Pairing/Character: DG, Cain, Raw, Cain/DG
Warning: violence and angst
Spoilers: whole miniseries
Disclaimer: Characters not mine, of course.
The More Things Change
Whatever was in the darts makes her woozy and smothers her magic. DG kicks and yells and twists like a rabid weasel, but nothing comes close to loosening their grip. The long hours of self defense training Cain thrust upon her are little use against a swarm of well-trained warriors, even ones half her size. She doesn't let the drugs or the futility stop her from trying to escape, but exhaustion sets in and her attempts weaken.
Cain is going to be pissed.
She holds on to that, and only that.
First light has just started to filter through the ancient trees when they drag her into a crude village. A central bonfire hisses and spits fitfully, releasing smoke which hangs like a pall over the whole clearing. The brightly colored tribesmen gathered around the fire occasionally slice off ribbons of cooking meat and eat them with great discussion. Deformed shapes dangle from fire-darkened poles speared into the ground at irregular intervals. She looks up at each one she passes, wondering why they keep triggering flashbacks of Halloween festivities.
The poles are the same size ones used for cooking, she finally decides. And the irregular shapes are probably bony remnants of old meals. Her artist's eye screams that the relative proportions of the bones should be familiar but her sluggish brain refuses to play connect the dots. She digs in her heels, lurches into one of the poles, and studies the corpse until they pull her away. It's enough; her stomach turns as she recognizes the bony grin.
She could have lived her whole life without knowing that Eastern Guild's wild rumors of their cannibalistic cousins are based on fact.
They drag her past the huddle of huts to the edge of the clearing and push aside a pile of what looked like brush, revealing darkness. DG looks down into the earth, then back at her captors. Carefully maintained anger gives way to terror and the surge of adrenaline gives her new energy, but no help; with leering grins full of sharpened teeth, they shove her sideways into the pit. She claws at the sides as she falls and slams into the hard-packed earth with a crack like a green branch breaking.
For a moment she lies stunned, trying to place the sound. When the agony hits she curls around her left arm, retching against the flood of agony. Through the pain sparkling through her vision she watches darkness eclipse the small circle of light marking the top of the pit.
Then she lets go and falls into another sort of darkness.
The first thing she does when she fights free from unconsciousness is try to climb the walls of her prison. She scrapes shallow handholds into hard earth walls she cannot see and time after time throws herself up, wishing her hobbies back in Kansas had included activities such as trips to indoor climbing walls that would actually be useful to her new life. She falls back down. Again and again, she falls back down, until completely new layer of bruises and scrapes overlays the old and her head spins with the agony of her arm.
Finally she pauses—it's only a pause, because she refuses to give up—collapsing into a heap on the cold ground. Her fingertips are raw and burning, and careful prodding suggests she's lost at least two fingernails. She's only prodded her forearm once; shortly after she first awakened, she gingerly felt for the spot radiating the most blinding pain. Even at that delicate touch she spiraled close to unconsciousness and she suspects the distended flesh is due to more than just swelling. The side effects of potentially compound fractures are just one of the many subjects on which she resolutely does not dwell.
She's building up a nice little list of subjects to avoid thinking about.
Staring at nothing but impenetrable blackness, no sound other than her ragged breathing to keep her company, leaves her too alone with her own thoughts and encroaching panic. She remembers a conversation with Cain, pried out of him one night when she couldn't stop shaking after nightmares about a green mausoleum chased her into screaming wakefulness. She had asked how he had survived, eight years—annuals—of confinement without going totally bonkers. He had said—more, murmured reluctantly like he didn't really want to confide in her but felt impelled to—that you didn't, but you could find ways to cope, to remember the happier times and focus on the future. Stay with the past and the future, he had said, and learn to ride out the present.
It only showed her what she's known for a very long time: Cain is stronger than she can ever be.
