Author's Note: There is a tip 'o the pen to jypzrose and her lovely fic, "A Delicate Situation," in this chapter.
My apologies for the delay in getting this chapter out. I had to rework and rethink some things.
My original plan was to have one chapter where we saw DG and Cain's month-long honeymoon, but through the POV of the staff at the resort where they're staying. I was going to play it funny and tongue-in-cheek. It was going well, but the more I wrote of it, the more it became too much. It would work better as a stand-alone, so I clipped it out. I will release it at some later time as a one-shot. So we pick up here near the end of the honeymoon.
More notes at the bottom.
Near the end of their month-long honeymoon at Ridgewater Springs Mountain Resort, Her Majesty, the Queen and her Consort did something unusual: they invited their family and friends to visit them.
Staying there had almost been like having an entire resort to themselves. They had rented out the Boundary Waters Lodge, which normally could house up to fourteen guests in a separate building from the main resort, but for security reasons, they were the only occupants aside from the two guards they'd brought. They'd gone to the main building a few times and into nearby Ridgeville as well, but for the most part it had just been the two of them, which of course was the idea.
"So, how's it been? Locked away from the world, oblivious to everything?" Glitch asked. Everyone was woozy from the rich dinner and a few too many glasses of wine. The dining room had been abandoned for the huge circular pit sofa in the den.
"We haven't been oblivious," DG said, shoving him. "I get the dispatches every day like always."
Glitch turned to Cain. "You weren't supposed to let her do any work!"
He shrugged. "It'd take a stronger man than me to accomplish that."
"I must say, you both look very relaxed," said Azkadellia, smiling at her sister.
DG smiled back and looked at Cain, his arm casually slung across the back of the sofa, not quite around her shoulders. She let her hand rest on his thigh. "Yeah, I'd say we're relaxed. You'd have to be wound pretty tight not to relax after a month in this place."
"It's beautiful," Ahamo said, looking around.
"Isn't it? And the people here are amazing. I swear they're ghosts. It's like, poof! Your every need is instantly attended to and you never see them move. Sometimes I turn around really fast hoping to catch one of them doing something, but I haven't yet."
"I hope you've made excellent use of all this lovely…privacy," Az said, raising her eyebrows.
DG grinned and watched a bright red flush suffuse Cain's face. Everyone laughed. "Ah ha! I see that!" Danny cried.
"Watch it, you," Cain said, pointing at him. "I can still bust your ass down to private and make you scrub the underside of my car."
"So, not that this hasn't been fun," Jeb said, leaning forward, "but why did you invite all of us here? I mean, you're on honeymoon. Aren't you supposed to just want to be alone?"
"We have been," DG said. She shrugged. "I guess we just missed you guys. And this place is so amazing, I wanted you all to see it." Cain took her hand where it still rested on his leg. She squeezed it back. "I know we would have seen you all this weekend when we get back, but that'd just have been regular, ordinary Palace life, and everything that goes with it. I wanted to see all of you here, away from everything."
Raw nodded. "DG find peace. Wish to share with friends."
"Exactly. Peace is for sharing, don't you think?"
"Hear, hear," Ahamo said, raising his glass. Everyone did the same, echoing his toast. DG held Raw's knowing eyes, wondering if he'd guessed the real reason she'd wanted him here.
As everyone was gathering up their coats and things, preparing to leave, DG excused herself and slipped away into one of the empty rooms on the first floor. She waited.
No more than a minute had gone by before the door eased open and Raw joined her, as she'd known he would. He always knew when anyone wanted to see him.
He came forward and took her hand, the gentleness in his face quieting her butterflies. "DG suspect?" he said.
She nodded. "I'm nervous, though…I've suspected before, and…"
"Shhh," he said, touching her hair. "Raw will see." He stepped closer and DG shut her eyes. She felt his hand go to her abdomen, then the faint tingling of his sight penetrating her flesh. It seemed like forever went by, but it was probably only a few seconds, before his hand withdrew.
DG took a breath, and opened her eyes. Raw was looking at her, his own eyes shining. "Raw," she said, grasping his arms. "Am I?"
He nodded. "DG have baby inside. Beautiful girl. Will have brave heart like mother, noble soul like father."
DG's lip trembled. Mother. Father. That's us now, Cain. Finally. That did it. She burst into tears and threw her arms around her friend, who embraced her back. "DG happy," Raw rumbled.
She laughed. "Yes. DG very happy."
He patted her shoulders. "Cain be happy, too."
"Oh, my God! Oh, I can't wait to tell him! I'll tell him tonight." She laced her hands together over her stomach. She didn't feel anything yet, but she could imagine that she did. She felt like she was about to burst. She laughed and hugged Raw again. "Thank you," she murmured in his ear.
Raw chuckled low and deep in his chest. "No thank Raw. Raw do nothing," he said.
DG thought she might just go nuts with anticipation. It seemed to take forever to get everyone out of the Lodge and on their way back to Central City. Then, Cain announced he was taking a shower, and headed upstairs to their suite.
She wandered out to the wraparound porch to wait for him to return. Nearly a month and she was not remotely tired of the breathtaking views here. Even at night, the sparkling light from the small towns below and the moonlight silvering the hills and peaks made for an amazing sight.
She sat down on the edge of the porch, letting her legs dangle like a little girl. Little girl, she thought, putting a hand to her belly again. We're going to have one.
Her mind was racing. She would have a daughter in eight months' time. A daughter who would be a Princess, the next in the long, unbroken line of Gale women who would sit on the throne. It was strange to think that the little bundle of cells in her womb, barely bigger than the tip of her pinkie, would one day rule the Zone.
Oh, Princess. You are going to be the apple of your daddy's eye.
An image came to her fully formed, an image of a dark-haired little girl with blue eyes, running to Cain and calling him "Daddy." Cain smiling and holding out his arms for her, swinging her high and then settling her on his shoulders while she laughed and laughed, unafraid, knowing in her heart that he'd never let her fall.
