Title: Road to Recovery

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Summary: Real life was a whole lot messier than fairy tales ever accounted for. 2400 words.

Disclaimer: Property of L. Frank Baum, Sci-Fi Channel & etc., not me. Alas.

Spoilers: "Tin Man" miniseries (all parts)

Notes: First entry in a new fandom. Let me know what you think.

"Where the light will take them, only one way to know"
--Queen (Lavender Eyes)

D.G. paused at the open door to the balcony, staring worriedly out at the pensive form of her Tin Man. He'd hardly been by the palace at all the last several days, and D.G. had missed him. It looked like his absence hadn't agreed with him, either; there were shadows under his eyes again, a distant, unfocused quality to his outward-facing stare, and just a little bit of a stoop to his shoulders under his long leather coat. It made her heart hurt just to look at him.

"Hey," she finally said, walking out onto the balcony.

Cain shot her a cool, evaluating glance-- the same one he gave any sudden movement in his sphere of awareness-- then smiled a little, just a tiny twitch at the corners of his mouth. "Hey, Princess," he replied, pale blue eyes lingering on her face for a moment, before he turned back to the view.

"Haven't seen you around much the last few days," she said softly, stepping up next to him and crossing her arms atop the stone railing edging the marble expanse.

The dress her sister had chosen for her that morning bunched and rustled as she moved, one more on a list of many things she was still adjusting to. She only had one Other Side outfit, and the seamstresses were dragging their feet about making more, no doubt hoping her mother would talk her into dressing more ladylike in the meantime. Hah.

Below them, the O.Z. spread out, sunlit and healing. It still seemed kind of unreal to her, that she belonged to this place-- and more than that, that one day, hopefully far in the future, it would belong to her. She was still waiting for the shock of the transition to really hit her. For most of her life, she'd believed herself to be just an ordinary girl from Kansas, and now she was a Princess of the magical Outer Zone. She'd seen and experienced more wonders and terrors in the last fifteen days than she had in the entire fifteen years before that.

That was nothing, though, next to what everyone in the O.Z. had gone through in her absence. Her parents' separation and exile from the throne; her sister's imprisonment in her own mind, while the evil witch used Azkadellia's face and power to bring destruction to the Realms; the Viewers' enslavement; Glitch's sacrifice, half his brain removed because he wouldn't give the sorceress the information she wanted; and Cain, locked in a metal suit for eight annuals, his only view of the world an endless holographic loop of Zero torturing his family. And none of it would have happened if she hadn't freed the Witch and then run away from her sister. Her current problems seemed kind of petty by comparison.

It was no wonder things weren't happily-ever-after yet, the way Popsicle's stories had promised. Real life was a whole lot messier than fairy tales ever accounted for, and it would be a long while before everyone recovered. So what if her barely-remembered real parents were a little-- okay, a lot-- clingy? So what if Az tended to avoid people, hiding in her quarters when she wasn't with D.G.? So what if the newly-restored Ambrose was having trouble integrating all his Glitch-memories, and in the meantime tended to treat D.G. as the five-annual-old he'd known before she was sent away? And so what if Cain--

Her thoughts faltered to a stop as the Tin Man turned to look down at her again, the brim of his ever-present hat framing his head like a wide, tarnished halo.

"Been a little busy," he answered slowly, his voice as worn and tired as his body language. "We knew the Vapours were everywhere, but we had no idea how bad it really was until the stockpiles ran out. Been a few near-riots the last couple of nights, and a lot of sick kids needing help."

D.G. winced in sympathy. It had been hard enough for her to see the wreck the Vapours had made of the Mystic Man, and she hadn't known him before the sorceress' concoction had addled his mind. It horrified her to think of the damage a drug like that could do to the vulnerable minds of Central City's children.

"That's terrible," she said, reaching out automatically to clasp his hand in comfort. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Cain glanced down at her hand in his, and for a moment she thought he was going to pull away. Then he rubbed a strong, callused thumb across the backs of her knuckles, sending a shiver up her spine, and shook his head. "You're doing enough already. Just keep taking care of yourself and your sister."

She smiled faintly at that, feeling annoyed and foolish. "In other words, thanks but no thanks?"

He didn't smile back. "No-- in other words, you're doing enough already," he insisted. She wanted to shrug the words off as a meaningless platitude, but something in his tone of voice and his even gaze held the ring of sincerity. "You give people hope just by being here, D.G.," he continued, gently. "Your mother and sister might not realize it-- neither of them had the same perspective those of us in the resistance did-- but the people knew the O.Z.'s decline began right after your funeral. Now that you're back..."

He trailed off, shrugging, and D.G. blinked, narrowing her eyes as she processed his meaning.

She hadn't thought of it from that perspective before. Of course the people would have noticed that right after she'd "died", Ahamo had disappeared, Azkadellia started changing for the worse, and the Queen began fading away. And now, within a week of D.G.'s return, all of that had been reversed. Those imprisoned during the sorceress' reign were being freed, and the Longcoats that had tormented the Zone's residents for so many years were being locked away in their place.

All those murmurs she was hearing about the "daughter of light"-- they weren't just using her mother's old nickname for her, they were holding her up as a symbol.

"Oh God," she said, sliding her fingers out of his gentle grip to cover her face with both hands. "I'm never going anywhere without an escort ever again, am I?"

He chuckled quietly, a low rumble of sound. "Not if I can help it," he said.

"I'm not cut out for this!" she groaned. "I draw pictures. I fix machines. I serve coffee and pie. I don't know how to deal with people looking up to me for guidance!"

"It's not a thing you know; you either do it, or you don't," Cain replied, soothingly. "And you've been doing just fine."

She snorted, and peered back out at him from between her fingers. "You're not just saying that?" she asked, hating herself for the plaintive waver in her voice.

