By a Simple Twist of Fate

Before anyone says anything, I fully realise that I promised you a companion piece to 'Through the Dark Clouds shining'. This… isn't that. In fact, it's an entirely different story. I swear that I'm not done with my personal DC universe (I will get to that companion one day), but it turns out that even I need a break from writing war stories at times. Who knew, right? (Not me. I was as surprised as anyone.) At any rate, the outcome of that is this little story (though time will tell how 'little' it turns out to be in the end). I know it's different from what I usually write. I know it might even sound a bit silly and frivolous at first. I understand if that's not your thing. I sincerely hope that you'll decide to give it a try anyway. (There's less people dying, so that might be an argument for giving it a shot?)

This is the first long story I'm writing in English outright (which also means there's no German version out there, for anyone who wanted to go snooping – sorry for that!), so I am ever more indebted to my amazingly lovely beta readers, oz diva and Alinyaalethia. They supported me for a large part of this story and made sure that the first five or six dozen chapters are (hopefully) free of mistakes and typos and bad grammar and weird phrasing and the odd archaic word. Let's all praise and thank them for their effort, yes? And as for the latter part of the story, please forgive any mistakes I haven't found on my own. I'm doing my best!

With the writing and editing work done, it's over to you. Since my last story was a translation, it was basically a finished piece already. This one, however, is very much a work in progress. Where I had little opportunity to take into account your comments with 'Dark Clouds', I value them even more here. I'm really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this story and take them on board during the writing process. I therefore welcome any and all comments, be it praise (everyone loves a bit of praise, after all) or questions or honest criticism or whatever else you come up with – if you're using a signed account, you're also almost guaranteed a reply in return, so be warned ;).

To prevent any confusion, please also note that this is, in fact, a modern AU. That means I took everyone and transplanted them firmly into the 21st century. As I am very much a writer of historical stories, this is a new concept for me, but one that should be quite fun. I also juggled everyone's ages around a bit, but don't worry – it's nothing major and anyway, it should all become clear soon enough. Oh, and I've taken the liberty to create an absolutely and entirely new British Royal Family, which you will all get to meet soon enough!

And now, on to a story you likely never thought you'd ever get to read…

New York City, USA
October 2010

An invitation you can't decline

Once upon a time, there was an especially virulent case of stomach flu.

Not particularly deadly, mind, but nasty nonetheless. The 'hits you out of nowhere' kind. The kind that has people storming along corridors in search of restrooms, with others suddenly turning a worrying shade of green on the subway. New York, without a doubt, has been held firmly in its grasp for several weeks already. And having only just recovered from my own brush with it, I am naturally inclined to sympathise with anyone similarly befallen.

Not so Izzie.

Izzie is my niece. She's almost three and a half (the 'half' part being of vital importance here) and basically consists of 34 pounds of pure, undiluted opinion. With two lawyers for parents, she was encouraged to argue her point from an early age. Personally, I don't think Joy and Dan foresaw quite what a little monster they were unleashing upon the world.

Right now, Izzie is happily skipping along the pavement by my side, gleefully regaling me with the tale of how a boy called Brian emptied the contents of his stomach all over the breakfast table at kindergarten today. Her deep satisfaction at the unfortunate boy's misfortune appears to be enough to cancel out a certain disgust at this occurrence. Besides, from what I gather, boys are icky anyway, so apparently such behaviour is par for the course for them.

"But Brian probably felt very poorly, darling," I interject gently, mostly because I'm feeling that someone should.

Izzie stops skipping. She peers up at me, her expression veering between disbelief and betrayal. "He ripped off Violet's doll's head yesterday!" she informs me indignantly, obviously considering Brian's vomiting experience to be just punishment for such a travesty.

Which… she has a point, I must admit that. That does sound like karma alright.

Still. It's not like I can actually say that, is it?

"That… that wasn't very nice of him," I admit carefully. "But we still don't want to laugh at him feeling poorly, do we?"

