Mycroft parked up on the street and walked down it until he found the scruffy little terrace that served as Victor's student digs. He knocked, and patiently asked the young man who answered whether Victor was in. 'Tell him it's an old family friend,' said Mycroft, with a smile.
After a moment, Victor came to the door and froze, with a scowl.
'What do you want?'
'May I have a word, Victor?'
Victor huffed. 'In private, I suppose?'
'I think that would be preferable for both of us, wouldn't you?'
Still far from happy with the situation, Victor followed Mycroft away from the little student house and down the street.
'So the man from the MOD's come all the way up to Manchester from London, just to see little old me,' said Victor with a sneer. 'Must be important.'
'From Sussex, actually,' replied Mycroft. 'I've been home for a few days. Again.' He paused, slightly. 'Settling in to your new term, nicely? Studies going well?'
'Be such a pity if all of that hard work was ruined, wouldn't it, Victor? I don't think you'd make it to the bar with a criminal conviction under your belt, do you?'
Victor stopped walking. 'Are you threatening me?'
Mycroft faced him, with a smile. 'I suppose I am. You must be aware quite how easily I could have you charged with sexual offences against my brother…'
'Oh, here we go,' spat Victor. 'What's he been saying about me? I'd like to know exactly what defamation of character it is I'll be counter-suing the Holmeses for.'
'He told me that he approached you at Easter, and that you had sex that he claims was consensual, although the law states otherwise, considering his youth…'
'Age of consent for that sort of thing's 21,' replied Victor. 'I'm still 19. If I'm a pervert, then so is he…'
'He also told me,' continued Mycroft over Victor, 'after much cajoling, at least, that later that week, when I'd returned to London and our mother was out, he received a phone call from you saying that Cynthia knew about Easter, that you and she were breaking up and that you wanted to see him, and that when he did so, you did it to him again.'
'He threw himself at me. I was confused. Cynthia and I were going through a rough patch, to say the least…'
'A rough patch? You think you've been having a rough time?' Mycroft had to admit, he still had a thing or two to learn about keeping his anger fully in check. He pushed Victor against a wall and leaned in close to him so that no passers-by could hear him. 'You left him bleeding the first time, and in such a state the second time, the nurses couldn't believe it had been consensual. And that's just physically. It would be so easy to pin rape on you. So easy.'
Victor shoved him away. 'Hate to tarnish little Sherlock's halo, Mycroft, but I was actually easier on him than he asked me to be. The kid likes it rough. That's not my fault. I'm sure there was no cause to take him to a hospital over it.'
'You don't…' Mycroft faltered halfway through telling Victor that he didn't understand. But, of course Victor didn't understand. That was the point. And Victor didn't deserve the satisfaction of knowing just what power his whims had over his brother. 'You don't contact Sherlock again. Ever.'
'Agreed,' Victor replied. 'Me and Cynthia have talked things over. We're giving it another go, but part of the conditions is that I keep your little brother away from me.'
'And when things go sour with Cynthia again,' said Mycroft, archly, 'what then? No, you're to stay away from him no matter what. You're not to attend any functions he'll be at, you're not to call, not to write - nothing. And furthermore, nobody else is to "find out" about what happened between the two of you…'
'Cynthia worked it out!'
'I very much doubt she worked all of it out, Victor. You told her some of it, at least.'
'He told you. I think it's fair that I tell somebody, too.'
'You will tell nobody else, Victor,' Mycroft warned. 'Nor shall Cynthia. I'm all too aware that Rupert is still at the same school as Sherlock, and the sort of reputation such stories would bring him is the last thing any boarder needs.' Mycroft took a step closer to Victor again. 'But the potential damage to his reputation and bright future is nothing compared to the damage that could be done to yours.'
'Believe me, Mycroft. You're preaching to the choir, here. I won't breathe a word to him ever again. He's not exactly worth the trouble it'll bring me.' Victor pushed Mycroft away again – more an act of dismissal than one of anger, this time. I don't know why you're going to all this bother to try to make me hush up about it. I'm the one with the most to lose, here.'
Mycroft stared at Victor for a moment before turning and walking back to his car and the long drive back to Sussex. He really did think that, didn't he? He had no idea how much Sherlock stood to lose from this whole miserable affair – or how much he had already lost. Sherlock's supposed best friend honestly didn't understand him at all.
They worked together in near silence for a while – John copying the files from Rupert's laptop onto memory sticks and Sherlock downloading everything onto the replica, setting it up so that Rupert wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The party was carrying on downstairs and, wherever Rupert, Cynthia and their spouses were, it wasn't in the adjoining attic bedrooms.
It was actually rather repetitive, simple work, and John kept finding his mind drifting back to the encounter with Victor in the Pool room. Punching that oily git right in the mouth.
