A/N - This fic was co-written by myself and the wonderful Nyxelestia! Last Wednesday (June 10th) was the anniversary of our friendship and in celebration of a year of collaboration (What's that you say? Insantiy?) we wrote this. *cough* We just won't mention that we wrote this first and came up with an excuse to post it later...And why wasn't this posted on Wednesday, you ask? Well, that would be because of this little final AP Chem project that turned into a monster...an awesome monster that is, but a monster none-the-less :D

The comics described within are real, from xkcd . com, and are used withing the terms of their CC Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License. I suggest checking the series out if you don't know what I'm talking about. Links to the specific comics will be up on both mine and Nyxie's profiles if you'd like to see them.

Thanks goes to Jusmine for a lovely beta job.

One spring day in a study hall in a London school….

"Isn't my new laptop sick?" Alex asked Tom, grinning proudly while displaying his shiny, new toy.

"It's wicked," Tom replied, gazing at it enviously. "Is it from – you know?"

"Yeah, Smithers made it for me. Check this out – it can access the web from anywhere. Even here, where our shitty school doesn't have Wi-fi," Alex said, opening Firefox.

"Bloody hell, mate, that's awesome!" Tom exclaimed as Google loaded. "That's so unfair."

"So what would you like to do on the whole wide, world web?" Alex asked.

"Erm...porn?" Tom offered. "Or Facebook? Wait, no...well, Yahoo we can get, anywhere...xkcd?"

"What the hell is xkcd?"

Tom's eyes widened in horror. "You don't know what xkcd is?"

Alex rolled his eyes. "I just got back from a two month long mission. I'm not exactly up on the latest sites."

"It's not the latest site! It's the archive of the world's best comics! How could you not know about it?!" Tom exclaimed dramatically. "Ok, we're fixing this, right now: xkcd-dot-com."

Alex stuck out his tongue at Tom, but typed in the address. "'A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language'?" he questioned.

"Hell, yea!" Tom enthused. "You know you love geekiness."

"Sure," Alex said dryly. "Okay, where-"

"Click archive," Tom said, turning his chair to face Alex's computer more. "Okay, er...hm, where to start..."

"Cover Up?" Alex asked.

"Yea, yea," Tom said. "I know that one...542, I think."

"What?"

"Never mind, just click it."

"Fine, clicking," Alex grumbled. Tom watched Alex with barely contained glee. "...blood off the walls....'Gullible' is written on the ceiling - HAHA!" Alex burst out laughing. "That is amazing!"

The teacher glared at them warningly, and Alex quieted, sending her an apologetic look.

"Seriously, that is amazing," he repeated to Tom, when she turned away.

Tom just looked smug. "Told you so."

"Okay," Alex said. "You pick one."

"Erm...click 'Large Hardon Collider' - I've never read that one, before."

Alex clicked, obediently. "Is this about that proton collider everyone was convinced would open a black hole and swallow up the Earth?"

"Yup," Tom said, as they read to the end.

Alex read it again. "…how the hell do you give a helicopter cancer?"

"There's just some things you do not ask," Tom replied sagely. "It's your turn, by the way."

"Erm...Python."

"Python?" Tom asked.

"Makes sense," Alex said, as he clicked it. "Python is a computer programming language. I had to learn it for my mission reconning Herod Sayle - the one in Cornwall."

"So? Click it."

They read it together.

"I vote everything in the medicine cabinet," Alex said, while Tom asked, "'Import anti-gravity'?"

"Programming language joke," Alex explained.

"Riiiiight," Tom replied.

"Just smile and nod," Alex suggested. "You pick."

"Hm....try Open Source. We'll see what you have to say about that..." Tom chose.

"…what the fuck?" Alex, snickered as they got to the end. "It's like Microsoft ninja assassins."

"I'd get an assault rifle," Tom said.

"I'll stick to my Beretta," Alex said jovially.

"Yeah, but you only have to worry about criminal organization assassins. These are Microsoft Ninjas. We're fighting for a GNU dawn here! And it's your pick."

"Let's do 'I Know You're Listening'." Alex said, clicking on it, seeing only two panels. On the top, it said, NOW AND THEN, I ANNOUNCE "I KNOW YOU'RE LISTENING" INTO EMPTY ROOMS. Under the two panels, it said, IF I'M WRONG, NO ONE KNOWS. AND IF I'M RIGHT, MAYBE I JUST FREAKED THE HELL OUT OF SOME SECRET ORGANIZATION. On the left panel, it showed a stick figure sitting on a sofa, reading a book, and apparently saying the aforementioned phrase. On the right panel, it showed a shocked stick figure at what appeared to be a monitor of some sort, apparently listening to this phrase.

"Oh my god, Alex, it's a comic custom-made for you!" Tom exclaimed, reading. "A secret organization and everything!"

"Ha bloody ha," Alex answered.

"Y'know," Tom said. "Maybe MI6 is bugging your house. You should try this!"

