Disclaimer: The characters located herein are not mine. No infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: This is a follow-up to my story "Judas". It would probably help to read that first. Plus, you know, it's good for my ego.
Endless cookies and eternal praise to the phenomenally, indescribably talented chichuri, beta extraordinaire, without whom this monstrosity would have been an unmitigated mess. I don't have the words to thank you for all your hard work, everlasting patience and invaluable insight. You're simply the best.
Thanks also to Alamo Girl and Meredith Paris for your unwavering support and kicks in the ass when my ambivalence about this piece threatened to get the better of me. For those of you who haven't read "The Great Divide" or "Atonement" yet, what are you doing reading this crap when those fantastic stories are out there? Go! Run!
The title of this piece comes from the song "Sabra Girl" by Nickel Creek, which inspired this follow-up to a certain extent. The line particularly responsible is the following: "now you just told me that friendship is all/I'm forced to repair the breach in my wall/ illusions and dream as usual it seems/sabra girl, they have been my downfall"
Feedback is better than having tickets to Opening Day at Fenway Park.
Each morning, without fail, DG stood at her bedroom window, staring down as filtered sunlight illuminated the approaching front lines like spotlights on a stage. The brightness and warmth of the suns' rays were blinding, an attempt to hide the bitter, biting reality that they were fighting a losing battle.
It was a ritual she found an odd comfort in, something she had come to rely on when she'd found every other constant in her life had gone away. She knew the danger of being exposed, but found she could not walk away.
In fact, the princess pressed herself so closely to the glass that anyone with a romantic heart would have supposed she was trying to see her one true love among the sea of warriors, bodies, and death that had overtaken the once beautiful landscape of her kingdom. Perhaps she was trying to convince herself that True Love would survive this neverending, encroaching battle, and he would soon ride through wind and rain and dead of night just to hold her in his arms once again.
War was an accepted reason for separation. It implied sacrifice, that True Love had been wrenched from her grasp before being forced to leave, that he'd fought tooth and nail to stay by her side. It spoke of the foolish notion that he'd professed his undying love before risking his life to save hers, and that their timeless adoration of the other would sustain them across all constructs of time and space.
What Romantic Heart wouldn't have realized was that it wasn't this uncivil war that had taken True Love away from her. Instead, he'd left of his own accord, forced to flee from, and by, her.
As DG held herself against the cold pane, she wondered how she could have been so naïve, so stupid to believe that the magic of the O.Z. would give her a happy ending. The assumption that she and Cain would fall into each other had come as naturally as breathing; together they'd slayed the dragon, and, thanks to all the stories she'd heard as a girl, she'd expected her knight in shining armor to ride in on his white steed, hang on to her, and never let go.
What an idiot she was. A lovestruck little girl, full of hero worship, delving blindly and headlong into her feelings with barely a second thought. She'd gambled everything she'd had, and he'd called her bluff.
She'd plunged headfirst into the water, expecting a hot spring and instead receiving an icy shock to her system. She hadn't taken a deep enough breath before she dove, and upon impact had been stunned out of any movement. She was left fighting the tide by herself, no lifeline or shore in sight, the weight of the world and water trying to force her under.
The first weeks after Cain's departure had been especially difficult, stained with her inability to put their final conversation out of her mind, and tainted by the vision of her Tin Man's retreating back. Even the little sleep forced upon her only by exhaustion had been blemished. The hurtful words he'd said to her repeated over and over until the dream DG had shut him up the only way she could think of--by putting him back in the Iron Maiden.
His screams were muffled by the prison at first, and were then muted by her own horrified cries.
She'd avoided sleep like oncoming death after that dream. In truth, she'd started to avoid most of what she had once considered normalcy. Things in her life had been the antithesis of the serene ending she'd hoped for--and expected--since her reunification with her family, but at least she'd had Cain as a refuge.
He had been her lifeline for so long. He'd been the person who kept her tethered to her sanity, tightening his hold when hers faltered. When he left, the tumultuous water in which she was drowning swept her so the shoreline was no longer in sight.
She'd attempted to distract herself from the nightmare she laughingly called her daily life, tried in vain to find a new form of solace. She tried to spend time with her sister, but, impossibly, found it hurt even worse to be around the now frail older woman. The hopelessness and responsibility DG knew was written on her face was echoed tenfold in Azkadellia's eyes. If she stayed too long, DG knew she'd turn to stone under the heavy, Medusa-like stare. It was easier not to look.
Just as she had with Cain, she had let go of Az; DG, not the Witch, had been the impetus behind all the terrible things that had happened in the O.Z. DG was the reason her parents had been separated for so long. DG was the reason Ambrose had been turned into Glitch.
She wore her guilt like a cloak. In time it became her only companion, one she hid behind as the emotional maelstrom enveloped her. She was adrift, lost in the darkness, a million hands grabbing at her, but none grabbing for her.
