Disclaimer: I vant to suck the ownership of Tin Man right out of you, you may keep the fairytale; it never really did much anyhow. Also do not own the Billy Madison song (er, that is the name of the movie, right?)
Author's Note: I knew I should have crept downstairs at 3am to e-mail this story to Quality Control. As it was I missed catching her in the morning – er, later morning – and ended up having to wait all day for her to wake up again. Almost posted it without her, but I am too paranoid, besides I do that once and it works and she might get reluctant on me about reading them. 'The Courting of Officer Gulch' is currently being discussed between Muse and brain-brain, we're not sure of the ordering or if there are any chapters I have yet to discover, so I thought I'd whip this one out to keep you entertained in the meantime. Until later then. Cheers
PS I think I shall dedicate this one to daughterofthe1king who was hoping for it and is bound to enjoy the ending. Alright, now go forth and kick your muse's butt.
Wyatt Cain let out a grunt of exertion and hefted himself up a little bit further. Now if he could just shift a fraction more and...got it. "Can you, ermph, tell me a...gumph...again why I'm, argh, doing this?" the Tin Man panted as he hauled himself up through the window of Princess DG's chambers.
"I wanted to see if it would work," the aforementioned princess replied.
Halfway through pulling himself into the room, Cain stopped to give her an incredulous look.
"Well I knew you wouldn't let me test it," DG said defensively, "and I was curious."
Standing once more on solid ground as he looked down the seven stories he'd just climbed, he had to agree with her. What if she fell? Falling had certainly been on his mind ever since he passed the third floor or so. He didn't like falling, and there wasn't a conveniently placed lake this time. Grunting noncommittally in response, the Tin Man began hauling up the rope and coiling it on the floor. No sense leaving it where an ill-intentioned assassin could climb up – or a mischievous princess climb down.
"Mind telling me what's so all-fired special about this rope that you needed to check to see if it would work like any other rope?" he inquired.
"It's made of human hair."
Cain dropped the rope abruptly. "That's, uh, that's interesting," he commented, wiping his hands on his pants.
"Just one human's actually," the princess stated with a knowing grin, "according to legend my great-great-many-times-great grandmother was none other than Rapunzel herself. And this," she said, scooping up the rope and continuing where the Tin Man had left off, "is supposed to be made from her extraordinarily long hair. On the Otherside," DG continued confidingly, "Rapunzel is only a fairytale, completely fictional, but in the O.Z., she's legend. That's a step up, and increases the probability that there is at least some truth in the tale. Still, seven stories worth of hair seems a bit excessive. Az says there is magic in the rope, making it so that it is as long as you need and whatnot."
"I think Princess Azkadellia," Cain told her gently, "was having you on a little."
"Hey," the youngest princess huffed stubbornly, "you climbed it, and I've checked the whole thing, there's no sign of any seam or break or whatever you call it where rope fibres meet up to extend the thing. And I could swear it wasn't this long earlier," she finished in somewhat exasperation as she discovered there was yet more rope to coil.
"Whatever you say, Princess," the Tin Man agreed solemnly.
"Are you humouring me?" DG asked suspiciously.
"Wouldn't dream of it, Princess," Cain assured her, "I'd never get any rest if I took to humouring you. Someone has to keep you in line."
Somewhat in proof of his statement, the youngest princess stuck her tongue out at him. She really shouldn't do that, not only was it terribly un-princess-like, but it also made him think of other uses for that particular appendage. And he was most certainly not thinking about that.
"Come on," he muttered gruffly, "you're late for your lessons and I have a trip to prepare for."
DG grimaced slightly at the thought of her interminable magic lessons. "'Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I'm not a fool'," she groused quietly.
"Nothing," she growled then brightened, "So what's this trip you're going on? Doing anything interesting?"
The Tin Man paused. "Hunting," he answered after a moment.
"Hunting?" the princess repeatedly incredulously, her eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion, "Your prey doesn't happen to run around on two legs and wear long coats does it?"
"I don't believe this," she exploded, "How on earth did Aha-father talk you into tracking down Longcoats? You helped save the whole bloody O.Z., you've done enough! You don't have to go chasing after every little group of escaped Longcoats that decides to make a nuisance of itself! I'm going to kill him!"
