i. When we were bad
Mycroft was mostly sure that dye-- even bleach dye-- wasn’t supposed to burn like this. It scorched the back of his throat, and burned when he swallowed. It tingled on his scalp where Ethan’s gloved fingers were burrowing into the short cropped curls.
But it was working .
Auburn to copper. It had lightened to a brassy pink, and the last time Mycroft had caught his reflection in the grimy window, it had been an unfortunate shade of yellow. Of course, that had been twenty minutes and no small amount of burning, ago.
“Stop fucking craning ‘round. You’ll see it when it’s done.” Rupert- Ripper - smirked from his place by the wall. There was a cigarette held loosely between his slanted lips, and he was flipping through a massive, gilded tome that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Council shelf.
Knowing Ripper, it probably had been. Purloined on their last venture through the archives, and hidden under the drape of the scuffed leather jacket he preferred on a heist.
How else were they supposed to learn the secrets that were currently being hidden from them? Knowledge should be free to the masses!
Or so they told themselves between stiff, cheap drinks. High on the lingering thrill of magic, as they let it flood through their veins.
They were no pathetic Mundanes, waiting for death at the end of a dull existence. They were free! Wholly and completely free. They’d thrown off the yokes of Cambridge and Oxford, of family expectation-- Ripper’s straw boater pinned to the wall like a sacrifice-- and had devoted their lives to the magic.
“Tilt your head, Myc.” Ethan teased, and tugged on a few of Mycroft’s bleach caked curls, “I’m going to rinse it out.”
Mycroft didn’t bother to hide his shiver of anticipation when he leaned back against the cracked edge of the sink, ignoring Ripper’s snort of amusement from his corner. The water spluttered and hissed before turning on, ice cold and smelling vagely metallic.
Nobody ever said it was a glamorous life. But their current flophouse had running water, most of the time; and the high, cracked skylight let out most of the smoke from their oil drum fire.
If he turned his head, Mycroft could see over the edge of the railing, and down onto the warehouse floor below. It was big enough for their whole group (not a bloody coven, they’d all decided. They were reinventing magic, unafraid of the power), and marked with the intricate shapes of their summoning circle.
But that was for later. Right now, Ethan’s deft fingers were combing through his hair, tugging sharp on the knots from the bleach. “Randall’s going to be watching you all night, sugar.” He drawled under his breath, RP accent turned deliberately common and filthy when he leaned over to nip the side of Mycroft’s neck.
“He can try.” Ripped interjected, barely looking up from his page, “And get fucked if he thinks he’s going to lay a finger on him.”
With his eyes closed, Mycroft could see the way Ethan mirrored his smirk. Trickles of slowly turning lukewarm water slid down the back of his neck, and Mycroft could finally smell the bitter smoke of Ethan’s cigarette over the chemical burn of the bleach.
“Dierdre’s turn to be the vessel tonight. He’ll be all over her.” When Ethan tapped his shoulder to indicate that he was done, Mycroft swung his feet down to the dusty floor, boots thudding solidly on the scarred old wood.
In the window reflection, he examined his new hair; bleached white and still wet, making his face look thinner. But then…
When had they eaten last? It hadn’t seemed important. Still didn’t.
“And you’ll be with us.”
Mycroft couldn’t see Ethan’s face in the reflection when his lover came up behind him, arms finding a tight home around his waist. His body was warm against Mycroft’s back, familiar as he leaned back into his chest.
Lifting one hand, Ethan pressed the filter of his cigarette to Mycroft’s mouth, and he inhaled gratefully. “You’re gorgeous. Rip knows it, too. That’s why he’s still pretending to read, when he hasn’t turned the page in ten minutes.”
“Not before the damn ritual. Think you can wait an hour?” Rupert’s slow, lazy voice cut him off, and he stretched out his legs; pale skin visible through the raggedly torn denim, his docs untied and loose at the ankle.
Ethan flipped him off.
This was what he’d left Cambridge for, Mycroft mused.
For Ethan’s arms around him, and Ripper’s teeth grazing the nape of his neck.
For the heady rush of magic as it burned through his veins.
Sometimes he wondered about his brother back in Sussex. Sherlock was struggling in school, and Mycroft would send him letters. Puzzles. Anything to keep his mind busy. Because a letter didn’t betray the healing ink on the inside of his elbow, or the fresh piercings that twinged when he moved.
As far as Sherlock knew, Cambridge was fine.
Arching his back, Mycroft reached back to drape his arm over Ethan’s shoulder, his head tilted to the side to invite his kisses. Everyone would be there soon.
And then the fun would start.
ii. A couple of old mystics
“This is a terrible idea.”
“You’re only saying that because it’s dangerous. Now are you going to help me, or not?”
“No, I’m saying this is a terrible idea because it is. In fact. A terrible idea, and you are going to get yourself killed. There’s a reason those rituals are forbidden!”
Not for the first time-- not even for the first time in the last hour-- Mycroft wondered how his little brother had ever managed to survive adolescence. He had all the impulse control and survival instinct of a lemming.
And now he was leaning on the other side of his desk, fixing Mycroft with the the same imperious, expecting look that he had mastered in toddlerhood. Some things never changed, though it had been easier when all he wanted was a cookie before dinner, or for Mycroft to lift down one of the guarded tomes for him.
“No, absolutely not. Sherlock, even if I could find the rite for you-- something, I might add, that would involve sneaking into the Hermetic archives--”
“Don’t be dramatic, Mycroft! You wouldn’t be sneaking anywhere. The archives are open to any member of the Order. And it wouldnt be the first tíme you’ve taken out one of the restricted volumes. You know more about the elder rites than anyone.” Sherlock cut him off smugly, his long fingers drumming impatiently on the desk. Oh, if his dear brother thought he was going to be fobbed off that easily, he had clearly been sitting in his office too long!
Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose and took a slow breath to try and stave off the headache that already thumped in his temples. “Yes, and if you hadn’t decided to turn your back on our entire tradition , perhaps you would be able to find the books yourself! Besides, even if I could? It wouldn’t do you any good. Neither of us has access to the ritual components.”
Oh no. Oh no no no… “Sherlock, you can’t seriously be considering asking her to! Her job at the hospital notwithstanding, her tradition would take a very dim view of-”
“I doubt they’d care. They don’t micromanage everything like yours .” Sherlock shot back, the emphasis making it very clear that he no longer considered himself one of the Order of Hermes. “They’re not nearly so dry and dusty, or obsessed with hoarding knowledge they’ll never use.”
Mycroft didn’t want to start this arguement again. They’d gone round and round for years, and he was frankly exhausted by it. Sherlock had made his opinions more than clear, and Mycroft was kicking himself for mentioning it in the first place.
Big brother, who’d never coloured outside the lines, or craved knowledge that was forbidden.
Slowly, Mycroft thumbed the inside of his elbow, knowing where his tattoo was. The occult symbol of the demonic Sleepwalker. A vestige of a life Sherlock had never deduced, and a warning against his own hubris.
Almost fifteen years of silence, and they still had Randall's blood on their hands. That would never come clean, and Mycroft tried not to dwell on it. He'd grown up, taken his place in life... And in line. Nobody ever needed to know otherwise.
Ripper-- Rupert, now-- was in America. Playing the part of the good Watcher, just as his father had wanted.
And who knew where Ethan was? Dead, probably.
“Sherlock, if something goes wrong…”
“It won’t. You’d never let it.”
No. I wouldn’t… Never again.