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Some Time Before

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It's cold, out in the snow. In a few minutes, one of the maids will probably noticed that young Sybil is no longer where she was placed, and there will be small amount of panic, and eventually they'll notice that Sybil's coat and boots are missing. Sybil can still see the lights of the Crundells mansion, so she shouldn't be too difficult to find.

Sybil regrets the trouble she'll cause, because she's a well-brought-up child who doesn't normally make much mischief. But the concerns of adults seem very distant, just now.

It's so white, that's the thing. In Ankh-Morpork, the snow is always a slushy grey, dirty as soon as it drifts through the air. The only marks on this snow are from Sybil's boots.

It's a little unsettling.

Sybil takes a few steps in her huge, clunky boots, hand-me-downs from a second-cousin who's grown and keeps horses somewhere near Klatch. Imagine keeping something as boring as horses. Imagine moving away from the City.

Live somewhere else, somewhere clean and quiet and calm where the snow is always white. Except there isn't any snow in Klatch.

Sybil breathes, and the cold catches her breath and makes it look like steam, like smoke curling out of her belly. She grins, with razor-sharp imagined fangs, and turns slowly in the snow as the maid's voices begin to call out.

---

It's a hot, sticky day, and Sam doesn't want to move. He'd lie on the front steps all day, if people didn't keep going in and out. Why do people need to go places when it's so hot out? Why do people go anywhere?

"Got to work, boy," says Mister Orrie, who lives upstairs. Sam moves just enough for Mister Orrie to get by, and then slumps back down. The stone steps are still cool from the dark of the night and the dew of the morning.

He's probably getting his shirt dirty. Mum likes shirts nice and clean, seeing as she has to wash them and you wouldn't want to make work for your mum, would you, Sam? Sam thinks this shirt was already dirty when he got it. Missus Gooding gave it to his mum after all five of her own boys were too big to wear it, and Sam's pretty sure that snot and mud and all the other things boys get on their clothes have become ingrained in the fabric, part of its dull brown make-up.

He'd just take it off and enjoy a bit of extra breeze, except his mum might go hysterical and die from the indecency, and then where would Sam be?

Missus Gooding's youngest is seven years older than Sam, and when he turned fourteen last summer he got a berth on a trading ship and sailed across the Circle Sea to Klatch. It's hotter there than in Ankh-Morpork, he says. Sam can't imagine. Can't imagine any heat worse than this, can't imagine anything more than it is in the City.

Sweat drips from Sam's nose down to his mouth, and it tastes like Missus Gooding's youngest says the sea does; salty and bitter. Sam wipes his face with his dirty brown shirt and frowns out at the hot, hazy street until the next clunk of boots makes him get up from the steps.

---

It's autumn when Adora Belle Dearhart's father buys her a horse, and the crisp days are full of colors and fear. Dad's building towers out on the Sto Plains, and Adora and her mum and her brother are staying in tents with the rest of the clacks families, watching the engineers crawl up and down the shaking wooden frame that will be a tower soon. If it doesn't fall over first.

Dad can see the worry in Adora's eyes when he comes down from the tower at the end of a day, and she thinks he bought the horse to distract her.

It's working.

"Aren't you tired yet?" she asks the horse. It tosses its head and keeps running around the pen made of scrap wood.

Dad suggested that she try to ride the horse, but Adora doesn't think that would be a very good idea. Someone would probably get hurt. Anyway, the horse seems capable of steering itself. Adora will settle for making the horse like her. It doesn't seem interested in her at all, yet, but Adora can be patient, she can put in the work.

Adora takes an apple out of the pocket of her overalls, and holds it out. The horse wheels and charges for her.

Imagine if the horse kept galloping, knocked over the ramshackle fence, crushed Adora under its hooves. Danger is everywhere, and you can die on the ground just as well as falling from the sky.

Adora breathes in, out. Her hand doesn't shake.

The horse skids to a stop and lips the apple off of her hand, sticky horse drool dripping onto her fingers. Adora wipes them off on her soft oversized engineer's overalls, stolen from her father's suitcase. She pats the horse, awkwardly.

"You're a monster," she whispers, and bares her teeth back at the horse when it whinnies.

---

Spring in Lipwig is cloudy and chill at the best of times, drizzling and cold at the worst. Today the air is a fine mist, not really rain but soaking Moist to the bone anyway.

