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Title: Harrowing
Characters: Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes
Length: 1,600 words
Rating: PG
Warnings: Potential trigger warnings for bullying and violence.
Thanks to: llassah for the beta.
Summary: Boarding school wasn't a good place for boys who couldn't fit in. Sherlock didn't even try.

Sherlock was nearly expelled in his first term at Harrow for fighting with one of the older students. He sat between Mummy and Mycroft in the Headmaster's office and explained himself.

"Jameson and his gang haven't given me a moment's peace since I refused to participate in their ridiculous initiation rite, and the 'house punishments' were escalating," Sherlock said, standing up to remove his hat and jacket and laying them on the Headmaster's desk. He unbuttoned and rolled up his shirt cuffs to reveal the multiple finger-shaped bruises that his wrists had acquired in the past month. "The staff I told did nothing to stop it. So I did what I must, to protect myself." Sherlock unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, revealing a raw cigarette-burn just below his collarbone.

Mummy gasped. The Headmaster leaned forward, holding up a hand to prevent Sherlock from revealing the contusions and abrasions hidden under his school uniform. "Nurse Turner described the beating you gave Jameson as 'brutal,'" he said, wetting his lips nervously at the sight of Sherlock's injuries.

"He's twice my size," Sherlock protested. "I was only able to get the jump on him because he was drunk, and he's less injured than I am." Jameson's solitary drunkenness had required careful planning and preparation. His relatively undamaged state was thanks to the copy of the Yellow Pages Sherlock had taken from the house master's office. As Sherlock's research had suggested, the heavy, soft-bound book had spread out the impacts, allowing him to inflict significant pain whilst causing very little bruising. Jameson's broken nose had been an error on his part; Sherlock had hit his testicles once, and been caught by surprise when Jameson jack-knifed to protect them against a second strike.

"We can't have students assaulting each other," the Headmaster said heatedly.

"Well, it doesn't seem to bother anyone when it's the first-years getting assaulted," Sherlock countered, gesturing in a way that drew attention to the livid bruises spanning his narrow wrists.

"That's an interesting point," Mummy said suddenly, choosing her moment to enter the discussion as she would pounce on a weak conjecture in a proof. "Exactly how many injury reports does the infirmary have on file for first-year students?"

The Headmaster blustered and sweated. He offered his regrets, and then his apologies, and finally fell into full retreat in the face of Mummy's arguments. He eventually agreed to allow Sherlock to remain at school. He was assigned two weeks of punishment jerks (as if he'd had any weeks without), to be presided over by the house master rather than the student Monitors that had previously been responsible for discipline of the first-years.

"And as for you, Sherlock," Mummy said quietly. "If anything like this should happen again, even if you can't rely on the school staff, you will call me or your brother for help."

"Yes, Mummy," Sherlock muttered.

Mummy marched out of the office, clearly still furious. The Headmaster followed her down the hall, attempting to placate her.

Mycroft remained seated; he examined Sherlock intently as he re-buttoned his shirt, pulled on his uniform jacket, and picked up the absurd straw hat. Mycroft hadn't said a word the entire meeting.

Three years ago Mycroft had accepted some job at the Ministry that took up all his time and energy. Sherlock barely recognised his brother in the cordial, distant young man who dropped by to visit at the holidays. He'd become unaccustomed to Mycroft's unwavering attention, and as much as he had craved it, now Sherlock felt uncomfortable under his brother's gaze.

"I see you've taken up smoking," Mycroft finally murmured.

Sherlock bit his lip. Of course Mycroft had noticed that the cigarette burn was self-inflicted; Sherlock had needed evidence of something obviously beyond the limits of house punishments. "You know I couldn't rely on you and Mummy, not for this," Sherlock blurted out. "They'd kill me if they thought I was that weak."

"I suppose that's true," Mycroft said, studying him. "There are, of course, more subtle ways of dealing with such miscreants. Which leaves me to wonder … did you enjoy it?"

Sherlock swallowed. There'd been a certain satisfaction in getting revenge on the boy who had made his first weeks of boarding school a living hell, but he didn't think that was what Mycroft was asking. "No," Sherlock answered uncertainly.

Mycroft smiled a wintry little smile. "There's no shame in it, you know. In fact, such predilections are considered advantageous in … certain circles."

Sherlock had heard boys whisper or boast, pretending to know more than they did about acts pictured in forbidden magazines, rumours of whips and chains and members-only clubs. But surely that wasn't what Mycroft was talking about? Sherlock felt himself blushing. "I don't –"

"Oh, good lord, Sherlock, I'm not talking about that, " Mycroft chuckled. "The look on your face … no. I'm merely pointing out that you are highly intelligent, with a potentially useful skillset, and personality traits that might make life difficult for you here at school would make you an ideal recruit for a department I happen to have some influence over, at this point in time."

