@only-tears-and-pain-fangirl thank you so much for the question! I’ll try and answer about Sherlock’s childhood/adolecence as whole, then I’ll look into what his relationships would have been like pre-John.
Also just a small disclaimer : any gifs do not belong to me, but I’ve used them for the purpose of backing up my points. This
As we have only been given very brief glimpses into Sherlock’s childhood on the show, I will try my best to deduce what I can from the material the show writers have given us.
SWEET, INNOCENT HAPPY LOCKY
- I always imagine Sherlock’s younger years as carefree and happy. Despite being a bright, intelligent boy he spent his time as most young children do, playing make believe, fantasising about what he wanted to be when he was older, and surrounded by things that made him feel loved, safe and happy.
- The question is, what happened to Sherlock, to change this sweet little boy into a self proclaimed sociopath? It must have been something big to alter the personality of such a happy, bubbly Holmes baby.
- I can even imagine sweet little Locky looking up to his big brother, wanting to be just like him when he is older, and always riling for his attention.
- This version of Sherlock absolutely loved animals. Especially dogs. Puppies probably made him squeal with excitement. So he begged his family to get him a dog, and eventually they give in, and that’s where Redbeard came into the picture.
- Also, not really meta, but I have a headcanon where when Mycroft and Sherlock were children, Sherlock would call Mycroft “ Myc” and Mycroft’s nickname for his baby brother was “Locky”
HE WANTED TO BE A PIRATE (ASIB)
Mycroft: Initially he wanted to be a pirate
Immediately after Mycroft says this a little nostalgic smile twitches on his face. What do you want to bet that he was thinking about his adorable baby brother dressing up as a pirate, playing with a little wooden sword. That would be a pure picture of innocence - a little Sherlock playing make believe - completely rid of the hardships teen Sherlock/ adult Sherlock is faced with. How much do you think that memory hurts Mycroft? Because he just wants Sherlock to be that happy again, and he gets caught up in the past, and longs for a carefree, bubbly little brother once more, but he knows he’s not going to get that version of Sherlock back.
HE LOVES TO DANCE, ALWAYS HAS (TSOT) :
Sherlock: I love dancing. I’ve always loved it.
When Sherlock made this confession to Janine in TSOT I started screaming. This to me confirms that a child version of Sherlock loved dancing. Imagine the cuteness though. He probably took dance professional dance classes, going on how skilled he appears to be at it. He taught John, remember, and that little twirl he gives Janine is flawless.
Not only do I think he took classes, but I think he would probably just break into dance randomly in the day because it made him so happy. I can even imagine a younger version of Sherlock dancing just to annoy Mycroft.
I wonder if Mycroft can dance? What if he was the one who taught Sherlock? Because little Locky wanted to be able to dance just as well as his big brother Myc? Oh god. That image is too adorable to bear.
OK, but then it suddenly get pretty sad, when you realise adult Sherlock wants to dance with John. He wants that luxary of being that happy again, but with the man that he is utterly doted on. And obviously this can’t happen because IT’S JOHN’S WEDDING AND HE’S GETTING MARRIED TO MARY.
Then, believe it or not, it gets 110% worse when he is suddenly trapped in a room full of people and no one wants to dance with him. Maybe this is why Sherlock was desperate for Mycroft to attend the wedding? So that he would have someone to dance with just like the good old days. Just look at the tiny, sad smile he makes though. He realises that he is completely alone and he is filled with every single one of his regrets, as he longs after a dancing partner. HE JUST WANTS TO DANCE WITH SOMEONE, BUT MOST OF ALL JOHN, AND HE IS SO SAD.
REDBEARD (TSOT, HLV, and TAB)
Mycroft: Oh, by the way, Sherlock. Do you remember Redbeard?
So when Sherlock is trying to convince Mycroft to come to the wedding, and Mycroft declines, he mentions Redbeard. Sherlock’s instant response here is that he’s not a child anymore, therefore \Redbeard/ and everything that name stands for is no longer relevant. Sherlock just shuts down, and it’s like all his raw pain from his childhood stands prominent. I always thought that this was dick move for Mycroft to pull, because he obviously knows what that word means to Sherlock, and what memories he’s pulling up from the past.
