A Study in Batesian Mimicry
Summary: Vetinari could have had Charlie killed. It would only have been reasonable. But Vetinari's never been particularly good at reasonable.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.
General notes: I think I feel bad for Vetinari in canon, so I make up friends for him in fanon. Better living through fanfiction, Vetinari; embrace it, yo.
Vetinari, for the second time in his life, looked at what some might have called his reflection. He wouldn't call it that, if only because normally his actual reflection – which he had seen more than once before, thank you very much – breathed along with him. "So," he said, at length.
". . . Yeah," said the reflection. "Am I . . . are you . . . ?"
"Your life isn't in danger." Vetinari waved a hand and cut the other man off before he could get any further. "It's an interesting predicament we find ourselves in, yes, but not one that has to be fatal."
Charlie sagged down in the chair. "Oh, thank gods. Listen, I'm sorry, but I'm just a tailor, I really don't know anything about this. It's just that those two men – Pin and Tulip, they said – forced me to come with them and, well, you know. I'll go back to Pseudopolis straight away, first coach I can find out of the city and –"
"What's in Psuedopolis?"
Charlie's mouth snapped shut and then he shrugged. "Home, to some extent, I suppose. My job."
"The pub owner and I are like brothers."
"I've never had much family," he went on to explain, eyes downcast. "Never even knew my own mother, much less my father. The whole baby in a basket, note, that deal."
"Hm." Vetinari watched the other man. It was uncanny, really – if he didn't know better(1), he would say they were related. "Unfortunate."
"There's worse things can happen to a person."
The Patrician nodded in agreement, rifled through a file on his desk, and asked mildly, "I do realize you've spent the majority of your time in the city chained in a basement, drunk, but if I may ask, how do you find it?"
"What, the city? It's nice. I like it." He shrugged. "Ha, I'd stay, probably – I mean, why not, no reason to go back – but obviously that's not in the cards."
"Why wouldn't it be?" Charlie looked up, expression startled. "I'm a tyrant, but I'm not a tyrant. I hardly see why someone should have to move out of the city based on how they look."
"But I look like . . . I mean, we could be brothers. Twins, even."
"Yes, we could, couldn't we?" Vetinari cocked his head. "How old are you?"
"I'll be thirty-eight next month. So . . . no?"
"No, not twins, certainly. Regardless, it hardly matters much to me. If you'd like to stay in the city you are welcome to."
He blinked. "And everyone'll be okay with that?"
"You mean me, yes?" Vetinari glanced up from his paperwork, elbow on his desk, chin in his hand. "I just told you, Charlie. As long as you're prepared to deal with the inevitable complications of looking like the tyrant of the city, I'm fine with it."
"I could cut my hair. Or –" he ran his hands through his own hair and apparently decided that near-baldness probably didn't suit "– I could grow it out."
"That's not particularly of my concern, Mr. Eagle." He raised a finger, not looking away from the file. "Although I do ask you to consider, if you will, the possible advantages of maintaining your current appearance."
"Huh?" He looked around. "What advantages? Someone threw an egg at me while I was walking over here today, and someone else called me a . . . never mind," he concluded abruptly when Vetinari looked up sharply.
"Advantages that might be offered, say, to an actor in a city, who can suitably pass for its ruler. Payment for appearances, that sort of thing."
"Doesn't seem like a good trade-off to me, sir, begging your pardon. The citizenship seems to think one Vetinari is quite enough."
At last, Vetinari laid aside the report and stood, making his way over to the window. "And as far as government is concerned, Charlie, I'm fully inclined to support that notion. But, try as I might, I have not mastered the ability to be in two places at once." He looked to Charlie, a ghost of a smile on his face, one eyebrow raised.
The gears in Charlie's brain, caked in rust and oft-dripped with alcohol, ground to life. "Wait, you want me to be you? And work for you?"
"It would make some things much easier." He shrugged. "There would be . . . compensation."
