Previous Chapters: Ch 1 - Aftermath ;Ch 2 - Whispers Of A Legend
Making Memories Of Us
Ch 3 - Stretched To The Limits
I'm gonna be here for you from now on
This you know somehow
You've been stretched to the limits but it's alright now. – Making Memories Of Us by Keith Urban
As Cain unfastened his holster and removed his vest, he watched DG fidgeting by the hearth. The kid was a mess. Though he was relieved she’d lost that pinched panicked look from when he’d pulled her out of the crowd of soldiers, he knew she was a long way from all right.
“Give me your jacket, Kiddo.” He knelt in front of the fire, grabbed a cooking knife and slit a hole in the middle of one of the blankets.
“Humm.” She jumped at the sound of his voice and blinked slowly as if she was having trouble focusing.
“Your jacket,” he insisted. “There’s dried blood all over the sleeves. Put this on for the time being.” He handed her a makeshift poncho.
“Owww,” she wrinkled her nose in degust, as she pulled off the stained black leather. “I thought I was imagining it after what happened down…” She shook her head and her chin rose determined to get to the other side of what was making her feel weak and vulnerable. She hated that she’d needed rescuing tonight. “I…ah thought it was from your shirt…but I…ah don’t remember the stench from before.” As saves went she figured it was pretty lame, so she was happy for the poncho he dropped over her head, it hid her face for another moment.
“It could’ve been both.” He was willing to give her that much for tonight, but tomorrow he planned on getting to the bottom of what had happened in that field hospital. “One thing for sure, it’s damn rank. I’ve been wearing it for seven days.” He snagged the shirt Cora had left him from on top of the pile of blankets and quickly changed, but didn’t bother to fasten the clean garment.
“Is my jacket totaled?”
“What?” He shook his head at her odd expressions, though he thought he understood that one. “If you’re asking if it’s ruined, I doubt it.” He looked it over carefully. “A good tanner should be able to restore it in no time.” Except for the stained area the garment was soft and supple and gave off a scent that he always associated with the Princess. When he realized that he’d been caressing the lining he quickly grabbed his discarded shirt and took both items to the other side of the room
“Good, it’s my favorite…and I guess…ah…my only one,” her voice rose in pitch and DG stifled a giggle caused more by nerves than humor. She pulled the blanket poncho tightly around her to keep from shivering, as she slumped back against the warm wall of the fireplace.
“Don’t get too relaxed. We’ve got things to do before you can go to sleep.” He took off his wet boots and placed them far enough from the hearth so the leather wouldn’t be ruined by the heat as they dried.
“I’m not sure I’ll ever sleep again. My mind is going in too many directions at once.” She blinked and breathed in the clean damp air as she watched the storm rage twenty feet away. The pounding of the rain almost drowned out the sound of Cain pouring hot water, from a jug on the fire.
“Here ya go.” He slid a basin between them. “You’re cleaner than I am, so you should go first.”
“Believe me; I’m not all that clean.” She rolled her eyes in at him. “Besides, how many times did all four of us share the same tiny stretch of stream or over-sized puddle when on the trail? Dig right in there Mr. Cain.” DG slid out of her shoes and knelt opposite the Tin Man.”
“If you insist, Princess.”
“I do. The only reason I’m not mud spattered and covered in days of dirt is because Az took one sniff and sent me off to her bathing room.” Deeg didn’t add that since it had felt as if the walls had been closing in on her every second of the time, she’d washed up as quickly as possible. “While I was in there, someone must have used some sort of spell on my clothes, because they were suddenly clean.”
She leaned over the basin and began washing her hands along side Cain’s. The first time her fingers bumped against his in the water, it hardly registered, but as it happened repeatedly she became distracted. She sat back on her heels suddenly confused. She’d spent almost a week in the presence of three males. She knew personal things about each man that she doubted even they were aware of. Why was this different? There was something hypnotic about watching water run through his fingers as he leaned over the basin and washed his face.
When he began to run a wash cloth over his chest and under his arms she kept her eyes glued to the water. Way did watching a man wash up suddenly feel intimate? She couldn’t count the number times she’d seen Popsicle trudge into the mud room off the kitchen, drop his suspenders and go through almost exactly the same motions. It had been nothing, just her Pops cleaning up for dinner after a day in the fields, but this was something. It made her hands shake and despite the layer of ice that seemed to have taken up permanent residence deep within her, her skin felt hot and tingly.
“Princess you didn’t finish.” He looked up and her eyes were hooded as she stared into the basin.
