No one paid much attention to Drumknott as he slipped into The Bucket. It was crowded and smoke-filled, its customers mainly Watchmen coming off the last shift.
Only Mr. Cheese, the owner, took any interest as the clerk approached the bar.
"Evening, Mr. Drumknott. It's not often I have the pleasure of serving such a fine gentleman as yourself," he said. He winked conspiratorially and set a coaster down on the counter. "And if I might say so, sir, you look like a man in need of a stiff one."
Drumknott blinked. "Pardon?"
"A drink?" said Mr. Cheese helpfully. "What'll it be?"
"Oh, yes! Er, brandy, please. A large one."
A glass was filled and placed in front of Drumknott. Mr. Cheese watched as he downed it in one, and then returned the glass to the bar.
"Same again, please," said Drumknott, fishing in his pocket for his wallet. He withdrew a large banknote and threw it on the counter. "Let me know when that runs out, would you?"
Mr. Cheese's eyes lit up. "Bad day?" he ventured, happily refilling the glass, while at the same time, gauging the clerk's potential for smashing up the furniture.
"Shocking," said Drumknott. "Quite shocking." He took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts. He wasn't troublemaking, he told himself. He'd seen the Patrician and the commander together. And Carrot had a right to know. What Carrot actually did about it was up to him.
Drumknott drained his glass. It was dutifully refilled.
He had to admit he felt better already, if slightly light-headed. It was hardly surprising, considering the excitement he'd had today. A shock like that could do strange things to a man. Perhaps it was best if Carrot sorted this out. He'd dealt with the Patrician before. It was the sort of thing he was good at...
Drumknott turned and peered into the gloom.
Carrot wasn't hard to spot; he was sitting at a table with another Watchman. Amazingly, he still managed to tower head and shoulders above the crowd.
Drumknott emptied his glass. It was obediently replenished.
He picked it up and approached the table.
"All I'm saying is, it should've been me," Carrot was saying. "It's not as if I don't know how to do the job."
"And so does he, lad, and he was only doing what he was told." Sergeant Colon finished his beer. "D'you reckon you'll finish that drink tonight, Carrot, or what? C'mon, lad, it's my round."
Carrot absently emptied his glass and handed it to Colon, then stared off into the middle distance. "No, I suppose you're right," he sighed, as Colon ambled away. "And it's not as if it really matters..."
Carrot looked up. "Oh, hello, Drumknott! Gosh, you surprised me!"
"Yes, life's just full of surprises, isn't it?" said Drumknott sourly, sitting on the recently vacated stool. He shuffled nearer. "Er, now that you're alone, Carrot, I, um... I don't suppose we might have a quiet word?"
"Yes, of course, Drumknott. Although you realize I'm off duty, of course?"
"Yes, yes, I appreciate that, and it's not exactly Watch business I wanted to talk to you about, Carrot. It's something a little more... personal."
Drumknott glanced around; it was hard to tell if people were watching them, the excitement had affected his vision. "Carrot, I wonder if we might talk about the commander for a moment?"
"The commander? Drumknott, is everything all right?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure..." Drumknott adjusted his spectacles. "It's just that he's acting a little... odd."
"Well, you know, doing things that are... unexpected."
"Oh," said Carrot glumly. "That."
"That?" Drumknott blinked at him.
Carrot sighed. "Yes, there's a very good reason for that, Drumknott. I thought perhaps the Patrician might have told you about it?"
"Er, no-oo..." Drumknott swayed in his seat; he wasn't sure how much excitement he could take in one day.
"Well, you knew it was all over between the commander and me, didn't you?"
Drumknott shook his head. "I didn't, but a picture is definitely emerging..."
"Yes," said Carrot sadly. "The commander took it quite badly."
"You can say that again..."
"I had no idea he'd be so upset."
"Although it's hoped he'll find comfort from those near to him."
"Nearer than you think..."
"What was that, Drumknott?"
"Nothing! Just thinking aloud."
"Drumknott?" Do you know something I don't?"
Drumknott hesitated, but eventually buckled under Carrot's honest, blue gaze.
"Carrot, are you aware that certain people might take advantage of this situation?"
"No... What sort of people, Drumknott?"
"Well, you know, people in the right... position."
Carrot's forehead wrinkled. "Drumknott, you're not suggesting...?"
Drumknott looked awkward for a moment, and then nodded slowly.
Carrot took a deep breath. "It's all right, Drumknott, you don't have to say any more. I was afraid something like this might happen." He got up very calmly. "Well, I'm glad you brought this to my attention, Drumknott. Rest assured, I intend to sort it out very quickly." He moved towards the door, meeting a rather confused Sergeant Colon coming the other way.
"Where're you going, lad? I've just bought you a—"
Carrot muttered something and swept straight past him. The slam of the door shook the rafters.
"Well, what d'you think about that?" said Colon, returning to the table. "Oh, hello, Drumknott. Don't suppose you fancy a glass of milk?" He took a sip of his beer. "You know, I haven't a clue what's gotten into that lad lately, Drumknott. Whatever d'you suppose he wants to see Captain Noakes about at this time of night?"
Someone was hammering on the door...
Noakes sat bolt upright in bed. He rubbed his eyes and stared at the clock. He'd been in bed for less than an hour. Viewing the disturbance as some sort of emergency, he stumbled down the hallway in his pyjama bottoms, his eyes still half-closed with sleep.
The hammering continued.
"All right, all right, I'm coming..."
Noakes unlocked the door.
And found himself flat on his back, wondering why someone had turned the lights off.
"And that's just for starters," said Carrot, stepping inside and rubbing his knuckles.
Noakes blinked dazedly. "C-Carrot?"
"You just couldn't wait, could you? I should've known you were up to something."
