The night, like most nights near the Balkan coast, was cold, dark and quite damp. Sleety rain spattered against the leaded windows of the Skolnikovís family keep, ignored by all inhabitants. Gregor Skolnikov sat quite still in his worn leather chair regarded his sister, Anja, with well contained anger. She leaned against the mantelpiece of the studyís inadequate fireplace and regarded him cooly. Coolness was all she had for him since he had returned from his recent trip to Budapest.

"So why tell me?" he asked quietly

Anja shrugged, a motion he found quite artless and, therefore, insulting. "To annoy you." she admitted.

"Well done." Gregor sighed. "Until this point you had been merely irritating."

Anja looked in the mirror over the fireplace and, indirectly, at him. "Is that all? I suppose I hadnít been trying hard enough."

"From what gossip reached me from the town, youíve been trying quite hard enough." he muttered. "With plenty of people."

Anja smiled, hard and vicious. "So you did hear about that. I wondered."

"Yes, Iíve heard!" Gregor snapped. Anja raised an eyebrow. It seemed she was finally breaking down the inhuman resolve that had possessed her brother since the previous summer. He pushed his own chair aside and angrily moved towards her. "Iíve heard that youíve managed to lie with almost every willing human in the district, and possibly a few who werenít. Iíve heard that you like to whip men, be whipped, drink their blood, dally with your horse when you lacked any other partner and sometimes even when you didnít. Yes, Iíve heard!"

Anja laughed, angering Gregor even more. "Thatís not entirely true, but close enough. So you do have blood in your veins after all."

"Quite a lot, actually." Gregor replied darkly. Anja looked at him quizzically, but no explanation was forthcoming. "So what am I supposed to do about the fact that youíre carrying some maggot sired by a servant?"

"Nothing, Grisha, I just wanted to let you know. Iíll take care of it. If you wanted to do something about Slovna, well, thatís your problem." The direct look she gave him made it clear that she anticipated any action her brother would take. "But wonít you miss him, too?" She asked lightly.

Gregorís knuckles whitened with the effort to keep his voice even and calm. "No, I wonít. I donít know why you persist with that idea."

Anjaís eyes were wide with feigned guile. "I could have sworn I saw you, well," Another artless shrug. "I must have been mistaken."

Gregor regarded Anja with a direct stare of his own. "You werenít, but that was some years ago. Iíve outgrown him, as should you."

"I suppose I donít have a choice, now." she sighed dramatically.

"Youíll get over him. There are others." Gregor pointed out.

"Oh, but youíre the only one for me, Grisha." Anja gushed, grabbing her brotherís cool hand.

"Thatís quite enough of that." Gregor muttered darkly, pulling his hand free. He had thought that his change in state might have changed what existed between him and his sister, but things were more usual than ever. He wasnít disappointed, merely surprised. His Sire had told him that many mortal bonds would be broken, and Gregor assumed that the strange relationship with his sister would be one of them.

"Why?" Anja demanded, suddenly angry, herself. "Since last summer, youíve been an absolutely cold bastard. I mean, you were before, but now youíre being a cold-hearted bastard to me and youíre spending all that time with Ivenyev, who strikes me as a man of limited attraction, and you wonít talk to me, and I donít like that!"

Gregor stared at her in silence for a moment. "Are you done?"

Anja scowled and looked away. She shrugged and nodded. "I miss you." She admitted quietly. "Youíre the only one who matters anything, the only one I love and youíre so far away, even when youíre here." She sighed, genuinely this time. "I suppose itís because you have to work. All Iíve got to amuse myself is terrifying the tenants and wonder who youíre going to marry me off to."

"Anja." Gregor rubbed his eyes in a familiar gesture of weariness. "I wasnít planning to marry you off to anyone you didnít already like. Admittedly, now it could be a little more difficult -"

"Oh, donít worry about that." Anja interrupted. "I told you Iíd take care of it, and I will. Iím not quite as stupid as you think, brother dear. I know a few things."

"Scant relief. If youíd known a little more, you woudnít be pregnant now."

Anjaís eyes flashed anger. "Well, itís surprising Iíve not yet carried a bastard by my own brother by now, isnít it?"

Gregor simply frowned at his sister. They both knew there was no need to dignify that statement with a response. "Just go take care of the matter," he said, with a wave of his hand. He turned then from Anja, effectively dismissing her.

Anja burned. The Gregor of old would have been filled with fury at the thought of another manís seed within her. This man standing before her gave the air of one who couldnít care less. What, she thought, has happened to him to make him like this?

Gregor, his attention seemingly occupied by the ledger on his desk, heard a hiss of breath from his sister. With his newly enhanced senses, he easily heard her muttered comment. As she passed from the room, slamming the heavy ash door as she went, a new coldness settled over Gregorís heart.

"Fine," she had whispered. "I donít care about you, either."

 

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