Disclaimer: How I do not own this, let me count the ways: I do not own Tin Man, nor do I own The Christmas Carol, I don't own the Randy Travis song, nor do I own The Wizard of Oz or the Nutcracker or The Night Before Christmas, though reference to the last two are so fleeting as to possibly go unnoticed, and I do not own a certain corporation to which I made reference. I can't remember if there is anything else in here I do not own. Oh, I don't own the English language, but I shall use it as I please.
Author's Note: Merry Christmas!...okay so I'm a bit late on that one. My humblest apologies, I tried really, really hard to get this done on time, but when the trade-off was a sacrifice of quality I had to slow down. Besides, I was kind of busy having my Christmas holidays. Now I'm back at school and it's already trying to kill me. Plus I want my marks! Emphatically! Sigh. Quality Control delayed this somewhat, you may blame her for excess Fastidium since she insisted I let him finish speaking. He's growing on her. Double sigh.
PS Those of you who have not read 'Tales from the Otherside' might want to do so first, it is not absolutely vital but it might help with the mindset. Ta.
Officer Gulch managed – barely – not to slam the door as he stormed into the room he liked to refer to as The Couch. It was a comfortable room, in fact it was the room he'd occupied for the latter half of his time as Azkadellia's bodyguard and adjoined onto the chambers they now shared. He'd decided, much to DG's amusement, back when he'd married her sister, to leave the room as it was rather than re-tasking it to some other purpose so that in the event of wifely displeasure he'd have somewhere more comfortable to sleep than a sofa. Not that Dellia had ever banished him to The Couch before, in fact she still hadn't: Officer Gulch had cast himself into exile for the inexcusable crime of being a complete and unremitting ass.
There had been absolutely no reason for him to blow up like that. DG had merely been making a suggestion, a rather natural one in point of fact. The youngest princess may have been born in the O.Z., but the majority of her memories were in the Otherside, its traditions and ways very much a part of her. It really shouldn't have been a surprise that with two Othersiders and two Otherside acclimatized cyborgs on hand that the Nemesis should try and recreate a few of her favourite Otherside holidays and celebrations. She'd had no reason to think anyone would object; Ahamo had shown himself to be enthusiastic about reminders of the world he'd left behind, and who after all, didn't like Christmas?
Ebenezer Gulch, please stand up.
Azkadellia had looked so excited, too. He could fully comprehend what a holiday celebrating peace, love, family, charity, and forgiveness would mean to her, and if he could have ripped his tongue out the minute he'd started flying off the handle he would have done so gladly. Unfortunately he'd been too locked up in an emotional response that he'd been unable to control and Y-chromosomally incapable of explaining, in the end all he'd managed to accomplish was to haul himself out of the room before he made it any worse.
Flopping back onto the bed, Gulch sighed. Why did no one ever beat the stuffing out of a person when they actually wanted someone to? Cain had merely watched with an inscrutable gaze while everyone else just stared in astonishment; Ahamo, who likely would have been more than willing to oblige the cop, hadn't been there, and the guards were too chain of command conscious at all the wrong moments, darn them. Closing his eyes in a pained grimace, the policeman wondered if he ought to do something to annoy Fastidium, the pompous lord would likely be more than happy to hand out the drubbing Gulch's sense of justice seemed to demand, if given the right provocation. Of course, a duel would likely upset Azkadellia worse than she already was...sighing again, he hoped that DG had managed to mitigate the damage somewhat. Burying his head under a pillow the cop willed this wretched day to end...
...it took a very long time to fall asleep.
He was awakened at some indeterminate hour of the night by a loud clattering and banging. It was followed shortly after by a strange tumultuous clinking and a dull thud.
"Ow!" a voice complained, "Who put dat der? Not s'posed ta be der."
"Fonteroy?" Gulch asked blearily, groping for the light, "What are you...wearing?" he switched mid question as the lamp lit up to reveal his 'guest'.
