Disclaimer: I have no claim over Tin Man.
He finally found her on the rooftop garden that overlooked the city. He felt a rush of profound relief when he realized she hadn't been kidnapped or worse. Taking a moment to compose himself he found that his relief over finding her safe was quickly being replaced by exasperated anger. He couldn't for the life of him understand this woman. There wasn't a guard within shouting range of this part of the palace. What if something happened to her while she was up here? Did she even think about that?
Sometimes he wasn't sure she even listened to him when he told her that she was a target. It was like talking to a brick wall. A brick wall with two blue eyes that he swore had the ability to make even his considerable composure wear thin. It wasn't right the way she could push him to his breaking point one minute then without effort look at him the way she did and have him forgetting why he was upset in the first place. She had some kind of unfair advantage. He was starting to think it had something to do with her magic because there was no other explanation, and God damn it, this time he was going to make her see reason and no amount of wide-eyed stares were going to break his concentration.
Her bouts of inattention to his increasingly frustrated commands to stay close were getting out of hand. Not that he expected her to be watched all damned day but could she at least tell people where she was going? This was the third night this week she had vanished from her room. The only thing that had kept him from ripping out his hair was the Furball's cryptic reassurances that she was safe and within the palace walls. His patient request for her to stay in her quarters until one of the suns came up the day before had obviously been a waste of his time. He had decided when he found her missing yet again that enough was enough. He didn't care if she was the Princess. She was going to listen to the Head of Security or he was going to kill her. It might be the only way to keep her safe.
Stalking silently up behind the tree she was pressed against he weighed the pros and cons of his next move. For all her spunk and empathy the girl wasn't subtle. Maybe her lack of understanding on safety protocol should be addressed in a more pointed manner. That might just drive the idea home for her. Crouching down behind her right elbow his arm snaked around her front quickly and jerked her sideways as he barked at her. "What did I say?"
He felt oddly unsatisfied when she let out a choked shout of fear as she thumped into his chest. And when he realized she was shaking so hard he thought she might rattle away from her bones he became deeply concerned. No amount of surprise had caused this reaction; she had been frightened long before he had arrived. He simply hadn't been able to see her trembling in the deep shadows the tree was casting at this time of night.
Her voice broke halfway through her hurried apology. "I'm sorry." She had her head turned as far away from his face as she could get it.
His arm loosened considerably when he came to the troubling conclusion that his princess was trying to hide from him. DG didn't hide things from him, it wasn't in her nature. She didn't apologize for running off either. "Kid?" She took a shuddering breath and wrenched her body forward. His arm retightened around her waist holding her close. Her body tensed against his seconds before she panicked.
Struggling madly in his grasp he heard and felt her breathing hitch as she started fighting for air that she shouldn't be having a problem getting. Driving back his own fear over what was happening to his normally lighthearted charge he tightened his grip and fell into the only role he knew she would listen to. Why she would respond to his Tin Man persona he was never sure, since she often ignored even the direct orders of the Queen, but at this point he didn't much care. "Calm down!"
Gasping she continued to fight him. "Let go!" Her voice was a strained wheeze as she began to weaken from lack of oxygen. "Can't breath, Cain!"
Grasping her shoulder in one hand he shoved the top portion of her body down toward her knees. "I'm not going to hurt you. Stop fighting me right now." He kept his voice firm but level as he held her down. She tried to jerk up once but he leaned his weight forward stopping her. "Take a deep breath, DG."
She let out a muffled sob and he cursed internally at his stupidity. Sneaking up on her had not been the best choice he had made today. Externally he kept up his commands.
"Breath in." He heard her trying desperately to do what he was telling her to. "Good girl. Now let it out." Lifting his chest away from her once he was sure the fight had gone out of her he carefully wrapped one arm loosely around her stomach and began to rub her back with the other. Letting his voice soften he encouraged her as her breathing leveled out. "Again, Princess. In…now out."
