"So this is how my world ends…not with a bang, but a whimper."

The life he led stripped him to the bare bones, drained him dry, then left him for dead.

Too many missions, one after another after another, with no grace period to heal his ruined psyche or scarred body. His nights were plagued with red and black nightmares, filled with looming laughter, and his days were a sequence of well-hidden flinches and automatic plans of escape from any and every possible situation. The backfires of passing cars were explosions, fresh and vivid in his mind. The quiet clicking of the typewriters in Jack's beloved oldie films was distant machine gun fire. The scrape of silverware was a blade being drawn, the bubbles popping at the top of the fish tank were his last breath as he drowned. Only for brief periods could he escape this hell of false panics, only on missions were his flinches and plans justified. His heart raced, tugging at the scar, but for good reason-it was a bomb, a machine gun, a blade. They really were trying to drown him. And against these terrors, he could fight. Here, he was not a dysfunctional, broken teenager; he was an Agent, this was where he belonged.

He began to love the missions, while still hating what they did to those around him.

He ranted, reasoned, plead at Blunt. Help them, keep them safe! I'll do your missions, find anything, spy anywhere, just keep them safe! But Blunt merely agreed, sent him off, and left his friends unprotected.

Jack died first.

When he found out, he raged as he had never raged before, rage of an Agent, not a child. But Blunt merely sat and said "I'm sorry for your loss."

That was the moment that Alex Rider learned that hate is not the opposite of love. The opposite of love was apathy, and apathy's name was Alan Blunt.

He quieted, instantly, turned and walked out of the office.

Two days later, just before the funeral, he was sent on a mission to the Sahara. He returned, dehydrated and burnt, just in time for the spring semester at Brooklands. He attended for a week, amidst the jeering whispers and outright scorn of his classmates, before MI6 sent him off again.

It was the longest grace period he would have for six months.

His fifteenth birthday was celebrated in the torture chamber of a terrorist cell, and the anniversary of Ian's death was hailed with a massive explosion as he destroyed a Scorpia base. He figured it was a fitting tribute.

By the end of his six months of near back-to-back missions, he was hardly the same Agent he had been before. He'd lost a great deal of weight-mostly muscle, as he'd had little fat to begin with-was liberally covered in scars, some of which would fade, and most of which would not, and his solemn brown eyes had solidified into chips of lightning-bright tiger-eye.

There was no innocence to be found in his stone eyes.

He had literally staggered through Allan Blunt's office door. The usual precise formality of his speech was marred by the fact that some madman had broken his jaw, and the debriefing took longer than expected. Blunt sat patiently, seemingly not noticing his injury. After the debriefing was over, Blunt said calmly, "You're not a child anymore."

Some part of him-the part that always ended up landing him in situations where he nearly died-desperately wanted to use one of Jack's favorite sayings and reply with a drawling, "No duh."

But, for once, he manages to restrain himself.

"When you first came into our employ," Blunt continued, "we used you because you were a child and could go and do what adults could not. Because the enemy wouldn't notice you, would underestimate you. But now you're not a child, and the enemy knows you and knows about you. Turn in your ID and gun. The Agent at the door will provide a secrecy contract for you to sign."

He cannot find it in himself to speak.

To weep in relief; to scream and rage as he had after she died; to pull his MI6 issue pistol and shoot the man in the head; yes. To speak like a rational being, no.

But when he opened his mouth, none of these came out.

He whimpered, a soft whisper of pain, as this, even this, his last mask, was torn from him.

He didn't remove his pistol or return his ID. When he walked out the door, the waiting agent was bypassed without a second glance. He took the tube home, as had once been his custom.

So this is how my world ends, he thought, dreaming for the days when the greatest torture of his life had been sitting through Literature class.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

He entered his home, disregarding his usual security checks-it didn't matter-heading straight for Ian's office, where Jack had been when she had been shot. He sat at the desk, waiting.

Because even the Devil's luck runs out in the end.

He was no longer an agent; he had failed to turn in his weapon and ID, he had not signed the contract.

Blunt had withdrawn his protection. He had perhaps an hour before Scorpia came for him.

A photo sat on the desk, he and Ian and Jack, standing before a waterfall, the air full of rainbows and their faces full of laughter.

Those days were gone.

The mask of the schoolchild was gone. The mask of the brother was gone. The mask of the best friend was gone. The mask of the soldier was gone. The mask of defiance was gone. Even the mask of the agent had been taken away.

He had often wondered what he would be without his masks. Now he knew.

When all the masks were stripped away, there was nothing left.

MI6 had drained him dry.

Alex Rider had died with his uncle over a year ago. Oh, a body wearing his face had walked away from Ian's funeral, but it was only a body. Alex Rider was dead; nothing but the masks remained. And now even the masks were gone.

Scorpia was coming.

So, I was reading through my reviews for Alex's Alex, and I noticed that you were all very pleased with it, which surprised me a little-it was just a word doodle. But you liked it, so here's a bit along the same lines, though it's more of a story than Alex's is. This is not necessarily connected with Alex's, but it is inspired by it.

Let me know if you like it…or if you burst into tears, or have decided that you honestly hate my guts. Please. Tell me.