"Thish?" the young lord answered happily as he jangled his strange attire, "thish ish the chain I's forg'd in life, made i' drink by drink an' flag'n by flag'n."
The cop blinked; that sounded almost familiar.
"You's got one, too," Lord Fonteroy informed him cheerfully, as he resettled the rope of bottles and flasks wrapped around him, "'cepting it's got 'andcuffsh connectin' da bottles an' shtuff."
Officer Gulch was getting an uneasy feeling about this. "Look Fon-"
"WHOOOOOOOO!" the drunken noble cut him off, howling and leaping forward with a tinkling clamour.
"Gah!" exclaimed the startled cop, jumping back, "Ow," he added as he crashed into the headboard, "What the he...ck did you do that for?
"Dunno," Fonteroy shrugged, "s'posed to, that an' tell you sometin', on'y can' 'member wha't'was. Someting...someting 'bout spirits...would'ya like some spirits?" he asked, rifling through the bottles, "Think I gots some Papay spirits 'ere. 'Course iffin I's gonna be visit'd by three spirits, I'd ratha be visit'd by Jack Daniels, Cap'ain Morgan an' Odderside whishkey, can haff Papay spirits anytime I want."
The Otherside policeman groaned in sudden comprehension. "This," he muttered, "is either a bad dream or is actually happening, and the scary part is that both are equally likely. Alright Fonteroy, I've got the message, you can stop haunting my bedroom now...WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
"Gotsta go out da window," the drunken lord explained.
"Oh no, you are not," Gulch growled as he hauled Fonteroy back from the casement.
"Bu' I's s'posed to," the idiot noble objected.
"I don't care what you are supposed to do," the cop stated firmly, capturing the BFF in a headlock and dragging him across the room, "you are using the door!"
"Well dat does make mo'e sensesh bu' I's not da one in charge."
"Thank God for that," the policeman opined emphatically, ejecting the lord from the room, "even if this is a nightmare, they say if you die in your dreams you die in life as WAH!" he bellowed in surprise as he was suddenly bowled over by a being of smaller stature.
"My turn!" crowed DG as she bounced up off of him.
"DG. Bedroom. Middle of the night. Not good," Officer Gulch muttered, slightly disorientated, "Wait," he said, recovering, "what are you doing-"
"I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past!" the youngest princess chirped jubilantly.
"Past? Funny how you seem so present then," he grouched, getting to his feet, "And I don't think sooooYIPE!" he yelped as he was flung across the suddenly enormous room, "Not out the window!" he added as DG snatched his tiny self out of the air and threw up the sash.
His Nemesis, naturally, just howled with laughter and leapt.
Prying one eye open warily, the cop took a moment to peer around. "Oh good," he heaved in relief, "I'm not dead. I thought you weren't supposed to travel storm so close to buildings."
"Do you recognize this place?" DG intoned dramatically.
"Of course I recognize it, I grew up here, it's been less than two years since I left and I've been back to visit since. Furthermore, you know darn well where we are, you've been here often enough."
The crown princess of the O.Z. scowled at him and griped, "You are wrecking the script!"
"Bah humbug," the cop replied with a roll of the eyes.
"That's better," she said, mollified.
"Elmer!" a new voice hollered from the house, causing him to freeze in utter and complete shock, "Dinner's ready, come into the house!"
"D...G," he rasped at last, "When are we?"
His answer came in the form of a small boy who waded through the snow screaming, "Coming Mommy!"
"You are positively adorable in that tiny parka," the crown princess cooed, "we should have brought Az."
"Experiencing a major case of cognitive dissonance over here, try not to interrupt."
"Oh come on," DG huffed impatiently, grabbing his arm and pulling, "I want to see them almost as bad as you do."
