Disclaimer: I own nothing, nor am I making any profit off of this story. Everything belongs to SyFy; I'm merely exploring what happened after the credits rolled.

AN: Hello again! Sorry it took so long to get this up; I've been up to my ears in wall/ceiling paint and then discovered a dangling plot thread that had to be woven back into the story. Thanks to everyone who reviewed—glad you're enjoying! If you're also in the section of the U.S. experiencing the massive heat wave, stay cool!

EDIT: Thanks go to Kristinwd40, who pointed out that Wichita Community College does not exist—it should be Wichita State College. Apologies for the error; duly noted and fixed! Also, I fixed a couple of typos.

"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." James 4:17 (NIV)

Reality Check

Chapter 2

Life in the O.Z. moved on. DG's confession and subsequent banishment took the wind out of the opposition's sails. Whether they were completely satisfied with it or not, justice had been served. Slowly, people began to put the pieces of their lives back into order.

Two days after DG threw herself into the travel storm, Queen Lavender Eyes formally abdicated the throne. The mood at Azkadellia's coronation was tense, but she glided through with grave dignity. Her sister had sacrificed her own future to save her life; she would not waste it.

A few people still muttered under their breath about Azkadellia, but in time others became quick to remind them of DG. Her bravery in admitting her own culpability and her willingness to shoulder the punishment had touched them, relieving some of the bitterness. Only later did it truly sink into their minds that the Princesses had been mere children. Grown men had cowered before the Witch; it was understandable how even a child gifted with magic could have been terrified by her.

Publicly, Azkadellia recovered with all of the poise and grace the O.Z. expected from its queen. Privately, the wounds took much longer to heal. She had been trapped inside her head so long it still felt strange to retreat into her mind and discover only her own thoughts waiting there. And she missed her sister. Those brief months she had been reunited with DG stood out in her mind like a glowing light.

To everyone's surprise, Ambrose—Glitch, as the Royal Family still affectionately called him—seemed to understand Azkadellia's bewilderment. Not because he'd been forced to share a brain with someone, but because he'd lost half his brain. It had taken him weeks to stop involuntarily flinching whenever he caught sight of her, but he conquered it. And in the process, he reached out to the lonely, scared young woman behind the crown.

They were both, he'd told her lightly, stuck in the same Munchkin tree house. In a way, people expected certain things of both of them, things that didn't belong to either of them anymore.

In the process of rediscovering who they were, Ambrose and Azkadellia fell in love. Their wedding smoothed over most of the lingering bumps and bruises in the O.Z.—if Ambrose could marry the woman who had removed half of his brain, things must be getting better.

Wyatt Cain lasted three weeks after DG's banishment before the emptiness of the Palace and his own guilt sent him to Azkadellia's office with a letter.

The young Queen greeted him with a soft smile, but he glimpsed the sadness behind her dark eyes. "Good morning, Mr. Cain."

He knelt. "Your Majesty."

Azkadellia folded her hands in her lap. "What can I do for you, Mr. Cain?"

The look on her face told Cain she already knew what he was going to tell her, but he extended the letter to her anyway. "I'd like to resign my post, Your Majesty."

"I see. What are your plans?"

"I'm going to rejoin the Tin Men, help 'em clean up Central City."

"An admirable task." Unfolding his letter, Azkadellia skimmed its contents and then reached for a pen. "We shall miss you here at the Palace, Mr. Cain, but we wish you the best."

"Thank you, Your Majesty."

Neither of them mentioned DG, but she remained an unseen presence in the room.

As he strode out of the room, Cain paused long enough to glance over his shoulder. "For what it's worth, Azkadellia, I think you'll make a fine Queen."

She smiled, even as her eyes threatened to fill with tears. "Thank you."

—- —- —- —

Cain moved out of the Palace and into a one-room apartment. Slowly, he began to rebuild his life—and his relationship with his son. He did his best to convince both of them DG was nothing more than a dear young charge, instead of the woman who had ultimately broken his battered heart by getting herself banished to a place where he couldn't protect her.

