Disclaimer: Don't own them
Note: Thanks to Celia Stanton for her editing, both times. You kept me sane and gave me perspective when I needed it.
Note 2: The title and the quote DG uses later on are from the Bible. There is a tiny nod to another of my favorite fandoms in this chapter and DG makes an Other Side reference to another.
Ch – 9 – Conviction Of Things Not Seen
"I'm gonna be here for you from now on
This you know somehow
You've been stretched to the limits but it's alright now". – Making Memories Of Us by Keith Urban
The night was dark and stormy. Wind whistled through the trees and thick clouds obscured the moons. Heavy rain beat against canvas tents, branches and leaves masking the sounds of armedmen moving carefully though the forest toward the resistance camp.
The first sentry died without warning, his throat slit from behind. The second had a moment of fear followed by an adrenaline spike when a Longcoat materialized a foot in front of him. Flash from a pistol fired at pointblank range blinded him, and pain seared through his chest; one last gasp and he never saw or felt anything again.
At the sound of the first shot, Cain grabbed his sidearm and rolled DG beneath him, before he was awake enough to register what was happening. He took one look at her confused, frightened face and covered her mouth with his free hand to keep her from screaming and giving away their position.
Deeg woke with the sounds of battle echoing in her ears and the feeling of a body pressing into hers. She bucked in panic, terrified she was being buried alive again. Then her vision cleared and she recognized her Tin Man above her.
"Hold still," he ordered in a whisper.
Her breathing hitched deep her throat and she nodded, trying to give him assurances that she didn't feel. He was just easing his hand from her mouth when she heard a strange sound. Cain identified it immediately as slugs ripping through canvas. He ducked until his cheek was pressed to hers, and covered both their heads with his arms. He knew he was too heavy to be laying on her without support, and hoped to hell she could breathe, but there was no cover in their flimsy tent. He was all that stood between her and a bullet.
When their canteen, less than six inches away bounced in the air and hit him on the shoulder, Deeg finally understood what he was doing. "No, Wyatt, you promised," she gasped and shoved against his chest. Less than six hours earlier, he'd given her his word that he wouldn't take a bullet for her, and here he was shielding her with his body as enemy fire rained down around them. "Dammit, don't do this," she begged when she realized he was too strong, too heavy, and too determined for her to dislodge.
"Hold still." His rough whisper was almost drowned out by an explosion that pelted debris against their tent. She was all that counted; he had to get her out of this alive, no matter what it took. He could feel her panicking, but that was to be expected. What caught him by surprise were the tears that slipped between her closed lids and dampened both of their cheeks.
"Cain, it's Gerard. I'm coming in," a hushed, unidentifiable voice called from outside their tent. Moments later, the rain soaked man crawled in on his stomach. He was met by an icy blue glare and the muzzle of a pistol two inches from his nose. "We got no time for personal vendettas, Tin Man. Gotta get Her Highness outta here."
"Give me one good reason why I should trust you." Wyatt rested his weight on his left forearm beside Deeg's head, his hand nestled in her hair. His other arm held his weapon straight and steady as he sighted down the barrel.
"'Cause Adora did." Guarded brown eyes met cool blue ones.
Everything stood still for Cain. Nothing was real except his target and the sounds of battle. Adora's name echoed in his mind, but it sounded out of place, out of time. No one spoke about her to him; even DG had only asked about her once. Now this man, this stranger, had evoked her memory twice in a short span of hours. He became aware of his fingers threading through soft tangles of curls and a wiggling woman beneath him. "Stop it, Deeg," he ordered without taking his eyes off his target.
"No!" She bucked beneath him and pulled her arms free from between them.
"Hold still, dammit. How am I supposed to protect you if you won't do as I say?" He wrapped his arm around her, holding her closer to him as he glared at the resistance leader and growled, "That's not a real convincing argument considering she's six months dead." He cocked his weapon as something dark curled in his belly.
"I'd a died ta prevent it if I coulda." Sam's weapon remained unflinchingly trained on the Tin Man. He'd longed to have him in that position since he'd learned of his existence. Though 'Dora had been right; Zero and his Longcoats hadn't killed her husband. Believing her wouldn't have changed the nature of their relationship, but it would have prevented heated arguments that had cut wedges of time out of the few years he'd known her.
"Not good enough!" Cain said through gritted teeth
DG moved quickly. Her hand slid from where it was resting on his shoulder, down the length of his arm. She pressed tighter against his body to extend her reach, until the tips of her fingers brushed against his wrist. "No, Wyatt, give him a chance."
