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If Only

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At some point, every person’s life is, to one degree or another, defined by the words ‘If Only.’ The Wolcott twins are no exception to this, and indeed are an especially tragic example. The tale of Jack and Jill has an air of destiny about it, and it might be easy to think that it could never possibly end any other way. Perhaps this is because it involved so many elements that were completely out of either twin’s control (to a degree that neither Jack nor Jill ever fully realized), or perhaps it had more to do with the grim finality of the choices the two girls made concerning the elements that were under their control. Regardless, one could be forgiven for believing that the story of Jack and Jill was pre-ordained to end as it did. One would be wrong, of course, but after all, to err is only human.

There are, in fact, an uncountable number of different possible directions for the story of Jack and Jill Wolcott to take. The problem is that most (if not all) of them depend on the adults in their lives —both in their birth world and their true Home— being much better people than they were capable of being. In a universe where Chester and Serena Wolcott cared about their daughters beyond the roles they’d forced upon them, or were even decent enough to allow their girls' beloved Gemma Lou to remain in their house, the story might have been so radically different that Jack and Jill might never have been called to the Moors at all. Such a story, while certainly healthier for all involved, is as unlikely as it is uninteresting, and as such is hardly worth exploring.

On the Moors’ side, a universe in which the Master was less selfish about his love, who allowed or even encouraged Jill to have a life that didn’t revolve entirely around him and who understood how important it was for her to have a relationship with her sister would likewise be a good deal healthier and likewise be every bit as implausible as one in which the Wolcotts were good or even halfway decent parents. It is therefore equally unworthy of consideration. No, we will instead look at a story with only the smallest of changes to the beginning, a change that nonetheless ripples outward until it has irreversibly altered the course of the raging river that is the tale of Jack and Jill.

Here we see Gemma Lou, heartbroken after being told she must leave her beloved granddaughters to the so-called care of their parents. Here we see her quietly packing her suitcases as she prepares to leave…and pausing, looking pensive and careworn, though of course none were there to see it. No. She cannot let it end like this. She cannot let those children believe she was willingly abandoning them, and on the night of their fifth birthday, no less. She briefly considers slipping into their room to say goodbye, but quickly decides against it. Serena and Chester will undoubtedly be watching to make sure she doesn’t do just that, thereby upsetting the girls and causing a Scene. Instead she quietly rips a blank page out of her journal and writes them a brief letter reminding them both of her love and of the importance of loving each other. This done, she hides the letter in the trunk containing all of the dress-up items she’d collected for the girls over the years. She knows that it might be a while yet before the girls find it, but somehow she is sure that find it they will, and can only hope that when they do, they will understand. Indeed, here in the safety of the trunk the letter will not be found and confiscated by her son and daughter-in-law, and here it will not be found at all until the day after Jack and Jill’s seventh birthday, when Jack, having stolen the key to Gemma Lou’s room the previous day, quietly leads her sister into the forbidden room where they had once spent so much of their time. They soon find the letter under the pirate sword, and after reading it can for a short time do no more than stare mutely at it, barely comprehending what they were seeing.

My darling girls, I’m going to miss you more than you can possibly imagine. Please know that I am not leaving you by choice, and would give anything to stay with you and watch you grow up into the fine young ladies I know you’re going to be one day. Since I cannot be there to take care of you, I ask that you take care of each other for me. Never forget how important your bond is, and never forget that you’re the only ones who can decide who you want to be. I hope you always remember that no matter what, I will love you until the end of time and beyond.

All my love,
Gemma Lou

“She didn’t forget how to love us,” Jill says after a moment, her voice shaking. “They lied to us. They lied to us.”

Jack, who had long suspected this, even if she couldn’t yet put into words why, merely nods. There is no question of showing the letter to their parents, who would more likely than not take both it and the key to Gemma Lou’s room and hide them where neither of the girls could ever hope to find them. Instead they take it in turns to carry the letter with them at all times, frequently unfolding it and rereading it with the sort of reverence usually reserved for holy texts.

Despite this, both Jack and Jill continue to struggle and chafe under their parents’ rules and the roles that had been set out for them, and even rereading their grandmother’s words for the hundred thousandth time could only help so much. So it comes to be that on one exceptionally stormy day when the girls are twelve and a half, they sneak up to Gemma Lou’s room for lack of anything better to do, and open the costume trunk to reveal an impossible set of stairs. Here the story continues as usual, with the two of them walking down the seemingly endless staircase until they pass through a door marked “Be Sure,” though they aren’t yet sure at all.

