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, everyone! Apologies for the delay; all I can say is that I don't want to see a paintbrush again for at least six months. That, and the pesky plothole I discovered took more effort to fix than I had expected. But, I think it's all been straightened out now. It did, however, make this chapter much longer than anticipated, so I've split it. Reality Check will have five parts instead of four.
In other news, Bad Faith, the first book in my science fiction has been published! It's been a long journey; I'm really excited about it. Details are on my profile page if anyone's interested.
Thanks so much for the comments; I've enjoyed everyone's perspective. Enjoy this next installlment!
"Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward." ~ Job 5:7
The next morning, Jeb awoke not long before DG stumbled out of her bedroom. She took one look at him and froze. Then she blinked and rubbed her eyes, muttering something about the fact that her weird dreams always turned out to be real.
It didn't exactly make sense to Jeb, but he chalked it up to her having spent so much time here on the Other Side.
DG put together breakfast from a paltry bunch of supplies and Jeb ate it without complaint. She made a mean cup of coffee, he had to give her that. Then he watched her stare blankly at the wall while her mind raced through a list of things to be done before she left. With some of her old bounce, she grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and began scribbling.
Halfway through, she raised her head to fix Jeb with a piercing look. He fought the urge to squirm; it felt like she was staring through his skin and straight down into his bones.
"Mr. Cain," she said evenly in what he could have sworn sounded just like Azkadellia's regal tones, "I want the honest-to-goodness truth."
He nodded mutely.
"Is this a probationary visit?" DG narrowed her eyes. "Because I've worked damn hard for this," she motioned to the apartment around them, "the last two years and I really don't want to have to start all over again."
"I beg your pardon?" Jeb stared at her, feeling suddenly like the child he'd been when he first joined the Resistance.
"I mean," DG said slowly and distinctly, "are you planning on bringing me back here after I save my sister?" Her voice caught. "If I can save her?"
Understanding broke over Jeb's head like a ceramic pitcher. "The O.Z. wants you to come home, Princess."
She just looked at him. "The banishment has been permanently rescinded?"
Jeb didn't hesitate. "Yes." He was sure Ambrose and the lawyers would have the official release waiting for her. If it wasn't there…well…he'd make sure it got signed. One way or another.
A thought occurred to him and he looked around the apartment. "I mean, unless you want to come back here, Your Highness." His gut clenched at the thought; this wasn't where she was supposed to be.
DG nodded stiffly. "Thank you." Her eyes dropped back down to her paper and she resumed scribbling. Inside, however, she felt hope unfurl fledgling wings. The double shock of Jeb's arrival and the news he bore had finally worn off, but she hadn't allowed herself to hope she might be going home for good.
List done, she called both of her bosses to let them know she was going to be out of town for a few days because her sister was gravely ill. She was reluctant to say she would be quitting; on the off chance that things in the O.Z. went south, she needed a backup plan. She could always make a quick trip back here to tie up loose ends later. She'd come a long way since her days at the diner. Now, 'dependable' and 'hardworking' were adjectives her employers most often used to describe her.
Afterwards, DG explained cell phones to a fascinated Jeb. She then hauled out a worn backpack and filled it with the few things she didn't want to leave behind. Her finished sketches, for one. Her sketchbooks and pencils, for another, and toiletries and a change of clothes or two in case they got stranded in the middle of nowhere O.Z.. As an afterthought, she also stuffed in some chocolate and the remains of a bag of dried fruit.
Jeb watched her in silence, a lump in his throat and bitter taste in his mouth. He knew too well what it felt like to pack up your entire life in a bag.
DG set the backpack by the front door and returned to her chair. There was nothing to do now but wait.
That was the hardest part.
Neither of them was very good at waiting.
Under normal circumstances, DG would have brought out a deck of cards to pass the time, but with Az's life hanging in the balance, she was in no frame of mind to play games. Instead, she did the only thing she could to keep both from going crazy. She asked Jeb to give her more details about everything that had happened in the O.Z. during her absence.
Jeb painted a picture of the O.Z. recovering from the war and healing. He talked about the hope people felt now, the peace that characterized lives instead of terrible dread. He told her about the people who considered her brave for taking full responsibility for the Witch, and watched her shake her head in guilty embarrassment.
It made him realize she'd never forgiven herself.
Yet another thing she shared in common with his father.
