“Worried?” he scoffed. “Why should I be worried? That’s my brain in there, you know. It doesn’t scare me. I think I could take it in a fight.”
“Your brain scares me, sometimes.” Cain muttered and shook his head. Despite the seriousness of it all, he found himself fighting a smile. “When’s the surgery?”
“Oh, there’s a thing.” Glitch waved his hand vaguely, knocking against a vase. He caught it neatly and set it upright again, then squinted at it. “Oh, hey, this is from the reign of Dorothy Gale the fourth! No, fifth.” He frowned. “Definitely fifth. See the little swirly bits? That’s because there was this painter who —”
Cain turned at DG’s voice. “Princess.” He nodded.
“Oh, not a witch!” Glitch protested. “Just this gal who was really good with a brush.”
“Of course, Glitch.” DG grinned at him, then put her hands on her hips. “And what do you mean, the fifth? How many of me are there?”
Glitch cocked his head. “I only see one.” He looked at Cain. “They said I might see double for a while, though.” He felt for his zipper, and his eyes widened. “I haven’t missed the surgery, have I?”
“You’re fine, Glitch.” DG took his arm and led him over to a plush couch. “You’re not worried, are you?”
“Worried?” he scoffed. “Why in Ozma’s name should I be worried?”
His hands twisted in the folds of the blanket around him, and he picked at the threads, too nervous to keep still, too frightened to move.
“I’m scared, your majesty.” His eyes flicked to the queen and away. Her concern was almost smothering, but he couldn’t think of anyone else to go to. Well, he probably hadn’t been able to. He wouldn’t be here otherwise, would he? He frowned. There was someone else… He bit his lip and walked through the hallways in his head. Cain! But he couldn’t worry Cain. Or DG. He should go to the queen; she must give good advice. If he could remember…
“Ambrose.” A beautiful lady sat by him and took his hands in hers.
He blinked at her. “Oh! Your majesty; what a coincidence. I was just going to see you.”
“I know.” She looked at him and smiled sadly. He took a deep breath and tried to smile back. It felt wrong, even though he did his best. Her smile warmed, though, even if it was still a little sad, like all the smiles she gave him. “Whenever I worry over taking a difficult step, I ask myself, what is the best that can happen, and what is the worst? So, what are they?”
“What are what?”
There was that flicker of sadness and concern over her face again, but she squeezed his hands and spoke evenly. “What is the best that can come of this?”
“Oh, that’s easy!” He grinned, shaky but real this time. “I get my marbles back.”
“All right.” She rubbed his cold hands between hers. “And what is the worst that can happen?”
He frowned, trying to remember. IEGWSABMH. He nodded. “If everything goes wrong, same as before, maybe headaches,” he announced. Then he perked up, grinning for real. “Hey, that’s not so bad! I can handle a little headache if I have to.” The queen smiled at him again, and he shrugged, a little embarrassed, and looked away. “You’re pretty smart. I guess that’s why you’re queen.”
“I am queen because my mother was queen,” she corrected with a shake of her head. “But a very wise man taught me many useful things.” She reached out and tucked his hair behind one ear. “I hope to meet him again some day.”
Glitch sat, chin on his knees, arms curled around him, and stared at the tank. “Hello, me.” He spoke quietly; it seemed right to keep this private. “I guess not many folks can really talk to themselves. We’re lucky that way.” He shifted and eyed the brain dubiously. “I think. Well, maybe you think. I don’t really think much on my own.”
“Glitch think often. Sometimes, too much.”
Glitch rolled his eyes. “Only you ever accuse me of that.” He looked over at Raw as the viewer came into the room. “I think.”
“Only Raw,” Raw confirmed. “Others not see enough.”
Glitch shrugged, not even sure what that meant. He eyed his brain again, trying to remember…Raw had connected the two of them. Of him. That was a room in the palace in his mind — him, and Cain, and Raw, fighting to get rid of the witch. He couldn’t remember much about what it had been like, being him and the brain both, but he knew it had happened. Hopefully, when they were both one person again…
He blinked and sat bolt upright. “Raw!”
Glitch looked at him earnestly. “You need to do that thing — you can help me talk to — to me, right? The brain part of me, I mean.”
