I was in an angst mood. This is the result. Reviews are love!


He hated this.

The tailored gray waistcoat tugged at Wyatt Cain's shoulders as he stood with his hands behind his back, feet apart, staring straight ahead. Behind him stood a hundred Tin Men of the restored realm, at attention, all of them dressed in the same gray coat, the same gray slacks, and the same dark blue vests over the same crisp white shirts. All had bared their heads as a sign of respect upon entering the massive Great Hall of the Northern Palace, holding the hats that completed the uniforms in front of them.

The dampness still clung to him from the light shower that had fallen on the mourners at the cemetery and he could feel the cold leaching into his soul. It didn't take him long to realize it had nothing to do with the fact that he was wet.

To his left, Glitch sniffled and Cain allowed himself to shift slightly to give his friend a sympathetic and reassuring look. The advisor was taking it hard. His eyes were red-rimmed and he seemed to be on the verge of breaking down again. Raw had stepped in at the funeral to provide comfort, though Cain had gone so far as to lay a warm hand on his friend's shoulder. It was all he could do.

And he hated that he couldn't do more.

To his right, Raw was taking the whole thing with respectful sadness. He had not been embedded with the Royal Family as long as Glitch, but like Cain, he had found himself tied forever to them by an unlikely friendship. His fate was linked to this family. He experienced their joys and pains, pleasures and pitfalls.

And boy, had they hit a pitfall.

Queen Orianah had passed on into the void, quietly and peacefully, after seeing the light restored to her homeland. And so the torch had to be passed on.

The huge hall was crowded with loyal subjects of the Realm. Being the Head of the Royal Guard and Captain of the Tin Men, Cain, along with Glitch and Raw, had been one of the first to enter, as Cain had left the security to some of his men. Now, nearly two hours later, it finally seemed that the last of the mourners were being escorted in. The humidity didn't help as the heat from so many bodies in one place began to drive the temperature up. A bead of sweat trailed its way down his spine and he gritted his teeth.

The air became even thicker as he heard the doors slam behind him. With an anxiousness and foreboding that he didn't permit to show, Cain focused his attention on the ornate staircase that ran to the floors above, looking to the man that had just descended to the large dais.

A pang of sympathy pierced Cain as he watched Ahamo. The man seemed frail and small, not at all like the robust man that had met them in a dive in the Realm of the Unwanted. He was drawn and careworn, as if all of the years he had managed to seemingly escape had caught up with him in a single day. He was pale and the dark suit that he wore hung from his shoulders. It had only been a week, but Cain was sure that the man had dropped twenty pounds. Cain understood the other man's pain all too well.

He almost couldn't stand it, but he gritted his teeth. Gods, he hated this.

When Ahamo spoke, there was wateriness to his voice, but it rang true to the back of the hall. Cain listened as he spoke, thanking the people of the O.Z. for their kindness and their prayers. He heard Ahamo as he spoke of the past and how it should be remembered, but how it was time to look to the future as well.

And Cain felt his stomach drop a little bit more.

There was silence in the hall as the two figures began to descend from the floors above. Both wore simple white gowns that fell to the floor. The two dark-haired princesses reached the dais at the same time, standing tall and regal as they turned to face their subjects. Princess Azkadellia and Princess DG were about to inherit their birthright. He swallowed hard.

DG stood as still as a marble statue, drawing herself up as high as her petite frame would allow. There was a bearing there, an acceptance of the heavy mantle that was being thrust upon her.

She had become distant over the past week, and at first it hadn't bothered Cain. The young woman had jumped in to the proceedings admirably. Ahamo had been in no fit condition and Azkadellia was fighting her own demons. But DG had taken the reins, notifying important people of the O.Z., setting dates and schedules, and arranging the funeral. He had figured it was all just to keep her busy.

But after a few days, Cain began to get discouraged as she brushed Glitch aside when he tried to help, or when she ignored Raw when he tried to say a comforting word. Cain tried approaching her once or twice as well, but found DG impatiently excusing herself and quickly departing. It was as if she had turned into a machine, unfeeling and efficient as she prepared to take over the thrown.

