OH HAI. ^_^

So, lookie here, a new chapter of ILP! Which I have been holding hostage, I'm afraid, for my reel_merlin fics over on livejournal, of which I have three. I've written one completely, one half done and one - hehehe - um, not. BUT OH WELL.

New job is still shiny and new and - um - shiny, and all is going well. Except with Barclays Bank. I hate the little bastards. I've been banking with them since I was 12, and yet, they've put a fraud notice on my account. I feel like I've been in a seven year relationship with someone, and they've just accused me of cheating on them.

...OK, so I totally don't. But you get the picture. NO LOVE, BARCLAYS. NO LOVE.

Onwards, to the chapter! Beta'd as always, by the wonderful Von, who puts up with my whining, and my constant plans to renovate the old chapters of this story, half of which make me wince to read them. She's a star. *huggles* Huge thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter, and also to everyone who PM'd me about my (now new and shiny!) bio; more on that in my actual bio. Suffice to say, I really, really appreciated the support.

DISCLAIMER: Alex Rider belongs to Anthony Horowitz/J./A 19 year old school leaver writing on the internet. Delete as appropriate.

After making sure that Wolf was well-supplied with coffee, Alex headed out to Green Park, and spent a couple of hours playing a two-on-two game of football with his friends, after which they hung around the area in front of Buckingham Palace – very close to Green Park – and made fun of the tourists. For once, he was almost reluctant to leave his friends, a feeling he hadn't had since before his uncle's death; Tom was as fun as always, the football had been a laugh, and both Nat and Ben didn't seem to be about to question him on anything awkward. In fact, it was almost like they had accepted him right back into the normal swing of things, and Alex appreciated that more than he could ever put into words.

On the Tube back home, Tom had shrugged off his badly-worded question with a smile. "You've been back at school for, what – a month and a half now? That's got to be a record for you." He pointed out. "It's too long for them all just to keep ignoring you, so they're ignoring the bits that they didn't understand – y'know, why you disappeared and all that. Everyone just reckons you're back on the straight and narrow."

Alex grinned. "Right." For a few moments, at least, life felt normal – and Alex had learned to take moments like that and treasure them.

After all, he reflected, he was going to need something to hold onto in the week to come.

His therapy, for all Alex's injury had happened months ago now, was shockingly tiring, and when he got back from St. Dominic's and found that the rest of K-Unit had decided to visit, he felt the first real surge of annoyance with them. He'd been dismayed when they turned up last night while Tom was there, but he was too tired to moderate his reactions at the moment, and he was annoyed at having them sprung on him like this. He just didn't have the energy for this right now.

"What are you doing here?" He asked, a slight snap in his tone, and Eagle held his hands up, rather defensively.

"Easy!" he said, quickly. "Matt and I are just here to see James about something, and Dave wants to see how you're doing after the therapy."

"What d'you want?" Wolf asked, flatly, and Eagle gestured him into the kitchen, an uncharacteristically serious expression on his face. Alex watched them go, the first niggles of worry starting in his gut; nothing that had to be talked about privately was ever good.

But then Snake was distracting him, asking about the therapy and how he felt now, and he didn't have the time to think it over just yet.

"I'm just tired." He told Snake flatly, in response to his question, and the Scot quirked a grin at him.

"I bet. Want a drink? Coffee? Tea? Something to eat?"

"Bed?" Alex suggested, rather sarcastically, and was a little surprised when Snake nodded.

"If you like."

Fox flung an arm over Alex's shoulders. "And forsake the pleasure of our company?" he asked, dramatically, and Alex shoved his arm off with a glare.

"Do you ever shut up?" he asked, waspishly.

Snake gave his team-mate a warning look. "If you want to sleep, do. But it's only two o'clock - you won't sleep tonight."

"Someday, you're going to make someone a wonderful mother." Fox told him with a grin, and Snake turned his rarely-seen-but-strangely-impressive glare on him. "On second thoughts, I said absolutely nothing."

"Wise move." Snake agreed, dryly.

Alex watched this by-play wearily. "This is why I was hoping you weren't here." He said, turning to head into the sitting room. "Keeping up with you lot takes so much effort." He flopped down onto the sofa, and heard Fox say,

"A teenager is having difficulty keeping up with us?"

Snake's response was lost as Wolf paused in the doorway from the kitchen to the sitting room. "Cub? You'd better come in here."

Alex's stomach turned, but he kept his expression blank and neutral as he followed his guardian into the kitchen. Eagle was making five cups of tea that no one would ever drink - Eagle's tea was almost as bad as Wolf's cooking - and gave Alex a smile as he came in which did nothing to assuage his nerves. Eaglenever smiled like that.

