Afterimage Chapter Fifteen

This site is..

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.


Our AFFN profile

Site hosted by 1&1

Afterimage Chapter Fifteen

Uploaded on 1/30/2009

The trees loomed around them, bright green with vegetation and giving little shelter from the humidity. There wasn't a clear path to follow so they wove between trees as much as they could in the dense undergrowth, constantly running into holes and dips hidden by the flora. Their compass was the only guide for where to go; the canopy was so thick that even if there had been strong sunlight to burn down on them, only dappled spots would have made it below.

They hadn't really spoken for over a day, not since they'd landed in Sierra de Perijá, and it suited each of them just fine. If anything, Boyd found it relieving to not have to worry about creating small talk with a partner who had no interest, and he suspected Harriet felt the same.

Harriet had taken the lead half an hour earlier, a dark shadow passing quietly through the rain forest, pushing aside brush and branches alike. Other than the swishing of leaves, the fabric of their clothing brushing against itself, and their hushed breathing, the only sounds surrounding them were the distant calls of animals and birds he probably wouldn't even know the names of.

For some reason, Boyd felt that it made him pay even more attention to their surroundings; he'd hear a cry and wonder what creature that was, what it looked like, and whether it was something they needed to avoid.

That sense of heightened awareness may have been all that saved their lives.

Boyd barely had time to register a very quiet noise as suspicious before he saw something out of the corner of his eye. Without thinking, he automatically threw himself at Harriet, knocking them both painfully to the ground just as shots blasted above them.

They didn't have time to think; they instantly rolled to the side and scrambled to their feet, leaned over as they crashed through the underbrush to escape. Behind them, a man yelled suddenly, "¡Trucha! Musiúses-- catire y jeva negra. ¡Venga, arriba!"

The call was returned by someone in the distance, the words indistinguishable.

"Shit," Harriet hissed, eyes narrowing although her face was the picture of calmness.

Boyd agreed with the sentiment but didn't say anything immediately as he quickly scanned their surroundings. He couldn't see anyone, but that didn't mean much since he'd barely seen the other person in time.

Part of the point of this mission was that they were supposed to evade Movilización Unida despite trekking directly through their territory. If navigating wasn't confusing enough as it was in the middle of a rain forest, trying to stay unseen by a large militant group made it even worse considering the militants knew the land far better than the two agents did.

But it was imperative to stay out of the way because Unida would shoot first and ask questions later, not to mention that they were rather hateful of Americans. It was entirely possible that the Agency had chosen this location for that reason; to prepare the agents for future missions with this group and in this part of Venezuela.

Whatever the case was, Unida's main encampment was supposed to be a good three miles away, and Harriet and Boyd had timed their trek through this area specifically to avoid any confrontation. The fact that there were scouts out this far meant something had gone wrong; something had changed. And Harriet and Boyd were supposed to go exactly in the direction they were running from now if they wanted to make it to the rendezvous in a day.

The leaves on the underbrush whipped their legs as they ran through the forest. Boyd tried to listen intently for any signs of pursuit but their pursuers were well adapted to the terrain and knew how to stay silent except when they wanted to make noise.

He could hear men yelling back and forth at each other, some of them more militaristic and serious, others whooping with excitement, and judging by the number of different voices and directions they seemed to come from, he guessed that if Harriet and he weren't surrounded now, they would be shortly.

Another round of shots could be heard in the distance, this one a quick burst of noise and destruction, and Boyd realized with a sinking feeling that they were armed with semi-automatic machine guns as well as AK-47s. He'd known the militants would be well-armed but the group had an eclectic choice of weapons and he'd been hoping this front wouldn't have anything that powerful.

"This isn't going to work," Harriet growled as the voices got closer. Outrunning them didn't really seem like the most viable option; their pursuers were likely very good at tracking and would follow them for as long as it would take.

"I know," Boyd said as quietly as he could while she could still hear. One of the voices was quickly gaining on their right, accompanied by a sudden burst of gunfire into the air apparently in the thrill of the hunt. "Any ideas?"

Harriet peered through the leaves for a moment, her expression intent and nodded shortly. "Wait for my cue."

Without giving him a chance to reply, she jumped up in one fluid moment and extended one long arm, grabbing the lowest hanging branch in the massive tree that towered over them. In a few fast movements, she pulled herself into the tree and climbed up until her camouflaged pants blended in with the leaves.

Boyd watched her disappear into the foliage then quietly slid back into the shadows of the trees behind him, crouching down to stay hidden within the underbrush. He could hear the combatants quickly approaching and he shifted minutely, splitting his attention between her and the rebels.

Harriet had hidden herself well; even knowing she was there, he could barely identify her between the leaves. From there, she would have a definite element of surprise while he could back her up from the side so they weren't in the same place and more easily taken out.

After several moments of anxious anticipation, his heart pounding with adrenaline in the dangerous situation, six men entered the area. They weren't in a tight knot but they were evenly spaced out and close enough for all of them to come into view at the same time. MU was a well regimented force in these parts and from Boyd's understanding, they typically traveled in squads of twelve. This group of scouts had apparently split up to search their designated area.

The men spoke in Spanish to each other and some of the cockiness had faded from them as they looked around, obviously aware of the fact that Boyd and Harriet were nearby and hiding. One of the men stopped walking abruptly, his foot mere inches from Boyd's face.

Just as the man turned, Harriet fired a single shot with her Compact XM8. The man's head snapped back and his body crashed to the ground.

She followed up with another two shots, taking out as many people as she could before they pinpointed her location in the tree. Her shots were impressively quick and precise but just as she aimed for a fourth target, one of the younger militants spotted her and aimed his weapon towards the tree.

Boyd kicked one of the man's legs out beneath him just as he fired, forcing the shot to go wide and to the side. Before the man could recover, Boyd was behind him with a garrote tight around his throat, choking him from behind. The man shot blindly for a moment then dropped the gun to claw at his neck as he stumbled around, trying to get Boyd away.

Out of the corner of his eye, Boyd saw that one of the other militants had noticed him and was headed his way. "Alejandro -- ¡no se mueva!"

Within seconds, several things happened almost at once.

Alejandro stopped stumbling but his fingers still scrabbled at his throat. The second militant drew a 9mm handgun and shot at Boyd, who released his hold on the handles enough to simultaneously drop down while hitting the back of Alejandro's knee. Alejandro's body pivoted suddenly, shielding Boyd just enough to catch the bullet in his stead.

Immediately, Boyd tightened his hold on the garrote again and yanked Alejandro in front of him to act as a shield between the militants. The other man yelled something that was indistinguishable in anger and ran at him. Alejandro gurgled something weakly as blood spurted from near his armpit and Boyd realized the man had been hit in the axillary artery.

Knowing Alejandro wouldn't have the energy to fight back immediately, Boyd twisted the wire around itself to try to keep it in place briefly then shoved him at the other attacker. Alejandro fell heavily against the man, whose gun was nearly lost from his hand as he fell back with the sudden weight. The man started to push Alejandro to the side, probably intending to set him down, but Boyd was on him immediately.

Alejandro was shoved to the ground where he weakly struggled against the foliage, gasping and trying to pull the wire away, before he simply collapsed.

Boyd slammed the other militant's gun out of his hand by twisting the man's wrist back toward him until his fingers couldn't hold it anymore. Boyd threw the gun to the side and immediately hit the man repeatedly on the arm and then face.

The man struck at Boyd but, dazed by the repeated hits to the head, he wasn't fast enough to defend against a knee to the midsection that dropped him forward, or the follow up elbow to the back of the neck. The man dropped to his hands and knees and Boyd was on him, hitting and kicking him efficiently until the man fell to the ground and didn't move.