She'd learned fairly quickly that mere distraction was not going to suffice to dull her constant ache. Instead, she sought distance and separation, steeling herself away alone in the darkness for her own protection, and for the safety of those around her.
She knew her family and friends were confused and concerned as she withdrew, each reaching out in their own way to pull her back from the precipice. But their unwavering love and support only made her feel all the worse; she could deal with her own sorrow and shame, learn to accept them, but found she was overwhelmed by other people's pity and pain.
She'd fought against being pulled back as the first battles broke out around Central City, some three weeks after Cain left her. Her parents and sister insisted they needed her help, and DG had relented after a few days. For all the trouble she'd caused, perhaps this was the road necessarily traveled to make things right.
She'd channeled what little energy she had left into being involved in the planning of troop movements and missions, and analyzing all intelligence moving through the castle. Trying to fix annuals of darkness with war struck her as both a welcome diversion and painfully ironic. Later, she had acknowledged--but only in the recesses of her solitude--that her initial involvement was to ensure that she'd know if Cain showed up on the daily lists of the wounded and dead.
DG's involvement in the War Bureau Office, as she called it, also forced her to quell the replaying doubts still lingering in her mind and soul and reminded her how to stand on her own two feet. She found she was good at assisting in the planning; strategy and patience superseded the blind and frank stupidity that had carried her for so long.
As the weeks turned to months, gone was the young woman who'd charged into a throng of Longcoats with only a stick. Gone was the girl who was as easily read as a picture book. During the day, she was a firm but guiding hand, purposeful and unwavering as steel. Self-doubt turned to self-assurance and reliance. As time progressed, so did she; DG started to fill the shoes that were her birthright. They were uncomfortable at first, ill-fitting, but just as she had since being dropped in the O.Z., the princess started to adapt, finding her footing. Necessity dictated the doubting Thomas within her be relegated to a few fleeting, often unbidden, moments of analysis as she sat alone each night.
She'd thought once that all that lay between her and Cain had been a whimsical, albeit illogical, construct of destiny, faith, and attraction. Now she wondered if it wasn't more rooted in loneliness, debt, or dependence.
He'd brought organization to her life. She reigned chaos over his existence. Nothing could bind such two opposites together. Not love, not devotion, not necessity.
Fate had thrown them together. Obligation kept them there. Reality pulled them apart.
DG pulled herself from the black of her watery grave, hard-fought understanding and acceptance providing her the small relief she'd searched so long for. She was tired from trying to stay afloat all alone, but in finding a final burst of energy and a tethered lifeline of her own making to hang on to, she found her legs again and kicked as hard as she could. She swam for herself and discovered the waters were not nearly as uncharted as she thought they'd been.
She'd survived before, and she'd survive again. One day at a time. One step at a time. Towards what, she was unsure, but she was doing it on her own.
She desperately wished she could lie to herself and say that if she'd known that it would turn out like this, that she'd lose not only her future with Cain, but the friendship of their past, she wouldn't have said anything. She wouldn't have wasted her time, her energy, or her heart.
DG was many things--a daughter, a sister, a fighter--but a liar she was not. She found she was proud of that.
There was a part of her that knew she should still be waiting for him to come to his senses, for him to come back to her, but she was nothing if not resilient, and she pressed forward in her daily life as she could not in the gazebo four months before, when he'd walked away and she'd let him.
The majority of her, after mourning what would never be, locked away the rejection, anger and affection she felt for him and she forged a new path, a new life. And yet she still stared out the window each morning, the silence in her bedroom broken only by the loud rumblings of approaching mayhem. Thick, swirling smoke, looking not unlike the twister that had brought her to this place, danced threateningly across the horizon. The normally clear view hazed over in a disturbing combination of orange, red and casualty.
On this particular morning, she noticed the gunpowder shift ominously in the billowing wind, and the words her mother had ingrained in her so long ago sprang unbidden to her mind: A storm is coming.
Time to get to work, DG thought to herself, pushing herself away from the window and her ruminations. As the younger princess opened the door to head to the War Bureau, she collided with her sister, whose hand was raised to knock.
The apology DG was poised to attempt died halfway between her throat and her lips as she realized the despair in her sister's eyes had changed; it was now laced with panic. "Az, what's wrong?"
The elder princess had to clear her throat and eyes of the unshed tears before she could continue. "You need to come with me."
DG stiffened, tension locking her body. "What happened, Az? You're scaring me."
There were no words to break this kind of news, no way to soften the blow, and both women knew it. The room remained heavily still as Azkadellia handed over the piece of paper she held in her trembling hands.
DG's agonized scream shook the castle like the battle outside could not.
Now was not the time to bend. Now was not the time for a breakdown. And yet, it was all she could do not to shatter like the glass she'd just been resting against.
The rush of dread that had filled DG since Az told her the news tightened like a noose. It slowly strangled her and brought blackness down on her again. She ran through the castle, barefoot--the shoes she'd been in had only slowed her forward progress, and she'd chucked them off in the general vicinity of the library. Even after all he'd put her through, after the hurt, the pain, the separation, she couldn't get to him fast enough.
