“One hundred…. Ninety-nine…. Ninety-eight…. Ninety-seven….”
He couldn’t move. Couldn’t struggle.
“Ninety-one…. Ninety… Eighty-nine….”
His vision swirled and faded, but he didn’t need it to know what was coming, and he never stopped feeling. That hadn’t been the purpose of the drugs. They wanted him aware—just still and silent and helpless and—
“Seventy-six…. Seventy-five…. Seventy-four….”
His mind, always his strength, the one thing that had never failed him, was working faster than ever, but rather than coming up with a solution, it was simply anticipating what was coming. Even without vision he could tell where they were, could feel the rhythm of their dance as they prepared for the surgery.
“Fifty-nine…. Fifty-eight…. Fifty-seven….”
There was anticipation in the voice behind the clinical tone. He knew Vy-Sor too well—had trained that clinical detachment, but had dropped him as an apprentice when it became apparent to him that Vy-Sor was a little too intrigued by hurt rather than healing. And, oh, Vy-Sor was enjoying it now, having the tables reversed, his old boss on the table with the knives about to start….
“Thirty-four…. Thirty-there…. Thirty-two….”
If he could have screamed, he would have. It was no abundance of pride that kept his lips sealed and his vocal chords lax, but only the carefully administered drugs. And it wasn’t fear of the pain. No, he could take pain. He could accept it and overcome it and move on and survive, whatever the scar. If they were taking his hands, he could build new hands. If they were taking his life—well, then that would be that. But they were taking his
brain, and he was going to be a halfwit,
literally a halfwit—
“Eleven…. Ten.… Nine….”
He was going to be one of the people he’d always pitied, he’d always pleaded against headcasing people as a punishment because the idea was so horrifying, but he understood the necessity, and now—
“Four…. Three…. Two.…”
it was to be
His thought froze as still as his body when the first knife carved its delicate path across his skull, and then there was no thought at all, only horror and terror and—
--pain and fear and more fear and more fear and more—
--more fear and more fear and more fear and—
His eyes snapped open and he could see and he wasn’t on the table, he was lying on a couch in the green sitting room and Cain was looking down at him with concerned eyes, hands hovering over his shoulders.
He didn’t have to touch the top of his head to feel the itch of healing tissue that had replaced the strange, tight feeling of the zipper. And he didn’t need even that sensation to tell him that his brain was back and whole, the very thought that he could think it was enough. He was, of course, capable one more of thinking and covering at the same time.
“Oh, goodness,” he murmured, looking around. “I fell asleep here? I’m glad you
came and woke me rather than the queen finding me here. I don’t know what
I was thinking.”
A look of frustration and confusion chased itself across Cain’s face, and the hands didn’t withdraw. They didn’t touch his shoulders either, and he tried to decide whether or not he wanted them to. “Are you okay?”
“Of course—I was only sleeping. Was I… seeming uncomfortable?”
Cain studied him with those sharp eyes, trying to pull the truth from him from sheer force of will. “You were perfectly still,” he stated.
“Well, I was sleeping
“You weren’t sleeping-still—you were dead
-still. I wasn’t even sure you were breathing
“Well, you wouldn’t be the first to say I slept like the dead,” Ambrose said with a hint of a frosty smile as he rose to his feet, the hands flinching back from his movement and falling awkwardly back to Cain’s sides. “At any rate, thank you for waking me—I have so many duties, I can’t imagine what got into me to take a rest here.” In fact, he knew exactly what had gotten into him.
“You didn’t! You tossed and turned and snored worse than the bloody Viewer!”
He offered another cool, impersonal smile, and murmured, “That was another man. Thank you again. And, as I said, I must return to work.”
“You’re working too hard.”
There is much to be done.”
don’t have to do all of it.”
“No,” he agreed. “Only my part. Excuse me.”
And Cain fell aside with a defeated expression as Glitch--Ambrose
swept towards the door and then out, hands automatically smoothing his rumpled tunic.
