'Fixed' Does Not Mean 'Unbroken'


There are light footsteps in the forest.  Wyatt can hear them over the rhythmic pounding of his axe against the wood he’s splitting, stockpiling for winter.  Whoever it is, they’re trying to be quiet, but he’s become accustomed to the silence, a constant companion to his memories, ever since he walked away from the lakeside manor at Finaqua.

The Queen had offered him a star, bright as the noonday sun.  Not tin, but gold, the title ‘General’ etched into the surface.  Out of nowhere, the offer had come, while she was sitting quiet in the swing and he stood guard as they watched the princesses wander the lake’s edge.  Out of nowhere, but inevitable, and he’d said no.

No, and thank you, and a thousand polite refusals, sounding hollow even to his own ears.  He’d looked at the scene, all things restored to everyone, and couldn’t pretend any longer.  D.G. had a court full of people willing to die for their restored princesses both – to be fair, a little more grudging for Azkadelia, but she’d been winning them back slowly and surely.  Raw was rebuilding his people’s society, returning to court as an Ambassador and advisor.

Glitch was again Ambrose, a thin seam showing in his hair where his brain had been restored and a metal plate set to seal the gaping hole shut.  He’d still been in the Capitol, breaking terrible machines into plowshares, or whatever mechanical geniuses did while shut away in the laboratory wing.

And Wyatt only felt loss, looking straight into the face of a world renewed.  He’d done his part, so he’d retired.

There is a white tree in front of the cabin, and an iron sarcophagus out back, twin sentries guarding a ramshackle house, a meager grave, and an old ex-tinman that tends to both.  He’s rebuilt the cabin, sealing it against drafts and shooing out the dust and vermin with single-minded intensity.  It’s been six months since victory, three since he’s walked away from an easier, exalted life, and winter’s coming fast.

The footsteps are closer, rounding the cabin.  He doesn’t turn, just calls over his shoulder, “I know why you’re here.”  He sets another log on the stump and swings his arms and the axe up in a smooth motion.

“Oh,” a voice says.  “Good, because I wasn’t quite sure myself.”  Not the voice he was expecting, and the axe comes down at the wrong angle, peels a wedge of bark off the side but not much more, and the rest of the wood spins out, almost hitting Wyatt in one knee.  The axe bites deep into the stump, and he leaves it there, wiping a trickle of sweat from his temple with the back of one wrist.

He turns, and looks at his visitor.  “I didn’t think they’d send you, Ambrose,” he says, finally, saying the name deliberately to remind himself.  He doesn’t know this man.  Why would they send him?

“They didn’t send me, not exactly,” the other man says, a nervous smile darting across his features.  He fiddles with one cuff of his sleeve, the braid tidy on his jacket and the buttons of his shirt done up the right way.  “They sent me with messages, sure,” the halting cadence of his words is that of a man unsure of welcome, not a man trying to remember how to walk and speak at once.  “But only after I said I was going to come.”

“But you don’t know why you’re here,” Wyatt finishes, repeating what Ambrose said earlier so the other man doesn’t have to.  Ambrose ducks his head, and there’s a glint of metal shining in the even part.  His hair is clean, the curls unmatted and falling in a soft curtain across his features.

“Yeah.  I didn’t think I’d even remember how to get here,” Ambrose confesses, smiling at him ruefully.  “Taking the main road’s a lot different than running in the dark and swinging across a zipline.”

This is the part where Wyatt knows he should smile back over shared memories, invite an old war comrade in for lemonade or tea or beer.  He doesn’t, just squints against the setting sun, and says, “If you aren’t sure why you’re here, you shouldn’t have bothered.  I’m sure you’ve left a cartload of work behind – gewgaws to shine up the Zone, tech to make things easier for the folk tryin’ to repair their lives…”

Ambrose’s smile is fainter now, a little vacant as he looks up at Wyatt from tilted head.  “Sure, but the Queen says I need a vacation.  Maybe I wanted to see how you were doing.”

Wyatt pulls a rag from his pocket and wipes the sweat from his face, the grime from his hands.  “Hell of a place for a vacation, back end of nowhere.”

