This was for Discfest '12, a while back, but until now I never really got around to uploading it here, not least because of the really weird pairing and the fact that I don't really write slash. I'm not even gonna try to justify myself on that one. It was a crack ship I started shipping as a joke and then I took it seriously and couldn't stop and this happened. The prompt was "Rincewind falls down the wrong trouser leg of time." Crossposted to ao3.
Rincewind could feel the air around him crackling, tasted acrid tin on his tongue, see octarine sparks flash on the corner of his vision. High-magic area. He couldn't turn around, though, or even try to navigate out. All he could do was run.
The shouting behind him was louder now. Desperately, he put on the last burst of speed he could possibly manage. The guards were catching up with him, he could feel it. Already his shoulderblades were itching in anticipation of the spear that would surely find him.
A bolt of magical fire rocketed past Rincewind, singeing his hair. What the hell? He knew they had a magician with them, but slinging around magic in a region as charged-up as this was insane. You had no idea what kind of things the spells would do, what kind of minds they'd take on.
Another spell flew by him, closer this time, and he lunged in the direction of a small clump of trees. They couldn't provide much protection, but if the spell hit them rather than him it might deflect the effects a tad.
He didn't make it, though. The final spell hit him in the back before he could get there. His last thought before blacking out was 'ohgods, ohgods, this time I'm really gonna die.'
Rincewind woke up and for a moment wasn't sure he had. It was dark and he wasn't sure what was happened. The usual mental check ran: arms, legs, feet, hands, head. Everything appeared to be in good working condition, as good as it ever was anyway, which was a little suspicious seeing as how he was just hit with several dozen thaums in an unstable area of reality.
Maybe his body was in the usual tolerable health but a different shape? Worriedly, he reached up and grabbed his nose. Both the hand and the nose itself seemed perfectly normal. Would he be able to tell?
Something else was nagging at him. Some other sensation. Nothing for it but to open his eyes, he supposed.
Having managed this, he held up a hand and waved it in front of his face. Again, its usual self. Okay. So. Get hit by spell, wake up same shape in soft beds with all critical bits. Not his usual luck.
Hmmm. Soft bed...
Soft, warm bed...
Soft bed warmed by someone else's body heat. It was definitely someone else's because the other person was lying beside him.
Rincewind screamed, flailed, and fell onto the floor.
Oh gods. Oh gods. He was lying beside someone or something and didn't know the circumstances that had let to this event. He wracked his brain but couldn't remember anything between the spell and the waking. It was all blankness, a completely hole.
Ergo, he had no way of knowing what was up there. It could have tentacles.
Carefully, he peered over the edge of the bed. The figure yawned and sat up and said, "Had another nightmare, did you? Are you all right?"
Rincewind stared for a moment.
It was Ponder Stibbons.
'Think,' he said to himself, still staring. 'Under what circumstances could you possibly end up in bed with Ponder Stibbons?' Possibly if they were both drunk, but Stibbons' demeanor seemed to indicate familiarity with his sleeping habits. Surely he hadn't been out that long. Unless...
High-magic area. Spell. Trouser legs of time.
Rincewind took a deep breath.
"I'm not all right," he said. "I think I'm in the wrong universe."
In the high-energy magic building, Rincewind sat patiently while HEX scanned his thaumic signature. Ponder had insisted on this. He'd said he wanted to see what another universe would look like and that by extrapolating from one small sample HEX could build the entire thing.
Rincewind suspected he just wanted to be sure one of them hadn't gone crazy.
The ants stopped scurrying. The thing that went parp went parp. Ponder peered at a sheet of paper covered in writing.
"Well," he said, "It certainly looks like you're in the wrong universe. Your thaumic pattern is all wrong for this one. It doesn't match at all."
"Oh," said Rincewind. "Good. How did this happen? Don't say 'quantum'."
Ponder gave him a put-upon frown. "But it is."
"How would you explain this to the Archchancellor?"
Ponder grimaced. "I hope I never have to."
"Go on, give it a try."
"From your story? You were in a region with high thaumic activity, and the spell knocked you...sideways, into the wrong Trouser Leg of Time. It must have been running roughly parallel to this one. Something small changed, and it didn't change the fate of the universe, only yours, perhaps. Your own personal Trousers."
"See?" Rincewind said. "I understood that."
"Good, because it was a completely lie," Ponder said. "But you might say the situation was a bit like that."
Rincewind put his head in his hands. "All right. How do I get back? Can I get back?"
"Well, I'm not sure about that yet. I'll have to run some scenarios on HEX. Of course we could try and recreate the accident that sent you here, but that could be troublesome, because we don't know what spell was used. Also, we might send you to another, different universe, which could be dangerous."
"Ah. Lovely. So I could be stuck here, then?"
"Possibly," said Ponder. "But since the difference was probably quite small, your life shouldn't change much."
"What was the difference?" Rincewind asked. He was pretty sure he knew already. But he did want to see Ponder's reaction.
Unsurprisingly, Ponder looked away, removing his glasses and polishing them carefully with the hem of his robe. "I'm not sure," he replied, not meeting Rincewind's eyes.
"Nothing to do with you, then?" Rincewind said, raising his eyebrows. "Funny. I mean, in my universe, I've never woken up in bed with another wizard. At least not sober. Certainly not one who seemed to be familiar with my sleeping habits."
Ponder looked up sharply and dropped his glasses. As he scurried to retrieve them, Rincewind said, "Look, it's all right, okay, I'm not angry. Anyway, the point is, let's just forget about it right now. Okay?" He met the other wizard's eyes, finally, and Ponder nodded.
"Okay," he said. "It's not as though it was anything formal, anyway. We just sort of...ended up together, sometimes. I'll be a professional about this. I'll get you back to your universe as soon as possible."
"In the meantime, you might want to go back to sleep. HEX has got a ways yet to go with the calculations."
Rincewind went to his room. At least, he assumed it was still his room, that he was in Ponder's before. It was more or less the same, so even if it wasn't his in this reality, he didn't think anyone would mind him staying here. There was still a broken crate for a dressing table, and the huge wardrobe still lurked in the corner with, he noticed, the Luggage still on top. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He'd probably miss the thing if it went, but on the other hand, it did get him into trouble with the Watch an awful lot...
He sighed, and flopped down on his mattress, and tried to sleep.
It was no good, though. His brain wouldn't shut off. It kept saying things like, 'Really? Ponder Stibbons? How did that happen? What were we thinking? More importantly, what was he thinking?'
Rolling over, he tried to banish the thoughts. But really, why Stibbons? And how did that happen? Alcohol, most likely. That wasn't the big question. The big question was why it had kept on happening. Nice things, such as relationships of any sort with decent people, did not happen to Rincewind. Maybe this one was just luckier than he was.
Rincewind decided he didn't like the Other Rincewind. The lucky bugger apparently had something approaching a successful if low-key sometimes-relationship. The best he ever got in his universe was going for drinks with the Librarian. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but...
He fell asleep, and into his usual troubled dreams.
In the morning there was the usual small scream, which he rarely erupted into consciousness without. Rincewind looked around the room, unable to shake the feeling that something was off. Then he remembered his circumstances.
Stuck in the wrong universe. Lovely. Sitting up, he peered around the room, which still looked familiar; morning light had not revealed any gross differences in it.
Hmm. Well, for the moment, he had nothing to do. This was such a rare, precious state of being that Rincewind sat on the bed for a full ten minutes just to enjoy it.
Then he got up and headed briskly down to the Great Hall for breakfast.
He met Ponder there, who pulled him aside for a moment. "I think," he said, "It's best if we don't tell the Senior Wizards about this just yet. Er. Not that I advocate keeping secrets from authority..."
"But explaining it would be a bit much," Rincewind agreed. It wasn't his problem either way, so he didn't much care. "All right," he said. "I won't say anything, although it's not that likely they'll talk to me anyway."
"Thank you," said Ponder, with a small sigh of relief. "Could you come over to the HEM building after you're finished? I believe we may have worked out a few possibilities."
'A few possibilities' turned out to be sitting under HEX and feeling very tingly about the fingers. "Unstable magical particles," Ponder explained. "We're bombarding you with them."
"That doesn't sound very safe."
"Oh, don't worry. As far as we're aware it's perfectly all right, although we still haven't tested the long term effects."
"Over a period of time it's quite difficult to tell how they'll decay. You see, as the magical particles – "
"Oh gods, please don't tell me. If this is absolutely necessary I really don't want to hear about how much danger I'm in."
"You're in no danger, I've been trying to tell you that," said Ponder, pursing his lips slightly.
"It doesn't sound like that."
Ponder sighed, and went to fiddle with HEX. Rincewind stared at his hands for a while, trying to make sure the tingling did not, in fact, cause them to combust or turn blue or fall off.
He heard another sigh. Probably Ponder was thinking about how much better his Rincewind would have done. Rincewind found himself resenting the other man without even having met him. It sounded odd, but he knew why. Someone else had got some small measure of happiness which could very well have been his. It wasn't, of course, because things like that Did Not Happen To Him.
Rincewind peered at Ponder. His train of thought shunted down the 'why Ponder Stibbons?' track and he found himself scrutinizing him now.
Well, all right, he had a reasonably decent sort of face, although Rincewind wasn't sure how he felt about the glasses – they reminded him of Twoflower. And, yes, Ponder was a man, but that sort of thing wasn't terribly uncommon among wizards, what with the whole sourcery business.
He shook his head. Didn't matter. This wasn't his universe, and he was going back home.
Unfortunately, he resolutely failed to disappeared and reappear in the other universe, no matter how much Ponder messed around with the settings.
"We'll have to try something else," Ponder said. "I really thought this would work. But there are a couple of other things we could do." He turned to one of the students – there always seemed to be one or two around – and began discussing it with him.
Rincewind ignored the words, as they didn't mean too much to him. He thought he caught, ominously, 'chicken' and possibly 'FTB', whatever that meant, but didn't wish to inquire about the circumstances in case they were awful.
He went to lunch. It seemed the wisest thing to do.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Ponder tried a lot of things. Mostly a lot of magibabble Rincewind didn't properly understand, but some of it was familiar. They tried mucking about with sending him to Roundworld, for example.
"It might reset your space-time equilibrium," Ponder said. "That would hopefully snap you back to the proper dimension."
Rincewind considered this for a moment.
"What about the other one, though? Would that bring him back too?"
"One would hope so, but it's impossible to be sure." Ponder shrugged. "He might just be shifted to another dimension, and another you sent here in his place."
"Oh," Rincewind said, not sure what else to add. How did you console someone for something like that? Ponder might be faced with a lifetime of shifting Rincewinds through other dimensions, forever hoping for the one he knew and never getting him.
The Roundworld experiment didn't work, though. He just ended up with a few bruises from a very vicious attack by one of the larger dinosaurs. A few bruises, and a lot of nightmares. Admittedly the suit shielded you from most of the physical damage, but the psychological damage of seeing yourself partly eaten by an enormous lizard didn't fade for a very long while. It was only one new reel in his ever-growing collection of nightmares, but he found himself wandering over to the HEM building quite often after he'd had a particularly bad one, lately. After all, he usually didn't go back to sleep, and they might as well experiment some more while he was awake. Ponder was usually there in any case, sometimes with students, sometimes without.
They talked when the experiments were through if Ponder wasn't doing anything else. Rincewind learned that Ponder was an only child, an orphan raised mostly by his maiden aunts. Rincewind admitted to having never met either of his parents.
"My mother ran away before I was born," he explained. "It was mostly my grandfather and me."
"Ran away before – " Ponder began, and then checked himself. "Never mind."
"It's very complicated."
"It certainly sounds that way."
Nothing worked. Rincewind remained firmly anchored to the reality he was in at the moment. But he did stop asking himself 'why Ponder'? and started enjoying his company.
"We have one final recourse," said Ponder over pizza one night as HEX was humming away in the throes of whatever new test Rincewind was enduring at the moment. "We take you to a high-magic area, or create one artificially, and attempt to recreate the accident."
"With the spells and all?" said Rincewind, eyebrows furrowing. "Thought you didn't know which ones they were."
"I didn't think we could, but HEX has made unexpected progress in that area. The problem, of course, is that we don't know if the effects will stay the same. You know how unstable those sorts of things are."
Yes, Rincewind did, through bitter experience. He chewed slowly on for a bit.
"It doesn't sound like a very good idea," he said. "Besides, wouldn't we have to involve the senior wizards, if we tried that?"
It had become we now, he realized. It used to be you. The shock of this realization almost made Rincewind miss Ponder's next words.
"You're right," he said. "It would be quite inconvenient. And, well, dangerous. But we should try."
Rincewind put down his pizza for a moment. Yes, they did have to try, because Ponder wanted his Rincewind back. But he, this Rincewind, was getting used to the arrangement. He was getting used to having companionship. And, well...we. He quite liked the idea of being a we of any sort. Even with Ponder. Maybe especially with Ponder.
