Break the Silence

Their parents' death was a turning point in the Ashcroft's lives, but Claire suspects it's more than that which makes Dan so closed-off.


Characters: , ,





Length: words

Notes: My first Barley fic and first Boosh-related fic I’ve revealed to the larger world.

Rated for language, non-explicit drug and alcohol use.

Title vaguely inspired by Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”

Break the Silence by Severa

Dan had just begun his first semester at university when their parents died. Claire was only fifteen years old. Car crash. Mr and Mrs Ashcroft were hit by a drunk driver on their way home from a nice evening out. It was their anniversary.

Dan had laughed when the news was delivered. It was too ironic, too stupid, like something out of a cheesy movie. “I hate you!” Claire sobbed. She hung up before Dan could explain.

The day of the funeral was damp and overcast. Once again overwhelmed by the feeling of being trapped inside a film cliché, Dan decided should it actually rain, he’d have to gouge his own eyes out. Next to him Claire was crying. Her mascara and eyeliner were smeared and running, her lipstick smudged from constantly wiping her nose. Why did she bother even wearing make-up? Why did any woman when she knew full well it’d only be ruined and present an even uglier image than had they just left their faces be. Did they really feel it was necessary to look pretty? Who were they trying to impress at fucking funeral for God’s sake?

When it was only the two of them in the cemetery, Dan took out a cigarette and lit it. He watched the smoke fade into the grey of the clouds and said. “You wanna get pissed?”

They locked the doors, closed all the curtains, and unplugged the phones, effectively isolating themselves from the world, and more importantly distant relatives and “friends” of the family wishing to give their patronising condolences and useless words of support. The good whiskey their father kept locked away, the bottles of red wine their mother had kept “for a special occasion” were gathered along with any other form of consumable alcohol in the house.

They didn’t talk for a while, sitting cross-legged on the carpet. Dan was impressed how well Claire was already kicking back shots. Claire was struggling with the cork on the second bottle of wine as Dan leaned back against the sofa, stretching his long legs out in front of him. He was finally feeling warm and relaxed, his eyelids heavy. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cushions.

Finally, there was a pop from Claire’s direction and a triumphant “Aha!” Dan winced, knowing that even the small exclamation was now the end of the companionable silence. Claire was going to want to start talking about feelings, like girls do. It surprised him then when the first thing she said was, “I want to go with you.”

He cracked an eye open. “What?”

“Take me with you when you go back.”

“Don’t be stupid, you can’t live with me at university, besides I thought you hated me.”

“Better you than Aunt Vanessa.”

Aunt Vanessa turned out to be more of a land lady than legal guardian anyway. She didn’t care what Claire did, where she went, who she brought home as long as she kept the noise down, and kept things clean. When she was old enough, and saved enough money from her thankless waiting job she moved out and started looking for some place to take film classes.

She’d wanted to be a filmmaker since she was a little girl in lace-trimmed dresses, sitting on the back porch, and imagined making her own nature programmes. She pictured her and Dan collaborating, director and writer. They would become famous and make lots of money, and be best friends forever.

But then Dan became a moody teenager with his head stuck in pretentious books. Something he never outgrew, really. He stopped taking an interest in Claire’s aspirations calling them “ridiculous and unrealistic.”

“You’ll end up marrying Larry Boone down the street, raising cows and babies,” he said, and went back to his Sartre.

“You can’t just sit there and pretend feminism never happened!” She shot back.

“You’re twelve, what the fuck do you know about feminism?”

“I’m thirteen, and Mum gave me books about it when I first got my period.”

“Ugh, you can’t tell me things like that!”

“It’s a perfectly natural–”

“I don’t care. Shut up and go away.”

Claire shook her head. “No wonder you’ve never had any girlfriends.”

Then he went off to get a degree in journalism and she only ever saw him between semesters, and even then he was distant. She wished she could just blame it on their parents’ death, but she knew it had started well before then, she just never figured out why. After graduating he fucked off to London. She would call him on the weekends, but it was hard to hold conversations because of the loud thumping music coming over from his end.

