Pairings: Alex Rider/Yassen Gregorovich
Summary: MI6 are rather surprised by the news that one of their agents is dead. Because as far as they knew, he died twelve years previously. Mrs Jones investigates.
A/N: ranilos wanted something tying in with To The Sea/Lights Out where Mrs Jones finds out years later that Alex and Yassen are still together. And so this happened...(it's pretty much an epilogue/postscript to those fics, so won't make a lot of sense if you've not read them first).
Cross-posted to AO3.
Mrs Jones looked up at the unexpected tap on her door and frowned. A glance at the clock suggested her secretary had left two hours ago. Mrs Jones had stayed on; she normally did, there was little to go home for. She tabbed across the windows on her screen to the CCTV view of the outer office, reflecting wryly that any threat who'd breached building security to get this far would be unlikely to knock.
The screen showed a young woman in a smart suit, hand half-raised in apparent indecision as to whether she should knock again. One of the latest batch of recruits, Mrs Jones thought. Tasker? Something like that.
"Come in," she called, and looked up as the door opened.
"Sorry to interrupt you ma'am." The new arrival hesitated in the doorway. Trasker, thought Mrs Jones. That was it. Jane Trasker. She sighed inwardly. When your actual agents started looking like they should still be at school, maybe it was time to think about that retirement plan.
"Come in," she repeated, waving the girl impatiently towards her. "What is it?"
"We've - encountered a bit of an anomaly," Trasker said. "I wouldn't normally have bothered you, but - well, your name came up, and I didn't want to - maybe put my foot in it, if there was an operation in place that I wasn't aware of."
Mrs Jones looked at her. "Go on." Not inviting her to sit down, in the hope she'd get to the point more quickly.
Trasker straightened her posture and mustered her thoughts briefly before reporting. "Two weeks ago, a body was washed up on the coast of mainland Greece. No identification, and cause of death was determined to be impact trauma, as if they'd fallen from a considerable height. Which was simple enough, only the autopsy also revealed traces of a sedative in the deceased's system." She paused, as if inviting comment.
"So - tourist, takes a valium to sleep through the appalling nightlife music, wanders out of his hotel disoriented and falls off the cliff?" Mrs Jones hypothesised, knowing it would be something more complicated or Trasker wouldn't be standing there.
"Exactly. Only thing was, no-one was reported missing. So they ran a dental record check." She hesitated again, and Mrs Jones frowned. A taste for dramatic pauses was definitely not something to be encouraged.
"And they got a match. And it turns out he was one of ours."
Mrs Jones looked up, attention caught properly for the first time. "MI6? Who?"
"Yes - and that's it, you see, that's the puzzle. When I looked up his file, he was already recorded as deceased. By you, ma'am."
Mrs Jones wondered if there were protocols in place to stop her getting up and actually slapping the name out of her. Outwardly, she remained impassive. If the corpse had been a corpse for two weeks, another minute wouldn't make much difference to him.
"The name, Trasker," she prompted.
"Oh. Yes, sorry. Rider."
Mrs Jones went still. An image of a young Alex flashed unbidden across her mind, and she pushed it away irritably. She'd not seen him for over ten years, he'd hardly look like that any more. And besides, she'd never marked him down as being dead. And if anyone else had, she'd have surely heard about it.
Still, there was an unaccustomed heaviness in her stomach as she asked the next question.
"Ma'am?" Trasker looked wrong-footed, and Mrs Jones realised all this would have been way before her time. Realised too with a slight jolt, that wherever he was, assuming that wasn't on a Greek mortician's slab, Alex would now be older than this girl standing in front of her.
"Which Rider? There was more than one."
"Oh." Trasker hurriedly consulted her notes for the first time. "Ian?"
"Ian!" Mrs Jones was startled. She'd had a sinking feeling that it would be Alex, and a fleeting and quickly dismissed fancy that somehow it might even have been John. But Ian - Ian made no sense.
"I wondered if he - was like in deep cover or something?" Trasker ventured.
