He hadn’t been prepared for that call. Silly, when he’d been preparing for thirty some-odd years. Mycroft held the phone to his ear in silence, the thin plastic casing pressed lightly to the rim of his ear. Outside it had begun to rain. Of course it had.
“I see,” he finally said, and lowered the phone.
Sherlock was singing. “Mine mine mine. No no no!”
Those were his two favorite words.
Mycroft watched him from the hard plastic chair: eight of them set in rows facing each other. They were a lurid orange. Why? They were hideous, they were offensive. Everything about this place was an affront to the senses, and it smelled like antiseptic covering up something horrid, something foul, unspeakable –
“No no, mine mo, my mo, my mu,” sang Sherlock, paging blindly through a magazine. There was something wrong with his brain, Mycroft knew. He would end up someplace like this eventually, with other people like him, if he lasted that long, which he probably wouldn’t. Then it would just be Mycroft and Daddy, alone in the house. Mycroft cringed until his nose brushed his knees, then he straightened up again. It wasn’t becoming, that sort of behavior.
“Me mo, my mo, mu mu, lu lu. Ouch. Ouch, ouch,” Sherlock said, jabbing the magazine with one fat finger. Mycroft ignored him. He looked at the door. He waited for Daddy and watched nurses bustling in and out, like he did every Sunday. He had long since stopped waiting for Mummy.
When Sherlock was six he had run away from home; again when he when he was seven, twice when he was eight, and several times each subsequent year until it was no longer legally “running away.”
As a child Sherlock had dreamed of running, of being chased, but he was never running away, he said, he was trying to go home. Even though he knew the neighborhood, he said, he couldn’t find his home, and if he didn’t he knew something terrible would happen. That’s what he had told Mycroft when they were camping. This was after Mummy had come home but Daddy was gone. Sherlock was camping under a sheet stretched from the bed to the desk, weighted precariously with a lamp and two volumes of the OED.
“What do you dream about?” Sherlock then asked.
After a time Mycroft softly replied, “Nothing. I don’t remember my dreams.”
Sherlock had sighed enormously, dramatically, his hands resting beneath his head. “Dull,” he declared. Everything had been dull, according to him, in those days and for many years after.
Daddy came out through the swinging doors. He spoke with one of the nurses, then came over, scooped up Sherlock, and kissed the side of his head. He took Mycroft’s hand and they went and got ice cream. Every Sunday was the same.
Once home, Mycroft boiled water for tea. The kettle clicked off and the grandfather clock sounded the seconds, one after another, endlessly loud, indefatigable. Sherlock had been like that: endless.
Sherlock had had both a gift and a curse for rhythms: he heard them everywhere; clocks, footsteps, running water. He heard things no one else could hear, and saw things differently as well.
Sherlock had hated rhythm and loved it, his timing impeccable, and the ceaseless patterns gratingly loud and monotonous, a torturous tick-tock tick-tock. As a young child he used to sit on the floor and scream and scream, from boredom, from rhythm, frustrated with his small, incapable body. Once Daddy had lifted him up and shook him - “Stop crying!” –shocking all three of them into silence.
Outside, the rain drummed heavily against the windows. Sherlock would have hated that, or reveled in it, depending on his mood.
Mycroft ordered one scoop of chocolate and one scoop of butter pecan. He was allowed to have two flavors.
“That’s mine,” Sherlock said. He was sitting on the counter, pointing at Mycroft’s ice cream as the woman behind the counter wrapped a napkin around the cone. “That’s mine.”
“No it isn’t,” Mycroft said peevishly. The woman handed the ice cream cone to him, and Sherlock let out a small shriek of indignation. He didn’t even like ice cream. He never finished his.
“Yours is coming,” Daddy said. Mycroft licked carefully around the rim of the cone.
Sherlock turned back towards the register. “That’s mine, that’s mine, that’s mine,” he chirped.
When Sherlock was four and Mycroft eleven, Sherlock had run into the street and been hit by a bicyclist. Through his bloodied face, three teeth knocked out, he had screamed and twisted in their father’s arms, one hand outstretched towards whatever he’d been after, blood pouring from his mouth and down his chin. At ten, he had stolen the neighbors’ car and caused a collision ten miles from home. He had been driving to London.
“How interesting,” Moriarty had said. “You must have hated him, the little brat. He must have got all the attention.”
Mycroft had smiled tightly.
Outside the shop, they walked slowly down the street, Sherlock’s neglected ice cream going runny in his cup. He waved his spoon at a parked car.
“Ouch,” he said.
“Car,” Mycroft corrected.
“Ouch. Daddy, ouch.”
Mycroft suddenly felt he had never hated Sherlock more than at that moment. He was just ignorant, and selfish, and he didn’t care at all about Mummy. He was just stupid.
“Ja, mein Schatz, ein Auto,” Daddy said. He took Sherlock’s melted cup of ice cream and threw it away, leaving Sherlock with the spoon.
“Ouch,” Sherlock said.
Mycroft wanted to cry.
“He took up the violin at seven.”
Moriarty closed his eyes. He smiled.
Men like Sherlock didn’t live very long, Mycroft knew – the impatient, aspiring hearts. He’d known long ago that Sherlock would never see forty. It was written all over him.
When the call had come in, Mycroft had been in his office, a pen in one hand.
“I see,” he had said.
He used to think Sherlock would end up exactly like their mother. In the end, he had.
Mycroft sat in the library with a bottle of whisky. He hadn’t yet had any. The library was filled with their father’s books, even those that had been left to Sherlock in his will.
