Author's Notes: End of the line, kids. Can you believe it? We all need a long nap after this, I think. Or a really strong drink.
Thank you to all of you who took the time to read my longwinded rambling. I know how much time it takes to read a hundred and thirty pages of not-so-easy-to-digest flangst, and I truly do appreciate your time and effort. It means more to me than my Jerry Remy signed Wally the Green Monster. (And that's saying something.)
To all who have alerted/favorited this story, and especially my awesome reviewers horsewomann, FaithfulElf, Bee, Onora, Em, Stellasiren, KateCayce, Alexandra3, Lattelady, PhoenixFyre, V, SSGryffindorgirl7, Mione3, Caitiri, Sanela, neefalco, Diesa, greenriverkillerfan and deanna ashley: You have no idea how much I value your opinions and comments. Seriously, if my partner would let me, I'd tape 'em all to the fridge. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this nutty journey. You guys have made me a better writer, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Meredith Paris, the Statler to my Waldorf: Words cannot express how much I appreciate your support, insight, humor and encouragement, and not only during the writing process. You're simply the best.
Padme Kenobi: I know I can always count on you, no matter what. That is the most precious gift you could ever give me. Thank you.
One final time, to the incomparable Alamo Girl: we're pushing 60,000 words, so I'm REALLY out of stuff to say at this point. For some reason—I don't know if it's blind faith or stupidity— you pushed me off this plot/WIP cliff when I was too scared to jump, but never wavered in telling me I could fly. You were always there when I needed you, and always reassured me you'd be there to catch me when I fell. I really do owe you everything; I truly could not have done this without you. I love ya more than David loves Sara, babe. Seriously. (Now to "Home" or Disney World, whichever comes first.)
Disclaimer in Chapter One.
Epilogue: From the Ashes
It was a drizzly, grey day when they finally laid Jeb Cain to rest.
Though DG had insisted he be buried in the graveyard by the remnants of the Black Tower, the grounds of which were becoming a national monument to all those who had given their lives for their country, no matter their sides, Ainsley had quietly requested that they bury him next to his mother.
For once, the newly crowned Queen of the O.Z. did not argue.
The royal carriages rocked on the uneven road between Central City and the cabin by the white elm, and for a moment, the medic closed her eyes and willed herself to believe that Jeb was reaching down from the heavens above and embracing her for one last time, whispering his love for her in the breeze that filtered in and out the open windows.
When the procession came to a stop, the medic could not find her legs for a moment. When the door to her carriage opened, Wyatt Cain stood there, offering his hand. DG stood beside him, a hand on his elbow, for the Tin Man needed as much comfort and support as the medic did that day.
Some of Jeb's loyal resistance fighters had already been to the cabin and tidied the lands, removing the rusted iron maiden that once held her love for the four most horrendous days of his life. At the Queen's command, they had replaced the warped, wooden grave marker for Adora Cain with a shining headstone. Instead of Jeb's comparatively hasty handiwork, the intricate and delicate carved detail on the face of the marble gracefully identified the resting spot as Adora's, beloved mother to Jeb and precious wife to Wyatt.
A matching stone stood near the open earth, and the medic sighed as she looked into the deep hole where Jeb's casket would lay. She knelt down, ignorant of how the dirt and grass would mess her clothing, and ran her hand through the tilled earth.
"By the gods, I miss you," she murmured, pressing down into the ground as though she could reach through and touch him one last time. "But at least you'll be able to look over the cabin, and your mother. Not the way we'd intended, but then again, you never did do anything according to plan."
Ainsley rose, turning the leftover dirt in the palm of her hand. Cain slowly came to stand next to her, putting a strong, fatherly hand on her shoulder.
Neither could hold back the tears as Jeb's casket was lowered into the ground.
The medic stepped forward and knelt by the plot again, taking a handful of dirt and tossing it on top of the wood. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," she whispered, tilting her head back to let the rain mix with her tears. "I love you."
The wind replied, rustling her hair, and she tried to smile through her sobs.
When she could not stop crying, and when she could no longer move, she felt two strong hands on her arms. Raw and Glitch lifted her to her feet, and she stepped away from the small gathering, walking toward the old elm tree. She had envisioned their children swinging on a worn rope from the upper branches, Jeb pushing them higher and higher, and her scolding them from the porch that they might fall and break something.
He'd already told her what he'd say in that instance. "Good thing their mother's a doctor, then, isn't it?"
She walked around the tree, hands finding and tethering to the knotty bark as though it held the last remnants of a life cut far too short; as though it could center her in an upended world. As she walked around the base, she stopped to watch the other mourners.
Cain stood at the edge of the graves, DG's arm wrapped tightly around his waist. His was secured around her shoulders, and the Queen curled into him, free hand resting securely, protectively, and lovingly on his chest as she spoke softly. They were seemingly meaningless words to the Tin Man, for nothing could ease his pain.
But as he looked down at DG, their foreheads touched, and the medic saw something she had not seen in him for some time.
He lifted DG's hand from his chest and kissed her knuckles. He pulled her tighter against him, so like his son in his inability to verbally thank her for her constant understanding and support.
So like his son in his inability to tell her how much he loved her.
The breeze blew through the medic's hair and dress again, the temperature warm in spite of the rain. "I'll tell him how to do it, Jeb," she promised.
She felt an angel's kiss on her cheek and then the rustling stopped.
She stepped away from the white elm, back toward the cabin, and both DG and Cain turned as she approached.
"I'm ready," the medic said. "We have a lot of work to do."
She could tell by the quick glance between the Queen and the Tin Man that they understood she meant more than rebuilding the O.Z.
She could tell by the way their hands linked effortlessly together, and how Cain ushered DG protectively to the carriage with a bare but steadfast brush of his free hand against the small of her back, that they understood all the hard work would be worth it in the end.
She could tell, because she paid attention.
Thanks for coming. Drive safely, and don't forget to tip the muse on your way out. : )