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FIC: A Harsh Cord [Yassen/Alex, NC-17]

Title: A Harsh Cord
Author: kennahijja
Fandom: Alex Rider (spoilers up to Scorpia, I guess)
Pairing: Yassen/Alex
Rating: NC-17
Warning(s): uh... torture? And underage sex (Alex is 16)
Wordcount: ~ 10 700 words
Disclaimer: Definitely not mine!
Summary: Yassen Gregorovich had beautiful hands – long, elegant and strong at the same time. They were also among the most terrifying things Alex had ever seen.
Author's Notes: Written for loony_lucifer in spy_fest 2010. Inspired by my recipient's own fan-comic Silence, and Elizabeth A. Lynn's SF novel Sardonyx Net. And a great many thanks to LN and annephoenix for speed-betaing and awesome suggestions!



Alex veered around a corner, leaving the congested main road with its frustrated drivers behind him. With his bulging grey canvas bag and helmet, they probably thought he was a bicycle courier and honked at him in sheer frustration that he could get ahead where they couldn't.

Though born and raised in London, he'd never been to Clapham Junction beyond cutting through it on his way to somewhere else. He could have taken the train, but he'd wanted the trip to take a little longer, giving him time to think. It was harder to keep a calm façade while being banged up in a crowded metal can.

He had looked up the address as soon as the note had appeared in the mail. As always in a plain brown envelope, on squared paper, folded twice. Only the very first message had carried a single letter as a signature.

Alex shivered as the bike jolted over uneven cobblestones. He badly needed the remaining moments to compose himself. He'd barely had time to switch his mind back from 'mission' to 'school', having only been released from hospital the day before yesterday.

His destination, when he rounded the final corner, turned out to be a semi-converted three-storey Victorian warehouse. The top floor had been turned into flats, but the lower level, with its scattering of long, narrow windows, looked disused. The brickwork had darkened to near-black.

Alex got off his bike and stuffed his helmet into his bag. Scaffolding, with a sign proudly proclaiming that work was being done here by Salcott Construction Partners, rose around the iron front doors, but he couldn't see any workmen around. Alex gave the double doors a pull. Nothing moved. The squat box of an alarm system sat next to the obligatory yellow CCTV notice. Alex didn't doubt that he had already been noticed. As he chained the bike to a lamp post, the cable slipped from his shaking fingers on the first try.

Grabbing his bag, he went round to the side of the building. There was a plain black metal door with a mail slot, but no name. It opened without resistance, giving way into a narrow stairwell that went up along the outside wall. Two floors up, it ended at a single door, as plain as the entrance. Next to it was a lone bell button.

Alex reached for it, then clenched his fingers into a fist until they stopped trembling. He pushed the button. There was no sound. When he gave the door a shove, it slid open, leading into a darkened corridor.

Of the four doors, only one at the end was ajar, with yellow light spilling out. Alex moved towards it and pushed it open without knocking. He stopped in the doorway, resisting the urge to shove his icy hands into his pockets.

It was a modern living room, furnished in beech and black leather with cream-coloured walls. The glass lamps were lit, the windows hidden behind heavy dark drapes.

Yassen Gregorovich was sitting in an armchair, one leg pulled up and a book in his lap. The pose made him look more than ever like a dancer or gymnast. He wore black slacks and a black roll-neck sweater, and looked up at Alex from his chair as if there was nothing unusual about him being here, least of all in such domestic surroundings.

MI6 had never bothered to tell Alex that Yassen had survived Air Force One and been taken prisoner. So Alex felt quite justified in never mentioning to Blunt or Mrs Jones that their fugitive kept turning up right under their noses in London. Though before today, they had always met in hotel rooms.

Alex stepped into the room and let the canvas bag fall from his shoulder. It landed on the floor with a thud. He'd packed it as an overnight bag, telling Jack he'd be staying over at Tom's for the night, going to the cinema and doing some schoolwork. Jack knew Tom was unhappy living alone with his newly divorced mother and approved of Alex keeping him company. Tom hadn't asked any questions when Alex had asked him to cover for him.

Alex hated lying to Jack. But there was no way of telling her the truth.

"Come here," Yassen said, without getting up from his chair.

Alex licked his dry lips. Dressed for a London winter afternoon, he was suddenly over-heating in the comfortable warmth of the room. Feeling clumsy, he walked over until he stood right in front of Yassen. The reading lamp behind the assassin made his close-cropped blond hair glint. Alex could smell his aftershave. His stomach clenched.

At last, the Russian put his book – a Japanese manga, Alex noted with some surprise – down on the glass table and stood. He reached out and took hold of Alex's chin, nudging his head back.

"You were in hospital," Yassen said. "Why?"

Alex wasn't surprised that the assassin knew. In the far corner of the room sat a stylish computer workstation. Yassen had hacked into his school or medical records, no doubt.

The fingers touched him gently, without digging in. Alex kept very still.

"Hypothermia," he said. It was his voice, not rough or hoarse, but it sounded alien to his own ears.

Yassen let go of him and tapped the front of his jacket.

"Take that off."

Alex unzipped the jacket and shrugged it off his shoulders, putting it down on the glass table. He pulled the grey Norway sweater over his head, which left him in a bright green shirt that Jack had bought him for Christmas because she said it would go well with his hair. It was one of the things Alex felt most comfortable in.

When Yassen's expression didn't change, Alex started on the buttons.

There had been a night, a few months ago, when Yassen had made him take off all his clothes, then ordered him on his back on the bed and not to move or lift a finger in his defence. Terror sped up Alex's heartbeat at the thought that the assassin might have something similar in mind. There was no bed in sight, but that meant nothing. He just wasn't sure he could handle that. Not so soon after his last mission.

Alex's fingers were clumsy on the buttons, and sweat was beading on his forehead. Yassen knew he'd been in hospital, but surely not about the mission?

The memory of being stripped by a trio of disdainful Mafiosi was etched deeper in his mind even than the one of stumbling naked and freezing around a pitch-dark cold storage locker full of dead animals dangling from hooks. The latter he revisited in his nightmares. The former remained shut away in a far corner of his mind. Nothing had happened beyond a few pinches and jeers, and Alex had expected his experiences at Yassen's mercy to have prepared him for it. But they hadn't. Not at all.

He shrugged the shirt off his shoulders and stood upright. He'd not go further without explicit command.

Yassen studied his chest with an almost clinical expression, but Alex felt the tension leap. The Russian wanted to touch him, so much Alex could taste it. His nipples tightened with the knowledge, and the surge of power it brought. But Yassen only took hold of his shoulder and turned him around to study his back.

Alex knew what he would find, so he wasn't surprised to feel Yassen's fingers exploring the lurid bruise between his shoulder blades. That was how they'd got him in the first place, knocked flat onto his face with an iron bar as he was eavesdropping on their drug operation plans. He'd acted the part of the over-curious apprentice in the wrong place convincingly enough, but they'd decided to kill him anyway.

Yassen's fingers probed the flared top of the bruise on his shoulder blade. It was healing well, but the pressure sent a dull ache through Alex. He winced but made no sound as Yassen used both thumbs to press down. Just pressure, no nails, and still it felt as if at any second the bruise would burst and send a stream of blood down his back.

