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Survival Technique

Chapter Text

There is a stain above Alex's bed. It's getting bigger by the day, Alex reflects. They should really get someone in, check it out. Damp is a killer. (A figurative killer, not the kind Alex normally deals with.) He shifts over on the bed, wincing as a spring digs into his back – a new mattress wouldn't exactly go amiss either – and considers the stain on the ceiling. It's better than the stains on his mattress, he does his best not to think about those. He doesn't like thinking about the people who've been here before. There's only him left now.

I

Alex had a tense mental relationship with keys. Time was he would literally have killed to get his hands on the ones to this room – but he doesn't care so much now. He can't even say he hates the sound of a key screeching in the lock of the door. He dreads what they'll do and ask, but it gets him out of here, gives him something to do other than stare at the stains. He can feel himself mentally locking down as securely as he's locked in this room. It's a survival technique. And he is going to survive.

I

He hasn't shaved in a fair while. It's OK, he's sixteen, it's not like he's grown a full beard or anything. The stubble itches something terrible, but it's just a counterpoint to the other drawbacks: the lack of showers, filthy clothes, lumpy mattress, stained room – lack of freedom, torture, endless questions. His captors aren't stupid enough to give him a razor and let him shave, they know he'd use it for other purposes entirely. It's self-preservation on their part, and out of self-preservation on Alex's, he doesn't think of how he must smell and look. Survival is the important thing.

I

Alex doesn't think about might-have-beens and could-haves or should-haves. He's always been an in-the-moment kind of guy, it's what makes him so good at what he does. He can map out situations in his head, but when it's over and some risk successfully avoided, he doesn't waste time thinking about how it could have gone wrong or better. But here, he allows himself (sometimes) to daydream about getting out soon, about how freedom's going to taste again. Mostly, though, he focuses on the here and now. No point getting his hopes up, even through imagination, just to have them dashed.

I

Alex watches as the SAS (not a team he knows) deals with his captors, watches as they take some captive for questioning and knows that these prisoners are going to get a far better deal than he ever did. The injustice of it burns a little: he ignores it. He's free, thank god, and he's not going to waste time worrying about those bastards. The soldier who comes over to him looks a little horrified – Alex can imagine how awful he looks. For the first time in months, he speaks, his voice rasping in his throat, surprising even him. "Thanks."

Chapter Text

Alex can't breathe. He's moving before he knows it, disentangling himself in seconds, instantly ready to defend himself. He was supposed to be safe here.

(His bedroom is entirely empty. Dreams aren't so easily fended off.)

He goes downstairs and makes himself a tea – Jack sleeps like the dead, she'll never hear him. He doesn't want to go back upstairs – the dreams can't hurt him, but they help him remember past hurt and he's loathe to lie back and let them. With a sigh, he rinses out his mug and puts it in the sink. He's got an early start.

I

MI6 have been leaving him alone, at least for the moment, so Alex has been easing back into school life. (Again.) He's had longer this time and he's settling in well – he's got a football match today, hence the early start. Football's a good outlet for all of his pent-up aggression, he gets to feel in control again – he doesn't feel like the shell that got rescued months back from some forgotten cell in Chechnya. Months of physical therapy, rebuilding muscle tone (and his mind), and he's back now. He's got a football match. It's so normal. Alex loves it.

I

The phone rings and rings before Jack reaches it, and she knows she sounds flustered when she picks up. Her hands still have soap-suds on them, and she's holding the phone gingerly, trying not to get it wet. "Hello?" She listens for a moment, and then makes a grab for the phone as it threatens to slip out of her hand. "Yes – of course, I'll be right there," she says. "Do you know where they've taken him? – Right – thank you." She puts the phone down and wipes her hands. Shit always happens to Alex, she thinks, and grabs her keys.

I

Alex is in St. Dominic's Hospital, and his leg is already in plaster by the time Jack arrives. He actually grins at her when she's ushered into his room. "All safe and sound," he tells her, and she doesn't know whether to shake or kiss him.

"How the hell did you break your leg?" She asks. "And when can I sign your cast?"

"Never," he says, and glances at his cast with satisfaction. "I'm no use to MI6 like this," he adds.

Jack swallows, suddenly unnerved. "Alex, tell me you didn't do this on purpose."

He doesn't meet her eyes.

I

They don't talk about it, like they don't talk about what happened to Alex during his two month absence. The vaguest of details suffice. Jack understands why Alex will go to any lengths to put himself out of commission.

It means his seventeenth birthday is at home, the first one since he turned fourteen, so Jack won't complain. She'll invite his friends round and bake a cake, and she'll never mention hearing him slip downstairs every night after his nightmares, or the way she knows this is his last birthday at home. He'll turn eighteen, and she'll never see him again.