Disclaimer: Don't own Tin Man, and the initial fairytale (which I also do not own) that kicks off this story is not all my original writing – I got the bones from Wikipedia and fleshed it out a little from there. I suppose I could have done an original rewrite but then I probably wouldn't have been able to keep it short enough (I'm a wordy being, you might have noticed). Besides, the important stuff starts after the italics (and that, writing wise, is all mine).
Author's Note: So, I was supposed to be writing another chapter of 'The Courting of Officer Gulch' but then this story jumped out and grabbed me. What can I say? When I realized months ago that I was probably going to do more fairytales I googled them to look for likely candidates (and to jog my memory), I found this Japanese one and filed it away for later thought. Then I went out to water cattle today and it turned into this. I plan nothing, these things just happen. I'll be back to Courting tomorrow...I think. Eheheheh. ;)
PS Warning: mush alert. I generally try to avoid (it makes me feel silly to write – especially since Quality Control then has to read it) but this one ambushed me.
Long ago and far away, an old couple lived in the mountains. Every day, as they had from their youth, the man cut wood, and the woman wove; it was a simple life, but good. One day as he worked, the old man found a spring and drank from it, and to his utter amazement, he became a young man. Delighted, he ran home to share his discovery of the Fountain of Youth. Overjoyed, his wife said a young man needed a young wife, so she would go and drink, but they should not both be away, so he should wait. The husband waited. He waited and waited until he began to grow anxious. When she did not return after many long hours, he went after her. He found a baby by the spring; his wife had drunk too eagerly and grown too young. Saddened, he carried her back to the cottage they had shared, where life had been simple, but good.
Wyatt Cain set the book of stories down as a familiar pain settled into his chest. It figured that of all the tales in the book DG had bought for the baby Jeb and his new young wife were expecting he would randomly turn to that one. Cain felt old as he stared down at the cover the crown princess had magically altered to read 'Fairytales of the Otherside'. He'd felt old ever since he'd been released from his tin prison...no, ever since he'd been put in it, but he'd never felt grandfather old. Time had a way of sneaking up on a person, and he'd been a sitting duck for almost ten years, it'd been too easy. The Tin Man had found Time waiting in ambush the second a young, blue-eyed girl had opened the door to set him free. Had there been a Fountain of Youth on hand then he would have been in danger of drinking too deeply from it. If only there had been...
A joyous, exuberant laugh dances through the air, drawing the Tin Man's attention to the window where, far below, he can see the youngest princess of the O.Z. splashing about merrily, spinning in circles and waving her hands to the heavens as if in thanks for the deluge they are currently receiving. For the Kansas farm girl, rain is not the enemy. It is a blessing, a gift, and a magic far more real to her than the light which sends little dolls floating and whirling above an outreached hand. Rainy days are to her, he knows because she had told him, renewals and promises, hope in the fields and dreams in the garden. And they are memories, oh so many memories. Watching the princess gambolling about in the now flooded grounds of Central City Palace, as she introduces her sister to the art of puddling, while the headcase performs a graceful yet alarming rain dance and the Viewer looks on, basking in the warmth of good feelings, the Tin Man remembers a young boy by a log cabin with mud pies and battle plans against the evil boy living across the way. He cannot remember now what made the enemy so evil, but he can almost recall the feel of rain on a bare head as nature attempted to wash away the grime even as it offered up a puddle for exploration. The boy watches the princess skip about with a feeling of kinship, but the man that boy grew into can't stop himself from worrying that the girl will end up catching something, soaked as she is. Already his feet are moving, carrying him forward to spoil their fun.
Cain never can explain to himself later how he ended up chasing DG through the rain. He had gone out there to bring them in, he knew he had, but then his boots were filling with water and the crown princess' eyes were dancing almost as much as she was as she giggled and flitted mischievously away...and he had to follow. And follow he did as she shrieked in amusement and wove through the trees, it was as if that little boy by the cabin had risen up once more to snatch the reins away from the stuffy old Tin Man he has become. By the time he catches up to her, which is perhaps only because he startled her by chuckling, the edges of his lips are curling almost easily into what has come to be, over time, his rare smile.
A half hour after setting out to do so, the Tin Man finally convinces the group to make their soggy way back into the palace. Both princesses are wrapped up in his duster while rainwater drips off Cain's fedora, soaking him to the bone. The zipperhead apologizes repeatedly but his clothes are even wetter than theirs and Raw never has been one for jackets. The Tin Man doesn't mind, nor do the princesses, but when Glitch starts in for the seventh time, Cain hits him just to see if he has anything else to say. Now he won't shut up about muglug.
Hot cocoa, however, is the order of the day. The drink first introduced when a certain Consort slipped his way into the O.Z. was revived when his daughter made her way back home. Sitting in front of the roaring fire in the royal library – on the floor, because she insisted – wrapped in blankets and rapidly becoming toasty warm, DG initiates a thumb war. The game is childish, simple, and with his big hands and her little ones the crown princess seems hopelessly outmatched, but that dainty thumb is deftly swift and surprisingly strong, and it takes Cain several minutes to trap it beneath his own. Glancing up in triumph, he gets distracted when he meets her eyes, and while the Tin Man is surely, surely too old to blush over something so minor as holding hands under such innocent conditions, the firelight seems to have given him a ruddy glow.
