Disclaimer: Word scramble – it'onIMoTwdnann

Author's Note: What I've learned about Cain: he muses at the most inconvenient times possible. This has been me the last week: hmm, what's that Cain? Yes, that does look interesting...what? Are you kidding me, I have an OSCE in two days! No, I'm not writing that now. Two days later: okay, I've got time now...where'd you go? Fine, whatever, Azkadellia's got a chapter ready for me I'll write that. Sometime later: get lost Cain, I'm trying to sleep. I don't care how great the story looks, sleeping here! Seriously, nothing short of a full corporeal manifestation is going to tempt me away from my pillow, and even then your odds aren't good. Next morning: okay, am rested and ready to go, you still have that story for me? Cool, let's get to...what? Oh you've got to be kidding me, stop trying to be a gentleman Cain, fine Az, give me the chapter...what? Write Cain's? Fine. No? Yes? Maybe? Neither? Oh for pity's sake, you two sort this out, I'm going grocery shopping, let me know what you've decided when I get back. And the winner is...thank you Cain. FINALLY. Now let's get this...STOP CHANGING THINGS! Darn it, if you have so much time on your hands why don't you go get Beauty and the Beast v2 out of development limbo and hand me a middle already...where are you going? CAIN! DG, do something about him! ARRRRRGH.

And that, my friends, is how you got this story.

PS Quality Control calls this not my usual fare, in other words, I ain't tryin' ta be funny. You are warned.


...

The battle at the Tower wasn't the end of it, and though he hadn't been able to stop himself from celebrating, Wyatt Cain had known it at the time. The Sorceress' downfall had been a victory, a monumental one even, but fifteen years of growing darkness couldn't be cured with a handshake and a hug, no matter how hard the Kid had tried to do just that. No, the end of the darkness merely marked the beginning of the long, arduous task of restoring the light. So much had been lost and destroyed under the reign of the witch and some things...some things were gone for good.

Months after the events of the Eclipse the Tin Man still wakes from the lingering dreams of his wife's death. This he can live with, he knows it is a symptom of the grief still working its way through his system, and every time he awakens the tightness in his chest has eased just a little bit more. He has had a long time to grieve his old failure, and while knowing hadn't brought him peace exactly, there is a certain comfort to be had in that 'closure' the headcase prattles on about. No, Adora's death he can deal with.

It is the nightmares of DG's death that tear him from sleep in a cold sweat, his hands fisted in a white knuckled grip on the sheets as he fights against the images of the many, many ways she could die. Locked in that damned marble sarcophagus, falling from the Tower balcony, shot, stabbed, smothered, beaten...every night it is a different death, each haunting him as no repetition of his wife's fate can. Adora's death is fact, there is nothing Cain can do to change it, but DG...DG is so alive, so glowing, so heartbreakingly fragile as every person born is. One misstep, one mistake and she could be gone, lost to everyone that needs her so badly, whether they'll admit it or not. It is his deepest darkest fear, and though he knows it was just a dream, knows that it wasn't real, he can't stop himself from getting up to check on her.

She looks so damn young when she sleeps, so peaceful and innocent like she hasn't got a care in the world – except on those nights when she wakes from nightmares of her own. Half remembered visions of a cursed cave, real horrors encountered in a quest to save a home she hardly knew, ghostly echoes of the time she truly did die stir beneath the surface of her unconscious mind, and on the nights they rise up to disturb her slumber she never questions why the Tin Man is in her room, she is only so very glad he is. If ever an assassin manages to make it past the guards that surround her, he is going to be damned baffled when he finds himself being hugged to death by his intended target. With any luck, the princess will manage to change her assailants mind and add him to the veritable hoard of people that absolutely adore her. The Kid won the hearts of a kingdom when she set the O.Z. free; unfortunately she also made at least five thousand three hundred and eighty-two enemies that they know about, hundreds or perhaps thousands more that they don't. The escaped Longcoats are bound to have family, friends and supporters that are none too happy with the youngest princess, and are probably wondering what's gotten into the eldest – ha-ha – and while they are not exclusively DG's enemies, they are all on his list of personal nightmares and threats to be eliminated. Tonight, however, no threat has appeared, nor have dreams disturbed, so the princess slumbers on while Cain fights demons only he can see.

Some mornings, like this morning, the youngest princess of the O.Z. wakes to find an old Tin Man has fallen asleep in the chair beside her bed. She never says a word about it, for which he is eternally grateful – there are some things he is not ready to face, and still other things he would give anything not break. Instead she nudges him gently awake and smiles serenely before dancing off to one of the outer rooms, leaving him to gather his wits and the secrets he doesn't really keep. He'll probably never really understand why Ahamo put him in the room at the other end of the secret passage some long ago prince built to visit his mistress, but Cain is much obliged anyhow as it allows him to slip away unseen, leaving no slandering tongues to be shot.

They meet up again at breakfast. DG insists on cooking for anyone that chooses to show up, something to make her feel 'normal' before the hard work the fairytales never warn you about, but as all evidence points to Azkadellia having had a very bad night, and the Queen and Consort a very good one, neither is surprised when it is just Tin Man and youngest princess today. Cain grabs the mixing bowl down from the top shelf before she even asks for it then sits down and waits patiently. He'll give the nurture units this, when they set out to convince her she was a simple farm girl they'd done a thorough job, including teaching her basic skills most royalty never had to bother with.

