"Sabina," Alex called from downstairs. "Where's your maths homework? I can't figure out number six."
Sabina sighed, a small smile gracing her lips. "In my bag. I'll bring it down in a moment."
Sabina folded the last of her t-shirts and tucked them in her drawer, glancing out the window. The April sun was bright in California, bathing everything in a light, golden hue. The green stretched outside her bedroom window, broken only by the neighbor's house. Their garden in the backyard had all kinds of colors; her mother and she had made it their project when they first purchased the house.
She grabbed her bag and her purse, jogging down the stairs to where Alex was on the couch, scribbling furiously, intense concentration cloaking his face. To anyone else, he would look like a normal boy, doing normal schoolwork, with normal problems.
She could see the dark bags under his eyes, even when he tried to convince her he was fine. She could see the distinct worry lines in his forehead and around his eyes, the lines other people often mistook as laugh lines. The irony sometimes made her smile wryly.
Nevertheless, he was doing much better. She remembered the hollow shell he'd been when her father had first brought him home after Egypt. He'd been…lifeless, dark. He remembered a time when he'd been smiling, content, and the boy in front of her had been his…exact opposite.
But she'd done everything she could. She'd forced him to come to clubs with her afterschool, until he finally decided to join the football—soccer, she mentally corrected herself—team. He'd joined late, though, and wouldn't be able to participate until next season—his sophomore year. She was still trying to perfect all the American terms.
Her parents had been wonderful, as well. They'd included him in every family outing they'd had, even when he'd been reluctant. They'd treated him as their own, giving him all the love and affection his parents had never been around to give. She hadn't known Ian, but he seemed to be absent a lot. And Jack…
She blinked, wishing the memory away. Jack had been good to him. What happened to her…
She shook her head, fishing out her maths—no, just math—homework and let it flutter down in front of him. "Here you are, slacker."
He looked up at her, his brown eyes so much older than they should be, and gave her a small smile. "Thanks, Sab."
She ruffled his hair affectionately. "I'm going to meet Melissa and Hanna at the strip mall. You know you're welcome to come?"
But he was already absorbed in his homework. "It's all right, thanks. I've got a couple papers due this week." After a moment, he said, "You still remember those self-defense techniques I taught you? And you've got your phone?"
Sabina sighed. She knew he was just looking out for her, but sometimes, she confused him with her mother. "Yes, and yes." She knelt by the couch, taking his hand, staring into his eyes. "Alex. You're safe. You're safe here, I'm safe here, Mum and Dad are safe here. I promise you, I'm going to be home, safe and sound, in just a few hours, just like I have been every other time before now." She gave him a smile, kissing his cheek and standing. "When I'm back, we can see what's on the tellie, yeah?"
He blinked and looked away, pain clouding his eyes for a short moment, before he returned the smile, looking tired. "Sure. Just…be careful, yeah?"
"I will," Sabina promised. "I'll be home in a few hours. Mum and Dad should be at dinner all night, so you'll be by yourself…call me if you need anything, okay?"
He sometimes had bad days. Days where he'd lapse into a flashback, forget where he was, who he was with. He'd see people from…his missions, she supposed, and…sometimes it would get bad. He needed someone to pull him out of them. He sometimes had a few seconds to feel an episode coming on. She knew he'd call her if he needed to, and she could rush home and help him.
It was hard, but she regretted none of it.
She left the house with one last backwards smile, closing the door to one last sight of Alex's small, worried smile.
If she'd known then it would be the last time she ever saw him, she would've stayed. In a heartbeat.
But she didn't.
She didn't know, that ten minutes after leaving her house, closing the door on her adopted younger brother, one of his old enemies would be waiting for her.
She didn't know that he would be positioned across the street, on top of a six-story building, watching her through his sophisticated scope, keeping track of her every movement.
She didn't know that he loaded his sniper rifle when she stopped at the stoplight, texting Melissa, telling her she was five minutes away.
She didn't know when he took aim.
And she definitely didn't know when the bullet pierced her skull, right between her eyes.
She felt nothing.
She didn't even have time to regret promising Alex that she'd come home, because she never did.
The moment the doorbell rang, my stomach plummeted.
It had been an hour since Sabina had left. It wouldn't be her. She was safe at the mall, with her friends. Edward and Liz were still at dinner. They wouldn't be home until late.
The Macbeth essay, half done, lay forgotten as the doorbell rang again.
Stupid, I thought, shaking my head. For heaven's sake, it was probably the postman, or a neighbor, or a solicitor. Not every visitor had to have a sinister intention.
As I took silent steps towards the door, I tried to convince myself of these things. Stopping at the dresser, I opened the middle drawer, popped the false bottom, and slipped the silver Glock 32 into my waistband.
