Afterimage Chapter Eight

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Afterimage Chapter Eight

Uploaded on 1/2/2009

There were voices around him but they sounded like they were underwater; distorted and uneven while coming from different directions at varying distances. It was disconcerting, confusing and it made Sin not even want to open his eyes.

His fingers twitched, tingling and feeling oddly numb and he tried to move his entire arm to regain the feeling but he couldn't. Eyebrows drawing together slightly, Sin's eyes opened into slits and he found himself staring up at a pale yellow ceiling. It seemed unfamiliar to him and as he turned his head, he stared at the rest of the room with a strange sense of dullness and apathy.

He was obviously in a medical facility outside of the Tower but this one seemed different than any he'd ever been in before. The room was larger, there was a window and there were pieces of furniture in it even if it was nothing more than an armchair and a small table. It almost looked like an actual hospital room or even like Lydia's room at Willowbrook; it lacked the Agency sterility that was always so cold and impersonal.

Sin flexed his hands, testing the restraints around his wrists but not really caring enough about the situation to break them. And he knew he could, quite effortlessly in fact. He felt stronger and more well-rested than he had in months, yet despite that he still felt oddly sluggish.

Green eyes flicked up to the IV bag hanging by the bed and he closed them after a moment of staring. He was likely being drugged in some kind of way but it wasn't the standard fare; he wasn't completely incapacitated and delirious which was typically the case so that they could control him better.

It was something that usually made him angry but now he found that he just couldn't be bothered to care.

He didn't really know what had happened after he'd left his apartment; he didn't even know how long ago it'd been. All he knew was that ever since remembering what had happened in his past, he'd sunk further into a downward spiral of pathetic depression and delusions that had caused him to truly believe he was losing his mind and that he would never get it back.

Sin was sure that whatever had happened to put him in this particular room, restrained and drugged, was probably pretty bad and he idly hoped that they'd just keep him there forever. It wasn't something that he wanted necessarily but it was something that he felt was important.

He'd killed his father unintentionally in a completely out-of-control, self-defensive rage and his father had been the only person back then who could mentally ground him. There were no indications, especially now that things were worse than ever, that the same thing couldn't happen again. And this time to someone who meant everything to him; to Boyd.

He sighed, low and shuddery, and felt a knot form at the back of his throat. The apathy about his current situation obviously didn't extend to what was going on in the bigger picture. It was rare that he felt this emotional about anything but it was difficult not to be.

After everything that had happened in the past two years; after all of the ups and downs of his partnership with Boyd, after finally getting to experience life as a normal man with a lover and a friend and reaching what was really the pinnacle of his entire existence-- It was mind-shattering to realize that it was all a lie.

He wasn't just a product of his current environment, he wasn't damaged because of the Agency; he'd been that way from the start. And everyone here, everyone who'd shuddered at him and cringed away since the day he'd set foot on the compound had every right to have reacted the way they did.

Even before he'd opened his mouth, somehow people just knew that something was off about him. Something wasn't quite right; he was someone dangerous that needed to be avoided. Even before he'd accumulated all of the accolades as the youngest senior agent ever, people had turned away from him in fear and shunned him.

He wondered now if they'd been so wrong to react that way; after all, they hadn't been mistaken. Now that everything was in his full view, now that he could look at the entire puzzle and not just pieces, it was easy to realize that people were right about him.

He was crazy; he was a freak. He'd been damaged since life as a small child and the things he'd learned over the years, the prowess and strength, allowed him to become a monster when that damaged part of his brain took control.

Now that his memory was completely open, he saw all of the things he'd done before even arriving at the Agency and it left him completely aghast. It was no wonder that he'd blocked it all out; it was no wonder that he'd never been able to handle the idea of remembering. But now that he did, now that everything seemed to be catching up to him; the years of physical and mental torture at the hands of the guards, of Shane, of the box, the guilt of the sheer number of lives he'd destroyed... he felt completely helpless about the situation.

And he didn't want to be free anymore. He didn't want to pretend to be a normal man who could live a normal life, or at least as normal as it would ever get for him. Not when he was capable of turning on the one person in his life that he felt he could trust, not when he was capable of murdering that person in cold blood.

That was what his father had been to him back then despite all of the punishments and training, and that was what Boyd was to him now.

And he wasn't going to let that happen to Boyd. Just the thought made him feel violently, physically ill.

His eyes closed again and he listened absently to the low hum of a conversation outside his room. There were two male voices and one female but he couldn't properly identify any of them with how slow his mind seemed to be working.

After a few moments he felt himself begin to drift off again, succumbing to whatever was being pumped into his veins, but before he could fall asleep entirely an image of a young man with curly blond hair, darkly tanned skin and big green eyes flashed through his mind. In one moment the man was smiling, joking, and in the next his face was stiff, blue, dead, and Sin saw another version of himself hiding the body.

His eyes snapped open and he stared blankly into space, instantly recognizing the man as a friend of his father's, someone whom Emilio had trusted with the knowledge of Sin's existence, someone who knew Emilio from his days on the streets of South America. Someone Emilio had trusted to check in on his son while he was away on an extended assignment and someone who had been stupid enough to try to force the claustrophobia out of Sin by locking him in a closet and making the mistake of opening it when the child assassin had worked himself up into a blind out-of-control rage.

Sin grit his teeth and shook his head back and forth, wishing that there was a way to just close off that part of his mind again; to forget everything again. He didn't know what he felt about that sudden memory, about once again seeing that man's face, but now all of the faint memories of his own father being wary of him suddenly made sense.

Sin took a long, deep breath and tried to put it out of his mind but it was impossible. It would haunt him, just like everything else. The image would stay with him forever and at night the entire scene would play over and over again in his mind.

The door opened but he didn't turn his head to see who it was, didn't really care. Even so, he couldn't help automatically tensing when someone touched him.

There was a slight pause and he looked up finally, meeting the steady gaze of an older male physician. The man didn't seem as startled by him as Sin would have expected, and after a moment of acknowledgment and apparently allowing Sin to adjust to the fact that he would be attending to him, the man spoke.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Vega?" he asked, voice low and smooth, no traces of emotion in it at all. He began to wrap a cuff around Sin's arm before taking his blood pressure, all the while studying him clinically.

"Sluggish," Sin replied, voice hoarse.

The man nodded, taking the reading and recording it on his chart before flashing a light in Sin's eyes briefly. "A mild sedative. Well, mild for you at least. Your tolerance level is quite extraordinary."

Nodding, Sin swallowed, his throat dry and scratchy. "Who are you, anyway? Where am I?"

"I'm Dr. Schwartz and you're in the Psychiatric building. You were moved here from the Fourth Floor Detainment Center two days ago." Dr. Schwartz walked around the bed and examined the half-empty IV bag.

Sin was simultaneously disturbed and unsurprised by this information. He'd known something bad had to have happened but now he could only imagine what. "Why was I there?"

Dr. Schwartz stared at him for a moment, eyebrows raising slightly. "You don't remember?"

Swallowing again, Sin shook his head wordlessly.

There was a brief moment of silence before the doctor headed to the door again. "I'll let the General explain that to you, Mr. Vega."

The door closed and Sin shut his eyes, taking a deep breath as he tried to regain a higher level of alertness. He supposed that days of being heavily sedated had at least allowed his body to catch up with the exhaustion and he wondered if that had something to do with the fact that he didn't feel as unbalanced as he had in the days prior to whatever incident had occurred. It wasn't that he was cured of anything, that was evident enough by the mental images that flashed across his mind every time he felt himself fall asleep, but perhaps he could at least maintain some level of control now.

Once again Sin heard voices outside the door. This time he recognized Carhart's right away but he still couldn't make out the exact conversation. After a brief moment, the General entered the room and shut the door quietly behind him.

Sin gazed at him silently, watching the older man's face as he stood next to the bed. "So what did I do this time?"

Carhart tapped his finger against the metal railing, face intent as he searched Sin's expression. "You don't remember anything?"

"I already told the other guy that I didn't," Sin growled impatiently, eyes narrowing slightly. "I never remember anything when this happens. The last thing I remembered was making a poor attempt at going to the medical wing just like you ordered and feeling really..." He trailed off for a moment, hesitant. "Sick."

"Sick how?" Carhart demanded, a frown on his face. "From sleep deprivation?"