“I…well…I didn’t want to crowd you.”
“You can’t fool me. You didn’t want to wash in this.” He pointed to grime floating on discolored liquid. “I can’t say that I blame you.” He got up and tossed the contents of the basin out onto the balcony and let the rain pound down on the empty container until it was clean.
“Here ya go.” He poured fresh water for her and handed her a clean wash rag.
“Thanks,” she muttered and then gasped when she tried to rince the right side of her face. It had been throbbing since she’d been accidentally hit, but she didn’t think it would be as painful as it was to try and cleanse the area.
“Deeg, look at me.” He knelt in front of her barely able to suppress his anger. He’d hoped that it was the glow from the fire that had made her face look as bad as it did. But the tender condition of her skin proved him wrong. He reached for a clean cloth, swished it in the hot water and clenched his fist to wring it out. Unfortunately it did nothing to suppress the fury that was slowly mounting.
“Mr. Cain, I can do this myself!” she grouched at him. He was so close she could smell his damp skin and it didn’t help her composure any.
“Then why haven’t you?” He glared at her. “Cora left some salve for that bruise, but the skin has to be thoroughly cleaned first,” his voice tightened when he thought of what had happened to cause most of the right side of her face to be red and swollen.
“It’s not what you think.” She heard pain and guilt behind his words and hated that she’d caused it.
“You gonna tell me that someone didn’t take their hand to you?” He tipped her chin toward the fire and threaded his fingers through her hair to push it aside so he could get a better look at the damage. One of the sadder parts of being a tin man had been seeing folk who’d been mistreated by bigger stronger ones. Unfortunately he knew exactly what he was looking at. “Back handed you I expect.”
“Yes…no…it wasn’t like that.” She gripped his wrist. They were kneeling inches apart and he’d never looked grimmer.
“Then why don’t you tell me what it was like.” He gently traced the contour of her cheek, the side of her chin and up into her hairline beside her eye. He had large strong hands, but whoever had hurt her had bigger ones. It made his insides boil.
“He…ah…was out of his head with pain…not even conscious really.” She closed her eyes and relaxed against Cain’s hand. He was supporting her head as he carefully washed her cheek. Though she could have cared for her own injury, she knew that something in him needed to do it for her. “I was trying to hold him down while the healer’s apprentice finished up and didn’t do as good a job as I should have.”
“You shouldn’t have been there. It’s wasn’t safe.” It took all his effort to keep from grinding his teeth.
“Not safe for who?” her voice shook as she tried to turn confused thoughts into coherent sentences. “That poor man who was in so much pain he almost threw himself off the healer’s table?” She pulled back far enough so her raging blue eyes met his icy ones. Once she started, she couldn’t stop the emotions that poured out of her. “Or all those people who died before they even made it as far as that table? Was it safe as they lay on that cold stone floor bleeding to death with no one but a stranger to give them comfort? What about the men who went out with you and Jeb, how safe were they?” Her fingers dug into his shoulders at the horrors of the day, the week, her entire life, if the truth be told. “My God, Tin Man,” her voice caught and broke, but she kept on going. “No one was safe, not them, not your son…not you!”
Jeb had said she’d been worried about him. At the time it had made no sense, though he’d known it was true and refused to admit it. After all, he was the one who was supposed to worry about her. Now he understood that sometime in the last few days the Princess had added deep concern for his safety to the burden of things she was carrying around. He wasn’t sure he wanted that responsibility. The last woman who’d felt that way about him had been killed by Longcoats.
“Deeg…” He wanted to say more but words wouldn’t come, at least not words he could say to her. Instead he pulled her into a tight embrace and tried to catch his breath while he fought thoughts and feelings he’d always believed were nothing but myth.
She held on tightly and took the comfort he was giving her. It wiped away all the odd thoughts she’d been having about him. He was Cain, her Tin Man and that was all there was to it. The feel of his skin under her cheek and the sound of his heart in her ear didn’t mean anything except that he was the first man to ever hold her like that. Otherwise there was no significance, really no significance at all and she’d keep telling herself that for as long as she needed to, until she finally believed it.
He didn’t know how long he held her, but he waited until his head stopped spinning and his blood stopped pounding in his ears before he spoke again. “You saw to Jeb for me and I’m thinking a number of others who were a lot worse off.” No wonder Old Cora had warned him about the blood on his shirt. His Princess had been in the thick it, in a field hospital, an hour or so after a battle. The stains on her jacket had already told him she hadn’t stood by as a Royal observer. Her panicked words simply reaffirmed it. “I owe you for that, we both do.”
