(…are found along the Old Road).
She wakes up in her amber-lit chambers, a beautiful art noveau room where her own art looks out of place. The sunlight makes carefully laid out gowns glitter like dew. They feel brittle on her skin, as if they'd been painstakingly sculpted in fine sugar, and she thinks they'd look pretty on someone else. Under the many layers, she feels naked. She misses her jeans, her bomber jacket, her sneakers. No one can even see the high heels, but it doesn't matter, because everyone approves when they see her struggling with them.
She spends hours pitying her own reflection as her hair is stroked and braided and ironed into something regal that makes her look even more detached. She thinks of helmets and the many fines she got for speeding. She remembers ponytails, but that's over, too.
This was supposed to be home, but as she walks down the vast, echoing halls she still finds herself thinking it, almost against her will: There should be more to life than this.
At the library, she doodles on beautiful hand-made notebooks, daydreaming to the smell of centuries of books. Occasionally she thinks the lessons might be interesting if there were someone to share them with, before she remembers lonely classrooms full of bleary-eyed strangers, and wanting to run away from it all.
She attempts to strike up friendships with the people who wait on her. They are always polite and reserved. Sometimes she thinks she knows that smile, the one you force yourself to wear when you know the food is not that great and the tips haven't been, either. She's not used to being the one waited on, and the small talk stays small.
Her family loves the child who left, but struggles with the woman who returned. She cherishes the distant memories of who they were, as one does a hazy childhood day in the sun. Her surrogate family is still too real in her mind, almost even more tangible. Sometimes she dreams she walks barefoot down the Old Road, all the way to Milltown. She knocks on their door, but they never answer.
At night comes a different kind of quiet. It's not the humdrum silence of the Kansas plains, softened by the din of distant roads and a radio spilling classic rock in her bedroom. It's a mandatory hush, as if the walls themselves pretended for the sake of propriety, all the while hiding whispers around corners with eyes wide open in the dark. She lies in bed that way, too. Often she fears that they talk about her, calling her impostor in some arcane tongue.
In her dreams, she's always a stranger.
He goes to bed at night, a perfectly soft bed with silk sheets and goose-feather pillows on which he does not sleep. Instead, he paces, thinks, tries to remember; forgets, frets. He studies the old devices and even older journals as he does during the day, but on his own terms. They expect him to remember. They expect him to explain. Too often it feels like they expect him to be a whole different man, one he thought he knew, only to realize it's mostly by reputation.
The looking-glass reveals the years that puddles of water never could, and the young man in the paintings seems more and more like a stranger, one whose clothes will never fit him. He misses his jumper, his vest, the coat that saved his life. He's not used to having more than one of anything. He searches his fragmented memories for the story of who he is now, but the years have mostly left their mark on the outside.
He wanders aimlessly down the palace halls, an expected nuisance for the night guards. He sits on the floor in front of the portraits, holding his bare feet like a child. When nobody's looking, he mirrors postures and demeanors that never feel familiar, even though they are.
When he remembers the way, and if the guards are in a good mood, he pays a visit to the former contents of his skull. Unseen clockwork tic-tocks somewhere nearby, permanently tinting the silence with a subtle, needless urgency. Without Viewers, he can't expect answers, but he still talks to himself. He sometimes likes it better that way.
The guards have instructions to never let him outside the palace at night and, every once in a while, he thinks he understands why. From his bedroom balcony, he surprises himself by missing the places unseen by the moon, and the call of the owls, and the sound of grit beneath his boots. Not worrying about anything but the very next day, and having no one to let down but himself.
When everyone is awake, there are whispers, and glances, and tones of voice he would rather not notice, so that's exactly what he pretends to do. Everyone is happier that way. In the first hours of dawn, he feels more like the faded portrait and less like the flesh and blood; a disposable facsimile good only until the original returns. Lying on the floor, next to the bed where he never sleeps, the tic-tock from the brain room echoes in his hollow head.
Every morning she gets up from her bed to cross out and sigh away another day on the calendar. Twenty-four hours closer to a long evening of speeches and diplomacy, hypocrisy and table manners, a suffocating corset and balancing acts on high heels. Closer to presentations and announcements and pleasure-to-meet-yous that aren't, really. One less day of being DG, one more day of letting a royal title define the rest of her life. Princess, for now. Queen, someday, if her mother has her way. Sometimes the only thing that helps is shutting her eyes tight until she sees sparks. She imagines the wind on her face, her grip on the handles, the roar of the motor beneath her and the endless miles of road ahead. She breathes.
