The building had swing doors but they were propped open. Alex found himself walking in a marble-clad hall. His shoes tapped over the floor in a staggered half stumbling waltz, accompanied by someone that smelled like blood. The leather sofas and curving reception desk was abandoned. There was nobody inside the building.
Sayle gestured with the gun, a quick jerky movement that Alex felt hyper aware of. They walked to a bank of elevators, flashing available on the ground floor.
Alex pressed the button, the doors opened, they got in.
“The twenty-ninth floor.” Sayle said. His voice was haggard shifting. A second undertone that Alex knew was pain.
Alex pressed the button, choking down a hysterical giggle to instead ask, “are we going up for the view?”
Sayle nodded. He stank of iron, thick and smearing in the air around them. “You make all the bloody jokes you want. But I’m going to have the last laugh.”
They stood in silence, and ascended.
Alex could feel the pressure in his ears, changing and flexing and popping with a high pitched whine. He could feel it, taste the blood that Sayle hid against his body. The invisible hidden stain on his damaged arm, the way he supported his weight on the side of the elevator.
Alex’s ears shifted again, increasing and squeezing and tick tick tick-
Higher and higher, Sayle’s eyes were watching him and Alex’s head was screaming. They were rising, closer to a destination Alex didn’t know.
Attack him, Alex thought. Grab the gun. Tear his tongue out.
He couldn’t, they were far too close and Sayle was far too tense. There was no surprise- and Alex’s stomach twisted and churned and his ears screamed. His eyes itched and his jaw felt sore; had anxiety dragged him down so far?
The elevator slowed down and the doors opened. It was a waft of new air, a burning singe of scents and smells and the nauseating reek of iron and blood drifted free.
“Turn left.” Sayle said, waving his gun once again. “You’ll come to a door. Open it.”
I want to open you, Alex thought impulsively. He smelled he smelled and all Alex could taste was blood.
Alex did as he was told. The door was marked HELIPAD, it felt old and rusted under his fingertips. A flight of concrete steps led up. Alex glanced at Sayle, and he nodded. “Up.”
Alex stumbled, his legs cramping and burning and Sayle’s breathe was suddenly so pungent and warm on his skin.
They climbed, reached another door and finally broke out to sunlight. A flat roof with a radio mast and a tall metal fence that rusted on the tops. Looking around, Alex could feel his eyes burn and his head throb from sensitivity. Alex could see so far- right across the city to Canary Wharf and beyond. It had felt like such a quiet day, but so high up Alex could feel the wind shriek past and touch ozone boiling in his stomach.
“You ruined everything!” Sayle howled, stepping aside and apart. The distance now obvious and pointed, the gun a threat impossible to ignore. Sayle’s blood was strong, his fear and sweat a cologne Alex found repulsive in his sinus’.
“How did you do it? How did you trick me? I’d have beaten you if you’d been a man! But they had to send a boy! A Bliddy schoolboy! Well, it isn’t over yet. I’m leaving England; that’s why I brought you here. I wanted you to see!”
See what? Alex thought, his mouth too dry to ever fathom words.
Alex turned to look behind his shoulder where Sayle looked beaming. There was a helicopter hovering in the air behind him. It was painted red and yellow, a light, single-engine aircraft with a single pilot in the cockpit. It smelled like fuel and fire, and Alex could see the model in his brain flashing across his retinas. A colibri EC 1 20B- one of the quietest in the world.
“That’s my ticket out of here!” Sayle shouted into the howling of the wind. “They’ll never find me! And one day I’ll be back. Next time, nothing will go wrong- and you won’t be here to stop me. This is the end for you! This is where you die!”
The helicopter smelled like gear oil, the wind screamed and electricity flickered across Alex’s arm. Across his neck, below his eyes. He saw Sayle raise the gun- his other arm limp and prone from its bullet wound. Sayle’s eyes were wide, the pupils dark and pinpricks in bulging white. They were so far apart, but for a sharp inhale Alex could swear he could see every pore between his brows.
There were three explosive cracks, and an exhale that didn’t come.
Sayle staggered and fell onto his back. There were two gaping holes in his chest, a spray of blood and bone and iron that clogged Alex’s nose.
Oh, Alex thought, looking down disoriented. It wasn’t the smell, there was actual blood pooling from his nose and down his shirt.
The helicopter landed in the center of the cross, behind Sayle who lay prone across the roof. The pilot got out, still holding the gun that had killed Herod Sayle. He walked over, examined the body, and prodded it with his shoe.
Satisfied, Yassen Gregorovich slid the gun into a side holster and turned his eyes to Alex.
You’re Yassen Gregorovich, Alex tried to say, and vomited blood across his chest. It stank, hot and greasy. Alex burbled for air perplexed.
The Russian stared at him, eyes fixed on Alex’s face. It was impossible to tell what the man was thinking, even as Alex shakily reached to his face. Smearing blood across his cheeks, drooling foam from his mouth.
I can’t breathe, Alex realized, and only then did the pain register.
“Stop trying to talk.” Yassen Gregorovich said, talking with no trace of an accent in his voice. He spoke softly, direct with a purpose Alex couldn’t register. “You have been shot through your throat.”
Alex tried to speak, ignoring the man’s word. Agony pierced through him, clogging his mouth and nose. He could feel his eyes widen, bulging as finally panic registered.
Alex dropped to his knees. Both hands wrapping around his throat- he could feel the hot blood spurt with every heartbeat.
“Stop panicking.” Yassen Gregorovich said again, eyes sliding across Alex’s face to stare somewhere below his ear. “You’ll die less painful.”
Alex felt his eyes burn, his head scream to a whistle that vibrated his inner ear like a train whistle. Something had to give, and he didn’t know what.
Alex bared his teeth, fingers slippery in his throat, and managed to salute Yassen Gregorovich with both his middle fingers. He drooled hot ichor, and felt static burn along his brain.
Yassen Gregorovich tilted his head, considered Alex, and made a choice.
“I have no orders concerning you.” Yassen said, fingers brushing the stock of his gun. “Do you want to die?”
Alex didn’t want to die, he didn’t want to die.
Yassen Gregorovich’s eyes widened ever so slightly. An expression that faded nearly instantly after it appeared. The helicopter had not been turned off, its blades spun and twisted wind and smeared Alex’s hair along his skull.
“You’re his child,” Yassen said, finding something in Alex’s suffocation. In the trembling pale skin pallor of Alex’s slow destined demise. “You’re Hunter’s child.”
Who? Alex wanted to say, but blood could only last so long.
He slumped to the ground, eyes wide and gulping, gasping for air. Flopping like a fish, gagging and not dying.
Yassen Gregorovich approached him, fishing out what looked like a darker form of gauze. He carelessly pried away Alex’s fingers, clutching Alex’s throat tight enough to choke him if there was anything left to choke.
“If you are his son,” Yassen said. Alex had never seen such blue eyes before, staring searchingly into his. “Then you won’t die from this.”
Bullshit, Alex had been shot through his throat.
Yassen lifted him, squeezing Alex’s throat so tightly Alex wondered if he would snap it still. With surprising care, he opened the passenger seat to the fancy helicopter and slid Alex on its seat. Already the leather chair was growing tacky. Yassen buckled him in, securing him in place with assassin grade gauze shoved in his trachea.
Yassen walked back to retrieve Sayle’s body, shoving it into the backseat along shapeless bags of cargo. Alex could hear him wheezing, a desperate broken noise.
Yassen slid back into the pilot seat. He didn’t seem bothered by the blood covering his body. Yassen slid on a headset and visor, flipping switches for things Alex didn’t know.
“Don’t breathe so fast.” Yassen said without looking. “You’ll break the clots that have formed.”
Alex’s vision was fading, his nose was wet and clogged and he was drowning alive. Twisting his head ruined the passenger seat. Sayles body in the backseat stared at him, open eyes and slack jaw.