He had no difficulty finding work. He never
had any difficulty finding work, and always felt guilty when the queen and king and the princesses thanked him for his tireless efforts, as though he were doing more than he ought. As if he hadn’t caused all of this. And it was worse, even, than that. If he were working so hard in some effort to redeem himself, to heal the damage he’d caused, well and good. But he wasn’t. He was working—tirelessly, he mentally snorted the term—because the moment his mind and body weren’t fully occupied, he started thinking
. And, worse, if he stayed still, if he let himself lie down, as he so foolishly had on the sofa, thinking perhaps his sense of decorum would stop the brief break from becoming something else—he would sleep
. And that was something he was trying very, very hard not to do. Because when he slept, he dreamed.
Being Ambrose had been a wonderful thing. He had known it when he was
Ambrose, and he had suspected it when he was Glitch, and he certainly knew it now. He had been smart
. Not just smart, but a genius. And not just a genius, but a good
man. He really had been. All of his efforts had been for good, and they had flowered
. He had brought so many wonderful, wonderful things to the O.Z. and to the queen he had worshipped.
He had been a bit of a geek, yes, and something of a wallflower at parties where everyone assumed that anyone with as much intelligence as he had could not also contain any physical graces, but he hadn’t cared
. Not much. Other things had been more important, and the things that mattered he had excelled
He had never been content
, exactly, but he had never wanted
to be. He had too much energy for mere contentedness, too many ideas
. Sitting on his laurels had never appealed to him when he could, instead, move on to the next project and drive himself mad making it work and then bask in the euphoria of success.
He had loved being Ambrose.
Being Glitch had been a wonderful thing. He had feared it far, far worse than death when he was Ambrose, had hated it with a passion when he was Glitch, but now he knew how wonderful it had been. It was the one time in all his life when he had been able to live in the present. Not entirely. He’d known that there was
a past he had lost and a future he somehow hoped to achieve, but mostly he just knew what was in front of him, what he was experiencing.
More than that, he’d been free
. He’d said and done whatever he wanted, had never feared the reactions of others because it didn’t occur to him to fear them. He’d feared things
, but not thoughts
. He’d forgotten what thoughts were really like, how much power they had, so he didn’t have to worry about them. He’d been able to love his companions freely and wholly because he had no brain between heart and mouth, heart and hand. And sometimes that was good.
Most of all though, had been the glorious lack of memories. He had trouble remembering the things he’d known as Ambrose, but he also had trouble remembering things that happened when he was Glitch. And that, he now knew, had been a wonderful thing.
He missed being Glitch.
He didn’t know who he was now, but it was horrible. Ambrose had never imagined it was possible to be this new him. It had been Glitch’s only true wish. But now it was a nightmare. He had all of Ambrose’s intelligence, but none of his ideas, none of his innocence. All of Glitch’s emotions, but none of his freedom. And he had the memories of both. The good and the bad. And it all hurt
The good memories were so pale and weak, the bad ones surrounding and shouting them out. Fifteen years he’d been Glitch. Bumbling aimlessly through the world with a zipper on his head, a vague expression, and all the self-preservation instincts of a—well, he couldn’t think of anything, honestly. Even newborns had more sense than he had sometimes shown. And he hadn’t learned
, had had no way to learn because his brain just wasn’t all there, so he’d kept making the same mistakes, over and over, and oh god, they’d taught him lessons, but he hadn’t remembered them. Not then. Over and over again had trusted anyone who smiled at him or spoken a kindly word or two. Had believed their lies and followed them and—
He jerked himself out of memories he’d rather have never recovered and forced himself to move purposefully through the door he’d reached and bow gracefully to the queen, ignoring the worried eyes of her younger daughter next to her. “Majesty, I apologize for my absence—I lost track of time. Has the delegation from Central City arrived?”
