Characters: Didyme, Aro, Marcus, Athenodora, Sulpicia, Caius, in order of relevance
Author's Note: Merina2 asked for something about Didyme and Aro, around the time of Sulpicia's arrival. I hope this matches her specifications, and my thanks for suggesting the idea.
The title of this fic is borrowed from an observation I read somewhere- that strange things come in sevens. It stuck in my head, and I had to incorporate it into my writing, as I do with all ideas that won't leave me alone.
Before Aro drove slick teeth into his sister's flesh (ankle, thigh, wrist, throat), he took the sleeping girl's hand. It convulsed in his, the muscles aimless and alive.
Beyond the shallows of her pretty dreams, Didyme's mind roiled. There were suppositions and observations there, lists of undone things, and boys befriended. The immortal even met himself, a phantasmagoria pasted together by a lonely soul, in the wind-whipped black of the unconscious. He was not as handsome as she had imagined.
He could admit that, as these things went, her thoughts were not extraordinary.
Give it time.
Adjusting to immortality was supposed to be difficult, Didyme had been told.
She was expected to thirst, and howl, and whimper from the assault on her senses, the taste of colours, the smell of voices. Her desires ought to have pockmarked the countryside, giving rise to whispered legends of vengeful gods.
Instead, she cowered behind her brother. Disliked the resistance of human flesh between her jaws. Found other blood-drinkers alarming, with their disjointed motions and unblinking eyes.
She destroyed nothing, and spoke gently.
Such a good girl, Aro had crooned, addressing his doubting, demanding associates, not her.
She could not remember feeling so exquisitely light before. Like a sparrow. A wish.
There had never been two people to rival them. There never would be, Didyme thought, while Aro tucked flowers, petals the pale shade of dying stars, into her unruly hair.
"What do you dream of, little sister?" he said, his fingers an elegant splay of marble on her shoulder. They had beautiful hands, the pair of them, slim and seeking.
She smiled for him, a charming, wild-honey grin, edged by the impish flick of her lashes. "Silly, I don't sleep."
"Pedantic as ever, dearest," Aro fretted under his breath, teeth displayed in merriment nonetheless. "What do you want? That is a better way of putting it."
"I already have you," she said, lazily leaning on him, her spine a feline curve. It took squirming, a sort of desperate, determined cuddling, but eventually, they aligned. Didyme could not call it comfortable, this array of interlocking bones.
"And Marcus," he said. The words buzzed, locust-like, in his chest before they crawled through his lips.
"Him as well. But I prefer you."
Suitors were a familiar thing, but when she thought of this one, her skin prickled and tightened. Moths fluttered blindly inside. She didn't like the sentiment, while craving it.
"I imagine you have goals besides breaking hearts," Aro said. A knot of displeasure had appeared in his voice, but its cause remained mysterious.
"Why would I?" She giggled, sprawling over his knees, content. "Immortality, precious brother, entails a certain hedonism." He thawed, errant fingertips tickling her arm. "Since you've been begging the question, I will put you out of your misery. What is it that you want?" she wondered.
"Everything." It was a rush of breath, a confession not meant for the daylight.
Didyme did not understand. There was too much clumsy want in that pronouncement and no provocation for it. So she smiled, pretty and flickering. "Everything and nothing. Aren't we a well-matched pair?"
"You are so very young," Aro said, kissing her palm.
Moments later, he tugged her to her feet, his mood darkening from noon to nightfall in no time at all.
They came home in silence.
Blood clotted fast in Didyme's hair, leaving her with rust-streaked nails, and congealed coils that would not yield. Plunging her head back into the steam-wreathed water of the baths was a searing shock, but there was no help for it. This ordeal followed every hunt.
"Ow," she complained, tearing through her curls with fingers hooked into falcons' claws. "Ow, ow, ow." That performance was mostly for Athenodora's sake. She could not pretend that her companion cared, but wheedling attention from her was a trifling war, each glance and word a trophy. Seeing the limits of her ability perturbed Didyme, her belly turning into an unsettled sea.
Her silver sister had long since scrambled out of the water. Now, she perched on the stone ledge at the room's perimeter, a splash of white framed in sea glass and damp tile.
"I could distract you," Athenodora said, twining cloth around herself. The offer seemed more courteous than amicable.
"Please," she agreed.
"Care to speculate about your brother's new mate?"
That question, though more sweetly conspiratory than any Athenodora had posed in the past, turned Didyme to snow and granite. The chill came immediately, locking her into place, as though her very bones had petrified.
"What?" she murmured, rising and turning slowly, wavelets lapping at her navel. That simple movement took too much effort. Her wilful, watchful audience would notice, and catch the revelation between her nails, as a child would a butterfly.
No-one had spoken to her of Aro's inclinations towards marriage, much less his pursuit and acquisition of a wife. She would have called it oversight, if Athenodora had been equally ignorant. The cloying taste of betrayal coated her throat with a sickly slick.
