Disclaimer: Absolutely not mine. Alex Rider belongs to Anthony Horowitz, lock, stock, and barrel. I did have a lot of fun writing this, though.
Author's note: This goes rampantly AU after Skeleton Key. No pairings. As this is pre-Eagle Strike, this also means there are a number of things Alex is as of yet unaware of, and that Tom doesn't know about Alex's MI6 job. The rating is for language as well as canon-typical violence and (slightly grim) subject matters later on, including non-graphic murder and torture. The first chapter can stand on its own, but there's a bit of plot that follows that I'll hopefully get finished (though I can't make promises about when). If you want specific warnings, feel free to ask and I'll be happy to answer.
Alex woke up to the unnerving feeling of someone in his room.
A week before Sabina. A week before France. He had been so close to being normal again, just another teenager on vacation, and now there was someone in his room.
Alex wondered if he should pretend to still be asleep. Then he decided it wasn't like it would do him much good.
Alex opened his eyes. Took in the darkness of the room. A man sat in the old office chair, perfectly at ease with the situation. Anonymous, dark clothes, short hair, pale skin, and a gun in his hand aimed unerringly at Alex. All colour had been leached out by night and left mostly muddled shades of grey, but Alex didn't need to see the blond hair or clear, blue eyes to recognise Yassen Gregorovich.
For a moment both were silent, Yassen in no apparent rush to speak and Alex not sure what to say. The silence lingered until it finally became too much for Alex. If Yassen had wanted him dead, he doubted he would ever have woken up at all. That alone made him want to know what was going on.
"Is this a normal thing, perving on mostly naked fourteen-year-olds? It's kind of creepy." Alex shifted his covers a little further up. Just to make a point.
In the process his hand crept closer to the knife he had hidden between the mattress and the side of the bed. Not that it was going to do much good against a professional assassin, but still. It made him feel a little less exposed.
"You were supposed to return to school, Alex. This is not your world." Yassen's voice gave very little away. Disapproval? Disappointment? Alex couldn't tell.
"Tell that to MI6." So maybe he sounded bitter. He figured he had a right to.
Alex shifted. Clutched the covers a little tighter with one hand while the other fell to the edge of the mattress, out of Yassen's line of sight.
He stilled. Met Yassen's eyes. The gun moved fractions of an inch upwards. Alex followed the unspoken instructions and returned both hands to plain sight again. He almost made an inappropriate joke about teenage boys and hands under the covers but stopped himself at the last moment. He doubted his visitor would appreciate it.
The gun didn't waver and Alex sighed, suddenly tired. "Who did I annoy this time?"
The Big Circle triad? MI6 claimed they had handled that. Someone else? It wasn't like he was short on enemies. Part of him wanted to know. Part of him wanted it over with. Part of him wished that Yassen had just finished the job when he had still been asleep.
"I am not here to kill you."
What else would you send an assassin of Yassen's calibre to do, then? Alex could think of several options, none of them nice.
"Kidnapping, then?" he asked. "That doesn't help on the creep factor."
"You have a very active imagination, Alex. A talk. Nothing more."
"At gunpoint?" Alex asked dubiously.
Yassen shrugged slightly. "Insurance that you will listen."
That sounded like it was going to be a wonderful talk right there. Adrenaline was quickly chasing sleep from his mind and his thoughts turned sharper and clearer as he remembered something else.
"Jack?" He wasn't alone in the house, after all. The thought made his heart clench.
"Unharmed. Asleep. She will remain that way for another eight hours."
Drugs of some sort, then. Like MI6 had used on him once. Alex nodded, grateful for that much. He assumed she would only stay unharmed for as long as he didn't cross the man too much. It seemed like the sort of thing he would do.
"All right. You got my attention."
"You did not take my advice."
It took a second to realise what the man was talking about. The rooftop with Sayle's body at their feet. Before Yassen had left. Alex's expression darkened.
"What, 'leave, this isn't your world'? Yeah, that was a brilliant bit of advice right there."
Because it was that easy, wasn't it? Just up and leave. It would never happen as long as he was useful to Blunt, no matter what people claimed.
Yassen's expression hardened a little. "MI6 cares little beyond your usefulness to them. They will use you until they can do so no longer."
The words were a little too close to Alex's own thoughts. He decided to ignore that fact.
"I tried to leave. They wouldn't let me. Just this one little mission, Alex. You brought this on yourself, Alex. You're so curious, Alex, and always get into trouble. What's the alternative? They'll deport Jack and dump me in the worst institution they can find, and then they'll have complete control of me, even if someone else is on the paperwork. They own me. They'll never let me go."
Alex fell silent, a little surprised by his own rant. Yassen remained silent for long seconds. Alex thought he saw what might have been a frown.
He felt the tiredness of nightmares and too little sleep settle again. When he continued, he couldn't quite keep the weariness from his voice.