Judging from Izzie's expression, yes, we do want to laugh at him feeling poorly and besides, I have also just revealed myself to be very boring and irrevocably grown up (which is laughable, really). Apparently deciding that I am thus not to be trusted, Izzie gives me one last look of betrayal, then turns and stomps off, making me hurry to haste after her. (My new shoes are cute, but admittedly half a size too small – in my defence though, they were on sale!)

Thankfully, we've almost reached Dan and Joy's place, so I don't have to torment my feet for very much longer. Even so, Izzie is at least three steps ahead of me the entire way and the moment I've unlocked the door to their apartment, she barrels past my legs towards the kitchen.

"Mummy! Mummy! Brian threw up all over breakfast today!" she excitedly calls out.

Joy, having heard us enter, appears in the kitchen doorway just in time to pick Izzie up before she collides with something. "Serves him right for destroying little Violet's doll," she replies placidly, giving her daughter a cuddle.


Why am I even trying?

"Sometimes I wonder how you ever got admitted to any bar at all, much less two," I inform my sister as I shut the front door behind me and kick off my pinching shoes with a feeling that is part regret and part relief.

"Cause and effect, Rilla darling. Cause and effect," counters Joy and grins at me in such a way that leaves little doubt as to Izzie's parentage.

I roll my eyes at her, making her laugh. Izzie, meanwhile, is already squirming to be let down again and the moment her feet touch the ground, she makes a beeline for her room, shedding shoes and coat and backpack as she moves.

Joy looks after her affectionately for a moment, before turning to walk back into the kitchen. Enticed by the delectable smells wafting from the room, I can do little but follow.

"What's for dinner?" I enquire, leaning closer to the various pots and pans bubbling on the stove to get a better look. As with anything Joy cooks, it looks absolutely delicious.

"For you, chicken broth," she declares drily.

I turn to stare at her incredulously, but no, she appears to be serious. "But Joy!" I whine.

She shakes her head. "No arguing. You were ill, and your stomach isn't yet up to holding too much rich food. Chicken broth it is!"

I try a pout, but three and a half years of raising Izzie have made Joy immune to any such tactics. She meets my gaze, calm but unwavering, and even with a stained apron thrown on over her fancy lady lawyer costume and with her up-do slowly becoming undone, it isn't hard to imagine what she looks like in a courtroom.

With a sigh, I give in. Joy pats my cheek encouragingly. "There's a good girl. Now go wash your hands," she orders. "Dinner will be ready in ten."

So much for being grown up.

I move to do as I am told, but then stop in the doorway and turn. "Is Jake still ill?" I ask.

Joy nods. "He's feeling a little better, but still pretty wretched. I'm definitely keeping him home again tomorrow," she answers.

And so, instead of heading for the bathroom, I make my way towards Jake's room at the other end of the apartment.

Softly opening the door, I can see Jake lying in his bed, immersed in a book.

"Hey Huckleberry Jake," I greet him, using the nickname derived in a long-ago summer, when he was four and I was fifteen and we spent many an hour sailing the Mississippi River together.

Jake lowers his book and gives me a small smile. "Hey."

He is, there's no denying it, the polar opposite of his sister. Where Izzie is loud, Jake is quiet. Where Izzie is constantly demanding attention, Jake is used to blending into the background. Joy says he simply takes after his father and I'm sure there's truth to that. But, having been born when both his parents had only just finished their first year of university, Jake also had to learn early how to fit in. A more loved child could hardly be imagined, but he was undeniably shuffled around a lot in his early years.

"What are you reading?" I enquire, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"I don't want no better book than what your face is," quotes Jake without missing a beat, obviously pleased at his retort.

"What a little charmer you're turning out to be," I declare with a laugh and ruffle his hair. When, grinning in response, he raises his book, I am unsurprised to find myself looking at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

"Your mum said you are feeling a little better today?" I ask, touching a gentle hand to his cheek. He still looks pretty pale in the half-light of the room but does, indeed, appear to feel a little better than yesterday.

