There are many reasons to despise Mycroft’s fastidious nature, but for Sherlock, its correlation with his laziness is paramount. To Holmesian eyes, personal accoutrements, and most especially those Mycroft tends to bandy, are a gambler’s tells. Mycroft’s Victorian trappings speak loudly, transparently, and Mycroft’s willingness to parcel himself for every perceptive bystander’s gaze is not short-sightedness, but carelessness. Of course, not all of Mycroft’s more old-fashioned habits are a liability. Every once in a while, Sherlock enjoys the utter silence of the Diogenes Club, occasionally bumping into Mycroft in the process, only sometimes unintentionally. It is never the sentimental reunion John might imagine—or indeed engineer—but nor is it a brawl, blows standing in for investment. ‘Friend’ and ‘enemy’ are reductive categories, after all, and Mycroft has never been either.
The beginning is common enough, really: what does any family do with two brilliant children, except pit them against each other? The indirect cruelty of good intentions is a human pattern Sherlock learns early, first-hand. And when Sherlock loses—and Sherlock always loses—Mycroft is always there to nurse his undoing.
“The mind is not everything, Sherlock,” he will say, when Sherlock can’t move, can’t breathe; can’t do anything but sit on his bed, unmoving, oversensitive to noise and utterly numbed to his own shame. Mycroft’s voice is a lantern in his darkness, waking him to shocking pain.
“You’re not welcome here, Mycroft.” He hates this. He hates this. He is so young. He will get older, but he will never be older than Mycroft. He is smart enough to know he will never be smarter. “Nor are you needed.”
“There are other things in life, you know.” Mycroft stands at the edge of the bed, unblinking and owlish, unembarrassed by Sherlock’s state. “Other measurements.”
“None that I care about.”
Mycroft sighs, makes a movement as though to sit down before thinking better of it. “For the little it is worth, I am sorry, Sherlock. That I would have in abundance what I do not value foremost but that which you do…”
Sorry, Sherlock thinks. Sorry for who? “What you must think of me,” he says instead, thickly, theatrically. “Lacklustre even by standards you find secondary.” He says it to barb; knows Mycroft places more value on the weight of the air between them than he does, but like all the best lies, it feels like the truth.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft reproaches, ever perceptive. “I love you. That may matter very little to your schema of existence right now, and it may never matter any more. But it matters to mine, so I shall say it. And remind you of it, whenever I can.”
“Go away, Mycroft.”
Mycroft doesn’t, but he doesn’t speak again either. Instead, he stands at the foot of the bed, looking tired and unapologetic, and catalogues the progress of Sherlock’s distress. After twenty minutes, all Sherlock's sound and fury give way to a precocious self-hatred; after thirty, it is an effort to keep still, fingers knotting around his knees, holding himself together with the preoccupation of his self-control. At ten past the hour, the energy seems to leave him, and Sherlock shrinks back to his age for once: small, and exhausted. This pattern will repeat itself with very little alteration over the course of Sherlock’s life, ratios warped by narcotics, accumulated damage, Sherlock’s age and the particular sources of his rage, but never out of order. And while Mycroft will not always be around to manoeuvre his brother into bed in the aftermath, this time he folds Sherlock’s limbs carefully beneath the covers, counting his breaths until they steady into sleep.
Two years later, entire centuries before John Watson is more than a name and Moriarty more than a shadow, Mycroft is pulling him onto a riverbank by his wrists, shouting. The muscles in Sherlock’s shoulders spasm as Mycroft drops his arms and bends over him. Dislocated? Unlikely, Mycroft has never had that kind of strength. Sherlock watches his mouth move through the distortion of water and registers disappointment and faint affection. Mycroft, of course.
“You are positively infuriating when you act without thinking, Sherlock.”
Sherlock laughs and then chokes; convulsively sits up to retch water and Mycroft’s arms catch him. He smooths down Sherlock’s damp fringe with his palm. “Do you really think I only care about you because Mummy told me to, Sherlock? You wouldn’t, and I’m smarter.”
Sherlock laughs and feels Mycroft flinch against him. “Don’t be stupid, Mycroft.” He’s shaking for some reason, and it turns his words into staccato. “I figured out years ago that that’s nothing to do with your head. You don’t do it logically.” He makes the notion as outrageous as he can. “You love me by instinct.”
Mycroft pushes a thumb down the nape of Sherlock's neck. “It may surprise you to learn that sometimes I don’t love you at all, Sherlock.” He sounds brittle, and something rekindles in Sherlock’s chest.
“What a waste,” he drawls, determined to claw this flesh-wound deeper, to see what spills out, before Mycroft scars over. Mycroft has always been very good at scarring over. “It really beggars belief that we share blood, sometimes. The heart is an organ, Mycroft. One you cut out of birds. The only way to break it is down the middle, with a scalpel.”
Mycroft smiles and Sherlock scowls. It makes him retch again and Mycroft catches him once more by the shoulders, steadying.
“You shouldn’t believe Descartes so readily.”
The first time Sherlock disposes of his syringes, Mycroft sends him a gift a day, as though he can barter for each stretch of his brother’s sobriety. Sherlock only ever opens the first parcel, initially lacking sufficient evidence to deduce its sender, and finds Mycroft has sent him a handkerchief. Sherlock suspects the item is at least partly a jest, since Sherlock has been deriding Mycroft’s ridiculous penchant for expensive silk tissues from its very first manifestation, but it comes with a note that extinguishes any stirring of amusement: a snide congratulations, Sherlock, on the impulse to clean up your own mess this time.