Taking a deep breath, dropping my stance a bit so I was ready for a fight, I opened the door.
Two men in uniform stood there.
I knew the looks on their faces.
"…a car accident…called the ambulance…intensive care…nothing anyone could do…so sorry."
The words of the officers that relayed my uncle's death to…to—to Ja—
The words rang in my ears even as the officers started speaking.
"Is this the home of Sabina Pleasure?"
My gut dropped.
"I'm going to level with you," I said, hating how stoic my voice was, hating that my face was expressionless. "I knew it was bad news when I saw you. Just…tell me what happened. I'm her adopted brother, Alex. Edward and Liz aren't home. Just…please."
The officers weren't surprised. They looked sorrowful. Tired.
I knew the feeling well.
"Can we come in?" The other officer said, looking uncomfortable.
"Please," I said, my heart beating a thousand miles a minute.
Once they were seated, I sat as well, watching, waiting.
"From what we can gather—"
I knew from the moment the doorbell rang.
"—sniped from a short distance—"
No. That's wrong. I knew from the moment I stepped foot into this house.
"—shot in the head—"
I knew it was too good to be true. I knew it wouldn't last.
"—trying to cross the street. I'm so sorry for your loss, Alex."
"Crossing the street," I repeated numbly, the loss of Sabina—beautiful, wonderful, kind Sabina—still an illusion for now. Still not real. Still not possible. "Sniped. Crossing the street."
Someone, an enemy of mine, surely, but not SCO—no. Not them. They were dead. I'd seen to it.
It was a coincidence.
"Yes," the officer said, the two of them glancing at each other with identical looks of sympathy and concern.
"What are your leads?" I asked, emotions tucked away in a small box in the corner of my mind, sealed with padlock after padlock. "Age, race, ethnicity. Anything. Prints from the roof. Has forensics—"
"Actually," the other officer stopped me, looking reluctantly impressed, "the guy turned himself in."
I blinked. "He what?"
"Walked into the precinct with his weapon in a bag, told us the crime scene, where he took the shot, everything. After that, he didn't say much, but he told us to give a message to the family."
It's not—it can't—
"What was the message?" I asked, a slight tremor disrupting my otherwise emotionless voice.
"Well," one of them said, shifting in his seat. "We should probably wait for your adoptive parents to get back. Are you a minor?"
"Yes," I said impatiently. "But you need to tell me that message. I…please. Sabina is my…was…my…just, please."
Was. Was, just like Mum was, Dad was, Ian was, Yassen was, Ja—
The officers looked at each other and sighed. "Well, I suppose you'll hear it eventually," he said, fishing a piece of paper out of his pocket and handing it to me. "It's all there."
Fingers trembling slightly, I unfolded the crinkled stationary.
To the family of Sabina Pleasure—
Such a waste of a bright young life. A true shame. Though, I suppose we all know who the real killer is, and it isn't me. I may have pulled the trigger, but who handed me the gun?
Poor Sabina. We learned from our mistakes—went for the head instead of the heart. A couple inches of concrete couldn't save her, could it?
We never forgive. We never forget.
The officers stayed.
I called Edward and Liz. I couldn't bear telling them over the phone, so when they got home, I simply gestured to the officers and sat, head hanging low, as the same story filled my ears.
The officers gave their final condolences, handing them the handwritten note I'd already memorized, and through their tears, they read, and they understood.
I kept my head down, looking at the carpet, as they looked at me.
"Alex…" Edward's voice was a myriad of emotions.
However thickly disguised it was by the grief and anguish and sorrow and guilt, and even sympathy, there was an undeniable serving of blame.
The officers left with the promise to return for a proper debriefing when the family had put their affairs in order, as well as a card to the police department coroner's office. Liz stayed on the floor, Edward kneeling beside her, taking in their loss, trying to understand the tragedy, the impossibility.
I took a moment to look at them, the people who'd cared for me over these past few months like I was their own, the people I'd unwillingly come to think of as family. I looked at the sofa where Sabina and I had caught up on all of her favorite American shows. I looked at her things strewn around—a book here, a jacket there, and imagined the hell that Liz or Edward would go through when they picked them up again.
I looked at the photo on the mantle. Saint Patrick's Day—all of us were in something green, standing amid the bustling festival hosted by the neighborhood. Sabina had her head resting on my shoulder, her arm around my waist, her other arm around Liz. Liz, in turn, leaned into Edward. Sabina smiled gently at the camera, her eyes alight.
It was the first time since Ja—her that I'd been truly happy, and it showed in my smile.
