Title: Such a Beautiful Mask

Author: Kathea

Rating: PG

Pairing: AZ/Jeb; Cain/DG

Summary: And one day all that would be left was a shell of a woman and a beautiful mask.

If anyone asked, she was fine. Or good. "Well" was the politically correct answer for the concerned members of the court. It was also a carefully crafted lie, one Azkadelia lovingly tended. She was so accustomed to wearing the witch mask that the trade off to "fine" had been easy. Strangers were the easiest. They saw only what she wished them to see. But that was the magic of royalty. Sure, family could tell that she wasn't the Azkadelia of old but it was chalked up to the years of possession or the shock of release. Or maybe this quiet Az was who she really was. Either way, everyone saw exactly what she wished them to see but that woman was a illusion.

Magic still tingled at her fingertips. The pure, sweet Light still burned when she linked with her sister. That was enough for the largely forgiving populace of the OZ. Some still called for her death but most were content with self-imposed house arrest and the knowledge that Queen Lavendar would reign for many more years until the resurrected Princess DG would assume the throne. The Princess Azkadelia would quietly recede from view and memory. Eventually, the time of the witch would become a footnote in OZ history. And one day all that would be left was a shell of a woman and a beautiful mask.

She met her sister in the gardens everyday at half past noon. The renewing of the royal gardens was a small consolation to Azkadelia. She knew the rest of the land was slowly healing too. DG's grousing broke through Az' musings.

"It's not far." DG grumbled and kicked one of the small rocks on the gravel path. It skittered away to join its siblings.

"What's that?" Az asked, forcing interested inquiry into her voice.

"You already know all this…this stuff I have to learn. I have to sit through these lessons by myself." DG pouted. "What does it mater how you address a duke?"

"Your grace." Was Azkadelia's immediate reply.


"A duke is addressed as 'Your Grace'. A princess as 'Your Highness'. A queen or king as 'Your Majesty.'"

"See! My point. You know this stuff. I thought I was past this point in life. I feel like I'm in elementary school again." Az quirked her eyebrow at the unfamiliar term. "Ahh…primary education that is required by law." Nodding her understanding, the sister continued to meander down the path.

"I had to do it alone too." Az said quietly. She looked down to find her sister gripping he hand tightly. The Light flared to life between them.

"Not anymore." DG said earnestly, squeezing her hand then releasing it. A shuffle on the rocky path behind them heralded the prescence of the every present security.

"Hey princess." The gruff voice of Wyatt Cain called.

"Seriously! Is it time already?" DG sighed and turned around. The ex-Tin Man only nodded and cocked his head toward the palace. Sighing again, DG smiled brightly to her sister. "See you later, sis. Duty calls." DG hurried to fall in step with the tall man. One large hand slide down to the small of her back as they started off.

Observation was becoming her new hobby. Standing quietly in the background afforded an interesting view of the world around her. Azkadelia had noticed that where her sister was there Wyatt Cain would be also. Always close, far closer than security dictated. She looked over her shoulder to see her own shadow. The dark blond hair was hidden by a hat but Jeb Cain still looked strikingly like his father. If Wyatt kept DG close, he kept his son closer. Azkadelia could sympathize. When someone you thought was dead turns out to be alive, you tend to want them near. It wasn't official but it was clear that Wyatt didn't trust DG's safety to anyone else and he wanted his son within arms reach, so Azkadelia had a shadow.

"Shall we continue?" Az asked politely. The younger Cain nodded sharply and followed her further down the path.

Jeb Cain followed at the proscribed safety distance. He knew where the path would end. It ended at the same place every time. It had for the past three months without fail. He hadn't wanted this job. Used to independence and a command of his own, he'd chafed at his father's order to stand as a guard for the older princess. Habit had him scanning the surroundings for threats. His eyes drifted across the princess, her back ramrod straight as she walked. Those first few weeks he lived in a world gilded by rage each time he saw the pale skin and dark hair of Azkadelia. She had all but destroyed the land on top of being responsible for his father's imprisonment and broken family. He kept expecting the witch to appear on her serene features. Those dark eyes to fill with an evil gleam, smooth skin marred by the totems of her minions but it never happened. Her skin remained unadorned. Her eyes were the same shadowed exhaustion of his own.

The crunch of gravel gave way to the whisper of grass. The princess retreated to this oasis at the end of each walk. In acres of carefully manicured grounds this space was a little piece of wild. An artificial waterfall cascaded down rocks to tumble into a clear pool. The cool clean water made the sandy bottom visible. One large rock jutted out into a seat over the pond. Azkadelia would curl down onto the rock and stare silently at her hands for precisely 34 minutes. Jeb often wondered what she saw there. After weeks of the same pattern, Jeb began to enjoy the escape it offered. In this hidden garden, he watched her freely. Her posture relaxed until at times she was almost curled into a ball. Her dark hair fell forward to curtain her face. She never looked anywhere but her hands. Cupped in her lap, away from his view, he couldn't see them tremble.

When the allotted time was over, he watched her back straighten, almost vertebrae by vertebrae, until it was stiffly straight. Azkadelia pushed herself to her full height and nodded only slightly as she passed him out the cut through the surrounding hedges. The gravel crunched again and Jeb almost through he saw her sigh as the palace came into view. Almost.