She doesn't wish that Cain was down here with her, helping ward off the crawling terror of this living nightmare. He goes white-knuckled in spaces that don't trigger her own claustrophobia, although she doesn't think she's supposed to know. Nights afterwards, the nightmares come to ride him. She doesn't think she's supposed to know that, either.
There are too many things about Wyatt Cain she's not supposed to know but does and nearly as many she's still trying to figure out.
She knows he's going to be pissed because he's always pissed when she dashes off and does something he labels rash. She also knows she was right. They needed the relic and she had been the logical choice to face the perils of the Wendicot Falls and the Titan's treasure chamber. First, one person, especially one with certain magical tricks up her sleeve, had a much easier chance at slipping undetected through the territories of the warlike Eastern tribes. Second, only a person with great magical ability could have survived the elaborate traps behind the falls. Third, the person had to be at least somewhat expendable, just in case she didn't succeed.
Fourth,whispers a voice in her mind that sounds far too much like Cain, you should have had someone to watch your back when you got out, magically depleted and physically exhausted. That was stupid, kiddo.
But then you would have gone with me into the caves, she counters, and I might not have been able to protect you. It would have killed me if I couldn't have protected you, after everything you've done to protect me. It would have killed her because it was Cain, but she refuses to reveal that even to the phantom.
Her imaginary Cain doesn't respond, but she doubts she'll be so lucky with the genuine article.
She holds tight to the knowledge that she'll have to answer to the real Cain and lets herself doze.
She wakes, screaming, only to open her eyes into the living embodiment of the nightmare she had just escaped. This time there is no one to run to, no strong shoulder or gentle touch to ease the shakes.
Bit by bit, she regains control.
Her captors only stripped her of weapons, so she has enough food and water to last a few days, assuming they let her live that long. She rubs her arms against the physical chill and stretches against the stiff agony of bruises and abused muscles. The pit is a bit more than a body length from side to side, barren of anything but earth and one lone, defiant girl. She walks back and forth, circles the small enclosure, and altogether feels like a tiger she remembers from the Kansas City Zoo. He, too, had paced his cage, barely restrained rage vibrating though each of the measured steps. Like every other sound she makes her footsteps are muffled, barely making any noise before leaving her alone in the silence. For all she can tell, she could be alone in the world.
She derails that cheerful train of thought and focuses on the eight people she feels closest to, concentrating on remembering everything she can about them, every moment she has ever spent with them. She doesn't wonder why no one from Kansas makes the list. She has good friends in Kansas, friends she misses and would love to see again, but as Popsicle always said, home is where your heart is, and her heart has always been with her family.
It didn't matter that the mother and father who had raised her were robots, programmed to take care of her. They had raised her and loved her, all the while knowing that they would have to let her go. Of all the casualties of the witch-possessed Azkadellia, their loss is the one that has haunted her the most. There isn't much she wouldn't give to be able to sink down into a chair beside them, confiding her dreams and doubts and fears. They had always had an unending well of comfort and compassion and an endless supply of words of wisdom to help her make sense of the uncertainty.
She finds herself leaning her forehead against the wall, tears muddying the dirt, and quickly turns her thoughts elsewhere. With her parents lie regrets and grief, subjects that, while distracting, invite despair into her heart instead of forcing it away.
There were her biological parents—her real parents, she supposes. These last eight months—is it months, she suddenly wonders, shaking her head and drumming fingers against the wall, or is there another word she's supposed to be using for it now?—these last eight months they have tried to help her recover her fragmented memories and impressed upon her how much she was loved and needed. They have been impossibly kind and loving, and she appreciates everything they've bestowed upon their little changeling child. Well, everything except for the royal title; that has caused her more problems than any of them ever could have expected. She's very glad the Emerald chose Azkadellia at the Eclipse.
She's thankful to her sister for more than just being the Heir. It's somehow strange that her sister, who when possessed had become responsible for a thousand years worth of nightmare material, has once again become a close friend. They've stayed up talking long into the night, bitching about the court and trading stories and history of Earth and the O.Z. Oddly enough, it's Azkadellia, not her Nebraska-born father, who best understands how out of place DG feels in what passes for the Zone's royal circles. Her sister feels that way too, for an entirely different set of reasons; Az may never come to terms with her guilt at being even peripherally responsible for all matter of atrocities.
