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Story Notes: Written for the Alex Rider 100 LiveJournal community in September 2010.
It must have happened during the Romania mission. Alex was sure of it.
Posing as the desperately impoverished son of a dead father and a sick mother, Alex had squirmed his way into the seedy underworld of illegal organ trafficking in Bucharest’s thriving black market. He’d narrowly escaped being butchered alive and harvested of all his vital organs—as was the apparent fate of all the victims before him—only to face the wrath of Baron Moreascu, who had thrown Alex into a 1,000-gallon vat of refrigerated human blood.
Only it hadn’t really been blood.
At least, not all human.
Even though he’d been thoroughly tested for hepatitis, HIV, VHFs, and every other blood-borne disease, Alex knew something was seriously wrong.
The first symptoms started showing up a week after he returned to London. He was constantly tired, cold, thirsty, unable to sleep, and his skin was dry and itchy. Jack took him to the doctor but the test results were inconclusive.
Then Alex stopped eating. He was hungry—ravenous, in fact—but anything he ate would make him sick. Sometimes he even threw up.
Alex knew that somehow, somewhere, he’d been poisoned, and now it was slowly killing him.
It wasn’t safe to stay with Jack anymore. Alex had to leave, for her sake. He didn’t want to hurt her.
Fueled by insatiable hunger, Alex had become violent, irritable, distracted. He skipped school, slept all day, regularly snuck out his bedroom window at night to prowl the streets, looking for someone to unleash his anger on. One night he’d come upon two car thieves attempting to make off with a neighbor’s Mercedes. Alex had torn into them like an animal, effortlessly ripped one man’s throat wide open. He’d stared at the blood and started salivating.
And then he’d feasted.
Alex was scared, lonely. Always, always hungry. He needed help. He needed to tell someone, but who would believe him? Who would believe that a fifteen-year-old boy had actually become a—
Alex banished the word from his mind. It was something else. It had to be.
He was so depressed. He needed a friend. Someone to talk to. He wanted to be hugged, held, told everything was going to be alright. There was no relief in crying; his tears were red, salty, coppery-tasting. They left crimson streaks down his cheeks and stained his sleeves.
Bloodstains. Alex’s whole world was bloodstained.
He went to Paris. Berlin. Rome. New York. He slept during the day and hunted at night, always trying to avoid preying upon the innocent. But they were all innocent in Alex’s eyes. The police called him Johnny the Ripper, Teenage Terror. They tried to catch him but he was too fast, too strong, too clever. They shot him but the bullets were useless. Nothing could kill him.
Five years passed. Then another five. Then another. But still Alex remained fifteen, immortal, indestructible. Frozen in time by a freak accident, doomed to live forever, sad, solitary. And so, so beautiful.
He’d been around the world three times since his “accident” and was finally heading back to Europe again. Athens was very nice this time of year, so Alex lived by day in the basement of a cheap hotel and prowled the streets by night. The sun didn’t kill him, but the blasting light gave him terrible headaches.
One warm, starry night Alex caught the scent of blood in the air and followed it. In an alley he saw a man crouching over a fallen body, hands wrapped around the throat, and Alex froze with shock.
That man was Yassen Gregorovich.
How? It must have been at least twenty years since Eagle Strike. Even if Yassen had survived the bullet, he should be in his 50s by now. But kneeling over that body, he still looked like he was twenty-five. Impossible!
Alex stumbled back against a bucket and Yassen’s head snapped up. “Who’s there?” he snarled.
“It’s me,” Alex whispered hoarsely, stepping into the moonlight. “It’s Alex.”
Yassen’s eyes widened with recognition. “Alex Rider? But you . . . you’ve not aged a day.”
“Neither have you.” Alex smiled and a single red tear—a tear of happiness—trickled down his dirty, ageless face.
Yassen looked down at the body, then up at Alex. “Here,” he said, raising his hand. “There is enough for both of us.”
Alex crept over and crouched down, and Yassen used a razorblade to open the victim’s throat. “Go ahead,” he insisted when Alex hesitated. “You need it more than me.”
Alex gratefully latched on to the bleeding wound and drank his fill. The blood was still hot—the victim was only unconscious, not dead—and tasted wonderfully rich. Alex tried to remember his manners and leave some for Yassen. He wasn’t used to sharing his meals with others.
“Where are you staying?” Yassen asked when they had finished.
Alex answered, feeling a little embarrassed by his dirty, transient lifestyle. But Yassen hadn’t cared. He’d taken Alex by the hand and said, “Come on. You can stay with me.”
Yassen was renting an apartment in Palaio Faliro, not far from the sea, and there Alex was able to take his first shower in weeks, put on clean clothes, and curl up in a nice fluffy bed as the first light of dawn began to creep into the sky.
Yassen quietly drew the curtains, leaving Alex to sleep in peace.