The characters of James Bond and M belong to Ian Flemings estate and EON productions respectively (not sure about the legal division here). The character of Alex Rider belongs to Anthony Horowitz although he probably would not recognise this version either...Rating: 15Summary:
Two battle weary warriors collide. Neither may survive intact - or unchanged. Genderswap, A/U, some dark themes. Non Btvs crossoverChapter 1MI6 Headquarters Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, July 2008
M looked up across her desk into the dulled green eyes of the young woman huddled on the opposite chair seemingly waiting passively for M's judgement to come crashing down on her. If that was the case it was for once, an erroneous impression on the girl's part, but M supposed that as any such falling axe would only be on par with the treatment the teenager had received before from those in authority over her. Accordingly, it was only to be expected that the younger woman would fear the worst.
M felt a surge of fury rise up in her and ruthlessly pushed it down with the self discipline of decades of experience. Her face, when she scanned the resigned visage of the teenager sitting across from her, was expressionless to any one who didn't know her well; the only tell of her inward fury the slight thinning of her lips and the flash of fire in her eyes.
The face across from hers was objectively very beautiful, even under the remarkable black eye currently shadowing one high boned cheek and the split lip that bisected the cupid bow lips. M knew there were more injuries she couldn't see, hidden under the hoodie and jeans that shrouded the slender length of limbs which she did not doubt possessed far more strength that any one would have given the girl credit for. M glanced at the file spread in front of her again. The fact that this *teenager* had survived the treatment she had undergone for so long was evidence of that.
Her lips tightened as she scanned the list of injuries suffered on active service in the field again. Bullet wound grazing the aorta leading to extensive cardiac surgery, broken arms, ankles and legs, numerous sprains and bruising and cuts, evidence of torture, possible evidence of sexual assault (although the file also clinically noted that there had been no confirmation of that due to lack of co-operation on behalf of the subject). It was like looking at the file of an experienced 00, not the file of a girl just turned 18.
M glanced up at the still figure sitting across from her. It almost required a leap of imagination to connect the accomplishments and the injuries suffered of the individual in the file to the mannequin of a girl sitting bruised and still slightly bloodied across from her, green eyes dulled and resigned, body language that of a dog just waiting to be beaten again. That some part of *her* government, M's own government was responsible for this was something she could not find in herself a way to forgive and M found that tsunami of fury rising up again as she vowed those responsible for this travesty, this outright ruthless abuse and endangerment of someone who had only been a *child*, would pay for their sins.
But now she had to deal with the more direct fallout in the only way she knew how.
The younger woman had commenced staring at the carpet between her feet as though the ugly Paisley pattern held all the secrets to the universe. M felt a surge of totally foreign pity at the absolute weariness in her posture. Someone so young should not have the body language of someone so old. She cleared her throat and waiting until that young face with those old eyes lifted to meet her own.
They studied each other in silence for a second, M doing her best to seem vaguely re-assuring. It wasn't an attitude she was used to projecting and M wondering exactly what it was the other woman was seeing when she looked across the desk at her. Whatever she saw it obviously worked a little as a small amount of tension leaked out of the girl's shoulders and her body language started shouting more of exhaustion rather the tense expectancy of someone about to receive a blow.
Yes. M thought. She could work with that. Any thing was better than the whipped dog tension of a few moments before. She closed the folder in front of her and clasped her hands on top of it, already shelving the contents in the archive of her memory. The past was done. It was better to move forward. Now just to see if she could convince the damaged teenager across from her of that as well.
"Firstly I would like to apologise on behalf of the entirety of MI6 for what you have gone through in the last few years."
Her interviewee looked as though she would interject, but M fixed her with a quelling stare. "Yes – I am aware that it was technically not MI6 that "employed" you, but none the less you were told it was MI6, and you believed it was MI6 and so consequently some of the….guilt….you might say, must fall on our shoulders."
M cut off Rider's injection with a wave of her hand. She could tell that Rider wanted to protest slightly, some general sense of fairness wanting to override M's insistence on taking some part of the blame for something that she and her agency had known nothing about.
