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Emira tossed the rubber ball on the wall, caught it when it bounced back at her, then did it again.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

“You know Mittens hates when you do that.” Edric raised his eyes from his book.

“Yes.” She followed the ball with her eyes. “Her coming here to stop me is a matter of time. Which means she’ll finally be off her room.”

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

He closed his book and sat up straight. “Shouldn’t we give her a break?”

Emira grabbed the ball, adjusted her aim and threw it. This time, rather than bouncing back at her, it flew to Edric’s hands. “No way. We blew up an entire guard station so that mom would have something bigger to yell about than Mittens losing her job. The least we deserve for trouble of that magnitude is knowing about her girlfriend.”

“Point taken.” Edric tossed the ball on the wall, and it bounced back to Emira. “Bet we could help her with her game, too. Girl is way too shy.”

“Don’t know about that.” Emira grinned, keeping up with their tossing game. “She did surprisingly well last night. No questions we inherited most of the charm, but there’s hope for her yet.”

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

“What do you think of the girl? Think they’re a good match?”

“Luz?” Emira shrugged. “She’s sweet. Completely out of the box, too, which is exactly what Mittens needs. I like her. We vibe.”

“Mom will lose her shit.”

Emira smirked. “We’ll need more than a measly guard station to distract her from that one. We could put laxatives in the Emperor’s Coven desserts or something.”

“Can’t wait.” Edric grinned. He clicked his fingers, and the ball blurred on its way to Emira, abruptly splitting into three.

Emira caught the real one in her left hand, and took control of the two illusions with her right, then bounced them back to her brother. Edric burst out laughing.

Thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk –

The door shot open, and Amity stepped in, bright pink with rage. “Will you two stop?! I’m trying to study –“

She could see the moment Amity realized her mistake, probably taking in the way they were looking at her. Edric closed the door with his foot, and Amity pinched the bridge of her nose.

“You lured me.”

“We lured you,” Edric hopped out of his chair.

Emira moved to the side to make space on the beanbag chair. Edric scooped Amity up and carried her over. Amity didn’t even protest, which meant she was probably stressed beyond words. Edric plopped down, placing Amity between them.

Amity sunk on the pillow, and Emira ran her fingers over that newly-purple hair. “Speak to us, baby sister.”

“Hnnng.”

“Eloquence! You take after dad on more than just the hair, Mittens.”

Edric smacked her on the back of the head. “Stop being mean.”

“What?! I’m not even –“

“It’s okay,” Amity mumbled. “Emira communicates with barbs. I don’t mind. Mom is a lot worse.”

Emira scowled. “Now I feel bad.” She rolled on her side. “I feel terrible, actually. You know I love you, right? I love you for you. I’m not mom.”

“Even if I end up dating a human?” Amity leaned her head on Emira’s chest.

Particularly if you end up dating the human. We love the human.”

“We do!” Edric kissed the top of Amity’s head. “So, do you want to tell us about your crush? Want some love advice from Hexside’s hottest?”

Amity raised her eyes to them, then sighed. “Not yet.”

Edric arched his eyebrows. “Then… do you want some cuddles?”

“I want some cuddles.”

Emira smiled. “Go get your book, then, nerd. Ed and I will save you a space on the beanbag.”

Amity stood, and Emira watched her leave before turning back to her brother. “What an absolute loser.”

“She’s sweet and soft, like me.” Edric elbowed her on the ribs. “We both take after dad. You’re the one who inherited mom’s bitchy temper.”

“I did not.

“You’re both insensitive jerks, mom is just more methodical about it.” He smiled. “And you’re a lot cooler, but that’s my good influence.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“If I don’t flatter myself, who will? Certainly not you.”

“Got that right, at least.” Emira stretched her legs. “Do you think Mittens has good chances with the girl? I can never tell.”

“Oh, absolutely. She’ll have to make the first move, though.” He crossed his legs. “I doubt Luz can tell she’s flirting.”

“Cultural gap?”