It was an image she'd seen in her thoughts before, but always in the past it had been chased away by sadness and frustration that it hadn't yet come to pass. Now she could embrace it, hold it close, and look forward to seeing it happen.
If nothing goes wrong.
She ran through a dozen ways to tell him. None of them really satisfied her. Just blurting out "I'm pregnant" seemed kind of anticlimactic. Telling him he was going to be a father wasn't right, he already was a father, and qualifying that with "a father again" was just awkward.
I could keep my mouth shut and he'll find out when he asks me where that bump came from. She smiled to herself. That was absolutely out of the question.
She heard Cain come out to the porch and got to her feet, butterflies filling her midsection. Don't be nervous. He's going to be over the moon. He was carrying a mug, which he handed to her. "Brought your tea," he said.
"Oh. Thanks," she said, taking it.
"It was nice seeing everybody," Cain said, standing at the edge and looking out at the valley.
"Mmm-hmm." DG edged to the deck table and set down the mug. The last thing she wanted right now was to be drinking tea.
"Jeb looked a little…uncomfortable."
She shrugged. "How comfortable would you be visiting your father on his honeymoon?"
He nodded, chuckling. "Point taken." He shoved his hands in his pockets, taking a deep breath of the fragrant night air. "I was thinking tomorrow we could go into Ridgeville again, I want to pick up some of those spicy chocolates to take home, and then…"
Cain stopped speaking. DG nearly clapped her hands over her mouth. Damn, did I just say it right out like that?
He turned toward her, blinking. "What?"
She sighed. Oh, what the hell does it matter, anyway? "I'm pregnant, Cain," she said, her chin starting to tremble.
His eyes wide, he walked toward her but stopped several steps away. "Really? You're…really?" He looked like he wasn't quite sure he wasn't hallucinating. DG knew the feeling.
She nodded. "I had Raw check tonight." She put her hands to her cheeks, feeling like she had to hold herself together. "I'm gonna have a baby."
He just kept staring, long enough for her to start wondering what was wrong, but then a wide, blinding grin broke over his face. He swept her up with a great whoop of joy, pulling her off her feet with his arms around her waist, and spun her around. DG held onto his shoulders, laughing with him as he walked in a circle on the porch, still holding her up with her feet kicking six inches off the ground. "Great Gale," he breathed into her ear. "I can't believe it finally happened." He set her down, keeping his hands on her waist, glowing like he was lit from within, his eyes shining.
"I know," she said, sniffling.
"DG," he whispered with something like reverence, then bent and kissed her deeply, his hands cradling her head. DG's hands wandered up to grasp his wrists. He pulled away, his forehead leaning against hers, and spoke in quiet puffs of air that she could feel against her mouth. "We're going to have a baby," he said, as if making sure he wasn't still hearing her wrong. She nodded. He seized her hands and pulled her to the big padded double rocker they'd taken a liking to. "Well, come on, sit down," he said, sitting in the rocker and drawing her down with him. She curled up in his arms, sighing in contentment. "Don't want you straining yourself."
She snorted. "I'm fully capable of standing on my own two feet, you know."
"I know, it's just…I have two of you to look after now."
"Don't get crazy on me, General. I'm new at this, you've done this before. Cut me some slack."
He smiled. "Agreed." He watched her face, his expression softening. DG took his hand and placed it on her belly, covering it with her own. Cain's large hand warmed her skin, his thumb stroking her through her clothes. "Did Raw tell you if it's a boy or a girl?"
She raised her head and met his eyes. "You're going to have a daughter, Wyatt."
He exhaled, long and shaky. "A girl," he repeated, looking down at where their fingers intertwined on her abdomen. He sounded like he couldn't believe it.
DG patted his hand. "You hear that, baby girl?" she said, amazed at how silly she didn't feel addressing her own stomach. "Get used to that voice. That's your Daddy."
Cain made an odd choked sound in his throat. "Great lakes, DG. Are you trying to turn me into a blubbering mess?"
"No. I'm just feeling really sentimental. Maybe it's the hormones already."
"A girl," he said again, smiling. "I guess that's lucky for me."
"Why for you?" DG asked, bemused.
"Oh, I studied Ozian history in school. I read about those ancient Queens who had their Consorts beheaded if they didn't give them a daughter."
DG laughed. The way she felt, she could have laughed at anything. "Oh yeah, lucky you. You're safe from the axe for the time being. But you know, I'm supposed to have an heir and a spare. So you still have work to do."
He arched one eyebrow. "I'd hardly call it work."
DG put her finger under his chin and drew him forward. "Come here," she whispered, and pulled him into a kiss. His hand left her abdomen and slid up to her breast, his other behind her neck as she teased his mouth open with her tongue, sighing against him as she curled closer to his body, desire rushing through her with a heated ferocity that surprised her a little. Hmm. I wonder if this is some of that pregnant hormonal pair-bonding stuff I read about in Psych 202.
Don't be stupid, DG. You were just as hot for him before you were pregnant.
I hope he isn't weirded out to have sex with a pregnant woman.
She broke away abruptly. Cain blinked. "What? What's wrong?"
"Are you going to want to have sex with me?"
"What, now? I thought I was making that clear. You're the one who stopped!"
"No, I mean…will you want to, later?"
He frowned. "Later, when?"
"When I'm pregnant."
"You're pregnant now."
"Yes, but I'm not showing yet."
"What difference does that make?"
"I don't know! Will it freak you out to sleep with me when I'm as big as a house?"
"Why would it?"
"Dammit, Cain! Quit being difficult!"
He shrugged, looking befuddled by the entire conversation. "I'm not being difficult, I just don't know what you're asking me!"
She heaved a put-upon sigh. "Will you still want me when I'm fat and ugly?"
He rolled his eyes. "You won't be ugly. You could never be ugly. And you won't be fat, you'll be pregnant, which can never be ugly. And even if you were fat you'd still be beautiful and I'd still want you. All right?"
