Chapter 1: The Bad Beginning
Alex was tired. He was running on caffeine. It was awful. The teacher was searching for a pair of scissors to open up some sort of package. Alex just wanted to get the day over with. Alex blinked and then walked up to the teacher, whipping his seven-inch knife off of his calf. "Here, use this."
The teacher looked relieved. "Thank you, Alex."
Alex was handed the knife back. All of his classmates were blinking sleepily. Alex took the knife and sat back down. After the bell for the third period rang, students began talking. "Was I dreaming or did the mad druggy Rider whip a seven incher off of his calf in the first period?"
The other two shrugged. "I think we saw the same thing."
They were passing the teacher they had their first class with just as something seemed to click. "Wait, fuck. ALEX GET BACK HERE!"
Alex seemed to appear from nowhere. "Yes?"
The teacher blinked. "You brought a knife to school."
Alex shrugged. "It's a useful tool. I mean, it got your package open, didn't it?"
The teacher blinked. "Office. Now."
Alex shrugged and walked off. One of the students muttered under his breath. "Crazy druggy."
The teacher glared. "At least he has manners, unlike you, Mathew."
Alex approached the office and decided to try to nap on the bench outside. Alex was gently tapped awake by Mr. Bray. Well, he was now Headmaster Bray. "Why don't you come in, Alex?" Alex blinked sleepily and followed the new Headmaster into his office. The man offered him a chair and Alex sat down. "Why don't you tell me about the knife, Alex?"
Alex perked up. "Well, um. It's a Fairbairn Sykes 7 inch..."
He went on the fifteen-minute speech he learned from Ross about the things. Once Alex got done, Headmaster Bray looked...impressed. "Well done, Alex. I never knew you liked military history so much. I think some extra credit is in order."
Alex felt a little slack-jawed but suppressed the urge. "Err, thanks."
The Headmaster smiled at him. "Well, I've got to encourage an educational hobby." Headmaster Bray sighed. "I'll have to give you after school detention, of course, we have a strict no-weapons policy. However, I'll try to make our detentions together productive. You don't need to miss more study time." The Headmaster paused. "While you're here, I'd like to get your opinions on a few knives."
Alex felt a jolt of surprise. Bray was a knife hobbyist?! After a few hours of slightly Ross-esque discussions, Alex was let go at the end of the day with a "your detentions will start tomorrow after the parent-teacher conference, eh?". Tom was waiting outside. "Are you good?"
Alex shrugged. "I'll probably get detention for the rest of the year, but I'm still here."
Tom looked relieved. "Oh, good. Let's go!"
The two boys walked off.
John Crawley was done going to parent-teacher conferences that he didn't get paid enough for. Where did Alex even get a combat knife? Crawley was also in charge of the mail. He let everything go through. It wasn't his fault if Alex got poisoned after receiving mysterious packages. That, and Alex was a little shit. Crawley just didn't want to deal with the paperwork involved for if he smuggled plants or some shit. "Daniels!"
The man blinked. "Yes?"
Crawley glared. "Cub needs someone to attend his parent-teacher conferences, again. Bloody little terror. He brought a knife to school. A combat knife."
Daniels blinked. "Er, what am I supposed to do?"
Crawley shrugged. "Show up and make sure he isn't expelled. The rest isn't my problem."
Ben Daniels sighed. "Do you know anything else?"
Crawley sighed. "Fortunately, all he did was offer it to a teacher to open a package and not threaten anyone. This time."
Ben Daniels arched a brow. "Do these things happen often?"
Crawley shrugged. "Oh, only like once a month."
Ben Daniels gaped. "ONCE A MONTH?!"
Crawley continued through his monotone talk. "Yeah, yeah. He's gotten better over the years. Used to be like once a week." Daniels just stared at him. "Anyway, the conference is at four. Don't be late!"
Daniels knew he was staring vacantly as he left the bank for Alex's school, but couldn't help it. Who the hell toted a knife to their bloody school? Honestly. Ben somehow knew he was going to regret this. Alex was a good kid, no doubt, but seemed to be missing a few or all of the common-sense brain cells. Then again, he'd had quite a few concussions. Just his luck. Fox sincerely hoped Cub was going to at least be apologetic.
