Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to the story. Xarn is the only thing that's mine, and I don't want him! (You'll see…)
I love Tin Man! I was a bit disappointed that DG and Cain never got together, but it made sense – he was still mourning his wife, for crying out loud! But the problem was so glaring that I had to do something about it. This is the result – the longest one-shot I have ever written! It was a bigger challenge than I expected, trying to keep them both in character while developing a romance! I hope I did okay.
Alright! Enough rambling.
It was her first ball.
To say that it was a disaster would have been an understatement.
The dress that she had been forced to wear was everything she feared it would be. Pink and frilly. Heaps of tulle floated down to the ground, and a giant rose was attached to one shoulder – its petals brushing her chin. It was like the people of the O.Z. (or at least the dressmakers) thought she was still a child. She tried to cut them a little slack, but drew the line when someone attempted to put a ribbon in her hair.
Her mother had assured her that the evening would be relatively painless – but she had, in fact, been introduced to a numberless array of courtiers and noblemen. It didn't take her long to lose track of whom she had seen and who she hadn't. Faces blurred into one another as she was marched around the room. Then there was the dancing. As if she wasn't dizzy enough, every gentleman there seemed to have made it their personal goal to get in at least one dance with the prodigal princess. And that wasn't even the worst of it. Noble they may have been, but graceful many of them were not. After her third spin around the floor with some guy in his late forties – who had stepped on her toes as many times – DG found herself in desperate want of some fresh air. She fanned her face with a white gloved hand as she stared at the marble beneath her feet, trying to fake a swoon so her partner would leave her alone. She didn't know how to perform it in true ladylike fashion, but her clumsy attempts seemed to do the trick. Then again, she really was feeling a bit faint. There was probably less acting going on than she wanted to admit.
As what's-his-name recycled his way back into the crowd of dancers, DG found herself with another problem. A lively waltz had just begun, and she was stuck right in the center of the spinning forms of half the kingdom. The heat from so many bodies in close contact was stifling, and DG was reminded of a nightclub she had been to once. At least that had been fun – the pulsing rhythm of her favorite music met with the flash of choreographed lights. This ball was nothing short of medieval torture. She was just settling in on a course of action – would a princess' shoving be overlooked? – when she found herself staring at a pair of shiny black boots.
Her brow furrowed in confusion. The boots were not moving. For a moment she was grateful – using them to spot herself, like a twirling ballerina. Then a sinking realization hit. The owner of the boots was likely some other blue blood looking for his chance to schmooze the new princess. She groaned.
"Are you alright?"
The concern that played through the voice was familiar. DG was groggier than she'd realized, because she didn't recognize it right away. Blue, she thought to herself. Something to do with the color blue. Sighing in acquiescence, she let her gaze travel up the form of the new intruder. He wore the same nondescript formal attire of the other men – a white penguin suit that seemed to hang better on his frame than it did on the others. The only difference was a simple purple medal that hung on his clearly muscular chest. Looking into the man's eyes, she met the comforting azure of the Tin Man. A smile spread slowly across her face, and a bad southern accent crept its way into her voice. "Why, Mr. Cain, are you here to save me?" She frowned for a moment, her words dropping back to normal. "Because if you want to dance, I don't think I can –"
He shook his head, effectively cutting her off. "I caught your little act from the sidelines and thought you could use some help." The corners of his mouth turned up for a moment – disappearing quickly enough that DG wondered if she had imagined it. "Nice dress," he said, unable to hide the soft shaking of his shoulders.
Is he laughing?DG wondered, incredulous. "Yeah…" she said slowly, trying to keep up. "Last thing I remember was being attacked by a group of wild animals. They shoved me in this, pulled out half my hair in the process of curling it, and just generally made me feel like a dress-up doll." Cain blinked at that last, and DG knew he didn't understand. But as usual, he rolled with the punches.
"I saw your entrance. Tried to tell myself that that outfit couldn't possibly be as bad up close as it looked from a distance. Turns out I was wrong." DG groaned, then found herself standing still in shock as Cain's eyes raked themselves over her form. "It does have possibility, though," he added after a moment.