She smiled, feeling a little better. "All right."
Cain laced his fingers through hers and squeezed them. "Kiddo, I've only been around one pregnant woman for any length of time, so I'm no expert, but…there'll be times when you feel…you know, like you said."
"Fat and hideous, you mean."
"Yes. Being pregnant is tough. Watching Adora do it…let's just say I've never been more impressed with anyone in my life, especially after the birth. But you don't ever have to worry about what I think, because…" He lifted his other hand to her cheek, stroking it with the backs of his fingers. "You're having my child, and that's the greatest gift you could ever give me, one that I'll never be able to repay."
Under ordinary circumstances, DG would not have let Cain get away with such an outright statement of sentiment, but in her current mood it was exactly what she wanted to hear. Ever since Raw had told her the news, she'd felt a little…needy. She found herself wanting reassurance that Cain wasn't going anywhere, that he'd be here for her and the baby she was carrying. It made sense, she supposed. She was entering that shadowy valley that would take her nine months to travel, during which time her body would no longer be her own, and she would emerge on the other side with a new and vulnerable status as woman-with-infant, and she'd need him. As much as she'd wanted it, pregnancy scared her, and the prospect of parenthood terrified her. It rankled at her self-image as an independent woman who could take care of herself, but right now all she wanted was security, and to cling to her husband as tightly as she could.
So she didn't respond to his declaration, she just threw her arms around his neck and tried to tell him with her body what her voice couldn't seem to manage…that she was grateful beyond her ability to articulate that she had him to walk beside her through that shadowy valley.
He just held her. He seemed to intuit that was all she needed.
After a few minutes, DG loosened her death grip on him and relaxed, curling at his side in the large rocker. She had something else to tell him, and she wasn't sure how he'd react. "Raw and I talked, after he told me the news," she began.
"Mmm. About what?"
"About…why it took so long."
"He said before he couldn't tell, any more than the doctors could."
"Well, now he thinks he knows. He felt it when he checked me tonight."
He turned his head. "Really?"
"Yeah." She met his eyes. "It was kind of my fault after all, in a way."
Cain frowned. "How?"
"Well…Raw says that my body isn't just physical. It's magical, too. My magic is all mixed up with the normal human stuff, like the tone of my voice and my love of drawing. And it kind of has a mind of its own, which we knew."
"Wait, are you saying that…that your magic wouldn't let you get pregnant?"
DG nodded. "Not until it was satisfied that I loved the father." She smiled. "I guess that wedding we just had finally satisfied it."
Cain was still frowning. "That's a little…disturbing. What else could your magic decide to do with you? Could it decide that you're done living and stop your heart? Or that one child is enough and keep you from having another one? I don't like the idea of you being at its mercy like that."
She shook her head. "I don't think it works like that. The magic obeys what's really in my heart, which I can't always see clearly. I wanted to have a baby before, but really, it was for the Zone, to have an heir. Now…well, now I want it for the gooshier reasons, which apparently are more legit, according to my magic." He didn't look convinced. "I know. It is a little…strange."
He rested his lips against the top of her head. "Well, I knew I signed on for strangeness when I married you."
She grinned. "I resemble that remark." She raised her head and looked at him, his brow still furrowed, his eyes distracted. "Hey, Tin Man." He looked at her. "We're having a baby."
His face softened at once. "Yeah."
"We should celebrate."
"What'd you have in mind?" he asked, ducking his head to kiss her neck.
As if he didn't know. "I was thinking that a dramatic re-enactment of the moment of conception would be appropriate."
"I don't know. We've had an awful lot of sex here. How will we know when you conceived?"
"I guess we won't."
He nodded. "Then we'll just have to re-enact them all."
Cain was searching for the spicy chocolates.
He and DG had ventured into Ridgeville several times during their trip, just for a change of scenery. It was a charming little town nestled in the valley beneath the resort. Their first visit, they had walked the length of the main avenue, lined with merchants and food vendors, and they'd sampled some little unassuming chocolates made by an entertaining young man with extravagant facial hair. The chocolates had been surprisingly spicy, and they'd bought a box to take away. Cain wanted to bring some home with them, so now he was searching for the vendor, who was of course nowhere to be found.
He asked a glassblower he remembered as having been there before, but she hadn't seen the chocolate guy. Clearly, the chocolate guy was taking the day off. He knew he should probably give up and stop looking, but it had become something of a mission.
DG had wandered away from his side. He looked up the street, wanting to satisfy himself that she hadn't gone too far. He spotted her lime-green shirt about fifty yards up the street. She was smiling, talking to some kind of fruit vendor.
Oh, hang the chocolates.
He walked up the street to join her. She turned as he approached. "Cain, have you ever had this fruit?" she said, holding out a blue patchberry. "I've never seen it before! It's amazing!" she said, popping one into her mouth.
"I know. They only grow in the Southern marshlands. We used to get them for holidays. My mother made pie with them."
"They taste like…I don't know what they taste like, but it's divine!" she said, smiling with blue-tinted teeth.
"Would the lady like to buy a carton to take home?" the vendor said.
Cain nodded. "Sure." He pulled out his money clip and looked up at the vendor for the first time, and the bottom dropped out of his soul, leaving a frozen void in his midsection.
He was sure DG was watching him, wondering what was wrong and why he was standing there like a statue. He blinked, separated a couple of bills and handed them over.
"I've just been having the nicest chat with this lovely lady," said the fruit vendor.
Cain looked back into Mynus's eyes. "Is that so?"
"Yes! Is this your wife, sir?"
He pulled DG close to his side, moving slightly in front of her. "It is."
"She says she's very fond of fruit. She's curious about our produce here in the Zone. She tells me she's from the Other Side."
"As you ought to know," Cain said, his teeth gritting.
DG nudged him. "Cain, don't be rude."
He glanced down at her. "He knows you grew up on the Other Side, honey." He addressed the "fruit vendor" again. "Surely you recognize your Queen?"