Gordon Ross cackled as he read through the report of whichever Scorpia peon had been watching the surveillance tapes from Alex's normal-people school. Why the kid still bothered going was beyond him. They'd given him the full recording of the conversation. It was nice to know that Alex still remembered their lessons. The boy had been an excellent student at the island. Gordon printed out the conversation and began to read through it like he would when grading a paper. He eyed his scotch and grabbed it. Hell, why not. Gordon put a bright red A on top of the page and went for the quartermaster. Alex needed a new knife. If the surveillance tapes were anything to go by, the metal on his blade was crap. Didn't they have tempered steel in Britain? Then again, MI6 had gotten a lot of shit points for not giving Alex any weapons. Gordon figured he probably got whatever he could scrounge. That was just mean, especially since Alex was a fully trained assassin. Gordon sighed. Well, someone needed to get the kid his first knives. Gordon walked off to the quartermaster. He glared at the man. "I want a full set of your nice knives. None of the cheap bullshit."
The quartermaster looked at him. "What about sheaths?"
Gordon glared. "These are for a teen."
The man blanched. "Alex?"
Gordon glared. "What have you got against him? You pale every time you hear his name."
The man went whiter. "Nothing, nothing."
Gordon didn't believe it for a second but figured he probably wasn't getting it out of the man. Darn it, where was Alex when you needed to blackmail the shit out of people. Alex seemed to be tuned in to a different portion of the gossip chain. When Gordon got back to his office with the gear, he decided to send things one at a time. He wasn't sure how much of Alex's mail got checked. Plus, he was bored and wanted to send Alex letters. Bray wasn't the only knife enthusiast that Alex knew. Hmmph. Gordon decided to wrap the knife in brightly colored paper. Hey, no reason to make it completely grim. Gordon was in a festive mood and it wasn't like he had anyone to give Christmas presents to. Except for maybe Jet and the Countess. Then again, Gordon didn't have any remaining relatives left and people in Scorpia weren't the festive types. At least Alex had avoided mentioning the times he went overboard on the scotch. Though, Gordon wasn't entirely sure that the time Alex had draped blankets over him after he passed out weren't dreams. Gordon Ross began penning his first letter and downing more scotch because why not? The other grading could wait for a day or two. Three was too busy playing politics with Kurst to get on his case for another few months.
Crawley looked at the eighteenth letter from Gordon Ross to Alex and sighed. It was unfortunately bomb free, though. Reading this shit was fucking boring. Who goddamned cared about combat knives so long as they were pointy enough to go in the right way. Honestly. "I've read eighteen letters about knives, c'mon send a bomb already." Crawley resealed the letter and placid it back on the package which was, apparently, another fucking knife. He sighed into the dry air of his office. "I cannot be the only one who wants this kid dead!" Then again, Alex seemed to have 'accidentally' killed off most of the people involved in his missions. He really shouldn't be surprised that certain Scorpia people seemed to secretly like him. Crawley rubber-stamped the letters. "I hope it's poisoned, you little shit."
Crawley had not had a good time covering for Alex's shenanigans. He shot the goddamned Prime Minister, for god's sake. Also, was nobody going to mention the millions of pounds of damage he caused because of a few drug dealers? Plus, the fact that the drug dealer fell off a water tower after some sort of struggle with Alex the previous morning. Oh, no. The golden boy had dropped off their radar for a few hours, no, it couldn't possibly be him. And Crawley had thought Ian was bad. "Daniels."
The blonde man came in. "Deliver this to Alex."
Daniels blinked. "For a kid with one friend, he sure gets a lot of mail."
Crawley glared at Daniels. "One friend his age, more like."
Daniels frowned. "Shouldn't we stop anything from adults?"
Crawley shook his head. "Naw, he's pretty good at gathering intelligence." Daniels still hovered. "I read the letters. He's not in any danger and it's nothing sexual. Now, deliver the package or I'll find another agent who will."
Daniels sighed and picked up the package and letter. "Bloody hell, what's in here?"
Crawley scowled. "None of your business, Daniels."