"If you're here to threaten me to leave MI6, you might as well shoot me now. I didn't want to work for them in the first place. I still don't. I know this isn't something a kid should be involved with, but I wasn't exactly given a choice."
"There are those who consider children expendable." Yassen's voice was quiet when he finally spoke. "Although one would expect them to at least care for you while you remain able to fulfil your task. You were exposed to radiation. Have you been properly examined? Has your agency kept watch on your health?"
Yassen could tell a lie easily. Even then, Alex's silence was answer enough.
"Your father was my mentor. I owe him my life," the man continued, slow and measured. "I did not spend long with him, but he taught me much. Hunter was the best assassin in the world, a credit to SCORPIA, and a truly extraordinary man. He was also a double agent in the service of MI6, and he was killed by SCORPIA when they discovered this."
There were a lot of things about Yassen's words that Alex wanted to ask about. He started with the easiest one.
"Sabotage, Corruption, Intelligence and Assassination. They are a terrorist organisation. I have been in their employ since before you were born."
Right, then. "My father was an assassin?"
"You're lying." He wasn't sure why, but there was no way Yassen Gregorovich was telling the truth about John Rider, double agent or not. It was a trick. A horrible, cruel trick from an equally cruel man. Maybe he wanted Alex to come along to follow in his father's footsteps. Maybe he wanted to turn him against MI6. Maybe -
"I am not." Calm. Even. Utterly sincere, in that weird, cold way of his. Alex stared at him across the dark room. He couldn't read the man as well as he wanted – not that Yassen was someone anyone could read on even a bright sunny day – but right now he saw nothing but honesty.
The first insidious doubt settled in Alex's mind. He wanted to believe someone would have told him about his father, but he knew the likelihood was low. His uncle might have felt he was too young. MI6 liked their secrets too much.
"MI6 wished to have an agent with SCORPIA. Failure to keep cover would result in the death of the agent. They needed someone who would be able to pass training and become a trusted operative. Your father was that man." Yassen hesitated. "I have reason to believe, in retrospect, that some of his assassinations were faked. Most were not. He was skilled. Respected."
The words settled uneasily with Alex. Respected by a terrorist organisation. That wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement right there. An amazing display of deep cover, though. Way braver than anything Alex could ever imagine doing himself, too. Terrifying in a way that sent a chill down his spine at the thought. Surrounded by enemies, one mistake from death, and his father had not only survived but thrived in the process.
He still wanted to accuse Yassen of lying, but there was nothing but honesty in his voice and expression. Really well faked honesty, maybe, but honesty.
"He was a double agent."
"And they killed him. Him and my mum both."
Another nod. Was that going to be the fate of every Rider? Killed for some mission or another? MI6 was certainly well on its way to the full set.
"Right. The son of a double agent with the terrorist organisation that his dad screwed over in the first place. That'll go fantastic," Alex agreed.
Yassen looked faintly amused. If Alex squinted and tried really hard to see it. The man was about as expressive as Blunt, just less … grey.
"Most people did not know the truth about him. MI6 faked his death. Those who do and still live … I believe they would respect your abilities. Your potential. SCORPIA was a young organisation when they trained me. When they trained your father. These days, they create the best operatives in the world. You would learn to survive. What MI6 never taught you."
"They killed my parents. They would have killed me, too, if I'd been there."
"They have the skills needed to keep you alive." Yassen's voice invited no argument. "What did MI6 give you, Alex? Mere days of military training?"
Ten days, and it was SAS training, but Alex didn't feel the need to correct him. It wasn't like the truth was all that much better.
"How many times have you nearly died in their service?"
That, too, Alex refused to answer. Too many, honestly, but he wasn't about to admit to that, either. Too many, and it didn't help that he had no support or that they didn't send any backup. It was a miracle and a credit to his uncle's training that he was still alive at all.
It was a solid testament to the state of the world and the ruthlessness of MI6 that said training and his luck had been needed at all.
"I have no wish to kill you. If you continue this arrangement with MI6, eventually I will have no choice."
That sounded like honest truth, too. Yassen's other words on that rooftop whispered through Alex's mind.
I have no instructions concerning you.
Alex had been a liability, a witness, a loose end, and Yassen had let him live. If Yassen said that he had no desire to kill him, Alex was inclined to believe that.
It didn't change the facts, though. Yassen might have spared him then, but he had taken someone else from him, too.
"You killed Ian Rider."
"I hate you. You're my enemy." Alex felt it was kind of important to mention that.
"Yes," Yassen agreed again. If the words affected him in any way, he did not let it show. "I owe your father everything. I can do nothing to shield you from MI6 if you remain here. If they continue this farce of your employment, you will die. I do not require you to like me. Merely accept it when I say that if you come with me, I will protect you. You may hate me, but I will do what it takes to see you survive."
