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Heretic Pride

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“Ah,” Mummy said, “it’s happened, has it?”

“Yes, Mummy, it has,” Mycroft said, seating himself at the breakfast table and reaching for a slice of toast. His tone was perfectly suited for the announcement of the year’s first frost in the garden.

Sherlock didn’t believe it. He leaned forward with a scowl, scrutinizing his brother. Same thin frame, same dark hair brushed resolutely back, same slight iridescence in the pupils that would testify to the initiated of his lineage. But, other than a slight heaviness to his eyelids that suggested he hadn’t slept perfectly the night before, Sherlock saw no sign. He didn’t know quite what to look for, but how could something so momentous leave no traces?

“Good,” Mummy said. She herself still hadn’t looked up from the heavy red-leather-bound volume in front of her. Her voice had the slight self-satisfaction of a prediction fulfilled, as if she’d never doubted. Sherlock didn’t believe that, either. Even in a family as pure-blooded as theirs, manifestation was unheard-of before the mid-twenties. Mycroft had shown every sign; he was actually a little early. But, as the decisive years had approached, Sherlock had wondered what Mummy would do if her first-born turned out to be a reversion. What a scandal that would be—what a blow to their position amongst the Seeding, what a personal disgrace for her. If it were ever to become known, that is.

Mycroft set the toast down after only three bites. “I’ll be late for my train,” he said.

She nodded slightly, giving his dismissal. “We’ll talk later,” she said. “Your new responsibilities.”

“Of course, Mummy,” he said, bowing his head and then rising.

Sherlock followed him to the door. “You didn’t come and tell me when it happened.”

Mycroft was shrugging into his coat. “It seemed more appropriate to inform Mummy first.”

“Or you were hoping to get away without telling me everything,” Sherlock said. “A typically ridiculous move on your part.”

“Yes, I hoped I might be afforded some privacy. What was I thinking?”

“It didn’t work for puberty. What made you think it would work now?”

Mycroft looked up at him, a subtle blue gleam in his eyes. “This isn’t puberty, Sherlock.”

“No,” Sherlock said. “Puberty was merely a tedious and disgusting set of physical changes. This…” He realized as he reached the end of the sentence that he didn’t know exactly what to say, since the books were infuriatingly mystical about it all and Mycroft had withheld actual data from him. He waved a hand portentously instead, hoping to entice him to fill in the blanks.

“This is more,” Mycroft said instead, frustratingly. But, to Sherlock’s great surprise, he also came forward, grasped the back of his neck with a gloved hand, and kissed him on the forehead, as he hadn’t done since Sherlock was a small boy indeed.

Sherlock watched him go with an unanalyzable baffle of feeling in his chest.

Mycroft returned home late, as usual—his “minor” job anything but, even if they didn’t recognize his true value. Sherlock wondered idly, as he occupied Mycroft’s most comfortable chair and flipped through one of his translations, if he would resign. Holding a position in the human government was considered beneath a family such as theirs, especially for a first-born. Mummy had indulged Mycroft’s whim til now, even letting him go to university, but…He ran his finger idly over a page, Mycroft’s slanted handwriting seeming oddly appropriate. Deep beyond lies the dreamer, reckless the man who disturbs him unprepared to give all gifts…

Give me that.”

Mycroft was standing over him, pulling the book away. Sherlock started to yank it back, but, as he looked up, the faint luminescence of Mycroft’s gaze froze him. Mycroft lifted the volume from his suddenly nerveless fingers and set it back on the shelf.

“A third-sequence text? Do you actually want to go mad?” he demanded. Mummy, Mycroft, and the tutor had all agreed that Sherlock was completely unready for serious study of the texts, even in translation. Even in Mycroft’s translation, which was particularly offensive.

It took him a moment to find his voice. “I can handle it.”

“That’s what Uncle Rüdiger thought.”

Sherlock shuddered involuntarily at the reference. To push the flood of images from his mind, he said, “Well, I was waiting for you. It was boring.”

Mycroft must have seen, because he let it go, smiling a little. “You? Wait for me?”

“I know, such a waste. But I want to see.”

Mycroft frowned. “This isn’t a subject for your scientific research, Sherlock.”