Jeb married his Resistance sweetheart and, when Azkadellia offered him his father's old job, only hesitated for a moment before accepting. As time slipped by, he watched his father retreat farther and farther into himself—into his duty. Oh, he roused himself whenever Jeb was around, but the young man could clearly see Cain's heart wasn't in living life. He was just going through the motions.

After the first eight or nine months, when the difference between the way Cain had been after the Witch's death and the way he was now became starkly evident, Jeb's wife tentatively brought up the subject of DG.

Jeb was initially upset, but the longer he thought about it, the more he began to wonder if he'd been wrong. His father had been broken inside, and somehow DG had enabled him to start healing. Surely Adora wouldn't have wanted him to stay broken the rest of his life, would she?

Guilt replaced anger. Jeb considered apologizing to his father, even framed the words inside his head at least twice a day, but every time he tried to get them out they always stuck in his throat. The Princess was on the Other Side and she wasn't coming back. What good were words?

—- —- —- —

The rest of the annual slid by in a flurry, followed by another annual. Azkadellia worked hard to restore order to the O.Z., and her people were healing. And while things had changed, life settled into a comfortable routine reminiscent of the Old Days. A few pockets of unrest still remained, but they seemed content to sit around and complain.

Until the morning someone poisoned Azkadellia at the palace in Finaqua.

It was an inside job; the cup of tea the Queen always took in her office after breakfast had been laced with a fast-acting, if bitter, poison. Had Azkadellia finished her tea, she would have been dead within moments. But she'd been nauseous that morning and the tea did nothing to settle her stomach.

When Ambrose came in a few minutes later, brimming with excitement over a new idea he'd had, he found his wife slumped over her desk, ashen-faced. He immediately shouted for the Healers. Jeb and a few of the Queen's closest advisors arrived on their heels.

While the Healers worked to stabilize Azkadellia, Jeb went on a palace-wide manhunt for the would-be assassin. He sealed the Palace off, though he knew there was a chance the assassin had already escaped, and rapidly tracked the poisoned tea back to the kitchen.

The trail was ridiculously easy to follow, almost too easy. When Jeb marched into the kitchen, soldiers flanking him, he found everyone in a flutter—everyone except a gray-haired woman sitting on a bench with a cup of tea.

He didn't even have to ask her any questions.

She looked up at him over the rim of her cup. "Is the Witch dead?" Her wrinkled face was placid, but her dark eyes burned with a fierce kind of triumph.

Jeb recognized that triumph. He'd seen it on the faces around him when the Witch's Tower came crumbling down. "Did you poison the Queen's tea?" His voice came out in a low growl.

"I did." The old woman set her teacup aside. "She got what she deserved. She killed my husband and our two boys." Her face hardened. "Kept waiting for the Witch to get her comeuppance, but it never happened. So…" She shrugged.

Everyone in the kitchen stared at her in horrified shock.

With a satisfied smile, the old woman closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall.

"You've failed," Jeb said sharply. "Azkadellia still lives."

The old woman did not open her eyes. "Not for long."

Jeb turned to the soldiers behind him. "Arrest her." Even as the words left his mouth, a horrible suspicion dawned on him.

The soldiers stepped forward amid gasps from the other kitchen staff, but the old woman did not move. Seconds later, they confirmed Jeb's suspicions. She was dead.

—- —- —- —

Ambrose took the news with a combination of sadness and quiet fury. "That poor woman," he said heavily. "Having that kind of bitterness eat away at her insides until—" he broke off, bracing himself against a desk in the outer room of the Royal suite.

"How is she?" Jeb ventured to ask after a moment.

"The Healers think they can stabilize her." Ambrose mustered a weak smile. "Her Light is helping. She'll be fine."

Except she wasn't.

The Healers succeeded in temporarily stabling her, but Azkadellia did not improve.

Worse, the poison triggered a miscarriage.

News of the assassination attempt spread like wildfire, grinding everything in the O.Z. to a shuddering halt. Despite Jeb's best efforts to keep a lid on the situation, subsequent news that the Queen was dying seeped out of the palace like a dark, mournful mist.

