It's late, my eyes are shutting and I can't find much to say except to apologize for the completely unnecessary gap between updates in this story. There is one chapter left after this that I will try to write and post in a reasonable amount of time. Meanwhile review and let me know (pretty please) what you think.
Disclaimer: Self Explanatory
As Alex read the elegant looking letter he couldn't help but feel overwhelmed at first. He looked up at Wolf and Rachel who had expectant looks on their faces.
He read through the letter again. Then he carefully laid it down on his lap.
"You two sure know how to keep a secret." was the first thing he said. "I mean, an investiture? do I even deserve this?"
Wolf looked both relieved and incredulous at the same time. "What do you mean? What the hell do you think a body has got to do to get recognized?"
"Who put in the application?" he wanted to know
Rachel opened her mouth to say but Wolf silenced her with a gesture "You'll find out after the ceremony, now you haven't answered our question."
"You all have been too good to me, how can say no?" He looked down at the document again with a serious expression. "This is an honour."
"If it makes you feel any better I'm having one too. I mean we've both been nominated for medals. I'll be up there with you."
Alex looked up with a smile "Really?"
"So that's the real reason you're dressed up."
"I guess it's not that bad then." Alex grinned "We'll keep each other in check."
"So you'll go?" Rachel finally asked
"Of course, what made you think I wouldn't?"
"Well the publicity for one thing." Rachel explained
"Publicity?" Alex looked a little unsure all of a sudden.
"It's not great big publicity Cub, Just the local news group coming out to do a quick photo shoot to put with a description of what you've done. And with the SAS being involved they can't ask much anyway. There's nothing to worry about."
"Oh, okay." Alex was relieved. He glanced at Rachel's semi-formal skirt suit. "Who's invited?"
"Just James's Unit." Rachel answered shooting Wolf a look. "Oh and Tom Harris is coming as well." she added
Alex nodded thoughtfully, then he sighed
"What's the matter?" she asked as he got up and handed back the letter.
"I just thought Jack would have been around for something like this. I know she would have been proud." He looked up again. "You should never take what you have for granted right?"
Rachel and Wolf shared a glance. "Don't feel too bad Alex." Wolf comforted "What happened wasn't your fault. When you come back, you can tell her all about the ceremony."
Alex nodded but said nothing
"Okay then, you guys had better get a move on. I'll catch up in a little while."
"Come on Cub," Wolf gestured "We need to be in our spot to be called. The guests come a little later."
"Okay then" Alex answered quietly. He couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else that Wolf and Rachel weren't telling him, but he didn't say so. He had come to the point where he trusted them.
As they drove to the Palace, Alex quietly watched the scenery go by while thinking about what lay ahead of him in the days and weeks ahead. Things were moving fast. Not too fast, but sometimes he longed for what he'd had before.
Mostly he missed Jack and his old house. And thinking back further he really missed his uncle. But it was obvious that there would be no going back to the way things were; he could only move forward now. Forward into this unknown that almost guaranteed to be worse than everything from before.
"You okay?" Wolf glanced over at him. He couldn't read the child's expression but he had said nothing since they left 15 minutes ago. Wolf hoped nothing was wrong? Alex answered without turning around.
"I'm just thinking is all."
"You don't like this do you?" Wolf pressed sounding somewhat discouraged
Alex was touched and slightly amused by Wolf's tone. He gave him a brief smile.
"That's not true. It's nice to get some recognition from time to time. I just can't help thinking about what's going to happen after the festivities of today; its back to reality and I'm not looking forward to it right now. That's the truth."
Wolf nodded his understanding. He was quiet for a while trying to find the right words.
He turned to Alex as they slowed at a stop light. "You know, if anything goes wrong you can call us. We'll help you out."
"I know." Alex answered in sincere thanks.
Alex stood in line in the brightly lit gallery that seem to feature royal red and historical art work as its prominent decor theme. He was patiently waiting to be called by the unseen announcer who would inform everyone of his name, award and achievements before he received them from the Queen herself. Wolf was right after him. Having the last name Saldana he was the ten to last person in the group of about 93 people to be recognized for some achievement or another that day.
There were still four other people before him who hadn't been called. He turned to glanced at Wolf who looked prim and calm.
"Is that how you keep people from noticing how nervous you are?" he asked quietly
Wolf looked faintly scandalized "Shut up," he whispered back "it'll be your turn in a minute; show some composure would you."
Alex smiled softly, hardly disturbed by Wolf's tone.
