Title: The Good Witch
Chapter: Mothers, Fathers, Sons, and Daughters
Warnings: It's dark and there's some language.
Disclaimer: It isn't mine.
Summary: Post-series, picks up right after the series ended. Eventual DG/Cain. The witch is gone, but that doesn't mean the war is over. No happily ever after in sight.
Wyatt Cain stumbled out of the Witch's tower, dizzy with fatigue and half-blinded by the new morning sun. The noise, the agony of dying men and animals, assaulted his ears, and the after-battle smell of blood and decay nearly made him wretch. The resistance had drawn out the Longcoats during the night, and the survivors were hurrying to clear away the fields, secure their prisoners, tend to the wounded.
And Jeb- Jeb was somewhere among them.
Wyatt forced his eyes away from the rows of bodies laid out for burial. The majority of survivors were gathered near the makeshift tents that had been set up several yards to the west. The thin cloth was meant to give the illusion of privacy for the wounded- not that there was enough room. Men and women whose injuries were less severe lay in the open air while their comrades gave them whatever aid they could.
A pair of fighters carrying a bleeding man between them hurried by, jostling his shoulder. Wyatt grimaced at the pain, wishing he'd spared a moment to let Raw tend to him. He could almost hear DG's scolding voice in his head, telling him what a fool he was.
A sudden, real voice jolted him back to reality:
Jeb stepped out from a ragged group of people and slowly came forward. He was pale beneath the smatterings of dirt and gore, and his eyes were hazy with exhaustion. Not trusting himself to speak, Wyatt simply held out his good arm and let his son fall against him.
"You're wounded," Jeb managed, his voice hoarse and tired.
"Could say the same," Wyatt answered, noticing the way his son held all of his weight on his left leg. "Someone should have a look at you."
Jeb shrugged. "It's not even a proper battle wound. Horse got shot from under me, took a tumble... Lot of folks need looking at more..." He trailed off, shaking his head.
Wyatt knew the boy's composure was frayed to the last- and his own wasn't much better. He carefully guided them both down onto a clean patch of grass, grabbed Jeb's canteen off his belt, and handed it to him.
Jeb gulped down the water, then scrubbed his hands over his face, muttering curses in a low voice. Wyatt opened his mouth to say some inconsequential thing- whatever would pull his son's focus off the battle he'd just been through- when a reverent hush fell over the entire field. The men bared their heads, and many even went to their knees as the restored queen came out from the tower.
Her consort came next, and at his side were DG and-
"Azkadellia!" Jeb started to scramble to his feet, but Wyatt grabbed his arm and hauled him back down.
"Wait," he said sternly.
Most of the other fighters had similar reactions to Jeb's- and how strange it was to see Azkadellia flinch back from their anger- but Queen Lavender held up both hands to silence their rumblings.
Her voice rang out across the field, "My brave people, there will be time enough for better explanations later. But for now, know that the O.Z. is free. The Witch is dead. And my daughters-" here she smiled, and her eyes glimmered with tears- "both of my daughters are restored to me."
"Long live the Queen!" Ahamo shouted, to be hesitantly echoed by the crowd. "Long live the Queen!"
Movies, DG decided- even the goriest ones- didn't do a battlefield justice. You couldn't smell a movie, and even if it did have realistic swarms of flies, you didn't have to swat them away. And all of that happily ever after stuff was totally crap.
Except she was happy; she had her family back, had her home back... But there was supposed to be triumphant music, and maybe a parade. Confetti from the sky, too.
Instead, there was clean-up.
And all she could think about was being tired, and needing a shower, and wanting everyone to just be okay.
She had tried to help with the wounded, thinking that between magic and basic first aid she could do something... until the sight of a resistance man's leg being amputated had left her vomiting in the grass.
She'd handed her duties over to Raw, who actually could heal some of the damage, and Glitch, who did little more than apply pressure to wounds in between making squeamish noises- but at least didn't lose his stomach. Then she'd tried to find Cain, but had given up when one of the fighters she'd asked about him said he was with his son. That had lead her to return to her own newly-reunited family.