Sherlock drew himself up automatically. “The distinction between scientific research and study of the mysteries is completely artificial, and you know it.“

Mummy thought Sherlock’s interest in the natural world childish. She considered the study of scientific curiosities only a gateway to the deeper knowledge, and had once said that Sherlock was “mistaking the symbol for the signified.” He strongly suspected that, if he were permitted to attend university next year, he would be forbidden to take a degree in the sciences. Mycroft, as usual, took a more nuanced view privately, but…

“Regardless of what I think, that’s not how our kind sees it. If Mummy were to hear you talking that way—“

As usual. They could have this argument all night, again—Mycroft could spin out distinctions and refine hypotheticals like no one else—but then he wouldn’t learn anything new. He raised his hands. “All right. Is it not permitted to contemplate this particular mystery?”

“The mystery you’re talking about just so happens to be me.”

“Oh.” Maybe he’d misunderstood. “Are you embarrassed?”

“Not embarrassed, just…” Mycroft trailed off. “All right. But no measuring instruments.”

“Not til next time,” Sherlock said gleefully as Mycroft turned towards his wardrobe.

Mycroft being Mycroft, and so completely inconsiderate, he drew it out. He carefully removed and hung up his suit jacket, then did the same for his waistcoat. As he threaded the dull silk of his tie onto a hanger, Sherlock stared at the smooth cotton lying along his back. No sign.

Another pause. “I’ll manifest myself before you manage to get undressed,” Sherlock grumbled.

Mycroft snorted and slipped his shirt off.

Sherlock wanted to examine at once, but, of course, Mycroft insisted on putting the shirt in the hamper first. Then, finally, without turning around, he spread his hands, and Sherlock darted forward and stooped.

Nothing. The skin over the lumbar region seemed smooth and unchanged. “Where are they?” he demanded, just barely restraining himself from poking it.

Mycroft seemed to sense his impulse, because he took a step away. “They couldn’t be emergent all the time, Sherlock, you must know that,” he said.

That was obvious, when he thought about it. He scowled. “What makes them come out?”

“Certain ways of thinking.”

“Like about sex?”

He could see the sigh expand Mycroft’s ribcage. “Not about sex. About…service to the Elders, I suppose you could say. Things that would please them.”

“That includes sex,” Sherlock pointed out.

“Certain kinds of sex, yes,” Mycroft agreed primly, folding his arms. It occurred to Sherlock that he hadn’t seen Mycroft without his shirt on in years. His latissimus dorsi and trapezius were more developed than he would’ve anticipated.

“Well, no one likes sitting around thinking more than you. Make them come out.”

“Give me a minute.”

Sherlock meticulously counted off sixty seconds. Nothing changed. “Well?”

Mycroft’s voice had a thickness to it. “If you don’t shut up, it’s never going to happen, Sherlock.”

“Fine…” Sherlock glowered at Mycroft’s back. It was odd, and a little disquieting, seeing his “raw material.” Mycroft was ordinarily so elaborately put together, so composed. It occurred to him now that much of the austere dignity in the way he’d carried himself in recent years might have reflected Mycroft’s own conclusion as to how Mummy might handle a reversion.

He shuddered, and just as he did, two slits that he could have sworn weren’t there before came open, one on either side of the spine, and a tentacle peeped out of each, then slid, wavering, out.

He swallowed.

They were slender and translucent, glinting here and there with a catchlight that seemed to be different from that in the room itself. It made them seem more like the visual distortions before a migraine than anything that was real. They moved uncertainly through the air. Fascinated, Sherlock put out a hand towards them, and, though they often got distracted, they slowly darted and nosed their way closer.

“Do you control them?”

Mycroft hesitated. “I think—when I think, I can make them obey my will. More or less. But it feels forced and awkward. When I’m not constraining them, I’ve found that they can carry out my desires before I’ve even realized they’re desires.”

Sherlock made a face. “Another sex thing?”

“There are some aspects of life, brother-mine, with respect to which your understanding can be remarkably crude.”

Mycroft’s tone was pointed, but Sherlock let it pass. He was too interested in the tentacles, their gleam and glide. One of them brushed his little finger, then coiled itself around it instantly.

Mycroft gasped. That was interesting.


“No, just…very sensitive. Like someone putting a hand on one of your internal organs. No one else has touched them.”

“Ah,” Sherlock said, feeling an obscure pride. The skin was perfectly smooth and cool. He pressed into it with his thumb; it yielded a little, like gelatin. Interesting. He brought up his other hand and stroked it lightly. There was a slight responsive ripple that shouldn’t have been physically possible. He heard a catch in Mycroft’s throat; his back muscles flexed, and it tightened around his finger.

