Tangible Schizophrenia


The House of Neptune

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Ref. to incest.
Pairing: Grégoire de Fronsac/Jean-François de Morangias/Sylvia, Grégoire/Jean-François, one-sided Marianne de Morangias/Jean-François de Morangias. Fandom: Brotherhood of the Wolf
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, anything.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Translations of French upon request. AU; Grégoire had matters completely explained to him before he came to Gévaudan for the first time, and some roles switched around.
Summary: Suspicion and confusion are frequent bedfellows.


"…and the spoor? Have you found any?"

Across the table, the Morangias heir opened his mouth to answer, but before he could do so, a sudden flurry at the terrace door distracted everyone. A beautiful, if rather spoiled-looking, young woman flounced through, closely followed by a hangdog fop.

"Marianne de Morangias," whispered Thomas into Grégoire's ear.

But not quietly enough. An odd glint in it, Jean-François' sardonic gaze snapped back to them. "My little sister, m'sieur."

"A very lovely and accomplished young lady…" Grégoire obligingly murmured, still busy arranging and rearranging the current stock of information on the beast of Gévaudan. "Have any of your men run across concrete signs of the animal besides its kills?"

A surprised ripple went around the table, abruptly reminding Grégoire of the social niceties. And the social expectations; Thomas had only just torn his gaze away from the rampaging beauty. The chévalier smiled his most rueful smile, and made a slight bow to the Count and Countess. "My apologies if I seem single-minded and thus unappreciative of your hospitality. I tend to lose myself in my work."

"A rather admirable trait, I would imagine." Shadows swirled as Sardis leaned forward for another glass of wine. "With that kind of approach, I am certain that you will succeed in ridding us of this monstrous visitation."

"The beast is an earthly animal." Grégoire inwardly winced, then softened his tone. "I-find that it's easier to think of such matters in concrete terms. There is less room for tragic error that way, if I may correct your Excellency." In response, a thinly polite curve came to Sardis' lips, and the priest waved away the rustling waves of indignant posturing that swept through all the gathered princes-of-the-hill. Except for the son, who remained in his aloof slouch, smoky curls trailing over the space of his missing arm. Grégoire made another bow and murmured some excuse, then exited the gathering. Thomas hurried to keep up with the blistering pace, peppering Grégoire with questions to which he answered vaguely and somewhat coldly.

He was sorry to treat the other man so, especially when Thomas seemed to be the only friendly face in the entire region, but Grégoire had not come here to participate in a medieval witch-hunt. And to be frank, that was the impression the Gévaudan nobility gave, like a faint but ever-present stench underlying their perfume and hauteur. Something was wrong, and it seemed to center around Sardis' insistence that the beast was supernatural. Granted, the man could simply be a dedicated clergyman, and these people were rather far from the dazzling arena of the Enlightenment, but…

In the American colonies, Grégoire had learned precisely how far reason extended, and how far it fell from the vast seas of dark intuition that still governed the earth. More importantly, he had learned to read the ebb and flow of the blackness. Perhaps not quite as well as Mani-


"Sardis…tell me about him." They mounted their horses for the ride back to the Marquis' castle. Thomas shot Grégoire an inquisitive glance, then stared out at the tumbling heaves of green grass. "Damn it. I'm sorry, Thomas. But…"

"Most men take more than one look at Marianne de Morangias." Soft laugh as the other man fiddled with his reins. "We hear all about the debauched Parisians and their exploits. I think you disappointed quite a few people back there. But every man has his own tastes. I'll show you somewhere special tonight."

Of course. Grégoire temporarily let go of the mystery and returned the lewd grin. Tangled and worrying though the situation might be, he saw no point in starving himself from the pleasures of the world. If anything, it should strengthen his motivation to preserve the very charming locals. And it would help compensate Mani for having to put up with these fools in the near future.

Unfortunately, dusk was hours from falling, and Grégoire could only dream. "All right, young Marquis. But Sardis?"

