Proceeding, he called it. It was like walking, but you could do it all day, perhaps longer, if you were good at it. It was a copper’s trick, one you picked up early, if you wanted to still be coppering later.
Vimes had never really tested, to see how far he could go, but secretly he fancied he could go for days, if nothing interrupted him. Maybe only some of the trolls, like Detritus, or Constable Dorfl the golem could go further, or longer.
It was strange, how fast time rolled by, and how slow, at others. But here it was, the Glorious 25th of May, once again. One year since he’d been flung back in time with that bastard, Carcer. Since he’d had to fight for a future he wasn’t sure would even exist, one he’d almost been prepared to give up, because Keel had always taught him…well…he’d always taught himself, as Keel, now…that you did the job in front of you.
He’d tried to win. He’d tried to save them, the men who’d fought and died for something they didn’t really understand, but weren’t prepared to give up. Brave lads. Good men. Not heroes. Not saviours. Not revolutionaries. Just coppers, swept up in events bigger than them.
It felt like a dream, now.
He spotted a frond of lilac, hanging over a low wall to the right and stopped. What with one thing and another, and another long night shift, he hadn’t been home yet. He’d only stopped off at Pseudopolis Yard for a couple of hours rest in his office, to ‘catch up on paperwork’, before he’d signed on for an early patrol.
The song came back, as it always did.
How do they rise up, rise up, rise up…running through his head as he reached up and plucked a sprig, twirling it in his fingers.
They rose, alright. Most of the city might not remember, but those that had been there did.
“Sir?” Sergeant Angua said, quietly.
He blinked, the clasping tendrils of memory fading away and turned to face the sergeant. He realised he had been humming the tune and staring at the lilac for several moments, and tucked the sprig under his breastplate.
“Don’t mind me, sergeant.” Vimes patted his chest, slightly, and beginning to stroll again. “I was miles away.”
Angua nodded briefly, falling easily into step beside him.
He watched her, out of the corner of his eye, and fumbled for his cigar case as the moved on.
She adjusted her helmet, her long, straight blonde hair tumbling over her shoulders with the motion as she shook her head slightly. Her cold blue eyes flitted about the street ahead, alert, watchful. She probably had her other senses at work too, listening, smelling…
Vimes wasn’t sure how she put up with the latter. All the time.
It occurred to him he didn’t often patrol with Angua. Partly this was because he often walked the city alone. It was a time when he felt truly…himself. When Vimes felt most Vimes. And partly this was because he’d never felt the need.
Angua was smart, sensible, practical, with good instincts he got the feeling she didn’t always entirely trust, which was important, and she what he considered a healthy dose of cynicism.
He trusted Angua. Trusted her like few others. Trusted her to get on, get the job done. Trusted her to have his back, and the backs of the others. Trusted her to look out for them, keep them safe, keep them alive.
Vimes largely paired his more experienced, reliable officers with a partner who needed a bit of an ‘airing’, or a ‘brush-up’. He didn’t need to babysit his best men, he trusted them to watch the others, when he couldn’t. And the Watch was so big now, he had to, because he couldn’t be everywhere at once, not anymore.
Angua von Uberwald had taken to coppering like…like a dwarf to mineral seam. She was one of the best he’d ever seen, and he knew now that one day he’d probably make her a captain. She’d certainly earned it.
He stifled a gritty chuckle, as he lit the end of his cigar, sticking it in his mouth and taking a slow draw. Vimes, who hated dwarfs, trolls, werewolves, vampires and…well…everybody, to some extent. That Vimes. He was going to make a werewolf a captain of his watch. The very thought-
“Argh.” He grunted, stopping and leaning on the wall. A twinge of pain shooting up his leg.
It had been a cool night, damp. It always played hell with the bones, now. Age. It was happening, slowly.
“Sir?” Angua hovered nearby, at what he recognised to be a calculated distance. Far enough away as to not be fussing over him, close enough for him to recognise she was offering aid, if he asked.
He wouldn’t ask, but he appreciated the gesture.
