By Simply Shelby

Warnings: Wolf's language and mention of physical and mental pain inflicted upon a minor.

Clean. Everything smelled clean. Pain. He became aware of dull aches all about his body. And the sound of the monitor beeping beside him was driving him mad. He awoke softly and slowly, eyes blinking languidly until they could take in enough of his surroundings. He wasn't surprised to find he wasn't in hospital. Harsh green swirls of outdated paper on the walls surrounded him and he cringed. Scratchy sheets and a light blanket were tucked around him. Alex flicked his almost numb index finger, not surprised to find a pulse monitor attached.

A page turned somewhere to his left and Alex slid his eyes over. He was surprised to find the man he knew as Wolf stretched out comfortably in the chair beside the bed, flipping through the International section of newspaper Alex couldn't quite translate. Feeling his eyebrows rise at the man's presence, at his bedside no less, Alex snatched up the clicker from the table, feeling his muscles protest at the movement.

Disappointed to find that the television programmes were in the same language as the newspaper, Alex clicked through them before deciding upon a football game. That at least didn't take language skills to understand. Wolf glanced over at him, realising he was awake.

"Water?" he offered, folding up the newspaper and setting it on the table beside him.

"Sure," Alex's voice was harsh with disuse, his throat cracked from heat, his lips chapped, and his body sunburnt. "Thanks." Wolf disappeared into the hall for a moment before returning with a water bottle—an English label wrapped around it. He handed it over and Alex took several guilty gulps before collapsing into a coughing fit.

A cool, firm hand rubbed his bare back soothingly, careful of the burnt skin. "You're in the British Embassy in Ankara," Wolf informed him in a business-like voice, but betrayed his sympathy. "We airlifted you out of the Syria-Iraq border, but MI6 wouldn't risk a hospital. They sent one of their own." He jerked his head toward the door, "He's down the hall."

Alex nodded silently at the information and glared lightly at the bottle of water in his hand, wondering if he dared to take another sip, and began to realise what Wolf was doing here.

"You did good, Cub," and a compliment from Wolf was practically a commendation. "You were quick to take in the situation and you thought on your feet to find a solution. Not your fault MI6 didn't hold up their end."

The words seemed empty to Alex. "Daniels?" he rasped.

"Your Mrs Jones thought it best to reassign him. He's currently somewhere off the coast of Algeria."

Alex gestured wildly with his hand. "What!" was the only word he dared to spit out, though it was clear he had a thousand more on the subject.

"He rang me as soon as he was clear to. Said the MI6 were idiots for leaving you alone. I talked to my superiors. We barely got clearance for the whole operation." The soldier was silent for a few moments before dropping, "Didn't think I'd be seeing you again." And definitely not like he had.

"Yeah… well…"

But the man cut him off. "Fox gave you his rubbish speech about being the only one who could save the world. The 'how could you let someone else do the job you hate so much?' speech." Wolf scoffed, "Load of bullocks."

"Really think so?" He risked a small sip of the water and it felt cool against his lips and throat.

"You're a kid, Cub. What's so wrong with being a kid for awhile?"

"I can't really go back, now though can I?" He took another sip. "I've already experienced too much to be just a regular sort of kid."

Dry, thick, hot air was nothing new to Wolf, but the soldier couldn't imagine a fifteen-year-old boy taking more than a day of it. The fact that Cub had been out here for more than ninety-six hours sent a cold dagger through the pit of his stomach. There was no way in hell he was still alive, and yet his SAS team was out here searching. Mainly because Fox had called in a favour.

His superiors had taken a bit more convincing, but when MI6 had demanded their services, the higher-ups of SAS had to give in. Wolf's team had geared up and had been inserted near to the last location Alex had made contact with MI6. Alex's "trail" had led them through several desolate towns and for many long miles through the middle of nowhere. Now, there was evidence to suggest Alex had been out in this desert for four days without food, water, or human contact.

After days of trekking through the Syrian Desert, they'd almost reached Deir mar Musa when Bear--the newest member of their team-- had noticed a discrepancy in the reddish rocky terrain. A boy was collapsed against the side of a rock. Speedily, they made their way over to the body as though they were making their way towards a fallen comrade. Cub was a part of their unit, after all. It looked nothing like the Alex Rider he'd seen before. The boy's skin was stained dark with some sort of chemical and the sunburns were hardly noticable underneath if someone hadn't been looking for them. Beneath his headscarf, the normally fair hair was darker than his skin. But, this was definitely Cub. As Eagle called it in over the satphone, the other three of them went into care mode.