Sliding to the side in a defensive crouch, Boyd quickly looked over to see that during the fight, Harriet had already killed the sixth man. She was standing over his body, compact rifle once again strapped to her shoulder; she appeared to have jumped out of the tree to dispatch him.

"Good job," she said simply, her tone mostly neutral although there was a definite note of surprised approval.

"Same to you," Boyd said, similarly impressed as he straightened.

He looked down at the bodies then walked over to Alejandro and knelt by him, carefully moving him around until he located what he was looking for. He slid a small compact radio out from beneath Alejandro and tilted it around to examine it.

"I thought I felt something before," he said in explanation as he glanced up at her. "There may be something on the others, too. Do you know Spanish?"

Harriet shrugged and removed the sixth militant's handgun, sticking it in the side of her belt before also taking his spare ammunition. "Some. Not enough to understand someone fluently speaking except for a word here or there."

"Between us we should understand some of it, then," Boyd said. He took the radio holder off Alejandro's belt and clipped it onto his own, then picked up the handgun he'd thrown to the side and slid that under his belt as well, although he tended to avoid actually using guns. He flipped the radio on, keeping the volume turned low, and listened intently.

At first there was nothing but muffled static; then a voice came through, scratchy with white noise but with a demanding tone.

"¿--pasó? ¿Dónde estáis? ¿Los matasteis? ¡Contéstenme!"

Although it had been months since Boyd had been surrounded by Spanish and he'd never been fluent in it, he'd at least become accustomed enough to decently understand conversations. The problem was dealing with accents and speed, and the people here seemed to be using some strange forms of the verbs. This man was easy enough to understand due to the fact he spoke clearly but Boyd knew they wouldn't be able to rely on that luck forever. It did help that French and Spanish had many similarities, although it was easier for Boyd to recognize them in writing rather than when listening.

Boyd kept his thumb well away from the call button and looked over at Harriet. "We need to move. They already know something's wrong."

Harriet nodded and stood up straight, dark eyes flitting around rapidly. "This isn't good," she said, a note of worry present in her voice. "We were supposed to avoid conflict. Why the hell are they suddenly swarming around like this?"

She didn't seem to be really asking him so much as speaking her concern out loud and it was surprising that she even did that. During the entire course of the training and especially in the early part of this mission, she'd avoided speaking to him unless it was absolutely necessary.

Boyd listened to the radio for a moment but nothing of import seemed to be coming across. He flipped it nearly silent then recovered the garrote and put it away. "I don't know, but if we'd caught them completely by surprise I imagine there'd be a lot more chatter on the radio right now. They're too calm, which means they'll be more rational about searching. We need to hide."

Harriet wiped sweat from her brow and stepped over the dead men, not even giving them a second glance. "Remember that area about two kilometers west of here? That rocky area near the waterfall?"

Boyd nodded thoughtfully. "The cave?"

"Exactly." Harriet's eyes narrowed slightly at something in the distance. "Let's go."

They took several moments to hide the bodies, covering a few corpses with huge fallen branches from the tree canopy and shoving the others within the depths of the tangle of bushes and wild plants that covered the surrounding area. They used leaves and dirt to cover the blood stains before quickly making their escape in the opposite direction.

Together they moved quickly through the rain forest, pausing occasionally to lay low as they thought they heard people in the distance. Boyd kept the radio near his ear, volume so low it was nearly silent, and listened intently for any indication that the bodies had been discovered. Harriet had an impeccable sense of direction, which was good because although Boyd was quite good with directions in cities, he became uncertain in forested areas.

By the time they reached the cave, the day was heading fast toward late afternoon, although it was still bright out. The entrance to the cave was nearly hidden behind water and foliage, which was advantageous for hiding but would make it more difficult to spot people as they approached.

Once Harriet and Boyd entered, they were able to see that it was dark, dank, and relatively shallow. There was plenty of room for them both to walk a few feet in, but there weren't any hiding spaces inside. If the militants found them, they'd be caught with no exit and easy to kill. Even so, it was their best option for hiding that they knew of in the area and at least it got them out of the open.

Boyd moved all the way back into the cave, ignoring the spiderwebs that caught in his hair and clothing and sat down in a relatively clear space.

Harriet squatted down on her heels, brushing back strands of dark hair that had escaped her ponytail as she looked around. "Unless they suddenly transmit that they've decided to give up the search, we should probably stay here until dark. They know the terrain much better than we do and cover of darkness at this point is our safest bet."

"I agree," Boyd said with a nod.

He turned the volume up slightly on the radio and listened, although it was mostly static right then. He didn't want it to be too loud for fear of the acoustics in the cave giving their position away to anyone outside; at the same time, because they were so near a waterfall, the sound of water would mask a lot of the quieter noises they would make.

The two of them fell silent; Boyd fiddled slightly with the radio now and then and Harriet examined the gun she'd picked up, looking to see if the magazine was full and checking the aim. They didn't speak for nearly fifteen minutes, in which little was said over the radio that seemed important or that Boyd could translate well enough.

A new voice came on suddenly, sounding angry. "Subteniente, he encontrado los cuerpos."

An older man with a clipped, militaristic tone cut in almost immediately. "¿Dónde?"

"Cinco kilómetros y medio al noroeste del campamento."

"They found the bodies," Boyd said, eyes narrowed as he tried to understand the quick, heavily accented words of the militant who seemed to be reporting what was found.

Harriet looked up abruptly, posture automatically going into a more defensive stance. "What are they saying?"

"¿Cuántos?" the militaristic man was demanding over the radio.


"He's just reporting where he found the bodies right now," Boyd said absently as he continued to listen. "They found all six. I think the man he's talking to is higher in authority."

The militaristic man went icily quiet a moment while in the background some people could be heard swearing furiously. "Testimonios?"

"No, subteniente. Solamente en la radio."

"¿Cuántas personas?"

"Creemos que hay dos."

"Wait," Boyd said more intently as he held up a hand to signify he needed a moment of silence and he focused his attention entirely on trying to translate. "They're saying there's only two of us, but..."

There was brief silence before the militaristic man asked coolly, "¿Están acompañando a los otros?"

"No sé, subteniente. Los gringos se toparon con nosotros ayer. Hoy, éstos dos parecían más profesionales." The man's voice darkened. "Se mataron rápida y eficientemente. Seis cuerpos en menos de diez minutos."

After a few seconds of trying to figure out what was said, Boyd's eyes narrowed. "Shit. I think they're on alert because someone was found. Or seen? I can't tell. Something about whether we're related to the others."

Harriet scowled deeply, brown eyes narrowing. "What the hell. We were given the coordinates of their main base-- it wasn't difficult to figure out their pattern of patrols, what idiot group could have fucked this all up?" She seemed very annoyed that someone else from the Agency was causing them so much trouble.

The militaristic man's voice sounded clipped and colder as he ordered sharply, "Busqúenlos. Tráiganmelos."

"Sí, subteniente. ¿Vivos?"

"Preferiblemente," the militaristic man said uncaringly. "O muertos, no me importa."

"Sí. Ampliaremos la búsqueda en el área inmediatamente."

Boyd shook his head. "I don't know. Now they're saying something about dead or alive and a search. They--" He stopped suddenly as some of the quick chatter on the radio between other voices caught his attention.

"¿Cómo son?"

"Un hombre rubio y una mujer negra."

"¿Qué edad tenían?"

"No sé."

"Tienen armas?"

"Un rifle, quizá más."

