One - Mistreatment
Sherlock did not grace Mycroft and their parents with his presence during dinner.
Which was nothing out of the ordinary. The boy rarely attended meals willingly, deeming the need for nutrition annoying and the interaction with staff and family alike tedious. A complete waste of time. Which, according to the five-year-old, could be spent much more reasonably by tending to his various experiments or watching the bees in the estate's extensive gardens or commandeering the library for his pirate shenanigans. The options were infinite to his imaginative, youthful mind.
Honestly, Mycroft would have been significantly more surprised if Sherlock had shown himself at the table. He wasn't overly bothered by his brother's absence, the curly-haired ball of manic energy being a downright pest most of the time they were forced to spend together.
Under normal circumstances, Mycroft would have enjoyed the half-hour of calm and quiet, although it seemed the circumstances were far from normal this particular evening. For all that Sherlock struggled and fought against being made presentable and paraded in front of their parents in order to ensure Mr and Mrs Holmes that their youngest was, in fact, still among the living and not lying dead and bloated on the ground of the pond after an unsuccessful attempt at collecting tadpole specimen, the boy rarely managed to get around the whole procedure and generally ended up propped up on a chair next to his older brother, scowling and glaring but otherwise ignoring everyone in the room.
So while Sherlock's reluctance to participate was only to be expected, his actual absence was somewhat disconcerting.
Mycroft frowned down at the trout on his plate, grimacing while poking a fork at the fish's eye and shuddering. He buried the disgusting thing under a layer of even more ghastly mashed up Brussels sprouts and concentrated on figuring out the mystery of the missing brother instead.
Had Sherlock fallen ill? It would hardly be a shock, Mycroft had overheard the cook whispering to one of the maids about catching 'le petit démon' sneaking around down in the wine cellar with a handful of vials from his chemistry set, attempting to steal samples from the family's renowned collection of reds. Mycroft wouldn't put it past his brother to cook up something with the alcohol and upset his stomach or something equally moronic.
But then again, it was highly unlikely that Sherlock would suffer in silence and on his own. Surely he would ensure that everyone in the house - if not on the whole estate - was aware of his misery and demand that Mycroft stay at his side and entertain him. That was how the days Sherlock was confined to his bed always went down, after all.
The questions - Where? What? Why? - were on the tip of his tongue when Mycroft glanced up from one parent to the other and froze, clipping his mouth shut and pressing his lips into a thin, white line.
Mummy seemed listless, leaning back heavily in her chair at one end of the large, oaken table, her eyes unfocused and glazed. She had yet to start eating, merely the assortment of pills and tablets were gone from the edge of her plate. The wine glass was almost empty as well, though Mycroft knew better than to point out that medication should be taken with water rather than Chardonnay. He had voiced his concern once, only earning himself a mocking sort of snort from Father and a dismissive pat on the head from Mummy.
At the head of the table, things weren't faring well either. Father had been eerily quiet apart from a bit of mumbling and grumbling, not asking about Mycroft's studies or commenting on the food or even belittling the staff as he usually did. It was easy to read the tension from the lines around his eyes and the irritation from his tightly clenched left fist and his still boiling anger from his rigid posture.
No, today was decidedly not a good day.
Mycroft finished his dinner in silence, glad when the offending and untouched fish was taken away and back to the kitchen, and excused himself to investigate. He ventured up the stairs and swiftly made his way to the east wing of the manor, stopping in front of Sherlock's room and rapping his knuckles against the white wood of the door.
"Sherlock?" he asked, knowing not to expect an answer. For all that his brother could be an uncomfortably loud and demanding presence, he never actually spoke. Mycroft hadn't witnessed the boy uttering a single word in the five years since Mummy and Father had brought him home from the hospital. Oh, he did laugh and cry and shout and throw rather impressive temper tantrums, but Sherlock did not speak.
Countless numbers of therapists and child psychologists had constantly been prodding and poking at him for the last three years, frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with the otherwise healthy and thriving boy. Sherlock simply ignored them all, only huffing and rolling his eyes whenever the fuss got too much for him to bear.
Mycroft knew his brother was above average intelligence. It was hardly a wonder, if one looked at the rest of the Holmes family, all of them absolutely brilliant and marvellously bright. No one shared his assessment, however, the adults just smiled indulgently at him if he tried to reason with them, showing Father Sherlock's little notebook filled with pages and pages of neat and extremely detailed documentation of his experiments, or telling Mummy how he had found Sherlock reading the nanny's bedside lecture - in Spanish. But, according to everyone Mycroft tried to convince of his brother's genius, a boy who could not even form the simplest of sentences or call his family by their names at age five was nothing but strange and 'not right'.
Wasn't it obvious to them what Sherlock's problem, if one could call it a problem, was? That he simply couldn't be bothered, preferring stay and play in the perfect little world the two brothers had created for themselves, because reality was just so. incredibly. overwhelming?
Mycroft did poke his head out of their bubble every once in a while, if social interaction was required, but he didn't like it anymore than his brother, oh no. And Sherlock was so young still, fragile and delicate even. Where Mycroft understood the need to follow certain rules and norms, the younger boy was struggling to get the hang of why he should do anything he didn't want to do, why it was sometimes necessary to leave his comfort zone. Which is where Mycroft came in as the big brother, protecting and guiding and helping Sherlock to find his way and place in life.
Their system worked, there was no necessity for Sherlock to speak and Mycroft couldn't, for the life of him, figure out why everyone was losing their minds over it. His brother could write in two languages and read in at least one more, he'd never had a problem communicating his needs non-verbally and had taught himself sign language after one of the therapists had left a book on the subject for Mummy and Father. The only thing he did not do was use his words and Mycroft firmly believed that this was perfectly all right.
Sherlock would talk, in his own time. Just the way he had done with everything else.
"Sherlock, I'm going to come in now, so if you are doing anything you shouldn't be doing, stop it," Mycroft announced, waited for a moment to give his brother the chance to hide whatever inappropriate thing he was currently slicing up or pouring chemicals over, and pushed open the door.
Sherlock was nowhere to be seen, the curtains were drawn and all the lights were off, causing Mycroft to frown as he stepped further into the room. "I'm not in the mood for hide and seek right now," he sighed, loudly enough for his brother to hear. Predictably, Sherlock didn't answer and Mycroft went looking for him anyway.
The usual spots - a five-year-old was only marginally unpredictable, after all - were worked off first; the wardrobe, the big laundry basket in the far corner, behind the curtain, under the desk and the narrow space between the bed and the wall. Sherlock was nowhere to be found.
Mycroft pursed his lips, worry for the other boy quickly being replaced by annoyance. "Stop being a prat, Sherlock! I came up here to check on you, the least you could do-"
A soft, barely audible whimper stopped Mycroft mid-rant and he went quiet, straining his ears for another sign of his wayward brother. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention and he whirled around just in time to see a bare foot being pulled back up on the tester above the four poster bed.
Heaving another, long-suffering sigh, Mycroft climbed onto the bedside table to be able to reach the edge of the tester and pull himself up, coughing a little when the motion swirled up some of the accumulated dust. "What are you doing up he-"
Sherlock was a picture of absolute misery, causing his older brother's words to die on his lips. The little boy sniffled pathetically and proceeded to bury his face in his hands, knees pulled close against his chest, trying to hide himself away.
"Lockie, what happened? What's wrong?" Mycroft gasped and crawled closer in the confined space between wood and ceiling, placing what he hoped was a comforting hand on Sherlock's shoulder. He fully expected to be shrugged off and screamed at - Sherlock almost always had a difficult time accepting physical contact - but the boy took him by surprise when he practically threw himself at his brother, clinging to the back of his dress shirt and refusing to let go for the better part of a quarter-hour.
Baffled, Mycroft hugged him back, tightly wrapping his arms around the trembling boy and only wrinkling his nose the tiniest bit at the snot being rubbed into his neck. Once Sherlock's pitiful sobs had quieted down and been replaced with a sort of sigh-hiccup-sniffle noise, Mycroft moved back to properly look at the five-year-old.
His left cheek was reddened, indicating at what would turn into a massive black eye by morning. The stubby little nose was slightly swollen, traces of dried blood still sticking to Sherlock's nostrils and lips. It wasn't a pleasant sight, not at all.
"Who did this?" Mycroft demanded, carefully dabbing at Sherlock's tear-streaked face with the sleeve of his shirt. This was no accident, the older boy was sure of it, the angry red print of a hand was still slightly visible on his brother's face.
Sherlock shook his curly head and took a shuddering breath, leaning into Mycroft's comforting touch.
Mycroft knew, of course he did. The tense atmosphere during dinner and his brother's mysterious absence from it. Father's flared temper and Mummy's sedation, indicating they had been arguing earlier. Mycroft knew, but he needed the confirmation. Because if what he believed he knew was in fact true, Mycroft had failed utterly and completely in protecting the most important person in his life from suffering the same harsh fate as he himself.
"Sherlock, please. I won't tell, I promise," Mycroft urged gently.
The little boy bit his lip, chewing at it while he considered. Mycroft saw the uncertainty and fear flicker over his brother's face, but in the end he conceded. Sherlock held out both hands with his index and middle fingers extended and tapped his secondary hand with his primary hand.
As soon as the motion was complete, Sherlock curled himself into a small ball of misery and began crying again in violent, body-shaking sobs.
It proved quite difficult, but Mycroft managed to manoeuvre his brother down from the tester and onto the bed itself without either of them receiving any additional injuries. Sherlock was positioned under the covers and Mycroft climbed in after him, pulling the fabric over both their heads in an attempt to keep out all the unwanted hurt and confusion and restore the balance of their little two-boy-world.
"It's going to be all right, Lockie," Mycroft murmured into Sherlock's hair, pressing his lips against the crown of the other boy's head. "I've got you. You're going to be okay."
Sherlock struggled in his brother's embrace and pushed away briefly to hold his hands across his chest before resuming his former position, cuddled up close to Mycroft's chest.
"I love you, too. More than anything," the older boy said fondly and held on a bit tighter.