DG found herself speechless. Was the Tin Man making fun of her?! Or – she swallowed heavily – flirting? She wondered absently if he'd had anything to drink – there was certainly plenty of the O.Z.'s best wine floating around, but she didn't touch it, having no idea what is was made of. On second thought, she couldn't imagine him drinking while on duty. It was a silly assumption in the first place, and she was glad she hadn't said anything about it. DG suddenly realized her thoughts were wandering, and her mind quickly tried to catch up as it replayed his last sentence. "Possibility. Right. As a dish-rag." But her reply had come to late, and they both knew it. DG shook her head to clear it, certain that the conversation was just an illusion, and that she had already fainted. That was all the hint that Cain needed. He gently took her elbow and scanned the crowd, searching for a way out. The pressure was enough to tell her that she wasn't dreaming, so she chalked the whole thing up to how light-headed she was feeling.
Cain looked ruefully back at her. "Looks like there's only one way out of here." The hand that was holding her arm slid down her glove, his fingers locking with hers. DG swallowed as he offered his other hand. "May I have this dance?" he asked, his tone more gentle than DG remembered it ever being.
"Can't you just pull out your gun and shoot the ceiling? That would clear a path…" It wasn't that she didn't want to dance with him, but at the moment she couldn't trust how steady she would be. She didn't want to look like a lumbering rhino. And she was horrified at the thought of stepping on his toes.
The corners of his mouth turned up again. "Not armed tonight," he replied.
"What kind of 'Head of the Royal Guard' are you?" she chided back.
"One who personally searched all the guests before allowing them in the same room as the Queen and her family." Wasting no more time, he raised her free hand to his shoulder. "C'mon – let's get you out of here. You're white as a sheet." DG didn't have the strength to protest as he took her in his arms. He placed his hand on her back – ever the gentleman – but his thumb brushed her bare skin, and a small shudder ran through her shoulders. Luckily he mistook this for fatigue, and started a graceful turn into oncoming traffic.
It took about a minute for the two of them to wind their way out of the throng. Truth be told, Cain had done all the winding. DG had been focused on shuffling her feet and resisting the urge to lay her head on his shoulder. It was starting to feel heavy. Three seconds later, a cool breeze drifted across her face, the shock filling her head like too much carbonation. She would kill for a soda right about now. Cain's strong hands grasped her shoulders as he steered her to a chair. It was made of dark metal – like the antique benches she loved to haunt near the public library. A bout of homesickness hit her hard, and DG moaned as she leaned forward, her face in her hands.
"What's wrong?" Cain asked. "Are you going to faint?"
Right. The only thing worse than stepping on Cain's toes would be passing out in front of him.
"I'm fine," she lied. The Tin Man's brow furrowed.
"Uh, huh." He crouched down in front of her, lifting her chin with one gentle finger. Her hands fell away from her head as she stared unwillingly into his piercing eyes. "Tell me what's going on, kid."
She tried to breathe deeply, but her airway had suddenly shrunk to the size of a coffee stirrer. It only took two more seconds for her to break down completely. Huge convulsing sobs wracked her body as a rain of tears poured down her cheeks. The stress of the last week pulsed through her with every heartbeat, and her mind started racing. Suddenly there was nowhere safe enough, no one left to care for her. Her entire life had been turned upside down. She'd tried to deal with it casually, but the surreal atmosphere of the ball had made her understand that she wasn't dreaming, because at the very least she would have been able to imagine a better dress.
As glad as she was to have had the strange nightmares of her youth explained, she couldn't help but think that with all she had discovered, she was left in a worse position than the unfulfilled life she had left behind. Her parents had been robots, her older sister had killed her – causing her real mother to sacrifice everything in bringing her back to life – and she had been sent away, to grow up in what was (to everyone else) the strange land of her forbearers. What no one seemed to realize was DG had lost her home, her family, and everything that was familiar. She had tromped through the forest – a hair's breadth from dying, usually due to stupid choices – to confront the wicked witch that had possessed her sister. And that was all her fault, too! She wanted nothing more at the moment than to shrivel up and disappear. She wanted to wake to the smell of fresh coffee as she ran late for work. Heck, she would even pull over for any cop that flagged her down! All she wanted was to feel something normal. And here in the O.Z. – surrounded by strangers, faced with a royal linage and memories that wouldn't surface – she found nothing to hope for. Nothing would make her feel better.
Just as she resigned herself to the sorrow, DG was shocked to feel a pair of strong arms wrapping themselves around her. Someone pulled her close and stroked the back of her hair. She felt rough fingers catching on her curls, and for a moment it made her cry harder. Not from physical pain – there wasn't any – but from the knowledge that this was one more way in which she was not herself. Careful not to brush her benefactor away, she reached behind her head with one hand and pulled out the comb that kept the pile in place. The sensation of her hair falling down around her shoulders helped calm her a bit, until she noticed that it didn't smell right – her regular shampoo was not available in the O.Z. It was just one more thing that was missing. As the thought started to send her on another downward spiral, the same hands ran down the length of her tresses – freeing some of the more stubborn ringlets. DG sighed as she was gently rocked back and forth, the hand never stilling. There was no voice attached to the tender movements, and DG tried not to assign them to anyone. She couldn't bear the disappointment if it all turned out to be a figment of her imagination. Just the idea that someone was taking care of her was enough. She'd had to take care of so much lately that she was afraid she had broken from the strain. Under the ministrations of this phantom, DG was finally beginning to feel whole.
Untold minutes later, the soothing motions stilled, and she felt one of the hands cup her face. Deciding that it was time to accept her weird reality, she braced herself for the shock… And stared into familiar blue eyes. Cain. He was the one person she knew she could count on here – the one who had kept her safe. Yet she was surprised at the same time. Cain didn't seem the type to so adeptly comfort a distressed woman. She had thought maybe Ahamo had followed them onto the balcony. Glancing around to make sure they really were alone, she looked back at the Tin Man, speechless.
"What is it, kid?" he said, one arm still wrapped around her, "You expecting someone?"
"No," DG mumbled. "I just… I didn't think… that it was you…"
Sadness flashed across his features, and he quickly tucked it away. But he wasn't fast enough to prevent regret from twisting her stomach. She sniffled and looked at the ground, about to apologize. He never gave her the chance – directing her to look at him again. "There's a lot that you don't know about me," he said earnestly. His gaze had her hypnotized, and it was all she could do to nod.
The moment didn't last. He stood and wrapped his jacket around her shoulders. She hadn't realized just how much she was shaking. Then he held out a hand. "Let's get you back to your room." She rose without protest and clung to him – her legs were still a bit wobbly. They walked around the edge of the ballroom, running into Glitch on their way out.
"The Princess isn't feeling well, Glitch. Would you let the Queen know that I've taken her back to her room?"
"Certainly," Glitch replied. "Certainly. Certainly. Certainly." DG and Cain looked at each other.
"Stress of the ball, most likely," DG said, shrugging.
"Certainly a possibility," Cain replied, and DG choked out a small laugh. The Tin Man turned back to their friend.
"Certainly. Certainly. Certainly. Certainly." DG knew that Cain would normally have hit Glitch to break him out of this loop, but this was a formal gathering. She didn't think anyone would take too kindly to his throwing punches, especially at the Queen's personal advisor. Cain must've been thinking along those same lines, because he did the next best thing – letting go of DG's arm long enough to shake Glitch by the shoulders. "Oh, hello princess," he said, looking at Cain. The man rolled his eyes and slapped him. A few heads turned at the sound, but went back to their conversation just as quickly. Apparently slapping was a lesser faux pas. "Thanks," Glitch replied. "I needed that… I think."
Cain grabbed DG's arm again and turned them toward the exit. "Just let the Queen know that she's not feeling well. Okay?"
"Cert – "
"Yeah, I know," Cain said as he started walking away.
DG had forgotten how many stairs there were between the main floor of the palace and her tower bedroom. After catching her heels on her dress and nearly falling for the tenth time – which did nothing to help her mood – Cain swept her easily up into his arms, where she stayed for the last three flights. As safe as she felt there, she didn't like the idea of being treated like a child. An irrational anger began to boil beneath the surface, but she vowed to keep it under control. It worked, too – until Cain wished her goodnight.