He made no sound. This was nothing.

He felt Yassen's body against his and leaned into it ever so slightly, like a cat searching for affection. But this wasn't the time. Not yet. He hadn't earned it.

Yassen's arms came around him from behind, hugging Alex close to his chest.

"I think you need a fight," Yassen whispered into his ear. Alex shivered, half nerves, half relief. He wasn't sure if he could have managed surrender.

Yassen loosened his embrace and pulled him over to a sideboard in the far corner of the room, one arm still slung around Alex's shoulder above the bruise.

Alex's heart thudded in his chest as he looked at the three items displayed on the sideboard. A pistol – not Yassen's familiar Grach, but a smaller-calibre Makarov PM; a serrated Russian army knife; and a nunchaku. Alex had received some introductory training with the latter on Malagosto, and wasn't surprised to see it in Yassen's inventory.

"You may choose one," Yassen said.

Alex's stomach felt hollow at the thought. Then the void filled with unexpected anger.

"No!" he snapped, taking a step backwards for good measure. He'd drawn a weapon on Yassen before, and knew he wasn't going to do it again.

Yassen's thumb lightly brushed his bottom lip. "The longer you hold out against me, the less pain there will be," he promised.

Alex could feel the temptation slithering through him, even though he knew that 'holding out' would provide ample opportunity for pain as well. But underneath it simmered the fear that Yassen might actually push him far enough to make him use a weapon if he had one. And what did it make Alex, that this scared him more than being forced into self-defence?

"No," he repeated.

Yassen's face betrayed no response when he stepped aside, waving Alex ahead of him towards the door next to the computer. Alex paused to snatch his shirt off the coffee table and pulled it on, closing a few random buttons. It made him feel a little less vulnerable.

Yassen unlocked the door. It opened into another stairwell, very like the one he'd come up through. Alex assumed it led down into the warehouse.

"I give you ten minutes, Alex," Yassen said. "Then I am coming for you."

He reached out and unclasped the metal band of Alex's watch, slipping it into his own pocket.

Alex felt a shiver run through him but tried to keep his face blank. He took a step past the assassin and through the door, wishing he had the courage to drop to his knees and surrender right there. He wondered what Yassen would think if he did – whether it was what the assassin was secretly hoping for, or whether it would disappoint the predator inside him.

It was a moot point anyway. Alex's instincts screamed against it, wanting nothing more than to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.

He took the stairs in quick but measured steps. They led down into what seemed, at first sight, a wide, cavernous hall. From the inside, the building looked as if it had at some point served as a factory that had been half-dismantled before either money or interest had run out. The high-up windows were boarded over, but still let in the occasional ray of light. It was dim, but not so dark as to make Alex run blind into random obstacles.

He crossed the main hall, careful not to stumble over the old tools, broken wood and jagged pieces of metal that littered the floor. The open centre of the building was dominated by a waist-high oval that had once been a conveyor belt. Now, the belt itself had been removed, and only the metal base remained.

Alex skirted it, and grimaced when a pile of nails crunched under the soles of his trainers. He'd been gone for two, three minutes at most – Yassen couldn't have heard him. There was a small changing facility with showers and toilets to the left. Rust was eating through the metal stalls, and water dripped slowly into an oily-looking puddle under one of the shower heads. One or two jagged bits of broken tile stuck out. The smell of mildew scratched at the back of Alex's throat. He suppressed a cough.

Under his thin shirt, he shivered. The hall was chilly, and the numbing cold from the icehouse in which he'd been trapped recently was still imprinted on his body's memory. He should've grabbed his sweater too.

Next to the dilapidated changing room was a break room dominated by a dust-covered oak table so massive that even generations of workmen hadn't managed to dent it. It was the most promising hiding place so far, but Alex hated the thought of being trapped with only one exit.

He moved on, passing the massive front entrance. It was barred, making it impossible to escape even if he had wanted to.

There was a row of smaller rooms on the left side next to the entrance. As with the workers' rooms, the dividing walls only rose up about two metres from the ground, not all the way to the ceiling. It must have been very noisy when the machinery was running.

One office was set apart from the others. Faded and stained carpets still showed that a large desk and chair must have stood there once, but both had gone. On the far wall, a pale rectangle reflected the former presence of a painting. Now, only one chair was left, forlornly leaking stuffing from its faux leather seat.

The row of smaller offices looked more promising. There were four of them, interconnected with only the farthermost two leading to the outside. One of them opened into the hall, offering a decent view of the doorway to the staircase Alex had entered from. He'd be able to see Yassen coming down. However, he ran the risk that the assassin would see him too. Alex wished he'd decided to wear something dark with a hood instead of bright green when he'd dressed in the morning.

A quick peek through the four small offices threw up only desks, broken chairs and a few gutted filing cabinets. Alex decided to return to the entry that gave him a view of the stairwell. He wanted to see the assassin coming. Even if it gave him away, Yassen would have to cross the entire length of the hall to get to him, which would give Alex time to disappear. He pressed himself against the wall and peered out.

Nothing. Surely he had been down for ten minutes by now, hadn't he, exploring the place? Still, nothing moved in the stairwell. Silently, he cursed Yassen for having taken his watch.

The faintest crunch of a shoe on wood behind him had Alex whirling around. He should've known, or at least suspected. Yassen had given him ten minutes, and Yassen never lied. But he hadn't said that there was only one way down.

He saw a dark shadow flit into the opposite doorway, and cast his eyes around for a weapon. They fell on the gutted filing cabinet next to him. Two of the drawers were lying on the floor. A third, hinges caked with rust, had been upended on top of the cabinet.

Alex grabbed it and hurled it at Yassen. It was heavier than he'd expected, but adrenaline boosted his strength. Caught in the narrow doorway, Yassen moved to the side, but without enough space to manoeuvre. The drawer caught him in the side and he stumbled. Alex didn't stay to gloat – he ran.

Dashing out into the hall, he ducked down and rounded the length of the conveyor belt until he'd reached the narrow upper end of the oval. Before him, the opening to the staircase he'd watched so closely only moments ago loomed mockingly.

Undoubtedly, Yassen had locked the door to his flat. If Alex went for it, he'd end up trapped in the stairwell and even worse off than he was now.

Crouching with his back to the metal, Alex perked his ears and looked for something to defend himself with.

His eyes caught a glint of metal half-buried under debris and an empty cardboard box. Still ducking down, he stretched like a cat and reached for it while throwing a nervous glance over his shoulder. He flinched when the metal scraped audibly across the floor. To Alex's surprise, it was a metal bar with a flat end covered in rubber. The other end had holes and a raw edge – the foot of a table, or high-backed chair? Alex clutched it tightly.

Maybe it was intuition, or perhaps his strained ears, that made him look up. Instead of rounding the conveyor belt, Yassen had jumped onto it, scanning for his hiding place from above. There was no way he could overlook Alex like this. Grim-faced, Alex rose. For an instant, he saw a triumphant glint spark in the assassin's eye.

