Author's Notes: Yeah, so, I was sort of (read: very) disappointed by the Tin Man mini-series, because I think it could have been absolutely amazing and turned only sort of meh. But despite all that, there were some awesome characters to play with, and Azkadellia is officially one of them.
Title blatantly stolen from Billy.
how like a winter
how like a winter hath my absence been
from thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year
what freezings have I felt, what dark days seen
what old December's bareness everywhere.
Azkadellia wakes up every morning at three. Just before the sun, in the last tender seconds of the moon.
Her old room feels small, and tight, like an ill-fitting dress; her bed pinches, her curtains sting, her pillows are hard and stiff. An ill-fitting dress, like armor, or tattoos that ripped when they flew away.
DG sleeps, all day if they let her. Azkadellia thinks that this might mean something, about bravery, or conscience, or sisters who ran and sisters who stayed.
Either way. Azkadellia wakes, and wanders, not sure what she's looking for. The halls are dark, and empty, and echo with her footfalls, and she can breathe, here, with no one around to see her.
She doesn't go out, much.
It's the same everywhere: the skittered glances, the shuffled feet. Fear. A hundred thousand little whispers. Devil. Killer.
It's the same at home, of course, with the cooks and the maids and the butlers, all of them nervous and bowing before her. All of them wondering when she's going to laugh and throw open her hands and say this has all just been some elaborate scheme of hers, lulling them all into a false sense of security.
DG hasn't changed, but then, DG never knew her when she was the Sorceress. She didn't watch the cities burn or hear the constant echo of screaming from the dungeons. For DG there is the before and there is the after and there is no in-between, no fifteen annuals of tyranny and pain.
She spends a lot of time in the caves.
No one looks for her, there; no one thinks to wander that deep into the wood. Certainly no one wants to see the ruins, the collapsed wall, the grotesque faces of a hundred mobats.
At first she had wondered if they would kill her. If they would even try.
But witch or no witch, she has their names tattooed on her chest, and they come to her like old friends, ugly and disgusting and familiar.
She thinks their allegiance should worry her, but she can't bring herself to feel anything but grateful.
Usually they eat in their private quarters, just the four of them. DG talks the most, filling every silence with chatter about one thing or another. In many ways, it's just like it was, before. DG blabbing and her parents swapping amused glances while Azkadellia pushed her vegetables around on her plate and blew her hair out of her face.
But now all the talks are of rebuilding, regrowing, restarting. Of all the hundreds of ways that DG is rediscovering the O.Z., of the friends she is making and the places she has been.
Azkadellia listens with hungry ears, still pushing her vegetables around on her plate. The orchards of the Papey are fertile again, sprouting apples and oranges and leaves. They are learning to be farmers again, learning to live by their code of honor and not by their stomachs.
The Resistance fighters have mostly been accepted into the army, and the land along the old road restored to the families that once owned it. Trees are growing. The suns are shining. The ice is melting.
DG is out making these things happen; Azkadellia stays in her tower and watches.
When her father comes to her, six months after the death of the Witch, she knows what he'll say before he says it.
"Give DG the crown," Azkadellia says without turning around. The word is bitter and hard in her mouth, like rust, like ash, like rock. "I don't want it."
Her father stays in the doorway, his hands in his pockets. She wonders if he will try to comfort her. She wonders if he remembers the way they used to be, before, when she would find him in the library and curl up with her feet in his lap. They would laugh about DG, about all of her crazy adventures. She drives me crazy with her schemes, Azkadellia would say. I'm gonna kill her one day, I swear.
It doesn't seem so funny, now.
"Az," he starts, but whatever would have come after is too heavy and thick for him to say, so he simply puts his hand on her shoulder and squeezes.
Azkadellia keeps her eyes on the window, looking at their reflection and not the view. She thinks her father looks old, and she thinks that she looks young, painfully young, younger than she has any right to be.
"I don't want it," she says again.
Wyatt Cain comes to find her after the crowning ceremony. It's official: DG is the heir to the throne, and Azkadellia is … superfluous, now. The discarded extra that didn't get it right.
DG is surrounded by people and dresses and jewels and she looks bewildered and confused, but also happy. Also strong. Also worthy of the weight that sits on her head.
Azkadellia is standing in the corner by the door. Nobody looks at her. She's got one hand wrapped around a wineglass and one steadying hand against the wall.
At first he doesn't say anything. She doesn't look at him, not directly; Azkadellia never does.
"She looks beautiful," Cain murmurs, and she hears the words and his voice and thinks, oh.
"Yes," Azkadellia says. "She always was the prettier one."
He turns, his whole body facing her, and Azkadellia keeps her eyes pinned to the floor. After a long, studying silence, he murmurs in wonder, "You don't look much like the Sorceress. She was … taller."
Azkadellia laughs, and it startles the both of them.
Glitch forgets, sometimes.
When she's wearing her normal gowns, with her hair down and in her face, when the light is right and perhaps she is smiling, he'll approach her like he would anyone else and say something like, "My name is Glitch. Who're you?"
And Azkadellia always closes her eyes and pretends that she is young again, and he is her mother's most handsome advisor, and she curls her hair, just for him.
