"Sybil, open the door! Please!"
"Just... just... go away, Samuel Vimes!"
"Sybil, please don't cry..."
"I'm not crying! And besides, I have every right to cry if I want to."
"Can we please just sit down and talk?"
"You want to talk now?! For three days I didn't even know if you were alive! Since then you've hardly been home long enough to say hello, even though you're supposed to be on sick leave. When you do come home, you're so cross that no one dares breathe around you. Now you suddenly have time to talk?!"
"Sybil, you knew when you married me that my work keeps me out late sometimes..."
"So... so just... just go to your darling office, or find some damnable thief to chase, and... and leave me alone!"
"Would you just calm down? It's not healthy for you to be so upset."
"You should have thought about that before you threw the vase at me!"
"I did not throw it at you! If I'd thrown it at you, it would have hit you! I just...threw it."
"Sam, how could you? How dare you?"
"Look, I already said I was sorry, and I'll replace the vase..."
"That's not the point, and you know it."
"Sybil, unlock the damn door. I'm getting sick and tired of yelling at you through a keyhole."
"Why, do you feel less bothered yelling at me face-to-face?!"
"Oh good grief!"
"Do you even remember you're going to be a father in less than a month?!"
"The thought never leaves my mind."
"Is this the kind of home life you want for your son or daughter? A father hardly ever home, and yelling and throwing antique vases when he is?"
"I don't recall being given any choice in the matter!"
Silence. The silence was louder than both Samuel Vimes and Sybil Ramkin Vimes ranting simultaneously, which is very loud indeed. It was the kind of silence that hurts one's eardrums.
‘I didn’t say that,’ Sam thought desperately, scrubbing his hands over his poorly-shaven face, ‘I couldn’t have said that. Oh gods, please tell me I didn’t say that.’
Sybil unlocked the bedroom door. The click was very loud even in the very loud silence. Lady Ramkin pulled open the door and stood in front of Sam, quite still. She looked as though he had struck her.
"I...Sybil, I am so sorry. I didn't mean..."
"No, you're absolutely right, Sam," Sybil interrupted, "You didn't have a choice, and I'm very sorry if you are unhappy about the baby." Her voice was steady, but when she blinked twin tears ran down her face.
"But I'm not unhappy about the baby! Really! I'm... I'm very happy..."
"Bingely-bingely-beep!" a slightly muffled voice called from Sam's pocket, "You have a nine o'clock ayem appointment with Lord Vetinari!"
Sam slapped his hand over the Dis-Organizer in a belated effort to shush it. "Gods, Sybil, please..." he began again, his voice soft and anguished.
"You mustn't be late for your meeting with Havelock," Sybil replied pragmatically, quickly wiping the tears from her face, "We can talk when you get home."
Vimes sighed and nodded, vowing to himself that tonight he would come home early. He kissed his wife lightly on the lips (which, between her considerable height and her advanced pregnancy, nearly required him to stand on tiptoe). She automatically brushed bits of lint and breakfast from his shirt, managing a weak, rather watery smile. Sam did his best to swallow the lump in his throat, picked up his breastplate and helmet, and headed off for the Palace.
"Good morning, Commander. Come in, please, and close the door behind you." Lord Vetinari, having taken a complete survey of Samuel Vimes in the span of one quick glance, looked back down at the files on his desk. ‘My gods, he looks terrible. I wonder if he has slept at all this past week.’
Vimes stood at attention, as always, his eyes focused over the Patrician's left shoulder, as always. But the dark bags beneath his bloodshot eyes reminded Vetinari of the days before Capt. Carrot, the pre-Sybil Vimes who at this hour of the morning was nearly always a walking hangover, except on the occasions when he was a barely walking drunk. There was a nasty bruise on the left side of his jaw and a grubbily bandaged cut over his right eye. He looked like he'd tried to shave with his eyes closed. Every muscle except those controlling his eyelids was tensed; those looked as though they were fighting a losing battle holding up the load.
He looked like a spring wound so tightly that any minute it might shatter into a dozen dangerous pieces.
The Patrician, as was his habit, spent a few minutes seemingly engrossed in paperwork. It was a reminder to his constituency that he was a busy man whose time was more valuable than theirs. And he liked to give Vimes an opportunity to get really worried about why he'd been summoned.
"So, Sir Samuel," he said at last, "For a man who is reportedly still not fit enough for active duty, you have certainly been busy."
"I'm afraid that the Thieves' Guild is vehemently demanding your resignation. They have reported no less than five instances over the past three days in which they claim you have interfered with perfectly legal and licensed break-ins. Why is that, Commander?"
"Sir, I have no way of knowing if a break-in is legal until I have examined the thief's license." Vimes managed to convey a lengthy and forceful discourse on his negative feelings toward this practice with the single word 'legal'.
"That is true, although you may remember that dealing with unlicensed thieves is primarily the Guild's responsibility, not the Guard's. At any rate, in these five cases, I am told the thieves under suspicion were fully licensed and within their rights."
