Author's Notes: This is a 'I've been in fandom 10 years' celebration fic, written for cereta. The title and a line in the story are from WB Yeats' "The Stolen Child".
Years in Oz slipped by like beads on a string, all beautiful and similar. Dorothy, after all her family were safely in Oz, forgot almost completely about the outside world and let time pass as it would. Every now and then she would wonder what had happened to someone she used to know. Every now and then she would miss something from that time, like the feel of a too-hot sun, or the stillness before a rainstorm.
One day, Ozma, as they sat together of a quiet afternoon, took her hand.
"Come with me, Dorothy," she said. Dorothy looked up at her friend, wondering what the Princess had planned. They walked together to Ozma's rooms, where the Magic Picture hung. Ozma stopped there, and turned to face Dorothy, a strange intensity of questions in her face that Dorothy had never seen before.
"Do you know how long it's been since you decided to stay with me in Oz, dear?" she asked, and her face was troubled.
Dorothy shook her head. "No, I don't, Ozma. Why?"
"I do," Ozma said. "To the very minute. It's ten years today."
Dorothy didn't understand why Ozma was so intense about it. "Does it matter?"
"Yes," Ozma said, and turned her face away from Dorothy, staring for a moment into the distance. "I'm supposed to give you a choice, now. It's in the Rules and...I have to obey them." The last was said in a quiet voice, and Dorothy could see a tear run down the Princess' face.
She couldn't help her reaction, she hugged Ozma close and whispered, "You've defied the Rules before."
"Yes," Ozma said, pulling Dorothy down with her to sit together on a velvet-covered sofa nearby, "but this is more than that. It's for you, because I love you, that I have do this." She took a breath. "It's been ten years for us here. How long do you think it's been for the world beyond the Desert that surrounds us?"
Dorothy shook her head, she'd never thought about it. "Ten years?"
"No," Ozma said. "This is Fairyland, remember. Do you know any of the old tales of people stolen by the Fairies?"
Dorothy thought back and remembered an old story she'd been told as a youngster in school. "I remember Rip Van Winkle."
"What happened to him?" Ozma's tone was determined now.
"He..." She thought about it and couldn't complete the sentence for a moment. "It was over a hundred years."
"Yes." Ozma said. "Everything had changed, everything."
"So how long has it been?"
Ozma looked up at the Magic Picture and waved her wand. "Almost exactly a hundred years."
The Magic Picture faded in to a picture of a brown and barren grassland. "That's the farm I lived on," Dorothy said. "What's happened since?"
As if the Magic Picture was listening to her, it began to show pictures, reflecting time passing, year by year. Of war at first, so many young boys dying horrible deaths, and Ozma held her hand so tightly through those images. A few flashes of celebration, then some images of women marching and voting. Following that there were a few shots of guns, people, short skirts, dancing, drinking, a projected screen, and a slow spin around a crowded room full of stockbrokers panicking. Then a long succession of images of heartbroken, poor, families, of dust on the wind and tears.
Then another war, a moustached man ranting, and many, many images of people so starved and emaciated that Dorothy hid her head against Ozma and could not watch. When she looked up again she found there were tears in her eyes and mushroom clouds erupting on the screen.
And the images went on, cars and telephones and new inventions spinning by so fast she could hardly catch them. There was fear of "Red" something, but she didn't know what, and a black woman sat silent, lips pressed together, on a bus. A white man gave a speech about doing something for your country, and then a black man gave a speech about a dream, and then she was seeing Earth from the very stars themselves, from the outside.
People in strange clothes with long hair danced, smoke swirling over their heads. A crowd rioted and was driven back. And all through this the new inventions kept coming, flashes of new cars, of televisions, of things she couldn't possibly understand the use of. Ozma watched it all with her, holding her hand, quiet.
Then the images started coming faster and faster, which she didn't even think was possible. More war, always war, more men giving speeches. Planes hit towers, more bombs fell, a hurricane raged, and floods filled up the landscape. The images flickered and a man gave another speech, something about 'terrorist killers'. She shuddered, took another breath, noticed that tears were sliding down her face. But there was one final image - a tall black man stood before a laughing, dancing, cheering crowd, and held his hand up for silence, something utterly triumphant in his expression.
The screen went blank and Dorothy buried her head in Ozma's shoulder, shaking.
"This is your choice," Ozma said softly. "You can go back if you want to, if you think that world needs you. Or you can stay here, because" - her voice broke - "I need you."
Dorothy drew back and looked at Ozma, then at the blank screen again. She opened her mouth to say "Of course I'll stay," but couldn't get the words out. Realisation broke over her. Oz was Oz, would always be Oz. But by staying she rejected any chance of making the world where she was born a better place, of changing anything.
"What would have happened to me if I had not stayed in Oz, or if I had never come to Oz?" she asked Ozma, carefully.
"I don't know," Ozma said, very quiet, going very still. "You would have lived a life, lived and died out there."
"What will happen if I go back now?" She didn't think Ozma knew this, but had to ask anyway.
Ozma shook her head. "Please don't - " she began to say, then caught herself. "If you go back, your life is yours to make what you can of it. You will have all my love and blessings."
There was only one thing to say. "Come with me," Dorothy breathed. "Defy your Rules one last time, and let's go make a difference in the world, together."
Ozma looked at her, a great sorrow in her face. "Please don't ask that of me," she said. "I might go, if you ask. And oh, little one, the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
Dorothy smiled. "Let's change it then, you and me. Even just a little will be enough."
"Tip, I'm home!" Dorothy rushed into the house, dropping her backpack on the floor as she went, letting the door fall shut behind her. She heard the clatter of dishes in the kitchen and then the water being turned off. She entered the room to find her partner drying her hands.
"Good day with the students, Dorie?" The person once known as Ozma, now a slender woman with close-cropped black hair wearing jeans and a man's shirt, brushed a hand through Dorothy's blonde curls, bent, and kissed her softly.
"Yeah," Dorothy said once the kiss broke, smiling up at her wife's face. "Do you know what day it is?"
Tip shook her head. "No idea, honey."
"I know," Dorothy said. "Almost to the very minute. We've been here ten years. Which means you have a choice."
"I could go back," Tip said, a thoughtful look appearing on her face. Dorothy stepped back.
"It's your choice. I wouldn't blame you."
Tip looked at her, love and ferocity in her gaze. "I will never leave you, Dorie. Never. Not for one moment could I even consider -" she broke off and began to laugh. "Besides," she said, "we have a world to change and not nearly enough time to do it in." Taking Dorothy's hand, the one with the ring on it, she kissed it. "No, sweetheart, tomorrow I'll be going to work as usual, one broken body after another to heal and make comfortable. And you'll be going to work as usual, to teach those kids how to live their lives more brightly, more wisely, leading them with your example."
Dorothy smiled. "To the future, Princess," she said, holding up an imaginary glass.
Their hands met. "To the future," Tip echoed, and together they danced around the small kitchen, laughing, to distant, unheard music.