"You've come to bring me back."
"I've come to bring you home."
For a moment she stares at him, trying to quell the desperate surge of hope that rises in her. The temptation to take his hand and let him drag her back to Oz is as overwhelming as it is unexpected.
In the week since she was finally released from hospital - Sam fighting it every step of the way - she's tried to coax herself back into the comfortable life that she'd missed so desperately... but Kansas doesn't fit like it used to. What happened in Oz has changed her, and though the bruises are fading, the dreams are becoming more vivid. Sometimes she wakes with the smell of poppy in her nose, more often with the fizz of magic coursing through her veins. She feels fidgety and urgent, pacing the worn floorboards of the farmhouse while Em and Henry exchange concerned looks that she pretends not to see.
"This is home," she says, meeting his gaze with as much defiance as she can muster. If she says it often enough, maybe it will start feeling true again.
His jaw tightens, and she recognises the flash of frustration in his eyes, but before he has a chance to respond a voice behind them says "Dorothy?" and she turns to see Em hurrying towards them, scuffing at her stained fingertips with a cloth.
The older woman stops short, casting a dubious look at the tall stranger, her eye catching on the long sword hanging from his belt before she turns back to Dorothy. "And this is…?"
Dorothy's lip curls, and she says, "his name is Roan" at the same time as he offers "Lucas" and snatches the breath from her throat.
Em can't decipher the look that passes between them before the man – Lucas – adds gently, "Roan is gone."
"Gone," repeats Dorothy, coldly.
"Gone," he insists. He clears his throat, glancing quickly at Em before returning his gaze to Dorothy. "He… disappeared on a farm just outside of Gillikin. He won't be back."
Dorothy can feel the blood roaring in her ears and for a moment she's worried her legs might give out. She hasn't allowed herself to think of the farmhouse and what happened there, but it's not so easy to forget the sensation of his calloused hands around her throat. Sometimes on sleepless nights she summons the memory of his betrayal, letting the remnants of the fear that propelled her to drive a knife between his ribs sweep away other, softer feelings that she'd rather stay buried.
When she's certain she can trust her voice again she says, "Em, can you give us a moment?"
Em touches her shoulder gently, "I'll be in the kitchen. There's apple pie for dessert. You didn't touch your dinner, but you need to eat something."
After she's gone, Dorothy bends down to ruffle Toto's ears, and the dog huffs with contentment, leaning his big bulk against her legs.
Looking up at Lucas, she asks "how do I know you're not lying to me?"
He looks at her searchingly for a moment before saying "I've never lied to you," and, when she opens her mouth to respond, he says more vehemently: "Not once, Dorothy. I've never lied to you. I don't think you can say the same."
The blood rushes to Dorothy's cheeks, equal parts rage and shame, but she can't deny the truth of it. He's never lied to her - not knowingly - while she's kept her secrets close to her chest.
She is abruptly exhausted - cold to the bone, her head aching where the doctors stitched her up - and she wraps her arms about herself to hide the shudder that courses through her.
The wave of guilt that washes through Lucas at her reaction is visceral. He curses under his breath and takes a step towards her, but his outstretched hand falls back to his side when she flinches away from him again.
"You can't be here," she says.
His shoulders slump. He'd told the Ozma that he was the wrong choice for this mission; that whatever had been there between them was gone, destroyed in a matter of seconds by a single act of violence. He'd wept when he'd recounted his crime, while Ozma looked impassively on, then sent him anyway. There weren't many people left in Oz that Dorothy would know or recognise: Ojo was dead, Jane imprisoned, Glinda refused to relinquish Leith, and Ozma declared that Jack would be too conspicuous with his clockwork heart (though Lucas suspected that there was more to the story than Ozma was prepared to reveal). The one concession they'd made was to allow him to take the dog with him.
"I can't return without you," he says, simply. "Without the gauntlets. I can't summon the storm."
She looks startled, and lifts her hands to examine them. The skin is smooth and unblemished. "I didn't know whether they had come with me," she admits, wide-eyed. She hasn't tried to invoke them, afraid of what it meant if they didn't come to her.