He looked up. Mycroft was watching him in the mirror set into the wardrobe door. His eyes were cold and bright, but he was pressing his teeth hard into his lower lip. A mystery. Well, he wasn’t afraid of mysteries.

The other tentacle nudged at his wrist, and, when he looked down, their texture had changed. A wetter gleam had spread itself over their surface. He could feel the slickness now as they entangled his hands. Some kind of…ichor, he supposed. He’d have to get a sample somehow. He bent his head down to observe it more closely, and caught the smell: a complex brine, heavy with minerality. Fluctuating between fascinating and disturbing.

Without thinking, he shut his eyes, ducked his head down, and licked one, which immediately gripped him hard. The taste was overwhelming, salty and full of iron. He felt as if he’d been swept away on a great wave of the ocean and now was plunging deep, deep into the cold and dark. Into the realm guarded by glowing and grotesque fish, and stirring beneath them all…

Sherlock! The tentacles slithered away so fast he didn’t even have a second to grasp after them. When he opened his eyes, Mycroft was still facing away from him, reaching for a top. Without turning around, he said, “You should go.”

“Mycroft, I…” He didn’t know what to say. The roaring in his ears was subsiding slowly.

“That’s enough,” Mycroft said harshly. “Go.”

Dazed, Sherlock complied. Only when he got to his room and slid down against the door did he realize he was aroused.

Mycroft was stiff and formal with him for the next few days. Sherlock decided he was willing to tolerate it for a little while; a surprise licking might reasonably be considered a little disconcerting, after all. But it didn’t matter much. Mycroft spent most of his free time closeted with Mummy, no doubt discussing her new expectations for him as a proper adult. Sherlock wondered if she would be arranging his marriage soon. Girls could be pledged at any age, but men had to wait til their time. Now that Mycroft had reached suitability, he was the most eligible bachelor on the continent. Mummy had no doubt already spent hours calculating and recalculating what the best match would be, how she might reshape politics in the Seeding by establishing what would be a major household.

Sherlock watched him narrowly as he came and went, though. And he noted that manifestation did not seem to have made Mycroft any happier. He hadn’t actually lost the hints of austerity and self-abnegation that he had carried when his future was still so uncertain. And he looked tired. More tired every day, in fact. But also more driven—he spent hours shut up in the library with some of the texts they kept chained and warded, scribbling out translations with his mouth in a hard line.

Sherlock watched his mouth especially, because his own was burning, dry as if he’d eaten far too much salt, and nothing he drank eased it. The yearning to taste again surged and receded in him as Mycroft moved around the same room, never getting too close. At night, he bit at his own skin, trying to find some analog—surely the same blood was in his veins, even if it hadn’t come to fruition yet? But all that did was leave him bruised and frustrated.

Mycroft must have noticed the bruises, but he said nothing. Typical Mycroft, thinking that politely ignoring a problem could make it go away. Sherlock knew that wasn’t going to happen. Not when, every night, he dreamed again of that pull and plummet into the sea, coming closer each time to the true bottom-dwellers, waking up with his lungs tight with airlessness. He had never bothered to learn how to overcome an obsession—why should he fight his own brain? Now, though, he was starting to see the benefits of Mycroft’s self-discipline.

On the fifth night, he woke up with his heart pounding and his throat crawling with need. He got out of bed and drank a glass of water, but the insipid fluid did nothing to satisfy him. He dragged his hand over his mouth and, without really considering it, headed down the hall to Mycroft’s room. There was no light showing under the door, but he pushed it open anyway. He’d figured out long ago how to do it silently.

The room was large, its further reaches lost in the shadows. The moonlight spilled from the window onto Mycroft as he slept on the massive old bed, sharpening his features. His eyes were definitely closed, but his breathing seemed irregular. He was sleeping on his stomach, and, as Sherlock’s eyes adjusted to the dim, he could see, with a little thrill, the tentacles gliding smoothly over his pajama top. Graceful, now that Mycroft was unconscious. Interesting. Even more interesting: a moment later they froze, then reared up and surged forward, towards Mycroft’s head. Mycroft himself made a protesting noise and shifted slightly. He must be dreaming, Sherlock thought. Another moment and they’d relaxed, curling up on the cotton. Mycroft’s breathing grew calmer.

