Afterimage Chapter Five

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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
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Afterimage Chapter Five

Uploaded on 10/18/2008

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"So what the hell are we doing here, anyway?" Cade asked in annoyance, lounging with his arms resting on the back of his chair, which coincidentally showed off his muscles more.

Although it was cold outside, Cade had already removed his hooded sweatshirt to reveal a white wife-beater beneath. He wore sweatpants and a pair of tennis shoes, and had a duffel bag which he'd dropped to the floor next to him. As he spoke, he tilted back precariously on the hind two legs of his chair, rocking back and forth as he looked at the others.

Boyd suspected that everyone in the room was wondering the same thing although no one immediately responded. The initial letter that had alerted them to their nomination had also given them a set of instructions for the two weeks before training started. The last set of instructions had said to meet at this room at a specific time and to bring enough clothing for the next three months but it had said nothing about the reason for the meeting. Like the others, Boyd had assumed that Douglas, Carhart or someone else involved in the training would have been there to explain what was happening.

But it was already twenty minutes after they'd been told to gather and they hadn't seen or heard a thing.

"Maybe he got delayed," Andrew offered from his seat nearby.

Cade snorted derisively. "Yeah and maybe your fairy godmother'll give you a set of brains, Torres." He tipped his chair back so far it nearly overbalanced and, irritated, added, "Dude probably forgot. Seemed fuckin' nuts enough to."

"Right, because that makes sense," Andrew said sarcastically, although there was no bite to his words. "Day one and the instructor already forgets about us?"

"Well, they did say we'd be tested on physical and mental prowess," Emma said helpfully, pulling a long lock of dark brown hair behind her ear. She was sitting in the second row of seats and looking around curiously as she crossed one leg over the other. The brown gauchos she wore rode up slightly and exposed more of the scant amount of flesh that was visible above the top of her tall wedged boots. "Maybe this is part of it, some sort of test?"

"I'd like to test your physical prowess," Cade said, leering at her leg before his eyes slowly moved up to stare at her chest. It almost seemed as though he were trying to determine whether or not he could see Emma's bra through the white button-down she wore.

Emma studied him a moment thoughtfully then just shook her head silently. Judging by her expression, she didn't look offended or surprised but she also didn't seem to want to address the comment in front of everyone.

Toby, who had taken a seat closer to Boyd than was necessary, leaned forward slightly. "I have trouble understanding why anyone would nominate such a hideously mentally inadequate Neanderthal," he said quietly.

Boyd looked over, mildly surprised that the other man was speaking to him. After Toby had seemed so thoroughly unimpressed with him before, it was beyond him why Toby felt the need to be anywhere near him, let alone talk. Boyd just shrugged noncommittally, not really caring enough to bother to comment.

One reason he suspected Cade had been nominated was because General Willis would have been in charge and, of all the generals Boyd had seen, he seemed the type to be most persuaded by the idea that muscles and power were the best tools for the job. Even so, there had to be something that Cade was really good at for him to have been Level 9 at all, let alone nominated for Level 10. Underestimating him because he looked like a steroid junkie would be as foolish as underestimating Boyd or Toby because they looked weaker.

"He's good at storms," a low voice chimed in suddenly. It was Patrick, who was so quiet that Boyd had almost forgotten about him since he was sitting further back from the group this time. "I've been on teams with him a few times. He gets the job done."

"Storms?" Toby asked skeptically.

Patrick's dark eyes moved from the front to focus on Toby as if he was surprised to hear such a question. "When teams storm a city... or a base?"

"Oh," Toby said simply and looked away, not appearing pleased that he hadn't grasped it on his own.

There was a brief silence in which no one said anything; it was almost uncomfortable and the only sound was the noise of Jonathan flipping the pages of a book he was reading.

As if using it as an excuse to get conversation going, Emma turned in her chair and looked at Jonathan amiably. "I'm sorry; I was sitting in front so I couldn't see your card very well. Did it say you're in Special Ops and Intelligence? I don't think I've seen you there before. Who's your captain?"

Jonathan looked up at Emma and seemed quite startled to find her speaking to him. He closed his book, marking the page carefully and studied her before replying to the otherwise straightforward question. "I report to Captain Singh for Intelligence and General Hughes directly for Spec Ops."

"Oh, Singh?" Emma asked, smiling pleasantly. "I worked under him for a year. He's a good Captain; lets you do your job and doesn't micromanage. I had a Captain before him who constantly expected updates on anything I was working on here; it made it way difficult to get anything done. Do you know if they ever had a baby? He and his wife were hoping for one before."

Harriet shifted in her seat to stare at Emma from under the brim of her black cadet style hat. Although she didn't actually say anything, the expression on her face made it known what she thought of Emma's chatter.

But Jonathan just nodded briefly, hands idly caressing the cover of his book as he stared directly into Emma's eyes. "I believe his wife is with child now."

"That's great to hear," Emma said, and she seemed to actually mean it.

"Who do you work with?" Andrew asked her curiously although it was possible part of the reason he joined in was just to keep the conversation going. The silence had been rather boring and seemed to just make the time go slower.

"Captain Mathis," Emma said easily, turning her attention to him.

"He any good? I heard he was a discriminatory asshole." There was nothing rude in Andrew's tone; he simply seemed to be making an observation.

"He has an interesting work ethic," Emma said diplomatically, "but he's always had my back."

"Isn't he the one who likes to fuck goats?" Cade piped up from the side.

Andrew gave him an incredulous look. "The hell are you talking about, Carter?"

"Just repeating what I heard," Cade said with a helpless shrug. He paused, then acted as if something had just occurred to him. "Wait, my bad. I heard he likes to fuck dudes." He pointedly looked at Boyd, his expression languidly mocking. "Same diff."

The tension in the room heightened as several of the trainees went very quiet. Boyd felt some of the others look toward him; no doubt not only due to Cade's comment but also in part because it was the first time he'd actually been addressed. After everything that had happened following the trip to France, it probably would have been more surprising if they hadn't heard the rumors about his sexual orientation. There was little doubt that they also knew who his mother and partner was.

As ridiculous as Cade's comment was, Boyd wasn't impressed. Cade would have to try a lot harder to offend him, like making a comparison that actually made sense. He almost didn't bother to respond to such a stupid comment but with others watching him he felt like if he didn't say something it would just prolong the time before their attention was off him again.

Besides, the comment was probably offensive for Andrew too. He was gay as well but in the closet and likely would not respond even if he wanted to. Boyd glanced over briefly and noticed that there was indeed a certain amount of tension in Andrew's shoulders.