"Oh, yes." Thomas frowned, furrows creasing his fine young skin. So innocent and eager, unmarked by life. It made Grégoire ache with nostalgia-and irony. "A very learned man, and a good priest to the parish. But neither my father nor I care for him much. He's…he's too polite to say it directly, but I think he hates anything to do with the Enlightenment. But he's great friends with most of the others. Especially the Comtesse de Morangias."

Pope of his small kingdom, then. A man to be watched-and speaking of that…

Dagger eyes.

"What about the Morangias heir?" After the priest, Jean-François seemed the most educated and perceptive of the group, though vinegar-tongued. Restless and full of ire at the rest of the world.

"Which?" When Grégoire startled out of his musings, Thomas had shrewd eyes trained past his instinctive cover of sardonic deprecation. The other man shook his head, then resettled himself in the saddle and patted his horse. "I could take you somewhere that handles such matters, if that's what your preference is."

"Is that why you don't like Sardis?" Before the alarm in Thomas' face could become more than a shadow, Grégoire waved away any response. "Never mind. Take me to the first place, and tell me about Jean-François' views on the Enlightenment. The intellectual aspects of it, s'il te plait."

* * *

"You'll need luck," she sighed, and Grégoire nearly sighed with her.

More puzzles upon puzzles. The dinner had been even more strained than the brief introductions that morning, what with having to placate the prideful Marianne while also keeping an eye on Sardis and Jean-François. Shapes were beginning to form in Grégoire's mind, and he liked them not a whit. It wasn't going to be nearly as simple as he had assumed.

"And what price for a simple conversation?" he asked in a slightly irritated tone. "Or perhaps madame would lend me her bed for a few hours? As much as I enjoy the verbal ripostes, I'm afraid that I still feel the road beating on my poor limbs."

Black lace turned an inscrutable expression upon him as he sat on the mattress, and then the woman got up to take a seat next to him. "You do a poor job of seeming less than you are."

He let himself fall backwards into the cradling softness and watched the dim light weaving through the ornamented edges of her mask before turning away. "Likewise, madame. Shall we have an understanding, then? Leave business out of the bedroom?"

"I never confuse the two." Light hand stroking his brow, like a mother. "Are you uncomfortable here?"

"Here?" Grégoire chuckled, half-closing his eyes. "Not with your bewitching presence. Outside, though…even Circe's spells fail. This is a dark land, chère. Dark and ignorant."

Her eyes changed. Lost some of their brilliant faceting to become knowingly human. "So you feel it."

"I am not blind, nor do I care to let myself be made so. Not even here." Silk whispered traitorous secrets as she lay down beside him, her warm honey breath sinking into his nose and then circling back into her. The mask loosened and fell to disclose a detached beauty accented with the faintest trace of tiredness.

"Sylvia," she murmured, and then they didn't need to speak.

* * *

A brief interruption to deal with the nonsense over Mani's tattoos, and then Grégoire reinstalled himself in Sylvia's bed and shared her wineglass while she expounded the Tarot. Two agendas of lace and steel, letting themselves unbend with a smile and a wink.

The day before he and Mani had left Paris, a messenger had dropped off a small, slender volume of blood-hued covers for Grégoire's perusal. He'd read it on the way, hissing over the carefully-printed poison while Mani clucked their mounts along. Even now, comfortable and relaxed, he still winced at the sheer depth of the religious fanaticism expressed in that tome. The beast an agent of God, indeed-punishing man for his search for knowledge? For being reasonable?

He could see where other powers might take an interest in such goings-on; the tract not only struck out at the King, but could easily be turned against any great figure of the authority. "The Pope."

"The Hierophant." Peacock, bone and gold fluttered to the cushions. Above the fan of painted fates, Sylvia's eyes were coldly considering.

Another bustle interrupted their stare, and the mistress' plump figure wedged through the curtains, trailing a slumping body that was neatly wrapped in red velvet. "Sylvia, chère, do you mind…oh, Monsieur Fronsac!"

