You might have read my first Alex Rider story that I changed to Strong Ties of an Unknown Bond. Well I didn't feel like re-writing Anthony Horowitz 'Ark Angel,' so I read 'Snakehead' and decided to make this Christmas story. If you haven't read 'Snakehead' or are in the middle of reading it I don't advise you to read this because it does reveal things from that book. Tell me what you think.

Changed

Alex Rider was enormously excited that Sabina was visiting for Christmas. It was as if a building had been lifted off of his shoulders. He had missed Sabina's jokes more than he realized. Over the past weeks he was pretty sure that Sabina spent more of her time with him and Jack than she did with her own parents.

"What are we going to do today then?" Alex asked after Sabina came over for lunch. It was a Saturday and Alex had never felt more alive.

"I want to eat first," Sabina said and looked at Jack. "I love your cooking ideas. My mom doesn't like cooking much."

Jack smiled at her. "I've been doing it long enough I could probably have my own show if I didn't have to take care of a certain someone," she said and ruffled Alex's hair with a laugh.

"Chelsea has a home game," Alex said turning to Sabina who had dimples in her cheeks from laughing at Jack. "Or we could go to the cinema," he suggested.

"Well you're bursting with ideas," Sabina started and was cut off with a buzzing noise in her pocket. She pulled her cell phone out.

"Hello?" she said into the receiver. She paused and slipped gracefully off of the bar stool she was sitting on. "Oh hey, I'm here in London for the holidays." She paused again. "I'm at my friend Alex's house," she said and started to walk away from Alex. "Yeah he's a guy," she said after a pause and giggled. "You are?" Another pause as she turned back to them. "Kings Road…Number ten." Sabina turned to Jack. "Do you mind making another meal?" She asked. "I have a friend I'd like Alex to meet."

Alex thought immediately of some guy she had met in America. His spirits dropped considerably.

"I suppose I could throw something together," Jack said shrugging.

"Great," Sabina said and turned away back to her phone. "Have you eaten yet?" she asked the person. "Good then you can eat with us...see you soon then." Sabina hung up her cell phone and put it back in her pocket.

"So," she said with a smile as she lifted herself onto her stool again, "What are we having?"

"Food," Jack said and started moving around the kitchen.

"So who's coming over?" Alex asked. He was very aware of his stomach clenching and unclenching.

"A friend of mine," Sabina said mysteriously and then asked Jack if she wanted any help.

"Of course," Jack said. "You can be the chef's assistant and Alex can set the table," she said and winked at him. Alex swung himself off the stool and set the dining room table.

He frowned. She had been vague to him on purpose. Needless to say he wasn't in as good a mood as he had been a few minutes ago. Could he be jealous? Alex supposed he could be. He liked Sabina very much. The thought that she might have some one besides him in her life made him experience one of those normal teenage emotional cascades. The ones where you feel so many different things at once that it just makes you over exaggerate everything.

If Alex had put it in that perception, he might have laughed. He had wanted to be a normal person for the last eight months. Now that he was in normal fluctuating emotions and hormones he suddenly wished to be on another adventure. Alex stopped suddenly as the thought presently crossed his mind.

"No," he said aloud to himself. "You'll get over whoever this person is. Going back to that is not an option right now or ever."

Ten minutes later the table had been set and the doorbell rang. Sabina rushed to the door and Alex's heart prepared itself to sink, emotionally that is. He stood in the foyer and watched Sabina open the door.

After about a second his ears heard the shrill reunion of two girl friends. Alex's brain did a double take. The first thing he saw was tapered blonde hair and bright blue eyes before two parka covered arms circled Sabina.

It seemed less than as second later Sabina had introduced her. Her? He blinked blankly at her.

"Alex," Sabina said. "This is my friend Lainey Harper. I met her at Wimbledon same time as you."

Alex didn't really hear the last thing she said. His brain was still climbing the hill of surprise. Relief began to settle over him and he smiled slightly at her.

"Come on," Sabina said and pulled Lainey away. She had a small smirk on her face and looked at him with her shocking blue eyes before folding her long eyelashes over them and turning away as Sabina pulled her into the kitchen to meet Jack.

Alex grinned to himself. Even in her parka coat he could tell that she was athletic and fit. Her feet had been sheltered by tan skintight leather boots. They were flat yet made her look taller as they came up to her knees. Lainey pulled off her parka and went back past Alex to hang it on the rack. As she went by he could smell pine needles in her wake. It made him think of Christmas. It was so faint he couldn't be sure if it was a perfume or her natural scent.

Lainey seemingly strode back in. She moved quickly.

"You got my e-mail then," Sabina said as Lainey nodded and turned around.

"I really liked the boots," Lainey said. "They're so comfortable. And I love the long stretchy shirts. It feels like you're floating," she said and got on the tip of her toes making everyone laugh.

"So this is what teenage girls wear in America," Jack said. "What do you think of it Alex?"

Alex laughed. "I don't care what they wear as long as it's the right girl and she looks good," he said and shrugged. Sabina laughed heartily and Lainey smiled at him over her shoulder. She had on cream colored wool swoop neck sweater that stretched comfortably around her hips. It wasn't too tight or too big. It just sort of hung there yet wrapped around her torso at the same time.

"I guess I like it," Alex said and shrugged again. He noticed that Lainey had a very beautiful smile. Was she flirting with him? The oven bell saved him.

