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: Hi! Merry post-Christmas! Didn't mean for this chapter to take so long to get out; the past three months have been crazy and I had to gut the last half of this chapter and redraft it. (DG had turned into more of a martyr than I'd intended.) On the plus side, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time and won. That was an experience. :D

Thanks again for all the comments and encouragements. I know a lot of you are looking forward to Jeb redeeming himself-here goes! Hope you enjoy!

"But some will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." ~ James 2:18 (NIV)


Reality Check

Chapter 4

Despite Jeb's best efforts to keep Azkadellia and DG's slide into a coma quiet, all it took was one overheard conversation to set the gossip grapevine fluttering. Within an hour, the entire Palace and everyone in Finaqua knew that things had taken yet another turn for the worse and that both the Queen and the Princess were in grave danger. Thanks to DG, Azkadellia might yet be clinging to life, but it was anyone's guess if either would survive.

Jeb would have publicly dismissed the wild talk as an exaggerated tale born out of panic and fear…except that he had seen the state the sisters were in with his own eyes. While the Healers assured Ambrose that Azkadellia was already showing small signs of improvement, they revealed DG was weakening. Jeb didn't doubt that. Even he knew this kind of energy expenditure had to have a price.

But if anyone can do it, he thought gravely, slipping out of the Royal Suite into the hall, it would be DG.

Nodding curtly to the guards stationed on either side of the door, Jeb set off in search of his father. Ambrose had pulled him aside a few hours earlier to mention that the elder Cain had arrived during his absence, but between his duties and answering Lavender Eyes and Ahamo's multitude of questions, there hadn't been any time for him to find his father. He was not exactly looking forward to the encounter. But if by some miracle Cain had not already heard the news, Jeb thought it would be better coming from him.

He hoped.

A brief inquiry of a white-faced maid wringing her hands in a corner led Jeb to a room several corridors away. His father stood by the window, tension written in every line of his body, but he turned as soon as he heard the door open.

Jeb inclined his head. "Hello, Father. Glad you could make it."

—- —- —- —

Cain stared at his son. Jeb looked tired and worn—not surprising, given that dawn was fast approaching—but he had an aura of determination Cain couldn't recall seeing in a while. "Son." He swallowed and made a vague motion with one hand. "DG—is she—?"

"Too soon to tell." Jeb shook his head. Moving over to a brocade chair, he sat down with a semi-audible sigh of relief. "Raw and the other Healers say Azkadellia is doing a little better, but..." he trailed off.

Cain clenched his jaw, a muscle working in his cheek. "Ambrose told me you volunteered to get DG from the Other Side."

"I did."

"Why?" The question had been chasing itself in circles inside his head and now the rest of the words pounding inside his brain came rushing out his mouth. "You never liked her, Jeb. Or Azkadellia."

Jeb took a breath. He had prepared for this, after all. "Because Azkadellia is the Queen, Father, and she's dying, and I figured DG could save her." He forced himself to meet his father's eyes. "And because I owe her an apology."

The tight reign Cain had on his expression slipped. "An apology?" he demanded roughly. "For what?"

"Yes. An apology." The corners of Jeb's mouth turned down in a pensive, guilty frown.

"I know we thought banishing her would give us justice—"

"Justice?" Cain snorted. "She was a kid when it happened."

"—but we just…" Jeb hesitated. He looked at his father, his face troubled. "We just tossed her over there into that—that—chaos and set her adrift with nothing."

Horrible fear clutched at Cain's heart; his eyes widened. For Jeb to be saying something like this, conditions on the Other Side must have been terrible. "Tell me everything."

It was an order, growled in the deepest, coldest tone he had ever used with anyone, let alone his son. Jeb couldn't refuse. Wouldn't have refused anyway. Cain was his father and this was his penance.

By the time Jeb finished his tale, Cain's hands were clenched into fists and he was almost vibrating with suppressed fury. DG could have been killed—or worse, from the sound of it—and none of them, even him, would have ever even known. He faced the window again to hide his black scowl. He knew Jeb was watching him, knew he might infer things, but he frankly didn't care.

