Title: Key to the Heart
Disclaimer: The original Oz was created by Mister L. F. Baum. It is not mine. The name "Vinkus" for Winkie Country is courtesy of Mr. Maguire
Author's Note: Missing Scene from the 10th book "The Tin Woodsman of Oz." Contains multiple reference to that book and the Nick's origin story as stated in the first book. If you are only familiar with the 1939 movie, much of this will not make sense.
She'd taken the first chance she could to get to the Vinkus palace. A storm was rolling in, and the polished plating of the Tin Palace was gray and ominous as it reflected the sky. She couldn't refuse a call from her dear friends, especially when Scarecrow sounded so frantic. Very little upset him, so when she heard the worry in his voice, she was off on the fastest horse Ozma had in the stables.
She was greeted at the door by two nervous looking servants who whisked her inside and saw to the horse just as the first rumble of thunder echoed through the sky.
"Oh, thank the stars!" Scarecrow said as he marched into the Great Hall, snatching Dorothy's arm. "I've spent the last two days trying to reason with Nick, but he's locked himself in a chamber and refuses to come out!"
"Try a key?" she asked. As much brains as he now had, he still forgot the basics.
He waved a gloved hand. "Took the only key that unlocks it in with him. Glinda didn't call him the second-best set of brains for nothing. He's not well, and nothing I can say seems to help."
"He can't be sick, not with a body like his."
"He's heartsick, Dorothy," Scarecrow explained.
"Well, he was looking for his girl..." She cringed. "Take it that it didn't go well."
"Quite the understatement," he said drolly.
The door Scarecrow led her to was a remote chamber in the attic. A heavy oak door reinforced by steel was bolted tight. Outside, the wind whistled and the sound of rain on the tin roof above made for a terrible din.
Scarecrow knocked on the door. "Nick?"
"Please leave," said the voice on the other side of the door.
Dorothy cringed. It sounded...rusty, for lack of a better word. She pounded on the door. "Nick, it's jus' me. It's Dorothy. Scarecrow's worried for you, an' so am I." Her prairie twang didn't come out so much these days. After all, it had been several years since she moved to Oz for good, but it still surfaced when she was worried.
"It's all right, Dorothy, dear. I just need to rest."
"Horse apples, Nick," she argued. "Open that door."
"No thank you, Princess," he said formally.
Dorothy and Scarecrow looked at one another. She sighed and tapped the Magic Belt, glad she hadn't made her wish today. She tapped the buckle. "Let me in," she said firmly.
The door didn't open, but a black portal on the wall opened up. She strode through. Scarecrow tried to follow, but the portal turned to bricks, causing him to fall backwards onto his rump.
The room resembled the inside of her farmhouse the first time she woke in Oz. Everything was in shambles, broken furniture and torn cloth. China plates and glass were in shattered pieces on the floor. Sitting in the center of it all, in the only unbroken chair, was Nick. His normally brightly polished body had gone dull, and he was so still that she eyed his joints for rust. His trusty oil can was tossed into a corner, battered up, but serviceable. She knelt to pick it up.
"It's not necessary," he said. "And I did tell you not to come in."
"Ain't so good at listening," she admitted.
He shook his head. "No, you aren't."
He took a long, jagged breath, mostly for show, and it sounded like a metal bellows. There was the sound of gears and hydraulics as he brought up his hands.
"There are so many things I miss about being a man," he said. "So much I had forgotten...until now." He hung his head. "Ah, if you'd not killed that Witch with your house, I'd have gladly taken my axe to her."
"You ain't a killer, Nick."
"When I was without a heart, I probably could have managed it," he said bitterly.
She nodded. "An' the Witch woulda turned you into scrap if you'd tried going after her."
"It might have been preferable," he said. Another metallic sigh escaped him. "She would gloat over it, you know, fly through the countryside with my limbs or other parts dangling from her broom. I was her warning, Dorothy. She made an example of me to keep the Munchkinlanders in terror. Not a day went by that I hadn't dreamed of destroying her myself. I had nothing left..." Looking around, he shook his head, accompanies by the grinding of gears. "I was as heartless as she."
Dorothy put her hands on his shoulders. "You never were heartless, Nick. You can kill, sure. I seen you do it. But you ain't heartless."
"I thought Nimmie Amiee was dead," he said. "I heard a lot of the Witch's servants were killed when she was overthrown. It would have been better had I still believed she was dead."
