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Sing Willow

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As soon as Lizzie learned to walk, she began to follow Edward around.

At first, Edward found it very annoying. "Go play with your toys!" he said, pointing back down the hallway. She always blinked innocently at him, no matter how many different ways he tried to tell her to bother someone else.

After a while, he decided he didn't mind. Edward didn't much like any of the girls his own age he'd met, but his little sister was different. She didn't care about getting her shoes muddy or expect him to hold things for her. All Lizzie cared about was going wherever Edward wanted to go.

At least, that was what she cared about up until they got a little older and went to see their cousin Ciel for the first time.

Ciel was younger than Edward or Lizzie, and he was very sickly, which was why they didn't meet him until he was able to speak reasonably well. He was also very, very shy at first.

Edward got impatient waiting for his cousin to come out and play, and went off to explore the Phantomhive estate himself. He expected that Lizzie would be right behind him, but when he turned to tell her to hurry up, there was no one there.

Lizzie had waited and waited, and finally crept over to Ciel and given him a sweet she had saved from the ride over. Ciel, finding that it was good and doubtless charmed by the big smile Lizzie always had, finally introduced himself with a nervous smile of his own and offered to show her his toys.

From then on, Lizzie's new favorite person was Ciel. Whenever they visited, she ran off with him immediately, and when they went home, she complained that she wanted to stay with Ciel.

Being still a child himself, Edward responded to being replaced by sulking and refusing to acknowledge a now very verbal Lizzie. He went down to the weeping willow on their estate and climbed up into it while his sister screamed at him for not paying attention to him.

On one particularly memorable occasion, Lizzie pulled off one of her pretty little shoes and hurled it at Edward. Balanced precariously between branches, the sudden pain was enough to distract Edward into losing his grip, and falling out of the tree.

Immediately remorseful, Lizzie ran to him and burst into tears.

While they waited for someone to come and help, Edward apologized for ignoring her, and admitted that he was really angry at Ciel because Lizzie preferred him to her.

"Don't be stupid, Ed," she said, punching him in the shoulder. "You're my big brother. I love both of you."

And if that was all, maybe Edward would have been content. But when they were setting his leg, he heard his parents talking about Lizzie's being engaged.

Of course it was going to be to Ciel. It had to be Ciel. Who else was there? Better Ciel than some creepy older man, but… but she was still his little sister. Why did they already have to plan to send her away?

The Phantomhives had their own traditions, Edward knew. The Midford way was the way of the sword. He had been practicing since he was big enough to hold a practice foil in his hand without dropping it, and it showed. Edward was very, very good at what he did.

Lizzie was better.

Oh, she was still young and impulsive and her form wasn't yet perfect. She hadn't the experience to really be able to predict her opponent's moves. But she could get three touches quicker than Edward could process what was happening, and if she wanted to, she could get him to drop his weapon.

It probably should have stung more, knowing that his little sister was a prodigy and he'd never be able to match her where it counted. But all Edward could think was that he was glad, so glad that even if he wasn't there, she'd be able to defend herself. And he was terribly proud to have such a brilliant sister.

She hated it.

She hadn't always hated it, Edward was sure. He remembered how excited she had been to join him and Mother and Father in the practice hall. He remembered her giddy laugh when she had won her first bout.

But her mouth was always set in a grim line when she chose her weapon now. She finished her bouts quickly, and when they were called, it only seemed to depress her more.

He thought Lizzie might have asked to stop, though there was absolutely no chance of their parents letting her. Edward could only guess that her melancholy had something to do with the exacting way she chose her cute clothing, and the false smile she'd put on sometimes.

She wasn't Edward's carefree little sister anymore. Someone had spoiled it, had made Lizzie sad, and he hated them for it.

He wanted to blame their cousin, somehow, although she was always brighter around him. Maybe because she was always brighter around him. They all knew Lizzie was going to be Ciel's wife eventually, so why did she have to be so stupidly eager to see him when every day that passed was one day less that Edward had with her beside him?

He stopped wanting to blame Ciel when the news came that the Phantomhive estate had burnt to the ground.

Lizzie didn't even feign a smile after that, and Edward couldn't think any less of her for it. They sat in silence through the funeral services.

She went to the weeping willow, afterwards, and Edward followed this time, wondering what she meant to do there, or if she was just walking to have something to do.

There he watched as she pulled off her gloves and pressed her pretty shoe into the bump where Edward always began when he went to climb the tree. Her delicate fingers clutched at the bark as she pulled herself up, eyes intent as scraps of her dress ripped and tore against the branches.

It wasn't cute at all.

Edward wanted to ask her why she did it, but he couldn't seem to find the words.

Her grief was choked them both, and he was helpless in the face of it.

It seemed almost a cruel joke when Ciel returned. Edward didn't believe it, couldn't believe it, refused to think that they'd been mourning someone who wasn't really dead.

Somehow it all made more sense when Edward saw him again, and he was so unlike the Ciel he remembered that it could have been a different person altogether. It was as if ten years had passed for Ciel in the space of a single month.

This Ciel would never hide, would never play, would never be a child again. This Ciel was not Edward's cousin, but Lizzie's husband.

Edward was nothing in his eyes, and he knew it at once.

For her part, Lizzie was happy again, or at least she was far better at pretending than she had been before. She kept pace with the other girls her age that Edward remembered being so impatient with, pouting and giggling and playing at being a fool.

But she still went to Ciel, again and again. And Edward knew that no matter how much he wished it were otherwise, she was no longer a child either.