AN: This was originally written for SpyFest 2.0, ages and ages ago. I wrote it for agent_jet...I hope you enjoy it!
Alex and Tom were getting coffee when Alex first saw Yassen Gregorovich again. It was late—they had just gotten out from the latest Bond film, funnily enough—and the shop was dimly lit. But Alex knew that his eyes wouldn't deceive him.
Alex was seated in a front corner of the small shop, nursing a black coffee and trying to laugh at Tom's jokes. His cushy burgundy seat gave him an optimal view of both the back door and the front—a habit he maintained even though he was off assignment. It wasn't paranoia, he told himself. Just caution.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone enter the back door. Dark jeans and a pale green pullover, he noticed absently. That was what first sparked his interest. The staff all wore khaki, and ridiculous ball caps that matched their deep blue aprons. He had an interesting gait, even for the brief second that Alex could see him—he was very light on his feet. Almost graceful.
Tom's words seemed to fade into the background as something in Alex's mind clicked. Gregorovitch. Yassen. He felt himself standing before he had decided to do so. He muttered something to Tom about not feeling well, and hurried toward the back of the shop.
The door to the loos was on his left, and another door on the back wall was propped open. A cool breeze ruffled Alex's hair. If Yassen had ever been there, he was gone now. But nothing had been disturbed; the door did not creak as if someone had slipped through it. Everything was still.
He closed his eyes and heard Tom's approach. "You all right, Al?" his friend asked.
"Thought I saw someone I knew," he said, falling onto a crate filled with coffee blends. He put his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. "But he died a long time ago."
Tom's voice was sympathetic, but Alex could imagine his lips twisting. "You've got your fair share of ghosts, eh, Al?" He stuck his hand out. Alex grabbed it and stood.
He shook his head. "Yeah," he said, half to convince himself. "Just ghosts."
Walking home on a rainy Thursday afternoon, Alex reflected that he really needed a new bike. He had simply grown too tall for his last one—even with the seat and handlebars raised absurdly high, his knees crashed into the handlebars when he tried to ride it—and had never had the chance to buy a new version. He had raised his hood to protect himself from the rain, which explained why it took him five blocks to notice his tail.
A man with an unobtrusive black umbrella was following him. Speeding up, Alex took his next right—away from home and away from Jack. He wouldn't bring trouble there. He walked down the block, wishing the sidewalks were more crowded. He set his mouth. If he couldn't get lost in the street, then he would get lost in a store.
He ducked into the next storefront he saw, a crowded candy shop. A bell rang to signal his entrance. The smell of sugar assaulted his nose. Wiping his muddy feet on the matt set by the door, Alex lowered his hood and tried to disappear into a crowd of boys a few years younger than him. A small, mousey boy was holding an enormous bag of gummy worms before his drooling mates.
The bell did not ring again. Alex chanced a look out the plate-glass window. The rain was coming down even harder than before, nearly clearing the street of people. The only figure visible was the man with the black umbrella. He wore a long, black coat and black slacks. His umbrella was so low that his face was nearly invisible.
Despite his better judgement, Alex was curious. Umbrella did not seem interested in following him into the store. Another glance down the street told him that no reinforcements were approaching. Was Umbrella just meant to watch him? Why? Who was keeping tabs on him? The list of potential suspects was depressingly long. It could've been anyone: MI6, the Yakuza, the Triads, Scorpia, the Snakehead, MS-13, the KGB….
Yet, Umbrella did not seem interested in harming him—at least not immediately. That eliminated more than one suspect. This was also depressing. His curiosity was beginning to grow.
Making his decision, Alex again lifted his hood and opened the door. The rain was coming down in buckets, drenching him almost immediately. He looked across the street. Umbrella had moved his umbrella back, so that his face was finally visible. Alex's insides gave a lurch.
He would know that face anywhere. Yassen Gregorovitch's pale blue—dead—eyes stared at him from across the street.
