Afterimage Chapter Six

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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.

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Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Afterimage Chapter Six

Uploaded on 10/25/2008

There were too many people.

Too many people bustling through the compound, scurrying around scaffolding and fenced off construction zones; Agency employees mixing with private contractors and the noise was nearly too much to bear.

The constant buzz of a drill, the pounding of a jackhammer and that overpowering din of overlapping voices, of conversation and loudness and whispering all at once.

It was making Sin anxious; the closeness, the noise, the clutter of humans pressing so near when all he wanted was to be left alone... It was putting him on edge and it was obvious from his posture; the hunched shoulders, face dropped to stare only at the floor as he wrapped his arms around his torso...

He probably looked like a crazy person.

But with ghosts pointing fingers at him everywhere he turned... he couldn't exactly prove anyone wrong.

It'd come to the point where Sin couldn't decide if these phantoms were actually hallucinations or if this was proof that the supernatural really did exist. It was difficult to say when they were so real.

But sometimes he could feel Lydia's breath on his ear as she whispered to him, telling him how worthless her mutilated body was; how her soul had escaped long ago and that he visited nothing but a corpse that hadn't quite decomposed yet.

Sometimes he could smell the blood leaking from Jessica's head; slightly metallic as the skin around the bullet holes peeled back, blackened and ghastly as she smiled her unnecessarily self-conscious smile and gazed at him with dead eyes.

And then there was his father...

That laugh, that ridiculously loud laugh, booming and deep and infectious as a million reflections of Emilio's shade surrounded him, pointing and laughing... Always laughing.

But why was it so funny?

Was he pleased that Sin finally remembered? That the guilt he'd already felt for so long had finally manifested itself entirely-- that he'd finally realized that this sudden onslaught of remorse wasn't entirely about Lydia and Jessica... It was about the secret that he'd kept from himself for so long; that he'd repressed for years even as it'd tried so hard to push to the surface.

But who could blame Emilio if he was pleased? Why should Sin get to forget? Why should he get to go on like nothing happened? Why shouldn't he be plagued with guilt; with the memory of dragging his father's limp body through a field as if he'd been in a trance, moving on autopilot as he listened to the old instructions to always clean up evidence before dumping his father in a ditch with the two assassins that had come to kill them.

Why shouldn't he be tormented by the memory of sitting in a darkened pool of blood until something in his mind cracked and shuddered and gave out, and left him an empty shell of a boy with big black canvases where memories should have been?

What ghost wouldn't want to torment his murderer?

Sin shuddered slightly, unable to mask it from the people around him and tried to ignore the stares that were consequently aimed in his direction. It was closer to impossible than he would have hoped; the end result was an ever increasing rise in the very short temper that he possessed in the days since he'd made the mistake of taking half a bottle of pills that were apparently known for giving very vivid dreams.

Ever since that night when he'd woken in a cold sweat, panting with a racing heart and having hallucinations more frequently than usual, he'd forced himself to stay awake, not that that was a very big feat. He didn't think he could handle knowing anymore, remembering anything else... But most of all, he didn't want to relive that night again.

He didn't want to feel like he was in his thirteen year old body-- simultaneously traumatized and prepared, knowing what to do while feeling a nonstop overwhelming sense of helplessness.

It was strange that he'd been able to move on as a child; he'd just blocked it all out and followed his father's long prepared instructions to carry on his assignments before reporting in if anything ever happened to him. But as an adult, Sin could barely get through the day without feeling like he was on the edge of a black hole.

The guilt was one thing but the inimical hallucinations and impossibility of coherent thought made it difficult to move on from the idea that he was going to be sucked in, finally and completely, to the chaos of his mind. It was disturbing, frightening and it made him wonder if he would ever see Boyd again and if he did, would he be in this state or would it have worsened by that time?

Or maybe he would have already committed suicide because that idea had been plaguing Sin night after night and it was such a seductive thought sometimes...

"He looks so strange," someone whispered, but not low enough for him not to hear.

Sin's fingers tightened around his arms, feeling simultaneously frozen and hot as he grit his teeth and tried to ignore the voice as his anger rose slightly in response. He could practically feel the stares, like ghostly fingertips treading down his spine.

The thought made him shiver again and for a moment it was hard to remember whether or not that had been an idle thought or if he really had felt fingers touching his back. The thought disturbed him so much that Sin had a physical reaction; straightening abruptly and looking around sharply, eyes zeroing in on the people who were walking up the stairs to the Tower and saw nothing. Other than a couple of people who immediately looked away, most people were not paying attention to him at all and no one was touching him.

Feeling confused and disoriented, Sin shook his head and pushed his way into the doors, anxious to get away.

It would be nice to go back to the seclusion of his apartment where he could console himself with the fact that he really was alone and that the things he saw couldn't possibly be real. After all, the guards would notice if a parade of dead people came to the door, wouldn't they?

But here he had no such luxury. Here, there were agents everywhere, people everywhere and everyone noticed him, everyone stared; it made the situation so much worse, the confusion and feelings so much more overwhelming.

But he'd been ordered to go by Carhart; the General had finally realized that Sin had never fulfilled his promise and today was the day that all of his examinations were supposed to take place.

Sin wasn't very optimistic about the course of either. He was physically weak, emaciated and suffering from sleep-deprivation. The mental aspect spoke for itself.