"Alex," Liz said, her voice dead. Her makeup streaked face turned on me, eyes full of…not hatred, not blame, but…something close. "Is this…was this…"
A few seconds of silence, and then I stood.
"I'll be out by morning."
They didn't stop me.
When morning came, I was gone, as was the Saint Patrick's Day picture from the mantle.
Three Days Later
Edward Pleasure straightened his tie in the mirror, eyes wide, bloodshot, with dark half-moons accentuating his pale, sunken face.
Today was the day of the funeral.
His sweet Sabina—his sweet, beautiful little girl—gone.
It would be closed casket. Her head had been nearly blown off.
His wife was in the shower, where she'd been for forty-five minutes. He knew she was probably sobbing again, but he also knew that his going to her would only make it worse.
Alex had been gone the morning after. In fact, everything he'd owned when he'd come here had been gone—like he was never there.
On some level, he felt guilty. He knew it wasn't Alex's fault. He knew that. He was only a boy, after all. This was the fault of a sadistic man with ties to Alex's past, but…he hadn't meant for this to happen.
But as he thought of his daughter's mangled body, he couldn't help the anger the simmered underneath the numbness.
A knock on the door shook him, and he blinked furiously, his sallow reflection staring glumly back at him. He slunk to the door, opening it, expecting anyone but the person he saw.
"Mrs. Jones?" He asked, his voice flat.
She gave him a small, flat smile of her own. "Hello, Mr. Pleasure. I'm so sorry about Sabina—you and your wife have my complete condolences. I'm sorry for popping by so suddenly, but I'd like to speak with Alex, if he's…up to it."
"Alex left," he said, turning away from her, leaving the door open. She stepped in, closing it behind her. "The morning after it happened, he and all his things were gone. As well as a picture from the mantle, with all of us." He'd noticed. A small part of him had been indignant, the irrational, angry part of him, desperately searching for someone to blame.
The better part of him had been relieved.
She blinked, which, Edward thought wryly, was probably the most surprised she'd ever looked. "I see. Did he give any indication as to where he was going?"
"No," he sighed, sitting in the armchair. "If you don't mind, Mrs. Jones, the funeral is today. I…my wife and I have…a few more pressing matters."
Looking properly chastised, which Edward was sure was all part of her act, she nodded. "Of course. I'll leave you. I'm sorry for surprising you, and…I truly am sorry about your daughter, Mr. Pleasure."
He simply nodded.
Mrs. Jones let herself out.
Six Months Later
"Attention!" The Sargent yelled, voice booming over the expanse of grass used for training at the Brecon Beacons, a covert SAS camp in Wales. The soldiers stood, mud caking their boots as they stared straight ahead, backs straight as pins.
After a few seconds, the Sargent shouted, "At ease, men." As one, the soldiers assumed their at ease positions. "I'd like to introduce you to the only three rookies to pass Selection this year—I'll be assigning them units later, so pay attention."
The three new SAS members stood at attention, facing their peers.
Travis Oliver was twenty-six years old. He had brown hair and the green, tell-tale eyes of a troublemaker. He was tall and thin, but he had the muscle required to pass Selection. He'd graduated from Cambridge with degrees in French, Spanish, and Japanese, and was going to be a unit's new communications specialist. He had two sisters, a niece, and two supportive parents.
James Kimberly was a stout man with red hair and pale skin, thirty-two years old, and was a widower. He'd lost his wife six years ago and had never been able to settle back down, so he'd joined the SAS. He was a stoic, polite, professional man, who'd completed Med School just before his wife had passed. He was going to be another unit's new medic.
Matthew Smith was a young man with black hair and brown eyes. He was nineteen years old. He had forgone college in favor of physical training for Selection, but had passed his GCSEs. He was sharp, intelligent, athletic, lithe, and very quiet. He was small for his age, but quick on his feet, fluent in six languages, and observant beyond his years. He also had the shooting skills of a veteran three times his age. He had no family to speak of. He was going to be a unit's new sharpshooter and weapons expert.
"Congratulations, Oliver, Kimberly, Smith," the Sargent grinned, staring at his new recruits, "and welcome to Hell."
A/N: Hey guys! I decided to try out some Alex Rider fanfiction for a change. This is just the prologue; I have the first chapter and certain scenes throughout the story written, but it's still definitely a work in progress. This has been sitting on my laptop for a while, so I just wanted to publish it and see if anyone was interested in me continuing the story! I don't know how long it'll be, and it'll definitely have really infrequent updates, since right now I'm focusing on my Avengers / Spiderman stories more. But let me know what you think! If I should continue, if there's anything specific you want to see, that kind of thing. K-Unit does come in later, along with a few of my own original SAS characters! Just let me know :) hope you liked it! Please follow / drop a review if you want to!