Alex couldn’t think beyond the all consuming terror. He was trapped in a helicopter with Yassen Gregorovich. The contract killer Mrs. Jones had told him about. The man who murdered Iran. The man who shot Sayle twice instantly and betrayed a contract and seemingly abducted Alex for something else.
Yassen didn’t look at him. Alex looked past, watching Canary Wharf drift further away until it faded from the horizon and from his line of sight.
Alex woke up seizing, surging upward with a gasping horrible sort of wheeze. There was something thick in his neck, burning and wrong at any movement of his head.
“Don’t move.” he heard. “You’ll dislodge the tube. It’s permitting you to breathe.”
What? Alex wanted to say, mouthing the words. His lips were dry and cracked, his mouth felt empty and barren.
Shaking hands found his throat, where a long tube pierced its way out from below his jaw. Oh god, there was a tube in him.
Yassen Gregorovich drifted into his eyesight, towering so high as he walked around the little bed. Stifling hot, muggy, pain filled brain. His mouth splay open, and his throat tube whistled like a dying song bird.
“You are a Rider.” Yassen said flatly, lifting what looked like a pitcher of water in the dim light of the room. “Otherwise you would have died over the canal.”
Alex whistled, desperate for anything to drink. He smelled blood and gore and grapes drifting in the wind. His skin itched raw and flaky, like salt coating his skin. He was so so thirsty.
“You can’t drink.” Yassen warned him, supplying a much needed single ice chip from somewhere Alex couldn’t see. “Your tracheostomy allows sufficient oxygen now. Eating and digesting is too large a risk in your state.”
Alex stared at him, and weakly bit the ice chip in half pointedly.
You killed Ian. Alex wanted to scream, you killed him and you killed Sayle and-.
“I had not expected to meet you.” Yassen said, speaking in that same anonymous tone of voice. “Hunter was...secretive. MI6 is being careless to send his child into harms way.”
Alex wanted to bite him, maybe Yassen would lose a finger if he timed it right.
Yassen stared at him, tilted his head slightly in consideration, and withdrew. “Sleep.”
Alex couldn’t. It wasn’t safe- he was being held captive . He didn’t know where he was, would MI6 be able to find him? Could he manage a phone and somehow get a team to get him out of here?
What would happen if he moved wrong? There was a tube in his throat - would it pull free and he’d suffocate again?
He needed to escape, or find some way out of this mess. There was a chance that Yassen Gregorovich would grow tired of him and kill him once he realized Alex didn’t know anything.
Was he going to get tortured? Did this assassin want information from him? Jones barely warned him about Yassen, what could he possibly want from him?
He mentioned something about Hunter. Was that a different operative? A different mission?
“You’re not sleeping.” Yassen said, voice flat as ever although somehow displeased.
Alex whistled and tried to gurgle. His vocal chords weren’t cooperating, even as his mouth moved silently. Yassen didn’t look alarmed, so it likely had something to do with the tube in his throat.
“Do you understand the position you’re in, Alex Rider?”
Alex wished he could talk, if only to screech that no he had no idea and that wasn’t really anything new.
Yassen looked at him, blue eyes and freshly washed skin. “You’re in a world far too advanced for your childhood understanding.”
No shit, there was a tube in his throat.
“If not for me being there, you would have died.” Cold curious eyes, and Alex tasted standard hotel soap on his tongue. “What would you have done then, Alex Rider?”
Probably would have ended the way a schoolboy should have when trying to prevent a global catastrophe with the power of no-high school diploma, and a training driver’s license.
Yassen turned away, poured himself a glass of water and began to drink it in long sips. Yassen’s throat moved hypnotically. He looked odd in different clothing, a boring button up that may have been linen with how hot the stuffy room felt. Yassen looked odd in the picture Jones had shown him, wearing overalls and smiling - but this was worse because Yassen was here.
Yassen swallowed, the walnut of his throat shifted downwards and adjusted the skin of his neck just so. A dark red line peaked out, a flash of red that hid itself only seconds after its appearance.
Alex wondered if there was some sort of unspoken rule that all assassins needed to have destroyed necks because Alex was really winding himself up over this crap.
Yassen moves like a dancer through their no-air-conditioned hotel room that apparently was nice enough for Russian impromptu surgery. Alex didn’t have pain killers and he could tell. He doubted Yassen had any, although maybe is Alex blinked Morse code Yassen could knock him out just for the exasperation.
Alex wiggled his fingers, grimacing at his broken nails. They were blue stained, flour white around the tips and looking sick even to him. Had he suffered that much from after choking? His brain felt alright, but how do you tell when you have a brain injury?
“MI6 would not have placed you in the field,” Yassen said, “if they knew your capabilities and potential.”
What potential? Alex being able to pole dance his way to safety except he got offered a very different type of job?
Why couldn’t Ian just be a banker? Why could he have just been boring?
Yassen stilled so suddenly, that Alex found his breathing still. The tube whistled, condensation gathering on the end of the clear plastic. Yassen stood there, still like a gargoyle in the dim lighting as he stared at his empty glass and calloused hands and appeared to face the ending of the world.
Slowly, the man uncurled. Tension rolling off of him, melting off his body as the stress rendered from the meat. Alex stared, able to see him from the corner of his eye. Lying prone on a hotel bed, a tube protruding from his neck. Entirely defenseless, and very very uncomfortable. The tube was getting itchy.
“You don’t know,” Yassen said softly. He gently set the glass down, barely a click of glass on the coffee table. He turned back to Alex, approaching him like a stalking cat to a fallen bird. “Knowing Hunter, I suspect few did.”
Who was Hunter? What was going on?
Yassen looked at him, tilting his head and observing all of Alex’s body. Alex felt a wave of horror, of fear and disgust. The condensation on his tube made a drop of water from the rapid exhaling of Alex’s lungs.
“You’re a miracle, Alex.” Yassen mused, “or an abomination being wielded by incompetent fools.”
An abomination, ouch.
“He would be disgusted with this.” He sounded amused. “With what’s happened. Did that uncle of yours tell you anything? He was... reluctant , I believe the word was.”
Alex swallowed, using muscles that were raw and severed and a blood clot wiggled its way free from Alex’s severed throat and stained the linen pillow case. Yassen plucked a tissue to clean the dark red slug daintily. How polite.
“The state of your wounds suggests you will die in one month.” Yassen said bluntly. “I am...inclined to avoid this outcome now.”
Yassen threw out the tissue and the blood clot, pulling more papers and receipts from his pockets to throw into the little metal trash can. He pulled out a match from somewhere unknown, lighting the little basket ablaze. Alex didn’t moan, but his tube made a gurgle that Yassen interpreted as dismay. It was hot enough already without a literal trash fire.
Yassen looked at him, and grabbed a pitcher of water. He walked silently over the floor, upturning the entire pitcher on Alex’s chest. A careful hand and finger diverted the tube out of the splash zone even as it pulled on Alex’s scabs.
He floundered, choking and managing the smallest bit of smile to spray onto that single damn pale finger. Yassen didn’t respond, instead he watched the way the water pooped in the gaps of Alex’s collarbones and over his sternum.
“Here,” Yassen said, brushing his thumb over the depression just shy of the bone ridge of his chest. “This is how you survived.”
What? Alex wanted to ask, because that made no sense- but the water was cooling and soothing to his burns. A gentle balm he hadn’t known he needed.
Yassen hummed a flat toneless noise, and slipped away. He closed the door behind him, leaving Alex alone in a bed smelling of blood, cheap shampoo, and grapes in the breeze
He hauled Alex out after nightfall, nearly a full 24 hours after he slipped from Alex’s room. It was good Alex felt more dehydrated than dried cod, because otherwise the washroom situation would have been awkward. For a super assassin, Yassen was horrible with polite table measures.