Officer Gulch didn't remember opening the door, but suddenly they were inside the house, surrounded by that warm, familiar atmosphere the cop hadn't even realized he'd missed until it wrapped itself around him once more. His mother was bustling about the kitchen that was her sovereign domain, his father was in the living room negotiating with the fire, trying to coax it into a roaring blaze – from the sounds of it, he was losing – and little Elmer was tracking melting snow across the house as he went in search of...
"Grey Gran Puppy!" the child shrieked joyfully, throwing himself at the ancient, wizened old man that had just rounded the corner of the hallway.
"Grey Gran Puppy?" DG murmured with the slightest twitch of her lip.
"Give me a break, DG, I was five," the cop told her absently, his eyes fixed on the old gentleman.
"You sure?" she asked doubtfully, "You look a bit small for five."
"I was," he stated, unable to stop himself from taking an instinctive step forward as the frail seeming senior stooped to heft the tiny child into the air, and staggered slightly under his weight. "I remember this Christmas: we had a record snowfall to play in, I got a sheriff's badge and a toy gun from Santa, and Grey Gran Puppy..." he swallowed hard as the old man tucked his childhood self under his arm and started shuffling over to the dinner table, "Grey Gran Puppy didn't make the next one."
DG was staring at him when he looked down, her big blue eyes intent and searching, the policeman shifted uneasily. She could be so damned acute sometimes. "He wore starched white shirts, buttoned at the neck," she sang softly, "and he'd sit in the shade and watch the chickens peck..."
"His teeth were gone, but what the heck," Gulch joined in quietly, "I thought that he walked on water. Yeah," he added slowly, "pretty much."
"We can stay and watch for a bit," the youngest princess told him, "Mama Gulch looks so young."
"Yeah, well, she wouldn't have been much older than you at the time," the cop murmured back.
After a time the scene faded to be replaced by a new one, the house looked almost identically, Mama Gulch was still bustling about the kitchen, but here and there was the slightest indications of the passage of time: new lines in Mrs. Gulch's face, family and school photos depicting a growing Elmer Gulch, small roundish hole in the doorframe...
"M-mother!" the voice of a young man shouted from the front of the house, "You m-mind g-giving us a l-little help here?"
"Oh honestly," the farmwife huffed, with a quick check on her stove before making her way out of the kitchen, "I thought you boys were going to be out ice fishing until dinner."
"We were," her husband informed her dryly, "only DG decided to play a game called fun with power tools."
"Elmer!" his mother gasped as she entered the foyer, "You're dripping all over the floor!"
"A-am I? Oh g-good, m-means I'm th-thawing o-out."
"Blankets would be nice," added Papa Gulch.
The invisible witnesses surveyed the scene from their past with nostalgic eyes. Young Elmer Gulch was soaked to the skin and absolutely freezing, his teeth chattering to the point that it was becoming exceedingly difficult to talk. Papa Gulch was decidedly underdressed for the weather, having decided to discard his wet articles of clothing until he was clad only in a slightly damp pair of jeans and some sturdy winter boots, and he was carrying a somewhat soggy little DG, wrapped in a ratty jacket that was the only completely dry piece of clothing between them.
"Didn't you end up catching pneumonia?" the older, theoretically wiser DG asked as she watched the younger Gulch all but propose to the fireplace for being so wonderful as to have a blazing fire in it.
"Got an extended Christmas vacation because of it, too, didn't you?" she added as Mama Gulch dumped a load of blankets over her son's head.
"Yeah," Gulch replied dryly, "Two weeks of hacking my lungs up. Fun."
"Good times," the slipper princess said happily as her younger self burrowed under the blankets in search of warm-warm, young Elmer yelped at the intrusion of icy toes while Mrs. Gulch returned from the kitchen bearing hot chocolate.
"...Yes, they were."
This scene, too, faded in time, to be followed by others, each of them different yet in so many ways the same. DG quite nobly refrained from pointing out that he used to enjoy Christmas quite well and the cop secretly admitted it was true. Then the scene shifted entirely, even the house fading away to reveal...
