He fingered the hard metal in his pocket and looked down at his feet. They were going to be mad at him if he came home with bruises again, but he didn’t see any way out of it. The boys cornered him. Like they always did. Mycroft scolded him for falling for the same trick every time, but he just didn't know what to do. If he started to flap or rock to calm down, they would only tease him more. If he tried to speak, they would only get angrier, he always said the wrong things. Mycroft told him to think before he spoke, but sometimes that got him in more trouble than blurting did. If he blurted he didn’t observe everything, but if he thought he actually got a chance to look them over and tell them what he saw. And all he was doing was telling the truth! Mummy always said that lying was bad, and it was always best to tell the truth, but it always made them so mad. He made a step towards him, making him flinch and clutch the metal harder, only that made it jingle against the chain. He looked up in fear, wishing and praying that they either didn’t hear or didn’t care.
“Wha’ you got there, Holmes?” Oh no! They heard! He started to wing his arms slightly, the repetitive motion keeping his head straight. He noticed, and stepped forward to push him, making him stumble and fall straight onto his bottom. The hand clutching the collar flew out of his pocket to catch him. He let go of the collar as his hands scraped.
“We don’ like it when you go off an’ do weird stuff like tha, Holmes. We’re just trying to teach you to be a man, not our faul’ tha’ you don’ pay attention and keep acting like a baby... Oh? Was’ tha’?” he said. One of his friends stepped on his wrist when he tried to snatch it away from their prying eyes.
“N-No!” he stuttered. That's all he knew how to do. Words almost never came out whole, and it made them sneer at him more than the words themselves did. The boy reached down and plucked up the green loop from the grass.
“Looks like a collar,” he stated to his leader. He stiffened his upper lip, giving him his trademark sneer.
“You kill someone’s dog, Holmes? Now tha’s jus’ messed.” he swung a kick at his shins, making him wrap his arms around them.
“It-s no-not like tha-at!” he cried. He leaned forward, yanking his hair back and forcing him to look at him . He sobbed and reached for the collar with his uninjured hand.
“Oh yea? Then why don’ you tell me wa’ its like?” his breath smelled like a slightly rancid version of the turkey sandwich his mother had packed for him this morning, making him wrinkle his nose.
“M-mine!” he cried. He placed his foot on his stomach, pushing down, making him heave.
“You killed yo’ own dog, Holmes?” he asked, pulling a mock look of surprise, straightening up and placing his foot back onto the pavement. He shook his head, tears burning in the corners of his eyes.
“N-No...” he muttered, but his voice was soft as he watched him spin Redbeard’s collar around his finger. It hurt. The death was still fresh, only a month ago. It was the only thing that could calm him now that the soft fur had been burned to the ash that sat on the mantle. The worn leather of the collar and the metal tag with the engraved name and the small ruby at the top. He loved to run his thumb over it, feel the name under the pad of his finger, press the soft flesh into the gem so that it left a mark. But the mark would fade, reminding him that all good things left eventually. Just like Mycroft said. Caring was not an advantage.
“This is a migh’y fancy colla, Holmes.” he said. “Figures you’d haf’ a fancy lil’ pooch. Mummy an da’ can afford the worl’ fo’ their precious Sherly baby .” he sneered. He flushed; he’d forgotten about that. His mother had come to get him from school one day, seen his torn trousers and bloodied knees. Normally Mycroft was the one to get him if he didn’t walk home. She gasped, rushed to him, hands fluttering, crying out that name. He had heard. He had teased him about it for weeks, calling him that instead of freak/freak boy. It made the other kids laugh more than the other names, so he kept doing it.
“An o’ course you’d name the pooch Re’beard. Poncy freak.” Tears started flowing down his cheeks now. They were insulting his dog. His best friend. His recently deceased best friend, who had barked happily when he said the name at the tender age of four. He had picked it, he liked it. He always wagged his tail in content whenever the name was uttered from his owners lips. How dare they disrespect him, a noble beast far more intelligent than them.
“Do-don’t t-talk ab-bout hi-im like tha-t!” he hiccuped, his face becoming a dreadful mess of tears and snot.
“I’ll talk abou’ ‘em howeva I want, Holmes. An’ you can’t do nothin’ ‘bout it.” he said, kicking his shins one more time.