"Without you, they have little reason to care. She will be free to stay or leave as she wishes." Yassen shrugged, pragmatic. "Of course, she will get no pay and her visa will not be renewed, but she will be safer than in Ian Rider's house."
My house, Alex disagreed viciously to himself, because you killed him.
But he didn't speak the words out loud. He tried another angle instead. "I have friends. School."
A bald-faced lie, considering how life had been since MI6 took an interest in him. Based on Yassen's pointed look, the man knew it.
"You have already attracted attention from a number of enemies. How long before Miss Starbright or Harris are used as leverage against you? How long before one of them is tortured or killed in retaliation for a mission? You know MI6 will provide no security. They rely on anonymity for your protection. My presence here is proof enough of their failure."
Alex had never mentioned Tom's name. He shouldn't have been surprised, but the words still sent a chill down his spine. If Yassen knew, others could find out as well. Tom would be in danger, Tom and Jack both, because of something he had done and with no way to prevent it.
Was that it, then? Were those his choices? MI6, a short life, and everyone around him in constant danger on one side, SCORPIA, a new identity, and the chance for a slightly longer life on the other. Tom and Jack or – Yassen? Who did someone like that associate with? Would there ever be someone else he could be just Alex around?
"So that's it?" he asked, echoing his thoughts.
Yassen made a small, pragmatic sort of gesture. "It is still a choice. You stay, you continue this foolishness, we meet again, and I will be forced to kill you. I already told you I have no desire to do so. You leave with me, I instruct you, give you the skills needed for survival. Perhaps you will live a longer life."
"Third option," Alex disagreed, "I run."
He knew it wasn't an option the moment he had said the words, even if just because he had told Yassen now, but the man didn't look surprised.
"Hunted by MI6 and every enemy you have, with no support and no contacts. You are not yet old enough in this life to have made the connections needed to survive alone. You would be lucky to make it to France. You would be killed, or you would be brought back and watched closely in the future. You would not get the chance to try again."
Alex nodded. Yassen was right about that, however much it sucked to admit. He could imagine it vividly, too. Blunt's orders to have Jack deported and Alex himself put into the care of a more suitable guardian. Someone who would make less of a fuss about blackmail.
"I can't make a decision just like that. Two days. A day. That's all I ask." Enough time to consider what to do when he wasn't still exhausted from restless sleep and nightmares and twitchy from adrenaline.
Enough time to set a trap, and Yassen knew it, too.
"A decent attempt. No, Alex. You will decide tonight." The gun still remained where it was, perfectly, inhumanly steady. "I have a file waiting for me with my employers. I will need to accept by morning. I will depart the country either way. Without you, to my next client. With you, elsewhere to train. The inconvenience of finding a replacement will be acceptable to my employers with proper incentive."
Alex wondered about the sort of people that considered him that important. The sort of people that apparently had Yassen Gregorovich on a leash. Then the rest of the answer sunk in.
Yassen arched an eyebrow in a silent invitation to expand upon his doubtlessly fascinating logic. Yassen's eyebrow could do sarcasm. Alex was a little jealous.
"If I don't go with you, you'll kill someone." Even as he said the words, he knew it wasn't really accurate. Yassen clearly agreed because the eyebrow arched again. Very expressive, that one.
"I am an assassin with SCORPIA. One of the best in the world. Your presence will not change that. I will work less, perhaps, for a while. Those employment opportunities will simply be accepted by others in SCORPIA's employ. The targets will live no longer for your presence with me."
Point made. Alex still hadn't accepted the offer. He also hadn't refused it, and they both knew it.
It was an incredibly stupid idea. Even dumber than his decision to break into Ian Rider's office fifteen floors up. It could get him killed. It could also give him answers, and maybe the knowledge to make good on his threat. Get revenge, for his parents and for Ian and everything that had gone wrong after they died.
He would be Yassen Gregorovich's student. The man who had killed his uncle and put him at MI6's mercy. SCORPIA would undoubtedly expect him to become an assassin like his mentor and father.
Could he do that? Kill in cold blood?
He tried to imagine it and felt sick to his stomach. He was fourteen years old. He should worry about his grades and friends, not seriously wonder what it would feel like to murder another human being.
"What if I don't want to kill someone?"
"You have killed before, Alex. Do you truly believe that no one has died as a result of your missions?"
Alex swallowed. "They tried to kill me first." He had joked about it at Point Blanc. The nightmares had come later, though the face that haunted his sleep now was General Sarov the moments before he pulled the trigger.
The memories were bad enough as it was. The thought of cold-blooded murder … "I can't do it. I can't be an assassin. I can't murder someone."
Better be truthful, before Yassen found out some other way and Alex paid the price.
"I told your father the same once." Yassen hesitated. "He told me he was pleased with my decision and then told me to stay clear of SCORPIA. To vanish in Russia with the skills I had. I almost did."
