Sam Vimes was not, by and large, the most sensitive man in the world. You didn't get many sensitive men in the Watch, at least, not for long; if they survived, they very quickly became just as hard-boiled as the next officer, provided that the next officer was not Carrot Ironfoundersson, who had still not been broken to the culture of cynicism that the Watch fostered.
He was also not terribly well-educated when it came to Women. He knew how to handle one who was running at you with a knife or an upraised frying pan, because he'd been the mediator of many a domestic dispute, but this is not an ideal position from which to learn the gentle art of romance. He'd, well, he'd had some experience, it was true, but not extensively so. The longest relationship he'd had lately was with Bearhugger's distillery.
Up until Sybil Ramkin, at any rate.
And he might not be sensitive or romantic or very well-experienced but he was a copper, and he did know Sybil relatively well. How long had it been -- nearly a year? A year of good solid meals at the mansion on Scoone Avenue, and morning walks, and occasional singed eyebrows when Sybil convinced him to help her out in the dragon house. A year of making game effort to kick the bottle, because it bothered her.
So he began to notice things.
Sybil'd been nervous. Sybil, who was well-bred and calm and sensible and had not even flinched when a dragon tried to eat her. He chalked it up to the impending Best Of Breed show in Quirm, where she was going to be unveiling an entirely new type of swamp dragon, until other signs started to appear that began to make him nervous.
She redecorated several of the closed-off rooms in the old mansion. She seemed to spend a lot less time in the dragon house. One of the Interchangeable Emmas* had told him that she was in the library a lot, reading books on etiquette. And these days, all of them giggled whenever they saw him, which is a terrible thing for a man to experience on a weekly basis.
* He suspected her actual name was Sara, but she answered to either, so apparently they'd all come to understand his inability to keep track.
But it wasn't as though he could round up witnesses or, gods forbid, look for Clues. He couldn't very well interrogate his, well, yes, his girlfriend. He'd thought about asking Colon or possibly young Carrot for advice, but the idea of even trying to put his anxiety into words left him cold.
It would almost be a relief when Sybil went off to Quirm. Not that he wanted her to go, he was quite sure he'd miss her, but perhaps when she came back she'd be back to normal, dependable Sybil. Sybil with an edge was as disturbing as Vetinari without one.
"You're all packed, then?" he asked, as the walked along King's Way. Sybil'd had to stop in at a friend's and ask them to keep an eye on the dragons, since she couldn't take all of them and Sam was liable to use them as lighters and forget to feed them. He'd offered to walk her back to the mansion, as he always did if she stopped by the Yard to say hello, and she'd agreed, as she always did when he offered.
"Almost. I've got to make sure we're bringing along enough coal," she said absently. "They don't like strange food, you know. And I'm sure the coal in Quirm isn't as pure as it is here."
"Ankh-Morpork, first in filth," he said brightly. "Nice to know we're good at something."
He shot her a sidelong glance. "That's my line, isn't it?"
"Sybil, are you all right?"
"Oh, yes," she said with a bright smile. "Just fine, Sam. Why?"
"Dunno, you seem distracted."
"That reminds me! We're having dinner tomorrow night, at Sarnoff's."
He'd missed how exactly she'd got from 'distracted' to 'dinner', but he let it pass. "Sarnoff's?"
"Yes, I'm sure I've mentioned it. The little cafe around the corner from the Yard?"
His brain threw up a reference. "That Sarnoff's? It's fifty dollars for a steak there!"
"Don't worry, Sam, I'm paying."
"Can't let you do that," he murmured.
"Sam, I don't see why you insist on this, when -- " she stopped, suddenly.
"It's not right, a woman paying for a man's meal," he said, to fill the silence.
"Fine, you let me pay this time, and next time you can pay."
He narrowed his eyes. "So long as next time isn't fish and chips from the all-night take-away," he said.
"Dress nicely, dear," she said, patting his cheek. "And here we are. I'll see you tomorrow night before your shift. Don't be late."
He stood at the gate of the house, and watched her walk inside. If she wasn't back to normal by the time she got back from Quirm, he really would ask Colon.
The staff at Sarnoff's were well-used to a variety of clinetele. During the early afternoon, they not only employed actors trying to get a job at the Dysk and Opera House, but also served the ones who'd gotten jobs. Around three o'clock, the white linen came out, and Sarnoff's went from a slightly shabby cafe to one of the most upscale places to eat in the city. Nobs of all kinds came there for drinks before a night of Culture, and quite expensive meals afterwards. They'd even played host to the Breccia 'businessmen' on occasion, and ordered-out quartz inna bun and fresh shale especially.