"After everything I've been through you'd think this would be a walk in the park," Alex confided after a moment "yet this is actually harder than it seems."
Wolf stepped a little closer looking as though he hadn't really minded Alex speaking at all. "Its because of the rules. Less to break out in the field."
Alex thought about it for a little while "Yeah, its so easy to screw up."
"Relax," Wolf reassured "There's not too much to do wrong."
The person standing before Alex was called into the room and Alex felt a little pang of anxiety at knowing he was next.
It's not that he was scared or anything. He told himself. He was just nervous. Eager to please and make a good impression and not quite sure if he would be able to.
He looked back at Wolf who nodded encouragingly. When he looked forward again he was being beckoned into the enormous hall where everyone sat listening as his name and achievement were announced.
"Alex Rider is receiving the George's Cross for acts of extreme bravery and patriotism in a national crisis." The unseen person announced as Alex walked along the red path to receive his award.
The audience to his right watched him; some in awe, other's in shock. He thought he spotted Rachel smiling at him near to the back and he suddenly felt a stab of jealousy and resentment towards her.
It was not fair that she had this privilege and Jack, who had lived with him all these years, who had suffered for him because of his enemies and had loved him when no one else could, when no one else was there to; had to miss this moment. The sort of moment he thought he would have proudly shared with her.
He purposefully turned away, his eyes smarting where tears threatened to fall.
He turned left and stepped up to the platform where the Queen stood waiting to give him his medal.
It was an honor he knew most people did not have the privilege of receiving but at the moment he didn't feel privileged; just alone."
He schooled his features into polite neutrality and stepped up to receive his award. The Queen held a polite conversation with him as she pinned the _small medal to the right breast of his jacket and the meaningless small talk strangely calmed him.
He didn't feel any less sad about Jack's absence and his overall situation, but he did feel a little less alone; the loneliness of his circumstances, the oppressive secrecy that had always weighed heavily on his mind didn't feel as dreadful.
As he backed away to continue to the waiting room where the recipients waited till the end of the ceremony, he felt proud and sad at the same time. He wistful gazed into the attentive audience whose attention was now upon Wolf who just entered the room. Rachel, was busy passing a tissue to a woman sitting next to her who was apparently overcome with emotion.
When he was eventually reunited with his party, Rachel informed him that she was sorry she had to leave so abruptly but that she need to prepare the last event of the day. This surprised him of course but he didn't particularly mind; he didn't trust himself to face her properly without a certain degree of resentment just yet. He needed a moment to get over his self pity. Unfortunately the men of K-unit swarmed him at that moment, distracting him from his brooding and made him join them for a few pictures and congratulations.
Tom was especially awed by his medal. It seemed to give him a new kind of respect for Alex. His best friend's opinion seemed to count that much more and he was reluctant to contradict him on most things.
Alex tried to tell him that this hadn't changed things, but Tom wasn't listening and Alex's heart just wasn't into the argument; he didn't really care what Tom thought. His sadness for Jack was consuming and he just wanted to be left alone right now.
Wolf came over to him laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. He had a truly happy look on his face.
"Come on." He smiled at Alex almost affectionately "We have one last surprise."
Alex tried to stifle a groan. He knew Wolf and Rachel were just trying to make him happy before he left. He was grateful and he felt loved, but he didn't care for any more surprises. He told Wolf that.
"I know." Wolf's smile didn't falter, rather it seemed to widen. "I know you're hurting right now Alex. When all's done and said, its just family that matters isn't it?" He asked hustling he and Tom into the truck as the other member's of K-unit left to regroup at Wolf's house.
Alex looked up at him curiously. "Yeah, it does." he answered buckling up.
Wolf seemed to randomly switch topics again. "Well, like I said we have another surprise and I know its going to make you feel better. Trust me."
Alex tried to make eye contact with Tom, seeking an ally in his confusion, but Tom kept staring straight ahead with a secretive smirk on his face.
"You know what it is!" Alex accused
Wolf laughed. An easy, genuinely happy sound that made Alex feel good despite his own darker thoughts.
"Yes Alex. We needed his help to pull this off. Don't badger him; you'll soon find out."
Alex sat back feeling a little put off but intrigued none the less. Three minutes into the ride he decided to try and squeeze the specifics out of them for the sake of taking his mind off things if nothing else.
"What'd you need Tom for?"
"I know what you're doing and you should know me better than that Cub." Wolf promptly answered.
Alex switched tactics feeling annoyed. "Why are you so happy?" he asked almost petulantly
Wolf glanced at him through the rear view mirror to judge the weight of his question. He stared ahead at the road again with a thoughtful expression before answering.