Charlie was not the cleverest of men, but it would be a stretch to call him stupid. He was naïve to politics, certainly, more comfortable with the small town sort of lifestyle, and a barely-functional alcoholic, but he wasn't stupid. But years of neglect had left his brain slightly less sharp than ideal, and suddenly he arrived at that realization, sitting in the wingback chair in the Patrician's office. He really, really wanted a drink or, failing that, the last twenty two years of his life back so he could do his best part to avoid every decision he'd ever made that might have landed him in this predicament.
Thankfully, Vetinari had apparently foreseen that possibility, and there was a tumbler of bourbon on the desk. He reached for it.
"Ah, no, Charlie, if you'd just wait a minute on that, please. I'd prefer your decision be made sober."
Charlie didn't move, frozen with his arm outstretched, eyes locked on the caramel liquid in the glass.
If it were possible to break down Charlie's thought process and itemize it(2), it might look something like this:
OPTION A: Stay in Ankh-Morpork as Vetinari impersonator. Pros: Money, staying in the city, not having to sew bloody dresses anymore, looking like the Patrician (is this a pro?). Cons: Looking like the Patrician (probably a better in this category), actually having to be the Patrician.
OPTION 2: Stay in Ankh-Morpork and change appearance. Pros: Staying in the city. Cons: Will still be a tailor, have no job, housing, friends, etc. Will still look like the Patrician to some extent.
NUMBER 3: Go home. Pros: it's home. Cons: it's home.
He grimaced and seized the glass. "I'll do it."
"Capital! And do tell me if you enjoy the drink, it's an invention of a friend's. I believe it's flat soda water and some sort of syrup. He tells me he thinks it would be better carbonated – your thoughts?"
Charlie was scowling at the glass distastefully, trying to scrape the taste off his tongue with his teeth. "It's very . . . sugary."
"Yes, well, not to my tastes but what would things be like if we were all the same, hm?" He turned away from the window and strode back over to Charlie. And then they shook hands, and in just that moment, despite Charlie realizing he was several thousand miles below Vetinari intellectually, some sort of unspoken understanding passed between the two.
"Right. So I suppose I should get on with . . . looking like you? Acting like you?" He sat back and rubbed his forehead, swirling the glass with his other. "Ye gods."
Vetinari shrugged. "If you're to be convincing, I should think routine meetings are in order. You already have a decent start, really, to fool as many people as you did."
"I was coached. This'll be . . . improvisation." He glared hatefully at the drink. "I'm not sure how well I can handle improvisation."
"I've no doubt you'll rise to the challenge, Mr. Eagle. I believe you should talk to Drumknott for scheduling – his desk is just outside my office. Please, don't let me detain you."
Charlie watched the man flash his lightning-quick smile and turn away, ran through the last ten minutes of the conversation in his head, and nearly whimpered.
(1) And to be frank, where his aunt was concerned, he probably didn't. She would be getting a very inquisitive letter from her nephew later that week, not that she was likely to answer it honestly.
(2) Which would be miles easier to handle than, say, Vetinari's.
Vetinari's double started out as an amusing joke among the populace – he was an idiot, he was a drunk, he was basically everything Vetinari wasn't, appearances aside. But regardless of whether or not he was personally at all like the man himself, he was passable in public. Gradually, as time marched on, tendrils of doubt started creeping in at official functions – which one had been the one to actually attend? He hadn't stayed long, and he hadn't spoken much . . . He could well be Charlie, for all anyone knew.
After a year and a half, it wasn't such a joke anymore. Seven years out, they could imitate one another(3) so unnervingly perfectly that to the untrained eye they were the exact same person. Twelve years since, it had become a fact of life in Morporkian high society that there were two Vetinaris, and you should just assume you were talking to the real one to avoid immediate death or pointed sarcasm. There was no promise that either of the two wouldn't follow after an extended interval, but at least if you were cautious you greatly lowered your chances.
And still Vetinari and Charlie met a couple of times each week, perfecting the act, or exchanging information, or who knew what they did together. Drumknott never even stayed for the meetings – what help could he be? – and they usually occurred late in the evening, always Vetinari's last appointment of the day. No one kept track of how long they lasted. There were some that would have given an arm and a leg to find out what went on in those meetings – whispers of spying and of conspiracies all swirled among the nobility and the general population. Those with more active imaginations theorized on some clandestine love affair.
