The premise for this story is that Jack has died and Alex has gone to live with Wolf. I could see this actually happening in the book, couldn't you?
Rated T for language, enjoy!
"So I got a phone call from the school yesterday."
Alex's chewing gradually slowed, and he forced himself to swallow before dragging his eyes off of the paper spread haphazardly in his hands. Blinking up at Wolf, he ventured slowly,
"They want to know why you've been missing so much school."
A few seconds passed, and Alex turned back to his toast. Wolf was gritting his teeth.
"Want to explain yourself, Cub?"
"Eh…" Alex pretended to think really hard about it. "… No."
"This isn't up for debate."
"See, it was your phrasing that threw me off there, you phrased it like a question–"
"It just never ends with you, does it–"
"I should get going, it's nearly seven-thirty…"
"School doesn't start till nine."
"Yes, but you're forgetting about how I have to, goodbye."
"You didn't even finish making up an excuse!" Wolf barked as Alex leaped out of his chair and disappeared into the hallway. A quick thumping hit his ears, most likely the result of Alex hopping on one foot in order to slip a shoe onto the other, and then the door slammed.
"I bet he forgot to tie his shoes," Wolf mused, and as if on cue, another thump was heard, this time accompanied by a few choice swears. Wolf shook his head.
It was strange, how Alex managed to inspire that: fondness born out of sadism.
It was seven p.m., and Alex was sitting at the kitchen table working on homework. Wolf was perched on the counter just behind him, mindlessly polishing a gun while they waited for their take-out to arrive.
"I'm having some people over for dinner later in the week, so do you think you could try and whip your room into shape by this time tomorrow?"
Alex frowned down at his homework, briefly nibbling at his bottom lip before finally giving out and applying a strip of white out on top of his precise writing. Wolf's eyes roamed over the books, identifying the subject. History.
"You want some help?"
"You failed history class," Alex complained.
"That was a long time ago."
"Whatever you say…"
"I'm serious, dammit. High school history is all about war. Think about who you're talking about."
"Nah, I've got it."
"Why don't you use a pencil?"
"My professor won't let me turn it in if I do."
"Oh. Anyway, your room?"
Alex leaned back in his chair and sighed, giving Wolf a long, withering look. "Is it K-unit?"
Wolf had tried to leave that little detail out because he knew Alex would never bother tidying his room just for K-unit (even though K-unit were pretty much the only people comfortable enough with Alex to enter his room in the first place). However, this was somewhat important.
"Yes. But – but… Snake has a new girlfriend. And we like her. And we don't want to scare her away."
"It sounds like you're reciting lines."
"Well, they may not be my exact words, but this is pretty big. Snake hasn't entertained any women since he and Sarah… yeah. And if she's gonna be sticking around, I'd rather she get a good impression of the place since… well you know, we spend a lot of time here, and stuff."
"You have a way with words," Alex reflected. Wolf gave him a dirty look.
"So just do it, okay?"
There was a short pause.
"Why does it matter–"
"She's not even going to go in there!"
"Fuck, I should have known, it is always an argument with you. For once in your life could you just do what I tell you–"
"But it's not as though there's a single scenario where this new girl is actually going to go into my room–"
"It's the principle of it, Cub."
"Gets the point across, yeah?" Alex grinned.
"You still haven't told me why you've been missing so much school. And I know it's not MI6, so this time you don't have an excuse," Wolf snapped, deftly changing the subject. Alex drummed his fingers on his homework thoughtfully.
"What if I told you I was the leader of a drug ring? That I… joined a gang?"
"I imagine I'd smack you upside the head."
"Well, that rules that one out, then."
"Pretty much. Might as well just go with the truth."
"… You know what, I'm just going to go clean my room."
"… just so mad at you right now I can't even think straight!"
Alex was rubbing his face, trying to give off a non-threatening vibe as Wolf paced violently through the kitchen, each turn sharp and angry. His fists were clenched at his sides, and was that steam coming out of his ears?
"I didn't like her," Alex muttered, causing Wolf to whip around and shoot him a fierce glare.
"You're not dating her!" Wolf snapped. "Haven't you heard of a little thing called respect?"
Alex stared furiously at the ground, his face feeling hot. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize to me, you brat! Apologize to–"
"Jennifer?" Alex guessed.
