Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 19 - Reprise


They were the words DG had been dreading to hear. She'd prepared herself all afternoon, knowing that it was only a matter of time before someone delivered the grim news. Still, it was hard to keep the dismay from her face when her mother leaned towards her and murmured, through a gracious smile, "It's no use, DG. You're going to have to dance with somebody."

She made a show of looking at her dance card. "I will. But I promised that my first dance would be with Glitch." And then, because she'd caught the reproving look in the queen's eyes, added "He doesn't mind me calling him that, Mother. He likes it."

"His name is Ambrose." Iskra's lips drew into a brief moue of distaste "'Glitch' sounds like something you'd call a pet."

It wasn't the first time her mother had made the comment, and this time DG was ready. "And 'DG' sounds like something you use to clean windows, but I don't care. It's my name. My nickname," she amended, in case the queen decided to start calling her 'Dorothea', just to make a point. "And that's his, and if he doesn't have a problem with it, neither do I. It's only Wyatt and m- Wyatt and I," she corrected herself, before her mother had the opportunity, "who use it, anyway."

Speaking of which, where was Wyatt? Glitch had probably been distracted by the sunsset, which was shaping up to be spectacular, but where was the Tin Man? Unless he was...

A slow, thoughtful smile spread across her face. Wyatt was with Glitch. Of course he was. Where else would he be? And if Glitch had talked to him, as she had suggested, perhaps they -

"DG, darling? I love you very much, but if you don't go and dance with someone, anyone, right now, I shall be forced to sell you to the Munchkins." Iskra's tone was light, but brooked no argument.

DG sighed and looked at the dance card again. There was no point asking if Az was going to dance. Her sister was excused diplomatic dancing on account of having been possessed by a murderous tyrant, hell-bent on OZ-wide domination. It hadn't affected her dancing abilities, but it did mean that her partners sweated profusely, stammered inanities, and tended to move around the floor like cats picking their way across a crowded shelf.

Underneath Glitch's name was a list that had been growing steadily longer over the course of the afternoon. The next man on the card was a Major Thomas Bullivant, who had arrived with the city's Councilmen, and had been introduced to her as an officer of the city League of Decency, while he smirked and pretended not to look down her bodice. DG had smiled winningly and noted his name, while pretending not to picture herself kicking him vigorously in the credentials. After him, there was some professor from the School of Science, whom DG had already mentally shunted to the bottom of the list. Perhaps it was petty; he'd probably had nothing to do with Krantz being dispatched as a representative of the school, but she was still fuming over the way Glitch had been treated, and Professor Marvall was just going to have to take one for the team.


"Just looking at my card, Mother." Not Councilman Fisk, who had breath that could tarnish steel, and definitely not Councilman Mott, whose voice could etch it. Maybe I can get a few medicinal drinks down me before I have to tackle those two. Medicinal - that was a thought. DG surveyed the room, and spotted Vincent Macey, the OZ's first moving landmark, wearing an unexpectedly natty suit that must have been tailored especially for him (or, at least, assembled around him by a small team of engineers). Close by, examining a vol-au-vent with an expression of scientific enquiry, was Doctor Oxley, sporting yet another of his colourful waistcoats.

"The Munchkins are a very hospitable people, darling. Would you like me to have your things sent on, or -"

DG suppressed a grin. "I'll dance with Doctor Oxley. He looks far too comfortable over there by the food."

Her mother raised a brow. "A doctor from the Realm of the Unwanted, ahead of all those important Councilmen and heads of industry? What sort of a message do you think that will give to our guests, DG?" Her expression was bland, but there was a gleam in her eyes. Immediately, DG resolved to dance with Doctor Spicer next, and then Vincent.

"Doctor Oxley saved the life of your closest advisor, and one of my best friends, Mother. Loyalty and service should be rewarded, don't you think? Anyway, he's scaring off Mister Macey's admirers." DG was gratified to see her mother's serene facade falter for an instant, replaced by genuine amusement.

"Such compelling reasons cannot be contested. Captain Mellor?" The guard strode briskly over and saluted. "Please go and tell Doctor Oxley that Princess Dorothea has decided to dance with him. And make sure he washes his hands, first. Those pastries look decidedly sticky."

"Mother!" A few guests looked round at DG's snort of laughter, then, on seeing its source, looked hurriedly back at whatever they had been doing. Unorthodox though she was, a princess was still a princess and it didn't do to stare, even if they weren't likely to devour your soul as a means of chastisement.

It took several minutes for Captain Mellor to wend his way back through the throng with Doctor Oxley in tow, and DG spent the time scanning the edges of the room for Wyatt's familiar crew-cut, or Glitch's zipper-parted mop, but saw neither. She felt a momentary unease; what if Glitch had been taken ill again? The doctor seemed confident that he'd dealt with the problem, but Glitch was still quite frail. If something had happened, Wyatt would have sent for Doctor Oxley. They're probably just watching the sky change colours and talking about...whatever it is they talk about when they're together.

She felt a little better for the self-administered talking-to, but when the captain returned she decided there was no harm in making sure. The small orchestra stationed at the foot of the great staircase were making tentative plinks and twangs that suggested they were about to launch into their next piece, and DG turned away from Oxley to catch the guard's eye before he returned to his place near the Royal seats.

"Captain Mellor? You haven't seen Mister Cain around this evening, have you?"

Mellor's answer was lost to her, as the orchestra started into an enthusiastic polka, but his look of puzzlement was enough to make her pull away from the doctor before they could take more than a few steps, and ask the captain to repeat himself.

"I said 'he's gone', Your Highness. He came by the guardroom just about a half-hour ago and asked for his gun back." He frowned. "Is there something wrong, Highness?"

Things. Things will be all wrong if he goes. Wyatt had set off without a goodbye, and Glitch was nowhere to be seen. This wasn't something she could ask a palace guard to investigate. She put on a winning smile and shook her head.

