“You can’t be surprised,” Aura said, the clacking of her heeled boots coming to a stop as she spotted her brother, arms crossed, concealing himself in the shadows of a deep recess in the wall. It was both a question and an order. “You can’t allow yourself to expect more from him.”
She spoke as much to herself as she did to Terek.
The meeting between the ruler of Mongo and the king of the deviates could have gone worse, she supposed: someone could have died. A small part of her even rejoiced that her father had finally told her the truth about the twin brother she had never known existed until only days ago. But the sight of Terek’s face after Ming had called him “a wretched, twisted creature so repugnant in form” – his fury and his tears – were hard for Aura to stomach. Seeing beneath his mask of calculated words and unflappable manners gave her a shock.
Slowly she approached, floating out of the main hallway and into the nook where he had taken sanctuary. She leaned against the wall beside him and he raised his gaze to meet hers. “I know,” he replied. His eyes were dry now, glazed with an icy hatred.
“He won’t negotiate with you unless it’s politically advantageous for him. I’ve tried to convince him that it is…”
“Politically advantageous? Yes. I plan on making it undeniably so,” he said, and Aura could not help but detect a devious gleam.
“He made me prefect to the deviates, didn’t he? He just needs time,” she countered quickly, hoping to dissolve this no-doubt violent plan.
Terek scoffed. He was about to speak when two patriots entered the corridor. Aura pushed her twin further into the corner and then intercepted them, blocking their view of him. They stopped chatting and turned to her, greeting her respectfully. She nodded at them, using an air of disinterest to hide her unusual behavior. They moved along, unsuspicious.
“Are they looking for me?” Terek whispered.
“Maybe. I doubt Father’s pleased you spit at him. He already wanted you dead.” She added: “Twice over.”
He winced imperceptibly.
Aura scanned the hallway and then returned to him. She reached over, her fingers brushing his neck by chance, and lifted his hood to cover his head. “You’d better wear this.”
He studied her.
She frowned. “What?”
“You didn’t just say you’d help me: you’re really helping me.”
“For now,” she warned, pointing at him - but she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at the left edge of her mouth.
He shook his head confusedly. “But why?”
Aura glanced away. “It’s not fair. The purge. The persecution. The Code,” she answered, after a pause.
“You came around fast. It wasn’t too long ago you were calling us monstrous.”
Her eyes flicked back to him in a sudden movement. “You convinced me.”
“Was I really that convincing?” He stared.
Aura swallowed under the intense scrutiny. “You were.”
“No.” He affectionately tucked several strands of hair behind her ear. “It was you. You have…a big heart, Aura. Open. All the more impressive given who raised you.”
“Neither of us deserved the upbringing we had.”
He smiled - the first time since his encounter with Ming. “Sister,” he said, and he opened his arms to embrace her, allowing her to reciprocate.
Aura furrowed her brow. Whenever her father hugged her it had always been after taking something away. It had never been warm; it had always felt like play-acting. A compensation. The role of a father. The gestures and actions of a father.
But Terek wanted to hug her…
And it wasn’t attached to any expectation.
She remembered what he had said: “We’re not alone anymore.” She felt a stinging in her eyes, and she fell against his chest and let him wrap his warm and inviting arms around her. She rested her head against his shoulder. If he heard her sniffle, he didn’t say.
She dove in with family feeling, but it only took a second of the tips of Terek’s fingers on her bare back to remind her of how close they had come to kissing when they first met. Her skin broke out in goose-bumps as a chill ran down her spine and she withdrew from him suddenly.
He frowned. “What is it? Is someone coming?”
“If they really are looking for you then you should go before they find you,” she said clumsily, peeking out into the hallway to reconnoiter and tuning her ears for the sound of footsteps. “I know a good way.” She grabbed his wrist and began leading him towards one of the more discreet exits from the citadel. It was an awkward grasp over his thick gloves, and she found it easier to let her hand drop to his.
Terek was the one who entwined their fingers…
It felt…nice. She clasped more tightly and guided him into another passageway. It led, incidentally, to her rooms, and it occurred to her that it was ridiculous to smuggle him out of the building when she could hide him there quite easily.
Once she got him past the guards outside her door, that is.
They weren’t visible from where she and Terek were standing, but they were always posted by her door during the hours when the citadel was open to the public. Civilians were not supposed to enter the residence, but it frequently happened. They could hardly be allowed to wander freely.
“Maybe you don’t have to go quite so fast,” she whispered, her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
He was confused but she didn’t explain.
“Wait here,” she instructed. “When you hear me yell ‘Now!’ slip through those doors.” She pointed straight ahead at the ornate, golden double doors that led to her rooms.
“Where are you going?” he asked, tense.
She didn’t answer.
Feeling him watching her as she walked away, she wondered if his thoughts were on what was about to happen, or if he was investigating her form through her backless blouse. She straightened her shoulders at the notion, and then chided herself for even considering it. He only looked on her as a sister now, which was how it should be. Trying to engage his desire would only lead to trouble, if only her own frustration.
Coming upon the guards from a different avenue, she ran the last few feet until she appeared to them and then feigned breathlessness. “Didn’t you see him? He went that way!” she shouted, staring down the two patriots with all of the outrage and authority she could muster. She pointed down one of the long halls that led away from this part of the citadel.
They turned to look at each other in bewilderment.
“What are you waiting for?” she demanded.
They put their hands on their firearms and took off chasing her phantom.
“Now!” she shouted, which could just as easily been for her two guards. It didn’t matter who they thought they were pursuing - whether they knew about Terek or whether they assumed she had seen some other intruder. It wasn’t their place to question her directives, but they reported back to her father and they couldn’t be permitted to become curious. A strange man entering her quarters would certainly make it back to Ming.
Terek swooped past her but there was no need to hurry – the guards were long gone.
She followed in after him, and found him in the crosshairs of her handmaiden’s gun. Her brother lifted his hands and regarded the servant warily.
“Hmm,” Aura uttered thoughtfully. “Not bad, Nomi.” She strode over and yanked the gun out of her terrified hands.
“He’s a deviate!” Nomi cried.
Aura patted her on the arm patronizingly. “He’s a friend. Now,” she drilled her eyes into Nomi’s, “not a word about this to anyone, and I don’t want to see you again before night. OK?”
Nomi hesitated, looking them both over, then nodded and fled the room.
Aura tossed the weapon haphazardly onto a nearby chair.
“Can she be trusted?”
“As much as anyone,” Aura answered, leveling her gaze on him.
He ignored her implication and his eyes alit on the large bed. “Your bedroom,” he noted with interest, tracing the multitude of fluffy pillows.
“My chambers,” she corrected, as if it somehow sounded less scandalous. It turned out it only sounded more decadent.
He beheld the luxurious room with undisguised disgust. “Nice accommodations.”
She glared. “I didn’t design it. This has been my room since I was a baby.” Again she said something that sounded exculpatory in her mind, but once spoken only inflamed Terek’s resentment.
“Since you were a baby,” he repeated, nodding bitterly.
“It’s just a room,” she argued, annoyed. It was very taxing being made to feel guilty about everything.
“Hardly.” He toured the perimeter, running his hand over the expensive wallpaper and dodging the fine furniture. “You’ve seen what I’m used to. How I grew up. And you call this ‘just a room’?” He gestured wildly to indicate the scale of her comfort but his hand flew back into her enormous closet and got stuck in the dense mass of clothes.
He jerked his hand out, pulling several dresses off their hangers along with it. They splayed at his feet, red and lacy. Terek bent over and picked up one of the gowns, trampling on the others with a purposeful nonchalance. Holding it up, he fingered the gossamer fabric of the plunging neckline and breast cups before realizing which part of the dress it was.
Aura rolled her eyes, marched over to him, and ripped it from his grasp. “I was privileged in some ways. We already knew this, yes?”
He grinned at her, amused. “Yes, we did.”
“Then why don’t we focus on what we can change about the future.”
He inclined his head to hers in agreement, though she had the sense he was only humoring her.
“When we reveal to Mongo who you really are – at the right time, that is - it will have a powerful effect. Everything will be different for the deviates.”
“Not that I’m sorry to have found out who I really am, but I think it would have had a greater impact on the people if we had bonded.”
Aura looked at him sharply. “What?”
He shrugged, but furtively studied her response. “The daughter of Ming and the king of the deviates as bond-mates? The beautiful Aura choosing to enter into such a union with a deviate? That would have ended all of the social stigmas associated with deviation in a single act.”
“Matrimony is hardly a single act,” she argued. “Anyway, that never would have happened.”
He raised his eyebrows. “No?”
“No,” she replied firmly.
He stepped closer. “No?”
She flushed, and answered him waveringly: “No…”
When he closed the gap between them she turned her face away, but he caught her head gently with the palm of his hand and eased her eyes back to his.
Her breath seized and echoed raggedly in her throat.
Laughing at her, he leaned in for a kiss but she angled her lips away from his so that only their foreheads met.
“We can’t,” she whispered.
“So you brought me to your bedroom just to hide me here?” he challenged, playfully skeptical.
Her flush deepened. “Yes,” she said softly, but even she didn’t believe it.
“It’s not our fault that it didn’t just go away,” he whispered slowly into her ear before lightly biting it. Aura closed her eyes.
She felt weak. Weak in will and weak in body. Waves of weakness washed over her.
Aura reached up, clutched his collar with both hands, and crushed her mouth on his with what strength she could gather.
After his initial shock Terek returned her fervor and they melted against each other.
As he removed his cloak, Aura thought back on how she had hesitated with Flash, and how cautious she had been. Even though Terek was her brother, this seemed like the easiest decision she had ever made.
She stripped off her boots as she sashayed backwards to the bed, flinging them gleefully. He followed intently, then tipped her supine when she came up against the mattress.
“This could be very bad,” she said as her head hit the pillows - one last contention.
“It’s our time, Aura,” Terek replied, joining her. “You and I are going to have everything we want.”