"The mere existence of an additional child or children in the family could signify Less. Less time alone with parents. Less attention for hurts and disappointments. Less approval for accomplishments. . . . No wonder children struggle so fiercely to be first or best. No wonder they mobilize all their energy to have more or most. Or better still, all." – Adele Faber
There were many words that Mycroft Holmes would and had used in association with his ‘relationship’ with his baby brother. Resentful was one such example. Antagonistic was another. Volatile. Difficult. Complex. At times distant. Often frustrating. Sometimes painful.
The fraternal bond between them was fraught with tension and with the expectations that each had of the other that the other had either failed to live up to or had wantonly defied. As such, disappointment was often another word that lingered silently between them, stalking up and down in No Man’s Land like an angry she-cat eyeing them both balefully and without mercy.
It seemed to him that Sherlock had always been the resentful one, even going as far as brandishing it as a symbol of honour. That was quite ridiculous, because if either of them had the right to be resentful then it was him. Obviously it was him. After all, it was always Sherlock who caused all the problems, who attracted attention like a politician sex scandal attracted the tabloids, who not only seemed to revel in chaos but also usually landed on his feet, his hair still artfully styled, his clothes barely ruffled, with a distinct feeling of the untouchable about him. Even that dark period with the drugs had been resolved with little loss of composure – well, other than for those three months that they had mutually agreed never to mention.
If he were any other man he would talk about unfairness, but since he had dealt with some of the most odious people to hold power and had seen first hand the often miserable and oppressed lives they were apparently responsible for, he knew there was little in this world that was fair.
In short though, he knew his relationship with his brother was somewhat one sided and that the one side was absolutely and positively his. Their mother’s last request to him was that he was to look out for his brother. Come to think about it that had been one of her first requests as well, also the most frequent.
“Try and make sure Sherlock doesn’t get into trouble.”
“Watch that your brother doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“Do you think you could be a dear and have a word with your brother?”
And so on.
There were many things he had failed to do over the years but he was going to make sure that he would carry out Mummy’s last request for as long as he possibly could and to the best of his not insignificant ability, even if it meant both near constant worry and the harsh reminder of everything Sherlock had that he did not.
He was the older brother, it was his right, honour, privilege, duty and responsibility to help Sherlock and he would do so without resentment, because he was better than that. But that didn’t stop him from being just that tiny, weenie bit envious.
For six years and six and a half months he had been an only child.
This had not been a particularly bad thing. He had been more than capable of entertaining himself, and there had always been something that he could do. He had his bedroom, which was filled with nearly everything he asked for, from books to posters, to different toys to his own record player with a growing collection of his own records – Wagner was his favourite.
He was allowed nearly anywhere in the house or the gardens, but his favourite places were under the oak tree in the summer, Father’s library in the winter, and in the kitchens with Mrs Appleby at any time at all. Mrs Appleby made the most delicious bread and pastries and would often talk to him while she worked, slipping him something nice to try as she did so.
He didn’t have much chance to be lonely, what with there often being someone around – like his main tutor Mr Armstrong who taught him Mathematics, English, Literature, History, Politics, Geography, Science, Philosophy and Classics; Mr Perryman who taught him French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Greek and Russian; and Miss Langsley who taught him Art, Dance and Music.
There was always someone to talk to, something to do, some book to read, music to listen to, thoughts to discuss and Mummy to make smile. He liked it when Mummy smiled. She had the prettiest of smiles and she would always listen when he told her about what he had learnt while she had been away, and sometimes she would come into his room at night and tuck him in, placing a kiss on his forehead. He loved those moments even more.
Then when he was six and six and a half months old that all changed. He just didn’t know it yet.
At six years and seven and three quarter months old he noticed that something was different. He just did not know what. He asked people of course, but no one told him anything, including Mummy. He thought about asking Father but he was still away on business. He tried to figure it out himself but nothing fitted. No one was sick, no one was leaving and nothing important had happened on the news. It was perplexing and a little frustrating, but there was nothing else to be done, so he busied himself with conjugating verbs, learning music scales and making Mummy smile.
At six years and seven and nine tenth months old, he overheard Mrs Appleby talking to Mummy and heard something that was obviously not meant for his ears. He knew he shouldn’t eavesdrop as that was rude but something made him stop and press against the door anyway.
“He’s asking questions you know,” Mrs Appleby was saying while she kneaded the dough. “He’s a very smart boy. He knows something is occurring.”
“I know,” Mummy said with a frown that he didn’t like to see, “but it is still early yet. I don’t want him to get his hopes up. We must wait until the twelve weeks mark at least. Then we will tell him.”
The subject changed and he drew away. Twelve weeks. He didn’t know what that meant but all he now had to do was wait.
At six years and nine and a half months his father returned from a long trip abroad. The next day he was called into the library to find both Father and Mummy waiting for him. This was it, he realised, they were finally going to tell him what was wrong.
“Mycroft, we have something important to tell you,” Father said solemnly. “Something that will change your life forever.”
“Mycroft, darling,” his mother said. “I’m going to have another baby. In six months time you are going to hopefully have a little brother or sister.”
Oh, he thought. He had not been expecting that. He did a quick calculation of what he knew about human baby growth – what was it the book had called it? Pregnancy? Nine months approximately for a human pregnancy, minus six months. Ah yes, now he understood about the twelve weeks.
“Mycroft, do you understand?” his father said gravely.
He nodded because of course he understood. In half a years time he would have a little brother or sister who would slowly grow bigger and then he would be able to do things with them like play music, read books and talk about things.
He smiled. Mummy smiled back, a big proper smile which made him wanted to rush and hug her. He didn’t though because he didn’t want to hurt her or the baby, but he was sure she understood.
He looked up pregnancy as soon as he had the chance and read everything he could about it. He made a wall chart showing all the stages that the baby would go through and he ticked the time off on his calendar. He wanted to make sure that he knew everything.
His seventh birthday was the day he realised he was now too big to sit on Mummy’s lap, or at least Mummy’s lap was now too small for him.
He got a telescope for his birthday. He had wanted one for ages and it was perfect. He also got to feel the baby move for the first time and pressed his ear to Mummy’s tummy. It was a little strange but it made Mummy happy so it made him happy too.
When he was seven years and one and a quarter months old Mummy went to bed and stayed there. She had been tired for a long time and Doctor Forrester had come to visit. Doctor Forrester said there was nothing wrong with the baby but that it would be better if Mummy got as much rest as possible. Of course this meant that despite Mummy now being around much more since she was no longer working he still only got to see her briefly each day, and even then he didn’t like the way she looked so tired and pale in bed. He tried to make her smile but it was harder than normal and he missed the nights when she sometimes used to tuck him into bed. She reassured him that it wouldn’t be for much longer and then he would have a baby brother or sister. He told her he wanted a brother with big eyes and her smile.
She laughed and ruffled his hair, telling him that he would have to wait and see.
He was seven and two and three quarter months when he awoke to the sounds of people hurrying backwards and forwards. Hearing a car pulling up on the stones in the driveway, he rushed to the window in time to see Doctor Forrester exiting the car with a black medical bag.