"Obviously the Guild wouldn't be complaining if they weren't."
"And yet one gentleman complains that you broke his arm, and another sustained a slight concussion in a scuffle with you."
"In both cases the suspects were reluctant to show me their credentials. And I don't believe for one minute that Bendy Snat's arm is actually broken."
"Commander Vimes, you know Mr. Snat. Even I know Mr. Snat. You knew fully well that he is a licensed member of the Guild. There was no need for you to interrupt him on the job and insist on seeing identification."
"I wanted to verify that his license was up-to-date. It could have expired." It was obvious that Vimes would have preferred Mr. Snat himself to expire. Then he sighed, his shoulders sagging a bit, tired of playing the game. "He was on Cockbill Street. Burgling on Cockbill Street. That's not just stupid, it's unethical. The folks who live there have just enough, on a very good day, to keep going until the next day. They can't afford the luxury of being burgled, legal or not."
Lord Vetinari went through a catalog of possible replies, and chose silence. ‘You can’t protect all of the helpless all of the time, Samuel. There are too many of them.’ But of course Vimes knew that. The Patrician sighed and chose a report from the stacks in front of him. He glanced at it and sighed again. That report went into the trash bin, and he picked up another.
"There's a complaint against you of Entrapment from the Assassin's Guild, which I prefer to not even discuss... And another of Use of Excessive Force during a tavern brawl at the Mended Drum two nights ago..." Vetinari turned his gaze back onto Vimes, who was of course studiously avoiding it. "You arrested Nork the Impaler?"
"He was fighting with a troll, using a dwarf as a club."
"Commander Vimes, he says you hit him in the face with a table, while sitting on him!"
"Doesn't sound likely, sir."
"Corporal Nobbs backs up his story. Apparently he was extremely impressed."
"There's a lot of confusion during a brawl like that, sir. He probably saw wrong. Anyway, how likely is it that Nobby would be inside a tavern during a brawl?"
Vetinari sighed yet again, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his two middle fingers, and put the report down in a different stack, "At least you apparently got some rest that night."
"Captain Carrot reports that you took a knee blow to an inconvenient spot and were laid up at the Watch House for six hours."
"Captain Carrot talks too much, sir."
Vetinari's hand momentarily covered his mouth. He got up from his chair and paced thoughtfully around to Vimes' side of the desk.
"Sybil feels I am working you far too hard."
"You've been talking to my wife?!" Vimes responded, panicked.
"Sir Samuel, you must become accustomed to the fact that I have known Lady Ramkin for many years. She and I travel in similar social circles and frequently attend the same functions. Circles and functions which you, I might add, studiously avoid in spite of her wishes and my orders. We ran into each other briefly at tea yesterday."
"What did she say?"
"She took me to task for keeping you away from home day and night when you are supposed to be confined to a sickbed."
"What did you say?"
"In the interest of matrimonial accord, I accepted all of the blame. However, truth be told, I would very much like to know why you suddenly seem determined to take on all of the duties of both the Day and Night Watches single-handedly. Vimes, my desk is being buried with complaints against you. It would make my life so much easier if you would please just spend a few days at home having marital relations with your wife!"
And that was the twist that broke the spring.
Leaving his higher brain functions entirely out of the loop, Vimes grabbed a hold of the Patrician's robe with his left hand and smashed his right fist into that aristocratic, blade-like nose that was forever poking into places it wasn't wanted.
At least, that was what he intended.
What he discovered himself doing was standing very, very still, attempting to play back the past one or two seconds in extremely slow motion. There had been an impact on his right shoulder, he was sure of that. He could still feel the ache of it, but the rest of his right arm, down to the fingertips, felt hot, limp, and full of pins and needles. He considered trying to flex the fingers, but that conflicted with the very important 'stand very still' dictum.
His left arm hurt. Quite a lot. It was being held twisted behind his back.
Of considerably greater concern, however, was that something quite sharp was pressing against his throat. It didn't feel especially painful, just especially lethal.
"I'm dead, aren't I?" Vimes said flatly. He could feel sweat beading on his forehead.
"You could be," Vetinari said agreeably. "You certainly seem to have developed an enhanced death wish."
Two of the longest seconds of Sir Samuel's life crawled by.
The Patrician released his grip on Sam's arm and slipped the impossibly thin blade into an invisible space in the side of the desk. It seemed to disappear back into the alternate dimension from which it had sprung. Vimes managed not to stagger, trying valiantly to remain upright on trembling legs.
"Sit down, Sir Samuel. Carefully," Vetinari suggested graciously, crossing the room to pour a glass of water from a pitcher on the liquor cabinet. Vimes did so. He hadn't realized that his mouth and throat were bone dry until he had mechanically taken a swallow of the water.
‘I just tried to punch out the Patrician. I just tried to punch out the Patrician. And I’m still alive.’
"So, Commander, what precisely was that about?"
Sam rubbed his right arm, where sensation and muscle control were slowly making a reappearance. "Sir?" he croaked.
