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Business as Usual [Cain/Glitch, Tin Man]

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Nov. 25th, 2009 | 04:06 pm
location: The library. . .
mood: accomplishedaccomplished

Title: Business as Usual
Author: cooking_spray
Pairing: Cain/Glitch
Genre: Romance/General
Rating: PG
Word Count: 10,530
Status: Complete
Summary: Cain deals with attraction in the most perfunctory way possible.

Disclaimer: Highlight the phrase "fan fiction". Read carefully. Consult dictionary if necessary.

Before we begin, I feel it pertinent to mention that the majority of this story was written nearly two years ago, back in the heydey of fandom. It was begun as a Christmas gift for my best friend (say hi, yaoiophile), and spanned twelve pages before inspiration stopped cold. Since that time, it's been collecting dust on my hardrive. I'd always planned on finishing it, but couldn't ever quite make myself.

Anyhow, I decided to rifle through my folder of unfinished fun, and remembered this piece. And suddenly, I was struck with the urge to revisit the source material. So, I curled up in front of the fireplace with a portable DVD player and a friend, and afterwards, I spent the better part of my shift at work the next day scribbling furiously into a notebook. This is, I say with a pathetic amount of pride, the first piece of fiction that I've written exceeding three pages in almost a year and a half.

So, this is kind of my fandom coup de grace, if you will (which isn't to say it's necessarily the last you'll ever hear from me). I love these two, and my only regret is not being able to post this back when the community was thriving, and this unlikely, all-but-canon slash pairing seemed to be the flagship. I'm prone to sentimentality. =P

Additionally, I apologize for the second person perspective, if it greatly bothers you. The piece just seemed to want to be written that way. Do let me know if you find any screwy tense issues, though.

Without further ado, enjoy!


Life goes on.

It's a peculiar thing to realize, despite its popularity as an admonition among mothers with whining children everywhere. No matter how fantastic the circumstances, if you can manage to survive them, existence will continue. Never in quite the same way, perhaps, but change is good for some things, and not at all as terrible as it seems when you're trying to avoid it.

These are the kinds of thoughts Wyatt Cain has now, in his office with the adjacent bedroom (DG calls it sanctuary, just to annoy him - sleep and work, she says, are all he needs to get by). They are the sorts of wisdoms that are often scoffed upon until they occur to you, in the free moments segmented between the ledgers and the weapons sign-offs. He wonders vaguely if his life's becoming humdrum, but finds that this doesn't bother him enough to pursue the matter further. Things are always boring after the world's done needing saving (not that he has prior experience).

He has a job with a desk now; it comes with a riotously large salary that he chooses not to argue with - after all, services to the Queen are not rewarded cheaply (and there's no sense in talking a monarch into modesty; not when you're living in a castle and you've helped save both her daughters from certain doom). He gets to carry a gun that he seldom has to withdraw from its holster, and he knows that Jeb, Jeb's future wife, and all ninety of his grandchildren will be financially spoken for. He gets to dress the same way he always has - functionally, smartly, thoughtlessly - with the exception of a badge that is not unlike the one he wore before, save for a royal insignia and the comforting knowledge that he probably won't be under risk of assassination any time soon.

He has friends, and a son whom, although absent from his life during the most crucial part of his development, he could not be more proud of. He has a picture window that overlooks the horizon, over which two suns always shine unless it rains (but even then, they always emerge for another day). He has security, purpose, fellowship, peace.

And he's bored - so bored that it might be driving him out of his mind if he believed in that sort of thing (and if he didn't have a readily available example of what "out of his mind" really meant).

It isn't the monotony, or the knowledge of doing something he's much over-qualified for - these things he can deal with, has dealt with for much of his life, not unwillingly. Predictability, after living in times where the norm was the opposite, is not the problem.

No, it's something else - something he doesn't know how to place, which makes it all the more frustrating; all the more insistent.

One afternoon, DG invites him to the theatre with Azkadellia. For lack of a good excuse to decline, and a prevailing feeling of "why not?", he accepts, telling himself that if nothing else, two princesses could always use a competent escort. He's never been fond of plays, or at least not the ones he's seen in his time - they're too over-the-top, and full of a certain blithe falseness. Emotion is never as easy as it is to contrive for a stage; to make palatable for an entire audience.

Cain sits in the constricting, cushioned seat, watching the curtain go up and the lights dim (of course they're in a box, and there's an usher standing in back making both him and DG uncomfortable, even though they both know this is what he's getting paid to do). The actors appear on stage, tarted up with rouge and lipstick. Two of them - lovers, naturally, estranged by circumstance. This is the finest playhouse in Central City; their chemistry is not stiff but utterly believable. When the female lead sobs, there are actual tears falling from her eyes, and the ladies in the audience are grasping for their handkerchiefs as their husbands stare onward (unmoved or trying not to tear up themselves, he knows).

He would feel bad about being impassive if he hadn't heard DG snort earlier, during the love scene. Just quietly enough for him to hear, because Azkadellia's eyes are glistening - but he can't tell if this display of emotion has anything to do with what's happening on stage or not.

Throughout the second act, he lets his mind wander, as it's fond of doing recently (lack of occupation can do this to you). He thinks first about the performance reports, which are due to be reviewed by Friday, and then the forecast of snow that the palace meteorologists have predicted for the upcoming day. A decent measure is possible, they say; he's already had to order the insulation of the stables and inspect the weatherproof equipment. It'll be the first snowfall of the season.

Snow. He shivers involuntarily, tips of his fingers tingling with remembered numbness. His most recent recollection of it is a haze of half-formed, half-thawed consciousness and biting cold, with Glitch swirling in and out of its center. He also recalls the fall and the force of the bullet and the near-drowning and the chafe of cotton once it's been frozen solid. But mostly just the cold, and Glitch.

Following each thought like a train, car by car, his mind settles on the last part. Glitch. Headcase. These days, taken to roaming about the palace, deep in contemplation or confusion; trying to remember, trying not to forget. He'd come upon the former advisor just a few days ago, absentmindedly fingering a stair banister, with an expression too easy to read - I've been here before, touched my fingers in this place before. Or have I? It had not been anything especially new, but it had struck him as unusually melancholy; perhaps because all of the time left on his hands makes him more indulgent to such shows of compassion than usual. And listening to Glitch ramble is in some way therapeutic, assuring (Cain makes too much sense and Glitch makes too little) - better than time spent twiddling his thumbs in his office, he tells himself, although he knows this isn't quite true. It isn't as though he doesn't know the why. He just avoids considering it, as he does everything else, for too long, because dwelling leads to distraction leads to fixation, and he's pretty sure there's nowhere else for this to go.

