It was good to note that the reflexes of Assassin's were not, as usually believed, perfect. They did not dodge everything. In fact, it was often an issue with the harder contracts, as they could not dodge the defenses of the higher-class of nobles or businessmen, who had thugs and more intelligent mercenaries at their disposal.
Nevertheless, it is most likely this reason that Vimes' punch connected with Vetinari's unsuspecting jaw.
I think, Vetinari thought, internally feeling a bit upset about this, I went too far this time.
This was perhaps the biggest understatement of the year, as Vimes had just hauled off and punched him without even turning red yet. The Patrician of the most powerful city on the Disc was sent sprawling to the ground some four or five feet away. And he could feel the hot sensation you got when lots of blood-vessels had just ruptured. He could also hear Drumknott and a few others, probably Lady Sybil among them, running to the door and stopping. No assurances Vimes would stop himself from killing anyone who interfered.
The same went for the Patrician of course, but at least he would think about it first.
Vetinari managed to roll and leap to his feet before the hands of his most loyal Watch officer had him by the robes. The ex-assassin staggered upright, and opened the third drawer of his desk. Damn...he'd put it in his room, hadn't he?
Vimes was already getting up from the stumble Vetinari had caused him, and now the Patrician was forced to try and think about what he wanted to do. He did not, actually, want to hurt Vimes. Vimes was the most loyal man Vetinari had ever known, and even though Vimes hated the Patrician, Vetinari also knew that Vimes admired and respected him at the same time. Now he had to knock out his faithful Commander without getting killed...
He needed his sword-cane.
Which, by a stroke of luck*, was between himself and Vimes, and therefor was out of reach to him, because Vimes didn't have the disadvantage of a leg that required a cane at times. To which Vetinari mentally cursed and tried to think of something before Vimes tried to kill him again.
Vimes was beginning to tire, despite his continued rage. It was burning in him and now, like a raging fire, it had used up all it's fuel, and was working on the last remnants of wood. If Vetinari could just avoid him for long enough...
"Godsdamn you, Vetinari! You just see everyone as a puppet, don't you! We're all just pawns in your bloody political game, and we're not worth anything at all, not if we're inconvenient for this city!"
Vetinari would have thought he'd trained Vimes better than that...after all, Vetinari had not expected much of the man before the dragon incident, and yet knew how to manipulate him. Vetinari had always had what in others would be called a soft-spot for Vimes**. Like himself, Vimes had an idealistic view of things. And like himself, Vimes knew it was only an ideal. But both men strove to make their ideal be as real as it could. Vetinari relied on Vimes, and really, considered him as close to a real friend as he got. Even if it was a one-sided feeling.
"Commander? What precisely, in my previous sentence, offended you so much?"
Oh yes, and now his jaw was aching, and making talking a real trial. Well, at least now he knew why Carcer had been taken out so quickly...Vimes punched better than a mule could kick.
* Vetinari made a point of always calling strokes of even bad luck a stroke of luck. It made people think you'd had good luck, and therefore made it seem you were more lucky than them. It had saved him from some very embarrassing situations as a very young assassin.
** Vimes would have considered this impossible, a feat Vetinari had tried to breed in the man. But it was true, Vetinari had a soft spot for his often tightly-wound Commander. It almost hurt to think he had miscalculated this so hugely, but there you were. No one's perfect.
"You cold-hearted bastard! You of all damned people should know what you said!" Vimes shouted, and Vetinari could practically feel the red burning behind those gray eyes. But he had to stay calm...if he apologized, Vimes would think he was ill or something again, and Vetinari did not want the man doing that all over again.
As it was, Vetinari did know what he had said. And he now regretted it, even if for no other apparent reason than that he had to try and live through this. He knew that's what Vimes would say it was.
But Vimes was burning out now...Vetinari needed to get him in close, so he could knock the Commander out. What would rile him further? Oh yes...
Vetinari smiled slowly, trying for the manic grin he'd seen on the faces of some of his victims as a younger man, trying to imitate the grin he'd seen on Vimes a few times, when The Beast was winning. And he did it perfectly enough to make Vimes pause, and looked a bit unnerved.