He'd left of his own volition, and here she was, rushing back to his side unbidden.
She stopped so suddenly that her sister crashed into her back, sending DG sprawling unceremoniously against a marble pillar. At Azkadellia's inquisitive look, the younger princess rubbed the back of her neck uncertainly.
"He won't want to see me." Her voice was so uncharacteristically soft that Az had to lean forward to hear her.
"He needs to see you before…" her sister countered before trailing off. Crossing her arms, she continued, the intensity in her voice something she'd taken from her previously forthright sister. "Now is not the time to be stubborn, Deege."
"This isn't stubbornness. This is self-preservation." It was the same excuse he'd given her in the gazebo, and DG found, with a twinge of guilty annoyance, that it rang true.
"You'll never forgive yourself."
DG looked down the long hall toward the medical ward. "I don't know that I can, Az." She didn't know whether she meant forgiveness or seeing him. "He made it perfectly clear he wants to be away from me, far from here. I have to respect that."
"What about what you want?"
"Hell if I even know." Damn it, she was supposed to be stronger than this. She was stronger than this. Then again, Wyatt Cain had the distinct ability to knock her equilibrium out of whack, knock her carefully constructed world from its axis. She lost her bearings around him, drifting further and further away, her rope pulling taut.
Azkadellia took a step closer to her sister and placed a hand on her arm, trying not to outwardly flinch as DG stepped away from the embrace. "You need to see him. He means too much to you not to go."
DG cut her eyes at her sister. "Aren't you supposed to be all sisterly and supportive and threaten to maim him in unspeakable places for what happened?"
Ignoring the entreaty for levity, Az simply threaded her arm around her sister's elbow. "Let's go."
They continued their way down to the medical ward, the cold terror in DG's stomach spreading tremors through the rest of her body as they passed the makeshift morgue and the commemorative wall honoring those soldiers who had given their lives for their kingdom. When they passed the patient and rehabilitation wards, both women flinched at the painful cries of those being tended to.
Az led her the last few feet through to where a group of medics and Viewers were waiting for them, the air heavy with anguish and the inevitable.
Raw met them close to the doorway and drew DG into a tight embrace. At her inquiry after Cain's health, he released her and looked down at his feet as he replied.
"Weak." The word was a slap across the face. They'd never seen him that way, not after the Iron Maiden, not after he'd realized Adora was really, truly dead, not after he'd been shot--twice--in the span of a few days. "But not lost anymore," the Viewer continued, his voice urging her eyes open after she'd recoiled. "Raw thankful for that. Come, DG."
With Raw's paw on one elbow and Az's hand on the other, they moved past the medical personnel and the empaths and into a hastily constructed surgical area.
She'd never seen anything so disturbing in her life. Her tethered rope snapped like a twig and she was plunged underwater again, the guiding light she'd found at the surface snuffing out like a candle as she sank.
As her legs disappeared from beneath her, she was suffocating, gasping for air and comprehension. Her fingers hurt from gripping the surgical sink for support as she tried to stay upright. Her head ached from the indecisiveness of wanting to force her eyes closed at the horrifying sight before her, and her inability to look away.
There wasn't a part of his body not battered, bruised, broken. It was so overwhelming that DG couldn't comprehend it for a moment, and simply stared, mouth agape, unable to materialize a thought, let alone a cry, for the sight before her.
"What happened?" Az asked quietly.
"Unspeakable things," Raw replied, his voice breaking. He had to pull his hand from DG's tormented body; her emotions engulfed him, threatening to pull him down into the abyss with her.
"Oh, no." The words were lost in a heartbroken sigh. DG moved her free hand to the glass and ledge of the wall that partitioned where they stood from where Cain lay in the operating room. Her palm flattened against the glass, as though she could reach through and touch him, give him some of her strength just to pull him back to her.
Az took her sister's hand and then immediately dropped it as it burned her skin. DG's despair was palpable, singeing, devastating. Raw gave the elder princess a sad, knowing look before continuing to speak.
"Raw will help Cain," he assured the ashen young woman. "Raw will do everything he can."
"I want to help." DG turned and faced the Viewer, raising her voice so the other medical personnel would hear her. "Tell me what I can do."
Raw shook his head sadly. "Cain too unstable for too much magic. DG too upset. Could hurt more."
"I can't just sit here." Her voice was incredulous, angry.
Raw tried to continue, but Az beat him to the punch. "Deege," she said gently, waiting for her sister to turn towards her. She balked at the cold detachment in her sister's eyes--no matter how distant DG had been over the past months, no matter how dark the situation, there had always been a glint of something that resembled hope, minute and passing as it may have been. Now, there was nothing; no sparkle, no love, no sentiment at all.
