Short and sweet, sorry about the wait!
"You can't be her personal bodyguard, Dad. You're a Sergeant First Class, we need you in the field," Jeb said, shuffling through a massive pile of papers on his desk.
"The whole point of rejoining the academy was to prove I'm worthy of protecting the royal family," Cain said.
"And you'll do just that. From the front lines." Jeb stood, expecting that to be the last word.
Wyatt Cain crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow at his only son. "I outrank you, son. You can't send me to war."
"The board can. I am on the board, and therefore, I can in fact do that," Jeb sighed. "Look, do you think this is easy for me? You're my father, I've watched what you've been going through. I know what you wanted out of all this, but that's not the way things work."
"I'll speak to the Queen about this," Cain said softly. "She has to know how important it is for me to stay. She can override the board."
"Yes, but she rarely does. Dad, can we be real about this for a second?" Jeb asked, walking to his office door and closing it. He motioned for his father to sit and both Cain men did so. "Why do you want to be private detail when you've just set major academy records and become one of the highest ranking Tin Men in the history of the OZ?"
"Because I know what it takes to protect the royal family, and I know what happens when the wrong people are assigned to that position," Cain replied. But his words were robotic, almost rehearsed. Jeb touched his father's arm.
"Is this about my mother?" Jeb asked softly.
Cain pulled his arm out of his son's grasp. "How would this concern your mother?"
"You feel guilty about what happened to her. I know you do, don't try to deny it. We both do. You couldn't protect her, and... you blame yourself for what happened to DG. Logic says you're just trying to protect the things you love," Jeb said.
"I love my Realm," Cain said. "This is my duty-"
"Not what I meant, Dad. I'm talking about a person. A princess, more specifically."
Wyatt Cain said nothing and his face betrayed nothing, but his fingers curled into a tight fist. Jeb sighed.
"You can relieve Mays as DG's detail until the 86th infantry returns to base. Then we need you on the front lines, doing your duty. Whether you like it or not," Jeb said. He stood and opened the door to his office.
The elder Cain nodded curtly and left the office, having said nothing else.
"Ow, ow, ow, okay- Gods, Cain! I can walk, now!" DG wrenched her arm out of her new bodyguard's vice grip.
"You are not supposed to be on the balcony unaccompanied," Cain said as calmly as his nervous would allow.
"I wasn't! You're hovering just inside the door, nothing can happen to me," the princess said, perching herself on the edge of her bed lightly. DG's strength had returned to her legs very slowly and she usually spent the latter part of her days in her wheelchair so as not to wear herself out entirely.
Cain had been her bodyguard less than a day and he had swiftly returned to the Tin Man of DG's first acquaintance; bossy, forceful, and tiresome. Exactly the opposite of the man that dazzled her at the Solstice ball. Yes, he had dazzled her. DG wouldn't admit it out loud, but she did at least allow herself to think it when he wasn't around. Lately, she hadn't thought about it much, because he was always standing about twenty feet away, staring at her. Through her. The sweet kindness in his eyes as he twirled her around the room was nothing more than a stolen fragment of a daydream that DG couldn't be sure had ever really happened.
"Are you tired?"
"No, I'm not tired," DG spat a bit too forcefully. "I'm bored. At least Hess let me sit on the balcony by myself."
"And we know how well that turned out," Cain said, seething. He wasn't mad at DG, but her willingness to be reckless was trying his patience. As far as he was concerned, DG's accident had happened mere days ago. Moments, even. He still saw her unconscious body in his sleep, mangled and covered in blood. He woke up in cold sweats, practically screaming her name.
The night after the Solstice ball, he hadn't slept at all; his skin hummed with the electric memory of holding DG in his arms on the dance floor, her cheek on his shoulder. He wished every night in a kind of desperate prayer that her cheek would find its way back to the place it was made to rest: right above Wyatt Cain's tin heart.
"Gods, you're not even listening to me!" DG said. She didn't huff like she would have when they first met. She spoke with a quiet intensity, accusingly even. The princess stood slowly on her weak legs.
Cain gulped and folded his hands in front of his body to wall himself off from her. It was no good because DG could dissolve his fronts with one single glance from under those mink lashes. She was significantly shorter and weaker than him, but her ferocity alone backed Cain into the armchair beside the fire. She leaned over him, bracing her hands on the arms of the chair and narrowing her eyes.
"Something is really wrong with you," she said softly. "You're twice as stern as you were when Glitch and I let you out of the suit; you bark orders at me like I'm some kind of dog! I need you to answer some questions, right this second."
"Now, or I might never speak to you again," DG whispered.
Cain nodded once, expecting DG to take a step back, but she didn't move.
"Why did you rejoin the academy?" she asked gently.
"To retrain according to the new weaponry and endurance codes," he replied.
"Bullshit. What's the non-rehearsed reason?"
He raised an eyebrow and opened his mouth to give her more bullshit. Cain closed his mouth and thought of an acceptable answer.
"To get my tin back." He sighed.
"That's the reason?"
"That's it." Cain crossed his arms across his chest.
DG narrowed her eyes and leaned closer to her lying bodyguard. "I don't believe you."
"That's not my problem. Believe what you want, that is the truth." Cain tried not to breathe in because the scent of DG's soap was absolutely arresting. If he dropped his gaze a few inches, he would have a clear view of DG's décolletage and the thought of getting caught staring down her shirt was petrifying.
DG knelt beside his knees in a strangely familiar manner. It was entirely dishonorable to sit higher than the crown princess and Cain gripped the arms of the chair to stand. But then DG's hand came to rest on his knee and the tin man froze.
"I need you to do something for me," she said so softly, he almost couldn't be sure he heard her. "Whatever I ask of you, you have to know how much I need it. Only you can do this for me, you're the only one I trust."
"Anything." He spoke before his brain could even be rational about the possibilities of her request. DG took his hand and pulled him to stand with her.
"Go outside with me," she suggested.
Cain hesitated for a moment and then crossed the short distance to the balcony doors. He opened one door cautiously, canvasing the surrounding view for any visible threats. When the coast was clear, Cain opened the door for DG and she joined him on the balcony. She tried to step closer to the railing but he caught her arm gently.
"Sorry, Princess. This is all the further I'll let you go."
"Fine, I understand," she said.
"That's what you wanted?" Cain asked, slightly relieved.
DG looked down at her hands and cracked one of her knuckles. Without thinking, he stilled her hand with his own. Cain seemed shocked when she grasped his hand tighter and held it to her heart.
"No, that's not it," DG said finally.
"What is it, kiddo?" Cain asked. He leveled his eyes with hers and felt his over-protective front melt away.
The princess was nose-to-nose with the tin man now. She looked straight into his blue, unflinching eyes, and sighed. "I need you to kiss me."
A/N: AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! :) I know, I know. Already working on the next one. Let me know what you think!