Disclaimer: Tin Man and all its characters are the property of SciFi and the story's creators. I claim no ownership, only borrowing for entertainment and no profit is being made. I'll return the characters, clean and shiny, when I'm through.

A/N: This story was written with the help of the wonderful Celia Stanton, who continually wows me with her awesomeness. HUGE THANKS to her for helping me with everything from plot to dialogue – and for listening to my rants, rambles and squees about doing a story that takes a different look at the CDG relationship. This is a reality check for the characters, takes them in slightly different directions and questions a lot of the assumptions we've started to make as this fandom grows. I hope you enjoy.

The Great Divide

"The heart's affections are divided like the branches of the cedar tree; if the tree loses one strong branch; it will suffer but it does not die; it will pour all its vitality into the next branch so that it will grow and fill the empty place." – Kahlil Gibran

She knew there would come a time when she would have to find out if she would sink or swim, soar or tumble to earth. She bore the weight of a newly discovered life – one that some would dream about, wrapped in the pink fluffy sheets of childhood. But she however, would always have the niggling fear in the back of her mind that someone upstairs made a big mistake in casting her for this little play. The time would come, she knew, when her tether to the safety of the shoreline – those to whom she had anchored her soul and her validations that she was indeed doing the right thing – would be loosened. It would be up to her to either scramble back to the beckoning shore, or aim her little vessel into the abyss with her chin held high and arms crossed against whatever difficulties her duties launched at her.

And for DG, that day came when he left her side. For the first time since she was harshly introduced to the Zone, the one she'd come to rely on most took his leave – and she was left to flail in the darkness in his wake.

She realized that she should not have been surprised by his departure. He'd only promised to see her safely through her adventure and after that… well… DG had not thought that far ahead. Obviously, Wyatt Cain had. As soon as his shoulder wound had healed, Cain made his quiet request of the Queen that he be assigned as the regional commander of the royal army along with his son – whose resistance fighters had been absorbed into the military once the throne had been reclaimed. It was logical, well thought out and effectively pulled the metaphorical rug completely out from under the youngest princess.

DG had stood stark still – listening to their conversation and battling with the sensation of her heart being wrested in two – while the voices in her head wailed impotently. She could do nothing but nod when Cain turned to her on his way out, coming to stand in front of her with his much-loved hat in his hands. For a moment, DG thought he would not look her in the eye, almost as if he were ashamed that he had to make excuses to the whiff of a girl that he – for all intents and purposes – had become a personal guard dog for over the past few days.

But when he did look up and catch her eye, she had instantly wished he'd just left the palace and did not look back – rip off the band aid fast and the sting won't last as long. His face was stoic as always – though his eyes betrayed a myriad of emotions – only a few of which DG understood. There was guilt, sorrow and pain. DG knew the look of pain in the Tin Man's eyes all too well. But under that, there was a longing – and that alone made DG want to push him away from her and away from the pyre he'd set inside her soul.

His words were soft and chosen with care, holding an edge to them that brooked no argument. He had a job to do and it wasn't at her side. DG went numb from the heart downward. A robot seemed to take over as she wished him luck; told him to be safe.

Then, he was gone – and a soul was left to fall to its knees in despair, lost from all its moorings and adrift in uncharted waters.

There was a chasm left behind in DG – a great divide between what she used to be and the new path she found herself on. Of all the frightening new experiences she'd endured since her arrival in the Zone, Cain's departure was the one she was least prepared for. And it was the one last tether to which she'd inwardly scrabbled and clawed, like a mad woman holding onto her last lifeline. For days she'd held out hope that he would return – as if he'd say "Sorry, my mistake."

But as the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months – and the only contact she received was a short telegram (which had been addressed to the Queen) from Cain stating that he'd met up with his son and formed the necessary legions to take into the Western mountains – DG realized that he wasn't coming back.

Not to the palace, not to his friends… and definitely not to her. So, DG did the only thing she knew would eventually bridge the gap in her battered soul – she moved on.

With the O.Z. split down the middle – half returning to the fold under the Queen and crown and the other half blaming the royal family for their current woes – civil war erupting was a foregone conclusion. DG found her place in the war, helping her family with diplomatic relations to garner allies, and she discovered that she had a knack for it.

The youngest princess was adept at finding a common ground between combative tribes, a way to look across the ravine dividing them and propose mutual solutions. DG had never been very good with the big picture – she was more interested in looking at the individuals, planning around their wishes and needs – rather than chessboard maneuvers in diplomacy such as strike and counter-strike.

She filled her days with meetings, defense strategy discussions and answering correspondences from various provinces from the four corners of the O.Z. Her evenings were spent with her family as they discussed casualty reports, rendering aid to the attack hotspots and the intricacies of troop movements. At times, it would almost seem as though the crown was actually squelching the hostility and the renegade factions hell bent on seeing that a new regime took over the throne.

But then, a town nearby would be set alight, another report of a raid that ended in entire families being annihilated would come in, and DG would find herself wondering why on Earth she chose to stay in such a god-forsaken place. If the woes of war and strife could find their way to the other side of the rainbow, what was the difference between this and her former reality? The "little slice of heaven" had turned out to be one big helping of hell.