"You sure you're alright with covering Christmas, too?" the police chief asked in a worried tone. The police station had been decorated in a rather enthusiastic but bizarre festive style, much like a literal explosion of green, red and white. One desk in particular looked like it had been hit with a Christmas tree, ornaments and garland included.
"Sure I'm sure," said the occupant of the aforementioned desk, "Now get going before your wife and kids decide to start without you, I've got it covered."
"There's no need to stay at the station all day..."
"Not planning to," Elmer Gulch informed the chief as he shoved him towards the door, "I'm just going to finish up some paperwork, run a few patrols and head home. I'll keep the radio on me in case anyone has an emergency and we're all good to go."
"You know, Elmer, my offer is still valid," the chief said, shrugging into his jacket, "if you change your mind, feel free to come over, we're liable to be up late so no need to worry..."
"Chief," the younger policeman broke in flatly, "you have half of Kansas camping out in your spare bedroom, I'll pass. Have yourself a Merry Christmas, now out!" he ordered, politely but firmly closing the door on his superior.
"Yeah, but you don't have a soul staying in yours," the older man muttered unhappily to the closed door before sadly shaking his head and turning towards his vehicle.
If this fact was bothering the younger Elmer, however, he didn't show it as he hummed Christmas tunes all through doing his paperwork, his steps were fairly light when he strode out to the cruiser he was still sharing with another cop ever since his had had an unfortunate run-in with a tractor. Snow crunched beneath the tires as the vehicle pulled away and the two observers found themselves conveniently seated in the backseat for the ride.
"Have I ever told you," DG mentioned to the present Gulch as his younger counterpart pulled up on the side of the highway and looked intently at his watch, "that you are just a little bit evil?"
"Who me?" Office Gulch uttered in mock astonishment as his former self counted down three, two, one...
There was a roar of an engine and a teenaged DG flew past on her motorcycle, bundled up almost beyond recognition against the cold. Past Gulch grinned, flicked on his siren and started whistling 'Silver Bells'.
"I don't believe it!" the teen DG shrieked as she pulled over a few minutes later, "It's Christmas for pity's sake! What are you Scrooge? Have a heart!"
"And I can't believe you are driving around on the doom machine in the middle of winter," the cop replied calmly, "It's freezing out."
"Popsicle decided to do some maintenance on the truck without warning me, it's useless until the parts come in after Christmas," she explained.
"Well if you are going to do the shopping on your bike, couldn't you at least balance your bags better than this?" the policeman asked, rearranging the bags draped carelessly over the seat, "Geez DG, have a little sense."
"I was doing just fine, thank you very much, I don't see...YOU'RE ACTUALLY WRITING ME A TICKET!" the teen exploded, "Whatever happened to the holiday spirit? Peace on Earth and good will to men?"
"Doesn't really have an effect on the law: speeding at Christmas is still speeding," the younger Gulch told her evenly, handing over the ticket, "Happy Holidays, Ma'am."
"Don't you go hiding behind police protocol, you heartless miser! You...you...you GRINCH!" young DG howled after the cop as he strolled back to the cruiser, "I bet no one else at the station would have given me a ticket for...for..." she broke off suddenly as she inspected the ticket more carefully.
"Merry Christmas, Brat," the grown DG quoted from her seat in the back of the cruiser, the roads are icy, SLOW DOWN. I have to admit," she added, "that was impressive how you snuck those homemade goodies into the grocery bags, if I didn't know you'd done it I'd have never seen you do it."
"Merry Christmas Menace!" her younger self yelled suddenly, cracking the policeman's poker face, causing him to burst out laughing as he slid into the driver's seat. The teen, meanwhile, remounted her bike and took off at a more sedate pace.
"Just out of curiosity," the Commander of the Guard inquired, "how long did it take for you to start speeding again?"
"Actually," the youngest princess stated primly, "I behaved myself all the way home, in fact, I went below speed limit."
"Christmas miracles," Gulch uttered in awed tones, "they do exist."
