Warnings: Here be some major angst.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. No infringement is intended.
Author's Notes/Dedication: First of all, thank you so much for your wonderful response to "Running On Ice". I have no words that could convey my gratitude to all of you who let this old bird out of the cage one more time.
Feedback is always welcome. I'd love to hear what you think.
This is again for Beebo, who let me run, but always let me catch back up in the end.
"What happens when you leave?"
She hadn't been expecting a question--any question, let alone that one. And it stunned her into silence.
Standing there and staring up at the face she'd sought refuge in so many times, she felt like a fool who'd worn her heart on her sleeve, intentions in her eyes, so obvious that she'd painted him into a corner. She'd expected a fight--any confronted animal would challenge back--but she never, ever expected this, never considered this particular scenario.
She had been expecting excuses--reasons why, really--that she was a princess, and he was a Tin Man, that their age difference was insurmountable, that he was still in love with, and grieving, his late wife. She had even tried to steel herself for the possibility that he didn't love her back.
So when Cain posed the tired, quiet question, DG had no answer, not even the shred of a response.
"What happens when you realize you can't fix something so irrevocably broken?"
She wanted to scream out that he wasn't broken, that she loved him for who he was, not who he had been or thought he should be. Maybe he was a little tarnished, maybe there was a dent in that armor he used to protect himself. She knew she had the same malformations, the same skeletons in her closet, and he never seemed to think less of her for that.
"I don't want you to bear the burden of putting me back together. I've already failed at it; why would I let you shoulder the weight for me?"
She ignored the tears as they began a company front down her cheeks, ignored her heart as it stopped beating momentarily, and tried in vain to swallow the sorrow in her throat. She wanted to tell him he's never failed at anything when it comes to her, that the only reason she's alive and relatively well, along with her friends, her family, and her kingdom, is because he protected her, sheltered her from the storm. All she wanted to do is return the favor. He must have been tired from his constant vigilance; she just wanted to take his burden and let him rest.
DG reached a tentative hand to him, trying to cross the chasm between them, but the rift grew exponentially as he turned away from her and began to pace the gazebo. The sunlight reflecting off the lake was a stark contrast for the dark, foreboding maelstrom now encompassing the two of them.
"What happens when you realize I've tainted you, ruined you?"
Finally, the sob that had taken up residence in her throat exploded, making her shake enough that she needed to wrap her arms around her middle to stop the tremors.
At this, he stopped his pacing and looked down at her with pity. She hated him for it. "You see?" he commanded, waving a hand in her general vicinity. "I've already let you down. I've already hurt you. I can't do it again. I won't."
His tone was final, forceful, no room for argument.
When she finally replied, she was surprised at how venomous her words sounded. "What makes you think you get to decide this for the both of us?"
"Looking out for me? Bullshit."
The tint in her eyes was a challenge, and he met her with equal force. "Trying to protect you," he finished.
"No, you're trying to protect you. There is a distinct difference."
"What if I am?"
Again, the question stunned her into silence. Her brows crinkled as she tried to process his statement, and he was compelled to press forward.
"You want me to say I'm scared? Fine. I'm scared. Not of what could be, or should be, but of what is. I don't like how I feel when I'm around you."
A second, quieter sob made its way through her lips again, and he hastened to explain. "You're always there, DG, whether you're by my side, in the same room, or across the castle. I'm starting to realize that I don't want to go on without you. Not that I can't, but that I don't want to. And that makes it a thousand times worse."
These words coming from him should have made her giddy, should have made her throw herself into his arms, and press a thousand kisses against his lips. But the dejection, the resignation, the despair in his voice shattered her heart into a thousand pieces, and the wind from the lake scattered them to points unknown.
"If I had to watch you walk away…it would be the end of me."
"I won't walk away." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"So this is about what? Self-preservation?"
"Something like that."
"You bastard." Her hatred, while palpable, still mixed with her love for him. Now shewas startingto hate herself.
He turned his back on her, looking out over the water. "Yeah, I am."
A small, humorless laugh escapes her. "I don't believe this. You're not even willing to try." She fought against her leaden feet as she forced herself to go to him. "We can do this. We've faced worse."
He could not, would not face her. "There's nothing worse than this."
She wanted to hit him, to beat him until he felt the pain he was inflicting upon her. But by this point, it was taking every ounce of strength she had left just to keep upright. "We can do this," she repeated. "I know we can. I trust you. I trust us."
"Don't you get it, kid?" At the nickname, the distance he was forcing upon them, she flinched. "It's not that easy."
"It's as easy as we make it."
"You don't trust me."
"I trust you with my life."
She threw her hands up in the air, the pent up frustration balling her fists into hard white vice-like grips. "You trust me with your life, but you don't trust me with your heart?"
His silence was answer enough.
"Can you tell me you don't love me?"
His sigh prefaced his next comments, which were muffled as he ran his hand over his face. "I'm telling you I can't love you. For both of our sakes. It won't work."
"Stop." It is a desperate plea, and she hates him even more for making her sound and act this way. "Wyatt, please, just stop it."
"It's better this way."
"You're killing me."
He finally looked at her, and she was surprised to find tear tracks marring his weathered face. "I'm sorry."
"No, you're not." As if she weren't already broken enough, she knew with all the certainty she'd ever had, that he truly believed he was protecting them, that he truly thought it was better this way. The mirth that normally lit her eyes was destroyed with that moment of reckoning.
"I'm sorry I'm hurting you." He continued on as if she hadn't interrupted him. "But we--I--can't cross that line. I won't."
She said nothing, letting the tears fall unchecked and unabashedly now, not caring how sad or pathetic she looked to him. There would be no convincing him, no changing his mind, no matter how wrong she knew he was. She would not force the issue, would not force him into something he so obviously and steadfastly wanted to avoid.
She tried to understand, tried to cope, tried to reason with herself that in his own way, he was just looking out for her, protecting her.
She never believed Cain would have to protect her from himself.
He'd told her once that she'd cut and run when the going got tough. And now here he was, sprinting away from her, from them, as fast as his long legs could carry him. It was a sad realization that hit her: for the first time in his life, Wyatt Cain wasn't willing to fight. Not for her, not for him, and definitely not for them.
When he reached out for her in a final attempt at an apology, she took a long step back, cementing the decision, the mistake he'd made.
She took a step away from them, from the happiness she'd been so sure was on the horizon, and she let him go.
When he turned and began to walk away, she couldn't decide which was worse: that he was leaving her, leaving them behind, or that she was letting him.