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In the pocket of his trousers next to his phone, Mycroft carries the standard-issue steel capsule meant for protecting arthropod daemons. When people ask about it, he smiles and tells them she's fond of neither the light nor of people other than himself. This is a lie.

***

For as long as he can remember, Mycroft's been unable to understand the bond between a man and his daemon. He can read the evidence as bright as day -- his parents are devoted to their daemons, and the servants to theirs, with a steady familiarity that is impossible to mistake.

But he can't understand why.

***

His daemon has always chosen different names – the real one's too revealing, he says, we don't need to give them an upper hand against us when they've got so many already. His current name is Hestivan, but Mycroft estimates it'll last only another week before Hestivan becomes bored, and chooses only to answer to Elethor, or Mazheridan.

He doesn't remember the first name, or if there even is one.

When asked for his daemon's name, Mycroft merely says "it's a secret," while Hestivan shuffles between forms rebelliously – first an otter, then a bear, then a bobcat, as swiftly as Mycroft shuffles a deck of playing cards.

***

The first time his daemon takes a human form is the first time Mycroft's father recoils from him as if he's become something disgusting, and his mother's look of shocked dismay feels like a punch to the gut.

"They tried to hide how they felt about it of couse, our parents always do. I don't know why, it's not like I can't tell. Even you can tell," his daemon says, now a bloodhound snuffling at the light coming through the gap between door and carpet. He'll warn Mycroft if they come up armed with platitudes to assuage their guilt. Mycroft has long given up on referring to his daemon by his chosen name, because he flickers between them so quickly, picking one up only to discard it again.

"You saw the way he moved his chair away from us at dinner," he continues. "And Mummy looked like she wanted to die of shame; did you hear the gasp she made when she saw me? I'm just a freak to them, aren't I?"

It is more than he's said in one conversation to Mycroft in weeks, but Mycroft doesn't think he cares, because he knows it was the first time his father had thought seriously about beating his imperfections out of him, and that would never do.

"We shan't tell them any more about me," his daemon says, and Mycroft agrees.

After that, his daemon only takes human shape in their room, and raids Mycroft's dressers for clothes with a casual disregard that makes his hands clench into fists. It's not supposed to be like this, he wants to shout, and the unamused glance he receives in return when his stockinged feet scuff the floor tells him that his daemon knows that already. Knows, and doesn't care.

***

"Mycroft," he says when they are fourteen, writing Mycroft's homework – to improve his penmanship, he says, but doesn't mention why he would need to have penmanship in the first place. Daemons don't write. "I want to try an experiment. Incidentally, I think I have chosen my name. I'll let you know it if you'd like, if you can't figure it out for yourself. Mummy won't be pleased, but she'll just have to adjust."

***

They sit at the bus stop as brothers – talking quietly in the language only siblings know. When the bus comes, they climb the steps together, but before the door shuts, Sherlock pushes him off the steps and back onto the pavement, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Just an experiment," he mouths, as the doors shut and the bus pulls away from the kerb. It's fast, and it doesn't hurt as much as the stories say.

It hurts much, much worse, and he barely has time to stumble somewhere less obtrusive before he collapses.

It's dark by the time the pain fades and Sherlock returns to him, carrying his clothes between his jaws. He's a wolf, but it doesn't suit him, not at all. He drops the clothes at Mycroft's feet and changes into a monkey, which also doesn't suit him, and helps him change into clothes that aren't stained with tears and dirt.

Mycroft's face is tear-streaked against his will, and Sherlock wipes it clean with the heel of a furred palm. They rarely touch, and it feels strange and unfamiliar. He turns his face away. After a moment, Sherlock drops his hand to stuff Mycroft's soiled clothes back in his bookbag.

His parents are worried nearly to the point of being frantic when they return, wanting to know where they've been.

"Nowhere," Mycroft lies cheerfully, Sherlock a spotted leopard at his side -- he'd been an eagle when they returned home, but he'd chosen a larger mammal so he didn't need Mycroft to carry him in. "Sherlock and I just went out for a while, and we lost track of the time."

"Sherlock?" His mother asks, lips pursed unhappily. Evairon's gaze bores into the two of them, her ears flattened unhappily, and Mycroft fights the urge to squirm like a boy. One mustn't show guilt. "I thought his name was Talamazin."

