Afterimage Chapter Twelve

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

The story contains..

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Afterimage Chapter Twelve

Uploaded on 1/18/2009

Almost a week later and Officer Daniels still couldn't look him in the face. The two times that Sin had actually left his apartment, once because he'd been ordered to go to the medical unit for blood work and the second time to order Carhart not to make a big deal of the 'incident,' the guard had refused to even look in his direction.

It was interesting and Sin couldn't help but wonder again if Daniels really was the one who'd made that anonymous phone call. He didn't know why he cared so much; he didn't consider Daniels a friend, not even really an acquaintance, but for some reason the question nagged at him.

So on the third trip from his apartment, on the way to a session with Ann, Sin stopped walking just in front of the other man and stared at him for a moment.

Daniels glanced up at him in mild alarm and cleared his throat, looking a mixture between nervous and frightened. "What's up?" he asked finally, when it became clear that Sin fully intended to stand there in front of him for as long as it took to get a reaction.

Sin shrugged, eyeing the guard critically. Daniels was fidgeting, his eyes sweeping around guiltily. "Not much."

Daniels nodded, focusing on Sin once again, calming down slightly when Sin's tone wasn't as hostile as he'd obviously anticipated it being. In fact, he seemed to search Sin for signs of the attack but since most of the damage had been done to his chest and torso, there was no visible evidence at the moment that it had actually happened.

"This weather sucks, huh?" Daniels muttered, finally dragging his eyes away, obviously feeling awkward and not knowing what to say. "It's not even winter yet but it feels the way January used to feel back in the day, you know? With a lot more rain, anyway."  

Sin nodded. "So did you help them organize that little party in my apartment or did you just let it happen?"

Daniels' gaze swung back over to him in horror and he began shaking his head wildly. "I swear, dude, I didn't know about it until the day it was going to happen. They didn't tell me on purpose because they know out of anyone stationed here, I was the only one cool with you before... you know." He trailed off awkwardly with a helpless shrug.

Sin studied him for a moment and decided that he believed the man. Not that it mattered one way or the other; it was still his opinion that it'd been in their right. If someone had hurt Boyd the way he'd hurt their friends, he would have likely done the same thing.

In any case, he now had no doubts that Daniels was the one who'd made the call but he saw no reason to question the man further and most likely embarrass him. It was, however, slightly pleasing.

"It doesn't matter anyway," Sin replied finally. "I was just curious."

Daniels relaxed and studied him for a long moment before speaking again. "Why don't you want them to be punished? I heard something along those lines..."

"Because I believe in an eye for an eye," Sin said, a hint of irony in his tone. "Well, to an extent. But it doesn't matter what I want. They'll likely be punished regardless for accessing restricted housing, as well as the guards at my door for allowing them in."

The shaggy haired guard nodded. "I heard that too. They're swapping us up-- putting me back at your door and bringing a couple of the guys who weren't directly involved down here. Another reason for me to disapprove of their actions. No offense, Vega, but it used to get boring just hanging around up there. Well, until your partner came by..." Daniels said, attempting a half-hearted joke and a weak smile.

Sin lit a cigarette. "I'll be seeing you, Officer Daniels."

"Later," the other man replied quickly, and there was a definite flash of relief in his eyes.

Sin turned away, jogging quickly down the stairs as he made his way towards the middle of the compound; towards the Tower. The cold wind penetrated his thin shirt like a dagger but he ignored it, as unperturbed by the cold as usual.

However, as he glanced around at the agents and civilian staff who were hurrying about, he couldn't help but wonder if he should buy a coat just for the sole purpose of blending in more. Walking around in a t-shirt when it was barely twenty degrees made a spectacle of him and that was something he wanted to avoid these days.

When they'd first begun allowing him to walk freely on the compound two and a half years ago, he hadn't given a damn if people stared, but now... now he didn't want anyone to notice him at all. It was strange how much things had changed since then; how much he'd changed. Sometimes Sin couldn't help but wonder whether or not the changes were even for the better anymore.