Marcus was not permitted secrets.
"He has found one. She remains human, for now." Her sister (and what an odd thing to call her, conjuring familiarity where there was none) managed to say it casually. That much delicacy was unusual for her.
"You make it sound as though there were a number to choose from." Didyme couldn't feign laughter well. The giggles lodged in her throat, choking her like fishbones.
"Aro had criteria," Athenodora said.
"Of course. She must be beautiful." Didyme could imagine it all too well—her brother looking for the loveliest girl, and reminding her that time would turn her skin to parchment.
"As the sunrise. Or something," her companion said, smirking. "That's a certainty, not a guess, by the way."
Didyme gave her a glance that said only your turn.
"She will be utterly mad. And Aro will coo about her interesting mind, her exquisite thoughts." Athenodora's voice, ordinarily a little clipped, a little cold, had slid into a perfect mockery of the dark-haired man.
"Oh, and she'll be a proper lady." She thought about her own red freckles, memories of the evening's hunt, and the grass-green stains on her feet. Indecorous, she could imagine her brother crooning.
"Someone has to compensate for our failures in that domain," her sister said, fiddling with the damp end of her braid.
"Done," Didyme announced, although the scent of sticky iron still lingered around her. She had no desire to continue this conversation, to falter and sob in Athenodora's hearing. Detailing a list of what she could never be—that was too cruel.
Perhaps Caius' mate had learned tact, somewhere. She departed soundlessly, which almost—almost—earned her the title of friend.
Marcus looked his very sweetest while he read. Fine lines framed his eyes, erasing the last smeared fingerprints of childhood from his features. They added an air of kindliness. Of venerability, as though he were a benevolent sage, memorizing primordial wisdom. His hands on papyrus were gentle, like shaking wings, a child caressing a priceless thing.
Didyme knew how overwrought her thoughts were, but then, this was her love. Certain entitlements existed, when it came to him.
She fit herself at his side, permitting the dark, damp tendrils of her hair brush the edges of his scroll.
"The ink will run," he gasped, before recalling that he cared for her more than he did for literature. "Hello, dearest," he said, brushing a glowing, phantom kiss across her palm.
"Why didn't you tell me that Aro had found a mate?" she demanded. Marcus was so easily enchanted by her lack of preamble. His admiration for those who took the reins was a dangerous thing, she realized long ago. A tool for Caius, a game for Aro.
"I did not want to pry," he said, as though a transgression of that sort mattered. "Why are you upset, beloved?"
Didyme hated explaining herself. Even a soft question was a demand for justification, and it cut her to the quick. Defending a sentiment made her feel bare. Too small, and judged callously. Aro had noticed that idiosyncrasy. She imagined that he shared it, a little, as a brother ought to. Instead of asking, he took her hand between both of his, and cradled it there. Traced the topography of her knuckles. Nodded, and purred, and understood.
This night was momentous. Didyme could sense the pause, the held breath, amidst the prickly wool of summer's heat. A swollen moon lent twisted shadows to mundane things. Even the chattering bats, the smallest and least pleasant occupants of her home, had chosen to remain still in their eaves and attics. She rolled her eyes. Of course nature itself conspired with Aro to dramatize the moment of his mate's transformation. Her brother had that sort of luck, or perhaps the attention of an indulgent god.
Caius and Marcus had long since vanished to glut themselves on blood, in anticipation of minding a newborn. Aro lingered in the tomblike corridors beneath their home, dallying before beginning the change. His breathing was a fevered staccato, hastened by—Didyme had no wish to speculate.
And she prowled the halls, audible and obvious to all. It was a fretful walk, each footfall heavy with condemnation. The path she chose was circuitous, but in time, it would lead her into the dark, to her brother's side.
"People look disturbing during the change," Athenodora—emerging from an intersection of shadows— cautioned, seizing Didyme's wrist, utterly ungently, and halting her progress. "You could wait a few days to meet the new arrival."
The black-haired girl shrugged, a fitful, brittle-boned gesture that did not pass for nonchalance. "I want to see my brother's mate now," she insisted, feeling moments away from a tantrum. If Aro bypassed the courtesy of formal introductions before adding his wife to the precarious alchemy of their coven, she noticed no need for privacy.
Athenodora's pointed fingers uncurled, and she followed like a persistent wraith. No—Didyme amended—wraiths couldn't stomp their incorporeal feet quite so much This was a sentinel's walk, a stifling reminder that she was accompanied and watched.
"Your brother must be left alone," she insisted. "He made a mess of you before he turned you. If he does the same or worse to her, he'll be inconsolable. I'd rather not distract him, and then have a weepy Aro in our midst."
Once more, Didyme found herself with ugly news from an unwanted source. "What do you mean, a mess?" she demanded.