"Just a misunderstanding. It's all right, Captain. Thank you." Turning back to Doctor Oxley, she took his arm and let him lead her to the dance, where a space immediately opened up around them. Her choice of dance partner might be attracting a certain amount of veiled disapproval, but nobody would dream of jostling her in order to get a closer look.

Oxley was also regarding her with interest. "Is something wrong?" He'd been to the same school of subterfuge as her mother; his words were delivered through a disarming smile, his lips barely moving.

I guess if we don't watch what we say, someone else will. DG tried to emulate the doctor, feeling like the world's worst ventriloquist.

"I don't know. I need to go and find out, but..."

"...leaving the party early presents a problem?"

She nodded. Huge as it was, crowded as it was, there was no way she could get out of the room without someone spotting her go. And then her mother would be told, and DG would make it as far as the garden doors before Captain Mellor, or one of the other palace guards, caught up with her.

You could always tell them to let you go. You're a princess, aren't you? True. But a polite request from the queen probably ranked higher than a princessly demand and, anyway, it wasn't fair to put the guards, or any other palace staff, in the situation where they'd have to choose a side.

Doctor Oxley squeezed her hand gently, and she looked up as he murmured "Would this be something to do with our mutual friend upstairs?"

DG would have stopped in her tracks if the doctor, smiling, hadn't kept her moving, steering them neatly between two cantering couples. She said nothing, hoping that silence wasn't quite as damning as actual confirmation, but the doctor chuckled. "The Realm attracts all manner of people, Highness. One gets to know the signs. Don't worry - discretion is my watchword."

That was all very well, DG thought, but Wyatt would be pretty rattled to know that there were any signs. Could she get out the way she'd come in? The mirrored doors at the corner of the great room led to a set of private stairs meant exclusively for the Royal Family. No: not only were they securely closed, Ahamo was standing close to them, with a glass of something pink, an orbiting collection of society dames (with beehives in various shades of cultivated grey), and a long-suffering expression. She glanced towards the garden doors - they were open, but the guests milling around at the edge of the dance floor made it impossible to escape unobserved.

"I think we're surrounded," she muttered. "And Wyatt's got a head start. If he makes it to the crossroads, I've lost him. And before you ask, I don't know any sort of magic that will make me disappear."

She plastered a 'what fun I'm having' smile on her face as they passed near to where her mother and Azkadelia were sitting in the company of several ladies who all appeared to be competing in an unofficial Tallest-Hair-in-Defiance-of-the-Accepted-L

aws-of-Physics contest. The lead contender, clearly emboldened by her proximity to royalty, gave DG a little wave. The doctor looked amused.

"I'm no wizard, but Vincent and I are old hands at 'Find the Lady'. It's all a matter of misdirection." He winked, and aimed them towards the long, flower-draped tables, where the absence of chairs was the only thing that distinguished the buffet from a banquet. "Shall we get you out of here?"

Vincent, to DG's surprise, was deep in conversation with several grandly-attired men, Councilman Mott amongst them. She couldn't see Mott for Vincent's bulk, but she could hear his high, querulous voice as they grew closer.

"...just another concession to the Munchkin horde. Really, it would be better if we could just-"

"Vincent, old fellow," Oxley broke in, twirling DG round so that her skirt flared magnificently, endangering several neighbouring couples. "You look a trifle pale. Take a half-spoon of blackstrap molasses before bed." And with that, he danced them onwards, not waiting for an answer from the big man.

They were running out of time. Several of the less energetic dancers had already retired from the floor, and the music sounded as if it was winding up for its final chorus. And then I'll be etiquetted into another dance, or expected to sit with Mother and look princessly. Whatever you're going to do, Doctor Oxley, do it soon. DG gave Oxley a hopeful glance, but he seemed preoccupied, intent on guiding them back towards the garden doors. He was also counting under his breath.

Then, over the music, the unmistakeable tones of Vincent sailed towards her: "Is it just me, or 'as it got warm in 'ere? I fink -" And then, sweeter music still, a gargantuan crash from the buffet. Every head turned.

"And that, Highness, is why they call him 'Smasher'. Now hurry up before people lose interest." Oxley shoved her towards the garden doors, then trotted into the middle of the dance floor, calling "Clear the way, please! I'm a doctor."

Vowing silently to endow a hospital in the man's name, should she ever have the authority, DG slipped through the doors and into the night.


Glitch opened his eyes. Everything was dark, stifling, the sounds of the palace muted. For a moment, panic took him in a suffocating grip, a horrible idea swarming over his mind. They'd done it while he was asleep - stolen all that remained of his brain, and now he was trapped in a dark tank somewhere, nothing but thoughts and dim illusions of sensations transmitted to his disembodied neurons through coils of wire. It was only when he put a hand to his head that he realised that he still had both hands and head, and the latter was buried beneath a heap of pillows.

Extricating himself from the pile, he twisted round so he could sit up, leaning back against the headboard. His face felt hot, his eyes sore and swollen from crying, and his hair was a matted tangle. He'd tried to make it neat, to tame the corkscrew curls into some semblance of the more formal style he'd had as the Queen's advisor - when was that? That had been this afternoon, when he'd been getting ready to
not yet I don't want to think about that yet don't want to

He muttered feverishly under his breath, throwing the first thing he could find in the path of the upsetting train of thought: a garbled string of prime numbers; an incomplete formula for calculating the surface tension coefficient of a polar liquid, but nothing could stop the image that bullied its way to the fore. A column of energy lancing upwards from the Sunseeder, pinning the moon and suns like butterflies, and the emerald shrieking under the unimaginable, astronomical stresses.

He'd washed and dressed, and tried to make his hair neat, tried to look like an Ambrose rather than a Glitch, so that Cain would believe him when he said he didn't need him. He could taste the words, like a mouthful of copper coins - I don't need you - and now Cain was locked away behind them. Eclipse, he thought miserably. No more sunshine. Not ever.

"It's for his own good," he told himself, trying to sound firm, but his voice was hoarse and watery, and not in the least comforting. He tried again, one hand worrying at the edge of his zipper, the other twisting and tangling the bedsheet obsessively. "It's for his own good. He's got a Plan, and he'll never do it if he stays here because he thinks he owes you." That sounded only slightly more determined than the first time, and he made an inarticulate sound, and thumped the pillow beside him. Stop being so selfish! It's done with now. There's nothing to make him stay, so he can go and be a Tin Man, or a defective, or whatever he wants to be.

He nodded sharply. He deserved the scolding. "And I can..." What? What could he do now? He was sure of one thing - he couldn't stay at the palace, in these rooms that should have been familiar, but only reminded him how out of place he was. I should feel at home. But home wasn't here, not now. Occasionally, he would see something that prompted a recollection. It would blossom, brief and colourful, and he would turn to Cain to tell him about it.

No, home wasn't here.

His gaze became vague, resting lightly on the scudding clouds, and he barely noticed the way the moonlight painted them, first below, then above. When he finally came back to himself, he realised he was speaking.

"...southwest. That's the way we went." Glitch nodded again, accepting the instruction without question. He would go southwest. When Cain had been well enough to travel, that was the way that they'd headed. That was the way to the fortress - to the Sunseeder, which would now be skeletal with scaffolding, a hive of technicians and engineers, all working to the plans he'd burned himself to a frazzle redesigning. That was the way to the other half of his brain.

If they could put it back, would I still be me?

And if he wasn't, would that be so bad? He could lose himself in thought, all the knots and snarls in his head unravelling into clean, untangled pathways, and be solemn and driven and distant. You'd get lost on the way. You'd start out right, and then you'd forget the way, and just wander round in a big circle. You'd end up how you were when DG found you.

Again, the thought no longer scared him. If he couldn't go back to being how he was, he could live the rest of his life in a blur, wandering aimlessly across the Realm, talking to the flowers and forgetting...



There was little chance that Wyatt was still anywhere on the palace grounds, but DG checked every stall in the stable nevertheless, hoping against hope that she might find Captain standing patiently in one. No, that'd be worse. If he went off with his gun and left his horse behind, what would that mean?

It was academic, anyway. The Captain was gone - there was no chance of mistaking the sturdy palomino for one of the royal mounts. Wyatt was gone, and chasing him on foot would be hopeless. Should she take a horse? DG looked into the nearest stall and into the incurious eyes of the placid animal inside. She wasn't a natural rider - not falling off was about the extent of her equestrian abilities. And that's when they're standing still. She was going to get enough of a lecture if she found Wyatt and brought him back without trouble. If she fell off and broke her legs, she'd probably be confined to the palace, under armed guard, until she was thirty.

It was dark, too. Even with the moon coasting across the sky, the wooded hillside was shadowy. She had no idea if horses could see well in the dark, and she couldn't exactly go and ask someone.

What about the Gump?

"Great idea, except it doesn't work. I've played around with the engine for months, and it doesn't want to run." The horse inside the stall whickered at her. "What do you know? You're a horse." But still...

What about it? It's that or you're going to have to steal one of the guests' carriages, and you don't know how to drive one of those, either.

Her feet, anticipating her, were already carrying her towards the coach-house, where the Gump stood dormant beneath a tarpaulin. The glow of the moon through the high windows bathed it in a silver-blue spotlight and, when DG pulled away the tarp, she felt slightly let down that there hadn't been some reaction - a cosmic 'ta-da!' or something. Mind you, the Gump - homely enough in the daylight - really warranted something more sinister, like a rumble of thunder.

The dress was going to be a problem. If I get on like this, I won't even be able to see the handlebars, never mind steer. She didn't have anything to cut the lacing to get the bodice off, though. And, while she was wearing jeans under the skirt - something Enid was not going to find out about - her top half was rather less well covered. Bearing down on Wyatt, naked to the waist, was probably not the way to go about persuading him to come back.

She compromised by hitching up the skirt and removing the layers of petticoats, hanging them carefully on a hook on the back wall, and hoping that they weren't found before she returned. If Doctor Oxley and Vincent's involvement in her disappearance was discovered it would be bad enough. If items of her underwear were subsequently found in the coach-house, things might get very serious very quickly.

Now, with the deflated skirt pulled up and bundled between her knees, DG flipped up the ignition switch and pressed the starter.

In the silence, the music from the hall seemed particularly loud.

Check everything. Getting frustrated won't help. Check everything and try again. Okay. Good advice. She leaned down and felt for the fuel valve to make sure it was on. It was. The trike was in neutral. The tank had fuel in it - she kept it half-full, more an act of optimism than an intention to travel far. She'd checked the wiring dozens of times, replaced the battery, the ignition coil - there was nothing she hadn't poked, tweaked, scrubbed or tested.

"Oh, you stupid thing, work will you?" She banged the gas tank and tried the starter again. Clearly, violence wasn't the answer, because the Gump continued to ignore her. And all the while, Wyatt Cain was riding away, leaving them all. Leaving Glitch.

Please. Oh, please. It can't end like this. It's not fair. She leaned forward, one hand planted on the tank, reaching for the ignition switch with the other.

The Gump...coughed.

DG stared down at her hand, splay-fingered on the metal dome.

All that you needed was a spark...

That was candles. This is gasoline. Are you sure you want to try this?

"Aw, hell with it," said Dorothea Gale, and she put both hands down on the Gump's gas tank and


There was a scarecrow at the crossroads. Of course there was. The road from the Winter Palace split at the centre of four huge hayfields, the yellow stones of the Brick Route cutting brazenly across the more utilitarian, rust-hued slabs of the lesser road. In the fields, bales of autumn hay cast blue shadows through the stubble, dotted here and there like sleeping beasts. Wyatt had seen the scarecrow on his ride towards the palace, lashed to a tall pole that projected from the stone way-marker, but hadn't paid much attention to it. But you remembered it well enough to weave it into that dream, didn't you?

"Score one for my amazing memory," he murmured. It would have helped to snarl the words, to flick them out like a bitter lash at the stuffed man smiling down at him. Anger would have been better than this weak, dazed feeling.