“Nah. Kids like Luz are just like that.”

“Like what?” Amity said, walking into the room, holding a pair of books that were nearly her size. “What about her?”

Edric took a deep breath, then sighed. “She’s weird.”

“That’s… true.” Amity slipped into the room and closed the door. “But I… I don’t know.” She shrugged. Her cheeks turned a tone of pink to rival the purple of her hair. “I think I like it.”

Emira half-smiled. “Good for you, sis. Good for you.”

“Do you like that she doesn’t know we’re, you know,” Edric made a vague gesture.

“Rich,” Emira completed. “Wealthy. Supposedly members of the high society or whatever.”

“I think she wouldn’t care even if she knew.” Amity raised her chin. “I like that. I want to be more like that.”

Emira patted the seat, and Amity joined them back. “That’s good. She’s good for you, you know.”

Amity blushed all the way to her ears, then cleared her throat. “I’m glad you think so. I…” She ducked her head so her hair hid her face. “I wish I was more like her. I wish I cared less. But I can’t. And I know mom will hate it, so it’s important to me that you two approve.”

Emira felt a feeling that was a mixture of resentment and heartache that she couldn’t quite express. Edric was frowning, and she poked him on the shoulder. They exchanged a look. He’d always been the one good with feelings, and she let him find the words for her.

She took one of Amity’s hands, and her brother took the other. “Mittens,” he began, then paused. “Amity. None of us will ever be good enough for mom. We’re always failures, in one way or another. That’s just how she is. But you’re good enough for us.” He bumped shoulders with Amity. “No need to prove anything. You do you. We just want to see you happy.”

There was a long moment of silence, then she heard a choked sound from her sister, and she saw her cry, and that feeling she couldn’t name turned into one she knew very well – the bitter, ice-cold rage that turned her into the worst version of herself. She rubbed her thumb on her sister’s palm, but clenched and unclenched her free hand into a fist repeatedly.

“We’ll leave, someday. Not now, but soon.” She rested her forehead on the top of Amity’s head. “And when we do, just know that you’re always welcome with us, and if you never want to see mom again, Amity, then I promise I will give you that.”

Amity raised her head then, letting go of Emira’s hand to wipe her face. “You’re always the tough one. It’s probably bad for you, but I appreciate it.”

“Well, someone has to keep you two princesses from being eaten alive by mom and her abominations.”

Edric smiled, then opened his arms. “Group hug?”

Emira rolled her eyes. Amity made a dramatic sigh.

Edric pulled the two of them into a hug anyway.

--

It was one in the morning when Edric hung his head down from the upper bed of the bunk and whispered to her.

“Psst. You still up?”

“Of course.”

“Mittens is crying.”

Emira sighed, sitting up and pushing the blankets off her. “I know.”

It wasn’t so much that they could hear it – though the walls were thin and her sniffles were loud enough – it’s that they could feel it, and to Emira the tightness in her chest was unbearable and made sleep impossible.

“Hnng.” She pushed her hair out of her face, then placed a hand over her heart. “What is it? I can never tell.”

Edric’s head disappeared from view, and a second later, he hopped to the floor. “She’s lonely.”

“I’m glad we can feel her, you know.” Emira stretched her legs. “I was afraid, when she was born, that we wouldn’t, and then I wouldn’t be to her what we are to each other.” She put her feet on the cold floor and stood. “So I’m glad I can tell when she’s unwell. But I don’t get her.”

“Understandable. You suck at feelings, and Mittens is different.”

“Different how?”

Edric took her hand, and they moved with practiced synch, casting a spell that made them disappear in thin air. “You and I are weird. That’s how we cope. But Mittens is normal. She’s just a normal kid with a horrible mother and a spineless father and no way to escape.”

“What’s that even supposed to mean?”

Edric shrugged, which she couldn’t see, but could tell by the way his hand moved. “Damned if I know. It just is.”

