Actions

Work Header

Across My Memory

Chapter Text

As she rolled out of bed, Jenny cursed every god she could possibly think of. When her bare feet hit the lilo she bit back a shriek as cold jabbed at her feet and sent the sensation through her legs, and the frigid morning air did not help. She stumbled in the almost complete darkness in her t-shirt before her hands managed to find her sweat pants and she pulled them on, all the while her alarm clock played its infernal tune of “beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep”, drilling into her head.

“Shut up!” she snapped, slamming her fist on it to turn the damn thing off. “Jonathan?” Jenny opened her door and marched down the hall with the intention of pounding on her brother’s door, only to hear his voice coming from the kitchen.

“I’m up!” Jenny ran the short distance to the kitchen to see her 15-year-old brother sitting on the kitchen table, bowl of cereal in hand and school uniform on. On, not at, despite the many lectures she had given him about how he should definitely not put his ass where they eat. “Chill.”

“Don’t tell me to chill,” she sighed but there was nothing behind her words. After a few seconds of silence, he slid off the table. “Good boy. I’ll go get dressed.”

“I’ll put on your coffee,” he called back. Despite everything, her lack of sleep, the impending long day ahead of her, which would no doubt bring asshole customers, she smiled. She had her brother around to do angelic things like this, so how bad could it be?

                                                                                                                *****

Killian’s hand squeezed Emma’s softly, his thumb running over her knuckles and Emma allowed a small giggle to escape her lips. She hated clichés, always did and always would, but she did feel if she was any happier she would burst.

Her family stood behind her. She knew her father was crying, sap that he was. But she was her father’s girl after all. Her mother was managing to keep herself composed, which Emma saw as a minor miracle. She half expected her mother to burst into tears before she even reached the altar. Then there was her little brother. She had talked her mother into allowing Robert to wear dress much more casually for her wedding, knowing that he would feel much more comfortable in his shirt and breeches than any kind of princely garments.

Then there was her son. Her amazing, beautiful son sat closest to the alter, his hands clasped together so tightly his poor knuckles would be turning white as he beamed at her. He was trying so hard to hide how bored he was. And she loved him for it.

“If you’d like to recite your vows?” the priest asked.

“Emma,” Killian began. His voice trembled, and Emma tightened her grip on his hand. “When we met I was a broken, desperate man who only cared about getting my revenge, however bloody that path would be. But then we met, and you took me on that quest to save your parents and everything changed. You inspired me and showed me that goodness still exists in a soul even when it’s shrouded in darkness, you just have to fight for it. You showed me how to fight, like you did. You are the bravest and kindest person I have met, and I pledge the rest of my days to holding you and helping you as you progress to ruling this land, and to never for one second make you feel as though you are any less than perfection.”

Emma couldn’t stop a tear rolling down her face and Killian lifted his hand to gently wipe it away. She felt like she was perfection in that moment, with her subjects gathered around her, her family watching her and Killian pledging his love to her.

“Killian. I was raised on stories of true love and those epic romances. But the thing is I never thought it was in the cards for me. I thought that being a Princess stopped me from getting that. Then I almost knew some sort of love and then I lost it and I lost all hope. But then I met you and everything changed. You’ve seen all of me, the good, the bad, the inbetween, and you loved all of it. You make me feel like, no matter what gets thrown at me, I can overcome it. I want you to be my partner in everything I do, for the rest of our lives.”

“Do you, Killian Jones, take this woman to be your wife, and promise to love, honour and obey her until death do you part?”

“I do.”

“Do you, Princess Emma, take this man to be your husband, and promise to love, honour and obey her until death do you part?”

“I do.” Every fibre in Emma’s body felt like it would burst. If she could, she’d take this single moment and hold onto it. She saw herself in ten years, being worried and confused with the duties of being Queen, and just allowing this one memory to calm her.

Just before her and Killian’s lips could touch, the doors to the ballroom flew open.

Emma had never seen the woman who came in, but she didn’t need to. Her reputation preceded her. Despite falling from grace, she still walked with the arrogance of a false queen. Dressed in black from head to toe, Emma remembered that her mother told her it was “her colour, it matched her soul”. Age had taken its toll on her; her raven hair had begun to turn grey.

She was the one who haunted Emma’s dreams as a young girl and she had prayed she would never see her. She took comfort in the fact that her parents had banished her to the depths of the wilderness, where she would live out her days in misery and pain.