She always wants to lie, wants to smile and clasp his hand and say, My name is DG. But she never does. Falsehood feels too much like the witch, and too much like someone that maybe she was always meant to be, in the end. "Azkadellia," she'll whisper, and then turn so she doesn't have to watch him run away.
She takes to horseback riding. She likes it, likes the way the animal doesn't fear her, likes the way she can ride through villages and no one shrinks away because they cannot see her face.
She rarely knows where she is going until she gets there, and she is so startled to find herself at the entrance of Dorothy Gale's tomb that she falls. It's a stupid mistake; unlucky that she should land just so, but she feels the bone at her ankle snap and sits down hard.
Her horse shuffles, looking sideways at her. Azkadellia drops her head onto her knees and tries to breathe deeply, tries to steady herself.
The pain is not so bad. She had thought it would be worse. But it's just a slow burn, like the anger she grew so used to, hot and cold all at once, flashing up her leg. Azkadellia lies back in the dirt, looking up at the sky as darkness falls, collecting every inch of sky and swallowing it whole.
Time passes. It must be hours. She is beginning to think that this is the most perfect place in the entire O.Z. — soft grass, the wide expanse of sky, and no one, not a single soul.
There are two suns, but only one moon. Azkadellia wonders if that means anything.
She is falling asleep when two feet land squarely by her feet. She opens her eyes blearily and thinks briefly that this might be the most fitting way to die, in the woods, alone, defenseless. It seems right.
"Have you come to kill me?" she asks, most curious than afraid.
The voice that answers is familiar, and the hands that lift her strong. "No," Wyatt Cain says.
She is too tired to do anything but lean against him. Eyes closed, she murmurs, "Why not?"
A long pause. He seems to be considering it. Then, "DG," he says at last, and Azkadellia nods.
"It might be better if you did," she sighs, and then loses consciousness.
When she wakes, she is in her bed. DG is asleep beside her, curled up into a tiny ball, holding her hand. Azkadellia's heart seizes and she closes her eyes to keep the pain inside them. Her sister's love has always come without condition.
DG stirs as Azkadellia shifts position, and she sits up sharply, startled. "You're okay," she breathes after a moment, and throws herself back down.
Azkadellia laughs softly. "It's just a broken ankle, you crybaby," she murmurs, stroking DG's hair.
"Well, geez, call me a crybaby," DG mumbles grouchily. "You should have seen Mom. She was like going nuts. I'm pretty sure you're going to have a personal guard from now on. That, or she's just never going to let you leave the house."
"I'm fine, Deege," Azkadellia promises with a smile. "Your Tin Man came to find me."
DG smiles. "He's not mine," she says, and neither of them believe her. "But I did make him go look for you. I was worried about you, Az."
"I'm fine," Azkadellia says again. The words taste stale and familiar. She wonders if anyone has ever said them honestly.
The day of Zero's execution is bright and sunny, the most beautiful they've had all summer.
Everyone tells her not to go; it wouldn't do any good, they say, and she knows that they're right. What could she have to say that the people want to hear?
Someone needs to be held responsible. One old witch melted into nothing is not enough.
But despite everything, all Azkadellia can think of Zero is that he was loyal. So she goes.
They bring him out without a hood on, and — she does not know how — his eyes find hers. She feels her heart in her throat and does not know why.
"Any last words?"
He thinks for a moment. Then — "I knew what I was doing. No one made me do it."
Then he falls and the rope snaps taught and Azkadellia doesn't let herself close her eyes. She cannot decide if his words were punishment or absolution.
A full annual after the death of the Witch, the O.Z. celebrates their independence day. Azkadellia feels awkward and out of place, celebrating her own downfall, so she finds her comfortable spot in the corner and wears her hair in her face, trying not to be herself, and as soon as the opportunity presents itself she slips away.
The gardens are empty, so Azkadellia plucks a rose and sits on one of the benches. She can hear the music floating over the grounds and she hums the song. She has a nice voice, low and sweet; she had forgotten.
"I saw you at the execution," Cain says from behind her. He is standing at attention, always on his guard.
She wonders if he'll ever relax around her, and then she wonders if he even should. Who knows what weakness will claim her next.
Azkadellia twirls her rose between her fingers and answers honestly, "It's my fault he became what he became."
He looks at her, surprised. She straightens her shoulders and turns, making herself meet his eyes. It is the first time. He opens his mouth to speak, perhaps to argue, but she raises a hand to silence him. "You don't have to deny it," she tells him plainly. She's tired of everyone treating her like she doesn't understand the full extent of what she has done. She was possessed, not dead, and everything that Witch did Azkadellia did, too.
She shrugs tiredly, feeling older than twenty-six. When she looks back at Cain, she can't read his expression, so she brings the rose to her face again and closes her eyes, letting the fragrance wash over her. There used to be hundreds of roses at the North Palace. They're probably dead now, buried under sheets of ice.
After a long pause, he comes to sit beside her. There is a question he is not asking, so she answers it before he has to. "Your wife was beautiful," she tells him, and reaches for his hand.
She lets go of the rose, and they watch it rise until it touches the moon.