Alex had first heard of the server from whispers before homeroom - mentions of "she said he said" and "oh my god, did you hear what happened?" were becoming more and more common. And it wasn't hard to put two and two together once Alex realized that he, in fact, did not hear what happened, which even he had to admit was out of the ordinary.

He ignored it, at first. Alex had other things to think about, and this entire server situation wouldn't do anything for his failing grades. But he couldn't help but wonder what kind of things his classmates were getting up to. And as much as he didn't want to think about it, why hadn't anyone invited him? Tom could've at least mentioned it. He wouldn't have joined, but to have had the option would've been nice.

He wouldn't bring it up, though. It might make things awkward between him and Tom. And besides, Tom had probably just forgotten to tell him about it. Who knows, maybe Tom hadn't even been invited himself, even if he'd been chatting with Andrew the day before despite never talking to him up until now. Maybe he'd just thought Alex wouldn't have been interested.

But after a couple of weeks of being back at Brooklands from Six's latest family-friendly adventure, it was getting difficult to ignore all the whispers and giggles and references and I'll-tell-you-later s. There were entire conversations going on that Alex had no idea about, and it was starting to get to him. After so much time spent out in the field, it was difficult to sit back and let things simply happen without knowing about them. Like there was an itch that he just couldn't reach and the only way to satisfy it was knowing every exit in the building before even stepping in - and knowing everything that was being said inside the building. Just to top it all off.

And Alex had to admit he was wondering what his classmates had to say about him. All the stares and silent, judging eyes were slowly becoming more and more unbearable as time went on, and he'd be an idiot to say otherwise.

Ever since last weekend, it felt like they'd increased ten-fold. And if Alex had to guess, it was because of something said in the class discord.

It was only late at night when Alex had the time to actually check the server, he'd spent the past hours catching up on school work and having dinner and whatever else Jack had told him to do. But he'd finished all his work, so now he could get on with it and see what was being said.

Alex had 'borrowed' Jessica Wilson's computer earlier during last block - she already had three, Alex doubted she'd care or even notice if one went missing - and opened the server as the clocked ticked closer to midnight.

He wasn't sure what he was expecting to find. Maybe some gossip and some general chatter, but not this .

The server was genuinely well-organized (which surprised Alex - he'd seen how a lot of his classmates acted and to be completely honest, he wasn't all that impressed with their organization skills) with a fair amount of different channels, ranging from general chatter to frog images. The one that caught his eye, though, was #Alex-Rider.

Alex would be lying if he said he hadn't expected anyone to be talking about him, but he sure hadn't expected an entire channel dedicated to him and him only .

Alex was aware that seeing what was being said about him was a terrible idea. That it would be better to just forget about the entire situation and turn off the computer and sneak it back to Wilson in the morning. But Alex was nothing if not a curious little shit, and so he went and looked anyway.

He doubted any real harm could be done with a couple of nasty school rumours.

And so Alex read what was being said about him - the rumours, the warnings, the jokes, the awful things his classmates were saying about him, the photos - and he knew even more that he should close the channel and never look at it again, but for some reason - most likely his curiosity that would end up getting him killed one of these days - he kept reading.

He kept reading even after people had been discussing what kind of drugs he'd been taken "heroin" "no dumbass thatd ruin his physical appearance" "coke?" "that too" "hes probably just high on painkillers" and even after people had debated if he was depressed and if he'd off himself "its so obvious have you seen him?" "yeah hell probably just kill himself one of these days" "god i hope it happens soon."and even after people had debated how he'd go through with it "you think hed shoot himself?" "hed probably jump off the school roof" "isnt he into drugs though? maybe hed overdose". He should've stopped, he knew that, but he desperately wanted to know what was being said about him, what had made all his classmates stare - he couldn't help it, and anyone else would do the same, wouldn't they?

That's when he found the previous weekend's conversation.

supermegahell: rider's back in school. i dont really like him that much tbh

apple juice: yeah hes such a bitch. i heard he was involved in drugs

supermegahell: oh please everyone knows he does drugs and besides hes probs in a gang

jammy1: hey guys you know what i saw while we were changing for gym

apple juice: spill

supermegahell: ? ? ? ?

jammy1: he has these crazy ass scars on his back right?

supermegahell: really?

jammy1: yeah they look like burns almost

applejuice: you only know what burns look like from atla

jammy1: fuck off

jammy1: anyway here i took a photo

jammy1: [ ]

Alex wanted to puke.

There, on full display, were the ugly burns Alex tried his best not to see in the mirror. The ones Alex tried to not even think about because if he did Alex could swear that he felt the jet fuel and the flames on him again burning away at his skin and-

'Deep breaths, in and out, push it to the back of your mind and keep going. You'll deal with it later.'