It was in nightfall – when the palace would quiet and the smoke from the towns in the distance looked like faint gray snakes slinking toward the heavens, the campfires from the royal army dotted the countryside – that the ghosts came to haunt her. It was then that she let her carefully constructed walls crumble against the cruelty and malice she contended with every day. At night was when she missed him the most, and she'd sit in the corner of her room – back against the wall and knees pulled up in front of her – and let the tears fall freely.

After a few months, however, DG learned to dam the flood of emotions that plagued her nights, and took on yet another role – one that had been left glaringly vacant for some time: protector. She convinced her personal guards to train her in light weaponry and firearms. She'd told her mother that it was so she could better understand the military's needs when the scouts brought in the daily reports. If she was to have a say in military actions, she needed a working knowledge of what that the military had to deal with day in and day out.

DG found that while she was not as adept at hand-to-hand combat, she was a pretty fair shot with a pistol. Dimly, in the back of her mind, she wondered only once what Cain would have said had he seen her hit the bull's-eye for the first time. It had been the first time he'd entered her thoughts in months, and she dismissed him again as easily as he had dismissed her.

DG's personal training was finally put to the test with the first assassination attempt. Looking back, DG would think of this event as her 'trial by fire' – a rebirthing into her new reality. It was a normal enough day for the princess – her morning meeting with diplomats from the nearest provinces over such things as trade and military aid had concluded – and she gathered her correspondence telegrams and encoded maps under one arm and made her way to the scout station at the far end of the palace grounds.

DG was attempting to skim a letter from a local general while muttering something to her guard, Radin, when something that sounded like a gargantuan hummingbird zipped past her head. At first, it didn't register, and DG paused mid-step with a confused look on her face – trying the place the sound that was vaguely familiar. When the bark of the tree next to her exploded in shards, causing her to drop all her papers as Radin's much larger body tackled her to the ground, there was no mistake.

Her guard shoved her behind a tree for cover and over his returning fire, yelled for back up. DG peered around the trunk in time to see Radin's shoulder spout a plume of blood and the older man grunted in pain. Before her brain had time to catch up with her actions, DG managed to tug the man to safety behind the scout quarters near where she'd been hiding. Mayhem erupted on the yard as men scrambled for cover under the hail-fire of bullets coming from an unknown position. Ricocheting bullets pinged off the metal roof, off rocks and dug divots in the ground.

DG kept pressure on Radin's wound, despite his pleas for her to leave him and find better cover. The few scouts that had been returning fire were now preoccupied with attempting to retrieve their wounded and DG knew the sniper had them pinned. Out of the corner of her eye, DG caught movement to her left – someone was moving in closer from the woods behind them. While the sniper kept the scouts occupied from the front, DG realized that his partner had circled around to the rear – snaring her and her men in the middle.

Radin saw the fire in her eyes and before he could stop her, DG snatched his pistol. She dove behind a boulder just beyond Radin's position and propped her gun to take aim. The assassin was moving swiftly through the underbrush, ducking and swerving, but didn't seem to know that he'd been discovered. DG followed his body through the gun-sights, remembering her training: breathe in… exhale and squeeze the trigger.

It was just like her training had been, tracking the moving target – until he looked up. DG locked eyes with the man – his face painted black making the whites of his eyes stand out. In that horrifying instant, DG had the absurd thought that he looked young – maybe her age. Her heart screamed expletives about mercy… that he was just a kid… that she was not a killer.

All of those things would have stayed her hand… before. The assassin's arm flinched and DG pulled the trigger. All sound in the world stopped except for the thud of his lifeless body in the brush. DG didn't breathe again until Radin dragged her away, telling her that the other sniper had been shot. He'd thanked her for saving his life. She had said nothing as she handed his gun back and went to gather her lost papers. She didn't speak again for the rest of the day.

DG had come through the experience unharmed. But she knew, with the cold realization that settled like a stone in her chest, that the 'Old DG' died that day behind that boulder. The Old DG would have wept for the life she took – been eaten with guilt until she was physically ill or locked herself away in a tower as some self-imposed punishment. The Old DG would have mourned the young man with the painted face.

The New DG moved past it. When her sister and parents assured her that she'd done the right thing, for she would have surely been killed had she not had the forethought to use the guard's gun, DG found herself agreeing with them. She had done what she had to. And it was only at night when a voice in the corner of her soul came out to question her seemingly easy acceptance of her deed.

DG took to wearing a gun of her own from then on out – a small, delicate revolver with a pearl handle that Radin had given her. She fashioned a belt that could be worn with pants or the long skirts she was required to wear during formal negotiations, with a small holster where the gun could be hidden from view on her hip. The gun became a comfortable weight – a presence of security that was eerily familiar to the certain tall shadow that once held a place at her side. He entered her mind again at that moment and she physically winced at the burn of his image on her mind's eye.

Unconsciously a hand went to her gun at her side, and DG reminded herself that it was a symbol of her self-reliance – the only one she had to truly count on was herself and her abilities, and Cain's image evaporated to the mists of her subconscious once again.