In its wake, hesitant whispers that perhaps—just maybe, mind you—they ought to un-banish DG began to trickle to the surface. After all, people began to murmur, she and Azkadellia had defeated the Witch. Surely reuniting the two sisters would save Azkadellia's life.

Jeb's thoughts ran along the same lines, but he didn't wait for a formal petition. Instead, he went straight to Ambrose. He knew what needed to be done. The O.Z. needed DG, and he needed to be the first to apologize for the way they'd treated her.

"Let me bring DG back," he said without preamble.

It took a moment for Ambrose to absorb what he'd said—a testament to his fatigue. His drawn face brightened a little, lightening the deep shadows smudged beneath his eyes. "DG," he said faintly. Then, in a stronger voice, "Yes! DG! That's it!"

"I'm sure an official request is coming," Jeb said quickly, "but let me go get her now." Before it's too late hung in the air between the two men.

Ambrose was nodding, hope flowering to life in his expression. "Yes, yes." He looked at Jeb. "Cain will—"

"No," Jeb said sharply. "We don't have time to get him here. This is something I need to do." He glanced at the door to Azkadellia's bedchamber. "Where is DG?"

"Come with me," Ambrose said.

Ambrose led Jeb through the palace to his workshop, where he grabbed one of the new travel storm controllers he had recently designed. Then they hastened outside. "Nobody knows where she is exactly," he explained in a rush. "Rules of exile and all that rubbish. We're not allowed to check on her."

He waved the controller. "This, however, will take you to her general location."

Ambrose set to work punching buttons and twisting dials, while Jeb watched in a kind of grim fascination. As the sky darkened and the wind began to pick up, he clamped a hand down on his hat. "How long do I have?"

"Three days." The shadows under Ambrose's eyes deepened again. "Azkadee's Light is strong and she's fighting, but she's getting progressively weaker. The Healers don't think she'll make it more than a few days."

"I'll find DG," Jeb said gravely. "I promise."

A travel storm snaked down from the now-black sky.

Jeb clapped Ambrose on the shoulder. "Tell my wife I'll be home soon."

"Jeb" Ambrose called over the howling wind. "Wherever the travel storm takes you, that's where you have to be in three days!"

With a crisp salute, Jeb jumped into the vortex.

—- —- —- —

The travel storm spit Jeb out in a place that was at once completely familiar and completely unlike anything he had ever laid eyes before. For starters, only one sun shone down on him from a robin's egg blue sky. It made the day seem a little dimmer than it would have been at home.

Picking himself up off a wide expanse of grass, he ignored the bits of debris fluttering down around him and took a good look around. He didn't know exactly where to start, but the sprawling brick building on the other side of the grass with a sign that said Wichita State College seemed as good a place as any. I've got three days.

If necessary, Jeb intended to start searching at one end of the city and work his way to the next, but he was hoping it wouldn't come to that. He was hoping locating DG would be a fast, easy, relatively painless process. She was a princess, and a mighty strange one at that. He doubted she'd be able to just blend into the woodwork.

He was wrong.

The moment he started nosing around the college, Jeb discovered he had his work cut out for him. Because here on the Other Side? DG wasn't as strange as everyone in the O.Z. thought she was. Here, Jeb realized with dawning horror, she would fit in much, much better than he'd thought. To varying degrees, everyone here was strange.

Grimly, Jeb waded into the fray of college students.

It took him two days to track DG down. He'd thought to check Admissions first for an address, but as he was unable to prove he was her 'cousin from out of town', the lady at the desk refused to give him any information about DG or even any hints as to where she might be found. No amount of wrangling, negotiation, or sweet talking on Jeb's part made any difference. If this weren't a matter of life and death, he would have been impressed.

The only good thing about it was that he had at least confirmed DG's status as a student here. That means she's close, Jeb thought, eying passing waves of students.

