Chapter 1

Yassen Gregorovich watched the motionless bridge impassively from his high perch. The car holding the Scorpia executives and the kid drove up and stopped at the southern end of the bridge. Only when the MI6 car arrived and his mentor stumbled out did any emotion cross the young assassin's face, a brief flicker of worry that John would not have appreciated.

With that thought the emotion disappeared from his face and he focused on the scene below him. Knowing John there would be a quiz when they were finally both safe back at Malagosto. He was wearing handcuffs, obviously, and a thickly padded jacket, almost too thick for the chilly weather. Yassen did not expect his mentor to lie, but was undeniably relieved when everything was turning out exactly like John had said.

The two captives began crossing the bridge. There was a brief moment when they both paused in the middle and Yassen watched his mentor's mouth move, but he couldn't decipher the movements of his lips from the distance. The boy and John began walking again both their shoulders perceptibly tenser.

Yassen saw the black-haired woman's mouth move. He nearly sighed in relief. It would all be over soon. Suddenly John froze his body tensing in stress. Yassen straightened already prepared to drop down the side of the building straight to John. The brown-haired man started sprinting for the Scorpia agents who figured something had gone very wrong.

Before John was halfway there Yassen was down on the street his feet pounding against the pavement as he raced a bullet toward John. As Yassen had dropped from his perch Mrs. Jones' lips had moved again this time spelling death for the one human being in the world the young Russian loved. As it was the assassin was too late.

John Rider pitched forward a flower of blood blossoming from his chest. Somehow the bullet proof padding beneath the jacket had been manipulated to let one shot through. That one shot had been enough. Not seconds later Yassen reached him kneeling down beside the fallen man in plain sight of the armed MI6 men.

"Yassen what are you doing? Get out of here!" The command was weak and the first one the blonde man had ever ignored from the man before him. Without a word he lifted the elder man onto his shoulders leaving John to marvel, even in his last moments, at the strength in those thin arms and hands. When they had reached relative cover Yassen settled the dying man on the ground and tore at the many layers of clothing attempting to get at the wound.

"Leave it." John commanded tugging weakly at the pianist hands. Yassen ignored him struggling to rip the shirt though it was slippery with blood. John forced his voice to be louder and got a firm grasp on his ward's hand. "I said leave it Yassen." Ice blue eyes looked at him on the verge of begging him to let them continue. John's voice turned softer his hand leaving the pale wrist to clasp the thin shoulder. "There's nothing you can do to help me live."

"I hav- I have to try." Yassen winced at the crack in his voice hating that he sounded so weak. John smiled briefly and shook his head. Then, as if the movement had caused him great pain, he leaned his head back against the concrete his labored breathing growing harsher. His voice was urgent when he spoke again and his hand tightened on Yassen's shoulder.

"Listen to me." He commanded in a rasp. He cleared his throat before continuing his voice clearer now. "Helen and I decided to give guardianship of Alex…" He paused for a pain-filled second at his son's name "to you after I die. Helen knows that the world he was born into won't let him survive unless he has someone who is experienced protecting him, namely you or me. Scorpia will welcome him with open arms when he is older and it is up to you to make sure he lives that long. Teach Alex everything I taught you and try not to take him away from his mother unless absolutely necessary. Will you do this for me Yassen?"

Yassen sat back on his heels trying to absorb the honor and responsibility he had just been offered. To protect his mentor's own family? No greater honor in the young man's mind. Shaking his head quickly to clear it he accepted without hesitation bringing a painful smile to his mentor's face.

"Thank you. After she hears about this Helen will go to France like we planned. You will meet her there." He sucked in a sharp breath gasping as if he had entered a vacuum. "Yassen!" He gasped his chest heaving wildly as air escaped him. "Yassen." He said again the name this time a murmur. Not seconds later John Rider died with the names of his wife and son on his lips.

Not two weeks later Yassen was waiting as inconspicuously as possible in the corner shadows of a huge French airport. Blue eyes, as hard as diamonds, watched the incoming planes apathetically until without warning he sprung up from his hiding place and stalked with purpose toward the arrivals door. Even as he hurried he watched the plane out of the corner of his eye. When it moved from its predetermined course toward the gate he froze his gaze hard enough to break glass.

Six men in suits approached the plane and entered it after the metal staircase descended. Yassen had a very bad feeling about this and, unfortunately, those feelings were very seldom wrong. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw no sign of the disguised Helen Rider anywhere among the grumbling crowd that exited the jet not five minutes later.

He began to run.

Keeping to the large windows he saw when the six men exited one of them cradling a bundle he had not been carrying when he entered the plane. Still no Helen. Now Yassen was away from the window fighting his way through the mass of people entering the airport from the oddly stopped plane. The flimsy walkway that normally would have carried them directly from the plane was packed and no one seemed willing to move aside for the distressed young man. He would just have to wait his turn.