Sin approached the elevator bank, eyeballing the cramped corridor before finally picking his way around people and quickly entering the first elevator that arrived. Several people pushed in after him and he went back to staring at his boots, not wanting to look at anyone and hoping that no one would notice him.

"He looks like he's going to flip out any minute..."

"I knew he hadn't changed."

Sin's head snapped up and he looked around for the source of the comments but once again no one was looking at him--no one was talking.

Frustration mounted and his head began to throb. He willed the elevator to go faster but it seemed that it would make a stop on every floor and each time it dinged, his anxiety mounted as the low whispers started to increase and he couldn't help but cover his ears with his hands, squeezing his eyes shut as he willed it to stop.

But it didn't stop and when he finally opened his eyes, the agents and civilian staff weren't in the elevator anymore.

Emilio stood there, leaning against the door and grinning at him but the smile didn't quite reach his cold stare. He tilted his head back, gaze accusing and Sin felt like he was going to gag as he stared at his father's ravaged torso.

"I should have left you in that whore house to rot," his father said sullenly.

Sin stared at him, not knowing how to respond to that and suddenly got the odd feeling that he was watching this happen. He was watching himself and his father stand off; how pathetic he looked in comparison to the strapping image of young Emilio Vega as his own body practically cowered, malnourished and pale, in the corner.

And then he saw all of the other specters begin to pop up; Jessica, Lydia, Anderson McCall, Prime Minister Cigliuti, Captain Stevens, Agents Sutherland and Collins; his two former partners, Agent Hitchens; the agent at that first meeting with Boyd, even Jared Strickland and her...

Faces he knew mixed with blank faces of the random civilians and cops killed during the melee, the guards and doctors he didn't know who'd been killed on the Fourth, they all filled the elevator, pressing against him, staring at him and he really couldn't handle it anymore.

Something in him snapped as the anxiety, as the fear, heightened and suddenly he was screaming. He was vaguely aware of himself moving, pushing out of the tiny crowded space, pushing through his victims, and they were touching him, reaching for him as Sin watched himself swing out wildly in response.

Hysteria heightened; the feeling of being so completely outnumbered and threatened increased but as suddenly as the hallucination had come-- it abruptly wavered and disappeared.

As reality slowly came in to focus again, Sin saw the terrified and confused Agency staff surrounding him, staring at him, not knowing what the hell was wrong with him or what to do. And he really wanted to run, just leave, get away from them all, deal with this in the confines of his own home and fuck Carhart if he couldn't accept that.

But Sin couldn't move. Or he couldn't make himself move. And he realized abruptly that this was a very bad sign.

It hadn't happened in so long... So long...

Ever since Boyd had come into the picture it had happened less and less.

The feelings of hysteria, of out of control rage, of nerve wracking fear, they were still there but the difference was that he now felt detached from them. And he watched himself; watched how his body moved backwards from the crowd, as his eyes narrowed and his face changed from disturbed and frightened to threatening and dangerous.

And with a strange dullness that typically associated his complete lack of surprise at unfortunate events in his life; Sin watched stupid, ridiculously helpful Allen Carson appear out of nowhere and advance on his body.

But Sin couldn't do anything; it was too late.

He distantly felt Allen touching him and the response was immediate. But as the taste of blood filled his mouth and screams echoed in his ear; everything began to fade away until his vision was completely black.


"Get it the fuck offa him!"

There was a mad dash as several of the agents pounced on Sin, grabbing at his arms and chest as he mauled Agent Carson. The man had gone limp after the first few moments where everyone had just stared in frozen shock and it wasn't clear exactly what his injuries were..

Two agents tried to twist Sin's arms behind his back and pin him to the floor but he kicked backwards, boot slamming hard into the bottom of one man's chin. The agent screamed, covering his face with his hands as blood poured from the sides of his mouth, having savagely bitten his own tongue.

Sin rolled out from under the other one and sprang to his feet, slamming an elbow into a throat as he mashed the heel of his hand square into another man's face.

"Ow! Ow! My eyes!"

Rebecca covered her mouth with her hands, eyes filling with tears as she backed away, back pressed against the closed elevator door as she slammed her fist against the down button repeatedly and watched Sin go completely berserk.

"Fuck! Don't touch him any--just stop! The more you go at him, the more freaked out he's getting!" Someone shouted, a civilian staff member who was completely ignored by the agents who were determined to get Sin down.

But he wasn't going down-- they were.

A tall, darkhaired woman traded quick punches with Sin, ducking and spinning out of the way of his relentless attacks and expression quickly going from determined to hopeless as she realized there was no way she could escape such ridiculous speed.

His long fingers wrapped around her wrist in a grip that seemed as though it would surely snap her bones in half, before Sin lifted her effortlessly, spinning around and sending her flying into the two men who had come running in from the crowd once they saw that the woman, a high ranking field agent, was in trouble.

"You morons!"

"Kill him!"

"Get the guards!"

The elevator just wouldn't come and Rebecca stared at a panting and bloody Sin as he crouched in a corner of the hallway and stared at his attackers like an animal that refused to be tamed.

Now he didn't look like the antisocial but outrageously attractive agent with the cute smile who'd come to Payroll that day-- now he looked like something else.

He moved almost too fast to follow, dropped men with an efficiency that was frightening and it seemed no one stood a fighting chance against him.