He set her down in front of her door, opening it and doing a quick sweep for intruders. She shook her head, but wisely remained silent. He gestured for her to enter and she brushed past him, throwing his coat back into his arms. A bewildered look surfaced on his face, but he didn't comment on her grumpiness. "Good night, Princess," he said instead, turning to leave.
"Don't call me that." Her voice was low, and she hoped he hadn't heard. But it just wasn't her night.
"What?" he said, glancing back at her. "Why?"
She closed her eyes, searching for a way to put her feelings into words. "What if I don't want to be a princess? I didn't sign up for this. I can't lead a kingdom! I can't even make it up stairs in high heels!"
Cain moved back into the room and closed the door, probably trying to prevent the entire palace from hearing her tantrum. "You were born a princess of the O.Z. Nothing can change that." She bit her lip, determined not to cry. "Why don't you want to be a princess? I thought that's what every girl wanted."
"Not this one," she countered, her tenure rising. "And it's not like I've done anything to deserve this! As a matter of fact – according to the few things I can remember – what I really deserve is a swift kick out the door! Who wants a trouble-maker for a Princess?"
His expression softened. "You were a child. There was no way you could've known – "
"That letting go of my sister would screw us all over until doomsday? You're right, I didn't know that. But I should have listened to Az! I should have held on! I did know that, but I didn't do it. Because I was scared!" A sob escaped her throat, betraying just how fragile her emotions were. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And I was weak."
"You were young," Cain added. "Everything is fine now, and the O.Z. needs you." He lifted a hand to her shoulder, but she brushed it off. His presence was calming, and she didn't think she could stay angry if he touched her, but there was something she needed to say. Clenching her hands into fists, she let the dam break.
"The O.Z. needs me? Look at all the crap I caused!! Sure, I came back to fix it, and everybody's happy now. Everybody except ME!" She stabbed a finger into her chest for emphasis. "I had to get thrown into a freaking cyclone by people I thought were my parents. I had to go tromping through some strange land looking for said parents only to find out they were ROBOTS. I had to find some stupid emerald to prevent my psycho sister from getting her hands on it. I had to rescue my mother – who had given up her magic to bring me back to life. I had to try and save my sister from the hag that had possessed her for thirteen years. And I had to save the O.Z. from an eternity of night! Wonderful! Great! It's over! But now I WANT TO GO HOME!!" Cain was silent against the onslaught. DG expected him to tell her that she was home, and she was prepared with another rampage. Instead, he reached a steady hand up to wipe away the trails that her tears had left down her cheeks. She was stunned into silence – which was a good thing. His words started out so low that she could barely hear them over her ragged breathing.
"You ran toward an army of longcoats, armed with a stick, to rescue a group of strangers. You gave me a second chance at life – without knowing the first thing about me. You walked into Central City – defying all those who sought you – on the off chance you would find the Mystic Man. You rediscovered your powers and your memories – walking unflinchingly into your past. You made the fruit in the fields of the Papay start growing again. You found the Grey Gale, and the emerald. You fought your way out of a marble sarcophagus. You went up to that balcony all alone. You climbed back up onto that balcony after she tried to throw you off. You saved Azkadellia from the witch. You prevented the eternal eclipse. You are stronger than you think, DG."
DG. He hadn't called her kid, or princess – just DG. She felt her mouth gape as she stared at him. She blinked, trying to get her brain back in working order. She took a step back, but a treacherous shoe caught her hemline, this time causing her to spill to the floor like a pile of so much cotton candy.
"That is IT!" she screamed, ignoring Cain's proffered hand. Instead, she grabbed handfuls of the offending pink fabric and ripped them away from the bodice. The garish rose followed shortly, and within minutes she stood again, her gown reduced to a pink corseted sheath that hugged her curves. Her hair spilled down her back in an even more tangled mess as she kicked her way free of the offending fabric, ending up near her bed. She waited there for her angry panting to calm, while the Tin Man just stared. She must have looked hideous.
He mumbled something about "… knew… dress… possibilities," but she was too upset to try and piece the words together. Kicking open the trunk at the foot of her bed, she started digging for the clothes she had worn when arriving in the O.Z., hardly able to wait for the chance to wear jeans again. She had just tossed her leather jacket onto the bed, when Cain grabbed her wrist softly and closed the trunk.
"You can't leave."
"Watch me," she retorted, wrenching free of him while barely resisting the urge to stick out her tongue.
"Can you really be that stubborn?" he asked, a trace of a smile surfacing.
"You don't know the half of it," she retorted, her hands on her hips. Their faces were mere inches apart, but neither of them moved. "So the O.Z. needs me. Whoop-di-do. I don't need the O.Z. I need home. I need my normal life." Her eyes narrowed. She had it – the way to convince him to let her go after all, and her chin raised an inch – unintentionally bringing their lips closer together. "I've saved everyone from the wicked witch. My mother is back on the throne, and Azkadellia's recovery is going nicely. So you're wrong. No one here needs me anymore."
"Don't say that," he whispered, his eyes downcast.
"Why not?" her confidence rose. "I've fixed all my messes. There's nothing left for me to do here. No-one-needs-me. Give me one good reason why I should hang around?"
He was silent. She knew she'd won, so she started to turn back to the trunk. She wasn't expecting him to grab her arm roughly, or the low growl she heard in her ear.
"Because, dammit, I need you!" His mouth was on hers in an instant, hot and unyielding. DG gasped as he moved his lips over hers, and that seemed to further incense him. One hand wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer, as the other wound itself into her hair. She grabbed fistfuls of his shirt as her knees gave out, but she didn't fall a single inch – he was holding her up. Dipping her slowly back, his movements became more gentle – his surprisingly soft lips trailing kisses down her neck and left shoulder. DG's head spun, and she realized she was more dizzy now than she had been from dancing all evening. Her thoughts started to coalesce, however, and she felt a blush burning in her cheeks. What was he doing?
"Cain…?" she tried, her voice breaking. He didn't reply, choosing instead to run his nose over her collarbone. She tried another track, hoping to snap him out of it. "Wyatt…"
He kissed her lips again, sighing into her mouth.
DG's body froze under his ministrations. Cain recognized the change, and it was enough to bring his eyes back to hers. The truth was an unwelcome visitor for them both, and it took a moment before either could breathe. DG's vision went cloudy once more, and sat on the trunk as Cain released her and stepped back. He ran a hand over his eyes before staring out the window in horror. DG grabbed a handful of her hair, running her fingers through it nervously. It was a habit she had dropped in high school – though it had been known to resurface when she was anxious. This situation certainly qualified. She tried to focus on the texture of the strands as they spilled from her palms, but that just made her remember the tender way Cain had run his fingers through her curls, bringing her mind back to her still burning lips – swollen with his kisses. It was a dangerous line of thought, and one that had to be abandoned immediately.
She found herself wishing that the whole thing had never happened – that she really was dreaming. But, on the other hand, if it was a dream, it was the best one she had ever had. Who knew that the gruff Tin Man could be so gentle? DG bit her lip. Clearly his late wife had known. She looked at the floor to find his boots firmly rooted in place. Why was he still here? A quick glance revealed wet trails down his cheeks. She started, then looked away – sure he wouldn't want her to see. As much as she ached to give him the time he needed, she knew he couldn't stay here forever. This was how rumors got started. The Captain of the Guard last seen entering the princess' room and not leaving until morning? No amount of explanation could stem the tide of gossip that would result. Especially given the state of her dress…
Clearing her throat, DG wracked her brain for something to say. Nothing seemed to fit. Sorry you got me confused with your dead wife. Sorry I enjoyed that kiss a bit more than I should have. Sorry I made you cry… So she put her head in her hands – her breaths echoing against her palms like ocean waves. She heard footsteps for a moment, then nothing. Had he left? She hadn't heard the door. A rustle of fabric just in front of her told her all she needed to know, but her hands remained firmly in place.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. He tried to pull her chin up, but she tucked it resolutely to her chest.
