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the passion and the pain

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You know what this is. A single draft, and your Gift, and all you have accomplished with it, good or bad, will be forgotten. You can start again, no longer my little witch, just Fernanda. Good luck to you, however you choose.

Fern closed her hand tight around the phial, but did not touch the stopper. So here was an answer, provided by a friend with a fledgling soul. A moment to open the phial, a second to bring it to her lips, another to swallow . . . and Fern would no longer be a killer, no longer have to worry about Azmordis or any other enemies (and she could feel them, drawn ever closer every time she used her Gift). She would forget her lost love, Atlantis would be a mere myth, and her dreams would quiet. She could begin again. Or, rather, she would have never begun at all. She would be Fernanda Capel, sister, daughter, friend, successful career woman, and the world would leave her alone.

Fern wiped the tears from her eyes and buried the phial in the depths of her dressing table.

+

She met Will and Gaynor for drinks and dinner. Will was flush with the success of his India commission and his new live in girlfriend.

"Live in boyfriend," Gaynor said. "Whose flat is it?"

"The flat of a very happy couple. Married creeps will take one look at the soppy photos and run," Will said.

And they were happy. Happy in a simple way that was lost to Fern, lost ten thousand years ago or perhaps only months before, gone so completely that she couldn't see a glimmer of it. "Don't look back," she whispered to herself.

Gaynor and Will glanced at each other, a moment of communication that had nothing to do with anything but the magic of human love. Fern could feel their worry reach out to her and if she concentrated a little harder, she could hear their late night conversations about her. (They had nightmares, too, and some of them were of Fern disappearing. "Maybe I shouldn't go away," Will had said the night before. Gaynor shook her head. "We all have to keep moving forward, even Fern.")

They didn't ask Fern if she was okay and she didn't say she was. But she could be, Fern thought. She could be a normal sister, a normal friend. She and Will would've only had mundane childhood adventures, Gaynor would be her college best friend, their friendship further cemented through first jobs and bad relationships. Everything could be different.

+

"What if I wasn't a witch?" Fern asked. They hadn't planned to spend the night together, but after the accident on the motorway, Dane had clung to her, and Fern . . . she felt one layer peel off her inner core. The residue still clung to her, but she could almost glimpse what could be between her and Dane. So she invited him in and they fell into bed.

Dane had his arms around her and she felt his lips against her hair. "I don't think that's something you can stop being."

"I could," she said. She didn't glance over at her dressing table, but she didn't look at Dane either.

"A witch saved my life today," Dane said.

A witch nearly killed you today, Fern thought, and it wouldn't have been the first time. She should send Dane away now. She had imagined, once, a triumphant victory. Morgus defeated and Azmordis diminished. But she would always be on the top of Azmordis's hit list and anyone she cared about would always be marked. There would always be evil to fight and she was so tired.

"Hey," Dane said, and rolled over her. His hands were braced on either side of her face and she looked into his eyes and then away.

"Hey," he said again, more softly. "I like you the way you are, magic powers and all."

But you don't know, she thought desperately. You don't know what I've done, where I've been. You don't know what you're risking.

He leaned down to kiss her and--for a moment--she forgot today, forgot what was hidden in her dressing table, forgot, forgot, forgot.

+

She drove down to Yorkshire one weekend. She hadn't quite meant to, but the Tower was clouding her thoughts and she had to get away. When she arrived, she couldn't enter the house, and started walking. At some point, Ragginbone and Lougarry joined her side and they walked for hours, revising all the places they'd been so many times when she was younger.

"What if you could go back?" she asked. "Regain your powers?"

"Ah," said Ragginbone, "But there is no going back in this world."

"Not this world," Fern said.

Ragginbone gave her a long look. "We are who this world has made us, mistakes and all. Would I take back what I've done? It is no use to ask such questions."

"But I can't bear it," Fern said, and the words echoed across the field.

"And are you the only one who has made a mistake in the world?" Ragginbone asked. "If mistake it was. You have a Gift--"

"A curse."

"A responsibility," Ragginbone said. "You have seen evil in this world. You have defeated it. Did you think it would come without a price?"

"It is too high."

"Did you think it wouldn't be?"

And Lougarry wound herself between them. I could go back

"So she could," Ragginbone said. "Or she could leave me. But she chooses to stay."

+

When she got back to the house, she called Dane. "I haven't been here since--that is, the last time I was here was with--"

And Dane listened to her uncharacteristic stumbling and told her he would be right there. Fern waited in her car for him with the heat turned up high and regretted calling him. She put him in danger every time she called. It wasn't fair.

"I shouldn't have called," she said, when Dane arrived. "You don't have to be here."

"I know," Dane said. "You're a witch. You can take care of yourself."

"And if I wasn't a witch?"

Dane drew her into his arms and hugged her. "Would you still be you?"

She stilled for a moment. "There's so much I haven't told you."

"I know," he said.

She glanced up at him and he grinned and said, "I might not have magic powers, but I can pick up on a thing or two."

"I'm not safe."

"I don't imagine most witches are."

She pulled away and let herself imagine would it would be like to tell him everything. Gaynor had stayed, but they'd had years of friendship and college secrets. She and Dane had only months.

"Do you want to stay or leave?" Dane asked

Too many choices, Fern thought, and this one seemed important in its own right. But she looked at the house and looked at Dane, the friendly American, who maybe or maybe didn't believe she was a witch, and took his hand and led him into the house.

+

Fern dreamt of Atlantis that night, for the first time in a long while. She was sixteen years old and nearly completely innocent of the world. She escaped through the tunnels with Raf and they made love, that first exploration of desire that she couldn't let go of. And then the throb of the drums grew louder and she was in the temple with the priests chanting and--

"Fern?"

She woke to Dane's gentle touch on her arm.

"You stopped the dream," she said, and drew him down to her.

Later, as she began drifting to sleep, she said, "Perhaps I'll stay a witch after all."

+

The phial grew dusty in its drawer. She found it months later when looking for a lost earring.

"I wonder," she said, "if a royal burglar might steal this from me."

She left it on the dressing table and didn't look back.