"Hey," Cain fired back sternly, "I volunteered. The Longcoats were spotted near the cab-near the forests of the Eastern Guild," he corrected as he saw her flinch of the almost mention of his cabin, the place of his torment, a fact she remembered almost as well as he, "I happen to know the area. It's a job that needs done and it makes sense to have them that are best equipped for the problem to be dealing with it. I'll be fine."
DG glared back mutinously. He knew that look; it was the one she'd worn when insisting she could handle the Papay and make it to Central City just fine on her own if he wouldn't come with her. He had yielded then, but only because not doing so would have put her in danger she was not then capable of dealing with. Now, however, yielding would have the reverse affect so he returned her glare with one of his own. Since the princess was actually a rather tender-hearted, reasonable person under all that fire and he was, well, an ornery old Tin Man, Cain's glare was far more effective than hers. She held out for a few stubborn minutes then her gaze wavered and she threw herself forward.
Every muscle in Cain's body tensed instantly as the princess wrapped her arms around him. Used to this, DG waited out his initial stiffness at the physical affection, something he had yet to overcome even a year after being released from the tin suit.
"You be careful, you hear me?" she murmured into his ear as he a last relaxed and brought up his arms to return the hug.
"Will do," he rumbled back.
She held him a minute longer then stepped back slowly. "Right, um," she floundered.
"Get to lessons, Kid," he commanded gruffly, nodding in that direction.
The princess huffed at him – she hated it when he called her Kid – but she went. The Tin Man stood watching he until she disappeared around the corner then shook himself and set out on his own mission.
DG was waiting by the front door looking wistful and worried when he was ready to depart. He knew she wanted to go with him, and that she missed being able to travel without pomp, circumstance, and about fifty bodyguards following her every footstep. Some of those were his fault, but he was being prudent, he told himself, not paranoid. He'd like to take her along, too, but he couldn't afford it. They wanted to capture as many Longcoats alive as possible in order to question or even, if at all plausible, reintegrate them into society, and he knew darn well he wouldn't be able to stop himself from killing them all if the youngest princess was there. The risk to her safety was too great. He had failed to protect once...
"Don't you dare get shot or fall out a window into a frozen lake," she told him sternly as he mounted his horse – the white stallion she'd insisted he keep after the Eclipse, much to the disgruntlement of the actual owner. Cain had managed to pay him back eventually.
"I'll do my best," the Tin Man replied solemnly, "should be easy, there are no windows or frozen lakes in the forest. I'll be careful," he said in response to her exasperated look then he smiled, ever so slightly.
She was still anxious but she couldn't help but smile back, a true and friendly DG smile. The image burned itself into the back of his brain, following after him as he rode away, keeping him company as he chased Longcoats through the woods, scorching him as he raced back to the palace a week later, fear and fury riding him as hard as he rode his horse.
He should have known, should have seen it coming. The Longcoats they pursued never really fought, only feinted and retreated, drawing the army and the Tin Man further away. It took forever to catch one and he had been immune to Jeb's trick with the spoons. The Longcoat hadn't been proof against Cain's rage, though, when he'd sensed just what the man was hiding. The captured Longcoat had seen death in the Tin Man's eyes and spilled everything. Infiltrators. Spies. An attack. It was too late, he'd found out too late to stop it, too late to get there in time, but still he rode, pushing his mount at a killing pace.
Even before he passed the city walls he could hear the sounds of battle. The attack was not quite as successfully swift as the Longcoats had planned; she travelled with pomp, circumstance, and about fifty bodyguards. As did her family, he was not paranoid, he was prudent. Cain urged his steed onward, maybe, just maybe...
Inside the palace DG was running. The fighting was everywhere, and they were after her. The exits were blocked and there was nowhere to flee but upwards, and that was no escape that was a trap. There was nowhere to run except maybe, just maybe...
His horse should have foundered by now. He had pushed it far too hard for far too long, yet still it soldiered on as if its will were akin to his. Cain was desperate, he couldn't find a path, the entrances were blocked and he had to get to DG...