Alex waited for Yassen to take two more steps towards him, then brought up the metal bar and swung it at Yassen's ankles. The Russian jumped, evading the blow from the makeshift weapon. Alex aimed another blow, forcing the assassin back before racing away. He needed a place with better cover. Yassen was one of the world's best martial artists – out in the open, he'd get the drop on Alex in no time.

He raced towards the staff rooms, expecting the assassin to be in hot pursuit. Stepping through the changing room door, he fell into a defensive stance and waited.

Yassen didn't even hurry to catch up with him. He knew the layout of the place, knew there was nowhere Alex could run. Alex bit his tongue and determined to put up the best fight he could.

The Russian's attack came so fast that Alex barely had time to blink. He managed to raise his bar in time, but the blow knocked him back into the room. The edge of Yassen's hand came down on Alex's left wrist and a jolt of paralysing pain shot through his arm. As the pipe slipped from his numb fingers, he caught it with his other hand and aimed a roundhouse kick at Yassen's middle. The Russian side-stepped with no visible effort. He was quicker even than Nile, who had utterly outclassed Alex in their fight in Julia Rothman's Venetian palace.

Yassen grabbed the metal pipe and tore it from Alex's hand. He weighed it carefully in his own, gazing at Alex through narrowed eyes. Alex instinctively stepped backwards until he hit the wall. He clenched his fists and stared defiantly at the assassin. There was nothing more he could do. Yassen raised the bar in both hands, very much like Alex had a few moments ago, and laid it across Alex's throat.

Reflexively, Alex tried to push it away, but Yassen was too strong. The bar dug into the hollow of his throat, slowly cutting off his breath. Alex delivered a sharp kick to Yassen's shin, but the Russian's lip just curled up in a mocking twist. He stepped closer until his body pressed up against Alex's, and slid a thigh between Alex's legs to pin him more securely. Alex struggled, but the metal cut into his windpipe and made it almost impossible to breathe.

"But we don't need this, do we?" Yassen whispered, his face so close that his breath warmed Alex's cold lips.

In one rapid movement, Yassen removed the bar, tore it from Alex's weakening hold, and sent it clattering to the floor. Before Alex could move, Yassen wrapped his hands around Alex's throat. First one, as if to map the contours of Alex's flesh, then the other.

Heat raced up Alex's body, from his legs to his spine and into his face. Yassen squeezed, not violent, just firm, and Alex's breath was cut off completely. The bar had hurt, but had left him with a little air to gulp in. Now, there was nothing.

His body tightened against Yassen's, and he could feel the assassin's hardness against him. Yes, this would excite the Russian where nothing else would. Yassen held him against the wall as he choked the consciousness right out of him, their bodies interlocked in terrible, twisted intimacy. Yassen's eyes raked over Alex's face until Alex let his lids fall shut against the piercing stare and tried to force his body to surrender. It would be easier that way.

Sparks started to flare against the inside of his eyelids as the pressure built up in his chest, winding him tighter and tighter until it became overwhelming. He started to struggle again, digging his nails into Yassen's hands to peel them off, but to no avail.

Alex's mouth opened in the silent mask of a scream, but no air found its way into his frantic lungs. Darkness roared, jaws opening like a tiger to devour him. Alex reared up against Yassen's body, struggling for air one last time, and fell.

***

Alex was floating. It was dark, and he knew he didn't want to wake up, so he kept his eyes closed and tried to sink back into the comfortable blanket of darkness.

Something cold and wet touched his throat, and Alex came out of his daze with a gasp. He tried to lift his hand to the spot, and realised that he couldn't. Fingertips touched his throat and began to spread the cool wetness there. His eyes flew open and found Yassen looking straight at him. Alex swallowed, only to be reminded by a stab of pain of how much his neck hurt. The iron pipe and Yassen's hands must have left a spectacular bruise. Yassen was methodically spreading gel over the area with two fingers. It was pleasantly cool.

With Yassen's hands preoccupied for the moment, Alex took stock of his surroundings. He was lying on a bed, with his hands bound behind his head. He tugged, but there was no leeway. He recognised the itchy bite of hemp rope, wrapped around each wrist, then bound together and secured to the head board. It wouldn't hurt unless he pulled – Yassen was quite an expert at tying knots.

The bedroom continued the colour scheme of black, cream and glass Alex had seen in the living room. So the Russian must have picked him up and carried him upstairs after Alex had lost consciousness. Alex wondered whether this was Yassen's place in London, or just a safe house provided by Scorpia or whoever the assassin was working for at the moment. Yassen wouldn't talk to him about such things. Either way, the place suited him.

The bedclothes were black, with white pillows. Alex could see one of them sticking out from under his head.

He was also naked; the cool cotton of the bed sheets was moulding itself comfortably to his back and legs. Although he couldn't help a flush of heat at the thought, he was grateful that Yassen had undressed him when he'd been unconscious. Alex wasn't in any shape to play power games - better to be faced with a fait accompli.

Yassen had finished massaging the gel into Alex's skin, and in the yellow light of the glass lamps, his eyes looked very dark.

"You showed quite surprising ineptitude," the assassin observed.

Alex felt a sting of annoyance, although of course the assessment was accurate. "I'm sorry I disappointed you." It came out less sarcastic and more petulant than he'd intended.

Yassen fixated him from under half-lowered lids. His fingertips, still resting lightly against the hollow of Alex's throat, slid to his collarbone, then his shoulder, and pressed down on the nerve point there.

Pain raced up Alex's arm, and he let out a strangled cry. Somehow, having his arms tied in an unnatural position made the pain even more acute.

When Yassen took his finger away, Alex had to blink several times in quick succession to get rid of the water that had sprung to his eyes. Somehow, he never seemed able to recall the sheer intensity of the pain, beyond an instinctive but unspecific dread to experience it.

"I didn't say I was disappointed," Yassen said calmly.

He stood and pulled the roll-neck sweater over his head, dropping it on the foot of the bed without taking his eyes off Alex. Alex kept his expression carefully blank. In his own way, Yassen Gregorovich was the most beautiful creature Alex had ever laid eyes on. It wouldn't do for the assassin to know just how badly Alex wanted to touch him. He probably suspected anyway.

Alex knew that, unlike his friend Tom who'd recently mutated into a bundle of hormones panting after girls, he wasn't a sexual creature. He had always blamed it on being a spy. He had no time for sex, having to fight for his life every other month. He loved Sabina, and enjoyed spending time in her company, but her body, beautiful as it was, had never excited him. It had been she who'd asked, before Alex had dared face the thought, whether he was gay. But while Alex was capable of admiring male as well as female beauty, no one sparked the fear and excitement, the almost physical pull that Yassen Gregorovich had exerted on him ever since Alex had first seen him, in a grainy surveillance picture of all things.

Now, Yassen leaned against the bed next to Alex's hip, eyes sliding over his body in a way that made Alex's face burn despite his dread.

"If you are going to tell me no, Alex, you'll have to do so now," he said.

Panic closed off Alex's throat. His lips thinned and he clamped them shut tightly. He could do this, he told himself. He'd survived it before.

He stayed silent, and the rare smile that Yassen gave him made Alex almost despair – proud, sharp, a little bit mad. The assassin swung himself up on the bed and straddled Alex's lower body.

