Title: Life of an Assassin

Fandom: Alex Rider

Rating: PG-13 so far

Pairing: John Rider/ Yassen Gregorvich

Summary: What happened in that wet, humid jungle where Yassen was brought on his first kill- and what happened afterwards.

A/N: This was originally planned to fit into canon, and if you read to a certain point (indicated in the text,) it still does. After that point though, it veers off into an alternate ending. Enjoy!

The weather was swelteringly hot, even more so than they had anticipated, and both Hunter and Cossack were sweating more than they thought possible. They exchanged a silent glance. Now was as good a time as any to refill the water bottles they were sure to need after the depletion of their bodily fluids. As Hunter made his way towards the stream, Cossack fumbled for the water purifying tablets. On this, his first kill it would be humiliating to prevented from its fulfilment by a case of dysentery. It was for this same reason that he never forgot the mosquito repellent either. Malaria drained one of energy, and that was something neither man could afford at any point in their life let alone at such a vital moment. As the tablets dissolved in the canteens, they kept moving.

Sweat ran down them, soaking their clothing, clear droplets that stung if it came in contact with eyes. All around them was the thick strong smell of rotting vegetation, the heavy scent of animal and plant life. The very air was too warm almost to breathe in comfort, it seemed almost as though it was living. It was their third day in the jungle, and Cossack could honestly say he hated it more than anywhere he had ever been. Glancing at Hunter, he wondered if the other man shared his intense dislike for the humid heat and overly ripe, lush vegetation. If he had to guess he would bet so. The other man was English, and that country though not nearly as cold as his native Russia, was scarcely a tropical or even Mediterranean climate. They kept moving, mostly during the night when it was cooler, but during the day as well. Though they were well ahead of schedule, it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to timing. If this opportunity was missed, then not only would the money be at stake, but also their reputations.

Cossack knew only a little about Hunter; his instructor, but what he did know was that he had never missed a target, and that he never excused a failure, especially one committed by a favourite student. What was at stake for Cossack was not his reputation- he didn't even have one yet, but first his chance of getting another job, and secondly the chance to work with Hunter. The other man was his mentor, and though Cossack had been trained before, it was Hunter who taught him the assassin's trade. Cossack had killed once before- in a fight, in the heat of the moment, but as Hunter had been at pains to imprint on him, that kill did not count.

To kill in anger or in alcohol was entirely different from taking a life in a measured and judged way, in cold blood. Not to hate, or to care about your target, but to separate them in your mind from humanity and eliminate them. He had told him that the reason Cossack had got as far in this trade as he had, was because of his intelligence. Those who kill for a living cannot be thugs. They must exhibit the highest degree of mental and physical activity in every part of their life. A lazy man or woman, or one who could not evaluate circumstances in the blink of an eye, and adapt instantly was not one who belonged in the higher echelons of their trade. As he explained, there is always room for simple killers in the lower ranks of an organization, even rising to the extent of bodyguards. But such people almost never made it to the top, and if they did then they were soon disposed of. Cossack wanted to be the best, and in order to be so he wanted to learn from a man who demonstrated in almost every waking moment, complete objectivity.

Besides he liked the man. He was interesting, and willing to teach, especially to someone as willing to learn as Cossack. He hadn't brokered the subject yet of perhaps becoming a team- he'd wait to see how this turned out, but it was always nudging at his mind. He had no doubt, that together they could be the best. He was unproved, but he knew instinctively that he had what it would take. He just hoped that Hunter would agree with his assessment, and he was sure that he, if anyone could, could lure Hunter into the trade again. The other man was only eight years older than him after all.

As it happened, John Rider was thinking about exactly the same thing, wrestling with the moral conundrum implicit in teaching Yassen Gregorvich to hunt and to kill, even going so far as to mentor and encourage him along a path that led to what he had been taught all his life was evil. But it was easy to forget who he was, and what he was doing here. Easy to forget that he had been recruited to bring Scorpia down, that he was playing a part of a killer, not actually being one. As he was one of the instructors on Malagosto it was one of his duties to pinpoint the most talented of his instructees and to personally mentor them through their first assignment. He had picked Yassen out of the class immediately. The eighteen year old was the youngest in the class, and nobody but the principal knew quite what he was doing there. The slim blond man was very quiet and self effacing, but John Rider had seen behind that facade, and seen what Yassen could be moulded into.

And God forgive him, his pride in being a teacher, in doing a good job, had outweighed any possible morality issues about training someone to be a decent killer. He liked the young man. Yassen was formidably intelligent in his own quiet way, his memory was retentive, and he had a sly sense of humour that manifested itself in odd ways. He knew Yassen looked up to him, was relying on him for guidance, and he cursed the fate which had put him in a situation of leading someone down this path. He toyed for a moment with the idea of recruiting Yassen to MI5. It appealed in an odd sort of way, but immediately common-sense reasserted itself. Yassen was Russian, and he was too far down this route already to ever be an effective weapon for the English. He tried to concentrate on whom and what he actually was.