Mrs Jones shook her head slowly. Trasker hadn't been here long, probably still fancied the job involved a lot more intrigue and excitement than it actually did.
"No. No, he's dead. At least - I believed he was. There's no mistake?"
"No. I had them double check when the first result seemed impossible."
Mrs Jones leaned back in her chair, frowning. Ian Rider - still alive? Or, well, not, now. "And we have no idea how he got there, or what he was doing?"
"No ma'am. The only reports of anything out of the ordinary happening in the area recently relate to an island a couple of miles off the coast, although it's not inconceivable he could have been washed across on the tide from there."
Mrs Jones finally waved her to a seat. "What kind of reports?"
"A fire, and a shooting. Apparently a bar on the island burned down, and the owner was shot."
Trasker flipped through the notes again. "No, he survived."
"Um." Trasker flipped backwards and forwards increasingly urgently, then blushed. "Don't know ma'am."
"Find out. Find out everything you can and come back to me." Mrs Jones looked thoughtful. "And Trasker? Report only to me, at this point."
Nine o'clock the next morning, Trasker was back in the chair in front of Mrs Jones' desk. She wondered if the younger woman had actually worked all through the night. If she had, there was no sign of fatigue, and the suit was different, although equally smart. Keen to impress. That was good.
Mrs Jones ordered coffee for both of them, and looked expectant. "What have you got?"
"The fire was at a sailing club; burned it to the ground, and definitely arson although no culprit or suspect so far identified. The owner of the club was shot in the shoulder by an also unidentified assailant the day after, and - " Trasker dropped in a pause, caught Mrs Jones' narrowed eyes and hurriedly continued, "the day before the fire, there was some kind of issue with his car. As in, it caught fire and blew up."
"Petersen? That's not very Greek."
"His papers have him down as a Norwegian national, apparently he's been resident on the island for ten years or so. Lives with his partner, no criminal record, no reports of any similar trouble in the past."
Trasker glanced down at her pad. "Late 40's."
Not Alex then. Mrs Jones sighed. It had been a long shot. Still -
"So this man Petersen - gets his car blown up, his business burned down, and then shot - and he's still with us. What does that tell you?"
"That he had a really bad week?" Trasker said before she could stop herself, then winced and bit her lip. To her relief, Mrs Jones ignored the comment, possibly even with a hint of a smile.
"It tells us that he's good."
"You think he's one of ours?" Trasker leaned forward eagerly.
"Not officially." Trasker hadn't been the only one to work most of the night, and Mrs Jones had done a little trawling of active agents herself, files Trasker wouldn't have been able to access.
She sighed. It wasn't really anything to go on. Might even be completely unrelated. Just - she had a feeling there was something there.
"You mentioned a partner?"
Trasker nodded, flipped a page, scanned the notes she'd made. "I couldn't establish his name," she said apologetically. "But it's definitely a 'he', and they apparently arrived together on the island, so long-term relationship."
"I don't suppose we have a photo of Petersen?"
"No ma'am. I could try and request one?"
Mrs Jones shook her head. "No. Keep our interest low key for now." She drummed her fingers on the desk. There was nothing that could be called a cast-iron lead, not even a vague one, but her instincts were saying there was a connection. And this question of where Ian Rider had been all this time was an intriguing one. Unfinished business.
She stared over Trasker's shoulder, out of the window. Grey drizzle washed out the London skyline. It would be sunny in Greece, she reflected. And she did have almost a year's worth of outstanding leave to take.
A week later Mrs Jones was walking slowly along the harbourside streets of a Greek market town, enjoying the warmth on her face and half-wishing the reasons for being here didn't involve a death and attempted murder. But someone had killed Ian Rider, and if she'd missed the fact he was still alive the first time round, then she owed it to someone, even if only herself, to find out what had happened.
It was certainly a mystery. She and others had been satisfied with the evidence that he'd been killed all those years ago - certainly borne out by the fact that Gregorovich had never denied it. She thought back to the last time she'd seen Alex, and his decision to ally himself with the Russian. Wondered not for the first time how it had worked out for him.
