Other brothers threw each other down in the mud. They stole each other's toys or farted in each other's faces. Older brothers told younger ones to stop pestering them. They threw dirt and put bugs down each other's shirts. Even the shy children weren't as shy around their brothers. Even the kids who sat alone had one or two friends that would come and cheer them up.
Even at five, Sherlock realized that he and Mycroft were not like normal brothers. They read together. They played science games. They had no other friends. All they needed were each other. For a long time, Sherlock didn't see anything different about that—Mycroft was his best and only friend, and he was Mycroft's. One day that changed.
It was their first day at a day care centre. Their mother decided that two overly-intelligent sons were too much to handle and had decided to give it a go. Mycroft was the oldest child present, and Sherlock among the youngest. The rather patronizing people who worked there suggested that the two of them go and watch the television or play with the fake toolsets, since that's what boys do. Mycroft rolled his eyes, but reluctantly agreed, and Sherlock, not knowing what else to do, followed. But the toys were boring and stupid. You could only get so much entertainment from hitting one plastic nail and having the other one come up. So, instead, Mycroft took out the book that he'd brought with him to read to Sherlock as they sat in the corner. (Sherlock could probably have managed most of it on his own, of course, but he liked the faces Mycroft would make.)
"Of course 'somebody' meant Bilbo. They chose him, because to be of any use, the climber must get his head above the topmost leaves, and so he must be light enough for the highest and slenderest branches to bear him. Poor Mr. Baggins had never had much practice in climbing trees—" Mycroft stopped as the woman who worked at the centre approached. He looked up at her as she looked at the two Holmes brothers. Sherlock could almost hear Mycroft's impatience and annoyance. And the woman was patronizing as she whispered where Sherlock wasn't supposed to be able to hear.
"Don't you think, Mycroft, that he should be spending time with people his own age? Someone he could make friends with?"
"I hardly think age has anything to do with it," Mycroft retorted. She sighed and left to go to the main area.
"Alright! I need everyone older than eight to come with me because we have a super secret project, and the rest of you get naptime!" Sherlock never took naps. They were boring. But he had to at least try, as Mycroft was more or less forced away from him.
He did manage to sleep, but only just, and only after forcing himself to not think. The woman who worked there, Judy, the others called her, spoke softly.
"Alright, everyone, naptime over. Now we're going to draw. Everyone get into teams."
The children broke into groups of three or four, except for Sherlock, who sat by himself. Judy came over to him and kneeled down in front of him. "What's your name?"
"Aw, that's a sweet name." He could tell she didn't think so. "Why are you sitting by yourself instead of with your friends?"
"I don't have any friends."
"Well, you ought to try to make friends then. How about you go and sit with Robert, Steven, Mark, and Cindi?" She maneuvered him out of his chair and over to the table, sitting him down in the chair and handing him some crayons.
"Everyone, this is Sherlock." Her smile was sickly. The other children waved at him. "I want to see everyone draw pictures of their family, and in a little while, we'll show them to everyone!"
Sherlock frowned. This stuff was for little kids. He was five. But he didn't have anything better to do, so he drew. The other kids talked to each other about ponies and dogs and bugs and things, but Sherlock didn't see the point. He was told to draw, not talk, so draw he did.
The older children had been brought in for the drawings. They'd been making t-shirts and their hands were all stained. Except Mycroft. Mycroft was always too careful to let anything get on him, especially on his suits, which he insisted on wearing, no matter what. Even Sherlock couldn't be persuaded to wear anything less than a collared shirt and nice trousers, even though he was only five. But, unlike his older brother, he didn't care too much that the red crayon had been ground into his sleeve.
"This is me," said Steven, pointing at his drawing, "and this is Mommy and Daddy and Petra." Petra was either a pig or a badly-drawn dog. Probably a dog, since Steven had dog fur on his legs. Also, Sherlock thought it was silly to keep a pet pig. It was his turn to present. His drawings, while understandably primitive, were a step beyond all the other stick-figures.
"This is Mother. She's not holding hands with Father because she stopped doing that three weeks ago. Father is mad at her for something. This is Mycroft, who is sitting over there. He's helping me with my spearmint." (He had meant "experiment", but his young mouth wasn't trained enough for the word.)
"What are you doing?" Judy was confused. (Mycroft, meanwhile, knew exactly what Sherlock had drawn and was both embarrassed and horrified.)
"I'm seeing what happens when you put fizzy cold tablet powder on a frog."
"Why are you doing that?"
"I was bored."
"You actually did this?"
"Yes. But it didn't do much so I put the frog back. Mycroft caught it for me and he got the cold tablets and crushed them for me. He helps me spearmint. He's a good brother." Why was Mycroft embarrassed? He had no reason to be. Now he was being ushered back to his seat. When he got there, the other kids didn't talk to him.
"Why won't you talk to me now?"
They stared at him.
"Is it because I draw better than you and you're sad because your mother paints?" Sherlock had noticed little drops of paint on Robert's shirt, in a place he couldn't have gotten it on his own. "Or 'cause you're mad I used the red so much? I only used it to be right. People are red on the inside. I know because the red comes out sometimes when I get hurt or when Mycroft pokes himself for science."
"You're a freak!" Cindi pushed Sherlock down—hard. He hit his head on the chair and it made him dizzy.
"Don't lay a hand on my brother," Mycroft said in his sinister voice that he only used when he was angry. Sherlock looked up, his vision twinkling, and saw Mycroft towering over the girl who had pushed him. Sherlock was crying a little—he couldn't help it, his head hurt. Where was Judy? Why wasn't she doing something? Then Sherlock saw her approach.
"Now, Cindi, don't push." Judy stepped between Mycroft and the younger girl. "It's time for group craft time!"
"My, I want to work with you. The other kids don't like me." Sherlock barely spoke above a whisper, using his private nickname for his brother to drive home the point.
"Of course, Sherlock." Mycroft, upon seeing the glitter, glue, and ribbons being brought over, rolled his eyes, but in an attempt to help Sherlock feel more comfortable, he'd do it. Sherlock knew he was just being helpful and didn't want to make a picture, but Sherlock appreciated it anyway. He noticed the other kids staring as Mycroft put on his plastic gloves. The elder Holmes didn't like getting dirty and always had some plastic gloves with him.
"Yes, but what is it?"
"Molibumubm." Sherlock was embarrassed that he couldn't pronounce the word.
"Molybdenum," Mycroft explained.
"Forty-two," Sherlock elaborated. He and Mycroft often played guess-the-element when bored, and Sherlock was getting better at it every day.
"Why did you draw a picture of that?"
"It seemed like an interesting thing to do." Judy was a bit nervous at Mycroft's casual reply. She left the two brothers, looking at their carefully-drawn picture with just the right number of dots. Sherlock could hear her on the phone.
"Mrs. Holmes? Yes, it's Judy at the day-care. Your sons are behaving a bit…oddly. I think you may have to come and get them."
"Do you want us to go away too?" The sincerity in Sherlock's silvery eyes was plain. He was genuinely confused. Judy looked down at him.
"No, of course not, dear."
"Then why are you calling mother?" Judy was unable to answer. Mycroft decided to go back to reading to Sherlock in the corner while they waited for their mother to pick up, but Sherlock wasn't paying attention. He was consumed with a thought.
"My," he said softly, interrupting his brother. "Do you ever wonder if there's something wrong with us?"
Mycroft was silent, which answered Sherlock's question. Today had worried Sherlock. Maybe he and Mycroft were a bit broken, like the telly in gran's basement that never had the right colours. Something might be wrong with them and they hadn't known it before. And they couldn't be fixed. They'd be broken forever.