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Retribution

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Of all the things that John might have expected to happen that day, being shoved up against the wall and yelled at by Graeme Garden was not one of them. Pain shot down his spine as Graeme rammed him into the wall, his fingers digging painfully into his shoulders, and his face was so tense it genuinely frightened John.

“You bastard!” He yelled.

“What the hell are you doing?” He cried, wondering how someone shorter than him was managing to intimidate him so much. His heart was pounding against his ribs, and he struggled, but Graeme’s grip was too strong.

“Why did you beat up my partner?” Graeme snapped, the words tumbling out of his mouth so fast that John had no idea what he was saying.

“What?” John spluttered, oddly transfixed by how red Graeme’s face had gone.

“You heard!”

John’s shoulders were beginning to hurt, and he winced. “No, I didn’t.”

“Don’t act the fool with me, John. It won’t work.”

“I, I don’t understand,” John gasped, hating the look of complete anger and hatred on Graeme’s face. This wasn’t like Graeme at all, and John knew something really must have gotten to him for him to be acting like this. He just wished he knew what it was.

“Get off him, Graeme!” Eric said, sounding more bemused than serious, suddenly appearing out of nowhere. John sighed in relief, but the relief didn’t last long.

“I just want to know why he beat up my bloody partner.” Graeme said, but he didn’t resist when Eric pulled him off of John, allowing him to move away, rubbing his shoulders.

“What partner?” Eric asked, looking from Graeme to John and then back to Graeme.

Graeme raised his eyebrows, staring at him like he was an idiot. “Well, Tim, of course!”

John groaned, instantly knowing what this was about and considering running away, but finding himself glued to the spot. Eric, on the other hand, was grinning, as if he didn’t quite believe what he was hearing.

“Tim? You’re going out with Tim?” Eric said, sounding genuinely surprised by this news; John, however, wasn’t remotely surprised – he knew Tim was gay, obviously, and he’d always suspected that Graeme wasn’t straight, or, at the very least, just liked Tim. When he thought about it, most of the people he knew from the Footlights weren’t heterosexual, and he had to wonder what drew gay people into performing comedy at Cambridge.

“Yes, of course I am.” Graeme said, already seeming to be calming down. Now he was far less intimidating, brushing his thinning hair off of his sweaty forehead. “Didn’t you know?”

For a few seconds, Eric seemed to forget what had just happened, and a smile spread across his face. “That’s adorable!” He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, looking so uncharacteristically camp and excited that John almost smiled. Almost.

“Err, that’s not the point, Eric,” John said, backing away from Graeme in case he went for him again. He turned to Graeme and sighed, even though he didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. “Look, Graeme, what exactly are you talking about?”

Graeme took in a shuddering breath and clenched his hands into fists, suddenly looking angry again. “I wanted to know why you beat Tim up.”

“When was this?” Eric asked, as though he couldn’t believe his ears.

John glared at him, wishing that someone else didn’t have to know about what Graeme was obviously talking about, and that he would just sod off. Now he’d worked out what the younger man was talking about, John really wanted to run off, knowing that this wasn’t going to end well.

“In ’67, when you were doing The ’48 Show, he told me that you beat him up, and I want to know why.”

John sighed. “Can we talk about this somewhere else?”

“Talk about what?” He sighed again when he heard Tim’s voice, wondering why everyone had to be in the wrong place at the wrong bloody time.

“What’re you all talking about?” Tim suddenly appeared in his line of sight, moving to stand so close to Graeme that they seemed to merge into one person; Eric looked excited again, probably because he had found some more people who, like him, were gay. But then Tim seemed to realise how tense Graeme was, and he frowned, looking confused. “Gray, what’s the matter?”

John saw panic on Tim’s face, and remembered his face covered in bruises, tears running down his cheeks, desperately trying to pull away before he hit him again. He started to feel sick, and looked away, hating himself for what happened.

“You’re not . . .” his eyes widened, and Tim seemed to understand what was going on. “Graeme, I told you not to say anything!” Tim said it huffily, but his facial expression made him look much more serious.

“I, Tim, but . . .” Graeme tried, and Tim pushed his hand away.

“I thought I could trust you,” Tim said, and his voice was starting to shake.

“You can,” Graeme insisted, but it didn’t do much to calm Tim down.