"I don't know-- I guess. Maybe." Sin looked away finally, staring at the yellow ceiling again.

The General sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair, looking incredibly wearied. "Witnesses said that you'd been talking, arguing with yourself. That you appeared frenzied and frightened by something."

"Witnesses," Sin echoed blandly.

"You went berserk in the Tower, Sin," Carhart said finally. "You injured five agents and two guards."

A mental image of himself backing away from a crowd as Allen Carson followed suddenly assaulted Sin and he winced, flexing his hands again. "Did anyone die?"

"No. But there were some serious injuries and Agent Carson is going to be out of the game for quite a few months now. You nearly destroyed his arm."

"Fuck." Guilt swarmed up to the surface, buzzing in his ear and stirring up the paranoia that the phantom of his father would pop up now to mock him. "Just leave me here," he said finally, voice resigned, depressed. "Or put me back in the box. Just don't bother with me anymore."

Carhart's eyebrows drew together. "Do you really want that? To be tortured for the rest of your life? To never see Boyd again?"

Sin's mouth turned down slightly in a frown. "No. But at least I won't hurt him that way."

"You think knowing that his partner is locked up for the rest of his life won't hurt?" Carhart asked sarcastically.

"Well at least he'd be in one piece," Sin replied flatly.

There was a brief moment of tense silence before Carhart sighed in disgust. "You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and man up, Vega. You finally have someone who can tolerate your bad attitude and your response is to stay away from them because you're too afraid of what could happen otherwise? You don't even want to try?"

"Try what?" Sin demanded, a sardonic laugh in his voice. "What the fuck am I going to try, Carhart? I'm fucked up. I'm completely and utterly fucked in the head. I hear things, I see things, I can't fucking sleep without my brain being completely shut down because of it and I randomly lose my mind and hurt people that I have nothing against. What the hell am I supposed to try to do? Tell my brain to work properly and stop making me into a fucking psychotic basket case?"

"No," Carhart said calmly. "But you could listen to what I have to say and not respond in the usual way you do when these moments have occurred in the past."

Sin stared at him blankly for a moment before making a face. "I thought we already decided that therapy was a huge waste of time. It doesn't work on me."

"Because you never give it a chance," Carhart said sharply. "You don't give your doctors a chance. You don't do what you're supposed to do to make a difference and if you don't this time, it's all over. This is your last chance before Vivienne cuts you loose, Hsin. She's not Connors. She's not going to keep a liability around just because he's a good killer. Not when you're a danger to the people around you, to the assignments-- not when the loss is potentially much bigger than the gain."

"I don't care anymore," Sin said dully. "I really just... don't."

Carhart took a deep breath, fingers curling around the side of the bed. He looked tired, physically and emotionally. The general was well known for his youthful good looks but at the moment his eyes looked even older than his actual years. "So I guess Boyd isn't important enough for you to even make an attempt at this? You'd rather be dead than possibly waste your time seeing a psychiatrist? Trying out some medication?"

Sin said nothing, eyes moving to study the window and the expanse of steel grey sky that promised another several days of stormy weather.

"Because that's all Vivienne wants of you," Carhart continued. "The terms of this agreement are simple. You get intensive psychiatric help, sessions once or twice a week, you take the medication and do whatever tests are required, and if your condition improves you go back to your regular status as an active field agent. Until then, you're considered unavailable for any assignment no matter how important, especially if it's important, and Kassian will cover for whatever tasks have been assigned for you."


Carhart began to massage his temples, squinting down at Sin. "This is your last chance, Hsin. It isn't a joke. And it's not just about you anymore. Now you've gone and made that poor damn kid care about you some kind of way. What happens to you affects him. Don't be selfish enough to not take that into consideration, especially when you have nothing to lose by at least trying. Don't throw your life away."

It was hard to disagree when Carhart framed it that way. He was essentially saying to Sin what Sin had said to Boyd all of those months ago when Boyd had tried to push him away.

But Sin knew he didn't believe in it; he knew he couldn't trust any doctor they sent his way and he knew how hard it would be for him to expose every vulnerability of his character to someone like that. He'd never honestly given medication a chance, had never believed that something was wrong with him that medication could cure and even now he had doubts. But it was either make the effort to try or allow himself to be terminated.

A part of him didn't mind the thought so much; a part of him looked at termination as a chance to rest finally, to just be free of everything this shitty world threw at him constantly, free of his past, of his demons. But as soon as those thoughts crossed his mind, he also reminded himself that termination was final, that he'd never see Boyd again and like Carhart was saying, it could possibly even harm Boyd just as much mentally as other actions would physically.

No matter which way he looked at it, it always came back to Boyd and he had to admit to himself that caring for someone, having a friend, was a lot of trouble. But it wasn't more trouble than it was worth; or at least it didn't seem to be with Boyd. Everything that had happened in the past and whatever he would have to do to make Boyd happy in the future, it would be worth it. After everything that happened in the past two years, Boyd had never given up on him and if Sin disagreed to this now, he'd be the one giving up on Boyd.

After awhile Sin looked at Carhart. "I'll try."

Relief flooded through Carhart and he visibly relaxed. "Good."

Sin shifted slightly, the restraints digging into his skin as he did so. "At least that Schwartz person didn't seem to completely loathe me in advance."

Carhart cleared his throat, sliding his hands into his pockets. "Actually Dr. Schwartz isn't a psychiatrist."

"Great." Sin shook his head, dark hair falling into his eyes. At least Schwartz had appeared to be halfway professional, unlike what happened to most doctors when they were in his presence. "Can you unstrap me now?"

"That's not my call," Carhart said apologetically.

"Then wh--"

The door opened before he could finish his sentence and Ann walked in. She closed it behind her and leaned against it for a moment, much like she had that day in Lydia's room, and allowed her gaze to fall on Sin. They stared at each other for a moment before he turned his head to glare at Carhart.

Sin could feel anger building inside him as all of the false hope slowly drained away and for a moment he had to simply be silent so that he could regain his composure.

After that long spiel about trying and not giving up, Carhart was sticking him with a woman who despised him and who had every reason to. Why make him even have the slightest bit of hope that he could change his situation if they were just going to damn it to failure right off the bat by giving him a doctor who likely wanted to see him terminated or locked away forever?

"Before you say anything," Carhart began as Ann walked across the room, heels once again clacking against the tile. "I want you to know that Vivienne came to this decision very carefully and after having my own doubts, she also convinced me that Ann is the best possible choice."

"Hello, Sin," Ann said finally, her expression neutral.

"You and Vivienne are stupid fucks," Sin ground out finally and turned his head, looking out the window stonily.

Carhart exhaled slowly, looking simultaneously angry and frustrated although he didn't seem very surprised.

After a moment, Ann cleared her throat and looked up at the General. "Why don't you give us a minute?" Carhart gave her a doubtful look and she raised an eyebrow. "How do you expect me to work with him if you don't even want to leave us alone?"

Carhart shrugged. "Suit yourself. I'll be outside talking to Dr. Schwartz." He looked at Sin again, shook his head, and strode out of the room.

Ann stood there for a moment, simply looking at Sin, before walking around to the other side of the bed so that she could sit in the armchair. She crossed her arms over the pink blouse she wore and observed him for several long moments, appearing entirely uncaring that he wasn't acknowledging her at all.

Her hazel eyes studied him very carefully, taking in his pale skin, gaunt unshaven cheeks and the dark circles under his brilliant green eyes. "You look like hell."

Sin still didn't look at her. "Thanks, doctor."

Ann crossed one knee over the other and swung her foot idly. "I'm going to be completely direct with you, Sin. I'm not going to treat you like every other patient and if I did, you'd have reason to believe I was up to something. We have a history-- everyone who knows what happened to my sister knows we have a history, so I'm not going to play make believe and pretend that we don't already have some form of relationship, as dysfunctional as that relationship may be."

Sin said nothing and still refused to even glance in her direction. She leaned back in the chair and continued to stare at him, settling into silence. The minutes ticked by and when Ann showed no intentions of leaving, Sin finally dragged his gaze from the window and drilled his angry glare directly into her face.



Sin narrowed his eyes at her. "Leave now."

Ann raised both eyebrows this time. "Or what? How will you make me leave?"

"You seriously think that I can't break these restraints?"