Azkadellia's pause was long enough that DG turned back to watch Cain in silence. "You've got the best medics and Viewers in the O.Z. here," the older princess continued. "They'll take care of him." When she received no reply or acknowledgement, not even the tiniest turn of DG's head, Az pressed again, voicing the fears that had settled inside her when she'd first received notice that Cain was on the brink of death. "Sweetheart," the endearment was almost silent in its hesitation, "you should go say goodbye. Just in case."
This time, DG's head swung around so quickly, her expression one of such raw, overwhelming emotion, that Az took a step backwards in shock.
Her sister did not notice. Instead, of Raw, DG pleaded, "Tell me he won't. He can't."
"Raw cannot say for certain. Raw sorry, DG."
"Oh, God." The pain had left her barely able to form anything beyond monosyllabic pleas to a deity she'd long distrusted, searching frantically for a devotion she thought she'd lost.
One of the doctors stepped forward and whispered something to Raw, who nodded. "DG need to go in now if she want to see Cain."
Ignoring the searing pain, Az took her sister's hand again. "I'll be right there with you."
DG shook her head and stepped back from the sink. "I'll be okay. Really, Az," she implored, stopping her sister's protests. "I need to do this on my own."
Azkadellia nodded and watched as her sister took heavy steps through the doorway. The elder princess had to turn away as she watched DG ball her hand into a fist and press it against her lips, trying to keep the sobs from echoing in the eerily still environment.
Cain looked even worse up close, and DG had to wrap her arms around herself in a desperate attempt to find comfort, just as she had when they'd last seen each other. She'd mourned for him, gone through the stages of grief after their emotional death. Now she was standing next to his bedside, in denial that his physical death was not far behind.
The anger followed immediately. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to scream at him, to hate him for leaving her in this position again, to despise him for again proving that she was always too little, too late when it came to him.
But as she looked down on the face that had, and would forever haunt her dreams in one form or another, she was most disturbed by the rush of love. She didn't want to feel anything, let alone that.
She'd buried her heart, left it to freeze in the midwinter snow. Even in his unconscious, beaten state, he was thawing it.
Talk about role reversal.
There was a slight knock at the door of the surgical room, and Az appeared, trying to break the reunion as gently as she could. "They need to get started soon, Deege."
DG nodded silently, then turned back to the form beside her. She ran the palm of her hesitant hand along his purpled jaw, then leaned down and pressed an almost kiss against his forehead. "I'm sorry," she whispered, voice thick with grief. "I'm so sorry."
She knew she should tell him she still loved him, no matter what had happened between them. She should beg him not to go, not to leave her alone again--she'd made the mistake of letting him go once, and she wasn't prepared--or strong enough--to do it again. But she couldn't think, her mind as blank as it had ever been.
When he began twitching beneath her, she leapt back in surprise, thinking for an irrational moment that perhaps her magic, her love, had been strong enough to bring him back from the brink. As soon as she saw the clench of his jaw and fists, however, she knew it was much, much worse than she'd realized.
Jesus Christ, she'd made it worse. Just like always.
The healers forced her from the room so quickly that she felt like she was back on the tower balcony, the night of the eclipse, when she'd been thrown backwards. The slamming of the door hurt, but not as much as the blinds on the glass partitions being closed, blocking the princesses from the frantic efforts of the medical team.
DG rested her head against the closed door. When Az approached her, DG stepped away from the comforting hand seeking her shoulder and sat heavily in one of the chairs propped against the cold stone wall.
She was shackled, sinking back into the bottom of her watery tomb. She did not fight the tide. Culpability was a heavy anchor, and she let it overtake her.
If she'd had the strength, she'd have run as far as her legs could carry her, trying in vain to outrun the shame, the self-reproach, that tunneled her vision, shrouding the Infirmary in darkness. But DG found she couldn't move; she couldn't find a way out of here if she couldn't see past the end of her nose.
Isn't that always the way it is, she mused darkly. Focusing so much on the forest that you can't see the trees.
She sat in silence, the sound of rushing water deafening her from the goings-on of the ward. DG barely noticed as Glitch joined them in the Infirmary, planting himself between the two princesses to wait out the storm with them.
Even as lightning crashed and the waves swelled around her, ferociously consumed her, no matter how long the tempest raged, DG did not reach out for her companions. She did not seek their comfort or support, and they gave up on offering it. She felt as though they instinctively knew she'd just drag them down with her.
Raw exited the medical ward three hours after Cain was brought in, and was so exhausted that he not only nearly collapsed, but was unable to speak of the team's progress. Kalm replaced him, and it was the younger Viewer who addressed the anxious princess some eight hours later.
"Cain very fragile," he said, soft enough not to disturb the sleeping Azkadellia or royal advisor.
"But he's alive?"
Kalm nodded, the pause hanging between them articulating that which was unspoken: for now. "Healers will move him to recovery wing. You can see him shortly."
DG grasped the Viewer's paw; she didn't know which of them she was trying to reassure. "Thank you, Kalm."
The furry creature nodded. "Kalm go tend to Raw now."