Sherlock was intrigued. Mycroft wasn't telling him to 'fit in' and 'make friends' with his tormentors like the house master and rest of the staff. He wasn't offering comfort, or brotherly advice, or threats to make him bow to authority and stay in school. No, Mycroft was offering his twelve year-old brother a job with the British government.

Sherlock tried to examine Mycroft as he would a stranger, to analyse his bright-eyed focus and reconcile it with the tension around his mouth, the perfect stillness of his body. A job that Mycroft found distasteful, then. Legwork? No, worse. Wetwork.

"No," Sherlock said immediately, answering both Mycroft's inquiry and his offer. "I didn't hurt Jameson for fun. It was the only way I could get them to stop. I can deduce people, but I'm no good at that thing where you … make them do what you want."

Mycroft's nearly-imperceptible tension relaxed. "I am well aware of that, although I still hope you might develop some facility over time. Harrow's meant to be an opportunity for you, Sherlock. You've exceeded the limits of Mummy's ability to tutor you in every area except mathematics –"

Sherlock made a face.

"And although the lessons themselves may be useless," Mycroft said, acknowledging Sherlock's reaction with a tiny purse of his lips, "I ensured that you would be granted access to the school's laboratories to pursue your own interests."

Sherlock conceded the point with a nod. His use of the chemistry and biology labs, when Sherlock snuck out of Druries after lights-out, allowed him to conduct experiments that were impossible at home.

"What's more, these young men and their families wield a great deal of influence in the political and financial corridors of power. The connections and relationships you form here will be tremendously beneficial to you later in life. So while convincing them that you are some type of, of sociopath may meet your short-term goals, it certainly won't help in the long-term."

As if Sherlock would ever need help from one of them. "Oh, I don’t know," Sherlock said gleefully, unable to resist prodding at the crack in Mycroft's armour. "Apparently sociopaths are in high demand in certain circles."

Mycroft stood up, a move obviously designed to hide his reaction. "Best not, little brother," he said quietly, eyes growing distant as he straightened his suit jacket and prepared to take his leave.

"Mycroft, I - I can show you my experiment on how different types of acid can be used to dissolve corpses," Sherlock offered, fighting to keep his brother's attention until he was actually gone.

Mycroft paused. "And what, pray tell, are you using for test subjects?"

"Mice," Sherlock answered eagerly. "Not lab mice, the masters wouldn't approve it. I'm catching them myself, in the north field."

"Hmm. Well, as fascinating as that sounds," and from anyone else that dry tone would be dismissive, but Mycroft had always enjoyed supervising Sherlock's experiments, "I do need to be on my way. My assistant has already rescheduled three meetings for me this morning, and I can't miss the afternoon phone conference with Berlin; my colleague in the Bundesnachrichtendienst has a rather exaggerated sense of his own importance."

Sherlock trotted alongside Mycroft as he walked out to his car, breathlessly explaining the experimental parameters and the rather clever way he'd compensated for the natural variation in the size and body fat of the field mice. When they arrived at the car, he listened to his brother's suggestions on how to document his findings and endured Mummy's tearful goodbye. Sherlock let the smile slip from his face as he watched the black sedan pull away through the gate.

Sherlock placed the straw hat on his head, took a deep breath, and straightened his shoulders. He wasn't a child anymore, and there was no place for sentiment at Harrow. On the way back to Druries Sherlock came across Chambers, the tall blond winger to Jameson's prop on the rugby team. They would need to walk within arm's reach of each other on the path. Previously Sherlock would have avoided eye contact and scurried past Chambers as quickly as possible, keeping tight hold on his books to prevent them from being knocked out of his hands.

Now Sherlock met Chambers' eyes and stared at him, unblinking, keeping his face blank and pace to an easy prowl. When Chambers got within ten feet the older boy looked away and stepped onto the grassy verge of the path to avoid Sherlock. Sherlock allowed himself a tight little grin, and headed to the library to research sociopaths.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
luzula
Feb. 26th, 2014 10:15 pm (UTC)
I always really enjoy your Sherlock fic! It's not a fandom I seek out otherwise, but your fics have such interesting character dynamics.
keerawa
Feb. 28th, 2014 04:04 am (UTC)
Thank you, luzula! I'm delighted that I can coax you into reading things you wouldn't normally be interested in.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )