End of an Age
Note: Not only do i not own any Discworld characters or ideas, but I know this resembles a story/scene called The Dying of the Light in certain, probably important, aspects. I started this before I read that, and Vetinari's blindness in older age seems to be a perfectly reasonable condition based on how much he has had to strain his eyes doing paperwork and writing in the light of a candle, as well as in his younger years the watching for his target. I will admit that when Vetinari asks Vimes what he would do, I did in fact take Vimes' answer from the aforementioned story, and I thank the author for it immensely. Anyway, please read, enjoy, and review!
Chapter One: 26th of May
Vimes watched the bandaged, thin chest move slowly, as breath was taken in and breathed out. The room was silent. Sybil had insisted the guest bedroom be furnished a bit, and the bed seemed more pillowed than the frail man on it would normally like.
He'd never seen Vetinari looking so...vulnerable. The bandage's covered thin, shallow lacerations from the assassin's knives, but the worst injury was undeniably to his leg. Like the gonne, the attacker's weapon had missed his torso because the man had stood up. But it would still, ultimately, kill him.
Pale blue eyes opened. It was the same blue eyes that the man had stared at Vimes with for nearly thirty-five years. But no, the Patrician tensed suddenly. Blind eyes glanced reflexively around before closing, searching for breathing in the darkness of the world. Vimes waited. Vetinari knew his breathing, he was sure of that. But...he'd been awake probably for quite some time, most likely drifting on dark thoughts. Vimes knew Vetinari didn't sleep often, even now.
The Patrician's voice was weak and and cracked. His coal-black hair had long lines of gray, and he was far paler than normal. The tall, frail-looking man blindly sat up, using Vimes as a steadying force. Only Vimes, Sybil, Drumknott, and Dr. Lawn knew of the man's lack of sight. The man had his own sort of arrogance, Vimes knew that.
When the most powerful man on the Disc toppled forwards, Vimes caught him, and felt the man shudder in pain and injured pride.
"Sir?" Vimes asked softly, biting his lip.
Vetinari looked helpless and weak now, but those two blue eyes were the same as ever. But they were softer now, almost warm. But the blue orbs closed as Vetinari let Vimes shift him back down, shaking softly in what Vimes guessed was extreme pain.
"I'm dying. That's what Lawn told you." Vetinari whispered quietly, voice a bit distant. And Vimes thought he heard a note of fear in the man's voice, though it was hidden quickly out of practice. Vimes couldn't blame him. Lawn had said it would be a slow death. The bleeding would starve his heart of blood until he died, and he would spasm randomly and painfully until the end.
"Yes sir. Told me it would hurt like the seven hells." Vimes replied, letting an inkling of concern and pain into his voice. It already showed on his face. But Vetinari, once so observant he could catalog a twitch, couldn't see that anymore. It had been nearly eight years since his sight had gone altogether, and ten since it had begun to blur and distort.
Vimes found his hand instinctively grasping his master's, trying to do what he could. Vetinari didn't flinch away, as Vimes had thought he would. He merely sighed and clasped the other man's calloused hand weakly.
"Where am I, Vimes? Is it your house?" he asked quietly, swallowing before he began to cough. Vimes set the ice-water Sybil had insisted on in the man's outstretched hand, and before replying let him drink and set it down.
"Yes, Sir. Before you collapsed, you asked to be brought here. Sir...are you alright?"
It was a stupid question, but it made the Patrician smile at least. It was weak and sad, but a smile nonetheless.
"Better than I could be, Sam." he murmured, closing his eyes. He opened them again, seemingly alert before relaxing and flicking them in the direction of a large wardrobe.
"If he were here, Sam, what do you think he'd say?" Vetinari whispered. Vimes sighed. His son was in Uberwald for a convention of some sort...one of his friends from school had something over there. Sudden;y, he realized that in a very real way, when the clacks message reached his son, he'd be alone in the world, and that Vetinari had always been there for his godson. Would Young Sam know what to do?
"Sir...he's probably going to cry no matter what. As it is...if he were here, he'd hide and cry, so I wouldn't see and so that you wouldn't see." Sam Senior said softly.