The younger princess nodded in return, tired eyes moving back down to her folded hands. Her cuticles were frayed and bloody, just as Cain's body had been. She'd spent the endless hours waiting by picking at her hangnails, trying to feel something again. Her lip was split open slightly from biting it in worry. Her neck was sore from staring at her feet or the floor, as she had been unable to lift her eyes toward the operating room. If she stared long enough, images of him locked in the tin suit, by Zero or by herself, of him walking away from her, and him fighting for his life, played along the blank door like a horror movie.
She jumped as the terrifying door opened, and watched as the medics moved Cain's stretcher, slowly and gently. Struggling to her feet, DG followed them wordlessly, standing at the edge of the bed as they lay his body onto one of the cots. In her peripheral vision, she saw one of the medics bring a chair and place it next to the bed in invitation.
Instead of moving toward him, she turned and left.
After all her waiting, after her promise not to walk away from him, she did just that.
She shot out of the Infirmary as though it were aflame. She ran her hands against the mortar and marble, grasping at them as though the construction could ground her, hold her. She picked up speed as she passed by the library and her mother's office, ignoring the pleas trailing behind her.
Another stab of pain wrenched through her as she thought of Emily and Hank, of how she wished they were there instead of the strangers that surrounded her; she was all alone in a crowded room. There were people there who loved her, wanted to help her, but she wished for the ones she could not have.
Shame, thy name, thy face, thy soul is DG.
She put her head down and sprinted with all of her might. She took the stairs two at a time, trying to outrun the vicious and violent tsunami as it endeavored to drown her once and for all. She climbed higher and higher still, her steps and breathing becoming desperate as she realized that the blackness outside echoed that which lived inside her, and inside the castle.
DG slammed the tower door open and felt the pouring rain mix with the whipping night wind. What should have been cleansing drops instead slashed across her face like razor blades. Sinking heavily to her knees and burying her face in her hands, she shielded herself from the piercing rain, the smell of gunpowder and lead, and her endless failures. After her legs began to protest, she settled against the brick wall of the tower, let her head fall back, and closed her eyes.
She wrapped herself in her emotive cloak, the guilt, shame and regret she felt adding to the chill in the air and in her heart. She waded further into the surrounding void, feeling the noose around her neck tightening as she left the shore. She did not fight, seeking the point of no return, oblivion the only destination she deserved.
DG felt reverberations of someone coming up the stairs, but did not move, sitting as still as the stone she sat against.
"What do you think you're doing?"
DG opened one eye and found Azkadellia staring down at her, arms crossed and eyebrows arched.
"Knitting," the younger princess replied, rubbing her temples.
"Why are you out here?" Az's initial concern turned to angry frustration at the flippancy of her sister's remark.
"Because I find it more soothing to knit outside."
"Would you care to tell me what in the gods' name your problem is?"
The grief, the remorse, the fear that had taken residence since earlier that morning--and, if she were honest with herself, since Cain had left--combined into unbridled fury to attack her sister. DG sprung into a standing position, water from the rain--and her prison--shuddering off her in the aftermath.
"You know what, Az? I really don't need this from you."
"Yes, you do." The elder princess's tone turned cool, even, but laced with an undercurrent of anger and reproach reminiscent of her time as Sorceress. "He's down there, dying, and you're up here, hiding."
"I can't help him. I've never been able to help him. I've never been able to help anyone." Just a few more steps and she'd be underwater again, the water rushing up to greet her and carry her away. She wouldn't have to fight anymore; she could take the offered respite and save her strength.
"Oh, you have got to be joking." Azkadellia snorted in disbelief.
DG's eyes widened incredulously. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"You look like a fool." Az pulled herself to her full height so that she looked down at her sister's drenched face. "What happened to you?"
The irritation in DG's eyes changed momentarily to confusion. "Nothing happened to me."
"This isn't the DG that I remember. This isn't the DG I know."
"The DG you think you know and remember was a child when she left." It repeated what DG had told Cain after she'd rescued him: you don't know me. She'd wanted to scream it to her parents, her sister, her friends for so long; she was no angel, no savior, no princess.
"Then maybe this is the DG I remember, because you're certainly acting like a child now."
The younger princess pushed herself away from her sister, turning gray, lifeless eyes to the battle that raged in the distance, the approaching sounds of thunder echoes of the tumultuousness of the confrontation surrounding her now. "You can go now," DG said after a moment, tone matching her sister's, cool and dismissive.
"Fuck off, Az."
"Again, no." Azkadellia gripped her sister's arms brusquely, turning DG to face her. "I know you're scared. I know you're angry. But you've never shied away from a fight. Why are you doing it now?"
The protest that she was doing no such thing rang hollow and died before DG's vocal chords could even form it. Her shoulders slumped forward slightly, as if she were taking the weight of the world from Atlas. But she was no god; she was just a mere mortal, and she felt her world slide off and shatter at her feet.
She was lost, supposedly in two worlds, and belonging in neither. "I don't know how to do it, Az. Any of it. Be a princess, be a normal person, be a resistance leader, be a sister, be a friend, be a lover, be anything. I've tried it all, and I've failed each time."