He didn't realize he was making a peculiar face until DG asked him what was wrong. He hesitated and then said bluntly, "My father still blames himself for what happened to us."
DG shook her head. "He shouldn't. It was my—"
"He doesn't see it that way," Jeb interrupted. "He never blamed you, even when I thought he should have." He sighed, ignoring the way her eyes widened. "Said you were just a child and that the wrongs of the last fifteen annuals shouldn't be laid on your shoulders. Or Azkadellia's."
DG's eyes were still wide.
Jeb rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't understand that two annuals ago, Princess. I don't think any of us did. We wanted the Royal Family—wanted Azkadellia—to pay for all the misery and heartache we'd suffered. And then when you—" he swallowed and shrugged. "Anyway, nobody wants to see the House of Gale snuffed out. Azkadellia's been a good Queen." He looked at her steadily. "And people have missed you."
He spread his hands. "That's what we've learned while you've been away, Princess. Everybody makes mistakes. You were the one who reminded the O.Z. that people need second chances."
Almost ashamed of how carried away he'd gotten, Jeb sat back on the couch. He felt a stab of combined panic and horror as DG's blue eyes filled with tears. Desperately, he said, "I never thanked you for rescuing my father from the Suit. So…thank you."
DG gave him a watery smile. "You're welcome."
"And…" Jeb swallowed, his heart thudding in his chest. "I'm sorry, DG. For everything."
She drew in a deep breath, her fingers twisting together in her lap. "I—I never meant to come between you, make Cain choose between spending time with you and protecting me." She dashed her tears away and silently commanded them to stop falling.
Jeb shifted uncomfortably; he couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes. "Well...it wasn't exactly that, Princess. You see I thought—" he rubbed the back of his neck furiously, "—I thought he had feelings for you and at the time it felt like he'd betrayed my mother."
DG went very still. Oh, the irony, she thought, and laughed softly.
Jeb noticed there was no mirth in the sound.
"Jeb," she said, looking him straight in the eyes. "Cain's never seen me as anything other than a kid." Her cheeks tinted slightly. "I'll—I'll admit there were times I wanted him to, but he never acted with anything other than propriety."
Jeb stared at her with a kind of morbid incredulity. The worst of it is that she believes it. Frowning, he rubbed the back of his neck again. "Look, Prin—" she gave him a look and he caught himself, "—DG, the point is that I was too hard on my father. I didn't think about things I should've." He looked at her earnestly. "He was happy around you. He smiled more. And ever since you've been gone, well, he hasn't been happy."
Fighting a sudden, irrational onslaught of tears at that, DG looked around the apartment, her eye resting anywhere but on Jeb. She tried to muster a smile. "I had a crush—a silly little crush." She ignored the voice insider her head arguing that it wasn't just a crush. That way led to madness.
"I gave him the slip whenever I could and was generally as annoying as a girl can possibly be. There's no way he actually felt anything else and—" DG broke off to give Jeb a strange look. "I can't believe we're actually having this conversation."
Despite himself, a corner of Jeb's mouth twitched. "Desperate times, Princess." She was, he realized, every bit as stubborn as his father had ever hinted.
DG held up a hand. "We're finished with this line of conversation, Jeb. Case closed."
It was her royal voice, and Jeb obeyed. But inwardly, he promised her that he would ensure she and his father ended up in the same room. They needed to talk.
For her part, DG mercilessly squashed the other tendril of hope Jeb's words had spawned. Cain didn't see her as anything other than a child. If he wasn't happy, it couldn't be because of her absence.
Her heart ached suddenly and she unconsciously placed a hand over it on her chest. Cain wasn't happy. Why isn't he happy?
The two of them lapsed into silence, but eventually Jeb roused himself enough to ask what she had been doing the last two annuals.
DG gave him a blank look until it sank in that he was serious. Her expression turned considering and then closed off, but she told him the story—a highly-condensed version anyway, edited for content.
Jeb, however, was astute enough to read between the lines. And the more he heard, the more he was glad it was him sitting here listening to this instead of his father. Regardless of his feelings, the kind of dangers she'd faced—possible starvation and homelessness, among others—would have made Cain's blood boil.
When the travel storm spat her back out in Kansas, DG realized the farmhouse she'd grown up in was in worse shape than she'd thought. Momsicle and Popsicle had retrieved her things for her in the weeks following the Tower's fall; she hadn't actually seen the damage the Witch's travel storm had done until now. The house wasn't livable and she didn't have the money to fix it.
