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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 09:15 am

In The Blood, PG-13; 1 of 2.

Note: This fanfiction is moderately AU to the canonical series and does not fit within my Discworld timeline of fanfics. It takes place at some point after Night Watch.
Summary: Sam Vimes's hatred of lycanthropy is suddenly much more personal than he ever expected.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets...
-- T. S. Eliot

Sam Vimes was naked.

This was not as unusual a state of being for him as it had once been; he'd been chased naked through the mountains by werewolves, and recently run naked through the streets of Ankh-Morpork, though admittedly splattered with enough mud and blood and moving fast enough that he was almost sure he'd preserved at least an ounce of decency. He still had nightmares about it, but he'd had nightmares about being naked on the street before this, everyone did, probably even Carrot did, so that was nothing new.

What was unusual about the nakedness, really, was that it was voluntary, in a room at the Watch house, and involving a person other than his wife. In fact, the last person he wanted to see right now was his wife. Especially what with the other woman in the room and all.

He did, it was true, have a sheet wrapped around his waist, for Decency's sake. Angua, who was being quite good about the whole thing, had suggested to him that makeshift clothing was going to be, if not a large part of his future, at least a part that ought to be seriously considered.

"Ready?" she asked him. He nodded nervously. "All right. Don't worry, it's nothing I haven't seen before."

"Very funny," he said. And closed his eyes. And concentrated.

Angua did not allow people to watch her Change. There was a reason for that; it was not a pretty sight. But she made herself watch Vimes as his morphic field suddenly flickered, the sheet fell from a waist that was rapidly changing shape, and a wolf stood where Sam Vimes had been, a minute or two before. There was a surprised whine, then a series of growls. Angua, who spoke Wolf even in human shape, recognized several imaginative cursewords.

***

Some back-tracking is necessary here. Things must be explained.

According to physicists, who I'm sure think they know what they're talking about, in order to explain anything you must explain everything*, but a few basic facts will suffice, because not many physicists want to admit the existence of the Discworld.

* The philosophical phrase 'In order to bake an apple pie you must first invent the universe' is currently under review by the Idiotic Axioms board.

This is a world, a flat world where the water pours off in all directions endlessly into space. It rests on the backs of four enormous, stoic elephants, who themselves stand on the broad, ancient back of Great A'Tuin, who happens to be a turtle. In a world like this, anything can and often does happen, even without Everything happening first.

On an otherwise peaceful day, in the Uberwaldean wilderness, a man is running for his life. They've always said, in his home-town of Ankh-Morpork, that he likes to run. Now that's being put to a most stringent test.

He has a pair of trousers, ancient gloomy things, and an axe; neither are doing him much good in the little rowboat, which is being tracked on either side of a broad river by werewolves, in human and animal form. See the grim fear pass over his face as the waterfall nears?

See the tumbling, painful descent, and the breathless gasping resurface. See a werewolf land on a rock nearby. See it Change? See the way the man pounds its head hard against the rock. Blood in the water.

And one more werewolf. A close cousin of the von Uberwald family; a noble-looking Ramtop Wolfhound, shaggy black hair rippling down in smooth waves. Snow clinging to its legs as it inches its way out on the ice. The pursued goes under; there is a moment of pure peace, before the wolf is knocked off-balance and pulled down to the water by a fighter who's just punched through the ice to get free.

Under the water, they both struggle, but clever, clever Duke Vimes. He surfaces alone.

Wait, go back. Under the water. The struggle. A claw, yes, raking down his side, and the chill seeping into a dozen other small nicks and cuts. But also, a tooth. A single tooth, digging into his shoulder, taking, if not a pound of flesh, then at least a teaspoon.

Later, he'll look in the mirror and see a small, crescent-shaped scar, and wonder where it came from. But not too much. The Duke has many scars.

For six, eight, maybe even ten months, it's just a scar. Until the armies of iron-headed Vimesness finally give in against the poison that has slowly been spreading through his body. Until, one night, he rolls over next to his wife, in the light of the full moon, and Changes.

***

Thank the gods Sybil didn't wake up, Vimes thought. That was the only thing he could think of that would make this situation worse.

He'd managed to somehow gather his wits about him, realize what was going on, and scrabble out of the bed, not to mention the tatters of his pajamas. Once he was out of the moonlight, he'd Changed back, and for a brief moment, it was as though all it had been was a nightmare. Until the shredded nightclothes convinced him otherwise.

He'd very carefully walked around the patch of moonlight, to the window, and shut the drapes. Only then did he sit down at his little writing desk in the bedroom and try to think.

His shoulder throbbed. He looked at it surprise; an old scar had opened, and thin blood was trickling down his chest. He used a rag of the nightclothes to staunch it.

Sybil was still asleep, and he wouldn't wake her; young Sam did that often enough without his father taking part.

He smiled. In the gloom of the bedroom, seeing Sybil under the big quilt, he remembered every reason he'd married her and a couple of reasons he'd only discovered after they were married.

