It was easy enough to get a message to Thatty, and one of our class assistants was kind enough to leave the back door open for me when he locks up for curfew. Granted, I promised him a kiss on the cheek from Iliana, but I can deal with that later on. I don a dark blue cloak that ties with silver cord at the throat - one of Akantha's hand-me-downs, and hurry barefoot across the courtyard, weaving around buildings until I reach the altis walls and its locked doors. I walk the perimeter for a little bit until I find an ivy trellis, one that - from practice - I know how to climb up and over into the sacred zone.
He stands in the middle of the grounds in front of the altar, with curving stairs and a block of stone that has grown darker brown from years of sacrifice. There will be a cattle sacrifice on my birthday - not for me, but for the summer solstice, which just happens to collide. My brother is as handsome as ever, wearing a plain tunic and leather sandals going up to his knees. His curls drip from a bath he must have left after receiving my message. I am tempted to call his name when I see him, but I realise I can't, and walk quietly towards him, the moments of approach spreading discomfort through the air. It's been years since I truly hugged him, the way we always would, where he'd spin me in his arms and dip me like we were dance partners and I became light-headed. Obligation had pushed us apart, and besides, if we were found meeting, an apprentice and a servant after curfew, Akantha would string me up by my hair on principle.
"You came," I say, unable to hide my joy. "I thought you wouldn't have time,"
"I expected you'd need me sooner or later, after what happened to Marissa."
"What happened to her", as if it's a tragic accident or a scandal.
He leans on the altar plinth, and I hoist myself up, my legs swinging childishly and reminding me of how older and bigger he is than me. He brings out a carefree side in me, the Netea that would run through market streets half-naked with neighbourhood boys, only for him to reprimand me and pull me back inside.
He couldn't protect me like that here, not as a temple attendant, and so I’ll never be able to justify in my mind why, after all these years away from his friends, estranging himself from our mother, being the lustful objects of governesses and sponsors, why he still smiles at me like it’s all been worth it.