Mynus affected shock, his mouth dropping open, his hands flying theatrically to his face. "The Queen! Oh, Your Majesty! I confess, I did not realize it was you!"
She was smiling. "That's quite all right. I'm not exactly on duty just now," she said, tossing another puzzled glance up at Cain. He could see the question in her eyes. Why are you being so weird?
"It's my honor to serve you, ma'am," Mynus said, but he was looking not at her, but at Cain. "Please accept the berries as my gift."
"Thank you," she said, popping another one in her mouth. It was all Cain could do not to snatch it out of the air before it hit her tongue. He didn't know what Mynus was up to, but he did know that he would never be so stupid as to poison the Queen in front of hundreds of witnesses.
"Perhaps you will call me if I can assist you in the future. With fruit." He wasn't even looking at DG, but was instead holding Cain's gaze with smirky stubbornness. DG was cottoning on to something strange passing between her husband and this fruit vendor.
"You've helped us enough," Cain said.
"You say that now. But you never know when a fruit-related emergency will arise."
DG's hand was tightening on his own.
"I gather you are General Cain, then," the "fruit vendor" said. A small crowd was gathering as people noticed the presence of royals in their midst. Cain began to feel hemmed in, and he didn't like it.
"I am, sir."
Mynus nodded. "Excellent. I hope you enjoy the berries. Have a pleasant afternoon, and take good care of your lovely family," he said, looking at DG and casting a deliberate glance down to her stomach and back up again.
"I intend to," Cain said, grasping DG about the waist. "Come on," he said, low to her ear. She knew enough to know that something was up.
They escaped into an alley, doubling back to the car. "Who was that?" she hissed at him.
"Don't look back," he said, hurrying her along. He grabbed the carton of berries and tossed it into the nearest rubbish bin. He dug in his coat pocket for his shortwave. "Gregory, it's Cain."
One of their two guards answered immediately. "Go ahead, sir."
"There is a fruit vendor stationed just in front of the tobacconist's shop. Male, mid-fifties, long gray hair and a gray goatee. Take him into custody immediately."
Gregory didn't ask questions. "Yes, sir."
DG kept asking questions, but Cain just wanted to get her into the car. He got behind the wheel and locked the doors, and finally drew a breath. He started the engine and headed out of town.
She turned sideways in her seat. "All right, now can you tell me what that was about?"
"That was Mynus."
She went very still and said nothing for a long time. Cain finally risked a glance at her face to see that it had gone white, but her eyes were burning like the hottest part of a candle flame. "That was the man who killed you?" she said, low and deadly.
"Turn the car around."
"I said turn the car around!"
"You don't get to boss me around, Princess!"
"Don't call me that, I am the Queen and I am giving you an order!"
"I'll just pretend I didn't hear that."
"Pull over, then!"
Cain sighed. "That, I'll do." He pulled over, and the minute the car had stopped DG was across the bench seat with his shirt balled in her fists.
"Take me back there!"
"Why?" he exclaimed.
"So I can incinerate the man who took you from me!" she cried.
He seized her by the upper arms. "You're not going to incinerate anybody, and he didn't take me away! I'm right here!"
"But you weren't! For five days you weren't and it damn near killed me!" she shouted, tears squeezing from the corners of her eyes. "He could have really done it and he could have kept you locked up forever!"
"But he didn't," Cain said, trying to speak calmly, because DG was just winding herself up. "I've had Gregory go arrest him."
She shook her head. "He'll be gone by the time Gregory gets there and you know it."
Cain nodded. "Yeah, I know."
She sagged a little, some of the fight going out of her. "Which I guess means it was kind of pointless for me to demand that you turn the car around."
"Yes, it was."
She flopped back onto the seat, rubbing her forehead with one hand. "I just wanted to punish him for hurting you," she whispered.
"I know," he said, lifting his hand to the back of her neck to massage the tense muscles there. DG shut her eyes and let her head loll.
"Why didn't you say anything while we were standing there?"
"I couldn't risk it. I just had to get you away. I don't think he meant to do us any harm, but I couldn't take the chance."
She looked up at him. "I could have taken him. We could have taken him, and you know it."
"I know. But we'd be risking more than just ourselves. We have to think about her now," he said, sliding his other hand over DG's belly.
Her eyes, wide and blue as the sky over the desert, locked to his as she covered his hand with her own, acceptance in her expression.
Cain's shortwave crackled. "Gregory here, General."
He picked it up. "Go."
"Sir, the fruit stand was deserted. We're searching the area."
He sighed. "Don't bother, Gregory, you won't find him. The Queen and I are heading back up to Ridgewater. Meet us there."
He and DG kissed for a few moments before getting back underway; Cain drove cautiously around the hairpin turns and switchbacks that would take them up the mountain. DG's hand stayed on his leg.
After several minutes, she broke the silence. "I'm sorry I tried to give you an order," she said, quietly.
"When I said…" She broke off, smiling. "Oh, right. You're pretending you didn't hear it."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
They fell into companionable silence, her fingers warm on his thigh as the car climbed higher.
"Did you find the spicy chocolates?" she asked.
"No. Must have been the chocolate guy's day off."
She reached into her jacket, a twinkle coming into her eye, and pulled out a white box tied with a red ribbon. "I found a box in one of the shops."
He grinned. "When did you buy that?"
"You were looking at those fancy holsters. I knew that would hold your attention for a few minutes."
He took the box. "Thanks, kiddo."
"What would you do without me?"
She meant it to be flip, but it didn't fall that way on his ears. "I honestly don't know," he said.
They spent their last night at Ridgewater sitting in the private hot tub that was set into the flagstone garden off the porch. It was screened by a fence and tall hemlocks, and it felt like their own little retreat.
