Disclaimer: I do not own Alex Rider.

At the very beginning, Cossack hadn't let him practice with bullets.

It had just been just drawing and patient repetition in front of stationary and moving targets. Simply good posture, a quick fluid motion like silk in the air, the placement of the arms and the body, coordinated in a maximally effective stance that would eventually become mere muscle memory that was summoned unconditionally and reflexively.

It had been an exercise to become one with his weapon, to assimilate with the metal and the implications of death and the universe as a whole, because if to live meant dying eventually, then it was acceptable that he become life's catalyst.

And then, a year later, it had been combined with gunpowder and hot metal and a punishing recoil that became like second nature to shift and adjust as according. Alex had never forgotten the first time he had discharged an entire magazine in a fit of desperation, right into the head of an enemy.

It had been like coming home for the first time.

Cossack had said that while his draws were quick, his aim lacked refinement. Firing a gun was an art, apparently, and one that did not lack in practicality.

Shooting styles―once in between the eyes for the quickest way to shut someone up permanently, twice in someone's kneecaps for a warning.

The Scorpia assassin now dreamed of shooting someone and of his training to shoot someone, because there was nothing else to do in captivity.

Morning found him trussed up, dehydrated, feverish, waterboarded thrice and in desperate need of a good shower. The infected cuts on his arms had reopened and wept blood-tinged pus, but that had been a previous mission's casualty rather than MI6's doing―though SAS had not gone easy on him while dragging him in.

It was a testament to Scorpia's reputation, he supposed, that they had gone so far for a mere rookie-assassin who was only good at outdrawing others and had a cockroach-like tendency not to die.

From the way his limbs were bound spread-eagled to the wall, Grey could feel the slickness of sweat sliding against restraining manacles where his wrists were bloodied from earlier efforts to work out just how much force it would take to break through the metal.

His conclusion had been that it would take more force than he could afford at the moment, and it wasn't worth the effort given the security camera that was staring him right in the face. Apparently his penchant for escaping from secure locations was already renowned, despite his only serving a few years as a full-fledged member of Scorpia.

Cossack had always cautioned him to be patient anyhow, and to conserve his resources wisely. Scorpia never forgave and never forgot. Good things came to all that waited faithfully, unless they died of old age or were offed first by other assassins.

He had come to the conclusion long ago that holding cells offered excellent opportunities to strategise, providing that one was not drugged stupid or unconscious. Pondering excessive retribution for his capture was the usual relief for the otherwise mundane time between tortures.

MI6 on the other hand, was unpredictable. That was, apart from their underhanded schemes, which only added to the urgency of a jailbreak.

The peppermint-sucking suit with the unflatteringly cut coif would be the first he'd target. While the grey suit seemed to be the mastermind, it was the peppermint suit who personally delivered orders, and there were few others who had that sort of access to both the MI6 brass and the grunts on government payroll.

And speaking of the devil…he should have known far better than to jinx himself with wayward thoughts.

The click of patent heels on wood floor was an unmistakable sound of what was to come, and she clacked her way to stand in front of him. (Oddly enough, he wondered if she was close enough that he could bite her jugular out, but in foresight that wasn't quite conducive to any attempts to release himself from his shackles.)

"…Alex Rider. How nice to see you."

"I prefer Grey, ma'am. I am on Scorpia business, anyhow," he responded, as polite as possible even as he fought to hold back a chilled shiver; there was no need to be uncivil, especially for the sake of upholding a calm appearance when a long night of interrogation that hadn't made him talk. (Let none say that Cossack hadn't tried his best to beat manners and discipline into him from childhood.)

"So well trained. Alex, then." The flinty eyes narrowed, assessing and probing. He heard the long liquid pull of a peppermint being worked into oblivion by her hollowed cheeks. "As it may that you forsake your family name…your father would have been very surprised to see the young man you have grown into today."

Alex pondered her words for a short moment. Would he have been proud that his son surpassed his shooting record at Malagosto training? That Cossack had chosen him personally to be his protégé? Or that Alex played football for the annual Inter- Crime Syndicate games every October in a goodwill match? "…I dare say he wouldn't."

"Indeed. And what would John Rider say if he knew his young teenage son was killing people for a living?"

Mrs. Jones looked quite satisfied with herself, a complacently righteous expression curling her mouth, not unlike the way Julia Rothman tended to smile after an especially savage bloodbath.

"Well, at the very least he wouldn't be worried about me doing the entire sex, drugs, and rock n' roll stuff that my peers are known to pull," Alex said reasonably, leaning his head back against the cool wall.

After all, he and Cossack pulled guard duty and transportation insurance for various shipping cartels, but the enigmatic Russian wouldn't let him near the cocaine with a twelve-foot pole. And it was always Cossack who was actually paid―a mission was the equivalent of an externship for a junior assassin who had only been on solo missions for a short while, and was meant for him to cultivate meaningful relationships with potential clients as opposed to actual skills.

And Cossack had an enormous network of potential clients―some scalped from his mentor John Rider, Alex had found out, after his unfortunate demise at MI6's hands. It was an impressive collection.

"I see." Mrs. Jones didn't seem the slightest off put, though she did bite through her peppermint with an audible crack. "And what lies have you been fed about your father by Scorpia?"

Now that was a tough one. Hunter was a legend as an assassin, and an even taller tale as a man; there was so much dirt floating around about him by various sources even long after his death that Alex had trouble keeping track of it all.

The gossip mill had it that that Hunter had made Ash Alex's godfather, which was unlikely considering how the man was always stiff towards him the few times they had collaborated; Julia Rothman sang praises of his father's stamina, and Alex didn't bother to ask in what aspect, as she tended to overshare if only to watch people squirm. The only story he had ever believed had been told to him by Cossack over a pathetically small fire in a chilly cave on a snowbound evening, and had involved a black widow spider, a gun, and a target. (After the retelling and the snowstorm, Alex had been sure to particularly practice his marksmanship.)

"He was a good man," Alex simply said. "Never killed the young or the elderly if he could help it."

"Would you do the same?" Mrs. Jones wanted to know. "To be like him?"

"I don't idolise my father. Nor am I having this conversation with you."

And Alex wasn't talking about anything, insomuch as they tried to ply him with remembrance of his father. Cossack had warned him, and Alex had been curious but not overly so about a dead man that he hadn't ever been old enough to know.

He wasn't so daft as to assume that Scorpia would come for him, or even that he was buying time for Cossack, who was incidentally on his own mission in Singapore, to break him out. The three-day mark had come and gone, and engaging in petty conversation with MI6's resident candy-guzzling devil was a waste of his energy.

"What exactly do you want with me? Something tells me that it isn't just to talk about how much I look like my father. We both know that he was a Scorpia mole."

Alex offered her a vicious, fanged grin, somewhat pleased that he had managed to fend off her next sentence. Any mention of John Rider would always note the similarity of their blond hair and brown eyes, though Alex suspected that he had taken more after his mother in temperament. Ash had once said, spontaneously, that he had been very shy and reclusive even as an infant.

Mrs. Jones smiled thinly. "A pact was made with Scorpia three hours ago. In return for us overlooking the human smuggling ring centred in Cambodia, you―your services― are to be…leased to us for a span of time."

"An up and rising asset like me is unlikely to be bartered off. I'm not that valuable," Alex scoffed at the statement, wincing as his chest hurt. He had enemies of his own, certainly, but they either wanted to kill or maim him, not use him. He figured that crashing a Triad party last week and making off with a hard drive full of their network's information was sufficient to add one more enraged mob group to the list.

"All I have is a famous father, whom I've never even met. I'm hardly any good," he protested, injecting an unsophisticated little whine into it.

Mrs. Jones did not bite. She was good at what she did, and was as diplomatic as one could minimally be about having the power to order him executed on the spot.

"I'm not lying. You were caught and hence the agreement was made. Who knows when you will next land in our clutches again? We are going to take full advantage of this opportunity, and eventually Scorpia would have got you out, so arriving to a peaceable agreement is conducive to our respective goals."