He picked up Alex. Yassen’s arms were small, but his strength unwavering. He felt smooth and strong, barely pausing as he kicked the door to Alex’s hotel and marched down the hall to somewhere else.
The helicopter was gone, instead the blessed coolness of the night chilled Alex’s fever flushed skin. The colder air felt nice even inside his lungs, which he knew was an illusion but one he welcomed.
“It won’t be long,” Yassen said, as if it would reassure Alex. Alex felt so tired, so weak and lethargic. The vinyl or the passenger seat was mercy to his skin. He fumbled with the air conditioning, turning it all the way up and directing it to his sweaty hairline.
Yassen didn’t say anything, even as he shifted gears and slowly guided the car down the road. Away from a little French bed in breakfast that no longer had any lights on. Alex wondered if Yassen had killed the owners. Alex couldn’t care- his skin felt so hot and sticky.
“You can sleep.” Yassen said, looking bright eyed as they continued through the dark towards somewhere Alex didn’t know. “It won’t be long.”
They drove, over rock paths and gravel. The car bumped along, engine choking a bit as it struggled to keep up with Alex’s demand for cooler air. Yassen didn’t look uncomfortable, but his skin prickled in goosebumps.
They arrived at a chateaux made of flagstone and little lights. Quaint and unassuming, Alex would have kept driving.
Yassen parked the car in the small spot behind a tiny hill that shrouded the back of the house. He turned off the engine, slid out to Alex’s side to carry him in his arms.
The last time Alex had been carried was in Ian’s arms when he was a child. When he fell asleep after long car rides across the country, in foreign lands he didn’t know.
Yassen had a key to the door. He walked in, flipping a few tiny switches to turn on dull lights in a kitchen. Old stone and wooden countertops.
“You’ll feel better,” Yassen said to him, assuring him. Alex felt his hands tighten ever so slightly, digging into Alex’s upper biceps. He didn’t know why.
The root cellar descended by a series of steep wooden steps. Into the gloom and dark. The middle of the night underground was no mercy to Alex, he couldn’t see a hand in front of his face let alone Yassen anymore.
He knew when Yassen set him on the ground- he made a choking wet gurgle. He didn’t want to be left alone in the dark- underground a strange house in a foreign land. Nobody would find him- nobody would-
“...I’ll be back.” Yassen said, something strained and indescribable. “Eat.”
What? Alex wanted to ask, but he had no throat left to use. What? Because Yassen was leaving him.
He heard the heavy door at the top of the stairs close, and Alex was left alone shivering and so cold in the dark with an ominous message.
Hours, or maybe longer. There was no light, it was dark and cold and he felt so tired…
Yassen didn’t describe anything, beyond his ominous message. Alex assumes that Yassen abandoned him, so he’d have to escape a cellar first.
There likely was something he could use. He needed to catch his breath (shoving it back into his damn tube) then start scrounging around.
It was hard, because every breath made his chest heavy and hurt. His head felt squished and congested. His eyes burned and felt like mold had ingested the rocks and ground. He wondered if he could cough.
He crawled, fingers dragging through dirt and grime and-.
Oh. That was something. Something clearly not a wall or a rock and it was cold and smooth. Like a whale, or how he imagined dolphins would feel. Cool but not frozen. Not hot and sticky and-.
He yawned, trying to stretch that horrible bone deep pain in his jaw. His wisdom teeth were coming in with a real grudge against him. He yawned, felt stone grinding against stone from centuries old and tasted the moss and mildew of an old French cellar. Something smelling sweet and ripe like the finest of wines, ready to eat and gorge and-.
And Alex yawned wider and wider and let his brain tumble away-.
(Eat, he said. So Alex ate. )
Yassen rubbed his eyes, feeling very overwhelmed and partially resigned that the knowledge had been confirmed.
He only knew it in passing, small things that didn’t line up that Hunter explained with a wink or a sly toothy smirk. A flash of colour, eyes shifting independently and skin sticking with salt even though there was no ocean around.
Yassen’s throat had once been shot, but it was a careful path that both saved him and condemned him. Hunter left him to recover, plowing ahead. The land mines were not gentle, nor was Hunter.
Yassen raced through the giant fauna, beheading snakes and spiders and watched in horror as something large engulfed with split pupil eyes and a maw of a million teeth.
( “Why do you have that face?” Hunter asked him, looking irritated that Yassen dare express any sort of emotion. “Stop it. I don’t care how disgusted you are, it’s a weakness.”
Yassen looked, because Hunter’s intestines and liver were dangling free like pickled beets, and his right thigh looked more like mincemeat. His teeth- he had too many teeth but if he jammed his fingers in Hunter’s mouth he would only find dull molars.
“Catch your breath,” Hunter warned him, “or something else will hunt you.”)
Yassen thought he had outgrown it. He couldn’t stop it, no matter what Hunter had told him to do. Watching someone’s head split open, expanding back further until a skull was simply jaw and eyes- it was disgusting. It was revolting and wrong, Yassen resisted the urge to vomit as a torn off throat built itself up to surely engulf an adult man’s corpse like it was little more than a pill.
Head first, Yassen thought, thinking of sea snakes and boa constrictors, or they’ll choke at the shoulders.
Sayle’s shoulders sunk into rows of a million teeth, further into a gluttons stomach and Alex Rider stared with milky eyes into the cellar Yassen threw him in.
There was something undeniably wrong about it. Grotesque and unholy, although Yassen has long since forgone thoughts of religion. The world existed to die by the hands of another, but the factor of a... creature did not equate into his morals.
He remembered Hunter, with his all knowing smirk and fang toothed grin. The way that the man could endure and endure-
And when he couldn’t endure, and a mine blew apart his skin and bone and Yassen lay bleeding across his throat; Yassen remembered watching and praying as Hunter ate their target head first.
Alex woke up in a large lumpy bed, wearing no clothes, under no less than four knitted quilts. Each of them looked like a grandmother made them for a rummage sale. They were very warm and cozy, even if his skin was layered with sweat.
He groaned, the noise hoarse and raw as he forced the blankets down. Where had he been? Where were his clothes? Blankets felt weird on his skin, he normally slept at least in a pair of pants, not-.
“Shit,” Alex gasped, keeling over instantly after. His throat felt raw and sore. Both hands massaged his neck, picking off dried little scabs like neck dandruff. He swallowed, wishing there was something nearby to drink to try and soothe the ache. It felt like he had strep throat again, and Jack had bullied him enough over drinking enough water during that disaster.
The door opened in the little antique bedroom, a tall man slid in carrying a flat tray with something steaming. A bowl of what looked like ice chips, something like soup-.
“ You,” Alex rasped in absolute horror, “you’re Yassen Gregorovich.”
The man barely looked at him, instead setting the trey on the small side table near a little glass lamp.
“How is your breathing?” Yassen Gregorovich asked him plainly, as if the results didn’t matter. It was an odd question, only Alex’s throat felt sore not his lungs-.
“I was shot.” Alex said, feeling suddenly very cold despite the many thick blankets. “ You shot me.”
Yassen looked at him and frowned. “No. I shot Mr. Sayle-.”
“Sayle!” Alex gasped, hacking raw as his throat burned at the noise. He lifted both hands, trying to rub out of sore burning ache.
Yassen reached over, offering one ice chip daintily. Alex felt self conscious, staring at the offering.
“It’s water.” Yassen said, looking unimpressed. For emphasis, he put the ice chip in his own mouth, offering a second to Alex. This time, he accepted..
It soothed his throat near instantly, although his entire chest felt stiff and full, lethargy pushing on the corners of his head. Yassen looked like Alex’s exhaustion was reasonable, expected even. Alex could barely remember much past the loud fast encounter, and choking on blood-.
“What?” Alex asked, realizing that his throat was healed, “I thought that…”
Yassen offered him another ice chip, and failed to comment on the matter.
