Susan, Duchess of Sto Helit, opened a letter that, a moment later, joined a previous three suggesting the same insane premise in a carefully ignored file. Being that insane premises were effectively the nature of her life, this meant that the writers of these letters had some notable competition in coming up with such a thing (such as human nature and governesses).
My dear Susan, it would be my great pleasure to support you in the quest to open a school…
Whoever had told the Sto Plains nobles of her success in education, they were lucky that Susan wasn't bothered enough at the moment to take this particular addition of stress out on them in a very steady and utterly mundane manner. The idea currently forming in her mind included a hardcover copy of Twurp's Peerage.
It wasn't that she didn't have the time to form a school, or the competence. It was a matter of labels. "Duchess" had never fit her and hopefully never would. "Headmistress," however, held a terrifying likelihood of swallowing her whole, and held an amount of responsibility that, if she were to be honest, she couldn't bear to add onto that of occasionally being asked to maintain the balance of reality.
There were other things a young woman would eventually want from life.
It wasn't daydreaming to think of him, just once or twice a day. He existed. She was acknowledging that. It was all very reasonable. It just so happened that they had a date planned for that night and also happened that she was looking quite forward to it. That was all.
It is a law of nature that, when you are grown and going about your life, your mother will take the greatest (but, often, not worst) opportunity to surprise you.
This is true even for the son of Time, who is, logically, very rarely surprised.
Lobsang straightened his coat, looked at the door to Susan's building, and then his mother unshattered into existence in front of him.
"Nghrgh," he declared, stepping back, and immediately put his face in his hands. "Mum," he mumbled in protest.
"I'm sorry, dear," she said, and reached out to pat him on the arm, consoling. "I didn't mean to startle you. I wonder why I did. You're paying attention? It's very important."
"Yes, Mum," he said, wearily obedient.
"I know it's not likely that anyone will attempt something like what happened any time soon, of course, but – "
"Mum. It's fine," Lobsang said, in his best attempt at calm. "I'm fine. Is something wrong?"
"No... it's just... we heard something interesting about what you're up to these days." She looked innocent, concerned, and penetratingly curious in that way mothers often do.
He paused and met her gaze for a moment, then sighed. "Yes. We're dating."
"Oh – " She hesitated, then at the look on his face, she instantly spoke again. "It's not that I disapprove, or that we disapprove, Lobsang, it's – "
"Mum, can we have this discussion another time?"
She gave him a stern look. He pointedly did not quail. She relented. "Be careful, please."
"She's – " He made a point of not even acknowledging that he'd begun that thought, even if his face betrayed him by flushing a lovely pink. "There's nothing to worry about," he promised her instead.
She touched his face; her hand was cool against his hot face. Her expression was kind. "She could be very good for you," she said, "so be careful."
He realized then that she was warning him against something entirely different, or it seemed that way, then, the second he opened his mouth to say something, she kissed his cheek and vanished.
Lobsang sighed raggedly and opened the door to the building. Susan was standing behind it.
"Hi," she said, and smiled. Her hair was behaving itself today, which was, in itself, not a good or bad thing.
"Hi," he answered, and grinned. "Curry?"
"No," she said, in an amused sort of pity. "Absolutely not."
He extended his hand to her and they began to walk through the streets. He persisted. "Sto Plains? We could have cabbage stew. And cabbage beer. And cabbage – "
"I'm so flattered that you learned all there is to know about Sto Plains because of me," she interrupted. "I really am. Have you ever had cabbage beer?"
"You know I haven't. I'll go, honestly, I am a bit curious," he admitted. "Cabbage and you. It must have its own specific charms."
"I think that was almost a compliment. But I'd rather not go home now."
It didn't seem as off the cuff as usual. He sent her an inquiring look, leaning towards her as the Ankh-Morpork crowds pressed around them, slowed in even his most casual, forgetful aura. She leaned back, more demurely than anything, and said, "It's not important."
He might have worried about their... them-ness if it wasn't for the slight pressure of her hand in his and the faintest upturn of the corner of her mouth.
"I have to ask," he said, in feigned gallantry that might have been a bit more real than he would ever be willing to admit. "If there was anything I could do. I know you don't like to break rules – "
That got the stony "Miss Susan" expression, or at least a sarcastic cousin to it, and he smirked. She didn't stop it with the face. "I don't exactly follow rules to the letter. It's not in our anthropomorphic natures."
"All right. You're a rebel. Tell me, then. What's the stupidest thing you've ever done?" he challenged her, teasing.
"Let you walk me through Ankh-Morpork without a clue as to where we're heading, and letting you have full say over the food," she said promptly.
He paused. "I don't think that's the stupidest thing you've ever done – well, maybe it actually is," he amended. "But I wondered when you'd notice. Are you going to guess?"
"Sator Square. There's a Genuan restaurant. I'm not going to say it's a typical choice, but I'm not going to call it revolutionary either."
"What's important," he said, "is that you call it tolerable. At least. There's no telling. Have you been there, Duchess?"
She shoved him, just slightly, in the shoulder, making him jostle a dwarf and his battleaxe, who didn't get a chance to turn and look before they were several paces away. He eyed her, not cross at all, especially when a mildly satisfied smirk crossed her face.
"Don't call me Duchess," she said firmly. "It's unnecessary."
"Of course not," he agreed easily. "My mistake."
Ten minutes later, while they spoke to the maitre'd, he mentioned their table would be for two, name "Duchess of Sto Helit."
"I hate you," she said calmly, and he smiled serenely.
During dinner, they finished a bottle of wine, then half of another after. She leaned her cheek into his shoulder as they left the restaurant, for just a moment.
