Of course, Aro was well aware of their intentions. He was not happy about it, but he pretended to give his blessing…

- Stephenie Meyer


"Brother."

I glance up from my desk to the sound of Marcus's voice, an automatic smile finding its way onto my face. Easy, warm, welcoming, but…wary.

For many years now, my smile has not been a true one. Oh, I work to keep it in place, of course, I am accomplished at it, now. Though it may still seem a little too wide every time I hear my dearest accomplice's cautious questions and uncomfortable pleas, all on behalf of his precious wife, of course. Of course. I do have theories…theories I have begun lately to dread, dread so much…

But what am I to do? One can only hope.

I'm undeniably surprised though. The sun set less than an hour ago, Marcus long gone to the confines of his and Didyme's bedroom for what I expected to be a very long, busy night, as always, but here they both are, standing before me.

"Marcus, brother…and sister…"

She stands by Marcus's side, tall as he is, thin and demure. Dressed in blue – she detests black, of course, much as I try to insist she wears it – curtains of raven hair plunging straight to her waist, she is as uncannily similar, and yet so different to me as always…and unsmiling. I let my smile falter a little too, black eyes on her cold, red ones – letting her know, carefully, that all is not as it should be between us.

Sigh.

Didyme, dear little sister, has never understood. Never fully understood or appreciated what I can do, what I can achieve. What I am achieving.

This thought helps bring my ever-present smile back onto my face as I gaze expectantly at the not-so-happy-couple. Caius and I made progress today, great progress, with the acceptance of a new member into our guard, Santiago by name. A truly lethal fighter, full of potential. A lovelyaddition.

But back to my sister and Marcus …

"Is something wrong, dear ones?" I ask of the couple standing across the desk from me.

"No," Didyme says, plaintively. "Nothing, brother."

I turn to look at her with a now mildly interested gaze – carefully constructed, a perfect charade. "Then…?"

"We have…well, we decided we'd just drop in for a second as…as we have something to tell you…" Marcus says slowly, his eyes flitting to my sister every few syllables as though hoping for direction. Awaiting orders.

Apprehension coils into a little knot inside me, and the memory of what my sister has been thinking so much of these past few weeks enters my mind. I frown, but hold out my hands, gesturing for them sit down.

Marcus tries again to speak. "We wish to tell you…brother…Aro…we have…ah…"

Didyme, tucked close by her husband's side, reaches out a slender hand to twine round his. I don't miss the movement – but then, never have I missed a single movement between those two.

Marcus takes a deep breath.

"We would like…brother…Aro…"

I wait, keeping the smile sweetly in place, while he tries to force the words out of his mouth. My sister strokes his hand soothingly, fingers delicate, feminine…still, as long as mine…

"…Didyme and I…my…we…well…"

"Would it perhaps be simpler," I suggest, pleasantly. "If you were to simply show me what you are trying to say, dear brother?"

I hold out a hand.

It would save you a great deal of pointless stuttering and stammering, I'm sure, I add to myself, serving to widen my smile as seems appropriate.

But Marcus only laughs, trembling and overloud, shaking his head. His little wife says nothing. She is too busy watching me.

"No, no, brother, I think – well, I think this is something to be said out loud…"

"Then speak. I am listening."

Too sharp, I chide myself. Too abrupt, expectant, and do watch that you keep that smile, do not let her see your unease, your worry, your fear that…that…

"Dear brother," my sister says with a sigh, when Marcus still doesn't respond, leaning forward to rest her bare, white little elbows on my desk. "We have both thought long and hard these past few weeks – months, to tell the honest truth – over this matter. A single decision we have found equally difficult to make. But our decision we have made, and that is what we are here to tell you of. To explain..."

"To explain…?" I prompt, hiding my admiration for her confident words. She speaks well. Convincing. Decisive. Her smile is wide, smooth, natural. Perhaps just a little too sweet. Still, not a trace of discomfort that emanates so visibly from her husband. Yes…she puts on a wonderful show. Another likeness to her older brother.

My smile grows at the thought, and I let it; more cover up for the writhing knot inside me that twists with full, unrestrained dread at what this 'decision' must be.