The kid's breathing was irregular and his pulse was weak. His body was littered with intentional bruises and consequential cuts and the bottoms of his feet were torn to bits. Snake went through his bag and it was determined that Alex had run out of water almost twelve hours ago. His fever was particularly high according to the thermometer and there was a fatal wound on his left side beneath his ribs weeping blood and puss. Wolf inserted an emergency IV into the kid's body and Bear began treating the cuts. No one said a word.

They all knew it was impossible that Cub was alive, even if just barely. What was this kid, anyways?

"How?" Wolf asked lowly. "You were in that desert for four days. You hadn't had a drop of water for over twelve hours. And how did you get out of the compound in the first place?"

Alex shifted uncomfortably, cringing as his skin scratched against the sheets. "I don't really remember."

"Rubbish," Wolf dismissed.

The fifteen-year-old not quite a man avoided his eyes. "I got the information I was sent to get. That's all anyone ever wants to know." His voice held a touch of desperation. He did not want to talk about it.

Wolf wasn't about to let him not talk about it. Soldiers who had seen combat went through mandatory psychological evaluations. He was sure MI6 didn't provide Alex with that service. "I'm sure MI6 will want a full debriefing when you get back to London. But I don't give a damn about that." Alex felt the man's eyes examine him. "I want to know what happened to you."

Alex felt himself slipping into the soft darkness as he heard the door slam shut behind the two men that had just graced him with their presence. He ground his teeth together, the metallic taste of his own blood seeping through his cracked lips, as he tried to stay conscious. He hadn't given them any clue as to who he was or who he was working for, but a day or so more and he was sure to spill. Every person had their breaking point and Alex had just about reached his. Every cut, every bruise, every wound was like an electric current of pain jolting through him and for once Alex was thankful for the pain because it was keeping him awake.

And the men hadn't locked the door.

He'd heard the door ring shut with their frustration, but he hadn't heard the lock click or the deadbolt bang into place. His breathing picked up pace, becoming more shallow as his excitement grew, and he forced himself to calm down and not let the adrenaline kill him. The layout of the compound was fresh in his mind, courtesy of the bluprints MI6 had supplied him with. And a plan of escape formulated in his mind.

God. Daniels was right. He was lucky.

Picking himself slowly up off the ground, he made his way to the metal door and tried the handle. The door slid open, effortlessly. The hinges creaked with the effort. Alex winced, sure he was caught. But no one came. There was not even a sound. The hall was clear. Closing his eyes and focusing on the memory of the layout, Alex took two lefts and a right. Yes! The double doors to the outside were before him.

He was about to open them when his eyes caught sight of a stack of supply bags. Alex slung one over his shoulder and slung a rather small automatic firearm from the rack over the other, shoving some extra magazines into his pack. He opened one side of the door. Damn. There was a line of guards near the edge of the fencing. He needed a distraction. Noticing a few packs of explosives, Alex trekked back into the heart of the compound.

"I'd wondered if that was you." Was all Wolf said.


The SAS soldier decided not to burden Cub with the fact that the explosion had killed twelve men and injured about twenty more. "It was in the report. You almost took out a whole wing."

Alex shrugged, grimacing at the movement. "It was the first thing I thought of. I just took it and ran with it."

"Sometimes that's all you can do, Cub." If Alex didn't kow better, he'd think it was pride shining in Wolf's voice.

The helicopter had arrived, blades whirring--almost an half minute late, Wolf clocked. His keen eyes took in the pilot and co-pilot at the head of the helo as the man with the gurney jumped out. Bear and Snake ran up to help the man. Eagle hopped inside the bird to connect with the pilots. Wolf stayed beside the kid. For the first time in his career, Wolf felt somewaht out of place as he simply stood there. Like he had no funtion. He shook his head, dissolving dangerous thoughts.

Quickly and efficiently, Alex was lifted atop the gurney, held down by Bear's massive arms and Snake's loose grip around his legs. Once situated on the helicopter and on their way, Wolf turned to the man--who was now checking Alex over--and touched bases. "Wolf," he introduced, "And K-Unit. Who are you?"

The man stopped his examination of Cub and straightened as best he could inside the airbourne helicopter. "Dr. Jeremy Benson, MI6." He leaned in close be sure his words were heard. "I'm here to take care of the injured party."

The man definitely talked like MI6. "Cub needs hospital!" Wolf yelled urgently.

"No can do!" the doctor vetoed, his hands working deftly around Alex's wounds, but not avoiding the burnt skin. "Pilot's got orders to land straight at the base in Turkey. We'll be transferred to the Embassy in Ankara! No hospital!"

