Afterimage Chapter Ten

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Afterimage Chapter Ten

Uploaded on 1/18/2009

The sound of utensils striking plates echoed loudly in the relatively empty cafeteria. There was a cook who worked in the barracks during the Level 10 training; he was technically available only during specific times of the day but had been known to be around at other times as well.

Boyd knew that a few of the other trainees had taken advantage of this and had asked the cook for favorite foods in the middle of the night, but Boyd had not. The only thing he really missed from home that wasn't being provided was jasmine tea; somehow he'd forgotten to pack some and the only tea in the cafeteria was little packets of Earl Grey.

There was more conversation happening today than on the previous week's lunch breaks. Everyone had been so exhausted by the Krav Maga training that at that time talking had seemed like too much effort.

This week, their training had been a little less intensive. They were going over undercover techniques which was so far mostly a lecture setting in which they watched video clips and were told the best ways to keep their covers in tact. A lot of it was information that Boyd felt like he already knew or had figured out on missions but it was good to go over nonetheless. And for those other trainees who had never truly gone undercover in their careers, it seemed to be intriguing for them.

Even Cade had stayed relatively quiet during the week, although it was unclear whether it was because he was interested or if he was just being mindful of how much he'd already annoyed Doug. But that hadn't stopped Cade from being as obnoxious as ever when Doug wasn't around; it had become a habit for him to go bother Emma as they were collecting their items and for all that she seemed entirely uninterested, her smile remained as polite as ever.

Boyd didn't know how or why she managed to keep such a relatively kind expression around a man who spent all his time trying to see down her shirt and he didn't really think it was the best way to deal with the situation. At the same time, it so far seemed to be working for her; as much as Cade would go over to bug her, over time his ridiculous flexing and preening seemed to slowly be getting subtler.

The day before, Emma and Cade had actually seemed to be having a brief, serious conversation, although Boyd had been too far away to hear what it was about and he hadn't cared enough to get closer. Of course, that didn't mean Cade was acting like a normal person, but at least he had subtly become less obvious with his intentions.

Although there were conversations happening now, Boyd didn't really care to listen. He'd been one of the last people into the room and had chosen a seat slightly away from the others. Patrick, Cade and Andrew had taken one table and Jon, Harriet, Toby and Emma were at another.

Boyd sat at the long table that Harriet and the others were at but he'd sat a few seats away, mostly because it had been the closest chair to where he'd arrived with his food and he had nothing to say to the others anyway. They didn't really seem to be talking about much; mostly some idle talk about the training and what they expected in the future.

Boyd was staring at his food blankly, idly wondering whether mashed potatoes were going to be part of every meal or if the cook just had a surplus he'd been trying to get rid of so far, when he was surprised by the sound of someone moving a chair next to him. He looked over to find Emma setting her bottle of apple juice down on the table and sitting in the chair.

He glanced briefly over at Harriet and the others but they didn't seem to have noticed that she'd left; he looked back at Emma questioningly.

"You looked lonely over here," she said as an explanation, smiling lightly at him. "Were you?"

Lonely? Bored and tired were more like it. "Not really."

It wasn't like he really needed anyone around him to make his day go well. And it wasn't like any of them had anything substantive to talk about anyway other than the same information over and over about training. Just because they were similarly ranked field agents in the same organization didn't mean they had anything in common aside from work, and even that wasn't always the case since they were in different units.

Emma watched Boyd a moment, as if waiting for him to say more, but when he just watched her blankly she pulled some hair behind her ear and looked away, seeming thoughtful. "This training has been pretty difficult so far, hasn't it? I wasn't even sure I'd make it through last week." She chuckled lightly, either to show she was slightly joking or maybe just in a self-deprecating way, Boyd wasn't sure.

He nodded to show he agreed but he didn't really have much to add to that so he didn't say anything. He'd seen her in the gym when he'd been training after hours so he knew she'd been working just as hard as he had. He doubted she was in danger of getting kicked out this early on and if she kept working as hard as she was, she had a good chance of significantly improving her physical prowess and stamina by the time training was over. But he saw no need to encourage her aloud because none of them truly knew what to expect.

She was silent a moment then leaned against the table with one elbow, her hand supporting her tilted head as she studied him, her other hand idly playing with her apple juice container. "Are you feeling alright?" She gave him a slightly odd look.

Boyd returned her odd look with one of his own, although his was subtler and made it less into his expression. "I'm fine." He had no idea why she'd think he wasn't.

"Okay," she said, although she sounded confused. She watched him a moment and then smiled. "I'll leave you alone then." She grabbed her juice bottle and moved to stand.

Something about her smile bothered Boyd and it took him a moment to realize why. That was the same polite, removed smile she gave Cade when he was being a jerk. The difference was, she was willing to keep talking to Cade despite the fact that he was rude, inconsiderate and extremely arrogant.

This was a woman who was willing to converse with one of the most sexist and misogynistic men Boyd had seen at the Agency, yet she was about to give up on Boyd. It reminded him of what Toby had said; that people thought he was an ass because he wouldn't talk to them, because he wouldn't really answer their attempts at starting conversations.

Because he didn't give them a chance.

And why not? He'd been willing to give Sin a chance despite the fact that most people had felt him to be subhuman, yet Boyd wouldn't even talk to a woman who was kindly smiling at him? He didn't know what the difference had been, except that for Sin he'd felt like it had been illogical to treat him the way everyone else had, and Boyd had wanted to give Sin a chance since no one else seemed willing to.

Boyd was a fairly antisocial person with people he didn't know so without the extreme situation Sin had been in, he doubted he would have bothered to put any effort in. With the others like Emma, it wasn't like they really needed Boyd specifically to go out of his way; she could talk to anyone easily without him having to get involved in idle chit chat about topics he may not even care about.

But how did he know ahead of time that he was uninterested in what she had to say? How did he know she didn't deserve as much of a chance as Sin had?

