Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 1

The ball was already well underway when Wyatt Cain arrived. He made no attempt to dismount at first, content to sit and let his policeman's eye absorb the scene around him. Here, close to the mountains, the air was cool and crisp, and it stirred the grass restlessly as Wyatt surveyed his surroundings, shining waves rippling up the hillside towards the trees. An East wind's an ill wind, he thought absently, then dismissed the thought for the superstitious farm-boy nonsense that it was. The Cain ranch, domain of his martinet father, was far behind him now and the time he'd spent in the prickly bosom of his family had only served to show him that he didn't belong back there any more than he did in a palace.

After the Sorceress had fallen he'd stuck around for a few months, helping where he could. Queen Iskra had regained her throne, but there had been a span of time when the mechanisms of the old State had continued to turn aimlessly, a beast without its head - staggering but still on its feet. Deprived of their leader, the Longcoat forces began to lose cohesion, many men returning to their old army posts willingly while others held on, knots of resistance, like stubborn patches of ice that refused to melt.

There was no ice here, now. Wyatt slipped his feet from his stirrups and swung himself easily out of the saddle, gently pushing Captain's nose away as the big horse began to investigate his pockets hopefully. The Northern Island had revealed itself to be a broad, wedge-shaped spit of land, the palace proper standing on the edge of a low outcrop, giving way to less imposing buildings and informal, tree-lined paths that followed the gentler slope down to the lakeside. It was with some degree of grim amusement that he recalled the icy plunge he'd taken in the frozen lake. Of all the windows he could have fallen through, he'd somehow managed to find one that overlooked water, not land. Guess someone was looking out for me, that day.

His smile faded. Someone had been looking out for him in the days to follow, too. His memories of the time he'd spent recovering in DeMilo's wagon were hazy and unformed, a freezing fog punctuated by passing moments of clarity. Warmth, seeping into his chilled and unresponsive flesh. The soft snap and hiss of the fire, which had quickly devoured the armloads of wood it was fed. But there had been warmth before that...

Was that where it had begun? Confusion and cold, and the dim awareness of a shivering, slender form nestled unselfconsciously against him beneath the blankets, one leg hooked over his, a hand laid over his heart. It didn't mean anything. He was just trying to warm me up. No, he couldn't pin the blame on Glitch. It went back much further. Those thoughts, those wicked thoughts... they had been a part of him for as long as he could remember, buried as deep as he could send them. He'd thought they were banished for good - he'd built a life for himself, and his love for Adora had been genuine. Those other feelings, the ones that Daniel Cain would have called sick, perverted - he'd conquered them, hadn't he?

Glitch. Wyatt closed his eyes, a hand resting on Captain's neck to anchor him to this time and place as his mind pulled him forcibly back to the shuddering cold. Snow, whirling out of a blind, white sky, pelting the wagon and shaking its flimsy sides. Glitch, afraid that another foray into the storm might send him wandering in the wrong direction, systematically dismantling the wagon's little store-cupboards and foot-lockers to feed the fire. "We'll tell Mr DeMilo we had to requisition them to help save the OZ. He's sure to understand, if it's for a worthy cause," the zipperhead had reasoned cheerfully and Wyatt, barely conscious, had fixed on the voice as Glitch continued to babble to himself. A beacon. A point of light and warmth that he could use to steer himself away from the abyss.

Captain fidgeted and sidestepped, nudging him with his shoulder, and Wyatt swatted the horse gently and led him along the broad causeway, the sharp breeze carrying the dim hubbub of the ball to him: music, snatches of laughter and conversation.

Those are the sounds of people living. After interminable years alone, locked in his nightmare, it would have been naive to imagine that getting out of the tin suit would be the end of it. Finally he was free to move about the world, but the anguish Zero had inflicted upon him had also escaped the confines of the holograph's endless loop and he'd built a new barrier around himself to block it out. The zipperhead had a way of getting through those defences by alternately calling him out on his heartless attitude and ignoring it entirely. At first he'd been able to shrug off the other man's remarks as meaningless headcase chatter, even those altogether too accurate for comfort. Then Glitch had carried him? dragged him? somehow conveyed him up the hillside through a mile of deep snow, to the comparative safety of the wagon, and brought him back from the edge.

