Characters/Pairing: Cain POV
Summary: Wyatt Cain had come to curse the oath he made.
Warning: Some cursing, violence
Disclaimer: Oz was created by Baum. Certain concepts are property of Maguire. Long-Mitchell and Van Sickle cooked up this variant.
I swear to defend with my axe
And to shield with my tin,
Empress Dorothy was one of those historical personages where myth and fact blurred together, fantastic tales of her era told to children sat side by side with serious historical analysis. Some of the religious nuts still thought Dorothy had been a reincarnation of the Fae Goddess Lurline. The more clear-headed types concluded she was likely a sorceress from the Eastern Lands until it came out that she was a Slipper. After all, she showed up wearing Munchkin blue and sorceress white in her dress, her house dropping on Nessarose of the East from out of nowhere and killing her. She had been on her way to Central City with a fellow who'd later become Oz's Regent. They'd happened on Nicholas Chopper, the first Tin Man, who'd been rusted solid by a sudden squall, conscious, but unable to move. Oiling up his frozen joints, it was said he swore his unwavering loyalty to the future Empress on the spot, vowing always to "defend you with my axe, and shield you with my tin."
Cain never did remember the details of what was truth and what was gump-shit. History hadn't been his favorite subject, even if he was inclined towards book learning, which he wasn't. Still, there were only so many ways to keep one's sanity when jailed in hell. History was definitely a better subject than watching Zero and his squad turn his boy's face into a mass of bruises and swelling.
According to the legend, Nicholas Chopper had once been just an ordinary man, a simple woodcutter from the Eastern Lands; Munchkin Country, they called it back then. He had the misfortune to cross Nessarose, the Witch of the East, when he fell for the witch's maid. He asked permission to marry the girl, but Nessarose settled the matter in a more brutal fashion, bespelling his axe so he'd chop himself to bits.
A tinner – a maker of cyborg parts and robots – came by and saved him by replacing the hacked-off bits with a tin body welded to iron joints. Of course, the solution wasn't perfect. First, the iron joints would rust if he stayed out in the rain. Second, there was only so much you could destroy in a man before he stopped being a man and became something else. By all accounts, Nicholas Chopper was no longer a man. He was said to have no heart whatsoever.
At about the two-hundredth playback of that hologram, Cain concluded that Nessarose had been pretty damn merciful.
One by one, his comrades had decided to turn their back on the oath they'd sworn. They stopped being Tin Men and became Longcoats, loyal only to the Witch Azkedellia. They'd asked him over and over if he'd join, but he kept stalling, changing the subject. Good people went bad, others wound up in "accidents" that weren't. He tried to hand in his badge, but he just got told to keep it. A week later, the Last Stand happened, and there were no more Tin Men.
He and Adora discussed it long and hard in the dark of night. If they did nothing, it may have been safer. They had a better chance of seeing Jeb grow up. However, Tin Men did not stand around while the good of the Zone suffered. Neither would Adora. If the good men and women did nothing, then the Witch already won and there'd be no future to leave to Jeb. Or, so they told themselves.
And now, he was locked in that tin and iron shell, watching as the Longcoats beat his boy, dragging him off into the woods. He watched as they held Adora down and...
The worst part was that there wasn't a way to close his eyes to it. That nasty little device had magic in it, too. Eyes open, eyes shut, same thing. Wyatt Cain had come to curse the oath he made.
Something was different this time. There was a female shout and a girl charged up, swinging a stick that went right through the holos. If it had actually been Zero and company there and not just holograms, they'd have shot her on sight. Charging in, screaming at the top of her lungs for them to back off and armed with nothing more than a stick? Was she insane? A gawky-looking man came up behind her, staring at everything like it was a gigantic puzzle.
Well, this is it, Cain. You've finally gone crazy.
She walked up and knocked on the Suit. Was she going to -? He knocked back, and saw her run off. What was left of his hope crashed to the ground, but only a second later, he heard more pounding and the sound of clattering metal echoed in his tiny hell.
The suit/coffin opened and he collapsed into a heap on the soggy ground. They probably thought him dead or crazy. Either way, it wasn't too far off base.
The odd man in bedraggled clothes poked him with a stick. "Well he's alive."
"Glitch!" She snatched that stick and tossed it aside.
"Well, he's alive!"
