Afterimage Chapter One

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Based on an original series and alternate future by Sonny & Ais called In the Company of Shadows.

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Slash (M/M), het (M/F) and graphic language, violence and sexual situations. Not intended for anyone under 18!


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Afterimage Chapter One

Uploaded on 9/20/2008

The projector whirred quietly as it cast onto the screen a picture of a man with a grizzled face, unhappy expression, hair slowly shifting from dark brown to grey, and a five o'clock shadow.

The members of General Carhart's Insurgency Unit seemed largely unimpressed by the man; Owen was half-asleep, Jeffrey kept reshuffling his papers almost obsessively, Sin looked bored out of his mind, Boyd was idly looking at the screen, and Carhart was watching his team.

The only one missing was Ryan, who had yet to return from the medic wing. Boyd was worried about him and had tried to stop by but was repeatedly sent away because he 'wasn't family.' Ann had made the decision, probably to protect him and give him a chance to recover, but Boyd couldn't help feeling resentful of the fact he was being denied from seeing his best friend. But despite that, Ryan had continued to research as much as he could on his laptop and insisted in messages to Owen and Boyd that he was fine and would be out soon.

In truth, he wasn't really missing much.

The unit had been experiencing a lull in Janus-related missions, something that had been happening since Hale Clemons' death. They weren't sure if Janus was regrouping after the infiltration of such an important compound or if it was something entirely unrelated, but whatever the case, Janus had gone deeper underground than ever and information was scant. The fact that the disc Boyd had copied at Hale's compound still wasn't entirely examined and decrypted yet didn't help matters.

But with the absence of activity in Janus, they'd been able to turn their attention on a more pressing issue: whether or not Thierry had, in fact, betrayed them.

"So Jourdain Allard is a spy," Carhart said, referring to the man on the screen as he flicked through the report Boyd had given him.

"Yes," Boyd said, leaning back in his chair and flicking his gaze toward the man's image. "It was exactly as Thierry said."

Carhart nodded, his lips pressed together as he narrowed his eyes. "That's good news for him then. Even though he was let out of confinement recently, there hadn't been any firm plans of discontinuing interrogation even though he's been consistently honest and helpful for the past few months. But this... this is big. We've been looking for a hook into Dǐ Zhì for awhile now. This will get Thierry out of hot water for good, I'm sure."

He looked away from the image and focused on his agents. "What else can you tell me?"

Boyd indicated his report as he spoke. "I don't think even Revolución is aware of it. He appears to be selling their information to Dǐ Zhì through a variety of means. One time he left a package in what appeared to be a predetermined spot; the package was picked up by a Dǐ Zhì informant. Another time he used flowers sent anonymously to the informant; we were able to get a shot of the card he ordered with it but the message seemed vague and unimportant. We assumed there was a code behind it." He looked toward Jeffrey questioningly.

"There was," Jeffrey confirmed. He reached forward to flip the projector to the next picture, a magnified surveillance shot they'd taken with the message card nestled within orange, red and pink flowers. The words were somewhat blurred and appeared to be a generic rambling of well-wishing. "It was a moderate cipher; nothing extremely difficult but certainly harder to break than the typical fare. Some of it is gibberish, likely to throw anyone off, but he otherwise appears to be giving dates and times of shipments."

Boyd inclined his head. "That makes sense. Revolución's had several armament shipments intercepted in the past few weeks as far as we could tell from overheard conversations. Allard appears to be getting money to betray those locations; arms supplies can make a person good money on the black market."

"Hey," Owen said suddenly, and it was as much of a surprise that he sounded relatively alert as it was the fact that he was contributing to the conversation when not directly asked. He was staring at the screen with a peculiar expression, his shirt rumpled, eyes sleepy, and elbow on the table as he leaned his head against his hand. "Where'd he get that bouquet?"

"He went to a shop and chose random flowers as far as I could tell." Boyd looked at the screen; as strange as the question was, there was obviously something significant to Owen in the picture. Before he could see what it was, he suddenly felt pressure against his crotch.

Boyd was startled by the touch, not expecting it at all, and managed a passably casual glance toward Sin, who was sitting across the table, slouched in his chair as he gazed in boredom at the image. Sin's body language and expression gave nothing away to the others in the room but as soon as Boyd glanced over, he nudged Boyd's crotch once again with his foot.

Boyd discreetly slid his hand beneath the table to grab Sin's foot, wondering what the hell he was thinking. They hadn't been obvious about their sexual relationship since returning to the Agency and didn't do anything even close to public displays of affection. They didn't feel the need to fuel any further rumors and it wasn't anyone's business what they did behind closed doors. Given that, he couldn't figure out what possessed Sin to start this when they were in the same room as three other people who could easily look under the table at any time.

Trying to act normal and keep the conversation going, Boyd asked, "Why?"

Owen chuckled, apparently highly amused and, like the other two in the room, completely oblivious to what was going on across the table. "Dude's a guilty psychic or a masochistic florist, that's what."

Jeffrey looked at Owen oddly. "What are you talking about?"

Sin began slowly massaging Boyd's crotch with the toe of his sneaker, applying just the right amount of pressure to cause a slight shiver to go down Boyd's spine. Boyd shifted slightly and one side of Sin's mouth rose in a tiny smirk that was barely there before it was gone.

Boyd's fingers curled against Sin's sneaker as he tried to determine whether or not he should just shove Sin away. There was a chance that the movement would draw attention but Boyd knew that if he let this go on too long, he'd get lost in the moment. He was already starting to find it difficult to concentrate fully on the meeting with that inexorable movement, making him all too aware of the layer of clothing separating them and the familiar tightening of his stomach as he hardened.

"Come on," Owen said, gesturing toward the screen as if it should be obvious. "Hollyhock, Rhododendron, Judas Tree and Nasturtium? The Hollyhock is a little random but the rest of them are hilarious." When the others just stared at him, he waved his hand helplessly. "Their meanings, man."

"One moment while I consult my trusty flower encyclopedia," Jeffrey said sarcastically.

Across from Boyd, Sin rolled his eyes at the two and their incessant bickering, seeming completely casual as he covertly molested his partner under the table. It wasn't odd that he wasn't verbally contributing to the discussion, he'd never been much for briefings and debriefings, but the way his foot began to slowly work against Boyd's growing erection was more than a little out of place. Boyd glanced at him casually again, trying to ignore his increasing heartbeat and the heat that was spreading from his stomach. But Sin's face gave nothing away as to what he was doing and he gave no indications as to how far he planned to take this.

Owen pushed himself back in his chair with apparent great effort, as if it was a shame he had to wake himself up just because his co-workers couldn't get the joke. "Well I'm no expert or whatever but I'm pretty sure that's like saying, 'Hey, watch out for me-- I just betrayed my own country!' Pretty stupid message for a spy, unless he wants people to know not to trust him."

The others just stared at him and Owen gave them a more alert, intense look as he got into the idea. Boyd shifted minutely in his seat as Sin began to run the edge of his shoe slowly against the now obvious bulge.

"My money's on he's psychic and he secretly regrets betraying his people, right? Bet you ten dollars within the next few months he has some guilt trip and somehow kills someone in the other group. They find out and they go hardcore revenge and then there's a little war between the two and Jourdain dies in the scuffle." Owen paused and added thoughtfully, "Or maybe there's an accident when he's trying to deliver a message and they're like, BAM, on his doorstep the next day because they figure out it was him. Or else--"

"Where do I place bets on how long it takes you to give up this stupid idea?" Jeffrey asked pointedly.

Boyd's heart began to beat faster, breath slightly catching as Sin teased his growing erection through the rough denim of his jeans. The conversation happening around them seemed a long way away and he stared intently at the screen because if he looked away he'd become too distracted by Sin's expression. It was almost as if he could feel Sin more clearly if he didn't have anything else to distract him.

Even if logically he knew this was a bad place for this, he couldn't deny that for some reason he was as excited as he was paranoid, and as turned on as he was slightly annoyed with his partner. It was strange and contradictory but it was entirely possible that after everything that had happened in the past two years of knowing Sin, he had turned into some kind of adrenaline junkie. His hand tightened against Sin's shoe but this time it was because he wanted to increase the pressure, not push it away.

"I dunno, maybe Carhart's a secret bookie?" Owen suggested in a seemingly innocent manner.

Carhart looked weary and sat back in his chair in a manner that showed his growing impatience. "Do you have something of value to contribute, Owen? Or are you just trying to be asinine?"

"Um." Owen gave Carhart a rather startled and paranoid look, as if it had just occurred to him that his supervisor could hear the conversation and now he didn't know if he was in trouble. "Well, I just thought... you know, the flowers... some sort of clue..." He waved a hand vaguely at the screen, then finished with a quieter sort of sheepish guilt as he hunched into his chair, "I guess choice b."

