Disclaimer: Ownership was banished for some stupid reason I can't recall.
Author's Note: LAST CHAPTER WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Ahem. Alrighty then, as requested the dwarves role call for those who were unsure: Sneezy = Ayan Toksmith, Bashful = Tam Merling, Grumpy = Turi Phelan, Doc = Dawkins (okay, did any of you not know that?), and Happy = Mishaal Ottokar. Got that? Good. Now keep them straight because I will feel free to use names and nicknames interchangeably from here on out (and by that I mean future stories). Sleepy and Dopey, since some of you asked/commented are not designated at this point in the timeline, but you will meet them eventually…three or four-ish Gulchverse stories from now. I've got some world building to do in the meantime. As for Argus Flynt, he is one of DG's guards – and has very brief mention in 'Otherside Encounter' chapter 'Apology's Hard'. Next Gulchverse story may take a while – aforementioned world building and plotting to be done – but there should be some Game Night Series and most likely Random Idea Generator aka Muse to keep one entertained it the meantime. All that out of the way: I would like to dedicate this chapter to KLCtheBookWorm, who has often expressed concern/frustration over this narrator's actions. Perhaps this might make things clearer…
Ahamo had only ever wanted two things in this world: to be a loving husband and a good father. And he liked to think that for the first fifteen years or so, he'd managed to be exactly that. For fifteen years, the perfect life: a beautiful wife, two precious daughters, the power to annoy nobles at his leisure (and that had been his day job), and the freedom to just be. Fifteen glorious years…
"What I've always wondered is who lets young children play in a bear infested forest containing prisons for deranged wicked witches."
And then the O.Z. had shown him that with every dream, there came a nightmare.
It had been his idea. His, Ahamo the Otherside Consort, who had only wanted his little girls to have a 'normal' childhood, to have a chance at that carefree, happy existence. Othersider he may be, but he knew well enough that to be raised in a palace was no fairy tale. He knew that someday life would place the weight of the realm on their shoulders; he just wanted to give them a chance to just…be first. Allow them the time to learn who they were, without always worrying about who they should be. So he'd ordered the guards to let them be kids, to let them run free…
Ahamo had always promised himself he wouldn't be one of those men who ran out on their families. He'd sworn to stick it out through thick or thin, he'd even put up with Ambrose and the idiot genius brigade, not to mention every fool with a title thinking they could advise on his life. Much as it would astonish his former acquaintances on the Otherside, the carnie had always meant to do right in this world.
He'd just never imagined that to protect his family he would one day be forced to abandon them. Must do what he'd sworn not to. He hadn't thought it could hurt any worse…
It was hard, sometimes, to look at his daughters without shame. The fate they'd left Azkadellia to, what they'd done to DG…they hadn't just gambled their lives, they'd gambled their souls.
They'd ripped DG's mind from her, tied up her memories and Light into a snarl designed to nag at her consciousness. Set her loose in a world that was not her home, with two non-integrated tic toks and a big gaping hole in her family unit where her sister used to be. On purpose, because they needed what she lost to constantly lurk at the edges of her conscience, so that when the day came, she would remember.
The Mystic Man had warned them of the potential consequences to the youngest princess. Sent forth with her formative years stolen from her, cared for by two beings that would be incapable of feeling true emotion until years after she'd really need it, he'd warned that she might grow up emotionally detached, unable to express her feelings, unable to connect. It had broken her father's heart to leave her to that fate, but he'd had no choice, it was the only chance she – they – had.
So he'd let her go with a hope and a prayer, knowing full well it couldn't be answered…
…except that it was. Because along came some damn cop to save the day, fill in the holes, and give DG that happy childhood Ahamo had always wanted her to have.
The Consort occasionally tried not to hate him for it.
It did not bother Ahamo to hear how Hank had taught her to ride a bike, to drive a tractor, or that the tic tok had a local farmer teach her how to ride a horse; it infuriated him to learn that that damn cop had taught her to fix cars, took her fishing, and all but forced her into swimming lessons. Nearly all of Hank's Otherside programming had been designed by Ahamo, the tic toks a father's gift to the child he had to leave behind. They had been an extension of himself, to care for her in his place. The cop was a thief, waltzing…make that two-stepping…in to steal the childhood moments that should have been her father's.