He finished his cigarette right outside the Tower, stomping on it with one boot before jogging up the stairs to the psychiatric wing; he didn't trust elevators anymore.

It didn't take him long to climb the flights now that he was getting generally better sleep, so he arrived at the waiting area to Ann's office a few moments before his session was to begin. As usual, the receptionist gave him a long, disapproving look but he ignored her and stood against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.

It was the first time he was seeing Ann since they'd had sex and he wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that. The entire situation had been extremely bizarre and unexpected; something that had come entirely out of the blue. He'd never thought twice about Ann in that way and he wasn't entirely sure that that had changed even now.

And now, a few days later, after analyzing the situation twenty times in his mind, he'd come to the conclusion that his actions had been out of desperation, not lust. After years of not needing or wanting human interaction, physical contact, it was a little disheartening to realize that he needed those things just as much as anyone else.

After weeks of feeling completely alone, of coming to the conclusion that no one would ever want him or want to be near him if they knew the truth of how fucked up he was, it'd been gratifying to be touched and not have that person cringe away from him. The fact that it was Ann, who had every reason to despise him, somehow made the situation more intense.

He'd been able to temporarily stop thinking, stop worrying, stop torturing himself, and just feel... normal. It wasn't too surprising; Sin had often used sex as a method of escaping his memories but he didn't even entirely remember the physical aspect of his night with Ann. He didn't even know if he'd truly enjoyed it because all Sin could do was focus on the fact that for one night the distraction had allowed him to feel free.

So, if anything, the situation had at least been useful, even if it was the strangest thing to happen to him in a long time.

Several moments passed but finally Ann's door opened and her previous patient stepped out. Sin stared incredulously as Kassian shut the door behind him, walking out into the waiting area and only stopping when he caught sight of Sin.

The two senior agents stared at each other for a long stretch before Sin finally spoke, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Kassian shrugged, black and red jacket rustling as his broad shoulders rose. "I could ask you the same thing."

They stared at each other again without speaking, neither of them ready to admit why they were there. Sin's first thought was that Kassian likely knew everything that was going on but he realized that there really was no reason for him to know. Kassian lived off compound and as far as Sin knew, didn't associate with a lot of people on a personal level.

"You know, you could have showed up for Krav Maga," Kassian said suddenly, reaffirming the fact that he had no idea about the previous month's events. "I had to do it instead of you and now since they saw that I was 'willing,' they're roping me into all of this other nonsense training that I don't want to be a part of."

Sin stared at Kassian blankly. "That sounds like a personal problem."

The blond man glared at him. "You could try to be a little more responsible. People might take you more seriously."

"And you could try to stop pretending to be so fucking perfect. Maybe then people will stop expecting perfection all the time and you wouldn't be sitting here crying to me as usual," Sin replied acidly.

Kassian's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "You're hopeless."

"Go to hell."

They glared at each other for several more moments before Kassian gave a snort of disgust and brushed past him, striding towards the elevators. Sin couldn't help but notice the way the receptionist smiled and waved at Kassian as he walked by.

Irritation spiking erratically, Sin practically stormed into Ann's office, feeling irrationally angry. Just being in close proximity to Kassian had that effect on him.

He pushed the door shut with more force than was necessary and it slammed loudly, causing Ann to start in surprise as she looked up. "Hello to you too," she said cautiously. "Is there a problem?"

"What was Mr. Wonderful doing here?" Sin demanded, somehow feeling infringed upon because he was sharing a doctor with Kassian. "What does he need to see a psychiatrist for? To agonize over his hero complex?"

Ann sat back in her chair, staring at him dubiously. "Are you speaking about Agent Trovosky?"

"No, I'm talking about Santa Claus," Sin retorted.

Ann pursed her lips together and closed the file in front of her, sliding it into a drawer. "I can't discuss my sessions with Kassian. You should know that. But I can guarantee you that the things Agent Trovosky discusses are not trivial or narcissistic, which is what you seem to be implying."