“Have you ever swam in the ocean, Alex Rider?” Yassen asked him.
“Yes,” Alex said, feeling very confused. “I’ve snorkeled and scuba’d a few times. My uncle taught me…”
“Ian.” Yassen said plainly, the smallest hint of distaste. “I assume you were a natural.”
“What is this about?” Alex asked him suspiciously, “where am I? How is my neck healed? Why did you kidnap me?’
“Would you have preferred I didn’t?” Yassen asked him, “you would have died then. I provided the means to save your life.”
“That’s not the point! The point is that you abducted me-.”
“Eat your soup.” Yassen nodded to the bowl plainly. “You’re digesting, and you will be for another day. Do not try to leave, your reflexes are astronomically slow and your blood pressure has lessened to that where sudden movement will lead to unconsciousness.”
Alex felt scandalized. “Did you drug me?”
“No,” Yassen said, undeniably amused by the question, “eat your soup.”
The soup was good, which made everything that much worse.
Alex dozed in and out of sleep, feeling strangely restful and comfortable under all the heat of the many blankets. Normally this many would have made him crawl for help, sliding out under the fabric lubricated by his own sweat to go bother Jack about the broken AC. Instead, he was being held against his will by a world renowned assassin, forced to eat homemade soup. It was a very odd mission.
True to Yassen’s words and likely his drugging abilities, Alex felt very much in a daze for almost the entire day. The window near him showed a bit of sunlight through its drapery, which let Alex track time slightly. He wondered what the story was with MI6, if they knew that Sayle had died.
The door opened again, this time Yassen came with what looked like a collection of clothes. They were normal, lacking tags. Yassen left them and Alex pulled them on, trying not to feel uncomfortable with how Yassen knew his size.
The house was cute and small, made from rock walls that formed a large stone hearth currently providing heat for the entire house. Yassen was occupying one of the thick reclining chairs, reading a book that looked like it was written in Japanese. Almost instantly, Yassen’s eyes flickered up to take in Alex’s flighty stance at the top of the stairs.
“Slowly,” Yassen offered blandly, “move too quickly and you’ll fall unconscious.”
Well, he already learned that from his horrible attempts to bolt straight out of bed. Yassen didn’t seem intimidated as Alex slowly descended the wooden stairs. On closer examination, Yassen was reading the book backwards- japanese then.
“There’s food in the kitchen if you’re still hungry.” Yassen said unprompted. “And floss.”
“ Floss?” Alex squeaked, and decided right then to not touch that mess.
Yassen didn’t watch him. Alex considered bolting right then and there, but with how his vision was swimming slightly on the edges, any sort of running likely would have him face planting. What had Yassen drugged him with?
There was a bowl of fruit on the counter, so Alex grabbed an apple to fiddle with more than to actually eat. Sure enough, a little packet of floss remained in its plastic sheeting.
Alex shuffled back to the little hearth, leaning towards it as he curled up on the other recliner. If Yassen had taken the other one, then he was likely leaving this one untouched for Alex.
Yassen didn’t look up. Alex watched his eyes flicker from side to side, reading the language Alex didn’t know. He was so tired.
“Your heart likely has shifted to accommodate digestion.” Yassen said in lieu of greeting. “I expect lethargy to remain until complete consumption.”
“Well that’s not concerning at all.” Alex croaked, playing with the apple. “Do I have a food baby? Are you reading up baby names?”
“You ate Sayle.” Yassen said, and Alex’s word collapsed.
“You meant it like a metaphor, right?” Alex asked, curled up on one of the chairs staring into the fireplace. He made himself smaller, curled around in soft fleece. The fire crackled merrily, sending out gentle wisps of apple. The wood normally used for smokers to flavour meat, but Yassen found that the strong smell of apple smoke left the small house cozy and gentle. Softer than artificial air fresheners.
“Or a simile.” Alex said, adjusting himself slightly. He plucked at a few stray hairs on the blanket, fingers delving into his mouth to poke around his left side incisors, “or something, I wasn’t that good in English class.”
Yassen knew that the boy was intelligent. He had displayed it prior, through both actions and decisions and choice of words and vocabulary. Alex was no fool, he knew the difference between a metaphor and a simile.
A coping mechanism then, Yassen considered, cleaning off the counter top in the tiny kitchen. He’s in denial.
“It’s not like I…” Alex trailed off, his fingers prodding incessantly inside his mouth, prodding and digging with short fingernails. Already his gums looked inflamed, swollen from his determined picking, “...not like I could, could eat someone-.”
“Stop digging at your teeth.” Yassen said, throwing out the soiled rag. Alex’s fingers whipped out of his mouth. He stared guiltily into the fire.
“...It hurts.” Alex confessed so quietly it was barely more than a whisper. His fingers curled in the fleece. Yassen could see his cheek bulge, tongue moving behind his mouth to poke and prod his sore gums.
Yassen swiped one of the boxes of floss he had stocked up. He walked over, depositing the small unassuming box next to Alex. Alex stared at it, looking resigned but also slightly terrified at the prospect of floss. The presence of it made it real.
“I mean…” Alex trailed off, sounding hoarse as an anxious giggle burst from his throat, “what is eating, it’s not like- like i even physically could-.”
“Floss.” Yassen nodded to the small box, depositing himself carefully on the other chair. The fire did feel nice, despite the ambient heat of the room. The apple smelled nice as well.
Alex very slowly reached out, flipping the little lid to stare at the thin white thread. Yassen had vague memories of Hunter, smiling that wide toothy grin as he flipped a fruit knife blade between his teeth. It was mesmerizing to watch, as cold steel flickered between dentin and enamel and somehow never hurt the man.
“Thanks.” Alex said, sounding strained. “Am I supposed to thank you? Isn’t that like, a moral crisis to be thankful to an assassin?”
Yassen settled himself, wishing he had the foresight to bring his book over with him. “Morality is a concept that differs from individual to individual.”
Alex dug out the floss, wrapping it around his fingers before he tentatively glanced up. “What’s your morality then?”
Yassen waited until Alex started to thread the floss between his teeth before he gave the question serious thought.
“Morality is subjective in the sense that it applies to conscious beings and their subjective experiences,” Yassen said, voice quiet but sure and strong, “‘You have no moral obligation towards inanimate objects, such as a rock or a car, because they do not have the capacity to experience anything. You need to subjectively decide what to base your morality on.”
Alex ducked his head, staring at the blanket and his clothed legs. The floss threaded through and through, small specs of blood and saliva coating the thread like lubricant.
“Morality is often intertwined with ethical relativism, where although we acknowledge that there is no absolute moral code we all must follow, we care about morality for the acceptance of society we live in.”
“Like how morality has changed over time,” Alex said quietly, pulling out the floss which had small dark bits trapped to it. “Gladiators and old Chinese kingdoms.”
“I associate with the world of SCORPIA and international organizations,” Yassen explained smoothly, “of which our environmental moral compass is different compared to that of other environments. With this known, our individual morality alters our own sense of moral code.”
“This is all a lot of fancy words to get around my question,” Alex said weakly. Yassen realized that there were bits of dark human hair trapped on Alex’s floss, stuck between his teeth.
“My moral code is as such; one day I will die, as will all others. My job is to assure the quick deaths of others, as one day I will be killed similarly.”
Alex stared at him with fidgeting fingers. “What about charity? And, and giving food to the homeless?”
“They will one day die, as will I. My actions will only prolong death, or assure it. It does not matter which.”
Alex stared at him, eyes wide and fingers trembling with a dead man’s hair trapped along his gums. “Why did you take me then?”
“You are the child of someone I once valued highly,” Yassen said, “perhaps I would be saddened if you died, but I have the capability of prolonging your death and preventing it. If this exchange requires the death of others, then so be it.”
