At the ages of four and six respectively, Charles Harris and Adrian Parker were inseparable. Both born into the heart of high society - Charles a future Viscount and Adrian to be Marquis - they had been kindred spirits. Whether they were ensconced in some childhood mischief or discussing their future as nobles, the boys appeared to be attached at the hip.
They were polar opposites in personality; Charles being the carefree soul his short-tempered counterpart always envied. Yet still, they shared a bond seemingly impervious against the trivialities that affected the friendships of other boys their age. When Adrian fell into one of his black moods, it was Charles who forced him to smile. And when Charles found himself caught in the hands of mischief, it was Adrian who bailed him out.
They were loyal to one another to a fault. Brothers of the soul. And nothing - not Satan, or God himself - could separate them.
That was, until Fiona Harris was born.
A bundle of pink flesh, the new addition to the Harris family garnered the hearts of all those who saw her; Charles especially. Older brother and fierce protector, he adored her with fervor unmatched.
Adrian, however, was a bit more indifferent. He found Fiona to be a nuisance, a loud, tiny creature that required more tenderness and care than a boy of his age and disposition could understand. He couldn't quite comprehend why Charles seemed so loathe to part with her, but he did his best to keep his exasperation to himself. Speaking ill of Charles's most cherished possession would only serve to sever the relationship he so cherished entirely.
And so Adrian waited - doing his best impression of an understanding and supportive friend when his attempts at stealing Charles away were met with rejection.
As Fiona made the transition from toddler to child, things improved. No longer was Charles trapped inside by a sister who couldn't walk. Now Fiona could move, run, explore. And in turn, so could the boys. Despite Charles and Adrian's previous relationship, the duo swiftly became a trio. And Fiona's presence - though vaguely irksome - became second nature.
Years passed, and Fiona grew on him. Despite himself, he found himself developing a fondness for her. Like Charles, she possessed a blitheness that appealed to him - a lightness of spirit that called out to the darkness within himself. Powerless against the force of her smile, his heart softened towards her and before he knew it, she was the center of his world - as much his kindred spirit as Charles.
By the time she was seven, he would have killed for her. By the time she was ten, he would have died.
Bound by love, the three were an impenetrable force, a family. And they swore to each other in blood that they would let nothing ever part them.
In the end, it was Charles who broke his promise. At the age of sixteen, he fell from a horse and snapped his neck - dying instantly.
His parents were devastated. Fiona was heartbroken. And Adrian was changed irrevocably. Following Charles's tragic death, it was Adrian who came to the rescue of the Harris family. And though he was a poor consolation prize, he did his best to appease their grief; he made the arrangements for the funeral, he made sure that the family remained comfortable and healthy in their time of need. He stood in as the son and brother they had all lost.
And on that cold November morning when they lowered Charles's silent coffin into the cold earth, it was Adrian who wiped the tears from Fiona's face, vowing to the spirit of his lost brother that he would do everything in his power to see that her heart would never be broken again.