They've delayed pursuing the prospect of rebrainment. The Queen says that it's best to wait, to allow Glitch to get in touch with his old life, in the hope that being around familiar surroundings will dredge up some untapped reservoir of memory. He thinks (but doesn't say) that she's become too attached to the past; a decade and half in a prison, your only connection to the rest of the world being a daughter who's been possessed by an evil witch, is a probable cause. She's good at implementing change, but not so much when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of change, when it's not for the better. He doesn't blame her. In a way, he could almost understand - but he doesn't believe in delusions.

On stage, the woman has grown old waiting for her lover to return to her, in a time when their passion will be accepted. An elderly actress replaces the young one; they've done a good job casting, but her nose is a trifle too pinched, lips too thin. War has turned to peace, and his feelings are no longer the same. Too many annuals have passed between them; diluted his longing for her, forced him to adapt to her absence by moving on. Azkadellia's face is turned to the side, tear tracks visible on her cheeks. He suddenly knows why she is weeping.

DG is whispering to her, eyebrows drawn in concern, a hand on her upper arm. She looks to him with round, questioning eyes in the semi-darkness, as if she knows that he has the reason. Azkadellia is insisting that she's fine, which is a clear indication that nothing is fine at all.

They leave the theatre early, where there's a waiting transport outside. The first flakes of snow have already begun to fall, and there's a chill in the air that wasn't present when they entered. He finds himself wishing that he could remember all of what happened that day he almost died (one of many, really, but the only occasion involving a snowstorm). It occurs to him that memory is a sort of commodity these days, and that maybe he should treasure his more, instead of spending so much time attempting to forget while everyone around him is trying to make up for lost time between the pages of history books, and faces made unfamiliar by hardship or care.

The silence of the ride back to the castle is unbroken with the exception of intermittent sniffles. Azkadellia has ceased to lament; her head is held high, chin jutted out, a preservation tactic in the interest of her fragile dignity. She is readjusting; there will be more moments like this one - there will always be moments like this one, he knows; but after a while, the tears will be spent, replaced by an ache that sometimes sees fit to swallow you in moments of aloneness. He wants to tell her, like he can DG, that it gets better, and other such things that he thinks are true but doesn't himself believe in. But Azkadellia is not like her sister - in fact, she sometimes has the ability to remind him uncannily of himself. He keeps his lips pressed firmly together.

They arrive at the castle. He helps the princesses out onto the now-slicked pavement, half out of instinct and half to annoy DG, who despises his holding of doors in favor of kicking them in herself. The snow is falling in earnest, sizeable flakes now, accumulating on the ground, the shoulders, the brim of a hat. By the time they make it to the back entrance, there are flakes in their hair and the tips of their noses have gone numb.

He crashes the knocker against the door's surface once, with authority, and Glitch's eye goggles at them through the hidden peephole. The headcase flails a moment for recognition, and then it dawns. Immediately, the sound of a great many locks being undone is heard, and then the door to the rear foyer is flung open, inviting inside not only the princesses and their self-appointed escort but a blast of winter wind and a hail of wayward snowflakes. At once, coats are brushed off, feet are stamped, fingers go to clasps and buttons.

"My, you all look like you've stumbled out of a snowdrift!" Glitch states the obvious with absurd enthusiasm, gathering up wet garments between slippery fingers as they fall without second thought to the floor. He's behaving like a common courtier, and why he's even awaiting their arrival instead of an actual courtier whose job he's most likely stealing is a mystery (the solution to which Cain elects not to pursue, and marks off as eccentricity).

"Something like that." The answer is almost a grunt, as distant and impersonal as Glitch's question is loquacious. He's trying to avoid, even though it's useless.

Cain glances sidelong at the two sisters sharing the narrow space of hallway with them. DG is helping Azkadellia to shed her coat; face drawn and expression intense. Her former self, the evil one, was a lot better with laces, he thinks.

He's loitering, for a moment, and before he can blink, there are hands on his shoulders, swiping away traces of snow. He whips around and Glitch is smiling, a little absently - if it's scheme or whimsy, he never knows, and the headcase ruins it with babble before he can find out.

"Can't have you catching cold, Cain! Castle defense'll go to pot, and then there'll be trouble. . ." Glitch dispenses this as an alibi; almost too amiable, still smiling unanimously. As an afterthought, he plucks the Tin Man's hat from his head and shakes off the brim.

Cain frowns, snatches the hat back, and places it where it rightfully belongs. "You can't catch cold from the cold. I'd expect you to know that." It isn't a particularly well-founded expectation.

"You would?" A pause, a turning of gears - then a click. "Oh, yes, of course. Well, it's a figure of speech, Cain, I'd expect you to know that. Anyway," he blithers onward, "I think I'm supposed to ask you about a play, but I can't honestly remember what I'm supposed to ask you, which makes it a little hard. Our Lady inquired, I believe. . ."

His eyes un-focus for a fraction of a second, and there's a lapse before he continues. ". . . and parsnip soup, dreadful stuff, in my opinion; I'd highly recommend the bouillabaisse instead. They've kept it warm for you."

He stops again, realizes his blunder, laughs. "Sorry, got, ah, a little ahead of myself - but you must admit, it's better than being a little behind."

Cain glances again at the princesses, now divested of winter attire. DG touches his elbow, and Glitch's in turn, mouthing thanks before scurrying around the corner and out of sight. Again, he's out of excuses.

He feels a capacity, a possibility, of no particular origin; it's rolled out between the two of them like the rug they're standing on. Possibly it's been there even before the life-saving and the evil-overthrowing, but one can never be too certain, and certainty is one thing he likes to have, if he can help it. What actually happens is silence.

It is the sort of silence that wears on a moment too long to be considered un-awkward; the kind of stare that is an eyeblink too prolonged to pass as un-meaningful. Glitch is not unaware of this; he's peering at him with a measured curiosity, waiting for the next move.

"I'll choose the bouillabaisse."

He plants his own hand on the headcase's lithe shoulder, as an extension of ill-placed camaraderie, but knows at once that it's the wrong thing. Glitch's gaze drops to his fingers, but they're already being withdrawn. Cain's pushing past him with a nod and too much hurry, ignoring the clench in his jaw and the afterimage of two confused brown eyes following his exit.

