Author's notes: This contains spoilers for "Lords and Ladies", and is based entirely upon that book. This plot bunny has been stalking me ever since I first read it. I finally sat down and wrote this story, since I'm down with 'flu and I have nothing else to do. I've tried to stay as true to the characters as I could. But I've taken some things into account that might explain the slight differences in their behaviour from how Ridcully and Granny are in the books. Firstly, they are young, very young: I imagine them to be around 19-20 years old. Also, neither of them are cruel or uncaring people, not even when they're older. They're just terribly, terribly stubborn and proud. I expect this wouldn't be so exaggerated when they were younger. Anyway, here it is, stock-filled with almost direct quotes from PTerry, including the title. Meanwhile, let's see if I can shake my writers' block off and get my schooldays-Sybil whodunit and my Ankh-Morpork Times-centered mystery story going! Please, review honestly. I expect some disagreements, particularly with Granny's characterisation, but hey, I can always try to improve, can't I? :) Also, please tell me of any spelling/grammar mistakes you may find, English is not my native language. Thanks!


That Kind of Afternoon
by Meg [toixonet_volador@yahoo.co.uk]

'Do you think,' said Ridcully, 'that somewhere it all went right?'

'Yes. Here!'

Granny softened at the sight of his sagging shoulders.

'But there, too,' she said.

'What?'

'I mean that somewhere Mustrum Ridcully married Esmerelda Weatherwax and they lived—' Granny gritted her teeth '— lived happily ever after. More or less. As much as anyone does.'

'How d'you know?'

'I've been picking up bits of their memories. She seemed happy enough. And I ain't easily pleased.'

Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies [p 318].

The air smelled of anticipation. Or, at least, it did to Mustrum Ridcully. In fact, it smelled of wet soil, crushed grass, and shortly it'd smell of a cowpat he'd step onto. But he was young, in love, and in an awful hurry to get to the goddamn bridge over Lancre Gorge. No time for realism.

The ground was slippery; the first rains had begun to fall some days before, marking the end of the summer. In two hours, he'd be gone. Back to Ankh-Morpork, back to Unseen University. He'd already paid what he owed to Mrs Persifleur's, he'd packed the few things he'd brought along, and he'd tentatively approached the tavern to abruptly confirm that yes, he still wasn't welcomed after the last time he'd been kicked out. Only one thing left to do. The most important.

He really hoped his instinct wouldn't fail him this time. She was a scheming minx, she was. She'd always be in the last place he looked, he knew that; but he hadn't got any time to keep looking. The bridge would be the last place. If she wasn't there well, in a way it'd all be settled, then. Maybe it'd be better if she wasn't there, actually. No more worrying about might-have-beens. No more bending backwards to make her laugh, to earn one of those lopsided grins that burst through her façade of annoyance.

But please, to whoever might be listening, let her be there.

***

Esmerelda Weatherwax stood on the bridge, waiting. She knew he'd come, and she knew it was important. What she didn't know yet was how, exactly, she knew all this, as well as many other things— but she was on the way of finding out. That was why she'd gone to the Dancers earlier, and to the trolls before the summer, and to the dwarfs even before. Esme Weatherwax wanted to know. And that was also why she'd already prepared her pack to go camp before Nanny Gripes' cottage until she gave in and taught her the craft. And this she definitely knew: after she'd learnt enough, the world wouldn't know what hit it.

She absent-mindedly adjusted the flowers twined in her hair and straightened out her white dress. For now, she'd wait.

***

Mustrum Ridcully ran the last metres to the bridge and came to a screeching halt. There she was. Tall, proud, the sun shining on her dark, waist-length hair, her lips unsmiling but her eyes laughing. Perfect. He breathed out a heartfelt 'thanks' to the world in general, and slowly walked towards her. 'Hallo, Esme,' he said.

'Late as usual, Mustrum,' she answered, taking a step backwards and casually leaning on the side of the bridge. She was always trying to lure him into an argument. Loved exasperating him more than anything else. And he always, always fell for her schemes, be it chasing her across the whole country— in Lancre, this wasn't that exhausting, actually— or try to shake her out of the conviction that wizards were nothing more than old bumbling fools who looked like multi-coloured wedding cakes. And deep down, he knew that she only did it to annoy him, to twirl him around. But he loved it.

This time, though, he wouldn't fall for it. No time. So he crossed the bridge in three long strides to where she was and stood there, blocking any escape. She couldn't run away, today. She wouldn't. Her face was expectant as he pushed a strand of long, dark hair behind her ear, with a look of intense concentration. 'Esme,' he said, in such a serious tone she had to drop the game. And in the long silence that followed, she found herself wishing he'd just blurt it all out or go the hell away at once. She never was one for standing next to a precipice. Esme Weatherwax jumped.

Finally, Mustrum looked up and locked his gaze on hers. 'I'm leaving, Esme,' he said, his usually booming voice now barely audible. A part of her sighed with relief. Another was screaming of rage. And one of the most small, hidden parts started softly crying. She'd avoided thinking about that for three whole months. In fact, she'd avoided thinking about anything concerning him for the whole summer. She'd simply walked down the path that led to him every day, ever so sure that she'd have no trouble whatsoever in walking back.