"You really believe that, don't you?" The hands on her sister's arms slackened as Azkadellia relaxed, the frustration and fury dissipating back into sympathy and concern.
"It's the truth." The pity in her sister's eyes made DG tense, made her want to vomit. She tore herself from Az's grasp and started pacing the balcony, bare feet slapping the brick angrily.
"No, it's not."
DG stopped moving and thrust her hands up and outward, gesturing to the horizon and the encroaching and increasing front lines as raindrops flew from her fingertips like sparks of magic. "Look around you, Az! I tried to do what I thought was best, whether it was for me, those I care about, or the greater good, and I've only made a worse mess of things."
"And I didn't?" The anger was starting to spark again, a sick, repeating cycle.
"Not recently. It's my battle plans that are killing people, my declarations that send the people I care about running for the hills."
"I hate to burst your bubble, little sister, but you're not omnipotent."
DG sighed heavily, her lungs filling with water, not air, as she floundered. "I know that. But, come on, Az, just admit it. I've fucked things up thoroughly. Everything I've done has been wrong."
"You saved me," the older woman said softly, joining her sister at the edge of the railing, but leaving enough space between them so DG wouldn't run from her again. "Was that so wrong?"
"It's my fault you needed saving in the first place."
Az's patience shattered and she smacked her hands against the railing. "Oh, for the love of Ozma, Dorothy Gale, shut up!"
"You heard me." A strong, pointed finger landed in the center of the younger woman's chest so hard that DG coughed. "You're being an ass. A petulant, stubborn ass, and I, for one, am quite sick of it. You're so afraid of feeling something that now you refuse to feel anything. You're letting your fear stop you, and that's something I never thought I'd see."
DG's brow furrowed in mystification as her sister continued. "He needs you. Down there, in that ward, by his side."
"He's never needed me." DG had always believed the sayings, that the truth would set her free, or that the things that did not destroy her made her stronger. But, as always, she was the exception to the rules.
"Why are you so afraid of him?"
"Don't you get it, Az?" DG's voice rose above the din of the battles raging beyond, and within, her fortified walls. "It's my fault he's down there! It's because of me that he probably won't make it through the night. I'm the reason he ran in the first place!" She scrubbed at her face, hiding her exhale behind her fingers.
"Do you know what the Captain and Commander told Mother after they found him? That he'd been captured trying to come back here, to see you. Tell me that doesn't mean something." The flicker Azkadellia saw in her sister's eye was fleeting, but the flash of hope was enough to relight the long-dead and long-worried cobalt staring back at her. Encouraged, she continued, "I know you're scared. But you've faced a lot worse, and with a lot less thought. Look where that got you."
The wistful spark dimmed, and DG dropped her head, tiredly pinching the bridge of her nose. "Yeah, it got me here. Into war, pushing the one person I really…whatever…away from me and into a hospital bed." DG sighed, wishing she could see her sister's anger again, instead of the compassion that lingered there. She hated Azkadellia feeling sorry for her, almost as much as she hated feeling sorry for herself. "I want to believe, Az, really I do. I want to dream this can all work out. But look at the track record. Let's be honest, it's not exactly winning."
"Sometimes you have to be willing to put your money, your trust, your hope on the dark horse." Tentatively, Az brushed the soaked hair from her sister's forehead, brightening slightly when DG didn't pull away this time. "Even if they're the long shot, they still have a chance."
"I wish I had your faith." DG, the eternal optimist, needed reassurance, needed a reason to believe in herself again. She was the one now trapped in her own Iron Maiden, bound by disappointment, abandoned by happiness.
"I have enough for both of us." Az placed a gentle hand on top of her sister's knuckles. "Sometimes you just have to let it go, DG. Let go of the past; what's done is done. You gave me a second chance. Take one for yourself."
The rain slowed, but the wetness on DG's face remained. "I don't deserve it. It's my fault he's down there," she repeated in a crushed whisper.
Her sister ignored the last part of her statement. "Out of everyone you've helped, you deserve happiness most of all."
"I have nothing to offer. I'm not worthy of him." DG felt like she was spinning uncontrollably into the undertow. Those five words, ones she refused to acknowledge even in the darkest hours of the night, cut her more deeply than his absence ever could have. She needed someone to pull her to safety, but she had no one left to call upon for help.
Az watched the droop of her sister's posture, the way DG grasped the railing, seeking something more tangible than hope as a source of support. "I can't convince you of any of that. You need to do it yourself. But I do know this." Azkadellia paused and waited for the younger woman to look her in the eye. "You need to try."
"What if he can't forgive me?" The confession was like ripping open a healing wound. "What if it's too late to try again?"