"A bit," nods Jake. Then, as an afterthought, "I ate three quarters of a cracker for lunch."

"An admirable feat," I confirm seriously.

It is, too. When the flu felled me last week, the mere thought of food was enough to make me nauseous for at least three days in a row.

"You can have another one if you're feeling up to it," comes the offer from the other side of the room. Both Jake and I look up to see Joy standing in the doorway.

For a moment, Jake seems to consider it, then slowly shakes his head. "Maybe later." His slight grimace leaves little doubt as to the fact that the first cracker (or the three quarters of it, if we're being technical) didn't agree with him all that well.

"Alright" replies Joy, gazing it him affectionately. "But if you need anything, just tell me."

"I will. Thanks, mum," assures Jake with a smile.

Turning to me, Joy adds, "If I can interest you in some food, dinner is ready now."

I'm already up on my feet. I'd never snub at anything Joy cooked, even if it's plain chicken broth.

"But don't forget to wash your hands!" warns Joy as she turns to leave.

Catching Jake's eye, I do my most expressive eye roll, causing him to stifle a laugh. I smile conspiratorially, then give his shoulder a little squeeze. "See you later, Huck."

Jakes does his best impression of appearing solemn. "After a while, Crocodile" he nods. Which isn't quite how that exchange goes, as he well knows, but I guess it's close enough.

After having done as told and given my hands a wash, I take my place at the dinner table, where Joy is already trying to get a squirming Izzie to sit still in her chair.

"Is Dan still at work?" I ask while ladling some chicken broth into a bowl, though not without eyeing the other delicacies on the table envyingly. Still, I know better than to argue with Joy once she's made up her mind. You need to know to pick your battles and this is not a battle anyone can win.

"He called earlier to say he's on his way," answers Joy. She put some vegetables on Izzie's plate, causing the girl to pull a frightful grimace. If she had her way, Izzie's diet would consist solely of chocolate.

"Well, he'd better hurry, right? Tonight's the big night, after all," I point out, raising both eyebrows.

Dan, it should be explained, works for the UN and has been invited to attend a reception for promising young UN employees tonight. It's a pretty big thing and, apart from everything else, it's also the reason for why he and Joy called on my babysitting services for the evening.

Joy visibly perks up at this. "What a coincidence that you should mention it!" she declares in a voice that leaves little doubt as to the fact that she has really been waiting for me to broach the topic ever since I first entered the apartment.

I eye her warily. "What do you want?"

"Why so suspicious?" laughs Joy. "Don't you trust your big sister?"

"No," I answer shortly. "Now tell. What do you want?"

"So impatient," murmurs Joy, still visibly amused. Then, with a side glance at her daughter, "Just so that we're clear, Isabella – you will eat everything on your plate. It will just taste worse after you've turned it into paste."

Izzie, it appears, has tried the old strategy of mushing up the more inedible looking parts of your food in an attempt to get out of actually having to eat them. Not that behaviour like that ever had any chance of getting past Joy.

Truly. I feel you, kid.

Ignoring her daughter's pouting, Joy turns back to me. "How do you feel about attending the reception with Dan, in my stead?" she asks.

I lower my spoon into my still half-full bowl of chicken broth and consider Joy, feeling decidedly as if I've missed something. That reception is a big deal, as mentioned, for a variety of reasons. I don't see why she'd suddenly want to get out of going.

Thus – "Why do you suddenly want to get out of going?"

Joy nods briskly. "Ah, see, it's like this. Gabriel from the office got hit by that stomach flu today at lunch. He was supposed to accompany Rogers to court tomorrow to argue the Everton case. You remember the Everton case, right? I told you about it. Anyway, for obvious reasons, we can't have Gabriel potentially vomiting all over the judges' table. So, Rogers asked me to come instead."

