Twin suns peeled themselves from behind a single, lonesome moon. Darkness that had covered the land in mere seconds fled, retreating as light filled the world. A lone, dark tower jutted from the otherwise barren countryside, a stark comparison from the dull sand dunes surrounding. Men in black, known to locals as the dreaded longcoats, stared up at the sky, wondering why darkness hadn't remained. They knew only that this meant their leader, a vile and fearsome witch, had failed. They turned wordlessly to find their commanders. Likewise, their commanders turned to find their ultimate leader, Empress Azkadelia.
Far above these soldiers, at the balcony atop the tower, stood a group of people and a small, furry dog; four, all in resemblance, turned from the railing and faced the others, coming inside as the suns moved away from one another and the moon rose higher in the sky. A young, dark haired girl stepped further than the others, smiling broadly at a rag-tag group. Quickly, she jumped forward and pulled them all into a group hug. Two of them, a fur-covered Viewer and a zipper-headed Adviser, patted her on the back. The third, a stone faced stiff of a man, sighed begrudgingly, bringing his hand slowly around to pat the girl on the head a few times. His voice slid forth from his mouth, a strong, secure tenor that would soothe any weeping child.
"Enough hugging, kiddo," he said. "Zipperhead doesn't forget everything, you know."
The girl giggled and pulled away, characteristically letting her hands drop by her side. The small dog yapped at her feet and she picked it up.
"Oh, Cain. Give it up. You know I'll never stop hugging you guys."
He sighed. "If I told you Tin Men don't hug, would you stop?"
She smiled at him. "No. You initiated one hug, if I remember correctly."
Everyone else in the room turned to him with a raised eyebrow. The girl was slightly pleased at the lovely peach color his face had managed to produce. He pulled his hat down low over his eyes.
"Hey, kiddo," he replied. "I didn't build up the Tin Man exterior so that you could embarrass me in front of royals."
She punched him in the arm as the dog leapt from her arms and shifted into a heavy-set, coffee-skinned man. No one paid notice to the shape shifter, but giggled as the young girl reprimanded the Tin Man.
"I'm a royal, too!"
An older woman with curled silver hair and light lavender eyes laid a hand on her shoulder. "We're just glad you're back, DG." She turned from the young woman and laid eyes on the Tin Man. He tipped his hat up to look at her out of respect. "Thank you, Cain, for your help. And thank you, Raw. Ambrose." She nodded to the Viewer and Adviser in turn. She glanced sideways at the shape shifter. "And you, Theodore." He bowed as deeply as his waistband would allow.
"You're quite welcome, Your Majesty."
With a suddenness almost disturbing, the other young woman, the former Empress Azkadelia, dropped her knees, leaning forward on her hands and sucking in breaths quite forcefully. Her sister was the first to her side. "Az? Az, what's wrong?"
Their mother knelt gracefully to the elder princess' other side. "She's weak. The witch used her life-force to survive."
An older man, the Queen's Consort, laid a hand on her shoulder. "Will she be alright?" he asked concernedly. The Queen nodded, a graceful bob of her head.
"Yes, she'll be fine. Her body's just not used to tending to one soul alone. She needs rest." She looked up at her husband. "Ahamo, help me get her to her room."
Ahamo moved to replace DG as the younger girl moved out of the way. Carefully he lifted his elder daughter, walking slowly to the door. The Queen followed, distributing orders. "Ambrose, Raw, come with me. Toto, find the medics and bring them to me immediately." She followed her husband as her Adviser and the Viewer trailed behind. Toto pushed past to find help. Her younger daughter took a step forward.
"Mother, what about me? Is there anything I can do to help?"
The Queen stopped at the doorway and turned back to her, smiling softly. "Just rest, DG. Detective Cain, I know you've had a long, hard journey, but would you mind watching over her for me? She always did have a knack for getting into trouble, and I'll suspect that all longcoats haven't been informed."