The small flame of admiration in M that had been lit at the sheer bloody minded obstinacy that this girl had displayed in order to still be alive after having endured an operational tempo over the last 4 years that would have killed many experienced 00 agents, flamed a little brighter at that. That small interjection was telling evidence that Rider had still managed to keep some sense of a feeling of what was justified alive after her brutal treatment. The girl had character. And a sense of ethics as well.
"Do not worry yourself Ms Rider. MI6 has broad shoulders and we should have realised what was going on with Blunt's "Office of Special Projects" earlier. We did not – and you unfortunately paid the price for our blindness." Her lips thinned even further. "As I have said to others in the past, sometimes we are so busy looking for our enemies abroad, we forget to guard against our "friends" at home. And while none of us would ever have expected that Alan Blunt, as ex-MI6 and a permanent under secretary in the Home Office would ever decide to take the idea of "empire building" so ridiculously literally, this does not mean that we are exempt from blame."
She met the green eyed gaze across from her calmly, seeing the mask the younger woman was holding onto so very tightly fray slightly at the edges.
"And so, I can only apologise on behalf of both myself and my service, and the entire government at that. Your service to your country at such a young age and the brutal manner you were forced into that position was unwarranted and wholly objectionable, but we can only be grateful for the manner in which you undertook that service, and the results you achieved, under horrendous emotional and physical pressure and duress. So. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government - thank you for your service."
Something shimmered a little in the eyes across from her and that mask started slipping even further. Abruptly the younger woman averted her gaze and stared fixedly at the painting on the wall on her left, some dull oil painting by some even duller 19th century portrait artist of some long dead politician. M waited in silence for a moment while her guest regained her fragile composure, studying the undamaged side of her profile in clinical assessment.
She really was extraordinary beautiful. If she decided that all M could offer her was not what she was looking for she could easily make a very good living as a model. All that cascade of golden hair, the pallor of her skin, currently marred with a handful of small contusions even on the comparatively undamaged side, the length of limb and the swan like elegance of her neck, the curves that even baggy jeans and a hoodie could not totally hide. M would bet that if she made any kind of an effort she would be the kind of woman who hit men's libidos like a rocket. But from the psyche profiles M had reviewed at the current time Rider was in no shape to handle that kind of attention. In fact the psychiatrists had noted that in some ways she was emotionally a lot younger than her actual age.
That finding made perfect sense to M. Rider had been utilised as a puppet from far too early an age, the coinage of her youth spent and spent and spent again, and the appeal of her beauty and her seeming vulnerability would have been irresistible to some of the scum bags she had been sent to deal with. M was willing to bet that Rider's file, with its bland mention of "possible sexual assault..." was far from all encompassing in that arena. No wonder Ms Rider had retreated from the knowledge of her own body and its innate sensuality. Especially when the rest of what her body had been trained for by necessity was survival and the imminent prospect of dealing violent death.
God knows that M had developed somewhat of a similar coping mechanism herself in the days when she was on active service, utilising her body in a somewhat more direct way for Queen and Country than she did now. Even then she had been aware that she retreating from more intimate relationships outside of her duty and she had been an adult, fully trained and aware of what she was getting into when she went into those situations. Not like Rider.
Once against her lips thinned as that fury rose up inside and she vowed inwardly that she would see Blunt and his associates rotting in the worst hell hole she could find for the rest of the their miserable lives if it was the very last thing she did.
Rider had ceased her careful scrutiny of the nameless painting and turned back, that mask of hers more firmly in place.
"Thank you…" her voice was rusty from emotion, a soft contralto and she paused after she spoke, obviously unsure how to refer to the older women respectfully.
"M. Ms Rider. Just call me M."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, M. I really don't think it's your fault," she paused and momentarily studied the hands clasped in her lap, the knuckles on one hand grazed and bruised. She looked back up to meet the steady gaze of the older woman and smiled a little, lopsided. "But it's nice to hear it anyway."
M nodded in response to the honesty of that statement and her lips quirked in the slightest hint of an answering smile.
"Well, what's done is done, even if we can only regret the circumstances," she continued in a brisker tone. "Obviously, you will need to be fully debriefed and medical will need to keep an eye on you for a few days, but after that you are of course free to go. As has already been explained to you, the actions of Alan Blunt and Clarissa Jones in relation to your 'recruitment' were both illegal and actionable and of course we have no intention of repeating them." The corner of M's mouth quirked slightly. "And I believe that you turned 18 a few weeks ago?"