"Gregorovitch!" he shouted, but the man was turning, his umbrella low over his head. Alex followed without thinking, nearly getting hit by a rumbling black sedan. He ignored the beeping and started running, determined not to lose Gregorovitch.
That is, if it was Gregorovich after all, and not a ghost conjured up from his own macabre imagination.
Gregorovich and his umbrella turned onto a busier road, into a sea of black umbrellas and coats. Alex lost sight of him almost immediately.
For a moment, Alex stood on the corner. His hood had fallen as he ran, and now the rain soaked his hair relentlessly. The longer he stood there, the more the man's appearance seemed like a mirage.
Alex blinked and pulled his hood back up. It was time to go home.
Alex had been awake for far too many hours when he thought he saw Yassen Gregorovich again. Scant hours earlier, he'd been cornered by armoured men in a dark Egyptian tomb. Now, he limped through the streets of Luxor with the sun beating down on his dusty scalp. The locals gave him a wide berth, but tourists were beginning to stare. He really needed to get back to the hotel.
He'd been told, of course, that he was merely cover for an older agent this time around—in this case, an American called Leslie Fleur. He gave a snort at the thought. As if he'd ever been so lucky.
She was masquerading as a wealthy tourist with an interest in Egyptology, and Alex was her son. They didlook alike, he would admit. She shared his brown eyes, though her hair was a few shades darker than his. She bore an eerie similarity to the few pictures he had seen of his own mother. He had wondered—briefly—if the resemblance was intentional, but then he had laughed at himself. Of course it was.
He and Leslie were staying in the luxurious Winter Palace Hotel and made daily excursions to the local museums or the nearby Valley of the Kings. In reality, the two of them went out mostly at night, digging around a few of the tombs in search of some high-powered weapon Alex wasn't quite sure he entirely understood.
They were on such an expedition now. Leslie had "borrowed" a jeep a few days ago from an "associate," and the two of them were driving through the streets and toward the tombs. The archaeologists had all retreated into their tents for the night, and so the site was still as they approached it.
Leslie killed the engine while they were still a ways away from the tomb—this one belonging to Amenhotep I. "We're running out of time, Alex," she whispered. "We should separate tonight—we'll cover more ground."
"Leslie, this sounds like the plot to every horror movie ever made. I vote we stay together."
Although her lips turned up at his comment, she shook her head. "We don't have time. You were the one who intercepted that message—they're expecting their man by tomorrow. We have to hurry."
He stifled a sigh. "Fine. I'll take the north end?"
She nodded, pulling on a pair of infrared goggles. Alex quickly donned his as well. "Go, quickly."
They entered the tomb and split up almost immediately, Alex turning right and Leslie left. Bright white paint—completely harmless to the tomb itself, and only visible to Alex and Leslie—glowed above the doors they had already visited. There wasn't much left, now, but they had to go far within the tomb to get there. The air grew noticeably chillier the further he descended.
The lights that the archaeological team had taped to the floor were all out. It would have been pitch black, but Smithers' goggles gave Alex stupendous night vision. Contrary to Alex's assumption, however, it seemed to get lighter, not darker, the further down he went into the depths. He frowned. Something about this wasn't right.
He lifted his goggles, blinking a few times to try and adjust his eyes. He could see, where there should have been cave darkness. Yes—there was a light coming from a few tunnels ahead. It was faint, but definitely there. He took several more steps, muffling his footfalls.
There wasn't supposed to be anyone in the tomb, but as he drew closer, he could hear voices. A few voices—between three and four, he would guess—speaking Arabic in hushed whispers. Alex knew very basic Arabic, but not nearly enough to decipher their conversation. He weighed his choices in his hands. He could run in there, and hope that the surprise was enough to throw them off; or, he could turn back now and return later with reinforcements.
Despite what Jack sometimes teased, Alex wasn't stupid. He had already turned around when he heard a shout behind him. He turned and ducked, barely dodging a bullet. Alex tensed, his adrenaline pumping. And so it was back to the most basic of biological instincts: fight, or flight? These men outnumbered him; as if that wasn't enough, they had guns. But there was little chance he could outrun them—he wouldn't take the chance that he knew the tunnels that snaked through the tomb better than they did.
Only a second later, he turned to run. But it seemed that someone or something—the curse of Amenhotep, perhaps, he thought wildly—was working against him, because barely a second later he tripped. A searing pain tore through his ankle, but he didn't hear any pops or crunches. That meant it was probably just a sprain, not a break. If he was lucky.
Alex stumbled to his feet, moving in an odd sort of crouching limp. He didn't make it far. The man with the gun ran after him, tackling him to the ground. Alex's face scraped against the cool clay and then collided with the ground. The man wrenched him to his feet.
He spat something in Arabic and shook Alex, pulling him roughly back toward the light. Alex struggled to keep up, pain shooting up his right ankle with every step.
When they reached the door, the man threw him to the ground in front of his coconspirators. Someone else spoke, and Alex took advantage of the opportunity to glance around the small room. He was right—there were only four men, but all of them held guns. Industrial strength lanterns sat in each corner, illuminating what must have been a storage closet even millennia ago. The room was cramped, a card table and four folding chairs taking up most of the space. There was nothing else of interest in the room. The only things on the table were a deck of cards and four dusty canteens.
Alex sat up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The man who had grabbed him was hunched, with a face so tan, wrinkled and bald it resembled a walnut. The others looked to him like he was their leader.
Another man sat in one of the folding chairs, leaning back on two of its legs. As if in direct contrast with the first man, he seemed to be made up of nothing but hair. His untrimmed beard went past his shoulders, and his hair looked as if small animals could roost in it. He glared at Alex with hazel eyes.
Two more men leaned against the wall, rifles dangling from their fingers. One was tall and lean, the other approaching morbidly obese. The tall one was missing nearly all of his front teeth. Fatty's fingers twitched on the trigger of his gun.
Mr. Walnut leaned over Alex, leering. He ripped the goggles from Alex's head, turning them over in his fingers and muttering to his friends.
"You English?" he asked suddenly, tossing the goggles onto the table. His accent was thick.
Alex nodded slowly, eyeing the three men who still held their guns. If he could just disarm them in time…
"What are you here for?" Mr. Walnut pulled over one of the folding chairs, turning it around and sitting down.
Alex paused for only half a second. "I got lost."
Mr. Walnut's pause was longer. After a moment, he seemed to realize that he had not misunderstood Alex, and his wrinkled face grew stormy. "Lost? You come into the tomb with these," he gestured to the goggles, "and you tell me you are lost?"
Alex shrugged helplessly. "My mum likes desert expeditions. She thinks they're exciting."
Mr. Walnut stood, and the chair scraped against the ground. "Do not lie to me, child." He swooped down, pulling Alex up by his shirt. "I do not like when people lie to me."
Alex stared at the man, close enough to smell his putrid breath. His heart was beating quickly. There was a moment where time seemed meaningless, and the two just stared at one another.
Then, Alex acted. He slammed his face forward into the man's nose and kicked him hard in the groin. The man fell, and Alex quickly grabbed a chair by its legs. He brandished it in front of him, wincing as a bullet scraped its edge and sent shockwaves rattling through his wrists.
Mr. Walnut accomplices—Bushy, Fatty, and Toothless—were all pointing guns at him. In such close quarters, though, they wouldn't fire again unless they had a death wish.
"I wouldn't shoot, now, gentlemen," he said, not caring if any of them even spoke English. At this point, his words were more about distraction. Fatty bared his teeth.
In an instant, Alex threw the metal chair at them, turning toward the door and sprinting out. His ankle was burning, but he couldn't slow down now.
Shots rang down the corridors, but none touched Alex. His hands were stretched out in front of him, and he hoped at this speed that he wouldn't run into any walls. He only barely knew where he was going, at this point tracing the incline of the floor more than anything.
He felt like a drowning man desperately surfacing for air when he burst out of the tomb. Slowing enough to glance behind him, he didn't see any pursuers. He didn't have time to think about them now—he needed to get away, and fast.
The jeep was gone. He wasn't sure what that meant—had Leslie fled when she'd heard the gunshots? Alex wouldn't blame her. That left just one option: a quad motorbike that the archaeologists used to go between tombs.
His uncle had taught him how to hotwire a car at 11 years old. The bike wasn't too different, and he had the engine going within a minute.
Alex almost smiled as he revved the machine. Now he just had to get back to the city to warn Leslie that they needed to leave.
He drove into the rising sun, unaware of the disaster that the day was quickly bringing.
He ditched the motorbike a mile or so away from the city and resigned himself to walking. Alex found himself wandering through Luxor, unsure of exactly which direction to go. He couldn't clear his head. He licked his dry lips and squinted down the next street. A glimmer of pale blue caught his eye. For a moment, he just stared. The man standing at the other end of the street stared back.
The man turned, walking quickly away, trying to disappear into the crowd. With a jolt, Alex recognized Yassen Gregorovitch. Alex felt himself moving in time with the throbbing of his ankle as he locked onto his target. A sense of grim determination nearly overwhelmed him.
He was going to get answers even if it killed him.
Barely even feeling his twisted ankle anymore, Alex hurried through the crowded streets. He skirted scooters and caleche carriages, honking cars and irritated pedestrians. His eyes never left Gregorovitch's back. Alex was sure that the older man knew he was being followed, though his pace never changed and his head never turned.
His suspicion was confirmed barely five minutes later, when the man suddenly stopped. The street was empty—Alex wasn't positive where they were, but he knew that they had moved far away from the tourist section of town.
"Why are you following me?" The man had not yet turned around, but Alex would recognize that voice anywhere. Smooth and particular, without the slightest hint of an accent.
Alex leaned his weight onto his good leg and snorted. "You're supposed to be dead. Forgive my curiosity."
Now Gregorovich didturn. His face was blank, but Alex could detect tenseness in his posture. He did not look directly into Alex's eyes, but at a point just above his head. Alex wondered why.
"We should not be near one another."
Not, "You should not be near me," or even, "I should not be near you." Alex ignored the oddly specific turn of phrase, deciding that he would analyze it later. He pressed on: "How are you still alive?"
Yassen looked into his eyes for the first time. "How are you? I warned you long ago not to meddle in this world to which you should not belong. You're never too young to die."
Alex ignored this as well. "Are you following me?"
"You think too highly of yourself. It seems that our superiors have similar interests."
He loathed to think of Blunt and Jones as his superiors, but there was no time to mince words. "Scorpia?" he asked quickly. Gregorovich nodded. Alex filed the information away for later. He had to warn Leslie. Scorpia's presence, coupled with the night's confrontation, meant that they either needed to hurry along the process or get the hell out of Dodge.
"What about London, then? I saw you there." Any doubt was gone from his voice. Both times he had passed it off as hallucinations, but suddenly he knew that his eyes hadn't betrayed him. Gregorovich had been in the city.
Yassen hesitated. It couldn't have been more than a millisecond, but Alex noticed. It was his job to notice. When the assassin spoke again, Alex knew he was lying: "London? I have not been in England in years. The board feels that it is…dangerous."
Something about his last sentence rang true. It also raised more questions than it answered. Alex eyed him warily. For a moment, they just stood on the sidewalk.
Then, in a hilarious turn of timing, a group of men rounded the street corner behind Yassen.
"Shit," Alex muttered, recognizing them at once. Really, what were the chances? The men that he'd humiliated—Mr. Walnut, Fatty, Bushy, and Toothless—approached from only a few hundred feet away. In a split second, Alex considered turning, but immediately cast it aside as too obviously guilty. Gregorovich did not turn toward the men. Rather, he watched Alex's face bemusedly.
Rather than running, Alex exaggerated his limp and collapsed against a decaying storefront. It was as if he'd always been there. He propped a discarded paper cup—it was red, and looked like Coca Cola was written on it, only in Arabic—in front of him, and reached into his pocket to pull out a few coins. He dropped them into the cup, hearing them rattle. As the men grew closer, Alex let his head collapse against his chest, hoping that they wouldn't even deign to look at him. Beggars weren't so uncommon in Luxor.
