A modeling AU. Yes, yes, I know. We'll pretend I haven't gone completely crazy, thanks.
April has loved Senna since the beginning, since her father brought the tiny blonde waif home with a weak explanation and weaker morals and they both huddled under the blankets on April's bed, a little island safeguard against all the screaming and throwing and hate that went on down below them. April told her they were going to be sisters forever and they could share clothes and go to ballet class together and Senna told her about magic and witches and how she missed her mother, and the first time Senna drifted off to sleep in her arms, April was never the same.
Their career doesn't start like you think it would. April needed a dress for Homecoming, and since Senna's other alternative was staying home and watching football with their father, she had reluctantly joined April in a trip to the mall. April had to bribe her with a relentlessly expensive coffee drink to get her to go, but it was worth it. Senna had viciously impeccable taste and wasn't afraid to tell you exactly what a dress did or didn't do for your figure. April might end up the most emotionally unstable girl at the ball, but she'd be the best dressed by far.
The mall had been hosting one of those ridiculous model hunts, where you forked over fifty bucks for a beauty school reject to paint up your face so you could snap a couple of pictures in front of a washed out backdrop in hopes of being the next Cindy Crawford or Twiggy or whatever. It was maddening, pushing through the throngs of girls and their agents (mothers) trying to get to the stores just so April could get a decent dress – forget what she had to go through to find shoes. But she managed, and she bought Senna her ridiculous caffeinated drink and a chai for herself, and they snagged a table in the corner of the food court away from the water-drinking, salad-nibbling wannabes.
Being teenage girls, of course, they went to join within the next half hour. They did it for laughs, because April liked hamming it up for the camera, and Senna had nothing but time to burn. Besides, suppose they got a callback? Their mother would have a conniption, Senna had explained, half-smirking, and April couldn't help mirroring the expression.
To this day, Athena swears she felt her heart stop when she saw them. "Most of those mall drives are a complete bust, you understand, so to find not just one model, but two. And sisters." Athena is not the kind of woman who shows any kind of emotion, so April finds the way her hands flutter while she gushes particularly amusing.
(Their mother, contrary to Senna's opinion, did not have a conniption. She more or less washed her hands of them, wished them luck, and took up yoga. Their father still calls occasionally to tell them he loved their latest campaign, and yes, if they come home for Thanksgiving he will have Tofurkey.)
Sometimes April thinks about what her life would have been like if she never got into modeling. She thinks about high school, about the one time she was in the musical. She thinks about attending Chicago U, studying theater and maybe literature. Suffering through dead-end minimum wage jobs and internships that paid nothing at all. She likes to think she would be married by now, maybe a kid or two.
She likes to think about it, but she can never decide exactly where Senna fits in between all the maybes and wants and could have beens.
Even though they were only born a few months apart, the only thing April and Senna truly have in common is their last name, and that's only because Athena made April change hers when they started modeling. They needed to be a matched set, and better 'Wales' than 'O'Brien,' because even though O'Brien is the more obviously Irish, Wales is apparently close enough to Ireland in the American mind that the connection made sense. And 'Senna Wales' is silky, sexy, shimmering. They weren't going to make Senna change her last name.
April is wide smiles and long-lashed green eyes, wavy red hair and porcelain skin. There is a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose – just a smattering of freckles, a very fine handful of them, like God had taken the time to paint each one on just so – and one very tiny mole near the corner of her left eye. And she's pretty, oh yes. Definitely cheerleader pretty, maybe prom queen pretty, but mostly good-girl pretty. Girl-next-door pretty. Pretty. Not beautiful. Not stunning. Not otherworldly. None of the things Senna is.
Senna is silver colored, from her corn silk blonde hair to the marbled translucence of her skin. Her features are delicate but sharp – pointed cheekbones, a pointed chin, pointed corners to her mouth like a fox. Even her eyes – a silver green – have a subtle slant to them. If April is the girl who might live next door, someone you could actually know, Senna is the secret you can never scratch the surface of.
They're two of the most beautiful sisters anyone has ever seen, and it doesn't really surprise anyone when they take the world by storm.
