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Shadows in the Garden

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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.

"Him."

"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.)