"I doubt it," Alex said, with another eye-roll. "It would cost them quite a bit to do this. Do you know how many MI6 officers there are? There's no way they'd have the man power to monitor all that."

"Yeah, but aren't you, like, a special agent or whatnot?" Tom asked.

"Tom, I highly, highly doubt they're bugging my house," Alex said skeptically.

"Still - I bet you that if you go home and try this MI6 will flip on you. Loser has to record a striptease and post it on YouTube..." Tom grinned mischievously.

"Yeah, right..." Alex paused. Tom was the bisexual one, but damn if this wouldn't humiliate him. Get him back for the Science Class Pudding-and-Porn Incident. It's not like Tom would win...right?

"Alex?"

"Done."

"Wait," Tom said. "Set up a video camera or something - but act, so if someone was watching, they couldn't figure out what you're doing - and record yourself, in your house, doing it. I don't trust you."

"Why not?" Alex asked, slightly offended.

"If multi-billionaire mega-corporate leaders can't trust you, why should I?" Tom pointed out.

"Because you're not trying to kill me," Alex said seriously.

"But you are trying to avoid a striptease. Record." Tom ordered.

"Fine, fine - I'm going to win, anyway."

Tom snorted. "You wish."

"Oh yeah? Well, we'll see what you're saying when everyone watches your striptease."

"You are so going down," Tom retorted.

"On you? You wish," Alex scoffed.

"Fuck you!"

Alex grinned. "You know you want to."

--

Alex sighed as he sat down in front of the television and stereo system, all switched off, and pulled out his English homework. Damn poems...

He went about his homework issues like normal, working through all the symbolism and aesthetic verbiage and cursing his English teacher to hell and back and back to hell again not-so-under his breath the entire way, before stopping midway through to take a break, and apparently play with Tom's new video camera (after all, when he recorded Tom's striptease, he was going to have to know how to use it), and at one point, leaving it on 'without realizing it,' on the table, facing roughly in the general area of the telly, and going back to his work.

He turned his head up slightly towards the blank telly. According to Tom, if someone were to bug his place, that's where they'd put it.

"I know you're listening," Alex said, before deciding to elaborate a little for Tom's benefit. "It's really getting rather annoying. And honestly, do you think I'd do anything interesting here?"

That done, Alex turned back to the thrice-damned poems.

----
Some hours later...

"Uh, Mr. Anderson, Sir, I think we have a problem here."

The superior surveillance officer on call rolled his eyes before turning around. Why did his shift have to be picked to get the new recruit? It'd be a divine intervention if he didn't kill him before the week was out. "Sanders, what's the problem?"

"Well, uh, Sir, you see, we were just doing our routine audio sweeps of medium risk agents, you know, like is scheduled for Thursdays- " the new man stammered.

"Yes, Sanders, the point?" Anderson said with no small amount of exasperation.

"Well, I was, uh, just checking on this Rider guy, should be a non-issue, never had any problems before..."

"The point, Sanders."

"Well, Sir, we picked up this:

"...I know you're listening...It's really getting rather annoying. And honestly, do you think I'd do anything interesting here?"

Sanders stopped the recording. "That's it, Sir. Just the accusation. Nothing before or after."

Anderson sighed. And he'd almost been done with his shift, too.

"And I take it this Agent Rider is not supposed to know he's under surveillance?" he asked, already sure of the answer.

"Well, uh, that's the thing Sir. He only has Level 3 clearance. No one under Level 2 outside of this department is supposed to know about the regular sweeps."

Yes, this was definitely not his day, Anderson decided. "Flag him, and send a page up to his handlers. Let's get this mess off our hands."

"Will do, Sir."

"And Sanders?"

"Yes, Sir?"

"Good work."

Sanders beamed.

"Thank you, Sir."

----

Six Floors Above Them...

Mrs. Jones walked quickly into Alan Blunt's office.

"I think we may have a situation. Alex Rider has somehow found out about the surveillance of his home. We have no idea yet of how he came by this information, but we may be looking at a serious security leak." She handed over the file folder she was holding.

Blunt flipped through it impassively. "Send Crawley to talk to Rider. See if he can find out any additional information. And put a team on figuring this out. If there is a leak, I want it found and neutralized," he ordered coldly.

"I'll see to it," Mrs. Jones said, and left.

--

Alex sighed the next day as he saw a black sedan - a GM Opel, if he was not mistaken - pull up beside him as he biked to school, and slowed to match pace with him, before the driver's window rolled down just a touch.

John Crawley.

"Alex," his handler called out. "I need a word with you."

"Another mission?"

"No. Get in the car."

"What about my bike?"

The rear hood popped open. "Put it in the boot. "It'll be tight, but it will fit."

Sadly, the man was right. He coughed as he stuffed his bike in. Honestly, couldn't MI6 afford to fix their exhaust system? He wasn't picky, but those fumes were just noxious. Closing the hood, Alex vaguely wondered if this was a good idea.

They went about half a block just driving, Alex sculpting his face into a calm mask, ready to take and accept anything the man told him.