Now in HLV, in the mind!palace scene where Sherlock is trying to escape his shock, Redbeard is shown to be a dog. I know there is a lot of speculation about whether Redbeard is just a dog, but for the sake of this meta I’m going to say that Sherlock /did/ have a pet in his childhood called Redbeard. Something bad happened to Redbeard or Sherlock wouldn’t have said “they’re putting me down now too”
I mean every kid who has pets in their life will experience loss sooner or later. It’s the sad fact of life. Not every kid turns into a self proclaimed sociopath. Was it really his dog’s death that caused Sherlock to close himself off from emotion and sentiment. Hmmm? In HOB Sherlock says he doesn’t understand why the “hounds” owners are so sentimental over their animal, but Sherlock is lying here, because he probably understand it better than most.
I’ve seen theories that Redbeard might even be metaphorical for the loss of Sherlock’s other sibling. This to me makes sense too. What if Sherlock was already grieving over a dead family member, his tiny smoll heart breaking, and then his dog has to be put down too? And because he is so young and so impressionable to too intense feelings of grief meld into one, and he decides there and then that he can’t afford to care. He decides that he will put up walls, build a mind!palace, pretend that he doesn’t have a heart because he can’t afford to get hurt so badly again.
Then in TAB when mind!palace victorian John is questioning Sherlock on his impulses, and what made him the man he is today, Sherlock whispers “Redbeard” directly after telling John that nothing made him, he made him. This to me speaks volumes of a child who just could not cope, and as a coping mechanism he just sort of blocked everything out, proclaimed that he was an unfeeling sociopath, but deep underneath all that he’s probably still reeling with hurt.
God, doesn’t this make the Redbeard comment Mycroft makes even more painful? Because Mycroft is basically saying “watch out Sherlock, I can see your walls are coming down, your heart is showing when it comes to John. You don’t want to feel pain when you lose him too, do you?”
And then in HLV Sherlock is like “It’s no fun, is it Redbeard?” Which translates to “it’s no fun losing people, hurting, dying, watching as you lose everything you hold dear. It’s agony and I want to block all those bad feelings out”
MYCROFT PRACTICALLY RAISED SHERLOCK
- We know that Mycroft and Sherlock argue a lot over their “mummy”. Daddy Holmes is not mentioned much at all, like he’s almost faded into the background.
- Now we know that Mummy Holmes gave up her career for her boys but that doesn’t mean she was a natural care giver. And maybe once Mycroft was old enough to look after his baby brother, she sort of took a step back?
- Maybe that’s why Sherlock is a bit bitter and resentful? Because Mycroft would have experienced a loving, doting mother, but Sherlock got Mycroft as his main caregiver instead? So he got bitter, and resented Mycroft, and that’s where their childish feud started.
YOU UPSET MUMMY (TSIP)
Mycroft Holmes: Always so aggressive. Didn’t it ever occur to you that you and I belong on the same side?
Sherlock: Oddly enough, no.
Mycroft Holmes: We have more in common than you like to believe. This petty feud between us is simply childish. People will suffer. And you know how it always upset Mummy.
Sherlock: I upset her? Me? It wasn’t me that upset her, Mycroft!
appears to be a blame game going on between Mycroft and Sherlock here.
Both of them obviously love “Mummy” or they would not be fighting over
who upset her. Mycroft loves mummy because she was always so loving and doted on him. Sherlock loves mummy because he wants to impress her, gey attention from her, feel her love and affection too.
I think that something must have happened in
their childhood to cause a rift between them, and I think whatever that
thing was, it upset mummy in the process. Like maybe mummy Holmes noticed she wasn’t giving her full attention to Sherlock, and that it had caused a rift between her two boys, but by the time she notices the damage is done? And she’s upset, riddled with guilt that she just didn’t do enough with her second born.
Or perhaps Mummy is
upset because she had to give up her career as a mathematician to raise
her genius boys? A full time job, I would imagine, and no easy task. Hmmm. There are so many possibilities.
I’LL BE MOTHER (ASIB)
Mycroft: I’ll be mother
Sherlock: And if that isn’t an entire childhood in a nutshell.
What Mycroft says in this scene is pretty prominent, don’t you think? “I’ll be mother” translates into “I’ll pour the tea, take care of things, take care of you, Sherlock.”
Mycroft is only taking part in a simple act of care giving here - pouring tea - and yet Sherlock’s jerk reaction is resentment. Because this has been his entire life. Just Mycroft caring for him, smothering him like a parent would, instead of a big brother.