"She asked about you, how you were doing," Jeb offered abruptly.

Cain just grunted. "'Course she did," he said tersely. "That's DG for you."

Jeb rose to his feet. It seemed wrong, somehow, to say what he had to say sitting down. "This may not be the best time, but I'll just say it, because I've been trying to spit it out for months."

"What?" Cain speared his son with a glance that still held lingering ice-cold fury.

"I was wrong. About you and DG." Jeb looked away, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. "I shouldn't have stuck my nose in."

Given everything else that was going on in his head, it took Cain a moment for his son's words to sink in. When they did, he grimaced. "Jeb—"

"She's good for you, Father. Took me a while to see it, but it's true. And I'm sorry for all the things I said to you two annuals ago."

"You were right," Cain said harshly.

"No, sir, I wasn't." Jeb spread his hands. "I was wrong and I've spent the last annual trying to tell you I finally figured that out." He softened his tone. "Mother wouldn't have wanted you to be miserable and alone. I just hope you can forgive me."

Cain closed his eyes; his son's words both soothed and reopened old wounds. "It's not that simple, son."

"Yeah, it is." Jeb turned to leave. Before he disappeared through the door, however, he looked over his shoulder. "You should go see her."

Part of Cain wanted to balk at his son's words, to insist that Jeb didn't know anything. The fact that his heart was still pounding and he felt vaguely sick to his stomach said otherwise. DG hadn't been back in the O.Z. for more than a few hours and she was already up to her neck in trouble.

Except that this time, there wasn't a single thing Wyatt Cain could do about it.

Swallowing a tight lump in the back of his throat, he went to find Ambrose.

—- —- —- —

If DG's life had borne any resemblance to a fairytale, or even one of the old stories Popsicle used to tell her, she would have drifted in and out of consciousness a few times as the hours slipped by, always just at the opportune moment to see or hear something vitally important. But this was the real world-or at least as close to the real world as the O.Z. came-and so she slumbered on, blissfully unaware of the grim, broad-shouldered figure hunched over in a chair at the foot of her bed.

Cain had joined Ambrose, Ahamo, and Lavender Eyes in keeping vigil beside the two unconscious sisters. None of them left unless the Healers forced them out for mundane things like eating and bathing. Or, in Ambrose's case, urgent state business.

Lavender Eyes and Ahamo did not seem the slightest bit surprised to see the Tin Man stride in behind Ambrose. In fact, after exchanging wordless glances, they welcomed him with somber nods. Under any other circumstances, the implications of that would have made Cain uncomfortable, but the danger DG was in rendered those considerations null and void. It was just as well; if they'd decided to throw him out, things would have gotten messy.

Cain was a silent shadow in the Queen's bedroom. He and Ahamo did not speak much, but let Ambrose-and occasionally Lavender Eyes-ramble on in fits and starts when the silence became too oppressive. Instead, Cain watched the slow, slow rise and fall of DG's chest with every faint breath she took, watched her skin take on a faintly translucent quality to match Azkadellia's…and felt his entire body tense in helpless frustration. If there was anything within his power to help them, he would do it without a second's hesitation. But this helplessness twisted his insides into knots.

DG was thinner than she had been two annuals before, more fragile. Even sleep couldn't quite erase the shadows of sorrow and fatigue and unfamiliar hardness lingering about her. Her hair was still long; Cain found himself oddly grateful for that. He had forgotten just how beautiful she was.

Come back to us, DG, he thought silently, wishing he dared move close enough to cover her free hand with his own. Come back to me.

It was his turn to be forcibly ejected the afternoon everything changed.

—- —- —- —

DG regained consciousness slowly, like she was floating up to the surface of a deep pool of water shot through with golden streaks of sunshine. Her eyes fluttered open; she registered golden light slanting through the wide windows of a spacious bedroom. I slept too long, she thought groggily. It's late afternoon, at least.

Her memories and realization of her surroundings both hit her at the same time. Grogginess fell away as her heart rate spiked. Turning her head so fast she almost gave herself whiplash, DG reached out for her sister. "Az?"

Her sister did not reply. Azkadellia lay still and silent on the other side of the bed. Her dark eyelashes fanned out against her pale cheeks, forcibly reminding DG of the way she had looked when DG first set foot in the room.

"Az!" DG struggled into a sitting position, propping herself against the headboard and pillows for support. Panic clogged her throat, making it difficult for her to breathe, while the edges of her vision faded to black. I can't have failed her again. I can't!

"DG! Come on, doll, snap out of it!" Hands grasped her shoulders, shaking her back to reality.

DG's sight returned—along with what remained of her sanity—and she found herself looking into Ambrose's gaunt, concerned face. Heart pounding, she swallowed a sob and threw her arms around him. "Is she okay?" she cried into his chest.

She was too discombobulated to notice her parents and Raw were right behind Ambrose. Nor did she see the look of mingled heartfelt relief and hope the four of them exchanged over her head.

"Oh, doll," Ambrose said, sounding more like Glitch for a moment. "Don't ever do that again. You had us so worried."

DG pulled back to look at him, fierce blue eyes boring into his face. "Answer the question, Ambrose."

"She's better." Ambrose swallowed again. "Much better."

"But?" DG demanded. Worry lent a sharp edge to her voice.

"My angel," Lavender Eyes interrupted, her soft voice sounding near tears.

Startled, DG turned to stare at her parents. "Mother? Father?"

"We are so happy you are awake," the Queen Mother continued. "We were afraid—" She broke off, a troubled look in her eyes.

Ahamo came to DG's bedside and rested a hand on her head. "You've been very brave, DG."

DG stared up at her father, and then at Ambrose before turning her gaze to her mother. She took in the weariness permeating their features, the dark circles beneath their eyes, and the bottom fell out of her stomach. Their relief was so palpable, their reactions so strange… It's like they've all thought I've been teetering on the razor-edge between life and death too.

"What's going on?" she asked quietly. "Why are you all acting like this?"

Not surprisingly, it was her father who answered. "You and Azkadellia have been unconscious for the last three days."

"We were afraid we'd lost you," Lavender Eyes put in.

DG's jaw dropped. "What?"

A pretty Healer melted out of a corner and approached the bed to press a paw against DG's forehead. "Princess still sad, but bulk of pain gone," she announced.

Bewildered, DG tried to lean away from her. "We've been asleep for three days?"

"Yes," five voices said together.

A tremulous exhalation escaped DG. She fell back against her pillows, suddenly feeling a little shaky. Ignoring the concerned sounds everyone was making, she tried to make sense of the situation.

I slept away my first three days back in the O.Z.. She cast a considering glance at the spiral in the palm of her hand. Well, I guess it's not surprising, given that I haven't used magic in two years—annuals, she corrected herself.

Another jolt of panic shot through her; she bolted upright again, seeking the Healer's eyes. "AZ is going to be all right, isn't she?"

"Diagnosis is favorable," the Healer replied. "Princess now awake, so Queen wake too."

DG nodded and tried to summon a smile. "Good. Can't get rid of us that easily." Her stomach chose that moment to give a loud, rumbling gurgle. If she hadn't known that she hadn't eaten anything for three days, she might have been embarrassed.

"Princess is hungry," the Healer said with a knowing nod. "That is good." She eyed DG. "Clean up first."

Before DG quite realized what was happening, everyone was hugging her again and then sweeping out of the room as the Healer shooed them all away, including Raw. Another female Healer appeared from the next room and the two of them helped DG to the sumptuous bathroom.

While she soaked in a luxurious tub of hot water, DG nibbled on a bowl of soup and sipped a mug of hot chocolate. She barely tasted any of it. Her heart felt heavy in her chest. Az was still unconscious. I never dreamed we'd be out for three days.