I was freezing to death, and he... made me warm again. And try as he might, Wyatt was unable to deny that his thawing had been more than physical. But those feelings those twisted feelings hadn't fully resurfaced until the witch was defeated, and there was suddenly time to think. Too much time to think.

The idea of returning to his father's ranch had been circling his mind for a while. He needed to get his thoughts in order, to grieve properly for Adora, to find out if he and his son could rediscover the bond they'd once shared. He couldn't do that at the palace. Too many... distractions. So he'd made a tactical withdrawal, which sounded so much better than running away.

The ranch had hardly changed. Wyatt had thrown himself into his work, falling back into the routines of his boyhood with almost distressing ease. Daniel Cain raised horses; the work was hard and physical, often leaving Wyatt too tired for nightmares, and there was some comfort to be had in old, familiar surroundings. Of his three surviving brothers, only Billy, the youngest, still lived at home but both Javin, the next youngest and Nathan, eldest of them all, lived on Cain land, and Wyatt had spent time with each of them, trying to reconnect to a world that he'd cut himself off from long before the tin suit. Jeb had stayed too, for a few months, his serious, capable manner quickly winning the approval of his grandfather. Wyatt was glad; his decision to break loose and go to the city had always been a sore point between himself and his father. Reconciliation by proxy was better than no reconciliation at all and, while Daniel Cain hadn't mellowed one bit in the years since Wyatt had left home, he found he was able to tolerate the old man's unyielding, parochial attitude.

For a while, anyway.

The months went by and Wyatt found that he had finally achieved a kind of equilibrium within himself. For a time, he had worried that his grief had eased too quickly, that he owed Adora - and Jeb - a more substantial show of mourning. Each day that he woke up and wasn't crippled by her loss added to the dark little mass of guilt that had taken root in him, and fed the lurking fear that the marriage, his love for Adora, had somehow been nothing more than a masquerade to conceal his true unnatural desires. Then, about five months after he'd arrived at the ranch, he had awoken from his first bad dream in weeks with an incongruous feeling of relief. He'd watched the terrible, familiar scenes play out in front of the grimy faceplate of the tin suit yet again, first himself being beaten into insensibility and then his weeping, struggling son being made to watch while...

...yes, relief seemed like the last thing he should be feeling. But partway through the nightmare had come the revelation that mixed with the fury, frustration and horror had been an aching sense of loss. Somewhere along the line, he had convinced himself that his wife and son must be dead, that there was no way that Zero would have allowed them to survive and, in that first flicker of returning consciousness, he had realised the truth - he'd been grieving for the past eight years. Perhaps, after all that time, it was okay to start to feel a little better?

Still, that didn't solve the problem of Glitch. He would catch himself thinking of the zipperhead for no reason, wondering idly what he was doing, and if he was happy. Wyatt had departed without ceremony one day, having quietly announced his decision to leave at breakfast the day before, and the idea that he'd never actually said 'goodbye' preyed on his mind. Had Glitch actually understood that he was going? The thought that he might have forgotten Wyatt entirely by now was no comfort at all.

The invitation to the celebration, in honour of the Queen's birthday, had come at just the right time. A year had gone by since the eclipse, and the ranch had ceased to be a refuge and had started to remind Wyatt why he'd left in the first place. It wasn't that he didn't get on with Nathan or Javin, and Billy was a gentle, harmless soul that not even the most curmudgeonly sibling could dislike. But there was something - a sense of anticlimax. After everything, after Adora and Jeb, the Mystic Man, the tin suit and the Sorceress, after all of this, he was right back where he'd started. And it wasn't home; home had turned out to be a time, as well as a place, and he couldn't go back.

The invitation clinched it. He'd go to the palace and find out if seeing Glitch brought back those wrong, those disgusting, those damn it, Dad - shut UP same emotions. If it turned out that there was nothing there, or if Glitch didn't reciprocate - and be realistic, Wyatt, how likely is it? - perhaps there was still a friendship to be rekindled. And maybe that would be for the best. How would he ever explain his feelings to Jeb? In discovering himself, he might lose his son all over again.