Pulling on his dressing gown, he crept down the corridor to the top of the stairs that led from his floor – the top – to the middle floor where his parent’s bedroom was. Pulling his gown around him, he sat in the shadows and watched silently and forgotten as people passed below. He heard some screams. He thought it sounded like Mummy but he couldn’t be certain.
Frozen to the step, he buried his fingers in his ears and concentrated on conjugating Latin verbs - audiō, audīre, audīvī, audītum.
He must have fallen asleep at some point because the next thing he knew was someone shaking his shoulder and his father’s pale eyes in front of him. He opened his mouth to ask if it was all over now, if Mummy was alright, but the words stuck in his throat, unable to be forced out just in case the unthinkable had happened.
“Your mother is asleep,” his father said gravely as if he knew what he could not ask. “As you should be as well.”
He nodded with no complaint as he was guided to his feet and to his room.
“What happened?” he asked. “I heard… I heard her…”
“You have a brother,” Father said. “Sherlock.”
A brother? He frowned. By his calculations it was too early, over two weeks early.
“He is fine,” Father said. “Small but with a powerful set of lungs on him. You can see him later, but first sleep.”
He went back to bed without protest, the terrors of the night already receding. He had a baby brother.
True to his father’s word he was allowed to see both Mummy and the new baby that afternoon. Mummy looked pale and tired, but she smiled broadly and allowed him onto the bed for a careful hug.
Sherlock though was little, very little, much smaller than the pictures in the book had suggested. He was all squishy looking as well with wisps of fair hair.
Sat on the bed, propped up against the headboard they carefully placed the child in his arms and his eyes widened as he held the small, warm bundle. He could not believe that this was his brother, this small, fragile thing wrapped in a pale green blanket was a new human being.
“Promise me something,” his mother said watching him carefully. “Promise me that whatever will happen you will always look out for him.”
He looked down at the sleeping baby, so small and helpless, and he made that promise, made it and meant it.
Of course at that age he had no concept of what that promise truly meant and even for a year or so following that day the consequences still did not come to light, because for the most part there were other people around to look after the new baby.
Mummy did not go back to work, but he still did not see any more of her because she spent much of her time looking after Sherlock. Father was as usual away on business, but when he was back he too often split his time between the two boys. Mycroft understood that because there were now two of them he would have to share his parent’s attention and sharing was a good thing, but it still took a little getting used to. Then, as Sherlock grew from an infant into a toddler and from a toddler into a small child, he started to notice something else; somehow Sherlock seemed to be getting more attention.
He thought at first that it was just his imagination, but then after yet another of his mother’s exasperated sighs of, “You’ll never guess what your brother has done now,” he started to make a table of it all and quickly concluded that it wasn’t just his imagination; Sherlock really did get considerably more attention than him. (Sherlock got told off more often as well, but that went hand and hand with the attention).
From the moment he leant how to crawl Sherlock was all over the place, always playing with something that he should not be, reaching for things not meant for him, getting into places that he should not be. Rather than being content to sit still and watch the world, or read a book, or play quietly by himself, Sherlock had to be somewhere else doing something else. As such he could not be left alone for a moment without there being the possibility of grave consequences.
When he was sixteen months old, Sherlock almost managed to drown himself in the mud of a small duck pond after somehow managing to slip out of the straps in his buggy and squeeze through the railings beside the pond before anyone noticed. It was only their mother’s quick thinking that stopped him from suffocating after he had fallen face first into the shallow, muddy water.
At two years and two months old the whole household had been thrown into a panic after it was revealed that Sherlock had disappeared from the nursery. It was the day they had been supposed to go to the Air Show. Father had gotten tickets especially after had he – Mycroft – had gotten to the final of the Under Sixteens National Essay Writing competition. His essay had been on the Battle of Britain and now he was to have the chance to see those planes in action.
He had been looking forward to it for weeks.
Then Sherlock had done his vanishing act and all thoughts of planes had disappeared from everyone’s minds.
They searched for him for ages, through the house and across the grounds. Then they called the police while Mummy did her best not to cry. It was a tense frightening time for all of them.
They found him in the end though, curled up in the wardrobe in the spare room, asleep with his thumb in his mouth, hugging one of Mummy’s old jumpers. Apparently he had gone exploring, found the wardrobe open and crawled in only for the door to shut behind him. He said he had shouted but no one had heard him, so he had curled up and gone to sleep, but now he was hungry so could he have some cake?
They gave him some proper food of course, and then he had some cake.
They never made it to the air show.
“Maybe next time, sweetheart,” Mummy said patting him on the head even as her eyes wandered to where Sherlock was now spinning round and round just because he could.
They managed to go the following year, but it wasn’t the same. He was no longer as interested in the planes, although Sherlock had naturally enjoyed it, clapping and cheering when the planes zoomed over head.
Then when Sherlock was two years and nine and a half months old, Mycroft saved his life. It was the first time that happened but would not be the last.
He had only gone into the library to find Father’s book on Colonial India and he had been horrified to find little Sherlock climbing – actually climbing – up the shelves near the door, his little fingers straining for the HMS Victory preserved as a replica in a bottle. It was their Father’s prize possession, something that only came down on special occasions and never without Father present.
His brother’s name was out of his mouth in an instant and then everything seemed to slow down. As small fingers curled around the thin end of the bottle, pale eyes widened and snapped towards him. There was a moment of guilty shock and then horror as the surprise movement sent the small body twisting. Then Sherlock was falling, his body arching backwards, rushing towards the floor.
Mycroft didn’t think, just moved on instinct, faster than he had ever done in his life. In those split seconds he knew he could only save one of them, but there was no doubt in his mind as to which one it would be.
The force of gravity sent them both crashing to the ground, Sherlock’s elbow digging painfully into his stomach as they landed, but most importantly it meant that Sherlock was on top. A split second later there was a smash as the large glass bottle collided with the oak wooden flooring.
Father was going to be furious.
There was a pause of course, the span of a heartbeat or two and then Sherlock did what any small child would have done following a shock like that; he burst into tears.
Time sped up and within moments the wailing child was lifted off him and wrapped securely in Mummy’s arms. Very little was said and the glass was quickly swept up and made safe. Sherlock’s cries finally lessened to sobs, his body no longer shaking.
After Mummy briefly checked that he was alright, Mycroft stood and watched stoically as everything happened around him. Then, after watching Mummy fussing over Sherlock, he turned and went to his bedroom. Once there he quietly shut the door and did something he hadn’t done in years, he sat in the corner between the wardrobe and his bed, buried his hands in his arms, and cried.
“He’s not like you,” Mummy said to him a few years later as they sat in the garden watching Sherlock attempting to catch a butterfly with his new net and nature set. “He always needs to be doing something or else he gets bored, and you know what tends to happen when he gets bored.”
Accidents, injuries, “experiments” as Sherlock liked to call them.
Placing down his book he looked across at Mummy, noting not for the first time the new lines around her mouth and eyes, the slight frown that was there more now than the smile, the tiredness that seemed to linger over her no matter what he did to make her life that little bit easier.
