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sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 07:35 am
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Dinner at Sarnoff's and The Proposal: PG.

Note: "Dinner at Sarnoff's" and "The Proposal" both fall after "Real" in my fanfiction chronology and somewhere between Guards!Guards! and Men At Arms in the books. They are two variations on a single subject.
Summary: Two ways the proposal could have happened.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.

Dinner At Sarnoff's

Sam Vimes was not, by and large, the most sensitive man in the world. You didn't get many sensitive men in the Watch, at least, not for long; if they survived, they very quickly became just as hard-boiled as the next officer, provided that the next officer was not Carrot Ironfoundersson, who had still not been broken to the culture of cynicism that the Watch fostered.

He was also not terribly well-educated when it came to Women. He knew how to handle one who was running at you with a knife or an upraised frying pan, because he'd been the mediator of many a domestic dispute, but this is not an ideal position from which to learn the gentle art of romance. He'd, well, he'd had some experience, it was true, but not extensively so. The longest relationship he'd had lately was with Bearhugger's distillery.

Up until Sybil Ramkin, at any rate.

And he might not be sensitive or romantic or very well-experienced but he was a copper, and he did know Sybil relatively well. How long had it been -- nearly a year? A year of good solid meals at the mansion on Scoone Avenue, and morning walks, and occasional singed eyebrows when Sybil convinced him to help her out in the dragon house. A year of making game effort to kick the bottle, because it bothered her.

So he began to notice things.

Sybil'd been nervous. Sybil, who was well-bred and calm and sensible and had not even flinched when a dragon tried to eat her. He chalked it up to the impending Best Of Breed show in Quirm, where she was going to be unveiling an entirely new type of swamp dragon, until other signs started to appear that began to make him nervous.

She redecorated several of the closed-off rooms in the old mansion. She seemed to spend a lot less time in the dragon house. One of the Interchangeable Emmas* had told him that she was in the library a lot, reading books on etiquette. And these days, all of them giggled whenever they saw him, which is a terrible thing for a man to experience on a weekly basis.

* He suspected her actual name was Sara, but she answered to either, so apparently they'd all come to understand his inability to keep track.

But it wasn't as though he could round up witnesses or, gods forbid, look for Clues. He couldn't very well interrogate his, well, yes, his girlfriend. He'd thought about asking Colon or possibly young Carrot for advice, but the idea of even trying to put his anxiety into words left him cold.

It would almost be a relief when Sybil went off to Quirm. Not that he wanted her to go, he was quite sure he'd miss her, but perhaps when she came back she'd be back to normal, dependable Sybil. Sybil with an edge was as disturbing as Vetinari without one.

"You're all packed, then?" he asked, as the walked along King's Way. Sybil'd had to stop in at a friend's and ask them to keep an eye on the dragons, since she couldn't take all of them and Sam was liable to use them as lighters and forget to feed them. He'd offered to walk her back to the mansion, as he always did if she stopped by the Yard to say hello, and she'd agreed, as she always did when he offered.

"Almost. I've got to make sure we're bringing along enough coal," she said absently. "They don't like strange food, you know. And I'm sure the coal in Quirm isn't as pure as it is here."

"Ankh-Morpork, first in filth," he said brightly. "Nice to know we're good at something."

"Yes, dear."

He shot her a sidelong glance. "That's my line, isn't it?"


"Sybil, are you all right?"

"Oh, yes," she said with a bright smile. "Just fine, Sam. Why?"

"Dunno, you seem distracted."

"That reminds me! We're having dinner tomorrow night, at Sarnoff's."

He'd missed how exactly she'd got from 'distracted' to 'dinner', but he let it pass. "Sarnoff's?"

"Yes, I'm sure I've mentioned it. The little cafe around the corner from the Yard?"

His brain threw up a reference. "That Sarnoff's? It's fifty dollars for a steak there!"

"Don't worry, Sam, I'm paying."

"Can't let you do that," he murmured.

"Sam, I don't see why you insist on this, when -- " she stopped, suddenly.

"It's not right, a woman paying for a man's meal," he said, to fill the silence.

"Fine, you let me pay this time, and next time you can pay."

