As they made their way to the top of the steps in the main hall of the Witch's castle, the strawman couldn't suppress the guilt he felt any longer. This was his restitution. The Scarecrow would risk anything to get Dorothy out of the castle alive, well, and Kansas-bound. He knew that his two companions, the Tin Man and Lion, felt the same way. They loved the girl and he knew he could count on them to rescue her if he was unable to. What they didn't know was what had happened in the forest…

…When the monkeys had descended upon them, they were driven to split up by the chaos of the attack. The Scarecrow had taken Dorothy's hand without a moment's hesitation, and raced along the forest path at a break-necking pace. She was quick, much quicker than he was, and while she leapt easily over the tree root, he lost his footing and fell to the ground. The Scarecrow was immediately set upon by the monkeys.

They pulled his straw from his clothes, chattering and screeching menacingly. The Scarecrow had hoped beyond hope that Dorothy had kept running, maybe she could meet up with the others who were sure to protect her. His heart sank when he saw her beating away the monkeys with a fallen tree branch.

"Get away from him!" she cried as she furiously freed him from his attackers.

For a fleeting moment, Scarecrow thought they might be safe.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, eyes widened at the sight of her Scarecrow torn asunder.

She tossed the tree branch away and fell to her knees, exhausted and terrified. He sat up and embraced her as best he could in his condition. He felt her shoulders shake with her fresh sobs.

"This is all my fault," she wept.

"It's alright, I can't feel it," he replied. "So there's no reason to worry. Please don't cry, Dorothy. We've got to pull ourselves together and get out of here."

For that brief moment, they held each other fiercely. He took in her scent and the way her head fit so beautifully in the space between his ear and his shoulder. All too soon, however, she was wrenched from him with a blood-curdling scream.

The Scarecrow gripped the attacking monkey by its leg with all of the strength he had, and Dorothy herself was putting up a good struggle. All too soon, however, the commotion drew more of the flying beasts to where they were. They easy pried the Scarecrow's cloth fingers from their comrade and pushed him aside. Two of them seized Dorothy by her forearms and forced her to her knees before a third flying monkey, who seized a fistful of her auburn hair and forced her head back to get a look at her face.

"How will we know if this is the right girl?" asked the Witch's monkey servant. "There were others traveling with her. What if she is a decoy?"

"Look at her shoes, you fool!" exclaimed one of the flying monkeys holding her arm.

"LET HER ALONE!" Scarecrow cried, reaching helplessly out for her, having lost his legs. "Please let her go, I'm begging you!"

The monkeys snickered and chattered noisily in response.

"Look at this sad creature!" they jeered. "A stuffed protector? What next?"

The beast that stood in front of Dorothy approached him and, licking his lips, said in a soft voice:

"We will return to you whatever is left of her when the Witch has had her say." Turning back to his comrades, the monkey said: "Take the girl to the castle."

"Scarecrow," Dorothy screamed. "Don't let them!"

The two monkeys lifted her back by her arms as she screamed, kicking wildly in a futile attempt to free herself. Helpless, broken, and unable to reach her, all Scarecrow could do was call out her name. When her screams faded into the distance, he let himself fall upon the dead leaves with a crunch. He considered his next move. If she was smart (and she was), she wouldn't put up a fight in mid-air, for the fall would surely kill her. The only way to save her was to rescue her from where she had been taken: the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West.

…Now he stood before a door, the dog desperately attempting to dig under it to reach his mistress. Scarecrow feared what he might find beyond the barrier.

"Dorothy," he cried. "Are you in there?"

"It's us!" said the Lion.

The reply they received was the patter of her running, ruby-clad feet upon the stone floor. She assured them of her identity and that she was, as of yet, unharmed.

"Please hurry," Dorothy pleaded through the heavy, wooden door of her prison. "The hour-glass is almost empty, and then the Witch will come for me."

Tin Man made quick work of the door with his sharp axe, and suddenly, as if by magic, there she was. Her cheeks were flushed and wet with fresh tears. Her eyes sparkled with new hope that she would survive the night. And there was something else there in Dorothy's eyes that the Scarecrow didn't recognize.

Dorothy threw herself into the Lion's arms and embraced him. Tin Man scooped her up and held her to his chest. She approached Scarecrow last, and for a moment he thought she was angry at him for failing to save her from the flying monkeys. He felt her hot gaze bore into him and thought he might spark at the look she gave him. He half-expected her to scream or slap him across the face, so when her hands were suddenly cupping his face and pulling him into a deep kiss, he was astounded!