“I’m fine. I think we’ll just take a moment to…observe.” He said, glancing up and down the street and finding a gate cutting through a public garden. “Observing is important, sergeant.” He hobbled on, puffing on the cigar to mask each potential hiss of pain as he moved.
“Of course, sir.” Angua replied, dutifully, her face a mask. The copper’s mask. Give nothing away. Never tell ‘em what you’re thinking.
They made their way across the garden to a bench, which Vimes dropped into, relishing the weight being taken off his aching leg. Angua sat down beside him, once again a calculated distance away from him.
Across the path, and the lawn, another sprawling lilac bush. Vimes stared at it for a moment. He took another draw on the cigar.
“It’s today, isn’t it sir?” Angua said, glancing at him sidelong for a moment.
“Yes.” He nodded, sinking back into the bench somewhat. Various parts of his body were crying out in relief.
Angua didn’t press the matter. He knew by now she probably knew why today was significant. Carrot had probably told her once. It wasn’t as if Vimes had told Carrot, and he didn’t expect Fred or Nobby would have, Carrot just…knew things. And if he didn’t, he seemed to know how to find out.
He hadn’t been there, but he knew, and to be fair he knew well enough not to act like he had, just because he knew. Vimes recalled Carrot asking only once, the year after he first joined. Vimes hadn’t quite given up the bottle at the time, and the 25th of May had been a special drinking holiday for old Captain Vimes.
But then, every day of the year had been a special drinking holiday for old Captain Vimes.
No more though. He didn’t need the stuff, not anymore. And he told himself that every day, sometimes multiple times a day, especially when he happened to be somewhere liquor was freely available at a modest price.
He flicked away the ashy remnants of his cigar and grumbled to himself. Now he was thinking about having a drink. Think about something else.
“Are you alright, sir?” Angua asked. There was the barest hint of concern in her voice, he thought.
He removed his helmet, letting the air get to his head. It really was hot, now. The sun was high in the blue sky and his skin sticky with sweat. Beside him, he noticed Angua do the same, shaking her hair out. Unlike him, with his ruddy, marked, heat-reddened skin, she managed to stay remarkably pale.
She was quite attractive, he thought, dimly. The parts of him that weren’t absorbed by the Watch, by the madness of the city, by Vetinari, by Sybil, and young Sam, those few parts that were unoccupied enough to think about such things, recognised that.
“Warm today, isn’t it?” He said, on auto-pilot. Conversation wasn’t an art he’d perfected so much as a tool he could wield nominally well to get a job done.
Vimes vaguely remembered he’d registered she was an attractive young woman once, a few times, over the years. Possibly he could count the times on one hand, but still. He could see why Carrot liked her.
“Yes, sir.” Angua replied, calmly.
They’d been…together, he supposed, for years now. He didn’t really ask about it, it wasn’t the business of commanders to ask about the private lives and relationships of their officers. But Vimes, even with his shrivelled, cynical, anti-romantic soul, secretly hoped things were working out. Carrot…Carrot vexed him mightily, at times, but he was a good lad, and Angua certainly had enough problems of her own to deal with, every day.
She knew about the Beast. The one you kept on a chain, and always watched. Kept it till you needed it. Angua probably knew better than he did, because hers was real.
“Not like Überwald, I’d imagine.” He added, barely paying attention to the words he was actually saying.
It was a dumb thing to say, of course it was bloody cold in Überwald. That was what Überwald was all about. But that was one of the things he liked about Angua. They didn’t talk often, about things unrelated to the job, but when they did, the words were just there to fill time. They had an understanding. She understood what it was, to be a copper. She understood sometimes when you knew someone, you didn’t really have to say anything.
“No sir. Überwald is generally cold all year around, apart from some of the southern regions in summer.” She glanced over at him, her eyes meeting his for a moment.
Vimes didn’t know anything about ‘love’, as an idea. When he heard people talk about it, he was generally dubious, and mostly considered them to be in an untrustworthy frame of mind. And he’d be the first to admit, only to himself, that he didn’t really know anything about women.