Lady Sybil was not a stranger to the staff of Sarnoff's, either; she often met her fellow dragon-lovers for an evening of the most disturbing conversation the waiters had ever heard. Flameless Gripe, Blowback, explosions of all kinds, distinctive ways to tell digestive fluid from fuel...
She did tip well, though.
They'd never seen Mister Vimes, but they knew him well enough. Lady Sybil sometimes talked about him with her friends, and of course the Yard wasn't that far away, and Corporal Carrot sometimes ate at Sarnoff's in the afternoons. Corporal Carrot admired his Captain, and often spoke of him. The staff were fascinated to finally see Lady Sybil's suitor. They weren't disappointed.
"Lookit 'im, will you? Looks like 'e'd rip yer 'eart out and beat you over the 'ead with it," said the cook, leaning around the door. "Suppose 'e likes 'is steak raw?"
"Nah, Corporal Carrot says he's a softie, really," said the only-slightly-terrified waiter who was supposed to go out there in a minute and take their order.
"Lady Sybil said that too, but one of 'er friends says she 'eard 'e once punched a man in the 'ead for bein' rude to a lawn-ornament."
"Better not call them that in front of him, then, cook," the waiter said. "All right. Wish me luck. We who are about to serve salute you."
Vimes was not an enormous fan of new experiences. New experiences, for a Watchman, could include things like death. This one, however, was somewhat entertaining. Sarnoff's was one of the fanciest joints in the city. The menu proved it. There were things you could dine on here that cost more than the rent on his old flat. Certain bottles of wine, for example.
"What do you think?" Sybil asked, adjusting her stole. He felt, as he usually did in the presence of Sybil at her best, distinctly underdressed in his uniform.
"I've never seen anything quite like it," he said, which was true. "Do you suppose they even know what a one-dollar coin looks like around here?"
"Show me one of those again?" Sybil said. He smiled.
"It's the little gold one, about this big?" he held up his thumb and forefinger. It was their running joke. Tell me what a one-dollar coin looks like? I dunno, I never saw that much money in one place. "Look, even the titchy little appetizers -- "
"You order whatever you like, Sam," she said sternly.
"I don't think they have fried slice," he answered. "All right, all right. I know you wanted to have a nice dinner."
"You did?" Sybil looked downright worried. He tried to reassure her.
"Well, you're going off tomorrow, aren't you? Won't be back for a week and a half. Nice to...nice to leave the city on a good note. You're sending a postcard, aren't you? To...to the Watch, I mean. The last one we got was from Fred, and his wife found out about it, and then Nobby stole it -- "
She smiled. The waiter, who looked as though he was on his last nerve, brought their water and hurried away.
" -- so we could do with a new one that won't make Carrot look up the Public Posting of Indecent Images statutes again -- "
"Sam, can we talk about something for a minute?"
He looked up from his postcard monologue. "Er...yes?"
"Well, we've been...friends, for a while now. And, and..."
"...closer friends?" he suggested.
"Yes, and I was thinking about..." she looked down. "How much I'm going to miss you when I'm at the show..."
"You'll be so busy, though, and everyone's going to be so excited about the new breed," he said desperately. "You won't have time, you'll be back before you know it."
"I don't know about that." She looked up at him. "Listen, I know it's not...the normal way of things, but I just thought. Well."
"Sam, would you like to get married?"
He blinked. He understood every word in the sentence, more or less, but strung together, they did something to his brain. Made it hide, apparently.
"Er...not today?" he asked. Then he winced. "I mean, yes, I'd like that."
Her smile was the prettiest thing he'd seen in a long time. "You would?"
"Yes. Yes. I would. I'd have asked before but..."
" -- it's not my place to ask, I know that -- "
" -- it'd be...nice," he finished.
"I thought so too."
"And that's why...dinner and...?"
Her smile just got wider. "Apparently there's a very strict tradition when it comes to these things."
"Emma said you'd been reading books on etiquette," said Vimes.
"Oh yes. I wanted to do it right," said Sybil.
Then Vimes laughed. It wasn't the usual snort of amusement or cynical hah! of a Watchman on a case; it was the full laugh of a satisfied man. It did a lot towards making the waiter less nervous about getting their orders right.
"Sybil, you are a unique woman," he said. "I'll buy you a ring."
"Oh, that's silliness. After all, I didn't have to buy you one."
"Fine, I'll...I'll do something really nice. I'll think of something."
"You already have," said Sybil. The pair of them probably looked like grinning idiots, he thought. But he didn't really care.
I'm going to marry Sybil.
She really wants to.
She asked me.