DG was still sitting in the plush backed chair with a blank piece of paper in her lap and a pen in her hand when the suns finally set. She'd been sitting there off and on for days on end, watching Glitch sleep and trying very hard to come up with something to write. So far she had;
I hope this letter finds you well.
It had taken her almost an hour to come up with that. She frowned, listening to the clicks and whirs of monitors. She'd been keeping time by the amount of drips that the IV made instead of turning around and looking at the clock by the door. She'd heard Az breathing in the hallway but her sister had scurried off as soon as DG made to stand. Everyone in the castle was jumpy, well, everyone but the person they were all jumpy because of. DG left the sheet of paper and the pen on the nightstand as Glitch... Ambrose blinked awake. He still had that silly groggy drugged look that he'd been cultivating over the last week and a half since he'd come to. But he smiled at her, curled up on his side with his poor shaved head and bandages showing. DG had to stop cringing every time she saw them. She'd spent a good hour crying on the balcony outside the ballroom before Az found her and cried with her.
She hadn't quite understood the seriousness of this whole brain reattaching business until they'd wheeled Glitch out of the operating theater and left him to recover in his new room.
DG smiled back as she leaned forward, Glitch's finger's catching a lock of her hair and tugging gently. She grinned because it was a familiar gesture which meant he remembered and she let him lift the covers as she kicked off her slippers and curled up next to him; sliding carefully under tubes and wires until they were tucked together in a position that they had worked out over the last few days.
Usually she just fell asleep, comforted, knowing that her friend was there and alive and knew who she was. Sometimes she started crying again and those times Glitch would pet her hair and kiss her on the brow.
This time though, this time she started talking.
Babbling really, silly whispered words about Az and the palace and trials and Jeb and Raw. About how she'd been trying to write a letter to Cain but really only Jeb knew where he was now and she couldn't leave Glitch to go find him. She couldn't, not yet.
Glitch listened, toying with the ends of her hair so that she knew he was awake. He listened and sometimes he frowned and sometimes he smiled. But when she was done, he gathered her in his arms and let her fall asleep while he chewed on his lip.
His head was still fuzzy and buzzy and all sorts of those wonderful words that meant that maybe DG shouldn't leave him just yet. But he was more awake than he'd been in well... years. He'd gotten a body back at the same time he'd gotten a memory back. That was the strange thing. He remembered, everything. All the running and cold nights that Glitch had gone through. As well as all the numbers and boredom and that line of broken madness that Ambrose had wanted to cross so badly except there was still hope.
The hope that out there was a body which may still be smart enough to find him, somehow.
He had wanted to scream when the viewer prodded him awake and the first thing he knew was him. His hands, his eyes, his everything. He wanted to beg him not to leave but he saw the urgency in his other mind. The fear that if they didn't get all the numbers out and correct then there wasn't going to be any hope. Not anymore.
But that feeling, that feeling that he'd found himself again, the person that was him and whole had kept him going when he so desperately wanted to panic.
What was going to happen to him had been explained in joint by Glitch and Raw. Raw was there mostly to fill in all the words that Glitch couldn't remember and between the both of them he got the feeling of 'dangerous but worth it'.
'Worth it' almost always outweighed 'dangerous' in his experience. Anything to have back the noise and light and color. Things weren't as he remembered them. Everything was brighter, louder. He'd spent the first day of consciousness curled into a ball with the blankets over his head. People had taken to whispering around him and he'd beens grateful. It would have been so easy to just slip back into muted colors and quiet but DG was there, leaning over and tickling his face with her hair. Queen Lavender would hover at the foot of the bed just close enough that he knew she was there, and Raw would stop by to run a hand softly across a tender and aching head leaving behind a wonderful sort of numbness.
He was drifting in and around this sort of numbness when he looked over and saw the blank sheet of paper sitting innocently on his nightstand.
Dear Cain, I hope this letter finds you well...
Ambrose or Glitch, he wasn't too sure if he'd been told before he'd been mushed back together in his cranium or after, but he had been told that Cain had gone to take care of some business. The kind of business that no one was sure how long it would take or what exactly the man was doing but he kept in touch with his son and the only gossip anyone got about the ex-tin man was when Jeb came to the palace for this or that. Ambrose understood. There was only so much life that could fall apart before one had to go back and make sure they'd really found all the pieces.
He bit his bottom lip in concentration as he reached out, carefully as to not wake DG and slid the paper closer to him, fingers wrapping around the pen and pulling it along as well.
He contemplated the stunning start to the letter that DG had made as she slept tucked against his side with her face buried away from the light against his ribs. Then, propping the rather sturdy bit of paper against his knees he began to write.
It was the combination of shouting and banging that woke Cain. He knew it was Jeb for sure, once the grumbling started. But by the time his son had worked himself through the kitchen window Cain was up and dressed. There was a cry of surprise and a thud as Cain walked into the kitchen and frowned at the floor where Jeb was currently trying to invent some new curse good enough for the missing table that was usually under said window.
"The legs were rotted through, you would have fallen anyway," Cain patiently explained as he helped Jeb up.
"You could have opened the door."
"I was asleep, by the time I got myself situated you were already halfway through the window."
"I could have been a burglar or something."