The Tin Man gave a graceful nod, pulling his hat into both hands. "Of course, Your Majesty. I fully understand your concerns." He pulled himself straight again and laid his hat back on his head, laying a hand on the princess' shoulder. The Queen smiled a bit brighter and threw a wink at the Tin Man.
"Thank you. I'm not familiar with the renovations my daughter has made, but if they haven't been too drastic, there should be guest rooms in the southern wing of the tower. You can find solace and rest there, DG."
As she turned again to catch up with her husband, DG ran forward and caught her mother in a warm embrace. "I've missed you, mother," she murmured.
The Queen hugged her daughter tightly. "I missed you, too, my angel." And then she turned and was gone.
DG turned back to the Tin Man behind her. "Well, Mr. Cain," she declared. "Seems like it's you an' me. Care to escort me to a nice soft bed so that I can take a much-needed nap?"
DG felt like it had been hours when they found the guest wing. Cain felt like he would have to restart her internal clock if she didn't stop complaining about all the walking. He'd have thought that after all of her struggles in the past few days she'd be used to the walking and physical strain. It seemed he was wrong, however, and that DG needed a long, long rest before she could be thrown into the life of a princess. He somewhat felt sorry for her, but he didn't know anything about the pressures of royalty and thus couldn't give her any advice.
DG threw the door open to the first room she found, slamming it shut behind Cain as he stepped in behind her. She gave him a look, then turned to find the bathroom. Within, she found a sunken bathtub, a water pump, basin for a sink, and a few mirrors hung on the walls. A vanity along the far wall held a brush and other necessities. She was surprised to find a real working toilet, even if it was a bit outdated as far as toilets go. She turned to walk back into the bedroom to tell Cain and found herself staring at the leather strap of his gun holster across his chest. She looked up slowly. "Found it," she said quietly. He nodded, looking around and ignoring her closeness.
"Seems like you did." He looked down t her, then drew his head back, startled. He stepped back and cleared his throat. "You get washed up. I'll see if I can't find you some clean clothes." She nodded, and waited for him to leave, pulling the door closed behind him, before turning eagerly to the pump. She pushed and pulled the handle until water began to flow steadily. She released the handle and felt the water. It was warm, nearly perfect for her worn muscles, and she sealed the drain with a nearby plug.
Slowly she stripped her clothes, peeling them from her tired skin. She could feel the salt from her sweat clinging to the fabric, dried into the strands and sticking there after her hard adventures. With a disgusted look to her beloved, though obviously nasty clothing, she dropped them carelessly to the floor, letting them pool in one great big stinky pile of nastiness. She giggle to herself. She had never felt so gross before, and the bath was certainly enticing.
She glanced at a lovely set-up of oils and soaps and shampoos and ignored them for the time being. For now she just sank into the hot water and let it seep into her skin and ease her sore muscles. She cried out as a strong, searing pain across her back startled her. She tried to turn to see what was causing her so much grief, but before she could, the door had opened and a wild-eyed Tin Man stood in the outline of it.
He looked around frantically, calling her name. She felt her face burn red as she moved to cover herself and called his attention to her in the tub. She didn't notice that his eyes passed straight to the blood pooling from her back into the water, not over her figure as she had imagined. Her ears burned hotter at the thought of him examining her and she moved to cover herself further. He ignored her blatant nakedness and moved to touch her back, kneeling by the deep, sunken tub. He brushed his fingers lightly over the deep gash he found there and she cried out again, this time more softly, remembering suddenly why he had barged in in the first place.
Silently she berated herself for being so childish about the situation. She knew Cain was a man of honor; he wouldn't dare look at her as anything other than his ward, Princess of the O.Z. Her thoughts started to travel at wondering why this bothered her so, but she was brought back to reality by his deep, quiet voice.
