Harry burst into her father's study, almost crying. "Dad, I did something really bad, and now Mycroft's acting weird, please come help me!" Kevin jumped out of his seat and ran down the stairs, jumping the last two, calling reassurances to Harry as she followed him. Skidding into the room, Kevin groaned. Mycroft was standing stock still, his arms locked by his sides, shaking. His eyes were pointed submissively to the floor. Kevin knelt down in front of him, trying to be as non threatening as possible. The boy's body was noticeably shaking.
"Are you okay? Don't worry, Mycroft, no one is going to hurt you, I promise." Kevin kept up a stream of reassuring words, his eyes wide with fear, helpless to make any real difference to the boy's state. He gently took hold of his wrists, trying to ground him, but Mycroft flinched violently. Kevin quickly took his hands away.
"I'm so sorry, My, I didn't mean to" Harry chocked, keeling down next to her father and burying her head under his arm. Kevin stroked her hair and looked helplessly at his foster-son. There was nothing he could do. Mycroft would have to find his way back alone.
It had started with a slap, just like countless other times. But this was the worst in a while. The little boy was curled in a foetal position around his cracked rib, trying not to pass out from the pain in his chest. His father was taking a break, sitting in his leather desk chair facing the fire, his back to his eight year old son. Mycroft was so tired, his body so overwhelmed with pain that he could have gone to sleep. But he knew that he wan’t allowed. Rasul refilled his glass of whiskey and drank it in one, standing up. Mycroft flinched away, cowering in on himself.
“Stand up” Rasul barked. “Now!” Mycroft jumped and tried to unravel himself as quickly as possible. He crawled over to the wall and hauled himself up using the bookshelf. Rasul waited until the boy had hobbled into the centre of the room before speaking. “I got a call from one of your teachers this morning.”
“What did they say?” Mycroft whispered.
“She was wondering why you had bruises.” Rasul poured another whiskey. “Mycroft, what have I told you?”
“Not to tell.” Mycroft murmured. “But I didn’t tell, I swear!”
“No. You told her you ran into a door. You told her that last week. It’s almost the oldest excuse in the book, Mycroft, and you gave it twice in two weeks! Every teacher is told specifically to listen for that one! We already had this discussion about 'I fell down the stairs'! This is basic, basic stuff!”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know!”
“How can you get to eight years old and not know that? You are so stupid!”
“I’m sorry father, really I am!”
“I hope your little brother isn’t going to be this much trouble.”
“No!” Mycroft’s eyes went wide, “you can’t hurt him! Not ever! Please, please don’t!”
“Oh… Interesting…” Rasul smiled slightly.
“You want to protect him?”
“Yes.” Mycroft breathed.
“You can, you know. Listen to me." Rasul's eyes glinted in the firelight as he squatted in front of his son "You can protect him forever, always keep him safe, if you take his punishments for him. I won't touch him, as long as you willingly present yourself whenever he does anything wrong."
"Thank you. I promise." Mycroft looked relieved, and somehow more burdened. He was his brother's keeper, once and for all.
“We should do this properly. You’re a big boy now.” Rasul stood up and moved over to his desk. Mycroft stayed standing in the middle of the room, trying not to let the confusion show on his face. Rasul pulled a few sheets of paper covered in text, an old inkwell and an old fashioned fountain pen from his desk draw and laid them out on the table top.
“What does it say?”
“It says that I won’t hurt Sherlock. I won’t even slap him. Not once. I also won't reveal our arrangement to him.”
“What do I have to do?”
“If he does anything that makes me angry, you have to immediately offer to take his punishment for him. You don’t have to do this out loud if he is in the room, or if we have company. You can just make it known.”
“What if I’m not there?”
“I’ll take it in good faith. You have the upper hand here. I won’t hit him if you’re not there.”
“So what happens, when I volunteer?”
“You will receive double any punishment I would have given to him. Plus anything you deserve to be punished for yourself.”
“But you won’t hurt him? Not ever?”
“Okay. I’ll do it.”
“Good boy. Hold out your hand.” Mycroft frowned in confusion but did as he was told. Rasul grabbed his wrist and held on tight, reaching into his desk for a knife. Mycroft’s eyes widened, but he didn’t complain as his father cut his hand across the palm. He flinched. Rasul positioned the ink bottle under the drip of blood and held it there, squeezing Mycroft’s hand to make the blood flow faster, until there was about a centimetre of blood at the bottom. He let go of his son’s hand and got another fountain pen out of the desk. Rasul dipped the pen into his son’s blood and signed his name at the bottom of the paper before handing the pen to Mycroft.
“You won’t hurt him?”
“Okay.” Mycroft took a deep breath, dipped the pen into his own blood, and signed.
“Good boy.” Rasul stroked the back of his head in a disconcertingly non-threatening way.
"It also says that if you tell, or if anyone finds out, then the contract is void, and I can do whatever I want, to either of you."
"But - okay." Mycroft hung his head. He would have to do better at keeping it a secret, at hiding it from people at school.
“Do you know what's been infuriating me recently, Mycroft?" Rasul stood up, contemplatively.
"No father." Mycroft looked puzzled.
“Your brother, crying all the bloody time. I keep thinking how much easier it would be to go and shut him up myself rather that wait for your pathetic attempts to fail." Rasul strode across the room and put a hand on the knob, a calculating smile on his long face.
