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Narcissus, Reflected

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Rosalind has always known herself to be a creature of habit. She wakes early every morning, scarcely after the sky has begun to lighten with the sunrise. She dresses herself in the unfortunately tedious number of layers required for “a lady of her good standing,” as her mother might have once said. Her breakfast is always perfunctory, a mere necessity, and she’s quick to abandon it in favor of her work.

Things are no different now that Robert has joined her. He too has a rather strict morning regimen, though-- to their equally endless curiosity-- it differs from Rosalind’s own. He wakes later than she does, remaining sprawled in their bed as she slips into her petticoat and shirtwaist. He takes less time to dress, but more time to breakfast. Oftentimes Rosalind turns to see him watching her scrawl equations on a chalkboard from the kitchen, his similarly piercing gaze missing nothing.

The Luteces revel in their small differences, just as they find joy in their uncanny similarities. They are quick to notice changes in one another; they allow only a slight deviation in behavior before considering it anomalous.

This, therefore, is why, when Robert is twenty-seven minutes later to rise than usual, Rosalind finds herself distracted. She looks up from her calculations to frown at the ceiling above, where she can hear the slow pad of footsteps. No matter, she thinks at first, and returns to her work.

Several minutes later there’s a clatter, followed by what sounds like the spill of some liquid, followed further by a quiet curse. That, she decides, is too anomalous to ignore. Rosalind all but tosses her chalk aside in her haste to reach the stairs.

She finds her “brother” in their washroom, standing over the sink, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. Even from the doorway, she can see the red droplets already staining the basin.

“A relapse?” she asks without preamble, striding forward until she is at his side.

Robert nods. “I’m not sure what brought it on," he muses. Scientifically minded as always, even as his free hand grips at porcelain, fingers white-knuckled in their attempt to ground himself.

Wordlessly, Rosalind slips a hand beneath his jaw, coaxing him to lift and turn his head. His pupils are dilated ever so slightly from the pain, eyes glassy in a way that brings out the icy blue of his-- their-- irises. He blinks once, twice, as if trying to bring her into focus.

“I was shaving,” he explains, inclining his head towards the sink and the abandoned straight razor therein. “I suppose I thought briefly about our physical similarities as I did so, and then I--”

“Hush,” Rosalind interrupts. “You sound as ghastly as you look.” The jibe is meant to cover up the worry in her voice, but even she is willing to admit that it fails spectacularly.

Robert smiles, thin and tenuous. “You wound me, dear sister.”

“No more wounded than you already are.”

One hand still cradling his face, she reaches for a clean towel and dabs at the blood spilling over his lips and chin. There’s a small cut on his right cheek-- a result of his shaving mishap. Robert’s eyes follow her hand as she moves to wash away the leftover soap, as well, revealing a shadow of remaining stubble.

Slowly, cautiously, she says, “You know that I am not really your sister.”

Robert’s response is immediate. “Of course. But even so I--” He winces, eyes slitting in pain and balance suddenly wavering. Rosalind’s heart jumps in her chest and she moves to steady him. More blood drips sluggishly from his nose, forging a new path as it fills the seam of his tightly closed lips.

There’s a moment of tense silence as they allow the cognitive dissonance to wane.

“… Less talk of that, then.”

“Yes,” Robert replies rather drily. Grimacing, he runs his tongue over his teeth, swiping at the blood there. “Perhaps that would be for the best.” His face appears even paler now, especially when juxtaposed with his red hair and the sanguine stain on his upper lip.

“Indeed.” Rosalind casts a glance over her shoulder, an idea already forming in her mind. “Come, this way.” She takes a step back, watching to make sure Robert is capable of supporting himself, before moving back out into the bedroom.

“I hope you aren’t suggesting that I go about my day half-shaved.”

“Certainly not. My, you are incorrigible like this, aren’t you?”

“Apologies. Having one’s brain leak out of one’s nose can have adverse effects on one’s mood.”

Rolling her eyes in exasperation-- Robert does so love to be dramatic-- Rosalind gestures to the vanity positioned against one bedroom wall. “I am suggesting,” she says, “that you sit. And that you let me help.”

There is nothing she loves about Robert so much as his utter lack of interest in male posturing. Problems are solved far more easily when not prefaced with nonsense about gender roles and wounded pride. Instead of arguing, her double takes a seat at the vanity and, sighing in relief, is quick to slump bonelessly backwards in his chair.

“And lo, the world has decided to cease its spinning,” he announces once Rosalind returns to his side, razor and water basin in hand.

“A marked improvement. And are you still seeing double?”

As Rosalind slathers his cheeks and jaw with more shaving cream, Robert glances sidelong at their reflections in the mirror: first his own, then hers. “As always,” he replies.

“Cheeky. Now hold still.”

She positions herself in front of him, free hand resting at his temple to adjust his head. The other grips the handle of the straight razor. Rosalind presses the blade to freckled skin, tracing the curve of Robert’s jaw in a single, sweeping motion. She repeats the gesture, and finds its methodical nature oddly… satisfying.

“If I were you,” she says-- and doesn’t miss the way Robert’s eyes glitter in amusement at the word choice-- “I don’t suppose I’d mind this part of the masculine routine. It’s--”

“-- methodical?” he interjects.

“Satisfying,” she agrees.

Robert nods, seemingly in consensus, smile still playing at the corners of his lips. He tilts his head back obediently when Rosalind presses her fingertips beneath his jaw.

