Author's Notes: Yes, we have finally reached the end of this story, but not what is probably the end of the saga. Thank you Hidden Relevance, Queen Isabella, ASolidSecond, Purplehino, and Cat Yuy for reviewing the last two chapters. For any lurkers (the stats kind of give you away) this is your last chance to tell me what you think.
Now when I composed this story, I didn't see the possibility of a sequel. It didn't occur to me until I was already posting. And while I posted this one with major holes in the Zackverse storyline, what I have in mind will not work until those holes are plugged. Did I start working on any of that? No, I started a stand-alone Tin Man story with pirates. So you will probably see that one before anything else.
This is a rather rambling apology if you feel that too many loose ends were tied up.
DG crammed as much sightseeing as she could stand in the first day, but the crowded elevator up the Empire State Building had almost set off a claustrophobia attack for both of them and the population density gave Cain protection detail jitters. He refused to go out without his gun, hated the under the shoulder holster that hid it, and only unclenched his teeth to eat. When sex didn't release the tension, she knew she had to get her Tin Man out of New York.
She didn't want to use her magic to sneak his gun past airport security. She got a migraine from making clothes. The train ride took longer, but it was less stress than driving all the way to Kansas. Cain was amused with her concern over putting him into a metal box. "It's not being able to move that's the real problem," he assured her.
With the pressure of the crowded city off, her growing nervousness amused him. He pulled her into his lap in their cabin. "You're going to do fine. Just don't let them pin you on any details."
"And what would you know about fabricating something for a whole group of people?" DG complained.
"You think I told the truth about being in the Resistance to Longcoats?" He nuzzled her neck before nipping it.
"I can't put you and lying together. You've never lied to me." His tongue moved against her skin and she shuddered arching into him.
"I never had to lie to you," he murmured.
They rented a car in Topeka to finish the trip to where she would always consider her hometown. She glanced at her husband reclining in the passenger seat. He totally vibed cop straight from Law and Order in the grey slacks and jacket. And even though she missed the fedora, he still looked sexy as hell. She turned her eyes back on the road. Who would have guessed after all her bad run-ins with Gulch that she would fall head over heels for a cop from the Outer Zone?
Cain cracked open his crystal blue eyes and looked at the clock on the dashboard. "Are you planning on stopping for lunch?"
"Better to face your farm on a full stomach," he smirked.
She sighed, "The only place to eat in town is where I used to work."
"Do you think they're going to make you start working again?"
"No, but I do feel bad about leaving them in a lurch."
Why did she even bother trying to cover her nervousness? "Don't tell me the princess who faced the Sorceress, Ichiro, Zero, and a dragon is scared of her former coworkers?"
She pulled into the Hilltop Café's parking lot. "You fight dirty, you know that?" He only chuckled as they got out of the car.
"DG!" Phoebe attacked her with a hug as soon as they walked in the door. "My God, what happened to you and your folks? Elmer Gulch said your place got hit by a twister and you never showed up again!" The older woman squeezed harder.
"Phoebe, it's okay. I'm fine." DG patted her back. "Our place got hit by a twister?" Phoebe's attention now focused on Cain, who put his hand on DG's back. "Oh, this is my husband, Wyatt Cain."
"Husband! You got married, girl!"
That yell got Carter's attention. He even came out of the swinging door that separated the dining room from the kitchen. "DG? Where the hell have you been?" The rest of the kitchen gang stuck their heads out through the order window. Even the customers were watching her now. And with Cain's hand on her back, she couldn't bolt. "Why didn't you call?"
"I thought Dad said he had." She hated blaming Popsicle, but she took a deep breath. "I found out I was adopted, and my birth mother wanted to see me. We dropped everything and went to meet her. I've been learning about my family for the past five months."
"And getting married." Phoebe looked at Cain.
DG chuckled, "Okay that just happened last week."
"Congratulations," Carter said. Before DG could thank him for his sudden display of sentimentality, he continued. "If you're looking for your last paycheck, I signed it over to Gulch to pay for your speeding ticket. Now let 'em eat, Phoebe."
"Don't get your apron in a twist," Phoebe said at Carter's retreating back. "Sorry about the paycheck, Deeg." She showed them to a table in the corner. "Gulch was talking about a bench warrant, like it would summon you out of thin air. Did Hank and Emily head out to the farm ahead of you two?"
DG looked at the table. At least, this part didn't need any acting skills whatsoever. Cain grabbed her hand under the table, squeezing it. "There was a car accident soon after we found my birth mother. They…" she pushed through the tightness in her throat, "they didn't make it." Phoebe clucked sympathetically. "I buried them in Milltown."
Cain squeezed her hand harder in warning, but Phoebe just patted DG's shoulder. "Hank always missed that place. I'll get you a couple of Cokes while you decide what you want."
"That wasn't so bad," Cain murmured as he picked up the menu.
"She hasn't started on you yet." She ignored his interrogatively raised eyebrow trying to find the perfect entrée that would taste good and annoy Carter because he had to make it.
Phoebe set down their drinks. "Daily special is meatloaf, emphasis on the loaf."
