Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 5 - Bedside Manners

Wyatt awoke from a fitful dream - in which he wandered down an endless succession of identical, sumptuously-decorated passageways - to the sound of breaking glass and raised voices. While his mind snapped through the usual short checklist, beginning with I'm not in the suit and terminating with do I need a shave?, travelling via is anyone currently pointing a gun at me? and making a brief detour through how far am I, right now, from a mug of strong coffee?, his body was already in action, propelling him out of his bed and over to the chair where he'd left his clothes.

The door to Glitch's rooms was closed, but it wasn't enough to completely muffle the haranguing voice; Wyatt strode in, ready for almost anything but the overpowering smell of peppermint that hit him, strong enough to make him catch his breath. What the hell?

The eyewatering scent was a new and unsettling addition to the changes that had overtaken Glitch's little rooms in the six days since Wyatt had arrived. The sitting room itself looked as if it had been hit by a small tornado with a medical fetish - Krantz had spent several hours in telex contact with Central City at the start of the week and the following day a van had arrived, bearing a bewildering collection of machines and drugs and a squat, gimlet-eyed man Krantz had introduced as 'Felix, my assistant'.

Conveniently, a rather pretty, blonde girl who had apparently accompanied Krantz to the ball had turned out to be his 'head nurse'. Wyatt had smirked privately over that. Somehow, I don't think it's your head she's interested in.

He took in the room at a glance as he crossed to the bedroom arch. The desk had been cleared and stacked with glass-fronted cases of instruments and wooden crates stamped with the stylised tree of the Central City Royal Hospital, and Glitch's neat little armchair with its red-and-gold cushions had been been moved aside to accommodate an olive-green wing-chair that looked entirely out of place.

Now it looks likes someone lives here. Trouble is, it isn't Glitch.

"...that again and I'll have Felix tie your hands down. That what you want, is it?"


"Then sit still and do as you're told. You've already wasted en-"

"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Wyatt spoke quietly, partly for Glitch's benefit, but also as a means to keep his seething dislike of Krantz from boiling over. He paused inside the archway, wincing as another penetrating wave of peppermint rolled over him, scouring his nose and throat and making him want to sneeze. Glitch was huddled on the wooden chair by the bed, watching warily as the doctor screwed a bulbous glass jar into the side of an ominous-looking device that consisted of a featureless mask equipped with a pair of thick leather straps and buckles. Krantz glanced round sharply, his scowl rearranging itself into a tight, artificial smile with smooth rapidity.

"Mr Cain. Again. You're never far away, are you?" He appeared less than ecstatic at Wyatt's arrival. "I trust we didn't wake you. I'm afraid a recalcitrant zipperhead doesn't make the best of neighbours." He nodded towards Felix, who was kneeling near the window, collecting up curved shards of glass with a put-upon expression, then looked impatiently at Glitch. "I'm trying to carry out some investigative tests, but we've decided to be difficult, haven't we?" The nurse - Krantz hadn't bothered to introduce her by name - pursed her lips, trying to hide a smile.

Shoot him. It was a tempting idea, but it would be noisy, and Glitch didn't look as if he could stand it. Shoot him quietly, then. Wyatt moved to sit on the edge of the bed, and his heart lifted a little as Glitch focused on him and smiled.

"Hey, Sunshine. How're you feeling?"

The zipperhead turned in his chair, relaxing visibly as soon as the doctor was no longer in his field of vision. "Cain... You came back..."

"'Course I came back. I came back yesterday, didn't I? And the day before?" Wyatt asked casually, but he knew the question was meaningless. For Glitch, the days had run together, awake - asleep - confused - unconscious; the edges blurred. "I'll keep on coming back as long as you need me."

Glitch reached out and touched his hand tentatively, as if needing to make absolutely certain that he was really there. The touch made the Tin Man shiver, and it wasn't only because of the sensation of Glitch's fingers skating over the back of his hand.

"You're freezing." He looked up at Krantz accusingly. "He's cold - why isn't he in bed?" He stood and stripped the blanket from the bed, wrapping it around Glitch. "Can't you do these tests while he's lying down?"

"The sooner he co-operates, the sooner he can go back to bed. I have tried to explain this to him." Krantz gave the glass bulb a smart twist, and there was a faint snick as something connected. Glitch flinched, pulling the blanket more closely around him. "Perhaps you can get through to him. You seem to have a... rapport."

Wyatt knelt in front of the chair, placing himself squarely in Glitch's line of sight. "Ambrose? I need you to listen to me. The doctor wants to do a test, to try and help you." It was hard to sound convincing when he was barely convinced himself, but he'd promised himself that he'd give the doctor his chance. The resolution was wearing thin, though. Over the past five days, Krantz had prodded and poked Glitch, dosed him with medicines that had made him violently sick, drowsy and anxious, and altogether failed to provide anything resembling a reason behind the seizure. "I'm gonna be right here with you, but we have to let the doc do his stuff, okay?"