He narrowed his eyes. "So long as next time isn't fish and chips from the all-night take-away," he said.

"Dress nicely, dear," she said, patting his cheek. "And here we are. I'll see you tomorrow night before your shift. Don't be late."

He stood at the gate of the house, and watched her walk inside. If she wasn't back to normal by the time she got back from Quirm, he really would ask Colon.



The staff at Sarnoff's were well-used to a variety of clinetele. During the early afternoon, they not only employed actors trying to get a job at the Dysk and Opera House, but also served the ones who'd gotten jobs. Around three o'clock, the white linen came out, and Sarnoff's went from a slightly shabby cafe to one of the most upscale places to eat in the city. Nobs of all kinds came there for drinks before a night of Culture, and quite expensive meals afterwards. They'd even played host to the Breccia 'businessmen' on occasion, and ordered-out quartz inna bun and fresh shale especially.

Lady Sybil was not a stranger to the staff of Sarnoff's, either; she often met her fellow dragon-lovers for an evening of the most disturbing conversation the waiters had ever heard. Flameless Gripe, Blowback, explosions of all kinds, distinctive ways to tell digestive fluid from fuel...

She did tip well, though.

They'd never seen Mister Vimes, but they knew him well enough. Lady Sybil sometimes talked about him with her friends, and of course the Yard wasn't that far away, and Corporal Carrot sometimes ate at Sarnoff's in the afternoons. Corporal Carrot admired his Captain, and often spoke of him. The staff were fascinated to finally see Lady Sybil's suitor. They weren't disappointed.

"Lookit 'im, will you? Looks like 'e'd rip yer 'eart out and beat you over the 'ead with it," said the cook, leaning around the door. "Suppose 'e likes 'is steak raw?"

"Nah, Corporal Carrot says he's a softie, really," said the only-slightly-terrified waiter who was supposed to go out there in a minute and take their order.

"Lady Sybil said that too, but one of 'er friends says she 'eard 'e once punched a man in the 'ead for bein' rude to a lawn-ornament."

"Better not call them that in front of him, then, cook," the waiter said. "All right. Wish me luck. We who are about to serve salute you."


Vimes was not an enormous fan of new experiences. New experiences, for a Watchman, could include things like death. This one, however, was somewhat entertaining. Sarnoff's was one of the fanciest joints in the city. The menu proved it. There were things you could dine on here that cost more than the rent on his old flat. Certain bottles of wine, for example.

"What do you think?" Sybil asked, adjusting her stole. He felt, as he usually did in the presence of Sybil at her best, distinctly underdressed in his uniform.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," he said, which was true. "Do you suppose they even know what a one-dollar coin looks like around here?"

"Show me one of those again?" Sybil said. He smiled.

"It's the little gold one, about this big?" he held up his thumb and forefinger. It was their running joke. Tell me what a one-dollar coin looks like? I dunno, I never saw that much money in one place. "Look, even the titchy little appetizers -- "

"You order whatever you like, Sam," she said sternly.

"I don't think they have fried slice," he answered. "All right, all right. I know you wanted to have a nice dinner."

"You did?" Sybil looked downright worried. He tried to reassure her.

"Well, you're going off tomorrow, aren't you? Won't be back for a week and a half. Nice to...nice to leave the city on a good note. You're sending a postcard, aren't you? the Watch, I mean. The last one we got was from Fred, and his wife found out about it, and then Nobby stole it -- "

She smiled. The waiter, who looked as though he was on his last nerve, brought their water and hurried away.

" -- so we could do with a new one that won't make Carrot look up the Public Posting of Indecent Images statutes again -- "

"Sam, can we talk about something for a minute?"

He looked up from his postcard monologue. "Er...yes?"

"Well, we've been...friends, for a while now. And, and..."

"...closer friends?" he suggested.

"Yes, and I was thinking about..." she looked down. "How much I'm going to miss you when I'm at the show..."

"You'll be so busy, though, and everyone's going to be so excited about the new breed," he said desperately. "You won't have time, you'll be back before you know it."

"I don't know about that." She looked up at him. "Listen, I know it's not...the normal way of things, but I just thought. Well."