They crossed paths with Yassen. Alex made himself keep breathing.
"You have the package?" the leader asked, in heavily accented English.
Alex almost started, but he caught himself. A bitter feeling rose in his chest. He was so stupid. Gregorovich wasn't on his side. It had been naïve of him to think so. No, Gregorovich was playing for the other team. Hewas their contact.
And now the assassin would turn him over to the very men Alex had spent the day escaping.
Gregorovich nodded and pulled something small from his pocket. From his angle, Alex couldn't see what it was, but the bile in his throat reminded him. It was the flash drive he had been looking for—the very flash drive that would activate the most dangerous weapon currently known to man.
"Good," Mr. Walnut spat. The sun glinted off of his wrinkly, bald head. "Had you not delivered it…." He let the threat dangle. He said something in Arabic to his posse, and Alex's heart jumped into his throat. One of them was approaching.
The gunmetal glinted in the sunlight. Alex let out a wracking cough, in hopes that they would ignore him. But the man drew closer. He wondered what would happen when they recognized him.
"He is just a beggar," Gregorovich said suddenly. "He does not even speak English. He has not understood anything that we have said."
The walnut man laughed. "I don't care. Witnesses—even dumb witnesses—are dangerous."
The man with the gun—Bushy, he thought—was feet away. Alex sprung into action.
He knocked the man's unsuspecting gun hand into his nose, at once forcing away the weapon and giving the Bushy a nasty bruise for later. He brought his other fist around and caught the man's jaw. He fell to the street with a solid thump.
Alex brandished the gun at the other men. Mr. Walnut looked ready to spit fire. "You!" he bellowed. "They told me you were dead!"
"That mix-up seems to have happened a lot today," Alex said, interested. So the others told their leader that they had killed him, rather than admit that Alex had escaped and that they had been beaten by a teenager. "Unfortunately for you, I am very much alive." The gun was a reassuring weight in his hand, though Fatty and Toothless, standing behind Mr. Walnut, had pulled out their own and were pointing them at him.
"Now, you need to hand me that flash drive."
Yassen looked interested at these turn of events, but did not speak. Alex ignored him.
Mr. Walnut did not answer, but lunged forward, murder in his wrinkled face. Sidestepping, Alex smashed the butt of the gun into the back of Mr. Walnut's bald head. There was a sickening crack, and their leader fell to the ground. It was the second time that he'd knocked the man unconscious. Or it was the first time that he'd killed him.
Alex reached into Mr. Walnut's hand, yanking out the flash drive that had been the source of so much trouble. He kept the gun pointed squarely at Fatty and Toothless, breathing heavily.
"I'm afraid I can't let you take that, Alex."
It wasn't Toothless or Fatty that spoke, but Yassen. He was standing to the side of the action, but moved forward now that all was still. His voice was deceptively calm. "Now, hand it over before I have to do something that I regret."
Alex shot the gun in his hand twice. Fatty fell to the ground, bellowing in pain and clutching his leg. Toothless followed a second later, raising his gun even as he sank to his knees. Alex walked over to them and kicked his gun away, following soon with Fatty's weapon. He looked down at them with pursed lips, his back toward Gregorovitch.
"I'm not the boy you met three years ago, Yassen." He turned his head. The assassin was watching impassively. Alex spoke clearly and loudly, ignoring the incoming sound of sirens. "If you think you can overpower me with words, you're wrong. Either I walk away with this flash drive or you kill me where I stand."
Alex finally turned to face Gregorovitch. For a moment, the two of them just stood.
"You are truly your father's son," Yassen said, a hint of something like pride colouring his voice.
Alex froze, unsure of how to react. Gregorovitch's hands were visible, but now would be the perfect time for him to attack. Yet, he did not move.
"And you are wrong. You are not a boy at all. You have become a man."