It was easier to think about young Sam and Sybil than it was to think about this. Hadn't he thought it was a miracle that he got out of the Game unscathed? He knew how careful Angua was, never to actually bite the people she apprehended in 'plainclothes'; her family had no such scruples.

But why now?

He very carefully put a hand to the seam between the drapes, where a pencil-thin line of moonlight still shone through. The sudden, horrible feeling of being a man and a wolf at the same time raced through his veins, and he quickly withdrew. For a second, his hand had been a paw.

He couldn't even go outside, he realized. Couldn't go down to Angua's lodgings and wake her up and make her Fix This, because if he stepped outside he would Change, and the thing he most wanted in the world was never, ever to Change again.

He found a spare pair of pajamas and dressed himself, walking into the nursery. He saw with relief that the drapes were closed here. Sam was awake, not crying but making little sniffly noises and tangling his legs in his blanket. Vimes lifted him out, blanket and all, and went to the easy chair in the corner.

"Now then, young Sam," he said, selecting a book from the pile nearby. Sybil said it was good to read to him, even if he still couldn't differentiate between baby food and upholstery. Vimes thought most of the books insulted his son's intelligence, but he liked a few of them. This one, already tattered and well-thumbed, was his favorite, and he suspected it was Sam's, too. It helped calm the sudden nervousness that was tingling in every corner of his body.

Oddly enough, it was written by a troll. Well, dictated by a troll, since trollish writing tended to be two-foot charcoal on stone.

"And To Think That I Saw It On Chrononhotonthologos Street," he read. "By Dr. Sluice."

When Sybil woke to an empty bed in the morning, she assumed Sam had gone off to work; she smiled as she wandered into the nursery and saw her husband asleep in the big chair, with young Sam cradled against his chest and a book, obviously slipped from tired fingers, on the floor nearby.

Sam protested sleepily when she took their son from him, and put the baby back in his crib; by the time she'd settled his blanket around him, her husband had woken fully, and was putting the book away with the embarrassed air of a man who's been caught doing something unusually sweet.

"You should have woken me," she chided, as he stumbled into the bathroom and began to wash. His reply was muffled by the water, but she understood it to mean that he thought she was up in the night far too often as it was.

"Don't fall asleep on the job today," she said, giving him a kiss just above his cheek, as he shaved. He nodded, and nearly nicked himself. "And I'd like you to have a word with Angua," she added. He went very still, razor poised just above his lips. "She promised to give me the name of her dressmaker."

"Course," he mumbled, washing away the last of the soap. "I'll see to it."

"There's a dear," Sybil said. "Now run on and get dressed."

***

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...


***

The Watch, in recent years, had seemingly swelled, like a cat, to fill any container it was packed into; there were at least a dozen watch houses in various parts of the city. Some were larger, some were barely more than a room or two and a couple of desks. Each had at least one Sergeant and one corporal, and many had more.

There were a lot of Sergeants in the Watch.

Angua, however, was one degree above Sergeant; she was a Sergeant at the Yard, where the Commander tended to keep his best officers. With the greater prestige, there was a price, of course. Every woman in the Watch looked to Angua to see how to act, because she'd Made It. Even the other female Sergeants* followed her example. So she made sure to always be on-time, in a decent clean uniform, and tried very hard to be polite. Her success in this arena was sometimes limited, but on the other hand, there were always going to be times when a woman had to be impolite to get noticed. The Watch might not be an old boys' club anymore, but they'd only just taken the No Girls Allowed sign off the treehouse.

* All two of them, but then, Mister Vimes was only in favor of affirmative hiring, and did not promote people based on species or gender, but rather that rarest of all things for any ethnic group, competence.

She was waiting in the canteen for Carrot and Commander Vimes to arrive for the Monday morning meeting, and working on a puzzle in the Times. It was really quite ingenious. They gave you a clue on the left side, and you had to fit the answer into the little white boxes on the right. Carrot had wrinkled his forehead and asked how everyone always made all the words fit together. Angua was blowed if she knew, but she'd heard William de Worde was mad for the things.

Apparently they were called crosswords, because they made people cross.

ACROSS 3: Dwarvish song, 1978 hit.

Four letters.

Angua thought carefully, and then even more carefully, trying to hide a grin, wrote 'G O L D'.

DOWN 4: Duke's Nickname.

She frowned. Any Duke? A specific Duke? There weren't more than two or three in Ankh-Morpork; Mister Vimes, of course, and the Duke of Eorle...

Twelve letters. Starts with O; tenth letter A.

O L D S T O N E F A C E.

Which gave her the first letter of ACROSS 12, Commonly heard street salutation, nine letters, S T O P T H I E F.

ACROSS 8: Forbidden by Patrician. Five letters. Well, that was easy. M I M --

"Good morning, Angua!"

She looked up from the crossword and greeted Carrot and Mister Vimes with a cheerful salute. Vimes, who never needed a crossword as an excuse, jerked his head at the stairs, and she obediently followed.

"Carrot tells me we've got gnolls," said the Commander, as he dropped into his chair and drummed his fingers on the desk. Carrot and Angua stood to attention.