"They're a part of you," he says, and for one shattering moment she remembers sitting next to him on the wagon, the grin he gave her over Sylvie's drooping head, and the corresponding surge of warmth she felt in the pit of her belly. oh good. I'm glad everyone's included.
Dorothy sighs, "I'm not going to be much good against the Beast Forever. The gauntlets aren't... I can't control them the way you think I can. And the stone giants. Sylv- Leith crumbled them to dust. I couldn't stop the war, I made it worse. I brought guns to Oz, Lucas, and the soldiers turned them on children. Guns might not kill witches, but they're going to kill plenty of other things."
She looks close to tears and he wishes he could take her in his arms, but he can't stand to see her back away from him again so instead stands helplessly and watches her pull herself together.
"I can't help you," she says, "I don't belong in Oz."
"You were born in Oz," he reminds her.
"I belong here," she snaps, and giving him a wide berth she strides back towards the farmhouse with Toto following in her wake.
"That went well," he says under his breath, before turning on his heel to follow her.
She ushers the dog through the screen door and turns to see him hesitating with one foot on the step, "The dog can come in. You can't."
"Doroth-" but she's gone.
She dreams of the last rays of dying light slanting through mottled glass and catching on burnished skin. The texture of scars under her fingertips, the smell of leather and steel; and the sound he makes when he muffles his groan in her neck and surges into her, his fingers splayed behind her knees, opening her wide. A crack, and the world tips sideways, they're falling, and she's reaching for him but her fingers can't make a purchase. Another crack and she bolts upright in bed, her body singing with need, and feels a low rumble of thunder pass through the house.
It's pouring. She can hear the metallic drips out in the hallway where Em's set out an obstacle course of saucepans and buckets to catch the drips coming through the old roof. Toto whines quietly from the foot of the bed, and she gives his ear a fond tug before sliding out of the sheets and making her way to the door.
He's still there. He's sitting on the veranda swing with his sword in his lap, staring out across the wide vista. There's an empty plate and glass stacked neatly beside him, and despite herself she's can't help feeling a surge of affection for her parents. Typical Midwestern hospitality.
He startles as the screen door creaks open, and when he turns to face her she sees his gaze skim over her long legs, bare under the shorts she wore to bed, before raising his eyes to meet hers.
She pitches the pillow she brought from her room at him, saying "come on," and he slowly rises to his feet and follows her into the house.
Dorothy gestures at the couch, "you might as well sleep," she says, and holds her hand out for his sword. He doesn't hesitate, keeping his eyes on hers as he unbuckles it from around his waist and passes it to her. She runs her fingers over the worn stitching on the hilt and turns away, beginning to make her way back towards the shadowy corridor.
"Thank you," his low voice reaches her from the other side of the room, and she turns to look at him.
"It doesn't mean anything," she says.
The light is streaming through the windows when he wakes, and he can hear the soft murmur of voices coming through from the kitchen before an older man - Henry, he assumes - appears in the doorway. He gives Lucas the once-over through narrowed eyes before muttering something under his breath and stomping past, letting the screen door clatter shut behind him as he leaves.
Lucas swings his legs to the ground, but before he has a chance to rise Em comes into the room and hands him a steaming mug of something quite pungent.
"Coffee," she says by way of explanation, and pulls a chair up to sit immediately in front of him. "Now. I think you and I need to have a bit of a chat."
He takes a tentative sip from the mug - he remembers Dorothy mentioning coffee wistfully while they were travelling through Oz - it's bitter, but not unpleasant. He takes another sip and waits.
"Your name is really Lucas?" she asks, and when he nods she adds: "but it's also Roan?"
He hesitates. "It was," he says carefully. "It isn't any longer."
She ponders on that for a moment, before saying, "Dorothy says your name in her sleep sometimes. They don't sound like pleasant dreams. We thought she was having nightmares about the town, but I think that it's more likely they're about you."
He looks down at his scarred hands and remembers how easily they encircled her slim neck. The memory of it sickens him, and for a moment he's certain he's going to be ill, but he concentrates on the curls of steam rising from the cup and eventually the sensation passes.
