Afterimage Chapter Two

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

The story contains..

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 Two

Uploaded on 9/27/2008

The sky looked strange.

It was obvious that a storm was in the works, that much would have been obvious to anyone. But he wondered if anyone else noticed how the swirls of ash gray were quickly overtaking the normally muddy hue and how odd the hodgepodge of colors really were. It seemed unnatural for the sky to look like cigarette smoke drifting around with a sandpaper background but the whole state of the environment was unnatural these days so it wasn't too startling.

There were immense black clouds hovering in the distance and seemed to have been sitting in the same spot for quite some time-for as long as Sin had been sitting on the roof of the Tower. But that too was kind of fitting, in its own way. They were hanging over Old Bridgepoint, an area that had once been a nice quiet suburb of the city but was now nothing more than a landfill of crumbled buildings, scorched earth and the ever present smell of decay.

Sin sighed and leaned back, stretching his body out to rest on the short wall that lined the edge of the roof while allowing his legs and feet to dangle over the side. He stared up at the sky and lit a cigarette even though it was already starting to mist.

For some reason, as he watched the advancing tempest, he couldn't help but wonder if it was an omen for whatever was going to go down at the Agency or, more specifically, in his life during the coming winter.

Winter seemed to be a dark omen anyway when it came to Boyd and him, so why should this one be any different? The first winter had been after the bad idea of Boyd's birthday present and the disaster of the mission to Paris; the second had been spent in a coma while Boyd hid in the darkness of his house... who knew what would occur this time around?

It reminded him of a science fiction novel that he'd read once; in it, the characters had a tendency to say ominously that 'winter was coming' and Sin had to fight the urge to say the words out loud with the exact same ominous feeling behind.

Today was the day that Boyd had received notification of his admission to the three ring circus of a promotion process and today had been the day that he formally accepted.

If Sin was going to pretend he believed in premonitions and omens, it was possible that the ominous black storm rampaging at Old Bridgepoint was undoubtedly going to move their way and be a sign that something bad would happen because of the training, because of the possibility of Boyd being promoted or... possibly something bad happening to him while Boyd wasn't around.

It seemed a strange thing to consider but Sin had to admit that when Carhart had mentioned the whole damn thing, it'd been something that had crossed his mind.

He hadn't shared his first or even second thoughts with Boyd; he'd only shared the third.

His first thought had been that it was way too soon. Boyd had experience but Sin wondered if he really had enough. He didn't doubt his partner's abilities; Boyd was good at his job, damn good considering he'd started with no prior background in... well, anything, but that didn't mean everything by itself.

Level 10, for Sin, meant assassination; it meant killing people who didn't always deserve to die and snuffing out people that hadn't necessarily been involved other than the fact that they were with the target.

Level 10, for Kassian and many agents before him, meant long term undercover assignments. Missions that tested a person's willpower to do things that they considered morally wrong but had no choice to do once they were in the position; assignments that could cause a person to completely lose themselves in the work, in the persona that they'd taken on.

That had happened to a lot of Level 10s in the past. They'd come back confused, unable to leave behind that part of their lives, and in a lot of cases they'd just come back... wrong. With something missing that had been there before. In some of those cases, the agent had to be 'let go,' whatever that meant in the Agency's vocabulary.

And Sin wondered if Boyd was ready for that and everything that came with it. The only extended undercover operation that he'd been on had been anything but typical; the bulk of it had been more like an extended vacation than an assignment. And although Boyd had showed that he could survive in tough situations; it'd been a situation where they had both made mistakes.

He didn't think it was a good basis for promotion; if anything it was a good basis to show that Boyd and himself both needed to get their shit together better when it came to certain aspects of that kind of assignment.

And then there was the physical aspect of the situation.

Boyd was in good shape but he didn't have a whole lot of experience in hand to hand combat and he had even less with a gun. That didn't count for everything; he'd shown on a number of occasions that he was a genius when it came to improvising, but Sin knew what was going to be expected of him at the training and he knew that it was going to be more than a little tough.

But he also knew that Boyd was resourceful, intelligent and above all, a fast learner. And that would be more than enough for him to get as far as needed to get promoted.

Sin had very little doubts that Boyd would indeed be promoted. Even though he didn't have the experience, he was trustworthy and above all, he was loyal. To the Agency, to Vivienne, that was all that mattered.

It didn't matter that they were taking him out of the frying pan and tossing him head first into the fire; what mattered was that he wouldn't sell anyone out and that he would do what he was told and, as far as the Agency was concerned, he could figure out the other shit along the way.

And if he got hurt trying to figure it all out... well that was the price they were willing to pay.

That was what worried Sin the most. He knew how this place worked and he knew that just because Connors was gone, that didn't mean the core values of the place had changed. And the basic summation of those values was simple: Duty first, personal freedom nonexistent. The assignment first, the agent's life last; it was the least important thing on the list.

If an agent had to die to complete the assignment, that was fine. Because it was for a greater good; the good of the government and way down the line it could be manipulated to seem like the good of the people as well.

Sin took a long drag of his cigarette and closed his eyes, wondering when exactly he'd become so bitter about the organization that had spawned him.

One would assume he'd be programmed to believe their rhetoric, to believe in what he'd been doing since he was a child, but it was the exact opposite. He'd been in it long enough to see it for what it was; just another organization, just like Janus and Dǐ Zhì and Revolución, who was going to kill and sabotage and plot so that they could get or maintain the power.

And in a strange Wild West world where no one had truly regained the position of World Power after the war... well it was up for grabs and there were a lot of sticky fingers snatching greedily at the title.

He exhaled slowly and felt the mist become a drizzle, not letting it faze him even though the rain would inevitably put a chill in his bones and snuff out the cherry of his Lucky Strike.

It was a brand that had been almost obsolete even before the war had put most major companies permanently out of business, and that was most likely the reason the guard outside his building seemed to have a never-ending supply of them. Apparently a friend had taken hundreds of cartons of them from an old grocery store when he'd rather naughtily taken part in the citizen riots. No one had been buying the things and they'd just piled up in the stock room; his friend had theorized that he'd done a favor by taking them off the owner's hands.

They were on the stale side but Sin wasn't about to complain. The guard had gifted him with a dozen cartons and smoking was what got him through the night these days. He could more than afford his own cigarettes, the eventful trip down to Payroll had more than let him in on that, but he wasn't about to be an asshole to one of the few people who, for one reason or another, had warmed up to him in the past months.

It was a strange phenomenon and one he didn't truly understand, but it seemed that ever since he'd 'saved' Vivienne and took their only suspect into custody, some people had started talking to him more.

It would have made sense had he been any other pariah but he was the pariah to end all pariahs and these were people who would have spit on him in the past had they not known that he would have ripped their fucking tongues out.

So the shy smiles and casual chit-chat was odd and a little annoying. As if he was going to suddenly get chummy just because they decided to stop being assholes? The only reason he was civil with the guard downstairs was because that guy had never really done anything other than look at him funny.

And everyone had looked at him funny before. Because everyone thought-- no, everyone knew that he was crazy.

That was something that he'd recently come to terms with.