"I suppose," Boyd said mildly, casually looking at Cade without much expression. "In the same way an elephant and a monkey are the same because they're both mammals, or lightning and a chair are the same because they both involve electrons. You could make a lot of baseless comparisons if your criteria is generic enough."

Cade smirked. "And people can do some weird ass shit if their standards are low enough."

"Carter..." Emma started to say, looking uncomfortable, but she trailed off as if she couldn't quite form the sentence in her mind.

"Why is this even being talked about?" Harriet cut in, staring at Cade with an irritated look on her face. "Why do you care who's having sex with whom?"

"I care when I gotta spend the next three months around some pansy ass faggot who's probably gonna spend half the time trying to cop a feel," Cade drawled, dark brown eyes glinting coldly as he eyed Boyd. "And the other half jerking off thinking about it."

Something about Cade's posture was stiff despite the languidness of his tone and when he looked at Boyd, the dislike he clearly felt seemed disproportionate to the way he acted toward the others. It was almost as if homosexuality was a topic that especially offended Cade and he wanted to make damn sure that Boyd was aware of it.

Boyd couldn't imagine anyone-- a gay man or a straight woman-- who could possibly be attracted to Cade after he opened his mouth.

Boyd felt that other peoples' opinions of him were of very little value and meant about as much as the jokes about how young or thin or even effeminate they felt he was. If anything, in Boyd's mind, Cade's belief that Boyd would ever find him sexually attractive enough to even want anything to do with him underscored how completely full of himself the man was.

"You don't belong here," Harriet replied flatly, her expression stony. "And don't take this as me acting as anyone's defender or being offended by your ignorant comments. It's just very obvious that you have no respect for this whole operation, the promotion, the current Level 10 agents or our superiors and it's almost insulting that someone thought you were on the same level as me and some of the others in this room. You will fall flat on your face and get booted the hell out and I can't wait until it happens."

"The fuck do I need respect for?" Cade scoffed, giving her an incredulous look. "We've got some crazy bitch running the show who don't know what the fuck she's doing, half the people in charge are douchebags who got grandfathered in on dumb ass choices from the past, and most of us here kill people for a living. What, you want me to listen to those bullshit after-school movies they make us watch about loving our coworkers and making everyone feel happy inside?"

She shook her head, appearing almost amused with him. "You obviously have no idea how this organization is run, Carter. If you did, you'd know why your attitude guarantees you failure. This isn't the military; it doesn't matter how well you pull the trigger or how bad ass you think you are in the long run. What matters, and what will get you promoted, is how reliable you are, how intelligent you are and how much you can be trusted. And referring to our current leader as a crazy bitch pretty much rules you out of all three."

Toby nodded in agreement, eyes narrowed at Cade in obvious hostility.

"Don't you fuckin' judge me before you know me, bitch," Cade growled, giving her a narrow eyed, unimpressed glare. "You wanna buy into all that shit, fine. But Bulldog ain't here right now so I've got no reason to say how fuckin' great she is when she's done jack shit for us. And it's not just her-- the admin never knows what the hell they want. Connors was as retarded as the others but at least he had cred."

Cade leaned back in his chair, his expression somewhat mocking. "You wanna act like all that matters is how much 'respect' we show, then what the fuck. Let's just all pack up and go home 'cause they've already got it figured out who's going forward and who's not. Me, I know it don't matter what shit I say here, how much I'd suck up to her or anyone else-- you wanna talk reliable, intelligent, trustworthy? That's the shit you find out on missions, when we're doing our actual jobs. That's the shit I can do. You could fall over yourself trying to get in her pants and it wouldn't mean shit if you can't hold your own on a solo. So don't you fuckin' tell me I've got no chance just because I'm not coming from joy just thinking about her."

This time Harriet laughed outright, sounding genuinely amused and not at all offended by him. "Have you even been on an undercover solo assignment? I doubt it and I doubt you have what it takes to successfully complete one."

She crossed her slender arms over her chest and raised one arched brow. "Could you go undercover in Russia for two years like Agent Trovosky? Or handle weeks of intense torture and still bounce back like Agent Vega? Could you even fit into a local community and make contacts, no matter how bizarre, like Boyd? Do you even know what you have to be able to do to be trusted with those sorts of assignments, boy? This promotion is not just 'oh look! Bad guy! shoot!' It's espionage, it's blending in with a crowd, it's knowing how to use your brain. And," she began, not letting him speak just yet. "If you can't even respect your current leader, no matter who she is, how do you ever think she will promote you or trust you to follow her orders? You're a fucking idiot, Carter."

Toby, not seeming capable of holding it in anymore, snickered loudly but it came out more like a hysterical giggle than anything else and he cleared his throat quickly.

Jon, who had actually followed the exchange instead of returning to his book, gazed at Toby for a moment before looking at Cade expectantly. His expression gave nothing away other than the fact that he was mildly interested in the bickering of his peers but not interested enough for him to put in his two cents again.

Boyd looked at Harriet sidelong. 'No matter how bizarre?' She must have been referring to los perdidos and lo más chingón. He was half surprised that she'd used him as an example at all, let alone grouped in with Kassian and Sin; had she referred to him only because he was sitting there and Cade would know who she was talking about, or was she actually trying to defend his capabilities, pointing out that he was more than just a gay man?

It was also surprising that she'd called him by his first name since before he'd always just been 'Agent Beaulieu.' He suspected that was just due to the fact that this was a more casual setting and he was her peer.

Regardless, he was mildly amused that she'd given him such a backhanded compliment. She'd seemed to think he was incredibly incompetent and pathetic when they'd been on their only mission together in Monterrey. It was beyond him why she'd changed her mind now, months after the fact, but he wasn't about to complain.

Cade narrowed his eyes at Harriet, seeming unaffected by her words but somehow more intent, and he appeared to ignore Toby for the moment. "Don't act like some holier-than-thou shit before you even know anything about me, Stevens. There's a lot of shit I'm good at or I wouldn't be where I am. Save your bitchy little lectures 'till training, when we see who can do what. Until you prove you've got any skills other than acting like the bitch in charge, you're just a tomboy with tits to me and I don't give a fuck what you think."

"You are beyond help," Harriet said, shaking her head. She began to say more but was interrupted before she could.

"I don't think he gets it, darling," Jon offered finally. "It's pointless to continue this argument."