“You’ve always been so much more self contained than him, able to entertain yourself, not needing near constant attention.”
Her voice trailed off as her eyes returned to her younger son and his net. She would never appreciate just how apt her words had been and how they had helped crystallise the thoughts and feelings that had been churning in Mycroft for as long as he could remember.
Jealousy was an ugly emotion and he knew he should not really be jealous of his brother, especially as Sherlock could not help being who he was, but it still hurt to realise that she was right; Sherlock stole the attention, and if he was not mistaken, he always would.
There were a lot of things that Mycroft was good at. No, that he was excellent at. He was a natural at languages, his tongue moving easily over the different sounds as his mind moved over the patterns in grammar and syntax.
He had an affinity for mathematics, a mind made for seeing patterns, for solving problems, for contemplating equations. He liked the challenge, the thrill he got when he worked through a problem logically and systematically.
He was good with names and dates, had a memory that absorbed such information, stored it methodically ready to be retrieved at any given moment. History fascinated him, the constant rise and fall of Kings and nations, Empires and civilisations. Politics attracted him in particular, the study of both people and events; the patterns, the equations, the outcomes. With enough digging and enough eye for detail – especially seemingly insignificant detail – he could unravel people and events and then find out if he had been correct, and if he hadn’t been, why.
He enjoyed it more than he could say – the minute study, the heavy books, the pay off at the end. It took time and effort but it was worth it.
There were a few things though that he was not so good at. Sport for instance. With his thicker build and interest in sedentary pursuits this was hardly surprising. Physical exertion held no interest for him. To keep Mummy happy he did what was asked of him and gradually found activities he found at least tolerable. Fencing for one, archery for another. He supposed that chess did not exactly count as a sport although he was rather good at it.
There were other things he was less good at as well, like art. He understood the principle of it, enjoyed the history and beauty, but despite his best efforts he obviously lacked the artistic streak that Mummy’s family often showed. Miss Langsley tried her best, but it was painfully clear that his talents did not that way tend. He lacked true creativity, something he was not particularly perturbed about in terms of art, but one he mourned somewhat when it came to music.
Music was one of his great loves and had been from a young age. He, however, much to his disappointment, lacked any natural flair for it. He learnt to play the piano but more as a workman than an artist. He understood it intellectually but not instinctively. Despite his best efforts his fingers remained too clumsy for the delicate movements necessary for most other instruments. So he contented himself with the one instrument and played by rule rather than passion.
For him that was enough.
Of course it was Sherlock who inherited all the artistic flare.
By the age of five Sherlock had mastered the piano almost as well as Mycroft had by twice that age. Music seemed to come easily to him. The notes – according to Sherlock – danced around his head. For a while they wondered if they had some kind of musical prodigy on their hands, but then as with most things Sherlock lost interest and moved on.
At the age of six they persuaded Sherlock to try the flute instead. He agreed and for a few months Sherlock had a new interest and various squeaky noises came from his room.
It did not last long though.
“Makes my head dizzy,” Sherlock declared once it became clear that the flute had been abandoned along with his other former interests.
Realising they might do better with a complex instrument that did not require blowing, they settled on the violin. Sherlock, seeing it for the challenge that it was, took to it with all the passion and enthusiasm of a seven year old and by the time he reached eleven and three quarters, had finally – and after much persuasion – sat and passed his grade eight exams. Mummy was so proud. Miss Langsley – with whom Sherlock seemed to have a special bond – was ecstatic.
Mycroft was very proud of his brother and made no secret in enjoying hearing him play whenever he was back from Harrow and then later Oxford, but he could not help but wonder what it might have been like to be truly able to make his own music.
If Harrow taught him how to relate to his peers of the male gender, then university brought him into contact with the fairer sex.
For all his confidence and natural intellect, he quickly came to realise that around young ladies he was far from graceful. He was fine when dealing with them on an academic standing. He was not one foolish enough to believe that women were not equal in that respects, but in any other situation, especially social ones outside of his formal experiences, he was rather at a loss. His extensive education had not equipped him for matters of the heart. So rather than taking part in the elaborate courtships that seemed to happen around him, he stood back and observed, hoping to gain some important information that might help him in the future.
He did discover some very interesting facts – that attraction and romance were not as simple or easy to predict as he had hoped. This mildly frustrated him. It appeared that intelligence, charm, attitude, confidence, behaviour, appearance and looks all seemed to play a role in the complicated dance between the sexes, but to what degree remained different in each case.
For some relationships, mainly of the sexual kind that rarely survived past the first encounter or two, intelligence took a step back and physical looks were elevated above the others, often hoisted on the broad backs of confidence and alcohol.
For more long term relationships then appearance and looks could play a key role at the beginning but would then be later pushed aside for intelligence and behaviour and introducing compatibility.
Overall it was far from simple and despite his efforts there was no formula he could develop to help him. However, when it came to his own attempts at matchmaking, it was obvious that there were a few things that did not need to be left to chance. He could always make sure he was well presented and turned out, his clothing neat, shoes polished, shirt pressed. He made sure that he listened to what a young lady told him, remembering their stories and jokes, and complimenting them in return.
There was one thing that he could not do, though, and that was change his looks.
He was, in his eyes, a rather standard looking man, neither stunningly handsome but nor by any means unattractive. He was tall, broad, well built although with a tendency to spread so he had to watch what he ate. He had a face that was recognisable but was at the same time somewhat forgettable – something he was planning on putting to his advantage later. On the downside his hair was already showing signs of thinning, but that could hardly be helped.
He looked, overall, rather like father, although with a thicker build and no moustache. It could have been far worse and he was far from unhappy. His experiences at university gave him some confidence and certainly some opportunity to improve himself, and having graduated he had taken the skills into his new job, although put on the back burner for the most part as he did not have that much time to spare on wooing someone.
Then came cousin Violet’s wedding.
It had been a rather grand affair, but then she was marrying someone with a title. It had, however, given him the opportunity of wearing a morning suit for the first time since graduating university. The suit had, he had to admit and Mummy had confirmed, made him look rather handsome.
The wedding went smoothly, and even Sherlock, now seventeen and brooding under the thick hair that had darkened considerably in the past few years, had behaved. That just left the tedium of the reception and the polite mingling that was required.
Snagging a glass of champagne, he positioned himself to the best advantage and scanned the room for who he could find. Most of the untold stories were rather tedious. Uncle Horden was still having an affair with his secretary, the chap with the laugh was in serious financial difficulty, and the bridesmaid was not going to have any luck with the head usher if the way the usher’s eyes had lingered on one of the more handsome serving boys was anything to go by.
Not the most thrilling array of humanity he had to admit, although….
His gaze alighted on a young lady talking to cousin Elspeth. She seemed nice, pretty in an understated way, passionate if her expressive hands were anything to go by, intelligent from what he had caught of their conversation, and single.
Mind made up, he wandered through the throng, hovering briefly while appearing to have no destination in mind before being pulled into conversation with the two young ladies.