"S'right sir," Carrot said. "They're good little blokes, but they get excited when we bring down the buckets with the cleanings from the pigeon cages, and poor lance-constable Blenton had to have three baths after they were done with him."

Angua detected a note of preoccupation from the Commander. She'd seen him do this to Lady Sybil. He very calmly and competently held one conversation while having an entirely different meeting in his head.

"We'll sort it out. Have Swires tell them they're to wait until the buckets are put down, and if they don't, we'll arrest 'em for assault and make them bathe."

"Gosh," Carrot said. "You'd really do that?"

"Hm?" Vimes asked, looking up at him. "Oh. Yes. Well, perhaps. Hm. Quite. And this Muntab question. Likely to get answered anytime soon? We got any ethnic Muntab...Muntabian?"

"Muntabi," said Angua.

"Got any Muntabi-food restaraunts in the city?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Then we can't have too many of them about, and I won't worry about Muntab."

Angua became aware that she was tense. Her senses were ratcheting up a notch. As Carrot and Vimes continued to talk, she looked covertly around the office, trying to discover why. There was a funny smell --

No, not a funny smell. Not very funny at all, actually.

It was the Commander; not just the anxiety that was pouring off of him now that she came to notice it, but his own personal scent.

Carrot, to Angua's pleasure, always smelled like armour polish and soap and, in a way she couldn't quite define, honesty. Carrot's smell was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. Most of the Watch smelled like sweat and polish and a sort of stubborn determination, which was less like a warm blanket and more like a frontal nasal assault, at least in wolf form.

Mister Vimes smelled, not entirely unpleasantly, like cigars, and just a little like Lady Sybil, and leather oil, and sort of like brass, which also smelled like anger; his scent was far more complicated than Carrot's. Also, just recently, there was a hint of baby powder, but he couldn't help that.

And now...

She came back to the conversation quickly, because she saw he'd been watching her. And she suddenly realized that he could smell her, too.

Oh gods, we've got to get Carrot out of the office. Oh gods. Oh gods oh gods oh gods...


Then she discovered that she was panicking, and Vimes was apparently -- outwardly -- calm.

"That's all, Carrot, I think," he said. "I'll want the next month's shift rotas by Wednesday."

"Last Wednesday, sir," Carrot said reproachfully. "Second stack to your left, about half an inch down."

Vimes lifted up an apparently random pile of paper, and pulled out two battered folders. He coughed.

"Then I'll have them back to you by Wednesday," he said. "All right, run along then."

Carrot saluted and turned to go. Angua made pretence; she was stopping almost before she heard his voice.

"Sergeant, if you'd stay behind a minute...Sybil wanted me to have a word with you..."

"Of course, sir -- the dressmaker, right?" Angua was shocked at how easily the lie rose to her lips, but she shouldn't have been. Lying was a part of being a werewolf...

She shut the door behind Carrot, and listened carefully until he was at the bottom of the stairs.

"What's going on?" she asked, in a hiss. He covered his eyes with one hand.

"You smell it," he said.

"Of course I smell it! I'd have to be dead not to smell it! When did it happen?"

"I don't know!" said Vimes.

"Was it Whiskers Mack? Or Barking Mad Barker, he wouldn't stop at biting a Watchman -- "

"No, I don't -- it wasn't any of them! I wasn't bitten!"

"You must have been."

"I think I'd know if a werewolf bit me, wouldn't I?"

Angua sat, heavily. "You don't know?"

"Not a clue," he answered.

"Last night was the first full-moon night of the month. Did you...did you Change?"

"In bed, no less."

Angua winced. Been there, done that, bought the flea collar.

"I roll over, I wake up, and hey presto, look at that, four legs," Vimes said. "Gods, I need a drink."

It was something that Angua knew he often thought; to say it aloud, he must really be desperate. She saw his hand go inside his breastplate for his cigar case, and then he sighed, and pulled out a paper packet.

"My cigar case is silver," he said. "I couldn't even pick it up this morning. I put it in my sock drawer with a handkerchief so that Sybil wouldn't know. And then there's this."

He stood and fumbled in a special pocket in his britches, carefully removing his truncheon of office.

"Rosewood and Llamedos silver," he said, dully. "A fine piece of work."

He set it on the desk. The little silver plate gleamed. Both of them regarded it as they might have done a firework rocket. Angua's brain began to work overtime while Vimes lit a cigar from the packet, and rubbed his jaw worriedly.

"You obviously got back, though," she said. "Well done there. Not everyone can, you know. I know people who spend three days out of the month without Changing back to human."

"That's pretty chilly comfort, Sergeant. A person doesn't just spontaneously turn into a werewolf, you know!"

"Keep your voice down, do you want the whole Yard to know?" she hissed. He subsided.

"But it's true. They don't," he said sullenly.

"Well..."

He looked at her. "Well what?"

"Sometimes it...it takes a while to catch. Sort of," she said uncomfortably.

"To catch? Like it was the flu?"

"No..."

"Angua, bloody damnation, tell me what you know."

"You said you weren't bitten!" she burst out. "When we were in Uberwald I said sir, are you sure none of them bit you, and you said yes, anyone who got close enough got their skulls bashed in before they could. So I didn't think I needed to bring it up."