The three of them retired to the study as they did every Sunday, Daddy and Mycroft each with a book, and Sherlock left to his own devices.
“Beebeebeebeebee,” Sherlock whispered, and other than that, it was quiet. Sherlock wasn’t right in the head; that’s what Mycroft thought. He would turn out just like Mummy. Mycroft picked at the corner of his book. He fit the pages beneath the edge of his fingernail. If he could trade Sherlock for Mummy he would in an instant. It would be Mycroft and Mummy and Daddy, like it had been before. It would be perfect, like it had been before. Everything had been perfect before. Now it was - now it was shit.
Mycroft closed his eyes tightly. He wasn’t allowed to say that word. He had never tried, but he knew it wasn’t nice. Daddy wouldn’t like him to be thinking that way.
“Beebeebeebeebeemoo,” Sherlock said. He was bouncing Mycroft’s Batman figure along the carpet, making it walk. Mycroft stood up suddenly and snatched it away.
“That’s mine,” he said. Sherlock shrieked, his eyes wide. He held out his hand, his fingers spread.
“No!” Mycroft said. “You can’t have it, because it’s mine.”
“Mycroft,” Daddy sighed.
Mycroft’s hand clenched around the toy. “He thinks everything is his!”
Sherlock began to scream. Daddy’s eyes were closed behind his glasses, and he ran his hand over the thin hair at his temples.
“Sherlock has hundreds of toys, and I only have one! This is my only toy!” Mycroft could feel his face heating. He knew he was being absurd, and this only made him angrier with Sherlock. His voice had risen into a childish whine. The Batman figure had been given to him at a classmate’s birthday party. Mycroft had never played with it even once.
Sherlock was wailing in earnest now, his face streaked with tears. For a moment Daddy’s face crumpled, then he grit his teeth and said “Give him the toy.”
His eyes hot, Mycroft heaved the toy at his brother as hard as he could. It struck his forehead and landed near the sofa. Sherlock stared at him, shocked. Then Mycroft started to cry. He ran away.
In August of 2001, Mycroft had received a call. He had paid a visit to the morgue and identified his mother’s broken body. It had been a mere matter of time, he’d known. Tomorrow he would do the same for his only brother. Then it would be just him.
”Do you think there’s something wrong with us?”
Moriarty laughed, looking Mycroft straight in the eye. Soon they would have to release him, and Mycroft knew he knew it.
“I’m the man who broke the bank at Monte Caaaaaaarlo,” Moriarty sang.
Mycroft hid beneath the dinner table and pulled the chair in behind him. He was being punished. He could hear Sherlock screaming, and he could tell from the sound that Daddy had lifted him up and was jouncing him, like he did sometimes. Sometimes Mummy had done that too, when Sherlock had been very small.
Mycroft drew in a tortured breath. His lungs hurt from crying, and his stomach hurt, and his face, and his hands. He had been very bad; he had been mean to Sherlock. That’s why he was being punished like he deserved. He curled under the table with his face hidden behind his hands. He wanted to die.
Mycroft sat long into the night, his whisky beside him untouched.
The rain had stopped some time ago.
Sherlock’s crying stopped. One of the chairs pulled out, and Daddy crouched beside the table. He lifted Mycroft, who was still curled into a ball. He held him against his shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Mycroft.” He carried him back to the study and sat in the chair. “We’ll get you more toys if that’s what you want.”
Mycroft choked and began to cough, then continued to cry. He missed Mummy. He wanted her to come home.
“Shh,” Daddy said.
Mycroft swallowed, finding his voice. “Sherlock doesn’t even care!”
“Doesn’t care about what?” Daddy kissed the side of Mycroft’s head, and Mycroft turned his face in to his father’s shoulder. He wasn’t supposed to behave like this. It just made everything more difficult, and he was too old to be carrying on.
“He doesn’t care about Mummy,” he cried.
They were quiet for a while.
“He’s too young to remember,” Daddy finally said. He ran his big, warm hand up and down Mycroft’s back.
Sherlock was standing next to the chair, his thumb in his mouth, first finger resting on top of his nose. Batman dangled by the neck, his cape fisted in Sherlock’s other hand. Sherlock stared at Mycroft in the odd way he had, as though seeing something else that wasn’t Mycroft at all.
At twenty-seven Sherlock joined a gang and was stabbed in the leg and nearly crippled. “It was for a case,” he explained.
Sherlock was a man of action, and Mycroft had always known he would die young. He had always known it. He had always known. He pressed his lips to the tips of his fingers, as though in prayer. He had known that this would happen. He hadn’t known that it would hurt the way it did. His little brother was dead. His infuriating, impetuous brother. His flighty, selfish, stubborn, bright, and passionate little brother. He was dead.
“You can have it, Sherlock,” Mycroft said. Sherlock focused on him briefly. An angry red weal stood out on his forehead. It had not yet begun to bruise. “I don’t really play with it.” Sherlock held the action figure out to him, humming an inquiring noise around his thumb.
“You can keep it.”
Sherlock made Batman hop up the arm of the chair, up Mycroft’s leg and over his head. Daddy reached out and stroked Sherlock’s hair.
“That’s mine?” Sherlock asked.
“Yes, and I’m sorry I threw it at you and hurt you,” Mycroft whispered. Sherlock planted Batman’s feet against his forehead, grinning around his pruny thumb.
“I’m sorry, Sherlock,” Mycroft said.