Frozen Comfort

- Chapter 3 -

By Cain's reckoning, they had made it maybe two miles away from the Resistance hideout and still had about double that distance to go before they would reach the Northern palace. During that time, DG had rested her head on his shoulder and so her mouth was right there by his ear, allowing him to hear every little sound that she made. It wasn't very long before she began to vocally express how utterly bored she was.

She sighed heavily and with a tiny whine that tainted her voice, said: "Are we there yet?"

"Not yet." he replied and kept walking.

They traveled a little further in silence but then DG's voice came again. "Now?

Cain rolled his eyes. "Not yet." he grumbled, stressing the words and tried to ignore the way she huffed in his ear and the way it sent a delightful tingle down his spine. He trudged another yard across the snow-covered valley before...

"How about now?"

Cain froze in his tracks and felt the niggling urge to dump DG into the snow. His chivalrous demeanor, however, prevented him from doing so.

He didn't answer her this time; he simply hoisted her higher onto his back - as she had slipped down a bit - and started walking again. With each step he took, Cain became more and more aware of the fact that the blanket he'd grabbed was doing little to keep DG warm. Two key pieces of evidence to this fact just so happened to be pleasantly digging between his shoulder blades as he tried his damnedest to ignore their persistent desire to remind him that they were there.

'You do know that she knows that you can feel that, right?' that pesky voice assaulted his brain again. Couldn't the damned thing just give him a break? 'I'm fucking freezing out here and I don't have time to deal with this shit!' he thought angrily, 'So shut the hell up!'

Cain gave a relieved sigh when the voice actually listened and said nothing more. For like a minute.

'You know... there is such a thing as "physical stimulation." that's been known to cause the same reaction.' the voice taunted and Cain's eyes widened as he nearly stumbled over a snowbank.

"Whoa there, cowboy!" DG exlaimed as she wrapped her arms tighter around his neck and (God help him) her legs around his , the move jarred DG's leg, causing the princess to let out a hiss of pain.

"You okay?" Cain asked. He gritted his teeth as he tried to ignore the way the backs of DG's legs were brushing dangerously close to a part of his anatomy that he'd prefer they didn't.

'At least, not right now, huh, Stud?' Oh, how he wished he could kill that stupid voice! 'You can always offer to give her piggy-back rides after we get to the palace. Believe me, it would be alot more enjoyable for both of you then.'

'Oh, shut up!'

"I'm okay," DG said, but Cain could tell she was in pain by the sound of her voice.

"Maybe we should take a rest, princess." he suggested and felt DG's head nod beside his. With a sigh he sank to his knees and allowed her to tentatively climb off his back.

"I'm sorry," DG said softly as she wobbled slightly and attempted to balance on one foot.

"S'alright, princess," Cain replied. He turned around to face her, making sure to keep a firm grip on her arm. "We shouldn't be far frm the palace, then we can take care of your properly."

Keeping her head lowered, DG glanced up at Cain almost shyly.

"And just how exactly do you intend to take care of me, Mister Cain?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

He raised an eyebrow, unwilling to rise to the bait she had set for him. "An ice pack might help with the swelling." When she looked up at him and then at the snow he elaborated. "That is if we can keep the rest of you warm." Her eyes glittered and he cursed himself for sinking deeper.

DG was sorely tempted to continue flirting with Cain, thinking how adorable the Tin Man was when he was flustered; but a sudden gust of icy wind quickly reminded them that they were standing in the middle of the Northern Isle in a snow storm and still had quite a ways to go before they made it to the castle.

"Fine, Tin Man. Let's test those survival skills of yours." She hopped closer to him then cocked her head to the side. "You do know how to survive out in the crazy white evil, don't you?"

Cain snorted at the princess's gumption and with a half-smile, shook his head. "Let's just say I know my way around the outdoors and leave it at that. Now, let's get moving before it gets any later." With that, Cain made to kneel down for DG to crawl back up on his back.

He stopped abruptly, feeling the blood in his veins freeze as a distinctive howl rendered the frosty air. His gun hand instantly went to his holster as he reached out with the other to pull DG behind him, protectively.

"Don't move," he ordered tersely before slowly drawing his revolver even as a lone wolf emerged from behind a snowbank not even two yards away.

He heard DG's gasp and felt her hands clutch at his free arm as she practically plastered herself to his back, her head over his shoulder as she gawked at the rogue wolf. "There are wolves in the O.Z.?" Her voice floated softly next to his ear in curious wonder. "I've never seen one before. Not in real life anyway."

Obviously the girl was insane. Never in his life had he come across a woman who would be pleased to see a wolf. He tried to not be distracted by the feel of her soft curves pressed against him and instead kept his eyes glued to the potentially dangerous animal that was currently sniffing around in the snow nearby. He brought a finger up to his lips in a shushing manner. It apparently hadn't seen them yet, which was good. As slowly as he could, Cain began to back up, urging DG to follow his lead. He kept his gun drawn and ready to fire in case the wolf gave some sign that it meant to attack, but so far they'd been lucky.

They inched backwards and when they neared a hill of snow, Cain quickly swung them around so that they were concealed behind it. He peered over the top of the white mound to find the wolf moving away from them. 'That was close,' he thought tiredly. 'Too close.'

"Is it gone?" He swore he heard disapointment in her voice. Glancing at her he raised his eyebrow. She pushed herself up over his shoulder so she could see over the mound of snow. "Shoot. It was pretty."

He made in inarticulate noise of disbelief and wrapping his arm around her waist hauled her back down.

"It was pretty?" he hissed, "It's pretty teeth could have ripped you apart!"

"Oh, come on, Cain!" DG whispered back in protest. "It's not like I was in any danger. I have you here to protect me!"

He didn't know whether he wanted to strangle her or laugh.

"And what if it had gotten me first?" She waved a hand as if it were completely impossible for a wolf to get past him.

"Cain, please. The only way that would have gotten past you is if it were some kind of magical mutant."

"I could have taken care of a magical mutant by myself."

"See? Totally safe!" DG replied in a tone that implied 'I rest my case'.

Cain was simultaneously touched and perplexed by her confidence in his ability to protect her.

"Okay, so what next?" DG continued, totally missing the conflicting emotions flitting across her Tin Man's face.

Sighing, Cain turned and faced into the wind, trying to make out something, any sort of mark. "Keep going. Keep moving. It's our only bet for finding the palace.

"But..." DG peeked over the top of the snowy hill. "The palace is that way, right?" Cain nodded. DG stared at him. "The wolf's that way, too."

Cain sighed. "Which means we'll have to get down wind of him and circle round."

"But that means we have to walk even further." DG whined.

"Yep," Cain replied, gritting his teeth. "Appears that way, princess."

DG frowned unhappily. "Oh, Mother is so in for it when I get back."

Cain couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of the queen of the O.Z. getting lectured by her own daughter. There was no doubt in his mind that DG was feisty enough to do it too.