Wow! Two in one day…my Tin Man muse is working overtime! Anyway, you need to read Ready to Run and Releasing the Chains first…this follows my thought path on those. Disclaimer – If you recognize it from SyFy, I don't own it!
She could feel his strong presence behind her as she leaned on the balustrade staring off to the west. Even as she leaned her aching head down on her arms, the heat of him drew closer and one strong hand touched her shoulder before it began rubbing soothing circles on the knot at the nape of her neck. His touch managed to convey both his support and his desire to comfort her.
"I really, really hate these meetings," she muttered, not lifting her head.
"I know," he said softly.
After a long pause, she gave a deep sigh and straightened. Despite her move, he kept his hand on her neck, but let it remain a steady point of contact on the back of her neck. She sent him a warm smile over her shoulder.
"How much longer, do you think?" she asked, hands tightening on the stonework.
He stepped up closer, just behind her left shoulder, almost touching. The heat of his body beckoned her to lean back against him. Knowing they were on a private balcony that magic kept hidden, she felt safe in giving into the temptation. As she leaned back, his hand trailed across her shoulder, and down her right arm. It came to rest on her hip and pulled her to rest comfortably against his right side. Taking a deep breath, he rested his chin on the top of her head for a moment before answering her.
"I think we're close. The throne and the City are in as good a order as we could hope for, and Jeb's doing well. All we've got left is your sister."
"Az is doing pretty good," she replied. "The Emerald picked her, and let me say again how happy I am that happened. God, I'd make an awful Queen!"
She shuddered, and he gave a snort of amusement.
"Don't laugh," she said, lightly jabbing his stomach with her elbow. "Can you imagine me as Queen? Having to be all gussied up and dealing with that…that…pack of hyenas every day? I'd go mental within a week! Well, if I wasn't arrested for tossing one of the seamstresses off a balcony. Why they keep thinking I'm going to let them force me into one of those over-blown, fluffy, frou-frou dresses that look like an over-frosted cake is really beyond me! Did you see that last one they brought by? If I'd put that thing on, I'd have either broken my neck trying to navigate that whale of dress downstairs, or broken every valuable knick-knack in the palace just by the amount of wind it would have caused walking by!"
Now he really had to work on stifling his laughter, but she just grinned. Anything that gave them a moment's rest, a moment to themselves, would be welcome after this long day of meetings. The last of the contracts with the major merchant guilds had finally been signed this afternoon. Now, looking out over the gardens, she could feel the tension bleeding away from her; his warm presence supporting and soothing her as always. Letting her head fall back against his shoulder, she closed her eyes and tried to soak in the light of the sun, the feel of the breeze, and his scent – the smell she would forever associate with home – horses, gun oil, and his own personal musk.
As she relaxed even more, she felt him move slightly. Before she could protest any change, she felt his arm come around her waist and his breath drift just by her jaw line as he bent his head down next to hers. His lips skimmed from her pulse point up to the sensitive spot behind her ear. Retracing his path, he nipped the skin just above her pulse. She inhaled sharply as tiny sparks of electricity sent a shiver ran up her spine. She could feel those same lips stretch into a smile.
"No," she breathed.
His laugh barely louder than her answer, he raised his head and shifted her enough so that he stood directly behind her. From here, he could wrap both arms around her in a hug. In this position, both of them stared into the west, seeing their freedom in the sun's light as it poured over the land beyond the city walls. Her head turned slightly as movement caught her eyes.
"Look," she instructed quietly.
Glancing down at her, he followed her gaze to the private garden below. He saw the couple that had caught her eye. His son sat next to her sister, cupping her chin with one hand, his thumb grazing her cheek. Neither one of them speak for a moment, oblivious to the eyes looking at them from the balcony above. Finally, they talked for a few minutes, Jeb releasing her chin if not her hand, and then Az turned her head up toward the balcony. They looked away before she caught them watching.
"What do you think that's all about?" she asked.
He glanced back down to the elder princess and her companion, watching as Jeb said something and Az just stared at him in wonder. The two of them stood, and his son leaned down with a serious expression to say one more thing. Whatever he had said, she turned a blinding smile up to him.
"Oh," whispered DG, her voice breaking. "She never smiles like that."
Rubbing his chin across her hair, he pressed a kiss to her temple.
"I think," he said, answering her earlier question, "Azkadelia is finding her own guardian now; she's creating her own circle of supporters."
They watched in approval as the pair walked laughingly back into the palace. Now along, DG pulled away just enough to turn to him. She smiled up at him before laying her head over his heart. One arm stayed around her waist while the other hand came up and caressed her hair. The two of them simply stood together breathing in the evening air, watching as twilight darkened the sky and the stars began to bloom above.
"Soon, then?" he asked, looking over the city lights that sparkled in the shadows.
She burrowed closer, eyes closed, enjoying the peaceful night. He pulled back enough to see her face, smiling at her serene smile. With his free hand, he tilted her head up and leaned down to place a soft kiss on her lips. As he straightened, she opened her eyes and caught his gaze. Allowing themselves to fall into that shared look, they lost track of time until the silence of the evening was broken by Glitch and Raw ambling out onto the balcony. Glitch's funny commentary about some new invention was interspaced with Raw's calm remarks about the palace foundation. Cain huffed and put his lips near her ear.
"We need to get him out of here before he blows something up," he whispered.
She laughed and pulled away to sit on the balustrade. He moved right along to anchor her in safety as the other two quit talking to join them. The four companions gazed over the lights, city below and stars above, comfortable in the silence. Finally, Glitch turned to face his friends.
"Well, Dollface," he said, "we saw Azka-D come into the party with a bright smile on her face. Haven't seen that one in…ever…I don't think."
"Azkadelia, happy," Raw agreed. "Safe, now. New guide."
"Jeb's going to work out for her?" Cain asked.
"Protect, help…healing there."
Matching smiles swept across DG and Cain's faces.
"Good," DG declared. "Then we start doing our thing. I'll start filtering the stuff I've been handling over to Az, a little at a time. Cain, you start referring people to Jeb – let them get used to thinking of asking him before coming to you. Glitch, less time in the lab and more in the library – anywhere Dad is not. Raw…"
"Less time with healers, yes," Raw said, a small smile touching his face.
Cain tilted his head back and looked at the stars, pondering things for a long moment.
"If we manage this right," he said thoughtfully, "we should be ready right after the Spring Awakening. It'll be a good time."
"Which way?" Glitch asked, then gave a little jerk. "Which way?...Which way?...Which way?"
DG reached out a hand and shook him just a bit. He became quiet and tilted his head at her.
"Glitching," she grinned. He shrugged, and gave a resigned grin back.
"It's a good question, though," said Cain.
"Any way okay with Raw," said the reader in question.
DG closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the night air. Opening her eyes, she could almost see a path laid out in the stars above. A smile stretched across her face.
"You know what," she said. "I want to go that way."
Raising her right hand, she pointed due west, eyes sparkling at how close they were to freedom. Glancing around at her friends, with the last and longest look reserved for the man holding her so tightly, she gave her final words on the matter.
"If they want to find us, let them look to the western skies."