"Sam, would you like to get married?"

He blinked. He understood every word in the sentence, more or less, but strung together, they did something to his brain. Made it hide, apparently.

"Er...not today?" he asked. Then he winced. "I mean, yes, I'd like that."

Her smile was the prettiest thing he'd seen in a long time. "You would?"

"Yes. Yes. I would. I'd have asked before but..."

" -- it's not my place to ask, I know that -- "

" -- it'd be...nice," he finished.

"I thought so too."

"And that's why...dinner and...?"

Her smile just got wider. "Apparently there's a very strict tradition when it comes to these things."

"Emma said you'd been reading books on etiquette," said Vimes.

"Oh yes. I wanted to do it right," said Sybil.

Then Vimes laughed. It wasn't the usual snort of amusement or cynical hah! of a Watchman on a case; it was the full laugh of a satisfied man. It did a lot towards making the waiter less nervous about getting their orders right.

"Sybil, you are a unique woman," he said. "I'll buy you a ring."

"Oh, that's silliness. After all, I didn't have to buy you one."

"Fine, I'll...I'll do something really nice. I'll think of something."

"You already have," said Sybil. The pair of them probably looked like grinning idiots, he thought. But he didn't really care.

I'm going to marry Sybil.

She really wants to.

She asked me.



The Proposal

Also available at AO3.

...she had style and money and common-sense and self-assurance and all the things that he didn't, and she had opened her heart, and if you let her she could engulf you; the woman was a city. And eventually, under siege, you did what Ankh-Morpork had always done -- unbar the gates, let the conquerors in, and make them your own. --Guards! Guards!

The New House at Pseudopolis Yard was, in fact, quite old; it had been in the Ramkin family for generations, and was originally meant as a town house, though now the mansion on Scoone Avenue served that purpose rather more grandly. Besides, the Scoone Avenue house had grounds big enough to hold a dragon-barn as well, which is why Lady Sybil Ramkin still lived there, and not somewhere out in the country.

Pseudopolis Yard had stood empty for more years than you could count, but it was still the New House to the Night Watch. The Old Watch House, on Treacle Mine Road, had been torched to the ground by an inconsiderate dragon, after all.

It hadn't taken long for the Night Watch to make Pseudopolis Yard their own. It was barracks, dining hall, training yard, and headquarters all in one. Captain Vimes even had an office, though the only difference between 'office' and 'bedroom' in his mind was that one had paperwork in it, and the other had sheets; Vimes was not a man who spent much time indoors. The rugs had been pulled up, the paintings taken down and stored in the Ramkin Mansion's attic, the posh furniture had been replaced by desks and chairs, the ballroom chandelier wrapped in cloth and carted to the Opera House to which it had been donated.

It's so empty, Vimes sometimes thought, as his bootheels echoed on the wooden floors. It wasn't as though there were many of them in the Night Watch. Lady Sybil employed more people as servants up at Scoone Avenue. Just him, Colon, Nobby, and Carrot -- although Carrot had been making noises about them recruiting a few more lads.

So had the Patrician. Vimes left them to it. This morning, he had more pressing matters to attend to.

"Good day, sir!" Lance-Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson said cheerfully. He was polishing Vimes' spare breastplate, the one with fewer dings and dents in it; nobody polished armour like Carrot. Vimes hadn't asked him to, but you rarely had to ask Carrot to do anything. Sometimes you had to ask him to stop. "Have a quiet shift?"

It was so early in the morning that the shine was barely worn from 'late at night'. The market stalls were opening soon. Most sensible people were still asleep, but for the Night Watch, it was shift's end -- time to go home, have a hot meal, and get to bed. Fred Colon had a little row-house and a wife who cooked for him, but the other three had rooms in Pseudopolis Yard, and shifted for themselves if they wanted anything hot, or fitting the description 'meal'.

"Not too bad," he said, hanging up his coat. "Yard quiet?"

"Yessir. Hallo Nobby!" Carrot called, as Nobby Nobbs sidled in, smoking one of his horrible dog-end cigarettes and carrying the remains of a curry.