"Like the one he gave you, when he sicced the Viewer on you?" Cain took a moment to look down into her eyes. They were smoky blue, filled with sorrow, and bubbling over with anger directed straight at him. "How do we know he isn't the one behind all the ruckus out there?"
"Hell, if I was, you'd both be dead and I'd be in my tent warm and dry." Gerard was losing his temper fast. "Don't be so damn pigheaded. We gotta get Her Highness outta here."
DG was fuming at both men. They made her insides churn with pain and anger that only added to her confusion. The little trip down memory lane that Stom had taken her on was too fresh and vivid in her mind, making it difficult to sort through her feelings and the facts. Wyatt had broken his word, something she thought she'd never live to see. Sam Gerard's careless mention of Adora hinted at more than friendship. She could feel Cain's grief as if it were her own; at the same time she was jealous of the love and devotion that belonged to the dead woman.
"Dammit both of you! This pissing contest is getting us nowhere." She lost her tenuous grip on her tempter. "Why don't you shoot each other and get it over with, or better yet, whip em out and see whose is larger. That way I won't get caught in the crossfire."
"Deeg—" Cain's jaw dropped at her expression. The meaning was clear even if he'd never heard it before.
"Don't you 'Deeg' me, Wyatt Cain." She struggled to roll on her stomach, but he kept her hips pinned with his. She had to be satisfied with shooting Sam a menacing look over her shoulder. "Gerard, are you testing me or are you too stupid to remember what I told you?" If she had more confidence in her control, she would have used magic to zap him, but since she was seething with anger, she was afraid she'd fry him rather than give him the sharp sting she intended.
"Now, Your Highness, I wasn't--" The resistance man used his most placating tone, but his words were drowned out by another explosion hitting the ground in front of their tent. Both men ducked. Cain and DG fought for control, each wanting to cover the other as their shelter was bombarded with rocks.
"What the hell, Deeg? Keep down." His upper body collapsed over hers, burying her face against his neck. "You stay where I put you. I'm not telling you again!"
"The hell I will!" She poked him in the ribs and wiggled beneath him, but it didn't do her any good. He kept her pinned in place.
"She always that much trouble?" Gerard grunted when his ears stopped ringing.
"You don't know the half of it." Wyatt finally gained control of her free hand and secured it above her had.
DG's right cheek was pushed into the bedroll. She could feel the pounding of Cain's heart through her Tin Man's neck as it pressed against her left ear. His scent and the feel of his body surrounded her, but instead of soothing her as it had in the past, it filled her with pangs of doubt and worry. "Both of you shut up. Unless it has something to do about getting us out of this hell hole, I don't want to hear it." She bucked one last time, but it was a battle she wasn't going to win.
"What've you got in mind, Gerard?" the Tin Man growled and absentmindedly stroked Deeg's arm. Every instinct shouted at him to head out of the tent and go hunting Longcoats, but he couldn't leave as long as she was in danger. There was no way in hell that he'd leave her unguarded. Sam Gerard was an unknown quantity and that translated into 'not to be trusted'.
"We reinforced the med tent with sandbags ta protect the doc and her patients." Sam tried not to watch the subconscious way Cain soothed the Princess. It made him feel as if he were spying on a private moment. "If we're careful, we can get there. It's ranin' somethin' fierce. That'll give us some cover, but we gotta stay down, way down. Them snipers out there are damn good at hittin' what they aim at."
Cain knew they'd been lucky so far, but he wasn't willing to count on luck to keep them alive. But before he made a decision, he wanted one more piece of information. "What prompted the attack?" he asked carefully, holding Deeg closer against him. For the moment she was safe, but if she was the target, moving her was too great a risk. "Are they aiming at anything in specific?"
"Naw, just tryin' ta--"
"You think they attacked because I'm here?" Deeg cupped Wyatt's cheek, pulling his attention from Gerard. All of her anger was momentarily forgotten as she searched his stoic expression for an answer. "Men are out there dying because of me?"
"I have to know, Princess," he whispered and covered her hand with his.
"Your Highness, it isn't like that, and if it was, that's how it should be." Gerard watched the Princess and the Tin Man's almost silent communication. They simply looked at one another. When they did speak, it was with as few words as possible, but a wealth of emotion and information was exchanged. It made Sam ache with loneliness. That's how he and 'Dora had been.
"Sam's right, Kiddo." Cain wasn't simply talking about the resistance fighters and he could tell by the look on her face that she knew it.
"But you promised. You gave me your word," her voice broke.