"No!" Wolf cried, throwing his arms in the air. "What, do you really think I give one shit about Jennifer?"
"Then what the hell is this about?" Alex shouted, steadily getting more worked up while in the presence of Wolf's fury. Wolf looked as though he was ready to explode at any second, sauntering over to Alex and thumping him on the head with the bottom of his fist. Not enough to really hurt him, but enough to get some of the frustration he was feeling out of his system, and call the boy out for being so thick-skulled.
"It's about Snake!" he wailed. "Snake, our friend!"
"It wasn't your sarcastic remarks or passive-aggressive comments about Jennifer the lawyer. It wasn't how you treated her, or put snake on this great pedestal that Jennifer the lawyer could never possibly hope to live up to so, and I quote, 'why are you even here?'"
Alex understood it now. He had his head bowed once again.
"It's about humiliating Snake in front of the girl he was seeing. Jennifer, Snake's guest. I don't care if you were feeling overprotective of him, or threatened, or whatever your reasoning was. Do we treat people that way, Alex? Is that how you see us treat people?"
"No," Alex mumbled.
"Is that how you see me treat my friends' guests?"
"Then pick up that God damned phone and call Snake and do whatever the hell he tells you to do to make it right."
Alex nodded and obeyed, heading toward the phone without any further question. Left without anyone else to vent on, Wolf slowly deflated, the anger that had been rolling off him in thick waves slowly draining into a thin aura of grumpiness. He felt a little lost now that Alex had given in. It normally took a lot longer than that, and by the end both his head and ears were usually aching. Almost out of sheer habit, he halfheartedly attempted to revive the argument with, "And stop missing so much school!" but it was fruitless.
With a heavy sigh, the man fished a beer out of the fridge and allowed himself to collapse onto the couch, watching football and listening Alex's apologetic voice not quite tuned out in the background.
"Hey, Cub, what's this?"
"What's – oh."
"'Oh'? It doesn't look like that kind of 'oh'. Is this some kind of award?"
"Uh, kind of…"
Alex was sheepishly rubbing the back of his head, and Wolf was sure that if he carried on with his prodding, he'd eventually draw a blush out of the boy. Naturally, he continued.
"Did you win this? Look here – 'celebration of excellence'. Oh my."
"It's – dumb, really, I–"
"Wait a minute, is this thing two pages? Or – there's two of them! Cub!"
By now, Alex had reddened considerably. "It's not like it's anything special," he defended himself, crossing his arms over his chest and stubbornly looking away. "They're only language classes."
Wolf scoffed, slapping Alex' back hard enough to make the boy choke. "Give yourself more credit, kid! One hundred percent in both classes! What is this… Spanish and French?"
Hesitantly, as though he'd never dared to divulge such information before, Alex murmured, "… There's two more."
"Are there really?"
"Yeah. For English and Physical Education."
"My little gym class warrior!"
"Okay, okay. English! Thinking back, I think I failed English, too."
"I got one for last year, as well."
"And I'm on the honour roll."
"Cub!" Wolf all but cheered, a wide grin stretching across his face. "Who knew you were so damn smart?"
"Well, the British Intelligence didn't pick me up for nothing," he griped, although there was a small, pleased smile poised on his lips.
"Thank God for you, Cub. We need at least one in the family that isn't a complete fuck-up," Wolf said airily with an obvious undercurrent of pride.
Alex swallowed. Wolf had meant K-unit. But he had no idea what kind of standing the word "family" held with Alex.
"Thanks," he whispered, although Wolf completely missed it. He carried on, all delighted.
"One year away from MI6 and you're already kicking ass back at school. Now that's what I call a genius. Man, Eagle's gonna get a kick outta that, when I tell him I got a genius on my hands."
"Eagle gets a kick out of everything."
"True. Maybe I shouldn't tell him, actually; he'll probably try to put you on one of those game shows so you can bring home a bunch of money." It was a joke; Wolf was already planning to call each one his unit and brag for as long as he could get away with before the night was through.
"And then he'll spend it on a bunch of stupid stuff."
"Yeah, Wolf agreed, "like hair gel and balloons."
"He does like balloons."
