Title: 'Til Kingdom Come, Part One
Author: Rissy James
Index: Table of Contents here.
Characters: Everyone ever. Major and minor series characters. OCs, some new, some appearing from my Emerald 'verse.
Pairings: It's complicated. Past Cain/Adora, eventual Cain/DG, canon Lavender/Ahamo.
Summary: Being a somewhat fabricated, but mostly accurate, history of the Outer Zone, therein concerning the aftermath of the Emerald War and the restoration of the House of Gale.
'Til Kingdom Come
Wyatt Cain's world had gone to hell.
He'd never expected any of this to be easy. As a matter of fact, he'd been under the distinct impression that he knew better than any of his companions just how hard this road would be to travel. The road to redemption, the road to reconstruction, the road to their bright new world and all that rested just beyond the horizon, stretching on to a destination that none could see.
He knew hardship, he knew suffering, he knew sacrifice. As did the others, that much was painfully certain. He wasn't as much of an unseeing fool as to ignore that fact.
DG had lost her past twice.
Glitch had lost more, his past, his place in the world, his brain.
And Raw –
Well, there hadn't been any word from Raw. Not since he'd left the tower a few days after the eclipse, a young cub of his tribe in tow. Off looking for home. Trouble was, rumours trickling down the Old Road all seemed to confirm one awful truth: the leonine race of empaths had been decimated during the reign of the Sorceress, and those that remained had gone into hiding.
Cain expected the truth to be colder, harder, and uglier than even that. As much as he hated to admit it, he couldn't say when – or if – they'd be seeing their friend again.
It shouldn't concern him.
It couldn't concern him.
The world might indeed have gone to hell, but time hadn't stopped its onward march just because the going had gotten a little rough. Things needed doing, and for some gods' forsaken reason that was beyond his comprehension, he was the one meant to be doing them. Chosen. Hand-picked by the princess to be a glorified errand boy.
Four weeks prior, Cain had woken in the grey dawn on the day of the eclipse, his choice already made. For his wife and for his son, he'd freed a Longcoat from one prison to secure him in another. It was sort of poetical, not that he'd been able to see past the end of his own nose at the time to realize it. No, he'd been caught in a haze, trapped in a ravaged place made up by his own mind and his own bitter experience.
Somehow, he'd known it would not be the end. He'd known that locking Zero in the iron suit deep in the wilds of the southwest would not put to rest their cruel and ugly past, nor would it right the wrongs done to his family.
It would never truly end.
Over the course of the first week of his own freedom, somewhere along the road, his urgency for revenge had turned to a desire for justice, but beyond that – he just did not know. Perhaps he'd thought that sparing Zero's life would be worth the burden he'd carry because of it, knowing that he'd saved himself from the stain of more spilled blood.
It had been a choice. He'd taken action – and now he was drowning in consequence.
If only his son could have seen it the way he did.
Since coming from Azkadellia's chambers – and a brief run-in with DG afterward – Wyatt had spent half the night out of the palace, first tracking down, and then placating, his son.
He'd found Jeb at the garrison, an old Pastorian-era building in a north-end district that the Longcoats had been using as a base of operation in the city. It had been quickly abandoned sometime in the early evening hours the day of the eclipse. Jeb had moved a small company of his men to Central City a few days after the fall of the tower.
The people of the city had taken very little notice to the arrival of resistance soldiers. It had been the arrival of the royals, Azkadellia among them, that had turned their heads.
Since then, Jeb had been splitting his time between the palace and the garrison. He had not ridden out to the resistance camp at the tower since his arrival, sending his scouts and messengers between instead. Cain could not recall the name of the lieutenant left in charge of those operations, but insofar the decision had been a sound one.
Still, Cain was not wrong in assuming that his son was beginning to feel restless, trapped in the city with a desk job and council seat thrust at him after spending so much time in the field, and so many annuals on the run. It made him proud to see his son shoulder such responsibility, but it also made him ache with guilt.
Nine long annuals before, Cain had joined the resistance himself, angered and lost after fleeing Central City with his family. He should have kept on going. The ports had still been busy then, the sandships still heavy with goods for trade; room enough for refugees who had the platinum to pay for it. He should have taken his family across the desert, smuggled them all over the border before Azkadellia's reach had extended too far.
