The Second Hogswatch
Summary: The first Hogswatch after 'the first Hogswatch' when certain people discovered certain things about how certain other people felt about certain things (and certain people) and in consequence a particular (or certain) course of action was decided upon.
Disclaimer: Terry Pratchett owns the characters and the world they live on. Author is grateful for all the brilliant books and makes no claim of ownership in any way.
A/N: A Christmas Present to y'all out there! Happy Seasonal greetings. I got a thesis, I hope you get at least the smallest smidgeon of your hearts desire.
Polly pulled her muffler up higher against the cold and stuck her hands deep into her coat pockets. It was freezing and she had always hated the cold so there was really no reason why she should be out tonight. But she was, and anyone wishing to comment on that fact could just go take a long walk off a short cliff. When she'd told Shufti she needed a walk the woman had merely nodded and reminded her to take her hat. The understanding smile she'd attempted to hide as she did so could go sod off as well.
It had been a great Hogswatch, really it had. She'd eaten much too much as was customary, drunk too much of the seasonal concoctions, laughed at all the humorous mottos and played with her eldest nephew until the legs had fallen off his wooden knight (another Hogswatch afternoon tradition). Now all she wanted was some peace, to escape from the people who loved her but to whom she'd being lying to all day,and just have the freedom to be totally miserable. As she strolled up the lane over the crisp snow, Polly's mind drifted to another place, miles away and a long year ago. Memories of the cold stone of a far away tower under her boots and the whirling stars overhead raised their familiar heads. That had indeed been a Hogswatch to remember. A smile hovered over her lips as a stream of pleasant images played through her mind and a song not heard before in these parts could be heard rising through the winter night as she strode along.
Suddenly she heard a rustle behind her and spun round, her hand reaching for her sword. Swearing under her breath she realised she wasn't carrying it, the safe environs of home making her forgetful. What on the disc had persuaded her to come out without it? Just because she wasn't on duty, there was no need to drop her guard!
"Who goes there?" A shape materialised out of the shadows.
"Mal?" Her heart leapt but she hid it well, schooling her face into what she hoped was a bland and disinterested expression. "What the blazes are you doing here?" Her old treacherous heart would have been singing if she hadn't been such a prosaic person. Despite that it sang anyway, ignoring the lack of permission for it to do so.
"It's Hogswatch." The vampire smiled slightly shamefacedly. "I missed you."
Polly didn't say anything more in response to this admission but merely stepped forward, a hand outstretched to touch a firm shoulder, rubbing the smooth material of the coat between her fingertips in an attempt to determine if it was real. Mal was meant to be hundreds of miles away, making the most of being off the leash by drinking it up in the bars around the barracks and generally having a jolly time. Not that Polly was complaining, she hurriedly added as strong arms gathered her in and a gentle hand was placed under her chin, lifting her head to a more accessible position.
There were many ways of determining if a person was real, Polly concluded through the haze a good while later, a cold nose being one of them. Shrinking away from the chilly appendage attempting to make contact with her collarbone, she nestled into a welcoming arm, resting her head on the shoulder perfectly sited to support it. After thorough investigation she was prepared to accept that this unexpected apparition was in fact her longed for lover, fairy tales be damned.
"I got you a present" Mal recollected suddenly (in her defence she had been somewhat distracted).
She loosened her hold on the lieutenant to fish into a deep pocket, producing a small box wrapped in brown paper. Polly struggled to manipulate it with her gloves for a moment, before deciding to ignore the cold and pulling at the knitted fingers with her teeth. Mal took them from her with the grace of long suffering practice and with her hands trembling in the cold, Polly quickly disposed of the paper and snapped open the case to gaze on the item within. It glinted in the moonlight; a little medallion on a silvery chain. She lifted it out, letting the chain run through her fingers as she squinted at the figure on the medallion in the low light. From the looks of it they were flipping a coin.
"It's Anoia, Goddess of Things Not Sticking In Drawers and more recently promoted to responsibility for Last Chance Daft Ideas. I thought it might be fitting." Mal smiled nervously. "It's not silver I'm afraid, it's only a metal alloy."