She smiled warmly at him, the same smile she had worn in days of old, and he bit back the bitter taste of resentment that she could so easily return to what she had once been. “No, my dear Ambrose, they have sent a message ahead that they are delayed by the damage done the bridge, and shall not reach us before the morrow. But I fear I have overlooked how hard you are working, you’re looking drawn. Have a meal and an early night, we need you healthy more than we need you now
“I’m quite well, your majesty—“
She smiled, shot a glance at her daughter and then shared a smile with him. “Humor us, my old friend. My angel worries over you, and I would have her fears set to rest. Let us coddle you a bit. Will you dine with us?”
“No, really, there is so much to do—“
“There is so much that has been done,” she said, her eyes growing more serious, a hint of concern finally touching them, and he knew he had overplayed his hand, and she had finally started to understand her daughter’s fears. “Everything else can come slowly, for it will come steadily.”
“Of course,” he said, forcing a smile to his lips. “You must forgive my zeal, it is just so wonderful to have everything—back to normal. But you’re right, I’m a bit fatigued. Indeed, Cain just found me asleep in the sitting room,” he admitted with a smile she shared, her worry fading again, though DG’s didn’t, he noticed, daring a glance her way. “I think I shall
turn in, if it won’t be any inconvenience?”
“No, we need you, but not, as I say, for every moment of every day. Rest, my friend.”
He offered another bow to both of them, turned, and left the room, making his way to his quarters, managing not to drag his feet despite the dread that clung to them, trying to slow him. He kept his shoulders straight and his head high, and he smiled polite greetings to everyone he passed. And then he entered his room and closed the door and looked anxiously around for anything
he could focus on to keep himself from giving in to the heaviness of his eyelids.
Sitting in his uncomfortable desk chair, he opened the tome before him and began, again, to read everything that was written about the surgery used to create headcases and to redeem them. There had been two instances of re
creating headcases. The first had been redeemed by friends, outlaws, his brain stolen from the prison it was held in and given back to him, then removed again when he was captured a second time. The other time had been when the convict had been falsely accused, redeemed—and had proven himself capable of worse than the crime he had been proved not to have committed after all.
Both had died. And, reading the materials, it seemed clear that any more would die as well. It simply wasn’t possible. The brain went through too much trauma, both on the removal and the reinsertion. Taking it back out was impossible. Asking for it to be removed again would be requesting doctor assisted suicide.
If he thought there was a chance the request might be granted, he might ask anyway.
He closed his aching eyes, digging the heels of his palms into them, and then forced them open again, forced them to focus on the words that swam before him. Swam like a face as the drugs kicked in. “Count back from one hundred. Ninety-nine….”
The familiar nightmare washed back over him, drowning him again in paralysis and terror and—
“Dammit, Glitch, wake up
He could feel hands on his arms, which was wrong, wrong because there were bonds, but not hands
The blow knocked his face sharply to the side, and his eyes snapped open in shock, because of course
they wouldn’t do that, what it would do to his brain was-- “Come now, Cain, this time I’m in my own bedroom! What better place is there to sleep?” he demanded, recovering himself almost before he was broken from the nightmare.
And Cain’s eyes were worried and determined and intense. “What were you dreaming about?”
“I just drifted off,” he pointed out. “Dreams usually don’t come till later in the cycle.”
“You were dreaming,” Cain said, daring him to deny it. “Tell me what about.”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I’m getting really sick of your lies, headcase.”
He flinched at the word, not at the implied insult but at the longing it filled him with, and he jerked away from Cain and stood, shooting a pointed look at his open door. “I’m not sure what misguided concern led you to enter uninvited,” he said, “but since I’m fine, I’d be grateful if you’d be on your way. I’m under orders from the queen to sleep.”
“Then why were you at your desk rather than in your bed?” Cain demanded.
“I was going there shortly. As soon as I finished—“ His eyes went to his desk for inspiration, but, unfortunately, Cain’s went as well—and for all that he wasn’t a genius, nobody would ever describe Cain as a fool.
His eyes widened and he stared at the open book in disbelieving horror.
Ambrose slammed it and shoved it behind him.