Then the eldest princess shrieks in alarm, breaking the moment, as the headcase forgets the purpose of the game, launches her over his shoulder and puts her in a headlock. Bemused at finding herself suddenly upside down on the nearby sofa, it takes Azkadellia a minute before she recovers sufficiently to glare and wave a hand in revenge. The world immediately becomes a much bigger place to live in for anyone by the name of Glitch. When the princess drains her cup and flips it overtop the advisor until he learns to behave himself, Cain considers going so far as laughing while the Viewer actually does.
Entering his room hours later, the Tin Man swears every bone in his body is creaking as if to remind him that he is not as young as he used to be while his mind protests that he's not as old as all that yet, but it is hard to convince himself of anything when he is constantly reminded of how young he is not. Thinking again of a foolish story in a silly book, Cain wonders why the Othersiders would choose to torture themselves so with thoughts of things that could never be. He determines to put the thought aside and go to bed but someone is tapping on his window and suddenly there is a princess in the room and he is not sure how she got there. The Tin Man doesn't know what to have a fit about first: the fact that DG is in his bedroom in the middle of the night or that she arrived through the window.
"Come on," she says, darting forward to grab his hand, "You've got to see this." Pulling him along, the princess is smiling so delightedly that he forgets to scold her like he was just about to, then she is scampering back out the window and climbing unhesitatingly up the roof with all the confidence of a girl who's climbed every obstacle she's come across from the day she was born. And although, or perhaps because, they are four stories up, Cain chases right after her, because there is nowhere she can go that he won't follow.
"Look," she whispers upon reaching their destination, which, being DG, is the highest darn bit of climbable roof she could find.
Obediently, Cain looks up, only to discover that the sky is filled with falling stars.
"On the Otherside that would be a meteor shower," the crown princess murmurs in awe, "in the O.Z. who knows? Isn't it pretty," she neither asks nor states.
Cain agrees, but he isn't looking at the sky when he does.
"You know," DG continues after a moment, smiling up at him a touch ruefully, "on the Otherside there's a belief that the first person to wish on a falling star gets their wish."
It is enough to make the Tin Man turn his gaze back to the stars. He does not believe what the Othersiders do, but watching star upon star blaze a brilliant path across the sky he can't help but let all those maybes and if only's and nevers come drifting to the surface. He wishes there could be a Fountain of Youth, he wishes it weren't impossible, he wishes he were a king or that she weren't a princess, he wishes a thousand and one different wishes, great and small, and all focused around making possible the one thing that he shouldn't want, can never have, but cannot stop himself from wanting anyhow. He wishes...
He looks away from the sky once more and discovers that, though she brought him out for this, DG isn't watching the falling stars either. Somewhere off beyond his shoulder Cain knows the moons are full, or nearly so, because he has no trouble seeing her face, and he understands the sadness of the old man when he discovers his wife has drank too much of youth. It is the same pain the Tin Man feels whenever he looks the crown princess' way. She is so young, so innocent, so caring, so giving, so mischievous, impulsive, erratic, incomprehensible, and every other little thing that makes her so infinitely DG, and he's going to be a grandfather. A young grandfather, a part of him insists stubbornly, but a grandfather nonetheless. And yet somewhere within, in a place so deep down it is nearly forgotten, he is sure he hears a younger man huff in frustration. That younger man that taught an old Tin Man to fight because he kept getting in them, to plan on the fly because he never looked before he leaped, and who always believed the man who got the girl was the one who fought hardest for her. The young Wyatt Cain, who's shade abruptly slaps his older self's hands off the reins and decides it's about time someone stopped thinking all the time and got around to actually doing something.
DG inhales sharply when Cain's hands come up ever so gently to cup her face. Both stand ever so still for a moment as the princess can scarcely breathe for fear of shattering this sudden, painful hope, and the Tin Man pauses, because Wyatt Cain, no matter what age you may find him, was never anything else but honourable, and dammit he wants permission. DG really wishes she could move or speak at this particular instant because she still can't breathe and if the Tin Man doesn't kiss her soon she is going to pass out, and if this moment passes without anything happening she is going to be so thoroughly pissed when she wakes up again.
Fortunately some of this seems to have been conveyed sufficiently through her eyes, for Cain suddenly switches gears from full stop to go go go, and he swoops in on her as an old tin wall comes crashing down and finally lets him move forward once more. DG finally regains control of her limbs and she gets her hands up to grasp firmly unto his lapels just in case he gets any ideas about running away again. When Cain tries to come up for air a few minutes later – because while he most certainly meant to kiss her, he had meant to keep it light, but he has been waiting so long – she objects vehemently and uses her purchase to haul him back down again. She wasn't the one keeping everyone waiting and she wants to make that clear. Fractured selves becoming whole and one once more, Cain definitely gets the message...
...and as the stars continue to fall overhead, having granted the one wish they could and the only one that had really mattered anyway, an old Tin Man learns he never really needed a Fountain of Youth, he merely needed to allow himself to be young at heart.