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: Yikes. I am so sorry to have left y'all hanging—I really didn't mean to take so long to update this! I thought I had this chapter ready to go last May—and then I was in a car accident that had a major impact on my summer. (I'm fine now.) Life proceeded to grow steadily crazier from there. (On the up side, I just published my second book!)

I know I said earlier that this would be the last chapter, but I found a problem and ended up doubling the chapter in length. I've still got one thing to iron out before I can post the end, but y'all have been so patient that I couldn't sit on the first half any longer. Hope you enjoy!

"Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." Proverbs 14:10 (NIV)


Reality Check

Chapter 5

DG awoke the next morning with Wyatt Cain on her mind. The shock of finding out he had been willing to brave the Other Side to bring her back to save Azkadellia had settled, but she was no closer to determining how she was going to handle being around him for any length of time. And there would be no getting out of seeing him at least once—if he'd kept vigil with Ambrose and her parents, she had a feeling he wasn't going anywhere until he saw she was alive for himself.

Her thoughts darted back to the mental picture she had formed of him sitting in Az's room while they were both unconscious and skittered away like a frightened animal. DG thumped a fist on her mattress in frustration. It's not fair that he got to see me when I was in no condition to see anyone! Her cheeks flushed at the very thought.

Her stomach chose that moment to growl—loudly—and a hint of sunshine poked through her dour thoughts. The kitchen will be open. She threw her covers back and sat up, but froze the second her feet hit the floor.

The kitchen was open…which meant most of the palace staff would be up and about…which meant that Cain might already be up and about. DG swallowed. It's too early in the morning to deal with him yet. Time for Plan B.

Casting a glance around the familiar lines of her room, DG spotted her backpack sitting on a chair and brightened. Perfect! She crossed to it, relieved to see she was nowhere near as shaky as she had been the day before, and pulled out a fresh set of clothes. The bag of dried fruit caught her eye and she smiled.

A moment later, dressed, and a handkerchief full of dried fruit tucked in her pocket, DG slipped out of her room into the corridor beyond. For one heart-pounding moment, she was afraid she'd find Cain guarding her door, but the way was clear. Snorting at her own foolishness, she set off for open air.

She needed to get outside. Maybe fresh air would provide her some much-needed clarity.

DG slipped through the palace like a ghost, feeling some of her old sense of mingled joy and pride at the accomplishment. Two annuals had not been long enough for her to forget the best routes out of the Palace. By the time she reached the lake, she was smiling again.

Her smile faded as she reached the gazebo and sank down on the old swing. The corded rope felt silky smooth against her fingers. A soft breeze played with her hair as she stared out across the gently rippling surface of the lake.

DG inhaled a lungful of fresh air and let it out in a rush. I'm home.

Up until this moment, she hadn't realized that a small part of her had refused to believe this was real. The last few days had been…surreal, to say the least, and she'd had far too many dreams popped like soap bubbles by the strident tones of her alarm clock. She inhaled again, her fingers tightening on the ropes. I couldn't imagine this.

DG began to sway gently on the swing and the comfortable rocking motion almost brought tears to her eyes. So many, many things have changed since I left. I changed, Az changed, Jeb changed… Cain changed.

A twinge of that old ache surfaced and DG unconsciously rested her hand on her heart. Cain… she thought wistfully. She allowed a tiny part of her mind to ponder what he might think of her now before crumpling the thought like a discarded piece of paper and tossing it into a mental trash can. It doesn't matter. Two annuals was plenty of time for cut ties to fray further.

She was idly swinging back and forth, munching on bits of dried fruit, when footsteps brought her back to reality. They were measured and deliberate, as though the person striding up behind her wanted to make sure she was aware she had company. DG appreciated the gesture, but she couldn't quite bring herself to care enough to turn around.

"You've got the entire palace in an uproar, Princess."

At the sound of that achingly familiar gruff voice, every nerve in DG's body froze. Perversely, her heart sped up. Wyatt Cain, in the flesh. Just a few days ago, I thought I'd never hear his voice again.