Moist doesn't speak that much Morporkian yet, so he doesn't get the joke. He wouldn't really appreciate it anyway.

It's early yet, the sun struggling to rise through the fog and clouds. Somewhere off in the distance, a werewolf howls. Moist shivers, and leans back against the wall, the wood of the porch creaking wetly around him. He's got his grandfather's sturdy pocket-knife clutched in his palm. He's safe.

Well, he won't be if his grandfather catches him with it. That pocket-knife is supposed to be in Grandfather's pocket, not Moist's. "Stealing is wrong," mutters Moist to himself, deep and forceful like his grandfather. He rolls his eyes. He can't make it sound believable, not even to himself.

The werewolf howls again, further away. Moist imagines it coming nearer, nearer, the damp matting its fur. The pocket-knife is making a dent in his hand as his fist tightens. He's not brave enough to face down a werewolf, he doesn't think, but he'd like to see one, see its jaws widen and snap, just imagine-

"Moist!" shouts his grandfather, and Moist moves just enough to push the pocketknife through the slats of the porch and let it drop onto the ground below. He'll get it back later, when Grandfather is distracted with chopping wood or going to the village market or whatever exciting plans he has for the day.

Moist tries to come up with actual exciting things to do, tells stories and plays tricks and thinks up fantasies, but his grandfather calls them lies and criminal deeds. It's not as if he's wrong. Just ask Herr Polzi, he'll tell you that Moist von Lipwig is a nasty little liar, and no mistake. Just ask Frau Igorina, she'll tell you about the time Moist von Lipwig stole her heart, and her back-up supply of ears, too.

It was just for fun. Moist just wants to be happy.

"Moist!" shouts his grandfather, again, and Moist pastes a smile on his face as he gets to his feet. If he can't be happy, at least he can pretend.

---

It is winter when Sam Vimes decides to join the Night Watch. The air is burning cold, too cold to snow, colder than anyone remembers. Old people on the street are talking about magical accidents and shooting accusing looks at the Tower of Art, just visible through the frozen clouds that are hiding the heights of the City. Sam is happy to blame just about anything on the wizards, but it doesn't make him feel any warmer. He stuffs his hands deeper in his pockets, shivers. Sam's wearing his mum's old gloves, but the gloves are thin from wear and the tiny holes that haven't been darned let the cold air in if he takes his hands out of his coat.

Sam wouldn't be outside at all, but Davey Wiggler has to run an errand in rival gang territory, and the Cockbill Street Roaring Lads won't abandon one of their own to the Damn Cheesemongers. Not that anyone else is out in the cold, not when they could be home, huddled up and safe from the biting wind that makes Sam feel like his bones are freezing.

Davey's inside the grocer's now, taking altogether too long in the relative warmth of the shop while the Lads stand guard outside.

"Come on, hurry up," mutters Geoff, teeth chattering. "My goolies are turning into snowballs." They can see Davey through the window now, fishing through his pockets for enough change to pay part of his mum's tab.

Sam fidgets on the icy cobbles, and realizes he has a hole in his left sock. His mum has darned these a thousand times, but the socks had three years of hard wear when Sam had got them from the shonky shop, and they don't hold repairs for long. The hole wouldn't be a problem, but Sam's boot has its own hole right in the same place, and now Sam's foot is freezing off. He fidgets again, trying to shift the sock around so that the holes don't line up.

Davey makes it back outside at last, and the Lads start trudging back to Cockbill Street. Every step shifts the hole in Sam's sock into a worse position.

That's when Sam decides to join the Watch. Not because he's a firm belief in right and wrong, or because he wants to protect his fellow underdogs. Not because he's a family full of Watchmen and a genetic predisposition to proceeding. All of those things are true, but they're not the deciding factor. No, it's because the Night Watch hands out a steady pay and Sam's clothes are full of holes. And it's bloody cold out.

Sam spits, and watches it freeze halfway to the ground, shattering on the cobbles.

In the spring, the City thaws a bit and Sam puts on his best used suit and gets a job. They don't let him take the King's Shilling, but he gets a dollar for running the hurry-up wagon later, so that's all right.

---

It's summer when Sybil decides that she's not interested in being a Lady.

Well, that's not quite right. Sybil doesn't have a problem with becoming Lady Ramkin - her mama and grandmama seem to get along just fine with it, and it would rather be letting the family down if she decided to just chuck it. It would be more accurate to say that Sybil is not interested in becoming what Adalia Wipers, future Baroness Wipers, seems to think a Lady is.

Sybil likes walking in the humid warmth of Quirm's summers - it's almost like being home, but not nearly as dreadful. Future Baroness Adalia Wipers says that Ladies do not sweat. Sybil brushes damp strands of hair of her forehead, and smiles a very tight smile.

Sybil wears clothes that fit her body, which means they're not very stylish at the moment, not when tight corsets and subtle curves are the very top of fashion. Sybil's curves are not subtle, especially not for a girl of fifteen. Sybil's curves drop large hints and occasionally make loud statements. Future Baroness Adalia Wipers likes to talk about how you have to work to find a man, and being beautiful is a full time job. Adalia Wipers has a corset that her servants tighten with a winch. Sybil sticks to soft, loose corsets and a fixed air of obliviousness whenever Adalia tries to talk to her about it.

Sybil works afternoons in the dragon pens kept by Madame Furee, the economics tutor. The little swamp dragons are fascinating, haphazard balls of chemicals and meat and a total lack of self-preservation. Their bodies have such an up-hill battle, making it all work. They do explode sometimes, of course, but Sybil's only surprised that they don't explode more often.

Future Baroness Adalia Wipers, predictably, does not think that a Lady should go around with bits of scale and flesh still sticking to her arm. She was very disapproving when Sybil came back to the dormitories with half her hair burned off and the new knowledge that you should never stand so close to a dragon when you're feeding it. Sybil summoned up the energy to force a self-deprecating laugh.

The thing is, Sybil likes Adalia, in the same distant and somewhat conflicted way that she likes everyone. Adalia can be very unkind, at times, but she also helped Sybil shave her head and pick out her first wig. If Sybil wants to strangle Adalia at times, that's offset at least a little by the times she wants to pat Adalia on her tiny uninspired head and tell her that everything will work out for the best.

Sybil shakes her head, drops of unladylike sweat dripping from her nose. She unlocks the gate of the dragon pen.

"That you, Sybil?" calls Madame Furee.

"Yes, Madame," says Sybil. "I came to say goodbye."

Madame Furee straightens up from where she had been digging through a bucket of coal. She's a tall woman, thin, but made bulkier by layers of leather protective gear. Her face is red and blotchy from the heat of the day combined with the heat from the dragons, her hair is bundled up in a haphazard turban, and she's taken her gloves off, her fingers stained black with soot. She is the least ladylike woman to have ever existed.

Sybil itches with aspiration.

"Lost an earring in the feed bucket," complains Madame Furee. "Going home for the holidays?"

"Yes, Madame," says Sybil.

"Expect you'll be pleased to see the old family again." Madame Furee is perfectly capable of carrying both sides of the conversation. "Here, have you got stables at home?"

"Yes, Madame?"

"Then take Lady Gloria Victory III with you." Madame Furee gestures at a sleepy-eyed yearling dragon. "Otherwise she'll pine while you're gone, and pining makes all the other dragons bloated. Can't have that! I'll get you a carrier."

"I couldn't possibly," says Sybil, but Madame Furee is already bustling around the pen, and Sybil thinks that she probably could. There's only one horse in the stable, and there's plenty of space for a small dragon.

This is how Sybil ends up lugging a dragon around with her as she gets in the coach that Papa sent. Gloria is dribbling through the latticed front of the carrier, and acid burns keep appearing on the edges of Sybil's skirt.

"Ladies don't take useless exploding livestock home with them," says Sybil to Gloria.

Gloria sneezes.

"I suppose this Lady does," says Sybil, and takes off her wig as the coach gains speed, lets the warm summer air brush through the short uneven hair on her scalp.

---

The autumn air is biting, already showing signs of frost, but Moist is snug and warm in his stolen coat. His old headmaster has good taste, even if the man's a shit teacher.

Let bygones be bygones, thinks Moist as he trudges down the road. The headmaster took a few whacks at Moist, Moist lifted the coat from its peg, the headmaster tried taking a few more whacks at Moist, and Moist hauled himself out of a window in the dead of night. He doesn't need a boarding school - he'll get his education on the streets.

Street. Dirt road. Whatever.