They build up a reputation of being easy to work with, because April's a sweetheart most of the time, and Senna is generally apathetic, though both are prone to random acts of bitchiness because they are, after all, high-strung models. And women. People get the idea that Senna is the tough one – maybe because she's the one who stipulates the terms of their contracts, the one who throws all the fits about what kind of water she wants and at exactly what temperature and how she wanted tuna rolls and salmon roe, not sashimi – but April is the one who protects Senna. As much as Senna has come to love being a model, loves the attention and the spotlight and the awe and the power, it cuts both ways – it cuts both ways, and even though Senna knows she's pretty, there's something in her that never lets her be happy about it, that makes her take pills and skip meals and cry over mirrors at four in the morning. And April – not their (step)mother, who never stopped resenting Senna even when her perfect face made them money; not their father, who never really wanted Senna when he already had one perfect daughter; not their manager, who worships at the alter of Gucci and Versace and couldn't care less about the girls she sacrifices for the material privilege – but April, who knows her sister, who always has, ever since the very moment she knew Senna existed, the very moment she knew she had a sister, knew she had someone that could never be taken away from her.
It's not like they always get along. They weren't always best friends, contrary to their glib write-ups and slick press. There were times they hated each other – April, for having the family Senna so desperately wanted; Senna, for ripping that family apart – and even now there are times when Senna's words can cut April to ribbons, when April hears Senna cry out in the night and doesn't go to her. But in spite of it all – despite it all – there is an unspoken agreement that each is all they have. April will look out for Senna. Senna will always fight tooth and nail for April.
Not that it's that bad most of the time. Modeling definitely has its perks – the money, the places they go, the glamorous lifestyle – and today's shoot is going all right so far. Both April and Senna are dressed in flimsy pieces of the material that have the audacity to be called outfits – April's particular rule of thumb is that if she wouldn't sit down on the subway in it, it shouldn't be called an outfit – and they're clutching and lying over and upon each other in a way that's more than vaguely incestuous, but that's probably what the photographer is going for anyway. Every man's fantasy is supposed to be a threesome with twins, right? What about a threesome with the hottest sisters in the world? Sometimes April wishes the Olsen twins would start eating again and take some of the pressure off of their shoulders.
The photographer is half-yelling, half-cajoling like all photographers do. April's worked with God knows how many and the only difference between them is how long they stare and how subtly they hit on her. They've been at it hours all ready, endless outfit changes and makeup touchups, and Senna is trembling under April's fingers, her pulse just a fragile, fluttering thing. April runs one hand through Senna's hair to comfort her. It really is like silk, Senna's hair, and it always has been, no matter what styling product they're giving lip service to these days. Senna tilts her head up, and the look in her eyes tells April that Senna is on the verge of complete nothingness, that April needs to put her foot down and call for a break. A half an hour, maybe, if she really screeches, just to get Senna some water and Skittles – red Skittles, because Senna likes them the best and they're allowed so few of them she might as well eat just the ones she likes, right? – and play a little music, some Maroon 5 or Heart or whatever Senna has decided she's into right now, just so she can see something in Senna's eyes.
Senna burrows her head into April's stomach, into what could possibly be called April's belly were she not only six-percent body fat. April can feel the cold of Senna's nose through her "outfit," and she curls her other hand into the small of Senna's back, fully prepared to pull the bitchiest of diva strops if only the photographer would let her take Senna away for a moment.
The director takes two, maybe three shots of them like that and calls the shoot.
"They'll be radiant," he tells her, "like an angel lying at the Virgin Mary's feet," and sure enough when the mock-ups are ready April looks lush and red and human, the light behind her head and at her feet, Senna a glowing halo of eerie, delicate beauty. It's not grossly sexy or tacky, which is usually more than April can hope for, but it's too beautiful for words, too private, and the last thing April wants is to see it pasted on billboards, glossy and crisp on the back of a magazine for everyone to see.
They meet David Levin on a shoot for Vogue. The German version, or something equally European and irreverent, but the pay was good and they had a better than decent shot at making the cover.