Everyone would have been very sorely disappointed to know the truth.
"Your gray's showing a bit there, mate," Charlie told Vetinari during one of their early-evening meetings, gesturing to his own temple.
"Is it? I've been busy." A half-finished bottle of beer sat by his elbow as he worked through some of the less urgent paperwork. "Did you talk to Drumknott?"
"Yes." He closed his eyes and let his head loll back, stretched out in the chair as he was, glass of caramel soda water (Leonard had been right, it was much better carbonated) dangling from his right hand. "I'm picking up the Teachers' Guild for you on Tuesday, and the Modern Art exhibit on Thursday."
"Oh, gods, thank you," Vetinari sighed. "Brilliant – I don't think I could have made it through another one of those."
"Drumknott doubted it too. The Cryptography Museum on Friday is your choice though."
"Wayne's in town, picked up the piano job to pay for the lodging."
"Oh right, Kristie's parents." He tapped the end of his pen on his chin for a moment and shrugged. "I'll meet him for drinks later – you can have it." Charlie shrugged and sipped at his drink and, admirably, only jumped a little when there was a knock at the door.
"Commander Vimes to see you, sir," Drumknott informed them, poking his head in. "About the, er, issue on the River."
"I'll go, shall I?"
Vetinari shrugged. "Whatever. I do like the entertainment it provides." They exchanged a look. Charlie was, as usual, dressed very similarly, although not exactly the same. Vetinari pulled the robe of office over his head and stuffed it under the desk. They were both smirking now, Charlie closer to grinning than Vetinari ever managed to be, twins in white shirts and black trousers and ties.
Commander Vimes hadn't made it two steps into the room before he groaned and put his hand over his eyes. "Bloody hell, I hate it when you two do this."
"I'm sorry, do what, exactly, Commander?" the one behind the desk asked.
"You're the one that cut into our meeting," the other one pointed out. Vimes's scowl deepened. "This happens every time you do feel the need to interrupt."
"You don't have to dress alike."
Desk Vetinari shrugged. "What the point of having a double if you're not indistinguishable, Your Grace? So to turn to the topic at hand . . . Drumknott mentioned something about an incident on the River? There certainly seems to be a lot of commotion." He spared a look out the window.
Vimes took a breath and tried to rally himself. "Right. Well, there's a group of kids up down the River by the harbor hosting a free concert. They're, uh, they're calling it . . ." his forehead wrinkled in concentration as he trod all over the unfamiliar syllables, "May-jo-ree-oh." He shook his head. "Damn stupid. Anyway, they're all over the river and spilling out into the street. It's playing hells with warehouse traffic, plus a few of them have fallen through the crust; you know how it gets a bit thin the farther you go out from the river.
"I had Detritus and his unit try and move them up to Hide Park but – bloody hells, Vetinari, I can't concentrate when I don't know which one you are!"
The one behind the desk sighed. "And you were doing so well this time, too."
"Really impressive," the other one agreed, swirling his drink and smiling encouragingly. "Go on, just pick one, it's all the same in the end."
He shook his head violently. "No, no own up. Come on, Charlie, you have to have some kind of tell."
"Why? We both know who we are."
"Gods, you are worse than the von Lipwig twins," he muttered darkly. "Making up for lost time, I suppose." He glared at each of them, and was disappointed when he came away without a flinch.
"Is this going to be a demonstration of your famous brand of deductive reasoning, Commander?"
"Yes, possibly sir. Right." He looked to the one behind the desk, trying not to slink out of the room under the power of the two inquisitive blue gazes. Focus, that was the key here.
Well, the first clue and the easiest thing to spot was always the gait. Charlie never managed the same smoothness Vetinari did, lacking Vetinari's Assassin training and habits, and Vetinari never managed the same evenness Charlie did, thanks to the gonne wound from years ago, and the arthritic aftereffects from the very same Assassin training. But there was no way to spot that here, and Vimes wasn't totally sure if he felt confident enough to push his luck by asking. Charlie was about half an inch taller too, but again, no real way to tell here.