But if Dan could actually live in London and find someone to pay him for his cynical, surly rants, surely someone would pay her for the eye-opening, inspirational documentaries she planned on making. Once she had enough money for a camera, she packed her things and headed south.

There was a lull in the music for Dan to casually say, “My sister’s coming to London. I told her she could stay here.”

Jones’ hands hovered over his decks, the electric harmonica fell from his open mouth. “Sister? You never said you have a sister.”

Dan didn’t look at him, instead staring at the tablet he was pretending to write on for the past half-hour, but was only making a series of connecting loops and spirals. “Haven’t I?”

Jones shifted over to the sofa. He tapped Dan’s feet, so Dan bent his knees, giving Jones room to sit. “Nope. I just figured you didn’t have a family. That maybe you were raised by mangy wolves in the wild forests of Yorkshire.”

Dan stared at him. “This is how your mind works?”

But of course it was. It was what drew Dan to him in the first place. Jones’ mind was made of bright colors and enthusiastic naivete. He was the perfect counterpoint for Dan’s bleak outlook of the world around him. There was also, of course, the music. To Dan, Jones was one of the last true artists left in London. Someone who created because he loved it, and wanted to share that love with others. All other so-called “artists” were attention-hungry, image-obsessed talentless wankers who defend their sins against all human decency with pop-culture buzz words like “Post-Modern” and “Existential” without even knowing what they mean.

“Tell me about your sister.”

She deserved better than being stuck with them. “I was thinking she could stay in your room.”

Jones’ smile faltered for a moment. “Our room.”

Dan glanced up briefly to give him a significant look. Jones did frown then. “She doesn’t–”


“Can’t you just–”


Jones sighed and got up from the sofa. “Remind me to change the sheets the day before then, yeah?”

Jones was upset now, but it would not take long for him to forgive Dan and make the most of it. Sometimes Dan thinks Jones would forgive him anything, but told himself he would never take advantage of it, ignoring all the times he already had.

Claire didn’t forgive and forget. It would make life all the harder with her staying with them, but maybe giving her a place to stay in London would make up for having abandoned her after their parents died. He couldn’t drink red wine anymore. Every time he looked at an open bottle all he could see was young Claire’s face and imploring voice, “Take me with you.”

She pounded on the door and waited. And waited. And waited. She pounded again. And waited. And waited. Finally the lock and handle clattered and the door swung open to reveal a pale, skinny, young man all sleep-rumpled and blinking in the sunlight.

“Alright?” He said.

“Is this where Dan Ashcroft lives?”

He lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “Yeah.”

He blinked at her. She blinked at him. “Well… is he here?”

“No, he’s,” he looked at a large, orange, digital watch on his wrist, “at work.”

Claire gritted her teeth behind her lips. She was hot, she was tired, she was pissed-off, and playing Twenty Questions with a hung-over raver was not making her feel any better. “Are you Jones?”

“Yeah.” Then he had the audacity to look annoyed.

“I’m Claire. Claire Ashcroft. Dan’s sister? He was supposed to pick me up at the station, but after waiting for two hours and getting no response from his mobile, I had to carry my own luggage, pay for my own cab, and I’ve been standing out here in this blazing heat far longer than I would ever have wanted and I–”

“Oh! Claire! I’m sorry. Yeah, come in.”

Claire did feel a little bad then, because the guy really did look apologetic. He led her up the stairs and through the kitchen to the living room. “Sorry,” he was saying again, “I’m sure Dan just forgot.”

Claire set her luggage down. “Yeah, I’m sure.” She looked around. It didn’t seem like the kind of place Dan would want to live. In fact there wasn’t anything Dannish about it, no signs he even lived there other than the balls of paper on the floor and butts of his brand of fags sitting in an ashtray.

“So, I’m on one of the sofas then?”

“No, you can have – um-my room.”

“Oh, I don’t want to put you out.”

“It’s okay! Dan, I mean, I insist. I’m usually up late working on my music. It’s fine.”

“All right, if you’re sure.” She started moving in the direction Jones had been gesturing, but he jumped in her way, something akin to panic in his eyes.

“Can you give me a moment? It’s a mess, and I should change the uh–” He backed into the bedroom and closed the door on her.

If the flat itself was not up to Dan’s usual tastes, the roommate was even less so. Unless her brother had completely changed. Last time she saw him he looked like he’d completely forgotten barbers existed and was surly as ever. Not at all like someone who could live day in and day out with a flighty… DJ she assumed, seeing the decks in the corner, who felt sheets on the ceiling and stylized self portraits were appropriate interior decorating.

“It was a present from a friend. She’s really good, isn’t she?”

Claire jumped. She hadn’t heard the bedroom door reopen. Behind her Jones was smiling shyly and holding an armful of bedding. “Oh. Can I?” She pointed towards the room.

“Yeah. If you need to take a nap after your trip, that’s okay. Dan’s usually home in a couple hours.”

Claire yawned, like the mere suggestion made her sleepy. She was going to need all the energy she could get to yell at Dan anyway.

“So how did you meet?”

Dan took a long drink from his coffee to put off answering her just a little bit longer. He knew the question would come, and that the answer would be innocent enough, but it inevitably would lead to further questions. And those Dan wasn’t willing to answer. He shrugged. “In a club, few weeks after I moved here.” He was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

He should have been able to tell her that. Hell, he should’ve told Jones once in a while. But he spent all of puberty confused, uncertain, and afraid to do anything to find out. He never learned how to talk about it, so he never did. The prospect of vocalizing anything that wasn’t disdain or self-pity made his stomach clench.

“Oh? And you just hit it off, did you?”

He took me back to his place and we fucked till dawn. So… “Yeah, I guess so.”

Claire narrowed her eyes at him, her lips pressed together in the familiar expression of “I don’t believe you.”

“I just thought you required more… intellectual stimulation in the company you keep.”

It was far better to have Jones who would just sit and listen in honest interest, and not say anything at all than conversations with the twats at work or galleries who tried to pretend they were smart and hold conversations with him about subjects they knew absolutely nothing about.

He knew they appeared to be a mismatch. But that was the thing about love. It never was supposed to be simple or logical.

Dan wondered where that voice came from every so often, and hated himself for being capable of coming up with that kind of sentimental horse shit.

“Why do you care?” He asked her.

“Because I’ve been trying to figure you out, Dan. I’d really like to think there’s more to my brother than ‘useless bastard,’ but you haven’t been helping any.”

Claire snuggled under the covers with a deep sigh of contentment. Dan and Jones had gone out, so for the first time in weeks there was no late-night mixing shaking every wall, floor, and window. She could close her eyes in the still quiet and just let herself drift off into soft oblivion.

Only to be rudely awakened later by laughing and a heavy weight landing on the bed next to her. “Oi!” She shouted.

“Sorry, Claire, forgot you were here,” said Jones through his giggles.

Claire switched on the bedside lamp. Turning back over she fond her brother on the bed next her, staring up at the ceiling. He must have been completely pissed, unlike Jones who had clearly had more than just alcohol. He seemed to have been finding a peculiar amusement in his struggle to shift the larger man’s legs onto the bed with the rest of him.

“Well, I am here. So get out.”

Dan rolled over, squashing his face into the pillow. “Hey, bed,” he mumbled. “Missed bed.”

“I don’t care.” She shoved at him, but he was an unmovable dead weight.

Jones was fumbling with Dan’s shoes. One came off after a hard tug, sending Jones to the floor right on his arse. He started cackling, and Dan chuckled.

Obvious she wouldn’t be getting any sleep if she stayed, and neither man would be willing to leave, Claire grabbed a pillow and blanket and made for the living room. Before closing the door she saw Jones climb over her brother trying to get to the freed-up space on the bed. Both were still laughing. She could hear them even as she made her way to the living room.

Claire flopped down on the sofa usually occupied by Dan. It smelled like him, cheap cigarettes and even cheaper booze like the odor of failure clinging to him and everything he touched. She thought of calling Nathan and seeing if she could stay there, but it was late Saturday night, and he was probably rutting away with a barely legal.

Cramming the pillow over her head, she tried to get back to sleep.

She didn’t wake up until after 10 o’clock. The bedroom door was still shut and Dan and Jones were nowhere else to be seen. They still didn’t emerge by noon. Concerned that they might have died in some stupid intoxicated way you sometimes read about on the internet, Claire opened the door to check on them.

As unlikely as finding a couple corpses was, what she actually did see was even more surprising. Dan was still fully clothed, but Jones had lost his shirt at some point. The top of Jones’ head was tucked up under Dan’s chin, the tip of Jones’ nose pressed at the base of his throat. Dan had his arms wrapped around Jones’ shoulders and waist, their legs tangled together.

Dan who never hugged her or even held her hand at their parents’ funeral.

Two men sharing a bed, passed out after a night of too much booze and drugs was one thing. One thing this definitely was not.

Dan stumbled out of the bedroom, squeezing his eyes shut so they wouldn’t fall out with all the incessant pounding going on behind them. Jones crawled to bathroom to vomit or shower, possibly both.

Claire was waiting for him in the kitchen, She had a cup of coffee and two aspirins ready for him. It was uncharacteristically thoughtful of her. Usually she seemed to get some kind of sadistic pleasure watching him suffer through a hangover, then she’d lecture him on excessive drinking. Her kindness was unnerving.

She sat down across from him, folding her hands on the counter. She stared right at him, face completely expressionless in the way their mother would when she knew they had done something naughty. Just as he did back then, Dan ducked his head and refused to look her in the eye.



“Are you and Jones lovers?” Her voice was even, like their mother’s had been when asking questions like “Did you break the vase in the hall?”

Dan had congratulated himself for never having lied to Claire. Sometimes he would just not tell her a full story, and that was completely different. He answered her always with the truth. She just never learned to ask the right questions the right way.

“What do you mean?”

She took a deep breath and thought a moment to choose her words carefully. “Before I moved in, were you and Jones fucking on a regular basis?”

Dan didn’t answer her, and that was answer enough. If he was going to deny it, he would have.

Claire slid back in her chair. “Dammit, Dan, you could’ve said something!”

Ten years ago maybe he could have, or at least should have. But coming out to his sister when he was already over thirty years old? That was just pathetic.

“I’m your sister, Dan. I wouldn’t have cared that you’re gay.” Dan couldn’t help flinching to hear her say it. “Jesus, it’s far better than what I’ve been imagining your sex life to be: Lots of porn and wanking and maybe a prozzie once a month.”

“What? You think I’d pay for it?”

“I didn’t know, Dan! You didn’t tell me anything, what was I suppose to think?”

He’d prefer that she didn’t think about it at all. That she actually did put some effort into imagining his sex life or lack thereof was disturbing. It wasn’t like he ever thought of hers, only in regards to the mental list he kept of people she was not allowed to sleep with, which had Nathan Barley currently in the number one slot.

Claire bit her lip, and the first time in a long time she looked at him with tenderness. “Do you love him?”

Dan choked on his coffee. His skin felt itchy. He hated talking about feelings. He never had to with Jones. Jones knew and that was all that mattered. She misinterpreted his hesitation, coming over and placing a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay to be happy, Dan, you know?”

He was going to tell her that no it wasn’t. That happiness was too easily taken away and destroyed. But at that moment Jones padded into the kitchen, bare feet, damp hair, and smelling of strawberry shampoo.

“Alright?” Jones said, looking with concern at the hand Claire had on Dan’s shoulder.

Dan looked up at Claire. “Yeah,” he begrudgingly agreed.

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