Every time the alchemists have to reschedule is a cause for great disappointment in the palace, and a chance for him to remain himself a while longer. It seems to him that this day in particular everyone else regrets that fact, because he was supposed to be someone else by the time the guests arrived. Not the headcase anymore, but the brilliant man the Viewers can talk to: the diplomat, the scientist, the engineer, the strategist. The one who would remember being tortured and tied and drugged and cut open before being thrown out in the woods and left to die. He looks at himself in the mirror, new clothes and old zipper, and he literally can't remember the last time he felt so grateful about not remembering a thing.
He'd known it would be a difficult evening for him, full of the old murmurs and stares and deepest condolences, as if he had died. She'd known it would be an embarrassing evening for her, full of judgmental eyes and sycophantic smiles. But it had been so much better: it had been so much worse.
He'd mostly just nodded and smiled politely, as he'd been told to do, and she'd played gracious princess fine for most of the evening. The problem was that she was used to people's clothes not being alive, and he could not help looking after her.
The subject of live, horrible-looking, sharply-fanged pets worn by their owners as fashionable accessories had never come up in those long, tedious evenings in the library, so on that evening, Princess Dorothy Gail of the Outer Zone had reacted quickly, snatching a bejeweled cane from the hands of an elderly Duke and going after the poor creature so fast that no one but the former Royal Advisor had realized her intentions, having seen her react recklessly before.
It had been quite a scene: He'd yelled after her—most disrespectfully calling her "DG" instead of addressing her properly—, she'd tried to get the creature off the large lady wearing it, he'd tried to take the cane from the Princess and she'd refused to let go of it. They'd argued over it in a tug-o-war and she'd finally dropped it, at which point they'd realized everyone in the hall had been staring at them. Ahamo had seemed amused. Azkadellia had looked embarrassed. The Queen had been utterly mortified.
The two of them had apologized awkwardly to both the Baroness and the Duke. Glitch had also apologized to the creature. Then they'd looked for the cane. Then they'd tried to pick it up at the same time, which had resulted in them bumping their heads. So just when it looked like things could not get any worse, her braided hair had gotten tangled in his zipper and, under the stares of a hundred guests, they'd gotten stuck.
And so it was that they had found what they didn't know they were looking for.
They go through each day pretending they're what everyone else wants them to be. She studies her history, her magic, her politics, always remembering to act contrite for her behavior at the banquet. He reviews his diaries and visits the alchemists, preparing for the new date they've set. Neither of them is quite sure why they hadn't talked much to each other since their return. He thought she was too busy with her new duties as a royal; she thought he was too immersed in his old world of cogs and wheels to think of her. Spending some time together away from prying eyes had cleared that up. And finding each other meant finding themselves again, somehow.
She doesn't mind his forgetfulness, his glitches, his occasional lack of motor skills. She doesn't judge him for the zipper on his head at all, something for which he's immensely grateful. As for her, she's glad to spend time with someone who forgets she's royalty. He doesn't care what she wears, how she talks or which fork she chooses to eat her meal. Most of all, he doesn't try to tame the fire in her, like others do. He doesn't expect her to be a princess, and likewise she doesn't expect him to be a genius again. Neither is what they're supposed to be anymore, and in each other's company, they're free to be who they are.
They find excuses to meet almost every day, to share their small tragedies and triumphs. They secretly complain about all the nonsense regarding etiquette and all who frown upon them for not following it to the letter. She makes fun of it and he laughs with her, because propriety is just impossible to observe when you're missing half a brain. Often, they try to piece together what they remember about their distant past, him as inventor and her as a child, and talk about their not-so-distant past of waitressing and wandering, of bikes and old brick roads. Past lives. Lifetimes.
Sometimes they sneak out of the palace at night, just to walk, just to talk. It's like being on the road again, not knowing where it leads. The silence outside is so much different: it's awake, alive, inspiring. Not like the whispers in the halls. Not like the tic-tock in the brain room. They could walk under the stars until the suns rose and then keep walking.
The morning they're found out they're asleep in the garden, having been too tired from wandering all night to sneak back into their respective chambers. The rumors spread like wildfire, scandalous as to make his ears go pink and her eyes roll in contemptuous annoyance. Everyone misunderstands, her family in particular. A Princess would never, is all she hears. He's not himself, is all the court cares about, with a sigh of relief because the alchemists are finally ready. So she makes a choice. Writes a letter. She hates leaving her sister behind, because she promised she would never do it again, but she'd regret staying even more. The letter is addressed to her father, the only one who sees how ridiculous this whole situation has become. The only person with a whole brain who might understand that what she needs is time.