“The Evil Queen!” Grumpy exclaimed, sending a gasp rippling throughout the crowd. As she approached the altar, Emma could see the resemblance to her portrait that her mother insisted on keeping. Except where she looked softer, kinder in the pictures, what was before her looked like a statue come to life. There was nothing to her features, no warmth or humanity. Just a smirk that promised destruction.

“How dare you show your face here!” her father roared as he unsheathed his sword and marched towards her. A flick of the Queen’s wrist and red magic ran through him, freezing him in place.

“Father, no!” Emma shouted, running from the alter to her father. She sighed in relief when she felt a pulse underneath her fingertips.

“Calm down dear, he’s not dead.” The Queen stepped forwards and forcefully grabbed her chin.

“I’d thank you to keep your paws off my wife,” Killian snarled, grasping the handle of his sword.

“I won’t harm her. Or any of you pathetic little creatures. My visit is social.” The Queen dropped her chin and turned to address the crowd. “For I bring a gift for the newlyweds. My gift to you is this happy, joyful day. For tomorrow, I finish what I promised twenty-three years ago. I cast my curse.”

“You can’t,” Emma said through gritted teeth. Of all the nightmares, the idea of the Dark Curse haunted her the most. Being trapped in a different mind, far from her family, trapped in an endless, miserable day. “My parents told me they stripped you of your magic, you can’t cast this curse.”

“Magic, my dear, can be taken. Just like your parents took mine, I took magic from another. Enough to cast my curse and doom you and the rest of your family to the misery you deserve. On the day of your darling son’s seventh birthday, everything you have will be mine.”

“Not on my watch, Your Highness,” her mother shouted, causing Emma to flinch. Snow pushed her way through the crowd with her father’s sword in her hand. “The only one who deserves misery is you!”

She swung at the Queen, but in a puff of black smoke, she was gone. The sword sliced the thin air.

                                                                                         *****

“You’re late,” Granny called as Jenny slid in the door. “Nine means nine, girl. Not nine oh five.”

“I know, Ms Lucas, and I’m so sorry,” she sighed. “Thing is, Jonathan’s bus was late, and I don’t like to leave until I see him get on the bus and then I ran here as fast as I could….” She stopped when she saw Mrs Lucas smile.

“You’re lucky I have a soft spot for you and that brother of yours, Jenny Bird.” Jenny allowed herself to smile as Mrs Lucas patted her on the shoulder. “Now come on, lasagne won’t defrost itself.”

If there was a God, Jenny would thank them over and over for Mrs Lucas for giving her this job no questions asked. Granny’s, the diner she ran with her granddaughter Ruby, was always her and Jonathan’s favourite childhood spot. She remembered her parents taking them every Friday and splitting ice cream sundaes with them. Chocolate for her and her dad, strawberry for her mom and Jonathan.

Then there was the car crash. No more parents, no more ice cream sundaes, no more Friday night trips to Granny’s. Just a confused and sad eight-year-old and a terrified sixteen-year-old with no money and no means of providing for him. Granny had come to her after delivering another casserole one night and whispered to her that if she wanted, she could take a part time job at her place. Job meant money, and money meant paying the rent, getting food, they bought themselves and most importantly, it meant Mayor Mills might not ship Jonathan off to a foster home like she threatened to do every time she saw them together.

It didn’t mean she enjoyed it. It was long hours, stressful work, especially at the lunch rush, ungrateful customers, few tips. But it gave her money and put the day in. So, she couldn’t complain.

Emma went about her day, serving and cleaning tables, washing dishes, handing out to go orders. When she started she had been awful, mixing up orders, missing customers, forgetting to clean a table but now she ran through it like a professional. As if she was born to clean tables.

“All right, Leroy, enjoy your burger,” she said with just the right amount of sarcasm in her voice as she handed Leroy a to-go bag.

“Don’t tell me what to do, sister,” he scoffed. Of all the customers, Leroy had to be her least favourite.

Second least favourite she thought as the bell jingled and the Mayor entered, her son in tow.

“Hello Madam Mayor,” she greeted with a warm smile on her face, doing everything but drop to her knees and beg “please see me as a good and responsible guardian for my brother.” Regina cast a quick glance at her, nose wrinkled. Jenny wondered why she chose to take her son to eat in a place she clearly saw as beneath her.

“Indeed, Miss Bird. Still working here?”

“Just haven’t found my true calling yet,” Emma chirped, while wondering if shoving the steak knife through her skull would be worth it.