"I know. I thought I could do it, but I can't." Cain saw her eyes mist over as pain and anger warred for dominance. "I'm sorry, Deeg." He knew that if it were in his power to keep her alive or unharmed he'd do it, even if it cost him his life.
"I…we'll talk about this later." It felt as if time had stopped since they'd been woken to the sound of gunfire, but she knew it couldn't have been more than a few minutes, minutes they were wasting while others were dying.
"You never really answered my question, Gerard." Cain glared at the other man. "Do they know the Princess is here? It hadn't been in our plan to go public with her identity, but that got shot to hell with your demands of proof."
"I'm right sorry 'bout that." Sam fidgeted, embarrassed by the deep emotions the couple were unaware they were displaying. "Best guess from the pattern of shootin' is that it's a random attack. Them Longcoats boys like ta use the tents for target practice ta see who they can flush out."
"Okay then." Cain nodded as his mind was made up. "We'll be right behind you." He glared warningly. "Just remember, if anything happens, you're my first shot."
It took them twenty minutes to crawl from their tent to the med tent, a trip that could be walked, under normal circumstances, in two minutes. They moved carefully from rock to rock, seeking shelter from pouring rain and enemy snipers. DG hated every second of it. As she blinked water out of her eyes, she told herself that at least it was wet enough that the rivers of mud weren't sticking to her clothes, but that did very little to make the trip more bearable. Thunder echoing around them, made it hard to distinguish where the gunfire was coming from. She'd never been in a firefight before and hoped to God she never would be again. When the battle for the Tower had taken place, she'd been high on the balcony away from the action instead of caught in the middle of it. Her fight had been just as deadly as the one that had taken place on the ground, but it had been much quieter. She was terrified, angry and hurt as she followed behind Gerard, with Cain at her side.
They were soaked to the skin by the time they rounded the wall of sandbags that guarded the entrance to the med tent.
"You two stay in here." Sam nodded to Cain and DG. "Password is firefly, you answer with serenity when we come back or we'll be shootin' our way in."
"I can help." The Tin Man protested.
"Yeah ya can, by keeping her alive, and them too." Gerard pointed to the old women and young children who had congregated with the medic in the tent. "We'll do the rest." He hand signaled to five men who appeared out of the night. They headed out with weapons drawn and death in their eyes.
"You take that end and I'll cover the other." DG indicated the sandbag barrier that protected the tent flap from stray shots. It would mean leaving their fortified shelter and being exposed to the rain and wind again, but she didn't care. She had a weapon in her hand that she knew how to use. She'd be damned if she'd huddle in the back like a small child or old woman while others died for her. "And don't try and talk me out of it, Wyatt Cain."
He would have much rather had her stay in the large tent with sandbags stacked against the canvas walls, but in the short time he'd known the Princess, he'd learned it was wise to choose his battles. This was one he'd already lost. "All right, but stay down, keep your eyes peeled and you're not to get further than an arm's length from my left side at any time." He stared her down expecting an argument, but none came.
"Fine," she clipped the one word in his direction as her chin rose and her eyes sparked. It was evident any further angry retort would come later.
Cain looked over at the tall, grey-haired, female medic who was trying to pretend she wasn't witness to the Princess and the Tin Man's angry words. "Do you have some raingear the Princess could borrow?" His coat and vest had been left behind in the pile of blankets as they scrambled for boots and weapons before following Gerard into the night.
"I've got an old tarp. It should be large enough to keep the rain off both of you." The doc dug among her supply of blankets for a faded brown and green length of slicker material.
Moments later, they were crouched behind the two feet by two feet square blockade. Cain tucked the long side of the tarp between two layers of bags, making a lean-to for them to duck under. "This won't protect us from anything but rain."
"I know." She huddled under the material, unsure what to say. She was angry with herself for being jealous of Adora, when he'd been feeling nothing but pain, and heartsick that he'd broken his word and had been intending to do so again.
"You sure you're up for this?" He didn't like that she was out there with him, but knew nothing short of physically detaining her would have kept her in the protected tent.
"You made damn sure I was." She leaned her right shoulder against the bags to give her gun hand extra support.
"I know, Babe, I just didn't think you'd need to put it into practice so soon." He reached over his left shoulder, needing to touch her. When he found her less than two inches away he moved closer so his back brushed hers.
"Don't do that. Don't be nice to me. I'm too angry to be nice in return." She tried to pull away, but his hand curled on her shoulder, holding her in place.