Breakfast is a silent affair, for despite how she is the rest of the day, the princess does not like to talk in the morning. The companionable quiet suits the Tin Man just fine, and on the mornings where it is just the two of them it is often the best part of his day. Later, as DG lingers over her tea, Cain washes the dishes because he, too, enjoys the odd mundane task to break up the sometimes alien quality of his new life. Besides, the Kid hates doing dishes. As the last dish is placed back on the shelf, however, there is a subtle change to the air: time to get their 'game faces' on. He never quite understood what she meant by that, this ain't no game to him, but when the kitchen door opens it is the Crown Princess of the O.Z. and her faithful Tin Man that venture forth to meet with the various nobles and courtiers lying in wait.

Her day is ruthlessly scheduled, an hour with the noble lords who flatter and plot, an hour with the dignified ladies who simper and smirk. The former have learned that though, in theory, the Tin Man cannot shoot or hit them, they'd best not rely on theory when confronted with Cain's glare, the latter have been made to understand that while the Tin Man may not care about their opinion of him, the Crown Princess does so they'd best keep their snide comments to themselves. Full of fancy words are the aristocrats, fancy words, false faces and manipulative smiles; Cain has learned to read between their lines and deflect what he can while DG alternatively deals with or ignores what cannot be changed.

After their time at court it is two hours of magic lessons with Tutor – if either of them hears the phrase 'let the light flow through you' one more time the pooch is liable to be thrown out the window – before they are allowed to retreat to whatever hideout Raw has found for them that day for lunch. Azkadellia has joined them by this time, eerie shadows in the back of her eyes giving silent testament to the demons that still plague her. The Kid suddenly has the energy of a hyperactive five year old as she endeavours as always to give light to the darkness and will stop at nothing to put a smile on her sister's face. In the end it is the Tin Man that manages it, he is not even sure how, all he did was offer to ram a select few lords in a tin suit and toss them off the Crack in the O.Z. For a while the eldest princess gains some animation, talking and laughing with her sister as if they were just any other girls having lunch together. All too soon, however, Ambrose comes to collect the youngest princess for her lessons in politics, puncturing the tentative enjoyment of the afternoon and leaving Cain wondering – not for the first time – whether the zipperhead has a switch in him somewhere that one could set permanently to Glitch, annoying as that might get.

The Royal Advisor keeps the Crown Princess at it for three straight hours before Tutor breaks in with a rescue of sorts, both DG and Cain can't help but think it depressing when history and geography are considered a rescue. Fortunately the Kid has made some progress in these subjects so the mutt lets her free after a mere hour and a half of lessons. 'Free' being another term for time for Royal Correspondence and homework, that is. As DG sits in her own personal study, examining notes and scribbling missives in a hand that everyone will deplore at length, the Tin Man stares out the window and contemplates. It's been one of those days, good in that there has been no attempt on the lives of the Royal Family, bad in that Cain really wouldn't have minded having someone to shoot. Staring at the horizon, he thinks longingly of the days when life wasn't so complicated, when the people you talked to were mostly what they appeared to be. Though it was such a short time, he misses when it was just him, DG, and a few friends and not a nagging advisor to be seen, glitching maybe, but not nagging. He's never been one to hanker for adventure but he wishes he could take DG on one, travelling the way they did during their search for the emerald – without the bad guys on their trail this time. He wonders if DG ever wishes for the same thing or if she knew he'd be more than willing to help her escape anytime she chose.

The slight tap of a pen falling from an idle hand draws the Tin Man's attention back to the princess; distantly he is aware that he hasn't heard the scratching of pen on paper for some time now. Glancing towards the desk, he is unsurprised to find that she has fallen asleep over her essay on why she can't tell a noble to stick it in his pipe and smoke it. He never understood the reference himself nor does he care, the lord had it coming; lucky, really, that Cain didn't decide to stick it in his gun and shoot him. Watching her eyes flutter drowsily before giving up on returning to consciousness, he doubts the lords, advisors, and self-righteous busybodies truly appreciate how hard she is pushing herself to become what the O.Z. needs. This is not the first time she has fallen asleep on her desk, nor is it likely to be the last – which is precisely why Cain infuriated the palace decorator by hauling the biggest, ugliest, and incidentally most comfortable sofa he could find up to the princess' private study.

Scooping her up ever so gently, the Tin Man settles her comfortably on the cushions before draping his duster over her and slipping out of the room. Glitch often wonders at his insisting on wearing his jacket even indoors but if the headcase isn't smart enough to figure it out, Cain isn't about to enlighten him.

DG isn't going to run away, the burden that would place on Az would about kill her, so if he can't take her to a simpler life, Cain is just going to have to do something about making life simpler for her. Maybe he should toss a few lords and advisors off the Crack, with or without tin suit to shield them from the fall. Leaning back against the door, arms crossed and glaring beneath his fedora in a manner that informs all comers that the princess is not to be disturbed, the Tin Man figures that at the very least he can see to it that she has a day off tomorrow. They could go for a ride, far, far, far away from the palace. Best bring Azkadellia, else DG will worry about her; Raw and Glitch, too, if they could convince Ambrose to stay home...

While the Tin Man pondered and glowered, within the study, a princess smiled in her sleep as she curled beneath a battered old duster, secure in her slumber and unafraid of interruption from friend, foe, or spectre for she is safe in her home with Cerberus to guard the door.