He'd packed his few belongings into Captain's saddlebags and there had been room to spare, but the little tin horse went into his inside pocket, next to his heart.


The stable block was a long, low building tucked into a slight hollow in the slope of the island, the coach house running perpendicular to it to form an 'L'. Wyatt gave the stabled horses an approving glance - they were quality; whoever ran the Queen's stables knew what they were doing - but he wouldn't have swapped the finest of them for the Captain, a well-proportioned Vanner with an unflappable demeanour and just a hint of equine cynicism that suited the ex-Tin Man perfectly. He considered warning the stablehand about Captain's unfortunate pastime of waiting for an opportune moment, then sidling over and pinning unwary victims against the stable wall, then he decided the man would find out soon enough. Shouldering the saddlebags, he headed towards the sounds of the ball.

He was met on the tree-lined path to the palace doors by a young man with polished manners and a uniform that reminded Wyatt inevitably of Glitch. There wasn't so much brocade on this one, which made sense - they weren't going to stick a high-level flunky on doorman duties, were they? The slight note of scorn in the thought surprised him, and he forced himself to examine it. I've been spending too much time around my father. The man could profess his unfailing loyalty to the Queen and then deride the upper classes of Central City for never having done a day's hard graft in the same breath, and not see anything inconsistent in his attitude. Pushing that persistent, critical voice out of his mind, Wyatt touched a finger to the brim of his hat as the footman approached.

"I'm here for the shindig. Guest of D- ah... Princess Dorothea." The footman answered with a slightly frigid smile that defrosted noticeably when he examined the folded invitation Wyatt produced.

"Mr Cain, of course. Her Highness has set aside a suite off the Long Gallery for you." There was an awkward pause while Wyatt worked out that the footman was waiting to relieve him of his bags, then he surrendered them reluctantly, hiding a grin as the footman's nose wrinkled at the smell of horse, leather and sweat.

DG had anticipated his needs perfectly. By the time he had been led to his rooms, via a circuitous route around the side of the palace that elicited another flicker of cynical amusement - Tin Men are requested to use the tradesman's entrance - there were two things waiting for him: a hot bath and a cold beer. As soon as the footman had left him alone with the assurance that he would inform the princess of his arrival, Wyatt locked the door and stripped off his travel-stained clothes, deliberately dumping them in an unceremonious heap in the middle of the floor. It was a petty act of rebellion, he knew, but there was something about the pristine elegance of the room that made him feel faintly claustrophobic and distinctly out of place. A long draught of the beer improved his mood considerably. Enjoying the sensation of the air sliding over his skin, he padded into the bathroom, humming to himself.

He sank into the enveloping steam with a sigh and leaned back, the open bottle propped on the edge of the bath, his other hand pillowing his head. The last leg of the ride had taken him over narrow hill paths; his hips and the small of his back were a single sullen mass of tension, but the warmth of the bath began to soothe his discomfort and he closed his eyes, drifting contentedly. He might have fallen asleep, if the bottle hadn't tipped in his relaxing grip as he began to drowse, dousing his stomach in a stream of icy beer.

The sedate atmosphere of the Long Gallery was shattered by a brief, strangled scream.


Almost as soon as he walked into the hall, Wyatt knew he wouldn't be staying long. It wasn't the bustle and noise of strangers - even after the solitude of the suit, his Tin Man training hadn't deserted him; if proof were needed, hadn't he been unfazed by the Realm of the Unwanted? But this wasn't citizens of the OZ going about their - admittedly shady - business. This was socialising, and he hadn't the first idea what to expect. Adrift amidst a sea of finery, he scanned the crowd for a familiar face.

In fact, it was Azkadelia he recognised first, sitting beside the Queen on an ornate couch at the far side of the room. It was hard, even now, to see the older princess and not think of the Sorceress, and he guessed that she might be having some difficulty herself - a year down the line, swathed in a gown of delicate frost blue that was a universe away from the severe black and gold he remembered, it seemed the witch still haunted her. Her smile was fragile, and Wyatt, who sometimes suspected that he noticed too much, noticed that her glances towards her mother were frequent and tentative, and that the Queen's gentle grasp upon her hand would occasionally tighten. A reassuring squeeze or the act of a mother afraid that her older daughter might at any moment vanish? His deliberations were interrupted by someone nudging his elbow and he turned sharply, his scowl melting into a smile as he found himself facing DG.