"It's perfect." She reached up to thank Mal properly, understanding completely the reasoning behind the choice of deity. There were some things that Mal would never say, but Polly heard them loud and clear for all that.
Settling back within those encircling arms she turned her attention back to the shiny prize dangling from her fingers. It was light for metal, indicating perhaps someone had spent more on it that they were willing to let on, in order to ensure it was one of the better alloys - one that wouldn't tarnish no matter how much mud and dust its owner trudged through. As she watched it twirl in the moonlight Mal reached out to lift it delicately from her hand, offering to put it on. Feeling strains of déjà vu Polly bared her neck, lifting aside the muffler. The metal was chill against her skin and she shivered.
Before re-adjusting the muffler Mal kissed the warm skin, ghosting over the hollow where the medallion lay. Trembling, though no longer with cold, Polly couldn't help thinking that such a response from her might have something to do with why the scheming minx had bought it in the first place. Her head dropped to one side, inviting further exploration as it was of course vital to check that the necklace didn't chafe anywhere against her skin when worn. Mal was apparently willing to investigate this possibility thoroughly and they spent an enjoyable few minutes experimenting. Eventually Polly pulled away, her manners resurfacing and rested a calming hand on the thick material separating her from Mal's breastbone. One couldn't express all one's gratitude non-verbally. Squinting, she pulled up the medallion so that she could examine it once more.
"Thank you Mal, it's a lovely Hogswatch present." She tucked it away inside her shirt, the task allowing her to keep her eyes lowered. "I didn't get you anything."
"I won't hold it against you" Looking up in mostly faked apprehension Polly caught that familiar mocking twist of the mouth that she would never have believed she could have missed so badly until she was denied it for five long days.
The two figures laughed softly together as Mal re-wrapped the muffler around her neck, tucking it in tenderly to ensure not a single sliver of skin was laid bare to the winter chill. Walking on up the road, Mal's arm found its way to settle around her shoulder as they fell into the old familiar attitude and Polly, her head resting on the slightly higher shoulder of her companion, thought the day wasn't quite such a wash out after all.
"I missed you too."
"Did you?" Mal pummelled her brain for a long minute but at last managed to recall the beginning of the conversation
"Shufti was beginning to get suspicious; apparently I'm ever so cranky." A quiet snigger dropped into her ear from above. They walked on in silence, or as silent as is possible when every step crunches through crisp snow.
"How did you get here? Did Smith give you leave?"
"Kind of?" Polly craned her neck in order to catch a glimpse of the face above and noted Mal was sporting the blank expression she used to cover a multitude of sins.
"Apparently I was a bit cranky too." Her lips twitched. "I believe the Captain's exact words were something along the lines of 'for the Duchess' sake get the hell out of here already!'. He gave me a two day pass." Mal steered them into a gap in the hedge and they leant together on the farm gate, looking back over the fields to the glinting lights of the village.
"I'm freezing," Polly shivered, the cold striking up from the frozen metal under her gloves.
"You humans." Mal sighed. "So weak and feeble, so controlled by the environment around you."
Polly's nudge epitomised playful annoyance. "If the snow wasn't quite as darn frozen I would be forced to throw some in your general direction."
"Cos we all know how well that turned out last time." Their eyes met in a moment of remembrance and then both broke into giggles, bent over the gate to support them.
But the wind was cold and Polly knew Shufti would worry if she stayed out too late. They turned from the view laid out before them and wandered back down the lane, savouring the last minutes before they would have to part. Reaching The Duchess, Mal took a moment to admire the new sign before following Polly round the side. She hung back as Polly unlatched the back gate to let it swing open in silent invitation.
"D'you want to come in?" Capturing Mal's hands in hers Polly knew the answer before she asked, but went ahead anyway.
"I'd best not. I'll see you when you get back."
They stood face to face, hands clasped tightly while eyes traced over familiar contours, cheekbones, eyebrows, noses, lips, the complicated minutia of expression. Polly was completely and stupidly unable to let go.
"You'll be ok getting back?"
"I'll be fine." Mal smiled at her desperation though there was a similar hint of need fluttering at the back of her own eyes. "Goodnight Polly."
The woman winced and pulled Mal forward to wrap her in a tight embrace. "I'll miss you" she muttered as she buried her face into her sergeant's neck.
"I know." Mal eased back and Polly lifted her head to catch her soft smile. As she watched Mal shook her head against the idiocy of it all and bending again caught willing lips in a deep and involved kiss that told Polly everything and more about Mal's feelings with a short appendix related to the unfairness of partings. Coming up for air they swayed together, forehead to forehead as Mal traced an unsteady thumb over a wind chapped upper lip that trembled under her touch. Polly, her eyes drifting closed, planted a delicate kiss on the pad of that thumb and it paused thoughtfully before moving on to discover the dimple in her cheek.
High above the stars whirled on in their courses while closer to the disc the icicles grew longer from the branches overhead as two lovers held each other close, attempting to stockpile reassurance for the time apart. Finally one of those growing icicles broke the spell, falling with a tinkling crash onto the frozen mud below.
"I should get back." But despite her words Mal didn't draw away preferring instead to watch in soft amusement as a single curl twisted rebelliously around a slender finger, captured for all time by its fragile hold. "Extended leave is all very well, but it is only forty-eight hours and one doesn't really want to break it."
"Cripes, Mal. It's miles! You'll be exhausted."
"Then I shall sleep all the blessed day and Smith will thank the fates that he doesn't see me." Mal smiled into that concerned face. "It'll be fine Polly."
"Will you dream of me?"
"Maybe." She cradled the blond head under her cheek and it went willingly, Polly's hand reaching out unconsciously to grasp at the lapels of her greatcoat. "Will you?"
"Always." The little voice was almost inaudible but luckily vampires had good hearing.
They swayed together a moment until Mal sighed and loosened her hold. "Enough mushy stuff. I have a reputation to keep up." She straightened, flicking a speck of snow from the shoulder of Polly's coat. "Happy Hogswatch, my delicious human prey"
"And a happy Hogswatch to you, O despicable spawn of evil." Despite her desire that passing time would freeze as solidly as the ground under their feet, Polly couldn't resist the laugh that bubbling up in response to the mirrored glints lurking in the corners of Mal's tightly held expression.
After all, it wouldn't be long before they'd be back together again and Polly had got her Hogswatch present. Their real anniversary wasn't for 3 days, giving her plenty of time to pick up something small and amusing to present to Mal on her return. The ideas currently burgeoning in her mind as to a responsive gift in kind for the necklace she would keep to herself for the present until she'd managed to do some more research.
She allowed Mal to push her through the gate. Behind her the vampire leant in the most nonchalant manner against the uprights to watch her navigate the narrow path across the vegetable garden to the back door. Turning half way through her journey Polly took a moment to take in the image but Mal urged her onward, indicating with comprehensive gestures that if the lieutenant froze to death in her own back garden she would get no sympathy from any undead persons hereabout. Polly paused again at the door, the figure now vague in the shadows. She could still make out enough to catch the crisp salute and returned the acknowledgement before ducking inside.
The warmth hit her like shovel. Shufti was standing innocently at the range and kept her back turned while she enquired in a most friendly manner how Polly had found the walk. Polly, wondering exactly how long Shufti had been standing there and whether at any point she'd had the urge to wander over to the window, found her cheeks a lot warmer than the room temperature could explain and hurriedly bent to take off her boots. Struggling out of her coat and unwinding her scarf she couldn't help but think about another time those links had been unwound with interesting consequences and it was with a reminiscent smile on her face and a tune on her lips that she stole a mince pie from those cooling on the side board, sketched a salute in Shufti's general direction and sauntered her way through into the bar to play with her nephew and niece.
Catching a glimpse of that reminiscent smile Shufti grinned to herself, knowing now why her sister-in-law had been sulking around like a bear with a sore head for the past few days. She'd not been able to recognise the figure at the gate, but from the content of the infrequent letters she and Paul received she'd been able to make a good guess. People should remember that other people weren't born yesterday. Said people should also consider that these other people knew things about people that people had forgotten they'd shared.