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They're clones, Alex thinks, chewing mechanically at his tasteless food. It’s a silly thought. Clones are impossible. Clones come from science fiction children’s books. Brainwashing, then? Also silly.

What isn’t silly is how ominously robotic and similar Sasha, Arrash, and Laura are behaving, everything from the way they eat in sync down to the fake smiles plastered onto their dispassionate faces. And the lessons they’ve been receiving in class… supremacist rubbish that they seem to be all-too-enthusiastic to learn about.

He places his finished kitchenware on the dirty dish cart with a soft clink, the sound amplified by the silent emptiness.

When Alex leaves the room that can barely qualify to be called a cafeteria and begins moving through the sickly orange dimness of the building, the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end the moment his eyes latch onto a man he’s never seen before his entire time at Point Blanc. The man moves with a swift and purposeful gait, walking briskly, and Alex spots him before he sees Alex.

For some odd reason, something at the back of Alex’s mind is screaming, warning him of an unknown danger, like some sort of special spy’s intuition or sixth sense. He has a feeling that it would be a good idea to listen to it.

The man slows to a stop. So does Alex. Not that he was walking in any hurry or going anywhere important in the first place.

Neither of them speak.

Alex breaks the silence first.

“Can I help you?” he asks, eyeing the man, in reality hoping that, no, the stranger doesn’t ask for any help. Alex isn’t scared. There are armed guards everywhere. His dream was not just a dream. There are possibly clones in the building. If not clones, then maybe a mad scientist hidden away somewhere who can manipulate human brain waves and behaviors in ways he can’t possibly begin to understand. He can’t contact MI6 or any outside sources. He’s probably going to die in the middle of nowhere and MI6 is going to tell Jack and Tom that it was an unfortunate occupational hazard in his line of work. He isn’t scared. He isn’t.

“Alex… Friend,” the man says, more a statement than a question, taking several steps in Alex’s direction, encroaching in on his personal space. The man tilts his head slightly, in an almost curious gesture.

Close. Too close for Alex’s comfort. He resists the urge to take a step back and increase the space between them because it might be something that could be interpreted as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. The fact that the man seems like he can come and go within the facility without supervision or guards means that he must be someone high up in authority here.

This time, when Alex quickly scans the man from head to toe, he actually pays attention. The stranger is wearing all black, nondescript clothing, all the way down to his shoes. No one would look at him twice on the street, if not for the scar running up and down his right cheek. Otherwise, he looks deceptively normal. Still, he is objectively a handsome man, if someone were to look closer. He had an accent when he spoke earlier... maybe something European? 

A sudden realization hits Alex, along with a growing suspicion. The man had almost sounded like he was going to say something other than “Friend” after “Alex.” If he knows that Alex Friend is a false identity, what else could he know?

“... Who are you?” It comes out nervous and wary and a bit too quiet for Alex’s liking. He clears his throat even though there’s no need.

The man smiles a momentary wry smile, and then it disappears, as fast as it came. He doesn’t seem like the type to smile often. “Just... visiting.”

Alex’s blood grows cold. This man knows him. Alex doesn’t know how, but this man somehow knows him. Either that, or he’s going crazy from being cooped up in this place.

The man turns to leave but pauses again, like he’s weighing certain actions in his mind against each other.

“Another time, maybe,” is what he ends up saying, accompanied by one more quick upward tug of his lips and a long lingering once-over at Alex.

“Wait,” Alex blurts, before his brain can catch up to his mouth. His eyes widen in surprise. He hadn’t meant to say anything. Judging by the slightly raised eyebrow on the other man, Alex has surprised more than just himself.

Alex misses Jack and Tom. He wants to get out of here.

“Are you… leaving?” Alex asks and then curses himself internally. Of course the other man is leaving. 

The stranger says nothing. 

Oh. He’s waiting for Alex to come up with a better question.

“Are you with them?” Alex jabs a thumb in the general direction of Dr. Greif’s office.

“In a sense,” the man shrugs. “But not really.”

“What’s your name?” Alex asks next.