Alex swallowed thickly. He tossed the bloodied floss into the flames, watching the plastic shrink and contort under the sweet smelling heat. His eyes were glassy and tired. “You’re a monster for killing people. You’re Yassen Gregorovich.”
“Monster too, is subjective.”’
“Is it?” Alex asked him, eyes wet from smoke or emotion, “is it really?”
Alex regained smooth mobility the day after, venturing around the small house before going outside. He made no movements to run, either a higher intelligence told him he wouldn't get far, or his fear of Yassen prevented him.
It didn’t bother Yassen, he had plenty of ways to entertain the boy. Especially when Yassen learned that Alex was fluent in a great deal of languages, finding some entertainment in attempting to read foreign plays and stories. Stumbling over strange outdated french, but still enjoying the antiquated twists and turns.
The sunlight that permeated the forest was nice, filtering through the windows quite cheerily. Alex basked in it, taking time to rest with his eyes closed in bright beams of sunlight. Yassen wondered how the boy had never known his heritage before. Evidently his uncle, Ian, had been repressing it somehow.
In hindsight, Ian was far too easy to kill as well. Yassen knew personally how...resilient Hunter was. Ian was simple, easy to shoot and easy to lay to rest. He should have fought more, recovered quickly after the first bullet. Ian succumbed to something that Alex survived, even with a burst throat.
He hasn’t grown into it, Yassen thought, mentally categorizing everything in the small freezer. Food and meat, anything that could perhaps lend some protein to Alex despite the hearty meal he already ate.
He dug in the freezer, pulling out the thin stacked fillets of cod and snapper that were fringing on the edges of freezer burnt. It would work, keep Alex’s appetite at bay.
Alex evidently hadn’t been fed nearly enough, because his eyes widened in something like awe and fear in the wake of an entire fillet placed in front of him. Skin peeling back and around, bones still in play to provide extra calcium. Alex wouldn’t choke on bones.
“This is...a lot.” Alex said, his fork looking like a caricature next to the cooked meat. “Uh...so I appreciate this, but...I’m allergic to seafood.”
“What.” Yassen said.
Alex shrank back, looking sheepish and a bit afraid. Once more, Yassen recognized his infamous reputation portrayed him as a threat. Alex was afraid to confess his allergy prior to Yassen’s dinner preparation. Did he anticipate some sort of punishment?
“I’m allergic to all sorts of seafood,” Alex apologized, looking incredibly uncomfortable, “I know it’s a bit s- shellfish, but-.”
“You are not allergic to seafood.” Yassen said. That was it, that was how Ian Rider had repressed Alex’s biology from him. From a fake allergy.
“My doctors would argue that you’re wrong.” Alex pointed out glumly, using his fork to poke the fish meat. “Doctors hate me.”
“Eat your fish.” Yassen said, pulling aside his own much smaller portion. “I can treat any sort of medical emergency.”
Alex didn’t look happy, but he did start eating. He kept eating, well past the point where a normal serving would end. It was possible Alex had no such hunger reflex, alerting him when he was full. Such a thing would man that he had always someone providing meals for him, carefully making his dinners in proper portions for a boy. Ian too, would leave on missions. This left some sort of caretaker.
He would wait and see when Alex argued over his isolation, likely he wouldn’t last long until he was demanding some form of communication. There was no body of Sayle for MI6 to track, no security cameras on top of the building. For all intensive purposes, Sayle and Alex Rider had entered a building and vanished. Likely the going assumption was that Alex had been killed, his body properly disposed of. A pity.
They had one washroom with running water, one that Alex used and abused by expressing his frustration for being kidnapped by taking hour long showers. Yassen knew that the hot water ran out after ten minutes, but it seemed the Rider stubborn genealogy carried true. One wet, smug Alex Rider was nothing to fear, especially with how he seemed slightly more comfortable by the day.
A week passed, each dinner built on fish or other seafood Yassen had found in the mediocre freezer. Soon, even the small walls and foreign books couldn’t keep Alex inside. The boy was young, bouncing with energy that Yassen remembered other children displaying.
“There's a nearby river.” Yassen told him, pointedly gesturing his displeasure in how Alex was slumped upside down on the chair. Alex perked up, flopping onto the floor dramatically and interested.
“A river? We can go out?”
“Yes, get your shoes.”
Alex scrambled, shoving his feet into the plain tennis sneakers he had arrived in so long ago.
They trudged through the woods, carefully over fallen logs and thick brambles. Alex was surprisingly agile, weaving between thin young growth like a ferret. Yassen plowed through silently, but strong. Alex chased him, keeping pace with relative ease.
The river wasn’t large, but it was wide enough to support life. Yassen knew first hand that fish did live in the slow moving water. Along the banks there were thick barking catfish, large enough to engulf a hand. Yassen didn’t want to wade in, trying to hook them on his thumb when he had adequate line to set some hooks.
Alex watched him with obvious fascination, eyes tracking the shimmering metal of the various lures. The river current would keep them aloft, a low hanging tree would support each of the lines until a fish fell for the bait.
“Did you do this a lot?” Alex asked, playing with one of the spinning lures. Shiny and chrome, Yassen would have to make sure Alex didn’t do something foolish with it.
“No.” Yassen said, setting the last line in place. With any luck, they would have dinner later that day. “Put it down. There are crayfish along the bank. Go look.”
The speed in which Alex set down the lure and leapt to his feet was impressive. He kicked off his shoes, obeying without a thought as he trudged into the muddy bank. The water came just below his knees, the bottom hem of his shorts would become wet soon.
Yassen settled himself near the lines, keeping his eyes and ears alert for any hikers. The risk was incredibly low, but always present.
Alex splashed along the bank, seeming to not feel the chill of the water. He gave an occasional cry of excitement, splashing and lunging forward along the thick tree roots.
Yassen would have warned not to get his clothing wet, but he doubted Alex would catch a chill. He let the boy burn off his energy, even as he dunked himself with his urgent splashing while chasing a very alarmed crayfish as big as a young perch.
Alex emerged, hair dripping wet to his scalp and shirt ballooning around him. He held the wriggling crayfish out, grinning wide in pride before he very casually bit its head off.
A second after he crunched through its keratin shell, Alex gagged dramatically.
“Don’t throw it out,” Yassen called out, slightly bemused by Alex’s dramatic disgust, “you’ll waste it.”
“I just bit it!”
“Good, catch another.”
Alex’s expression of bafflement nearly made Yassen smile.
They managed to catch two fish, each with thick lips and beady eyes. Less than Yassen wanted, more than he expected.
In turn, Alex had managed to gather a surprising collection of little crustaceans, each dark and speckled to hide better in the mud. He pulled up on the hem of his shirt, creating a small pouch in which he carried his collection. It would be good for Alex, help him grow.
“You’re a good chef.” Alex confessed, sitting at the table to watch Yassen prepare and descale the fish. He kept the scales, figuring he could roast them into something Alex could gnaw on later. He doubted the boy would know that fish scales were considered inedible.
“Eat,” Yassen nudged, sliding across once again, the majority of the fish. This time, Alex didn’t argue and began to chow down. Bones crunching from where Yassen had left the spine intact.
“You know,”’ Alex said, setting his fork down to use his fingers to roll the fish skin like a rather ornate burrito, “fish is like, really good. I don’t know why I never ate this before.”
“Likely to prevent your growth spurt.”
“Huh,” Alex said, chomping contently on the meal, “is that why my mouth hurts? Do wisdom teeth grow in with growth spurts?”
No. “Let me see your mouth later.”
Alex hummed, and reached for more of the steamed crayfish.
“It hurts all over,” Alex confessed, rubbing just below his lower lip as he held his mouth open. “Really sore.”