***

See them run through the field with wild abandon, free (for now) of all expectations. See Jack asking Jill which way they ought to go. See them rest under the ever watchful, ever judging eye of the blood-red moon. See them approach the village gate, hand in hand, and meet a strange, beautiful, nameless man who bids them call him ‘Master.’ See the story begin to change shape as Jill, more attuned to her sister than she might have been without the Letter, notices Jack’s trepidation and begins to take their situation a little more seriously, though she doesn’t yet know why her sister would distrust such a nice man. See how she still can’t understand why Dr. Bleak appeals to Jack. See them sharing a bedroom for the last time in their lives, though neither one knows this yet.

“Do you think they’ll let us both stay?” she asks blearily as she fights to stay awake. If she doesn’t fall asleep, then she can’t wake up and find out it was all just a dream. She isn’t ready for that. Not just yet.

Jack hesitates before replying. “No, I don’t think they will. The Master—” and here she shudders, though Jill doesn’t see her do so, “he says he wants to keep us both, but I don’t think Dr. Bleak will let him.”

“So then which of us gets to stay and which of us has to go with that creepy doctor?” Jill asks with a yawn, her own preferences crystal clear.

“I think you should get to stay,” Jack replies slowly, her hand unconsciously moving to clutch the Letter, which is still safely tucked into her pocket along with Gemma Lou’s key.

Jill’s eyes, previously seconds away from fluttering shut for the night, widen as she sits up in bed. “You- you’d really do that for me?”

Jack can’t quite meet her twin’s eyes as she nods quietly. If Jill wants to think her sister is making a sacrifice for her, well, Jack isn’t going to tell her any different. Somehow she doesn’t think Jill would fully understand or appreciate her true reasons.

So it is that in the morning, when Mary brings the girls their breakfast, both girls look at each other and nod.

“Wait,” says Jack as Mary turns to leave the room. “We’ve decided who we want to go with.”

“Very good, miss. Shall I go inform the Master and the Doctor while you finish your breakfast?”

“Yes, please,” Jill says quickly, before Jack can respond.

At this, Mary nods and exits the room, while Jack stares unhappily at the greasy, buttery mess of a breakfast before her. She can’t deny that it looks delicious, but she doesn’t relish the idea of becoming even filthier than she already is. Jill, who has no such aversion to mess, happily digs in, but pauses briefly to look over at Jack.

“You’ll regret it if you don’t eat, you know. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be allowed to clean up soon,” she says soothingly before returning her attention to her meal.

“I suppose you’re right,” Jack reluctantly agrees as she picks up her fork and slowly begins eating.

After they finish, the two girls get up and open the door to their room to find Mary waiting for them in the hallway, along with two silent servants.

“The Master and Doctor are waiting in the throne room,” says Mary, motioning for the girls to follow her.

Jack and Jill walk silently through the castle, hand in hand. They find the Master lounging on his throne while Dr. Bleak stands stoically by. The girls stop behind Mary, suddenly nervous.

“Well now, Mary has informed us that the two of you have made your decisions. Rather quickly, too, though I suppose it’s not surprising,” the Master says, staring possessively at Jack, who begins to fidget under his unsettling gaze.

The two girls nod silently.

“Well then, don’t keep us waiting,” the Master says with a grin.

“I want to go with Dr. Bleak,” Jack blurts out at the same time that Jill says “I want to stay with you!”

“Oh, now this is a surprise, isn’t it Michel?” the Master replies with a smile that doesn’t meet his eyes.

Dr. Bleak grunts his assent, his eyebrow raised. “You sure about this, little girl? You’re going to have to work hard if you come with me. I’ll expect you to follow my orders to the letter, and you’ll find no such luxuries as the Master has here.”

“Yes,” Jack replies, somewhat surprised to realize that she is, in fact, sure.

“I’m sure, too,” Jill says, gazing into the Master’s eyes as though he was the only other person in the room.

“I’m glad to hear it,” says the Master, who is otherwise ignoring Jill in favor of glaring at her sister in obvious disappointment. “But now that young Miss Jacqueline has rejected me and forsaken both my house and my protection, what is to stop me from killing her?” His tone is casual, almost bored, which only makes it that much more horrifying for the two sisters.

Jill gasps and steps protectively in front of Jack, though even she knows there’s nothing she can do to stop the Master from making good on his threat. With one sentence, the love and trust she was already feeling for the Master has been irrevocably broken, and only now does she begin to understand the precariousness of her and Jack’s situation.

“Yes, you could kill her right now and like as not none of us could stop you. Consider though, that she is her sister’s mirror, and if you killed her, you could not draw upon her to guarantee your foundling’s survival should something… happen to her, not to mention that you’d be breaking our bargain,” Dr. Bleak replies, sounding almost exasperated, as though he now found the Master’s death threats more dull than frightening.