“Yes,” Raw nodded reluctantly. “But why? Soon Glitch and brain be same person. Not need Raw.”
“No, you see —” he clutched Raw’s arm. “Everybody’s been asking me if I’m sure and I’m ready and everything, but nobody’s asked the rest of me! What if —” he swallowed. “What if the brain part of me doesn’t want to get back in the rest of me? Somebody should ask it.” He frowned, affronted on his brain’s behalf. “I know I’d want to be asked. And I’m me. So I should ask me.”
Raw eyed him, but he seemed more bemused than upset. Then he patted Glitch’s arm. “We ask.”
His friends all stood around to see him off, like he was going on a trip. Am I going on a trip? He frowned and felt his clothing, but it was flimsy indoor stuff, and he relaxed. No trip. Right. But something. “Well, um.” He glanced at all the well-meaning faces: DG looking determined and solemn; the queen with her, hopeful; Raw, steady; Cain… Cain ran a hand down the middle of his head, giving him a quick look, and the gesture sparked his memory. The surgery! He grinned at Cain, relieved, then spread the smile to everyone else there. “I’ll see you again in a little while!”
“He’ll be fine, princess. He’s got good people looking after him.” Cain nodded at DG, most of his attention never moving from the door to the surgery.
“The best,” she answered in automatic defense of her mom (who probably didn’t need it) and Az (who definitely did, no matter what she said). “But something could always go wrong.”
“Not likely.” Cain shrugged. “Worst that happens is we get Glitch back anyway, right?”
“I suppose.” She wrapped her arms around herself to keep from clinging to him like a little girl. “I really want this to go right, though. He deserves it.”
“I know, kid.” He reached out and patted her on the shoulder a bit awkwardly. “Don’t worry; he’ll be fine.”
Cain sat back and stretched his legs out, looking at the man in the bed. “Think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen you still, headcase.” He shook his head. “Might not be able to call you that, soon; they’ve still got some tests to do first, but you could be leaving us all in the dust when you wake up.”
He sighed and rubbed his face. “I’m sitting in the dark talking to an unconscious, possibly half-brained, definitely insane nobleman. I really am losing it.” He smiled, though it probably came out as more of a grimace. But who was here to care, anyway? “No offense.”
He watched as Glitch’s eyelids fluttered. The man had grown even thinner, his skin waxy and translucent as his body ate up its resources trying to heal. Even with all the magic and science, they said a lot of it came down to Glitch. Well, they said Ambrose, but until that was proven one way or the other, he was sticking with what he knew.
After a while, the quiet grew stifling; he didn’t do so well with quiet and still these days, either. He reached out and wrapped his hand around one of Glitch’s wrists, feeling the movement of his pulse and occasional twitch of his arm. “Just get better, okay? You don’t seem right without moving and yapping on.”
“Cain?” Cain started guiltily and almost dropped his hand, then eyed Raw defiantly, though the viewer smiled back. “How is Glitch?”
Cain shrugged. “No way of knowing yet. Heck, you could probably tell better than I can.”
“Hard to tell, when so far asleep.” He gestured at Glitch and shrugged. “Only confusion.”
“Well, we’ll know soon enough, I’m sure.” He noticed he was stroking Glitch’s wrist lightly, and stilled his fingers, feeling silly. As much as he appreciated Raw, he couldn’t help but wish they were alone again.
Raw smiled and bowed a little, heading back for the door. He turned when he reached it, and nodded. “Good you talk to Glitch,” he said. “Good for him, good for you.” Then he turned again and was gone.
Cain yawned and rubbed his neck, sore from falling asleep in the chair by Glitch’s bed. He hunted up the largest mug he could find and poured himself black coffee. The kitchen servants were used to him by now and his habit of refusing to be served. Mostly they stayed out of his way, though a few gave him exasperated looks.
Cain turned, nodding at Jeb, feeling just a touch guilty. They’d just started really reconnecting, and now it seemed he’d been spending most of his time looking after Glitch, waiting for the man to wake up. And it wasn’t like he could actually do anything, but he couldn’t stop wanting to.
“Hey, Jeb. How’s the hunting going?” He found another mug and raised a questioning eyebrow; Jeb nodded, and Cain filled it for him, earning himself a smile.