When he looks up Em is watching him. Her eyes are wary, but not unkind.
"I hurt her," he admits, his voice rough. "I'll never forgive myself for it. I don't expect her to."
Em nods. "Probably best you don't mention that to my husband," she says wryly. She stands up and walks through to the kitchen, and when she returns she has his sword in her hands. She sits down again, and places it on the low table in front of them. "By the looks of this, you're from that other place."
He looks at her in surprise, and wonders just how much Dorothy has told her.
Em quirks her brow at him, the ghost of a smile on her lips. "Twenty years ago a terrified young woman showed up at our door in the middle of a storm with a baby girl and a crazy story. We were never sure whether it was true or not, but when they found Dorothy after the twister hit town it was clear to me at least that she'd been gone for longer than ten minutes." Her eyes darken, the smile falling from her face. "She had a number of half healed injuries that weren't easily explained to the staff at the hospital. That place wasn't good to her."
He lowers his gaze in assent, and when Em speaks again her voice is cold. "You're here to try and take her back?"
"It's her choice," he says miserably. "But yes. I was sent here to bring her home."
"Her mother is there."
He can tell he's shocked her when she shoves her chair back and stands. "Karen Chapman is in the hospital right now."
"Her mother's name is Jane. She's... in trouble. She needs Dorothy's help." He swallows, "We all do."
Em regards him silently for a moment. "If that's true, Dorothy will return with you. She's not the kind of person who turns her back on the people who need her."
He can see the tremor in her hands as she bends to take his sword up from the table, and when she presents it to him her face is white. "You'll protect her," she says, and it isn't a question but he nods anyway.
She seems satisfied with that, and with a sigh she gestures for him to stand up. "She's at the hospital. Come on, let's find you something less conspicuous to wear." She puts her hand on his arm, "And Lucas? She missed you."
Karen is still unconscious, but the familiar hum and beep of the many machines hooked up to her is reassuringly steady, and Dorothy is lulled into a peaceful trance as she sits and waits for her answers.
She sound of the door opening breaks into her reverie, and she turns her gaze from the prone figure in the bed to see Sam, watching her with that gentle, careful look that she's so sick of being the recipient of.
"You should be resting," he says, and a pulse of frustration courses through her.
"I'm fine," she says, standing as he comes into the room.
He brushes a curl of hair away from her temple to take a closer look at the bruising there, and she has to resist the urge to slap his hand away. "This is looking better at least," he admits. "You're a fast healer."
"One of my many superpowers," she jokes weakly, and isn't surprised when he doesn't smile. "Sam. Come on. I'm fine. Just a bump on the head and a few scratches and bruises." They've had this conversation more times than she can count in the days after the ambulance delivered her from the crumpled ruins of Karen's trailer.
He sighs, "I just wish you'd let me look after you."
"I'm not a wounded dog," she snaps, her voice louder than she'd expected. She casts a guilty look at Karen, then grabs his hand and drags him out of the room and into the corridor. "I can look after myself."
He says something in response, but she can't hear what it is over the roaring in her ears when she sees who's standing in the waiting area.
what on earth?
It's him, dressed incongruously in a pair of Henry's jeans and a t-shirt that is doing absolutely nothing to disguise the muscles in his shoulders. When she first met him in Oz she'd thought he was handsome, but in a place of such cruel beauty he looked like he belonged, and after a while the sharp planes of his face and intensity of his gaze didn't seem so out of the ordinary. In her own world, dressed in ordinary clothes, the effect of him is devastating. Two of the interns are twittering over him, but he doesn't seem to notice - his eyes are fixed on Dorothy's hand where she's still grasping Sam's.
Sam looks back over his shoulder. "Who is that?" he asks her, his voice rich with suspicion.
"He's nobody," Dorothy assures him, scanning the waiting room, trying to figure out how he got here.
"He doesn't look like nobody," Sam says darkly, his gaze taking in the scars and shadowed stare. "He looks like trouble. I'm going to call security."
Dorothy shakes her head, "No," and tries to search for an explanation. "He's… his name's Lucas. He's been helping Em and Henry out at the farm."