"It's never too late. I'm living proof of that." Az tilted her head to the side, wanting to reach out and fold DG within the safety of her arms, as though the embrace could protect her just as it had when they were children. But protection was the last thing DG needed now—in recent months, she'd proven she could survive trial by fire. Still, Azkadellia persevered, extending an emotional hand to her sister, just as DG had physically done for her on the night of the eclipse. Take my hand, DG. I won't let go. Nothing can hurt us when we're together. "You've fought so long and so hard, mostly for things that had very little meaning to you. Why not fight for something that you really, truly want?"
DG wiped her eyes with trembling hands. "It won't work."
"I have no doubt that it will work. I never doubt anything when it comes to you." Az offered a small smile. "What have you got to lose, DG, when you think you've already lost everything?"
DG said nothing, turning her gaze to the fledgling landscape below. The hopeless battles kept raging, and she was unable to fix that which she had broken. Now she had an opportunity to fix the most desolate situation of all, her ruined friendship with Cain. The simple movement of going to him couldn't erase her inaction of the months before, but perhaps it could bring her to a resolution she would not find in this endless war.
Her head rose slowly as she nervously reached for the lifeline her sister had thrown her, believing it would break and deny her safety, her future, in the end. She gripped it tightly when it did not waver, letting Az's strength help pull her to solid ground. For the first time in a long time, DG stood out of the water, watching as it turned calm and almost soothing. The gale stopped spinning around her, the noose loosened, and her heavily guilty wrap did not weigh her down as it had before. "I think you're right," she finally ventured, voice laced with amazement, heart racing in her chest at the implications.
"Don't sound so surprised. It's been known to happen." Azkadellia's smirk was gentle and encouraging. "It's worth it to try, DG."
DG returned the smile, albeit sadly and awkwardly, and took a small step toward where Azkadellia stood. "I'm sorry, Az. For all of it." For yesterday, for today, for tomorrow.
"I know you are." The elder princess wrapped an arm around her sister. "Let's get you inside. You're shaking." It wasn't from the rain.
They squeaked and squished their way through the tower, murmuring apologetically at the maids as they plodded down to DG's room. Az insisted they both bathe and change before heading back to the Infirmary. It wouldn't do to have the youngest princess infect an already frail Tin Man.
As fast as she had run to get to his side in the first place, DG moved hesitantly the second time. Seeing him in his present condition wasn't what scared her. Even him dying wasn't the largest concern looming on her horizon.
What terrified her most was what happened if he woke up.
She could stay and take her chances, jump right back into that which she'd so arduously pulled herself from.
She could run to save her heart, her sanity, her life.
She realized with an aching, nervous heart that there was no point in running unless he ran with her. The solitary life she'd been living--while she did it on her own time, on her own terms--it simply didn't mean as much without him right next to her.
DG squared her shoulders, preparing for combat. Walking with renewed vigor and strength into the medical ward, she checked on Raw first, pleased to see he was recovering nicely.
Her heart hammered erratically in her chest as she approached Cain's bed, her confident steps faltering the closer she got. She looked away from his injured face and stared at the chair next to his bed.
One step. All it would take was one step.
One step forward, two steps back, her head reminded her.
She stepped forward anyway.
Her hands curled around his forearm as she sat down, and DG bent her head, trying to find some of the strength Az had promised her was there.
DG didn't leave Cain's side for the next two days. She did, however, fall asleep, which is how she missed his waking up.
As his stirrings in the bed became more insistent, she thundered awake, snapping her head forward with a grimace. When ice blue eyes met her own gaze, the tears she'd obstinately refused to let fall during the past days escaped. "Hey," she managed weakly.
"What are you doing here?" His voice was faint, rough from disuse.
"Oh, you know, I was in the neighborhood." She removed one of her hands from his and wiped her eyes. "I'd ask how you were feeling, but I'm pretty sure I know the answer."
His eyes slid shut, and her heartbeat stopped, thinking he'd slipped away again. It roared back to life as he spoke, beating loudly in her chest.
Her hesitation caused him to open his eyes again, wincing as the minute movement set his pain receptors afire. "I don't know all the details," she finally replied. At the questioning semi-quirk of his eyebrow, she said, "I didn't want to know what happened to you. I didn't think you'd want me to."
The flinch that crossed his face the second time had nothing to do with physical pain. "DG…"
"You need to rest," she insisted, and Cain shook his head, reaching his right hand from his side and covering hers where it still rested on his left forearm.
"You need to know something. Several somethings, in fact."
"Now's all I've got, kiddo. I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth."
"I've never understood that saying," she commented idly, her flight response sputtering to life. "Why would you want to look a horse in the mouth anyway? Rather disgusting, if you ask me."
There was no humor to his voice, only annoyance at her avoidance. "Knock it off, DG. I'm serious."
DG sighed heavily, equally annoyed, but didn't dissent again. Cain cleared his throat and licked his lips, mostly from nerves. DG knew this, but helped him sip water as though his condition had caused the wear.
After a deep swallow and an even deeper breath, he continued. "I'm sorry for what happened. I'm sorry for all of it."
"I am, too. I shouldn't have sprung everything on you like that."