"Deeg, look at me." He felt her turn until her cheek was resting against the middle of his back and her soft breath was warm on his neck. "Remember, you may have less than a second to make up your mind to shoot. Don't rely on the password, read their body language. It'll tell you what their intentions are."
"I…"DG's chin wobbled and she couldn't go on, so she nodded, hoping he understood.
"You'll be fine. Just lean against me, Princess and we'll both be fine." He smiled as she allowed him to take her weight for a moment. "I've got your back and you've got mine."
Lightning crackled above the trees, sending the camp into stark relief. The thunder that followed drowned out the sounds of rifle fire in the distance.
"Tin Man," she gasped and covered his hand that was still resting on her shoulder.
"Thank you." She shivered and knew he could feel it, but she was beyond caring.
"Anytime, Princess." He squeezed her fingers and then slowly pulled away.
DG rested her pistol on her left hand, where she griped the edge of one of the sandbags. It kept her arm from trembling and her wrist from cramping. As the minutes ticked by, she leaned more and more of her weight on Cain's broad warm back.
"Deeg, be careful. If I have to move suddenly, you're gonna end up flat in the mud."
"Good point." She straightened and turned away, leaning forward on the balls of her feet.
A high-pitched whirring noise blocked the sound of thunder. She instinctively looked up, though she knew all she'd see would be the inside of the slicker sheet.
"Incoming! Get back!" Cain shouted over his shoulder to the people in the shelter behind him. He grabbed DG around the waist and threw them away from the sandbags, trying to get as far into the protection of the tent as possible.
Moments later the world erupted around them and dirt and debris pelted their backs.
"Back off, Skree," a rough little voice shouted. Red Hat jumped out from his hiding place in the branches above and ran his fighting pike through the Longcoat who had dared to attack the section of camp he'd been left to guard. "Be gone with you!" his order became a gasp, as his fallen enemy got off one last shot before he died. The bullet hit the Munchkin in the upper abdomen.
The night was suddenly quiet; even the thunder had moved off into the distance. All that could be heard was the fall of heavy rain and whispers of the pass code, "Firefly," being answered with the response, "Serenity," as shadowy figures moved from the outskirts of the camp, toward the middle.
"No," Deeg cried out, when she saw the body of the little man laying across all that was left of the sandbag barrier she'd been hiding behind. She scrambled away from Cain before the Tin Man could prevent her escape.
"It's the Queen who fell from the sky," Red Hat muttered as he saw her worried face above his and felt her hands trying to hold his gaping wound together.
"Shhh, don't try to talk. We'll get you inside and the doc will have you fixed up in no time." She blinked rain out of her eyes and fought for composure as she nodded to Cain to pick him up.
"No, let me die here, under the sky like a true warrior." He reached for his pike and handed it to Deeg. "The power of the Eastern Guild joins with the Queen who came from the sky…" His breathing grew shallow and his eyes fluttered. "Tin Man, face me toward home. My Violet-May waits for me on the Road on…on…the other side."
Wyatt carefully shifted him. "There you go, Red Hat."
"You will protect her." He whispered and took one final breath. "She is your…" The words wouldn't form. The Munchkin grew cold and still and stared at Cain with sightless eyes.
"No!" DG cried. She moved quickly to her knees beside the fallen warrior. Running her hand along his neck she searched for the artery, but found no answering beat. Even in the dark she could see there was no rise and fall of his chest or hear his labored breathing. "No, not again." She would not let Red Hat die as Tommy had.
She pinched his nose, tipped back his head and gave him two quick, even puffs of air and then moved to his side to begin chest compressions.
"Deeg, what the hell are you doing?" Cain's voice cut through the quiet of the crowd that was forming. Even Sam Gerard remained silent, staring in wonder at what the Princess was doing.
"One and two and three and four." She turned to glare at Cain but never stopped her compressions. "CPR. Do you know rescue breathing?" Rain ran down her face and wind blew hair in her eyes. She shook her head to clear her vision but nothing helped. No matter what she did, she was still trying to perform CPR on an odd little man, in the middle of a storm, in a land where witches and magic were possible. It all seemed surreal.
"Stop, DG, stop, he's dead. There is nothing you can do." Wyatt gripped her shoulders, trying to get through to her.
"Get away from me!" she snapped. "Don't touch me. I have to try." She fought Cain and she struggled to breathe while she kept track of her count. She pushed down, using the weight of her body and not just her arms, as she'd been taught. A little voice kept whispering that if she could just get to the other side of this, she'd wake up and everything would be back to normal.