Vimes the Elder settled again, and when Vetinari's blind fumbling fingers found his hand, he grasped them reassuringly.
"Vimes...I'm afraid." Vetinari whispered, his lips trembling a bit as his eyes closed, as if expecting some callous remark from his right-hand that he would take without fighting.
Vimes merely smiled, his own lips trembling. "How long have we known each other, Havelock?" he offered, and at the others raised eyebrow, sighed. "You called me Sam earlier. Figured I'd reciprocate the trust, sir." he added, shrugging.
"No...it's fine, Sam. just...unexpected." Vetinari murmured, closing his eyes again as he seemed to try and think a bit more again. "Probably around...35 years now, Sam. Why?" he asked, waving a dismissive hand and then clenching it with a flinch. It had been a natural gesture, but he hadn't meant it to be so...casual. Not just because he was showing Vimes how he was actually feeling, but because Vimes was, and had been, his friend. He didn't deserve such a stupid, meaningless gesture now.
"Seems longer. S- Havelock, in all that time, we haven't ever called the other by their first name. And yet we both felt comfortable with each other...I would consider you a friend, sir." Vimes said, grasping the blue-veined, shaking hand. Vetinari's eyes stayed closed.
"Drumknott came in earlier. He'll be back tomorrow with papers for you." Vimes offered almost desperately, and realized that the hand had clenched about his own in pain. He cursed, and went to shout for the doctor when Vetinari's hand relaxed. In fear, Vimes turned to his employer, but he was indeed still breathing.
"No Vimes..." he breathed, voice barely audible. "I can withstand some pain." he murmured. But you're still afraid to die, sir. Vimes thought sadly.
"If it were you, Vimes, and I were here till your last...what would you ask me?" Vetinari breathed, obviously still trying to catch his breath from the spasm. His blind eyes seemed to be searching the room for an answer, anywhere but where Vimes was sitting beside him. And Vimes, after ensuring they were alone, answered.
"Well Sir...ask me in two days time. Gives you a reason to hold on, since I just know you're burning with the desire to find out." he answered. Vetinari's thin smile faltered as another spasm wracked his system, shorter but obviously more painful than the first.
Vimes tightened his grip as the Patrician did the same. As the older, thinner man started to shake, Vimes swallowed and stayed by his side. Vetinari sat there, and Vimes could tell he was getting ready to ask something by the yawning, but comfortable silence that heralded the pair of them contemplating questions and answers.
"Sir?" he prompted automatically, and held back a smile as the patrician gave him a Look and sighed weakly.
"Vimes...could I see you? Once a day, until I die?" he asked, so quiet and polite Vimes barely heard him.
"Sir...I couldn't care less."
Vetinari smiled thinly. "Now, Vimes? I really haven't seen you for ten years."
"Let me shift a bit."
Vimes did so quickly, edging towards the the head of the bed. He slipped into the Patrician's reach, and watched the hands tentatively lift and then pause an inch from his face.
"The glasses, Vimes. I need them off." he whispered, and Vimes removed the framed glass lenses and set them by the ice-water on the bedside table. Vetinari merely closed his eyes, and then started to feel out the face of his only close friend.
"You never have smiled much, have you Sam?" Vetinari whispered, obviously more to himself than to Vimes. Vimes twitched a smile before the hands moved on, gliding over the copper's forehead and brows, his eyes and nose. And then back down to his chin.
"You've grown a beard, Sam? How strange...always thought you the clean-shaven sort."
"Shortly after you lost your sight, Sir. Didn't shave for a week or two, and Sybil liked it." Vimes replied to the very quiet question in the man's voice. The Patrician nodded quietly, then continued on. Vimes flinched when the cool fingers glided over his neck, too easily reminding him of knives or other cold metal objects. Obligingly, and without comment, they moved back up to his ears and hair.
Vetinari leaned back finally, his breath faster thane earlier, though just as shallow. He seemed in a lot of pain, and his nails were digging into the sheets and pillows. Not many would have noticed it, Vimes fancied.
"What color is your hair now? White? It was only graying last I saw."