"It was actually Lainey's idea for us to go to San Francisco," Sabina said as they started eating. "I have to admit it was a good choice for our family."

"What all have you said?" Alex asked suspiciously wondering if Sabina had let on more to Lainey than she should have. He couldn't seem to trust Lainey. It was one of his extra senses. She made him feel like he was under a microscope even though she didn't look at him very often. Maybe it was because she wasn't really invited, that made him feel insecure. Still there was something...

"Lainey knows how it is with journalists," Sabina said gesturing at her friend across the table. Lainey was chewing her food and looking at her plate as if no one was talking about her. "In America you have freedom of the press and a lessened chance of, well you know..." she trailed off and fell silent.

Alex looked at Lainey again as he continued eating. The curtain of her tapered hair fell over her face as she seemed to hide from him.

"What do you have planned for the rest of the day then?" Jack asked and broke the loud silence but for chewing and cutlery chinking.

They went to the cinema and Alex practically watched Sabina float her attentions away from him. Lainey rarely ever said a word to him except thank you and sorry. However, the two girls jabbered together constantly until right before the lights dimmed.

"Why don't you talk Alex?" Lainey asked. "Do you prefer being strong and silent?"

Strong and silent seemed to click with him as he put his brown eyes on her. Was she trying to get something out of him? "You simply fascinate me," Alex said almost harshly.

"Alex," Sabina said shocked.

Alex was losing it. "You look at me as if you know everything about me. I barely know you," he said a little loudly as he leaned forward in his seat. "What do you expect?"

"Nothing less," Lainey said and looked in his eyes.

They stared at each other for a moment. How much did she know? Did she even know anything? Why was he so uptight? What was wrong with him? He was never like this around girls. Why was she suddenly so different? He searched for an answer in her eyes but they revealed little; only admiration and understanding as if she knew where he had come from. 'Nothing less,' she had said. If anything Alex was flabbergasted. He knew little about her and didn't really want to know more. There was something just behind her eyes that held something he wanted; but what?

"Heyellow," Sabina said moving her hand between their gaze.

"I'm sorry about everything," Lainey said as her eyes turned down. "I should have waited to meet you another day."

Alex hadn't meant to hurt her feeling and he had opened his mouth to explain but the darkness swallowed them. Lainey swung her leg up over the other one as Alex settled back in his seat. Sabina, who was sitting between them, exchanged glances with him and Alex sighed and thumped his head against the back of his seat.

-

After the movie Lainey excused herself to go to the restroom.

"What's up Alex," Sabina asked when they were alone.

"I don't trust her," Alex said with his arms folded across his chest defiantly.

"You don't trust anyone," Sabina said softly, looking at him.

"Why should I?" Alex said without thinking.

Sabina looked at him reproachfully. "Do you even trust me?" she asked.

"Of course," Alex said realizing what he had said. "I didn't mean..."

Sabina silenced him with her hands. "If you can't trust anyone Alex how do you expect to live like a normal person?" she asked. Alex had no reply to that. He just looked at the floor. "You've changed," Sabina said making Alex look up at her. She stuffed her hands in her pockets as they waited for Lainey to come back out again.

That night while Alex laid in his bed he thought about what Sabina had said. It had been a blow that had knocked what he thought was normalcy to the ground. He had changed in more ways than one.

That night he thought of Ash. He had betrayed his parents. It was something he couldn't fathom. Why would he blow up his parents?

His parents...

It had been Ash's fault all along that he had never known his parents. Had Ian known that it was Ash all along? He had though Ash was going to take care of him but it turned out that Ash didn't care. Alex suddenly felt very alone.

The tears fell down his cheeks and into his ears. He let them flow until he fell asleep dreaming of how they could have been.

/It was Christmas time. There was a brightly lighted tree with a skirt circling it. A man was sitting cross-legged across the room from a baby boy. "Come on," he said beckoning him forward.

The tot put a foot unsteadily in front of the other and let go of the sofa as he walked three steps toward his father. The man caught his son in his arms as he started tickling him. The baby laughed shrilly as the mother came in and watched them playing.

The man looked up at his wife smiling and set his son on the other side of the room again.

"Look Helen," he said. "Look at what Alex can do."

The baby Alex giggled and made his mother smile as he tried sprinting across the floor but tripped. His father swept him up before he hit the floor. Alex laughed again as his father spun him around on his shoulder.

"John," Helen said walking over to him. "You're going to drop him on his head."

John stopped turning around as he held Alex upside down and grabbed his wife around the waist. "You wish," he joked. "Then he won't be able to compete with me. You want a mama's boy so much take him," he said and flipped Alex into Helen's arms.

Helen laughed as Alex put his face in her neck. John leaned down to kiss her when Alex's hand landed on his mouth. John moved his head to dodge his son's hand but Alex was too quick for him. The family laughed together as John pulled Alex's hand away and kissed his wife. It was a perfect first Christmas with just the family together.

In his deep sleep Alex clutched his pillow. That was all he could do. He could only dream of the Christmas that never was. It hurt even worse than when his uncle had died. How could he possibly change? No one would ever be able to completely be able to understand that pain in his heart. He had to be strong and rise above all that. That was the only way he could possibly change. Alex turned over onto his back as his muscles relaxed and he drifted back off to sleep.

I hope you like it. I'd like about five reviews before I put up the next chapter which I already have. I can handle flames.