"Well I have a number of reasons to be happy right now. One, we just saved the whole damn country from the second Plague, I have a beautiful fiancée who's so proud of me right now she could burst and I can't stop imagining the look on your face when you see what we have prepared for you."
He glanced back at Alex who's features had softened somewhat at this revelation.
"And besides I love seeing you squirm.
"I knew it." Alex exclaimed
"Come on Cub, that's the best part." He laughed "You don't like being left in the dark do you?" He glanced back at Alex's petulant face, grinning "Really Alex, pouting?"
"I 'm not pouting Wolf. Seriously, I do not pout."
" Seriously, you are." Wolf countered causing Tom to chuckle with his barely suppressed mirth.
"Is Rachel in on the surprise?" Alex suddenly asked exasperated
"Of course she is." Wolf turned onto their road. "And if you follow my instructions all will be revealed." he added pulling into the drive way.
"Now as soon as you enter go straight to the kitchen and find out what Rachel has to say." Wolf shut his car door and gave Alex a look that said; behave.
"I'm not gonna do anything." Alex growled out of annoyance following Tom into the kitchen. As Wolf entered the living room. Rachel stood by the sink sipping a cup of coffee watching him carefully.
"Coffee?" she offered them
"No. Thanks." the boys answered. Alex actually could have done with a cup but he was too anxious to find out was going on.
"I suppose James has been teasing you and dropping hints about what we're hiding right?"
"Of course. It makes him happy." Alex didn't bother to hide his annoyance.
Rachel gave him a sympathetic smile. "Go ahead; I won't hold you back. She's in the next room."
Tom looked up when she spoke, wondering if she had meant to let the hint slip. Alex's expression flashed between a number of emotions before his eyes lit up with conclusive realization. Then a last flicker of hesitancy answered by Rachel's reassuring nod and smile. Tom was amazed at how far the relationship between them had come. How far Alex had come since Jack's accident. Since everything. Since MI6.
He did seem to have .. regressed today. Perhaps because of the absence of Jack in his special moment. That's why he need this so badly.
Tom felt grateful to Rachel and James for doing this for his best friend. For propping him up when he had so nearly fallen.
Tom turned to Rachel after Alex disappeared from the room barely guarded excitement.
"For what?" She placed her cup in the sink and fully turned to him.
He gestured to the living room where he heard Jack's familiar yet nearly forgotten voice in a squeal of delight.
"For doing this for him. Everything; protecting him, caring; going the extra mile. Me being his best friend and all, it means a lot to me."
Rachel smiled appreciatively, leading him out of the kitchen. "You know, between me and you, it was love at first sight."
His quizzical look made her laugh. She stopped by the foyer at the bottom of the steps. "Its not like that, more like..." she became more serious "When James first told me about Alex and his predicament, I was cautious at first; trusting James you know, but guarded nonetheless. But then when I saw him in the hospital, lying there with all this pain driven anger and hurt. Something just screamed; ' he needs help, he needs you to help him' over and over in my mind. He was just...so... alone you know?" She looked down at Tom who was perched on the steps. He nodded assuredly. "I know the look."
"Well I just... I had to be the one to care. I had to somehow fix him. It was like some kind of mission or something; I had to make him whole again. Its those bitter, deep brown eyes that I fell in love with."
He nodded again beginning to understand.
Rachel sat down beside him on the steps absentmindedly observing her nails while listening to Alex explain everything to Jack with enthusiasm and life, obviously delighted with her presence. And she almost, just almost felt a pang of jealousy.
"Its like when you see a puppy or something, with these big expressive eyes that say 'help me' and 'go away' at the same time. That's the kind of thing that drew me in."
She looked up again, slightly embarrassed. " I hope you don't think I'm queer now."
"No. I think you guys are the best people for the job. If anyone can fix the damage that MI6 has done, its you."
She smiled "That means a lot coming from his best friend."
Alex spent the rest of the day with Jack. Telling her about everything, how much he'd missed her, how sorry he was for her pain. Of course she assured him it was Scorpia she blamed for everything, not him. She made him understand that he had been a victim too. One who had risen to the occasion to become the hero.
She teared up again, revealing that she had been at the ceremony that day. Watching him, so handsome and proud and deserving as he strode over to receive his reward. She admitted that she had barely been able to see for how hard she had cried. She was so overwhelmed with pride for him. He had become the youngest person to ever receive the George's Cross. It was the highest reward a civilian could receive for bravery. Second only to the Victoria's Cross, which was its military equivalent. That was the one that Wolf had received and she fully believed he'd also deserved his reward. She would forever be indebted to him for saving Alex from the worst.