"The farm-" Sam, suddenly grips her arm. "How long has he been at the farm?" he asks her, his voice tight. "Is he the one responsible for the bruises we found around your neck?"
She disengages from his grasp and walks slowly up to where Lucas is waiting – she can feel Sam close behind her, the waves of anger rolling off him.
Lucas doesn't spare the other man a glance. His eyes are on Dorothy's, and a muscle twitches in his jaw. "Em said I'd find you here. She needs you home."
"Dorothy-" says Sam behind her, his voice a warning, and she turns back to him plastering a smile she doesn't feel on her face.
"It's fine, Sam. I'll see you tomorrow. Call me if Karen wakes up." A beat, and she lifts on to her toes and presses a kiss to his mouth. It's petty, and it's cruel, and she doesn't care, because this is what Lucas has made her, and she wants to hurt him. She wants him to feel a little of what she did when he took Glinda in his arms, breaking her heart and every promise he'd ever made to her in one breath.
Without another glance she turns on her heel and walks towards the exit, and after a moment she hears him behind her, the rhythm of his footsteps on the linoleum floor as familiar as her own heartbeat.
He's silent as she hoists herself into the cab of her truck and he follows suit, fastening his seatbelt conscientiously. yep. he definitely arrived with Em. The atmosphere between them is charged, and Dorothy feels reckless. She's spoiling for a fight.
He hasn't taken his eyes off her since they left the hospital, but they're halfway home before he finally speaks. "That man. He's a… a healer, too?"
"He's a doctor," Dorothy says, her voice clipped, willing him to ask the question.
"And he's someone important to you?"
She takes her eyes off the road for a moment and looks at him; his face is carefully blank, but she can see the tension he's holding in his shoulders. Facing forward again she lifts her chin, "He's someone that I lay with," though this isn't true. Not anymore.
He finally turns his gaze away, looking out the window at the dusty brown land racing past, "I'm glad for you." He doesn't sound glad.
"And he's not married," she snaps.
He says nothing, but out of the corner of her eye she can see his fingers clenching into fists.
"And he hasn't even once tried to kill me," she finishes hotly, and can tell from the swift turn of his head that she's got him.
He makes an inarticulate noise deep in his chest, then: "So this is it?" he growls, "We're just going to keep swinging at each other until one of us is too damaged to retaliate?"
She swerves the truck off the side of the road and slams it into park. "You tried to kill me!" she snarls.
"As I recall, you returned the favour," he says, and his voice sends a thrill of fear through her. "You strung me up and you left me to die."
"Get out of the truck." He doesn't move, so she throws open her own door and storms round to the passenger side and wrenches it open. "Get out!"
He unfastens his seatbelt with shaking fingers, then jumps out of the truck and takes three long strides away before spinning back around to face her, his expression so anguished that the white-hot rage coursing through her veins condenses into grief and suddenly, horribly, she's crying.
"Tell me it was a spell," she begs him through the tears. "Tell me it was Glinda, and you didn't know what you were doing, that you couldn't stop it."
"I don't know," he says, and he's reaching for her, but she stumbles back again. "I was weak, and confused. What I felt-" he stops, "what I feel for you is so big I thought it couldn't possibly be real. I wanted it gone. It hurt too much." He realises that his own cheeks are wet. "And Glinda sent me- She told me if I didn't then she would, and I didn't question it. I was her sword hand, and before that I was the Wizard's, and I never thought to question whether the things I did were right or wrong. Dorothy-" his voice breaks on her name, "you were the first person to see me as more than a tool; and I wasted that chance, and I hurt you and I'll regret it every day for the rest of my life, but I'll kill myself before I ever hurt you again."
She's sobbing properly now, "How can I ever trust you again? If it wasn't a spell, how can I go back to that place without thinking that everyone, everything, there wants me dead? That the only person who would fight for me might decide it's too complicated for me to be alive."
He wants to tell her that he'll stand beside her for as long as she'll have him. That he's never been surer of anything in his life. He wants the future that seemed so easily within their grasp before everything came to pieces in Calcedon. But there are needs greater than his own, and while he wants to keep her as far away as possible from Oz, and Glinda, and those who would do her harm, an entire world hangs in the balance.