Sin snorted, not sitting down, and stared angrily into space. It was amazing how his mood could switch so drastically just from being around Kassian. But the other man was so condescending, always belittling him... It made his temper rage out of control every single time.

Sin knew that he probably wouldn't even be so offended by it if Kassian were just another thick-necked idiot field agent. But he wasn't. Truthfully, deep down he agreed with the things Kassian said, with the way people compared the two of them, and that bothered him the most.

Shaking his head, Sin turned away from Ann. The idea of sitting where Kassian had just sat, talking to Ann about his bullshit after she'd just got finished hearing Kassian's... For some reason it didn't sit right with him, like somehow he was suspicious that Ann would be listening to him and internally comparing the two.

And after spending the last month allowing himself to trust the woman enough to speak so freely, the thought really pissed him off. "I'm going to smoke a cigarette."

Ann stared at him. "No, you're not."

Sin gave her a look that clearly told her what he thought of that and walked directly out the office. He ignored the receptionist and bypassed the elevators, once again taking the stairs as he internally seethed. He'd finally been in an okay mood and Kassian had to come along and ruin it. But mostly he was annoyed with himself for letting it happen.

Sin returned to the icy winds that roared through the compound and walked down the staircase, moving away from the path to stand under a tree as he fiddled with the lighter. The wind kept blowing out the flame and he had to flick it several times to get the cigarette lit.

Once the cherry was finally red and glowing entirely, Sin took a long drag and closed his eyes briefly as he exhaled. Smoking probably wasn't the best idea given the fact that his profession typically demanded a lot of physical activity, but sometimes it really seemed to help him relax. It was likely just a psychological thing but he would take what he could get at the moment.

Sin was halfway through his cigarette when he noticed Ann coming down the stairs, walking towards him with an annoyed expression. She stopped just in front of him and crossed her arms over her chest. "You're wasting time right now, Vega. Mine and your own."

He shrugged. "I'll survive."

The annoyance was clear on her face and she opened her mouth to respond, closed it, narrowed her eyes and then finally demanded, "Is this about the other night?"

Sin made a face. "What?"

Her eyebrows rose and she looked indignant now. "You don't take me seriously anymore because of what happened. You don't think you have to respect me as your doctor."

He exhaled slowly, staring down at her incredulously. "You're an idiot."

"Well I have news for you," Ann snapped, even though he hadn't confirmed her accusation in any form. "I'm not in love with you, I'm not obsessed with you, I don't daydream about you and wish for our sessions to come sooner in the week-- I'm not your Lydia, so you can cut the bullshit now and we can get back to what we're here for."

Sin realized that she was serious about this and decided that women were strange. Where did she get these ideas? "What the hell are you talking about? Who said I thought any of that?"

Ann faltered and considered him for a moment. "Well then why did you decide it was a good idea to walk out in the middle of a session? Do you know how disrespectful that is?"

He shrugged. "You'll get over it."

She shook her head, still annoyed but not as offended. "You know, it's not always okay to follow the rules of the world according to Sin. Following protocol would likely get you further socially and professionally, and would likely not put you in as many high stress situations."

Sin scoffed and finished his cigarette. "Now you sound like Kassian. If only I was as great of an agent as he was..."

"Oh, so this whole temper tantrum is about Agent Trovosky?

There was a brief silence and finally Sin wondered out loud, "Why is he Agent Trovosky and I'm just Sin?"

She obviously saw what he was getting at and gave an exasperated sigh, as though she were dealing with a child. "If you're trying to imply that I have more respect for him than you because he's 'Mr. Wonderful,' it's not true. First of all, I don't call him Agent Trovosky to his face, and second of all, I didn't have sex with him recently so we're on a less casual level than you and I are."

"I suppose."

Ann motioned at the Tower. "Can we go back inside now that you've wasted about ten minutes of your session?"

Sin shrugged, still not entirely convinced, and once again said, "I suppose."

