when regiment is gone (kindkit) wrote,

"Midwinter" (Drumknott/Vetinari) 2/2

This is part two of the story; click here to read part one and see the story header.



"Do you believe in ghosts?" Lord Vetinari asked, looking up from a report.

Drumknott had answers at hand for all the likely questions, such as the names of the Royal Mail employees, the current arrears in their wages, and the year of the last known delivery. He was unprepared for ghosts. "I've never seen one, my lord. But then I've never seen A'Tuin, either. A'Tuin's existence, however, is demonstrated by trained astronomers, while no such evidence exists for ghosts. I would say I am uncertain about them."

"The central post office is said to be haunted. I shouldn't think it a logical destination for the unquiet dead, unless they're trying to find out where their letters have gone." He leaned back, two fingers to his lips, thinking. "Arrange an appointment tomorrow with Mr. Mutable from the Exchequer. He's done good work there, he needs a challenge."

"Yes, sir. Will half past five do?" It was the only free space, unless he rescheduled Lord Downey, who was touchy about that sort of thing.

"That's fine." Lord Vetinari opened another file and stared at the first page. His eyes didn't move, so he wasn't reading. After a few seconds he shifted in the chair and stretched his bad leg. "I want to walk a bit. Come with me, would you? Bring a few of the more entertaining letters. I believe there's one from the League of Decency." He picked up his walking stick and snapped his fingers at Wuffles, who was asleep under a blanket cut down from one of His Lordship's old cloaks. The dog opened his eyes, whined, and shut them again. He slept a lot these days. His Lordship looked down at him, face scoured of any expression Drumknott could recognise, and then turned sharply away.

Drumknott, reading out a letter as best he could in the intermittent light from the cressets, followed him through the anteroom, the map room, an old games room now used for the clacks archive, a brutally cold sunroom that was all glass on two sides, and a curiosities room packed with fascinating cabinets that Drumknott seldom had time to examine. They went up two flights of stairs to the top storey, in and out of a series of rooms containing nothing but dust, and down again one flight. The great silent bell of the university tolled eight long emptinesses as they walked.

If ghosts were anywhere in Ankh-Morpork, Drumknott thought, they were here. Dead kings and Patricians; murdered wives, mistresses, children, elder brothers, younger brothers; everyone who'd been starved in the dungeons or beheaded in the courtyard; everyone who'd experienced the remarkably specialised bits of old ironmongery in dank little rooms far below the ground. The palace, historically considered, might be the most crime-ridden corner of the city. No doubt the likes of Commander Vimes would say "Burn it down," and perhaps that wasn't such a bad idea. His Lordship's life would be more pleasant in a reasonably-sized house on Scoone Avenue with good fireplaces and no bloodstains in the mortar. But a symbol was a symbol.

At least the hitch in His Lordship's step had eased a little; he even smiled when Drumknott mentioned that the League of Decency's letter spelt "prurient" with a "w." Outside an ordinary-looking door, he stopped and said, "I'm going to get something warmer to wear." Drumknott counted doors--it was the sixth along from the turnwise staircase--and realised this was His Lordship's bedroom. The Watch had moved him here during the arsenic incident and he hadn't bothered to return to the old one. "The problem appears to stem from letting the muscles get cold. You can go back to the office; I'll return momentarily."

Between His Lordship's fingers, Drumknott saw the silver death's-head that topped the walking stick. He thought of ghosts, and suddenly knew why His Lordship had chosen it. It was a memento mori. In miniature, in a grim and fearless joke, it figured the death that shadowed His Lordship. Death had ripped his body too much ever to mend entirely; it had even come into his bedroom disguised as light. It never left him, and so he'd echoed it in a form that would serve him.

Drumknott felt his own memories ache in his chill-stiff shoulder, and he reckoned that one death was enough for any man. "Are you in pain, sir? I could -" Oh no, he thought. No, not like this. I was going to await a promising opportunity, not go blundering in. I was going to be ready and know what to say. But death brushed coldly against him from all sides, whispered in his ear, and he was too unnerved to wait. "I could, well, massage your leg for you. If you like."

There was a silence, primordially absolute, and then a thud Drumknott recognised as his own heart beating. It beat twice more before His Lordship said, "Do you mean . . . yes, you do." He looked nonplussed by the universe, as though he'd found a whale in his bathtub. "I never imagined your regard for me was quite so comprehensive."

A tardy modesty heated Drumknott's face. As it had come too late to do any good, he ignored it. "It is, sir. It has been for a long time."

"Good gods, why?" A sort of double shrug, shoulder and puzzled eyebrows, weighted the question. Drumknott still felt distinctly cetacean, but at least His Lordship hadn't laughed or got angry. "I'm twice your age. And I've never been what anyone would call handsome."

Passing over the complex issue in favour of the simpler, if more carnal, one, Drumknott said, "You have beautiful hands. Artist's hands." Lord Vetinari glanced doubtfully at them, then went back to studying Drumknott's face. His head was slightly tilted and he blinked even less than usual. "And blue eyes with dark lashes. You're what I would call handsome."