He launched into his next plan of attack: a relentless search among people on the grounds for anyone who knew DG. He came up with nothing that first day and ended up spending the night in a giant maple tree in the park. The next day, he resumed his search. Fear and concern for Azkadellia and the entire O.Z. lent a gravity to his face and voice that unconsciously predisposed most people to feel inclined to help him out.

The afternoon of the second day, he caught a break.

"I know her." A young man with spiky blond hair and multiple facial piercings shrugged vaguely. "She's in my finance class. Killer blue eyes." He squinted at Jeb. "You're…?"

"Her cousin," Jeb supplied. "We've had a family emergency and I'm trying to bring her home."

"Sorry to hear it."

"Do you know where I can find her?"

The guy shrugged again. "Class just let out. Shouldn't be hard."

It was. Jeb found a few other people who knew DG, but the princess herself had vanished into thin air.

"She's working," a brunette explained helpfully.

Frustrated, Jeb ran a hand through his hair. "Do you have any idea where, miss? She's got to get to the doctor." He was getting tired of explaining about the family emergency, even if that part of it was true.

"I know where she lives," the girl said with an apologetic smile. "No idea where she works. DG doesn't talk much."

Jeb was too distracted making sure he could locate DG's address to pay much attention to that comment, but it came back to him when he saw the part of town in which she was apparently living. It was a dilapidated building in a section of the city that reminded Jeb of the Undesirable part of the Realm.

He swallowed. He knew without a doubt that his father would be furious if he ever, ever, heard DG had stayed someplace like this by herself. Can't say I'm too keen on it myself.

A sense of foreboding niggled at the back of his mind. Whatever anyone in the O.Z. had expected to happen to DG when they banished her, this wasn't quite what he had in mind.

Assessing the situation with the skill he'd developed during the annuals he'd led the Resistance against the Witch, Jeb found himself a discreet spot and settled in to await DG's return. He received a handful of wary looks from more astute individuals, but on the whole he managed to blend right into the chipped paint and crumbling bricks of the building across the street.

When he finally—finally!—caught a glimpse of a slender, black-haired figure he recognized, Jeb melted out from the evening shadows and followed.

—- —- —- —

Slamming her rickety front door shut behind her and locking both the bolt and the chain, DG tossed her purse onto a little table shoved in the corner of her small, two-room apartment and kicked off her shoes. She arched her back, stretching sore muscles, and stumbled over to the couch. She was exhausted after a long shift at the diner on top of the day's classes, but she had a pay check and she'd have a roof over her head and food to eat for the next month.

It had been two annuals—No, years, she reminded herself—since the travel storm unceremoniously dumped her back in Kansas. Two long, lonely years filled with the struggle to survive in a world to which she no longer belonged. There were times she didn't think she'd make it, times she wanted nothing more than to sink into oblivion, but she held on with grim determination.

She'd never felt like she belonged in the Other Side; knowing why made being trapped here all the more painful. That's the point, she told herself, leaning her head back against the couch and closing her eyes. Exile is supposed to be punishment. She knew she deserved it, but sometimes it didn't make doing her duty any easier.

A firm knock on the door distracted DG from her thoughts. Wary of who could be calling on her at this hour of night and too tired to move from the couch, she raised her voice. "Who is it?"

"Princess?" asked a muffled voice.

DG froze.

The voice, strangely familiar, came again. "Princess DG?"

Something within her stirred, prodded into life by the title she hadn't heard in two years. Her eyes widened. I know that voice.

DG climbed to her feet and crossed the ratty carpet, her heart pounding and her palms suddenly sweaty. She opened the door as far as the chain would allow and her eyes widened further at the sight of the man standing outside in the tiny hall. "Jeb Cain?"

"Princess." Jeb tipped his head to her and was about to say more when the door slammed in his face. He blinked, taken aback, but before he had time to reflect that this was going to be harder than he'd thought, the door opened again.

With surprisingly steady hands, given the circumstances, DG unhooked the chain and swung the door fully open. Light fell on Jeb's weary, stubbled face and she gestured for him to enter.

