Dean had a lot of experience getting run out of town. This was a lot like that. But slower, and more chaotic, and while the wife of the chief of police had played a role in several previous incidents, it had never before been through directing the packing.
Dean hadn't realized there was going to be
packing; when he'd fallen asleep, he hadn't had anything to pack. Then he'd awoken at dawn to a distressing lack of pants, snatched out from under his sleeping nose by Vimes' ninja butler who also managed, sight unseen, to leave a bowl of hot lather, a pitcher of water, and a sharp razor in the room between the time that Dean's eyes first opened and when his feet touched the floor. Dean hadn't used a straight razor since he was nineteen (during a brief, unfortunate 'cowboy' phase that someday Sam was going to let him live down), not to shave with anyway, and he got a little wrapped up in the process. Razor gave a damn fine shave though. The ninja butler had struck again while Dean shaved and did his best to maintain his oral hygiene regimen with what was available, because when he returned from the cubby with a mirror, basin and toilet hole to nowhere - he couldn't call a place without running water a bathroom - he found his freshly laundered jeans hanging in the closet, along with three new pairs of sturdy canvas pants, five cotton shirts, a set of long johns, and enough boxers and thick woolen socks to last a week, as well as his leather jacket, also cleaned. A small leather satchel sat open and waiting to be filled at the end of the bed.
Dean Winchester, being Dean Winchester, responded the only way he could: left the new stuff in the closets and ignored the gamey aroma his t-shirt, socks, and boxers were developing. He checked his jacket pockets to make sure that everything was still where he'd left it and grabbed his borrowed sword. Then he ventured downstairs, Detritus apparently having been relieved of duty while Dean slept, and found Vimes already in uniform, scowling at the newspaper with its headlines about yesterday's Dungeon Dimension invaders. "Not that I don't appreciate the thought, sir, but-"
"Ah-ah!" Vimes stopped Dean with a raised hand. "Don't bother telling me, I had nothing to do with it. Bed for the night is one thing, but taking charity's another."
Dean flinched. The accent was wrong, but otherwise Dean had heard that exact line dozens of times throughout his youth. "Then who-" This time Dean was interrupted by a firm cuff to the back of his head, delivered by a sturdy woman wearing some kind of bulky safety gear who'd stepped up behind him with butler-like levels of stealthiness.
"Nonsense! And I don't want to hear it out of either of you," she said, stripping off her protective mask. "They're for Angua's sake. With her sense of smell, and you men want to stick her in a mailcoach for a week with someone who has already worn his single change of clothes for three days? No, I will not have her suffer for your pride, not when I can remedy the situation for less money than I spend on dragon fodder in one day." Commander Samuel Vimes might only resemble a duke in soft focus, but this woman scolding Dean with a single arched brow was definitely a duchess, no matter what she was wearing. She tapped him on the rear with her mask. "Now back up with you, Dean, make sure everything fits. Breakfast will be ready when you return. Quickly, now." She proceeded along into what must have been the kitchen, Dean staring helplessly after her.
Vimes sighed. "Sybil has a point. She usually does." The commander turned the page of his paper "I assume you know that if you lay a finger on Angua, she's more than capable of defending herself against a two-bit bar brawler like you. But if I hear report you've spoken to her with anything less than a civil tongue, know that while I will track you down regardless of what world you're in, no one else will ever find your body."
Oh yeah, the threats: at least those were a consistent element in being run out of town. Fortunately, this was a dance that Dean had down to a science: swallow, look down, hushed tone, "Understood, sir."
Beat. Beat. No response. Ah, Vimes would be one of those, but Dean was familiar with this variation as well: raise his head, but keep his eyes lowered to indicate hesitation, withstand the feel of Vimes' stare boring into him, one, two, three: look the man straight in the eyes. Man, Vimes was good at this, because Dean couldn't stop his nervous swallow. Vimes' lips curled. "Good," he said, raising his paper to cover his face. End of subject. Dean was free to go obey Sybil's orders now. Sonovabitch.