"How did you know we were listening to you?"

"Say again?"

Instead, Crawley produced a digital recorder from nowhere and hit play without actually looking at it.

"...I know you're listening...It's really getting rather annoying. And honestly, do you think I'd do anything interesting here?"

Alex only blinked, but inside, he was reeling.

Tom was right?

They were actually fucking monitoring him!

"Rider?" Crawley asked.

"Yes?"

"How did you know?"

Alex kept his face neutral, but inside...fuck it, inside, he was laughing. Hard enough that his arse had fallen off and was now trailing about another block behind them and that woman's dog was about to eat it.

They seriously thought he knew what was going on!

"Agent Rider?"

Now the question was what the hell to do about this...

"That's for me to know and you to...well, not know, I guess."

"This isn't a joke, Rider," Crawley said, his voice still just as neutral and emotionless as Alex's. "With this kind of security leak, we need to know how to make sure no other monitors are compromised-"

"I don't care about other agents," Alex said. "I just don't like you recording my personal affairs. I like my privacy, thanks, and don't want you using it against me."

"I fail to see how a recording of the blowjob you received from Miss Pleasure can be used against you...or at all."

Alex mostly managed to hide his blush.

"That was the only thing I was stupid enough to do in the house. But really - you don't have much to fear from me. And if nothing else, you know I wouldn't be stupid enough to do anything you could possibly be interested in at home, now that I know the bugs are there."

Another deep breath from Crawley, and Alex continued. "Just do me a favor and take those bugs down. And please remember, I'll know whether or not you actually did it."

Crawley's knuckles on the wheel tightened, just as he pulled up in front of Alex's house. "Agreed. Tomorrow, we will come your home while you are at school and remove them. And will you tell us how you learned of the bugs?"

Alex smirked as he opened the door. "Figuring that out is your problem."

As he pulled his bike out, it finally hit him: MI6 was monitoring him.

They really didn't trust him, did they? But suddenly, he was panicking, internally. How long have they had these bugs in place? How long have they been monitoring him? How thorough was it? What did they hear? Alex's nightmares? His experimental encounters with Sabina? Jack's love life which she was convinced Alex knew nothing of?

Alex telling Tom all about his missions?

Oh, shit. This was not good.

--

As Alex locked his bike to the bicycle rack just outside school, Tom shoved the wheel of his right into the one next to Alex's and asked, "Any particular reason I saw you getting out of a non-descript black sedan with a man who looked like a robot driving it?"

He blinked when he saw Alex's nearly panicked look on his face. "Bloody hell, Tom, you were right! They are bugging me."

Now Tom's eyes were wide. "Really?"

"Yeah. They even have a recording of that blowjob I got from Sabina!"

As Tom locked his bike, he said, "They really don't trust you, do they?"

"No, but shit, mate - I don't know how long those bugs have been there, or how, or if this is a general precaution or they do this specifically for me or...or..." Alex sighed. "I at least got them to agree to remove the bugs."

"How did you know about this?" Tom asked.

"Crawley was just asking me how I knew. He heard me...saying..."

Suddenly, Alex groaned, as he said, "As I said, 'I know you're listening'."

Tom slowly smiled, and stood up from his crouched position by his bike.

"So...this means I won?"

Alex shut his eyes and nodded.

Tom's grin turned positively feral as they headed up to the school. "Hm...so, shall we record the striptease this weekend, then? We can even use my new camera."

Alex groaned again.

"That's the spirit," Tom said jovially.

--

Alex took a deep breath as he carefully entered the house, setting his bag down with trepidation, before remembering that Crawley had agreed to remove the bugs.

And as he headed to the kitchen, he remembered who he was dealing with.

Trust no one.

Somehow, he doubted that MI6 would agree to removal of monitoring devices just on spoken pleas.

Hiding a smirk, he sat down on the couch with a Sprite and sandwich, pulled out his homework, and said into the empty air before him, "Do you really think I'm this stupid? I know you're still listening."

Still fighting the strong urge to smirk, he turned to his homework and settled back into his daily routine.

--

The next day, Alex was hardly surprised when the black sedan pulled up next to him.

"You really need to think about a new exhaust system," he said immediately after getting into the car. "And you lied."

Crawley shrugged, ignoring the first part. "I'm a spook. What did you expect? The truth?"

"Hardly," Alex replied.

"Will you tell me now how you know that they're still there?" Crawley asked.

"Well, since you asked so nicely...no." Alex smirked.

"Rider...Alex, the heads are going crazy over this. If there's a security leak, we need to know and we need to know now. This could be very bad for us."

Alex just raised a brow. "Well, bugger for you, then," he said blandly.

"If you don't tell me, there's going to be a full search of everyone in MI6 and none of us want that," Crawley said, attempting to look reasonable and friendly.

"What, afraid they'll find your secret porn collection?" Alex snorted.

"No!" Crawley denied, offended. "A full search means that we'll be running at low capabilities for months potentially, and that puts the citizens of the realm at risk. People's lives are at stake. I'm appealing to you as a fellow member of the Secret Intelligence Service to do your duty to your queen and your country."