Meaning more breadcrumbs than meat. "Pass. Soup of the day?"
"Scorched potato," Phoebe shook her head.
"Chicken fried steak?" DG asked.
"That I'll feed you."
"Make it two." Cain set down the menu. Phoebe nodded and left to put the order in.
DG felt sorry for Phoebe's other tables because they had ceased to exist. She figured they had ten minutes before Carter started yelling. "So how did you two meet?"
Cain leaned back. "I was working for DG's birth mother."
"And what do you do for a living, Mr. Cain?" Phoebe hovered over their table.
"I'm a security consultant."
"And you're wasting your honeymoon in Kansas?"
"I wanted to see where DG grew up and she had business to take care of."
"Though it sounds like now we have to add house repairs to the list." DG stirred her Coke with the straw. "How bad is it, Phoebe?"
"I haven't been out there, so I really can't say."
"Order up!" Carter yelled. Phoebe rolled her eyes and headed to the window.
One of the men sitting at the counter swiveled on his stool. "If you're going out there today, DG, I can swing by 'bout three and give you an estimate on the damages."
"Thanks, Mr. Franks, I'd appreciate that." He nodded as he left his money on the counter. DG turned back to Cain. "He's the only contractor in town."
Phoebe made her refill rounds and ended up at their table. "So what's your birth mother like? Do you like her?"
"I still don't know her very well. It's a lot to take in. I have a sister I didn't even know about."
"I don't know if I'd be as calm as you are if I found out I was adopted."
Cain smirked, "She wasn't that calm."
"It's been five months; I've had time to get used to the idea."
"How much longer before we get ours?" Cain asked as Phoebe served a booth on the other end of the dinner.
DG scanned the patrons. "If we're not next we're right after it." He nodded, accepting her knowledge of waitressing. "I wish we'd gone to the farm first."
"It's not going anywhere, kind of like us right now."
"Here you go." Phoebe slid the full plates in front of DG and Cain. "So what are you planning to do with the farm?"
Cain kept his face neutral as he studied the fried meat, mashed potatoes, green peas, and white gravy on his plate. DG answered Phoebe. "I think we'll keep it. It'll make a good vacation home."
"DG, nobody has vacation homes in Kansas."
"Or we can use it as punishment for the kids. Shape up or we're moving to Kansas." They both laughed at that.
Carter stuck his head out of the order window. "Phoebe, socialize on your own time!"
Phoebe flounced away and Cain leaned closer. "And you managed to remain employed here how long?"
"Carter threatened to fire me every other day. But I was the only other one in town who could to work the morning shift. Plus I had incentive to keep working. I kept getting speeding tickets." He shook his head as he chuckled.
Phoebe gave them space to finish their lunch, but insisted that she and DG were getting together on her day off because she wanted all the details about the wedding. DG agreed, because Phoebe didn't release the credit card until she promised.
Cain didn't recline when they started toward the farm again. "Were you serious about the vacation home?"
"I couldn't call it a bolt hole in case war breaks out in the O.Z., could I? Might need to get the kids or Az to safety."
He turned from watching the landscape. "Some in the Palace would think you were preparing to cut and run."
Her body still heated up under that ice blue gaze. "Maybe you should talk to them about how I well I cut and run."
"More fun to watch them eat their words."
DG turned the car into the long gravel driveway. She could see the white house and the trees surrounding it at the end. "I think I've been a bad influence on you."
"I've been like this for a while; you can ask DeMilo. It's more amusing to watch 'em squirm."
She parked the car at the end of the driveway. The cut metal heart labeling it '39' hung from the barbwire fence and swung in the breeze. Her mouth went dry as she looked at the white house between the oak trees. She got out of the car without saying anything. The right side of the house was swathed in plastic tarps. A four-by-four propped on the porch's railing wall held up the corner of the roof. More tarps covered the roof and clear visqueen covered where the windows in her gable should have been. The front door was boarded up. On the lawn and in the field, plants tried to grow in the swath the travel storm had left in the ground.
Cain pulled her back against his chest. "It's still standing. We can fix it."
"I was hoping we could stay here."
"The town doesn't have an inn?"
She tilted her head up to look at him. "It has a motel. But it has a reputation. The dungeons in the Tower had less vermin."
"Ah." He kissed her forehead. "The barn's still standing. At worse, we could camp in it."
"We'll survive roughing it, but will we survive Mr. Frank's estimate? Hopefully, he won't say demolish it and start over."
"We won't give him that option." He escorted her closer to the house. "Any other entrances?" Both the door on the left side of the porch and the back door that led into the kitchen had clasps nailed to them with a big padlocks locked tight. "Any ideas on who would be protecting this place?"
"None," she shrugged.
By the time they got the padlocks off, Mr. Frank had arrived to give his opinion. "You sure lucked up, DG. It could've been like Greensburg. The whole town flattened." He peered under the tarps. "This house is old, but it's solid. Your interior wall is fine. I don't see anything wrong with the wiring, but I'd turn off the circuits for this side just to be sure."
DG found the breaker box in the kitchen while Cain shadowed Mr. Frank. The red-haired man prodded the outlets with a current testing box in the dining room. "Is it safe to stay here?" Cain asked.
"The roof hasn't caved in yet. This house is solid, I'd sleep here. You will need a new roof. Can't patch that damage. And you best replace all the siding; never be able to match the original. Shame you got vandals though." He stepped over the whatnot cabinet lying on the floor.
DG turned on the faucets. They groaned, but shot out water. She turned them off and joined the men in the living room. "We have indoor plumbing. Do we have electricity?"
"A little bit, leave that side off until I can get Rory to go over it." Mr. Frank replaced the current testing box with a small notebook. He jotted down his notes and figures, tallied them up with a grunt, and passed the sheet to Cain when he was done.
She stood beside him to see the estimate too. "Will you knock some off if we swing hammers too?"
He chuckled. "Depends on how well you swing a hammer. I can get my crew together to start in a couple of days, providing how fast we can get the materials."
"He has to get back to work in about three weeks, so you better be finished by then."
Mr. Frank shook their hands with a friendly chuckle. "Should be plenty of time. I'll be in touch."
Cain kissed DG after Mr. Franks left. She returned it slowly. "Do you want the grand tour?" Cain agreed and they picked up the furniture the Longcoats had shoved. She took him through the kitchen; let him poke his head into her roboparents' bedroom. The guest bedroom and the bathroom were down the tiny hallway. Then she took him upstairs to her bedroom.
The Longcoats had smashed up her wardrobe getting it back up the attic steps. At least they nor the weather had damaged her artwork. Cain stared up at the watercolor of Central City the longest. "I thought you said you didn't remember the O.Z., Sweetheart?"
"They were from my dreams." She gave up trying to separate her clothes from the remains of the wardrobe. "I had nightmares about the cave for as long as I can remember. I never wanted to put those sketches up. But these," she waved a hand at the sketches pinned to the ceiling and walls, "I thought they were Popsicle's stories and my over-active imagination."
"Until you got to the Zone." He moved to the front windows and stiffened. "A vehicle's coming up the drive."
"Go missing for five months and suddenly I'm popular." They reached the porch through the side door just as the patrol car pulled to a stop next to their car. A dark-haired man in the brown and gold sheriff uniform climbed out. "Deputy Gulch," DG kept her voice neutral.
"Actually, it's Acting Sheriff since the doctors put Sheriff Justman on bed rest after his heart attack. Phoebe told me you were back in town."
DG nodded. "This is my husband, Wyatt Cain." Cain tucked his thumbs into his belt and nodded in greeting.
Gulch nodded back. "Anyways, I wanted to give you the keys to the padlocks, but I see you already dealt with that."
She looked at the door and back to Gulch, confusion making her eyes go wide. "You locked the house up?"
"And took your bike and your parents' truck to the impound yard. Just for safe keeping, your speeding ticket is paid." He grinned at her grimace. "You already had vandals once before I got out here, and I didn't want any further damage. Be sure to file a report if anything's missing."
"We'll do that. Thanks."
"I'm sorry about your parents. Hank and Emily were good people." Gulch nodded again and headed to his car. "Have a good evening."
"You too." They stood on the porch until his car pulled onto the main road. "Wow, Elmer Gulch is human. I never would have guessed."
Cain's lip twitched. "I'll get the luggage. The guest bedroom?"
"Yeah." DG pulled the round wicker table back into place. One of the chairs was missing, probably blown away. Luckily, the house wasn't damaged worse by the travel storm. Luckily, the Longcoats hadn't ransacked the place. Luckily, the town believed her story; she needed to send a thank you to Allie. Now all they had to do was fix the house and enjoy the quiet with each other. And find the silver slippers.
They were not in her stuff in the attic. Nothing was wrong with her Kansas memories, and she would remember if she owned a pair of sequined dress shoes. So Popsicle and Mom must have hid them. Only the whole house and twenty-two acres to search, she grimaced. But she had magic now. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
How in the hell had she never heard that before? She followed the call into the house, through the kitchen and the living room, through the swinging door into the hall to her roboparents' bedroom.
Ignoring the lump in her throat, she opened Emily's wardrobe. For a woman she only saw wearing three different types of shoes her entire life, Emily had a dozen shoeboxes stacked on the shelf above the clothes rod. And one box on the bottom of the stack was pulling itself out to get to DG. She pulled it loose and sat down on the bed. The box tingled on her lap.
Cain called her and she answered back as she took off the lid. She pulled away the white tissue paper and the silver slippers gleamed in the light. She sensed Cain hovering over her. Looking up at his awed face, she smiled. "Bet this is the first time you've been this interested in a girl's pair of shoes."
"Only you would refer to the Silver Slippers as another pair of shoes," he shot back.
"But that's what you love about me." DG grinned at him as she covered the silver slippers again.
Cain tugged her out of that bedroom and into the one they had claimed. He took the shoebox from her, setting it on the top of the dresser. His darkened blue eyes bored into hers. "Gods help me, it's one reason I do." His mouth slammed against hers, and she lost all thoughts on learning his other reasons. Plenty of time for that later, much later, and she curled her arms around his neck.