A/N: Hi. This is my first fic in the AR universe (I've written for Tamora Pierce before.) I've been reading and reviewing AR for a couple months now.
Before you read, let me apologise for a few things:
1)My grammar/spelling/etc. - I don't have a beta yet for AR and I'm bad at proofreading myself, so sorry
2) I know this premise is pretty common and that it has been done many, many times(hint- check out Amitai's "Hell is Other People", although I'm sure all of you already have - end hint). I just want to write my own in my style. I'm sorry if I use other people's ideas on accident. Tell me and I'll credit you or take it out or whatever you want. I suppose it's a twisted sort of complement if I liked what you did so much that it became ingrained into my mind so that I regurgitate it when I write.
3) Along with this, my use of quotes/allusions. I memorise just about everything I read/see and quote stuff a lot, conciously and subconciously. I'll try to cite when I realise that I did.
4) My American-ness - I'm not British, so I'm sorry in advance for making stupid mistakes and errors. I'm trying!
5) Blunt's speech (read it and you'll understand)
It began with a telephone call.
This was not unusual in the least. Every time MI6 needed their conscripted superspy, they rang him asking him to come into the 'bank' that served as their cover. It was almost a ritual of sorts.
Actually, Alex thought it was rather careless that MI6 always contacted him in the same way, with the same instructions. In the intelligence world, habit was deadly. That's how you got killed. For a group of the best espionage personnel in the world, he would've thought they'd known better. But perhaps they thought that there was no danger in someone being able to predict exactly how MI6 would contact him; perhaps they thought their personnel could handle it if there was any danger. In any case, every call was the same, just a change in date and time.
This call was no exception. It came on a Wednesday at the beginning of January. Alex had just come home from school. Outside, it was a gloriously sunny day, despite it being the middle of winter, and Alex had every intention of enjoying it. He had been labouring arduously the past few weeks to catch up all of his school work that he had missed because of his involvement with MI6. He had come home expecting to have a full night of work, like always, but upon checking his agenda realized that he had finished everything. For the first time in months, there was actually nothing he needed to be doing. He went into the kitchen with a huge grin on his face.
"Guess what, Jack?" he asked his housekeeper and close friend, who was busy looking at cookbooks.
Jack smiled when she saw him. "Well, I'm glad you're happy today. What's up?"
"I'm all caught up!" Alex told her proudly. He laughed as she grinned in surprised delight.
"Alex, that's great! You're finally getting your life back!" she exclaimed.
"I know," he replied happily. "I actually feel normal for the first time in months!" Alex knew he was probably excessively excited over this, but he couldn't help it. It was just so nice to not have the pressure of all that work hanging over him, especially with his approaching GCSEs.
"Now, this calls for a celebration," Jack said enthusiastically. "I was trying to decide what to make for dinner," she gestured hopelessly at the cookbook on her lap, "but you should choose. What are you in the mood for?"
Alex, knowing full well that Jack really didn't want to cook, suggested, "Pizza, maybe? From that little café place?"
Jack grinned. "You know me too well, Mr. Rider. Pizza it is. When do you want to eat?"
Alex shrugged. "I'm not really all that hungry - lunch was actually decent for once. Maybe in an hour or two?"
Jack nodded. "Excellent."
Alex flopped down into a chair next to her. "You know, I really have no idea what to do with myself now that I have no work left," he mused wonderingly. "I feel almost guilty, like I should be doing something, you know?"
Jack looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Actually? I don't. Most of us enjoy free time when get it, not complain about it," she teased.
Alex sighed dramatically. "What can I say about you lazy Americans? Must be your upbringing. We Brits can't just be comfortable doing nothing. We like some action, some drama!"
"And that is why we are sane and y'all are not," Jack said sagely.
There was a moment of silence before Alex's face contorted. "Did you seriously 'y'all'?"
Jack nodded solemnly and stared at him for a moment. Then she started to giggle and she started chucking and it wasn't long before they both were gasping for air with tears streaming down their faces.
