Hogswatch Shoes

A/N- Welcome all to my very first Discworld fic –and- my (official) first song-fic. Why, you ask? Right now, a quarter of the radio stations around my house are already playing non-stop Christmas music and that includes the soppy country ballads like 'Christmas Shoes'. Since I'm too lazy to change the dial, I ended up listening to most of it. When I finally mustered up the energy to lift my arm and press a button, I ended up on another Christmas station that started playing the exact same song. And since I couldn't get it out of my head and I've been on a Pratchett marathon, this idea was formed… And just so you know, I'm more partial to parentheses for my Pratchett diversions, instead of numbers and footnotes. So beware…

----------------------------------------------

"Damn, Damn, Damn!" Sam Vimes groaned, his breath coming in gasps as he pounded frantically down Short Street, nearly mowing over several careless citizens in the process.

Even so, no one paid him much mind, not even the people who'd been knocked over and were now curled up in a little painful balls in the street. The terrier was on the chase again; what was new? Besides, they'd rather have the wind knocked out of them by Vimes than be stabbed in the middle of the night by whomever he was chasing.
This time, though, Vimes was on a more important mission than even his duties as commander. It was three o'clock on Hogswatch Eve and he had forgotten about Sybil's damned presents. He had just enough time to scour a few shops for something before he had to be home to read to young Sam, but only if he hurried. So he'd used his official voice and the crowds had parted for him. Mostly. It was amazing how people scattered when he did. Deep down inside, all of Anhk-Morpork was guilty of something.

It was just that Sybil was impossible to buy for. Anything her dragons needed, she'd buy herself. She already had plenty of clothes, jewelry, books, furniture, swamp dragons, highly protective battle armor—err, that is, trainer gear, and everything else he could think of. She preferred eating at home, so he couldn't treat her to dinner and a night on the town, and even if he did, she probably owned half the places, anyways. Besides, she didn't like to be parted from young Sam for more than a couple of hours.

He'd even tried to ask some of his watchmen for advice. That was a disaster…

-------------------------------------------------------

Carrot had been in the mess hall, masticating furiously on some dwarven bread when Vimes had approached him. As soon as the young captain saw Vimes approaching, he dropped his meal and fired off a smart salute.

"Carrot. That's really not nec—" Vimes began, then gave up, watching the confusion cloud Carrot's brow. In Carrot's private, warped universe (of course, whose inner universe isn't warped, or at least a little twisty?) saluting Vimes would always be necessary, even if they still worked together ten years from now. …In which time young Sam would be somewhere around eleven, while he would be… depressingly old. That particular train of thought always made Samuel shudder.

"What's the problem, Mr. Vimes?" Carrot asked earnestly, breaking Samuel's reverie, "You seem a little preoccupied. Is it the Bannibal Mector case again?"

"No. Worse." Vimes sighed.

And the problem at hand did seem worse than having his liver eaten with a nice pint of Old Winkles and a side of distressed pudding. Besides, he figured anyone who tried to eat his liver would be in for a nasty surprise. Even if he hadn't touched a drink in ages, the damage had been done, and he got the feeling his poor, scarred liver curled up into the fetal position anytime he went past a pub.

"I still haven't bought Sybil a Hogswatch present…" Vimes had groaned, until a spark of hope had pulled him out of his mental cesspool of self-pity. "Say… what did you buy Angua?"

"Well, she's been wanting this new grooming kit… and the mirrors at my place have been making her a little tetchy. Silver-backed, you know. So I replaced those, and got her the kit, and got her a season-pass to the Dwarf Bread Exhibit. We've gone together so many times; it'll practically pay for itself. If Sybil's interested in one, I could get a discounted rate. You know, all four of us could go on days off…" he finished hopefully.

And that was the problem with Carrot.

"Err… I'll, uh, think about that one, thanks." Vimes lied.

Fred took advantage of that moment to come and slap Samuel heartily on the back.