Sherlock stepped closer, cautiously. There was no reason he couldn’t study the way the tentacles behaved while Mycroft slept. It was, by definition, information Mycroft himself was incapable of gathering. (Mummy would never in a million years allow such technology as a videocamera into Musgrave. Mycroft had had to make appeals to antiquity to get her to let Sherlock have a microscope.) If he hadn’t wanted him to do the research, he should have locked the door. Sherlock might get ichor on his hands, yes, but only as a consequence of his research. He hadn’t brought gloves with him, after all.

He’d thought they might react when he came to the side of the bed, as they had when he’d reached out to them before, but for a little while they continued to lie there quietly. He bent closer, swallowing. Then they did stir, but confusedly, nosing in multiple directions, almost as if they were tasting the air. He brought his hand up under one, and it slid an exploratory glimmer up his wrist. He glanced down at Mycroft, who hadn’t moved.

The skin was still dry, though, and so he tried petting it delicately. The sensation was oddly soothing, like playing with a worry-stone. He felt his own breathing slowing to match Mycroft’s, and his limbs started to feel heavy, yet his heart was pounding in his chest. The tentacle began to grow slick, but he made himself wait. He wanted a proper sample.

Mycroft shifted again, and Sherlock looked up. The other tentacle was rising up, tip curled as though it were watching him. It was longer than he’d seen it before, reaching almost to the height of his head. He’d have to write all this down later…The tentacle craned closer and closer, seeming to scan his face. His hand slowed and the one wrapped along his arm squeezed gently in protest. “Just a moment,” he murmured, absently patting it. Even though he wasn’t touching the free tentacle, it, too, now shone with the ichor. The scent grew strong, so strong it seemed to control the way the breath moved in and out of him. At the end of the tentacle, a single, thick drop gathered, ready to fall.

Unacceptable. He bobbed his head forward, intending to catch the slick with his tongue. But the tentacle moved at the same time, practically colliding with him. As the scent filled his brain, his mouth closed around it and he sucked automatically, hard.

A second later, the tentacle around his wrist turned iron and yanked him down onto the bed, half on top of Mycroft. The tentacle in his mouth stiffened and started to go right down his throat. Sherlock thrashed in panic, and Mycroft started up, fumbling in the darkness. Both tentacles whipped away, as if they’d never touched him.

“Sherlock? What—?” Mycroft half-rolled over and stared at him. For once, no clever story came to explain why he was in Mycroft’s bed in the middle of the night, being pulled about by his tentacles, the gleam of ichor on his face and—he realized with horror—hard again. It wasn’t just that those were indeed difficult facts to explain away, though they were. It was that he felt dull and stupid and melting. He didn’t want to argue. He wanted just to curl up next to Mycroft in bed and let Mycroft decide what he wanted to do.

Mycroft’s eyes were still half-fogged with sleep. “Have you…have you been playing with them while I was sleeping?”

The fog began to lift. “Not playing,” he said, trying for airy. “Studying.”

Studying,” Mycroft repeated, dubiously, looking more awake.

“I couldn’t help it,” he snapped. “I was thirsty, Mycroft.”

“So you came to my bed for satisfaction?”

“You make it sound like I was groping you,” he said lamely.

“Weren’t you?” His eyes glittered and, out of nowhere, a tentacle just brushed the bulge in Sherlock’s pants. Startled, Sherlock gasped and jerked away. “What is this?”


“What were you hoping for, Sherlock?” Now it was curling around his ankle, sliding up his leg. “This?” The other joined it. “Or more than this?”

The ichor was soaking into his skin again, making it hard to think. “I…”

“Do you find the idea of them touching you arousing?”

Sherlock’s eyelids grew heavy. His head began to nod forward. But that meant he caught a glimpse of something else. “You do, too!” he blurted out.

Mycroft—all the parts of Mycroft—froze. Then, for a second time that night, the tentacles withdrew from him lightning-fast. Mycroft scrabbled upwards on the bed until he was up against the headboard, drawing his knees up to his chest. The tentacles were nowhere to be seen.

“Congratulations, Sherlock,” he said, low and angry. “You’ve demonstrated what every generation learns early, that the tentacles have sexual purposes. What you apparently don’t understand is that what they respond to most is the impulse to do the most unnatural things, the acts the Elder blood craves. And the more they are indulged, the stronger the impulses grow in the brain. I’m telling you only once: you don’t want those impulses directed at you. Whatever…insane taste…you’ve acquired. Get back to bed, and don’t ever come in here like that again.”

“Yes, Mycroft,” he said, surprising himself with his meekness.

In the morning, he didn’t even remember leaving Mycroft’s room, much less reaching his own. But there he was, his sheets sticky for the first time in a couple of years.

