Glitch sat on a bench built on the outside wall of the barn. The bold sunlight of the suns filtered through the trees. The morning watch gave him time to order his thoughts before they plunged into whatever the O.Z. threw at them next. Right now, his thoughts centered on the sleeping couple cuddling in the barn.
He couldn't figure out with all his marbles back why DG never used her feminine power over the Tin Man. Azkadellia hadn't been much help. "I don't think she knows how to be a woman. Look at how she dresses. Club the man into submission, that she would have no problems with. Talk to him? Bat her eyelashes? She just can't. Nobody should be stuck that long in gawky teenage phase. It's cruel."
He wished Az was here. But DG refused to put her sister in danger, and after last night, it was the right choice. He blew a kiss to the south and returned his thoughts to the dilemma at hand. Cain loved DG. Even missing half his brain, Glitch had realized that when the Tin Man found them in the Mystic Man's dressing room. He gave up his revenge to come back and save her.
But Cain didn't take any actions either! The man had been married before; he must have some clue how to woo a woman. Unless Adora had clubbed him over the head and dragged him to the altar before he came to. Maybe Raw could find out if that was what had happened.
He leaned and rested his elbows on his thighs, propping his chin. Cain couldn't deny DG anything she wanted, not even the Slipper he didn't like. But deny himself what he wanted; cripes, he was a Tin Man. Glitch didn't know if it was bitter cynicism or the age difference or the fact that she was a princess, but Cain kept himself in the role of protector and friend. And DG didn't even try to push the boundary.
Except while traveling like this, when no walls separated them, and they always ended up embracing while asleep. Until they woke up and went back to the status quo. He peeked into the barn. DG's face pressed against Cain's chest. His arm draped over her side, and his expression was content. Glitch turned his gaze back to the burnt cabin. How could two otherwise intelligent people be so stupid!
Footsteps started toward the door, stopped for a moment, and then continued. The Slipper, Zack, paused in the doorway as he rubbed his eyes one at a time. "Morning."
"Morning. I didn't expect you to be the first one awake."
He blew out his lips as he sat. "I think I was the first one asleep. So how much of that last night was grumpy cop routine and how much was jealousy?"
"About half and half. Oh and keep quiet." Glitch jerked his head back. "They're in denial about it."
"She wore his stuff out of the tent, and they're in denial?"
Glitch shrugged. "State of not doing a damn thing about it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, does it? Oh and you're welcome to come with us." Zack's eyebrows rose. "Raw told me Cain had told him, so I'm guessing DG changed his mind.""There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with your synapses this morning."
He looked at the empty homestead. "Half my brains were taken out by the witch, turning me into a headcase. After she was defeated, my brains got put back in but they couldn't do anything with the zipper. Often it's useful just to pretend to be a headcase until we know what the situation is. But you did hurt a connection or two with the other worlds stuff last night."
"It has that affect on people, sorry." Zack narrowed his eyes as he scanned the homestead. "There's something familiar about this."
Glitch followed his stare. Muddy holes littered the yard between the cabin and the barn and the fenced padlock. Only the fence was scattered in broken pieces and flung around the clearing. Half the cabin had been blown away, and the wood that remained in a cabin-like shape was black with scorch marks. "Longcoats scared off or killed whoever lived here and wrecked the place."
"That's not it. I've seen army-destroyed homesteads before. Do we have any water?"
"The pump around the corner still works." Zack headed that way. DG stumbled out of the barn holding a roll of toilet paper and looking a little flushed. "Outhouse is on the other side of the cabin, doll." She nodded and skirted around the mud holes. Cain stood in the barn doorway and watched her progress. Glitch grinned. "Morning, did you and DG have a nice talk last night?"
The Tin Man's lips twitched. "You were asleep. I heard you snoring."
"She headed toward you before I fell asleep. And all you two will do is talk."
Cain's icy eyes moved from DG's figure to Glitch's face. "How long has this been brewing?"
"Ever since she let you out of the iron suit."
The lip twitch grew to whole jaw movement. "Focus, Glitch. DG and her mother."
"Oh, happy-family-get-together time lasted about a month, so going on four months now."
Cain looked aghast. "I've been in and out of the palace ten times in the past four months. Why wasn't I told?"
"You noticed the tension between DG and Ahamo."
"The Consort," the Tin Man's eyes narrowed as he struggled with his anger, "yelled at DG right in front of me."
Glitch nodded. "Ahamo lost what little tact he had in the Realm of the Unwanted." Zack rounded the corner, nodded his head in greeting, and went back into the barn. "Your visits perk DG up; get her back to the plucky Slipper who rescued us and the O.Z. Hmm, I wonder why that is? But I'm not surprised she wouldn't want to ruin that with palace intrigue."
"So why didn't you say anything?"
"What could I say? You are adamant about Longcoat hunting, and you and Raw tell me what's going on in the populace." Glitch grimaced. "I'm sorry you got blindsided by this, Cain. But honestly, every scenario I imagined telling you ended with you threatening the Queen at best. Or shooting her at worst. And you in the gallows would not make DG happy."
"Alright, Glitch, you were doing the best you could. How do we fix this?"
"I don't know." Glitch pulled on one of his dreads as Cain tucked his thumbs into his gun belt. "She feels everything as deeply as a Viewer, and she just takes all the pain and guilt. How much she more she can take?" DG rounded the corner of the cabin. "So what's the game plan today?"
"We should keep heading toward Jeb's unit. Besides, DG found us Longcoat papers we should get to the Army."
"Oh goddamnit!" Cain and Glitch jumped and stared up. Zack leaned out of the hayloft opening, staring out at the homestead clearing.
Raw joined them outside. "Be careful."
"The dragon is real." Zack pointed to the mud holes. "It landed there. Charged the padlock for the livestock, and burnt the house. Intel, why don't I get intel?"
Glitch looked over the clearing again as DG joined them. "No, no, dragons are extinct. It must be a magic trick."
"Come up for a look. Do illusions have weight and leave tracks?"
Glitch walked to the closest mud hole, Cain following him. Silt had settled to the bottom of them, but he could still see three gouges from claws.
"You said you went to a dragon world," DG said as she reached the barn.
"And hunted dragons and I really want to never do that again."
"Are you sure it's a dragon?" Cain asked.
"Positive." Zack shook his head in disgust and left the window.
"Where did it come from?" Raw asked.
"Good question." DG turned to Zack as he came out of the barn. "Would the people who sent you here send a dragon from another world?"
"Lissa doesn't mess with worlds like that. But that doesn't mean someone else didn't."
"So how do you kill a dragon?" Cain focused on Zack.
"Get up under the scales and hack until the head is severed. Trying to get to major organs in the body will get you dead. Eyes are vulnerable, but hard to target."
"What about guns?" DG asked.
"No clue, Dragonsworld was stuck on bladed weapons."
Cain looked over at the suns. "Time to move out."