"Got the last-minute Hogswatch blues, eh? 'S the married man's curse, it is. I'll tell you what, I get Mrs. Colon what she needs in the kitchen every year and she seems pretty content. She always tells me, 'Fred, a melon baller! How very thoughtful. I may just have to put it to use on you.' Then she makes me these great little cantaloupe balls with a right glint in her eye, the old siren."

"I think she might mean—" Vimes began, then gave up, seeing the pride in Fred's simple face. "Err, I think Sybil's inherited all of that stuff."

"Right, she is a lady… Don't know what to tell you, then. I sure don't envy you."

Samuel ticked off a mental list of who else in the Watch was married to, or at least involved with a woman.

Detritus and Ruby seemed happy… but he doubted whatever trolls got each other for Hogswatch would work for Sybil.

There was… err… Nobby, the most desperate corner of his brain suggested, before being beat into oblivion by the other, sane parts. There was no way he'd ever be desperate enough to take advice from Nobby on love. So who else was there?
He'd never realized how many watchmen were bachelors…

Then a good idea exploded in his mind. Well, actually, a good idea exploded a few rooms over in the old privies and sent a fire ball racing down the corridor, into the hall, where all the coppers hit the floor automatically.

"Err… sorry." An eyebrow-less, singed Cheery wavered from a doorframe, "I thought that was going to be a little less volatile…"

"That could have killed me! Next time a fireball escapes your office, give me a little notice so I'm not walking down the same hall! Fire means light, which is bad for vampires. Now hand me those bloody curtains." A nude Sally sighed, fairly unscathed, or at least unscathed enough for someone who'd been suddenly incinerated then revived from dust instantaneously from a handy blood necklace. Once she'd fashioned an acceptable toga, she turned to Vimes, who was striding down the hallway.

"I'll be needing another uniform, sir." She said, ignoring the catcalls from the cafeteria.

"You know were we keep the spares. But right now I have a special assignment for you two." Vimes growled, glaring at the catcallers, who immediately shut up.

"Sir?"

"What are you waiting for, get in here!" Vimes sighed, dragging her into what was left of Cheery's workshop.

"Is this a new assignment, sir?" Sally glared, "Because you already have me on the trails of Fahmer and the Black Daisy cases and I don't really have time for another…"

"You two are both female."

Cheery and Sally exchanged the same puzzled, apprehensive look.

"Well, yes…" Cheery said, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"Very perceptive of you, sir." Sally agreed.

"So what the bloody hell does your gender want for Hogswatch?"

Cheery and Sally exchanged a look again. It's amazing how much a look can convey, and women have it down to an art.

---------------------------------------------

This one said, non-verbally, but quite clearly:

Cheery: Is the commander feeling well?

Sally: Not sure, but he has been looking a bit peeky lately, hasn't he?

Cheery: Toddlers do that to people.

Sally: True, true. I baby-sat my year-old niece once… it was horrid. I had flash-backs of baby vomit and screaming for weeks.

Cheery: But they are awfully cute when they snuggle.

Sally: Right. But wasn't there a point to this exchange in the first place?

Cheery: That the commander's acting a bit crazed?

Sally: Yeah. And do you think he means as a gender or individually, because I'd like a nice bonus for Hogswatch, personally.

Cheery: Ditto. And a new lab now, I guess.

Sally: And maybe a new pair of shoes.

Cheery: -sigh- Shoes…

----------------------------------------------

"Well, personally, a bonus would be nice… and maybe a new lab?" Cheery said hopefully.

"A bonus would be welcome, sir." Sally agreed.

"Err, right. We'll see. I mean more, uh, broadly."

Cheery burst into laughter.

"That was a rather good one, sir." Sally grinned.

Vimes remembered why he avoided being around these two particular watchwomen at the same time. He always felt out of the loop.

"Err, what?"

"You know, broadly? It was a pune, or a play on words. At least, I thought it was…"

Samuel winced.