"W-what?" Noakes tried to sit up; blood streamed from his nostrils.
"All those good deeds you were always doing; always putting yourself out for him. Well, it all makes sense to me now. It was just a way of wheedling your way into his affections, wasn't it?"
"C-Carrot... I-I don't know what you're—" Noakes attempted to stand, he stumbled backwards, and fell again.
"And you really thought I wouldn't notice?" said Carrot, standing over him. "Why, you were at it again this morning, weren't you? I noticed how long you spent in his office!"
"Oh, so you admit it now?" said Carrot, stepping back. "Well, it doesn't surprise me, you always were hopeless at lying. You know, I expected more of you, Noakes. You of all people must have known how vulnerable he'd be. How could you take advantage of him like that? You were supposed to be my friend!" He turned away in disgust and returned to the door. "I mean helping him to get over it is one thing, but actually seeing him behind my back?"
Noakes' mind raced. So it was over, then? That certainly explained the way Vimes was acting. But it made no sense. The pair of them had been inseparable...
Carrot's hand was on the doorknob.
"So what if I have, Carrot?" said Noakes suddenly. "Why should you care?"
Carrot stopped and slowly turned around. "What?"
"Just because the commander means nothing to you now, doesn't mean—"
"Who said he meant nothing to me, Noakes?" Carrot's hands balled into fists.
"The commander told me everything, Carrot," Noakes lied; he knew it was a risk; Carrot had a punch like a jackhammer.
"This has nothing to do with you, Noakes," Carrot growled, advancing on him.
Noakes edged away on his elbows. "He told me why you ended it, Carrot... he told me what you—"
Carrot lunged at him. "I did what I did to protect him, you fool!"
Carrot was blind with fury, and Noakes went sprawling as Carrot landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He grabbed Noakes' throat in a powerful hand, and raised an enormous fist.
"J-James?" said a voice suddenly.
They both looked up.
A young man was standing in the bedroom doorway.
Carrot was exasperated. "And that—" he said, pointing at the startled figure, "—Just makes things even worse!"
Noakes struggled to get up. "N-no, wait..." he said, as the young man started down the hallway. "I-I can explain..."
"Save your breath, James. I've heard more than enough already." The door swung open, and then closed on its own.
"Damn..." Noakes whispered.
Carrot got up and brushed himself off. Noakes climbed up too, and they both stood in silence, attempting to calm down. Noakes checked his nose; it didn't appear to be broken.
"What were you protecting him from, Carrot?" he said quietly.
"What?" snapped Carrot.
"The commander. You said you were protecting him. But from what?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"Himself," said Carrot coldly.
"But that makes no sense."
"It doesn't have to make sense to you!"
"You lied to him, didn't you?"
"Of course I lied to him! I had to! It was for his own good!"
"Breaking his heart is for his own good?"
Carrot clenched his jaw. He didn't reply.
"You still care for him, don't you?" said Noakes softly.
"He doesn't need me, Noakes!"
"You haven't answered my question."
"Of course I care for him! I never stopped caring for him!"
"Then tell him!"
"I can't! I'd just be back where I started!"
"And where was that, exactly?"
"You've seen what he's like, Noakes! And he's changed because of me!"
"I don't need to tell you! You saw how he reacted when I was kidnapped!"
Noakes frowned. "Yes, but you didn't..."
"Look, what does it matter? It happened!"
"Who have you been talking to, Carrot?"
"It's irrelevant, Noakes! It won't make a difference!"
"What do you mean?"
Carrot took a deep breath.
"I'm resigning," he said.
"What? In gods names why?"
"Everything's too complicated. I just want to put an end to it. It'll be best for everyone if I leave..."
"Why don't you let the commander be the judge of that, Carrot?"
Carrot hung his head.
"I mean you are planning to tell him, aren't you?" said Noakes.
"I've written him a letter..."
"He'll read it once I'm gone, he'll understand."
"I can't give him a chance to try and stop me, Noakes!"
"Then if you won't, I will."
Noakes stormed into the bedroom.
"Noakes, where are you going?"
"I'm going to put an end to this nonsense right now." Noakes grabbed a shirt and threw it on.
"You're already too late. I'll be gone by the morning."
"Well, that still leaves plenty of time to tell him."
Carrot leaned against the doorframe. "I don't think you'll tell him, Noakes..."
"Oh, won't I? Well, just watch me." Noakes tugged up his trousers.
"No, and there's a good reason for that... there's someone who means a little more to you than the commander, isn't there?"
Noakes grunted as he pulled on his boots. "Yes," he said. "And he's just walked out the door. What the hell difference does that make?"
"I'm not talking about him, Noakes. And you know it." Carrot noted the slight hesitation in Noakes' actions.
Noakes reached for his jacket. "You're wasting your breath, Carrot. I'm not listening."
"Well, don't you think you ought to consider it?"
"There nothing to consider, Carrot." Noakes pushed past him and moved out into the hallway.
"You know what would happen if I left, don't you?"
"Yes, you'd tear the commander's world apart."
"Perhaps. But then afterwards—"
"There won't be any afterwards. Because you're not leaving!"
"—He'd need to replace me. And you know what that means, don't you?"
"Put a sock in it, Carrot! I don't want to hear it!"
"—You'd be Second-in-Command—"
"I'm warning you...!"
"—That'd be a dream come true, wouldn't it? Because isn't that what you've always wanted? Isn't that the one thing that would please your father?"
Noakes raised an unsteady finger. "D-don't do this, Carrot..."
Carrot shook his head. "Did you really think telling the commander would be that easy, Noakes?"
Noakes didn't answer. His hand fell limply to his side.
"That's right, you think about that," said Carrot, returning to the door. "And then decide what's important to you..."