Disclaimer: Save for the medic, the characters and situations herein are not mine. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No infringement is intended.
Charlie the muse would like to thank his counterparts, Museypoo and Maisy, along with their humans, Alamo Girl and Meredith Paris for, well, everything. And to all who have reviewed and favorited the posted stories--you truly have no idea what it means to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
This story takes place during, and immediately after, Part Three.
And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know.—William Benet
She'd always had a need, as a physician, to be able to look for nonverbal indicators to ensure her patients were telling her the truth. Every damn resistance fighter tried to be tougher than the next to come along, and she'd needed the ability to know when to call them on their horseshit, no matter how loud or long they protested about just how fine they were.
As she'd honed her skills as a medic, she'd learned to look for the almost imperceptible shift in body language—the slight increase in respiration, the flexing of fingers, the strength of a gaze—to quickly give away a person's true feelings or intentions, and help her settle on a course of action. They were subtle indicators, momentary things that one could miss in the blink of an eye. As the days bled into weeks, and then into months and annuals, she found herself seeking out the shadows, watching and waiting, letting those around her—not just patients, but scouts, informants, prisoners—tell her without words exactly that which she needed to know.
She'd started surveying the surrounding environment as well, first in context with people, but found it told her more when unencumbered by human interaction. She'd learned to listen to the calls of the birds to tell her when they were to have visitors; learned to understand that smells, especially of battle and death, could travel great distances by flying on the back of a breeze. She'd started to rely on the way the clouds shadowed on the ground to warn her of an oncoming storm.
Now, as she stood on the far side of the hill among the waiting warriors, Central City only a grey haze in the distance, she felt the shaking of the ground instead of hearing the explosion from the black tower. She noticed the temperature change around her as it warmed, and the smell within the air as it soured, as the fire and smoke billowed toward the darkening sky. It was the gentle shifting of the breeze that finally told her of the battle and its end. It was how her comrades loosened the grips on their weapons that told her of their victory, not the triumphant calls and cries from the valley below. It was the rush of panicked men into their camp, not the pleas for help that arrived before the soldiers did, which spurred her into realizing she would be needed very soon.
She saw one of her fellow medics stick his head out of the back of the supply tent and beckon her hurriedly. She followed dutifully, stopping to line her pockets. She ordered the other medics to spread out toward the tower and begin field triage, telling them to bring the most severe cases directly to her.
She was in the middle of an emergency amputation when the wind shifted and the one thing she'd been waiting for— his scent—finally wafted to her nose. The deafness that had plagued her since he'd gone to fight lifted like a hood, and the onslaught of the surrounding chaos slammed into her like an approaching train. She heard him calling her name, desperation in his voice.
He'd followed his father to the front lines, ordering her to stay put and care for his men, just as she had for endless annuals. And, just as she had for endless annuals, she'd simply looked into eyes so like his mother's, and nodded succinctly, her face and body language saying that which her voice did not.
One of her nurses met him at the tent's entrance while she continued to work on the anonymous soldier clinging to life on her operating table. Initially, he ignored the nurse's plea to leave, but relented when he saw the urgency in the surgery. He lowered his voice, and it was with the change in timbre that the medic realized he was not alone, nor was he the only one speaking.
His father, one they had both thought long lost to the cause, was making a quiet request of the nurse. It was the same reassuring tone she'd heard his son use time and again, and the one she'd had to use after she could not save his mother. She still could not believe the ghost that had walked into their camp, into their lives, this beacon of hope and second chances that had come to them with the rising of the suns.
She had been tending to old wounds in her medical tent when Jeb had come to find her after his father stopped him from killing Zero. She'd never seen him that angry; never seen him throw the tent flaps back with such ferocity, never seen him pace the dirt floor so harshly that clouds of dust followed him like a shadow.
She'd finished changing the dressing on the underling's arm and followed the man to the exit, tying the tent shut after he'd gone. She'd washed her hands slowly, relying on her captain to determine if, and when, he'd speak.
"I hate him." His voice had been as dark as the night sky, and she'd had to suppress a shudder at the waves of venom radiating off him like morning mist on a lake.
His head had snapped toward her, and fury colored his milky cheeks. "Who do you think?"
She'd settled herself against one of her examination tables, drying her calloused hands as he paced. "Seems to me like you have a few pretty good options."
He gripped the edge of the exam table until his knuckles were almost transparent. "That bastard killed my mother, for Ozma's sake. He should pay."
"To which bastard are you referring?"
"By the gods, woman, don't play with me." He'd stopped wearing a path in the dirt and glared icily at her.
She'd regarded him levelly. "I'm not." She'd pushed herself off the table, sitting primly in the chair he'd carved for her once he'd retreated to the opposite end of the tent to lean against her desk. "You've always blamed yourself for what happened to your mother. And whether or not you're willing to admit it, you've blamed your father, too."
His brown eyes remained a steely grey. "I shouldn't hate my father."
"That doesn't mean you don't."
"Why do I even bother with you?" He'd clenched his fists, anchoring them staunchly at his side as he fought the waves of rage and resentment from overtaking both of them.
"That's a good question."
"I want to kill him." His jaw was so clenched that it took her a moment to understand his words.
"So kill him."
She'd been able to tell she'd surprised him when his hands and jaw relaxed minutely, briefly. He obviously hadn't expected that she, the only one who told him death only made them more like the Sorceress and the Longcoats, would support his most animalistic and uninhibited desire. "What?"
"What he did to you, to your family, it's unconscionable. He's directly responsible for the death of your mother. People have been executed for far less."
His chin had dropped to his chest at her words. "I don't even know who we're talking about anymore."
"I know." She'd had to cross her legs to stop herself from going to him. She'd known he hadn't been ready yet. "Might I make an observation?"
"When don't you?"
She hadn't been able to control a smirk from dancing across her lips at that. "Your father stopped you from killing Zero, and you want to know why."
"He said it wouldn't bring Mother back." He'd scrubbed at his face tiredly. "He was right." He'd lifted his eyes back to hers, and she'd seen the steel beginning to tarnish under the weight of his anger and confusion. "He shouldn't be right. Not when he wasn't there to see what that bastard did to her. Not when he…he wasn't there."
"You live with that every day. We all do. But he lives with it, too. Don't forget that."
"You don't know that."
She'd finally risen from her chair and untied the tent's opening. She'd raised her chin, indicating his father. "Tell me what you see."
"I don't have time for this." He'd hardened and stiffened again, and thrown his walls back up as he tried to keep her at bay.
"Tell me, Jeb."
He'd begrudgingly joined her at the tent's entrance and saw his father, this specter of a past they'd worked so hard to forget, standing there as though no time had passed. And yet, she'd seen the slight dip to the older man's shoulders, one that told her more had happened to him than anyone would ever be able to articulate. If it was possible, the elder Cain bore the weight of responsibility and regret even more than his son did.
His son refused to see it, turning away after a millisecond. "I see someone fighting damn hard for someone he calls a stranger."
Aha. Jealousy dripped from his words, and she'd had to fight to keep her face and tone gentle and impassive. "Aren't we all?"
He'd completed two loops around the tent before settling himself in her chair, balling his fists and rubbing at his eyes again. "You know, I miss the days when you were too shy to talk to me."
She'd said nothing after that, not because she did not have the words, but because she'd known it was not what he'd needed. She'd had her chance to make her point, and it had passed without him being receptive. Instead, she'd settled herself securely on the ground in front of him, tightened her hands around his, and pulled them from his eyes. She'd rubbed her thumbs over his clenched knuckles, waiting for him as he'd tried to work through the maelstrom of hatred—against himself, Zero, and his father—disbelief and gratitude. She'd seen his eyes soften and felt his grip loosen as he'd fought to process the situation, and heard his thanks in the brief squeezing of his fingers against hers.
"What do I do, Doc?"
"All you can do—all any of us can do—is follow your heart. Let it tell you what the right thing is."
"Sometimes I don't think I have one. Sometimes I think this blasted war has taken everything away."
"This blasted war—this stranger—gave you your father back today." She'd squeezed his thighs encouragingly. "You've gotten a second chance to make everything right. Don't squander it."
He'd sighed and risen from her chair, resuming his pacing. He'd run a frustrated hand through his unruly hair, and then let his uncrossed arms and unclenched fists rest at his side. She'd realized it was the only request for comfort he'd allow himself, silent and hesitant, just as he was. She'd reached and faced him quickly, adjusting his mother's scarf so that it sat securely and protectively around his neck. He'd kept it on daily in the months since her death, as a reminder that she'd never given up hope, and never stopped believing in what they were fighting for. The medic had tightened her own hands in the silk, resting them against his broad chest, silent confirmation that she believed all he'd done, not only as a leader but as a son, had been right and just. He'd covered her hands with his, trying to reassure himself of the same fact.
After a quick kiss to her forehead, he'd looked back over her head at his father, and she could see the battle plan—for dealing with his father, as well as the Witch— forming in his mind by the way his darkened eyes raced and widened. The rigidity in his body told her he didn't like the options he was coming up with, but knew he'd have to find acceptance or understanding, no matter how fleeting. He'd have to do what was necessary to end the battles within and without, once and for all.
She'd put a tentative hand on his hip and urged him gently forward, before turning to ostensibly clean her tent. She'd known he'd faltered by the way his boots scraped and dragged against the floor. But she'd also known when he'd squared his shoulders by the way his shadow straightened and cast itself over her. He'd stepped determinedly out, ever unyielding and first in to the breach, his steps echoing in her ears long after he'd left the tent opening fluttering in the breeze.