"He nearly drained you," her stubborn shadow said calmly. "And then bit you everywhere to compensate. Your heartbeat came so close to stopping—"
She fell silent, in time to hear Aro split his mate's skin with venom-glossed teeth. A second bite, a third, a fifth, and then it was done. The ghosts of screams rose miserably from the underground.
And Didyme grinned, pale dimples and triumph. Her brother preferred her blood to that of the woman he would wed. After all, he had only tasted, not devoured, her. She tucked the victory into cupped hands, glowing and ugly, an ember, an eye.
The night before Aro departed to travel with his Sulpicia—the most transparent euphemism for marriage Didyme had yet encountered—she appeared in her brother's study. He did not like being disturbed when he was amongst his plots and papers, but the occasion called for a sisterly invasion. She cheerfully sat at the corner of his desk, nudging his knee with her toes, and pretending that evenings like this were customary between them.
"Oh, dear brother, my congratulations!" She hoped that her joy passed for genuine, though her it knocked against her teeth and rattled about like coins. "We thought this day would never come. Caius will be on the losing end of so many bets."
"There will be no wedding, my darling," Aro noted, hands restless. "We can hardly visit a temple and petition the gods for a favourable union. Unless, of course, we want to leave no temple behind when we're finished."
The hiss of heat in his voice was unfamiliar. Didyme rolled it between her fingers and decided that she did not like it.
"No semantics, please. You are supposed to be on my side of this wager," she said lightly.
Aro's smile turned conciliatory.
"Are you excited?" she continued, dreading the stillness at the conversation's borders. Her brother positively bubbled around those he cared for, drawing them into a shared fever dream. Silence and disinterest came together as well.
"And Sulpicia?" Didyme heard her voice catch, silk on old iron.
"She seems to be." Aro's expression remained cautious. Bounded. His secrets were tucked away behind stone facades now, and she had no way to slip inside.
"Only seems?" she murmured, brows arched.
"My love is not the easiest to read, even for one with my talents."
His love. The woman was a monument to the things he craved, with eyes the colour of cities burning and hair like treasure. The sentiment he could not name was veneration, and his knees and throat were scrubbed raw with it.
She almost sobbed, remembering fluttering, fraternal kisses on her cheeks, and the paltry obligation behind them.
"Maybe she's nervous," she offered, coaxing the tendrils of her gift towards her brother. She would not permit him to notice her displeasure.
"Oh gods," Aro laughed. "I do not like the direction of this conversation."
"I could give her some advice." She thought of Marcus' touch tracing fancies, words and vines and birds, over her skin. Of morning kisses, and bodies cocooned beneath the covers.
That, she was certain, was not what Aro and Sulpicia would share.
"Please, no." He smiled, playful.
"The offer is extended to you as well," Didyme told him. "I assume that your natural instinct is to lecture the poor woman on politics all through the night."
"Watching Marcus and yourself is advice enough, thank you," he countered.
And Didyme realized that there was no need for him to hold her hand. He guessed her mind, but did not share it. It was a cold knowledge, vast and echoing.
"I wouldn't want to be called unhelpful," she chirped.
"You're never that, dearest." His eyes rounded, as hers did when she tried her very hardest to seem sincere.
"You are not nearly buoyant enough for a man about to be wed, brother." Didyme attempted a more logical approach, any gambit to force her sibling into confession.
"It's a difficult decision." Aro's hand came to rest on his chin, an inelegant, pensive gesture. A solitary vestige of mortality.
She could only offer broad reassurance, because she did not know the names of his demons, or the methods to appease them. "And you've made it correctly."
"I have chosen well so few times in this life," he sighed. "This may confirm the trend."
Aro spoke of her, she was certain. "Nonsense."
"Ever the optimist," he grinned.
"It's my best trait."
"You are so very young, my dear." He tasted the words as he said them, remembering each occasion when they had been used, the familiarity of dismissal on his tongue.
"And yet, I'm not the one in need of romantic suggestions." Didyme posed haughtily on her perch at the edge of his desk, elbows and knees scissoring into impossible angles.
"Out, little sister." He was chuckling in earnest now, a hand reaching to ruffle her curls.
"You will regret not taking advantage of my wisdom," she informed him, lacing her fingers through his before he could quite reach her. Perhaps he watched her thoughts weave themselves from nothing, but she would trade that gladly for the intimacy of cool skin.
"Marcus is missing you at this moment, I'm sure," he insisted, gently nudging her towards the corridor. She swatted his shoulder.
"No need to be shy, brother," she told him, her giggles shining silver in the gloom.
"Good night, dear," Aro said.
She shut the door behind herself, gentle as a whisper. The corridor was bathed in black. Stone grated strangely beneath her toes and at her spine. She stood there, still as a doll, until sunrise, then lied sweetly and well about her whereabouts, when Marcus asked.