Mycroft had his PowerPoint ready for his charity presentation. He was nervous. He'd never spoken to an audience before, and although he had an instinctive feeling that he would do well, he couldn't get away from the crippling voice in his head, his father's voice, that told him he wasn't good enough, that the others would laugh at him. After their film night, Lizzie had spent an hour helping him with his project. She was encouraging. He felt like less of a failure when she was there. He was up first in the class, his forename the last on the register. Tom patted him on the back as he went past, a silent encouragement. He could see his friend's hands shaking. Mycroft was chewing himself up inside, his body quaking. He wasn't just nervous about the speaking, it was the whole presentation.
"H-hello everyone. I- I'm going to t-talk to you about the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the NSPCC. This is an important charity to me... because..."
"You don't have to, Mycroft" Jacob whispered, scratching his stubble and biting his lip. He hadn't known what his student was going to say. He knew that the class would be good about it, but he worried about Mycroft's fragile self esteem. How would he react if everyone knew?
"I chose this charity because I was abused by my father." Mycroft spat out, ignoring his teacher. The class was silent. A few people looked at their friends in bewilderment and pity. Mycroft pressed on with his presentation. "The NSPCC was established-" he ran the rest on autopilot, hardly thinking about what he was saying, his mind consumed by the phrase, repeating itself over and over in his head- 'They all know you're weak and pathetic. They won't want to know you anymore. They never did.' When he was done, the class applauded, and Mycroft left the room at an almost sprint. Why? Why the hell didn't he just do some animal charity? Why did he have to chose something that told so much about him? So much that he had tried so hard to keep quiet at school. Something he was almost certain only the teachers had known before he blurted it out? He sank down onto the floor, his back against a whitewashed corridor wall. He buried his in his knees. No one would want to know him anymore. The bullying would start, and he'd have to move again. Maybe Lizzie and Kevin would let him study at home, they seemed to be relatively relaxed about the location of his education. He would learn more anyway. He knew there was another two hours before the lunch break, before anyone would walk down these corridors. So he allowed himself to feel his emotions. He gasped as they rushed forward, burning at his eyes and making him want to scream with frustration at the injustice he had suffered.
"Why me?" He whispered, leading his head on the wall and looking upward, looking for a higher power he didn't believe existed. "Why not another family? Why only me and never Sherlock?" His eyes widened, and he clasped his hand over his mouth. He hadn't just thought that? Just wished all the suffering he had endured on his baby brother? Except he had. What was wrong with him? Maybe he was as bad as his father had said.
He let his head fall to his knees again, hiding from the shame and the pain, hiding from the tears that were streaming down his cheeks. He heard a door open, and abruptly stood up, wiping his face. He relaxed slightly when he saw Pete, the headmaster, walking purposefully towards him.
"Hello Mycroft" Pete said, his eyes warm and full of sympathy. "I just got a call from Jacob, saying you were upset. I came out to find you, I knew you were brave enough not to run too far. Why don't we go to my office. I just made tea."
"Um... Okay" Mycroft said quietly, wiping the tears away from his cheeks with the sleeve of his baggy blue hoodie. They walked in silence up to Pete's office, Mycroft grateful for the chance to abolish his sniffles before he had to speak. They sat down in the comfortable arm chairs opposite the desk. Pete poured Mycroft a cup of tea and added three sugars without asking.
"I understand you told your classmates about your background?"
"Yes. I did."
"Good boy" Mycroft looked up, surprised.
"How is it good? They all know now!"
"Mycroft, something you need to do, as part of the recovery process, is to grow a support system. Your foster family are the core of that, with your brother. Your teachers are always here for you, but one of the most valuable things is a peer group. It would be invaluable to you to be able to talk to them freely. Not to tell them everything, or even to talk about your past, just to be with people your own age. Do you understand?"
"You're doing so well, Mycroft. Anyone would be proud of you. The way you've held together, and got better after your hospitalisation. How you've made friends, and kept excellent grades, and allowed yourself to merge into our atmosphere, to relax a bit. Looking at you now, I don't recognise you. Come here" Pete stood up and led Mycroft to a cupboard to the left of the room. He felt the boy tense under his hands, and let go immediately, not saying anything, giving him a chance to recover. Mycroft breathed in deeper, knowing nothing bad would happen but unable to stop his response to wardrobes, cupboards or really anything he could be locked inside. Pete opened the door to reveal a full length mirror. "Take a look at yourself, Mycroft."
"Okay" he whispered. He looked intently at the boy in the mirror. He wore a dark blue hoodie two sizes to big for him, his thumbs poking through holes in the sleeves, dark washed jeans with tears on the knee, and faded, muddy white trainers. His dark blonde hair was a little messy, and a little long, beginning to curl around the tops and edges, just like his brother's. Mycroft couldn't make eye contact with himself.
"Look properly. Try to see what you would see if it wasn't you" Pete said quietly. Mycroft looked again, trying to look past his appearance. All he could see was what his father had seen, a good for nothing, weak, pathetic, worthless kid who couldn't even kill himself right. He looked away.
"I can't see anything worth looking at. This is pointless!" He said, breaking the hush.
"Do you want to know what we see?"
"What?" Mycroft snapped, running a hand through his hair.
"We see an incredibly intelligent young man, who has survived things most adults couldn't. We see a boy who has protected his brother from everything, who has managed to face an uncertain future head on. A boy who can do whatever he puts his mind to. A boy who will be able read people like books. A boy capable of anything. We don't see your past, Mycroft, we see your future. I just hope you'll be able to see that too."