Alex looked at him steadily for a moment before he burst out laughing. "Does that actually work on anyone?" he laughed.

"It was worth a shot," Crawley muttered huffily. He waited for Alex to calm down before pulling out the big guns. "Now Alex, I really wanted to avoid this, but I'm afraid since you're resisting I'll be forced to bring you in, and I warn you that it will not be pleasant. The new bugs were far more advanced and the higher ups are really quite...desperate... to find out if you can detect them." he said coldly.

Shit! Alex suddenly realized this could turn very bad very quickly. He'd better do some thinking, fast. "Are you sure that that's a good idea?" Alex replied just as coolly. "I've withstood interrogation before. What makes you think you'd be any more successful? And besides, I've known about the bugs for a while now. How do you know I haven't made contingent plans for this very incidence? Trust me, things could go very badly for MI6 should you do as you're threatening me."

"You're bluffing," Crawley said, but Alex could see the doubt in the man's eyes.

He smiled a dangerous smile. "Ah, but you don't know that. And you're not going to take that risk are you?"

Crawley didn't answer, just looked away.

"You know, for someone who wants something from me, you're not being very nice. Oddly, I don't feel compelled to share all my secrets while being threatened and patronized. I might be much more amenable if you were to do something I want."

"Like what?" Crawley asked.

"Oh, I don't know...removing the bugs might make me feel much more generous with my information."

"The surveillance is non-negotiable," Crawley said stiffly.

"Well, that's a real shame isn't it? In that case, I'm afraid I'm unable to disclose how I know." Alex smirked as they pulled up to his school. "So nice to chat, but I've got to run," he said mockingly. He paused, one hand on the door. "Oh, and tell your master that next time to talk to me himself. This is far too big for a middle-ranking spook."

He got out, got his bike, and walked away quickly, waiting until he got around the corner to collapse against the wall laughing. God, that was far too much fun.

--

"...and he said he'll only talk to you next time. He seemed quite cocky, sir."

Alan Blunt stared across the desk at Crawley as the man finished his report. "Alex Rider is developing into a much bigger problem than anticipated. But we'll set that matter aside for now. Mrs. Jones, how is the team progressing on finding the leak?"

"No luck so far, I'm afraid. We're pursuing both the angles that someone told Alex about the surveillance and that he somehow acquired a bug locating device. We've spoken to Smithers. The bugs we replaced the old ones with are far more advanced, cutting edge actually. Smithers says he doesn't yet know of a device that can locate them, and that if one exists it would be both highly superior to anything we have and highly coveted. He feels it's not impossible, but highly unlikely Alex could have gotten a hold of such a device."

Blunt nodded and looked pensive for a moment. "Tell the team to focus more on a possible source for the information. Crawley, review the tapes of the encounters to see if we can glean any information from them. And have Smithers look more into any device or method our Alex Rider may be employing. I want this problem solved and I want it solved now."

--

Alex gaped at the computer screen before him, as the video "How To Perform A Striptease" finished. And it was only marginally better than the few videos of actual stripteases Tom had made Alex watch.

"You expect me to do that? On camera? And let you post it online?!"

Tom just nodded, still pushing back furniture in Alex's room to give Alex some space to 'work', smiling at the camera sitting on the mandatory straight-backed chair. Alex vaguely wondered if Tom had watched the videos before, for Tom to know about the apparent necessity of said chair beforehand.

"I...Tom...do we really need to post it online?"

"Then what would be the point of recording it?"

Alex grappled for something. "Your own personal wank fodder?"

Tom smiled. "Oh, don't worry - this is going to be my wank fodder, anyway. But the fun part will be in it being everyone else's wank fodder, too. I mean, Sabina is already looking forward to it-"

"She knows?!"

"-not to mention those girls on the football team want to see it, and of course the fully gay bloke who I'm still trying to ask out from the rugby team is looking forward to it, and the hott blonde twins from history class..."

Tom stopped upon the look of horror on Alex's face.

"Did you really...?" Alex rasped.

Tom quirked an eyebrow. "I dunno. I may be lying. I hang around with you, remember?"

Alex winced as he looked back at the video, frozen at a bulletin saying that prostitution was legal in Iceland, but stripteasing wasn't.

"Do I really have to do this...?"

"Yes."

Alex sighed, relenting. "Fine, fine...you said you had my 'outfit'?"

Tom smirked, and reached into his backpack, getting out the trousers.

A moment later, Alex was pretty sure his eyes had popped out of his head. "Where the hell did you get that?!"

The other boy was laughing as Alex's horrified eyes still tried to process the clearly-meant-to-hug-the-sinfully-lower-body black leather trousers - and still shiny, too.

"Ask me no questions, I tell you no lies."

"...you do realize that fact that I'm alive, today, is based upon the fact I ask questions, right?"

Tom shook his head. "Here, put this on, I'll get the rest out-"

"There's more?!"

"Yes - now, c'mon - you still have to cover up your scars with that special make-up of yours."

In the end, Alex was groaning, yet again, looking at himself in that accursed full-size mirror Jack had gotten him. He was in the black leather trousers, an electric blue tee-shirt with a silvery-white sequined vest and a broad, black belt with silver studs was slung low on his hips. And where the hell did Tom get the black leather fedora?

Tom was drooling as Alex attempted to inspect his arse.

...actually, it wasn't too bad.

"Sabina's going to die when she sees this," Tom said, with a snort, setting up the camera.

Alex took a deep breath, feeling like he was already walking the plank.

The analogy in his head continued to hormonal teenagers and sharks, and he suddenly felt that it was a little too accurate...

"C'mon, Alex!" Tom said, setting up the stand on which the camera was to be placed, checking some functions on it, pointing to the chair in the middle. "No use stalling, mate."

Alex sighed, and watched dejectedly as Tom shut the blinds on the window (despite the fact it was now nighttime), and swathed the light fixtures in the room with red and gold veils, dimming the room and coating it in supposedly-flattering lighting.

Considering Tom's expression as he openly eyeballed Alex standing nervously in the middle, Alex would have to guess it worked.

"Now, Alex, remember - focus on the hips. And think sexy, got it? The entire time. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet - they'll come out less sore that way, and allow for easier hip movement. And keep your knees slightly bent - that allows for more hip movement. Your arms aren't the focus, so just use them to direct attention to what is the focus...chest, stomach, crotch, hips, and legs."

Alex gave Tom a long, analytical look. "Er...Tom? How, exactly, do you know all this so well?"

Tom blushed, but said, "Does it matter? You're the one stripping, right now, not me."

Sadly, Tom was right. Alex winced as Tom did the last few steps, connecting some wires between the camera and laptop so that the music was the only sound recorded.

Tom hit a few keys on Alex's laptop (the damn thing which started this all), and soon, a strip song - Buttons, by the Pussy Cat Dolls - started playing.

Turning back to Alex, Tom grinned, giving the hand signal which clearly meant, GO.

Sighing, Alex started turning his hips to the beat of the music - dear God, it was even actually about stripping - and turned in place, carefully-

"You have an entire room, Alex, use it."

Keeping in the sigh, Alex started doing just that, wiggling his arse as much as he deemed necessary (though from Tom's hand gestures, never quite enough), and occasionally making a few thrusting movements with his hips, as he slowly peeled off the vest.

"Use the chair."

Alex didn't nod, but when the beat of the music sharpened, he put a foot up on the chair and allowed his shoulders to follow suit, gestures becoming more angular than smooth.

Twirling the chair in a fairly gruff manner, Alex ended up with the back of the chair facing the camera. Remembering some moves from the current song's video, Alex got on the chair, standing on it and sticking his arse up to the side, he, himself, bent over, and arching his back slightly.

Tom seemed particularly appreciative of that move.

He turned so he was facing the camera, too, and, keeping his feet in place, moved his body down, spreading his knees as he went, hips gyrating as he gave a hopefully sultry head toss, throwing off his hat to the side.

He did the jump that one of the brunettes in the video did so he landed on his feet on either side of the chair - and barely kept his manhood from being hurt in the process - and backed up slightly, whirling the chair and himself so that he was seated, legs spread again, rolling his hips again.

Tom made a few hand gestures towards the hem of his own shirt and nodding, Alex reached down and slowly pulled off his electric blue shirt, deciding to put in a little extra effort and flex his rock-hard, model-worthy abs as he did so, giving his shoulders a nice little roll as he pulled off the shirt completely.

Tom gave him an appreciative leer and Alex smirked in reply, starting to really get into it. Damn, as embarrassing as this was, he couldn't help but feel sexy, swinging his hips and dragging a hand down his bare chest as he stood up.

He watched Tom's hand as it descended to pull on his belt buckle. Alex's eyes widened. Oh god, Tom wasn't really going to...He then realized that his friend was merely signaling for him to take off his belt now, and felt a bit stupid, though definitely relieved. There were some things that should just not be done with a best mate.

He reached down for his belt, leaning back somewhat, remembering what the video said about eye contact, and stared straight at the camera. He toyed with the buckle before slowly undoing it. Sending a scorching look at the camera, he sensuously pulled it out, through each belt loop, his hips in constant motion.

Once the end slid free, he held it up in front of him, sliding his hands suggestively along the supple material. Then ever so slowly, he raised it to his mouth and bit it. The leather tasted almost tangy in his mouth. He ended by draping it artfully around his neck, glancing over at Tom who was definitely drooling. That made him smirk even more. This was far, far too much fun. Belt still around his neck, he stood upright again as he twirled a little, showing off his espionage-toned body.

Tom motioned almost frantically at his trousers, and Alex obliged him, reaching down to hook his thumb in his trousers, his fingers playing with the button much as they did with the buckle. It was about then that Alex noticed that he was very, very hard. He flushed slightly, embarrassed at the thought that this was all being caught on camera. But then he shrugged it off. Who wouldn't be turned on by doing this?