“Phil, gimmie tha’ lighter you been wavin’ aroun’ all day.” his eyes widened in fear. No. No, they can’t! He watched in horror as a boy handed him a lighter. It was one of the fancier ones, engraved, obviously stolen from a parent (Mother, her fingers had cigarette stains and the engraving was too flowy for a man’s) one that you didn't have to hold down to keep lit. He flinched as he flicked the flame on and held it next to the leather. He didn’t think, he just lunged, tackling his legs. The lighter was dropped, landing on his back, making him nearly bite through his lip in pain. He cursed, pushing him off and ordering two other boys to hold him back. They roughed his small frame up against the fence, and he picked up the lighter from the dry grass patch it has landed on, and he saw the gears shift behind his eyes. He struggled and flailed against the other boys, but it was no use. He was smaller than them, skinnier, weaker. It didn’t matter how smart you were; the bigger ones would always end up on top. So he watched helplessly as he lit the grass with the lighter, looking into his eyes, and dropping the collar into the small, but growing, patch of flames.
His yelling and crying must have attracted attention, because they only held onto him for a few more seconds before fleeing, letting him drop to his knees and stare at the fire, which was getting mildly big. He moved to sit, hunching over with his knees to his chest and his hands over his ears, rocking timidly. He could smell the leather burning, he could imagine the material of the faux leather melting into a puddle then evaporating into the air, the metal becoming red hot, the engravings becoming muddled, the gem getting lost in the mess of flames and the last of Redbeard’s essence.
Something happened while he was rocking, a cold feeling washed over him, despite the quite large fire next to him. He stared into the flames without tears, without emotion, he started to shiver. The feeling of not feeling was so intense, he got lost in it, only coming through when he registered he was no longer feeling the contrasting heat of the fire, he was wrapped in a blanket in the back of his brothers car. There were lights everywhere, the police and the firemen most likely, he heard voices outside and saw the silhouette of his brothers back beyond the window. His orange hair glowing with the flashing lights. His face looked grim as he talked with the policeman who was; subtly (obviously) checking him out, despite the approximate five-seven year difference between them.
His movement to face the window gathered his brothers attention. As soon as the door was open, his brother’s worried face was thrust into his space, firing questions which would go unanswered. After he realized his brother wasn’t going to answer, he sighed and stepped aside for the officer.
“Sherlock, this is officer Greg Lestrade. I know you’re not really in the mood to talk, but who ever started that fire could have killed you, and we need some answers. So please.” his voice took on a tone of desperation. The man replaced Mycroft and he got a good look at him. Fit, early 20’s, recent graduate of the police academy, engaged (unhappily to his high school sweetheart, stressful life, early greying at the temples.
“So, uh, do you know who started the fire?” he asked. His voice was gravely, a smoker. He looked slightly uncomfortable, possibly because he was new, but more likely because he was attracted to Mycroft and engaged. When he didn’t answer, the man looked who Mycroft who gave a dismissive shrug. Likely the man already knew about the disorder and the stutter.
“Er.. let’s start with the name then? Can I ask your name?” he stayed silent and the man started to sweat.
“Your brother has told me that it might-”
“Most probably.” Mycroft corrects quietly.
“Have been some boys who were bullying you. Can I get some names of any one who has teased you in the past so I can do some interviews?” he looked at the man before him with a calculating stare, but he still felt nothing, his face didn’t even twitch. For the first time in this life he was completely still. It was a wonderful feeling, not tense waiting for a nervous twitch to make his muscle spasm. Even if he wanted to speak to the man, he wouldn’t in fear of losing this control.
The man sighed and he and Mycroft had a quiet conversation about how traumatized he must have been, then dragged him over to the paramedics to get looked over. They moved him like a rag doll when he was unwilling to do it himself, and they told him what he already knew. No broken bones, no burns (minus the small one on his spine from the lighter) no head injuries, just the new and fading bruises from him . They tried to question him about it but he had receded into his mind. It was the first time he was able to focus long enough to stay in there. And it was beautiful.
It was like a palace, an exotic temple that stored everything he’d ever learned, ever seen, ever heard. He got lost in it, walking down the halls, opening every room, it was a mess. His hands itched, on the verge of flapping, he needed to organize. So he set to work. He wasn’t sure how long he stayed in there, could have been minutes, could have been days. But when he was done it was pristine. Everything was in its place, every memory categorized, labeled, stored away in its own little box. Each box had its own cupboard, and every room was lined with cupboards that held information specific to that room. The doors were colour coded and each of the knobs had a special key. Mycroft’s room had a puke green door, the handle was a round brass one with a fat key. Inside held everything he knew about his brother, the cupboards organized by year, and the boxes inside corresponding with the year on the cupboard door. There was a room for mummy and daddy, too. They had a shared room, the door a periwinkle color, mix of his mother's eyes and his dad's favorite tie, the key was slender and almost heart shaped on the handle. The cupboards were stacked in three’s, the top being things they did together, the middle being for his mum, and the bottom for his dad. Then at the very end of the hall was the room for Redbeard.