The problem with school is that there are too many people, all demanding different things, and it's so much work to keep up with all of the people you're supposed to be. Moist had thought it was interesting, for a while - playing good student for the teachers, loveable rogue for the other boys, modest schoolboy for whatever other adults happened along - but the problem is that you never get any breaks, and the only reward seems to be slightly less frequent punishment.

So his cover started to slip and Moist von Lipwig started to be known as a thief and a liar again, probably because he kept getting caught stealing and telling lies.

"Shouldn't get caught," mutters Moist to himself. Shouldn't have a reason to get caught. The best criminal shakes hands with his victims, and they both walk away happy. Or at least not running to the headmaster.

Moist von Lipwig is getting better at making himself happy, but he's still not very good at making other people happy.

"So be someone else," says Moist. But that's wrong - he still sounds like himself, looks like himself, is himself.

He stops moving, listening to a cart rumble by.

"Hello, I am Moist von Lipwig," Moist tries, in his somewhat passable Morporkian. "Do you have room for a passenger? I don't have any money, but-"

He sounds like a boy, like a runaway. Which he is, obviously, but he doesn't want to sound like one. It's easy to tell where he's from, since his accent is still thick and heavy with Lipwig, no matter how much his teachers tried to beat it out of him.

Well, if he can't speak perfect Morporkian, maybe he can speak a different kind of bad Morporkian.

"Do you have room for a passenger," says Moist, imitating a Borogravian refugee he met once. His voice sounds harsh in his own ears, the consonants awkward and misshapen, and Moist grins.

He straightens up, and the coat shifts to drape more evenly on his shoulders. The grin settles on his face and Moist closes his eyes and opens them as a different boy. A different man.

"Hello," he shouts, waving at the next passing cart, "hello, excuse me please!"

The cart slows, and a man and a woman peer out, suspiciously.

"Hello, I am Edwin Streep," says the man who was Moist, holding out a hand as he walks alongside the cart. The man and the woman eye that, too. "Would you perhaps have room for a passenger?"

"A paying passenger," says the woman.

"Oh," says Edwin, and lets his face fall a little. "I am sorry, but I don't have any money at the moment."

The man spits over the side of his cart, and twitches the reins a little. The horse pulling the cart walks faster, and Edwin begins to jog.

"My aunt is at her deathbed, you see," says Edwin, "and she has my inheritance - if she dies before I get home, my cousin may get all my money. But if someone were to help me make my way home, I would be very," Edwin stops, "grateful."

The cart keeps going for a few seconds, then drifts to a halt. Edwin can hear the man and the woman arguing as he walks forward to catch up. They stop talking when they see him.

"Where you going?" asks the woman.

"Ygram," says Edwin, because that's far enough away that he wouldn't walk there quickly and close enough that he won't be much of an imposition.

The man grunts. The woman nods.

"You can ride in the back with the cabbages," she says.

"You," says Edwin, with as much sincerity as he can master, "are very kind."

The road is bumpy and the horse is slow, but riding in a cart is infinitely preferable to walking. Moist waits until the cart is inside the Ygram gates before sliding out of the cart and down an alley, leaving Edwin and his fictitious aunt behind. No harm done to a pair of farmers who were going this way anyway.

Moist pulls on the lapels of his coat and strides out into the town, already thinking of how he's going to make his way out to the Sto Plains.

---

It's spring when Adora starts smoking.

The birds are singing in the trees, the grass is green, the sky is blue, and it's too nice a day out to be going bankrupt. But money keeps going into the Clacks and not coming out. And the horse has been sold and the house has been sold and there's nothing left to sell. And Father is inside the bank, signing papers that leave him still buried in debt but somehow better off.

Adora draws in a breath and tries not to cough as she lets out a thin stream of smoke.

She cracks her neck and glares at a robin.

"Nasty habit," says John, sitting down on the bench next to her.

Adora shrugs and tries to blow a smoke ring. She's not very good at it.

"It's not really as bad as Dad makes it out to be," John begins, trying to be reassuring. Adora blows a terrible smoke ring in his face, and he waves it away, grimacing.

"Try not to patronize me," says Adora.

"Sorry, Killer," says John, voice heavy to point out the irony. Adora ignores him.

She remembers when she was very young, and the family scraped by on whatever they could. They got what they worked for, sometimes got even less. And then the money started pouring in - it had felt like a game.

It doesn't feel like one now.

"We're going to move in with Aunt Mercy." John is staring at the robin now too. "Down in Dolly Sisters."

