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First and Foremost

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From Angua’s office, with the door cracked, being a captain wasn’t all that different from being a sergeant. Her ears were sharp, of course, and the low buzz of conversation was nearly as clear through the open door as it had been when she did her paperwork at the long tables in the main room of the Watch House. Angua could hear the constables squabbling good-naturedly over whose turn it was to fill the tea urn; she pricked an ear each time the squeak-thump of the front door opening echoed back to her, and a gust of air carried in the smells of the street. It wasn’t all that different from when she stood behind the tall desk as the sergeant on duty, really.

Except, of course, for all the ways in which it was different.

Angua liked being a captain-- really, she liked it quite a lot. She’d surprised herself, a little, by flourishing under the new weight of responsibility. She’d found previously undiscovered organizational skills within herself, and developed an air of authority that had nothing to do with her ability to turn into a large wolf and rip out someone’s throat. She and Carrot both were proud of the weight they carried, and of the fact that they kept that weight off Commander Vimes’ already-laden shoulders.

So she was quite content in her tidy office, with her stack of paperwork, the door open just enough to carry the noise in. And then the noise cut out, quite suddenly, a hush falling over the bullpen. Angua’s pen stopped moving.

When she stepped out of her office, it was still quite quiet. A woman was standing in the middle of the room, looking nervous, and the Watchmen around her were wary to a man.

It was only fair. Reporters and watchmen were natural enemies, after all.

“Miss Cripslock,” Angua said, relieved it wasn’t anything worse. “What brings you to the Yard this morning? I’m afraid we can’t comment on any ongoing investigations.”

Sacharissa Cripslock smiled politely at that. She wore a floral perfume, Angua noted, but she smelled of ink first and foremost, and lead, and a vaguely industrial scent that must be the press. “Oh, nothing of that nature, Captain,” she said. “Actually, you’re just the woman I wanted to see. Could we speak privately?”

Angua nodded, and led her back to the office. This time she shut the door, cutting off the renewed hum of conversation. “How can the Watch help the Times, Miss Cripslock?” she asked.

“It’s not so much the Watch,” Miss Cripslock said, “as is is you, Captain.”

“I beg your pardon?” Angua asked, blinking.

“I’m writing a series,” said Miss Cripslock, “on working women in the city. And you were the first woman in the Watch, so I’d quite like to interview you about it. Do you think you could spare an afternoon, sometime this week?”

“Ah,” said Angua. “Well. Hm. I don’t-- I don’t know if I’m the person you want, really.” The reasonable part of her brain pointed out that it wasn’t her being a woman that had caused the fuss about her joining the Watch.

The unreasonable part of her brain, the part with fangs, wanted her to run far, far away, whether on two feet or four. That was the part that associated anyone paying too much attention with being run out of town on a rail. Torches flickered in her hindbrain, illuminating pitchforks.

Blessedly, that was the moment at which she caught a distant whiff of soap. It was followed shortly by footsteps in the hall, at which point the door opened and Carrot let himself in, saying “Well, we’ve got three of them, and only one has to talk before we find the fourth-- Miss Cripslock! Sorry, Angua, I didn’t realize you had a guest.”

“It’s quite all right,” Angua said. “She was just leaving. Work to do, Miss Cripslock, I’m afraid-- you know how it is.”

“I’ll just catch up with you later, then,” said Miss Cripslock, undeterred. Angua swore inwardly. Outwardly, she waved the reporter off with a pleasant, if slightly fixed, smile.

“What was that about?” Carrot asked, leaning in to brush a kiss across her mouth. “And good morning, too. Is the Times nosing around after the Apple-Barrel Gang?”

“Is that what we’re calling them? And no, it was-- something else she was after,” Angua said. “Nothing important. Some silly article-- working women in the city.”

“You looked a bit tense, seeing her out the door," Carrot said. “I suppose you’d rather not be interviewed?”

“Really, really rather not,” Angua said, shaking her head. “I don’t need the attention, thanks. Just for being the first woman in the Watch-- it’s absurd.”

“I don’t know,” said Carrot. “We’re thirty percent women Watchmen, these days. That’s more than any Guild but the Teachers and the Seamstresses. Well, and the Beggars, but they’ve always been very egalitarian-- strict fifty-fifty split of membership. It’s rather inspiring, really.”

“Yes,” Angua said, a little exasperated, though fondly, “but what does that have to do with me?”

“Well, you paved the way, didn’t you?” asked Carrot. “For Cheery, and Precious Jolson, and Sally and the rest. They couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Sure, they could have. They could have been first just as easily, any of them. I didn’t do anything special. No more than Detritus did, or poor Cuddy, anyway.” She paused, frowning. “Did I?”

“I’ve always thought you were special,” said Carrot. “But I’m admittedly biased.”

Angua swatted at him when he ducked in for another kiss, but she was smiling as she did it. “You are, you know,” she said. “And special or not, I’m not doing any stupid interview.”

“Up to you,” said Carrot cheerfully. “But think about it a bit, before you turn her down. Now, about our fourth gangster...”

*****

Angua did her best to put the interview out of her mind, contrary to Carrot’s advice. But Miss Cripslock was annoyingly persistent.

“Really, Captain, just a moment of your time,” she said, pushing to the front of the crowd of bystanders a week later.

Crime scene, Miss Cripslock,” Angua replied a touch too cheerfully. “‘Fraid I can’t. So sorry!”

When that stopped working, Angua felt absolutely zero compunction about putting other Watchmen between her and the Times.

“Here, talk to Cheery,” Angua told Miss Cripslock, pulling Cheery into the line of fire. Cheery, bless her, went along with it with only a minor protest. “She’s much more interesting than me, aren’t you, Cheery?”

“Am I?” Cheery asked, looking mildly bewildered. “I mean, you’re very interesting, Angua--”

“Sorry, got to run!” Angua said, and fled, not the least bit ashamed.

To her surprise, it seemed to work: the article ran a few days later. It cited Carrot’s thirty percent figure, and-- damn it all-- mentioned her as the Watch’s pioneering female, though she was (ha!) “unavailable for comment.” But Cheery figured prominently.

“I joined the Watch because it was considered a good solid job for a dwarf,” she told the Times. “My background was in alchemy, and they wanted someone who could think forensically. But I wasn’t a Watchman long before I decided to be, well, publically female.”

When prompted as to why, Cheery explained her reasoning thusly: “The nice thing about the Watch is that no one really cares what you are, as long as you’re also a copper. So there’s a little more room to be something unusual, than there is anywhere else. I’m a copper first and foremost, and that means I can also be a dwarf, and a woman, and an alchemist, and none of that matters as much as being a copper.”

The article lauded Commander Vimes for his forward-thinking open-mindedness, which made Angua scoff a little at her morning paper over breakfast.

“Mm?” Carrot asked across the table, over his. He was writing a letter to his parents as he ate.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just a little funny-- I know for a fact that the Commander wasn’t at all happy about me joining the Watch, any more than he was about Detritus. And the paper’s making him out to have had some grand plan of multiculturalism.”

“He thinks you’re an excellent officer, though,” Carrot put in.

“He does now. And he’s fine with non-standard sorts of people being coppers, now it’s been pointed out to him that it’s unfair to keep anyone out. But it did have to be pointed out, first.”

“I’ve always thought that Commander Vimes has a very keen sense of fairness,” Carrot said. His expression would have looked quite mild, to anyone who didn’t know him as well, but Angua could smell perfectly clearly that he was hurt by the slight to Vimes.

“Oh, he does,” Angua said. “It just needs a little prodding, sometimes.”

*****

It had become something of a tradition, against Angua’s better judgment, to stop in at Biers with Cheery and Sally of a Friday night. They managed it most weeks, though sometimes Constable Jolson or another woman officer tagged along, and sometimes one of the three of them couldn’t make it. But it was enough of a routine that, as she left the station, the sergeant on desk duty called out “Off to Girl’s Night, then? Cheers, Captain,” and waved her off.

So it wasn’t at all odd to be lined up on barstools, watching Igor (no relation) mix drinks. It was, however, a bit strange to see Miss Cripslock sitting primly at one of the tall tables across the room, elbows fixed at her sides, regarding the plate in front of her with wary bemusement.

“She was here when we arrived,” Sally told Angua as she settled into her usual seat. “She ordered food, and a drink, but she’s just sort of been... looking at them for a while now.”

Angua sighed. It really wasn’t any of her business. But she could smell the unhappiness coming off Miss Cripslock in waves, and she was, after all, a Watchman and a werewolf, with the instincts of both for putting her nose where it wasn’t wanted.

Angua sighed, and slid off her barstool.

Miss Cripslock startled a little when Angua came close, looking up from her plate with a little jump. “Oh! Hello, Captain,” she said, her smile a bit wan. “How are you? I’m sorry we couldn’t sort out that interview in time.”

“Yes, what a shame,” Angua agreed. “I’m quite broken up about it. I didn’t mean to bother you, anyway; you just seemed a bit upset. And Biers isn’t your usual sort of place, is it?”

“Our restaurant critic’s down with food poisoning again, I’m afraid,” Miss Cripslock said. “So the mantle falls to me. And I’m all right, really. Just a bit rattled.” She was, Angua now noticed, holding a crumpled sheet of paper in one hand.

“Anything in particular? The Watch is always happy to assist the Times, as you know.” Angua said, with as straight a face as she could manage.

“No, you’re not,” Miss Cripslock said, but the corners of her mouth turned up a little. “Really, it’s nothing. I ought to be used to it by now, but this one was particularly nasty, and particularly personal.” She nodded at the paper in her hand.

“May I?” Angua asked, holding out a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation Miss Cripslock smoothed the paper out and handed it over.

It was a letter. Well, Angua supposed you could call it a letter, if you were feeling generous; what it read like were the nastiest recesses of someone’s hindbrain, scraped up and smeared on the page. With a generous salting of misspellings and grammatical errors, of course, because the sort of person who’d write a letter like this wasn’t likely to be terribly literate.

It didn’t bear quoting. What it boiled down to was the following: Miss Cripslock had no business being a woman and writing for a newspaper, much less writing about women, and she ought to know her place. And if she didn’t do so in short order, a series of colorful threats were offered up as consequence.

Angua felt her nails get longer. “Do you get a lot of these?” she asked, keeping her voice level. She tried not to let her teeth show, because they would probably be a bit alarming right at the moment.

Miss Cripslock made a face. “More than I’d like. Nothing ever comes of it. Really, I know I shouldn’t let them get to me. It’s silly to get upset, and it’s not as though I’m going to stop working for the paper because some lot of idiots can’t stand to see a woman with a notebook and pen.”

Angua frowned. “Why haven’t you shown these to us before, though? It’s certainly within our purview, and we’d be happy to track down whoever’s responsible. More than happy.”

“Would you?” Miss Cripslock asked, looking a little startled. “When I started getting them, I brought the first few round to Dolly Sisters station, since that’s where they were postmarked. But the sergeant on duty said he couldn’t do anything about it, if it was only letters.”

“Did he, now,” Angua said, unamused. “Well, he oughtn’t have. I wouldn’t have, certainly, nor anyone I’d trained. Listen, why don’t you come join us at the bar, and we’ll figure out what to do about this?”

“Well, all right,” said Miss Cripslock. “If you insist.” And she picked up her plate and glass, and carried them over to where Cheery and Sally were sitting.

Cheery greeted her warmly, and Sally politely; Miss Cripslock said her hellos and insisted that they call her “Sacharissa, really. No need to stand on formality, we’re all strictly off the record tonight.”

Once told about the letters, Cheery and Sally were appropriately appalled, though not particularly surprised. “I got a few like that, at first,” Cheery said, nodding, “but Captain Carrot had a talk with the dwarfs responsible, and he was quite clear he wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing.”

“Did you ever get anything like that, Angua?” Sally asked.

“Not that I ever saw,” Angua said. “But I might have, and not seen. Carrot was a bit-- protective, back then. I ought to ask him, really.”

“You’re lucky,” Sacharissa said. “William’s appalled that anyone would write anything so vulgar, of course, but he doesn’t think I ought to worry about them too much. Reporters have got to be tough, after all. And I am a reporter, first and foremost.”

“Right,” said Sally stoutly. “Just like we’re Watchmen. That’s what matters most. Like Cheery said, in her interview.”

Cheery nodded, but Angua felt strangely uneasy at that. “I don’t know,” she said. “Ought we have to choose? I mean-- I mean--” She didn’t quite have the words for it. “Oh, I don’t know. Sally, you really think of it that way? That you’re a Watchman first, vampire second?”

Sally shrugged. “It’s a sight easier than being a vampire first, that’s for sure. Haven’t you found it the same?”

“I suppose,” Angua said. It hadn’t really occurred to her that she’d been thinking of herself as a Watchman first; she’d been a werewolf before anything else for most of her life, and the change in perspective had, she supposed, come on slowly.

It bothered her, for the rest of the night, long after she’d made her slightly unsteady way home. It troubled her sleep, and in the morning, over breakfast, she asked Carrot what he thought of it, though it was no easier to articulate sober.

He frowned, considering. “I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it that way,” he said. “I think the Commander does, or did for a long time-- certainly until Young Sam was born. But you’re right. It’s not fair to have to be one thing before anything else, even if it’s easier to be accepted when you do.” He chewed his breakfast thoughtfully. “I’d never looked at it that way before. We do make people choose, especially the women officers, and it isn’t right.”

Angua nodded, relieved that Carrot, with his inborn sense of fairness pointing truer than any compass, had understood what she was getting at. “How do we fix it, though? I can say I’m a Watchman and a werewolf and a woman all at once, without anything taking precedence, all I like. That doesn’t change the way other officers look at me-- much less the general public.”

“That’s a lot harder, I think,” Carrot said, and shook his head. “And some people want to be one thing before the others-- you said Sally did.”

“True. And that’s her business. Maybe all we can do is make it clear there’s a choice to be made, and everyone’s free to make it.” Angua shrugged. “It’s all a bit beyond me, to be honest.”

They ate in silence for a little while, before a thought occurred to Angua. “I meant to ask-- did you ever get any nasty letters at the Watch House, when I first started working there?” she asked. “Miss Cripslock’s been getting some really vile ones at the Times, and Cheery said she had a few at the beginning.”

Carrot frowned. “I didn’t want to bother you about it, at the time,” he said. “Not that you couldn’t have handled it yourself--”

“I know,” she said. “And I could have, thank you. Did you find out who was sending them?”

“There were a few different senders, as it turned out,” he said. “Commander Vimes and I had a talk with them. We’d be more than happy to do the same for Miss Cripslock, of course.”

“That’s all right,” Angua said. “Cheery and Sally and I are going to handle it.”

She was, she found, rather looking forward to it. As a Watchman-- and a woman-- and a werewolf-- she thought she would be more than up to the task.