"Princess." She didn't hear the gentle voice of the middle-aged medic. "Princess, you have to stop." Soft, strong hands covered DG's. "It's too late. This won't help him. There's almost no blood for the heart to circulate."
"Get out of my way!" Deeg shook off the doctor's grasp. Never taking her eyes off Red Hat, she repositioned her hands and continued where she left off, more determined than ever. He was the first person she'd met in the Zone in this crazy mixed up dream. If they started dying, Glitch and then Cain would be next. She had to stop the chain reaction before it started. She couldn't lose…her hands faltered as her mind pictured Wyatt lying cold and still, his sightless eyes staring back at her but seeing nothing. "No…no…not gonna happen."
"Look for yourself." The Doc held up a lantern that gave off thin yellow light in a small circle around the Munchkin. Mixed in with mud and rain was a pool of dark blood. "Only thing that bleeds like that's the liver. When that happens, the lucky ones die right quick. Nothing anyone could do for him."
"No, I won't accept that!" The Princess shouted. "You people can remove half of a man's brain, but you can't fix this? How is that possible?" She intensified her efforts. This time she focused her light below her clasped hands, willing it to search the damaged tissue and repair it. The area beneath her fingers glowed, but nothing happened. Her magic didn't recognize torn organs or vessels.
"Deeg, no," Cain shouted as he realized what she was trying to do.
"Let me see what I can do, Mr. Cain." The medic glared at him. "Stay close, the Princess will need you very soon." She turned back to DG and attempted one more time to reason with her. "You must accept that there are things that not even you, with your magic, can do, Your Highness." When the Doc received no response she looked over the girl's shoulder and nodded to Cain. He wrapped his arms around Deeg, pinning her elbows at her sides and pulled her away from Red Hat's body.
"Noooo," she howled, fighting him with the same tenacity she'd used when she'd thought she was attacking Longcoats beating a helpless man and his family. He wouldn't let her go.
"Easy, Babe." He clung to her as she flailed in his arms.
"Please, Wyatt…" Her throat constricted and it became harder to struggle.
"I've got ya, Deeg." He wrapped his body around hers as they sat on the ground. He pulled onto his lap and rocked her as if she were a child who needed comforting, though with her shirt plastered to her skin and the touch and feel of her so close to his body, he was never more aware of how much of a woman she was. "I've got ya, Babe," he whispered against her hair and ear. His entire focus was on her.
She shook her head, refusing to listen to him. If she did, she'd relinquish control to the huge wall of emotion that threatened to wash over her head. If she took the emotional support her Tin Man was offering, everything would fall apart.
"I've…ah got it…I'm okay," she whispered dispassionately and went limp in his arms. Too exhausted to talk or think, she rested her head on his shoulder. DG heard him speaking quietly to her, but she didn't understand the words. She was too busy pulling together small bits and pieces of her magic to shore up her flagging spirit.
"Wyatt, where's my gu-weapon?" 'Be correct,' her inner voice chided her. 'Remember he never referred to either of the side arms as guns. Show him you're in control or you'll never get away, never get free of this nightmare and be allowed to cry it out in private.'
"Here," he reached behind him to where he'd stuck it in the waistband of his pants.
DG snorted as he handed her the small pistol. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask how he fit anything else in those tight pants of his, but she was afraid if the words left her mouth she'd begin laughing hysterically. Frenzied screams and tears would only be a step behind. It was best if she left that question and never revisited it. The subject of the Tin Man's pants was definitely off limits.
"Your Highness, Red Hat wanted ya ta have this." Gerard stood over her holding the tiny man's fighting pike.
"It should go to his family." She looked at the resistance leader, hardly recognizing him. Her memory kept flitting in and out. Making enough sense of words to string together into coherent sentences was an effort that was almost beyond her.
"He ain't got any, leastways none that's among the livin'."
"Captain Sam right," Blue Hat stepped forward. "Sir Red wanted Queen from the sky to have it, Queen take it. With pike from Clan Red at your side, all of Eastern Guild will bow to your rule." He bobbed his head and struck his chest over his heart with his right fist, pledging his honor, his strength, and what remained of his people to the Princess of Light.
"I…I…ah…thank-you." She wanted to tell them that she wasn't a Queen and never would be one, but the words wouldn't form. Instead, she took the offered stick and pulled out of Wyatt's arms. It was then thatshe realized she was soaking wet and it was still raining. At least she understood why she was cold.
Cain scowled at Gerard. "Is the camp safe enough for us to go back?" The two men had put aside their animosity while trying to protect the princess, but now it was crackling to the surface again.