There were the accents – Charlie had been born and raised in Psuedopolis and came with the drawling twang associated with that, whereas Vetinari's was more-or-less Morporkian with a hint of Genuan around the vowels. But Charlie was imitating now, and probably enjoying it immensely, and Vimes wouldn't put it past the Patrician to imitate a little back, just because.
It was eerie, he decided, as he ran through his mental list of learned similarities and natural differences, how similar Charlie had managed to become. Vimes was grasping at straws now, looking for something – anything – that might give it away, when he finally almost laughed. "Alright, sir," he addressed the one that wasn't behind the desk. "Got it."
The one behind the desk raised an eyebrow. "Possibly, your Grace, possibly. Might I ask what you based your conclusion on?"
"Yeah, go on," the one he'd decided was the real Vetinari encouraged, Pseudoplian accent appearing. Vimes cursed himself but regrouped. This was Vetinari, he was still fairly sure, despite the accent, and that meant that a trick was very possible. He took a breath.
"Well, sir, the drinks were really the biggest clue. You've been drinking that soda the entire time, whereas you – Charlie –" he turned on the one behind the desk – "haven't touched that beer."
Charlie – it had to be Charlie – shrugged. "I may not be thirsty right at this exact moment, your Grace."
"Then drink it." He faltered again when the one behind the desk leveled him with a cool look. "Alright. Fine, well the other clue is that I know Charlie doesn't have gray hair, sir, and you do."
They two exchanged a look and then nodded. "You were right," Vetinari said finally, that Pseudopolis drawl gone. He leaned forward to set the tumbler on the desk and yes, there was the guarded smoothness Vimes had been waiting for. "Eventually."
"Good catch on the drinks." Charlie leaned back in the Patrician's chair, any semblance of decent posture dissolved since Vimes's conclusion.
Vimes allowed himself a little smile. "Yes, well, of everyone in the city . . ."
"Takes one to know one, as the saying goes." Charlie grabbed the tumbler and raised the glass to Vimes. "And I told you about the hair."
Vetinari's eyes narrowed, but in this group it wasn't a threat – Vimes recognized the carefully-hidden smile. "Forgive me if I've been a little busy. You could try for a little gray, you know. You're the imposter, after all."
"Easier for you to keep up with me in this regard though."
Vetinari stood and went to the window, picking up the beer on the way. He stood there for a moment, other hand in his pocket, watching the city below. Toward the docks, an orange glow lit the sky brighter than usual over the music festival. "How disruptive is this concert?"
"Well . . . not very. It's mostly warehouses and docks, so it's not like it's keeping people from sleeping. But there's the safety concerns and it's bloody stupid to have a concert on a river, sir, even if it is the Ankh!"
"Are they even using any boats?" Charlie clarified.
"Of course they're not! They just bloody stand on the crust until it gives out and then someone pulls 'em out and rinses 'em off and they run right back out there!" His expression was stormy now. "And with those environmental measures you're so keen on, sir, who knows if the crust is even thick enough to hold the idiots much longer. It's not the Ankh it used to be."
"What a shame it would be if we could drink out of it without fear." The actor smiled sweetly in the face of Vimes's glare.
Vetinari jingled the key ring in his pocket. "I suppose it is somewhat of a safety concern," he murmured. "Gods forbid we actually finally have a drowning after all these years."
Vimes just shrugged, hands on his hips, finally allowing himself to look a little tired. "The park's right up the street, sir. Not even a five minute walk."
The Patrician finally nodded. "Fine. Have the Architects set up some kind of stage in Hide Park – they won't move otherwise, and I suspect you'll be able to find a few students willing to pitch in if they can see a concert – and have your officers herd them all off the river. Do try not to arrest anyone."
"No promises, sir, but if they mind their manners we'll leave 'em alone." He saluted.
Vetinari nodded. "Very good, Commander." He half-turned to watch as Vimes went to leave, shutting the door behind himself. Then, briefly, he leaned back in and pointed at the Patrician. "I win."
"Don't let anybody detain you, Vimes," Charlie volunteered. The Commander scowled and slammed the door with rather more force. They stayed quiet until the sound of his angry stomping retreated down the corridor.
"I was going to give him that victory, you know," Vetinari said after a while. "He does so treasure those moments."