Afterwards, the morning took a turn for the disturbingly domestic. All the clothes fit: not worth asking how they'd found his sizes in this place between midnight and the crack of dawn. The coffee was strong and the eggs were fried until the whites resembled black lace bra cups, just the way God intended. Young Sam accidentally detonated a swamp dragon in the foyer. Okay, except for that, morning with the Vimes' was a bizarro twilight-zone peek into the home life Dean never had. Then again, he could remember another young Sam at about the same age achieving a similar effect with a batch of chocolate pudding, and dammit, it had only been a day but he missed his brother.
Dean was distracted from his homesickness by a growing panic centered in his stomach, because he was about to spend the next week in close proximity with a werewolf. Not a locked room, but close enough, and all it would take was a couple of little delays or just one long one and then he'd be stuck in a box with a werewolf during the fucking full moon. Every hunter's instinct in his soul was screaming bad, stupid, run, kill
. But this was the way he'd chosen - there had been another option, they'd given it to him, he hadn't liked it, Dean had picked
this instead - to get back to his world, back to his brother. There was no turning back now.
A last-ditch attempt to 'forget' his donated wardrobe came up short when Sybil pressed the satchel into Dean's hands herself. He gave her his sincere thanks - and he was sincere, this had been the most sincere twenty-four hour period in Dean's life since... well, possibly ever - ignoring Vimes' snort. Sybil and young Sam waved goodbye as Dean and Vimes began the walk to the Post Office. Vimes' good humor helped Dean quash any incipient feelings of panic, but that good humor disappeared when they turned the last corner and saw the crowd gathering around the Post Office.
"Lipwig," said Vimes, and Dean hadn't heard a curse that vile since his stint in the Pit. He grabbed Dean's elbow and pulled him down a narrow alley. "Better off going in through the stables anyway," Vimes muttered, and Dean didn't dare challenge his grip until they were safely inside the low walls surrounding the Post Office's stables and courtyard. As he pulled his arm away, Dean turned his head to the side and saw Carrot and Angua concealed behind a stall clearly wrapped up in their own little world. Angua's head was pressed against Carrot's chest; his lips whispering something into her ear while his fingers ran through her hair. Dean twisted his head away from the scene and followed Vimes through to the courtyard proper, reasonably sure that the couple hadn't noticed him noticing them. Best not to mention anything in case chain of command issues here were anything like the way they were at home.
What Dean assumed to be his ride was the center of the stable's activity. Vimes was charging into the building, stringing together curses under his breath, and Dean figured he'd find out what that was about soon enough. Instead he lingered behind and inspected the coach. The four horses were a mismatched set, but all looked strong, well-groomed and well-fed. Turning his attention to the coach itself, Dean set down his bag and sword, crouched down and checked the undercarriage. The axles looked solid, but they were just that: solid, thick, and primitive. A few steel springs were an encouraging sight. Dean straightened out and pushed down on the body: not a lot of give in those springs. He peeked inside the door, pressed his fingers into the seat cushions and suppressed a whimper. He missed his baby so much. This was little more than a box on wheels.
Dean turned to the gravelly voice, and took a minute step back to avoid being pulled into its owner's gravitational field. "Yeah, that's me," Dean said.
"I'm Jim Upwright, I'll be your driver." Upwright didn't offer Dean a hand. "She's a dependable ride, have no fear, and we don't scrimp on the feed or care of our teams."
Dean's eyes widened. "I didn't think you did." Upwright's eyebrows arched. Dean held his hands up, palms forward. "I, uh, spend a lot of the time on the road myself. Checking the vehicle before a long trip's just habit."
Upwright grunted, cleared his throat, and spat on the ground. "All right then. Them's your things?"
"Uh, yeah," replied Dean.
"Well, hand the bag over, but it's for the best you hold onto the sword, or so they tell me." Dean handed the bag to Upwright who passed it off to the stable boy that was packing the coach. "The sammies loaded the cabin with crossbows and bolts for you and Sergeant Angua. Me and Nosher Harry, that's the other driver on this trip, we've got our own armaments up front, but I need to know here and now if we can count on you if one of those things shows up."
Dean shrugged, deliberately casual, but maintaining eye contact. "I can hold my own."
Upwright's eyes gleamed. "Can you, then? Good to hear. Plenty of food packed up and they've made this an express, so we'll only stop to change horses, turn in for the night, and killing demons and bandits. Should make it well past Scrote by the end of the day." He tucked a cigar into his gap-toothed smile. "Just as soon as Lipwig and old Stoneface give us the all clear, we can be off. Ought to be an interesting ride." With that, Upwright waddled off to deal with whatever other business remained to be cleared up. Dean shook his head. If Upwright was any indication, at least he knew what had happened to the suspension.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Carrot and Angua approaching. Schooling his features into a smile, Dean managed a pleasant, "Good morning," without a lick of panic coloring his voice.
"Dean!" beamed Carrot, and it was hard to argue with that kind of enthusiasm at quarter past six in the morning, even if he was walking next to a werewolf whose controlled expression couldn't conceal eyes that kept darting towards the exits. Predators were never at their most dangerous when trapped, nope, and Dean was just going to let the mojo flow over him and focus on Carrot who was carrying a small bag. "I was not sure if you had any additional clothing for-"
Dean waved a hand. "Aw, thanks man, you didn't have to do that, but Vimes' wife beat you to the punch. She wouldn't take no for an answer."
Angua's lips twitched at that, but Carrot nodded. "Yes, Lady Sybil is quite generous."
"Looks like she's not the only one. Hope you didn't spend anything-" began Dean, but Carrot was already shaking his head.
"No, just some old things of mine," said Carrot.
Dean grinned: he would have been swimming in Carrot's things. He opened up his jacket to pull out an envelope. Not Ridcully's letter, but a thick package of diagrams and descriptions he'd put together last night while everyone else had been organizing around him. "Hey, Carrot, you know lots of those dwarfs and engineers who are working on that dig under the city, right?"
Carrot's head bobbed. "Yes, it's a fascinating project-"
Dean pressed the envelope into Carrot's hands. "Show this stuff to them. Make sure you get some of the roy- er, uh, see if you can get the patent for it. Trust me, this'll be worth a mint." That summer Dean spent apprenticed to a plumber would finally pay off for someone. And the rest of Ankh-Morpork would reap the benefits of Dean taking the time to sketch out the designs for not just flush toilets and modern indoor plumbing, but also of a basic water and sewer system. Vetinari wanted Dean to show gratitude for everything the city had done for him? He'd be thanking Dean every morning for the rest of his life.
Carrot tucked the envelope into his breastplate. "I'd be glad to show them, though it would be dishonest of me to claim the patent for your work."*
Carrot frowned as he watched Dean refasten his jacket. "Are you certain you wouldn't like to take the cloak? Late-spring freezes aren't unheard of hubwards of Sto Helit."
"Nah, I'll be fine-" but Carrot was already pulling the cloak out and draping it over Dean's arm: heavy navy-dyed wool that was soft with wear. Dean pressed his lips together. It wasn't quite off the man's back, but - "Thanks, Carrot. For everything. I mean-" but Dean's quest to find the right words was interrupted by Vimes' bellowing at a man in a ridiculous golden suit as they walked out from the Post Office, hauling a heavy mailbag between them.
"... once a con-man, always a con-man, no matter how useful Vetinari thinks you are and if you don't think that I won't set Pessimal and Littlebottom on you to find out exactly what excuse I need to arrest you, you've got another damn thing coming."
The man in the golden suit didn't even blink. "Commander Vimes, I think you just threatened that you wouldn't set them on me."
Vimes whirled on the man, sticking his finger in the guy's face. "Don't you tell me what I'm threatening you with, Lipwig! You've had plenty of last straws, but I swear to you this is the end of them."
Lipwig's lips curled at this, and Dean swore the man was holding back a laugh while he handed the bag off to a pair of stable boys to load into the Lancre-bound coach. "Your Grace, the Post Office is self-sufficient, the Patrician's Palace didn't mention any special funding for this mission, and Lancre isn't exactly our most profitable route. Advertising a special discount to help minimize our losses doesn't count as revealing state secrets."
Vimes' eyes narrowed. "Don't you play innocent with me, boy. You of all people know how the mob works in this town, not to mention-" and here Vimes stopped as something over Dean's shoulder caught his attention. "Oh, hells. Winchester, get in the damn coach, now!"
