Depending on how this is received, I will write more! I hope you enjoy, and please comment if you have constructive feedback!
Dg sat on her balcony in a wicker chair, bundled under the blanket Azkadellia knitted for her, with a cup of chocolate muglug. The breeze off the lake blew little hairs against her cheeks. Finaqua was quiet in its newfound peace and DG sat many hours alone while her mother fixed the OZ. DG's place was uncertain as the reinstated princess. The OZ had functioned without her for over ten years and her mother was perfectly capable of ruling now that the witch had been expelled from the realm. DG was merely another body in a family portrait until things calmed down. There was no way to know if the OZ had been rid of evil for good and she could still be in danger, so leaving the palace was out of the question. Here she sat, taking in the waning day as she did every evening.
Wyatt Cain pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit a match against the sole of his boot. He sat on the railing of the gazebo, dragging out the smoke with a western flair. The Queen had yet to reestablish his Tin so he remained in a weird Limbo, a soldier of the Resistance and of the State, a guest of the Queen and a Commander. Only a week after the banishment of the witch and he was completely without a purpose. Jeb was with his troops in the West, preventing an uprising and he had been banned form leaving by the Queen for reasons unknown to him. For now, he was stuck in Finaqua with no station.
DG could smell cigar smoke from the balcony, which meant Cain was in a mood. Normally, he dwelled in his own room or pestered Glitch but he rarely went outside. DG stood, looking out over the balcony and sure enough Cain sat on the railing in the gazebo. His shoulders slumped in an unsettling manner that made DG worry. Cain seemed to be angry with her constantly so she mostly avoided him. Her pre-revolution escort was now a stranger to her.
He could tell he was being watched but he didn't look right away. It could just be a guard but he couldn't be too careful. Discreetly, Cain tilted his head towards the palace and spied DG on her balcony. She waved and Cain stiffened. DG hadn't spoken to him in a week but now she watched him, waved to him… Cain didn't know how to react to her.
Cain hadn't seen her. DG sighed, sitting on the railing with her back to him. Whatever awkwardness had sprung up between them wasn't going to be fixed tonight. DG pulled her sweater tighter as the wind blew a gust, sharp off the water. Before she could think, DG lost her balance and felt herself falling backwards without control. And then it was dark.
Cain's cigar fell from his lips and he was pounding the pavement before it hit the ground. DG had to be fine; she probably just fell into the bushes... Cain had never run so fast, but his feet felt heavy as he raced to reach her. Surely someone else had seen her fall, he thought, but nobody else was in sight. When he got to her, DG was unconscious and blood was beginning to pool around her head. Cain felt his heart squeeze but he whipped off his jacket and immediately began checking her for broken bones. He discerned that her left femur was snapped and she had a few cracked ribs, in addition to the large gash on her head. He took off his button-down shirt and began ripping it into strips. He splinted her leg as best as he could but he felt himself beginning to panic. DG hadn't come to and she was still losing blood.
Without thinking, he lifted her, running into the palace.
"Raw, get Raw," Cain wheezed, sprinting for DG's room. His wits were not about him anymore. DG's breathing was shallow, pained. Cain nearly tripped racing up the stairs and met Azkadellia at the top of the stairs.
"DG," She breathed, following Cain frantically. "Has Raw been sent for?"
"I sent Eames," He ground out, kicking open DG's door with unnecessary force.
With Azkadellia's assistance, Cain laid DG on her bed, supported by pillows. Within a minute, a flurry of medics whisked in and booted Az and Cain out. Cain had the door shut in his face. Anger pouring forth, he stalked up and down the hall, shirtless and worried.
"Why is Cain shirtless?" Glitch stage whispered upon his arrival.
"He bandaged her leg," Az offered gently.
"Why is he grunting?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." She laughed lightly. "Cain?"
"What?" He growled, still pacing.
"What happened to DG?" Az asked, pained. Cain stopped abruptly with his back to her.
"She fell. Off the balcony." He was surprisingly soft. Nothing else was said. Strangely concerned about Cain's nakedness, Glitch fetched Cain a new shirt while they waited.
