Years ago, Sherlock had first heard a broken vinyl. The afternoon sun tickled the nape of his neck, outlining his curls and sweater in a stencil of warmth; his hand was wrapped tightly around a wooden toy, nearly bleached with wear, and knees dug into the new, sandy-coloured carpet. Reminded of the shore, Sherlock refused to play anywhere but the front room, spreading his swords and figures as far as his youthful grasp could reach.
Mycroft had called him silly and futile for staying inside, instead of running about the garden, but the young pirate had little care for what his brother thought, focusing on arranging his ships in glorious battalions. A classical tune could always be heard among crashing toys, and his mother taught him how to switch out the records to play whatever he wanted. Even in adolescence, he preferred Bach to almost anything else, and kept his Father’s record on repeat, keeping the concertos thrumming through the room.
He remembered the exact note, at the very end of Brandenberg Concerto No. 5 - a blissful dip in the familiar tune skipped just slightly, not even close to being prominently loud enough to pluck Sherlock’s attention away from his ships and figures. The record played that same note, the cool curve of musical symphony, through the front room, until his brother discovered the fault.
“Redbeard certainly misses you, Sherlock.” Mycroft’s remark pulled the young pirate from his trance. The front door squealed shut, and Mycroft’s moss-coloured windbreaker was hung over Sherlock’s yellow overcoat. “Inside, playing, instead of reading a book, accompanying your brother on taking fungal samples and enjoying time with - as you so eloquently called him - your ‘partner in crime’.” The elder Holmes adjusts his cardigan impulsively, smirk remaining in the fashion that Sherlock grew to loathe. “How telling, isn’t it?”
“I collected samples of mud, twigs, and fungi with you just last Tuesday,” Sherlock replied, tone faltering under his brother’s gaze. “And Mummy said…” Plucked from his lazy, happy afternoon, the repeated note caught his shattered attention. He stood up, abandoning his fleet of devout pirates, and quickly tried to fix the record.
“Now, Sherlock -” Mycroft began to say, standing to look at the turntable.
“I didn’t break it!” Panic bubbled up inside the boy as he frantically tried to adjust the needle, shaking hands missing the groves each time, lip quivering with shock.
“Of course not,” came Mycroft’s delicately cool reply. “You were careless, that’s all.”
“Abusing yourself, denying the irrevocable truth, and placing your heinous carelessness on your work remains as the essence of your failure, little brother.”
“I don’t need your humble opinion, Mycroft. Now, if you would kindly -”
“- Leave you to ruin?”
A jolt of pain shot through Sherlock’s jaw as his teeth clenched together, causing his hand to tighten on the door knob. He fixed his gaze on his violin, which sat amidst abandoned case files, gathering dust in front of a grey window. The last time he’d played had been weeks ago, at a deathly late hour, when Rosie had awoken from a nightmare. His heart twinged at the memory.
“Leave me to handle myself,” Sherlock said, barely above a whisper, intending to vocalise his hurt, but feeling left with a flimsy, school-boy answer.
“And, pray tell, what exactly does that entail?” Cocaine .
“Cases, Saint Bartholomew's laboratory, Mrs. Hudson’s honey biscuits, cigarettes - for God’s sake, Mycroft! I am not a child, any more, surely you must realise that, with the reminder of my birthday from Mummy.”
“Then stop acting like one,” Mycroft crossed the space between them, practically hissing at the younger man. “Forty will look much better on you when you can move past this.” John.
Sherlock flinched away from his brother as a torrid gush of emotion flooded him, seeping into his fingertips, cheeks, and chest. The urge to slam his hardened fist into Mycroft’s jaw, shout and scream, clawed at the detective’s heart. The umbrella-devoted scourge’s lectures had always been achingly forthright; but never so catastrophically crippling.
“Get out.” The words expelled themselves from the depth of Sherlock’s throat, coated in a poisonous tone that turned the request into a snarling demand.
Ever the cold-blooded monger, Mycroft stayed put, lips tilting into an offstandish smirk. “I’m not here to threaten you, brother dear,” he replied, “But I won’t stand for these games.” He turned his gaze to the sofa, to an abandoned doll, a draped, plum dressing gown, and a spilling case file littered with tea rings. “As blissfully domestic as your... abode appears, I’m afraid a rearrangement is in order. There is a war that must be fought, Sherlock, and surely you mustn’t believe Baker Street supplies the conditions for an invalid doctor and his toddler -”
“ Get out !” Shocked by the enormous vigor of his own voice, Sherlock’s back smacked against the wall, fist clutching onto the overused doorknob.
“For God’s sake - what on Earth could you possibly expect from this?” Mycroft’s voice dropped, hinting at that sharp, childhood growl he used constantly to get his way. He took three steps closer, as if penetrating Sherlock’s personal space would emphasise his point, his useless intimidation. “That, because the good doctor visits for cases and take-away, your heart can steal the best of you? That you can abandon everything we - Mummy, that D.I. you fancy so much, Miss Hooper, the bloody, royal Crown itself, and your own brother - have worked desperately, tirelessly on for years just to keep you out of that damned velvet box underneath the moulded floorboard in your bedroom?” He paused, taking in a deep breath. “Enough, Sherlock. This is enough.” The elder Holmes’ back turned away, leaving choking silence in its wake. “You have never, not once in all your years, triumphed over a broken vinyl record, brother. Always, always going back, repeating the same notes.”
Sherlock’s heart sent endless strikes to his rib cage, one after another, as if willing itselft to be seen, heard, felt . That rippling in his veins, that electric flare between muscle and skin, that torrid graze of rage in every notch of spine; he could sense every ounce of it, but beneath it, a hardened, permanent stone sunk deeper with a putrid pinch. He felt that, too - the cavern that had built itself through the past years, over nights lost to boring, tedious women; mornings far apart and without forced toast; cases solved, but barren of any laughter; a wedding designed to kill; an empty, doctor-less, toxic hospital room, desolation only rival to the pale hole in his heart.
“It hurts, Mycroft,” came Sherlock’s aching ruse in the silence. “It hurts .” As his brothers’ delicately unskilled hand came to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder, his mind spurred into life, providing flashes of John - his smile, genuine, adoring over their first meal at Angelo’s, all those painstakingly long years ago; his fingers combing roughly through Sherlock’s hair, separating dark curls from a bloody gash; his curse ringing out as curry stained that awful striped jumper; his vibrant, iridescent blue irises turning glossy with grief upon recognising Sherlock’s face, crumbling his death-based façade; a single tear, followed by an unruly avalanche of siblings, falling onto Sherlock’s burgundy dressing down, their remains dancing in the flickering firelight; his laugh, that hearty, wonderful, heavenly chuckle that momentarily washed away the past, replacing their reunion with true, unbiased joy . “I - I care for him; too much, far too much, Mycroft, and it hurts.”
Paralysing nerves tugged at Sherlock, hooking the words from beneath the tender shrine in his sternum and forcing them to fall out, crumble, in an explosive barrage of unexpected, uncontrolled, unfathomable, pain-stricken proclamations that he, undoubtedly, could never turn back from. His body threatened to give out beneath him, saved only by the support of the door and the threat of mockery. Delightedly, Mycroft remained silent, still, unbearably existent, and the whole flat seemed to clog up with suspense and truths, both spoken and unspoken.
It hurts to love John Watson.