The young lady in question turned out to be called Grace, a Literature undergraduate at Kings and a rather interesting person to talk to. They had a considerable amount in common and he found himself laughing at one of her jokes and wondering if maybe she would be amenable to meet up sometime, for tea perhaps. She was unattached, smart, from a good family and someone he felt he could grow to like very much indeed.
Then she asked him about his family.
He pointed out Mummy easily enough, alone following the death of Father the year before. Then with a small sigh he had pointed to the side of the room where Sherlock was sat, slouching in his chair with an expression of intense boredom. His long legs were crossed lazily in front of him, his tie askew, his top button undone and his usual curly hair brushed out straight and falling artfully across his forehead and into his eyes. Apparently he had not been pleased with his last hair cut, Mummy had said, so was rebelling by making it look longer than it normally would be. They had left him to it as sometimes you had to accept that there were some battles you were just not going to win.
Unfortunately for him, the next words out of Grace’s mouth thrust him firmly into a new battle that up to that moment he had not even known had existed.
“That’s your brother?” Grace had said in obvious surprise. “But he’s gorgeous.”
And there he had it, a new revelation, a new brutally honest truth and he stammered slightly as the world tilted briefly before righting itself with the truth he had failed to see up until then, that with his angular face, high cheek bones and care free attitude, Sherlock had inherited the best their family had to offer in terms of looks.
Sherlock was, as Grace had put it, gorgeous.
It was just one more thing to add to the list.
He went because Mummy had asked him to, because after Father’s death there was no one else to go.
He knew Cambridge well but only from the point of view of an outsider. He had chosen Oxford instead, following in the family tradition, walking the corridors his ancestors had trod.
Sherlock – in his usual Sherlock way – had declared that he much rather preferred to attend Cambridge, so to Cambridge he had gone.
As such to Cambridge Mycroft now found himself searching for the place his baby brother had elected to hide himself away in. It took him a little longer than he had expected and even when he did find it he wasn’t sure if it was the right place. It was hard to believe that this was in fact his baby brother.
The bouncy curls that had darkened from fair to the traditional Holmes dark brown were gone, completely shorn off to the length that a soldier could have been proud of. His face had lost the last of his childhood roundness making him appear all high cheekbones and piercing eyes. His late growth spurt had now finished leaving them eye to eye with barely half an inch in it. He hadn’t shaved in three – no four – days from the length of his stubble, a touch fairer than the hair on his head and with a slight auburn hue when it caught the light. From experience he knew that Sherlock’s voice had deepened to a rich baritone and now faced with his brother stretched out on his bed, a rather tight t-shirt revealing a chest that was more defined than he would have expected, it was impossible to deny that his brother was now well and truly a man.
“Oh, should have guessed it would be you,” Sherlock drawled barely glancing up from the book on criminology he was reading. “Who else was Mummy going to send?”
Who else indeed. It had always been the same.
“Mycroft, go find your brother.”
“Mycroft, call your brother for dinner.”
“Mycroft, please talk to your brother. He listens to you.”
After various mild protests he had given up trying to explain to Mummy that Sherlock did not in fact listen to anyone, and certainly not to him.
“Nonsense, dear,” Mummy had said. “He’s always listened to you.”
That might have been true for a brief few years when Sherlock had been very young, but even that had changed by the time Sherlock had reached six or seven.
This time it had been, “Mycroft, could you be a dear and look in on your brother. I fear he is struggling somewhat.”
So demand issued he had dutifully rearranged his calendar and dispatched himself off to Cambridge.
“She’s just concerned for you,” he said mildly while scanning his eyes briefly around the room. Chemistry text books not on his core reading list. Violin recently used. Clothes left haphazardly across furniture. His new PC used but not currently on. Boxing gloves, that would explain his posture – bruised ribs? Two wine glasses, both used, only one by Sherlock. No lipstick or lip-gloss marks on the other though. Interesting.
“Seen enough?” Sherlock snapped. “I’m here, I’m alive, what more do you want?”
To know that he was alright of course, but he didn’t say that out loud.
“I hear you haven’t been attending your lectures,” he said instead.
He had heard more than that, some that concerned him greatly, but he thought he would start with something a little less… confrontational.
“Using your new position to spy on me? That really the best use of the tax payer’s money?” Sherlock snapped, slamming the book shut.
He blinked but hid the look of surprise. Of course he hadn’t been spying on him. There was hardly any need. People tended to tell him about what Sherlock was doing whether he wanted to hear about it or not. And even if he wasn’t being kept fully up-to-date then he still would not have considered invading his brother’s privacy to that degree.
“I am simply concerned about you,” he said neutrally. “You don’t seem particularly…” What? Happy? Content? Peaceful? “…focused.”
Sherlock snorted. “Focused?” he said springing to his feet. “Focused on what? Have you seen this place, its so boring! The course, the people, the lecturers, boring, boring, boring. They’re so dull. No originality. No insight. Just the same small, narrowed minded ideas redressed, repackaged and regurgitated to the polite applause and congratulations on becoming ‘one of us’.”
Fingers scratched through shorn hair as Sherlock paced back and forth.
“How could you stand it? They think they’re so big, so clever, but all they do is steal work from other people, others who are brighter, more unique, more brilliant than them, amalgamate it and then pass it off as their own. And sex, they are so obsessed with screwing and drinking and killing what little minds they have. It’s so tedious, so insular, so very, very dull!”
Sherlock flopped back down on the bed, twisting onto his side to lie facing the wall.
The problem was Sherlock was right. He too had gone to university hoping to meet people who would stretch and challenge him. He too had come away disappointed. How had he stood it? He had stood it because that was what had been expected of him. The family expectations had been laid on his shoulders and he had done what they had wanted. He had always done what they had wanted. Even his present job was at least as much family expectation as it was his own interests and desires. He was following his father’s footsteps, walking the path that had been laid out for him since infancy.
Sherlock was different though. Sherlock did not concern himself with what other people thought. He just did what he wanted to do, how he wanted to do it.
He wished he could do that.
In the end he managed to drag Sherlock out of his room and found somewhere they could eat and talk. He engaged Sherlock in talking about what he did enjoy, about his new interest in boxing, in what they were going to do for Mummy’s birthday. It was rather pleasant. They even partook in their old game of deducing the people around them, although Sherlock did grow a little impatient at some of the thing he missed.
Over all it was a rather pleasant day. Far better than it might have been.
Three weeks later Sherlock dropped out of Cambridge and declared he would never go back. No amount of cajoling, arguing or tears on Mummy’s behalf were enough to persuade him otherwise. Sherlock stuck to his guns, raised two fingers up at family tradition and once again did what he wanted to do, everyone else be damned.
Despite being certain it was a terrible idea, Mycroft could not help but admire the attitude it took to do such a thing.
Even by his standards it had been a long day.
Entering his apartment, he shifted his eyes briefly to the sensor in the corner of the hallway, patiently waiting for it to power down once it had registered his iris patterns. Some would argue that it was rather elaborate security for the private residence of a ‘minor government official’, but he had learnt that the hard way. He had no desire to go through ‘that’ again.