Alex wasn't sure he should ask. He did, anyway. "What happened?"
"Everyone will murder with the right incentive. The right target. I was determined to prove him wrong about my potential. I became skilled at it," Yassen said with calm understatement. "Your father would not have wanted this for you. He would have wanted your death as one of MI6's disposable pawns even less."
The lesser of two evils. Alex thought he understood, at least a little.
So those were his choices, then. Alex tried to imagine agreeing and found it hard. He tried to imagine refusing, too, and knew at that moment just what his answer was. Agreeing would be absolute madness. Refusing, and losing any chance of answers, of having someone in his corner for once who could actually protect him, someone who had known his father -
Alex took a deep breath and nodded once. "I agree. I can't promise I'll ever be able to kill someone, but I'll listen to what you teach me and do my best."
If Yassen was surprised at his answer, it didn't show.
"You will need clothes. Pack what you need for a week in a humid continental climate. Nothing that can be identified. No weapons. Leave your electronics at home."
Simple orders. Alex could deal with that. He didn't even have weapons worse than knives. "Jack and Tom … can I let them know? Tell them I haven't been kidnapped, at least?"
"A letter before you leave. Nothing else. Nothing incriminating."
Better than what Alex had hoped for. They would probably still believe he had been kidnapped, and he already felt guilty about it, but he wasn't going to change his mind. He had to do this. Get some measure of control of his life back, no matter how small.
It took little time to pack. Yassen kept a close eye on Alex's choice in clothes but didn't step in.
The letters were worse. What did he even write? The three sheets of paper he had torn from one of his notebooks looked huge and intimidating. Yassen had been clear that he was not to leave any hint about them, any hints at all, and that didn't make the task any easier. He couldn't mention 'an old friend of his father' without leaving too big of a hint, but he could dodge the truth.
Dear Jack, he eventually began.
We both know MI6 will never let me go. It was just supposed to be one mission, just one, and we both saw how that went. Sooner or later, you and Tom will be targets, too, because MI6 made someone mad enough that they decided to track me down and hurt the people I love.
He wavered between 'care about' and 'love', but if this was potentially the last time he'd ever have any contact with Jack, he wanted her to know.
I'll be off by the time you read this. I left a letter for Tom, too. Please make sure he gets it? I don't know where I'm going, but I've got enough to start on and a whole world to see. Ian taught me a lot about staying alive. I'll be fine. Better than I would have been with Blunt, anyway.
I'm not sure if I can risk staying in contact but I'll try. Thank you for everything. I don't think I've told you enough, but thank you. For everything.
See you around,
Tom's letter was no easier to write and took just as long as Jack's had. They had joked once, before Ian and MI6 and the world had gone all upside down, that they should have secret codes; ways to pass on information right under someone's nose. Right now Alex wished they'd gone through with it, even if he wasn't sure what he would even have said. He didn't know where they were going. He didn't know how they would travel. It wasn't even technically under duress.
He wished he could say that much, at least, in a way Tom would believe. It wasn't much of a choice, but it had still been his.
Jack might've told you already, but I left. I quit. I'm tired. My uncle was a spy with MI6. When that got him killed, they decided to blackmail me into taking over his job. Jack knows everything. She can tell you the full story. Technically I signed the Official Secrets Act and can't talk about it, but I don't really care. I can't keep doing this, and I can't risk you or Jack, either. Nobody else gives much of a shit about me, so you're the ones people would target to get to me. It'll be safer for everyone if I'm just not around.
I'm not sure where I'll go, but I've got enough to last for a while. If I can and it's not too risky, I'll get in contact. If not, you were the best mate I could have asked for and I'll miss you, and you can mock me for that bit of sentimental shit when I see you again. Yell at the MI6 suits if they show up, it'll make you feel better.
If you can and if Jack sticks around … keep an eye on her for me? I know I've got no right to ask, but I'll try, anyway.
I'm sorry, mate.
The last letter was short, to the point, and much easier.
He didn't bother signing that one.
Yassen read all three of them through carefully but found nothing to object to. Alex folded them and scribbled the names on the outside.
He managed to fit his things into one suitcase. A whole life packed away just like that. Clothes, mostly. No photos. Nothing personal. Nothing that could have identified him. Yassen had checked to make sure. The suitcase could have belonged to any teenage boy.
Alex almost slipped into Jack's room to leave the letters but stopped himself at the last moment. It felt like an invasion of her privacy, however worried he was, and he knew that if he saw her, there was a very real chance he wouldn't be able to go through with this.
He left the letters on his bed instead. Carried the suitcase downstairs. Made a brief, desperate wish that his gamble wasn't about to go horrible, hideously wrong.
Then he took a deep breath, stepped into the mild summer night outside, and put his life and future in Yassen Gregorovich's hands.