I'm pretty much over the shame at this point, guys. Hi, my name is Jess. I write fanfic. And it's fantastic!
"Tin Man." Azkadelia/Zero. I blame savvygal for the scrawny, crooked-earred, patchy-haired plot bunny...with the mange.
I can't explain it, but I'm really stuck on doing writing what essentially amount to Character Assassinations of Bobby Goren. Apart from the Irene Adler the forger's daughter fic (which I think I'm doing next), I just want to put him in the most absurd settings possible. Like as an FBI cult deprogrammer in 1970s Appalachia, dealing with polyester ties and a half-feral girl from the hills. Or as a dirty cop in Prohibition-era Philidelphia. Or as a US Consulate policeman-in-residence in 1950s Cambodia...where he could be dirty as well. It's getting a little ridiculous up in my imagination, and yet I just can't stop.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale
An Azkadelia/Zero Tin Man Fanfic
by Jessica (la_belle_dame)
(Please, someone stop me)
Imagine a room, no, imagine a bottle made of polished green glass. Imagine being trapped inside that bottle with every awful thought, every terrible impulse you’ve never had. Imagine them bearing down on you, pouring hate and pestilence down your throat day after endless day. Imagine watching helpless as something that’s not you spits out spells and curses, watching words of pain and poison tear apart the people you love best. Imagine something old as night and twice as dark imprisoning your mother, attacking your father, burying your beloved sister alive. Imagine it driving the girl you used to be further from your memory until you finally stop fighting to hold onto what little sanity you have left. Imagine that thing was called Witch.
* * *
“DG, I don’t want to go,” said Azkadelia, plucking at a loose thread on her skirt. It had been five months since the Witch’s Eclipse, as the palace courtiers were calling it. The people of the OZ called it freedom, but the Court was kind enough not to mention that in front of Azkadelia. At their parents’ urging, DG was mounting a realm-wide tour of the OZ, to see the people and more importantly, to let the people see their future queen. The sweet-faced girl from beyond the rainbow. The fabled younger sister. The untainted one.
DG kept trying to persuade Azkadelia to join the tour, as the palace would be essentially empty for six weeks. Most of the Court would accompany the new Crown Princess, despite most of them having just returned from exile or worse. Tin Man Cain, the captain of DG’s security detail, had mentioned more than once his preference for Azkadelia to come as well. It wasn’t that she wasn’t trusted to be alone in the palace. She was free of the Witch’s markings now. She wore no neck adornments or cosmetic paints so anyone who cared to look could see the unblemished stretch of pale skin at her throat. It was just, as her mother had said, that people got nervous sometimes. Azkadelia understood, but it smarted all the same. The thought made her pull harder at the trailing string. It sprang up toward with n a sudden, jerky unraveling.
“Az, you keep picking at that, you’ll have no clothes left.” Azkadelia had burned all the clothes the Witch wore on her body in front of the palace gates along with most of her long black hair. She hacked it off with a common kitchen knife, all the way up to her shoulders, and tossed it into the flames in front the assembled crowd. Ambrose-Called-Glitch said it had done excellent things for her standing among the people in the immediate area. Azkadelia couldn’t care less who saw her do what. She couldn’t sleep with that hair clustered around her head like a wreath of Nightmare Grass.
After the purging, DG had commissioned the OZ’s finest dressmakers to sew a new wardrobe for her sister. At first Azkadelia refused to even let the women take her measurements, preferring instead to keep to her room and wrap up in her grandmother’s antique shawls for warmth. In the end, DG had her own way and Azkadelia had dresses once more. They were simply designed, made with soft fabrics and muted colors. Her favorite one had cheery yellow piping along the ivory skirt. Azkadelia had run her fingers lovingly over the bright stripes and remembered wearing colors as a girl. Then she remembered what came after and ripped the piping off. She couldn’t stop playing with the dangling threads left from her alterations.
“Please, DG, I’d much rather stay here and…collect myself.”