They talked and reminisced and apologized up until it was time for her to catch her flight back to the states in the evening, forgetting the time and everyone else. Needless to say Alex deeply regretted her having to leave again but he knew this was how it had to be. He had come to the end of an era and he needed to accept that. That this was better for Jack. He reluctantly bid her good bye as Wolf took her to the airport.
Alex quietly sat in the living room alone. Rachel was up in her room doing whatever and Wolf was gone with Jack to the airport.
The rest of K-unit and Tom had left not too long ago.
He had his thoughts to himself.
To be truthful he'd had no idea that Jack was the surprise that Rachel and Wolf had planned. He had been utterly surprised and a little unbelieving when Rachel had told him that 'she' was in the living room.
Her presence had truly been the highlight of his day. A joyous surprise actually.
They really were trying to make him happy. Genuinely trying and that made Alex feel a way he hadn't felt since his uncle had died.
He felt really bad now for thinking of Rachel so negatively earlier that day. She wasn't ignorant to the pain he was feeling and she hadn't really been intruding. The situation wasn't her fault in anyway and she had done nothing but help so far. She deserved a thank you.
He looked up suddenly as he heard the key in the lock and he realized that Wolf was back. Wolf came in and threw his keys on the table in the foyer before leaning on the door post of the living room watching Alex intently with a faint smile on his face.
Alex met his eyes for a moment before looking back into his hands.
"Yeah" Wolf walked over and dropped down into the sofa next to him. "I made sure she was safely on her flight before I left."
"Thanks." he answered quietly
"No problem" Wolf answered still watching him, gauging his mood; to be there for him if need be."
"No I mean for everything." Alex looked up at him seriously. "For everything you and Rachel have done up to this moment. It feels like..." He seemed at a loss for words.
"Its okay Alex" Wolf assured him "I understand."
"No" Alex insisted "Its more than that. It's like... I can't explain it properly, but... its more than just today." He seemed somewhat frustrated
"Its okay Alex." Wolf repeated softly "Really, I understand more than you think." he smiled "You're in good hands."
Alex gave a lopsided smile of his own in answer. "Even after I leave?"
"Hell yeah." Wolf answered confidently "I'm gonna be watching you. Call on you from time to time you know."
Alex nodded before looking up over Wolf's head to notice Rachel entering the room.
"You're back." she quietly stated, coming to sit on the arm of the chair next to Wolf. She had on a plush red robe which she pulled more tightly around herself before sitting down and she seemed more reserved than usual.
"Yeah," Wolf answered pulling her closer to him. "You okay?"
"Hmm" she nodded glancing over at Alex who was gazing off into the distance.
She looked back at Wolf, her eyes asking about the child.
Wolf nodded. But sensing something needing to be said between them, he gently nudged Rachel off his lap so he could get up.
"You want anything?" He asked heading off to the kitchen
"No Dear, I'm fine." She answered without looking up.
Alex looked up from his thinking as Wolf left the room grateful for his momentary absence so he could say what he needed to say.
He looked over at Rachel with something akin to a sad smile. He got up and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry Rachel. For acting the I way have lately."
She pulled back looking both pleased and surprised. "I don't understand what you're apologizing for.
"I've been something of a jerk these past few days and today I was deliberately short with you."
He noticed a flicker of confusion and hurt across her face before it disappeared again. "I was so hurt thinking that Jack wasn't at the ceremony she'd been left out of everything. It felt like everything had been unfair for her and I felt that you were experiencing a privilege she should have had. It felt like you were ….cheating but then I saw, really saw how much you cared. The lengths you would go to help me and... well" He looked down at his stubby, mostly eaten nails. "I felt ashamed."
He looked up at her with a hopeful smile. "I hope you can forgive me."
She looked down into his eyes with tears. "I forgive you Alex, because you've done nothing wrong." Her voice quivered a little "You've done nothing wrong whatsoever."
"Thank you." Alex answered hugging her again. "For all of it. If anyone can fill that void that Jack left behind, its you."
"I'll do my best Alex." she whispered back squeezing him.
Okay there you have it. My eyes are fully well on shut down and I can barely type but I've got it done finally. Please review. It really is what I write for. Until next time.
(P.S. If you notice any glaring grammar errors let me know so I can fix them when I am more awake. Thanks.)