Title: Isle de la Picaterre
Characters/Pairing(s): Alex Rider/Yassen Gregorovich
Summary: 'You see, for once, this isn't about you, Alex Rider. You haven't been brought here because you've been a thorn in Scorpia's side. You have been brought here simply to die.'
Wordcount: : ~23,000 words
Author's Notes: I hope you'll enjoy this, hpstrangelove, even though there isn't quite as much sex as I would have liked. But writing for you made me giddy with excitement :).
ISLE DE LA PICATERRE, PART 1
Small noises from outside his prison woke Alex the next morning. As he'd expected, he was alone. T cuff around his ankle was gone. His boxer shorts and cut-off jeans lay freshly laundered on the other side of the mattress. Alex raced over greedily and slipped them on with greater relief than he'd have anticipated. No matter how many Scorpia employees had seen his naked arse since his 'punishment', it felt good to be covered!
The sense of relief didn't last long, however. Every sound outside, every crunch of a foot on the sand made him jump. They would come for him soon. Then, he was going to die. He felt more alert than he had been since he'd set foot on this accursed island, as if the drink Yassen had given him before he'd fallen asleep had contained a stimulant.
Thinking of Yassen made his face flush scarlet, and he pushed the memory away as quickly as he could. That hadn't been him, Alex Rider. That had been some desperate, animalistic thing running purely on emotion–
The sound of the door opening brought Alex back to reality. A man ducked inside, a serving platter with a silver dome tucked in the crook of his left arm. Alex recognised the young man who'd abducted him – years ago, as it now seemed – on Corsica. He held an automatic 9mm Makarov pistol in the other hand, which he pointed straight at Alex.
"Go back, as far as you can." Alex took a few steps back. "Get on your knees, and fold your hands behind your neck." Grimacing, Alex obeyed.
Only then did the young man step forward and put the platter down in front of the mattress before retreating back to the door.
"You should eat," he suggested. "They will come for you soon."
Despite the cold that crept through him, Alex crouched forward on his knees and snatched the silver dome off the platter. A ragged burst of laughter escaped his throat. The plate contained a packaged BLT sandwich, a packet of salt-and-vinegar crisps, and a bottle of regular Coke. The bottle had been chilled until recently – drops of condensation were still running down the plastic surface.
"And here I thought that with St Helier in charge, I might get some decent French food as my last meal," Alex quipped. The other didn't respond – he just left.
Despite his words, Alex made very quick work out of the sandwich packaging, and practically inhaled the two triangles. Eating reminded him of how hungry he'd been. The Coke was wonderfully refreshing, and Alex polished it off interspersed with handfuls of crisps. When he was done, he almost felt human again. Apart from being about to die, he thought bitterly.
The food didn't get much time to settle. When they did come for him, it was without any fanfare. Two black-clad guards that could have been clones of the others Alex had seen on the island so far entered through the door and pointed the barrels of their submachine guns at him. Without wasting a word, they grabbed his wrists, bound them behind Alex's back with a leather cord, and marched him outside. Alex allowed himself to be handled without comment. There was nothing to say.
He immediately recognised the contraption that had been erected just inside the large archway of the main gate that led into the castle proper. The trellised iron gate had been raised until only the top metal bars and defensive spikes were showing. A small wooden platform had been erected underneath. From the end of the spiked iron gate hung a black, leather noose, immobile in the warming air, waiting for its victim.
Even viewing from across the courtyard, Alex felt fear constrict his breath. It took almost more strength than he possessed not to try and break the guards' hold and run for his life. But he knew it would be in vain. This was the end. He could only try and face it with as much dignity as possible.
His eyes found Yassen in the half-shadow of the open gateway, looking cool and crisp in jeans and a fresh shirt that shone bright white against the shoulder holster he wore openly now. Alex's neck burned, and his lips tightened. And still he took strength from the Russian's impassive expression. Yassen expected him not to break down, that much was evident. Alex could do that much.
While the Accountant and his guards were present once more, the overcast morning had little of the garden-party-style atmosphere that had dominated Alex's whipping. Maybe it was too early. Or maybe the prospect of a boy dying at the end of a rope was somehow less exciting.
Alex was manhandled closer, and Klaus stepped out of the gateway into the light, making a display out of checking the noose. He caught Alex's eye and smirked.
