You all have been so awesome about reviewing and so persistent for me to continue, that I did. I couldn't figure out where to go if I continued, hence the long time between the last chapter and this one, and I finally realized that the problem was I was trying to keep it a comedy, which really wouldn't be possible given the circumstance. Just be forewarned that the mood in this chapter has changed from the last.
I don't own Alex Rider.
Brecon Beacons might as well have been a reform school for prissy, fifteen-year old girls for as fast as the gossip traveled in that place. By now, everyone knew the story – or at least a version of the story – of what happened to K-Unit on their overnight hike.
The favored account at the moment was that the Green Jackets had launched a surprise attack during the night, kidnapping Cub to lure the rest of K-Unit out of their tents. Once they had come to investigate, they'd been gassed with noxious fumes while the Green Jackets had raided, stolen a trophy (some even ventured to say the extra pair of Wolf's boxers), and left.
The more veteran soldiers refuted that claim. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and the Green Jackets simply did not cross into SAS territory unless they wanted to start a divisional war. No, if you asked them, it came down to that brat that K-Unit had been saddle with ever since their training. The queerest stuff happened around that kid, who was undeniably a spook through and through.
Whatever actually had happened, all they knew for sure is that the search party had dragged four pale, shaking K-Unit members to the infirmary early that afternoon, while the brat – with a ghost of a smirk on his face – had followed in close behind, looking quite not-sick, and had been taken immediately to the Sergeant's quarters.
They were currently placing bets of just how much of the kid would be left when all of this was over.
Sergeant Ryan glared out the window of his office at the men who were discreetly trying to hover in the general vicinity in an attempt to eavesdrop. He mentally took their names down in his head so he could remember to assign them punishment duty later, and then the curtain. Turning slowly on his heels, he eyed the man – the boy – who was quickly becoming the bane of his existence. The boy stood at attention in the center of the room, eyes straight ahead, though still looking too comfortable for the Sergeant's taste given the circumstances. He would have to fix that. In three large steps, he covered the space between them and positioned himself so his mouth was level with the teen's ear. "Cub!" he shouted, causing the blonde to give a little start. "Would you care to explain the events of these past two days to me?"
"Sir, yes sir! Yesterday at approximately 5:07, I woke up before the rest of my unit. At 5:13, I left the tent for the toilet, at which point you ordered me to take a lap around the lake for 'lurking suspiciously,' sir, after which I joined my unit-"
"That's not what I asked, soldier!"
"Sorry, sir! I'm unsure which events you are referring to, sir!"
The Sergeant felt his eye twitch ever so slightly as he took a step back. Cub's gaze had never once left the opposite wall, and his face was perfectly emotionless. Nevertheless, there was decidedly smug air that radiated from him that grated the Sergeant. The brat had four days left, and he swore then and there that they would be the worst four days of his life.
"I am referring to the explosion that nearly destroyed one of my jeeps," he spat. "Not to mention the rather...unusual...circumstances your unit was found in this afternoon." He crossed to his desk and opened a manila folder that lay on top of a mess of papers. "According to the report, the retrieval team found the other four members of your unit in various stages of dehydration, incapacitated with severe stomach cramps and uncontrollable bowel movements, while you were..." At this point he looked up again, raising an eyebrow, "...tied to a tree. So please, Cub, enlighten me."
"Yes sir. I seemed to have added too much magnesium to the flare when helping Eagle construct it, and my unit was not pleased, sir!"
"So they tied you to a tree?"
There was a pause, then, "Wolf is known for his temper, sir."
"Only when properly provoked. And you, Cub, provoke him." This received no response, and the Sergeant pressed no further. "Perhaps you can tell me how your fellow unit-members ended up violently ill, then. I'm not hesitant to blame it on you; however, seeing how you were indisposed, I'm intrigued by how you did it."
A ghost of a smile appeared on Cub's face, but was gone again as quickly as it had come. "You give me too much credit, sir. Your men are far too good at tying knots to allow any retaliation on my part. I'm afraid they took care of that themselves, sir."
A low growl emanated from the Sergeant's throat. "Explain."