The investigation into the identities of the two assassins took up most of DG's time, and she discovered that she had little patience for the growing amount of insubstantial evidence. They were wearing the uniforms of a tribe of nomads in the northeast, beyond the Eastern Guild's lands. But according to her advisors, DG was told that the two dead men did not fit the physical description of that tribe.

DG's temper boiled over for the first time in a long while. "You guys are supposed to be brilliant military advisors and you can't even figure out that those two sons-of-bitches stole those uniforms to hide their IDs? They killed three of our scouts, for Christ's sake and all you can come up with is that they might not be wearing the proper clothing for their tribe?"

When the advisors scurried out of the meeting room, Glitch, who had been listening in on the yelling match, poked his head in the door. DG leaned over her desk, head hanging; arms splayed out on the desktop to support her weight.

"They're doing their best, doll," he said, edging closer to the princess. Over the last several months, Glitch had rarely been able to steal a moment alone with the princess he used to tell jokes to. DG knew that her new personality makeover must have been a shock, even for a man with dual personalities himself.

DG raised a hand to pinched the bridge of her nose, her voice raw. "Their best isn't good enough these days." She stacked the maps on her desk, feeling spent and old. "Missing the details can get you killed."

Glitch sighed. "Sounds like you've been taking cynicism lessons from Cain."

The mention of that name made DG straighten up rigidly. She carefully kept her eyes on the papers in her hand, but the muscle in her jaw twitched. After a moment, she swallowed and strode away. Under her breath she muttered, "Yeah, well… maybe he was right all along."

The second time, DG didn't hesitate. Azkadellia had sought her out by the lake's edge, wanting to spend some time with her ever-busy little sister that didn't require them to go over diplomatic relations or social studies. Az rarely left the confines of the palace anymore, due to the increase in hostilities in the area surrounding them. Reports of towns calling for the capital punishment of the one who brought destruction to the Zone crossed DG's desk daily. It was of little consequence to them whether Az had been an innocent puppet of the parasitical Witch or not – they wanted her dead. So, DG had increased her sister's personal guard to six men of the highest caliber.

Az came up behind her sister with a cup of coffee, and set it on the bench next to DG. DG, however, did not look up.

"Where's your guard, Az?" Her head was bent over scrolls and notes, her pen scribbling away.

Az frowned at the coldness in her sister's voice. "I gave them the day off. It was my prerogative."

DG looked up and furrowed her brows. "I did that to protect you, you know."

"Well, perhaps you should take a day off too – from being the family's protector…and diplomat, and overseeing all troop correspondences. You worked harder than any ten advisors, Deege."

"Somebody has to do it," DG replied, with little force. "Besides, isn't this what Mother wanted from me? To take my rightful place as princess of the O.Z.?"

Az sighed. "I don't think Mother foresaw civil war taking over the Realm or that her youngest daughter would take to strapping on a gun like some Tin Man."

DG bristled. "You shouldn't be out here, Az. It's too exposed."

Az sat and surprised DG with a very undignified snort. "As you used to say, 'fuck it'." DG looked sideways at her sister and Az smiled. "The sun is out, it's a nice day, and exposing myself sounds like a pretty good idea. I'm tired of being a prisoner here."

DG felt a smile creep onto her face and it nearly hurt the long unused muscles. Az went on to tell how she would rather that those who verbally attacked her in rallies and secret meetings, come and make their complaints face to face – when DG noticed that the birds had stopped singing.

The normal buzz of spring insects suddenly quieted and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Something was not right. DG stood and scanned their surroundings.

"Deege?" Az stood nervously. "What is it?"

DG's hand went to the butt of her gun. "Something's wrong." DG squinted off into the woods and took a deep breath. "Az, I want you to–"

There was a hiss – like the sound of pressure being released from a pipe. DG pulled her gun and turned to her sister – only to come up short in utter terror. Az was looking at her stomach – her blue blouse marred by a rapidly spreading red stain. When her confused eyes lifted, she gasped. DG grabbed her and laid her down behind the bench.

No thoughts, no plans or words came to her mind as she aimed her gun into the woods and opened fire. DG was running on the purest form of instinct – the need to survive. Later she'd hear how the guards heard her screams above the gunfire, how they sounded like a wounded animal – frightening and inhuman. DG could see the guards coming and ducked behind the bench to reload. Az was shaking on the ground next to her, and DG took her sister's hands and pressed them to the wound. She told her sister to keep pressure… that it would be okay… that they were going to be all right.

When she heard footsteps, DG peeked above the bench to see the sniper had broken cover to rush her position. The guards were still too far away and he was pulling back the ratchet on his rifle as he ran.

DG blew out a breath and stood – this time, she didn't look into his eyes. She didn't care how old he was, if he had family that would wonder about his whereabouts, where he came from or why he was doing this. The princess aimed her gun at his midsection and pulled the trigger again and again. Something feral in her took grim satisfaction in seeing his chest punctuated by her bullets.

Afterward, DG made sure her sister was taken care of by the medics and healers, rebuffing any attempts at trying to see to her well-being, as the second life she took faded into the background of the moment.

DG did not think it possible for Central City to look any grubbier, but circumstances seemed bound to prove her wrong. Her diplomatic caravan arrived in Central City the day before the summit between the crown and the Western province. After long and fruitless investigations into the origins of the assassins, the Queen convinced DG to take a delegation to Central City to meet with the provincial governors of the Western peoples. For her part, DG maintained that there was enough circumstantial evidence that they were, in fact, the ones who called for the assassination attempts.

From all the reports sent back to the palace from the legions of the royal army stationed in the mountains for the past annual, the Western provinces were some of the most rebellious and anti-royal family tribes in the Zone. DG had met a few of their delegates – sent by their superiors who were personally affronted that the crown insinuated that they had taken to sulking in shadows as snipers – and to say that she was unimpressed was an understatement.

The Western people reminded DG of Mongolian tribesmen. They were short and stocky, robed in furs and leathers, their hair was cut in every version of a mohawk imaginable, and they were known for their hunting prowess. Their attitudes were as sour as the looks on their faces when they were presented not with the Queen, but her youngest daughter as an emissary. The Western delegates felt it demeaning to have to deal with a woman – let alone a young woman – and DG did nothing to soothe their bruised male egos.

But with some coaxing by the Queen, DG agreed to speak for her family at the summit, while the Queen dealt with other matters of state. At the very least, DG saw it as an opportunity to get away from the palace and perhaps, do a little more investigating into the last attempt that nearly took Az's life. The second assassin DG killed didn't live long enough to tell them anything, but some articles found in this uniform led DG to believe that he was, in fact, sent from the Western mountains.

As her caravan entered the multi-storied building holding the summit, DG wondered what good the army legion stationed in the Western mountains was doing. They were supposed to be keeping the natives subdued – but apparently, they'd let a few plots get past them. DG wasn't sure how much the regional commanders knew about what happened in country, nearer to the palace – what with the roads booby trapped and messengers being hijacked every other day. Communications were becoming a bigger headache than anything, and DG felt lucky she was able to scrounge up enough guards and aides to accompany her to the summit.

DG was able to steal a few minutes for herself and change from her traveling clothes. As she buttoned her white blouse, she looked out over the city. The bars still glowed with neon Technicolor and the transport pods still jetted up and down the water elevators. People still bustled up and down the streets, doing everything to look normal and not like they were living in the middle of a civil war – and DG felt her resolve fracture a bit.

She half-expected to see DeMilo's great, gaudy beast of a truck lumber up and down the streets – his megaphone touting his wares and his ridiculous music thumping brightly. Her chest constricted in the memory and she hurriedly swiped at the tears threatening her eyes. She finished dressing – choosing a camel brown, slim-fitting skirt that brushed the tops of her knee-high boots, a white scoop-necked blouse and matching brown long riding coat to cover the pearl handled gun at her hip. Her mother's voice in her head reminded her that this was supposed to be a diplomatic peace summit – but the realist in DG countered with its patented response of "Trust no one."

The princess was flanked by her entourage as she made her way to the summit room. An equally sized contingent of delegates from the tribe of the Western peoples – decked out in a menagerie of furs and leather – met them at the door. Niceties were exchanged, but DG felt the tingle of apprehension on the air. She stood to the side, while her personal aide greeted the delegate's leader – when a familiar presence seemed to reach out and tap her on the shoulder.

DG's face lost the carefully neutral mask she'd been carrying, her eyes scanning the crowd. Chewing her bottom lip, DG spied several uniforms she did recognize – royal military uniforms. Perhaps they had escorted the Western delegates to the summit. But something kept prickling the back of her neck – a presence she hadn't felt in over an annual, but was as strong and encompassing as she could ever remember.

Just as an overly-spiked mohawk hair-do moved to one side, DG caught sight of a very familiar brown fedora. Her heart, which had been thundering in her chest, went still and then dropped to the pit of her stomach. Her eyes went wide and her hands started to tremble.

The face under the fedora came into full view. His eyes were the same shade of steel blue – penetrating and depthless – though they now held an annual's worth of hardship she knew nothing of. His face was weathered from the elements, but the strong jaw she remembered was clean-shaven. He wore the uniform she'd last seen him in: leather vest, white undershirt under his brown duster. His thumbs were hooked in his gun belt and to the shock of the long forgotten self she kept locked up – except when dreams and need brought it out to satisfy her urges – he filled out the khaki pants she used to secretly worship just as nicely as before.

It was as if he'd left only a day before – the only indicator of the time they'd missed was reflected in his eyes. DG worked her throat to swallow around the bowling ball lodged there.

After an eternal moment, he tilted his head – a beautiful and damnable smirk pulling at his lips.

When Cain finally spoke, he said the phrase DG had only heard in her dreams, a lifetime ago.

"Hey there, Princess."

Wyatt Cain would have been lying if he said he had not been literally floored when he saw the princess. He hadn't known she was to be the Crown's emissary – in truth, he hadn't known what was going on in her neck of the woods in ages. Their communications lines to the palace were sporadic at best, and other than a few troop replacement reports; he hadn't heard anything in almost an annual.