"That was a long time ago. I prefer Sherlock now," declares Sherlock. The bristling fur on the back of his neck betrays his tension.

***

"We're not meant to be one person," Sherlock says before they go to sleep -- the bed's barely big enough for two boys to share, lying side-by-side, and their shoulders bump. It feels a lot like Mycroft imagines a sleepover might feel like, if he'd ever gone to one. "We can't be. We're too smart to ever be one person."

"I know," Mycroft tries to say, but the words stick in his throat.

***

Sherlock offers to give him the answers to his A-levels, which isn't technically cheating, but feels strange nonetheless (he turns him down anyways, as he doesn't need the help).

Mycroft is seventeen and Sherlock has still not settled (his name, however, has stuck). They both know why.

You can't force yourself to settle in a form when you don't really mean it, no matter how convenient it would be, or how hard you try it, or how much you plead with yourself. All you can do is delay it.

They find this out the hard way, and give up the summer before Mycroft is scheduled to enter university.

***

"Why did you do it?" It's not a question you normally ask your daemon when he settles, but it's been a long time since he's considered Sherlock to be his. He's not, not really.

"Daemons aren't people," Sherlock says finally, carefully, though he and Mycroft are the only ones in their bedroom at this hour. The doctors have all left. He says it in a tone he rarely uses, slow and deliberate for things that are only of the utmost importance. "They're merely possessions – no, they're reflections. I want to be more than that, and this is the only way."

"But how can you?"

"I want to be human, Mycroft. I want to be a person in my own right, not just some showy toy dedicated to reflecting your every whim. That's an empty, boring life, and I'd sooner die. I don't know how anyone else could possibly stand it. I don't know how our parents stand it. How would you feel if you were my daemon, bound to me for the remainder of your life, always second-best?"

He doesn't have an answer.

***

The conversation with his parents is awkward and mortifying and only made worse when Sherlock sits in a chair apart from him and declares, "I don't want to be his daemon. It's a degredation of my brilliance and my potential, and it's not right that I be reduced to some accessory in his life. I want my own life, not a pale shadow of it."

In the end, they win not through the strength of their arguments, but because it is hardly as if there were any other options. For their parents, it is better to hide this aberration than to reveal it, and now that Sherlock's settled, there's no way it could have been anything approaching discreet.

So Mycroft goes to university alone. And thanks to some judiciously-pulled strings and secret dealings (because their parents love them just as much as they are repulsed by them), documents are altered and records are forged, and his younger brother Sherlock goes to university three years later.

***

Three years, because it takes that long to teach Sherlock how to act human. He's not been settled long, and Mycroft worries about the lack of freedom in his new shape. There are so many humans rules to follow that he can barely keep them all straight. What hope does Sherlock have?

Mycroft doesn't know the details, and a part of him rebels at the idea of asking his mother for information about his own daemon (but Sherlock's not really his daemon anymore, is he? Not in any of the ways that matter).

So he picks up bits and pieces of sensation, echos bouncing off Sherlock's psyche and into his own.

***

There are an uncountable number of ways the government can use a sane man with no daemon, and Mycroft excels at them all because he is brilliant and terrifying and missing parts of him that others oftentimes consider a mandatory part of humanity.

Over time, the raw, damaged area inside him stops feeling so damaged. It doesn't heal, of course, because separating oneself from one's daemon is hardly something one can recover from. But it stops feeling so strange, and he stops expecting to be able to turn his head and see Sherlock over his shoulder or lounging in a chair, smirk curving his lips.

***

They don't speak again until Mycroft has more security clearances than he'd previously known was possible and Sherlock has... whatever it is that he has now. A flat, a hobby, a blog, a phone, a driver's license, the hundreds of minutiae that made up an identity. A life.

Sherlock wants nothing to do with him or any other reminders of his former status, but seems otherwise well, and a tightness in Mycroft's chest eases. Because Sherlock's doing it, he's really doing it.

He wonders if they're happier this way, or if they could have been happy being like everyone else -- restricted, bound, dull. Somehow, he doubts it.

They're not meant for mediocrity.