"Prin-" She held up a hand, rolling her eyes comically.

"Don't, or I'll have to be formal and call you 'Mister Cain' all evening. How are you? You look... great." It was true. A year of wrangling stubborn horses and hauling feed bags had put a healthy glow in his skin and toned muscles weakened by years in the tin suit.

"I feel better than I have in a long time," he admitted quietly, then glanced down at himself, selfconscious. "Better, and a little ridiculous in this get-up." He'd dragged Javin along with him to the outfitters in Damfino Creek, fairly sure he wouldn't be allowed past the palace doors in his usual clothes. They'd settled on a simple grey frock-coat and a dark red waistcoat with a subtle pattern - it was the smartest thing he could afford, but from the looks he was attracting from other guests, it was probably a couple of decades out of style. Inwardly, he shrugged. He hadn't come here to be a fashion-plate.

And the fact that red was Glitch's favourite colour was a complete coincidence.

"You look fine." DG's ongoing diplomatic schooling was evident as she tried to hide a smile at his doubtful expression. "And at least you don't have to wear this." She grasped her skirts and flounced them at him, the layers of sea-green tulle rustling primly. "I thought my old diner uniform was bad..."

A year of royal duties didn't seem to have changed the princess at all and Wyatt found himself relaxing. "No offence, kiddo, but if I thought I'd have to wear that, I wouldn't have come. Ballgowns ain't my thing." He wasn't convinced that fancy suits were his thing either, and he fought down a momentary wave of gloom as the dancers whirled past them. This was the world Glitch knew, and it was completely alien to him. Maybe the Queen didn't have people executed, but you probably got a six-month posting to the Black Mountains for using the wrong spoon at dinner. It occurred to him that DG must have gone through the same anxieties and he smiled at her, glad for her sake that her expression spoke more of good-natured resignation than awkwardness.

"So... have you seen Raw lately?" He glanced around, half-expecting to see the fur-clad visionary mingling with the guests. DG shook her head.

"He's gone back to his - his tribe, or his clan, or whatever you're s'posed to call it. We got a - heh - a sort of letter from him a couple of months back." Wyatt listened, secretly charmed by DG's description of the small package that had been left in the summer-house at the edge of Finaqua, a torn scrap of paper marked 'DG' slipped under the string. Inside had been a seemingly random collection of objects: a polished pebble veined with bands of robin's-egg blue, a ragged-edged feather that went from faded brown to dazzling iridescence when it caught the sunslight, and a gnarled chunk of lightning-scorched wood that radiated a gentle, inexplicable heat, as if it still held a spark at its centre, all neatly tied up with a length of cleverly plaited grass strands.

"I'd hate to be on his Solstice card list." DG grinned impishly at this.

"They're clues Mister Policeman. It's Raw's way of saying he's thinking about us - you and me, and Glitch." Then, her wide blue eyes meeting his, she grew serious. "Sometimes, if I just sit somewhere quiet and hold them, I get flashes of... it's hard to describe. A good feeling - reassuring..."

Wyatt had caught up. "You're the blue stone, and Glitch is the feath... wait a minute - I'm the lump of wood?" She gave him a solemn nod, her eyes sparkling with mischief.

"It's a really nice lump of wood," she assured him earnestly, then put a hand over her mouth to stifle a most unregal snicker.

"Does it count as treason to dunk a princess in the punchbowl?"

DG's grin broadened. "Try it, Wyatt - hey, you rhyme..."

"I'm beginning to wish we'd stuck to 'Mister Cain'." Wyatt sighed with feigned exasperation, and she grabbed his arm and towed him out of the way of an oncoming procession of dancers.

"C'mon - let's get off the floor before they try to make us join in."