I do remember the Everton case. Joy's a humanitarian lawyer and this is one of the biggest cases they currently have at the fancy law office she works for. She's obviously brilliant, but due to being just thirty and having to juggle a family with her career, still pretty low in the office pecking order. For Rogers, one of the bigshot lawyers, to ask her to accompany him for such an important case is pretty great stuff.

"Congrats, Joy!" I exclaim, feeling genuinely pleased for her and more than a little bit proud.

She beams. "Yeah, it's pretty exciting. But it also means I'm going to spend the entire night working through a mountain of paperwork, trying to get up to date on everything. I mean, you know I would have loved to go to that reception, but this is just too big an opportunity to pass up."


"Is Dan alright with this?" I ask, already knowing the answer before I finished the question. Dan's the rare man who is never anything but proud and supportive of his wife's accomplishments.

Joy only waves my question aside. "Sure, sure. He understands. He would have gone on his own as well, but we figured it might be fun for you to accompany him."

"Are you certain? I could stay and look after the kids so you can work in peace," I offer, though admittedly a little reluctantly. I would like to go.

Thankfully, Joy just laughs. "Nonsense. It's bedtime for this little miss soon anyway," she nods towards Izzie, who is staring at her mushed-up vegetables with rising resentment, apparently trying to make them disappear by sheer force of will, "and let's be honest, I can't even remember the last time Jake disturbed me when I had important work to do."

Hm… she does make a compelling case.

"And besides," Joy adds, with the expression of someone who knows that they're dealing a death blow, "one of us needs to go to see if the prince is as handsome in real life as his photos make him out to be. I mean, if I have to rely on Dan for a description of his looks, the only answer I am likely to get is that he's dark-haired!"

And we already knew that from the photos, of course.

Part of that reception being a big deal is because it's being thrown in honour of the Prince of Wales, who's apparently doing an internship of some sort with the UN.

"Alright. I will go," I concede, trying and probably failing to appear reluctant, even as Joy grins in triumph. "Don't get your hopes up though," I warn quickly. "I doubt I'm going to get close enough to him to give you a proper description. I mean, it's not like he's actually going to talk to someone as unimportant as me."

Joy considers me thoughtfully for a moment. "You're pretty," she points out. "He just might."

"Yeah, right," I scoff. Joy grins.

Before she can get any further on the matter though, I hurry to turn towards more practical problems. "I don't have anything to wear."

"Sure, you do. I bought a dress just for this reception. It should fit you reasonably well," she informs me, and really, why am I even surprised? Joy wouldn't be Joy if she didn't have this all planned out already.

Still, I look at her a little warily. She's a person of many talents, but fashion sense is not among them. "Fashion illiterate," Nan once called her, and she wasn't wrong. The heart of the matter though, is that Joy simply doesn't care. Even as a teenager, she could usually be found wearing jeans and some kind of shirt, often enough one that actually belonged to Jem. And even though she now possesses a collection of sharply tailored costumes and pantsuits for work – none of which she was allowed to choose herself – her off-duty clothing did not really evolve from those days. Much as I love Joy, I am not willing to wear a dress picked by her to a reception attended by an actual prince, even supposing I don't get closer to him than a hundred meters.

What she lacks in fashion sense, Joy makes up for in good humour though. Easily guessing at my concern, she merely gives me a reassuring pat on the cheek. "Don't worry. It's Di-approved."

Now this, indeed, changes things.

Di is the family's go-to person in all matters pertaining clothing. That's not to say Nan and I are such hopeless cases as Joy – Nan has a collection of patterned dresses that allows her to wear a different one each day of the month and still have some in reserve, while I definitely wouldn't spend quite so many evenings waitressing if I possessed the ability to walk past a cute top or a beguiling pair of shoes – but Di's the one who knows her Aquazurra from her Altuzarra and can definitely tell you when cerulean was last in season. Part of that, I'm sure, is her trying to compensate for the fact that she spends most of her days in a lab coat, but still – if Di approved the dress, there's little to worry about.

