disclaimer as before.
Here's the ending, thanks for reading!
And thanks to everyone that has reviewed this story.
Cain never remembered having been so cold. The mud and water had now mostly crystallized into ice as he rode onward to the palace. He would have to remember to give the horse a good day of tending to. His horse slowed as they made their way up the path to the palace. All the lights were darkened, the coronation long over. He slid off the horse, handing the reigns to a guard while still making his way up to the front doors.
The large doors opened, as a guard escorted him into the column-flanked hall. There, he could barely see her figure making its way up the curved staircase. The guard shut the door behind him, leaving the two alone in the dimly lit hall. Shadows toyed with his imagination as she stopped her ascent and turned to look in his direction.
"You're late." Her voice was flat and emotionless. Cain's memory drawn back to the walk they had shared at the tower in Emerald City. He made his way through the columns and up to the base of the staircase, looking up at her forlorn face, a wrap draped loosely around her arms. She'd been outside, he realized… waiting for him.
"There was a village in the lake county." Cain took off his hat, noting that it now needed a good cleaning, before looking back up at her. He could see his arm coated in silt, frost and mud as he held the hat. It was a wonder the palace guard had allowed him inside in such a state.
"A village in the lake county." She pursed her lips, a smile making its way to them despite her aggravation. "Was there a cat in a tree?" Cain shook his head. He was confused, but was at least a little reassured that she was smiling. "Did a kid fall down a well?" She continued, gesturing incredulously at the situation.
"A dam was going to overflow. The sudden rain." She laughed a little and he smiled back up at her. Weren't they a pair, he thought, both foolish when it came to helping others in need. He'd have a hard time faulting her for it now. She didn't look as amused as she sounded. Her hands rested on her hips, thanking whatever twisted deity was up there for throwing that particular obstacle in the way.
"So you saved a village." He nodded at that, both chuckling now. "Well, they were very lucky to have you." For a second Cain thought he was off the hook, until her eyebrows lowered dangerously and she turned her head to face a window. "Especially down in lake country, which is south of here when the city is north." DG turned back to face him, her face now wearing the full weight of her disappointment. "If you didn't want to come, you could have written." She gulped back her tears, her face and voice somehow maintaining the impression of composure. "You could have told Jeb." Cain tried to speak, but she raised her hand to silence him. "I've been ridiculously stupid and I'm sorry."
DG took in a deep breath and let it out, her wrap dropping as she let out another breath. "I'm sorry." There was a long list in her head that she wasn't able to say yet. Things she hoped to write in a letter to him someday. Sorry for trying to fill a place in his heart that wasn't empty. Sorry for making him come to all her stupid parties. Sorry, for interfering with Jeb, which she clearly had no place doing. Sorry for being a dumb kid. Sorry for hoping for anything other than what was there and placing them both in this awkward situation. Sorry with every breath for making him ride through the freezing night to be where he didn't want to be, the snow now melting into a grimy puddle before her.
"I had to go to the cabin." Cain fingered his hat as he spoke; he hadn't expected her to be awake. He had planned for her to be asleep and to be able to wake her up in the morning and explain everything to her. Everything… once he had figured it out, which he had planned on doing tonight. Which he was stuck doing in the moment. The rain had ruined everything. He placed his hat on the banister, resting his hand on top of it. "I should have been able to make it back here all dressed up."
"But you didn't." Same flat voice, back to the same point he was at when he came in through the door. He wasn't making any progress here, not sure what he was supposed to be progressing towards, but this was not it. Did he really think he'd be better at this in the morning?
"But I came. I'm here." DG nodded down at him, ready for this whole conversation to be over with. Ready for him to stop dripping mud and whatever else he was covered with on the floor her mother had just had polished for the coronation. He stood there, still fingering his hat nervously. She sighed and turned to go back up the staircase. "I don't plan on leaving, DG," he said before she could take a step. Of course she'd show him to a room, that's what all newly queens dreamed about the night of their coronation, playing bellboy in a frostier version of Hotel California. "Jeb told me there was a position open as your bodyguard."
DG whirled around to face him. "I don't want a bodyguard. I can take care of myself. You know what, Mr. Cain? I don't need one. I'm sick of being followed around, people going places they don't want to be because of me. In fact I'm giving the room over to Az and Ambrose. They can put it to better use, like a nursery or something." Oh great mental image, she thought to herself, good thinking on your feet. Little brains running to and fro with a door that connects to her room. Just what she needed. He took a step up, nearing her slightly.
"Well, then what do you want?" Cain asked her, watching her as she shifted in place, unsure if she wanted to climb another step to even out their distance. DG sighed inwardly, as if she hadn't made that abundantly clear. At least she thought she had. It had seemed for so long that they'd been on the same page, now hearing him talk was like a discordant melody, echoing to something she wasn't saying. What she wanted wasn't possible, but she'd gladly take any bit of him she could get.
"A friend would be nice." He took another step up as she spoke, careful to avoid the white wrap that was draping down several steps. Now three steps away from her, his thoughts cleared. Past becoming past, the present slowly forming and his mind firmly on the future.
"I haven't been much of one." DG made a soft noise of agreement as she looked down. "I suppose we've all been trying to find our place. You've just found yours, I had one before..." his voice trailed off. "But this world is different. I'm sorry it took me so long to figure that out." Cain looked down at her pristine gloved hand. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I was trying to avoid that."
"By leaving me all alone." The words came out in a breathy tone, the gloved arms now crossing her chest. Protecting herself from him and how near he was getting. DG was thankful to the darkened hall, hopefully concealing her increasing pulse as he spoke. She wasn't ready for a repeat of so many previous conversations.
"If you'll let me, I'd like to stay here." A slightly laugh escaped her lips, stay here. She hugged herself tighter. Her eyes wandering around the shadows the columns made in the hall. It wasn't fair that he had this ability to possess her, to stay in her thoughts all this time they'd been apart. To steer the course of her actions even when he'd been away. That he could make her speak when she wanted to be silent. Unfair that she wanted him near, when the effect did not work on him as well.
"Stay?" She eyed him, completely perplexed. First, he was leaving her every which way and now he wanted to stay. He nodded, taking his newly warmed hands out of his pockets and rising up another step, now nearly toe to toe with her. Steadying himself to speak next instead of act.
"As long as you'll keep me." One more step, nose to nose as they had been before, only this time he knew his own heart. Her face, flush with confusion, trying to understand what he meant this time. Her mind keeping her so preoccupied that she almost missed the first second of his lips connecting to hers. DG's eyelashes fluttered closed, white gloves wrapped around a sopping jacket. His arms wrapped snugly around her, muddying her world with his. Cain pulled slightly back moments later, just enough for their lips to part, fully aware that the front of her dress was now covered in mud. The kiss had been shorter than he would have liked, having stopped it just before her nearness had overridden his goal. Looking at her, lips still parted and eyes still closed, he was also fairly certain it was not going to be the last. She slowly opened her eyes, mostly convinced she was stuck in some kind of wonderful dream and had actually passed out in the cold.
His arms stayed fixed around her waist, pressing her closer against him, his warmth drawing her into this new reality. He took her hand, reaching with his other into a pocket and producing a familiar shaped medal. He placed the scratched and dirty heart into her hand, wrapping her fingers around it. "It's yours, if you still want it." She looked down at her closed hand, her gloved finger rubbing off the dirt and grime. She looked back up into his eyes, finally regaining enough control of her head to nod, before resting her lips once more on his. The two stood on the staircase, finally alone, without the outside world looking in. A puddle of water forming beneath them from the melting ice, framed by the window in each other's arms, warmed to the soul and finally where they belonged.