Charlie leaned back in the chair. "Sorry."
"The Performers' Guild is going to want to talk to me tomorrow morning." At length, the Patrician turned back around, pinching the bridge of his nose. "And the Musicians. And possibly the Fishmongers. And likely most of the owners of the warehouses."
"Could you do a mass meeting to get everything out of the way?"
"Could do, yes." He frowned, looking generally discontent. "It'll have to be early – I was supposed to see von Lipwig at eight."
Charlie leaned his elbows onto the desk. "Have I ever mentioned how grateful I am that my job doesn't extend to your work hours? When were you planning to sleep tonight?"
"Well." He took a sip of beer and looked out the window.
Charlie smiled a little. "You were going to see your lady, yeah? Grace?" He drummed his fingers on the desk. "What exactly do you have to do in this as-of-yet-unscheduled meeting tomorrow morning?"
"Hm? Oh, mostly get shouted at." He looked askance to Charlie. "You're not considering offering to sub for me, are you?"
"I mean, I offered." He riffled through one of the files, marked 'Undertaking'. "Look at this map, all the little colored lines."
"Oy!" The Patrician snatched the folder away. "Nosy. And you can't stand in for me at a meeting, Charlie, it's my job."
"Well if all you're doing is sitting there while people shout –"
"If it were that easy I'd get a potted plant to do the job. You have to say the right thing at the right time, it's all very complicated." He frowned.
"More complicated than a gala? Or that banquet at the Borogravian Embassy?"
"Ha, no. No, certainly not more complicated than that but you have to understand, Charlie, that it's my job. The minute I start handing off the actual political Office business so I can sleep in an extra hour I might as well stab myself and save everyone else the trouble."
Charlie looked doubtful. "A bit dramatic, don't you think?"
"Not that dramatic!" He checked his watch. "Right. So Sunday night should suit for the next meeting, yes?" A nod. "Capital. Do let me know if anything interesting comes to light during the week."
The other man stood and walked out from behind the desk, stretching as he went. There was no sign of a limp, no hint of a bad back brought on by years of climbing up sheer walls and running off across the rooftops (and a few memorably terrifying incidences of falling off of both). "'Course I will." He picked his jacket up off the back of the chair and watched as the Patrician rested on the windowsill with a wince subtle enough that anyone who didn't make a career of mirroring Vetinari's every move might have missed. "Alright there?"
"More or less." Vetinari smiled thinly, and Charlie was fairly certain that maybe even some of the city council would have been able to see how tired the man was in that little gesture.
At length, the impersonator sighed and slouched a little. "We're not going to be able to get away with this much longer, you know. I can only go so far."
Vetinari nodded. "I know, believe me."
"I think this is the bit where I encourage you to really enjoy the ability to have a double while it lasts." And the two men stood and watched each other for a minute, silent. "Whatever that might mean," Charlie added quietly, at length.
What it meant, ultimately, was that the next morning, while the head of every Guild even peripherally associated with the docks yelled themselves hoarse in the Oblong Office, Lord Vetinari sat there with a mildly interested expression, sometimes interjecting when the topic wavered or the discussion flagged. And at the end, he nodded, and somehow the matter was settled, and everyone went on their way.
What it meant was that while all that was happening, Lord Vetinari was also fifteen minutes away, curled up in bed, his arm wrapped around a dark-skinned woman, and his head snugly resting against the crook of her neck. "Don't you have to be at work?" she asked sleepily.
He ran a finger over his watch's face, the raised dots and dashes a remnant of Assassins' Schooling that was coming in useful more and more these days –not just in the pitch dark anymore – and smiled a little. "Not quite yet."
(3) No one really grasped why Vetinari had decided that he should learn to imitate Charlie. This was a stroke of genius on Vetinari's part, born of desire to get out of the office once and a while without being harassed. After all, it would be natural for Vetinari to have a double, but why would Charlie? Therefore, if there's a bloke that looks like Vetinari and acts like Charlie, well, it's just got to be regular old Charlie, doesn't it? Of course it is, so no sense bothering him, then.
- EL FIN -
It bums me out a lot that there's no mention Charlie in canon past The Truth. Seriously.