The 'not knowing' was probably what ate him alive the most. Cain's first few months had been spent quelling rebellious tribesmen, dealing with his troops and trying not to get killed. He'd taken that assignment specifically because it dealt with the most rebellious and dangerous of the enemy factions against the Crown. He was right in the middle of the bedlam, where he was needed most… where he knew he could make a difference.

What he hadn't counted on was the loneliness that set in like a stifling blanket on his soul. Jeb, at his side, in those cold unforgiving mountains was a blessing, but there was many a time he'd started to write a letter – only to crumble it in frustration. And every single one of them had started with the letters: "DG".

The ravine in his heart was strung by a shaky, dilapidated suspension bridge made of the knowledge that he was where he needed to be – where he should be – to protect her. Through all the sniper attacks, guerrilla warfare and the endless treaties that always seemed to end with Cain drawing his gun and sticking it in the ugly face of some tribesman, Cain soothed his forlorn heart with the thought that he was protecting his princess. And that she would be safe and sound when he could return to her.

But the woman he caught sight of entering the summit was not the headstrong, enthusiastic girl he'd left behind. This DG moved with a mature grace – something formed of experience and knowledge, edged with a razor sharp aura that Cain couldn't quite place. This DG held herself coolly, confidently, but he didn't miss the readiness in her posture. Her guard was up – a wall fifty feet high, lined with broken glass and razor wire and it stunned him.

Her eyes nearly took his breath away. They were the same blue – but colder, jaded. A lead weight thudded in his stomach and Cain was suddenly very concerned. What had happened to his DG? He found it hard to work his tongue as they stood, eyes locked with each other for what seemed an eternity. He drank in her image, watering the parched corners of his memory with the sight of her and quenching his thirst for the realness of her presence.

When he finally did greet her, using the line that, once upon a time had launched her into his arms (though he truly wasn't holding out hope it would have the same effect now) he was shocked at the nervousness that settled in his gut waiting for her reply. In the bustle of the hand-shaking and formal greetings, DG and Cain were frozen in the whirlwind of action surrounding them.

DG seemed to find her voice, finally, just as an aide took her by the elbow to escort her into the proceedings. She wetted her lips and Cain almost didn't hear her when she answered.

"Mister Cain. It's good to see you again."

Not the hello he was hoping for – though honestly, he knew he could have gotten worse. It wasn't as if he'd made a valid attempt to contact her over the annual they were apart. Did he really think she'd just jump into his arms like she did at the black tower – all forgiven and forgotten? Not this DG. This DG was a totally new person, and Cain was afraid of finding out what had happened to change the princess he knew into the woman whose form he watched retreat into the meeting room.

Cain contented himself during the summit by studying DG, while she steadfastly avoided his gaze. When he did catch her looking at him, he was met with a cool regard, as though he were just another guard posted at the wall. Her aloofness toward him was beginning to sting and Cain found himself smothering the growl that threatened in his chest. Scenarios of what might have happened to change DG ran at lightning speed through his mind, and none of it was good.

If someone had mistreated her, by the gods, he'd– his mental tirade was cut off by raised voices.

"Your Queen has the audacity to accuse my people of assassination attempts, while she allows that vile bitch who tried to lock the whole of the Zone in darkness to remain breathing? How dare you!" The lead delegate - their Governor - a stocky little scrapper with red tinged skin and his mohawk in braids was leaning toward DG, baring his teeth.

Cain felt his body instinctually try to move to DG's side, but he held off. DG's posture did not waiver nor did she cower to the volume and bravado. Definitely not the same girl who let Raw's bluffing roar frighten her into cowering toward him for protection. Instead, she simply folded her fingers together and glared him down.

"The Queen is not the one who thinks you sent the assassins, Governor. I do." She leaned in. "We found some items on your last errand boy that can be traced back to your villages. And that 'vile bitch' you refer to is my sister, who was not responsible for what the Witch did."

The governor smirked. "Defend her as you will, little Princess. Though you cannot deny that if not for your family, the Zone would not be having the troubles it does. Because of your family, we are a divided country – embroiled in a war that would end if the ones responsible would…shall we say… leave. Permanently." He was leering at DG in a way that made Cain's blood boil.

If they weren't in an official peace summit, he'd have shot the man dead in his chair for threatening DG. But the talk of assassination attempts sent a spear into his heart. His spies within the Western tribe had found evidence that they were planning to assassinate someone in the royal family; their name had just been omitted. Cain could only pray at the time that it hadn't been DG…

DG's cheeks were flushed with anger, but she held herself together. The octave of her voice lowered in a way that Cain found most intriguing.

"So you admit you've sent snipers to the royal palace?"

Just as the Governor started to snarl a response, one of DG's aides stood and suggested a recess to cool heads and tempers. Cain figured it would be a good time to try to talk to DG alone, and started to make his way to the door. When he looked back for the princess, he saw one of the Governor's lackeys pass close behind her and whisper something in her ear.