She finally looked up from her current patient and saw him lingering in the doorway, blood trickling down his face. It was clear his father had a gunshot wound to his shoulder, and her training told her it was hardly life threatening. But she knew instinctively from the nervous shifting of the younger man's eyes, and the way he was holding tightly to the Tin Man, that he trusted only her to fix his father, to ensure he wouldn't lose what had just been returned to him, even if acknowledgement and acceptance still eluded him. Her eyes moved from father to son, and she again nodded, telling him she'd tend to both of them when she was finished.
It took nearly an hour before she gave up and sent a silent prayer for the soul of the lost resistance fighter. She washed her hands quickly, wondering how her raw, broken self would look and feel now that this endless war had finally reached its conclusion. After speaking with her nurse, she found the newly-returned father, flanked by son and now joined by DG, the apparent savior of the O.Z., resting on a log on the outskirts of their makeshift camp.
She could not help but marvel at just how closely the brunette sat to the elder Cain, how she seemed to be fighting to stop her exhausted head from resting against the Tin Man's good shoulder, and how his arm seemingly itched to wrap itself around her tiny frame, knowing intuitively how snugly and properly she'd fit against his side.
The doctor slowed her steps, eyes scanning between Jeb, his father and the brunette, searching for signs of the discomfort the younger Cain had indicated in the medic tent the day before. She looked long and hard, scrutinizing the fleeting signs before they slipped away. She realized that the three of them weren't registering the subtle movements, let alone interpreting them.
The medic pulled her blonde hair into a short and messy ponytail as she started to approach the trio again, and smiled softly when Jeb leapt to his feet in greeting. He ran a hand down her arm, silently grounding himself in the knowledge that she was safe. In turn, she noted he'd need stitches for the wound on his forehead, most likely from taking the butt of a rifle to the temple. She sighed and rolled her eyes, her hands on her hips loudly, yet wordlessly, telling him she was sick and tired of his constantly being injured.
She heard matching snorts of amusement from his father and their companion, and turned her attention to her waiting patient. As she began to kneel on the ground, she noted with interest how gently DG helped ease Cain's shoulder out of his duster, and how she folded the garment lovingly before settling it on her lap, clutching it to her like a safety blanket. Her fingers settled on the older man's elbow, seeking confirmation of his safety and proximity just as Jeb had.
For his part, Cain's eyes shifted between the brunette and their surroundings, as though expecting a throng of Longcoats to leap out at them at any time. His crystalline eyes lingered longer and longer on the princess, however, and it was only when his bullet wound was more thoroughly examined that he let out a hiss and tore his gaze from his companion to the medic working on him.
"Easy!" DG's voice was indignant and accusatory, but the surgeon saw the princess's concern mostly in the way her body tightened, as if it hurt her worst to see him injured anymore. "That's the second time he's been shot."
"What is it with you Cain men?" The blonde medic again rolled her eyes and motioned to his vest and shirt. "You're going to have to take those off, and I'm figuring you don't want 'em cut."
"Damn right I don't," Cain replied. DG rose from the log and stood behind him, tiny, soothing hands again helping him remove the articles. She stuck her finger through the bullet hole in his vest and wiggled. "I should have paid more attention in Home Ec," she muttered, sending a confused look across Jeb's face.
But it was the look on his father's face that interested the doctor more. The crinkling of his brow indicated he, too, did not understand the reference, but his uncertainty did not prohibit a gentle smirk from gracing his face. The medic could not help but raise her eyebrows as she watched the smile as it expanded. There was a gentle lovingness, something the doctor would almost have called adoration, to the elder Cain's face as he watched DG move her finger, fascinated, through the tattered clothing. When she realized he was watching her, the princess blushed, but nonetheless grinned back, setting his clothes on top of his coat and resting her hands lightly on his shoulders.
Jeb knelt on the ground next to his medic, resting a hand at the small of her back. The gesture made her smile, not just because of the physical contact, but because she could tell at how his palm spread across her spine that Jeb had finally started to try and relax after the battle, after his father had been returned to him, and that he trusted her to keep his family safe. "How's he look?"
"Looks like a through and through. Small caliber. No bone damage, and little in the way of muscular damage. A little more blood loss than I'd like, but far from the worst I've seen." She looked up at his father. "You're lucky."
Cain's eyes were almost interrogative as they looked down at her. The shift from the tender way he looked at DG to the way she was being scrutinized now made the medic momentarily uncomfortable. When he spoke, he seemed hesitant, calculating, as though he needed confirmation from his own instincts that the blonde was safe for his princess—and his son, of course—to be around. "You look familiar."
"She should," his son replied. "Dan Lowry's kid."
DG jumped at Cain's loud bark of laughter, but her protective hands never wavered from the Tin Man's bare shoulders as he spoke. "No."