It was no wonder others thought he was such a haughty person if he could even get Emma, of all people, to give up on him. In the end, he had to look at it logically; he was about to spend the next three months with a group of people he barely knew. He could stay remote and disliked as usual or he could actually put some effort into this and not always be the one who was alone or quiet on the edges.  

She was just pushing the chair in and was about to leave when Boyd said suddenly, "Emma." She turned to look at him, seeming mildly surprised, and she searched his expression for a reason that he'd said anything without being spoken to first.

He realized as she stared at him that he really had no idea what to say. "You... don't have to leave," he said belatedly.

Emma's surprise increased in her expression but she nodded with a half smile and didn't question him; she simply pulled the chair out and tilted it at an angle so she could see him better. She sat cross-legged in the chair and played with her juice bottle's top by loosening and tightening it as she watched him.

"I didn't mean to interrupt you while you were still eating." It was a bit of a random comment but she seemed to be apologizing for bothering him in the first place.

"No, it's fine," Boyd said, looking down at his meal again. The cook wasn't bad; he'd managed to make the chicken nuggets pretty tender and the salad's lettuce was crisp and not wilted, but Boyd wasn't terribly hungry today. "I was just thinking about how often we'll have the potatoes."

She laughed. "We had a bet going earlier on that." She grinned, indicating Toby down the table. "He's convinced it'll change by next week but I told him we'll have them for every meal until the end."

"Even breakfast?" Boyd asked with an eyebrow raised.

"That's all we'll get for breakfast," she deadpanned. "Cold mashed potatoes with a side of coffee."

Boyd made a slight face. That sounded entirely unappetizing.

She saw his expression and chuckled. "Guess that wouldn't be your preferred breakfast, would it?"

"Not at all." There was a pause in which Boyd almost left it at that and she waited for more information. He realized that he was trying to make an effort here and to do so he needed to explain more comments or the two of them would just lose their ability to carry any sort of conversation. "I'd prefer tea at the very least."

"Ahh," Emma said knowingly, "you're one of those."

He looked at her sidelong, wondering if she was insulting him, although that seemed odd for her to do. "One of what?"

"One of those people who've managed to avoid any sort of addiction to caffeinated highs." She leaned back in her chair and smiled at him. "I'm impressed, actually. I go into withdrawal if I don't have a pot or three of coffee a day." She held up her apple juice, looking bemused. "Although I've been trying to cure myself..."

"I see," Boyd said, looking at the juice than at her, deadpan. "And how long would you say this affliction has affected your life?"

"Hmm." She seemed to consider that a little too deeply as she played along with him. "Since I was four and my grandpa first gave me a cup of coffee as a joke."

"Did you like it?"

Emma made a face. "Ugh, I hated it. Thought it tasted like bitter water."

Boyd could agree with that sentiment. "When did you start enjoying it?"

"I'm not sure." She thought about it a moment, looking up into blank air as she twirled the bottle back and forth between her palms. "Probably in the next few years, watching how he always had a few cups of coffee a day. He liked to sit out on the porch and stare at the street. He looked so peaceful; I was told that he did it more than usual after my grandma died but I'd never met her. I guess she got him onto coffee, so maybe it reminded him of her."

She paused, looking back at Boyd. "I think I started drinking it more as I grew older, partially to get closer to him? It seemed to make him happy when I drank with him so I guess I must've somehow slipped in on his ritual, even if it took me awhile to acquire the taste."

"Hmm. So you have a deep-seeded need to please and have dealt with your grief over a grandmother you never knew by replacing her with a drink you didn't like, which you later became hopelessly addicted to." Boyd raised his eyebrows, giving her a mild look. "This is a sad story you came over to tell me."

Emma threw her head back and laughed. "I know, right? So tragic." She opened her juice and took a long drink, her eyes sparking with amusement. "Look, though. Getting better."

She shook the bottle to show that she'd drank a third of the juice at one time. She grinned and didn't give Boyd a chance to answer, or not answer as the case may have been. "Contrary to popular belief, I didn't actually come over here to regale you with stories of Gramps Walker."

"Why did you come over here?" Boyd asked, actually curious about her motivation. To his knowledge he hadn't been acting any differently than he had so far in training and she hadn't stopped by before so he didn't understand what made her change her routine today.

"I wanted to talk about the training." She seemed to get from his expression that he was uninterested in this line of conversation but she just waved a hand, now unwilling to let his reticence push her away. "No, this week you've seemed on top of things and I thought about your unit. I mean, I don't know much about it-- It's top secret and all, even for those of us in Intel. But I wondered if you'd been on many undercover missions."

Boyd thought about whether he could answer that and whether he wanted to, but ultimately decided that it couldn't hurt. She was in the Agency so it wasn't like she was some random person he was talking to, and he wasn't going to give her details. "A few."

She made a thoughtful noise and smiled at him trickily. "You like them." She said it in the pleased, smug tone a person would usually observe that another had a crush on someone.

"What?" He hadn't been expecting that as her answer and gave her a strange look. "Why would you say that?"

"Because you've been looking so stressed or bored with most of the training." She waved a hand as if to fend off rumors. "I mean, not that I've been watching you like a stalker or anything. I just noticed it whenever I glanced over. But this week you've seemed more interested, or at least like you understood what was happening. It was more expression than you usually have, so I figured you liked undercover missions."

Did he like undercover missions? He didn't know if he'd ever thought about it clearly before.

He felt that he was pretty good at them in general but truthfully he hadn't been on many. Most of the missions he'd been on tended to have some sort of undercover aspect to them, in that he was infiltrating a base and needed to pass through unseen. But the only true undercover mission he'd been on had been Monterrey and his role had been quite atypical of missions in that case. Not to mention that it had all gone to hell at the end.

Aside from that, had he enjoyed it? Did he enjoy the concept of undercover missions?

"I guess I do," he said after a moment.

"Why?" she asked curiously.