"According to page 223 in our Wildlife Guide book, sir, the berry from the Guelder Rose bush, although edible, are mildly toxic, causing vomiting and diarrhea if-"
"-Eaten in large quantities," the Sergeant finished for him angrily. "I'm well aware of the effects of the Guelder Rose berry, Cub. My question is why you didn't think it necessary to warn the rest of your unit before they consumed them."
Cub's eyes finally flicked from the wall down to meet the Sergeant's gaze. "Experience is a brutal but effective teacher, sir. I guarantee that they will never make that mistake again."
"And you thought it was your job to teach them?" the Sergeant snapped. "Not only was that an incredibly stupid move with the magnesium, but you put the lives of your teammates on the line for the sake of your pride! If the retrieval team had failed to find you in a timely manner, you all could have ended up dead, Cub!" Cub was still staring at him, but any sense of smugness had evaporated from the teen. "There is no room for that type of behavior in the SAS – it will only get you killed."
The man sat down heavily behind his desk. There was a moment of silence before he spoke again, his voice quieter, but still laced with anger. "You will have kitchen duty for the remainder of your time here as well as another hour tacked onto your daily fitness regimen. I will be writing Director Blunt, too, suggesting that you return in two months to redo the training exercise with K-Unit. In the meantime, Cub, I would advise you to work on your teamwork skills. Am I understood?"
Cub's jaw clenched. "Yes sir."
"Good, now get out of my office."
"Yes sir." The teen gave a stiff salute.
As the door clicked shut behind him, the Sergeant grudgingly began typing an email out to Blunt, pounding each key a little harder than necessary. Only 7 more years till retirement, he thought with a sigh.
Alex headed back to the hut after he left the Sergeant's office. His walk was stiff, his head held high, but that did nothing to displace the growing sense of guilt at his actions. The Sergeant was right. He had been angry that K-Unit tended to treat him poorly because of his age – thereby damaging his pride – but he had only proved them right by failing to tell them about the berries.
He slammed the door to the hut behind him and sank down on his bed with a sigh. Life was so much easier when he had only himself to worry about. He supposed he'd have to apologize to them at some point, which would be positively mortifying, but he would be mature enough to own up to mistakes when he saw them.
Settling back, arms crossed beneath his head, he closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep.
He was woken what seemed like not a minute later by a large hand wrapping itself in the front of his shirt and yanking him off the bed. His eyes snapped open just in time to see the floor rising rapidly to meet his face, and the air rushed from his lungs as he met it without any resistance. Alex quickly hauled himself to his hands and knees, trying to suck in enough air to relieve the ache in his chest.
"Well, well, well… look who we found."
His eyes snapped up to see two men standing over him, though the darkness that had fallen during the hours he was asleep obscured their faces. He knew they were recruits – he had heard it in the arrogance in the man's voice – but he had no idea what they were doing here.
"Of course you found me; this is my unit's hut, you idiot," he snapped. He started to get to his feet, but the man who had thrown him to the floor decided to help him up – by his hair.
Alex had to keep from grimacing in pain as it felt like his hair was being torn out by the roots, and he quickly twisted the man's arm up and off of his head. The man growled and let him go, but the other quickly grabbed Alex and twisted his arm up and behind him until his eyes started watering.
He tried to yank out of the man's grip, but his opponent had to weigh twice as much as him with at least twice as much muscle. "What do you want?" he gritted out.
"Heard what you told the Sergeant," the man who was holding him said in his ear. "We thought it was time someone showed you your place."
"Who do you think you are? A bloody kid coming in here and making one of our best units look like fools?" the first man had now stepped right up in his face, much like the Sergeant had earlier that day. "I think you're the one that needs to be taught a lesson."
Alex was unprepared for the fist that slammed into his stomach, sending shockwaves through his ribs and spine. He tried to double over, but had to stop as felt the tendons in his shoulder stretched unnaturally.
"Make sure not to hit him the face," the other man hissed.