"Salt-and-pepper sir." After a moment, Sam confided further. "A bit less of it though. I'm sure the Hair-Pulling Murderer five years back something to do with the speed though." he said hastily. Vetinari seemed amused by this minor point of sore pride, but his next words cut off in a choke as another spasm made him twitch, and Vimes took the hand so that the nails stopped digging into the skin of the Patrician's palm.
Shouting for the doctor, he told Lawn to hold the man's hand and then escaped the room. Death hung over the house like a cloud. Behind Young Sam's door, silence reigned, as it should.
It seemed to Vimes, as he slowly walked up the stairs to his room, strange that he would be Vetinari's comfort and companion into the end, the 'final sleep,' as Visit called it*. And while once, perhaps, the thought would have angered or baffled him, now he merely felt saddened that he had to do it. And yet he was glad it was him who Vetinari respected or liked enough to trust his last days and hours to.
When he stepped into his own room, he found his wife weeping.
Ok, maybe it wasn't the right word...crying harshly didn't fit either, but it worked best. Unless you could picture a mountain of iron crumbling because of some rain.
Funny that...He hadn't thought how the loss of Vetinari would affect his wife. He probably should have...Vetinari's Terrier or not, he knew that he wasn't half as astute mentally as the man was even as a boy Young Sam's age. Vetinari had probably thought how it would affect Sybil, and he was dying!
*Visit meant well, everyone knew that, but...well, after so many years, Vimes still didn't have the heart to tell the man that no one in their right mind was as vehement about eternal souls as he was. Then again, the man was now happily married to a lovely lady from Uberwald who seemed happy to debate religion with him all day, when they weren't busy making children**. Who was Vimes to argue sanity?
**They now had, he believed,a total of eight. Three sets of twins, and two sons which were born first. All the rest, for the record, were girls, and Visit seemed a happy and good father, though Vimes knew his daughters were going to be as cynical as Angua in only four more years.
Still, being as good a husband as he could manage to be, he slipped up beside her, draped an arm over her shoulder, and squeezed until her tears slowed a bit.
"He...the city...Sam...the city's never going to work right again! Not without the pair of you to work it together!" she whispered, clinging to him and crying softly. Vimes could only smile weakly and kiss her cheek.
"You're right my love...Moist will do his best, I know, but Vetinari...he's the best ruler this city ever had, and a better one than it has ever deserved. He's requested I stay with him to the end, and I plan to be. I just need some sleep." he murmured.
Sybil nodded. it was still only afternoon...Carrot could run things, if he tried.
He leaned back, and felt her at his back for a bit before she stood and left, leaving him in the darkness of sleep alone. But the shadows were not so welcome as he had thought they were...visions of the city without Vetinari there to rule it ran rampant through his dreams.
Vetinari woke some hours later...it could only be nighttime, based on the silence that covered the house. That, or the it was the calmest afternoon he'd ever heard at the Ramkin estate.
"Sir?" came the hesitant, slightly worried voice of Vimes. The light wasn't on, then...Vimes would have noted the jerk of his bad leg, and the tensing of muscles.
"The light's not on, Sam...the breathing?"
Vimes smiled weakly, and inserted into his voice to try and make it easier for Vetinari. "Yes sir. I am your terrier after all, aren't I? Sleep well?" he asked, his voice lightly smiling at the first part, and sounding only slightly concerned for the latter.
"Well enough, Sam. And yourself? Sybil was in earlier to sit beside me."
Most of their conversations were done in silence. Even now, his silence implied that she'd told him they were both worried for him, scared for him...he had no doubts that what she said was true, but he also knew Vimes felt something else too.
It could be argued Vetinari hadn't been so tender with anyone since he was a teenager, his early twenties certainly. It could be said that, in fact, he was tricking Vimes. But the latter was incorrect. After nearly 40 years of loyalty to the law and, after a time, loyalty to Vetinari himself on principle, Vimes deserved to know how Vetinari often regarded his...he was hesitant to sue the term people called Vimes, which was his terrier, but it fit. Either way, Vimes deserved to know after so long.
"I've slept better, my Lord."
The pair sat in comfortable silence, enjoying the company of the other as much as they could.