Unlike the other scarecrow, this one bore no sign bidding him to go home, or go back, or anything else. Instead, the squat stone obelisk beneath its dangling feet was painted on each side, and Wyatt could make out the words on the side that faced him.


lay straight ahead, a slow ride along the Brick Route. The scarecrow's left hand pointed west, to the village of Delves, its right to the eastern hill path that joined with other, less public routes back to Damfino. If he rode on and didn't stop for more than a few hours at a stretch, he could be in the city in a couple of days. He could -

What's the hurry, though? You got nothing to run to. True, and Captain wasn't exactly delighted to have been saddled up and dragged off into what was shaping up to be a blustery night. Maybe you should've just swallowed your pride and left after breakfast. Wyatt regarded the scarecrow from under the brim of his hat. It gazed back, crooked arms spread wide, and the scarf around its neck flapped in the wind. Had it been red, when he'd passed it by before? He couldn't tell; the light of the first moon stole the colour from everything it touched and, anyway, farmers regularly changed the look of their scarecrows so that the birds wouldn't get too used to them.

Captain shifted his weight and snorted softly. It took a lot to spook the big horse, but the clouds streaming overhead played tricks with the light and shadow, hinting at movement where there was none, and the scarecrow's mismatched button eyes gleamed like those of a living thing.

"You got something to say, strawman?" Wyatt raised his voice above the snap and flutter of his coat, speaking to reassure himself as much as the Captain. "Think I'm making a mistake rushing off to the big city?" Nothing came back to answer him except the wind, which swept through the fields, combing the short grass with teasing fingers and making his eyes water. "Which way do I go?" He rubbed his face with the heel of his hand. It came away wet, which was fine because they weren't tears and he wasn't crying.

Delves was closest. There would be a hay barn, somewhere, and he could wait out the night and clear his head. It wouldn't matter if he decided to go to Central City, or Damfino, or the Realm of the Unwanted if Captain stepped into a pothole in the dark and went lame. He leaned down and rubbed the horse's neck.

"I'm sorry, old fella. I know you'd rather be back in that swanky stable right now, but I couldn't - I couldn't stay. Not so close to him."

I don't need you any more

He'd hear that again. In the quiet minutes before he slept, and in the hour before dawn when the air seemed coldest, and the ground was too hard to lie on. No harsh words, no angry rebuff. Only Glitch's soft, hoarse, kindly voice explaining that Wyatt was surplus to requirements, and that he should go and get on with his life. Yet it was hard as a bullet, shocking as a fall, cold as a plunge into icy water and, when the numbness came over him, he would welcome it.

He touched the brim of his hat to the scarecrow, tapped Captain gently with his heels, and turned them west onto the road to Delves.

The old red bricks were worn and crumbling in places, and Captain's hoofbeats were muted, all clop and no clip, half-submerged beneath the hiss of wind through the dry grass. Wyatt turned his collar up, peering into the black-and-silver night for signs of shelter. Now and then he'd catch a sound: a dog barking in the yard of a distant farmstead; the kee-wit of an owl. Captain was listening too, ears swivelling, scanning the fields for every noise.

They couldn't be far from a farm. Wyatt could hear the dull drone of bees from a nearby hive, and he closed his eyes briefly, thinking of the Cain ranch, of Billy carefully checking the honey frames, untroubled by the bees that crawled and crowded over his arms and settled in his hair and hardly ever stung him. He'll be getting the hives ready for winter, now. Piling up hay for the windbreaks, fitting guards to keep out the mice...sweeping up the drones... His smile faded. Sweeping up the drones, evicted from the warmth and safety of the hive because they were no longer needed.

The hum cut into his thoughts, and it was louder, less of a hum and more of a muffled rumble. Captain fidgeted, and his right ear flicked to the side, homing in. Wyatt turned them around, taking a moment to flip open the buttons of his coat and loosen his gun in its holster. There were no Papay up here, but something was making that sound and it wasn't bees.

A yellowish glow broke over a rise in the path: twin lights, a sunsrise in miniature, and the accompanying noise resolved into the grumbling of an engine. Wyatt could tell that it was an engine, because he'd been looking around very carefully for a barn, and would have noticed if he'd passed a small tin shed containing an angry moose. He tightened his grip on the reins as Captain sidestepped - not willing to give ground, wary of the snarling newcomer. The headlights were too close together to be anything other than those of a motorcycle of some kind, but Wyatt still nudged Captain over to the side of the road. Steady though the big horse was, he wouldn't take kindly to a bike tearing past him in the dark. The lights, however, grew no nearer.

Wyatt raised his hand. "Hey! Come past if you're coming." Maybe the rider was worried about scaring the Captain. Maybe he had some other, more nefarious purpose, in which case he would shortly get a nasty surprise.


There was no way it could be anyone but DG; the wind carried her voice to him, even over the racket of the engine. DG. On a motorcycle. Wyatt squinted past the headlights, shielding his eyes.

"DG? What in the - what is that thing?"

"Doesn't matter. Wyatt, you've got to come back." The bike revved, as if in agreement.

Captain tossed his head and jounced sideways, catching Wyatt unawares. He winced. "Shut the engine off and quit hollering, will you? I can't hear myself think."

A clear patch of sky allowed a spill of moonlight to pick out the shape of the vehicle: about the ugliest thing Wyatt had ever seen on wheels. DG was standing on the footplate, gripping the splayed handlebars. "I can't!" she yelled, and the engine roared again. This time Wyatt was prepared, and Captain's disapproving dance didn't catch him anywhere.

"What do you mean, you can't?"

"I don't even know how I got it going. If I turn it off now, I might never start it again."

He stared into the sky, searching for patience in the clouds. "DG, turn it off."

Finally, reluctantly, the engine coughed its way into silence and the glaring lamps darkened, and Captain was persuaded to approach the...thing. Wyatt might have laughed if he hadn't felt so raw. DG, in her beloved bluejeans and half a ballgown, was perched in the driving seat with most of her skirt ruffled up around her knees. Her hair which had been piled up in an elegant heap on her head, had come unpinned, and coils and curls dangled around her face. It was the look on her face that drove away the flicker of amusement.