Though she would share the rule with her sister, there was no denying the fact that ruling the O.Z. would still be a mountainous task to undertake. DG knew that. In quiet confidence, she had admitted to her friends that the thought of one day being a queen scared the pants off of her. It was something that she never would have told her mother or father. Hell, he doubted she had even mentioned it to Azkadellia.

But you wouldn't know it to look at her as she stood there beside her sister. Nothing was going to "scare the pants off" of her. That was his friend, DG. Not Queen DG of the House of Gayle. She stared forward, cool and confident, accepting the responsibility of her heritage without complaint or resistance.

And he hated that.

There was no wide-eyed look about her. It was as if the innocence had been stolen and replaced with a cynicism that was more appropriate for Cain. She stood before her people, trying to show that she was not afraid, that she was confident and sure.

But to Cain, she had lost something because of it.

Where was the farm girl that had back-talked him when he wanted to leave her in his own front yard? Where was the annoying kid that completely ignored him in the Fields of the Papay and asked to borrow his razor when he distinctly told her to leave it be? Where was the DG that, much to his consternation, rushed in headlong and made him chase after her?

He heard the words as she spoke the sacred oath, pledging herself to the realms. He watched as her father nestled the crown of silver among her dark locks. She didn't fuss or fidget and Cain couldn't help but notice how unnatural that was for DG.

It was over. There would be no more adventures with the free-spirited princess. No more dashing through the woods on some quest or another. No more idle chats in the small sitting rooms at Finaqua when she would throw a leg over the arm of a chair and regale them with some high jinxed tale from the other side.

She was a queen now and as such would have to act accordingly. Would she have time to wander the woods with Raw and take in the day? Would Cain find her in Glitch's lab covered in grease and gunk, grinning like an idiot at some new invention they had concocted?

Would she have time to tease and irritate a tired old Tin Man?

He didn't think so. There was an ache in his chest as he felt the rift widen. He had no idea what his friendship with DG had meant to him. He loved that kid, more than he would ever admit. She had welcomed him as a part of her family, and he realized with a pang of sadness exactly what he was feeling. He was losing a part of his family all over again. She would never be the same. His kiddo was gone and in her place was a shadow. A figurehead.

He watched her descend the stairs beside Azkadellia and together, the new Queens of the O.Z. made their way down the emerald green carpet towards the doors. Cain's eyes never left her, willing her to wink at her friends, smirk, or do anything to indicate that the girl they had once known lurked somewhere beneath the mask.

She didn't even look at them.

With the others assembled, Cain bowed low as the monarchs glided past, headed for the horse-drawn carriage that waited to receive them and whisk them back to Central City where their duties would officially begin.

He wanted to stop her. To grab her by the shoulders and shake her. To rile her and to get her to show him that it was still the same girl beneath the frigid shell she was hiding beneath.

He wanted to give it all back: her wide eyed innocence, her smile, her wit, her stubborn streak.

Her freedom.

But he couldn't.

And he hated that most of all.

He stood still and watched her go, striding away from her old life. And into, he feared, a much lonelier existence.

The rumble of murmurs began and Cain sighed, turning to the officers assembled behind him. With a word from him, his officers began to clear th cathedral as Cain steered Glitch from the pew.


The coat and vest were dropped over the arm of the couch as Cain unbuckled his gun belt.

The knock on the door startled him from his doldrums and in two strides he made it to the door. When he swung it open, he felt the shock ripple through him as he opened the door on a young woman clad in jeans and a T-shirt. "Your Majesty?"

DG crumbled. The mask, the one she had worn for the past seven days, crumbled. Before he realized he had moved, Cain found himself taking her up in a strong embrace. There was a shuddering breath as the sobs racked her small frame. This wasn't shy weeping. It was full-body anguish, pent up for so long it had festered into a deep and resounding grief. Within seconds, his shoulder was soaked with her warm tears.

He didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do. All he could do was hold on for dear life and let her cry. She had come to him for support and this was all he could do.

And he hated that.

But he did it for her anyway.