“What the hell
are you thinking?” Cain asked, each word spoken slowly and deliberately.
“More than you can comprehend,” he said, the attempted levity coming out more as bitterness. “I am
a genius, you know.”
Cain stepped forward, looming over him, glaring down. “You’d die
“Everyone dies,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve no reason to believe I’ll do so any time soon.”
“You will if you try to reverse the operation!”
“Well, why would I do a ridiculous thing like that?” he asked, forcing a laugh. “All I wanted was my brain back.”
“And now you have it.”
“And now I have it,” he agreed. “And when a man has everything he desires, he is, by definition, content. So if you would be so kind as to leave me to my contentedness, I shall follow my queen’s order and get some rest.”
“Tell me,” Cain demanded.
“Tell you what? The queen’s order? I already did.”
“Tell me,” he repeated, the demand replaced by a plea.
Ambrose closed his eyes to beg for patience, and for a horrifying second wasn’t sure he could open them again. “There’s nothing to tell.”
me,” Cain begged, taking both his hands, his grip huge and strong and impossibly hot. “What could make you want
“Nobody was ever redeemed after so long a time half-brained,” Cain said. “There was concern you wouldn’t survive the return, but you wanted it so very much, and the queen couldn’t bear to see—to see Glitch
looking at her through her favorite advisor’s eyes. And so she gave in despite everyone’s misgivings.”
“I was there,” he said sharply. “And, as you can see, I survived the return.”
He barked a short laugh. “Now I’m
the crazy one? I’m sane.” He was almost sure it was true, actually. He could feel the shapes of his thoughts, and they were regular, logical, constant. He wasn’t crazy—just miserable.
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Cain said sharply, his hands squeezing painfully on the smaller ones in his grasp.
“Then what do
you think? No—don’t answer that. Just go away. I’m tired
“Why?” Cain demanded.
“Maybe because you woke me up the last two times I fell asleep!”
“You were having nightmares
“Then what were you dreaming about?”
“Just—counting,” he said, rolling his eyes. And then he caught the horror in Cain’s eyes and swore inwardly. He never forgot anything, but he’d forgotten for that one critical instant that Cain had seen that memory, had seen the start of the procedure.
“Oh my god, that’s what it’s done, isn’t it?” Cain said softly. “You can’t—the memory is right there now. Unescapable.”
“I really don’t want to talk about it.”
Cain’s grip on his hands moved to his shoulders and he gently forced him across the room and then pushed him down, onto the bed that hadn’t been slept in in over two weeks. “Tell me.”
“Want to talk about it. I know.” Cain turned and for a moment Ambrose—Glitch—whoever-he-was thought he was actually giving in and leaving, but instead he closed the door, came back, and dropped to crouch before Ambrose, taking his hands again and looking up into his eyes, expression fierce. “Tell
“You’ve seen it. And besides, I don’t even dream it that often
,” he complained.
Cain’s eyes grew more worried instead of less. “There are other dreams then?”
“How could you get that from those words?” he demanded. “That’s not a rational leap of thought!”
“It is when I can see how little you’ve been sleeping, and if that dream doesn’t come often enough to be preventing you, than others must be,” Cain stated, saying the words as though he were talking to Glitch, the halfwit, instead of to Ambrose.
Strangely, the distinction was almost comforting. “I miss not forgetting everything,” he admitted, too exhausted to keep up the fight.
“What did you forget?”
“What do you wish you could continue to forget?” he asked patiently.
,” he whispered again.
“Everything? The—the curing of the Tri-Green Rash the queen was talking about the other day?” Cain asked, a hint of a smile on his lips as he tried to lighten the tone slightly.
“Why?” Cain asked, surprised. “Was that a bad memory?”
,” he said. “They all
“Why?” he said again, transferring both of Ambrose’s hands to one of his and reaching up to touch his cheek with the other, drawing the eyes down to his own. “Why do they hurt?”
“Because I am not that man! I can’t do
“You could,” he said, the quiet faith in his voice reflected in his eyes. “You’re as smart as ever you were.”