"It's pointless anyway," Patrick said, looking disappointed in the two. "We're not here for this. Save it for the trash that attacked this base and killed our comrades."

Apparently, bringing up the attack was the best way to end the conversation. Cade looked sidelong at Pat but sat back in his chair with crossed arms and didn't comment further.

Boyd noted that this was the second time Pat made a comment that had caused Cade to back off. Obviously, the two had worked together before. He wondered if that was the reason or if they were friends, although their personalities seemed too incongruous to really get along for long periods of time.

For all that Cade thought it would be a pain to be around Boyd because he was openly gay, Boyd felt that the rest of them were thinking more that they'd have to deal with Cade and his attitude for several months. It didn't really bother Boyd, but he could tell by Andrew's tense shoulders and set mouth that he wasn't pleased, and Toby and Harriet had already made their own opinions pretty obvious. He doubted Jonathan or Emma particularly cared for Cade, either. He noticed Emma looked displeased although whether it was because she hadn't intended for the conversation to turn the way it had or if she found the wording and topics to have been distasteful, it was hard to tell.

Cade had said he was good at many things; alienating people was apparently one of his natural talents, Boyd mused.

Before anyone could comment further, Doug came striding in and looked just as tousled as he had the week prior. He was whistling something casually under his breath and didn't even look at them as he stopped before the table at the head of the room and placed a few papers on it.

After a moment he finally glanced at the group and raised his eyebrows. "What are you girls looking so uptight for?" he inquired casually, not seeming a bit interested in the reply. "Never mind, don't answer. I don't honestly give a shit why you've all simultaneously acquired PMS."

Cade shot Harriet a sidelong look, as if to silently say it was her fault but he didn't say anything aloud. Andrew was watching Cade with an unusually hard set to his expression but when he realized Boyd noticed, he glanced over once with a bit of a grimace. Andrew leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet out in front of him, visibly trying to relax. No one said anything in response to Doug's comment.

"I've got your room assignments all right here, so take some time putting your delicates away before meeting in Media Room 1 at 1100 hours," Doug said with a nod at the papers.

"And no need to dress like you're off to play some b-ball," he added, glancing at Cade. "No physical stuff today, got it? Good." He turned and walked out as abruptly as he'd entered.

Several of them exchanged looks but in the end it was Emma who stood up first and approached the desk. She leaned over, one manicured nail moving down the page as she presumably looked for her name, then with a bemused smile she looked up at Harriet.

Harriet just sighed and stood up, grabbing her duffel bag as she walked over to see the room number they were assigned to.

Boyd grabbed his bag and stood at about the same time Andrew did but they ended up behind several of the others once they made it down to the desk to check their names on the sheet. Andrew and Jonathan were assigned room B5; Andrew seemed somewhat relieved and Boyd suspected it was because he didn't want to room with Cade. Pat and Cade had room B8, which was fortuitous given the fact that Pat was the only one who seemed to have any chance of keeping Cade in line. Harriet and Emma had room B10; it was unsurprising that the only two women were grouped together. That left Boyd with Toby in room B3. He wasn't particularly happy to be with Toby, mostly because the man seemed a little odd, but anyone was better than Cade.

They'd all been in the barracks at one point or another because this was the building where all major training occurred at the Agency. When Boyd had been living on compound in the six months before he'd first met Sin, he'd spent some of his time in the building. It was well-equipped and specifically created for training purposes; there was a large gymnasium, multiple training rooms, a few hallways of compact, faceless bedrooms, communal showering areas and even a cafeteria, although the food was pretty basic.

The barracks were somewhat removed from the other buildings and the place was designed to be self-sufficient so trainees could spend months there without needing to step outside even once. Typically, the building would have had people wandering around and several of the rooms filled as people trained but now the place was deserted. The people in charge had probably canceled everything else for the duration of the Level 10 training, which made sense since part of the directive was that the trainees were not supposed to have contact with anyone else.

As a result of their prior training, none of them had trouble finding the area they needed and they split into groups of twos as they walked toward their respective rooms. Boyd was the first into the room that would be his living space for the next three months.

The room was small, boring, and Spartan, just as he remembered the barrack rooms being. Two small single beds sat apart from each other against the far wall. The sheets were plain white and looked scratchy and the only comforter they each had was a thin, lint-ridden blanket, the color of which had apparently faded with numerous wash cycles until it was hard to say whether it was grey, blue, green, or even an incredibly pale brown.

There was a single closet in the corner; thin, not very wide and barely deep enough for the handful of hangers on the metal pole and there wasn't a door to cover whatever they would hang there. The floor was cool, concrete, and dusty along the edges of the walls. A single nightstand sat next to each bed and along two opposite walls was a small wooden dresser for each of them.

Nothing lined the bare white walls, not even the implication that others had been here before, had hung pictures or other effects to make the room seem more livable. There were no windows because they were underground and toward the center of the building which meant the only light came from the occasionally flickering fluorescent lights, casting a sickly look to everything.

Boyd paused inside the room then half turned just in time to see Toby enter behind him and shut the door. Boyd didn't really care which bed he took but had no idea if Toby was the sort of OCD person who would take offense. Since he'd have to live with the man for the next three months, he was in no mood to start on a bad note.

"Do you have a preference?" he asked, tilting his head toward the beds.

Toby surveyed the room, a slight look of distaste flickering across his expression before dropping his suitcase off on the nearest bed. "Not really. They're equally boring and uncomfortable looking." He sat on the edge of his bed and winced slightly as he tested it, confirming his assumption. "I wish we at least had a window."

"It would provide too much of a distraction," Boyd said, dropping his bag by the other bed. He glanced up briefly at the light. "I would prefer better lighting at least, though."

Toby sighed and lay back, intertwining his fingers and resting his arms behind his bed. "You'd think they could afford us better accommodations considering we're competing for the highest rank field agents have got. For all that employee housing looks like five star hotel suites, the barracks look like a prison."

"The point of the competition or even the promotion is not the luxury of it," Boyd said reasonably as he sat on the edge of his bed. It certainly wasn't that comfortable of a mattress but he'd slept on worse during missions. "Right now the point is to put all our focus on the training."

"I suppose," Toby relented, and rolled on his side to watch Boyd intently. He was a strange looking man, now that Boyd was looking at him closely. He was incredibly thin and there wasn't even a hint of muscle beneath his clothing. He also had very sharp, bird-like features and pale skin that contrasted so starkly with his dark hair that he looked almost sickly.