It was easy to assuage this guilt with busy work, easy to push such dark thoughts away during the daylight hours – and long into the nights, avoiding his dreams still plagued by the faces and voices of the past. There were moments – such as the one he found himself in then – that he wondered if his son had not adopted a similar outlook on his life.
As for the news that Azkadellia wanted Zero freed, and that Wyatt was the one saddled with the unpleasant task, Jeb took it as well as Cain would have expected.
"I'm coming with you."
Jeb was leaning over his battered desk, all his weight on his arms, staring his father down with a tone that brooked no argument. He sounded like his mother.
Cain sighed. "Don't think that's such a good idea, son." Not with Cpt. Lindsey accompanying him. Three days on the road with the darkly brooding ex-coat was daunting enough.
"You need me," Jeb said.
"I need you here," Wyatt replied quickly, and grit his teeth together, his jaw tightening, near to painful. He didn't like the look his saw in his son's eyes, panicked and uncertain.
Above all else, Jeb was impulsive – always had been, always would be. It was a trait he'd gotten from neither his mother nor his father, something that was wholly his own. It had landed him into more trouble than – well, it was safe to say that it was one of the few things his son had in common with a certain young woman Cain had recently become acquainted with.
As for DG – he didn't expect that she'd take the news any better. Hell, he wasn't exactly overjoyed himself, yet he couldn't deny that he'd never truly considered declining – politely or otherwise. He strongly sensed within himself a need to see this through, and it was a loathsome twist to see that same need etched clear in his son's face.
"I got a couple of favours to ask," Cain said, levelling his son with a glare. "I think it'd be wise to double the patrol on the route south of the gorge. To tell the truth, I wouldn't mind knowing what's been happening down that way these past few days."
His son seemed indecisive for a moment, but then he let his head hang with a sigh. The tension went out of his arms and he sat heavily in his chair, which groaned loudly as it absorbed the abuse.
"I'll do you one better," said his son, tired suddenly, deflated, defeated. "I'll send my best scout with you."
Wyatt said nothing, torn between trusting his son's judgement or his own instincts steering him toward that polite decline he'd passed over earlier with Azkadellia. Once more, however, he went with what his head told him was the wisest course, and not what his heart vaguely hinted was the right thing to do.
"Yes, sir," Wyatt said, smirking. Jeb's head shot up, and he smiled. It was a refreshing sight.
After, they had talked for another hour or more, going over maps and what reports Jeb could sort out of the mess of his filing system. Kid was in dire need of an assistant, but Cain knew he was putting it off. In all likelihood, it was only a matter of time before one of the guild leaders finally showed his face in Central. The general would bend his knee and pledge his men to Lavender, and Jeb would quietly step out of these too-big shoes he'd been valiantly filling.
Then, maybe –
By the time Cain had left the city garrison, it was late. He hailed a taxi and rode back to the palace in silence. The driver stared overlong after he'd dropped Cain off at the gates to the palace grounds. It was an occurrence that was becoming more and more commonplace here in the city, his face recognized, his deeds known, and it was taking a good deal of getting used to. He wondered if he'd ever manage it.
The palace was dark, and quiet. The halls were all but empty, only the occasional guard posted to some stairwell or another, a door here or there. Little heed was paid to a tired old Tin Man as he walked the dim-lit halls, destined for bed and bad dreams.
Midnight had come and gone by the time he reached the rooms that had been given over for his use while he remained in Central. In no uncertain terms was it assumed his stay would be a long one. Still, it was clean and spacious, and it afforded a view of the Hall of Histories.
Comfortable, he would have called it, if not for the young woman standing at his window, dressed for bed and staring out at his view.
"I figured you'd be getting a bit anxious," he said, shutting the door a little harder than he'd meant to. The sight of her didn't make him happy. She smiled at him, which only made it worse. "What are you doing here?"
"You can't fool me, Cain," DG said, her smile never faltering in the face of his curt manner. "I know how this story goes. You're about to disappear on some secret mission, and if I don't find out what it is before you leave, curiosity might get the better of me before you get back, and then who knows what would happen."
"Wouldn't want that," he muttered, distracted by her presence and the shadows and the soft filtered light.
"Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to tell me what you're up to."