The door looked like the one that led into his backyard; there were scratches near the bottom where he had scratched to get out as a puppy. The door only opened for him, his palm being the key rather than a hunk of metal, the warmth from it clicking the latch. Inside this room there were no cupboards. There was grass, the garden with his bee house, the tree with his tire-swing, and then there was Redbeard’s house. The bees were buzzing happily, and a slight breeze made the tire-swing creak and the leaves rustle. It smelt of flowers and grass, like summer, like happiness. For a moment nothing happened. He was afraid he would have created this room for nothing, for disappointment and sorrow. But then he felt it.
A cold nose brushed the back of his knee, he smiled and his eyes teared up. He was almost afraid to turn around, thinking that maybe he was only able to feel him, but not see him or play with him. But then Redbeard got frustrated and waddled around to the front. His brownish red fur glistening in the sun, his tongue lolling out of his mouth happily. The greyness on his muzzle and ears had disappeared, his rickety movements had smoothed away to puppy like fluidity. He knelt down and held his hand out experimentally, making his companion nuzzle his head up into the touch, much like he used to when the boy’s hand was dangling over the bed and Redbeard determined it was time for him to wake up.
The tears were flowing freely now, but his smile never faded. He reached into his pocket and produced the piece of leather that had kept him sane these past few months. Upon sight, the dog started to bounce around excitedly, giving him a playful bark. He giggled and opened the collar up, beckoning Redbeard closer. The dog kept its playful look, but walked forward obediently, waiting until his master fastened the collar around him, running his fingers underneath like he always did, checking that there was enough space for him to breathe. He ended at the tag. The sterling silver shined almost as brightly as his fur, the ruby matched the red tinge in his silken fur. He choked up, a disgraceful sound that made the dog whine in distress. Redbeard leaned forward and began to lick his face, making him smile and giggle. His voice sounded younger too, like it did before the bullies hit him, before the teachers started calling him “special”, before Mycroft became distant, before his parents busied themselves with work instead of their children. It sounded free.
After Redbeard deemed his master well enough to play, he pulled away with an excited bark, bouncing around again, making his ears flop wildly. He giggled again, rising from his knees. Redbeard saw the movement as a challenge and took off, leaving him to chase after his friend. They played for hours, the room seemed to have a slower time than the world outside, it took longer than he thought possible for the sun to finally begin to set. He and the dog laid on the grass, settling their breathing while watching the sun set behind the trees. It was perfect. His eyes began to droop, so he rolled over intending to snuggle into the dog's fur, but found nothing. He opened his eyes in a panic, expecting to be alone in the room, or worse, that the Mind Palace was just a dream his brain had come up with to cope. But instead he found his dog sitting up, looking at him expectantly. That's when he remembered. It had been so long, and it felt like a goodbye, but it was routine. He couldn’t break routine. So he stood up and walked with him over to the red and white dog house. Redbeard laid down inside on the plush dog bed he had insisted his parents buy, staring up expectantly at him. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that he could come back any time he wanted, that this was his creation and it wasn’t a goodbye.
“Good night, Redbeard.” The dog gave a happy little brf before settling his chin on his paws. He stood shocked. No stutter. Just a smooth tone, no hesitation. He felt giddy, leaning down to pet his friend’s head, earning a tired one-eyed stare, before walking back towards the door.
It took a lot of effort to close the door and lock it behind him, but he did it. He walked down the grand halls, staring at each door, placing the color to what was inside, touching the key for each one on the ring in his hand. Voices started to murmur when he was halfway down the hall, and at first he thought it was coming from a door. But that couldn't be right; he was passing the door for all of the things he’d learned in science, and the door for his grand parents who had long since passed. He only remembered feeling for them, not voices. As he walked further the voices became more clear and he realized that as he got closer to the exit, he got closer to consciousness. He stopped at the front door, hanging up the ring of keys. The voices were clear now, he could make out exactly what they were saying but he couldn’t focus on them. He let out a resigned sigh and opened the door.
Immediately he was blinded by bright lights, and upon blinking he found them burning. His mouth tasted like sour milk and his ears were ringing.
“Oh Sherlock! Thank god!” It was his mother, she threw her arms around him, making him flinch. He was still disoriented from being inside of his head.. His Mind Temple? No that sounded to religious. His Mind Palace. Yes that’s what it was, most of him donned the name because of its exquisite features, but a small part of him wanted Redbeard to live in a palace.
They kept talking, but he was tired and didn't want to listen to them. They left him alone after a while and he realized he was in his room. Everything was as he left it, the bees were still on his wallpaper, his science kit still had his experiments on his desk, it all smelled the same. But it felt off. Like.. he was the one that was different. And he was.
He wasn’t moving, not stimming, not jiggling his leg, not blinking rapidly or making any sounds. He was utterly still. He tried moving on his own, to see if it would change. He raised an arm and inspected it. Nothing. No shaking. No urge to move it sporadically. Nothing. He laid back experimentally and found the same thing. He closed his eyes, curling up on his side. No change. He fell asleep.