They snuck through the corridor and into the room next door, moving like ghosts. Emira let go of her brother’s hand once they were inside, then walked over to the bed and wordlessly slipped under the blankets.

“Hi, Mittens.” she and her brother whispered at the same time.

Amity raised her head from the pillow. “What are you two doing here?”

“Can’t sleep. Figured we might as well nag you.”

Amity sunk back into the bed. “Bullshit. You came because I’m upset.”

“Maybe.”

Amity rolled on her side, then tucked her head under Emira’s chin. “How do you always know?”

“Twin telepathy.” Edric chirped, joining them.

Amity turned around to face him. “I’m not even a twin.”

Edric waved her off. “Technicalities.”

“I think it’s because we do Illusions. Mind stuff.” She absently rubbed her fingers on the top of Amity’s head. “I don’t know. It definitely has to do with our magic. Comes from the heartsack.”

“Like mind reading? Can you do it with anyone?”

She exchanged a look with Edric, then shrugged. “Nah. Only with each other and you.” She poked Amity on the nose.  “And no, not mind reading. Your nasty thoughts are safe. We just get a hunch when you need a hug.”

“Hnnng.”

“Which is good!” Edric chirped. “Cause you bottle everything up and all.”

“Hnnn –“

Emira ruffled her hair. “So, are you going to tell us what’s causing you anguish this fine evening?”

Amity took a deep breath, exhaled, then fell into silence. Emira sunk further into the pillow and dozed. Edric pulled the covers close to his body and soon enough she heard his breathing slow down, which made it even harder for her to stay awake. Amity rolled to the side then, and Emira stirred.

“Thanks.” Amity mumbled.

“Anytime, sis.” She rubbed her eyes. “You want to talk about –“

“Not yet.”

“ – aight.”  She yawned. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Amity closed her eyes. “Mayb-“

Amity fell asleep halfway through, and Emira smiled, then closed her eyes, too, and joined her siblings into blissful sleep.

--

Emira was pretending to study with an upside-down book when she heard the knock on the door. She flipped the book closed, kicked off her shoes and pushed her chair back until she bumped on the bed. “Come in, Mittens.”

Amity peeked through the door gap, then stepped into the room. “How did you know it was me?”

“No one else in this household knocks.” She awkwardly scrambled from the chair to the bed. “What’s up?”

Amity closed the door behind her and leaned against it. “Are you up for that talk I’ve been delaying?”

Emira arched her eyebrows. “Now? Ed is on a date. I thought you’d want him here for this.”

Amity winced. “No. It’s overwhelming to talk to you both at the same time.” She raised her index and middle fingers. “Now is the time for the Em talk. I’ll have the Ed talk later.”

Emira shrugged. “Understandable.” She patted the mattress next to her. “Cuddle up, baby sis. What do you need advice in? How to ask a girl out? Ideas for the first date? How to move past the crushing parental expectation that you marry for politics? How to do vandalism without getting caught?”

“Yes – no!” Amity climbed up the bed and snuck under the covers. “Not that last one, titans, no.” She peeked from under the blankets. “Can we start with something more basic? Like how do I know when a girl likes me?”

Emira frowned, then shrugged. “I always kind of assume they do, then make my move.” She made a vague gesture. “I mean, what’s not to like? I’m gorgeous. I’m smart. I’m great. A bit of a jerk, granted, but I count that as a plus, else I’d be perfect, and perfect is boring.”

Amity blinked. “I do not understand how a person can be naturally that confident.” She moved to lay down on Emira’s lap. “What happens when you get rejected? Doesn’t it sting?”

Emira tangled her fingers on Amity’s hair and combed through the knots. “I guess I don’t really get attached unless I know I have a solid chance of a yes.”

“And if I’m already attached?”

“Then rejection will hurt like a bitch, but at least you’re good at crying?” Amity raised her head and scowled. Emira lifted her hands in surrender. “I mean it as a good thing. You and Ed both are good at crying. I envy that. You and I both bottle things up, but I just explode in rage instead of tears. Like mom. It sucks. At least crying doesn’t hurt other people.”