She and Azkadellia both ended up following their father and a few other men back into the tower on a mission to ransack the Longcoats' barracks. Azkadellia readily told them where to find food, medical supplies, camp gear, and the like. The men grabbed weapons, too, at Ahamo's suggestion, and DG shivered when she realized the danger they were still facing- who knew how many Longcoats were still out there, or how soon word of the Witch's defeat would reach them?
"I need to change," Azkadellia murmured, tugging at the constraining dress she wore. Her eyes darted about wildly, as if she expected something to jump from the shadows at any moment.
DG silently berated herself for not expecting her sister's damaged emotional state anymore than she'd expected to still be in danger. She found what looked like a soldier's footlocker, threw open the lid, and rummaged around until she found a pair of pants and a shirt that would be passably fitting on her sister. "Here," she said, handing the drab garments to Azkadellia. "They're old, but they'll be better for working than that get up you're in. And-" she grinned- "mother won't only have my wardrobe to be worried about."
Her sister managed a slight smile and took the clothes. After a few moments of searching they found the washroom, which reminded DG of the gym locker rooms in high school, and Azkadellia hurriedly changed. Then DG helped her take down her hair and wash off her make-up.
Without the Witch's trappings, she looked years younger, and painfully fragile. When Ahamo, arms loaded with supplies, found them, he immediately dropped everything he was carrying and drew her into a hug. "My daughter," he said, "my beautiful daughter."
DG shuffled her feet, not wanting to interrupt the moment, but more than ready to return to the open air- and certain Azkadellia must feel the same.
Ahamo apparently noticed because he stepped back and started giving instructions. "Those boxes I had, they're full of field rations- best we can do for food until we get some fires going. The resistance men will have already gotten water, your mother will have seen to that, but they'll be hungry."
"We'll take care of it," DG assured him, already moving. She bent and picked up one of the boxes, feeling the strain in her arms. "Come help me, Az," she told her sister. "We'll go together."
"Yes, of course." Azkadellia picked up the other box, struggling beneath its weight, and slowly headed for the stairs.
DG followed, grateful when they made it out into the warming sunlight. She dropped her box unceremoniously to the ground and tore the lid open. Inside were packets of dried fruit and nuts, salted jerky, and unappetizing nutritional bars.
"No wonder the Longcoats were so grumpy," she joked. "They were eating this stuff."
Azkadellia didn't laugh. Her eyes were on the clusters of fighters gathered about the field, most of whom were watching them warily. Some even had hands to their weapons, however discreet.
DG choked back her anger and tried to mimic her mother's calm, untouchable air. "Come on, Az," she said grimly, "they'll thank us soon enough for feeding them."
Her sister didn't move. "I-I don't think this task is suited to me, DG... I... I won't be welcome..."
"Oh, Az," DG sighed, moving to stand in front of her, "Mother has to have explained the whole story by now. They know you aren't the Witch."
"But I still look like her," Azkadellia answered, wiping sudden tears from her eyes. "I still remind them of her." She drew a shuddering breath. "You go. I'll wait and help Father."
DG hesitated, reluctant to leave her sister by herself in such a state. Their mother's approach, however, prevented her from offering any argument.
Lavender embraced them and glanced at the boxes of rations on the ground. "I see that your mission is successful. Your father will be bringing more supplies soon, I trust."
"Yes, and DG was just about to bring food to the men," Azkadellia said softly.
"Not if-" DG began, then stopped at her sister's pleading glance. "Right," she said, "they must be pretty hungry."
"Indeed," Lavender agreed. "Go on, then. I shall stay with your sister. You need to rest, my Azkadellia, you have not your full strength." She put a gentle hand on her eldest daughter's cheek as she spoke.
DG caught her mother's eye and gave her a grateful look before grabbing as many packets of food as she could carry. "Here I go waitressing again," she said in mock complaint. "Isn't this improper for a princess?"
Lavender smiled. "Nothing is more proper," she stated, "than for a princess to serve her people."
Dirt spattered over canvass as Jeb Cain buried another of his fighters. It wasn't a proper way to lay a man to rest, wrapped in rough fabric instead of placed in a pine box, but it was all he could do for them.
Consort Ahamo had found the shovels to dig the graves, and cloth to cover the bodies- had even helped with the burials, working through the hottest part of the day. But the Queen had summoned him over an hour ago, and Jeb had dismissed the rest of his men shortly thereafter with orders to get some food in them- and then some sleep if they could manage it.