It was impossible to entirely escape the attention of the court. There seemed to be a pair of curious eyes in every secluded spot and, although none of the court followers or guests would be so vulgar as to eavesdrop, there was a lively interest in this quaintly-dressed stranger with whom the princess seemed so comfortable. Wyatt finally secured them a quiet seat beside an arrangement of tall, speckle-throated lilies by glowering meaningfully at a cluster of chattering courtiers until they realised they had other places to be. He sat down beside DG, grateful for the comparative privacy although he could see a guard out of the corner of his eye, being inconspicuously conspicuous beside a column. That was okay - the princess was being guarded, and that was right and proper. He just didn't want the whole court listening in on his business. A little voice at the back of his mind pointed out that he hadn't been so set on privacy when he was asking after Raw, and he stepped on the thought deliberately and kicked it out of sight. He was just being careful, that was all.

"I don't see Glitch - I thought he'd be in his element down here, the fuss he made about dancing," he remarked lightly, surveying the hall with studied nonchalance. DG frowned, following his gaze.

"I haven't seen him all evening. I just figured I'd missed him in all the excitement. He knows the ball was tonight - I even knocked on his door to remind him." She laced her fingers together in her lap, trying not to fidget with the skirt. "He said he'd be down in a little while - he was wrapping something up for Mom. But that was hours ago."

"No change there, then. He's probably wrapped himself up and can't get out of the room." DG giggled at this, then bit her lip, searching the gathering.

"He should be here - he's been working so hard on redesigning the Sunseeder. A few months back, when he was working on the plasma storage coils -" she grinned at Wyatt's raised eyebrows, "- don't be impressed - if you hear a song enough times, you get to know the words, even if it's in a strange language. Anyhow, we had a team of Viewers. Six of them, working in shifts to keep him connected. Me and Az had to just about drag him outside to get some sun." Wyatt tried to picture Glitch as a workaholic, but his mind rejected the image. Ambrose, maybe, but not Glitch. DG twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "And then, when it was all finished, I half expected him to follow the engineers around to make sure they were following his plans. Mom thought a break would be good for him."

Wyatt could see the wisdom in that, although he wondered how Glitch had felt about taking leave of his hard-earned marbles. "Want me to go and find him?" he asked casually, seeing an opportunity to escape the throng and seek out Glitch in peace and quiet.

DG snapped her fingers. "Search and rescue - good idea. And then I'd better take you over to see Mom. I think she's still hoping you'll change your mind and take that security job she was talking about."

"My uniform days are over, Princess. But I reckon I can track down a missing zipperhead for you. I'll start with his room - where is it?"

"Next to yours." She smiled. "You've been away so long - I thought you might like to have a familiar face nearby."


As he neared the top of the second curving flight of stairs, Wyatt stopped to catch his breath and was struck by a momentary pang of paranoia. Could DG have guessed? Was that why she'd put the two of them together? Don't be an idiot. You aren't even sure yourself. How could she have guessed anything? It was just the unfamiliar surroundings making him feel exposed and edgy, that was all.

This is no place for a farm-boy. Wyatt eyed a tall, ornately-painted vase stonily. He had the distinct feeling it was smirking at him. Only one flight to go. And then he would go and knock on Glitch's door and try to keep a straight face at the zipperhead's surprise. Hey, genius - did you miss me? And Glitch would give him one of those sunny, everything's-okay-now grins, and immediately launch into an excited babble about everything that had happened since he'd gone away, in a rapid-fire, out-of-sequence series of tangents, laced with unrelated observations about interesting spiders he'd seen that morning. He caught himself smiling and took the first step of the next flight, his weariness forgotten, when a soft noise from the other end of the hall made him pause.

It's nothing. Did you think you were alone in the palace? Put the Tin Man away for five minutes, will you? It was a guest, or a maid, or one of those obsequious footmen and there was no reason at all for him to turn around and head down the hallway, but he did.

Dusk was approaching, and the lamps along the length of the hall had been lit, overlapping pools of light making the carved wooden arches that decorated the walls glow richly. A broken bulb two-thirds of the way down the hall had created an island of shadow and Wyatt stopped in his tracks, staring into it, trying to decide if he could make out a deeper darkness within.

Probably some fancy statue he decided, but he didn't look away and, after a moment, the shadow moved, heading away from him and into the light, which glinted briefly off a familiar zipper.

Glitch? Wyatt was about to call out a greeting, then he hesitated, frowning. Glitch took a few more steps down the hall, then came to a halt, turning in a slow, aimless circle. There was a spindle-legged table nearby, and he picked up an ornament from it, holding it up to the light and gazing at it blankly. Something's not right.

"Hey, Glitch!" No answer, and Wyatt, in spite of his disquiet, rolled his eyes. My name isn't Glitch. It's- "Ambrose?" Glitch turned the ornament - a large, intricately carved shell - over in his hands, peering at it intently, apparently unaware that he was being addressed. Maybe he didn't hear me. Wyatt followed as Glitch set the shell back down and took a few more steps down the hall, touching the elegant chairs and cabinets as if reassuring himself of their solidity.

"Hey, Glitch," he tried again, this time tapping the zipperhead gently on the arm. Glitch turned to look at him, and Wyatt felt his heart drop into his boots. There was no hint of recognition in the other man's face, only troubled confusion. He's forgotten me.

"I-I don't know where I am."

Wyatt regarded him sympathetically. Trust you to get lost within a crow's-call of your own bedroom, he thought, then relented; the long hallways were confusing, and one fancy, too-small table looked very much like another to the untrained eye, even if that eye wasn't a few inches from a zipper. He laid a hand on Glitch's shoulder, turning him back towards the stairs. Glitch would probably recall his old travelling companion on the way down to the party. Do I know you? Yes, it was just one of his little lapses.

"One place you're not is down at the ball, and DG's getting fretful," he admonished, wondering if he should point out that Glitch seemed to have forgotten the present he'd been wrapping for the queen.

Glitch gazed at him, bewildered. "I don't know where I am," he repeated, more softly this time, and Wyatt looked at him with growing unease. You're not just talking about this hallway, are you? His eyes seemed black in the muted lamplight and dark, weary shadows surrounded them. Taking him by the arm, Wyatt steered him over to a chair and hunkered down beside him, studying him more closely.

"You don't look so good. DG said you'd been working too hard." The name didn't seem to spark any sign of familiarity; Glitch simply sat where he had been put, looking forlorn. "Do you remember how you got down here?"

"I don't know. There was music, and colours everywhere - and then I was here..." The Tin Man resurfaced, and this time Wyatt didn't fight him. He gave Glitch's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, speaking slowly, patiently.

"Okay. That's all right - we'll work it out. How about your name - d'you remember that?" Do you know who I am? he nearly added. No. Bad interviewing technique, officer. One question at a time - he's already disoriented and upset. Don't make it worse.

Glitch put a hand over his eyes. "Please don't ask me any more. I don't want to know how much I don't know."

The evasion was answer enough. Forgetting he'd been called Ambrose was one thing; 'Ambrose' had been lost to him for years. But since when had he been unable to introduce himself as Glitch? Wyatt was gentle but insistent. "I'm sorry. This doesn't seem like a regular glitch. So... you can't remember your name. Okay. Are you in any pain?" A slow, tentative headshake was his only answer and the Tin Man dismissed it, seeing how gingerly Glitch was moving his head. You don't fool me, Sunshine. That was a 'yes'. There was no question of him going down to the ball in this state. Perhaps more familiar faces might jog his memory, but what if the noise and the crowd confused him even more? Wyatt wasn't about to take the risk. "Okay. Let's get you back to your room." A decent night's sleep might make all the difference. But if you still don't know your name tomorrow, I'm asking DG to send for a doctor.

He waited for a protest, hoped for a protest - C'mon, Glitch - you're missing the dancing. At least complain a little. - but the zipperhead was as tractable as a drowsy child, and didn't resist when Wyatt grasped his wrist and led him upstairs. His room was easy enough to find - a suite of rooms, in fact, at the very end of the gallery. Another day, Wyatt might have stopped to study the portraits ranged along the wall; hand-carved seats in cosy alcoves were dotted along the opposite wall for that very purpose. Faces interested him. They gave away secrets; the flicker of an eyelid, a minuscule tightening of the jaw, could tell a trained observer all he needed to know when the lips remained stubbornly closed, and even a painted face had a story to tell. Tonight, however, he barely noticed the succession of kings and queens. The door to Glitch's room was ajar, every lamp alight, and the floor was half-hidden beneath a drift of brightly-coloured paper, some half-dozen misshapen and disintegrating parcels lying amidst the sheets and shreds, and orphaned lengths of ribbon. He said he was wrapping something up for Mom. But that was hours ago... colours everywhere...