"Mornin'," Nobby grunted. "Any cocoa on?"

"Fresh pot, on the stove," Carrot said, nodding towards the small stove they'd installed in the front office of the Yard.

"Got what you arsked for, Captain," Nobby said, pouring himself a cup of cocoa. "Pawnshop on Peach Pie street. Didn't nick it and pocket the money you give me, neither, just like you said." He held out a small, remarkably clean white stone box. Vimes took it, opened it, cleaned out a little dust with his finger, and shut it again.

"It'll do fine. Thanks, Nobby," he said absently. "Carrot, do stop polishing, would you?"

Carrot looked mildly hurt. "I just thought it'd be nice," he said. "Never know when you want a suit with a bit of a polish on it, sir."

Nobby wagged his eyebrows. "The ladies do like a man in a neat uniform, sir," he added loyally. "Lady Sybil's always sayin'."

"I suppose you put him up to it," Vimes said gloomily.

"Pr'aps I did, sir."

"All right." Vimes unbuckled his breastplate. "Let's have it, then." Carrot helped him into the shining armour, and he had to stop the lad dusting off his shoulders. "It's chain-mail, Carrot, it doesn't show lint."

"You never know, sir," Carrot answered, implacably.

"What's all the to-do?" Sergeant Colon asked, as he came in out of the early morning chill. "Ah, that's a well-shined breastplate, Carrot," he said approvingly. "Must look smart on parade, mustn't we, Captain?"

"It's not parade, it's breakfast," Vimes protested. The others exchanged a conspiratorial look. "I've had breakfast with Lady Sybil for months."

"Oh aye, but you ain't never had that in your pocket afore, have you? Begging your pardon, Captain," Colon said. Nobby sniggered.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Vimes answered, with as much dignity as a man in a shiny breastplate can muster.

"Come on, Captain Vimes, give us a look," Carrot asked. He was a well-grown lad, but he was still a lad, and he sounded like a ten-year-old on Hogswatchnight.

"Some men manage this without any assistance, you know," Vimes fought, but weakly. "Colon didn't have an audience, I know that."

"Nah, but I was just a lowly constable," Colon said, grinning. "I wasn't Captain."

"Fred -- "

"Just a look, Cap'n, it won't hurt it none," Nobby urged.

"Bunch of old ladies, you are," Vimes said, reaching into his pocket. "Never should have told you, Fred."

"Prob'ly not," Fred agreed, comfortably.

It was in a greasy, much-faded velvet box. It didn't burn with the fire of a thousand suns. It didn't even glitter. It gleamed, barely. They gave him a dim look.

"It's all I could afford," Vimes protested. "It's not as though I'm a rich man, you know."

"Not yet," Colon said slyly.

"I did get a nice box. Had Nobby find me one."

"Which I in no way nicked," Nobby said, urgently. "Fairly bought and paid for."

"All right, I believe you. Under the circumstances, I won't ask if there was any change." He transferred It to the white stone box, and put the box in his coat pocket, tossing the grubby velvet one in a trash bin. "Now, do I pass inspection?"

He had meant it as a joke, and felt suddenly exposed in front of the laserlike looks of Carrot, Nobby, and Colon. Finally, they glanced at each other, and nodded. A Watchman was a Watchman, and if you minded that he had a dented breastplate or worn-out boots, you oughtn't to be hanging about in the first place.

"Buy her an apple!" Carrot called, as Vimes stalked out. "They're good for you! Lady Sybil likes apples!"

"An' don't smoke!" Colon added.

"An' don't do anything stupid!" Nobby said, but he waited until the door had closed. The other two glared at him. "Well, she might take the Yard back," he said defensively.


Outside, it was crisp and cool in the late spring morning. Everything was simpler outside, even during the daylight hours, which were usually something Vimes shut his curtains against so that he could sleep. The streets were still quiet, and -- you could almost believe -- peaceful.

