|School For Scandal
Author: rubberbird PM
John/Sherlock. Sherlock lusts from afar. John tries hard to fool himself. High school AU. Slash.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Sherlock H. & John W. - Chapters: 32 - Words: 224,365 - Reviews: 1,340 - Favs: 1,628 - Follows: 1,352 - Updated: 06-24-12 - Published: 03-21-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6839837
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Sorry as usual for the horrible wait on this. I've probably cemented my status as the world's most infrequent updater... I've been having a bit of writer's block with this story and, admittedly, struggling a bit to get it done. This is the second-last chapter. I am almost certain that this story will indeed finish at 30, with maybe a small epilogue after. I was thinking I'd have to do one, or even two extra chapters, but I think I'm on track to tie up all the lose ends.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Sherlock went to bed that night without a reply from Mycroft. He wasn't surprised, but it didn't lessen his annoyance. It made sleep unachievable, and the prospect of thinking of anything else virtually impossible.
The next day he woke very early. There was cold, pale grey light creeping under the curtains across the window. He sat up slowly; the covers slid off his torso, and the morning cold smarted his bare arms.
His phone was lying blankly on the floor beside his bed. He reached down and lit up the screen with his forefinger. The screen was empty; there were no new text messages. He slipped out of bed, his chequered pyjama bottoms dropping down his legs from where they had bunched up around his knees in the night.
He snatched up his phone on his way to his desk and deposited it beside him. He glanced across to where Ben was. He was lying with his back to him, dark hair fanned out on the pillow. He had slunk in after lights-out and gone straight to bed. Sherlock had no idea where he'd been lurking, but he did know that he hadn't bothered changing out of his uniform before he collapsed into bed.
Sherlock turned back to his computer and immediately went into his email. His heart immediately ascending into his throat as he typed in his password. The page took less than three seconds to load, and there it was: the yellow envelope symbol next to his brother's imperiously lengthened name: Mycroft Holmes. There was no subject.
He opened it immediately, not allowing himself to relish in the apprehension of what his brother had to tell him. He just wanted to read it and blot out the fear of the unknown. This was just another step to helping John. That was all it was.
The blaze of the white email stunned his eyes in the gloom for a moment. He glanced quickly over his shoulder to where Ben was, but he hadn't stirred. Sherlock shielded his eyes and began to read with an almost aggressive determination not to be moved by what he read.
Before you start whining, this email was very slightly delayed, because I had to check my facts concerning certain details. I don't think that meddling with Jim Moriarty is wise unless you have something to back yourself up with. And I truly hope that you don't intend to cross Moriarty, Sherlock. I doubt whether anything I say, much less in print, will dissuade you, but he is not to be trifled with.
That said, what I have to divulge is nothing I am proud of. It pains me to admit that my pride did pay a certain, smallpart in not wishing to talk directly about these matters last night. Jim has been affecting my decisions and my thoughts since he walked into my life two years ago.
I was rash, and unforgivably stupid. I haven't had the fortitude to admit that to you before now. Moriarty seems to bring out the very worst in everyone around him. His effect is damaging and lasting, and one doesn't seem to ever be truly free of it.
He always seemed to be close by when I had business in the Department of Immigration. The other students were clearly terrified of him, even those who were in their twenties. And there's no wondering why. One of them- a stupid, obnoxious boy to be perfectly frank- had a falling out with him on his first week there; when I came around a couple of weeks later, I was told that the unfortunate boy had fallen down two flights of concrete stairs.
Jim Moriarty doesn't make accidents happen, but he seems to be very close by when they do. Of course, I could do nothing but suspect. I wasn't there often enough to know anything concrete (excuse the pun) about his movements, except that he always made sure he was the one who brought me my coffee when I was there.
The worst mistake I ever made was thinking that he was just a tortured genius who needed guidance. I set up a meeting with him, hoping to convince him to divert his talents into securing a place in Cambridge or Oxford, rather than terrorising everyone he came into contact with. He seemed attentive. He seemed willing. Of course I'm aware now that I had fallen for his game play from the moment I invited him into my personal life.
People warned me to distance myself from him. It wasn't savoury in any stretch of the imagination. He was a clearly damaged fifteen-year-old, I was a twenty-two-year businessman, who was supposed to be mature enough to see when I was being duped by an emotional extortionist. Before I knew it, and I say that knowing how perfectly clichéd and inadequate a phrase it is for the weeks of mental flirtations that he lavished on me, we had crossed a line that I had never intended to take a step towards.
I can only imagine the sense of righteous indignation you feel as you read these words, but I can assure you that I paid the price for my indiscretion. Jim punished me in ways that I hadn't even imagined existed. When he had taken all he could from me willingly, he turned immediately into the bile-spitting viper he is and turned to threats and blackmail. He wanted a permanent position in the Department of Immigration, which was ridiculous. He may have been supremely talented, but he was still a fifteen-year-old boy still in high school.
I spent so many nights wondering just what it meant, why he had gone to such unthinkable lengths to secure something he must have known was impossible, no matter what threats he made. It took me a long time to realise that he had done it simply for the thrill. The game excited him. The act of breaking down a human being and destroying them is better than any drug to him.
Luckily, he also has a volatile temper. That, I say with no small satisfaction, was his stumbling block. I arrived at the department one day to be told that Jim had been discharged, after he lost his temper and screamed a veritable dictionary of abuse at his supervisor after they set him some paltry task I'm sure he thought vastly beneath him. I don't know whether he's yet learnt to control his rage. I hope very much that he hasn't. The last thing the world needs is a Jim Moriarty who has learnt to suppress every weakness.
