Author's Notes: This is all Alamo Girl's fault. Blame her.
Warning: This contains majorly dark angst.
Disclaimer: The characters contained herein do not belong to me. This story is meant solely for entertainment purposes. No infringement is intended.
The pull of the small tavern was an unwavering force, one he could not have avoided, even if he'd had the inclination to. As it was, he needed a dark hole in which to hide, and what better haven to find than this one, a place out of the way on the outskirts of Central City, and one that served hard liquor.
He pushed the door open, a rusted bell dully hitting the opaque glass. Bell and door thudded back into place, and he moved to the bar, not with his normal ease and agility, but with leaden feet and a heavy heart.
He ordered two fingers of whiskey and threw the glass back before the bartender finished handing it to him. He silently demanded a refill, the glass hitting the scuffed wooden bar loudly enough that several of the other patrons turned their heads and looked at him curiously.
He bowed his head, hiding his face behind his trademark fedora. His face was famous in the O.Z., first from Azkadellia's wanted poster, and then as the news of his efforts in defeating the witch spread between the territories.
He requested another refill, and then another, until the bartender just left him the bottle.
He'd come tonight seeking solace of some kind, though the exact definition of what he needed eluded him. He was able to note the irony that for the first time in weeks, since they'd survived the Eclipse, that he finally felt like he was able to breathe. It had taken a trip to a bar no bigger than a hole in the wall, instead of the great expanses of the royal family's palaces, to loosen the tightened coil that had taken up permanent residence in his chest.
Though perhaps the alcohol was helping more than he wanted to admit.
He pinched the bridge of his nose as his thoughts went to DG yet again—the damn girl was all he seemed to think about anymore. Her presence was stifling, even when she wasn't anywhere near him, and he found his senses on overload when they actually occupied the same space. Her eyes seemed bluer, her smile brighter, her voice more soothing, and he'd started to note that when he was encumbered by her pouncing hugs, his brain and body forgot to be stiff and uncomforting in reply, and his body started to wrap itself around hers more securely.
As he choked down another tumbler of whiskey, he wondered when he had gotten so stupid. He knew not to let anyone in, especially a person whose angle he couldn't figure out, and least of all, a strange slip of a girl who'd stupidly charged in, expecting to fight half a dozen men twice her size with a stick. Try as he might to expel her from a place where she was not wanted, she'd stubbornly dug in her heels and refused to be intimidated by him.
He'd tried all manners of keeping her at bay, pushing her to arm's length, trying desperately to separate himself from the relentless stranger he'd found himself attached to. But she'd bested him with that feisty attitude and endless blue eyes that he wished would retain their innocence despite the endless nightmares he knew lurked in the blackness; in the stillness between light and dark, the ones that chipped slowly away at hearts and souls until there was nothing left.
And somehow, she'd chipped away at him, settling something indefinable in his stomach when he learned Zero was after her, and close, closer than he'd ever been. He'd hidden his fear behind brute force and the business end of his gun.
He'd left the door open behind him, and she waltzed right in and made herself at home. She may not have been as unwelcome as he'd previously believed her to be, but she was still foreign in his presence, and he found himself on unsteady ground. She took the opportunity to chip away at his walls, exposing the flaws in his foundation.
She may have started the demolition, but he completed it when he pulled her to him right before they stormed the Tower.
He hated himself for it.
He hated the exposure. She'd painted his familiar, grey landscape with broad strokes of vivid red and warm, soothing yellow. He was blinded by her additions, and wanted to turn away, shield himself from her. He wanted to walk away and retreat back into the familiar.
He hated himself even more when he started wishing she'd never come along, and when he began to long for the familiar confinement, the familiar and understood boundaries of the tin suit.
He was off-kilter enough as it was; when she sat down next to him, he could not look at her for fear of falling completely.
She was dressed again in her Other Side clothes, her hair pulled back, and looking nothing like the princess her mother was trying to make her. She slid next to him and shook her head when the bartender offered her a drink, turning her exceptionally wide eyes on him, scrutinizing his face. When he did not speak, she sighed and rested her chin in her hand. "You disappeared on me."
His fingers tightened around the glass tumbler in his hand, the small muscles in his jaw twitching. "Yeah."