Mycroft solved the problem of diplomatic relations going forward by ceasing to speak to him altogether. He left the house early and stayed late enough in the city to miss dinner three nights running. Mummy cast such meaningful glances at his empty chair that Sherlock felt bad about having anything to do with it. But not as much as he felt stung by Mycroft’s sudden decision to avoid him as if he were contaminated.

Sherlock had taken very little interest in the mechanical processes of adolescence. Occasionally, watching someone, he’d felt a flickering. He’d worked out that this only happened with men and, a little worried, had consulted in a roundabout way about it with Mycroft. Mycroft had laughed and told him that, while of course one had one’s duties to the family, such couplings were a perfectly common and acceptable inversion of human mores among their kind. But it hardly mattered. It rarely took more than a second or two for the subject of his interest to do something that irritated or disgusted him, and then it was easy to turn away.

Mycroft often irritated or disgusted him, but he had never bored him, and Sherlock was being haunted by more than a flickering now. He couldn’t remember being attracted to Mycroft before, and yet his new yearnings seemed to have arisen naturally, almost imperceptibly, from the background of their prior relationship. The tentacles, yes, but it was impossible to think of them without thinking of the rest of Mycroft, too, casting a hazy overlay of desire over all the images. Mycroft slipping into the car dressed for work, trim and neat in coat and scarf and gloves, already absorbed in perfect concentration. Mycroft moving through the crowd at one of the Summonings with an air of complete self-sufficiency, space naturally clearing itself around him. Mycroft in his shirt-sleeves, elbows propped on the table, hands in his hair as he read some particularly knotty text in the library…

That it was his brother bothered him very little. But evidently it bothered Mycroft—Mycroft, pledged to the service of gods who wanted to consume humanity!—a great deal. It was incomprehensible. It was unfair. But Sherlock didn’t know what to do about it. He was fairly sure that if he kept sneaking into Mycroft’s room at night, Mycroft would think of a way to move out of the house entirely, regardless of what Mummy might say. He might even agree to get married more quickly, a thought that now filled Sherlock with dismay. No, he had to appear reasonable, at least until he could figure out a better plan.

He was still working on that plan two weeks later when he heard the front door close heavily in the middle of the night. He blinked at the clock from his bed—could Mycroft really be getting home only now? He got up and went downstairs. Mycroft was pouring himself a glass of water in the kitchen. His hair was mussed, and his shoulders slumped.

“Where’ve you been?” Sherlock said.

It took a second, and then Mycroft reacted with a comic exaggeration of a jump, nearly dropping the glass. He turned around. He was flushed, and his eyelids were heavy. Sherlock could smell the wave of alcohol coming off of him. He’d never seen Mycroft drunk before.

“Sherlock. Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I was, until some lout banged the door. It’s past two. Why aren’t you?”

“I was out.” Mycroft gestured vaguely. “With a woman from the office.”

Sherlock stared at him. “Why?”

Mycroft stared back, as if he’d forgotten. Then he shook himself.

“I’ll tell you, but only if you promise not to tell Mummy.”

“I promise,” Sherlock said, liking the idea of them having a secret.

He leaned in a little. “Mummy thinks—they all think it’s our duty to safeguard the purity of our lineages. But they’re wrong. That’s a corruption of the texts, out of arrogance and fear. We aren’t meant simply to hoard power. We’re supposed to be propagating our bloodline throughout the human race, so that the Elders will have many servants when the time comes.”

The unacceptable broader implications of Mycroft’s statement were completely overwhelmed by the appalling immediate ones.

“So you were out…propagating?”

She asked me out,” Mycroft said. “It wouldn’t have been hard. The ichor makes humans…compliant. She would have had a child and not even remembered that it was mine. But…”

He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I couldn’t do it. I’ve failed. I’m going to bed. Good night.”

Sherlock marveled briefly at the thought of Mycroft not having the nerve to do anything. Young as he was, many of their kind already feared him. His ruthlessness satisfied even Mummy. How could he have faltered, faced only with the prospect of…kissing and such?

Mycroft walked past him, wobbling just a little. Sherlock turned to watch him go.

He thought he saw the briefest brush of something against the fabric of Mycroft’s shirt, but then it was gone.

Sherlock stood in the darkened kitchen for five minutes, wondering, then realized he had far too little data to do any meaningful deduction. Action was called for.