DG smiled to recall the first time they'd used it, on their second night. She'd been thrilled and surprised to see it; hot tubs weren't exactly common in the O.Z. In fact, Cain had never seen one, and what a way to have your first hot-tub experience. It was at least twenty feet square, made of polished stones that were carved into cushioned seats below the waterline, the water perfumed with fresh-smelling oils. He had watched her, a doubtful expression on his face, as she stripped bare and eased into what had to look to him like a bubbling, steaming cauldron. Her groan of rapture had gotten his attention, though. "I am so having one of these installed at the Spire," she'd moaned, settling over two forceful jets and tipping her head back. "C'mon, get in here!"
"I don't know. Doesn't seem…sanitary. What, we just sit in there and stew?"
"Precisely. It feels great. Really relaxing. Isn't that what we're here to do? Come on, you like hot baths."
"The hot baths I take don't boil."
"It isn't boiling, it's just air jets." He'd finally agreed, and had cautiously dipped one foot in. "What do you think you're doing?" she's said.
"I'm getting in! Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Uh-huh. Not like that," she said, pointing to his boxer shorts. "Off."
"Great and terrible, Deej…right out in the open?"
"Nobody can see us, look at this place. We might as well be on another planet. Come on." He'd looked around, then quickly stepped out of his shorts and clambered into the water. DG had laughed at his expression, half embarrassed, half paranoid. "Now, sit back," she'd said, pulling him to a bench.
He'd stretched out, blinking in surprise. "Oh…wow. That's really…wow."
Thus, another hot-tub convert was born, and they'd spent part of nearly every evening here sitting in it. Privately, DG had been hoping to get up to something with him in it, but so far that hadn't happened, and tonight was her last chance…although the encounter with Mynus hadn't put her in the sexiest mood she'd ever been in.
She reclined against Cain's shoulder, his arm loosely draped about her, the bubbles swirling and her face getting damp with steam and perspiration.
"What did he want?" she finally asked.
Cain sighed. "To remind me," he said. Clearly he'd been thinking about the same thing.
"Remind you of what?"
He lifted his head and his arm tightened around her waist. "That everything I have, I have because he let me go. If I'm sad, if I'm happy, if we're together, if we're having a baby…it's all because he allowed it."
DG said nothing for a long moment. "The only way he was able to allow it is because I bought it," she said, quietly.
She felt him tilt his head to look down at her. "What?"
"I bought it. I believed it. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I never even considered the possibility that you were alive."
"He didn't leave you much room for doubt. Jeb saw me die, then Raw showed it to you. It was my blood on that sword."
"I should have known," DG said, her voice cracking as she finally spoke aloud what she'd only ever said in her own mind. "I should have known it wasn't true!" She sat up and started to turn away, but Cain pulled her back around.
"You could not have known. You had no reason to think it wasn't true."
"But…why didn't I know anyway?" she said. "Shouldn't I have just felt it in my soul or something?"
He shook his head. "That's ridiculous."
She nodded. "Maybe. But what if he hadn't let you go? I would never have questioned it. I would never have gone looking for you. If I'd thought there was the slightest chance you were alive, I wouldn't have stopped, not ever, until I found you. But I didn't think there was. You could have been there for years, or forever, and I would have mourned you and left you there to rot."
Cain shook his head. "Look at us, DG. Whatever happens, we somehow find a way to make it our fault." He lifted her chin. "And hey, you did save me. You know why he let me go? Because his strike on the Palace didn't succeed and he didn't need me anymore. It didn't succeed because you stopped it." He smiled. "You saved me without knowing it. And it wasn't even the first time you did that."
DG drew a shuddery breath. "Yay for me," she said.
He cupped her face in one wet hand. "It's our last night before we have to go be royal again, Deej. Let's not waste it, huh?"
She nodded, then leaned close and kissed him. His hands stroked her upper arms as she turned her body and pressed herself to his chest. Her lips parted beneath his and she ran her hands up his wet chest to his shoulders, sliding over in front of him to straddle his lap. Cain's hands roamed over her backside underneath the water as she leaned his head back against the edge of the tub and plundered his mouth.
Cain seized her waist and somehow flipped her around so she was sitting on his legs, her back to his chest. Before DG could even adjust to this new position, his mouth was at her throat and his hand was kneading her breast. She let her head fall back to his shoulder, giving herself over to whatever he had in mind, knowing she'd like it. His other hand snuck down her stomach and between her legs and DG sucked in a breath as his fingers stroked her, firm and maddeningly slow. She hooked her knees outside his, spreading herself further, one hand rising to grip the back of his head. She couldn't really participate much in this position, so she let go and enjoyed the ride. She groaned as his practiced fingers sent pleasure shooting through her, the arousal and the heat and steam and nearness of his wet, warm body rendering her boneless, lolling on his lap like a broken doll while he had his way with her. She ached for the hardness she could feel pressed against her back, but he wasn't letting her move so she could get at it. He whispered in her ear. "Are you close?" She could only nod. "Good," he growled. "Cause I need to be inside you." He slid two fingers inside, his thumb flicking her, and she came hard, crying out incoherent syllables that might have been his name.
She'd barely come down before he was turning her around. She grabbed his shoulders and slid onto him with a sigh, letting her eyes fall shut. Cain grunted, his hands gripping her ass beneath the bubbling surface of the water as she ground her hips down onto him. He was watching her face, his eyes heavy-lidded and his jaw clenching. She let her head sag down until her forehead rested against Cain's and she could feel his warm breath on her face. "God, you feel good," she breathed. "I just wanna ride you," she said.