Yassen heard the explosion before anyone else. By the time the rest of the crowd felt the walkway rock in the waves of the explosion he was already on his knees the sharp sting of failure coursing through him. First John, now Helen. Yassen knew he had failed his mentor beyond any chance of redemption. Failed to save his mentor's life and, when trusted with the lives of his family, had failed to save them as well.

Then he remembered the bundle one of the suits had carried off the plane. It couldn't possibly be! Fate could not be so cruel as to place the son of his beloved teacher in the hands of MI6! Well screw Fate. John had trusted him and Yassen was going to retain what little of that trust was left. Just as the aftershocks faded he rose clambering swiftly over the bodies of panicking people. He had already wasted too much time to catch them here in France, but MI6 was far from original. They would, without a doubt, take the boy back to London.

Ian Rider's home was not hard to find despite the fact the spy had not advertised himself in the telephone directory. Scorpia was more than willing to help their youngest and, by default, best recruit destroy any plans MI6 had and rescue John Rider's son from their clutches. Yassen had actually arrived in England an hour before the MI6 did. He was good and comfortable with his hiding place when they finally arrived.

As it turned out Ian Rider was not supposed to be home and their five minutes of incessant knocking confirmed that. One of them must have possessed a key of some sort because they let themselves in. A few minutes later they returned to the front yard sans baby Alex. Yassen's eyes widened and he very nearly leapt from his hiding spot and murdered all of them right there. How dare they even think of leaving an eight-month-old child alone in a house for an undetermined amount of time!

The anger steaming from him should have been enough to melt not only the snow but the surrounding bushes as well. Thankfully, as he had not yet mastered the subtle, or not so subtle, art of shooting fire from his ears, the bushes were still intact and nothing looked amiss when the MI6 idiots finally vacated the scene of their biggest blunder yet. Then again Yassen snorted to himself I could probably stand in plain sight and none of those thickheads would notice me against the snow. He almost smiled until he realized that was something John would say and in fact had said for the longest time. Until…

Shaking himself both physically and mentally out of those thoughts Yassen made his way over the pristine white lawn regretting deeply the light footprints he left in the snow. Hopefully no one would come by. The window was surprisingly easy to open and he slid right into the dark house. His anger flared again. Not a single light was on; no tiny comfort to a young child who still needed his mother. Again Yassen had to shake himself out of falling into deep depressing guilt. He began a slow methodical search of the house hoping the agents were smart enough not to leave the boy somewhere incredibly stupid like the floor. Where he found him was not much better.

Entering the kitchen Yassen took a risk and flicked on a light. He blinked owlishly for a second in the sudden brightness and then stuck his head out the door to make sure none of the yellow light was reflected back at him in the windows. Not a flicker. The young assassin turned back around and nearly jumped right out of his skin, only years of intense training keeping him still. The idiotic agents had left the boy sitting on the kitchen counter, but that was not what had startled the normally stoic assassin. The eight-month-old was sitting straight up, which was odd within itself, and smiling happily at Yassen as if his father and just walked through the door.

A tuft of blonde hair was making its way down over the child's forehead and big brown eyes gazed up at him glinting with a familiar twinkle that ripped at Yassen's heart. As if sensing the poor mood of his companion Alex's eyebrows furrowed and his smile disappeared. Pudgy arms rose into the air imploring Yassen to pick him up so the boy could offer his comfort. Hesitantly, as if afraid he would break into a million pieces if squeezed in just the wrong way, the young man lifted his last connection to his mentor. The little boy snuggled himself into Yassen shoulder and reached one arm around to pat him on the back. Clear blue eyes surveyed the child and Alex pulled a face with the intention of making his new friend laugh.

Quite overjoyed when it worked Alex clapped his hands together briefly and slung his arms around Yassen's neck twisting one tiny hand into the loose hair there tucking his face into the side of Yassen's neck. Head still spinning from the fact that a child had made him laugh so soon after his mentor's death, Yassen began searching for anything that might give him a clue as to how to care for Alex. Short of finding an instruction manual he did manage to locate a bag of clothing for the boy and a diaper bag. The contents of both he emptied into his own rucksack.

Alex's eyes had drifted closed and fluttered open continually during the course of Yassen's search. Now the Russian smiled down at the boy shifting him more securely in his arm.

"Ложитесь спать немного 1" As if understanding the gentle command in another language Alex faded into sleep. Yassen struggled into his rucksack trying not to wake the boy. As silent as Alex had been there was no guarantee he would remain that way and a sleeping child would be much easier to handle than one awake. Yassen stepped out of the kitchen squeezing his eyes shut and flicking the light off as he went. His sight adjusted easier now and he was almost to the window when a sound made him freeze. It was the sound of a key scratching in the lock.

Not bothering with swear words at the moment Yassen ducked away from the pale light at the window into deeper shadow. It was a long moment before the door finally slammed shut and Yassen let out a breath thinking the agent had not noticed anything amiss. He was quite wrong.