"Well, Mr Rider..." At last, St Helier acknowledged Alex with a razor-thin smile and Alex tried very hard not to think how the Frenchman had last seen him. The Accountant spared a glance at his Rolex watch. "I don't think this will be taking very long. You see, I have a late lunch appointment scheduled at an excellent local oyster bar at Saint Pol de Léon, and by then, Alex Rider will be nothing more than a footnote in the history of Scorpia."
"I wouldn't hire a ghost writer just yet," Alex said. "It wouldn't be worth reading anyhow."
"Spirited to the last," St Helier replied spitefully. "It seems that your scourging hasn't left very deep impressions." He patted Alex's cheek, even though Alex craned his head back to escape the condescending touch.
"Let's have a look at what Mr Gregorovich has arranged for you, shall we?"
Trying not to show the sting he felt every time Yassen's name was mentioned, Alex let the guards push him towards the tribune in the Frenchman's wake. 'Tribune' was almost too dramatic a term. It was nothing but a flimsy elevated wooden platform, about two metres in diameter, one metre high, with two steps leading up in front. Enough for Alex to stand on with the noose around his neck, he supposed, until someone kicked it off from underneath him.
The Russian easily balanced up the two steps like the dancer he resembled, and nodded at Alex. One of his two guards gave him a light push that made him stumble forward, to some scattered laughter. Clenching his jaw, Alex climbed up the stairs, far less elegant than Yassen with his hands bound behind his back.
The Russian reached for the noose, testing the firmness of the knot, then slipped it over Alex's head from behind. Yassen was wearing his fingerless gloves again, and even the slight brush of leather gloves against his neck made Alex's entire back break out in gooseflesh. The noose sat curiously light around his throat, even after Yassen had tightened the knot at the back of his neck. Involuntarily, Alex tugged at the cord that bound his hands behind his back. It didn't give an inch.
"Friends and colleagues," the Accountant exclaimed after having called for silence with a hand gesture. Alex noticed that he wore a small black case looped around his wrist, like a digital camera, only smaller. "We have assembled this morning to witness the execution of Alex Rider, for desertion and treason against Scorpia." There was scattered applause from the guards and onlookers. Alex saw Klaus clap energetically.
Fear was closing like a steel trap in his stomach, paralysing and impossible to shake.
"Not to mention for tainting his own father's memory," St Helier added, and a sudden burst of anger ripped through Alex's panic.
"My father wasn't one of you!" he spat.
The Frenchman's lips curved. "If that thought makes dying easier for you, Alex..."
The edge of the platform under Alex's bare feet bounced when Yassen jumped down, landing easily on the ground. He reached for something that had leaned against the platform, outside Alex's view. It was a round metal disc, about one metre in diameter. When the assassin turned it over, it showed one single, rubber-coated leg, straight in the middle. With a surreal flash, Alex recognised it. It was a one-legged stool. Years and years ago, in his Nursery School in Chelsea, they had had two or three of them to play on – a wooden seat, with one leg in the middle to balance on. To see one now, here...?
Yassen flipped it over onto the leg, steading the seat with one hand, and Alex understood. He was supposed to balance on the stool until he inevitably slipped. Gravity and his own body weight would combine to kill him. Alex's forehead drew into a grim line when Yassen reached out his free hand to him as if to ask him to a dance. Why should he play along with their little game? The outcome would be the same.
In the end, however, he couldn't bring himself to face death even a second earlier than it had to come. Thin-lipped, he ignored Yassen's hand and took the small step sideways from the wooden platform onto the metal stool. It was one or two inches shorter than the platform Alex had been standing on so far. He felt the noose constrict at his throat and had to rise on tiptoe to breathe.
Then Yassen took his steadying hand away, and Alex felt the seat sway underneath him. He slid his feet apart for better balance, trying to create tension between his calves that would keep the stool in place. He knew it was impossible. Even without having his hands bound behind his back and being constricted by the noose, keeping steady would be impossible even for a gymnast.
He tried, though, wobbling on bare feet, trying to throw his hips into the balance, which provoked a few chuckles among the onlookers. He had to resemble a frantic belly dancer.