"We would like…" My sister pauses, meeting Marcus's gaze of such familiar blind adoration I have to work hard to keep my eyes from rolling. "We have decided after much thought…brother, we both feel that…it is time for us to go our own way."

Silence.

"After so many years now, so many centuries together, I feel – we feel – it is time for us to part. We wish to leave you, dearest brother, me…and Marcus."

Me and Marcus, and Marcus, and Marcus…

Shock, disbelief, horror, utter horror, anger, fear…all emotions hit me full in the face, one after another; hard. Didyme and Marcus's smiles slide off their faces like water as they take in my reaction.

I come to my senses just in time.

With an almost physically painful effort, I somehow drag the sickly smile back onto my face, and lift my hands to clasp them together in as delighted manner as I can stand.

"How simply wonderful," I exclaim, forcing the words to come out thrilled, elated, sing-song – instead of a screaming snarl I long for them to be. "How lovely…I had wondered…such a surprise…but such a lovely one…!"

My sentences don't make sense, and the words are terribly forced – but the couple in front of me brighten with relief, so I must be doing a convincing enough job.

"We…thought you might have foreseen, brother, through our minds…" Marcus begins, that beaming, carefree smile I know Didyme loves creeping onto his face.

"Oh, a little," I said, wringing my hands together in what I hope fervently appears to be an overjoyed way – when in fact it's the only way I can manage to restrain from clasping them around the stone table and throwing it straight at their faces. "But of course, I wasn't certainthat is to say…Didyme, dearest, I am so happy for you…"

"Thank you," Didyme says, pretty face nuzzling her mate's shoulder, her smile full now. Even as things stand, with so much changed for the worse between us, she still appears, at least, to have kept the steadfast affection for her older brother.

Marcus's eyes are glazed once more, besotted as ever, as he gazes down at her, his fingers clasping hers in the gentlest of touches.

"Of course…" I pause, wondering how in the world I am possibly going to be able to say this without losing control completely. "Of course…it will be such a great pity…such a terrible loss…" – my teeth clamp together on the last two words, strangling them, but somehow I keep the smile in place – "…but the both of you have been here…a long time…yes, such a very…long time…so…ah…"

I'm struggling so hard to get the words out that it's a colossal relief when Marcus comes to my rescue.

"…so our leaving will not affect your plans to fall upon the Northern Romanian base, Aro?"

"No…!" I splutter, reeling from being addressed by my real name, though of course – and I feel a sickening jolt at the thought – no longer are we the 'brothers' we were a handful of minutes ago. "…ah…no…not at all, of course, but…"

Think, think, think…!

"…but it would be…so wonderful if you would wait, say, just a few more weeks, so I might have time to – so we might have time to, ah, prepare fully for the Romanian attacks before you leave?"

Not convincing enough, I groan at myself – butMarcus only smiles, taken in as always by my flawless performance. He was never the most perceptive of immortals, regrettably, always so hopelessly cheerful, playing around, chasing after his infatuation…never quite settling down, never able to realise his full potential. Such a pity. Still, I am thankful for his unawareness, now.

My sister's sharp little eyes, however, have a trace of confusion in them as she watches my obvious struggles. I widen the agonizing smile in an attempt to reassure her, jaw aching from the effort, but it works; she smiles back, albeit tentatively. I breathe a silent sigh of relief.

"Won't you stay, dear ones, for just a little more time?"

How I can even begin to consider overthrowing the Romanians without Marcus's power…

"Well, I don't know," Marcus shrugs, still grinning giddy with relief at my acceptance. "We weren't planning to leave for another two weeks or so anyway…"

"One week," Didyme interrupts, suddenly sharp. "One week, Marcus."

"Perhaps just a little longer…?" I probe, careful to keep the desperate note out of my tone. I am dangerously close to begging, now.

Marcus and Didyme exchange glances. Anxiety wobbles in Marcus's expression as he meets his wife's insisting gaze. One porcelain-pale hand slips up behind him to stroke his straggled hair where she thinks I will not see it…

"One week," he murmurs, eyes unmoving on my sister, and I have to quickly unclasp my hands before they crush each other to pieces. Even after all these centuries, still, she has him wrapped round her little finger, no mistake… "One week, then I'm afraid we must leave you, Aro."

