sam_storyteller: (Discworld: Watch)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 08:05 am
Entry tags:

Patterns (Discworld)

Title: Patterns
Rating: PG-13
ote: This falls after The Night Watch in the books and after The Great Morporkian Pastime in my fanfiction timeline.
Summary: Vimes sees patterns in everything.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.

***

He remembered once when he'd been stabbed and would have bled to death if Sergeant Angua hadn't caught up with him and how, as he lay there, he'd found himself taking a very intense interest in the pattern of the carpet. The senses say: we've only got a few minutes, let's record everything, in every detail...
--The Night Watch


Kruso Sledge wasn't like other murderers.

Most other murderers, anyway.

The vast majority of people who kill, if you exclude Assassins, fall into one of two categories: People who kill family, and people who kill by accident. Sad but true.

Vimes had dealt with the first kind. He knew that a person could only take so many beatings before they lashed back, and when they did, it was with the desperate anger of those who know that if they don't win they will die. Usually, they've been afraid for so long that they don't realize how strong they are. Usually it was a woman with a frying pan or a son or daughter with a crossbow who'd said enough is enough.

He almost always had to struggle to feel anything but sympathy for them. He still made an arrest and he still brought them up before the Patrician for sentencing, but it was tough. It made you tough, too. Every copper who'd walked a beat knew that.

He dealt more rarely with the second kind, because usually the person surrendered quietly enough, or botched the cover-up badly. Those were touchy, too, but neither one was as bad as Sledge's sort.

Kruso Sledge killed for fun and profit, but mostly for fun. Profit was an added bonus that allowed him to kill for a living, instead of for a hobby. Up until now, anyhow. Sledge only made one mistake, really. He killed a copper.

That made his very existence a personal insult to Sam Vimes, and he acted accordingly. Every resource the Watch could spare went into finding Sledge, and the Watch, these days, had quite considerable resources. They'd already been tracking him. Now they were tracking, tagging, and harassing him.

Vimes lurked in an alleyway outside of the Blue Rat Tavern, one of Ankh-Morpork's less prestigious drinking establishments. He'd never favored it, himself; too far off the path between the old Treacle Mine Road Watch House and his lodgings. But Sledge did, according to a couple of narkers that Angua had tracked down. Angua took the case personally; he wasn't sure why. Perhaps the same reason he did. At any rate, she'd asked to lead the manhunt, which was why she was on the other side of the street, also watching.

Both of them would have stood out like sore thumbs in the Blue Rat, Vimes because he didn't drink and Angua because, well, she had the sort of figure that stood out anywhere. So they were waiting for Sledge to go in, or come out, or be flushed out by Andre, the head of the undercover division, and two of his fellows.

Carrot was down at the corner, Ping was watching the back door, and Swires was on the wing. If they got him at all, they'd get him tonight. Chasing people was all very well, but it got tiresome after a while. Over the years, the Watch had learned to wait, to set traps.

Vimes saw a light go on in one of the front rooms above the tavern, that the owner sometimes rented out. Maybe -- better than maybe -- this was where Sledge was living.

He saw the light.

He saw the curtains.

He saw the crossbow.

He saw Sledge lean out of the windowsill, and aim it at Angua, who was looking up -- she smelled him, bigods -- but she couldn't see him from that angle. She couldn't see him, but he could shoot her...

He ran.

A normal bolt couldn't kill Angua and it wasn't likely that Sledge had a silver-tipped quarrel; he wasn't the type to think that far ahead. Sledge was an improviser. So, although every urge in his body was to run to the aid of a fellow officer, instead he burst into the Blue Rat and, before anyone could object or even throw a bottle, he darted through the back room and up the stairs. Andre, halfway through buying a pint at the bar, paused in mid-purchase.

Chairs scraped. Several large, burly men stood up.

"Wot the 'ell was that?" the barman asked.

"Was what?" Andre inquired politely. He gave the large men a charming smile, and bolted after his Commander.

He arrived just in time to throw his weight against the door that Vimes was charging towards. Alone, neither man was very large, and probably couldn't have done it, but the combined weight pushed it inwards about a foot.