"Because our unit's on necessary downtime, we've got to make up a minimum of a hundred and twenty five remedial training hours for every month that we're off." Wolf explained, his voice taking on that faint tightness that told Alex that Wolf was not happy about these orders but intended to follow them anyway; it was, with the value of hindsight, the voice that he had used for most of his time at the Brecon Beacons. "MI6 arranged a grace period for us for the first month or so that you were here, to give you a chance to settle in, but that's over now, and we've got to make up the time."

Fox and Snake were stood in the doorway of the kitchen, watching in silence as Alex thought that over.

"Oh." He said, quietly, after a long pause. "When do you go?"

"It's in a couple of weeks time," Wolf said, equally quiet. "We'll be gone about ten days. I'm sure the Bank will let you-"

"I'm staying here." Alex interrupted, immediately. "It's only ten days; they know I'm more than capable of managing ten days on my own."

Wolf looked uncomfortable and a little stubborn. "Well, good, but I don't like having to rely on them to look after you." He said. "They've done a pisspoor job so far."

Alex shrugged. "Yeah, but what else am I going to do?" he said, calmly. "I'm just fine here."

"Obviously, I'm not going to have a mobile with me, or anything." Wolf said, oddly uncertain for such a decisive person. "You won't be able to get in touch with me if there's an emergency."

"If there's an emergency, I'm probably capable of dealing with it by myself. And I'm sure I can leave a message for you if I really have to; you can't be the only member of the who have people relying on them."

"Usually they have someone else to rely on as well." Wolf said, rather waspishly, then sighed. "This was always coming." He shrugged. "I should just be grateful to get a bit of notice for it."

Eagle put the mug of tea in front of Alex, and held his own loosely in his hands. The other three members of K-Unit grabbed their own mugs, and for a couple of moments, they sat and stood in silence, not drinking their tea. "This won't interfere with your wound recovering, right?" Alex asked, at the same time as Eagle said,

"If Cub moved, it might interfere with his therapy."

Wolf looked between them, raising an eyebrow, and answered Alex's question first. "It shouldn't do. They're not going to run the risk of it being damaged permanently; they don't want to have to pay out my pension this early. If it's bad, they'll put me on sedentary training; I might even have to do a turn as instructor for any new recruits. But they've got to make sure we stay in shape and aren't getting rusty." He turned to Eagle. "I understand that." He said, quietly, "And I think we've already decided that I'm not going to be sending him to stay anywhere." He chuckled, wryly. "Who would I send him to? I can imagine my father would be just delighted to look after my non-official ward. Especially when the official story is that he's a difficult kid from care I'm looking after."

"Five minutes with Cub and he'd realise that's bollocks." Fox spoke up from the doorway, grimacing in the aftermath of a daring sip of tea.

"My father has a wonderful way with people's self-esteem." Wolf said, his expression cold and stony. "I've never seen anyone smash people's quite as fast as he manages it." He looked down at his tea, but thought better of drinking any of it. "I wouldn't let him look after any kid of mine." A brief pause, then he toasted Alex with his tea. "Even a fake one." And Alex couldn't understand the wry spin Wolf put on the words.

He did, though, manage a tiny smile. He was running through all the possible things that could happen in his head, and all the ways he could combat them; combined with his physical tiredness, he felt a lot like someone had put him through a ringer. It wasn't helped by his instinctive knowledge that MI6 were going to take full advantage of this opportunity to send him on some assignment or other; they wouldn't want their operative getting rusty any more than the SAS would want Wolf getting out of practice. The grace period was, as Wolf said, over.

Not to mention, he couldn't refuse to go. The way he saw it, MI6 had arranged this whole deal with Wolf, and were undoubtedly paying him something for looking after him; if that got called off, he had no idea where he'd go. Until Jack was back, and his life went back to the way it was, he couldn't afford to lose the protection they were giving him, however tenuous that protection was.

His mouth twitched into a wry smile. He needed more protection in his normal day-to-day life than in any life-or-death situation he could name; none of his other classmates had ever had it brought home to them quite as firmly as Alex just how difficult it was to maintain a normal life.

"...know the details for another few days." Fox was saying when Alex tuned back in to the conversation. "So we can't finalise anything."

"Sorry." Alex said, his voice husky after the brief pause. Awkwardly, he cleared his throat, but his mouth felt clumsy forming the words. "Having me here makes things a bit more awkward for you." It was a straightforward statement of fact, nothing melodramatic, but from the way Wolf's eyes flickered briefly to Eagle and back again, Alex knew that, for whatever reason, his guardian had been expecting it.