He tried to remember his wife's face, the baby's, but they were oddly faded in his memory, and he had to struggle to recall their precise features. He had been warned about this- the dangers of going so deep undercover that you lost your identity- that it became subsumed into your consciousness. That you started to forget just exactly what you were doing, began to form attachments to people you met, started creating a new life that you inhabited, until your old one seemed no more than a dream. One of the many reasons he'd been chosen for this job, was the wife and child he had. Evidence proved that undercover agents with strong attachments were more likely to survive, and more likely to stay loyal. John Rider just hoped that was true.

It was time to stop. Night was drawing on, and since they'd travelled all day, it was more than time to pause for a rest. They scouted for a suitable stop to rest, deciding upon a clearer patch. They examined the area carefully for signs of ant-hills, and other dangerous tracks, and having ascertained that the area was as clear as it was going to get, they crouched down. They'd decided not to kindle a fire, it was too likely to attract not only passing wildlife and insects, but possibly some human out too far out in the jungle.

As always Hunter took first watch, Cossack falling asleep easily. Hunter made no sound, and when it was Cossack's turn to stand watch, like any good assassin Hunter seized the opportunity to rest. After four hours sleep each, they began to prepare for their removal. After only an hour's walking, they came upon the complex. It was nowhere near the time appointed for the man to be eliminated, and so as they waited in the morning sun, it was time for another talk about what John Rider called 'the trade.' Yassen was nearing the end of his training, and he had heard this talk before, but he listened as eagerly as always, taking in every drop, and asking more questions.

Today's lecture was a familiar one, and essential. "The life you will lead," began Hunter, "is a lonely one, and to some extent a harsh one. To be the best, you must endure the worst and come out unscathed. To be stronger for hardship's suffered, not weaker. Let them make you flexible, rather than break you. Deprivation of all kinds is something that must be faced. You will feel hunger, thirst, desire and cold, and you will long for these needs to be satiated. You will think about leaving the surveillance post to eat or drink, or to relieve yourself. This must be denied. You must master the basic impulses of your nature, you must control them, beat them down. Even when you are not on a job, you must live as though you were. The temptation when you finish a job of a challenging nature is to relax, to 'treat' yourself with things you would not normally have- whether it be chocolate or cocaine. Resisting this is key. To survive, you must be in top shape, fit all the time, continually practicing, never content with your best. No drugs, no cigarettes, alcohol only if you must. You eat a balanced diet, and you live a balanced life."

All of this was familiar to Cossack, little more than a condensed version of his training manual. The part that followed though was new and different, and he listened even more attentively. "Loneliness is sometimes the worst thing. Where you cannot tell anyone what you do for a living, not only out of fear for yourselves, but for them as well. Where you live alone, with no company. Some in our trade work together, as you know, but the majority operate alone. To find someone with whom your mind melds sufficiently enough to enable you to work together, is very rare. Then there is the question of sexual matters. Do you talk in your sleep? It is not impossible to find someone to share your life with, but again it is unlikely, and there is the question. Do you lie to them about what you do, or are you lucky enough to have found someone who shares your line of work, or understands what you must do? No matter whom you choose to share your bed with, man or woman, you must always ask yourself these questions. Is a moment's brief satisfaction worth the risks? That is why it is worthwhile to take comfort when offered it by someone who knows who and what you are, even if it the feeling is only fleeting and transitory. Casual relationships are the norm of our trade, hit and run encounters where you don't stay the nights, or where you both separate to continue your respective businesses"

He finished for a moment, and stared into space, obviously remembering something. He shook his head slowly and continuing. "Your training is almost finished Yassen. Soon you will be a contract killer." Said out loud the words seemed harsh and cold. But then so was the truth. "You will kill for payment. You will be affiliated with Scorpia but not tied to them, and you will be alone." There was silence.

John Rider had never said anything like this before to Yassen, the words had almost spilled out without him meaning to say them, but when he had they struck him as right and true, and the only possible way of the world. Marie and Alex seemed to have faded into the background. All that existed was the kill, the hot and humid jungle, and the crouching form of the other younger man in front of him, listening so intently to every word. The strength and truth of the words beat through the air. You will be alone. In vain he grasped at the last shreds of his conscience, but for the first time he appreciated what a thoroughly good job the army did of extracting evil from the art of killing.