DG pouted out her lip and shoved at her crown. As the future Queen of the OZ, DG now wore the Emerald and the Gold, the Crown of the Empire of the Outer Zones and Lands Beyond. It was a bulky, unattractive thing, rough-hewn gold set with thick cut green stones, and Azkadelia was immensely glad she wasn’t the one carting it around on her head. She did wear a circlet at DG’s insistence. “If I have to wear this business,” she’d said at dinner around a mouthful of food, “Then you have to wear something too.” Azkadelia’s was a thin band of silver with a cluster of river-pearls at each temple, more becoming to a low-status courtier than a princess. It suited her perfectly.
“Fine,” DG said, moping already. “Have it your way.” Azkadelia laughed and kissed her sister’s forehead, and the next morning woke to find the palace a ghost land. She spent most of the first few days in her rooms, staring out the window at the low hills in the distance. She slept late and wandered around the palace, slow leisurely walks through wide, vacant hallways, trailed as always by the boy.
Azkadelia had a security detail as well. She was, after all, still a princess despite what her father called ‘her unfortunate experience.’ It consisted of a dozen terrified palace guards she vaguely remembered from the haze of the Witch time. The boy was new, however, and interesting. Jeb was Tin Man Cain’s son, raised as a revolutionary somewhere in the OZ forests. He was hardly more than a child, but grave and blond enough to leave no doubt of his parentage. Azkadelia didn’t mind him or his air of completely indifferent superiority. She even liked his hair. It reminded her of someone.
He caught her looking at her during the second week of DG’s grand tour and before Azkadelia’s very eyes, changed from the captain of her guard into a sputtering, blushing teenage boy. He patted at his hair. “Is-is it sticking up? It does that sometimes. Fath—Tin Man Cain says it will stop doing that…eventually.” She smiled at him, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. He straightened and returned to his post with twice the severity as before.
It was in the third week that someone finally mentioned Zero. He didn’t even really mention it to her. No one talked directly to her and Azkadelia liked it that way. She overheard the name whispered between two of her guards. “Zero would never have let us smoke on the job,” murmured one to another on one of Azkadelia’s walks through the winter-brown gardens around the palace. She pretended not to hear and examined the dead foliage with excruciating care.
“Good riddance. The less of the Witch’s men around, the better.” The man flicked his rolled cigarette into a clump of wet leaves where it hissed like a frightened sandsnake.
She caught her breath at the name, more out of habit than fear. They didn’t notice and kept whispering. “Where is he now?” asked the first.
The second replied, “Dunno. Most likely rotting in some prison where he belongs.” Azkadelia stepped on a twig, which snapped loudly and the guards stopped talking.
When Azkadelia thought about it later that evening, she didn’t really have any memories of Zero. More like echoes of memories. Splinters of images she could only call up with enormous effort. She remembered his strong walk, his ability to inspire fear and loyalty. She remembered the brass buckles on his coat catching the light and making his hair look as pale as winter-wheat against the black of his uniform.
One memory in particular kept troubling her. She remembered, or at least she thought she remembered, him bending to kiss her knuckles in farewell, but instead of giving a quick, formal salute, turning her hand and pressing his mouth hard to the inside of her wrist. Azkadelia swung back and forth between being sure it happened and positive she imagined it. With the Witch gone and her memories in shambles, only he knew for certain. She spoke to Jeb the next morning and was climbing into the royal carriage by noon.
The road to the OZ’s high security detention center was a hard one and Azkadelia had a pounding headache by the time the thick, grey walls appeared on the horizon. Squat iron bars crisscrossed every window and the main gate took seven men to raise it. It was early evening by the time the Warden showed her to the isolation ward and the torch he held flickered and hissed with the dripping damp from the walls. The walk took less time than she’d anticipated and before she could collect her thoughts, Azkadelia found herself standing outside Zero’s cell. Her accompanying security guards took up positions on either side of the door and Azkadelia stepped through.