"What's hap -"

"Wyatt, you've got -"

They both paused, and Wyatt gestured for DG to go on. If something had happened, she'd tell him faster without his interruption. But, now that she had the floor, she hesitated.

"Spit it out, kiddo. You've come out all this way for something."

It was unlike DG to let that go by, but she sighed instead and pushed the hair out of her eyes, dislodging a scatter of hairpins. "It's lucky your horse isn't darker. I could just make you out from the crossroads. You were going to vanish without saying goodbye, weren't you?"

Wyatt searched her face. She hadn't risked life and limb on that three-wheeled rattletrap to give him a hard time for ducking out on everyone. Had she? No. She'd come for Glitch. He looked away.

"Ah, DG, don't make it any harder than it already is. I can't stay. Don't ask me."

She shook her head, and it seemed that the sharp wind had got to her eyes, too. "Whatever's happened, it doesn't matter. You don't need to leave." She shuddered, her hair whipping around her face, and Wyatt berated himself and dismounted, shrugging off his coat.

"Put this on before you take a chill. Your mom would have a whole litter of royal kittens if she knew you were riding around in the dark with nothing but a party dress to keep you warm." He wrapped the coat around her, gritting his teeth as another chill blast of wind licked the heat from his skin. "Okay, I should have waited until morning and taken my leave of you properly, I know. But I have to go. Tonight, tomorrow - it makes no difference."

"But Glitch n-"

Wyatt didn't let her finish. "None of that, DG. He doesn't need me." He passed a hand across his face, and looked away, ready to cite the wind as an excuse. "He's healing, and he's gonna be just fine without me."

Her eyes seemed huge, pleading, in the gloom. "But...you love him."

And he did. If only that was enough. He put a hand on her shoulder, meeting her gaze and willing her to understand and let the matter drop.

"DG, love doesn't always mean you get to be with someone. The world isn't neat and tidy like that. There isn't one special person out there who's destined for you, or me, or anybody else. We're all just a bunch of loose ends, and if you end up tied to a good one, that's down to luck, or judgement, but it sure ain't destiny." He smiled as best he could, trying to temper the note of cynicism in his voice. "I'm sorry to kill the romance, kiddo, but someone's got to be the voice of reality, and I guess it's down to me."

He watched DG take this in and, for a moment, he thought he'd got through to her. Then her lips thinned, and she shook her head. "That's not it, is it? What happened, Wyatt? Something's got to have made you decide to go tonight."

The question was reasonable enough. It was the answer that was giving Wyatt some difficulty. He was glad, suddenly, of the colour-stealing moon; perhaps it would hide the sudden rush of red to his cheeks.

"He knows. I...kissed him, a few days ago, and this afternoon he made it pretty clear that I was on the wrong track." And doesn't that make me sound like a clumsy kid getting the brush-off? "He let me down as gently as he could, but -"

"Wait." DG waved him into silence. "You kissed him? What happened to 'I can't let him know how I feel in case it puts ideas in his head'?"

"I thought he was asleep." Wyatt grimaced, aware of how that sounded. "It was a peck on the cheek - nothing more. But I shouldn't have done it, and now he knows what I am and he doesn't want me around." DG looked as if she was about to burst into tears. "It was a long-shot, and there's no sense getting upset that it didn't pay off. It's better for all of us if I'm not around making Glitch feel awkward. Even he sees that. DG?"

She had a hand over her eyes. At first, Wyatt figured that the tears had arrived, and she was doing her best to hide them. Then an odd little smile quirked her lips, and she murmured something that he didn't catch, though he thought he heard the words 'grass' and 'raw'. Raw?

"What exactly did he say to you? Can you remember?"

Wyatt didn't have to think about it. "It's not easy to forget. He said that I had plans I should be getting on with, and that he was much better now, and he didn't need me any more." And if he said it quickly, it almost didn't hurt at all. He watched DG, trying to make sense of the expressions chasing one another across her face. "Have I missed something?"

"He told me about your Plan." She put a heavy emphasis on that last word, and Wyatt could imagine Glitch talking about it in just the same way. He smiled, in spite of himself. "He was worrying himself into tatters because he got it into his head that you were all set to go to Central City, and that you were only staying because you promised him you would."

DG pulled the coat more closely around herself as the wind, feeling left out of the conversation, raised its voice again. Wyatt barely noticed the cold. His mind was racing.

"You think he did this for my sake? That he doesn't know about me being..." Even out here, slightly east of the ass-end of nowhere, he struggled to say it.

The strangled noise that came from DG made Captain's ears twitch back. Wyatt could sympathise; his would have done the same if they'd been able.

"Gay! Queer! Whatever you want to call it. I don't know if Glitch knows or not. All I know is what he told me - that things would be wrong without you, and that he didn't want you to leave. Ever."

"That's not how it looked to me," Wyatt insisted mulishly, but in the back of his mind, the game was starting again. A few days ago you had to carry him down the stairs, but he'd given up his walking stick? Does that make sense? No, it didn't. But Glitch had stood up to greet him, and he'd managed it just fine without anything to lean on. How about using some of those keen detective skills, Wyatt? Did he look fine to you? Really?

Glitch had been so still, so solemn. His hands had been clasped behind his back. The lamp-light had been bright on his zipper. And on the tiny beads of perspiration on his brow. That was the stance of a man concentrating as hard as he could. But that was how Ambrose looked. Cold. Distant. Or maybe that's how he looks when he's trying to stay focused? Glitch told you himself he used to get distracted before he was headcased. Why are you so determined to think he wants you gone?

"I don't know." It was half to himself, but DG was listening, and it seemed that even the wind dropped, as though waiting. "Even if Glitch doesn't know about me, it doesn't change anything. Sooner or later he's gonna find out, and -"

"And I don't think he cares." DG spread her hands, swamped by the sleeves of Wyatt's coat. "Right now he's probably sitting up in his room, thinking you're half-way to Central City thanking your lucky stars that he released you from a tiresome duty. Is that the way you want to leave it?"