They'd had hopes for Gregorovich, once, as an agency. But events had conspired against his recruitment, and she'd worried, later, that Alex in his shattered mental state would choose to follow in his footsteps as an assassin. But there'd been no word or sighting of either of them since that day in Florida, as if they'd simply dropped off the map.
And all this time, Ian had been alive. The knowledge pricked at her like a hidden thorn tangled in clothing, that if they'd known, if they'd done a better job, that maybe things needn't have turned out like they did for Alex.
No. Mrs Jones shook her head, physically dismissing the notion. They'd still have needed someone to pick up the mission. Still have used Alex. And he'd proved himself too useful to discard after that. Just one more decision to live with.
She reached a cafe and took a seat beneath a parasol, overlooking a strip of beach below. A girl came out to serve her, blonde and smiling, with a nametag that read 'Tina'.
When her drink was brought out, Mrs Jones decided to do a bit of digging. "I wonder if you can help me. I'm looking for someone - an old friend. I heard that he'd come to live here, working at a boatyard, possibly?"
"Oh, well there's the public marina down there, about a mile?" Tina offered helpfully. "Or there's Petersen's? They don't have many full-time staff though."
"That - might be it," Mrs Jones said carefully. "I think my friend was seeing a man by that name, possibly?"
Tina brightened. "Oh, you mean Alex?"
Mrs Jones swallowed too much hot coffee and coughed. Tina made a face and sat down in an empty seat. "Ooh, sorry, are you okay?"
"Yes. Thank you." Mrs Jones dabbed her mouth with a handkerchief and mastered herself. It could still be a coincidence. "Sorry, Alex, you were saying?"
Tina nodded, pleased to be of assistance. "Alex Walker?"
And there it was. Mrs Jones suppressed the urge to laugh. Someone should have a word with the boy about unsuitable aliases. Although - was it that ridiculous? The best cover was something easy to remember, and it seemed to have worked for him for over a decade.
And if Alex was here, that raised certain questions about the identity of his partner. Mrs Jones wondered if by some odd quirk of fate it had after all been Gregorovich that killed Ian Rider, twelve years after he'd first been accused of it.
"Yes. Yes, that's him. Is he around?" she enquired casually.
"Sure, yeah, he should be down on the beach?" Tina waved an arm towards the sea wall. "He gives windsurfing lessons and stuff. He's being doing overtime lately, they're in the shit a bit at the moment, did you hear about the fire?" Mrs Jones shook her head and looked encouraging, and Tina settled in for a good gossip to tell her all about it.
"...anyway, they were insured and stuff, but because it was arson and they've not found who it was? They're not paying out, so they can't start rebuilding or anything. The boatyard was ok, but the building's just a shell now. Such a shame, they're such a sweet couple you know? They deserve better."
Tina remembered she was on duty and got to her feet. "Alex should be down on the beach, he might be out on the water but you can't miss the hut."
Mrs Jones thanked her and remained at the table for a while longer, finishing her coffee and mulling over Tina's words. 'Sweet' was not a word she would have considered applying to Yassen Gregorovich at any point in either her career or his. She had to concede at least the possibility that all this was still an odd coincidence and neither of the men involved was who she was assuming. Wondered if that was why she was putting off the moment of truth, unsure whether she wanted it to be Alex down there or not.
In the end, the decision was made for her, when a truck pulled up across the road from where she was sitting. It was a faded yellow with 'Walker's Watersports' painted on the side, and the man that got out of it was unmistakeably Yassen Gregorovich.
Mrs Jones looked away hastily, hiding her face, but he crossed the street and disappeared down the steps to the beach without so much as a glance towards the cafe.
She got to her feet, irritated at how hard her heart was pounding. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she followed cautiously in his footsteps down to the beach. It had been several years now since she'd been active in the field, and she knew exactly how deadly a killer he was, but a sense of pride spurred her on.