It took him a moment to understand they were talking about two separate things. "No, I'm not sorry about that. I'm sorry for leaving. I'm sorry for walking away."
This wasn't what either of them had expected to say to the other when the time for their eventual reunification, whatever form it took, came. They were back in foreign waters again, the territory no longer placid. The waves built around them, pushing them together, then wrenching them apart.
Cain waited for her to reach out, as she always did. When he realized she wouldn't, he felt worse than all of his injuries could ever make him hurt.
Her light had dimmed in their time apart. She'd hardened, broken.
Just as he had.
Clearing his throat, Cain tried again, steeling himself to be her support, just as she had been his, whether she knew it or not. "I lied to you before."
DG's chest tightened as hurt settled in her heart. "About being sorry?"
"Gods, no." He was really screwing this up. "I told you that day that I could do…this…without you. That's not true. Not anymore, at least."
She wanted to hope. She wanted to believe. But it refused to come easily. "You left because of me."
"I came back because of you."
DG nodded once in semi-acknowledgement, looking across the room and focusing on a crack running the length of the stone wall. "I don't know if I can do this, Cain."
Their tenuous house of cards fell at his feet, his wishes and faith tumbling along with them. "Can't or won't?"
"Either. Both. What happened…I won't lie to you. It nearly killed me. But I came back. I came out the other side. I don't know if I can open myself up to the possibility you might change your mind and walk away from me again."
Cain had always been the stoic one, the one with the impenetrable walls. She'd learned a thing or two from him.
How it hurt him to see her like this. This wasn't the headstrong girl he'd fallen in love with, the curious Other Sider who'd charged in to save a family she didn't know, wielding only a stick and a will of iron and foolhardiness. This wasn't the woman who showed him compassion and love, and had given back his life. This wasn't the woman who didn't back down.
Cain tried again. "I've never taken much stock in faith, or feelings. Always thought it was horseshit. But that…that changed a bit when I met you. You believe in everyone, whether you know them or not, whether they give you reason to or not. No matter who they are, who they've been, or what they've done, you find the good in them. You give them a chance. The least I could have done was repay you the same courtesy."
DG's chin began to tremble, and two traitorous tears escaped before she clamped her eyes shut to forestall the others. She was still overcome by the desire to flee, but the fight in her stepped in and leveled the battlefield.
You believe in everyone, no matter who they are. His words echoed in her head. Does everyone include yourself, DG?
"You said you couldn't love me." She needed clarification, reassurance, something tangible to keep her by his side.
"I never said I didn't love you. And I found out pretty damn fast I had little choice in the matter."
Questions and doubts still pervaded her mind. What Cain was saying, while she had longed to hear them, were just words. They were not a plan. Cain had always been a man of action, and was now relying solely on sentiment to convince her. She'd turned into a woman who thought before she acted, who looked before she leapt. Her head, not her heart, had been her guide of late. And now he was asking her to push aside logic and reason, and leap into the void with only the promise of tomorrow to hang on to.
Could they go forward as paradoxical, as umatched, as changed as they were?
DG sat back in her chair, hands shaking slightly as they rested within Cain's. Giving in to him, no matter how they'd changed, didn't ensure her the happy ending she'd once believed in. The other shoe could drop at any time, and she'd be back in the darkness, drifting aimlessly again.
As she looked back down at Cain, preparing to tell him no, she thought back to Az's words: It's worth it to try. As she searched the Tin Man's face, watching the eyes she'd lost herself in on countless occasions, DG remembered their journey through the O.Z., and the wholehearted faith she'd put in him, despite how little she knew him. She knew so much more now; knew more of the strength and the faith rooted deeply within the two of them as individuals; knew more of the strength of the ties that bound them together. If there was any time to believe in Wyatt Cain, this was it.
They couldn't take the next step in their current relationship. But they could start a new one. Find the path of least--oh, hell, who was she kidding?--most resistance together. They could tear down the other's roadblocks, learn each other again, find the answers to the questions that had plagued them for so long.
The filter she'd grown accustomed to using shut off, allowing her next words to slide forth with an ease long forgotten. "It's not going to be easy."
He smiled as best he could, his eyes picking up the remainder of the response when his mouth could not. "When is it ever with the two of us?"
The tumultuousness of the pairing would inevitably cause one to crash into the other, pushing them back into deeper water. But the waters around them were as tranquil as they'd ever experienced together, and now they had a lifeguard, someone to pull them out and breathe them back to life when necessary.
Now they had someone--each other--to hang on to.
It wouldn't be hearts and flowers, midnight strolls by the lake with flowing declarations of love. It wouldn't be poetic marriage proposals with a string quartet hovering in the background.
It wouldn't be without loud fights and slamming doors. It wouldn't be without gritted teeth, clenched jaws, clamped fists, words of frustration.
It wouldn't be graceful or simple. It would be flawed and confused.
It would be honest, stubborn, real.
Just like the two of them.
And they were just fine with that.