"There's some medical supplies in a closet down the hallway. Get out of that tub and cover yourself. I'll dress it and you can get back to your bath." His eyes passed over her face and she saw something there, the same look he had given her when he'd agreed to help her outside his dilapidated cabin: understanding. He seemed to know how much the luxury of a bath meant to her, and she supposed it had come from being married to a woman quite accustomed to working long hours outdoors. Baths, he seemed to realize, were the perfect ending to a day's hard work. Or, in DG's case, to a few days' long battle.
She nodded and he pulled himself straight, towering over her. He turned and left, closing the door quietly behind him. Quickly DG stood from the tub, looking down into the blood-stained water. She decided that the water was too tainted now with her blood to be of any good for washing. Slowly, so as not to strain the still bleeding wound on her back, she pulled the plug from the bottom, letting it drain from the tub.
She looked around and found a towel. Careful not to cover the deep cut on her back, she wrapped the towel around her as best she could and settled into the vanity chair to wait. As she was waiting on Cain, she studied herself in the mirror. Her hair was a sight, sticking out every which way and sopping wet at the ends where it had dipped into the bathwater. Her face seemed haggard, with dark circles beginning to form underneath her eyes. Across her nose and cheeks freckles had begun to form, along with a slight sunburn that would soon turn to tan. She sighed, touching those freckles and staring at herself in tired blue eyes.
She turned at Cain's knock on the door. He poked his head in with one hand covering his eyes. She couldn't help but giggle. He peeked out from between his fingers at her, much like a child playing hide and seek, and she smiled wider as her laughter floated sweetly to his ears. "It's okay, Cain. You can come in."
He stepped in as quietly as ever, closing the door behind him. She noted that his hat and coat had been discarded, as had his gun holster, though the pistol hung out of the pocket of his slacks. He had rolled up the sleeves of his pinstriped shirt and his forearms gleamed in the sunlight pouring in from the windows. He held in his hands what seemed to be a first aid kit. He moved toward her and pulled an ottoman from beside the vanity, settling onto it behind her. Gently he pushed her hair over one shoulder, and she shivered at the soft brush of his fingers on her shoulders and back. She hissed in pain as some of her hair caught on already dried blood at the surface of the cut. He rested a warm, rough palm on the full of her back, between her shoulder blades. "Are you alright?" he asked.
She nodded and turned to look back at the tub, watching as the last vestiges of water and blood slithered down the drain. She let Cain's voice carry her back from whatever void her mind had been floating in. "This is an antiseptic. It's going to burn like hell, but you don't want to get infected. Just…" he sighed, laying a strong, firm hand on her bare shoulder. "Just try not to scream, okay? I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea." She nodded her understanding and tensed waiting for the painful sting of the antiseptic. She felt his warm breath on her back as he laughed lightly. "Relax, kiddo. It'll only hurt worse if you don't." She obeyed and let her muscles relax, despite her notions that this was, in fact, going to "burn like hell".
And burn like hell it did. It took all she could muster to bite back the scream that peeled itself from her chest and pushed out toward her throat. She did, however, let out a small whimper. He squeezed the hand on her shoulder in whatever comfort he could provide. As the pain began to subside, he muttered a small apology, moving his hand around to cover her mouth.
She didn't know if it was the fright from him securing her so suddenly or from the new pain of more antiseptic on the open wound, but the scream that tore through her the second time could not be held back by her force alone. It was Cain's hand on her mouth that kept the entire guard of Longcoats running in to see what was going on. Again he whispered an apology in her ear, slowly removing his hand from her mouth. She huffed angrily, trying not to move her now terribly pained back.
"Why twice?" He sighed.
"Twice is better than once. Kills more bacteria." She could feel his eyes on the back of her head. "In the force we had to bear five times, though I think some medics took it a bit far for the small nicks and cuts." She turned her head back toward him.
"Why five times? That's like death!"
He chuckled. "They didn't want us inhibited. Especially the Mystic Man's detail…" His voice trailed off and she knew he was mourning the dead man he had once admired. She kept herself quiet and let him finish tending her wound.