She looked ready to run back up into the high-rise, shivering in her thin blouse, but she hesitated and just watched him for a moment. "You know, I was serious about what I said before. There's nothing to what happened other than mutual beneficiality. Yes, I'm attracted to you but I was using you just like you were using me. I want to be very clear about that."

Sin raised an eyebrow at her, not denying it or looking at all offended. "Oh?"

Ann studied him calmly for a moment before explaining. "You were using me as a distraction from what was going on in your head, that was clear enough to me. I have no delusions about you actually desiring me or wanting to be with me for any other reason. I doubt you even find me attractive."

He gave her a quick once over and shrugged again. "I hadn't thought about it before."

She didn't look surprised at all. "Exactly. Which means you don't. And that's fine, I'm not offended."

Sin thought about that for a moment. It wasn't that she was unattractive, he just hadn't bothered to pay attention to whether or not she was. It didn't matter to him and there had been no reason for him to notice her looks other than the obnoxious knowing expression she always had on her face when he spoke.

"And what could I possibly have that you're using for your benefit?" he queried finally, genuinely curious by the answer. He'd questioned her motives more than once since that night, never quite believing that she was just lusting after him.

Ann paused, hesitating, and an indecisive expression flitted across her features before she spread her hands in a sweeping gesture. "It's difficult to explain. I know all about your personal problems, well most of them," she corrected herself. "But you don't know anything about my life. The easiest way to explain it would be just to say, for a long time I've let others dictate my actions, lead me down roads I don't want to go, and I've allowed myself to be controlled by them."

"Ah," Sin said, a smirk spreading across his full lips. "So now you're feeling a little rebellious."

"Partly," she admitted, looking sheepish but not ashamed. "But it has more to do with the fact that I'm making a choice that no one else I'm associated with agrees with. I'm doing something I want to do when the people who usually control my choices are completely opposed to it. And it's not just about us sleeping together. I mean taking your case to begin with."

"So fucking was just a bonus on the side?" There was a definite note of bewildered amusement in his tone. The woman was an absolute enigma. Even though he understood the words she was saying, he still couldn't quite figure out why she'd even want him to touch her.

"Yes," she agreed bluntly. "You're an incredibly attractive man and I haven't enjoyed sex for a long time. I haven't enjoyed anything for a long time. And good sex can be quite exhilarating and a good distraction from internal issues. I know it isn't a healthy way to behave but I'm as flawed as everyone else."

Sin almost wanted to say that he could have told her that but he decided against it. "So you used me and I used you. Okay. What's the point?"

"The point," she started, shivering slightly as a particularly strong gust of wind swept through the courtyard. "Is that we're on equal footing, and we know where the other stands. And now we can go back to our professional relationship without any misconceptions or misunderstandings because things have gone unsaid."

Sin stared at her for a long moment before shrugging in agreement; things did tend to be a lot simpler when people just came right out and said what they felt, what they thought. The fact that he and Boyd were absolutely incapable of that at times had a lot to do with why their relationship tended to be so complicated. "Okay."

Ann looked pleased, relieved, but once again hesitated before starting away. She raised one arched brow and stepped closer to him, eyes sweeping from side to side quickly before she lifted one hand and clasped his chin between her slender fingers. Sin's eyes narrowed slightly but he looked more inquisitive than tense by the contact.

"Do you have something to add?" he asked, meeting her gaze directly.

She seemed to consider her words carefully as her fingers extended to cup the side of his face. "I want your guarantee that nothing has changed. I'm still your doctor and you'll treat me just as you did before. I'm not going to go back to the games you used to play, Sin," she said quietly, voice intense. "The way you used to behave when we encountered each other."

Sin briefly debated giving her a hard time before deciding not to bother. "The thought didn't cross my mind until you suggested it."

A slight smile momentarily crossed her face and she started to pull away but hesitated at the last minute. Her fingers slid across his face, brushing against his hair, and she looked at him with a completely matter of fact expression as her fingers brushed along his cheekbone and then paused slightly at his lips before her hand dropped. "I don't regret anything, Sin. I wouldn't regret it if that happened again as long as everything else stayed the same."

