"You are not my daughter." The cruel words continued to cut into Azkedellia's heart. Of course her mother had been talking to the witch, but it still hurt. It's not as if Az couldn't hear, even if she was possessed at the time. And although now she was herself again things were still awful. It was for that reason Az found herself out on the balcony in the bitter cold.
Oh how she hated this place. Even after all these months it still retained an aura of pain around it. The air was thick and cloying, stifling. It was as if the witch still haunted the area, especially the black platform in the center where she had died. All in all the balcony was a horrifying place that no one dared visit. But then again, wasn't that exactly why Az was here? Because she could be alone here with the terrors that still clawed at her mind?
The witch's twisted face still disturbed her, sneering back at her every time she passed a reflective surface. Then there was that gravelly voice, lingering in her dreams. It taunted her, telling her that it was all her fault. That no one would ever love her again and that they never had in the first place. The worst part was that the distraught princess had heard the abusive lies so many times that she had begun to believe them.
That's how Ambrose found her as he carefully skirted the doors of the cursed terrace. He had been on his way to his quarters after a long and frustrating days work. However all of the genius' frazzled thoughts ground to a halt when he heard the swish of silk on stone and the faint sniffles of quiet sobs. Silently he crept back to the doorway and peaked around the edge. What he saw left him completely winded.
There was Azkadellia, the most hated and feared woman in the OZ. For years she had been their cold and unfeeling oppressor; the one who never faltered in her cruelty. Who was always strong and unmovable in her convictions, evil though they may be. The one who was evil. Except, she didn't look very stoic or fearsome right now. Actually, she looked …lost, depressed even. She was on the far side of the platform, leaning over the railing as if pondering whether or not to jump. Her sable locks whipping about her tired white face, tears crystallizing in the evening chill.
"Azkedellia?" he asked bewilderedly. His first instinct was to run; as Glitch would have. But she looked so desolate, and now with his full brain back, he couldn't help but compare her current state to the joyful lavender eyed young woman he remembered from before. She had been a brilliant child, full of light and laughter. Always following him around asking a million questions, an inquisitive gleam shinning from her countenance. It was such a far cry from the pain and sorrow he now saw in her blackened eyes. Oh how he missed the old Az!
His concern now outweighing his caution, Ambrose stepped up beside Azkadellia and gently pulled her down from her precarious perch atop the marble banister. "What's wrong my little star?" He asked, brushing away the ice from her cheeks. "What troubles you so?"
At first she looked blankly at him, taking a moment to recognize her old friend. "Little star." Az finally whispered, voice trembling. "You've not called me that since I was a child. Am I still your little star?" Hope shimmered in her expressive eyes, a flickering candle in danger of extinguishing with one false move. Ambrose immediately went to say yes but unfortunately Az never gave him the chance. Instead she ripped out of his light grasp and began to pace, careful not to get too close to the witch's grave.
"Of course I'm not." Az choked out while attempting to keep her sobs in check. "I hurt you. I hurt everyone. I'm nothing but a tyrant, a murderer, a monster!" Her ranting rose in volume, becoming more frantic with each word.
Ambrose looked on with growing alarm, feeling helpless. Azkedellia's eyes were wild and panicked. Her nightdress was ragged and creased from her tugging at it and the strap was falling off one shoulder. It was obvious that Az was in the middle of a huge breakdown. Soon she began to pant for breath. Seizing the opportunity, Ambrose quickly jumped in to try and sooth her fears. "That's not true Az! You are my little star! It wasn't your fault! It…"
"No! It is my fault! All my fault! I wasn't strong enough! I let her do such horrible things! I deserve their hatred! I…" Abruptly she stopped pacing and stood still as a statue, her eyes wide and empty, her voice flat. "I deserve to die."
"What!" yelped Ambrose. He quickly leapt forward to grab Az around the waist, halting her movement towards the terrace edge. "You can't! What-what would your mother say?" the normally eloquent advisor blurted out the first protest that came to mind.
"She won't care. I'm not her daughter. She told me herself." replied Az in a sad childish tone. She felt the man behind her flinch.
"Well what about your father?" he tried again.
"He won't mind." Az paused heavily before continuing on with false cheer. She lightly squeezed Ambrose's arm in a gesture of comfort. "This way he will have more time with DG. He won't have to worry about me anymore. I know he worries, but he shouldn't have to!"
