The scene that greets Mycroft as he enters the flat renders him instantly motionless. The cause of this unusual hesitation is not the fire, which is burning low behind the guard, nor is it the shredded newspaper littering the floor. The ragged remains of what look to be an extremely unlucky soft toy garner little more than a glance. Instead it is the sight of his brother that so completely arrests his attention.
Sherlock is stretched out on the sofa, head resting in John’s lap, with a tiny chocolate brown Labrador puppy sprawled on his chest. All three are deeply asleep.
Two words echo through Mycroft’s head; Beautiful dreamer.
It’s the phrase Mummy so often used to describe Sherlock in the early years of his life and one that had, at first, annoyed Mycroft intensely.
The first time he heard it, at the hospital when he’d been handed a squalling bundle of blankets, he had been confused, unable to see anything beautiful about a red, wrinkly new-born, especially not one that noisy. In the weeks that followed Mycroft’s opinion was not changed, especially given Sherlock didn’t seem to sleep enough to be ascribed any dreams at all. As Sherlock grew Mycroft added messy, troublesome, nosey, foolhardy and reckless to his list of things Sherlock was, but certainly couldn’t see any beauty in him whatsoever. He did his duty as far as looking out for him went, just as an older brother should, but whenever Mummy used the phrase he would press his lips together and frown in his efforts not to correct her. In hindsight he realised that he hadn’t seen what she was seeing because he hadn’t wanted to.
That changed when he returned home from his first term at Eton. After carefully unpacking and setting things just so in his bedroom he’d come down to the living room only to find his little brother asleep in there. Sherlock was stretched out at one end of the sofa, head pillowed on the arm, arms cradling what Mycroft initially took to be a new stuffed toy; a rather good likeness of a red setter puppy. Then the toy moved, two paws and a tail suddenly waving in the air, and he realised that Sherlock was actually cuddling a live animal. Yet it was not the presence of the dog which startled him the most. That honour was reserved for Sherlock’s face.
For this was not the familiar face of his irksome sibling. There was no frown of concentration marring the little forehead, no hints of devilish mischief in the curve of the pump lips. Nor were the cheeks flushed with the anger that lead to stormy cries and exaggerated tantrums, or the eyes narrowed in the way that proceeded a flurry of accurate yet uncomfortable words. Instead the face was smooth in sleep, unlined, unmarred and radiating peace. His curls, despite their colour, seemed to form a halo round his brow and the gently fluttering of eyelids, when viewed with the sweet smile tugging at the rosebud mouth, hinted at sweet thoughts beneath the placid visage.
And in that moment Mycroft understood.
Understood that from day one he’d been treating his little brother as a thing, rather than a person, and had therefore forgotten to look beneath the surface. He had let childish emotions set his view in stone and spent nearly six years dismissing any evidence to the contrary. He had not wished to like Sherlock, not wished for Mummy to do so either, and rather than accept that he was jealous he closed his eyes to the person Sherlock truly was. Ignored the fact that the very actions he was using to label Sherlock as irritating could actually be reinterpreted as how a sensitive child with a vivid imagination, a quickness of mind and an aptitude for logic would investigate the world around him. As for the more personal attacks Sherlock had directed at him, well they were probably born out of his instinctive understanding that Mycroft did not like him, no matter what he said in front of their parents.
Not that Mycroft had thought much of that at the time, and certainly not in that fashion, given that he’d only been thirteen himself. That moment had been far more about gut instinct, a sense of epiphany accepted without question, than internal analysis. The real understanding came later, when he was ready to face up to his own flaws. Flaws that, had Sherlock not shown them to him by merely being who he is, would have prevented Mycroft becoming the man he is today.
John sighs in his sleep, shifting to find a more comfortable position, hand jostling Sherlock’s curls as he does so. Sherlock gives a small huff in response, nose wrinkling at the sensation before his face once more relaxes into the peaceful, placid lines that sparked Mycroft’s reminisces in the first place. The noise is enough to break the spell holding Mycroft on the threshold, though, and he moves silently into the room to complete the errand for which he has come.
His small birthday gift for Sherlock is placed gently on the coffee table – where he will see it the moment he wakes – then he returns swiftly to the doorway, not wishing to intrude any longer on this most intimate of moments. Yet he can’t leave without one last glance at the trio, at the little brother whom these days he never normally sees with his guard completely down. Apart from the inevitable angles brought by adulthood, the different breed of dog and a much more comfortable pillow, Sherlock looks exactly as he had all those years ago and a brief longing for simpler times invades Mycroft’s heart.
‘Beautiful dreamer indeed,’ he murmurs to himself, before turning away and softly closing the door behind him.