“Huh.” Amity laid back down. “Thanks, I guess.”

Emira flicked Amity’s ear, laughing when she grumbled a complaint. “I think you’ll be fine. The girl likes you.”

“How do you know?”

“She keeps sneaking into the library to watch you read stories for kids?” Emira laughed again when she saw Amity’s cheeks turn a bright pink. “You’re overthinking it, and when the moment comes, it’ll come out easier than you think.”

“Why are you so sure of it?”

She took a moment to consider the questions and put the answer into words. “Because.” She drummed her fingers on the top of Amity’s head. “The whole reason you like her is how she makes you feel carefree. You’ll overthink it now, but she’ll force something spontaneous out of the bundle of neuroticism you call ‘self’.”

Amity sat up again and brought her hand to her chest, then gave Emira one of those long looks she had when she was thinking. “You’re really eloquent. Ed is less of an ass, but you’re better at explaining stuff.”

“Thanks. I traded my soul for exceptional logic reasoning.”

Amity elbowed her on the ribs, and Emira laughed, then pulled her into a half-hug and rubbed the top of her head with a knuckle. Amity grabbed her by the neck and flipped her over, which had Emira gasp in sheer surprise, then break into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.

“You learned a brawl move!” She took a deep breath, then lost it again. “You – pfhahaha – “

“I had to! You two keep pushing me around!!”

“Did you learn it from your gir –“

“No!”

Emira wiped the corners of her eyes. “You know, I’m proud of you. Not just for your newfound fighting skills. Or your to-be girlfriend. I just am.”

Amity made a strangled, indistinct sound of distress, then hid her face in the pillow. “What about that other stuff you were going to teach me?”

“How to ignore all the expectations society lays on you?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Have you considered vandalism –“

“No! Emira! Come on –“ She sat up and leaned her back on the bedframe.

“Why does it even matter?” Emira sat back up and crossed her legs. “What mom thinks, I mean. Why do we try so hard for a person we don’t even like?”

Amity flinched. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true, though. We don’t. We just waste a lot of time trying to please someone who is chronically unhappy. As if that was our job to fix or something.” Emira let herself fall back into the mattress and crossed her arms behind her head. “Dumb shit.”

“I can’t help trying. I tell myself not to, but when it comes down to it, I just can’t say no.” Amity ran her fingers through the purple strands of her own hair, staring at it. “It scares me. I’m afraid I’ll miss out on genuinely good things because I want to please mom. I suppose that makes me the dumbest.”

“Nah. You’re just the youngest. You’re a kid.” Emira sighed. “We both are. And you’re doing better in not being a pushover. You went from mom-green to crocodilflamingo pink.” She gave Amity a thumbs up. “Suits you.”

Amity went quiet for a moment, then sighed. “Am I really doing any better?” she pulled the skin on the corner of her nails. Emira rolled over and slapped her hand. Amity smiled. “You and Ed take the heat of things for me. You think I don’t notice, but I do.”

Her words brought a faint heartache, and Emira grimaced. “Shush. Don’t think about it. Go be a kid.”

“It’s not fair.”

“Go be a kid,” She insisted, and met Amity’s eyes. “Chase a girl. Flunk a test. Paint your hair whatever damn color you want. Make mistakes. Be happy. We have your back.”

Amity pulled her legs up and hugged them, then rested her chin on her knees. “And you? Don’t you get to be happy?”

“I take petty joy from seeing mother angry, and Ed takes genuine joy from seeing you prosper.” She smiled. There was a ding from her witchstagram account, and Emira took a glimpse of a message from her brother.

< you doing good over there?? im getting the worst vibes

Emira flipped her scryscreen off. Amity was staring at her in a way she absolutely could not decipher, as per usual. So she waited without trying to guess, knowing Amity would say what was on her mind. Eventually.

“I let Luz take my place in Grom, too.” She mumbled, staring at empty space. “I’m a stupid coward, that’s what.”