It had been fifty-two and a half hours since he had last been home and he could tell. It wasn’t that it had been empty all that time, it was obvious that Mrs Lee had been in to do the cleaning and he had no doubt that his dry cleaning would be hanging up and his fridge restocked with healthy ready prepared, home cooked meals, but still the place felt sparse and unlived in. Then again that was hardly surprising. All in all he spent little time here. In fact he spent far more time at his office, considerably more time in fact, to the point where the wry thought had crossed his mind that he should have claimed that as his second home.
He carefully stowed away his umbrella and hung up his jacket before making his way to the living room. There he was greeted by the bluish glow of the aquarium and the soothing hum of the tank from the moment he stepped in.
He was not a man prone to fancies or emotional sentimentality but he would admit that his fish were his pride and joy. His aquarium acted as both a pleasant distraction from the pressures of his work and as an effective form of relaxing entertainment. He had spent many an enjoyable spare hour simply sat watching his fish, feeling the tensions in his body slowly fade away even as he noted the changes in the fish behaviour or hierarchy. They also had the added benefit of being able to survive without him, especially since he had set up automatic filters, sensors and feeding systems. Not that he didn’t like doing it himself, but it gave him peace of mind that should he be unexpectedly away from his apartment for longer than planned – like today – he was not about to return to a shoal of dead fish.
Death threats were a part of his job and as such part of his life. As inconvenient as the majority of them were – and the vast majority were little more than a tiresome annoyance, amounting to little more than a vague smile and nod of acknowledgement on his behalf – they had been made doubly worse when after one such assassination attempt – pitiful, they hadn’t even managed to get into the same room as him – he had finally been able to return home after an extended ‘vacation’ to find half of his fish dead. It had taken years to re-establish the tank as he wanted it.
The moment had almost been as bad as they day he had caught five year old Sherlock standing on his desk chair, leaning over his fish tank with a small sieve obviously liberated from the kitchen, and a large saucepan filled with water resting beside him on the desk. From Sherlock’s shocked and clearly guilty expression he had not been expecting him back so soon, and from his passionate defence to Mummy later that day, he clearly hadn’t thought through the consequences of standing on a wheeled swivel chair to reach up to the shelves above the desk.
A twist of his body and Sherlock went one way as the chair went the other. It would have been okay if Sherlock had been the only casualty, the boy now more than used to scrapes and falls, but of course in his normal Sherlock way he had to make as much chaos as he could.
In this case, as the chair moved from under his feet, he automatically went to brace himself on the desk, his arms striking the handle of the saucepan with enough force to send it, the water it contained, and the two unsuspecting goldfish already retrieved from the tank – Agamemnon and Achilles – flying through the air.
Agamemnon survived the ordeal, Achilles did not.
Sherlock, his sleeve still soaked from where it had been dipping in the water, claimed he had only wanted to study them. Paris and Helen – his other two fish – never knew how close they had come to a rather dramatic end.
Sighing at the memory he took a moment to check the readouts from his current aquarium, one his brother was not allowed near. Everything looked adequate, and picking up his fish journal he jotted down the date and some observations. After all it always paid to do these things properly. He had, after all, only recently added some small black and silver stripped loaches, known for being peaceful fish but prone to being picked on, especially by red scats, a rather pretty fish but one that was generally more aggressive. One of his red scats in particular liked to flick around pretending to be the boss – he wasn’t, but the other fish seemed to humour him about it. Ah yes, there he was, and yes he was bothering some of the new loaches.
Now that was interesting.
He watched with amusement as that particular red scat was interrupted in his bothering of his new tank mates by a rather non descript loach. For a moment there appeared to be some kind of stand off, and then, much to his surprise, the red scat – who yes, in his mind was called Sherlock – suddenly seemed to back down and away from the challenging loach.
It seemed that even in the fish world each Sherlock had a John Watson. He would have to keep an eye on those two.
Almost aptly his report on the real John Watson was still lying on his coffee table. It had been a most fascinating read, almost as captivating as first meeting the man himself.
Despite what his brother believed, his surveillance of and interest in Sherlock’s life had less to do with Sherlock and far more to do with him. This was simply because for every three death threats he received regarding solely himself, one would be foolish enough to threaten his family and loved ones as well. Of course with both Father and Mummy having already passed away, and being without a significant other, the only family and loved ones he had left was Sherlock, and he was damned if he was going to lose him as well.
So some security, whether Sherlock accepted or agreed with it, was necessary. For his own peace of mind at least. His brother might have a lifetime’s experience of getting into and out of trouble, but that didn’t mean that he should add to it.
John Watson had rightly concerned him.
A former soldier and doctor, with apparent PTSD, who within hours of being introduced to Sherlock was moving in with him. His military record was exemplary but erratic, and reading between the lines the good doctor appeared to have taken part in a number of missions no army doctor had any right to have been near. He had been shot in the line of duty, flown home, rehabilitated and then basically cast off into the wild. He had no family other than an alcoholic sister, no assets to fall back on and very little money. His bank balance showed a net loss each month, little helped by his apparent online gambling habit.
So here was in individual in pain and cast adrift by his support structure, lacking in direction and in desperate need of funds. A man with trust issues, abandoned by those he had been loyal to, military trained and more than capable of taking a life. He was the ideal type to be for hire; an informer, a spy… an assassin.
He had had no choice but to confront this Doctor Watson. His brother’s life could well have been at stake. There was already more than just a couple of suspects as to who could have hired such a person, but as of yet no firm leads.
He had started with scare tactics at first, a show of power to make it clear just who it was this Doctor Watson was tangling with. Then he moved onto money. A man for hire once would always be for hire again. His loyalty would always be to the highest bidder and if he could control Watson in that way he could severely limit the damage.
Watson refused the money.
That… surprised him.
He went for personal detail, the ‘I know who you are’ tactic. Watson had looked uneasy but not in the way he had expected. He called the bluff on his PTSD and left him with an ultimatum, to choose a side; him or whoever had hired him in the first place.
Watson had gone for his gun, but then surprised him.
It turned out that John Watson, doctor and former soldier, really was just that. Not a hired hand, an assassin in baggy jumpers, or some kind of spy. He truly had been introduced to Sherlock by chance and was there because he wanted to be and not because he was being paid to be.
It seemed that against all the odds, Sherlock had a new flatmate, a sidekick and a friend. John enjoyed Sherlock’s company and Sherlock likewise. They tolerated each other’s vices and idiosyncrasies and filled a gap in each other’s lives. Someone to talk to, someone to share things with, someone to make cups of tea with. 221B, with all its clutter and mess had a kind of homely feel about it. It was warm and lived in. It wasn’t the sort of state he could have lived in himself, the lack of order would unsettle his mind to the point of distraction, but it seemed to work for Sherlock.
Someone to come home to.
Shutting his observation book, he searched through the tank again just to check where Sherlock the red scat now was. He finally spotted it down in one corner, alone, no doubt sulking. But even as he watched the red scat was approached by the loach from earlier who settled nearby and seemed to simply be content to wait.
