Title: Thought and Memory
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use.
Warnings: Emotionally distressing concepts (re: separation) in some parts.
Summary: Part of The Republic of Heaven universe. A look at Mycroft and Tehayla, and the way they view their world. Largely a gen story, but some very peripheral Sherlock/John.
Thought and Memory
Old ravens are not easy to fool
– Faroese proverb
One for sorrow...
Mycroft is sixteen, and he is terrified.
He knows this is the right thing to do – he and Tehayla have agreed upon this – but he's still terrified. And even though he's securely wrapped against the cold, Mycroft can't stop himself shivering.
“You don't have to do this,” his mother says gently. “If you don't think this is right for you, you can turn back at any time.”
He knows she's just trying to help, but in some ways that almost makes it worse. They don't want to be reminded that they have an out, or they might be tempted to take it. It's easier for Mycroft and Tehayla to think of this as something they have to do, even though they know it's nothing of the sort.
Mycroft knows that separation can be done outside this barren wilderness – separation is, essentially, gradually putting distance between the human and their dæmon and forcing the bond to stretch to accommodate that distance. The only necessary part of the process is that it be done slowly; if they are pulled apart too fast, such as by a fall, intercision takes place and the victims often die from the shock.
Merely thinking the word 'intercision' makes Mycroft's skin crawl. No matter that innumerable witches exist as proof that intercision and separation are not the same thing, he can't quell the instinctive fear.
He is going to leave Tehayla – he is going to have to leave his dæmon, his very soul behind while he crosses the white void in front of him. How can that ever be done without horrific consequences? How can it even be survived?
He knows this is nothing more than irrational panic talking, but he can't help it.
This could have been done in a controlled setting – some hospitals instigate separation when a person's dæmon takes on a form unsuitable for their lifestyle, such as when it settles as a fish or other aquatic creature. They didn't have to come here.
But the witches do it here. For the witches, separation is a coming-of-age ceremony shrouded in ritual. Mycroft doesn't care for that aspect of the process, but he wants to someday be a Witches' Consul, and to become so depends on their goodwill.
Being the son of a witch is already a point in his favour. But going through separation the same way they do will guarantee that they'll look favourably on him.
So now Mycroft and Tehayla are here, facing down this mysterious stretch of land that no dæmon can cross.
It's covered in snow, and the horizon is a clearly marked line of white against blue, no trees interrupting it. There are no plants, and there are no animals – as far as anyone can tell, there is no life here.
No one's entirely sure why, but scientists have determined that this location is entirely free of Stanislaus particles. Stanislaus particles can be detected by a device somewhat similar to a Geiger counter – they have yet to be contained or measured, but they can certainly be monitored, after a fashion. No one knows if there's something here that repels the particles, or if they're somehow disintegrated inside this strange void, but the point is they aren't here.
Tehayla had begun to feel ill just from approaching it, and is now tucked inside Mycroft's jacket, claws gripping his shirt, wings spread flat over his chest.
Slowly, feeling more reluctance than he ever has before in his life, Mycroft unzips the jacket. Just for an instant, just enough for Tehayla to shift to a perch on his hand, claws gripping his glove. Mycroft doesn't think the cold that spreads across his chest is entirely a product of being exposed to the chilly air.
Tehayla is trembling, and Mycroft hastens to put her in the small nest of thermal blankets that will keep her warm and secure while he makes the crossing.
Neither Mummy nor her dæmon have spoken again, and Mycroft is grateful. Because for all that Mummy will walk with him, for all that Nostrepheus will remain to watch over Tehayla, in the end, separation is done alone.
It's in the name, after all. Separation implies isolation.
Usually the dæmon protests separation, but in their case it was Tehayla who convinced Mycroft this is necessary. Tehayla is part of him, he doesn't want her to...go. But she pointed out the many ways their bond could be used against them and eventually, inevitably, Mycroft caved in the face of her arguments.
So he and Tehayla will separate. It's decided, but it doesn't stop something in Mycroft quailing as he stares at the blank expanse of snow.
He looks at his dæmon, some part of him hoping she'll call him back, say it's all a mistake...but Tehayla only nods.
This is the right thing to do.
Mycroft turns his back, takes a deep breath of the chilled air, and begins to walk.
Two for joy...
Mycroft is twelve, and though Tehayla hasn't settled yet, it looks like she will soon. And it looks like she will be a bird – she says she's more comfortable in avian shapes nowadays.