Blue eyes glimmered, "not likely."
It was the truth. Even a burglar wouldn't find a good enough reason to ransack the rotten looking cabin by the white elm. Besides, Cain would have just shot them without getting out of bed.
"Come to make sure I'm not dead?"
Jeb shrugged as he rifled through the pantry which had been cleaned and restocked enough for one.
"Nah, I know you're fine. Crazy, but fine."
Jeb came back out with an apple and Cain couldn't argue with the last statement. Slowly Cain crossed his arms over his chest and smiled a bit at his son. The boy had filled out over the last three months, cleaned up and was now in a Central City Security uniform. Though most of the population still called them tin men when it came to it.
"So, why are you here? Unless it's just to eat my food and curse at tables long gone."
Jeb held up a finger, with the apple jammed in his mouth and dug around in a messenger bag he had at his side.
He produced a neatly folded letter and held it out.
Cain didn't move as he frowned at the linen colored piece of paper, sealed with a brown wax seal that he couldn't quite make out from where he was.
"It isn't from the Queen, is it?"
Jeb shook his head.
Jeb yanked the apple out of his mouth, keeping a bite as he said,
Cain took a deep breath as he finally accepted the letter, fingers tracing over the filigree initial pressed into wax,
"Ambrose? Not Glitch?"
"Not sure. I've only heard bits and pieces, mostly court gossip. DG said it's important that you read it before I say anything stupid."
There was a low pang of something deep in Cain's gut. Worry, maybe, it was still difficult to tell some emotions apart from others. They had been sliced very neatly into 'hurt' and 'numb' when he'd been in the tin suit, and things were still a bit of a jumble even now.
Carefully he slid a finger between wax and paper, popping the seal free without breaking it and unfolded careful black lines on thick paper.
The writing changed after the first line. It was neat and small, it was handwriting he'd never had a chance to see before.
I hope this letter finds you well. Since it appears that no one really knows if you're well although Jeb does his best to assure us. The polite answer I've received regarding your absence is that you're off doing tin manly things to help all of society or something. The court gossip is that you've cracked under stress and have absconded to some cave in the woods to live as a feral mountain man. I hope personally that this last one isn't as true as people are making it sound because as interesting as it would be to have you prowling around the O.Z. like some mad tribe of one. I would hope mostly for your hygienes sake that this is mere speculation. Now for my own personal theory. I think that you have things you need to do to make yourself whole, as all of us are having to do nowadays. You needn't write back to assure me that I'm correct in my assumptions. I already know that sequestering yourself off somewhere until you figure every last detail out is a very Cain thing to do, no matter how your friends worry. Note that word, Cain. Worry.
I do suppose that you've noticed or perhaps you have been plagued by as much court gossip as I have, but the surgery to 'fix' me has come and gone. I don't remember much of it as can be gathered but I've seem to come out the other end about as whole as someone in my situation can be. I believe that the thing that seems to be bother most people, though I can't see how it could possibly bother you, in fact you may hail it as an improvement, is that it's come to light that I seem utterly incapable of speech. Now this was one of the things on the list of 'very terrible things' that may come to pass should I decide to go through with having people tinkering around in my head. As a result, I suppose, I'm not as horrified as someone in my situation should be, merely annoyed. It's just another damn thing that didn't go as planned, pardon my language.
Of course now I'm beset with sobbing princesses, a worried queen, and a silent palace that I think is going to implode from the turmoil of it all. Thank Galinda, that Raw is still here or I may have had to find you in your sequestered location just to get some peace. Everyone is blaming themselves and I can't make the words to tell them that they're all being silly. I suppose if I write it out enough in large garish letters they may understand someday. You're grouped in with them Cain, I don't want to see you in the few days after you get this because you thought you needed to ride back to the castle like some shining knight in linen. What I want you to do, now I get to say what I really mean because DG is asleep and can't talk me into making you guilt ridden enough so that you come back, what I want you to do is anything you need to. You've a lot of ghosts, Cain, we all do. Put them to rest if you need to. Get lost if you need to.
Just don't get lost forever.
Still Glitch mostly Ambrose.
Cain stared at the letter for a very long time, longer than he should have maybe, because Jeb had started to shift from one foot to another with that pinched look on his face. Almost like he expected his father to be angry, to shout, to do something. Instead Cain folded the letter back up, tucking it into the pocket in his vest. Jeb blinked, though he looked rather silly as he did it, like a barn owl staring in a window.
"Well, what?" Cain asked, "It was a letter. From Ambrose."
"Did he have anything good to say? I mean, about his... condition?"
Jeb rolled his eyes and yanked his bag off his shoulder, dumping it in the corner of the kitchen before he went off to inspect the rest of the house to see what all Cain had been doing out here alone for days on end.
Cain waited a moment for Jeb to go off fretting about 'grown men' and 'silly secrets', before he let out the breath he was holding. Ambrose was right. It was just another damn thing that hadn't gone as planned. What had gone as planned had been perfect and wonderful but now, now there were all these pieces and loose ends. Zero had been taken to trial and it was quite obvious that the man was not going to see the light of day for a very, very long time. All sorts of minions and tiny rebellions had come out of the woodwork once the queen had retaken her throne. So much had to be cleaned up on a much grander scale than Cain had been ready for.