What had he been wrapping? As they slowly negotiated the mess, Wyatt nudged a couple of the more erratically-wrapped packages open with his foot. A cushion, the identical twin of one he could see on a nearby chair. A single slipper with a pair of scissors tucked inside it. Probably got a lot harder to wrap stuff after he lost those, he thought, but there was something in the mental image of Glitch sitting alone in his room, studiously wrapping anything that happened to be in reach, that made his heart hurt. He pointed to the chair. "Sit down and rest a minute while I get this cleared up - if you get up in the night and trip over this stuff I'm gonna have an angry princess on my case." Glitch settled obediently in the chair, pulling the cushion into his lap and fiddling distractedly with the tassels. His stomach gave a querulous growl, and Wyatt looked up from where he was kneeling. "Have you eaten anything to-" he caught himself; asking Glitch anything in the past tense wasn't likely to elicit an answer. He changed tack. "Are you hungry?" A cautious nod. "Okay. Stay there."

It took less than a minute to make the journey to his own room and back, but Wyatt couldn't suppress a flicker of apprehension as he re-entered the former advisor's overly-bright room. To his relief, Glitch was still where he'd left him, and even offered him a tentative smile as he evidently recognised him from the preceding minutes, if not from any time before. "Here you go. It's a little bruised, but -"

"- but it's still good," Glitch finished for him, taking the apple Wyatt had salvaged from his saddlebag with a silent apology to the Captain. "And the bread won't keep..." Not sure what to make of that, Wyatt simply patted him gently on the shoulder and set to work gathering up the discarded wrapping paper and parcels. It was pretty unlikely that the cushion, slipper or scissors had been meant for the Queen. Likewise the empty spectacles case or the elegant mug, with its drying residue of sugary coffee. One package he set aside; Glitch had bound it up in layer upon layer of ribbon until the paper was hardly visible, but it was more neatly wrapped than the others and it seemed the most likely candidate for legitimate gift.

Glitch watched him silently over the slowly diminishing apple, and raised no objection as Wyatt dismantled the other parcels. Last of all was the cushion, which he brought over to the chair and tucked in behind Glitch.

"That's better. I can see the floor, now." Glitch made a small sound of acknowledgement, then yawned widely, raising his hand to his mouth, then reaching up to rub gently at the back of his head, where the zipper's puller dangled. "Head still hurting?"

"It's okay. Sometimes it aches." Glitch responded, but there was something absent and automatic about the way he spoke that made Wyatt wonder how often he'd been asked that question, and if he was even aware that he'd replied. Frowning, he coaxed Glitch to his feet.

"Maybe you'll feel better out of the light. Come on."

The bedroom was off to one side, the two rooms connected by a wide wooden archway carved with clinging vines. Rather than fumble for a lightswitch, Wyatt found his way to the bed by the light streaming in from the sitting room and from Hyperion, the smallest and palest of the OZ's three moons. Not seeing any pyjamas, he helped Glitch divest himself of his shoes, socks and waistcoat, and persuaded him to lie down.

"Try and get some sleep. You look like you're ready to drop." For a moment, Glitch lay where he was, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Then he sighed and curled up on his side, closing his eyes. "That's it. You'll feel better in the morning," Wyatt murmured, hoping that it was true.

He stood in the darkness, staring into the shadows until Glitch's breathing settled into the regular, even pattern of sleep. Then he withdrew, turning off the lights in the outer room and pulling the door closed softly as he left. A good night's sleep - somehow he didn't think he'd be getting one himself. He lingered outside the door for a minute longer, listening, but there was nothing to hear and eventually he sighed and made his way down the hallway, listening to the music floating up from the festivities below and wondering what he was going to tell DG.


              ~~~~~~~~ Back to Tin Man ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 2



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