Vainglorious.

Chapter One- Lord and Duke.

    Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, was the most feared man in the city. He was as sharp as the daggers he trained with in the Assassin's Guild, his cold blue stare could turn the minds of even the most well equipped to pulp, and he always, always knew what you were going to say before you said it. Even, sometimes, before you thought it at all. He was also extremely exasperated.

    The Patrician was an expert at reading people. He stood at his high windows in the Palace of Ankh-Morpork and stared down at the city he ran, humming like an ant-hive below, and he studied every human nature and the politics of the city until, everyone agreed, there was nothing you could tell the man that he didn't know already. And while this was useful for him, there were those among the guilds who found that they didn't like their little plots and intrigues coming under the icy blue gaze, didn't like knowing, when they looked up at the blank eyes of the palace, that behind them stood a man who knew their wives and husbands and children's names and habits and shoe size and most importantly, where they were, every minute of every day.

    When powerful people, the guild leaders and Ankh-Morpork's rusty aristocracy (who had too much time on their hands anyway) sat around and thought how the man at the top knew too much, assassination was never far from the surface of the seething political cauldron that was Ankh-Morpork. Of course, the very fact that the Patrician would probably know exactly how, who and when the attempt on his life would be made usually kept the wiser plotters at bay, Lord Vetinari had thought it would be amusing to appoint someone to run around shouting, waving a sword and ostensibly protecting the Patrician and his City. This man was Sir Samuel Vimes, Lord, Duke, Commander of The Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and also the very reason Lord Vetinari was so exasperated.

    He steepled his fingers and looked at Vimes over the top of them. Sir Samuel was standing to attention, his eyes fixed at a point some inches above Lord Vetinari's head, and radiating an air of bloody-minded stupidity. This was not unusual in policemen. What made Lord Vetinari's blood boil was that he knew it was an act. Every bit of it. Occasionally flashes of personality as sharp as glass and a sense of humour drenched in cynicism would surface when he talked to Vimes. Behind that stupid expression Vetinari suspected a mind ticking away almost as fast as his own.

    'Let me get this straight' he said wearily. 'Four promising junior members of the Assassin's guild, including Lady Selachii's son, disappeared three months ago and have turned up on the Counterweight Continent, where reports indicate they ran into the nearest temple, swore never to kill again and are now practising as Monks and cannot be entreated to come home.'

    'Yessir.'

    'And' Lord Vetinari pressed on, attempting to make Vimes look into his icy gaze, 'the last contract the four men were assigned to was to kill you, or so Dr. Downey tells me.'

    Vimes' brow wrinkled in perplexity.

    'Four men, just to kill me, sir? Seems a bit extreme. I wonder what happened to them, because I'm sure if they had made it to me I'd have been dead by now. I'm no match for four of the Guild's finest, eh?'

    Vetinari fought a powerful instinct to laugh. Damn Vimes! He was so likeable, in spite of his rudeness and ability to upset everyone in the city given the least opportunity. And under him, the Watch was swelling at an alarming rate, and turning out some very fine police officers that were actually doing what they were supposed to, and solving crimes. What Vetinari had thought of as a little joke to amuse himself, watching a bundle of incompetents led by a drunken Vimes attempt to keep peace in a city that was by nature as peaceful as a chainsaw and just as dangerous, had actually become a force to be reckoned with. And the most remarkable change was in Commander Vimes, who was sober, efficient, well respected, and (the Patrician felt unaccustomed warmth in his cheeks) a fine, handsome man.

    Vetinari, furious with himself for lapsing, jumped up abruptly and moved to the window. He looked out, his back to Vimes, waiting for his cheeks to cool. Unbidden, his mind slipped back to contemplation of the man who stood behind him. Vetinari was experiencing a multitude of feelings that he had never felt before. He knew he was a cold, hard man. He supposed he was feared, maybe respected, admired for his genius. People could be in awe of him, there were even those who wanted to be like him (although those were the kind of people Vetinari quickly disposed of. It didn't do to have more than one of yourself- and Vetinari knew he wasn't trustworthy in the least). And for all the years of his life, having respect and power and great quantities of other people's fear to play with had been enough. And now, suddenly, it wasn't. Suddenly, he wanted more. And there was only one person in the world that he wanted it from.