It had been such an adventure when they started, something so large and epic that Cain didn't have the luxury of getting caught up in details and mired in emotions that he could just as easily pretend weren't there. He'd fallen out of the suit into something he'd never expected and now...
Cain knew very well that he wasn't quite whole. But there wasn't any magic or surgery that was going to fix that.
Ambrose had to reflect that being rendered mute had it's advantages. First of all, no one expected him to explain anything anymore. He never had to express himself with more that a twist of his mouth or a nod of his head. Also, he'd discovered this little pout he could make that shooed everyone out of the room all at once. It was so successful he thought he should patent it.
He was currently in bed, still in bed, bedridden for so long that he thought he was going to go mad, reading. DG had been an angel and raided the library for him and even dug up a pair of spectacles that he recalled he needed, though the prescription was a bit off. He'd have to see an optometrist on top of all the other various medical personnel that breezed in and out of his bedroom like particularly annoying gnats.
No, he still couldn't talk.
No, he hadn't been particularly trying to.
Yes, his head was still a bit tender, could you kindly stop jabbing at it!?
All in all, muteness had it's advantages, but it was also awfully frustrating. He'd been scolded by the queen for a very rude gesture he'd given a doctor a few days ago as a response to some inane question about his bowel movements. Of course it was a gentle scolding, hiding a smile. Ambrose was certain that as soon as all the doctor's and their orders cleared out, there was a chance that he was going to become rather spoiled. Well, he was a hero wasn't he? Apparently there were books being written about how the O.Z. was saved and some ambitious showman wanted to do a musical or something along the lines but still as utterly ridiculous. Ambrose didn't need a musical to go lauding what he did. As far as he was concerned they all did what they had to. It was part of a theory he was developing about predetermined paradoxes. Or the 'everyone in their correct place in the universe' theory. Perhaps he'd write a paper if they ever let him out of this goddawful bed.
The door clicked and he quickly made himself presentable until he saw that it was, thankfully, DG and he slouched back down in the blankets with his spectacles on the tip of his nose. He waved a greeting before his hand returned to the lounging position it had claimed on his pillow where he idly rubbed at his shaved head, mourning the temporary loss of familiar curls.
"Hey, you. Mom says you aren't going to be allowed around the doctors anymore if you make them leave the palace."
Ambrose grinned, looking as innocently as he could. He'd wondered if the temper tantrum he'd thrown this morning had indeed any effect on the staff.
DG flopped on bed with him as he scooted over to make enough room for her between himself and his books.
"Do you need anymore books? I'm not sure the library has any more sciencey sounding ones. You may have to start reading fiction," she grinned at the face he made, adding, "Oh, I'll be sure to grab you a lot of romance. I know you love those heaving bosoms and compelling story lines."
He frowned as he tugged on her bangs, making her chuckle.
"Okay, okay, I'm here because you, out of anyone else in the palace mind you, not me or Raw or my mom, have received a telegram. From Cain."
Eyebrows shot up questioningly, as DG pulled the small blue envelope out of her sleeve. Cain had sent him a telegram? This was a momentous occasion. He fingered the little square as DG got up and sat down in the hideous paisley chair, kicking her feet.
"Well, are you going to open it?"
Ambrose would have come up with something of a retort that any word from Wyatt Cain was like a fine vintage wine that one better savor because it was the last you were ever going to get. But that required entirely too much mouthing and pantomime than he was up for at the moment. So instead he just shot her a look indicating 'patience' and tore open a little blue envelope.
GLITCH MOSTLY AMBROSE
IGNORE ALL RUMORS. JUST AS CRAZY AS I EVER WAS. YOU DON'T NEED ME TO TELL YOU HOW RIGHT YOU ARE. KEEP YOURSELF TOGETHER. DON'T LET DG PESTER YOU. SHE'LL FIGURE IT ALL OUT SOON ENOUGH.
LOST. DON'T KNOW FOR HOW LONG.
A small smile had crept across his lips, first of all, all of his theories were right. Second, Gods, Cain loved making people worry, didn't he?
"Well? Is he alright? Does it say when he's coming back?"
Ambrose pursed his lips as he folded the telegram up carefully and slipped it back in it's little blue envelope. DG crossed her arms and pouted as fiercely as she could.
"You aren't going to let me read it, are you?"
A moment passed before Ambrose smiled and shook his head. That pout didn't work on him when she was five and he'd be damned if it worked on him now.
"Dang it. Jeb didn't get to read your letter either!"
Ambrose silently chuckled as DG pounced on him, but the telegram was quickly stuffed between the mountainous pillows and DG was distracted by the idea of smuggling Ambrose down to the kitchens for an unscheduled snack which he had worked out over the course of the afternoon and detailed on a few scraps of paper.
Later Ambrose mulled the tin man's words over some sliced apples and weak tea. Cain was the sort of person that had to figure out things on his own. Ambrose just hoped that the tin man figured out that being alone was one of the worst ways to solve problems. Ambrose knew that from experience and after being Glitch, he never wanted to be alone with his problems again.