"With a sensibility like that, Mr. Drumknott, you ought to choose a true artist. A poet, perhaps, to write you sonnets."

What Drumknott normally thought of as his intelligence told him to apologise and slink quietly away. But that would save nothing. Having embarrassed them both, he'd find himself teaching apprentice clerks after all, or selling Klatchian silks. The only choice was to venture on, so he dismissed intelligence and called stupidity and boldness to his aid. "I can't imagine anyone ever writing me poetry, sir. But I'm immensely flattered that you disagree."

"Spoken like a politician! Did you learn that from me?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Alas the day," Lord Vetinari said. "In any case, it's I who should be flattered. And I am. But I'm not made to be anyone's lover. I'm not a kind man." His voice and face were the very image of sternness. Even . . . even the very iconograph, formed of light and shadow, paper and ink, without solidity. There was a faint quality of pose.

"You've always been kind to me. You gave me tea and biscuits when we were in gaol."

"Tea and biscuits? Are you offering yourself to me on the basis of tea and biscuits?"

"No, sir. On the basis of . . . everything."

"Yes, I see. My irresistible charms, my gentle nature, the peace and security I can offer, the comfort of marriage, children, and respectability. You're right, I am an excellent choice."

"By gods, none of that had occurred to me." It wasn't a wise way to speak to His Lordship, but he'd sent wisdom packing some minutes ago.

"Mr. Drumknott." Lord Vetinari ran a hand through his hair, dislodging his black cap, which he shoved into a pocket. "You are not listening to me."

"I am, sir. Most attentively." The thing that Drumknott had half-perceived throughout the conversation--because he had been listening, the way Lord Vetinari listened to ambassadors and guildmasters--clarified in his mind, and he understood why he hadn't given up. "In fact, I've been listening particularly to what you didn't say."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You haven't said no, my lord. You haven't said you don't want me."

"Would it do any good to say so now?"

"I would be inclined to disbelieve you."

Lord Vetinari sighed heavily and shook his head. "I have always preferred the diplomatic evasion to the outright lie."

"I know, sir."

"As it happens, every word I've spoken to you is true. There must be ten thousand men in this city who'd be a better match for you. To say nothing of women." He hesitated, as if he believed Drumknott might change his mind and run off after the nearest pair of breasts. "But I find that the thought of . . . of a connexion between us is not unappealing."

It would never make a sonnet; a memorandum, perhaps. But there were, after all, three hundred ways of saying thank you for the book. "You hid it well, sir," Drumknott said.

"Of course I did. But not, it would seem, perfectly." The corners of his mouth lifted so slightly that anyone without Drumknott's years of close observation would have missed it. "In the circumstances, I think you'd better call me Havelock."

The other people who used that name had never been invited to. They insinuated with it, or pushed. They thought it gave them power, that they were His Lordship's equals because they'd been at school with him, or had a title, or because their fathers had known his. "Havelock," Drumknott said, and the sound of it almost frightened him.

"Rufus," Havelock looked at him with solemn and deep attention. He turned the knob on the door and let it fall open. "Will you come in?"

Simple words, clearly spoken. Drumknott spent a few long seconds thinking he'd somehow misunderstood them. He nodded, eventually, and followed Havelock into the room. It was no larger than Drumknott's own, but much emptier.

"Have you got a match? I'd rather not ring for a servant just now."

The first match went out in Drumknott's unsteady hand. With the second, he managed to light a tall white candle. They still came from Carry's; His Lordship hadn't wanted to bankrupt the widow. Drumknott wondered how he could stand the smell of beeswax. "The last time I was here," he said, the words jagged in his throat, "I thought you were dying."

"So did I, for a day or two." Havelock was standing at the head of the bed and very definitely not looking at it. Was it the same bed? Probably. Havelock was a practical man. "You quarrelled with Commander Vimes, I think. I remember your voices."

"He sent me away." Drumknott came closer.

"He has a suspicious nature," said Havelock, and touched his cheek with cold fingers.

Drumknott caught him round the neck and kissed him fiercely. He got a shock of impressions--the suede rub of beard, chapped lips, a quick startled breath--before Havelock pulled back, lifting his free hand to Drumknott's face again. It moulded itself around the planes of his bones and glided along his skin, then moved to his hair, palming the surface, running strands between his fingers. "How extraordinary."

Poet, Drumknott thought, but only leaned his head into Havelock's cupping palm, kissing the pad under his thumb. He closed his eyes, which Havelock seemed to take as a request. He stroked Drumknott's brows and eyelids, even drew a finger across the edge of his eyelashes. He touched Drumknott's lips next, tracing their shape. Drumknott waited to be kissed, and was not. Instead, Havelock started opening the clasps at the neck of his robe, deftly one-handed. It tickled his throat, and the icy air seemed to have fingers of its own seeking him out.

"You're cold. Perhaps we ought to get into bed. It is the preferred location for such matters, I believe."

