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fic: The Smart One

Title: The Smart One
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: Sherlock (TV)
Characters: Mycroft Holmes, Mummy, Daddy, Sherlock, Grandmère
Rating: G
Warnings: Spoilers for S3 Episodes 1 and 3
Wordcount: 807
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: Scenes from the childhood of Mycroft Holmes
A/N: Fair warning: if you share John Watson's view of the Holmes parents as a picture of domestic happiness, this is probably not the fic for you.
This one is for 2ndskin and [personal profile] kalypso, with thanks for all our conversations about the Holmes family.

Mycroft learned early that being the smart one made him like Mummy, not like Daddy. Daddy was, by his own admission, “a bit of a moron”, whereas Mummy was a genius. Or had been.

He’d asked once – and only once – why Mummy had stopped writing books about mathematics. Mycroft could see the beauty of Mummy’s work, even though trying to follow the arguments made his eyes feel hot; it seemed a pity that she wasn’t still doing it.

It was made very clear to him then that we didn’t talk about Mummy’s career as a mathematician. If Mummy had chosen to give it up and devote herself to motherhood, that was nobody’s business but hers. Mycroft, aged six, had retreated to his favourite hiding-place, the cupboard under the stairs, until he stopped shaking.

Nothing more was said about it then, beyond his father’s awkward “Try not to upset your mother, Mikey.” Daddy never did know how to deal with Mummy being upset. Worse than upset, this time: Mycroft knew that he’d made Mummy ill, because the doctor came.

“Mummy’s not ill,” his father said. “But you’re going to have a new baby brother or sister; won’t that be nice?”

Mycroft looked at him coldly: it was such an obvious lie. There was nothing nice about babies. They were a family already. Why would adding a baby to that do anything other than make it worse?

Somewhat to his surprise, Mycroft rather liked his baby brother. At least, until Sherlock learned to talk: after that things went rapidly downhill.

It got worse when the visitors started coming to the house. They would coo over Sherlock’s silky curls and long eyelashes (Mycroft, aged nine, bit back several trenchant remarks on the subject of genetics and physiology). “Oh, you can see who’s the pretty one!”

Sherlock was the pretty one; Mycroft was the smart one. It was Mycroft’s fault about Mummy’s career – he understood this by now – because if he’d been an ordinary child she could have gone on being a genius. Though maybe being a genius meant you had to give things up, put other people first. A responsibility, like being the eldest.

He wished sometimes that Mummy wouldn’t be quite so aggressively normal, all that flower-arranging and winning prizes for jam and cakes at the WI. It felt like a punishment. But he knew better than to say anything about it; it was hard enough not to upset Mummy without doing something as stupid as that.

“Of course she’d have to be more normal than anybody else,” his grandmother said. “Your mother always was competitive.”

Grandmère didn’t come to stay often, because she and Mummy always ended up shouting at each other. Mycroft liked his grandmother, who had taught him all about codes and code-breaking, and who told him stories about her work with SOE during the war.

“I told her not to be in a hurry to have children, but of course she took it as a mortal insult,” Grandmère said, lighting another cigarette. “They change everything.”

Mycroft wasn’t so sure about that; clearly having children hadn’t stopped Grandmère from parachuting into Occupied France and killing Germans with her bare hands. He filed it away along with the other things grown-ups said that didn’t make sense, and asked his grandmother to test him on his transposition codes.

He was ten when he found the photograph: Mummy, aged around five or six, scowling at the camera and standing next to a stocky, dark-haired young woman he didn’t recognize. Mycroft knew better than to ask Mummy who the woman was; he put the photograph away in a safe place until Grandmère’s next visit.

Grandmère barely glanced at the photograph. “Oh, that’s Jean,” she said.

“Jean?” Mycroft had never heard of a Jean in the family.

“She came to look after your mother,” Grandmère said. “When I was in France.”

Mycroft hadn’t thought about it but of course Mummy must have been with someone when Grandmère was away in the war.

“She didn’t stay long, poor girl,” Grandmère said, with a wry look. “She was rather stupid, and your mother hated her.”

“Oh,” Mycroft said, taking it in. “So what happened then?”

“School,” Grandmère said briskly.

Mycroft tried to imagine a six-year-old Mummy encountering the world of school. “Is that why Mummy doesn’t like you?” he asked.

Grandmère sighed. “Amongst other reasons,” she said. “Did I tell you that rascal Leo Marks says he is writing a memoir all about SOE?”

It didn’t take a genius to tell that the conversation was closed. Mycroft filed it away in his collection of facts about Mummy; back then, he still believed that if he went on observing closely enough, he would make sense of it eventually. What was the point of being the smart one if he couldn’t do that, after all?


Leo Marks's extraordinary memoir, Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War 1941-1945, was eventually published in 1998; I don't know if he'd started writing it at the point where Grandmère mentions it. It is my personal headcanon that Grandmère worked for SOE, and this version of her history also appears in A Conversation With His Father.

ACD's Sherlock Holmes suggests that his gift for observation and deduction may have come from his grandmother, "who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist", and that Mycroft has inherited it to a greater degree than he has (The Greek Interpreter).

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/143683.html with comment count unavailable comments.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 2nd, 2014 02:33 am (UTC)
Laughed my bum off
I have to confess that I laughed by arse off when I read this line and promptly called three people to tell it to. Brilliantly expressed, dear.

“Of course she’d have to be more normal than anybody else,” his grandmother said. “Your mother always was competitive.”

Feb. 2nd, 2014 02:42 am (UTC)
Re: Laughed my bum off
thank you - I'm very glad you enjoyed it!
Feb. 2nd, 2014 12:32 pm (UTC)
"Mycroft filed it away in his collection of facts about Mummy; back then, he still believed that if he went on observing closely enough, he would make sense of it eventually. What was the point of being the smart one if he couldn’t do that, after all?"

Oh that was lovely; it's always difficult being the eldest (set an example and all that . . .) but Mycroft is intelligent enough to work it all out for himself. Brains over beauty, I suppose.

I've also just read "A Conversation with His Father", which was ever so moving - the final paragraph brought a tear to my eye. Mycroft is somewhat "alone" in his chosen career, so it's nice to know he has some confidants.
Feb. 2nd, 2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
thank you! I'm very glad you liked it, and also "A Conversation With His Father" - I am fond of that story and it makes me happy when people say they enjoyed it.
Feb. 3rd, 2014 02:17 pm (UTC)
That was a very interesting look into the life of the Holmes parents, and I like how you have all the brains coming through the women. You've written some very interesting backstory here, and I think it fits in neatly with the wedding ep from last week - how even in Sherlock's head he needs Mycroft's help to focus him and help him narrow in on what's important.

Great job!
Feb. 3rd, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC)
thank you - I'm very glad you enjoyed it! the idea of the brains coming through the women seems to be canonical, though it's not clear in ACD whether the French grandmother is on the mother's or the father's side of the family...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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