“I am,” he admitted. “But the—the energy, it’s gone. The ideas
. The little epiphanies that let me create
. I haven’t had an idea
since I came back, Cain.”
Cain was frowning, not angry, but thoughtful, trying to understand. “But you haven’t needed
to—we haven’t needed
any new inventions or—or plans, or—“
“I’ve never needed
them before! I didn’t have them on demand, I had them all the time. We didn’t need
the sunseeder, I just had this marvelous idea, so I tinkered with it until I knew it would work. We didn’t need
—most of the things I made we didn’t need. They just… were ideas.”
Cain stared at him steadily, brows drawn together, hand still lightly touching his cheek, the other firmly gripping his hands. “That’s not what’s upsetting you,” he stated. “I could—I think—understand if it was. But it’s not.”
Ambrose couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Tell me,” he said, the tone so quiet Ambrose barely heard it.
He didn’t want to answer. Didn’t think he was going to until he heard himself speaking. The words slow and unsteady, jerky. “The good memories are bad,” he said softly. “But the bad
memories—I can’t—I can’t escape them.”
“That’s not enough?”
“Not to bring down such a man as you. No.”
He looked back at Cain, trying to interpret the words, but his mind was strangely sluggish and he didn’t know what it meant, and couldn’t bring himself to care very much. “They hurt
me,” he said softly, barely recognizing his own voice.
“Who did?” The anger wasn’t for him. The protectiveness was.
“Everyone,” he admitted, letting his eyes drift closed, feeling the moisture, achingly hot, in their corners.
“All the time. I kept—I practically asked
“I did. I’d go anywhere
. Just walk into the worst sections of town and trust
“When you were Glitch,” he said softly.
Ambrose managed a jerky nod.
“And you didn’t learn because you couldn’t learn. And so you trusted men you otherwise wouldn’t have—and they hurt you.”
The words weren’t said judgmentally, but he flinched away from them anyway.
The hand on his cheek moved, a square thumb sweeping just below his eye, collecting tears, and he squeezed his eyes tight, fighting an instinct to jerk away screaming. “They won’t hurt you any more.”
“I know.” He did. He was excruciatingly aware that the tortures his mind fabricated were entirely in the past were extremely
unlikely ever to be revisited upon him. It just didn’t help.
“Look at me.”
Reluctantly, he forced his eyes open to meet the tin man’s, all too aware of the tears on his cheeks and the defeated collapse of his shoulders.
“I won’t let
them hurt you.”
He couldn’t look away, completely mesmerized by the fierce intensity in the blue eyes.
Cain slowly rose, his knees creaking audibly as he finally straightened them, and he sat on the edge of the bed, gently pushing on Ambrose’s shoulders until he reluctantly gave in and lay down. “You need to sleep,” he said.
He felt panic welling, felt his mouth open to start wording an argument that would convince even the tin man, but a hand was lain across his lips, and stern blue eyes held his steadily.
“No arguments. I’m staying right here, and I will not
let you be hurt.”
“How can you—“
“Don’t you worry about how. That’s my problem. You sleep. I protect.”
He wanted desperately to argue, but he was just so damn
tired, and his exhausted blink lengthened as he couldn’t get his eyes to open again, and then he was falling….
It was the two men with the friendly smiles and the jackals’ eyes and the matching green jackets and the invitation for a drink, and he was smiling back, glad to be among friends, and—
“I’m with you. Nobody else. They can’t hurt you.” The voice was softly spoken directly into his ear, impossible to disbelieve that it was there, and was accompanied by an arm around his shoulder and the green-coated men shared a glance and then they took off, and Glitch looked up at the tin man, frowning.
“We were just going to get a drink.”
“Not tonight,” he said firmly. “Nobody can hurt you tonight.