"Leave him," Sylvia commanded as she swept the deck off the bed. Amused and lazily letting it show, Grégoire moved aside to make room. The other woman still hesitated and gabbled, but eventually had the near-unconscious Morangias deposited besides him and removed her jarring presence from the musky air. "Like all men," the Italian fortuneteller sighed. "He comes and looks. Drinks and drinks until they drop him here, with me. But not like other men-he doesn't touch."

"Really." That certainly was interesting, as presently Jean-François was touching. Slurring his mumbles into Grégoire's neck and nudging into his front, limp arm cast over his waist. "And you keep him company?"

"He seems to prefer talking to me." She arched a shrug and returned to her seat at the mirror, an odd smile on her face.

Almost nuzzling, like a lamb to its mother, before the tousled head lifted and the bleared eyes slowly focused. "Fronsac."

"Yes." Grégoire ignored the silvery glint in the other man's hair and didn't move. He had spent his time toying with the innocent and the dissolute, and it held no more attraction for him. Too…false, when he could recall blood and burst blisters of treachery, cold clean air that razored the lungs and the calm eyes of a dying deer. He wanted someone who knew. He wanted someone who already had their own explanations.

"Not a Parisian's asshole, but this place is very fine for the provinces, isn't it? Lots of choices…you can find a likeness to almost anyone here. Even if the red curls aren't quite right in tint." A pitiful attempt at acidity, its anger ruined by the stumble Jean-François' knees and elbows took as they tried to crawl away from Grégoire. One joint slammed into Grégoire's stomach as the other man tumbled onto him, and his beringed hand came dangerously near his eyes as it stung his cheek.

Sylvia plucked an apple from a silver-filigree basket and began to quarter it. The knife made flippant clinks as it flowed through crisp white flesh to nick the table.

"Marianne-" Jean-François began, jealousy dripping off his snarl. He whipped his way free of the entangling sheets, then ripped at his coat till it came off.

When the hand came round for another blow, Grégoire seized it and used it to roll the other man back into the sheets, trapping the flailing limbs in fine linen so he could force Jean-François to actually look at him. "I have no interest in your sister. She's safe from my attentions, and I give you my word on that."

"What?" Beneath Grégoire's palms, restrained stirrings began to push heat through the fabric. Jean-François's pupils went wide, then narrowed as his head tossed. He struggled against the sheets. "You're supposed to…everyone chases after her…"

"Then call me a fool, and be done with it." Grégoire released his hold on the wriggling bundle and dragged himself to the other end of the bed. He wondered if Mani had finished yet, and if Thomas had seen his neighbor come in. "I've partaken in that hunt too many times, and it hasn't yet given me anything worth holding. But I'm disappointing expectations again, aren't I? The furred fish. My apologies."

Thrashing and jouncing of the mattress as the other man fought free of the linen folds, and then panting. A little more than a trace of confusion in the fine-boned face. "You're not what Sardis implied."

"You listen to him?" Grégoire did his best to keep mistrust out of his light mockery as he twisted about to regard Jean-François. "It seems odd, given your experiences…"

Jean-François laughed, long and low and bitter, before yanking off his shirt to display the scarred stump, ridges scoring back from what remained of the elbow. He cocked his head, swaying, and wordlessly dared Grégoire to flinch. "No, I don't. He's a pompous fool whose idea of comfort is to hand me a Bible and tell me that God was punishing me. For what? I was a dutiful son, faithful to the Church-I saw to my family and my responsibilities before leaving home to serve in the navy. But he's quite influential in the family…"

He nearly fell again, but managed to catch himself on his whole arm. Snaking toward Grégoire, eyes bright and fixed like a snake's. "Keeps Marianne chaste and fills her mind with nonsense about nunneries while she flirts with, then slaps away the swarming suitors. She's grown hard and sharp-you saw that at dinner, didn't you? Keeps my mother chained to the damn confessional…"

Grégoire rolled over before the other man once again slumped onto him and glared at the amused woman in the corner, who was calmly feeding herself the apple slices. "You forget yourself, Monsieur de Morangias. Please fall asleep before you end up in the confessional yourself."

"You actually believe that I tell Sardis anything?" Warm fingertips brushing over Grégoire's cheek, combing through his hair. Leanness molding itself to him while wine fumes stained his skin. "Very strange…you won't turn from my arm, but from-"

"I've seen worse," Grégoire snapped. "I've done worse with my own hands. Now, please do not do anything that either of us will regret."

"-and no fascination with Marianne," Jean-François continued, as if he hadn't heard a word Grégoire had said. His palm laid flat against Grégoire's shoulderblade to support him while his voice bobbed and weaved. "All that effort, wasted…you know she prayed for hours when she heard you were coming, when Sardis lectured about the corrupting influences from the capital? Asking God for the strength to hold firm. Mon pauvre…I should have taken her away from here."

Grégoire shook off the hand and sat up with the intent of slipping into his shoes and possibly losing himself in less complicated company. But his movement only precipitated a lurch into his arms, with lips clumsily nipping at his neck. Nevertheless, their grazes awakened things best left in the cold; he tried to push the other man from him, but Jean-François somehow managed to wind fingers into his clothes and squirm closer.

"It's impolite to refuse an offer in this house," Sylvia remarked as she took up her cards again.

"It's impolite to involve a guest in affairs that don't concern him," he growled, catching at the hand slowly stripping him. Jean-François' confused face briefly surfaced, then disappeared from view as the drunken nobleman slipped downwards and nearly toppled off the bed. Grégoire reflexively grabbed and caught, then instantly regretted it as he was hauled back onto the mattress. He pinioned Jean-François' arms against the rumpled sheets and gritted his teeth. "I hate politics. Especially when someone is forcing me to participate in them."

"Who is?" Jean-François abruptly sprawled out, legs swinging open in damning invitation. "You…truly aren't disgusted with me."

"No," Grégoire grated, nearly choking. The air was too thick, clogging his veins and stuffing his mouth full. He wanted away and clear, far from this deepening morass. He wanted to get his duty to the Crown over with, and then he wanted to stand on a ship bow till the sea had blasted every single black, oily foulness from his body.

He wanted Marianne, but that was old habits and pure visual appreciation, which could be easily ignored.

He wanted Sylvia, but that was serenity and speech, and he had had that.

He wanted this man, wild moonlight still there beneath the broken gilt noblesse, but that was madness. Something black and terrible had stirred to life in Gévaudan, and his bones were telling him that Morangias blood was inextricably intermixed with it.

"No," he repeated, even as he sank down into the overwhelming kiss, even as his resignation was reflected back at him by Sylvia's mirror. Even as she nodded, smiled and came over to help direct the wine-slowed limbs.

He was angry with himself, and with the smirking faces that seemed to encircle him wherever he looked, and so he wasn't gentle. He didn't take care with the scars and the sore spots-instead, he attacked that arm with teeth and tongue and lips while Sylvia soothed the rest of Jean-François. He gave the man every bit of attention Jean-François could ever want, and then more.

Taste the difference between fractured and whole. Claw off the remaining clothes, tear up the riches of rank. Press nails in over the ribs while dancing a tongue along the moaning throat. Jean-François sounded pained, his gasps coming constantly now, while Grégoire swept his hands over the body beneath him. Folded it in two, then snapped a bite into Sylvia's lower lip when she poured oil into his palm. In return, she savaged his mouth to bleeding, then licked the crimson like a slash across Jean-François' chest.

And Grégoire lapped it away as he worked the oil into the other man, as he drew out tormented groans from the slack body. He wasn't gentle even with that, but let his mouth trail bruises on Jean-François' stomach and breast till the dark spots were as numerous as poppies on a winter battlefield.

"Please-please…" But he ignored the pleading, and then he ignored the garbled cries that followed. When the desperate grab came, he wrenched the other man's wrist up above the head and ground it into the mattress. Flicked his fingers in and out for another handful of minutes, waiting until he'd reduced Jean-François to a twitching, helplessly sensitive mess. Until even Sylvia's fine brow wrinkled with nervousness as she tried to muffle Jean-François' whimpering with her lips.

What had she expected? A willing pawn? But Grégoire had to admit that it was a reasonable belief; if his superiors hadn't told him everything they knew, if they hadn't sent that red book, then he probably would have been content to chase Marianne's skirts and ignore her intriguing brother. But that hadn't been how matters had chanced to pass. His mouth had been filled with dirt from the very beginning, and now it'd seeped too deep to spit out. Reason and religion had both been perverted to expediency, so what did he have left? No science, no salvation-

"Au nom de Dieu-" Jean-François begged, eyes wide with something very near to fear. Nails ripping at the sheets, and Sylvia diving forward to kiss Grégoire back to his senses. Tang and copper in her mouth, but also fruit and cool freshness. She knew. She knew, too, and she understood.

"Not now," ghosted past his cheek as she withdrew.

He would regret, but he would also cherish, Grégoire remembered. One moment of freedom in a land hedged round with invisible, lethal jaws.

He leaned down and kissed Jean-François on the lips, a little apologetic, before carefully lifting up the jerking hips and easing his way in. Back to the rough ferocity then, because neither of them could wait, but at least now he was seeing again. Watching the white spots flash over his sight, the flush of ecstasy on a strained face.

And he could plunge and rise back with the feeling that he'd not left everything at the bottom. He still had himself, and he had other things as well. Mani. Sylvia, compromising though she might be. And the memory of wine from the wolf's own mouth.

* * *

Grégoire had tended to his wounds and was tying his belongings to the packhorse when Jean-François stepped into the stables, shying away from the patches of sun. He looked remarkably well for someone who'd been raped and then clubbed to unconsciousness by his own sister. "The bruises hardly show," Grégoire muttered as he yanked at the straps.

"My father's already thanked you, and apologized for the death of your friend…" the voice trailed off into audible guilt. "I showed Marianne and Sardis that hunting domain, so I share some of the responsibility. I-"

"Don't bother." Apparently not put off by Grégoire's curtness, Jean-François drifted nearer and handed him the next pack. "She wanted the chance to be a queen, and if you hadn't shown her, she most likely would have found it on her own."

"She wanted to be free," Jean-François replied with more characteristic sharpness. His boot tips shuffled uneasily on the floor, and when he spoke again, it was much quieter. "She thought it was the only way she could escape. Sardis promised her no forced marriage. And Rome. He said he'd take her out of France."

"So I gathered." Grégoire buckled the last bundle onto the horse, then swung around to examine the other man's pale face. The right temple of Jean-François' temple was still heavily blackened, and he held himself stiffly to one side-probably from riding all night to bring his father back and ensure that Gévaudan had at least one capable leader to handle the chaos after the mass arrest. His eyes were fixed on Grégoire, and didn't waver or accuse in the slightest. "You know I killed her, don't you?"

Jean-François jerked a little, but his gaze remained unchanged. "If you hadn't, I-I would have done it myself."

"I thought it was you," Grégoire pressed on. "Up until she threw off her mask, I thought it would be you." Then he noticed the clothing, and the bag at the other man's feet. "You plan to travel?"

"It could have been me." Jean-François took a lopsided step forward, putting him a breath away from Grégoire. "Now that I think about it, Sardis tried to sound out both of us. And d'Apcher will do a much better job than I at putting things back together. I can't stay here. Not with her-everywhere."

He was biting his lip. Grégoire had never noticed that habit before-and he had continued to watch the other man even after that night. Beast of Gévaudan aside, part of it had been due to purely personal interest. "I can't offer-"

"I heard you're planning a trip to Africa," Jean-François broke in, gaze growing more and more intense. "I could…act as your guide. And help…as…since Mani is dead."

"If this is because you think you owe me a debt-" Desperately fervent lips cut Grégoire off, then yielded before the force of his returning kiss. He found himself clutching the other man to him, as if he never wanted to let go. Which might be true. He didn't know for certain yet.

But he wanted to find out.

"I'll take care of your bag while the stableboy saddles your horse," he whispered into Jean-François' ear. "The ship sails in two weeks."


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