When he gets back to his office, he realizes he's freezing, and the fireplace does little to help.


Cain falls asleep, and dreams of apples.

Green ones, red ones, rotten ones - and his mother, Ozma rest her, amidst all of them, with a hum and an apron and a smile. He has not dreamt of his mother since his days in the tin box, and can't fathom why she's here now.

In the dream, she's baking a pie; peeling and stewing, offering him steaming spoonfuls as samples. He is at a lack of reasonable explanation as to why his subconscious is showing him this, of all things. The apples are bright and lurid, almost too appetizing to be real - poison faerie tale apples, they remind him of.

Suddenly, he's sharing the table (and suddenly, there is a table, and he's dimly aware that he's sitting at it). His guest is a gangly little boy, ginger-haired and freckled. The boy grins at him, and Cain's mind supplies him with a name - Fivel. He hasn't seen this boy since he was eight, maybe nine, and they must be roughly the same age by now (if Fivel was even still living at all; if he was one of the lucky ones). They've had a friendship annuals, annuals ago; one that concluded with a furtive, elementary school first kiss behind a shed. He's forgotten this, and wonders why Fivel has re-entered his memory after being absent from it for over three decades; but here he is, dimples and all, offering him an apple. There's the echo of his mother's voice in the background, spouting some wives' tale about fruit preferences that he's always found especially childish (nothing is simply green or red, black or white).

He's taking the apple, however, because his dream-self can't think of a good reason not to (a recent epidemic), and logic in dreams is always either irrelevant or nonexistent. Fivel is nodding encouragement, juice dribbling down his chin. Cain bites into the green flesh, expecting sweetness - but instead, the scene blurs, the taste vanishes, and in the worst of dream clichés, the apple is replaced by a mouth; a mouth attached to a face with confused brown eyes. . .

Cain awakens with a start (the only way to awaken from such dreams) to discover that he's fallen asleep at his desk, impressions left by stacks of papers causing his face to be afire with the sensation of pinpricks. He also realizes that he's no longer cold, but sweating, even though the fire has long ago burned to but a scattering of glowing cinders in the hearth.

Then, he remembers the dream, and a realization settles over him, in the way of someone first noticing a painting that they've passed on the way to work every morning, the beauty of which has eluded them until one fateful, appreciating glance. It's a clarifying experience of several blurry, half-formed truths on the fence of his consciousness coalescing, choosing a side, and all over a silly dream with apples. He remembers why he hasn't missed dreams these past few months of peacetime.

He tries to sleep again, in a bed and in the proper clothes, but the blankets are too smothering and his mind has no intentions of allowing him to forget the dream. He comes to the conclusion that forgetfulness is kind of a blessing in disguise, and is briefly visited by a gripping and juvenile envy.

At the strike of six, he rises in the false dawn and re-dresses, surrendering to wakefulness after two hours' battle. On the way to the dining hall for a typically early breakfast of biscuits and coffee, he passes a junior sentry, who excitedly announces that it's snowed four whole measures overnight, and that he's been asked to inform him that the castle is operating under emergency weather protocol (this means breaking out the shiny new galoshes and slickers; anything besides the common duty uniforms are apt to stir excitement).

Cain stops at a window to see for himself, after the officer has accepted his gruff nod and grunt of acknowledgement as an answer. Surely enough, the grounds are blanketed - the entire royal court will be cloistered inside today, away from the cold. This makes the avoidance of certain chance meetings slim, he realizes, and his jaw clenches again.

He manages only half of the coffee, and not even two bites of the biscuit; hunger having strangely dissipated in spite of his fatigue (the bouillabaisse last night had been delicious, but that was hours ago). It is then that he makes the decision to do something, because the breach of composure is beginning to become more than a little irritating. He doesn't know what this something is, but he has a morning or a day or a week to mull it over.

At times like these, he wishes he smoked, or perhaps had a bottle of gin tucked away somewhere in a cabinet for a nightcap or days labeled "long". At times like these, he loathes himself for being too straight-laced for either - but it's too late in life to try to change, although not late enough to consider doing so, maybe in his spare time or as a weekend project.

He thinks it would reflect badly on his reputation to ask the chef to borrow his brandy, even with the proper authority to do so; and furthermore, that it already reflects badly on his sanity to have even entertained the idea of asking. So, he does the only sensible thing he knows how, and retires to his office for the morning, no more sated than when he first left it.

It ends up being one of the longest mornings in recent recollection, he will remember - and that's only half the day.


Cain has all of his files organized, alphabetized, and re-organized when Glitch invades his office.

He does so with a jaunty knock, which cannot be confused with the regal thumpings of the guardsmen and sentry (and DG's lack of one). The formality is hardly necessary, however, because Glitch enters fractions of a second later, before Cain can even utter the words "come in".

He's wearing his old coat (inside-out, naturally), and although his face is pink and flushed with cold, the only winter wear on his personage is a repulsive set of mittens and a knitted scarf, festooned about his neck in an enormous swath of wool that threatens to swallow his face. There are fast-melting clumps of snow in his unruly hair, and all over him - Cain's face twitches with the impulse of an amused grin that is bitten back only with a copious amount of restraint.

"You're melting on my carpet."

"Oh, right!" Glitch makes a show of furiously stamping the snow from his clothing and fumbling with the scarf, which probably does nothing for the sake of the carpet, but is so absurdly adorable that Cain forgets to mind.

He holds up the sodden scarf and makes several motions to deposit it, before deciding that asking is the option least likely to earn him the frown the Tin Man is so skilled at cultivating.


Cain points. "Coat rack."

". . .I knew that, I knew that." The headcase scrambles to the oaken structure (or maybe it's cherry or maple; he gets them all confused now) that Cain's finger indicates, drops his scarf several times before it stays on the hook, and doubles back to stand awkwardly before Cain's desk with a vague air of expectance.

Cain feigns enthrallment with the pile of documents on his desk. "Any reason why you're here?"

This renders Glitch speechless for a few moments as an array of facial configurations that read "I'm thinking about this very, very hard" are assumed.

"Nice day for an on-the-job visit?" he offers, which is another way of saying "I have no idea".

Cain makes a decently productive-looking number of scratches on the paper; he hopes it's not a war declaration or anything of terrible importance, because he has no idea what it says.

"In other words, DG sent you."