He frowned, confused, knowing that something wasn’t the way it ought to be, but the thought escaped him and he smiled up at his companion—except nobody was there and the street was dissolving into a wash of colors and darkness—
Time and again his dreams were interrupted by that touch and voice, each time confusing him because why was Cain being so protective when nothing was happening
, and why did he keep entering his dreams at all
, when he never had before, not since they started, and why—
When he woke, he felt more rested than he had since he’d last known what to call himself. He lay still, trying to understand what had happened, and just enjoying the sense of not being in a riptide of fatigue, about to be pulled under at any minute. His bed was warm and comfortable, and it took him a minute to remember what was strange, but finally he opened his eyes and turned to see Cain seated at the desk, arms crossed over his chests, staring at him with an expression of perfect patience.
Cain studied him for a long moment, then said, “Feeling better?”
“I—much,” he admitted. “But—“
“Good. Ready for breakfast?”
“I’m not really—“
“Excellent. I’ll have it fetched.”
He did, ignoring Ambrose’s objections, an action that grew into a trend as he continued to ignore them as he served a huge platter of food to him and then watched insistently as he ate it. And continued, still, to obey when Ambrose asked him to leave the room to let him dress. And then refused to let him out of bed for longer than it took to relieve himself, and, indeed, told him to go back to sleep.
“But I’m rested
! I feel better than I have in weeks
“Excellent. Think how much better you’ll feel when you’ve actually
slept enough,” he said dryly.
“You can’t do this! The queen—“
“Has remanded you into my care,” Cain said, giving him a slow smile.
“Was convinced by DG that you were, in fact, overtired and very upset about something. And, at DG’s recommendation, agreed that I could watch over you and see to you until you were ready to return to duties.”
“You were considering suicide
,” Cain said sharply, his tone suddenly losing its warmth. It didn’t get angry, though—Ambrose could have handled anger. It was scared
and a thousand other things that the tin man wasn’t supposed to feel
“I wasn’t,” he argued. “I was just—reading.”
“About how to cut out your brain. Even though it must have been immediately clear to you that there was no way
you could survive it.”
“I was just—“ He broke off, not knowing how to finish the sentence. Because it was true. He had
been considering it any way. Trying to think of some way they could be convinced even though he knew they wouldn’t be, even without
the risk to his life, they’d never agree. He closed his eyes and covered them with an arm.
“I know it’s hard. Trying to be what you used to be.”
He snorted a laugh. “How could you—“
“I was stuck in a box watching my family tortured for fifteen years
,” Cain said sharply. “Do you think it was easy
to become a human again after that? To be a man anything like
the one I was before? One I wouldn’t be ashamed to have my son know?”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Of course—“
His arm was ripped off his face and pinned to the bed, and he looked up, startled, to see Cain glaring down at him. “I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to get that I understand. And I want you to sleep.”
He stared back at the wounded, worried eyes for a long moment, and then did the only thing he could
do to make it any better. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
When he woke, Cain was still gazing moodily at him from across the room and the room had taken on a faint odor of gunpowder that Ambrose associated with the man. He sat, stood, took a step, and paused. Because the room didn’t smell like gunpowder. It just had at the bed.
“Well?” Cain demanded.
Slowly, Ambrose shook his head and continued on to his small attached bathroom, used the facilities, and went back to the other room, moving for his dresser.
“You’re not leaving this room yet,” Cain stated.
“Okay. Be fine here.”
He collapsed onto the bed and glared at the bigger man. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I’m not about to let you kill yourself.”
“I’m not killing myself.”
Cain just looked at him.
. I’m a little overtired—so what? That never killed anyone. And you never even liked
me that much.”
Cain studied him for a long moment. “I met Ambrose once you know.”
Ambrose blinked at the non sequitur. “What?”
“Before … everything happened. We met. I didn’t remember at first—it took a while to recognize you. I didn’t like you,” he added. “I was on the Mystic Man’s security duty when he went to meet the queen. You were with her, babbling about some invention. Treating everyone else—even the mystic man—like they were halfwits incapable of understanding that two and two is four. Condescending, overbearing. Dangerous. The experiments seemed dangerous to me, but of course I was looking for danger. I was on security.”