He was crouched against the far wall, idly tugging at the heavy manacles attached to each of his wrists. The chains attached in turn to large iron hoops on the wall, though the chains themselves were not iron. “Bronze, oak-marrow, and bone links are twice as strong as iron ever could be, milady,” said the Warden on the way down. “We don’t hold with these new-fangled iron-only chains here. We stick to the old ways. No one’s ever broken through a triple-bound, dwarf-made restraint.” Not that Zero seemed too interested in testing his bonds. He was looking at Azkadelia so intently that she felt overheated and uncomfortable.
He stood slowly and wobbled a little on his feet, as if he had not moved in quite some time. He walked toward her, and without thinking Azkadelia stepped back. This man had been the Witch’s first in command. For all she knew, there could be a sliver of it still in him somewhere. The way she feared there was something left inside of her. He opened and closed his mouth several times, and when he finally spoke, his voice was heavy and throaty. “Is- is it you?”
Azkadelia started and said cautiously, “I am the Princess Azkadelia. Do you –?”
“I know your name, but is it you?” He sounded as if he was on the verge of tears. Azkadelia couldn’t look him in the face, not with him staring at her like that. Like she was…she didn’t know what. Someone else.
“I—I’m me, if that’s what you mean.” Azkadelia felt the familiar rush of nausea and relief. “Your mistress is dead. Gone. I don’t know exactly where, but it’s…it’s gone.” She waited for him to react, to charge her, tear her throat out, call curses down on her head.
The feared General Zero, the right arm of the Witch of the OZ, dropped to his knees and Azkadelia watched as his shoulders heaved with something like sobs. She had to lean closer to understand his mutterings. “Oh,” he sighed over and over again. “Oh, my Queen. My Queen. My—”
“Enough!” Azkadelia shouted, flinging her hands out against the words. “Your Queen is gone and no amount of sniveling will bring it back to you. Stand on your feet like some semblance of a man.” Her memory of the Witch years might be patchy at best, but Azkadelia had been trained since infancy to be Empress, and one does not forget instruction like that. Zero rose to his feet as if wrenched up by puppet strings. He was staring at her again, and Azkadelia thought wildly that she preferred him on his knees if she couldn’t see those eyes. They were a startlingly clear blue and trained on her. In anyone else’s face, Azkadelia might think they looked…hurt.
“No,” he croaked. “The Witch is dead. And you’re you. And I—I – ” He faltered. He must have read the look on Azkadelia’s face because he fell back a step. “Do you remember me?”
“No,” said Azkadelia, nerves making her snappish and short. Zero staggered back another step until his back thumped against the wall. “Well, a little,” she amended and Zero’s face lit up. “That’s actually why I’m here.” She took a deep breath of stale, damp air. “When you served the Witch –”
“I served only you.” Zero’s voice was harsh and bitter, and it brought Azkadelia up short. “Only you, milady.” There was something lurking under the irony in his tone, but Azkadelia couldn’t make it out. She paced forward a little and tried to catch his gaze, which was now fixed firmly on the floor. He whispered again, mostly to himself, “Only you.”
“Zero,” Azkadelia said and he winced at his name. “Zero, what were you? To me, I mean.” This might be, Azkadelia thought as she waited for some kind of answer from the most dangerous man in the empire, the stupidest thing she could have done and it would serve her right if he pushed her up against a wall and—Azkadelia shook her head to clear it. Where had that come from?
Zero’s face was a study in neutrality now. “You don’t remember?” he asked, and if Azkadelia didn’t know better, she’d have thought her answer couldn’t matter less to him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “The Witch took so many of my memories…”
“You don’t remember.” It was not a question this time. Azkadelia floated toward him, one hand outstretched. She couldn’t help it. He sounded so defeated. So when he seized her wrist and levered himself off the wall and against her, she couldn’t have been more surprised. He held her arm tightly, keeping it straightened out and away from her body, his heavy fingers solid on the thin bones of her wrist. She started back and he swept forward in a mockery of dancing. His head was tilted to one side and in the flickering torch light, it looked as if he was seriously considering a question she had posed him, not steadily advancing on her.
