A/N: All right, I shan't prolong your agony. I was going to wait until I hit 230 reviews to post this, but I detect some dwindling enthusiasm for it, so as long as I get that as my total, I'm not entirely bothered.
P.S. I shall answer reviews and (for all those this applies to) emails next week as I've been terribly ill again (I hate my immune system – or it hates me, I don't know!) 'cause honestly this last chapter will be all my brain can handle for the moment.
Absentmindedness was not a trait typically assigned to Wolf. His consciousness registered almost everything that happened within his vicinity; the smallest detail could constitute survival or death in the field, a fact he knew very well to be true. However, on this occasion, the elite solider found himself staring at a whitewashed wall with blank eyes, not even noticing the coughs racking his body as it adjusted itself to the cigarette smoke it was currently inhaling. A habit he'd picked up in his troubled adolescence, he'd made an effort to drop it when he entered the SAS. He needed his body to be in perfect working condition, after all. But the events of the evening had re-awoken his old cravings whilst simultaneously shutting his mind down. He didn't want to think about it.
One detail. That was all it took, to determine a person's fate. Like the fact that Sarov was in the driver's seat. A full-on collision with an ancient and high tree that refused to be toppled by the modern day machine it was challenged with. His forehead had smashed into the steering wheel with such force that his skull had cracked, plunging bone fragments deep into his brain. Death was instantaneous. He hadn't put on his seatbelt, after all.
And neither had Alex.
Two fractured ribs, a broken collarbone, shards of glass imbedded in skin, a viciously sprained wrist, muscle damage along his back. Quite how bad this was, Wolf was not aware. The word "surgery" had pretty much sent him into his mental cocoon by itself. He was only just aware of Snake's firm grip on his elbow, leading him to a seat with a strange, almost unreadable expression on his face. He supposed it was only fair; he had nicked all his cigarettes, after all.
The mist of dread and despair shifted ever so slightly in Wolf's head and he noticed he was not alone on hard, plastic hospital chairs in St. Dominic's waiting room. To his right Snake and then Fox were perched, the latter fidgeting in his seat, jumping every time a nurse or doctor walked past, the former more composed, sitting with his forearms on his knees and his eyes closed, in his own world. To the left, Eagle was leaning towards Tom, his hand resting on the boy's back, talking too lowly for Wolf to catch the words. The teenager looked distraught and weary at the same time, and very, very tired.
And suddenly, Wolf was angry at himself. Not, not angry, he was furious. He'd broken one of the most important unspoken rules of all and this was the result. He'd let his feelings for Alex, feelings he'd had no right to experience in the first place, cloud his judgement. It was his job to protect Alex and yet he'd acquiesced to the kid's argument about being left alone, because they'd both needed time to think about the arguments and declarations of the day before. Another thing that was his fault. He'd been lucky the first time. Not so much now.
Before Wolf could become truly enraged, the same doctor they had talked to previously approached them, in the customary white coat and grim expression. "Mr. Stephanidis?"
Wolf looked up, swallowing down his churning emotions. "Yes?"
"He's awake now and he'd like to talk to you."
It took a moment for that to sink in and then the soldier was up on his feet and striding in the man's wake as he led the way to Alex's room. Looking back briefly, he saw the others staring at him, expressions of relief adorning their faces. Tom had sunk even further into Eagle's shoulder. Fox made a motion with his hand. You go on without us.
He nodded back shortly and then tuned into what the doctor was saying again, "Now, he's almost exhausted from everything that's been going on, so I must insist you stay only fifteen minutes, then we're going to give him some morphine so he can rest. To be honest, I wanted to do it immediately, but he insisted he see you first. It's common with trauma victims; they usually want some kind of reassurance from someone close to them. Here we are."
Wolf's breath caught in his throat. Alex looked truly terrible: there were thick bags under his eyes and his skin had a deathly pallor to it, blemished here and there, particularly on his arms, with fresh, painful-looking bruises. He lifted his head with an uncharacteristic sluggishness that made Wolf wince but still managed a thin smile when his bloodshot eyes met the older man's.
He took an unconscious step into the room and completely missed it when the doctor hissed quietly, "Remember, fifteen minutes," and then left the room. In a matter of seconds he was at Alex's side, ignoring the chair placed there in favour of kneeling next to his, bringing their eye line to the same level. He gingerly took Alex's extended hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. It was clammy and slipped within his grip, so he tightened it.
"Alex! Are you okay?" Taking in the boy's expression, he added, "Yes, I know, stupid question but . . . well, are you?"
Alex let out a little laugh that sounded like he was choking and gave him another weak smile. "Yeah. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
"I hate that expression." Wolf growled darkly.