DG made a face, but whatever she might have said was forgotten when she saw the younger Gulch's next destination. The county graveyard was a peaceful place, well maintained and made beautiful by the earnest work of generations of local residents. Coming to a stop in the closest parking spot, Gulch's past self got out to grab a few bundles out of the trunk while his present self took a moment to decide that anything he might have said or done on this particular trip was innocuous enough to allow DG to drag him out of the car in pursuit. By the time they caught up, previous Gulch had already brushed the snow away from the headstones and set up two little Christmas wreaths, one on each grave.
"Merry Christmas mother, father," he said conversationally as he sat down between the graves, "long time no see. Thought you'd liked to know that I'm doing alright. Tried to get a girlfriend at long last – don't get your hopes up mom, it did not turn out too well. Don't worry, though, DG is keeping herself busy raining down vengeance on my behalf. There's a bet going on at the station as to whether the brat will slip up and do something I'll have to arrest her for, or if we'll be carting Roxanne off in a straight jacket first. Yes, dad, I already put some money down on DG on your behalf, and, yes, mother, I will see to it that DG is brought up short before she crosses the line. I'm pretty sure she knows full well how to tread the line without getting in trouble – it's her specialty after all – but she does occasionally get carried away. Right, father, understatement of the year, I know. Other than that, I don't know what else to tell you, you know how little things change around here. Farmer Spencer..."
"You know," whispered DG, "you seem to be handling all this pretty well, so I don't get why..." she trailed off as the scene shifted once more.
They were back in the police station, but it was a very different Christmas. Someone had made a half-hearted attempt to decorate the room, the result was generic, like an uninspired store front, and had been utterly obliterated anytime it came anywhere near Officer Gulch's desk. Bits of tape and coloured paper were all that remained of would-be cheerful decorations that had been ripped ruthlessly apart and stuffed in the trash. The cop himself was sitting in an unquiet silence, scribbling away at a stack of paperwork with heavy, angry strokes, while across the room the rest of the local police force watched him warily.
"You," DG pronounced, not mincing matters, "look like shit."
Gulch couldn't argue with her. He hadn't realized it at the time – mostly because he hadn't been in any sort of mindset that would have cared – but his appearance was closer to that vapour crazed Longcoat that had stabbed him not so long ago than it was to an upstanding member of the community. The policeman seated at the desk showed signs of recent significant weight loss, he had dark circles under his eyes, a fairly active shoulder tic, and an air of menacing grief; in all honesty, had Officer Gulch encountered the younger cop on the street he'd probably have arrested himself just on risk factor. It was not surprising, really, he remembered this Christmas with that hideous clarity that the worst times in one's life sometimes acquire. DG had disappeared just over three months previously, the cop had been forced to accept that she was in all likelihood dead, but he had not yet stopped going out looking for her every time his shoulders twitched. Everyone was keeping a watchful eye on the grieving policeman, and a frightened one ever since Gulch had nearly torn young Tim Beckley limb for limb for stealing DG's motorbike. James Bentley still had a splint on his arm from the damage he'd taken trying to help hold his fellow officer back.
"Do you really think it's a good idea to let him cover Christmas by himself?" James was whispering urgently to the chief.
"I don't like it either," their superior muttered back, "but he'll do better with something to do, if you want to try and stay with him it's up to you."
Bentley grimaced. "I've already had to replace all my truck tires and a couple of tail lights, the man's a bit emphatic about being left alone, I just don't think he should be is all."
"Yeah, well, Gulches are stubborn like that when they want something," the chief grumbled, "Never realized how big a hand DG had in keeping him stable when his parents died, I haven't seen him this volatile since he was a little kid."
"I think him blames himself somehow," Nancy said tremulously, "either for not saving her or for not being able to find her."
"I think," DG uttered in the smallest voice he'd ever heard her use, "I owe you an apology."
"Not your fault," Gulch murmured back, "Leastwise don't think it is, you didn't jump into that tornado did you?"
