Carrot hauled the suitcase off the bed. This was no good; he'd wasted far too much time reminiscing. He really ought to be—
The door flew open and slammed back against the wall.
"Going somewhere, Carrot?" Vimes was out of breath; he was white with rage.
"S-sir! H-how did you—?"
Vimes stalked towards him. "I'll give you one guess, Carrot..."
Carrot backed away, colliding clumsily with the bedside table. "N-Noakes told you?"
"That's right, Carrot! And he's now lying half-dead on Mossy Lawn's table for his troubles!"
Vimes thrust Noakes' letter in his face. "He had the seven hells beaten out of him trying to get this to me! So, is this what you do? You go round to Noakes and tell him everything, while you leave me in the dark?"
"N-no... he made me tell him! He twisted everything around! But he had no right interfering!"
"Well, it's a damn good job he did, Carrot! Because if it were left to you the Watch would be in a right sorry state, wouldn't it? He obviously cares a damn sight more than you do!"
"N-no... that's not true!" Carrot scrabbled frantically for his own letter, snatching it up and waving it in front of him. "L-look... I've written you a letter too!"
Vimes snatched it away angrily. "And you think that makes everything all right, do you?" he snarled. "Well, I'll show you what I think of your damn letter, Carrot..." He tore it to shreds.
"But, sir...! You haven't even read it! I spent ages—"
Vimes' face turned scarlet. "Well, you could've saved yourself the damn trouble if you'd said it to my face!"
"S-stop shouting, sir..."
"Stop shouting? Stop shouting? Ye gods, Carrot! Do you think I'm made of stone? I can't believe you would do this! This is unforgivable!"
Carrot's face creased up. "D-don't say that, sir..."
Vimes shook his head incredulously. "Have you any idea how much you've hurt me, Carrot? Have you? I would have done anything for you! Anything! And this—" He kicked the shreds of paper on the floor. "—Is this all it amounts to? A damn piece of paper?"
Carrot's lip started to tremble. "You know it's not... I thought Noakes would have told you that..."
"Told me what? That you thought you'd become a liability to me? What in the hells is that supposed to mean anyway? As for all that 'personal isn't the same as important' nonsense, I've heard it all before, Carrot! It means nothing! If none of this was important to you then why did you damn well start it?"
Carrot let out a strangled sob. "Because I love you...!" he wailed.
"Oh, give it a rest, Carrot..."
Carrot sank to his knees, sobbing. "Well what was I supposed to do?" he cried. "Let you carry on until you got yourself killed?"
"You left me no choice! If I hadn't ended it when I did, there was no telling what you might do next!"
"What are you talking about, Carrot?"
"You! The way you go charging around with no thought for those who love you! How do you think I'd have felt if you'd died because of me?"
"Whoa... slow down, Carrot."
Carrot's big shoulders shook. "You almost died trying to save me, Sam... The thought of that was killing me... That's why I ended it... I'd rather give you up than lose you altogether..."
Vimes sank to his knees with him. "But I knew what I was doing, you silly bugger..."
Carrot looked up, teary-eyed. "I-I was scared, Sam... I lied when I said I didn't love you anymore... I-I thought if you stopped loving me, then you wouldn't take any more chances for me..."
"Oh, Carrot, that wouldn't have made a difference..."
Carrot took a great gulp of air. "B-but you did it because you care..."
"Well, of course I care, but that has nothing to do with us. That's who I am. I'd have done the same thing regardless of how I felt about you. I can't not care, Carrot. I don't know how to."
"B-but I didn't know that... I-I was just trying to look out for you, Sam... L-like you're always doing for me..."
"Oh, Carrot..." Vimes couldn't help but kiss his face.
"I-I never meant to hurt you... a-and I don't want to leave either... b-but I've ruined everything... a-and now you hate me..."
Vimes held Carrot's tear-stained face in his hands. "Oh, Carrot, I don't hate you..."
Carrot sniffed miserably, and wiped his eyes with the heels of his hands. "D-does that mean I can come back, then?"
Vimes smiled. "But you haven't gone anywhere, you silly bugger. You never did."
Carrot threw his arms around Vimes' neck.
They held on to one another.
And suddenly, words no longer seemed necessary...
Mossy was tidying his bench when the door opened quietly behind him.
"I didn't think you'd be far away," he said.
A sandy-haired young man came across the room and sat down beside Noakes. He studied his pale features for a while, and then swept the dark hair off his forehead.
"What happened to him?" he said softly.
"Well, we won't know that until he wakes up," said Lawn.
"But he's going to be all right, isn't he?"
"Oh, I'm certain of it. I don't think I need to tell you what a tough fellow he is."
"Yeah, on the outside maybe..." Will forced a smile. "Can he hear us?"
"Well, there's no way of telling. But you might try talking to him. It can't do any harm, and it may even help." Lawn gave him a kindly smile and then went back to tidying his bench.
Will waited until Mossy appeared to be no longer listening. Then he picked up a limp hand. He held it gently, running his thumb across the knuckles where fresh scrapes criss-crossed old scars.
"I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?" he said quietly. "Look at you, you're a mess. And I thought you were the one who's supposed to be looking out for me?" He looked up, watching for a change in the pallid features. "Who were you trying to protect this time, eh? You can't take care of everyone, you know. And whatever happened to us growing old together? You're never going to manage that if you go charging off on some crusade every time my back is turned, are you?"
Noakes remained motionless.
Will sighed. "Is this what I came back for?" he said sadly. "To sit here talking to myself? How many more times do you expect the good doctor to patch you up, eh? You think he doesn't have better things to do with his time? He must be fed up with you, I should think..."
He looked along the length of the table, acknowledging the white sheet but making no attempt to lift it.
"And so am I..." he sighed. "I'm fed up with worrying about you. Why do you insist on doing this job anyway? You've got nothing left to prove, you could have packed this in years ago..." He paused while he searched for something else to say, when nothing was forthcoming, he leaned forwards and pressed the limp hand to his forehead. "Don't be gone too long, James. I need you..."
The hand lying in his, twitched.
Will looked up. "James?"
Noakes licked dry lips. "C... Car..."
Will got up. "Dr. Lawn! I think he's coming round!"
Noakes tried to raise himself. "Car... Carrot..."
Lawn came over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Commander Vimes has gone to find him, James. I gave him your letter. That was all right, wasn't it?"
Noakes nodded weakly, and allowed himself to be lowered. His eyes closed.
Will looked crestfallen.
Lawn saw the look on his face. "Watch business," he said. "Very important, I think."
"Oh..." Will reached to his shirt, feeling for the chain around his neck and the ring that was hanging on it; he pressed it reassuringly against his chest. "James?" he whispered. "A-are you still there?"
Will brightened up.
"I came back," he said.
Noakes smiled. "I hoped you would..."
"I hoped too. Hoped I'd made a mistake and that you weren't really about to throw it all away."
"Why would I want to do that, Will? You know how long it took me to find you."
"Yeah... me too. I've been talking to you."
Noakes squeezed his hand. "I heard you, Will..."
"Yeah, well... don't think just because I'm back that I've forgiven you. You still have a lot of explaining to do."
Noakes nodded. "I'll tell you anything you want to know, Will. How long have you got?"
"For you?" Will smiled. "All the time in the world..."
Vetinari stood looking out the window. He had his back to Drumknott, possibly because he couldn't stop smiling...
"So, let's just run through this again," he said. "After the... misunderstanding with Captain Carrot, he did what, did you say?
"Like I said, sir, he charged off before I could stop him. By the time I'd caught up with him again, he'd already hit Captain Noakes and they were arguing, sir. I could hear them out in the street."
"And, naturally, you stopped to listen..."
"Well, yes, I..." Drumknott looked shamefaced. "Well, anyway, that's when the young man came storming out, followed shortly afterwards by Captain Carrot. Who, like I said, sir, looked mightily pleased with himself."
"But you didn't go after him again?"