"Chair under the doorknob," Vimes said. "Get up on the roof, he's got no other way out except the window -- "

"There's another -- " Andre warned.

"Get on the roof, Andre! When you get there, yell down to Carrot and Ping, he may have hit Angua. I'm going back down."

Andre scowled, but Vimes was his Commander, and he obeyed.

Vimes, who had not survived thirty years in the Watch by being impulsive, listened carefully.

He knew there was another floor, he wasn't an idiot. He was hoping Sledge was taking advantage of it. And he wasn't about to announce in a thin-walled hallway where he was going.

There was a quiet, almost a non-noise. Don't listen to the pulse in your ears, don't breathe deeply.

There it was again.

He moved just as silently as the man above him, now attuned enough to hear the little sounds even above Andre's shouts. The gutter rattled outside. Yes, Andre, good boy, go down the pipe, let him think he's safe.

Now what, o great and wise Duke?


He looked up. Sledge was in the hallway up above. You couldn't shoot a crossbow through six-inch timbers or even through two-inch floorboards, they just weren't powerful enough. Which meant that, while Sledge couldn't fire down, Vimes couldn't fire up.

There were men coming up the stairs.

Bugger, bugger, bugger.

Well, the hell with it.

He climbed up the second set of stairs, grabbed hold of the last timber before the roof opened into the next hallway, and swung upwards. At least that way he'd get his knees broken before his skull.

A crossbow bolt whizzed past. Vimes, for whom the world was a dizzying selection of hard surfaces to collide with, kicked straight out. All right. This way is up.

He rolled to his feet and was running before he was fully upright; another crossbow shot went wide. Sledge was standing at the end of the hallway, in the doorway of what looked like an unlit store-room. Vimes hit him full-on, and was rewarded with a sharp pain in his chest that didn't go away when he rolled and untangled his own limbs from Sledge's.

Oh bloody hell, he's stabbed me, he thought, with remarkable clarity. He reached out for Sledge's ankle as the other man got to his feet, clinging for dear life. Sledge kicked and ran.

Vimes pulled himself up, his breathing suddenly labored, the pain spreading through his body like fire. His arms wouldn't hold him; he fell over again, a few inches closer to the window that Sledge had just gone out of. There was shouting in the distance. Very distant, now...

He slumped onto his side, his face inches from a dusty Auriental carpet that covered the few square feet of space not filled with old broken furniture. Might as well wait here as anywhere; didn't sound like they were enjoying themselves too much out in that hallway.

His hands felt like lead. The pain was fading, remarkably fast, and Vimes knew what that meant. He tried to look around for the cowl and scythe, but all he could see was the carpet.

It wasn't like normal carpets; it was woven, rather than hooked. There were little gold threads running through each strand of red yarn that went over one, under the next...one little thread snaking through the whole of the rug, making up barely a fraction of a part of a pattern. But there were patterns in the thread, weren't there? And patterns in those patterns.

His head spun. He should get up; he shouldn't panic. Who was panicked? How could anyone panic when all they were doing was lying on a rug?

"Sir?"

The yarn was red, shot with gold, but the yarn going the other way was a dirty blue color...except where those too were beginning to turn red. Why was that?

A thought dominated his mind.

"We get 'im?" he asked. He thought it was quite a clear question, but there was no answer. Someone shoved him over onto his back, and he moaned in protest.

"Oh, gods -- BUGGY! GET IGOR! NOW!"

Angua. Angua'd been shot too. That must be why there was all this blood. "Don't move," she said, and the sound of her kneeling was like a roar in his ears.

I'm not moving.

I can feel the carpet pattern under my shoulders.


"Sir -- no, don't close your eyes, don't you close your eyes you old bastard -- "

He groaned again. Rudeness to a superior officer. Angua, of all people. For shame.

"We get 'im, Angua?" he tried again, thickly.