The youngest princess gave an alarmingly watery chuckle. "Actually, Momster and Popsicle threw me in," she informed him as they watched the rest of cops file reluctantly out of the room.
"Well that's something that's bound to give you a moment's doubt regarding their parental affection," the policeman returned lightly as he watched his former self finish wading through the paperwork before moving on to clean the station. The Christmas decorations were taking a beating. "What were you doing around Christmas the year you disappeared anyway?" he asked after a moment as the younger Gulch's shoulders twitched again.
"Not entirely sure," DG reflected, "I lost track of the days for a while, we were having a lot of trouble with the Longcoats in those first few months after the witch's defeat."
They followed him out once more to the graveyard where he moved silently to brush the snow from the tombstones with quiet, contained motions. He did not speak as he had in the past, only laid the wreaths carefully down and stood there staring at the graves, his shoulders slumping as the anger drained out of him. Turning, he made his way slowly back to the cruiser, sliding behind the wheel and staring blankly out the windshield for a long, long time before he finally put the vehicle in gear and drove away. Time skipped ahead a little and the two O.Z. royals found themselves watching as the cop trudged wearily up the steps of a house that had taken heavy damage not so long ago, his feet breaking a new path in the fallen snow.
"You know what," Gulch said hastily, as his past self hung a third wreath on the door, "I think we've seen enough, learned what we were here to learn, let's move on shall we?"
But DG was already in motion, retracing his younger self's steps up the porch stairs so the she could read the speeding ticket he was currently pinning to the wreath. Merry Christmas, brat.
"Gah!" Officer Gulch opined as he was hit by a flying princess hug attack that he really should have been expecting. Uncomfortable credence was lent to his This is Actually Happening theory as he definitely felt the steps as he bounced over them in their headlong tumble into the snow. Cold snow. "Ow," he informed her.
From somewhere nearby came the sounds of snow muted footsteps. "I take it DG felt that a hug was in order," a new voice commented.
"She's a hugger," confirmed the policeman, "and apparently very much related to her sister," he added with a pained groan, "The nutcracker may be festive but..."
"Sorry, sorry!" the youngest princess cried, leaping to her feet.
"Just like old times," Gulch grunted, accepting the Tin Man's hand up, "Is the absence of Mr. Revolver another Christmas miracle or do I make the huggable list?"
Cain quirked an eyebrow.
"The list of people allowed to hug DG without getting shot," the cop explained, "It's a small and exclusive list, I can only think of half a dozen people who might be on it."
The Tin Man snorted and glanced around.
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," Officer Gulch muttered as Cain's thoughtful gaze fell upon the younger Gulch, where he was readjusting the straps on the tarps protecting the exposed areas of the old farmhouse from the elements.
"We kind of broke him a little," DG commented regretfully.
"He's good at putting the pieces back together, he just missed a couple is all," the Tin Man rumbled reassuringly.
"We'll just have to help him find the rest..."
"You know, I'm standing right here," grouched the cop.
"...Hand off?" asked the youngest princess.
"Hand off," agreed Cain.
"What?" demanded Gulch.
"He's the Ghost of Christmas Present," DG informed him cheerfully.
"Oh you've got to be kidding me..."
The sound of a slamming door cut him off mid sentence and the cop was no longer standing in the snow outside the old Gale place but instead amidst the scene he'd left behind in the palace of Central City.
"What just happened?" the crown princess asked as she stared at the door in bemusement.
"Gulch glitched," opined Glitch, "Total meltdown."
"No," Raw corrected with a shake of his head, "DG hit wound. Old wound, healed in haste, buried deep, not forgotten."
"He yelled at us," Azkadellia whispered, aghast, "and not just in there's-an-armed-madman-after-us-and-you-just-chained-me-to-the-wall exasperation, but actually yelled at us."
"Anytime you'd like to kick my a-butt, I'd be agreeable," Gulch commented to the Tin Man standing beside him.