Cain grabbed the back of her head and kissed her, his mouth hot and rich, his tongue sweeping against hers. DG was lost in the sensations. The hard firmness of Cain's chest against her breasts, the clean smell of his fresh sweat, the steam and the nonstop massage of the bubble jets, his thick length inside her and his hands on her ass, the crisp night air against her sweaty face as the night breezes found their little enclave, the familiar taste of his mouth and skin beneath her lips and the scent of the perfumed water. She grabbed his shoulders and leaned far back, her face turned up to the sky; she braced her knees and just let go, thrusting forward onto him with abandon, the cool air skimming her breasts as they quivered with her motion, pebbling her nipples. Steam rose from her body and she felt primeval. Cain's eyes were glowing as he looked down at her, his teeth clenched and his breath huffing in and out like a steam engine. "Goddamn, Deej," he said, his voice sounding choked. He grabbed her by the waist, thrust twice and threw his head back as he came, a nonverbal cry escaping his gritted teeth. DG's second orgasm pulsed over her more gently, flowing up and over her like the water in the hot tub, pushing a few quiet moans from her throat. He lifted her up and cradled her against his chest, breathing hard, still inside her. She wound her arms and legs around him and held on tight. "Hoooooo," he exhaled, a slow, low whistle like a teakettle taken off the heat.
She giggled softly. "I've been thinking about that since we got here."
"Hruhn," he grunted.
She smiled. "What was that?"
"Mmph," he said, his mouth against her shoulder.
DG leaned back. "Well, that's a new one. I didn't know that we could have sex so amazing that it would take away your ability to speak."
He smiled, still looking a little dazed, and kissed her. "Brain shutdown in progress. Ask again later."
She laughed and climbed off his lap, standing up. "Come on, General. I better get you to bed before you hurt yourself." She held out her hand and pulled him to his feet, then out of the tub. They didn't even bother to dress before climbing the stairs to their suite and collapsing, still damp and steamy, into their bed. "Mmmm," DG purred, snuggling into the soft mattress. Cain made another unintelligible noise as he rolled to his back. "You know what I want?" she murmured.
Cain sighed. "Gimme ten minutes. I'm not eighteen anymore."
She chuckled. "Not that."
He turned his head toward her. "What do you want, then?"
"I think I want to go home."
He smiled. "Me, too."
two weeks later
"I think that the Eclipse Day speech would be the perfect time."
"That's next week! I'm only six weeks along, I want to wait until I'm three months."
Azkadellia took a deep breath. "Deej, I don't think you have that long, if you want to control when this gets out. Someone's going to figure it out."
"Who? We've only told the family, and none of you had better be talking!"
"You live in a palace surrounded by servants and staff. Someone's going to overhear something or notice something and that'll be it. I think you should get it out of the way, and Eclipse Day is a happy day, so why not make it even more happy?"
DG sighed. "Az…I'm just scared. The odds of something going wrong are so much greater until I make it three months. What if I miscarry?" she said, looking a little sick that she'd even said the words. Her hand went to her stomach.
Az immediately felt guilty, seeing her sister's expression. She took her other hand. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pressure you. You should make the announcement when you're ready. What does Cain think?"
"Oh, he's just sick of listening to me debate it." She took a deep breath. "What the hell. Eclipse Day it is."
The office door opened and Cain walked in to see DG and Az hugging. "What's going on?"
"I'm going to make the announcement on Eclipse Day."
He rolled his eyes. "Thank heavens, a decision at last." He went to his desk. "What's this?" he said, holding up a sealed envelope.
"I don't know, it's on your desk," DG said, crossing her arms.
He pressed his lips together. "You didn't maybe see who brought it?"
"Didn't know it was my job to monitor your desk deliveries."
Azkadellia glanced from one to the other, her brow furrowing. What the hell?
"It wasn't here when I left the room, now it's here, and you've been in here the whole time, so how the hell did it get here?" he demanded, his voice rising.
DG jumped up. "Don't yell at me!"
"Hey!" Az said, standing up and holding out her arms. "What is with you two?"
DG turned half away from him, her arms crossed again. Cain flapped a hand and sat down.
Azkadellia held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "All right, none of my business. DG, I'll see you later." DG gave a curt nod. Az didn't lose any time leaving the office.
More than a little disturbed, she headed down the hall to talk to Ambrose. She'd never heard her sister and brother-in-law speak to each other like that, even when they were irritated. And they'd been so happy and relaxed when they'd returned from Ridgewater, too.
Ambrose came out of his office just as she approached, and damn near ran into her. "Oh! Sorry, Az. You coming to see me?"
"Yes," she said, worry creasing her brow.
"Well, I was just in DG and Cain's office, and…well, they didn't seem too happy with each other."
Ambrose nodded. "They've been clashing all morning. They were practically at each other's throats after the morning briefing."
"Why? What's going on?"
"Don't look so worried," Ambrose said, turning her around so they could walk back the way she'd come. "Their marriage isn't crumbling. Our favorite newlyweds have just come up against their first policy dispute."
"Ohhhh," Az said.
"DG's considering a royal decree outlawing capital punishment, and Cain would very much like her not to do that. They don't have much experience debating policy with each other, so I'm afraid they're letting it get a bit personal. I was just going there now to drop off some research for her. I'm sure he's concerned…that…" Ambrose trailed off as they approached the royal office. Azkadellia put out a hand and stopped him.
They could plainly hear, from inside the office, DG and Cain shouting at each other. They exchanged a glance and crept closer.
"…really going to do this!" they heard Cain yell.
"Well, I really am going to do it! It's barbaric and I can't believe my mother tolerated it."
"She tolerated it because she knew the value of law and order!"
"You don't have to execute people to maintain law and order!"
"Fear of execution prevents crime!"
"Oh, no. You are not using the old 'deterrent' argument! Look around you, Cain! Do you see the crime in this city dwindling out of fear of the death penalty? If it's a deterrent, it's a piss-poor one!"
"It's the only way we can be sure they won't commit the same crimes again!"
"So that is your grand rationalization for state-sanctioned murder? INSURANCE?"
"I don't need a rationalization, I've spent twenty years among the dregs of society and I know what gets through to them, and that is force! What do you know about it, you've never been around criminals in your entire life!"
"Do not make this about me, Wyatt Cain! I am the Queen and I decide what's best for the country. I do not answer to you!"
"If you don't care about what I have to say, then why the hell did you pick me to be your Consort?" he shouted.
"It was either you or Glitch, and you have a nicer ass!" DG shrieked.