Impulse. Mycroft intends it to convey a double message: wants to bait Sherlock into stay sober by implying its impossibility; wants to shame him into it by reminding him of Mycroft’s history of intimacy with his vulnerabilities. Sherlock almost sets fire to it; feels tempted to go through the rubbish bins. He can see Mycroft in his mind's eye, by the bed, unblinking. Shame is exhausting, and Mycroft has always cleaned up his messes.
The next time, Mycroft doesn’t send him anything and Sherlock occupies himself for a week and a half pretending not to notice; on the third and final attempt, Sherlock gives up not noticing and takes to wearing the handkerchief in his front pocket at crime scenes, out of spite at being given up on so quickly. Inspired by a moment of genuine necessity, he finds a functional use for his would-be scarlet letter at Lestrade’s most recent crime scene, parting a curtain of blood from a man’s eyeglasses with its fibres.
“The lens is bifocal, recently prescribed. He hadn’t planned to meet anyone at all that night. He was simply feeling dizzy. He was walking home and stopped on the bench because he felt dizzy. This was a random killing.”
A week later, he uses the handkerchief to clean the mud off the hemming of a young man’s jeans to better see the creases in the material; the next day, tests the viscosity of the mysterious substance found all over the dead body’s fingers by watching a drop of it spread, darkly, over the material’s embroidered edge. He wonders if Mycroft is watching, imagines his mouth twitch as Sherlock uses £500-worth of silk to clean bile from the victim’s stubble so he can better deduce the exact order of his morning routine. Teeth first, then coffee. Two sugars. Obvious then: poisoning. He thinks of Mycroft’s sweet tooth and finds himself smiling. Such a messy way to die: Mycroft would hate it.
At age eleven, Sherlock is finally, finally sent to the same boarding school as Mycroft, only to find his brother three floors above him, in his final year and studying frenetically for final exams. Although predictable, it is somehow baffling. There is so much he has to tell Mycroft, so many complaints to air to understanding, if not sympathetic ears.
For a week, he tries not to blink and thinks he might manage: goes to class on time, practices every shred of dinner-table politeness he has in him, and keeps a coded diary excoriating everyone he meets. Then he is punished for refusing to participate in whatever brainless activity the sports master has currently mandated and thinks he will implode with the desire to enumerate all the stupidities of the injustice. Sherlock prefers individual exercise, when he takes it: fencing, boxing, genuine competitions of skill and speed, not dressed-up social games euphemised as ‘team sports’. He lies awake that night, fuming, aching with the need to corner Mycroft and pick at their age-old argument about Descartes until he feels a little less wronged, and this is how he ends up curled at the foot of Mycroft’s bed, watching his brother angle a textbook in the moonlight to read a graph. Mycroft’s roommate is a heavy sleeper, and they slip between whispers and sign-language according to the pattern of his snores.
In the half-dark, he and Mycroft pull the world apart, together, with their fingers. In the moment, Sherlock decides he is happy.
Like all good things in Sherlock’s eleven years of experience, it doesn’t last. He’s not sure how they are found out—perhaps he fell asleep there once too often—but he has every intention of wringing every last, damning secret from the culprit’s lips just as soon as he’s let out of this over-bright office.
“You brother assures me you’re not aware you were breaking any school rules, and as this is your first term here, I’m inclined to believe him.”
The principal has crossed Sherlock more than once before; knows better than to use euphemisms or deliberately small words.
“That said, I need you to promise me you won’t go meandering around the school at night again, Sherlock. We have a strict policy against bed-sharing between students too, regardless of relation.”
The principal narrows her eyes at him, trying to gauge if the question is sincere or intended to embarrass. Eventually, she settles for candour; she’s seen older innocents than Sherlock, even in this day and age. “When people routinely share a bed together, their relationship is usually of a sexual nature. So it simply isn’t appropriate for you and Mycroft to be doing that.”
Appropriate, Sherlock thinks, in a rage he can scarcely articulate. The prohibition is so illogical and baseless it blindsides him, and Sherlock dislikes surprises.
“It isn’t,” he informs her icily, in his best grown-up voice, “sexual. In fact, I would wager your suspicion the most prurient thing in this matter.”
Still. The idea sticks.
Sherlock is nineteen year’s old before he seriously considers kissing his brother as a new way to irritate him. There’s an irony in it Sherlock finds appealing, some implied mockery of Mycroft’s years of dogged sentimentality: all that self-righteous love, Mycroft shouldering ‘brotherly duty’ as though they’re both not smart enough to see through the construct. What a pretence, their sibling rivalry. They know this chessboard inside out, and Sherlock longs for a new battleground; wants to take Mycroft’s love and throw it back at him with all the insistence of his mouth and his body. At last, all his fear and his fury; at last, vengeance for all the noise Mycroft’s heart’s been making, blood pulsing, valves snapping; vengeance for the way his own heartbeat sometimes seems like an answer.
In the end, it’s quite easy; a turned head during a brotherly greeting. He has been doing this for years, really: taking the things Mycroft gives him, clean, pure, expensive things, and sullying them.