There was never a more accurate use of the metaphor "a light was flicked on". "Yes! Yes, she asked me to accompany her on a traipse through the snow. . ."

"Never would've guessed."

The sarcasm is either ignored or unrecognized. "It was rather colder than I remembered, but then again, that's no indication. Our Lady called after her, though, so she sent me to you . . . There might be another something I'm supposed to ask you - by the way, how was the bouillabaisse? - but if it were really important, I doubt she would've sent me on the errand." He rolls his eyes self-effacingly.

Then, a second light goes on. "Oh wait, I remember!"

This statement is momentous, so Cain pays attention as Zipperhead sifts through all the pockets of his coat with clumsy fingers, finally retrieving a crumpled, thrice-folded note. He hands it to Cain, who works it into a legible state again, and reads.

It's printed in DG's slightly untidy hand, and is obviously a page torn from her sketchbook:

"Dear Mr. Cain,

Thanks for coming with me and Az to the play (sorry it sucked so much). I'm outside in the snow right now with Glitch, who won't stop talking about you (a lot to do with blanket scenarios and soup; I'm sure you understand a lot better than me). It's kinda cute, but I doubt he'll remember in a couple of minutes, so I thought I'd write you this note. I hope he remembers to give it to you.


P.S.: Tell me how good I am at this whole matchmaker thing. :)

Also included is a tiny sketch at the foot of the paper, which he assumes is a rather accurate rendering of Glitch gesturing with a handful of snow, and the caption "since you couldn't be there. . ."

Until this moment, Cain has never before realized how complex and involving an effort it is to swallow. He refolds the note, as neatly as possible, and then shoves it into a desk drawer, all while trying to maintain a decently believable composure.

Glitch has seated himself in the spare leather guest chair, in the meantime, and says conversationally, "Don't worry, I didn't read it. I did that once a long time ago, with a letter Our Lady wanted delivered to Ahamo. . . Well, let's just say I couldn't look her in the eye for a week. By the witch's beard, that was embarrassing!"

He notices Cain's despondency (usually, he at least bothers to be annoyed), and tilts his head inquisitively. "Everything all right? No one's dying that I should know about, are they?"

Wyatt Cain is not a fan of prolonged silences, meaningful glances, or pregnant pauses - most things in life can be accomplished without poeticism or unnecessary theatrics, and often accomplished much more efficiently. The recollection of his confession to Adora so many annuals ago confirms this; he'd kissed her lingeringly, said "let's get married" when he was sure he meant it, and then followed up on the proposition. Of course, this had also been preceded by a courtship of the type that lasted so long and was so untroubled that there had been no other reasonable conclusion than to prolong it for the foreseeable eternity (or what was supposed to be eternity). But things weren't much different up until then, either.

This time, there isn't the comfortable assurance of such a well-established rapport, which takes the edge off of his certainty. Cain is the sort of man who could know you for an annual and still not hesitate to put you at gunpoint the second things went amiss in your company, but he is also the sort of man who believes that confronting problems head-on with a minimum of dilly-dallying is the best way to solve them. Morality outweighs indecision.

He looks to Glitch, who is not particularly helpful (which isn't to say that his capacity for helpfulness in these matters is more bountiful on any other given day). His head is tilted to the side and eyes squinted, in a gesture that suggests both the cogs in his half-a-brain fumbling to rearrange this senselessness in a new approximation of equal senselessness and the image of a confused puppy. In other words, he is poised to forget that the moment has ever occurred in T-minus several seconds, if Cain does not do something to help his thought process along.

So he says it. In a way that is about as romantic as a debriefing, but spoken nonetheless:

"I think I have something that is very close to a certain kind of attraction towards you. I've decided that the best way of dealing with this is telling you. You are in no way obligated to do anything about it."

The delivery is smooth, if slightly detached and unnecessarily clinical. Cain doesn't blink once, and continues to survey Glitch's reaction. His manner is reminiscent of a law enforcement officer informing the kin of someone involved in a petty crime of the details, recording their behavior for use in a report that was to be written later (cultivated from firsthand experience, most likely). This, if possible, confuses the emotional nature of his admission even further.

Glitch's response is a lack of response; his squint intensifies, but he gives no verbal confirmation that the Tin Man's words have even registered. It is quite possible that he is already in the process of forgetting, for the hundredth time, who the man behind the desk before him even is. There is never any way of telling for certain.

Cain is silent for as long as he can stand afterward, having half-hoped that if nothing else, the outlandishness of his words would have sparked something akin to sentience in his absentminded visitor. With a disappointment that reasonably, like everything else about him, turns itself over to resignation, the Tin Man sighs, straightens his Stetson, and sits back down to work, with the brusqueness of having imparted something concerning tomorrow's weather forecast. He's said his piece; it was out, over, case closed. (Meddling princesses, be damned.)

He has only just managed to unsheathe the weekly supply tally for the guards' barracks from the mound of manila on his desk (which he had been rustling through for longer than usual, with several quite intentional fumbles that represented his pathetic prolonging of the vague hope that Glitch would've stayed coherent to have heard him just this once) when there is a chuckle from the chair Cain is doing his best (and today, that was pretty terrible) to forget he is even occupying. His mind is immediately far away from calculating the distribution of soap rations and refocused on the personable bundle of neuroses that is for the moment sharing his office.

When Glitch comes to, he is still smiling, as if recovering from a particularly funny personal joke (which, for all Cain knows, could very well be the case - it wouldn't be the first time).

He affects a twitching, dismissive motion with his hand, which almost looks like a compulsive tic. "Oh, I'm sorry, didn't mean to. . . y'know, disturb your work - or, you working. . ." He exhales once through his nose, shortly, smile intact and eyes affixing themselves to everything but Cain's face. "It's just, I could've sworn you said you were attracted to me. . . Absurd, I know, the things this noggin hears. I have half a mind to just. . . smack myself upside the head sometimes; ha-ha, get it, half a mind. . ."

The chuckling cuts itself abruptly short as Glitch's eyes retrain themselves on his lap, where his hands begin to toy with the tattered cuffs of his coat. At this moment, Cain has the strongest suspicion that the headcase has been lucid all along - it is difficult or downright imperceptible to discern if you don't know him well, but this particular lapse seems contrived; similar to the behavior he displayed while DG was questioning him about the Sun Seeder. It was something that hit too close to the mark, something that was unpleasant or discomforting for him to think about. It was much easier and more painless to feign a blank, and with the zipper on his head plainly visible, the Tin Man bets few ever doubt him (and the ones who do are too polite to say otherwise).

