Sherlock was born at a low point in the Holmes’ marriage. Daddy was working a lot and Mummy was sad. The baby, she said, would bring them closer as a family.
Even at age seven Mycroft was skeptical. But the baby was there and it was too late to do anything about it.
Sherlock did improve things for a while. Daddy was home more. He spent time with Mycroft. They all went on holidays together. Mummy was happy. They seemed to be a perfect family.
During this time, Mycroft excelled in school. When he was nine he won several awards for his academic excellence and athletics. He was even cast as Oliver in an amateur production of the musical.
“Don’t embarrass us,” Mummy said before the curtain went up. That was practically the family motto. Half of Mycroft’s success came from wanting to be the best. The other half was provided by the fear of embarrassing his family.
Things changed again when Mycroft was ten. Daddy started working more. Mummy was on the board for several charities and was seldom home. They hired staff – a nanny for the boys and a maid-slash-cook. Daddy bought a Jaguar. Mummy hosted cocktail party fundraisers and dressed Mycroft in tailored suits.
“Don’t embarrass us,” she said. That was easy for Mycroft – he was ten after all. Sherlock, on the other hand, was (they said) a “difficult” child at a “difficult” age. He was a cranky, sullen three-year-old. He couldn’t help but embarrass them.
Like the time he strolled naked through a party. He was going through a phase where he hated the idea of clothing and would undress at every opportunity. Most of the party guests found it adorable – or at least typical of his age – and ignored it. Mummy, however, was mortified.
“Do something with him!” She hissed at Mycroft.
And that was how it started.
Every time Sherlock would act up, Mycroft would be required to do something with him. There were more bouts of inappropriate nudity. There was the phase where Sherlock refused to bathe and Mycroft had to physically drag him into the shower (this never coincided with the nudity because that would have been too easy. No, Mycroft would be forced to deal with a filthy, fully-dressed, screaming, flailing toddler).
Eventually Sherlock started to turn to Mycroft before he could do anything embarrassing. “Bored,” he would announce. Sometimes this would be accompanied by a kick or a slap. “Do something with him.” A childlike but accurate impression of Mummy.
Mycroft taught Sherlock to read. He gave Sherlock his child-sized violin (purchased after much begging, played exactly twice, and then sent to the back of the closet with the train set and the model kit of a car that he built half of and lost interest in). He taught Sherlock maths and science as he did his own homework.
As the brothers grew closer together their parents grew apart. They grew distant from their children as well. They continued to go to church on Sundays as a family and had neighbours over for dinner several times a month, and did their best to keep up the appearance of a happy, non-embarrassing family.
Until the day Sherlock announced that Daddy was having an affair with one of his co-workers – the head of the marketing department who was named Janet and had a Persian cat.
Daddy went pale. Mummy turned purple. “If a seven-year-old boy knows, everyone must know! How could you embarrass me like this?” She demanded.
Mycroft grabbed Sherlock by the hand and dragged him outside.
“How could you be so stupid?”
Sherlock scowled. “How was that stupid?” Putting together all the clues were, he thought, pretty clever.
“Telling was stupid, you twit. It’s embarrassing.”
“How was I supposed to know?” Sherlock sat down on the grass and sulked. “Grown-ups are weird.”
Daddy moved out that night. Mummy decided that being cheated on was embarrassing, but evicting her dog of a husband was “tragic and brave”. All her friends said so when they found out what had happened.
“Do something with him before he embarrasses us” became the family motto.
Mycroft taught Sherlock ciphers, computers, electronics, and chemistry. He would devise scavenger hunts and logic puzzles to keep him occupied. Twice a week he took Sherlock to martial arts classes, hoping to redirect (or at least exhaust) some of Sherlock’s energy. Anything to avoid embarrassing Mummy.
Mycroft was twenty-one and living on his own when Sherlock discovered drugs. Mummy’s sobbing phone calls convinced him to move back home and “do something with him.”
He found Sherlock in his bedroom, sitting on the window seat and staring into the garden, a cigarette dangling from his lips.
“You’ve lost weight,” Mycroft said as he took the cigarette.
“You’ve apparently found it.” Sherlock reached to reclaim the cigarette. Mycroft smacked his hand away and took a long drag.
“Menthol? How could you?”
“I was shoplifting. Wasn’t picky.” He took the cigarette back and glared as if his stare would remove any Mycroft germs.
“Mummy said you’ve been in trouble.”
“Trouble? Is that how she put it?” Sherlock laughed dryly. “I was arrested for theft and had enough drugs on me I could’ve dosed the whole division.”
“Intent to distribute?”
“Personal use.” Sherlock lit a new cigarette off the end of the first then stubbed the old one out against the wall.
“How much are you using?”
“Not enough.” He closed his eyes. “Nothing makes it stop.”
“Makes what stop?”
“I don’t understand.”
Sherlock was suddenly animated, agitated. He paced the room, climbing furniture and knocking over stacks of books, reminding Mycroft of an angry cat. All that was missing was the thrashing tail. “Of course you don’t understand! You have no idea what it’s like in my head. All the noise. All the information pouring in. All the connections and the ideas and the voices. I can’t get it to stop!”
Sherlock halted. He stared at Mycroft. “Do something with him,” he begged.