Looking slightly disgusted but not entirely angry, Carhart glanced at the screen again thoughtfully. "What would he gain by selling information to the Chinese?" His hazel eyes moved over to Sin and Boyd as he pursed his lips. "Was there any indication about what kind of information it was?"

"I'm a little rusty on my lip reading," Sin piped up finally in a bored drawl as he pressed his foot more firmly against Boyd. "But he definitely said 'Janus' before he blocked his mouth entirely."

"So I read," Carhart muttered, still appearing thoughtful as he rubbed his chin. "It's possible Dǐ Zhì is finally making a move against Janus and this is the information they need."

"Ohh, that could be," Owen said suddenly, sounding a little more awake as he sat up straighter once again. "I heard something about that on the down-low this morning before the meeting. Rumor has it Janus is smarting from the ass-kicking in Mexico so they're trying harder in other areas to gain power. But they're going into Dǐ Zhì territory, which is pissing them off."

Boyd barely stopped himself from rolling his hips forward to increase the pressure. Gritting his teeth, he moved his hand to grip the arm of the chair. Somewhere inside him he wanted to moan but he forced himself to stay silent, trying to concentrate on breathing evenly and staring at the screen. He knew if he let even a hint of his voice out it would give away what was happening and, fuck, Sin knew how hard it was for him to keep quiet. The asshole was playing with him, and probably found it damn entertaining to watch Boyd inconspicuously struggle.

"Are these rumors from reliable sources?" Carhart asked, not looking entirely trusting of anything Owen had to say at the moment but going on before he could answer. "If they are, that's something we may need to further investigate. Dǐ Zhì is one of the only organizations that share our common enemy of Janus-- if they make a move against them, it may mean good things for us. And it may be time that we stop tiptoeing around each other and try to collaborate on this. We don't have many people on our side, and even if Dǐ Zhì is wary of us, they haven't shown outright hostility like they have for Janus."

Owen grimaced. "Well, that's sorta the problem and why I didn't bring it up earlier. They're not unreliable sources but it's all just conjecture right now, mostly. I was planning to try to get some more concrete leads after this. I think these are probably more than rumors but right now all I got for proof is my own gut, which doesn't really mean much. It'll probably take awhile before I can track down some of the more reliable sources who'd know for sure."

The General nodded and seemed mostly pleased by the answer, his faith in Owen appearing to have been regained. "Work with Ryan on that if you have to." After a moment he looked at the others. "Well that's all we can do for today. When there's more information on the table, we'll be able to do more with this news."

It was a dismissal and as soon as he said it, Sin's foot slipped away innocently and he sat up straight in his chair, leaving Boyd feeling flustered, hot, and his pants uncomfortably tighter. For all that Sin was able to just stop without consequences, Boyd felt like he was reeling in his seat.

"I'd like to talk to the two of you, though," Carhart said to Boyd and Sin.

Owen and Jeffrey were gone within seconds; in Owen's case, he looked like he wanted to leave before he could say something else to mess things up, and in Jeffrey's he looked as though he was headed straight toward another meeting. Boyd shifted uncomfortably in his seat and watched them go with a feeling of longing that didn't make it to his face. He wanted Carhart to leave so he could rip into Sin, or maybe just rip his clothes off.

Boyd looked sidelong at his partner and saw he still had that perfectly innocent expression. Of course he did; he wasn't the one who was getting aroused in the middle of a meeting with their superior staring straight at them.

The thought brought a spike of paranoia with it. Shit, did Carhart know? Is that why he made them stay behind? If he made them stand up right now, Boyd was going to kill Sin... He discreetly slid his hand over his crotch and resisted the urge to narrow his eyes toward Sin; that would just make it more obvious if Carhart was already onto them.

And why wouldn't he be? He'd only been half a table away; he could have heard something, or noticed Boyd's discomfort, or maybe Boyd's eyes were dilated slightly now and there wasn't anything he could do about that. It was hardly surprising if Owen or Jeffrey missed out with them bickering at each other but Carhart had a better view and more time to spend studying his two field agents.

It was somewhat dismaying to realize that he didn't entirely find the thought to be objective. Not that he was an exhibitionist by any stretch of the word or that he wanted Carhart to be watching; rather, it was the idea of being caught that was slightly thrilling.

He'd never have initiated something in that sort of setting on his own and it wasn't usual for Sin, but he had to admit that part of it felt a little like when they were on missions. It was similar to when everything was uncertain and adrenaline rushed through his system; when the world seemed a little clearer and the pounding of his heart made all his decisions seem more important, when they never knew if they were being watched or if they would be caught at any second.

Boyd pressed his back against the chair and tried not to shift again because now the hand that had been meant to cover his arousal was starting to replace Sin's foot with slight movements of his fingers that he didn't feel his mind had actually ordered.

Maybe he really was becoming a junkie.

Concentrating on trying to appear normal, Boyd let the chair dig into his back as he worked on keeping his breathing even and expression neutral. He couldn't quite bring himself to look Carhart in the eyes so he instead studied the report lying in front of him as if he was very interested to see if he had missed any details that would support Owen's current theory. He couldn't say what that theory had been-- he'd been a little too distracted-- but he was fairly certain something had been decided and he'd just have to figure it out later.

The General stared at them both for a moment before his gaze finally settled on Boyd. Boyd didn't know if it was his imagination, but the man seemed more serious and intense than he had throughout the entire briefing. Carhart's eyebrows drew together slightly as he folded his fingers together and continued to scrutinize the younger man. But finally after a long moment of Boyd feeling paranoid and Sin looking thoroughly unconcerned, Carhart spoke.

"I submitted your name into the pool of potential candidates for promotion to level 10," he said suddenly, calmly.

Sin's eyebrows shot up and he glanced over at Boyd without saying a word.

Boyd stared at Carhart in surprise. That was not at all what he'd expected and it took a moment for his mind to process the words. Candidate pool? Promotion to level 10? What...

He remembered having a conversation with Sin about the levels once, and how he'd mentioned something about tests and training and how rare it was for anyone to be invited to level 10.

"Ah," Boyd said after a moment. Between the surprise and the new information, his mind was now completely on the conversation and his arousal was starting to fade. "What does that mean?"

Carhart nodded, as though he'd expected this question, and waved a hand expressively. "It means a lot, actually," he replied. "And it also means nothing at all."

Sin snorted softly and crossed his arms over his chest. He didn't say anything but there was something peculiar about his expression and it wasn't entirely obvious whether he was pleased or displeased by this news. His eyebrows were slightly drawn together but that was the only sign that he was thinking anything at all about the topic since he was giving nothing else away.

"It's rare that this is brought up because it's done out of necessity and of course when the right candidates have presented themselves. Vivienne has, in my opinion, wisely decided that solely relying on Sin and Kassian is no longer the best course of action for the Agency. Not only does it mean that we are without a level 10 for extended periods of time when they go on assignment, which was the case when you were in Monterrey and Kassian was in Russia, but it also wears on the agents and can create a situation where they are too much in demand to physically and mentally keep up with the tasks expected of them."

Carhart paused and his eyes went to Sin; this time his lips pursed and it seemed that he had something more on his mind but he didn't say anything. Instead, he continued. "The training has only been initiated a couple of times in the past few years and out of all nineteen candidates in both pools, only one was chosen to be promoted and he has since died on assignment. It's a very grueling process and it is difficult to meet the goals expected and to achieve the scores needed to rank up. So even though I submitted your name, it doesn't mean you will necessarily reach that point." He shook his head. "Don't think I doubt your abilities; I just want to stress how difficult it really is. Sin can tell you that."

Sin raised an eyebrow. "I don't remember it being very difficult," he said blandly.

Carhart looked back at him and after a moment rolled his eyes, which was both surprising and amusing at the same time. "Fine. Kassian and I can tell you that, since we're currently the only two normal people alive who have gone through it. I forgot that we are in the presence of Super Agent. Forgive my lapse."

"You're forgiven," Sin replied with a smirk.

Boyd was glad to see the two of them getting along better, that Sin wasn't set on denying Carhart any sense of familiarity, but he was more intent about the fact that not all of this made sense to him. His arousal and all thoughts of messing around with Sin were now completely gone as he focused solely on the conversation. "What about the other generals? They didn't take the level 10 training?"

"Not everyone worked their way up from the ground. I started out higher rank because of my military career and accomplishments there but I still had to move up from a lower ranked agent to 9, 10 and then I was promoted eventually to General after many years," Carhart informed him.