He was some way in front, walking across the loose sand with casual purpose towards a sunbleached wooden boathouse near the rocks. She had a chance to study him for a moment, safe in the knowledge that if he turned towards her, the sun would be in his eyes. It was definitely him, older but looking much the same as when they'd last met. He was wearing an open-necked shirt and blue jeans that were streaked with soot, and she wondered if he'd been working in the ruins of the clubhouse.
When Yassen was a few feet away from the hut, someone came out of the door and Mrs Jones stopped in her tracks, half-afraid she would be noticed. But Alex had eyes only for Yassen, and she watched as he grinned in easy welcome, saying something she was too far away to hear before tucking a hand into Yassen's shirt front and towing him inside the hut.
She hesitated, debating whether to go closer. If they'd been involved in Ian's murder surely this was her best opportunity to find out, to overhear a private conversation. Making up her mind, she moved closer until she was leaning against the wide planks making up the walls.
Despite her best efforts she could hear no voices coming from within, and after a minute risked inching closer to the doorway and looking in.
The reason for the lack of conversation became quickly apparent. Alex was pressed up against a rack of canoes, arms around Yassen's neck and kissing him with an enthusiastic intensity that the Russian was returning with interest. Too wrapped up in each other to notice they had an audience, they showed no signs of breaking off and after a moment Mrs Jones backed slowly away from the door.
Some time later Alex and Yassen made their way up to the truck, loading into the back the kit Alex didn't want to leave on the beach overnight.
"Hey Tina!" Alex yelled across to the cafe. "Can I get a coke to go?" The waitress waved at him from where she was clearing tables and went inside.
"You want anything?" Alex asked, but Yassen shook his head.
"Some of us can wait ten minutes to get home."
Alex stuck his tongue out. "Some of us have been working hard." He grinned and ducked out of the way of Yassen's lazy swipe at him, jogging over to the cafe and digging in his pocket for change.
"Did your friend find you okay?" Tina asked, as she put the drink on the counter for him.
"What? Who?" Alex frowned. "When?"
Tina giggled. "A lady. She was here just now, asking about you. Said she was an old friend."
Alex looked at her, suddenly cautious. He didn't have any old friends, certainly none that knew he was here. "Did you see where she went?"
Tina was surprised. "She went down to the beach. I told her where to find you." She looked awkward. "Was that wrong? Sorry."
"No, no, it's okay," Alex reassured her. "I guess we just missed each other. Did she tell you her name?"
"No, now you come to mention it, she didn't."
Alex frowned. He was probably being twitchy, but after the events of a few weeks ago, he was more on his guard than usual. "Could you describe her?" he asked.
In the truck on the way back to their apartment Alex was oddly quiet, staring out of the window lost in thought. To know that someone had been asking questions about them made him uneasy, and Tina's description suggested very well who it might be. He hoped desperately he was wrong, but - better safe than sorry.
As they pulled up outside, he made up his mind. If whoever it was had been a genuine friend, there was no way they could have missed him on the beach. Which suggested someone who'd merely wanted to confirm his identity - and Yassen's, he thought with a chill. And if they had, they'd be after reinforcements, and the last ferry back to the mainland left in - he looked at his watch - thirty minutes.
"I just remembered something," he said as Yassen turned off the engine and climbed out. "I need to take the truck and pick something up."
"Just a thing. A delivery." Alex slid over into the driver's position and pulled the door shut. "I won't be long."
"You couldn't have remembered this before we drove all the way home?"
Alex shrugged. "What can I say? I'm an idiot." He leaned out of the window and kissed him. "I won't be long." He started the truck up and turned it round, driving off back down the road and leaving Yassen looking after him with a puzzled expression.
One of their neighbours was just going in across the forecourt, and Yassen hailed him.
"Hey, Daniel, could I ask a favour?" He frowned. "Can I borrow your car?"
Alex jumped out of the truck a little way up the road from where the ferry had just come in, pushing his way through the milling crowds of people disembarking and those waiting to get on. He searched the faces around him, wondering if he would even recognise her after all this time.
People were starting to move up the gangway onto the boat, and he turned in frantic circles, wondering if his hunch had been wrong, or if he'd missed her in the crush. And then there was a hand on his shoulder and he spun round.