"Yes, I know," says Adora.

"I'll still be working" John smiles, weakly. "And you'll be old enough to find your own work soon."

"Yes, I know," says Adora.

"Dad will be finished in the bank soon." John gestures at the big building with its columns and statuary.

"Yes, I know," says Adora.

The robin flies away. Adora takes another drag on her cigarette.

"Everything-" John hesitates, "everything will be fine, you know."

Something inside Adora snaps.

"You can't just say that," she hisses, turning to face John. "You can't know that's true. You have to work, we have to work to make things better, and sometimes things will go wrong no matter how hard you try to make it right, and- fuck!" She drops the stub of her cigarette, fingers burning.

John, bless his soul and damn his eyes, does not laugh.

"I should get you one of those cigarette holders," he says. "Remind me on Hogswatch."

Adora sucks her fingers and thinks about ways to make things better. A cigarette holder sounds like a start.

---

Sam grows up, becomes a copper, becomes a drunk, becomes a husband, gets on the wagon, falls off the wagon, gets on the wagon again, becomes a commander, becomes a knight, becomes a duke, becomes a father-

Sam stands in the doorway to the nursery, and watches Young Sam sleep. His hands itch to do something, but he's not sure what.

He can hear the shift of Sybil's dressing gown as she walks up behind him.

"Everything all right?" she asks.

"Just got in," says Sam. "Mostly quiet at the station. Whoever stole the Colossus of Ankh-Morpork is still at large, but Carrot thinks he has a lead."

"Mhm." Sybil puts her arm around his waist and leans in. "And how are you, Sam?"

Sam shrugs, drapes his arm across his wife's shoulders. Sybil's taken off her wig to sleep, and her real hair is soft and fine when he kisses the top of her head.

"We didn't have a nursery when I was born," Sam says, half to himself. "Two rooms, kitchen and bedroom, and we shared the privy with three other families who lived in the house. Mum got the crib from my great-aunt Hennie, and Judith's boys were grown enough that I got all of their old baby clothes. I think we gave them to the Waltzes across the street, when they wouldn't fit me anymore. We didn't have anyone in to help, except Mister Argle across the hall when Mum was ill and I was learning to climb. He reminded me of that every time he needed someone to run down the street and buy him tobacco. 'If it weren't for me, Sammy boy, you'd probably have fallen out of a window that week.'"

Sybil nods, and they listen to Young Sam's breathing for a moment.

"That crib's been in my family for generations," says Sybil, at last. "And my school friends gave us lots of old clothes, don't you remember?"

Sam does. The baby shower had been terrifying, full of upper-class middle-aged low-brow women with six children of their own and loads of baby things that they didn't need any longer. The Baroness Wipers had gotten drunk on non-alcoholic pink wine and told Sam that she was glad Sybil had found him and that she'd pull his balls off with a vise if he ever hurt her.

"We didn't have a nursery," repeats Sam. "It's not the same."

"Do you want it to be the same?" asks Sybil. When Sam doesn't say anything, she elbows him in the side, more or less gently.

Sam closes his eyes and tries to think about his childhood, the childhood that Young Sam will have. He's glad that Young Sam is better off than he was, won't have to drink his milk thinned with water or watch his mother try to work three jobs and still make dinner at night. But-

"I just don't want him to think that this is real life," says Sam.

Sybil lifts her head and gives Sam a Look. It's very meaningful, though he's not sure what it means.

"You should get some sleep," she says, and Sam lets Sybil tug him over to their bedroom, takes his uniform off into its composite pieces as Sybil fusses with the bedcovers and blows out candles. The last candle goes out as Sam pulls the blankets up over him, and the mattress creaks as Sybil settles down.

"It's not something you can solve," Sybil says, into the dark. "Children grow up in their own little world, and it's real enough to them. My childhood was the realest thing that's ever happened to me."

"We've blunted all the sharp edges of the world for him," says Sam, already mostly asleep. He's sure he wouldn't say something like that if he was awake.

"Good," says Sybil, and Sam closes his eyes, brain going grey.

He dreams of a small boy called Sam, with worn-out shoes and a dirty brown shirt, the realest things he's ever had.

