He was a Tin Man. Like a gambler, he was used to looking for tells. Just as a gambler used them to out-play his opponent, a Tin Man used them to figure out if the person in front of him had some underhanded scheme or plan.
He didn't know what to think at first. Annuals of watching his family taken, himself beaten near to death, had numbed his mind. This girl, this child, had charged into the illusion, swinging a pathetically small stick, to defend total strangers. Then she'd released him, given him the time he needed to pull himself together, and all she wanted was directions?
That was when he first saw that wide eyed stare of hers. He thought she was innocent, maybe even a little foolish, a little slow. A long dead conscience in him shuddered to life, and he agreed to show them to the Road. Protect the innocent. It was one of the first tenets of the Tin Man creed.
Freeing the Viewer brought on that look again. He wisely advised leaving the beast to its captors, and for a moment, he got that look again. And he found himself doing exactly what she wanted, against his own inclinations. True, the Viewer ended up being useful, but damn it, if they hadn't stopped to free him in the first place, no-one would have had to jump off a cliff. Or gotten bitten.
Eventually he figured out that the blank, wide eyed look was her tell. She used it when she needed a moment, when something she'd learned rocked her world-view. He reminded himself that the O.Z. was completely new to her. She'd grown up on the Other Side, and while he didn't know, he guessed that life was different there. He almost felt sorry for her, as the cyborg priest laid out her mission. Her whole life had been an elaborate scheme, a set up. DG was out of her depth. He knew she needed back up. But he had his own plans.
In Central City, his outlook changed. Later, he could recall the exact moment when his own priorities became secondary. "Something about some kid smuggled into the city." Killing Zero was suddenly less important than making sure that scumbag didn't get his hands on DG. Once DG was safe, THEN killing Zero could happen.
On the drive north, she slept in the seat next to him. Every once in a while, she'd slip sideways, and her head would rest against his shoulder. It never happened for more than a moment or two, a jolt, a bump would wake her, and she'd look up at him, wide eyed, waiting for something, as if he'd rebuke her for falling asleep, or touching him.
"Go back to sleep, kid," he'd growl, and she'd obediently close her eyes.
Revealed as a princess, her world rolled over again. The look was still blank, but by now he could see behind it, as a Tin Man should. Confusion, desperation, shock. He wanted to reassure her, but it wasn't his place. Then the Bad Guys showed up, and it was his world-view that got rocked.
Protect DG. Find his family. The two priorities were tearing him apart.
When he and Glitch found her and Raw in the Sorceress's tower, she'd flung herself into his arms. Until that moment, contact between them had been limited to him manhandling her – pulling her away, pushing her behind him. But suddenly he had an armful of DG, overjoyed to see him. His heart gave a painful thump in that moment. Suddenly, inappropriately, he was very aware of having a woman in his arms. That realization twisted with guilt, a feeling of betrayal of his wife and son, and it was a very good thing that no one in this group of people knew his tells.
DG had a great deal to tell them about her capture and what she'd learned from the Mystic Man. And then, she betrayed another layer to her tell, when she'd stared up at him. He knew, even before she spoke, that it was bad, because he was starting read her now, and as much as he regretted the death of the Mystic Man, a good man, it was seeing the hurt in her eyes, behind that blank look that surprised him. Hurt for him. She was sorry to tell him, sorry to bear this news she thought would cause him pain. He was starting to realize her capacity for empathy was staggering. Her tell, her blank wide eyed stare, was her defense.
He had her number now. She masked some of her strongest emotions with that look. When she completely rejected your point of view, when she was given information that staggered her, any time she felt the throes of a powerful emotion, she hung that blank look on her face. He was starting to hate it a little. Sometimes, he wanted to tell her to just let it out, for goodness's sake. Any reaction was better than that look.
Still, he had to admit, she was tough. Behind that little girl exterior was a stubborn, determined, powerful woman. He'd been the one lacking composure when he rushed after the damned dog, expecting to have to rescue her. She stood amongst the trees, staring at them as they rode up, and he was the one jumping off his horse and rushing to her. Her broken admission that she'd lost the Emerald cut him deeply, not because he was upset with her, but because she seemed to feel it so much, her wide blue eyes almost empty but for grief.
Still, he handed her a plan, and took her up on his horse with him. He held her in front of him, her hands clutching his arm around her waist while he controlled the horse with his other hand.
As they rode, he asked "What happened?"
"Azkadelia," DG choked. "She took my father. She took the Emerald. She put me in a… a coffin!"
Unwillingly, his arm tightened around her, his mind filled with the idea of DG in a tin box. "How did you escape?"
She looked up at him. "My magic."
"Good for you." He nodded sharply.
She still looked at him, her eyes wide. "But you came for me anyway."
"Of course." He spared a glance down at her. "Always."
Great, now HIS tells were spilling out all over the place. But she didn't reply, just hung that look on her face. He kept his eyes on the path ahead, until finally she turned her face away.
He would admit privately, to himself, that desperation drove those final moments. He'd been willing to destroy Glitch's brain, forever imprisoning a friend in his own fractured mind, in order to save DG. But they had managed, and DG's amazing fortitude and empathy gave her the power to pull her sister away from the evil witch, and it all ended well. Luckily.
Of course, once the O.Z. was saved, there was years of cleanup needed. He knew that, expected it the moment the Royal Family turned, and the Queen began to make plans.
A few days later, he found DG alone on the balcony, staring out over the Zone.
She turned, winced a little at his words, but smiled anyway.
"What's going on?" he asked, joining her at the balcony railing.
She sighed a little. "Mother is taking back the throne. Thank god, because I don't want it!"
He didn't dare point out that she was probably Crown Princess at this point.
Continuing, DG said, "Tomorrow, we're going to try to get Glitch's brain back in his own head. A little alchemy, a lot of magic."
He nodded, waiting.
"Raw has been with the other Viewers Azkadelia had in the cells. They're helping heal each other. I think he'll want to lead them back to their homelands pretty soon." Her voice trailed off, and he could tell what she was thinking. She was worried her friends were leaving her.
"So. Glitch will probably got back to being the Queen's right hand man. Raw will go do right by his people. You're going to stay with your family, I guess."
She nodded. "And what about you? Back to the homestead?" She forced cheer into her voice.
He shook his head. "No. Jed's grown up now, has himself a girl from among the Resistance fighters. They'll want to settle down. I'm sure he won't want the Old Man hanging around."
"You're not old!" DG exclaimed. Then she snapped her mouth shut and hung that blank look on her face.
Just the tell he was looking for.
"Well," he said slowly, enjoying the game. "I figure someone ought to stick around here, make sure you stay out of trouble."
Her eyes widened just a bit more.
"Hope you don't mind," he said.
"No!" Then she blushed and glanced away. He smiled a little, she was so easy to read now. He could learn everything he ever wanted to know about her, just watching her face.
Finally letting go of his own conflicts, he opened his arms to her. "C'mere."
Two quick steps, and she was in his arms. He felt her warmth as she hugged him, and he leaned his chin against her hair, savoring this last moment, before he gave away the game.
He leaned back just enough so that she'd look up at him. When she did, her eyes were as wide as ever. He smirked a little, knowing he was about to shake her world-view down to its roots.
And then he kissed her.