He took a breath, abruptly, coldly calm.
"It was you."
Mrs Jones nodded, looking, he thought, mildly apologetic. "How did you - " she broke off, nodding. "The waitress. Of course."
Alex dug his hands in his pockets, shivering despite the evening sun. "How did you find us?" It seemed odd, to be holding a civilised conversation with a woman who could bring his world crashing down around him, but standing here now he wasn't sure what he'd intended to do anyway. He could hardly bundle her into a car surrounded by all these people. And anyway, then what?
He half-wished he'd confided his fears to Yassen, and wondered if the reason he hadn't was precisely the fear of what the result might have been. There'd been too much killing. It dawned on him that he'd come here to determine if they had to run.
Mrs Jones regarded him silently for a moment, realising that it might come as a shock to him to discover his uncle had been alive all this time. "We found - a body," she said carefully, testing the waters.
Alex groaned. "Ian."
"Yes." That answered that, anyway. Mrs Jones folded her hands. "What happened, Alex? Was it Yassen? Did he kill him because he found you?"
Leaving the body for the sea to take had been a mistake, Alex had thought that afterwards, when it was too late to change. But neither of them had really been in a state to do anything else.
Alex sighed. "It was me," he said in a small voice. "It was an accident." Almost true. He hadn't meant to kill him, hadn't wanted to. He sagged a little. "Self-defence, anyway. He'd - I don't know what had happened to him. But he wasn't himself any more. Wasn't quite - sane. He tried to kill us." Alex looked pleadingly at her, willing her to believe that it was the truth, that he wasn't just covering for Yassen.
Mrs Jones nodded, slowly. It explained the recorded events. And while she believed Alex was entirely capable of confessing to something he hadn't done to protect Yassen - particularly after what she'd witnessed earlier - the distress in his eyes seemed genuine.
As Alex related an edited version of the events that had taken place, the queue waiting to board the ferry dwindled to the last few people, and Mrs Jones shifted her bag to the other arm. She was tired, she realised. Tired of a lot of things.
Alex was watching her. "What are you going to do?" he asked.
"Do?" Mrs Jones shook her head. "Nothing. There's nothing for me here."
"You expect me to believe that?" Alex looked suspicious, wary, and she sighed.
"What purpose would it serve? He's been dead for years, officially. Neither of you appear to be bothering anyone." She half-smiled. "I'm not sure I can face the paperwork."
"You've changed your tune," Alex couldn't help remarking. "Last time we met you were all for banging Yassen up regardless."
Mrs Jones nodded. "And part of me still thinks he should account for the things he did. On the other hand," she continued, holding a hand up to forestall Alex's objection, "there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then."
She sighed. "I've sent a lot of good people to their deaths in the last ten years Alex, been the signature behind orders that have destroyed a lot of families. And you may disagree with those decisions, but I don't get the luxury of the moral high ground, not when there's the security of millions at stake as the bottom line. And I live with those choices, because someone has to."
Alex frowned. "What are you saying?"
"That you're ancient history, Alex. Both of you. There are new threats, new names on the scene. You seem - happy, together?"
Alex nodded fervently, and she nodded back, a clipped echo. "Then stay happy Alex. I might have my personal views on Gregorovich, but arresting him again now would serve nobody's purpose particularly. And maybe - after everything we did to you, maybe you deserve to get your own way for once."
"You're serious?" Alex sounded choked, but still half disbelieving.
"I am." Mrs Jones searched her pockets for her return ferry ticket, then held out her hand. Alex hesitated, then shook it.
"Oh. One other thing." She turned back, remembering something that had occurred to her when Tina had been relating their money troubles. "There's a large sum of money sitting in a trust fund for you, back in London. Inheritances from your uncle, your father, proceeds from the sale of the Chelsea house. Not to mention over ten years' worth of interest. I presume you've never claimed it of fear of being identified." Mrs Jones shrugged. "I could have it transferred to you here. If you wanted."
Alex stared at her, and she smiled. "Goodbye Alex."