The man doesn’t respond right away. He looks as contemplative as an expressionless man can look. After another bout of silence, he finally decides to grace Alex with an answer. “Yassen Gregorovich.” 

Russian, Alex thinks, quite confidently, pairing the name with the accent. It fits.

Yassen is still focused on Alex’s face, checking for any recognition of the name, maybe? He’ll find nothing. Alex doesn’t know any Yassens. Well, now he knows one.

Alex’s eyes flicker up and down the stranger for the third time. Yassen is subjectively handsome as well. Not the time for this.

“I don’t suppose you could give me a lift out of here?” Alex fidgets, tugging the zipper of his atrocious yellow jacket slightly upward. After that, he shifts his weight from his left foot to his right, and then runs a hand through his hair, tugging loosely at the end of the strands. When he runs out of things to do and his restless hands return to his sides, he looks back up at Yassen, whose eyes are still fixed on him, curiously. 

“You don’t know me,” Yassen says. The facility is too quiet, save for the low hum of the either too-bright or too-dim lights, constantly buzzing in the background of each room.

“I don’t know you,” Alex echoes, “but you know me.”

“Now why would you think that?” Yassen murmurs silkily, shooting Alex an appraising look.

It’s a genuine question, but Alex doesn’t want to give himself away if it turns out that he’s wrong. 

“Never mind,” Alex says, instead of replying. He squashes down the strange pang in his chest when Yassen gazes at him in what might be considered a hint of disappointment. 

Alex bites his lower lip. Yassen’s eyes follow the movement before snapping back into an eerily stony expression. Uh. Did Alex… imagine that?

“Leaving, then?” Alex swallows down his nervousness.

“Leaving,” Yassen affirms.

“Alright,” Alex says. “Cheers.”

Yassen heads out the door. He doesn’t look back.

Alex continues on his merry way and forgets the interaction, the brief meeting entirely dropping from his mind until Mrs. Jones inquires on whether or not Alex saw anyone else at the facilities about two weeks later.

It makes sense, then, why Yassen Gregorovich knew him. Yassen was probably the one who killed Ian Rider.

Alex waits for the familiar grief and heated anger and anguish to fill him at the news. It doesn’t. Only a cold relief does, washing over him like the frosty chill of the showers from Point Blanc whenever the hot water ran out. He has a lead. He can finally get some closure.

 

***

 

Alex hasn’t got a clue how he and Julius have ended up on the roof opposite to his school. It involved a tiring amount of chasing and tumbling and running-away-from, as well as a heavy dose of violently harsh blows to his forearms, chest, back, and legs. If Alex didn’t know how to fight, he would be dead already, and he is keenly aware of the fact that Julius will not stop until Alex is, in fact, dead. He won’t be surprised if he discovers a sprained ankle later if he survives. He just can’t feel it at the moment with all the adrenaline pumping throughout his body, probably one of his only defense mechanisms against what can be summarized as a ridiculously sadistic homicidal clone.

Said clone lands another jarring kick to Alex’s side, and he crumples to the floor like flimsy construction paper at the throbbing pain, his elbows skidding, his palms barely catching himself as his head nearly smacks against the hard material of the roof. It hurts to inhale, and he’s too winded to make an attempt to run away efficiently. The roof is wide but limited, sloping at a small angle towards one end, the end Alex is closest to. Julius, quite literally, has the higher ground.

Alex shuts his eyes with a grimace, his skin clammy and pale. Maybe if he just pretends to be dead, Julius will go away...?

His fear at the finality of the situation can only be delayed for so long. The same queasy fear had wrapped around his heart with its icy cold fingers and squeezed when he was so sure Eva Stellenbosch was going to kill him.

Julius is blocking off the only rooftop door up here. There might be a fire escape somewhere off to the side, but Alex is too unsure of its location and too unsure of his own ability to outrun Julius if he’s mistaken and there really isn’t one at all. He doesn’t think he has enough strength left in him to leap to the roof of another building, either.

Strange. Alex shifts slightly. Why hasn’t Julius attacked him again?