She saw him grip his right shoulder, impulsively. He undid one buckle on his breastplate, and pulled the collar and chain-mail down. A livid red crescent stood out on his skin.

"It started bleeding last night," he growled. "I don't know where it came from. Could have got it fighting up in Uberwald."

"Might have been a tooth," said Angua softly. "It doesn't take any more than that, you know. And if it was just a tooth...you've got a very strong grip on your morphic field, sir. It might have taken this long to have any effect."

"Well, it can stop having an effect right now! I want my morphic field back! Oh my gods," he said suddenly, staring at his cigar. "Do they always smell like that?"

"I don't mind it. It's part of your scent, like Carrot and soap." She looked at him for a minute, her lips twitching. "Just you wait till you run into Nobby."

"With all due respect for your species, Sergeant, I can't believe this is happening."

"Well, it's not all bad. Gives you another point of view, sort of thing," she said. "And you only have to Change in full moonlight."

"I don't want to Change at all!"

"Oh, I wouldn't do that, sir. If you never Change, then you end up being forced to. It's not as though you can just keep out of the moonlight three days a month. It's like...well, it's sort of like never going to the bathroom. Sooner or later -- "

"Yes, thank you, I get the idea." He pinched the bridge of his nose, another sign that he was having a Bad Day. Angua could relate. "Listen, I need your help with this."

Hence the nakedness.

***

They'd found an empty store-room in the attic of the Yard, and Vimes had stripped down, and Changed; Angua was impressed with his self- control. But then, this was Mister Vimes, who had a very big internal beast on a very short leash, and was used to existing with anger -- indeed, there were people who'd posited that without anger, he wouldn't actually exist at all. He wasn't well-known for his self-control, but then not everybody knew just how much self he had to control in the first place.

Probably wouldn't even chase chickens, Angua thought resentfully. He was looking up at her.

"What do I do now?" he asked. He seemed surprised when the words coming out of his mouth weren't Human.

"Don't look in a mirror, whatever you do," she replied.

One tended to forget, because he was the Commander and a Duke and had enough attitude for both, that Sam Vimes was not a particularly frightening person, physically. He wasn't short, exactly, but he looked taller than he was, being a thin, wiry sort of man. He had sinews rather than muscles. And, although Angua hadn't noticed it at the time, you could see quite a few of his ribs, under his shirt.

He had scars, the most notable one across his face, but plenty of others as well. Any clothing he wore for any amount of time was soon a textbook example of Rumpled. And even as a human his hair was scruffy, and you couldn't really call his face handsome. Too much jaw, eyes too deep, nose just a hair's breadth too common. But you didn't notice any of that, because his personality overwhelmed it. A cynical, hard-edged personality, like a dull knife across the psyche.

All this translated into the strangest-looking wolf she'd ever seen.

He was whip thin, with a tail that looked like it'd been chewed by something, possibly a piece of farm equipment. You could still see his ribs, because his black fur, fading to grey, was short and, yes, still scruffy, sticking out at odd angles. There were lighter patches, too, covering scars, and white around the muzzle. He had one ear that flopped over, and one that stood upright; both had chunks missing. The scar across his right eye was a bare patch of skin, angling obliquely from just below his ear to almost the tip of his nose, which was black, with a pink blotch.

Oh, there was no doubt he was a wolf. He had a rangy, wild look to him, like Gavin and Wolfgang. But there was also the intimation that somewhere, deep in his ancestry, had been a bit of somebody's leg.

She covered her mouth with a hand. "You'd better change back," she said, aware that she was barking at her commanding officer. "I won't look."

"How very kind of you."

She had to hand it to him. Even as a wolf, he managed to sound sarcastic.

"You have to tell Lady Sybil, sir, you know that, don't you?" Angua asked, making good on her promise not to watch the Commander as he struggled back into his clothing. When she heard the buckles snap on his armour, she turned to meet his eyes. "You have to tell her, sir."

"Why?"

"Because it's something a person wants to know about their spouse! It's not like a...like a bunion, sir. You'd want to know if Lady Sybil was spending three nights a month with four legs and a tail, wouldn't you? It affects her. And young Sam. And Carrot, for that matter. You won't be able to hide it from him. I couldn't."

"I don't intend to. There must be a way to stop this. It's madness." He saw her look, and sighed. "Listen, you know you're the exception to the rule, Angua. You're a good officer and I will admit, under duress, that perhaps not all werewolves are nutters like..." he trailed off.

"Wolfgang, sir. It's all right. If you hadn't killed him, I would have."

"Right. But that doesn't mean I want to be one. I have enough problems to deal with."

"You're preaching to the choir, sir," she said, as they walked down the hallway, and descended to the next level, where many of the Yard's regular officers had quarters. Carrot lived here; Angua technically lived at Mrs. Cake's, but in reality she rarely spent any time there. "It's not easy."

"There must be a way," he repeated stubbornly, leading her down again to his office. Angua, seeing his nameplate on his desk, came to a sudden understanding.