---

Sam comes in to help with the dragons, sometimes. Sybil thinks it's sweet, if somewhat nerve-racking. Sam never wears enough protective gear and uses the dragons to light his cigars when he thinks she's not watching. He feeds the dragons too much coal, especially when he's thinking about a case and not really paying attention to what he's doing. His eyebrows are always a half second away from getting singed off. But Sam never complains about mucking out the pens, or when a dragon chews off part of his chain mail, or when his eyebrows do get crisped a bit.

It reminds Sybil why she married him. Not that she ever really forgets. But it reminds her of other things too, being here in the dragon pens in her leather protective gear and her hands dark with coal and her man at her side. It reminds Sybil of who she wanted to be, and how lucky she is that she's succeeded.

Today Sam walks into the pens with Young Sam toddling along with him, holding on to Sam's fingers with his tiny hands. Sybil smiles and surreptitiously locks the pens of two or three of the more vicious dragons.

"He wanted his Mum," says Sam. "I told him you were busy, but he wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Mum!" says Young Sam, triumphantly. "Dragins!"

"I know, sweetheart," says Sybil, smiling wider. "Do you know their names?"

Young Sam stares, wide-eyed, at all of the pens and the creatures inside them, the large females and smaller males, the sturdy breeders and the delicate yearlings, the shoulder-dragons and the guard-dragons. The dragons hiss and gurgle and smoke, flapping their wings and drooling.

"No," says Young Sam, very quiet.

"Would you like to?" asks Sybil. She holds out her hand to one of the youngest shoulder-dragons, a tiny thing smaller than her hand, and the dragon crawls on to her wrist.

"Yes," says Young Sam, eyes fixed on the dragon.

"This," Sybil turns her hand so the dragon has to flap her wings to keep balance, "is Griselda Montery. I'm sending her off to Brenda Rodley soon, do you remember Brenda?"

Young Sam shakes his head.

"She gave you a huge bag of rock candy last month, and you ate all of it and got sick on the rug," says Sam. He's feeding old Jethro in the corner pen, which means Jethro is trying very hard to gum apart pieces of coal and only half-succeeding.

"Do you want to hold Griselda?" asks Sybil. Griselda doesn't have developed flame yet, just sparks, and her claws barely prick the skin. She's the safest dragon Sybil owns, and she still catches her breath as Young Sam holds out his tiny hand and the dragon leaps onto it.

Young Sam is very careful, his hands don't shake and he just giggles when Griselda coughs sparks at him. Sybil feels like she could burst with pride.

"Over there," Sybil points at a large pen with a large brown dragon inside, "that's Lord Steinham Victory II. his dam was Lady Gloria Victory IV, and her dam was Lady Gloria Victory III, the very first dragon I ever owned."

She knows Young Sam can't have understood much of that, but he nods and says "Wow," looking suitably impressed.

Sybil takes off one of her gloves and pats Young Sam on the head, remembering being his age and running outside to play in the snow, remembering being older and the first time she got to hold a dragon. She's so glad she can give her son this, and she laughs with him as Griselda gets tired of being held and jumps away, gliding down to the ground.

"The realest thing he's ever seen," says Sam, behind her, and Sybil turns to pat him on the head too, run her fingers through his graying hair.

"We should show him the dung piles," she says. "That's real enough for anyone."

"Dung piles!" shouts Young Sam, wound up and excited again, and Sam picks their son up and swings him around until Young Sam is giggling, high-pitched and fast like only a small child can sound.

"The smell will put hair on your chest, kid," says Sam, and "Gross!" says Young Sam, and Sybil locks up the rest of the dragon pens and follows her boys outside.

---

Moist doesn't really understand what hard work is. He tries, goes to his office in the Bank or the Post Office five days a week and shuffles paper work and pretends he's a real wage-earner, but something still doesn't click. He sticks around when his job is being interesting, but when everything's going smoothly he goes out for lunch and just doesn't come back. Adora knows because then he tends to show up at the Golem Trust and be in the way.

Moist doesn't really understand that Adora has work as well.

Today Moist strolls in wearing a shabby suit and a pair of glasses without any lenses in them - one of his incognito outfits. Adora glances at him and then looks back down at her papers, scribbling notes to herself in the margins.

"The opera is playing Madame Leopard tonight," says Moist. "I thought-"

"I'm sure you'll enjoy it." Adora doesn't look up. "Do tell me how it is."

"Ah," says Moist. "Can't tear yourself away?"

"I'm still working on the Turners," says Adora, and Moist makes a small noise of sympathy.