Alex rolls over into his side, groaning in pain at the ache in his chest, and then he freezes when he notices a third person on the roof and the very dangerous business end of a handgun pointed in his direction.

“Gregor—” Alex coughs before he can get the rest of the name out. Ugh. Too many syllables. He settles for something easier. “Yassen... Fancy meeting you here.”

Alan Blunt would disapprove. Alan Blunt can sod off.

Yassen, apparently a highly dangerous and highly skilled assassin according to MI6 intelligence, keeps his gun trained on Alex, who’s still sprawled on the ground like an idiot. So much for second impressions.

Is this the meaning of his “another time, maybe?” Coming to finish Alex off like he did to Ian, for the same reason that Julius is so hell-bent on beating Alex black and blue, six ways to Sunday?

Come to speak of it, how can Yassen even tell who’s who? No one can be that good.

“Stand,” Yassen orders, a hard edge to his voice. Alex shudders at the seriousness in his tone.

Despite the fact that he just wants to stay flat on the ground and never get up ever again, Alex’s better judgement wins out, and he slowly lifts himself up, dragging himself onto his elbows, then up on his knees, and then onto his feet in one smooth but painful movement.

The once over Yassen gives Alex is probably to take inventory of his visible injuries and calculate his physical weaknesses to use against him later. Joy.

The instant Julius moves towards Yassen, the assassin already has his gun trained directly at the clone, angled at his neck.

“Wait, no!” Julius pleads. “I’m Alex.” Alex’s jaw drops a little at that.

It’s all very confusing and it doesn’t help that Alex is probably halfway to collapsing into an unconscious heap. Who is Yassen here to kill? Alex, right? Then why is Julius attempting to pretend to be him? That in itself also doesn’t make sense. Why does Julius seem to think that being Alex would spare him from Yassen’s gun? What if Yassen just shoots them both? 

No, you idiot. If that were the case, you would be lying on the ground again, but dead, he reassures himself. It isn’t very reassuring.

Yassen is unaffected by Alex’s rising inner turmoil. Instead, he looks quite pensive. Alex kind of wants to hit him.

“I’m going to be truthful,” Yassen admits. He inclines his head. “My people sent me here to clean up Dr. Hugo Greif’s mess and to cut off any loose ends. Having said that, let us try a little something, shall we? I will ask a few… questions. You will answer them, yes?” It’s worded like a suggestion. It really isn’t.

It seems logical. If Yassen is as thorough and informed as MI6’s files make him sound, then he probably has done his research on Alex. It’s too early to celebrate the fact that Yassen isn’t here to kill him. Yassen might still accidentally kill him. Alex exhales in relief anyway at the sliver of hope that he might live through this ordeal.

“Are you still a virgin, Alex?” Yassen asks, neutrally, and it's the opposite of the type of question that Alex is expecting.

“What?” Alex blurts, horrified, immediately feeling the tips of his ears reddening. “Are you having a laugh?” 

Gregorovich doesn’t acknowledge his question.

“Yes,” Julius Greif answers. “Unfortunately.”

“How would you know that?!” Alex spins to face Julius in what feels like a burning humiliation. A flash of smugness crosses Julius’s face before his expression schools itself back into the appropriate look of “terrified sixteen-year-old named Alex Rider.” He looks more like Alex than Alex looks like Alex.

Yassen makes a thoughtful noise.

Oh no. Alex was probably supposed to reply to the question faster. He’s losing to the clone already.

“That was a terrible question!” Alex argues. “Lots of teenagers are still virgins… and besides, there’s only two possible answers to that—yes or no. How can you possibly tell which one of us is the real Alex with that?”

“I’m not done yet.” Yassen has the audacity to look amused, like he doesn’t have a fifty-fifty chance of shooting Alex on accident. “You’ve had your first kiss, too?”

At the word 'kiss', Sasha’s lips being forced onto his crashes to the forefront his mind, bringing a mildly nauseating feeling bubbling to the surface with the memory.