Wyatt Cain had woken up with a crick in his neck and the stars above him. He pushed himself up slowly, taking very careful inventory of the absolutely wicked hangover he was sporting. A peddler had come by and he'd purchased a few things. One of them being a rather large bottle of cider wine. Things got fuzzy after that. Cain frowned and lay back in the cool grass, realizing after a moment that he was stretched out on top of Adora's grave. Right. That's what he'd done. He'd spent the last month out here walking around a decrepit cabin like... like a ghost. Like a ghost waiting for another ghost. He pressed his hand over his eyes trying to remember the babbling words he'd said while drunk out of his mind. Nothing really made too much sense anymore, but maybe he was thinking about it too hard, or he wasn't thinking enough.
After a moment he dropped his hand to his chest and felt the crinkle of paper. He'd been moving Ambrose's letter over to different pockets as the days went by. The corners of it were becoming a bit tattered as his fingers played over the folds and toyed with the wax seal. What was wrong with him? Why was he here? What was he waiting for? There were nothing but ghosts here. It wasn't as if Adora was coming back.
It was like something shot past him then, in the dark with all the stars of the O.Z. above him.
Adora wasn't coming back.
He'd sworn vengeance on her grave. He'd promised her that anything that ever hurt them was going to pay. He'd promised that when everything was over he'd come back. But he didn't know what for.
He'd promised so many things but he'd never said goodbye.
It never occurred to him that he was going to have to.
He pushed himself up again, ignoring the headache that was looming or the fact that he'd been laying on rocks for who knew how long. He turned to the sad little wooden gravestone that he should have replaced instead of mooning around like some wounded bird. He closed his eyes and saw Adora like he remembered her, yellow ribbons over a sink full of dishes or those hazel eyes sparkling while telling Jeb a story about ghosts and desert pirates. He twisted his wedding ring in circles around his finger while he fought that welling, sickening pain in his stomach.
It was strange then how Adora faded into DG. A strange smear of something running into what had been the same scene over and over forever. Blue eyes and that insistent voice, how elated she'd been when she hugged him and how he'd forgotten what that felt like until that moment. The right out tantrum she'd thrown when he'd left.
DG faded into Jeb who faded into Raw and... Cain let go of his wedding ring to tug the letter out of his vest. He hadn't said a proper goodbye to Glitch either. He'd just waited, until he couldn't smile anymore or shake anymore hands and then he'd gone out the back door with DG yelling and Raw in the corner of the kitchens with Az. He'd looked up and seen Glitch in the conservatory window and that had been the last of anything. Until the letter. He didn't say goodbye to Glitch because he was the only one that Cain was afraid would convince him to stay.
It was another few minutes before he was able to stand, and apologize to no one, maybe himself, before he weaved back into the house.
It baffled Cain, how a bottle of cider wine and a night under the stars could change so much.
Ambrose supposed that he was listening intently over lunch about the issues that the O.Z. was facing and the actions being taken. After all he was taking very careful notes, accompanied by various doodles of prancy looking noblemen and there was one in the bottom corner of a piglet wearing Cain's hat, after a round of theories as to what the tin man was up to went around the table. DG had gone with pig farmer and that had been the end of that.
Royal lunches were always entertaining, since they never seemed to be too terribly formal but the out of town guests were still invited. The Duke of Northrop was currently blinking a bit too much as DG explained about something from the Otherside called a 'water wiggle'. Ambrose was going to have to look into that, it sounded reasonably entertaining and as if it could also be used as a weapon at any moment.
He looked up when the Queen called his name, feeling just a little bit caught since he was currently doodling the Lady Regina's latest hairstyle only with cats popping out of it like he'd been expecting when he'd first laid eyes on her.
He smiled and nodded to indicated that he was listening as the Queen fiddled with a glass.
"Just how are the plans for the reclaiming of the... the Sunseeder tower coming?"
Hells. He should have know he was going to get asked about that sooner than later. He supposed the truth would be better than anything, so a grin turned into a frowning shrug and the queen nodded,
A shake of the head confirmed it and then... wait for it...
"Well, perhaps if you allowed yourself an assistant..."
Ambrose rolled his eyes behind his notebook.
He was glad when lunch was over, slipping out of the atrium with a bow and an apologetic look as he skipped the last course. It was fine, everyone still assumed he was feeling ill from time to time. Which wasn't really true after the last few months but he'd be damned if he was going to correct anyone. Ambrose made his way up the palace stairs, not turning left to head to his own rooms, but turning right and heading up.
There were issues about the... Witch's Tower that he wasn't going to tell the Queen. First of all, how any of the blueprints anyone tried to make of it always ended up rather fundamentally incorrect, Ambrose suspected some sort of leftover magic. Second of all, how he hadn't quite got up the nerve to go into the upper stories. The issue he kept running into was that... well, it was Azkadellia's tower. She knew all the ins and outs of it. However if he were to tell that to the Queen...
Ambrose stopped outside the door held together with wrought metal in the pattern of morning glories. The Queen would tell him to work directly with Az. Which was more than impossible, if not for him then for her. He hadn't seen Az for more than five seconds at a time since the surgery.
It had been three months. Three months and all he'd seen of her was her back as she scurried away from him. She'd stopped coming to lunches and dinners when he started. He reached up and rubbed at his head, his fingers following the fused zipper that remained. His hair was growing back at least, half an inch maybe, not quite enough to curl yet, but the doctors said that he would always look like a 'zipper head'. He supposed it was a reminder of a time he shouldn't forget. However he was getting the feeling that it was directly standing in the way of Az looking at him. Which... well, which just wouldn't do.
