Filling the Gap
Blurring the lines between friendship and love, Drumknott tries to find his place in Vetinari's world. Where do the boundaries truly lie?
Lord Vetinari took another glance at his schedule. This was a first.
"Well Drumknott, it appears that my next appointment is with you. You do know that you can talk with me at any time."
"Yes sir," said Drumknott, "but I felt I would not voice this without a proper appointment. I didn't want to be able to avoid it."
"This seems to be an important discussion. Do sit down."
Drumknott fidgeted in the chair while Vetinari finished signing a document.
"Sir, there's been something bothering me lately that I can't really share with anyone else."
"No need for minutiae Drumknott," said Vetinari, checking another paper. "Get to the point."
"Have you ever thought about getting married?"
Vetinari's face froze for a full second.
"What prompted this?"
Drumknott had worked with Vetinari for long enough to know when to keep things to himself. He also could spot misdirection.
"You didn't answer my question. You said no niceties."
Vetinari put down the papers he was browsing and set them aside, giving Drumknott his full attention. It was a courtesy that he rarely extended to anyone.
"I have given it some thought, certainly," he said. "However, I have decided to forgo marriage unless the need arises. I prefer to avoid any unnecessary complications."
Drumknott paused for a moment. For the first time in his life, Vetinari filled the silence himself.
"This is about that librarian isn't it?"
Drumknott nodded. "My sister says that men of my age should think about settling down. Mother wants grandchildren and I want to do this right. I'm not sure what points to consider though. What kinds of things would have to happen that would make marriage inevitable?"
"I believe you are asking the wrong man."
"No, you're the only one I can ask about this," Drumknott countered, pressing through his boss' attempts to dodge the subject. This was an appointment after all. "I tried, but no one could give me an answer that made sense. Everything they said was vague and contradictory. You are the only one I know who will take this seriously and won't use the information against me. Well, without reason that is."
Vetinari leaned back in his chair and let his gaze drift. He knew a lot about the human psyche but never bothered to learn much about its actual practice. It involved far too many fluids for his taste.
"If you insist. A relationship would become dangerous to ignore only if a certain kind of love is involved. It is a rare occurrence but still a possibility to be taken into account."
"How can I tell if I have that kind of love?"
"It can be difficult to pinpoint since there are so many permutations of love, but there are criteria that must be fulfilled as a standard for those that are the most hazardous. If you find yourself in a position where more than half of these are true then I ask you to notify me so I can make proper adjustments. It is best to spot the warning signs early on so as to avoid any unwanted behavior. Be on the lookout for a person of whom your thoughts return to on a daily basis even when the person in question is not present. You would consistently put their needs ahead of yours even when doing so would be inadvisable or interfere with your life. You will feel the need to be close to them and protect them. You'll find pleasure in making them happy regardless of personal toil. You will do irresponsible and reckless things to gain their attention or gratitude. The thought of them dying would be inconceivable. Most important of all, you must feel these symptoms for a significant amount of time with little chance of change. About a year or so might be enough. I may be wrong, but I believe Lady Margolotta's assistant does not fit the requirements for an inescapable love."
Drumknott gave a sigh of relief. He opened his mouth to voice his appreciation but stopped suddenly. His face condensed into an expression of puzzlement.
"You need me to clarify something?" said Vetinari.
"Yes, there is someone who fulfills many of those criteria. I am unsure how to proceed."
"If you have no other confidant then I urge you to consult with me. I may be able to help in some way."
"The thing is that those are similar to my feelings about you."
Vetinari went silent for a whole two seconds this time. He stared into the middle distance with a look of intense concentration on his face.
"Is that so?"
"Yes. Does this mean I feel love towards you?"
Vetinari shrugged. "It is possible. You have shown a great deal of loyalty towards me. However this may or may not be relevant. There are many kinds of love with varying levels of severity. How many requirements do I meet?"
"I think of you and your safety every day. I could not imagine what my life would be like without you as patrician. I do find comfort in your approval and I've been here for years. Many have told me that keeping this job is insane so that may count as recklessness."
"Hmm, that does seem to be cause for alarm when you list them like that. This will have to be addressed. Perhaps a test is in order? I'd like to know the severity of this attachment." Vetinari stood and extended his hand to the seated Drumknott. "How do you feel?"
Drumknott took his boss' hand and paused perplexed.
"I don't know."
"Do you feel the need to push me away?"
"No… should I?"
"This is your opinion. I can't answer that for you, but it would not surprise me if you found this acceptable. You and I have worked together for years now."
Drumknott gave a tiny smile of accomplishment. He had passed the test. The smile disappeared when Vetinari placed his hand on Drumknott's head.
"And now what do you feel?"
"Um, confused sir. You've never touched my head before."
"That was my intention. I need to find the limits of your regard for me. Do you now wish to retreat?"
"Not really. Though I do question this method of investigation. How can touch measure love?"
"It shows acceptance and trust, some of the most obvious components. Tell me when your emotions reject me."
"Reject you? I can't do that. I have to follow your orders."
"That should not be an issue," said Vetinari. He still hadn't removed his hand. "You have superb control over your emotions. Simply use them in a way that best fits the situation i.e. relinquish all control so your feelings have authority to override the rules that your mind follows."
"Is that necessary?"
"Yes. You are nigh indispensible. Your mental health is just as important as your physical wellness. This is not something you can ignore. I will keep record of the results of the tests and we can go over them at the end."
Drumknott seemed to relax a little at the idea of handing over responsibility for the report. He closed his eyes and proceeded to overwrite the permissions on his emotions.
"I feel… strange."
"That is insufficiently specific."
"I feel small and… proud? Embarrassed, but pleased too."
"That makes sense. What about this?
Vetinari put an arm around Drumknott's shoulders and heard him stop breathing.
"Is this your limit? A companion level is hardly worth any concern."
Vetinari's clear gaze shot right through him. Drumknott closed his eyes to avoid seeing them, but he still knew they were there.
"Um… I'm not sure," said the clerk. "I feel uncomfortable, but that might be because we are at different levels. I'd like to minimize variables."
Vetinari motioned for Drumknott to stand up and resumed his one armed touch.
"I feel fine really. Embarrassed but still comfortable. It feels nice I guess, like you're congratulating me?"
Drumknott stifled a sound when Vetinari suddenly hugged him. He started shaking.
"Ah, so this is it then, a friend?" Vetinari deduced. "It's been a long time since I've had someone new think of me as a friend. Lady Sybil fits in this category." Vetinari pulled back. "We can work together as friends as long as you understand that you will not receive special treatment because of it."
"Wait," Drumknott said indecisively. "Do that again, please. You triggered a large amount of emotions. I didn't get a chance to identify all of them."
Vetinari wrapped his arms around Drumknott once again and felt the man shaking. He did not move but waited for his assistant to voice his assessment. It didn't come.
"How do you feel?" he prompted. "This is a boundary. It is perfectly fine to push me away."
"I… I feel like I'm in danger."
"Then perhaps your love is not at a friendship level yet. I should let go."
"No," Drumknott said perplexed. "That's not all. I also feel safe, guilty, and warm."
"Conflicting emotions, that's not a good sign. I'm going to keep this contact. Tell me when to stop."
"But that's a waste of your time."
"You made an appointment remember? This time has been set aside for you already. You will need to stop thinking or the results will be off. This is supposed to simulate a worst case scenario when rational thought disappears."
"That can happen?" asked Drumknott horrified.
"If love is involved, yes, but this is a controlled environment. There's nothing to worry about."
Drumknott relaxed and reciprocated the hug. Vetinari stood there patiently holding him but eventually he broke away.
"Hmm, you're obviously comfortable with a hug. The feeling of danger before may have been an outside influence. Perhaps you go as far as familial love? That could be interesting, inappropriate for work, but acceptable nonetheless. Let me see. My aunt used to do this to me when I was young."
Vetinari scooped up Drumknott like a child.
"You'll have to find your emotions quickly. I can't hold you up that long."
Drumknott searched his feelings. It was becoming easier to do which worked well under the circumstances.
"I feel light."
"I assure you that you are not light."
"I mean I feel carefree, safe, and loved. Awkward, embarrassed and guilty."
"That's… odd. Does it feel intrusive at all?"
Vetinari made an indistinct sound and laid Drumknott on his desk. He placed a hand on his chest.
"And what about now?"
"Why am I lying down?" asked Drumknott.
"It is a position of vulnerability similar to a child being tucked in at night. How do you feel?"
"Um… awkward and a little unsettled, but not enough for me to think of rejecting the contact. I feel safe still."
"More than the love of a son then. Perhaps younger?"
Vetinari pressed down on Drumknott's chest and fixed him with a coldhearted stare.
"Do you reject me?"
"I feel scared and hurt and betrayed, but I don't feel the need to fight you."
"That is to be expected," Vetinari said, glad to have found solid evidence. "Do you feel shame or hopelessness?"
"A little shame, but not hopelessness."
Vetinari was truly baffled now. A very young child would have a desperate and blind loyalty that endured despite opposition, but that usually came with despair, weakness, and a feeling of guilt. Drumknott didn't have that. Vetinari shifted tactics. He slid his hand up to his assistant's neck and filled his eyes with killing intent. Drumknott didn't need to explain what he felt. He had stopped trying to hide his emotions and the pain of betrayal stained his face with tears. His body shook and his breaths grew shorter. A choked gasp came out as Vetinari started to close his hand around Drumknott's throat. He clamped his eyes shut and grasped his arms across his chest but didn't touch the hand that threatened to throttle him. Vetinari slowly stopped his fingers before they became tight enough to hinder Drumknott's breathing, but he kept the pressure. He watched Drumknott cry and shiver below him. It didn't make sense when combined with the other results.
