CloudySky, AR-bookworm, Amore, and A: Thanks for the anon reviews!
...embedded in gold.
Alex nodded, before turning to the gaping tellers. "Someone should go unlock the doors for the authorities."
To his mild surprise, no one resisted his command. He had expected at least one hot-blooded male to challenge a mere teenager's authority, but instead, he only received immediate compliance. After a rapid, nonverbal discourse, involving mere eye contact and head nods, the tellers dispatched a woman to the doors. As she darted through the bank, Alex recognized her as the one who had reached behind a counter earlier, in an attempt to notify the police.
Either she or he, or the both of them, had been successful because soon, uniformed personnel were pouring in. They evacuated the lobby quickly, leading streams of schoolchildren and customers out to the bustling pavement. Because of the situation, a blockade had been placed in the street, but it couldn't stop the curious pedestrians from pausing to look. Journalists had already arrived, and they were snagging eager interviewees to tell their tales. From his position within the bank, Alex could even hear the faint strains of a news helicopter.
Too tired to deal with the inquiries, Alex was almost glad that, instead of being released with his classmates, he had been detained. The reason for his detainment revolved around his possession of a gun. After alleviating Jason from his charge, the police had disarmed him and, being ambiguous about his role in the robbery, arrested him. Alex couldn't bring himself to care, but when they escorted him outside, he rapidly realized that his indifference was compensated by everyone else's lack thereof.
As he was conducted out in cuffs, a slow ripple began to travel through the crowd. All of the former hostages paused in the midst of their conversations and turned to stare at Alex. Eyes widened. Jaws dropped.
Finally, Mr. Bates stepped forward.
"Excuse me, but I believe you've made a mistake! Alex wasn't one of the robbers!" he said to the two accompanying Alex.
One of the officers, a man with slick dark hair, looked slowly from the chaperon to the boy. "There is no mistake. We have due reason to arrest him."
"But he saved us!" protested another man, whom Alex didn't recognize.
And with that, the spectators' silence seemed to disintegrate. Suddenly, a chorus of protests was filling the air, and Alex didn't even recognize half the voices.
"He didn't do anything wrong! He—"
"You shoulda seen him!"
"He was the only one who—"
"Without him, we'd all be in there right now!"
"—amazing! Never seen anything like—"
"You can't arrest Alex Rider!"
The last cry seemed to echo above the rest, and it grabbed the attention of two detectives, who had just arrived. They exchanged meaningful looks, before pushing through the crowd to stand beside Alex.
"What is your name, son?" asked the taller of the duo, in a tone colored by surprised skepticism.
Worried by the expressions that they were sending him, Alex said hesitantly, "Alex Rider."
Exchanging another incredulous look with his counterpart, the first detective turned to address Alex's escorts. "I'm afraid that you will have to release him, sir."
"Why?" asked a policeman, failing to hide his disbelief.
"Our orders are from above," the other detective said evasively.
A moment later, the cuffs were popped off, and Alex was led behind a dark vehicle, which shielded him from the prying eyes. Confused, he fixed his gaze on the two detectives, waiting for them to speak.
Other than the obvious height difference, they appeared rather similar. In pressed suits and shined shoes, both were dressed professionally, and their two heads of neatly combed, brown hair complemented the look.
They introduced themselves as Spargo and Black, and wasted no time in asking questions. Still discomfited by the grudging respect that they showed him, Alex relayed the events quickly. They were mostly silent, interspersing the occasional question or interjection. However, all of their comments were respectful, as was their expressions.
At the end of the interrogation, Spargo clapped him on the back.
Black said, "It was an honor to meet you, Agent Rider."
Alex froze and then, in less than a beat, recovered.
Swallowing dryly, he ignored the urge to ask how, just how had they known his title? Instead, he simply nodded and walked away.
John Crawley apprehended him next. "Hello, Alex."
Alex's eyes narrowed, and as he gazed upon the other man, his previous numbness subsided. Triggered by the appearance of MI6, the shock from Black's words was beginning to manifest. Underneath the shock, though, betrayal and outrage buzzed in tandem.
"Who told them?" Alex ground out, bypassing proper pleasantries.
As Crawley blinked in confusion, the boy realized belatedly that, perhaps, he was being a bit rude. But sometimes, rudeness got a person what he wanted.
"The detectives, Spargo and Black. They knew who I was!"
Crawley blinked again. "Oh. When MI6 learned of your involvement, they told the detectives to look out for a high-ranking agent named Alex Rider. Don't worry, though. Spargo and Black will not reveal your identity."