"Let's," said Drumknott. Havelock stepped back from him, clumsily, and Drumknott remembered that his leg was hurting.

He wondered if he should undress. Havelock wasn't doing so, merely watching him with that blank face that meant focused attention. Drumknott pried off his boots less gracefully than he would have liked--he couldn't bring himself to sit on the bed to do it, even if he had been asked into the bed in the first place--and slid between the unwarmed, unwelcoming sheets. His robe twisted around his knees, and he had to heave himself against the cold wall to make room for Havelock, who did sit down for boot-removal.

There was always, Drumknott supposed, a tinge of disappointment in getting anything you deeply wanted. The hope got dragged backwards through the hedge between fantasy and reality and came out scratched. Came out as a freezing room and a penitentially narrow bed instead of something silky and effortless. Then again--the mattress shifted as Havelock lay next to him and pulled the covers over them both--there was much to be said for the realm of fact. For the creases along Havelock's forehead and the smoky tea on his breath, the circle of thinning hair his skullcap normally hid, the way their knees bumped whenever they moved.

"Comfortable?"

"Yes," Drumknott said, and inched away from the wall to make it true.

Havelock touched his face again, palm cradling his jaw, nails scraping lightly at the hint of stubble there. "You're less boyish than I had thought."

"I'm twenty-six." Drumknott let the back of his hand rest against Havelock's chest. The robe was thick, and there must be more layers beneath it, but he could just feel the flat hard surface of the body under everything. His fingers itched for it.

"I know. But you look almost beardless, being so fair." His hand dropped to Drumknott's neck, teasing inside the collar he had undone. His fingers were still cold, but Drumknott's skin mysteriously translated the touch to warmth; he felt the flow of it with every tiny movement. "Does this give you pleasure? You expressed a certain admiration for my hands, earlier."

Drumknott watched his lips shape the words. A few inches closer and they'd be kissing. "Very much so," he said.

"Good. I shall continue, then." One hand settled into Drumknott's hair; the other explored his torso through his clothes, unhurried as Drumknott's breathing quickened and his fist tightened around a handful of Havelock's robe.

Kiss me, Drumknott thought as Havelock's fingers curved over his hip, but he lost the words in a chaos of heat and amazement. He lost even the wish as the hand slipped under his robe, over breeches and waistcoat, working between buttons to dart along the bare skin of his chest. When he was quivering, arching into every touch, Havelock swiftly unfastened his flies and eased his hand--really warm now even to Drumknott's burning flesh--inside.

"Don't turn your face away, Rufus." Havelock drew his head up from the pillow where he'd muffled his whimper. "Let me see how I’m pleasing you." On pleasing his fingers closed around Drumknott's sex and began to stroke him.

Whatever he saw--probably a funny face, Drumknott thought later--he must have liked it. He smiled crookedly, privately. The smile and the force of those eyes watching him worked Drumknott as surely as Havelock's fingers did, and in a very little while he was helplessly gasping as his seed spilled.

He lay for some time with his mind gone white as new vellum, dimly aware of being wiped clean with the end of his robe. Havelock kept fondling him, soft surveying journeys around the curve of his buttocks and the point of his elbow. Drumknott was tipsy with it like a teetotaller on one glass of wine. He'd known only efficient, self-administered relief for so long that he'd half forgotten there could be more to it.

It had undoubtedly been even longer for Havelock. Five years, ten? Twenty? As long as he'd been Patrician, Drumknott suspected, if not longer. He pressed his hand to Havelock's chest, fingers splayed, and--imagining how dizzying it must feel--began to move it in slow sweeps.

"It's all right," Havelock said, edging away.

Drumknott followed. "I want to please you."

"There's no need." His unsteady voice belied him, and when Drumknott reached lower he found an incipient bulge. "Really." Havelock pulled his hand up and held it, lightly but definitely.

"But -"

"Shhhh." Havelock's fingertips started doing something intricate along the lines of his palm

Drumknott surrendered and lay quiet. When Havelock had had enough of this play with his reactions, then they could continue. It was just a matter of waiting, and Drumknott knew how to wait for him. Meanwhile, this was delicious. Intoxicating. Finally warm enough, a heavy contentment between his legs, being touched and listening to Havelock's breathing.

Some time later he awoke to an empty bed. Havelock had moved the candle to his writing desk, where he sat frowning at a page and tapping the feather end of his pen against his cheek. He wrote a little, paused, wrote some more, and went back to tapping. It must be something more complicated than everyday business, where he never sought long for a word.

When Drumknott sat muzzily up, Havelock only glanced at him. He'd put his cap back on, Drumknott noticed. And Wuffles lay in his basket beside the desk.

Even once his flies were done up and his robe rearranged around him, Drumknott felt dishevelled and vaguely disadvantaged. He walked over to the desk, trying to flatten the bit of his hair at the top that always went spiky when he slept. "What ti-?" was all he managed before a yawn seized him.

