Disclaimer: I don't own Tin Man.
Letting out a whoop of excitement sat their unprecedented success she jumped up and down twice before promptly falling into the nearest chair. Az smiled dazzlingly and even Toto was pleased. The portly man nodded with satisfaction as he shut the book he had open in his hand with a decisive snap and she wondered if she was about to pass out as her head spun in dizzying circles. "We're awesome." She assessed with great joy.
"I can't believe we did that." Az said breathlessly as the very last of the illusion blew away as if a strong breeze had caught them. Her sister was close behind her in her own collapse. She was annoyed that her sister could collapse in exhaustion with graceful poise. She couldn't achieve graceful poise regardless of the situation. "No one should be able to do that."
She grinned impishly. "I think I just said we're awesome."
"DG!" The shout echoed through the library and she turned her head, surprised Cain was hollering at her. As soon as she caught sight of him she snickered evilly, the mystery of his ire apparent. The man had his jaw set and his arm extended fully out to the side as a cream and sunshine yellow ferret wiggled in his firm grasp in an effort to escape. She was sure the animal would have tried to bite him but the tin man had it by the scruff of the neck so all it could do was hang there. "You get rid of this thing!"
She sent him an innocent look as her sister's forehead crinkled in confusion and Toto decided to ignore the whole situation, as if he knew getting involved would, well, get him involved. After the talk she and Wyatt had about how he felt about Tutor she figured it was a safe bet by the man. Maybe her teacher was aware of how the tin man felt about him and was also trying to avoid a fight. She supposed in the grand scheme of palace politics they were both playing it safe. If she really thought about it the two of them could easily cause a great deal of friction in the small world they lived in here. It was better if they avoided one another even if it was a little awkward. "I already told you I couldn't. The spell only told me how to turn a muffin into a weasel, not transform it back into a muffin again." Honestly, breakfast had been freaking amazing. She hadn't had that much fun in weeks, not clothed fun at any rate. His expression of exasperated alarm had been well worth the magic she had used up on the spell.
Eyes narrowed he stopped next to her and dropped the animal, she noted rather gently, onto the table. It chattered up at him, it's tail swishing as it scolded him indignantly at being carried about in such a manner, before leaping into the pile of books and notes and knocking them all over the place. Within seconds the only thing that could be seen was the bright yellow tail twitching about as it burrowed inside their project. Oddly delighted with the destruction of all the work they'd done she smiled even as Cain groused at her. "That thing is a menace! Do you know where I found it?"
"Ermmm-" She threw out her best guess. She knew where she would end up if she were able to climb with any form of agility. "Up in a chandelier?"
"My sock drawer!" He said, his arms flailing in an uncharacteristically dramatic gesture for him. "Do you know how many socks I now own that aren't in pieces or have holes through the toe?"
She threw out another guess, picking a number at random. "Seven?"
"One!" He snapped. "Do you know how many feet I have?"
She knew this one for sure for two reasons. He was human and she had spent quite a bit of time with him naked recently. "Two." She stated confidently, pleased beyond measure that he was incensed, and also that she knew an answer. If he was annoyed he wasn't focusing on the stress of the entire situation. "And I know you have three socks right now because two are on those feet of yours."
He ignored that. "I have thrown that animal outside three times now! I'm tired of walkin' up and down twelve flights of stairs! Why does it keep comin' back in?"
"Geez, Cain, it was your muffin. You picked it out special from the plate and everything. It probably likes you."
"Why is it yellow?" Az asked, interrupting the volley as she leaned in closer to see. She wasn't even remotely shocked that her sister didn't ask why she had decided to turn a muffin into a ferret. All she wanted to understand was the color scheme. It really spoke volumes about their relationship.
"You know, I have no clue." She said as she considered the animal's flicking tail. All at once it vanished only to have the papers fly up in the air like a miniature firework had gone off under them as the former baked good began to play. "I must have done some part of the spell wrong."
Her sister considered that briefly. "What kind of muffin was it?"
"Apple." She supplied as she stretched out farther in the chair, trying to stretch out now tense muscles in her legs and arms.
"Then maybe it's yellow because it was made with golden apples."
"Oh." That totally made sense, in the sense that nothing involving magic made much sense at all. She would so love to have a set of primarily colored rodents running about. How very artistic that would be. "Now I need to make one out of a blueberry muffin so it'll be blue-"
"No! No more!" Cain barked. He pointed at her. "You turn it back! The thing's a menace!"
"Awww!" She reached out, cooing at the animal, which bounded over to her out of the nest of papers it was hiding in with eager and manic glee at the attention she was bestowing on it. Her magic was radiating out of it and she figured the little creature liked her since she brought it into existence. "She's a sweetie." The animal twisted and rubbed its head under hers affectionately as it scurried up her arm and onto her shoulder. "Aren't you?" The animal chattered at her happily and the tin man rolled his eyes, knowing damn well that she wasn't going to turn it back now that it was cuddling with her.