“Not too bad.” Jeb leaned on a table and sipped his coffee. “Most of the longcoats were just conscripts; soon as they find out the witch is gone, they give up and go home. Most of the rest are just self-important idiots; we’re holding them for trial, but they’ll do their time and keep their heads down. Only a few are really vicious.”
Like Zero. Neither of them said it, but he knew they both thought it.
“Just be careful, okay? Careful of them, and careful of wanting vengeance too much.”
“I am.” Jeb gave him a tolerant smile, and Cain tried to avoid feeling like a wary old geezer. “If you can do it after everything, I guess I can, too.”
Cain shrugged uncomfortably. “You know I’m damn proud of you, right?” he asked gruffly, then buried his face in his coffee.
Jeb’s smile widened, but he let the subject drop. “So how’s your friend doing?”
Cain sighed. “Well, he’s still asleep mostly. Woken up enough to mumble a few times, and they’ve tested his reactions. Far as they can tell, everything’s okay. We’re all just waiting to hear from him.”
Jeb nodded. “We’re all pulling for him, just so you know. Tell him that, okay?”
Cain smiled. “I will. Thanks.”
Voices outside his head, whispering like thunder, and he whimpered and twitched, too weak to curl in on himself, catching snippets of speech he couldn’t make sense of. Something was missing, but he couldn’t think, there were too many things inside his head yelling at him. Go away, leave me alone, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t seem to find the words, and he lost himself with everything else, the room whirling around him. Then a warm hand rested on his forehead, and soothing calm spread out from it, and he sighed and fell back to sleep.
Glitch’s breathing hitched and grew rougher, and he stirred in the bed. Cain shifted forward and put a hand on his shoulder, and his eyes struggled slowly open. His gaze flitted over the room and lighted on Cain, moving over his face. Cain felt his heart drop at the lack of recognition there, telling himself not to worry, maybe he wasn’t quite awake yet.
“Hey.” He did his best to smile down at Glitch, feeling like they’d been here before. “Good morning, sweetheart. Promise not to slap you this time.”
Glitch’s forehead furrowed a little further, but his lips moved, and after a moment he whispered, “Cain?”
Cain grinned. “Yeah. Hold on.” He reached for the water on the side table and slid an arm under Glitch to help him sit forward. “Here.” With his help, Glitch was able to swallow a bit, flicking out his tongue to wet his cracked lips. “Better?”
Glitch nodded, then kept nodding, his head slipping down onto Cain’s chest as he started falling back to sleep. Cain chuckled and settled in where he was, not having the heart to move him.
He woke in someone’s arms, his head pounding terribly, and twitched. Ow; my head hasn’t hurt this much in ages! Whoever this is feels nice, though. Check for damage — can’t be sure what might have happened. Possible degradation, need to run some tests. Hangover? Don’t remember. Wouldn’t drink so much I’d forget. Some other explanation? Oh, right, surgery. He blinked and gasped, all the memories ending at the same conclusion. Back with myself. And somebody else. He glanced around the room, remembering what sight was like, checking for danger, then relaxed.
He focused on the person holding him. Something familiar in his smell. Smell was a powerful reminder of things; he hadn’t smelled anything in ages, though he could still recall the stench of the dungeons and the clean smell of outside and the fire he’d built to warm up Cain after his little dip. He made a frustrated noise, trying to reconcile it all, and the person holding him rubbed his arms.
“Hey, you okay?” The voice was familiar/strange, and he glanced over his shoulder as the man shifted, and frowned, unable to place him. He tried to make his voice work, and the man chuckled. “You’re a regular fish.” The man shifted to pick up a glass of water, and he turned to look at him better.
“Cain!” It was a relief to put a name with that face, and now he had, he could place the smell and the sound of his voice, and how could he have forgotten? Well, of course, I never knew him but for a few moments in the tower, and he called me someone else’s name…Called me my name!
“Hey! Glitch!” Cain shook his shoulder, and he realized he was breathing fast and panicked.
Don’t hyperventilate. Have to remember to breathe, not too fast.
“Glitch!” Then, a little uncertain, “Ambrose!”
He laughed and buried his face in Cain’s shoulder, turning just enough to obediently sip the water Cain held for him. “I think I’ll be glitching a while yet, don’t worry.”
