Disclaimer: See first chapter
Notes: This is shorter than usual. A bit of a look at what Cain is thinking and feeling at this point in the story.
Previous Chapters: Ch 1 - Aftermath; Ch 2 - Whispers Of A Legend; Ch 3 - Stretched To The Limits; Ch 4 - Cariad; Ch 5 - Puzzle Pieces
Ch 6 - Falling Into Place
We'll follow the rainbow
Wherever the four winds blow – Making Memories Of Us by Keith Urban
Cain kept their first day on the trail short. They’d left the Tower before lunch. If he’d been alone, he would have traveled until the night rains forced him to seek shelter, but DG wasn’t used to riding long distances on horseback. She hadn’t complained, but he could tell she was having problems. He was glad he’d planned to take the first few days slowly.
“We’ll camp here.” The cave was from the time before... He shook his head not wanting to think about the deep wide crack eight annuals in a metal suit created in his life. Things changed and so did he. He was lucky to recognize the place. It was one of the many stops on the Underground Roadway. They’d used it for getting enemies of the Sorceress to the Resistance. Since he’d been mainly based in Central City, he hadn’t been there often.
DG didn’t say a word as she pried herself out of the saddle. Once her feet were on the ground she kept her hands wrapped around the horn, giving herself time, until she was sure her knees wouldn’t buckle.
“You okay, Kiddo?” He came up behind her and put one hand on each side of her waist to keep her steady.
“Yeah, I’m just a bit stiff.” She was glad he was there, but hadn’t wanted to ask for help. “I was careful to stretch as we rode. I didn’t want to end up falling off into your arms like the last time.” She tried to keep it light, but it was hard when his duster brushed against her back.
“I didn’t mind it in the least,” he teased. “Princess,” something about the way he added her nickname and the way his hands tightened around her, made her look over her shoulder. His usually cool eyes met her sapphire ones and held them.
They both remembered the frantic ride from the Gray Gale, with her on the saddle in front of him. Cain had locked one arm around her waist to keep her pressed against his body. At the time he’d told himself he’d held her that way for her protection, but he’d known it was more than that. He’d been terrified that they wouldn’t get to her in time. Holding her had been as much about settling his nerves as hers. He’d been so damn glad to see her alive and unharmed. Nothing else had mattered.
She licked her lips and finally pulled her gaze away from his. “It was your own fault you know.” She’d been surprised when they’d arrived at the rendezvous spot with the Resistance and he’d dismounted quickly. “It caught me off guard. You were keeping me secure while we rode and then you were gone.”
“Well, I’m…ah…here now...” He put an arm around her shoulders and held the reins of their horses tightly in his other hand. “Are you ready to help me make camp?”
Whatever had passed between them was gone. It left them both slightly shaken and glad there was work that needed to be done to keep their minds and hands busy.
The cave was deep, but after a quick check in the back to be sure it was safe, they set-up toward the entrance. The horses were hobbled further in. Cain had built a small fire to keep the cooling night air at bay. Just as he’d predicted, the moment the last sun set, the rains began again. DG was very glad they were under cover.
“What’s so interesting about my map?” He looked over her shoulder. By tacit agreement they’d placed their bedrolls close, but not touching. Dinner was finished and they were sharing one last cup of spiced cider. Cain had a strong feeling that he’d never be able to drink Cora’s special brew without thinking of his Princess.
“If I’m reading this correctly, we’re going to pass close to Mill Town.” She handed him the cup without looking.
“Mill Town isn’t on our itinerary.” He could tell what she was thinking; just by the way she gripped the paper. It was something she was going to have to face sooner or later, but he didn’t think now was the time. “I’ve kept the pace slow for a reason, but that doesn’t mean we have time for side trips. We have a job to do.”
“I know that.” She turned and looked him in the eyes. She needed him to understand how important this was to her. “I’m not suggesting we go now, but sometime, before we head back, I want to stop there.”
“Deeg, it’s not a good idea.” He knew that whatever they discovered there was going to be hard on her.
“We never found them in the Tower.” Her voice was breathy and sad when she thought about the beings that had raised her. “I asked Old Cora to check for me. If anyone could find them she could. Emily and Hank may not be my real parents, but that’s how I feel about them.” She turned away. Her emotions were too close to the surface to have anyone see them, even him.
“Did you talk to your sister?” He handed her back the cider and watched her take a small sip before she answered.
“No, I couldn’t. I won’t add to Az’s guilt even for them.” She thought about the life she’d had in Kansas. They’d been good parents even if they’d only been programmed to love her. No wonder she’d never felt at home there, everything had been based on a lie.
“I guess I can understand that.” There was a lot he wanted to ask Jeb, but he’d refrained for fear of causing the boy pain. He could hardly fault DG for taking the same approach with Azkadellia.