“I don’t want to keep bringing it up, Gray, it makes me upset, and you bloody promised you wouldn’t. You bastard.”

Looking near tears, Tim stormed off, and Graeme hurried off after him, calling his name.

“Tim! Come back. Tim!”

John let out a long, shaky sigh and leaned back against the wall. It was then that he realised that Eric was still stood beside him, looking incredibly puzzled.

“Is he all right?”

John ignored him.

“John?” Eric shook his arm, but he still didn’t say anything. “John!”

“What?” He snapped.

“What’s going on? I don’t understand.”

John considered telling Eric to fuck off and mind his own business, but he knew that the younger man wouldn’t leave him alone. He sighed heavily and rubbed his face, staring down at his feet.

“What was Graeme on about?”

John didn’t say anything.

“John? Why was Tim upset?”

John sighed again, clenching and unclenching his hands into fists. “What Graeme was saying was true.”

Eric gasped. “You beat up Tim?”

John nodded. “I was very, very drunk, and so was he. He, uh, kissed me, and I sort of, you know, flipped out.” He sighed a deep, shuddering sigh.

Eric looked horrified. “Fucking hell, John, no wonder Gray was angry.”

“Tim forgave me not that long ago, but, if you’ve ever wondered why he always seems a bit jumpy around me, that’s why.”

Eric nodded slowly, and John knew he was thinking about the obvious fact that Tim was indeed a bit cautious around John, because everyone saw it. They just didn’t know why, and neither of them really made a habit of telling other people about what happened. That was why John was so surprised to find that Tim had told Graeme.

“Bloody hell,” Eric said slowly.

“I bet you can see why Graeme was angry with me,” he said, trying to make light of the situation.

Eric nodded. “Yes, I certainly can. Did he, you know, fancy you?”

“You mean Tim?” Eric nodded again. “Yes, he did. That sort of makes what happened worse, doesn’t it?”

“I’ve never actually seen either of you drunk before,” Eric said, more to himself than John.

John grimaced. “There’s a reason for that.”

“Yes, I see your point,” Eric said, nodding in understanding. “How badly did you hurt him?”

John sighed, not really wanting to think about it. “I punched him twice in the face, hard enough for him to have bruises for at least two weeks, and kicked him really hard in the chest.”

Eric winced, and John didn’t blame him.

“Did you ever watch the episode of The 1948 Show where we did that really cocked up sketch about police officers dressing up as women?”

Eric smiled, but looked a bit wary, as though he had no idea why he was asking him. “Yeah, I think so. Was that the one where you all started corpsing really badly?”

“Yes, that’s the one. Did you ever pay attention to how Tim looked?”

Eric frowned. “What do you mean?”

John sighed. “He had such bad bruises that our makeup girl spent literally ages working to cover them up with stage makeup, but his face still looked puffy and swollen. And the reason why we ended up corpsing was because of what happened too, because Tim was miserable and scared of me,” John said, his voice wavering ever so slightly. “Gray and Marty decided to try and cheer him up, so they went off script and changed their names, which made him corpse, and I copied them, and we managed to make him lose control. But then him laughing also made us laugh, and we ended up cocking the whole thing up.” He smiled slightly at the memory, even though he sort of felt like crying too.

Eric didn’t seem to know what to say, and John just hoped that he wasn’t going to end up hating him like Graeme obviously did. He already barely had any friends without losing another one.

But then Eric squeezed his shoulder and smiled sadly, as though he could tell how bad he felt, and John hoped that meant that he didn’t hate his guts and never wanted to see him again.

------

Graham looked up from his place at the bar when he heard a raised voice, almost dropping his glass of gin. He spun around on the bar stool and saw Tim hurtling along the corridor, followed a few seconds later by Graeme, who was the one who was yelling, calling out Tim’s name.

He knew he should really mind his own business, but Gray had found himself getting slightly protective of Tim after what happened between him and John, and he began to worry if there was something wrong with his friend. So he drained his gin and stumbled off after them, even though he was certain that Graeme was more than capable of looking after his own partner.

He found them both outside the building, Tim leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest, refusing to look at Graeme, who was trying to talk to him, looking stressed as hell.

“Are you two all right?” He asked.

They both jumped, obviously having not heard him come over, and Gray mumbled a quick apology.