"They're all afraid you've disappeared, or keeled over somewhere." Cain sounded torn between amusement and exasperation, with a grim undertone DG couldn't quite place.

I should have expected they would send him. DG's heart continued its frantic thumping, but when she finally forced out words, she managed to sound detached. "I needed some air."

"Sure you did."

Cain moved up to stand beside her in the gazebo—leaving a respectable distance between them—but DG did not look at him. She couldn't. If she did, one of several things might happen.

A), she might break down into tears. That would be embarrassing, she admitted to herself. B), she might say something stupid, something better left unsaid for both their sakes. Or, C), she'd have to fight the urge to hug him and never let go, when he had made it clear months before she left that he did not want her touch.

None of those would do. So, for once in her life, DG did nothing.

—- —- —- —

Slanting a glance down at her subdued form, Cain felt his flicker of hope take a sucker punch to the stomach. He was too old, he'd pushed her away long before her exile, and she'd had two annuals to forget about something as silly as a crush on a washed-up Tin Man. Words formed before he had time to think them through, slipped out before he could command them to stay in the privacy of his mind. "Won't you even look at me, DG?"

—- —- —- —

It was her name that did it. Anything else DG could have ignored, had set up defenses against, but not Wyatt Cain saying her name in such a quiet rumble.

Slowly, she lifted blue eyes to his face and mustered a tiny smile. "Hey, Cain."

He did not acknowledge her belated greeting, but stared down at her as though he could see every hardship of the last two annuals on her face.

Well, she thought wryly, he hasn't changed in that respect. It was a small bastion of familiarity in the strained awkwardness she felt stretched between them, permeating the air. "I'll go back in—I just—need a moment."

Cain still said nothing. He was leaner than she remembered, with a jagged, sharp edge to his features, but he was still as ruggedly handsome as ever. She found herself wondering exactly what he saw when he looked at her.

It must be pretty bad, she decided, because when he finally spoke again, some of the old Cain—the Cain who had been her friend—poked through.

"Are you all right, kid?"

Kid. DG barely suppressed a scowl. Oh, how she hated that appellation. "I'm fine." She made the mistake of glancing up at him again—she couldn't help herself, not after two annuals of knowing she'd never set eyes on him again—and their eyes met. Cain looked…grieved. And more than a little furious.

Her mouth dry, DG tried to swallow. He knows. Abruptly, she stood up and took a step forward before pivoting to face him. This was not a conversation to be had sitting down. "Jeb told you everything, didn't he?"

A muscle twitched in Cain's jaw and his pale blue eyes narrowed. "He did."

"He shouldn't have." Huffing, she folded her arms across her chest and looked away. "I'm fine."

"You almost died."

It was DG's turn to narrow her eyes. "I'm fine. It doesn't matter. Az is safe."

"You should be resting." Cain did not move. DG's eyes were a hell of a lot older than they were the last time he'd seen them.

"I will. It's just—" DG fluttered a hand. "I missed this. I missed my family." I missed you, she thought. I missed the way things were before they all fell apart.

"The O.Z. hasn't been the same without you."

DG couldn't restrain an inelegant snort. "Oh, I'm sure it got along just fine."

Beneath the brim of his hat, Cain's eyes narrowed again, but DG didn't give him a chance to speak.

"Thank you for coming all this way to see me, Cain. You really didn't have to do that." But I'm glad you did, a voice in her head whispered. Her feet moved without her express approval, taking her across the gazebo floor to stand in front of him.

She looked up at his face, unblinking. It's now or never. He's going to leave and that'll be the end of it. Stepping forward, she gave him a brief, fierce hug—the hug she'd wanted to give him two annuals before but had never had the chance. "I'm back, Az is fine, I'm fine, the O.Z. is fine—you can go home now, Cain. Central City needs her Tin Man."