She felt the needle and thread through her skin, but after the pain of the antiseptic, she was a bit numb. She supposed this was a second benefit to the stinging stuff: it numbed the skin for stitching. She felt herself drift into her own thoughts as he stitched. She thought mostly of Azkadelia, the long lost sister she'd longed for her whole life on the Other Side. She remembered the young girl's light laughter and knowing smile. She remembered now that she had looked up to Az. That had been shattered though, when the witch had taken over. She looked down at her worn hands. They were calloused from all the sticks she'd been brandishing in the past few days. A sharp tug pulled her from her reverie. Cain patted her back.
"All finished, kiddo. You can go back to your bath." She nodded and murmured a small "thank you" as he turned to pack the first aid things away. When he was done and rose to leave, pushing the ottoman back where it had been, she didn't move. He set the box down on the vanity and knelt beside her, laying a light hand on her thigh atop the towel that covered her. He looked up at her, and she looked down at him. He felt his heart catch at the despair that flooded her eyes.
"Hey, kiddo," he said. "What's wrong? Everything's over. Your sister's safe and the O.Z. can go back to normal. You did what you needed to do, so go back to being a kid." She just stared at him. He furrowed his brow in concern. "Come on," he took her hand and led her to the edge of the sunken tub as she held the towel around her. "I'll pump the water for you."
He did as promised and she just watched the water trail from the faucet to the bottom of the tub wordlessly. He watched her in turn, worried that she was suffering from something the Tin Men knew as "shell shock". When the water was running on its own and steaming from the bottom of the tub, he moved toward her. "DG?" he murmured. She looked up at him, her wide blue eyes filled with sorrow. "DG, what's wrong?" She looked down at her hands in her lap. He laid a soft hand on her shoulder. "DG?" he said again.
She shook her head silently, and he swore he saw a tear fall onto her hand. He would never know, however, as she turned her hands over on her knees at that moment. She looked back up at him and he met her gaze. She looked toward the door for a long moment and then back at him.
"Wyatt…" she murmured. He felt a small tingle in his fingertips on her skin as she said his name. "Will you stay?"
He pulled his head back in surprise. "What? DG, this isn't—"
She shook her head. "I know it isn't appropriate, but… I just need someone. I need you here. Please?"
He watched her pleading eyes for what seemed like years. Finally he conceded, moving to lock the door as she sunk back into the hot waters of the bath. She tensed as the water reached her wound, but she seemed less pained than she had before. He was glad for that. He watched as the familiar loosening of muscles and relaxation overtook her. He remembered Adora in this exact way, except in their cabin kitchen, in the wooden washtub filled with fire-heated water from the lake behind the house. He smiled at the memory, and when DG looked over at him, in that moment between memory and reality, she looked just like Adora.
He moved behind her as she leaned her back against the wall of the tub. He pulled his sleeves up just a bit further and settled into a comfortable seated position. He reached down and tenderly grabbed her shoulders. If she was startled by the contact, she didn't show it, and he was glad for the inattention. It was bad enough for her honor if he was here while she was bathing. But that could be dealt with; him touching her while she was bathing… That was a different story.
Slowly he began to knead the muscles in her shoulders, and she let out a relieved sigh. Her head lolled uselessly as she leaned into his touch. Again she reminded him of Adora, with the same innate mannerisms as his late wife. Their resemblance in personality was uncanny, and Wyatt Cain had a hard time ignoring how beautiful and wonderful this new young woman was.
After he was sure DG had fallen asleep, he released his hold on her. As soon as he did, she leaned forward to grab a bottle of shampoo. He caught it in his hand first and looked down, catching her gaze as he did so. He found it very hard to overlook her nakedness. Before she had been in baggy jeans and a jacket. Now… Now she was exposed, and even without looking directly he knew that her curves would be the envy of every woman in the O.Z. And every suitor to boot. Azkadelia obviously wasn't the only one with sex appeal. It just seemed that the witch had been more prone to flaunting it. He dearly hoped DG was the kind of girl he thought her to be and that she would fight for those pants every chance she got.
