The rain pelted heavily on the window panes and the rivulets of water streaming down the glass obscured the world outside. Not that there was much to see, the winter night was dark and the sky covered with clouds, and there was no outdoor lighting on this side of the dormitory building. The school was an old, prestigious one, situated in the middle of its own vast grounds, and everything outside the reach of the illuminated pathways that circled the school buildings was shrouded in darkness.
Inside was dark, too.
The room was designed for four boys, and four boys it held. There were two bunk beds, a desk, two chests of drawers and a closet, and very few personal belongings on display. It was, by necessity and lack of objects, a fairly tidy room, if one ignored the piles of books and notebooks that cluttered the desk, and in all aspects very much how one might imagine a boarding school room for ten-year-olds must look like.
The boys were all in their beds, lulled to sleep by the late hour, an exhausting day of outdoor activities and the sound of rain smattering down. All but one.
Sherlock lay wide awake and listened to the rainfall. It was the only thing that kept his mind from screaming at him.
They were thoughts he had kept at bay since he had returned to school a few days earlier, as the rush of classes and people and "fun hikes on the moor" had forced him to focus his attention at those things, rather than the past holiday. Now though, all the things he had been pushing away were exploding in his head like so many fireworks.
It had been like any other Christmas holiday. The semester ended and a car came to take him home, where his mother was adamant that the family should celebrate together. The day after, Mycroft had arrived from his school and Sherlock had spent the afternoon with his brother, playing deduction, as was their custom. Sherlock had been practicing hard throughout the semester, eager to impress his brother and hoping to beat him, but Mycroft won, as always, and their mother laughed at them, and the next day, their father came home.
Sherlock had tried to engage his brother in another bout of the game, but Mycroft had been strangely unwilling and lied about having to do some homework. In fact, Mycroft had been an unusually boring big brother, which left Sherlock with plenty of time to observe, examine what evidence there was and then, finally, polish his deductions which he presented during their traditional Christmas dinner.
His father shouted at him. His mother sat quiet, white-faced and tight-lipped until she rose, still silent, and left for her room, from which she did not emerge for several days. His brother had risen as well, taken him by the arm and forced him to his room – then went back to the relatives in the dining room who had all begun whispering among themselves as soon as Sherlock was taken away.
Mycroft had not been impressed, and Sherlock had spent the remainder of the holiday in his room, reading, partly because of the strange atmosphere that had settled in the house, partly because he was angry with Mycroft for being angry with him. It was not his fault, so why was he being punished?
Because it was punishment, even if no one had said so. He enjoyed being on his own when it was by choice – now he was being avoided. He had heard why, in the whispers: because he was a strange child, a terrible son, a freak. And he had ruined everything.
He had heard it in his father's voice. Had felt it when he went to his mother's rooms and she refused to open the door or let him in. Had known it, in the whispers and the looks from aunts and uncles as Mycroft dragged him away from them. Had seen it, in his brother's face: horror and disgust and anger.
He had ruined everything.
As he lay in his bed in the dormitory, listening to the rain, he told himself again that it was not his fault. It was Mycroft's, for not playing with him. It was his mother's, for not noticing it herself. It was his father's, for cheating on his wife in the first place and then pretending as if it was not so.
But it was not Sherlock's fault.
"It's not my fault" he said out loud, trying to drown the sound of his thoughts with a counter-command. "It's not my fault."
He hit the pillow with his hand. It did not hurt. It should.
"It's not my fault. It's not my fault. It's not-"
Sherlock did, and soon the chorus of three breathing patterns in sleep assumed the usual, nocturnal melody. The rain still hammered against the glass and, surprised, he felt the same wetness on his own cheeks. Angrily he dried the tears away. He would never play with Mycroft again. Not until he was even better, better than his brother, and then he would show him, show him that keeping things to yourself was bad and that stating the obvious truth did not ruin things. Not dinners, not Christmas, not family.
Show him, show them all, that it was not his fault.
Mycroft was standing by the window in his room, hands in the pockets of his jacket. It was late and it was raining, the weather befitting his mood.
He was seventeen and he was deadly tired. The twelve days of Christmas holidays had required every ounce of energy and diplomacy he possessed, but sleep evaded him. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw his little brother's face as their father shouted abuse, how realisation somehow dawned on him. He heard his own words, the tiredness and frustration in them, as he left Sherlock in his room, as he told his brother that there are things you should always keep to yourself. A lie unfolded is still truth, and truths hurt the most. Stay in your room.
He had seen it, of course, just like Sherlock had, but he had known that some things were better left untouched. It had not occurred to him, then, that his younger brother might not yet have acquired that piece of wisdom. If it had, he would have told Sherlock from the beginning. And maybe, just maybe, the disaster could have been kept at bay for some time longer.
Distant church bells chimed the hour, a strange and almost eerie sound, muffled as it was by the rain. Mycroft had raised his hand from the pocket and looked at it, clenched and unclenched it. He had never treated his brother roughly before: they were both intellectual rather than athletic and there had been no fights, no rows, no games – other than the Test of Observation and Deduction, which had been their challenge to each other since Mycroft invented the game one summer holiday three years before.
He pulled the curtains shut and turned away from the window. It was no use standing there, brooding. He had done what needed to be done, said the words that had to be said, and had returned to school when the holidays were over. As for the two things he should probably have done, but did not do… it was too late to remedy that.
He should have listened to Sherlock's deductions and explained why he should never pursue that line of deductions or share it with anyone.
He should have gone into Sherlock's room and put his hands on his brother's shoulder and told him the words he needed to hear. Not the stern advice, not the tired lecture, only the words any ten-year-old needed to be told when the world was slowly crumbling under his feet: that it was not his fault.
But Mycroft had not told his brother that and standing there in his room, he knew that he probably never would.