The rules and regulations in the Dispatch handbook are more important than any religious text in the history of humankind.
Or at least this is true to one: William T. Spears.
William was once rumored to have described the Judeo-Christian Bible as, "an amusing fable plagued by roundabout prose," after imbibing a few too many glasses of champagne at an after party.
For days on end, there were murmurs throughout the halls of the Shinigami Dispatch Association that upper management had fired him; that the creator itself had cast a plague down on him; that the reason he was absent from tea break the following afternoon was due to the fact that he had already been sent to hell.
These murmurs and rumors were quickly dispelled when William had walked into the center of the Collections office, dropped a very heavy, very thick book onto a random desk, and snared everyone's attention.
"This," he had said, adjusting his glasses, "is the only text which shall ever function in our world as divine."
There was a few nervous titters, but generally silence, since no one doubted the statement.
"You are all unworldly products of a city that has nearly always worshipped a particular monotheistic higher being," William had continued, snorting. "Now, straighten up, re-read the Rules and Regulations manual, and stop filling your heads with this silly human nonsense."
And with that, he had turned on his heel and calmly walked away.
From then on, colloquially, the Rules and Regulations handbook was known as the Reaper Bible (capitalization always required), and whether it was taken seriously because every being in the Dispatch was frightened of offending the creator, or just William T. Spears himself, was never quite sussed out.
Grell Sutcliff, however, had nicknamed William: Jesus T. Spears, the Highest Divine Entity on Our Silly Human Plane.
No one paid the indiscretion much mind though, since nearly everyone employed in the Dispatch had long stopped wondering why Grell hadn't been sacked yet. Invoking a human lord's name didn't seem to be much of a sin in comparison to some of the other...incidents...he'd had.
And so, in light of this series of events, by 1860 the only parts of the handbook, or Reaper Bible, that were "creatively interpreted" was the section on appropriate dress.
It had always been customary that an unofficial perk of becoming a senior was the ability to interpret "divine aesthetics" as they so chose: in other words, mad hairstyles, silly belts, garish shoes and fashionable ties.
However, by 1870, William T. Spears (or "Senior Savior" as he was called behind his back by that time), decided that even this was an unacceptable infraction.
This decision cast much distress on the newest seniors (a few decades out or so) who grumbled privately that they were victims of unfair judgment (the irony and hypocrisy of which were not lost on Grell, who then dubbed William, "William Heretic Spears").
And so, Eric Slingby finds himself in great distress upon receiving the memorandum on his desk on official department stationery that he is to "adjust" his hairstyle, keep his shirt buttoned up to the neck at all times, and "acquire a tie of black silk fastened neatly into a Windsor knot."
The order has inspired such horror that Alan had looked at Eric's face and asked, "Did Senior Sutcliff finally get sentenced to hell?"
Of all those who would care about such a turn of events, Eric might be the only one, since Grell had been his mentor.
"No," he says, letting the paper flutter to the desk rather dramatically, as if he's just received word that his title has been revoked and he's on desk detail.
Alan picks up the paper and reads it.
"Mad hairstyles?" he says after reading the official memorandum section. "Does that mean-"
"Yes," Eric replies, as pale as a distressed damsel, sentenced to spend her fate sequestered in a lonely tower, and about to swoon dead away in a faint.
"At least you don't have to worry-"
Now Alan is fiddling with his own tie nervously.
"All right, fair enough," Eric corrects himself.
"What happens if we don't follow orders?" Alan hazards, feeling a surge of a adrenaline at the insubordinate suggestion, almost a naughty thrill.
Alan doesn't break rules; there's a reason William Heretic Spears promoted him more quickly than the other new recruits to be mentored and groomed for seniority. Most of them are still office-bound, learning how to write their names at the top of forms.
"If we don't conform, you go back to training as a novice, and I get demoted solely to desk duty," Eric replies flatly.
They just stare at each other for a moment, and then Eric bites his lip in an uncharacteristically self-conscious gesture, as if he's not saying everything.
"Is there something else?" he asks.
"Well," Eric starts, nervously adjusting his loose tie, "you see...General...they like a bit of..."