"I know you're here." Rider called his voice echoing eerily through the dark house, but Yassen was not one to be easily spooked by strange noises especially when he knew the person making them was much scarier. There was a click of a gun and Rider began walking his boots making soft tapping noises on the tile. "Who are you?" Rider asked before snorting almost to himself. "Scorpia no doubt. Do you think you're going to pull Alex into your little façade of caring like you did John? That you can corrupt the son like you did the father? I think not." Yassen did not respond listening intently as Rider's voice grew weaker as he moved to the other end of the house.

Just as Yassen made to move toward the window Alex shifted on his neck waking. Shit. The Russian could feel his own pale face drain of color as the boy yawned. A tiny noise escaped him sounding almost like the mewl of a cat. Rider heard. He chuckled darkly as if some new thought ha suddenly reached him and it was far from comforting. "Have my nephew do you? Already? I told those idiots to wait for me." He sighed heavily as if put upon. "Too bad. It's a bit soon for Alex to see his first kill, but I won't fight Fate." Yassen stood horrified for a brief second. Did this man really plan to kill him in front of Alex?

"Sick bastard." The words had escaped him before he could do anything to stop them. Rider's footsteps, which had been growing louder by the second paused.

"You're that Russian brat John was so fond of aren't you?" He laughed loudly obviously secure in the idea that Yassen wouldn't hurt him in his distraction. "What'd he tell you? 'Don't fail me. I'm trusting you to look after Alex when I die. I love you Yassen don't let me down.' What a load of bullshit." The fact the man knew his name was rather disturbing, but then again he had probably seen the documents that made Yassen Alex's guardian. The idea John could have been playing him had not yet crossed Yassen's mind and he didn't allow it to take hold now. John had loved him, if only as a teacher loves a favorite pupil.

The light in the kitchen flicked on and Yassen shrank deeper into the shadows. Alex had thankfully not made a sound since he awoke obviously trusting the man holding him. Ian stepped out of the light the black form of a gun sitting very obviously and very comfortably in his right hand.

"Alex?" The man called his voice sugary sweet. Yassen turned, fearful, to his young charge, but the boy had turned his wide eyes to him recognizing his name. Yassen shook his head slightly hoping the young mind would understand. Somehow it seemed he had as he stuck his thumb calmly in his mouth and began to suck silently. Ian continued forward into the living room uncomfortably close to Yassen's hiding spot. "Come on Alex. Tell Uncle Ian where you are." The boy continued sucking keeping his other hand firmly latched in the hair on the back of Yassen's head.

Unfortunately the house was too small for Yassen to hide from Rider forever and the man soon had his gun aimed, point blank, at the blond head. He gave the boy a once over his eyes disbelieving.

"You really are that Russian brat. I can't believe John would teach someone so young to kill. You're barely fifteen." Yassen bit back a sigh of exasperation. He was late in his sixteenth year and Rider most likely knew that. The man was probably only estimating low in a hope to anger him into doing something stupid. It was going to take a lot more than that. Being so much younger than his partner had taught Yassen how to play the scared teenager to perfection and he used all his skill now, even shifting the boy he was supposed to be protecting into plain sight.

Rider bought it and the gun hung loose in his hand as he gestured Yassen forward. Hesitantly he obeyed forcing his blue eyes wide and worried. Ian reached out for Alex and Yassen struck. Using the weight of the boy in his arms as a counterweight to add some extra power to his kick. Rider shot backwards the gun flying from his grasp. Yassen followed through with another shot to the underside of jaw. The man sat dazed against the wall for a moment until Yassen slammed the butt of the gun down hard onto his head. Ian Rider collapsed sideways very unconscious, but also very alive.

Kicking the man in disgust with enough power to break a rib or two Yassen thundered out the front door. Once out in the falling snow he hunched over Alex both for warmth and in an effort to look a pathetic as possible so no one looking out their window into the oncoming storm would feel anything more than pity for the too young man and, they would assume, his son.

Two hours later Alex was waking up from another nap and Yassen was settling into a wide seat on one of Scorpia's many private jets. Alex smiled widely up at the stewardess who cooed over the boy for a minute finally frightened away by Yassen's impassive face. The ice over his eyes melted when she left and he turned to the boy in his lap who was intent on poking one chubby finger into Yassen's rock-hard stomach frowning when he received no reaction from the pale man. Finally he gave up huffing disappointedly. It took the affection deprived man a minute before he realized what had been the boy's goal.

Uncertain as always when it came to the few displays of affection he had received in his life Yassen gently wiggled his long fingers into Alex's side. The boy twisted away obviously annoyed Yassen had provoked a response when he couldn't. The young assassin tried again this time using his other arm to hold the twisting body in place. Alex giggled wildly his toothless mouth open in a wide grin. Yassen laughed too for the second time in a day as rare an occurrence now as it was before John's death.

Somewhere high above the plane watching the scene between his son and the boy he loved just as dearly the warm brown eyes of John Rider twinkled with a smile.

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