"It's not quite three in the morning, if that's what you were asking. You can get a little more sleep."

"That's good." Candlelight picked out the lines around Havelock's eyes more deeply than sunlight ever did. Drumknott wanted to kiss him there. Or start there, anyway. "You should rest too."

"I am resting. I'm quite all right, Rufus." He smiled, absently. The pen was still in his hand. "Go on. I'll see you in the morning."

There was no doubt what bed Drumknott was meant to spend the rest of the night in. He picked up his boots, which stood neatly by the door. At some point Havelock must have put them there, out of the way. "Good night," he said, and slipped out into the corridor, shutting the door before he could hear whether Havelock answered him or not.

***


The next day was absolutely ordinary. Drumknott had slept in the end, despite vaguely feeling that he should turn up for work bleary-eyed and fragile. That was what people did in novels, but in novels no one ever seemed to have responsibilities beyond swooning through the garden picking symbolic flowers. And perhaps Drumknott was just made less sensitively than he ought to be, but he found escaping his own feelings for a few hours preferable to wallowing in them.

His Lordship was already in the office when Drumknott arrived just before seven with tea, the Times, the overnight clacks, and the appointments diary. "Ah, Drumknott, good morning. I have a list of books I need from the university library. Send a messenger over, please, with my compliments and a basket of fruit for the Librarian."

It was steadying, after a fashion. He'd never wanted to disrupt Lord Vetinari's work or put him out of kilter. Quite the opposite. But that evening, when after a day of impeccable courtesy His Lordship sent him away at the usual hour of nine o'clock, dismay crept up like one of those noxious mists off the Ankh. Something ought to have changed a little. He ought to have made more of a difference than that.

A small crisis (a groom on the embassy staff in Quirm had befriended grooms from the Quirmian cavalry, been let onto the regimental grounds for some late-night drinking, gone off to use the privy and been discovered in the armoury taking notes and iconographs) led to a string of long days with no time to think. Drumknott worked through one Octeday without even noticing, and by the time the next one arrived his head hurt from lack of sleep, his hand hurt from writing letters too secret to entrust to Reavish, and his mind hurt from the tortuosities of diplomatic phrasing and special ciphers. Lord Vetinari insisted he take the day off and promised to relax a little himself. ("Since the matter is now largely resolved, I shall not hesitate to follow your very frank advice as soon as I've written to Lady Margolotta, who has some questions about the embassy staff in Bonk.")

Drumknott went back to bed until nearly noon, then went out in his best suit, which he'd had made up from the fine black worsted Tobias and Jane had given him last Hogswatch. He liked the chance to give it an airing: with its close-fitting frock coat and long trousers it was a little modern for around the palace, and wasted under a clerk's robe anyway. Naturally he had gone to the Oblong Office on the way out to see if His Lordship needed anything. Persuasion had many aspects besides the verbal, and the sort of tailoring that made a somewhat meagre man taller and squarer at the shoulders was an honourable branch of the tree of rhetoric. His Lordship had certainly looked, even if his only response had been to raise an eyebrow.

By the time Drumknott had recovered from the thrill of his own audacity, he was outside the palace gates with no very clear idea where to go. He could have dropped in on Tobias and Jane, who always made him welcome even when he wasn't expected, but they'd ask questions he could neither answer truthfully nor bear lying about. What he wanted most was solitude and some undemanding distractions. He'd never been a direct thinker like His Lordship; in fact he thought best when he wasn't trying to think at all. If he let matters lie undisturbed, then perhaps an idea would eventually rise to the surface of his mind like . . . like an unfortunate metaphor.

He walked aimlessly through the expensive commercial district that fanned out from Broad Way, discovered that Sator Square was empty of its usual roast-chestnut sellers (and indeed almost everyone), and ate beef in wine sauce for lunch at an overelaborate restaurant near the Merchants' Guildhall. The vast new book shop on Medlar Row, which had outraged its competitors by keeping late hours and opening on Octeday, was as crowded as Sator Square was deserted; even the chestnut vendors had set up on the street outside. Drumknott got his toes trodden on by an old lady with a deceptively sweet face and hobnailed boots, but secured a copy of Valentine Gandy's latest novel, The History of Aahil, the Most Noble and Philosophical Pirate of Klatch, Wherein Is Contained Much Incident to Delight and Instruct the Young Person in Perseverance Before the Vagaries of Fortune. Since he was usually too tired to read more than a page before bed, it ought to last him about two years. He took it to a coffeehouse to make a start.

By a quarter to seven the young Prince Aahil, not yet a pirate, had been enslaved by the rebels who'd murdered his family, the coffeehouse was closing, and Drumknott had begun feeling rather lonely. It would have been nice to have company. A friend. There were two or three fellows at the palace he talked to about trivial things, and a couple of girls who flirted with him however little encouragement he gave, but no one he'd call a friend by any strict definition.