David had joined the Navy straight out of high school, then spent the years after that working on different ships – sometimes salvaging, sometimes fishing, whatever he could find work for. The photographer found him in a club near the docks in Vladivostok. He'd put him in a shoot for some Siberian no-name – David said he only did it because it was decent money up-front – and the next thing anyone knew he was a superstar, complete with walk-on movie parts, headlining a Burberry campaign, and hitting the catwalk from New York to Milan. He was gorgeous, of course, in some hot yet indefinably soulful way that even April found appealing, if she was being honest. His muscles were hard but his eyes and lips were soft. He had a tattoo of a wolf on his left shoulder and a lotus blossom on his hip.
Senna always did love contradiction.
Senna and David flirt over room-temperature water on break and between touch-ups. The make-up guy has sandy-blond hair and green eyes that wink at April when he catches her watching. He's got laugh lines around his eyes and dimples in his cheeks, and April ends up asking him out for a drink – or two, or three – so she can at least pretend not to notice how late Senna comes home.
The cover ends up being a shot of David and Senna, his lips on her jaw line, eyes closed and looked utterly blissed, while Senna stared audaciously into the camera. April doesn't show up until the third page of the shoot, and she's not sure which is more disturbing – that, or the look on Senna's face.
David quickly becomes a fixture in their life – at first just phone calls and emails, then quick visits snatched between flights to New York and London and Tokyo. Soon enough April isn't surprised to unlock the door to the apartment and find him lounging on the couch, or stepping out of the shower.
And really, she should be glad that Senna has found someone like David. He doesn't mind her odd silences, the way she sometimes zones out only to pop in minutes or hours later with no idea she's been gone. He treats her like glass and kisses her like she's air. When she tries to act like a diva around him he stares at her incredulously, until she collapses with something like embarrassment into her natural, good mannered self. He thinks she talks like poetry instead of crazy, and Senna practically glows from the attention. He's a good guy, too. It's not like he's a jerk, or stupid, or even self-centered – hell, for a model, he's entirely too modest – but no matter how April tries to convince herself, she just can't stop hating him.
It goes sour a year later. David and Senna break up – break up spectacularly, for no reason that April can tell, though it ends with David raging out of the apartment and Senna weeping all over everything for a straight week. April tells Athena to cancel all their jobs and promises she'll have Senna in shape for the spring shoots. She gets Senna some tea and tucks her into bed. She goes grocery shopping and comes back with pomegranates and more peppermint tea, some salad, melba toast, and one very small container of strawberry ice cream.
She finds Senna in the bathroom, blood on the floor and clotted on her wrists. Later, much later, when she's cleaning everything up to spare their maid Brighid the horror, she finds a pregnancy test with a positive indicator. She never asks and Senna never tells her.
"Athena? It's April. You need to pull us out of the Elle shoot. Maybe more. And get a doctor over here. Someone you trust. No, she'll be all right, but we can't have it scar. No, it looks shallow. Yeah. Yeah, she and David broke up. Spin it any way you want, but don't drag him through the mud, he – no. No. She was pregnant, don't threaten him. That's all we need. Yeah, it's taken care of. We'll check into a spa or something later this week. Just make it right." April clicked the phone shut.
"Can't make it right," Senna said sleepily. "Tore out his heart and the wax acorn and it's all gone, all ash."
"I know, sweetie, I know. But it'll be all right. I promise."
"Will you save me, April? Save me no matter what comes?"
"I'll save you," April promises. "Don't worry. Everything will be just like before. You wait and see. Everything will be perfect."
It's a lie, of course, but to tell Senna the truth would be the cruelest thing April has ever done.
It won't be the same because April has – through begging, bribing, working her ass off, but surprisingly no blowjobs – landed herself the part of Mimi on the next Broadway run of RENT. The current Mimi wants to move to London and start a family, apparently, and though April wishes her well, she's happy as a clam she's got the part for herself. It's not the she wants to be "more than a model" – there's nothing wrong with being a model, after all – but it's never made her happy, not like theater has.