He stopped just short of the full length of his chains and for some reason she couldn’t fathom, Azkadelia stopped as well. Her heart was pounding, and she wishes she could say it was only from fear, but that would make her a liar. “I don’t remember,” she said weakly, a note of pleading in her voice. Her wrist was beginning to throb in his grip and she flinched when he flexed his fingers. He pulled her arm in slowly and without looking away from her face, pressed her aching wrist to his mouth.
“Would you like to?” he asked around her skin, his voice low and obscene. It rasped along the inside of Azkadelia’s stomach and prickled down her back. There was a hot, awful moment when she was tempted to find out what it would feel like to scrape her nails across his cheek, but the sound of the guard outside coughing brought her back to her senses. She took one last step backwards, out of the reach of the restraints. She knocked sharply on the door and heard the guard undoing the latch. From behind her, Zero’s chain clanked together and against her better judgment, Azkadelia turned back to look at him. He was back against the wall again and for a feverish moment, she wondered if she imagined the whole scenario. “I’ll be seeing you, my Queen,” he said with the perfect balance of reverence and courtesy. If Azkadelia hadn’t been to feel where his lips burned into her arm, she’d think he’d given an exceptionally courtly farewell.
“I’m nobody’s Queen anymore,” she replied, but Zero gave a short, bow as the door closed nonetheless, his eyes on her face to the last. She kept toying with her wrist all the way home, trying to rid her skin of the ghost of his mouth. It didn’t work as well as she would have hoped.
To her surprise, the official carriage was being cleaned at the stable and a cadre of shuffling servants announced that her sister had returned for a short rest before the next leg of her tour. Azkadelia thanked her stars that DG would be there that night to lend a sympathetic ear. At least to the parts of the story Azkadelia was willing to relate.
DG didn’t appear at dinner, instead ordering a large tray up from the kitchens, and Azkadelia was forced to wait until the lamps were lit to slip down the hallway, her single candle shimmering on the polished black marble of the walls, and tap on DG’s door. There was a loud thump from inside and DG called out, “Just a minute!” Azkadelia listened to the sound of scuffling for a moment before DG hauled the door open and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
“Were you expecting someone else?” she asked, trying to peer around her sister into the room. A chair was lying on its side and the silken curtains on either side of the open window billowed out in the night breeze.
“It’s nothing,” said DG and waved Azkadelia in. She righted the chair and fluffed her hair a little. “I just can’t seem to get used to the whole servant thing. I thought you might be another one. They’re driving me nuts.”
“Is that why you came back to the palace?” Azkadelia wondered what it would have been like to live almost your whole life without the tightly structured hierarchy of the Court around you. She couldn’t even imagine it.
“I—um, I just needed—” DG floundered, her face turning red. “Az, it’s not –”
“It’s okay,” Azkadelia assured her. She took her younger sister’s hand and gave it a friendly squeeze. “You’re still getting used to all this. It’ll take time.” DG looked relived and squeezed back.
She asked, “Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?” Azkadelia remembered the feel of Zero’s kiss on her and pulled her hand back.
“Nothing really,” she said absently, settling herself down on a low blue satin chaise. After all, she reasoned to herself while DG chitchatted about the details of the tour, what could she possible say? She went to see the Witch’s ex-general and he…and she wanted…Azkadelia didn’t know what she wanted. For the hundredth time, she told herself that going back to see him again would solve nothing. Eventually, she stood and hugged her sister goodnight.
“You should shut that window,” she cautioned. “The wind is freezing.”
DG rubbed her arms for warmth and nodded. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Azkadelia stepped out into the hallway and called back over her shoulder. “Oh, and next time, DG, make sure to hide his hat.” She closed the door on her sister’s blanched face as she took in the Tin Man’s hat perched jauntily on her bedpost.
Azkadelia smiled all the way back to her rooms, but once she had pulled the heavy quilts over her, she laid staring up at her canopied bed, thinking about his whispered question. She punched her pillow once and rolled over, turning her back on any traitorous thoughts. After all, she had resolved not to go back and ask him what he meant by a promise like that. It was foolish to already have wasted so much time thinking about it. Princess Azkadelia closed her eyes and waited for sleep. She had made her decision.
She wondered how long it would last.