Disengaging and putting some distance between them, DG offered him a smile. This time, it almost reached her eyes. "Well…duty calls." Squaring her shoulders, she spun around and started back to the Palace.

—- —- —- —

Go home. The words reverberated through Wyatt Cain's head while he watched DG's slender figure retreat into the distance. Home? He scoffed. He hadn't had a home—a real home—in annuals. Sure, he had his one room apartment in Central City at the moment, but the closest thing he'd had to a real home since Adora was those months he'd spent as Head of Palace Security.

DG… He felt the old, familiar ache that plagued him every time the black-haired princess crossed his mind, but at this moment, after having spoken to her, seen her, touched her, it ripped open a gaping wound inside him.

When he looked at her, he saw a pall of tired, wounded loneliness weighing down her bright, optimistic, headstrong determination. In the last two annuals, she'd known hunger, loneliness, abandonment, fear…he could see it in her eyes. And he had been unable to do a damn thing to help her.

Cain's hands clenched into fists. Jeb might have told him everything he knew, but DG sure as hell hadn't told Jeb everything she knew.

And now, after all this time spent coping with the fact that she was likely never coming back, she tells him to just go home?

Things aren't that simple, Princess.

If Cain had not already made up his mind to stay, that would have done it. He had a second chance—or a third, or fourth, depending on how you looked at it. There was no way he was going to let her slip through his fingers again. At the bare minimum, DG needed a security detail that could stay with her despite her proclivity for escaping.

Cain suffered no illusions that particular character trait had disappeared. He wasn't that lucky.

He hadn't been kidding about the Palace being in an uproar, either. The Queen Mother had awakened early and gone in to check on her youngest daughter, only to find the room empty. She hadn't panicked until it became glaringly obvious that no one had seen DG at all. That was when she'd called in the proverbial cavalry.

While Jeb set off to coordinate a search of the Palace and the surrounding area, Lavender Eyes had turned to Cain and asked him to find DG in a voice that nearly cracked with two annuals of pent-up emotion.

He'd promised he would find her, and he had. He still knew DG well enough to remember that if she'd left her room, she probably needed space to clear her head. And after being away from the O.Z. and Finaqua so long, he could count the number of places she would probably visit first on one hand.

Cain had been right, which should have comforted him, but it did not. There was a time when he would have figured into that list, as her friend and someone DG trusted. Now he had a sneaking suspicion DG might be attempting to avoid him. She'd talked to Raw, Glitch, Az, and her parents after she woke up, but not him.

Not that he blamed her, of course. Cain knew it was his fault, but the notion that she wanted nothing to do with him twisted something deep in his chest. I have to fix this.

—- —- —- —

DG wasn't entirely sure how she made it back to the Palace. Her heart pounded in her chest; her knees felt like jelly and threatened more than once to give out on her. She kept taking deep breaths to steady herself, but it didn't seem to be working. He just came out here to find me. That's all. He felt responsible.

She desperately needed a moment to herself, to lean up against a wall and breathe until the very thought of Cain no longer sent her heart into paroxysms of mingled grief and joy. Unfortunately, every eye in the Palace strained for some sign of her. She only made it halfway back to the Palace before she spotted a gathering crowd by the door.

Oh, for Lurline's sake. Steeling herself, DG pasted a smile on her face and waved to the crowd of Palace personnel. As cheerfully as she could manage, she called out, "Good morning!"

"Your Highness!" one of Azkadellia's advisors burst out, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. "You're all right!"

DG felt a twinge of guilt and her smile turned contrite. She really hadn't meant to worry anyone. "Sorry. I wanted a walk before breakfast." She hesitated and then said, "I'm so happy to be back."

Around her, faces brightened and shoulders straightened.

"We're happy to have you back as well, Princess DG," the advisor said, to murmurs of agreement.

The crowd parted for DG and she set off to assure her parents, Azkadellia, and Ambrose that she was alive and well.