He slid down the wall opposite the door that never opened, listening to the movement of it's occupant. It was a confused muddle of emotions when it came to Az. He'd been so angry and terrified of her when he was Glitch. Then everything came together and he was just left with this sick feeling that he should have done something. They couldn't believe Az was doing the things she was doing and... and they'd been right. It hadn't been Az, but the poor thing had been trapped there all along with that creature. He felt as if he should have known, that their sweet Az, that their patient and levelheaded Azkadee could never do the things they blamed her for. Gossip swirled around her worse than anyone else. He wasn't surprised that she hadn't come out of her room for more than a few hours at best. Sometimes he didn't want to come out of his lab at all, but he was much more easily coaxed than their Azkadee.
He waited a few moments, fingers idly toying with the corner of a small blue envelope in his coat pocket. He never quite got the courage to knock, but after a bit of thinking, he tore several pages out of his notebook and stuffed them under the door.
The suns were just deciding if they should set when Cain heard a familiar shout behind him. Jeb in civilian dress, on a cream colored horse.
"There you are! Do you know how long I've been riding up and down the Old road looking for you?"
Jeb rode up and dismounted, keeping one hand on the reins as he matched step with his father.
"I sent you a telegram."
"I know, I got it. I was just hoping to catch you before you left the cabin."
Cain tipped his hat up as Jeb dug through the saddlebag on his his horse, "Here, because apparently I'm your personal mailman."
Cain grinned as this time two envelopes were produced. One tied shut with a blue ribbon and a silver seal, with the other bearing the same brown seal.
"I'm pretty sure the first one is from DG and if it's anything like the conversation I got last week, she's looking pissed."
"I guess I should tell her something... eventually."
"You know, so I don't get yelled at on your behalf. I've taken to hiding out with Glitch when DG's on the prowl."
"Is she having trouble?"
"I guess it's just that whole becoming a princess thing. Also Az has been acting stranger."
"Stranger than normal. Rumors are flying fierce and DG thinks they're starting to affect her."
"What kind of rumors?"
"The stupid kind."
Cain frowned as he skimmed DG's letter which was indeed yelling at him as loud as a letter could. The kid was under a lot of pressure. It was going to take her some time to adjust. Most of the letter was ranting about Az and Ambrose and her mother and the tiny hope that Cain would come back and fix all of it. Cain didn't see how stepping into a mess of that magnitude with nothing but a revolver and his hat was going to solve anything. He tucked both the letters into his coat watching Jeb's eyes follow them from hand to pocket.
"Aren't you going to read Ambrose's?"
Cain nodded as they walked, "Later."
He saw the frown on his son's face that faded as they walked along in companionable silence.
"So... Why did you leave the cabin?"
"I didn't need to be there anymore."
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
Cain nodded again as Jeb followed along.
"Now where are you going?"
There was a pause and Cain hesitated just a bit while walking as Jeb toyed with his horses reins like DG toyed with the sleeves of her dress.
"How long are you going to be like this?"
That was the question of the century. The question that DG's had letter asked constantly in a hundred different ways. He hadn't known the answer to it every time he'd been asked before but now, now he had a vague idea.
Slowly, and with purpose he put his hand on his sons shoulder and there in the setting suns, he smiled,
"Just a little longer. Put up with me?"
A rolling of eyes and a nod sealed the deal.
It was long after he had seen Jeb on his way to Central, once he'd settled down on his coat with the campfire burning low that he pulled out Ambrose's letter.
Received your telegram, now DG's all in a twist because I didn't let her read it. I think she believes that it contains all life's answers. I think if you could do that in one telegram, you'd make more platinum in one afternoon than the Mystic Man ever did. You're still all rumors and theories, I'd watch out tin man, you're becoming a regular myth around the castle now. DG is constantly making up stories about your varied adventures. What are you looking for, Cain? Is it tangible? Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Maybe it's bigger than a bread box. I was always a bit terrible at guessing games.
We're having problems with Az now. Which I suppose I should be mildly grateful for; since everyone has finally stopped asking me if I'm alright, even though they know I'll never answer to their satisfaction. See the problem I'm having, and I'm not sure you can solve it, is that I have the sinking feeling that she's hiding from me. We thought she was doing well but the second I started traipsing around she was gone like a ghost. I don't know how to tell her everything is going to be alright. It's rather difficult to find words that you know you're never going to get to say. I've taken to writing her letters like this one and slipping them under her door. I don't know if it's doing any good. I don't suppose you have any tips on getting reticent princesses out of their rooms?
But here I am, blathering on like the wash women that work down in the kitchens. So here are our luncheon theories, you are either gallivanting around the O.Z. kicking in doors and being a general folk hero/nuisance rooting out evil where it hides. Or, this is DG's current prevalent theory, you have absconded to some remote valley where you are currently the proprietor of a rather prosperous pig farm. This will occasionally change to a vineyard if she's feeling generous enough. Of course it really only takes one stern look to get Jeb to spill everything. You might want to have a discussion with him about telling secrets under duress. You know I'm quite disappointed with you, Cain. You were supposed to be the sanest one out of all of us. A little cold, certainly, but you knew which way was up and I suppose, in the case of the Northern Palace, which way was down. You'll never know how much I fretted about finding you out in the snow like that. But perhaps, I am saying too much, being too judgmental. I never seem to get to go on these long rants anymore unless you're involved.
Take care, Cain. Don't break down too many doors or fuss over too many made up pigs or grapes. I'd say the best advice I can give you is, if you're lost, try going back to the beginning.
Glitch or Ambrose, depending on the hour.
The fire had died down to the point of embers and Cain leaned forward to prod at it and toss a few more bit of found debris on it. He folded the letter up carefully and tucked it into his coat along with the first. He couldn't imagine Ambrose silent. Sitting mutely by the Queen, which he was bound to be. Maybe that's why the letters were oddly comforting. Glitch wasn't Glitch, and Ambrose wasn't Ambrose without that nattering wall of words that came with him.
Cain wasn't as comfortable with change as he used to be. When change meant that men could come to your house and lock you up and drag away your family one tended to shy away. One tended to find the familiar, the... beginning. Cain thought a bit as he leaned back and stared at what stars he could see, his fingers brushing over the spot on his hand where his wedding ring used to be.
...if you're lost, try going back to the beginning.
It wasn't much, but it was a little bit more than Cain had started out the day with.
In about three seconds Ambrose was going to crack under pressure and roll his eyes. In that moment the Queen was going to know that he wasn't taking her conversation seriously at all.
"I mean it Ambrose, if you need any assistance at all you only need to ask."
He sighed and scribbled down in his notebook.
It is fine your majesty, I've just run into some unforeseen complications. Nothing that DG can't help with.
See, there, written in black and white. DG was helping. He was fine.
Queen Lavender frowned and Ambrose knew that if he didn't control his body language he was going to be ending up having to write a lot more than a few sentences to his Queen.
"I would like it very much if we were able to dismantle that tower before the solstice. Now, DG said something about magic?"
Hell. He wrote quickly, knowing that sooner or later DG was going to give up everything and they were going to have to tell her mother that the only way to get into the very upper floors of the witches tower was to have Az do it. Something he'd never ask her to do in a million years. He'd said as much in his letters to her.
There seems to be a touch of magic on some of the doorways. It baffled DG for a bit but we think were really making headway now.
"Have you spoken to Azkadellia about it?"
Son of a... Various words that he most likely picked up as Glitch in the realm of the unwanted flitted through his mind as a thin smile graced his features.
I didn't wish to bother her with something so trivial, you majesty.
"She still isn't seeing you then?"
He blinked as Queen Lavender walked a bit ahead of him, her skirts trailing along the pathways of the conservatory. Her hand came out to flitter across the dormant roses and Ambrose watched them bloom, wishing everything could be so easy. He opened his mouth and then closed it, finally settling for just shaking his head when the Queen turned her gaze back towards him.
Lavender smiled, sweetly, sadly, and continued their walk after claiming a sprig of thyme from the garden wall.
"Rumors are circulating that Azkadellia isn't doing as well as we all hoped. Some people are claiming that she still feels the call to dark magics, and others claim that it isn't possible for a girl to live through what the witch did in those times. But do you know what I think, Ambrose?"
Another silent shake of the head.
"I think you do. I think you know that she's scared and more than a little ashamed of things she couldn't control. I think that out of anyone in this castle Ambrose, the one person she needs the most is the one she's been avoiding."
There weren't words to counter what the Queen said. It was just a jumble of 'no's' and 'that can't be rights' rumbling around in his head. There were a hundred ways he wanted to beg off, to turn the conversation around... But it was difficult, now that all he had were glances and ink. Finally, he simply scratched out on his notebook.
I don't know how.
This seemed to only make his Queen smile as she tucked the sprig of thyme into the buttonhole on his lapel.
"You're smart, Ambrose, you'll think of something."
Honestly he just wanted to have a little fit of his own. Maybe he wanted to run away from people and lock himself in his room for all hours of the day! A silent yell and a rather violent throwing of his notebook accompanied his frustration. Of course then it was just him in the hallway looking absolutely crackers as a maid came around the corner and froze.
She stood wide-eyed for a moment before looking down at the notebook that had landed at her feet and then came,
"Mr. Ambrose, are you well?"
That was the most hilarious question he heard all day. He'd laugh if he could, but instead he just let out a breath and nodded.
She smiled politely in her brown dress as she retrieved his notebook containing notes and drawing and one side of every conversation he'd had this month, handing it back with a bit of a blush as he bowed his thanks.
But before he could turn and make as dignified as an exit as he could manage she spoke up, "Oh, wait, before you go Mr. Ambrose, you've a telegram. Just came in this morning."
He blinked slowly as a familiar little blue envelope was fished out of an apron pocket and held out to him. As soon as he caught the words WYATT CAIN, the telegram was out of the maids hands and he'd left her blinking in the hall after a very sudden hug.