"Do my parents know?" Az asked her bodyguard, Ebb.
"Yes, they're on their way back from the city now."
After what seemed like hours, Raw emerged from DG's room, exhausted.
"Is she going to be okay?" Glitch asked immediately.
"Don't know. Cain shouldn't have moved her." Cain clenched his fists but said nothing. "Can't heal her completely, she must do the rest herself." Raw sighed, leaving them. The herd of medics followed.
"I'll meet my parents outside," Az sighed. "Watch over her, will you Cain?"
"Yes," he replied stoically. Cain went into DG's room without question, and Glitch followed Az. The Princess was pale. Cain sat at the end of her bed, watching her chest rise and fall. He willed her to keep breathing.
Stupid, Cain thought. Only DG could accidentally nearly kill herself with nobody's help. It wasn't like someone had tried to assassinate her or pushed her off the balcony, oh no. This was why Cain had advocated for her to have a bodyguard. And where was Hess when she fell? Sleeping in a chair outside her door. It's not like DG is hard to guard, not anymore. She spends all her time in her room; all you have to do is check on her once in a while- Cain sighed. He and Hess would have words before the day was out.
The Queen and Consort stormed into the room and Cain quickly adios'd himself. Glancing down at his hands, Cain realized they were still stained with DG's blood. His stomach turned over. Raw was right, he shouldn't have moved her but he had just… panicked. The toughest Tin Man in the OZ had freaked, compromising the safety of one of the most important people in the realm.
He barely knew her, really. Beyond what she had divulged that fateful week, she was practically a stranger to him. DG probably knew even less about him. Yet somehow, Cain couldn't help but feel personally responsible for her. If he had vouched for her safety, he would've been her personal detail and she never would've gone near that balcony.
Water didn't seem enough to wash he blood from his hands. Cain scrubbed them until they were raw but still he felt it. His nail beds were stained; he looked like he'd just skinned an animal with his bare hands. If only there were some kind of monster to blame, he'd do just that. In some small way, Cain knew this was his fault.
Cain stalked the grounds of Finaqua, especially where DG fell. He was looking for an answer, a reason, something that could explain why she fell nearly three stories. He circled the pool of blood until he was dizzy, surveyed the surrounding area for broken marble or something that would betray the construction of the balcony… nothing stood out. He wore out the knee on his khakis digging a shiny rock out of the soil, but the rock was just a rock, and Cain had no answers. He refused to accept that DG just slipped backwards; even she wasn't that clumsy. His eyes began to strain as he sifted through the dirt. Dirt mingled with dried blood under his jagged fingernails.
"How long has he been out there?" Azkadellia asked as she and Glitch watched Cain's ministrations from an upper window.
"On hands and knees? Over an hour, but he's been combing the grounds since he left her room last night. I'm not sure he even knows the sun is up."
"What is he looking for?"
"A reason that it isn't his fault. That's my guess anyway." Glitch sighed.
"But she slipped, right? Nothing he could do about it."
"Cain was the only one who saw it happen, so that's all we have to go by. I hope that he isn't punishing himself for it." Glitch stepped away from the window, shuffling papers on his desk. "Although an insensitive person might think it his fault, being the only witness and all… but anybody who saw him take a bullet for her in the tower would know otherwise."
"You know he wanted to remain her bodyguard," Az said, leaning against the window frame.
"I know. Though I can't think why; she seemed to be the bane of his existence when he was escorting us." Glitch found Cain's file under a large stack of papers labeled "to file". He opened it, running a finger down the page. "He didn't do well on the psych evaluation-"
"Should you be telling me this?"
"It makes sense. Your mother wouldn't reassign him because he was unstable." He handed the file to Azkadellia after taping it emphatically against his forehead.
"Well 8 years in a Tin Suit would screw you up too," She said off-hand and Glitch blushed.
"Fortunately, I'm only a head-case."
"Oh, Glitch, I didn't mean-"
"It's okay. You haven't been yourself in a long time, Az, don't worry about it."
"I guess we're all our own particular brand of crazy, aren't we?" She laughed sadly, still feeling guilty. "Do you think he knows that Mother doesn't plan to reassign him?"