"DG, I'm the one who should be sorry. My actions were completely inappropriate." She remained mute. "I should go." She heard his left knee pop as he stood, and she vaguely wondered when in his career he had injured it. It didn't seem to pain him, but it didn't exactly help in the stealth category. She forced her mind back to the issue at hand, and her head flew up.
"Why…" her voice cracked, so she began again. "Why did you do it? Why did you kiss me?" She looked bravely into Cain's eyes, and was shocked by their electricity. He sat next to her with a sigh.
"I meant what I said, DG." She didn't think she could handle it if he called her that again, so she shook her head.
"What, you think you have a chance with the Princess of the O.Z.?" He didn't buy it.
"Don't try that crap on me, kid." At least "kid" was easier than hearing him say her name. "Nothing you can do will make us go back to being complete strangers." His voice lowered. "And I don't think you really want to." He reached out a tentative hand to hers – relieved when she didn't flinch away. "You have to understand. Adora was the only woman I ever – " he faltered.
"You loved her," DG supplied. She knew the words were inadequate, but couldn't think of anything better to say. Intellectual vocabulary had abandoned her – not that she had been good with it in the first place, but the kiss had left her reeling.
Cain just nodded. "I met her when we were young. She was passionate; filled with fire. The moment I saw her, I knew we belonged together. We lived a happy life, though Jeb was hard to come by. Adora lost the first six before they were born. I held her hand through each one, praying to Ozma that someday…" He sniffed quietly, and DG squeezed his hand. "After Zero locked me in that suit, I was sure she was dead. There was no way he'd've let her live. When I found that horse, I let myself hope for the first time in eight years."
"Only to have that hope crushed," DG said softly. "I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault," he mumbled. She knew it was, but decided to move on anyway. He wouldn't let her accept the blame for all the trouble the witch had caused, but he couldn't take the guilt away from her either.
"You never answered me, you know."
His eyes contemplated their hands – fingers unconsciously twining together, highly improper and yet so comforting – then looked back up at her. "What do you mean?" he asked, failing his attempt at innocence.
"Why?" she said simply. Cain lifted his free hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"You wouldn't understand."
He sighed, just before dropping his gaze. "You have the same spirit as Adora; the same courage. And you're both so stubborn." He blinked, sadness crossing his features. "Or at least, she was." Hearing him speak about his wife like that – in the past tense – made DG cringe.
"I wish I could be h– " she caught herself in time, " – what you needed." Cain brushed his fingertips along her cheekbone as though memorizing her face.
"But you are." He sighed. "And that's the problem." Standing stiffly, he made his way to the door. "I have to go." The Tin Man was back – Cain's heart was closed. "Someone has to make sure your potential suitors" she winced at his choice of words "don't try to sneak in here."
DG watched him turn to leave, her heart breaking. Love was a foreign emotion to her – all of the boys at home had felt wrong somehow, and none of them held her interest for very long. But tonight – in Cain's arms – she had finally felt safe. Like maybe she belonged here after all. She stood quickly, determined to act before she talked herself out of it.
Her exclamation turned him around, his hand still on the doorknob. There was nothing she could say that would make him stay, but what would help him understand? Her brain chose for her – two words spilling from her lips before she had decided to say them.
He smiled sadly, and a second later, he was gone. DG sank onto her bed, clutched a pillow to her chest, and cried.
Time passed quickly in the O.Z. Before DG knew it, her princess lessons were complete. Az had decided to join the cloister of St. Galinda – certain that she would do no more evil, but also knowing that the people of the O.Z. had not forgiven her. To top everything off, the Queen was pressuring DG to choose a husband. With Az's decision firmly etched in stone, DG was certain to become the next ruler, and the time was getting closer. Her parents wished to spend whatever time they had left together at Finaqua. After all they had been through, they deserved it. And so DG spent a great deal of time wandering the halls, deep in thought. In the years since the banishment of the witch, DG had changed – whether she owned up to it or not. Her form had filled out – something which she initially looked on as a negative side effect of not having a gym nearby – but which her mother assured her was perfectly natural as her body matured and became reacquainted with her magic. Her figure now rivaled her sister's, and suitors were – very literally – trying to knock down the door for their chance to impress the Crown Princess.