No. That wasn't the way he wanted to leave it. He swallowed, ignoring the voice in his head telling him that this was foolishness, because it sounded too much like his father to let it rule him.

"I'll come back," he said at last, sure that - if nothing else - Captain would be glad of another night in a warm stable. "I'll stay tonight, and I'll talk to Glitch. If he really wants me to stick around, I will. I can't promise anything more than that."

"Will you tell him you love him?" DG looked hopeful and Wyatt shook his head quickly before she could get too far down that road.

"I can't. I crossed the line when I kissed him. I can't risk confusing him again. Not unless he says something to show he wants more than my friendship."

DG, crestfallen, nodded nevertheless. "Well, okay. But let me talk to him first? And listen, really listen. If you're going to be a detective, maybe you can read between the lines." She stuck out her hand expectantly and Wyatt regarded it, thinking. Then he took it and shook it firmly.

"Deal. On one condition: you ride back with me and leave that junkheap here till someone can come and haul it back in a truck. Or give it a decent burial."


The ball was still going strong when they arrived. Wyatt stopped by the stable and got Captain settled back in his stall while DG retrieved her petticoats and did her best to make her hair look like something that hadn't been found in a hedge, while the strains of something up-tempo and surprisingly catchy filtered in through the open doors. Just as Wyatt was hanging up his saddle, she stuck her head around the wooden partition.

"I'm going to go up and see if Glitch is still in his room. Give me five minutes before you follow, and if the door isn't open, go back to your room and wait there till I come get you, okay?" He nodded, and DG glanced towards the palace. "The music's still going, but that doesn't mean they aren't looking for me."

"Don't worry, princess. I'll keep a low profile."

She stuck her tongue out at him and slipped away, and Wyatt managed to keep a smile on his face until she was out of sight. Then he let out a long, heartfelt sigh and rubbed his face with both hands. The idea of facing Glitch again was making Wyatt more nervous than he cared to let on. Maybe DG was right, and it had all been a ploy to free him from any sense of obligation, but that didn't alter the fact that he was hiding his feelings from Glitch, and eventually he'd have to own up, and maybe go through all of this again.

Look at it this way: You could keep on running. Let Glitch think he sent you on your way, and find yourself some sleazy little office in the city, with brown paper taped over the window glass to keep out the glare of the street lamps, somewhere you have to time your phone calls between the quarter-hour trolley-bus as it rattles over the tracks outside. Get a stack of cheap business cards printed and hit the bars and the after-hours dens, and cruise the Sin District looking for people at the end of their rope. And some time between three or four in the morning, while you listen to the rain chiming off the gutter, you can wonder how things would have turned out if you'd had the courage to face up to Glitch and tell him what you are.

When he put it like that...

"I'd rather go back in the iron suit," he told the listening night, and strode off towards the palace.

The servants' stairs were busy, with staff hurrying up and down, laughing, calling to one another and passing trays overhead where the steps were crowded. No-one spared Wyatt a second glance, and that was fine by him. He didn't want Captain Mellor to find out that he was back in the palace, still in possession of his gun. I can always hand it back to him tomorrow. Well, that was getting a little ahead of himself. There was no guarantee that he'd be staying long enough for it to be a problem. He turned out onto the Long Gallery with a gutful of butterflies and a head full of doubts.

DG was standing outside Glitch's rooms with her hands pressed against the door. She looked round at Wyatt as he approached and shrugged, biting her lip.

"What's going on?" He kept his voice low.

"He can't be locked in. He doesn't have a lock. But I can't open the door, and he isn't answering." DG knocked lightly, her eyes on Wyatt as she put her cheek against the carved wood. "Glitch? Hello?" She knocked again, harder.

"Go away!" There was a scraping sound, like something wooden being dragged across the floor. Wyatt moved towards the door, but DG motioned him back, listening. He put his back against the wall, folding his arms so that he couldn't be tempted to try the door himself. Think of it like a stake-out. Just be patient.

DG knocked a third time, then tried the handle. "Glitch, it's DG. Can we talk?"

She was answered by another low scrape, then silence – a long, drawn out pause, almost ominous in its length and depth – and Wyatt was about to push the princess aside and see how well royal hinges held up to a well-placed boot, when Glitch answered, his voice muffled and unsteady. "No! I-I-I-I'm busy. Come back later. Or come back tomorrow. Or next year or something..."

"It's urgent. I need to talk to you now. This won't wait..." she hesitated, then added "...it's about Wyatt."

Thirty seconds crawled past, then there was another scrape and the doorhandle turned, first one way, then the other, and the door clunked open. Wyatt flattened himself against the wall. Unless Glitch stepped into the gallery, he would see only DG. There was no window directly opposite the doorway, just an alcove adorned with a glass-fronted panel of embroidery, and Wyatt could make out hints of Glitch's room reflected over DG's shoulder - the small study in darkness, the bedroom beyond lit brightly. He held his breath.

You can't go barging in. Wait. Just...wait. There was nothing to be gleaned from the reflection - it was a too-small window into a scene that needed close scrutiny. As DG disappeared through the doorway, Wyatt caught a glint of light on metal, then darkness as the bedroom light was obscured.

"...sorry I shouted."

"It's okay, Glitch. It's okay." DG's voice had a quaver in it that made Wyatt's jaw clench. "Let's go and sit down, and you can tell me what this is all about." Two sets of footsteps, then: DG's - tapping, delicate heels, and Glitch's - slow and shuffling, and marked out by the soft thud of his stick.

He does need it, then. You had me fooled, sunsshine. Wyatt narrowed his eyes, reading the reflection, and sent DG a wordless 'thank you' as he saw them retreat into the brightness of the bedroom. I don't care how much Munchkin there is in him - he still can't see into a dark room from behind all that light.

