Title: Such a Beautiful Mask

Author: Kathea

Rating: PG

Pairing: AZ/Jeb; Cain/DG

Disclaimer: I've yet to figure out a way to own any of this.

AN: I've got a general idea of where this is going but no idea of when we'll get there. Enjoy the ride.

AN: Sorry, had some health issues that prevented me from writing both in time and desire. I think we are much closer to the end than ever before. And NaNoWrMo guilt got me going.

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

Chapter 18

Time froze at Azkadelia's words. Everything seemed just to stop. She turned to see her sister's brow furrowed in confusion. Her dark blue eyes were brimming with concern. Wyatt kneeled by his son, two pairs of ice blue eyes mirroring watchfulness. But Jeb, his familiar features were hardened by hurt. Then in an instant, time rushed in and DG's voice sputtered to life.

"Az, sweetie, what's the last thing you remember?" DG asked carefully.

"I…I don't know. Dinner at the palace with…with the Eastern Guild contingent?" Azkadelia replied with difficulty. "Why?"

"Az, that was weeks ago. The night you went missing. You don't remember?" It was the hand reaching out that had Azkadelia scrambling off the bed. The trio of faces rooted her to the cold, wooden floor.

"You don't remember anything form the past weeks?"

Azkadelia closed her eyes tightly, swaying against the wall. Something flashed behind her eyes. Feelings of running, fear and strangely, freedom raced through her brain, incoherent and jumbled. One last image flashed before she opened her eyes, the feeling of lips placed tenderly against hers. Opening her eyes, she let her body slide down the wall till she sat on the floor. Shaking her head as the tears rolled down her cheeks, "Nothing," she said. "Or not enough of something. I know don't what happened." She felt her sister's arms circle around her shoulders. A single flicker of guilt had her searching from Jeb's eyes across the room. Something told her that this man had held her as she cried before.

DG looked over to Wyatt as all attempts to soothe her sister failed. Silent tears continued to stream down her face as her body hunched in on itself. Nothing she'd learned in her brief stint in junior college about human psychology would come to her mind when she needed it.

Jeb wanted to be angry with her. Oh, how he wanted to be angry but the effort was exhausting. She didn't deserve his anger any more than his father did. The time, the miles, the words that hung between them now had changed the hard place that was his heart. Curiosity bred desire but that had turned into something darker and deeper than mere want. Levering himself up from the floor, Jeb felt his chest ache at the motion. His father stood with him, a bracing hand on his shoulder. He took the few steps that separated him from Azakdelia and reached down pull her to her feet. She moved unresistingly and leaned heavily against him. It took little effort to move through the small cottage, out the kitchen door, and into the dark morning. The storm had passed leaving faint wisps of cloud to streak the dawn. The wind was bracing but seemed like it would warm with the sun. He settled them on the little bench in the garden. The tears had slowed but Azkadelia's head hung low, her short hair shading her face. Cupping her face, Jeb lifted her head until he could see her eyes. They were dark with emotion, far darker than he'd ever seen them. But there wasn't anger or cruelty in those dark depths. No, it was fear, crystalized.

"Tell me," Jeb urged. "Tell me what's wrong, sweetheart."

"I, Gods, I just can't remember it. Or remember enough. I get little bits and pieces. I don't know where I've been or what I've done."

"It's okay. You don't have to remember."

"No, no. It's not. It's too much like before. There are things I know I did, she did, we did that I can't remember. I know I hurt people." Azkadelia looked down and her eyes focused on the quickly bruising mark centered on Jeb's bare chest. "Oh, oh no. I did that, didn't I?" Azkadelia asked plaintively. She reached thin fingers towards his chest and Jeb flinched as they came in contact with his tender skin.

"You didn't know. You weren't yourself. You didn't mean to." Jeb said emphatically as his hands slipped to her shoulders to give her a little shake. Azkadelia shook her in disagreement.

"Will you," and her voice was small. "let me heal it?" Azkadelia asked softly. Jeb only nodded as her fingers pressed more firmly into his skin. The warmth oozed into his skin, first from her fingertips and then radiating from her palm. He could see the faintest of light shimmering under her palm and then she pulled away.

"Thank you." Jeb said softly as he raised a hand to touch his pain and bruise free chest.

"You shouldn't be thanking me. I hurt you." And Az pressed both of her hands against the warm skin of Jeb's chest. His heart was a comforting consistent thump under her palms.

"But I'm still here." And his eyes bore into her face until she looked up. "I'm still here. And you're still here. After everything, you are still here."

"But how much of me is here?"

"The important part. Your heart." And it was Jeb's turn to place a calloused hand against the bare skin exposed by her night gown. He let his fingers just barely brush the soft skin over her heart. "Who you are, who you were before the witch hasn't changed. The person that loved her sister, who adored her mother. That person is still here. The person that was loved by her parents and sister, she is still here."

"How, how after all of this, can I ever be that person again?" And her shoulders began to tremble under his hands. She was so close, so dangerously close to the edge again. It would take only the barest push to send over careening over the edge again.

Jeb slid forward the remaining inches and gathered the quaking princess into his arms and when those dark eyes met his, he slanted his lips across hers and poured all that was inside of him into that small fraction of melded skin. There was only an instant of cold marble lips beneath his. Then warmth blossomed and her lips moved tentatively under his. It was sweet and hot. The dreams of having her in his arms paled in comparison to the flesh and blood woman in his hands. It would be so easy to take it deep and drown in her. Just sink into each other but Jeb slowly reeled back until he was brushing the barest of kisses across her freckled cheekbones.

"I don't," Azkadelia began. "That was…" and a blush crept under her tan.

"Yeah, it was." And Jeb had to grin at the blushing princess until her smile mirrored his. Then her face sobered.

"What now? There's still so much, just so much." She asked.

"I don't know but maybe we should start with breakfast and go from there." Jeb said with a smile and rose to his feet pulling the princess along with him.