But no matter how many times she forced her mind to review her scant options in the husband department, she kept coming back to a pair of azure eyes, and the kiss that had kindled her heart.
It was on the fourth anniversary of her return to the O.Z. that something drastic happened. The same annoying man from the ball – now approaching his 50's – dropped by for dinner. DG groaned when she got the news, expecting the worst (a marriage proposal).
She wasn't far off.
When the last course was finished, her mother and father excused themselves from the room as the servants cleared the remainder of the dishes. DG – not wanting to stay, but also not wanting to be rude – struck up a conversation with the man. Work was always a safe option, and he turned out to have some kind of vineyard. She wondered if he sampled his product a little too freely – perhaps that had been the reason for her bruised toes after dancing with him. He went on to explain the toll his plants had taken during Az's reign, but DG could summon little pity for the man. Something about him made her uneasy. When he asked her about what had happened at the fields of the Papay, she became suspicious. When he came over to kiss her hand as he was leaving, and instead held a knife to her throat, she was certain. That's when it hit her. Subconsciously she must've noticed the servants hadn't cleared a knife away from his place setting. It wasn't hard now to figure out where it had gone. She felt like kicking herself as she stood. His hand never wavered, and DG could feel the sharp edge of the blade as it rested on her neck.
"What do you want?" she asked, careful not to move too quickly as he directed her toward one of the exits.
"What do you think?" He sneered. "Having you around would be good for business. Not to mention the fact that I'll be King after we get married."
"You really haven't thought this through, have you?" she taunted. She was on dangerous ground, but she had to do something. "Just how is it you think you'll get away with forcing me to marry you? And becoming King of the O.Z.? Gimme a break…"
They had arrived at the heavy oak door. "That's exactly how it will work. Don't worry, my dear," he said, his breath brushing the back of her neck, "I've been known to be quite a good husband."
"Oh, yeah? How many tries have you had, and what happened to your wives?" The answer made her skin crawl.
"They didn't live up to my expectations."
Great. The man was a psycho and had somehow still managed to get himself invited over for dinner. She really needed to have a talk with whoever set up the Queen's social calendar. He gestured for the door handle, and DG grasped it slowly. There was only one thing left to do. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the door open… and screamed.
He was there, gun in hand – blocking the way out – before her call had finished echoing down the corridor. She felt her captor tense behind her before whispering, "That was not a smart move, Princess." He pressed the knife so hard into her skin that she couldn't be sure if she was bleeding or not. She froze, hardly daring to breathe.
"Let her go, Xarn," Cain said, his aim steady. "You're not getting out of here."
"Of course I am," he replied, his voice muffled a bit by her hair. He must have been hiding his head behind hers, spoiling Cain's shot. "Unless you want to be responsible for the Princess' death, Tin Man."
DG searched Cain's eyes. They were cold, methodical. Did he really feel so ambivalent toward her now? Her heart sank, and she did her best to focus. The Tin Man's expression never changed, but he made a subtle gesture with his elbow. She flashed back to the self-defense classes he had given her before the awkward evening of the ball, and she knew what he wanted her to do. Unable to nod, she blinked her understanding. Two for yes, as previously arranged. Drawing air slowly into her lungs, she closed her eyes. It would all be over in seconds. Either she would live, or she wouldn't. Trying not to think about what she was doing, or what it might cost her, she acted.
Her right hand reached up and grasped Xarn's wrist, trying to lock it in place. Then she shoved her head backward until it hit his nose with a sickening crack. She followed this up with a left elbow in his gut, and spun out of his arms, only letting go of his wrist when her neck was safely away from the blade. Xarn was doubling over, reaching out as if to grab her again. He never got the chance.
A single shot rang out and Xarn fell to the floor, clutching his left shoulder. He still held the knife in his right hand, knuckles white. His gaze was pure hatred as he glanced from Cain to DG.
