He doesn't know how he's gotten so good at recognizing her, but somehow he knows her footsteps, the quiet rustles she makes as she tried to sneak into the clearing. She thinks she's doing it well, doesn't notice the half smile he can't quite bite away. She's almost on top of him, teeth biting into her lower lip as she concentrates on each quiet, precise movement and she's smiling openly as she reaches toward him –
"You might want to think twice about that, kid," he says, and it's a little funny to watch her start with surprise, eyes flying guiltily to him.
"You're awake," she says, and he can hear the rush of alarm beneath the flatness of her voice. "I thought –"
"I know what you thought," and even as he tries to sound stern, he fails, and to his own ears he sounds almost amused. "Serves you right for trying to sneak up on a man when he's sleeping."
"You never sleep," she grumbles, dropping down to sit easily next to him.
She's right. He can count the hours he's slept in the last few days on one hand, and the time buried in snow don't count because dying isn't the same as sleeping, no matter what people say.
It's all too easy to not sleep these days. There've been things to do, worlds to save, murders to avenge. So many dangers. So many innocent people. Innocence is something to treasure and protect – he knows this now. Rare and amazing and all too easily tarnished, and now he knows that he wants to save it all.
The hardest part of finding Jeb again is seeing him bitter, touched by murder, filled with hate. Such a change from the innocent little boy who'd adored his toy horses and his dad.
"Helloooo," DG waves her hand in front of his face, and he looks at her, annoyed and content all at the same time. "Mr. Cain?"
"Still here," he says, but he's really waiting to find out what she is doing here. He'd left her with a new family, because what's really important is family, and she deserves to live happily ever after. She's looking at him, into him, with that steady, piercing gaze. She's trying to wait him out. He knows this because he's done it before, to criminals, to suspects, even to Jed when he was little and trying to pull a fast one. No one has ever used it on him before. It's a bit disconcerting, mostly because he can feel it working.
He expects a probing question – what are you thinking about? Why are you leaving? – that's how to follow-up on that gaze, after all. But she surprises him. Again. "How's your shoulder?"
He stretches it automatically, wincing from a combination of stiffness and discomfort. "I'll live," he says, and the suit jumps into his mind, clear as a picture right in front of him. That isn't living. He knows this.
She huffs a little, like she doesn't believe him, and scotches a bit closer. Before he can sit up, she's probing his tender shoulder with delicate, painful fingers. He sucks in a breath to keep from cussing, and pins her with a glare. "DG, stop. That hurts."
She arches her eyebrows, and meets his glare full strength. "Seems to me you might be better off with the healers than out here with just a campfire for a cure."
He goes to shrug, but his shoulder complains, so he settles for a meaningful angling of his head. "Maybe." She's waiting for more, but he wants to choose his words wisely. "I've got something to take care of."
"Something so important that you can't wait to heal first?" She sounds incredulous and for a moment he wonders if she's right. He lived in that damn suit for annuals. He's lost everything because of it, his wife's love, his son's childhood. None of them deserved what was done to them. Zero does. Maybe he shouldn't drop it all to let him out. Maybe Zero deserves to rot in there just a little longer. Maybe he should leave him in there forever, so Zero can feel his life slip through his fingers bit by bit. Cain can't stop remembering that feeling and it's the worst punishment he can imagine. Too terrible for his worst enemy? Perhaps.
He doesn't want to be having these thoughts, these doubts. He misses the clarity of vengeance, the purity of unadulterated hatred. Everything was clear then, when all he could think of was watching the life in Zero's eyes sputter and die. He doesn't want to wonder about what is right. She makes him wonder and question and for the briefest moment, he resents her for it. But he doesn't want her to see any of that, so he props himself up on his elbows, ignoring the pain, ignoring the flash of concern in her eyes.
"What are you doing here?" He asks instead, and it works. She shifts her eyes away from him, toward the fire. He can breath easier now.
Her voice is artificially light. "I couldn't sleep." The words imply more than she means to say, but he's been locked away and he knows how it haunts in the darkness, how the feelings wrap around you and tighten until you'd do anything to make them go away. Even leave your new family and go wander in the woods in search of someone more broken than you.
He watches her now, shoulders slumped, staring into the fire. She is quiet and usually he likes this, their comfortable silence. But now it's weighted with so many unsaid words that it presses against them, and the crackle snap pop of the fire is not enough to break it. Instead, he reaches out to her, almost touching her arm before thinking better of it and letting his hand drop back to the ground. "You've had some tough days."
She looks over her shoulder at him, wrapping her leather jacket closer to her. "Azkadellia's had it worse," she says. "She is so …" her voice trails off, searching in vain for the right words. There are none. Instead, her arms flails in the air before dropping back to her side. "My parents are with her now."
She falls back into silence, hunching her shoulders and pinching her lips together, just as she had struggling through snow drifts by the Northern Island. She suddenly looks cold and small and lonely, which is awful because normally she's a whirlwind of light even when she's standing perfectly still. He doesn't want to push her, she's never asked him any questions about the worst times in his life, even though she was an unwilling witness to so many of them. But he has to do something and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't in some way curious.
"What happened up there?" He gestures to the tip of the tower barely peeking out over the surrounding trees, still glowing greenly in the night. "With Azkadellia?"
She braces an elbow on her knee, props her cheek on her palm and turns to look at him. For a moment he thinks she's not going to say anything, or that she'll put him off with some vague inanity. He wouldn't blame her, it's probably just what he would do, but again he underestimates her. She tells him the story slowly, haltingly, fraught with images: DG clinging by her fingertips, feet swinging over empty air. Azkadellia, finally fighting for her freedom. And the two of them, dwarfed by a looming malevolence, bonding together again after so long.