His calves and toes started to cramp, stretched and contorted unnaturally as they were, and it made trying to balance on the stool. Sweat of fear and exertion was dripping down his face, and his eyes burned. He wanted to cry in despair. The more he swayed, the harder it became to breathe.
Alex felt his toes slip with a panicked sense of inevitability. He scrambled for contact on the smooth metal surface, but found none. As if in suspended animation, the stool slipped, spun, and tipped into the sand. At the same time, the noose, already tight from Alex's balancing dance on the seat, cut into his neck. He didn't snap down with full force that would have broken his neck; instead, his body stretched, trying to find some purchase, but he wasn't tall enough to reach to the ground. His toes curled helplessly in mid-air as the braided cord of the noose cut harder and harder into the soft flesh of his neck. He heard his own frantic gagging noises, amplified inside his pounding head.
Then there was a crack, and a jolt. Something snapped sharp and painful next to his ear and Alex found himself sprawled on the sand-covered flagstones of the courtyard in a jumble of limbs. In confusion, he reached for his neck. The noose was still around it. Perhaps the cord had snapped under his weight...
A hand clamped around his upper arm and pulled him to his feet. Gloved palm, bare fingers... He stared into Yassen's face, at the Grach in his other hand, and finally realised that he was still alive because the assassin had shot through the rope that had been strangling him.
As luck had it, Alex's own realisation was as slow as everybody else's. His struggles against gravity had focused the attention of everyone present, allowing for Yassen's shot to fall almost unobserved. Almost.
"Gregorovich!" Klaus yelled.
All eyes turned from Alex to the Russian, and although Yassen's face was as expressionless as ever, Alex could have sworn his eyes smiled. He fired. Klaus actually jerked back and touched his chest.
What did explode, however, was the small camera-style box that the Accountant had looped around his wrist. Black metal and plastic shards sprayed in all directions, shattered by the bullet. The splinters ripped St Helier's perfect shirt cuffs to shreds and left bloody scratches along his perfectly manicured fingers, Alex saw with satisfaction.
For an endless moment, Yassen and St Helier stared at each other across the few feet that separated them, oblivious to the Frenchman's guards scrambling for their weapons. Then Yassen's Grach barked again, and the shoulder of St Helier's white suit turned into a red hole soaked in blood. The Accountant was thrown back by the force of the bullet just as his bodyguards surged forward to catch him.
The olive-complexioned young man who'd brought Alex his last meal was dragging St Helier backward into the archway and towards the main building while trying to apply pressure to the hole in his shoulder. Half a dozen guards were surrounding the two like human shields.
Alex found himself pulled backwards, and Yassen pushed the Grach into his hand. Without thinking, Alex closed his fingers around the ribbed handle. Yassen himself had produced a fully loaded semiautomatic pistol from the small of his back under his jacket that made the bystanders delve for cover.
"The side exit – down to the harbour," Yassen hissed into Alex's ear. "Cover my back!"
Without waiting for Alex's response, his gun sprayed a string of bullets at the feet of the guards, causing little explosions in the sand. The men stumbled backwards, realising that there wasn't much cover in the near-empty, sun-flooded courtyard. Some made for the main building and gateway through which St Helier's minders had taken him; some recovered enough presence of mind to return fire.
Yassen's right foot came up, kicking up the leg of the metal stool Alex had struggled on for his life. He easily caught it in his free hand, and ducked behind it as if hiding behind a metal umbrella. Alex heard the bullets slam into the metal circle with a series of hard cracks, but all they left were dents. Yassen threw the stool at the marksmen like an added insult, then turned and raced across the yard to the small north wall archway Alex had escaped from. It felt like years ago.
Recalling his instructions, Alex pulled the trigger of the Grach twice to add to the confusion, aiming just over the heads of the Scorpia men. Then he threw himself after Yassen, reaching the safety of the archway just in time to see the Russian fiddle with a keypad he hadn't even noticed during his nightly flight. A final code, and a metal-mesh gate started to roll down from the top of the archway, if far too slowly for Alex's taste.
"We'll have to reach the Delphyne," Yassen announced, "but there will be perimeter security on the beach now. Stay behind me, stay covered, and make sure nobody gets through this door – can you do that?"
Alex nodded, then pressed out, "Yes," so the assassin wouldn't think he was too scared to speak or something.