"That's what I thought," Joy nods upon seeing my expression change. "Wait here. I'll go and get it." She says and scrapes her chair back.

The moment Joy has exited the room, I quickly reach over the table and pull Izzie's plate over to me. Mushed-up vegetables are hardly my preferred choice of food, but I'm sure as hell not going to attend a reception on a stomach merely half-filled with chicken broth. I'm no novice. You need to have a foundation if you want to make it to the end of the night.

"No telling your mum!" I warn Izzie as I make quick progress of the food on her plate. Izzie just beams at me toothily, obviously more than pleased with this development. Besides filling my stomach with something solid, I reckon taking the detested vegetables off her hands should be enough to put me into her good books again, after the earlier travesty of suggesting that we don't laugh at Brian's misfortune.

By the time Joy comes back, Izzie's plate is cleared and back in front of her, quite as if nothing had happened. Upon seeing both of us sitting there all innocently, Joy looks from me to her daughter, obviously immediately suspicious, then does a double take as she sees the empty plate. For a moment, I think she's going to say something but then she just shakes her head and lets it go. Excellent.

The dress she has carried in over her arm and now holds up for me to consider is quite simple in cut, but also a pure, snowy white. Just as well that I managed to get something into my stomach. I won't be able to even go near food all night, for fear of staining all that whiteness.

"It's pretty," I confirm, reaching out a hand to take the dress from Joy. As I do so, I catch a glimpse of the discreet tag sewn in at the neckline and have to resist the sudden instinct to pull my hand back immediately. I'll have to ask Di to be sure, but I'd wager this dress cost more than my monthly rent – and then some.

"It was on sale," remarks Joy, having guessed at my thoughts as she so often does. "Now, how about you go and try it on and I clear the table?"

I nod my assent. Izzie, despite not having been excused, clearly recognises an opportunity when she sees one, for she is on her feet before I am and out of the door before I even had a chance to turn around.

"That girl…" sighs Joy, but we both know she doesn't mean it.

The simple cut makes the dress easy to pull on, so when Joy comes to join me in her bedroom some minutes later, I am already changed and subjecting myself to a critical inspection in the full-length mirror.

Joy and I are just about similar enough in body type that I can borrow her clothes, but we aren't quite the same height. I'm not as tall as Di, and Joy is not as short as Nan, but I do have almost two inches on her. Consequently, her dresses and skirts always tend to end a smidge too soon on my thigh.

"It's pretty short, isn't it?" I ask, turning around and craning my neck so that I can see what the dress looks like from behind.

My sister, however, appears unmoved. "Looks fine to me. It was longer on me, but it's looser on you, so that balances it out. And besides, you're twenty-one. When, I ask you, can a woman wear slightly too short dresses, if not at twenty-one?"

The answer to that is 'never', I suppose.

And to be totally honest – I can't deny that my legs look pretty great.

"Did Di recommend any shoes for the dress?" I wonder, looking at Joy expectantly.

When she answers by handing me a pair of mid-heeled black court shoes that could only be describes as sensible, I can't help laughing.

"Di did not recommend these!" I declare with confidence.

Joy blinks. "No, she didn't," she admits. "How did you know?"

Because Di wouldn't be caught dead wearing shoes like these.

"Just a hunch." I shrug. "What else do you have on offer?"

She opens a chest of drawers and seeing as her shoe cupboard is known to be as unexciting as her off-duty clothing – apart from mid-heeled black court shoes, it holds little variety save for two pairs of sneakers – I am surprised to see an absolutely delectable pair of purple high heels nestled in among all that drabness.

"Well, hello," I murmur, taking out the heels carefully. "Where did you get those?"

"These were the ones Di told me to wear with the dress," explains Joy. "But I can't see how anyone is supposed to walk in them."

"Silly Joy," I chide, running a reverent finger over the soft suede. "These shoes are not made for walking."

"Aren't all shoes made for walking?" asks Joy, sounding genuinely confused. For someone so clever, Joy can be pretty slow on the uptake when it comes to such matters.