“Why?” he demanded, having followed Mycroft up. Mycroft was sitting on his bed, looking at the tie he held in one hand. He glanced up. Still very drunk.

“Keep your voice down,” he said. “Why what?”

“Why couldn’t you go through with it?”

He shut his eyes and set the tie aside. “I don’t expect you to understand it, Sherlock. Now, I’m very tired…”

Sherlock didn’t know why Mycroft even bothered with hinting. He came and sat down next to him, peering at him. “Didn’t you like the idea of touching her with…those?”

“I’m not going to answer that.”

“Yes, you are. Or I’ll tell Mummy what you’ve been up to.”

Mycroft glared at him, but, as his glare was somewhat bleary at the moment, it didn’t have the effect it usually did.

“No,” he said finally, dropping his face into his hands. “No, I didn’t. Now will you get out of here? Haven’t I been humiliated enough?”

“No,” Sherlock said, though, unlike most occasions, humiliating Mycroft wasn’t really what he wanted. “Did they like the idea?”

He groaned. “Yes. Yes, they did.”

“But you resisted them. You resisted your own blood.” Fascinating. “Are they still stirred up?” He reached over to touch Mycroft’s shirt, and felt a sudden surge, hard, against his hand.

“For God’s sake!” Mycroft lurched awkwardly away. “That’s enough temptation for one—“

He shut himself up abruptly. Sherlock’s hand hung in mid-air.

“Temptation?” he said, quietly. “Me?”

There was absolute silence in the room.

Then Mycroft raised his hands clumsily, unable to look at him. “It’s just, just the tentacles, Sherlock. I told you it was dangerous to toy with them. Don’t worry, I’m not going to—“

“It’s all right,” Sherlock interrupted, feeling a surge of hope and…other feelings. “I don’t mind.”

“Because you don’t understand. I’m not talking about having you conduct studies.”

“I know what you’re talking about, Mycroft.” Though that wasn’t entirely true, he knew admitting anything else would be a mistake. His mouth was dry again, and he was definitely getting harder. He swallowed. “I want it. Them. You.”

Mycroft shuddered. “Don’t talk like that. Please.”

Sherlock eased his hand forward. “No, it’s okay. I’m not like that girl. You can let them do what they want.”

His fingers touched the cotton.

“Offer that up to the Elders instead…?”

Mycroft turned and gave him a desperate look. Sherlock tried to seem perfectly calm and knowing and sophisticated, which was hard when he was actually gasping for it. But it must have worked, because in the next second Mycroft was launching himself at him.

Sherlock fell onto his back, and Mycroft on top of him. For a minute, Mycroft’s full weight was on him, and unexpected panic gripped him. He didn’t actually know what was involved here, and his imagination had somehow failed to account for Mycroft, real Mycroft’s weight and warmth and scent. His feet scrabbled for purchase on the bed. But then Mycroft pushed himself back up a little, straddling Sherlock’s hips.

Mycroft was already breathing harder, but his eyes had that subtle, mesmerizing luminescence again. Hard to look at—a flickering of the eldritch into their own world—impossible to look away from. Abruptly, all the strength left Sherlock’s limbs. He thought about Uncle Rudy the way they’d found him, staring transfixed at nothing. He shivered, closing his own eyes but then making himself go still. Hoping it looked like surrender enough.

Mycroft kissed him, a gentle, dry press, and his hands settled over Sherlock’s wrists, trapping them. He turned his head and exhaled slowly near Sherlock’s ear, and then his hand was working its way roughly through Sherlock’s curls. No. Both of his hands were already occupied. It was one of the tentacles, still dry, that was sliding along, pushing aside the hair, letting it spring back. Sherlock’s skin tingled, and he sighed.

Faster than he could have anticipated, the other tentacle curled around the back of his neck and slipped into his mouth.

They both gasped. Sherlock instinctively started to turn his head away, but the tentacle was strong—he was being held still. Right: this was what he had wanted, what he had crept into Mycroft’s bedroom in the middle of the night for. He ran his tongue along the cool surface and began to suck. The taste was still very dilute, but the tentacle responded by pushing further into his mouth, tickling his palate. Sherlock sucked harder. The tentacle pressed even further, almost to the back of his throat. Sherlock couldn’t breathe. He was pinned around the invader, which was apparently indifferent to his need for air. It held there for an agonizing few seconds, then withdrew all but the tip.