He touched Alex's cheek as if to stroke it, and pressed on the nerve point underneath his left eye. Pain flared like a red-hot wire from Alex's temple down to his jaw. An inarticulate sound escaped his throat. He twitched, once, against the heavy weight of Yassen's groin, then lay still when the Russian released the nerve. The ache receded slowly, but still left Alex feeling as if the entire left side of his face was swollen.

Yassen stared down at him, an eerie hunger on his face, and flexed his fingers like a piano player doing warm-up exercises. Alex squeezed his eyes shut. Yassen Gregorovich had beautiful hands – long, elegant and strong at the same time. They were also among the most terrifying things Alex had ever seen.

He felt Yassen touch his collarbone, carefully probing, then pressing down and sending a stab of agony through Alex's shoulder and chest. He let out a strangled scream and jerked. Just when Alex thought he was going to explode with pain the pressure disappeared, leaving behind a lingering ache.

Yassen's hand traced his hipbone, slowly and almost tenderly, then pushed his thumb deep into Alex's flesh.

Even knowing what was going to happen – he had studied Dr Three's books on the pressure points of the human body when training at Malagosto – Alex surged up, not so much trying to dislodge Yassen as just wanting to get away. The rope bit down around his wrists, but he barely felt it. The nerve didn't just burn – Alex had suffered burns when fighting Desmond McCain at Laikipia airfield in Kenya a bit over a year ago. Instead, it was as if his entire leg was consumed by fire, as if the very marrow was boiling inside his bones.

Fighting blindly against the restraints, Alex was still somehow aware of Yassen's arousal growing against his groin. A scream clawed its way out of his throat, and Yassen leaned forward, placing his hand over Alex's mouth. Alex could feel tears spilling over and running down his cheeks. With Yassen's hand closing his mouth, he couldn't even beg.

When Yassen released him, first the nerve point, then his mouth, Alex lay trembling and soaked in sweat. For a few shivery moments, he didn't even realise that the pain was gone, so omnipresent had it been.

Yassen was breathing almost as harshly as Alex. He brushed Alex's collarbone with his knuckles, right above the point he'd fired up before, and something inside Alex cracked.

"Please!" he whispered.

"Please what, little Alex?" the Russian purred, like a cat that was content for the moment, but already flexing its claws. "Do you want me to stop? To take pity on you?"

Alex dug his fingernails into his palms and bit down on his bottom lip. He'd started out grateful for being tied down because it meant needing less self-control. How could he have forgotten that Yassen had other ways of making him betray himself!

He jerked his head to the side, half hiding, half denial, unable to speak for fear of blurting out words he'd sworn Yassen Gregorovich would never hear from him.

Yassen took his chin between thumb and index finger and forced him to look up. "Would you rather tell me about that latest mission MI6 sent you on?"

Hope fluttered inside Alex's chest. "I've signed the Official Secrets Act," he whispered through chapped lips.

"I know you have."

Alex's reluctance to talk about the topic had little to do with MI6, but he knew he had no choice. Yassen didn't have to give him a break.

"It wasn't that much of a mission," he said quickly, before the assassin could change his mind. "Not for MI6. They... 'loaned' me to the Scottish Organised Crime Squad. There's this Neapolitan Mafia family – the Biagi – who were trying to muscle in on the Glasgow drugs trade, and were all set up for a gang war to oust Bugs McGillycaddy, the drug baron controlling Springburn and Shettleston. He's-"

"I know who he is," Yassen interrupted with a slight frown on his forehead.

Alex swallowed. He wasn't surprised that Yassen would be familiar with major underworld figures, and wondered whether the Russian's displeasure was directed at his gabbled explanations, or at the people he'd got involved with.

"The SOCS knew the Biagi Brothers were operating a specialty meats firm in Springburn," he continued, "supplying Italian restaurants throughout Scotland. They suspected it was a money-laundering operation, but the two agents who'd tried to infiltrate it had been found floating in the Clyde - with their heads missing."

Alex realised he was babbling, and forced himself to slow down.

"That's when MI6 offered me." He shrugged. "They got me into the factory as a high-school drop-out butcher's apprentice straight out of foster care. The Biagis were on the look-out for informers – they didn't suspect a boy."

Yassen's lip curled. "But they did. I doubt that successfully maintaining your cover would have sent you to hospital?"

Alex's cheeks coloured. "Well, I found out they were not just laundering money. They had a fleet of transporters, but when I broke into their accounting files, there were fuel expenses way above what the lorries could have used, and quite a few evening and night trips outside schedule." He suddenly became aware that Yassen was hearing the same clipped summary he'd given to Mrs Jones.

"I hid in the back of one of the late-night lorries and found out that the firm had their very own small cargo plane at Glasgow Airport that didn't exist in the books. Not only that – they were actually hiding the drugs inside the hams and salamis." Alex grimaced. "Parma alla Cocaine."

"And you contracted hypothermia in a meat lorry?" Yassen inquired.

"No, just a head cold," Alex said. "I know I should have called in the SOCS straight away, perhaps even from the airport. But I wanted to know more. When we got back, it was after midnight and the lights were still on in the factory." He shot Yassen a glance. "We didn't work nights. And a BMW and a Ferrari that I'd never seen around before were parked in the lot. I waited until the lorry driver had gone and sneaked up to the office, next to the cold storage. Two of the Biagis were there, with the factory manager and the boss of the drivers. They were talking about a planned hit on one of Bugs McGillycaddy's taxi firms – the first shot in the war."

Alex paused. "That's when it happened. I hadn't forgotten that there were three Biagi brothers, I just thought they'd not all come. He caught me across the back with a meat hook, and knocked me out for a moment. When I woke up, they had three guns aimed at me."

"They realised you were a spy?" Yassen asked, fingers resting lightly against Alex's chest.

Alex shrugged, grateful that the assassin seemed captivated by the tale. "They pushed me around a bit. Made threats. I guess I played the scared and a bit slow kid well enough. Said I'd worked late, and thought someone had left the light on and wanted to turn it off before going home. They may have believed me. But they decided to kill me anyway, because of what I'd overheard. Maybe as a warning to others." He hesitated for a moment. "They stripped me and threw me into the cold storage locker to die."

He could still feel the echo of the cold, dry darkness ghosting over his skin, the overpowering smell of meat. It hadn't turned him into a vegetarian altogether, but he hadn't managed to touch meat yet.

"Did they assault you?"

The Russian's bluntness wound the knot in Alex's chest even tighter. Mrs Jones had certainly omitted that question.

"No!" he cried. "They made lewd comments and pinched me a few times. I just thought-" Alex stopped himself, biting his tongue.

"You thought what?" Of course Yassen wouldn't let it go. His finger tapped Alex's chest, a bit harder than before.

"That..." Alex bit his lip, then blurted out, "That what you- what we do would make me handle that sort of thing better."

It had been Yassen's unvoiced admiration for his body that had made Alex consciously aware, for the first time, that an enemy intent on breaking him might try to make use of it.

"I see." Yassen's voice was utterly without inflection. "Did it?"

"No," said Alex. If anything, it had made things worse. Having anybody else's eyes or hands on his body had felt like having slime thrown at him. Yassen was silent for a long moment in which Alex's stomach cramped. He should've kept quiet!