It brought him absently back to the third reason the coming storm could easily be a premonition for himself during Boyd's absence.

Ever since he'd awoken from the coma, everything about his body, his mind... just everything felt different, felt wrong. He found himself doing things that he didn't understand and remembering things that he didn't want to remember.

It was like someone had opened the lid on the Pandora's Box of his brain and let every single memory jump out with a vivid clarity that disturbed him.

He remembered what it'd felt like the first time they'd put him in the box, that panicked sense of hysteria that had lasted for days and days until they added sedatives to the fray. He remembered the first time he had to assassinate someone who didn't deserve to die, what it felt like to pull the trigger and splatter a wasted life across the concrete and how hard it had been to sit there across from Connor's smug, satisfied face afterward.

Sin remembered Harry and the incident in the gym, even though it had all been blurry before, and with that he remembered the first time he'd nearly killed Boyd. A few nights ago he'd practically relived the second time and every ounce of guilt that had plagued him so much that night in the forest had come rushing back.

He also recalled, in vivid detail, what it'd been like to feel so betrayed in France. He couldn't help but revisit that several times now that Thierry had been the topic of every briefing for the past few months and he and Boyd were apparently on civil terms again.

Sin couldn't help but remember every single aspect of every emotion he'd felt the first time he'd thought that Boyd truly had traded him in for Thierry. That the tentative friendship he'd grown so attached to, so desperate for, had been taken away because of a misguided attempt to help his partner; how much it had burned to see that friendship being given to someone who despised him, to Thierry. Sin couldn't help remembering how much it'd hurt when his partner had treated him with nothing but cold silence for all of those months and how dejected he'd felt, and how confusing it'd been to feel anything about it at all.

However it wasn't just that; now this strange force in his head was trying to push entirely repressed memories over the edge as well, things that he'd blocked out for years.

And Sin was quickly buckling under the weight of what that meant. Because it meant learning things about his past, about himself, that were better left forgotten. Because he'd been able to pretend that he could be normal, could be decent, could be someone that deserved Boyd's friendship and companionship, and if he remembered all of that... well, then he'd know that he really didn't.

The truth of it still hung just around the corner of his peripheral vision as he fought to hold it down and put it back in the shadowy depths where it belonged. But the idea of what this image, this memory, could mean, scared him and so did the hallucinations that he'd been having lately. His own fear and nightmares manifested into a walking, talking representation of it all that mocked him and made him doubt his own sanity, made him very much aware that he had very little sanity to doubt.

It was very easy for him to see now that he did indeed have a problem. There was something wrong with him; something that caused him to slip into a stupor and see only the past as if nothing else existed around him. There was something wrong with him that caused him to talk to himself, yell at himself, because the person he was arguing with wasn't even alive anymore.

And it fucking scared him. All of it did. It exhausted him; made him afraid to close his eyes because of what he would see and he woke screaming when he finally did doze off.

It scared him because sometimes he couldn't tell reality from nightmare and sometimes it happened unexpectedly, not just when he was waking up from a dream.

And that was why Boyd leaving was a kind of double-edged sword.

On one hand, he had taken great measures to keep Boyd in the dark about everything that had been going on. Boyd knew about the nightmares, that had never been any big secret, but he didn't know about the hallucinations, the stupors and the fact that sometimes Sin saw people who weren't really there.

He didn't know that sometimes Sin felt so much on edge that the only thing keeping him from putting a bullet in his head just to make it all stop, was the fact that he could take refuge in Boyd's house; he could try to drown his nightmares in sex and the fact that there was someone that existed that could make him feel real, human, who could talk him down when he was on the edge because Boyd wasn't judging him and fearing him like everyone else.

Sin didn't want him to know. He didn't want Boyd to lose the faith that he had; that Sin was sane, that he could be normal, that his past behavior had been nothing but a product of his environment and not something that was truly chemically wrong with him.

He didn't want him to know the truth. He didn't want the look in Boyd's eyes to go from trust to wariness, his touch to go from comforting to hesitant with fear. He didn't want him to look at him like he had that night in Paris. He didn't want things to change from the way things were now.

So on the one side; it was possibly good that Boyd would be gone while Sin sorted this all out. He wouldn't have to witness the things Sin so desperately wanted to keep secret.

But on the other hand...

On the other hand Boyd had become his security blanket; the only person that could ground him when he felt too out of control, too on the edge of insanity, and he didn't know what he would do without that safety net.

It was disturbing and it only added to his anxiety. And he wished more than anything that even though he was afraid of Boyd seeing the real him and running off, that Boyd could be there with him when it all went to shit. And he knew it was selfish. But what the hell could a guy do? It'd only just occurred to him to want things for himself; it was just too bad that it didn't always necessarily coincide with what Boyd wanted.

"What the hell are you doing up here, Vega?"

Sin's eyes snapped open and he stared up at an upside-down Carhart blankly for a long moment before he realized why this was strange. "How..."

How had he not noticed Carhart coming up here? He hadn't been that lost in thought. Even if he had, in the past months he'd been more aware of his surroundings than he'd ever been in his life. Was he really that tired?

"Did I startle you?" The general's tone wasn't necessarily nasty, but it was definitely displeased. "You're slipping, Agent."

Sin narrowed his eyes at Carhart. "Shut up. I'm tired."

"No kidding. You look like shit. I was hoping you didn't suddenly start drinking and coming to briefings hung over because that's what it looks like. Either that, or you're on drugs."

"Or maybe I just have fucking insomnia," Sin growled impatiently. "What the hell do you want? Why are you even up here?"

"I could ask you the same question," Carhart replied coldly, crossing his arms over his chest and seeming totally unfazed by the steady drizzle. "There's a crowd of people below us that think there's either a corpse up here or someone on the verge of suicide."

"No way," Sin said in disbelief, the corners of his mouth turning up in bemused amusement. "You're lying."

"Am I?" Carhart's cerulean eyes narrowed and he looked anything but amused. "See for yourself."

Sin pulled himself into a sitting position with a snort and looked over the edge, eyebrows shooting up. There was a good sized knot of people seventeen floors below him, standing on the sidewalk in the rain, staring up. "They thought I was suicidal and sent your nagging ass? They really must want me to die."

"Smart ass." Carhart made a face, not seeing the humor. He'd been humorless and irritable lately, ever since they'd finished up the whole Monterrey thing. Sin wasn't entirely sure what his problem was but he attributed it to the fact that the Agency had been turned upside down after the attack and Carhart had even more on his plate than usual.

"I happened to be leaving the building and saw them all congregating like brain-damaged cows, staring up like a bunch of idiots at the sky. The only reason I concerned myself is because I recognized those old dilapidated steel toed boots of yours. Don't you have anything else to wear that doesn't look like it was in ground zero when the nuke exploded? "

Sin continued to stare down at the group, ignoring the slightly light-headed feeling that it caused. "I have some sneakers," he replied blandly. "Can't get used to them."

"I see." There was a brief silence. "So are you going to explain to me what you're doing up here?"