DG shudders and flashes to being trapped in the unrelenting darkness of an emerald casket, barely able to move and air growing tight and stifled. Breath catching in her chest, she reaches out makes sure she can't touch the walls, then paces back and forth to convince herself there is space and the air, though musty, is cool and fresh. Convince herself that, despite the darkness, the walls aren't closing in, ready to smother her. She tried to find some comfort in the fact that this is real, and not just another variation on a familiar nightmare.
For all she does share with her sister, DG doesn't bring up those nightmares; in fact, she hides their existence from Az altogether. DG mentioned them once, and the mixed guilt and despair in Azkadellia's eyes convinced her to never burden her sister again. So, when her dreams turn dark and are too brutal to hide away and dismiss, she goes to her first friends in the Outer Zone.
Raw, Glitch, and Cain are no less family for all that they aren't related by blood. Shared danger sealed them together in less than a week; the time following has only cemented the bonds. They have never offered her an unsympathetic ear, and never failed to give at least some small comfort in her hours of need. And now, as she huddles on the floor trying to forget how she's been trapped below the earth, remembering the ones who have gotten her out of situations just as dire finally holds some of her fear at bay.
Raw has become her emotional mainstay, invariably offering up soft words to cut to the core of what DG feels, even when she herself is so wound up she can't tell which way is up. With him, she drops the mask of control her position has forced onto her and voices all the doubts and fears before they fester and destroy her. His wisdom and steadfast courage are always there to guide and support her and his quiet compassion soothes.
Glitch, still a yo-yoing mix of brilliant and bewildered despite tentative reintegration with his brain, pretends to be all official as advisor the Royal family. No matter how busy or how late, he's always good for a shoulder to lean on, a brainstorming session, or a quick consult as to what obscure Outer Zone convention she's in danger of thwarting this week. He's also the only other one Cain trusts to act as sparring partner to DG during her thrice weekly torture session masquerading as lessons in self defense.
Which, finally, brings her to Cain.
She pauses her headlong dash through memory lane to picture her laconic shadow tensed in wary watchfulness, iconic hat tilted just so and right hand hovering near his gun. That image should be in her personal dictionary under the definition of "mixed feelings".
She unreservedly trusts her self-appointed bodyguard with her life and dreads the day he finally leaves to resume his own life. She could also damn his insane protectiveness and prickly honor to hell. Half of the time she thinks he's one of her closest friends and the rock that makes this new life of hers possible. The other half he shoves her behind a barbwire fence of royal propriety and protection she couldn't penetrate with a wire cutters and a blowtorch and keeps her there until she's ready to throw up her arms and scream. When she's bored and he's at his stuffiest, she takes gleeful delight in devising ever more elaborate ways to thwart him. The more pissed he is the more likely she'll see the real Wyatt Cain, the one he usually hides behind the invisible imprint of the badge he no longer wears.
Of one thing she is certain: no matter which guise he's wearing, he always has her back.
She hopes he has her back now but wonders, as she stares blindly up at the her grave's only entrance, if she's managed to jump into something too big for them to handle.
More attempts to scale the walls leave her with nothing more than another layer of bruises; she reluctantly gives up when she lands on her left arm after a bad fall and loses consciousness. No one comes, not to leave food, not to interrogate her, not to drag her out to her final fate. Not to rescue her.
Before, she had been willing to be rescued, but she wanted to save herself. Now, she'll take any way out she is offered.
Sporadic attempts at magic, even just to cast a light, fail. Maybe something in the darts she was shot with still lingers in her system, or maybe the constant pain scatters her focus. Or maybe in the company of the dirt and the worms the light that was been her constant companion has been extinguished.
There are no screws to twist here, anyway.