He pulled back and popped open the shampoo bottle, drawing in the sweet smell of jasmine. He smiled at the irony of his situation. Adora had loved the smell of jasmine… Her homemade shampoos had this same scent.
DG leaned her head back into the water to let it soak. He tried not to laugh at the few small twigs, dead bugs, and fair amount of dirt that flowed from her hair on contact with the water. He poured a gracious amount of shampoo into his hand and closed the bottle. DG pulled up from the water and he rubbed his hands together and then grasped her hair in much a ponytail fashion, covering all of it in shampoo.
Once the outer layer was fully sudsy, he began to scrub her scalp. She let out a small moan that he didn't like one bit and leaned into his hands. When he felt that he had fully saturated her hair in shampoo, he pushed her down into the water, pointedly ignoring the way her breasts lay against her skin as she lay back. He drew all of the soap and grime out of her hair, rinsing thoroughly. As she pulled back up out of the water, he replaced the shampoo and reached for the razor, knowing full well that, like Adora, she'd want to shave her legs after so long without a bath. She smiled up at him gratefully as he pulled back and settled in to sit behind her. He liked this vantage point. It wasn't… too provocative. He could only see her wet hair, the curve of her shoulders, her soft back, and her legs as she raised them to shave her calves.
He stared a moment at the wide gash marring her back. He berated himself for not having noticed sooner. Her clothes must have been cut sooner. He should've seen it. Unless…
"DG, did the witch attack you at all? Push you back or tough you in any way?"
She barely turned her head back to him as she pulled the razor down her legs. "Mmm hmm. She pushed me back with some sort of magic. I hit the railing pretty hard."
He nodded. "Do you remember if the railing caught your jacket or shirt?" he asked, turning to look at the heap of her clothes on the floor. They didn't seem damaged…
She shook her head. "No. I don't remember any pain, but then again I was a bit preoccupied with not falling off the balcony." She giggled softly and he smiled.
"What is it, kiddo?"
"Nothing really. I was just thinking that if I hadn't been so terrified, the view of the O.Z. hanging from that rail would've been marvelous."
He chuckled despite himself. It was so like her to find the beauty in a terrifying situation. He rose to his feet. "I'm going to go get those clean clothes now, kiddo, while you finish up."
She nodded and as he reached the door, she called him back. He looked at her. "Thank you," she said. Nothing else needed to be passed between them. The simple look of understanding was enough.
Cain had managed to find her a rather decent pair of men's slacks that fit her just fine. She was glad he hadn't sought out a dress. She would've killed him on the spot. The last thing she wanted at this point was to be uncomfortable, and a dress would've done the trick to send her over the edge. He'd also found her a white blouse similar to his, but much more feminine. It had darting at the waist and small flowers embroidered on the collar in white thread. She rolled the sleeves up after she had finished buttoning it up and turned toward the great big bed against the wall.
Cain was in the bathroom bathing himself. She had thought he would just rough it, but apparently he was more for cleanliness than she'd thought Tin Men would be.
She flopped herself unceremoniously onto the bed just as Cain stepped out of the bathroom, dressed and looking absolutely gorgeous, if she had a say in the matter. She motioned him over to the bed and patted the spot beside her. He complied uneasily, sitting next to her. Without inhibition she scooted herself closer to him and laid her head in his lap, settling into him as if he'd been her pillow her whole life.
He was going to protest, he really was, but when he looked down at her and saw her weariness, he couldn't find it in his heart to ask her to move. So he leaned back on the pillows and stretched out his legs, fighting sleep himself. He told himself he'd let her sleep for an hour or so and then wake her to go find her parents and the others. They couldn't be gone too long alone or else rumors would start to fly and her parents would think inappropriate things of their relationship.
He told himself he would just rest his eyes. He didn't think he was so comfortable as to fall asleep…