He disappeared after that, and I learnt from my sources that he had left London altogether and gone west. I am still unable to pinpoint whether he has any living parents, though I have tracked down a brother of his to Wales. I can only imagine that Jim outgrew the need for parental or familial guidance a very long time ago. And he is far too clever to stay long in one location, after he has caused what mayhem he can.
I am aware that this is a slight explanation, lacking in all the juicy details I'm sure you crave, but I hope you will grant me the kindness of not sharing the most shameful mistake of my life in any greater form than this. Perhaps you can begin to understand why I did what I did to you and John, or perhaps my explanation only worsens your anger. Whatever the consequences, I have finally divulged the truth to you, and I feel better for it.
Sherlock sat slowly back in his seat. The chair gave a low growl beneath him. He tried to catch each emotion before they hurtled through him unchecked. He had to be in control of himself at this moment. He couldn't let what he had read control how he reacted to Jim.
If Mycroft had taught him anything, it was that reacting to his immediate emotions was foolish at best, and severely damaging at worst. Sherlock had not always been able to follow Mycroft's advice to its logical extreme. If he had placed his emotions in Mycroft's hands, he never would have felt anything at all.
Sherlock gave himself a quick shake. Behind him the alarm on Ben's phone started its monotonous beeping. Sherlock rearranged his chilled limbs on the chair and closed the laptop. He hadn't allowed himself to predict what his brother would have to tell him, and so he wasn't surprised by what he had read. Or maybe he was too numb to be surprised.
The thought of his prudish, pompous brother indulging in-
"Ugh." Sherlock pulled a face. "Mycroft."
Jim Moriarty had a way with Holmes boys it seemed. Moriarty knew how to play Holmes boys. What they possessed in intellect, they lacked in emotional intelligence or awareness. They were too easy to ensnare, much too easy to seduce into a game of cat and mouse.
Behind him, the beeping of Ben's phone abruptly stopped. There was the sound of covers being kicked off and then feet landing softly down onto the carpet. Sherlock glanced up at the wall above his computer; it was bathed in grey sunlight. He realised that twenty or thirty minutes must have passed while he was sitting there.
Now he had to get dressed and go to class. It seemed surreal. He now had to confront Jim with what he knew and hope- just hope- that Jim conceded his loss and backed off. But why would Jim concede now? He had too many allies. He had too much leverage. He had John.
Sherlock shook his head, massaging his forehead with his fingertips. There was really nothing else to be done. He had to at least try and make things right. Even if nothing good came of it. Even if he really had screwed things up with John forever. He had to try.
He turned around in his chair, still vaguely pondering his brother's email when his eyes fell on his roommate opposite. Ben was seated on his bed, his school shirt hanging loosely ajar. Sherlock's eyes were immediately drawn to a series of angry purpling bruises across the boy's pale abdomen. Ben's head was bowed, though it was difficult to tell whether he was looking at the marks chequering his body or not.
"Who did that?" Sherlock said, his voice sounding thin from his sleepless night.
Ben's head jerked up and he sharply drew his shirt across himself. "No one," he replied quickly. He stood and turned to the wall, doing up his buttons, his movements jerking and stiff. Sherlock suspected that the bruising over his ribs was causing him no small amount of discomfort.
"Ben, unless you haven't noticed, I'm not a stranger to mysterious injuries," Sherlock said drily. His black eye still stood as a token to that fact.
Ben stopped what he was doing, but didn't turn around.
More than one of the teachers had attempted to goad the perpetrator out of him, but Sherlock had no intention of making them feel as though they were helping, when he knew they didn't really want to know. There was evident relief when he shrugged off their attentions. They didn't want to be the replacement target for the bullies' wrath.
But whoever had attacked Ben had been more careful than Mr. Watson. Underneath Ben's school shirt the bruises were nicely hidden.
"He had it out for me from day one," Ben mumbled. He turned back to Sherlock, but was decidedly avoiding his eye. His school shirt hung limply around his hips, now buttoned and shielding Ben's bruised torso from view. "Took me too long to realise it."
He gingerly sat down on the edge of his bed, a grimace of pain flickering across his features. Sherlock watched him wryly. He had always suspected that Jim would start to trim away the unwanted excess in his team. He didn't need weaklings, he didn't need people with overly ripe morals or who would have niggling little crises of conscience. If Billy had been less valuable to him, it probably would have been snakes that wound up in his bed. As it were, Billy was too handy a bulk of physical strength to be so easily tossed aside. Ben, on the other hand, was small, and somewhat obscure. He talked and acted like the others, but so did a lot of people who wanted to draw the attention away from the fact that they weren't quite one of the boys.
"You can't let him get away with this," Sherlock said quietly, watching the boy opposite determinedly avoid his eye.
"What am I supposed to do?" Ben snapped. "If I tell anyone, they'll know it was me and it'll just make things worse. Jim isn't messing around."
"If you don't speak up, no one will," Sherlock said in a hard voice. "You're not the only person who's wellbeing is at stake here."
Ben looked at him. There was something knowing in his eyes. "John," he said. It wasn't a question.
Sherlock held his gaze. He inclined his head very slightly. "And others."
Ben was silent for a moment. Sherlock looked away and stared at the curtains still pulled across the window; out of the corner of his eye he watched the boy opposite. He got the feeling that he was selecting his words carefully and wondering whether or not he dared say them aloud.
"You," Ben said clumsily, not sounding as though he had fully intended to speak. Sherlock looked at him. Ben went a little pink around the ears. "You and John- I mean... They're all saying-"
"Who?" Sherlock said sharply. "Who's "they"?"
Ben glanced down and then back up at him, his eyes uncertain. "You know who."
"How long have they known?" Sherlock asked. He had suspected for a while that John's and his relationship was public knowledge. He hadn't mentioned it to John. He knew it would achieve little, but full-blown panic in him.