'What are you smirking at?'
Sherlock's voice snapped him out of it. His friend's attention still seemed utterly focused on the replica laptop.
'I wasn't smirking.'
'Yes, you were. You still are. What's so funny?'
There was a brief pause. Sherlock met eyes with John for a split second, then cast his gaze back down at the laptop.
'It's the Jerusalem thing, isn't it?'
'What?' John blinked. 'No, no. It's just… I mean, I assumed he was making the Jerusalem thing up.'
'It's a distraction technique I used sometimes when I was nervous, back when I was a kid, that's all. Before going on stage for school plays – that sort of thing.'
John smiled. 'I don't know what I'm having more trouble picturing – you getting stage-fright or you being in a school play at all.'
Sherlock looked up again. 'You don't think I'm a good actor?'
'You're a brilliant actor, when it suits you.'
Sherlock nodded, and looked down at his work again. 'My Lady Macbeth was a Tour De Force. My Headmaster said it was the best he'd ever seen.'
'Boy's school. I had the legs for it.'
'Oh,' sighed John, deciding to leave the conversation at that. He passed the last memory stick over to Sherlock. 'I think that's everything.'
Sherlock nodded. 'I'll be about another 20 minutes, then you can slip the replica back down to the bar.'
John got up, stretched, then lay down on the bed with his crossword book while he waited for Sherlock to finish.
After less than 5 minutes had passed, John heard heavy footsteps climbing the stairs to the attic rooms. He sat up, startled. Had Rupert found out they had the laptop, already? The whole case could go up in smoke…
His mobile lit up with an incoming text. Thanking his stars that he'd remembered to put the thing on silent, he read the message.
"It isn't Rupert. It's Victor. SH"
John smiled with relief, as well as amusement that his friend had still signed off with his initials despite texting him from a table only a few metres away. Indeed, the footsteps took a left at the top of the stairs and walked to Room 6. From the top of the bed, right against the wall that adjoined with Room 6, John heard Victor clearly as he stomped around and dumped a suitcase onto the floor.
'Fuck,' came Victor's voice through the wall, more frustrated now than angry or surprised. Then came the sound of him calling up a number on his mobile.
John picked up his own phone again and texted Sherlock.
"He knows we're up here, right?"
Even the sound of Cynthia's voicemail greeting could just about be made out through the wall. Victor swore again, softly.
"He knows we're in our room," came Sherlock's text in reply, "prob doesn't know that means next door or how thin the walls are".
'Cynthia,' said Victor, 'where the Hell are you? You're not here, Rupert's not here, Grace is in tears downstairs… I know what's going on, you know. I bloody know. Fuck you, Cynthia.'
He ended the call and kicked what could only have been Room 6's bedpost.
An idea struck John. A pretty evil idea, considering the fact that Victor Trevor's marriage was coming apart, but John's mind just could stop taking him back to the exchange in the Pool room. He'd been so bloody smug – so sure of himself that he'd wrecked the life of the most wonderful man, and that he could grab hold of him, chew him up and spit him out again, as and when it suited him.
Sod it, thought John. He'd heard Victor smugly announce that Sherlock and he could only possibly be flatmates one too many times. He leaned right up against the wall and let out a long, low, appreciative 'Mmmmm.'
Sherlock looked up from his work, nonplussed.
'C'm here,' muttered John, against the wall, and started kissing his hand.
His phone went off again.
"What on Earth are you doing? SH"
"Was in a few school plays myself," texted John, still kissing his own wrist and failing to mention to Sherlock that these plays had largely consisted of playing several shepherds in Primary school Nativities; his biggest ever role being that of Sneezy in Snow White, in which he'd had a grand total of 14 lines, half of those being 'A-choo'. "You're not the only one who can act."
His phone lit up again. "Why?"
"Because he thinks he's right about us just being flatmates"
"He IS right!"
John snorted a silent laugh. "So?" He laughed again, out loud this time. 'Sherlock, that tickles.'
Sherlock picked up the laptop, got out of his seat and silently moved across to the adjoining wall, pressing his ear up against it. He must have heard something – some breath or muted sigh from the other room – that appealed to his mischievous side, because his face broke into a wicked grin. He sent another quick text.
"You can be bloody Evil sometimes."
"Thanks", texted John.
Sherlock put down his phone and got on to the bed next to John, setting the laptop on the bedside table and kneeling right up by the headboard against the wall.
'About tonight,' he murmured, in confessional tones.
'It's OK,' soothed John. 'Used to fighting them off you.'
'You're the only one, John. The only…'
John put a finger on Sherlock's lips, causing the other man to crease up into silent giggles.
'Shhh. I know. I get to keep you. God, I'm the luckiest man in the world.'
'It's nothing to do with luck,' replied Sherlock, starting to kiss his own hand now, as well, issuing tiny, appreciative little grunts with every kiss.
John heard the frustrated groan from the room beyond now too, and decided to step up the fake filth. He pushed two of his fingers into his mouth and said, thickly, 'oh, baby'.
'Ohhhh,' gasped Sherlock, taking John's cue, and rattling the headboard a little. 'Oh, yes. Let me do that for you, too.'
'No,' mumbled John, his mouth full of fingers.
Sherlock leaned his face right up against the wall, as much to listen as to make sure he was heard.
'I want you inside me.'
John pulled his fingers out of his mouth. 'Now you're talking.'
'Oh!' Sherlock gave a little cry of surprise. John noticed that he'd started doing the faces to go with the sounds, now.
'Sorry,' muttered John, 'bit cold. That better?'
'Turn over,' added John, turning his face away from Sherlock's to keep himself from laughing. 'You know I like to look at you.'
'Mmm,' reiterated Sherlock, before sharply sucking through his teeth.
'It's OK,' muttered John. 'Relax… relax… Oh, that's the spot.'
'Oh, God.' Sherlock started to shake the headboard gently again. 'Oh, yes. Mmm.'
John looked over at Sherlock and saw that, while rocking the bed with one hand, the detective had turned the other hand, as well as most of his attention, back to the laptop. A new, devilish idea took John. 'Sing for me. You know I love it when you sing for me.'
Sherlock slid a glance at John, then went back to the laptop as he started to sing in deliberately shaky, breathless tones.
'Guide me, o Thou great redeemer…'
'Oh, yes,' interjected John, happily picking up his crossword book again.
'Pilgrim in this barren land…'
John grinned, finally getting that answer to 7 Down that had been bothering him. 'In Welsh,' he ordered, rather pleased that they seemed to have come to the unspoken understanding that in this entirely fabricated sexual situation, he would be the one calling the shots for a change.
Sherlock didn't even so much as break tempo. 'Nad oes ynof nerth na bywyd…'
'Yes,' gasped John, rubbing out a mistake he'd made on 18 Across, 'oh fuck, Sherlock, yes!'
'Fel yn gorwedd yn y bedd…' Sherlock stopped rocking the headboard momentarily in order to switch the memory sticks over. 'Don't stop, John,' he called out as he did, 'Oh God, I'm almost there.'
'In Welsh,' demanded John, again.
Sherlock faltered for a second, and frowned, and John realised that, while it was understandable that a Public School alumnus with a nigh-on photographic memory would phonetically remember a popular Rugby Song, the likelihood of a London-centric detective having the need to acquire a thorough Welsh vocabulary wasn't all that great. Sherlock blinked and clearly pulled what few Welsh phrases he knew out of the recesses of his memory and shuffled them about in the hope they'd at least sound right.
'Dim parcio, John. Pobol y Cwm. Pobol y Cwm!'
'And no one told you to stop singing,' John reminded him.
Sherlock started rocking the bed and singing again with a new vigour as the new memory stick downloaded. 'Hollalluog, Hollalluog, Y'dyw'r Un a'm cwyd i'r lan! Y'dyw'r Un a'm cwyd i'r lan!'
From the other side of the wall came another couple of frustrated grunts. John couldn't be sure whether Victor was trying to hold back a ball of bitter, envious rage, or trying not to cry, or… or something far more unsavoury that John decided he'd really rather not think about while providing this free aural homoerotica. He thought to himself as Sherlock started gleefully on the second verse of that first night they'd spent together jumping over rooftops and sprinting down alleys after the Taxi Of Death, and how, at that point, he'd declared that that was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever done. If only he'd known that within a few months he'd be making fake sex noises for the benefit of the brother of a suspected Arms Dealer while Sherlock Holmes simultaneously committed fraud and sang 'Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer' in a voice far more orgasmic than John thought the Welsh language could ever possibly sound. And, John was certain, within another couple of weeks he'd probably find himself swinging on a chandelier waving a machete above his head while Sherlock wrestled a python with the Star of India between his teeth, or something else that would make this night too seem utterly humdrum and mundane.
'God, I love you.'
John looked up from his crossword book. It had been Sherlock who'd said it, although when John looked across, Sherlock still had his eyes down on the laptop. His words had been part of the make-believe, John told himself. He heard a chair scrape in the next room, and footsteps, slowly heading towards the door.
Of course. Hearing Sherlock say that he loved another man was bound to be the final straw for Victor. Sherlock was just trying to get rid of him.
Victor was still well in earshot though. John had to keep up the pretence until he had completely gone.
'In Welsh!' he insisted, again.
Sherlock looked up from the laptop this time, and looked John in the eye. 'Llanduddno, John,' he said, matter of factly, and gave his friend a fond, grateful smile.
'Llanduddno too, Sherlock,' replied John. And he meant it, as well.
The footsteps in the next room stopped, and John could hear the door to Room 6 being opened with care not to make too much noise.
'Oh,' cried Sherlock, shaking the headboard even harder than before, 'oh! Croeso i Cymru, John! Rho i mi fanna, Rho i mi fanna!'
Sherlock's voice began to break with faked orgasm as Victor could be heard heading downstairs. 'Fel na bwyf yn llwfwrhau…'
'…llwfwrhau…' helped John, joining Sherlock with the harmony.
John was almost certain that Victor couldn't hear them any more, and that it really was just the two of them left rattling the bedframe together like idiots and singing in their loudest Fake Sex voices, but sing they did, to the end of the verse, and it was triumphant and joyful and Welsh. And at that moment there wasn't anything John would rather be doing.
'Fel na bwyf yn llwfwrhau!'
It was a nice, private little hospital. Very discreet. Lovely grounds. Not that Sherlock appreciated any of it. Mycroft didn't like to admit it, but he was rather relieved that Sherlock was out for the count when he arrived with his books.
'He's resting,' a nurse told him. She noticed the books. 'Oh, how nice. You've brought him something to read.'
'I've brought him work,' Mycroft told her.
The nurse's face crumpled in disapproval.
'He's got three early GCSEs this year,' said Mycroft. 'This unfortunate incident can't hold him back. I won't allow it. Besides, he finds throwing himself into academic work… the right academic work, that is – strangely relaxing.' He passed the books over to the nurse. 'You'll see. He'll complain bitterly when you give this to him, but within an hour he'll be quietly studying, and you'll find him much more upbeat afterwards.' Mycroft paused. 'Has he eaten at all?'
'We had to force him again, I'm afraid. Water, too.'
Mycroft sighed, and smoothed down a sheet covering his sedated brother. 'Come on, Sherlock,' he muttered. 'It's been three weeks, now. He isn't worth this. He isn't worth the tiniest fraction of this. You made a mistake. You fell in love with someone who didn't deserve you. When are you going to let it go, hmm? When are you going to allow yourself to move on?'
John and Sherlock collapsed back on the bed, giggling.
'Abergavenny,' exclaimed Sherlock, producing a cigarette seemingly from nowhere. 'That's possibly the best sex I ever didn't have.'
John slapped the cigarette from Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock's only reaction was to replace it with a stick of nicotine gum, as if that was what he'd been intending to do in the first place.
'Only "possibly"?' asked John. 'I'll have to try harder next time we don't have sex.'
'It was a bit quick,' Sherlock told him, returning to the laptop.
'You had one eye on that computer the whole time.'
'Sorry, dear,' replied Sherlock with a faint smile. 'I'm on a deadline.'
John lay back and started fiddling with his phone again. He called up his email, then Facebook. Unsurprisingly, when he searched, only one Sherlock Holmes came up.
'What are you doing?' muttered Sherlock, eyes still on the laptop.
'We've just gone to all this trouble to convince the Trevors that we're an item,' John replied. 'Don't you think it'll ruin things a bit if any of them notice we're not even Facebook Friends?'
Sherlock sighed and passed John his phone. 'I'm already signed into that silly website. Friend yourself back for me.'
John did so, handed back the phone and smiled as Sherlock's page came up on his own phone. Just as he'd suspected it would be – hardly any personal information, a few status updates for show – Sherlock likes tea; Sherlock is busy, busy, busy; Sherlock is listening to Britten – that sort of thing. A handful of childhood photos. John's smile widened.
'I can see why you were called Dracula now. How did you lose all your front milk teeth at the same time?'
'Pulled them out when I was six,' Sherlock told the laptop.
John gazed at his friend, agape, hoping he was going to admit that that was a joke, but guessing that he wouldn't. 'Experiment?'
'Tooth Fairy Money. Wanted a microscope.'
John blinked to himself and clicked on a new picture, and immediately wished, again, that he hadn't. 'See what you mean about Lady Macbeth.'
'That's my Ophelia, actually,' Sherlock replied, checking his own phone. 'Lady Macbeth was Year 8. Your relationship status doesn't say you're Sarah's boyfriend.'
'We're not really boyfriend and girlfriend yet,' John explained. 'It's still early days. Finding our feet. Hence the "it's complicated". Because… well. It is.'
'Aren't so many relationships.'
'Aren't they, though.'
Sherlock fiddled with his phone for a moment longer, then set it down and turned his full attention back to the laptop.
John watched his feed as it updated.
Sherlock Holmes has changed his relationship status to "it's complicated".