Disclaimer: Here claimeth I that I claimeth this not. You figure it out.
Author's Note: Sorry about the general delay in posting, brain-brain was demanding it's ritual sacrifice in books again, it only took, let's see, six books to quiet it this time (good thing the seventh kind of put me off – the author of the series I found this time has an annoying habit of ending her books with a big crisis to be solved in the next one, I commend her on her superb marketing skills but it drives me right up the wall…and off to the bookstore to pick up the next one, sigh). Anyhoo, need a little break from the Gulch Verse as no one seems willing to cooperate with me (though I do believe it is less my muse and more brain-brain getting huffy that I've been overloading it since, oh, January and have yet to give it a break – not that that's MY fault. One. More. Month). Sigh. Anyhoo, I tried to put the boot on the other foot this time (not that anyone is paying attention, apparently brain-brain is the taskmaster that keeps the characters in line…sort of). Well at least the age difference remains a gift that keeps on giving. Cheers.
Wyatt Cain was a man who knew his own mind. Sure, sometimes he might blatantly ignore what was on his mind…or in his heart…but he knew exactly when certain, um, ideas had begun to present themselves (too darn soon), and while anyone who should happen to make allusions to trains of thought they were not entitled to boarding may be met with a rather intimidating stone faced stare, that did not mean he wasn't thinking them. The Tin Man was, in the end, a man that knew what he wanted, and wasn't the type, once he'd made up his mind, to hesitate in trying to get it.
He just hadn't expected this particular endeavour to be quite so hard.
Granted, it had been a little – okay a great – while since he had attempted any form of courtship, and yeah, he'd lucked out the first time around so it's not like he'd ever had to figure out…but he could have sworn that…really, things couldn't have changed that much over a few brief decades, surely he hadn't been reading the youngest princess entirely wrong. It had certainly seemed like she…that she might be interested…or at least not completely opposed to the idea of…unless things were a bit different on the Otherside and she was just being friendly. That'd be awkward.
Ramming his hands into the pockets of his duster in a manner that alarmed the nearby palace staff into scrambling for cover, the Tin Man leaned against the wall outside her room and bent his head in contemplation of the problem.
DG did hug at lot of people – she was affectionate by nature, so it was possible that she hadn't meant anything more by it when she hugged him than when she hugged, say, Jeb...uh…she couldn't like Jeb could she? That would be really awkward. Not to mention would result in the elder Cain's being relegated to something of a fatherly light. That would be really, really awkward. Not to mention it made him feel more than a might queasy.
Add to that the fact that she'd been foiling pretty near every attempt he'd made to get her alone – the last time being a picnic, to which she'd not only invited the 'whole gang', as she called their little emerald hunting group, but also her sister, his son, and her parents. Both sets. It was almost as if she was avoiding him, without actually, well, avoiding him. Certainly avoiding being alone with him.
The fedora was off his head being turned furiously in his hands as the Tin Man reluctantly deliberated whether it was possible for him to stay by DG's side as only a friend, if that was what she wanted. Who was he kidding? Of course he would. It'd be like living in a tin suit for the rest of his life, sitting on the sidelines watching everything he yearned for in life pass him by, but he'd do it, if it was what she wanted. It just wasn't what he wanted…
"Az, I don't know how much longer I can do this," the voice of the youngest princess announced suddenly, not so much shattering Cain's train of thought as shifting it to a new set of tracks.
The Tin Man glanced over to find that the door he'd just happened to end up pondering near wasn't quite as firmly closed as he'd thought it would be. He knew he should move, that he shouldn't listen in on DG's private conversations, but he hesitated, if she was in trouble…
"Cain?" Princess Azkadellia asked.
…or if he happened to be the subject of conversation…
"Yes, Cain," DG replied with a desperate sort of frustration, "I can't keep this up, avoiding him, pretending I don't know how he feels…"
The Tin Man winced. Not a new train of thought after all, same one, same tracks, with another train coming barrelling along from the other direction set for a devastating crash – and Cain didn't even know what trains were. She knew; she knew and she didn't want him, which meant he couldn't stay. Not if she knew, it would make her miserable if she knew he was miserable, she was too soft hearted. He'd have to leave…
"…I mean, how am I supposed to act around someone who looks on me like a father when all I want to do is jump his bones and drag him off into the sunset of happily ever after? Is there some sort of magic etiquette for that?"
…Eh? Cain froze in shock as both trains derailed and he nearly dropped his hat out of shear stupefaction. What. The. Hell?
"Well," the youngest princess howled hysterically, "is there?"
What the hell?
"DG," Azkadellia murmured in a soothing yet somehow amused tone of voice, "are you entirely sure Cain looks at you as a father."
"He calls me Kiddo," DG wailed in despair.
The Tin Man took a moment to regret choosing that particular nickname whilst in the midst of his blatant ignoring of the contents of his head and heart. The reason she was avoiding him, the reason she'd been so damn frustratingly elusive was because she thought he thought of her as a…as a…
"Daughter," the youngest princess gasped mournfully, "He thinks of me as a daughter!"
"I don't dare be alone with him," DG continued wildly, "I'm afraid I'm going to jump him, or worse, turn into a sobbing mess, and then he'll leave for my own good…"
"…and it won't be. I'm trying, really I am, to be content with being friends, if we could at least stay friends…"
Cain had a sudden vision of the two of them going through the rest of their lives like two headcased idiots, pretending to be friends when what they really wanted…fedora settled firmly back on his head, duster billowing, the door bounced off the wall as he slammed through and headed straight for the youngest princess. He had a brief glimpse of Princess Azkadellia's seemingly triumphant expression then he was pinning the youngest princess against the wall for a long overdue conversation.
"One," the Tin Man growled, "I am not so damn old that I've started seeing pretty young women as my daughters; two, I do not want to be just friends; and three, I have been trying to court you for months and you keep running away. Knock it off. Now, is that understood?"
DG's eyes looked a little glazed, her mouth dropping open a little from surprise, but she nodded, if ever so slightly.
"Good, then, uh," Cain faltered uncertainly, "do you want to go on ride with me in the morning?"
"I'd like to go for a ride right now," the youngest princess muttered under her breath, causing her sister to choke and look anxiously towards the door while the Tin Man flushed slightly as he blatantly refused to read into that, "Yes," she answered louder, and smiled.
A little stunned, more than a little flustered, Cain clarified suspiciously, "Just the two of us."
"Yes," she confirmed.
"Good," the Tin Man replied, suddenly unsure of what to do with himself, not to mention overly aware of where he was at the moment, "then, uh, I guess I'll see you then."
DG blinked, "What?"
"I'll see you in…"
"Not that," she cut him off, "that's it?" she asked with a vague wave in his direction.
"You broke into my room, pinned me against the wall, and growled away all misunderstandings and all you are going to do is ask me out and leave?" the youngest princess demanded.
Wyatt Cain, widower, recognized dangerous waters, he just didn't know how to avoid them. "Um, yes?"
"Oh no," DG emphasized, "hell no, that's like a director developing sexual tension all through a movie and not even having the characters so much as kiss at the end, illegal manoeuvre, get the hell back here, I want my kiss, dammit."
It was the Tin Man's turn to blink. Then he followed orders. He kind of liked them after all, heck, he didn't even notice the door slamming as Azkadellia beat a hasty retreat. His attention was a bit elsewhere by that point. Wyatt Cain was a man who got what he wanted…
…though in this case one might argue that what he wanted got him.