Sweeping his hat off, he bowed and stepped inside.

"Well," DG said as she closed the door behind him. "I can't say I'm surprised."

The remark caught Jeb off-guard. He stared at her in bewilderment.

She turned to face him. "Let me guess. People changed their minds?"

Jeb continued to stare at her. She was thinner than he remembered, with a worn look in her eyes that had no place in the face of a woman who was only twenty-three. He finally managed to make his vocal chords work. "How—how did you know?"

DG gave him a wry smile and motioned for him to sit on the couch. "I didn't think it would be over that easily." She perched on the edge of a battered chair and fixed tired blue eyes on him. "So," she began, forcing a levity she did not feel, "is it to be a short stop and a sudden drop, or have you come up with something more creative?" She frowned. "Electric chair, maybe—the O.Z. doesn't have lethal injections, does it?"

Utterly bewildered, Jeb let her ramble on. His eyes fell to her hands, which were clutching the side of the chair so tightly her knuckles were white, and something she'd said sparked recognition. "Short walk and a sudden drop?" His confusion deepened. "Lethal injections?"

Before he could work out exactly what she meant, the princess spelled it out for him. Tilting her head to one side, DG said bluntly, "Aren't you taking me back to be executed or something?" She raised dark eyebrows. "I'm surprised they only sent you."

Jeb had a split second to wonder how his father ever kept up with her before the full impact of her words slammed into him. "NO!" he shouted, springing to his feet. He flushed as she winced and lowered his voice. "It's not like that, Princess. Nobody wants you dead."

Fire flared to life in DG's eyes as she jumped to the wrong conclusion. "You mean they want Az again?" She was on her feet in an instant. "They can't—"

"Princess, please!" Jeb cut her off. "I've made a mess of this," he muttered. He ran a hand over his short hair. "Please, let me start over."

DG posted her hands on her hips and nodded once, suddenly every inch a princess.

Straightening his shoulders, Jeb dropped to one knee and bowed his head. "Princess DG, the people of the O.Z. beg you to return home." The formal petition would be waiting when they returned; he was sure of it. There was no easy way to tell her the rest. "Queen Azkadellia is dying and we need you to help her." Lifting his eyes, he watched the color drain from DG's face.

"What?" she gasped, swaying on her feet. "Az is dying? How? Why? What happened?"

Unable to handle the wild, pained look in her eyes, Jeb outlined the assassination attempt and its aftermath as quickly as he could. He had barely finished when DG grabbed his arm, hauled him to his feet, and headed for the door. She looked neither gratified nor relieved to be going home, only fiercely concerned for her sister.

"Come on. What are we waiting for?"

Jeb swallowed and dug his heels into her carpet. He didn't want to have to tell her this part either. "Princess, we can't leave until the travel storm comes tomorrow night."

DG abruptly released him. "Right." She ran a shaking hand over her face. "Travel storm. Right." She did not resist when Jeb guided her back to her chair, but sat there, struggling to regain control of herself. Then she stiffened and raised wide, frightened eyes to his face. "I haven't used magic in two annuals."

It didn't take a genius like Ambrose to work out what she was thinking. Jeb mustered an encouraging smile. "You're sisters. You're stronger together than apart."

DG didn't answer. She simply buried her face in her hands to hide her tears.

For a moment, Jeb watched her. Then, uncomfortable, he occupied himself with studying her home. Or rather, her living quarters. The place didn't look like much of a home.

Guilt twisted in his gut again. There was an unfamiliar weariness about DG, a fatigue that spoke of hard work and little joy. Sketches of the O.Z. littered her otherwise bare walls and he found more than one familiar face therein—including a picture of himself and his father deep in conversation.

That was when things clicked into place inside his head. The princess reminded him of his father. The untiring energy she had exuded when he first met her had been quenched.

DG finally lifted her head. "How's the O.Z.?"

"Better," Jeb replied. "Much better. Though they still haven't repaired all the damage yet." And wouldn't, he realized suddenly. Not with the Queen Mother's magic gone, the Queen dying, and DG exiled.