"The other Generals were given their titles when hired because of a variety of reasons." His tone seemed to be a mixture of bitterness that some people were handed power and pride in the fact that he'd worked for his position. "It wasn't that way for everyone in the past but many people died in the war."

In other words, Boyd interpreted, at least one of the generals was probably assigned the position as a political move. If that was the case, in all of the Agency, in all of their field agents who could be scattered around the world, there were really only three people alive who had made it through the training and subsequent missions? He looked over at Sin, his expression neutral but eyes more serious than usual, almost subconsciously studying his partner as he thought about it.

Sin, Kassian and Carhart... It wasn't as though Boyd doubted his abilities, but that was a daunting group to live up to. He'd seen Kassian on the field and the man knew what he was doing; he was professional, quick, controlled, and far above the level Boyd felt he was at himself. Carhart had made it up to General and Director of Field Operative Activity, which put him in an even higher position than the few other Generals.

Boyd may not have ever seen him actually on the field but it was obvious he knew what he was doing and was damn good at his job. And there was no point in even trying to compare himself to Sin, who was in many ways on a league of his own from everyone else. The prospect seemed especially intimidating knowing the numbers Carhart had quoted.

"So," Boyd said thoughtfully, as he looked back at Carhart, trying to work this out, "assuming I would be able to make it through the difficult training and I would manage to achieve the scores necessary for the promotion, what would be the ultimate outcome? It seems as though level 10 denotes solo missions and more difficult tasks. If so, what would happen to our unit? Would Sin get a new partner?"

"Not at all," Carhart said with a shake of his head. "In fact, we're doing things a little bit differently this time around. Instead of one person, we plan to promote three."

"Three?" Sin's eyebrows shot up in surprise and skepticism. "You just went on and on about how hard it is to find one and the goal is three?"

"I didn't say we'd find them all in this particular pool or even this year," the general replied dryly. He paused and narrowed his eyes at both of them. "Neither of you are supposed to know about this, so do not broadcast the fact that I told you. Candidates are to be left under the impression that there will only be one chosen for a number of reasons. I trust Boyd to put in his all regardless, which is why I'm telling you at all."

"Why three specifically?" Boyd asked. "Why not more or less?"

"We could most likely use more," Carhart admitted. "But there are varying factors that weigh into the decision, one is money and the other is necessity. Right now we don't have every base covered with just Sin and Kassian but with five level 10s, we at least have the bare minimum needed to properly extend our resources. In a perfect world, there would be multiple level 10s for each major department and back ups for injured or recently dead, but in the real world we're going to take what we can get. So we're looking for someone to specialize in espionage, someone to take Kassian's place as head field agent and team leader for assignments which call for such, and someone who is relatively good in every field so that there is a suitable back up."

The only one of those three that Boyd felt he'd actually do well in was espionage; he wasn't the type to want to be a team leader and he didn't have enough experience in the other fields to be a jack of all trades.

What did that all mean for Kassian, though? Last he'd heard from him, he'd said that it finally looked like he was going to be able to stay around for awhile. Given this news, it made him wonder what that directive had really meant. It wasn't as though he had anything invested in what happened with Kassian but he was curious.

"It seems like you're implying Sin's job won't change but what about Kassian? You're looking for a replacement for him as the head field agent as well as for espionage?"

"It is very doubtful," Carhart began slowly, "that we'll ever find, or at least not at this time, someone who can make as good an assassin as Sin and someone who we can give as high a level of clearance to. So for now, he's in a class all by himself."

"Aren't I special?" Sin said, sarcasm oozing from his voice.

Carhart ignored him and went on. "Kassian isn't being replaced for espionage. That's what he was originally intended for and we need more than one person for that, as undercover assignments can typically go on for any stretch of time. We just need to find someone to replace him as field op leader. It's not something he was supposed to do but he was good at it and so he wound up doing both."

"Ah," Boyd said. That made sense. This was a lot to take in but he wanted to know all the details before he thought about it too closely. "What does the training consist of? Would I do that on the side of our regular missions?"

"It's a bunch of bullshit," Sin said before Carhart could respond; he leaned back in his chair and made another face. "You have to live on the compound and deal with morons constantly."

"I wouldn't call it bullshit," the General corrected Sin. "It's very intense physical and mental training for two months while, yes, living on the compound with the other candidates and then a month of constant testing in various areas. It is very rigorous and time-consuming; candidates are only allowed out of the training area every so often. It's like the boot camp I went through in the military except three hundred times more intense."

"Yeah. Bullshit."

Boyd leaned back in his chair. Well, that certainly did sound intense.

It occurred to him that Sin and he wouldn't see each other during that time. He didn't exactly relish that idea; he felt like he was finally getting to a point where they could afford to be around each other. With Connors and most of the restrictions on Sin gone, they'd even been able to meet up at his house or in the city a few times. He didn't want to give up his ability to be around Sin whenever they felt like it.

On the other hand, he didn't have a problem with working hard for an ultimate goal if he knew the perks would be worth it. He still wasn't exactly clear on what becoming level 10 would get him, though, other than probably a pay raise and more work. And he still hadn't been told what that meant for their partnership.

"What would that mean for this unit, then? If I made level 10, would anything change?"

"No. You'd just have additional work," Carhart said. "But while you're training, there won't be any missions for you unless it is exceptionally important."

Boyd considered that. "Would I ever have solo missions? Or long undercover missions like Kassian has had?"

Carhart nodded without hesitation. "It's very likely. Kassian is an extreme example though-- his assignment is part of an ongoing cover identity and that isn't a typical case for any agent-- but it's also the reason why we need another level 10 for espionage."

Boyd looked down at the file in front of him and thought about it; about the unit and about the possibility of promotion. It would probably sound strange if he said it to anyone, but he had come to like this unit, for all its faults and the constant bickering during briefings, and he would have had to seriously consider if he wanted to break it up or leave it behind if that had been the case.

He liked the group and liked being Sin's partner, even if sometimes he wished he could just go alone. Part of that was because Sin still had a tendency to do his own thing when he felt like it, but a larger part was that he liked to be in control. He liked creating the plans and the backup plans and having the ability to adjust on the fly if need be. It was the sort of thing best done solo.

It was the sort of thing he'd done when he'd first started as an agent even if he'd had no idea what he'd been doing back then... It would be interesting to get a chance to do that again, only this time with some experience to back it up.

Boyd often had moments where he felt like he wasn't as good of an agent as Sin or Kassian, and he wasn't the type to like being second best. He wanted to know he could hold his own as well. Or maybe he just wanted to prove it.

He didn't mind his job as it was now so maybe that would be the perk; the same partnership but with the ability to branch out alone now and then. The chance to really work his mind around the puzzle of the mission, to be the only one responsible, the only one who could receive the majority of the backlash if it went wrong. The chance to avoid nearly getting his partner-- the person he cared about more than anyone else-- killed because of his fuck ups.

Maybe he would even be assigned to accompany Sin on some of the harder, higher level missions, the ones he returned from grim-faced. Maybe it could help.

And that was the catch. Having more control over his own missions put the Agency more in control of him. It meant he could be given assignments that would tax him more than usual, he could be put in situations he didn't agree with, he could be ordered to do things he didn't want to do. Level 10 meant more pay, more action, more responsibility, and more memories he may want to forget.

What was the alternative, though? He was stuck with the Agency for life; be it a long one working small missions or a short one filled with more intensity.

He suspected part of his new found addiction to adrenaline had something to do with the years he'd basically wasted away in a meaningless, emotionless state. Having something that made him truly alive, that pushed him to the limits and made him fear that he may not make it through, made returning home that much more relieving, made having someone to be with that much more important.

He could spend years never quite living up to his potential and have to do things he didn't want to do anyway, or he could also give himself the chance to have a little more control and push himself along the way.

He knew the offer was a double-edged sword and he didn't know what he would ultimately choose, but he wasn't about to let the chance slide by without even considering it.

"When does training start?" Boyd asked as he met Carhart's eyes.

"Two weeks," Carhart replied, appearing pleased. "You'll receive a formal letter in the mail about it, detailing what you're supposed to do." He looked between the two agents again. "Any more questions?"

Boyd shook his head, already thinking through what this would mean for his near future and logistics like ensuring all the bills for the house were on automatic payment because he probably wouldn't have time to bother with that sort of thing once training started.

"I think that covers the major points," he said, then looked at Carhart again.

Belatedly, he wondered what had prompted the general nominate him; was it just that Carhart thought he was that good, or was it that he wanted another level 10 in the unit? Did he want to avoid sending the two of them on extended undercover missions together again so it all wouldn't go to shit like it had before? Or did he truly believe that Boyd would make a good level 10?

