(twelve minutes older you need to take care of your sister look after her for always you are strong she needs you take care of her twelve minutes)

You pull her closer to you the moment you hear her whimpering; it's engraved in your soul, the need to soothe her, comfort her, protect her. You live to ensure she does.

She is so fragile and soft.

You imagine - you fear - that she cannot last long in this world without you.

(you are wrong.

because in truth, it is you who cannot last long without her.)

What are you willing to endure? How long will you last?

Anything. For as long as necessary.

The words spoken are both brave and reckless.

And you are ashamed at your astonishment that they came from her first, and not from you.

There is frantic energy in your lungs and you breathe fast, fast, faster, trying to extinguish the dancing flames in your blood.

You move, you run, here and there - and each second, to you, is a pocket of unbearable infinities.

This is power, you think.

But there is a familiar sound echoing in your chamber and you look up, wary at the throng of people cautiously approaching you. It will hurt, their ministrations. You know this.

You eye the knife one holds in her hand. You can feel your skin crawl in anticipation of the pain it will inflict.

Your heart throbs and you exhale, slowly, before submitting yourself to their will.

(you are strong. this is power.

this is the price you have to pay.)

Her anguish is a familiar sound to you by now.

And yet you surge to your feet the moment you hear it and claw away at impenetrable walls until your fingers bleed, still trying your best to reach her.

(you don't.)

Not for the first time do you think of taking her and running, running away from this place. What they are doing to you is tolerable, but to her - it is unforgivable. She is in too much pain. She is soft and fragile and it is your task to protect and look after her–

She falls into your arms an hour later, and her eyes are glassy and her skin, ashen. There are wounds in her temples - holes - and there is a tightening in your gut as you hold her as gently as you can. You tell her your plans; you are fast, you are stronger, you can take her away, bring her to safety–

Her nails bite into your arms and she mouths no, and there is strength and resolve in her eyes that take you by surprise.

(it shouldn't.)

I am fine, she says. I can bear it. I can be as strong as you, my brother.

You don't want to believe her - but you do.

She breathes and shakes and burrows deeper into you and you tremble along with her.

At night, you pull her closer to you, whisper nothings to soothe her fears away.

She turns and looks you in the eye, runs her finger down your cheek.

Sleep now.

You try to protest, but suddenly there's a heaviness in your chest and your eyes drift shut on their own.

This is cheating, you say.

You feel her ghost a kiss along your skin.

No. This is me looking after you, tonight.

She is more beautiful, you think, when there is pulsing energy on her fingertips and when she sways with the song of her power.

There is heat in your limbs and you run in circles around her, fast, fast, faster, and, impishly, you scoop her into your arms and run with her as though she weighs nothing.

So this is your power, she says, laughing with you.

We are strong, my sister, you say. We can take the world.

She looks up at you and smiles softly. And we will.

But not yet today.