Daniels arched a brow and walked out. Crawley sighed. When would the man learn to never ask questions about Riders? You kept more of your sanity that way. Also, why on earth was Daniels concerned? Given the fatality rate of Alex's mission partners, he should be more worried about himself.
Alex opened yet another package from Gordon Ross. Given that the letter had been opened, Alex was unsure how it was supposed to have gotten past MI6. A glance at the clock had him stuffing the letter under his bed and sighing as he put on another knife and its respective sheath. Under Headmaster Bray's careful eye, he'd already caught up on all of his schoolwork. The man was surprisingly patient with him. Alex thought it was nice and it was a shame he didn't teach more classes. Alex wondered what the man had in mind. Alex had his nearly full array of knives on him. It would be a shame not to use them after Gordon sent him such nice things. Alex double checked the clock. It was time to show up for morning detention on Saturday. He was driven to school by a slightly grumpy Jack. She hadn't been pleased to learn about his fuckup. He was mostly forgiven, but Jack hated early mornings. She parked at the front of the school. "Be careful."
Alex blinked. "I'll be with Headmaster Bray, how much trouble could I possibly get in?"
Jack arched her brow. "Alright, alright. I'll be careful."
Alex shut the door and raced towards the front of the school, only to find Headmaster Bray standing on the front lawn. "A whole three minutes early, Alex."
Alex felt a bit sheepish. "Sorry, Headmaster."
Bray waved his hand. "I don't hold children responsible for issues with guardians. You're not even old enough to drive yet. And the tube would have you here unreasonably early."
Alex shrugged. "Thank you."
Bray offered Alex his hand. "I was thinking we could do something a bit different today."
Alex felt something akin to dread. "Oh?"
Bray looked excited. "Well, I was thinking we could go to a park and do some open-air demonstrations for throwing knives."
Alex blinked. "Okay."
Bray was practically bouncing. "Try to be more excited! It's just a few magic tricks. Plus, I've seen you throw knives. It'll be a piece of cake."
Bray felt a small grin appear on his face. Alex seemed to be doing incredibly at throwing knives. Bray had made sure to check the balance on them. And then had Alex narrowly miss him with said knives. Perhaps taking a potentially drug-addicted student knife throwing was not the best idea, but Bray felt like full day detention would allow him to monitor for signs of use or withdrawal. There had been none, oddly enough. Well, there went the current theory. Unless Alex had finally gotten clean to get into being a knife hobbyist. It would leave more money for knives, plus, the kid hadn't balked at a several kilometer walk. He was ashamed to admit that he had been more out of breath than Alex after that. Plus, the kid had no shaking, didn't act drunk or high, and also was clear-eyed and alert throughout the entirety of their lessons. There had been absolutely no signs of drug use. He didn't even take frequent bathroom breaks. Maybe it was just rumors? The next knife nearly took off his nose. Bray grinned. He hadn't had this much fun in ages. It was nice to share your hobbies with a young person. People cheered. Maybe this would help Alex with his self-esteem issues? The kid had trouble taking compliments. Bray knew in the back of his mind that he was rationalizing some fairly irrational actions that would see him fired if people found out. "Alright, I think we're going to break for lunch."
Alex frowned as Bray approached him. "We can share if you didn't bring any."
Bray gave Alex an amused look. "Alex, I'm an adult. I have a salary. I planned to simply buy lunch. You're welcome to pick something out. That looks a bit small for a growing teen boy."
Alex was a little sheepish. "Er, sorry."
Bray shook his head. "I'm actually kind of touched, Alex."
Alex followed the Headmaster as the man straight up bought two lunches and handed a fish and chips to Alex. "Er, thanks."
Bray shrugged. "Eat up, you're probably famished."
Alex tore into both lunches with a vengeance. He was hungry, okay? Bray seemed mildly amused when he managed to down both lunches. "Thank you."
The Headmaster waved him off. "My fault in the first place for signing you up for early morning exercise."
Alex blinked. "So, are you going to throw knives at me now?"
Bray chuckled. "I think that would be a little too close to the child endangerment line."
Alex blinked. "Really?"
Bray raised an eyebrow. "You seem surprised...Alex...have your guardians thrown knives at you before?"