What a world, in which a man who killed for a living could be a hero, could be promoted and awarded medals, and yet despised and reviled for doing nothing more than he had been trained to do in the course of his job, when he performed such acts outside of duty. Though he tried to recall, he could not remember just what he was doing here. His old life seemed like the wisps and remnants of a dream that faded in the light of day. He turned away from Yassen, and opened the tiny pocket sewn into his sleeve. In it was a carefully selected photo, with nothing that anyone if they captured him could use to trace the people within it. It was a picture of Marie holding their newborn child in her arms. His heart slowed down from its purposeful beat, and he took a deep breath. All he had to do was focus, soon this mission would be over, and he would be back in the real world, not this tiny artificial work of two men and a killing.

An hour after the attack, the reaction kicked in, and Yassen began shaking. It was almost imperceptible, a mere shuddering of the body as the delayed tremors kicked in. They were well away from the scene of the crime, and his wound was going to need attention. John motioned for them both to stop, and Yassen knelt so John could see the wound. It wasn't bad- it might scar, but with any luck it wouldn't infect. John cleaned it with gentle professional movements. Yassen didn't twitch at the sting of the anaesthetic, instead he focused straight in front of him, neither moving nor blinking, overcome with shame. He had failed. Not only had he been the victim of an unfortunate circumstance, but he had nearly endangered the secrecy of their mission, and thus John Rider's life.

He was mute, as John bandaged it, hands barely touching skin, as gentle now, as he had been rough during training. When they continued to march onwards, Yassen trailed in his partner's footsteps until finally, exasperated John demanded to know what was wrong. He hadn't needed Yassen to tell him, the other man's silent condition spoke for itself, and he spoke the words he knew Yassen needed to hear. "It'll be better next time." He didn't bother with reassurances as to it not being Yassen's fault, both men knew that the spider could not have been factored into the equation, he simply knew that what Yassen wanted to be reassured about, was that he hadn't failed, that there would be a next time.

John breathed in deeply, as he felt Yassen pad along behind him. The young man was silent, whether from pain or the lingering remnants of shame, he didn't know. When they paused to make camp though much, much later he made no reference to what had happened earlier. As far as he was concerned Yassen had passed his test, and was that one step closer to being a trained assassin. Whatever Yassen thought was irrelevant. John Rider made the final call, and he had already decided in this case. Nonetheless the silence was irritating, broken as it was by the sounds of the jungle surroundings, so John asked Yassen the question. The one which only the head of training had asked before. Why did you choose this route? It was ambiguous the tone he used- Yassen could choose not to answer, if he did not want to- after all John was not the shrink they used on Malagosto for precisely the same question. He wasn't going to be analyzing every motive, he just wanted to know the story. And because Yassen was determined to have John Rider as his associate, he told him. One way or another, he was going to get what he wanted.

He told John Rider of growing up in Moscow, in the freezing cold, the bitter desolation of a city still finding its feet in the world's scheme. Of the vast divide between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken, the senseless cruelty and arrogance shown to the masses by the politicians, who though they condemned communism with one face, brought it in even stricter measures to some extent- regulating free speech, and setting a pre-approved social place for everyone. He had grown up without parents in this world, living with an un-interested uncle, who dabbled in petty criminal activities, and had dealings with the Mafia. Yassen had seen from an extremely young age, that the only way out of the slum was education. He had taught himself English in the main, working part time for a teacher who corrected his mistakes in exchange.

He spoke with no bitterness of the foreign diplomats in expensive cars. That was part of what John had taught him. Do not let emotions cloud your mind. Bitterness and revenge are never valid goals. When he was sixteen, and had been taught everything that he felt he could learn, he had borrowed money from his uncle, and bought a plane ticket to England. He confessed now, his foolish dreams of putting himself through university, maybe being a doctor or a lawyer. He had been approached when he was seventeen by a member of Scorpia, a low level decision maker, who had seen something in Yassen, that Yassen had not even seen in himself. The qualities of a hitman. The rest was history.

John listened quietly and without jumping to conclusions. He thought wryly, that, that 'low level decision maker' should be promoted without delay. It took someone with clear sight and an acute mind to have spotted the assassin in the seventeen year old. Poking the fire with a long stick, he pondered on what he had been told, and (not being able to read Yassen's mind,) wondered why he had been told so much of such a personal story. He could scarcely reciprocate with a similar story of his own, without displaying his traitor credentials, a course of action no sane man would undertake, yet he found himself oddly wishing that he could at least share something of his life, with one who had told him so much. Yet what was there to tell, except for Marie and Alex, who had no part in this life, nor ever would have.

Right that's the first bit written. No slash yet, as you can see, but it will be up as soon as possible (probably in the next chapter.)

Reviews very much appreciated!