"I don't know," Ben said drily. He gently touched his ribs through the material of his shirt and gave a small wince. "They cut me out of the loop a long time ago." He gave a snort. "But I'm not blind," he said wryly, raising an eyebrow at him. "I probably knew before Jim." There was an edge of pride to his voice, which Sherlock found slightly amusing.
"We could have used an ally," he said. "John especially."
"I tried to do what I could. I wanted to help him," Ben said quietly, staring at him with dark, solemn eyes. "John's a mate. I don't care if he's a po- Uh, you know..." He swallowed, flushing a bit.
Sherlock nodded. There was silence. Outside there was the sound of doors opening, and footsteps beginning to thud down the corridor. Time was getting on. Sherlock's eyes felt taut with tiredness, but he couldn't go back to bed. He had to dress. He had to find Jim. He had to find John.
He stood up and started to gather his clothes to dress. Behind him Ben stayed where he was, watching him as he dropped his uniform into a pile on the bed. He delicately averted his eyes when Sherlock began to undress and pull on his uniform.
Sherlock sat down on the bed to do his shoes and socks, and found that Ben was still staring at him. It was clear that he hadn't said all that he wanted to say. Or needed to say.
Sherlock looked sideways at his laptop. The thought had occurred to him more than once that Mycroft's offer of help may not be unwise to accept. Mycroft was powerful, he had sway. He could probably get Harvey to listen. But after all they had been through... after all he and John had suffered, he could hardly bring himself to think of asking Mycroft to clean up his mess. It would mean admitting defeat. It would mean conceding to Jim. He couldn't.
He owed John so much. He owed his brother so much. He wouldn't let anyone else get hurt on his behalf. Not John, not Mycroft, not Ben. This was his fight. Jim wanted him.
He looked at Ben. He was very pale; his hands were both clutching his ribs. "Look. I... I think you should get out of here."
"What?" Sherlock said, raising his eyebrows.
"Jim... and the others..." Ben his lip with a wince, clutching his stomach tighter. "I don't think you understand what they're capable of."
Sherlock laughed hollowly. "I know exactly what Moriarty is capable of."
"Then you should take John and go," Ben said. "He hates him. He hates John. I think... I think he might try and..." He swallowed dryly. "I think he might try and hurt him real badly."
"Why are you telling me this?" Sherlock said quietly, after a pause. "If we leave, you'll take the fall for this."
Ben closed his eyes and opened them again. Sherlock realised his hands were shaking. "I know," he said, in barely more than a whisper.
"Don't be scared of him," Sherlock said shortly, standing. "He's a bully. He's a coward."
"Scared?" Ben said, with a shrill, bitter laugh. "I'm fucking shitting myself. And you should be too. He's after you, Holmes."
Sherlock sniffed softly. "Then let him come. I'll be ready for him this time."
He walked across to the door.
"Where are you going?" Ben cried.
"To find Jim," Sherlock said, and he walked out.
The room was silent for three or four minutes. Ben stared at the opposite wall, his stomach clenching with the pain of the bruises. He had tried. No one could say he hadn't tried. He'd risked another kicking for what he'd done. But no one could say he had stood by and let it happen. No one could say he was a coward. He'd probably end up dead too.
There was a deafening smash, as the door was thrown against the wall. Ben was met with the large, sulky-faced figure of Billy in the doorway.
"Haven't you ever heard of subtlety you fucking moron?" Ben bristled, as the boy let himself in and slammed the door behind him.
"Weren't my job to get rid of the fag," Billy retorted. "If Holmes turns up before I get out, it'll be you who gets the blame." He gave an ugly, leering grin and then turned towards Sherlock's vacated desk. The laptop was closed and next to it, his phone was lying idly by, left behind by Sherlock in his haste.
Billy picked it up, turning back to him with a satisfied smirk. "Well, at least you didn't screw this up." He slipped the phone into his pocket. "Come on. Jim wants to see you."
Ben swallowed. "Why?" He folded his hands across his stomach.
"He just wants to," Billy retorted. "Hurry up."
Ben couldn't think of anything he wanted to do less than face Jim so soon after his humiliation, but he knew he had no choice. He grudgingly got up from the bed and followed Billy out of the room. The larger boy carried himself with a smug sort of satisfaction. Ever since he had been brought to heel by Jim's fire ants, he had become his right-hand man, right after Marty of course. Jim made him feel even more powerful and superior. In a way he was worse than Marty. Marty was crippled by his desperation for Jim's approval; Billy was viciously careless of everyone and anyone's opinion.
The corridor was full of students slowly trudging to class. Billy led him down to the common room, cutting a swathe through the other students with his voluminous bulk. Ben was glad for Billy's slow, trudging pace; his ribs were aching, and it hurt to walk.
The common room door was closed and Billy barged right in, not waiting to hold the door open for Ben. Ben narrowly missed getting smacked in the face.
He slowly edged in behind him. His eyes immediately fell on Jim, sitting on the table usually reserved for poker with one leg propped up on the other and his head tilted to the side. Marty was leaning next to him, arms crossed and his face stony.
Jim looked up immediately when they entered. "You've got it?" he said sharply.
Billy lumbered forward, sticking a pudgy hand in his pocket. He yanked the phone out and held it out for Jim, who snatched it with almost violent eagerness.
His face brightened sickeningly as he held it up to his eyes. "Excellent," he said softly. He looked past Billy to where Ben was standing. "I trust you didn't have much trouble getting it off him?"
Ben shook his head. "No," he said shortly. It gave him satisfaction to think that he had defied him, had warned Sherlock when he should have been leading him further into Jim's trap.