I sit down on the bed and cautiously strap the shoes to my feet. Once more, the name printed on the sole tells me that these easily cost another month's rent. "Not these shoes," I explain to Joy, raising a shod foot for her appraisal. "These shoes were made to be beautiful and make your legs look that much longer than they are."

They also hurt like hell on my already much-abused feet. But beauty is pain, I suppose.

Standing back up, I give myself another quick once-over in the mirror. Somehow, with the shoes thrown into the mix, the length of the dress looks just right.

"You look gorgeous," declares Joy.

I allow the compliment with a smile. "From the neck downwards at least," I concede. "The head still needs work."

Had I known in advance where this evening would take me, I would have taken more care to prepare my hair, but after a long day of classes, it is tussled and frizzy and thus, my options limited. Loose curls would have been great with the dress, but there's also no doubt that, given the circumstances, a classic bun is the more sensible option.

Joy's make-up collection is much less sizable than mine, but I've often enough prepared myself at her place for a night out to have stored the necessary essentials in her bathroom long ago. And besides, I can magic up a smokey eye out of basically anything by now. After all, I am the girl who, at age 14, was dedicated enough to substitute sharpie for eyeliner and, let's be honest – if worst came to worst, I'd so still do that.

"It's always amazes me how you do that," Joy comments as she leans in the doorway and watches me apply eyeliner – proper one, this time.

"Natural talent," I answer without turning to look at her.

For where Joy's passion is food and Di's our fashion advisor, my forte is hair and make-up. I am not above throwing my hair into a ponytail on a hectic day, but I am also the only one in our family actually able to replicate those YouTube tutorials on the perfect fall make-up or the construction of a romantic loose braid (which is harder than it has any right to be, let me tell you).

Nan, on the other hand, is all about home decoration. She has enough throw pillows to rival her dress collection and Jem swears her scented candles were what gave him hay fever in the first place. She is also the only one among us who enjoys cleaning – she claims it calms her – which is just as well considering the sizable assortment of various knickknacks dotted around her place.

"Must be. I certainly wasn't around when it was doled out," Joy agrees easily.

Well, no. Clearly not.

The front door closes quietly and moments later, I can hear footsteps coming closer that I recognise to be Dan's.

"Hello darling," Joy greets him brightly as he appears in the doorway next to her. "You're just in time. Doesn't Rilla look just gorgeous?"

"Very pretty," confirms Dan and I see him smiling at me in the mirror.

I know better than to believe Dan. He's been around pretty much since I can remember and has witnessed even the more unfortunate periods of my growing up without ever batting an eyelash. He called me pretty when I was a pudgy nine-year-old with an unfortunate liking for ruffles and hot pink and he called me pretty when I was a lanky girl of fifteen, clad in an indecently short corduroy skirt and a shirt with 'bitch' written in sparkles across the chest. Experience tells me not to trust Dan's assessment. Still, who doesn't like to hear they're pretty?

"Hello, Dan. And thanks." I quickly return the smile in the mirror before going back to trying to get my eyelashes to lie straight.

"Your colleagues will probably think you're cheating on me," Joy cheerfully informs her husband. "I might have to make a point of looking especially despondent when I run into Marcia at the kindergarten. I will probably sigh a lot and mention what a shame it is that you always have to work so long. It will be great fun!" The idea obviously delights her. Then, as an afterthought, "You don't mind, do you darling?"

Dan laughs softly. "No. Why would I?"

Joy nods. "Indeed. Why would you?"

Then she beams up at him and he bends down to give her a kiss and, watching them discreetly through the mirror, I reflect once more that if I manage to find myself a man who loves me half as much as Dan loves Joy, I reckon I should be alright.

The title of this story is taken from the song 'Simple Twist of Fate' (written by Bob Dylan, released him in 1975).

The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'Killer Queen' (written by Freddie Mercury, released by Queen in 1974).