He loved Sybil, in a way, he supposed. In the same sort of way she loved him. They’d found each other, both of them missing something the other could provide in their lives. Vimes needed stability, solid ground, and Sybil was as sturdy as they came. She’d saved him, he knew that, and she’d practically given him the Watch.
Sybil needed company, a family to dedicate herself to. Vimes had been able to provide that, in his own limited way. He tried to be what he thought a good husband should be, and they had a son. Bigods, he, Sam Vimes, had a son.
He loved his son. If there was one thing he never doubted, never questioned, never stumbled on. He loved his son. Young Sam. The blinding, fuzzy light at the centre of his sometimes dark, often confusing universe.
“How are things back home?” Vimes asked, before he could stop himself, while the majority of his thought processes were still tangled up in the warm, fuzzy, pink cloud that swirled around his son.
Angua flinched, only slightly. She turned her helmet over and over in her hands. He thought she wasn’t going to reply at all, and he didn’t blame her. He’d unintentionally breached their…what…unspoken deal? You don’t ask me and I won’t ask you? Vimes wasn’t equipped to deal with this, this was a Carrot problem, this was-
“The last letter I had from my mother said father changed into a wolf and wandered off.” Angua said, suddenly. “And didn’t come back.”
Vimes didn’t say anything, that was probably the smart thing. He fumbled for his cigar case again.
“…and mother’s last letter was about a year after we got back from Überwald.” She added, unsettlingly calm.
That was a long time ago, Vimes, master of acknowledging the obvious, affirmed to himself.
Vimes lit the cigar, eyes wandering over the young woman warily. She was upset, he suspected that was a reasonable assumption, and it sounded reasonable that she would be. But outwardly, he couldn’t really tell. She didn’t sound upset, or look upset, or…
…but women were…um…
How many times back at the Ramkin Estate, had the words “I’m Fine.” been followed by a withering, crushing glare from Sybil, when he’d said the wrong thing?
He finally noticed her hands. They were clutching her helmet so tightly they’d have been pale if her skin wasn’t always near-white, and they were shaking.
Vimes had to say something, or do something. But what could he do? Putting a hand to her shoulder and offering some sort of tired platitude seemed like exactly the wrong sort of thing to do. Angua wasn’t like that.
He pinched the cigar in his mouth, and pulled out the sprig of lilac he’d taken earlier. He twirled it in his fingers again, thoughtfully.
Vimes had never told anyone what happened. It wasn’t something you explained, it wasn’t a story. It all happened, it was history. Brave men died. Bad men died. And nothing changed, not for a long time afterwards. And she hadn’t been there. You had to be there, it was the thing. It was what he’d told himself for years.
He glanced at Angua beside him, staring fixedly at her knees and still gripping her helmet.
But she had been there in a lot of other ways. She was a good officer. Reliable. Smart. Brave. And he trusted her. For years she’d been one of the most solid, dependable members of the Watch, in the face of crisis after crisis.
So…maybe she’d earned it. In the same way Fred had earned the right to call him ‘Sam”. Why not? He could make that choice. Who said he couldn’t!
“Did I ever tell you about what happened on the Glorious 25th May?” Vimes said, puffing out a mouthful of smoke, and half-turning to Angua, conversationally.
“No sir.” Angua replied, looking up. “Carrot told me you and Sergeant Colon, and Corporal Nobbs didn’t like to talk about it, not long after the golem incident.”
“True enough.” Nodded Vimes, staring ahead at the lilac bush now. He held the sprig out to her, without looking. “But as your commanding officer, I’m allowed to change my mind, sergeant.”
“Yes sir.” Angua replied. He felt her take the sprig carefully. “Thank you, sir.”
Vimes leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and took a slow draw on the cigar. He felt Angua settle next to him. Angua listened. She always listened.
“Ankh Morpork was in a sorry state, in those days.” He began, finding it easier than he ever thought he would. “Old Lord Winder was completely mad, and a very young Sam Vimes had just signed up to the Night Watch…”