They had just begun to calm down when the sound of a telephone ringing could be heard from the living room.
"I'll get it," Alex said through his giggles, walking into the other room. Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, he picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Mr. Rider? We need you to come in and meet with us. There's been a problem with your account."
Alex froze in shock. He recognized the voice immediately. It was the cold, emotionless voice of an MI6 employee. He hadn't been contacted in nearly 2 weeks and he'd hoped that this time they would just leave him alone. It seemed not.
"Hello?" the voice on the other end asked. "Are you there?"
Alex mentally shook himself out of his stupor. "Fine. When?" It was not as if he would get a choice.
"Today at 5:00. We'll send a car."
"I'll take the tube," he said bluntly and hung up.
He stood there for a moment, still reeling. MI6 wanted him again. No doubt they had some new assignment that no one could do but him. He'd thought he'd made it clear after his last escapade that he wasn't interested in working for them. Not that he really thought they would listen, but a glimmer of hope had existed. Now that was gone. He was angry. He had just started to fit back into normal life and rebuild his shattered self. Now, he was going back into the field, probably to his death. Oh, he'd protest of course, but they'd force him into it like they always did. His stint at normalcy was over.
He walked slowly back into the kitchen. Jack wouldn't like this at all.
"Hey, Alex. What do you think we should do tonight after pizza?" Jack asked, facing away and cheerily oblivious to the new development.
"I don't think there's going to be pizza," he said quietly.
Jack spun to face him. "What?" she asked confusedly. "What's wrong?"
"MI6 called. I have to go in." The words spilled numbly out of his mouth. He watched as Jack's expression changed to one of horror. "No! They can't do this to you Alex!" she exclaimed hotly.
He sighed sadly, resigned to his fate. "Yes, they can. I don't have a choice." He smiled bitterly. "I guess they found I was caught up and decided it was time for me to leave again."
He regretted that sarcasm when he saw the heartbroken look Jack was giving him. "It's ok, Jack," he said more quietly. "I'll get through this one and then we'll figure something out. But I better go."
He turned and walked out the door, just barely hearing her faint whisper.
"Don't let them do this to you."
A short while later, Alex was sitting in an office in the Royal and General Bank, or rather MI6's Special Ops HQ. Across from him sat a very grey man and a woman with dark hair: Alan Blunt and Mrs. Jones.
He had been shown in. Mrs. Jones had greeted him and asked how he was. He didn't even pretend he wanted to be there. Blunt didn't bother with such pleasantries and simply told him to sit down. With no other preliminary, Mrs. Jones began..
"Alex, we want to send you for more training," Mrs. Jones announced.
"I thought I made it clear I wasn't interested," Alex said. He should have known better than to believe they would leave him alone.
"Yes, well, a situation has arisen," Mrs. Jones told him a tad bit uncomfortably.
"Right," he answered dully. He was an idiot. He had actually believed that MI6 might let him alone after all the emotional trauma with Ash and his parents. Or at least give him a break. But Alex realized that hope had been in vain. MI6 would never be done with him.
Mrs. Jones hesitated, looking a little unsure how to continue. Alan Blunt took over. Speaking in a cold voice, devoid of all emotion, he asked Alex, "You are aware that we arranged for Scorpia to leave you alone, after the incident with the sniper?" Alex nodded his ascent. Blunt went on, "Well, I'm afraid that after the loss of both Julia Rothman and Major Yu, the organization has come under new management. They've announced any agreements made since the end of Invisible Sword are void."
Alex was curious as to what this had to do with him needing more training, but he was beginning to get a bad feeling.
Mrs. Jones sighed. "The thing is Alex, it seems as if the new leaders are bent on doing a little 'spring cleaning,' you could say. They want to tie up loose ends, and all."
Make that a very bad feeling.
"I'm one of those loose ends, aren't I?" Alex guessed with trepidation. He didn't need an answer. He knew he was right. He suddenly felt very cold.