Half a cake for every officer, every name printed on its own neat line. Cain counts the blanks in his head, touching the tip of his fountain pen to each as he moves down, sure as always that a man of his purpose and bearing looks absurd doing paperwork. There's a predictable repetition in it, however, and while it's often dull and unfulfilling, it's the sort of work he has the capacity for doing well.

"You heard me correctly."

He flips over the sheet and signs his name after the "x", script all precise angles and looming, self-important capitals. He is dimly aware that he is avoiding the subject in his own way; that his seeming absorption in the figures and pedantic watch logs that comprise his job are probably not helping to make this statement any more convincing. But to break the rhythm (he is falling back upon the time-and-again copied practice of burying himself in his work; everyone has their crutches) would be to lose his nerve, and thus his control of the situation. It's business as usual - if his sense of professionalism deserts him, they'll both be in trouble, because Ozma knows Glitch sure doesn't have one.

Glitch gawps at him for a few good moments after this statement, and then shakes his head, as if physically trying to rattle his thoughts into order (never mind that it would take much more than this to actually be effective). He chuckles again, drawing in breath, and mutters, "Oh, I can't believe this," to himself in a somewhat derisive fashion.

"Forgive me again, Cain, as I'm sure I'm interrupting whatever really important thing you're doing that I'm positive I remembered the name of yesterday. . . "


"Yes, that, inventory, that's what it's called. . . Anyhow, I must be missing a few more marbles than usual -" - he laughs, jiggles a forefinger - "- and that's not very good, Cain, not very good - because I thought I just heard you telling me that I had heard you correctly, which clearly can't be right, because I'm sure my fabrications - fabrications, that's a nice word I've just remembered, I should use it more often - can't really be true; they are fabri-, fabri-. . . made-up, after all, and everyone knows made-up things aren't real. . . Speaking of made-up things, did you ever hear the one about the Munchkin and the beanstalk? Charming story, one of my favorites from childhood; it's about this. . . About this. . ." His words trail off, and the smile fades from his mouth, replaced by an uncertain frown. His eyes are clouded, and brow scrunched with the effort of trying to find his place again, although the nervousness that remains present in his countenance reveals that he is not quite so lost. He is grasping for ways to dodge the matter at hand, but his memory is betraying him (probably to a greater degree than usual due to his anxiety), and they are all going up in smoke.

Cain allows him to stumble through his broken thoughts a few moments longer before he looks up, and speaks with an authoritative, almost commanding seriousness.

"Glitch. This isn't your mind playing tricks on you. I actually said it."

At these words, Glitch goes still in his chair, face paling to what could almost be given the adjective "fear"; his eyes widen, rooted to the Tin Man, still vainly searching for the crack in his demeanor that gives away the joke.

A whisper. "But. . . why?"

Cain finds his voice softening, ever-so-slightly, in response. "Does it surprise you that much?"

"Well. . . yes." He smiles ruefully, bowing his head a fraction so that his zipper is in plainer view, silver and unmistakable between the two of them. "Having half your marbles isn't usually a turn-on, you know."

"Have you ever considered that you let that stand in your way too often?"

Not without a dose of bitterness, Glitch laughs, struck by some hilarity in this statement. "Oh, well, that's easy for you to say, Cain, but I'll bet you've never eaten breakfast three different times because you couldn't recall whether you'd had it or not."

"True, but I have spent eight annuals inside a metal suit watching my wife and son being brutalized over and over again."

Glitch falls silent. After the span of a minute's time, he chances a look up at the Tin Man again (who is wearing his hat indoors again, Glitch notes, although a Cain with a naked head is infinitely stranger to imagine than one without the presence of mind to remove his hat in the comfort of his own office). He quickly decides the opposite wall is better suited for receiving his gaze.

"So," he begins quietly, "you're attracted. To. . . me." There is some measure of incredulity in the words, taking the place of outright disbelief. "Now, I have to ask, is that an attracted attracted, or a 'you-always-make-me-smile' attracted, because there's a bit of a difference between the two, see, and-"

Cain cuts him off, raising an eyebrow. "I might not have put it that way, but both." Glitch's lack of confidence isn't making this easier - the headcase had the peculiar ability of flustering him out of being perfunctory, which was both annoying and ironic, all things considered (as well as the very reason he'd needed to have this conversation; because Cain is a man who requires answers to his problems, and prefers not to let them fester - and this one has, long enough).

There is another silence, which is not exactly awkward (or any of the other things silences usually are) so much as it is rife with things unsaid, and Glitch is about to open his mouth to say something that may or may not have been important when the door opens. Instead, he leaps out of his chair in a flurry of exaggerated motion, apparently shocked that there is an entire world that continues to exist outside Cain's office (or perhaps that someone besides himself would ever choose to enter it voluntarily; the decor is a bit drab and in need of some personal touches).

Cain rises with him, but for reasons of courtesy, in case the visitor happens to be royalty. The identity of their diabolus ex machina is revealed to be naught but a scrawny sentry-in-training with an envelope, making his way to the desk with a great deal of haste.

The messenger raises his hand in salute, which elicits a slight involuntary grimace from his superior. The boy, who hasn't seemed to notice, goes on to state his purpose. "Daily report of activities in the corridors, sir!"

"Corridor activity" logs. These are among the worst parts of his job - inside the envelope, there are probably five pages of pointless liner notes on passers-by and the luminosity of wall sconces, all written in the untidy scrawl of fledgling, over-eager guardsmen to whom the duty is assigned, to make things all better. Cain realizes the safety purpose and benefit of the exercise, but the truth of the matter is that on most days in the castle, nothing of consequence really happens (unless there is some sort of gala, whereupon he gets to read paragraphs about evening attire - as a result, he has the odd and unwanted distinction of being able to tell you when brooches were out for the season and that mauve lame¢ is the new pink silk). Truth be told, he is more interested in Glitch at the moment, who is pacing in the corner and gibbering under his breath in a way that makes him uneasy.

Still, by his own policy, business comes before leisure. "Thanks. Any word from the lower sectors?"