It wasn't that he distrusted Carhart's motives; it was simply that he was curious. Granted, overall he'd done a good job on his missions, but the ones he had failed in, he'd failed spectacularly.

Alexis was fully his fault. It may have turned out that it wasn't exactly their fault that Monterrey went down so poorly, but Boyd still knew that he held some of the blame due to his emotional decision. He didn't actively think about it anymore, but after having spoken to Kassian and having been briefly on his team during Monterrey, Boyd was very aware of how unprofessional he seemed in comparison to the senior agent.

The older man nodded and stood up. "I'll see the two of you later. Enjoy the rest of your day."

Carhart turned around and started to leave, but before actually exiting, he looked over his shoulder at Sin with a disapproving frown. "And next time you get bored at a briefing, find other ways to entertain yourself." With that being said, he walked out the door and shut it behind him.

Looking largely unconcerned by the comment, Sin got to his feet with a stretch as he eyeballed his partner warily. He didn't say anything but he had the same peculiar expression on his face that he'd had at the very beginning of the conversation about promotion.

Boyd waited until Carhart left before he slumped back in his chair and slid his eyes closed, running a hand across his face. That was embarrassing.

He could feel Sin still staring at him, so he dropped his hand and looked sidelong at his partner. "What were you thinking?" He asked it lightly, not disapprovingly. "And why are you looking at me like that?"

Sin's intense green eyes focused on him and he raised one broad shoulder nonchalantly. "My mind started to wander," he said simply. "I was trying to refocus."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "How does covertly molesting me help you refocus?"

"Gives me something better to think about," was the unapologetic reply.

Rather than respond to that, Boyd just gave Sin a mild look. "And the look?" he prompted, making sure Sin knew he noticed that he'd conveniently not answered the question the first time.

There was a brief silence as Sin stared down at him and idly dragged his fingers along a rip in the thigh of his jeans. He started to shake his head in a manner that usually meant he was going to brush off the topic at hand, but instead he narrowed his eyes slightly and shrugged. "I was just wondering if this is really such a good idea."

"Why not?" Boyd asked calmly, although his eyes narrowed slightly at the comment as he watched his partner more closely.

Another silence and this time Sin just shook his head and turned toward the door. "Nevermind." He pulled the door open and walked out into the hall, shoving his hands into the pockets of his fading ragged jeans; secondhand gems from a flea market.

"Oh, what the hell," Boyd muttered to himself, annoyed. Did Sin not think he would understand? Or did he think he wasn't good enough for level 10?

It took him a moment to gather his things and make it out into the hallway, but as soon as he caught up to Sin, he spoke quietly enough for their conversation to stay between them. "You can't give me that look throughout the entire conversation, say it's a bad idea, and expect me to just ignore it when you won't explain. I want to know your reason."

"You're going to get pissed off and defensive regardless, so what difference does it make what I have to say?" Sin asked dryly as he walked down the hall.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Boyd said mildly. "And what makes you think that's the only reaction I'd have?" There was no edge to the question despite the fact he was mildly indignant about the assumption.

"Because you seemed annoyed when I told you what I was thinking." He looked over at Boyd with a frown.

Boyd sighed. "I wasn't annoyed until you told me nevermind. And that was only because you'd been giving me a look the entire time and then wouldn't explain it." He raised his eyebrows. "Seriously, Sin. You're my partner and one of three people alive right now who have been through the training. Your opinion isn't exactly irrelevant here; regardless of if I agree, I still want to know why you think it wouldn't be a good idea."

Sin stopped walking and turned to Boyd, crossing his arms over his chest. "It has nothing to do with whether or not I think you deserve to be promoted. I'm just concerned, I guess." He shook his head and raised one hand, rubbing his head as though he was in pain.

"Concerned?" Boyd echoed. His gaze absently drifted toward Sin's hand; his partner had been more tired lately, more prone to headaches. When he'd asked Sin a few weeks ago why that was, he'd just said he'd been having trouble sleeping. It was no wonder, since Sin had never been very good at sleeping. In all the chaos after the raid, he'd probably also been woken up by sounds of construction on the compound at night. "Why?"

"Because it's a lot of shit. It's a lot that will be expected of you and a lot that they will make you do, a lot you won't want to do. I'm not talking about their bullshit Olympic training crap, either. I'm talking about assignments like the kind you were so against when I told you about them in Monterrey and assignments that send Kassian away for years a time where I'm sure he had to do shit he probably thought he was never capable of. And even though you've been here for a couple of years, I don't think you're ready to be sent off to do that kind of shit." Sin shrugged again and finally looked away. "It's not some exciting 'promotion' like Carhart is making it out to be. It sucks. But you can do whatever you want."

"I know," Boyd said after a moment and looked away as well. "At least, I know that the solo assignments you're given aren't always the sort of thing to envy, and I know Kassian was gone for awhile. I know I didn't agree with the assignment you told me about. I don't know what I really think about all of this yet. It's not something I would have thought to nominate myself for if I'd had the chance. And anyway, I..."

He paused, eyes narrowing as he tried to work out his thoughts. "I like a challenge, I guess." He looked over at Sin. "I suppose I figure that if it isn't right for me, it'll be quite obvious once training starts and I just won't get promoted. Things will return to normal, I'll probably have improved myself in general during the training, and there will be no harm done."

"You won't know whether or not it's right for you until you're promoted and they give you the assignment and then it will be too late," Sin pointed out. "I have no doubt that you'll be promoted. You're a fast learner and you're good at the job. I just think you don't need to be in the position I often find myself in because of my rank. It fucks with my head and I've been doing this for over a decade and I'm sure it affects Kassian too, just like it fucked with and killed every other level 10 in the past, and they were doing this shit a lot longer than you've even been here."

Sin dropped his hand and shrugged again, looking more tired as the conversation progressed. "Carhart is going to tell you whatever he needs to tell you because he knows he needs more people for the job. He's not going to tell you the straight facts about what will be expected of you. But it doesn't matter anyway. That's just my opinion. You'll do whatever you want and it's not really my business."

Boyd considered that a moment. "How did that other level 10 die? The one Carhart mentioned."

Sin squinted and went back to rubbing his head again. "I forgot the details. But he was on an undercover assignment and he never came back. He just disappeared for months but then his body parts started showing up in pieces."

"Guess they figured out who he was," Boyd said dryly. "I'll have to think about this. I already planned to; I wasn't going to just jump into it."

He glanced away briefly, pushing his hair back from his face with a light sigh. Maybe Sin's tiredness was contagious; this conversation was starting to wear on him as well. He didn't know what he was going to decide and right then he really didn't want to think about it. He had two weeks and he did his best thinking at home alone, anyway.

But even though Sin was saying not to go through with the training, Boyd was still pleased that Sin seemed so certain that he would pass. There had been a time in their partnership when Sin seemed to think he was nothing but a fuck up; a stupid kid who relied on gadgets to survive. It was nice to know that things had changed.

The pleasant thought shifted his concentration away from the serious topic at hand and allowed him to just focus on Sin, or maybe he was using it as an excusable segue to stop himself from more serious thoughts. He couldn't help noticing that, even pissed off and tired, Sin was still incredibly attractive. Sin didn't know how tempting his full lips looked when they were pulled down in that sullen frown and he definitely didn't realize how those intensely staring green eyes could turn Boyd on.

After a moment of silence, Sin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. When he swallowed, it caused Boyd's attention to drift to the smooth tanned skin at Sin's throat, the way his Adam's apple bobbed...

Now that his attention was firmly turned away from the topic of training, Boyd suddenly thought about Sin's 'refocusing' during the debriefing. There had been a moment in which he'd wanted to reach out and pull Sin into a kiss, he'd wanted to lean against him and feel his strength and the heat of his body and despite the serious topic, he still wanted to; maybe he could drag him all the way to Sin's apartment where they could do more.

But even this infrequently used hallway was public domain and he knew very well that there were cameras that guards would be watching. Even though most of the guards had long since backed off and neither he nor his partner had gotten much trouble from them for awhile, he wasn't about to give them more shit to talk about.

So Boyd kept his expression neutral as he said, "But that's for later. What are you doing now? I was thinking we could continue with where we left off back there." He tilted his head toward the conference room.

Sin's eyebrows rose and he looked at Boyd in surprise and something else that almost seemed like... relief. It wasn't obvious which he was relieved about; to be done with the conversation or that Boyd hadn't taken his concern the wrong way. "I think that's the best idea I've heard all day," he said with a slight smile.