That left her two options. Sell the place, or rent the fields to a neighbor, if she could find one who wanted room for extra crops.
Selling wasn't an option, not when she knew how entwined the farm was with her family history. Fortunately, one of her neighbors was looking to expand. That settled, DG moved to Wichita to finish college.
Rent from the farm paid the property taxes, but little else. DG found a job, found a crummy apartment in a terrible part of town, and then found another job. All she did was study and work, with food and sleep thrown in for good measure. A year later, she moved to her current apartment.
"I'll be graduating soon," she finished, "but the job market is slim. All the openings in my field are being snapped up by more qualified people who have lost their jobs." She laughed once and ran a tired hand through her black hair. "Not that I need a job anymore."
Jeb frowned. "But what about your magic?" He circumscribed a vague arc with one hand, encompassing the room. "You healed the Field of the Papay; surely you could do…something…with all this."
Frowning, DG looked down at the faint spiral line on her hand. "I tried. In fact, I think that's how I found my wallet, initially." Momsicle and Popsicle hadn't thought she'd need it and it had been left buried in debris. She shrugged. "But then later… I don't know. It's like it doesn't work here."
Her shoulders hunched slightly. "Or maybe I just don't have the control. There's still so much that I never learned."
"Well," Jeb said, in an attempt to lighten the heaviness that had engulfed the apartment, "now you'll have the chance."
DG raised her head and he saw the question in her eyes.
Meeting her gaze, Jeb leaned forward. "You can save the Queen, DG. Nobody can do it but you."
"I hope you're right, Jeb," she said quietly. "I really do."
—- —- —- —
Whispers of the attack on Azkadellia's life made it through the O.Z. grapevine to Central City much faster than anywhere else. The news left Wyatt Cain cold. Should the attack prove successful, the still-fragile hold the new Queen had on her people would likely snap. And with Azkadellia dead and DG in exile, the people of the O.Z. would be left twisting in empty air. That was by no means an optimal situation; even after two annuals there were still a few crackpots fool enough to think they could rule the O.Z. themselves.
Azkadellia would pull through, Cain was sure. She had survived the Witch; he was sure she'd make it through this too.
He was dismayed as anyone to learn the truth.
Standing in the dingy little bar he sometimes frequented of an evening, Cain realized there was only one way to save the Queen. They were going to have to send somebody to the Other Side to find DG. He knew just the fellow.
Cain didn't waste a moment. He was out the door and out of Central City like a grim, brown streak. He knew how politicians worked. It wouldn't occur to any of them except perhaps Ambrose that DG was the solution until too late, and then they'd waste further time debating the merits of the idea in a committee. And while that was usually all well and good, the Queen's life hung in the balance. Cain didn't intend to let a little thing like exile stop him.
Imagine his surprise, then, to have Ambrose calmly take the wind out of his sails with a few weary sentences.
"Ambrose," he said without preamble as a guard showed him into the Royal sitting room, "we have to bring DG back. She can save Azka—"
"I know." Ambrose tilted his head to one side, bemused. "I was wondering when you'd show up." He waved a hand. "I hate to break it to you, Cain, but you're too late."
For a split-second, Cain's heart ceased beating. He couldn't be too late. He couldn't have missed this chance to save Azkadellia and DG both.
"Your son has gone to fetch her," Ambrose continued.
Cain blinked, sure he'd heard that wrong. "My son? Jeb?"
"Unless you have another one we don't know about," Ambrose replied with a flicker of his old humor.
Cain could only stare at him, completely pole-axed. "Jeb went to the Other Side? To get DG?"
"Yep, sure did." Ambrose's face was drawn and tired, but dark steel glinted in his eyes. "He left before the lawyers got all the paperwork straightened out."
"Paperwork?" Cain felt foolish, but he seemed to be lagging a half-step behind Ambrose, struggling to catch up.
A full smile stretched across Ambrose's face. "The O.Z. is formally rescinding DG's exile. Jeb's bringing her back to save Azkadee." He glanced toward his wife's bedchamber and his smile slipped. "He's got until tomorrow to find her. The Healers don't think…" He stopped, unable to finish.
Cain understood. Azkadellia's time was running out. He swept his hat off to run a hand over his head. "Jeb went to get her."
"Volunteered," Ambrose said with a nod. "Said it was something he had to do."
