bethbethbeth: (Discworld Lilacs (ankh_khpt))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] disc_fest
Author: treemice
Title: People As Places As People
Characters and/or Pairing(s): Vimes/Vetinari (pre-slash), with cameos by Otto Chriek, Carrot, and William de Worde
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 2,004
Possible warnings and/or enticements - highlight to view (may contain spoilers): *Warning for swearing, references to violence, and wangsty cynicism a la Vimes; spoilers for Night Watch.*
Summary: The reopening of the Treacle Mine Road Watch House brings up a lot of uncomfortable memories.
Author's Notes: Set a year after Night Watch. Title comes from the song by Modest Mouse.




It was ten in the morning on the brightest, clearest twenty-fifth of May in recent memory. Birds sang, lilacs+ bloomed, the city’s distinctive stench was curiously muted, and Sam Vimes was struggling not to punch anyone in the face.

“I’m sorry, what was the question?” he asked, squinting in the flare of light from Otto’s damnable iconograph and mentally cursing all vampires and newspaper reporters to several religions’ worth of hell-torture.

The reporter -- some fussy little fellow Vimes hadn't seen before; he must have been with one of the newer papers -- looked a bit put out at having to repeat himself. For a moment Vimes imagined with almost hallucinatory clarity what it would feel like to smash his fist into the man's upturned nose. “Commander, the original Watch House on Treacle Mine Road has played a prominent role in recent Ankh-Morpork history, including a violent street rebellion" -- and he resolutely did not flinch at that -- "some thirty years ago, not to mention the incident with the dragon that finally brought about its closing. How do you feel now that a site of such great historical significance is once again open to serve the public?”

Vimes grinned. How did he feel about it? Well, first of all he didn’t appreciate all this fuss about it being a Historical Site, especially when the people talking about History hadn't even known it was history until, oh, about a year ago. He didn't like the press being here, and he didn't like the fact that he had to answer all these damn fool questions, and he especially didn't like the damn lilac-colored ribbon they'd put across the door, trying to pretty it up like this was some bloody bank or something and erase – again! -- all the work, all the blood and sweat and fear that had seeped into the very foundations of this building –

Vimes realized he'd probably been silent for far too long. The reporter was looking more flustered with every passing second. Several onlookers at the back of the crowd were giggling. Even Carrot had gone silent next to him, probably waiting for the next question to be directed to him.

“I feel like I would really enjoy a cigar right now,” Vimes said cheerfully, thumping Carrot on the back to signal that his part in this ordeal was over. He ducked behind the Captain – ignoring the flash of guilt Carrot’s disapproving expression set twisting in his stomach – and immediately started shoving his way through the crowd. He saw more than a few scandalized faces, but he didn’t let that stop him, just took advantage of the crowd’s surprise to wriggle his way free of the mass of people.

It figured that on his way out he'd run directly into Vetinari. The Patrician cut an imposing figure, tall and somber in his Assassin's black, especially when contrasted with that bumbling fool de Worde and the living (or rather, unliving) caricature of vampirism that was Otto Chriek. Too late to avoid him now, and sure enough as Sam wriggled his way between two watchmen and the Igor they'd hired the previous week the Patrician raised his eyebrows and nodded at him. It was probably just a trick of the light, but Vimes thought he saw a subtle shift in the muscles around Vetinari's eyes and mouth that, in anyone else, would have been considered a smile. Vimes returned the nod, poker-faced.

He'd probably catch hell for this later, but at the moment he didn't care. Just another stunt pulled by Commander Sam Vimes for people like Rust to point at as proof that even if you took the street rat out of the slums, you couldn't turn it into a nobleman.



Of course it was only the Watch House’s official opening that was today. Every watchman worth his or her salt had been in and out of the place for weeks, scoping out all the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of the place, the best places to hide from superior officers, the lockers whose doors didn't squeak. And since Vimes was Vimes and hadn’t quite reached the age where he was okay with the thought of his men knowing tricks he didn't, he knew exactly where the best place to get shade and quiet at this time of day was.

He had honestly been planning to skip out on the whole ordeal, let Carrot handle the press and the fuss, but Vetinari had made a point of bringing it up, in that abstract and flippant manner that meant he really, really suggested Vimes pay attention, in their last meeting, and Sybil had assured him there wouldn't be any celebrations for Young Sam until later in the day and that if he was going to be off work then she could certainly use an extra pair of hands to help with mucking out the dragons. Now, taking the first long drag on his cigar in the soft, hay-smelling darkness of the Watch House stable and scowling so hard his face ached, he couldn't help but wonder if maybe those two events were related.

Smoke curled in the shade of the stable, making the horses – solid, impressive things with shining coats, completely unlike Marilyn – fidget. Vimes automatically shushed them with a few vague noises he’d had a year to practice on Young Sam. He sat on an upturned bucket, making sure to keep his lit cigar a safe distance from any nearby straw, stared into nothing, and tried to dim the red fog of rage in his head.

Historical Site or not, he was unaccountably grateful that the new Treacle Mine Road Watch House looked nothing like the one he'd had burned into his memory for most of his life. He probably wouldn't have lasted nearly as long with the reporters if it had.

There had been no point to answering the reporter's question, because there was no real answer. Words had never been Sam Vimes' strongest point, and he knew that there was nothing he could say that would give the public what it wanted to hear about an occasion like this and still be true. The public didn't want to think about the Watch House's history; they just wanted History. They wanted a newspaper article about Progress and Respecting Our Past and Moving On To A Better Tomorrow. There was no room in all of that for anything that had really happened -- and in any case Vimes didn't feel like sharing.

Decades of living under the burden of seeing his old mentor killed, drinking himself into oblivion, building barricades and fighting wars and fighting memories, passing out in the street at four in the morning, clinging to life with the same bullheaded stubbornness he used to drink away the pain of living...until a dragon had come along and literally burned that part of his life to the ground. Oh, it'd given him something better in return -- a wife, a child, a future that hopefully didn't include bleeding out in a gutter -- but it had also cauterized the memories and replaced the years of screaming pain with a dull ache that in the right light could have passed for nostalgia.

Could have, of course, until a year ago.

What was that saying about the past being a foreign country? In Vimes’ case it was perhaps more true than usual.

Blood, and sweat, and fear...

A draft of air caused the end of Vimes’ cigar to flare a brighter orange, and suddenly Vetinari materialized in a place where Vimes was quite sure he could not have failed to notice the Patrician’s black robes. Vimes gritted his teeth and made a mental note to assassin-proof the place himself at the earliest opportunity. There wasn’t even a door in that direction.

Vetinari stared at the cigar in Vimes' teeth. "I thought you were trying to quit."

Vimes' stomach did a little flip of guilt at the memory of Sybil's quiet begging and his son squirming in his arms. "Trying," he said gruffly.

"Mm," Vetinari hummed in a way he probably thought was enigmatic. Vimes did his best to ignore him, but the tranquility he'd been trying vainly to achieve had completely evaporated. With a sigh, he leaned down and stubbed his cigar out in the dirt, resigning himself to a lecture about his Duties as a Pillar of the Community or whatever else Vetinari felt the need to impress on him this time.

"My, it's been quite a few years," said Vetinari, clasping his hands behind his back. "Is it at all the way you remember it?"

...And just like that, the red fog was back again. Keeping his voice perfectly calm, Vimes fixed his gaze to the left of the Patrician's head and said, "With all due respect, sir, if you think I'm going to apologize, or worse, thank you for all this, you can bugger right the hell off right now."

Vetinari shot him a look that could have taken the paint off Carrot's armor, and Vimes had one long, spine-prickling moment to think oh, I’ve overdone it, it’s the scorpions for me before Vetinari’s face softened and he looked away.

If anything, that was more disturbing.

Vimes knew better than to think he'd hurt the Patrician's feelings (and that was another odd thing, because he couldn't even pinpoint when he had first started thinking of the Patrician as if he had feelings), but the silence nagged at him. From outside came an unenthusiastic smattering of applause. That would be the ribbon, Vimes thought.

"This was never supposed to be a big production," Vimes mumbled after a moment, remembering talk of a statue and screaming in Vetinari's face. He was intensely aware of the Patrician watching him out of the corner of his eye. "I've had enough of those."

Vetinari made a quiet noise of amusement. "To be fair, you have experienced quite a lot of them. Especially for someone who never expected to be more than a street cop in the Night Watch."

"Ha. Right." On impulse, he left off his customary biting 'sir,' and felt another twist of something unidentifiable when Vetinari fixed him with a look of half-pleasure, half-puzzlement. As quickly as the expression appeared it vanished again, and Vetinari spread one long-fingered hand against a column, as if testing the solidity of the structure.

"The bad old days," Vetinari said, and Vimes tensed again when he recognized the Patrician’s lecturing tone. "But, perhaps, not so bad any more. The city tends to have a short memory. Yesterday's tragedy becomes today's headlines becomes tomorrow's comedy act. People die, and their blood keeps the wheels of history oiled and turning." Vetinari paused and looked back at Vimes as if he’d just remembered something important. "You can't blame them."

"What, and you don't?" Vimes snapped. "Ten years ago you were preaching at me about how we're all just wallowing around in our own misery looking for an excuse to stab each other in the back!"

“Yes, well,” said Vetinari serenely, “you have a habit of upsetting my worldview.”

Vimes was having trouble seeing straight. This was all wrong -- he didn’t talk to Vetinari this way; all their conversations took place in veiled insults, not-quite-lies and innuendos, but he couldn’t help thinking that a year ago the Patrician had stood in front of him in the dirt and darkness of a graveyard and called him sergeant. At this time, in this place...maybe the rules didn’t apply.

The air between them felt charged, like the wizards were doing one of their experiments again, like the air up on the top of the Library had felt just before the lightning struck. Vimes felt that if he breathed too hard he could rip open a hole in the world.

“What do you want?” Vimes asked quietly.

Vetinari looked at him for a long, long time, his expression gradually fading into something Vimes recognized as Vetinari's equivalent of a smile. “Tell me about John Keel.”

Date: 2012-08-05 02:00 pm (UTC)
musyc: Silver flute resting diagonally across sheet music (Default)
From: [personal profile] musyc
Ooooh, I bet this is indeed a toughie for Vimes. At least Vetinari knows what's going on in his head.

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