When he returned to the flat Yassen was preparing supper, and Alex went over and slid his arms round his waist.
"Everything okay?" Yassen asked, and Alex nodded against his back.
"Yeah. I think so."
Yassen turned round and hugged him. "Get everything you needed to?"
"What? Oh. Yes." Alex flushed, opened his mouth, closed it again. "Yassen?"
"Take me to bed?"
"Now?" Yassen laughed, stroking Alex's hair.
Afterwards they lay in each other's arms, pleasantly exhausted and enjoying the after-glow. Alex though, was fidgety and Yassen kissed him.
"Something on your mind?"
Alex sighed and sat up. "Do you ever make a decision and then start second-guessing yourself?" He looked down at Yassen and rolled his eyes. "What am I saying, of course you don't, you're you."
Yassen laughed, running a hand up Alex's back. "I trust your judgement Alex," he said quietly. "You know that."
Alex smiled gratefully at him, his words fitting Alex's mood so well he felt comforted. Then frowned. Too well? He looked back at Yassen and got a guileless look in return which made him immediately more suspicious. He'd known Yassen too long to be fooled by that look.
"You know, don't you?" he demanded. After a second's hesitation, Yassen nodded.
"I followed you," he admitted. Alex flopped back against his chest in weak relief that he didn't have to either lie or confess he'd been hiding something.
"Why didn't you say?" Alex complained.
"If you didn't want me there, I didn't want to piss you off." Yassen hugged him close. "I figured whatever was going on, I'd be there if you needed me, and if you didn't - well. I'd stay back."
Alex kissed him. "You saw her?"
Yassen nodded. "That was another reason I stayed out of sight. If she'd seen me she might have been obliged to do something. What did she want?"
"You didn't hear?"
"No, too far away. It seemed fairly - unconfrontational?"
"They found Ian's body."
Yassen processed the news silently for a second. "Shit."
"Yeah. But - then she said she's going to leave us alone. Old news, apparently. Not worth the bother." Alex smiled wryly.
"And you believed her?"
"At the time."
"But now you're having second thoughts?"
Alex looked wretched. "She lies Yassen, that's kind've her job."
"On the other hand, you'd have been disinclined to trust her from the outset and she still convinced you. Sounds good to me. You're not daft."
"You trust her?"
"I trust you."
Alex shifted uncomfortably. "Hope you don't come to regret that."
"Never have so far."
"Sap." Alex finally smiled, relaxing back into Yassen's arms and kissing him again.
Back in London, Mrs Jones looked down at the two files before her on the desk. One was the file on Ian Rider that Trasker had brought with her first enquiry. The other was a folder Mrs Jones had withdrawn from the archive herself, that morning.
Her phone buzzed, and the secretary in the outer office announced Trasker's arrival.
"Show her in."
Mrs Jones had done a lot of thinking on the way back from Greece, changed her mind at least four times, and settled on her original instinct; to leave Alex in peace. She looked up at the young woman entering her office, and considered the fact that once upon a time she'd believed Alex would end up working for them officially, would be the one who might eventually take over from her.
A legacy of hard decisions, long dark nights of the soul and little thanks other than a government pension. She pictured Alex as she'd seen him: smiling and tanned on a sunny beach, in the arms of someone he loved. No, she wouldn't wish this job on him now. But the fact remained that someone would need to carry on, and if she was starting to make decisions based on sentiment rather than logic, then perhaps it was time to be considering her exit strategy. Not just yet, there were a few years left in her still. But to be lived, perhaps, with an eye to her succession.
She looked up at Jane Trasker, who'd taken a seat and was waiting politely for her superior to speak first. Mrs Jones wondered briefly how long she'd been lost in thought, and pushed it away as irrelevant.
"Thank you for coming." Mrs Jones pushed Ian Rider's file across the desk. She could of course have done this herself, but leaving someone with half a story could be dangerous. They might get curious in the future. Involve them - incriminate them - and they were more likely to buy in to a desirable level of secrecy.
"As he's been officially dead for over a decade, I rather think we'll leave him alone," Mrs Jones declared. "I want you to requisition all relevant files involved in the formal identification and mark them as top level clearance only."
"I - don't have that level of authorisation, ma'am," Trasker said, sounding mildly embarrassed.
"You do now." Mrs Jones folded her hands on the desk, studying her. Trasker looked taken aback, but covered it quickly and nodded, pulling the file closer.
"Yes ma'am." Brisk and businesslike, no effusive thanks or pointless queries. Mrs Jones approved.
"And as for the surplus body - " Mrs Jones unclasped her hands, tapping a fingernail on the second file. "I want you to assign it to this man. And mark the file as closed."
Trasker reached out and turned the folder round, reading the label and glancing up with a look of enquiry.
"Yassen Gregorovich? I've never heard of him."
"No. You wouldn't have." Mrs Jones nodded slowly. It was another indication that this was perhaps the right decision. "Before your time."
"He's dead?" Trasker was flipping through the file curiously. Old surveillance photographs, Interpol reports, agency dockets and carbon copies. There would be more on the computer databases too, but closing the file would start from here.
"Retired. Out of the game."
Trasker stopping skimming and took this in. "And this way - he stays out?" she hazarded. "Without us bothering him in future."
"Alright." Trasker nodded and Mrs Jones relaxed a little. There'd been a chance the woman would object. It was after all against all received protocols, and she'd have been within her rights to point this out. But then, perhaps an unexpected promotion was just thing to inspire a certain amount of unquestioning loyalty.
"Have you had much field experience?" Mrs Jones asked suddenly.
"Not a great deal," Trasker admitted. "I've put in a few requests, but as far as I know they're still being processed."
"Let's see if we can't bump you up the list a little, shall we? Thank you, Trasker, that'll be all."
"Yes ma'am. Um. Thank you." Trasker took the hint and made a hasty exit, clutching the two files. Mrs Jones watched her go, and sighed. If Trasker survived a few years at the sharp end, yes, she might do. She might do very well indeed.
Alex stared at the letter he'd just opened, piece of toast dangling forgotten in his other hand. "Fucking hell."
Yassen looked over from where he was sitting at the table. "Bad news?"
Alex shook his head. "Kind've the opposite." He waved a piece of paper at him. "Know what this is?" Yassen gave him a look that suggested it was too early in the morning for guessing games, and Alex grinned. "It's a cheque. For - well. More money than I think I've ever seen written down. Looks like Mrs Jones came through after all!"
They'd discussed this, her offer of Alex's trust fund money, Alex mostly being afraid it was a lure to keep them in one place while she could arrange to have them both arrested. They'd eventually taken a gamble on staying, albeit with a certain watchful tension. Neither had really believed the money would ever materialise. It had been a couple of months now, and they'd almost forgotten about it.
Yassen came over and took the cheque from Alex, whistling quietly as he read the amount. It was made out to Alex Walker, and seemed perfectly legitimate. "Is there a note?"
"Yeah." Alex was reading the brief handwritten letter with an expression halfway between excitement and disbelief. "She says she's had your file marked as deceased."
Yassen raised an eyebrow. "That's - vaguely chilling."
Alex punched him in the arm. "Don't you get it? That's going to filter out to all the agencies in the world eventually. Case closed. Off the grid. Off the hook." He smiled. "You're a free man, Yassen."
"I guess." Yassen twitched the letter out of his fingers and read it through himself, while Alex licked marmalade off his fingers and watched him with a barely restrained grin. "She seems genuine."
"Of course it's genuine." Alex put his arms round Yassen's waist and sighed. "Don't we deserve a little good luck for once? With this money we can rebuild the clubhouse now, properly. Get you a new car. What do you want?"
Yassen laughed. "It's your money," he said softly, pulling Alex closer. "What do you want?"
"Already got everything I want," Alex said, kissing him.
"Sap," Yassen murmured, and Alex smiled against his lips and kissed him again for good measure. Hoping that maybe today really was the first day of the rest of their lives.