That's when Cain got a good look at the zipper on the fellow's crown. If he could have rolled his eyes, he would have. Unnamed God, his rescuers were escaped convicts!
"I think he's in shock," she said. "He's gonna need help."
"Help...help..." The zipper-head's perpetual confusion grew deeper. "We could ask those nice fellows back..." Half-Wit shook his head as if to rearrange his precious few marbles. "No, their cages were most inhospitable. No good for this poor fellow. Shock...first aid would be getting the victim warm..."
"Come on, let's get him inside." There was a roll of thunder across the sky.
She was already dragging him back to the cabin, or trying to. "We can't just leave him out here. The Longcoats did that to him, and they'll do worse if they catch him free."
They drug him inside and covered him up with a musty blanket. "Stay put," the girl said. "We're going to find some food, okay?
All they were doing was making themselves Longcoat bait, staying behind to look after him. They did make a small fire in the hearth, which warmed things up, putting him on his bed, close to the fire. They scoured what was left of his home, but they weren't looting anything. There wasn't much to loot.
"Whose shirt is this?" Head-case held it up to his own chest. "It's too big. I'll have to find a tailor."
The girl walked in the door with an armload of nuts and fruit gathered from the garden that was now overrun with weeds, a few hardy crop plants surviving the years. Putting the food on table (which was listing badly with the years of neglect), she glanced over her shoulder. "It's probably his. Hand it over, Glitch."
The girl sat down beside him. Dark hair and bright blue eyes that were just as innocent as the head-case's. He was looking for something that gave her away – fear, defiance, survival instinct.
She brushed the matted hair from his face, and the only thing he could find on her was innocence. How the hell could anyone be innocent after fifteen years of Azkedellia's reign of terror? The head-case at least had an excuse for being blissfully unaware.
"My name's D.G. What's yours? Can you talk?"
Cain tried to speak, tried to cuss them out or tell them that they could march right off his property the way they came in. His jaw wouldn't work – like it had rusted shut.
He must have passed out because he came to some hours later. The layers of grime that covered him were gone. Now, he was wearing a nightshirt, propped up in his bed like a puppet. Every sensation from the cotton of his nightshirt to the softness of the pillow and the scratchy wool blanket was overwhelming and every noise was too LOUD – the crackle of the fire they shouldn't have made, the soft snoring of the zipper-head curled up, absurdly, in Jeb's bed. The girl was dozing at the foot of his bed, resting fitfully and murmuring in her sleep. In the firelight, he saw her claw at the air and saw the flickering light glinting off tears. She was trapped in her own hell when she slept.
But it was said the first Tin Man had no heart, and neither did this former one.
He watched her sleep.
The only salvageable clothing they could find was his work clothes – duster coat, vest, clean shirt, clean pants, riding boots, and his hat. They'd been stowed with his badge down in the storm cellar, so they were musty, but tolerable. A close shave solved the rest. Cain made sure his service revolver was in working order, and almost choked when he saw Jeb's prized tin horse buried in the bottom of the footlocker. Quickly, Cain put it in his pocket. I'll be with you both soon.
He only picked up the badge out of habit. It was a useless thing and reminded him that no good deed went unpunished in the O. Z. Time to ditch these two and take care of business.
"Yeah, well," Cain told them. "I'll see you down the road."
"Oh," D.G.'s started to run up to him. "Actually, a road is what we're looking for. We're looking for the..." She was racking her brain. "Brick road that leads to a place called... "
And Glitch chimed in. "Central City?"
"Central City," she said with him. "Do you know of it?"
How could someone who WASN'T sporting a zippered skull not know of the Old Road or the City? Something wasn't quite right with these two, and not just the obvious. Cain paused a moment. He could just point the direction, give them bad directions, or tell them he was headed elsewhere.
No. these were good people, and good people were a rarity in the O.Z. Besides, the girl was what? Twenty annuals? Definitely not twenty-five of them yet. They weren't much interested in self preservation, judging by their delay in helping him. What kind of criminals were these?
A leftover part of decorum kicked in. Tin Men don't lie.
"I'm headed there now."
This pair would turn tail as soon as there was any danger, and that was fine by him. All he had to do was get to the City and take down Zero. There was enough ammo in his left pocket to do the job and take out a few more of the Longcoat bastards should they get in his way. If, for some reason, he wasn't shot dead in the attempt?
That's what the single bullet in his right pocket was for.