He counted to a slow and deliberate ten, then risked a brief look around the doorframe: the swift, sidelong glance you used when you were expecting a bullet to greet you. DG and Glitch were out of sight; the bedroom arch framed only a sliver of bed and the small table beside it. DG was speaking - soft and tentative, a cat's paw batting curiously at a tangle of yarn. Wyatt stepped into the darkness.

He stopped short of the archway, far enough back to avoid being touched by the light, close enough to look inside. Glitch was standing at the end of his bed, leaning heavily on his cane, and behind him the room was in chaos. Drawers had been pulled out, the closet hung open, and a small tornado had swept its way through books and papers, leaving them scattered over desk and floor like a sharp-edged snowdrift. Glitch himself looked no better. His eyes were red, his hair tangled and mussed, and it looked as though he'd dressed in the dark. And then forgotten, and done it all over again.

He'd pulled on a second shirt over the one he'd been wearing when Wyatt had seen him earlier. Two buttons were fastened, neither one in the right place. Over that he'd added a waistcoat, and another, the longer one underneath. And it was easy enough to count his socks by spotting the different colours showing through various holes. At least three on one foot, and certainly two on the other. Wyatt felt his mouth sag open. This is weird, even for you.

DG moved aside a pile of debris and patted the end of the bed. "Come on, sit down and let's talk. What's going on? Did you lose something?"

Glitch shook his head. Paused. Nodded. "I'm leaving." He sat down, hands curled together in his lap and DG settled next to him in a crumple of petticoats. "I was gonna take some things, but I didn't have a bag, so I figured...if I wear some of it, that's less to carry..."

"Oh, Glitch. You can't leave..." DG threaded her arm around his and covered his hand with her own. "Why would you go? Where would you go? What would you live on?"

Give him a chance to answer, will you? It was hard to keep quiet. Fond as he was of DG, Wyatt didn't set much store by her questioning skills. He edged sideways, trying to see past the princess, and his hip bumped something. Heart in his mouth, he reached down to steady whatever he'd struck, and his fingers encountered something small and cool. He'd held the tin horse enough times in the past year to know every inch of its dented surface. It lay on a square of material, nestled amongst a few other less-identifiable objects. Still listening, Wyatt finger-walked his way through the jumble, trying to work out what he'd found.

"I can't stay here." Glitch made a small, helpless gesture. "I can't. I'm sorry, Deeg. Your family's been so good to me, but I have to go. I'm gonna go to the Sunseeder and see if they'll let me have my marbles back. I-I think I remember the way. Southwest. That's what he said."

The horse. Two little sheaves of paper, all points and creases. Wyatt traced one with a fingertip and decided that they were paper birds - perhaps the same birds Doctor Spicer had placed in Glitch's hands before his operation. Maybe that was what this was all about. Glitch wanted to have his brain back - he'd talked about little else when they'd been on the road. And he sent me away because he doesn't want me to feel obligated to stay with him until he recovers.

It made sense, in a Glitch logic sort of way. But it didn't feel right. In all these weeks, he hasn't talked about trying to restore his brain. Not one word. That wasn't to say he hadn't thought about it, but still... And admit it, you aren't sure you want it to happen, either. You fell in love with Glitch. You don't know Ambrose. That was a selfish thought, and Wyatt felt his cheeks burn in the shadows. If Glitch wanted to have his brain back, nothing and no one should stop him.

DG had shuffled as close as she could get to Glitch, and her arm was around his shoulders.

"Listen to what you're saying. You want to travel all that way on your own - you only had surgery a few weeks ago, and you're still recovering. Why not wait till you're better, and then we'll take a trip there?"

Maybe he's tired of being the clock that doesn't work any more. Wyatt felt around, and discovered a small leather box with a stud fastening - that was more difficult, until he remembered seeing it next to a shaving brush on Glitch's bathroom shelf. What else? A coin - no, two. A crown and what might be a silver farthing. Good luck charms, a razor and a few coins. He's travelling light. The thought of Glitch wandering across the OZ with nothing but a pocketful of trinkets and a vague notion of his destination made Wyatt take a step towards the bed, and he only managed to get his feet under control because Glitch spoke.

"I can't stay here," he said again, as though it explained everything. "I...I don't remember this place. And when I do remember things, he isn't gonna be there to tell."

Now Wyatt couldn't have moved if he'd wanted to.

"You mean Wyatt?" DG looked up into the darkness where Wyatt stood. He wondered if she was expecting him to appear, but he couldn't. Not yet.

Glitch nodded, and covered his eyes with his hand. "I told him. I told him. I told - told him. I-I-" His other hand jerked under DG's. "I told him I didn't need him. I had to." He took a deep breath.

"But you didn't want him to go," DG prompted and he shook his head, and tears escaped from beneath his hand, tracking golden lamp light down his face. Wyatt stared. He didn't dare to hope. "Glitch, why are you so upset that Wyatt left?"

Glitch took a couple more ragged breaths, drying his eyes with the back of his hand. "Because it hurts." He stood - staggering as he stepped on a discarded shoe - and grabbed the back of a chair. "Maybe they can put my brain back together. Maybe they can't - I don't know. But what good am I with only half a heart?"

The moonlight stealing through the study window had turned to amber, Wyatt observed, some detached part of his mind relaying details while the rest of his body remained in stasis. The second moon was rising, and the gale had subsided, and damn it Wyatt, if you don't go in there right now... Shaking off his momentary stupor, he stepped through the archway.

"...Cain..." Glitch's hands fluttered strengthlessly against the chairback. "Cain..." over and over again until Wyatt was holding him, arms around his waist.

"I gotcha. It's okay."

Glitch shivered. "You're so cold."

Not, Wyatt's reeling mind recovered enough to point out, 'what are you doing? Get your hands off me!' Just 'you're so cold'. "I lent somebody my coat." He glanced over to DG, who was watching, her hand over her mouth. "I guess maybe she wants to go and look for it, right, DG?"

Comprehension switched the lights on in the princess' eyes.

"I'll be downstairs. Looking for your coat. Um. Downstairs." She pointed downwards, in case they needed confirmation that the location of 'downstairs' hadn't changed, and fled.