Az clapped both hands to her mouth to keep from bursting into really inappropriate laughter. Ambrose was biting his lower lip, his eyes squeezed shut.
The squabbling royals inside the office kept shouting, although the substance of the conversation seemed to be shifting. "Don't forget you have a prenatal checkup this afternoon!" Cain yelled.
"I won't forget, meet me there at three! And we're having dinner with Charles and Linda Hocksley tonight at seven!"
"Great, I'll be there!"
Footsteps stomped toward the door and before Az and Ambrose could make a discreet exit, DG flung the door open and stormed out, barely glancing at them. She stomped on down the hall toward their quarters. "I don't even have my own office to storm off to!" she shouted, to no one in particular.
Cain thumped down into his chair and just let his head fall onto his desk with a loud, somewhat painful clunk.
I could have married a nice lady who would knit me scarves and nod her head when I rant about politics, but noooo.
You didn't do that because you don't want that, idiot. You want her, even if she drives you crazy. You like that she has opinions. You like that she knows what she wants. You like that she's a real leader.
Can't she just agree with me all the time?
You could always try agreeing with her, smart guy.
I can't do that when she's just wrong.
He sighed heavily. I hate fighting with her. But the making up part later is great.
He smiled a little and sat up. The unmarked envelope he'd mentioned just before all the screaming began was still sitting there. He pushed the intercom button on his phone, connecting him to Alex's office. "Alex, come in here a minute, would you?"
He picked up the envelope. Nope, no marks, front or back. No seals, just a red wax string sealing the flap. Alexander walked in, with his clipboard, of course. "Yes, General?"
"Did you put this on my desk?"
"No, sir. Never seen it before."
"It wasn't here when I left for the range and it was here when I got back. The Queen was in here the whole time I was gone and she didn't see anyone leave it."
Alex shrugged. "Perhaps she just doesn't remember, or she didn't notice."
"I guess that's possible. She was visiting with her sister. Can you find out who brought it?"
"Yes, sir." Alexander left, making notes on his clipboard.
Cain opened the red wax string and lifted the flap. Inside the envelope was one glossy photograph, no accompanying letter, no identification. Not that he needed any, because he knew what it showed.
He looked down at the image of himself, fifteen years younger, walking down a Central City street, part of the Mystic Man's protection detail with three other Tin Men. The Mystic Man looked hearty and in control of his faculties.
Cain flipped the photo, puzzled. Nothing written on the back. He stared at the image, wondering if there was something he was supposed to see, but all he saw were the faces, the badges, the guns. It all looked normal.
Who wants me to see this now? And why?
Cain was five minutes late to DG's prenatal checkup. She was already in the examination room and Dr. Malangar had just drawn a sample of her blood. She pointedly looked away as he entered. "Sorry I'm late," he muttered.
"I just need to check a couple of things," the doctor said. "Make yourself comfortable, ma'am, I'll be back soon." He smiled and left, shutting the door behind him.
Cain sat down next to her. He could feel the not-forgiving-you-yet vibes coming off her in waves. He crossed his arms over his chest. Fine, two can play at that game.
I wonder who'll crack first.
Five minutes went by.
Great Gale, Cain. Your wife is pregnant and emotional and has the whole country depending on her. You can suck it up and say you're sorry first.
He sighed and turned to face her. "I'm sorry about earlier," he said.
Her lips creased into something resembling a smile and her body visibly relaxed. "Me, too," she said, cutting her eyes in his direction.
"We don't have to agree on everything."
"As long as you can just accept that I'm always right," she said, smirking.
"I can accept that you're always the Queen."
She shrugged. "I can live with that." She dropped her arms and shifted to look at him. "And I do value your input, you know I do. But I feel really strongly about…this particular thing, and please let's not start up the whole argument again, okay?"
"Okay. You have to do what you think is best."
She took his chin beween her thumb and forefinger, moving it back and forth a little. "I'll just have to get used to the fact that I married…" She winced. "…a Republican."
"Something I'm really not, honey."
He smiled. "Well, you're a lot of things that I'm not."
She grinned, warming to the topic. "Oh yeah? Like what?"
"Oh…like the Queen."
She laughed out loud. "I sure hope not."
He tipped his head toward her. "Beautiful."
Her face softened and she lifted one hand to his cheek. "I'm afraid I can't agree with that one, Tin Man." She leaned forward and kissed him. "I love you," she whispered against his lips.
"I love you, too." He drew back and arched one eyebrow. "But what's all this about picking me over Glitch because of my ass?"
one week later
Grimmester's Pub and Spirits, QC Province, two days' journey from Central City
Sal Grimmester hated Eclipse Day. Business was always way down, because everyone had block parties and barbecues or went to the town square for whatever trumped-up spectacle they'd scraped together that year. To make things worse, this year Eclipse Day fell on a Saturday, his busiest night of the week.
He stood behind the bar, wiping glasses. "Lighten up, Sal," said Archie Boudecker, perched on his usual stool. "Fucking national holiday."
"Come on, don't tell me you miss the Witch or the motherfuckin Longcoats."
"No, I don't miss it. Just don't go in for enforced makin-merry with the whole damned world."
Archie, who was currently one of two customers in the bar, was watching one of Sal's viewscreens, both of which were showing the Central City Eclipse Day celebrations. Parades in the afternoon, then the annual Derby, now they were down to the concert in Gale Square. Some world-famous singer was wailing away like a canary being strangled at the moment.
"Been a helluva year," Archie said. "With the strike on the Spire and all, then that shit with the General."
"I hate that guy."
"The General?" Archie looked scandalized. "Why?"
"He's a self-righteous tightass, you can tell just by lookin at him."
"Well, there he is," Archie said, nodding at the viewscreen, which had just cut to a shot of the Queen and the General, sitting side by side in the front row at the concert. Their clasped hands rested on his knee.
Sal made a sarcastic snort. "Once a Tin Man, always a Tin Man, and I ain't never met one that I liked."
"Cut the guy a break, Sal. He's one of the Four."
