Chapter 1: Mirror, Mirror
He stared at his reflection a lot, these days.
Sometimes he couldn’t help it, others because he couldn’t help it. At first, it was the similarities to his Father that caught his attention, but they were easy to brush off because they were also similarities to her – and that was the real problem. Ha, "real problem" – that made it sound like he hated looking like her. Her – his perfect twin sister. The one that everyone loved, including him because she was just as sweet and kind and protective as he was acerbic and dishonest and reckless. Their family called her Jenny, a strange term of endearment that wasn’t quite a nickname, but that was shorter than Jeanne. They shared the same blonde hair, the same blue eyes, the same pale skin and tendency toward freckles. They wore their hair differently – hers with wild bangs and in a braid, his with middle-parted bangs and a wild ponytail – wore their clothes differently – when he could – spoke their words and made their expressions differently. She was taller, but both of them knew their way around a sword.
Whenever he looked in the mirror, he wasn’t looking for those differences, though. He was looking for the differences in their body structure, in the way they moved, in the way he tried to make himself seem larger – like a cat arching it’s back and hissing, fur standing on end – while she just… existed. Comfortably. As if she’d never questioned a single thing about herself since the moment they’d been born screaming into this world. He, on the other hand, had often questioned almost everything about himself. The way he dealt with his hair, the sort of clothes he wore, how he listened to music turned all the way up to SHATTER whenever he wanted to drown out their Father and disconnect from the world. Sometimes, it was just to make sure he’d situated his chest binder correctly. Sometimes, it was to make sure he looked at least semi-presentable. Sometimes, it was to check himself over before skillfully avoiding their Father so he could meet up with his boyfriend.
Most of the time, though, it wasn’t.
This morning – 5:30AM, Jeanne showering, only one of their parents awake – was one of the "usual." A migraine headache simultaneously throbbed at he back of his skull and pressed against the backs of his eyes, making his vision go double if he stared too hard for too long. Sharp blue eyes that had never known makeup of any kind besides concealer roamed over his reflection the way a dying man stared at an oasis in a desert. Boney hands roved like claws, pinching at sides (boxers barely clinging to a straight waist and narrow hips documented), tugging at the white fabric of his binder (a small rib-cage that looked dainty supporting Jeanne’s large breasts but boyish on him recorded), circling around upper arms and thighs (leanly muscled rather than slender, part of the few things he liked about his appearance). The sound of two people’s footsteps on the landing outside the door of the bedroom he'd shared with his sister since they were born made him jump and nearly black out. He’d clearly stalled too long.
"You’re up early, sweetheart." The distinctive purr of a female alpha reached his ears.
So, his Father was confronting his Papa.
"I meant to check on Mordred and Jenny before breakfast. I don’t think either of them slept well."
For a Berserker, Papa was quite sane and placid – unless someone/something threatened his little ones.
"It wouldn’t kill you to say, "the girls," you know." Pointed as ever, Father was asserting her dominance.
"No, but it might kill our son." His heart squeezed, hearing Papa defend him.
"Don’t be dramatic. Indulging her – " And losing her patience.
"Indulging Mordred will only encourage her."
"I will never understand how you can accept everyone else, Arturia, but when it comes to our son – "
Flinching at the sound of his Father’s previous name, as he knew it signaled a fight was well and truly underway, Mordred backed away from the door as quietly and as quickly as he could. Turning – trying to shut out the yelling from outside on the landing by retreating into routine – the blonde teen moved to the dresser on his side of the room, and blindly grabbed a pair of socks before heading to the closet. Though the twins shared the space, it was mostly Jeanne’s, only his uniform and a jacket or two taking up a bit of space on the left side. (Along with a very well-hidden suit.) A boy’s school uniform was the single concession that their Father was willing to make, not quite hypocritical enough to deny that when she herself preferred suits and masculine clothing. It fit loosely, but to Mordred’s mind, that meant it fit well because he didn’t have a feminine body shape to make it fit badly. Shirt on but open, pants in hand, and socks on his feet, he slid into the connected bathroom without caring that Jeanne was finishing her shower.