"Good," Jim purred. His lips jerked into his puppet-like smile. "Everything is in motion now."
"What are we going to do?" Marty asked sullenly.
Jim didn't look at him; he was fingering something in his trouser pocket and gently stroking his thumb over Sherlock's phone. "How many times do I have to tell you?" he growled. "I know you're only asking to be obtuse. Or are you just desperate for attention?"
Marty flushed and looked away. Billy smirked.
Jim pulled his hand out of his pocket. He was grasping the phone he'd already stolen from John. Ben stared at them. He had both now. He was fairly confident he knew what Jim intended to do. Jim began to text on both phones at the same time, using two pale, well-trained thumbs to dart across the keypads.
There was a small, poisonous smirk playing on his lips as he texted. Marty's eyes kept darting towards him. Billy's face was blank and furrowed. Ben doubted whether what Jim intended could have penetrated the boy's thick head if he had spent hours trying to explain it.
At length, he lowered both phones, his smirk widening a fraction. "Done," he said, with relish. He jerked his head towards Marty, holding out the hand with John's phone in it. "Make sure John gets this back. I don't care what you have to do."
Marty took the phone with no small amount of visible reluctance. Jim barely looked at him; his eyes were still fixed on Sherlock's. He ran the pads of his fingers up and down the edge of it, stroking it and almost caressing it. Ben felt like he was watching something private, and slightly disturbing. Jim handled it almost tenderly.
"John's birthday... How pathetically predictable," he said softly. He finally looked up at them. "Never use dates as passwords. It never ends well, boys." He slid the phone into his jeans pocket, where it sat snugly against his hip. He looked narrowly at Marty. "Still here? What are you waiting for? Directions?"
Marty shrugged and turned to leave. Jim watched him go, his eyebrows raised disdainfully. Ben couldn't feel much satisfaction at Marty's abuse. Marty was the least of his concerns now.
When Marty was gone, Jim straightened up from the table, one hand lingering near the bulge of Sherlock's phone in his pocket. Ben could see Billy out of the corner of his eye, staring in a bovine manner at his master. Jim looked between them, the sharklike smile playing on his lips again.
"The time's come, boys," he said, his voice misleadingly calm. His eyes were filled with something feverish and almost manic. There were tiny dots of perspiration on his forehead. He looked at Ben. "Are you with us, Greer?"
Ben swallowed with difficulty. His throat felt very dry. What choice did he have? How could he say no? He knew what happened to people who said 'no' to Jim Moriarty. His ribs gave a corroborating twinge under his shirt.
Jim's eyes were coldly boring into him. He must have known that he was almost shitting himself. The smug bastard. He loved terrifying people. He knew what he could do to them.
"Yeah," he said finally. "Yeah, I am." He felt sick. He felt like he had just signed his own death warrant.
Jim laughed hollowly. "Good. We can't have any little chinks in the chain, can we now?" He rubbed the lump of Sherlock's phone in his pocket and gave an almost undetectable shiver.
"Should I take that back to Holmes?" Billy grunted, nodding.
Jim almost recoiled, narrowing his eyes at the larger boy. "No!" he snapped. "It requires delicacy, you inept imbecile." The sudden poison in his tone suggested he was more on edge than he seemed.
Seconds later he seemed to forcefully relax his features. He smiled, with a tiny shake of his head. "No... you just stay here." His eyes darted sharply across to Ben. "Both of you. I'll handle it from here. You just be ready."
"Ready for what?" Ben asked, conscious of the tremor in his voice.
Jim walked across to the door, humming softly to himself. Billy and Ben both edged around to watch him. At the door, he paused and turned to flash them an unnerving smirk.
John saw no point in going to class. He had never been less motivated. He had never wanted to give up so desperately. He had had enough.
He changed into jeans and a t-shirt, and then went and told Mr. Blake that he was ill. Blake had barely looked at him before giving him permission. He had a thousand other things to attend to, and John wasn't a problematic student or known for skiving off, so it was almost a given.
John walked back to his dorm room, keeping his eyes on the floor as he walked. He didn't want to have to make eye contact with any of his classmates. He hated them. Every single one of them. He hated how they had stood by and watched while Jim had destroyed him and Sherlock, he hated their cowardice, he hated their ignorance.
When he had been with Sherlock, it had been easy to ignore the misery of what reality at Redverse was. He felt like his oxygen had been cut off, and he was deep under water. And alone.
He had jerked around before he could stop himself. To his surprise, he found Marty jogging up to meet him. He glanced around. People were milling up and down the corridor either side of him. It was the first time Marty had talked to him in public for weeks.
"Marty?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
Before he could stop it, hot, sickly antipathy had washed over him. The last time he had seen Marty, he had just helped beat him to a tender pulp. John had bruises all over his torso and thighs. They had left his face and arms conspicuously bare.
"What?" he said brusquely, when Marty came to a stop in front of him.
His brassy blonde hair was ruffled and he looked slightly pink. He gave a small and obviously forced smile.
"I found something of yours," he said, in an unnatural, bright tone.
John stared. He didn't know what kind of trick he was pulling. He felt torn between getting ready to defend himself, and just walking away. He would have liked nothing better than to punch Marty right in his smug, stupid face, but he was held back by the thought that if he started on that road he might find himself exactly like Marty one day.
Marty's expression faltered an inch. People were darting glances at them as they passed. John got the feeling that they were hoping a fight might break out. But instead, Marty dipped a hand into his jumper pocket and pulled out a phone.
It took only a split second for John to recognise it. "Where did you find that?" he said sharply, snatching for it.
Marty let him take it, though John more than half expected him to yank it out of his grasp. John turned it over in his hands, confused and suspicious. It looked undamaged. There were no scratches, though there were a series of thick smeary smudges across the screen.
"It still works fine," Marty said, making John jump.
He looked at him, still uncertain of what his game was. John decided against turning it on in the corridor. He had a wary feeling that there would be something incriminating beyond the blank screen.
"So you just found this lying around, did you?" John said in a hard voice. "It's been missing for ages."
A flash of annoyance passed harshly across Marty's face. "Is that the thanks I get?" he snapped. "It was just lying on a desk in an empty classroom, alright?"
John scoffed, earning himself more looks from the passersby. "Yeah, I'm sure this is your good deed for the day," he retorted.
Marty's eyes kept darting towards the phone. "Aren't you going to check everything's still in there?"
"Yeah, later," John said. "I don't feel well and I'm going to bed."
He turned on his heel and left Marty standing in the corridor behind him. In reality, he was burning to turn it on and hunt through it. There was nothing incriminating in there. He deleted all of Sherlock's texts. He didn't have anything to hide. But that did not quiet his anxiety
As soon as he was in the privacy and comparative quiet of his room, he sat at his desk and eagerly turned it on. The screen lit up and revealed the same innocuous stretch of beach that had been there the last time he had set eyes on it. His heart quietened the tiniest of fractions in his chest. He had had nightmarish visions of what he might find. In fact he was more than slightly surprised at finding it undamaged- so far.
The next thing that met his eyes was that he had over ten text messages waiting for him. He opened his inbox, his heart beginning to thump with renewed vigour. He had three from Harriet, five from Ben, and two from an unnamed number that he knew was Sherlock's.
He hastily panned through Ben's and Harriet's. There was nothing interesting there. Harriet was asking him about school and about their parents and if he had opened his mother's Christmas present yet, because she kept asking Harriet why he hadn't called to say 'thank you'. Ben's were all about football practice.
He stared at Sherlock's number and swallowed. He had tried not to think about him since he had come barging into his room the day before. He hated the part of him that had hoped that Sherlock would beg him to take him back. He knew it was wishful thinking. Sherlock was far too proud and too stubborn to beg.
John pressed a trembling thumb down against Sherlock's number and before he could think twice, both messages and appeared. The oldest was simply: "where are you?", sent a week beforehand. John's eyes trailed up to the latest one. He started. It had been sent barely half an hour beforehand.
"Will you meet me in the dorm bathroom?"
John read it over and over. He couldn't believe it. He didn't dare believe it, though his mind had already hurtled forward to meeting Sherlock, hearing Sherlock's apology, forgiving him, taking him in his arms, kissing him-
"Stop it," he snapped at himself.
He closed his eyes with an agitated breath out. He wanted to go. God knew he wanted to. He had been hollow since his and Sherlock's breakup. He had been numb. He wasn't happy. But he was right. Every relationship book in history said it was only fools and weaklings who stayed with someone who had strayed. He was doing the right thing. Shame that it felt so... wrong.
He dropped his phone onto the desk. He didn't know how long Sherlock would wait. Knowing him, not long. He was impatient at the best of times. John probably had another twenty minutes at most to get down there, if he intended to.
John stood and walked across to the mirror fastened to the back of his door. He gave himself a cautionary glance over. His hair was a mess and he looked tired and peaky.
He stared at himself for a moment and then reached for the door. He was going to go. He had to. He needed to at least hear what Sherlock had to say. He'd never forgive himself if he didn't.
The dorms were now almost empty. Class was in little over five minutes and only the very laziest of stragglers were left. John could feel his apprehension mounting as he walked. It was difficult not to hope that at the end of this corridor Sherlock was waiting to beg his forgiveness and hold him. John wanted to be held again. He wanted to kiss him. He wanted to feel Sherlock against him.
He gave himself a minute shake. He was getting way ahead of himself. Knowing Sherlock, it would be something completely off-the-wall and completely disappointing. Maybe he wanted to continue their argument from the day before. John had called him a "fucking wanker". It wasn't the first time he had wanted to, and he wasn't going to deny that it felt good. It felt good to tell Sherlock exactly what he thought of him. You could do that in arguments. It was something that normal conversations didn't allow. Screaming something at someone suddenly made it forgivable.
He reached the bathrooms and almost screeched to a halt outside. He flattened his hair, panting slightly and smoothed his clothes.
It was gloomy and cold inside. It smelt like damp and deodorant. The rows of showers were eerily quiet and deserted. Across the opposite wall were high, glazed windows. John stared around, starting to fear he was too late.
"Sherlock?" he said uncertainly, his eyes adjusting poorly to the dimness.
A sudden explosion of noise paralysed him into inaction. Hands were suddenly grasping roughly at his clothes and face. He flinched, expecting punches, but they did not come. Instead his mouth was covered, his arms were pulled uncomfortably behind his back. His head was yanked back.
The last thought that filtered through his mind, as he stared up at Marty's smirking figure, framed by the brilliant light of the doorway, was how angry Sherlock would be with him for his foolishness.
Sherlock was the first to arrive outside the home room. He was the last one outside when Ms. Stone opened the door at a quarter past eight, and went to fetch the roll from the staff room. He was waiting for Jim, but Jim was conspicuously absent. He wasn't the only one. Marty, Billy and, most disturbingly, John also did not appear.
By the time Ms. Stone appeared again, Sherlock was beginning to think he had made a mistake. He was beginning to think that he had misconstrued Ben's warnings.
"What are you waiting for, Holmes?"
Sherlock looked up at Ms. Stone's sour expression. She was holding the door open with one hand, a pile of folders pressed to the chest of her blue knitted cardigan with the other.
Sherlock straightened up from the bag racks and, without another glance at his teacher, marched past her and back towards the dorms.