In short, he didn't want to go.
"Look," he said, "You know how I am about danger."
"It's your only way out, though. Don't you want to leave?"
Sudden resentment flared in Rincewind. He was always being pushed around. Nobody ever wanted him, it seemed.
"What," he said, glaring at Ponder, "if I don't?"
Ponder gaped at him.
"I know you want your version back. I'm sorry. But I'm not going to go do some idiotic, dangerous experiment and possibly die just for that. That would eliminate all your chances, you know, he'd never come back. And what if I like it here, eh?"
"But...why would you?" said Ponder, staring at him as if he'd gone mad.
"Well!" Rincewind sputtered, caught off-guard. "What?"
"I thought you were feeling rather awkward. My relationship with the, er, other Rincewind, surely that must put you on edge."
"Not really. It did at first but, well, not anymore."
Ponder took off his glasses and put them down on the table, obviously buying time.
"You'd stay for me?" he said.
"No, I'd stay because letting wizards fire magic at you in an unstable area of reality is damned stupid," he said, and then grudgingly admitted, "You'd be more of an added bonus, I suppose."
"Oh," said Ponder in a small voice.
Rincewind sighed. "I know I'm not him. But maybe you could get used to me."
Ponder leaned over and very carefully kissed him.
Somehow, this hadn't been the response Rincewind was expecting. Probably it was down to the fact that people more often hit him than kissed him, by a lot. He flailed for a moment before remembering how to kiss back and initiating the correct procedures. Ponder's lips were chapped but warm. Rincewind decided he liked this universe.
When they came up for air Ponder said, "If you'd told me all this earlier, it would have saved a lot of bother."
"I didn't know it earlier," Rincewind said. "It's...I've never really been...well, anyway, the important thing is that I have told you. I – " He stopped. There was a curious pull in his stomach that he recognized, and black dots were swimming before his eyes.
"What?" Ponder asked. "Are you all right?"
Rincewind never got a chance to answer.
He came to himself again surrounded by senior wizards. Ridcully handed him a blanket.
"Hnn?" he said, clutching it in confusion.
"Easy, old chap," said Ridcully. "You're naked. Just wrap yourself up, there's a good man. Side effect of dimensional transfer. The confusion, too."
Dimensional transfer. Oh. "I'm...back?" he said muzzily. "In the right universe."
"Almost certain of it," said Ponder. Rincewind did a double take, and then remembered that this was his Ponder. Or, possibly, not his Ponder, depending on how you looked at it. Whichever one he was continued, "We scanned your thaumic signature, and it seems to match."
"Oh. And the other one?"
"We're pretty sure he got back to the right place."
"Of course, with Mr. Stibbons' precise calculation, we can't be too sure," interjected Ridcully, patting Ponder on the back.
"Yes, sir," said Ponder, putting the kind of emphasis on sir that put it in the category of circumspect swearing.
"Well, now that that's all sorted out," Ridcully said, "Let's go and have dinner."
"Right," said the Senior Wrangler. "Sensible suggestion."
"There's pork tonight, apparently," said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.
"Really? Haven't had pork this week yet," the Senior Wrangler said.
"My nose has turned into a spoon," said the Bursar as the crowd drifted away. Rincewind was left with Ponder, who was still fiddling with HEX.
"How did you find me?" he asked, without being sure why.
"We didn't," said Ponder. "Actually we just sent the other one back to the right universe. You see, we created a state of thaumic saturation inside the High-Energy Magic building, and – "
"Yes, and then you got the wizards to do a spell or something," said Rincewind wearily. "I'm surprised he was willing to risk it."
"He said he'd got something to go back for. I have no idea what."
Rincewind wasn't sure what to say. After having made so many mental adjustments in the other universe, was he supposed to leave them behind and go back to normal now? Bit confusing, really.
Perhaps... Rincewind hesitated. Perhaps the readjustment wouldn't have to be too radical.
"Listen," he said. "You're really the one who brought me back, right? The senior wizards'll say they did it, but you know how they are."
Ponder blinked at him. "I...I suppose you could say that. I did have a significant part in coming up with the spell, and of course there was HEX."
"I'll buy you a drink, then," said Rincewind. "To thank you."
There was a moment's hesitation. He could see it in Ponder's eyes. Then –
"All right," Ponder said.
"Right," Rincewind said. He looked down at the blanket. "Er. Just let me get dressed first."