"No, actually, you told me you hate it when I say "I'm fine". This is a variation of that."
"Smartass." Wolf grumbled, without any real heat behind it. Alex let out another small laugh, followed by a harsh cough that made Wolf flinch.
"Alex," he began, his face and voice completely serious. "I am so sorry, this never should have happened."
The teenager's brow creased in a minute frown. "What are you apologizing for? It's not your fault, you're not the one who kidnapped me."
"No, but I should've been there to prevent it. It was my job to protect you."
"Well, that's not really your fault either, is it? I asked you to leave."
"Doesn't matter. I knew what my duty was and I ignored it, I shouldn't have left you alone."
"Maybe, but – "
"There's no maybe about it! Damn it, Alex, will you stop trying to justify what I did!" Swallowing heavily, Wolf made a conscious effort to lower his voice. What he had to say shouldn't be open for the general public to hear, after all. Leaning back a little, he said, "There is no excuse for what happened, none what so ever. And . . . I think it proves my earlier point."
Alex went very still as he lay on the bed. "What point?" It was meant to sound casual and politely inquisitive, but came out in a much smaller, more vulnerable voice than he wanted it to.
Wolf hesitated, and then spoke, failing to keep his voice from trembling, "That I'm not good for you. And that we can't be in a relationship."
Wolf looked at Alex and hated himself. He said absolutely nothing, lying perfectly still apart from his visible hand, the one Wolf had just been holding, shaking and grasping at the sheet covering his stomach. He bit his lip sharply and his throat muscles moved rapidly, as if to swallow back his argument. Worst of all, his already scratchy eyes filled with unshed tears; Alex, who never cried or complained was overcome with tears right in front of him and was so shamed by this display of desperate emotion that he turned his gaze away from Wolf to look at the opposite wall. Wolf's heart broke and he squeezed his own eyes shut, in the vain hope of providing relief for his tidal wave of pain and longing.
He did not mean to say it, did not plan it but once those two words crossed his lips, his resolve hardened and he swore they were true. Alex slowly turned his head back to look once more at the soldier. "What?"
"We cannot be in a relationship – right now. If anyone found out it . . . it would ruin our chances forever. So we've got to wait a little bit. Until you're eighteen. Then . . . then we can be together."
Alex's face shifted through expressions of different feelings so quickly that Wolf couldn't keep up. One of the repressed and slowly-drying tears fell from his eyes as they narrowed with his frown. "But . . . why eighteen? Legally, I'm allowed to be in a relationship with you when I'm sixteen – that's less than a year away!"
"And your eighteenth birthday is only three years away. What does it matter? As we love each other so much, we should be able to wait; what's three years when we can spend the rest of our lives together?" Wolf reached over and gently brushed the falling tear from Alex's pale cheek, letting his hand lay there for a moment after. "Yes, at sixteen you can legally be with me, but you won't be an adult, Alex. That's the problem. You'll still be considered a child – and MI6 could barge their way into it. You don't want that, do you?"
Though he immediately grew grim at the mention of his hated employers, a definite light of hope was glowing through the watery sheen in his eyes. "No. No, I don't." The teenager sighed then looked up at Wolf, a wider smile than before crossing his face. "So. Eighteen, huh? I think I can manage that."
He struggled to sit up for a moment and then leant over the divide for a kiss. Wolf extended a hand and pressed his palm to Alex's lips, stopping him. "It's not just that we've decided, Alex. We need some boundaries. Ground rules, as it were. It only takes one careless gesture and it could all be over. If we get caught . . ."
He didn't finish his point. He didn't need to. "So, no kissing goes without saying. Um, no hand holding, probably."
"No hugging?" Alex questioned.
"Oh, we can still hug. I'll go mad if we have no contact at all." Wolf managed to force a wry smile, which Alex returned faintly.
"Uh, what else, do you think?"
"I think we can make it up as we go." Alex said reasonably. He fell back against his pillows and his eyes darkened slightly. "And I think that we deserve one last kiss, before our self-imposed abstinence begins, don't you?"
Wolf did not use words to answer. He simply gave his typical half-smile, placed a forearm on Alex's mattress for balance and lowered his mouth to meet Alex's lips.
A/N: Well, that's it, it's over! For all those who can be bothered to stick with this series, the sequel now named "Born of Coercion" will be coming out . . . uh, whenever I get round to writing it. Thanks for sticking with me so far!
P.S. A number of you have complained about mistakes such as grammar and spelling in my work before, so I've decided that as it is now completed, I'll be going through it over the next couple of weeks, beginning with chapter one and correcting everything. So if you get a message (not sure how this works as I haven't done it before) just ignore it, okay?