He had to think about that to get the answer but when he realized what it was, it clicked. "I like the challenge. The uncertainty. I like the puzzle and improvisation." He paused. "And the adrenaline rush."

"Spoken like a true field agent," Emma said with a grin.

It was true that field agents did seem to have that type of mentality. It was a little strange to realize that somewhere along the line in the past few years he'd become a typical field agent in his own way. For most of his life he'd had no idea that the Agency existed as it did and even when he'd first received the invitation to test as Sin's partner, he'd fully expected to die before he ever got to this point. He never would have thought that he'd get to a place in life where, despite everything, he truly enjoyed certain aspects of this job.

He didn't care about the Agency's mission statement but he had to admit that parts of the job, like that adrenaline rush and the way he was able to challenge his mind to work around issues, made him feel truly alive in a way he hadn't since before Lou had died. That feeling of being alive was only otherwise there in Sin's presence, with the knowledge that there was someone out there he was connected to and who he could trust without hesitation.

Boyd studied Emma with mild intrigue; she'd recognized something about his preferences even before he had and he wondered if part of that had been due to her own experiences. "Have you been on any?"

"Undercovers?" she asked and he nodded. "Hmm. Well, not so much in the strict sense, but I've been on a lot where I had to walk around unnoticed. That part of it I like. I've found I actually enjoy being underestimated; it makes it easier to take advantage of the situation."

She gave him a wry look. "And most people think a sweet, cute woman like me couldn't have an ulterior motive in her bones aside from slipping a little extra cinnamon into her homemade apple pies."

Boyd actually smiled very slightly at that, amused by the analogy, which caused Emma to look pleased. He hadn't talked to anyone who had the same mindset as he had when it came to taking advantage of the situation. He was often underestimated as well, especially by the type of people like Cade, who thought brawn was all that was needed to be a good agent.

"I can understand that," he said mildly.

She smiled and seemed to understand what he was thinking without him having to say it aloud. "I'm sure you can."

They fell into a period of silence and Boyd glanced around, realizing several of the others had already left. She looked around as well, eyes tracking Cade as he walked over to the garbage to dump his leftover food, talking loudly to Patrick about one of the storms they'd been on and how great it had been. A slightly troubled expression passed across her face and she returned her attention to Boyd, looking more serious.

"Listen," she said, "I know it's not really my place to say this but I want to now in case I don't get the chance in the future. I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of."

Boyd blinked at her and for a moment he had no idea what she was talking about. "What?"

"For being gay." She said it bluntly, seeming unapologetic and not shy about saying what a lot of people hedged around. "There's nothing wrong with it and what Cade said the other day was completely, disgustingly inappropriate."

He frowned at her slightly. He didn't ask how or why she knew he was gay; aside from the rumors that had been rampant, he hadn't really denied Cade's unspoken assertion at that time. What he didn't get was why she cared.

"Why do you feel the need to tell me this?" He asked it mostly out of curiosity.

"Because I don't want you to feel alienated," she said with a shrug. "Obviously not everyone agreed with him but I guess I just wanted to be another person on your side as far as that goes."

"Why do you care?" Boyd didn't really understand her; why she went out of her way to talk to people who were rude to or uninterested in her. It wasn't like her life really depended on what he felt. He'd somewhat joked before about her having a need to please; maybe that's all it was.

"Mostly because I have several gay and lesbian friends," she said, leaning back in the chair and frowning. "I've never understood why they should have to be ostracized by society simply because of who they're attracted to. It's not right."

She paused and for a moment he thought she'd leave it at that but there seemed to be something else on her mind so he didn't say anything. She chewed her lip then gave him a slightly guiltily look. "And also because when all those rumors were going around about you before, I kind of feel like I didn't do enough to tell people around me to shut up. It's not like everyone was being stupid about it, but a lot of people were. I told them to stop a few times but I always felt like I could've done more, like the times I just stayed silent made it seem like I agreed. I didn't like that, so I guess when I realized you were in training I thought I'd have a chance to apologize." She paused, bemused. "For something you didn't even know I did, or didn't do."

He considered that. Although at the time he would have preferred to have more people speak out on his behalf, by now he didn't care anymore. Even so, it was nice to know she cared enough about him, even as a complete stranger, to want to support him.

"You didn't know me so you had no reason to care," he said with a shrug, then paused. "But it's okay."

She smiled at him more sincerely, seeming pleased that he'd given her some sense of closure on the issue. She opened her juice bottle and drank the rest all in one breath; to Boyd, it seemed like that was a very good way of making herself feel sick, but she seemed to be fine with it. She set the empty bottle down loudly against the table and grinned at him, then pushed herself up to stand.

"We'd better get going; training starts again soon." She tilted her head significantly toward the clock on the wall, which showed they had about five minutes to run back to their rooms to gather any items they needed and return to the classroom.

Boyd nodded and followed her as they dumped the leftover food and wrappings before leaving the cafeteria. About half of them headed straight toward the classroom, but Cade, Toby, and Jon all headed toward the rooms like he did. He'd left a few items in his room that he needed to grab before they started on the next several-hour lecture.

He trailed behind them, digging through his bag to determine whether he'd lost his pen or if it was just buried. At first he didn't realize anything was out of the ordinary until he heard Cade go quiet in a very significant way.

Boyd looked up and was thoroughly surprised to see Sin standing in the middle of the hallway.  When he looked at Boyd, it was obvious that he'd been waiting for him.

Boyd slowed and stared at Sin briefly.

His first reaction was one of alarm; if there was a mission Carhart would have been the one to inform Boyd so there was no professional reason for Sin to have come by. It was possible that something bad had occurred but as a number of increasingly unlikely scenarios rushed through Boyd's mind, he realized that Sin's expression didn't show any true urgency about the situation.

Feeling eyes on him, Boyd glanced at the others. Cade was looking at him with a rather smug expression and Toby seemed to be considering the significance of Sin's presence although Jon didn't seem to care as he headed toward his room.

