Gregor poured another glass of thick Italian wine for his sister and leaned back on the table, enjoying the sight even while it disconcerted him. They had spent the day in their tenantís township, as tradition had demanded, visiting houses and distributing small gifts to their more over-worked and mindlessly loyal peasants. It was a tradition that both of them found bothersome, but it was a small price to pay to keep the townspeople satisfied, and it was the only celebration that Gregor could afford, beyond the pleasant evening meal he had arranged for the two of them. He almost wondered at his motives for such an intimate meal, but didnít dare bring those thoughts to a conscious level.

His sister, Anja, just fifteen years old that day, now sat at the table in the family dining room, her finery was slightly windblown. She smiled at him and looked out the window at the moon rising behind the berry orchards. The candle and fire light within gave her pale face a golden glow, and charcoal shadows cloaked most of the room, giving them both a sense of isolation. Since the death of their unbalanced father, this isolation was now something they associated with security, not danger, and they both enjoyed still moments such as this.

Gregor realized that he had been distracted by the line of Anjaís jaw for some moments now, as she gazed out of the window, and pulled his eyes away clearing his throat awkwardly. Anja glanced back at him, a shy smile upon her face.

What is she laughing at? He wondered. Me, or some private joke?

"What are you thinking, Grisha?" she asked, her voice soft.

"I was wondering if you were laughing at me." he admitted.

Anja smiled and shook her head. "Now, why would I laugh at you?" she replied, touching his hand fondly. Gregor tensed at this light touch and moved his hand away. Her gaze returned to the window and she sighed lightly.

"Birthday melencholia?" he asked.

She shrugged, her smile fading. "Not exactly. I just..." her voice trailed away. "No, itís nothing. Youíll laugh at me."

"No I wonít." He promised. "Iíd rather you tell me whatís wrong."

She thought for a moment, trying to find the correct words. "I donít really know." she admitted. "I sometimes feel..." she stopped and shrugged restlessly. "I donít really know how I feel." she sighed.

"What do you mean?" Gregor asked carefully, worried that he could be the cause.

Anja frowned for a moment, looking from the window to her brother. She took a sip of her wine and replaced the glass carefully. Taking her brotherís hand back, she looked back at Gregor, her expression one of puzzlement.

"Iím fifteen, passing fair, of good rank and utterly alone." she said suddenly, looking at him intently. "Youíre all I have."

"Whatís wrong with that?" Gregor asked stiffly. "Iíve sometimes regretted that thereís been no-one of similar station locally." he lied easily. "But have you really suffered that much?"

"No, no." Anja replied quickly. "Youíre all the company Iíve ever needed and -" Anja stopped abruptly and looked away. Gregor was surprised to see her blushing and wondered at it.

"And what?" he asked. Anja shook her head mutely and her blush deepened. "And what?" he repeated. "You donít want to leave, do you?" he asked, fearing her reply.

"No!" she seemed to force the word out. "Not at all. Youíre all I want." Although she wasnít looking at him, Anjaís grip upon his hand was knuckle whitening, and almost painful.

Gregor took a deep breath and cautioned himself. His sister was a girl of depths that sometimes surprised him. "What do you mean?"

"Youíre so jealous." she told him. Gregor frowned in confusion. "Even when I was little, and especially now. Even today, when everything was fine and proper, I could feel you glaring at the people in the village, anyone who came near me. You seemed to resent them so much."

"Does that anger you?" he asked, almost, but not quite, ashamed of his protectiveness.

She bit her lip and thought for a moment. Her expression was still flushed, and Gregor could feel his own temperature rising.

Anja didnít reply to that question, but asked him: "Do you remember that time you caught me and Andrei in the orchard?"

Gregor felt his tension increase. Why is she bringing that up? "That was years ago." he replied carefully. "But yes, of course I remember."

Anja smiled wanly. "It was so harmless, we were just children, so were you for that matter. But you were so angry, I thought you were going to kill him."

"If I wanted to kill him, I would have told father." Gregor told her simply. But that would have endangered you, too, he added silently.

Anja nodded. "Thatís true enough." she fell silent for a long moment. Gregor wanted to prompt her, but he gave her the time she needed. "I was angry with you at first, but then I was kind of relieved. I suppose I was glad you caught us before it wasnít so innocent." She paused again, took a larger sip of the wine. "But I thought of something later, quite a while later."

"What was that?" Gregor felt a need to lighten the mood, even amidst his desire to know what she driving towards. "Did you rather that you dallied with young Slovna?"

That caused another smile that quickly faded. "No..." she said quietly and fell silent "I wished it was you." she admitted finally.

Gregor suddenly felt quite still, and very aware of Anjaís hand in his. Her expression was one of fear, fear of condemnation or something else, he couldnít tell. Finally, she pulled her hand free of his and moved away from him.

"I suppose youíre outraged." She sighed. "But...I had to say something, sometime. Maybe itís my fault, maybe itís fatherís..."

Anja stood, not looking at her brother, but at the gathering clouds outside. "Iím sorry. Iíve had too much wine. I should go."

Gregor quickly stood up and moved towards her. He retook her hand in his and shook his head, a slight smile upon his face. "No," he told her gently. "Thereís no need for you to go." He kissed her gently, tasting the wine upon her lips. "Donít leave." he took a deep breath. "Youíre all I have and all I need." he told her.

Anja gasped, her eyes opened in surprise and perhaps just a mote of relief. She touched his cheek with a light hand and smiled slightly, surprise now mixed with trepidation.

"I never thought..." she shook her head, as if to clear it. "Where do we go from here?" she asked, bewildered.

Gregor turned to kiss her upraised hand. "Where ever we like." he told her simply.

 

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