Author's Notes: It's amazing what a good prompt will do to wake up the muse again. This piece came from a prompt at the LJ community TM Challenge. The prompt was "Finaqua." It came in second place in voting, but more importantly, it's got me writing again. At least, a little bit. That said, hope you all have been well, and bring on the angst. :)

Back and forth. Left to right and back again. A straight line, never a circle, because she learned quickly in the days after she was wrenched from her bed and stripped of her freedom that circuitous motion is merely movement for movement's sake. There is little progress made in the monotony, and that is breathlessly dangerous; it's a noose hanging from the gallows, knotted and waiting for her pristine neck. She is deathly scared of what will happen to her if her captors--these devils once called men--are unsatisfied with her work.

So Azkadellia's mantra remains the same. Back and forth. Left to right and back again. Go with the grain of the wood and pretend you can get the remnants of the fallen off the floor and your hands. Keep the pain of kneeling and blisteringly hot water from showing on your face. Do not give them the satisfaction of seeing the fear that slithers down your spine, for if they see a snake ready to strike at a moment's notice, your tenuous stalemate may finally break.

She tries to manufacture an antidote of sorts. She tries to hold on to the few good memories she has; tries to convince herself that they can't take away anything else unless she lets them. She forces herself to remember what it used to be like at Finaqua, her former home and current prison. She can still smell the freesia that once grew along the banks of the lake. She can still see the rainbows the suns cast through the stained glass windows. She can still see her bare footprints on the marble floor of the ballroom where she attended her first royal function and had her first--and last--waltz.

It's a much safer place inside her daydreams, and that is her irony; for all the annuals she tried to escape her own head, she is now an expert at retreating into it. But visions of her and DG running down the halls, or sitting curled up in the library with an all-too large tome balanced precariously on her knees, seem to be the only thing that keeps her alive.

She's unsure of what's happened to her family or friends. She stopped begging for information weeks--or was it months?--ago. Not that the rebels ever seemed to hear her when she demanded an explanation. They slink back into the shadows like snakes hiding in reeds. She may not be able to see them, but she knows they're there; she can taste the vicious electricity in the air, can feel the telltale prickle of impatient revenge as it dots her skin as both sweat and gooseflesh. They are anxiously awaiting the day she tries to fight back, running across piles of broken china toward the splintered door, because then they'll have a reason to impose the punishment they've waited so long for.

She has the same conversation with herself each day: There is no giving up. There is only a bucket and a bristled brush, and back and forth, left to right and back again. There is only survival while they circle and wait to strike. There is only joy of her own making; the lullaby her mother taught her, or the single dance she shared with her father. These are her glimmers of hope, the things that keep her from becoming a venomous killer like the men who keep her--like the woman she used to be. She will not self-destruct, will not let her pain consume or swallow her whole.

They watch Azkadellia from the other side of the glass as she scrubs, rocking forward in time with her brush, moving back and forth, left to right and back again. There has been no change. Not that they'd expected there to be, but hope is a fickle friend, a painful siren that DG has not yet learned to ignore.

DG keeps her palm pressed against the observation glass as the doctors repeat what they've said every day for almost two annuals; Azkadellia has severed all ties with the reality outside her own head. The Other Side psychiatrists would call it Post-Traumatic Stress and a psychotic break. It doesn't matter what they call it; the pain of losing Az is still unbearable. But still DG comes to the Central City hospital each week, calling out to her sister in desperation. But it seems the only things Azkadellia hears are the demons inside her own body.

She nods absently as Glitch tells her they need to head back to Finaqua to prepare for meetings the following day. With one final look toward her sister, DG quickly strides out of the observation room, tears again in her eyes, and again leaving Azkadellia broken in her stead.