“Please, Tin Man,” she whispered. “You had your chance to say good-bye, let me have mine.”
“All right, Deeg,” he sighed. Cain knew from personal experience that not knowing was worse than anything she might discover. She’d been there for him, allowed him to take the time he’d needed. He would do the same for her. “We’ll do it on our way back.”
“Thanks.” She smiled, but it never made it to her eyes. “How far will we get tomorrow?”
“A lot of that will depend on how well you hold up in the saddle.” He smirked; glad to move on to a lighter topic. “Before we start out, I want to take some time and give you a few lessons with this.” He pulled a smaller version of his gun out of his bag.
“You want to me to learn how to shoot?” Her brows rose as she reached for the shiny weapon.
“Not really, but it seems wise under the circumstances.” It was something he wished there had been time to take care of before they left, but his one thought had been getting her out of that Tower.
“Well…ah…Dad…ah…Hank had a shotgun to keep the crows out of the fields and I’ve used that a time or two, but he wasn’t happy about it.”
“I can understand why. You’re a Princess. You should have guards to do the shooting for you.”
“I’ve got one, the very best, in fact.” She smiled at him and this time her eyes lit up.
His response was to grunt and shank his head in doubt. “You want the last of the cider.” He offered her the container.
“We’ll share.” She wrapped her hands around his on the cup and took one small sip. “Okay, the rest it yours.”
He took the last swallow and rinsed the cup before turning back to her with the small weapon in his hand. “If we go over some of the basics tonight, it’ll save time in the morning. Sit so you’re facing me while I show you this thing.”
“Ahh the man with the plan, it’s one of your better qualities,” she teased and scooted over until she was sitting Indian-style with their knees touching.
“Here’s the safety. It stays locked in place unless you’re firing.” In one smooth easy motion he demonstrated. He picked-up the weapon and aimed out into the night. As the pistol came up, his finger brushed the trigger guard, releasing the mechanism that allowed it to fire. “I’ve got rounds in my pack, but for tonight it remains empty. Tomorrow you’ll load it like this.” He popped open the cylinder and showed her where the ammunition was housed. “Rule number one about fire arms is that you always treat them as if they’re loaded. Rule number two is that the safety on at all times…”
The lesson went on from there. He broke down the small gun into its pieces and showed her how to put it back together. All the while he talked about proper care of the pistol; types of ammunition; the effect different weather conditions had on accuracy of a shot; and always, always went back over how to handle it safely. He made her take it apart and put it back together until her hands shook and her head swam with facts.
“Deeg, this is important. If you’re not up to it, I need to know.” He was demanding and insistent. He’d thought long and hard before giving her the weapon. In the end he’d decided that if she knew how to use it effectively it could tip the balance if they were in a tight situation.
“I can do this!” her voice cracked and her eyes flashed. “You’re dumping a lot of information on me all at once. Give me a second to process it!”
“It’s the two of us out here and if things turn ugly I have to know that you’ll be all right,” his words were tinged with fear. “I know you’ve got magic to help you, but what if it isn’t enough….what if…” He could picture her clearly, shivering and exhausted, her powers drained. It made his blood run cold to think how helpless she was when that happened.
“Tin Man…Wyatt…I can do this.” DG took a moment to slip the last section of the gun into place and then set the weapon back on his pack. She knew demonstrating her new knowledge was probably the most reassuring thing she could do for him. “We can do it,” she added as she lunged across the small space that separated them and hugged him fiercely. She held on tightly and buried her face against his neck. That was her reassurance, being in his arms.
“I have to know you’re safe. That’s the most important thing.” He held her close and tucked his face into her hair. His lips twitched as they grazed her forehead. It was as close to a kiss as he’d come in annuals.
“I am.” It bothered her that he worried about her the way he did, especially when she knew the reason. He hadn’t been able to save Adora, so he was determined to save her. “Nothing is going to happen to me.
“Yeah, well, I want to be very sure.” He pulled back, not wanting to break the embrace, but knowing he had to. “You need some rest, Princess, one way or another, you’ve got a long day ahead of you tomorrow.”
They settled down on their bedrolls, inches apart. She shifted onto her stomach so she could watch him lying on his side facing her.
“May I ask you a question, Tin Man?” Her left hand slipped across the tiny space that separated them. It looked odd to see the matching wedding rings on their fingers.
“Sure, Princess.” He took the hand she offered in his left hand and gently stroked his fingers through her hair with the other. Touching relaxed them both and he was having a hard time keeping his hands off of her.