"Damn," he said in frustration as he looked up at her. "They have our description and know we're armed. At least, they're saying to look for a blond man and black woman. I couldn't understand the man before but that must've been what he said when he found us; I think someone overheard it on the radio."

Harriet gnashed her teeth together and allowed herself to sink entirely to the hard ground, tilting her head back against the cold wall. There was sweat on her brow that wasn't just from running around in tropical climate. It'd been obvious since the previous day that she was getting sick and with all of the environment changes in the past week and a half, it was really no wonder. "Well. Then I guess our only choice is to move in the dark."

Boyd made a noise of agreement and listened for a bit to the radio but within a minute the voices fell silent as they presumably started searching. "I think they'll be quiet awhile until they find something." He paused, realizing that made it sound certain that they'd be found. "Unless. Unless they find something."

She nodded, disappointment evident in her expression. It was obvious that she was thinking about how much this would slow them down. Even if they moved out as soon as the sky grew dark, navigating would not be nearly as fast as it would be during the day.

Silence fell between the two of them once more; with the radio quiet there was nothing to distract Boyd and Harriet turned her attention to idly sharpening her knife.

At first, Boyd was content with not having to bother to talk but it occurred to him that the time would pass more quickly if they weren't sitting there in boredom. Besides, he had to keep reminding himself, he was trying to be more approachable and he and Harriet rarely interacted; what better time to try than when he was stuck in a cave with her for the next few hours?

"You have a strong sense of direction," he said, and even though his tone was casual it seemed somewhat abrupt after the silence. "Have you had a lot of missions in forests or is it something you're just good at?"

Harriet glanced at him, raising an eyebrow as if she couldn't possibly figure out why he was making small talk. But she didn't reply sarcastically; she just shrugged and looked down at her knife. "We've had a lot of missions in South America recently," she admitted finally. "But I've had good direction since I was a kid. Camping, hiking, etc."

"I always wanted to camp but never did before here," Boyd said, leaning against the cave wall and letting the radio rest in his lap, the volume turned low but still loud enough for him to hear if they started talking again. "Where did you go?"

She shrugged again, still not making eye contact. "Nowhere special. Around San Antonio, once we went to Oklahoma but we had a cabin there so it wasn't really camping. Oklahoma was more for hiking though but it was a much bigger area."

Boyd had only been in a handful of cabins and all of them for work-- like the one he'd stayed in during the Warren Andrews mission and the cabin he was in just the other day with Kassian in Finland. The idea of hiking and camping that much as a child was intriguing to him, although that could be simply because he and Lou had dreamed about doing so for a long time. Most likely, it was overly romanticized in his mind.

"Did you like it?"

Harriet made a sound in the back of her throat that was neither a negative or a positive. "It was interesting. I enjoyed hiking, and living in Texas allowed for a lot of outdoors activities, I suppose."

After a moment she finally looked up at him evenly. "I suppose you didn't get much of that back in the city."

"No," he said, shaking his head. He paused, then added somewhat wryly, "The first time I was really outdoors for something other than a trip to the beach was when I joined the Agency. I'm a bit of an idiot in forests especially. It's confusing to me without having landmarks other than obvious places like this waterfall."

"Takes getting used to," she agreed tonelessly, still studying him. She seemed surprised that he was carrying on the conversation, perhaps even more surprised that she was participating. "Agent Trovosky seems to do it effortlessly though but he has military background so he's better trained in that regard, I guess."

"You don't?" Boyd asked, mildly surprised. He'd assumed she had, not only because many of the agents he met did but also because it just seemed to fit her somehow; the way she acted, how skilled she was, and the things she knew.

Harriet made a face. "No. Not at all. I'd never had a fistfight before I came here."

"How were you recruited?" he asked, curiosity piqued.

"I was working for the CIA when they recruited me," she replied, looking down at her knife again, pressing the tip against her palm idly. "In a situation like this I almost prefer I was still there."

The CIA? Boyd was really surprised now; somehow Harriet didn't fit the stereotypical CIA agent in his mind. He never would have guessed she'd worked there, although he supposed that it made sense in the way she rarely gave out more information than necessary and seemed content with silence, although that could have just been her personality.

"That's impressive," he said and it was clear he meant it. "What did you do?"

"I'm an engineer," Harriet responded casually. "I have a Masters in Electrical Engineering. I was going to school for my PhD when the Agency came calling."

Boyd raised his eyebrows, as further impressed as he was surprised. "What were you working on?"

Harriet sat up straight and she seemed more interested in the conversation now that they were talking about her former passion. "Mostly I was developing surveillance and reconnaissance programs and equipment, but I was looking to get into the weapons area because I thought it would be fascinating. I'd just gotten a foot in that door when the Agency recruited me."

"How'd you become a field agent, then? I'm surprised they don't have you designing programs here." By 'here' it was obvious he meant the Agency.

"It was my idea," she admitted, voice holding a slight hint of remorse. "I've always been athletic-- I was a gymnast and a runner as a teenager, and I was intrigued by the idea of a more physical job. So I convinced Captain Chase to let me enter training and I worked from the bottom up to get to level 9."

"Do you regret it?" he asked, nothing in his tone to imply he would judge her regardless of her answer or even that he thought she should.

"Hmm." Harriet went back to her intense scrutiny of him. "Why are you interested in this?"

"I was just curious," Boyd said honestly. "I guessed by your tone that you weren't entirely happy with the decision but I wasn't positive. And since all I know of the Agency is where I'm at now, I just wondered about the position from the viewpoint of a person who would have been as equally skilled in another area as here."

"Huh." Still eyeballing him, she leaned back and extended her long legs. "Sometimes I do. I miss using what I have in my head, what I studied for. I miss being around other introverted, socially-inept engineers. I miss not being surrounded by so much testosterone even if there still is some sexism towards a female engineer."

Harriet gave a one shouldered shrug and went back to her knife. "But I'm here now and I'll get to the top, just like I did when I was an engineer."

Boyd watched her a moment; honestly, he had no doubts that she would get to the top, if not this time than another attempt in the future. Aside from the extreme personality clash in Monterrey, she seemed to follow in Kassian's footsteps; professional, efficient, and quick to assess the situation on missions.

He could also sympathize with her in that he was an introverted person and the feeling of testosterone that surrounded them in the Agency didn't always include him, especially not after it got out that he was gay. He didn't have near the troubles he used to, but that didn't mean everyone accepted him, his lifestyle, or took him seriously.

Sometimes he missed school, where he could just show up and disappear in the middle of a classroom, and all that mattered was that he understood what was happening and he could pass a test. But then, a life like that would have probably been uneventful in the end and, like her, he was where he was at so he'd be the best he could be.

"Hmm. I know what you mean," he said, mostly in reference to the testosterone comment. "Is there a Department you could hang out or collaborate on special projects during your off time, like Blair said he does with Aerial?"

"No." Harriet put the knife down finally and pulled a protein bar out of her pack. "I have a one track mind. I have to focus on one thing and one thing only or else I'll get distracted."

She unwrapped the bar and took a small bite before adding. "Agent Trovosky makes fun of me for it constantly." Another bite. "That reminds me."

Boyd waited for her to continue but when it was clear that she didn't intend to, he raised an eyebrow slightly. "Of what?"

Harriet seemed intent to take very small bites, stretching out the 'meal' for as long as possible. "Are you attracted to Kassian?"

Boyd stared at her, at first too surprised by the abrupt topic change to properly assess the question. When he did, the randomness of it seemed odd to him; why would she think that? Just because it was known he was gay he was supposed to like every man that passed in front of him? But he doubted Harriet meant it that way since it wasn't her style and, besides, she was so straightforward about it.