In a flurry of movement the guns came out. If Cain hadn't been going for his own piece, he might have been thunderstruck at the sight of his princess, arm extended out and pointing a small revolver inches from the Governor's aide's terrified face. The royal guards and the Western tribesmen reciprocated by pulling their weapons, and the whole thing halted with more than a dozen guns pointed in various directions and faces.

Cain was pushing his way to the princess as a couple of terrified aides and Western delegates tried to defuse the situation. He came up to her side, keeping an eye on the guns pointed at him and rested a tentative hand on her forearm.

"Hey, easy now, Princess. Let's not turn this into a blood bath. I think in the interest of peace and holding off on redecorating the room with bullet holes, we'd better take that recess now." Parties on both sides agreed to Cain's suggestion, though he found it difficult to push DG's gun down.

Her eyes were cold as polar ice and Cain felt a little sorry for the aide that she'd drawn on. The participants scattered the hallways, separating to find refreshments and places to cool down. Some of the Crown's emissaries remained with the cooler heads of the Western delegates to keep the talks going, even if it was informally.

Cain guided DG away to an atrium that was secluded. The glass walls let the outside light filter in through a canopy of leaves and the trickle of water from a nearby waterfall seemed to calm the irate princess.

She replaced her gun to its holster and stood, staring out the window, arms across her chest. Cain watched her quietly, allowing her time to calm down before he asked her what the hell happened. He let his eyes travel her body. The dress she wore was fitted, and when her coat swayed open as she walked, gave a distracting view of the curve of her hips. The long coat she wore made her look older and taller, but the white blouse added a feminine quality to the mostly utilitarian look. Her long dark hair was tied back in a plait down her back, with wisps around her face that begged to be brushed back by his hands.

Cain couldn't deny the enticing thrill that surged through him at the sight of the gun holster at her hip – perhaps there was something about girls with guns. But the reason for having the gun slammed back in on his little fantasy and again, he was worried. He'd never known DG to use a weapon – though now, she looked completely comfortable with it. She'd drawn that revolver like a pro, and Cain found that a little disturbing.

Sighing, he stepped up to her side and faced her, leaning on the windowpane.

"You've changed." He stated in a low voice.

DG raised a brow. "No kidding."

DG stared defiantly out the window, for she knew if she faced him, he'd see her. Truly see her. She could feel his worry rolling off like waves and it frightened her. For so long, she'd been the one to worry about other's safety, the one to protect her family and perform her duty without complaint. Now, with the one person who could melt the mortar of her barrier walls with a single look so close, she felt like a bomb had gone off inside her. Her emotions were all over the place and she couldn't pin one down long enough to read it.

Cain's voice was tinged with confusion. "What the hell was that about back there, DG?"

She breathed out through her nose. "The little prick asked for it. He was begging for it actually… what he said..."

Cain seemed a little taken aback by her vehemence. "What did he say?" His tone darkened.

Instead, she turned to him, facing head-on the threat of his eyes piercing her soul. "Have you been with the legion in the Western mountains all along, Cain? I have to say your company's reports leave a lot to be desired. It would have been nice to know you were escorting the little bastards to the summit."

Cain shook his head, and tipped his hat back. "First of all, we haven't been exactly in close contact with the Crown since most of the roads are booby-trapped and our messengers kept coming back to us slumped over their mounts with a few new air holes in their person." He went on, "And second, don't evade my question, Princess. What did that guy say to you that you would jeopardize this entire summit by pulling a gun in his face?"

"He said that it was too bad the assassin missed his real target last time."

DG watched fear wash over the Tin Man's face – true, unabashed fear. "What do you mean? What's happened to you, DG?"

"What's happened?" She was incredulous. "What's happened? Christ, Cain! Life happened! Life in this shit-hole of a realm during a civil war that probably wouldn't have happened if I hadn't let that fucking Witch out of her cave!" Her hands went to her hips. "That's what happened."

She flinched when Cain grabbed her by the shoulders, hard. "Goddammit DG, you know all of this wasn't your fault. Now tell me! What's happened that has turned you into this?" He was breathing hard and the desperation in his eyes chipped away at her soul. "The assassination attempts?"

DG nodded, her mouth pressed into a line. "Yeah, Cain. They're after all of us, my entire family. Only now I find out that what I thought was a bullet meant for my sister was actually meant for me."

Her voice trembled, but she forbade any tears, as Cain looked physically pained by her words.

"Az was shot a few months ago. She's still not completely well. That guy in the meeting room was just letting me know that the sniper's bullet had my name on it, not hers."

Cain let out a hiss through his teeth. "Dammit! I told Radin not to let you out of his sight, the stupid old bastard. I thought he was capable."

"Don't blame him. He took a bullet for me in the first attempt, just before I shot the sniper." DG crossed her arms and watched shock reform his features. She turned away again and looked out the window. "This war really drove home the lesson you tried to teach me, Cain – trust no one. So I haven't. I carry my own gun. I protect myself. And I've had to take lives… just like everyone else who survives this war."

Cain was so close DG could actually feel him laboring to breathe. She hadn't meant to lay everything on him at once, but it just seemed to flow freely.

