Disclaimer: I am a little sleep deprived at the moment but I am fairly certain that I still don't own Tin Man or the song I'm pretty sure I'm about to play with.
Author's Note: And now for something entirely different. Brace yourself people, I am about to attempt to be serious. The last time I did that the Oneshot-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named just about destroyed me through its complete refusal to come out properly. It took forever to reach postable status. Still, I wanted to do one last story before I said goodbye to my internet connection and this was the one that declared itself ready to be written so here goes. Hope you like despite a serious lack of yuk-yuks. Now I'm leeeeeeaaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again...
Nights were the worst. The TDESPHTL continued running regardless, so when night fell and darkness blotted out the scene he could still hear them. It was like listening to what was being done to his family now rather than watching what had been done to it then. His wife and son were crying out for him, begging for him, and he could do nothing about it. He hated the darkness, loathed it almost as much as the unyielding confines of the tin suit, and there was nothing he could do about that either. The one-time protector, husband and father had been reduced to the worst possible state: he was helpless.
It took less than a cycle to lose track of the days. One homogenous day bled so completely into the other that it was impossible to distinguish between them. Nothing occurred to interrupt the scene, the sight of Longcoats, no matter how holographic, was enough to make anyone with the slightest sense of self-preservation steer clear. He would have liked to call it monotonous but how could one feel bored at the sight and sound of their family's torment? Anger, yes, hatred, fear, despair, rage, agony, dread, misery, pain, and fury definitely, but boredom? Never. The scenery may never change but it also could not do else than twist the blades of his anguish in deeper.
He often wondered which would drive him mad first: the sight of his failure or the sound of its ever-reaching consequences. The passage of time was actually immaterial, his punishment encompassed eternity, stretching out to infinity in both directions without beginning or end. Perhaps he had always been here, he was beginning to forget there'd been a time in which he'd breathed free air and held warm, living, loving bodies in his arms. His personal hell followed him everywhere, even when he managed through sheer and utter exhaustion of mind, body and soul to fall asleep the darkness invaded his dreams. There was no escape of any kind, not even in death. He would not take it anyhow; he'd never backed down in his life.
Eventually darkness was all he knew. The day was filled with dark thoughts of vengeance, the night with self loathing, and his dreams, his dreams knew only how to torment as shadows tried to devour his soul. He was dying. His body may be strong and healthy but his mind was breaking. He railed against his prison, he'd always been a stubborn man – brave man, strong man, tin man – but he injured himself as often as not in his desperate defence. Even the indomitable will needs a moment of respite...
...and then one night, in the depths of the darkest of dreams, that respite actually arrived. It was a light, a small and flickering light that was oh so very far away. Just the merest dying spark, so faint he almost didn't recognize it for what it was, and yet it nearly blinded him. He had no feet or legs in this dreamscape, no means of locomotion or path to let him cross the great expanse between him and it, but he bent his will to the task. He would reach the fire and so reach it he did.
Darkness was here, too. It was trying to snuff this flame even as it tried to shatter him, encroaching ever closer, smothering and cold. The little flame was but a candle to a great wind, it guttered and stuttered, dimmed and waned, and still it refused to go out. He had no body in the dreamland but he shielded the tiny light nonetheless. Around them the inky blackness still raged but he would not let it touch the flame, and it seemed that while he did so the night couldn't touch him either. In that space between waking and sleep, just before he was dragged back into the conscious world, he swore he saw the spark grow.
The day seemed different somehow. His conscious mind had no way of accounting for the change. Everything seemed clearer, his vision, his mind, his thoughts. This wasn't necessarily a good thing, his prison still consisted of razor sharp thorns, but it was a change. Homogeneity had been interrupted, the darkness was no longer eternal, there had been a beginning and there could be an end.
When next he entered the dream world he feared it all to have been an illusion, or a dream within a dream. For the briefest, panicked moment he could not find his little spark then he heard it calling him as surely as he was calling it. The little flame was bigger today, if only minutely. The darkness was furious, beating mercilessly down upon it and him. Midnight blackness howled and stormed but it could not move him, the Tin Man had something to protect.
The light grew. He did not know when he realized that his little spark was a girl; it was perhaps about the time his conscious self began to wonder why the nights had begun to feel so much brighter than the days. There were no forms here, only spirit; he did not know if he was watching a child growing or a woman regaining her health. All that mattered, though, was that the light must not be allowed to fade. As long as he stood by the flame, the night could not smother her and the darkness could not cut him. The enemy could wail all it wanted, he wasn't giving any ground.
The day was brightening now, too. The shadows were leaving his waking thoughts. He still wanted his vengeance, but the darker aspects were being laid aside. When he caught his enemies justice would be swift and sure, but he would not sully himself with their methods. His conscious mind did often wonder why he hadn't yet gone insane; meanwhile his chaotic snarl of emotional responses began to organize itself into cool purpose. He was surviving.
Then one night life was altered irrevocably. The flame that had always been so very far away even as he curled around it protectively was suddenly blazing across the sky, coming ever closer. Almost as though a veil had been lifted, the light shone as if to chase every last shadow from its presence. It took his breath away.
He should have been afraid. The little spark that was his light and his purpose didn't need him anymore. Instead he felt nothing but joy. When he woke he had no idea how hope had been added to his emotional palate.
It was a day like any other but not. For some reason someone actually ran at the Longcoats and not away. She was a punitive little female carrying a pitiful stick but she made the never ending images disappear. And then she came looking for him, and just like that he was free. He wasn't sure he had an emotional response for this.
He started with fear, despair, agony, dread, misery, and pain.
"Where are they?"
Then he moved on to anger, hatred, rage, and fury.
"I'm going to kill him."
Eventually he managed to locate and dust off gratitude.
"Much obliged for the help."
But he wasn't willing to go any farther. It was day time, where thoughts of vengeance ruled. He had a purpose and he couldn't be sidetracked from it. He tried to make that clear.
The kid really didn't like that.
"No offense, but when we found you, you were in a tin box. You don't know me. Come on Glitch, we'll find the way ourselves."
What she said mattered to his waking self but it was how she said it that truly reached him. In that moment DG flared up at him he was once again that battered soul seeing a light in the darkness, and the flame still called to him as he called to it whether he knew it or not.
"Zipperhead keep your mouth shut, Kid you stay behind me."
Heart had nothing to do with it but Wyatt Cain would not allow that light to be harmed.