"Don't talk, sir. The Yard's not very far away, Igor can be here in no time at all, just don't talk and don't close your eyes!" she snapped, when his eyelids began to droop. He tried to lift a hand. His back arched stiffly, and something warm ran down his chest. Angua's hands held him down, firmly.

"You do that again, sir, and I'll bite you. Don't think I won't," she said. "If it comes to it I will see you undead before I see you die, so you'd better pray that it doesn't."

I'm not going to die, nobody's dying, Angua, it doesn't even hurt.

There were thumps somewhere off in the world, but the world didn't seem to matter much anymore.

***

He woke to pain. Quite a lot of it, really.

Also, an interesting pattern. White. As far as the eye could see. White swirls. How did they do that? On the ceiling, of all places. That can't be a comfortable job, putting the swirls in the plaster on the ceiling. How do they keep them so even?

What's wrong with me?

He recognized the ceiling; it was his ceiling in his room at the Ya --

Except he didn't live at the Yard. He'd moved out*. Years ago. Young Visit had taken his room.

* Well, walked out, really. It isn't actually 'moving' if all you've got is a bundle of clothes and a razor.

He closed his eyes and tried to think, but thought was tediously elusive. What had he been doing? Staring in fascination at a carpet. Then Angua had threatened to bite him. Then the world was a big black blank.

He turned his head. On the table, the contents of his pockets. Keys, a few dollars in change, a book he'd picked up from the Street of Cunning Artificers for Carrot. His badge. His cigar case and the well-worn presentation pocketwatch that they'd given him for his abortive retirement, years ago. His eyes traveled over the last two carefully. If either of them were damaged --

But the watch was chiming an hour; it was probably what had woken him. The little tune was comforting.

"Good morning, Mithter Vimes."

Vimes lifted his right hand, hesitantly, and held up a finger in the vague direction of the voice. "Is that Igor?" he asked. His throat seemed lined with something sticky.

"Yes indeed, thur. Don't try to sit up, you'll pull your stitches. I'll fetch Lady Thybil, if you'd like."

"Am I still alive?"

"Oh yes, sir."

"Am I going to stay that way?"

"It's a good bet."

"And Angua didn't bite me?"

"No, thur."

"Lots of stitches?"

"Not too many, sir."

"Oh," Vimes said faintly. "In that case, yes. Sybil. Please."

The silence was an almost tangible thing, when Igor left the room. It was a wrong silence. This was the Yard; people should be shouting and clanking keys and doing all the rest of the things that contributed to the normal background buzz of a police station. He wondered if someone had died.

Then there was a noise like an explosion downstairs, and he winced. Unconsciousness might have been more attractive.

***

It was hard to tell when an Igor was smiling, usually, but this time there was no mistaking it. Carrot gave him a relieved smile back, his hand convulsively clutching Angua's; Sybil didn't move until Igor'd actually said the words.

"He'th fine. Awake and talking."

The cheer was deafening.

There were about forty people the canteen, give or take; off-duty Watchmen, a few on-duty who were blatantly disobeying orders, Carrot and Angua, Fred and Nobby; Fred's wife and one of his children had come by with food, and to sit up with Sybil, who refused to leave. Detritus was in the corner with some trainees who'd been at the Yard when they brought the Commander back, and who stayed through the night. On Igor's orders, no-one had been allowed to talk, and all normal Watch business was being routed through other stations, where they were watching the clacks nervously for news.

Now, with Igor's words hanging in the air, forty frightened officers let out all that sound at once.

Igor waved a quieting hand, and Detritus thumped a wall with his giant fist, silencing everyone instantly. Sybil brushed past the doctor and up the stairs, while Igor sputtered and lisped his way through an angry reprimand to the officers below.

She let herself into the infirmary room, hastily vacated by corporal Ping, who was doubled-up with Visit down the hall. Sam looked like death warmed over, frozen again, and then kicked around for a while. He turned his head to see her; up until he did that, she wasn't sure Igor was actually telling the truth.

"Hi, Sybil," he said slowly. "Just a flesh wound. Be up and about in no time."

She shook her head. "Flesh wound my foot, Samuel Vimes. You ought to see a mirror."