Boyd knew the others well enough to understand what was going through their minds; Toby would be thinking about how Sin represented Boyd's connections and Cade would be formulating some way to mock him for this, probably trying to find some way to link it to Boyd's homosexuality.

Regardless of Sin's reason, Boyd knew that especially with the rumors in the past, Cade was going to make at least a few sniping comments about Sin suddenly showing up at his bedroom. Boyd could care less what Cade thought but it was one more stress and frustration he didn't want to deal with along with everything else.

Boyd couldn't help feel frustrated and annoyed; he was doing his best to prove he could finish training on his own merit and the last thing he needed was a reminder of one of the peoples' shadows he was trying to get out from under.

The fact that they would all have to fight Sin later for final testing only complicated the situation further; this would remind the others that Sin and Boyd had a history, enough for him to most likely sneak or break into the barracks in order to visit. Given Sin's infamy for being unwilling to put effort into social interactions, the idea that he'd do that for Boyd was going to seem more important than it was.

It was entirely possible that this would instill doubt in the other trainees and cause them to wonder if Sin would fight Boyd fairly or if he'd pull punches because he felt differently in some way toward Boyd than he did toward the others.

The worst part of the whole thing was that they were allowed absolutely no interaction with the outside world and Sin was essentially forcing Boyd to break that rule. The reality of that and the possible consequences caused Boyd's irritation to peak.

He didn't have time for this anyway; if he got to the lecture room after Doug started, the door would be locked and he'd miss the training and be docked points as well as mocked unrelentingly by Doug during the next bout of training. Boyd had thus far escaped Doug's wrath but the man was probably just waiting for an oppurtunity to pick on him like he seemed to with everyone else.

All of these realizations moved quickly through Boyd's mind and he found himself wondering what on Earth had possessed Sin to come. Given Sin's personality, it honestly made the most sense to Boyd that Sin just decided the rules didn't apply to him and he followed through with whatever made him feel like visiting, not caring about what the consequences or inconveniences could be for Boyd in the process.

Boyd walked closer until he was in front of Sin, the entire time feeling extremely aware of Cade and Toby's stares, and asked quietly, "What are you doing here?"
Sin stared at him for a moment, not really seeming to care that they had an audience. Now that they were up close, Boyd could see that he looked much better than the weeks prior. He didn't look as pale or fatigued and his green eyes seemed far more alert.

"I need to talk to you about something," Sin said vaguely.

'Something?' The way he said it didn't seem particularly urgent which made it even more annoying that he had showed up out of nowhere with absolutely no regards to the rules to talk about something that probably could have waited for a time that was convenient for both of them.

Or, better yet, Sin could have actually showed up for Krav Maga like he was supposed to and then Boyd could have talked to him all he wanted during the breaks. As happy as Boyd was to see that Sin seemed to be looking better, he wished Sin would have more consideration for other people and not just his own whims.

"Unless it's two sentences or extremely urgent, I can't talk now," Boyd said bluntly, still keeping his voice down so the others wouldn't hear.

Sin watched Cade and Toby disappear into their rooms before returning his gaze to Boyd. "Why?"

"I have to be somewhere soon and you're not even supposed to be here," Boyd said, matter-of-fact. "Can it wait? I have a break in two weeks."

Sin's mouth twisted slightly, eyebrows drawing down. "Two weeks," he repeated flatly. "Why can't you just wait a damn few minutes now?"

"Because you gave me no warning at all and have bad timing." Boyd glanced briefly down at his watch; he really needed to get going. He looked back up to meet Sin's eyes, feeling rather impatient. "Do you remember the part where I'm in Level 10 training and am not supposed to have contact with outsiders? Well, I need to head to a lecture now and Doug isn't very forgiving with tardiness."

There was another pause and Sin shifted his weight slightly, eyes narrowing as he stared at his partner. "How was I supposed to give you warning, Boyd?"

It annoyed Boyd that the conversation was still happening; that Sin couldn't just accept 'I'm not available right now' and compromise by saying he'd come back at a better time or they'd figure something out. Instead, he turned it around to make it seem as though Boyd was being the unreasonable one.

"I didn't mean that literally, like you should phone ahead," Boyd said shortly. "I just meant that in some situations it works if you suddenly show up and expect me to be able to talk but that doesn't work well here."

Cade reappeared from his room and stared blatantly at the two of them as he passed but Boyd ignored him.

Sin ran a hand through his hair, looking thoroughly frustrated with the situation and Boyd's condescending tone. "You're unbelievable. You really are."

Boyd stared at him incredulously. How the hell was he the unbelievable one? Just because Sin had no respect for just about any rule laid in front of him didn't mean Boyd had the luxury to drop everything whenever Sin felt like stopping by.

Boyd didn't want to snap something back without thinking and get into a prolonged argument so he just narrowed his eyes and walked past Sin without replying. He headed straight into his room and started digging around for the pen, notebook and book he needed.

His movements were jerkier than normal and in his peripheral vision he barely noticed Toby watching him before grabbing his bag and walking out of the room. Boyd quickly searched on his table, not caring when he knocked a few items over, and tried not to get too angry but it was difficult.

It was a very strict rule that during the time they were in training they weren't supposed to have any outside contact; they'd already been informed that doing so would result in some sort of punitive action. Doug hadn't been very clear on exactly what it was, which could have been because it entertained him to leave it so ominous. But that meant Boyd had no idea whether this counted, whether he could get in trouble, and what that punishment would even be.

He didn't think they'd kick him out for talking to Sin but he didn't know. He broke the rules just by seeing Sin, let alone taking the time to even talk to him as briefly as he had and he wasn't exactly on strong enough standing to feel like he could afford anything that could compromise him.

Sin knew the situation. He'd been through this training before, he'd been there when Carhart had told them the rules, he was even on the fucking training panel. He should have had a damn good idea that he was potentially screwing Boyd over just by showing up like this yet he didn't seem to care.