"The Beast Forever," he begins gently, "has been a flood. A firestorm. A plague. A generation ago it manifested as an earthquake that swallowed much of the region of Nonestica. This time the Beast Forever is a man - a skinchanger - and while he's powerful, he's mortal. He can be killed." Lucas hopes she understands the significance of what he's saying. "He's been beaten before - when he was Roquat the Red the witches stripped him of his skin and confined him in the Prison of the Abject. That is why we need you. Ozma has the spells, but they're worthless without the gauntlets."
But Dorothy has gone pale, the colour washing from her cheeks, and she stares at him in horror. "The Prison of the Abject," she says. "Stripped of his skin and sent to the Prison of the Abject. Oh God."
This time when he steps towards her she doesn't flinch away, grabbing his forearms like he's the only thing that will keep her upright.
"I set him free," she says.
She wastes precious minutes trying to force her hands to stop shaking long enough start the truck, while Lucas watches with concern. After a few moments he places his hand over hers, stilling the tremors with his warm fingers and helps her guide the key into the ignition. "It's not your fault," he says, his voice gentle.
She doesn't look at him, "You know that's not true."
The drive back to the farm passes in a blur - she's on autopilot and barely registers the flat and familiar horizon. Instead, her mind is on stranger landscapes, imagining the destruction that she's unwittingly brought down upon it.
Pulling up next to the old barn, Dorothy isn't surprised to see Em waiting for them on the porch. She doesn't know what to say, how to explain, but when she mounts the stairs Em takes her face gently between work-rough palms and Dorothy realises that maybe she doesn't have to.
"I've packed you a bag," Em says, and turning her gaze to Lucas she adds, "Your clothes and weapon are in Dorothy's room, give me a moment to say goodbye before you leave."
Lucas knows an order when he hears one, and with a final look at Dorothy's resolute face he makes his way into the house.
Toto's waiting inside the screen door, and the he shadows Lucas down the dim hallway, claws clicking on the worn floorboards. It had taken months to earn the big dog's trust again, but he'd persisted - Toto was the only connection he'd had left to her, and as his wounds healed it seemed important to keep the reminder of what he was – and what he had been – close. It felt like penance.
The door to Dorothy's room is open, and Lucas can see his jacket and sword stacked neatly at the foot of a narrow bed. He doesn't want to imagine her there, tousled and sleep-warm, but his traitorous mind remembers long limbs, the slide of lips against skin. For a moment he pauses on the threshold, uncertain, but Toto pushes past his knees and after a heartbeat Lucas follows.
The room smells like her, and his heart lurches so badly that it takes him a few breaths to collect himself. It's spartan, but homely – there's a collection of books stacked two rows deep on a low shelf, a few trinkets, and photos of Em and Henry on a scarred bureau. When he turns around, pulling his borrowed shirt over his head, he spots a framed needlework sampler on the wall above her bed. It says "Home Is Where The Heart Is", and for a moment he can taste apples. so lucas is home?
Back on the porch, and he can see Dorothy and Em sitting together on the steps. Dorothy is curled in on herself, waves of dark hair falling around her face. Em has a freckled arm around her shoulders, and when she leans in to whisper in Dorothy's ear he thinks he can make out the word 'somewhere'.
He wants to give them time and space, but it's an impossibility; and when he clears his throat Dorothy's spine straightens and he can tell that she's ready to go; that she's already halfway there, impatient to pay restitution for a mistake she didn't realize she was making.
Em looks at him sharply as Dorothy gathers up the bag at her feet, "You remember what we talked about," she says. "Keep her safe. Bring her home."
"Em," Dorothy protests, but the older woman is having none of it: "Don't take unnecessary risks. Think, god's sake, before you act. We want you back in one piece."
Dorothy turns her face away to hide the exasperation, and catches sight of a tight-lipped Lucas. Dressed in his familiar rough clothes and leather coat he looks more like himself, and against all odds he seems to be smothering a smile. She remembers then, his breath on the air as he tells her some of us do care, and feels a flare of something indefinable uncurl behind her ribs. "What will you tell Henry?" she asks Em instead.