As they made their way across the compound, people bustled around; it was notable how different everything seemed in contrast to how it had been in the spring. When they'd returned from Mexico there had been so much tension in the air, as if everyone was walking a fine line of caution and paranoia due to fear of Connors' wrath, but now it seemed that people were more at ease. Or as at ease as anyone could really be at the Agency.

It was ironic considering that there had recently been so much damage, death and destruction right there in what had once been a safe haven, and that the assailants were still unknown. But it was just one of those strange things that went along with how different the world was since the war and the aftermath. People didn't expect much from anyone else, didn't expect much from the world as a whole, and no one ever really seemed surprised when tragedy struck; even if it was on their own doorstep.

Boyd shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked across the large, grassy courtyard quietly.

No one really paid much notice to them other than a couple of people that glanced their way. It was nothing like the attention they'd received in the past. However, it was obvious that people still wondered about their relationship; about the slightly effeminate gay kid and how he'd managed to get so close to the psychopath who'd previously seemed incapable of normal human interaction.

It was just that now they wondered quietly.

And even if the guards in Sin's building more than likely knew what went on behind his door, the door they guarded rather lazily these days, other than the occasional winking remark no one went on too much about it.

As they entered the apartment and Sin kicked the door closed impatiently behind him, Boyd was pretty sure that he'd receive one of those remarks on the way out.

Boyd stared at the ceiling, sweat coating his skin and the familiar smell of sex and Sin's apartment hanging in the air. His fingers rested against the old scars on his bare stomach, and his legs were tangled in the sheets. He took care not to move the bed too much when he dropped his head to the side, studying his partner.

Sin lay at his side, half-covered by the sheets, his expression drawn in the fitful sleep he'd fallen into. It was the middle of the day but given how tired Sin had seemed lately, Boyd didn't think it was necessary to wake him. Even if he slept until the following morning he probably wouldn't get caught up on the amount of sleep he needed.

When they'd been in Monterrey, it had seemed like Sin had finally been able to properly rest, that his expression had seemed relaxed and calm. Boyd had always thought that Sin had been that way because of their distance from the Agency, and now he felt that the assumption was verified. Connors and his totalitarian rule may be over, but there was still a lot to do and there were still webs they were each caught in now that they'd returned.

Vivienne was giving Sin more slack than he'd had in years but that didn't mean he was no longer considered a monster by some, despite the fact that many people had a new-found fascination with him after they'd found out he'd become an 'unlikely hero,' as Kassian had put it, by saving Vivienne's life.

Watching Sin shift uncomfortably and tighten his expression, Boyd felt a dual surge of emotions; a sense of sadness that Sin no longer felt peace even in sleep, and a warm feeling of fondness toward his partner.

He carefully pushed himself up onto his elbow, twisted on his side and reached out to gently run his hand along Sin's forehead, pushing some of the dark hair away from his face. Although Sin seemed to subconsciously lean into the touch, he otherwise did not react and thankfully seemed no closer to waking than he had been before.

There hadn't been many chances lately to just watch Sin without interruption in the pale light of the day. The moments when they were alone and away from the public were often filled with frantic sex and exhausted sleep afterward. In Sin's case, he always seemed restless when asleep; maybe they were the same nightmares he'd had from before, resurrected now that his stress level had increased. There was no way to tell for sure.

Several times Boyd would fall asleep only to wake and find that Sin was gone. Most of the time he didn't think twice about it; they never made it a point to explain their every move to each other and he sometimes left Sin's in the middle of the night, too, usually because he had something he had to get done that night or he couldn't sleep due to the occasional distant sound of construction. However, at times he did think about how he knew what he felt toward Sin but he didn't know what exactly Sin felt in response. Because of that there were times when he had to wonder if their reasons for leaving were different.

It wasn't something that seemed especially pertinent, though. He knew Sin cared about him as a friend and a partner and that was the most important thing at the moment, given all of the hurdles they'd crossed in the past two years. But it was still something he wondered about from time to time. He'd thought about bringing it up but the time never seemed right and he had no idea what he would say, anyway.

Aside from all that, right then he was thankful for the relative quiet and for a moment that was not caught up in the whirlwind of time. And he was glad that he had the ability to watch his partner sleep, even if Sin looked like he was likely having a nightmare, because only a few short months earlier it'd seemed like they would never see each other again.

Boyd felt that moments like this emphasized that what he really felt for Sin was love; it was something he couldn't help, something he didn't really feel like denying. This was the first time that he could recognize at the time it was happening how much he cared about another person. With Lou, Boyd had realized long after the fact that Lou had mattered as much as he did; he hadn't had moments where he just stared at Lou and allowed himself to just acknowledge and experience what he felt.

When Sin was near, Boyd was intensely aware of his presence, of how good it felt to have him there, sometimes even when they were arguing. The familiar feel of Sin's body, the sound of his voice, the smell of his apartment and even the light cloud of cigarette smoke that drifted around him; these were all things that had become like second nature to Boyd's life, aspects that were as normal as if they were part of his own mannerisms and experiences.

He couldn't imagine what it would be like without Sin because it felt like Sin was the most important part of what he had. He'd gone through a lot of shit since he'd joined the Agency, but Sin had been there all along the way. Whether Sin had been part of the problem or the solution no longer felt important to him. In some ways, the only reason Boyd had bothered to pull himself out of his self-assigned hell after Lou's death had been because Sin was there. Even if Sin hadn't been the sole motivating factor in the things that had happened, it was difficult to say whether or not those changes would have occurred if Sin had not been there.

By now, Sin was a constant, someone he could never quite take for granted because he'd nearly lost him more than once. For all that they would argue sometimes and had an imperfect partnership, Sin gave him a sense of safety. Boyd knew that whatever happened in the future, he'd be able to count on his partner to be there to have his back just as he had so many times in the past. He knew he had someone to return to.

Boyd's fingers sifted through Sin's soft hair and he leaned forward to lightly kiss his forehead, sliding his eyes closed as he rested there a moment, listening to Sin's even but somewhat shallow breathing and the rustling of the sheets as his feet shifted on the bed. This was the sort of thing he wanted to have from now and into the future; the knowledge and reassurance that despite how busy they may get and how much else may happen, they could at least return to a moment like this even briefly.

After a few breaths of peaceful silence, Boyd pulled away and sat up. He took care to keep the bed as steady as possible as he crawled over to the side and stood, intending to wash up briefly before venturing outside once again. He didn't want to stay there and risk accidentally waking Sin up since he wasn't anywhere near tired.

It didn't take long before he was dressed and had his hair back in a ponytail to make it less obvious it was still damp. Awhile ago he'd finally had his hair dyed back to as close to his natural blond color as he could so it no longer had the contrasting brown ends. He'd let the woman in Unit 16 cut it at that time, giving it a strangely metropolitan style. She had assured Boyd that he looked quite hot but he hadn't really cared, he just hadn't wanted to look so conspicuous anymore; it was bad for his profession.

When he returned to Sin's bedroom he found the other man still asleep. Feeling relieved that Sin hadn't been disturbed, Boyd silently left the apartment.

There was a guard standing watch outside who had become accustomed to Boyd coming and going. He was one of the guards who seemed to think he knew what really went on behind the door because he gave Boyd a knowing look and asked with a smirk, "Get your fill?"

Boyd didn't respond other than giving him a neutral glance before ignoring him. He heard the guard make a slight amused noise behind him but he let the sound get drowned out by the door shutting as he stepped into the stairwell and headed downstairs. Once outside, he took a moment to just stand there and take in the day, thinking about how much had changed, and continued to change, in the last few months.

The cool October ambiance somehow seemed to be reflected within the Agency's walls. Outside, the glimpses past skyscrapers showed an overcast sky with a dull grey tinge as the clouds crowded out the clear blue beyond. The wind was cool and light against the skin; occasional gusts seemed laced with ice, a portent for the winter just a month or so away.

This year the weather seemed especially uncertain; the inevitable progression from cool to cold was broken by infrequent and surprising standalone days with wind that was warmer than expected or clouds which seemed clearer than usual.

The same feeling of transition, imbalance, and change could be felt within the compound. After Vivienne Beaulieu's rise to power following the infiltration several months prior, there had been a lot of changes.

Some were probably long overdue, like establishing new disaster protocol with prevention and reaction procedures for possible other infiltrations; those came with a mandate that all staff must be trained on the changes. The tunnels were blocked and secured, the perimeter was strengthened, and even if no one could say for sure it was happening, it was generally assumed that there was an in-depth internal affairs investigation to discover who the traitor might have been, if anyone. This resulted in employees suddenly disappearing for a few hours to a few days, and when they returned they wouldn't say what happened. Vivienne had made it very clear that she would not tolerate any insubordination among the staff and was willing to take measures against it.