Then it pushed forward again. It was growing slick, the mineral taste stronger in Sherlock’s mouth. The ichor makes humans…compliant, he dimly recalled Mycroft saying. Now that he had the taste in his mouth again, he craved it more than he craved oxygen. The tentacle took full advantage of that, driving in again and again. Each time it lingered a little longer at its full extension. Mycroft was panting nearby, and Sherlock wondered if he could breathe for both of them—he’d let him breathe for both of them…

The touch of tentacle against his stomach pulled his attention away and down. It was not so much a tickle as a full squirm, the tentacle rubbing and dragging across the skin as if it were determined to mark each inch. Ichor quickly smoothed its path, but that only made the sensation more startlingly strange. He thought it might be rubbing the stuff in, making him absorb it through the skin, too. Making him drop further into that dreamy, airless state.

“Sink, Sherlock,” Mycroft said softly. “Just sink.”

His weight lifted for a moment. Then Sherlock’s trousers were being pulled down past his knees, and his pants.

“You don’t have to remember…”

But I want to, he would have said if he could. He needed every detail. But those details were eluding him even as he reached for them. He frowned. Something was wrong, something didn’t make sense. The thick sound of skin moving against slicked-up skin was everywhere. So was that ocean-smell. Tentacles were spreading his legs, leaving him helplessly open. The sheets were cool beneath them. Mycroft was shifting, kneeling in between. The tentacles were caressing his thighs, intimate, relentless, even as he gasped for air, and suddenly he was struck by math

More than two. Oh God. There had to be more than two.

But how many? He couldn’t keep track, so many sensations were coming in from so many directions—

His eyes came open, desperate for data to resolve what he was feeling.

He saw Mycroft remote above him silhouetted against the moonlight, Mycroft and so very many of them, coiling and snaking down towards him.

“Oh,” he said, stunned, and one of them gripped his cock.

He gasped, closed his eyes again, and arched against the bed, as much as he could. With Mycroft holding him down and the tentacles everywhere now, he could barely move. Mycroft isn’t human. He had never felt the meaning of it before, not like this, not even at a ritual. This was not a hint of the otherworldly, a faint suggestion of power carefully subdued. This was being in the grasp of a god, and knowing that you had no assurances that he meant well.

But, at the same time, every touch was urging him to lie still, instilling submission into his nervous system, making his limbs heavy and compliant. Surrender to the eldritch would bring such rewards. And it was too late to fight, wasn’t it?

Too late, indeed, as he felt a sudden probing down below, and a pressure.

“Kiss me,” he muttered with difficulty. “Kiss me, please.”

And Mycroft did, his mouth burning against Sherlock’s forehead. He balanced there, still, as the tentacles writhed and slid all around them both, and the pressure built. Sherlock lay helpless in alternating moments of awareness and blackout as his breath was stopped and released.

Then there was a burst of pain, and the tentacle was inside him. Mycroft choked. Tears started from the corners of Sherlock’s eyes as it held still, stretching him.

“I’ve never felt anything like…”

Mycroft sounded lost in wonder. But the tentacles didn’t seem to answer to his mood. They continued their ruthless, increasingly rhythmic assault, not even allowing Sherlock to focus on the immediate torment. It felt like his mind was going to split as the pain collided with the pleasure from his cock. Was this what a vision was like? He curled his fingers imploringly against the back of Mycroft’s hands. Mycroft shifted, linking their fingers, steadying him.

It was only a moment’s respite. The tentacle inside him began to move. Sherlock dug his nails in with all the strength he had left. Mycroft hissed in his ear as the tentacle drew in and out of him roughly, with greater and greater freedom. But through the static of the pain, he was starting to feel a tickling burn that cried out for more touch.

He groaned. Mycroft was opening him up, turning him inside out, chasing pleasure along every single nerve ending, through every surface that could transmit it. As the pain subsided, there was nothing left in him but blind, confused arousal, caged in everywhere by Mycroft’s unnatural grip. When the tentacle inside unexpectedly stroked hard over a responsive spot, the feeling had nowhere to go but out. Sherlock came in violent spurts, jerking and trembling.

The pleasure receded, and the beating of Sherlock’s heart slowed. But the tentacles kept moving, as if they hadn’t even noticed. They weren’t done. As one continued to slide over his now oversensitized cock, Sherlock’s unease resurfaced. There was something in the room now, something they had invited in, that was not them. That might be stronger than both of them. They might not stop even when he lost consciousness. Colors and impossible shapes flickered behind his closed eyelids as he struggled for breath. He could die like this, suffocated, submerged, overrun. Seeing things no human was meant to see. He was afraid to open his eyes and look at Mycroft’s face.