"Nothing, for as long as I can. Who knows how long you'll be." Em shakes her head, "This is crazy." She takes a deep breath, cups Dorothy's face in the palm of her hand, "We love you. Be safe." And with that she's gone, into the darkness of the house.
Dorothy pushes down the wave of trepidation that threatens to overwhelm her, looks up at Lucas standing on the stair above her and says, "Well come on then. Let's go raise a storm."
Magic, it seems, is easier said than done, and Dorothy feels like an idiot standing in the middle of the stubbled remains of a cornfield and looking up at the cloudless blue sky. "I don't know what I'm doing," she admits finally, hands dropping by her side. The gauntlets are frustratingly absent, and she's furious with herself for believing that it would be so easy.
Lucas has been watching her impassively, one hand looped through Toto's collar, the other grasping the cumbersome pack that Em packed.
"West used words when- you know. In Emerald City," she squints up at him. "You're sure they didn't tell you what I was supposed to do?"
He shakes his head, "Spells are different from magic. Magic is more primal. It comes from within. Glinda-" he winces, but forges on, "she always said that spells were something you did. Magic was something that you released. Like… like a sneeze." Actually she'd compared it to something else entirely, but there was no way he's having that conversation with Dorothy.
She narrows her gaze at him, but when he doesn't continue, she huffs a sigh and closes her eyes, lashes fanning against her cheeks. He watches her closely, relishing the opportunity to run his eyes over her face, to chart the architecture of bones under dusky skin. His palms are itching to slide along sharp angle of her jaw and into the dark tangle of her hair, and he clenches his fingers around collar and strap.
Another minute passes, and he sees her breaths slow and deepen until suddenly her lips part on an "oh," and he when he looks down he sees gold glinting in the sun.
She opens her eyes, and lifts her hands to her face wonderingly, "That was… different." There's something heady and electric humming through her veins: a warmth that's sitting somewhere deep and sending tendrils of sensation out. Her skin is hyper-sensitised, and when the breeze blows an errant curl of hair against her neck it feels so much like a caress that the blood rises in her face. no wonder the witches fought so hard for the right to practice magic she thinks ruefully.
Every other time the gauntlets have appeared it's been a defensive reflex to fear or rage, unleashing destruction she's barely been able to comprehend, let alone control. This is different, but when Dorothy examines the feeling she realises that somehow it's also familiar. She knows just where to pull at the filaments of power, and when she twists them she can feel the electricity build in the air, a hot wind that tastes of sand and poppy.
Without taking her eyes from the clouds suddenly scudding across the blue expanse of sky, she reaches out a hand to Lucas, "Hold on."
It's nothing like the twister: that terrible, bewildering chaos and tumble. It's more like the sensation she remembers from East's palace: a prickle of pins and needles, a vertiginous dissolving. She holds the memory in place, letting it guide her, trusting it to know the way home, and when she feels solid ground under solid feet again she knows they've done it.
There is little left of East's castle but rubble, and Dorothy wonders whether the ever-loyal Sullivan managed to make it out alive. The tornado that raged over the domed towers has dissipated, but it seems unlikely that anyone could have survived the devastation - enormous chunks of stone are scattered around the landscape like children's blocks, some still adorned with their ornate mosaic cladding.
Lucas is propped up against a boulder the size of a cow. He's looking quite green, and she has to smother an uncharitable smirk. Evidently travel via tornado doesn't agree with him.
She's gives him another minute to recover, casting her eyes over their arid surroundings. It's bleak and brown, the rough road far below them winding empty as far as she can see. She and Lucas could be the only two people in this world, she thinks, and her heart responds with a painful thump.
Toto is snuffling around the bag that Em packed for them, and Dorothy hopes that there's something to eat in there. She hasn't had much of an appetite lately and is startled to discover that after weeks of picking at her food and enduring Em's pointed looks, she's ravenously hungry. It could be the magic - she can still feel a little of it humming through her veins like a low-level electrical current - but a small part of her suspects it's just this, Oz; that underneath all the fear and trepidation she's somehow glad to be back.