It was part of the reason why many people were happy with her rise to power. A lot of agents, especially the generals and higher ranking staff, felt she had no idea how to deal with the Agency. She was a civilian and even if the Agency was only a pseudo militaristic organization, there were some who felt that her background with Public Relations and as House Speaker didn't qualify her for the job at all. They thought it was bad enough when she'd been Inspector, but now it was worse that she was Acting Marshal as well.

However over time, some people had started to have grudging respect for her. The compound was more secure, the buildings that had been decimated were being redesigned and rebuilt, and temporary studios nearby had been acquired to house the hundreds of staff who were displaced. She remained as cold and aloof as ever, but rumors of a professionally trained and experienced replacement for Connors eventually coming were starting to allay some fears that she would remain solely in power indefinitely.

In some ways, Boyd and Sin had benefited quite a bit from her reign of power. No one knew her exact reasons but she had given Sin more relative freedom than he'd ever had. He still had a GPS unit implanted within him so he could not disappear, and there was no doubt that he would continue to be swiftly and mercilessly held accountable for any wrongdoings, but there was a certain sense of leeway he was given for the moment and neither Sin nor Boyd were planning to complain about it.

The other person who had benefited in a bizarre way was Thierry. There was no doubt that, had Connors remained in charge, Thierry would be long dead by now. Only, of course, after he had spilled all the pertinent secrets he was privy to. Boyd suspected that in that scenario Thierry would've been given to Shane indefinitely.

Vivienne, however, did not work that way and had likely utilized some other method of interrogation, something less likely to result in a quick death. She was a strong supporter of wringing every single drop of use out of people before she disposed of them. That coldly logical part of her personality had once affected Boyd heavily as her son as well, but even that had slowly been changing.

He had seen her a handful of times since the infiltration, primarily for work-related updates but once to discuss brief personal matters, and he'd realized that in the months since he'd made an effort to be more independent, her opinions of him mattered less than they had before.

She would probably always hold some amount of sway over him simply because she was his mother and he'd been heavily influenced by her for years, but it was gratifying to recognize that now he mostly cared about her thoughts from a business perspective; she was his superior and the temporary head of the Agency, and that was it. He'd felt more her equal than ever before and, as if she'd sensed the change in him, she'd started to treat him a touch less coldly, a hint more respectfully, and each time he'd walked away he'd felt less in turmoil than ever before.

The situation wasn't perfect and was a work-in-progress; his relationship with her was as convoluted as ever, but the difference was he was starting to feel he had some sense of control in it, that she wasn't the one always calling the shots and telling him what to do and think.

The wind picked up abruptly, skittering fallen leaves across the pavement in front of him in a playful, colorful dance, and the loose part of his hair briefly obscured his vision. He pulled some hair behind his ears and only realized as he looked up that he'd absently wandered toward one of the buildings rather than toward the parking lot.

He was mildly surprised to find himself in front of the residential building that he knew housed Thierry, but then he supposed that thinking about the man briefly must have subconsciously led him there. He almost turned and walked away, passing it off as a brief moment of tiredness, but something stopped him.

He didn't know what would happen with Thierry once they had finally verified the latest report, but he did know that he fully believed him now. When he imagined Thierry, he couldn't think of him in his fine suit with his wine and smooth words as he led them around Paris, or really even the man he'd slept with for information.

Instead, Boyd remembered the scared and stubborn man with bleeding feet who had walked from one chamber of death directly toward another under a different group's flag. For all that Thierry was and had been, that act took someone with a lot of courage, someone resigned with a completely dismal outlook on life, or someone incredibly stupid. He knew Thierry wasn't stupid but he realized that he didn't know which of the other two reasons it had been.

He'd betrayed Janus for the Agency's allegiance, but why? The game he'd been playing had served him well for so long; what had caused him to deviate with such important information?

Boyd realized he wanted to see him; he wanted to talk to him and, since one never knew when they'd get a second chance in the Agency, it was better to see him now before something could happen. As far as he was concerned, Thierry had proven himself to at least be a man with some sense of defining character; Boyd just didn't know exactly what that character was yet.

He flashed his ID at the guard outside, who recognized him and waved him in without a second glance. When he asked where Thierry was, he was given an answer in a bored tone as the guard already looked away to survey the surroundings.

He didn't really know what he intended to say to Thierry but that didn't stop him from jogging up the stairs two at a time until he arrived at the third floor. The stairwell door swung heavily shut behind him as he stepped into a well-lit, well-tended hallway with rich maroon carpeting and lights warming the walls. He didn't have to search for Thierry's door; it was the one with the two guards standing outside at attention, eyeing him warily as he approached.

"What are you doing here?" one of them asked; it was less a challenge than it was wariness of the anomaly of his visit.

"I want to speak to Beauvais," Boyd said calmly and showed his ID card again.

It probably wasn't necessary; like the first guard, he seemed to recognize Boyd immediately. That was no small wonder given Boyd's infamy the year before with the guards and the population at the Agency in general. Even so, seeing "Level 9" flashed before his eyes seemed to remind the guard that he was seriously outranked here and if Boyd wanted to see the detainee, then he had the clearance level necessary to do so.

The second guard had yet to look away from surveying the halls with an alertness that was not usual for most guards who grew bored with their duty.

The first man stepped to the side to give access to the door. "Good luck," he said sarcastically. "He makes less noise than a mute most days."

Although that comment did not fit the Thierry that Boyd had first been introduced to, it was not surprising. Months of interrogation and imprisonment would not exactly make a person more talkative or cheerful. Even if Thierry had been moved to a nicer apartment, the guards stationed outside his door made it very clear that he was still not to be trusted and that he was, at the moment, little more than a glorified prisoner on probation.

Boyd paused only briefly before he knocked on Thierry's door.

There was a long moment of silence and for a moment he didn't think Thierry would answer, but then the light under the door was briefly darkened and Boyd knew the other man was on the inside looking out. He continued to stare at the door calmly but as several moments passed he began to wonder if Thierry would ignore him. However, after what seemed like an eternity of standing next to the two guards, the locks clicked and the door swung open.

The man standing on the other side was neither the flamboyant man from Paris nor the determined but obviously frightened prisoner who they'd led back from Mexico. This was someone entirely new, someone tired-looking and wary; someone who was staring at him distrustfully, as if he really didn't know what to expect from such a visit.

"What are you doing here?" Thierry asked, French accent as prominent as ever and voice dull, subdued.

Boyd felt a brief sense of sympathy from seeing Thierry look so worn and wary; he tried to make the man feel as at ease as he could while not giving anything away in front of the guards. Glancing briefly past Thierry into his apartment, his body language relaxed and expression neutral, Boyd met Thierry's eyes again. "Can I come in?"

There was a brief moment where he wasn't sure whether or not Thierry would actually grant the request but then the other man shrugged finally and stepped aside, allowing entrance. The door was shut quietly after Boyd entered and neither of them spoke at first, giving him the opportunity to look around the main room of the apartment.

It was very similar to the floor plan of Sin's place, with the kitchen, entry and living room all attached with doorways leading off to a bedroom and likely a bathroom, and it was almost as Spartan. There were no personal touches, no decorations and nothing to imply that this was someone's home other than the faint smell of Clove cigarettes that lingered in the air.

But then again, it wasn't a home. This was most likely not the place Thierry would prefer to spend his time, let alone live.

Thierry walked away from the door, bare feet shuffling over the tile of the entrance as he went over to the living room area to pick up his still-lit cigarette. He was obviously thinner, paler, and although he wasn't bruised and bloody like he'd been the last time Boyd had been in his presence, he still seemed like a man who was suffering. His wavy brown hair hung lifelessly in his eyes; eyes that lacked the twinkle they'd once had in a situation that seemed to have happened a lifetime ago. He was still undeniably attractive but the aura of smug arrogance that had once clung to him like an almost suffocating fog was now gone.

"I have nothing left to tell anyone," Thierry said after awhile. "So you see, you don't need to be here."

Boyd felt something for Thierry; he didn't know if it was sadness or what, but he did know that he remembered the feeling of desolation and hopelessness when everything had fallen apart for him. It must be even worse for Thierry, who lost his livelihood and freedom and now was held prisoner by the Agency; yet if he were to escape the Agency's hold then the groups like Janus that he'd betrayed would be out to kill him.

He was like a refugee from his former life.

Although it was true that in many ways Thierry had basically brought all this upon himself through his former lifestyle, it made Boyd wonder even more why he'd helped the Agency with that information.

Even if the Monterrey meeting hadn't been a trap, if they'd raided it successfully and had gotten away, wouldn't that have still cast doubt on Thierry in the end? Or had he been so confident that multiple people had access to the information that he wouldn't have been singled out?