“You’re fourteen.”

“So is Luz. And you’re sixteen. It’s barely a difference.” She tilted her chin up. “I’m gonna ask her out. I have to. Because if I don’t get over myself, people get hurt on my place.”

Emira grunted a long, indistinct sound of distress. “Not like that.”

“Huh?”

She made a vague gesture. “You have a nice thing going on with your girl. It’s fun and makes you happy. If you let mom get in the middle and make it about her, it’ll sour things. So don’t do it like that. Do it for you.”

Amity raised her head and stared at the ceiling. “How do I even do it?”

Emira grinned, pushing herself up on her elbows. “You want my honest opinion?”

Amity arched her eyebrows. “I’ll… risk it. Sure. Go on.”

“I think you, like Ed and dad, are the type who gets asked out, not the kind who pops the question.” She pointed at Amity. “But unlike Ed and dad, you could surprise me.”

Amity’s ears turned a bright shade of pink. “What does that even mean?”

“I said what I said.”

Amity narrowed her eyes. “Did you just call me a… relationship wimp?”

“You’re not the most assertive –“

Amity flew at her, and the two rolled on the bed. Emira laughed, dodging her sister’s grappling. “Violence does not mean assertiveness, Mittens – holy shit, is this an armlock? Who taught you –“

“ – it was Eda.”

“The owl lady?!” Emira tapped the mattress. “Ow, ow, you’re killing me, kid –“ Amity let go and stuck out her tongue. Emira scoffed. “Here’s my advice on asking people out –“ She hesitated. “- I… don’t actually have any. ‘Want to go out with me’ has worked well enough for me.”

“You don’t get cold feet?” Amity shook her head to get her disheveled hair back in place.

“I like doing it. It’s exciting. Particularly when I know I’m going to get a yes. It makes me feel badass. Like when I pull a hard spell or score on grudgby.”

Amity arched her eyebrows. “Like a game. Not like the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life or anything.”

“And that’s why you need more action in your life. Do scarier things. Like vandalism –”

“No!”

Emira laughed, then tapped her back. “You’ve done scarier, Mittens. You’ve faced mom. You’ll be fine.”

Amity leaned into her, turning the taps into a hug. “And if I want her to ask me out? How do I even go about that?”

“Now that, Mittens, is a question for the Edric talk.”

Amity nodded, fully accepting that fact. “Thanks, Em. Do you think…” She paused and blushed. Emira nodded to encourage her. “Do you think you and Ed can sleep over again tonight? I don’t want to seem like a little kid but -” she stammered.

Emira waved her off. “It’s fine. It’s icy cold anyway. I’ve been freezing my butt off. It’s cuddle weather.”

“All right. I –“

The door slammed downstairs, and Emira sighed. “That’ll be Ed. He rushes home whenever I’m talking feelings. He can always tell. Must be the waves of distress I broadcast every time I’m forced to have an emotion.” Amity rolled her eyes. Emira jumped to her feet. “I’ll let you two have your talk.”

“Will you be… you know.” Amity shrugged.

“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I’ll burn off all my stress by yelling at people on witchtter and breaking windows of police stations.”

Amity frowned, then nodded. Emira stepped out of the room and half-closed the door behind her, only to find Edric already there, looking as if he’d run half a marathon.

“Did your date involve surfing on the boiling sea?”

Edric scowled. “Very funny. What the titan is up with you two? I came as fast as I could.”

Emira waved him off. “Mittens wants to talk about girls. One girl, specifically.” She watched Edric’s mouth fall open into a neat ‘O’ shape, and tapped his back.  “Good luck, champ. I’ve had my round already, and I’ll give you a fair warning – she has questions. So many questions.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but Emira didn’t let him finish. She grabbed his sleeve, flipped their positions and pushed him into the room. “Good luck, little brother!”

“Twins! We’re twins, I’m not your little –“

Emira slammed the door shut, and smiled.