"Yes sir, they've compiled the reports, and they should be ready by-"

"Well, Cain, I can see you're busy here, so I'll just slip out for the moment, if you don't mind. . ." Glitch interjects brightly, edging towards the door. "Just remembered that I forgot I had promised DG a cup of tea; she'll be waiting for me in the. . " There was a rapid fire of hand gesticulations better described as spasms. ". . .Tea! Yes, yes, tea. Catch you later!"

Cain raises a hand. "Wait, Glitch-"

He bolts out the door in the fashion of someone being pursued by a flock of Mobats.

The sentry-in-training looks confusedly from the office's entryway to Cain, who has chosen to reseat himself and remove his hat in the interim, and is now massaging his face with a palm. "Sir, was I interrupting something?"

"Absolutely not. Continue."

The boy hesitates for a moment, but then goes on to rattle off the requested specifics, and is dismissed soon thereafter with his task accomplished, and also a word for the guards on scullery duty to please stop pilfering the ladies' underthings for the purposes of pranks.

Left alone, in peace, to his own ruminations, Cain heaves a sigh. That hadn't exactly gone as well as he had hoped (although, to be fair, he doesn't really know how well he had hoped it would go).

And DG hates tea.


DG thinks that Cain fails miserably at love confessions.

She also has a drink in her hand while she says this, one that looks like it could have alcohol in it (and nothing at all like tea).

Cain would like to think that this voids her opinion, but he knows that two tumblers do not an intoxicated princess make.

He hates it when he's logical.

"No wonder he ran away, if you said it like that," she remarks with a snort. "You're talking to another person; most of our hearts aren't made of brick."

Cain smiles tightly, mockingly, to tell her how funny he thinks she's being.

Azkadellia, who is watching the both of them from the other side of the snifter, covers her laugh with another swallow - but in her eyes, there's sympathy, maybe even empathy.

Still, Cain thinks they are both awfully rude, for royalty.

DG takes a drink, puts a hand on his shoulder. "Talk to him."

He looks to Azkadellia, who nods in agreement.

Cain gets to his feet and lifts his hat from the table, and as he goes to place it on his head, he hears one of them say not-so-discreetly, behind a palm:

"And maybe more than that."


Glitch is in the library, and has been since the late afternoon.

Specifically, he's ended up in the history section, which he can't help but find ironic. He's not sure why, out of all the various refuges the palace had to offer, that this is the one he's chosen, but some instinct had compelled him in this direction. He suspects that this may've been Ambrose's den of comfort - it seems logical, anyway. It's quiet and well-removed, and there's a peaceable atmosphere. For what he knows of his former self, he's sure this would've been more than ideal.

A title catches his eye; flares some stirring of remembrance. He reaches out to touch it, as if the sensation of the cover's coruscated edge will help to kindle it. Sometimes it does, but more than often, not. It would be a welcome change for the most recent memory he has accumulated, which, for reasons beyond his comprehension, refuses to be forgotten, and instead seems intent on replaying itself, over and over.

His tapered fingers trace the embossed title. He isn't sure why he ran. There aren't many things he is sure of, at any given moment, so it shouldn't have been any great bother. However, his mind may be oftentimes muddled and unreliable, but it wasn't as absent as most believed. In fact, at times, it could be quite aggravatingly present.

For instance, Glitch is reasonably positive Ambrose had always had a preference for men, when it came to feelings that edged on the sweet and sickly. His first love had been his work and his kingdom, of course, but all that followed after was historically broad-shouldered and square-jawed, most certainly; not that he'd really ever had occasion to entertain more than passing whimsy and sidelong glances (for the most part).

Glitch. . . Glitch doesn't have a preference for anyone, or anything - and if he does, it soon slips his mind, or is but a phantasm from a life where he'd had a different name. Not knowing up from down, or right from left, had made it easy to wander the O.Z. gypsy-like, tied to no one and tying no one down.

In spite of this, Glitch has developed a preference for DG, Raw, and Cain - for the palace, too, and even Azkadellia and Jeb and the maidservant who changes his sheets every morning (who is quite possibly not always the same maidservant, but still, the sentiment remains). Being part of a group, a constant, in general, has miraculously helped him to maintain some facsimile of memory - the same faces, day after day, the same familiar combination of dry sarcasm, soundless strength, and gruff responsibility. For the first time in annuals, he wants to wake up and be able to recognize, if nothing else, Cain's eyes from the sentry's in the hall, so blue they sometimes hurt.

Cain. Wyatt Cain, former Tin Man. Fellow. . . companion. Glitch isn't sure he would've been Ambrose's type; those attributes are scattered somewhere in the remainder of his consciousness, long-buried. And Glitch hasn't ever spent too much energy trying to peg one, himself - he'd had more important things on the remainder of his mind, such as remembering to eat and what Longcoat uniforms looked like, so he could run pell-mell when he stumbled across one. What he does know, however, is that Cain is the first man to inspire in him anything but acerbic indifference in over a decade. Maybe it is this distinction alone that is responsible for the queer, almost forgotten urge he has to be in his presence, and even miss it in his absence. Run-of-the-mouth is an unfortunate consequence of having half the brains of the average upwardly-mobile biped (sometimes, he thinks they put the zipper in the wrong place) - it takes twice as long to get where you're going, conversationally and functionally, and usually with several pit stops along the way.

But with Cain, he feels the compulsion to share, to try. The Tin Man's stolid demeanor and silent acquiescence somehow puts him at ease; makes him feel free to say anything without fear of judgment. (Fear of rejection, maybe, as he rather expects to get on everyone's last nerve, eventually, by proxy of his "condition". Cain's jaw clenches, every now and then, and a terse "weren't you meeting DG somewhere?" lets him know that his prattling is interfering with whatever stack of papers currently comprise "work" - but he tolerates him, again and again. And never in a pacifying or obligatory way - at least, not since that afternoon in the back of DeMilo's truck. Cain still owes him the debt of his life, and although the promised favor has since been repaid, his friendliness (or what passes for friendliness, as far as the subject is concerned) hasn't waned. Secretly, Glitch has half-expected this would become the case - that once the ceremonies were over, and the public declarations of heroism through, that they would maybe nod to one another in acknowledgment when passing in the corridor, and that would be it, until Glitch eventually forgot to nod back. Somehow, though, forced camaraderie has since turned to what appears to be genuine friendship, beyond his expectations.)

And now, it seems that friendship has taken another turn, again for the unexpected (although, to be fair, Glitch takes most everything as a surprise, for reasons that should by now be apparent). Six whole hours have passed, and he can still recall the conversation that took place in Cain's office that afternoon (and simply that six hours have passed, which has to be a new record all to itself). Of all the times to be unable to claim disillusionment. . .