Alex flushed and muttered something about Ian being dead now and it not mattering anymore. Bray felt mildly ashamed that he and the staff had jumped on the druggy rumor train and ignored other possibilities. "Well, let me know if it happens again, we can call child services together."
Alex shrugged but didn't look him in the eyes. Bray sighed. At the moment, he didn't honestly believe Alex would report anything to him. Oh, well. It was time to go back. Maybe this would establish rapport?
Alex was drinking in a pub with his Headmaster. Well, overall, it hadn't been a bad day. First, he had thrown knives at people in the park as part of a knife-throwing show. The knives had been perfectly balanced. It had been a little unnerving to show off one of the skills he'd learned at Malagosto in public like that, but Alex thought it had gone over well with the little group of knife-throwing show enthusiasts. Alex had then been brought to a pub around dinner time. It was now darts. "I'm the darts champion!" He'd yelled over the hubbub. Alex had not known or ever imagined that about Headmaster Bray. Well, then. Alex and Bray had then tag-teamed people at the pub. He was good at darts. Ian had once taught him. It was kind of fun and once he'd won a few games, nobody gave him the side-eye about his age. After the entire tournament was over, Alex had been handed several hundred pounds. "Your winnings."
Alex had been oddly touched. "Thanks."
Alex reflected, slightly bitterly, that it was the first-ever money he had seen for any skills vaguely involved with MI6. And it was money from darts games. Alex had gone ahead and ordered his somewhat complicated favorite drink order. Bray had escorted him back home. They were both mildly buzzed. "So, I was thinking. Once you get all your homework done in detention, you want to do something like that again?"
Alex blinked. Well, it was always nice to have money. "Sure."
Jack was probably not going to be pleased, but it was technically detention. At least Bray let him drink because he was sure as shit not doing that sober. "And here you are. You know, you're not a bad kid, Alex."
Alex felt a faint smile appear on his face. "Thanks."
Alex went in and cracked the door. Bray's last sentence was almost inaudible. "I love my job."
Alex shut the door behind him.
Jack had been more concerned than angry. "Your Headmaster took you drinking and playing darts?!"
Alex blinked. Perhaps he shouldn't have told her that, but that had agreed not to have secrets. "And took me to an open-air park knife throwing gig."
Jack inhaled. "He bought you drinks?"
Alex shrugged. "Yeah, but I got them straight from the bartender. I'm not stupid."
Jack let out a sigh. "Alex."
Alex shrugged. "He seems like a perfectly nice man to me."
Jack glared. "Well, you have kind of a low bar. I still don't know why you put up with that creep Walker."
Alex shrugged. "He just has bad social skills."
Jack glared. "One of these days, one of your adult friends is going to turn out to be a pedophile, you realize."
Alex sighed. He wasn't completely sober yet. He took off his shirt, exposing his scars and knives for Jack to see. "And I have these if I need them."
The redhead gaped a little. "Alex."
He put his shirt back on. "What? You said that I find trouble. I'm planning to add a gun."
Jack looked a bit teary. "It's just. I guess. A bit sad."
Alex sat down and sighed. "Jack. We can either pretend like my life is normal and I might die if I don't carry weapons or I can face the facts and carry weapons that might save my life."
Jack put her face in her hands. Alex moved closer to her on the couch and put an arm around her. Jack leaned into him, pulling him into a full hug. "Alex."
Alex buried his face in her hair. "Jack."
Jack held him there for a long time. "What does Tom say to all this?"
Alex blinked. "It's not like he watches me undress, Jack."
Jack started laughing. "No, no. Then you'd be something other than friends."
Alex rolled his eyes. "You two and your never-ending quest to set me up on a date. I don't want one, you know."
Jack sighed. "Just try, Alex."
Alex shrugged. "I'll try when I meet someone interesting."
Jack rolled her eyes. "You're impossibly stubborn."
Alex grinned. "Oh, but you like me that way."
Jack ruffled his hair and whacked him. "I suppose there would be something wrong with you otherwise, at this point."
Alex grinned. "I'm going to head up to bed now, Jack."
Jack sighed. "At least you got all caught back up with that detention."
Alex shrugged. "Yeah, there's a bright side."
It was going to be a good night. He could tell.