"Definitely not. How could he know? Every day he tells me what he's gonna do to Zero when he's reassigned. He's had one goal for the last eight years, I can't imagine that has changed."
"Maybe it has. I haven't heard a peep from him about Zero since the exorcism. DG must mean a lot to him, he's got his nose to the ground out there."
"Do you think this is about DG or about the fact that he didn't prevent her from getting hurt?"
"Maybe both," Az sighed. This comfortable repartee might not have been possible had Glitch's better judgment been in tact, but without his brain, he had forgiven Azkadellia the second the witch left her body. Strangely, she found that he was the only one who didn't treat her funny when they spent much time together, and that was good enough. If Glitch were a Gods-fearing man, he would certainly be devout. But he was too smart for metaphysics, and his friendship with Azkadellia was all the better for it.
Just as Cain began to think about abandoning his investigation, a glint caught his eye by the toe of his boot. He reached down to grasp a small, spent shell casing. Cain paled. DG had been shot. His blood boiled as he pocketed the shell. If the shell had fallen that close to the site where DG fell, the shooter had to have stood directly there, screened by the large trees that surrounded the palace. That also meant that the shooter could be close by.
Cain whipped his gun out of its holster and trained it on the open field in front of him, everywhere and nowhere in particular. His once steady hands shook so badly, the barrel of the gun slid open and deposited the bullets on the ground. Cain bellowed and hurled the gun as far away as he could. It landed with a distant, defiant plink. He knelt down to retrieve the bullets and the shell casing he had found for evidence fell out of his pocket. At first he couldn't tell it from the unspent bullets, eyes glazed. When his eyes focused, he realized what he had dreaded: the shell casing was from a familiar gun. His. It wasn't evidence, it was a shell he had spent taking out his anger on the shooting range. Cain didn't have one shred of evidence to prove what had happened to DG, just a guilty conscience.
Three sharp raps on Glitch's door and he snapped Wyatt Cain's file shut. He had clearance but if Cain himself came through that door, Glitch was pretty sure he'd be dead.
"Enter," Glitch said. Eames entered, out of breath. "Yes?"
"Wyatt Cain is harassing Captain Teig, something about a shell casing and the princess…" Eames went on but Glitch tuned out. So that's what Cain had been searching for on his hands and knees. Glitch breezed by Eames and headed for the Captain's office in the East wing. Sharply turning the corner, Glitch ran smack into Cain himself.
"Wanna dance, Tin Man?" Glitch rubbed his head and picked himself off the floor.
"Glitch," Cain groaned. "I am on my way to the Queen."
"I'll follow." The two made haste to the throne room.
"I know something happened to DG," Cain announced to Glitch, rather unceremoniously. "I can't explain what it was, but she couldn't have just slipped."
"Now, Cain, Raw's not sure about that-"
"I am positive."
"But you don't know that she was attacked-"
"I'm sure!" Cain hollered. Glitch snapped his mouth shut and followed the Tin Man, a little slower. Something about DG's fall was torturing him; he was desperate to make a connection.
The meeting with the Queen did not go as Cain had planned. Raw was called in to discuss the supposed wound that Cain was sure DG had sustained, but he hadn't found one. The ex-Tin Man was practically hysterical, insisting that nobody just falls off a third story balcony. Cain thought it might be an inside job but the facts stood: DG did not have a gunshot wound, just broken bones from the fall. The desperate man stormed out of the throne room, leaving the Queen, Consort, Glitch and Raw staring after him.
"He blames himself," Glitch offered.
"No kidding," Ahamo scoffed.
"Cain has much to deal with," Raw offered. "Raw can help, but Cain must be told of failed psych evaluation."
"Count me out. He'd shoot me first and ask questions later." Glitch shuddered.
"Perhaps it ought to wait until DG is stable," The Queen said softly. "With any luck the return of her magic will help in that. Glitch, will you make sure Cain has detail? I'm worried that he will get worse and I can't imagine what he'll do if he loses it entirely."
"Yes, your Majesty." Glitch bowed.