One of her shoulders rose in an unconcerned shrug. "Maybe you can. But if you really wanted to, you would have already. Just like you would have thrown me out of your way in Lydia's room." She paused for a moment before speaking again. "As much as you threaten me, I don't really believe that you'd actually hurt me in your current state. I don't think you even want to."

Sin made a face and looked out the window again. Why was she acting like she knew him so well? Why was she even here? It didn't make sense-- she didn't make sense.

"What do you want, Annabelle?" he asked finally. "I'm not going to go along with this charade. I know you hate me, you've made it obvious on more than one occasion and I honestly don't blame you for it. I fucked up your sister for the rest of her life-- it's your right to want me dead or locked up or whatever you're thinking. But don't insult my intelligence by thinking I'm actually going to be stupid enough to let you be the deciding factor in whether or not I get terminated. I'd rather just get the shit over with now."

"So you'd rather die than allow me to be your doctor?" Ann asked skeptically. "Somehow I doubt that, Agent."

"Because you don't know me. You don't know me the fuck at all."

Ann stood up and moved closer to the bed, standing in front of the window so that he had no choice but to look at her for the moment. "You must have told General Carhart that you would be going along with the agreement Vivienne offered, otherwise he wouldn't have left me alone with you at all."

"I didn't know it would be you," Sin replied glumly. "It's not an agreement anymore. It's a set up for inevitable failure."

"Why?" she challenged. "I'm a good doctor, I know I am. Why are you doomed to failure because it's me? Because of my sister?"

"Because you loathe me," Sin snapped.

"Perhaps you should be the doctor," Ann said calmly. "You're apparently quite adept at telling me what I'm feeling and why."

"Just go away," Sin repeated, testing his restraints again and resisting the urge to break them. He didn't feel comfortable being restrained with her standing there watching him. It was strange, irrational, but for some reason it made him feel vulnerable even though she could do him very little physical harm.

Ann sighed and looked away for a moment, pursing her lips. "You decided to do this for a reason, Sin, and you must have had a very good one to have agreed to it at all. You are well known in the psychiatric department for being the most difficult person to even attempt to work with and that you think our work is pointless, a scam."

She tilted her head slightly, crossing her arms over her chest again. "But a moment ago you decided that you wanted to do this. You decided to fight termination and try, really try, to come to terms with your mental instability and to see if we can possibly figure out if we can do anything to improve your situation; so that you can be functional all the time, even when someone makes you feel cornered, threatened. Are you telling me now that the reason you made that decision is no longer important to you?"

Sin's mouth turned down in a frown and after a moment he sighed, closing his eyes. He didn't want to give up; he knew that Carhart was right, he knew that his decisions affected more than just his own life, but what could they really accomplish? He couldn't trust her, he had no reason to. As far as he knew, going along with this would just end in her damning him anyway, so why bother at all?

"It's important to me. You don't know how important it is," he said finally, quietly, allowing the anger to slowly bleed out of him because really he was too out of it to deal with it for long. "But I can't trust you. I don't even know why you'd think this would work."

Ann was silent for awhile before speaking again. "I did hate you, Sin. For a long time, I also hated my father for ever letting you off the fourth floor and for not caring about my sister enough to properly deal with the person who put her in the situation that she's in now. But that was then, and things are different now."

Sin's eyebrows drew together. "Why would they be different? Just because I haven't been as much of an outright cruel asshole to you doesn't change what I did."

"You're right," she agreed. "But it was a change in myself that makes the deciding factor in this."

"A change in yourself," he repeated flatly, eyes narrowing. "What's that supposed to mean."

Ann gazed down at him for a moment before walking over to the window and looking out. "Do you remember that day in the Tower? When we ran into each other in front of the elevators in the psychiatric wing?" She went on before he could reply. "Typically when you saw me, you were mocking, cruel, and seemed quite unrepentant for what happened. Because of that I believed you were a psychotic sociopath who had no regard for human life and didn't care about the consequences of his actions."

Sin said nothing but his frown deepened. If that were true, he was pretty sure he wouldn't be getting eaten alive by guilt every single waking day. He was pretty sure hallucinations wouldn't stalk him everywhere and drive him even more insane than he probably already was.

"But that day your words and actions made me think twice about that rather ignorant diagnosis," Ann continued. "That day you looked at me and I saw genuine remorse, I saw vulnerability. I saw a man who was very sorry for what he did and for whatever reason, was choosing to finally express that to me. I have no idea what happened to change your mind, your behavior, but it had a large impact on me," she admitted.

He remembered the day clearly-- it was the day that he'd been forced to see a psychiatrist to deal with whatever issues he may have derived from his capture and torture. It'd been the day that his flashbacks had really begun eating away at him and the day that he'd started to focus so much of his attention on Lydia, thinking she must be the reason behind all of it.

"So I finally decided to take the plunge and access the video of the incident." Ann turned away from the window and leaned against it. She looked grim at the mention of the video and her slender hands balled into loose fists. "It was difficult to watch but at least I finally saw the truth. I saw that you were in an incredibly disoriented state, a state that she put you in with the cocktail of drugs she was giving you, and then while you appeared to be at your most frantic and desperate point, she took advantage of the situation."

Ann sighed and shook her head again. "It's difficult for me to say this but it's the facts. She used her obsession with your father as an excuse to take advantage of you and you reacted violently which is not a surprise given the circumstances. So I came to terms with that, with those facts, and I came to the decision that if you'd been in your right mind, if she hadn't poked and prodded and exacerbated your already disturbed state, you wouldn't have harmed her. Which is why I believe that even if you broke those restraints, you wouldn't harm me now."

Sin dropped his gaze, breaking her intense stare. A part of him was glad to hear her say the words; glad that she knew he'd never intended to hurt Lydia. It didn't change anything, but for some reason it made him feel slightly more at ease to hear Lydia's sister stand there and tell him that what happened hadn't been his fault entirely. That if anything, the situation made him seem less like a complete cold-blooded monster.

She wasn't the first person to say it but in reality, her word was the only one that could make him believe it. "Okay," he said finally, voice still doubtful. "But why would that make you want to help me?"

She considered the question for a moment before answering. "I pity you and I know that is the last thing you want to hear, but it's the truth. I pity you the way I pity my sister. You are both severely damaged individuals who are nothing more than a product of bad parenting and this wretched organization. She was just as mentally unstable as you are, the video is evidence enough of that, and I feel that as a doctor I should have seen that sooner."

Sin still didn't meet her gaze and as indignant as the idea of her pity made him, he couldn't help but admit that her words had a strange effect on him. He didn't know if it was because he was still half drugged and weak or because he was just desperate to reach any shred of hope, but for some reason he believed her. He believed what she was saying and it made him feel better; less hopeless, less evil.

It was nothing that Boyd hadn't told him before but Boyd always supported him, sometimes before he even knew all of the facts. Sometimes he thought Boyd was somewhat blind to his flaws, to the situations that surrounded him, and that bothered Sin as much as it inspired him to be better.

It made him feel like he had to be a certain way to match up to Boyd's ideal image of him as the victim who was always just put into really bad circumstances; that was a large part of his fear about telling Boyd the truth. Telling Boyd that it wasn't always just about the circumstances and the people around him; there really was just something wrong with him. The fact that Boyd couldn't see that already made Sin wonder if Boyd would change his mind about everything when it finally came to light.

But having someone who had every reason to hate him understand that and not condemn him for it; to actually use that knowledge as a basis to excuse the actions that made everyone else think he was a monster... It was a relief. It made some of the heaviness lift from his shoulders.

Ann reached out and touched his chin lightly, forcing him to look at her although he instantly jerked away from her touch. "But it's not entirely for philanthropic reasons, either. I don't want to be your doctor simply because I want to make your life better. I want to be your doctor because I want to understand you. I want to understand your illness and how to possibly control it or reverse it. I've never seen anything like it before or even heard of it during my years in school and no one at the Agency has ever been able to diagnose you for whatever reason. My professional curiosity is driving me to find out more."

Sin raised his eyebrows at that and gave a dismal smirk. "So I'm your guinea pig, is what you're saying," he said finally.

Ann's mouth moved upwards into the faintest of smiles. "Yes. I suppose. Although, it isn't just about that either. I should be honest with you and tell you that it does have something to do with my sister, but not in the way you'd expect."


