Mat Ball

Disclaimer: Havvie, Follet, Downey and Ludo aren't mine. Neither is the Guild. Yay.

Warnings: This happens before the other chapters. One of these days I'll put everything in order. Same warnings for the other two shorts apply.

*

Havelock wanted very, very much to be ill at the moment. He didn't care what it was, just so long as he didn't have to participate in Physical Education with . . . with . . .

"Hello class!" boomed the diminutive female teacher. She was named Madame Swarand and she was a substitute teacher. She was not, in fact, an Assassin, but the administrators insited on bringing her in when the normal teacher was ill due to her abilities to 'show those boys what Games really are.'

She also wasn't a fan of men, which was probably another reason they assigned her to teaching the fifth year boy's Sports class.

"As you may have noticed, you normal teacher isn't here today," she roared happily, "so I have been called in to show you how the children outside the Guild play." She grinned. "It's educational."

Downey snickered; his friends followed suit, as was custom. Havelock look around warily and tried to blend in with the wall. It didn't work; the old biddy had sharper eyes than most Assassins.

"Let's get to it," she called jubilantly. "Anyone volunteer to be team captain?"

Of course, Downey raised his hand first and most enthusiastically. He was always excited at oppurtunities to pelt the smaller and weaker with large objects. The woman called in forward and he stood there grinning like an idiot. Havelock scowled and shrunk further into a shadow.

"No more volunteers?" she asked loudly. Her eyes raked down the line and landed on . . . Brucey. She motioned for the little butterball to come forward.

Brucey was the only student lower on the fifth year food-chain than the 'Dog Botherer'. Fat and delusional, the poor boy thought he was a character out of some Agatean comic book style . . . Animate or something. He routinely assumed poses from the books and constantly drew their characters. He was assuming a pose at the moment, and Havelock couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor kid. No one should have to go through life fat, stupid and delusional.

"Pick your teams!" roared the little midget woman. Havelock despised her.

"Ludo," Downey said confidently. The heavy-set prefect sauntered forward with a blank grin on his face.

And so it went on. Brucey picked the best athletes he could, while Downey picked members of the Bod Squad. The line of boys grew shorter and shorter until Havelock was standing there alone, facing the scrutiny of both captains. The midget-demon reached into her pocket for a coin.

"We'll flip over the extra player," she said absently (and loudly) as she reached around her pockets. Downey laughed.

"Never mind that, Madame. Brucey's team can have him." The red-haried boy sneered at Havelock, who refrained from flipping any rude gestures and slouched off to the other team with whatever remained of his dignity.

"Lucky for us, eh?" Brucey whispered very loudly. "You can run faster than anyone else in the class."

Havelock wanted to die. Very, very badly.

"Yes, lucky," boomed one of Downey's friends that Brucey had snatched up. "Everyone knows the Dog Botherer hates balls. He runs very fast from them." The boy then proceeded to slap Havelock on the shoulder. And probably dislocate the damn thing. Dammit.

"The game is mat ball," the sadistic little woman hollered. "I'm sure you know the rules, but for review you can kick the ball anywhere and have to lap the bases twice. No stopping on home base. Players are safe unless they get tagged by the ball."

"Do headshots count?" asked a rat-like boy that hung around Downey and smelled unpleasant.

"Now, I'm sure you boys won't sink to such a level as that," the psychotic little woman said with a grin.

Helmets should be mandatory, thought Havelock.

And so the slaughter began. Downey's team was pitching. Havelock slunk to the back of the line, realizing that Brucey's teammates were not going to let the other team lose, wittingly or unwittingly. He was right. Three kickers equaled three outs when you were playing for Brucey's team.

Or course, that meant more time in the field for the losing team. Havelock rather liked this idea: he could wander off to deep left and not pay attention. But of course Brucey would take deep left and force Havelock to play first base. Fortunately, no one really kicked a lot of balls over that way so there wasn't much to do until someone else managed to catch the ball, at which point they would hurl it with all their might at Havelock, who's normal reaction to flying objects was to hit the floor.

Watching Brucey did make for some good entertainment, though. At one point the ball flew right to him and Brucey manage to miss it by at least three feet. He posed, snapped his fingers, posed again and cried 'So close!' to the amusement of everyone else.

"Good try Brucey!" Downey had called, causing the poor fool to beam like and idiot.