Somehow, Alex felt as if he was being overestimated. In a bad way, flattering as it may have been. On the other hand, MI6 had no present wish to kill him, and their good graces were something that he could count on for the moment, however temporary.

Might as well roll with the punches, like he had been doing for ten years. Cossack was anything but overprotective. And Scorpia had never objected to freelancing their employees. Even if this was all part of MI6's scheming, there surely was something good to take out of the experience.

There could hardly be harsher versions of modern indentured servitudes than those of a paid hitman.

…Wolf couldn't believe his eyes.

He'd heard firsthand from the units that brought the Scorpia agent down that he had been a tough one, but this was nothing like what he had expected.

The jeep pulled into the main of the Brecon Beacons site with a shuddering spew of gas fumes, and the elusive 'phantom' assassin Grey stepped out, looking less disgruntled than he should have been.

"…And that's the Scorpia agent," the sergeant said, pointing out of the window of the briefing room at the figure that was being unceremoniously ushered off to find a kit in his size. "MI6 escorted him here to train and work. From what they've said, it's only temporary and part of some underhanded deal with Scorpia."

The assassin was just a boy, Wolf noted grimly. A boy slim and slouching in jeans and scruffy converses that had taken a beating when he had skidded up and down walls. That feat of recklessly defying gravity would have been the best parkour Wolf had ever seen in his life…. if not for the fact one full SAS squad had been already taken out by said kid, and that it took three more and one tranq dart to bring him down.

For the record, the little Scorpia bastard looked in fairly decent shape despite having been under MI6's tender care for the past week or so. Aside from that, Wolf was certain that the combined weight of all soldiers in B-unit holding down Grey in what seemed in hindsight like a particularly brutal piggy pile must have done some damage.

On the other hand, Grey was a pretty kid, easily underestimated with tousled blond hair and a set of big brown peepers with long eyelashes that no doubt had been used to great effect many times. None of the physical awkwardness, over-active sebaceous glands, or hormonal ugly duckling shit that most adolescents seemed to suffer from―this teen would grow up to be attractive, that was if he ever lived to grow up at all.

Wolf had a feeling that D-Unit, which had been the first to be put out of the fight, would have choice words to say about it.

"Is he going to live with us too, sir?" he asked. D-Unit quartered on the opposite side of the housing compound and ate at a different interval in the mess.

"Where else would he be?" the sergeant snapped, obviously unhappy with the arrangement. "It is your seniority rather than the housing issue, however, which lead to him being assigned to K-unit."

Yup, this was no usual street urchin. Nor was he a young Mafioso lovingly cultivated in a hothouse of tradition and pasta. Even less was he a suicide bomber of the terrorist ilk that K-Unit was more familiar with―those blokes were mental, and bizarrely enough Grey seemed to be as rational and clever as baby assassins came.

No. This boy was a time bomb; a Scorpia-raised brat handpicked by the infamous Yassen Gregorovich and leased for an undisclosed sum by MI6. Whatever power play this boy was involved in, it certainly would make for a memorable failure if the brat double crossed MI6.

"He has a microchip inside his body that can be easily detonated by MI6 if he cuts and runs ..." Alright, maybe not so much a memorable failure as a major scandal of galactic proportions. "... and don't hesitate to shoot if he does run, because knowing MI6 they'd have to go through a host of red tape before they can do anythin'."

Eagle snickered to his left. Undermining authority was one thing, but it was another to secure the safety of a unit.

"Now." The sergeant looked visibly disgusted, his craggy face more disapproving than usual. "I am supposed to tell you to treat him like you would a member from a foreign military unit. However, although I cannot bin him, if the murdering child performs poorly, it will be MI6 taking him off our hands."

"Is that a hint, Sir?" Eagle asked curiously.

"Take it as you will, men. At ease. Oh, and he's to be called 'Cub' when he's here." With that, K-Unit filed out.

"Not so bloody phantom any more, is he," Fox commented drily as they reached their barracks. "I'd peg him about to be what, sixteen, seventeen? Not quite legal yet to hold a paying job?"