“Of course,” Julius replies, sounding indignant. Sounding exactly like how Alex would if he weren’t busy trying to wash the nauseous memory of Sasha from his head. That’s 2 out of 2 for the clone. Oh god, Yassen is going to shoot Alex because he is absolute rubbish at twenty-one questions.

“That was also a yes or no question,” Alex sputters. “How can you—”

“—Shoot him already!” Julius urges, letting in a hint of fear to bolster his act. He’s glaring at Alex.

“Hmm,” is Yassen’s lazy response. Oh god, Alex is going to die. Shot by a world-class assassin because he’s forgotten how to answer questions properly. 

… Granted, they are questions about embarrassingly private things. Which are apparently not so private, between the three of them on this rooftop.

“Brilliant,” Alex says, blandly.

Tom is going to think that it’s a pretty wicked way to go out, being shot by an assassin. Jack is probably going to bring him back just to kill him again.

Julius looks like he’s losing the little patience that he has. Maybe if Alex can stall for long enough, Julius will eventually do something wrong, like launch himself at Alex in an attempt to hasten his death?

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have sex with a man? Or be in a relationship with another man at all?” Yassen asks in a perfectly conversational tone, like he’s wondering about the weather.

What?!” Alex chokes, mortified by how causal Yassen sounds. 

“Fuck no,” Julius responds, looking extremely disgusted. “I’m not gay.”

“Of course not,” Yassen says, politely. He turns his attention to Alex, his grip on his gun deceptively light. “And you?”

Not really, Alex thinks, but then remembers the locker rooms after football.

Yassen waits patiently for his answer.

No, Alex insists. Never, he tries to say, but then remembers the way Yassen watched him bite his lower lip back in Point Blanc. 

Instead, he licks his too-dry lips. 

“Ah,” Yassen says. “So you do remember.”

What? Alex thinks.

“What?” Alex says aloud. “What?”

“Would you like to?” Yassen asks, unruffled.

“Would I like to,” Alex repeats, like a broken record.

“What’s going on?” Julius interrupts, evidently agitated at being left out of the conversation. Oh. That’s right, life or death situation.

Yassen shoots Julius Greif two seconds later, unloading one, two—Alex flinches at the loudness of the sudden gunshots, squeezes his eyes shut, momentarily, at the wet gurgle that follows, feels his blood crawl at the thud of a falling body—three, four bullets into the clone. Yassen doesn’t even blink, giving off the impression of a man at ease. Four consecutive explosive cracks.

Does... Does it count as murder if Julius was the product of an illegal cloning experiment? Alex attempts to dredge up any sympathy for the clone, but finds that he really doesn’t have much, only a small ounce of pity for Julius’s distorted view of a family and a home. But still.

Yassen does not holster his gun. It’s too dark to see the model and make of it, so Alex can’t even attempt to guess how many more bullets the gun has.

The assassin leans over Julius’s body and prods at it with his shoe. The dead body doesn’t move. Yassen nods silently to himself at the confirmation.

“You’re the one who killed my uncle then? Ian Rider?” Alex frames it like a question, but he knows the answer already. The situation is nearly the same as before, with Julius. The only rooftop door is blocked off by Yassen and with Alex’s adrenaline fading quickly, he definitely can’t make a leap of faith to another rooftop, let alone run at all. And in terms of a fire escape… Alex had scanned the entire roof during his little vocal trivia with Julius. No fire escape. A building this tall should really have one. It’s a fire hazard.

“I am,” Yassen admits. Alex has found Ian’s killer. He doesn’t need to search anymore. He doesn’t feel any fury threatening to boil over. Only resignation.

There’s a beat of silence. Yassen doesn’t elaborate further like a normal person would. He’s kind of shit at conversation.

Some part of Alex is still on high alert, alarm bells ringing about how there’s a man who kills people for a living standing two feet away from him with a live gun in his hand. Another part of him would very much like to lay down and sleep and maybe roll off the roof.