Rider nodded silently, staring at her bruised hands again.
"So you are an adult and consequently, entirely free of government interference in your life, as much as any law abiding citizen is anyway." She paused, to see if Rider would respond. When she didn't even look up M continued in a slightly gentler tone. "Do you have any idea as to what you will do?"
Rider looked up from her scrutiny of her clasped hands and shrugged somewhat helplessly. "I don't...my finances...someone said something about that.." she trailed off, looking hopelessly confused and more than slightly lost. M bit down on another surge of pity. Pity wasn't going to help this young woman find the ground that was so clearly reeling under her feet. Hard, practical assistance however, might.
"I had someone in accounting and personnel undertake a review of your personal financial circumstances. It seems that your parents both had fairly substantial life insurance policies, the pay outs from which your Uncle Ian placed in an investment trust for you, with the proviso that the trust would vest once you turned 18. As it has now done so. I am assuming from that that your Uncle believed that you would not need access to the monies before you turned 18 as he was obviously providing for you." She cocked her head in question at Rider and the younger woman nodded in affirmation.
"Ian Rider also had a fairly substantial life insurance policy as well as around £300,000 in various investments and savings, and of course the property in London and the bothy I believe he owned in the Highlands, both of which are mortgage free."
"Achnacarry." Rider smiled slightly in remembrance. "We used to go up to the Bothy for New Year if Uncle Ian could get away. There are some amazing climbs nearby."
M's lips twitched slightly in response. "Indeed. It's a very beautiful part of the country." Focusing back on the task in hand she ploughed on. "Ian Rider left everything to you, with the exception of a few small bequests to various charities. As you may be aware, Blunt arranged it so that he was in control of your estate once your uncle died. This arrangement has obviously now been vacated and the full estate is now in your sole control. In addition, although you were not technically employed by the Service during the time you were working for Blunt, you believed yourself to be so, and despite the appalling circumstances you acted at all times as we would expect a member of the Service to act. Accordingly, the decision has been made to ensure you receive the appropriate salary for the time you have been active, retrospective for a four year period, with the normal additions and compensatory payments for active field service, acting in a danger zone, and the various lump sums paid in compensation for injuries received on active service. We have also set up a Civil service pension scheme for you and backdated it to the appropriate date with the appropriate contributions. I understand from Accounting and Personnel that the lump sum over the four year period is somewhat in the region of £500,000, after tax." M paused for a moment, looking down at the file on her desk, before she continued.
"In addition, Ms Rider, a decision has been made to make you a one off lump sum payment in order to financially compensate you for the pain and suffering you received as a result of Alan Blunt's actions." Rider looked as though she wanted to say something again, but M held up a hand to forestall her before continuing.
"We are aware that as a signatory to the Official Secrets Act you are prevented from seeking redress for the wrongs done to you through the Courts. While we appreciate this from the point of national security, it has become clear in our discussions with all parties, up to and including the Prime Minister, that the general tenor of opinion is that some recompense should be offered to you for what you have endured. It would be remiss of Her Majesty's government to not attempt to atone, at least in part, for actions that were, however unofficially, caused by itself. Accordingly, the Treasury has issued, and the PM has confirmed, a one off payment to be made to you of £5 million pounds tax free."
Rider looked completely stunned, those green eyes shocked out of their resignation by sheer surprise. "It was thought that this was an appropriate amount, given what the damages you may have been entitled to in a civilian court might be. So in total, Ms Rider, while the exact figure escapes me, I do not believe that you should have any concerns financially for the foreseeable future. Indeed I would suggest that if you wanted to, you would be unlikely to have to work another day in your life."
Rider still looked as stunned as though someone had slapped her across the face. Actually M immediately retracted that statement. She thought it doubtful that Rider would look half as stunned if someone actually did slap her across the face. She picked up another file from the pile that always sat on the corner of her desk. Best to allow her a few minutes for it to sink in.
A few minutes passed, the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece and the crisp noise of paper turning the only sounds apart from breathing to be heard in the room. After about 5 minutes Rider stirred restlessly in her seat and M looked up from the file she had been reading to meet the teenager's eyes.