"No, sir. I was thinking about it, but then I had to make myself scarce when Captain Noakes came out too. He looked awful, sir, visibly shaken. And when I realized he was heading off in the direction of the Ramkin Residence, I just knew there was going to be trouble. That's when I came back here, sir, and, er... confessed."
There was an unbearably long pause while Vetinari continued to gaze out the window; deliberate, of course, it would allow Drumknott time to contemplate the consequences of his actions. After all, he was just a little annoyed with the clerk...
Drumknott waited like a man about to be sentenced.
"Well, you did the right thing, Drumknott," said Vetinari at last. "Heaven knows where this nonsense might have led if you hadn't."
"No, sir. I'm sorry, sir..."
"And all's well that ends well, I suppose."
"Well, now that everything's sorted, Drumknott, please don't let me keep you any longer."
"You may go."
"That's it, sir?"
"I'm sorry? Was there something else?"
"You're just letting me off—I mean—go, sir?"
"Why yes, didn't you say you had a heavy schedule in the morning?"
"Er, yes, sir..."
"Then perhaps an early night is in order?"
"An early night, sir?"
"Yes, and perhaps I'll join you," said the Patrician cheerfully.
"Oh, dear boy, do close your mouth."
"And go to bed!"
Drumknott fled, refusing to believe the Patrician just winked at him.
Vetinari returned to the window.
Well, well... So the quiet captain hadn't been so quiet, after all...
He felt inclined to like Noakes. He was fiercely loyal to Vimes and he was bright. He'd played an important role in Carrot's rescue; acting of his own volition when he believed the commander was in danger.
Which was the very reason Vetinari had had him followed the moment he learned he was involved in this...
It was safe to assume Noakes had deduced the truth. But while he'd undoubtedly told Vimes why Carrot had ended it, thereby ensuring their reunion, it appears he hadn't told him where the idea had originated. Had he done so, of course, all hell would have broken loose by now. And Noakes hadn't been anywhere near Vimes on the night in question, and yet he'd led Carrot to believe that he had. He'd not only tricked Carrot into revealing relevant information, but he'd also saved another potentially embarrassing scene at the palace.
He was definitely a man to watch...
It was such a shame about his beating. No one could have foreseen that, however, and by the time his agents had caught up with Noakes, they could do no more than get him to a good doctor. Which they'd done, of course, and then remained in the area to monitor developments...
And it appeared to be a favourable outcome all round. Everything had been explained to Drumknott, Noakes' young man had returned, and Carrot was back with his beloved commander; who, no doubt, would be less reckless in future knowing now why Carrot had ended it.
All's well that ends well...
Indeed, it was.
And as another day came to a close, the setting sun filled the little bedroom with crimson. And on the bed, in a world of their own, two people cuddled up.
"Just like old times, eh?" said Carrot happily, snuggling into Vimes.
Vimes smiled. "It's only been two days, Carrot..."
"I know, but it feels like a lifetime."
Yes, it does, thought Vimes. And who would've believed it?
"Why do you think Noakes stopped me from leaving?" said Carrot. "There was so much he could have gained if I'd left."
Vimes sighed. "Well, only Noakes can tell you that, Carrot. All I know is, he said he wouldn't stand by and watch you make that kind of sacrifice."
"And yet he made one himself?" Carrot lifted his head and looked at him. "You know how easily he could have taken my place?"
"He could never do that, Carrot..."
"Of course he could. He knows how to—"
"That's not what I meant, you daft sod."
Carrot searched Vimes' face. And then realization suddenly dawned, and he beamed and snuggled in again. "Oh, Sam, I love you so much... I've always loved you. And you love me too, right?"
Vimes held him close and closed his eyes; Carrot's eyes were closed too, and it took Vimes a moment to realize he'd actually nodded off to sleep. He wondered what it said about their relationship that Carrot had asked him the question without really expecting an answer...
He looked down at his young, innocent face, wondering what on the Disc he wouldn't do to protect him.
"Do I love you?" he said softly. "Carrot, I'd die for you."