Courage renewed, he slipped the button out of the hole and rolled the zipper down. Giving the camera a dirty look, he turned so he was facing the wall. Seductively he slid his hands in his waistband, hooking his thumbs. Feeling inspired, he dropped down to the floor like he'd seen the dancers in the videos do, and then stood, sticking out his arse, and sliding the trousers slowly down over the curve. The look he sent over his shoulder was hot enough to start fires.

"Oh my god, Alex! What the fuck is going on here?!" Jack's voice screeched.

Alex froze, head snapping to the doorway where a very shocked Jack was still trying to process the scene she'd stumbled into. Alex suddenly realized just how compromising of a situation he'd been caught in, and attempted to yank his pants up. He managed to fall flat on his face.

Jack looked from him to Tom to the laptop. "Is that the Pussycat Dolls?" she asked shocked.

Tom shut off the music and both he and Alex stared at her. Somehow, that question struck an overloaded Alex as hilarious and his collapsed into helpless giggles on the floor. Tom and Jack both stared at him now like he'd finally went off the deep end. Which he supposed he had.

"You walk in on this," he attempted to explain, gesturing to the scene. "And you comment on the music?!"

Tom caught on and started to chuckle, turning it into a full blown laugh and Jack joined him a second later. The situation was just obscenely ridiculous.

"So, considering a career change I should know about?" Jack asked Alex after, regaining some breath.

He glared at her mildly while Tom snickered. "I lost a bet," he said sullenly.

A realization suddenly struck Tom. "Damn, now we'll have to do it all over again." He didn't sound all that disappointed, though.

Alex just groaned and dropped his face back into the carpet. At least they didn't make fun of him.

He wondered if that should be the worrying part.

--

"Anything in the investigation?" Alan asked without salutations as Tulip walked into his office.

"Nothing," she said, taking a seat and opening the file. "We've checked for all possible moles within the monitoring offices, and all the firewalls on the computer monitors have been kept secure - no evidence of hacking, or even any discrepancies in the logs."

"And on Alex Rider?"

"Smithers stands firm that the new bugs are absolutely top of the line, and undetectable - and if they were, one of our technology agents would have known, by now."

"Do we know if there are any external sources of information Rider could have received this information from? Anything new with the monitoring?"

"No," she said with a sigh, turning another page in the file in her lap. "Though, he has been using the monitors against us."

Blunt frowned. "How?"

"Setting his stereo to play ridiculously loud and horrid music while he and his housekeeper are out of the house, randomly turning on and off recordings of porn, bombs, gunshots, drugs deals, scenes from crime movies from decades ago...he occasionally says things in otherwise empty rooms with a clear intent of talking to us. There was even a striptease, though his friend and housekeeper were there, and there was a mention of a bet, so we don't know if this was to antagonize us or for the bet."

Blunt gave a pensive sigh. "Is there anything we haven't looked into?"

"The bugs themselves may have some kind of damage or may somehow be making themselves apparent, but we will not be able to check that until he is out of the house. Though we have apparently been invited to do so, anyway."

Blunt raised an eyebrow, asking for elaboration.

"One of the lines he directed towards us," she explained, glancing down at the file. "He said, 'Feel free to look over the house - you won't find anything useful. You can even help yourself to some snacks from the kitchen. But not the cheddar crisps - those are mine. Try not to break anything and do clean up your messes. Jack's my housekeeper, not yours'." She glanced back up at her boss to see his reaction.

He was staring blankly ahead, a look she knew meant he was turning a problem over in his mind.

"Send in a team to check the bugs. If nothing turns up, I'm afraid I'll have to go to the Chief before this gets any more out of control." he said grimly.

Mrs. Jones looked at him seriously. Going to the Chief was a definite last resort. "Sir, perhaps we should consider Alex's request. He did tell Crawley he might talk if the bugs were removed."

Blunt took a deep breath and said, "As a last resort...I may consider it."

--

Alex blushed furiously as yet another kid in the hallway leered at him and licked her lips, and he turned to Tom, hissing, "I blame you for this!"

Tom just grinned as they continued on towards history class. "You shouldn't have made that bet. Besides, at least she wasn't as bad as the girls outside."

Remembering the Girls Outside practically assaulting Alex, praising him for the video, asking for more, and putting their hands insistently where they did not belong, Alex blushed furiously. Ignoring his job, that experience would likely traumatize him for the rest of his life.

Alex was about to retort, but was drowned out by the applause he encountered upon entering the classroom, and blinked in pause, before hearing the wolf whistles, cat calls, and jeers to 'take it all off', along with several leers, and lip licking. And many people had their iPods out, and even from this distance, Alex could see it was him on screen.

Damn it, where the hell was the teacher?

"C'mon, sweetie, dance for us!"

"Take it off, you know you can."

"I even have the music!"

Alex growled and said, "Shut up! And no!"