Vetinari's countenance changed ever so subtly, from cool curiosity to cold ice. "That game is growing tiresome, and you, Your Grace, have used up your quota of my patience for this month. You're getting into brawls with barbarians and licensed thieves, you don't appear to ever sleep, and you just took a swing at me! I want to know what is going on with you!"
Vimes pulled himself together, recognizing that he was not yet out of the woods. He took a couple more swallows of water, cleared his throat, and began trying out possible replies. "It's more what hasn't been going on, sir, which is... um, what you mentioned... You see... Have you ever tried to make love to a woman who's 8-month's... No, I guess you wouldn't have... I know I hadn't... Well, it's complicated... unfamiliar positions and angles and all... and I don't even think I could... until I've had some time to heal, I mean... Of course I know there are other things, but... Sybil and I have always tended to stick to the basic, straightforward... Neither of us are what you would call imaginative... She knows a lot more about mating dragons... Anyway, sir, I'd lose my mind trying to sleep in that bed with... that is, without..."
The Patrician blinked a bit owlishly, moving his lips slowly in an effort to find a sentence structure and fill in all the blanks. "Are you trying to tell me that you haven't...?"
"Not since what you went through...?"
"Not... at all?"
"Oh." Vetinari leaned against the edge of his desk. He stared blankly over Vimes' head, suddenly sympathizing with the man's habit of examining blank walls. Samuel, who had turned an astounding shade of red, was studying the toes of his boots. The Patrician absently reached for Vimes' water glass and took a few swallows without moving his eyes.
"At the risk of being exceedingly boorish, one might think you would take matters into your own hands, as it were," Vetinari finally ventured.
"Do you think I haven't tried?" Vimes snarled. He hunched forward in the chair, elbows on knees and hands covering his eyes. "I...When matters progress past a certain point, sir, I... tend to get... in a hurry... forget I've got to be careful... lose control a bit... and suddenly I manage to... um... hit a raw spot or something that... hurts enough that I... get distracted... After the third time I swore off trying... It's too damn much like what... Pits and Cor..."
Vetinari quietly cleared his throat. "Ah... I... see."
There was a minute or so of silence, during which Vimes wondered if 'dying of embarrassment' was actually only a cliche, while the Patrician sat absorbed in thought. Eventually the latter appeared to reach a decision. Having regained his composure, Vetinari went again to the liquor cabinet. This time he poured amber liquid from a decanter into a small glass and carried both decanter and glass back to where Vimes sat.
"Here. Drink this."
"Sir!" Vimes exclaimed, recoiling, "You know very well I don't..."
"You don't take one drink because you'll chase it down with ten more. That's not going to happen when I have control of the bottle."
Vimes tried not to look at the glass. "Sir, I have to walk past a dozen taverns every day. It's hard enough. No. If I start here, I can't be sure I won't continue somewhere else."
"You won't. You're too bloody stubborn. Besides, thanks to Captain Carrot, most of the establishments in this city would refuse to serve you."
Vimes looked at the glass. It appeared to look back at him.
"Does Lady Ramkin know about the whiskey that was forced upon you while you were held captive? Have you told her what else they did to you in that gods forsaken room?"
Silence. Vimes hadn't taken his eyes off the amber liquid.
"Sir Samuel, I'm about to ask you to do several things. Ask, not order. However, I cannot vouchsafe not to be annoyed if you refuse. And the first item is that you drink this."
Sam watched his own hand reach up and take the glass. He caught the scent of whiskey, good, expensive stuff, not at all the rotgut with which he was so well acquainted. Of course.
He took one small swallow.
He drank the rest of the glass without stopping.
He heard the seductive clink of glass on glass, the slosh of the glass being refilled.
He emptied it.
Vetinari took the glass from his unresisting hand and returned bottle and glass to the cabinet. Sam sat frozen, feeling the warmth of the liquor flow through him. He decided every muscle and nerve must have been burning full force for the past week, but he hadn't realized it until some of the less important ones began now to gradually shut down. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Okay, he and Sybil had been a little cross with each other lately. More than a little. And there was no possible position in which he could sit comfortably, all the pleasure had gone out of walking, and running was almost out of the question. And he'd just taken a swing at the Patrician. And he constantly felt like he had to drive his fists into someone's face, except when he saw anything vaguely resembling a human female, when he felt like he had to... well, anyway, things could be worse. He could handle it.
Gods, how he hated perpetual sobriety.
The Patrician had stepped out of the Oblong Office to speak briefly with Drumknott. Now he came back into the room and closed the door firmly. Then he walked over to the near wall. He glanced at the floor and seemed to rather carefully position his feet on two spots that were identical to all the rest of the carpet. He reached out and pressed one spot on the wall that was identical to all the rest of the plaster. A section of wall swung noiselessly out of the way, revealing a hidden corridor and staircase.
"It would be an extremely bad idea for you to try that trick yourself, Sir Samuel."
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir."
"Good. Come with me."