She'd managed to dodge most of the Longcoats but a few had spotted her and were gaining ground. One more staircase, just one more staircase. As youngest princess flew up the steps a suit of armour caught her eye. Gambling, she sent it crashing down the stairwell. A quick glance, however, showed her the worst: she'd only felled one of her rapidly multiplying enemies and the armour had cost her too much momentum. Throwing herself through the doors to her chambers, DG felt a hand grasp her ankle and she was sent sprawling to the floor. Close, so close, she wept then she reached out a glowing hand to where the rope lay, where it had lain since she'd asked her Tin Man to test it for her because she knew he would.
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair," she intoned. It was a foolish thing to say, a nonsensical childhood phrase but dammit it worked. The rope glowed in response and threw itself out the window. DG turned her attention to calling Mr. Stick...
Cain saw the golden rope fall, glowing like a beacon in the night. Wrenching on the reigns he wheeled the horse around and kicked it into one last gallop. He knew where he had to go...
Mr. Stick was a gift from the Tin Man. He'd said that if she insisted on taking a stick into all her battles she might as well have one with some heft. Cain had carved it himself. It looked like the angry offspring of a baseball bat and a cricket paddle so that she could hand out a paddling or hit one out of the park as she chose. The first thing she'd done was learn to enchant it so that it'd come when she called...as she called now.
No sooner had Mr. Stick flown into her hand than she turned and brought it down with all her might on the wrist of the hand that held her. There was a sick crunching sound and a shriek of pain then she was free. Scrambling to her feet, DG faced down the Longcoats pouring into her room. Too late now to try the window, the former Kansas farm girl took a batter's stance and prepared to play ball...
The Tin Man flew up the rope, climbing far more swiftly than he had the week before. It was almost as if the golden rope was shortening to help him...
Mr. Stick was a fearsome opponent. The first two Longcoats to try at the princess got cracked skulls for their efforts, the next few stumbled back sporting bruised and broken limbs. As she bashed and bloodied the nose of yet another attacker, DG realized that they wanted to take her alive. Personally, she didn't want to be taken anywhere. Where was Cain when she needed him?
Stars and pain shattered her thoughts as one of the Longcoats got passed her guard and managed to strike her hard enough across the temple to stun her. The rest of the attackers surged forward...
Cain probably should have waited until he was through the window to start shooting. The battle strategist in him did try to point that out, but it was drowned out by the snarl of rage that burned through him as one of the Longcoats struck DG and the rest tackled her backward onto the bed. Not again! The revolver was in his hand before he'd even thought about it and six Longcoats dropped where they stood; Cain was a deadly shot, even – or perhaps especially – in battle. Unfortunately, the gun only held six bullets, and before the Tin Man could heft himself through the window one of the Longcoats returned fire.
A bullet slammed into his right shoulder, sending the revolver spinning out into the darkness and robbing him of his grip. Cain fell...
DG saw him disappear from the window and screamed in fury and grief. The room suddenly lit up like the sun, temporarily blinding everyone inside and throwing the Longcoats across the room. The youngest princess staggered to her feet. She'd bought herself a few moments with that spell, whatever it had been, so she could...so that...so she could what? The room swam about her as she stared at the rope, at the window from which her Tin Man had fallen. He promised he wasn't going to do that, she thought drunkenly. She was going to...going to...she couldn't think...
He hated falling. Every time he fell it always seemed to be away from where DG was in danger, his arms flailed useless as he tried to remedy this situation. There was nothing he could do to prevent his imminent death but dammit he would not yield, he would not fail...and then his right hand got caught in a coil of golden rope bringing the Tin Man to wrenching halt...
She still couldn't figure out what she was supposed to do, something to do with the window. Did she want Mr. Stick? He was over there. The room spun and tilted on its axis as she attempted to move. Someone had hit her with a gun, moving was probably inadvisable, but she was pretty sure staying still was worse. The Longcoats were getting up. Danger, danger...
Cain came through the window silently this time and he brought a coil of rope with him. The Longcoats were converging on DG once more. She was still struggling but her movements were uncoordinated and sluggish. The Tin Man padded forward on the quiet footfalls of the hunter, a flick of his wrist sent the rope coiling around the nearest Longcoat's throat then he yanked it back with enough force to haul the man off his feet, snapping his neck in the process. Abandoning the rope, Cain scooped up Mr. Stick.