"Don't be stupid." He said, quietly. "Compared with what I thought I was going to have to deal with, looking after you's a breeze."

Alex nodded, with an absent smile, his mind already elsewhere. "Wolf..." He said, slowly, "If you're not here when Brooklands is trying talk to you about the whole - abuse, thing."

All three of his team mates stared at him. "They haven't actually brought charges against you, have they?" Snake asked, softly.

"No." Wolf brushed him off. "And they're not going to."

"It's a pretty serious thing, James-"

"And his employers," Wolf nodded at Alex, "Have a vested interest in making sure he isn't taken into care. They're dealing with it." He looked at Alex. "However little I might like their methods." He added, quietly. "Look - don't worry, Cub, it'll be fine." He said, a faint undertone of awkwardness in his voice. "Don't worry about it."

"I'm not a child, Wolf." Alex snapped, tiredness making him more confrontational than he would have dreamed of being otherwise; and while giving in and letting Wolf do the worrying was tempting, he wasn't going to let himself do that. It wasn't fair on Wolf, and Alex wouldn't be able to sit back and let someone else worry for him when Jack came back; it was best not to get into bad habits.

Wolf frowned. "Yes, Cub, you are."

"I think this is a conversation you should have some other time; Cub's shattered, and you'll both get more worked up about it than it deserves." Snake said, firmly. "Not to mention, you've got other, more immediate things to worry about."

"Oh god, what now?" Alex asked, dropping his head into his hands in an uncharacteristic externalisation of feeling.

Wolf's eyes were faintly worried, but he kept his voice and the rest of his expression calm. "Bear." He said, simply. "If you remember, we're going up to Credenhill for them to interview you about what happened."

"Interrogate, you mean."

"It might feel a bit like that." Eagle nodded, his voice for once devoid of humour. "The S aren't a civilian organisation, their methods tend to be a little - rough and ready."

"Just as well I'm not a civilian." Alex said, sitting up with a feline stretch. "They can't do anything worse to me than I've already had."

Another inexplicable glance between Wolf and Eagle. "No, of course not." Wolf agreed, but Alex privately thought that they didn't know enough about what had happened to him to be able to make that judgement. He kept that thought firmly to himself. "And they're on your side, too. They want to get to the bottom of all this, and they know they won't gain anything by alienating you. You do need to realise that - they will be pretty... insistent about getting answers."

"OK." Alex nodded, hoping that that would be the end of it, but Eagle obviously felt he hadn't got the message.

"Really, Cub." He said, firmly. "They want to get to the bottom of this and you're the way to do it. You've got to be prepared for them to be - well, persistent to the point of being nasty. You can't just-"

"They're not going to threaten to dissect me while I'm still alive, or to put me through a mincer if I don't tell them what they want." Alex snapped, what was left of his patience snapping like a worn thread. "I think I can deal with it."

With that, he pushed his horrible tea away, and left the kitchen.

K-Unit stayed in silence for a few moments, until Fox slipped into Alex's abandoned chair, and said,

"Well... I think that was our first teenage tantrum."

Snake's mouth twitched into a small smile. "Cub even does teenage angst better than every other teenager."

"Live dissection?" Wolf repeated, through gritted teeth. "He was going to be used as a live dissection?!"

"It could be worse." Snake pointed out.

"How? How, exactly, could it be worse?"

"They could have actually done it." Snake said, softly.

Wolf paused, then deflated, his jaw unclenching and suddenly looking rather tired. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess."

Again, it fell to Fox to break the awkward silence. "Your gran would look after him while we're off on training, wouldn't she?"

Wolf snorted, trying to disguise affection with gentle derision, and convincing absolutely no one. "I think I'd have difficult stopping her." He said.

"And Cub's a good kid." Eagle nodded. "Y'know. He's not going to get in to any trouble."

"No. Of course not." Wolf agreed.

"Unless trouble finds him." Snake muttered, but Fox glared at him, and Wolf pretended not to hear. He had a whole score of bridges to cross when he got to them, but he was a far way off yet. He had time.

For a moment, they sat in awkward silence, before Eagle spoke up.



Alex woke about half an hour later, feeling both better and worse; the horrible, aching tiredness had gone, but he now felt better enough to feel ashamed of his earlier outburst. He was old enough - and indubitably experienced enough - to recognise when someone was only trying to help, and when they were trying to be annoying, or patronising. He should have been mature enough to respond in kind.

Which meant, of course, that he had to apologise.

Better to get it over with quickly, then, he reasoned, and padded out into the corridor leading to the hall - and from there the kitchen and sitting room - on bare feet. In the hall, he could hear the sound of the TV from the sitting room, and occasional crows of triumph from - of all people - Snake.

"Yes! There you go, you Welsh git! Take that!" He exclaimed, just as Alex appeared in the doorway, and turned to Alex, a flush of vicarious triumph high on his cheeks. "Cub." He grinned. "See, this -this," he pointed at the TV screen. "Is what makes Scotland great."

"You're still going to lose." Alex said, glancing at the TV, where Wales were playing Scotland in the Six Nations cup.

"Care to get in on the pool?" Eagle offered. "The person who loses by most tries is buying the takeaway."

Alex considered it - and with it, the men's faces. There didn't seem to be much censure in their expressions, or any at all, in fact, and he edged his way in and took a seat by Fox on the sofa. "You shouldn't eat so much takeaway, or you'll never manage your training." he said, with a smile. "If I lose, I'll cook for you."

"Please let Cub lose, please let Cub lose." Eagle chanted, with a grin, and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. "Alright then, what's your prediction?"

"Wales to win - nine to thirty eight."

"Fighting words!" Fox grinned.

Snake gave him a mock glare. "It's alright, though. Scotland and I will make him eat them."

Alex lost the bet quite spectacularly, just as he'd intended, and set about cooking the meal with a good grace, letting Eagle rib him for making such an unlikely bet, and content just to benefit by proxy from the happier, relaxed attitude in the flat.

Evidently, for some things, a game of rugby on TV was better therapy than any a hospital could provide.

He added some thyme and a bay leaf to the chilli con carne, and put the top on, turning to the washing up and starting that while the chilli simmered.

Wolf pulled him away from it and shoved him down at the table. "Don't be a twit, Cub." he said, sternly. "You cooked - one of these idiots can wash up."

"Why not you?" Fox protested.

"Because I provided the venue." Wolf said, smugly.

"You could all come round to mine." Fox pointed out.

"We could, but the rats might eat bits of us." Eagle said. "I need my fingers."

"It's not that bad!"

"Oh, it is." Snake said, fervently, still on the high from Scotland's win, and more open and light-hearted than usual because of it.

"Well, we don't all have Cub to clean up and cook for us." Fox said, crossing his arms and fixing the room at large with a glare. "Would any of us havedreamt of hanging around here before Cub made it habitable?"

Eagle chuckled. "Would James have let us?"

Alex glanced back from the fridge, where he was searching for the bottle of coke they'd got last night with the pizza and never finished. "Really?" He said, surprised. "I figured you must have been round here the whole time."

Fox shook his head. "This is the most leave we've had in ages." he explained. "Most of the time we have two weeks or so off - maybe a bit more or a bit less - and we're sick of the sight of each other by the time we get it."

"But now," Snake took over, "It's six months at least, and spending all that time with civilians would be... tough. We're not used to it, you know?"

Alex's mind flashed to how difficult he found it to talk to his classmates after an assignment, and nodded.

"And we're here because James's got a rich grandmummy and has the nicest flat," Eagle said, making sure he was out of range, "And he's less likely to try to kill us if you're here."

Unable to punch his libellous team-mate, Wolf settled for pinning him with a Level Three glare. "Don't listen to them, Cub." he said, loftily. "They lie."

"And yet," Alex said, thoughtfully, "I can still see where they're coming from."

"Is there no loyalty any more?" Wolf asked the heavens, and Snake, the nearest to him, patted his shoulder.

"Don't worry." He said, kindly. "We'll get you a dog."

K-Unit didn't leave for another couple of hours, and Wolf was as good as his word at forcing the others to wash up, while he and Alex sat at the kitchen table, drinking tea fit for humans and offering increasingly autocratic instructions. Finally, Eagle chucked a wet dishcloth at Wolf in sheer frustration, and the entire thing degenerated into an all-out brawl, with washing up brushes and Fairy liquid and soap suds flying between the two teams.

Finally, sat in the wreckage of the kitchen in silence, Wolf spoke up,

"You know, you're cleaning this lot up, too."

By the time they left, the kitchen was more-or-less back to normal - perhaps a little bit 'less' than 'more', but enough to be getting on with. Alex was due to give the flat another clean in a couple of days time - it could wait till then.

Wolf, easy and relaxed, hands in pockets, turned to Alex as the door closed. "Right. I checked for train times and stations, and it'd take us at least a week to get up to Credenhill by train," Alex grinned, "So I thought we'd drive. You can mapread," He paused. "You -can mapread, right?" Alex raised an eyebrow at him. "Right, yeah, of course. Sorry. So, you navigate, I'll drive."

"I could drive, if you'd like?"

"Nice try, Cub." Wolf locked the door. "They're expecting us at eleven thirty, so we need to be there by ten-thirty at least. Up at seven?"