Alex didn't know what to say. Exhaling deeply, he struggled but succeeded to reign in his incredulity. Life threatening missions had been good for one thing, at least. They had taught him how to conceal his emotions, much in a throw-a-child-in-water-and-watch-him-sink-or-swim way.
But the control didn't last long.
After Crawley finished the debriefing, he said before striding away, "I saw the security footage, Alex. Your shooting was quite impressive in there."
Oddly, of all the things that had happened and all the things that had been said, it was this comment that impacted Alex the most. It ignited a slow, suffocating distress within him, one that encroached over his chest and transported his mind back into the bank.
Each time Alex closed his eyes, his memory conjured a scene of succumbing—succumbing to a SCORPIA mindset. He watched himself grasping the gun firmly, as if grasping the hand of a dear friend. He watched himself calculating the distance between his weapon and his target, objectively and detachedly like – like –
—a cold-hearted machine that only cared about getting the job done.
Grimly, he ran a shaky hand through his tousled hair. It had started to rain again, and he tilted his head up, allowing cold rain to sting against cold skin. When he looked back down, he found that he was no longer alone.
A doll-faced girl was standing beside him, much too close for comfort. Bell, some helpful portion of his mind supplied. Her name was Bell, and she had a 'reputation'.
"Are you all right?" she asked, her large, dark eyes scanning his face.
Instinctively, he began to search for an escape route. Around him, the flashing lights of police vehicles bled into the wailing sirens of ambulances, causing a jumbled scene dotted with a maze of spectators, officials, victims, and reporters. Several paces away, a group of his fellow classmates were huddled together, throwing him unreadable looks. When they realized that he had caught them staring, they hurriedly glanced away.
Swallowing his suspicions, he gave a stilted reply. "Yes."
With a row of blindingly white teeth, Bell worried her glossy red lips. "Are you sure? I mean, the police were talking to you for quite a while."
"And?" Perhaps, if he were cold enough, he could dissuade her from persisting.
"...And, I just," she floundered, leaning even closer to him than before, "I just thought that they might've upset you?"
"Your concern is touching—" His tone was flat as he took a step backwards. "—but also misplaced. Why don't you rejoin your friends?" He gestured at the assembled schoolchildren who were steadfastly not-looking his way. "They seem worried about you."
Hastily, she said, "Worried? Oh, I'm sure they aren't..."
"Really? Well, I must have misinterpreted their staring, then." Subtly searching the vicinity, he found a familiar figure among the gathered masses. "Now, if you'll excuse me," he said, stepping around her and toward the figure, "I have to—"
Both his explanation and her protests were lost into the early evening air.
A few moments later found Alex side by side with a short, spiky-haired boy.
Noticing him, the boy smiled and removed white ear buds from his ears. "Hey."
Faint but familiar strains of rap wormed their way into Alex's ears. It was the atrocious, American stuff that Tom adored*.
"We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn!"
"Hey, Tom." Making a face, Alex gestured at the iPod clutched in the other teen's hands. "Reunited with your one true love, I see?"
"Yes." Tom's lips split into a wide grin, and he turned up the volume, just to spite his friend.
"WE AT THE HOTEL, MOTEL, HOLIDAY INN!"
Alex rolled his eyes. A quick glance around revealed that although he was the subject of multiple scrutinies, no one actually stood close enough to be bothered by the music. Tom was also looking around, but for different reasons. The smile on his face had morphed into something sinister.
"I saw you talking with Bell, earlier," he said, nodding at the girl who had rejoined her friends. "What did she want?"
"I'm...not sure, actually." Alex shrugged. "She asked if I was all right, and—" Upon seeing the enlightened look spread over Tom's face, he cut himself off abruptly. "What?"
Chuckling, Tom said, "Isn't it quite obvious?"
"No." Alex was in no mood to deal with this.
"If you can't figure out what she wants, then you're hopeless," the shorter boy asserted with a smirk. "Let me illustrate. You see, this is her—" He wriggled his left index finger. "And this is you—" He did the same with his right. "And this is what she wants—"
What ensued could only be described as an obscene, epileptic mashing of the fingers.
Horrified understanding was evident in the small O of Alex's lips. "Your fingers are..."
"Kissing like it's going out of style? Yes." Dismissing Alex's alarmed objections ("—I was going to say eating each other, and yes, I was aware that she probably wanted a relationship, but—!"), Tom continued, "Either way, I'm just glad you survived."
Alex's mouth opened and closed several times before he finally managed to shoot back, "No thanks to you."
"Well." The other teen shrugged. "I didn't think she'd be much of a problem for you. 'Specially after you took down those robbers with your awesome gun-slinging, which was very impressive, by the way."
Feeling the beginnings of a headache, Alex sighed. "Let's not talk about that, please."
Up until now, Tom's presence had been successfully barricading his darker thoughts. Now, though, the reminder was effectively stripping the barricade away.
For his part, Tom sensed that something was wrong and offered half-heartedly, "Well, at least Jake Lewis won't be bothering you anymore."
He was gesturing at a point beyond Alex, and Alex turned to see the other football player. When their eyes met, Jake's face drained of color and he quickly looked away.
"Yeah," Alex mumbled, a frown marring his face.
A self-deprecating part of his mind said, he's scared of you because you're a cold-hearted machine. And Alex swallowed heavily.
"Ye jus' cannae stay out o' trouble, can ye?" was the first thing Sebastian asked him when he ducked into Aiden's car.
Shrugging, the boy said nothing. The Scot didn't seem to notice his less-than-enthusiastic appearance, and proceeded to explain that the rest of K-Unit would be having dinner with them. It would be a celebration of sorts, to honor Alex's last day.
"Time passes fast, don' it? It's already been a week, an' yer going back t'that lovely Mrs. Starbright o' yours," he said.
Alex merely nodded an assent, not mentioning that he wasn't really in the mood for celebration.
In the driver's seat, Aiden said nothing.
However, all throughout dinner, Alex could feel the ex-psych student's eyes upon him. While the rest of K-Unit acted boisterous, Aiden remained largely silent. When Alex left the dining table, feeling overwhelmed by the exuberance of his teammates, Aiden followed quietly.
"You're feeling guilty over something stupid," the man announced without preamble, once they were alone in the sitting room, "and you'll tell me what that stupid something is."
The man's arrogant attitude sparked something akin to incredulity in Alex. "You – you've got to be kidding me."
Aiden raised an eyebrow. "Talk."
"Talk. Surely, you can understand the meaning of that word?"
All Alex could sputter was, "Why?"
Impatiently tapping his foot, Aiden said, "It's obvious that talking makes you feel better."
"And why do you care how I feel?"
"Why does anyone care about anything?"
Aiden's cobalt blue eyes were strangely intense in the dark room. Not able to look into them, Alex found his gaze wandering to the balcony door. Outside, the black expanse of clouds was uninterrupted except for a halo of gray, where the moon should have taken its pedestal. At the junction of sky and earth, a city skyline shouldered out the night with its yellowgoldwhite granules of light.
Surprised, the boy's head jerked up. Aiden had always called him 'Cub' or 'kid', and Alex was under the impression that the man had never learned his real name.
Alex sighed. "I...Today..."
"A sentence consists of a noun and a verb." Though his words were as disparaging as usual, Aiden's voice was less harsh.
"I shot a man today, and I did it without hesitating, too. It reminded me of going after Mrs. Jones. For a moment, I – I felt like a SCORPIA trainee all over again."
With an unreadable face, Aiden said, "So that's why you've been acting like your dog died?—"
"I don't have a dog..." Alex's muttered comment went ignored.
"—You're ashamed that you put some good knowledge to use? You're ashamed that you saved lives?"
"It-it's not like..."
"It's not like that? Let me tell you: It's exactly like that." He paused, then pressed onwards, "Would you say a gun is evil?"
"What?" The non-sequitur caused Alex to blink.
"Answer the question."
Alex frowned. "Because it depends on what a person does with the gun. Weapons aren't evil; humans are."
"Well said." Slow claps undermined the authenticity of Aiden's compliment. "Now, apply that same phrase to your SCORPIA training. Knowledge and ability aren't evil; humans are." Without allowing the boy time to defend himself, Aiden tacked on, "It's ridiculous of you to feel guilt for saving lives. Now go back and enjoy your dinner. Gabriele will no doubt be bringing out the beer now, and then things will get interesting. If you pay enough attention, you might just discover some fascinating things about them."
Alex didn't know whether to grimace or to laugh.
Later in the night, when he learned that Gabriele still lived with his mother and that Ben's brother was an infamous drag queen in Liverpool, he decided that Aiden wasn't so much of a bastard after all.
The next morning, a hung-over but still cheerful Sebastian cooked him a hearty breakfast, discussing the relative merits of motorcycles versus cars.
"Ye see, Gabe's always goin' on 'bout how the ladies adore motorcycles."
"But the fact that he still lives with his mum makes one wonder how much he actually knows about the ladies."
A snort of laughter was rend from the man. "True, true. Anyway, Ben says it's a much smarter investment t'buy a car."
"I'd probably agree with Ben," Alex commented, absently studying the materials in front of him.
On the kitchen table, several packets of papers were laid out beside a thick textbook. Idly, Alex twirled his pencil, occasionally scratching a note into the margins of a page. When Sebastian finished cooking, he waved at the pile.
"Kindly remove those from my kitchen will ye? Lookin' at them makes me lose my appetite."
"Me too," Alex said, complying. "Coursework is evil."
Nodding solemnly, Sebastian set down two platters of pancakes and a dish of sliced oranges. At the center of the table, he placed a small plate of golden toast, his 'signature dish'. Alex thought that it was rather otherworldly and possibly even better than Jack's.
For a while, they ate in comfortable silence, until Sebastian wiped at his lips and said:
"Yer leavin' today."
"Yeah." Although Alex tried to suppress it, he felt a tug of sadness in his stomach, as compelling as an ocean tide.
"MI6 is providin' yer ride. They should be here in half an hour."
Alex nodded his understanding, before a thought struck him. "If you don't mind me asking, what've you been doing while I was at school this past week?"
"Working on some paperwork an' enjoyin' my time off. After all, they're shippin' us off to Gaza on Monday," the man answered, amused. Then, he glanced at the clock. "Ye should probably start packing now."
Pulling a face, Alex agreed. "I probably should."
He treaded the well-acquainted path through the small hall, realizing that this would be the last time he walked down this way. Unless, of course, he needed temporary guardianship from Sebastian again...
In the doorway of the bedroom, he halted, absorbing the familiar scent of wood and lavender detergent and something he couldn't quite place. It was a nice something though, and it made him think of sunshine and warm sand and old songs. When his eyes fell onto thepolishedpiano shrouded in semi-darkness, he inadvertently began to hum Heart and Soul beneath his breath.
He began to pack, extracting the clothes from the closet and the schoolbooks from the desk. Too soon, though, he was finished and had only one more item to retrieve. Walking to the bedside stand, he pulled its drawer open, palming the object within.
Alex started, admonishing himself for not noticing Sebastian's presence. "It's, um, a..."
The boy held it up.
"You brought a knife into my flat?" Sebastian burst out.
Shrugging sheepishly, Alex nodded. "My sex ed teacher always said, 'better to be safe than sorry'."
For several moments, Sebastian sputtered indignantly before finally giving up.
Jerking his head to the door, he said, "Okay, c'mon. MI6 is here."
Alex nodded and tucked the knife into his duffel, letting the action hide his smile. "Done."
Sebastian then walked him through the halls and down the stairs, which Alex still insisted on taking. At street level, an inconspicuous black vehicle was parked in front of the lobby.
"Give us a call if ye need help, all right?" By us, Sebastian was plainly referring to K-Unit.
"All right," Alex assented.
"An' keep in touch?"
"An' ye do know that Gabe'll kill ye if ye get yoursel' killed?"
Snorting, Alex reassured, "Yeah, yeah."
"An' Aiden'll act like a complete bastard, an' Ben'll—"
"Sebastian," the boy cut him off dubiously. "Are you mothering me?"
Rubbing the nape of his neck, the SAS agent had the grace to flush with embarrassment. "Maybe a bit."
Alex laughed and, with a neat motion, pulled open the car door to duck inside.
The man wrenched his hand out from behind his neck to wave goodbye. "See ye."
"Good luck in Gaza," Alex returned.
And that was all.
Later, two figures reunited happily on the pavement before a certain London hospital. Spry auburn curls and disheveled blond locks framed respectively grinning faces, and somewhere else, there were other people who weren't quite smiling, but were still rather content as they packed their bags for an adventure in another country.
Around them, there was life, and above them, there was gold embedded in an expanse of undying blue.
Having returned from a long absence, the sun now reclaimed its rightly throne in the heavens.
SpyFest. March 2010.
*The author adores it too.
Now, for the super long A/N:
-Why is this chapter so short/terrible? I wrote it three months ago for SpyFest and ran out of steam, and despite all the rewriting that I did, I still can't seem to improve on it.
-Who was this gifted to? Due to some odd circumstances, it was gifted to DreamsInBlackAndWhite, although she wasn't my original recipient.
-Why does Wolf/Gabriele's name have an e at the end? It's the Italian spelling.
-Why does Snake/Sebastian talk like a redneck American from the South? He doesn't. It only looks like he does because there's only a limited combination of letters/punctuation to create his Scottish accent.
-Can I plagiarize? NO! But I do have one offer. If you're dissatisfied by this ending, I'm leaving it open for anyone to write their own version. Just PM me, so I can go enjoy it too.
-Should I review? Yes, please, and have a great day. :D