Disclaimer: All rights to Mr. Horowitz
Bradley Matthews hummed cheerfully as he strolled along the streets of London. The twenty-nine year old had chosen to wear a short sleeved t-shirt of an appalling shade of orange that clashed horribly with just about any colour that could be thought of. Then again, he wasn't known for his sense of fashion. No, he was known for his ability to shoot a gun and not miss his target.
But today was not a day to be thinking of anything but happy thoughts. The sky was clear with only a few puffy white clouds drifting serenely across and anyone who lived in London learned to appreciate any sort of nice weather.
Brad also happened to be going to his friend Dan's flat. The prospect of real food was also a cause for celebration. It sure was convenient that he lived so close to his oh-so-generous pal; easy access whenever he decided to cash in a few non-existent favours.
Reaching his destination after a few flights of stairs, the blond reached out to ring the doorbell. As he heard footsteps drawing closer, he put on his most charming smile. The door opened.
"Bradley." Okay, so he may have forgotten to call ahead to inform his friend that he was coming, but as the saying goes: it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
"Dan! How are you?"
The man at the door was also fair-haired and though the similarity of features ended there, it was easy to see that they had something in common. Their disciplined stance, the fluid walk that spoke of training and the faint ripple of muscle as they moved. It was obvious that they were some kind of soldier if the observer knew where to look.
And right now, the observer wouldn't need to look very hard to see the expression of displeasure that adorned Dan's face.
"I swear, you're almost as bad as little Kenny, and that's definitely saying something." The SAS soldier, code-named Snake, had an accent that hinted at roots in Scotland. "Actually, you're worse. At least he can feed himself."
Bradley, or Eagle as he was called on duty, grinned. "Hey, we both know that's not true. Ken doesn't need an excuse to come crashing through your door!"
"True, that." Defeat was conceded.
"So, we just going to stand here, or are we going to get some grub?" Brad rubbed his hands together eagerly.
Dan rolled his eyes. "I was planning to make something quickly, but now that you're here, I can't be bothered anymore."
"Humph." And he was so looking forward to a home cooked meal, too.
As if reading his mind, Dan shook his head in amusement.
"Go find your grandmother if you want homemade. Better yet, go find Javier's grandmother!" He stepped in quickly to grab his car keys and wallet. "We're going out to eat. Might as well call the others, too, while we're at it."
Dan led the way down to where his car was parked while Brad called Javier and Ben. He owned a fairly old model of a silver Audi A4 but was still in pretty good condition as he didn't get around to driving it too much. Usually its role was fulfilled by an army jeep or some variant.
Driving through London was very different than any driving that was required on duty. Usually, when the soldiers got a bit of leave, they had to take a while to adjust back to civilian traffic laws, and life in general.
Today was particularly trying for Dan's patience. It was a Saturday, and it was twenty to five o'clock.
"Great time you've chosen, Brad," grumbled Dan, as he was forced to stop at yet another light. It was quite early to be going for dinner, but at the rate they were going, they would arrive just in time. He voiced these thoughts to his teammate, earning a chuckle.
"You should be used to it by now."
"Don't mean I have to like it."
About fifteen minutes later, the two men had resorted to drumming out rhythms to match the blaring music of the radio. The entertainment value was slowly draining away and it left them slumped in their seats.
"Why didn't we just walk? Or take the tube? We'd be there already." Brad moaned.
Letting out a sigh, Dan whole-heartedly agreed with that notion, which was unfortunately too late.
"I feel stupid now. Bet those two are waiting."
The long queue of cars was stopped at the latest red light at Liverpool Street and Dan draped an arm out the open window and tilted his head so that it was half outside. He let his gaze rove around the urban landscape, taking in the picture presented by the bustling city. It was a blend of old and new, history and modern advancement.
Dan would've continued to admire the view that never really got old, if not for a glint that caught his eye. A glint that, to a civilian, would mean nothing. Except Dan wasn't a civilian.
Brad's head whipped around. Code-names meant business.
"See what I see?" Snake – because he was working now – pointed up to the top of a tall building across the intersection.
"Shit…" Eagle nodded grimly. "Sniper."
The light had turned green. Furious drivers behind them created a cacophony of honking and curses but the noise fell on deaf ears.
"Which means his target must be somewhere on this street." Both soldiers scanned the street opposite the building frantically.
"Could be aiming in through a window," Eagle murmured.
Snake growled quietly under his breath. He became a soldier, a medic, so that he could save lives, but here they were, staring at a sniper ready to kill and they couldn't even do anything to stop it.
"I'll call the police –"
But Eagle wasn't listening. He'd thrown the door open, tripped onto the curb and was sprinting down the street. It took Snake a moment to wrap his brain around it before he went tearing after him.
It had happened in a flash.
A teenager with fair hair had stepped out of an international bank. He was stepping out down from the curb when the bullet hit him. Red blossomed down his shirt and the teen didn't even seem to notice himself falling to the pavement.
People were screaming.
Eagle felt like he was running through water, he couldn't get there fast enough. Dropping to his knees beside the fallen boy, he took in the youthful face and the pool of blood staining his trousers at an alarming race. He fought down his horror – it was always worse when it was a child.
The boy's eyes were still half-open and perhaps it was the dreamy, almost happy expression that scared him the most.
Even with training as a paramedic, there wasn't much Eagle could do. He grew number* by the second when he realized the entry point of the bullet was right where the boy's heart would be. Fingers groping at a wrist, Eagle breathed a sigh of relief. There was a pulse.
Feeling, rather than seeing, Snake kneeling down next to him, Eagle was startled out of the slight haze that had formed from the adrenaline when the other soldier gave a shocked exclamation.
"Damn! That's Cub!"
And so it was. Another reason to be absolutely appalled at the whole situation.
It felt like an eternity, but it was actually less than four minutes when the paramedics arrived with their flashing lights and sirens.
Eagle and Snake's brains were still working to the extent that they knew to get out of the professionals' way. They made themselves useful by keeping curious onlookers back and generally trying to disperse the crowd. Snake's car was all but forgotten, still sitting in the middle of the road, but the area was being roped off, so it didn't make too much of a difference.
Heads turned when the door to the Royal and General Bank burst open. A harried looking woman with short, black hair dressed all in gray stepped out, followed by a pair of men in dark suits. She froze where she stood when she caught sight of the bloody scene in front of her.
It wasn't a blatant display of emotion. She didn't yell or scream, didn't run or push people out of the way. After all, she was the deputy head of the SIS.
But her voice was shaky when she spoke into a small communication device she had pulled out of a pocket and her knuckles had turned white as she clenched her fists.
Passing the two soldiers without a second glance, she seemed to make an effort to appear calm and composed.
Not having said a word to each other since they discovered the victim's identity, the SAS employees leaned closer when the woman pulled a paramedic aside. Their muscles were taut and the listened with anxious hearts, afraid to miss a word.
"He is very lucky he's so young," the man was saying. The words were double-edged. "His chances of survival would be much smaller if he were a few years older."
"And you're sure he will survive?"
"As long as there are no complications..."
"Take him to St. Dominic's."
The paramedic hesitated. "But, that's –"
"This is the boy's life on the line, you will do well to keep the priorities in mind."
"Is there any contact information for –?"
"If he dies, your career goes with him. We will sort out other matters later." There was a flash of an ID card. "I assure you, it will all be taken care of."
The message was clear. The man had no more to say and wasted no more time relaying the new orders. He walked away looking a bit paler than a moment ago.
Dan and Brad watched on. On the one hand, they felt immensely relieved that the boy had a good chance to live, but on the other...
The implications of the whole situation were starting to sink in and a million questions were swirling around in their heads. And they knew they wouldn't like the answers.
"So you're saying," the man code named Fox said carefully, "that you just saw Cub shot down by a sniper."
The four SAS soldiers of K-unit were in Dan's living room, two sitting on the couch, one on the table and another – Brad – lying on the ground.
Dinner had been an uncomfortable experience. There was clearly something on the minds of Dan and Brad, but they refused to say anything at the restaurant and the other two – Javier and Ben – had to endure their subdued expressions and one-word answers for almost three quarters of an hour. As soon as the bill was paid, the guys couldn't move fast enough to get to a place to talk.
So now they were here.
"Cub. You're sure?" Javier growled with his scowl firmly in place, as always when he was confused. He was tapping a foot unconsciously, ignoring the irritated taps from Ben who was sitting next to him on the couch.
"Relatively," Dan replied from his spot perched on the table.
"So you're not completely sure."
"Obviously we can't be a hundred percent sure, but we're pretty damn sure," he snapped impatiently.
"Okay," Javier – Wolf – began again, slowly. "Say it really was Cub –"
"– what the fuck was a kid getting shot by a sniper for?"
"Hell if we know! That's exactly what we're trying to figure out!" Eagle yelled. He rolled over onto his stomach and pushed himself into a sitting position.
"Okay, okay. Guys, calm down." Thank god for the ever diplomatic and level-headed Ben Fox Daniels. "Let's start with the facts. What do we know?"
At this, Eagle turned to Wolf.
"Jav, didn't you say you met him once on a mission when you were filling in for Jackal? South of France, was it?"
"Yeah. We had to rescue the kids of a bunch of important people who were kidnapped by some guy called Grief. He had a private school up on Point Blanc."
The others settled down to listen intently.
"We weren't told much, only the mission objective. But before that, we were supposed to retrieve an agent who was stationed inside the school. Only he was already escaping by the time we were ready to go up the mountain. He was snowboarding down an ironing board, with mad snowmobilers chasing trying to gun him down. It was all we could do just to keep up with them.