"It amazes me, though, Cub," Wolf's words suddenly quieted as the subject switched, and his tone turned more thoughtful. "How do you achieve these kinds of grades when you're missing so much school?"
Alex immediately looked to the ceiling and began whistling, nonchalantly taking a few steps back in the direction of the doorway. Wolf lunged forward, hands narrowly missing Alex as he deftly dodged the man's grip, taking off down the hallway. Wolf was after him in a heartbeat.
"Explain yourself, you delinquent!"
"You just called me a genius!"
"… Did you just call me a whore?"
"WHY THE HELL DO YOU KEEP SKIPPING SCHOOL!"
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…"
There was a very loud whirring noise.
Wolf tripped and face planted right in front of where Alex sat cross-legged on the stone-tiled floor, and did not move to get up.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck…"
He was breathing the words in tandem with his panting, and eventually, he earned himself a grunt of "shtop shwearin'" from Wolf. With that, Alex groaned and dropped, joining Wolf on the floor. Idly reaching up, Alex's hand played with the handle of the toilet, and after a few minutes of toying with it he finally pressed it down hard enough to make it flush. Wolf moaned a complaint.
"It's so hot."
This was easily the most said phrase in the household of Wolf and Alex that week. May was not being kind to the English; Chelsea had been hit by a massive heat wave resulting in Wolf and Alex (and the rest of K-unit on some occasions) spending most of their time either in the backyard hosing themselves down or in the bathroom, where they alternated between pressing their faces to the cool tile and tiredly sitting at the bottom of the shower with their clothes on in hopes of preserving some of the cold of the water. The bathtub had been filled with water and ice, and in the middle sat a large cooler since neither was willing to get up and go to the fridge for cold refreshments. Around them sat three fans, two of which were plugged in on an extension chord in order to accommodate the quantity.
"Pass me a beer, brat," Wolf drawled lazily.
Alex made a huge show of working up the energy to push himself up into a hunching position against the bathtub, reaching back to open the cooler, and extracting the golden bottle. By the time Wolf's hands closed around the glass, his expression had become mournful.
"It's already warm."
"I can see the condensation."
"I'm telling you it's warm, dammit." But Alex was having none of it.
"Wolf, Wolf, I'm so hot, Wolf, I'm burning up…"
Wolf began to hum in a dazed, half-conscious manner.
"… Burn out the day…"
Alex joined in seamlessly, mumbling every second line. "Burn out the night…"
"… I can't see no reason to… put up a fight…"
"… I'm living for giving the…"
"Fuck, I forgot the words–"
"No, no, wait. Burn out the day, burn out the night, can't see no reason to put up a fight, I'm living for giving… nmmnssdoo…"
"Cub, those were not the lyrics–"
"THE DEVIL IS DUE! I'm living for giving the devil his due…"
Both of them broke out into the chorus after that.
"Well I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you…"
Out of tune, exhausted, voices dry and cracking from the heat.
They got louder. "I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you…!"
Alex broke off before Wolf did, too out of breath to continue. He leaned in closer to the fan, closing his eyes and sighting deeply. Wolf observed the boy with miniscule pity.
"Well, I guess I can excuse you from missing school today."
Wolf had opted to get up a half an hour early that morning, and was treated to a flashing 1 on his message machine from the previous night.
"ANOTHER FUCKING PHONE CALL! Cub, I am going to wring your neck… what's wrong?"
Wolf's face immediately changed, eyebrows creasing as he took in Alex's lack of energy. The boy moved sluggishly into the kitchen, but not in a specifically tired manner. In fact, he moved with his usual quiet grace, too straight-backed and poised for a boy his age (something drilled into him from a young age by Ian, who was obsessive about always looking confident and respectable or some other garbage). However, his expression was impassive and without any real kind of recognition for his surroundings. He stopped in the middle of the room, staring unseeingly at the cupboard that housed their bowls and plates.
"… You'll be getting another one," Alex whispered after a moment. "I won't be going to school today."
Wolf could tell something was really, really wrong.
This was how Alex had been delivered to him just over a year ago.
Wolf's frown quickly spread to his eyes, reflecting worry. It was a testament to Wolf's experience with the teen that he did not immediately jump on him for the announcement, as well as a credit to his tact. That was something he'd lacked before Alex had joined him as well.
