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Incendiary

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“Sherlock. Sherlock. Wake up!”

He struggles out of sleep to find John propped up on one elbow, looking anxiously down at him.

“You were having a nightmare,” John says. “Sounded pretty bad.”

Clothes. Why would he be dreaming about clothes?

Piles of shirts – starched dress shirts, fine linen, check Viyella, pale colours and plain white ones. Ties, so many ties, all silk, dark, bright, striped, one with a crest he recognized but can't identify now. Evening trousers, tailcoat, dinner jacket. Town suits and country ones. A tweed jacket with brown leather-covered buttons quartered like little hot-cross buns. Two dressing gowns, the warm woollen check and the patterned silk one –

Is it him making that noise?

“Shh,” John says, putting his arms around him. “It's OK, I've got you.”

Sherlock doesn't contradict him. It's not OK, but they both know what he means.

 

The wardrobe doors are wide open and the bed in Daddy's room is piled high. Through the half-open door, Sherlock can see Mummy pulling clothes off hangers that rattle and clash against each other as she adds more and more to the heap. He wonders why Mummy's doing this now: it's after midnight. At first he thought she must be trying to decide what suit to give the undertakers, but it can't be that: the wardrobe's nearly empty now. His head's aching and he feels sick, but he doesn't make a sound. He's supposed to be asleep, and he doesn't want Mummy to be angry with him. He creeps back to his room and curls up under the covers, shivering.

 

“Clothes,” he says to John. “I was dreaming about his clothes.”

 

A bonfire in the courtyard. He knows they're his father's clothes, though in the dream they look different. Every time he adds another load to the blaze, he finds his arms bowed under the weight of more. It's like something out of a bad fairytale, though he doesn't know what he did wrong. He must have done something wrong, because that's how it works. If he opens his mouth, a toad will hop out of it. Every move he makes is punished. Every word he utters is cursed. He knows this, the way you know things in dreams, without knowing how.

 

Snatches of conversation come back to him: a woman's voice, not sure whose, saying “Could have given them away but she burned the lot.” The tone's an odd mixture of admiration and resentment.

“You'd never think it, to look at her.” A different voice, sympathetic but enjoying it. One of those women from the village church, Mrs – Mrs Knight, was it? “All through the funeral and the inquest I kept thinking I don't know how she does it. So brave.”

People kept saying that about Mummy because she didn't cry at the funeral. Mycroft pretended he hadn't cried either, but Sherlock saw him.

 

“The bonfire was real,” he says, wonderingly.

Bonfire?” John asks.

“She burned his clothes. All of them. The day after–”

He's not sure if the smell of burning fabric was there in the dream or if he's imagined that.

John doesn't say anything, but he strokes Sherlock's hair. Sherlock rolls over and pushes his face against John's chest, breathing him in.

He can feel John thinking, but he doesn't want to ask what he's thinking about. Easier to lie here, warm and half-lulled by the feel of John's skin, let his hand drift down to brush against John's cock.

John gasps and jerks at his touch. Sherlock grasps him tighter and presses against him.

“Oh God, Sherlock. Are you sure?”

He really isn't. “Yes,” he says, because he's tired of being like this. Tired of being treated like an invalid or a fragile object all the time. He wants to feel something here and now for once. Bodies slamming against each other, biting and scratching, kisses that draw blood.

Something real, chosen, not this numbness –

No good. He should have known it wouldn't be.

“Where have you gone?” John says. “Sherlock?”

He doesn't know.

 

The envelope with the coroner's report lies open on the kitchen table. He knows Mycroft's read it too, though he's not going to talk to Mycroft, about that or anything else.

The woman sounded surprised when he said “I want a copy of the inquest report on my father, Stanforth Holmes.”

“Mr Holmes? We sent you a copy last week and had an acknowledgement from your assistant–”

“That would be my brother's assistant,” he'd said, feeling his scalp crawl with rage. Late again, Sherlock, the voice in his head jeered.

An apologetic flurry at the other end of the line and a hasty request for his address.

Coroners' reports can be patchy, but this one obviously took copious notes. He stares at the words on the page until they're just squiggles.

He knows it couldn't have happened the way Mummy said. And it's not true that she's the one who found Daddy. Why would she lie about that?

Nobody at the inquest mentions Sherlock at all. It's as if he didn't exist.

It's easy to read between the lines of the doctor's testimony. The contortions he goes through in order not to say out loud what everyone's obviously thinking: Terribly sad, he must have been depressed, poor chap, better cover it up...

They're behaving as if the only possibilities are accident or suicide, but he saw Daddy and he knows it couldn't have been –

 

Mummy's voice echoes in his head: Don't think about it any more. No need to tell anyone. Just forget about it. No one will touch you now.

He never told anyone. Not about that or about the other thing.

He'd said it once, leave me alone or I'll tell, but a child's threat is no match for an adult's.

A part of him still believes what Daddy said, even after all these years. If he opens his mouth something bad will happen.

Something bad did happen. Even though he never told.

 

Now he's supposed to tell, week after week in that room with the woman. Some days, it feels as if the effort will split him in two. But the split happened long ago, and he's been living with it ever since.

 

He imagines Mycroft reading the coroner's report. He wonders what Mummy told Mycroft. Wonders what he knows, what he understands, whether Mycroft sees the same things that he sees. But he's not going to ask.

He can hear John tapping away at his laptop in the sitting-room. Working on his blog, probably.

Sherlock goes on staring at the lines of print, watching them shift from words to squiggles and back again.