Mycroft had learned early in his life, though not quite early enough, that exercising patience was often preferable to simply ploughing on through deduction and conversation. It was difficult enough to be odd (to be special, Mummy would insist, and Mycroft would only very rarely feel a fleeting urge to disagree), even while schooling oneself carefully with tact and manners.
At the moment, the benefits of restraint were well within the realm of practical knowledge. He'd been home for summer holidays for less than twenty-four hours, but hadn't said a word about the palpable tension he'd noticed barely thirty seconds after he'd caught sight of his parents waiting at the train platform. It had taken an additional three minutes to work out the precise nature of the problem, but neither Father nor Mummy had mentioned anything was awry. Their smiles revealed tempered affection, pleasure to see him, with unspoken worry simmering beneath.
Sherlock hadn't been there to greet him, which might have stung if not for the stream of letters Mycroft had been receiving since leaving for Eton. Mycroft had feared, privately, that months apart would burst the delicate, extraordinarily precious bonds of friendship between them— he had lived seven years before being blessed with his brilliant little brother. The same little brother who had made him feel slightly less alien, slightly less like a cuckoo in a nest of sparrows, before the bright-eyed babe had even uttered his first coherent word (which, incidentally, Sherlock had done by the age of six months, five weeks later than Mycroft; the words had been No and Cat, respectively).
Before Eton, their days had been perfectly preserved in a private, singular universe— an idyllic country estate, tutors, lessons in the library, adventures in the garden, stories under the quilts. The shadows of parents flitted about the edges— the scent of tobacco or sharply citrus perfume lingering in silent rooms, Father's umbrella appearing and disappearing from the stand by the door, and the distant click of Mummy's shoes across hardwood.
Two strange little boys— too strange, little boys. Too strange to comprehend, no matter how well-meaning the attempt. Mycroft could see it in his mother's pale eyes: the confusion, frustration, the barest shiver of fear. He had seen it (less often) in the set of his father's jaw and shoulders, and the man's inevitable retreat from filial curiosity.
Mycroft had been so very lonely before Sherlock, while Sherlock had never been alone.
Climbing the stairs to the family wing, balancing a plate of toast, a thermos of very milky tea, and a packet of chocolate digestives crinkling under his arm, Mycroft was relatively confident in his current undertaking. His little brother was… not the most placid of creatures, even on the best of days, but the increasingly perturbed scribbles in his last few letters provided Mycroft with enough clues to go on. Certainly, Sherlock wasn't best pleased with his brother's relocation, even now, but things hadn't soured between them entirely. Sherlock's conspicuous fortification in his bedroom was something completely different than the strop he'd thrown when he'd been discovered folded away inside Mycroft's luggage bound for Berkshire, though not entirely unrelated.
Rapping twice with his knuckles, Mycroft did not wait for the silence beyond Sherlock's bedroom door to resolve into anything else, hooking his pinkie in the latch and shouldering it open, sloshing the tea. Dark curtains were drawn haphazardly, allowing streams of morning sunlight to cut across the rug (which was strewn with detritus), but not approach the shadowed bed.
Kicking the door shut quietly behind him, Mycroft toed his way cautiously around books and papers, broken pencils, and a few mason jars stuffed half-full with leaves and glossy-winged beetles. The lump of blankets on the bed did not stir, even when Mycroft cleared a spot for breakfast on the cluttered bedside table, and perched on the edge of the mattress.
"Sherlock—" A slender arm darted out from the morass of quilts, spindly fingers latching on to Mycroft's hand and squeezing. Mycroft squeezed back, more gently. "I brought biscuits."
"I know." Muffled, barely audible, the tone of peevishness was clearer than the words. "And toast with marmalade. I hate marmalade."
"You don't hate Nanny's marmalade. Come on, before it gets cold." The hand didn't retreat, and Mycroft noted absently that his little brother's nails required a trim. They were smarting pinpricks against the back of his hand, pressing pale crescents into his skin. "Your head still hurts, does it? The same as in your last letter?"
"S'Stupid." With a sinuous, almost violently forceful wriggle, a dark riot of curls finally popped out from beneath the blankets, frizzy and wild. Mashing one flushed cheek against the mattress beside their joined hands, Sherlock glared up at his brother. "Everything's muddled and slow, and the words are all right on the page but then they go all jumbled in my head— nothing sticks anymore and I hate it. I can't… I can't remember my beetles. There's music where the Latin should be, and I forgot… I don't…"
Reaching slowly down, Mycroft used his free hand to push stray curls away from Sherlock's forehead, smoothing his thumb against the troubled furrow forming between his little brother's eyebrows. Sherlock didn't squirm away from the touch.
"I feel stupid," Sherlock said after a few silent moments of petting. The words were quiet and reedy with fear, and made him seem so dreadfully small. Mycroft breathed deeply.
"You are brilliant." With any luck at all, teaching Sherlock to keep his mind in proper order would be simpler than encouraging him to tidy his room. A few weeks of summer holidays would be enough to impart the fundamentals of the method, at least. "Now, have some toast, and we'll set about sorting this out."