Alex shrugged. "Sure."

"See you in the morning." he paused. "You going to be OK? The therapy didn't do any damage, did it?"

Alex thought back to the time when Wolf wouldn't have so much as dreamt of saying something like that, and couldn't quite stop himself grinning. "Yeah." he nodded. "I'm going to be fine."

"Cub, you up?!" Wolf shouted, banging on the door to his room at seven the next morning, and, yes, Alex was fairly certain he hated him. "We've got to be out of here by eight!"

With a groan, he rolled himself out of bed and thumped, feet-first, to the floor. "I'm up." He called back, and stumbled to the wardrobe, pulling out the only suit he owned with a grimace of distaste. He'd worn this suit to his uncle's funeral.

"Breakfast in twenty!"

Alex headed to the bathroom and woke himself up with a quick, cold shower. He had a feeling he was going to need to be awake and alert for today.

Twenty minutes later he arrived in the kitchen, tie and suit jacket in hand, and accepted the coffee Wolf handed him with a nod of thanks. "I'm going to need the tie, aren't I?" he said, quietly, and Wolf nodded.

"Probably a good idea." Wolf himself was in dress uniform, looking rather uncomfortable. "I don't know how much traffic there'll be, and we're going to have to find the A to Z somewhere."

"It's on the bookshelf in the hallway." Alex said, absently. "Toast?"

Wolf gave him a Look, but Alex was too distracted to interpret it. "The route shouldn't be too difficult..." He detailed it, rather absently, around his morning coffee, eating a piece of toast with the absent-minded dedication of someone who understood all about eating before a battle.

"Sounds like you hardly need me mapreading." Alex commented, once his guardian was finished, "Why d'you know the way so well, anyway? I thought it was only - y'know - disciplinary actions and so on up there."

Wolf flushed, and for a moment, Alex thought he'd made a horrible mistake asking, but then he realised that the expression on Wolf's face was one of embarrassed pride, rather than shame.

"The four of us make a good team." He said, evidently torn between modesty and embarrassement, and pride. "And we've been in the middle of some - tough placements. Sometimes, they like to have the reports in person."

"Must be nice, being acknowledged for it." Alex said, biting into his toast, and Wolf shrugged.

"That's not why I became a soldier," He said, simply.

Wolf was, Alex soon found out, the world's worst person to navigate for. He was also one of the world's worst drivers; evidently, he was too used to driving jeeps in places were there were no roads, and that made him both inconsiderate of other drivers and the Highway Code, and too likely to slam through the gears and speed. Never the most patient person, every red light was a personal affront, and every small traffic jam was put in place specifically to make them late.

Once they'd got on to the motorway, Alex carefully put the A to Z on the back seat and folded his hands in his lap. "When you drive up here with the others," he said, carefully, "Do you normally drive?"

Wolf glanced at him, then back at the road. "No, normally we take Snake's car." he said. "Why?"

"Never mind."

Credenhill was just as intimidating as Alex had expected, and looked exactly the same, as well. Wolf was greeted with a kind of insider cameraderie, while Alex was greeted and then politely ignored; the waiting room they were shown into was darkly opulent, and had evidently changed very little since the SAS became an official force after the Second World War - all studded leather sofas and green wallpaper.

Wolf stood awkwardly by the empty fireplace, and tried to look comforting, despite the fact that his face wasn't one made to express comfort.

"It's just a standard interview." He said, reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about."

"I'm not worrying."

"No, of course not." Wolf nodded. "Because you'll be fine."

Alex gave him a long look. "I think you're more worried about this than I am." Wolf had the grace to look a little embarrassed. "Look, all I can do is go in tell the truth. It's up to them whether they believe it or not."

"They will." He reassured him, quickly. "Of course they will."

Before Alex had the chance to reply, he was being called through by a someone young enough to look like an intern - if the SAS had interns, that is. One last, fleeting glance at Wolf, and he was being led further into the buildings, through a series of corridors and flights of stairs which got progressively less and less opulent as they went on, until finally he was ushered into a large, bare room with an enormous set of windows looking out over a series of green fields.

Alex was slightly surprised when the young man who'd come to get him took a seat at the table; he'd assumed someone else would be interviewing him, but apparently not.

"Do take a seat, Mr - Rider." The young man said, checking his name on the notes. As Alex sat, his interviewer introduced himself. "I'm Paul Drake, part of the SAS' administrative staff." The formalities concluded, he looked back down at his notes. "So, you've accused one of our soldiers of GBH."