Having grown up completely inseparable, they had seen each other naked enough times that they were completely desensitized to it by now. Habitually, he pinned back his bangs before getting started with the rest of his morning routine. Wiping the steam off of the mirror, the shorter twin grabbed primer and carefully applied it to his face, glad that it helped him feel a bit more awake, even if he wasn’t looking it quite yet. Concealer fixed that quickly enough, making the dark circles that seemed permanently bruised under his eyes vanish within a few moments. Pale as their German mother, clear skin was one of the few features they had both inherited from the omega that had carried them. Foundation was just as quick, followed by setting powder. Contouring to make his face appear more masculine took the most time, but even that was done inside of ten minutes. Setting everything one last time, he finished dressing.
As luck would have it, that was just when Jeanne was getting out of the shower.
"Father and Papa are fighting again," he reported, seeing her confused and concerned look in the mirror. He didn’t often retreat to the bathroom during her shower, after all.
"Same as ever, or – ?" When she spoke, it was clear that he tried to pitch his voice lower with mixed results.
"Same as ever," he confirmed, words slightly muffled around the red hair tie held between his teeth.
Why he did it, kept it trapped there as he brushed out his pale blonde hair, he couldn’t say for sure. Maybe he just had an oral fixation of some kind. Maybe he was a control freak. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. Not that it mattered, really. As his hair just reached his waist when down, when he pulled it up into his usual high ponytail, the end brushed a few inches below his shoulders. Of course, in their family, long hair was pretty much the norm; only their older brother had hair shorter than shoulder-length. Unpinning his bangs and shaking his head in an uncanny imitation of a dog, Mordred opened the bathroom door to head back into the bedroom. Shrugging into his uniform jacket, and picking up a red scarf that had been a gift from their brother last Christmas, he sighed softly in relief when silence greeted him. It seemed that the two alphas had either parted ways, or taken their fight downstairs to avoid waking their omega mate.
Wrapping the scarf around his neck, he called to his sister, "Tell Papa I’m getting breakfast with Rami and Eto."
Grabbing his school bag, he left quickly, thankfully not meeting his Father on the stairs.
(He’d tell his friends he’d eaten before leaving home, but no-one needed to know that.)
Chapter 2: History Repeats -- Or Does It?
Not all mornings are stressful, just most of them.
Another year, another chapter. May or may not continue, as the roleplay that spawned it may or may not continue.
TRIGGER WARNING -- Contains graphic depictions of being burned alive. If you want to skip, it's the italic scene following the second line break.
Also, RandyTrevelyan, I hope the Mordred and Semiramis interactions in the first part of this chapter are at least a bit satisfactory ^^;;
Cool and imperious as ever, Semiramis sat in the wrought iron chair across the table from her littermate as if it were a throne. Long hair swept back over her shoulders, such a dark green it looked black unless under direct sunlight. Wide golden eyes were framed by thick dark lashes, her features delicate and regal and clearly inherited from her mother, while her coloring came from her father. Back nearly flush with that of the chair, dainty hands folded carefully in her lap, she looked every bit the royal she had once been. Across from her, her sister sighed in annoyance. Much sportier than her sister, Eto wore her hair up in a ponytail the same way that Mordred did, but that was where their similarities ended. Off the field, Eto had a feminine streak he had never possessed, despite what others might claim. Her odd hair, fading from green to gold to white, was chalked up to the fact that she and her two littermates – Semiramis and Snake, a boy who kept to himself – were approximately three-fourths god.
At least, among those aware of the Grail and its abilities, it was chalked up to that fact. Everyone else sort of just treated it with the same nonchalance that came with knowing someone’s family possessed magecraft. Over the decade and a half since the end of the Fifth Holy Grail War, a strange phenomenon had come to be observed. Master/Servant, Servant/Servant, even rather rarely Master/Master couplings seemed to produce other Servants, and even stranger, these Servants had the memories of their original lives intact. (Oddly, though they retained their original memories, any Wars they had been Summoned in between then and now had been wiped from their minds.) As such, most of Mordred and Jeanne’s friends tended to have very… interesting personalities, to put it mildly. Not to say that they didn’t have human friends, they had always just seemed to gravitate towards those like them. Or, better stated, their friends were (mostly) also part of their extended family.
"Leave him alone," Eto admonished, "we didn’t have a set time to meet up." As Mordred joined them at the table outside the café, the trio’s usual meeting place in the mornings before school, the huntress continued. "Besides, just because you happen to be upset Mama’s pregnant and suddenly you aren’t the favorite anymore, doesn’t mean you get to take it out on everyone else." Had one been listening closely enough, and had they known what to listen for, they would have detected something of a cat-like hiss in her words.