"Good." Yassen didn't hesitate. Still ducked like a hunting cat, he raced down the stairs, occasionally firing a bullet over the hip-high stone wall that drew increasingly energetic fire in return.
Alex cast a nervous glimpse at the metal mesh that ambled down on what looked like rather rusty hinges. Several Scorpia guards had reached the other end of the archway, pressing themselves against the wall for cover and firing at Alex in frustration. Alex returned their fire with an occasional shot from the Grach, more in order to keep them at a distance than hoping to hit anyone. He still wasn't sure he could, not in cold blood.
He breathed a sigh of relief when the short metal spikes of the gate slammed into the sand and sealed off the doorway. Making a quick decision, he took the Grach by the barrel and slammed the handle a couple of times into the keypad to make sure the door couldn’t be lifted as easily as it had come down. Then he leaned forward, carefully peering down over the wall to check Yassen's progress.
That was when he heard the scraping of soles on stone and looked up, just in time to see a figure fall down on him from the top of the archway.
Alex tried to bring up the Grach, but he wasn't quite fast enough. The impact of a body slamming into him from above drove the air out of his lungs. He screamed as the half-healed welts on his back crashed into the stone.
He didn't have to hear the satisfied laughter to know it was Klaus. Even a run-of-the-mill Scorpia guard would not have gone for a mad climb over the castle wall, even less jumped down two metres on a target perched on a stairwell. It was the sort of thing you learned at Malagosto.
Despite the jolt of pain racing through him, Alex brought up his left elbow and rammed it into the German's stomach. Klaus grunted and grabbed Alex's throat. The man's weight had already squeezed most of the air out of Alex's lungs. Now, he couldn't breathe at all.
Heat shot into Alex's face. His right hand jerked up the gun that was still trapped between their bodies. He shifted his hip to give it more leeway. The barrel moved. Alex's heart hammered, and red blots started to encroach on his vision. He pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. In panic, Alex squeezed the trigger again, and this time, he heard a dry click muffled against his stomach. The Grach's magazine was empty. With a sob of despair, Alex arched up against the merciless grip, only to find himself slammed back into the stone again. His vision flickered, and for a fleeting moment, Alex had the impression that something dark was passing in the air above them like a huge, silent sea gull.
Without even trying to hurry, Klaus reached for the sheath at his belt and produced an US Army knife. Its blade was at least 7 inches long. Fear crashed over Alex like a wave when the German smiled and leaned close to press the serrated edge against his neck.
"Get down!" A voice that was lower than Yassen's screamed at him from beyond, and Alex instinctively obeyed. He gave Klaus a final push, trying to propel him backwards, then put his arms over his throat for protection and pressed himself against the stairs.
He was looking up into the mercenary's face when Klaus jerked a couple of times in quick succession. His expression froze in a grimace of shock, and a trickle of blood started to spill from the corner of his mouth. Then his eyes broke, and he fell forward, a heavy weight over Alex's chest.
With a noise of disgust, Alex crawled out from under the body and scrambled away, still holding on to the empty gun. His eyes sought whoever had saved him from having his throat cut.
A few feet down from him on the stairs stood a squat, muscular man in multi-terrain patterned army fatigues. A MP5K 9mm submachine gun, still smoking at the barrel, hung over his shoulder, and he was in the process of freeing himself from the strings of a parachute that had landed like a huge dark mushroom in the bushes beside the stairs.
Alex couldn’t make out a hair colour under the camouflage helmet, but he recognised the compact body shape and the watchful black eyes at the same time without even pausing at the SAS insignia.
"Wolf?" he gasped, staring at the shadowed face of the soldier. "What...? What are you doing here?"
Wolf snorted. "Maybe you should ask Gregorovich? When we get a transmission with your name in connection with his and one of Scorpia's board members plus a set of naval coordinates, MI6 tends to take notice."
He stepped aside, and Alex looked down the slope. He counted at least five more parachutes. Four had landed like ink dots on the small beach, while one was hanging awkwardly in the bushes that covered the precipice.