And let's face it, both she and Senna are twenty-eight, which still seems plenty young to most of the world, but to models, ballerinas, and Hollywood starlets, twenty-eight means you've got an expiration date. It means that there's plenty younger, unwrinkled and unjaded and shiny and new and ready to take your place at any minute. There are only a handful of models that old still doing work, and that's only because they've hung on long enough to become icons. April and Senna are THE WALES SISTERS and as flattering and astounding as that is, April's tired of riding on her coattails.
But she's Mimi for the next run, not this one, and she has Senna to take care of now, Senna to think of. Senna.
Athena comes through and sends over a doctor – a Dr. Sherman, April thinks – who is quick and competent and unfailingly polite if slightly annoyed at the entire situation. He bandages Senna's wrists, asks if she took anything, and glares at April when she refuses to take Senna to the hospital. He glares like he can see everything that April ever was, but he doesn't understand. Senna loves being loved, loves having the public's attention, and to have everyone know what she's done – to have everyone hate her for it – would be more than Senna could handle. She would rather die, as melodramatic as that sounds.
Dr. Sherman promises to check in again next week, if nothing else comes up.
It's two weeks before Senna is out of bed, a month before their first re-appearance. The scars on Senna's wrists are silvery, jagged lines that fade into the pale of her skin. You wouldn't notice unless you look, and, frankly, who would look? Models aren't people. They're background. They're artwork. Barely more than breathing mannequins. All people care about is that Senna is waif-thin from languishing in bed, absolutely luminous, and April is more than happy when she appears on the cover.
They do three more shoots together, and then Senna does two on her own. When they all go off without a hitch, when April comes home to find Senna making her favorite tofu stir-fry and listening to The Bens she knows Senna will be okay.
So she tells her. She has to tell her, she knows. Not that it will be all that different, she wants to reassure her – she'll still be in New York and therefore still in the apartment, but they won't be working together anymore. They won't fly to Paris for the weekend or Milan for Fashion Week. They won't walk down the Seine arm in arm, turning heads wherever they go. April will never again have to feel how cold Senna can get under studio lights. Senna will terrorize and terrify her assistant with mood swings, and charm everyone else who crosses her path, and no one will ever see how lonely and broken she is inside.
"You're leaving me," Senna says dumbly. Blankly. Brokenly. "You're leaving me."
April feels like she just shoved a knife into Senna's chest.
"I'm leaving modeling," April tries. Her tongue feels stupid. "Leaving the lights and the glamour and the bullshit, but not you. Never you."
Senna buries her head underneath the covers like she used to when they were girls and their parents had started fighting again. It makes April feel like she has a knife in her chest, like she's the one who's been betrayed.
She can barely breathe, but she tries again. "Senna…"
"It only makes sense. You could kill me. You should kill me," April hears Senna whisper from under the covers. "I've only ever used you. Made you save me over and over again. Tried to create but I can only destroy. A gate that swings one way."
She's hysterical, she's talking crazy, but sometimes April thinks Senna is just like poetry.
"No. No, sweetheart. I never could. You can do whatever you damn well want to. Anything, Senna."
Senna's eyes, when the poke out from under the duvet, are wet and miserable. Her pupils are so wide, so dark and black in the pale of her face that April wants to fall in. "I could never make you fall in love with me."
Senna's hair is like silk, her skin only slightly less soft. Her hands are finely made but larger than you would expect. They're capable hands, always have been, and April can't count the number of times Senna has patiently worked glitter or petals or whatever piece of the photographer's "artistic vision" that has gotten caught in the whorls of April's hair out. She can't count the number of times Senna's hand has been tangled in hers, or tucked around her elbow, or dug into the small of her back. She remembers Senna at eight, ten, twenty, twenty-eight, crying, smiling, frowning, broken, empty, made-up, bare, and she can't remember a time when she didn't think Senna was beautiful. Long before anyone else did. Long before she could have known what beauty really was. She's always seen it in Senna.
"Sweetheart. Oh, sweetheart. You never had to."
Ever since the beginning, that very first night with her father's biggest and best mistake. April said they would share and do everything together and Senna said that nothing had to be ordinary or ugly and she was right, she was right, and they drifted off to sleep in each other's arms, and no one ever, ever knew.