Mordred lifted both eyebrows in Eto’s direction in lieu of a verbal question, as he was currently sipping at the strong black coffee he’d ordered before joining them. (He needed to stay awake somehow, after all.) In return, the taller of the two athletes simply sighed, somehow managing to not roll her eyes in disdain for her sister. As expected, Semiramis herself merely sneered at both of them, before immersing herself in her phone. She was likely texting her would-be mate, but Mordred was far more interested in what her sister had to say than what the green-haired girl was doing.
"In our family, attention or lack thereof is enough of a reason to fight – much like with yours and food."
Somehow, he managed to not wince at that statement, distracting Eto with a laugh instead. "Jeez, sounds like a pain – assuming you guys get as bad as we do, I mean." Even outside their family, it was quite well known that fighting to the death over a chicken leg had almost happened more than once. It also usually resulted in Jeanne – as a Ruler class Servant – needing to break up the fight before someone actually died, but that wasn’t the point. Not that that preoccupation with food helped Mordred’s self-esteem, or how he felt about his body. Truthfully, it just made both of those things worse. Intending to keep his reactions hidden, the blonde quickly continued speaking. If he were at all lucky, the change of topic would come across smoothly and naturally.
"So – you said your Mom’s pregnant, right?" It felt normal to follow up, but the blue-eyed boy couldn’t have been sure if it really were, so he just hoped. (Not prayed, as he didn’t particularly believe in any God or gods, unlike his staunchly Catholic twin.) "That’s gotta be one hell of an adjustment." The King of Heroes’ mercurial personality was well known, so it stood to reason that adding in pregnancy hormones would just make the moody omega even more volatile.
Eto merely shrugged in response. "Papa keeps him calm, usually, and besides – I’m at least used to it." Unlike her littermates, Eto was much closer to their older half-sisters, and thus close with the twins’ omega mate as well. Of course, that was where their two families started to get both confusing, and interwoven. Not that Mordred had much time to think about it; his cell phone shattered the until-then-companionable silence, chirping with the insanely upbeat pop tune that belonged to his boyfriend. The blonde made a surprised sound, but his other best friend simply shrugged ruefully at his apologetic glance. The track star wasn’t interested in relationships – though not for lack of trying, on the part of one of her teammates – so she simply watched everyone else’s interactions in amused neutrality.
Getting up from the table and stepping a bit away to answer the call, the blue-eyed blonde answered it a few seconds too late. He listened to the voicemail that had been left, frowning in concern at how subdued his usually-lively and chipper partner sounded. Deleting the message out of habit, once he’d listened to it in it’s entirety, he sent a quick text to let his love know he’d gotten the message. Turning back to the table, where Semiramis had engaged her sister in what was equal parts conversation and subdued sniping, he offered his two best friends an apologetic grin. He didn’t even need to speak, as it turned out, not that he was surprised. Both girls shared their mother’s ability to discern the heart of a situation with astounding speed and clarity, after all.
"Need to rush off, hm?" The darker-haired of the two sounded just a touch snide, where the more athletic sister would have sounded amused, but not at all unkind. She just enjoyed needling and teasing more than Eto did, that was all; it never really had any sort of bite to it. At least, not when directed at family or friends. "Don’t worry about it," though imperious as ever, her smile was kind. "Get going, we’ll see you in class."
(Someday, Mordred had to tell both of them how much they meant to him.)
"Tell Astolfo we said hi, yeah?" True to form, Eto was smirking, green eyes kind like her sister’s smile.
"Yeah," the blonde chuckled, the sound just a touch wry, "of course. Bye."
"Bye," the sisters chorused, and that was that.
Jeanne left home less than ten minutes after her twin did; it was Wednesday, after all.
Dedicated as she was, her days and weeks always fell into the same pattern. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, she left home around 5:45AM to arrive at Fuyuki Church at 6:00AM on the dot. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, she got up an hour earlier to arrive at 5:00AM instead. Though the Second Vatican Council had adjusted the structure, the times for the Liturgy of the Hours had remained largely the same. One half of the week she arrived to pray the Officium Lectionis (Office of Readings, formerly Matins) with her partner, Karren, at 5 o’clock; the other, she arrived for Lauds an hour later. As Karren was also an ordained member of the clergy, there was no need to involve their father, which suited the pair just fine. As always, though Karren’s face and voice remained more or less impassive, their dark eyes – an odd shade of deep rose – expressed their warmth for her. Their embrace was equally warm, though short; they undoubtedly loved her, but weren’t comfortable with prolonged physical contact.