If anything, he seemed to think Boyd was being an asshole by not stopping to listen to whatever he suddenly felt like saying. It was as though Sin thought Boyd should just defer to him, that nothing happening on Boyd's end could be important enough to interrupt his plans.

It was the same way Sin had treated Boyd since they'd met, since they'd started to grow closer-- like those late night phone calls when he'd demanded candy and had been very insistent that it occur immediately regardless of what Boyd was doing. The same way Sin would suddenly decide he wanted sex from Boyd because he was in the mood and, granted, the vast majority of the time Boyd was too but it all morphed together at that moment to annoy Boyd.

It was possible that whatever Sin had to say was imperative but then why hadn't he seemed more insistent or said 'yes it's urgent, we need to talk right now' instead of wasting time questioning him?

Part of Boyd wanted to just find out what Sin wanted and get it out of the way but another part of him was annoyed and felt like regardless of what it was, unless Sin had been stopping by to say that he'd had a psychic vision that Boyd was going to die tonight, then it could have waited for the appropriate time.

But Sin seemed pathologically incapable of being willing to follow procedure and always acted as though Boyd was the idiot or jerk for doing so, which was incredibly frustrating. Sin had once told Boyd 'whatever makes you happy' and when Boyd had jokingly asked if that went for everything, Sin had said it did. But too often, Boyd felt like what really dictated their relationship and interaction was whatever made Sin happy.

Whatever the case, Boyd was too annoyed and in too much of a hurry to deal with this right now. He finally found his materials and shoved them into his bag then strode out of the room quickly. He intended to tell Sin that they could deal with this later and let him know what day he had a break but when he got into the hallway he found it was empty.

For some reason, it irritated him even further that Sin had disappeared without giving any warning or any sort of closure. He just showed up, made things worse for Boyd, acted like Boyd was the one out of line, then disappeared before anything could come of it.

Although it was probably good since Boyd may have otherwise stupidly been drawn into an argument, he still felt especially tense as he rushed to try to get to the training room on time.

It was more than a little obvious that Sin was highly upset about something; something other than the obvious problems that he was there to discuss and figure out. The tension in his shoulders, the way his hands constantly balled and unballed into fists and especially the way he stared into space stonily made it a pretty obvious concept to grasp.

And because of his foul mood, the first thirty minutes of the session had been a lot like pulling teeth.

His current attitude was a stark contrast to the mildly agreeable, albeit miserable temperament that Ann had become accustomed to in the past few weeks. Noting the change made her realize that she'd actually become somewhat fond of the intelligent, humorous at times, and incredibly misunderstood man that Sin had turned out to be.

It was a surprising realization; getting along and working together was one thing, but the fact that she actually found herself liking his personality was a different thing entirely. Ann wasn't sure what she thought of that yet but she idly wondered if her newfound desire to see him and talk to him had something to do with Philip's constant ire over their continued sessions. The more he told her not to see Sin anymore, the more she wanted to do it. It was sad and childish all at the same time but the mild rebellion raged inside her regardless.

Ann sat back in her chair and looked down at the notes she had on the desk, dragging her eyes away from Sin's gloomy expression. It was a combination of her own ideas and observations as well as Lydia's and she was currently trying to tie together certain events in Sin's past. The only way she would ever understand and be able to properly diagnose his 'episodes' would be if she knew everything that happened to him as a child.

Lydia had rather sloppily jotted down 'child abuse' and 'sexual assault,' with question marks and had circled the word ‘mother' several times in red ink, but other than that, there weren't any real hard facts recorded. Ann had planned the session with the intention of getting to the bottom of all of that but Sin had come in with such a poor attitude that getting information out of him had proved increasingly difficult.

So far all Ann had was that his mother was a prostitute who died suddenly and that his father had mysteriously and inexplicably shown up to rescue Sin from China after her death. It was nothing she hadn't already guessed and Ann was frustrated because she really needed to know more.

Ann scratched her pen against the notepad idly and looked up at her patient again. His dark eyebrows were drawn together, green eyes glaring intensely off into the distance as he sat with his shoulders thrown back and arms crossed over his chest.

He looked really pissed off. Even his posture was confrontational and it reminded her of the way he'd acted in the past when they'd encountered each other. He'd expected the worst from her so he'd put on his meanest face to hurt her in advance; she wondered what had happened to put him back in that frame of mind.

"Are you ready to talk yet?" she asked calmly, drawing lines on the paper. "Your time is almost up and we got nowhere quickly today."

Sin shrugged, not looking at her. "I guess."

Ann pressed her lips together slightly, mildly annoyed by his lack of caring. They weren't here for her sake, after all. This was about him and he wasn't doing himself any favors at the moment by behaving this way. "What happened to get you this upset?"

Another shrug, this one with fake indifference, the flicker of annoyance in his expression giving it away. "Doesn't matter."

"Really." Ann raised one unimpressed eyebrow at him. "For you to be this angry, I imagine it must have been something that mattered to you a great deal. We already established that the medication hasn't gotten into your system entirely yet, so even if it was about hallucinations, you would have brought that up already so it's obvious to me that this is something entirely different."

Sin looked at her finally, eyes narrowed at her persistence as his mouth curled down in an annoyed scowl. "If it's entirely different from the shit we're here to fix, then I don't see how it even concerns you."

"Everything you think or feel concerns me," she replied automatically. "We've already deduced that high stress and anxiety has a tendency to lead to episodes, so whatever made you this angry is something that needs to be discussed."

Sin rolled his eyes, handsome face skeptical. "Trust me, this isn't something that would lead to me having a psychotic melt-down."

"When you first walked in, you were so angry you were practically shaking. I thought something was seriously wrong with you; that you were having an episode of some sort or experiencing hallucinations." Ann dropped the pen finally, ceasing her random scrawls. "If something had the ability to upset you that much, it's an issue. You're in such a high level of stress that if any other negative actions were directed at you at the moment, it wouldn't be surprising if you did have an episode."