When she finished her bath, the Healers returned and bundled her into a clean nightgown. They were just helping her back into the bedroom—though DG had insisted she was capable of walking under her own power—when Azkadellia stirred.

"Ambrose" she murmured faintly, eyes still closed.

A lump formed in the back of DG's throat; she had to swallow twice before she could speak. "Az." Breaking away from the Healers, she tottered over to the bed on wobbly legs. "Az, you're awake!"

"DG?" Azkadellia's dark eyes fluttered open and she squinted at her sister. A heartbeat later, her eyes widened in shock. "It was real." She reached out a pale hand and DG took it in both of hers. "You're really here."

"Yes. And you're going to be okay."

The Queen's face lit with a delighted, if still exhausted, smile. "Thank you, Deej. I couldn't…have done it…without you."

Leaning down, DG wrapped her arms around her sister. "I'm so glad you're all right."

Neither of them noticed one of the Healers dash out of the room, but the sisters both jumped when the bedroom's double doors banged open. Ambrose rushed inside, almost tripping over his feet in his haste to reach his wife's side. His dark eyes were wild with joy and hope combined. "Azkadee!"

Azkadellia turned her delighted smile on her husband and held out her free hand to him. "Ambrose."

He bent over her with such reverent tenderness that DG had to look away. It was a moment just between the two of them; she had no part in it. Instead, she smiled at her parents, who had come in on Ambrose's heels. Raw stood behind them, beaming. DG sent him a tired smile. I have a feeling the Healers are going to have a harder time kicking everybody out this time around.

Azkadellia squeezed her hand. Her face was still paler than usual, but she did look much improved. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." DG shifted, uncomfortable with the way everyone's attention suddenly shifted to focus on her. "Just sleepy again," she added with a crooked smile.

A thought occurred to her. "Is Jeb all right?" She hadn't seen him since they entered the Palace.

"Oh, yes," Ahamo assured her. "He suffered no adverse effects from his venture to the Other Side. Except, perhaps, for a bit of…perspective."

From the grave look he shared with Lavender Eyes, DG knew they had spent some time talking to Jeb—and he'd told them everything he knew. She suppressed a frown. Can't worry about that now. They had to find out eventually.

The five of them had only a few moments before the Raw and the other Healers took over again. They insisted that Azkadellia needed to rest and DG needed to be moved to her old quarters so she could rest. Only the knowledge that Ambrose and Azkadellia needed time to themselves to heal and grieve—as well as strict assurances that the Healers would get her should Azkadellia suffer a relapse—enabled DG to acquiesce.

Her parents helped escort DG to her own room. She was still weak from her magic expenditure and they seemed to need reassurance of her continued existence. Lavender Eyes hugged her fiercely and proceeded to tuck her into bed just as she had when DG was a child.

Ahamo waited for the Healers to leave the room before saying casually, "Wyatt Cain is here."

DG's fingers froze on the edge of her comforter; she willed herself not to evince much interest. "In Finaqua? I thought he was in Central City with the Tin Men."

"He was." Ahamo shrugged. "He showed up in Finaqua four days ago and said somebody needed to go to the Other Side to bring you back to save Az."

He did? DG couldn't bring herself to speak the words aloud.

Lavender Eyes smiled wryly. "He seemed a little put out when Ambrose told him Jeb had already left."

"He's been keeping vigil with us," Ahamo said.

DG caught the curious undertone in his voice, but was at a loss to decipher it. She shook her head at last. "I don't understand."

Her thoughts reeled around inside her head like a drunken Munchkin. Cain had left Central City with the intentions of bringing her back from the Other Side to save Azkadellia? He'd actually kept vigil with Ambrose and her parents?

A small voice in the back of her head suggested that perhaps Jeb hadn't been quite as far off the mark as she'd thought. Ruthlessly, DG squashed the voice. She would not—could not—travel down that path.

"Would you like to see him?" Lavender Eyes offered. "I'm sure by now he knows you're awake." She shared a small smile with her husband, missing the way her daughter's eyes widened. "The palace grapevine being what it is, I'm sure everyone in Finaqua knows."