In his opinion it took her far too long to return to a near normal breathing pattern. And even when she did she remained still and hunched over in front of him clutching at her legs. He lifted his eyes away from her long enough to be sure they were still alone on the rooftop before he tried to question her. The last thing he wanted was to try to explain why the Princess had nearly hyperventilated before he knew what was the matter with her. Or worse have someone sneaking up on them while he was preoccupied. And so help the bastard that may have put her in such a state to begin with. He felt his vision going red at the thought of someone scaring her this badly.
"Kiddo?" She shuddered all over and he rubbed her back more firmly so she knew he was still there. He figured that last thing she needed was to think she was alone and afraid. Bad enough she was with someone and afraid. "What happened?"
Shaking her head against her legs she gave him one of her typical non-answer. "I won't come up here alone again. I didn't mean to upset you. I…I needed some air."
He felt his jaw tighten. "The air won't do much good if you can't take it in."
DG let out a ragged laugh. "You have me there."
He sighed quietly and tugged her into an upright position. As he pulled her around to face him she lifted her hand quickly and rubbed at her face. He frowned catching her wrist. In the soft glow from the city below he caught sight of her damp cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. She hadn't been crying before. She hadn't had the air to accomplish that. "Have you been crying?"
"No." Her eyes were directed toward his vest and he certainly didn't need Tin Man training to know she was lying to him.
He felt his heart constrict at the sight before him. He'd seen her cry before but she had been under more stress than he cared to think about. Finding out about her past the way she had would have been enough to make anyone loose control, but there was no reason that he knew of for her to be this upset right now. DG looked beyond exhausted and her apathy toward the fact that he was still holding her hand away from her body was beginning to grate at his nerves. Nothing about how she was acting was at all natural for her.
Reacting on instinct he gathered her up and pulled her into a tight embrace as he leaned back against the tree she had been concealed under. He thought he should have been more startled than he was when she burrowed her head against his neck and clutched at his vest. He also thought it should have felt more uncomfortable than it was to wrap his arms around her body and hold her so closely and willingly against his chest. Instead his own feelings of panic subsided slightly as she pressed closer to him.
Running his hand over her hair he tried again knowing the only way to get an answer was sheer persistence. "What happened, Kid?" She remained silent but her knees came up to press against his leg. He continued to prod. "I'm not going to leave you alone until you answer me. Did someone hurt you?"
"No, it's stupid, Cain." Her whisper barely reached his ears.
He doubted that. DG wasn't that emotional. He'd only seen her cry once before in the year they'd know each other. And in that time they'd been through a hell of a lot. "Try me."
The volume of her voice didn't increase. "I started having that stupid nightmare again."
Again? What did she mean again? "What nightmare?" He would love to know what had driven her out of her room three times that he knew of.
"Stupid." She muttered. That statement didn't stop her from tightening her grip on him.
He continued to stroke her hair slowly working his fingers through the wavy strands. "Tell me about it."
The princess sighed deeply. "Can't we just call label this as another one of my crazy Otherside quirks and move on with life?"
"I don't think so." If she thought she was going to wriggle out of this one then she was the one with half a brain.
She didn't move her face away from his neck when she haltingly admitted her secret to him. "Every few months I have nightmares about what happened in the mausoleum. They just start and go on for a week or so. Then they stop again."
That made him pause momentarily. How hadn't he been aware of this earlier? He should have known she was having problems if this had been going on for months. He tried to focus on the more immediate problem instead of berating himself for his lapse in attention. "What happened in the mausoleum? I thought you got the emerald and then left."
He felt her shudder and try to pull away. He caught sight of her stricken face and knew she'd spoken without thinking again. He held onto her preventing her from taking off. She didn't run often but he knew it was her reaction whenever she felt trapped. Although he would admit she usually made a more discrete exit or redirected the conversation with humor. He had never pushed her about it before, knowing what it was like to have to deal with things you didn't want to, but he was worried now.
"That's exactly what happened." He knew that was a lie. Ahamo had disappeared at some point. And the Witch had taken the emerald too.