"Yeah, that's another thing. He and the Queen have kinda taken over that gig, ain't they? I mean, where are the other two? The First Minister doesn't do public appearances, I guess he's too busy doing whatever he does, and nobody hardly sees the Viewer, either."
Archie was still watching the image of the General and the Queen. "People need heroes, Sal," he said, quietly. Sal didn't reply. What use was it to tell Archie that a hero was just another word for somebody who hasn't let you down yet?
"Ain't no heroes out these parts," Sal said. "And we need em more than most. Sure need em more than anybody in Central City."
Archie shot him a wary glance. "You heard the latest?"
He leaned closer over the bar, casting a suspicious look at the bar's only other customer, a stranger sitting at the other end of the bar. "I heard the Three were seen over in Stocksville."
"Shah!" Sal said, shushing him harshly. "Don't speak a them. It's bad luck."
"They don't need my help to bring bad luck."
"Why would they be in Stocksville?"
"I ain't gonna ask what business the Three got in QC. If I never know, I'll be a happy man."
"Probably bullshit," Sal said. "People just talkin. Might as well say the boogeyman's come to town."
The concert was wrapping up. The last event of the night before the big fireworks was the Queen's annual Eclipse Day speech. "Turn it up," the stranger said, moving a few seats closer so he could see. Sal grumbled, but found the remote and increased the volume.
"She looks pretty," said the stranger, as the Queen mounted the steps to the stage and took her place behind the podium. Sal had to admit that he was right.
"Not my type," Archie said. "I like em a little meatier."
"No way," the stranger said. "I'd tap that in a second."
"Hey," Sal said. "You ain't gonna talk bout the Queen that way, not in my bar."
"Sorry," the stranger said, though he didn't sound sorry.
They listened as the Queen talked about the hard year they'd all had, with the death of her mother and the attack on the Spire. She didn't mention the temporary death of her husband. Then she went on to promise actions in the coming year that would bring new justice and prosperity to the Zone, and more refurbishments on Central City's infrastructure were mentioned.
Sal had to admit that she was an engaging speaker. She had a just-folks quality to her, she never sounded too high-falutin or pompous. It made you want to believe whatever she said.
"It's been a historic Eclipse Day for us all," the Queen concluded. "And I have an announcement to make before we enjoy the fireworks. I'd like to ask my husband to join me onstage, please."
The cameras zoomed in on the General as he stood up, buttoned his coat and climbed up onstage. He didn't stand behind her shoulder, as he usually did, but right at her side. The Queen was flushed, and she looked like she was barely holding back laughter.
"When I married General Cain, just over a year ago now, it was an occasion for hope and celebration for all citizens of the Zone, as well as the beginning of great personal happiness for me," she began, her voice going a little fluttery. "The loss of my mother was a devastating blow, and I have felt keenly the duty not only to honor her and serve you as your Queen to the best of my ability, but to ensure the continuation of the house of Gale." She hesitated, then looked up at the General with a wide smile. He returned it, then put his arm around her shoulders. The Queen faced the throngs again. "I'm so happy tonight to tell all of you that the General and I are expecting a baby."
"Holy shit," said Archie.
The crowds in Gale Square went out of their minds. A deafening cheer went up, and Sal could hear people cheering in nearby business and houses, even a few on the street who had radios. On the viewscreen, the Queen had turned to embrace her husband, who was grinning ear to ear, a rare display of emotion from the usually stoic man. People there were jumping, cheering, throwing confetti and lighting sparklers, sounding noisemakers and air horns, whatever they had.
Sal heard someone yelling outside. "Hey! The Queen's pregnant!" Another cheer went up from a group of outdoor revelers who hadn't heard.
"That is some good news, Sal, and even you can't deny it," Archie said, smiling.
Sal grunted. "Guess so."
The stranger laughed. "Looks like the General's still got some lead left in his pencil. I was starting to wonder. Took long enough, didn't it?"
Sal tossed down his dishrag. "Listen, friend, I don't know who you are, but I had about enough a you sayin rude things bout the Queen and the General. He ain't my favorite person but you'll be respectful, you hear me?"
The stranger set down his stein. "But it's okay for you to call him a righteous tightass?"
Sal felt his face flush with rage. "All right, that's it. Get the hell outta my bar."
The stranger smiled grimly. "Okay."
He moved faster than Sal could see. He was up and off his stool and had sliced Archie's throat before Sal could twitch a muscle, and had the bloody knife pointed at Sal's face. Sal's mouth fell open and he felt his bladder let go, warmth rushing down his legs. Poor Archie fell to the floor, and Sal could hear the horrible wet choking noises as he died.
The stranger's eyes were alight with a horrifying twinkle. "Looks like the boogeyman has come to town," he said. "But don't worry. We're not staying."
His knife flashed again, and Sal was on the floor bleeding out.
The stranger turned and looked up at the viewscreen. The picture had cut to a shot of the Queen and General Cain, off the stage and now surrounded by well-wishers, both of them smiling and happy, holding on to each other. His lip curled, and he cocked back his arm and let his knife fly. It sliced through the viewscreen, splitting the General's face in two just before the picture tube shorted out in a shower of sparks.
The stranger tilted his head from side to side, cracking his neck, then picked up his bag and walked out the door, whistling.
Author's Note: I'd like to thank all my lovely readers, whether you've commented or not (although commenting is awesomesauce). I hope you've enjoyed this long slog. I've surely enjoyed writing it.
In fact, I've enjoyed it so much, that I'm not ready to stop. Stay tuned for "The Heir," the sequel to "The Consort," coming soon to this space. I can't say how soon, because as I did for Consort, I'd like to write it to completion first. It will be significantly shorter. My tentative plans are for two shorter chaptered fics now, then a lengthier one, if I can make it that long. Make sure to add me to your Author Alerts if you want to be notified when "The Heir" begins posting.
Everything in this final chapter is significant for events to come. I'll let you speculate about that. :-)