depend on you. I... need you. I care about you. I damn well don't want to, but there it is."

There, he'd managed to blurt it out. He paused again, fighting to catch his breath. When he continued it was at a much lower volume, and the frenzy had left his voice. "And I'm sorry that it makes you feel less secure in your position, but I had to know I'm not the only one here losing his mind. I know nothing's going to change. You're still going to give your orders and pull my strings and push my buttons, and I'm still going to fight you every step of the way. I don't want anything to change. But I just... I just needed to know."

The Patrician walked slowly over to the trash bin and dropped in the broken quill, then stood absently gazing at it. On anyone else, his expression would have looked thoughtful. For Vetinari, he looked pale and shaken. Perhaps even stunned. The scene remained frozen while both men worked on regaining their composure. Eventually, without looking up from the bin, the Patrician cleared his throat and spoke.

"Well then. It appears we both understand each other, and the situation, a bit better now. Maybe it was for the best we had this little chat. Was there anything else you wanted, Sir Samuel?"

Sam's breath trembled in his throat. "I want... I don't want to want what I want," he said miserably.

The Patrician allowed himself a tiny smile. "Riddles, Sir Samuel? What is it you don't want to want?"

"I want... I want to know what it would be like to... to share your bed, now that I'm no longer inconvenienced and in pain."

Vetinari looked up sharply. His smile deepened almost imperceptibly. His eyes had regained their usual icy gray. "We seldom get what we want in this life, Samuel. However, on some very rare occasions, we even get what we don't want to want."

The still tiny smile had taken on an edge of wickedness. His gaze looked, well, almost impish. "Samuel, will you come to bed?"

The Commander unfastened his leather cape and let it fall to the floor. Then, fingers trembling but without hesitation, Samuel Vimes began releasing the buckles on his breastplate.

~

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