"DG… I-I'm sorry. I didn't know." He sounded broken and for a moment, DG allowed herself to grieve with him at the loss of her old self. "If I had known this was going to happen, I never would have left you."

Something fragile in DG snapped at that and she rounded on him. "Oh, don't make this all about you, Tin Man!" He stepped back from her heat. "You chose to leave – you said you had a job to do out there. Well, you left to do it and I moved on, Cain. Don't go feeling guilty that you weren't there to protect your poor, pitiful DG – the kid who needs someone to hold her hand. That DG died the first time I pulled a trigger and ended someone's life. All throughout our adventure you were after me to grow up – see the real picture. Well… I did."

She sucked in a few breaths, noting how Cain's image seemed to be swimming before her. The tears of an annual of heartache and hardship pooled in her eyes and she furiously swiped them away.

Cain stammered. "DG… I - what do you want me to say? That I was wrong to leave you? I wasn't. I was only doing what was best–"

"What was best for me?" DG chuckled heartlessly. "Oh the most famous cliché there is – I was wondering when you'd pull that out. Well, I hate to tell you Cain, but you don't always know what's best. You were doing what was best for you, that's all." She turned her back on him again and shook her head. "Fuck that, Cain…and by the way? Fuck you."

DG was not ready for the hand that closed around her upper arm like a vice and spun her around. Before she knew it, her back was against the opposite wall in the small atrium, and had he slung her a bit harder, it would have knocked the air from her lungs. Instinctually she shoved back, only to be met with the rock hard chest of a seething Tin Man. Her anger flared again and she reared back a fist, only to have it caught and engulfed in his much larger, calloused hand.

He slammed her arm back against the wall and pinned her. "Now you just calmthehell down, Princess!" His voice was guttural and rumbled into her from their chests which were pressed together. "I don't give a flying fuck what you think my reasons for leaving were. I made them and I don't regret doing it. I took a position in the farthest, most unstable region specifically to protect you, goddammit!"

DG ceased her struggles, but the fire didn't extinguish from her eyes. She opened her mouth in retort, but he cut across her.

"Shut it, DG! When you close your all-assuming, all-knowing yap and start using the brains Ozma gave you, you'll realize that I'm telling the truth! If you've been overseeing all the troop movements and intelligence reports, like I recently heard that you have, you know the Western provinces are the flashpoints for the resistance against your family."

He felt her muscle tension diminish a little and he loosened his grip on her wrist. He slowly released her wrist, and DG saw him discreetly check her skin for bruising. She knew the last thing he'd want to do is hurt her, even if she'd come very close to giving him a black eye herself.

Carefully, he leaned his weight off her and gave her some space. DG brushed a hand over her clothes and ignored the way her body ached at the loss of his warmth. She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes.

"I heard the reports of the skirmishes and guerilla tactics the tribesmen were using up there." She demurred. "I know it must have been hell for you."

Cain heaved a world-weary sigh and adjusted his hat. "Yeah, you could say that."

When she looked down again, Cain dipped his head, his finger curling with the gentlest care under her chin and lifting it up. The contact stunned DG but she didn't resist. His eyes softened from the earlier red-tint of anger and frustration. Concern etched itself in his blue eyes, along with a silent plea for her to open her barriers to him once again.

"I won't know what kind of hell it's been for you, though, if you don't tell me." His eyes begged her to understand that in the scorched earth of violence, hatred and uncertainty, she could still trust in him – and DG found a portion of her inner wall being turned to rubble.

Deciding that it was easier to pick a point across the room to look at rather than his face, DG fixed her eyes on a potted fern in the small atrium and slowly relayed the events that spanned the annual of their separation. She told him how she assumed the role of overseeing troop needs, rendering aid to war-torn parts of the country and becoming her family's protector. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him flinch and look down when she talked of her need to fill the role he'd vacated, and the guilt written on his face made her stomach churn.

She noticed his posture changing as her story wore on, and he eventually turned away, his hand rubbing his jaw distractedly while his other came to rest at his hip. When she came to the parts with snipers and her life hanging in the balance, he went ramrod straight – his shoulders flexed and hands balled into white-knuckled fists. All she could see of his face was the side-view, but the way his jaw flexed, she knew he was fighting his emotions into check.

As she told of the day Az was shot, DG saw his head fall forward, chin to his chest. His fists flexed, grinding his nails into his palms and she wondered if his hands would be bloody by the time she finished. But she did not go to him, did not touch him. She allowed him to sort through his feelings, grapple with his guilt while she calmly relayed the events like she was delivering a news report. He needed to hear those things, just as she needed to hear his reasons for leaving.

They were on separate sides of the divide now, putting one creaky slat in front of the other, working their way slowly across the bridge they were building to meet in the middle.

When her story came to a close, Cain ran a hand over his face. "Gods… so close. I didn't know… how close they came to…" His voice died away and DG caught the faint glint of moisture in his eyes from her view of his profile.

"But they didn't," she said softly, taking a few steps behind him, but looking out the window again. "You couldn't have known."