"Then he almost crashed into a train and smashed into a barbed wire fence."
"On an ironing board?" Snake sounded quite alarmed.
"Yep. When we got to him, he was pretty banged up and definitely a lot younger than we expected. Miracle, it was, that he survived."
Fox narrowed his eyes. "They told you it was an agent you were supposed to be helping?"
There was a pause.
"We never really thought much about that at the time, with everything else going on. I didn't tell you about the actual rescue mission yet."
Wolf remembered being summoned by the MISO deputy head. When he stepped into the hospital room, he certainly didn't expect Cub to be out of bed and arguing with Mrs. Jones so soon after his ordeal.
Even more, he didn't expect Cub to take part in mission. He'd disguised his uneasy instincts under a careless attitude.
"Cub was our main source of information and he was told to lead us to the prisoners. All the guys thought he would be a liability, but he turned out to be the opposite. If it weren't for him, the mission wouldn't have gone nearly as well. He knew the building and all the tricks that would've given us a lot of trouble. It was Cub who killed the Grief guy. Got him with a snowmobile when he was trying to get away on helicopter."
If the others weren't wearing expressions of shock and incredulity before, they certainly were now.
Snake, Eagle and Fox stared at their unit leader, mouths agape.
"You've all effectively achieved the look of mentally addled lunatics, just so you know."
Three mouths clicked shut.
"Well," Fox said, finally breaking the silence, "this does raise a few questions. Most importantly, you do know what this could mean right?"
K-unit was reminded of the reason of the whole conversation with an unpleasant jolt. They looked towards their teammate with wide-eyes, unwilling to voice their suspicions aloud.
Realizing this, Fox opened his mouth to continue what he started.
"Last time we saw Cub was only a few months back. Javier worked with him on a mission, and if it's like he said, the kid was damn good. Who's to say the higher ups wouldn't have him help out again? What if that wasn't even the first time?"
"But he can't be more than sixteen!" Brad protested with a frown.
"I bet '6 saw how useful it would be to have a child agent."
"That's illegal!" Wolf hissed.
"Would that stop them?"
The tension was palpable; fists were clenched and the grinding of teeth was almost audible.
Snake ran a hand through his hair. "He's still only a child."
"He kept up with us fine – better than anything we expected – at training." They all swallowed guiltily, remembering the way they treated the kid.
"And we never found out what he was doing there."
Snake spoke up quietly. His tone was hesitant. "Our theory was that he had rich parents, wasn't it? And Javier said the school was for the kids of really important people…"
"Jav?" The focus swung around to focus back on Wolf. The unit leader furrowed his brow.
"That's what it looked like at first, I guess. And the thought did cross my mind when we were briefed about the mission, but with the way the Jones woman was speaking to him and then how he acted afterwards…I have my doubts." Not to mention Cub had saved his career by kicking him out of that plane.
"We weren't there on that mission, we didn't see it," Fox murmured. "But even by at the end of training, did any of us really, truly believe that?"
Silence, once again, descended upon the company as the soldiers contemplated this. There was really no point in giving voice to their agreement that all of them came to – it was hardly difficult to realize the truth they'd been avoiding.
No one said anything for long time, letting the implications sink in.
Eagle was the one to tentatively test out the words that would bring them back from this small tangent.
"So, Cub. He's a sixteen year old working for military intelligence. That still doesn't explain why he was just shot."
"What if…" Fox speculated, "what if it was a hit? What if he made an enemy?"
"It's so unlikely," Snake muttered, and really, it did sound absurd. A teenager doing something to warrant an assassination attempt; who would possibly think of that?
Fox sighed. "Look, I don't think we'll ever find out for sure. But whatever was going on, I hope the kid makes it."
"Yeah. I…I know I was the one most against Cub at Beacons, but he's got my respect." Wolf scratched the back of his head sheepishly, but the others didn't have the heart to make fun of him right then.
'What do you reckon his chances are?" Fox asked.
As the one with the most extensive medical training, Dan offered his opinion. "The wound would've been fatal for an adult, from what I could see, but as…ironic as it is, it's lucky that Cub's young. And we told you what we heard the paramedics saying, plus St. Dominic's is the best out there."
"I bet they've never had such a young victim of attempted assassination, though," Wolf muttered. No one had anything to say to that.
Eagle flopped back down on the carpet, staring up at the ceiling.
"But there's nothing we can do about it."
"Nothing, except to hope for the best," came Fox's whisper.
A/N: Endings. My worst nightmare.
How many of you knew it was Eagle from the get-go?
*I'm not sure whether "number" is the correct term, but when I typed "more numb" Word corrected me. So blame Word.
REWRITTEN: August 2012