She may not know how long it's been, but that Cain is looking for her is more certain than the sun rising. Here in the Outer Zone, she bets terrible magic that could keep the sun from rising waits to be discovered by the appropriate evil; it would take death to shake the former Tin Man from what he sees as his duty. He's out there somewhere, whipping their would-be treasure hunters into helping him figure out where she got off to and how to get her back.
The longer it takes, the more likely he will be too late.
She swallows, a lump in her throat, and hopes he'll someday forgive her for being an idiot.
Time ceases to have meaning. Without the progress of the sun, she could have been entombed for hours or for years. She never really sleeps, just dozes in fits and starts always interrupted by nightmares and pain. Eating, drinking, and relieving herself only mark normal bodily functions; she has no clue how they might relate to the time passing on the outside. Assuming there still is an outside, and the world hasn't been claimed by unending night.
The terror suddenly swamps her and she fights to remember she hasn't been buried in that empty grave in the royal graveyard. The earth isn't closing in. She holds fast to the knowledge that the earth isn't closing in, repeats it as a ward against the looming walls. The darkness presses on her in time to the throbbing of her arm and she huddles as far away from the sides of her prison as she can get.
She fights back the screaming and the tears, but the soft whimpers escape.
The shudders stop from exhaustion rather than any self control on her part. She stares dully out into nothing, not really caring if her eyes are open or closed. It doesn't matter.
She survived high school, college keggers, drunk patrons at late shifts at the diner, hordes of Longcoats after her blood, and no less than three attempts on her life by her witch-possessed sister, only to be done in by cannibalistic technicolor midgets.
She wonders if Cain will appreciate the irony.
She wonders if Cain will miss her.
And, since she'll probably never see him again, she finally allows herself to wonder if he ever suspected what she's been unwilling to admit for so long: that she may be falling in love with him.
She flinches and reflexively blinks at the sudden pain in her eyes, then opens them wide.
Light. Her eyes are pained and watering because of the light streaming down and cutting into the darkness.
The faces leaning over her prison are too brightly colored and strangely dressed to belong to her friends, and she slumps. She hopes, whatever they do to her, it involves freeing her from the darkness. If she has to face death, she'd rather face it in the sunlight.
One way or another, once she's out in the open she's determined to escape.
She sits passively as three warriors, spears at ready, are lowered into the pit. One of them buckles her into a harness; the other two laugh and lightly prod her with sharp points. She closes her eyes and presses her lips together, her one good hand clenching into a fist as she forces herself not to lash out. The crew at the top starts to lift her up, and her left arm scrapes along the wall for three feet before she can twist to protect it. The rest of the trip up she wavers in and out of consciousness.
Once back at the forest floor, she collapses into a heap on top of ferns and underbrush, glorying in the radiance of the sunlight and the wonderfully green fragrance of things growing under the open sky. The harness is removed and she is prodded to her feet. Reluctantly, she stumbles up, pretending to more weakness than she actually feels. Flanked by two guards with a horde more at a spear's cast away, she shuffles along and looks for the right time to make her move.
She registers the shot at the same moment the guard on her right drops. She blinks down at the spatter of blood and brains on her dirt-encrusted shirt, over at warriors equally frozen in shock, and finally out at men on horses bursting from the surrounding forest. At one man in particular, heading straight for her.
Sense kicks in and she wrenches away from the second guard, scrabbling for some sort of weapon. Her hand closes on the dead guard's spear, and she swings it, one handed, as hard as she can. The wood catches the side of his head; he falls and doesn't move. She turns and crouches, baring her teeth at the scrambling warriors and daring them to come any closer.
They attack her at the same time the horses reach them and her world breaks down into snapshots of chaos. She swings, she hits, blood splatters. She ducks, she kicks, she falls. She rolls, flinches against the flaring agony of her arm, and loses her grip on her weapon. She looks up, and suddenly she's not alone.