When he woke he dressed in his school clothes, not yelling for Mycroft or Mummy. He didn't need help today. He brushed his teeth and combed his hair, which was looking quite ratted but he would have to wait for the evening to bathe. He walked down the stairs into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water, grabbing a biscuit from the container. After finishing both he walked into the living room where Mummy was fidgeting her fingers and Daddy was reading the paper but obviously not paying attention to the words on the paper. He sat next to them quietly, Mummy looked at him and then went back to her hands. Then she sprung around with a gasp, doing a double take.
“Sh-Sherlock?!” he nodded at her, still not trusting his voice to break the spell. She seemed perplexed at his silence, normally he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and he certainly could not have ever sat so still.
“How are you feeling?” his father asked tentatively. He only shrugged, waiting for the serenity to snap, but it didn’t. He mostly just wanted them to take him to school so he could get it done with and play with Redbeard again. Eventually they relented their questions, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to talk. He stood up and went to go sit in the car, after a few minutes his mother came out with car keys. He could see that she and his father had been talking, her eyes were red rimmed again. But she took him to school.
School was a whole new experience now that he wasn’t plagued with twitches and random words. The work seemed so easy now, he got through the entire silent reading book within the first hour, finished his math sheets directly after. He handed them up to the teacher's desk and she looked up at him in surprise. He hadn’t been to school since the fire three days ago, and he had been so quiet and still today she hadn’t noticed him. She looked down at the papers he had handed to her and was even more surprised, the book was supposed to last them another two weeks and the math sheets weren’t due until the end of the day tomorrow. He stared at her expectantly, he needed more work, the temptation to slip into his Mind Palace to play with Redbeard was overwhelming. She took a few more seconds to process before ruffling through her desk and getting the next math sheets.
When the day had gone by he had finished the last book for the year and four months worth of math sheets. He was bored now, he almost had nothing to do for the rest of the year, but maybe that was good. Now he could spend all of his school days with Redbeard as well as at home. He just had to make sure he left the door cracked so that he could hear when Mycroft called him for dinner. As soon as the bell rang, he quickly ran to his bag and coat. Because of recent events, Mycroft or Mummy would most likely make an effort to be here to pick him up early, and he wanted to see Redbeard as soon as he could. Just as he was rounding the corner to the main hall, his bag strap was yanked hard. He turned to see him standing there. No one was in the hall with him , a few of his friends stood behind him . He immediately reached into his pocket for the familiar feel of the collar, but came up empty. And a realization dawned on him. He wasn’t week. He hadn’t stimmed all day, and he was fairly certain the stutter that plagued him had disappeared as well. They took that from him, along with his collar, and he wasn’t sure he was so grateful. He leaned forward and got in his face, letting him smell what his mother had packed for him for lunch.
“Oi, Holmes. Haven’ seen ya fo’ a while.” He placed a hand roughly on his shoulder. He didn’t flinch, just looked down at it uncomfortably before switching his eyes back up to his . He looked perplexed, and true, this wasn’t how it normally went. He would be insufferable, poking fun with words, sometimes fists or feet. And he would take it, only make noise when something hurt, or when something was taken from him. He would cower. But today he didn’t feel the need. Today he looked him straight in the eye, and spoke without hesitation. He spoke every word he couldn’t before, everything he’d noticed, everything that they hit him for.
“Your parents are on the verge of getting a divorce, your father wants you to embrace the manly side of yourself most likely because your mother is encouraging you to take advantage of the easy time you have with your studies. You are intelligent, and your father feels threatened, you mother is overjoyed that so far you’ve turned out better than your meat head of an older brother. This is what caused the rift between your parents, and you feel guilty, rightly so might I add. Your father will most likely take custody over you when they part, and it scared you because you’re afraid of him, but you are so afraid of him that you won’t argue. Even though it's obvious that you like your mother better. That’s why even though by now most children have taken to getting school lunches, you don't have the heart to tell your mother to stop because it makes you feel wanted, something your father has never made you feel. So you compensate for the sentiment by being rough and tormenting those smaller and weaker than you. You do this so that you won’t get bullied yourself, you do this to hide the pains your so called “perfect” family are going through, you do this because you are scared. I do not forgive you, I do not want to try to heal you, and I most certainly do not want to be your friend. But I do respect you Sebastian. And I’m sorry.”
He turned and walked towards the front doors of the school where Mycroft was scanning the crowd for him. As soon as he was spotted, Mycroft walked over to him, giving him an odd glance.
“Let’s go home, brother mine.” He said cautiously. Sherlock looked up at him with cold eyes.