"Why bother? You do a far better job of punishing yourself," Wyatt de Sade Cain murmured back, "Gulch this may have escaped your notice, but you are human."
"DG, what did you do to him?" Az accused, distracting Gulch from his astonishment.
"She died," the Tin Man beside her replied with far too much understanding for Gulch's comfort.
The room stilled then...
"Ah no," DG sighed, "I should have realized but he always seems so steady on his feet that I forget, Christmas is hard on people without family and he never stops to give himself a thought...dammit," she scowled suddenly at Cain, "all you men and your manly man stuff, would it hurt you to show just a little vulnerability every once in a while?"
"Probably," the unseen lawmen answered without hesitation.
The Tin Man in the scene, however, wisely refrained from comment, merely smiling benignly while his wife gave off glaring in order to plan with her sister how to deal with the problem Gulch. A little worrying that, but before the policeman could sneak forward to learn what Nemesis may have in store for him the scene melted away...
...or rather, it shifted. And not as far as Gulch would have liked. The door had not latched when the cop had slammed it, instead it had recoiled just enough to leave an absolutely irresistible gap for the four men crouched rather comically outside, listening eagerly. Azkadellia had chosen to nickname her protection detail after the seven dwarves in Snow White and had a habit, when in a fit of pique, of using these nicknames. Her husband, on the other hand, thought the title Peanut Gallery a bit more fitting, and if their loyalty weren't unquestionable he probably wouldn't have put up with this sort of thing. Maybe.
"What's going on now?" the one Az had designated Happy hissed through the doorway.
"Otherside celebration is still a go but Old Gulchy is apparently having some kind of trauma," Bashful, the only one on duty, whispered back from just inside the room.
"Well he could stop doing that already," Doc muttered, "he's ruining the holidays."
"Ya ain't never heard o' this Chriss-mass afore today," the dour Grumpy pointed out.
"Yeah, but they sound like fun," replied the irrepressible Dawkins, "just think of the possibilities this mistletoe represents."
The Commander of the Guard sighed in resignation, the man he'd promoted to guard commander was undoubtedly going to get someone shot – and was probably going to enjoy himself immensely doing it.
The scene shifted again. Dellia was sitting on the end of their bed, cuddling Kansas on her lap and casting worried glances at the door to the adjoining room. Picking up on her concern, the little mobat tugged lightly on her hair to get her attention and made a few signs of inquiry.
"No, not right now," the eldest princess murmured sadly, "he's feeling a bit wounded at the moment and needs some time to himself."
Chirping insistently, Kansas crawled out Azkadellia's lap, climbed the bedpost and flung himself across the room towards the dresser. He was getting rather good at gliding, the cop thought with pride as the little mobat landed with only a minor crash amongst the princess' toiletries. Then he picked up a comb to use as a makeshift crutch and hobbled across the dresser before letting out another chirp.
Dellia laughed quietly as she glided forward to scoop up the little mobat. "No, he's not injured," she reassured him, "just a little heart broke and too oblivious to realize it. He'll be okay," she said, looking wistfully at the door again, "I hope."
"Seriously Cain, anytime you want to shoot me is fine by me," Gulch offered unhappily.
The Tin Man sighed. "You are missing the point."
The cop blinked at him uncomprehendingly.
"And she says I'm stubborn," Wyatt sometimes-there's-only-one-way-to-solve-a-problem Cain huffed in exasperation. Then he hit'im.
"Ow," Gulch complained as he sat up rubbing his chin, "I know I asked you to but did you have to...Cain?" the cop called as he glanced around in puzzlement. The Tin Man was nowhere to be seen, nor, for that matter, was the palace or, indeed, anything. Wherever he was now, it was pitch black and foggy, he could hardly see the hand in front of his face and the other one banged painfully against cold hard stone as he groped about in the darkness. "Well crap," the policeman opined as he felt along the edges of the stone. He was pretty sure he knew what that was...