Her face became serious once again and she clasped her hands behind her back. "I couldn't help my sister. I failed to see what was going on, I failed to see, even as educated as I was, that she had a real problem; I just failed her and now it's too late. And it may not make sense, it hardly does to me, but for some reason I feel that... by understanding you, by understanding the events that led up to that moment, somehow it will make up for my shortcomings as a doctor and as a sister."

Sin considered her for a long moment, going over everything she'd just said to him. For some reason he felt a lot calmer than he had at the beginning, a little more like they were on equal footing, possibly because she'd told him way more than was necessary and made the effort to explain.

But even then, he didn't know if he was entirely convinced.

"And if it helps," Ann began, voice dry, "no one else will do it anyway, so it's me or nothing."

Sin scoffed at that. "Of course."

Ann shrugged and waited for his answer, continuing to study him just as intently as she had since first walking into the room.

This time however, he held her gaze. Did he have anything to lose by going along with this if she was his only hope? No, not really. Saying no was a guaranteed termination while agreeing could either draw out the inevitable or go in his favor. It wasn't a difficult decision but even then, it was difficult to agree.

Once again, he thought about Boyd and the last summer in Monterrey; he wondered if things could ever be that calm, that peaceful, again. He thought about the possibility of never seeing his partner again; of dying and having his body shoved in the incinerator, of Boyd finding out and shutting down just as he had before.

But the worst part was the possibility of losing control around his partner, of hurting Boyd when he was in that state, and that was the deciding factor in it all.

"Fine," Sin said finally, nodding. "I'll do it."

Boyd slammed onto his back on the mat so hard that the wind was nearly knocked out of him. Cade was on him immediately, one hand holding him down before he quickly and repeatedly punched Boyd in the face. Cade didn't use as much force as he could have and the blows weren't nearly as damaging as they would have been otherwise, but that was likely only because they'd been instructed to avoid disabling each other completely during take-downs.

Boyd had no doubts that Cade would have otherwise enjoyed actually pounding his face into the floor for whatever reason he felt like at the time.

Boyd lay still, momentarily stunned; even with half of his actual force, Cade was still incredibly powerful. After a second, Cade gave him an annoyingly self-satisfied look.

"Gotcha," he said smugly before he stood up and backed away.

Boyd didn't bother to reply with the obvious answer of, 'That's the point.'

They were supposed to take turns subduing and being subdued and at the moment, Boyd was the aggressor. The aggressor was expected to put up maximum resistance to being subdued but the techniques they'd learned were incredibly efficient and it wasn't too surprising that Boyd had been taken down. In any case, it still wasn't exactly a competition between them but Cade enjoyed feeling superior and Boyd didn't care enough to argue at the moment.

Even so, the man had been surprisingly quiet and serious during the last three days of intensive hand-to-hand combat training in Krav Maga; perhaps because fighting was his forte, or perhaps because he was still somewhat cowed by Doug's warning from the week before. Although he still made the occasional comment, it was mostly just to Boyd who was lucky enough to be partnered with him for the day.

For just a portion of a second longer than necessary, Boyd stayed down. He was exhausted; his body ached in places he'd forgotten could even hurt and every hour that passed made it that much harder to react on time.

He didn't consider himself to be in poor shape but he was becoming quite aware of the fact that he hadn't properly worked out in probably over a year. Although missions kept him active and he occasionally went to the training room, it was becoming apparent that he hadn't been going nearly enough. He was definitely going to have to rectify that even after all this Level 10 training was over.

Boyd could hear the sound of the other trainees, who were also paired off, sparring with each other. He had no time to rest; if Cade had really been the enemy he would have attacked again already.

Boyd pushed himself up to his feet and watched Cade a moment to be sure he was ready. Cade didn't look away from him and, silently, they cued each other for the sparring to renew.

Cade walked up to him and aimed a high side kick at Boyd's waist. Boyd caught Cade's leg and held it firmly against his side, using his own leg as a stable support. He kneed Cade in the groin then swept his leg behind Cade's thigh and knee, knocking his support out from under him.

Cade fell to the mat on his back but Boyd didn't let go of his leg; he bent his knees and used his free arm to punch Cade in the face before he shifted and twisted Cade's leg as Boyd turned around, moving too quickly for the man to properly defend himself.

The move forced Cade to flip onto his stomach as Boyd bent Cade's leg at the knee and sat down on his back, holding him there. Cade tried to twist to attack, but with Boyd sitting on his lower back and holding his leg firmly, the best he could manage from that awkward position was a weak punch to Boyd's back that didn't do anything to deter him. As soon as Boyd knew Cade wasn't going to resist, he stood and backed way.

Watching Boyd a moment, Cade smirked then turned his back. "Come at me," he ordered.

There were several moves they'd learned, some of which they'd seen specific ways of reacting and others in which they were piecing together information they'd learned so far. Boyd didn't know exactly what Cade had planned but he didn't question it.

Boyd approached him and reached up toward his throat, intending to get him in a headlock from behind. Cade immediately elbowed him in his side, kicked him in the groin, then twisted his body so he could grab Boyd's arm while at the same time slamming one leg behind the side of Boyd's. The move was so fast that it completely threw both of Boyd's legs out from beneath him. Cade used Boyd's momentum and twisted him into the air by his arm; Boyd flipped upside down and slammed onto his back on the mat.

Cade hadn't let go of his arm and twisted it, forcing Boyd to his side on the floor so Cade could get one leg on either side of his body. Cade moved quickly and ended up with his feet on the floor, his knees in the air, and his back arched off the mat with the back of his head down. Boyd's arm was twisted and held between Cade's legs, reaching ineffectively nearly up to Cade's chest.

Boyd panted for breath and stayed still; he couldn't have moved very much even if he hadn't been exhausted, not with the hold Cade had him in. Pain radiated through his body and his eyebrows drew together as he tried to regain his senses, still not entirely over the kick to his crotch.

Training in Krav Maga usually had standards that included not injuring a person's training partner, but this was the Agency and it didn't work that way here. They'd been instructed not to disable or kill each other but they had still been ordered to apply as much force as possible.

Despite the fact that they weren't to intentionally permanently damage each other, it was very easy to see how it could happen anyway and now Boyd understood how so many people had been injured or killed during this training even with the rule. It'd been the same way during Level 9 training but here it was far more intense.

Level 9 training had shown them a variety of fighting styles and introduced them to a range of weapons and usages that had been a step further than the basic training of Levels 1 to 3 when initial field training commenced. It was intensive but Level 10 training was even far beyond that.

Doug had explained that Krav Maga was their preferred method of training style in Level 10 because unlike Level 9, which focused on a lot of self-defense techniques and combat survival, Krav Maga focused on lethality, neutralizing the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible, and on primarily offensive close combat. Essentially, they were learning to do what Boyd saw Sin do so frequently; to subdue, disable or kill with one or two quick blows to avoid a drawn out fight, and to then keep moving. Because of that, it would have been unsurprising to have Sin at the training to co-instruct them, but instead it was Kassian who'd been assigned the task for the week.

Boyd could hear Cade breathing heavily above him; they were both sweaty and he could feel the moisture cause Cade's fingers to slide just a little on his skin. It was slightly disturbing to have the man's hands on his bare arms but despite the fact that he'd worn a t-shirt, Boyd still wore thick wristbands to cover his scars. He'd debated simply wearing a long-sleeved shirt like he used to; the first two days he'd even tried it. But with how intense their training was, wearing something that added unnecessary discomfort wasn't worth it; not when it just made him feel even more like he was overheating.

Between the clothing he'd had to wear in Monterrey and the months he'd spent more intimately with Sin, he was starting to feel less paranoid about the idea of people seeing his bare skin. At the same time, he had no desire to show his scars off to random people and didn't want strangers he didn't really know or like to touch them.

"You better not be getting wood from having an arm between my legs, Beaulieu," Cade said with a mixture of disgust and taunting.

"Don't be ridiculous," Boyd said mildly, jerking on his arm to signify he was subdued and wasn't going to fight back. He couldn't believe the man's sense of self-importance; it was almost impressive. Cade let go of his arm and they rolled apart from each other and stood. "I'll never be that desperate in my life."

Cade snorted. "There's nothin' more desperate than a dude turning to dick," he said matter-of-factly. "And nothin' more nasty than him actually liking it."