"I'll be," Cain muttered. He didn't know what to say to that. Nor, with his purpose for coming abruptly snatched away from him, did he now know what to do with himself.
Ambrose gave him a too-knowing look. "Nothing to do now except wait, Cain."
"I'm no good at that," Cain grouched.
It wasn't true, of course. He was a patient man, well-versed in the art of waiting. Eight annuals locked up in a Suit will do that to a man. He was also proud of his son for volunteering to brave the Other Side. A small part of him, however, was incredibly disappointed that he hadn't been able to dash off to rescue DG, to make up for not being able to save her two annuals before.
—- —- —- —
Evening took its sweet time to arrive, but it came at last. Jeb grabbed DG's backpack, despite her protests, and waited beside her out in the hall while she locked her door. Together they set off down the steps and out into the cooler evening air. DG soon realized they were headed for the grounds of the college.
During their walk, the sky darkened, heavy with the promise of rain, and thunder began to rumble. DG had lived long enough in Kansas to recognize the signs of an approaching tornado. Shaking her head, she linked arms with Jeb. "Why can't they just beam people up?"
The reference was lost on Jeb, but he didn't have time to ask about it. The sky turned green and a huge funnel cloud swirled into existence a hundred yards away. He registered screams in the background even as he urged DG forward. "Come on!"
Ambrose's device was supposed to allow the travel storm to return him to Finaqua, but Jeb had his doubts. Travel storms were known for being unpredictable.
"Here we go." DG took a deep breath as they neared the swaying twister and felt Jeb's grip tighten on her arm.
For the third time in her life, she jumped into a tornado. Swirling, rushing grey winds pummeled her body, whipping her up into the air. She lost her grip on Jeb's arm—or he lost his grip on her, it was difficult to tell—and then everything went black.
—- —- —- —
When DG's eyes fluttered open again, they were met by a sight she thought would never see again: the O.Z.'s double suns, framed by an impossibly blue sky. She bolted upright, wild joy surging through her veins. I'm back! I'm actually back!
Jeb lay a few yards from her, her backpack on the grass between them. He stirred groggily as she scrambled to her feet and stared around with wide eyes. They were in the meadow outside the palace in Finaqua. Beyond her, she could see the gazebo with the lake behind it. Tears pricked the back of her eyes at the sight. I'm home.
Jeb was on his feet now; he bent to scoop up her bag. "Welcome home, Princess," he said quietly.
DG didn't have time to reply; a welcoming throng was streaming across the meadow to greet them. They must have assembled as soon as they saw the travel storm. Maids, servants, guards, advisors, nobles, common people—all were rushing towards her, all were cheering.
Nonplussed, DG watched them approach. She couldn't help but remember the last time she'd seen such a crowd—and felt the bitter anger that had been driving them. She didn't like to admit it, but she hadn't been good with crowds since.
"Your Highness." One of her mother's advisors—now Az's, she supposed—gave her a deep bow. "Allow me to be the first to tell you how happy we are to have you safely returned."
A flash of DG's princess training returned to her. Though she couldn't for the life of her recall his name, she bestowed the advisor with a grave nod. "I'm happy to be back as well. Where is my sister?" There was no point pretending she'd been restored from exile for any other purpose.
The advisor waved a teal-clad arm in a grand gesture toward the palace. "Follow me."
Amid resounding cheers and a rush of people that made her stiffen uncomfortably, DG was immediately ushered into the Palace. The cheering faded away as she set foot inside and found her parents and Glit—Ambrose, she reminded herself—waiting for her in the Grand Foyer. The three of them stood in a solemn line, backed by a larger crowd of people.
"Her Royal Highness, Princess Dorothygale," the advisor intoned formally, bowing again.
Lavender Eyes, Ahamo, and Ambrose greeted her just as formally, but DG could see the tears sparkling in her mother's eyes. She wanted to throw herself into her mother's arms, but it had been two years—annuals—after all, and the last thing she wanted was to receive a scolding for ignoring protocol. Again.
Although, really, it wasn't like she'd learned enough royal protocol before she left in the first place.
Ahamo solved the dilemma. Stepping forward, he enveloped his younger daughter in a fierce hug. "My dear child," he murmured into her hair. "We've missed you so."
When he stepped back, slightly teary-eyed himself, DG didn't hesitate. Without a thought to the dozens of pairs of eyes watching the reunion, she rushed into her mother's arms. "Oh, Mother!"