"Please don't, father, please. You said you would punish me instead, please!" tears streamed down the boy's cheeks, "please, hit me, do what ever you want, but leave him alone! Please!" Mycroft tried to move but the pain from the cracked rib stabbed him excruciatingly in the side when he tried. Exhausted, he let himself fall onto his knees and sob, fear for his baby brother overwhelming him.
"What exactly is it you want me to do, Mycroft?" Rasul didn't turn around, concealing his growing smile from his son.
"Please father, you can do whatever you want to me. Anything you've ever wanted to do to Sherlock, do on me instead."
"I understand that, you stupid boy. Want do you want me to do now?"
"Beat me?" Mycroft whispered questioningly.
"T-touch me?" Mycroft's whole body shook at the thought. He didn't know what was expected of him.
"No. You aren't worth bothering with tonight. Now, ask nicely, or I'll get Sherlock." Rasul ended his speech in a sing song tone, now outright grinning.
"Please beat me, father" Mycroft whispered, tears obscuring his voice.
"You'll have to try a little harder than that, boy." Rasul turned the door knob and was about to push the door open when he felt his son's body crash against his.
"Please, I am begging you, please beat me, hurt me, do whatever you want! Please, father!" Mycroft shouted, sobbing hard.
"Well, you did ask for it." Rasul brought his foot up and his boot smashed into Mycroft's chin. The boy's face exploded with blood and he fell backwards with a pained groan. Rasul gathered all his strength and began to kick his son in the side, aiming to hurt as much as possible. He wanted Mycroft to feel the pain of two punishments. Mycroft's body was on fire, every nerve burning separately, each blow with the force to kick a ball the whole way across a football field.
Through the pain, Mycroft felt relief flood through him. Sherlock would not be hurt. He would never suffer pain like his brother. Eventually, the torture ended. Rasul returned, breathless, to his chair, and Mycroft lay, dripping blood, trying not to pass out.
"Aren't you going to thank me?" Rasul asked, unzipping his fly.
"Yes father" Mycroft slurred his words and dragged himself hazily to his father. He knelt, and began, half way between unconsciousness and repulsion.
Mycroft jumped from his trance suddenly, his breathing rapid and shallow. He felt himself lose his balance, trying to make sense of the world he now seemed to be inhabiting. He felt strong arms catch him and flinched away from them, a noise like a chocked frog escaping his lips.
"It's okay, it's okay. You're okay. You're home." Kevin kept up the constant stream of reassurance as he lay Mycroft down on the floor and began to stroke his hair. "Harry, to and get a blanket, would you?”
He kept the soft tone he was using, never breaking the flow. Harry ran off, trying to control her terrified crying. Kevin ran his fingers over Mycroft's clammy forehead and through his hair, like he knew Lizzie did it.
"Mycroft, can you hear me? It's Kevin. You don't need to be afraid." Mycroft heard the words through a thick mist, and the sound came through distorted and booming. He felt a blanket being spread over him, and the edge was taken off the coldness he felt encircling him.
A jolt of electricity made him jump when his subconscious brought up a picture of Sherlock. The picture was not normal. The boy in the picture was naked and covered in cuts and bruises. He was sobbing, his body shaking in fear and pain. Mycroft's delirium presented him with an image of himself, entering the picture and lying down next to his brother. Within seconds, Sherlock's body was whole and clean, and Mycroft's was a mess of dark bruises, his ribs broken, his arms at odd angles, his face bleeding from cuts and his mouth and nose. Mycroft's body was broken, ad Sherlock's was whole. Oblivious, the younger boy played in the sand nearby, calling to his brother to play.
Mycroft sat up with a yell "Sherlock!"
"Hey, it's okay! It's okay, you're safe, he's safe."
"Where is he, give him to me!" Mycroft roared, freeing himself from the blanket and from Kevin's gentle hands. "Where is he!"
"He and John have gone ice-skating, they'll be back in an hour. It's okay." Kevin tried to reassure him, but Mycroft was too worked up. His rational mind seemed to have taken a back seat, and his protective instincts were overpowering him. His eyes flicked from one side of the room to the other like a spooked horse.
"You're lying! Where is he! SHERLOCK! SHERLOCK!" Mycroft screamed, his voice cracking, his throat burning. "SHERLOCK! Sherlock..." He collapsed to his knees, crying, desperately needing his baby brother. Kevin pulled him into a hug, kneeling next to him and running his hand through his hair.
"I'm so sorry, Mycroft. I'm so sorry we weren't there to help. Lizzie will be home with the boys really soon, I promise. I'll call her, and you can talk to Sherlock if you want." Mycroft nodded passively, so Kevin reached into his pocket for his mobile. Harry had gone to her room, he could hear her crying. He wanted to go and comfort his daughter. But he knew that she could wait. He didn't know that Mycroft could. He speed dialled Lizzie and quickly filled her in. She passed the phone to Sherlock, and Kevin passed his to Mycroft. Mycroft didn't take it, so Kevin pressed it against his ear.
"Hello Croft! I'm having so much fun! John fell over like ten times, but I only fell once. We had candy floss, and were bringing some home for you."
"I-are you okay, Lock?" Mycroft whispered hoarsely.
"Of course I'm okay! Next time, you should come too, and I can teach you. It'll be so much fun!" Tears were streaming down Mycroft's face, but his mouth had contorted into a smile. He let his head flop onto Kevin's shoulder, exhausted, and listened to Sherlock's bubbly chatter until he fell into a light sleep.