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His first winter at the Vandimion household is a cold one.

The cold is different, in some way, than the cold he felt in years previous; it sinks claws deep into his marrow, licking all the hollow places of his insides. It stretches him thin across its back, snickering in his eardrums as it laces through the ladder of his spine. The cold here has a life of its own.

"Play with me," Farnese says, as the winter rakes through their fair hair. She takes her little hand in his, drags him across the empty halls too full of her misery, and into her bedroom. Her cheeks are raw, but she smiles her strange little smile.

Serpico kneels beside her on the floor. She drags from beneath her bed an old wooden box, holds it as if it contains all the treasure on earth. "No one knows I have this," she confesses, whisper-like, "so don't tell anyone. If you do, I'll set you on fire like my last page."

He nods. The winter scratches at the window.

She opens the box.

It's full of odd things; a gold-trimmed button, some old lace, a lock of dark hair. Bones. Little animal bones that have been bleached with age and the cold. Farnese smiles at him and it's colder than the winter.

"These little things are mine. No one can take them from me, you see, Serpico? They're mine. I'll never give them away. So keep your promise."

Serpico only nods.

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"We should go. It's getting dark."

She kneels in the snow as it piles its tears on her shoulders. She's never looked so small in her finery.

"No. The sun hasn't gone down yet. Just a little longer."

She kneels before the wreckage of her childhood, burnt to ashes which dirty the snow around it. She trembles all over, but not with the cold.

The snow crackles beneath his feet. Serpico moves as if to place a hand on her shoulder; thinks better of it, lets it fall back to his side. His fingertips are purpled from the cold. They clench together.

He could carry her away from this, far up the hill and into the forest, and stuff her into a hollow tree; away, away, from the screaming halls and fires, but she would always return here, out of the woods and down the hill, here, to this place of her ruined childhood.

For a moment, he wonders if she had a childhood to begin with.

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They return to the castle long after the dark.

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Another season passes in the Vendimion house; the winters have grown colder.

The Master returns, sits up high on his throne wrought of sin, and invites him up.

"I see," his face is a maze of wrinkles, "so you're him."

My bastard son, Serpico finishes in his head, clamps his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

He bows at the waist, a few locks of hair covering his eyes. "Yes, my lord. I hope your trip away went well."

The Lord waves his hand, as if batting away insects. Insects like him.

Farnese is his half-sister. She is his sister, born of the same seed as the man before him, who stinks of gold and smiles like a villain. For all her corruption, sharing the blood of Farnese does not turn his stomach; the thought of sharing blood with this man tastes rotten in his mouth.

"This talk is not about me, but about you."

Serpico listens.

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He's lost count of the winters.

They're too old to play in the snow. Farnese spends her days reading by the fire, head bent over her book, her nape a pale triangle of flesh. He stares at her. Sometimes, she stares back.

When not reading, she sews or dances or learns music, as any noblelady would do, twists and spins and bows, drowns in the silk of their expectations. She comes up for air only when they're alone.

He finds her sitting on a windowsill, high above the ground. A good gust of wind will blow her away. Outside, it snows.

Her eyes are blue, so blue and beautiful, and dead. She beckons him with an upturned palm.

"Sit with me. The snow is lovely."

He takes her hand and kisses it.

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One. Two. Three.

Serpico breathes in.

One. Two. Three.

Farnese cries through her laughter.

She lashes him. One. Two. Three. He bleeds onto the floor.

He breathes out.

His hands are free; if he wishes, he could wrest the whip from her grasp and strangle her with it, choke the air from her lungs. He doesn't.

He is stripped from the waist up; she, in her nightclothes, wet with his blood.

Farnese lashes him one last time, opening a final stripe of red against pale flesh. Her laughter stops.

She's his sister.

She drops to her knees, sobs through the cage of her fingers. Her eyes are alive, shining in the firelight.

"I never asked for this."

A lock of hair sticks near her mouth. He wipes it away.

His sister.

"I know."

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Beneath her soft hands are bones of stone, as she drags them up and down his naked skin.

They are older, trapped between the fog of childhood and adolescence, and with the winters they have changed. Little adults in not-so little bodies. Serpico quivers like the dead trees outside.

"I like you this way," she smiles against his teeth, breasts heavy on his chest. "Never leave."

He wants to tell her that this is wrong, all of it, every press of her lips to his bruised flesh, her breath mingling with his, as she twists and tumbles against his body. He wants, but cannot. The wrongness of it burns him like fire, red fire like her lips, burns the cold away.

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He will meet her in the arms of Hell, and he'll smile as they burn to cosmic dust.

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"I won't," he says, and kisses her back.