"Were you rescued?"

Alex drew in a shaky breath of relief at hearing the Russian move away from the topic.

"No. I rescued myself. I'd worked in that place for two weeks. At one point, the climate controls were acting up and they brought in an electrician. He showed me the cable duct in the floor – cooling, light, ventilation, door controls. MI6 had me equipped with some metal-corroding experimental fluid that took care of the screws. Otherwise I'd be dead."

Yassen's eyes slid over Alex's naked body, then his eyebrow rose and he touched the small golden hoop in Alex's ear.

Alex's mouth quirked and he nodded. He still wasn't fond of the earring, but having had his ear pierced twice in two years, he'd decided to keep it for future use.

"Well, I short-circuited the door mechanism and called the SOCS, who took me to hospital," he finished. No point in recalling how long it had taken him to fumble with the cables in the pitch dark, with fingers that turned numb and clumsy and the cold biting into his flesh until he wanted to lie down and drift away.

"So you were careless, impulsive and only survived due to sheer luck," Yassen concluded.

Alex flushed. It was not much different from what Alan Blunt had said during his debriefing, and no less than the truth, but somehow, coming from the assassin, it stung more. He had resented having to sacrifice his 16th birthday and the spring half term to MI6 in the first place, and then thoroughly under-estimated the Biagis for being ordinary gangsters rather than world-conquering madmen.

"Well, it wasn't all bad. I got them in the end."

Yassen raised an eyebrow.

"Well, I started out with an entire tube of metal-corroding gel, and when I was in the freighter plane, I used it to draw a circle around the bottom of the cooling unit. I had to spread it pretty thin, so the effect wasn't immediate. After disposing of me, the Biagis obviously wanted to be far away when my body was found. So they decided to take off in the plane nobody knew about." He smiled grimly. "I heard the bottom dropped out when they were just lifting off the runway. Made a terrible mess too, all that splattered meat powdered with cocaine... The SOCS weren't very happy with me when they turned up to drag the brothers out of the wreckage."

Yassen didn't smile. "As I said: sheer blind luck."

"I'm sorry?" Alex tried.

"Not sorry enough."

Yassen captured Alex's left nipple between thumb and index finger and pinched it cruelly. Alex barely swallowed a yelp.

"Now that you seem to have recovered..."

Alex could feel his breath speeding up as pain shot in hot jolts through his chest.

"Unless you would rather beg your way out of it?" Yassen asked.

Alex's fingers twisted into claws; he dug his nails into his palms, deepening the half-moon crescents he had already left, and pushed his head into the pillow. His eyes sought the ceiling. He said nothing.

Yassen released his nipple, which caused another burst of heat, and found the nerve point on the right side of Alex's collarbone. Alex bit his lip bloody and struggled helplessly when fresh pain swamped him, more unbearable than before.

The assassin left him to writhe and moan for what was perhaps twenty seconds, but felt like ten hours. When he removed his hand and got off Alex's hip, it was to slip out of his trousers and underpants until he stood, naked and aroused, beside the bed.

He ran a finger along the crease of Alex's thigh until Alex let his legs fall open wider, shaking with dread and self-consciousness.

"You know, Alex," the assassin mused, casually shifting Alex's flaccid cock aside to study the skin over his femoral nerve, "I didn't expect to see you again, after that first time."

'That first time' had been after Alex had encountered Yassen in a London crowd, speechless with surprise to see his dead nemesis. Yassen had noticed and given him the slip, but the next day, a note had arrived with an address and a plain 'Y' for a signature.

Of course Alex had gone, only to have Yassen overpower him and proceed to teach him 'what could happen to children playing at being spies'. He'd broken Alex more rapidly and thoroughly than he'd believed possible. No threats. No intimidation. Just pain, nothing more. Alex had been sent on his way with Yassen's warning not to come after him again unless he was looking for more of the same.

He'd never quite figured out why, when the second note had arrived four weeks later, he'd gone nonetheless.

Afterwards, they'd met every two or three months in between missions. Alex would go through his daily routine, secretly dreading the moment one of the notes on their trademark square paper arrived. Only when he held it in his hand did the wrench of panic inside him loosen. The longest time between notes had been three months. During the last weeks, Alex had barely slept.

He didn't want to think about it. Not now, when there was nothing to look forward to except pain.

This time, Yassen didn't move slowly, didn't give Alex time to anticipate his torment. Instead, he played Alex's body like a keyboard, firing up his nerves and stoking the pain until Alex screamed despite himself. Alex could smell the cold sweat on his body and blindly pulled at the rope around his wrists. It cut into his skin, but he couldn't feel it. The pain was too intense.

He realised he was crying because his nose started to clog up. He tried to kick, but the assassin grabbed his leg and dug his fingers into a pressure point in his calf until he howled.

Alex floated in a sea of pain, babbling an endless litany of "Please, oh please!" in growing hysteria because "No!" and "Stop!" were crowding onto his tongue and he couldn't say those words; not now, not ever! His sobs became high and shrill and despairing. He struggled madly against Yassen's hands, in too much agony to care that it only made the pain worse, and couldn't stop writhing even when they left him.

"Sh, sh… it's all right." Yassen leaned in, almost covering Alex's body with his own as he licked the blood off Alex's bitten lips. "You did very well." The voice more than the words penetrated Alex's pain-soaked brain, slowly quieting his hitching sobs. "Just a little bit longer."

Alex nodded weakly, knowing that the worst was over when Yassen lifted his legs, pushing him backwards to expose his arse. Something cool and wet pushed against his entrance, and then Yassen's finger slowly breached him, twisting, crooking and spreading more lubricant between his cheeks.

While the assassin wasn't trying to hurt him, not now, he didn't spend much time on preparation either. Alex caught a glimpse of Yassen's cock, flushed and hard and desperate after witnessing Alex's struggles, and braced himself.

It burned burrowing inside him, and Alex couldn't suppress a groan, but it was just pain, not torture. They didn't do this often enough to make it not hurt, but Alex's muscles relaxed a little. This was nothing compared to the pain Yassen doled out when he intended to.

He rested aching legs on Yassen's shoulders. The position made him intimately aware of being penetrated, forcing him to feel every inch of hard flesh moving inside him. He groaned again, captivated by Yassen's eyes drilling into him with just as much intensity as his cock. There was hunger, devouring every expression on Alex's face and trying to dig deeper, as if reaching for his soul.

Yassen started to thrust, first carefully, then, control apparently slipping, with increasing force that rocked Alex's body. Alex's breath hitched. It hurt, and yet once or twice the thrusts touched something deep inside him that made his own cock twitch and had him pulling at his restraints again, this time for distraction.

Yassen fucked him without once taking his eyes off Alex's face, his expression wild and desperate for release until he stabbed forward, plunging deep into Alex's arse with a final thrust, and filled Alex's insides with his seed.

Alex felt his eyes spill over again, but Yassen didn't collapse on him. Instead, he braced himself on one hand and brushed the hair back from Alex's forehead with the other in a rough caress before slowly pulling out of him. It hurt just as much as being penetrated, but Alex was almost too exhausted to care.