Cain stands above her, gun out and firing. She's reminded of the first time she met him, his hair wild and his skin stained metallic. He might be clean-shaven and pink-skinned now, but the expression in his eyes and the set of his jaw are the same.
"Hi," she whispers, voice cracking. The smile stretching her face is just short of a silly grin. "Took you long enough."
"Are you all right?"
"I am now." She doesn't care how cliché the words are. When she sees him and the world suddenly makes sense again, clichés are entirely justified.
His horse, pawing the ground and kept from bolting only because of his iron hand clamped around the reins, is beside her. When she clambers upright, he lifts her into the saddle, vaults up behind her, and urges the horse into a gallop. She ignores the ache of untold numbers of bruises and the jouncing of her arm, instead reveling at the strong arm around her waist and the warm chest at her back.
Now that she's safe, she allows herself a gleeful bit of disappointment that this time, when he actually gets to rescue her, the horse is a boring shade of brown rather than white.
"We need to ride 'til we leave their territory and reach the camp," he says minutes later. "We can't stop before then."
She nods and settles back, letting the rhythmic pounding of the horse's hooves and the thumping of his heart lull her into a doze.
Before long the adrenaline wears off; the last half of the ride is spent in a pain-filled haze. Her arm hurts more with every stride and every muscle in her body feels like she might as well be under the horse's hooves rather than on top. If the scrapes and bruises she can see on her hands are any indication she dreads seeing what will be decorating the rest of her skin. By the time they ride into the makeshift camp she had crept out of eons ago she's gritting her teeth and fighting not to make a sound.
It doesn't matter. Cain knows.
He's giving orders before they've even stopped moving, and within seconds she's being carefully maneuvered off of the horse and into Raw's arms. She collapses against him, managing to give her furry friend a weak grin.
Cain thumps down behind her and grabs Raw's shoulder. "How badly is DG hurt?"
She huffs in annoyance. "You do realize I'm conscious and everything. You could ask."
"Bruises. Muscles torn." Raw gently lifts her left arm, other hand hovering over the forearm. "Arm broken badly."
"Will she be all right?"
"Am I suddenly not here?" She struggles out of Raw's arms, unsteady on her feet but trying to make up for it with the intensity of her glare. "Will someone please talk to me?"
"Cain worried," Raw says with a sidewise glance at the man, "about what happened to DG in three days."
Three days. She files that away. It hadn't been eons, but only three days. It's disconcerting and somewhat disheartening that this is all the time it took to nearly break her down. "I got myself captured and dropped in a pit. Then they took me out and you rescued me."
"They didn't..." Cain stops, swallows.
She's not entirely sure why it should be his eyes that are broken when she's the one who's in pain. She feels like she missed something somewhere. What else is he worried about? Oh. Oh. "Nothing else, Cain," she hastily reassures him. "That's all they did. Well, other than a little gratuitous beating on me when I was captured."
He nods stiffly, and she can see something that looks like relief in his expression. "You let Raw heal you. We'll talk when you're feeling better." He cups her cheek with a gentle hand, then pivots and strides away.
She watches him walk through the bustling camp until Raw leads her into her tent.
The medico resetting her already-healing arm—not a compound fracture, she's delighted to find out, just a clean snap through the two bones of her left forearm—is far worse than the original break, even with Raw trying to ease her pain. The Viewer starting his healing of both the break and the bruises isn't much better. By the end she's soaked with sweat and feels like she's run a marathon. She has enough energy left to sluice off the top layer of embedded grime before she drops into her cot and collapses into sleep.
Only to wake to darkness, barely muffling a scream.
A light flares beside her. "DG," Cain says urgently. She dimly registers his weight settling beside her on the cot and his warm hand touching her shoulder. "It's only a bad dream. You're safe."
She doesn't stop to think, just launches herself into his arms and holds on. He murmurs soothing words and gently strokes her hair.
He must have been sitting by her bedside, to be there that quickly. Sitting there and protecting her sleep. The thought warms the chill in her bones and her shudders ease.