Wolf did not like the sound of that, but before he could say anything Alex came to, struggling violently and strategically against the men holding him down. Bear jerked back, hands to a broken nose, and Snake was wrenched to the floor. Wolf dove inside the foray, grabbing a firm hold of Cub's upper torso.

"Alex!" If Wolf thought the sound of his name would reassure the kid, he'd been wrong, for Alex only struggled more furiously against him. "Does the kid have a trust word?" he asked the world at large.

No one answered.

"Eagle!" he called the tech-savvy man to attention. "Does the kid have a fucking trust word!"

Snake had regripped Alex's legs, bringing him under control. The kid's upper body was cradled near Wolf's chest. He still squirmed. The doctor, whose name Wolf didn't want to care enough to remember but training didn't allow him to forget, had readied a sedative. The leader of K-Unit cut him off with a glare and the man backpedaled.

"Try..." Eagle's voice shouted from the front, "Try ymaros!"

Wolf heard the word. "What?"

"Y-mar-os!" Eagle felt the need to sound it out.

"Fitting," Bear chimed in, knowing the meaning of the Welsh word.

Lowering his lips to Alex's ear, Wolf spoke clearly, "Ymaros, Alex." He was surprised at how still the boy became at the word. He hadn't thought MI6 would have gone through with that particular training. "Ymaros."

"Dan," the rasping voice cracked, "iels?" The first word Alex had said coherently.

"Wolf." He assured the kid. "You're okay, Cub. You're safe."

A choked sob of relief wracked his body and Wolf tightened his arms around the boy. In the heat, Alex was shaking.

"I'm alright."

But the whispered words convinced Wolf of the opposite. He shook his head slowly, sadly. "No, Alex, you're not."

"I will be." The kid's voice was resolute. "Given time."

"You won't be given the time. A week, maybe two if you're lucky, and you'll be right back out there." He leaned forward. "Someday, Alex, your luck's going to be stretched thin. And no one will be there to bail you out."

"I won't go back. Not now. Not ever. This is who I am. This is who I'm supposed to be." The words tumbled from his mouth. He fell prey to another coughing fit and turned away from Wolf. The tears in the corners of his eyes weren't necessarily a result of his cough.

"You deserve better." The soldier's hands were gentle and comforting on his back. "Breathe through your nose."

"I'm sorry." Made its way out from between fits and Alex wasn't even sure what he was sorry for or who he was apologising to. He simply knew that he couldn't stand this tug of war over his emotions and his honour and who he should be any longer or he was going to go mad. He was completely exhausted. He just wanted to fall into the oblivion that sleep provided.

Wolf seemed to understand. "Sleep, Cub. You're safe." Warm, strong hands soothed and for a long moment, Alex imagined that this was what it was like to have someone who cared. With a deep breath, he realised that he didn't have to imagine.

The kid was back asleep within moments. Wolf stepped out of the room and into the rest of K-Unit standing guard right outside. They were all looking at him anxiously. "He's going to burn out before he's eighteen the way he's being sent back into the field." He made his decision quickly and handed out orders. "If MI6 doesn't agree to our terms concerning Cub, I want a plan in place to 'get him the hell out of dodge' for awhile."

Eagle volunteered first. "I'll set up communications."

"We won't be able to move him for a few more days." Snake informed the group of a variable to calculate into their plans.

"And we've that doctor to worry about," Bear reminded them.

Wolf growled lowly. He really didn't like that man. "Just knock him on the head and shove him in a closet." The rest of the unit had a a difficult time not smiling at the protectiveness seeping into his voice.

"We can get him to a safe house in forty-eight hours," he estimated, "and we'll have to contact that housekeeping woman."

"Jack Starbright," Bear supplied, "She's out a visa."

"Take care of it." Wolf's voice was firm and short and commanding. "All of it. I'm going to keep an eye on the kid for a bit." The team watched their leader re-enter the room of their fallen comrade with a bit of a warm feeling. It was... cute, for lack of a better word, to see the man so protective of Cub.

"You know," Snake began casually, "I almost hope MI6 doesn't agree just so we can watch the two of them." It was better than television to watch Cub and Wolf interact.

"They'll agree," and Eagle's voice was almost regretful, "He'll be back in the field in a few months. He's too good for MI6 to give him up. But, once he's back, he'll have all the benefits of an adult spy and he'll have us as priority back-up." That was enough to placate the others.

Besides, it would be nice working with Cub again.

AN: The Welsh word ymaros means "to endure in the sense of surviving pain or hardship". My reasoning is that as Alex was went through his training in Wales, he most likely received his trust word at that compound. And they probably wanted it to be something meaningful and not said in everyday conversations.