"Aesthetic 'interpretation'?" Alan guesses, trying not to laugh.
"Yes," Eric grits out, frowning at Alan.
Apparently his amusement was poorly concealed.
"Won't they like you just as well with the...adjustments?" Alan asks, raising his eyebrows.
"Of course not!" Eric exclaims, throwing his hands up in exasperation.
A few other reapers turn to look at them, and Eric colors slightly and lets his hands drop.
"Of course not," he repeats in a hushed, anxious voice. "Those birds are picky."
"They are?" Alan asks in wonder. "But...you've had...and they..."
"Well, yes I know that," Eric says, rolling his eyes. "I know I make it look easy, Humphries, but they have standards!"
Alan really has to fight his laughter, but apparently he succeeds at looking more stoic this time around. Eric's vanity doesn't make itself obvious most of the time, but when it does emerge, Alan has always found it absurdly hilarious.
"I see," he says, shaking his head. "Well then, what do you aim to do?"
"Well, I suppose I'll have to take these out," he says, pointing at the braids on the right side of his head resentfully. " If it's between a shag and a reap, I'll take the latter, mate."
Before Alan can respond to this rather telling piece of information, Grell Sutcliff comes strolling up with an amused look on his face.
"Oh, Eric darling," he croons, putting his hands on his hips and tilting them as he regards Eric with a smug grin, "whatever shall you do? I suppose you'll have to undo those ghastly braids I've been trying to convince you for ages to retire."
Eric frowns and makes a dismissive noise.
"I think I'll be just fine," he replies.
"Oh, really," Grell says, shaking his head disapprovingly, "if you'd like some assistance with that – he points up at Eric's soon-to-be disassembled hairstyle – "I'm quite experienced with the finer points of coiffure."
"Humphries is going to do it," Eric blurts out. Alan wrenches his head around in surprise to stare at Eric where he's been making himself scarce during the conversation to read over forms (Alan usually stays out of Eric and Grell's little interludes).
"But I-" he blurts out.
Eric's hand claps over his mouth, and Alan inhales sharply, stiffening.
"Oh, I see you've finally consummated your marriage," Grell says plainly, tapping a finger against his lips. "How quaint. Well then, best of luck with your transformation."
"Marriage?" Alan squeaks out when Eric drops his hand.
Grell just gives him a long suffering look, raises an eyebrow, and shakes his head.
"Oh for the sake of Jesus T.-"
"Don't say it," William grunts as he suddenly appears.
"Senior!" Alan exclaims, jumping to his feet.
The exasperated look on Grell's face intensifies and he looks at Eric, as if expecting a matching expression.
Eric just looks stony and steps away from Alan, crossing his hands over his chest staunchly.
"Humphries, apart from that silly adornment at your neck, you are acceptably attired. Slingby..." William gestures vaguely at Eric's entire person, "...read the memo. And Sutcliff..."
"And Sutcliff indeed," Grell repeats in a velvety voice, immediately ignoring Alan and Eric to sidle up next to William. "Have no worries, my sweet! I'll be outfitted in the most proper ensemble come tomorrow."
"Please ensure that you-" William starts, but stops abruptly as Grell bends forward to smile and breathe something into his ear. "Honestly," he growls, and then turns his attention back to Alan and Eric as Grell swishes away.
"Just...read the memorandum," he blurts out, visibly shaken and turns on his heel to walk away.
Alan can't help but notice as Grell follows William into his office, shuts the door, and then hears the faint click of a lock.
"What was it like being mentored by Senior Sutcliff?" Alan asks, his eyes still trained on the door.
Eric sighs, absently running his fingers along his precious braids.
"Well," he replies curtly, "I didn't often set foot in General Affairs until I became a senior."
Alan whirls to stare at Eric, who just gives a rather rakish smirk and shrugs.
"Alan," he says, "here, you need this."
Eric reaches into his jacket and pulls out a flask. Normally Alan would refuse, but at this point, he feels he's entitled.
He takes a generous burning sip and hands it back.
"All right then, enough of this," Eric declares, tucking the flask back into his jacket. "Back to the task at hand."
"Which is?" Alan asks unsurely.
"Well, I need help with this," Eric answers, gesturing to his hair. "You've got good taste, haven't you?"
"Well, I..." Alan stutters awkwardly.
"You always look..." Eric says, gesturing to Alan's appearance, "tidy."
"You know what I mean."
Alan fixes Eric with a flat stare, which Eric ignores; he opts for one of his trademark grins, attempting to charm the stare away.
It doesn't work, and Eric just sighs wearily.
"Come on, you've a bit of a knack for this type of thing. Help a bloke out?"
"I suppose," Alan says, fighting the urge to rolls his eyes. "But...I can't promise I'll be any good."
"Alan," Eric says, this time giving a genuine smile that that makes everything in Alan seem to melt, "you've always underestimated yourself."
"Well, then," Alan says uncertainly.
Eric looks as though he may actually cry.
Alan puts down the scissors and cringes.
Eric runs his hands over his butchered hair, or what hair is left.
It started with Alan's nervous suggestion that perhaps if they just cut the longer part, and left in the braids, he might get away with it.
But when he had cut the longer portion off, Eric's hair had suddenly become two different colors.
"Um," Alan says, raising an eyebrow.
Eric turns his head to the side to study his profile in the mirror where he's sitting. He tries meet Alan's terrified gaze in the mirror to smile reassuringly.
"Well," he finally says, touching the short blond part with hesitant fingertips, "carry on. Maybe...trim the other side? So it's not as...obvious?"
As soon as the scissors approach however, Eric's eyes dart over to stare at them tensely.
"Why don't you unbraid this side first, before I cut the longer part?" Alan suggests.
Eric heaves a sigh and unbraids the darker hair easily, his fingers obviously accustomed to the motion.
"It might look rather..." Alan suggests, tilting his head thoughtfully as smooths down the newly unbraided hair to judge its length, "...smart?"
Eric raises an eyebrow in consternation.
"I mean, dapper!" he corrects emphatically. "You know... class."
"I suppose I'll have to...properly shave," Eric replies in dread. "You know, to have it match."
"You know a rather lot about style," Alan says, readying the scissors to trim the darker hair so that it matches the other side.
The comment seems to rouse Eric from his misery momentarily, as he grins at Alan and crosses his arms.
"Well," he says as Alan opens the scissors to take the first careful snip, "you have to have at least a bit of a knack for aesthetics to-"
It's as if everything is in slow motion, as Eric turns his head to look at Alan at just the wrong time, and the scissors close.
At least four inches of dark hair fall to the floor, and Alan blanches.
Eric just stares at Alan, unmoving, knowing from the look on Alan's face something bad just happened.
"Why did you move?" Alan asks in a whisper, his hand frozen in place.
"I..." Eric says, "It was just instinct."
Alan's eyes finally dart over to confirm exactly how much hair has been lost, and he swallows hard.
Eric slowly turns back toward the mirror, and his expression is nothing short of horrified as he surveys the damage, running his fingers over the jagged, uneven ends as if not believing what he's seeing.
"Bloody hell," he breathes.
A close crop has replaced the wavy, blond hair on the left side of his head, while the right side is unbraided and sticking up in jagged hanks.
"I'm sorry!" Alan cries, and takes two steps back. "I don't know anything about hair, Eric."
Eric bites his lip and looks nonplussed, staring at his head; but then when he looks back at Alan, who is absolutely floored with horror, he tries to smile.
"That's all right," he says. "It's not your fault."
"Yes it is!" Alan cries.
"Well, yes, it is technically," Eric agrees, cringing. "But...I asked you to do it and-"
"How'd you settle on that bloody mad hairstyle anyway?" Alan says, growing more hysterical. "I told you! I have no bloody idea about hair!"
"I don't know," Eric replies with a surprisingly calm shrug. "Some bird told me it made me look fit... though I don't think I'll be getting many more opinions from General Affairs for a while."
Alan is still staring at him wild-eyed, and finally Eric breaks the tension with a soft laugh.
"Alan, calm down. It's not as if you reaped me."
Alan takes a breath and forces himself to calm down, but then curiosity takes over.