"Don't even think about it, Xarn," Cain said, adjusting his aim. "The next one goes four inches lower." Although Xarn knew what it meant, he clearly didn't care. Maybe he didn't want to spend the rest of his life rotting in a dungeon, because he flipped the knife around in his hand, preparing to throw. As he aimed for DG, a second bullet pierced his skin exactly where Cain had said it would – directly over his heart. Xarn slumped the rest of the way to the marble tiles, blood seeping into a pool around him. DG couldn't look away as the light faded from his eyes and his chest stilled. He was dead.
Looking up at Cain, she found fervent relief painted across his features. Did that mean he cared about her after all? Before she had a chance to process everything that had just happened, frantic footsteps shattered the silence. Half of the palace guard came swarming through the room, followed thirty seconds later by her parents. They grabbed her in their arms and held her tight, not letting go when they were ushered quickly from the room. DG glanced back, trying to catch a glimpse of Cain, and found with a shock that he was staring intensely back at her. As much as she wanted to stay, it was impossible to stem the tide that swept her along.
Scant minutes later she was riding in a carriage with her mother – a hastily packed trunk rattling around with every jolt. It had been decided that she and the Queen would spend some time with Az while the palace guard pieced together what had happened and set a plan in place to prevent history from repeating itself. DG shook her head, knowing it was unlikely she would be allowed to roam the palace free from now on. And she knew exactly who she would have to blame for that.
What she wasn't expecting was that he would personally be following her around from the second she returned. He was two steps behind her during her lessons with Tutor, and a state meeting with the Queen. When she finally had a few free minutes after lunch, she headed for her room. She needed a rest, and wanted some time to herself. It had not been a good morning, and having the Tin Man so close didn't exactly aid in her concentration.
Arriving at her door, she pushed it open, and left one hand on the doorknob as she turned to look at Cain. Her request that he wait outside died before it reached her lips. He was staring at her with such passion that she couldn't breathe. And he didn't give her a chance to try.
"Finally," he said gruffly, pulling her bodily into her room and kicking the door shut behind them. DG's eyes widened, unsure of what to expect – only knowing what she hoped. Time seemed to hang between them for a moment, it's barriers almost palpable, and she began to wonder if it was too late.
Then Cain grabbed her roughly by the shoulders and pushed her into the marble wall, his mouth devouring hers. His weight was crushing her but she didn't have the will to complain. He was in complete control, her arms hanging limply at her sides beneath the onslaught. His hands, like his lips, were everywhere – pushing down the capped sleeves of her gown – but moving too fast for her liking. Summoning all her strength, she caught one of them – moving it to rest on her now bare shoulder. His fingertips traced slow circles, raising goose bumps on her back, and she shivered with pleasure as she silently pleaded with him to never stop. It was the best she could do – her brain wasn't working, and her mouth was otherwise occupied anyway.
Eventually, his hands dropped to her waist, holding her steady as he placed a gentle kiss on her nose. He leaned his head back just enough to look in her eyes.
"Marry me, DG."
It took a moment for her to respond – for the trembling to stop. Her knees had gone weak again and it made her wonder – would this happen every time he kissed her? She couldn't wait to find out. Clearing her throat, she commanded her voice to be still.
"Well, that's not fair," she pouted – determined to make him sweat a little. "How's a girl supposed to refuse a proposal like that?" Something faltered in his eyes at the word "refuse", and DG couldn't stand it any more. She kissed him. "Of course I'll marry you."
Cain smiled slowly, but didn't move to kiss her again – choosing instead to run his fingers from her temples to her cheeks, jaw, neck, shoulders, and arms, coming to rest at the tips of her fingers. They clasped hands. A comfortable silence fell over them, which DG refused to break. She needn't have worried. "What's taken you so long to make a decision, anyway?" Cain teased. "Your parents' deadline was a month ago."
"Was it?" DG looked up at him through her lashes. "I told you I would wait."
"Thank Ozma for that," he whispered – his voice husky. He traced her full lips with his thumb before claiming them with his own. When they broke for air, she pretended to be upset.
"You know, I could ask you the same thing. What's taken you so long, huh?"
"Oh, you know me…" he said slyly.
"You'd better believe it, Tin Man," she murmured, as she kissed him again.
Whew! Longer than I thought, but at least it's all here!
What did you think?
Good? Bad? Ugly? Lemme know, please!