Before Boyd could reply, Kassian clapped his hands loudly from where he'd been monitoring progress across the room. "Alright, that's enough everyone!" he called out. "We're moving to the last few techniques."

The other trainees stopped, although Andrew had been in the middle of flipping Toby who slammed onto his back with a pained groan. "Sorry," Andrew said quietly, reaching down to help him up.

Without needing to be told, the trainees gathered into a large, loose circle around Kassian. They were already starting to learn unspoken cues after the two weeks they'd been training, despite the fact that they often switched from topic to topic quite abruptly.

It was very obvious that they were expected to be able to absorb everything instantly, to take it all in and hold it, remembering it for later use on the final testing. It was somewhat frustrating but it made sense; they wouldn't be taught everything here after all, this was only preliminary Level 10 training and the chosen candidates would go through an even more grueling training after being promoted.

The first three days of the week, they'd spent time working with explosives. They'd spent several days learning about the physical properties of explosives, including how and why they worked. They'd gone over the general topics of sensitivity, stability, brisance, density, volatility, hygroscopicity, toxicity, and power. They'd been given a quick overview of a variety of tests used to determine the power of explosives and what usage they should have, including information on cylinder expansion and air-blast tests.

At one point, Cade had asked why they were being told all that "academic shit" when all they really needed to know was what pin to pull or button to push and where to throw. He'd been given an unimpressed look by Doug and informed that if they didn't even know how the explosive worked, how were they supposed to use it properly? The last thing the Agency needed was a bunch of idiot agents blowing themselves up because they were too stupid to read the manual or have any idea of what they were doing or how to store things in less-than-ideal locations.

Their second day of explosives training had been in a room designed for detonations; thick, shatterproof glass had walled them off from a large room which was heavily reinforced. They'd been told that ideally they would have gone to an outside location and detonated higher powered explosives but it was too difficult to do that near the city without drawing a lot of unwanted attention. They'd spent the day with heavy headphones to protect their ears as a variety of explosives were detonated in different scenarios in the reinforced room while they watched to see the varying damage.

After that segment had ended, they'd begun combat training. It was now their fourth day training in Krav Maga. It had started out with simple pad work, attacking each other with padded torsos and fists, and had moved to learning how to efficiently take down opponents using their bodies as well as sticks. They'd also had training in handgun disarming, but today they'd started again with forcing their partners to the floor in different scenarios.

Krav Maga was very eclectic; it drew from a variety of sources to create its own type of combat; the moves were simple, hard to forget, and fast, but they were also very effective. The first day they'd gone slowly as Kassian had shown them different ways to use their body as a weapon and how to offensively take control back from the enemy.

After the last few days, it was easy to see how Kassian could be Level 10 and also why they'd made him a team leader. His explanations were clear, concise and understandable, and he was a very patient instructor. He started out moves by showing in slow motion what he was doing and explaining each step, but when he went full speed he was incredibly quick and efficient.

He didn't quite have Sin's speed, but then, nobody did. There were moves Kassian had done where his body had seemed like nothing more than a blur and if Boyd hadn't seen ahead of time what he was doing, he probably would not have been able to identify how exactly the enemy went from standing in front of Kassian to on the floor at his feet.

Today, Kassian had been directly training more than usual. His body was covered in a sheen of sweat that made his fitted black t-shirt cling to him even more, showing off his well-defined muscles. With loose black sweat pants and bare feet, he somehow seemed even more casual than the day Boyd had seen Kassian at his home during the summer, yet here he was in Senior Agent Trovosky mode.

It was an interesting combination between the way he'd looked at his house and the way he acted at work. Regardless, Boyd idly had to admit that Kassian had a nice body. It wasn't that Boyd was actively checking him out, but he could appreciate an attractive build when he was presented with one. Kassian's shoulders weren't as wide or hips as narrow as Sin's, but he had a lot of strength in his upper body and he knew how to use it.

Kassian put his hands on his hips and stared down at them, eyes moving to each trainee before he spoke. "Before we move on, I think I need to stress exactly what the point of this is. This week's training is about learning to engage offensively and to quickly and efficiently take your opponent down, not to engage in a drawn out fight where you turtle constantly. If you don't get that soon, you don't belong here. It's really as simple as that and Doug will tell you the same thing only in not so nice of a way." He gestured over to where Doug had been observing them the entire time as he occasionally wrote something down on a chart. The Instructor's face was relatively expressionless although one of his large black eyebrows was cocked slightly as he shook his head.

Kassian wiped a hand across his sweaty forehead. "That being said, Harriet, Jon, Cade, Boyd-- good job. Andrew and Toby-- you need some work. You need to stop worrying that you're going to hurt him, Andrew. That's the entire point. And Toby, you're completely out of shape. I suggest you spend your off time and nights in the gym during these three months if you want to catch up."

Toby looked down but didn't seem too surprised by the criticism; he was probably one of the weakest people there physically. After a moment, he looked at Kassian and nodded seriously. "Thank you, Senior Agent Trovosky. I'll improve."

"Good." Kassian looked at Patrick and Emma, who'd been paired. "And you two-- what were you doing, Patrick? You're supposed to fight her, not teach her how to dance. I want to see actual combat, not make-believe."

Patrick coughed quietly and otherwise didn't respond.

"Same goes for you as I told Toby, Emma. You need to get into better shape if you're going to stand a fighting chance."

Despite the fact that Pat and she apparently hadn't been working as hard as the others, Emma was breathing heavily and she was drenched in sweat. Her hair was held back in a messy ponytail and she was slouched forward over her crossed legs as she tried to catch her breath.

She nodded after a moment, giving Kassian a bemused smile. She didn't seem upset or surprised by his words; if anything, she looked as though she'd already been thinking it herself. "I understand. I will, Senior Agent Trovosky."

"Alright then," Kassian said more amiably. "The next area we're going to focus on is disarming an opponent who has a knife. We already talked about disarming a gun but this is just as important; knives can be just as dangerous when someone skilled enough is using it. A lot of this stuff you all have probably already used on assignment, but the point of this week is to fine-tune it-- to learn how to do it quickly in a couple of motions, while minimizing damage to you, minimizing time you're going to take with this one guy when you probably have a bunch of other guys around you, and so on."

He surveyed the group for a moment before pointing at Toby. "You can be my volunteer. Take the knife."

Toby looked more than a little pleased by this and quickly got up, eyes locked on Kassian; he was acting like most of the other agents who looked up to Kassian. He grabbed the knife and stood in front of Kassian, feet slightly apart.

Kassian grabbed Toby's hand and positioned the knife under his own neck. "In a lot of scenarios people freeze when they have a blade at their throat. The key here is speed and timing to get the knife out of play and your opponent on the ground so that you can subdue him."

He kept his hands at his sides, partially held up as if telling Toby that he was momentarily giving up and willing to surrender as long as the knife was poised above his jugular. Yet after a brief second he moved his entire body to the side so that he was out of range and at a ninety degree angle to the knife. Once he was out of the line of attack, he raised his right arm, grabbing Toby's wrist and then extended his left arm as if to punch Toby in the face.

Kassian forced Toby's arm to bend, pretending to strike his face again, before sliding away and securing the knife. He simultaneously extended his leg in a mock kick and used his other hand to twist Toby's right arm, the arm that had originally held the knife, downward and back so that Toby was flipped over onto the floor.

"If you don't strike fast enough, you're dead. You want to move fast and hit hard, surprising him so he doesn't have the chance to react," Kassian explained. "The first thing you want to do is get out of the way of the knife and apply all of your power against it, blocking. Then you stun, secure the weapon, and take him down."

Kassian nodded at Toby as the other man climbed to his feet. "Let's do it again."

This time his hands moved as fast as a cobra and he struck Toby for real. Toby's eyes opened wide as Kassian's fist connected with his face and his knees buckled when the kick, even at half the power, slammed into his side. Toby was on his back before he could even think of how to defend himself, even though he'd been aware in advance of what Kassian had been planning to do.

"It's very effective." Kassian grabbed Toby's upper arm and hauled him up. "You okay?"

Toby nodded jerkily, panting slightly as he tried to regain his breath using the techniques he'd learned in Level 9 training. "Yes, I'm fine."

Kassian looked at the other trainees. "In real life, it won't go down that way, you'll be facing opponents with unexpected skill and power. That's why they have you fight for real during these trainings instead of mock attacks. The key to really getting any of this down is knowing how to alter and use these moves on the fly. You have no idea what your opponent is thinking or what they're capable of, so you're forced to learn spontaneity in a fight by training this way. It might seem harsh, but it's for the best. Out on assignment you're facing guys who want to kill you or take you as a prisoner and torture information out of you. You want to be prepared to not let that happen."

Kassian turned to Toby again, gesturing. "Let's say you're not fighting some novice and you're fighting a really formidable opponent. Instead of Toby, let's say we have Agent Vega standing here. Now a lot of people underestimate Vega because he's so thin looking but it's deceptive-- his height makes him look skinny, but he's really very strong, maybe even stronger than I am depending on how he's applying pressure and where."

Kassian slipped into fighting stance again, nodding at Toby to do the same. "The thing about this fighting style is that anyone can do it. It doesn't matter how bulky or skinny you are-- so even though I look stronger than Vega, it doesn't mean much. The fact that he's leaner makes him faster and meaner and as Doug and I have been stressing, speed is essential here. Speed with lethal force and knowing where to target your enemy."

Kassian raised his hands again. "So in this case, I know Vega is a superior fighter so I'll really go for the most merciless attacks. On assignment, you should pretty much be doing that anyway because you have no idea what you're up against."

He slid to the side again so that he was at an angle to the knife and grabbed Toby's arm slowly, demonstrating. "So I'm going to focus on a triad of vulnerable points to do maximum damage. Instead of punching, you're going to gouge his eyes or go for the throat." He mock slammed his fist into Toby's throat before spinning out to kick. "And instead of kicking in the side or stomach, you're going to slam your foot into his groin."

He twisted Toby's arm gently, slowly taking him down. "Finally, instead of just twisting, you'd apply enough force to actually break the arm."

Kassian got to his feet, grabbed Toby's shoulder and pulled him up again, patting him on the back. "Got it?"

Boyd didn't particularly relish the idea of using Sin as the person to imagine when trying debilitating moves. It was probably a good way of demonstrating the concept to the others but for Boyd it was odd and somewhat distracting because he couldn't imagine himself ever seriously going after Sin like that. So, for him, it worked better to think of a faceless enemy.

At the same time, Kassian made a very good point in that Sin was strong, fast and incredibly formidable, and going into a fight as if every enemy had those qualities would be better than underestimating them. After all, how many times had he himself won a fight simply because someone had underestimated him?

He'd fought before but never quite like this; never like Krav Maga, with such intense, almost frightening efficiency. After even just a few days of training, he was incredibly aware of how lucky he'd been so far that no one he'd met on missions had been trained quite like this; that they'd given him the chance to be underestimated, that they hadn't just killed him instantly.

After a moment Kassian nodded and then selected a new volunteer for each technique that he demonstrated; showing them a variety so that they could use each for disarming a knife while being given the opportunity to mix and match different moves. Each attack was decisive, merciless, fast, and extremely effective. It really was no wonder why Krav Maga was used as the model for how Level 10 agents should fight; if mastered, it was incredibly deadly no matter the size of their opponent.

About thirty minutes later, Kassian turned to the trainees once more. "Okay, pair up again and practice what I showed you. You'll do that for a couple of hours and spend the rest of the evening practicing retzev."

retzev was a form of conditioning that they'd been taught in the very beginning of the Krav Maga training. It meant 'continuous motion' in Hebrew and was used as a conditioning routine that allowed them to practice Krav Maga alone while also keeping themselves in shape.

The idea was to use all of their moves, kicks, punches, and other strikes, in a constant continuous motion for periods of time. It was the ideal way to practice Krav Maga since the basics of the style was to start with a defensive move and then quickly shift to the offense where the trainee made several decisive, flowing strikes so fast that their opponent had no possibility of figuring out what to do next.

It was hard work and Boyd's body was still aching from the previous day's long session of it.

Their pairings were switched up a bit, probably to ensure that they didn't get too used to one person's style or reflexes. Kassian appeared to be trying to put the people who'd done well with the people who hadn't, and Boyd ended up with Patrick as his next partner.

Patrick had been the one to retrieve their knife, while Boyd idly watched the others. He'd turned just in time to find Patrick nearly on him, aiming the knife at his chest. Patrick was getting into the scenario immediately, probably trying to make sure Kassian and Doug knew he was taking things more seriously this time.

Even so, Boyd nearly jumped backward; partially in surprise and partially to get away from the knife. It wasn't even real but it was a well-constructed fake; he wasn't sure what material it was except that it was possibly hard plastic and it looked real enough that for the barest part of a second he thought it had been.

Boyd had an intense dislike of knives and so far in his career as an agent he'd always done his best to avoid using them whenever possible. There were plenty of other weapons out there that didn't make him feel as uncomfortable so he generally opted for those.

He recovered quickly, annoyed with himself for the initial feeling of alarm, and reminded himself that this was just training. Well, as 'just' as this training got. But if he was going to be jumpy at an ally's fake knife aimed at him, he would just get himself killed in reality. It wasn't as though he had an extreme reaction or that Patrick likely even noticed his hesitation, but it irked him that he felt it in the first place.

He'd been working so hard on trying to get over his old fears and phobias, to face his demons and move on; dwelling on the past did little but accentuate the bad parts of his life and make it harder to prepare for and enjoy the future. At the same time, no matter how much he'd been trying to come to terms with different issues, no matter how logical he tried to be about certain topics or circumstances, he still had automatic reactions and reflexes that were a lot harder to contend with.

Boyd supposed part of it was that when he saw knives, he still remembered that first clear view of Jared's blade, and the feeling of horrified certainty that his life was about to change forever. He remembered that terrible knowledge that he had no control over even the most important aspects of his life; he remembered watching the murder of his best friend and the feel of that same knife sliding into his stomach, still slick and warm with his lover's blood.

But Lou was dead and there had been a lot more about him than the way he'd died; obsessing about that sort of thing now didn't do himself or Lou's memory any favors.

Although Patrick had apparently been hesitant to fight seriously with Emma, with Boyd he had no trouble. For the next two hours, they traded turns being the aggressor with the knife and the intended victim who disarmed the other instead.

Patrick wasn't bad at Krav Maga; he wasn't quite as fast as Cade but he was strong. Unfortunately, he seemed to rely on that too much. Instead of managing a continuous flow of motion, he tended to rush in; he would do only part of the move then try to overpower his opponent. It left too many openings for Boyd to exploit because Boyd was quick and accustomed to changing his strategy with little warning.

In that regard, Boyd found Krav Maga to be very accessible and, in a way, something he liked; this was a style he would work with, something that went in line with his natural thought process, although on his own he wasn't as brutal as the moves could be.

The training was exhausting and painful. He was thrown onto his back, punched in the face, kicked in the groin, and all around abused more in this week than it felt like he had in a year's worth of missions. The fact that they weren't putting their full strength into the moves was little comfort, especially since that day he kept getting paired up with the strongest trainees.

By the time Kassian called out for them to take a thirty minute break before they started on retzev, Boyd was nearly swaying on his feet and it was only pure stubbornness and determination that kept him from dropping to the floor to pass out. At least the others appeared to be in the same predicament; Emma and Toby especially looked like they were dying.

Boyd walked over to his bag and sat on the floor with his legs splayed in front of him, leaning his back against the wall. Opening his bag took more energy and brought out more aches and pains in stretched muscles than it should have, but he was eventually able to extract his water bottle. He drank heavily; the water was warm and tasted mildly of plastic but at that moment it was like ambrosia to his dehydrated body, even though he was drinking it too quickly and could make himself sick.

With the water bottle empty, he set it on the floor next to him and leaned his head back against the wall, sliding his eyes closed for a few precious moments to just rest. The overworking nearly made him feel ill and with his eyes closed and no point of reference to focus on, he felt like the world was twisting around him.

At the same time, despite the way his entire body ached and burned, it almost felt good. He hadn't worked himself this hard in a long time and there was something almost grounding about it, as if he was getting reacquainted with his body while knowing that he was improving his strength and agility. Despite the fact that it hurt like hell now, he was being productive and helping himself out in the long run.

There was relative silence for several long moments as the other trainees sat down to take the much needed break, but after awhile Boyd could hear Kassian's voice across the training floor.