"Mr. Holmes!" came Ms. Stone's shrill, indignant voice behind him.
Sherlock wheeled around the corner and doubled his speed until he was almost sprinting. What had begun as a germ of suspicion was quickly becoming full-blown panic.
He almost lost his balance as he threw himself around the next corner and took the steps to the dorms two at a time. He burst through the doors, ignoring the pain of them slamming against his thigh.
He stopped short in his tracks. Ten feet in front of him, standing alone in the deserted corridor was a small, dark figure, his back to him.
Sherlock stayed where he was, his heart throbbing rapidly and gently against his shirt. "Looking for someone?" he called through gritted teeth.
Jim turned. Even from where he was standing, Sherlock could see the smile playing on his lips. "Come out to play, have you?"
Sherlock walked up to meet him. His hands were shaking, and he didn't completely trust himself not to do something rash. He felt like he was walking into a trap, or perhaps he already had.
"Where's John?" he said, coming to a halt in front of the smaller boy. He kept his voice level. Jim fed on fraught emotions; Sherlock wouldn't give him the advantage of smelling out his fear.
"Where indeed?" Jim replied sweetly. "Catch!"
He threw something at him and by sheer instinct, Sherlock caught it. "What are you doing with this?" he said, staring at his phone.
Jim walked around him, hands buried deep in his pockets. "I was intending to see if you were really stupid enough to fall for the same trick twice."
Sherlock didn't respond; he kept his eyes fixed on Moriarty while he circled like a vulture, eyes sharp and alert, despite his relaxed facial features.
"Where John is concerned, you have a terrible blind spot, Sherlock," Jim said, grinning at him with sharp, white teeth. "You're rather... in the dark, shall we say?"
Sherlock immediately knew what he was talking about. "You were going to try and lure me somewhere?" he said abruptly. "Why?"
"Haven't you worked it out yet?" Jim breathed, his voice close to Sherlock's ear.
Sherlock whirled around to face him. "Where are your cronies?" he snapped. "Where's John? What have you done?"
"There you go again," Jim said, coming to a halt in front of him and rolling his eyes exaggeratedly. "John, John, John. You bore me."
"Tell me where he is," Sherlock said quietly, his fists curled tightly beside him.
"Or what?" Jim said, quirking an eyebrow.
Sherlock laughed in a short, bitter breath. "You really are a sick bastard."
Jim smirked. "Thank you. I try. Think of what I'll be capable of in five years? Ten? And you could have shared in it with me. Just think."
"I don't want to hurt people," Sherlock snapped.
"No, but you don't really want to help them either," Jim retorted, cocking his head to the side. "You'll be alone for the rest of your life, Sherlock." He stopped, smoothing his uniform with an almost offhand motion. "You know it's true. You've already lost John. Who else will put up with you?"
"I haven't lost John," Sherlock said coldly. "Not yet."
"Haven't you?" Jim said, his smirk widening. "Where is he then, Sherlock? If he's not lost?"
Sherlock imagined sending a fist right into that alabaster complexion. He could almost see the explosion of scarlet blood across his delicate features. He could see his nose breaking, his lip splitting, the bruises appearing on his smooth, white flesh. He could almost feel the ache of the impact.
"I'm not my brother," Sherlock replied. "And I'm not letting you do this."
If Jim was surprised, it didn't show on his face. He cocked his head a little further to the side. "So big brother finally told you the story?" He laughed. "I'm surprised it took him so long. But I guess his pride was a little... bruised after that romp." His eyes glinted spitefully.
"If you started this game thinking you were playing someone just like Mycroft, you made a grave error," Sherlock growled. "I have someone to fight for." He sneered. "And I don't want you. I never have."
The furious flush that came across Jim's features filled Sherlock with satisfaction, but he'd finished playing.
"Where is he?" he said in a low voice.
"I hope the boys haven't started without me," Jim said, examining his nails. "I hate to miss all the fun. But they're rather worked up. Seems they have it in their heads that he's a "dirty, little faggot"." He gave a trilling laugh. "Can't imagine where they got-"
Sherlock took a step towards him and pushed him forcefully back against the wall with one hand against his chest. "Tell me," he said softly, eyes fixed on Jim's.
"Check your inbox," Jim wheezed, jerking his head at the phone in Sherlock's hand.
Sherlock stared at him, not able to believe he had ever hated someone more than he had hated Jim Moriarty. Hatred was an irrational and tiring emotion. No logical person spent energy on hatred if they could help it, but sometimes illogical antipathy took over all attempts to be rational. Where John was concerned, Sherlock's irrationality seemed to flare up constantly.
"Go on," Jim said, seeming unruffled by Sherlock's force.
Sherlock had no option. He checked his phone inbox. Sure enough, there was one text message from John. He hastily read it, his hand loosening on Jim's shirt.
He immediately turned and began running towards the dormitory bathrooms. Behind him he could hear Jim laughing. He was close behind him. He wanted to experience every shade of Sherlock's panic.
Sherlock felt his phone slip from his grip, but he didn't slow his pace. Behind him he heard it hit the carpet with a low thud.
"Funny how one's priorities change isn't it, Sherlock?" Jim called after him.
The door of the bathroom was closed. For as long as Sherlock had been at Redverse, he didn't ever remember seeing the door closed.
Sherlock pushed it open. His heart felt like it was threatening to present itself to the world it was so high in his throat. Behind him he could hear Jim's excited, exerted panting.
For a moment he saw nothing; his eyes were foggy from the sudden gloom. Then, in a sickly rush, he saw everything.
John was kneeling, his head bowed. Above him were four hulking figures. Billy and Marty were among them. John looked small, very small and as fragile as glass.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw Jim appear beside him. "Looks like we're just in time," he said breathlessly.