“I hope for your brother’s sake you find it soon,” she said, the conversation quickly becoming a lecture. “Do you know how much a year at the University of Maine would cost for him?”

“Madam Mayor, he’s 16. I think it’s a little early to be thinking colleges,” she answered, laughing nervously.

“Is it?” She placed a hand on the back of Henry’s head. “The minute Henry was taken home, I started investing in college fund. I want him to be able to attend the school of his choice. You and Jonathan haven’t had that conversation, I assume?”

“No ma’am,” Jenny sighed. “We haven’t.”

“Let me give you some facts, Miss Bird. One year at the University of Maine would cost you over $24,000. And that’s here. What if he wants to go somewhere else? I doubt you will be able to scrape up half that money if you are stuck here for the next two years.” Jenny curled her hand into a fist. “But a nice foster family, a well-off foster family, they could send him anywhere he wants to go.”

“He doesn’t need a foster family,” Jenny argued. “He has me.”

“You?” the Mayor scoffed. “A high school drop out with no qualifications, no prospects, no future?”

“I’m taking night classes to get myself back on track,” she told her. The Mayor’s eyebrows shot up and her mouth fell into an ‘oh’ of surprise.

“Is that so?”

“Yes. Mr Elliot from the high school is teaching me literature. He says I could pass and maybe if I apply myself and take more classes get my diploma. Maybe even go to college myself.”

“Indeed. Well I suppose that is nice to hear.” The Mayor shook her head, her lips pressed into a hard line. “Who knows? Perhaps you’ll surprise us all. Now onto my order, I’ll take a black tea.”

“No problem, Mayor Mills.” Jenny’s eyes fell on Henry’s small face, eyes glued to the jar of lollipops on the counter. “And if you want, little man can have a lollipop. They’re on the house.” Henry burst into a smile and he jumped slightly, tongue poking out already.

“I do hope you don’t feed Jonathan like that,” the Mayor sighed, eyeing the lollipops as if they were slugs that had slithered over her shoes. “Sugar is the enemy of child growth.” Henry tugged on his mother’s hand, silently pleading with her. “But I suppose one can’t hurt.”

Minutes later, Regina was seated at the table at the window, sipping on her tea while Henry made small talk with her.

“Poor kid,” she muttered so that only Ruby could hear. Ruby’s eyes flicked up from her phone momentarily to watch the scene.

“Can’t imagine it’s easy, living with her,” she agreed.

“Like some sort of backwards Annie,” Jenny sighed. She couldn’t explain it, but she had always had a soft spot for Henry. The Mayor said that she had adopted when he was weeks old after the birth mother put up a closed adoption. In the Mayor’s words, she had ‘wanted nothing to do with him’ and never missed an opportunity to talk about how much she had saved him.

If you asked Jenny, she would say it seemed the Mayor didn’t want much to do with her son either. She would see them out together, with him almost stumbling over himself to keep up with her long strides, and she didn’t care to look back. His tiny fingers fidgeted at his side or in his coat pocket while a black leather handbag hung from her perfectly manicured hands. She would glance around the street with ice in her eyes and he would look like a lost puppy at every candy store and toy shop and friend they passed.

Part of Jenny wished she could take the kid off the Mayor and let him live with her and Jonathan.

Henry glanced up at her and she poked out her tongue. When he did the same, she wanted nothing more than to lift him out of there and never turn back.

                                                                                                ******

“Calm down, my love,” Killian pleaded with her as she stormed into her chambers, tearing off the crown of flowers she had chosen instead of a veil.

“I can’t calm down, Killian,” she told him. “Not when the Evil Queen is going to take back everything that she wants. She’s going to tear us all apart forever.”

“Emma.” He took her face in his hand and pressed a kiss to her golden hair. “Nothing in the world could separate us.”

“He’s right,” her father said as he came in with her mother. “Nothing can tear this family apart.”

“Where’s Henry?” she asked.

“In his room with your brother,” Snow said.

“Is he okay?”

“As well as can be expected. He’s shaken up, he’s scared, but he’s okay.”

Emma rubbed her forehead and started pacing.

“Henry turns seven in two months. Less than that. What do we do?” she asked, more to herself than anyone else.

“Emma, calm yourself,” her father begged. “We defeated the Evil Queen before, we can do it again.”

“And how long did that take?” she asked. “You had years of war and fighting and even then, you barely even survived. We don’t have that!”

“We don’t have a way to stop her,” her mother agreed. “But we might have found a way to keep you safe. The wardrobe.”