But then footsteps pounded down the hallway of the medic unit as guards flooded the area, stepping over unconscious agents as they swarmed in on Sin. They were outfitted in riot gear even though Sin was unarmed but as she watched him fight, as she watched his shocking strength and speed, it wasn't hard to see why they felt they needed it.

"Just fucking blow his brains out!"

Rebecca's head snapped towards the man who'd yelled, a blond lower ranked field agent, and she felt an inexplicable defensiveness over Sin even though she was terrified of him at the moment. "Shut up!"

"You shut up, stupid bitch!"

There were the sounds of fighting again and this time she looked over and saw six guards overpowering Sin brutally, half strangling him as he fought and struggled nonetheless, as a needle was jammed carelessly into the side of his neck.

But he kept fighting, kept going, and no one saw it coming when he braced his feet against the wall, using the support of the guard's chest who was trying to detain him and flipped backwards, landing behind the group before moving in to attack again.

"It didn't work! Get an--Fuck! Ahh!"

"Do it again!"

"Fuck, give him more! Jesus Christ just give him all of it!"

Rebecca felt like vomiting.

But then the struggle began to slow down and Sin collapsed to the floor, completely motionless and appearing almost lifeless.

Everyone stared breathlessly at the two laid out guards and five injured agents who had been taken down by one unarmed man. But then the moment broke and one of the guards glared at the crowd as he panted and wiped blood from his brow. "What the hell happened here?"

Everyone began talking at once and the guard, Lieutenant Gerant, whistled sharply to shut them up. After a moment he swept his gaze across them and for some reason, his gaze settled on Rebecca. Maybe because she'd removed herself from the group, maybe because she wasn't in a seething, foaming, indignant rage like the majority of the mob-- she couldn't be sure.

"You," he barked. "What happened?"

In cases like these, the guards had more weight than the agents and no one disagreed with his choice. While the agents were in charge of missions and classified information, the guards were in charge of the security and order of the compound and when it came into question, no one had the right to disagree with them.

"I..." She looked at Sin's pale, unconscious form and in the back of her mind tried to equate his slender figure with the powerhouse that had just taken down seven men. "Agent Vega was... he was in the elevator and, I mean you could tell something was wrong. He was pale and sweaty and shaking, but people kept making stupid comments anyway despite the fact that he was obviously in distress of some sort."

"Oh cry me a goddamn river," someone spat in disgust.

Lt. Gerant glared at the agent before nodding at Rebecca to continue. In the background, the other guards were shackling Sin as the medical staff finally exited their wing and came out to inspect the injured men.

"I'm not sure what happened, but he started yelling and talking to himself, and he ran out of the elevator but... I don't know why, but people started grabbing at him. I don't know why. They should have just left him alone in that state. And that guy--" She pointed to Allen, who was being transfered to a stretcher. No one seemed to have been killed or very seriously injured. "He insisted on trying to 'snap him out of it.'"

"Yeah, that damn idiot we told him not to!" The civilian staff member, a guy with thick round glasses and a name tag that placed him in Research, snapped. "He had to play the hero or whatever. Stupid field agents are all the same."

"Fuck you. Go back to your laboratory, pussy," the blond agent growled.

"Blow me," was the quick response.

"And then Agent Vega just went crazy," Rebecca finished, ignoring the commentary. "They kept pouncing on him and he kept fighting. It was a mess."

"Is he dead?" someone asked.

One of the guards sent a swift kick to Sin's ribs; he neither made a sound or moved. "Could be."

"That's enough," Lt. Gerant growled. "You people go back to whatever the hell you were doing before this happened."

Rebecca nodded weakly and backed away, pushing the down button insistently, not wanting to see anymore, to hear anymore, to find out what was going to happen next. There was a resounding 'ding' and she backed into the welcome cavern of the elevator thankfully, praying for the doors to close so that she would be forced to take her eyes off of Sin.

Finally they began to slide shut and just as they did, she heard Lt. Gerant say, "Someone inform General Carhart."

Footsteps echoed down the hall before anyone could be seen.

The stride was swift, purposeful, and Carhart didn't stop for anyone or anything as he made his way down the long corridor of the fourth floor detainment center. He passed the cell that had housed Thierry for weeks, one of the very few that could possibly be described as humane, and didn't even look twice at the dank cube where Detainee #359 was kept in between trips to the interrogation room. She was holding out surprisingly well and so far hadn't given them any information on the group that raided the Agency.

Right now something, no, someone more important was on his mind; someone who always wound up in the worst of predicaments because nothing could ever go right when it came to him.  Someone who was always in the back of Carhart's mind even when he tried so hard to tell himself that he had to let go.

But he couldn't; even through the years when Sin had rejected him entirely; even when Sin had been sentenced to life in a cell; even when he'd finally seemed happy; and even after they'd told Carhart that he was dead.

Through it all, he couldn't let go. He couldn't stop himself from checking up, from thinking of ways to get around the complexities that made up the three-ring circus that was the Agency's policies, from telling himself every night that the death of such a completely tragic individual was all his fault.

And this new mess that Sin was in-- Carhart couldn't begin to understand how it had all started, where it had all come from and of all things, why was it rearing up now that Sin had finally seemed happy and almost marginally accepted; not as one of the pack but at least as the outcast who wasn't going anywhere no matter how hard they tried to drive him away.

