Author's Notes/Dedication: This is my first Tin Man fic--and my first fic in general, in about three years--so I'm anxious to see what you all think. I've enjoyed reading everything published thus far, and though I'm certain you guys do it better, I wanted to add my two cents.
Feedback makes me giddy like strike three from Papelbon to Varitek in Colorado. (A Red Sox reference for those of you out of the loop. :) )
Dislcaimer: The characters and situations herein are not mine. No infringement is intended.
This is for Beebo, who's been there through it all, and loves me anyway.
Their relationship is like running on ice. She's running at full speed, waiting to see where the wind will take her, and he's bracing for impact.
Their relationship is a push and pull. Action with caution, adventure with experience, heart versus head.
Their relationship seems to thrive on their differences, but they are more alike than either realizes or admits. Duty, honor, guilt--they are the ties that bind.
Neither acknowledges the pull they feel to the other. She figures it's the adrenaline of saving the sister she doesn't remember, along with the home she doesn't know, that keeps them connected. He simply feels the weight of a promise, a second chance to save something innocent. They are certainly not two halves of a whole, two pieces of a puzzle, two ends of a magnet destined to rest side by side.
Both are determined to make up for the past. So determined that they forget about the present, and almost let the future slide right by.
They continue in their dance, sidestepping the other, caught up in their own private storms, until she reaches out.
It's a quiet gesture, one that surprises him, for she is anything but subtle.
She finds him standing on one of the castle's balconies early one morning, just as the suns are cresting over the horizon, and wordlessly hands him a cup of coffee. He looks at her sidelong, but she keeps her gaze focused on the landscape. They stand in silence, broken only by the sips he takes from the mug, and after a few minutes she turns to leave, just as wordlessly as she came.
She pauses on her way out, grasping his free hand and squeezing it gently.
Her gaze always seems to find him, even when he's supposed to be hidden in shadow, watching, waiting, protecting. There is a light in her eyes, a tint to that cerulean that holds the promise of tomorrow. It scares him to death. So when he feels the pin of her stare on him, he simply ducks his chin and tips his cap in acknowledgement. Her mask never changes, but the smile in her eyes gives her away, and she turns back to whatever it was she was doing before she sought him out.
Her subtle exterior cracks one day, and he can hear the slamming of the door from down the neverending hall. The men he is advising jump, looking around worriedly, but he simply sits back in his chair, counts to ten, and excuses himself.
She expects him to bang on the door, demanding to be let in, and this time, it is his gesture that surprises.
He knocks once, softly, gently, and enters her room without waiting for an answer. They stand apart, watching the other for a long moment before she breaks the stalemate.
She sits down on the edge of her bed, pressing the heel of her hand to the bridge of her nose, and sighs so deeply that he's afraid she'll suffocate now that there's no air left in her lungs.
She lowers her head, sending her dark locks freefalling from her shoulders. He moves across the room and sits next to her, placing a hand at her shoulder blades, rubbing her back in what he hopes is a soothing gesture.
They sit like that for an hour. Neither says a word.
There is a second knock at the door, stronger than his was, and they both raise their eyes to the heavy oak. He looks at her, waiting for her permission, and she nods once, rubbing at her face again, muttering something about how she'd like to take princess duty and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. He grins and rises from the bed, stopping only when her hand catches his again. This time, when she squeezes it in thanks, he effortlessly pulls her up and to him. The split second embrace is enough to release the tension from her body. As she pulls back, she smiles up at him gratefully, not just with her eyes, and he finds himself smiling back.
Another, more insistent knock breaks the silence, and she laughs as he automatically goes for his gun to shoot the intruder. The sound is precious to both of them.
He goes to check on her that night. He repeats his actions from earlier, entering without being asked. She is spread across the window seat, watching as a spring rain falls down the paned glass. She looks at her visitor and smiles, inviting him to sit with her with the gentlest cock of her head. He hesitates for a moment, pushing his hands into his pockets, but propels himself forward just as she turns back to the window.