"Maybe not legal, but lethal at drawing and shooting, supposedly. His age doesn't make it any better," Snake interjected. "What kind of organisation raises children to be like that?"

And what kind of Special Ops organisation was so sanguine that they would deliberately attach a dangerous assassin to a SAS unit for training and then active duty? Wolf wondered as he double-checked the firearm in his holster.

It was like fighting the war all over again; self-righteous Afghan insurgents relentlessly planting IEDs around FOBs and routes, sowing their jihad by indiscriminatingly blowing up both civilians and soldiers alike. It hadn't been a fair fight, even with firepower superiority, if only because of the morality involved.

Hell, Grey wasn't a fair fight, being so young and small even so far away, with his chin ridiculously still rounded with traces of baby fat and his body still ridiculously limber with a hint of childhood flexibility.

His unit didn't want this, didn't need this, didn't need a new member much less a baby Scorpia assassin fucking up their already wobbly infrastructure.

With a knowing sigh, Wolf took in the dark shadows that haunted Fox's puffy eyes, the way Eagle hovered within a protective three feet of him, and how Snake had proceeded to the communal bathroom yet again to wash his hands, scrub the germs off as he hadn't been able to do before applying direct pressure to a little girl's gaping chest wound with his bare hands. Not even the American medevac squad, heaven-sent wings from a brother nation, had been able to save her.

Even with vehemence clouding his mind, Wolf was surprised to see a small lump curled on the extra cot that had been neatly placed in the corner farthest from the door of their room, out of sight, out of mind. The boy's complacency astounded him, a bitter reminder of how Scorpia took tea even as their well-trained goons took lives of countless innocent victims.

"When in front of your CO, you stand to attention!" Wolf barked in the offensive lump's general direction.

The lump shifted, unfolded itself and somehow rolled off the cot without upsetting it. Grey appeared jet-lagged and stiff from the injuries that three SAS squads had heaped on him for his little stunt, but still hyper vigilant. Almost paranoid, suspected Wolf, as he watched a small hand hover near a belt that no longer had whatever Grey wanted to reach for.

…A knife? A firearm? Some Scorpia-issued weapon? Gray looked absolutely absurd in the oversized uniform that had been in his issued kit.

To his credit, the boy covered the motion up by running his hands through his messy, sun-bleached hair, standing it on end. Wolf scowled as he saw the flash of a small earring stud. It twinkled at him tastelessly, if a little mockingly, and then was gone.

"Yessir," Grey said quietly, voice softer than they had expected. "You called?"

"Boy's got pluck," Fox said flatly, with no compliment to it. "Scorpia chose well."

Snake said nothing.

"He's a child. Of course they chose well: get 'em young buggers before they're into video games and girls," Eagle retorted.

Wolf ignored his team. "You may be training with K-unit as a temporary member, but don't think you can slack off and pull us down."

"I don't do anything half-arsed, Sir. I'll keep that in mind," Grey said coolly.

Pluck, and a bit of a mouth to boot. Wolf's lip curled, not believing him to be sincere.

"The SAS are equally as unforgiving as Scorpia, you'll find," he promised darkly. "And get rid of the Nancy jewellery, it's a bloody eyesore."

Contrary to what he had been ordered to do, Alex hadn't rid himself of the earring by the next day. Cossack had given it to him as a present the previous year, even though he had originally disapproved of it as a frivolous sentimentality that offered even more opportunities as an identification tool for enemies.

(Alex had pointed out that many teenage males went for piercings and that it was a classic sign of adolescent rebellion. Cossack had pointed out that many teenage males also were thick-headed bums, and Alex didn't want to be like them either, did he?)

The stud was small, silver, and contained sarin gas that would be released if the backing was twisted a complicated way in his earlobe. Alex figured that the usefulness of the jewellery was Cossack's reluctant cessation to merely offsetting the 'frivolity' of a piercing. Outright forbidding him from acting like a normal fifteen-year old would have been extreme, even by Scorpia standards of assassin-raising.