Sin looked like he wanted to disagree, but faltered just as his lips parted and wound up falling silent again. He looked very troubled by something and after another wasted moment of silence, he just ran a hand through his unruly hair.

"I don't know," he mumbled finally, sounding almost dejected.

It was an outrageous comparison, but Ann had to admit that at the moment he looked very much like a kicked puppy. His expression was a mixture of confusion, forlornness and anger; as if he was upset about being so angry with whoever had upset him.

"Does it have something to do with Boyd?" she asked finally, tapping her long nails against the desk. Sin shot her a largely unreadable look and she spread her hands slightly. "You seem to value his partnership and friendship. I can't imagine you've recently struck up a relationship with anyone else who would put that look on your face."

"What look?" Sin asked defensively, automatically slipping back into tough guy mode as his eyes narrowed at her again. He sat up straighter, broad shoulders hunching forward in an unconscious and almost self-conscious way.

"That abused red-headed stepchild look," Ann replied dryly.

Sin gave her an odd look and finally looked out the window again, seeming uncomfortable with her close scrutiny as he slumped down further in the chair. "Something unexpected happened," he said finally.

Ann nodded, studying him closely, trying to deduce what that could have possibly been. "Did you go to see him in the training hall or was he allowed out?"

Sin shrugged moodily. "I went to talk to him. I thought it was important but I guess not."

She paused briefly before speaking again. "The General told me that you didn't want Boyd to know about your condition."

"Well, it doesn't matter anymore anyway," he said, voice low, almost angry sounding. "I wanted to tell him before something bad happened; I didn't want him to be caught off guard in case something did... and your pathetic excuse for medication hasn't done a thing for me thus far so I can only assume I'll keep going crazier..."

"Yes, and?" Ann interrupted, having enough of that spiel already. He reminded her of that every session, even if she always told him that it would take several weeks before there was a complete turnaround in symptoms.

"And he didn't want to hear what I had to say. This bullshit job is more important to him so that's fine. I'm not going to try again. Whatever happens happens and I'm not going to worry about anyone else anymore." Sin shrugged both shoulders and didn't look at all convinced of the last part of his declaration.

"It wasn't exactly appropriate for you to show up there without clearance," she reminded him. "Maybe he thought there would be a penalty."

She had no idea what Boyd's reasons were for whatever had occurred but she knew Sin would never go into detail and it was important to talk him down from his current state before turning him loose on the rest of the compound. She knew him well enough now to know that he became very self-destructive when angry enough.

"He thinks I'm an idiot or something," Sin replied tonelessly, although his body language made it clear that he was quite unhappy with that idea. "I suppose he thought I broke his rules to drop by and say hi? Or maybe just to upset him?"

He scoffed, shifting in the chair. "I wouldn't have gone if I hadn't felt it was very important but it doesn't matter. If he doesn't want to concern himself with my problems, I won't burden him with them and he can focus on his ridiculous training and think of more ways to condescend to me in front of people, which has always been a specialty of his anyway."

Ann wasn't entirely sure what to say to that. She didn't know the situation and she wasn't going to make excuses for Boyd when she had no idea what his real thought process had been. So instead, she settled back in her chair and took another tactic. "I think you're working yourself up over things he didn't actually say to you. Unless those words actually came from his mouth, it's unwise to project your own assumptions onto him and will just make you angrier. We talked about this, remember? It's just another way of managing your temper."

Sin didn't respond and seemed quite ready to be through with the topic. He never seemed comfortable discussing Boyd and Ann wasn't ready to push him about it unless it was a situation that really was imperative to his recovery. She found it intriguing that he was this upset over what appeared to be a misunderstanding, but it made sense in a way. Boyd was likely the only person he associated with or could consider anything close to a friend and even the feeling of a slight betrayal or rejection from him was likely very upsetting for Sin.  

"Well if you're done talking about it, then we can get back to my original question." She looked at her notes again and went back to the topic at hand, taking a different route this time. "How old were you when you had your first episode?"


Ann glanced up at him, not having expected him to respond quite so quickly. "Can you identify what caused it? Or the events that were happening at that moment?"

"One of my mother's johns was sodomizing me," Sin replied with little inflection, still seeming more focused on his annoyance with Boyd than the actual words coming out of his mouth.

It wasn't surprising, but the unmoved quality of his tone and expression was. She hadn't expected him to be ashamed by it, but he said it as simply as if he were discussing a day at the park.

Sin looked back at her, raising an eyebrow. "Did you expect me to cry?"

"No, not at all. I'm wondering if it makes you feel anything to admit that. I'm wondering what you felt at the time."

Sin sighed, seeming quite fed up with the discussion of his feelings and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he threaded his fingers through his hair. "I couldn't control what happened. I was only a child. I don't feel shame or guilt or anything about it now. It doesn't bother me to remember it at all. What I feel guilty over has to do with things I should have been able to control or stop and couldn't, not some overweight Russian raping me when I was barely 40 pounds."

Ann fought a grimace. "Was that the first time you'd be sexually assaulted there or just the first time you had an episode?"

"It was the first time I had an episode," Sin replied blandly, looking away again. He began pulling at a loose thread in his pants, a constant habit she'd noticed over time.

Ann looked at him closely. "Had you been sexually abused before that?"

He shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "I guess. My mother had taken it upon herself to teach me how to service clients. She decided I'd go into the family business. Honestly I think it was just an excuse to molest me since I reminded her of my father. She had this ridiculous obsession with him, that he'd come back and take her off into the sunset or some nonsense. He had that effect on women, as you should know."

Ann's pen froze against the pad and she looked away for a moment. So Lydia hadn't been the first person to use Sin as a way of reliving her Emilio fantasies.

The realization made Ann feel ill.