HE WAS PROBABLY BULLIED IN HIS YOUNGER YEARS FOR BEING DIFFERENT
Mycroft: We both thought you were stupid. That is until we met other children
Sherlock says that meeting other children was a mistake, but then he makes a point to Mycroft about “why should you care about being different” so long as you aren’t lonely. And ya know, this tells me a very young Sherlock wanted to be accepted by the other children, despite being different, but wasn’t. This left him as a very lonely little boy. Mycroft was probably his best friend as a child because anyone else bullies, or ostrachised him for being different.
SHERLOCK WAS A UNIVERSITY STUDENT
- Sherlock was orginally never going to become a detective. He was a chem student. We know Sherlock loves science. He’s such a nerd he has the periodic table in his bedroom. But was this a decision that he made on his own? Or did his family push him in this direction?
- Whatever the case is we know that Sherlock probably didn’t finish university - the drugs most likely became too much before he had chance to graduate. But then again Molly does make a comment about it, so who knows? Maybe he did graduate??? If anyone could give me some clarification on this that would be great.
- His univeristy years were probably very sad, and very lonely. But he TRIED, he really TRIED, OK? He just wanted someone to recognise him for his brillance, and he wanted people to like him for who he was. But we know that doesn’t happen because of the moment in TBB.
YOU ARE A GRADUATE CHEMIST SHERLOCK OH MY GOD (TSOT)
Molly: You’re a graduate chemist. Can’t you just work something out?
So either Sherlock really did graduate chemistry. Or he studied it, never graduated, but just tells people he has graduated because he’d rather do that than discuss his junkie, drug addict past.
FRIEND, HA! YEH, RIGHT. (TBB)
SEBASTIAN: Sherlock Holmes.
SEBASTIAN: Howdy, buddy. How long’s it been? Eight years since I last clapped eyes on you?
SHERLOCK: This is my friend, John Watson.
SEBASTIAN (latching on to the emphasised word): Friend?
So John in TBB is quick to say he’s Sherlock’s colleague and not a friend. God, it hurts so much. Because Sherlock introduced John to Sebastian, an old fellow uni acquaintance, specifically using the word friend. He wanted to prove to Sebastian that yes, he can have friends, and things are a bit different 8 years on from uni. He’s no longer an isolated freakshow - he has John - but John’s denial of their friendship shuts Sherlock down, and seems to prove to Sebastian that Sherlock is still incapable of making friends.
That and Sebastian takes the mick out of the “trick” Sherlock used to be able to do.
SEBASTIAN: We were at uni together. This guy here had a trick he used to do.
SHERLOCK (quietly): It’s not a trick.
SEBASTIAN (to John): He could look at you and tell you your whole life story.
JOHN: Yes, I’ve seen him do it.
SEBASTIAN: Put the wind up everybody. We hated him.
WE HATED HIM. There. It’s all there in one single sentence. Sherlock wanted to make friends, made deductions to try and impress, didn’t know how to connect with people because of how little children associated with him as a child, and what did he get in return? Pure, unfiltered hate. Sherlock didn’t deserve that. He deserved friends just as much as any other university student does, but instead he probably found himself feeling more lonely than ever. Do you know what the real nail in the coffin to confirm this is? It’s the tiny sad look on Sherlock’s face, as though to say, “I know you hated me and it still hurts”
I would not be surprised if this is the turning point for Sherlock - where his drug addiction began. He was depressed about not having friends, being away from his family, suddenly completely and utterly isolated. He didn’t start drugs because he was bored. He started shooting up because quite frankly it’s a better option than focusing on all the hatred that is being forcibly shoved down your throat at every corner. That brings me on to my next point…
TEEN DRUG ADDICT
- He probably spent his teenage years mostly high, strung out in drugs dens, sleeping on the streets rough. To have a big enough homeless network to help fake his death, I think Sherlock must have started off building his connections young, and what better way to gain the trust of the homeless? Be Homeless yourself, win them offer, make them think you’re exactly like them.
- Can you imagine it? A drug addled teen!Sherlock who has fallen so far that he turns his back on his family, probably runs away, and spends his time with at the “arse end of the universe with the scum of the earth” as John so eloquently puts in HLV.
- There is plenty to make us wonder when Sherlock’s drug addiction begun, and what age he started to clean up. How long had Sherlock been “clean” before he met John? And how far did Sherlock fall, how close did he probably come to OD’ing, before Lestrade came along and offered to take him on as a consulting detective at the yard?