She likes colour variant forms, but as it attracts attention she's been trying to take on more 'normal' shapes. It's a goal Sherlock might scoff at, but they've learned that blending in is a talent to be coveted, that being overlooked is an advantage all on its own.
Right now she's in the form of a raven, and they're reading Poe.
“Quoth the raven...” Mycroft reads, his dæmon's cue.
“Nevermore,” Tehayla croaks.
Mycroft fights to hide his smile, instead reading on in a grave voice. He suspects Edgar Allen Poe hadn't intended his story to be treated so lightly, but he and Tehayla are having fun.
“Quoth the raven...”
Mycroft can't fight it this time, and laughs. It's moments like this that convince him not to feel bitter about the way the other children keep their distance from him.
After all, as long as he has Tehayla, he's never alone. And he'll have her forever, or at least until the end of the forever he knows – his life.
He'll love her no matter what she settles as. But these moments make him hope she'll settle as a raven.
Sure enough, when Tehayla settled a year later, the form she takes is that of a Northern Raven.
Three for a girl...
If Mycroft is perfectly honest with himself, he knows he could manage his affairs without his assistant. It would be more difficult, yes, but he'd manage. In some ways, it might even be safer – after all, the more people know a secret, the more likely it is that said secret will be discovered. His assistant could leak devastating information at any time, should she choose to.
But that's the point – she isn't here to help him manage his affairs. She's here to be his conscience.
There's a reason that old adage of power corrupting has survived so long. Mycroft has felt its siren call more than once – when you can literally make or break people with a word, the temptation to abuse that power is strong, to use it for convenience rather than purpose. She makes sure he doesn't go over the line, often without needing to say anything at all – just knowing someone else will view his orders is enough to make him look twice at them.
He knows he shows favouritism, protecting his family the way he does, but she's never checked him on that. Perhaps because she knows Mycroft doubts he could stop doing so even if he tried.
He's only human, after all. And perhaps that is what keeps those with power from corruption – the remembrance that they are human, and thus, fallible.
Four for a boy...
Mycroft is seven years old, and has just become a brother. He's not quite sure how to feel about that. He hasn't anticipated the birth of his brother with joyful expectation. He hasn't dreaded it, either. He's been...well, largely indifferent.
“What do you think it'll be like,” Tehayla asks him as they're being driven to the hospital.
“I don't know,” Mycroft mutters grumpily – he doesn't like not knowing things.
One of his friends despises having a sibling, insisting his brother is 'no fun'. He claims they're messy and noisy, and that your parents don't pay you any mind at all if the baby is in the room. Mycroft doesn't know how much of this is true, but it certainly doesn't sound pleasant.
Mummy went into labour yesterday evening, and Father had gone with her to the hospital while Mycroft was left in the care of their housekeeper. But it is time to meet his new brother.
By the time they're through the hospital doors, Tehyala is in the form of a brown moth, being as unobtrusive and uncommunicative as possible.
Mummy is sitting up in bed, Nostrepheus perched on the windowsill. She looks tired and sweaty and nothing at all like Mummy usually looks, but she smiles when she sees him.
“Come here,” she whispers, beckoning him closer.
There's a white blanket tucked into the crook of her arm, clearly bundled around something, and Mycroft feels inexplicably wary. Tehayla turns into a swift and flies a quick sweep of the room before landing back on Mycroft's shoulder.
“It's just this red, squashed-looking thing,” she whispers to him. “It's not that scary.”
But he can feel her quivering against his neck, both of them stricken with the knowledge that nothing will be the same after this, that their life is about to change.
“Come on, Mycroft,” Mummy coaxes. “It's all right – come and meet your brother.”
There's a sliver of sadness in her voice that Mycroft won't understand until he's four years older and realises Mummy hoped for a daughter, when he realises what it means to be a witch with two sons and know you'll outlive both your children.
Tehayla shifts form yet again, this time into a green-furred cat, rubbing herself under Mycroft's chin to steady him. He raises a hand to his dæmon's fur, needing the comfort as he approaches the bed.
“This is Sherlock,” Mummy says, tilting the wrapped bundle forward.
He is red and squashed-looking, but as the movement jostles Sherlock into wakefulness and he blinks unfocused eyes up at his surroundings, Mycroft feels a strange tenderness welling up inside him. It's almost like the way he loves Mummy and Father, but different, because he feels strangely shy and nervous as well.
Sherlock's dæmon is tucked up with him in the blanket, in the shape of a newborn kitten, and Tehayla leans over to get a closer look, nearly falling off Mycroft's shoulder.