He shook his head in bemusement. "What the hell gave you that idea?"

She shrugged, not looking deterred. "You're extremely friendly with him. The only other person you show active interest in is your partner and it's generally assumed among my team that you had something going with him during Monterrey."

He studied her intently for a moment, trying to decide if she was slipping in a slight, but she didn't seem to be. He wasn't quite sure how to answer, because the main reason he was 'extremely friendly' with Kassian at all was because Kassian had basically sought him out, but he wasn't about to talk about that with one of the people that Kassian felt he couldn't truly be himself around. At the same time, he knew that Harriet liked Kassian and that Kassian had no interest in her, so it was a rather awkward position to be in.

"If you're asking if I think he's attractive," he said finally, "then yes. Or if I think he's a good person, I do. But if you're asking if I have plans to try to make him my boyfriend or something like that, then no. And if you're asking if I want to fuck him, then let me just say that he's straight and I have things going on so I haven't even considered it."

Harriet stared at him for a moment before a rare half-smile crept up onto her mouth. "That was a vaguely amusing response."

"Why?" Boyd asked, watching her suspiciously.

"Don't know." She finished the bar and crumpled the wrapper. "I just expected you to say 'no.'"

Boyd stared at her then looked away. He should have just said that; he didn't know why he hadn't except that he'd had some bizarre urge to clarify and be truthful.

Harriet didn't seem too interested in pursuing the conversation and shifted slightly, pushing her pack against the wall and leaning her head against it. "I'm going to rest briefly before it gets dark."

"I'll keep watch," Boyd said, settling more comfortably against the wall.

She didn't respond verbally but gave a short nod and closed her eyes.

Boyd watched her briefly, then turned his attention to the radio, not certain if he was silently willing it to stay quiet or make noise. On the one hand, he wanted to know where the militants were, but on the other, in this case no news was probably good news.

Time passed slowly in the silence broken only by the constant rush of the waterfall and Harriet's subdued, even breathing. The radio made him think of Sin, probably because he was the only person Boyd had ever been on a full mission with before all this, and many times the radios had ended up being their saving grace when everything fell apart.

At the thought of his partner, he felt an intense mixture of emotions.

He missed Sin. He really missed him. Although he didn't regret choosing to go for Level 10, being on these missions reminded him of the rapport they had although he had to admit that in some cases he didn't miss Sin's biting sarcasm.

But when he slept alone at night, he missed Sin's body heat and breath next to him, and when Boyd had to struggle to figure out how to carry on a conversation so he didn't seem like an asshole, he missed the fact that, although they seemed to constantly have problems with miscommunication, at least they didn't usually have problems conversing naturally.

He missed those strong hands running along his body, the breath against his skin, the way Sin made him feel. He missed Sin's sexy smirks, the sight of Sin leaning against the wall with a cigarette between his lips and a cloud of smoke obscuring his expression, the sound of Sin's voice murmuring his name.

But then the suspicion and paranoia slid in and eclipsed the feeling of missing Sin.

Even so, Boyd had been doing well with not obsessing on what he'd seen between Sin and Ann, mostly because he'd concluded that he didn't have enough information. Somehow, talking to Kassian in Finland had made some of the anxiety leave but he was still just as confused and doubtful as ever.

In just two days they'd be headed back to the States, tired and exhausted from the constant adrenaline highs and crashes and the hours of jet lag built up from two weeks of intense missions dotted around the world. Their break was going to happen immediately and he was going to spend all twenty-four hours tracking Sin down if he had to, because it was imperative they talked.

Even if much of his discomfort was subdued, part of it was probably because they were so busy and in entirely alien environments to him. Once he was back at the Agency, once he walked past the place where he'd seen Ann so intimately touching Sin, he knew the emotions would strengthen; he knew the paranoia and concern would return and he knew there was no way he'd be able to handle another two weeks of wondering that the hell that had all been about, what it all meant.

Boyd was worried, though. He didn't know what to expect and he hated that feeling; it was like going into a mission blind and without any chance to prepare at all. Part of him had the neurotic urge to plan his every response according to every contingency of what Sin could say, but what the hell would that do?

He'd just start thinking about the worst case scenarios and he didn't even know what he'd do, anyway. He didn't want to judge Sin ahead of time, he didn't want to automatically distrust his partner. If Boyd had been seen in some bizarre and suspicious circumstances with someone, he'd want Sin to do the same, to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But it was hard. Saying aloud to Kassian that he was worried about Ann touching Sin had made him realize just how ridiculous that sounded, yet at the same time it was Sin, and Ann was someone Sin didn't even associate with. It made no fucking sense.

It was confusing and it hurt because at the very least it implied Sin was getting friendly with others while Boyd was gone, that others were getting close to him, becoming someone else Sin would choose to spend time with. But then he realized just how selfish that sounded, like Sin was only allowed to be his friend and his alone.

He didn't want to lose those moments when Sin's mouth stretched into a grin, when his vivid green eyes locked on Boyd and Boyd alone, as if the rest of the world could fall apart around them and it wouldn't change what was happening between them. Part of him felt terrified at the idea of losing that-- like he really hadn't changed after all these years, like that fear of losing Lou when Lou had been all he had was now morphed toward Sin instead. Another part reminded him that was what all this was about; growing stronger and more independent.

He didn't know what to do with the suffocating, redundant thoughts; with the way his heart felt pinched with worry and the immediate reprimand saying he didn't need to feel that way in the first place. He told himself to stop but the thoughts circled in the distance, vultures in the sky obsessing over the prey struggling below; just waiting for that moment of weakness to move in.

He tried to only think about how he loved Sin and he missed him but all he could think was that he wished he'd never even seen the stupid interaction in the first place because it was probably nothing and it had been bothering him on and off for two weeks.

Boyd squeezed his eyes shut as the beginning of a headache formed and he tilted his head forward, rubbing at his temples with one hand.

Fucking hell, he hated this. He hated distrusting Sin at all and he hated that part of him was afraid he had reason to. He hated his doubts and he hated his second guessing.

He didn't want to be thinking of this because all he did was run in circles in his mind, over and over, questioning and hesitant and doubtful and suspicious, and it wasn't doing anyone any good. The only way he'd resolve this was once he was in the same room with Sin, once he could ask, "What did that mean?" and once Sin could answer.

His mind was cool with the logic of "I'll believe in him until I have reason not to" but his emotions felt troubled and convoluted, confused and fearful.

He dropped his head back against the wall with a muffled sigh and opened his eyes to stare blankly at the cave's ceiling.

Just a few more days.

Seventy-two hours from now he'd have the answer either way, and seventy-two hours from now maybe everything would have changed. The thought was as ominous as it was relieving, in that at least he had a time schedule; at least he had a plan, as weak and bare bones as it was.

Exhaustion pulled on him like a heavy, wet blanket and he idly wished that he'd said he was going to sleep before Harriet had, so she could be the one alone with her thoughts and he could be oblivious.

But with a group of militants armed with guns searching for them nearby, all he could do was wait.

Harriet took the lead as they slipped quietly through the forest. They'd camped out the night before, so Boyd hadn't realized how much more difficult it was to navigate the rain forest silently when he couldn't even see where he was going. At least Harriet had a good enough sense of direction that the dark didn't seem to deter them.

Although Boyd had tried changing frequencies and channels, there hadn't been a single noise on the radio in the hours he'd waited. He and Harriet hadn't known how to interpret that, but they couldn't stay in the cave forever. They had to get to the pick up point in Maracaibo or they'd very well be left behind on the last mission and have to figure out a way from Caracas to the States on their own.