Glitch put his hands over his face, nodding slowly. "Just tell him not to shout any more. He's so loud," he murmured through his fingers. Wyatt straightened up, a hand on Glitch's shoulder, and nodded to Krantz.

"You heard him. Keep your voice down."

Krantz curled his lip in what might have been a smile, and stepped forward, holding the mask in both hands.

"Now, perhaps we'll get somewhere. Hands down by your sides." When Glitch didn't respond immediately, the doctor scowled and muttered an instruction to his assistant.

The stocky man abandoned the last few fragments of glass and joined the doctor beside the chair, taking hold of Glitch's wrists and forcing his hands away from his face.

Wyatt looked on uneasily, telling himself over and over that this was for the best.

Glitch eyed the mask mistrustfully. "What's it for? I-I don't have to put that on, do I?" He turned his face away as Krantz leaned closer, and Wyatt, wrestling with his conscience, squeezed his shoulder gently.

"It'll be okay. Look at Doctor Krantz and do as he says. He's trying to help you." Glitch searched his face and seemed to find the reassurance he was looking for, because he turned back to Krantz, his gaze fixed apprehensively on the mask. Wyatt squeezed his shoulder again as the doctor set the mask in place, buckling the straps.

The nurse waited until Krantz had finished, then settled a pair of bulky headphones over Glitch's ears, connecting a wire between them and a tall, free-standing cabinet topped by dials and brass switches. Another wire ran from the cabinet to the headphones. Does everything medical have to look like some kind of torture device?

Wyatt watched Felix's knuckles whiten as he resisted Glitch's attempt to pull his hands away. "Can he breathe okay in there?"

"Relax, Mr Cain. They do make passing mention in our medical training of the importance of breathing to the continued survival of a patient. The mask cuts out extraneous stimuli, and allows me to isolate potential environmental cues. For example, strong odours..." Krantz reached forward and twisted a valve on the neck of the glass bulb, and there was a muffled yelp from behind the mask.

Wyatt could still smell the peppermint oil, heavy in the still air, and tried to imagine how potent it would become when confined to the inside of the mask. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. I'm not in the suit. It helped to remind himself of that, but, as Glitch suddenly tensed in his chair, he felt his own limbs stiffen in sympathy.

The doctor darted forward, eyes agleam, but his anticipation turned quickly to disappointment as whatever he'd been expecting failed to happen. He unscrewed the small glass flask from the side of the mask, dropping it into his pocket. The vacant port that remained resembled a small, dark mouth from which a whistling gasp emerged. Krantz snapped his fingers at the nurse. "Nothing on olfactory . We'll come back to it later. Camphor, perhaps, or Citral."

Hang in there, Glitch. Wyatt was gripped by another wave of claustrophobia that threatened to paralyse him. I know you're scared, but it'll be over soon.

"Let's try the strobe, next. Start at five hertz, and move up to thirty." Krantz gave the nurse an offhand nod, and she turned a dial on the console and flicked several switches. Light flared and stuttered from beneath the mask and Glitch jerked in his chair, trying to turn his face away from the brightness and throwing Felix off-balance as he tried once again to pull the mask off.

No. That's enough. For the first few days after the seizure, Glitch had been unable to tolerate more than the feeblest of lights and Wyatt had come to the room more than once to find that Krantz had left the curtains flung wide-open, and Glitch had buried himself under his blankets. He'd been improving, slowly, but anything brighter than mild daylight still made him flinch and the light spilling from the edges of the mask looked fierce. Wyatt grabbed the doctor's arm.

"Turn it off."

"Hold him, Felix. Up to thirty, I said." Krantz ignored Wyatt, his attention switching between Glitch and the nurse as she adjusted something on the panel in front of her. The bursts of light grew more rapid, and Glitch whimpered, the sound muffled by the mask. Wyatt felt his teeth clench until dull pain erupted in his jaw.

"You're scaring him. You're hurting him. This isn't helping - it's making things worse!"

Krantz raised an eyebrow, his expression supercilious. "I'm fascinated, Mr Cain. Precisely where did you obtain your medical qualification?"

"I could ask you the same question," Wyatt growled, and pointed at the nurse. "You. Turn that thing off. Now."

"If you persist in interfering, I'll have to ask you to leave." The doctor turned his back quite deliberately on Wyatt, catching the eye of the nurse. "That's negative. We'll move onto a sound pulse, and then we'll look at..."

"No you won't." Wyatt shoved Felix aside and snatched the wires from their sockets, letting them fall to the floor. "Out. All of you." Felix had scrambled to his feet, and Wyatt caught sight of him on the edge of his vision, moving purposefully towards him.

