sam_storyteller: (Discworld: Watch)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 08:10 am

Owed (Discworld)

Title: Owed
Rating: PG-13
Note: This fanfic falls after Night Watch in the books and Patterns in my fanfictional timeline.
Summary: Vimes owes Rosie more than money.
Warnings: None.

Originally published 3.3.03.

Also available at AO3.

***

"Rosie Palm wants to see you. Well, I assume she meant you. 'That ungrateful bastard' was the actual term she used."
"I think I owe her some money," said Vimes, "but I've no idea how much."
"Don't ask me," said Lawn. "She generally names her price up front."
--The Night Watch


Consider Great A'Tuin, ten thousand miles long, which for those keeping track is about the distance between San Francisco and Beijing, if you're traveling via Paris*.

* And who wouldn't want to travel anywhere via Paris?

Yes...a bit larger than your average turtle.

Consider the Disc itself, slightly smaller than A'Tuin but just as mysterious and strange.

Now consider one city, still large enough to hold a million bodies, some of which are trolls and therefore take up quite a lot of room. A million people, all living next to and above and below and occasionally fist-in-face with each other.

And in the middle of it all, one little two-ounce bit of semi-precious metal. Amazing that it doesn't get lost. Amazing that anyone holds onto anything in this city. Two ounces, maybe three inches across? A Watchman's badge. Used to have some clout, maybe. Did have some under Snapcase, at least until Snapcase got the brain-froth and wosshisname took over.

Night Watch Sergeant Sam Vimes was about to expound upon this interesting comparison between ten-thousand-mile-long Great A'Tuin and the three inches, two ounces of copper in Badge number 177, when the bar closed.

Of course he was drunk. It was his day off. The two, in these times, were synonymous. The world made sense through the amber of a Bearhugger's bottle. Or a pint glass. He was loyal, in the sense that Bearhugger's was usually cheapest and so he bought it, but he wasn't picky.

Tonight it had been wossname, whiskey, straight. Wossname Whiskey. There was a hellofaname.

He stumbled up against the hard brick of an alley wall, and laughed. Not the only one drinking tonight. No sir. Lord Vetinari was Patrician and the city was celebrating.

No sir.

Yes sir.

He laughed again. Yes, sir, mister Vetinari, sir. Vetinari. Funny name. One of the old families.

Vimes was an old family. Older than Vetinari. Three hunnert years ol'. Cut off the head of the king. Like to see some ponce named Vetinarry do that. Cut the head off a king. Damn ye alle.

He slid down the wall, slowly, until he was crouched, back against brick, arms around knees. It didn't feel right to be out of un'firm. No chain mail. No protection. Jus' his leather britches and workman's shirt and his badge, which he always carried. His badge. Like his nose. Wasn't wrong or right or good or, wossname, the other thing, just his badge. Like his nose.

He touched his nose with one hand. It was running.

Yer nose runs an' yer feet smell, came the old voice back at him. Who was that, Keel? No. Umm. Knock. The big bully.

Sammy hated bullies. Even as a kid. Took his swing at a bigger boy every time, stead of seeing some little kid get hurt.

Yar, yar, gonna be a copper Sammy Vimes, can't get no other job. Ain't bright enough for nothin' else. Too scrappy to be a tradesman, too stubborn to be a servant, too honest to be a crook.

And now the hot tears, that only ever came after the bottle, and not often even then. Shame and rage, and anger and hatred, all four directed to the self, for being a stupid drunk with no more power than the badge he could hide behind.

The self, because the world was too big to hate, though he would make a spirited attempt.

A shadow at the alley mouth.

"This is far more trouble than it's worth, you know," said the woman who was standing in the moonlight, looking down on him. He turned away, so that she wouldn't see the tears.

"You don' haffa be here."

"No," she replied. "But I promised John Keel."

It was not the first time they'd spoken these words. Not by far. Even if he'd been too drunk to even force his mouth around his lines, she would have said the things she'd said. She reached down and pulled him up effortlessly; she kept in quite good shape.

"This famous letter he lef' you," Sam slurred. "You din...promise him nuffin."

"He asked for my word that I'd keep you safe. He wasn't alive to take it."

"You shuntof give it."

"But I did."

"Din't know how much trouble I was gon' be, didja?" he asked, as she shoved one shoulder into his chest, supporting him.

"Sure didn't," she agreed. "It's too far back to your flat. Come up to mine, it's just down the block."

"I betcha say that ta all the boys."

She laughed. "Just you, Sam. Besides, Keel said I'd get a reward."

"Yeah?"

"Dunno what it is, but I'm looking forward to it."

They walked on in silence for a while -- well, Rosie walking, and dragging Sam -- until he nudged her in the ribs.