She asked about her family next, asked about Glitch and Raw, evincing only slight surprise that Az and Ambrose were married. She asked about him, Jeb, after that, and then finally, hesitantly, asked, "How is your father?"

Jeb shrugged, but he was watching her, gauging her reaction. "He's fine. Rejoined the Tin Men and works in Central City."

DG nodded slowly. "Good. I'm—glad. He deserves to be happy." She looked down at her hands with a wry, self-deprecating smile. "Lurline knows I caused him enough trouble."

Jeb stared past her. Wyatt Cain, happy? A weight settled on Jeb's shoulders. His father hadn't been happy in months. Annuals, even. Thanks to Jeb, he hadn't been happy before DG left, and he certainly hadn't been happy afterward.

Cain had tried, Jeb knew he'd tried, but the part of his heart that didn't lay buried with Adora had shriveled up and died. Now Jeb was kicking himself for not realizing how good an influence DG had been on his father. Jeb knew what it was like to be trapped in a tin suit, knew the kind of mental and emotional scars it left behind. He'd been too angry to realize his father shouldn't have had to spend any more time being miserable. Whether Cain had known it or not, DG made him happy.

Jeb shook himself from his thoughts. "He misses you."

DG smiled again and gave him a look. "Yeah, like a burr under his saddle." She drew her knees up to her chest. "You don't have to try to make me feel better, Jeb. I'm glad he's moved on." She was trying to make Jeb feel better actually—thinking about Wyatt moving on was causing her physical pain—but things had been ugly and tense between the two Cain men for months before she left. She had been afraid it was because Jeb disapproved of his father's friendship with her…and she'd been right.

Giving her a measured look, Jeb switched subjects. "Anybody we'll have to alert if you leave for a while?" DG named a couple of names, not very enthusiastically and Jeb moved in for the kill. "Anybody special? I don't want to cause a ruckus."

DG turned wide blue eyes on him before shaking her head.

The news made Jeb feel both better and worse. Better because it indicated what he thought DG felt for his father was more than a princess's whim and worse because if he hadn't caused a rift between them before her exile… He shook his head again. No sense dwelling on that. He could only attempt to make amends now.

DG's quiet voice brought him out of his thoughts again. "Does the O.Z. really want me back?" Her face was impassive, but he read a flicker of disbelief in her blue eyes. She waved a hand. "Because honestly? I'm afraid I'm going to wake up in a few minutes and discover this was all just a really disturbed dream."

Jeb shook his head. "It's not a dream, Princess." He wished it was.

"Call me DG," she said, adding, "please?"

"DG," Jeb said, bowing his head.

"Az is really dying?" He nodded and DG rubbed her eyes, her shoulders slumping. "It's gonna be a long night."

Jeb thought she looked exhausted, and the fatigue of the past few days was starting to catch up with him too. He stood. "Prin—DG, I mean, you should get some rest." He started for the door. "I'll be outside if you need me."

DG lifted her eyebrows. "In this neighborhood?" She snorted. "I wouldn't advise it Jeb. You'll have to stay here."

He blinked at her, slightly caught off-guard. "But, Princess, your reputation—"

DG rolled her eyes. "There's no one here to see. Besides, we'll be in separate rooms. This building may be a dump, but at least the apartments aren't the size of a postage stamp."

She motioned to the couch with her foot. "It's lumpy, but it'll do in a pinch. Bathroom's to the left." Heading for a rickety door on the other side of the room, she glanced over her shoulder. "Good night."

"Good night, Princess," he replied automatically.

Sinking down on the couch, Jeb looked around for a moment more and then stretched out on the lumpy cushions. A moment later, coat arranged around him, he was asleep. Not even the unfamiliar noises of the Other Side could keep him awake.

He had found the Princess, and they were going to save the Queen. Things were looking up.

Hope you enjoyed! I know there's been a distinct lack of DG/Cain interaction thus far, but it's necessary, trust me. Drop me a line and let me know what you thought. Til next time!