Since they didn't have access to the money or influence to pull that off from here and they'd probably end up losing their day off which he absolutely had to have, he didn't want to risk getting stuck here.

They had to pass by the enemy encampment to head toward Maracaibo, but they were taking the extra time to go well out of the way as a precaution, even though it was only adding to their delay. Whoever tipped the militants off had made this entire mission a huge pain in the ass for Harriet and him, and he was looking forward to sitting on that plane, writing his report, then going to sleep, more than he had on any of the other training assignments.

After thirty minutes of uneventful, careful hiking, there was the quiet snap of a tree branch that seemed to resound in the night.

Harriet and Boyd both froze immediately and when their eyes met in the extremely dim moonlight it was obvious that the sound had not come from either of them. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Boyd crouched down slightly and glanced around for the telltale glint of moonlight off a metal gun barrel but he didn't see anything, which didn't actually mean much.

Harriet made a series of signs with her hands, using code they'd been taught in training. Boyd responded the same way and silently they were able to communicate quickly and efficiently that they would split up to search for the militant who was in the area. Since they couldn't see anything around them and the militants had the advantage of knowing the forest, the two agents were better off not walking around waiting to be ambushed at the same time. They agreed to meet in thirty minutes about half a mile away, to give them each the opportunity to circle around and move slowly.

Boyd split off from Harriet as she disappeared into the shadows in the other direction. He slipped through the forest cautiously, straining his ears and eyes for any hint of movement or sound. His heart pounded in his chest, blood rushing with the adrenaline high he only felt this intensely in a dangerous situation on a mission.

The weather was hot and humid, making his every quick, muffled breath feel sticky and faintly suffocating. He could feel his clothing cling to him, his muscles taut with tension as he prepared to react quickly to the slightest provocation.

He was acutely aware of every bit of light and how it could be giving away his position, of how anyone could be watching him right now with a gun aimed on him. Of how he could be killed before he knew what hit him.

Even as highly aware as he was he barely had warning before he felt a presence behind him. He spun immediately and attacked the militant who'd been trailing him. The man was taller than him and stronger, but he seemed surprised by Boyd's sudden movements.

Their fight was fast, furious, and littered with muffled exhalations of pain and panting breath as they each fought for their life. The man was bigger but Boyd used every bit of combat training he'd learned as he quickly tried to take the man out. After a tiring struggle, Boyd got a good elbow into the man's windpipe, causing the man to clutch his throat and lean over with a frantic gasp, and Boyd used that to his advantage to get him to the ground with a series of kicks, punches and elbowing. Boyd was finally able to kick the man in the head so powerfully that there was a crack and the man fell still.

Panting and covered in splatters of the man's blood, Boyd stood and started to turn when sudden, blinding pain overcame him.

He didn't even have a chance to react before he fell to the ground, unconscious.

The first thing he noticed was the intense pain in his head, a vicious throbbing that made his eyeballs feel like they would burst and every pump of his heart feel like it was shoving nails through his brain. At first he couldn't even understand what was happening; he couldn't pull his thoughts together well enough to remember where he'd just come from but he knew something was strange about waking up this way.

Then he was aware of the sounds. Boots scuffing against the ground and the background, confusing jumble of syllables he couldn't immediately place into coherent sentences. As he struggled to open his eyes and automatically shifted, he realized that his hands were bound painfully behind his back and there was dirt and a wooden floor beneath his lips.

He'd barely even started to comprehend that when a new spike of sudden agony caused him to let out a muffled gasp of pain. It took him a moment to realize that someone had just yanked him up to his knees by his hair and that the reason it hurt so much was because he'd been hit in the head. It took him even longer to understand that he was surrounded by a number of armed men in uniforms and that they were all speaking Spanish.

After that came the realization that he'd been captured by Movilización Unida and he was in serious trouble.

A tall man with long dark hair, intense grey eyes and an aquiline nose stared at him intently, expression calculating and severe. There was something frightening about him, about all of the people currently surrounding Boyd. The stark difference between these highly trained militants and the untrained rebels he sometimes went against was very clear.

"Where are your friends?" the man barked suddenly, in strongly accented but well-spoken English.

With the understanding of how serious this situation was, adrenaline helped clear some of the sluggishness of Boyd's mind. He thought as quickly as he could, knowing there was no way he could implicate the United States in this, especially not after the fallout from Monterrey. But since he couldn't let them know that he was American, he only had one other nationality he could in any way quickly approximate.

Boyd stared blankly at the man as if he didn't understand.

"Je ne comprends pas," he said, letting the Parisian accent he'd learned from his mother flow heavily but naturally.

The man's eyes narrowed slightly and he looked at a shorter, stockier man to his left. They exchanged quick, almost incomprehensible Spanish sentences, and the grey-eyed man indicated Boyd with a jerk of his hand after the end of the discussion.

Another militant, this one tall, lean and with a dangerous glint in his eye, approached Boyd and slammed a fist into his gut.

"Revolución?" The grey-eyed man demanded, obviously well versed in his knowledge of rebel groups and militant organizations worldwide.

Boyd stifled a groan as pain radiated out from his stomach and between the spikes of pain in his head and body he was briefly overwhelmed. He felt physically ill from the repercussions of the blow to his head and his body already ached from uncomfortable hours crouched in a cave and the vicious fights with the militants in the forest. All of it together made it briefly almost impossible for him to think clearly. He nodded as best he could.

"Oui," Boyd muttered, the disjointed thought passing through his mind that he'd dealt with Revolución enough to believably pull this off. And it wouldn't hurt to make MU angry with the group. The more in-fighting among the rebels, the better.

But the response only earned him a highly suspicious glare and the man, obviously the Squad Commander at the very least, scoffed softly. "Carlos," he said coolly, the name rolling off his tongue as he trilled the 'r' sound. "Continúa."

The tall man, Carlos apparently, reared back and slammed his fist into Boyd's face this time, snapping Boyd's head back. The Commander said a few more things in rapid Spanish to Carlos and the man who Boyd assumed was the Deputy Commander of their squad, but all Boyd could make out as pain exploded across his head was that he'd given away Revolución too easily and that Carlos was to get his real alignment.

The two Commanders turned to leave and it was only at that time that Boyd was even aware enough of his surroundings to realize he was in a palafito, a floating hut of sorts. The two left Boyd alone with Carlos, giving Boyd a sinking feeling in his stomach.

It was obvious there would be some kind of torture-interrogation but the good news was that Boyd dimly heard the Commander order someone else to find a man named Jose who allegedly knew French, so they still didn't think he was American.

He cursed himself for not thinking clearly, for not hesitating before he'd agreed in order to make it seem more believable. It had been a stupid move and the circumstances didn't excuse it. Now he had to figure out another French rebel group he could be from, one who would have it out for Revolución and want them implicated with one of the most militaristic, organized rebel groups in the world.

It was obvious within the next few minutes that Carlos' job was to make Boyd more compliant. Carlos watched Boyd without expression, striking hard and fast every time Boyd paused to catch his breath, every time he thought he had a chance to rest. His body burned with agony and with his hands behind his back he couldn't even catch himself any time he fell to the floor, causing Carlos to drag him painfully back up.

Time seemed to pass slowly, the only sounds in the place being the impact of Carlos' fists and feet against Boyd's body and Boyd's muffled hisses, gasps, and pained coughs in response. He felt like there was barely any time between the spikes of pain, making it difficult for him to properly formulate a plan. He almost felt like a ball that someone was kicking to keep in the air; the only thing holding him up at times was the momentum from Carlos hitting him, one side and then the other, fast and hard.