“You’re shit at conversation,” Alex complains and then slaps a hand over his mouth. It’s obvious which part of him has won. Oh Jesus, his brain to mouth filter has abandoned him at the worst possible time.

“Am I?” Yassen gives him a fleeting look of amusement.

Alex internally groans in relief. It doesn’t seem like Yassen is interested in shooting him for being a mouthy little brat.

“You are,” Alex declares, a tad bit bolder.

“Someone probably heard the gunshots,” Yassen states, pulling something from out of his pocket.

“What, no silencer?” Alex snorts.

“... I hadn’t planned on relying on my sidearm today,” the assassin admits, turning around to pick the outer lock of the rooftop door. It isn’t heavily fortified and might have even given way if Alex rammed his entire body against it when he was still in his rough-and-tumble with Julius. “Before you ask, yes, I already put my original intended weapon away, and no, you would not have been able to break down the door with your current body weight.”

Alex gapes at him, incredulous. Yassen has his back to Alex. He briefly wishes he had pepper spray or a stun gun but revokes the thought when he comes to the conclusion that Yassen is probably somehow immune to both or would easily turn the weapons against him.

If Yassen is currently picking the lock, that means the rooftop door has been that way this entire time. Then… did Alex and Julius really get here by jumping from the rooftop of another building? He barely remembers.

… Did Yassen? Alex briefly tries to imagine Yassen leaping from another roof to this one, landing completely silent. He shudders. The assassin is truly deadly.

“What are you thinking about? I know you have questions,” Yassen comments without turning around, still steadily picking the intricate lock.

Alex stares at Yassen’s exposed back. “Why did you kill Ian Rider?”

“For money,” he answers, without skipping a beat.

“So you’re a what? A contract killer?” Alex peers over Yassen’s shoulder to peek at the lock.

“... That description works, yes.”

“How did you figure out it was me,” Alex hesitates, “from your ridiculous questions?” 

“You two certainly look similar.” Something that sounds suspiciously like an amused huff comes from Yassen. “But I knew which one was you the moment I got here, little Alex.”

Alex shivers. It would do him well to never underestimate the man standing in front of him. He makes sure to avoid looking at Julius Greif’s corpse.

“Wait—” Alex pauses in confusion. “Then what was the point of the questions?”

“Just call it a little bit of fun.” The door finally clicks open.

Alex’s jaw drops slightly. “Fun? That was amusing for you? You’ve just killed someone!”

“I’ve killed many people, Alex,” Yassen turns back around, his expression as impassive as ever. “And I will kill many more. It would do you well to never forget that.”

Alex tenses.

The man hums and steps closer, to which Alex involuntarily takes a small step back at the invasion of his safe space, this time fully aware of the other man’s identity.

“We must get off this rooftop,” Yassen says, emphasizing the we.

Alex’s eyes quickly dart to the next building over, calculating the distance from which he’s going to need a running start.

Yassen swiftly interrupts his train of thought. “Alex, you won’t make the jump. You don’t have the strength to.”

“Is that a challenge?” Alex shoots back obnoxiously, stupid-and-stubborn-teenager style.

It looks like he’s just about hit Yassen’s threshold for bullshit tonight when the man’s careful control slips for a second and Alex catches a quick twitch of the jaw. Before he knows it, fingers from a calloused hand are wrapped around his left wrist in a painfully tight grip, tugging him along in the direction of the opened rooftop door.

Alex jerks against the hold, flailing wildly, but is ultimately unsuccessful in snatching his hand back. “Let go…!” he glares at Yassen. 

It’s bad enough that Yassen is giving Alex mixed signals from saving him despite killing Ian. 

What MI6 had Wolf and the K-Unit do to Alex was not real torture. Loud music, an annoying amount of badgering, a cold shower, a couple of hours without food or water… none of it was real torture. None of what Ian has taught Alex would help him resist each one of his fingers being broken one by one or waterboarding for hours on end or flogging until his back starts peeling, bloody and grotesque, or a billion things much worse than all of that. A spike of fear shoots up his spine at this conclusion. Yassen is a dangerous killer.

“No,” Alex whispers, nearly inaudible. His hands are trembling slightly, too unnoticeable for any normal person to observe. “No. Just because you’ve saved me once doesn’t mean I’ll follow you to whatever murderous organization your lot belongs to.”

Yassen turns around and abruptly seizes Alex by the upper arm with his other free hand, locking eyes with him in a dangerously icy stare, bordering on something that seems like anger. “I am not working with Dr. Greif,” Yassen says in a cold, sharp voice. “I am not like him.”

“I—I didn't mean it like that...!” Alex explains hurriedly. Yassen’s grip on him relaxes slightly, but his hard gaze doesn’t falter. “I meant—aren’t you going to kidnap me and bring me to whoever you work for and torture me for information about MI6?” 

Yassen stares blankly, looking bemused as to how Alex reached that conclusion.

“You’re… not?” Alex winces. He hopes he hasn’t given the assassin any ideas.

“We seem to be at a misunderstanding,” Yassen says, giving him a thoughtful stare. “My instructions were to clean up Greif’s mess.”

“... And?”

“Your name didn’t come up in my instructions,” Yassen explains slowly, like he’s talking to a toddler or a child in primary school. Alex takes offense to that. “You are not on our radar.” The for now goes unspoken.

“Come now, Alex. We must leave.” Yassen gestures at the unlocked rooftop door. 

If Yassen wanted Alex dead then he would be dead, and if he wanted to kidnap and torture Alex for information, it would have been much easier just to knock Alex out rather than taking a painstaking amount of time explaining things to a half-conscious teenager. There seems to be no reason for Yassen to lie to him. 

“... We?” Alex questions, but he’s already headed towards the door, shaking the other man’s hand off his arm.

“Yes, we,” Yassen affirms. “I will walk you home.”

“Why would you do that?” Alex asks, taken aback, his voice a little high with disbelief.

“Why not?” Yassen shrugs. “Is it really that bad?”

“I’ll phone MI6,” Alex says, even though he has absolutely no intention to, ever.

“You go ahead and do that,” Yassen smiles, like something’s extremely funny about what Alex just said. 

“You’re a murderer,” Alex defends, lamely.

“We have established that already,” Yassen comments.

Too tired to argue in favor of his failing excuses, Alex sweeps forward past Yassen and steps into the building, wincing slightly at the transition from near pitch blackness to a properly lit building. Yassen follows behind him and allows the heavy door to swing shut with an anticlimactic click.

There’s a lift and a set of stairs beside it a little further ahead. Both he and Yassen avoid the lift in favor of the stairs, for reasons pertaining to both their occupations. Not that Alex wants to call it his occupation. This is only going to be a one-time thing.

They take the stairs.

That is, they take the stairs, until Alex begins his descent downwards and misses the first step entirely, sending him lurching forward, face first as the steps come rushing up at him, a sick swooping sensation in his stomach following. Imagine surviving a fight with a homicidal clone only to get taken down by a flight of stairs, he thinks, a burst of hysterical giggling threatening to escape his throat as he tumbles forward—and into a pair of arms.

“Very clumsy, Alex,” Yassen remarks, helpfully. Both of the man’s hands are free. He must have finally holstered his gun without Alex noticing.

A hot embarrassment floods Alex after he collects himself and averts his eyes from the dizzying sight of symmetrically geometric steps after step sloping downwards. This is the second time that Yassen has saved him tonight. If Alex had to navigate the stairs by himself, he would have slipped and inevitably cracked his skull open and died, concussed and bleeding out on the stairwell.

The strong arms pull him back to safety, away from the stairs and towards the bloody lift they were both avoiding in the first place, for a very good reason.

The idea of plunging several stories to a painful death via a holographic lift will tend to dampen anybody’s mood. Moreso when the one who did the deed is standing right besides Alex.

“We are six stories up and you are still swaying on your feet. It won’t kill us to take the elevator just this once,” Yassen elucidates. Alex grimaces at his choice in words. “And no, it’s not a holographic elevator this time.” Damn him.

They get into the working lift and Alex takes the opportunity to lean against a horizontal metal bar to take some of the weight off his feet. He stares at the floor, avoiding Yassen's eyes. They reach the ground floor without anything else dramatic happening, such as either of their deaths.

They walk maybe ten paces before Alex’s knees start to buckle slightly, but Yassen is immediately right there to offer his support before Alex can collapse to the floor like a cock-up. Bloody fantastic. Alex can’t even walk straight without the help of an assassin slash murderer slash contract killer.

Yassen even waves to the receptionist sitting at the front desk as they’re exiting the building, drawing the attention completely to himself, his other hand curling warmly around the base of Alex’s neck and pushing his head down, obscuring his facial features. “He’s sick,” Yassen says, nodding down at Alex’s slumped figure before he can protest the action.

It feels a bit infuriating.

Alex separates from him the moment they’re out the door. He walks—stumbling dangerously, really—and Yassen is there again, lending his support. He really is serious about walking Alex home.

Some part of him weakly argues that this is an elaborate ploy to get him to lower his guard so he’ll be more pliable and open to questioning. It doesn’t matter in the end because he spends a majority of the walk too dazed to focus, let alone hold a proper conversation. Two of the few things holding him up is Yassen, in the literal sense, and the thought that Jack would probably be frightened to death if Alex came home, only to pass out in the doorway.

Alex follows the route he usually takes to bike home from school, dragging his feet the entire way. They move at a maddeningly slow pace. Yassen either doesn’t mind or is very good at hiding his annoyance behind a neutral expression of boredom. Alex has a strong feeling that it’s the latter.

They walk in the quiet of Chelsea, London, save for the occasional car or late night-goer. It’s not an awkward type of silence, the way it might be if Alex were walking together with Ayisha and neither of them spoke for an extended amount of time. 

Instead, the silence is fitting. Comfortable. Like Alex can finally breathe properly for the first time in weeks. Jack’s constant worry and Tom’s steady stream of questions are sometimes suffocating. MI6 is worse. Alex breathes in the cold night air.

“You should quit,” Yassen says, when they near the Thames, maybe a half-hour later. “Go back to school. This kind of life isn’t meant for you.”

The way Yassen’s accent curls around his vowels and consonants is soothing. Alex blinks sleepily.

“I can’t.” It easily falls out of Alex’s mouth like the other hundreds of excuses and lies he’s dangerously getting used to telling from the past few weeks.

Yassen tilts his head in an inquisitive manner that’s probably meant to be a gesture for ‘go on’.

Alex can’t believe he’s telling this to a dangerous world-class assassin who’s kill count is probably up in the hundreds. He sighs.

“I mean, I literally can’t, even if I wanted to—which I do. When I say no to anything they want, they threaten to—”

Alex stops himself, suddenly remembering caution. He glances warily at Yassen.

“Don’t worry about the boy and your housekeeper. I already know,” Yassen assures, casually. 

“Oh,” is all Alex can say. “Of course you do. Then you’d understand that MI6 can threaten me with their safeties. Blackmail, deportation and immigration officers, child protection services. They have something set up for when I want to say no. They’re downright nasty for a service that’s supposed to protect Queen and Country. Especially Alan Blunt.” Fuck. That felt good to get off his chest. He's never really been able to formally discuss this with either Jack or Tom, and he really doesn’t want to, either.

“That is… unfortunate.” Yassen, surprisingly, looks slightly upset. Upset? Upset with Alex?

“What? You think I actually fancy running off and getting brutally murdered in the middle of the French Alps?” Alex scowls at the assassin with as much spite as he can muster despite being dead on his feet.

“I see.” Yassen fixes his gaze at a passing taxicab, expression returning to a vacant state. He doesn’t ask any further questions. Alex’s glare falters.

Yassen didn’t take the bait. Alex opened up the conversation to include MI6 and Alan Blunt, but Yassen didn’t go down that path. Some tense, mistrustful part of Alex relaxes, tension unfurling like a blooming flower. Maybe he shouldn’t, but Yassen is being awfully nice to him. It doesn’t balance out all the people that the other man has ever killed… but it has to mean something. Right?

The adrenaline is completely gone now, leaving Alex’s body aching everywhere from Julius’s… rough treatment. His ankle is definitely twisted. His muscles protest even from something as simple as walking, screaming for him to stop moving and lie down permanently. He wonders how much of his body will be covered in swelling purple and black when he gets home and strips out of his poor, ruined uniform. At least he doesn’t have any bruises on his neck or face. Those will be difficult to explain.

“Couldn’t—” Alex swallows. “Couldn’t you have killed Julius earlier?” He doesn’t mean for the question to come out so quiet and pleading, but it does, anyway.

“Oh,” Yassen says, just as softly, as if he’s come to a sudden understanding. “I’m sorry, Alex. It took longer than I thought it would to find where you two had relocated.”

It sounds so sincere. It sounds like he was watching Alex and Julius scuffle around for a long time. Why does it seem like the assassin is the only one in the world who understands him? And so easily, too. Alex hates it. “I hate you.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Yassen says, a flicker of what looks like guilt passing in his eyes. “But I won’t apologize for killing Ian Rider.”

“Because you wouldn’t mean it,” Alex guesses. Yassen nods. 

Alex sighs, loud and audible. Yassen glances at him.

“The questions were partly for fun,” Yassen says suddenly, “but also partly for confirmation.”

“Confirmation?” Alex repeats, disbelieving. “So you just happen to research me well enough to know if I’ve had my first kiss, or whether I’m a virgin or not completely straight?”

Alex startles when the man next to him laughs, unrestrained, a low chuckle that fits him perfectly. It’s a nice sound.

“Oh, Alex,” he says, amusement coloring his voice. “I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. At least, not before tonight.”

Alex makes a noise like he’s been strangled and then feels himself flush hot. Great. Great. The first person he’s ever come out to is a fucking contract killer.

He wants to smack the other man. He doesn’t think Yassen would appreciate it.

“It wasn’t the answers that were important,” Yassen explains, continuing like nothing is wrong.

“It was the reactions to the questions,” Alex says, slowly coming to a realization. He’s still a bit pink. “The third question, hidden because of the similar topics.”

“Good.” Yassen is staring at him strangely, something Alex barely notices in his peripheral vision. Alex ignores it.

“Right,” Alex says. “The man was obsessed enough with Hitler to make the code to his office Hitler’s birth year. Of course his ‘children’ were the same.”

“And you know this because…?” Yassen looks curious.

“Some graphite and clue-finding,” Alex mumbles, heart beating a little faster at the hint of approval in the other man’s eyes. Yassen hums thoughtfully.

“The man was nuttier than a pack of almonds,” Alex adds, kicking some gravel beneath his feet as they walk. A twinge of pain courses through his ankle. That wasn’t very smart of him.

“He didn’t even pay that well,” Yassen adds. Glad to hear that they’re somewhat in agreement.

Alex stops walking, and consequently, so does Yassen. 

“This is me,” Alex says. Yassen glances up at the house they’ve stopped by.

This isn’t him at all. Yassen probably knows this.

There’s a contemplative silence. At the end of the long, deliberate lack of movement or words from either of them, Yassen nods in concession. “Say no next time, Alex.”

“I can’t promise anything,” Alex quips.

A shadow of something dark and serious falls over the other man’s features. “Then neither can I.” 

Yassen turns towards Alex, like he wants to say something else, but then decides against it. “Say no if you can,” he repeats again. It’s stern.

Alex looks at him properly. Yassen’s face is closed off and impassive, but his eyes are soft.

“Okay,” Alex mutters, even though it turns out to be a lie that he can’t help and a promise that he can’t keep, weeks from this moment.

Yassen Gregorovich leaves in the direction they came from. Like that day in Point Blanc, he doesn’t look back.

Alex waits another five minutes in the frozen shadow of a lamppost. Then he crosses the street and goes home, wondering how he’s going to apologize to Jack.