"Am I making you cold? C'mon. Let's go sit down." He stepped back, ready to catch Glitch if he looked unsteady, but the zipperhead put a hand on his chest, curling slender, artistic fingers into his shirt.

"I can warm you up. Remember when you fell in the lake, and I got you warm? That was all me." Glitch hesitated, then - conscientiously - added, "And Mister Demilo. His firewood. His cupboards that we turned into firewood. Not Mister Demilo. He wasn't there. I may have been naked. Why are you smiling?"

Two gold flecks in his left eye. Or amber, if you wanted to be picky. Long, long eyelashes, a rather aquiline nose, and a mouth bracketed by dimples. All perfect. Or perfectly imperfect. It didn't matter. That was why Wyatt was smiling.

"Hello, Sweetheart."

Glitch looked up at him, open-mouthed. "I tried to send you away."

Wyatt nodded.

"You didn't go."

He shook his head.

"I think I'm in love with you."

Wyatt couldn't speak. Not because he had no words, but because the words would have to get past the lump that had formed in his throat, and barking a pent-up sob at Glitch might scare him. So he nodded again, blinking tears away.

"I'm wearing five socks."

Instead of a sob, laughter broke the lock on Wyatt's voice. "What?"

Glitch beamed. "I was just making sure you were listening. Communication is very important in a lasting relationship, Cain."

"You know," Wyatt pulled him closer, "you could probably call me Wyatt. If we're gonna have a lasting relationship, we probably ought to be on first-name terms." He sobered for a moment. "And this is okay - us both being guys - that doesn't bother you?"

"Why would it - ohhhh." Glitch nodded sagely. "Compatibility issues. That's okay, I'm pretty good at solving technical th- "

"I mean...well, morally. Some people won't like it that we're different. Some people think it's wrong..." He trailed off. Glitch had found a particularly interesting button his shirt and was toying with it very distractingly.

"Some people don't like zipperheads. Or Tin Men." If he had any other observations to make on the matter, they were forgotten in the delight of a fresh realisation. "Y'know, in Munchkin 'uayat' is a word for a tiiiny pancake. Did you e-"

Wyatt kissed him. It was almost a disaster - he could put a round through a rolling copper penny at ten yards, but he nearly planted his first proper kiss on Glitch's nose. But at that moment Glitch looked up, and their lips brushed, and caught, and parted, and then there was heat - soft, melting heat and the delicious, rough caress of tongues, and time and gravity departed without a backward glance.

When the laws of physics finally tapped them on the shoulders, Glitch sighed and opened his eyes. "That was...is that gonna happen every time I say 'pancake'?"

It was probably going to happen every time Glitch looked up at him that way. They'd have to be very careful. Or maybe the world will have to change. For now, just for tonight, it didn't matter. Wyatt grinned. "I don't know. You're the genius. You'll just have to work it out."

"What happens if I say...'apple'?"

Wyatt told him.

Glitch looked thoughtful. "I'd give my last synapse for a juicy a-"



Raw makes his way along the narrow dirt path, stepping over tussocks of thread-grass that rise like islands out of the grey dust. He knows the path well, but he is careful, because he holds something precious in his hands.

All the tribes of the OZ have their ways of touching the world around them. The Menchkin think that they are the children of birds, so they paint the world in music and all things sing to them. The Willekin, who wish and strive and must, by their nature, change what they touch, cut stone and dig the earth, and build great towers and roads. But the Khuadelin, who are humble and careful, because they feel the universe as it shifts around them - from the slightest ripple to the greatest tides - merely observe.

Occasionally, they move a few small things to help the current flow the way that it should.

There is a green arch, not of stone, but of gorse trees that - through generations of gentle persuasion - have grown together so that their branches interlock. Invisible to even the most curious mobat's eye, the archway is equally well hidden from the unwary wanderer, a tangle of meaningless vegetation. Raw pauses at the mouth of the arch, letting the fact of his arrival and the thoughts that have accompanied him on his walk die away into the background.

This place is a foothill of the Black Mountains, where the Khuadelin have lived in peace (though to Raw's people, the words 'live' and 'peace' are virtually interchangeable) since time out of mind. The arch sits in the base of a scrubby hollow in the hillside, and in the summer it will be a mass of yellow flowers, alive with birdsong and the hum of bees. For now, everything is green and still, contemplating rather than brooding, and Raw stoops - the small bundle held close to his chest - and goes inside.

A few feet into the gorse the path begins to descend, and the dense, prickly green is replaced by earth walls, then rock. The cold bothers Raw no more than the gorse thorns; he is built for this terrain, and his warm pelt and leathery paws reduce the chill to a pleasant coolness. He is sure-footed, even though the floor is damp with the endless drip of water seeping down from the mountains above. Khuadelin eyes see more than light, and the water that has washed through moritanium deposits has a radiance that makes the pathway bright as a moonlit night.

The same aura fills the cavern ahead. Raw holds out his totem as he enters, letting the glow bathe it. Charred wood and shimmering feather, bound together with thread-grass and a piece of the stone from this very cavern. He waits again, until the disturbance of his arrival fades, and he senses that his totem has been...there is no word for it amongst his tribe. DG might describe it as 'welcomed home', Wyatt as 'accepted'. Glitch, who can no longer make sense of the colour that magic leaves behind, would still understand the feeling of a puzzle piece clicking into place - solution and resolution.

Now, finally, Raw can place the totem. The walls of the cavern are traced over with a network of rich blue crystal, and other, older totems can be seen tucked into niches beside the veins. Some are petrified with age; some, like Raw's, are freshly-made. Since the destruction of the Sorceress, there have been many new additions.

Raw finds a good space, where two lines of crystal merge, and - having set the little bundle down - he steps back and does not move for a long time, turning his thoughts outward to feel the ripples he has made. For a moment, he is afraid - instead of diminishing they grow more intense, spreading far further than he expects. But, eventually, they do subside, and what they leave behind them feels...better.

And that is the way of things.


Chapter 18 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Tin Man ~~~~~~~~                  



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