Sin gave a silent sigh and stared at the sky for a long moment, his expression moody. He really didn't want to go into specifics; he didn't want to explain why exactly he'd felt the need for a time out from the rest of the world.

Sin looked over his shoulder at Carhart but before he could open his mouth to say anything, vertigo hit him like a brick and his vision dimmed. Everything swayed dangerously as things got darker and he felt himself falling forward before a strong hand gripped his shoulder and dragged him, embarrassingly effortlessly, onto solid ground.

Sin's back hit the floor of the roof and he blinked up at Carhart several times, trying to regain his bearings and refocus his vision. He was more than a little disturbed by what had just happened, what had almost happened, but he was fully prepared to brush it off until Carhart decided not to let him.

"What the hell, Hsin?" This time, the alarm and anger was clear. He looked torn between hitting Sin and completely losing his cool in a very emotional, un-Carhart like fashion. Not only was Sin, in his eyes, being irresponsible and reckless, but now there was obviously something else very wrong.

"Just calm down and give me a seco-"

"That is it. You're on the fucking bench, Vega. You're done."

"What?" Sin squinted up at Carhart in annoyance. "I didn't realize I was on the baseball team, Coach Zachary. Was I at least the short stop?"

"You're done," Carhart snapped again, ignoring the sarcasm. "No more assignments, no more briefings, no more fucking-anything until-"

"Are you crazy?" Sin demanded, sitting up, temper flaring up dangerously. "What the fuck is your problem?"

"My problem is that you nearly fell off the fucking roof!"

Sin opened his mouth to argue but paused, shifting uncomfortably. "There's no reason to make a big deal out of this, okay?"

Carhart glared at him. "You nearly fell. Off the roof."

"You're exaggerating..."

"The only reason you didn't fall off the roof is because I happened to be close enough to grab you a split goddamn second before you went splat all over those idiots down there. Do you understand that, Hsin? You could have died stupidly and foolishly, because you don't have the fucking intelligence to not sit on the edge of a high rise when you're suffering from fatigue." Carhart raked a hand through his hair and looked away, appearing highly upset by this scenario.

With an aggravated sigh, Sin slumped forward and put his face in his hands, massaging his now throbbing head. "I'm just tired," he said rather lamely, but really it was all he had to say.

He felt defeated. He had no real defense against anything Carhart was saying and, honestly, he knew he was in no condition to be on the field, especially with Boyd. Endangering himself was one thing but putting his partner in danger because he couldn't handle his own chaotic mind was another entirely.

"That's fine," Carhart said evenly, appearing to have regained control of his temper. "But I think there's something else going on."

"Give me a break," Sin retorted, disgust in his tone. "Don't act like you know me so well."

Carhart's eyes narrowed and he stood up straighter. "Maybe you don't think so. Maybe you think I don't know you at all. Maybe you even think I'm out to get you like everyone else. But I do know you well enough and for long enough to have seen you running for a week on less than ten hours sleep with a lot more vigorous assignments than you've been on lately and I have never seen you in this condition. I've never seen you so out of it, so exhausted, that you nearly tumbled face first off a roof from such a simple motion as trying to turn around. So my instincts tell me that something else is going on."

Sin had nothing to say in response so he just looked away with a sigh. There was nothing he could think of to use as an argument, nothing he could say to defend himself or make excuses with.

He knew Carhart was right, as much as he hated to admit it. "So what's the story, coach?" he asked, weariness heavy in his voice.

"No assignments until you take, and pass, a full physical and mental examination. You're no good to anyone in this condition."

"Like it will matter if something important enough comes up?" Sin asked dryly. "If the head of Janus popped up tomorrow, you'd send me out to kill him even if I was armless and blind."

"Cute." The General didn't seem at all impressed with his wit today. "But lucky us, you're not the only rank 10 available at the moment and even luckier, Janus appears to be licking their wounds on the down low so nothing should come up before you're cleared."

Sin nodded, not really knowing what he felt about any of this and finally got to his feet, shoving his hands in the pockets of his ragged jeans. He almost didn't want to ask but he needed to know the answer. "What if... I don't pass?"

"If it's just insomnia, all you need is a good long sleep." Carhart studied him, the paleness and the dark circles, the frayed expression as if he was coming apart at the seams. "But if it's something more than that, you'll have to follow up until you are."

Sin didn't respond at first and stared down at the floor, at the puddles that were quickly rising from the now steadily pouring rain. Thunder boomed somewhere in the distance and he saw a bright flash in his peripheral vision.

"Is it something more than that, Sin?"

This time Carhart's voice just sounded outright concerned. It was enough to put Sin on edge, to make his back hunch forward as he crossed his arms over his chest protectively and refused to look up and meet the older man's eyes. But he couldn't lie. Carhart would find out eventually and, really, there was no point.

"I don't know. I think..." He cleared his throat and looked up finally, green eyes piercing into Carhart's blue ones. "I think I may have problems with the mental examination."

Thunder cracked loudly, closer this time, and there was another bright flash. The two men stood staring at each other, neither of them seeming to mind the storm that raged around them as the weight of the admission seemed to settle on Carhart's shoulders.

He'd known for a long time that there was a lot wrong with Sin because of what he'd been through as a child and, really, all of his life, but this was the first time that Sin was actually saying it out loud. And he wasn't really sure he knew what that meant.

"We'll deal with it when we get there," Carhart said finally. "For now, let's just get out of here so we don't get fried by lightning."

Sin nodded, finally feeling the icy chill soaking into him, and followed Carhart toward the exit. But before they went downstairs, he stopped and looked at the General again, mouth turning down in a scowl. "Don't tell Boyd. Please."

It wasn't a plea--it was more like a demand with the 'please' put in as an afterthought but it didn't bother Carhart. That was just Sin's way. "Everything is confidential as long as you want it to be. It's nobody's business but your own and as long as he's in the barracks training and you're held off on missions anyway, there's no need for him to know as it isn't affecting your partnership."

Sin nodded, allowing himself to feel somewhat relieved even though he had a feeling it wouldn't be that simple. He followed Carhart blindly, not really paying attention to where he was going or what he was doing as his mind spun and his head swam dizzily. He hadn't thought that he was this bad off but now that he thought of it, he couldn't really remember the last time that he'd slept. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten. It had probably been days, which explained the aching in his head and the overwhelming weakness.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and kept his head down. His shoulders slumped as the two of them walked through the pouring rain. After the events of the past few moments, it seemed that everything else was finally weighing down on him entirely and he felt like he really could actually fall into an exhausted sleep. Feeling a mix between relieved and anxious about the idea, he glanced up finally to see what direction Carhart was leading him in and saw that they were on the other side of the complex from his apartment building.

"Where are we going?" He asked, voice coming out hoarsely.

Carhart glanced back over his shoulder and came to a stop in front of the Tower. "You're going to the medical wing. Tell them your commanding officer wants you to have a full physical and mental examination."

Sin glared at him. "Now?"

"Yes, now. Wouldn't you rather know what's going to happen instead of waiting around? The quicker things get done, the quicker we can find out where we are and I'll tell you how long you're on leave. And don't give me that look-- I send agents for full check ups all the time." They stepped into the lobby, dripping onto the marble floor. "It's perfectly fine and no one will look at you any weirder than they usually do," he said dryly.