She pulls her knees to her chest, leaving the opposite end of the seat open for him. He feels gawky, uncomfortable, until he looks at the serene expression on her face. Then, he relaxes and rests his back against the wall, listening to her as she begins to speak.
She talks to him for hours, telling of her childhood, of Girl Scouts, of sneaking out at fifteen, of how when some boy at school teased her, she clocked him as hard as she could, sending the little bastard sprawling to the ground. He came back to school a week later, his jaw wired shut, two teeth missing. Her mother--one of them, anyway--was mortified. Her Popsicle was never prouder.
He laughs at that, and she smiles wider. It was all so simple then, she muses, looking back out the window. Just trying to survive--school, work, a normal life.
As he always does, he counters her. He tells her she was never normal, that she was never meant to be anything but what she is now. A savior, a good woman, light to the dark. He pretends he is speaking of her in terms of what she is to the O.Z., but he realizes as his heart sinks to his stomach, that he is speaking in terms of what she is to him.
Now it is he who is running on ice, skidding forward into the unknown. What he fails to realize is that she's stopped, waiting to catch him should he fall.
He clears his throat and stands, and her brows arch inquisitively. He makes some asinine excuse and bids her goodnight, moving to turn back towards the door. He pauses for a split second, resting a strong hand on her shoulder. He jumps slightly as she turns her cheek and rests it against his knuckles, the spark from her touch warming him in places he'd forgotten existed. She looks up at him, understanding in her eyes, and repeats his excuse, giving him the out he needs before he loses himself.
He is sent on a reconnaissance mission the next day, and she startles him in the stables as he prepares his horse for the journey. She leans against the door and gives him a half-smile in apology. She teases him as she closes the space between them, idly twining her fingers in the horse's mane, asking him if he really thought he could leave without saying goodbye.
He rolls his eyes good-naturedly and barbs that he wouldn't dream of it, especially now that he knows what a mean right hook she has. She laughs at that, and as he looks across at her, his heart is thumping so loudly in his chest that it drowns her out for a minute. The spark is back, only now it's a conflagration, threatening to swirl out of control and fueled by something neither of them can name.
She breaks the moment, stepping back and allowing him to mount the horse. He looks down at her, and her eyes search his. Their palms come together in unison, and he finds himself bringing her hand to his lips. She wishes him a safe journey and a quick return, and then something shifts behind her eyes, and she threatens to come after him if he's not back in a few days.
He is deadly serious when he replies that no matter where he could go, he knows she'd find him.
That seems to surprise her, and she moves to say something else, but stops herself. Instead, she threads their fingers together and rubs her thumb over his calloused skin. Come back, she implores him. I'll wait. Then, to break the tension, she tells him mischievously that if he gets shot, she'll kill him.
He returns her smirk wordlessly, then tips his hat as is his custom, and urges the mare out of the stable gently. He looks over his shoulder at her before bringing the steed to a gallop, and sees her raise her hand, waving at his retreating back.
As he rides away, she wonders why his retreating back is starting to blur.
As he rides away, he wonders why the road is swimming in front of him.
Both would blame it later on the dust of the stable and the road.
When he returns six days later, he is weary from the travel and the skirmishes, but more so from being away from her. He makes his way through the palace with a determined step.
This time, he finds her.
She is standing in the library, thumbing through one of the tomes he knows she has absolutely no interest in. He stops in the doorway and watches her, watches the graceful curve of her chin and neck, watches as she pushes a stray lock of hair behind her ear, watches as she smiles and raises her eyes to his.
He walks purposefully over to her, and her brows raise as he closes the gap between them. The kiss is gentle, thankful, painfully short and full of promise of the future they forgot they could have.
She smiles beatifically at him. "I told you I'd wait."
They'll hold each other up on the uncertain ground during an even more uncertain journey. One may fall through the ice, perhaps both, but at least, for now, they've stopped running.