Ambrose tucked himself in an alcove in the library, his body folding up neatly behind a marble statue of some long dead prince with diamonds on his chest. He'd given that letter to Jeb weeks ago! Weeks and just now he'd gotten a reply. First he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was a shame that Cain only sent telegrams. The man seemed to know just how to get the smallest amount of communication through no matter the medium. God forbid he write a letter, or 'gasp!' find a telephone. What kind of horrible conversation would that be, listening to Cain stammer on one end while Ambrose vainly remained quiet on the other. Perhaps he could communicate with Morse code.
With a flourish and not another though, Ambrose opened the envelope.
AMBROSE OR GLITCH
WAS NEVER GOOD AT GUESSING GAMES EITHER. FOR THE RECORD I HAVE ONLY KICKED IN ONE DOOR. AND IT WAS MINE TO KICK. CAN'T SAY A LOT ABOUT AZ. TRY TAKING HER DOOR OFF THE HINGES. I'LL BRING DG BACK A PIG.
STILL LOST, BUT I THINK I'VE GOT A MAP NOW.
If Ambrose could have made any noise he would have been laughing like a madman. Perhaps he'd been wrong, perhaps Cain was still the sanest out of all of them.
In truth Cain had only kicked in one door since he'd left the palace, and it had been the back door to his own cabin. He'd waffled about going in the front. Well aware that he would have to walk by the tin suit that well... started everything. After about twenty minutes of indecision he'd gone around back and found the door locked. Now he could have been a grown up about this and conquered the unease in his gut about the suit. Or he could just kick the damn door in.
If anyone argued, he would bring up the fact that Ambrose was the one who put the idea in his mind.
So now he'd taken to haunting yet another ramshackle reminder of a past life. Only this time he knew what he was here for. The trick was getting himself to do it. First he cleaned the cabin, salvaging what furniture he could and tossing what he couldn't in the fire that burned cheerily in the kitchen grate. The living room was uninhabitable as was the bedrooms. Thankfully the water closet in the back had stood strong. Once he'd finished cleaning he got up the nerve to walk to the nearest town and send Ambrose a telegram. He'd sat there until the suns set trying to think of anything to say to DG that didn't mean he was a silly fool for worrying her. After awhile he decided that it was something she already knew so he walked back.
He'd been there almost three weeks before he finally walked around the house far enough to actually see it. It had glinted in the sun, hanging open just like it had been the day DG let him out. He'd seen tin suits before... after. But this was different, this was turning the corner and seeing the dog that bit you. Sure, you'd seen other dogs before that, but none of them had been exactly that one. He'd stood for a moment, as suddenly the TDESPTL loop of that damned day began playing on infinite in his mind. He was only saved from collapsing by the sudden vision of DG running into the middle of it all, two pairs of eyes peering through a circle of glass, and then... he was free. He was free. Cain took a deep breath and then he just let himself give in, to this crazy blinding anger, because there wasn't anyone else there to see him yelling, cursing, and generally making a fool of himself.
The suit was cold and there was no give to it on this side either. He wanted to hit it, he hated it, he... He stopped as he slammed his shoulder against the back of it and it shifted. It had rained the other day, the suit was sitting in mud and in another moment so was Cain, digging frantically underneath it. Pushing at the metal stakes that held it in it's place until it fell over suddenly with a hollow bang, making him scramble backwards, his hands and pants muddy. He blinked and stood, it was only another ten minutes to get it dragged over to the lake, slipping now and then until with a final effort the twisted suit of metal and glass tumbled down the slope, sliding into the murky water without a trace.
Cain sat on the edge of the lake watching the last of the bubbles dissipate across the dark surface of the lake. He was wet, cold, and covered in mud. He'd scraped his left knee at some point and his knuckles were raw and red. But he felt strangely light.
Cain went out the front door the next morning. He stood on the porch drinking coffee out of a traveling cup and his eyes roamed over the yard where the rain had washed away all traces of any struggle that had occurred the day before.
His hands would be sore for awhile yet, but they would heal.
It was an odd morning when Azkadellia returned from a sunsrise raid of the kitchens and found the door to her room completely gone.
She stood in the hall for a moment, looking left and right, but not seeing anything that could be considered a clue to what had happened. Slowly she calculated that she hadn't been in the kitchens for that long. A few minutes at most. DG could have done it, with magic. But Az wasn't so sure her sister had learned something like that yet.
After a moment longer she stepped into her room, and blinked as her hand went to automatically close a door that wasn't there. So instead she crossed her room and sat down at her desk, where she had been mostly the last few months. There were letters and drawing scatter all across it, not all of them hers. Empty plates with bits of this and that. Her slippered toes skimmed the ground as she leaned back in her chair, her hair drifting back and forth as she rocked. Gingerly she picked up a small tin of violet flavored pastilles and turned them in her hand, listening to the noise they made as she ate an apple tart and waited to see who would come through her open door.
DG was the first. Stopping in the doorway and blinking, looking as if she had gone a bit mad for a moment.
"What happened to your door?"
Az just shrugged, rocking back and forth in the chair by her desk. She watched DG step inside her room, and then jump out before jumping back in again with such a silly grin on her face that Az couldn't help but smiling. They spent an hour talking about silly things with Az in her chair and DG sprawled across the foot of her bed.