“You okay? The doctors said it seemed to go well.”
“I’m not sure I trust the doctors. Do you?”
“I trust you; that’s why I’m asking. What’s going on in that whole brain of yours?”
He tried for a laugh and managed a sob. “Too much.”
His friends came in one at a time, though he clung to Cain and didn’t let him out of his sight. DG hugged him tight, and there was a certain relief in seeing her, even if half of him was astonished at how grown she was. The queen was even better; she hadn’t changed much, and she politely ignored his new quirks and pretended not to worry.
“She always calls you Ambrose.” Cain steadied the tray on the bed so he could try to feed himself.
He shuffled the fork from one hand to the other, trying to find the best way of holding it. Used to be right-handed. He went with that, tasting the food slowly to make sure of what it was, trying to put taste with memory. “Well, it’s my name?”
“You want me to stop calling you Glitch?” Cain snitched a … a something small and round … from the tray. He focused on it. Grape!
“Why?” He speared a bit of meat and chewed carefully.
“Well, you kind of insisted you were Ambrose, back…” he gestured awkwardly. “In the tower.”
“I am Ambrose. I…” He chewed his lip and curled around his legs, forehead frowning as he thought about it. “That’s all I had for a very long time. I couldn’t see or hear or feel, there was just me and the machinery, and I had to be me, I couldn’t forget it, or I’d be gone!”
Cain wrapped an arm around him, soothing, and he leaned against him, trying to relax. “But I’m Glitch, too, and I was Glitch for a long time, and I guess I’m still pretty glitchy, like when you sit on that side and I forget your name. And lots of people have nicknames, right?”
“They do,” Cain agreed. He hugged him and hesitantly kissed his forehead, right next to where the end of the zipper had been. “For instance, some folks actually call me Wyatt.”
“Wyatt.” Ambrose smiled, and with a yawn gave up eating, curling into Cain’s…Wyatt’s side and falling asleep. There were voices outside the room, but he was already drifting off, and couldn’t make much sense of them, and didn’t bother trying.
“I’m fine, Wyatt, stop worrying.” The words were sharp, but Ambrose’s tone was distracted, and he was staring at the device in his left hand, left eye squinted shut, frowning faintly.
“Who said I’m worrying?” He frowned and crossed his arms, leaning against a worktable. “You can’t figure out what that thing is? Neither can I.”
“You didn’t invent it!” He gave up and ran his hands over it, opening both eyes, then nodded. He didn’t bother telling Wyatt whatever he’d figured out, but sometimes not knowing what was going on in that man’s head was a blessing.
“Better now?” Without waiting for an answer, he reached out and plucked it from Ambrose’s hands, setting it down carefully. “Can we go to dinner?”
“Dinner?” He frowned out the window and blinked at the palace gardens, red-tinged with the setting sun. “I never had lunch!”
“Yeah, I know.” Wyatt snorted. “Just think, some folks thought you’d remember things better when you had your brain back.”
“They didn’t know him.” The queen and Ahamo stood in the doorway, and Ambrose stood to bow as Wyatt did. She gazed at Ambrose fondly. “We had a young boy at the summer palace whose only job was fetching Ambrose for meals.”
“Not true, your majesty!” Ambrose protested, then shrugged, grinning sheepishly. “Sometimes he used to bring the food to me.”
The queen laughed. “Well, as you are quite thoroughly distracted now, I trust you will both make it down to the banquet hall.” She smiled and nodded at them both before sweeping down the hallway on her consort’s arm.
“I am getting better,” Ambrose protested after her.
“Of course you are, sweetheart.” Wyatt shook his head.
“I am!” Ambrose scowled at him. “Well, at least as far as being one person’s concerned.” He sighed.
“The double vision’s gone now, right?” Wyatt pointed out.
“Mostly. Except when I’m tired,” he agreed.
“And you recognize me on both sides now?” He smiled and pulled Ambrose toward him.
“I recognize most everybody now.” He smiled back, proud, then threw a disdainful look at the gadget on the table. “I’m still working with things.”
“See? It’s coming.” He kissed Ambrose softly. “Tell you what: I won’t worry if you don’t.”
Ambrose smiled and wrapped his arms around him. “Who’s worried?”