"So Ms Rider. You no longer have to worry about your finances at least. And you are free to do as you please, or at least as free as any one else in this country. Have you thought about what you will do next?"
Rider glanced away from her, briefly examining the carpet and that damnable painting again before shifting slightly in her seat and glancing a query at M as she made to stand up. M nodded in permission and Rider slid out of her chair and started to prowl around M's office, the quiet strength and readily coiled lethality of her frame even more apparent when she was moving. In many ways it reminded M of Bond and her other 00s, that incipient potential for violence held leashed so very tightly. But those men were decades this girl's senior, with military backgrounds, extensive training and experienced killers in the field to boot. To find those same qualities in a girl just turned 18 was….disturbing. M sighed inwardly, pushing down another stab of pity for the girl. Goddamn Blunt! If Rider had just been left alone after Ian Rider's death she might have been able to carve out some small shred of normality for herself, create a life like anyone else's. Admittedly she might have gravitated to the Services eventually, with that family history and her love of extreme sports, but still - it would have been her choice and a hell of a lot healthier for her than this. As it was...she sighed again.
The stalking figure paused in its perambulations around the room as the golden head turned to look back at her. Guided by the merest lift of M's chin the girl slipped back on to the chair in front of the desk, some innate restlessness momentarily soothed by the brief bout of movement. For a moment they studied each other, green eyes into blue. Rider already looked a hell of a lot better than she had when she had come into the room, that dull resignation already lifting from her frame, the green eyes now shadowed more with exhaustion than despair. But she still looked rather lost and very young and M shoved down another damnable spike of pity. She wasn't some kind of therapist for god's sake!
Rider glanced down at her hands again and up to meet M's gaze. "I haven't really thought of it Ma'am, to be honest." She shrugged a little helplessly. "I didn't really expect to have options, and now I do, I don't really know what to do. I suppose I could go to university, I mean that's what would be the normal next step, and I did manage to get some fairly decent A-levels, despite Blunt's best intentions." She frowned slightly in remembrance of Blunt's fairly blatant attempt to prevent her from completing her formal schooling. It had just been another way to keep control of his asset, if she had no money and no other way to make anything other than a menial living by his lights she would be far more likely to buckle under the whip. It had not been a particularly successful policy.
"And well done to you for that," M injected quietly.
She smiled a thin lipped smile in response. "Thank you, ma'am. But that would have to be for next year. It's too late to apply this year - I missed the application deadlines. And to honest, I'm not sure if going straight to university from active field operations would be...wise."
"Possibly not," M acknowledged.
"Otherwise I really have no idea what to do." She shrugged a little. "Long term, I'm not sure I ever will. This life," she waved a hand around to indicate M's office and the Service that it represented. "It's all I know. It's all I've ever known how to do."
M studied her with a calm blue gaze, somehow understanding all that she was struggling to articulate.
"Ms Rider. If you don't mind me saying so - despite your experiences you are still very young. And going by your past exploits I do not doubt that you could turn your hand to almost anything and make it work. And of course you are absolutely free to do so. Indeed you can walk out of this office at any time and not come back."
She paused momentarily, and the two women stared at each other in mutual assessment before she continued. "However, if you would spare me a moment, I do have a proposition for you that you may be interested in."
Rider settled back into her seat and nodded for M to continue. M paused, choosing her words carefully as she continued.
"You must be aware that your family background, and the training you received from your Uncle as you grew up, how unwittingly you may have undertaken it, have already made you naturally predisposed to the kind of work that we, in the Service, undertake." She caught the teenager's gaze and waiting for her slow nod before continuing.
"While I despise Blunt's methods, I can appreciate that he did have an eye for talent and those essential and rare traits of personality that lead to success as an active field operative. And it is clear that despite your unorthodox recruitment and the haphazard nature of your training you have never performed in the field in anything other than a superlative manner." It was nothing less than the truth but she still saw the hint of a blush tint the pale skin across from her at the praise.