"Leave him." That was Krantz. "It's clear Mr Cain is determined to interfere. I, for one, refuse to work in such disruptive conditions." The doctor's voice was heavy with affronted dignity, but it cut no ice with Wyatt.

That was your chance. You blew it. He paid little attention to the departure of the doctor and his entourage; his only concern was Glitch, who, no longer restrained by Felix, was scrabbling unsuccessfully at the buckles at the back of the mask.

"Let me help..." Wyatt removed the headphones, dropping them and feeling a stab of satisfaction when he heard something break. He gently nudged Glitch's hands aside and worked the buckles loose; Krantz had managed to entangle them in the zipperhead's curls and it took a minute to tease them free.

As soon as he eased the mask away, Glitch curled up, wrapping his arms around his head as if determined to shut out the world. Wyatt sank to one knee beside the chair, slipping an arm around his shoulders "Hey, hey... it's okay. They've gone, now. It's over." He stayed there, not speaking save for the occasional comforting murmur, until Glitch unfolded enough to wipe his streaming eyes with his sleeve. Digging in a pocket, Wyatt found a handkerchief and pressed it into his hand.

"That man has terrible manners," Glitch snuffled indistictly, and Wyatt gave a vehement nod.

That's got to be the understatement of the annual.

"Can you see okay? That stuff smelled wicked - I'm sorry Gl-Ambrose. If I'd known what they were doing, I'd never have -" he paused while Glitch let out a series of startled sneezes, burying his face in the handkerchief, "I'd never have let them put that thing on you," he finished, and frowned. Glitch was shivering. He's just cold. Please, by the Fates, he's just cold. Don't let him have another seizure. "How's your head?"

"It's okay... sometimes it aches." Glitch crumpled the handkerchief in his lap. "It's okay... sometimes it aches. It's o-"

Wyatt shook his arm lightly. There's that line again. Word for word. He waited until the repetitions wound down like spent clockwork, and tugged the rumpled blankets into a rough approximation of tidiness. "Come on. Let's get you back into bed." He guided Glitch across the short gap between the chair and the bed, worried by the way the other man continued to shiver, even after he'd been bundled up in blankets and the pillows had been piled up around him. Then he caught the way Glitch was staring fretfully towards the archway, and the room Krantz seemed to have set up as the staging area for his unpleasant experiments. That smartass doctor threw a hell of a scare into him. Of course he's shaking.

"He's gone," he said quietly. "There aren't gonna be any more tests today. I promise." Not that Glitch had any cause to believe him, he reflected bitterly. I told him Krantz was trying to help, but I'll be damned if I can see how half-blinding him with peppermint and flashbulbs was meant to do anything but upset him. "Maybe you should try and get some sleep. Or -" he looked around the room for any signs of a tray, "- has anyone brought you anything to eat, yet? It's got to be almost noon."

"There was a-a-a girl. She brought me an apple, and toast, and cried a little, and then she went away." Glitch appeared to think that this was perfectly normal behaviour. "She was kinda sweet." He smiled fondly and, for just a moment, he looked the way that Wyatt remembered. Then the smile dropped from his face, like a mask torn abruptly away, and he shot a haunted look at the arch. "She went away, and then he came back. I don't think I need a doctor any more," he added hopefully.

Wyatt watched Glitch tangle the blanket restlessly between his fingers. That's wishful thinking and we both know it. "Glad to hear it," he said kindly, "But you don't need to worry about it right now. Forget about - I mean, try not to think about it. Tell you what, I'll go down to the kitchens and see if they can rustle up some soup or someth-"

"No!" Glitch clutched at his arm, a note of alarm in his voice. "He'll come back. I can't stand any more tests today. my head feels like it's gonna split in two."

Surprised, Wyatt glanced down at the cool fingers encircling his wrist. "Okay, calm down. I won't go anywhere," he soothed, gently disengaging himself and folding the blanket back round Glitch's hand. "Just stay wrapped up - last thing you need is to get a chill on top of everything else." An awful thought occurred to him - did Glitch even know that he was a zipperhead? I'm not even touching that while he's this agitated. Something to distract him - that was what he needed.

The books he'd examined on that first morning had been moved, piled haphazardly on one of the empty shelves. The stack had slipped sideways and the floor beneath was littered with bookmarks, which, on closer examination, turned out to be folded paper shapes - angular little birds and flowers that reminded Wyatt of something he couldn't quite place. Just left on the ground like so much trash. He gathered them up and set them on the shelf, trying to keep the simmering anger from showing on his face.

"You've got quite a little library here." he commented, picking up a book at random. It was the colouring book - he put it back, frowning, and pulled out the photograph album instead. I draw the line at watching a man with a mind that can move stars playing with crayons. "Perhaps we can find something in this to jog your memory..." He settled by the bed, laying the album down on the blanket between them and opening it several pages in, careful to avoid the paper plane.`There would be time to revisit that later, when Glitch was calmer.