Ambrose felt his heart plummet as he stared down at the frail woman in his arms. She couldn't truly believe that could she? That her family would be better off if she threw herself off the tower? If she killed herself? "And DG? You know how much she loves you. Would you leave her alone?" he demanded, dreading Azkadellia's reply.
This time it was her turn to cringe. "Yes I know she loves me." Az murmured softly before beginning again earnestly. "But this really is for the best. She died Ambrose. She was so radiant and beautiful. It's no wonder everyone loved her, loves her. And I loved her too! I loved her so much! But I was jealous of how perfect she was. I was jealous and it was awful of me, and it let the witch take over, and we killed her! I killed my baby sister, and mother said she was dead. It hurt so much when I thought I had killed little DG! And I did kill her! I killed her!" Az whimpered as she collapsed into hysterics. She simply crumbled to the floor, inadvertently pulling Ambrose down with her.
Taking the change of position in stride he promptly shifted to cradle the distraught woman in his lap. Cautiously he rubbed comforting circles across her back as she sobbed into his chest. She sat there shaking and mumbling, though whether to him or to herself Ambrose couldn't tell. "Sorry, so sorry…hic…DG…my fault…hic…sorry." It took a while before Az was calm enough for him to understand her ongoing dialogue. Thankfully it wasn't in the same agonizingly cheery tone as before. "…and if I was gone DG would be much happier. She could be with that boy she likes, the tin man's son. She likes him and he likes her. But he hates me, so he avoids her because she's my sister…" her explanation trailed off. "I love my baby sister. I just want her to be happy." she sighed forlornly. "She deserves to be happy."
For Ambrose it was truly devastating to see his star so miserable. He ached to ask her whether or not she believed she deserved happiness too. However he knew her answer would just cause them both more pain. Instead he merely wondered; they had spoken of the Queen, Ahamo, DG, even Cain's son, but…"What about me?" He startled when realized he had spoken allowed. Suddenly tense, but hopeful, he waited with baited breath for her answer.
"But, don't you hate me?" she asked confusedly, gripping his coat tighter as if frightened he would pull away.
Ambrose gasped in dismay. "No! Oh great maker no! I could never hate you!" He tenderly tilted her chin up so that his intense auburn eyes met her slowly lightening amethyst ones. "Az…I love you."
"Truly?" inquired Az, shock and disbelief evident, almost drowning out the rising hope that was also present.
"Truly" he confirmed with a grin. "Ever since I first came into your mother's service. It was the summer I turned 19."
"I remember. DG was six. I was 11. Three years before the witch…" Az hestained, looking down. "I liked you too. Maybe it wasn't love just then but…later on, after the witch… You know they say you never appreciate what you have until it's gone? Well I finally realized that they were right for once but by then…"
Suddenly she whipped her head back up to franticly search his face. One of her slim hands rose shakily to trace the faint scar where his zipper had been. "You know I never wanted to right?" she cried. "The witch made me! I would never…" Az never got to finish as Ambrose interrupted her with a firm but loving kiss.
"I know." He said seriously. "And I forgive you. Even if I still maintain that none of it was your fault."
Sensing no trace of doubt from her love, Az slowly relaxed and returned her head to it's resting place tucked under Ambrose's chin. They lapsed into silence once more; Ambrose softly running one hand through Azkadellia's long hair while she clutched his other hand tightly to her heart. Both remained lost in their thoughts for a long time until finally Ambrose spoke. "You know, with the witch gone now things will get better. It will be hard at first, but I'll always be here to help you."
She smiled up at him tentatively in answer. It wasn't much, just a slight upturn of her lips but it symbolized that she was willing to try living. At this point that was all Ambrose could ask for. Slowly he levered himself up, Az still glued to his side, sharing the warmth of his coat. "We should go head inside now. We wouldn't want you to catch a cold."
She nodded silently and they moved towards the inviting warmth of the tower. But before crossing the boundary to the inside Az paused. She sent one last lingering glance at the terrace railing.
"Hey" Ambrose called softly, bringing her attention back to where he stood on the inside of the doorway. "No jumping okay?" He tried to smile jokingly but it looked more apprehensive than anything else.
Unsure, Az met his eyes searchingly. "You won't leave me alone, will you?" she pleaded vulnerably.
"Never" he assured her. "I'll always be here for you."
"Then I'll be here too." She promised as she let herself be guided inside.
Behind them the doors closed, shutting out the cold dark night.