“No, please don’t say that.”
“I want to. Jeb’s my son!” He’d never understood the strong love he felt for his child. It was a deep well of emotion that had always been there. He remembered Adora laughing and telling him it was part of nature’s plan. It was what kept sleep deprived parents from going crazy until their little one finally slept through the night. It made teething bearable and saw most children through the terrible-twos.
“All right.” DG nodded knowing she needed to accept his thanks for his sake and not hers. “But for the rest, what I did was too little far too late.” She pushed away from him wishing with all her heart that she’d been stronger in the Witch’s cave fifteen years earlier. “And there’s still so much to do.” ‘So much to make up for,’ the words whispered through her mind.
“You’re right about that but we’ll worry about tomorrow after the suns come up in the morning. First we have to get through tonight.” He tipped her chin upward to re-examine her cheek. It was still an angry red and he figured it hurt like hell. “This needs tending. Once it’s taken care of do you think you can put some food on our plates without burning yourself?” he smirked at her as he issued the challenge.
“I believe I can handle that little chore, Mr. Cain.” Her brow arched and a ghost of her old infectious grin flitted across her features.
“Good, then I can get us organized for the night.” He held her lower jaw between his thumb and forefinger and scooped up some caba bark salve. “This is going to sting,” he warned and looked her in the eyes, but didn’t wait for her approval. He’d used the remedy often enough to know how painful it was until it began working and he’d be damned if he’d make her agree to be hurt.
“Ouch!” she gasped and dug her finger into his shoulders. “You weren’t kidding!” It felt like her skin was on fire where he was applying Old Cora’s mixture.
“Almost done,” his voice was gruffer than normal and his hand shook as he tried to keep his touch as light as he could.
“Please hurry.” She bit her lip and closed her eyes tightly to keep from crying out again.
“Give it a second.” He blew gently on the area where he’d applied the medication to try and relieve the sting.
DG’s eyes flew open as she felt his breath on her face. They were so close that his nose occasionally brushed against her bangs.
“Is that better?”
“Pardon?” She blinked wondering for a moment if he realized she had crush on him and was playing with her. It only took a moment for her mind to clear. Any other man might do such a thing, but not Wyatt Cain. He was still deeply in love with Adora, and too honorable a man to make light of her growing feelings, if he was even aware of them.
“Your cheek, is it feeling better?” He was crouched above her, a worried expression on his face.
“Yeah….it’s getting kinda numb,” she knew her words were slurred, but couldn’t help it. “Thanks for…well…just thanks for taking care of me tonight.”
“You’re…ah…welcome.” He’d hurt her and he didn’t like that she was thinking him for it, but that thought made no more sense than a number of things that were filling his head lately, so he ignored it. Instead he took another moment to inspect her injury.
“Am I going to live, Mr. Cain,” her sass was back and she needed it desperately if he was going to stay so close with his hands holding her face inches from his.
“That all depends on that mouth of yours.” He let her go and stood, buttoning his shirt in the process.
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to cry in disappointment or sigh in relief when he put some distance between them. To hide her uncertainty she turned to the supplies left by the fire and began looking for what she needed to serve them dinner. It caught her by surprise that she began to shiver again. When Cain had been touching her it had made the chills coming from deep within manageable. Now they were back in full force.
As she gathered plates and eating utensils she told herself that it was her imagination. It had been her preoccupation with trying not to cry, as that God awful herb remedy had made the nerve endings on the right side of her face scream, that took her mind off how cold she was. It had nothing to do with Wyatt Cain. In desperation she grabbed some wood to feed the fire. If she had a nice roaring blaze it was bound to help.
“Deeg, don’t build it too big,” he warned from behind her were he was laying out the two bed rolls. “Remember the rules of The Road.”
“But we’re not traveling any longer?”
“No, but we’ve got a wall open to the outside.” He pointed to the balcony. “Can’t be too careful.”
It was a fight she wasn’t going to win, so she didn’t even try. She pulled her blanket-poncho tighter around her.
“Here, this might help.” He pushed a sleeping bag toward her. “Sit on it instead of the stone floor. You’re shivering again.”
“Thanks, it’s just that my magic is depleted,” she muttered and couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“I remember.” He slid his bed roll next to hers, careful to keep them a few inches apart. “Maybe food will help with that.”