Alex didn't remember making any such charge, but evidently Wolf had made it for him. He did wonder why Wolf had made it in his name, rather than his own, though. "Yes," he said, simply.

"So, what's your story?" Drake asked. His tone was jocular; his expression was not. So much for him not having any trouble with them, Alex thought.

He ran through the events of the night in a blank, factual voice, keeping all hint of emotion out, sticking solely to the solid facts. Drake noted it all down religiously, and there was a pause once Alex finished speaking while Drake read it through and capped his pen.

"You've been a very detached witness." He said, coolly, and it was possible that any other teenager wouldn't have picked up on the implications of that, but Alex was far from being any other teenager. What was interesting, however, was that Drake expected him to be.

"Thank you." He said, calmly.

"Now, would you mind answering a few questions for me?"

"Would you answer one for me?" Alex asked, politely.

"What is it?"

"Well, you see..." Alex said, still scrupulously polite, "I was just wondering why you aren't recording this interview."

Drake's expression was very cold. "That is't yet standard practice for the court martial."

"Ah. Thank you."

"Very well. So, you came to know Nicholas Harker - 'Bear' - through your guardian, James san Luca?"


"The man Harker was replacing?"

"On a temporary basis, yes."

"I see." Drake uncapped his pen and made a quick note on his pad. "Did the two of them get on well?"

"Well enough." Alex shrugged.

"What does that mean?" Drake asked, quickly.

"It means Bear beat up James' underage ward, they weren't on fantastic terms after that, no." Alex said, keeping his voice level only be an act of will power.

"What evidence do you have of Harker's alleged assault?" Drake changed tack, quickly.

Alex frowned. "None." he said, simply. "I was the only person on the street - which is obvious, or Bear wouldn't have attacked me. But I didn't get these bruises by throwing myself repeatedly into a wall, and slightly more intensive psychological screening would probably show that Bear has a pathological issue with children, which he took out on me."

"So now, not only are you accusing one of our members of assault, you're also screening our psychological tests?" Drake demanded, abandoning all pretence of neutrality.

"If Bear's still a member of yours, why has he been suspended?" Alex returned, softly. "When was the last time he got in contact? Do you, as an organisation, have any idea where he is right now?"

Drake shifted forward towards Alex, face set in hard lines. "Criticising us is not the way to get your case heard."

"I dont' think I'm getting my case heard anyway, so I might as well tell the truth." Alex said, sarcastically.

"Try showing some respect, boy!" Drake snapped, and Alex stood, abruptly.

"I've been interrogated enough for the moment." He said, and headed for the door, trying to open it. It was locked, and out of the corner of his eye, Alex caught Drake's smug smile. Showing any skill to a potential opponent was not a good idea, but Alex wanetd out of this, and he wanted outnow. Pulling out his wallet, he got his cash card out and slotted one corner into the lock, jiggling it firmly from side to side until he had a good grip. A careful twist, and the lock clicked open.

The smug smile slid off Drake's face as Alex opened the door. "Where do you think you're-"

"You already think I'm making it up." Alex said, quietly. "If I'm not going to get a fair trial in a military court, I'll take it to a civil one."

Drake gave him a poisonous look. "Don't be-"

"Thank you for your time." Alex said, politely, and let the door swing shut behind him.

He had MI6 to thank for his ability to remember the way back to the waiting room, because he certainly wouldn't have remembered his way through the myriad of corridors if it hadn't been for the instincts he had used while working for them. He used the long walk to calm himself down; despite being outwardly calm all the way through the 'interview', blood was pounding angrily in his head and behind his eyes, and he was furious. The SAS had been better to him than MI6 ever had, and to be dismissed out of hand by one of their aides made him angry in ways MI6 never had.

Possibly because it was safer for him to express this anger here, rather than with MI6, but Alex wouldn't think of it that way until he calmed down.

Wolf looked up sharply as he entered the waiting room, and stood. "Everything OK?" He asked, gruffly, and Alex shrugged, having regained a little equilibrium.

"Not especially." He said, honestly. "The interviewer was a little - biased."

"In what way, biased?" Wolf asked, frowning.

"He thinks I was lying." Alex turned to the door. "I understand that you can't just walk out," he said over on shoulder. "I'll wait in the car."

"Cub, wait." Wolf strode over. "What happened?"

A small part of Alex, he was calm and truthful enough to admit, was almost annoyed that this interviewer hadn't recognised or known about him; in this world, people often did, for better or worse, and he'd got used to it. Despite the skeptics - who treated him like a particularly stupid child until give reason to do otherwise - having MI6 status often made things easier for him, and Alex wasn't too proud to admit that he would have liked Drake to have showed a little deference to his position with them.

Still, that was a lesson to learn, Alex thought, ruefully. He couldn't complain about MI6 in one moment, then expect his reputation with them to precede him in another.

"Cub?" Wolf prompted, and Alex shook himself back into the moment, turning back to face his guardian.

"Yes. Look, it was nothing - big or important. He just obviously didn't believe a word I was saying. He'd made up his mind before I got there."

"You're sure?" Wolf said, carefully. "Sure that you're not just - over-sensitive because of... what happened?" There was a look of deep discomfort on his face, and though it hurt a little to hear Wolf doubt him, and though he might have liked to take offence, Alex knew he couldn't. Wolf had be to sure. He had to be on the side of his employers unless there was obvious grounds for taking them on; Wolf had a great deal more riding on this than Alex. Even the best soldiers were dispensible past a certain point.

"I may have been." He said, slowly, thinking over the meeting carefully. "But he definitely didn't go in willing to hear what I had to say. I think..." he added, carefully. "I think he may have been trying to protect the interests of the organisation. Are claims like this often hushed up?"

Wolf shrugged. "Depends what grounds they're made on. Mostly it's people who've attacked soldiers, and then turn round and claim they're the victim; faced with a sudden attack, it's difficult for us to know when to stop. The injuries we can inflict are - out of proportion." he finished delicately. "When something like that happens, normally it's best to intimidate the victim out of making any fruther charges. Mostly they're surprised when they find that it's a court martial, not a civil court, and the differences can be played up until they drop the charge."

"Like not recording the interview." Alex realised, and Wolf frowned, but nodded.

"Exactly. Sounds to me like this person wasn't properly briefed before interviewing you and assumed it was a case like that." He shrugged. "Stupid bastard was probably trying to pull that on you."

"Surely he must have know that a fourteen year old wouldn't attack someone the size of Bear." Alex objected.

"People do stupid things when they're out for promotion." Wolf said, simply. "But this could be a big problem if it's not set right."

"Rubbish." Alex said, immediately. "They'er not going to care-"

"Like it or not, Cub, you're MI6, and this will get back to them. They're going to want transcripts and the rest of it; so not recording the interview may have been a bad call, too." he paused. "Something like this could set the relationship between the organisations back years, and no one wants that."

Alex shifted, a little uncomfortably. "I doubt MI6 are going to make too much of a fuss."

Wolf looked like he wanted to argue the point, but finally just shook his head. "Look, I don't want to have to slog up here again, and I doubt you do either-"

"Not if you're driving," Alex muttered.

"So I'll try and find so-"

"Lieutenant San Luca?" They both turned to the door, where a tall, middle-aged man was standing, correctly upright in dress uniform. "And this is your ward, Alex?"

"Yes, sir." Wolf nodded, evidently deciding to err on the side of politeness.

"I am Captain Hammond; I understand from Drake that some kind of mix up has occurred."

"So it would seem." Wolf hedged.

"If Alex wouldn't mind," Hammond looked at Alex, and addressed the rest of his sentence to him, "I would like to conduct a second interview with you myself."

Alex glanced at Wolf. "If you think it would be useful." He agreed.

Hammond had evidently caught his glance, and smiled, almost patronisingly. "Of course, if you would like your guardian with you, Lieutenant san Luca is welcome to come, in an unofficial capacity."

Alex smiled back, politely. "After the events of my last interview here," he said, keeping his voice light and respectful, "I think it would be a good idea."

Hammond simply nodded. "I understand completely."

The second interview was much smoother; it was recorded, Hammond kept his attitude light and reasonable, and his attitude kept Alex calm at some of the sillier, or more intrusive questions.

Finally, Hammond stopped the tape, and nodded, slowly, finishing his writing just as Drake had, before looking up. "If you wouldn't mind looking at these statements, now, to check that they agree with what you know to have happened," he said, sliding four sheets of paper across to Alex. Wolf's distinctive scrawl covered the first, and the other three belonged to Snake, Eagle and Fox; Snake's handwriting, neat but badly formed, Eagle's, sloped and sprawling, Fox's, tiny and hardly legible. The words started to run into each other as Alex read them through, all accounts of the same few hours; Laser Quest and Bear's unreasonable dislike, the aftermath, Bear leaving early. Wolf's included the interlude after Alex got home, a factual re-telling devoid of all the comfort it had given Alex when he had lived it. Then the next day, and Bear's attitude and actions laid out for Alex fomr four different points of view. Eagle had made mention of pulling Alex aside to talk to him, but thankfully without any details; all of them had explained Alex's reasons for keeping quiet.

Alex slid them back across the table with more force than they deserved. "Yes." he nodded. "They're correct."