More than once, he found himself spitting his own blood onto the floor and every time Carlos wrapped his fingers in Boyd's hair, it felt like Boyd's skull was splitting open.

At least the combat training and Boyd's relentless working out in the gym back at the Agency seemed to be working to his advantage; his pain tolerance and stamina had only increased in the last month and it was probably for that reason he was still able to keep his wits about him at all with the otherwise relentless attacks further exacerbating the blow to his head.

By the time Jose arrived, Boyd found himself perversely relieved, because at least now they'd pause to ask him questions.

Jose was an attractive middle-aged man with thin, wire-rimmed glasses and a large scar that arced across his face and missed his right eye by mere centimeters. He had a sinewy body and leathery skin that seemed to be permanently tanned a deep olive color. Even so, despite the hardness of his exterior, there was something calm about his face and voice.

"What do we call you?" Jose asked briskly in French, obviously assuming that this young French rebel wouldn't be supplying his real name.

Boyd knelt on the floor, arms twisted painfully behind him, hair messy and half-covering his face, caked with dirt and his own blood the same as his face was. His clothing was ripped and his fingers were curled behind him, slowly starting to tingle due to the tight bindings. The metallic taste of blood was strong on his tongue and his entire body felt like one giant bruise.

"Armand," Boyd said after a moment, as if he was debating whether he even wanted to answer.

"Well, Armand," Jose said with a grim smile, displaying even white teeth. "Now we will play a game called tell the truth or you drown."

Boyd felt a spike of fear that he quickly suppressed without letting it get to his body language or expression.

Jose snapped his fingers and Carlos jumped to attention, grabbing Boyd and hauling him out of the rickety structure and onto the thin wooden porch-like area. Boyd saw that they were in the middle of a body of water, likely the same river that led to the waterfall, and that this palafito was one of several in the area.

This couldn't be the main camp, then, which wasn't near the river. That just gave him a sinking feeling; he had no idea where he was and even if by some miracle he managed to escape, in the dark and with the disadvantage of being in an unknown forest, he wouldn't be able to get away.

Carlos dragged Boyd unceremoniously to the corner of the wooden floor and forced him to his knees, leaning over and shoving Boyd's head down until his face was mere inches from the water.

"Who are you with?" Jose demanded.

Boyd's heart pounded in fright, his aquaphobia resurfacing as he stared at his reflection in the water; his eyes were a little wide and he could see the fear in them, but he kept his expression unreadable so from that distance away he didn't think Carlos or Jose could see.

He'd had the chance to think of a group he could pretend he was aligned with: the New League of Jesuits, who were a radical group of young, intensely religious rebels who had broken off from Revolución six months ago. Nouvelle Ligue des Jésuites, who often went by Nouvelle Ligue or NLJ, mimicked the Jesuits of old who had massacred hundreds in France in order to bring about a better world.

But he wasn't stupid enough to say that name right away or they'd know he was lying.

"Revolución," he said firmly.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the steel-eyed Commander had returned and was watching from the ground.

"Tsk, Tsk, Armand," Jose murmured in French. "A soldier of Revolución would never betray his brethren so easily. I should know-- I spent time with them."

Carlos didn't need another cue and immediately shoved Boyd's head underwater, holding him beneath for a long moment.

Boyd tried not to struggle but he hadn't drawn a full breath before he was submerged and the water stung his eyes before he squeezed them shut. He kept still at first, trying furiously to think of something else to get his mind off the fact there was water everywhere, that he had no way of getting away and if he fell forward he would drown without his hands free. His heartbeat was terribly loud in his ears and his fingers curled unconsciously and ineffectually behind his back.

He could feel the bubbles from his slowly escaping breath run past his cheek as they headed toward the surface, his heartbeat rocketing with terror, and he was just starting to struggle when he was hauled out of the water, spluttering and coughing. Water blinded him as he opened his eyes to see the surface just beneath his nose.

"Now, again, where are you from?" Jose demanded, louder this time.

"Revolución," Boyd insisted. "I'm new!"

Carlos shoved his head beneath again after Jose gestured casually. This time, he held Boyd down for longer.

Boyd was able to get a deeper breath first but as the seconds ticked by and his lungs began to burn, he jerked against Carlos' grip. He felt Carlos' fingers tighten in his hair painfully and despite his best intentions, he couldn't help letting small breaths of air escape. He was just starting to panic when Carlos suddenly jerked him out of the water.

"Where?" Jose demanded firmly.


Boyd wasn't even able to finish before his head was shoved underwater. Unprepared, he hadn't had the chance to take a breath and he accidentally inhaled some water before he stopped himself.

This time, terror and anxiety burned within him and he jerked quickly against Carlos to no avail. His eyes squeezed shut and heartbeat resounded; he tried not to panic, he tried to keep himself under control, but there was no hope. Even if he hadn't been afraid of drowning, there was no way he could hold himself still with so little breath.

Increasing puffs of air escaped into the water and he tried to push himself up, to twist away from Carlos' hands, but all he did was renew the agony from his injured head. Panic truly set in as he struggled furiously. The water felt like it was closing in around him relentlessly, claustrophobically, and the more he moved, the more air he lost but he couldn't help it, he had to get away.

Carlos held him steadily immobile.

Boyd's lungs burned so painfully that without meaning to he suddenly gasped in a mouthful of water; he choked and coughed, his body working against him as he automatically tried to draw another breath and just choked on more water. Water was within and around him and there was nothing he could do-- Strong fingers had a painful grip and his hair floated around him freely, clouding his vision as he quickly looked around; as if underwater he'd find a way to escape, as if he'd find a way to breathe again.

But all he saw was muddled water and the bubbles flying past his eyes, the escaping breath from his lungs. The visible, slow loss of his life.

He was going to die.

He was going to drown here and he'd never make it back home, he'd never draw a breath of air again, he'd never see Sin or anyone else again. He'd never get away from this feeling of water enclosing him in resounding silence that would muffle any sound, even if he screamed and pleaded and begged for them to let him up. He'd suffocate painfully and slowly and it would only take seconds--

Something in him snapped, releasing the primal fear that would probably never leave him; the distant memory of water over his head and the light disappearing and the knowledge that he was lost, powerless. That something greater than him was swallowing him whole and sucking the life from him and it didn't matter what he felt or wanted, he was going to die.

There was no rhyme or reason as he struggled for his life, terror and self defense combining with adrenaline until he willingly would have ripped the hair from his scalp if it meant he could get to the surface again.

Carlos suddenly yanked him above water and Boyd sagged in his grip, choking and coughing and still unable to draw a proper breath. His stomach clenched with fear and nausea and every breath he tried to take caught in the middle, like his lungs were already half full of water and there wasn't enough space for the air. Automatic tears stained his cheeks from the way his eyes burned and he spluttered helplessly, terrified that he wouldn't be able to breathe properly again, and more terrified of being pushed under once more.

"Who are you with?" Jose asked again and this time Boyd didn't even bother holding out.

"Jésuites!" Boyd cried out as he tried to stop coughing, not having to put much effort into acting desperate. "Nouvelle Ligue des Jésuites!"

Jose stared down at Boyd with slightly narrowed eyes and Carlos let him fall unceremoniously to the floor.

Boyd shuddered and couldn't draw the energy to hide the brief weakness or his tears; he slid his eyes shut and left his mouth open as he gasped and coughed. He focused simply on trying to draw a full breath, on ignoring the terrified pounding of his heart and that distant thought that plagued him, whispering that maybe this half-choked feeling would never leave.