"Well, Commander...if that insulted you, I wonder what this phrase would do..." he said, perfectly soft and calm, but there was a faked tone in there of manic glee and joy. This seemed to unnerve Vimes further, but at the words that followed, Vimes' eyes practically turned red. And he charged at Vetinari, obviously trying to tackle him and pound him into oblivion.
But having seen the Commander fight before, Vetinari was well-armed, though his advantage was only slight. His mind was telling him that he had to avoid Vimes' arms at any cost. And his route to his cane was now open to him.
With a leap that would have been granted a much younger man in this position, the Patrician lunged to the right at the last moment, and landed on his side beside the cane. He heard a few ribs crackle, and felt one fracture at least, but that was a small price. Vimes was too useful to the city to be killed.
Vetinari lashed the cane out with lightning speed, and caught Vimes in the kneecaps, and then the back of the head as he swung it hard at the falling man. But it took a sound fist to the right and down of the temple to send the heavier man into the blackness of unconsciousness.
Vimes woke up in the Lady Sybil Free Hospital, his head pounding. He remembered...yes, he had gone to see the Patrician, damn him...but what had...
Memory is a wicked thing, and slowly, Vimes began to register what he'd done some five hours previous. Vimes went very pale, and closed his eyes, and let out a short groan. A very quiet, calm voice by the bed made him snap to attention. In his current condition, it made his head spin and he settled back down when the thin hand practically shoved him back.
"Good evening, Vimes. Sybil and Young Sam are in the hall."
Vimes looked the Patrician over. Oh Gods...there was a bruise on the man's face that took up nearly the entire left side...and oh Gods, when he spoke, he flinched...
That always worked...but Vetinari just cracked a quiet smile, before flinching and closing his cold-blue eyes.
"I wanted to apologize Vimes. Much as I might hate to admit it, I was out of line. I miscalculated how far I could push you."
Vetinari watched Vimes' jaw go slack slightly. He flashed a genuine smile, though it pained him. The entirety of the left half of his face hurt, and the dark bruise did not help matters along.
"You...wanted to apologize...to me? I punched you and tried to murder you!" Vimes said, somewhere between fury and shock. But he had to say, he felt a bit of satisfaction seeing Vetinari admit it, and seeing the man flinch.
"Vimes, whether you believe me or not, I mean it. I miscalculated, and it ended badly for us both."
Now Vimes noticed the cane that the man was holding tightly. Oh Gods...his leg had started acting up...probably that leap, but if Vetinari had missed that jump...
"Perhaps we should take the diplomatic, approach, Sir." Vimes said cautiously, and watched the Patrician raise on quizzical eyebrow. "We both apologize and pretend it never happened." Vimes added helpfully, and watched the corners of the lips twitch. Whether it was towards a smile or a frown he didn't know, but he liked to think the former.
"Perhaps Vimes. However...it will be rather hard to talk to Lord Downey tomorrow morning if I can barely speak. Perhaps I should request your presence at, shall we say, nine o'clock sharp?" he said, giving Vimes an almost sly smile before flinching again.
"Of course Sir! Least I could do, Sir!"
He was...getting off? Vetinari was letting him off the hook? But...he'd made the man fall pretty hard, and he had...Pain rippled from his head to his knees, and he groaned. He touched the right side of his face, and sent a glare at Vetinari's retreating back. He watched the Patrician turn around, and only then saw the wrapping on the man's left hand. Vetinari gave him a quick, rueful smile.
"It was better than killing you, Commander...I won't detain you any longer." he said quietly, and there was that lightning smile before he slipped out of the door. Vimes heard his cane tapping on the floor, and heard it pause several times.
Vimes didn't think much more about it that evening, though reading to Young Sam was hard as his hand was wrapped and his jaw hurt. But he read anyway, and didn't think about Vetinari's words until later that night, when even the Night People of Ankh-Morpork were hurrying home, and before the Day-People were even considering waking up.
I was lucky...He could have killed me in the office, in self-defense. So why didn't he?