Written by Atticus Payne
Art by joshtffx on Deviantart
Those that claim a fine line between love and hate must never have heard the words “sister dearest.”
I’d theorized that the more one heard it, the bigger the gap grew. Now at the edge of his bed, soaked cloth in hand, I knew it. There were plenty of reasons why I’d finally settled on waking him before I put him to sleep, and they all came back to those cursed words.
“Brother dearest,” I whispered. I didn’t need the light to know where the canopied bed in which he lay alone was. He was so easily asleep. It was one of many, many details I would never chase from my mind. Him, though—maybe someday I could chase him. Maybe someday people would forget his shadow, and see not his absence, but me every time I entered a room. Maybe someday I could compete against nothing, his nothing, and finally win.
My words worked, waking him slowly. They were gentle, signalling him no need to panic. His inertia would do the rest for me, nudging him to grasp the simplest answer—not a question to why I was crouched next to him, nor why the room was still dark.
I didn’t know why I’d kept it dark. He would remember my voice. Darkness would never hide me. Only my fear, my cowardice. His sister dearest.
He said it again, as he woke.
“Do not move,” I said softly.
He took a slow breath, and I knew he’d understood. “Very well. But is that poison I smell?”
“Worry not.” I carried it a little closer. Some of it dripped onto his neck, and true to his word, he did not move. The poison was harmless as long as it wasn’t inhaled too much—rather safe, which was the reason it’d been chosen in the first place.
“I should think that it’d be significant cause for worry.” He kept his tone relaxed, however. He knew he’d never be in serious danger—he was calling my bluff.
And he’d likely win, as with everything since I had been born. When one was the eldest son, one always won. The eldest son had years of an early beginning—yet were measured to the standard of the younger. Because a prince would get what a prince was due: every opportunity there was to give, and every choice there was to make. Every chance to excel.
It wasn’t the throne I wanted; it was that.
The one whom people noticed. The one that’d come first. That would always come first, and be given the first, yet never notice he was first.
My body seemed to shake, but my hand held steady. The scent had begun to cling to all in the room, hanging in the air, the cloths, the walls. All of it, proof. Memory. This, he would notice—and not forget.
“Now, brother,” I said. “Do you think that I hate you?”
“Yes.” He remained still, though pressing hard now into the mattress.
“Then you would be right.”
“How comforting.” He began to stiffen. Not an effect of the poison, however: just a tell of his distrust. “Oh, to know that I could be dead in about ten seconds.”
He was right. I brought my hand closer, almost up to his nose—still, it did not shake. I bit down on my tongue to keep it that way. His breathing turned shallow, and in the low light, I saw his eyes widen. This way it would take longer, torturing the victim far more before the lungs gave out from sheer paralysis. Then would begin the slow process of a human body dying. Seconds more, if I just kept it there.
I withdrew. What would killing do? Make me first in something, for once; but not much else. Everything he had or ever would have, thrown at a memorial, which would only serve to remind me, possibly to guilt me. My skin prickled.
I knew I didn’t quite want it. But jealousy had to manifest somehow, and preferably before someone did wind up dead. And I knew it would never be myself. The second reason I was doing this, and rather, why I would not fully do it.
“Brother dearest, do you think that I love you?”
“That I would not know.” His words were narrow and strained from his jaw having locked. Tension. It wouldn’t have locked quite that fast had he been relaxed, and as assured as he presented.
I did. More than I knew I hated him, because otherwise there would not be such a strong tug toward a different direction than this. Hate and love: hate which coiled around inside the chest, prickled skin, thrummed in one’s neck; and love, which was steady, assured, and now, bitter.
I loved him. I wish I didn’t.
There was a vast chasm of difference. Love told me to let it be, and turn around that instant, leaving the poison with him. Love nearly leashed me. He was born first—and born with my blood.
So I had to ignore love and hate. Else I would never get anything done, and then I’d be even more invisible than I was.
“And why would I kill you? Of that, do you know?”
He gasped softly, his chest unable to rise properly. “The throne? I don’t know, sister; I have never known. Please hurry up with this, one way or another.”
I smiled halfway.
And I threw the cloth behind me.
“Your scholarship that you will not be using regardless. And your backing in the next council meeting.” I’d see what I could use that for, then. Maybe to buy myself out of here completely, getting passage to a place that’d never heard of me.
“You could do it yourself, you know,” he said weakly, as his body regained control.
I got up and picked the cloth from the floor. “But that’s not what I want.”