Yassen peered inside, knowing better than to reach in with his fingers. Hunter had always been odd, his teeth invisible even as he ate. Yassen had seen it only on occasion, the long curved needles that hooked like barb in soft meat. Yassen couldn’t fathom how Hunter had crunched through bone with such thin fragile teeth, more reminiscent of angler fish than sharks or other aggressive marine life.
Yassen plucked a butter knife from the shelf, using one gloved finger to pull down on Alex’s lips to prod along his gumline. They looked healthy and normal, a bit inflamed from Alex’s obsessive flossing, but nothing off. The inside however, flushed an angry red and appeared swollen along his tongue.
“Don’t bite,” Yassen warned flatly, using the knife to prod along his inner gums, pressing gently along his lower canines.
The tissue split with a raw red bead, mixing with excessive drool and saliva. Alex made a small noise of pain, face grimacing in annoyance in such a way only a child could accomplish.
Yassen continued to prod, ignoring Alex’s wriggling and general difficulties. Behind his teeth, along the roots shrouded by healthy gums, more teeth were growing. Sharper pointed ones, rounded and covered with little fleshy tendrils.
Yassen was keenly reminded of newborn foals, the strange fleshy tissue that covered their hooves to prevent their kicks from shredding the mare from the inside out. Alex was growing more teeth, hidden and cared for by biology in such way prevented him from consuming himself.
“You’re fine.” Yassen said, setting the bloodied knife to the side. “Your adult teeth are growing in.”
Alex looked perplexed rubbing his jaw in surprise. “I thought I already had grown them. I lost all my baby teeth- are these going to fall out too?”
“No,” Yassen said, “It's fine.”
Two weeks, and Alex’s paranoia had melted in Yassen’s presence.
Perhaps it was Stockholm Syndrome, or a shared sympathy constructed in forced proximity. Alex’s silence and glaring began to falter, replaced with agonizingly bad puns and incessant chatter.
There were smaller flashes which left Yassen reeling. Alex splashing in the river, coated with mud and floating leaves as he shrieked and wrangling a catfish that had swallowed his entire fist and then some.
He battled it, rolling along the silty bottom like that of a death spiraling crocodile. He emerged, hoisting the smaller catfish clear out of the water in accomplishment. His grin, the wide toothy smile that made dimples appear near the corner, left Yassen twitching.
“You look like your father,” Yassen said, staring out over the water even as Alex splashed to the bank with his prize. “You have his smile.”
Alex stilled, restraining himself although Yassen could feel how he was nearly vibrating. “You knew my father?”
Yassen gave a small hum, watching the current drift past them. “I knew your mother as well.”
Alex quieted in thought, reading Yassen’s silence and knowing he would be answered only one question. “What was my mum’s name? Ian didn’t talk about her.”
A fish jumped, snatching a low flying mayfly. Yassen watched a butterfly foolishly drift too close to the water’s surface. “Her name was Helen.”
Yassen woke instantly, hand shifting to his thigh for the hidden knife he always kept there. His gun had been hidden, too fearful that Alex would find it and act irrationally.
It was dark, starlight bright through the window. Yassen lifted himself from the small bed slowly, keenly aware of his hearing and the bright light from the fridge door.
Alex was up, rustling in the fridge. From the chill in the air, it seemed like he had been at it for a while.
Yassen stood slowly, the soft rustle of the blanket falling off him lost in the clicking clatter of jars moving. The kitchen smelled sharp, like vinegar and brine.
The fridge light flickered, and Alex lay on the ground looking like that of Yassen’s memories. The repressed images, that bloated thick neck gurgling as Hunter stared with milky eyes and their bloodied target-.
“Alex,” Yassen murmured, forcing those images to leave him alone for another day. The boy was contorted, legs spread in flexibility near inhuman. The ground was cluttered with emptied cans and grease. An entire pickle jar had been opened and emptied, the brine level low as if Alex guzzled it in thirst.
Alex’s head twisted, spinning on his neck to stare at Yassen in feverish surprise. His eyes were glassy and bright, his mouth bleeding from several lacerations all across his lips. The remnants of cans suggested he had simply bitten the cans of fruit and tuna open with his teeth, ignoring a can opener.
“Alex, what are you doing?” Yassen asked him.
“Sorry,” Alex said, guiltily holding what seemed to be a spiral ham. It was hard to tell with how Alex was treating it more like a chicken drumstick. “I was hungry.”
“That’s no excuse to not use a can opener.” Yassen scolded with a firm frown.
“You’re...scolding me for not using a can opener? Not the fact I ate the kitchen?”
“I am disappointed you are not using cutlery.” Yassen confirmed.
Alex looked down at the ham, clearly calculated something, and then took another gnawing bite.
“The risk I’m taking is calculated,” Alex gurgled around his ham.
“You are bad at math.”
Yassen cleared the kitchen, and began to construct a grocery list.
Alex clearly was familiar with such a thing, tentatively expressing his cravings for food. He spluttered out when Yassen requested specifics, stumbling over species of seafood before he just muttered out a tiny sheepish fish?
Yassen wrote ‘fish’ and resigned himself to purchasing an assortment.
The closest main grocery store was a fair distance away, but it was the nearest one with an automated self checkout that would accept cash. A minor shift in his wardrobe, a minor shower with temporary hair dye (and Alex playing with it to experience black hair for once), and Yassen was preparing to head out.
“I know I know,” Alex pouted, curled up on his chair enjoying another fire. Yassen was going to get heatstroke at this rate. “Stay inside, don’t get lost, don’t answer the door for strangers.”
Yassen almost rolled his eyes, and left without saying anything else.
Withdrawing money was a tad difficult, given that alerting one of his banks that yes this was him, and not fraud, was a hassle in itself. As well as remembering which account in particular, not to mention how much money to withdraw. Once he had a fair sum, he went to the large grocery store already running through the most efficient things to purchase and what decoy products to purchase as well.
The seafood section was near cleared out, although Yassen avoided the higher quality produce in favour of mass supply and quantity. Alex didn’t need scallops when he enjoyed crayfish as it was.
“I’ll take seven.” Yassen said with a forced accent, trying to fake a sheepish expression as the underpaid store employee fished out seven live lobsters from their small tank. Enrichment, for the boy-snake.
A bag of frozen mussels, shrimp and other cheaper seafood. Haddock and wild caught tilapia. Things that Yassen threw in without care. He grabbed other decoy products, things like dish soap and new trash bags. More pickles to substitute the jar Alex consumed. More canned tuna.
He paid at the little machine, careful to keep his face somewhat obscured by the little camera as he rang through all of his products. He paid in cash, loaded the car he had rented (once more in cash), and began the long drive back.
The tracks on the road were the same as he had left, as well as the careful sticks he placed to make sure no vehicle had traveled this way. The time he came to a stop near the cabin, the car stank of thawing seafood and a unique brine which twisted his stomach.
He unlocked the door, stepping inside with plastic bags cutting into his wrists. Alex jerked up from his chair, eyes glassy and looking content.
“Alex,” Yassen said, feeling his patience start to ebb, “what is in your mouth.”
Alex very slowly reached up and removed Yassen’s belt- his SCORPIA combat belt- from his mouth. There were countless punctures along the material, as if Alex had been chewing on it the entire time.
Alex, very innocently said, “my tongue?”
Alex ate far too much seafood. Crunching through shrimp tails and gnawing on mussel shells like they were hard candies.
Yassen was thankful that Alex’s ignorance for seafood extended to how one generally consumes said seafood.
Alex screamed the first time he saw the mirror and noticed the teeth. Longer now, retractable which explained all of Yassen’s past confusion. Eels had a similar structure, a second set of jaws.
“Yassen, Yassen!” Alex shrieked, clutching the mirror between white gripped knuckles. “Yassen there is something wrong with my teeth.”
Alex snapped his head up, looking a bit white, “Yassen do I need braces.”
Yassen inhaled, and exhaled carefully. Composing himself before he responded flatly. “No. Those are your teeth.”