"What do you think of the others?" he asked suddenly, blue eyes narrowed at Boyd.

Boyd shrugged unconcernedly. "I hardly know them."

Toby rolled his eyes. "Oh cut this nonsense act already. If we're going to share a room for three months, at least don't be annoying. You're trying to tell me no thoughts crossed your mind at all during the last two meetings?"

"Why do you care?" Boyd asked, raising an eyebrow. "It's not as though my opinion will change anything."

Toby rolled onto his back again, gazing up at the ceiling. "I suppose I'm curious."

"Maybe that can keep you entertained in this boring room, then," Boyd said. There was no bite to his tone; he just didn't see why he should have to bother talking to someone he hardly knew about a group of people he barely knew as well.

"And people say I'm a snob due to my connections," Toby said, tone mildly amused if not a little irritated.

"What?" Boyd asked, mildly startled by the implication although his expression and tone remained neutral. "That has nothing to do with this."

The other man snorted and shifted on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. "You think you're too good to talk to anybody else. It's obvious and not only to me. You think you don't have to respond to anyone because you're so far above on the Beaulieu plateau of greatness and can only deign to respond to someone you think is worthy."

He turned his face slightly to glance at Boyd again. "It's quite alright though. The rest of them are pretty inferior."

Boyd stared at him and felt incredulous; what the hell was with people and constantly assuming that his actions had anything to do with his mother? The woman had birthed him, used to give him money and had put his name into a pool to be considered as Sin's parter; that was about the extent of their relationship. It was mildly annoying to have her continually brought up as if he even cared that she was in charge, let alone let that dictate how he acted. Beyond that, how could Toby be so certain that the others were 'inferior' before he even knew them?

"I'm not 'deigning' to do anything," Boyd said pointedly. "My mother has nothing to do with any of this; we would be having the same conversation regardless of if she even existed at the Agency. I just don't see the point of talking about the other candidates. Why does something so simple have to involve her?"

"It's just the general consensus about you here," Toby replied easily. "It's not just this particular conversation."

"At the Agency?" Boyd knew that others felt he was using his connections but he'd never had anyone outright tell him what people generally thought about him. Now that they were having the conversation, even though it would probably irritate him, he felt that he should probably ask to at least know what stereotype he was up against. "How so?"

"I just explained it," the other agent said patiently. "Ever since you arrived here, you walked around and acted as though you couldn't be bothered to look twice at anyone but the others in your elite unit. Even before that ridiculous nonsense smear campaign that those peon guards thought up about gay sex and other foolishness, people resented that you acted the part of the stuck-up boss' son."

It hadn't even occurred to Boyd that people would view him like that and it was a little frustrating that his quietness and tendency toward introversion was being interpreted in such a way. Under other circumstances, no one would have probably even cared how he acted; it was everyone else who was obsessed with his 'connections,' not Boyd himself.

"I'm just a quiet person," Boyd said simply, deciding to take the time to actually talk about this more or it would only perpetuate the stereotype. "I don't think I'm better than anyone else, and even if I did it certainly would have nothing to do with my mother. The reason I've interacted with my unit more than others is just because they're the ones I know and who I'm constantly around."

"They're the only ones you know because you don't deign to speak to anyone else," Toby repeated with a condescending smile. "Even if it's not true, you can't blame people for thinking that way. They think the same way about me to an extent but in my case it's true, although even I don't act as superior as you do."

Boyd narrowed his eyes slightly; he didn't see why he had to talk to all these people he didn't even know or necessarily like just because they might think he felt he was superior to them. Having others think that was the only logical reason seemed to him like they were jumping to conclusions.

As far as that went, he thought Toby acted a lot more superior than he did. The man kept showing expressions of distaste and outright called other people inferior whereas Boyd just didn't bother to talk in the first place.

At the same time, he supposed that his circumstances pretty much guaranteed that the others would continue to think that way as long as he acted the way he did. He just didn't know yet if he cared enough to combat it since people would believe whatever they wanted regardless of what he said or how nice he suddenly acted. If anything, if his personality suddenly changed toward more talkative, they'd probably start thinking he was being obsequious or trying to get information for some ulterior motive. He had little faith that anyone would interpret anything he did in a manner that was complimentary.

"What connection do you have?" Boyd asked, changing the subject to get it off himself.

"General McAvoy in Intelligence," Toby replied, pride obvious in his voice. "He's my grandfather."

Boyd hadn't heard that General's name yet. So Toby got in directly under his grandfather's division; he could see why people may think he got that only due to connections. Especially since he seemed a little bit of an odd choice for Intelligence; Toby didn't seem the type who would excel at espionage. Then again Boyd wasn't ready to make any judgments until he saw him in action; he got enough preconceived judgments aimed his way to feel like doing the same to others.

Regardless, he thought it may be better to keep asking Toby questions so he wouldn't claim that Boyd was acting superior. "How did you join the Agency?" he asked, leaning back on his hands to get more comfortable on the bed. "What made you choose Intelligence?"

Toby's eyebrows rose slightly and he gave Boyd another condescending look. "I know you don't understand how typical procedure works given your circumstances but even I was forced to work my way up in the ranks. You don't typically choose your division-- it's assigned based on the areas you excel in and if you excel in none, then you are disposed of."

He looked at the ceiling again and smiled to himself. "Although, I suppose they assigned me to Intelligence based on my education. I received two Masters from Yale in Linguistics and European Studies, so I am quite adept at assignments which require the use of foreign languages or specific European cultures."

Boyd nearly raised his eyebrows. That was some impressive education, although partially just in name; Yale was one of the upper-class universities that had survived the war and now only housed the supremely wealthy. In a way, it kept the positions of power in the hands of the wealthy; in order to politically rise through the ranks in the government, most of the time one needed a good education. But the colleges available to the lower classes did not have the same resources or programs.

Boyd had gone to a local college that wasn't particularly expensive but even that had been far out of reach for many of the people who lived inner city. That population had access to community colleges that operated on such shoestring budgets that they were constantly cycling through employees and shutting down specific programs and departments.

If Toby's family was well-to-do, it wasn't surprising that they'd chosen to send him to Yale rather than risk him mingling with the 'common folk.' Boyd decided not to offer the information that, although he had started to attend college early, he'd never finished and never got a degree.

He'd never thought before about what others did and whether that should have precluded him from being able to rise to a higher position within the Agency. Obviously it hadn't, and there were many others who probably had no college background at all, but he wondered if there were certain positions that he wouldn't be able to go into if he didn't have the correct qualifications.

With the insult hanging in the air that he didn't know how the Agency usually worked, he didn't want to give Toby more information to use against him by mentioning college. Instead, he decided to keep asking Toby questions since the man obviously had no qualms with talking about himself and, to an extent, Boyd was actually curious about how their pasts differed since they were otherwise somewhat in the same position.

"What languages do you know?" Boyd asked.

"Many," Toby replied. "I specialized in Slavic Languages and am fluent in two but have a working knowledge of a couple of others. I also know some Sino-Tibetan and am able to converse in both Japanese and Italian. I speak Spanish as well but everyone speaks Spanish."

Boyd did raise his eyebrows a little that time. He could definitely see how that background would be of use in the Intelligence division. If it were him, he didn't think he'd be able to keep all those languages clear in his mind; it was enough for him with French and a bit of Spanish.

Still, the scope and number of languages surprised Boyd and made him wonder why Toby had ended up here; why, with that education and breadth of knowledge, he'd chosen to become a field agent rather than going straight into other areas of government. Or maybe the question was, where had the Agency seen him and known to recruit him?

"What were you doing before you joined the Agency?"

"Well," Toby began, obviously very impressed with himself, "I was selected for the Pickering Fellowship at the Department of State and after that was finished, I decided to apply for the Fascell Program, which I was also accepted into although it is very prestigious and I actually had doubts. You need very high clearance for it," he said, looking over again to make sure Boyd was paying attention. "I was sent to the Ukraine where I was given various diplomatic and consular responsibilities and upon completion of the program, I was intending to apply for a permanent position with the State but was offered a position here, undoubtedly at my grandfather's suggestion."

Although Boyd hadn't heard of either program, he decided to take Toby's word at how prestigious they were. For someone only a few years older than himself, Toby's background was extensive and clearly showed off his intelligence.

"That's impressive," Boyd said, partially because it was true and partially to appease Toby. "Do most of the field agents in Intelligence have similar backgrounds?"

"I imagine so," Toby replied. "It seems as though a lot of the guys in Insurgency and Counter-Terrorism have some kind of military background, but Intelligence seems to be 65% comprised of, well, the intellects of the upper tier political world; or people who seem to be heading in that direction and individuals from other agencies such as CIA, NSA, etc."

Toby paused for a moment before his brows furrowed and he glanced over at Boyd. "Why? What's your background?"

"Primarily psychology," Boyd said casually, expecting Toby to give him shit for not being impressive enough. At the same time, he didn't feel like lying or evading because Toby would probably just keep asking in different ways over time and that would be more irritating in the end.

"So you did go to college?"


Toby nodded, as though it made some sense to him. "Well, I doubt you have any actual experience in the field or you would have said so, but perhaps having that as a background at all is why they thought you would be able to handle a partnership with that individual."

"Perhaps," Boyd said in vague agreement, not mentioning that he'd been told that part of the reason had been his personality. While everyone else seemed to think he felt superior to the others, the people in charge had felt that his apathy and lack of fear had been desirable qualities for pairing him with Sin.

"Whatever the case may be, I think having an insider plays a large role in any promotional process and because of that, I feel you are the only real contender aside from myself," Toby commented with a shrug.

"Then what about Agent Trovosky? Or General Carhart? Or Connors?" Boyd asked, thinking that Toby wasn't entirely right. He doubted it hurt to have someone on the inside but he could think of plenty of individuals who seemed like they had risen in ranks purely by their own merit. "Who did they have working as an insider to get them promoted?"

"Well if it were an equal playing field, they were likely promoted on skills and merit alone, but having people in the fray who do have such connections will give a nudge in the right direction undoubtedly." Toby sat up partially, eyebrows raised. "What about your partner? Why did you choose to leave him out?"

"I assumed you would have considered his father to have been his in," Boyd said, shrugging lightly. "It's not that I don't believe he has the skills to be here on his own, but you seem to think that the moment someone has a connection then the rest of their skills or their actual merit are not as important."

"It's different for Hsin Vega, though," Toby said as though he knew Sin very well. "Whether or not his father had existed at the Agency at all, he has phenomenal skill as a fighter and a killer and he deserves to be here and to have such a rank because of what he can do. Honestly, can you say the same? I'm honest enough to admit that I cannot. I was merely an intern before coming here and if it weren't for my connection," he raised both eyebrows at Boyd, "I wouldn't be here at all. Can you deny it's not the case for yourself? If your mother didn't work here would they have come knocking at your door seeking out your piddly psychology degree? Would they have hired you or someone with a degree in psychology and who also has relevant experience?"

"Of course not," Boyd said easily. "They never would have known I existed. My mother was the one who suggested me. My point, though, is that even with that suggestion it doesn't mean much. Carhart is the one who hired me and he told me that he'd only seen me to humor my mother; he'd had no intention of actually considering me. Sin had a say in who his partner was as well, and he probably had no idea or didn't care who I was."

He watched Toby as he continued idly, "Even if those two had been under my mother's sway, Connors had the final say on Sin's partner. I'm sure you're at least aware that my mother and Connors did not exactly get along? He probably would've delighted in telling her I wasn't worth it but he hired me anyway. The whole thing started because my mother mentioned me, that's true; but it doesn't mean that it ever would've gone anywhere beyond that if someone hadn't felt I was the correct choice regardless of my background or last name."

Toby studied him for a moment before nodding his agreement. "I suppose you have a point. But it's somewhat different here, don't you think? That dyke woman was quite right when she said trust is the key. Who better to trust than people of close relation?"

Boyd gave Toby a flat look. "Harriet, you mean?" he asked pointedly, thinking that was a poor way to refer to her for several reasons, including the fact he didn't believe she was a lesbian. He didn't know why he felt the need to say her name but she'd somewhat defended him to Cade so he may as well return the favor, even if she wasn't there to see. Aside from that, Toby did have a bit of a point as far as it went in his family. After all, his mother had known when she suggested him that he would have likely done whatever was asked of him.

"That's probably true," Boyd conceded. "But just because a person is related to someone else doesn't mean they're reliable." He paused. "Then again, they wouldn't have suggested them in the first place if they thought that."

Toby rolled his eyes. "You're slightly ridiculous when attempting a conversation. No wonder you don't speak much."

Boyd stared at him. The man would never be satisfied, he decided in mild exasperation; he was superior when he didn't speak and ridiculous when he did. "What do you mean?"

"You neither want to agree with me nor yourself. You ju--" Toby paused and shook his head. "It doesn't matter. How did you ever become so familiar with Hsin Vega with these social skills?"

"Call him Sin," Boyd said, not liking that Toby, who didn't know Sin at all, kept calling him by his real name. For some reason, it felt like the only people who should use the name 'Hsin' were people like Carhart, Ryan, or himself; people, he supposed, who were on Sin's side or could see him as a person beyond what many believed to be a monstrous persona. "I don't know; it just happened." He shrugged, not feeling like talking about this. "Probably because I wasn't afraid of him."

Ignoring his last comment, Toby stared at him strangely. "Why should I call him some bastardized version of his name because people don't understand pronunciation? I did tell you I knew Sino-Tibetan languages, didn't I?"

"Because you don't know him," Boyd said bluntly. "And Sin is his Agency name. Should I call you by your first and middle name just because I figure it out and know I'm pronouncing it correctly? You'd probably feel as though I'm being too familiar with you."

Toby shrugged. "Well, my full name is Tobias and nobody calls me that so I suppose everyone is too familiar anyway."

"What do you introduce yourself as typically? Tobias or Toby?"

"Tobias." Toby made a face, presumably because no one seemed to listen to him when he called himself by his full name; they all called him Toby regardless. "Doesn't it sound more respectable?"

It sounds stupider, Boyd thought, but he suspected that the opinion was colored by his dislike of the man. "Then I'll call you Tobias if you call him Sin," he said reasonably. "He introduces himself as Sin so that's what he should be called. Otherwise, you're doing the same thing to him that others are doing to you."

"It doesn't matter, I'm used to it by now. And anyway, if he spoke more, I'd be more aware of that," Toby replied. "I was curious about him for so long and he barely said a word."

"Were you trying to talk to him like he's a normal human being?" Boyd asked mildly.

"I didn't say anything to him. I meant during the orientation. I've no idea what I would say during a one-on-one conversation."

"He doesn't talk much around people he doesn't know." Boyd paused then added pointedly, "I suppose that means he thinks he's superior."

Toby rolled his eyes and stood, going to his suitcase. "He's psychotic, he has an excuse. You don't even respond when people attempt to engage you."

"He's not psychotic," Boyd said firmly, standing as well to unpack his bag. The conversation was starting to annoy him. "He's just Sin."

Toby lifted his shoulders as if to say he didn't care one way or the other and they continued to put away their belongings in relative silence.

"Allen, what are yo-- dude, are you crazy?"

There were light sounds of fabric ruffling and one of the voices said, closer, "What?"

"Just leave him alone, man. Seriously, this isn't a good idea," the first voice said, sounding anxious and worried.

"We can't just leave him here, Chris. Did you hear the way his head slammed against the wall?"

Both voices were close now and seemed to be coming from above him.

"Yeah-- because it's as hard as a rock most likely so I bet he's fine, now let's get the hell out of-- dude, don't touch him, what the hell Al..."

A hand brushed against his head hesitantly, fingers threading through what felt like wet hair.

"He's bleeding. Maybe he has a concussion. We should call for a medic."

"Okay-- fine, but we can do that from across the room. Who knows how he's going to freak the fuck out when he wakes up? I know you were training to be his partner and all for awhile but weren't you the one all friggin' relieved when you didn't make it?"

"Yeah but-- look, he's coming to."

"Let's just get out of here."

"No, he didn't just leave the Bulldog to die so why should we leave him when he's injured?"

A hint of green could be seen through Sin's long black eyelashes and he winced slightly, closing them again before opening them entirely. He stared up at the two men who were staring down at him and vaguely recalled one of them, Allen, as having been one of the agents who'd trained with Boyd to potentially be his partner.

For some reason Allen looked moderately concerned with his well-being but the other man looked understandably uneasy. Sin didn't care either way; his mind spun in circles as he tried to figure out what had happened to him and why he was on the floor. Throbbing pain emanating from the back of his head was Sin's only real clue.

Seeing the question in his eyes, Allen cleared his throat slightly. "You fell."

Sin pushed himself to a sitting position, hand pressing against the back of his head briefly before coming away slightly smeared with blood. "So I gathered."

"You were..." Allen tilted his head slightly and studied Sin, perhaps wondering if the man even wanted his help but extended his hand anyway after a moment.

Sin found it baffling; he didn't remember this guy being very sympathetic to him during the initial interview and he had no idea why Allen would be inclined to act friendly now.

"You were running at max speed on the treadmill-- it was amazing, really. Everyone was kind of... watching," Allen told him hesitantly.

Sin reluctantly accepted his hand and stared cluelessly at Allen, mind still unable to focus specifically on the events that had led to this. "Why was it amazing?"

"Because you weren't out of breath and hadn't even broken a sweat," Chris put in suddenly, tone mildly disbelieving even as he said it. "It was strange."

"But you looked really pale and uh, I guess... weak? So I guess, I don't know, it caught our attention," Allen explained further, as if he had to make his intentions known to Sin. "So when you fell, we noticed right away and came over. Your head cracked against the wall pretty hard."

Sin stared at the treadmill, then looked back at the wall which had a rather conspicuous blood smear on it. He stared at it blankly for a long time before the events of the last several moments finally came back to him.

Two times the recommended dosage of the homeopathic sleeping medication had done nothing more than put him to sleep for two hours the night before, both of which had been spent restlessly and full of bizarre and oddly vivid dreams. But it was more than he'd gotten in weeks so, feeling mildly energized, he'd decided to go to the gym.

The once relaxing and meditative pastime hadn't really agreed with his still-exhausted body. After several moments of exhilarating strength and agility, his body wore out at a disturbing speed, proving that the more powerful something was-- the more maintenance it needed.

Double vision, dizziness, nausea-- it'd all hit him at the same time and as he'd struggled to fight it, to fight the weakness, something had caught his eye.

A second look with squinted blurry vision had told him that he had seen correctly; a disturbing phantom of Jessica was sitting perched on a nearby stationary bike, smiling at him like a personal cheerleader as blood oozed from twin bullet holes in her head.

Everything after that was a blur.

Sin blanched and swallowed hard, feeling a strong urge to vomit.

"Dude, are you okay? You don't look good at all," Allen said, eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at Sin's ashen face. "We were going to call the med--"

"No," Sin interrupted, shaking his head and regretting it immediately. "Just forget it."

The other guy made a face as if he were mentally calling Sin an asshole and bumped Allen's shoulder with his own in a clear 'let's just get out of here' gesture. But Allen studied Sin stubbornly, obviously taking his loyalty to the Agency to new heights as he determinedly tried to rescue the guy who'd rescued his new boss. "You should just get checked out, man. Really. You probably have a concussion or worse."

Sin nodded distractedly, trying to blink away the mental image of his hallucination, and started away. "Right," he mumbled more out of desire to end the conversation than actual gratitude and made his way towards the entrance. His head was pounding and whatever energy he'd regained from the brief nap had been expended twice over already, leaving him dangerously fatigued and disoriented.

He could vaguely hear conversations behind him as he left, most likely the other people discussing his behavior but he couldn't bring himself to care. After years of being accustomed to four hours of sleep at night, he felt like he should be able to handle this better but his spinning head made it clear that that wasn't the case.

The walk back to his building was a blur; he couldn't help but think that this was exactly how he'd felt the first time he'd gotten drunk. His steps were uneven, thoughts a confusing mix, and he had to put extra concentration into his every move to ensure he actually made it properly.

Sin could only hope that he didn't look as out of it as he felt; people loved to take advantage of weakness and right then he was at the weakest point he'd been in a long time while on the compound. Of course, this had to happen while he was making a long trek across the entire Agency campus.

Each step seemed slower than the last until he worried that he was literally dragging his feet but didn't have the awareness to figure out whether or not he actually was. The stairs in front of his building were nearly the end of him and he could barely make out the voices of the guards at the entrance as they began to speak. It sounded like they were talking underwater for some reason and it was more trouble to decipher than it was truly worth.

For the first time in two years he completely bypassed the stairs and collapsed into the elevator, sweat trickling down his brows as he sagged against the wall and waited impatiently to get to his floor. The ride seemed endless but after a moment he reached his floor and he stumbled down the hall, completely ignoring his guards as he burst into his apartment, shut the door behind him, and dropped onto the couch in a heap.

A part of him felt mildly exhilarated to be this naturally tired; surely this meant he would fall into an exhausted and deep sleep. Surely he would attain the kind of sleep that only mind blowing orgasms typically caused, and it would last for hours until the restlessness and nightmares finally set in. It had to happen that way.

But it didn't.

He lay there for nearly an hour, heart still pounding rapidly and ears ringing as his headache intensified; he felt off-balance and disoriented, as if the walls were swaying, and for several minutes he honestly couldn't say whether he was the one moving or if it was just the room around him.

Yet as exhausted as he felt, he couldn't fall asleep. His mind continued to race from thought to thought, re-hashing Jessica's death in Monterrey even though he continuously tried to push it out of his mind. He unconsciously kept zeroing in on the blood and bits of brains that had exploded from her head, only now he saw the moment more clearly than he ever had before, maybe even with more details than when it had actually happened.

Now all he could see was the vivid spray of her blood, a bright red arc that splattered across Hale's startled face. He saw the way her expression had been caught forever in desperation, denial and surprise; the way her head had snapped back and her body had fallen backwards with it, landing on the floor in a pool of her own blood. The dead dullness of her blue eyes, her lips slack and open, her limbs crumpled at awkward angles. The creeping red of her blood slowly staining her shirt.

It was as if that split moment in which he'd been frozen, before he'd been knocked out-- all of it played in slow motion repeatedly before his horrified gaze and he couldn't make it stop.

And he couldn't sleep.

Over an hour later, with a growl of frustration, Sin got to his feet and stumbled to the bedroom. He found himself squinting down at the little bottle of sleeping pills without the actual ability to read the tiny words. After a moment of trying to figure out a dosage that would actually work on his ridiculous tolerance to all things related to sedatives, he downed more than half the bottle dry and threw himself face down on his bed to wait for the effects to kick in.

It took long enough to cause him to have doubts but fast enough to make up for the wait. His limbs suddenly felt weighed down with lead; his racing thoughts slowed down to a dull trot as a thick fog seemed to surround him and muffle all sound, all coherent thought.

The effects were almost disturbingly powerful and it was only as his eyes finally began to slide closed that he realized there was no way he'd be able to drag himself out of a nightmare now...

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

Hsin thought his father would have been more alarmed. No one was supposed to know where this place was. It was supposed to be safe. Secret. It was a place no one knew about; not Emilio's employers, not the enemies of his employers. It was where he left Hsin when he was gone.

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

Instead he graced them with a raised eyebrow and stood calmly in the kitchen, leaning against the island seemingly without a care in the world. "You're the fuckin' noisiest assassin I ever met, bro."

There were two more behind the first guy and Hsin's first impression was that they were all American, all well prepared as they spread out across the apartment in well versed unison, and that they were obviously planning to kill his father.

Two of the men looked so similar to each other that it was obvious they were brothers. They both had the same oily black hair, hooked noses and wide-set brown eyes. They strode through the Spartan loft, eyes narrowed and faces grim as they began rifling through the wide open space.

As they presumably searched for something, the first man, redheaded and tall with sharp features and an angry scar across one cheek, stared at Emilio. His pale blue eyes never flickered and his gun never wavered as he aimed it at Emilio; his gaze tracked Emilio's every move although there was something about his expression that showed clear displeasure about his task.

But Emilio continued to flash his smart-ass grin and didn't seem intimidated at all. "You really think you're gonna find anything here, Peter? Be smart."

"Shut the fuck up, Vega. You're a fool for letting it come to this," the redheaded man snapped.

"I didn't let it come to anything," Emilio replied airily. "It's not my fault he can't clean up after himself. If he'd been more careful, I never woulda found out."

"It doesn't change anything now, you idiot. You should have learned to keep your goddamn mouth shut. Now I have to do--" Peter broke off in obvious frustration and jerked his gaze away from Emilio. He ended up staring at Hsin and the displeasure on his face grew in its intensity. "Who the hell is this?"

"God's new gift to women?" Emilio offered with an innocent smile. "I guess he figured since you're going to kill me, the world needed a replacement."

Peter snorted in disgust as his eyes bore into Hsin; they swept over his skinny body and took in his unflinching gaze. "A smart ass 'till the end, huh?"

"You know it, babe."

"Too bad your kid or brother or whatever the fuck he is has to die too," Peter replied with a slight frown. "I hate killing kids. You should have gotten him out of here when you got yourself into this shit, Vega."

"This place is clean, Peter," one of the brothers yelled as they moved to the kitchen again.

"I guess let's get down to it then," Emilio suggested with a serene smile, not at all appearing concerned with his impending doom. "My will is in the safe, by the way. You can be my executor."