Father came in that afternoon, with a lunch tray balanced in his hands. The lunch tray that usually got left out in the hall. Instead it was brought in and placed on a free spot on Az's desk. She leaned into his touch as he hugged her from behind and kissed the top of her head.
Maids came by, blinking and pausing before continuing on their business. Some of the braver ones asked her if she needed anything.
Mother came in after lunch, bringing a bouquet of flowers in a vase and telling her about the scene that DG had made at lunch when she'd tripped over her dress and taken the Lord of Mellenclore down with her. Azkadellia listened and laughed while her mother brushed her hair and pinned it up.
She got dressed in her bathing room before dinner and stopped for a moment, staring at the girl in her looking glass. At the reflection that didn't shimmer or change or do something that she wasn't. Slowly she lifted her fingers and traced the lines of her face in the glass. Quietly she stepped out of her room, pausing at the threshold just for a moment before making her way down the stairs and stopped at the hallway that led down to the dining room. Instead she turned and walked down the hall that she hadn't been allowed down when she was little. Remembering a time when her and DG would stand at the end of it and yell until Ambrose stuck his head out of the room at the other end.
Azkadellia swallowed, as she made her way to the end of the hall, her hand prepared to knock... but the door was already open.
Ambrose was sitting at his desk, scribbling in a notebook as he shuffled through some papers covered with numbers and equations. He was half dressed for dinner, his coat thrown over the end of his bed. Next to his desk was her door, leaning against the wall.
A moment passed before his hand paused in writing and he slowly turned around. Az felt like she was frozen to the spot, the zipper gleaming in the setting suns. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run, but he had her door...
Then, as suddenly as the sun breaks through clouds, he grinned and a thousand memories, good memories, memories of Ambrose telling her why the grass was green and how music boxes worked, broke through.
Just like that she burst into tears and he was there to catch her before she fell. He let her cry and babble about how sorry she was and how he should never forgive her. But he just rocked her back and forth, rubbing his hand in circles on her back until she started to hiccup just like when she'd been small.
She'd wiped her face with her sleeves until he produced a handkerchief from somewhere and put it in her hands. There weren't words to explain what the witch had done to them. So, luckily, there didn't need to be any words to undo it. Az was still sniffing a bit as Ambrose gathered his coat and notebook and walked her down to dinner.
"Maybe we should just tear it down."
Ambrose nodded with his eyes closed, as Az tutted to herself and rifled through blueprints marking out what parts were correct and which weren't and where you had to tape them together to get something workable.
DG was perched on a stool in his workshop, going over all the notes they'd taken while investigating the tower. Including where traps were still active and what halls didn't have power and therefore were extra creepy.
Az frowned from her place sitting on the floor next to Ambrose who was sprawled out both on top and under papers,
"If we just tear it down, it won't get rid of the magic. We have to do that first."
DG groaned, "But that's the hard part."
Az blew a lock of hair out her eyes, "I know."
The three of them had spent all morning de-magic-ing doors and disabling machinery all the while trying to leave rooms like the alchemy hall and the cells for last.
"You know what we need?" DG said, "We need to make someone else do this."
"Mother's too busy, father and tutor are going to be in the city this week, Raw's gone to bring Kalm home, Jeb laughed at the idea, and no one else can be trusted."
Az rested her chin on the tops of her knees and frowned. DG mimicked her, tucking her feet up on top of the stool and spinning herself slowly while frowning.
Ambrose was content to lie among papers, he'd spent the day peering into the tangled insides of something he half remembered inventing but not to do that at the same time hiding quickly behind Az and DG's combined shield every time something magic went off with a bang or a hiss or a cloud of purple.
Ambrose jerked with a start when DG cried out. Now that wasn't very fair, they had decided that they weren't going to guilt him into coming back... Tower or not. But then DG was off the stool and jumping over him like some woodland deer and Az had stood to peer out the workshop window.
"Well, it certainly looks like him."
Ambrose was a scrambling ball of limbs in a pile of paper and he shoved his spectacles up on his head at the same time he spotted the familiar shape plodding through the melted wet of the Northern Island.
Couldn't be. Had to be.
He joined DG's rush down to the back door with Az in her lace skirts behind him. He let her slide ahead as he paused in the hall, just taking in the sight of Wyatt Cain coming through the kitchen door. With that damn hat and those blue eyes. That smile was new, that smile that Glitch had only seen once or twice as DG stopped in the middle of the kitchen, breathless and grinning.
"Are you better?" She blurted and Cain laughed as he opened his arms and let her pounce on him.
"Yeah, kid, I'm better."
The next few minutes were a blur. A piglet was indeed produced for DG. A Miniature Gillikin pot belly to be exact and Ambrose was at the same time scolded for telling Cain her silly theory and praised because the thing was just so cute. Az got a hug as well and a gift of embroidered ribbons which she held crushed to her chest all the while blushing furiously at yet another person that wasn't mad at her at all.
Then time seemed to catch up with Ambrose because Cain was looking at him, his blue eyes soft and Ambrose felt his stomach do a flip as a small smile brightened the tin man's features,
"I wasn't sure what you'd like."
There were a thousand things Ambrose wanted to say and he was glad he couldn't because they all paled in the face of just walking two steps and throwing his arms around Cain.
A thousand little pieces clicked into place when Cain hugged him back.