“Hell of a place to retire,” Ambrose counters.  “You could have had your pick of country manors, with people to chop your wood for you.”  He looks over at the cabin.  “Fix up that leaky roof…”  His eyes are calculating, and Wyatt wonders if he’s making a machine in his head that will reshingle roofs.

“I’m doing fine, thanks.  Didn’t want anyplace-” there are a dozen ways to finish that sentence: crowded, too far away from memories, or too close…  He settles on, “Wanted someplace quiet.  Where I wouldn’t be bothered.”  It’s a pointed statement, but Ambrose shrugs it off like he hasn’t heard.

“They’re worried about you,” Ambrose says, smile gone like the breeze whisked it away.  He’s taken a few steps closer, and his brow is furrowed, like an errant memory is evading his grasp.  “I was worried about you.”

“I can take care of myself,” Wyatt replies gruffly.  “Go on back and tell ‘em I’m doing just fine.”

Ambrose wheels on one heel, like he’s doing what he’s told.  Of course, even with a filled skull, he doesn’t know any better, and just paces circles in the small clearing, like he’s dancing.  And he’s talking, faster than Wyatt can follow, accustomed for so long to the slow cadences of the forest and the few, far-off neighbors he trades with.  “When my brain got put back in, it was like, whammo!  All my memories, and a lightning-fast brain that could actually process everything – it took me a minute to sort it all out, but the first thing I remembered-” Wyatt’s turning round and round in one place to keep track of the other man, who’s hopping up on a log one minute and scuffing a bootheel in the dirt the next.  Wyatt’s almost dizzy with trying to keep up.  “The first thing I re-remembered,” Ambrose corrects, “was when I was a kid, taking broken things apart and making them better.  As far back as I can remember – and wow, it’s great to have a memory longer than a fruit-fly’s – as far as I can remember, I’ve always known when something was broken, and how to put it back together.”

Ambrose is suddenly close, real close, right in Wyatt’s face, and why he doesn’t swat the irritating man like the fruit flies he’s mentioned, he couldn’t say for sure.  “-and you, my friend, are still broken,” Ambrose finishes quietly, almost breathless from his pacing.  He prods Wyatt in the chest with one finger to emphasize his point.

Wyatt knows a challenge when he sees one, even when cloaked in whirling-dervish antics and disarming prattle.  He doesn’t back down, just grits his teeth, muttering, “Some things can’t be fixed.”

It’s true.  Everyone else has patches and props, crutches and reins to take up again.  Family to get reacquainted with.  Wyatt’s just got a bed of wild strawberries on his wife’s grave to tend and a son who’s a stranger too old to need raising.

“I’m a genius,” Ambrose says.  “I can fix anything.”  He’s smiling again, soft and vacant like he’s calculating trajectories and impact angles as his face closes in and he’s kissing Wyatt.

Wyatt doesn’t move for a long moment.  Ambrose’s tongue darts out, quick as lightning, and brushes against Wyatt’s lower lip.  He opens his mouth to inhale – to shout or move, it doesn’t matter, because Ambrose’s tongue is filling his mouth, stealing his breath.  He kisses like he’s fighting, or dancing, or spiraling around his laboratory, running three experiments at once, and Wyatt’s disarmed.  While Ambrose’s hands roam everywhere – across Wyatt’s shoulders and waist, brushing momentarily against the only-instinctual stirring below his belt – Wyatt is trapped still.

His arms finally respond to his commands, and Wyatt gets a firm grip on Ambrose’s shoulders, wrenching the other man away.  For a second, Ambrose still has his mouth puckered, almost comically, then realization dawns and he looks confused again.

“Is this why you came here?”  Wyatt demands, shaking the Queen’s Advisor in his hands like a rag doll.  “You think that getting me to disgrace my dead wife’s memory-” He lets Ambrose go, and the other man reels backwards before catching his balance.

Ambrose reaches out, catches Wyatt as he’s turning to get away, fingers clutching at his shirt.  “No, it’s not-” he starts, then falters, astonished.  “Great Gale!  Do you think love is ever a disgrace?”  One hand flies to his mouth, a familiar gesture Glitch used to make when he’d said something he didn’t expect to say.