A little gasp made him look up. Glitch was staring down at the album, which had fallen open at a grainy image of a dark-haired man Wyatt recognised from the other photograph. This was an older picture; Glitch's father - Ambrose's father, he corrected himself conscientiously - looked younger, less careworn, and he was smiling broadly, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles pushed up on his forehead so that his hair stood up in an untidy shock.

"You recognise him?" Wyatt asked carefully. It would be a breakthrough, if he did. Apart from Wyatt himself, whom he could trace back to his first moments of consciousness following the seizure, and Krantz, who had branded a place in his memory through sheer unpleasantness, Glitch had so far been unable to identify any of his visitors, DG included. Glitch squinted intently at the picture, then shook his head.

"Who is he?" He yawned, and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

Wyatt's heart sank. Guess I was getting ahead of myself. "I'm only guessing, but I think he might be your father."

"Ohh." Glitch didn't sound convinced. He gazed at the photograph for a moment longer, then opened the album at a different page, where a folded sheet of cheap-looking paper had been pasted in at an angle.

Doesn't look medical. We're probably safe enough. Wyatt unfolded the page and blinked at the sight of four familiar faces.



Glitch tapped the poster, looking vaguely pleased with himself. "That's you. All scowly and serious. I don't know the others, though. Are they your friends?" He was shivering again, and Wyatt took him by the wrist and settled his hand firmly back inside the blankets.

"Hey, now didn't I tell you you'd get cold?" He pointed to the poster. "That's DG - she's a princess, the Queen's youngest daughter. And that's Raw. He's a Viewer, and they're both friends of ours. And that is you."

"Me?" Glitch peered at the photograph, then lay back against the pillows, regarding Wyatt with dismay. "My hair looks like something woolly crawled on my head and died. Why didn't anyone tell me?"

He hadn't meant to laugh, but Wyatt couldn't help himself. "I'm sure it was very stylish at the time. And it doesn't look like that, now..." The muddy, matted corkscrews of a year ago were long gone, replaced by a tousled mop of curls that spilled away from the stark line of the zipper, a world away from the advisor's former, oddly prim coiffure.

He realised he was staring, and he tensed as Glitch rolled his eyes towards the gleaming metal that bisected his scalp.

"Sure.. now I have this fancy centre-parting. Aw, it's okay," Glitch reassured him as he tried to form a tactful reply. "I know what I am - it's kinda hard to miss. And even if it had slipped my mind, the doctor made good and sure I didn't forget for long."

Wyatt felt his heart clench around a hot little ember of hate. Oh, you bastard, Krantz. "I don't know what he said to you, but you listen to me. You and me, and Raw and the princess, we changed the world, the four of us. Don't you let that guy put you down."

"Four's a good number," Glitch announced absently, and yawned again. "I like four..."

"Okay. I think you need to get some rest." Wyatt closed the album and moved it off the bed so that he could straighten the blankets. "Maybe we can look at a few more pictures later - I think you were really getting somewhere, there."

Glitch didn't open his eyes, but Wyatt's encouragement brought a little smile to his lips.

"Thanks. Even if you are just being nice."

"I mean it." The Tin Man inside Wyatt's head was giving him a stern look, and in the interests of absolute honesty, he added "You certainly looked like you recognised that picture of your father."

Glitch didn't answer at first, but Wyatt wasn't surprised. Over the week he'd grown used to the way the zipperhead would fade out of conversations, sometimes halfway through a sentence. It's a wonder he stayed awake this long.

"He did look familiar... but I don't know..." Glitch gave a distracted sigh, then mumbled something else. His voice was blurred and sleepy, and it was a moment before the words sank in. Then Wyatt felt a slow smile steal across his face.

There was a quiet knock at the outer door. Sure as hell isn't Krantz. He doesn't seem the knocking type. Wyatt left the bedside reluctantly, opening the door to a tall, unsmiling man whose air of dignified self-assurance would have marked him out as a senior member of the palace staff even without the heavily-brocaded uniform.

"Mr Cain?"

Wyatt nodded.

"Her Majesty wishes to see you." The servant took a step away from the door, apparently expecting Wyatt to follow him immediately.

Hold your horses, Sunshine. First I want to check Glitch hasn't worked himself into a panic thinking the doctor's back. "Give me a minute, then you can take me to her." Wyatt returned to the bedroom, ducking his head inside and relaxing as he heard a faint snore.

"Mr Cain?" There was an insistent edge to the voice, and Wyatt rolled his eyes.

"Fine, okay, just keep it down, will you?" He left Glitch sleeping, and followed the servant down the hall, gnawing speculatively at the inside of his cheek. A platinum says Krantz is behind this. Even that thought couldn't quite extinguish the flicker of hope that Glitch's drowsy words had ignited.

"...he looked more like my Uncle Oscar..."




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