"I'm not just saying that," he assured her, calmly meeting her eyes.

She sighed, then turned back to the railing, suddenly uncomfortable under the intensity of his gaze. "Well, at least somebody thinks so," she said, flippantly. "I'd been wondering. Jeb's people are nice and all, but they look so stern and disapproving most of the time!"

"Of course they do. They're supposed to be your security detail, after all," he said, dryly. "I suspect Jeb may have given them an... exaggerated impression of what I expected of them."

She glanced back up then, startled, to catch him looking over her shoulder toward the open doorway; when she followed his gaze, she saw Jeb himself there, leaning against the wall and watching the two of them talk. He was probably hoping to catch his dad for a minute, too; he was nearly as busy as Cain himself was these days, overseeing the loyal troops sweeping the surrounding areas for Longcoat holdouts. He gave her a respectful nod as she noticed him, shot a smirk at his father, then turned his back to the balcony, scanning the drawing room it opened out from.

D.G. still didn't know how Cain had ended up choosing her bodyguard brigade-- despite their adventures together, she'd have expected her parents to assign the task to someone they knew, and they couldn't have known Cain from before if he hadn't even recognized Glitch as the Queen's foremost advisor-- but she wasn't going to question it. He, Glitch and Raw had become like family over the week of their adventures together; they made her feel safe in a world where virtually nothing was familiar. With Glitch currently, well, glitching, and Raw off on a mission to his people, Cain was the only one of them around even a little. She didn't want to do or say anything that might send him further away.

"So how long, do you think, until you're done in the city?" she asked, lightly.

"Not much longer. I've made contact with some old friends that kept their heads down better than I did," he said, a pained twist to his mouth. "They'll take over and complete the recommissioning of the Tin Men once the immediate crises are over."

He looked away at that, striking almost the exact same pose she'd seen before she came out onto the balcony. "Kept their heads down? You mean, they didn't join the resistance?" D.G. asked carefully, sure she'd worked her way to the heart of what was bothering him.

Cain shot her a sharp, sideways glance. "Don't hold it against them," he said, warningly. "They're good men, for the most part. But they were concerned for their families; they'd seen what happened to those who defied Azkadellia--"

"Like you?" she asked, arching her eyebrows at him.

He shook his head, bracing his hands against the railing. His knuckles turned white almost immediately, and pinched lines appeared at the corners of his mouth. D.G. reached out instinctively to soothe him, but drew her hand back before she could make contact, uncertain whether she should interrupt.

"Not only me," he replied. "I wasn't the first to get caught, and I know I wasn't the last. I knew what could happen; the Mystic Man warned us all of the dangers when he started using his security details to funnel information and personnel in and out of the city. I even talked it over with Adora. In the end, we decided the cause was worth the risk. But I suppose--" he paused, and took a deep breath. "I never thought it would come to that."

"And you still feel guilty about it," she blurted, suddenly realizing what his problem was.

Kind of like how she still felt guilty about everything that had happened with the Witch and Az. Huh.

Cain didn't say anything, but the stiff line of his back was answer enough. She didn't know why she hadn't seen it before.

"Have you talked about this with Jeb?" she asked, hesitantly, glancing back over her shoulder at the shadow of his son not twenty feet away.

He snorted at that. "Jeb kept an iron suit in his camp as a reminder to his troops," he said, wryly. "He used our family's story as a motivational tool."

"I'm guessing that's a no, then," D.G. drawled. "Well-- then I'm going to have to tell you the same thing Az tells me every time I try to apologize to her."

"And what's that?" he asked, glancing at her out of the corners of his eyes.

"Could you have done anything else at the time? Not should you, but could you? Given who you were, and the situation you were in?"

He thought about that for a minute, then frowned. "I suppose not," he said.

"Then whether or not you're responsible, or just as much a victim as they were, doesn't really matter, does it?" she said slowly, wondering at how much truer the words felt now that she was passing them on to someone else, rather than having them pressed on her own resisting ears. "It happened, and it was terrible; but the only thing we can do about it now is make sure it never happens again."

He sighed, and they were silent together again for another long moment. Then he shot her another sidewise glance, and curled one corner of his mouth up. "We, huh?" he asked.

Feeling brave, D.G. snuck one small hand toward him along the rail, and rested it atop his broad, callused one. "If you want to," she said. "I know I've been kind of assuming you'd stick around and advise me or something, but if you'd rather stay with the Tin Men..."

Cain shook his head, slowly, then turned his hand over and gently clasped hers. She felt absurdly petite at the gesture, and ridiculously red around the ears, and a little bit giddy-- which was stupid, because it wasn't anything more than they'd done just a few minutes earlier.

"That part of my life is behind me," he said, simply. "Besides. I got kind of used to following you around; routine policework would seem pretty boring, after that."

"Hey!" She objected for form's sake, but she could feel the grin spreading across her face; she'd made his eyes twinkle again. And just like that, all was better in her world.

Damn, she had it bad. And this so wasn't the time for it. But-- there would be time for it, and soon, unless she was totally misreading the signs.

Behind them, she heard Jeb clear his throat, and guessed that someone else was approaching; probably Toto, since she'd already been late for a lesson when she'd spotted Cain. It made her wonder just how much Jeb had seen, and what he really thought about it. She was going to have to have a talk of her own with him eventually.

In the meantime, though, she gave Cain's hand one last squeeze, then let go and stepped back. "So I'll see you again soon, then?" she asked, half-turning toward the door.

He nodded. "Soon," he confirmed. "Remember what I said about taking care of yourself."

"You, too," she said, warmly.

Jeb walked out onto the balcony as she exited; he was smirking, all right. D.G. blushed again, then smiled at him and kept going.

It would be a long while yet before everyone recovered. But she thought they were making a pretty good start.