—- —- —- —

Blending back into the O.Z. this time around, DG decided, was both easier and more nerve-wracking than her first attempt had been. Easier because she now had a grasp of what was expected of her, and nerve-wracking because she'd spent the last two annuals relying solely on herself—and she was having trouble letting her guard down again. She knew it didn't compare to what her people had lived through under the Witch's regime, but there were moments she found herself waiting for the other shoe to drop.

If she still occasionally woke in a panic, fearful she'd dreamed everything, the people of the O.Z. were even needier in craving assurance that their Queen and the Crown Princess were both alive and well. With that in mind, Azkadellia started drawing up plans to reintroduce DG to O.Z. society a little earlier than the Healers deemed wise. She continued to improve daily, making leaps and bounds in her recovery, and waved the Healers off with gentle reminders that she knew what she was doing.

If DG sometimes found Azkadellia wiping away silent tears, or sometimes noticed her sister staring off into space with one hand resting unconsciously on her stomach, she said nothing. Azkadellia had nearly died and lost her first child in the process. Anyone would need time to recover. If planning social and political functions kept Az distracted, DG would do whatever she could to help.

Reintegrating into her role as Crown Princess helped distract DG too—from Cain. To her consternation, he did not return to Central City. He remained a fixture in Finaqua, a silent shadow in the corner.

Why doesn't he just leave already? she fumed to herself one night, as she tossed and turned, trying to sleep. He should have gone home by now.

DG hated to admit it, even to herself in the privacy of her own mind, but she was afraid to consider what that might mean. Something was different about Cain, something she hadn't glimpsed in a long time, and it terrified her. The image of his face—quiet and grave, his blue eyes filled with an emotion she refused to let herself identify—haunted her thoughts.

The solution to this seemed obvious: she avoided him as best she could. He'll go home, she told herself. Any day now, he'll go back to Central City.

He didn't.

To DG's combined astonishment and consternation, Cain did not return to Central City. Days slipped past and he remained a fixture in Finaqua, a quiet shadow everywhere she turned.

—- —- —- —

Need coffee, stat.

DG stumbled down the corridor from her room, rubbing her eyes, which felt like they'd been lined with sandpaper. Her first welcome-home ball had occurred the night before—and she was so happy it was over.

Part of it had been fun. She loved the initial atmosphere, the glittering dresses and decorations. For a few moments, they brought back memories of happier times. Then the pressure of being on public display kicked in and she remembered how much she disliked having every eye on her, dissecting her every word and gesture.

Seeing faces she recalled from Az's trial now wreathed in smiles jarred her a little. She had whirled around the dance floor in a beautiful dress, choked down a few mouthfuls of otherwise marvelous food, and done her best to play the part of the energetic, cheerful princess everyone expected her to be. She hadn't known what else to do.

That wasn't even the worst of it, she thought glumly. The worst part was not having anyone to talk to throughout the evening. Before, she would have had Cain.

He was never her escort, of course, but as head of Palace Security, he had always been there to keep an eye on things. She used to snatch moments of conversation in between dances and speeches and everything else, watch him try to keep a straight face as she pointed out all the strange things she noticed.

Cain had been at this ball too, but after catching sight of him once, DG had done her best to avoid him for the rest of the evening.

Not that it helped much. She had still been hyperaware of his presence.

She scowled. Wyatt Cain was quickly moving to the top of the list of things that annoyed her the most about her return to the O.Z..

Deep in thought, DG did not see the broad-shouldered figure rounding the next corner on his way to the kitchen.

"Mornin', Princess."

DG yelped in surprise and whipped around, one hand flying to her heart. "Cain!"

A flicker of amusement crossed his face, but it gave way almost immediately to concern. "You okay, kid?"

DG scrunched her nose in exasperation. Not again. "I just need coffee."

Cain nodded in understanding and waited for her to resume walking before he fell into step beside her.