How many women had been so sucked into Emilio Vega's web that they'd become completely twisted and sick beings because of it? There had to have been something wrong before he'd come along but even so, Ann couldn't understand how the man had had such a powerful effect on women to the point of one abusing her own child.

Ann felt ashamed that she'd ever even had sex with Emilio even if she knew in reality it wasn't his fault. But she did feel guilt that she hadn't made more of a conscious effort to snap Lydia out of it.

Ann shook her head slightly and refocused on Sin, on his mother. Ann was sick at the idea, at the mental image that it put in her mind, and she fought the urge to shudder. There were very evil people in this world; people who truly deserved to be tortured and alienated from society like Sin was now. "How did you feel when your mother did that?"

Sin made a vague gesture with his hand, appearing very uninterested in the discussion although she did notice that he refused to look at her. His eyes were narrowed slightly and he was practically ripping at the string in his pants now. "I don't know. I didn't know there was anything wrong with it at the time. I saw people having sex all the time and I didn't know any other children. I didn't like it though but if I complained, she would lock me in the cellar."

"How big was the cellar?"

Another shrug and Sin ripped the string out, dropping it and opting to tap his fingers against the armrest instead. His eyes were still trained on some point out the window. "I don't know. It was dark. They would lock me in a shipping crate."

Ann stopped writing and really stared at him now. She took in his stiff posture, narrowed eyes and the deliberate blankness of his typically expressive face. She watched how his fingers clenched and unclenched, at the way his strong jaw was set and how restless he suddenly looked.

"Sin, does the Agency know this?"

He smiled humorlessly, the expression almost frightening as his eyes narrowed and a dangerous glint appeared in his eyes. But he still didn't look at her. "I may have mentioned it when I was first recruited. Before I knew better than to trust you psychiatrist people. Why do you think they chose the box as a punishment?"

"Sin, I would never use anything you said---"

Sin scoffed and waved his hand sharply to cut her off. "Don't bother. Even if you didn't want to, they could still get the information easily enough. I'm aware of it and it doesn't matter. I don't even blame the doctor I saw upon my arrival here. She was kind enough-- it was too early on for her to truly fear me like people do now."

Ann nodded distractedly, disturbed by the possibility of Vivienne using her notes as a way to further torture Sin if he were to get out of line. "Doctor Pegrino?"

"Yes. She died of radiation poisoning shortly after."

Ann nodded and pursed her lips, noticing that Sin's shoulders seemed to almost visibly relax when the topic shifted away from his mother. Instead of pressing the topic further, Ann went back to the original line of questioning. "How did you feel when the Russian assaulted you?"

 "I felt helpless and very angry at the time. But I wasn't scared and I didn't cry."

"Do you know exactly when the episode began to occur? Were you aware of what was happening to you mentally?"

Sin seemed to think about that for a moment before shrugging. "I suppose I was. I knew it should have hurt but during the act, I felt no pain. I was just watching it happen, or that's what it seemed like. It hurt afterwards, I was unable to move for days because of the damage, but while it was happening all I felt was anger."

Ann scribbled things down rapidly, although she didn't take her eyes away from him. "Would you consider that a negative or a positive? The fact that you experienced an out of body situation during that time?"

Sin stopped fidgeting and looked at her seriously. "I would have previously said it was a positive but now that I think about it, it was just a catalyst for all of the things I would do in the future as I got older."

She nodded. "And despite the fact that, in essence, your mind separates you from your body to protect you or shield you from the threat it perceives is in front of you, you consider it now to be a negative?"

"Of course." Sin's eyes slid away from her and focused on the window as they had so many times in the past but this time something dark crossed his expression. "Back then I was just a helpless boy. Now I'm a killer. Now I'm a threat when I'm in that state and now people can die who aren't supposed to. People that I'm actually close to."

Ann paused in her writing. There was something about his tone; about his expression as the conversation progressed... It made it clear that this was a very raw topic for him, and she got the feeling that he was implying something he didn't plan to say outright. Given how forthright he was about most other things, Ann could only wonder what he was holding back.

The way he danced around the topic, the way he'd danced about it in previous sessions, it seemed as though Sin almost wanted to tell her but couldn't bring himself to do it. She could sense a kind of desperation in his gaze when the topic came up, as if he was wallowing in this misery and he really did want to tell someone so he wouldn't have to face it alone, but Ann doubted he trusted her enough yet to let her in that far.

And suddenly it made sense why he was so upset about the failed discussion with Boyd. He'd wanted someone to talk to about this whole thing; had likely looked forward to not having to deal with it alone anymore, and he'd been turned away.

Sin finally looked at her again, likely drawn out of his reverie by the extended silence and she locked gazes with him for a long time, trying to read him, trying to understand him and figure out all of the vague clues he let go every now and then, but it was too hard. His gaze was intense, it drew her in and didn't allow her to look away, but even then Ann couldn't grasp whatever was on the peripheral. And she had no doubt that whatever it was, it likely was the direct link between the episodes and the psychotic depression.

A shrill buzz from the phone startled her out of the shared moment and she ripped her gaze away from Sin's face abruptly, feeling unbalanced and mildly guilty, even if she didn't know why.

"Yes, Diane?" Ann cleared her throat, turning away from Sin slightly.

"Captain Scott is downstairs," the receptionist informed her.

Ann resisted the urge to roll her eyes and noticed Sin standing up out of the corner of her eye. "Well he's early and I'm not--"

"It's ten after, ma'am," Diane corrected her. "Should I tell him you'll be a while?"

Ann glanced at her watch in surprise. "Ah, I see. Tell him I'll be down in a moment."

Sin zipped up his sweater, throwing the hood over his head as he started to leave the office, likely preparing to trek out into the never-ending rainstorm. She wanted to say something to him, but she had no idea what to say. So when he nodded at her and quickly strode out of the office, Ann couldn't help but feel unsettled.

She hadn't meant to end the session on that note; she hadn't meant to clam up completely when he looked so lost and vulnerable. But she had and now God only knew what the hell he was thinking about her reaction.