He yelped when Yassen let him down, cramped from the unnatural position and with the awful burning in his arse. Flopping weakly, he tried to shift his weight to the side, mortified to feel the residue of Yassen's come leaking into the bed sheets. Yassen hushed him like a fussy child. The assassin's face was flushed, his hair dark with sweat.

"Hands," Alex gasped as the raw burn of the ropes around his wrists caught up with him. "Please!"

Yassen placed a quick kiss on his still-red nipple, then rose to untie Alex's wrists from the headboard. He loosened and undid the rope carefully so as to not further tear the abrasions. Blood rushed into Alex's fingers in a prickling surge that made him hiss.

He hissed again when Yassen leaned over him, mouth sliding over his chest, then down to his stomach, tickling his navel before trailing lower. Alex squirmed a little at the sensation of Yassen's fingers running up and down his cock, but moving put pressure on his arse, so he froze again. He felt himself hardening a little despite the pain, like he'd done when Yassen had touched that spot deep inside him, but he couldn't muster any further response. He hurt too much and was crushingly exhausted.

His face must have expressed it better than his prick, because Yassen placed a quick kiss on the tip, and drew back. Alex let out a distressed sound of apology, but the assassin closed it off with a hand over his lips.

Too winded for embarrassment, Alex slumped with limbs as slack as a rag-doll's and closed his eyes. Exhaustion crashed over him like a wave.

***

How long he'd been allowed to rest Alex didn't know. He just knew it hadn't been long enough to recover and he grimaced when Yassen gave him a gentle prod.

"You should have a hot shower," the assassin said. "It'll help."

Although Alex's aching body agreed that hot water would feel like heaven, it utterly refused to move. Even the thought that, smelly and sticky, he might offend Yassen's sensibilities couldn't quite rouse him. If it did, it was the assassin's fault anyway.

He growled when Yassen prodded him into a sitting position onto his hip, then pulled him off the bed. Mouth quirking in something that threatened to become a grin, the Russian half-supported, half dragged him through the bathroom door. Walking hurt, and Alex felt raw all over, worst of all between his bum cheeks.

The bath was luxurious – new, with ceiling-high white tiles with an unobtrusive black pattern. It contained both a tub and a large shower behind a glass door.

Yassen settled him against the rim of the tub, and went to open the shower door. Alex didn't complain when the assassin slid an arm around his shoulder and helped him inside. The shower had two round silver handle bars on either side, like Alex had seen in hospitals. He gratefully held on to one of them, realising how often he'd wished for something similar at home after having been injured or beaten up. Quite obviously, Yassen was no stranger to injury, and not ashamed to prepare for it.

The door slid shut. Alex's heart thudded when he realised that Yassen had stayed inside with him, and was now spinning the shower dials. He kept his body between Alex and the shower head, and didn't seem to be discomfited by the initial cold spray. A few drops hit Alex despite his human shield, and he shivered. It only took a few moments until the water heated up. When it had, Yassen stepped aside and hit the volume dial, nudging Alex under the water.

At first, it was almost too hot, but then the steady drum of water against his shoulders soothed Alex's aching muscles. A soft sigh of contentment escape his lips. Heat and steam enveloped him, calming his jagged nerves. For a long moment, he just stood there, enjoying the heat and the water spilling over his body.

From somewhere, Yassen had produced a washcloth, and now stepped behind Alex to run it over his shoulders, then his back. An unobtrusive scent that reminded Alex of fresh grass wafted up from the cloth. He leaned into the touch, trying not to be self-conscious when Yassen kneeled behind him to wash his calves and knees, then worked his way up to Alex's buttocks. His touches were extremely light, and still the terrycloth and the shower gel stung the abraded skin of Alex's arse. He bit his lip against the ache, and felt the skin crack again. The blood was washed away in a heartbeat.

Head bowed against the water, Alex breathed more easily when Yassen had finished between his legs and discarded the cloth. The assassin rose and wrapped his arms around Alex from behind, pulling him flush against his body. He squeezed some shower gel onto his palm and ran it lightly over Alex's chest.

At the first touch of fingertips against his nipples, Alex flinched. He wasn't afraid Yassen would hurt him – not now, not without warning. It was just very hard to suppress the reflex. The second brush, just a tad rougher with a hint of nail, had him shivering for a different reason.

Half to Alex's disappointment, Yassen stopped teasing him and settled for soaping and massaging his chest and arms, then moving down to his sides and stomach. It was surprisingly pleasant, being able to lean back against the assassin's firm chest and abandon himself to the sensation. Yassen was extraordinarily careful to brush lightly over the nerve points he'd irritated, and shifted Alex slightly to ensure his front and sides were exposed to the hot stream of water, easing his tension.

Then his fingers slipped into the crease of Alex's thigh, loosely wrapping around the base of his cock. The soft little noise that escaped Alex was thankfully drowned out by the running water. Yassen soaped his groin diligently, dipping down to attend to each of his balls individually until they tightened in his palm.

He ran firm fingertips over Alex's cock, massaging the thin veins upwards and then gently tugging his foreskin back to expose the head. Alex gasped again when a sharp nail teased the slit. He could feel himself swelling in Yassen's grip. Even with the warm water streaming down around him, he was aware of his body heating up.

Yassen rested his chin on Alex's shoulders, short hair sleek as otter fur against Alex's cheek. "Yes?" he purred.

Unable to do anything else, Alex nodded. And threw out his hands to grab the handholds on both sides of the shower wall to keep upright when Yassen started to stroke him, maddening and slow, exerting just the right amount of pressure to turn Alex's legs to jelly.

Alex felt himself spiralling towards the breaking point, his spine curving against Yassen's chest. He pushed his aching prick forward into Yassen's palm, fingers clamping down around the metal rails.

Instead of taking him over the edge, Yassen's thumb and index finger formed a ring around the base of his cock and balls and tightened it, firm but not quite to the point of pain. Held back from climax, Alex craned his head around to catch Yassen's eye.

"Slowly," the assassin mouthed.

Alex's eyes narrowed. "I want you on your knees," he growled.

He hadn't even known he was going to say it, and the words made fire flowers bloom in the pit of his stomach. But he didn't break the eye contact.

A thin smirk grew on Yassen's face that radiated surprise and, to Alex's astonishment, approval.

"Of course."

In a fluid movement, the assassin ducked under Alex's outstretched arm and sank to his knees before him.

The rest of Alex's blood that hadn't gone south already rushed there when the assassin slowly licked, then blew on the point in the crease of his thigh he'd tormented before.

Then his mouth closed around the tip of Alex's cock, firm and warm and pressing against the slit until Alex spread his legs to accommodate him. Yassen's tongue slithered up his length, tongue playing over the foreskin until his lips were wrapped around the base of Alex's erection, taking him in all the way.

Alex cried out when the assassin started to suck, taking him deep one moment, then sliding his lips down his entire length until he was only suckling on the glans. Alex nearly slipped despite hanging on to the handrails.

One of his hands crept down, touching the top of Yassen's head and feeling the sleek wet hair under his fingers. The rush of power of seeing the assassin kneeling before him was almost more exhilarating than what he did with his mouth. Almost.