But, Carhart supposed as he approached the cell that housed the box, there was no doubt in his mind that there was way more to it than Sin just losing his temper.

Lt. Luke Gerant stood by the entrance waiting for him, dressed smartly in his uniform and saluting Carhart immediately. "General Carhart," he greeted respectfully.

Carhart nodded a greeting, blue eyes not leaving the 6 foot by 4 foot container that could be seen through the long window along the wall of the cell where Sin was currently locked up. "Enjoying your promotion, Lieutenant?"

Luke gave him a wan smile and turned his gaze onto the cell. "I was until now."

"How many men did you lose?" Carhart turned his gaze back on the man, sizing him up and watching his facial expressions carefully.

"Two were injured, no casualties though." Luke seemed very grateful if not a little surprised by that fact. "As odd as it sounds, he was surprisingly easy to subdue even though he took out seven people on the way."

It wasn't surprising to Carhart. "He's been in a poor state lately, Lieutenant. Mentally and physically." He wasn't about to go further but he felt that Luke at least deserved a mild explanation. Without one, people would never make an effort to understand, even if they so seldom did.

But Luke didn't seem to be one of the people who came to an instant judgment over Sin; instead, he just nodded in silent understanding before saying with some hesitation, "I think I should warn you, General... a couple of my men panicked and administered an extremely high dosage of the tranquilizer. I've already dealt with them discipline-wise but he isn't in a coherent state at the moment, if he's awake at all. He may need medical attention but I wasn't given clearance to enter yet so I'm not entirely sure."

"The Acting Marshal hadn't come to a decision on how to handle this situation at the time," Carhart said in explanation, mouth drawing down into a frown slightly.

"Has she now?"

"Yes." Carhart approached the door and started to input the long string of code but paused and looked over his shoulder at Luke. "If you are ever interested in the possibility of a career as a field agent, come to see me."

Luke's eyebrows shot up, the corners of his mouth twitching slightly in a smile. "Thank you, Sir."

Carhart turned back to the door and finished inputting the code, entering the cell and approaching the box with a dull feeling in the pit of his stomach.

When would this end?

Sometimes he really had to wonder if Sin surviving Monterrey only to be brought back to an institution that drove him crazy and tortured him was very much better than dying and finally getting peace.

It was a depressing thought, but one that he couldn't help ponder as he stared at the box.

Carhart input the next two codes and tugged the door open, ignoring the IV set up and ducking down to enter the box, unable to stand entirely inside of the thing. A part of him had hoped that the vile creation would have been destroyed right along with Connors but that had been nothing but a pipe dream. Vivienne would keep it as long as she saw it necessary but at least her decision on this particular matter had been the most intelligent one regarding Sin that had ever been suggested before.

The only problem was Sin himself and whether or not he would go along with it.

Carhart crouched down and stared at the young man before him; at the way Sin was crunched in a ball in the corner, his hands over his ears as he pushed his face into the crook between neck and shoulder.

"Sin," Carhart said calmly, reaching out to touch the younger man but stopping short at the last moment.

There was no immediate response and Carhart finally clasped his hand around one muscular forearm. "Sin, look at me," he said, louder.

A low groan emanated from where Sin hid his face and Carhart took this as encouragement to lean forward and wrap his arms around Sin's torso, hauling him around and forcing him to uncurl from the fetal position. "Can you hear me?"

Sin's eyes remained closed, the sockets shadowed by dark circles that contrasted starkly with the paleness of his skin. His eyebrows were drawn tightly together even in sleep and under his eyelids, his eyes moved rapidly as he dreamed. Sin's mouth tightened in a line even as distressed sounds made their way through and he shuddered violently after awhile.

Carhart rubbed his chin, unable to decide if he should interrupt or let the man get much needed rest but he also knew that the rest was anything but natural and that the dream Sin was having was obviously disturbing in some way.

After a moment of watching Sin, Carhart shook his head and reached out, hitting the other man hard in the face. "Wake up."

Sin's eyes didn't open immediately even though his body tensed up at the assault. However, Sin's mouth moved slightly as he tried to wake himself. It took several long moments before he could even crack his eyelids a third of the way open and even then, his green eyes were glazed heavily by the drugs and lacked any real recognition.

"Sin," Carhart tried again, leaning forward to lift Sin's head forcibly, checking him for injuries and finding nothing but a few bruises and scratches. "Are you aware of your surroundings right now?"


Sin's head thunked back down to the floor when Carhart released it and the General winced slightly, unprepared for Sin's complete lack of gross motor skills. With a soft sigh, Carhart felt resigned to the fact that there was no way he would be able to talk to Sin before the arrangement was finalized, which also meant there would be no way for him to finagle an alternate deal if the unpredictable young man disagreed.

"Fuck." Carhart stood up, but not before running his fingers lightly over the side of Sin's face, and started to turn.

"Leave me," Sin rasped suddenly.

Carhart stopped abruptly and stared down at him, eyebrows drawing together. "What?"

Heavy eyelids slid up with great difficulty and Sin very obviously struggled to look at him, to focus. "Just... Just leave me here."

"What? No." Carhart crouched down again. "Why would I do that?"

Sin's eyes drifted closed again and he exhaled as Carhart shook his head in confusion. "Sin, wake up," he ordered, voice stern as he smacked his hand against Sin's cheek insistently.

A brief glimpse of green could be seen through Sin's eyelashes and he gazed up at Carhart vacantly, the drugs in his system suppressing whatever he was trying to think or say.

"Sin, listen to me. You didn't even--"

Sin's eyes closed again and Carhart shook him awake once more. "You didn't kill anyone, no one was maimed or seriously injured-- you don't deserve to be here. You need help and that's what you're going to get."

Sin blinked slowly, lips parted as he breathed heavily, fingers twitching as he fought to regain control of his body and fight the sedation. "Just go," he said weakly.

Carhart glared at Sin for a moment before standing up again. "Stop trying to push me away. I'm trying to help you. I've always tried to help you."

A smile briefly ghosted across Sin's full lips and his hand curled into a loose fist as his breathing deepened, once again falling under the power of the drugs. "Because... of my father," he mumbled almost deliriously, his words sluggish and slurred. "And I killed him..."

Carhart went very still and he stared down at Sin, his face losing its typical stoicism and gaining an expression that for one moment made him look like the boyishly confused young agent that had been paired up with Emilio all of those years ago. Carhart's eyebrows rose slightly, mouth falling open as he gazed down at his best friend's son and felt like a very heavy weight was settling firmly on his chest and shoulders.

But then the moment passed as Sin fell fully back into unconsciousness and Carhart cleared his throat, exiting the box as he pushed Sin's words far to the back of his mind. He couldn't deal with the ramifications of that comment just yet. It wouldn't be good for either of them.

Carhart ran a hand through his hair as the door automatically shut and locked, wondering how he was going to handle everything that was happening. Between his work as Directer of Field Operative Activity, over-viewing a constant influx of information for the unit, the level 10 training and now Sin, he didn't know how he was going to deal with the other issues that had popped up recently without developing a bad problem with alcohol.

He exited the cell and began striding down the corridor again as his cell phone chirped briskly in the pocket of his slacks. During the past year, Morgan had managed to convince him that he should dress more professionally than he had in the past but he felt uncomfortable in the black button down shirt that stretched a little too taut across his broad shoulders and wished for his fatigues.

"Carhart," he answered briskly.

"This is Dr. Gabriel," a low, slightly nasal voice said into the phone. "Are you tied up with something at the moment, General?"

"No. Have you selected a doctor?" Carhart exited the floor and headed for the elevator, planning to go directly to the psychiatric unit.

"Dr. Annabelle Connors, Sir. She will need to be brief--"

"What?" Carhart's finger froze before he hit the elevator button, eyes narrowing as he shook his head in denial. "No. That's a bad idea. Get somebody else."

There was a long pause on the other end and Carhart could practically picture the skinny, bird-like man rolling his eyes as he entertained himself with thoughts of why field agents and upper ranked officers were hardheaded and prone to be illogical. "The Marshal made the decision in the end, General. You'll have to take it up with her."

Carhart flipped his phone shut with so much force that he was surprised the screen didn't crack. He jammed his thumb against the 'up' button, shaking his head as aggravation built inside of him.

What could she possibly be thinking? Why would she even entertain the idea of having Ann as Sin's doctor?

When the elevator arrived, the General took it directly up to the 17th floor, shaking his head the entire time. His mouth was set into a disappointed frown that felt as though it was permanently locked into place and he didn't bother to get rid of the unpleasant expression even as he stepped onto the executive floor.

Carhart nodded briefly at the security detail in the main lobby, newly instated after the attacks, and went directly to Vivienne's wing. In addition to the guards, Vivienne also had new bulletproof doors put in as an extra barrier between the main lobby and the two wings so he had to swipe his card once again to gain access. The clearance regarded to get into her specific wing was even higher than the level needed to gain access to the floor itself.

Carhart walked down the hallway and approached the inner lobby, stopping at the desk of Vivienne's new assistant. He didn't know much about the woman other than the fact that her name was Aisha Patel, she appeared to be Indian, generally went out of her way to show him great respect because of his position and had a much better disposition than the consistently cool disdain of Ann.

"Is she in?" he asked brusquely, not having the patience for niceties at the moment.

Aisha looked up from her work, likely still unprepared for people who didn't have to use the intercom to gain access. "Good afternoon, General Carhart. The Marshal was on a conference call but I'll see if she can see you."

Carhart nodded and crossed his arms over his chest, staring down at the girl as she dialed in to Vivienne and waited. It seemed odd to him to hear people calling Vivienne the Marshal; he didn't know if he'd ever get used to it.

A few moments passed in which he stood and continued to stare at the girl with increasing impatience until she finally looked up at him with a smile. "She'll see you now."

He nodded shortly and approached the door to her office, waiting for her to buzz him in. Once the light turned green, he turned the doorknob and entered, shutting the door behind him as he stepped further inside.

Vivienne's office looked much the same as it had when Connors had been alive except far less organized. The window along the far right wall was closed against the cold air but the curtains were open, revealing a phenomenal view of the city and the compound laid out below them; the perks of being on one of the upper floors of the Tower.

Her desk was low and heavy, a pale wood grain that fit nicely with the decor in the room. She didn't have many personal decorations; there wasn't even have a single picture up. The main thing of note was that, on the bookshelf lining the wall behind her, there were a few books including one that looked a little beaten up and had handwriting on the spine. It was partially hidden but seemed easily accessible and it hadn't been there the previous times Carhart had visited her office.

