Rating: PG-13-ish

Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how much I wish he was...

Summary: It was like there was an invisible wall between Alex and the world. An invisible wall made out of reinforced steel, with barbed wire, an alarm system, and teams of guard dogs patrolling on both sides.

A/N: Just a warning: This was written with a severe caffeine deficiency. So... Look out. ^_^

Word Count: 1096

Status: Complete

 The thing about cities is that they’re always teeming with life, with the hustle and bustle of people. People of all races, all religions. People both good and bad, young and old. Taking a stroll or a jog, late for a meeting or football practice.

All of these things add up to represent life. Normal, usual, human life.

Once, Alex had been one of those thousands, millions, billions of people.

Once, Alex had been a part of that group of teens walking out of the cinema, or that group in the café, or that group laughing their way down the street.

Once, he had felt comfortable here, like he had belonged here.

But that was before. That was before everything.

Now, he felt like an outsider. Now, he could never go back to being a normal teenager, to being a normal anything.

Even with Tom chattering away next to him as they walked to the store to pick up some bread for Jack, Alex felt like he didn’t belong.

It was like there was an invisible wall between Alex and the world. An invisible wall made out of reinforced steel, with barbed wire, an alarm system, and teams of guard dogs patrolling on both sides.

Too impenetrable for anyone to get in to Alex. Not Jack or Tom or Sabina. And Alex couldn’t get out, even if he wanted to.

He’d tried at first, but then he realized that it was probably a good thing, probably for the best. So he let it be now. He just watched the other world go by, and made only the absolute minimum of contact with anyone.

That worked well at school, where no one had been talking to him for the past few years, anyway.

No one except Tom, that is. Faithful, loyal Tom who never got the hint that Alex could hardly be considered human anymore. Tom who always sat with him at lunch when Alex wasn’t away. Tom who always stood up for him when he either didn’t stand up for himself, or when he was away. Tom who always tried to draw Alex into a conversation. Tom was always there, eager to give Alex someone to talk to.

And Alex appreciated that, he really did, but somehow, he knew, it would make everything worse in the end.  Worse for Tom, or worse for himself, he wasn’t quite sure, but it would make it worse.

Jack was like Tom, with the addition of warm hugs when Alex woke screaming from nightmares, or when something triggered memories from missions.

Jack also tried to get him to go to a psychiatrist, no matter how many times he told her no. The only psychiatrists that he would be able to talk to would be MI6’s, and he made it a point to limit his interaction with them.

No matter how much Tom and Jack tried, Alex didn’t open up to them. He liked his wall. It was safe and comforting in a way that nothing else in his life was.

Not even Jack and Tom were safe for him. There was a large chance that one or both of them would end up dead, and then he would be even worse off.

So every time they tried to destroy his wall, he meticulously built it back up, bigger and better even than it was before.

And safe. Always safe.

Until that cool spring evening.

That evening when he walked into the house to two men dressed entirely in black, both with guns. One of the guns was held at Alex, the other at a struggling Jack.

“Alex Rider,” the black-haired man, the one holding the gun on Alex, said. “Not exactly what I’d expected from the tales of your… heroics.” The last word was laced with derision and scorn, as well as a fair bit of sarcasm.

“Tales are often misleading,” Alex said calmly, almost flippantly. The men seemed to be amateurs, but they had guns, and anyone could get lucky with a gun in their hands. “Are you going to introduce yourselves?”

“We’re the people who are going to kill you,” the other, blond, man said, sounding rather pleased at the prospect.

“Really?” Alex asked, mock thoughtfully. “And here I thought you were selling girl scout cookies.”

Both of the men narrowed their eyes. The blond man gripped Jack tighter, eliciting a whimper of pain through the duct tape gag, and more squirming.

“Sarcasm will get you killed, Alex,” the black-haired man snarled.

“Or it’ll get your petty little girlfriend here killed,” the blond man added viciously, and Alex had to fight to keep the calm expression fixed firmly on his face.

“Really,” he said, raising an eyebrow. He moved his hand slightly under his jacket, letting the men concentrate on his voice rather than his movements.

It worked.

“Yes, really,” the black-haired man said irritably, as though he thought Alex wasn’t taking this seriously enough.

“Pity,” Alex replied, his hand reaching its goal and closing around the warmed metal of his gun. “Because that’s not what it usually does at all,” he continued sarcastically while simultaneously flicking the safety off with his finger.

This time, his voice didn’t camouflage quite as well, and both men tensed at the muffled click.

Alex saw the blond man’s finger tighten infinitesimally on the trigger of his gun, and he reacted instantly. He whipped the handgun out of its holster and the jacket and shot the blond man in the chest without hardly aiming.

There was the briefest millisecond of triumph until the blond man’s body convulsed, and his gun went off, point-blank, at Jack’s head.

Alex scrambled over to Jack’s side, shooting the black-haired man on his way, almost as an afterthought.

Alex put a hand to her throat, checking for a pulse, and ruthlessly tramping down on the little voice of reason that insisted there was no possible way that she could be alive after that.

He started to shake uncontrollably when he felt no movement. The sobs were sticking in his throat, trying to choke him.

He couldn’t cry, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. The only sound was the steady drip of blood from the bloody hole in Jack’s head.

His wall had fallen.


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