Dorothy took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at Nick's face. The only recognizable human part of him was his eyes. The rest of him had been carved away, replaced bit by bit by tik-tok parts made of tin and joints of iron. His chest sported a small door with a keyhole and gilding, something he had added between her first and second trips to Oz, all the better to show off the prized token that the Wizard placed in his chest.
"Ah, Dorothy," he said, taking her hand in his own. She noticed he winced again. "Oh, I so wish this curse would end. I wish I could know if your hands were warm or soft, but this metal body...I miss touch most of all, but I also miss the smell of flowers and fresh-cut wood. I miss the taste of hot griddlecakes and syrup...I haven't missed them for years. I taught myself not to miss them."
"Metal or meat, Nick. You're still a man to me."
He let go of her hand and jumped out of his seat so fast the chair tipped over. He paced the room. "But I'm not a man! I'm this...monstrous collection of tik-tok and gears – a construct, a joke! My heart is made of sawdust and silk. I can work endlessly. I can travel the Brick Road, offering all I have to you and Scarecrow – to guard you with my axe and shield you with my tin. I can fight. I can kill. I can lead armies into battle and I can govern a quarter of Oz...but I'm just a machine."
"Stop it, Nick," she argued. "I didn't haul tail from Emerald City to see you feeling sorry for yourself. Now, what happened?"
He laughed humorlessly, and she almost couldn't hear him over the roll of thunder. There was something almost crazy about him, and it scared her.
"We met her other suitor. Captain Fyter of the Royal Army. At first, he claimed to have taken up with her after I was rusted solid. On the way back, he makes a mistake and I learn the truth. She'd been faithless to me the whole time." He kicked a piece of furniture. "The Witch put him under the same curse as me."
"Oh, dear," she said. "Little wonder you're upset."
"That's not even half the story. We both go searching and find Klu-Klip. He's set himself up as mayor of a town full of creations – tik-toks with meat parts. It's ghastly, seeing these half-metal and half-meat...things shambling about. Claims he went to the Witch's palace after she was gone to loot it. He found some magical glue among other things and set to work." Another bitter snort. "And considering she glued a finger back on for him and was able to get into her palace in the first place? I'll bet my oilcan that he was in cahoots with her."
"Story keeps getting worse, yeah."
He hung his head, looking almost like a puppet with snapped strings as he leaned against the wall. "I find her...we find her. Maybe deep down, I knew it, but she's a married woman now."
"Aw, Nick." She put her hands on his shoulders as he shook.
"I wanted her to be happy. She's safe, living peacefully...but Klu-Klip topped it. One of those awful half-machines he made is her husband. His 'first and finest.' Called him 'Chopfyt.' Doesn't take much to figure out where he got the flesh parts to build Nimmie's husband with..."
Dorothy winced. "Y'mean, he built her a man outta what was cut outta you an' her other sweetheart?"
Her only answer was a nod.
"Oh, hell, Nick. I dunno what to say."
He took a deep breath in. "He can even give her a child. Something I can't." He seemed to look past her. "And Fyter is so much like I was, but he's glad to be without a heart. He seems to be better at forgetting he was a man."
She smiled wanly. "Uncle Henry and Aunt Em never had kids. I was the closest they got. And Em let me know last time I visited that it didn't matter what kind of skin a man has or what's under his britches. What makes a man," she said, placing her hand on the little door he had carved in his chest. "Is 'tween his ribs."
They stood there in silence for a long time before Nick pulled himself to his feet and hugged his friend. "You've grown up."
"And you've grown soft, but I don't mind none."
After pulling back, he knelt beside the ruins of a nightstand, plucking out a little gold key, and pressing it into her hand.
"I was planning to give this to her, but it seems more appropriate to give it to you."
"Nick? This is..." She smiled shakily. "Key to your heart?"
"Exactly. I wanted a heart so I could return to Nimmie Amiee, but it was because of you that I found one. And while the Scarecrow is my closest friend, you're always best at reminding me of what that Witch couldn't take from me."
Dorothy kissed his cheek. "I'll keep it safe."
"I know you will."
"Ready to join the living, then?"
He nodded and took her arm. "I think so."
It took his strength to undo the heavy bolt that barred the door, but it opened, revealing a much-relieved Scarecrow. With Dorothy on one arm, and Scarecrow on the other, Nick left that room and never returned to it.