He was definitely naming that loach John Watson.
Book down he turned back to his quiet home, catching a glimpse of the Edwardian clock on the wall. Yes, it was definitely time for bed. He had a video conference with his French opposite number in less than six hours, and plenty need to be done before then.
He switched off the light and retreated to his bedroom, alone.
And the One Time
He had planned for it to be a special occasion, something light and pleasant, a chance to reminisce and become reacquainted with one of the most significant people of his childhood.
It did not exactly go that way.
Mrs Heath – Miss Langsley as she had once been – was turning sixty-five. Her husband had passed away two years earlier and they had never had children. From the contact he had endeavoured to keep over the years it was clear that what family she did have she was not particularly close to, no doubt one of the factors that had allowed her to spend her formative years tutoring and nurturing two precocious boys.
All things considered it made sense to him to invite her out for a pleasant afternoon meal with the option of extending further into the evening if the event went well. After all they had played as much a significant part in her life for a considerable length of time as she had in theirs, and he did like to be able to say thank you properly. One does not so easily forget the sweet, young lady who had endeavoured to develop his creative talents, however futile her efforts had been.
So he contacted her and was pleased by her delighted acceptance. He had his PA book a private room at a good but not ostentatious restaurant and rearranged his schedule to ensure they would not be interrupted.
He then invited Sherlock to join them.
It had only seemed right after all. Sherlock owed even more to the sweet natured lady who had guided him through the basics of violin playing and had encouraged his artistic talents than he did.
He should have known, however, that things would not go that smoothly after that. After all, he still had vivid memories of certain Christmas dinners – the first one after he had gone to Harrow had been particularly bad he seemed to recall. Ever the optimist that perhaps he and Sherlock could spend a few civil hours in each others company, he had underestimated just how badly it would go.
It started when Sherlock was of course late.
This was of little matter and was hardly a surprise. Sherlock always did what Sherlock wanted to do with little thought for propriety or politeness. It did, however, give him the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the lady who he now recognised to have been his first childhood crush. All these decades and she was just as sweet and lovely as he remembered, older of course, but then he was hardly the wide eyed ten year old she remembered either. He was elated to discover that she still had her gentle prettiness and easy laugh that had captivated him so much as a child. She hugged him with real affection and he returned the embrace with warmth and delight, unable to prevent the slight blush when she pressed her lips briefly to his cheek.
His afternoon cleared of all pressing engagements – the Greek Ambassador would just have to wait – he allowed himself the luxury of ordering a good bottle of wine and savouring each sip as they conversed about everything and nothing.
Then Sherlock arrived, swooping in with that overly dramatic fashion he had, John somewhat unsurprisingly at his heels. The good doctor had not been included in the initial invitation and at least looked a little embarrassed to be there. Sherlock of course was not the least apologetic, ignoring the normal protocol for the notion of ‘invite me, invite my flatmate’.
He signalled for another table setting, refusing to turn this into an argument right from the start and watched as Sherlock altered before his very eyes.
“Miss Langsley,” Sherlock said, opening her arms to envelope her in a large hug.
She laughed, hugging him back, planting a warm kiss on his cheek.
“It’s Mrs Heath now,” she said with a laugh, leaning back to study him. “I got married, but I would much rather you called me Rebecca.”
“That might be,” Sherlock said all smooth and silkily, “but you will always be Miss Langsley to me. John, may I introduce you to the best art, dance and music teacher a boy could have ever wished for. It was under her guidance that I became the violinist I am today. Miss Langsley… Rebecca… my flatmate, colleague and friend, Doctor John Watson.”
Sherlock was preening. There was no other word for it. Had he been a peacock his feathers would have been raised and spread, shaking in a complex little dance. It wasn’t that he had anything against John, in fact he was more than a little thankful for the doctor’s stable presence in his brother’s otherwise chaotic life, but was it really that necessary to show off, highlighting the fact that unlike himself, Sherlock had someone to bring to such a gathering?
He flicked his eyes over Sherlock’s form and then confirmed what he had deduced by briefly inspecting John.
“Interesting case?” he said, deciding it was hardly worth pointing out Sherlock’s lack of time keeping skills. “I take it the husband did not take too kindly to being caught.”
“It was moderately distracting, yes,” Sherlock said taking a seat and motioning to John to do likewise. “I see you’ve started without us. Off the diet again today?”
He tried not to bristle. Sherlock always knew where to thrust the knife and then twist. He could keep his composure flawlessly when surrounded by politicians and businessmen and people who thought they were important but in the grand scheme of things were little more than glorified pawns. Yet faced with Sherlock and he suddenly found all the facades cracking and his inner twelve year old slipping out. Or his inner thirteen year old, the one who had just come home from Harrow for the first time to be greeted by the words, ‘You’re late… and you’ve got fat,’ from his surly younger brother. That had been a long Christmas break.
“One treat is not unreasonable,” he said evenly. “But we can not all be bless with your… metabolism.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow but was prevented from retorting by Miss Langsley – Rebecca – who rested her hand over Sherlock’s.
“You’re looking well,” she said smoothly to Sherlock. “Mycroft tells me you’re some kind of detective now.”
“Consulting Detective,” Sherlock said. “The only one in the world. I invented the job.”
Naturally the next fifteen minutes consisted of Sherlock telling her all about his latest escapades, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Soho Vampire with some comment from John, but for the most part it was all Sherlock.
Well of course it was. Because in some things nothing ever changes.
He settled back and did what he always did, sliding momentarily into the background, an art he had mastered over many years and perfected in government.
They did, however, manage to order their food with relative ease and politeness.
“Wait, so you two were home schooled?” John said after a tale of mischief and woe regarding four year old Sherlock and finger paints – mischief – and some rather painful attempts at learning how to waltz – woe.
“Hmm, yes, of course,” he replied sipping at the rather excellent glass of wine. “Until the autumn of our fourteenth years.”
“Try not to look so surprised, John,” Sherlock said in an amused tone. “It’s not difficult to deduce.”
“Yes,” John managed to say, “true, but it’s hardly norm- oh what am I saying? No, no, you’re right, it all now makes perfect sense. Your fourteenth years? A bit random isn’t it? Did they run out of things for you to learn, or….”
There was a pause as they all waited for John to catch up, which he did with a slight groan.
“You went to some sort of public school, didn’t you?”
“Very good,” Sherlock said with an expression of pride.
“Eton?” John said clearly guessing.
“Harrow,” he confirmed beating Sherlock to it. Of course Sherlock scowled lightly in his direction. John failed to notice, being as he was half choking on his food.
“Oh, god,” John managed, “for a moment there I thought you were going to say Hogwarts.”
Hogwarts? Ah yes, Potter, Rowling, wizards, Scotland.
He quirked his lips. “Not too dissimilar, I’m sure,” he said ignoring Sherlock’s confused expression. Clearly it was another part of modern culture that Sherlock had neglected.