Vivienne appeared to have been in the middle of writing information down when she'd received notice that Carhart was there. Several printed sheets of paper with flowing handwriting and highlighting were scattered in front of her. Piles of paper sat in mild disarray across her desk, a stark contrast to the previous order in which she'd kept it. It made sense though; Vivienne had been very busy since taking on Connors' duties as well as her own. It was obvious by just looking at the amount of paper and folders she had around her office.

Despite this, Vivienne looked as cool and collected as when she'd had only the Inspector duties. Wearing a gray pant suit and cream colored blouse with her hair swept back in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, Vivienne looked as impeccably professional as always. Her ice blue eyes studied Carhart and her expression remained as unreadable as ever.

She set the pen aside and folded her hands on the desk. "Zachary," she greeted him calmly but she seemed to be questioning why he was interrupting her.

"Why would you assign Annabelle Connors to be his doctor?" he asked abruptly, cutting to the point. She was obviously busy and there was no point in dancing around the topic.

Something about the way she looked at him made it seem as though she'd been anticipating this conversation. "She is the most qualified psychiatrist we could assign to his case," Vivienne replied simply.

He stared at her for a long moment before rubbing his chin with his hand as he finally answered, "How could that be?"

Vivienne studied him, perhaps debating how much she would tell him, but then she leaned back slightly in her chair and spoke more frankly. "It's no surprise that Agent Vega is not well-regarded on the compound, especially not after his latest stunt. I ordered Dr. Gabriel to find the most qualified psychiatrist we had on premise and assign them. There are certainly more qualified candidates than Ann Connors--Dr. Jenkins or Dr. Osland, for instance--but they all refused."

She raised her eyebrows slightly. "Some even said they would prefer termination from the Agency before they would be put in the same room as Vega."

Carhart frowned at that, shaking his head in disgust. It wasn't surprising considering how people generally acted around Sin but he found it more than a little ridiculous that allegedly professional doctors behaved this way. If anything it should have been them of all people who would be intelligent enough to make an effort to understand.

Vivienne paused briefly to let that sink in. "She was the only one who volunteered to take him on as a patient. After studying her records I see that she had good progress with her previous cases and although she has only recently started practicing again, she has already worked with Agent Trovosky upon his return from Russia. She has the clearance necessary, experience with the issues surrounding Level 10s, and is willing to take Agent Vega as her patient. Although we could have taken the time, money, and manpower to deal with the insubordination of the other psychiatrists and force one of them to take him as their patient instead, I don't believe that's the best course of action."

Carhart released a long, heavy sigh and slid his hand up to tangle in his short dark hair. It wouldn't be the best course of action at all; there was no way someone who'd been coerced into working with him would be objective. But still... "How do you know we can trust her to be objective given the history of her family with him? How do we know she didn't volunteer as some revenge scheme and plans to deliberately sabotage this thing?"

"Although it is plausible, I don't feel it's likely," Vivienne said calmly. "Ann is an intelligent woman who performs well in her job. She understands how seriously I take this issue; it may be Agent Vega's last chance but this is a high profile case that will reflect very clearly on the psychiatrist as well. If she wants to continue practicing with such high clearance at the Agency, she will not deliberately destroy her chances. Beyond that, she had already taken an interest in Agent Vega after years of not acknowledging him. Months ago, she viewed the video surveillance of Agent Vega's attack on her sister and anyone who watches that can see that the incident was not unprovoked. From her personal apartment, she even attempted to access Agent Vega's files but was denied clearance. It appears as though she was trying to gain more information about him not in regards to a vendetta but perhaps simply to understand."

"Hmm." Carhart hadn't counted on that information and it did make things look slightly less diabolical but it was difficult to be optimistic when all he knew were her actions and not her intentions. "Do you have any idea why she would suddenly take such an interest in him?"

"I imagine it has to do with Lydia Connors." Vivienne paused, then leaned over and pulled out a drawer with several files in it. She continued to talk to Carhart as she appeared to search for a particular folder. "When Ann was my assistant, I was aware of her disgust toward Agent Vega. In essence, she felt him to be remorseless and inhuman due to the treatment of her sister. However, for the past several months, Agent Vega has been covertly visiting Lydia Connors. It seems as though Ann was initially unaware of this."

She located the folder and pulled it out, flipping through several sheets before she laid the folder open on her desk and slid it over to Carhart. "At one point she encountered him. I found this; surveillance footage from outside Willowbrook. The video did not have audio but I captured several stills. Judging by expressions it appears as though Agent Vega may have expressed some sort of doubt and remorse in front of her. I have not heard of any arguments between Agent Vega or her since then. I currently have no reason to believe she has any stronger ill will toward him than before; if anything, it is possible given the facts that she is sincerely interested in working with him."

Carhart's eyebrows drew together and he leaned over her desk to view the photographs. In one, Sin seemed angry, his posture tense as he spoke to Ann but as Carhart looked at them in order, Sin's expression gradually changed. Sin went from being angry and likely lashing out at Ann to looking disturbingly anguished; it was an expression Carhart hadn't seen on the younger man's face before and it caused something in him to twist.