Both of Sin's eyebrows shot up this time but he didn't respond. The statement was unexpected, especially given how paranoid she'd been over the one time, but he supposed it wasn't too shocking considering her reasons.

If she'd gotten that much of an independent thrill out of being with him once, it wasn't unreasonable that she'd want to experience the feeling again. But he didn't know exactly what to say; he had no intentions of seeking her out for sex, it just wasn't something he was interested in. However, Sin supposed, anything was possible and if she was fine with his motivation, it wasn't out of the question.

But Sin didn't say that out loud, he just nodded his head in understanding and watched as she turned and hurried back into the building. After a moment he reached up to rub his chin in bemusement before he followed.

Boyd was exhausted by the time he left the training complex, even though it wasn't as early in the morning as they'd been waking up lately.

In between training sessions for the past few weeks he'd been pushing himself hard in the gym, trying to get back in shape and follow up with Kassian's advice. His body still hadn't recovered fully from the sprains and strains of combat training and all his intensive, determined working out in the gym wasn't helping matters. His body ached constantly, some areas more than others, but at least he felt like he was starting to show some improvement in stamina.

Along with that, he'd received his cryptography book a week and a half ago and had been staying up late trying to figure out how to break the code they'd been given in the first week.

So far all he'd been able to determine was that it wasn't anything simple, like a Caesar shift or monoalphabetic cipher, which wasn't surprising. But without any clue as to what the key was or even the level of sophistication of encryption, there were a lot of tedious, very involved tests he had to look forward to.

Thanks to the side projects and the rough training, he'd been getting very little sleep and even when asleep his mind and dreams seemed to race confusingly. Probably because of that, he'd been looking forward to today. It was his first break in a month, which he would have been pleased enough about on its own, but it also meant he would have the chance to see Sin.

In the time he'd had to think about anything other than the Level 10 training, he'd been slightly preoccupied with that strange visit of Sin's. It was curious and he couldn't figure out why Sin had shown up when he had. His initial, almost indignant irritation had faded in the following days and by now he was just perplexed.

As he headed toward Sin's apartment, he took in the cold weather. He'd been holed up inside the training building for the past month; they hadn't been outside the building even once and it was rare for him to even be by a window. Even though the temperature had been cool when he'd gone in, it seemed like it was especially cold now, more so than it should have been after just a month. Although it could have all just been in his mind, it felt like time was moving faster outside of the black hole he'd been sucked into.

At least the cold air was waking him up.

He was over halfway to Sin's, well past the Tower and heading across the courtyard, when he noticed a familiar figure not too far in front of him. Kassian was swathed in a heavy black and red jacket and Boyd probably wouldn't have thought much of it except when the crowd parted and Kassian glanced to the side, Boyd could tell from his expression that he was upset.

Without thinking, Boyd quickened his pace so he could catch up with Kassian to see what was wrong. He'd wanted to get an early start to the day so he had more time off for his own sense of balance and because it also meant more time around Sin, but he didn't even know if his partner was home and they had all day so he wasn't in a major hurry.

When he came within speaking distance, he called out Kassian's name to get his attention.

The senior agent glanced back distractedly but came to a full stop when he caught sight of Boyd. His unhappy expression faded a little and he gave Boyd a slight smile. "Hey. They finally let you out of the cage, huh?"

"Only for the day. After that, it's back to slavery and high expectations," Boyd said dryly, returning the smile.

Kassian nodded, studying him quizzically as he pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "Are you going to make the most of your time? Don't be like Harriet and spend your free day in the gym."

Boyd had to laugh at that, looking truly amused. "You know her too well; I saw her headed there in her sweats as I left." He shook his head slightly. "No, I'm not quite that dedicated, although I have been following your advice. Just now I was headed to Sin's, though." He tilted his head in the direction of Sin's apartment.

Kassian's smile wilted a bit and his eyebrows rose. "Ahh, well I'm afraid you're going in the wrong direction then. Your partner's in the Tower."

"He is?" Boyd asked, surprised. He knew they shouldn't have any missions while he was in training, although he supposed it was possible Sin had a solo assignment. It wasn't that Sin couldn't be in the Tower for any other reason on time off, but to Boyd's knowledge he seemed to generally avoid it unless he was working out. "In the gym?"

"No, he was upstairs," Kassian replied, making a face. "I don't know what he's doing there, though. It wasn't the most productive conversation. He's such a pain in my ass."

Boyd didn't have to ask what Kassian meant; knowing the two of them, they'd probably managed to get into a minor altercation over little more than the conflict in their personalities. That would explain his expression though. "Where upstairs? There's about sixteen floors that could qualify."

"The ninth floor," Kassian said, smirking at Boyd's sarcasm. "Although for all I know he's left by now. I'm not sure what he was doing."

That was curious, since the only thing on that level was the psychiatric wing. Boyd didn't quite know what that meant but then again maybe it had something to do with that full check-up Sin had said Carhart had ordered awhile ago. If Kassian was getting counseling for being a Level 10, it was possible Sin was supposed to check in to determine whether it was needed for him too. He couldn't imagine Sin actually going along with that, though.

Whatever the case, it didn't hurt to go check it out. If it turned out Sin was busy, he'd just come back later and go relax some other way in the meantime. He greatly preferred spending his time with his partner, especially since he only had a handful of times he'd be able to see him for the next few months, but he hadn't had the chance to tell Sin what day he'd be off so it was possible that he'd be tied up with other things.

"Ninth," Boyd repeated with a nod. "Got it. Where are you headed? Home?"

"Nah." Kassian's expression turned gloomy again. "I have a meeting with Douglas. Guess who gets to go on your off-compound excursions for the next couple of weeks?"

Boyd winced sympathetically. "They're really making use of your 'downtime,' aren't they?"

"Yep," the other man sighed. "Seems they're taking the fact that I agreed to the fighting training as a sign that I would agree to everything they ask of me. And who the hell am I to say no?"

"You could always say no, it's just whether they'll listen to your answer that's debatable." Boyd smirked, adding wryly, "Look on the bright side-- you get a free road trip and slumber party out of it. A really extended one with a group of people you'd probably rather not see for awhile. It'll be fun. I'll bring the popcorn if you bring the flashlights."

Kassian couldn't help a grin. "I'll bring the booze."

Boyd chuckled. "I somehow think booze will help less with coordination than flashlights would, but hey, whatever works for you." He tilted his head thoughtfully. "Besides, it could be amusing to see Harriet drunk."

"If everyone else is invited, I'll have to pass." Kassian frowned, handsome face screwing up in a disdainful expression.

"What, so you're just trying to get me drunk, then?" Boyd asked with a smirk.

"Well that wasn't the plan initially but since you suggested it, sure why not?"

Boyd made an amused, contemplative noise. "Well, now that we have exciting plans you can have something to look forward to. In the meantime, you could go confuse Doug with your relative excitement about a job you're not enthused about, and I can try to track down my wayward partner before he wanders too far."

"Ha. Good luck with that venture." Kassian glanced at his watch. "Shit, I'm late anyway. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Same back to you," Boyd said, raising a hand in casual farewell before Kassian strode away.

Boyd turned and headed back the direction he'd come from, wondering whether he'd make it there before Sin left. He supposed it didn't matter much; there were a limited number of places Sin seemed to frequent so he should be easy enough to track down.

As he approached the Tower, he planned to head inside but movement from a secluded part to the side caught his eye. He slowed and headed in that direction, not knowing at first why until he realized he'd recognized Sin's form. As he came closer he had a good view of his partner and the surprising person standing next to him as they talked on seemingly friendly terms.

Ann Connors.

Surprise nearly made him stop in his tracks.

What the hell? They hated each other, didn't they? What were they doing having some sort of extended, casual conversation? More confused than anything, he slowed his steps and out of habit slid out of view so he could watch them from the side of a building, hidden by some trees where they wouldn't be able to see him.

He was entirely too far away to hear a word they said, especially given the wind, but he had a good view of their expressions and actions. At first, all he could tell was that Ann appeared to be cold and they were having a conversation that Sin seemed mostly confused about. Boyd was about to give up on watching them, feeling a bit strange standing there spying on his partner, but then Ann reached up and touched Sin's face in an obviously familiar way and Boyd froze.

For most people, that simple gesture wouldn't mean much. But most people were not Sin, who once nearly killed Boyd for lightly touching him in the middle of a nightmare. Even if Sin had changed since then, he hadn't changed as much with other people.

The fact that Sin didn't pull away, that he didn't look annoyed or disgusted, that he looked completely casual with the situation, made Boyd's stomach clench.

Boyd watched in growing confusion and shock as she ran her fingers across Sin's face and up into his hair. Ann didn't even hesitated before she touched him, which showed that somehow she knew that he wouldn't respond badly. She, of all people, was fully aware of what Sin could be capable of, and even though it wasn't likely that Sin would have hurt her just for touching him, that didn't mean that it wasn't possible or she couldn't have believed it could happen.

The way she so confidently touched him showed that something like this must have happened before, or they were otherwise close enough for her to know it would be okay. The way she ran her fingers through his hair and along his face was anything but casual; it was the sort of touch a person would use on their lover.

It was a familiar gesture Boyd had made so many times with Sin; he knew exactly what that felt like, the silkiness of Sin's hair, the way Sin leaned slightly into the touch and seemed to crave more.

And Sin didn't jerk away, he didn't look at her in accusation, not even when she dragged her fingers back down toward his lips and touched them. A moment later Sin followed her and the look on his face could only be described as intrigued which made Boyd wonder where they were going and what they were doing.

Boyd didn't realize he was still staring at the empty space they'd occupied until an especially strong gust of cold wind cut straight through his clothing and burned like ice against his skin. He blinked, then turned and, mostly on autopilot, walked across the courtyard toward the main gates.

He'd left his car at his house during the training because otherwise it would have just sat for months in employee parking. That meant he had a long walk ahead of him, one he'd not been planning to make since he'd thought he'd just stay at Sin's for the night due to its proximity.

But right now, that was the last place he wanted to be.

He knew Sin's expressions and body language well enough to recognize that there'd been no animosity in Sin toward Ann, no sense of distance; if anything, he'd looked casual, comfortable. Friendly.


Boyd knew he couldn't be misinterpreting the intimacy of her gesture, the way Sin had let her touch him like that and seemed familiar with it. It was the same sort of stunned sense of disbelief and confusion he'd felt when Kassian had told him over the phone that Sin was dead, when he'd tried to imagine a future without Sin and what he'd do in it and had kept coming up blank.

Now, that sense of stunned confusion was aimed toward understanding what he'd just seen.

He could have run after Sin, asked what was happening, demanded some sort of explanation. But that would have been incredibly irrational since all he saw was Ann touching him.

But it was Ann. Ann Connors, who'd been a bitch to Boyd since they'd met, whose twin was catatonic now due to Sin, who'd seemed more interested in channeling Vivienne than anything any of the times Boyd had been around her. On its own, seeing her gently touch someone like that seemed odd given her personality, but when the recipient was Sin it was unfathomable. And the fact that Sin didn't seem to mind made it even worse.

Obviously, something had happened while he'd been in training. But he'd only been gone a month. Just one month.

The last time he'd seen Sin, he'd not gotten any indication that anything this huge had happened. So how were those two suddenly on such good terms? How could Sin, who'd said all that shit about how he needed Boyd, be completely fine with Ann running her hand over him?

That's what touching Sin had always been about; his trust that the other person wouldn't hurt him. And as far as Boyd knew, there had never been anything but animosity or disgust between Ann and Sin; where did trust come into that? How could something like that be developed in so short a time when it had taken him a year?

It was almost reminiscent of the scene with Jessica at Lunar. This was the second time he'd run across Sin being intimate with a woman Sin claimed he didn't even particularly like, although the first time Jessica and Sin had been kissing. Sin had nearly slept with Jessica back then but had seemed to choose Boyd over her in the end, but he'd never said why.

What did that mean for this, with Ann? Could that gesture have not meant what it seemed like? How intimate could Ann and Sin ever get, anyway? Boyd couldn't believe they were on friendly terms at all, so imagining anything beyond that was inconceivable to him.

If someone had told him that this would happen, he would have expected himself to feel as intense a sense of jealousy as he had when he'd walked in on Sin and Jessica. But that jealousy, that blind conclusion and those assumptions he'd made, had cost so much, had not been worth it. Where he would have thought there'd be jealousy and anger, he felt a cold, echoing sense of disbelief, something that made him feel empty and worn.

He knew that other emotions would be following; he knew that this couldn't be all there was. But seeing that same intimate gesture he'd made so many times repeated on Sin by Ann, made his stomach clench and emotions automatically shut off for damage control.

He tilted his head toward the ground as he walked, eyes blankly staring at the sidewalk as it passed beneath his boots. His hands were stuffed in his pockets and he still felt cold, although he didn't know if it was entirely due to the weather.

What did this mean? Did this have anything to do with what Sin had been trying to tell him? But what the hell could Sin have wanted to say that could explain what he'd seen?

He didn't want to jump to conclusions. He knew he needed to talk to Sin before he did anything, but he couldn't bring himself to turn around, he couldn't bring himself to search out a partner he felt such conflicting emotions toward. A partner he wasn't sure at the moment he could trust as much as he'd thought he could, as much as he had been almost since they'd met.

But if it turned out that something was happening, what would he do? If the truth was that Sin couldn't even wait a month before growing bored and finding some random person to somehow get involved with, and if that person for the second time was a woman, what did that mean for him? If Sin could replace Boyd with someone, especially a woman, whenever Boyd wasn't convenient enough, what did that say about Sin and him?

Especially if Sin had no qualms with doing this after Boyd had confessed to loving him.

A deep pain shot through his heart and Boyd clenched his teeth but didn't stop walking. He almost would have welcomed anger or jealousy because it would have meant he didn't think as much, it would have meant he wouldn't be analyzing this and having to deal with the possibility that Sin didn't actually care as much as he'd claimed to, that he'd been using Boyd just because he was there or because he'd been the easiest choice.

Hadn't Sin said before that he liked the idea of Boyd? Was the idea not as interesting anymore? Was it that others could be easy replacements, taking the position in that 'idea?' Was it that all of this, even everything Sin had once said about needing Boyd, had never actually been about Boyd himself but had just been about the position he filled?

Or what if it was something else, something more significant about the fact that this was the second time he'd seen Sin in any way intimate with someone else, and both times were with women? Even if all he'd technically seen was a touch, part of Jessica's words still haunted him, made him think that there could be more: "Don't be surprised if one day down the road, Jason ends up with a woman."

Boyd didn't even realize he was at Crater Lake until he noticed a chunk of concrete beside his foot, and only then did he also realize he'd been hunched forward against the cold and the thoughts that seemed to spin in his head. He looked up at the towering, familiar pile of broken concrete and felt at the same time a deeply painful sense of nostalgia and a brief spike of something he couldn't properly identify.

This was where Lou and he had first kissed, and this was where he'd once kissed Sin. This was a place he'd tried so hard to infuse with positive memories. This was where he'd realized he needed to be a stronger person.

It took Boyd longer than usual to climb the pile of debris; somehow, his balance seemed to be off and he kept sliding and tripping on little obstacles in his way. He finally reached the top and sat down in his typical spot, hugging his knees to his chest and staring distantly at the familiar, usually calming sight of the colorful algae staining the water.

But this time the water was far less relaxing than he wanted it to be and he sat there for hours trying to figure out exactly how much his life had just changed.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Thirteen...