There was nothing her Commander had ever put his mind to and been disappointed in.

True, this was because he rarely misplaced his own specific brand of zeal on hopeless tasks, but he was also remarkable for getting his own way. He'd successfully drowned his misery in alcohol until he'd come up against the bottle, and then he'd kicked it -- going on six years now, and he was rightfully proud of that. He'd helped prevent a war. He'd arrested a dragon. He'd taken on Wolfgang without a second thought.

Well, probably with lots of second thoughts, but without any actual hesitation.

It wasn't that Mister Vimes was a hero, particularly, but he was a stubborn, bloody-minded bastard who would give you hell until he dropped but would never, ever give in. And now he was up against something that was as inevitable as Nature and twice as frightening.

"How many werewolves are in the city now, Angua?" he asked. She pursed her lips.

"Maybe a hundred, mostly family types. Born and bred to the paw, as it were," she said. "Werewolves like...well, like you...maybe five. Sad cases, usually."

He gave her a dry look.

"We can't round them up, can we? That'd be trouble for all concerned," he said musingly. "How does one go about talking to a werewolf?"

"One doesn't, generally, unless they want to be talked to," she said. "There's always...well, 'plainclothes'..."

She saw the Commander open his mouth, and was saved by a brisk knock at the door. He pointed to her. "We're not done. Come in!" he called.

"Sam, Havelock sent a boy down to the house, he says you've missed your meeting entirely, and you left a mess -- oh, hello Angua, good to see you -- an absolute mess in the bedroom this morning."

Sybil was a good woman. She was a kind woman. But when she was on the track of something, she could be like a force of nature. She held out a scrap of cloth, stained with blood.

"I found this at the writing desk, and the laundry girl says that your pajamas were torn to shreds. Did you get into some kind of scrap in the middle of the night, in your bedclothes?" Sybil asked. Sam accepted the rag, slowly.

It was a pair Sybil had given him, blue cotton with white pinstripes. He'd rather liked it. Angua cleared her throat meaningfully.

"Bit of an accident," he mumbled. "Angua, would you go clacks his Lordship -- "

"I'm not going anywhere until you tell her," said Angua.

"Sergeant -- "

"I mean it, sir!"

"Tell me what, Sam?" Sybil asked.

"Tell her!" Angua said, and suddenly both Vimes and his wife noticed that she was near tears. Sybil gave him a dark look, and went to her. "If you don't, I will," Angua continued.

"Are you all right, Angua?" asked Sybil. "Sam, what's going on?"

"It's fine, Angua," said Vimes. "I'm telling her. Sybil, listen to me for a minute, all right?"

Sybil had the look of a woman expecting to hear something she desperately doesn't want to actually know. It occurred to him that perhaps she thought he and Angua -- oh dear...

He stood and crossed to Sybil, putting his hands on his hips and looking down at his boots, trying to discover how to say it properly.

"I'm a werewolf," he said.

He was almost sure that wasn't the proper way to say it in any possible universe.

"A what?" Sybil asked.

"A werewolf. It's all very...involved," he said, making vague shapes with his hands in the air. "It's just happened."

The look from before was gone; now Sybil had the look of a woman who had expected one thing and gotten something so entirely different that she was at a loss for what to think.

"Did Angua bite you?" she asked, looking from one to the other. He shook his head, and touched Angua's shoulder.

"You should go clacks his Lordship," he said gently. "Tell him I've had a sudden illness."

"Yes, sir," Angua said, the relief clear on her face. He could imagine why; no-one likes to see someone just like them lying about it. When she was gone, Sybil took her seat, thoughtfully.

"It wasn't Angua," he said, leaning against his desk. "We...that is, Angua, who knows a bit more about this sort of thing than I do...Angua thinks maybe when we were in Uberwald, one of the wolves might have nicked me."

For the second time that day, he bared the scar; Sybil winced when she saw the angry red colour.

"Tell me what you know," she said quietly.

"It isn't much," he said, suddenly nervous. When Sybil got quiet like that, it was usually because she was preparing to be quite loud. He'd only really ever seen that two or three times, and never, thank the gods, aimed at him.

"Tell me anyway, Sam." She touched his hand. "It does you good to talk," she said. He gave a little, oh dear, a bark of laughter. And told her.

***

Oh, do not ask "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.


***

Sybil, it had to be said, took it rather better than Carrot. She merely looked concerned, and patted her husband's hand, and told him it would be all right. She said they'd never have to worry about young Sam wanting a pet. It was Sybil's way, he knew, of trying to take him out of himself.

She agreed with Angua that Carrot ought to be told; Vimes wondered how many times he was going to have to repeat it.

Hi, my name is Sam, and I'm a werewolf...

Hi, Sam...


Carrot, when told, looked as Vimes always imagined he'd looked when his father took him aside and explained that the reason Carrot was three times taller than anyone else in the mine was because he wasn't, strictly speaking, a dwarf. It was the way his eyebrows knitted together and his honest bright eyes roamed from Angua to his Commander to Lady Sybil and back. You could see the gears turning slowly in his head.