It wouldn't take too much definitional expansion to count His Lordship, just some allowance for inequality of rank and . . . other complications. Not that they'd ever sit here together over coffee dregs and laugh at the improbably euphuistic speech Aahil had made in the middle of a swordfight. Nor, at this rate, would they talk about the real and serious concerns Drumknott had been guarding his mind against all day, and for a dozen days before that.

Well, at least he had Tobias and Jane, even if he couldn't talk to them about everything either. He was still more fortunate than His Lordship, all alone but for a distant aunt and a dog who probably wouldn't survive another year.

Out on the cold street again, already missing the coffeehouse's fire, Drumknott contemplated returning to the cold palace and found himself uneager. Perhaps he could go to the theatre or the opera. But he'd been silent among strangers all day. He wanted something friendlier. Friendly wasn't friendship any more than scenic postcards were art, but the postcard shop was a lot easier to find than the galleries. He'd used to like the Shepherd Lad tavern, though he hadn't been in years. People went there to talk, mostly--it wasn't like the Blue Cat Club--and he was bound to meet some sympathetic man he needn't worry about shocking. He could give a false name, pretend he was a guild clerk or a schoolteacher, disguise enough details that he could safely relate what had happened between him and Havelock until, perhaps, he saw how it had gone wrong.

He could, if he valued His Lordship's trust less than a postcard.

He'd kept His Lordship's secrets for years, and now he had deeper ones, not the mysteries of state but the mysteries of the man. They weren't his to give away just because they touched him too. His Lordship would certainly never babble them out in a lonely mood, if he even had such things; he must be used to keeping his own counsel. He'd done it for such a long time.

Drumknott walked slowly back towards Broad Way, thinking.

***


The Quirmian crisis was eventually buried six feet deep in diplomacy and tamped down hard; with luck, it would neither rise again nor come to the keen noses at the Times. Drumknott's working day returned to its usual fourteen hours, and His Lordship started leaving the office again on those errands whose purpose hadn't grown much clearer now that Drumknott was included. Dropping in unexpectedly at the Royal Bank and the Mint he could understand, but why waste an hour taking tea with a banker's wife afterwards? Why visit a perfectly ordinary clacks tower or a dwarf metal refinery experimenting with bauxite ores? On one occasion they hadn't even gone anywhere, just been driven along the Ankh while His Lordship frowned silently at the ice-bound barges.

There were reasons; Drumknott never doubted that. When it came to bringing together loose threads of happenstance into a spider-web of purpose, the gods had nothing on Lord Vetinari.

In most cases. It began to seem that the thing that had happened between them would stay just that: a thing that had happened. A thread dangling in the air forever, connecting to nothing. His Lordship still hadn't mentioned it, let alone touched him or shown any other sign of wanting it to recur. Drumknott thought of taking action himself--he lay awake planning strategies and reading Nasus's The Art of Getting Your End Away and other such unhelpful books--but it had a look of painful futility, like walking into a locked door twice. He could make what had happened happen again, perhaps, but he couldn't see a way to make it happen differently.

The thing about Lord Vetinari's plans was that they were as invisible as spider-webs until you were in them. One night at about seven o'clock, after a day of concerted labour and no break for the crossword puzzle, Lord Vetinari put his pen down with the kind of nonchalance that implied a good deal of hidden chalance. "I believe our work is finished for today."

"It is, sir?" It was true they'd got through everything that couldn't wait, but that ordinarily meant making a start on tomorrow's work.

"I believe so," he repeated. His expression shed a few layers of impassivity, like a glacier on a warm day. "Rufus, will you come to bed?"

Drumknott had nearly said yes out of sheer astonishment--he had the shape of the word on his tongue--when the obscure map of his discontent came clear at last. The problem was here, and the solution was there, and a single way led from one to the other. One route, and not a safe or certain one.

He thought of Lord Vetinari travelling under the sea to Leshp, offering a surrender in Klatch, waiting in prison to see if he'd reckoned the odds well enough. If Ankh-Morpork would survive, and if he would.

"I had thought it was a simple question," His Lordship said.

"It's not, my lord." Drumknott set a hand on the edge of the desk to steady himself. He took a deep breath and threw the dice. "Or rather, the answer's not simple. I'll gladly come to Havelock Vetinari's bed, if he wants me. But I will not lie down with my master the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. Not again."

"That," His Lordship said, as slowly as if he had to invent new words to do it, "is the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said to me. And it has a good deal of competition."

"It's the truth, sir. When -"

"You make it sound as if I . . . but it was you who . . . and I thought . . ." He shut his mouth hard, trapping the wandering sentence. "I gave you pleasure. I took nothing for myself."

"That's true. And you didn't let me give you anything, either. You wanted nothing, you needed nothing. You were untouchable."

"That is a perverse interpretation."

"I don't think so, sir. Who is more powerful than the man who needs nothing?"

"That's . . . no, it's not nonsense. It's true in most circumstances. But in this case you have misunderstood."