Cain found a strangely restful hideaway in DG's room, after threatening Hess with his life and first-born children, of course. He felt like an absolute idiot. Something had possessed him to take responsibility for DG and he couldn't shake the feeling, even now that he had been humiliated in front of the Queen. After a thorough inspection of the balcony and discerning that there was in fact nothing he could do, Cain sat against the footboard of DG's bed, head in hands. He felt crazy. Every once in a while, he would pop up to make sure she was breathing and not breathe himself until her ribs expanded. It felt like eons since he'd slept, though it had only been a little over 24-hours. He was afraid to go to sleep in case DG took a turn for the worst. When Azkadellia found him, Cain was sitting next to DG's bed, eyes bloodshot and unblinking.
"Wyatt," Az said gently, hand on his arm. He didn't look up at her, just gave a subtle nod of acknowledgment. "Go get some rest, she'll be fine."
"Can't." He breathed. "She's not safe."
"I'll stay with her until you've rested-"
"No, can't leave."
Az sighed. She didn't want to be the one to break the news to him but this seemed like an opportune moment.
"Wyatt… mother is not going to reassign you." It took a second for the statement to hit its mark. Cain looked up at her slowly, eyes questioning. "You failed the evaluation."
Cain inhaled sharply as if fighting back tears and rubbed his face.
"I failed it?"
"Gods… what do I do? I don't have a place to live or a job to do, what can I do now that I've lost this too?" He hit his forehead against the mattress and DG breathed out heavily, as if frightened. Cain bolted upright, ready to do whatever she needed. A cool realization settled over him and he crossed his arms over his barrel chest. "I'm giving Glitch a run for his money, aren't I?" Az would've laughed under different circumstances.
"You can remain at the palace as long as you like, I hope you know that." She offered. He shook his head but stopped, eyes coming to rest on the sleeping DG.
"How do I prove myself, Az?"
"Lay low for a while. Leave this room, eat something, sleep sometime," Az smiled. "We're all here to help you. I can't imagine being in a tin suit for eight years would be good for anyone."
"Az… I don't mean this to be as insulting as it is gonna sound," Cain began. "But how did you pass the test? After the witch and all?"
"I didn't," She admitted quietly. Cain looked up at her, surprised. "And neither did DG. I think Glitch was the only one who did pass, oddly. But we're the Princesses of the OZ, our place is at our parents' side."
"And I don't have a place," He nodded, forming his own understanding.
"I didn't mean it like that."
"I know, but it's true. Your place is with your family. My only family is Jeb, and he's on the western front because he doesn't have a home either." Cain rubbed his weathered face. "Isn't there anything you can do to help me?"
"I am not in the position to do anything… that is, I don't think my mother would allow it." She sighed.
"Please, Az? Could you try? Can you ask?" The big lug was at his breaking point.
Cain knelt down in front of her and grabbed her hands fiercely.
"Please, Azkadellia. Please say you will. I can't go on if you don't say yes."
"I didn't know Cain was your type, Az," Glitch spoke from the doorway without a speck of irony. Clearly, he hadn't been there long. "Carry on, may the force be with you, odds ever in your- whatever they say. A wedding! Of course, I never thought it would be them…" Glitch monologued to himself all the way down the hallway.
"Oh Gods," Az rolled her eyes. "I had better catch him before he tells the whole palace that you proposed to me." She smiled, but was met with the empty eyes of the broken Tin Man. "Tell you what. I'll have Hess reassigned and Mother doesn't have to know… you can watch over DG, IF you promise to eat and sleep like a normal human being. If you're lucky and well-behaved, you can be reevaluated in a month." Az smiled sadly as he gazed at her sister for just a moment. "I'll tell Mother that you're sticking around for a little while. There's plenty of room in the palace for the realm's favorite tin man." His connection to DG was undeniable and Az wasn't about to sabotage it. Not to mention, Az didn't want to be responsible for what would happen if she didn't help him.
"Deal." Cain tried not to show how pleased this arrangement made him and ducked his head. Az smiled, giving him a nod. She left without another word, the image of Cain watching her sister fresh in her mind.
Thank you for reading!