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Cheery Littlebottom is attacked from behind while on patrol.

There's this -- moment, when Reg Shoe brings the news back to Pseudopolis Yard. Igor has been sent off into the night with his pack of supplies and backup in the form of Dorfl and Detritus, all on-duty officers have been called in to circle the wagons, and in a moment that should be frenzied there is instead absolute silence. Even the merchant splitting hairs with the duty officer about the increase on his annual Thieves' Guild fee senses it, trailing off in his complaint.

"Was it--?" Constable Visit says, but even he can't overcome the general feeling of the room to ask the question that's in the air. There is no pamphlet for this.

Vimes seeks out Angua's face, because she's reliably at least half as suspicious as he is, and he's fallen into the habit of using that missing 50% is a touchstone for when to follow his instincts or dial it down.

In the end, it's Carrot who puts word to thought. In even, measured tones, he says, "It's because of her skirt."

The moment breaks when Vimes puts his fist through a wall.

-

Two messengers from the Palace go unanswered and the second mildly accosted before Lord Vetinari makes the trip down to the Watch House himself. The officers around the room spring to various states of attention that he doesn't seem to notice, his gaze sweeping the room until it lands on the hole in the wall.

"Well," he says curtly. No one moves. "Commander, a word."

Vimes follows Vetinari up the stairs to his own office, and the door shuts behind them. Five minutes pass before the door opens and Vimes bellows for Carrot, who nods to himself as if he were expecting it and answers the call.

A further five minutes pass before the door opens again. Downstairs, the officers find urgent tasks that need doing to hide the signs of shameless eavesdropping. Vetinari and Carrot emerge. Vimes does not. On the stairs, Angua's enhanced hearing allows her to overhear Vetinari's quiet instruction, "Keep an eye on him, Captain."

"Oh, Mr. Vimes would never take the law into his own hands, sir."

"No, he would never forgive himself for it. There is a difference."

When they reach the ground floor, Angua is surprised to find that Vetinari stops in front of her. "I wonder if I might see Corporal Littlebottom, Sergeant?" he asks politely. It is the first thing he's said tonight that sounds like a question rather than an order, and she finds herself reminded of the rumour that the...special hiring procedure that brought in Detritus and the late Cuddy and herself came down from the Patrician himself.

She wonders if he knew even then what would come of it.

-

Angua finds an excuse to wander past Vimes' office some time after Vetinari's coach has departed for the Palace. She knocks politely on the open door and receives no response, which is as good as an open invitation.

The bottom drawer of his desk is open, which she had expected. The bottle that lies within is untouched, which she had as well. He doesn't say much as she enters. The unconscious copper subroutine is still running though, and he watches her out of the corner of his eye as she closes the door behind herself and stands at attention before him.

"Igor expects Cheery will be up and around by tomorrow morning, sir."

"She's taking the rest of the week off."

"Last I spoke to her, she wanted to finish--."

"That's an order, Sergeant."

"Yes, sir." The odds are good that Cheery will find her way back into the lab sometime before the week is up, but that is an argument for another time. Little by little, Vimes has created a generation of workaholics. Even worse, it is entirely voluntary; it is not the expectation, it is the contagion.

"We have options, Sergeant."

"Oh?"

"Vetinari offered to drop a word in de Worde's ear, put an article in the early edition of the Times and a call for witnesses."

"His sources didn't--?"

"It's an excuse to drag this thing into the public eye, condemn it openly. And if it were me, we would--."

"-- but it's not you, sir," Angua cuts in, and Vimes' jaw clenches. She's right, and he knows she's right, and it's the heart of the matter. There is the politics and then the personal, and this is one of those times where both are important. Cheery has just as much of a stake in how they choose to move forward from here. But Vimes is a man of action, and there's nothing that upsets him more than a general feeling of powerlessness.

"It's almost six, sir. Why don't you go home and read to Young Sam?"

For a second, just for a second, Vimes hesitates at the prospect of leaving the Watch House now, and she sees the guilt flicker across his face shortly after. There's a misconception that Six O'Clock evolved as an edict on high from Lady Sybil, but the Watch knows that the rule comes from Vimes himself. The only thing he takes more seriously than his responsibility to the city is his responsibility to his son: no exceptions, no excuses.

"I'll be back in an hour," he promises, and means forty-five minutes. It will be longer if Angua drops a quick clacks to Sybil to fill her in, and Angua resolves to do so as soon as possible.

-

There are more officers than usual in Pseudopolis Yard that night, and most of the extra faces are those Angua likes to think of as the Pack.

The Pack is not composed of the Watch members that have been there the longest, though there is a strong overlap with that contingent as well. No, the Pack is the core group of people whose blood (metaphorical in the case of the differently alive and non-carbon based) runs rich with copper rather than iron.

Boxes of takeout in the canteen courtesy of Nobbs, Colon, and the petty cash are being devoured by a group of officers. Probationary Lance Constable Brick is filling out paperwork under the watchful eye of Lance Constable A.E. Pessimal. Across the room, Detritus and Carrot are in deep conversation. Both came off shift hours ago, but Detritus reliably waits around every evening to walk the young troll home, and Carrot has installed himself as the first line of defense against interruptions to Vimes' family time.

They say a lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth has gotten its boots on, but the boots of a copper are something special indeed. Day after day of patrol wears them ragged, until they are thin enough to read the mood of the city in the vibration of its cobblestones. Eventually, they wear thin enough to become boots in concept only, the leather of the soles a second layer of skin that can't be removed. A copper wears perpetual boots in potentia, as it were. They mean to give the lie a run for its money.

She catches Sally von Humpeding's eye, and tilts her head towards the cellar where Igor has set up shop. Sally follows without a word. Being a werewolf in the watch isn't the same as being a vampire, and neither is the same as being a female dwarf, but there are certain experiences they have in common.

Cheery's sitting up when they walk in, good-naturedly arguing with Igor about the effects of preservation chemicals on identifying evidence. Together, the two form the entirety of the Watch's forensic department, working together closely. Igor's intermittent lisp is deepest when he speaks to her. Igor excuses himself shortly after they enter, and wanders off to check on how the ears he is growing are progressing.

"Lord Vetinari came to see me earlier," Cheery says after a minute.

"What did he want?" asks Angua, who knows exactly what he wanted.

"To ask me a question."

"What did he want you to do?"

"He said it was up to me."

"What do you want to do?"

Cheery's fingers are entangled in the hem of her chain mail, and it's clear she's been turning this over in her head for awhile. Cheery is a symbol for female dwarves in the city, but she didn't ask to be one. They can have this out publically -- knock on doors, rattle some cages, put the word out on the street that the perpetrator has a standing appointment in the Oblong Office -- but it's going to be public, and it might be bloody. She has the entirety of the Watch at her back, but it's going to be her out in front.

"Nail the la'hdr to the wall," Cheery says at last, hand on her axe. Sally grins, revealing her fangs, and Angua feels the hairs on her arm start to lengthen.

-

The editorial goes out in the Times the next morning.

Three hate letters addressed to Cheery with varying degrees of disrespect arrive by lunch. Carrot spends the morning locating the original authors while Vimes sets fire to them with the office swamp dragon.

-

When Vimes returns from his daily meeting with the Patrician, he finds one of the down-under dwarves tied to a flagpole in Pseudopolis Yard.

A note on Assassins' Guild letterhead pinned to his chest reads, "Contract paid for by the Thieves' Guild. Requested alive rather than inhumed, with regards to the City Watch. Best wishes to Constable Littlebottom in her recovery."

It is signed by Brightly (Blossom) Slumberson.