The SAS men on the beach were exchanging shots with Scorpia guards that had made it to the motor boats mooring at the harbour. Just as Alex watched, the Scorpia marksman next to the driver in the nearest motor boat threw up his arms and fell backward. The driver, too, jerked sideways, and the boat, on direct course for the beach, impacted on the sand with a squealing noise that hurt his ears. It somersaulted once while the closest SAS men raced away, ducking for cover, then crashed into the bushes and exploded in a ball of fire. Even where he stood, Alex could feel the dry heat on his face.
His eyes found Yassen, who'd taken cover at the bottom of the stairs and was firing over the narrow wall at the riders of the second motor boat, who kept at a respectful distance from the shore after witnessing their associates' fate.
"Let's go," Wolf said. He shot a dark look at Yassen's back before shooing Alex down the stairs towards him.
"You're late," the Russian commented without turning around when they ducked behind the wall next to him.
"You can be fucking glad we turned up at all," Wolf growled.
"I know you wouldn't have come for me." Yassen pointed out. "But the boy... that's different, isn't it?"
The second motor boat raced past in a sweeping curve, spraying the sand with bullets before shooting along underneath the cliffs and out of sight. Alex was about to rise when the sound of a distant explosion ripped through the air. Or at least it resembled an explosion, followed by a gush of water. Alex could feel the ground tremble under his feet, even though he could see nothing.
A moment later, a different boat shot out from behind the island and into the open sea on a south-east-bound course. It was considerably larger than the motor boats, larger even than the Delphyne, and lay deep in the water, leaving white spray in its wake. And it was incredibly fast for its size.
"An Ultra-Fast APV4 patrol craft, custom-made," Yassen commented with a sense of appreciation. "I conducted Scorpia's purchase of it years ago in Alborg in Denmark, but I've never seen it in action. 55 knots top speed – impressive."
"That's St Helier, isn't it?" Wolf seethed. "He's getting away!"
"You knew this was a top Scorpia installation." Yassen shrugged. "They tend to come with emergency evacuation facilities. What did you expect?"
Wolf replied with a bitten-back curse and waved his men over to him. One of them had a superficial graze across his upper arm, but nobody seemed seriously hurt. Wolf nodded at a tall black soldier with close-cropped dark hair. "This is Lion. He's a member of M Squadron in the Special Boat Service, and a medic. Go with him now. He'll look after you."
There was something in Wolf's voice that set Alex's nerves on end. The man didn't quite manage to look him in the eye. Lion put a hand around Alex's arm and started to lead him towards the far end of the beach, away from the dock.
Alex's neck prickled. He stopped, and turned.
The soldiers had somehow managed to surround Yassen in a loose half circle without seeming to move towards him at all. Wolf was looking at the Russian with a bull-headed stare. He didn't look happy. Then Wolf's MP5K moved up.
"No!" Alex screamed, lunging forward. Lion's grip on his arm stopped him.
Wolf looked over at him for a second. "I'm sorry, Cub. I have my orders." He shrugged as if trying to offer an apology. Then he returned to his target. At least three of his unit followed suit. The clicks of machine gun safeties being removed rasped loudly across the beach.
Yassen stood on the sand, a few crucial footsteps away from the gangplank. His silhouette was half averted as if to offer as small a target as possible. He hadn't even bothered to draw his semiautomatic again. It would make no difference. At this distance, four submachine guns would rip him apart before he could get a shot off.
"Don't watch," Lion said, trying to intersperse himself between Alex and the scene on the sand. "Gregorovich is too dangerous to take prisoner. He's killed three good men when he escaped from MI6 the last time."
Icy clarity descended upon Alex. He could not let this happen. Yassen had risked his bloody life and shot his former lover to rescue Alex. He'd nearly died for Alex before – it couldn't happen again.
With strength Alex hadn't known he still possessed, he tore his arm from the SBS man's grip and leapt forward, throwing himself between Yassen and the soldiers and racing towards the assassin.
"Get down!" Wolf screamed behind him. Alex ignored him. "Stop, Cub!" There was a note of real panic in the SAS commander's voice. Alex had no time to worry about whether Wolf's orders had been sufficiently explicit to gun him down as well just to take out Yassen.
He threw himself forward once again until he veritably barrelled into the Russian. Yassen's arm came around his hip, pulling him close against his front like a shield. An instant later, the cold muzzle of the assassin's gun touched Alex's temple.
"Let him go, Gregorovich!" Wolf yelled. "This isn't going to help you. You can't get away."
Out of the corner of his eye, close as he was to Yassen's face, Alex could see the assassin smile. Yassen didn't bother to answer. Instead, he pulled Alex backwards with him, face hidden behind Alex's neck and his cheek pressed against Alex's to leave as small a target as possible. A shiver ran through Alex at the intimate closeness. Yassen went backwards and up the plank almost provocatively slow, leaving Wolf's squad ample time to fire if they chose to.
They didn't, and only Yassen heard the sigh of relief that escaped Alex when he realised that he still seemed to be worth enough to MI6 to not sacrifice him along with their target. Maybe they thought he suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. Wrapped inside Yassen's arms, Alex let himself be dragged down the stairs and into the cabin. Perhaps he did?
As soon as they were out of the SAS's line of sight, Yassen released Alex and grabbed his shoulders, shaking him once. "Are you holding up, Alex?"
Alex nodded, only to receive a push towards the ladder up to the bridge. "Go to the instrument panel and hoist anchor. The override key is…" Alex did his best to commit the series of numbers and letters to memory and pulled himself up the ladder.
The Delphyne's cockpit looked more like an airplane's than a boat's. Alex slid into the pilot seat and frantically searched the controls. Thankfully, the functions were labelled clearly, and Alex hit the button labelled 'anchor'. A password request popped up on the screen, and he reeled off the code Yassen had given him.
The Russian leapt in behind him and threw himself into the chair of the second-in-command next to Alex after discarding his gun on the table.
"Activate the emergency engines," Yassen ordered, and Alex's fingers obeyed without pause. Something raw and powerful sprang to life below their feet, purring like a hunting cat waiting to prowl. It didn't sound like a motor yacht engine – it sounded like sheer power.
Alex threw a look over his shoulder, and saw that Yassen had settled in front of an instrument panel that didn't look like a navigation console at all. Then he caught sight of the twin machine guns rising out of the deck on both sides of the cockpit. Yassen pulled a lever, and the barrels swung towards the shore.
"Don't kill them!" Alex screeched. He hadn't wanted Wolf's men to gun down Yassen in cold blood on the beach, but they didn't deserve to die for it!
"I'm not planning to," Yassen snapped without moving his eyes from the crosshairs. "But I've crippled the fortress' autocannon defences, which means they'll be trying to move a ship close to pick them up. We want to be out of here before they do that."
He hit the fire button, spraying the beach with bullets. Alex could see Wolf and his men jump back and race for cover among the bushes and behind the wall of the stairs. Wolf ended up slung behind one of his men, who was ducking behind the stone wall and yelling into a radio transmitter.
"Move us out of the harbour," Yassen instructed just as Wolf jumped up, machine-gun raised, and gestured to his troops. "Outside their line of fire."
Alex obeyed. His fingers found the right buttons after a moment's deliberation, and the powerful engines shuddered under his feet as the Delphyne drew away from the shore. The SAS bullets fell short and landed splashed harmlessly into the water. Through the retreating Plexiglas canopy, Alex could see Wolf's lips move and knew the soldier was cursing.
Yassen sunk the machine guns back into their sockets and nodded at Alex, who slipped gratefully out of his chair. Under the assassin's hands, the yacht turned in an elegant narrow circle and shot off towards the open sea. Yassen drew the face of the navigation computer towards him and bent over it, fingers dancing over the keys.
"So when did you decide you weren't going to kill me?" Alex ground out when Isle de la Picaterre had disappeared on the horizon, and the only thing within view was the bow of the Delphyne cutting through the calm waters.
Yassen threw him a quizzical look, then returned his attention to his computer. "Actually, I never actively planned to kill you at all," he said, typing calmly.
"You could have told me!" Alex yelled.
Yassen looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "No, Alex, I could not. I saw you come apart after the whipping. Your fear of death had to be real to be convincing."
Alex looked away, only to find the assassin's hand close around his upper arm, shaking him once for emphasis.
"It doesn't make you weak, you stupid child!" Yassen said, speaking slowly as if trying to get through to a toddler. "Just human. You did extremely well today."
Alex couldn't remain still any more. He jumped up from his swivel chair and made for the cockpit door. He needed fresh air; he needed to deal with the anger that was boiling inside him.