He glared at Tom and stomped towards his seat, only to find printouts of him in different stages of the desk...

...including one of him naked.

Eyes wide, he turned to Tom and said, "I checked the video on YouTube - it only goes up to my boxers! You said so, yourself..." He was fighting the heavy need to stutter, and barely keeping himself from stumbling over the words. "YouTube doesn't allow nudity!"

"Ah, yes," Tom said, slipping into his own seat beside Alex and glancing over at the printouts, the class quieting to hear their conversation. Tom seemed aware of this, if the sudden rise in his voice was any indication. "But, see, they have this wonderful thing called a 'more info' section next to each video that allows for all sorts of things to go in it...including kickback links to other video hosting sites that do allow nudity..."

Alex gaped, before he, horrified, scooped up all the printouts - but Tom just snatched them from Alex, and glancing around, the teen spy realized with dismay that getting rid of those printouts wouldn't have mattered, anyway - people had the videos, and even more printouts.

Shit.

With a groan, Alex dropped into his seat, and pulled up his scarf over his head in a futile attempt to hide himself, but even then, people were calling over to him, even as the bell rang. Where was the teacher?

--

"There's still no explanation." A sigh. "Very well. We have no choice then. Send out Crawley."

--

When Alex finally got home from school, tired and very irate from a day full of embarrassment, he was in no mood to find a stony-faced Crawley waiting for him in his kitchen.

"What the hell do you want now?" he asked irritably. "I thought I told you I wasn't going to talk to you anymore."

Crawley ignored him. "The heads have decided to consider your proposal that the bugs be removed," he said stiffly.

"And here I thought you said that was nonnegotiable," Alex added annoyingly sarcastic, folding his arms and leaning back against the counter.

"Yes, well, these are the terms: you will tell us how you are finding the bugs and then we will remove them," Crawley said looking decidedly displeased.

Alex raised a brow. "Now wait just a minute. I tell you first and then you remove the bugs? Now that just doesn't seem fair."

"Those are the terms," Crawley replied coldly.

"You know, it would seem to me that you people want something from me. And I just don't feel like giving you information when I don't know the bugs have been removed," Alex replied falsely nonchalant.

Crawley glared. "Do you have any idea how serious this is?" he exclaimed.

"Well then, I guess you'd better start cooperating with me, no?" Alex answered pleasantly.

Crawley was definitely scowling now.

"These are my terms," Alex continued. "You remove the bugs. I'll send you the information on how I knew the bugs were there. And, again, remember - I will know whether or not you did it."

"You say our terms are unacceptable, and then expect us to agree to that?" Crawley asked. "Those terms are unacceptable."

Alex fought a strong urge to snap at the man and...something. Something involving those kitchen knives which were barely over two arms' lengths away. "Look, you know what? I just spent the entire day being ritualistically humiliated by every fucking person in my school-"

"-due to the striptease?" Crawley offered. "Yes, we are quite aware of it. We had to scan the video to make sure there was no security-sensitive content. Unfortunately for you, there wasn't. However, it is quite popular among the MI6 upper levels, now."

Alex was blushing again. Great, not only the kids at his school are all in on it, now half the people from 'work' were, as well. He was going to strangle Tom - who was probably at home wanking to it right now - the next time he saw the little bastard.

Crawley was definitely smirking now, the bastard. They were all bastards as far as he was concerned.

"You know what?" he said irritably. "I don't feel like dealing with you right now. I'm tired, I feel like shit, and I have a headache. I've told you my terms, so you can just leave now. Tell Blunt that either he does what I want or I'll tell him nothing. End of story. Now get the hell out so I can go find some ibuprofen."

Crawley stared at him for a moment, but then nodded. "Very well, I'll leave," he turned and walked down the hall, pausing after opening the door. "Don't make the mistake of thinking this is over. We will find out how you know," he said ominously.

"Well then, I guess you'll be removing some bugs," Alex snapped, slamming the door shut and locking it. Bastards.

--

That night, as Alex was eating dinner with Jack, the phone rang. She answered it, then held it out to him. "It's for you," she said, looking worried.

Alex took the receiver. "Hello?"

"Alex, this is Alan Blunt," the cold voice came over the speaker.

"Ah, I was wondering if I'd hear from you," Alex said glibly.

"Yes, I received your terms. We've decided it is in our best interest to agree," Blunt said, sounding faintly bitter.

Alex smirked. "How lovely to hear that."

"The terms are as follows: the surveillance on your house will be removed tomorrow. By the end of the week you will send us full documentation of how you learned of the surveillance and the means by which you repeatedly detected it. Is this acceptable to you?"

Alex paused for a moment. Let Blunt squirm a bit. "It is," he said finally. He could have sworn there was a nearly undetectable sigh of relief on the other end.

"Very well," Blunt said. "Our business is concluded then."

"Indeed," Alex replied. If Blunt was going to be excessively formal, then he was going to have fun. "Later," he said, with all the impudence he could possibly fit into the one word, and hung up.