And like an atypical fifteen-year old, Alex somehow had managed to get himself to the shooting range without anyone telling him where it was.

" Does promptness mean anything to assassins in general, or is it just you that's the problem?"

The man the army called Wolf, that K-unit called leader, and that Alex personally called 'wanker' seemed to be on the warpath, if his current stormy expression was any given indication.

"Jetlag's the problem, sir," he deadpanned, offering a soft, dry smile and falling into step a few steps behind the CO.

Wolf didn't bat an eye. "That, and the fact you seem to lack proper respect for authority."

"If anything, they taught me respect in Scorpia."

Wolf stopped in his tracks and fixed him with a glare that vowed verbal castration or some other unpleasant equivalent. Alex could almost hear the deep, chesty growl of irritation that fought to make its way out. But whatever Wolf had been about to say, he managed to tamper it down to something far less antagonising.

"Let me get this straight, Cub. You're here with diplomatic immunity," he said slowly, as if Alex were a small but annoying child.

"I'm here to integrate myself with a team and work with them temporarily. Or something like that," Alex said.

Wolf snarled impatiently, and waved off his quiet statement with a grimace, muttering about how absolutely incompetent a certain government agency happened to be.

"The SAS wouldn't let what you've done before interfere with our working relationship, but when we're not in the field, all bets are off. Got that?"

"Crystal clear."

Whatever skills of elocution he had possessed had gone down the drain since he had met K-Unit. There was no reasoning with Wolf.


A stuffed Bergen was shoved into Alex's chest, accidentally right against an old bullet wound that still tinged with pain.

"Six laps around the perimeter as a warm-up, full pack, double time. Fox, go with him and make sure he doesn't wander off," Wolf ordered.

The one they called Eagle frowned, and looked mutinous. Alex watched, intrigued as Wolf glanced at his teammate and curtly shook his head. Wolf's warning glare seemed to be enough to forestall any imminent confrontation. The man had presence, that much Alex admitted. However, this display of evident leadership was unexpected considering Wolf's overly hot temperament.

Any loose cannon would have been shown the door in Scorpia, just like anyone who didn't learn diplomacy.

"It's alright, Eagle," Fox said slowly, although his eyes were cool and flinty as he regarded Alex. "Gr―Cub may be an assassin, but I don't think he'd jeopardise his organisation's interests."

Alex raised an eyebrow, but otherwise showed no sign of interest. Idly he wondered just how difficult it would be to unravel K-Unit from the inside out if he picked at pre-existing internal friction. It wasn't bad blood at play here. Something else was lapping away at the brotherhood that military units were famed to share.

"Come on, get a move on. If I don't see you back in 15 minutes, I'll assume that you killed Fox and are on the run, and then you'll be brown bread."

Alex groaned inwardly. Just what was with Eagle anyhow?

He and Fox got a move on.

By 'warm-up', Wolf had obviously meant double-time, or that was what Fox had translated it to. And by preventing him from 'wandering off,' he must have meant that the soldier was to herd him around seven acres of woodland like a shepherd. Even worse, about two miles into their run, Fox decided to talk.

"You wouldn't, would you?" the older man asked leisurely and almost conversationally as they quickly navigated around a particularly large rock that protruded out of the earth in the middle of their forest trail.

"Wouldn't what?"

"You know. 'Jeopardise your organisation's interests.' And all that stuff."

Alex was careful to offer him a small smile. "Do you think I would?"

"Not if you held your life dear," Fox pointed out, quiet over the sound of Alex's heartbeat. "And no, I don't mean retribution from the SAS either."

A sharp one, this Fox.

…who probably had a background in criminal profiling.

Alex knew he fit no single profile.

"I'm not stupid. And it's tit-for-tat. Scorpia needs this," Alex said flatly, knowing that Fox wouldn't be reassured in the slightest.

"But we don't need you," Fox stated noncommittally. "And so I'd step carefully if I were you."

The fact that neither of them were breathing hard was living evidence of the harsh training of their respective agencies. And while Fox was SAS, Cub could appreciate good training even if he couldn't appreciate anything else about an enemy.