The headcase is still touching the spine of the book when Cain enters the room and finds him. His back is facing the door, but he recognizes the self-important cadence of his footfalls almost immediately. The ghost of a smile is on his lips as he fingers the tome's gold-gilt spine, prolonging the silence.

Glitch speaks first. "A Complete History of the O.Z.," he says, rather matter-of-factly.

"Pardon?" So far, this is not the conversation the Tin Man has been expecting (although admittedly, he doesn't know what he has been expecting, really, despite having entertained at least a dozen hypotheses).

"A Complete History of the O.Z.," Glitch repeats, plucking the book from the shelf and turning to face his intruder, visual aid in hand. "Ever read it, Cain?"

Cain hesitates. "I'm not sure I follow."

Glitch's ghost-smile broadens. "That's my line."

Cain shifts his weight uncomfortably, disarmed by Zipperhead's apparent lucidity. He still can never quite tell if his consciousness is in the process of slipping out or in, during times like these, and there's no available litmus test. Still, in either case, he feels compelled to try and get through, even if it means embarrassing himself in the process (after a day like this one, a little more humiliation can't possibly make things worse).

He sighs deeply, and starts. "Look, Glitch-"

"It's a rather famous book, you know, although some of its accuracy is still under debate - at least, it was twelve annuals ago. I imagine an entirely new chapter or two needs to be added now."

His smile is tinged with rue as he continues. "I've read it at least ten times - ten times that I remember, anyhow; could've been more. And yet, if you gave me a map, I couldn't tell you Central City from the Scalps. Funny, isn't it?"


"At one point in time, I bet I'd read half the books in this room, and today, I bet I'd be pressed to recite even a single formula, a single lineage. To think. . ." He pauses, gazing briefly at the rows of shelving rising to the ceiling, and then casts his head down, laughing shortly. "Surely you see the hilarity, Cain."

When Cain speaks, his voice is quiet and serious. "'Hilarious' isn't really the word that comes to mind."

"Then what does?" The faint note of derision has vanished, and vulnerability has taken its place. "Tell me what does, Cain, because I haven't a clue."

It is this sentence that finally clear's Cain's doubts. He remembers - this is going to be harder that he had anticipated. Cain has single-handedly taken down assassins, spent hellish annuals trapped inside the same waking nightmare and emerged with his sanity intact, helped to restore concord and order to the world, and survived an entire nine-month pregnancy, yet he feels at a loss of how to proceed in the face of this battle. He wants to do the Right Thing, but for once, he isn't sure what that is, and his own uncertainty is still close to the surface.

Words have never been his strong suit, but he has to say something. "'Sad', for one." He stops, then takes a few steps forward, gaining momentum. "'Unfair', for another. But hilarious? Not even slightly."

He pins Glitch with the full force of his gaze, so that there can be no doubt of his sincerity.

Glitch has to look away after a few moments, because Cain is saying all of the right things, and his head is beginning to hurt. "Why not DG?" he can't seem to help himself from whispering.

Cain's eyebrows arch. "DG?"

"By all rights, you're the prince who comes galloping in on the white hippo- or was it horse? Yes, I think that's it - white horse in this fairy tale, and she's most obviously the princess. Don't tell me your mother never read you a bedtime story, Cain - you were young once. I think."

Cain almost laughs, but stops short at the expression on Glitch's face. "I'm old enough to be DG's father."

Glitch seems unimpressed by this explanation. "Yes, well, that hasn't exactly stopped anyone before, if you know what I mean." His eyebrows echo Cain's, and he tilts his head meaningfully. "Given the option, I think we can all agree a good old-fashioned May-December relationship is the least strange of the two."

At this, Cain does laugh - he can't help it. The sound is so rare, Glitch can scarcely believe his ears (Cain either, for that matter). Without thinking, he steps even closer.

"You think too much; has anyone ever told you that?"

Glitch is finding it increasingly difficult to keep all his fraying thoughts together. "To the contrary, actually. But that still doesn't answer my question."

"Do you really need an explanation?" He supposes the Headcase's insistence is legitimate, but he finds himself reluctant to go into detail, because he isn't sure of what to say to convince him - he's only sure that the statement is true, and this a recent development for him, too.

Glitch taps a finger to the metal tracts on his head. "Be patient with me, Cain. I'm not all there, as they say."

"Fine." Cain sighs, and goes for it. What the hell does he have to lose, at this point?

"The explanation being, DG doesn't drive me insane even when she's not around - although she's good enough at it when she is, even if she's no match for you. DG doesn't distract me from my work even after she's left the room. DG didn't haul my sorry ass out of a glacier when I was left for dead, and give me a hard lesson about compassion I'd probably needed reminding of even before my life as I knew it was taken away from me. DG doesn't take out the opposition with half as much rhythm as you do. DG, with her whole mind, has never gotten to me in quite the way you have with half of one.

"There, that good enough?" Now that the words are out of his mouth a second time, Cain feels discomfortingly brash. For Ozma's sake, does he actually fear Headcase's rejection? He was much, much younger the last time he'd had to do this. . . And even then, the odds he had been up against were decidedly different.

Glitch doesn't respond immediately, and Cain thinks, once again, that perhaps his memory has conveniently reset itself - it's been an astonishingly long while since the last reboot, after all. But, after a beat, Zipperhead chuckles to himself, and it's clear he's still in the game.

"You sure have a strange way of flattering someone, Cain," he quips, but the transparency of the remark is obvious; made more in the interest of self-preservation than to point out anything of significance.

Cain plays along - after all, he's out of his element as well, and banter is neutral territory. "You didn't ask to be flattered, and I never claimed to be good at it."

A munificent silence is had. Cain observes the motes of dust, swirling in the shafts of light severed by the frame of the picture window, and scans the looming shelves, trying to contemplate just how many lifetimes it would take to read their contents. He wonders what sort of existence Glitch really led, back when he was called Ambrose, and how anyone could find the time to read even half the volumes in the room, even if being advisor to the queen is really just a lucrative title for a life of palatial leisure. He wonders how many more he could've managed to fit in, had things not turned out the way they did. They all had their if-only's.

Glitch watches Cain's faraway eyes and sees the lines on his face soften, and then twist again - he knows the look. "You remember too much," he says quietly.

"One of us has to."