"I didn't think you were going to make it in time," she mumbles into his soft shirt. "I couldn't tell how long had passed, and... thank you, Cain. For everything."
"We'd followed your trail to the village and been watching for the last two days," he says gruffly. "Didn't make a move until we knew where they had you stashed; couldn't take the chance they'd send one of their people to kill you out of spite if we attacked before we could get to you and protect you." He pulls away and stares down at her intently. "Raw swore up and down you were still alive, but Gods, DG..." he trails off and looks away.
When he looks back, anger has taken hold. "What the hell were you thinking, running off like that?"
She was right, he's pissed, and she's never been quite so glad to see it. She hides her grin, but not before Cain catches it.
"You think this is funny?" he snarls, untangling himself from her and launching up to pace the tent. "You could have gotten yourself killed, would have if one of a million things had gone wrong."
"I was doing what I was sent out here for, getting the damned Amulet of Tarrowyn." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the amulet, such a tiny thing to be causing such concern. Something from a place labeled the treasure chamber of Titans should be bigger. "Okay, I screwed up when they caught me on the way back, but I completed the mission on my own."
"You should have waited—"
She surges to her feet, meet him glare for glare. "For you all to come get yourselves killed? I could protect myself in there, but anyone else would have been a liability, to both of us. And you wouldn't listen. I tried telling you all this, but you wouldn't listen and I knew someone—you—were going to get yourself killed by insisting on coming in there with me and I, I..." she sags and falls back to the bed as she winds down, hands plucking at the soft wool blanket.
"I had to protect the people I care about. Had to protect the people I—" she gulps, "the people I love. Both the ones I got the amulet for and the ones I kept from going with me." She braves the silence and looks up, meeting his eyes defiantly. "And I'd do it again. If I have to, I'll do it again, Cain. You know I will."
He gives a strangled laugh and drops to his knee in front of her. "I thought I'd lost you, Deej. And after Ad—after everyone else I'd lost, I can't lose someone else I—" he pauses and clears his throat, "someone else I care about. Not and stay anything resembling sane."
"You can't keep me in a protective cocoon."
"You can't keep running off and throwing yourself in harm's way."
Irresistible force? Meet immovable object. This is a variation on the same impasse they have been in for eight months. "So what do we do?"
He takes a deep breath and surrounds her hands in his. "We compromise."
And that's the last thing she expected. "Compromise?" she asks warily. "What, is that your fancy way of saying you'll listen to what I say and then do whatever you think is best anyway?"
He sighs. "If you'll stop running off as soon as an idea takes hold in your head, like you always do, and instead talk to me, I'll listen to what you say. Then we'll decide what needs to be done together."
"I do not—"
"Do you really want me to list all the times you've run off in the last eight months? I've been keeping count. I've even compared notes with Glitch, so I can start before we officially met."
Okay, so maybe she does. Now is not the time to tell him that more and more often it's in response to his own smothering protections—which are, she suddenly realizes, more than likely a response to her running off. They've trapped themselves in an endless cycle, and she could laugh that it took being dropped into a dark pit to get enough insight to realize it. She stares down at the warm hands surrounding hers. Protecting hers.
For better or worse, it's time to break free of the cycle and move on.
"We're going to argue," she says slowly. "Bitter fights with neither of us backing down."
"I expect so."
She looks up into his intense blue eyes. As well as she knows him, she can't read his expression. "Us finding common ground and agreeing on this? It's not going to be easy."
"The best things rarely are."
She wants to ask him what he meant by 'best things', but doesn't quite dare. Something is irrevocably changing and she's afraid one wrong word could break the mood. "It'll take us a long time to figure it out."
"As long as it takes."
She knows him well enough to understand this is more than a promise from a bodyguard to a princess, or even, she thinks, from one friend to another. It's new, uncertain territory for both of them.
They'll have to figure this out together.
"All right, then." Her nod is decisive. "We have a compromise." She closes her hands over his and holds on as tightly as she can.
While feedback is lovely, concrit is even better.