"Is that a warning?"

And suddenly, Fox laughed. Loud, over the weights of their footfalls, barely noticeable on Alex's part, a little louder on Fox's. "Only if you take it to be one. I'll be watching you closely, Cub. We all will be, but I would think that whatever agenda you have at the moment probably doesn't extend past getting through your stint with us in one piece."

"Being in enemy territory certainly makes survival important, yes."

"And well it should. Valuing your own life makes you sane, trust me."

Aha, Alex thought. That sentence sounded as if it had been bitter on the soldier's tongue, and so it should have been. He didn't know if Fox realised everything he had let slip with that one statement.

"Maybe. Ever had something you really cared about?"

You're getting into dangerous territory. Debating useless rhetoric. Or so Cossack would have said.

"Maybe," Fox agreed. If he was tired, Alex couldn't tell on the basis of his easy lope.

"Girlfriend, wife, kids?" Alex asked, and then realised that perhaps he was going a bit far. "Not necessarily in that order," he added quickly. "I don't mean to imply that you're that sort of person."

"Hm. That a threat, Cub?"

"Not if you don't take it as one. Of course not." Alex readjusted the straps of his bag. "I just mean if you were ever lucky enough to have something that you care for, you would be willing to do anything for it."

If anything, Fox's posture got stiffer. "I can't say I've never had that sort of ... honour, no," he said sourly. "And I wasn't aware that Scorpia ah, employees, got time off to date."

"We don't, actually."

"Crime really doesn't take a day off, does it?"

Alex grimaced inwardly at the dig. He wouldn't have put it like that, really. It was just another day in the workforce. Fox's face was closed off, and his entire demeanour suggested that he had gone back to being inapproachable.

"No, I didn't mean anything like that. I meant that it's interesting that some people have something to live for. They have something – or someone - they love so much that they'd be willing to do anything for it."

"Like dying for it, you mean?"

"Yeah. Guess it must be odd to love that hard," Alex added.

"Conjecture is a motherfucker. And between you and me, that's oddly romantic for an assassin to say. The irony."

But Alex didn't figure it out until they returned to the training grounds and Eagle looked chagrined yet hopeful when he spotted an alive and fit Fox jog into view.

"I'd take the woodlands over the sandy, disgusting FOB treadmills any day, even if the Beacons are like the wet marshes of hell," the soldier declared. "There's nothing like a good workout before breakfast."

"And after breakfast as well, if you're still so disgustingly cheerful," Wolf snapped. "I don't think you'll like it so much when you're spewing your fucking guts out over a cliff."

FOB. But of course. The acronym for Forward Operating Base. Sand. Afghanistan or Iraq, most likely. K-unit had probably been stationed there in its rotation and was currently recuperating and training between deployments.

Alex surmised it from the way Fox didn't take one sip from the water bottle in his pack; how he didn't like the idea of dying for a cause; how Eagle stuck to his side like a burr, Wolf's being unusually hardheaded for a CO, and Snake's strange semi-limp.

He had been wrong, dead wrong, and even Cossack would have outright chuckled at his inexperienced insight, or lack of thereof. K-unit was very much functioning as a tightly-bound team, and they had indeed been knitted close, but now it was all for the wrong reasons. It wasn't a shared brotherhood in terms of purpose or patriotism or even friendship; It was shared suffering that now knotted them together, more by necessity rather than active choice. And that was their problem, not that their CO was a bastard.

And now, Alex understood what they were afraid of: obsessive terrorists who had a reason to be angry. The sort of person who loved so deeply, so much that they would blow themselves and everyone else up.

He wasn't too put-off about the entire blowing-things-up thing, to be honest; everyone was entitled to an opinion.

"Shooting range, and then breakfast," Wolf barked, breaking Alex out of his thoughts. "Gr-Cub. You're with Snake and Eagle on this one. Let's see if you're as good as they say you are."

Was it just him, or was Eagle looking gleeful in a most unholy and unsettling manner?