"Wouldn't be standin' out here yappin' in the rain if it weren't."
"The Longcoats?" Cain let his question hang in the air.
"The ones who attacked won't be botherin' anyone ever again." Sam shrugged and looked around. "Guards er posted and not likely to be caught nappin'. I got it covered. You got more important things ta see to." He nodded toward DG. She was digging through the rubble of what was left of the sandbag wall they'd hidden behind.
"What ya looking for, Kiddo?" Wyatt knelt beside her, one hand on her shoulder and the other pushing her wet hair off her face.
"I'm not sure. I think I lost something here." Her voice broke as she looked into his concerned eyes.
"Yeah, I think you did too, but you're not going to find it tonight." He put his arms around her and helped her to her feet. With every step he took back to their tent, he damned the Queen for sending them on this mission. He damned himself for taking Deeg out of the Tower. He damned life in general for allowing her to be caught up in a mess that didn't seem to have any end to it.
The damage to their tent was far less than either had expected. Despite bullet holes in the canvas, there were only a few wet spots and those weren't anywhere important. The blankets, bedrolls and packs were dry.
"You need to get out of those wet clothes, boots off first." He held out his hand while she balanced on one leg to pull off one and then the other, followed by her socks.
"Hand me my bag, I have a dry blouse in there…not much else…" DG stared down at her dark, heavy, wet skirt and wished she had a nice warm pair of sweatpants.
He raised his left eyebrow at her and looked her over from head to painted toes. She was standing barefoot on her blankets; her shirt out of her skirt and its hem barely skimming her hips.
"Ah…try this instead." He pulled out one of the three shirts he'd brought with him.
"Yeah, good idea," she cleared her throat. "It'll…ah…well…"
"Yeah." He nodded. The more she was covered, the happier he was going to be.
"Cain," Sam Gerard called from outside the tent.
"What da you want?" He stepped out into the rain rather than inviting the resistance fighter in. Wyatt had been married enough years to recognize the look of a woman who was about to undress and too tired to guard her own privacy. He would do it for her.
"I noticed you two were travelin' light, thought ya might want some dry clothes." Sam held up a sack. "You and me 're 'bout the same size." He'd noticed that right off. 'Dora seemed to like her men tall and muscular, though that was where the similarities between them ended. "The Turners gave me some things for Her Highness. They belonged ta Becca. Said they'd be right honored if the Princess used 'em. Help her blend in some in these mountains. Keep her warm and dry, too."
"Ahhh…much obliged." Cain took the bundle, wanting to say more, but the time wasn't right.
"How she holdin' up?" The resistance fighter motioned toward the tent with its lone occupant.
"As well as can be expected," Wyatt sighed. "She took Red Hat's death hard. It was personal to her."
The small cantankerous man had only been a member of Gerard's resistance cell for a short time, but he wasn't taking it so easy, either. "I gotta admit it's a refreshin' change to know a Royal cares, after all the years under Azkadellia's heel." He'd seen, by way of Stom, that the oldest princess had been possessed by ancient wickedness, but DG's devotion to the people of the O.Z. went an even longer way toward restoring his faith in the Crown. "Tell Her Highness he died in battle and how important that is to the Eastern Guild. It might help some."
Cain pursed his lips, unsure how much consolation she'd find in the beliefs of the Munchkins. "We'll talk more in the morning."
"That we surely will," Sam muttered as he headed back to the tent he shared with the Viewer. There was still the issue of 'Dora to settle with Cain and he was damn sure they were going to settle it before either of them went on their way.
"Deeg," Wyatt turned to find her sitting on her blanket with her legs tucked under her. She was wearing his shirt and toweling her hair dry, but her attention wasn't on the task. She was staring at the far wall where she'd hung her skirt and blouse over her travel bag. Beside it was an odd lacy garment that from the shape appeared to be an Other Side piece of female underclothing. He had to shake his head to keep the image of the light blue object against her skin from clouding his vision.
"Deeg, the Turners sent you some things." He knelt and put the bag in front of her as he looked for the items that were for him. In his search, his hand snagged soft white cotton that he recognized as woman's sleepwear. "If you'd rather…" He pulled it out for her to see. "If you'd be more comfortable?" he offered. She looked tiny, almost fragile after all that had happened but since putting on his shirt, she also looked protected. It was nonsense and he knew it, but he didn't want her to change.
"I'd rather, um…" she huddled into the roomy material of his shirt and wrapped her arms around her body; unsure how to tell him she didn't want to. She was wearing exactly what she wanted to go to bed in every night for the rest of her life. "If it's all right with you I'll just…" She'd never understood the old cliché of wearing a man's clothing, but she did now. The feel and scent of him that clung to it made her feel safe.