"Thank you." Hammond said, tapping them back into place inside the file. "As you know, 'Bear' has disappeared, and in absence of the defendant, this will never go to court martial. Should he make any kind of contact with you, we expect you to ring us," he included Wolf in his sharp glance at that, "And we will deal with it. He is listed as 'suspended pending investigation' in our records, and his leave was not extended with the rest of K-Units." He looked Alex in the eye. "Your testimony lets us build up a case against him, but it will only be of any use should he resurface. In that case, please be aware that we will be calling you for your help during any trial."

"I understand." Alex nodded.

Hammond smiled again, and shut the file, standing and holding out a hand. "I'm delighted to have met you, Alex." he shook Alex's hand, and turned to Wolf, who saluted sharply. Hammond's response salute came a few moments later, and he nodded. "Trust the wound is clearing up, san Luca."

"As well as can be expected, sir." Wolf said.

"When you get back, I suspect there'll be some remedial negotiations training in your future." Hammond said, a glimmer of a smile in his eyes.

"Probably, sir." Wolf agreed, with a long suffering sigh.

"Well, you're free to go," he said to them both. "We'll be in contact in due course."

The drive back down to London was, thankfully, a little calmer. Alex waited until they were back on the motorway before heaving a sigh of relief. "Well, thank God that's over." he said, and Wolf nodded fervently beside him.

"Yeah. I hate this uniform."

That was about as near to humour as Wolf ever got, and Alex grinned. "I hate this suit."

"Bit small for you, isn't it?" Wolf said, glancing at it critically for a moment before turning back to the road.

"Probably. But I don't often wear suits."

"Really? Not very James Bond of you." Wolf said, one corner of his mouth quirking up into a lopsided smile.

The suit Julia Rothman had provided for him - and which he had thankfully not seen since the disaster with Scorpia occurred - came to Alex's mind. "Generally, when I need a suit on assignment, a beautiful older woman provides it for me." He said, smugly, and Wolf's smile grew into a grin.

"Oh, really?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah." Alex nodded. "Of course, she'll generally try and kill me later, but it's the thought that counts, right?"

Wolf actually laughed at that. "I'm sure."

The silence that followed for the next few miles was comfortable, and Alex felt far lighter as he watched other cars on the motorway. Even the way Wolf occasionally dropped swear words into the quiet as the car shuddered through gear changes failed to affect his good mood. He'd never been able to joke about his assignments before, and somehow, doing so made him feel far better about them.

"So," Wolf said, finally, "This thing with your school; I'm going to ring and organise a meeting with them sometime next week."

"Is that what MI6 say you should do?"

Wolf shrugged. "They're making sure that nothing comes of it." He said, some of the relaxed look leaving his face. "But we agreed that I should deal with anything else as it comes - makes it look a bit more... realistic."

Alex nodded. "And it looks like you have less to hide if you go to them rather than making them call you in."

"Exactly." Wolf nodded. "I need to know if you've said anything that's going to look bad, though, Cub."

Alex tried to think back, but shook his head. "I didn't say anything bad." He said, carefully. "But I think the way I acted wasn't good."

"What do you mean?"

"Some of their questions made me - uncomfortable." Alex said, quietly. "And it showed."

Wolf sighed. "You've faced down threats of live dissection and you let schoolteachers see that their questions made you uncomfortable?"

"That's different." Alex said, but didn't know how he'd go about explaining the difference.

Thankfully Wolf just nodded. "Yes, I know."

The drive back to Wolf's was uneventful - at least, as uneventful as anything could be when Wolf was the one driving - and interspersed with occasional bursts of conversation. It was strangely comfortable, in a way the Alex of a couple of months ago would never have believed being alone with Wolf possibly could be.

The calm survived when they were back at the flat; Wolf made them a cup of tea, and went to the little desk in the sitting room to do his tax return, while Alex took over the kitchen table once again to do his homework. He was so nearly up to date now on work; just his biology coursework and his history were left to do. The tutor - if Elena was really serious about that - would help him understand the syllabus, and might even save his GCSE results from being a complete disaster, but at least he would be able to do it without his teachers breathing down his neck for work he hadn't done.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he thought of the assignment he would almost certainly get as soon as Wolf was gone for the remedial training, and sighed. Well. Maybe if he had to go, he could say it was soemthing a little more convincing than yet another illness. He was starting to fit in again, and was realising just how precious that was; he wasn't going to let it go without some sort of fight on his part.

At least the problem with Bear was over for the foreseeable future. There were still plenty of things to worry about, but - just for the moment - Alex was OK.

And there it is! Hope you enjoyed it! Do tell.

-amitai xxx