Yanking her back to his chest he locked eyes with her. "No!" He pushed at her harder than he ever had before. Whatever this was he needed to know about so he could help her with it. Protecting her didn't always mean coddling her, as her parents seemed to think. "Don't lie to me, DG! Tell me what happened while you were alone."
Her lip quivered as her eyes went distant. "She locked me in a coffin. I kept calling for you and no one came." Her breathing began to get erratic again and he caught her face hoping to bring her back into the moment with him. "I don't know how you stayed in that suit for that long without going crazy."
He understood in a flash why she was up here. She was claustrophobic. He could relate to waking up in a dark room and thinking he was stuck somewhere much more confined. She wasn't lying when she said she couldn't breathe. "DG, open your eyes. You're not trapped anymore." Her eyes opened and he saw shame flash across them. He rubbed her cheek with his thumb turning her head so she could see the rest of the garden. "You have plenty of air."
DG blinked rapidly as if confirming what he had said. "You must think I'm completely pathetic. I was only in there for a few hours."
He suppressed the urge to hit something. He couldn't believe he had never once asked her about this. That he hadn't noticed something was wrong. "You're not pathetic. The suit was different than a coffin." He pulled her face back so he could look her in the eye. Fighting back his own repulsion at the memories he forced himself to speak calmly to her. "It put me in a kind of stasis. I had air and I could see." He paused fighting back the memories of what he had been forced to watch through the small round window. "I wasn't worried I was going to die and I didn't age. I didn't feel time pass the way you did. The magic does that."
She gulped slightly. "You…" She cut herself off before she could ask her question choosing to nod instead.
"I?" He figured dragging her inquisitive nature out was a good plan of action. It was more like her than this fearful state he had found her in.
"You didn't age?"
He chuckled despite himself at her question. "Not like I would have out of the suit. I figure I aged about a month for every year I was in there."
She sniffed as she tilted her head at him. Curiosity was rapidly replacing everything else. "So…how old are you?"
"How old am I plus ten months or chronologically by time?"
The princess's eyebrows came together as she tried to untangle the question. "Both."
He smiled softly wiping the last of the tear tracks away. "I'm forty-four chronologically and I figure I'm almost thirty-five if you figure the suit in."
Lip twitching she leaned into his hand. "The more I learn about magic the weirder it gets."
Grunting in agreement he was suddenly very aware that she was still pressed against his body and looking at him trustingly. Those eyes were going to be his undoing. He needed to get the girl back in bed before he did something he hadn't even considered since he was twenty years old. "You can ask Tutor about it in the morning. Right now it's time to get you back to your room."
She frowned unhappily. "I don't want to go back inside. I like it up here."
"How much time have you been spending up here?"
He mock growled. "DG…"
"Only the last few nights." When he raised an eyebrow she pointed out toward the city. "Don't glare at me! Look the lights make the metal all sparkly!"
He grunted and moved her to the side as he stood up. "You can't stay up here forever." Leaning back down he hooked his arms under hers and hauled her up.
DG's shoulders slumped. "I know but I can't catch my breath inside."
"And you won't always be able to get outside when this happens." He needed to be sure she could deal with this in a better way than she was. "Come on. Let's see what we can do about this."
She balked when he started leading her to the entrance of the palace. Most of the progress he had made with her over the course of their talk vanished in an instant. "Cain, please, I can't do this right now."
Turning he took hold of her shoulders and held her still. "Yes you can. You can do this." He saw her open her mouth to protest and forged on. "It's only a building and I promise I'll stay with you."
She eyed him warily. "Promise?"
"Have I ever broken my word, Princess?"
She pressed her lips together. "Alright, but you can't laugh if a freak out."
"I would never laugh at you when you're afraid." He wondered who had made fun of her in the past for her to make that demand.
"Ok." Catching his hand in her smaller one she let him take the lead. He rubbed her knuckles softly as he opened the door. This, he thought as she clutched at him, was going to be a challenge. But most things involving his princess were.
Author Note: Fred strikes again!