Sin made a face and pulled his hood over his head. "Fun."

Carhart shooed him towards the bank of elevators. "Get going. I have a meeting with Vivienne but I'll be checking up on you as soon as I'm done. Got it?"

"Whatever. Pain in my ass," Sin muttered and went rather sullenly to the elevator. He didn't feel like doing this now and hadn't planned on following through any time soon but he knew the general would just be a pain in the ass until it was done.

The elevator arrived and he stepped on with a couple of other people. They sent him mock cursory glances, trying to study him without obviously studying him, but when they saw the dark expression on his face they quickly glanced away. It was as awkward as always whenever he was stuck in close proximity with people and even though he'd previously gained perverse amusement out of the way these people acted, now it just made him even more annoyed, more tired. He just wanted to be left alone, to be ignored and invisible, but everyone made it impossible.

The elevator arrived at the appropriate floor and he exited quickly, thankful for being away from them, and strode towards the clinic. He'd just reached the door when he saw a familiar figure with a familiar head of blond hair leaving.

Sin froze in his tracks, feeling more than a little horrified, and started to turn on his heel and walk away but before he could, Boyd happened to glance over. His honey brown eyes locked on Sin and Sin knew it was too late.

"What are you doing here?" Boyd asked in surprise. He stopped walking and stared up at Sin, adjusting his messenger bag absently over the black jacket he wore. He'd mostly given up the long trench that had previously been his staple, but his wardrobe was still considerably devoid of color.

Sin faltered, but only for a moment. He knew that if he hesitated, Boyd would notice and question him so Sin tried to quickly come up with a believable story. Trying to keep this a secret had turned him into a rather fantastic liar. It was interesting considering the fact that he'd previously seen no reason to hide things from anyone because he'd never cared what anyone thought before. But Boyd was different. He cared about Boyd's opinion and in a way he was trying to protect it.

"Carhart apparently felt the burning desire to concern him with my haggardness and interrogated me about it. I blame insomnia but he thinks everything else in the world is wrong with me and sent me here to get checked out. I know nothing's wrong though so I was debating skipping out on it."

It wasn't entirely a lie. In fact it wasn't a lie at all; it was more that he was leaving out specific details of the entire truth.

"Ah," Boyd said knowingly, accepting the story on face value. "I'll let you in on a little secret; they're not in the best mood right now. Apparently some of the construction briefly affected their computers earlier and it wiped out part of their electronic filing system. Now IT's in there trying to recover medical records, patients got backed up and a few nurses called in sick, and half the staff is pissed because they've had to miss breaks. If it's not urgent, you may want to wait until tomorrow."

"Or next week," Sin replied with a shrug, turning away from the medical unit. "I know what they'll say, anyway. 'You're underweight, shouldn't be smoking, lack nutrition and we have no idea why you can't sleep.'"

They began walking back in the direction Sin had just come, towards the elevator bank and far enough away to ease the pressure that had briefly settled on his shoulders.

It wasn't that he enjoyed keeping things from his partner but this was something that he felt he had to deal with on his own without worrying about how Boyd's perception of him would change because of it. But then again, he didn't really want to deal with it. He just wanted it to go away entirely.

Realizing he'd fallen silent or that he'd missed if Boyd had said anything as a reply, he abruptly changed the topic away from himself. "Why are you here?"

"I had to have a complete physical before training starts," Boyd replied easily. "I was able to get it all finished but it took twice as long as it should have and they won't have the results until a few days later than usual."

"Oh." Sin started say more but they got into the elevator with a couple of other people and he decided to keep further conversation about the training to themselves. Not many people knew the specifics about what happened during it or how people were chosen and candidates were supposed to be hush-hush about it. It was all rather secretive and mysterious and he actually didn't give a damn about keeping it that way, but he didn't want word to get back to the wrong person that they were chit-chatting about it in front of others. Just because he didn't want Boyd to do the training didn't mean he wanted to ruin his partner's chances.

The elevator dinged as they stopped at another floor and he put his hands in his pockets impatiently, wanting to be out already. As the ride continued to draw out, he felt someone staring at him and glanced over his shoulder.

Sin instantly recognized the awkward-looking girl with the red curls and peacock blue eyes as the one who had helped him out in the Payroll Department.

"Hi," she blurted, seeming surprised that she'd actually said it.

At the sound of someone voluntarily speaking to Sin, Boyd looked over at her; although his expression would have seemed neutral to most people, Sin knew him well enough to recognize that he was surprised.

"...Hi," Sin replied slowly. Speaking to the pariah in public? Maybe there was more to her than the slightly ditsy payroll clerk that she appeared to be.

She nodded and folded her hands in front of her, not really appearing to know what to say anymore. They stared at each other and finally, after quickly glancing at Boyd, she spoke again. "So did you get everything sorted out?"

Feeling slightly amused by the obvious fact that she was trying to manufacture a conversation for no good reason, he put a name to her face. "Yes, Rebecca, I did."

Rebecca seemed briefly shocked that he remembered her name but nodded nonchalantly, as if for some reason she wanted it to appear to the other people in the elevator that she spoke to Boyd and him all the time. "Good to hear."

Boyd glanced toward Sin questioningly but didn't say anything; it was clear to Sin that he didn't recognize Rebecca and had no idea what they were talking about but he figured Sin would explain later. For now, Boyd went along with Rebecca's strange game.

The elevator reached the ground floor and he and Boyd stepped out but before they disappeared in the sea of people who were rushing through the main lobby, he glanced at the red-haired girl once more. "Nice to see you again."

It was said with very little inflection and didn't sound genuine at all but she seemed pleased anyway and responded with a grin before going her own way.

"Who was that?" Boyd asked as soon as they were out of her hearing range.

Sin shrugged and absently raised a hand to his head, rubbing small circles along his temples as a minor ache that would undoubtedly turn into a raging migraine began to spread. The weariness and exhaustion had not gone away since his earlier encounter with the general; if anything, having to put on an All Is Well performance at the moment was making it even worse.

"She works in the Payroll Department. She helped me out a couple of months ago."

"Payroll?" Boyd echoed, sounding and looking a mixture of surprised and amused. It was likely that he'd either forgotten about their earlier conversation or hadn't believed Sin would ever actually check it out. "Does the mystery finally end as to how much you have?"

Sin threaded his hand through his hair with a slight wince. "Around twenty million or so."

"What?" Boyd said, actually so shocked that he stopped walking and stared at Sin. "I suspected you'd have a fair amount but how the hell do you have so much?"

"Only about five million of it is actually mine. Seventy-five percent is money transferred over from my father's account when they found out he died. It had never occurred to me that would have been the case even though I suppose I should have expected it. Apparently there was more after his property and other assets were liquefied but that went to various banks and debt collectors." Sin raised an eyebrow. "He was a great spender but not so great at remembering to pay bills."

"Wow," Boyd said after a moment, then continued to walk again. He looked away, seeming to consider that while also taking in the new information. "He must have been making quite a bit of money to still have had that much even after debts."