"You didn't worry, did you?"

"Of course not," she said, and then, because she thought she might cry, she sat down on a chair near the bed, and composed herself.

"Tell me what happened. Someone told you, I know, and if I know Igor he won't tell me anything," said Sam. She waited until she thought she could speak.

"That horrible man had a knife," she said. "Angua found you in the store-room with..." she bit her lip. "Angua saved your life, you know. If she hadn't gotten there in time -- she kept you awake and sent someone for Igor, and he had them take you back to the Yard because Scoone Avenue was too far, and then they couldn't move you...Igor had to do all sorts of things. I don't know what-all. He says you'll be fine."

"That's good."

"How do you feel?"

He turned back to look at the ceiling. "Angua's healing up, then? She was shot too."

"Yes, but Sam -- "

"Did we catch him?"

Sybil looked down at her hands. More than anything, this was what Igor didn't want her to tell him.

"Sort of," she murmured.

"Sort of? You mean we caught a bit of him?" Sam asked. "Or we got close to catching him?"

"Well, Carrot brought him back, but he let one of the other lads do the booking..."

"He got away," Sam said dully.

"No...but...Igor's almost certain he'll be all right, in a few days."

He turned his head to look at her, so sharply that he winced. "What?"

"You have to understand, nobody knew if you were even going to live through the night, and they were scared, Sam. Scared people do stupid things."

"Oh gods. What did they do to him?"

"Not enough," Sybil said fiercely. "I don't care if you think I'm a terrible person for saying it. They ought to have killed him. Carrot and Angua stopped them, or they probably would have."

She saw Sam's face, and stopped, ashamed.

"If it was me last night, and one of mine had been killed, or close to as makes no difference...I don't blame them. Or you," he added, touching her arm for emphasis. His hands were so pale. "But it would have made us no better than him. Worse, because we had him captive."

"That's what Angua said."

"Angua's right."

"She learned it from you."

"I don't know about that. Perhaps. Maybe from Carrot." He rolled, grunting with pain, to face her. "It's all down to patterns," he said tiredly. "Little patterns inside patterns."

"Are you all right, Sam?"

"Just tired," he mumbled. "You set the pattern, see? Angua's a good copper. She follows it. The others'll learn."

"Sam, I don't think..."

"You set the pattern and they follow, if the pattern is right. Good for Carrot. Good for Angua."

His voice trailed off, sleepily, and his eyes closed. She touched his cheek, hesitantly, and brushed hair away from his face. She'd have to find some way to thank Angua. Not that you could, not for something like this. But maybe that debt had already been paid.

Her Sam was a good teacher. One of the best. He'd taught Angua a lot about coppering. Angua, in turn, had taught dozens of others, over time -- like the ones downstairs, who'd stood vigil for their Commander.

Like a gold thread, running through the fabric of the Watch. Sooner or later, the thread becomes the pattern.

END
aunty_marion: Official Aunty Marion (Dragons rule OK)

[personal profile] aunty_marion 2005-09-22 10:30 am (UTC)(link)
*sniff*
bookfanatic: Image: white spider over desert landscape, Source: cover of My Chemical Romance's album Danger Days (Default)

[personal profile] bookfanatic 2005-10-28 04:15 am (UTC)(link)
You've gone and made me cry! Thank you, this was wonderful.
ext_93592: (spider)

[identity profile] tetsubinatu.livejournal.com 2008-09-13 02:01 pm (UTC)(link)
You know the problem with your Discworld stuff is that I am going to start forgetting what is canon, and what isn't. You just write such GOOD Pratchett. Really, really good.

[identity profile] green-grrl.livejournal.com 2008-11-20 03:45 pm (UTC)(link)
I adore Vimes, and this is so perfectly him--finding the confirmation that he really had turned the Ankh-Morpork Watch around. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
true_masquerade: (rose crying)

[personal profile] true_masquerade 2011-04-27 08:17 am (UTC)(link)
Damn you, Sam, you've gone and made me cry. But it was lovely *watery smile*