The same could not be said for Jack and Jill, who were now tightly gripping one another’s hands and staring in wide-eyed fear at the vampire before them.

“Have it your way, then,” the Master responds with a sigh before returning his attention to Jack. “Know this, little one. If ever you should tire of living in squalor, you will always be welcome here. My doors are always open to such a lovely child as you, and it would be so very nice to have a matching set,” he ends with a wink, as though he hadn’t threatened her life mere moments before.

Jack and Jill gaze at each other, both thoroughly nonplussed. Apparently death threats from the Master were common enough occurrences that he was likely to forget them almost as soon as he’d made them. Neither was terribly certain whether to find that comforting or not. Regardless, it was clear that it was time for Jack and Dr. Bleak to go.

“Come along, then,” says the Doctor as he turns to leave, not bothering to see if Jack was following him. “We’ve dawdled here long enough, and we’d best leave now if we want to make it home before nightfall.”

“Coming!” Jack replies, letting go of Jill’s hand with some reluctance and giving her sister one last smile before following her new guardian out of the castle.

The Master scowls after them before turning his attention to Jill, who shrinks under his gaze. “Hmm,” he says, “I suppose you’ll do.”

Jill fumbles her way through a curtsy (she’d never been taught properly, not like Jack) and says “Thank you, Master,” as she blinks back tears. Why was she always second choice?

“Indeed. Now, you will need to be bathed and dressed in the proper attire. Mary will help you with that, and will also assist you in meeting the standards of my house. Additionally, I will see to it that you receive the finest education the Moors can provide, and I promise you will want for nothing while you are under my care. All I ask in return is your obedience, your loyalty, your fullest devotion,” he tells her.

Jill begins to nod when Mary puts a gentle hand on her shoulder and says sharply, “Unti- unless her door comes, of course.”

At this, the Master glares at Mary, who stares impassively back at him. To Jill’s surprise, the Master blinks first. “Yes, should your door appear, I am bound to let you go through if you so desire, but I do hope that you’ll choose to stay,” he says with a smile so warm that Jill can almost believe it’s genuine. Almost.

***

Weeks, months and years go by as Jack and Jill adjust to life in the Moors. As Dr. Bleak promised, Jack spends most of her time working hard and learning as much as she can about the world that now felt more like home than the world of her birth ever did. Jill had come to feel much the same way, and though she was still wary of her Master, having never forgotten his threat against her sister even if he had, she had to admit that he was still a better father figure than her biological one. She considered herself luckier still to have Mary to help her manage living in a vampire’s household, and to warn her against making the same mistakes that she had made as a young foundling. It had been terribly lonely, holding herself apart from the village children, but after hearing Mary’s dire warnings about her own playmates disappearing when the Master grew jealous of them, Jill was not willing to take the risk. There would be more than enough time for her to become bloodstained and ruthless after she became a vampire, after all, for she still fully intended to accept the Master’s gift regardless of her personal feelings about him.

"There is, after all, no sense in having blood on my hands if I'm still too mortal to properly appreciate it," she jokes to Mary one night, after having spent the day wistfully looking down at the children playing together in the village below, their games so like the ones she'd once played with her friends in the world of her birth, back before the boys stopped playing with her because she was a girl, before the other girls stopped playing with her because she was the wrong kind of girl.

Mary doesn't laugh, but then, it's not really meant to be funny.

For now, she spends most of her time up on the battlements, quietly watching the daily lives of the villagers she would one day rule while also searching for any sign of her sister. She often consoles herself by rereading Gemma Lou’s Letter, as it is currently her turn to hold onto it. By now it's in truly awful shape, but neither she nor Jack care in the slightest. It serves as a reminder that not all love is conditional, and so it is more precious to her than all of the gemstones in her substantial jewelry box.

Jack does not come into town very often, as her work with Dr. Bleak and her newly-resurrected girlfriend Alexis keep her occupied most of the time. Jill watches the gates carefully every day nonetheless, just in case. She is just about to give up for the day and go back inside when she sees Jack and her girlfriend enter the village and start walking towards the inn owned by Alexis’ parents. She can see Jack scanning the battlements for her, and so she waves elegantly at her (appearances must still be kept up, after all) to catch her attention. Jack finally sees her and waves back before pointing in the direction of the inn. Jill catches her meaning and nods just expressively enough to communicate her understanding to her sister. With that, she returns to the castle just long enough to tell Mary —and only Mary— where she’s going; she knows she can trust her to keep her movements secret. Jill hums to herself as she leaves to meet up with her sister. At least for now —and such as it is— life is good.