Lavender Eyes was still a queen at heart; she maintained the bulk of her composure. But those watching saw a few tears slip down her pale cheeks. "My angel," she murmured.
DG pulled away at last with watery eyes and turned to Ambrose, who was watching her with a sad little smile. She hugged him too. "I've always wanted a brother," she told him in a whisper. Then, still quietly, she asked, "Where's Az?"
Ambrose swallowed. "I'll take you to her." He offered DG his arm and she tucked her hand through it, giving him a comforting squeeze.
As they moved through the Grand Foyer, the people gathered there respectfully split apart to allow them passage. DG felt uncomfortable again; she'd forgotten being a princess meant most people wouldn't look her in the eye.
Unbeknownst to her, a tall, broad-shouldered figure in a brown duster and matching fedora stood in a corner of the Grand Foyer. Wyatt Cain was too far away—though whether by accident or design, even he couldn't say—to get a good look at her, but what little he saw wiped the smile that had been flickering at the corners of his mouth right off his face.
Uncharacteristically silent, Ambrose whisked her through the Palace to the Royal chambers and a large bedroom lit with afternoon sunlight. Az lay curled on her side in the middle of the huge, canopied bed, a slender, still figure.
DG let go of Ambrose and moved to drop to her knees beside the bed. Az's eyes were closed, her face wan and thin. Her skin had a translucent cast that wrenched something deep in the pit of DG's stomach. She reached for her sister's hand on old instinct. "Oh, Az," she said in a trembling voice.
She didn't expect an answer, but Azkadellia's dark eyelashes fluttered. "DG?"
DG squeezed her hand tighter. "I'm here, Az."
"But…you're…gone," the Queen said faintly.
"I'm here now and I'll never go away again. I promise." DG pressed a kiss to her sister's knuckles, tears gathering in her eyes. "Come on, Az, you've got to fight this."
"DG…" Az's eyes fluttered again.
"I'm here, Az." DG's voice broke. "Please don't leave us. We need you. Don't go." Their clasped hands lit with a silvery glow. The light faltered, and then flared brighter. "Nothing can hurt us as long as we're together," she continued.
A tiny smile curled Azkadellia's pale lips. "I missed you," she whispered.
DG swallowed. "I missed you too."
Azkadellia lapsed into silence. After a long stretch—it could have been seconds, it could have been minutes—she said in that same little whisper, "I'm afraid I'm dreaming, Deej." Her eyes were closed again.
DG shook her head, not noticing the teardrops the motion sent spattering the creamy bedcover. "You're not. It's real. You're real, I'm real—" she glanced over her shoulder and spotted Ambrose watching them with pain in his dark eyes. She waved him over and grabbed his hand. Resting it atop Az's free hand, she continued, "Ambrose is real."
Az's eyes fluttered open yet again, and this time they stayed open. She glanced from DG to her husband and managed a small smile. "Oh, Ambrose."
"I'm here, Az," he said quietly, bending over her.
DG tightened her grip. "You've got to get better, Az. There are a lot of people who need you."
Az's thin face softened. "I will, Deej." Moments later, she was asleep.
DG did not leave Azkadellia's side the rest of the day. Azkadellia did not wake again and DG feared letting go would mean losing her sister to a fate far worse than the Witch. Their joined hands continued to glow brightly as she focused on letting the Light flow through her, praying the magic would be enough to save her sister.
Ambrose remained at Azkadellia's other side, holding her free hand. As afternoon wore on to evening, and evening gave way to the solemn stillness of night, he told DG the story of the past two annuals. She was pleased to see glimpses of the old, happy-go-lucky Glitch she had known return during the narrative of how he and his beloved Azkadee fell in love.
Lavender Eyes and Ahamo kept vigil as well, though they only flitted in and out of the room as the Healers permitted. They asked no questions of DG. She was grateful for the reprieve, but could only assume they were pumping Jeb for information. The thought both comforted and disturbed her.
Toward dawn, DG finally gave in to fatigue and fell asleep. She had long since moved up onto the bed beside her sister; the two slumbered side by side. Glowing light still emanated from their clasped hands. Ambrose himself dozed off and on.
No one thought anything of it until the Healers tried to wake DG to get her to eat something. She didn't respond. Neither did Azkadellia.
*cue the Drama button* Feedback is appreciated. 'Til next time!