Early morning sunlight filtered through the dusty window. It illuminated the little bedroom, where a suitcase was lying, fully packed, on the bed.
Carrot sat, staring at it...
He didn't really want to leave. He just felt it was the right thing to do.
The commander had always been keen on him doing the right thing. Admittedly it looked like he was running away, but after reading his letter, the commander would soon realize he was doing him a favour. After he'd gone, things could get back to normal. The commander would be able to forget about him and concentrate on the things that mattered, like running the Watch and electing a new Second-in-Command.
It wasn't as if their relationship was important to the commander anymore...
He probably hated him now.
But it had been good, hadn't it?
The commander had told him he loved him. True, he'd only said it once, but the commander had never been good with words; not those sorts of words anyway, and the fact that he'd said it at all only made it more special.
What they'd shared had been special...
It was the little things he remembered the most. Like the times when the office was quiet and he'd glance over at the commander and watch him while he worked, and the commander would sometimes look up at him and smile; that funny little smile that always made his eyes crease up, and was a bit like a mischievous grin.
He liked that smile.
The commander smiled a lot more in those days.
He thought it would stay like that forever.
But then he'd been kidnapped...
And everything had changed.
A letter was lying on the bedside table; it was addressed to the commander.
Carrot was still holding the pen he'd used to write it.
He looked down at it, turning it over in his hands.
Sam never did come back to collect his things...
He thought about taking the pen as a keepsake, but then realized everything he needed he already had; it was inside of him. The commander was a part of him now, and always would be.
And whatever else had happened, he had loved him.
Carrot looked up.
The sun was climbing higher now, appearing just above the rooftops.
It looked like being a nice day.
He tried to smile, and took one last look around the room...
Vimes hurried over Contract Bridge. Cheery was in tow, trying to keep up.
"All right, start again from the beginning," said Vimes. "You say someone took Captain Noakes to Mossy Lawn's?"
"Yes, sir. Whoever it was left him lying on the doorstep and then ran off, sir. Mossy said he didn't see who it was. But he thinks it must have been more than one person, sir. The captain's quite tall and he was a dead weight, sir. Mossy said he had to struggle to get him inside."
"Right. Where the hell's Carrot? He ought to be here by now."
"Er, he's not actually due in yet, sir..."
"Oh. And when did this happen, did you say?"
"Early hours of this morning, sir." Cheery skipped to keep up. "But Mossy thinks the incident may have happened earlier, sir. The captain was stone cold, he said, sir. He thought he was dead."
Vimes stopped; sudden images of what Noakes might look like crossing his mind. "All right, Cheery," he said. "You don't need to be here too. I can see to it from here. Go back to the yard and, er... keep a look out for Carrot for me, would you?"
"Yessir. Thank you, sir."
When Vimes eventually arrived at Mossy's, Noakes was lying on a table. A white sheet covered him from the neck down. Surprisingly, his face looked unmarked. If you didn't know better, you might think he was asleep.
"But I thought..." Vimes began. "One of my officers told me he'd been creamed."
Lawn smiled. "An interesting diagnosis," he said, moving away from the sink; he shook water from his hands and grabbed a towel. "And pretty accurate too, I'd say. It just appears his assailants weren't interested in his face." He dried one hand and pulled back the sheet.
"Dear gods..." Vimes whispered.
"And that's after I've cleaned him up of course."
Vimes moved closer.
Noakes was naked. He looked as if he'd been trampled over by stampeding cattle. Ugly purple bruises covered him from his chest to his shins, including all the sensitive areas in between.
"It probably looks worse than it is," said Lawn. "There's a couple of broken ribs and he's sustained a concussion, but his injuries are mostly superficial."
"How can you call that superficial?" said Vimes.
"Oh, I've seen a lot worse, believe me. Bar brawls can be particularly nasty."
"Is that what you think this was?"
"It's possible. He'd vomited."
"But he doesn't drink."
Lawn winced. "Ah, of course. Pity. He'd certainly have felt less if he had. Still, no harm done as long as he wasn't planning on becoming a father." He smiled faintly. "And there's little chance of that, I think."
"Wait a minute... you know him?"
Lawn nodded. "I delivered him; long time ago, of course. Tricky birth... lost the mother." He finished drying his hands and threw the towel in a corner. "The father blamed the child for his wife's death, that's why I remembered him. Hardly wanted to know the boy when he was growing up. Fascinating, the ways in which people react to stress, don't you think?"
"Er, yes..." said Vimes. "And the, er... other?"
"The lack of interest in the ladies, you mean?" Lawn smiled. "Oh, he's never kept that a secret. Although his father took a dim view of it, as you can imagine. And by the time he found out, the boy was old enough for a hiding. I sometimes think the poor lad spent more time sitting on my table than he spent at home." His smile faded. "Small wonder he grew up with an abhorrence to violence."
Vimes shook his head. "I never knew..."
"And why should you?"
"Still, I can't help thinking it's an odd trait for a Watchman?"
"Oh, joining the Watch was his father's idea. He thought it would make a man of him. I also heard he was pleased when his son made captain.
"Well, that wasn't a hard decision. He's a good officer."
"And a good man. He didn't deserve this that's for sure.
Vimes looked down at Noakes' broken body.
"Why would anyone want to beat Noakes senseless?" he said.
"Well, strictly speaking, they didn't..."
Lawn beckoned Vimes over, and then turned Noakes' head to one side. He parted the dark hair, revealing a two-inch gash. "See that?" he said. "Five stitches I put in there."
"Someone coshed him?"
"No, it's the wrong angle. I think he fell, or was pushed, and hit his head on a curbstone. The scalp's rich in blood vessels, he'd have bled like a pig. I'm guessing that's when his attackers ran off. They probably thought they'd killed him."
"It's nothing compared to what I'll do if I ever... Damnit, you don't do this to a man just to nick a few bob!"
"He wasn't mugged either. His possessions were still on him, as far as I could tell anyway. He was still carrying money and other items of value." Lawn moved over to his bench and picked up a brown paper envelope. "I put everything in there while I cleaned him up." He handed the envelope to Vimes.
Vimes took it and dropped onto a wooden chair. He tipped the contents into his palm. The envelope contained several banknotes and loose change, a neatly folded handkerchief, a key, and a ring on a chain. Vimes picked up the ring and examined it. It was a plain gold band, and on the inside it was inscribed: 'To James, love always, Will.'
"Will's his partner," Lawn supplied.
Vimes nodded. "Yes, I know. I met him once." He tipped the contents back into the envelope. "Has anyone informed him about this?"
"I sent someone round as soon as Noakes was brought in, but there was no one home. A note's been left, however, telling Will what's happened. I doubt he's gone far; they're hardly ever out of each other's sight. Oh, and before I forget, there was this too..." Lawn reached across to his bench and retrieved a smaller, rather crumpled envelope. "I was going to deliver it myself, but since you're here..."
Vimes took it. "What's this?" He turned it over in his hand. The envelope was addressed to him. Across the top, the word 'personal' was printed, and then, at the bottom, someone had written what appeared to be the word 'important'. It was underlined.
Vimes opened it, mystified.
Inside was a note, written in Noakes' neat script. Within it, several more words were underlined; 'personal' and 'important' were prominent. Towards the end, the writing was less neat, as if the writer had rushed to get it finished.
Vimes' chair clattered to the floor.
"Oh, my gods... I have to find Carrot!"