Cain turned to face her and the guilt, so complete in its profoundness, nearly made her weak in the knees. She shook her head sadly, her features softening. "Please don't, Cain. We each did what we had to under the circumstances. It might not have been what we wanted… not the way we wanted things to turn out, but it's done now."

Cain's half-smile was ironic. "Glad you can dismiss it that easy, Princess."

His smile faded to something that stole DG's breath away, as he moved forward and took her hands in his. "You don't know how many letters I started but couldn't finish."

DG watched his fingers intertwine with her own as she struggled to keep her heart in check. She'd shut herself away for so long – every assumption she'd made about their relationship had been rent to shreds in his departure – and now he was in front of her, saying things she hadn't dared to dream. But she just could not let herself fall again so easily.

"I wanted to write, I just figured you obviously didn't want any part of me anymore." She murmured.

His breath wafted across her face in a chuckle. "I thought I wanted that… thought it'd make things easier if I was far away. I just didn't figure on missing you that much."

DG looked up into his eyes, reading the cautious hope there and feeling the butterfly unfurl its wings in her chest. It wanted to fly away with her heart and his words. But she knew the times were not conducive to making plans – she'd been burned and was consequently a hellova lot more cautious.

"When you left…" her voice cracked, a sob pushing through the words and she swallowed thickly. She felt his hand come up to cup her cheek, his thumb pushing away the traitorous tears that leaked out. "…when you left, you hurt me."

It was simple. Direct. And as she looked into this face, she saw that her words cut him to the core. He swallowed and nodded, still caressing her cheek. He stared right into her eyes as he answered, as if to leave no room for misunderstanding.

"I know." His voice was hushed but firm.

DG felt a small smile curve her lips as he retook her hands with both of his.

Her eyes were serious when she said, "Don't ever do it again."

He answered with a slight shake of the head. "I'll try not to."

The princess sighed and pulled back enough to look at their interlaced hands. "I guess that's all we can do these days, isn't it? Just try." When she looked up, she read the decision in his eyes and silently agreed. The bridge was all but completed and he was reaching for her hand to take her with him.

In an unstable world, trying was all they could hope for. The sound of voices pulled the couple from their thoughts, and DG noticed that her aides were making headway with the Western delegates. The men were talking amicably in a circle and she even noticed that the Governor himself wasn't scowling as hard. She'd have to remember to give her guys a raise and a vacation when they got home.

"Well, it's not a treaty… but it's a start." Cain smirked

DG wasn't as optimistic, which caused Cain's smirk to fall. "I don't know how much I can accomplish with a people whose leader would like to see my family permanently evicted from the O.Z." She stated.

Cain gave her hand a squeeze, his tone getting her attention. "Hey, have a little heart, Princess. You used to tell me that, remember? You were always good at convincing people to see things your way." She smirked tiredly and Cain's eyes twinkled. "Besides, from what my embedded spies have said, the Governor is on his way out. His warmongering policies have resulted in my army coming down on his people like a ton of bricks. And I think they're tired of it. These tribesmen have a way of recycling their leaders when they start making their people's lives a living hell."

DG nodded and glanced back to the crowd. "So, maybe there's hope yet. Huh, imagine that."

Cain leaned in. "If this summit goes well, and you prove to the other tribal leaders that it would be best for them not to continue under the Governor's current plans, my regiment's tour in those goddamn mountains might be a lot shorter." He bestowed a hopeful smile on the princess and she couldn't help but return it.

"Well, I guess we'd better get back to work then." She impulsively reached a hand up to stroke his cheek before turning away, but he took her hand gently at the wrist, just as her fingers brushed his jaw.

His eyes burned with the promise of the future and DG stifled a gasp when he turned her hand slightly and pressed his lips to the tender flesh of the inside of her wrist. Every nerve in her arm tingled and while his lips lingered on her skin, she searched his eyes for any apprehension. All she found there was hope and it steeled her resolve to make the summit a real possibility – that it might hasten his return to her, to them.

For two people who'd spent an annual simply surviving, the possibility of actually living filled them with a strength that could only come from connecting two halves of a whole.

Cain let his fingers slide down her forearm, raising his head from the kiss and pulled back. His voice was husky.

"Yeah, you're right." He stepped back and tipped his hat to the princess. "C'mon, Princess. We've got a job to do."

Neither the royal aides nor the Western delegates noticed the way the Tin Man became a fixture behind the princess, or how his hand found its way to her shoulder when discussions became heated. They never realized that the two were still finding their footing with each other, just as they were feeling their way through the peace negations.

There were no certainties, only trial and error. And though they had bridged the gap in their souls, the Princess and the Tin Man knew that the road ahead would surely be a long one.

"And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." – Kahlil Gibran


HUGE thanks to beta Meredith Paris! Well? Now its YOUR turn to let me know what YOU think! Press that REVIEW button. This is a little different look at what has become a common place occurance in the fandom: Cain automatically staying to be DG's guardian. While that's great and all, I wanted to flip it around a little. Let DG grow and develope in a realistic way given the circumstances, and see how hers and Cain's relationship developes from that change. If you liked it or have qualms about what I've done to the characters, I always like to know!