“Oh my goodness,” she gasped as she took the lid off the pot that had been simmering on the coals. “It’s Momster’s stew. She always made it for me when I was sick, or if I had a big exam, anytime she thought I needed a little something to make it through the day. How could Old Cora have known?” DG was swamped with a wave of homesickness so strong she could almost taste it. “I thought I imagined I smelled it, just like the blood. But this time it was something I wanted badly to be real.”
Cain knelt beside her and looked into the pot. “That’s Healer’s Stew. It’s been around forever. I can remember my grandmother making it. It has all sorts of special herbs and spices: garlic, cinnabark, gingin and some juice from yellow Papey fruit, if I remember correctly. It’s supposed to be good for you.”
“It’s all real isn’t it?” She looked around the room feeling very cut off and alone. “Every time I think I understand what’s happened, a new travel storm comes along and drops me on my head.” God she missed her mother—not the queen, but the woman who’d raised her. She refused to think of the man and woman she’d thought of as her parents for most of her life as damn robots! They’d been real to her and that was all that mattered. “I knew when I saw Mill Town, but not in here.” She put her hand over her left breast above her heart. “My whole life has been a lie. How am I supposed to know what’s true and what isn’t.” She looked at him with eyes that were bright with unshed tears.
“Trust what you know in there.” He slowly dragged the knuckle of his right forefinger over the back of her hand covering her heart. “It may take longer for things to make sense, but when they do, you’ll know the answers are the right ones.” She’d given him advice something like that when his thirst for revenge had been eating him alive. He hoped he could return in some small measure the comfort she’d given him.
DG slowly ate her stew and tried to pretend she was sitting back in the big kitchen in Kansas. She didn’t give a damn about its medicinal properties. The food tasted the same, but it didn’t have the same emotional pick-me-up that her Monster’s did.
“If you’re not going to eat, drink this.” Cain handed her the cup of tea they were sharing. There had been two of everything except cups. They’d shrugged and ignored the inconvenience. It wasn’t the first time they’d shared and she doubted it would be the last as long as they were living off the supplies of the Resistance.
“I’m eating, already!” she grouched and tried to ignore the way he was pulling at the collar of his borrowed shirt. Instead of the usual loose fit around the top, this one had five tiny buttons at the neckline giving it a tight fit.
“You are not!” he argued.
“Stop that!” she snapped and leaned over to undo the buttons on his collar.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He gripped her hand and wouldn’t let go.
“I’m trying to make you comfortable. It’s me, DG. You know, the one who freaked-out in a crowd of five people and had to be rescued like some freakin’ damsel in distress. Just undo the buttons so you can breathe!” her voice wobbled as if she were the one feeling the room close in on her.
“It’s not supposed to be worn that way,” he mumbled.
“I doubt the fashion police are getting past the bolt on that door and if they do you can always shoot ‘em.”
“Someday you’re gonna have to explain that one to me.” He rolled his eyes at her strange Other Side expression and fumbled with the tiny buttons on his collar. He not only unfastened them, but went one beyond, until the shirt fit him like his own did. “Thanks, that’s better.”
“No problem,” she sighed. “While we’re on the subject of claustrophobia,” at the mention of the word all the fight went out of her. “I can’t sleep in that sleeping bag. It doesn’t have a zipper on it.” The idea of crawling into the top and being confined gave her the creeps.
“Of course it doesn’t. Zippers are only used by healers.” He’d already noticed the one on her jacket and couldn’t help wondering at the oddities of the world she’d been living in. “No worries, Kid, I wasn’t going to fight you on that one.”
Later they lay on their separate bedrolls. DG was on her side, facing the fire. Cain was on her other side. He’d been careful to keep three inches of stone floor between their sleeping bags. His back was turned and he had his weapon out of its holster and within easy reach.
“Princess, you should have told me about the claustrophobia sooner.” He knew she wasn’t up to talking about this now but it had been eating at him since he’d seen the look of panic on her face in the field hospital. “I can’t keep you safe if I don’t have all the facts.”
“I was terrified when I was trapped, but…but who wouldn’t be?” She saw herself frantically pushing against immovable marble and remembered crying out for Cain’s help, eventhough she knew it wasn’t coming. “It felt like it was happening all over again when I was in Az’s room.”
“Easy there, Kiddo.” He turned and ran his hand up and down her back. “You’re not trapped anymore. You’re here and safe. Keep reminding yourself of that.”
“Does it always help?”
“Most of the time,” he sighed knowing it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“That’s one of the things I like best about you, Wyatt Cain. I never have to worry that you’ll give me false reassurances.”