"I don't think I have. I . . . I know you. Better than anyone else does, at least." Drumknott only realised he'd paused for a denial when one didn't come. "You're the best ruler this city's ever had because you take nothing for yourself. Because you rule yourself. But . . . I don't know why, but you're a despot to yourself. Everything's an exercise of power--the sleepless nights, the meals you don't eat, this freezing cold office. If you could, you'd live on tea and paperwork."

"I would certainly get a lot more done if that were possible."

"You're not a machine for getting things done. You're a man of flesh and blood. And you're in a kind of prison. You built it up around yourself, your own prisoner and your own gaoler. But now you've lost the key."

"I suppose that you, knowing me as you do, have discovered it?"

"Possibly. I should very much like to find out."

In silence, His Lordship capped the inkwell and rearranged the objects on his desk into a more orderly order. "You read novels, don't you, Rufus?"

"Ye-es."

"I thought so." He nodded, confirming something to himself. "What is it that you want of me, exactly?"

The question, however unyieldingly phrased, was at least a question and not a refusal. Drumknott breathed through his strangling hope and said, "To touch you."

"Ah." His Lordship nudged a paperweight fractionally to the right. "I had an excellent rhetorical education, you know. I can recognise figures of speech. I even remember all their names; that one was antanaclasis." He got up and went to the window; unasked, Drumknott came after him and stood at his side. "If all you wanted was the literal, the matter would be simpler."

"We could start with the literal." Drumknott raised his hand to the window and touched the other man's reflected face. "And see what follows."

There was a long pause. Drumknott waited to see if the island would sink.

A hand brushed his, the fingers slightly warmer than the glass. "I can make no promises."

"I know."

"Then will you come to bed?"

Drumknott looked from the mirrored face to the real one. "Yes, Havelock."

Havelock didn't smile--it wasn't, somehow, a moment for smiling--but the set of his mouth softened. "Come along, then." He went not to the double doors that led to the anteroom, but to a spot along an inner wall. "I want to show you something." He pulled aside the edge of a worn tapestry. "There's a flaw in the wood here, do you see it? Press it hard, and then find the latch here -" he reached up to an almost-invisible join between two oak panels "and pull down. Always in that order." A panel slid back. Drumknott trailed him into a narrow, dusty passageway, trying to memorise a stream of instructions. "Stay along the left wall here . . . that board's unworn for a reason, don't ever step on it . . . since it's between noon and midnight, touch this bit of moulding twice . . . when you're four steps up, go back one and wait five seconds . . ." They arrived at what seemed to be a featureless bit of wall; Havelock pointed out a shallow depression in the plaster. "A handspan and a half above that--my hands, not yours--there's a spot to press. When you hear a click, then . . . yes." There was a keyhole where there hadn't been anything before. Havelock drew a key from somewhere in the depths of his robe and turned it twice. "I'll give you a key, but always knock first anyway if I'm in the room. There are other defences that I engage from the inside." He pushed the door open and they went into the bedroom.

"Good gods," Drumknott said.

The room was warm. Heaped coals glowed in the fireplace, and the scuttle was full to overflowing--easily a night's worth. Perhaps in case that wasn't sufficient, the bed had been moved nearer the fire. But the really extraordinary thing was that it was a different bed, wide enough for two. It was covered with a coarse wool blanket--no room Havelock lived in would ever be luxurious--but there were two plump pillows where before there'd been a single limp one.

"Yes, I thought you might like it."

"Thank you," Drumknott said. It was a gift, another bestowal of pleasure, like the way Havelock had touched him. And yet not exactly a repetition, because Havelock couldn't hold back from his own share of this.

"You're most welcome." Havelock set a candle down on the small chest at the head of the bed. "Perhaps we could light a few more, if you don't mind? I find that I rather like to . . . "

To see, Drumknott thought. The one desire he'd indulged, last time, and still he could barely speak of it. "Of course I don't mind." He moved a couple of tall pillar candles closer to the bed and lit them, then locked the room's unsecret door. "Is the housemaid going to - ?"

"I told Miss Furlotte not to come back after seven o'clock."

That would certainly start the servants guessing, if the bed and the fire hadn't done already. And they weren't likely to guess wrong.

Havelock answered his look--or read his mind--with a shrug. "So long as it doesn't end up in the Times, I'm not terribly concerned. To most of the city it will be merely another rumour, and far from the most interesting."

"And to the rest?" Some of His Lordship's enemies could distil a dram of truth from a tun of gossip with unfortunate facility.

"It will be a tool to use against me. We must ensure that they don't find the task an easy one. I fear you've taken your last solitary walk through the city, Rufus."

"I think," he answered, ignoring a twinge of unmerited nostalgia for those walks, "it's a price that isn't beyond my means." He'd be a little more constrained; Havelock, he hoped, a little more free.

Havelock smiled, and he smiled back. He let the moment stretch taut, holding Havelock's gaze, and opened the top clasp of his robe. He bared himself to the candlelight and the warm air, wondering if Havelock had hoped for this when he ordered the fire built up.