From this angle, she uses the razor to follow the line of his throat. Robert’s gaze is still on her as she does so. It feels disarming, in a way, especially when she glances up to see his blue eyes hooded as he attempts to follow the motion of her arm. Rosalind wonders if her own lashes appear so-- for lack of a more suitable word-- pretty up close. Perhaps that femininity is something they share.

At the thought, Rosalind’s next breath leaves her in a quiet huff: the mere ghost of a laugh. Robert quirks a brow at her, curiosity piqued.

“I shouldn’t say,” she tells him. “It’s what set off your relapse earlier.”

Though he looks a bit put out, Robert nods minutely in understanding. Perhaps once he feels more stable, she can inform him of her observations. For now, however, she is free to speculate in silence.

Like, for example, if their shared and generous smattering of freckles is identical. She realizes, after a moment of careful inspection, that it is not: there’s a cluster along the curve of Robert’s left cheekbone that’s arranged differently than her own. Minutes later, she finds another spot on the side of his nose that’s darker, as well.

Of course, she already knows of the small, unique scar under Robert’s chin; she can feel its raised surface under her fingertips as she continues her task. An accident in his makeshift lab as a child, he’d explained. A misplaced stool had resulted in him falling and catching his chin on the kitchen table. Rosalind finds it endearing, and when she’d told Robert so, it had made him laugh. Mother disagreed, he’d said.

Their mother. Rosalind has a feeling that the woman disagreed with her actions far more than she ever had with Robert’s. It’s an old wound, and still tender, but that’s through no fault of her double’s. They’ve discussed such differences in the past.

Rosalind is quick to push the thought away. This moment, at least, is for differences of a purely physical nature.

As Robert turns his head in the opposite direction, allowing her access to his other cheek, she spots a faint, purpling bruise on his neck, partially hidden by his starched collar. She smiles; physical differences, indeed. Briefly she pulls the razor away in favor of pressing a thumb against the marred patch of skin.

Robert hisses, flinching at the sudden ache. “It still smarts,” he says. If Rosalind hadn’t known better, she would have called his tone petulant.

“I should think so,” she replies matter-of-factly.

Despite the serious set of his jaw, she can see Robert color slightly through the remains of the shaving cream. “And I’m the incorrigible one, am I?”

“I’m not quite sure what you mean.”

“A likely story.”

Rosalind rests a hand at the base of his neck, a firm hold that silences Robert immediately. “Quiet. You’re breaking my concentration,” she chides. Her hand slides upwards until it forces his head to tilt once more, and she feels his throat jump beneath her palm.

She notes, with no small amount of pride, that Robert’s next words come slower than their usual banter. “Of course, my dear.”

And so continues her quiet cataloguing of their similarities and differences. Interesting, she thinks, how much quicker Robert is to blush. Not that she wasn’t privy to that knowledge already-- which, as it turns out, may or may not be correlated with the other mottled bruises hidden beneath his shirt. She does wonder, though, if they blush that same brilliant shade. It’s hard to tell when under the cover of darkness and the gauzy sheets of their four-poster bed.

Finally finished, Rosalind procures a washcloth from the vanity and cleans Robert’s face of residual soap and half-dried blood. All the while she feels him watching, no doubt surveying her just as closely. Blue eyes now blessedly clear, Robert says after some time, “Do you know you bite your tongue when you focus?”

Rosalind tilts her head, intrigued. “No,” she admits, “I don’t suppose I did.” Then she smiles. “But you do the same.”

Pleased by yet another show of their similarity, Robert breaks into a smile that mirrors her own, albeit brighter. He has always displayed happiness more readily than his female counterpart. His eyes flick down towards her mouth, as if searching for the very habit they’re discussing. It’s a silent question Rosalind is quick to recognize.

She is slow, however, in indulging him. First, she leans back to inspect her handiwork. Her hand is a steady one, and so her brother has sustained no additional nicks from the blade; she makes a show of looking over his now smooth jawline, turning his head this way and that. “I do make quite the fetching man,” she says airily.

Robert’s expression grows sharper, teasing. “How very conceited of you.”

“As if you’re any better,” Rosalind replies.

“Touché.”

When Rosalind finally bends at the waist, lips parted in an invitation, Robert is quick to meet her. The kiss feels as theirs always do: perfectly matched, comfortingly familiar, and yet somehow entirely novel. It is something she will never tire of. No matter how many times she presses her tongue to the swell of Robert’s bottom lip, feels him cave beneath the gentle pressure and open so beautifully for her, the sensation will remain as incomparable as ever.

“You know,” she says as they part, “some may call this narcissism taken to its natural conclusion.”

“Its unnatural conclusion, I should think,” amends Robert, voice lilting with quiet amusement.

“Unholy, even,” Rosalind continues.

“Careful, dear sister. You may scandalize the good people of Columbia.”

The warning is said in a tone so comically blasé, almost mocking, that it threatens to coax a laugh out of her. Instead, Rosalind allows a smirk to curl her lips. Their mouths are still only a hairsbreadth apart, and so the motion causes them to brush in the mere approximation of a kiss. She can see the way Robert’s eyes have begun to darken again, this time in interest. Perhaps if she looked hard enough, she could see herself reflected there, and could marvel in their perfect analogy.

After the silence has had a moment to settle over them both-- a silence one can only truly achieve when alone with oneself-- Rosalind speaks. “Let them be scandalized,” she says.

Judging by the way Robert pulls her closer, head tilted to allow their mouths to meet once more, it seems they are, as always, in agreement.