“I wish I could say the same about you Why didn’t you tell me you were having problems before I made you promise to lock yourself in that small windowless room?” Big help he’d been. In his effort to keep her safe, he’d put her in a place that sent her running off into danger. Trust his Princess to find trouble the second his back was turned.
“I couldn’t,” her voice hitched and she turned over to face him. “I was locked in that damn coffin for a matter of minutes. You survived years—annuals when you were imprisoned. It seemed foolish and silly of me to complain about something that I was sure was a one time occurrence.”
“Please, no more lectures tonight,” her voice was soft and broken and it cut to his heart. “I really think I’ll be fine in the morning. I’ll wake up with my magic restored and all the rest of me back to normal too.”
Ice blue eyes met sapphire ones as he looked for reassurance. “All right, we should get some sleep.” He nodded and pulled her blankets tighter around her as she turned away from him. He would have been happier if he hadn’t felt her shivering beneath her covers.
“Tin Man,” she whispered a few minutes later. “May I lean against you?” She was so cold it was a battle to keep her teeth from chattering, though he’d given her all but one blanket, it wasn’t enough.
Cain looked over his shoulder and saw her curled in a ball. “Move over, Kiddo” He turned and joined her on her bedroll. Once he’d rearranged the blanket so they were covering both of them he pulled her into his arms.
“Ohhh, that’s nice,” she sighed and rolled over so her face was buried against his neck. “If I’d known how much body heat you gave off, I’d have curled up against you every night on the trail.”
“Just go to sleep, Deeg.”
He ran his hand up and down her back and the skin of her arm from her sleeve to her wrist. The make-shift poncho she’d been wearing was somewhere among the blankets that were piled on them. He hadn’t realized how cold she was until she was pressed against him and did his best to share his body heat.
He watched her eyes grow heavy and felt her breathing become deep and even. She was still shivering, but it was easing some. That was another thing he added to his list of things to talk to her about in the morning. He was supposed to protect her, and she wasn’t helping at all. His mind froze on that thought. Who the hell had put him on Princess detail? She was with her family now, why did he still feel as if he couldn’t let her out of his sight? Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. It felt right and good to have her snuggled up against him. If there were questions, those too could be addressed in the morning.
Once Cain was sure she was asleep, he gently combed his fingers through her hair to expose her right cheek. It was looking better. Cora’s salve was working. The angry red that marred her pale skin from chin to just below the eye was fading and the swelling had almost disappeared.
As he looked down at her, he had a moment of disorientation at the strange sight of dark ringlets flowing over his arm. Adora’s hair had been straight and light brown. His eyes flutter shut when he though of his wife of 18 annuals--or was it only 10? Should he count the annuals he’d spent in the suit? Had she? If they had believed in the Legend of the Cariad, he wouldn’t have had to wonder. The answer would have been a resounding yes. He shook his head and refused to waste energy on useless speculation.
He was well aware that the memory loop he’d been forced to watch when he’d been imprisoned in metal had stopped time for him mentally and the environmental controls had done the same for him physically. In many ways he was just as displaced as the wisp of a girl who had set him free.
“Tin Man,” she whispered and snuggled closer. “Don’t let go…” her words vibrated against his nick, more felt than heard. It did strange things to his insides.
“I’ve got you Deeg,” he mumbled into her hair. One of the small missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place. He could finally answer why he was on Princess Detail that no one had asked him to join. It was because she needed him to be there and as long as she did, it was alright with him.
Wyatt Cain felt one last time for his weapon. Before he fell asleep, he wanted to be sure he knew exactly where it was and that it was within easy reach. He had a Princess to protect.
To Ch - 4 - Cariad
Healer’s Stew – with Momster's Other Side conversions
1 yellow onion
46 oz vegetable stock (or chicken)
2 cups sliced tomatoes
14.4 oz can of Garbanzo beans, drained
¼ C tomato paste
2 – ½ inch pieces of gingin (ginger on the Other Side)
1 stick cinnabark (cinnamon on the Other Side)
zest from 2 yellow Papay fruit (lemons on the Other Side)
Juice from 3 yellow Papay fruit (lemons on the Other Side)
2 large cloves of garlic – minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ C. thinly sliced zucchini
¼ C raisons
* ½ lbs. sliced chicken breast if meat is desired
Combine onions (sauté chicken if being used). Add broth, carrots, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, tomato paste, cinnabark, and gingin in a large soup pot. Bring it to a boil and cover on low heat for 15 min.