“No shit,” Alex gasped, poking one with his finger, “I need a dentist, now. Oh god, what is-.”
“Alex, sit.” Yassen snapped, already fishing for something Alex could fiddle with.
“What is going on,” Alex whimpered, clutching his knees. “What is, what’s happening to me?”
“You’re growing up.” Yassen said, wishing that Hunter was still alive to give the talk.
“Puberty doesn’t involve monster teeth!”
“It does for you.”
Alex swayed, paled, and gazed at his knees. He blinked quickly, gaining a greenish hue. Yassen recognized the signs of vomiting before they began, but Alex’s strange heaving motions didn’t accomplish anything. It made sense that his vomiting regurgitation reflex was different also.
“Oh god, oh god.” Alex whispered, staring at his hands in disgust and absolute repulsion, “you- I did. You weren’t lying. Oh god I did eat Sayle.”
Had he not realized that? Had he simply ignored it before?
“Oh,” Alex said, succumbing to hysterical laughter. His teeth flashed like something feral and wild, eyes bright. Something moved across his eyes- a second thin eyelid. Yassen doubted Alex knew he had it.
“Oh god I’m a monster, I’m a monster!” Alex screamed, and looked at Yassen with all the signs of an idiotic idea. Luckily, in the past few weeks, Yassen had learned how to deal with such foolish impulses.
Alex lunged at him, and Yassen sighed as Alex flailed and tried to get the knife on his thigh out of its holster. It had a button for release, one that Alex apparently couldn’t find. His desperate clawing was accomplishing nothing other than burning his hysterical energy.
“Are you done?” Yassen checked, Alex shrieked and kept trying to get his knife free. Apparently not.
He kept thrashing and clawing, his efforts useless. After a while, Yassen resigned himself to having to intervene. Alex was now hiccuping in strange gasping sobs.
“Come on,” Yassen said, scooping the teenager to cling to his side like a leech. He waddled (limped) into the kitchen, depositing Alex on top of the island. Alex hunched there, crying and grabbing his hair as snot and tears ran out of his nose.
“Have a shellfish.” Yassen offered, giving him a raw mussel. Alex sobbed and stuck it in his mouth, sniffling around the black shell. After a while, Yassen reached out to awkwardly rub his back. He had read a few books and deep pressure was advised for sensory and emotional breakdowns.
Alex snuffled, obediently gnawing on the mussel. It cracked and shattered like broken glass, but Alex managed to chew and swallow it down happily. Yassen didn’t understand.
“...Yassen?” Alex asked quietly, strangely vulnerable, “...am I a monster?”
“Not more than me.” Yassen responded instantly. “You are something different. Your father was as well. He died before he could explain to me fully your species. I’ve categorized you as leviathan.”
“I’m a leviathan?” Alex asked, still sounding incredibly weak and distressed, “like, like Cthulhu and-.”
“No,” Yassen said, applying more deep pressure, “you are simply something else. You are still Alex Rider.”
“Yes,” Yassen confirmed, “I will not let you starve yourself to pretend you are something you are not.”
Alex sniffed, stared at his hands and the flooring and then the fridge. Quietly, he asked for another mussel.
Alex was getting better at swimming, something he wasn’t ignorant too either.
The river was gentle and calm with its steady current. It didn’t take long until Alex began to experiment, something Yassen had to take active measures to prevent after he found Alex trying to crawl into the fireplace.
“Yassen look!” Alex shouted from the middle of the river, and then he dove under.
Yassen would have been alarmed if not for Hunter having done the same before. Hunter had submerged himself underwater, infiltrating their target’s boat in the Amazon from water itself.
Alex seemed to enjoy it, swimming in the cold water back and forth, even as Yassen sat on the bank and read. He was approaching fluency in the simple kanji, and Alex was crossing the ten minute threshold until he emerged gasping and heaving for breath. Yassen wondered when Alex would realize he had gills, the only reason he had survived his neck being torn out.
Alex also, had declared war on the river catfish.
Nile had exposed himself to countless situations and scenarios, but he had yet to experience something on par with this.
When he had received his mission- check in on Cossack, he thought it would be something minor. Perhaps the man had been shot or injured in some way. It was unusual for Cossack to take such an extended break after a mission, although the man did have plenty of vacation time stored.
The nearest grocery store had confirmed Yassen’s rough location. From there, Nile had been steadily scouring various locations and distant vacation cabin property. He knew Cossack’s preference for real-estate, which was his only saving grace as to how he was found. If not for Yassen’s own words years ago, Nile would never have found him.
That being said, Nile wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the situation.
The door opened easily enough, although Yassen was across the room. Nile knew that Yassen was aware he was visiting, he had sent a request and signal an hour prior which Cossack returned via his communicator. Yassen had expected him, but Nile had not expected a child.
“So…” Nile paused, staring at the very clearly, startled teenager sitting in a lounge chair, “...you’re into baby-snatching?”
The boy made a low noise of offense, scowling around what looked like Cossack’s combat belt in his teeth. What, the hell.
“Ignore him,” Yassen advised, sitting at a desk in the back going through what looked like mission reports. Nile knew that Yassen had still been working but he hadn’t really thought it would be like this.
“I don’t think I can,” Nile said, “he’s eating your belt.”
The boy rolled his eyes and pointedly took the belt out of his mouth- small needle teeth were trapped in the thick material.
“I’m not eating it,” the boy snapped angrily. He had a lisp, and small bits of blood around his mouth.
“Oh my bad,” Nile took it in stride, “I think he’s’ losing his teeth.”
“He does that.” Yassen said from the back, flipping pages. “What is your status.”
“Check-in, Cossack.” Nile stiffened to attention, still unwilling to ignore the boy. The boy stood, stretching long and limber like a cat before he stalked towards the kitchen. He reached into the bread basket, pulling out a-
“Okay, no.” Nile said, voice cracking, “Cossack, he’s eating a lobster. Why do you have a child.”
“I’m fourteen,” the boy scoffed angrily, biting clean through a lobster claw as if it was a pretzel. “What about you? You’re what, seventeen?”
“Cossack why do you have a sassy child?”
Yassen set his pen down, and looked at Nile. Nile stilled. Alex ate his lobster.
“I took him.” Yassen said calmly. “Alex, meet Nile.”
“Hi,” Alex said, staring at Nile with the strangest glassy eyes. “Come here often?”
“No, not really.” Nile said dazed, “wait, Alex? Like- like Alex Rider?”
Alex perked up, looking much more fascinated. “Did you know my dad too?”
Nile gave a single bark of strained laughter, feeling a bit lost. “I- yes? Yes, I did know Hunter- damn that man broke my leg-.”
“It was a spar.” Yassen said quietly, “and it was a sprain.”
Alex visibly, perked up. Almost a complete twist of his personality, the light in his eyes returning from some absent place. “Really? You trained together?”
“Uh, yes. He trained me to use my swords-.”
“You use swords?”
Yassen didn’t smile, but Nile clearly deserved the hell he built for himself.
Nile left soon after, staying for dinner where he watched in partial disgust and partial fascination as Alex demolished a plate of food much larger than his head. Nile only came to make sure Yassen wasn’t dying of a ruptured spleen, nothing more.
Things returned to normal, Alex going so far as to start joining Yassen in his daily flexibility training. He had the same ethereal grace that Hunter did- that Yassen learned to display. His was natural, the liquid flexibility that reminded Yassen every day of what Hunter couldn’t see.
Alex could see in the dark, easily navigating what Yassen couldn’t. He was nearly inseparable from the river once he found out about the gills.
Yassen wondered how Alex’s eyes would light up once he set sail on the ocean. He wondered if Alex would sleep on the bow of the yacht like he slept in rays of sunshine. Yassen found himself wondering over and over, how Alex would laugh when Yassen showed him how to fish deep for tuna and other large creatures.