Wyatt looks down at the fingers clutching his shirt sleeve, then over at Ambrose.  Something in his chest creaks, something shifts in him that he hadn’t quite realize had been still for years.  “What was that?”  Ambrose winces at the roughness of Wyatt’s tone, but drops his hands to his sides, leaving himself exposed.  His gaze is as vulnerable as his stance.  Wyatt takes advantage, grabbing the other man’s collars in one fist and hauling him close.  “What do you mean, Ambrose?”

Ambrose is a strung wire, trembling beneath his gaze, but stares up at Wyatt without guile or fear.  “I-I didn’t plan to say that,” he admits, quiet.  “I thought you’d know what I meant when I said I missed you.”  Wyatt watches his mouth form the words, strangely fixed by the sight and not the sound.  He remembers falling out of his iron prison, seeing Glitch and knowing it was real – he could have imagined a pretty, blue-eyed girl rescuer, sure, but not her zipperhead accomplice in scarecrow rags.  “I didn’t realize how lonely it was, being Ambrose – until I was Glitch.  And now I’m Ambrose again, and it took me a while to realize, sort it all out, but…  I missed you,” he repeats again, helplessly.

Wyatt breathes in, smells the scent of the woods and Ambrose, something like oil and engine grease and sawdust beneath the posh palace soap he uses.  Only a moment, while the thing in his chest twists again, before he hauls the other man close and he kisses him, fierce and desperate and biting.  Ambrose moans quiet, and kisses back, takes what Wyatt gives and returns it gentler and almost sweet.

They kiss for a long time, in the fading sunlight, no neighbors for miles to see, and Wyatt wouldn’t care if they did.  His heart is pounding, loud and heavy in his chest, and he almost doesn’t hear the high, needy sounds Ambrose makes in the back of his throat.  Ambrose’s hands flutter and flail before finding purchase in Wyatt’s shirt, then they work frantically, clever fingers pulling away cloth to touch the ex-tinman’s chest.

When they break apart, panting, Wyatt finds he’s got one hand still crushing the collars of Ambrose’s shirts and the other tangled in the man’s hair, his forefinger brushing the back end of a metal seam in his scalp.  Ambrose ventures a smile, and Wyatt lets one corner of his mouth lift in response.

Then Ambrose is dropping away, sinking to his knees in the dirt and leaves and wood chips.  Wyatt’s bewildered for a moment until Ambrose’s deft hands work open the buttons on his fly.  Ambrose swallows him down, no hesitation or second-guessing, and Wyatt’s eyes roll back as he’s engulfed by the heat.  Warmth that he forgot, locked in an iron coffin, watching death flicker and flash through a tiny porthole window.

He pries his eyes open at a particularly wicked twist of Ambrose’s tongue, and Ambrose is looking back up at him through unruly curls, eyes wide and dancing like he’s about to share a secret.  Then he sucks, hard, repeating that earlier flick of his tongue, one hand stroking at the base and another running up Wyatt’s stomach, fingertips brushing his ribcage, just over his heart.

A connection closes, electricity arcs, and it’s been too long for Wyatt to hold back, he’s too far gone to warn Ambrose.  He comes, blindingly, in the last ebb of sunset, pulsing heat that Ambrose swallows without a sound.

Wyatt falls to his knees, rests his head against Ambrose’s shoulder, panting.  His blood is dancing fire in his veins; he hadn’t realized he’d been so cold for so long, no wonder the icy lake hadn’t killed him.

But then, he’d had Ambrose - Glitch – then, too, hadn’t he?

Wyatt tucks himself away, stands, and looks down at Ambrose.  The other man is sitting back on his heels, expectant, whether for praise or another rejection, Wyatt can’t tell.  His shirt is rumpled, his hair is tangled, and he’s got mud on his knees, but he looks a little more like he’s supposed to.

Wyatt holds out one hand.  “I have a bed, you know."

Ambrose's smile is blinding.

~~~~~~~~ Back to Tin Man ~~~~~~~~

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