If he said he was sorry to hear about the Commander's predicament, he'd hurt Angua no end. But he obviously couldn't congratulate him. Finally, he settled on a safe topic, something that probably really was a concern for him.

"Will you be leaving the Watch, sir?" he asked. Vimes shook his head.

"If Angua can do it, I can do it."

Carrot looked dubious. "Well, but Angua's sort of...grown up with it."

"It's three nights a month. And I don't intend it to be for long," he snapped. "If there's a way to do it, there's a way to undo it."

"That's taking a lot on faith, sir," Carrot said slowly.

"Then let's find some fact to back it up," said Vimes.

Angua caught Carrot's eye. Spend long enough as a copper, and you treat everything like a crime. He'd already thought of finding witnesses.

They recognized the signs. The Commander was winding up. He did it at the start of most cases he handled personally. Lady Sybil recognized it too. She stood, and kissed her husband on the cheek. "I'll see you tonight," she said.

"I'll be home before sundown," he replied.

Which was true, in a manner of speaking.

***

Sam Vimes would be the first to admit that he was not the most brilliant thinker on the Disc. He wasn't the most well-educated, either, though in the years since his promotion to Commander he'd managed to improve himself in a number of areas*. He'd read Tactitus; admittedly, only because here was a man just as cynical as himself, who'd conquered most of the Disc in his time. Vimes knew the city as well as anyone did, except for Carrot, whose knowledge of the streets and alleys was borderline obsessive.

* For example, if you wanted a succint historical summary of the city, Vimes was your man. It might not be objective and might occasionally be inaccurate, but nobody could sum it up quite like the Duke. Pithy was what it was. Liberally sprinkled with interesting personal remarks generally inappropriate for small children.

Despite this lack of genius, or perhaps because of it, he'd developed a method of investigation that had become standard Watch procedure. It consisted, more or less, of an organised system of asking every possible question about everything ever. Physicists would be in happy tears over Vimes' methodology.

He sent Carrot up to the Patrician's Palace to handle things with Vetinari; a clacks went up to the Ankh-Morpork embassy in Bonk, from the Watch's Igor to his uncle Igor, who served at the embassy, asking if he could look around for solutions to little problems like this. Igor also tried subtly pumping Reg Shoe for any information the Office of Undead Rights might have about it.

Vimes himself went up to the University. Normally he walked the streets when he wanted to think, but at the moment he got nervous every time a dog ambled past. He hurried down the alleys leading to the University like a fugitive. The Library would be a nice, quiet place to do some thinking and incidentally ask a couple of questions.

The Librarian of Unseen University had been an orangotan for, well, as long as Vimes had known him. He'd been deputised years ago, and was far more good-natured about the Watch than most human residents of the city. He chattered excitedly when the Commander walked into the great open atrium of the Library, under a newly-constructed dome, which was a replacement for the one Vimes had fallen through a few months previously.

The Librarian thumped around the circulation desk and threw the sort of enthusiastic salute only attainable by a creature with four-foot arms. It lasted about six seconds before he wrinkled his nose, did a comically dramatic double-take, and pointed.

"That's not polite, you know," Vimes sighed.

"Eek!"

"Thank you, not one person has been kind enough today to point out to me that I smell like a wolf."

"Ook. Ook ook..."

"I'd love a book on werewolves. Yes, that would make my life complete."

The Librarian, who understood sarcasm and even occasionally employed it, was impervious to it in others. He knuckled off towards the stacks, the Commander following behind. They wandered through the more mundane books, the ones that merely rustled on the shelves; when they reached the point where there was an occasional chain running across the spines, Vimes began to get nervous. Finally they ended in a dark, dim corner made by two shelves meeting, and the Librarian deftly swung himself up to the top, a good two metres above Vimes' head.

"Ook," he said. Vimes caught the book deftly when it fell. The Librarian looked approving. He liked it when people respected books.

"Anatomyie of Uberwald Magicks," he read. "This isn't going to bite me, is it?"

The Librarian shook his head, and swung back down. He took Vimes' hand and led him back the way they'd come, carefully following what Vimes now realized was a chalk mark he'd been making to keep track of where he was. It's very important, in a magical library, to pay attention to where you're going, lest you wind up where you've been, or where you oughtn't to be*.

* Such as a coffin in the ground.

When they reached the front desk, the Librarian held out an imperious hand. Vimes looked at it, confused for a minute, and then reached into his back pocket. A sad little paper library card labelled "Community Borrower" was presented. He might be His Grace, Sir Samuel, Mister Vimes, or Old Stoneface in any other part of the city, but in the Library, which was after all a University institution, he was just Samuel Vimes, Community Borrower. It was nice, in a way.

The Librarian ceremonially noted the name on the card, wrote it on the slip of paper in a pocket in the back of the book, filed the slip, and enthusiastically stamped the due date on another slip glued into the book's cover. Vimes accepted the library card, the book, and an admonitory "Ook!" about late return fees with good grace. He probably deserved it; the Librarian had been very stern when he'd returned his last book with a broken spine and foxed pages. The fact that the book had been through a war in Klatch was immaterial to the implacable ape.

Vimes, trailing cigar smoke thoughtfully, opened the book when he was about five minutes from the Yard, and sighed.

It was in Uberwaldean.

He thought about returning it, but of course he knew people from Uberwald, didn't he? Angua, Cheery and Igor, and Otto Chriek down at the Times office. Knowing Carrot, he probably spoke it by now, too.

He let himself into the Yard through a side door, and lurked his way down to the basement, where Igor and Cheery were sharing workspace these days.

"Good afternoon, sir," Igor said, looking up from his work, which it was always best not to examine too closely. "Nothing from uncle Igor yet. Any newth on the library front?"

"Not sure," Vimes answered curtly. "See what you can make of this." He tossed the book on the table.

"Well, I could make a paperweight out of it, or maybe a leaf preth -- " Igor saw his Commander's look. "Right you are, sir." He picked up the book and thumbed through it. Nobody could thumb like Igor; it was probably the fact that he had three of them. Five, if you counted the two growing in the planters behind his desk.

"Interesting," he muttered. "I'll have to read through it. Get you a report on it tomorrow."

"Right, then, carry on," Vimes said. "I'm off. If you find anything sooner, bring it up to the house with you, all right?"

He acknowledged Igor's salute* and slouched up the stairs. Nobody bothered him as he left the Yard and began the walk home; either word had gotten out -- which, despite his officers' discretion, would not be unlikely -- or it was just another day in the Watch, and everyone was too busy to notice. He rather hoped it was the latter.

* Almost as interesting as the Librarian's, and a fascinating procedure for a man with six fingers and no apparent brow-line.

***

Vimes would rather have died than admit it, but like most coppers he carried an iconograph tucked in the inside lip of his helmet. Carrot had carried a diagram of a particularly interesting mine shaft until he got an icono of Angua. As far as Vimes knew, Angua probably had one of the Captain. No-one had ever inspected Nobby's, but Fred Colon had one of his kids and his new granddaughter. Cheery had a couple of fashion iconographs from the newspaper in hers.

He'd kept an icono of Sybil, until Sam was born, and then replaced it with one of the both of them. It caught his eye when he hung up the helmet on its peg. He decided that he would, for once in his life, ignore the problem at hand.

Easier said than done.

He brooded on it as he put his head into the nursery to check on his sleeping son; as he wandered down to the dragon house to see how the hatchlings were doing; as he hurried back up to the house before sunset; as he ate dinner with Sybil. He brooded on it while they talked of other things, his mind only half in the conversation. Sybil didn't seem to mind. She was a better woman than he probably deserved, he thought, when he saw the worry in her face.

They were just walking into the library -- which had heavy curtains good for keeping out the moonlight -- when Wilikins appeared at Vimes' elbow.

"Sergeant Angua to see you, sir," he said. A golden wolf lurked just behind him. Only Wilikins could make this seem normal.

"Ah." He glanced at Sybil, who shook her head and smiled.

"I think you'd better go with Angua, Sam," said Sybil. "It's better this way."

"I could stay -- one night won't hurt -- "

"Have a good night, dear," she said firmly, and kissed his cheek. He sighed, and turned to Wilikins.

"All right, Wilikins, here's where the famous butlerly discretion comes into play. I want you to leave a fresh change of clothes in the old scullery and tell the servants they're to keep out. I won't be back until late."

"Of course, sir," Wilikins, the perfect butler, seemed to understand without actually knowing anything. Vimes gave him a curt nod and followed Angua down the hallway. She sat and turned away as he undressed carefully, and Changed.

"I was going to have a nice night at home, you know," he growled, as they trotted out onto the mansion's grounds. "What's going on?"

"Thought I'd..." Angua had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, sir, you ought to talk to some of the others, and I thought it'd be... you know...good to get out on the street. Word's all over town about you -- nobody knows who you are, but it's a small community. They've smelled the new wolf. If you don't go to them, they'll track you down and find you out."

"Just what I need. All right then, where are we going?" asked Vimes, looking around him. Well, not looking, really. The world, visually, faded into a wash of whites and greys. But the smells, oh, the smells. Like coloured fire, everywhere. And with four feet, you could really feel the street. Ankh-Morpork was the same old city, but wonderfully new.

Angua, who was no longer a shaggy, golden wolfhound but a cloud of ochre scent, trotted down the street with confidence.

"Think of it as a warm-up," she said. "This is a different world, sir. Best if you see a few things before we meet the others."

She led him out of Ankh and down a dim alley near the Shades, where they bumped through a door that had no knobs or handles -- as if this place catered to people who didn't always have hands, or the ability to turn doorknobs.

The Igor who ran the bar at Biers was one of the first Igors in Ankh-Morpork, and he knew Angua of old, in wolf form or otherwise.

"Evenin', lady," he said, taking two bowls off the assorted glassware behind the bar. When he saw Vimes, slinking in behind her, he grinned.

"Who's yer friend, wolfie?" someone called. Vimes growled, and the laughter stopped abruptly. The voice of authority doesn't change much from one species to the next.

Four bowls plonked down on the floor, under the bar; two of water, two of some kind of chopped, well, it had probably once been meat...

"This is embarrassing," Vimes said; indistinctly, because his muzzle was buried in a bowl of dog self-proclaimed-food.

"It's a dog's life," Angua answered. "Which reminds me. You need a name."

"Got one," Vimes replied. "Got two, in fact. Take your pick."

"Not like that, and you know it. You go about saying who you are, they'll laugh you out of town, if the humans don't ride you out on a rail. You need a name for this world. Like Barking Mad Barker, or Yappy, or Bloody Haleh."

"Bloody Haleh?"

"She's sort of like...well, she's sort of one of the pack leaders. She's been in Ankh-Morpork longest, I think."

"Should I ask why she's called Bloody Haleh?"

"She spends a lot of time up near the slaughterhouses."

"Urgh," said Sam Vimes, tearing into a hunk of something grey, and covered in suspicious gravy.

"It's all about what you are to other people. There's Furry Dave, and Stripes, and Katie Wag, and Lenny the Stink..."

"What do they call you, then?"

Even as a wolf, Angua looked embarrassed. "Well, I don't spend much time with the pack. They're not very pleasant people, really."

"But you do have a name, don't you?"

"Yes..."

He waited, dribbling water from one of the bowls.

"Dog Anny," she said, in a low whine.

"Dog Anny?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Dog Anny? And you allow that?"

"Well, it's better than Lenny the Stink, isn't it?"

"Why on the Disc -- "

"Because I've been...domesticated," she said. "I'm a city girl. I work for the city, I have an...Understanding with a human. A little bit of wolf, a little bit of human. Dog. Get it?"

"That's horrible."

"Well, like I said, I don't spend much time with them. They tend to pick their own names for you, but we might as well give it a try."

"Don't suppose there's an opening for Scar," he asked hopefully. "Good tough name, Scar. Sounds sort of like Sam."

"Already got one. Scarface Sam, actually."

"Oh yes?"

"Yes, you've met him -- works up at Eliza's All-Night Pizza."

"The counter boy?"

"That's the one."

"Hm." He licked the bowl clean, and then looked disgusted with himself. "I'm no good at this sort of thing, really."

"We could call you Floppy."

"Very funny." She saw him twitch his ear, trying to make it stand upright like the other one. Losing battle.

"Or City Boy. Almost none of the werewolves were born in Ankh-Morpork. That'd set you apart."

He was about to address the odds of that happening, roughly one in never, when a third wolf trotted out from under one of the booths.

"Evenin', Dog Anny," he said. Vimes sat on his haunches, warily, and watched.

"Evenin', Butcher," Angua answered.

"Hear the howl tonight? Word is, new wolf in town. This him?" Butcher asked. He looked more, well, more wolfish than Vimes; probably a purebred, Vimes thought bitterly.

"Not new," Angua answered smoothly. "Except to us. This is City Boy. He's from around here."

Butcher regarded him with interest. Vimes realized that he was trying to stare the other wolf down. And succeeding.

"City Boy, eh? Looks more like Scruffy to me," Butcher said, looking away. Vimes knew he'd won a minor battle, but lost a major war. Scruffy he'd been dubbed; Scruffy he would remain for as long as he was a part of the Pack.

"Goin' to run with us tonight, Dog Anny?" Butcher continued. "Scruffy's welcome to come along. Haleh won't be there, so I'm in charge."

"Thought we might," said Angua. "Scruffy?"

Vimes felt a growl rumbling in his throat, and cut it sharply. "Do we have a choice?" he asked. Barked. Whatever.

When they were out in the street again, Butcher saw a dog he had to have a word with, and ambled away; Vimes stuck close to Angua as they headed for the city walls.

"Butcher's all right," she said. "I knew him in Uberwald. Decent enough, never hunted wolves. Almost never ate humans," she added. "Doesn't eat them at all, anymore. I think he's got a sheep ranch hubwards of the city. I never see him except in the Pack."

"A prince among wolves."

"There are plenty worse."

"Just what exactly does the Pack do in my city?" Vimes asked. "I'm not sure I like the idea of a bunch of wolves running around the streets at night."

"We don't. We run around outside the city," she answered. "It's really just an excuse to...hah...let our hair down. We do a little howling, chase a few carriages, maybe run some livestock around. Good for them, I think. Keeps them on their toes," she said philosophically. "Butcher makes sure someone gets paid if anything gets destroyed."

She stopped, then, because he had; his tail was twitching, and his nostrils trembled.

"Do you smell that?" he asked. She sniffed cautiously. Just the usual scent of Ankh-Morpork -- and a hint of fear.

Before she could answer, he'd bounded off, paws barely touching the ground. Angua sighed.

"Scruffy Vimes, canine enforcer. Wonderful," she muttered, and took off after him.

Continue to the next part.

[personal profile] chironsgirl 2011-11-22 09:00 pm (UTC)(link)
I love your description of Sam as a wolf. Scruffy indeed. But even as a wolf, he is still who he is. His sense of self is iron clad.
XOXOXXO