"Verily I declare unto your royal self," a voice spake solemnly from the gloom, "that if thou doth not take scrupulous heed and carefully mind the concerned warnings of thy numerous fellow beings, if thou doth not change thine erroneous conduct and dutifully mend thine oblivious cognition, then thou shalt find that-"
"Fastidium?" Officer Gulch uttered in surprise.
"The noble corporeal being thou recognize as Lord Fastidium is overshadowed in this instance by the immeasurable gravity and solemnity that is the haunting spirit of thine Otherside ritual's prospective manifestation. If Your Royal Highness had not so precipitously interrupted, he would have diligently performed his sombre duty of bestowing upon your lordship the knowledge of-"
"You do realize that the Ghost of Christmas Future is supposed to be silent don't you?" the cop interrupted informatively.
Lightening split the sky, allowing the policeman to catch sight of Lord I-never-stop-speaking Fastidium dressed like a gothic dandy, complete with cloak, and glaring balefully at him. "If it suits your royal pleasure better," the lord droned acidly, "I shall restrict mine self to the mere undertaking of drawing to Your Royal Highness' attention the stone that hath been inscribed Offi-"
"OH NO YOU DON'T!" shrieked Azkadellia, coming out nowhere to hit the pompous noble with a rather impressive running tackle. Fastidium yelped in surprise and pain as he was bowled over backwards into the aforementioned tombstone. "He is not allowed to die! I won't let him! And anyone who tries to make him is going to have to deal with me and. You. Don't. Want. To. Deal. With. Me," she growled as she shook the lord by the lapels of his jacket.
"Y-your Highness," sputtered the besieged lord, "I b-beseech you t-to un-n-n-hand mine h-humble self and-d-d allow m-me to c-carry out the d-d-dispatch of mine v-vital c-commission. I m-meant n-no th-threat upon the p-person of th-thine n-noble husband, o-only to r-remind him of w-what he m-must n-needs be c-cognisant of b-but is otherw-wise psychologically inh-hibited from r-realizing: th-that the s-solitude he d-dreads need n-not manifest, in-indeed it cannot do th-thusly as it w-will not b-be allowed."
Officer Gulch stared at the noble in utter shock and blinked. Had he just made sense? Christmas miracle three...
"What?" hissed Az, apparently too upset to try and unravel the meaning of Fastidium's speech.
"What he is trying to say," the cop translated as he gently pried his wife's fingers away from the lord's throat, "in quite so many words and then some, is that I am an oblivious idiot, unconsciously stuck in the past despite obvious details of the present."
"You are not an idiot," the eldest princess stated fiercely. Gulch's lip twitched at the thought that she'd made no objection to oblivious. He paid no mind, though, he was feeling decidedly light. In fact, he was fairly certain he saw something impish moving with the shadows, there was the faintest whiff of popcorn accompanying a laughing breeze; it would probably go nicely with spirits...
Turning in the direction of the sound, the cop opened his eyes to discover that he was back on The Couch again and his wife had decided to join him in exile. As her hand slid away from the handcuff now attaching his right wrist to the bedpost, Gulch found himself distracted from what he'd been intending to say first by a rather fascinating discovery.
Swallowing hard so as not to drool, the policeman asked with significant interest, "What are you wearing?"
"DG says it is a Mrs. Claus outfit."
"Oh," he said huskily, "I never realized her first name was Victoria."
"It's supposed to be a Christmas present," Azkadellia continued, looking at him searchingly, "You don't mind?"
"Don't see how I possibly could."
"Deeg told me Christmas hard for people without family," Dellia murmured as she wrapped her arms around him.
"Well it's a good thing I have lots of family then," Gulch replied as he wrapped his arm around her in turn, "Sorry about what said early, dear, I was being an-"
She placed a finger against his lips, silencing him. "Merry Christmas, silly man," his wife whispered as she leaned forward.
He agreed wholeheartedly.