There were sneering titters from around John. Billy gave him a rough prod with his foot. John looked up blearily. One of his eyes was violently red.
"Which one of you-" Sherlock spat, before he could stop himself.
Billy laughed loudest, elbowing his neighbour and guffawing like a witless chimp. Sherlock looked sharply at Jim. His face was pink with pleasure. "Play nice, Sherlock," he said, pouting at him.
He strolled across to where John was crouched. He nudged John's thigh.
"Stand him up," he ordered them.
Billy hastened to obey. He gripped John under both arms and yanked him up. John looked unsteady on his legs, but he didn't stumble.
"Well?" Jim snapped. "Are you going to hold him or not? Do I have to talk you through everything?"His eyes settled on Marty. "Hester. Don't just stand there, you moron."
Marty wrapped a hand around the collar of John's shirt, yanking him roughly backwards. With the other hand he took a clump of his hair, so that his head was snapped violently back. His throat was bare and vulnerable. Sherlock could see his Adam's apple trembling.
Jim spun around. "Honestly," he said, rolling his eyes in an amiable nature at Sherlock.
Sherlock kept his eyes on Marty. It would have been almost indiscernible if he hadn't been holding John's head back, but it was clear that he was trembling.
"What now?" Sherlock asked, almost taken aback by his own calmness.
"That's completely up to you," Jim replied. "What would you like to see us do to little Johnny here?"
He turned, smiling to his cronies. All of them were wearing cruel, stupid grins of their own. Except for Marty, who's eyes were fixed on the back of John's head.
Sherlock watched John. He could barely see his face, so far was it pulled back by Marty, but he seemed calm. His breathing was slow and regular, his eyes were fixed on the ceiling. Sherlock wanted to break every one of Marty's fingers.
"You shouldn't pretend to be something you're not, Sherlock," Jim said, circling him again.
"You would know all about that, wouldn't you?" Sherlock spat. "Pretending, tricking, scheming. You're pathetic."
Jim's eyes burned. "Not so pathetic I convinced myself I'm in love just so I can pretend to feel something." He looked across at John, his mouth twisting cruelly. "You know that now, John, don't you? You know that Sherlock never truly loved you. He's incapable of love. Why else would he betray you?"
All of the boys except Marty looked puzzled. It was clear that they had been convinced this was some sort of cleansing mission to get rid of faggots; the details were not known or important to them.
Jim halted in front of Sherlock, so close he could smell his cologne. "Leave," he breathed. "Leave and this doesn't have to go any further."
"Leave?" Sherlock said numbly, tearing his eyes from John's vulnerable figure to fix on Jim.
"You know what I want," Jim said softly. "Simply concede and this can be over."
Sherlock laughed shortly. "Is that all?"
"No, not all," Jim snapped. "Because I will follow you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will follow and I will beat you again and again... and again." His breath dipped into barely more than a raw whisper.
Sherlock shook his head slowly. "I won't leave," he breathed.
Jim shrugged and turned his head towards John. He crooked a finger. "Go ahead then, boys. Sherlock clearly doesn't care all that much about what happens to him."
Sherlock wanted to cry out, but the sound was silenced by shock. John was thrown down against the dirty bathroom tiles and three sets of hands and three sets of feet began a vicious assault on his body. John screamed out.
Marty backed away from the group, an ugly, torn expression on his face. Jim's head jerked towards him, but he said nothing.
"Stop!" Sherlock roared, throwing himself down across John's body.
Punches hit him in his back, his ribs, his tailbone. The pain barely registered. Beneath him, John was trembling violently in his arms.
Behind him he heard Jim repeat his cry, and abruptly the assault stopped. Around him he could blearily make out a ring of legs and feet. John was breathing hollowly beneath him.
"Get him up!" Jim snarled.
Arms grasped Sherlock roughly, and he was torn away from John's fallen body. He was dragged away to the nearest sink and held there, hands painfully grasping his shirt and hair. Through the tarnished mirror he could see Marty standing far back from the others, breathing like a frightened animal.
Jim was walking towards him. Everything about his figure, his stride telling of extreme anger. He halted in front of Marty, the expression on his face an ugly combination of disgust and contempt.
"What's the matter, Marty?" he spat poisonously. "Is the reality just a bit too much for you?"
Sherlock struggled fruitlessly to turn around, but his assailants held fast onto him. He could only watch through the mirror, as Marty flushed a fierce shade of scarlet. John was still on the floor, held down by Billy. Through the mirror Sherlock met his eye.
John didn't looked entirely lucid, but he looked at Sherlock with what he could only describe as understanding: they had to get out of here.
"Look at me," Jim snarled. He was at least a head shorter than Marty, but Marty was cowering like he was being threatened at knife point. "What's the matter with you?"
There was silence. It was thick and ringing. Sherlock didn't even try and struggle against the hands holding him. Everyone in the room seemed to be watching Marty and waiting for what would happen next.
Marty looked up, fixing his pale eyes on Jim. "Nothing."
Jim stared at him narrowly for a moment and then stepped back. He jerked his head at John. "Then prove it."
Sherlock tried to wrench himself free, but he succeeded only in almost losing a huge chunk of his hair. "Keep the fuck away from him!" he spat.
No one paid any attention to him. Billy backed away from John's crumpled figure, grinning obscenely. The two boys holding Sherlock began to egg him on with loud, obnoxious catcalls. Marty looked rooted to the spot. There was no colour left in his face.
"What are you waiting for?" Jim cooed at him.
Marty looked from John to Jim. His eyes narrowed. "No," he said. His voice was barely audible over the cacophony of echoes inside the enclosed confine of the bathroom.
