AN: I don't own Tin Man. I'm just borrowing the characters for my own twisted ends. :D
Recommended Listening: "Finding Answers" from the 9 soundtrack (not to be confused with Nine). Also, songs that helped influence this entire thing are "Fragile," by Delta Goodrem, "The Light" by Sara Bareilles (how appropriate), "Vermilion, Part Two" by Slipknot, and "Rubik's Cube," by Athlete.
Queen Lavender allowed herself a little bit of a sigh as she watched Az and Jeb become lost in their embrace. "I am so happy that those two have finally seen the light," she murmured, giving them their privacy as she moved inside to her dressing table.
"As am I, my love." Ahamo came up behind her and, placing his hands on her shoulders, kissed her deeply.
"I love you," she whispered.
"I know." They shared a brief, sweet moment, their foreheads pressed together in affection.
"Tell me," she began as she combed her smoky hair. "What news does the Shadow Man bring?"
Ahamo grinned innocently. "And who says that the Shadow Man has anything to report?" He strode over to the dresser as he removed his jacket, enjoying the suspense of the moment.
Lavender raised an eyebrow. "Since the Prince Consort has been bouncing around all day like an errant puppy." Her tone of voice was not quite irritated, but displayed the slightest touch of pique.
"Ouch." Sky-blue eyes twinkled. "Have I really been that bad?" Her eyebrow arched even higher. "All right, I suppose I have…but wouldn't you rather be surprised?"
"Surprises from the Shadow Man are never a good thing," was the dry reply. "I should fire him for all the irritation he causes me, really."
"Again with the dagger to the heart! My love, you know that there is no Prince Consort without a Shadow Man."
"My love, you are starting to vex me, really. I'm starting to consider the merits of a Prince Consort without the…extras." Her violet gaze in the mirror was pointed, though there was a slight quirk at the corner of her mouth that betrayed her amusement.
"Oh, all right. You've twisted my arm." Ahamo shut the wardrobe. "Her Majesty," he wiggled his eyebrows. "Is to expect some…overtures from Wonderland."
The queen spun around in her seat to stare at her husband, all amusement fled. She never would have expected to hear such a thing. "Wonderland? You can't be serious."
"The information is good," he said, his own smile disappearing. "The envoys should be here in a week or two."
"Darling, what am I supposed to think of this?" Lavender frowned deeply, her mind racing through all of the possibilities, good and bad. "My mother cut off all diplomatic ties with Wonderland when the Hearts overthrew the Diamonds. The things that the current queen does with those horrid teas…"
"Relax, my love." Ahamo sat down in his armchair by the fire, folding his hands beneath his chin. "The Queen of Hearts is sitting quite…uncomfortably in a locked and padded cell. It is her son that sits on the throne now."
"Jack? Jack Heart? How is that better?" All previous intel concerning the Hearts had implied that the king and prince were complicit with the queen's dealings.
"He was a rather prominent member of Wonderland's Resistance."
She shot him a look. "This is something that the Shadow Man has been remiss in informing me."
Ahamo tried his best to look contrite. "Sorry, my dear. It must have slipped my mind. We had other things to deal with at the time. The Riders, the coup, our daughters falling in love."
Lavender shook her head at her husband's attempts to distract her. "I suppose. But how did Jack Heart contrive to overthrow his mother?"
"With some very…interesting characters," he said. "We'll leave it for the envoy to explain. Of course, we must tread cautiously. Jack Heart may not be a threat, but the whispers from the Shadow Man's informants say that our little coup may have origins in Wonderland."
"Of course," she murmured. "There are those in Wonderland who can afford to arrange such a contract with the Guild." She looked up. "But how do we know Jack Heart isn't behind this?"
"We don't. We'll just call it a gut feeling."
"Envoys and threats from Wonderland," she sighed. "These are strange times, indeed."
"Strange, but fun." He got up and stretched. "And now, I'm for a bath." He smiled down at his wife. "Care to join me, queen of my heart?"
Lavender rolled her eyes. "That was, as DG says, cheesy." Nevertheless, she put her hand in his and allowed herself to be led away. There would be time enough to consider everything that Wonderland was offering. Her kingdom was recovering, her daughters were happy, and her husband was waiting. For now, life was good.
Wow. After two years, 35 chapters, over 100,000 words, and countless hours spent rewatching Tin Man, it's finally finished. This story has been my baby for so long, I can hardly believe it! I never would have dreamed that it would turn out like this, but I couldn't be happier.
Oh yes, the sequel is going to be a crossover. From the moment I saw SyFy's Alice, I couldn't help but think that these two would cross over so well. Can you imagine the hijinks that Az and Alice would get into? And I thought Jack and Duchess were woefully underused. Did the Shadow Man turn out to be who you thought he was? The hints were there, albeit very obliquely!
To all my readers - thank you so, so much for taking this journey with me, and for trusting me despite all of the angst and cliffhangers. You've been so wonderful, and every kind word has been chicken soup for my writer's soul (The cheese! It's...greasy!).
This story wouldn't have made it off the ground if it weren't for two people: poptate, who indulged my fancy and encouraged me to write even when this was nothing more than a crack romance, and MatsuMama, who graciously accepted the challenge of becoming my beta. She pushed, she pulled, and she talked me through every single rough spot. Thank you, ladies. You deserve cookies by the truckload.