"Other plans?" the man asked in as gentle a voice as he could – which still sounded gruff, because Wolf just had that kind of unmoved voice. Alex recognized the effort, however dimly.
"Yes," he replied despondently, moving in a robotic manner to put the kettle on the stove. "I'll be making a visit to the cemetery."
Wolf's first thought was Alex's parents. Then his uncle Ian. And then finally Jack. A trace of long-forgotten horror entered his mind as he realized he had to sort through a list of people Alex had loved in the past in order to try and figure out which one he might be visiting in the cemetery.
Gulping, Wolf said in a low voice, "I'll drive you."
"You have work."
"I don't feel very well today."
"No," Wolf cut him off, drawing Alex's deadened eyes up to his own in order to see the seriousness in them. "I don't."
Alex gazed at him for a long moment, seeming more distant than ever before. A disturbing thought struck Wolf then – the thought of Alex being left in the care of anyone other than K-unit. This could have been Alex's permanent persona… he had to physically repress the shudder that came with the next idea that MI6 might have taken over the teenager's guardianship.
"Come on, we'll go right now. Maybe you can still make your final class."
Alex shook his head.
"… I don't think so, Wolf."
After only a second's hesitation, Wolf placed a heavy hand on top of Alex's head, very lightly tousling his hair. In the most understanding way Alex had ever seen the man respond, Wolf said,
"This is an automated call from Brookland School to inform you that your daughter or son has missed one or more classes…"
Wolf was reciting the words from memory in the best imitation of the female recording voice while Alex sat in the armchair before him. He recited the words three times, each one sounding more and more forced, until the man finally barked,
"Enough is enough! I don't care if you're on honour roll or winning awards in your classes. In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I don't really care that you've been missing school. But I do care that you've been avoiding telling me why for months."
Alex regarded him stonily.
"I have the right to remain silent."
"Fucking no you don't! Jesus, Cub, I just told you I don't give a shit as long as you're getting good grades. I just want to know why. The more you avoid it, the worse I'm going to expect."
"That is probably a good thing."
"That doesn't reassure me in the least."
"Am I supposed to be reassuring you?"
"It'd be nice."
"You know, so would a new car."
"Don't make me employ interrogation tactics on you."
Alex's eyes darkened, and Wolf quickly covered the mistake with,
"I have a wicked hand for tickling."
"If you touch me I'm filing for molestation."
"Like hell you are. Spit it out you little menace."
"I…" Alex paused. Wolf raised an eyebrow. It seemed for the first time Alex was seriously considering telling Wolf the truth.
"… Oh God, you're gonna make fun of me so much…"
"No I won't," Wolf vowed.
"Maybe this could be a good thing…"
It seemed more like Alex was talking himself into the idea now.
"It sure would make things a lot easier… if you could learn to accept it, I mean, but – shit, I guess it's not really about acceptance…"
"You're going to make me stop going, I know you are, but it's too late for that, I'm way too attached now…"
"Cub!" Wolf's curiosity was howling for answers at this point. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I have…!" Alex faltered before shouting at the man, "I have a secret cat!"
"I… I found a stray kitten a couple months ago. A little brown tabby. I don't know what happened but I think she was separated from her mom and she was so skinny that I just… scooped her up. She was really thin so I – I bought some kitten food for her, and some milk, and then later I found out that milk was bad for cats, so I put that in the fridge here and that's why that one week we had that one random jug of milk, and…"
He was rambling, filling in the silence as Wolf struggled to process the reason behind Alex's missed classes.
"I did all my research, I swear I did, so I set up a little home for her in the crawlspace beneath this shoe store that isn't very good, and I've just been visiting her you know, feeding her and – well, I'm not going to say that I talk to her, but I'm not going to deny it, either – and I wanted to tell you the day that I found her but then I heard Fox say you hated cats so I…"
"You didn't tell me because you heard Fox say I hate cats?" Wolf asked incredulously. Alex's cheeks warmed indignantly.
"Okay, well, don't look at me like that!" he snapped.
"I'll look at you however I like," Wolf retorted. "This is one of the most absurd situations I've ever been placed in."
"Well I couldn't just leave her to die!" Alex said defensively.