"Seems to me like your logic is a bit glitched there, DG." He proceeded to turn on a few lights, chasing the shadows to the corners of the room so that they might not play tricks with his eyes. The brightness only served to bring out the fresh honesty he so often saw in her face, those sky eyes of hers dancing with interest despite the late hour and his halfhearted indifference.
"My logic is perfectly sound," she said, rolling her eyes at him. "Quit stalling."
Cain sighed. "It's nothin' to get excited over. Got to pick up a prisoner from down south. Shouldn't take more than a couple of days."
"Oh," she said, and her mouth twisted dubiously. "Well, that was easy."
He couldn't help but smile. "Sorry to disappoint. Now, listen, I got four hours to sleep, and –"
"Since when do you transport prisoners?"
When he scowled at her, she batted her eyelashes in return, trying to look innocent. She hadn't left the window, and she drummed her fingers idly on the sill, a rare instance of patience, and if he had all the time in the world, he might have called her bluff, but he only had four hours and so he grumbled, and sat himself down in the nearest arm chair.
"Since I'm the one that locked him up," he said, leaning back. It was easy enough to gauge her reaction by the way the news sent her fidgeting.
"Zero," she said, and when he nodded, she exhaled long and low and loud. "Well, that's a relief, I guess."
As happened so often, DG took a sudden interest in the floor as she muttered her answer, words she seemed hesitant to give voice. "When you didn't – well, he was gone, so I thought –"
"You thought I'd finally killed him," he suggested softly. Timidity did not become the princess; she was made far tougher, made for more than sighing and simpering. Those bold blue eyes were meant for piercing a man's soul, not for skipping away with indecision and guilt. "I won't lie to you, princess, the thought crossed my mind more than once," he said, and she looked up at him, all surety and bittersweet faith.
"Well then, I guess you do have to go," she said, and sheepishly brought her hands up to hide her face. Almost immediately apologetic, she made straight for the door. "I really didn't know, Cain, I'm sorry. I should let you sleep."
Later on, he'd think back and be surprised at how fast he jumped up to catch her by the arm as she rushed by. Something had flustered her and fast, and he wanted to know what it was. She stiffened, and refused to look him in the eye, but that didn't stop him from noticing the blush in her cheeks.
"What's got you so worked up all of a sudden?" he asked, and belatedly wondered if he wanted to know the answer.
"There's a distinct lack of communication around here," she said, and shook her head, frowning deeply.
"Sorry to say, Deege, but you better get used to it," he said. "You're not in Kansas anymore."
She sighed. "That's for damn sure."
It felt almost spiteful to remind her of this, but he felt he had to say the words, give voice to that uncomfortable truth. Central City was far from safe. In these early days of their hard-won victory, life in the realms was still bound by courtesy and driven by intrigue and ambition. Even now, the guild leaders played their games, waiting to be courted and favoured, holding out and holding each other back.
Cain had glimpsed this world once, had a brief taste of its bitter fruit in the days he'd shadowed the Mystic Man. This was the world DG had been born into, one she didn't remember. The kid might have considered herself mature enough on the other side of the rainbow, but when it came to life in the Zone, she still had a bit of growing up to do.
"You keep your head up in council while I'm away, you hear me?" he said. "You can catch me up when I get back."
"Sure thing," she said, and the watery little smile she gave him tugged a bit at his strings, just when he was attempting to give her a good guilting. It did not improve his mood any, but when she gave him that shy, sweet look – he gave her arm a squeeze, meaning it to be comforting, but in the next moment she turned into him and hid her face in his shirtfront. The abrupt increase in contact startled him, and he stood frozen, very suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that she was in her nightclothes and she wasn't supposed to be there.
"Just be careful, okay?" she said, so quiet and quick, and muffled into his chest that he scarcely made it out at all. She sagged a little, all the fluster and frustration slipping away. She was so warm, solid and slender, and he sighed, and gave in, and wrapped an arm around her back if only to hold onto that little bit of contentment for just a minute more.
"Say you'll be careful," she said again, and her hands curled about his collar.
He hesitated, not wanting to give her any promises when he wasn't so certain himself how it would all play out. But when she looked up at him all doe-eyed and trusting and her thumbs brushed against his skin, he found himself saying, "You know I will," and wondering if he would come to regret it in the end.