Alex's balls contracted when the Russian looked up at him, an evil grin around Alex's cock, before taking it deep again until it brushed the back of his throat. Alex moaned, encased in tight wetness. The pressure was enough to drive him mad, and he abandoned Yassen's hair for the handhold again. Instinct made him try to thrust forward, but Yassen's hands kept a firm grip on his hips, holding him in place.

Yassen swallowed around him and Alex saw lights flashing before his eyes. He moaned helplessly and spilled himself deep in Yassen's throat with a shout that was drowned on his lips by the spray. The assassin swallowed again, so tight it almost hurt, then slowly slid his mouth off Alex.

He stood and waited until Alex had managed to pry his fingers off the handhold, then turned him towards the shower head to clean him off. He was still supporting Alex with one arm around his waist.

Alex half-turned and put a shy hand on Yassen's cock, nestled in a bed of wet blond curls. The assassin smiled, but shook his head and turned off the water.

"I don't think I'm a match for adolescent hormones," he said gently, and placed a kiss on Alex's forehead before sliding open the door and reaching for a towel.

Alex let him dry his hair, glad that the towel hid his face for the moment. Hormones were one thing; the other was contemplating whether the assassin was able to experience any sort of pleasure that didn't involve causing pain.

Another large towel was wrapped around him, and Yassen briskly rubbed him dry. It was strangely comforting. Both Ian Rider and Jack had raised him to be self-reliant at an early age. Alex's smug boasts of 'I can already do that by myself!' had made him the darling of the staff, but more than a few disgruntled enemies among the other toddlers in nursery school. He didn't have much experience with being coddled, and was surprised to see that he enjoyed it.

At last, he found himself wrapped in a knee-long, short-sleeved white towel robe and propped heavy-limbed against the tub while Yassen dried himself off before disappearing into the bedroom. Through the open door, Alex could see him change the rumpled, stained bed sheets. He moved as gracefully and unselfconsciously naked as he did fully dressed, Alex noted with envy.

When Yassen drew back the fresh bedcovers for him, Alex went gratefully. His legs still didn't feel too stable. He lay down, luxuriating in the sensation of clean, cool sheets against his skin. For the first time since Glasgow, he felt warm, inside and out. There were still faint twinges of pain matching his bruises, but he was happy to ignore them for the moment.

The assassin lay down beside him. After a moment, Alex shifted a little closer, until Yassen wrapped his arm around him and pulled him against his body. His head ended up pillowed on the Russian's chest, and the clean scent of his skin filled Alex's nostrils. By infinitesimal degrees, he started to relax.

"Why do you keep coming back?" Yassen's voice was calm, his chest a warm comfort against Alex's cheek, and yet a fist closed around Alex's heart. "I know you find no pleasure in pain."

"People do?" Of course Alex knew they did, but the idea still puzzled him.

"Some," the assassin conceded dryly. "Not many to this degree." He shifted and ran his fingers through Alex's still-damp hair. "When I trained at Malagosto, I was looking for a partner in one of the clubs of Venice. The one I found... well, let's just say he did not appreciate what I had to offer." A faint smile played around Yassen's lips at that. "However, he introduced me to a boy who did. He wasn't much older than you, Alex, and I know he came from a Murano glass making family. I never knew what he was trying to escape from."

Feeling the remaining twinges in the nerves Yassen had fired in his body, Alex wondered what the assassin himself had been running away from in choosing his path. From what Alex knew, he'd travelled the breadth of the Soviet Union as a teenager before the end of the Cold War, only to turn up in Venice to be trained as Scorpia's top assassin. Alex suspected there had been little innocence in his own childhood.

"What happened?" Alex asked, seeing and not liking the faraway look in the Russian's eyes.

"Your father found out, and... dissuaded me." Alex felt Yassen's arm tighten around him, just a fraction. "He warned me that if Scorpia found out about what I was doing, they would exploit it. He was right. Dr Three already considered me his best student. The last thing I wanted was to become Scorpia's top field expert on torture. Although at that point, my admiration for John Rider would have ensured I went along with anything he asked of me." He looked down at Alex, twirling a strand of Alex's fair hair around his fingers. "It is almost paradoxical that I would have John Rider's son in my bed..."

Alex propped himself up on one shoulder, pulling his hair out of Yassen's hand. "It's Alex," he glared. "Not 'John Rider's son'. Just Alex."

Alex flushed when Yassen raised an eyebrow, but his face remained set. He would never stop missing his father, the man he'd never known, but he didn't want John Rider as a rival – not here.

The assassin's mouth quirked, but he seemed unwilling to let go of the topic.

"I'm not sure you even find much pleasure in sex, Alex. Yet you keep coming back. Are you afraid that I would come hunting for you, drag you away by force?"

Alex's fingers clenched in the duvet, and he couldn't help the bitter laugh that bubbled up in his chest. From the expression on Yassen's face, he gathered that the sound shocked them both.

"No, Yassen," he said. "That's not what I'm afraid of at all."

He saw the assassin's sharp look and opened his mouth, only to find himself silenced by two fingers raised to his lips.

"This once, Alex, I am not trying to discomfit you because it gives me pleasure." Yassen's tone made the hairs rise at the nape of Alex's neck. Whatever it was, he didn't want to hear it.

"Before that... unpleasantness on Air Force One two years ago-"

Alex let out a half-hysterical giggle. 'Unpleasantness' was one way of describing murder, a plane crash, the near-explosion of twenty-five one-hundred-ton nuclear missiles primed at targets all through the world, culminating in Yassen's own near-death and capture.

"Before that," Yassen continued, "I had been contemplating retirement." Alex's mouth fell open without a sound, but the assassin went on, undeterred. "However, after I had escaped MI6's 'hospitality', my employers were somewhat displeased about the failure of Eagle Strike. Voicing a desire to leave would have been unwise. Now, I am given to understand that such a request might be granted. They wouldn't be happy, of course. But they would agree."

"Retire." Alex repeated, his mind still stuck a few sentences back. He should be glad if Yassen retired – as long as he was 'working', people died. "But... what would you do?" He couldn't picture the Russian in a farm house in Tuscany, or on a beach at the Spanish Riviera. Well, perhaps on a yacht...

"What I had in mind," Yassen replied wryly, "was buying a villa in St Petersburg. Doing a few jobs for the local Mafiya, perhaps a few summers teaching on Malagosto..."

"St Petersburg," Alex echoed. His lips moved, and he could hear the sound coming out, but his face felt as if it had been frozen over. Surely he hadn't expected the assassin to hang around forever, had he?

"It's not a short-term objective," Yassen said.

"Then why tell me?" Alex snapped.

"Because..." It was, Alex thought, very much unlike the Russian to hesitate. "It is an objective that might include you. If you wanted it to."

Alex let out a breath that was almost a sob. All night, the assassin had done his damnedst to push him into refusing him, and now this!

"You'd want me to go with you?" he blurted out. Leave Jack, London, England to become – what? Yassen's catamite? Toy boy? Partner? Could he even think of handling what Yassen did for pleasure on a daily basis? His stomach seemed to shrink to a ball of acid at the thought.

"From what I hear, the Russians aren't too tolerant of such arrangements," Alex stalled, willing his voice not to crack.