“What’re you doing, Graham?” Graeme said, not looking very impressed.

“Can you get him to leave me the fuck alone?” Tim said thickly, and it took Gray a few seconds to realise that he was talking to him.

“Why do you want Graeme to leave you alone?” He asked, making sure to keep his voice calm, as he could see how close Tim was to breaking down. Graeme was just standing there, looking like he had no idea what to do.

“Because I’m pissed off with him,” Tim snapped, wiping at his damp eyes.

“What’s he done?”

Graeme stared at him like he was intruding on something that was none of his business, which was probably true, when he thought about it. “It’s actually a sort of private matter—”

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” Tim hissed. “At least it was, before you went and fucked everything up again.”

“Should we really be talking about this in front of Graham?” Graeme said in what sounded to Gray like a stage whisper, and he raised his eyebrows.

“No,” Tim said flippantly, sighing. “It’s fine. He knows.”

“What?”

“Graham was the one who helped me, after . . . it happened.”

Suddenly, Graeme didn’t look so annoyed with him. In fact, he actually looked pleased to see him. Graham raised his eyebrows again.

“Really?”

“Look, can you two please tell me what’s going on?” He said, looking at the two shorter men stood in front of him. “I’m really confused.”

Tim sighed heavily, not looking at Graeme. “I made the mistake of telling him –” he nodded his head towards his partner, talking through gritted teeth, and Graeme looked hurt. “— about what happened between me and John.”

“Why was it a mistake?”

Graeme sighed. “I might have gone storming up to John and yelled at him for beating up Tim.” He said, looking down at the ground.

“Ah.”

“Even though I told him not to.” Tim muttered.

“Ah.” Gray said again. Now he understood exactly what was going on, and he wasn’t sure what to do. “I see.”

Gray looked up when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around, and saw Eric and John coming towards them, John being dragged along by Eric. Eric looked determined; John looked horrified. Graeme also saw them, and moved so Gray was effectively blocking him from John, and Tim groaned loudly.

“Right,” Eric said, stopping right in front of Graeme. He sounded like he really wasn’t in the mood for all of this. “I’ve been talking to John, and I know what’s happened, and I think you two need to have a talk.”

Tim frowned, but he looked like he was about to burst into tears. Graeme saw and tried to put his arm around him, but Tim pulled away, leaning against Gray instead.

“Are you all right, old chap?” He said under his breath, and Tim shook his head. He knew the smaller man well, and could tell from his tense body language that he was close to losing it.

“Look, Graeme,” John said. “I’ve already apologised to Tim so many times, and there’s not really anything more I can do, is there?”

Graeme sighed. “I suppose not.” At a glare from Eric, he added, “I’m sorry for shoving you up against a wall and yelling at you.” But he didn’t sound sorry.

Graham suddenly became aware of the fact that Tim was crying. Tears were dribbling down his cheeks, even though he was trying to hide them. But he didn’t mention it, not wanting to embarrass him. But then Graeme noticed, and he sighed.

“Tim?”

Graeme put his arm around Tim, pulling him into a hug. Tim didn’t resist, leaning his forehead on Graeme’s shoulder, and Gray heard him sobbing. Graeme rubbed his back, resting his chin on his head.

“Come on, don’t cry,” he murmured. “I’m sorry.”

John looked dreadful, looking almost as bad as when Graham had first confronted him after he hurt Tim, and he sighed shakily, rubbing his neck. “I’m sorry too.”

“Come on,” Gray said softly. “Let’s leave them to it.”

Eric and John didn’t look like they wanted to, but they obediently followed him back into the building. They headed towards the bar, John lagging behind and dragging his feet.

“So do you know everything, then?” He asked Eric, who nodded.

“Yeah, John told me.” Eric said, keeping his voice low. “I had no idea John had done that. I’m not really sure what to think.”

Gray sighed. “I know what you mean. It took me months to trust John again, especially because it was homophobia related and this was, you know, before I came out to him.”

Eric nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

Gray smiled weakly. He wasn’t really sure who was in the wrong out of John and Graeme; on one hand, he understood perfectly well why Graeme was angry with John, yet he also felt a bit sorry for John, because he knew his friend had tried his hardest to make up for what he did.

He sighed again, and wondered if straight people had such complicated friendship issues. And he also wondered if his friends were ever going to get along.