Because Ahamo knew the cop is the reason DG turned out to be everything he'd hoped she'd be, yet had feared she could not. The spell on her memories had been meant to act like a constant itch, keeping memories that time would've erased close to the surface yet just out of reach, so that they would be there when she – they – needed them. It could have driven her insane…but for the cop. Who stepped into the place Azkadellia once held, who guarded her steps, joined her on her adventures and acted as a guiding hand when she needed it most. Who helped her lay those memories to rest, entirely unknowing, almost bolloxing up the works in the process.
Those memories had been vital to their plans, for as much as their gamble contained a plan. She hardly remembered her mother, had only scattered, fragmented recollections of her sister…and she didn't know her father at all. That damned cop had almost doomed the O.Z. with his meddling…
…or he'd saved it entirely. Because the DG he'd sent back to them, the one with just enough memory of the past to get the job done, the one with the heart of gold, the one that they'd both hoped and despaired to have, that was the DG that could save a realm. The caring girl, who was willing to accept her presence in a strange land, that could trust in the goodness in people, that had been taught that if you break it, you darn well find a way to fix it. The one who could reach out a hand that people couldn't help but want to take.
And if she was still recklessly careless and dangerously prone to adventure, well, that was the fault of those that had stolen that vital lesson from her. There was only so much that even damned cops could do. And if he'd only stayed on the Otherside, Ahamo might have been able to be quite grudgingly appropriately grateful.
But he hadn't stayed on the Otherside.
Ahamo hadn't really meant to object when Cain had come to ask for DG's hand. Hell, the Tin Man was any father's dream, but the Consort had been dying to do some fathering around here and no one was letting him do it. Because he knew damn well that the blessing that really mattered to his youngest daughter had long since been given.
They say a woman looks for her father in a potential husband. Ahamo doesn't see much of himself in the Tin Man, but he knows who he does see – and it sure the hell ain't Hank.
Ahamo might be able to forgive him if it weren't for Azkadellia. For where DG had always been her mother's angel, Azkadee had always been daddy's little girl. And witches be damned, nothing had terrified his paternal self more than watching his little girl trying to attach herself to that oblivious idiot.
Azkadellia had come out of those years of darkness broken and fragile, almost too petrified by life itself to even move. She feared the realm, she feared for the realm – what she might do to the realm. Possessed, her mind had been twisted and manipulated until, without the Sorceress' firmness of purpose, she almost didn't know herself. She ghosted through her days, shunned, reviled, with so few people to whom she could turn. Knowing full well there were times when even dearest daddy couldn't help but flinch at the sight of her.
There was no loathing in his soul deeper than that which he held for himself. And not a damned thing he could do about…
…then along came that blasted cop.
And just like Sleeping Beauty, Azkadellia woke up, came alive, stepped out into the world and braved its perils for a man that could destroy her with a careless word. And all he had were careless words, because if that damned cop could see anything more subtle than a hippo pole-dancing in a wedding dress then Ahamo was a law-abiding citizen.
Yet they forbid him from doing anything about the man.
So Ahamo had been forced to watch, powerless yet again to do anything for his daughter, knowing all the while that the day was coming when that blithering, oblivious, well intentioned fool would do what he did best: stick his foot in his mouth and crush Azkadellia in the process. And with so little hope in this world, how could daddy's little girl survive that?
Except that she did. Instead of shattering she'd risen up in that flame of fury hell hath none like. And hoo boy did she let him have it, like the any self-respecting woman would when they discovered their love interest was a nincompoop. Devastation the Consort had been expecting, a return of the ghostly wreak left behind by Sorceress' reign he'd feared, the pride of a brokenhearted and furious woman he'd never dreamed to hope for.
Daddy's little girl had learned how to walk again without him even noticing.
Because apparently selective blindness was a trait Othersiders had in common. Well at least one of them could figure out how to take the blinders off when that elephant following him from room to room clonked him over the head often enough.
Which is how Ahamo finds himself here, escorting his eldest daughter down the aisle towards her future happiness. His daughter who is brave beyond measure, whose fragile seeming exterior hides a soul of forged steel, whose loving heart makes her so terrifying in her own right when enraged. Azkadellia, who was more than ready to dictate the course of her own life, allowing him to do one last thing as the good father he always wanted to be: take her hand and place it into another's keeping.
Because after almost eighteen years, Ahamo can finally say once more that he is a good father – all thanks to Officer Gulch.