The dirt on the floor stuck to his wet cheeks in a gritty and uncomfortable feeling, his hair caught against his lips as he panted, and nearly every part of his body spiked with pain. Even so, he would have welcomed a hundred beatings before a few more seconds underwater.

There was a brief moment of silence before Jose walked a few steps away and exchanged another round of rapid-fire Spanish with the Commander, who walked away soon after.

The only thing Boyd could try to pick up was the word negotiate and then Carlos was hauling him up again. For a brief second, Boyd thought they were going to pull him to the edge again, that Carlos was going to shove his head underwater and this time they wouldn't let him back up. He tensed but before he could find the strength to struggle he was dragged back into the shack. He felt such a sense of relief that he didn't even care that they restrained him before leaving; anything was better than the water.

Boyd sagged against the restraints, still struggling to draw a full breath without coughing. His entire body hurt and he felt a sudden, overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness as he realized he didn't know how he was going to get out of this.

It was only a matter of time before MU contacted Nouvelle Ligue and Movilización Unida found out he'd been lying. He could only hope that they would think Nouvelle Ligue was playing with them, or that there would be a miraculous breakdown in MU's technology, making them incapable of contacting the French revolutionaries until after Boyd had somehow found a way to escape. The time difference would work against him, though; France was about six hours ahead, so even though it was late night here, MU would be able to contact someone early in the morning there.

Movilización Unida was known for ransoming their hostages but if they realized he wasn't who he claimed, they would double their effort to discover his allegiance and, knowing what he did of this group, he didn't want to find out what that would mean for him.

Boyd didn't know how long he'd been unconscious before Carlos had woken him that first time but he thought it had to have been at least an hour, considering the fact that he hadn't been near water when he was captured. Harriet had to know by now that something was wrong. He didn't know what she'd do with that information; he didn't even know where he was other than not in the main encampment so he had no idea if she'd be able to find him if she tried.

Or maybe she'd been caught too and they were holding her in another encampment.

Boyd tried to find a way to escape but his restraints were well-designed and too tight. Pain radiated from his head and stomach, mixing with the bruises forming from the other places Carlos had hit him. His arms hurt from being in the same uncomfortable position for too long and he knew that after a few hours his fingers would probably start to fall asleep, making it more difficult to do anything. There was nothing he could reach around him, not that it would have mattered much since he would have to use his feet.

He was caught with no way out and his future looked incredibly short right then.

Hours passed slowly; each time he heard voices approaching the door, his heartbeat thundered and adrenaline spiked within him. Every plan he came up with fell flat when he played the scenario out in his mind, and each time he concluded that he was only getting out of this alive and in tact one of two ways: he could somehow overcome his captors when they came to collect him and, miraculously, he could elude them in a forest they knew better than he did; or someone would rescue him.

But each hour that ticked by made it more obvious that Harriet wasn't coming, that he was alone in the middle of an enemy encampment, and that his hastily created cover story was about to have as many holes ripped in it as his body would be when they found out.

He could only go so many hours of boredom wracked with spikes of adrenaline before it all became too much. With ominous thoughts plaguing his mind, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep born of exhaustion.

He felt like he'd barely closed his eyes when something woke him.

Sunlight poured through the windows, still pale with morning light but strong enough to show that it was later than he'd expected. The light must have woken him and, he realized with a sinking feeling, with the arrival of morning it became obvious that he was alone in this. Harriet must have headed toward the meeting in Maracaibo, maybe to get help. But even if Doug sent a group back, even if the other trainees tried to help him, by that time there was no doubt that MU would know he wasn't really with Nouvelle Ligue.

By the end of this all, he may be lucky if they just killed him.

Dropping his head back, he slid his eyes closed and tried once again to plan a way out of this, even if he knew there was no good way.

Just as he decided that there was very little hope, he spotted movement across the palafito out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head fully and stared in surprise at the slim dark hand that was holding onto the opening between the floor and the wall.

Another hand appeared and then a familiar face came into view as a pale, wet and very muddy Harriet pulled herself athletically through the wide opening. She moved silently, crouching on the wooden floor as her eyes searched the room quickly before she finally focused on Boyd.

Harriet did a quick once over of him, likely checking for any serious and obvious wounds, and when she saw nothing life-threatening she hurried quickly to his side. "We have to get out of here, now," she hissed, voice hoarse and scratchy as she crouched beside him. Harriet pulled out her knife to cut the straps of his restraints, looking ten times sicker than she'd been the previous day but not letting it slow her down.

Relief flooded through him but he wasn't ready to feel too hopeful until they were far away from the camp. He tried to tilt his body to give her easier access.

"They'll be here any time," he said so quietly only she would be able to hear. "I told them I was with Nouvelle Ligue; they left to check."

Harriet nodded, sawing through the strap and freeing one of his hands. Her skin and clothes were completely caked with mud and her movements were stiff, jerky, as though her body was sore. Despite that, she continued to work on the next strap and didn't complain or even wince.

For several moments the only sounds in the palafito were Harriet's knife cutting through the tight restraints but just when Boyd's other hand was almost free, the door opened and someone started shouting in Spanish.

Before Boyd could even look to see who it was, a spray of bullets blasted across the shack and Harriet dove out of the way, overturning a chair and scurrying behind it as the MP7 ripped the chair apart. Boyd turned his head and tried to hunch in on himself as best he could to make a smaller target since he had nothing to hide behind, even though the bullets were focused on the other side of the room.

Harriet pinned herself to the floor, panting harshly but as soon as there was a brief pause in the shots, she sprung up and took Carlos out with a clean shot to the head with her pistol.

Harriet ran across the room and was just grabbing Carlos' submachine gun when the sound of boots running across the shaky wooden floor approached them. Boyd struggled to get his other hand free, the heavy strap chafing and scratching his skin as he yanked furiously against it. There were no weapons within reach so he focused on awkwardly trying to rip the strap with his free hand.

The door flew inwards but Harriet immediately kicked it shut and threw herself backwards, spraying it with heavy firepower from the MP7. It grew silent on the other side of the door just as she ran out of bullets, but before she could crawl over to Carlos' body for more ammo, the now half-hanging door burst inwards again and the Commander tackled Harriet to the floor.

He grabbed her by the throat and in one instant a huge knife was in his hand and soaring down to her neck but Harriet caught his wrist and twisted it, disarming him with a move they'd learned during Krav Maga. But the Commander simply used his other hand to whip out his own pistol and pointed it at her head.

Boyd snapped his hand free of the restraint and saw that the Commander didn't have his finger on the trigger yet. Boyd threw himself at the Commander before the man had a chance to move, tackling him to the floor and causing the Commander's grip to slip on Harriet.

The Commander didn't drop the gun and Boyd and he wrestled for control of the firearm briefly. Boyd's body shook but he focused all his strength on trying to wrench the gun away. They struggled against each other and just as Boyd was getting a better grip, the Commander violently kneed Boyd in the stomach and flipped him over.

Harriet scrabbled to her feet, grabbed the fallen hunting knife and threw herself at the Commander, shoving the knife deep into the back of his neck. Blood sprayed everywhere and there was a strange gurgling sound for a moment; Boyd was staring up at the Commander as the man's eyes went wide in a combination of disbelief and anger, his mouth open as if to say something. The Commander's hand twitched as if he was going to reach up toward his throat but the light faded from his eyes almost immediately and he collapsed on top of Boyd, dead.

The Commander's body was heavy and unwieldy and it took Boyd a moment of struggling to push him off. He scrambled to his feet, nearly slipping on the spreading blood pool, and looked over to see Harriet peering out the door. His heart was thundering in his chest and he felt shaky with a combination of adrenaline and exhaustion but he fell into the familiar mindset of mission mode, not thinking about anything but their objective and how to obtain it.