Now she had to. And she found out it wasn't as easy as she'd thought it'd be. Unless But did she even want there to be an "unless"?

'But' he said, breaking her out of her reverie. 'I could avoid it. I would. If I could. If I knew' She fixed her eyes on his face as he stumbled upon his words. It was slightly too broad, the skin too brown and coarse, the brows too thick, the chin too strong. He wasn't handsome. But then again, Esme had never wanted a handsome prince to come rescue her. She'd never given much thought to what'd be her ideal man like, unlike most girls her age— with the notable exception of Gytha Ogg, who thought ideal and man were synonymous and therefore never thought about that—, but he was honest, and earnest, and surprisingly bright in his simplicity. And quite funny, too, if a bit soppy sometimes. And watching him trying to tame his nerves to try to make some actual sense made an unexpected wave of tenderness wash over her, softening her eyes and curving the corners of her lips up on an almost invisible smile.

And for the first time in her life, Esme Weatherwax reached out to hold someone.

Mustrum's breath caught in his throat. He awkwardly put his arms around her and tried to regain his voice. He was sure it'd crack. 'Esme, you gods. You are amazing. In everything you say or do. Your everything Everything about you is perfect. Enchanting. Brilliant. And I'm not sure I can give that up, you see. I don't think I want.'

Esme felt the floor under her disappear. Suddenly, she didn't want him to go on. She wanted him to go the hell away on that damn carriage. No, in fact she wanted him to never have come to Lancre. She wanted him to never have existed, never have come to her, never had make her doubt. Esme never doubted. She wasn't about to start now. No way. Not in a thousand years. No.

Oblivious, Mustrum carried on. 'What I want is a house. Not a big house, mind. A cottage'll do. Kitchen, bedroom, lavatory, no need for more,' He cupped her cheek with his left hand, raising her face to his. She froze. 'As long as you're in it. With me.'

***

And in that precise instant, the Trousers of Time bifurcated. Though it'd be more accurate to say that they multifurcated. Please ignore the enraged screams of any linguists who might be in the room.

Esmerelda Weatherwax could have made an infinite number of choices. And, in a way, she made them all.

***

Mustrum Ridcully walked towards the coach, dragging his feet. It was pouring. He couldn't see anything beyond the bluebell he held in his hand.

It'd fallen to the floor after she'd ran away. And for the first time, he hadn't followed her. What for? There really wasn't much more that needed saying. He threw his pack inside the cabin, cringed at the sound of broken glass— Bugger, there goes the whisky, he thought— and was about to climb inside when he heard his name being called. He turned around abruptly.

'Mustrum, are you deaf?' asked old Carbonaceous, the troll, coming towards him. 'I've been shouting for ten minutes!' In the cold, wet autumn evening Carbonaceous' silicon brain worked perfectly. It was a welcome change after the August heat, all through which the troll had had to express himself with one-syllable words such as "more", "up", "left" or "die, dwarf".

He tried to smile at the troll. What came out was sort of a cringe. Luckily, the rain was so thick it hid his expression. 'Sorry, Carbonaceous. Wasn't paying attention.'

'I noticed. Anyway, young Mustrum, good luck.' He patted his back in all delicacy. Mustrum sighed with relief. He'd only have superficial bruises. He'd spent half June with his hand on a sling after meeting the troll.

'Thanks, Carbonaceous. Same to you.' He climbed inside the cabin and waved. 'Goodbye! Thanks for everything!' he shouted as the carriage started moving. The troll waved back and disappeared into the tavern.

Mustrum looked around him. The carriage was warm and dry, at least. And he was alone to think. He looked at the bluebell again and felt a knot on his throat. His eyes welled up, and he mentally kicked himself. Foolish. Foolish. And not even the whisky to help. Soon he couldn't see the flower anymore.

***

He awoke with a start. He didn't know how long he'd been sleeping, but he doubted it'd been much. The rain still fell heavily outside, but the carriage had abruptly stopped. He felt a sharp pain behind his eyes, and an unexpected rage took over him. 'What the hell—' he shouted at the driver as he climbed down the cabin. And suddenly the world stopped.

They were before the bridge over Lancre Gorge. And on the middle of the bridge stood Esmerelda Weatherwax, soaked to the bone, her dress and hair clinging to her body, hugging herself more in the sake of decency than because of the cold. Her chin was high as ever, but her eyes were the most unguarded he'd ever seen them. He ran towards her. As always.

'Don't go,' she simply said. Again, there wasn't much else that needed saying.

The driver sighed and went into the cabin for a smoke. Outside, the couple kissed, unaware of the rain or the wind.

***

But this wasn't the end. Oh, no. Mustrum did stay in Lancre, and the wedding took place in spring.

Some time later, a candle would fall over during one windy night. They wouldn't survive the fire.

But much, much time later, as well, they would die together in their sleep. Two elderly, toothless grandparents with wills of iron, who'd shared a long, comfortable, unstoppable love, as stubborn and old-fashioned as they both were.

And, you know? Everything was all right in the end. It always is.