--

The next day when Alex returned home from school to an empty house, he immediately went to test if the bugs were still there. "I know you lied," he said to the vacant room. "I know you didn't take out the bugs."

The following morning he rode to school and no black sedan pulled up beside him emitting its noxious fumes. He smiled thinly. Ah, how he loved the smell of crisp spring air in the morning; it was the smell of victory.

He was still grinning like an idiot when he got to school and locked his bike into the racks, Tom raising an eyebrow speculatively as he braked beside Alex.

"Any reason why you're so happy today?" Tom asked.

"MI6 finally took out the bugs!" Alex said. At Tom's look of confusion, Alex elaborated, "They've been on my arse about it, and I finally got them to agree to get rid of the bugs."

A pause. "Oh, by the way..."

It was completely immature, Alex knew, but dammit, he didn't care. All he cared about was how much better he felt about the whole thing when he shoved Tom right off his bike and straight into the pavement below, bike crashing out from underneath the smaller boy, and the thud of flesh and the clatter of the bike ringing wondrously in his ears.

"What the fuck was that for?!" Tom yelped.

"The striptease...namely, spreading it, and making it 'popular'. It's gotten two million views on YouTube!"

Tom grinned, before frowning at Alex's suddenly angry look. "Er...Alex?"

"Did you know," Alex said ominously. "That MI-fucking-6 had to scan the video to make sure there was no security sensitive content? And damn you, there wasn't."

"They did?" Tom asked.

"Yes," Alex said tightly. "And not only that, but now the upper levels of MI6 are all in love with the video and it's all your fault."

Tom grinned. "If you think it got a lot of views on YouTube-"

"I don't want to know," Alex said.

"Don't deny you're sexy, Alex," Tom said, finally getting up and recomposing himself, picking up his bike. "You should be proud."

Alex sighed, and turned away. He'd be damned if he let Tom see the smile on his face at that.

--

Later that week, an innocent looking brown envelope arrived at MI6: Special Operations Headquarters addressed to 'Mr. Alan Blunt'.

It landed smack in the middle of his desk, a scowling Crawley by the door as Mrs. Jones, the one who dropped it on his desk, stared at Mr. Blunt expectantly.

He stared blankly back, clearly waiting for an explanation.

"It's from Alex Rider," was all Crawley said, which had Blunt opening it immediately, though with his usual meticulous care.

Three full size papers slid out, all folded neatly in half. One was taped shut, another paper-clipped, and one was just folded. Figuring out accurately the order in which Alex Rider intended they be read, as Crawley came over in the interest of knowing how Alex had done it, Blunt picked up the only-folded paper and opened it.

Rather than a technical document or list of sources as he'd been expecting, all it said in large typeface across the top was, "Here's your 'documentation'. Do what you want with it."

Mrs. Jones raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, as Blunt pulled the paperclip off the second paper.

At the top, the first thing he noticed was that there was a link. Number 540 at a site called...

"XKCD?" he muttered, before he looked at the center of the page, laid down on the table, at what appeared to be a...

...comic. At the top, the title was, "I Know You're Listening".

On the top, it said, NOW AND THEN, I ANNOUNCE "I KNOW YOU'RE LISTENING" INTO EMPTY ROOMS. Under the two panels, it said, IF I'M WRONG, NO ONE KNOWS. AND IF I'M RIGHT, MAYBE I JUST FREAKED THE HELL OUT OF SOME SECRET ORGANIZATION. On the left panel, it showed a stick figure sitting on a sofa, reading a book, and apparently saying the aforementioned phrase. On the right panel, it showed a shocked stick figure at what appeared to be a monitor of some sort, apparently listening to this phrase.

"You have got to be joking," Crawley said. "He didn't hold up his end of the bargain...he's just fucking with our heads again."

"Look at the third one," Mrs. Jones said.

Blunt used a letter-opener he kept otherwise-locked in his desk to open it neatly, and opening it to...another comic. From the same site. Entitled, "Cover Up".

It appeared to be about a bunch of stick figures trying to get rid of blood from a murder scene, but they forgot the ceiling, and some third person was due soon. The last box showed one of the first stick figures saying, "Hey, did you know gullible is written on your ceiling?", with the just-arrived one saying, "Hah, yeah, right" - and pointedly not looking at the ceiling.

The word 'gullible' was highlighted, underlined, and circled.

There was a moment of empty silence as they all realized exactly what had been going on all along. At last, Crawley made the only comment he could. "Son of a bitch!"

--

Many floors below in the the basement lab of MI6, Smithers sat at his computer, an unusual smirk on his face.

"Alex, old boy," he muttered to the screen. "You've out done yourself. I wondered if you'd tell them in the end." He clicked the 'x' on the terminal connection to Alex's laptop, closing out of Firefox's history, and sat back letting out a chuckle. Agents these days got up to such interesting antics.

FIN

A/N - Please review and tell us what you thought. And, if you want to be uber-awesome, PM Nyxie to tell her too! (hint - yesterday was her birthday ^_^)