A nod of Blunt's head confirmed his worst fears. "Well, you did manage to dispense with two of their executive board members, ruin multiple major operations, and kill one of their top assassins, as well as betraying them to us," the man reasoned. "Quite frankly, you're an embarrassment they cannot afford as they attempt to salvage what's left of their reputation as a leading organization."
"They want to kill me," he realized heavily. Somehow, it didn't surprise him. He'd had a hard time believing they were just going to leave him alone in the first place. Scorpia never forgets, Scorpia never forgives. He had seen this day coming from the moment he told Blunt information after being brought in when he tried to kill Mrs. Jones.
"Unfortunately yes, Alex," Mrs. Jones affirmed, looking at him sadly. "We've picked up a significant amount of chatter suggesting you are a target." She sighed and rubbed her eyes. Alex noticed that she looked tired, and almost defeated, somehow. "We hoped that we would be able to negotiate, as we did before, but Scorpia is not interested in anything we've offered. You've embarrassed them, and your age only makes it worse. As of now, they'll settle for nothing but your death."
Alex took a minute to consider this. He's thought that after the events on Dragon Nine that he might have a chance to get out of this world, at least for a bit. But, he reasoned bitterly, it seemed he should have known better. It was strange, really. He would have thought he'd feel more fear or anger or something contemplating his seemingly imminent death. Instead he just felt … numb.
"So Scorpia's out to kill me." It was a statement that fell on the room like a pebble dropping into water. There was no emotion in his voice. "And you want to send me to train? So I can protect myself, or something?"
"Partially," Blunt answered. "We need to keep you in a secure location for the time being. Eventually we can convince Scorpia to leave you alone…" Alex snorted at this. Look what happened last time. "…We can. It's all a matter of proper leverage. But it will take time. We need you out of the way for now. And seeing as you're going to have to spend however long it takes up to negotiate under close protection anyway, you might as well do something useful." He picked up the folder on his desk and browsed through it for a minute before continuing. "We're sending you back to the SAS camp in Wales. You'll resume training where you left off."
SAS camp! Alex thought furiously. They couldn't do this to him! Well, apparently they could, but it was just wrong!
Seeing Alex's face, Mrs. Jones attempted to soothe him. "Alex, this is for your protection. You'll be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by some of the most highly skilled men in the world. There's hardly a safer place."
Alex snorted, unconvinced. In his past experience of SAS training, those 'highly skilled men' were more likely to kill him, accidentally or otherwise, than protect them.
"Great, just great. More school I'll miss," Alex commented dryly. "I don't suppose you realize my GCSEs are next year?" he asked, glaring at the pair of adults before him.
It was a rhetorical question, but Mrs. Jones answered anyway. "Actually Alex, we are concerned. We're working on setting you up with tutors now." Alex felt a little relieved at this. It seemed that it was in MI6's interest to keep him doing well in school, at least for the present. Mrs. Jones surveyed him for a moment. "In addition we've been talking to our psychologists. They're very concerned about your mental and emotional state. They fear you're disconnecting from your peers and becoming isolated. We're very concerned about your state, Alex. We can't afford to loose one of our best assets."
Alex was a little surprised at that. They'd never showed an interest in his well being before. There'd been a mention of a psychologist once, but he'd said no and they hadn't pushed it. But, it seemed that the Scorpia affair had changed things considerably.
"We think we've found a solution," Mrs. Jones announced. Alex merely raised his eyebrows as a signal to continue. It wasn't as if he had a choice, so he might as well hear them out.
Blunt picked up the explanation. "Were you aware of the recent government resolve to strengthen interest in the armed forces? No? Well, you see, due to a declining enlistment rate, the government has announced a new program in which students experience the military through their school. It's a brilliant manoeuvre by the conservatives."
"And?" Alex asked. "I hardly doubt you brought that up just to discuss the political prowess involved."
"Of course not. What is important is that a school was selected to provide a test group. And so, your class has been chosen to participate. Your homeroom will be accompanying you to your training with the SAS."
Alex was stunned for a moment. "You're kidding right?" Alex asked, disbelief evident in his voice. "Sending a class of schoolchildren to train with the SAS?" He laughed. "That's insane." He looked at their severe faces and sighed. "You're serious," he said grimly.
"The thing is," Mrs. Jones said quietly, "we've been monitoring communications for weeks, and we've been hearing things that, well frankly, they're disturbing. There's a worrisome number of rumours that we've intercepted indicating that Scorpia plans not on targeting just you, but your school as well. We've learned they're targeting your class to make a bigger statement - that though Invisible Sword failed, they are again strong and can kill children."
Alex suddenly felt sick. Innocent children were being put in the line of fire because of him. Not only had he not managed to escape this world, but he was dragging others into it too. His own life was one thing, but the lives of his friends and peers? That was something else entirely. His stomach twisted violently as he thought of Tom on the receiving end of an assassin's gun.
"They'll be targeted because of who I am," Alex whispered in horror. His tone hardened. "Because of who you've made me become."
"No Alex. You went to Scorpia entirely on your own," Blunt said coldly. "We had neither knowledge of nor involvement in your little adventure in Venice. Neither did we assign you to the incident surrounding Gregorovich sending you to them. In fact, if you had followed orders, you'd have never met him on your first assignment. You should have pulled out. And your most recent adventure with the ASIS was entirely voluntary on your part, I believe. So I'm afraid you got yourself into this position with Scorpia."
"Because of you!" Alex cried, enraged. "If it wasn't for you, I'd never have gotten tangled up in any of this! I never wanted to be involved. I still don't. So you know what, Blunt? You can stuff your training, because I won't be needing it. Because I quit. I'm done." Alex held up his hands. "I'm done with all of this." He stood up, eyes hard, and moved to walk out.
"Really, Alex?" Blunt's voice stopped him. "Because you might find that your bank account has dried up. We'll have to sell the house, of course. A shame. And immigration will be most interested to hear about Ms. Starbright. She's clearly no longer a student. She'll be deported at once." He smiled humourlessly. "And with no one to take you in, I suppose you'll have to go to an institution."
Alex glared at him murderously. Threats. And so the blackmail began again. Well fine, they could do what they wanted; he'd had enough. He again turned to walk out, but again Blunt's voice stopped him.
"But the thing is," Blunt continued, "all that is immaterial. Because, like it or not, you're part of this world now. You're one of us." Again that smile devoid of life. "Let's pretend that you do leave and that you never see us again and by some miracle you avoid Scorpia. What would you're life be like, hmm?" He leaned forward. "How are you getting on with your friends? They're growing a bit distant, aren't they? You don't really fit in anymore." Alex glared and shook his head rebelliously. But the words stirred some inner knowledge and Blunt caught the glimmer of doubt in his brown eyes that told him to continue.
"You've seen things, Alex, that they will never understand. You're just too mature. Chemistry tests and girlfriends seem to pale in comparison to the plots of insane billionaires, don't they? Now that you know the secrets behind the world, how will you live with not knowing what's going on anymore? Because let me tell you Alex, that kind of knowledge does not just go away. How will you feel when an emergency comes up? How will you live with yourself, knowing that maybe you could have stopped it and saved innocent lives, but now you'll never know? You have the instinct to protect; you've proven over and over that you will sacrifice yourself for others, just like your father. You'd never forgive yourself for the people who are sure to die, like your classmates will if you dismiss Scorpia. That kind of guilt must be…interesting." Alex looked into Blunt's cold, unwavering eyes. They were manipulating him, he knew. But somehow he also knew that Blunt was right.
"Because Alex, you can never just go back to how you were before." He paused. "Perhaps we are to blame for bringing you into this. It is regrettable, but I'm afraid you're here now and past damage cannot be undone. This is where you are. And you know it. You know deep down you could never give this up. It's addictive isn't it?"
"There is no going back. You will never be satisfied. You'd be permanently restless, anxious, always on guard against nothing - for the rest of your life, Alex, the entire rest of your life. Do you really want that? Alex, by your will or not(i), you are in this world. And once you're in, you can never get out."
There was silence in the room as Alex thought it over. He could walk out the door right now. But something stopped him. Blunt's words had chilled him and he knew why. It was because Blunt had just voiced the many feelings Alex had tried so hard to ignore. And from that came the terrible truth of the situation: Blunt was right.
"Damn you!" Alex hissed. Then he sighed in defeat. The anger drained out of him and acceptance came. He walked back over to the chair and collapsed into it.
"Fine. What do you want me to do?" Alex asked numbly. He was so empty and hollow it scared him.
"Just go along with what we talked about," Mrs. Jones said gently. "Get the training. It'll help protect you and your classmates. We'll worry about when and how you'll use it later. For now we'll focus on keeping you alive."
Alex nodded. He felt totally drained, like he had just signed his own death warrant. Well, in a way he supposed he had. But what choice had he? Blunt was right. He'd know for a while now that he'd never be able to return to normal life. He'd hoped he would, sure, but deep down he'd known. And in any case, he couldn't abandon his classmates. It was because of him that they were in danger. He owed them. He wouldn't let them down.
Alex took the tube home. Wearily he explained what MI6 wanted to Jack over dinner. She was none too pleased. "When is this going to stop?" she demanded. Alex didn't know what to say. She had looked ready to continue berating him, but realized he was practically falling asleep at the table. She'd sent him to bed with a sigh.
Tired as he was, he could not fall asleep. Instead, he laid awake, thinking of all that had been said. He'd quite possibly determined the general direction of the rest of his life. It was strange how Blunt knew exactly what he was feeling. The man was excellent at reading people. He supposed it was why the he was so good at his job.
Alex's thoughts turned towards the "mission." Twenty odd school children training with the SAS…ridiculous. And the men would be less than happy, if his last visit was any indication. And he had been only one kid; they were talking 20 times that. Yes, he decided, it was going to be hell.
And to make matters worse, Alex was going to be undercover the whole time. None of his peers could suspect anything. That was certainly going to be a challenge as he already knew how the camp worked and had done the training exercises over and over. A lot of what he'd learned had been drilled into him until it was subconscious. It was going to take a lot of work and constant vigilance(ii) to pretend he knew nothing. When he'd pointed this out to the two MI6 executives, Blunt had only told him that it would be a 'good exercise' in 'staying in character.'
Alex sighed. It was going to be worse than hell. How could he get closer to people to whom he was consistently forced to lie?
In the early hours of the morning, Alex fell into a restless half-sleep. His dreams were filled with images of being trapped with no way out.
i Very Lord of the Rings-y
ii Sorry, I couldn't help the Harry Potter -ism
So, what do you think? Pray tell, my lovlies. I apologise again for Blunt. I know it's bad. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry! I know this whole chapter is like super slow (ie nothing happens). It gradually gets better (ie stuff actually happens - I know, what a novel idea!). This is only half of my original first chapter. After realising it was upwards of 7,000 words, I thought I better split it up some so poor didn't crash! Next chapter brings in more characters, involves men with guns, and complicates things some.
About the title of this chapter: I couldn't resist. I thought that bit of spy lingo was appropriate;)
Now, as for updating this, I have the next 3-ish chapters written and I can post them fairly speedily (Yes I've been working on this in secret for quite a while ) After that - hehehe. I have another fic I'm in the middle of in TP land, so that'll probably come first. Also, next week I have 1 AP and 2 IB tests, so not much writing will be accomplished. Updating's looking quite sporadic right now, especially until summer, so I apologise. I'll write when I get the chance:)
Lastly, I'm looking for a beta, preferably someone who is British and/or can help me with that aspect. As well as everything else. So let me know if you're interested.
Farewell until next time!