Lady Sybil must be at least a little fond of him, he thought, to get up at six in the morning on a cold day and venture out of the old house on Scoone Avenue. She'd started coming to meet him for breakfast when it became obvious that he worked during her dinnertime, most days, and it was a pleasant little habit they had now. She met him in Sator Square, a nice walk from the Watch House, and he listened to the news of her world* as they ate. He'd had to save her a few times from Dibbler's treacherous breakfast sandwiches, because Lady Sybil was a trusting soul, but then she'd often saved him from an early-morning drink when he was in a foul mood.

* Mainly dull society gatherings, spiced up by Sybil's true passion, dragon-breeding. Since she bred swamp-dragons, who often exploded for no apparent reason, it could be quite exciting. It was a rare breakfast that didn't include both the word 'orchestra' and the phrase 'blast radius'.

She would talk at him until he couldn't help coming round to her point of view, which was similar to Carrot's -- there wasn't anyone you couldn't get along with, if you were a good chap and tried hard. It didn't last forever, but it lasted through breakfast, and that was enough.

What he wanted, he'd discovered, was for breakfast to last longer. Or at least, for it to be a sure thing*.

* Which some people would call a pretty good definition of love, if not burdened with Vimes' cynical view of the softer emotions.

"Morning, Sybil," he said, stepping into the square and tipping his helmet. "Hope I haven't kept you waiting."

"Good morning, Sam," she answered. "I just arrived myself. Shall we?"

He nodded, curtly, and fell into step beside her.

"I thought we might try that little cafe, the one that just opened off the Square," Sybil began. "I hear they do an excellent Genuan Surprise."

"Don't know that I want to be surprised by anything they've got in Genua," he said. She smiled. "Do they do egg and chips?"

"I imagine they could have a try. You're an easy man to cook for, Sam."

Egg and chips was not how he had wanted to steer the conversation, but he hadn't thought about that bit up until now. Speaking of surprise, Sybil or possibly, Look here, I don't take up much space and --

"The cafe sounds fine," he said.

"How was your evening? Not too damp?" she asked. She always called it his evening -- not shift, or work, or anything so common. Sybil had class, loads of it, and grace.

It'd never work, he thought despairingly. It really never would. Daft to even try.


He glanced at her. "Oh, right. Yes, fine. Not much damp. Listen, Sybil..."


"I was wondering..." he trailed off as they passed a fruit merchant, and Carrot's words came back to haunt him. "Here, these look fresh, would you like an apple?" he blithered. She stopped, perplexed.

"Yes, I suppose..." she said, slowly. He tossed a coin to the merchant, and picked up one of the man's spotty, elderly fruits, which he shined on his sleeve before handing it to her.

Class and grace. And Sam Vimes had neither. If it was possible to actively lack class and grace, he would.

"Are you sure you're all right, Sam?" she asked. "You seem a bit distracted today."

"Just thinking things over," he answered.

What have you got, Sam? An empty rank, boots with holes in, a bare bedroom in the Watch House and a few barely clung-to convictions. A breastplate with dents -- shiny enough, true, but you didn't even do that, did you? An attitude even cynics think is a bit on the depressive side, a badge, and a bad shave. Why would Sybil Ramkin give you a second look?

On the other hand
, a quiet, Carrot-like voice said, why's she up at six in the morning to have breakfast with you? Eh?

A man's got to have something to offer a lady like her.

You've got a badge. You're a Captain. When was the last time a woman smiled at your jokes? When was the last time you made a joke?

You are a joke, if you think this is going to work.

There was a scream, up ahead. Sam stopped, laying a hand on Sybil's arm. Another scream. "Unlicensed Thief! Stop 'im!"

"Stay here," he said sharply, and took off running, shedding his heavy coat as he went. It didn't take long to come around the side of a fishmonger's stall and see the wailing woman, and a man who was apparently in training for the hundred-meter-dash-with-handbag. As he tore after the purse-snatcher, he thought about Leggy Gaskin, who had run after a thief and gotten a one-way trip to Small Gods cemetery for his troubles. You could be a fast copper, or you could be an old copper, but you couldn't be --

Blow that for a game of soldiers. You couldn't commit a crime under the nose of a Watch Captain, Night or otherwise, and expect to get away with it. He nipped down an alleyway that would cut diagonally out towards the street the thief had just turned down, and arrived in time to lay an angry, breathless punch on the running man.

