Regulus can't bring himself to let go of the horcrux. It masquerades as a heavy locket, and its print presses against his palm with his skin accepting and imprinting its pattern as his fingers tense around the metal. The chain dangles from his fingers; he thinks briefly about the decrepit state of the area he is wandering and what he might risk in allowing the locket to be visible. The thought doesn't stay there for long. There are more important things to fear than Muggle thieves.
Nonetheless, he sweeps the chain into his hand with aching fingers.
Regulus is capable of Apparation. He is wholly capable of leaving at any moment, but he keeps walking, because to the Muggles, the death's head on his arm means nothing, the locket in his hand is merely a trinket, and he is just another young man skulking the alleys. He is not Regulus Black, a Death Eater, or a wanted man here. He's anonymous.
There was no anonymity at home in London. There was no avoiding the tapestry that was dotted with the names of his peers, but whose name was at the top? His. Black. His father always said he was destined for great things; Regulus had thought for a long time that this was a lie to pacify the spare son. You won't get all of our money, but you will do great things.
Now, of course, he knows better. He will get the money, the glory, the name, everything, if he can only survive in anonymity, the shadows. Oh, if only.
There's a loud snap. Regulus jerks, his right hand immediately at his wand, but he jams it back into his belt in faint disgust at the extent of his paranoia. It is nine PM and he's lost in a Muggle city. There aren't Death Eaters here. Even so, his heart scrambles, blood rushing through his ears and into his face as he curses Sirius. Sirius would like this. Sirius would run after experiences like this, running into danger and into punishments that grew more and more severe.
Don't was the last word Sirius said to him, three years previous. Don't. Regulus relaxes at the hum of activity throughout the city and clear lack of wizardry, and considers Sirius almost guiltily. Gryffindors think in absolutes, and to Sirius, the Dark Mark was a life or death decision. To many, it was. Regulus has never thought in absolutes. The only truth that is evident in the whole of the world is that he is the pinnacle of the pureblood aristocracy.
A low rumble like that from a dragon's throat wallows in the night air. Regulus sniffs and discovers an oily stench on the air, jerking his head in disapproval and wishing he'd worn a cloak instead of being hemmed in by accursed Muggle clothing. The rumble gets closer, and he is loath to turn in that direction, to pay attention to such noise pollution.
"Look a bit lost, mate, need a hand?"
That voice, certain, cool; he can nearly picture his brother's arrogant expression down to the lines in his face. Panic drops over him like a rush of ice. The locket falls from his hand. Regulus immediately scrambles to pick it up. The danger in what could have just happened is enough to . As he straightens, he dares look the rider of the metal dragon in the face. "No," he says shortly.
Sirius's face is a mirror of his own, bearing shock, discomfort, and faint disdain. The likeness disappears in an instant. "Reggie! What are you doing all the way out here? Did you turn Muggle on Mum? Did she die?" he asks with a greedy sort of fascination.
Regulus opens his mouth to speak, the last three words literally make his stomach turn. Even a traitor can still love the people they started with, can't they? "No," he repeats, not sure if he wants to say anything further, but there is a sudden urge to tell him everything, all of it. Why bother? Sirius wouldn't care, he's never cared about anything.
Sirius climbs off of the monstrosity, polishing it with the sleeve of his shirt rather than look at his brother. Regulus wonders if it's intentional avoidance or if Sirius honestly prefers the metal beast. "I thought you were already dead."
I am. The words are on the top of Regulus's tongue, but he doesn't have the heart to say them, either. Or would Sirius merely ask later to any acquaintances, Oh, did he die? in that same curious fascination. "I'm not. Yet."
Sirius slaps him on the back and laughs as he shoves his hands in his pockets. The laugh isn't the loud appreciative laugh that Regulus can barely recall from the last time they'd spoken without it exploding into a mass of political debate via fistfight. It's a dark laugh, the laugh of someone who appreciates only the irony that he has something left rather than that something itself. "Neither am I. Yet. Especially if I keep on this, my love, right here." He pats the top of the beast affectionately.
Regulus wonders if he's supposed to be impressed, because he most certainly is not, and never has been impressed by Muggles. Tolerant is even a stretch. "I have to go," he says, his every instinct screaming to run, not only from the stigma of his brother but of what Sirius could easily bring. Sirius always had trouble following him.
"Wait, wait, Reggie, we can get a drink, can't we?" Sirius's voice is pleading, obnoxiously plaintive. Regulus raises his eyebrows. "We're blood, right? Haven't seen you alone years, Reggie, sod politics, one drink and we can say we made amends before one of us is offed." He offers it jokingly, the tone nastily reminding Regulus of Potter's behavior, somehow managing to make light of every last situation in such a dark manner.
Blood is a joke? Their shared blood, the blood of the Blacks?
Despite that he is repelled by this idea, Regulus's lips are forming the syllable before he is even certain. Before one of us is offed, Sirius just said, having no clue just how right he was. Despair threatens to choke him, death is imminent, and alcohol sounds good. "Yes," he says, then adds hurriedly, "just one."
His mind races. But... wait. He's already dropped the locket - the horcrux, he is carrying a horcrux, Lord Voldemort's horcrux! - what might he do while drunk? He shakes his head. "Sirius. Sirius, I can't do this."
"Don't be a twat and get in the pub," Sirius says offhand, charming his vehicle invisible. "What do you have to be afraid of?" The last has a nasty twinge of jealousy; Sirius has always thought that everyone else had it easy in life.
This doesn't matter. None of this matters. Feelings, rivalries, blood, causes and zealotry. For once in his entire life, Regulus allows himself to speak his mind, uncensored. What has he to fear? How dare Sirius, who fears and shuns any contradiction, ask him to be brave, for the sake of a drink of alcohol and idle conversation?
"What do I have to be afraid of," Regulus repeats slowly, appearing to consider it for the first time. "More than you could possibly imagine." He is shivering. He can barely remember the start of his journey; the only reality of any of it is the locket within his hand, and even Sirius is now inconsequential. "Goodbye, Sirius."
Regulus can feel Sirius's harsh eyes on him. "You're just another one of them," he snaps; an old insult, one that lost its bite years ago because it was so true. Now it's so wrong it hurts - how many of them would even have the nerve to consider something that he had done, flawlessly? "Thought you were fucking better than that, Reggie - "
"Save it," Regulus snaps, withdrawing his wand and raising it into Sirius's face. The tip of his wand touches Sirius's nose. "You won't have me to talk down to anymore."
With that, an admission of his mortality and damn near pending death, he Apparates home. He enters Grimmauld Place, a grudging home with Mother and Father permeated with the smell of the dust of old tradition covering them from head to toe.
He unfolds his hand to find the serpentine S branded into his hand, a disturbing yet almost comedic addition to the snake on his arm, but he cannot bring himself to smile at it. He decides that night that he would prefer to die in a bloody murder than in his sleep.
Two days later, and not much to his surprise, Cousin Bella grants that wish with fervor. He accepts his fate and its ironic twist with almost a smile of pride, for glory lies before him. All he has to do is reach out and seize it by the chain.