"Why on Earth would he be visiting her?" he said out loud although he knew Vivienne had no way of knowing the answer. His eyes moved to the still that had captured Sin's retreating back and Ann looking after him, appearing somewhat bewildered but thoughtful.

"That's one answer my network hasn't determined. I can find any surveillance video I'd like, but as useful as it would be, I've yet to gain access to the human mind." Vivienne's even tone made it unclear if she was joking or if she was actually serious. "Perhaps he believed that visitations would repent some of his sins. You would know better than I what his motivations may be."

Carhart wished that was the case but there were very few times when he actually understood Sin's thoughts or actions; sometimes he wondered if Sin understood entirely himself. "It's difficult to say," he admitted finally and leaned against the wall.

"His personality, his stability, has fluctuated constantly in the past two years," Carhart continued. "He goes from highs that I've never seen in him before, vast improvements in his disposition and interaction with others, to severe lows that are also unusual. Unlike in the past where he simply accepted his lifestyle and position with a bad attitude, now his lows involve... extreme depression and hopelessness."

He was silent a moment as he remembered Sin's behavior on the rooftop before raising his eyebrows at Vivienne. "I'm sure you know the reason behind these changes in him. Or at least what started it all."

Vivienne sighed and leaned back in her chair, briefly closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose as if she had a headache. "I'm quite aware of their... relationship, yes." She did not sound particularly pleased.

Carhart studied her for a moment and debated whether or not he wanted to actually discuss this. He'd known about them for quite some time but he'd never spoken of it out loud, never talked of it with anyone else and he wasn't sure whether or not doing so now would be a good idea. But his concern and his indecision prompted him to want another opinion on the matter of his two agents. "What do you think of it?"

Vivienne considered the question for a moment, watching him with her unreadable cool blue eyes. "I think it is unstable, illogical, and that it will not last," she said frankly. "I've yet to understand why my son decided to become how he is and why, of all people, he chose Agent Vega as the current person he clings to. I don't understand what Agent Vega thinks he is getting out of this. Even aside from the fact that becoming involved with a close coworker is a poor decision, their personalities when in conflict with each other seem prone to causing high profile cases which cost great time and energy to clean up. They can be a nightmare for PR."

Carhart briefly debated disagreeing with her about whether Boyd had a choice in the matter of homosexuality but he didn't think he felt like going down that road. Instead he shrugged and told her the conclusion he'd come to long ago. "I think they're confusing obligation with something more. Sin was the first person Boyd likely opened up to, or at least that's how it seemed, and Boyd was the only person who made an effort to understand and treat Sin kindly. It seems to me that ever since these factors came into play, they decided that it should lead to more or perhaps in their minds it made them want more because it wasn't something that was possible with anyone else. But you can't build a normal, stable relationship on 'But he was the first,' 'But he was the only.' Obligation doesn't equal love."

Carhart paused, gathering his thoughts as he tried to word the thoughts that had been floating through his mind for months. Vivienne watched him silently, seeming to sense that he wasn't quite through with his analysis.

After a moment Carhart shook his head with a frown, correcting his last statement. "Not that I know that's what they're feeling or claiming for sure; but they both seem quite desperate to defend and rescue the other at times and it seems at least that they care for one another. However I don't know if that should necessarily mean they should attempt any kind of relationship outside of partnership, friendship. Their relationship can be harmful to each other as it is, and for someone like Sin who has never had any real social interaction, let alone romantic, he has no idea what he's doing anyway and it's likely to drive them into more problems than not while rushing into this thing the way they are."

"Obligation," Vivienne repeated thoughtfully, seeming to consider that. "Perhaps that is it. Unfortunately, Vega is not the first person Boyd has exhibited this obsessive behavior around. He has a tendency to cling to one person and become entirely unreasonable in the process. He was unusually attached to a little ruffian from the neighborhood when he was younger and he has been acting the same with Vega. The behavior seems to have escalated, however."

Carhart raised his eyebrows at that and tried to envision Boyd clinging to a 'ruffian.' He idly wondered what Vivienne's idea of a ruffian was and waited for her to explain her views on Boyd's behavior.

Vivienne's eyes narrowed in a contemplative manner. "Do you know when my son first told me no? Certainly, he may have said the word in front of me or to express doubt about my decisions when I was not there. But do you know when he first deliberately and repeatedly defied me to my face?"

Carhart didn't respond, assuming it was a rhetorical question; she didn't give him the chance to answer even if he wanted to.

"It was not due to his childhood friend, which I suppose would have been explainable given the amount of time he had to brainwash himself into thinking the child mattered. It was when I came to collect Agent Vega to return him to his punishment after my son freed him. Whatever it may be that Boyd thinks he feels, and I would not be surprised if he thought it was love, he truly believes it. There is no other explanation for the irrational behavior. If you ask me, what he truly feels is fear of losing the person he has become dependent on. It's incredibly troublesome; neither would be reasonable about ceasing this charade even if they were ordered to."

Carhart sighed and rubbed his forehead idly with one hand, pursing his lips together tightly. Although he and Vivienne's reasoning may be different, their thought processes were pretty much the same and he found that somewhat comforting.

He'd tried hard to see the situation differently; he'd tried to tell himself that Sin should be given a chance to be with someone like a normal person, to have companionship. But no matter how Carhart looked at it, there was something about their relationship and how it started that made him think nothing good could come of it at this point. It was a dreary, disheartening thought and he wished he could see it differently but right now there was nothing pointing to any other sign that he was wrong.