Hsin shifted slightly, moving closer to them, tension clear in his thin frame but Emilio shook his head sharply. "Not until they finish with me," he said rapidly, in Mandarin. "Don't touch them until I'm down.

Hsin's eyebrows drew together, replying in the same language. "Why? I--"

"Just do what I say," Emilio snapped impatiently, still speaking in the Chinese dialect.

"This guy's ridiculous," one of the other men muttered. "Shoot his fucking kid. Maybe that will shut his ass up."

Emilio's smile faded abruptly but he automatically looked at Peter as though anticipating the man's reaction. Peter hesitated and a deep frown etched into his face as he glared at Hsin, anger radiating from his tense body. "Just finish this," he snapped finally. "Do the kid after I leave."

"Aw, what a softy," one of the brothers drawled flatly and he whipped his gun out, aimed it at Emilio's head and started to pull the trigger without a moment of hesitation.

Emilio spun out of the way of the bullet which slammed into one of the plain white walls. The man's eyes narrowed and his brother came in from the side, kicking Emilio violently in the stomach. Hsin's eyebrows drew together in confusion; he knew his father could have easily deflected the attack. He knew his father could easily kill both of these men.

But for some reason Emilio allowed himself to be taken down. The two men attacked him viciously but efficiently, using their hands instead of weapons; their expressions were identical with an intent look of pleasure mixed with professionalism. Unlike Peter, they seemed to relish in the task and were enjoying the fact that, as far as they knew, Emilio was at their mercy.

They worked in tandem; when one wasn't hitting Emilio, the other was and it almost seemed like unspoken messages were passing between the two of them as they moved around each other fluidly. They wasted no excess energy or time; they simply chose the most violent, crippling moves and didn't let up.

Emilio fought back but he wasn't even using a quarter of his full fighting ability. He moved slower and didn't react or attack with the proficiency that he was capable of. He took every violent attack without once crying out in pain even as blood exploded from his mouth, as his head was slammed against the floor. Instead, he mocked them through bloody, grit teeth, and when he truly began to slow down, when the pain of the attack began to finally become too much, he hissed at Hsin not to move. Not to do anything yet.

Hsin's heart was racing; he was afraid, he was angry and he could barely breathe as he watched, frozen by his father's orders. He didn't understand the game his father was playing; he didn't understand anything that was happening but Emilio's commanding glare kept him from moving.

Emilio crouched on the floor, surrounded by the two men but the fire was still in him even if he wasn't showing that with his actions. He stared challengingly up at the brothers, ignoring Peter who refused to even look at the scene. "Do it. I dare you. Show me what you got." A mocking smile despite the obvious pain in Emilio's green eyes, bloody fingers beckoning them although he didn't seem physically able to put up a fight even if he wanted to at this point.

The attack continued; the brothers were growing angry with Emilio's taunts. Everything became a blur as Hsin's breathing became more erratic, as his father's knees finally buckled and he once again slid to the floor.

Hsin could only stare blankly at the blood that was splattered across the floor, at the bloody imprints of his father's hands on the walls. Hsin felt light-headed as he watched one of the brother's grab a handful of Emilio's hair and drag him to his feet once again, staring down at him with a cruel smile.

Emilio wasn't quite dead yet but seemed to be getting there as he stared wildly at Hsin, looking less self-assured but just as determined as ever.

"You'll know when to do it!" Emilio managed to gasp out raggedly, once again in Mandarin. He released a thin laugh followed by a choking cough. "Don't let me down, boy."

And then, abruptly, one of the brother's picked Emilio up effortlessly and threw his battered body against the far wall. Emilio's head slammed into the wall with a disturbing, resounding crack and he crumpled lifelessly. He fell awkwardly, like a broken doll; his limbs twisted in uncomfortable ways and his head struck the floor with no resistance. He didn't move at all-- not a hint of breath, not a twitch of a finger; his skin was ashen from the blood loss that coated him like a second skin and his eyes were closed, unmoving.

Peter didn't look at Emilio's body. He just continued to stare at Hsin with the same grim set of his jaw. "I'm going to report in," he said stiffly. "Kill the kid and meet me at the base."

Darkness seemed to seep around Hsin's vision, blurring everything, making it shadowy-- and it was very difficult to breathe. He pressed his back against the wall, unable to understand what had just happened, unable to understand why his father had told him to watch him die, unable to understand why he'd listened...

And as the other two assassins moved towards him and he mindlessly listened to Peter exit the building, something in him snapped.

Just like before, he wasn't in control anymore-- his body had a mind of its own and all he could do was watch.

He launched himself at them with shocking speed, shocking strength, and as they stumbled backwards in surprise, Hsin lost himself in a mindless, blood thirsty daze. He yanked a knife from the block on the counter and killed them. Savagely.

He didn't stop until their blood pooled on the floor with his father's as he stabbed them over and over, losing himself in the violence, relishing the sound of the blade going in and out of the ravaged meat...

He didn't stop until someone weakly grasped his shoulder and Hsin mindlessly snatched one of the men's guns, spinning around and pulling the trigger without seeing, the red haze consuming him as he took out the new threat.


Having neutralized all the enemies, the gun fell from Hsin's hand and the sound seemed to echo in the room. He watched Emilio without emotion, who stared back at Hsin in confusion, shock...

Emilio had barely been standing, already weak and nearly dead from the barrage of abuse he'd taken but now he fell backwards as blood blossomed across his chest. Their gazes locked until those permanently sleepy-looking eyelids slid closed and Emilio slammed against the floor once again, his body now completely limp.

Hsin stood in the middle of the room, the spreading blood soaking into his sneakers, the hems of his too-long pants. He stared blankly at Emilio's body, unaware of what had just happened, what he'd just done; still completely lost in the midst of his out of control haze.

Body parts littered the floor around him, fallen from where he'd haphazardly hacked them off; fingers and parts of hands from when the men had held their arms up for defense, had ultimately cowered away in fear. The stench of blood and the body fluids that had been released from the corpses was suffocating, overwhelming; arcs of blood spread across nearly every surface in the apartment-- the floor, the furniture, the ceiling. Hsin.

Just minutes ago, the room had seemed filled with the sounds of boots and fists against Emilio's body, then the startled shouts of the brothers as they'd fought but realized they had no chance, and the following screams of pain that had cut off abruptly as they'd died.

Now, oppressive silence surrounded him.

Silence and death.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Six...