Boyd's eyes slid open halfway and he watched idly as Kassian spoke to Toby and Emma, off to the side from everyone else. Kassian spoke low enough for only those two to hear his actual words but it seemed obvious that he was demonstrating something to them, likely going over moves they'd performed poorly and giving them tips on how to improve.

After awhile Kassian gestured to the floor and Toby followed whatever instruction he was given, stretching out on his back. Kassian picked up the fake knife, holding it in his right hand and crouching above Toby, a knee on either side as he hovered above his face. Boyd recognized the move that he was demonstrating; it involved Toby blocking the knife with his right hand and using his left to grab Kassian's neck before flipping him over and disarming him while stunned.

It was one of the simpler moves and Boyd assumed that Toby had trouble with the flipping aspect of it, but even as Kassian slowly explained and demonstrated, Toby hesitated constantly, appearing mildly overwhelmed as he lost his concentration. Boyd wasn't sure what the problem was but he figured the man was just really exhausted and unable to focus anymore. It was understandable, given the circumstances.

After a few more minutes, Kassian shook his head and stood as Toby mumbled something that from Boyd's distance was completely inaudible. Toby quickly left the training area.

Boyd watched Toby go, wondering what that was about. Maybe Toby was embarrassed that he hadn't done as well as he'd hoped. Especially since the instructor was working with him one-on-one and he'd already been called out in front of everyone, he probably felt uncomfortable with the fact that he couldn't seem to do the moves correctly.

Whatever the case, as Boyd saw that Kassian was moving on to working one-on-one with Emma, he decided that this was probably a good point to refill his water bottle and walk around a little to loosen his muscles before their break was over and they switched to retzev. He pushed himself up and walked out of the room, trying to recall where the nearest water fountain was. The only nearby fountain was broken and the only other was in another wing but there was a bathroom in the other hallway so he headed toward there.

As he moved away from the training room, he was quickly made aware of just how eerily quiet the rest of the building was since they were the only ones inhabiting it. His footsteps seemed unnecessarily loud and, annoyed by this, he began purposely walking to minimize the amount of sound he made. It was difficult to not think in terms of missions and what he would do on them when he was in this building.

Boyd approached the bathroom, fully intending to just fill his bottle from the faucet, but as he entered a strange sound caught his attention. It sounded like someone was gasping for breath and when he turned the corner to approach the sinks, he saw Toby hunched in the corner with his hand down the front of his sweatpants. Toby's eyebrows were drawn together, mouth slightly open as he panted. His eyes were shut as his hand moved furiously between his legs.

The silence of the area only made his breathless noises seem more prominent and it seemed that just as Boyd became fully aware of what he was seeing, the sounds grew louder and more urgent.

Surprised by the sight, it took Boyd a second to realize that he should probably get out of there to spare Toby the embarrassment of realizing he'd been caught. Boyd backed out of the bathroom and silently shut the door behind him, staring blankly at the opposite wall of the hallway for the briefest moment.

What... the hell?

He didn't even know what to think about that immediately, but he did know he didn't want to be standing there when Toby came out.

He quickly headed back down the hallway the way he'd come, as quietly as when he'd left the training room. He didn't really want to think too clearly on what exactly had been going on there but his mind wandered toward trying to figure it out.

Given Toby's bright-eyed look toward Kassian earlier and the fact that he'd just been training with him one-on-one, which included a move where Kassian hovered over him, Boyd suspected that had to be the reason Toby was now masturbating in the bathroom. Boyd hadn't known that Toby was gay, or bisexual, or whatever he was. Although it was possible that there was another explanation, the circumstances just seemed too coincidental for it not to be the case.

Boyd didn't care if Toby was gay but this was an incredibly awkward way to find out something personal about the man who also happened to be his roommate and a rather arrogant one at that. They certainly weren't close and the last thing he wanted to have as a memory was Toby masturbating in the bathroom. It wasn't that Toby was unattractive but right then, Sin was the only person Boyd would want a mental image of masturbating.

Whatever the reason, Boyd was surprised that Toby hadn't tried to hide a little more... like go into a stall or something. Likely, he hadn't expected anyone to show up. After all, the place was deserted except for the trainees and the others had been distracted with training. But this was also their break time so, of any time that one of them could be wandering around and stopping by the bathroom, this was probably it. Boyd was just glad he'd been the person to walk in and not, say, Cade, who probably would have given Toby shit regardless of if he guessed who Toby could be thinking about.

When Boyd arrived in the training room again, he saw that Patrick and Andrew were missing but everyone else was collapsed in their own self-appointed areas as they took the chance to relax briefly. Or, in some cases such as Emma, look near to passing out. Doug was nowhere to be seen but Kassian was sitting off to the side. Boyd glanced toward him automatically and was about to look away when he noticed Kassian waving him over.

Boyd hesitated briefly, taking just enough time to, nonplussed, drop his empty water bottle off near his bag. He'd completely forgotten to refill it on the way back, which was unfortunate because he was thirsty. But he didn't have time to run back out there and Kassian wanted to talk to him, so he turned to walk toward him.

For a moment, a paranoid part of him thought maybe Kassian knew, that he was going to ask where he'd been and whether he'd seen Toby. Boyd wouldn't say anything even if that were the case, but there was no reason that Kassian would actually call him over for that; it had to be something else.

Boyd moved closer, giving Kassian a questioning look.

"Can we talk for a couple of minutes?" Kassian asked, nodding to the spot next to him.

"Of course," Boyd said, sitting down next to him. His body ached furiously during the process but once he was seated it felt better to just stay still for a bit.

Kassian was silent for a moment as he observed Boyd before speaking. "I know this isn't really the time to talk about this but there won't be a good time for a couple months, so I just wanted to apologize now."

"Apologize?" Boyd echoed in confusion. This seemed to happen with Kassian and him a lot; when Kassian said he wanted to talk, the first thing he did was apologize for something Boyd wasn't expecting. "For what?" The only thing he could imagine was that Kassian and Sin had argued last time they'd all been together.

"For that day when you came over," Kassian said with a shrug. "For pissing you off. It's really none of my business what you think about your partner and I'm sure you know him better than me so, yeah. I wanted to say sorry."

Boyd had no idea why that had occurred to Kassian to say now. It had been months since Kassian had in essence said that despite whatever change Boyd saw in Sin or how nice Sin was acting, Sin still had severe psychological issues that could potentially not be fixed. Boyd had been irritated by the implication that Boyd didn't know Sin or that Sin couldn't change; he'd felt that Kassian was labeling and dismissing Sin just like everyone else and it had bothered him.

In the end, Boyd had defended Sin to the detriment of their casual conversation and the otherwise surprisingly comfortable atmosphere had become very distant and cool. It had quickly become apparent that the best thing for Boyd to do at that time was leave, which he had.

Granted, it would be several more months from now until they were through with the training and Kassian could talk more freely with him. But Boyd hadn't realized that the disagreement had been bothering Kassian during that time, at least enough for him to still think about it. Boyd certainly hadn't thought about it much afterward.

"It's alright," he replied, leaning back against the wall and studying Kassian. "I don't have the same opinion as most people do, so it's not unusual for a disagreement to start over him. I'm not angry with you."

"Good." Kassian gave him a half smile and raised his eyebrows. "Although, I'm pretty angry at the moment myself."

"Are you now?" Boyd asked in faint amusement, because Kassian seemed remarkably calm. "Why?"

"Because this is what became of my alleged downtime," the other man said wryly. "And your partner is supposed to be here for this, not me."

That was true; Boyd hadn't thought about the fact that this was supposed to be Kassian's time off. "I wondered about that; he seemed like the first choice to make for this type of fighting style. Why isn't he here?"

Kassian shrugged. "Beats the hell out of me. They didn't tell me why but I figured he just refused to do it. Honestly, he wouldn't be a very good instructor anyway. But I don't really want to be here myself."

Boyd considered that. Honestly, he couldn't imagine Sin not refusing; after the disdain he'd shown for the entire process and with how tired he'd been lately, it probably would have been more surprising if he'd actually shown up. And it was true that Sin wouldn't have been as patient and clear an instructor as Kassian, anyway. Mostly because Kassian was polite and calm with everyone and by default Sin tended to be mocking or impatient with people he didn't know. He would probably be impatient even with Boyd.