"Thierry," Boyd said not unkindly. "Except for those guards and you, no one knows I'm here. This is... more of a social call than anything. I just didn't want to say that out there; I don't know what their orders are and it was possible they would turn me away if they thought it wasn't specifically for work." He tilted his head. "Is that alright?"

Thierry's cobalt blue eyes rose briefly to study him, face drawn distrustfully as he sat down on the sofa and pulled his knees against his chest. Sliding his cigarette between his lips and flicking a lighter idly, Thierry looked up again from under his mess of dark brown hair. "Social call? We are not friends."

"I know," Boyd said, remaining by the door until Thierry decided it was alright for him to stay. "But I don't really think we're enemies, either."

"Maybe not," Thierry conceded as he dropped his eyes again and took a drag of his Clove. "But it is hard to tell anymore. Who wants me dead, who wants to use me for what I know, who is using me for information..." He looked at Boyd again. "Trust is no longer in my repertoire, Agent Beaulieu. I merely exist as long as I am useful and that is all I can expect from anyone."

Boyd nodded, not surprised by that given the circumstances. "I don't expect you to believe me because you have no reason to, but I really don't have any ulterior motives in coming here."

He studied Thierry, tilting his head slightly as he amended, "Well. It would be a lie to say that I wasn't curious about something, so in a way, yes I suppose I do wonder about some information. But I just want to ask it for myself. Even though it's one reason I came here, another is just because I wanted to check up on you. Even if you told me right now you don't want to answer any questions, regardless of if they're out of curiosity or for orders, but you wouldn't mind me staying for a bit, simply as a person with no ill will toward you, then I would stay and not ask anything. I'm aware that this probably sounds like a lie, but know that it wouldn't be something calculated I would do just to get in your good graces so you'll answer my questions later."

Thierry nodded but his expression didn't change. He continued to gaze at Boyd intently, slender fingers absently bringing the cigarette to his lips once again. "You are one of the few Americans here who actually pronounce my first name correctly," he said, seemingly randomly, before going on. "Americans are interesting creatures. They criticize those who speak their language with a slight accent but have no issues with butchering most other languages, my name included. There is only one other who does not call me a scientific hypothesis. It seems Vivienne Beaulieu also manages to avoid calling me 'Theory.'"

He paused and tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing. "I assume her last name and also knowledge of French pronunciation cannot both be coincidences with yours."

Boyd watched him a moment though his expression did not change. He could imagine where this was going; if Thierry had met his mother there was little doubt that he would have been aware of the sort of person she was. Knowing that Boyd and she were related, Thierry could be even less likely to trust Boyd, possibly suspecting that he was similar to her or she would get information out of him later. If that's how it turned out then there wasn't much that could be done about it; it would be unfortunate, but Boyd wasn't about to beg Thierry to trust or believe him.

"When we met, I told you my mother is French," Boyd said in assent. "I assume this means you've met her."

"Obviously," Thierry said, finishing his cigarette and stubbing it out in the astray that was balanced on the arm of the couch. He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his attention to the window, looking out with his chin lifted slightly, some of his previous haughtiness creeping back into his expression. It almost seemed as though he was making an attempt to get across that he wasn't just a tired, beaten prisoner; he was still the man who'd played every major international rebel group and profited from it immensely. "What is it that you want here? I do hope you had the prudence to not bring Sin."

"It's not like he's a lap dog I bring with me everywhere," Boyd said dryly. "As far as I know, he's nowhere near here." He paused, watching Thierry a moment before he decided to just ask. "I wasn't lying when I said I was checking on you. But in addition, I suppose I was wondering if you'd been planning from the start to give all that information to the Agency."

Thierry glanced over at him, appearing mildly surprised that he'd actually been forthright with the question, and he seemed to appreciate the directness. He wasn't a naive or stupid man; he was probably better at reading body language, tones and figuring out the undercurrent of a question or comment than most spies at the Agency. It'd been imperative for his previous profession that he be able to tell who was lying, who was playing games, and most of all, who didn't believe what he was saying but was trying to hide it.

The fact that Boyd wasn't playing the usual verbal games that others did was surprising but a relief nonetheless. "You mean, the information that they tortured out of me?"

Boyd's gaze did not waver and his expression did not significantly change, but Thierry was able to tell that he was not particularly pleased by the reference. "Yes," he said evenly. "I have no intention of pushing you that far for the answer, though."

Making a face, the French man crossed one knee over the other and folded his hands on top of them as he appeared to consider the question. "The answer would be yes-- I had always planned to give the Americans my allegiance, but I would not have liked to give up all my secrets at one time and ensure that I could never show my face in Europe again without fear of assassination. You bring less attention to yourself if information is given and acted on slowly rather than all at one time, you see. Certain things I was exclusively privy to for quite some time, but as that time passes, other people in that close inner circle of specific organizations also find out and then it can be any number of people who are possibly the rat and not just the young French man who has been tied to them since he was a child."

He paused and raised his eyebrows ironically. "Although I suppose the Mexican incident was a test that I failed. I suppose I should have known better."

"Tied to them?" Boyd echoed; he didn't know anything about what Thierry was referring to. He'd never thought too much about how Thierry had gotten into the position he'd been in; he would've just assumed Thierry had chosen the lifestyle. After all, he'd seemed to be quite good at it. Maybe it hadn't been a conscious decision after all, though. "How so?"

Thierry gazed at him and seemed somehow pleased that at least all of his secrets weren't made readily available to everyone at the Agency. Even so, he answered anyway. "Without my father's money it is entirely possible that Janus would have taken a lot longer to become more than just another unruly group of rebels."

Boyd raised his eyebrows, surprised by that. He'd never heard anything about Thierry's family being involved with Janus or supporting them through funding. He wondered if Carhart or Sin knew about that; and if they did, why they'd never mentioned it.

If Thierry's father had been so supportive of Janus, it made Boyd wonder if Thierry's betrayal had been an especially hard blow to them. Then again, they may not have cared; they were primarily interested in their ideals and secondarily the people involved only as long as they continued to support them.

It wasn't surprising; any group went after traitors but Janus especially took care to deal with the situation. With such a grassroots organization built initially on idealist activism, they didn't appreciate it when someone stopped believing.

"Why did your father support Janus?" Boyd asked, watching Thierry closely. "And why were you planning to support the Ageny, then? I take it you must not get along with him very well?"

"That really has nothing to do with anything. I don't blindly follow people just because they are my family or take an opposite position just to be contrary." Thierry examined the sleeve of his shirt and seemed dissatisfied with what he saw. "It doesn't matter one way or another to him at this time, in any case. He was assassinated, likely by the Americans."

"I didn't realize that," Boyd said, careful to keep his tone inoffensive.

If Thierry's father really had been giving money to Janus it would not be surprising if the Agency had in fact sent assassins. It even could have been Sin or Kassian who did the job. The more he heard about the situation from Thierry's side, the more he wanted to know. It wasn't really that Thierry had inside knowledge on Janus; it was mostly that he was curious about Thierry himself.

"Why give America your allegiance, then? I'm not trying to imply anything," Boyd added reasonably. "I just don't understand why you would have chosen the Agency over an organization you would have known since you were a child, unless it's precisely because you know what happens within Janus that you don't support them. That, or the Agency must offer you something Janus does not."

The other man waved his hand in a motion that was both careless and elegant at the same time. "Who knows?" He said vaguely. "I just get these whims sometimes..."

Boyd raised an eyebrow at that but fell silent for a moment. It was pretty clear that Thierry was finished with being forthright, which was unsurprising since there was no real reason for him to explain himself in the first place. Beyond that, Boyd was asking some fairly intrusive questions simply because he was curious.

"I've kept you long enough," he said lightly, tilting his head as he considered the other man. "I'll leave." There had been enough of a lull that his words and changed subject did not seem particularly abrupt.

Thierry shrugged casually as if he didn't care one way or the other, but his mouth automatically turned down into a frown. It was hard to tell what the man was thinking, as he was likely very well-versed in masking his true intentions, but it almost seemed that for one instant he didn't want Boyd to go. "Wait."

Boyd paused and looked at him curiously.

"If no one sent you, why did you come here? Why would you want to check up on me?" Thierry's tone was neutral but as he spoke, he turned his face away conspicuously as though he didn't want Boyd to see his expression anymore.

Watching him briefly, as if determining how much to say, Boyd did not immediately answer. After a moment, he looked away and ran a hand through his hair with a quiet sigh.