"It's fine." He smiled gently and danced his fingers along her cheek.
"You're still all wet." She blinked, looking at him as if only now realizing he had gotten drenched too.
"Yeah, I am. Give me a second and I'll get changed." He stuffed Becca's nightgown deep into the sack and pulled out a pair of old but clean men's drawstring pants and a t-shirt.
The Tin Man turned away and quickly changed. Once or twice he looked over his shoulder, but DG was still staring straight head at the opposite side of the tent. The only difference in her posture was that she was hugging the sack containing Becca Turner's clothes tightly to her chest.
"Hey Princess," he knelt beside her again, not needing to see her stormy blue eyes to know how upset she was.
"Most of the clothes have never been worn," her voice broke as she indicated the bag from the Turners. "With all the shortages, it must have taken them a long time to collect and make them. A family would do that for a daughter who was about to marry."
"They wanted you to have them." He'd hoped she wouldn't realize the significance of the gift, but she had. He'd known as soon as he'd seen the traditional bride's night outfit with its fitted top that hugged the waist and flared into a full skirt. All of it with large easy to access buttons down the front.
"I can't do this, Wyatt," she whispered and set aside the clothing. "What kind of place is this where a child is possessed by an evil Witch and begins a reign of terror that rips families apart, kills thousands, both young and old; men can be imprisoned in metal suits and forced to watch for years as their loved ones are tortured? Then when it is finally over, and the killing should stop, the hate that was bred, keeps on killing; people keep on dying."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can't be part of all this." She waved her arms above her head in frustration. "Those people out there expect me to make a difference. The only difference I made is that they are dying and so are their children."
"Don't say that!" He gripped her shoulders, pulling her up onto her knees and pressing her body against his. Her words threatened the one thing he believed in. "You do make a difference. You are the only one who can." If she gave up, she might as well have left him locked in his iron cage.
"No, no, that's crazy talk. I'm the cause, not the solution."
"You're wrong! It's because of you there's hope still left in the Zone. The Munchkins know it and so do the Turners. Even men like Gerard recognize it." He gripped her tighter to keep from shaking her as the truth spilled out. "You made us believe. Hell, you made me believe. Don't you dare take that away."
"You're saying I've given you faith?" Her brows shot up. She'd never met a man who was more of a realist than Wyatt Cain.
"No, no, a Tin Man's faith is in his weapon, his judgment, and the tenets taught at the Academy." He clenched his jaw when he realized how right she was and how much he had changed, but he wasn't ready to admit it.
"An ancient text from the Other Side calls faith 'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen'. That's just what you're calling me," she accused.
"You're not some intangible thing. You're a human being," he countered. "I can see and touch you, Kid, even when you're running off half-cocked and getting yourself in trouble."
"Good, because I don't want to be anyone's faith. I've already let too many people down." She didn't think she could stand it if she ever saw disappointment in his eyes.
"You've never let me down, or Glitch, or Raw. You didn't let anyone in this camp down." He caressed her cheek, knowing what was at the root of her worry. "You know what they saw when you were fighting for Red Hat's life? They saw something they hadn't seen in fifteen annuals. Hell, some of them had never seen it: a member of the Royal family doing her damnedest for one of them. You put your life in danger to guard the med tent. You tried to help a man who hours earlier accused you of being a Witch and a spy."
"But I couldn't save him."
"No, you couldn't. But you'll never be able to save them all, no matter how hard you try." His eyes clouded when he thought of all the people who had died following him into battle, of Adora, and the nightmare that had become Jeb's childhood.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "You know this much better than I do." Their eyes met, each seeing the other's familiar demons.
"Gerard reminded me about something. The Eastern Guild has some strong beliefs that are different from the rest of the O.Z. Their warriors must die with honor in a great battle to be guaranteed the Road Beyond. Red Hat's friends are mourning his passing, but also celebrating that he is once again with those he loved." Cain had never had faith in the standard Ozianversion of afterlife, or the legends that produced it. He had even less confidence in the Guild's beliefs, but DG needed something to hang onto.
"Oh my God, it sounds like some Munchkin version of StoVoKor!" Deeg sputtered and laughed, her eyes filling with tears. "Only the Outer Zone would have three foot tall Klingons. Worf would die of shame," her voice broke and what had been humor turned to high-pitched desperation.