There was no indication that Drumknott thought he deserved this treatment. That ruled out a few choices. Vetinari looked for disappointment and self-doubt but found none. A person who feels responsible for another's actions would question their own abilities when their ward acts out. Drumknott was not playing the part of a mother or mentor.
He became more puzzled when Drumknott dipped his chin to touch his hand. He gradually calmed down as he realized that Vetinari was not squeezing him any further. He was safe, just as he should be. Drumknott inched his hand up his chest until his fingers brushed against Vetinari's skin.
"Forgiveness. Not a captive either…" Vetinari whispered to himself.
That left very few options left, none of which he expected to find in Drumknott. He drew his hand up his clerk's neck to his ear. Drumknott's eyes flickered open and he leaned softly into the touch. Vetinari composed his expression. He leaned over Drumknott and held himself up with his arm. Those grey blue eyes searched him for any hint of deception, but Drumknott had given his emotions free reign and his face was honest. Vetinari leaned down until he touched their foreheads together, still hoping his gut feeling wasn't true, but he couldn't overlook the peace and acceptance in Drumknott's eyes as they slowly closed. Vetinari ran his fingers through his hair and listened to his shallow quick breaths. Drumknott reached up and gently put a hand on the back of the Patrician's neck. Vetinari stared at him.
Drumknott brushed his lips against Vetinari's cheek making his eyes widen in shock. An indirect kiss could be used when meeting a friend after a time of separation or in a moment of victory. This was not that sort of excited kiss. It was soft and indistinct, not so much a kiss as a touch.
Vetinari waited for him to make a suggestive move, to confirm a simple need for release. He didn't. Drumknott only twined his fingers in his hair and nuzzled his face. It wasn't supposed to go like this. Love wasn't something that happened to him. He had always been careful to make certain that no one liked him. Why would…
Vetinari slowly moved one of his hands down Drumknott's chest to his groin. Drumknott shouted in protest and bent his hips out of the way.
"Is this the limit then?" asked Vetinari. "Do you reject me?"
Drumknott whined. This whole ordeal had left him emotionally exhausted, but he couldn't go back to using his rational mind or the spell would break. He wanted so much to believe. He feared returning to reality where this was all meaningless and foolish research. He had to sustain the beautiful illusion or it would be lost forever. He had to continue.
"It just surprised me. I'm okay," he lied.
Drumknott squeezed his eyes further shut and held Vetinari's other hand as he allowed him to touch him again. He flinched and forced himself to believe it was right.
"Wait!" shouted Drumknott as he sharply shrunk from Vetinari's hand. "No, I mean, just wait a moment."
Drumknott kissed Vetinari's lips, flailing desperately for some sort of middle ground. He wanted that contact, to keep the one he loved from leaving. He stalled for time, feigning indecisiveness though every touch terrified him. Even the kiss felt wrong. He didn't want the test to end, but saying no to Vetinari's searching hand would end it. A voice in his heart screamed at him to stop, that this wasn't right. A feral voice lower down growled for more and through the fight his skin crawled in fear that either one would win.
Vetinari removed his hands and would have straightened up if Drumknott had not grasped his shoulders, holding him down.
"No! It's okay! I'm fine!"
"You are far from fine."
"No, it's nothing!"
Vetinari brought his hand up and for a fraction of a second Drumknott feared that he would hit him. He cringed but still held Vetinari's shoulders tightly. He gasped when he felt a thumb glide across his cheek gently. Vetinari held it up so Drumknott could see the tears drip down his wrist. He rubbed his palms over Drumknott's cheeks to remove the salty water. He didn't have to say anything. Drumknott knew he has lost. The test was over. He loosened his grip and let his arms drop in defeat. He turned his head away and tried to reconstruct his rational mind. Vetinari gently moved his chin so to force Drumknott to look at him. The Patrician's eyes were shockingly soft. They were painful to look at.
"You have your data, sir."
After a pause, Vetinari said "not quite."
Drumknott didn't respond. He lowered his feet to the floor, suddenly extremely self-conscious. He didn't want to be here anymore. He didn't want to be anywhere.
Vetinari held out a hand denying him an escape route. Drumknott could feel his master's touch over his heart. He knew that it was beating so hard that he would definitely be able to feel it even through his shirt. Vetinari wiped away the tears that had newly formed on his cheeks. Drumknott leaned into the touch and cursed himself for being too weak to stop it. Then Vetinari pulled him into the same style of platonic hug that he had used as test number four. Drumknott clung to him dampening the cloth on his shoulder and trying to calm down. The Patrician was a very patient man. He could wait. Even in a friendly hug, Vetinari's presence and proximity scared Drumknott, but the thought of not having him was too hard to bear.
"I've realized a flaw in this experiment's procedure that has led to… inconclusive results," Vetinari said. "I think… test four needs more time for consideration. I'd like to use it as a baseline for future hypotheses."
Drumknott smiled weakly, content in knowing that this would not be the last time they touched.