Raised in the Church, Karren had been trained from a very young age by the members of a branch of the Eighth Sacrament known as Iscariot. Their primary duties were to detect and exorcise demons, but they could act as an Executor or even an Inquisitor as well, should the need arise. Though prone to sickness if they weren’t careful – another reason why they kept nearly everyone at arm’s length – they seemed to have inherited nothing else from their late mother, possessing the same physical prowess, magical circuits, and features as their father. Jeanne had only known the for a few short years, four to be exact, but it felt as if she had known them all her life. They had been nothing but polite and even chivalrous in that time, warm but distant. Had the blonde herself not brought up the subject a few months ago, following her fourteenth birthday, it was almost a certainty the alpha would never have pursued anything with her.
Of course, the beautiful omega was nothing if not stubborn and willful when the mood struck her; she had diligently spent half a year wearing down their walls and protests. However, though they pair were partners in name, Karren point-blank refused to do more than embrace Jeanne. That was something they would not be dissuaded from, no matter how much she begged and demanded by turns. It could wait until Jeanne was at least eighteen, and not a moment sooner. But their relationship had little to do with the mornings they spent together; mornings were for religious rites, while evening Bible study on Saturday was the "intimate" time they spent together.
Lauds began the same way as it always did, with an invitatory spoken in Karren’s soft voice. A hymn followed, their alto and Jeanne’s soprano twining quietly but clearly through the empty church. Psalm 86 (87) followed, Jerusalem, Mother of All Nations. Karren’s voice could easily have lulled her back to sleep, but the blue-eyed blonde was too fervent in her devotion and belief to allow such a thing. The canticle that came after – Isaiah 40, The Good Shepherd is God, the Most High – and the next Psalm – 98 (99), The Lord our God is Holy – could easily have done the same, but once again, the girl known as La Pucelle d'Orléans wouldn’t allow it. The reading of Peter 4:10-11 was something Jeanne knew almost by heart, and the responsory that followed was more involved on her part, so it kept the fourteen-year-old from dozing off regardless. The Canticle of Zachariah was next, while prayers and intercessions came after, as always. The Lord’s Prayer was last, and then a blessing.
"The Lord bless us, and keep us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life," Karren murmured, their way of seeing the omega off to school.
"Amen," Jeanne replied, as was expected. Brazenly, she leaned up to peck their cheek before leaving.
Karren could only blink after her, before putting it out of their mind; they had chores to get done.
In truth, everything had been her fault.
She had been the one, in the beginning, to relegate their affair to the shadows. They had subsisted on stolen touches and guilty kisses for years, that same guilt keeping her from allowing either of them the physical closeness they both craved. And then, in the end, it had been her idea to finally give in after resisting for so long. She couldn’t have said what drove her to finally break, but whatever it was, it didn’t even begin to absolve her of any of the guilt she carried over what had transpired. The pain of being dragged by the hair before her husband and the rest of the court was nothing compared to the pain she knew Arturia must have been feeling, seeing her wife and mate be so completely and irrevocably shamed. Not that the Queen held it against her, or fleeing against Lancelot; the omega had no right, and she knew that well. Even still, the ruling of the jury – which the glorious King read aloud with her usual noble distance and dispassion – would haunt Camelot’s Queen even into the afterlife.
"Verdict, guilty of treason against King and Country. Sentence, to be burned at the stake until dead."
It should have alarmed her, how quickly the execution was organized, how much of the court arrived in the dark gloom before dawn at 4 o’clock. But she could feel none of it, not beyond the lightness of having her hair cut short, or the cold bite of the shackles around her wrists. Even as she prayed upon her knees in the dirt, dressed in a simple shift of dark linen, she could hear the murmurs. Mingled with the crack and snap of lit torches, were the thoughts of the gathered courtiers. Some thought the King ought to pardon her and only punish Lancelot. Others suspected this was a trap as much as it was an execution; if Lancelot loved her so, he would surely come and try to save her. Of course, none of it mattered, not when the bells chimed to signal 5AM – the time when her execution was set to begin.