"That's understandable," Boyd said, tilting his head thoughtfully. "I'd be upset too, if I were you. You're probably right about Sin. Although," he added with a slight smile, "assuming he refused and they couldn't force him, I'd prefer you as our instructor over Doug any day, so in a way I'm glad to see you."

"Doug isn't so bad once you get through that layer of brash obnoxiousness," Kassian said mildly. "Unfortunately no one ever finds that out because he's determined to be the most asshole drill sergeant type instructor ever. He even told me I wasn't hard enough on you all just a minute ago."

"I'm sure he did." Boyd smiled a little wider in amusement. "Did he also tell you to swear more and try to make one of us cry? If so, I think you should target Cade; he seems an easy pick."

"I think Doug has already mentally taken Cade out of the running for anything," Kassian admitted in a low voice. "He hates the kid. He's just waiting for him to actually do something to merit being kicked out."

Boyd inconspicuously glanced over toward Cade, who was once again pestering Emma about something. She was smiling and talking to him politely but she seemed as though she would have preferred that he was across the room rather than sitting next to her.

"I'm not surprised," Boyd said equally quietly. "He hasn't exactly been respectful of the process or people in front of Doug. Or in front of anyone, for that matter. But who knows; he was nominated for a reason and he may shock us all."

Kassian scoffed softly. "The day he gets promoted is the day Vega and I kiss and declare our love for one another."

Boyd looked over at Kassian in surprise and couldn't help an abrupt, short laugh. The mental image was as amusing as it was disturbing, mostly because it was such a perversion of their personalities to imagine that actually happening. Besides, for some reason it put him in mind of the two of them at the altar, holding hands in marriage with organ music in the background, and it was just too ridiculous not to laugh at.

"Please don't," Boyd said, trying to sound serious and failing. "I'd feel left out and sad."

Kassian opened his mouth to reply but something caught his attention across the room and he hesitated before glancing at Boyd again. "I'm pretty sure Harriet is annoyed with me."

Boyd looked over at her without being obvious; he masked the movement by mostly moving his eyes and tilting his head slightly as if he was considering something Kassian said. Across the room, Harriet was stretching and appearing to get ready for the rest of the training. She wasn't even looking at them and all Boyd could see in the quick glance was that her mouth was in a tight line and her expression was blank. If Kassian hadn't said anything, he wouldn't have even really noticed anything was wrong other than perhaps she was thinking about something that bothered her faintly.

"I can't really tell," Boyd said. If she was upset, he wondered if it was something to do with that hesitation she'd shown before when they'd been in the room with Sin, as if she'd wanted to say or ask something of Kassian but she hadn't wanted to do it in front of others.

He didn't really know her well enough to say what she was thinking or why, but it seemed to him that something was happening there beneath the surface. At the time, he'd thought Kassian hadn't noticed and, now, Kassian seemed pretty adept at reading her expressions. He suspected it had been a conversation between the two of them that she had wanted to continue or begin in private.

"Why would she be?"

"Because..." Kassian drew the word out and rolled his eyes. "Because I'm sitting here talking to you and not her. I'm not entirely oblivious."

Boyd inclined his head. He'd wondered but hadn't been sure if she really did like Kassian or not. It made sense if Kassian wasn't interested in return, given what Kassian had said at his house, about how he wasn't interested in another relationship and how he couldn't relax around others at the Agency because they expected too much of him and basically saw him as Mr. Perfect. From what Kassian had implied, the only thing he would even be interested in now was something casual, and Boyd couldn't imagine 'casual' ever working out between Kassian and Harriet.

"Aside from the fact that she's a coworker who looks up to you, do you think a casual relationship would interfere with your team's rapport?" he asked curiously. He didn't ask if Kassian was interested in her because it was pretty obvious that he wasn't.

"I just don't think of her that way. She's a beautiful woman but I'm just not really attracted to her in that way. If I didn't work so closely with her it might be different but even then... I don't know. I could never relax around her. She thinks everything is serious business." Kassian waved a hand vaguely. "Besides, she'd probably have a heart attack if she saw me outside of the Agency."

"Maybe," Boyd said, because he did think Kassian was right in that she seemed to take things too seriously and he couldn't imagine her walking into Kassian's home without at least feeling shocked or, possibly, disappointed.

Once again, he thought about how frustrating it must be for Kassian, who basically lived dual lives; the model agent at work and the person at home who he never felt comfortable letting those coworkers see. It wasn't that Kassian was a horrible person at his home; he was simply human, but it seemed that in many ways people at the Agency saw him as above that, above having flaws, the same way they seemed to see Sin as having more flaws than he really had.

"Do you ever want to just be who you are here?" Boyd asked, studying Kassian. "Do you ever feel like telling people to leave you alone or shut up, and stop being so composed? Like Sin does?"

Kassian laughed slightly at that. "In a way, yeah. I wish I could be more like him and not care what people think but it's too late. It would be more trouble than it's worth at this point and I don't even know if I want these people to know that side of me, anyway. I judge myself enough without needing others to do it as well. And Harriet is very judgmental."

Kassian paused for a moment and his gaze strayed over to where Emma was sitting. "I wonder if Emma is," he said with a rakish grin.

"She's talking to Cade," Boyd said dryly. "She can't be that judgmental."

"Ha. Good point. She's probably too nice for her own good. It will only encourage him. And speaking of encouragement-- where the hell did Toby run off to? I was trying to explain how to not be a complete failure even if you're as out of shape as he is." Kassian sat up straighter, eyes scanning the gym as he shook his head.

"I think he had to run to the bathroom," Boyd said casually, not letting anything show in his expression. He definitely had no plans to tell Kassian what he saw, and certainly not what he suspected. "I'm sure he'll be back soon."

"Well he better. Break is over in five minutes," Kassian said as he got to his feet. He studied Boyd for a moment and seemed a little reluctant to say what he was apparently about to say. "You know, Doug got on my case for not singling you out with Emma and Toby. He noticed that you were almost as out of it as they were in the end."

"I know," Boyd said, not particularly surprised that they had noticed what he himself had been thinking. Although, he did appreciate that Kassian didn't say it in front of the others. "Apparently I've been slacking between the missions lately, or maybe they just haven't been as intensive as they used to be. I'm planning to spend as much free time as I can in the gym to get back in shape. I'm going to need it for the training."

Kassian grinned down at him and extended a hand to help Boyd up. "That's the kind of attitude I like to see."

Boyd let Kassian help him up and, for a portion of a second longer than necessary, he held onto Kassian's hand before letting go so that Kassian wouldn't immediately walk away.

"Kassian," he said in a tone that made it clear he wanted him to wait, meeting Kassian's gaze sincerely. "Thank you. For caring. You're probably the only person I've ever met who would actually take the time to apologize for a possible slight several months ago. You're a really good person."

Kassian seemed caught off guard by the comment but he also appeared pleased by it. It was in the way his mouth tilted slightly into a friendly smile even though he tried to hide it, likely because the other trainees were more alert now as the time drew closer for the end of their break. "I don't know about that but I try to be good to people that deserve it."

He clapped Boyd on the back, winked, and walked back to the center of the room just as Toby re-entered the training area.

Boyd briefly watched Kassian go; when he'd first heard of Kassian and even after he'd first met the man, Boyd never would have thought he'd appreciate his presence as much as he did. He somehow felt comfortable talking to Kassian and it was nice to know there was someone out there other than Ryan who thought Boyd deserved to be treated well. It wasn't that he thought most people treated him poorly; most of them just didn't care either way about him, the same as he felt about them.

The only reason he didn't include Sin in the sentiment was that things were always far too complicated between the two of them to give it a single label.

Toby walked past him on the way back to his spot, looking completely casual and as if nothing had happened. Boyd glanced past him, thinking that if he hadn't seen what he had, he'd never have guessed what Toby had just been doing. Boyd wouldn't have chosen to have walked in on Toby like that, but at the same time he now knew a bit of information about the man that Toby probably didn't want to get out.

He didn't plan to blackmail him or use the information for anything; it was just that Toby acted so smug and superior that knowing something potentially embarrassing about him made Boyd feel a little more on even ground, even if Toby didn't realize he knew.

Moving to a spot where he would have enough space for retzev, Boyd resolved to stop thinking about anything else and, for the next few hours, concentrate solely on training.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Nine...