Emma’s stomach clenched. She knew the stories of course, that her parents planned to put her in a wardrobe and she would come back to break the curse and save them. It never came to pass, of course. But she would grow up alone, unloved, unwanted. Believing her parents hated her. That was the worst curse Regina could have ever cast.

“I-I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t go and leave you behind. Leave Robert and Henry behind-”

“Emma, it is your destiny,” her father insisted. “You are the first child of our True Love.” Tears welled in his eyes as he cupped her face. “I wish to the gods it didn’t have to end like this. I want you to stay here, in this realm, and rule your kingdom as it was meant to be.”

“This is only a precaution,” Snow whispered. “She may not even cast her curse.” David smiled and reached out for his wife. “We defeated her once and we will surely do so again.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Mama,” Emma said, smiling softly. She took her mother’s hand and let her lead her down the hall to her old nursery.

                                                                                                *****

“Mr Elliot.” Elliot looked up to see the Mayor standing in his classroom door. The kids had long cleared out by then; he was staying behind to catch up on some extra marking.

“Madam Mayor,” he greeted. “What can I do for you?” She stalked into his classroom, eyeing the chairs and desks with disdain. “Here, take my seat.” He got up and stood awkwardly across from her as she settled in his leather chair.

“I’m here because I have heard you have been teaching Jenny Bird,” she said calmly. “Is this true?”

“Yes, it is,” he said, puffing his chest out. “And she is doing fantastically, Miss Mills. And who knows, maybe when she gets more time, maybe when her brother moves out, she can take even more classes, and she-”

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard all about her plans for a diploma and college,” she sighed, waving her hand dismissively. “Mr Elliot, do you really believe that that is in Miss Bird’s best interests?”

“How could it not be?” he chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “I mean, she’s such a bright young girl, and her education was cut short. I only want to see her succeed in life. She deserves as much of a chance as anyone else.”

“And what about Jonathan?”

“Jonathan?” he repeated dumbly.

“Yes, Jonathan Bird, her younger brother,” the Mayor went on.

“I know who Jonathan Bird is, I just don’t understand what he has to do with his sister and her studies,” Elliot said. “He is as bright as his sister, although I daresay he could learn a thing or two about drive from her.”

“Yes, he is bright. And he needs to stay on track to success. And what he does not need is his sister, and guardian, distracted by commitments like this.” Elliot took in a deep breath and counted to five,

“Mayor Mills, I’m sure Jenny can manage just fine, as she has been for the past seven years since she lost her parents.” He perched himself on the edge of the desk. “Look, since she lost her parents, she has had nothing. She’s had to work to support herself and her brother, as well as raising him since she was still a kid herself. She needs this.”

“Well that’s my point isn’t it?” she snapped. “I am a mother, and I work. I don’t take time off from raising my son to do pointless activities, no matter how much I may want to. And how do you think not having his sister around for the better part of the day will affect Jonathan?”

“Mayor Mills, it is two hours, twice a week,” he pleaded. “I can cut back, but really, it’s barely taking a dent in her life.”

“Yes, you can cut back,” she said. “Stop the lessons altogether. Let her raise her brother in peace, instead of filling her head with this nonsense about colleges. And then, when her brother has grown, you can start again, maybe.”

“Mayor Mills, please,” he sighed. “Don’t do this. These lessons mean the world to her, to take them away would break her heart.”

“And build her character,” she replied, standing up from the seat. “Do it, Mr Elliot, if you have either of the Bird children’s best interests at heart.”

“And if I refuse?” Elliot’s voice was much smaller than he had intended it to be. The Mayor’s mouth quirked into a smile and she took one calculated step towards him.

“How do you think social services will react when they hear a 15-year-old boy’s legal guardian has been leaving him to have private meetings with one of his teachers?” She held up a hand to silence him before he could protest. “You know how persuasive I can be. Or have you forgotten how you got this job? Stop the lessons. And I know you know better than to mention my name.”

The Mayor strolled casually out of his classroom, dusting off her jacket as she went.

                                                                                                                ******

Emma felt Killian’s arms wrap around her as he steadied her. She was strong, she knew she was, but the sight that greeted them in the nursery was too much for her to handle.

The wardrobe, the one that was meant to be their salvation, or at least a tiny glimmer of hope, had been burned to ashes.

Her knees gave out and Killian tightened his grip on her, swaying slightly and stroking her hair. It was basic instinct to him now. She heard him mutter “no” under his breath, saw him look to her parents in horror.

“This can’t be happening,” Emma choked out. “How can she have gotten in here? How can she have known about the wardrobe?”

I thought you all put an enchantment on the lock to stop anyone who wasn’t of your blood from coming in,” Killian said. The enchantment was put on when the Queen was first banished. The magic even prevented Emma herself from being able to enter the room until she was a teenager. “A precaution” was what her parents had called it. “Nothing more” they had said. “The Queen will never come back.”

Emma could have laughed. Instead she settled for burying her face in her now-husband’s chest and choking back a sob.

“Tell me there is a way out of this,” she sighed.

“We’ll find a way, we always do,” her mother insisted. Emma shook her head. The sick feeling in her stomach worsened, threatening to bring up her breakfast.

“I need a moment,” she mumbled and stormed out of the room. Faintly, she heard Killian move to follow her only to be stopped by her father. Emma pressed her hand to her mouth to muffle her cries.

“Always a shame to see a bride crying on her wedding day,” a familiar voice remarked.

“Merlin!” Emma exclaimed as she saw her former tutor, apparently having appeared out of nothing and leaning against the wall opposite her. “Don’t you ever knock?”

“I could but where’s the fun in that?” he smirked.

“Merlin, the Queen is back,” Emma began. “She’ll cast her curse and we have two months to figure out how to stop her.”

“I know, Emma, I know,” he said. “I have something-”

“You do? What is it? Tell me!” Laughing slightly, Merlin placed his hands on her shoulders.

“I think this may be something your parents would like to hear as well.” He offered her his arm and she gave a weak smile. She let him lead her back into the nursery.

“Merlin!” Snow greeted with a smile, the kind of smile that said she knew everything would be all right. Emma envied her mother’s optimism.

“I heard about the Evil Queen. And I think I have a solution,” he said.

“You can stop the curse from being cast?” Killian asked. Merlin looked at him. Merlin was the closest thing Emma had to an older brother, and so when she first began seeing Killian, Merlin gave him the same treatment as her father had. The two had come to some form of alliance, even though Killian had remarked that Merlin was one of the few things in this realm that could scare him.

“No. No one can. But I have these.” Merlin opened his hand and showed them two black stones.

“Memory magic?” Emma asked, remembering learning about pebbles that could store memories from Elsa when she visited Arendelle. “How will this help us?”

“The curse will strip us of all our memories of who we once were,” he explained. “Think of these as back-ups. We can store our memories in here and find them when we’re under.” He took a deep breath. “Unfortunately, these are the only two we can take.”

“Can’t we get more from Arendelle?” Emma asked.

“These are the only ones that will work in the Land Without Magic,” he told her. “So now we choose which two get to keep their memories.”

“Emma,” Killian said immediately. “Emma should keep hers.”

“He’s right,” her father agreed. “You were the original Saviour and you have the most control over your magic. You need to keep yours.” Merlin chucked one pebble through the air and Emma caught it.

“Now that just leaves this one.” Merlin looked from Snow, to David, to Hook. “Who should join her?”

“You should,” Emma said. Merlin pretended to be shocked, but the way he smiled told her otherwise. She smiled back. “I’ll need you if things go south. You’re the only other one with magic and the wisest man we know.”

“Wisest person,” he corrected her. “Just to clarify. But I accept. Sleep with that stone under your pillow tonight and it will absorb your memories. Then have it on you when the curse hits.”

“Then I’ll remember who I am?”

“Not quite. You’ll only be able to access your memories when you need them most. When your cursed life is the darkest.”

                                                                                                *****

The moment the clock struck four, Jenny ran to clock out, hurriedly lifting her jacket from the rack.

“You’re in a rush today,” Granny remarked. “Home isn’t going anywhere you know.”

“I have a lesson today,” she explained. “With Mr Elliot. And he’ll kill me if I’m late.” After bidding farewell to Granny and Ruby, she ran out the door and to her house to grab her backpack before running to the high school, slowing down only when she called Jonathan.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I’ll do my homework and watch bad TV.”

“Okay. I’ll be back at six to make dinner so stay out of the cookie jar,” she ordered. She smiled when she heard him sigh on the other end. “Love you.”

“Love you too, sis.” He hung up just as she reached the steps of the high school.

Dropping out had been one of the hardest and most brutal decisions she had ever made. She didn’t care if it made her sound weird, Jenny adored school. She didn’t even mind getting up so early, she had loads of friends, she got on with teachers, she aced every class, she loved learning. It was amazing for her.

