After her sister killed at least half the Blood in Terreille and a fair number in Kaeleer -- the Dark Court called this 'cleansing the taint,' but Wilhelmina knew how to hear the truth behind euphemisms -- after that, the Kindred took her broken body away and refused to let anyone see her. Not Saetan her adopted father, not Lucivar her adopted brother, not the friends who made up her First Circle and might as well be family too. Not even Daemon.
Definitely not Wilhelmina.
Jaenelle loved her. Wilhelmina knew that with a certainty so deep she couldn't imagine shaking the foundations of that trust. But that didn't mean Jaenelle liked or trusted her. Jaenelle didn't know her.
How could she? They had spent half their childhoods separated and most of the other half not talking, choked by the secrets and lies that filled Alexandra's Court. Wilhelmina's father -- blood of her blood -- was one of Jaenelle's abusers. Jaenelle didn't resent Wilhelmina for that, but Wilhelmina knew anyone else would. She resented herself for not trying harder to speak up, for letting her little sister protect her instead of vice versa.
Wilhelmina loved Jaenelle, but she didn't know her sister either.
They were strangers bound by the tie of circumstance and a few years trapped in neighboring cells of an intangible prison. That was all. Jaenelle had given Wilhelmina sanctuary and protection, and Wilhelmina had done her best not to impose on her sister's charity. She was trying to make her own way in her new realm.
So it was a shock when Daemon Sadi appeared at the door of her little house in Scelt and offered her a tight smile, all the indolent ease and seduction of his posture not enough to hide the scent of baffled, self-directed worry and rage.
"Your sister wants to see you," he said in his deadly silken voice. "I have a Coach waiting outside the village."
"I-- but-- now?" Wilhelmina managed to say.
"Don't worry about clothes," Daemon said, holding out one hand. The sleeve of his suit pulled back an inch, exposing the white of his shirt and the smooth brown of his skin.
Wilhelmina placed her hand in his palm, let him wrap his long fingers around her wrist and draw her from her home. Once inside the Coach and safely riding along a dark wind, she asked, "How is she? I haven't heard--" She looked down at her hands, twisted them in her lap. "Not since Morghann sent me a letter to say she was with you."
Daemon blinked, slow and deliberate like a great cat. "Her body is fragile," he said. "That tires her mind. But she's still who she always was, and the rest you can see for yourself soon enough."
He fell silent, concentrating on driving the Coach to SaDiablo Hall.
The Hall itself was eerie, the vast edifice emptied of the people who brought it to life. Only the psychic scent and weight of dark-Jeweled power hung in the echoing rooms. Daemon moved through the corridors like an arrow toward a target, drawing Wilhelmina behind him as surely as if he'd hooked a chain around her neck.
She didn't want to see Jaenelle like this. She remembered what her sister was like after Briarwood. Every time, her bones and eyes went a little sharper, her cheeks and arms a little thinner, until Wilhelmina thought her sister might eventually turn into nothing but splintered edges, fractured under her own weight and feral rage.
She didn't think she could bear to see that again, not after everything. She should have made apologies to Daemon, should have stayed away. Wilhelmina didn't want a life filled with the grand heights of joy or the depths of despair and sacrifice. She just wanted peace.
She drew a breath, wondering how to tell Daemon she couldn't do this.
But Daemon stopped and turned to face her, something between desperate challenge and a naked plea painted over his face. Wilhelmina's voice failed her.
"Here. She's awake," Daemon said, and opened a door made of black wood and carved into a relief of thorny roses. He stood aside, a mockery of the courtesy and service a Blood male owed to any witch. Wilhelmina knew he only served one woman, only did this at her request. He needed Jaenelle to be happy.
And Jaenelle wanted to see her sister.
Wilhelmina steeled her nerves and walked into the mirror of her past.
"Wilhelmina!" Jaenelle's voice was a whisper, only a thread of tone behind the pleased exhalation of air. A terribly thin form struggled to sit upright, hoisting her torso vertical with the aid of a mountain of pillows. The light was dim, but Wilhelmina saw the bruised circles under her sister's sunken eyes, and the thin, downy fluff that was slowly growing in to replace her lost hair. Her collarbones looked like a sneeze might shatter them, and tendons were visible like swollen threads between the joints of the hand she held out in welcome.
"I'm so sorry nobody thought to invite you sooner," Jaenelle said in that whispering ghost of her unmistakable voice. "How have you been?"
Wilhelmina swallowed a hysterical laugh as she perched on a chair beside the bed. The cushion was permeated with Daemon's psychic scent and she imagined she could feel his eyes burning on the back of her neck, resenting the time she was stealing from him.
"I've been fine," she told Jaenelle, taking that fragile, power-ravaged hand in her own. She laced their fingers together, trying to will some of her own strength to flow between their skin. "Morghann let me set up a house in Scelt, and I've been learning how to garden. I like living in a realm where people expect a witch to work the earth with her own hands."
"Mmm," Jaenelle agreed, her eyes drifting halfway closed. "Tell me more."
So Wilhelmina did. She talked about annuals and perennials, about bulbs and seeds, about arranging by color or by scent, about light and shade and types of soil, about borders and paths and decorative stones, about making sure something was always alive no matter what time of year -- all the things that she knew Jaenelle already knew, because Jaenelle had never listened to Alexandra and stayed indoors like a proper young lady. Jaenelle never let anyone steal the land and its life from her.
Daemon watched from the doorway, guarding Jaenelle.
After a time, Jaenelle lost the battle to keep her eyes open. Her breath slowed and evened, and her hand went limp in Wilhelmina's grasp, their fingers sliding apart.
Daemon was at her side in a heartbeat, his arms cradling Jaenelle as he eased her flat on the bed. Wilhelmina busied herself adjusting the sheets -- no blankets, as if even their weight were too much for her sister to withstand -- and skimming her fingers over the downy golden promise of Jaenelle's new hair.
"Thank you," she said to Daemon. She would never have had the courage to face Jaenelle on her own, to brave the specter of her childhood guilt and pain.
"It was her request," he said, and then unexpectedly added, "Thank you. For not flinching when you saw her. The Kindred say a lack of faith might still hurt her recovery."
"I've always believed in my sister," Wilhelmina said. That had never been the problem. The problem was Wilhelmina's cowardice. Jaenelle was so perfect, Alexandra so certain, and her father so terrifying in his blustery, skin-crawling way, that Wilhelmina never learned to do anything but hide and let other people make her choices for her. Even when she lived with the Dark Court, she had still let other people protect her instead of standing on her own feet. She had still hidden behind Jaenelle, still thought her sister was the only strong one in their family, still thought that Jaenelle only saw her as a responsibility and a duty.
Now she knew that Jaenelle believed in her, too.
Jaenelle shifted beneath the sheets, murmuring something faint and indistinguishable.
Wilhelmina bent down to kiss her sister's forehead, the way she had done once or twice when Jaenelle was too young for anyone to realize how different she was, before everything had gone wrong. "Next time, I'll invite you to visit me," she promised. "We'll learn how to be sisters for real."
In her sleep, Jaenelle smiled.