Being dragged to her feet was tolerable, as was being tied to the stake, and having bundles of sticks piled around her legs. What became intolerable quickly, however, was the heat from the ring of torchbearers surrounding her. But even that became background noise, when Arturia arrived. Even now, her beloved alpha showed no emotion, expression implacable as always. And then, suddenly, there was no time left. Dearly as she wished to cry out, to beg her husband’s forgiveness – at least as a person, if not the King – the Queen knew her fate was sealed. She watched her mate nod wordlessly to the executioner, and took the small final comfort she was being offered; at least Arturia would not say the words aloud. Simultaneously, the ring of torches was lowered to the oil-soaked wood, the flame catching and burning almost instantly. Not that God or Fate was done with her yet, however; she would not have the luxury of drying from shock, that much was clear.
Fair and soft-skinned, her flesh began to blister and burn quickly. The smell of her own burning flesh assaulted her, mixing with the smoke and hot air from the fire itself to burn and blister her throat as well. As rapidly as it had begun to burn and blister, her skin began to crack as well, the fire climbing ever higher. With her throat swelling, her vision would have begun to swim regardless, but that on top of sweat and tears rendered her all but blind. All she could hear, at that point, was the pounding of her own heart, and vaguely, what sounded like screams. Was she the one screaming? She had to be, given that even those who didn’t believe her crime worth this death would have fallen silent by now. Not that she had any sort of concept of time, of course; what had felt like an eternity could very well only have been moments. And still, the flames rose, higher and higher with no end in sight. Her dress had already caught, blood soon beginning to stream from her blistering and cracking skin.
By the time Lancelot arrived – charging at the head of an army – it was far, far too late.
(In that dawn, more than love met it’s doom; in the light of the fire, came the sundown of a dream.)
Thrashing and screaming in broken Welsh, they only truly woke thanks to a sound slap across the face.
Red eyes snapped open, screams cutting off abruptly, as they gasped for breath. Steady green eyes met their rather erratic gaze evenly, a beloved face expressing concern. For a moment, the omega found themselves caught up in the difference between then and now, mainly in how fiercely emotional their alpha could be. Then their thoughts were derailed by the sound of an equally beloved voice, blood-colored gaze shifting to meet pale.
"Did you have to slap them?" A frown and already-irate tone of voice made it clear their second alpha mate had already fought with the blonde once that morning, making the omega almost flinch in response.
"It was the quickest and simplest solution." In the face of the ravenette’s irritation, Akira’s response was cool and collected as ever. "Besides," here she turned her attention back to them, "you’re alright, aren’t you, my love?"
Truthfully, they were. Deadened nerves meant they couldn’t feel pain; it was more the shock of the slap that had woken them than anything else. Still, they didn’t quite trust their voice yet, and so they simply nodded. They smiled softly at Hanbee when he came over to join them and their alpha on the bed, even purring softly to let him know that they were truly okay. Though he sighed in response, and some of the tension seemed to drain from him, he still set to carding gentle fingers through Juuzou’s long white hair.
"See? I told you they weren’t hurt." Neither the omega nor the other alpha connected on the trace of smugness in the blonde’s tone.
Though normally the three of them would have been making plans for the day (with the entire von Einzbern fortune at their disposal, none of them needed to work unless they wanted to), it seemed that for now, the two alphas simply wished to cuddle their omega. Hanbee’s reasons were clear – tactile affection was the surest way to keep his temper and sanity from slipping – while Akira’s had always been harder to discern, even for her mates. Not that Juuzou would give it much thought, either now or in the future; if the German omega had their way, the three of them would have hardly left their bed. That said, after a few moments of quiet nuzzling and purring (over the years, Hanbee had more-or-less taught himself how to purr), the homunculus ventured a question.
"…What were you two fighting about?" It was soft, but clear, even if a part of them screamed that they shouldn’t be saying anything. Instinct demanded it, even if their trauma and coping mechanisms loathed it. They could have ventured a guess, and likely been correct, but Akira answered before they or Hanbee could speak.
"It doesn’t matter, sweetheart." Her words had both of them blinking in confusion, even if neither of them quite knew what to make of them. "I was in the wrong, and got worked up over something trivial." It was the closest she would come to outright apologizing – old habits died harder deaths than nigh-invulnerable Servants – but what surprised the Caster was how their Bersserker simply let it go. Normally, he would have argued the point, but apparently he wasn’t feeling up to it that morning.
Deciding that the amicable state of things should be enjoyed while it lasted, the omega simply murmured, "Alright, if you’re sure," before shifting into a more comfortable position. With the easily-sparked tempers in their family, peace was a rare commodity these days.
Not that the irony was lost on them, of course.