Then her parents died, Regina insisted she get a job or Jonathan would have to be sent away and she dropped out of high school. She and her friends drifted further and further apart until they eventually stopped talking to each other. The only learning she got was from documentaries on YouTube or library books, until the damn library closed down. Teachers regarded her with a friendly wave in the streets or a nod, but nothing else. She had gone from golden girl to outcast in all of six months.

So, when Mr Elliot, whom she had always adored, contacted her and asked about English literature classes, how could she refuse?

Jenny took the stairs two at a time until she reached Mr Elliot’s classroom. She found him leaning on the desk, his fingers tapping on the wood.

“Hey, Mr Elliot,” she greeted, sitting at a desk and pulling her books out of her bag. “You’re going to be so proud of me, I had a bunch of new thoughts over the last chapter and I thought we could start by-”

“Jenny,” he interrupted. “We need to talk.” Jenny frowned. He was never this sombre. Even at his most serious, he managed to have a smile.

“What is it?” she asked, trying to shake the uneasiness off.

“Jenny, I think it may be for the best if we stop the lessons.” He may as well have hit her.

“Stop?” she croaked out. “Why? Am I failing?”

“No, no of course not,” he said. “It’s just, with all your other commitments, your job, Jonathan, you can’t afford any distractions.”

“I’m not distracted,” she shouted before taking a deep breath and trying to compose herself. “I’m not. I work hard all the time, I cook every meal for Jonathan, I get him to bed on time, I do his laundry. Mr Elliot, I can balance myself here.”

“But how long can you do that, Jenny? How long before we start taking longer with our lessons? And Jonathan’s waiting at home with no dinner-”

“He’s sixteen he can cook for himself!” Emma exclaimed. Hot tears blurred her vision. “He’s not helpless.”

“I know that Jenny. But social services won’t. What if they do decide to check up on you and find you have been leaving him alone, without supervision? What will they do then?” Jenny gripped the desk so tightly her knuckles turned white, desperate for something to ground her. “And it’s taking up my time too. I have exams to grade, serious exams, and I can’t give them the attention they need if I’m teaching you. Jenny, I think you know this is for the best.”

“I don’t think that,” she mumbled pathetically. “I don’t. But if that’s what you think then fine.”

She lifted her bag and stormed out of the classroom, not even bothering to pick up her books as she left.

                                                                                                *****

“Jen?” Jonathan asked when she came in. “You’re home early, did Mr Elliot cancel?”

“You could say that,” she spat. She avoided his eyes as she ran to her bedroom. Her brother would not see her cry.

Once in the safety of her own room, she let the tears come. With her face buried in her pillow, sobs wrecked her body, choking on them. Her pillow grew so wet she couldn’t lie on it anymore, flinging it to the other side of the room and pressing her face onto the mattress instead.

She didn’t want to admit it, but she needed those classes. Between raising Jonathan and working she never got a chance to be herself except for those classes with Mr Elliot. Pouring over a novel, picking it apart and taking every detail, expanding on every metaphor, travelling with the characters, laughing, crying, gasping, receiving endless praise from Mr Elliot for her efforts. That had been an oasis for her.

When she opened her eyes, she saw a purple pebble sitting on her bed. It must have been under her pillow the whole time. She had no idea how it had got there.

Her head throbbed, even more so when she sat up. She lifted the rock in her hand. It was smooth as glass and cold, which was welcome to her hot skin. If she didn’t know better, she’d have said it sparkled.

“Can you grant wishes?” she asked it, another sob bubbling up in her throat. “I could use a wish right now.”

A tear slipped from her face and landed on the pebble.

The Enchanted Forest, her castle, ballgowns and swordfights, open seas and green fields, picnics with her family, laughing in the forest, chasing her brother, a kiss under the stars, her mother’s laugh, her father’s hug, her son’s kisses and her lover’s passion, lessons in the woods, in her room, leather bound books with ancient pages, a white dress and a crown of flowers and a dark cloud, promises, farewells, “I love you”s and goodbyes.

Emma, not Jenny, Emma, that was her name, dropped the rock. It had gone back to black, the way it had looked when Merlin gave it to her.

Merlin. Mr Elliot.

The curse.

Two lives, two sets of memories, waged war in her mind. Jenny, the waitress, the girl next door, the girl with two much on her plate, and Emma, the princess, the one with magic, the heir to the throne, the girl who read magic books when her mother thought she slept. Jenny was the dream, Emma was the reality. Jenny was her cursed self.

“Holy crap,” Emma sighed.