"Can't you just tell me what I should get my wife for Hogswatch?"

The two nodded.

"Shoes." They both chorused.

"Cersace has the cutest new white gold kitten heels…"

"And Sybil would probably appreciate a new pair of rubber thigh-high boots for mucking out the dragon pens. If you could find them in cherry red or something, they'd be adorable. Plus, a little naughty, no? Well, before she actually used them on the pens, at least."

Sam was liking this idea. After all, if he had to have decent boots, so should she. Something besides the sensible daily shoes she wore. Something high, and strappy, and…"

His brain started to wander into naughty realms.

"Thanks. Any suggestions where? And what size Sybil is?"

"Manilla Blanca has a nice line. Try their department at Cersace's first. And… about 9 and a half."

"How do you do that?"

"Genetic predisposition." The two chorused.

Sally paused and grinned.

"You know, there is a Frederico's of Anhk-Morpork next door. You might want to check it out, too. Size 18, 40DD."

"Huh?" Vimes said inarticulately, the same feeling creeping up on him again as the two started laughing again.

"You'll see…"

--------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, Cersace, Anhk-Morpork's premier shoe store, was currently a convention of panicked men…

It was almost Hogswatch time, there I stood in another line

Lord Downey of the Assassin's Guild had never been much of a Hogswatch person. The crowds, the crush, the desperation. It was all so… undignified. And normally, he would already have all his presents bought. Really, he had. He'd sent the servants out to buy for everyone in his book, making sure they didn't forget even the meanest of his mortal enemies. You can't be impolite to enemies, after all. Where would society be if people went around being rude, just because you'd killed their grand-father… or because your Aunt Sarana had called their Uncle Crosby a useless boozer?

In the Shades, that's where… he thought.

It was just that in buying for all his enemies and frenemies, he'd forgotten Lady Downey. And even if she wasn't an official assassin, she'd certainly picked up a few things from her husband's talk of work. She frightened him a bit, frankly, and he never really trusted drinking her coffee the morning after a fight.

Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Hogswatch mood

And now he was seriously contemplating stabbing the people in front of him for being slow. And that would lack style. But then again, she'd notice if he was gone much longer.

Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously

Or at least, he thought it was a boy. Maybe. Did Cersace let monkeys in?

Pacing 'round like little boys do

Err… or monkeys. Monkey-boys? Was there such a thing? Well, the University had a monk—err, orangutan for a librarian. He supposed there were stranger things in the world than a monkey-boy buying shoes. (Strangely enough, in comparing the two people, he'd just solved the eternal mystery of Nobby Nobbs. It turned out that on a certain fateful day, a young Nobby had been walking past the University, and more accurately, the exact room the now-Librarian had been using to cast a momentous spell. Hence his need for papers to verify that he was a human… Magic leaks.)

And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

Which was natural, Downey thought in a scolding tone to himself. What did I expect him to be carrying in a shoe store?

The bloody holiday season was getting to him. Well, that and the fake snow the owner was spraying on the windows for a festive look, since it hadn't actually snowed in Anhk-Morpork yet this year.

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe

Downey wasn't sure if they let monkey-boys in Cersace, but if they did, shouldn't they at least be clean, wealthy, respectable monkey-boys?

And when it came his time to pay

I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Downey could already sense a long, time-consuming diversion. He just wanted to leave with his cherry-red, thigh-high size nine and half boots and white gold kitten heels. He'd gotten the last pair of both. Now monkey-boy was going to hold him up.

"Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please

Nobby Nobbs was incognin—cognit—err, undercover. And by undercover, he meant earning a little Hogswatch cash with the old poor-little-orphan routine.

It's Hogswatch Eve and these shoes are just her size

Some people may think he'd be a bit too old for this to work, but most people focus on Nobby's appearance, not his age, per se. Which meant he could twist their revulsion and pity into a tidy profit.

Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time

Hogswatch had never been particularly pleasant in the Nobbs house. The only time he'd written to the Hogsfather, he'd asked for "Sconner not to kick me in the teeth this year." It had come true, since that year Sconner had judged him old enough to justify a kick inna fork. Since then, he'd distrusted the Hogsfather as a sadistic bastard. Well, except last year, when he'd gotten his prized bow. But Nobby suspected that Hogsfather had given it to him as a bribe, not in the goodness of the Hogswatch spirit.

You see she's been sick for quite a while

Yeah, now hit the clerk with the sob story, just loud enough for the rich toff behind you to hear. Nobby coached himself.

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Offler tonight"

Yes, now the desperation angle. See how they like the thought of a poor boy losing his mam on Hogswatch.

Nobby hadn't taken into account the fact that he might be in front of someone impervious to sentiment, someone who had in fact made several children orphans on several Hogswatch nights. Many times in a Hogsfather suit, no less. In Downey, Nobby'd met a soul just as twisty and manipulative as his own. And just as unlikely to give up any money. It was the clash of the century.

He counted pennies for what seemed like years

Dammit, I always get caught behind the twit who decides to use up their change. The totals nearly twenty dollar; he's got he same things as me. This'll take forever. She'll know what I was up to for sure…

Downey broke out into cold sweat and the thought of Lady Downey greeting him with his own ornamental walking stick when he got home.

Then the cashier said, "Son, there's not enough here"

Nobby stared blankly at the man and patted his pockets unconvincingly.

He searched his pockets frantically

Then he turned and he looked at me

Sucker… Nobby thought, watch the magic. Then watch your wallet drain. Stupid people with good Hogswatch memories…

He said, "Mama made Hogswatch good at our house

Though most years she just did without

Tell me Sir, what am I going to do--

"Perhaps you should find a low-cost alternative. I hear they do a good summer sausage gift basket at Mesquite Farms down the road."

"Summer sausage for a dying woman? What kind of gift is that? She needs these shoes. Remember, I want her to look beautiful if she meets Offler tonight. Huh?" Nobby sniffled, pouring ever ounce of pitiful and slimy disgrace into the words.

"I wouldn't think Offler cares what shoes his disciples wear when he devours their soul, or whatever it is he does."

Nobby glared. So this was how it was going to be, huh? His toff was the hardest to convince all night…

Somehow I've got to buy her these Hogswatch shoes."

"No."

"THAT MAN JUST TOUCHED ME IN MY PRIVATE ZONE!"

A score of women shoppers became alert and all threw their pointy, spiky merchandise at Downey. Highly trained body-guards, he could handle, but this was too much. And a pump had nearly poked his eye out. Enid would notice bruises and get suspicious.

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out

"Stupid street urchin monkey-boy…" Downey muttered, throwing a twenty on the counter.

I'll never forget the look on his face

Because he was already plotting revenge.

when he said

Mama's gonna look so great…

The money Dibbler'll give me will be so great, is more like it.

I knew I'd caught a glimpse of Cori Celesti's love

"Or spite..", Downey muttered

As he thanked me and ran out

It's real ham tonight! None of the 50 percent rat-filler added junk…Nobby grinned happily, running out of the shop, red boots and silver heels in his clutch.

I knew that Offler had sent that little boy

To remind me just what Hogswatch is all about.

Which is namely, manipulation, Downey thought, wishing he was undignified enough to spit.

------------------------------

Cut-My-Own-Throat-Dibbler was specializing in last-minute Christmas gifts tonight, along with, of course, a side of sausage-inna-bun. He paid Nobby thirty dollars for the shoes.

"Hottest gift this year, ya know. I can mark them up 600 percent, easy for some poor sap who forgot to buy his wife something."

"Right. Gullible idiots… I'm getting back to work."

Yeah, CMOT Dibbler grinned to himself, they're the idiots. And you're the one taking a tiny cut of the profits for something you do most of the work obtaining. I love this city.