"However, the price of being gifted at what we do is that it is very hard to step back out of the shadows into the light once you know that the shadows exist. When you know the actions that must be taken and the decisions that must be made in order to keep our society safe it is very difficult to just continue in blissful ignorance like the majority of the population. And it is even harder to pretend that everything is fine, that danger is not in the shadows, that some enemies of the Crown do not need to be removed in order for the rest of this country to sleep easy when you know that this is not the case. Ignorance is bliss, Ms Rider, but once you are no longer ignorant it is very hard to regain that state again."
As she had spoken Rider's body language had subtly changed, the momentary spark of energy subsumed by the weight and truth of what M was saying. When the older woman had finished her brief speech her young compatriot looked up to meet that steady blue gaze. There was an element of compassion there carefully shaded behind the eagle eyes and it was to that that she found herself appealing.
"I thought it was just me. That there was something wrong with me. I mean, they told me almost a week ago that Blunt had been arrested, and I knew, intellectually, that that meant I was free. I thought I would be able to relax, to stop. But I can't. Everyone I see I automatically evaluate for threat, every international news item I wonder about the possible ramifications. I just can't stop."
M's gaze was openly compassionate now. "And you won't be able to any time soon, Ms Rider. In fact if you are anything like the majority of those within the Service you never will." Her mouth quirked wryly. "It is a habit, like living, that is very hard to break. The two in fact often go hand in hand. Especially in the field." She looked her young visitor up and down, a brief, clinically assessing look.
"Has anyone ever told you, Ms Rider, that you are a remarkably beautiful young woman?" Rider shifted uncomfortably under the assessment, momentarily nonplussed by the seeming change of subject but refused to break's M's gaze. "And to be blunt, the societal expectations of young women of your looks and your background are not, I believe, ones that you will ever be happy living down to, especially now you have seen the way the world really works. And I pity the first individual who thinks that he or she can take advantage of you, based on society's expectations of how a girl that looks like you is supposed to react." Rider shifted again in acknowledgement of the hit, but held M's gaze. Oh - M *liked* this one. She had *character*.
"To put it bluntly Ms Rider, you are a wolf in sheep's," she paused to re-assess and continued, "no - in *lamb's clothing. And the very things that make you so valuable to a Service like ours are unfortunately, the things that may make it very difficult for you to settle into civilian life. It is an environment that does not respect your skill set, and indeed will expect you to act utterly against your own intrinsic nature in order to "fit in" to the demands that society places on young women like yourself. There is no way to sugar coat this Ms Rider, but you are a beautiful young woman who has the instincts of a seasoned operative and a willingness to do what is necessary in order to fulfil what you perceive to be your mission, up to and including permanently removing what ever obstacle, whether human or otherwise, that is in your path."
She matched gazes with the young woman across from her, seeing the stark realisation of the truth of the words M was bludgeoning into her cross her face, along with the slightest amount of hurt at the bluntness of the assessment. It was never delightful to hear yourself being categorised as essentially a misfit to society or to be assessed as a human lacking in what was considered to be the "appropriate" level of empathy. No sane person liked to be considered an incipient sociopath after all.
"I do not say these things to upset you Ms Rider, because to me and to my Service these aspects of your character are genuinely admirable, things we actively seek for, and very seldom find. But like all of the watchman who watch the boundaries so others can sleep, we are somewhat different from those we watch. And you, Ms Rider, were born and trained to be a watchman, not one who is watched. Plus, I do not feel that you will ever find the satisfaction in civilian life that you would find in utilising all that you are amongst those who will prize you for those qualities, rather than despise you for them.
Rider raised her chin in pure stubbornness. "So, you expect me to roll over like a good little dog when Six snaps its fingers? Simply give up one form of servitude for another?"
"I expect you to use your brain to analyse your choices!" M's tone was icily sharp and Rider rocked back in her chair in surprise. "There is no comparison between what you underwent with Blunt and what I am offering you now, and if you were thinking, rather than reacting emotionally, you would know that!"
A tense silence gripped the room as the two women glared at each other. Rider, however, was the first to break, looking down and away.
"Intellectually, I know that. I know that MI6 is a different animal and what happened to me with Blunt could never happen there. But some part of me is just horrified at losing all my choices all over again."
"I can appreciate that. But you won't. I can promise you this – if you come to work for me, with Six, you will never be forced to take a mission. You will always have the right to refuse." She gave a little wintery smile and raised an elegant eyebrow. "We'll even have it written into your contract."
