"Bollocks!" A muffled curse from upstairs caused Mycroft to pause with his dishwashing in the kitchen. He heard the bedroom door crash open, followed by Sherlock shouting down the stairs, "Where are the bandages?"
Mycroft sighed in exasperation and set down the plate he'd been washing back into the sink. "What is it now, Sherlock? Come here!"
"It's just a minor burn from a sodium-based-"
"Sherlock! Kitchen, now!" Mycroft shouted sternly, and Sherlock's footfalls were heavy and reluctant down the stairs. Mycroft turned around and leaned against the sink, facing the doorway when the sixteen-year-old dragged his feet into the room. His hair was a greasy mess, and he'd been wearing the same hand-me-down polo shirt and trousers from Mycroft since Friday.
"I already told you, it's a minor burn. I just need some bandages," Sherlock explained in a mumble, reluctantly showing his wrist to Mycroft when the elder Holmes held out an expectant hand.
Mycroft examined the burn and sighed with relief when he saw that Sherlock was right. Releasing Sherlock's arm, he said wearily, "Run it under some cold water. The bandages are in the cabinet over here." Sherlock obeyed silently, and sighed impatiently when the lecture began. "You have to be more careful, Sherlock. I can't keep bringing you to hospital with burns all over. We're on thin ice as it is."
"But obviously you're not burning me. I don't see how it matters."
"But it DOES, Sherlock! One more bad burn or split lip and they'll have you chucked in an orphanage, and I'll be brought in to Scotland Yard!"
"You're exaggerating!" Sherlock argued.
"I am not, and you know it," Mycroft said in a warning tone, trying in vain to seek eye contact with his younger brother.
"Maybe I'd be better off in an orphanage, instead of stuck in this bloody flat!"
"Sherlock!" Mycroft gasped. He knew it was mostly the teenager's hormones talking, but it stung nonetheless.
"The only reason we're here is because you wanted to run away from Mummy, and you dragged me with you!" Sherlock spat bitterly, turning off the tap and flinging droplets of water as he gesticulated angrily with his burned hand.
"This had nothing to do with me!" Mycroft argued, raising his voice, "I did this for you! She was abusive and negligent, and I didn't want you to be in that house any longer than you had to be! When we left on my 18th birthday to live here, I did that for you!"
"Much good it's done me! When I'm not shut up in the flat, I'm at school with a bunch of idiots who treat me like a punching bag. My experiments are all I have, Mycroft, and now you're limiting me with those too!"
"It's for your own good! I can't help it that you get roughed up at school; you've never learned to keep your mouth shut. And the experiments are dangerous. I don't want this flat blowing up, or having you taken away because you've spilled hydrochloric acid on yourself again."
Sherlock's fury lapsed momentarily into disbelief and he asked, "How did you know-" He'd been hiding his supply of hydrochloric acid from Mycroft, afraid that it would be confiscated the moment he found out about it.
Looking over his nose at Sherlock, Mycroft said, "I'm not an idiot, Sherlock. Don't forget I've taught you everything you know."
"The student has not yet surpassed the teacher. In time, I'm sure you will, but not yet," Mycroft smiled weakly at his younger brother, but the lanky teenager averted his gaze to the burn on his wrist. After a brief silence, Mycroft said softly, "You had no right to speak to me like that. You know that I do everything I can to make things comfortable for you."
Finally, Sherlock looked at his brother, his platinum eyes scanning Mycroft's round face. He was only twenty-three, but he looked ten years older. There were deep creases in his forehead, bags under his eyes, and his hairline was prematurely receding.
There was also a mark above his right ear that Sherlock had never asked about, but had always been intrigued by, ever since he was very young. It looked like a cut that was consistently re-opened to the point that it had never fully healed. It had been there for as long as Sherlock could remember, and at first, as a child, he'd assumed it was a birthmark. But as he grew older and wiser, he realized that it was a scar.
"It's from a ring that Mummy always wore," Mycroft said quietly, noticing that Sherlock was staring at it curiously. "Diamond, naturally. When you were a baby and woke her up crying in the middle of the night, she would pull me down to your bedroom by the ear and lock me in until morning, or until she remembered that we were in there. Every time, it would graze just there," he gestured to the scar, his fingers hovering over it but not touching, "and that's how I learned to apply bandages without looking."
He offered a sad smile to Sherlock, whose mouth was drawn into a thin line as he listened, ever-reverently, to his brother. When Sherlock realized that was the end of the story, he reached slowly towards his own ears, feeling for any scars he may have forgotten about from his childhood.
"No, she never did it to you," Mycroft said, adding quietly, "She wouldn't touch you, for better or worse."
Sherlock toyed with the edge of the worn shirt he was wearing before finally speaking for the first time in several minutes. "I'm sorry, Mycroft. I had no right to be cross with you."
"I know you don't mean it," Mycroft said, turning back around to continue washing dishes, "And I know it's frustrating. But we have to be careful, for now. Two more years, and you'll have more freedom. Now, go and wash yourself up so you're decent."
"Decent for what?" Sherlock asked.
"Dignity, Sherlock. It's very important for people like us. We don't have much, but we always have our dignity."
"Mycroft..." Sherlock began, and his brother turned around expectantly. He scanned Mycroft's face, taking in every detail as he spoke in a rush of words, "Observation: the bags under your eyes are heavy, you're blinking more frequently than usual, you're moving sluggishly, and you're slouching. Conclusion: you're tired. Let me finish the dishes."
Sherlock stepped towards his brother to take his place at the sink, but Mycroft protested, "It's fine, Sherlock. I can handle it."
"You never slouch," Sherlock pointed out, and Mycroft straightened himself up, only to slouch over again. The older of the two smiled and reluctantly passed the dish cloth over to the younger.
"Thank you, Sherlock."
"Mm," Sherlock grunted in response as he got to work, and Mycroft gratefully retreated to the other room where he could have a nap on the sofa.