Lucas groans as he pulls himself unsteadily to his feet, shaking his head as if to clear it. "I'll be happy if we never do that again," he says dryly, and this time she doesn't bother to hide her grin.
Rifling through the pack nets her a handful of protein bars and she mutters, "oh, thank god," sending a silent prayer of thanks to Em before grabbing one and tearing it open.
Breaking a piece off, she offers it to Lucas who eyes it queasily, "Um. Maybe in a bit."
Toto's considerably more enthusiastic, and she wipes well-licked fingers on the seat of her pants as Lucas negotiates coat, sword, and pack.
"Let me-" she reaches for the bag, but he twists away from her, saying: "It's fine. I've got it."
Despite everything, she hates the careful way he avoids touching her now. She misses the casual liberties he used to take with her body: the way he'd slide his fingers from wrist to hand, the heat of his palm in the small of her back. He'd touched her like he needed to reassure himself she was real, and after a while he'd touched her because he liked it. With a sigh, she shoves empty hands into jacket pockets. "So where to now? Emerald city?"
He shakes his head, "Ev. We'll need to get you back to Ozma and the Witches, formulate a plan."
She's uncertain of who, or what, Ozma is, but she knows that Ev is in the opposite direction to the gilded capital of Oz and presumably, her mother. Her lips tighten, "We need to rescue Jane. If you think I'm leaving her imprisoned for one mome-"
"Dorothy," he cuts her off. "It's too dangerous. I'm not... I made a promise to keep you safe, and I intend to keep it." He scrubs a rough hand over his face, "I'm not letting you waltz into Emerald City without an army at your back, and that army is in Ev."
"The Witches are in Ev," she says, "Glinda is in Ev. You're telling me it's a safe place for me to be?"
"Glinda won't touch you," he says, his voice ice.
He looks away from her, "I won't touch you either."
Her cheeks flame, "You know that's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant," he says, and she can tell he's only just holding on to control. "Dorothy. I'm sorry. I don't have the answers you want from me."
He's spent countless black nights trying to unravel the truth of what happened in that farmhouse; the horror and the confusion and the red rage never loses its potency, no matter how many times he revisits the memory. "I'd like nothing more than to tell you it was her," he spits. He knows that his anger is misdirected and struggles to soften his voice, "but I don't know what the truth is, and I won't lie to you to earn your trust."
She looks incredulous, "Do you really believe that trust is even an option for us any more?"
He sags like her words have struck him a physical blow, and it takes a moment before he quietly replies: "You're here. That gives me hope."
She wants to tell him she's here for her mother, for the beast, for Sylvie. Not for him. Never for him. She knows the words that will finally slam the door shut between them, but when she looks at him they die on her lips.
He looks wrecked, and for the first time she notices the shadows under his eyes, the pallor of his skin. It's not just exhaustion; he's diminished somehow. Defeated. She tips her head to the side, and something suddenly occurs to her. "Why did they send you?"
He grimaces, "They needed someone you would recognise."
"And if I wouldn't come back? Or couldn't?"
Her breath catches in her throat. "Glinda was OK with that? With the possibility that you might not return?"
He won't meet her gaze, "When it became clear I'd failed to- to do what she'd asked of me." His eyes flick to hers, and just as quickly away again, "I lost any value to her as a soldier."
She's shaking a little, digs her hands deeper into her pockets, "And as a husband?"
This time he does look at her, his grey eyes clear and certain. "The man who would have called himself that is gone. She understands that."
Dorothy wonders whether Glinda had fought for him, then thinks of what the Witch had told her when they met on the battlefield: that love is nothing compared to survival.
He's not the Lucas she lost in Calcedon - she knows that - but he's also not the Roan who came at her with blade and bare hands. He's something else entirely more complex and with surprise she realizes that she wants to know him. Maybe hope is a good place to start.