The Tin Man had never heard of, much less played, cricket or baseball, but he'd been an amateur blacksmith once upon a time and he knew what to do with a blunt instrument. Even with a wounded arm the Longcoats didn't have a chance. A decade ago they'd made him a desperate man, taken everything from him until he'd thought he'd nothing left to lose. He'd got so little of that back since but he would not fail at keeping them – her – safe. The Longcoats saw death in his eyes, the smart ones fled, the rest were given a personal introduction.
When Cain came back to himself he was standing in a room filled with vanquished foes, a swaying DG, her hands glowing with a flickering light, had his back. Turning swiftly, his examination of her injuries was interrupted when she lurched forward.
"Cain, you're alive!" she cried joyously, throwing her arms around him.
It was like déjà vu and yet not. The Tin Man didn't stiffen, he didn't even hesitate. He dropped Mr. Stick and caught her up in hug that was gentle and bone crushing at one and the same time. "So are you," he muttered into her hair. Drawing back and taking her face gently into his hands so that he could inspect the bruise forming on her temple he asked, "You alright?"
"I'll be fine once the room stops spinning," DG replied, "You're bleeding, are you alright?"
"Had worse," he answered with a shrug he instantly regretted, "here let's get you sitting down," Cain said, guiding her to the bed. It turned out he needed to sit down, too, as exhaustion and injury caught up with both of them and they didn't sit so much as collapse onto the bed.
"You got shot out a window," she accused after a minute, "again. You promised you wouldn't do that."
"At least I skipped out on the frozen lake this time," he groaned in response, "and I think I owe you an apology regarding the magic rope."
"I think it is magic."
"Told you. I looked into it more while you were gone. Turns out the story is true, or mostly true. I found a picture, hung it over...there," DG informed him vaguely, "The fairytale gets a lot of it right, except the last."
Cain finally managed to spot the painting she spoke of. The woman had ridiculously long golden hair, her eyes were fierce and protective, the man...
"He never got his sight back," the youngest princess said, "According to the text I found she cut her hair soon after the portrait was finished and fashioned it into a rope to be used in times of need."
The Tin Man remembered falling, remembered a rope catching him though he'd yet to grasp it, and whispered in awe, "It wouldn't let me fall..."
"...because it wouldn't – she wouldn't – let history repeat itself."
There was something about that sentence, something important that he needed to notice, needed to understand, but he was so tired, he couldn't focus. "He didn't mind," Cain said instead, "You can see it in the way he looks at her."
"Looks at her? He's blind, he can't...oh," DG uttered in surprise, breaking off as she too noticed what the Tin Man had.
The blind man's face glowed as his head turned in the direction of the young woman. He saw nothing yet he saw everything. "As long as she's safe and happy," murmured Cain, "he's happy. Nothing else he could really ask for."
DG turned towards him far more sharply than her injured head appreciated, it didn't matter though, she had something to say...unfortunately before she had a chance an interruption occurred.
"DG!" Ahamo yelled, bursting through the door with a contingent of guards. Catching sight of the fallen Longcoats, the Consort checked on the threshold. He glanced around frantically until he finally located his daughter sprawled out on her bed with the Tin Man. "DG? Cain? Are you alright?" he asked with tentative relief.
"Cain..." replied DG.
"DG..." responded Cain.
"...needs medical attention," they said in unison, "No, I don't. Yes, you do," they accused each other, "Fine, but only if it means I don't have to move," they finished in agreement.
Ahamo blinked at them in bemusement. "You know," he mused, his lips twitching slightly, "if I were to leave you in bed together like this and anyone found out you'd have to get married. It would be scandalous otherwise."
"Fine," DG murmured sleepily, "I'm shouting it out the window in the morning."
"Eh?" gasped the startled Consort.
"What she said," stated the groggy Tin Man, "Wait! What?" he exclaimed, rousing himself.
"We're getting married in the morning," the youngest princess explained fuzzily.
"Oh, alright then, much obliged, sir," rumbled Cain, subsiding back into the bedding.
"But I didn't...I was joking...You...oh forget it, I'm going to go get Raw," Ahamo fumed, throwing his hands in the air, "we'll set this right in the morning."
"S'already right," the Tin Man asserted wearily and, having had the last word, promptly fell asleep.