Just as Downey got to the register, Nobby slipped back in, unnoticed. Mainly because Commander Vimes of the City Watch had just burst in, panting heavily.

"Where are the red thigh boot and kitty-cat whatever heels? Nine and a half!"

The meek-looking clerk gulped and squirmed.

"Err, I'm afraid we're out, Your Grace. I-I could order them, but they won't get in for a week."

Samuel slumped in desperation and sadness, until he spotted Downey. Downey instinctively tightened his grip on his merchandise.

"Hello, Lord Downey. I'm afraid I'll have to commandeer those."

Dammit, it was already 4:15…

"Give me a good reason why I should these to you."

"Because I'll bloody well take them if you don't. Painfully."

There was a stand-off of haughty glares.

"Oh yeah, Duke Vimes? You don't even know the meaning of pain compared to me. I am the master of inflicting pain. On anyone. Even lovely dragon trainers."

That's the last straw. Vimes thought wickedly.

"THAT MAN STOLE THINGS UNDER HIS CLOAK AND HIS THEFT WILL DRIVE UP PRICES FOR LOYAL CUSTOMERS LIKE YOU LADIES!"

Another barrage of high-heeled daggers defeated Downey, and he let go of his shoes. Vimes immediately grabbed them, and tossed twenty-five dollars on the counter.

"Merry Hogswatch to all and to all a law-abiding night!!"

Suddenly, something sidled up beside him, blocking his exit.

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please—

"Nobby? Is that you? What the hell do you think you're doing? Go wipe those artful dirt smudges off your face and stop scamming people. You're on duty in an hour."

Nobby hung his head in shame, then rallied again.

B-B-But it's Hogswatch Eve and these shoes are just her size…

"I'm warning you, Nobby."

"Sorry, sir."

"Right. That's what I thought." Vimes scowled, "Now if you'll excuse me, there's some Watch business I have to attend to next door.

Size 18, 40 DD… Vimes chanted to himself, like a naughty mantra.

"Next door?" Nobby puzzled, thinking about the wares.

Hmmm… maybe he could try that next.

He mouthed the words, testing it out. Frederico's might work…

Sir, I want to buy this thong, for my momma, please—

He shut his mind down before it could progress any farther. Ok, so that wouldn't work. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

-----------------------------------------

One shop over, Vimes had figured out what Cheery and Sally had been giggling about. With some embarrassment, he'd got the clerk to fetch something red (almost as red as his cheeks by now) see-through, and lacy in his wife's size, and slunk out again, hoping Nobby wouldn't be there to leer.

He looked around, using his suspicious bastard copper eyes. The coast appeared to be clear. And he still had a good twenty minutes to get home. He could do that.

And surely enough, eighteen minutes later, he flung himself in the door (almost taking out Willikins in the process. Luckily, this particular butler had been schooled in the 'leap-out-of-the-way-in-the-nick-of-time-to-not-get-flattened' ninja arts.), out of breath. He gave Sybil a quick hug and a peck, panting "Got… you… presents…" and feebly holding up his bags.

Sybil grinned and squeezed him tightly.

"The only present I need is you coming home at exactly five to read to our son."

She peered at the bags and blushed pink when she saw the Frederico's bag.

"Oh my… well, I'm sure we can put that to use, anyways…"

Sam grinned bawdily, then looked at the clock and sprinted three at a time up the stairs to young Sam's room, where he grabbed "Where's my Cow" off the dresser table. Young Sam cooed.

Older Sam paused, and shouted down the stairs,

'Err… hold that thought, ok??"

"Of course, dear."

Sybil grinned and interested herself in peeking at her presents.

"Oooh, shoes…"

----------------------------------------

Post-story AN- Well, now it's your turn to spread Hogswatch cheer. Tell me what you think in a shiny review or I'll act like Foul Ole Ron, find your house, and stalk you.

Bugrit! Millennium Hand and Shrimp!

Oh, and I don't own Discworld or any crappy country ballads, either.