Wearily, he leaned on his shovel and wiped the sweat from his brow, wishing he could follow his own instructions. But there was still work to be done.
"Is there no one to help you?" came a soft query from behind him.
Jeb whirled around, grimacing as the pain flared up in his injured leg. It took all of his considerable willpower to keep his hand from straying to his gun at the sight of the Princess, Azkadellia. He'd heard what the Queen had said about her being controlled by the Witch- and standing there with her eyes downcast, dressed in old worker's clothes, she certainly didn't look like the woman he'd spent so much of his life hating... But still...
She looked up at him briefly before her gaze skittered back to the ground. "Or, perhaps, you would rather do this work alone?"
Jeb shrugged and dug his shovel into the earth. "Doesn't much matter. Just needs to be done." He blinked back the sparks that blurred the edges of his vision. Damn, but he was tired...
The scrape of another shovel against dirt and stone startled him. Azkadellia frowned and tried to dig as deep as he had, gasping with the effort. Jeb watched her struggle for a moment, wanting to take pleasure in it, but finding himself unable to.
"Don't overdo it," he finally advised, irritably, "just pick up what you can lift without strain." As an afterthought, he added, "Highness."
"Just Azkadellia," she said, "Or, no... just Az."
"You think I don't know your name?" he answered, more sharply than he'd intended.
Azkadellia shrank back, reminding him of a kicked puppy. He sighed, knowing his father would want him to be merciful- and not quite knowing why he should care what his father wanted. He gestured to the pile of dirt he'd already started. "Once I'm finished digging, do you think you can cover the hole back up again?"
The Princess nodded wordlessly.
"All right, then, just wait there till I'm finished," Jeb ordered, all the while telling himself he was a fool not to send her away. He shook his head and went back to the digging.
After a moment, Azkadellia spoke again, "These men, you were their captain?"
"Could call me that," he said. Then, remembering he hadn't returned her introduction, "It's Jeb, to most folks."
She said something else, to quietly for him to make out the words.
"Gonna need to repeat that."
"Thank you!" she blurted out, unnaturally loud, and cringed at her own volume. She took a breath and tried again, "I should thank you for fighting her. I... I tried, you know. I tried to fight. I- I- just couldn't stop her. And, I thought, if only I were stronger... if only I hadn't been so young... then maybe... Or maybe if I'd just tried harder..."
Jeb thought of himself as a child, too small and weak to stop the Longcoats from beating his father, and quickly banished the memory. "No use wishing anything had been different," he said gruffly. "Only thing to do is get on with what you have." He finished digging the grave and moved to grab one of the bodies. "Get this man's feet."
Azkadellia obeyed. She really didn't have any arm strength, but Jeb didn't reprove her for it this time- merely shifted his hold so he could take the brunt of the weight himself.
"Cover him up, and pack the earth down," he instructed once they'd laid the body in the hole. "I'll start on the next one."
Smiling, Ahamo watched as his eldest daughter and the young resistance leader buried the men who had died during the long night. Though they did not seem to notice it, the two of them drew a great deal of attention as the day wore on; some men had even stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of their captain working side by side with the woman they'd known as their greatest enemy.
Most had gone on with their business after a few moments, but Ahamo had continued to watch as the hours passed. That Azkadellia had approached Jeb- so obviously burdened by the loss of his men- gave him hope that, though her spirit had been sorely damaged, she had not been broken.
Presently, he realized he was not the only one still observing the pair. He moved to stand beside the tin man, Wyatt Cain, who inclined his head respectfully.
Ahamo chuckled. "Such formality is unnecessary for one of my daughter's companions. And," he added, "for one who shares with me the joy of regaining his family." He inclined his head towards Jeb. "He is your son, I believe?"
"Yes, sir." Cain's smile was slight, but proud.
"The pain these years have forced on our children," Ahamo murmured. DG had told him pieces of the tin man's story, enough for him to know he was a kindred spirit- a father, unable to spare his child from suffering.
Cain's eyes clouded, but he made no reply.