“It’s none of my business but…I was wondering.” She felt his hand tighten around hers and she knew it was his way of telling her to go on. “Why’s my claustrophobia so much worse than yours. It shouldn’t be…I was in that tomb for a fraction of the time you were in…”
“The metal suit,” he added on a breath. “I’ve wondered myself. The only thing I can think of is that those things are made so sustain life,” his words were bitter and sharp. “I had all the air I needed, where you didn’t. Azkadellia was trying to kill you by suffocation.” Cain needed to look at her, as well as touch her, as old memories surfaced. She’d been his anchor the night before, tonight they were each other’s. “I didn’t have many lucid moments in that thing, caught in the memory loop like I was…but I do remember when my beard grew long and thick…it…ah…pressed against my throat. As much as I wanted the torture to end, and die, I panicked. Those were…rough times,” he whispered the last as if it was torn from somewhere deep inside him.
“That’s why you never button the top buttons of your shirt.” She gripped his hand tightly, giving and taking support in equal portions. It broke her heart to think of him suffering that way.
“Yeah, you caught on to that one real quick.” He nodded. They both remembered the first night in the Tower when he’d been so uncomfortable in a borrowed shirt with buttons to the neck.
“You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met,” she whispered. He was always putting his battles aside to help her fight hers.
“You’re selling yourself short. I don’t like small spaces any better than you do. The difference is that I’m better at hiding it. I had eight annuals to learn.”
“Oh, God, it’s hard to even imagine.” She bent her head until it was touching his shoulder. For one terrible moment she was in a tiny space with no end in sight.
“Come here.” He shifted slightly and pulled her into his arms. “Don’t think about it, Deeg, please don’t. Don’t let your mind go there.” He could tell by the horror in her eyes she’d put herself in his place.
“I have to, if I’m ever going to figure out how to make peace with all that happened because of the Witch.” She settled against him feeling warm and safe. “I know I was young and she used me, but I let her do it. My family paid, you paid, and so did most of the Outer Zone.”
“You seem to be forgetting the terrible cost to you.” Cain tipped her chin so she couldn’t look away from him. “Not simply from before, but even now, it isn’t easy on you.”
“Believe me, I haven’t forgotten.” She wouldn’t have that discussion with him. It would make her sound pitiful and weak. Her pride wouldn’t let her. “Really I haven’t. I’m trying to deal with issues as they come up. It’s part of why I want to go to Mill Town.”
He saw pain in her eyes, and the refusal to speak about it. Very gently he pulled her closer until she relaxed against him. Then he tried another tactic to get her to talk about the pieces of her past that were eating at her. “What’s it like on the Other Side?”
“Were I lived was flat farmland. You could see for miles and miles. Mom and Pops liked it there, but nothing was ever as good as their life had been in Mill Town. I thought they were just stories made up to entertain a restless young girl but it ended up those tales where the only part of my childhood that were true.” Her eyes were growing heavy as she spoke. She’d discovered peace in her Tin Man’s arms, with his heartbeat steady under her ear and his hand moving over the long muscles of her back, massaging away all the tension from the day’s ride. It made her careless as she talked and very sleepy.
Just as she was drifting off, another thought made her laugh sleepily. “No matter how much I loved my parents, I never felt like I was home. I had these big plans to go to Australia.”
“Australia, where’s that?” he whispered, sure she was almost asleep.
“It’s another country on the Other Side. Its nicknamed Oz…spelled O Z. All the time I must have been trying to get back here and didn’t know it.” She yawned.
“I guess you were.” He smiled as her eyes slipped closed. “Deeg,” he whispered wanting to ask one more question. “Do you feel at home now?”
“Right now, yeah,” she murmured as she fell asleep.
Cain waited until he felt her breathing grow deep and even before he brushed his lips against the soft skin of her forehead and whispered, “Me too, babe, me to.”
As easily as that, he felt his last emotional tie with Adora vanish. He knew he’d always love her, but it was a sweet thing, a memory from long ago. He looked down at his left hand buried deep in DG’s dark hair. The glint of gold on his third finger winked back at him. The fake wedding ring he wore to match his Princess’s was more real than the silver one he’d worn for annuals.
Wyatt Cain closed his eyes and pictured the woman he’d been married to. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he saw her face smiling, and happy; there was no fear in her eyes or bruises to mar her lovely complexion, just peace.
“May your road be long and glorious, filled with rainbows and light,” he wished her happiness on the journey beyond. More sure than ever that they would never meet again, but this time it wasn’t because of his lack of faith in the old ways. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the Legend of the Cariad was true, the young woman he held in his arms was his.
There was no other explanation for the strong feelings he had for Deeg, after such a short time. He’d tried his damnedest to call them anything from figments of a broken mind to simple lust. But none of those things came close to explaining what he was feeling.
He curled his body tighter around her sleeping form. She’d saved his soul and his heart and in the process turned his world upside-down. He wasn’t sure how he was going to convince her that she belonged to him, but he planned on doing his best over the next three weeks.
To Ch 7 - Holding On