“That was the last time I really saw them,” Miss Langsley – Rebecca – said, clearly taking pity on Sherlock. “Sherlock was thirteen, Mycroft obviously already at Oxford. Did you go to Oxford, Sherlock?”
Sherlock shifted a touch in his seat.
“How wonderful. Did you enjoy it?”
“It was hateful.”
It was amazing how much feeling Sherlock could put into one simple word.
“Sherlock rather decided that University was not for him,” he said as delicately as he could.
That did earn him a death look.
“I lack Mycroft’s skill in dealing with mediocrity and sycophants,” Sherlock said bitingly. “The lectures were boring, the tutors were uninspiring and my fellow classmates were mostly imbeciles. I tolerated it for eighteen months before deciding my time could be far better spent elsewhere.”
Yes, a lot of that time had been spent blitzing his way through his trust fund once he turned twenty-one.
“Not all of us can be Mycroft,” Sherlock finished.
He shot Sherlock a tight smile. “I just did what I could,” he said keeping his voice level.
“Yes, yes,” Sherlock said, “I am well aware of what you can do. Our mother and just about everyone else were more than free with telling me.”
“Mummy was just rather upset by your decision to drop out,” he pointed out neutrally, trying not to wince as he remembered having to watch her pretend not to cry, especially after Sherlock had stormed out of the house.
“Mummy was just upset that I wasn’t you,” Sherlock said.
He pursed his lips together. “She only ever wanted the best for you.”
“No, she wanted me to be you,” Sherlock said. “Which is a ridiculous idea. Why inflict such an ordeal on the world? Not that that stopped Mummy from trying. All I ever heard was, ‘why can’t you be more like your brother?’”
“I’m sure Mummy didn’t mean it like that,” he said as smoothly as he could. “She mostly cared about you finding something that made you happy. Like your music.”
“Yes, so you insist,” Sherlock said, “but the only person who cared about my music, truly cared, was Miss Langsley.”
He frowned and shook his head. “That’s not true,” he said. “I always cared about your music.”
Sherlock scoffed. “You humoured me. There’s a difference. You only encouraged me to try the flute because there was no way I could compete with you on the piano.”
“Compete with me?”
He stared at Sherlock for a long moment, searching desperately for some sort of clue as to what his brother was really thinking, but everything pointed to the fact that Sherlock truly believed what he was saying.
“You have always been the far better musician,” he said slowly. “That was obvious when at five you were playing the same pieces I was at twelve. I only encouraged you to try the flute because you lost interest in the piano and your talents were far too good to go to waste.”
“I didn’t lose interest in the piano,” Sherlock said, “I just realised it was pointless. It was obvious I was never going to be able to play it like you.”
“Perfectly,” Sherlock said sounding as if he was forcing the word out.
For a moment he just stared at Sherlock again this time silenced in astonishment. Sherlock’s playing of the piano had always been a thing of beauty, to watch his small, young fingers dance across the keys while he bit his lip in concentration had been mesmerising.
“You played the flute?” John said breaking the silence.
“Yes,” Sherlock said rather sharply. “For a while at least.”
“Why did you stop?” John said.
“I became dissatisfied with it when I realised I couldn’t play it when angry or upset.”
Was that what that had all been about? Neither Mummy nor Father had told him that that part. All he had heard was that six year old Sherlock was refusing to play any more.
“You told Mummy it made your head feel dizzy,” he said softly wondering how he could have missed something that obvious. Of course he wouldn’t have been able to play it while he was emotional and no doubt it wouldn’t have helped his thinking either.
“Obvious,” Sherlock said.
“So is that why you took up the violin?” John said.
“Oh, do you still play?” Miss Langs- Rebecca asked looking at Sherlock.
“Yes,” Sherlock said as John muttered something about 3am in the morning.
This at least led them onto the less volatile subjects of music and then art, neither of which he was particularly talented in but did allow them to finish their main meal and consider the dessert menu.
“So have they always been like this?” John asked as the menus were collected again. “This… bickering.”
“In some respects very much so,” Miss… Rebecca said shooting both him and Sherlock an amused but gentle smile. “There has always been some rivalry and animosity between them but it wasn’t nearly as bad when they were younger. They used to work well together. I remember when Mycroft used to take Sherlock to feed the ducks. It was the most adorable sight ever, Sherlock with his fair curls and dungarees…”
“Fair curls?” John said with a wide grin.
“Oh yes,” Rebecca continued, “I would have hardly recognised him now, except for those eyes. Your eyes haven’t changed one bit, Sherlock love, and you’re just as handsome as I knew you would be.”
Self-preservation had him ignoring the smug look on Sherlock’s face.
“It’s a shame that the relationship between the two of you had to change.”
“Well, it was Mycroft’s fault,” Sherlock said.
He raised his eyebrows. “My fault?”
How could it have possibly have been his fault? He had done the sacrificing after all. He had done all the running around, all the looking after, all the hard work.
“If I recall,” he continued, “you were the one who started ignoring me.”
“After you abandoned me.”
He abandoned him? He raised his eyebrow.
“I didn’t abandon you. I went to school,” he said.
“Yes,” Sherlock said sharply, “and left me with Mummy and all those idiots she kept making me socialise with.”
He forced himself not to wince. He had warned Mummy that it wouldn’t be a good idea but she had been determined that Sherlock should learn how to interact with his own peers.
“I can hardly be blamed for that,” he said.
“Yes, but you were always the perfect one.”
“And you were the passionate one,” he bit back.
“Passionate but not perfect. Second class. Not as good.”
He gave a small laugh. “That’s not true, you’re brilliant. I’ve always said so.”
Sherlock scowled. “And yet clearly not as brilliant as you. Mummy always made that so very clear.”
“Don’t be so childish, Mummy never compared us.”
“Never compared you to me, you mean. I was forever being told to be more like you.”
“And yet she spent far more time with you than she did with me.”
“Of course she did.” He didn’t mention that he had made a chart about it when he had been eleven. He didn’t think Sherlock would take that particularly well.
“Scolding me, shouting at me, telling me off, maybe,” Sherlock said.
“Partly, perhaps,” he conceded thinking back to the chart, “but everything we did revolved around you. ‘I’m sorry, Mycroft, we can’t do that, Sherlock would never sit still long enough’. ‘I’m sorry, Mycroft, you know Sherlock won’t eat that’. ‘I’m sorry, Mycroft, we’ll get you another goldfish, you know what you brother’s like’.
“Oh, not the goldfish incident again,” Sherlock groaned. “I was five. You had fish, I needed fish. It was as simple as that.”
He pursed his lips together. “You killed one of them.”
“I didn’t mean to. It was an experiment.”
“You never asked.”
“You weren’t there.”
“You could have waited.”
“You wouldn’t have let me anyway.”
“They were my fish. I was well within my entitlement to prohibit you from experimenting on them.”
“You went out of your way to stop me from doing anything interesting.”
“I went out of my way to keep you safe.”
“You were always Mummy’s favourite.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, that was you, her golden child, quite literally if you recall.”