He knew how she felt about fuzzy things. She had told him in great detail when he asked about the farm she'd grown up on. She had always had some sort of pet. People had a habit of dropping off the unwanted creatures at their doorstep. It seemed she had always had a fondness for those rejected by others. Still, she figuring he was really just mad about his socks. Deciding to sway his opinion of their new friend she caught the animal's head gently and turned it so they were looking at one another. There was no need for further miscommunication. "No more destruction please. Go apologize. I know how he is about his socks." Because anyone that kept them that orderly had some serious attachment issues.
The animal twisted lithely and ran back over the tabletop at Cain after leaping off her like an Olympic hurtle jumper. At least she could make graceful creations even if she couldn't be graceful herself. When it skidded to a halt on the slick wood at the edge and went up on it's hind legs chattering up at him as he glared down at it. "You'd best find me more socks if you're expectin' forgiveness." The animal bobbed up and down twice before jumping at him. He jerked backward but the ferret caught onto his belt and promptly used his holster to climb down to the floor. Dashing out of the room had the tin man sighing and turning back to her. "Did you make it crazy on top of bein' yellow?"
Her lip curled up at the corner. "Hardly, I think she went to steal you some replacement footwear."
"What?" He turned after it, not expecting her magical creation to understand that or take it seriously. Apparently being a tin man for fifteen years had him a bit off put by stealing. "You get back here!"
"Don't go yet!" She said before he could take three steps.
He turned his head over his shoulder. "Kid, I can't let it-"
She interrupted him. They had way more important things to worry about than a used to be muffin ferret kleptomaniac. "We got it to work."
He was back at the table in an instant. "You did?"
She smiled brilliantly and he grinned. Before either of them could say anything Toto piped in. "Only one problem."
"What's that?" Cain asked, his smile vanishing.
"The princesses can only hold it for two minutes at a time."
"That's it?" He asked with suppressed disappointment.
"Don't be a downer, Toto." She said, trying her best to be positive. After all this really was the best and only plan they had. "We only worked it out ten minutes ago. If we practice-"
"If you practice you'll be very fortunate to get it to work for five or six minutes at best." He interrupted. "I want this to work too, but we have to be realistic about it or one of you could be killed. Both of you know how much magic you used to do that. Not even you can go beyond a drain. I've worked hard to show you your limits. Don't take that lesson lightly."
She tried not to be depressed by that as Az sighed tiredly. Cain tapped his fingers on his leg in frustration as his well-crafted plot was being taken down by logic. They needed at least, the very least, ten good minutes. If nothing else he appreciated logic. The only thing that he liked more was keeping her safe. Needless to say for once Cain was on her teacher's side. "We need to rethink this then. We might be able to tweak it so it works to our favor."
Frustration began to bubble up. "We finally got this and now you want to change the plan?"
He was clearly as frustrated as her. "What do you want me to say, Deeg? We can't do this if you can't hold the spell." She opened her mouth to volley back and he was pushed on before she could. "And no I'm not blamin' any of you or pointin' fingers. The two of you can't get hurt and you know why. You told all of us why not two weeks ago at that midnight meetin'. You weren't wrong about any of that either."
You know sometimes she hated being right. "Fine." She said. "What do we do then?"
"I don't know." He admitted. Grabbing a chair he pulled it out and sat down. He looked off across the room thinking as she rubbed at her temples. It was ten in the morning and she felt as if she had been awake for days even after a solid night of sleep. Letting Az drain her, while productive, was becoming not only exhausting, but excruciatingly painful. As of yet she hadn't let out a peep at the feeling, but twice Az had given her sharp looks as her magic waned abruptly. Both times she had thrown her off the trail, claiming simply lack of focus, but she suspected her sister wasn't fooled. The only reason Az had gone on was because they really needed to do this.
After several minutes of all of them staring about stupidly she decided that was enough. "Okay, this is ridiculous." Everyone turned their attention to her. "We need to have a meeting. The four of us, while clearly the smartest of our awesome and ragtag gang, need more input."
Cain's lip twitched up and even Az smiled tiredly. "We do tend to work better as a cohesive group." Her sister remarked.
"I'll have Jeric get everyone. Where should we all meet?" Cain said as he stood up. She thought maybe she should get herself an aid when he mentioned the soldier. They always seemed to be so darn useful.
"Here seems as good a place as any." Az remarked.
She let her head fall to the desk with a hollow thunk. It didn't help much with the overall pain she was experiencing. That lovely massage Cain had given her had sure helped her fall asleep last night, but no sooner had she woken up than she started to throb all over. She imagined this was what it felt like to have been badly beaten and lived through it. "Have him get Olivia too."
"What?" The tin man asked sharply.
Forcing her head up she regarded him without her normal amount of patience. "She was in the resistance, Cain. She's got a sneaky brain and I told her if she could help I would let her."
He was severely reluctant to do that. "Jeb won't-"
She cut him off at the knees. They really didn't have time to argue about this. "Jeb was her captain." She said bluntly. "I doubt this is the first time he's viewed her as the clever fighter that she is. I would think after this long around me you wouldn't be so quick to set aside someone simply because they don't look like they can fight."
He pressed his lips together at the slight reprimand. "He won't like her involved in this."
"He'll like it much less if she dies as a consequence of our failure. So what do you want to do?"
He eyed her with a knowing look and she knew he caught her hiding the pain. She supposed she hadn't made it overly hard to tell. It wasn't like she was demanding or snippy when she felt fine. The magic drain was really wearing her down and all her normal defenses were gone. "I want you to sleep when this meetin' is over." He turned to Az. "How long has she been working drained today?"
"What?" Her sister asked with real surprise. Apparently she had been wrong about her sister being able to tell she wasn't at her best.
"Aren't you usin' her magic?" He asked in exasperation. "Why can't you tell?"
Both her sister and her teacher were assessing her now, their own magic prodding hers with gentle politeness, if that's how you could term it. After a long moment Az spoke. "But you still have so much left."
She had nothing to say to that and Cain pressed his lips together. "You're resting after this. I don't care what we decide to do."
"We're not startin' that again." He said firmly. "You're going to have a stroke, or your heart is goin' to stop, or your brain is goin' to melt out your ears. And before you tell me that's nonsense you ask Tutor. I may not know spells, but I know what can happen if you push too hard for too long. Easiest and most common way for a mage to die is to not know their own limit. I found more than one dead in their shops after trying to do to much when I was workin' in the city. It's not a pretty sight to see someone lyin' dead in their own blood. I refuse to find you in that condition."
"He's right." Toto said. She found it unfair they were ganging up on her. "You should have told me you were at your limit. I can't tell unless you inform me. This is an extraordinarily dangerous thing for you to do."
Even knowing they meant well she was annoyed. All she wanted to do was get this done. However, she didn't want to die and she felt like crap. She supposed Cain wasn't the only one that could benefit from using logic. "All right."
He nodded sharply at the agreement, knowing very well that once she said it out loud she wouldn't go back on her word. "I'll be right back then. Have any of you eaten?" At all their negatives he nodded. "I'll have some food brought too."
Toto seemed scandalized at the idea of food near all the books but Cain didn't give a hoot. He was nearly at the door when his new little friend raced back in. The yellow ferret was moving as fast as she could while a pair of clean, green socks nearly filled her vision. Still, she spotted his boots and slid to a halt, her small nails clicking on the tile. The tin man stopped so he wouldn't step on the rodent and she promptly set the socks down in front of him like a dog returning a stick to his master. Going back up on her back legs she stretched up and chattered at him proudly, indicating her peace offering. Most of her foul mood vanished at the absurd sight. It lifted completely when the tin man spoke. Instead of yelling he accepted this new madness the way he accepted all the other madness she brought with her wherever she went. "Are those even my size?"
The yellow ferret went still for a moment in deep thought of how to determine that before springing into action. The animal raced around his feet three times as she assessed how big they were before untangling the bunched socks. Using her small paws she rolled one out, studied it critically, nodded to herself, then bunched them back up with busy paws. Finished, she set them closer to him, right against the toe of his boot. The tin man raised an eyebrow. "Fine. You stay out of my clothes and go sit with Deeg until I get back. With any luck you'll stay out of any large amount of trouble you might otherwise find." The ferret cheeped in satisfaction before picking the socks up and walking to her with utter delight at the approval. "You and your acquaintances." He muttered under his breath. "Pain in my ass."
On that note he vanished and she smiled tiredly. She did love when he grumbled. Really, she had no idea why, it was simply so… normal. It made her feel at home or something. How very strange. Leaning down she scooped the animal up and set her in her lap. "You need a name, sock thief." The ferret simply put the socks down beside her before yawning widely and curling up in a ball of yellow fur. She petted her absently as she looked over the table. Tutor already had his nose back in a book while her sister was staring toward the window with tired longing.
She wasn't the only one starting to lag in this room. She would have Glitch go for a walk with her in the garden after the meeting. It would do Az good for more than one reason. She needed fresh air and she knew her sister hadn't spent much time with Glitch the last few days. They were as tight and she and Cain were and she knew how grumpy she was after four days not talking to him. Really, they all needed to clear their heads before this drove them crazy. She half wished Vy-sor would make another move so they could end this like a pair of duelers. Then again, she had always preferred face-to-face confrontation to all this plotting. A few hours later and she dearly regretted that wish.
Author Note: OMG! I updated!