Her eyes should have narrowed at the slight, were she like any other woman. Of course, she wasn't. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
"Sorry." It was obvious to both of them just how much of a lie his words were.
She licked and then bit her lip, and he looked down into his whiskey, one hand holding on to the bar and the other draining the last of the liquor into his tumbler. As the liquid burned his throat, he caught sight of her, lower lip pulled between her teeth, and angrily slammed the glass on the counter.
She jumped slightly at the clatter and her eyes widened to an impossible size. Her fingers moved to move the glass away from him, but his reflexes bested hers and he swiped it before she could secure it within her grasp. Now her eyes narrowed and he wondered how she could go from cold to hot and back again in so little time.
"How much have you had to drink?"
He motioned to the bartender with his chin, and the older, balding man slid another bottle down the bar. Cain unscrewed it and refilled his tumbler, only half hearing DG expel a sigh through her nose.
"Come on," she said after a moment, standing, and looking visibly annoyed. "I'm taking you home." She grasped his forearm, and with reflexes still agile, even with the amount of alcohol he'd consumed, he grabbed and removed her wrist, eliciting a sharp, surprised gasp from her.
"Don't." His voice was no more than a low, warning growl.
"I said don't." He released her wrist and she rubbed her fingers around the red marks he'd left. "You shouldn't be here."
"Neither should you."
"I'll go anywhere I like. You, on the other hand, should be far from here." Another gulp, another refill.
"I'll go anywhere I like," she threw back at him, hands on her hips. "Why are you here, Cain? Why are you hiding like this?"
He looked at her quickly, the whiskey rattling in his brain and hazing her face over for a moment. "I'm not."
"You are," she challenged. "You're hiding like a scared little boy. I never thought I'd see the day."
"You don't know me," he spat, alcohol sloshing over his fingers as he whirled on her. "Don't presume to know anything about what I'm doing."
She looked genuinely hurt at that, and sat back on the stool next to him, picking at slivers on the edge of the countertop. He sighed and removed his hat, setting it next to his tumbler. "I can take care of myself."
"I don't doubt that. But is it so bad for me to want to be there for you?"
Yes. "Look, kiddo, I don't know what it's like where you come from, but here, when someone tells you to back off, you back off." His words were acid pouring over the open wound where her heart had been.
"What makes you think I'd listen to you, this side or the other one?"
"DG, just stop it." He scrubbed his face wearily.
"You're my friend, Cain. It's natural for me to feel concern for my friends."
"You feel too much."
"Those feelings seemed to matter to you when we were trying to find the Emerald." Though her voice was scornful, her eyes were still wounded. "What changed?"
Nothing. And everything. "You have more to worry about now. You don't need to be chasing some tarnished Tin Man halfway across the realm."
"I'm not chasing some broken man," she replied after a long moment in which the silence deafened him. "I'm chasing someone who means a lot to me."
The alcohol loosened his tongue, but not enough that he lost himself. Wyatt Cain did not lose control—he knew his words were hurting her, but she had to see. She had to see who he really was, beneath the duster and the hat and the tin—she had to see him as faulty, damaged. She had to see she had no choice but to run, as fast and as far as she could, before he made her end up like Adora.
He stared at her for a long moment before laughing around his reply. "Means a lot to you?"
Now she looked openly wounded, and had he not turned back to the whiskey, he would have seen her eyes well with tears. "Yes," she replied, her voice choked with hurt.
"We knew each other, what, a week? You don't know me," he repeated. "I'm flattered, kid, really, but you need some perspective."
"It seems our perspectives are slightly different." She set her lips in a thin line, whether in anger or despair, he could not decipher.
He sighed heavily through his nose, watching the amber liquid swirl around in endless circles in his glass. "I don't know what you expect from me, DG."
"I expect you to let me in. Let me help you, like you've helped me." She tried to place a hand on his arm again, and he rebuffed her, pulling sharply away, as though she had a Viewer's touch and would be able to see past the hastily reconstructed barricades.
"Expectations will only get you hurt, Princess." He raised his voice enough that the din of the bar halted, and then began humming excitedly as they realized the person that had saved them all was in their midst. Thankful citizens descended upon her, and the swell pushed them further apart.
Her eyes never left his as he finished his drink and left her among those who could openly and properly love her.