"I think we might be able to persuade them otherwise," Yassen said softly. Yes – Alex almost pitied the homophobic Russian gangster who might object to Yassen's choice of company.

"MI6 would come after you for abducting a minor," he murmured. He knew that technically, what Yassen did to him – what he let Yassen do to him – was abuse. But was it worse than what MI6 had done, forcing him to risk his life for them over and over again? Yassen, at least, gave him a choice.

Yassen's lips thinned. "I think I wouldn't mind at all snatching Alan Blunt's prize away from him," he said darkly. "I'd consider it... appropriate, in many ways."

Alex's fingers went cold with nerves. Disjointed thoughts were whirring around in his brain. Although he had carried more responsibility at 14 than most adults would in their entire life, he felt too... young to make such a decision. Least of all did he wanted to dig deep enough to find out what terrified him more – losing Yassen Gregorovich, or the fragile remains of a normal life he still clung to. In a way, it would be so much easier if Yassen gave him no choice. If the Russian made it a command, Alex knew he would go. He might even find out whether he could say 'no' to something without having to fear that Yassen would send him away and never come back.

For some inexplicable reason, he felt tears welling up in his eyes.

"I can't-" he cried out. "I can't think about this now!" He stared into Yassen's impassive face and felt panic surging up inside him again. "Do I have time to think about it?"

Yassen brushed Alex's forehead with his thumb, smoothing away the worried lines there.

"Of course you do. Just remember, the next time you feel like being careless among your enemies, that there is an alternative, should you want it."

Alex bit down on the inside of his cheek, hard. It might be his only chance at escape. Even if he lived long enough to come of age, would MI6 let him slip away into some sort of ordinary life? Or would they keep finding other ways of forcing him into working for them? But what was Yassen's offer, if not another, different trap?

He shook his head, trying to dispel his buzzing doubts like a dog shedding fleas. Rubbed his fist over his eyes.

"Stop pushing me," he rasped. "I'll think about it, I will. But we played your game, and now..." He faltered, choking. What did he want?

"I want you to shut up and hold me until tomorrow. Do you think you can do that?"

Yassen looked at him, a strange calm in his sharp blue eyes.

"Yes, Alex," he said. He shifted a little and threw his free arm over Alex's hip, pulling him close. "I can do that."


~ finis ~


Ah our love is a harsh cord
that binds us wounding us
and if we want
to leave our wound
to separate,
it makes a new knot for us and condemns us
to drain our blood and burn together.
(Pablo Neruda, Love)

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
loony_lucifer
Jun. 10th, 2010 04:38 am (UTC)
Love this fic! So, so grateful you wrote for SpyFest!
kennahijja
Jul. 6th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks ;). Again! :)
annephoenix
Jun. 10th, 2010 10:51 am (UTC)
I still love this sooooo much!
kennahijja
Jul. 6th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
*hugs you*
darkcrows001
Jul. 6th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
Great fic =)
kennahijja
Jul. 6th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Wheee! :)
saucery
Aug. 19th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
Um, WOW. That a story could be equal parts sweetness and agony is not something I could have imagined before, but clearly, it is possible, just as it is possible for a sociopathic Russian assassin to develop the sort of carnivorous tenderness (as of a great beast) that only lovers at the very height of their affection can know. And it is tenderness, after a fashion; I'm not sure that Alex even comprehends it as such on a conscious level, although he very obviously does on a subconscious level, given the level of trust he places in Yassen.

Just. I can't believe how perfect this is. I especially love the implication that Alex might be asexual (or nearly so), but still returns to Yassen again and again, not out of any physical desire, but out of a psychological addiction. And you know what? It even makes sense, that in a life without any safety or predictability, even something as horrific as torture at regular intervals becomes addictive - a kind of safety in itself, a 'guarantee' in a life otherwise without guarantees. Which is, of course, why Alex starts experiencing withdrawal symptoms when Yassen doesn't call on him within the expected time; he needs his fix, the counterpoint of relief to dissolve his building dread.

Human beings have an inherent weakness for patterns and repetitions, because predictability posits an illusion of safety; however, in the sort of unnatural life that Alex has to lead as a result of the MI6, he can't have any such predictability, at all. He could die (or be tortured, or raped, or worse) at any moment. Therefore, what Yassen gives him - even if it's just 'abuse' at regular intervals - becomes his haven, his particular brand of safety and psychological security. And the knowledge that, somewhere beneath all that, he is cherished, albeit in an alien and completely incomprehensible way. And that's. That's brilliant, that you could write that, that you could come up with that.

But what's even more brilliant is the way you write Yassen, a man from whom so much of his humanity has been stripped that there is almost nothing left of him but uncanny focus and unholy skill, and yet, and yet this boy brings some of his humanity out in him, whatever there is left of it, and there is a desire to possess and torment and cherish Alex, to know him utterly and somehow contain him, that is very, very close to being in love. Perhaps it even is love. In Yassen's own way, I think that he seeks to know Alex through his pain, through his expressions and movements whilst in the throes of agony, and I bet that this is why Yassen gets off on it, because he feels like he can know Alex, through this, somehow more deeply or intimately than he might otherwise. (Of course, this is because Yassen's just plain CRAZY, and, as I said before, a sociopath with sadistic leanings - but it's also because Alex is dear to him, in some strange way, and this is the only way that Yassen knows how to treat something dear to him. Which, again, is sadistic and sociopathic and crazy.)

Anyway, thank you for this. I should tell you in advance that I know next to nothing about this fandom, as I have only recently been introduced to it and my knowledge is still mostly fannish and based more on fanlore than it is on canon. So if I'm misreading or misinterpreting your story in any way, this is likely the cause, and I apologize for it.

But, yay! Goodfic! Going straight to my Favorites, now.

Edited at 2010-08-19 05:32 pm (UTC)
kennahijja
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:38 pm (UTC)
Holy housecat, thank you so, so much for this wonderful feedback! There's nothing more exciting than hearing about people's reactions to and readings of a fic, and this made my week! And you picked up on so many things I hoped people would, like Alex's asexuality, and Yassen's twisted way of reaching out/caring. I didn't get as far as thinking of Alex in terms of addiction (my inner sap thinks he's in love, but definitely not into Yassen's way of expressing it - i.e. what happens when two characters care for each other, but their physical desires are thoroughly incompatible). But I absolutely adore it when people take things from a fic that I hadn't put there intentionally! Thanks once more!

*hugs you, hard*
saucery
Aug. 20th, 2010 08:30 am (UTC)
Oh, the joy was all mine, discovering and reading this story! When I read writing as intense as yours (not many writers can maintain that intensity for as long as you obviously can!), I kind of want to steal you away for my favorite fandoms, but the tragedy is that I can't do that! (UNLESS YOU EVER PLAN ON WRITING FOR SUPERNATURAL, SHERLOCK OR KUROSHITSUJI. DROP ME A LINE, SERIOUSLY.)

<3!
litt1emisslover
Jul. 12th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
DEAR LORD, I made an account here just to tell you how much that turned me on awesome that was. Just, wow. I may just go stalk your page now and force loads of awkward comments onto all of your stories.

I make great first impressions.
kennahijja
Jul. 17th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm so happy you liked it :). ♥
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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