"Let's see your guild license," he demanded, as the thief fell on the cobbles, nose bleeding. "Eh? Haven't got one? I expect you left it in your other trousers. No, you don't," he advised, as the man tried to crawl away. He grabbed him by the collar, flipped him over, and glared down at him. Lifted one leg to put the boot in --

And saw Sybil come puffing around the corner, the thief's victim in tow. She has a good turn of speed, he thought. He lowered his foot, slightly ashamed.

The purse's owner, however, had no such compunctions. She had no sooner snatched her purse back from the thief than she was laying into him with it. To judge from the thuds it made, she must be carrying lead hankies. Two officers from the Day Watch were trotting up, too, so he let them go to the trouble of pulling the pair apart and sorting things out.

"That was jolly brave of you," Sybil said, handing his coat back to him as they walked down the alley. Something jangled in a pocket. "Sorry, you dropped it -- I think something broke..."

He stopped and reached into his pocket, bringing out a handful of white stone slivers.

"What was it -- " she started to ask, then stopped, suddenly. Along with the slivers, he held a (mercifully unblemished) gold ring with a small, a very small, rather blueish diamond set in it.

"Oh bugger," he said, as her eyes widened. "I didn't mean to -- I mean, I wanted it to be, less -- not in an alley, for starters -- "

"It's perfect," she said. His brow knit.

"It is? I mean..." he trailed off, haplessly. "I didn't know how to ask...but...would you like to? Erm, marry me. That is." She was staring at him. He brushed the chips of stone off his palm. "It's all right if you'd rather not -- "

Sybil began to laugh. It started out very quietly, then slowly grew in volume until he began to worry. "Of course I will, you silly man," she gasped. "If I'd...rather...not..." she repeated, going off into gales of laughter again.

"Are you all right?" he asked. Perhaps the shock had put her over the edge.

She nodded, wordlessly, still giggling. Then she managed to get herself under control, leaned over, and kissed him. Engulfed him, really. Sybil didn't do anything by halves.

Sam Vimes was not a man accustomed to being kissed, especially in public, even if 'public' was only a dim, uninhabited alley. When the surprise wore off, he saw she'd put the ring on her finger, and was admiring it.

"It isn't much -- " he began.

"Nonsense. It's lovely. I've always liked blue," she said.

Class and grace by the bucketload, Sam thought, as they picked their way back to Sator Square. Class and grace and a heart big enough for the whole world.

Including me.


[identity profile] 2005-09-21 05:33 am (UTC)(link)
They're both so lovely, I can't decide which version I like better!

>>And these days, all of them giggled whenever they saw him, which is a
>>terrible thing for a man to experience on a weekly basis.

So funny and so true. I've giggled at a few in my day- but since most of them were young men doing teaching rounds at an all-girl Catholic school... well, that's just asking for it, isn't it?

I'm really enjoying all of these, they're fantastic. :-)

[identity profile] 2005-09-22 12:09 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you! Glad you're enjoying the fic :D

[identity profile] 2005-09-23 01:27 am (UTC)(link)
I think I like the second one better. But that's because I'm an old romantic softie.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 11:26 am (UTC)(link)
I love it so much, I almost cried.

And the first variation was amazing. When I was reading through Discworld, it occurred to me that Sam/Sybil is like a variation on how I view one of my favorite couples, as if they had met 30 years almost-too-late, which I had made a fic for with the same theme as Dinner at Sarnoff's (girl proposes to guy). I'm just happy that people may have the same perspective on their awesome relationship.

You are awesome for making these.

[identity profile] 2008-12-02 02:10 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

[identity profile] 2009-11-07 01:41 am (UTC)(link)
I just found your fic journal. I love the Watch, so I'm having a blast reading these ♥ and these two are lovely.
true_masquerade: (rose crying)

[personal profile] true_masquerade 2011-04-25 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I really liked the first one. I think that is my pick between the two of them for how it actually would have happened. But the end of the second one left me almost teary - it was lovely ♥
delurker: (Default)

[personal profile] delurker 2011-08-30 08:49 am (UTC)(link)
I loved these!