Another shrug, even as Sin continued to rub his head, eyes squinting slightly. "Agents made an obscene amount before the economy went downhill. And we get bonuses for special assignments, which is what his entire career seemed to consist of. And from the way he spoke, it seemed he demanded more quite frequently and typic--"

His headache seemed to be intensifying with every word he said. His vision seemed to get fuzzy around the edges, the sharp pain in the side of his head growing stronger until it felt like a drill digging into his brain with the accompanying shrill sound.

"Typically... got what he wanted," he finished more slowly than he'd intended, having to focus to get the words out as things started to get blurry--confusing. It seemed as though... It almost seemed like... Like the conversation-- the direction it was going in... something about it was really...

He didn't look surprised at all-- in fact there was an almost-smile gracing his aristocratic features and his expression was almost smug; even as the sound of footsteps grew louder towards the door.

It should have alarmed him; no one knew where this place was. It was supposed to be safe. Secret. It was a place no one knew about; not his employers, not the enemies of his employers. It was where he left the boy when he was gone.

But when the door was kicked in, he didn't even blink.

Instead he graced them with a raised eyebrow and didn't try to hide himself or the teenage boy behind him. "You're the fuckin' noisiest assassin I ever met, bro."

Sin actually missed a step and stopped walking, reaching out with one hand to brace himself against the wall. It was hard to keep his composure when memories of his father-- a memory that he'd never had before-- were abruptly breaking through the barriers he'd erected long ago.

But he had an audience. And he couldn't deal with that now. Boyd was there and he had to say something.

"Maybe Carhart has a point," Sin managed finally, combing a hand through hair that was now damp with sweat.

"Are you okay?" Boyd asked, watching him closely and clearly concerned. "I know I said they were busy but I'm sure they'd take you."

Sin waved off the comment and straightened, clearing his throat and casting an unpleasant glare toward the surrounding people who seemed quite interested in The Monster's momentary lapse. It wasn't even that they were concerned; they were just curious, like people surrounding the cage of a mutant at a freak show.

"I'll be fine. I don't want to deal with more assholes staring at me right now."

Boyd didn't seem entirely convinced. He watched Sin seriously for a long moment; it seemed he may argue the point but then, probably deciding that Sin wouldn't listen anyway even if he pushed it, he nodded and let it go. "I suppose if it's mostly due to lack of sleep for the past few months, it wouldn't significantly change anything to wait a few more days. It may even be the case that some of the equipment they'd need isn't working now anyway. Maybe you should consider some sleeping pills for the moment."

They exited the Tower and walked past the guards, down the stairs and into the heart of the reconstruction. This time, real drills could be heard all over the compound and Sin cupped a hand to one ear as if to block the noise. "Yeah, maybe. Listen-- I have to get out of here. I can't deal with all of this bullshit noise."

"Okay," Boyd said, almost as if he'd expected Sin to say something like that. "Let's go to the city. I know a pharmacy nearby where we can get you something to help." He glanced over. "Incidentally, did they give you a check card or some other way of using the money in your account?"

"Yeah, I went to the bank and they sent me a card but I prefer to use cash so I just withdrew a large enough sum of money to last me for awhile. I don't like the idea of leaving an electronic trail that frequently."

"Hmm." Boyd considered that briefly, then looked over at Sin and said matter-of-factly, "I've decided that you will buy me something at some point, even if it's just an ice cream cone. All that time I struggled to support your whims, my needs, and afford my house, and here I find out you were a multi-millionaire all along, using me like your own free-money ATM. It's very disheartening." There was a faint sense of drama in his tone to indicate that he was teasing.

"You don't like being my sugar daddy?" Sin inquired with a raised eyebrow. "I see how it is."

"Maybe we just need to reverse the roles once in awhile," Boyd said mildly, seeming amused. "You can start paying for me and I can start calling you in the middle of the night, demanding candy or books."

"I could just give you all my money. I have no use for it anyway," Sin replied, completely serious. He'd gone years without having access to a bank account-- he didn't really need one now and rarely used the cash that he'd taken out.

Boyd glanced over and answered more seriously, "No, you need to keep that. You may not think you need it now but it's impossible to say what will happen in the future. At any rate, after everything with your father, you at least deserve the money."

That was an interesting way to think about it; when he'd first found out Sin hadn't liked the idea at all. He still didn't entirely, as if using his father's money was upsetting the balance in his brain that kept himself from thinking too hard about a lot of things. It was a ridiculous idea but it had crossed his mind nonetheless. He'd never considered the idea of whether or not he deserved it and he had to wonder if his father would agree.

"Yeah, maybe," Sin responded thoughtfully and they let the topic drop.

They headed toward one of the employee parking lots; they moved faster than normal due to the steady rain. Thunder boomed somewhere in the distance and for a strange moment, Sin confused the sound with gunfire and had to strongly resist the urge to reach for a weapon.

There was really something wrong with him lately. It was becoming clearer as the day went on. It'd been bad for awhile but the level of wrongness seemed to be steadily climbing and he could only wonder when it would plateau and what that would mean for him.

"Maybe I should eat something at some point," he muttered as they finally reached Boyd's car. There was a chill in his bones from the rain and he suddenly felt even more fatigued.

"Yes you should," Boyd agreed as he unlocked his car doors and got in. He waited for Sin to get settled into the passenger seat before he continued. "We can hit any number of places on the way to or from the pharmacy. Do you want to come to my place afterward? It may be quieter, to help with any headaches."

"You just want to use me for sex," Sin said with a small smirk, tilting his head against the cool surface of the glass and closing his eyes. Not that he minded if that was the case-- he needed a distraction from the downward spiral of his current existence.

"Just making sure I get my money's worth," Boyd deadpanned.

The sound of the windshield wipers and the rain against the car were constant, low-level background noises. Despite the somewhat poor visibility, Boyd smoothly drove them out of the parking lot and onto the streets. There weren't many other cars as they pulled onto one of the main roads, which was likely due to the weather and time of day.

The ride wasn't long yet for some reason the hum of the engine and the constant pitter-patter of rain on the roof was almost enough to lull Sin into sleep. But as soon as his eyes closed, it was like a part of his brain knew that unconsciousness brought about bad things, and he was awake instantly even before he'd really fallen asleep.

It left him feeling groggy, disoriented and his stiff wet clothes only added to the general discomfort. With an irritated grunt, he glanced over at Boyd and couldn't help but stare at him for a long moment. Sometimes it surprised him that he was so attracted to Boyd, that he was attracted to anyone at all, but this was one of those times when it was completely undeniable.

Boyd's face was damp and pale from the cold but his wind tousled blond hair and golden brown eyes were enough to completely capture Sin's attention. Sometimes Sin tried to go back and figure out exactly when the moment had been that he'd realized how good looking his partner was but whenever it had happened, it was lost to him now. It was one of the memories he would have gladly turned over and over in his mind but of course he only got to closely examine the unpleasant ones.

Sin looked away finally with a sigh and tried to move his mind into a different direction than it appeared to be inevitably heading. He decided that a long bout of frantic fucking would be good for him right now. It would not only get his mind off things but it would also hopefully put him into a coma-like sleep that dreams wouldn't penetrate.

His mind wandered down the side road of perversion as he thought about all of the things they could do to get him good and exhausted, but before he went too far Boyd was pulling into the parking lot of a local Smart's Pharmacy, the only big chain to survive the nation's economic downfall.

If the real Johnson's Pharmaceuticals had a monopoly on the drug industry, then Smart's definitely had a monopoly on pharmacies. Before the war, major corporations still tried to give the illusion of having a competitive field of business but now things had changed so much that no one bothered. The laws against monopolies were almost non-existent in a world that had gone to shit and had pushed many businesses and owners toward bankruptcy. Johnson's was just a little more obvious than most and it was most likely ignored by the powers-that-be because of their involvement and donations in government ventures; the Agency being a very good example of that.

The situation as a whole left the power in the hands of even fewer people than it had been in the earliest part of the 21st century. The few transnational corporations that had survived the international economic plummet now openly held hands with the government, aiding them with big money and getting a free pass to dominate markets everywhere. There was very little room for ordinary people to fit into the equation and that was a big part of the reason there were so many angry citizens running out and joining up with ragtag groups of rebels who were demanding change.

However it wasn't to say that most citizens were aware of what was going on; the people as a whole were as blind as always. They didn't realize that four corporations owned just about every aspect of every kind of business in the country and that these corporations frequently worked together in joint ventures. So the general population couldn't possibly understand the end result that boiled down to everything, especially the media, being controlled by a couple companies who were more than happy to lie to them about anything as long as it kept the government happy and their monopolistic grip firmly in tact.

It'd been that way for over a century but it had never been as tightly controlled as it was now. Most people were unaware, blissfully ignorant to their real lack of free choice. Some people knew and didn't care because they didn't see how it negatively affected their lives and they ultimately felt that it was fine. But then there the others; the ones who had been personally touched by it, who had seen people destroyed by it, and those were the ones who got angry.

"I've never actually been inside one of these," Sin commented blandly as they entered Smart's Pharmacy.

The store was well-lit and fully stocked. It was so welcoming in a city that was full of generally run-down establishments with out-of-date merchandise that people probably looked past the fact that Smart's charged ridiculous prices for just about everything.

"It's all very exciting," Boyd said mildly. "Over there are the overpriced bottles of shampoo and in a few aisles we'll reach their lovely collection of over-the-counter painkillers. Would you like a full tour? We have time."

Sin snorted and looked at the items in each aisle. There wasn't very much of a selection of different brands, most likely for the same reason that there weren't very many more pharmacies. "I'll have to pass on that one. Seeing the sign for an eight dollar gallon of milk 'sale' has already told me all I need to know."

Boyd smirked lightly to himself and led them to Aisle 7, whose sign proclaimed it housed painkillers, flu and cold medicine, and toys. They turned the corner and, indeed, one side of the aisle was filled with boxes and bottles of varying types of medicine, including candy-like kid-friendly types that proclaimed tasty flavors and bright colors. The other side of the aisle seemed to house cheap toys ranging from tiny stuffed animals to rickety plastic trucks. Although they all seemed to be rather cheaply made, they were priced around $10 to $40.

"Incidentally, the toddler euthanasia wasn't always by the toys," Boyd said as an aside, gesturing to the pills. "They say they ran out of room over by the candy but my impression is that they want the parents in pain to buy placating toys." He skimmed the medicine as he spoke, then crouched down in the area where painkillers met flu and cold. "After all, if you're already here with a headache and you have screaming children with you, it's possible you'd be a little more willing to buy a rickety truck, even if it's $25, just so they'll be quiet. I've seen it happen, at any rate." He shifted to the side a little so there was room for Sin to browse the choices. "Here they are."

There were only three different brands-- one was the big name which was distributed by Johnson's Pharmaceuticals, the other was a newer brand that had popped up in the last decade that Johnson's would likely merge with eventually and the other was the store brand.

"Tough choice," Sin said in a droll tone. "What are the odds that any of this shit will actually work on me?"

"With your system? I suspect you need a horse tranquilizer or two." Boyd considered the choices, picking up one of each of the bottles and flipping them around so he could study the contents. After a moment, he smiled lightly to himself in amusement. "I'd go with this one." He held up the new brand, looking up at Sin. "It has 38 milligrams of Diphenhydramine citrate and the others only have 25. As a bonus, it also has 20 milligrams of calcium, which should be helpful if you decide to skip your milk intake for the day."

"I don't like milk," Sin replied and took the bottle, staring at it skeptically. "You know how much shit they put in the 'milk' they sell these days? I bet only a quarter of a gallon, if that, is actually from a real fucking cow."

At first it seemed Boyd hadn't heard Sin's comment or was too lost in thought to properly respond, but then he said in a tone that was a hint too offhanded, "I wouldn't know; I haven't bought it for years."

Judging by how intently he studied the shelves, he seemed especially interested in the sleeping pill prices listed. Without giving Sin the chance to respond, he continued with a new topic. "Otherwise, I know a woman who runs a store with homeopathic remedies, most of which I can't speak for either way. But I've been told her remedies work quite well; I'm fairly certain the sleeping remedy was specifically mentioned."

Sin nodded, tossing the bottle back on the shelf unceremoniously.

Boyd tilted his head thoughtfully. "I don't know how well it would work on your system, and it's probably a little more expensive, but it's possible that homeopathic remedies will work where you'd otherwise need a high dosage of more conventional medicine. Since it's not regulated, she may even have something more powerful than what's available over the counter here. What you probably really need is a prescription from the medics but obviously that can't happen today. And anyway, if you saw them then hopefully you wouldn't need the prescription in the first place."

It was a shame that he would eventually have to go to them regardless of whether or not he got a good night's sleep at any point in the near future. Them and some damn shrink. Fucking Carhart.

"Can I help you with anything?" A low, male voice asked suddenly.

A tall guy with an average build was approaching them, not looking entirely welcoming but not looking entirely unwelcoming either. He seemed wary in general, as if he was used to people trying to shoplift from the overpriced establishment and for some reason felt the need to equate that with Sin and Boyd.

"What would I need your help for? Reading the box?" Sin stared down at him blandly, not really impressed by the guy's manager name tag and the keys that jingled on his belt.

The guy, Bill according to his name tag, bristled at the sarcasm and put his hands on his hips in a show of authority. Or something.

"Well you don't seem to be making any purchases--"

"We've been here for five minutes," Sin interrupted, feeling irritated. He was probably more irritated than was necessary but he felt miserable and annoyed already and now here someone was, coming along to make it all worse.

He crossed his arms over his chest, mouth turning down in a scowl as he felt an almost uncontrollable desire to hit the man. It was irrational but it would definitely make him feel better for about ten minutes. He wondered if that meant he was going back to his previous overly violent and short-tempered behavior patterns.

That would be bad.

But at the moment he didn't care.

Bill stared at him uncertainly for a while and after a moment his face took on the usual glazed over, dead-eyed and bored expression of a clerk who was dealing with an unruly customer. He'd either decided that this was going to be more trouble than it was worth since they hadn't actually done anything wrong yet or that his suspicions weren't worth the crazy green-eyed man hitting him.

"Well let me know if you need anything," Bill said finally and walked away.

"Smooth," Boyd said under his breath, sounding mildly amused. "While not always an asset on our trips, sometimes watching you intimidate the shit out of someone is admittedly entertaining."

"I did nothing," Sin denied, not even trying to sound innocent, and turned away from the aisle toward the exit.

Boyd followed him out of the store and back into the dismal weather. The rain continued to come down in steady streams, cold to the touch and somehow feeling even more likely to soak through their clothing and saturate their skin. The buildings loomed high around them; the windows that weren't broken or covered in a layer of filth reflected the dark sky and the dim, dirty lighting of the sun filtered through storm clouds.

It was not the best of conditions to be out in which was why it was surprising that, rather than head toward the car, Boyd gestured Sin in another direction toward a nearby alley.

"There isn't closer parking and it's easiest to access this way."

Sin nodded and ran a hand through his soaking wet hair. Wherever they were going, he just hoped it would be over with soon. As surprising and embarrassing as it was, he didn't think he'd be able to stay out here for much longer. It was a testament to just how fucked up his body was lately-- which was odd because just after he'd awoken from the coma it'd seemed like he'd been stronger than ever.

Although Boyd didn't say anything, it was either luck or his awareness of the possibility that Sin still wasn't feeling the best that found them in an abandoned building much sooner than would have been expected. Their footsteps echoed resoundingly around them, like muted ghosts that were following in their wake. Dirt and debris littered the place liberally and judging by the lack of footprints in the dust on the floor, this was not a well-used area.

There was little insulation left in the walls that remained standing but the floors above them were mostly in tact. It was a bit warmer than would be expected in those conditions, which was odd considering the fact that it was doubtful there was any sort of heating system in place.

Boyd led them unerringly further into the building in a serpentine route that didn't seem to have any obvious visible cues as to when he turned left or right, but within a few minutes they'd somehow transitioned smoothly from the dirty building to a slightly more well-kept hallway. Boyd glanced back occasionally, although it was hard to tell why. His default neutral expression was back in place as he seemed to unconsciously fall a bit into his mission mode while he led them through an unmarked building.

In the end, they probably only walked for about seven minutes before they reached a second hallway which led slowly up then connected to a ramshackle room with windows facing the dank outside on the left and an open door leading to another room on the right. There was a large handwritten sign utilizing several bright colors in flowing script, which read "Linnea's herbs" and, below that, "remedies, tea, and homeopathy."

The somewhat small store they walked into was packed with a variety of jars and bottles which seemed to be filled with loose leaves of varying kinds, small bottles of mostly clear and brown liquids, and a number of small boxes and pill bottles crammed onto tall shelving units. Even so, there was strangely a comfortable amount of space between aisles to move, which was good because there were a few other people already there idly browsing the selection.

A dark-skinned woman with brown eyes sat at the counter talking to a tall, thin man, but she briefly smiled at them as they came in to acknowledge that she knew new customers had appeared but was unable to excuse herself at the moment.

"Now how is it that a boy who never used to leave his house knows about this little hole in the wall?" Sin asked curiously, walking over to one of the cramped aisles and staring at a little jar of leaves that allegedly helped with erections.

Well. That was one problem he didn't have. He wondered if they had something to brew that helped with constant hallucinations and possible schizophrenia.

The thought caused him to pause for a moment and stare into space. The fact that he'd just labeled himself with a mental illness, after years of telling himself that the whole process was a scam and largely useless, was disturbing. But that was probably also because he'd spent many years in denial, telling himself that he was the way he was because of the way he'd been made and that there was nothing wrong with him personally except for his bad temper and tendency to overreact.

But now, he supposed, the cat was out of the bag on that one. He was more "accepted" on the compound than he'd ever been before and it was fair to say he was suffering from the worst psychosis he'd ever had. The irony did not escape him.

"I wasn't always quite so agoraphobic," Boyd replied, sounding faintly amused. "Most of the out-of-the-way places I'm aware of are because Lou took me there or knew a person, but in this case it was actually a girl in college."

"Why did she bring you here?" Sin picked up another jar and examined it.

"She didn't." Boyd noticed jars of tea leaves nearby and automatically wandered over there to presumably search for jasmine. "Eloise was one of those people who had enough money to afford to keep with her moral values. She loved Linnea's because it was homeopathic and she could support locals like her. She waxed poetic about this place so often that it was impossible not to know where it was, and that building back there was a shortcut Lou and I used to take for other places in the area."

"Ah." Sin stopped his random search through the aisle and followed Boyd. "What are we looking for exactly?"

"I don't remember the name of it exactly," Boyd said, reluctantly pulling himself away from the tea. "I'll recognize it when I see it." He skimmed the aisles until he located the sleeping aids and studied the variety, which included lavender satchels to be placed under the pillow. He picked up a package that proclaimed it as Linnea's All Natural Sleeping Aid and studied the contents, his eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment he shrugged with one shoulder and stood up, handing the box to Sin. "I thought it had a different name but that sounds like the ingredients I remember her listing."

He peered over at the boxes Boyd held and started to say something but before the words could leave his mouth-- there was a loud boom outside, very nearby, and the lights began to flicker. Everyone paused as car alarms went wild in the distance and Sin once again started to speak, but before he could, there was another loud crack and the shop was abruptly cast in pitch darkness.

It surprised everyone but it had a particular affect on Sin, one that left him startled, confused, and disturbed beyond belief.

He didn't know if it was the sudden darkness, the loud cracks from lightning striking nearby or what, but suddenly all he could see was a myriad of images. Images that frightened him, haunted him, and suggested things he couldn't possibly understand.

Blood everywhere-- so much blood and his father lying in a pool of it, not quite dead yet but getting there and staring with wild eyes.

Staring at him.

The lights flickered back on just as abruptly as they'd gone off and Sin was snapped out of his trance. Snapped out but not quite in his right mind yet as he blinked repeatedly, trying to understand what he'd just seen.

Boyd had been looking to the side, probably wondering about the lights, but turned to Sin in time to catch something in his expression that made him look closer. "Are you alright? You look pale."

"I..." Sin trailed off, still seeing that expression; the look in those familiar green eyes, before shaking his head. "I'm just ready to go."

"Alright," Boyd said without pressing the issue. "Why don't you wait for me in the room outside? It's less congested and should give you a chance to rest while I buy this."

Sin nodded, not about to argue, and walked out quickly. In a normal situation he'd have probably said no, claimed to be fine and refused to make himself look a weakling even though he felt that way, had been feeling that way, now. But at the moment he was just going to take the time to compose himself.

Because... what the hell. Just, what the hell was that?

He couldn't take it anymore-- he couldn't handle the random images, the brief flashbacks. All of these pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that just wouldn't complete no matter how many clues he had. And it all had to do with his father's death. It had to be-- everything had to be connected but nothing would fit right to show a complete image.