Frustrated and annoyed with herself, Ann closed the folder and tucked it into her bag, intending to peruse it later as she researched a preliminary diagnosis.

A series of self-realizations seemed to come hand in hand with being Sin's doctor and as Ann threw on her black trench coat and exited the office, she made yet another one.

It'd seemed as though they'd connected in that moment, when he'd stared at her so intently as if willing her to figure it out, to understand, to tell him that it was okay. Or it'd seemed as though they'd been about to connect; she had no idea where they stood now. For all Ann knew, Sin had taken her silence as a negative judgment of some sort and would back away from that line of discussion in the future.

It frustrated her on a professional level but also on a more personal level. It was disturbing but after they'd been interrupted, Ann realized she'd wanted that connection.

But then again, why wouldn't she? Her patients were the only people that she really spoke to anymore and the fact that Sin of all people had seemed to want to let her in further, had wanted her to know what he'd gone to tell Boyd, it'd made her feel something.

If it were anybody else the moment wouldn't have been as striking but it was Sin. Sin, who didn't trust psychiatrists or take them seriously; Sin, who picked and chose what he wanted to share with her because he saved his darkest secrets for the people he truly trusted.

The fact that he was starting to edge away from his skeptical doubt of her, that he was letting her in deeper, was almost thrilling, satisfying, and a number of other feelings that likely fell in line with the fact that having someone like Sin trust and confide in her felt like an incredible privilege.

Ann took the elevator downstairs and stepped out of the Tower, opening her umbrella as the wind blew her hair around wildly. Rain battered the flimsy shield mercilessly as she hurried down the stairs and towards Philip's car.

"What took you?" he asked, eyes sweeping over her before he took off down the road and towards the gates, barely waiting for her to buckle her seat-belt.

"Session ran long," Ann replied shortly, uninterested in the way he kept glancing at her out of the corner of his eyes. His reluctant attraction to her didn't flatter Ann in any way at all.

"I saw your little boyfriend," Philip said with a sneer. "Every time I see him, I have to wonder why everyone runs around so scared of him. The boy's barely a featherweight."

Ann leaned her head against the window and rolled her eyes. "Well, thank you for picking me up."

She wasn't actually glad about it but it was a safe non-sequitur to get the topic away from Sin. Her car was temporarily out of commission until fuel was resupplied in their area but she'd planned to take public transportation to her own apartment in the city that night. Philip arriving to rescue her from the rain was hardly a good thing and likely only meant that he wanted to fuck.  

He grunted noncommittally and continued the long drive out to the mansion in West Cunningham Terrace. Ann detested the place and had since she'd been a child but Philip had demanded they move in rather than sell the inheritance. She'd liked the fact that he hadn't cared about the massive amount of money they'd likely get from selling it but now it was nothing but a royal pain in the ass to commute there. Not only was the ride depressing because of the destroyed suburbs they had to pass through in order to reach the affluent community, but the fuel used every day was outrageous.

It would have been prudent to switch from fuel based vehicles to electric like most people had done already but Philip thought having fuel-based cars was a sign of wealth and demanded she keep the old one. It was silly and she planned to switch anyway.

With gas as scarce as it was, she had to re-fuel her car constantly, something she'd neglected to do recently because of her constant distraction over the case. But one good thing about the long drive was that it gave her a good excuse to stay alone in her old apartment in the city from time to time.

A hand on her thigh caused Ann to jump and she looked over at Philip to see that his eyes continued to travel up and down her body as he drove over long expanses of deserted road. He squeezed her thigh and slid his hand up her skirt slowly, shifting in his seat as he likely grew aroused from the contact.

Ann closed her eyes and didn't deny him; she despised him, but at least sex was something she understood and something she could remotely enjoy even if she wasn't anything close to attracted to him anymore. She'd used sex as an outlet since she'd been a pre-teen; she'd used it as a way of escaping her life, her family and she'd used it as a way to temporarily feel wanted by someone. Not much had changed since then and even though it was unhealthy, Ann found herself doing the same thing now.

She hated Philip, despised him and everything he stood for but they had such a miserable existence that she figured she may as well get some form of pleasure out of it, even if Philip had never possessed the skill or desire to get her to orgasm. And in the very brief moments when they were intimate, it was easy to forget everything else and just feel.

Her lips parted slightly as his hand groped up her thigh, settling between her now spread legs and brushing against her underwear. She kept her eyes closed, lashes resting against her cheeks as she felt thick fingers push aside her underwear in the awkward way that Philip typically went about these things.

She knew what was coming and she knew why he was doing it; fucking her was a lot easier when she was actually wet and this was the only way he could get her aroused enough for that to happen; seeing him naked certainly didn't do the trick.

But she wanted to feel good; she wanted to be aroused and it was a damn good thing she had an imagination or she'd probably never be able to lose herself in sensation.

As his rough fingers shoved inside of her and a callused thumb clumsily massaged her clit, Ann imagined a hard body and not the soft, pudgy one Philip possessed. She imagined strong hands, long fingers, sleek muscles and a low, deep voice that growled her name.

Ann exclaimed softly, losing herself in the fantasy, not even vaguely aware of Philip pulling the car over with one hand as he continued to fuck her with the other.

"Yes," she uttered quietly, eyebrows drawing together as her fantasy continued, not even opening her eyes when she felt herself being moved around roughly, legs slamming against the center console as she was yanked down on Philip's lap moments before fingers were replaced with his cock.

Her fingers dug into his shoulders, imagining that they were broader, stronger, that his heavy blazer was smooth tanned skin. Philip panted heavily in her ear, grunting with effort, sweating profusely, but when Ann opened her eyes into slits, she didn't even see him.

She saw high cheekbones, silky black hair, full lips and the most intense green eyes she'd ever seen. And it was then that Ann realized, as Philip came as quickly as he usually did, that she'd been imagining Sin.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Eleven...