- There is plenty of evidence to back this up. Quotes from characters that would have helped Sherlock clean up his act, get off the drugs, and find a purpose in life.
IT’S A DRUGS BUST (ASIP):
Sherlock Holmes: You can’t just break into my flat.
DI Lestrade: And you can’t withhold evidence. And I didn’t “break” in to your flat.
Sherlock Holmes: Well, what do you call this then?
DI Lestrade: It’s a drugs bust.
Dr John Watson: Seriously. This guy, a junkie? Have you met him?
Sherlock Holmes: John.
Dr John Watson: I’m pretty sure you could search this flat all day and you wouldn’t find anything you could call recreational.
Sherlock Holmes: John, you probably want to shut up now.
Dr John Watson: Yeah, but come on. No.
Sherlock Holmes: What?
Dr John Watson: You?
Sherlock has just met John, and he wants to hide his junkie past from him, because he doesn’t want John seeing him as a useless drug addict. Imagine it. You’ve just met this amazing person, you instantly feel a spark with them, and you manage to impress them and get them to move in with you. They know nothing about the demons you face, they think that you’re fantastic, they shower you in praise. In their eyes you’re a mad man, a genius, but you seem pretty harmless.
And then along comes D.I Lestrade and his “sniffer dogs” and the facade that you tried to put up is shattered in front of this wonderful, lovely man.
I mean, did you see the look that Sherlock exchanged with John when the sudden realisation dawns on his face? It’s obviosuly a very sensitive subject, and it begs the question how long has Sherlock been clean? Is his drug usage far, far in his past, or was he using into his late teens/ early adulthood?
I mean I think the look itself is challenging John, to see if the fact that he is an (ex) junkie is going to be an issue. I think he’s so starved of genuine human connection by this point that he’s scared he’s going to lose John, terrified that his new flatmate will leave him based off presumptions of his past, and concerns that he’s now flat sharing with a drug addict.
But John just sort of stares and says “You?” because I think that he’s shocked that someone as brilliant as Sherlock would use drugs. But there’s also a lot of concern in that single glance, you know? It’s like John tries to perform a doctors examination in a tiny miniscule second, to see if Sherlock’s OK, or to check for any recent drug usage.
Even at this point John feels some concern about Sherlock’s wellbeing. Please just kill me now, my heart can’t take this. Because yeh, before this point Sherlock would have had big brother looking out for him, and Lestrade too, but he’s never had a friend - or an acquaintance at this point - care that he turns to drugs when things get too much.
Sherlock: So you set up a pretend drugs bust to bully me?
Lestrade: It stops being pretend if they find anything.
Sherlock: I am clean!
Lestrade: Is your flat? All of it?
From Sherlock’s exchange with Lestrade what do you wanna bet Lestrade has actually found drugs on Sherlock’s possession recently? What if before John, when the cases were few and far between, Sherlock would go back to bad habits? Or even sadder, he keeps drugs on his possession just to remind himself of what he used to be? The junkie kid, the drug addict, a boy without a purpose.
When Sherlock exclaims that “he doesn’t even smoke” and shows Lestrade his nicotine patches, Lestrade shoves up his sleeves to show off his own nicotine patches, I have this sad headcanon.
Lestrade discovers teen!Sherlock when busting a drug den. The kid is high as a kite but he makes some amazing deductions, and Lestrade can see past the homeless junkie, and can see the good man beneath it all. So he makes Sherlock an offer and tells him if he sobers up he can come and work for the yard with him.
At this point Sherlock probably points out that Lestrade is a hypocrite because he smokes, and is also an addict of sorts too. So Lestrade, desperate to save this brilliant kid from the destruction of drugs, promises that he’ll quit smoking cold turkey if Sherlock does the same.
This fascinates Sherlock - he’s a bit of a betting man - so he challenges Lestrade. The cases, and the support of someone who is going through their own withdrawals, is enough to sober teen Sherlock up.
LINE DANCING (HLV) :
Mycroft: Have to phone our parents, of course, in Oklahoma. Won’t be the first
time that your substance abuse has wreaked havoc with their
I think from this quote alone it’s easy to envision a reckless teenage version of Sherlock, disobeying their parents, going out to score a hit, and then most likely ending up in hospital or in a police cell when it all goes wrong. Can you even imagine how devastating this would have been on Mrs and Mrs Holmes? Their youngest son lost his way at some point, and from what Mycroft said, you kind of get the impression that whilst he was hopped up on drugs he may have done some rather unforgivable things that still affect the entire Holmes family to date.