"Princess?" Cain didn't have a clue what she was talking about. He supposed it was another of her odd Other Side references, but his amusement was short lived as he noticed her panic filled expression. "Deeg…babe, talk to me!" His voice grew harsh with worry.
"I…I…can't…Tin…Man," she wheezed and turned away, gasping for breath.
"Ya know it's okay if you let go once in a while," he whispered as he put his arms around her and let her lean back against his chest. He felt her entire body shaking, fighting to keep it together. Never in his life had Wyatt Cain encouraged a woman to cry. He'd always considered tears a waste of energy, but DG needed desperately to let her feelings out. If tears would help, he'd hold her tightly as she fall apart.
"I can't…I'll break if I do." Her arms gripped his where they where wrapped securely around her waist. She knew he was all that was holding her together.
"I know, babe, but sometimes you've got to do that so you can build back up again." He remembered how she'd held firmly to his shoulder as he'd knelt at Adora's grave. She'd been his anchor as he would be hers.
Deeg leaned her head on his shoulder and turned her face against his neck. "How many times can a person do that? How many times can one person have their life shattered and be expected to…to…start from scratch?" She knew it had happened to her when she was five, but there were no real memories of what she'd been before. In some ways it was worse and some better. The loss of Hank and Emily and discovering the truth of her origin had started a downward spiral that exploded in her face in a cave at Finaqua. Each time she though she was making strides toward who she really was, something new came along and tore her reality to shreds, making her start over. There had been a marble sarcophagus, depleted magic, and her discovery that she loved a man who couldn't possibly love her back the way she needed him to. Now people were willing to die so she would survive. Every time she thought it couldn't get worse, it did.
"You do it as many times as it's necessary." Cain had been an emotional wreck when he stepped out of the suit. He recognized the loss and exhaustion in her voice; she was like he'd been when she'd pried open his locked door. She was whittled down to the essence of her being, lost, raw, sore and off-balance. It hurt him to see her that way but as much as he wanted to make it better for her, it wasn't something he could do. She had to do it for herself or it would be meaningless. Until then, he'd give her his strength and support to make it as easy as possible.
"God, I'm tired," she muttered and pulled out of he arms. "Is it even worth trying to get any sleep?"
"We've still got a few hours until the first sun rises." He knew she was talking about more than her need for rest.
"Good," she smiled damply at him. The canteen that had been damaged when the shooting had started caught her attention. She picked it up in shaky fingers. "This could have been you." She ran her nail over the gaping bullet hole.
"It wasn't." He pulled distractedly at the collar of his borrowed t-shirt. He didn't like anything that came close to his neck. It was too much like when he'd been trapped.
"But it could have been," she insisted. "I won't hide behind you like that!"
"Deeg…" He ran one hand through her unruly hair and tugged at his collar with the other. He was well aware of her feelings about what had happened in their tent. She'd fought him every step of the way when the attack had started. "No more tonight. We can argue about it all you want on the trail tomorrow."
"All right," she sighed and became aware he was fidgeting with the fit of his shirt. "Wyatt, you're not comfortable in that." She covered his hand as he tugged at the neckline.
"I'll be fine, Kiddo," he assured her.
"We can trade." She fingered the top button of the shirt she'd borrowed from her. "I can sleep in that one. It won't bother my claust…the neckline won't bother me."
"Stop worrying about me." He snorted at the idea of her sleeping in Sam Gerard's shirt. No way that was going to happen. "Now scoot over and get under the blankets." He shifted until they were both sitting on her bedroll. He shook out the covers and his coat to carefully cover them, but his hands froze as a thought occurred to him. "Deeg, earlier tonight, when I was…well when I had you pinned to the ground, where you having an attack of claustrophobia?"
"For about two seconds, until I realized it was you." Her eyes filled with tears and she reached for his hand that had been pulling at his neckline. "But imagining what it must be like for you in that shirt is a different story. Please, take it off."
Their eyes met and he moved slowly and carefully, pulling it over his head. He couldn't look away and neither could she. Quietly, never exchanging a word, he put his arms around her and they lay down, warm under their blankets.
He could feel her bare legs tangle with his covered ones and her damp cheek rested on his shoulder. He pulled her closer and slide his hand under the shirt she was wearing until it rested on smooth silky skin at the small of her back. He'd never felt closer to another human being in his life.
She inhaled the male fragrance of him and it made her head spin. The warm skin beneath her cheek begged to be explored, but she was too relaxed to move. Her left hand moved across his side until it rested over his heart. She'd never felt safer or surer of herself than she did at that moment.
Together they fell asleep.