That night, she sneaks into his friend's chambers through the window. At first he's relieved to see her, but only at first. She laughs when he puts on the old royal highness act, telling her to go back to her chambers this instant, because she's not going back. All she's packed is her sketchbook and watercolors, her father's compass and a few candy bars in an old leather purse she found in her closet. She says she'll go, with or without him, his choice, but she's vulnerable and uncertain until he finally breaks a smile. She rummages through his drawers, pulling his ratty striped jumper from the bottom one, throwing it at him hopefully. He looks at her, eager and stubborn, wearing the same bomber jacket and jeans she did when he second met her, and he knows there's no way in the world he'd let her leave on her own.
The Old Road feels different that night, like a page bookmarked for too long, half-read too many times but only now at last turned. This is their yellow brick road, a moonlit path of broken bricks and old memories on which the four winds blow; the same path a scarecrow and a lost girl treaded once, long ago, as she searched for home.
She slips her arm through his, and that's all it takes for their lives to start anew.
There's dew on the grass by the time they arrive to Milltown after a night's walk. She's glad to see it's no longer the forbidden zone she found when she first arrived, but once again the small town her pop so loved to reminisce about: a quaint, little corner of the world from which to see the suns rise and fall, and rise again.
She knows their house just by looking at it, having seen it before in her dreams. With the first tenuous light of dawn she asks him to knock on the door, her grip tight on his sleeve for fear they won't answer, won't know her. But the windows are lit and soon enough the door opens. They know her. They've missed her so.
Memories, he finds, are harder to lose when there's someone to share them with. Whether that's because she's there to keep them or because they mean something now, he's not sure. What he does know is that he can remember every day he spends with her so much better than all the days without her. That he can remember himself so much more with her by his side.
But there's something he does remember quite well from when he was first a wanderer: a terrible feeling of aimlessness, of being adrift, that made the roads and the days seem far too long. There is no real purpose to their wandering now, no clear direction. She climbs on the bike they fixed together in Milltown, and he climbs on with her, off to everywhere and nowhere. In the back seat with his arms around her, half-fascinated and half-terrified by her love of high speeds, he wonders why the feeling is gone.
Her backpack is much fuller now: clips and magazines and an atlas so ancient it could be outdated. Pictures, watercolors. Hers. Peeking dog-eared from between the pages of the new journal he started writing. Places, places, places. So many of them to see in this wanderlust run, this not-quite-elopement of walks and rides and travel storms between worlds, looking for a Milltown of their own.
Not all days are great, but every day is new, unexpected, full of potential for awe and wonder, catastrophe and kindness. Some days they're tourists, some days they're spies. Strangers, heroes, guests, fugitives, depending on what life brings on either side of the rainbow. Always wanderers, passing through, but never aimless. Never homeless.
One evening he asks her if she knows how that can be, because he's never once felt lost since they left, even though they've gotten lost so many times. She wants to contradict him because she still hasn't found where she belongs, but she refrains because deep down she knows he's not wrong.
It comes to her slowly, the realization. It doesn't happen that night, or the next, or even the following month. It takes her time and hundreds of miles to understand what he meant, that what she's been looking for all this time, since she was only a lonely child in mundane Kansas, it was never a place. That what she's been looking for, she found before they even left.
That those things they don't mind about each other are just the things they can't do without.
One night, while camping in one of those middle-of-nowheres where the sky is nothing but stars, she finally knows. She storms into their tent to talk to him, but he's fallen asleep writing. She lies down beside him, resting her head on his chest, and she knows there's nowhere else in two whole worlds she'd rather be. Nuzzled against him, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart, she smiles.
In the morning, she'll tell him she's found home.
A/N: I wrote this some 3+ years ago... I never post any of my fic because I hate my writing, but lucky for me time helps me distance myself from it so this should be fine. I took some liberties but hopefully DG and Glitch are still mostly in character. Usual disclaimers: Tin Man not mine, yadda yadda. Comments would be appreciated but let's face it, it's 2013... I don't really expect any. XD This fic was inspired by The Motorcycle Diaries, Lost in Translation, Tim's "Only You and I" and lots of stress. For good or ill, DG/Glitch is my OTP.