By the time Drumknott had removed robe and coat and neckcloth and was unbuttoning his shirt, he felt himself growing shy. By the breeches he knew he was bright red, but he kept on. Gift for gift, trust for trust. He even managed not to cup his hands over his sex, although he had to fold them behind his back to keep the resolution.

"Rufus . . . " Havelock took a step towards him, his heavy robe stirring the air; Drumknott felt it on his naked skin.

"Would you let me see you, too?"

"Oh. Yes. Of course." He wrenched at the neck of his robe. It wasn't so much the haste of eagerness, Drumknott thought, as the haste of someone trying to get it over with.

"May I?" Drumknott moved Havelock's hands aside.

Havelock seemed to look through him for a moment, then said, "Yes, if you like."

Drumknott set his mind to buttons and points, clear little problems for his nervousness to work itself out on. Outer robe, inner robe, long shirt and braies and old-fashioned wool hosen, and a thin austere body underneath it all. Blue veins and black hair. The scar on Havelock's thigh, as jagged and white as the Ramtops on a map. So many bones announcing themselves under his skin. His chest belling out in an indrawn breath every time Drumknott touched him.

"Thank you," Drumknott said when everything was off, and didn't wait for an answer before stretching up to kiss him.

At first it was just like their previous kiss: closed lips on closed lips, and Havelock not exactly joining in the spirit of the venture. Drumknott persisted, trying to let it build. Like writing, he thought, one word follows the next until it feels natural, until the sentence was always there and could never have been any different. He remembered the best kisses he'd ever known (the man who'd given them had been the one wonderful part of that Ephebian holiday) and adapted them--a little slower, a little less vehement, moving lightly, careful to encourage and not insist.

Eventually Havelock's mouth moved against his a little, pressed back a little. When the kiss ended, he didn't pull away from Drumknott's hand on his shoulder. "That was rather more . . . pleasant than I recalled. And not so messy."

Messy? Kissing was messy, Drumknott supposed, if you stopped to think about it. Someone else's mouth, tongue, teeth, saliva--revolting if considered too closely. But no one who was enjoying a kiss stopped to think. Whomever Havelock had kissed before, Drumknott concluded, hadn't deserved the privilege. "I'm glad," he said, and eased a hand round to Havelock's back, to the linked bones that stood out like knots in a whip. "Would you like to do it again?"

Without more than a few seconds' thought, Havelock kissed him, half imitation and half experiment. Drumknott felt him testing, discarding what he didn't like--anything too deep, too messy--and elaborating what he did, building variations on brushing, nibbling, light sucking, delicate movements of the tongue. He grew almost eloquent and Drumknott grew hard, pressed aching against Havelock's leg.

"Bed?" he asked, a slurred whisper.

"An excellent idea."

They pulled aside the blanket and lay on the old linen sheet, soft from a hundred washings; Havelock's asceticism had circled accidentally back and become sensuality. It was like the stern, close-clipped beard Drumknott had always wanted to feel against his skin, the precise fingers he'd always wanted to taste. He tasted them now, kissing from wrist to fingertip and drawing them into his mouth one by one. Havelock's eyes squeezed shut in what Drumknott decided, from his arrhythmic breathing, must be pleasure. Afterwards, Drumknott wiped each finger dry with the frayed edge of the sheet.

From Havelock's face and his fingers, Drumknott crept downwards, touching his arms and neck, his shoulders, his chest, stopping to kiss and be kissed, fighting the urgency that grew as Havelock touched him much less chastely. At last he slid the flat of his hand down Havelock's belly and along the widening patch of rough hair to his sex. Havelock gasped, his whole body jerking. He'd been half stiff already, and his member swelled in Drumknott's encircling hand. His face contorted and his shoulders strained at every movement.

Drumknott had thought to take Havelock's sex in his mouth, but now, seeing that slow self-abandonment, he wanted to stay face-to-face. He remembered something else he'd learnt in Ephebe. Still lying on his side, he guided Havelock's sex between his thighs. His own organ was squeezed and rubbed between their bodies as Havelock cautiously thrust.

"Is this -"

"Yes," he said, and pulled Havelock's hips roughly against his own.

Sensations flared in him like sparks, bright and brief--the tickling of the hair on his coillons, the random spasms of Havelock's hand, the wordless sounds they both made, the blue flicker as Havelock's eyes closed and opened and closed again. They were kissing wetly, messily, mouths slipping. A sudden expanding tension pulled him irrevocably to climax, and he jerked his hips clumsily, his sex pulsing in sharp exquisite bursts.

Havelock groaned and pushed him onto his back, rolling on top of him. Misty-headed, sated, Drumknott clung as Havelock's whole body pushed at him, face buried in his neck, hips snapping. It almost hurt, too much now for his oversensitive skin, but he'd wanted this desire. He moved with it, whispering word-fragments in Havelock's ear as he shuddered, as the rhythm broke in a hot spurt between Drumknott's legs.