“Mycroft,” he whispered.

The tentacle drove down his throat with extra force. He coughed, trying not to panic.

“Mycroft, please…”

Mycroft took a great hitching breath and let go of Sherlock’s left wrist. His hand sparkled with pins and needles. He reached up clumsily, trying to grasp the tentacle still sliding in and out of his mouth, but he couldn’t get a grip. He let his hand fall away, despairing. But then all of them jerked still, and he felt more warmth on his stomach. A second later, and they all withdrew, and Mycroft tumbled to the bed next to him.

Sherlock swallowed and opened his eyes. A perfectly normal, albeit disheveled, Mycroft was lying there. On his back, not touching him, staring up at the ceiling.

Well, he thought, no shortage of samples now…

Terror gone, the sleepy fog began to close in again. But Mycroft still wouldn’t look at him. He cleared his throat, which was already sore, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

Finally, he ventured: “You didn’t tell me there were more than two.”

“There weren’t.”

“Oh.” He thought. “How many do you think—“

“I didn’t count, Sherlock.”

That was a lie. But not one Sherlock understood. He blinked, his eyelids feeling heavy with bafflement.

After another minute, Mycroft said, “Do you want to forget this happened?”

“You could make me?”

“I think so.”

“But you’d remember.”

“Yes.” Mycroft turned his head to address the wall, flatly. “I’ll remember.”

“Obviously not, then.”

Even setting aside science, there was no way he’d give Mycroft the upper hand like that.

“Then you should take a shower.”

He sounded so remote. Sherlock put out a hand, but thought better of it before actually touching him. “Mycroft, what’s wrong? That was—I thought it was good.” In fact, he couldn’t imagine how ordinary sex could ever hope to compete. “Wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know if you’d noticed, Sherlock, but I’ve spent the last few weeks trying not to have sex with you.”

“But you said you wanted…” Sherlock stopped, remembering the exact words. “Oh.”

They wanted,” Mycroft confirmed.

“Not you at all?”

He waited. Could it really just have been him? All that, something only he’d wanted? The thought made his cheeks burn.

“I don’t know,” Mycroft whispered at last. “I don’t think I thought of you this way…before. But you’ve always been the most important thing in the world to me, Sherlock, so maybe…” He shook his head vehemently. “It doesn’t matter. I hate it. I hate the mess.”

The mess. Mycroft had been chiding Sherlock about his messes for as long as he could remember. There was a long silence between them. With each passing second, Sherlock felt a stronger impulse to get out of the room.

“I’ll take that shower,” he offered at last, starting to rise.

At that, Mycroft did touch his wrist, just with the side of his hand. Dried blood was dark on its back. “Sherlock. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know.” Though that wasn’t true. He’d meant it that way, and he hadn’t. After all, Sherlock had felt like he’d been turned inside-out. Mycroft, he thought, Mycroft actually had been. “It’ll still be better.”

Fifteen minutes later, clean and fresh (samples carefully, if somewhat mechanically, preserved), he padded back into Mycroft’s room. Mycroft had changed the sheets and cleaned himself up at the en-suite and was now back in the same position on the bed. Still naked. Sherlock paused without intending to, appreciating the way Mycroft’s hip followed a lean curve into one ridiculously long leg. Whatever the origin, there was no doubt what he wanted now. He looked back up at Mycroft’s face.

“Can I stay here awhile?”

Mycroft sighed, but extended an arm. “You’ll have to be out before dawn. Mummy.”

As Sherlock wanted to get some sleep that night, he absolutely refused to think about how Mummy might react. Instead, he slid into the bed, wincing a bit. Mycroft’s arm was warm and solid, comforting natural flesh. He rolled over and tentatively rested his head against him.

“As much as I wish it were otherwise,” Mycroft said after a minute, “it is not actually possible to escape the messiness of life.”

Sherlock relaxed a little. He felt himself starting to drift.

“I’m glad,” he mumbled.

“About what?”

“That girl tonight.” He supposed he’d gotten an answer to his question. Mycroft had lived up to all the cold and rigorous duties of their world. But to be expected to go through all that with a woman, practically a stranger…”I don’t like the idea of you with them. With any of them.”

Mycroft sighed again. “You know I have to get married.”

He preferred to think it might never happen. “Until then.”

Mycroft pulled him a little closer. “Until then.”