“Wow,” Ambrose said slowly. “You really suck at this making people feel better thing.”
“I … liked Glitch,” he went on, ignoring the interruption. “You were impossible to dislike. So friendly and so well-meaning and hopeful it hurt
to hear you talk sometimes. So optimistic.” He offered a hint of a smile. “I couldn’t trust you, though. I trusted your intentions
. But I couldn’t trust you
. Couldn’t trust that you wouldn’t forget what you were doing and—“ He shook his head. “You were a danger, still. We needed you, but you worried me.”
He didn’t speak this time, just waited for whatever the hell the tin man was getting at.
“When you were … fixed, at first I thought you had turned back into Ambrose, completely left behind the man I … liked. I saw so little of Glitch in you. Until I realized you were hiding it, trying to be what you were before.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “I’m not the man I was before the suit. I never will be. And you’ll never be Ambrose again. Not the way you were.”
“I know,” he said, hearing the truth of it in his voice, the empty hopelessness.
“But don’t you see?” Cain demanded, moving several steps forward and cupping his face, forcing their eyes to meet. “Don’t you see
“How much better
you can be! How you can have Ambrose’s mind and ability to think, but keep Glitch’s heart
“His optimism came from not remembering! I don’t have
“I know,” Cain said softly. “I know. But that wasn’t what I loved about him. Not the optimism, but the heart
. The way you cared
about everyone, about what you was doing, enough to overcome the inability to think, to focus, to remember, and acted anyway.”
Ambrose blinked, then blinked again rapidly, his mind caught on one word, for once, not able to follow multiple trains at once. “Love?” he repeated blankly.
Cain released him and jerked back, but this time Ambrose followed him.
“I—“ Cain turned away, and it was his
eyes that closed.
Ambrose jerked him around and mimicked the position he’d held, hands cupping Cain’s face. “Love
Cain sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Didn’t mean to say you loved me?”
“Well what in the world possessed you to say it if you didn’t
“I didn’t say I didn’t mean
it! I said I didn’t mean to say
“So wait—you do
“That’s what I said!”
Starting to remember why he’d hated being Glitch at the time, Ambrose shook his head, trying to get things straight. “And… why didn’t you mean to say it?”
“Because it doesn’t matter
“How in the O.Z. does it not matter
“Because nothing’s going to change!”
Ambrose felt like he’d been hit. He jerked back a step, hands falling away from Cain’s face. “Oh,” he said softly.
“’Oh’? What does ‘oh’ mean?”
“Very little. Usually it merely signifies a receipt of information or something similar,” he murmured distractedly.
“And what information do you think you got?”
Ambrose looked up at him and shrugged. “What you said. Nothing’s going to change.” He hesitated, then added, “I’m sorry.”
“Specifically—sorry about what?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry that even after they put the brains back in me, I still couldn’t be the man you wanted.”
He didn’t answer, just shrugged and turned away.
“Hey.” Cain didn’t turn him this time, but he did approach, hands lying lightly on his shoulder. “I love
you,” he stated, voice calm and sincere.
Ambrose flinched. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“That you can’t love me back?”
He turned despite himself, startled. “What?”
“You don’t have to be sorry for that. I wasn’t asking you for anything.”
“I’m not—it wasn’t….” He sighed. “I didn’t mean to say it.”
Brain finally working full speed, Ambrose felt himself starting to smile, just a little. “Let’s start this again. You didn’t mean to say it because you didn’t want me to be scared off by your emotions and, what, kick you out of my room and stop talking to you, or something? And that’s what didn’t have to change?”
Ambrose shook his head, moving forward, Cain taking a startled step back into the desk, and the stopping. Ambrose didn’t, moving forward until he was standing between the tin man’s legs, chest-to-chest, and lay his forearms on the other man’s shoulders, looking up at him. “You,” he stated firmly, “are a bit of an idiot.”
Then he kissed him.