For a minute or two Havelock lay spread over him, as loose and warm as a blanket, then seemed to remember himself little by little. The fist clenched in Drumknott's hair opened into fingers, petting him apologetically. With a sigh, Havelock reached past him, fumbling for something in the bedside chest. He produced two handkerchiefs, gave one to Drumknott, and slid aside onto the mattress. They mopped themselves off in worrisome silence. It was hard to tell what Havelock was thinking; harder, strangely enough, in the bedroom than in the office.

He touched a strand of Havelock's damp, rumpled hair, and when that was accepted, set about rumpling it some more. "Was that . . . ?"

"It was pleasurable. Intensely so."

"But did you like it?"

An eyebrow twitched. "Have you let me out of prison, is that what you mean?"

"I suppose so." He looked away from those knowing eyes.

"Rufus. My dear boy." Havelock clasped his arm lightly, just above the elbow. "There are only prisons. We sit in our cells all our lives wishing for freedom, and when at last the key turns in the lock, we are taken out to face the hangman."

"That's horrible."

"Yes." He smiled, but the melancholy was visible in it, palimpsestic. "That does not make it any less true." With a fingertip, he traced the small scar on Drumknott's shoulder. "Igor did an excellent job. Does it give you much pain?"

"Very little. I was lucky." Drumknott laid his hand on Havelock's thigh, where it didn't quite cover the long, rippling scar. There were odd lumps and twists under the skin, distortions of the muscle. No wonder it troubled him. "How many times have people tried to kill you?"

"Eight, to my knowledge. That discounts some rather innovative school pranks, innumerable deposition plots, a strange illness I'm still uncertain about, a treason charge, and the time in my youth when Mr. Dibbler attempted to sell me a sausage."

Drumknott leaned in until he could feel Havelock's exhalations on his own face.

"Is that why you . . . approached me?" Havelock asked.

"It's not the reason, no. But it is why I spoke. I hadn't thought I ever would."

"Ah. The timing seemed too close to be coincidental."

"I thought you might die there in the Watch House. Alone. You deserve better than that, and I thought I might - gods, I am monstrously vain."

Beyond all expectation, Havelock embraced him. "Humility is an overvalued virtue." He gave Drumknott a tentative kiss; it still seemed a foreign language to him, hard to pronounce and grammatically thorny. "But if I died this minute, I would die alone. That is the nature of dying."

Drumknott felt a future desolation stretch back its long, cold arm and beckon. "I suppose you're right." He closed his eyes and tried to feel every inch of his body against Havelock's, all at once.

"I'm sorry. I did warn you that I'm not a kind man."

"Do you think I need kindness so badly? You're an honest man."

"Really? You're the only person who has ever thought that of me."

Drumknott ran a hand along Havelock's naked back. "I have a very particular point of view on the matter."

Havelock laughed, quick and surprised. "Yes, indeed. Let me tell you this then, in honesty. I said there are only prisons, and I meant it. But this cell of mine is more comfortable now. Larger, if you will."

"Warmer."

"Antanaclasis again. But yes, both literally and figuratively. And I am not displeased with the change."

***


Drumknott woke alone once more. Havelock had covered him with the blanket and blown out most of the candles. In the near-absolute silence of deep night he could hear the scratch of a pen that needed trimming. He wrapped the blanket around himself--the fire was still burning, but lower than before--and went to the desk, laying a hand on Havelock's shoulder. Interrupting him at work felt slightly like a liberty, but here in this room he reckoned he was allowed them.

Havelock leaned, slightly but unmistakably, into his touch. "Do you know what I'm writing?"

The coded journal lay on the desk, half covered by a bunch of loose, closely-written leaves. "No," said Drumknott.

"It's a treatise on governance. For my successor." He crossed out one word and inserted another. "The problem with tyranny as a profession is that one cannot take an apprentice. The next Patrician will have no experience of rule. But there are two things he will have, I hope: this book, and you."

"In what sense -"

"The secretarial only." He smiled sideways at Drumknott. "The other, I leave to your discretion." A few more words took shape on the page. "I don't want my city broken by unskilled hands. And in the course of nature, you will outlive me." Turning in the chair, he looked up, unsmiling now, intent. "As you yourself have said, you know me. You know what I've done to build order and security in Ankh-Morpork. Will you teach him?"

The weight of it, as heavy as the city itself, loured on his shoulders. He wanted to refuse it. He wanted to say don't talk about dying. But he was Havelock Vetinari's man, and there was only one answer he could give, or ever had. "Yes."

"Thank you," Havelock said, in a quiet voice that thrummed down into Drumknott's bones. After another long look, he began writing again.

Such endless labour, for a time after his death, for a city that wouldn't thank him. Drumknott watched him for a moment, then asked, "Should I go?" Let him write in peace, if he felt the need.

"Hmm? No, not unless you wish it. I'm - give me a second - there." He pushed hard on a full stop. "I want to sleep a little myself, and I should like your company."

"Then you shall have it," Drumknott said, holding out a hand. "Come to bed."



*****
Tags: fic: 2009, fic: discworld
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