“It's all right,” Mummy whispers. “You can touch them – go on.”
Hesitantly, Mycroft brushes his fingers over his brother's soft, downy hair, feeling inexplicably pleased when Sherlock's eyes close, as though in contentment. Tehayla changes into a small monkey, reaching down to stroke the kitten dæmon, which mewls softly and noses blindly at Tehayla's hand.
Tehayla giggles. “I think they like us.”
Mummy smiles. “He knows you're his brother, and that you'll look after him.”
In that moment, determination crystallises in both Mycroft and his dæmon – that's exactly what they'll do, look after them. This tiny boy and his dæmon will never have to be afraid of anything, not while Mycroft and Tehayla are around.
'We'll take care of you,' Mycroft thinks, tracing his brother's tiny, curled fist with one finger. 'I promise.'
And they keep that promise, in spite of the animosity it gains them from Sherlock and Raniel.
Mycroft and his dæmon aren't truly resentful – they understand where that animosity comes from far too well. Mycroft and Sherlock are far too alike to ever really get along. Sherlock and Raniel feel a deep, driving need to be the most intelligent person in the room, and that simply isn't possible with Mycroft and Tehayla around, given their greater experience. Perhaps the seven year gap between them would have ceased to have meaning as they aged, if they were anyone else. But because they are the way they are, seven years extra experience makes a great deal of difference.
Mycroft knows he and Tehayla are relatively lucky; they've found their niche. Humans, witches, bears...they're always surprising them in both little and big ways, always keeping them busy.
But Sherlock and Raniel have difficulty keeping their intellect constantly active, and lethargy eats at them. They try alcohol, and drugs, spiralling into addiction in an effort to get away from the consuming storm that is their own mind. Sherlock becomes what he calls a 'consulting detective' and things seem to improve, if only slightly – he's still self-abusive, driving off anyone that even attempts to get close to him, and Mycroft has no idea how to make him happy, if Sherlock and Raniel even remember how to be happy.
Really, Mycroft and Tehayla are relieved when John and Amarisa come along.
Five for silver...
Mycroft knows that recognition comes with a price, that the anonymity of his role in the government gives him greater power and protection than that he wields as Witches' Consul. Yet, whenever a witch inclines her head to him, whenever another Consul seeks him out for advice, whenever he is acknowledged as the Consul of Great Britain, he can't help feeling a stir of pride.
When he was first rose to the post, Mummy gave him an umbrella with a pure silver core. Silver and gold are the only metals that can hold spells, and Mycroft's umbrella is thick with protection and shielding spells. And the ring he never removes from his hand contains a tracking device, so his people know where he is at all times.
It's dangerous, this work that Mycroft and his dæmon do. Many humans are afraid of witches, and the Consul is an easy target for that fear. Several witches resent the restrictions they are under now, particularly in regards to travel, and again, an opposing Consul makes an easier target than a rival clan.
Dealing with witches is always interesting. They have a lifespan hundreds of times that of humans, and the repercussions of their decisions always stretch into the centuries. A witch's memory is very long, and Mycroft has discovered they will avenge insults and disappointments years after a human would have completely forgotten about it.
With such vast differences in the way they view life, Witches' Consul is a necessary position as a buffer between humans and witches. Most Witches' Consuls are the human (male) offspring of witches, as Mycroft is, though he knows of a few men and women who have gained the post even without a relative among the clans.
But of the Witches' Consuls, Mycroft and Tehayla are the most respected, and it isn't hubris or arrogance that makes them think so. While they are technically only the Consul of Great Britain, clans and Consuls from around the world consult with them.
Only Mycroft and Tehayla can so easily straddle the divide between human and witches, can see so clearly how decisions and laws will echo down the centuries.
Panserbjørne, on the other hand, are much more difficult. While witches are at least vaguely similar to humans, bears are so far removed they aren't even in the same genus.
Humans concern themselves with their own needs, and those of their family and friends. They want well-paid jobs that interest them, freedom to exercise their own rights and beliefs, and to be happy. Witches want to serve their clan, to explore their own powers and spells, to give birth to daughters that will carry the clan on through the centuries.
But the bears...well, no one's ever been truly sure what a bear values. Courage, yes, valour on the battlefield, but they don't create war for their own sake. There is honour there as well – a bear's word is as good as a written contract – but they serve as mercenaries.