The trouble with Ev, thinks Tip, is that it's never bloody quiet. The city's industry is built on a bedrock of clockwork mechanics, and it's always whirring and ticking and humming and just generally making a racket. It's no use thrashing around on a bed the size of his old bedroom when just outside the shutters whirligigs that seem to serve absolutely no practical use are whizzing around with a whining noise that sets his teeth on edge. He goes to sit up and nearly scalps himself when it turns out that one elbow is firmly planted on six inches of curly hair. Not again.
Every night he goes to sleep as Tip, and every morning wakes up as Ozma – just another nasty, unnecessary reminder that whatever choices he would have made about himself, about his future, about his identity are so far outside of his control as to be laughable. Well, he doesn't have any subjects, or witches to placate right now, and with the slightest hint of effort he shrugs back into the familiar boy and flops back down on the pillows.
There's a scratching at the door that he prefers to ignore, but he knows who it is when the hinges creak open and a slim black silhouette sidles in from outside.
"Mistress," he greets her, and the figure pauses as she registers the lower timbre of Tip's voice.
"My Queen," West responds sardonically, "we've news from the East."
Tip heaves a sigh at that. It's an official visit from advisor to ruler, and he knows the Witch prefers to make her dispatches to Ozma.
It's easier to transform back into her, and she prefers not to think about the ramifications of that, even as she feels the weight of hair suddenly cascading down her back, the fullness of her breasts, and the uncomfortable absence between her thighs. If she had to be a girl, why couldn't she at least be a less... girly one?
It feels wrong to have this conversation in bed, so she swings her legs out from under the covers and stands up, throwing a robe around her shoulders. "Well?"
West makes herself at home in a plush chair, plucking a clementine from the bowl set on the small jeweled table next to it and tearing into the flesh with blackened fingertips. She looks up at the young queen lazily, but Ozma knows her well enough now to recognize the alertness in her eyes. "We've had reports of a tornado at the ruins of my sister's castle."
Ozma's eyes widen. "You think it's them?" It was a long shot at best, and no-one really expected the girl to return, but perhaps they'd underestimated her.
West's lips curve into a not-entirely-friendly smile, "It seems likely."
The Queen sits down on the end of the bed, her mind racing. Maybe… maybe we actually stand a chance. "Who knows?" she asks urgently.
"You. Me. My sister, when I decide to tell her," West's eyes gleam, "I'm sure she'll be delighted."
"I should send someone to collect them," Ozma says, but West shakes her head.
"The soldier knows to bring her here. Sending someone to them will attract attention, and the Beast has his spies. He knows who she is, and what she is. We can't risk him learning that she's in Oz."
It makes sense, but the Queen is impatient. She paces the carpeted floor on bare feet while West watches her, "What am I supposed to do in the meantime?"
"Prepare," says West, and her voice is softer. "Rule. Sleep."
Ozma throws the Witch a withering look that earns her another wolfish grin, "And how am I supposed to do that?"
West shrugs one narrow shoulder, "I can prepare you a tea."
"No poppy," Ozma's not far from burning the yellow fields in the borderlands to the ground. She's seen the damage it does, and if takes a ban to keep her Mistress from falling back into the habit, well, then so be it. "Just. Talk to me."
West waits until the young Queen has tucked her feet back under the brocade covers, then asks: "What do you want to hear?"
Ozma looks at her for a moment, then says: "Tell me your name."
The Witch hesitates, "You know my name."
"I know your designation. What was your name before you were 'The Wicked Witch of the West'?"
West sighs, "It was lifetimes ago. I can't even remember."
"North remembers hers," Ozma says, and is rewarded with a decidedly un-West-like snort of laughter.
"She'd like you to think her name is Glinda, but in truth it's a name she gave herself."
Ozma grins at the ceiling, she likes making West laugh. "So maybe I should give you one. How do you like… Tattypoo?" It's not her best effort, but it wins her another laugh, and when she turns her head she discovers that West's closer than she thought, curled up beside the bed with crossed arms resting on the mattress.
"West is enough," says the Witch. She's never chafed against the limitations of her role the way her sister does. Has never wanted to be more than Mistress of the Western Fields, Vessel of Truth and Solace. She has her magic and now she has her queen. That is enough.