The Turners are three golems that turn a set of waterwheels in the tanning districts. They're owned by a small family business, which is always difficult. A big company will sell you anything if you're willing to pay enough, but the person whose great-great-grandfather died and left them in charge will smile sweetly and tell you that owning people has been a company tradition since before they were born, and they couldn't go selling that.

Adora needs something, a bargaining chip, a lever, and she's been going through everything she can find on the company looking for one. So far all she's found is a lot of bad accounting and questionable animal products, but if you could blackmail a tanning company over that they'd all have gone bankrupt years ago.

"Maybe you should give it some time." Moist spreads his hands. "Take a break, come back with fresh eyes."

"I'm not going to the opera," says Adora, and turns a page.

When she finally looks up, ten or fifteen or thirty minutes later, Moist is gone.

"At least come get lunch," says Moist, after two days of more papers and the headaches Adora gets when she doesn't take frequent smoke breaks.

"Don't you have work to do?" asks Adora.

"Not really," says Moist. "I have very capable managers."

Adora is a very capable manager, and she knows it. She glares at Moist and gets up, stiffly, moving away from the papers to light her cigarette.

"I will figure this out," says Adora, half to herself, but she can see Moist watching her. He nods.

Moist doesn't understand hard work - or perhaps he does understand it, he just doesn't see the point. But Moist understands challenges.

Over the next two days, Moist doesn't ask Adora to do anything. But he keeps coming by, brings sandwiches and coffee and a few packs of Adora's favorite cigarettes. He offers to look at a few stacks of papers, gives ideas, but in the end the most helpful thing he does is sit and watch and let Adora know that she's not doing this alone.

And then one night Moist runs in wearing another one of his scruffy suits, and he says "Spike, you've got to come-"

"I'm not going anywhere," says Adora, but Moist grabs her hand and hauls her to her feet and Adora can tell this is different because Moist is grinning his criminal's grin.

"You're going to want to see this," says Moist.

The family-owned and golem-operated tanning workshop is on fire. Moist squeezes Adora's hand as she watches the flames, and golems rush around her to stamp the fire out.

"You had nothing to do with this," says Adora, and it might have been a question from another person.

"I was designing stamps, all the way on the other side of town," says Moist, and you can't trust Moist, not even as far as you can throw him, but Adora doesn't think he would have interfered without asking her.

"Lucky," says Adora, and spots Mister Jonathan Whitstrip, owner of the former tanning workshop and current pile of wreckage. He has his hat in his hands and looks badly in need of a comforting voice. Adora stalks over to him, and she can feel Moist following three paces behind her.

"I'm very sorry for your troubles, Mister Whitstrip," she says, in the least comforting voice she can muster. It doesn't even seem to register to Mister Whitstrip.

"Fifth fire in the district this week," he mutters. "Bloody arsonists."

Adora knows that the Whitstrips don't have insurance, because they used to and then missed some payments and never bothered making it up. She knows the profits haven't been good enough to cover this kind of a loss. It's all in the books, if you know where to look.

"I'm sure this will be a trying time for your business," says Adora. "If you need some funds-" That catches Whitstrip's attention. Adora holds on to it, takes a drag on her cigarette and lets out a thin stream of smoke, Whitstrip's beady eyes on her every move. "Well. The Golem Trust would be happy to trade cash for your surviving solid assets."

Whitstrip looks away, back at his workshop. The fire's dead, only a few ashy coals still glowing. Adora spins on her heel and walks away, lets Moist catch up and link arms with her.

She lets herself smile. She'll see Whitstrip tomorrow, she thinks, or the day after, and the price will be steep but the Golem Trust has all of the bargaining chips.

"Sometimes you have to work," says Moist. "And sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time."

"Sometimes you need both," says Adora. "Let's go out to dinner tonight. And the opera after."

Moist squeezes her hand as Adora leads him out into the streets

---

Spike is trying to learn the Lipwig dialect of Uberwaldean. Twice a week she visits Frau Schatzsche in the Shades, a tall old woman shaped like a barrel who's spent forty years in Ankh-Morpork and still can't speak more than a couple dozen words of Morporkian. Spike brings Frau Schatzsche groceries and runs her errands, and in return Frau Schatzsche teaches Spike phrases of Uberwaldean which Spike practices over and over, running the words over her tongue like they're a code she has to crack.

Moist listens to her hesitating consonants and wishes she would give it up.