Panserbjørne culture seems a mess of contradictions and tangled skeins of family and clan and royalty. Their world is so very different to the worlds of humans and witches that Mycroft and Tehayla often have trouble predicting their reactions, often don't truly know the best way to persuade or placate them.
It's impossible to trick a bear, which shows a brain at work that is so foreign to anything Mycroft has experienced before that it's rather alarming.
Three sentient species must coexist on this planet, and it's Mycroft's task to ensure they do so with as little friction as possible.
Six for gold...
Mycroft never likes using the alethiometer. It's perhaps his one fault – his intense dislike of that which he doesn't understand.
It's not that he and Tehayla are frightened of it, it's just that using the alethiometer is so...uncertain. You can never be entirely sure if you've asked the right question, or if you've correctly translated the answer. Because what they do is translating – the alethiometer communicates in its own way, and they must wrestle it into a language they understand.
It doesn't help that no one knows how an alethiometer actually works. Or how it can know what it does – and it may seem strange to consider an object as 'knowing' something, but there's really no other way Mycroft can phrase it.
In short, the alethiometer is eerie and unsettling, and Mycroft and Tehayla come quite close to hating it, simply because they can never be sure how they are getting their answers.
They've examined other alethiometers, wondering if there was some common design or gear or aspect that would suddenly make the whole concept make sense, but they were defeated. Alethiometers (or at least, the three that they've seen), are completely identical, varying only in the degree of wear and tear they've endured over the centuries.
Alethiometers always posses the thirty-six symbols in the same order, the three dials to manipulate the three hands, and the slender needle that is constantly, ceaselessly whirring even though no actual gear drives it. And the case is always made of gold alloy.
Gold is biologically neutral, and virtually indestructible – pure gold will bend, not break, and it doesn't rust or tarnish.
Really, the alethiometer is a fitting counterpart for John Watson, in the poetic sense.
Mycroft and Tehayla see many things coming. Even if they don't know the precise sequence of events, they can still anticipate generalities.
But John reading the alethiometer was something they certainly hadn't seen coming. They'd thought he might have a knack for it, given his incredible sensitivity, but to read the alethiometer so fluently and effortlessly...they certainly hadn't expected that.
But then, John Watson and his dæmon seem to be in the habit of surprising them. Maybe Sherlock and Raniel like that sort of thing, but Mycroft and Tehayla just find it unnerving.
Which is why they will never make use of John unless they have to. For all John's confidence and accuracy in his readings, the alethiometer is still not a device to be trusted.
They can respect John's skill with it, of course, and they do. But they don't understand it.
And they've never been fond of things they don't understand.
Seven for a secret, never to be told...
Mycroft's position in the government is minor and peripheral – on paper. Most believe his Consul duties keep him so busy that being a civil servant is just a hobby.
In reality, the prime minister, the queen, the entire government do nothing without Mycroft and Tehayla's approval. They control every channel, oversee every decision, manipulate every single person and dæmon on the staff.
But the more you try to control, the more you realise how difficult it is to truly control anything. The more you understand the frightening amount of things left to chance, the number of life-changing incidences that started out as whims or impulses.
Mycroft and Tehayla aren't prescient, after all. They may know what people are most likely to do, not what they will do. They may know the probable outcome, but not the assured one.
As Sherlock says – there's always something. He and Raniel might like to say that Mycroft is the most dangerous man in London, might like to claim they're omniscient, and Mycroft and his dæmon let him believe that. Perhaps it gives Sherlock a sense of security, to think that his brother controls so much.
They'll never tell him just how often they've been caught off-guard, how often they've been surprised. It happens at least once a week, and while it's often small and unimportant (their assistant getting a croissant for lunch instead of her usual sandwich), sometimes what they miss is life-changing.
After all, John Watson was unexpected. Moriarty was unexpected.
It's a truth many people don't want to admit, talking about fate and destiny and controlling your own life, but there are so very, very many things in life decided purely by chance. It's Mycroft and Tehayla's job to ensure the role chance plays is as little as possible. To ensure at least some of the taxes go where they're supposed to go, to ensure the right laws are enforced and the correct bills are passed.
England is theirs. And they protect what's theirs.
AN: Thanks to my beta, ginbitch, for whom this was written (and I'm sorry it's so late)!
And now we have podfic by the wonderful themusecalliope!
Also, Thought and Memory are the names of the ravens that sit on the Norse god Odin's shoulders. Each day at dawn they fly out over the world, and bring to the god news of everything that happens. I thought it was an appropriate title.