"'Fraid so," the blonde replied, digging in her pockets for antiseptic and a numbing agent to begin the stitching.
"By the stars, I haven't seen you since you were…" Cain trailed off, his body relaxing slightly beneath the brunette's ministrations. "How's your old man?"
The medic stiffened, and Jeb again answered for her, his hand moving to her hip in support. "Hung for treason. Five annuals ago."
The blonde offered a brief, tight smile before rinsing the entry wound with sterile solution. "This," she said, the rigidity in her body now borne of purpose and not bad memories as she held up a needle, "is to numb the areas so I can stitch them. I don't think you'll need anything more than that, but I'm going to need to keep an eye on you for a few days."
She noticed Cain stiffen just slightly, not because she was examining him, but because DG's hand tightened over his good shoulder in reassurance. The brunette ran her thumb across the front and back of his shoulder blade and collarbone in nonsensical patterns as the needle was injected into Cain's puckered skin, the physicality an unwavering tether between the two, meant to comfort both parties.
The blonde felt Jeb shift and stand behind her, knowing he was speaking to his second in command, not because she heard the other man, but knowing he wouldn't move for anything less. As the medic worked the antibiotic through the front of the Tin Man's bullet wound, she saw DG lean down, murmuring softly in Cain's ear, her hair brushing against his cheek. The brunette tossed her curls over her shoulder after a moment, and her cheek hovered closely to the Tin Man's, their breath mingling as the second moon began its dance toward the night sky. Trying to get closer, the doctor realized, as if that were even possible.
The exit wound was slightly more difficult to fix, and Cain began to shift restlessly beneath the surgeon's roving hands as she stood behind him. "Mr. Cain," she began pleadingly, only to be stopped by the brunette, who had settled herself between Cain's legs just as the medic had with Jeb the previous day.
"Cain, you have to be still." DG's blue eyes were wide, and it appeared she was hesitant to blink, not wanting—or being able—to sever their visual tie, just as she had been unable to dissolve the physical one. Her voice softened, and the medic noticed her knuckles tighten their grip on the Tin Man's knees as she fought to keep Cain's attention away from the pain in his shoulder. "Come on, this can't be worse than being bitten by a Papay, can it?"
"Nah, this is nothing compared to the pain you've been in my ass the past couple of days."
When she smiled, he smiled, the blonde doctor noted with interest. He finally relaxed beneath the surgeon's touch, but DG did not move her hands. If anything, she settled herself more comfortably between his knees, spreading her palms open over his legs.
Within a few minutes, vest and jacket had been replaced on Cain's person, as had his fedora. He rose from the log with DG's help, and the medic noticed their hands lingering together. She shot a momentary look at Jeb, whose cheeks colored before he kicked at the dirt with his boot and cleared his throat, finally breaking the connection between his father and the princess.
"Thank you," Cain said, offering his good hand to the medic.
"I'd say anytime, but I don't need another Cain constantly overrunning my med tent."
DG smiled and laughed brightly at that, and also offered her hand to the doctor. "I think it's time you take care of him," she said, motioning to Jeb.
"I'm fine," the younger Cain protested, causing both women to look at him disbelievingly.
The medic just pointed in the direction from which she came, and Jeb shook his head as he lost the argument. He paused to give his father a gentle, hesitant hug, and then sheepishly turned to DG. The brunette seemed to instinctively know what to do, and moved with a familiar ease that made the blonde physician just the slightest bit jealous. The princess extended her hand and pulled Jeb into a brief, one-armed embrace, a gesture that deepened the blush on his cheeks.
Their companions exchanged a brief smile over their heads, and the doctor again wordlessly ordered Jeb to the medical tent with raised eyebrows and a gentle tilt of her head once the two had separated.
They all watched the resistance leader go, and the blonde addressed her patient and his guardian as DG inspected the medic's handiwork. "I'm going to go make my rounds. Let me know if you need anything for your shoulder, Mr. Cain."
"He will," the princess answered for him, and the doctor stifled a laugh. As she walked toward her own Cain man, she felt the wind shift behind her again, this time sweetly calm and soothing, missing any trace of the destruction that had started the evening. The breeze blew strands of hair into her face, and she shook her head to rid them from her cheeks. The movement forced her eyes back to the princess and the Tin Man, who were now in a gentle hug, his cheek resting on the crown of her head.
She didn't need to rely on her well honed scrutiny to know what the tightening embrace meant. She didn't need to know people, or the environment, to have an idea of what they were thinking as both sets of blue eyes slipped shut as one body melted into the other.
All of them—father, son, princess, doctor— had been handed a promise of tomorrow. Two of the four had welcomed it like the setting of the suns and the rising of the moons. It would take the other two a little more time, a little more examination and analysis. But it would come eventually.
The best things always did.
Feedback is good for the soul.