"Have I got it right?" asks Adora, and repeats a phrase. "Just try something, bastard, and I'll cut your window off."

Moist blinks, slowly, face perfectly still.

"I asked Frau Schatzsche to teach me useful phrases," says Adora. "And she lives in the Shades, so I suspect her idea of useful phrases is somewhat different from mine."

"No, that did sound like something you would say." Moist shrugs, and casts around in his memory. "But I think the word you want is Fingtze, finger, not Finstze, window."

"Hm," says Adora, and lights another cigarette.

Moist loves Spike, plans on marrying her under his real name, if she'll let him; he loves the way she sees through him and the way she picks at his lies to find the truth underneath. But he doesn't like this. He hasn't said more than fifty words of the Lipwig dialect since he ran away from school, and good riddance, good riddance to that life and that language and that place.

Adora, stalking around muttering bits of Uberwaldean to herself in her abominable accent and dropping ash all over the rug in the Bank, is stirring up memories that Moist would rather forget.

He never tells Spike to stop seeing Frau Schatzsche, because that would only end in arguments and tears and stamped (possibly punctured) feet, but Spike can tell that's he's unhappy about it anyway.

"I only want to know more about your terrible past," she says, face perfectly blank.

"You already know about my terrible past," says Moist. "What about Cribbins? You met Cribbins. He's terrible enough for anyone."

"I wish I could see under your skin," says Spike, still calm and almost expressionless. "I wish I could feel your heart beating red under my windows."

Moist's breath catches, and he tries to smile and pretend he didn't understand Adora's accent.

"I think Frau Schatzsche meant that to be a threat," muses Spike, tapping her cigarette in its long black holder and letting the ash drift onto Moist's desk. "But I thought it sounded endearing. Finstze or Fingtze?"

"Fingtzen," says Moist.

Adora speaks seven languages, all but one of them dead languages that she learned to read chems and speak with newly-tongued golems. Moist should feel flattered that he is the cause of her eighth language, that she approaches their relationship with the same dedication she gives to the Golem Trust.

Moist is, in fact, beginning to feel flattered. It helps that Spike has stopped asking him questions and started whispering threats, ash-flavored insults and curses that make him shiver as she stamps around in her stiletto heels. Every threat to steal his wallet and strangle him with his own shoelaces just lulls him into a false sense of security.

This is why he doesn't protest (that much) when Adora asks him to help her carry the weekly bags of groceries over to Frau Schatzsche's house.

Frau Schatzsche lives in a crooked wobbling house in the middle of the Shades, and when she opens the door the reek of cabbage and sausage brings tears to Moist's eyes. Adora is visibly breathing through her mouth to avoid the stench. It smells like home. Frau Schatze, with her steel-gray hair curled in a bun, with a floury apron tied around her waist, and with a cleaver in one hand, she looks like home. When she says "Einkomn," the clang of Lipwig resounds in her voice.

Moist would really like to run, but he pastes a warm smile on his face instead and takes the shopping bags to the kitchen. Frau Schatzsche watches him with appraising eyes.

"One of the Von Lipwigs," she says, and Moist nods. That's common knowledge, now that he doesn't have the comfort of aliases.

"I knew your grandfather," continues Frau Schatzsche, "or your great-grandfather. You have the chin, the Von Lipwig chin."

Moist rubs at his chin, and watches Adora watching him.

"A hard people, the Von Lipwigs," says Frau Schatzsche. "A hard people from a hard place. I expect you were glad to leave."

"Yes," says Moist. "Yes, I was."

Frau Schatzsche nods, solemnly, asks "You want Kohlspaetzle?" in her clunky Morporkian.

Moist doesn't miss home, not one bit, but it turns out that he's been craving good food from the old country ever since he left. Spike raises one delicate eyebrow when he asks for seconds of the thin sausage broth with its green-tinged dumplings, and after they leave Spike won't kiss him until he brushes his teeth and eats half a bag of peppermints. But there's a smile tucked in the lines under her eyes and at the corners of her mouth.

"I'll cut a finger into your skull and watch the thoughts pour out," says Spike.

"You meant window that time," says Moist, and kisses her with the taste of home and mint on his tongue.

---

I love you, says Moist to Adora, says Adora to Moist, says Sam to Sybil, says Sybil to Sam. I love you, which means, somewhere at the back of their mind, I think you do, I think you do understand.