My sister's face breaks into a smile, and Marcus's stance relaxes immediately, eyes widening in delight as she leans towards him for a kiss that will add to the alreadyintolerably nauseating amount both have shared today.

I clear my throat loudly before her lips can reward his, fists twisting around the hem of my cloak, shredding the edges. Anything to let go the emotions roaring inside of me.

"I shall miss you both. Terribly."

The words are stiff, icy. Far too sharp to be believable, but I don't really care anymore. I simply must, must find a way to end this meeting soon…

"I shall miss you, Aro," Marcus says, but his eyes are still glued to my sister's satisfied face, and the words are mechanical. I realise with yet another jolt of the stomach how far he has drifted from me, from my ambitions…from the Volturi. So much farther than I feared. Chelsea warned me, told me his loyalties were wavering, but not enough, never enough, to actually…leave…

It's because of her.

I move my eyes from my closest friend, the glittering jewel of my collection, to the beaming, naïve little handful of a girl I changed so many years ago with hopes so high and anticipation so ready for a talent as wonderful and fascinating as mine. The girl who has drifted further and further ever since she came to stand alongside me. Ever since she began to wonder, began to waver…began to question.

It's because of her. Because of her, and her questions, and her persuasions, her cursed talent and petty desires…her ability to spellbound Marcus utterly, control him so effortlessly, her puppet, her oh-so-obedient husband…I have lost two crowning jewels. Because of her.

"I shall miss you," I murmur, soft as a breath, but neither of them notice, still so intent on the other. "But now…I have other things to attend to. Plans to make."

Didyme nods once, her eyes never leaving Marcus's. He stares back at her, unable to look away. Spellbound. Mesmerized.

So ridiculously, dangerously over-in-love it makes me sick.

I shall never understand it. Not if I live to be three thousand years old, and I most certainly intend to…

How bizarre. To think that whilst I built an empire…she snagged a husband. Whilst my control stretched to that of so many…hers stayed saved for one. So alike. So different.

So bizarre…

"Thank you, brother," my sister was murmuring, again. "Thank you. We will leave you in peace. Goodnight."

The hem of my cloak is shredded to scraps, but I don't care. I never take my eyes from my sister as she and Marcus rise from their seats, and dart from the room without another word. Marcus doesn't even glance at me.

I close my eyes as the door shuts with a snap, counting under my breath, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen…


My snarl, muffled by the hand I clamped against my mouth to stopper the sound was reckless, stupid, I knew…but I didn't care. And thirteen seconds was enough time for a happy couple to make it to a bedroom to indulge in unthinkable things and be completely distracted enough not to hear me as I kicked back my chair and smashed my fists down against the desk that stood conveniently in front of me. The stone shattered; crumbling, crunching, collapsing. Dust clouded my sight.

I stood, breathing heavily, in front of my ruined desk.

Think. Think, Aro, think, what can you do, how can you stop this, how can you stop them, persuade them…

But even as my mind began to piece together half-arguments, I knew it was no use. Love…love, marriage, family…I was only just beginning to realise how powerful all could be.

The thought made me hiss. Another lesson to be learned, Aro. If I was to succeed, my coven would need more than just the companionship armies and fighters shared. Loyalties would need to run higher, devotions stronger…

Stronger…

Chelsea. Easily one of my most prized jewels, Chelsea could break and tie the bonds Marcus could point out and see for me, but if I used Chelsea on himself

But I knew, even as the idea came to me, that it wouldn't be enough. The thought made me want to snarl again; that even Chelsea would be unable to break the bond my sister had secured. Delighted as Chelsea would be to comply. Even now, I knew how seethingly jealous she remained of Didyme. And jealousy was almost too easy to manoeuvre, especially in a woman…

But I knew, knew deep down that even I, with all the talent and power in the world…even all that could not undo their love. Love.

If only I had foreseen this. If only I had realised, known what a practically useless talent little sister would have, I would have never gone back for her, and she would have grown old and died a human, and Marcus would never have met her, and both of us would be farther on in my – our – ambitions than ever before.

But in truth…even if I had known of her worthless future talent, I would most likely still have changed her.

I let out my breath in a gush, sinking to the floor. How I had cared for her. How I…oh, all right…how I still cared for her. Despite all she had done…parts of me truly still loved her, as I had for so many years. As every man had, for so many years. She was little sister, after all. Dear little sister. My little sister.

But oh, how she had ruined everything.

Hatred boiled. There was no use dwelling on the past, no use, because it was over and gone, and she and Marcus were bonded closer than Chelsea could ever break, and no words of mine would persuade them otherwise, and all my plans for next week's attack on the Romanians would end in disaster without Marcus's power because nothing would work, nothing could separate them, nothing, nothing, except…

Except…

…except…

except…


Very, very slowly, I rose from the floor and stood once more in the centre of the room. One new thought, one little question, one little…wondering…crept into me.

Except death.


Oh, but I couldn't.

No, no, no. Unbreakable love-bond or not, there had to be a less drastic way, a less extreme measure to rid myself of this problem…

Of course there was. Of course.

…but…if there really was no other way…?

Mm.

To get her…out of the way…so very easily…would save such an awful lot of trouble…

Of course, I could still go right away to them tomorrow morning and persuade them otherwise, do everything in my power that I could to make them stay, but…if that all came to nothing…

I did, of course, need a…back up plan. A nice quick, clean, easy back up plan, cause of no trouble at all, one I could see to completely myself…

trouble. I sighed. 'Trouble' was, in truth, all little sister had caused lately – and not just in matters to do with Marcus. She was stirring up all degrees of restlessness amongst my guard wherever she went – which wasn't many places, as I took a lot of care to make sure she stayed locked up tight and out of the way in the tower at all times. But trouble had still…leaked its way out.

From her.

Didyme had started to question. My guard was beginning to talk amongst themselves. I knew this from Chelsea – such a marvellously loyal subject that girl was – about all they had heard Didyme saying. About certain ways I was known to…persuade occasional nomads to bend to my will. And Corin had begun to question, just like her. Only lightly, only gently; small enquiries I tried to dispel as best – and safely – as I could…but nevertheless…

I would have to find someway of keeping her quiet – utterly silent – before this cursed questioning got too out of hand. Which it very well could, even if I did persuade them both to stay, unless…

Unless, of course…

Well. I could simply order her away. Force only her to leave, I supposed. Banish her from the city, send out the guard to keep her away, mercilessly attack Marcus with Chelsea's power, and hope for the best…

You fool, Aro. You think that would keep them from each other? You think that would stop them? Stop their love? You just went through this; you said so yourself, you know so yourself, nothing will keep them apart…

Nothing…

…nothing…

except

If it truly was…the only way…the only, possible, fair way…

No, it wouldn't be fair. It wasn't fair, or right, or good, or any of those other things that always ended up causing the most bothersome amount of trouble wherever they roamed…

But what did that matter?

With Didyme…truly out of the way…

I was warming. Oh, I was warming, badly, to the idea.

How much she had ruined. How much she had taken from me.

But if she was gone…if I had Marcus…

Oh, Didyme. Poor, naïve, silly little sister. Of course, she would suspect nothing. Nothing whatsoever – so good was my pretence, even now. I would have to think carefully, though, plan well how I could do it, disguise her scent as it was sure to rub off on me, use Chelsea at just the right time, before Marcus could do anything…rash...

But that was easily dealt with.

And Chelsea would be easy, easy to win over, to swear to secrecy, to bend to my will…they always were…

A tiny part of me hesitated, recoiled as I imagined the actual…act. Closing my teeth round her delicate throat not to grant life…but bring death. Ripping her limbs to build into fire, fire that would burn like the venom that had brought her into my world all those years ago, venom of my very own. Only this time, I was not drawing her in, but cancelling her out…

But what else was I to do?

Necessary.

Yes, that was a good word. Necessary, it was necessary. A necessary loss, to advance so many eagerly waiting ambitions, all those things I needed to do to climb higher, gain more, advance further…

I smiled.

I was good at smiling.

Marcus would be mine once more. His talent ready to command. I could overthrow the Romanians. I could gain my control, gain somany more wonderful, beautiful little talents, advance so many more plans and conquer, gain so much…

And nothing my little sister did would ever be in my way ever, ever again.