Dean blinked at the harsh whisper of an order. "Huh? What?" Something behind Dean had spooked Vimes, and Dean couldn't resist the instinct to turn. He heard Vimes' shout of "Don't!" but it was too late, and before Dean could see what the problem was a flash of light blinded him. "Son of a-"
"Vonderful, thank you, could I get just vun more?" The voice made images of Count Von Count float in the white space formerly known as Dean's field of vision.
Dean felt Carrot's arms ushering him up and into the coach, heard the clank of his sword being set below his feet, then Angua climbing in and sitting on the opposite bench. Here in the dark he could make out the shape of her again, at least while she moved. The door slammed shut behind her, and Carrot told them both, "Good luck, and travel safe."
Outside the commotion continued. A woman was saying, "Harry King's men said he was present after half the attacks, and between that and the blotter report-"
Vimes interrupted her. "I assure you, Miss Cripslock, he's simply a private citizen assisting Watch business. Urgent business, so they must be off, give me one moment." The coach listed as Vimes pulled himself up to lean in the window, now visible behind shrinking purple blobs. "Sergeant, I leave you to decide when to hand this over to him, but not before you're outside the city limits." Vimes passed the Colt to her, which she held away from her body between two fingers. "Winchester, these are for you." Vimes gave him something small and rectangular that he couldn't quite identify in the dim light. "Both of you, take care of yourselves."
"Yes, sir," they replied in unison. Vimes leaned back, and Dean could see his satisfied smile now as he hopped down. Could see something else through the window, too: a dark shape against the light grey of the sky, something with wings, something swooping down towards the coach.
Angua hadn't put the gun away, so it was easy enough to grab it out of her hand. Dean released the safety, lunged through the door and fired two shots. The creature from the Dungeon Dimensions shrieked once as it dropped, dead before it hit the ground. For a second the world held still, the people outside staring at Dean, most of them with hands covering their ears. Dean gave the pretty woman who'd been yelling at Vimes a cocky grin. "Hey there." Vimes' face took on a deep red color, and Dean lowered the gun. "I'll just give this back to Angua."
Vimes gave a curt nod. "You do that. Leadpipe, get them the hell out of here." The coach started moving even as Dean pulled the door back shut. He clicked the Colt's safety back on before offering it back to Angua.
She arched her eyebrows and shook her head. "Keep it. You might need it."
"Thanks." Dean tucked it into his waistband, reveling in the feel of it pressing against the small of his back and feeling like his old self. He was on the road, killing monsters, saving people, and on his way back to Sam. All was right with the world.
Except it took them twenty minutes to get out of the city and good God, traveling by coach was slow as hell. Dean hadn't been wrong about the suspension either. He had a feeling that Angua was laughing at him silently every time he grunted when they went over a bump. There wasn't any music, and Angua didn't look interested in conversation, content to lean her head out the window while they drove along, sniffing the breeze...
... kind of like a dog riding in a car, now that he thought of it. The realization washed through him, and those hunter instincts started screaming again. After a few minutes, Angua let out a bitter laugh. "I can smell your fear, Winchester. Get over it." Then she turned back to the window.
Dean swallowed. "Sorry." He looked down, saw Vimes' parting gift: a pack of playing cards. He opened them up and discovered that half the pack was a standard bridge deck, suits and all. Lucy the monk would get a kick out of that. He shuffled them a few times, looking for any sign of interest from Angua before sighing and dealing out a game of solitaire.
The rest of the day passed without further excitement or another word exchanged between them. When they reached the roadside inn where they'd be spending the night, though, they both tilted their faces up at the quarter moon. After a moment, Dean was staring at Angua instead, the look on her face serene if a little sad. Then she caught him watching, and her expression turned wary before she walked away. Vetinari's parting shot echoed in Dean's mind, and it occurred to him that he'd been run out of Ankh-Morpork after hardly more than a day.
* Carrot was a man of his word, leading to an unintended consequence. History of the Roundworld informs us that the popularizer of the modern flush toilet was one Thomas Crapper, and on the Disc Historical Imperative is quite strong. Dean and Sam were used to hearing the reply, "Like the rifle?" when they gave their name back home. If they'd returned to the Discworld ten years following Dean's first visit, they** would have laughed to no end when they got the reply, "Like the toilet?"
** Well, at least Sam.
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