"And yet they come back to us," Ahamo continued. "And how they save us..." He nodded at Jeb again. "Your boy has a great heart, Mr. Cain... for which I'm grateful."
"So'm I, sir," Cain answered quietly. "So'm I."
The sky was dark by the time DG separated herself from the group of fighters who'd gathered around her- first, because she had food, and second, because she had stories to tell about her journey through the O.Z. It'd surprised her that they wanted to hear, and she'd had to keep catching herself when she used references from the Other Side, but they hadn't really seemed to mind.
They pretended to be hurt at her departure, calling to her imploringly, and she laughed over her shoulder. She was proud of herself, she had to admit, for lifting their spirits.
She started out looking for Cain, but crossed paths with her sister first. Azkadellia was sweaty and covered in dirt, but she seemed more at peace than she had that morning.
"DG," she said warmly. "Where did you end up all this time?"
DG grinned "Feeding hungry soldiers like you wanted me to, and then entertaining them with tales of my heroic adventures. What about you? You look like you rolled around on the ground all day."
"No, I was digging graves," her sister answered matter-of-factly.
"Oh... Okay..." DG wisely decided to change the subject. "We should find Mother and Father. I bet they'll be looking for us."
"There was a tent set up for them," Az said, pointing across the field. "The big one, in the center."
"Right." DG nodded and started walking with her sister close behind. Moments later she spotted Glitch wandering around, looking like he'd lost his way- or forgotten it. She called to him, and his face brightened.
"Hey, DG! I was just- I was just- well, I'll tell you when I remember! I-eeeeeaahhh!" His words were lost in an unmanly shriek when his gaze fell on Azkadellia. "The Witch! No, wait, we killed the Witch. Didn't we? Ding-dong, the Witch is dead? Hey, that's funny!" He laughed nervously to himself.
DG rolled her eyes and shot Azkadellia an apologetic glance.
"It's all right," her sister assured her, though her voice was sad. To Glitch, she said gravely, "I promise you, we will do everything to see that you are healed."
"Healed?" Glitch asked, confused. "Am I wounded? No, wait." Understanding dawned. "Sorry, sweetheart, don't think that was meant to be put back together."
"But we can still try," DG cut in optimistically. "Maybe there's a way."
Glitch made no reply, instead exclaiming, "Oh! If you're looking for your tin man, he's over by the fire." He pointed vaguely and headed off again.
"We will heal him," Azkadellia repeated, watching him go.
DG nodded absently, her eyes on the dark figures huddled around the nearby campfire. She turned back to Az, searching for an explanation as to why she couldn't continue to their parents' tent.
Her sister smiled knowingly. "Go to him."
It was all the permission she needed. She squeezed Az's arm, then took off. When she reached the fire, she immediately slowed, seeing that many of the men around it were trying to rest. She walked among them until she caught sight of a familiar cowboy hat shielding its owner's face from the light.
She could tell Cain was sleeping by the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. His son lay nearby- also asleep- with head pillowed on his arms, but he jerked awake at DG's approach.
"Sorry," she whispered, crouching down beside him.
"'s all right, Princess." Jeb dragged a sleeve across his eyes. "Too used to being on alert is all." He glanced at his father, who hadn't woken. "He was waiting up for you, but-" here he smiled briefly- "he's getting a little old for this."
DG snickered. "He is not."
Sleep, she decided, was definitely the right idea. She eyed the duster Cain had thrown over his body, then made up her mind and snatched it for herself. She heard Jeb chuckle as she settled herself on it. Then she closed her eyes and let herself drift away.
Azkadellia had told her she'd find DG with her friends.
Lavander smiled as she looked down on her sleeping daughter, lying close to the tin man and his son. She had made certain the men guarding their encampment knew where DG was, in case anything should happen, but in that moment she knew no harm would come to her daughter so long as her companions were with her to prevent it.
She held a hand out to Ahamo as he came to her, and he clasped her fingers tightly. "The watches are set," he said, "All the men who are able will take turns."
"I think we are safe for tonight," Lavender answered. "The Longcoats that remain will take several days, at least, to organize."
"But they will," Ahamo said grimly. "They will come."
Lavender nodded, looking at her daughter once more, and then back at the man she loved. "Together, then," she said, "we shall face them."