"And you couldn't take her to a shelter?"
Alex sucked in a breath, averting his eyes. "… No."
"Why's that?" Wolf sighed.
"She… Fuck, Wolf, how can anyone hate cats? She was too Goddamn adorable! I couldn't face the idea of her being adopted by someone else – and trust me, she would have been, in the first week I predict, she was so cute…"
"Jesus Christ, Cub…"
"I'm sorry," Alex emphasized, glaring at the man. "But once I found out you didn't like them, I…"
And that was where Alex froze up. Wolf crossed his arms and gave him a pointed look, gesturing for him to continue. Alex pressed his lips together.
"I didn't feel like I could ask."
Wolf's eyes narrowed, and Alex immediately changed his wording.
"Didn't feel like I should," he corrected.
Wolf waited a moment before carefully asking, "… What gave you that idea?"
Alex was silent again. Wolf sighed.
"I just… I owe you so much. Making demands – especially one of that gravity – seemed huge. You'd already taken on the responsibility of me, and I know I was no easy task when you first found me–"
"Still aren't…" Wolf muttered.
"–so I couldn't possibly have asked you to take on another responsibility. I knew with me being gone at school and stuff you'd be left with her alone sometimes and even if she'd probably stay out of your way the majority of the time the knowledge that you didn't like cats was enough to turn me off the idea entirely. After a while when you started noticing my absences, I avoided the issue because I was scared you'd… make me give her up," Alex finished meekly.
At the end of his explanation, Wolf gave Alex a long, pained look. Alex gazed up at him like the accused against the jury, and after a good minute had passed, Wolf said,
"I don't hate cats."
Alex had snapped up to look at the man in astonishment.
"You – what?"
"I don't hate cats."
"But… Fox said…"
"The night you're talking about – was that the night where we were watching the discovery channel, and that really gross programme came on that–"
"Let's not relive that…"
"Right, is that the one?"
"Yeah," Alex said, frowning.
"Yeah, well, you heard him wrong. Fox didn't say that I hate cats. He… he said that I hate rats."
"You… hate rats?" Alex repeated, as though the very concept was out of this world.
"Yeah," Wolf shuddered. "They're disgusting. The barracks had rats. Pretty much everywhere we were sent had rats. And that programme, remember, when it mentioned–"
"Oh – ooohh. Yeah, that makes sense."
"Yeah. I actually grew up with two cats. One was called Shithead. The other was Fanger the Banger."
"Those are some pleasant names."
"My sister named them, actually."
Another long pause followed.
He didn't seem to want to ask. It had obviously taken him a lot of willpower to resist this entire time when he loved the cat so much. With a smirk, Wolf said,
"Yeah, we can bring her here."
"Oh my God, oh my God, you've just made me the happiest guy in the world," Alex cried, leaping up and crushing Wolf into a hug. The man squirmed, cuffing him over the head.
"Get offa me!"
"Can we go pick her up right now?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Sure. What's her name, anyway?"
"Oh, right…" Alex snickered. "I call her Brat."
"Uh huh. It's short for Brat's Right."
"Very cute, Cub. Unfortunately, you are never right."
"I'm always right."
"You weren't right about me hating cats."
"Yeah, but technically I got that from Fox, so Fox…"
"Give it up, kid…"
"I respectfully decline."
Later that night, while staring up at the ceiling contemplating kitty litter, Wolf realized that Brat's Right was an anagram for Starbright.
A/N: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." – Robert Frost.
This took me about two nights, the second one much more than the first, but I still don't really know why it happened or how or where it came from. I hope some of you liked it, though. I really like the idea of a fatherly Wolf, and a father/son relationship between Wolf and Alex. More than that, I like the idea of them being able to help each other (the plots of the rest of my other fics: "YOU DON'T SAY?")
The song Alex and Wolf were singing was "I'm Burning For You" by Blue Oyster Cult, if anybody didn't recognize it.
And on a final sidenote, Shithead and Fanger the Banger were the name of my mom's cats while she was growing up. Shithead was really annoying and used to tear the shit out of the furniture. Fanger the Banger got knocked up three times. So that's how that came about.
If you enjoyed, please please please review! I really appreciate it! Thanks for reading :)