Rider choked back a snort, being very aware of the difference between what was written on paper and what happened in the field. However, she also understood that the intent behind the offer was serious.
"If I did join, what position would I be looking at?"
"Probationary field officer initially. Then once you have completed your training you would graduate quickly to full field officer. Further promotion in the field would then be based on your performance, which I doubt would ever be less than exemplary."
"What about university? I'm not particularly interested in the undergraduate experience, but I would like to gain a degree."
"We have special arrangements with a number of Oxbridge colleges who are happy to set up programs of personalised study for our people on an individual basis. With a standard operational tempo you may find it takes you a bit longer than a standard undergrad to graduate but I do not doubt that you would get your degree."
Rider looked down at the carpet, thinking. In many ways it was so tempting. She knew that M was right, that she just didn't fit into "normal" life the way she should, and she personally doubted she ever would. All those behaviours, all those habits that kept her alive in the field were things that to civilians were simply too extreme, too much...or not enough. And even though she had tried to deny it, it was when she was in the field that she was most alive, even when every thing was going to shit all around her. Every thing else seemed somewhat….lacking…in comparison. And she didn't know anymore if she could live without that high.
And could she really walk away when she knew how she could help? Could she live with the regret? And what would her parents have thought, or more importantly Ian? Or the grandfather she had never known who died in Korea? Or his father who fought in India and South Africa and France? They were all warriors, the Riders, every one. They had all served their country with honour, and died in its service and she didn't know if she could be the one to break that tradition, to break that chain of duty and sacrifice stretching back all the generations. She could feel it, sinking into her bones – that awful realisation that there was no escape. Even though part of her screamed that she just wanted to be selfish and walk away, to just have to think about the normal things teenage girls thought about, whatever those were. But she couldn't do it. Couldn't walk away and let innocents die when she could use what she was to stop it, couldn't climb down from that Watchtower with the knowledge that there were so few still maintaining the watch. She just couldn't.
M watched the battle clearly playing over the younger woman's face as she contemplated M's offer and allowed herself the momentary luxury of regret. Just because everything she had told the younger woman was true didn't mean she didn't regret the necessity of having to use such harsh truths in order to make her offer. Yes - Rider could try to assimilate into society but it would be hard, thankless work and she would be so much less than she could be if she just worked for Six. But having to watch the slow dawning realisation in one so young of how she was trapped by her very nature, by her sense of duty and her instincts as opposed to any real choice was...melancholy. The burden of the watchman, but taken up in duty and necessity instead of in joy.
But at least if that was the case Rider would have others to share the duty and the burden. Moreover M determined there and then to do the best that she could to make sure that this young woman never regretted the choice she was being forced to make. Starting right now. She recalled something her husband, ex-Six himself, had once quoted to her.
"If blood be the price of admiralty, Lord God, we ha' bought it fair…"
Rider had been staring at the carpet again, lost in thought but she looked up as M quoted, looked up and stilled as the meaning of the words sunk in. Those green eyes were solemn, but lit up fiercely as she acknowledged the truth of the lines written so long ago. Kipling always did understand them - the warriors.
She snorted a rough laugh in response. "I suppose I should say it's "not fair", but that's a child's saying and I stopped saying that when I was fourteen." She met M's eyes directly and there was something in that green eyed gaze that shook M all the way down to her bones, although she would never show it. The wolf at the door, the knife in the dark, all the ruthless pragmatism of the born killer was reflected in Rider's gaze and M thanked god that it looked like Rider would be on their side, rather than turned against them. Because what a weapon she would make - for good or ill.
Rider stood and M mirrored her half a heartbeat later. For a second they regarded each other, two women at opposite ends of the spectrum in age and authority and experience, but somehow, despite that, very similar in the essentials. Neither of them had ever been able to walk away from a fight. And by god what a fight it would be. Then Rider smiled, just a quirk of a lip and reached out a hand across the desk. "I'll join you on your wall, Madam Watchman."
For a moment M indulged herself, allowed a small genuine smile to quirk across her lips as she reached out to shake the other's hand to seal the bargain. "Excellent. We will be glad to have you. So- once again, and officially this time Ms Rider - welcome to MI6."