"No." The word emerged in a much sharper tone than DG intended. To soften it, she attempted an apologetic smile and a tiny shrug. "I'm not up for conversation at the moment, sorry." She couldn't tell them that the very thought of setting eyes on Wyatt Cain just now filled her with a combination of such longing and irrational terror she almost wished she was back on the Other Side.

Her mother merely smiled and bent to hug her again. "We're glad you're back with us, DG."

"Sleep well," her father added, as he nodded to the Healers, who were respectfully beckoning for them to depart.

DG barely noticed the Healers' soft instructions as they bustled about her room. She was too tired to focus on more than one thing at once, and Cain's presence in Finaqua required every spare brain cell. What is he doing?

Distressed, she slung an arm across her eyes. More importantly, how am I going to avoid him long enough to figure out how to face him without embarrassing myself?

—- —- —- —

Since his eviction from the Queen's bedroom, Cain was being held hostage by his daughter-in-law, who had taken it upon herself the last few days to make sure he actually ate something. She was ladling a second serving of mashed potatoes onto his plate when Jeb burst into the room.

Beaming, he locked eyes with his father. "They're both awake!"

For a few seconds, Cain was so overcome with relief that he couldn't even breathe. He inhaled, air rushing back into his lungs, and rose to his feet as a weight fell off his shoulders. She's awake. All was right with the world again.

At least as right as it could be, given the circumstances of the last few annuals.

"Good." Snagging his hat from an end table, he dove for the door.

Just before it shut behind him, he heard his daughter-in-law say, "Well, now that the Queen and the Princess are awake, maybe we won't have to force him to eat."

Cain strode through the corridors, elation and relief lending a spring to his step that had been missing since before DG's exile. All around him, the Palace's inhabitants exuded the same emotions. Maids, footmen, guards…everyone was laughing and clapping each other on the back and proposing toasts when the day's work was over.

He found a smiling Raw leaning up against the wall outside of the Queen's chambers. "I hear they're awake."

"Yes." Raw's smile widened.

Cain tipped his head toward the closed doors. "Visitin' hours up already?"

"Ambrose and Azkadellia resting now." Before a pinprick of worry could puncture Cain's happiness, Raw motioned down the corridor. "DG resting too."

Realization flooded through him. "Her old quarters?"

Raw nodded.

Cain clapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks." He set off down the corridor in the direction of DG's former living quarters. Halfway there, his footsteps began to slow. What if she doesn't want to see me?

It was entirely possible, given the way he'd systematically cut her out of his life before her exile. No. Cain swallowed…and forged ahead. If anything, her brush with death had revealed his own heart to him—poor, battered thing that it was. I have to at least try.

Turning the corner, he almost ran into Lavender Eyes and Ahamo coming back the other way. Startled, he did his best to keep his face straight and bowed. "Your Majesty."

Lavender Eyes looked at her husband as though to say, I told you so, before bestowing a kind smile on Cain. "If you're looking for DG, Mr. Cain, I'm afraid she's sleeping now."

"Oh." For the second time that week, Cain had all the air taken out of his sails. He stood there, clutching his hat in one hand. Awkwardly, he cast about for something safe to say. "She's—she's all right?"

"Yes," Ahamo said. "She's very tired, but otherwise fine."

"I'm glad." The deep relief resonating through those two words had DG's parents exchanging glances again. Cain felt the back of his neck start to burn.

Lavender Eyes chose that moment to glide forward and rest a hand on his arm, saving him the necessity of figuring out how to extricate himself from this situation. "Go rest, Cain. You need it as much as the rest of us."

He bowed again. "Yes, Your Majesty."

The royal couple continued down the corridor, but Cain stood there for a moment as the wheels in his head began to whir. Nodding to himself, he set off to find a messenger. Central City would be short a Tin Man for a few weeks.


One more chapter to go. Feedback is much appreciated. :)