It was a small thing. But life was made up of small things, and this one in particular turned him into a blazing idiot, emboldened by enough alcohol to maybe let him try, this time, to –
"You're blue," Susan said, in loose interest. Her hair was undoing itself as he stared at her for a blank moment, then he looked down at himself. Then he looked at the street around them.
"Ah," he said. "Did you want to deal with Ankh-Morpork at its nightly best? Because I can... always... turn time back on."
"That is a thing you can do," she agreed.
He had the distinct feeling that he was making a mistake, somehow, but the wine was very insistent that he at least attempt to make others. "Right now?" he checked, apparently casually.
"Sort of a relative term at the moment, but... it's up to you."
There was a way, he noted, some way, that she had managed to go from a girl who was pretty in a weedy, buttoned-down sort of way, to a notably beautiful girl whose attention he now had to keep. The process by which this had happened, of course, had nothing to do with makeup, particularly expensive pieces of fabric and whalebone fashioned into devices that were only functionally different than certain torture devices when you got right down to it, or anything similar. It was, of course, a bad case of drunkenness exacerbated by falling in love.
He opened his mouth to say something, rethought that idea, then leaned in to kiss her.
It was a good kiss. No celestial beings burst into full light, and the ground didn't tremble beneath them, if only because the ground and stars (or the view of the stars from the Disc, at least) were still very much frozen in time, much like everything else in a five block radius of Sator Square.
It occurred to him after the kiss seemed over – he had never gotten the hang of when exactly a kiss was over or how this was decided – that he ought to do something about that, but she made an annoyed sound, hauled him in by the collar, and kissed him again.
Time could wait. He kissed her.
Then something tugged on the leg of his trousers, and crept up it. This is not a metaphor for anything unseemly, or for anything at all.
Lobsang stood a few feet away, composing himself and catching his breath after his efforts clawing the Death of Rats out of his trouser leg. Susan resisted the unreasonable temptation to pitch the rat halfway across the street and held it up to her face.
"You are a bad rat," she said levelly. "What do you want?"
SQUEAK, it said, obviously smug.
"Now is not a good time! Whatever my grandfather needs, he can wait!"
"He says don't worry about it, we can wait for you to be done with your… rendezvous," the raven said from his perch on the overhang behind her.
She turned on him. "You! Both of you, go away! It hasn't even been a month!"
"If you need to go, go," Lobsang said.
Susan looked back at him, incredulous. "Are you serious? They can't just pull me away from – whatever I'm doing! Not every time! There are important things, and, and – " She tore her gaze away from him to glare at the rat, who was bouncing on the balls of its paws on her hand in apparent amusement. "I'm not going to try to explain this sort of thing to you, so stop looking at me like that!"
SNH, SNH, SNH, the rat sniggered.
"Oh, you shut up!" she snapped, and groaned. This was the Problem with Alcohol outside of Moderation, but likely not in the way that Miss Butts of the college had imagined it would arise.
"I'm serious," Lobsang said, more loudly this time, for emphasis. "Go deal with it."
"Deal with what? What is it?" she asked the rat and the raven, at once. "What in the hell could be happening now?"
SQUEAK, the rat said, somberly.
The raven nodded and flew down to Susan's shoulder, and he fluttered to the ground awkwardly when she politely batted him away. "He says – fine, I'm going! – he says you have to see it. It won't make sense until you do."
"Usually." She sighed, and touched her face and hair, trying to cool down from both anger and other, more embarrassing things. Somehow, she managed to look at Lobsang, not allowing herself to cringe or get sad or anything ridiculous and sentimental like that.
She resolved herself, stuck her fingers in her mouth, and whistled.
When Binky arrived, she climbed onto him and looked at Lobsang. "I'll make it up to you," she promised, and rode off.
Two relative days later, they sat in her flat.
"...so the dimensions were all collapsing in on each other, which caused some very serious problems, because the laws of physics are very different in the Hogfather's realm than they are in the Tooth Fairy's realm and so forth, and of course they're all just slightly easier to enter than Death's realm, for very good reason, but they're collapsing in on Grandfather's as well, so I was actually, I am completely serious about this, house-sitting."
There was a silence. Lobsang looked at her, then pressed a hand to his mouth before he started to laugh.
"Go on," Susan said, agreeable enough. "I had the Soul Cake Duck laying chocolate eggs on the kitchen table next to me. Its eyes. Putting up with that and the quacking was the worst. At least Old Man Trouble was with Grandfather."
He shuddered. "Small mercies." He paused. "Did you manage to get any of the eggs?"
"Did I manage to get any of the eggs," she repeated, skeptically, and approached her writing desk, opening the drawer. She set two large chocolate eggs on the desk and scoffed in amusement.
He knew she knew he was behind her, and he carefully put an arm around her waist, pressing a kiss to the back of her neck. She released a slow breath and smiled, leaning back against him.
"Better enjoy ourselves now," she said. "There's no guarantee more worlds won't collapse by the next time you kiss me."
He laughed, she turned to face him, and they kissed again, left alone for one perfect moment, with all the time in existence to spare.
Thirty seconds later, she broke away to find a comically disappointed look on his face.
"By the way," she said, "I might be starting a school."
"Not a problem?"
"It's going to be a bigger problem for you than it will be for me."
"Yes," she agreed. "Yes, it will."
He conceded that with a nod. "Like you said. We have to enjoy ourselves."
"You'll make time," Susan said in a perfect deadpan, and made a startled half-squeak when he surprised her with another kiss.
He decided when that one was over.
To both their surprise, she very nearly laughed.