But Sin didn't know if that was good or bad. It was so frustrating--so confusing and at the moment he didn't want to fucking remember. He didn't want to feel the things it made him feel. He just wanted it gone. He wanted the brick walls around his memories erected again-- he wanted all of this just blocked away.

Sin growled in frustration, burying his fingers in his wet hair, and shook his head back and forth. Why was this happening now? Now that everything was good. As good as it was going to be anyway, given their circumstances and jobs.

Why did it have to happen now that they were settled and relatively unthreatened and comfortable and now that he felt fucking... fucking normal. More human than he ever had. Like he had a life instead of just an existence.

Why could nothing ever go right for him?

Boyd's voice interrupted his thoughts as he approached from behind. "Ready?"

Sin nodded and grabbed Boyd's arm, dragging him out of the building and back the way they'd come. He was anxious to be out of this area, to be out of this fucked up weather and to momentarily put everything out of his mind.

Although Boyd seemed surprised by the abruptness, he didn't resist. Normally he probably would have made a comment, something wry or amused, but in this case he stayed quiet.

He had to have been picking up on Sin's anxiety, his tenseness, but he didn't question it. It was very likely that he attributed it to the fact that his partner was ill and feeling more than a little affected by it. A man who was used to being almost impervious to such things would undoubtedly be taken aback by such a phenomenon.

He had no reason to know what was really going on; Sin had become quite adept at hiding the truth in the past few months.

They reached the car in half the time it'd taken them to get to the store, and as soon as they were inside and Boyd tossed the package in the back seat, Sin was on him.

His mouth covered Boyd's, tongue sliding into his mouth as he kissed the other man frantically, hurriedly, ignoring Boyd's grunt of surprise. Powerful hands rose, smoothing over Boyd's cool, wet cheeks and combing through his hair as his fingers trembled slightly although he didn't know if it was from his chaotic thoughts or his impatience to feel something, anything, other than the mixture of distressing emotions that were threatening to overtake him at the moment.

Boyd started to lean back, to say something, but Sin followed him insistently, not letting him get the words out. "Please," he rasped against Boyd's mouth. "I want you."

Boyd's body remained slightly tense, perhaps disturbed by the fact that they were somewhat in public or maybe just confused by Sin's sudden vigor, but after a moment he relented and he began to kiss Sin just as ardently. After all, there wasn't a soul out on the street because of the onslaught of rain so why the hell not indulge?

The windows began to fog as they panted against each other's mouth, Boyd climbing dexterously over the center console to slide onto Sin's lap, his erection pressing against him insistently. The denim of Sin's jeans was rough, stiff, against the cloth of his black pants but it provided a satisfying friction that made him groan low in his throat.

Sin leaned his head back against the seat, reaching down to recline it more as Boyd began grinding against him, as his mouth moved down from Sin's mouth and lapped at his neck, at the sensitive part of his ear. Sin's eyes rolled slightly in his head, a helpless moan escaping as pleasure overloaded his senses and for the moment... For the moment he could think of nothing else but the erection that was demanding attention between his legs.

His eyes slid open, eyelids heavy and green eyes smoldering with lust as Boyd pulled back slightly and began unbuttoning Sin's jeans, unzipping them. "You're so fucking hot," he mumbled, gaze moving over the blond man hungrily, wanting nothing more than to fuck Boyd right here and take out all of his frustration, confusion and fear on his tight ass.

But Boyd had other plans-- likely because they really were halfway in public and sex in the front seat of a car didn't sound like the smoothest of endeavors.

He freed Sin's swollen erection and wrapped his hand around it tight, jerking it fast and hard as Sin swore under his breath-- squeezing his eyes closed once again. But just as he did, the image of his father, of that wild eyed confused stare, instantly flared up in his mind and his fingers dug into the leather of the seat as his heartbeat accelerated dangerously.

Sin shook his head, wanting it to be gone, but the image just overlapped with another memory-- a memory of a blood streaked face that was too pale to be alive and Sin gasped slightly, his throat closing up, as he began to lose his focus. As he felt the dark part of his mind beginning to advance and take over-- trying to cast him entirely into the shadowy depths of the thing that overtook him at times like these, that made him hallucinate and lash out and want to hurt someone--

But then Boyd was reclining the chair further and sliding down, crouching in the cramped space between the glove compartment and the seat, before his mouth covered Sin's cock.

As lips tightened around the base and a hot tongue began sliding up and down the length of it, all intelligent thought left Sin's mind, leaving nothing but an almost unbearable feeling of pleasure that caused him to make all kinds of undignified noises.

He bit down hard on his bottom lip, trying in vain to silence the harsh open mouthed pants and breathless moans as the tight suction of Boyd's lips moved up and down faster. Sin dug his fingers deep in Boyd's hair and began lifting his hips, unable to quiet the grunts and random curses that spilled from his own lips.

It only took a few moments of fucking Boyd's mouth to be on the verge of an orgasm and Sin could feel it building-- he could feel his gut tightening and his toes curling as he slammed up against Boyd faster. But then the other man was pulling back and instead of sucking, Boyd began licking his dick languorously, tongue lapping at the clear fluid that was beginning to leak from the tip.

"Just fucking make me come," Sin growled as his eyebrows drew together and he shuddered almost violently.

He needed this, he needed to have a mind blowing orgasm that would just erase everything from his mind and leave him completely brain dead for awhile. Maybe then he'd get over this shit. At least for a little while.

"Jesus Christ, Boyd don't tease me," he hissed, eyes sliding open to stare down at Boyd, who was looking back up at him with sly mischief in that golden brown stare. It was as if he was punishing Sin for being so pushy, deliberately making him wait because he'd been in such a rush.

But Sin was in a rush.

"Please, Boyd," he repeated, aware that he was begging and not really giving a damn. Just because Boyd was the one on his knees didn't mean Sin was the one with the power-- quite the contrary, in a situation like this it was the one giving oral sex that had all the control.

Looking more than a little pleased with himself, Boyd took Sin's dick in his mouth again and this time his head bobbed up and down faster, lips wrapped around tighter. He didn't stop until Sin was practically screaming, arching up off the seat as he came hard inside of Boyd's mouth.

Sin collapsed against the seat, panting breathlessly as little sparks of color exploded behind his eyelids. He could faintly hear and feel Boyd shifting, climbing back over the center console, and he finally opened his eyes again to stare stupidly at his partner.

He'd more than achieved his goal; as usual Boyd had the ability to completely blow his mind. If insanity had a temporary cure, its name would be Boyd's Blowjob. He could open his own store full of home remedies; it'd give the term 'Head Shop' a whole new meaning.

"What about you?" Sin mumbled, fumbling with his jeans as he attempted to cover himself.

Boyd snorted softly and put on his seat belt, looking calm and collected as he turned the vents on defrost to deal with the foggy windows. "Unlike you, I have a little patience," he said dryly, seeming amused. "But don't worry, I have something else in mind for later."

A half grin found it's way to Sin's mouth and he closed his eyes, feeling exhausted but, as usual, unable to sleep. He looked forward to a night of being kept up by something other than bad dreams and insomnia for a change.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Three...