It is terrifying, to realize how close she came to dying. He can't speak, he knows his voice would crack over the words he can't find. But she's taught him what to do when words won't suffice, and he holds out an arm to her. She grasps it, knuckles whitening as she grips it tightly, and then she's curling close to him.
When she speaks, her voice is muffled against him and he has to struggle to make out the individual words.
"It doesn't feel right," she is saying and she sounds like a confused child. "Azkadellia and I stood together and faced the witch, and she melted. I thought that was it. That is was all over." She pauses for a moment, and then lifts her face to look him directly in the eye. Her voice is stronger now. "It just doesn't feel right."
He wishes he could make it right. That's all he's ever wanted out of life, to right wrongs. To make things right. And she, above all other people, deserve it. "It'll will take time," he says instead, as if words could possibly help. "New parents, new sister, new life. Those things all take time to get used to."
She's shaking her head, her hair a soft brush against the skin of his throat. "No," she says bleakly. "That's not it, Cain. It's something else. Something wrong."
He's seen her in so many ways since they met. Brave, terrified, confused, stoic, lost, hurt, happy, stubborn, challenging, loving. He runs out of adjectives in his mind but he knows he's never seen her like this.
"I've never known what to do since I got here," she continues, "but we always figured something out. But that's all supposed to be over now, and instead I'm just as confused as in the beginning." Her laugh is soft and almost bitter and that just feels so wrong to him. Not DG. Never bitter. "We were supposed to live happily ever after."
He swallows hard. He doesn't believe in happily every after any more, but he wants her to be able to. He wants to comfort, to spread his strength around her and keep her safe and whole. But he's more broken than she.
And he doesn't know what to do, but in this, she decides for him. Her shoulders jerk against him, her beautiful eyes gleam with a haze of dampness and she presses closer. Her whisper is so fierce in his ear every muscle in his body clenches tight. "Cain, I just wish someone could make it all better. I thought it could be me. I thought it would be me."
Her cheek is damp against his and he doesn't move nor does she but their lips are brushing against each others, a movement of comfort, of need, of sharing. She is soft, so damn soft, which is odd because actually she's tough and she's proved it over and over. But he can't think of that now, because she is warm against him, her lips a gentle blessing and a plea. He longs to bury himself in her, to let her save him. He wants this almost as much as he wishes she could crawl inside him; that he could save her. Instead, he kisses her, deeply and truly, holding her tight.
They move together, falling back into soft soil warmed by the nearby fire. And her eyes gleam in the nightlight, he feels in each touch her unspoken words, her fingers busy against buttons, slipping each slowly, precisely, free.
He hasn't wondered about the silken texture of her hair, but it's just as he would have imagined, a dark cloud surrounding the lightest person he knows. He has absolutely not imagined the feel of her body against his, but it is better than he could have anticipated, small and lean and strong all at once.
She is cupping his face now, he can feel the scratchiness of his unshaven cheeks under her fingers. The warmth of her breath teases him, his fingers clench down onto her hips in automatic response, dragging her under him. She fights against him, struggles back to her side and latches onto his mouth, nearly ferocious in her want and he understands because he wants her in the same way.
But it is so different. She is slim and willowy underneath him, not plump and curvaceous. She pulls his shirt free of his pants before he can do it and he remembers slow lazy days, moving quietly so as to not wake the baby, luxuriating in each button, each zipper, each piece. This is so different, he can't stop touching her, and what was comfort is already fierce and needy and so hot it burns. Her clothes part almost magically under his fingers, but that is her department, and she arches into his touch, a sleek wild woman under his fingers.
He remembers clumsy seduction and young love, fumbling fingers and hasty words, Adora's cheeks blushing hot with embarrassment, his own red with need and love, so much love, always love.
She worried about her hips, after Jed they curved wide and round and he used to kiss them in the morning under the sheets and tell her there was more of her to love. And she would look at him and smile and laugh. There was so much laughter then. Now it seems so far away…
His hands are in DG's pants, and it's so different, no full skirt just simple trousers with a high waist. It doesn't slow him down because if he slows, he might think and he might remember –
Breathe. He can't breathe and DG is pulling free of his grasp, eyes wide and concerned as she runs a worried hand over his face. He forces focus, hears her words:
"Cain? Are you okay?"
He doesn't even know what that word means anymore, and feels the night wind cold against his bare chest. He stares at her and she realizes before he can find any words. Her mouth drops open into a near-perfect O, she swallows once, twice, and her words are so quiet he thinks she doesn't realize she's saying them out loud.
"Oh," she says hoarsely, and her eyes are gleaming wetly again. "Oh, Cain, I'm sorry." She backs away from him, scooting on her rear without the slightest thought for the dirt smears against her clothes. Then he realizes it too late for that, they are sweaty and dirty already. "I'm so, so sorry," she is saying, and before he can find his mind or think to move, she's rising, buttoning, tucking, running swift as a papay, disappearing.
He is alone again. The fire struggles against the wind, all banked embers and charred wood. He can hear running footsteps and he knows they're hers as they fade in the distance, knows because he's gotten so good as recognizing her, even though he doesn't know how. He rises, takes two steps toward her trail and then stops. He's not used to indecision, to wondering what the right thing is to do. He wishes it were all clear again, back when he simply knew. He wishes he didn't have so many questions now.
His hat is on the other side of the clearing now, and he reaches it in three big strides and sweeps it back onto his head.