"Did'e really?" he asked.

"Yes, he did."

"Din't say what it was gon' be?"

"Nope. Here we are," she added, helping him up a flight of stairs.

"Copper takin' help from a whore, tain't right," he said.

"We prefer Seamstress," she corrected, unlocking the door with one hand while she kept his head level with the other. "And you may call me Madam, thank you very much. Vetinari's already promised us a guild. And not like Snapcase either, you know. He's got the paperwork to back it up."

"Good f'you, Rosie. Good f'you. Guild of Seamstresses. Legal 'tection. Tired of 'resting you."

"You never arrested me, Sam," replied Rosie Palm, as he collapsed on a rug, in a pile of arms and legs. So thin, too thin. Too much whiskey, not enough hot meals. Well, that wasn't Rosie's concern. Her concern was that Sergeant Sam Vimes didn't spend long enough, drunk, on the street, to get killed. She'd made a promise to John Keel.

"Ah, Rosie," he moaned, staring up at the ceiling as she helped him kick off his boots. "I'm a ter'ble copper. Mos' noto...oro...ri...orius woman in th'city, an' on Sarge's beat. An' will he 'rest her? He will not."

"I've always been grateful for that, Sam Vimes," Rosie replied, as she put a kettle on the stove.

"Be 'shamed to arst you. Be 'shamed. All you done. All you done f'r me. Ungrateful. To 'rest you."

"You're damned right," Rosie replied. "Orange or black, Sam?"

"Orange," he replied. "With a shotinnit."

"I think you've had enough for tonight, don't you?"

"Nuffa what?"

"Anything you want more of," answered the Seamstress calmly. "You want to sleep on the couch, or on the bed?"

There was a sudden arm, running its way around her slim waist, and the smell of alcohol near her face.

"S'at an offer, Rosie?" Sam asked, murmuring in her ear. She hadn't even heard him stand; he could be quiet when he wanted. She could feel his whip-thin body, pressing against her own.

"Now, Sam, you don't mean that," she said, pushing him away gently with an elbow. She didn't always help him out; she couldn't, always, but she did when she could. Sam was her responsibility; he was the one charitable thing she attended to in this life, the gods alone knew why. Sometimes people take strange fancies. But he wasn't her man.

"Dontcha like me at all, Rosie?" he asked plaintively.

"What's got into you tonight?" asked Rosie. "Course I like you, Sam. Promise or not, I wouldn't put up with your drunk arse otherwise. D'you think I like having you snore on my rug two days in ten?"

"I could pay," Sam said sulkily. Rosie slapped him, gently. "Not for that. Could pay you back. I did try. Y'keep slippin' it back t'me."

"You'd starve otherwise. Thirty-eight dollars a month, and you give half of it away as it is. It's a crime to make a man live the way you do."

He sat on her couch, in the tasteful, plain flat, and put his face in his hands. "Vet'nari's gon' give you a guild?"

"Well, he says he is. He says guilds are power, in the city."

"Worth a shot. Watch ain't worth mutsh, s'for sure."

Rosie smiled, and poured the tea. "Drink up, Sam. Put some hair on that skinny chest of yours."

"You keep sayin' that."

"Maybe one day it'll be true."

"You ain't never seen my chest. You don't know."

"Drink up anyhow, Sam."

He sipped his tea. Looked at her. Put his head back in his hands.

"I ever tell you...you...you. I ever tell you, this city's a woman?"

Rosie lifted an eyebrow. "Awfully big, smelly woman, Sam."

"Yerss. A bitch," said Sam, with feeling. "Can't stand 'er, can't escape 'er. Love 'er. Can't live wiffout 'er. But she kicks ya inna teef. Pushes ya back. Ya try to love 'er and she sticks annelbow inna gut."

Rosie moved to sit next to him on the couch, took his tea, and ruffled his hair. "You're a strange one, Sam, and no denying."

He nuzzed her neck, affectionately. "Pretty girl, Rosie."

"Now, Sam -- "

But she'd thought it before, hadn't she? Each time she brought Sam home, or took him back to his flat, it was harder not to stay with him; harder because he was charming, and weak, and because he so obviously needed someone to care for him.

"Rosie," he said softly. "You don' do't no more, but if I was t'pay -- "

"Oh, Sam," she interrupted. "Silly boy."

"Not a boy. Sergeant. Big man in the Night Watch. Like bein' president of the loser's club."

"We're neither of us children any more, Sam. You wouldn't have to pay."

She felt him freeze, felt the shock and tension in his body. There, she'd said it.

Now what?

"Couldn't anyway," he said. "Bit too drun' for that an all. I were jus' kiddin', pretty Rosie."

"Sure you were," she whispered. "Go on and sleep, Sam. Sleep it off."

"Why're you a Seamstress, Rosie?" he asked, the same childish curiousity in his voice.

"What else is there?" she replied, feeling his breathing slow even as she said it. "Sam..."

"Mm?"

"Nothing."

"Hf." He breathed out, still leaning on her shoulder, and began to snore.

She stood, let him slump over on the couch, pulled the blanket on the back down over his slumbering form. Kissed his cheek.

"Night, Rosie," he mumbled.

"Night, Sam," she answered.

Once upon a time, she'd been a little romantic, and had wanted to honour a dead man's final request, that she keep an eye on young Sam and make sure he stayed out of trouble. At first she'd done it because of John Keel's letter.

Now, though. Now she did it because Sam needed someone to do it, and it might as well be her. He made sure that she and her girls were safe, and she in return made sure he didn't die a gutter-drunk, victim of an overzealous mugger. It wasn't a perfect friendship, but it was what it was, and she didn't mind his presence on her couch.

Comforting. That's what it was.

***

She woke to the sound of cursing, quiet cursing, Sam Vimes cursing.

"Wossat?" she asked sleepily.

"Where's my boots, Rosie?" came the male voice from the doorway.

"Dunno," she replied, rolling over. "I thought they were by the couch."

"Socks?"

"Sam, if you can't find your own socks, you shouldn't be going yet," she said, sitting up in the bed. She saw his lean shape in the doorway, boots dangling from one hand.

"I'm sober," he said. "Wish I wasn't. Got any drink about the place?"

"No, Sam, you know that," said Rosie. "What time is it?"

"Bout eight in the morning, I guess. Sun's up."

"Don't let it in here."

"Right you are, Rosie. Just let me find my socks and I'll go," he added. She giggled. "What's so funny?"

"Come in and sit down," Rosie offered. He stepped into the bedroom warily; responsibility or not, this was Rosie's territory, not his, and he rarely ventured inside. "I won't bite, Sam."

"Except for extra pay," he supplied.

"Is that any way to treat the woman who keeps you out of trouble?" she asked, as he sat on the edge of the bed. She curled around his warmth, reflexively. "What do you know for sure, Sam Vimes?"

And this was another tradition; she wasn't sure who'd started it. Probably Sam. What do you know for sure?

"World's flat," he answered. "Love's faithless. Stone's hard. Cats are nice."

"You're warm."

"Good blankets."

"My blankets."

"I'm grateful."

"Never said you weren't."

"What's it all about, Rosie?"

"Couldn't say."

They sat in silence for a while.

"You know you drink too much, Sam?" Rosie asked, resting her cheek on his thigh.

"I figure."

"You going to stop?"

"What for? Not like I got a girl to disappoint or a career to ruin. Couldn't wreck my life much more than it already is."

"You've got me, Sam."

"But you don't care. Not really. You just do it for the same reason I'm still a copper. Stupid loyalty."

"Sam?"

"Yes?"

"Take off your trousers."

He blinked, and looked down at her. "What for?"

Rosie began to laugh, uncontrollably. "Only you, Sam," she gasped. "Only you would ask me that."

"Oh..." he nodded. "I can't afford you."

"Did I ask for money?"

"We never...it's not that way for us, Rosie. Is it?" he asked, uncertainly.

"No. But I'd like to be with a man who cares, for once. Nobody cares anymore."

"No, nobody does."

There was a moment of quiet consideration. And the sound of Sam Vimes standing, and the rustle of clothing.

"It's this only, mind," he said slowly. Rosie pulled the blankets back.

"This only," she agreed. "Come to bed, Sam."

***

But it wasn't this only, was it? It was this again. It was this every so often. It was this with Sam Vimes.

He wasn't jealous. Never assumed he was the only man allowed in her bedroom, though he often was. He didn't try to ask her to dinner. Didn't try to make it anything more than a comfort between the pair of them. He simply took her invitation when it was offered, and when it wasn't, slept on her couch without complaint.

Then he made Captain, and Rosie was a big woman in the guild, and it was no time at all, it seemed, before he was suddenly getting married, suddenly the Commander. Rosie didn't begrudge him his wife, his son, or his sobriety; she was head of her guild, she had power and comfort, she was happy. Happy for him, too, because he'd found a woman who could get him off the bottle, who could make him really alive, something that she'd never bothered with.

And then he came back.

It was a simple knock on her door. Her servant showed him up. He was growing older, they both were, and his hair had more grey than black in it now, more grey than when she'd dragged him up out of the gutter to her flat, and served him tea, and occasionally let him into her bed.

"Afternoon, Rosie," he said, hesitantly. She gave him a brilliant smile.

"What brings you to this part of the city, your Grace?" she asked.

"I wish you wouldn't call me that."

"What else should I call you?"

"You used to call me Sam."

"You didn't used to be a Duke, Sam."

He gave her that same damn charming smile. He probably didn't even know he did it. "And you didn't used to be a Mrs., Rosie."

"No, I guess not. Back when you were a drunk and I was a -- "

" -- woman who gave me a warm place to sleep on cold nights," he finished for her. "I didn't come here to harass you, Rosie, you of all people ought to know that."

"Why did you come, Sam?"

He smoothed his hair again, and reached into his breastplate -- rather a better one than he used to have, she noted -- and pulled out a small leather bag.

"You always said John Keel promised you a reward for your helping me," he said, in an embarrassed sort of way. "This...came to my attention, recently."

There was a letter, tucked in the bag, as well as a handful of Ankh-Morpork crowns, antique coins worth perhaps five thousand dollars each. The letter was really just a sheet of parchment, "Rosie Palm" written on it in curly handwriting. She looked at him, but his face was blank; finally, she went to the bookshelf and drew out a yellowing envelope.

"The famous letter," he said.

"Yes," answered Rosie. She compared it to the sheet in the bag. The handwriting matched perfectly. "Where did you find it?"

"Coppers find things," he said, simply.

"How'd he get so much cash?"

"Coppers find things."

She grinned.

"I know you don't really need the money," he continued, "But...it was your right. And it's owed to you. All those times you pulled me out of the alleys and trash piles. You are owed, Rosie."

Rosie smiled, and leaned back in her chair, her fingers drifting over the papers spread on her table, resting briefly on a picture frame. A bright-eyed, dark-haired young boy smiled up out of it, with the same effortless charm of the Commander.

"I've had my compensations," she answered. "This'll go a long way towards Richard's schooling, though."

He gave her a nod. "How's your lad? Going on twelve now, isn't he?"

"Be fourteen in Grune, actually."

"Surprised you haven't sent him to a guild school."

"I tried. He didn't like being an Assassin, said they were faithless predators. He's a bright boy. Can't decide if he wants to be a doctor or a politician. I'm thinking of sending him to Klatch."

"Heard they have good doctors, there."

"That's what they say."

He had never asked who the boy's father was, and she had never volunteered the information. Perhaps he didn't even think of it. Probably he didn't. Richard didn't look enough like him to cause suspicion, except for the smile and something about the eyes. Not even the colour so much as the expression -- as though the world were about to play a magic trick and the boy could see every card up its sleeve.

No, Sam would have asked if he'd wanted to know. If he even thought about it, he'd have asked.

"How's your wife?" Rosie asked. "I heard it was a difficult time for her."

"She's certainly better than she was," he said honestly. "And he's a big healthy boy, is our Sam."

"That's good. I'm glad for you."

"Thank you, Rosie."

And he saluted her, and said good day, and walked on ahead out, back to his family, back to his legitimate son. Away from Rosie, who after all was a Seamstress, who after all had only enjoyed his company, hadn't really loved him. Away from Richard, who smiled like his father.

Rosie sighed, and smiled as well, and touched the sack of coins.

Owed.

No, Sam had paid that debt off long ago. He'd given her Richard. And she might not have loved Sam Vimes, might not have bothered to put up a fight when Sybil Ramkin stole his affections, but she did love his son, his first son, with all her heart.

END

Review and a question.

[identity profile] flutteringazure.livejournal.com 2005-10-27 02:39 pm (UTC)(link)
Ooh, this is always a good story to come back to. It's sweet but sad at the same time and it's so in character :)

Just a question concerning your DW fanfic? I remember reading a story called Mentor, Drumknott/Vetinari, and I think you wrote it but I'm not 100% sure because I cannot find it in this journal? So, did you write it? And if so, where can I find it (is it still online)? I absolutely loved it when I read it the first time and would like to read it again :)

Sincerely,
Nine

Re: Review and a question.

[identity profile] sam-storyteller.livejournal.com 2005-10-28 03:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah yes, Mentor. I'm actually not terribly fond of it, so I decided not to archive it here. :D It's probably still in the Yahoo group archives, but if you'd like a copy you can email me and I'll send it to you -- copperbadge at gmail dot com. :)
true_masquerade: (david tennant smile)

[personal profile] true_masquerade 2011-04-27 08:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Bittersweet, but really nice :-)

... Can't decide if he wants to be a doctor or a politician. I'm thinking of sending him to Klatch."

There are definitely worse people to emulate than Mossy Lawn :-)