    He turned quickly, determined that Vimes should never know anything was wrong, and caught the man looking at him with eyes that were a good deal more shrewd and intelligent than he usually allowed them to be in the Patrician's company. Like snuffing a candle, the look disappeared from Vimes' face, replaced by his usual blankness. Vetinari felt a pang in his chest. He wanted so much to see the Vimes that lay behind the mask that he felt it must be written across his forehead. He hardened his gaze.

    'Vimes, I've got proof from witnesses that those Assassins encountered no less than six bear traps, twelve pits and fifty swamp dragons when they reached your house. When all were maimed or otherwise injured, I have people who say they heard you give them the choice of staying in Ankh Morpork or going to pursue a life as a monk in the counterweight continent. Can I assume you were joking when you said that?'

    Vimes grinned.

    'Apparently not, sir.'

Vetinari laid a hand across his eyes.

    'I also have the testimony of the four men, who seemed highly aerated at the mention of your name and were gabbling things like 'Mr. Vimes' dragons'. You are facing a lawsuit from the Guild for loss of earnings. Have you anything to say for yourself, Commander?' Vimes looked thoughtful.

    'Well,' he said pleasantly, 'I may be just a humble policeman, but surely a man protecting his only life is in concurrence with the self-defence laws of this city, laws which are older than the guilds and therefore which the guild of Assassin's are subject to by a declaration in their own rules. So surely, attempting to prosecute a man for actually enforcing city laws is not only against said city laws but also against the laws of the Guild themselves, and by definition they should then put themselves on trial for the aforementioned law-breaking?'

    Vetinari could barely conceal his smile. There it was! That flash of intelligence and humour and wit that Vimes only let out when he was enjoying himself. Vetinari knew Vimes was right, of course. He had only hauled him in out of a desire to see the man- he stopped that thought abruptly.

    'Get out, Vimes' he said wearily, and the Commander ripped off a salute and marched out the door.

Outside the Palace in the sunshine, Vimes leaned against the wall, grinning to himself. He lit a cigar, took a deep drag and blew a smoke ring, perfectly formed from years of practice, into the air. It looked like being a good day.

    Vimes began to saunter across the palace courtyard. He always loved irritating Vetinari- you could practically see the sparks fizzing in his head, as if he longed to grab Vimes around the neck but couldn't, because of etiquette. Vimes would love him to take a swing. Go on; just go on, he thought within the confines of his mind, watching Vetinari get more and more agitated. Go on, you know you want to.

    But there had been something strange about The Patrician recently. The looks he had been shooting Vimes had been less angry. There was another emotion there, but Vimes couldn't quite put his finger on it. It was almost as if…but Vimes' mind shied away from that thought. He gave himself a mental shrug. There's a fine line between love and hate, he mused to himself, and then realised what had been subtly wrong since he left Vetinari's office. His helmet. He'd left it on Vetinari's desk.

    Suddenly Vimes was really angry. It was just typical of the man. The Patrician never missed a trick- he would have noticed Vimes leaving it there, sure enough, but he wouldn't say anything, oh no. He would wait until Vimes had to come back to get it, then make some snide, irritating comment about the importance of good organisation in a position of command. That was his style. 'How can you hope to command the watch when you haven't even mastered command of your own armour?' sneered the Vetinari in Vimes' mind, as Vimes legs began to pound the stairs leading to the Patrician's office. He burst through the door, expecting reprimands, expecting irate secretaries and Vetinari's icy gaze attempting to bore through his skull. He was expecting everything except the Patrician to be standing right in front of him with an odd look on his face and Vimes helmet in his hands. Vimes wasn't expecting Vetinari to kiss him, and it could be that, or other reasons, that led him to kiss back.