Getting up close and personal with a suicide bomber hadn't exactly been the highlight of his tour with the American Special Forces in Afghanistan, but it was probably the most enlightening of all his war experiences so far, aside from the proper way to do a 'cordon and knock' mission. That and the sight of a bloodied Fox, clutching what seemed to be the pulpy mess of a human body, an injured teenager he had been shielding with his own body from the explosive force of a bomb.

"Stay out of this for now, alright? Go and shoot a few targets," Snake had said after pulling him aside.

"I won't kill him, I swear."

Soldiers were mortal. As were insurgents and child-killers, not that there was any relevant distinction between the two that could be made by one who battled them on a regular basis. They were just a little more touched in the head, and Eagle was certain that Grey was no exception, despite what Wolf had said. Sure, the boy may not exactly have a moralistic stake in whatever he did for a living other than his pay cheque, and Eagle was fairly sure he'd been raised that way for psychological purposes, but that didn't mean that he wasn't as guilty for Scorpia's crimes.

"You can obviously shoot, so I'm going to spare you the requisite introduction to our range and you're going to show us what you can do with various different firearms," Snake was saying to the boy, handing him a bag of firearm parts that were all jumbled together.

Grey seemed to be a good hand with assembly, recognising each and every piece of equipment by touch as he reached into the bag again and again, easily sliding parts together with an innate grace and swiftness.

Snake looked over the weapon and evidently liked what he saw, even if the crease between his eyebrows tightened imperceptibly.

"That'll do," the soldier said, and motioned him towards the targets.

Snake went cold as soon as he saw Grey's eyes―they were like shadows on ice and the pupils flicked back and forth to calmly take everything in. Hell, the little bugger was already information-gathering.

The kid had poise, Eagle admitted as he watched their newest and most unorthodox attachment approach an empty booth.

And that surely meant that he wasn't to be trusted in the very least, because that sort of composure was likely feigned.

Grey had barely come to a stop in front of the target before the gun was out of its holster in a single liquid movement, the barrel emptied, and back in its rightful place once more.

Eagle swore softly under his breath and Snake paled a little, white and shocked around the eyes.

"Blimey. I guess that's what they meant by a fast draw," Eagle muttered, eying the battered target. Most of the shots were dead centre and the rest were deadly accurate in their dispersion, nearly perfectly ringing the centre. Someone had given the boy image training, and that someone was dangerously good.

"He's well above average in marksmanship, although there are marksmen in Scorpia who are better ... but in drawing the gun there's no other equal, I don't think," Snake said softly. "Very well conditioned fast-twitch muscles. Fox says the boy also had pretty good stamina; kept up with him on the run earlier today and you know how fast Fox is."

"Huh, fancy that," Eagle said darkly, watching the boy pick up a semi-automatic sniper rifle and hoist it up to his shoulder with that same easy air.

"It's like Scorpia trained him with all sorts of firearms, though in my opinion he's better with smaller stuff. Although that may change. He looks as if he's still growing, that's for sure."

Neither of them mentioned the horrific potential that they saw in someday facing a full-grown Grey as an enemy.

"It doesn't matter how straight he shoots, the fact that he can outdraw nearly anyone is bad enough. Are we supposed to actually train a Scorpia agent who may use the skills we teach him against us in the future?" Then a thought came to Eagle. "Say, he's not a yank, is he?"

Snake gave him an odd look.

"Cowboys and all that." Eagle added, before his mood darkened. "See, even shoots from the hip too."

And indeed, Grey was now shooting with a .45 pistol, economically thumbing it back into the holster as effortlessly as if he had been doing it his entire life―which was likely considering what organization had trained him. Snake shot him an exasperated look and jogged over to the assassin. They spoke, and Snake returned and pulled a stopwatch from his trousers, thumb hovering over the start button.

"Ready, Cub. This is just to test your reflexes."

Eagle snorted. Like any calm reassurance was going to wipe the steely, blank look in the assassin's eyes.

0.172 seconds later, Eagle concluded that they were all going to hell in a happy little hand basket.