Eventually though, Downey had to kick. One of his friends was pitching and put it in nice and easy. Downey eyed the thing, took a step back, kicked . . .

The next this Havelock knew he had a bright yellow ball in his hands and was cowering behind it while an extremely angry Downey resumed his place in line.

"Good catch, boy," the evil little woman bellowed.

After the other team had scored an embarrassing 15 runs, Brucey's team had managed to get 3 outs and was back up to kick. Downey's team decided they were unthreatened and unspokenly agreed that it would be funny to make the Dog Botherer kick. Havelock avoided it as long as he could, but eventually the crazy little lunatic forced him to kick. It wasn't as though he was bad at it or anything, just that he was a sitting duck out there. Undefended. Alone.

He made it that way to third base where he hunched against the wall amongst the crowd of boys waiting for the oppurtunity to lap home and sprint back to first. Brucey was up to kick. And kick he did, right into the crowd on third.

It was an unspoken herd reaction. Everyone ran. Even Havelock, who was mainly going along for the look of things. Downey got hold of the ball and fixed his eye on his target. Havelock wondered who was going to inherit his money and posessions. Not that AM$40 and a trunk full of black clothes were highly desireable.

Downey drew back his arm and threw, the bright yellow mass of rubber heading straight for Havelock. So Vetinari did the only thing he could; he took a flying leap into a pack of potentially hostile boys.

The ball did miss him, but he did not miss Stanley Price, who had been standing directly in his path of travel. All 120 pounds of Havelock Vetinari collided with all 210 pounds of the Bod Squad member and knocked both boys and some very close to them to the ground. Havelock immediately rolled off Stanley and prepapred to run. The other boys jumped to their feet, looking very menacing indeed. All except for Stanley, who let out an unDisc-ly wail.

"He's killed me! The Dog Botherer's gone and killed me!" He grabbed his knee and rolled over, moaning. The little substitute rushed over to see if Stanley had fallen victim to an illegaly-carried weapon.

"I didn't even touch his knee," said Havelock, more or less to himself.

"You're alright now, stand up lad," Madame S said in a soothing, loud voice. "The poor boy didn't expect it any more than you did."

"He did!" Stanley yelled, waving a finger in Havelock's direction. "He's always bullied me and targeted me for his vindictive little tricks!"

The teacher looked at Stanley and then to Havelock. Compared to the six- foot-three, 210 pound goliath that was now hobbling around dramtically, Havelock did not cut a very imposing figure. Skinny, pale and with the look of someone who hadn't quite grown into themselves, he truly didn't look anything like one might imagine a bully would look. Which was probably why the angry little woman assumed Stanley was telling the truth and sent Havelock to the headmaster's office.

I'm bleeding, Havelock thought absently, sitting outside the headmaster's office in a wicker chair. He was out of the dreadful Sports uniform and comfortably back into his too-big student uniform. He tried to stop the bleeding while he waited to the headmaster to summon him.

"Vetinari," came the slightly ominous voice. Havelock stood up and walked into the office with a bemused expression. He flopped down into a chair and slouched over, putting pressure on the small but persistent cut and looking generally embrassed.

Doctor Follett looke at Havelock in a slightly disbelieving manner. "Bullying, Vetinari?"

"I wasn't really, sir," Havelock said defensively. "I just kind of jumped and he was just kind of . . . in my way."

Follett studied the boy for a moment before pulling out a roll of gauze. "Would you like a bandage?"

"I'll wait for a bit, thanks," Havelock said neutrally.

"Smart lad," Follett said, placing the gauze back in a drawer with a snap. "Listen Vetinari, I think we both know that there is no possible way you intentionally hurt Stanley Price. He has four inches and 90 pounds on you, for a start." The headmaster leaned back in his chair and stared at Havelock. Havelock stared back until Follett looked away. "How do you get yourself into these messes?" the Doctor asked rhetorically.

"Good question, sir," Havelock said moodily, staring at the floor.

Follett sighed and turned back to the dark-haired teenager. "Just please try and stay out of trouble, would you? I shouldn't think your Aunt would be too happy with me if you didn't survive to see seventh year."

"Yessir," Havelock said. Follett nodded and Vetinari fled the office.

I will never, ever play sports again after I graduate, Havelock swore to himself. Ever.