Scarecrow held his arms straight out as if he were once again tied up in the cornfield, not sure where his hands should go, fearful that his companions would scold him. But when he saw them smiling, brows raised as if to say, 'It's about time!', he gripped her so fiercely that he lifted her off the ground and kissed her back intently. If their very survival hadn't been hanging precariously in the balance, he could have stayed like this forever, so he parted from her, placed her upon the ground, and, foreheads pressed together, said,

"To be continued. Right now we have no time to lose!"

Adrenaline once again coursing through them, they dashed back down the staircase hand-in-hand. If they could just reach the door, they would make a clean get-away. In retrospect, the Scarecrow realized that it had been far too easy to enter the castle and that, while he had every intention of getting in, he and his comrades had made no escape plan. The Witch had been biding her time, waiting to trap them and get rid of them all at once. As the Witch taunted them and the guards cornered them, Scarecrow felt Dorothy's grip on his arm tighten, surely thinking that this was the end of the journey. Meanwhile, the Scarecrow had ideas of his own.

The chandelier came crashing down upon the Witch's soldiers. Scarecrow shielded Dorothy's body with his own to prevent the shattering glass from harming her. He wanted to tell her everything, how he would have followed her to the end of the world if she had asked him to that day in the cornfield. Sadly, there wasn't time to make passionate confessions of undying love.

"Let's go!" Tin Man yelled over the noise.

The Scarecrow took her hand in his and pulled her back up the stairs as the Witch beckoned for her soldiers to seize the prisoners. It had been a grand chase, but they were on enemy turf, and therefore suffered the disadvantages of being less familiar with the terrain. Every time Scarecrow turned a corner, he ran into an ambush. It was all he could do to grab Dorothy and turn her hastily in the other direction, praying for a clear path.

All too quickly, the foursome was once again surrounded by the Winkie guards. Dorothy screamed as the soldiers wielded their sharpened weapons. Scarecrow grabbed her by the shoulders and moved her flush against the wall. He circled an arm around her protectively and held her close to him. Scarecrow could feel Dorothy shaking against him. If it was his destiny to be destroyed at the hands of the Witch, he would first do everything in his power to keep her safe.

And then, like the very darkness of the shadows, the Witch entered the room and approached them.

"The last one to go," she crooned smoothly through crooked teeth. "Will see the first three go before her."

Tin Man, Lion, and Dorothy cowered before the Witch, but Scarecrow held his ground. Shielding the girl, he stared defiantly at their enemy and pulled her even closer. He wasn't going down without a fight. He knew by doing this, however, that he would be singled out. Sure enough, the Witch held her broom to the torch above them until it burned with his demise. She cackled as he felt his resolve weaken, and he began to quiver with fear.

"Leave him alone," Dorothy cried, suddenly in front of him with her arms outstretched. "Can't you see he's terrified?"

The Witch cocked her head to the side and burst out with a menacing cackle that rivaled a clap of thunder. Without warning, the Witch held the end of her flaming broom to the hem of Dorothy's pinafore.

Her screams were unlike anything. They were otherworldly. Nothing could have possibly pained him more than the horrifying moans that were emanating from within her throat as she tried to block her face from the flames that licked at her bare legs. That's when he saw the bucket of water. And then many things happened at once...

…The Scarecrow had thrown the bucket of water where Dorothy had just been standing a moment ago, but Tin Man had already thrown her to the ground to pat the fire out with his hands. The water had landed directly on the Wicked Witch of the West. Assuming this would just anger her further and prompt another violent attack, the Scarecrow stood ready to fight until the bitter end. So when the wicked creature began to scream and shrink away before their very eyes, he was shocked (to say the least).

Having put out the fire that had scorched Dorothy's legs, Tin Man grabbed his axe and stood ready to do battle with the Witch's surviving hoard of minions. Scarecrow fell to his knees and took Dorothy's trembling hand in his own. He kissed it fervently, all the while yelling at her,

"What is the matter with you? Don't you have a brain in your head? You could have been killed!"

Silently she met his gaze, tearful and trembling as the soldiers cried,

"Hail to the strangers! The Witch is dead!"

Scarecrow felt Dorothy's hand go suddenly limp in his own, and looked down to find her unconscious. He slapped her flushed cheek and called her name, as did Tin Man and Lion, but she did not stir. As her three devoted friends attempted to rouse her, the captain of the Winkie guards bent over them to have a look.

"Burns will do that," he said. "She is overcome by the pain. Bring her to the Witch's chamber so we can tend to her before she becomes infected."

The strawman didn't move, he just stared down at her. Tin Man, who had waited for Scarecrow to intervene, stepped in when he didn't and lifted Dorothy tenderly from the ground, carrying her off to receive treatment for her wounds.