DG felt her pulse pick up. She wanted to quicken her steps and leave him behind, but knew from experience it would never work. The sound of people rattling around in the kitchen broke the thick silence swamping the two of them. Normally, in a situation like this she would have felt words bubble up in her throat, but she was too exhausted.

The kitchen doorway was in sight when DG felt her forward momentum suddenly halted by a gentle—but firm—hand on her elbow. In her current state, it took her a second to connect the hand to Cain, but as soon as she did, she jerked away as though he had burned her. "What?"

Cain's mouth was set in that grim, stubborn line she knew so well, but his voice remained mild. "You're just about dead on your feet, Princess." He tipped his head in the direction of her bedroom. "Coffee will still be there when you wake up."

"I'm not sleepy."

"That so?" He arched a pale eyebrow.

DG wanted to smack that knowing look off his face, but settled for moving toward the kitchen again. "I have a session with Tutor."

"In three hours."

She was a little unsettled that he knew her schedule so well, but shrugged.

"DG." Cain blocked her way. "You need rest."

"I'm fine, Cain." She couldn't look at him; he was too close. "Please move."

He refused to budge. "Princess, you can either march yourself back to bed for another couple of hours, or I can call the Healers."

He wouldn't. DG chanced a look at Cain, took in the implacable expression on his face—and scowled. He would. "That's cheating."

His implacable expression did not change.

"Fine!" Throwing her hands up in exasperation, DG whirled around and stalked back to her room. She slammed the door behind her and threw herself on the bed, fuming. How dare he act like he cares?!

She rubbed the skin where he'd touched her and swallowed a lump in her throat. Cain, how am I supposed to pretend I don't care that you don't want me when you won't leave me alone?

Rolling over, she buried her head in her pillow to stifle a frustrated yell. After a few moments, her body reminded her how tired she was and she allowed her eyelids to slip shut again. Maybe I will just nap for a few minutes…

—- —- —- —

Cain loitered in the intersection of corridors that connected DG's room to the rest of the Palace. Part of him felt odd doing it—after all, DG wasn't technically his responsibility anymore—but the rest of him knew her too well to trust her to go down without a fight. That she had actually gone back to her room was in itself a testament to her fatigue. He looked down at his hand, slowly flexing his fingers. Had she felt the spark of electricity he'd felt when he touched her?

His hand closed into a fist, which he thumped against the wall a few times. It had been three weeks now, and he had made little to no headway in repairing his friendship with DG. Today was the most she'd looked at him since that morning in the gazebo—hell, it was the longest conversation they'd had since before her exile—and it was killing him inside. There were so many things he wanted—needed—to say.

He didn't know how to fix it. She wouldn't stay in a room long enough for them to have a semi-private conversation, and the rest of the time she ignored him as thoroughly as if he was a wall fixture.

His unhappy frown deepened. The worst part was that everyone knew she was ignoring him. The back of his neck started to burn as he recalled the looks he'd been getting lately from Ambrose, Lavender Eyes, Azkadellia, his daughter-in-law…even Jeb and Ahamo. His flush darkened. Everyone but DG knew he'd come back for her, knew he was staying in Finaqua for her.

Everyone but DG… A tiny ray of clarity poked through the dim mass of hopeless confusion clouding Cain's mind. DG was by nature a rather caring individual. She'd hitherto shrugged off things that would have turned a lesser person into a seething wreck hell-bent on revenge. If she's pretending I don't exist, it means either she hates my guts…or it's a defense mechanism because she doesn't.

Cain rubbed a hand over his face in frustration as realization dawned on him. She thinks what I said before she left still stands—and she won't give me a chance to tell her otherwise.

Nodding to himself, he straightened and sent one more glance in the direction of DG's room. We're done playin' this game, Princess. You and I are going to have a chat and set a few things straight. If she ignored him after he bared his heart to her…well, he'd have only himself to blame.

With that in mind, he set off to inform Tutor that DG would be missing her morning session. Then, gathering his courage, he went to find Ahamo. They needed to talk.


TBC...