The sudden eclipse of sound was almost farcical. Sherlock could hear the breathing of every person in the room. He watched as Jim's facial expression seemed to slacken.
"What?" he said softly.
Marty stared defiantly at him, his evident terror only make his disobedience the more compulsive to watch. "You think I'm going to do your dirty work?" He cast a disdainful glance over the rest of the assembly. "I'm not as stupid as those fuckers."
Billy stirred angrily. "Shut up, Marty."
Jim raised a hand, his eyes not shifting from Marty's face. "Shush." He lowered it slowly. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? To teach a couple of filthy, little shirt-lifters a lesson? I've heard all your little fantasies on that subject, Marty. You can't tell me I'm wrong."
Marty flushed. "You're one of them," he breathed.
Sherlock looked from Marty to John. He was crouched on one knee, and looked suddenly alert. Above him Billy was visibly transfixed by Marty and Jim, barely paying the slightest attention to his charge below.
"Look who's talking," Jim replied quietly, every word dripping with contemptuous venom. "I know what you think. You think you have some sort of special sway over me."
The hands gripping Sherlock's clothes had noticeably become looser. He could move with greater ease, though he couldn't get his head completely free from the grasp on his hair.
"You're pathetic," Jim said, with cold precision. "A parasite out for whatever he can get."
"Liar," Marty hissed. One of his hands gripped at Jim's shirt.
Jim shoved him away with a shrill laugh. "Don't touch me. Why do you think I've suffered you all this time? You helped me get what I wanted." He smirked cruelly. "Though of course I did enjoy all those nights of ours alone."
The others were looking very much confused now. It was obvious that they were rapidly being left behind. It was also obvious that they had never realised the full extent of their leader's relationship with Marty.
"Shut up," Marty snarled, a vein beginning to throb dangerously in his jaw.
"What are you going to do?" Jim retorted. "Sulk at me? Did you really think I was in love with you? Oh, please tell me you did. It would be the most delicious joke: me in love with a crude, grasping nobody like you-"
There was a crack like a whip and all hell suddenly broke loose. Sherlock's sentinels simultaneously let go of him, finally allowing him to turn around and see the mayhem with his own eyes. Billy was stumbling stupidly towards the tangled mass of limbs that was Marty and Jim on the bathroom tiles.
Marty was attacking Jim with animal ferocity, seeming not content with punching him, but seeming intent on gouging his eyes out.
It wasn't until someone gave a shout of "Where is he!" that Sherlock looked to where John had been kneeling and realised he was gone. Billy stared around wildly, swearing and seeming torn as to whether to run after him or stay and try and wrench Marty off Jim's bleeding figure.
"Go after him!" he bellowed at the two boys clinging loosely and ineffectively onto Sherlock. They didn't obey, seeming entranced by the scene in front of them.
Sherlock closed his eyes and prayed for the first time in his life that John would get to someone in time.
John ran faster than he had ever run in his life. His whole body felt like it was on fire, but he didn't stop. He couldn't stop. Sherlock was alone and he needed help. John forced himself to quicken his pace to the point where he was almost dizzy.
He didn't even know where he was going. He just had to find a teacher. Any teacher. Anyone. Just someone. He hurtled along corridors, and around corners, barely knowing what direction he was going in. His body seemed to have decided automatically where he should go.
He barely realised where he was until he was barging through the doors of the administration building. He stopped with a terrific screech of rubber soles on brick and doubled over to catch his breath.
He jerked upright at the familiar voice. His head was spinning. He must have been hallucinating.
"Mycroft?" he croaked.
Sherlock's brother was standing near the receptionist's desk, an umbrella hanging on one arm. He looked bewildered. The receptionist was watching John open-mouthed, her eyes darting between him and Mycroft.
"John, what is it?" he said sharply, seeming immediately to realise that something was very wrong.
"Sherlock..." John gasped, clutching his ribs. "Mycroft, he's... in trouble."
Mycroft had jerked into action before the last syllable was out of John's mouth. John twisted and hurtled after him, ignoring the pain that erupted in his legs and stomach.
Mycroft's long legs gave him an undeniable advantage, but John was determined not to be left behind. His mind was churning with the fear of what might be done to Sherlock in his absence. He felt almost sick with terror at what they'd find.
"Where is he?" Mycroft snapped at him, stopping for a second, as they burst out of the admin doors together.
"Follow me," John gasped.
He led Mycroft through the empty corridors back towards the dorms, never stopping and never looking back. He could hear Mycroft's long, soft steps behind him and he didn't dare slow his pace even a fraction.
He pushed the dorm doors open with both hands and heard Mycroft catch them behind him. The corridor in front of him seemed longer than it had ever seemed before. His head was a stew pot of fear and exhaustion, both fighting for dominance over his abused body.
They reached the bathroom and forced the door open together. John stared desperately around the interior and his eyes fell immediately on a motionless figure lying limp against the far wall.
"Sherlock!" he breathed, flinging himself towards him.
Mycroft followed him, staring around every angle and corner of the room. The others had disappeared. They had escaped.
John fell onto his knees in front of Sherlock. His head lolled back. He seemed barely conscious. His face was badly swollen. Breathing haggardly, John's eyes trailed down to where his shirt had been torn open, the buttons hanging from mere threads or ripped off completely.
Behind him he heard Mycroft give a sharp intake of breath.
On Sherlock's smooth, pale skin a red marker had adorned the letters "JM" in crude, ugly letters. It looked like blood. John gently touched it, his throat aching.
Sherlock jerked at his touch, his eyes flickering very slightly. John tugged the shirt across him and stood, turning to Mycroft. "Come on. We need to get him out of here."
End of Chapter Twenty-Nine