Premise: What if Sherlock and Mycroft are not actually brothers, but have chosen their relationship to each other after meeting as children.

Rating: PG

Warnings: None so far.

Disclaimers: Don't own the BBC series Sherlock! Just playing with the characters a bit.


Chapter 1

When Sherlock was five years old, Mummy arranged for him to join a twice weekly playgroup at the Rathbridge estate so she could take private lessons in French Pastry with an Italian named Armand. The Holmes's were between nannies. Mummy had sacked the last one when she caught Mrs. Hawthorne giving Sherlock what his mother had ruled 'too intimate an embrace,' which was to say her son appeared fonder of the Mrs. Hawthorne than his mother, the usual reason nannies disappeared. Sherlock would have preferred to spend the afternoon with the horses (which he could hug without losing them because Mummy thought it was cute) or studying the remains of lunch under the magnifying glass while Miss Amelia-a thin woman of twenty-nine with long blond hair, light brown eyes and a wicked smirk-polished the silver. But Mummy had deemed horses unfit for child rearing, and Sherlock really liked Miss Amelia so he was careful only to talk to her when Mummy was out of the house, and even then, to look at her only from the corner of his gaze, and to never, ever touch her.

So Sherlock resigned himself to a miserable afternoon.

Mummy accompanied Sherlock in the car to the Rathbridge estate. She had dressed well for the occasion in a light blue dress with a bright yellow sash, her long black waves up-swept in a glittering butterfly clip, her thin lips brushed in light red, smokey eyeshadow bringing out the blue of her irises. The prospect of two to three hours of boredom had Sherlock skittish. He played with the buttons of the sailor suit Mummy had dressed him in (Mummy didn't believe in children beginning the day untidy) and fiddled with a hanging thread from the seat in front of him, humming themes from Miss Amelia's soap operas under his breath.

"Sherlock, do lay off that noise," Mummy said when he got particularly loud.

"May I come with you and make croissants?" Sherlock asked with his best politeness. "I will be very quiet and not touch the fire."

"No," Mummy said with a laugh. "Mummy needs to do some things on her own. The Rathbridges are of a good family and their children are well brought up. There's no reason for you to be scared," she said and ruffled his hair.

"I'm not scared," he said.

"It's for your own good, honey. You must learn age appropriate social skills."

"Age approp-appro" he stumbled over the word, and his face tightened with frustration, "social skills are boring."

Mummy just smiled and Sherlock knew there was no use in arguing it further, so he went back to fiddling with the buttons on his jacket. As a rule, Sherlock didn't have much use for children his own age. Most couldn't read, and the ones who did wouldn't talk about anything interesting. They threw toy cars off of the dresser, played games dictated by rules that were improperly imagined and thus mainly involved running in circles, stacked blocks on top of each other (not wholly uninteresting with the proper models and glue) and then knocked them down (obnoxious) or other such boring pursuits. Other children were loud. They grabbed at you, hands covered in drool or dirt, and sometimes they bit.

A light hiss passed through Mummy's teeth as the car they were waved through the wrought iron gates onto the Rathbridge estate. The Holmes's lands were certainly expansive enough, but the Rathbridge's were clearly larger and more strictly maintained, with artistically trimmed bushes bracketing the entrance-way. The car rolled down a winding path between perfect lines of staggered beech trees, their dark green leaves a sharp contrast to the light green shoots of Spring grass speckled with clover.

A break in the trees revealed a small lake framed by willow. Behind it stood an imposing stone building that reminded Sherlock of a castle. Castles, Sherlock had heard from the somewhat reliable authority of Mrs. Hawthorne, often had secret passages, treasure and sometimes even monsters. (Sherlock had no fear of monsters, not since Miss Amelia had given him a baseball bat, told him open the closet and take a good whack at anything that frightened him. This was good, practical advice that would serve him well through adulthood.) Sherlock rocked in his chair, peering around his mother through the window. Maybe this wouldn't be so boring after all.

The road passed around the lake, and beneath one of the willows Sherlock spotted a ginger haired boy reading. The book seemed almost as wide and thick as the green leather-bound dictionary in the center of the Holmes's home library. The boy was definitely older than Sherlock, eleven, maybe even twelve but certainly not thirteen (he lacked the hairy tenseness of the thirteen-year-olds Sherlock had observed), with fat legs. The boy didn't look up from the book as the car passed, which made Sherlock instantly like him, so Sherlock immediately averted his gaze, staring at his hands, afraid his attention would make the boy disappear.

"That must be Mycroft," Mummy said, "Rathgarde's sister's child. His mother had been sick for a while and passed in the Fall." Mummy took Sherlock's hands in hers. They were soft and smelled of lavender, her nails painted light pink that had the quiet shine of a pearl. "Don't you dare speak of this to Mycroft, should you have occasion to speak with him, do you understand Sherlock? Mycroft is still very sad. Can you imagine losing your Mummy so young?"

Sherlock couldn't imagine it, but he nodded anyway and filed the information under important things like where Mummy hid her stash of chocolate truffles (in the bathroom in soft pink makeup case under a cardboard box labeled Tampons) and how to avoid the squeaky board on the kitchen stairs so he could sneak out into the yard at night and study how the bats flew without being able to see.

"You won't be chatting much with him anyhow, I suppose," Mummy continued, now talking to herself. "He must be at least eleven now. Or twelve."

Right again. Sherlock grinned. tiny flame of warmth settled in his chest. Being right was better than candy, he'd decided this year. People patted him on the head and said he was either a bright boy (which he liked) or a good guesser (which he decidedly did not). Rarely did anyone listen to his explanations, except Miss Amelia, who did so with a periodic nods and the occasional "you're too smart for your own bloody good, kid."

Mummy continued, "You'll be with the younger boy, Thorpe, and another boy from the neighborhood."

Two of them. Sherlock's dismay rose. On the other hand, the two other children might entertain each other, making it easier for Sherlock to sneak away. But what if Mummy was right about Mycroft? What business did an twelve-year-old have talking with a boy seven years younger than him? (Sherlock was proud he could do the math without counting on his fingers) He would probably be just as dull and idiotic to Mycroft as his brother and his cronies to Sherlock, but it didn't matter. He would speak with the older boy, no matter what. Mycroft was interesting, and Sherlock wasn't one to let something interesting pass him by.

Life was too short, as Miss Amelia said. Like the dead mouse Sherlock had found in the wine cellar in February. He'd taken a battery from his watch and a knife from the kitchen cut it open to try and get it working again, like with his talking Teddy Ruxpin bear, but the insides had been squishy and stinky and there was no place to put the battery. Mrs. Hawthorne had found Sherlock sometime later, fingers deep in guts. She'd screamed once, a flush traveling along her pale skin, dragged him from the experiment, and then dumped him, clothing and all, into the tub. There she'd rinsed the sticky brown away, checking his hands and arms for cuts and scrubbing gently until the smell was erased.

"Mouse was broken," Sherlock explained.

"Oh dear." Mrs. Hawthorne patted his head with her broad palm. "You can't fix that kind of broken. It's time had just run out. Happens to us all." She blinked rapidly as she said it, deepening the wrinkles around her eyes.

Sherlock stood up, dripping, leaned over the lip of the tub where she was sitting and wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Poor poppet," Mrs. Hawthorne said, squeezing him in her arms. She always smelled vaguely of mothballs.

Sherlock's eyes burned. "When does the time run out?"

"Oh, not until you're older, much, much older, God be willing." Mrs. Hawthorne laughed, the hearty, hollow sound adults gave to reassure children but which usually left Sherlock feeling a little bit cheated. "Don't you worry about such things," she said, wiping a fist over her cheek. "Let's get you a cookie. We won't tell your Mummy about this, okay?"

Sherlock thought about the mouse even after the cookie was crumbs on his fingers. How long before his time ran out and he was broken too? He didn't know, but he resolved to find out. Sherlock had to find out everything important before the end happened.