Hunter had shown him the seas, how to set sail and shift sails. Yassen had never thought of how he took it for granted, how he ignored the grace and beauty of the ocean in favour of freedom.
“Your father taught me how to sail,” Yassen told Alex, sitting outside watching birds flutter from branch to branch. He had yet to teach Alex how to shoot a gun.
Alex looked at him, eyes bright and cheeks rosy with adrenaline from chasing grouse. “Sail? On the ocean? My uncle showed me how to scuba but we couldn’t ever stay longer-.”
“‘I can take you again.” Yassen said, he had been wanting to retire anyways. He had long since paid back his debt. “I’ve been planning on setting sail soon anyways.”
Alex beamed, wide and toothy with no sharp teeth in sight. He had finally grown in his new teeth.
“I like fish more,” Alex confessed awkwardly, “the cows are nice, but they’re just a bit…”
“Furry.” Yassen summaries blandly. The first time he used the livestock trailer (rented as well) to drag home an angus cow, Alex had stared at the large creature intimidated. Some sort of long forgotten instinct took over, and Yassen averted his eyes simply for the strange impossible migraine that burned his skull. Something screaming at him wrong wrong- and left his eyes crying blood the longer he tried to watch. He averted his eyes, and suddenly the cow was gone. Alex was left, looking very lethargic, sleepy, and covered with angus cow black fur. His stomach had no bulge.
“Yeah…” Alex said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, “maybe steer clear of them.”
Yassen almost swatted the boy- but he froze.
Alex had not the training that Hunter did, but the sensory abilities of Leviathan were much more. Subtle things, sharper reflexes, a strange disjointed movement. Eyes and smelling- something that Alex utilized by heaving breathes with an open jaw.
“There's someone in the house?”
Yassen slunk into predatory move, his hand on the knife that always remained at his thigh. “I’ll take point.”
Alex fell into step behind him, short snuffling as he scented and tried to glean more information. In time, Yassen would perhaps train the boy, teaching him to use his skills to better protect himself. For now, Yassen would protect them both.
Alex stayed back, and Yassen recognized instantly the man sitting in Alex’s chair.
“Dr. Three.” Yassen said quietly, coolly. He kept Alex behind him, but the older man had eyes only for the boy.
“So Nile was right,” Dr. Three smiled sharply, “Hunter’s son.”
Alex pointedly, slid closer to Yassen.
“Yes.” Yassen said, evaluating the house. Nothing had been moved, but things had been investigated. The plethora of seafood, the gnawed belt. The burning fireplace with coal as large as Yassen’s fist.
“Alex Rider,” Dr. Three said, grin spreading even wider. “Look at you, truly, your father’s son.”
Alex said nothing, Yassen felt very uncomfortable.
“You know,” Dr. Three chuckled quietly, “I trained Hunter, well, in interrogation skills. Remarkable endurance for waterboarding.”
He knows, Yassen’s brain screamed at him, he knows.
“I'm very curious, if you are similar.”
“He’s mine.” Yassen said flatly. “I do not believe the board will approve of treating Hunter’s son-.”
“Oh, but he’s not quite human, is he.” Dr. Three said, “I believe the board will be very interested in him, regardless of his bloodline.”
Yassen made movements to step forward- and felt something prick him on the side.
Dr. Three had set up a trigger gun. A dart impaling him in the side, because he hadn’t been wearing his protective armor. He had been careless, and Dr. Three trusted Yassen’s paranoid to override Alex walking in first.
He would have been more furious if not for the fact Dr. Three had long since deserved and defended his title. He would not be kind.
“Yassen?” Alex asked, gripping the back of Yassen’s arm. Yassen slumped, his legs going numb. A paralyzing agent, likely a venom of some kind. Dr. Three had a horrible sense of humor.
“Ignore him, Alex,” the man in question said with false cheer, “he’ll be left behind. You look quite damp, were you enjoying the river?”
“Yassen?” Alex asked, sounding very small, “ Yassen?”
Dr. Three took one step forward, Alex swallowed and tried to drag Yassen’s limp heavy weight.
“Why don’t you come with me,” Dr. Three said, collecting what looked like a small briefcase. “I’m very fascinated by your biology. Nile didn’t say much, but he won’t be saying much anymore anyways.”
“What?” Alex said, feeling his body tremble, “I- no I don’t want-.”
“I’m going to cut you open, and see how your body works.” Dr. Three said very calmly, “and see if we cannot replicate you. Perhaps find something of value in your DNA, in your organs.”
“No.” Alex said, trying to hide how absolutely terrified he was. “No I won’t let you.”
“Ah, like you didn’t let Mr. Sayle kidnap you?” Dr. Three asked, arching one eyebrow. “I believe Agent Cossack has diverted far too many resources to you, he could have been accomplishing much greater things. It’s time to get him back in the field-.”
He was right, Alex knew that. Yassen was an amazing agent, MI6 told him to run if he ever encountered him. But Yassen had been unexpectedly nice, helping him with basic things. He wouldn’t let him hold a knife, or a gun, but he had watched him swim and cooked him food. Yassen had been- had been more present than Ian had ever been.
“I won’t let you take him.” Alex said, feeling a bit more confident. “I don’t care who you are, I won’t!’
Dr. Three smiled, and Alex summoned his courage to bare his teeth back. The man looked surprised, eyebrows lifting ever so slightly.
There had been no body of Sayle, because...because Yassen had helped him by getting rid of Sayle-.
“Oh you poor child,” Dr. Three said, “I’ll make you scream.”
Don’t look, Alex thought, feeling the sobs shaking his chest, don’t look.
Alex took one step forward, stepping over Yassen’s body carefully. He stepped closer, and closer.
Dr. Three looked amused, clearly knowing that Alex had no training. It didn’t take an agent to know that Nile was likely dead, that he wouldn’t be coming back.
I’m sorry, Alex thought, mourning the agent that had joked with him and teased him and reminded him of Jack. Don’t look Yassen.
He opened his throat, to that large empty stomach that always churned so hungry. His mouth made that thick drooling slime, congealed and slow like honey and just as sweet. Dr. Three didn’t notice, and Alex’s bared teeth shifted into a smile as his jaw shifted and disconnected.
Dr. Three reached out and touched Alex’s shoulder, gripping it tightly. Alex turned his neck, and bit it off.
Dr. Three screamed, other arm swinging to bludgeon Alex across his temple. Alex gurgled around the warm meat, already sliding into that bottomless ravenous hunger. Where the cows went, where the meat went.
Don't look, Yassen, Alex thought, and jumped with liquid muscles and bit through spine and sinew.
Yassen thought he had outgrown it. He couldn’t stop it, no matter what Hunter had told him to do.
Watching someone’s head split open, expanding back further until a skull was simply jaw and eyes- it was disgusting. It was revolting and wrong, Yassen resisted the urge to vomit as a torn off throat built itself up to surely engulf an adult man’s corpse like it was little more than a pill.
Head first, Yassen thought, watching as Alex’s throat twisted and contorted into a freakish scream of unholy muscle.
Yassen’s brain screamed at him to look away, that mortal eyes were not meant to watch a display- but a paralytic agent didn’t allow his eyes to close. His brain screamed, his eyes bled tears. Dr. Three died thrashing in the maw of something impossible to forget, no matter how much Yassen wished he could.
Head first, or they’ll choke at the shoulders.
“This is amazing!” Alex laughed, arms up in the air as the Fer de Lance soared through the waves. It was a wonderful day, sunny and bright. Alex’s grin was wide and toothy and every inch his father’s.
“I sent that postcard to Jack and Tom,” Alex babbled delighted, running his fingers through his hair. “From Mykanos, I think they’re really going to like that one. Are we going to Spain now?”
“Sure.” Yassen said, and changed the direction for them to sail.