The Delphyne's deck was sun-flooded when he stepped out of the cabin. A brisk wind hit his cheeks, and left the taste of salty spray on his lips. Alex leaned against the wall of the cabin and closed his eyes for a long moment.
He felt the leather tong of the noose whipping in the breeze, still hanging on by a thread. Alex tore it off and hurled it into the sea.
After a few minutes, the yacht's course shifted subtly, and her speed reduced a little. A moment later, Alex heard the soft sound of Yassen's footsteps behind him.
"What now?" Alex asked, still looking out over the railing.
"We will reach the coast of Brittany in a bit over an hour," Yassen replied. "And go ashore at some tiny fishing port, I think. From there, you should be able to make your way without much trouble." Through the hair falling into his face, Alex could see the assassin lean against the railing next to him. "I'd suggest you head for the British Embassy in Paris. There are sufficient sums of money on board to get you a bus or train ticket."
"But Scorpia," Alex protested. "You betrayed them. You shot down one of their board members, for heaven's sake!" Not to mention that said board member had been Yassen's lover, once. Or so he'd claimed.
Yassen shrugged, an almost imperceptible little gesture. "I put a bullet through Arsène's shoulder, not his brain. Once he stops raging, the implications should be obvious."
"He told me that once you'd got rid of me, he was going to consider you for a seat on the Executive Board of Scorpia," Alex said. Part of him knew he should probably not tell Yassen as long as the Russian was still close enough to strangle or drown him, but Yassen had saved his life again – the truth was the least Alex owed him.
The assassin's face was unreadable as ever. When Alex had almost accepted that their conversation was at an end, Yassen raised his head. "I'm not saying that I wouldn't have been tempted, had I known. Or that I am unhappy to see you come out of this alive once more. But I didn't do it for you, Alex."
"Why, then," Alex prodded softly.
The Russian sighed with more than a touch of self-deprecation. "I don't like being manipulated. Even less being threatened, or blackmailed. It tends to... bring out the worst in me."
Alex couldn’t stop the corner of his mouth from quirking up. "Scorpia would certainly agree," he said drily. Betraying and opening up one of the organisation's top secret installations to the SAS would be memorable indeed. "But they'll come after you."
"For a while," Yassen shrugged. "It will be good exercise. Then, at some point, they'll realise that they'd rather have me working on a job for them than losing their operatives to me, and make me an offer to work for them again."
"You trust St Helier that far?" Alex asked, doubt audible in his voice. "He watched us, last night."
"I know," Yassen confirmed. "That's when he thought he had me."
"Are we going to talk about it?" Alex mumbled, eyes fixed on the horizon. His face was going red again. He shouldn't have brought it up at all!
"Should we?" Yassen asked.
Alex whirled around and glared at the assassin. "What do I know?" he yelled. "If it was just a pity fuck for a hysterical teenager who thought he was going to die, then no, let's not mention it ever again." He felt something crack in his self-control. Maybe the strain of nearly dying was finally catching up with him.
He didn't expect Yassen to grace his childish outburst with a response. He expected him to just walk away.
"What if it was an opportunity?"
Alex tilted his head, not quite turning around.
"One that would look good to Arsène?" Something changed in Yassen's tone – it became lower somehow, darker. "And a bit of payback to your father, for screwing me over?"
"That's pretty sick," Alex muttered. He was suddenly glad the Russian stood a few steps away from him. He wasn't quite sure what might happen if Yassen touched him.
"You asked." The assassin caught Alex's side glance. He sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Look, Alex... I wouldn't have done you if the situation hadn't called for it."
Alex nodded, thin-lipped. Before he could turn away, Yassen closed the slight distance between them and grabbed hold of his wrist to stop him. Alex's mind went blank. He didn't move.
"I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't wanted to either." Abruptly, Yassen released Alex's hand. "You'll have to make of that whatever you want."
Alex wrapped his arms around himself as if to protect himself against the breeze. He didn't want Yassen to see that he was trembling. He nodded.
This time, Yassen did leave, walking back to the cabin with calm, measured steps. Unshaken. Alive.
Alex slid down with his back to the railing until he sat on deck, and hugged his knees tightly.
They had survived, against all odds. It would have to be enough.