"Oh I won't," the man chuckled, his fingers digging into Alex's chin as he lifted the teen's head. "That's all Pretty Boy has going for him." Clenching and unclenching his jaw, Alex worked up a ball of spit and spat it in the man's face. The man blinked, then drew back a bit, wiping off the spittle. "Oh you're going to pay for that, Pretty Boy." Alex felt a thrill of fear go through him at the look in the man's eyes – there was something decidedly unstable about it.
Screw his pride; he needed help, and he needed it now.
He opened his mouth to shout, but nothing more than a wheeze came out as he was hit again. And again.
By the fifth punch, the man holding him was getting antsy. "That's enough, Jackal," he hissed.
"Shut up, I'm not done!"
The rest of what he said was lost on Alex, who, through blurred and fading vision, caught sight of movement in the dark hut over Jackal's shoulder. Then a light flicked on, blinding him completely.
"What the hell is going on in here?"
The hand that had his arm pinned behind his back – and had subsequently been holding him up – let go, allowing Alex to collapse to his knees curl into his bruised abdomen.
Jackal turned around, seemingly unperturbed about getting caught. "Wolf," he tilted his head in acknowledgement, a sardonic smile playing on his lips. "Me and Pretty Boy here were just having a little conversation."
Alex grunted as a boot caught him in the thigh, but was too busy trying to breath to look up.
"You always let your fists do the talking, Jackal?"
"If it's the best way to get the message across. Experience is a brutal but effective teacher." The man's hand wrapped itself in his hair again, jerking his head up to look at him. "Isn't that right, Cub?"
Wolf was there in an instant, shoving him away. "Don't touch him again."
Jackal tilted his head a bit. "I would think you wouldn't mind seeing him roughed up a bit after what he did to you."
"Well you don't know me and you sure as hell don't know our Code of Honor. You never, ever lay a hand a kid, you understand?"
Jackal scoffed and looked away. "Sure, Wolf."
"Good. Consider that your last lesson here at Brecon Beacons, because I promise you that by this time tomorrow night, I'll make sure that that you've not only been kicked out from Selection, but blacklisted from every military division in the country." Wolf shoved the man again, sending him stumbling towards the door. "Now get out of my damn hut. You too, Cobra."
The second man, who had stood by in silence, hurried out the door. Jackal, after shooting one last glare at Alex, followed stiffly behind him.
There was a deep sigh, and Alex heard footsteps approaching him from his somewhat huddle position on the floor. A whiff of hospital antiseptic reached his nose as Wolf crouched down next to him. "Where are you hurt?" he asked gruffly.
"I'm fine," Alex mumbled, not willing to look up and let him see the flush of embarrassment that had spread across his cheeks.
"Shut up and let me take a look at you." Wolf gave him a small shove in the shoulder, sending him backwards onto his butt. He was about to protest, but decided against it when he saw the look in the man's eye. It was absolutely chilling, but in a way somehow different from Jackal.
Wolf lifted Alex's shirt just enough to catch a glimpse of the patchwork of bruises that was quickly forming before dropping it again. "It looks like you might have a few cracked ribs, if those bruises are anything to go by. We should get you to the med barracks – probably won't be able to do much about it, but at least they can give you some pain meds or something." He stood up and then grabbed Alex's arm, pulling him to his feet with a rough sort of gentleness.
He avoided the man's eyes and tried to hide his grimaces as best as he could as Wolf pulled one of Alex's arms up and over his shoulder and supported him to the door and down the steps. Neither spoke as they made their way slowly through the inky night. For his part, Alex was too busy trying not to moan as each step jolted his ribs than to try and speak.
A nurse caught site of them as they entered the med barracks, and she quickly grabbed Alex's other arm and helped Wolf support him to a cot in the corner. As soon as Alex was lying down, Wolf muttered something to the nurse and, without another glance at Alex, turned and disappeared back into the night.
A couple of pain pills where shoved into his hand, along with a class of water, and he absently swallowed them. The nurse left him a few minutes later with a promise that the doctor would see him soon, and Alex was left alone to ponder in the dark.
I will be writing a final chapter to this as soon as I get a chance. In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts!