Disclaimer: Verily I say onto you that I doth not own the miniseries or the characters that I didn't happen to create, alas and woe.
Author's Note: I'm doooooooooone! Yup, that's right folks, this is the last chapter. Absolute last and I mean it. Why? 1) It's called 'The Courting of Officer Gulch', once they're married they are no longer courting now are they? 2) Side character musing has gotten completely out of hand, and 3) Quality Control has threatened to quit if this story goes on any longer (Azkadellia has a far too alarming tendency towards mush for her liking). I can't lose QC and, frankly, it's been 63 chapters! Muse and I are a little exhausted here. For those of you who are terribly upset by this: console yourselves with thoughts of point 2. Beware the Winky.
Azkadellia went to sleep that night wrapped in the arms of her Othersider, listening as the sound of his heartbeat lulled her into the realm of dreams. Hovering for a moment in that delightfully peaceful place between waking and sleep, assured that this time no intrusive beings would interrupt – not even that strange Bentley person that dared to call himself Officer – the eldest princess marvelled at the miracle that had been bestowed upon her. Less than a year ago she had been the shunned and despised former Sorceress, distrusted and feared, to whom happiness was a memory and friends a rarity. And now...Az hummed in contentment as she traced a lazy finger across the back of one of Gulch's hands, causing him to tighten his arms around her reflexively.
It was almost unbelievable that she hadn't recognized him for what he was the moment he stepped out of his cruiser and into her life. He had disguised himself so cleverly, seemingly so unimportant, but with so little time and effort the policeman had become the center of her universe, and, wonder of wonders, with a bit more time and – considerably more – effort, she had become the center of his. What were the odds that of all the people in the Otherside, DG should happen to drag back the very one that Azkadellia needed? Actually, it wasn't that surprising considering Deeg had a habit of bumping into just who she needed when she needed them. And Officer Gulch – who's name, it turned out, was actually Elmer – had a habit of doing his duty with a dogged determination, even if he had to slip between universes to do it. If he happened to crash through invisible prison walls and mend a broken princess while he was at it, well, that was her Officer...
...because she wasn't calling him Elmer. The Otherside town could keep their Elmer Gulch – figuratively speaking – he seemed to be a strange being that could be mistaken for being in love with DG. Officer Gulch, however, could only be horrified at the notion, not to mention adorably cute in his flustered insistence that he was no such thing. Maybe a little too flustered as it had taken her some time to reassure him that she was not mad; in fact, in the end she'd had to tackle him, after which it hadn't been so difficult to shift his thoughts to a more agreeable subject.
No, the eldest princess thought, running a hand lightly over the elbow he'd bruised on the bedside table upon landing, she was not calling him Elmer. Officer was a good name, and it was the one she'd married him by; if mommy could completely rename daddy upon his arrival in the O.Z. – Az actually had no idea what Ahamo's Otherside name was – then there was no reason Azkadellia couldn't make a small adjustment to her Othersider's, all she had to do was swear DG to secrecy and the deed was done. Gulch had admitted he liked Officer better anyway.
Decision made, the princess snuggled up closer to the cop that had wrapped himself around her and slipped quietly into a contented sleep. She really did pity the Otherside its loss...
...Azkadellia was in the cave again. Her shoes tapped lightly along the rocky floor, sending pitter-pattering echoes skittering down the tunnel as she approached the broken carving at its end. The witch's malicious cackling faltered then fell silent as the eldest princess calmly stepped into the cavern that had been her prison and seated herself comfortably on one of the boulders.
"Hello," she said.
The witch blinked at her.
"I just thought I'd let you know that I am done being haunted by you," the eldest princess informed her old tormentor serenely, "seventeen years is long enough, two years longer than strictly necessary as a matter of fact."
"What makes you so brave all of a sudden, little witch?" the spectre of her past rasped malevolently.
Az tilted her head to the side. "Do you hear that?" she asked, listening to the steady thrum that resounded throughout the cavern, "That is the heart of a good man, one that has promised to love and protect me, one to whom you are of absolutely no consequence."
The witch laughed derisively. "You expect him to protect you? From me?" she demanded sceptically.
"I imagine he'll try, he does seem determined to do so, and I should warn you, he is a fairly stubborn man when he sets his mind to something," Azkadellia replied confidently.
"You think to rid yourself of me so easily, foolish child?"
"Oh no," the eldest princess responded unwaveringly, "I have no doubt that someday weeks, months, or even years from now I'll wake screaming into the night because you walk my dreams once more. You are a manifestation of my fears called up from my memories by my subconscious after all. And you know what will happen when you do? That heart you hear will wrap his arms around me, make me a glass of warm milk and tell me everything is okay. And it will be, because you can't hurt me anymore unless I let you, and I no longer choose to allow a mere shade to claw at my soul. Even if you were more than a painful memory," Az continued, standing and shaking out her skirts, "you'd have to go through Gulch to get to me. And if you tried to go through my Othersider, well, then you'd have me to deal with," she stated evenly, meeting the witch's gaze and holding it, "and I am not a child anymore."
"That sound," Azkadellia resumed after a minute, "says that I am not alone. People need each other, it's a shame you never learned that. Enjoy your darkness."
And with that the princess clapped her hands above her head and she was no longer in the cave, she was in a sunny meadow next to magical waters. Friendly shadows passed overhead; there was laughter in the wind, dreams in the trees and the constant beat of a loyal heart in her ear.