Sherlock was still quite young when he first began reading aloud to his brother. It wasn’t the usual way around, the younger brother reading to the older one. They both knew this. But neither of them was particularly usual, and neither of them minded. As it turned out, the timing was perfect. Sherlock became interested in reading to an audience at the same time Mycroft became interested in model ships (a hobby that would eventually interest his younger brother in piracy – something about being surrounded by representations of grand old naval ships had an interesting and semi-rebellious effect on Sherlock). As this pastime kept his hands busy but his mind wandering, Mycroft was the perfect audience for his brother.
It wasn’t that Mycroft needed the distraction while he was working, or that he couldn’t read to himself, if he wanted. But there was something nice about their arrangement. He would sit there with a brush and glue in his hand, working away efficiently but carefully so that the finished product could be perfect. His brother occupied a nearby armchair, sitting on his heels or draping his legs over one of the arms (never in his life had he known Sherlock to sit normally in a chair if it could be avoided). This was the scene he always pictured later in life when calling to mind ideas of cozy domesticity.
There were times when he wished to enjoy the feeling of being read to without actually thinking about the story. When, head down, eyes focused on a particular bit of rigging or the placement of a cannon, he could let the sound of Sherlock’s voice wash over him and let his mind wander. He’d think about lovely things and silly things and nonsense; about what the sun must look like on the waves out at sea, or whether he’d be able to take care of Sherlock if the two of them were stranded on a desert island. Mycroft was not particularly prone to flights of fancy at this age – he was, after all, almost a grown-up in his opinion, and this meant being practical. In these moments, however, he found he couldn’t quite help himself. Something about having the sound of stories filling the room, even if he wasn't quite listening, did funny things to his thoughts. It never lasted long, though – somehow Sherlock always knew when Mycroft had slipped into a daydream, and tended to bring him back rather quickly with threats of future refusals to summarize the plot for him if Mycroft fell behind. Mycroft never minded much.
As for Sherlock, he was in awe of his older brother and reading to Mycroft gave him a chance to be with him, to watch him do something that mattered to him without being accused of pestering. More than that, it allowed him to see what Mycroft was like when the two of them were not directly interacting. He was attentive, exacting, even in his leisure activities. Every now and again Sherlock would pause in his reading to appreciate how careful and methodical his brother was when constructing his models, and how much the models began to resemble actual miniature ships and not something simply thrown together by an adolescent boy. If Mycroft noticed, he didn’t say anything. At most, if the pause lingered for too long, he sometimes prompted him with an even “And then what?”
It began with Swallows and Amazons, but the range of stories broadened quickly (as did their maturity level). Surprisingly, the books were often chosen by Mycroft, who decided based on what he imagined he and his brother would both enjoy, or were selected randomly from the shelf by Sherlock based on their spines alone. Sherlock, who could be very particular in other aspects of life, was remarkably easygoing when it came to reading material; sometimes it seemed as though he was more concerned with volume, with exposing himself to as much as possible, rather than with the merits of a particular story. Perhaps it was training for his later calling – thinking about different points of view, motivations, character flaws – when it came to it, was reading a story so different from reading a person?
Narration was all well and good – and truly, Sherlock was very talented at setting a scene or lending urgency to a plot using tone of voice – but the true delight in Sherlock’s performance was the voices. Much later, when they were adults and his brother had begun deceiving people for the sake of cases and clues, Mycroft would speculate that this was where he’d had his first chance to practice the art of vocal disguise. Gruff army officers, posh society men, mousy little solicitors, tottering matriarchs, soppy, doting ingénues… each had their own distinct, immediately recognizable voice. He was even good with accents, with the exception of American characters, who always seemed to give him trouble – his tendency was to give anyone from the North American continent a pronounced southern drawl.
“No,” Mycroft remembers gently correcting once when Sherlock had begun reading The Razor’s Edge to him. “I’m fairly sure that Larry Darrel was from Chicago.” Even after he mastered the idea that, like in England, people from different parts of America sounded very different, there was always a tiny hint of the deep south in Sherlock’s impressions of all of them. It’s something that Mycroft still thinks of from time to time when he finds himself in need of a fond little laugh. It’s something Sherlock still thinks of from time to time when he considers and inevitably rejects the possibility of using an American accent as part of a disguise.
When Mycroft’s interest in building boats began to fade, Sherlock found other times to read to him – when he was sitting out in the garden for a bit, when he was shaving, as he had recently started to do, when he was getting dressed up for a dinner Mummy was having, now that he had been deemed both old enough and mature enough to sit with the adults for the entire meal. It was never quite the same, though – few things lent themselves quite so well to listening. It was something they both missed but that neither acknowledged missing; Sherlock, deeply prideful, hated being known to miss anything or anyone and Mycroft knew he should feel too old to be read to, although he did not. To fix this, Mycroft sometime sat in the garden for hours on the pretense of watching birds so that Sherlock could carry on. He’d even purchased an ornithology text to make the ruse more convincing. It sat beside his chair as he sipped orange squash and looked at nothing in particular. Neither he nor Sherlock ever read it. When Sherlock sat beside him, book in hand, and began to read silently to himself, Mycroft always gave him a few minutes before suggesting “Why don’t you read that aloud?” Sherlock, for his part, always went back over what he’s read in the last few minutes so that Mycroft didn’t miss anything. Sherlock took a more active role in selection now, and he had a fierce new obsession. Luckily, Mycroft enjoyed stories about pirates.
It ended when Mycroft left for school. He came home often for visits, but he was afraid that asking Sherlock to read to him would seem condescending, like he was allowing his brother to continue on as if they were still children because he still saw Sherlock as a child. Sherlock was unwilling to offer without being asked because he did not wish to appear childish and he did not want his brother to agree out of obligation or pity. Without another way of capturing the same bond, their relationship changed. Both sensed a distance, but both attributed it too strongly to geography. Sherlock grew increasingly resentful and withdrawn. Mycroft began to come home a little less regularly. For a time, both found that they were reading to themselves far more often than was usual, and that stories about sailing seemed to inexplicably feature prominently in their selections.
The comfort of being read to is something that Mycroft misses even now. It’s a void he fills, only somewhat satisfactorily, with downloaded audio books. He previews them all before purchasing them, not for the merits of the story, but for the quality of the voice. He has become a bit like his brother was, in this way; the story itself is not the primary purpose. His bias is toward readers with deep voices and posh accents, who can set a scene with their tone but are particularly good at character voices.
The shared bond of reading to someone is something that Sherlock misses without quite realizing that he misses it; he is sometimes surprised to notice that he has started to read something out loud and dramatically where previously he had been reading silently to himself. Normally it’s articles, websites, journals – all distinctly non-fictional; he doesn’t read much for it’s own sake anymore, and stories without purpose take up valuable space on his hard-drive. Sometimes, though, he can’t help himself. After that business with the Chinese circus, for example; with piles of books all over the apartment, he found he was drawn to the idea of taking one into his room with him. The bright swirls of characters and plot made him feel… warm. It was pleasant. Late that night, when John knocked on his door and asked why he was talking to himself in different voices, he didn’t know what to say, so he said it was an experiment. John was unconvinced but ultimately too sleepy to care. When he left, Sherlock whispered the rest of the story to his empty room, his thoughts suddenly very far away.