"What do you mean you won't get any more opinions from General Affairs?" he asks. Everyone knows that General is more fond of Eric Slingby than a reaper is of his or her own scythe.
"Well, they prefer fit blokes. And, well..." Eric can't help but cringe as he brushes his fingers over the ruined hair again.
"You're still fit," Alan blurts out, and then feels himself turning crimson.
Eric raises his eyebrows in surprise.
"Didn't know you...had an opinion, Humphries," he says carefully, and Alan takes a step back.
"Maybe you should finish up yourself," he says, offering the scissors to Eric with an outstretched arm, as if afraid to get too close.
Eric just gives him an odd look as he leans forward to take the scissors from Alan, but then he grins.
"You're fit, too," he says with a shrug, turning back around to look in the mirror and prod gingerly at his massacred hair, raising an eyebrow critically as if he's giving serious contemplation to just shaving it all off.
"Nothing wrong with one bloke to another stating the obvious. The occasional bit of ego primping never goes awry..." He turns his head to the side, staring, and adds, "Especially not now."
Alan gives an awkward laugh; Eric continues to speak, but now all he can hear is Eric telling him he's fit. But it's just "bloke to bloke," as Eric put it – man to man, ego to ego, lady killer to lady killer – just a mutual pat on the back and—
"Alan?" Eric interrupts his wild train of thought and cocks his head to the side expectantly.
"Sorry?" Alan replies in embarrassment.
"I asked if you have any suggestions before I just..." Eric swallows hard, "shear it off?"
Eric turns to face Alan again with a forced smile on his face, and Alan cautiously steps forward.
"Well," he offers, bringing his hand up to brush his fingers against what's left of the butchered hair, "maybe..."
He makes a face and turns his head to the side, as if looking at it from a different angle will help.
"I suppose... well, it'll grow back," is his final verdict, cringing. "Maybe then Senior Spears will-"
The sentence is cut off, because suddenly Eric's hand is pressed against the back of Alan's, and he's pushing it against his ruined hair.
"Maybe I could..." he doesn't manage to finish whatever his brilliant idea was, trailing off and holding Alan's hand in place.
"If you..." Alan starts, completely transfixed on the texture of Eric's hair – even in its current state – and keeps his hand where it is as Eric's drops.
"Maybe if I..." Eric says, closing his eyes as Alan smooths his fingers over the hair. He takes a sharp breath as Eric turns his head to the side to rub his cheek against Alan's hand.
Alan is suddenly grateful for conversations that go absolutely nowhere.
"You could..." he caresses Eric's cheek his fingers, and Eric smiles. Finally, Alan gives up and concludes, "Well, I suppose there's really not much you can do."
He finally pulls his hand away, and Eric opens his eyes.
"All right then," he says, turning back around to face the mirror as if nothing happened, reaching forward to retrieve a straight blade from the vanity that he offers to Alan. "If you wouldn't mind."
Alan accepts the razor with a dazed expression, trying to gather his bearings as he rounds the chair to retrieve the necessary supplies to finish his botched murder of Eric's hair.
What he's definitely not expecting is for Eric to turn, pull him down so that they're nearly at eye level, and settle his hand against the back of Alan's head.
"Maybe I'll have a go at yours next," he says softly, a playful note in his voice as he strokes his fingers through the soft, fine hair, "for retribution's sake, of course."
All Alan has time to do is let out a surprised, startled noise as Eric pulls him into his lap, Alan's back pressed against his chest; the noise turns into an unmistakably sensual sigh as Eric pushes his face against Alan's hair and inhales deeply.
"Then no one will fancy either of us," Alan whispers in response to Eric's suggestion, and he can feel Eric give (what he assumes is) a cheeky smile.
"You worry too much, Humphries."
By the time Alan is finished, Eric is strangely placid for someone who's just had years worth of hair chopped off. And regardless of Alan's concerned statement, neither one of them notice too much when they're both completely ignored by General Affairs.
More importantly: Eric really doesn't want to let all that extra shampoo go to waste, Alan's always enjoyed a hot bath, and it's only fair to let Eric have a go.
For retribution's sake, of course.