"There's no way I'd know what it must be like to be in your exact position right now," Boyd explained seriously. "Honestly, for most people I'm not sure how much I'd care. It's not exactly like you're an innocent in this. I don't know what they did to you here; who or what they forced you to see or think and talk about. Since my mother's in charge, I can only assume she chose the most efficient way, which, knowing her, probably also happened to be the most merciless. She may have sent you to a man here..."

He paused briefly then looked over, meeting Thierry's eyes when the other man finally glanced up. When he spoke, for all that his expression did not change and his tone was calm, there was the briefest flash of something in his eyes that showed he wasn't lying or fabricating a story to gain Thierry's confidence. "I don't know how much you know or care about what happened to Sin and me after we came back from Monterrey and I don't really want to talk about it in depth. But because of the magnitude of the fuck up, they sent me to that man."

Boyd's eyes narrowed. "It was only a few weeks but it felt like forever, and when I got out I was completely alone and fucked up. After all that, having no one around... I think I really needed someone to come by, to ground me or snap me out of it, but there was no one to do that for a long time. And as for me, it was only a brief time that I was with him; I don't know what it would be like for longer."

Thierry's full lips turned down in a sour frown as he absently brought up a hand to massage his temples. He didn't speak though and continued to watch Boyd without interruption, perhaps out of fear that the flow of words, the flow of direct honesty, would stop.

Boyd briefly wondered if it was alright for him to mention the missions but then he decided it should be fine since he had no intention of giving any pertinent information away or details; he just thought Thierry should know why he could afford to trust him a little more now rather than even a month or two earlier.

"We've verified almost conclusively that you did not betray us, that the information you've since given was legit. I may not have an idea of what exactly it's like for you right now but I feel like maybe that small part of you that could potentially exist, the person who may be alone and isolated, afraid and distrustful; I feel like that at least I can understand. I believe that you didn't purposefully send us into a trap, and when I think that, I know that when I was in your territory in France you were relatively nice to me. Now that you're in my territory in America, I don't see why I can't return the favor. Of course, I'm perfectly aware that I don't know you very well or what has been happening with you lately. It's just that when I thought of you being in a position similar to the one I'd been in, I found myself here. If it turns out you aren't or are uninterested in my presence, that's fine. It was just an offer and I did show up rather suddenly."

"I do not..." Thierry trailed off, face screwing up slightly in displeasure and switched to fluid French. "I do not think it is possible for me to be uninterested in you, Boyd Beaulieu. For all of my games..." He paused again and narrowed his eyes at Boyd as though trying to make the decision about whether or not he should continue before tossing his thick black hair carelessly with a slight smile. "For all of my games, my affections for you in France were quite genuine. I have thought of you often since then and especially while in captivity."

Surprised, Boyd watched him a moment, searching his expression for any signs that he wasn't being serious. It was true that the disc Thierry had given him contained more information than Carhart had been expecting, that Thierry's words and behavior in France had seemed sincere. But since then Boyd had assumed that they were all things Thierry did with everyone; that it had been fabricated interest to lull the other person into giving him what he wanted.

"Why?" Boyd asked finally in French.

"After the Monterrey debacle I wondered often if you were blamed for any of it and I wondered at the trouble it may have caused for you. In captivity, I wondered if you cared at all about the fact that you and your insane partner brought me back to what, for many weeks, appeared to be my executioners." He looked up at the ceiling wryly. "Not that it matters anymore. I have nothing left-- my money is frozen away and untouchable, my hotel was burned down, my lover killed and I cannot return to my home. I am merely a ward of the Agency now and I suppose death would not be quite so bad as this pathetic existence."

Boyd hadn't heard about any of that. "Janus did that?"

"Yes," Thierry replied, switching back to English. "They are quite spiteful when someone has crossed them. Although I suppose it's special circumstances for me."

"When did that happen?"

Thierry was silent a moment and he extended his arms before him in a slight stretch, appearing nonchalant about the topic. "I happened to be out of the country right after your attack. They could not find me so they took their aggression out on things close to me."

He looked up again and smiled briefly. "It was then that I went into hiding."

Boyd slid his eyes closed. He knew what it was like to lose a loved one to violence. He didn't know if Thierry ever found his lover's body but he doubted it; Janus had probably been watching for him to return. He'd probably heard about it instead and wasn't able to ever return for closure. Then again, was it really closure, seeing the dead body of a lover? He knew it hadn't really worked that way for him with Lou; closure for him had been trying to let go of the memories of his death and moving past it.

"I didn't know." Although he didn't say it, Boyd's tone made it obvious that he was sorry it had happened.

Thierry folded his hands behind his head casually and changed the topic. "I am glad that you came. It is good to know I have at least one person who is friendly."

Boyd watched him a moment then looked down and searched through his messenger bag. He didn't say anything at first; just ripped a blank sheet of paper from a notebook, dug around for a pen, and wrote something down. He glanced back up as he held it out.

Reaching forward, the French man glanced down and a smile graced his lips. "Your telephone number?"

"My cell, in case you need to call me."

Thierry slipped it into his pocket with a nod and another brief smile. "As long as you keep your partner away from me, I am happy to have it."

Ever since they'd rescued Thierry from Hale's, Thierry had seemed especially unnerved by Sin. In France, he'd seemed to treat Sin like someone to play with but in the back seat of the car in Mexico he'd looked absolutely terrified. Given the fact that Thierry had finally gotten the opportunity to see Sin in action up close and personal, it was no wonder. Warren Andrews acted the same way after seeing Sin fight.

"I don't know of any burning desire he has to see you right now," Boyd said honestly. "I don't think he'd do anything to you even if he came here, if that's what you're concerned about. In some ways, he's different when he's not on a mission."

"It would not matter even if he was," Thierry replied after a moment. "I cannot see him as a normal man anymore and being in his presence would cause me great discomfort."


"Because he is not a normal man. Those men in Janus-- they are cruel, yes, but still they are men. He is like..." Thierry trailed off for a moment before waving his hand again. "I do not know the words to explain. But the way he kills is not human. I am sorry that I was once so capricious in his presence and wish I had shown more restraint."

"He's a man, too," Boyd said calmly but firmly. "Yes, he's unusually good at his job, which can include killing people. It's not a trait people would normally work for but it's just what's happened with him, and part of that is due to circumstances. Even so, no matter how efficiently he can kill that doesn't mean he's not human. He doesn't just helter skelter hurt people for no reason; he's a good person, once you get to know him."

The look Thierry gave him was very similar to the one Kassian had given him that time in his kitchen but, unlike Kassian, Thierry just nodded and let the topic go. "Thank you for giving me your number. I am sure I will find use for it, even if I have no real use for it."

"If that's how you're going to be, maybe I'll have no real need to answer when I see your number," Boyd replied lightly, willing to let the topic go. He knew he didn't have the same view as many other people and saw no reason to argue about it. That hadn't worked very well with Kassian and it wouldn't work with Thierry either. "Incidentally, what is it so I know to program it in my contacts? Otherwise I'm liable to ignore you."

Thierry got to his feet and crossed the room to a small desk, scrawling something on a paper in flowing cursive. "That is a tactic that I find myself using quite often, although in the past I had ways to find out who it was anyway."

"Don't tell me you did something crazy like star-sixty-nined them and threatened to tell their mothers if they didn't 'fess up to who they were?" Although Boyd's expression remained straight, there was a hint of teasing in his eyes. He took the sheet from Thierry and slid it into his messenger bag. "Because if so-- my God, man, that's diabolical."

The other man smirked slightly. "I am not sure what star-sixty-nine is but it sounds indecent."

Boyd laughed briefly. "The way you've experienced it, I'm sure it is. But here in America we don't typically incorporate sex acts into our every day phone lives the way I've noticed you French do." He smirked but said a little more seriously, "It tells you the phone number who last called. It's quite useful at times although I confess it's been awhile since I used it."

"You Americans are not as adventurous as us French," Thierry replied easily. "But we have a similar way in France, except it is 3131. I was indicating something else, however. A way in which I screened private calls with a device I was gifted with. It was quite handy-- I suppose you could call it... a tracer?" He seemed unsure of what the English word for whatever he was thinking of would be. He shook his head and continued on, not giving Boyd the chance to respond. "In any case, I apologize for my rudeness in the beginning. I was wary, I think with good reasoning, but it was unwarranted."

"There's no need," Boyd said dismissively. "In your place, I would have done the same."

Thierry nodded, seeming pleased that Boyd understood.

With nothing more to say between the two of them, Boyd left. The guards in front of Thierry's door gave him a cursory, partially curious glance as he walked past, but in the end they didn't say anything and Boyd continued on his way. As he put distance between himself and the building, he couldn't help but allow his mind to wander back to thoughts of level 10 training now that his concern for Thierry was put to rest.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Two...