At least now he knew why James and a lot of other students had been giving him judging - and sometimes pitying - looks. But it was even worse, that way. Because James Hale had taken the picture and James had shared it and weren't they supposed to be friends?

But, still. He hadn't known anyone had taken photos of his burns, or of him in general. Someone should've had the basic decency to tell him. Anyone should have that kind of decency.

supermegahell: holy shit

xx_epicking_xx: you think their from gang shit

braindeadenglishlit: *they're

applejuice: wait is that real?

xx_epicking_xx: fuck off jen i said what i said

andrew_1: yeah i saw those too wtf is he up to

applejuice: gang shit what else

supermegahell: wait maybe tom knows about this?

xx_epicking_xx: oh yeah there friends right?

braindeadenglishlit: *they're

xx_epicking_xx: ffs jen stfu

andrew_1: samuraiking get in here loser

So Tom was on the server. And he hadn't even invited Alex to see what was being said about him.

Had he seen the photo? Had Tom seen a photo of him changing and showing his scars and reacted by saying nothing?

Alex felt the urge to punch something rise with every text he read as he scrolled. He didn't understand why Tom wouldn't have told him, surely he would've realised that this was just plain wrong , right?

Alex could feel tears prick the corner of his eyes. This wasn't fair, Tom should've told him and James shouldn't have taken a photo in the first place.

xx_epicking_xx: samuraiking

xx_epicking_xx: samuraiking

xx_epicking_xx: samuraiking

samuraiking: what tf do you want

samuraiking: also stop spamming

xx_epicking_xx: samuraiking

xx_epicking_xx: k chill

supermegahell: hey tom you know alex right

samuraiking: yeah

samuraiking: oh come on guys wtf

xx_epicking_xx: hes just rlly fkn weird okk

xx_epicking_xx: like

samuraiking: that doesnt mean you should take pictures of him changing wtf guys

jammy1: i was just worried

jammy1: but what tf is wrong with him hes so weird

jammy1: like ik we were friends before but this is just getting out of hand

samuraiking: idk anything about that tho

supermegahell: rlly?

supermegahell: you two seem close tho

samuraiking: yeah but

samuraiking: you know how he is

samuraiking: he doesnt tell me anything either

applejuice: yeah hes kind of a weirdo

andrew_1: oh yeah def

andrew_1: he just creeps me out

samuraiking: yeah

samuraiking: hes really weird lol

applejuice: you think hes a creep too?

samuraiking: sorta lol

samuraiking: i mean hes a nice guy but he can get really weird

samuraiking: but he can get annoying sometimes tbh

Alex stopped reading and closed the laptop. He didn't want to see any more of what his classmates had to say about him. Or at the very least what Tom had to say about him.

Tom was just joking, right? He would've said something to Alex if he really thought Alex was a creep, right? But he could've at the very least told Alex what happened! This was about Alex - and besides, Tom had seen the photo James had sent, he should've told him. There weren't any excuses for staying silent about this kind of bullshit.

Alex could distantly feel himself shaking. It wasn't even that bad. It really wasn't, but...

Did Tom just not care about these kinds of things? Did Tom think it was fine to forget to mention the fact someone had photographed Alex while he was changing and sent it to a group chat? He would've had to have known Alex wouldn't be okay with this happening - not to mention he should've told Alex about the entire goddamn channel in the first place!

What kind of friend didn't tell their mate about the awful rumours and photos spread about him?

He'd ask Tom about it tomorrow, maybe. Yeah. What the hell had Tom been thinking , not telling him about any of this? But..Alex didn't get why he'd ever say anything like that . Did Tom really find him annoying? Did Tom really think he was a creep?

It wasn't even that big a deal, it really wasn't - it was only a couple jokes, he should be mad at James, he's the one who sent the image but for some reason the fact that Tom had even bothered to say anything at all…

Alex had wiped the tears away from his eyes. It wasn't even that bad , it wasn't even the worst thing Alex had gone through and yet for some reason the fact that Tom had even participated and hadn't told him was the last straw.

Tom knew Alex was still recovering from his last mission and that he was barely sleeping trying to catch up on his school work and not trying to fail and yet he still went behind his back to joke about him to a bunch of other kids and didn't tell him someone had photographed him-

Alex didn't understand. He didn't want to.

At that point it had been too late to hold the tears in, but the very least he could do was try to not wake Jack up.

Alex crawled inwards on himself, planted his face in a pillow, sobbed as quietly as possible, and hoped he'd fall asleep soon.

He didn't.