DON’T APPAL ME WHEN I’M HIGH ( HLV)
Sherlock: Brother mine, do not appall me when I am high.
When Sherlock was a young teenager, Mycroft was probably able to restrain him a lot better, but now Sherlock is an adult he’s able to pin Mycroft down and get his revenge. He probably resents Mycroft from his darker, druggie days. Is this because Mycroft didn’t interfere enough at the time? Or did he interfere too much? It’s anybody’s guess, but either way, Mycroft obviously hit a sore nerve.
If he didn’t interfere enough and get Sherlock the help he needed, then it could explain why Sherlock is so angry when he interferes now. Like his brain is all “you choose now to help me? What about when I really needed you? You should have cleaned me up, but instead it took Lestrade and the cases? What is the point of you, Mycroft?” Could Mycroft sticking his nose into Sherlock’s every day life, kidnapping John, and spying on him have to do with guilt? He wasn’t there for his brother before, so he feels the need to make up for lost time?
But it is just as plausible that Mycroft interfered way too much, and has always been a busy body, and that’s why Sherlock’s resents him over this so much. Which brings me on to my next point…
MYCROFT WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR HIM (TAB):
Mycroft: I was there for you before, I will be there for you again. I will ALWAYS be there for you.
Okay, so I know there is a lot of speculation about whether this scene in TAB is even real, or whether it is just happening in Sherlock’s mind palace. When I was watching it the first time around it struck me as really out of character because Mycroft never so openly admits that he cares for Sherlock. It just seemed a bit touching of Mycroft to say? Like he’s usually the mysterious big brother lurking in the shadows, showing his care from afar.
Oh man, I really want this to be a real scene. Or at least a real thing that Mycroft says to Sherlock, even if it’s somehow bleeding in from reality or something. It’s not such a far stretch that Mycroft does care. I mean when John calls him out on in in TSIP and asks if he really was asking John to spy on Sherlock because he worries Mycroft replies with something along the lines of “of course”
So whether Mycroft’s concern in this scene is real or not might be up for debate, but the fact that he loves, worries, and cares about Sherlock is definitely not.
OVERDOSING SHERLOCK (TAB)
Mycroft: Wherever I find him, whatever back alley or doss-house, there will always be a list.
So, in TAB Sherlock admits that he almost overdosed to prove a point, right? And he wrote up a list to let Mycroft know what he had overdosed on. This directly parallels the flashback to teen!Sherlock in a drug den, completely out of his mind, only just barely able to pass over Mycroft over a list. This to me shows us that this isn’t the first time Sherlock overdosed, and that somewhere in the past Sherlock had come close to losing himself to drugs entirely.
I can’t believe that Moffat and Gatiss gave us this scene. Like how much do you think they cackled to themselves when they added to Sherlock’s already tragic backstory? What is worse than seeing Sherlock that helpless, moaning, sweating, shaking, so dependent on Mycroft’s help because he is just that out of it?
This very brief image, candle flickering, barely a beacon of hope, is enough to me to confirm my worst fears about how Sherlock was in his teenage years. It’s heartbreaking. It hurts so much just to think about the version of Sherlock that existed before the cases, and pre-John.
OK, time to finish this rather long meta/speculation post off. In conclusion Sherlock was a bright, happy child, who wanted nothing more than to fit in. He tried and tried to win people over, but instead was isolated and probably told to “piss off” more times than he can count, so he turned to drugs to drown all his sorrows out.
Then John comes into his life and he has a friend, so he has no need for drugs anymore. He’s no longer lonely, so what would be the point in it? But then John moves out, marries Mary, and the lonliness that he feels is even worse than before. It crushes him from the inside out. So he turns back to drugs - and when he thinks he will never see John again - he overdoses on the plane because he can not bear the thought of how lonely or painful his 6 month mission will be when he will not be returning to John, his best friend in the entire world.
Also, just a quick and friendly reminder. Mycroft still sees his baby brother as small, innocent, and precious. He sees how fragile Sherlock’s heart is, and can see past the drug addict, and into the past where a little boy version of Sherlock cries for his big brother to help him:
If anyone wants to add their own thoughts that would be great too!