Perhaps the words should've stung, just a little, but instead, they prompt a revelation. Sometimes, all the circuits in his head align long enough to make whole connections, and this is one of those times. He used to have an exhaustive knowledge of the working of things, and the ability to both dissemble and assemble, at will - nowadays, he's much more skilled at the former, although not for lack of effort. He's never stopped trying to put two and two together.

"So that's how this works."

Cain trains his eyes on Glitch again, the darkness receding. "Come again?"

"This." He motions expansively, a patently shy smile creeping upon his features. "You and me."

"And how do we work, exactly?" Cain's tone is offensively dubious.

The smile turns into a grin; a rather rogue one. "Oh, Cain, don't get ahead of yourself. It's only the first date."

The semi-darkness does not quite conceal the Tin Man's impressive blush. He wants to be moderately perturbed that Glitch doesn't seem to be taking the situation seriously, but is more correctly irritated at how quickly he's lost his upper hand.

"I'm further suspicious of your sanity, Zipperhead, if this is your idea of a date," he answers gruffly.

"So you plan on taking me someplace classier, then?" Glitch can't quite resist.

Cain appears to have plumbed the depths of exasperation, and returned to tell the tale, but even a headcase can tell it's but a smokescreen. "I don't think I can take you anywhere."

"A little pas de deux in the moonlight, in that case?" he tries jokingly, and strikes an exaggerative pose. Of all the things that have deserted him, wit isn't one of them, even if it is just a shadow of its former majesty (he wouldn't be the one to ask). "You lead, I'll-"

A thick thumb and forefinger gain purchase on the Glitch's nimble chin, effectively shutting him up. Cain leans close, and appears to appraise him and decide the best angle of attack, for a few stilted moments. Glitch nearly squirms under the scrutiny, feeling, for a moment, all-too-much like the maps he frequently sees the Tin Man pored over. His face is uncharted territory.

"Really, Cain, of all the times that memory of yours would be helpful-"

He hasn't forgotten.

Eight annuals of involuntary celibacy, and his first kiss is with another man - a man with half his marbles, referred to by a name relative to said misplaced marbles, at that. Even if the Mystic Man had foretold this, Cain still wouldn't have believed him.

The kiss comes on a bit rough, but finishes on gentle note, not unlike the man initiating it. Glitch is mildly surprised that his lips still seem to work in all the right ways; well enough to return the gesture, anyway - his synapses are all firing off at once, and that he's functioning at all is something of a small miracle. Something warm settles in his chest and abdomen to stay, and he feels a little lightheaded (or, more accurately, lighterheaded) - a true feat, that.

"Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I could've sworn you just-"

Cain kisses him again, this time more memorably.

A few moments pass afterwards, and Glitch is decidedly dizzy. "Well, Cain, you certainly have a way of putting words in someone's mouth, I'll give you that."

"I don't think you need my help with that." His face is still so, so close. The beginnings of fine blond stubble are visible; the scent of leather and skin and soap is inundating.

Glitch's face turns serious, and his voice drops to a whisper. "What if I forget?"

"Then I'll have no choice but to remind you."

"Am I really worth all the trouble?"

"I think I made that decision for you some time ago."

He hasn't thought of it like that. "Oh. Silly question."

There's another lull in the conversation, and only inches between them. Without prior consultation, both of their attention turns to the window, the view outside a whitewash of moon and snow.

Something occurs to Glitch, and as with all snatches of information that suddenly flit into his head, he feels it necessary to latch on before it's on out the other ear again. "The Solstice Ball!" he splutters suddenly.

By this point, Cain has stopped asking for clarity, and has instead decided to patiently wait it out.

"It's some silly to-do - you know, the kind where there are too many people all wearing too much perfume, and those funny little sandwiches with strange fillings that I used to be able to pronounce. Pâté, sorbet, trifle. . . anyway. Dancing! Yes, most of all. . . there's dancing. At least, DG said there would be."

"Are you asking me to accompany you?" Cain is amused.

"You don't have to accept, of course," Glitch is hasty to make clear, rolling his eyes in the self-depreciating manner that is often his tendency. "I mean, I know parties aren't exactly your cup of tea, and I know you've probably already gotten an invitation. In fact, I'm not sure if parties are really my cup of tea, either; I seem to associate a history of general unhappiness and an intimate acquaintance with furniture upholstery when it comes to social gatherings - I fear I never was much of a social butterfly." The last phrase is set apart with handmade quotations. "But I do like to dance. I may be a bit out of practice when it comes to the new ones they're doing these days; I've been somewhat out of touch for the last few annuals - so watch your toes, Cain, as I can make no promises. I hear there's supposed to be a huge guest list this year, Our Lady's really pulling out all the-"

Cain cusps his chin again, thumb gently resting on Zipperhead's lips. It's true that he's never been overly fond of parties, himself; pomp and circumstance do not appeal to him, and what with the events of the last annual-and-a-half, he's had more than his due. Still, trailing Glitch around, beneath the noses of the upper crust, doesn't seem like a half-bad proposition, and DG will appreciate finally having someone to mock the attire of the society ladies with.

"Sure, sweetheart. Count me in."

At the reprise of the old term of endearment, Glitch's cheeks flush brilliantly red with pleasure, and Cain decides that the third time's the charm.

They'll have the rest of the conversation later (several times, if need be). There's time.



To Crown Princess DG:

This is a stern reminder to you, as the figurehead of a vast nation in the process of a rebound, to kindly not interfere in matters best left to the handling of other departments, and unsuited to your own princessly duties (which include, but are not limited to, avoiding pertinent meetings with provincial ambassadors, ignoring the palace dress code, and substituting spirits for afternoon tea).

Nevertheless, the parties involved would like to express their gratitude for your interest in the matter, however unnecessary. If it may put your mind at ease to know, the matter has been dealt with, and a favorable conclusion has been reached.

This message henceforth dissolves the necessity for any further involvement in the department of "matchmaking", and assures that the issue is being capably dealt with. If there is any cause for further doubt, it may be addressed at next week's Solstice Ball, where I am sure you will find things to be in an arrangement of your liking.

Wyatt Cain
(With additional vocabulary and syntax provided by an anonymous co-writer)

Okay, kid. You win.


Comments, critique, and discussion all fairly welcome.

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Curried Goat in a paper cup

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from: derien
date: May. 17th, 2011 12:10 pm (UTC)

Did you write a sequel?

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