"Well," he said finally. "For the moment there's nothing we can do for them aside from splitting up the unit and sending them to opposite continents on undercover stints."

"I'm not certain it would do much other than delay the inevitable," Vivienne replied. "It's possible they would get over the infatuation but it's also possible it would do little other than temporarily disable the efficacy of your unit."

Carhart stared at her for a moment before finally asking the question he'd wanted to ask since the conversation began. "You seem incredibly composed about this whole thing. It's surprising... Really surprising. I figured you'd have found a way to keep them apart by now or at least be more disturbed by the idea that it seems to be impossible. Do you not object as much as you did initially?"

Vivienne was silent for a long moment and Carhart figured she wasn't going to answer such a directly personal question. However after nearly a full minute she sighed quietly and said, "I object primarily on the basis of how troublesome and illogical this is. I'll admit, however, that I was briefly swayed by the strength of Boyd's conviction. Even if I did not agree with the relationship, the determination with which he faced me made me want to give him a chance. A reward, I suppose, for actually gaining a backbone."

She quirked an eyebrow slightly. "He deserves a chance, as does anyone, but he is stubborn and obsessive. My concern would be that even were he to be shipped to the other side of the world, he would still be preoccupied with this. Perhaps it would work better for Agent Vega. At least for the moment there should be some respite due to the training."

"Ha." Carhart couldn't help but feel pleased by the fact that Vivienne trusted him enough to confide in him this way. He knew for a fact that she would never speak to anyone else about this. "For some reason I doubt it. When he awoke from the coma the first thing he did was come banging on my door, demanding where Boyd was."

There was a certain fondness in him as he recalled the memory and he had to admit, he liked the positive changes that Boyd had made in Sin, that fiercely loyal defensiveness being one of them. It reminded him of the way his own partnership with Emilio had been in a way. They'd been thrown in many horrifying assignments and situations together and despite how often they'd fought, how many times they'd disagreed, they'd always been loyal to one another. Or, at least, Carhart had always thought they were anyway.

Vivienne watched him, her expression unreadable, and she seemed unmoved by the idea of Sin searching for Boyd immediately, most likely because it just proved her point.

Carhart frowned slightly, looking away and turning his gaze out the window. "Anyway, I don't know what to do about them but Sin made it clear he didn't want Boyd to know what's going on and so far I've granted him that. It would only distract from Boyd's training anyway."

"It would," Vivienne agreed. "There are far more important topics for Agent Vega to be focused on now, as well. If he does not consent and cooperate with treatment, he will lose his chances. He's a valuable asset to the Agency and looking in the long run at time, cost, and energy management, it makes far more sense to keep him alive as long as he is usable and relatively stable. Marshal Connors was very short-sighted in that regard; he did nothing but increase the instability of an already unpredictable man."

Vivienne raised her eyebrows and laced her fingers together, setting her hands on the edge of the desk.

"But," she continued firmly, "I will not continue to risk the success of other missions, the health or lives of the other employees, or the secrecy of the Agency simply because one man cannot seem to control himself. It would be extremely wise of him to focus solely on himself and forget about my son who is entirely inconsequential to the issue truly at hand: whether or not Agent Vega can function in a normal society or if we need to stop wasting time and money and just be rid of him. I would prefer not to need to find a replacement for him but I will if that's what is needed. I trust you to impress upon him how serious this is."

Carhart nodded seriously. "I will. And hopefully, if their relationship is trouble elsewhere, at least here it may provide him some incentive to try his best to cooperate with the Connors girl."

Vivienne tilted her head down in a slight, graceful movement, as if she was silently agreeing with him or at least conceding that he had a point.

He stood up finally and straightened his shirt, tension seeping into his shoulders as he replayed Vivienne's words in his mind. 'Just be rid of him.' It was a disturbing thought and such a real possibility that it frightened him. Even if Sin had battled him constantly since the day he'd stepped foot on the compound, Carhart had never and probably wouldn't ever stop trying to look after him.

"Anyway, I've taken enough of your time. I'm sure you're busy with things being the way they are."

"I am," Vivienne agreed. "And considering some of the," she paused slightly, "guests who may be joining us in the future, I anticipate continuing to be so."

Carhart looked at her for a moment before nodding in agreement. "Yeah, I imagine you're right about that." He smiled briefly at her. "It's good to see you, Vivienne. I hope the position is treating you okay."

"It is." She paused then gave him a slightly more amiable look. "Thank you. You're dismissed." There was nothing rude in her words; it was simply a formal acknowledgment that he could leave.

Carhart nodded at her once more before exiting the office, not even bothering to send a wan smile at her new assistant before he strode out of the wing. The weight of the conversation increased the already heavy load on his shoulders.

Despite her assurances and the logic behind the decision to choose Annabelle Connors, a part of him still dreaded the idea and he couldn't help but think that it would lead to trouble somehow. He just had no trust in the Connors family at all; he thought all of them had a hereditary gene that made them want to exploit Sin in some way.

Maybe he was wrong, maybe he was right... whatever the case was, Carhart hoped that things would turn out well in the end because this was their final chance before the debate was ended permanently for Agent Hsin Liu Vega.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Seven...