“Ha, as if she ever cared about that. From what she dressed me in she probably wanted a girl, and anyway, I was never as good as you.”
“I was seven years older,” he said gravely, “you just couldn’t wait to grow up.”
“That’s because you always got to do the more interesting things.”
“Which you got to do far sooner than I ever did.”
“That’s hardly my fault. Do you have any idea what it was like knowing that you were the one that got everything.”
“I got everything?”
“Yes, everything. Look at you, you’re older, brighter, taller.”
“I can hardly do anything about my age or height, but you’re just as bright, just as brilliant, and you got the artist talent and the looks.”
“Artistic talent? You speak twenty-two languages fluently, thirteen of them like a native, understand and can get by with half a dozen more, and that doesn’t include Latin, Ancient Greek, Aramaic, Old Testament Hebrew, Esperanto, Sign Language, Semaphore and Morse Code. Have I missed any?”
He decided not to remind him of Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
“I, on the other hand, only managed to master less than half of those. You may remember how disappointed Mummy was. And you think some ability with a brush and a bow is going to make up for that?”
“You have more talent with language than I have with the artistic pursuits,” he pointed out.
“You waltz, Mummy put your watercolours went up on the wall, you nailed Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.”
He frowned. “I attempt to not tread on my partner’s toes or embarrass myself, my watercolours went with Mummy’s colour scheme, and it took me five years of hard practice to nail the first movement of Moonlight Sonata. It took you less than six months.”
For a moment he saw a flicker of something that might have been akin to confusion or doubt cross Sherlock’s face.
“And yet Mummy made no effort to hide the fact she loved you more, and you never bothered to pretend that I was anything more than a nuisance and an inconvenience.”
The words struck like a blow to the chest, compressing his heart as surely as the heart attack that had killed Father. It was rare for him to be caught off guard or to hear something that unexpected that for a long moment he struggled with how to respond.
He had been looking out for Sherlock for so long now that it had basically become second nature. It was something that he did as surely as dressing in a three piece suit and carrying an umbrella. He was the older brother, it was both his responsibility and his privilege to do so. When Mummy had said to him to go talk to Sherlock, to go help Sherlock, to go and advise Sherlock, he had, sometimes more reluctantly or put upon than others, but he had always gone. It never occurred to him that Sherlock would view it somewhat differently. Nor had it occurred to him that Mummy’s sighs and worry could ever have been read as anything less than her unconditional love for her youngest son.
He went to say something but found that for once he was without words.
He closed his mouth again and pressed his lips together.
Sherlock scowled at him and then rose to his feat, dropping his napkin onto his plate.
“Come along, John,” Sherlock said firmly, “we’re leaving.”
John was shooting them concerned looks, his eyes darting between them, but he dutifully rose to his feet as Sherlock turned to bid farewell to Rebecca.
“Sherlock, you need to sit down,” Rebecca said softly, placing her hand over his.
Sherlock graced her with a pleasant and apologetic smile but made no effort to retake his seat.
“You were always my favourite tutor,” he said instead, “and I’m sorry you had to witness yet another of our… disagreements… but we really should go.”
“Sherlock,” he managed rising to his feet to face his brother.
“I believe you’ve said enough, Mycroft,” Sherlock all but spat. “John, come on.”
“Sherlock. Mycroft. Sit down, now.”
It was a tone of voice he had not heard in over two decades and yet it resonated through him just had it had when he had been a child. His knees started to bend automatically and a quick glance at Sherlock showed that he too was at least fighting the natural instinct to return to his chair.
Opening his mouth he went to protest but stopped when he saw Miss Langsley’s face, the disapproving frown that he remembered so well, the way she met and kept his gaze showing that she would not take no for an answer. There was, after all, a reason why she had lasted so long as their tutor.
He sat and was gratified when Sherlock sat also, his mouth starting to form a much remembered pout.
He had a reasonably good idea of what was going through John’s head though. The good doctor had never been one for hiding his thoughts or emotions and his slightly wide eyed look of poorly contained amazement as he retook his seat also was not the hardest to read.
“Now, boys,” Miss Langsley was saying. “It is quite obvious that you two have rather a lot of talking to do. No Sherlock, you will have your time to talk, but right now I am speaking. It is quite clear that the issues you had as children have only increased with age and they obviously need addressing. Now, I am no fool to think that everything can be sorted out in one sitting, so don’t look at me like that, Mycroft.”
He hadn’t been aware that he had been looking like anything.
“But in a moment I am going to request that John here accompanies me for a trip to the small gallery I saw just down the road. When we get back I expect both of you to still be in this room. What you do while we are away is up to you, but first I would just like to remind you of a fond memory of mine.
“Mycroft you must have been about eight as Sherlock you were about seventeen months old. Your mother had allowed you to go to the park and feed the ducks, or dacks as you used to call them back then Sherlock.”
Scowling, Sherlock averted his eyes.
“It was one of your favourite past times, Sherlock,” Miss Langsley continued. “And yours too, Mycroft believe it or not. In fact it helped bring about your first sentence, Sherlock. Do you remember what that would be, Mycroft.”
Sherlock’s first sentence? He sent his mind back, finally managing to vaguely pull on images of that particularly incident.
“I believe it was akin to, ‘No, no, no, my dacks.’”
Sherlock’s scowl deepened. It wasn’t that much different to the look his seventeen month old self had had while at the park and being told they had to go home because the ducks were all gone. Now that he recalled, much of what Sherlock had said at that age had involved possessive ownership. It had all been ‘my dacks’, or ‘my book’, or ‘my cake’.
“Almost right,” Miss Langsley said with a small smile. “Actually, what he said was, ‘No, no, no, My, dacks.’”
He frowned running the sentence back through his head. He noted the emphasis in what she had said but could not determine why that was important.
“You used to take him to the park,” Miss Langsley said to him softly. “You used to play with him, read to him, bounce him up and down. Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear, you used to sing to him. Did you never realise, Mycroft, love? It wasn’t ‘my’ he was saying, as in belonging to him, it was ‘My’ as in short for Mycroft. ‘No, no, no, Mycroft, look, there are the ducks’.”
It was as if her words had sucked the air out of the room.
He had forgotten. How could he have forgotten? Sherlock laughing as he tickled him. Sherlock lifting his arms up to be swung round and round. Sherlock crawling into his lap for a story and then falling asleep, thumb in mouth.
‘No, no, no, My, dacks.’
Or had he just not realised? Why hadn’t he realised?
Sherlock had liked him at some point, idolised him even, addressed everything to him, and then that had changed. How had that changed? What was it Sherlock had said, he had abandoned him?
Could that have really have been it? No, not quite, there were more issues there than just that. Issues on both sides.
“Good, you’re both now using those brilliant minds of yours,” Miss Langsley said rising to her feet. “John, I believe that is our cue to leave them to it. And boys.”
He looked across at her, the young face he remembered now lined and grey, but still so commanding and wise.
“Use this opportunity wisely.”
Then she and John were both gone, and it was just him and Sherlock left, a lifetime of envy and resentment between them.
Series to be continued with Sherlock's story