"Are we clear?" he asked quietly as he grabbed the fallen gun.

She gave a short nod, giving Carlos' corpse a quick once over and grabbing her compact rifle once she realized he didn't have any more ammo for the MP7. "There's only two squads stationed here. One is pretty much wiped out now and more than half of the other is out searching for me."

Boyd nodded silently.

Harriet pushed the door open slowly, peering outside further and showing that there were at least three dead men on the deck, victims of the rapid gunfire from the MP7. "We need to get out of here now. I'm not positive how many are still lurking around."

"No arguments here," Boyd said dryly, briefly looking over Harriet's shoulder to assess the area.

Across an open space the forest was thick with greenery and underbrush; they could easily disappear into there but then they'd just run into the same problem of needing to outrun a group who knew the area better than they ever would.

His gaze flicked around until he noticed what looked like a Jeep that was half-hidden by trees across the camp. He didn't see any movement in the area and with bodies lying out in the open they couldn't rely on going unnoticed for long. Even if they were discovered on their way over, they'd be better off than waiting to get ambushed in the palafito.

He tapped her shoulder and pointed to the Jeep. "Unless the way you got here works better I can hot wire that."

"Getting lost three times and spending the night in the mud under this shack thing doesn't really sound fun to do again," she muttered and took off sprinting across the camp.

Boyd looked at her briefly, then quickly searched the bodies nearby to check for keys just in case. He didn't find any but he took the Commander's wallet and grabbed the knife Harriet had used to kill the man. He wiped the knife off quickly on the Commander's clothing then followed Harriet.

Luckily, no one was around to stop them; it seemed the remaining members were still out searching for Harriet and either the militants had died before they could radio for help or the other group was too far away to have returned yet. Whatever the case, it was a welcome respite that Boyd fully intended to take advantage of.

He jumped into the Jeep and immediately set to hot wiring it. Not even a year ago he'd had no idea how to hot wire a car, but when he'd returned to the Agency he'd it made a point to learn.

He worked quickly but was unsuccessful at first, likely due to lack of practice. He heard Harriet shoot out the tires of the two other Jeeps parked nearby but he didn't look over, feeling adrenaline pump through his body so fast his fingers nearly shook. The uncertainty of the situation-- would this work, could they escape, would someone appear any moment with a gun and decimate them-- made the moment even more intense.

But even as the thoughts raced through his mind, the engine revved and Harriet jumped in the passenger seat. He immediately slammed on the gas and they took off. Trees blurred on either side of them as they sped down a dirt road; Boyd had to take a few turns so fast that they nearly went into the underbrush. Harriet spent her time between the map and compass for navigation while keeping an eye out for militants on their trail.

The good news was that they were headed in the opposite direction that the militants would have been looking for Harriet so Boyd was able to drive out of the Sierra de Périja and onto a main road with relatively few problems. They were several hours behind schedule and had long ago missed the rendezvous in Maracaibo; their only hope was to speed their way across Venezuela and catch the others in Caracas before the flight.

They had to stop very briefly in Maracaibo for gas, where Boyd was very glad he'd thought to take the wallet because neither of them had bolívares fuertes on their own to pay. He threw one of the militant's jackets left in the back of the vehicle over his bloody, ripped clothing to try to look a little less conspicuous, but although he'd tried to wipe his face off there wasn't much he could do about the blood staining his pale hair an ugly, clotted shade of deep red or the bruises that were forming on his face.

They were back on the road almost immediately despite an odd look he'd received from the attendant. Boyd risked the off chance of raising suspicion by speeding recklessly; if he didn't, they'd likely miss the flight.

For the next several hours, they followed a main road and put more and more distance between themselves and the militant territory. Both of them relaxed visibly although there was still tension as they continuously checked the clock, anxiously wondering if they'd get to Caracas in time.

When they were about halfway there, Harriet settled back in the passenger seat. Navigation wasn't imperative anymore now that there were clear signs indicating which way to Caracas and other cities along the way. Her eyebrows drew together, full lips pressed down in a frown as she curled in on herself with a shiver despite the relative warmth.

Boyd glanced over briefly when he saw how uncomfortable she seemed, looking as though she was even worse off than he was. She appeared to be a little pale and there was a sheen to her skin that had nothing to do with the mud coating her.

"How are you?" he asked finally.

She raised a shoulder in a weak shrug. "I probably have a fever of well over 100 and my entire body hurts, but other then that I'm just dandy." Despite the sarcasm, there was no real bite to her tone and she mostly seemed tired, weak. After a moment, she looked over at him with heavy bloodshot eyes. "It's all of this damn climate change. I was feeling it early yesterday and then spending the night in the muddy water didn't make it any better..."

Boyd was quiet a moment then looked over while still keeping his attention on the road. He was impressed that she'd managed to hide so silently for hours if she'd already been sick, and even more surprised that she'd returned for him given the circumstances. But if she hadn't, who knew what would have happened to him.

"Thank you," he said sincerely. "For coming back."

Harriet closed her eyes and leaned her head against the door. "Regardless of what I may think of you, you're still my ally. And besides... you're not so bad, Beaulieu."

Boyd couldn't help a small smile, feeling somehow touched and pleased. "You aren't so bad yourself, Stevens."

There was no response and when he glanced over he saw that she was asleep.

The trip to Caracas passed in silence; Boyd focused all his attention on driving as quickly as he dared while not risking their safety. His body ached and he'd gotten very little sleep the past few days-- the past two weeks, really-- and he felt so nauseated that he thought it was a wonder he hadn't vomited yet.

Every muscle in his torso felt thoroughly abused and the shakiness in his limbs told him he was running on pure momentum from the adrenaline, that when that ran out he was going to crash pretty spectacularly with exhaustion. But the pounding in his head actually kept him awake so he figured it worked out in the end.

It took them several hours but their luck continued to hold all the way to the airport. Aeropuerto Internacional de Maiquetia Simón Bolivar, at one point, had been a large international airport with two terminals that catered to a variety of flight destinations. But with the rising price in oil and the plunging economy, it had long ago become too cost-ineffective to keep the entire airport open since air travel was an extreme luxury for the average person. Now, just a section of it was in use, primarily for private jets or small flights.

Because the trainees had flown into the same airport, he knew exactly where to drive to. Harriet woke up on her own just as he was pulling in to park and the two of them silently and quickly hurried into the building, heading toward the same area they'd unloaded when they'd flown in.

At first Boyd thought they'd missed their flight but an echo of a voice caught his attention and, exchanging a quick glance with Harriet, they followed the sound until they turned a corner and found the others sitting around as they presumably waited for the plane to be ready.

Boyd felt such an intense sense of relief that he stumbled as he slowed down.

Kassian was the first one to look up and it was difficult to identify the expression on his face. His mouth dropped open slightly and he stood up, eyebrows drawing together even as a smile crossed his face as he looked at Boyd and then zeroed in on Harriet.

Kassian crossed the lobby in two long strides and picked her up effortlessly, actually hugging her in a very un-Kassian like way. "Thank fucking God," he said, relief heavy in his voice.

Harriet's weary face scrunched up in surprise and her gaze shot over to Boyd and then to the onlookers before she stiffly patted Kassian's shoulder. He didn't seem to mind and released her after a moment, squeezing her arm before he gave her a thorough and clinical once over, switching into professional mode automatically, before looking over to do the same to Boyd.

Toby stood up next and rushed over to Boyd, actually looking concerned. "What happened?"

Boyd shook his head, at first too tired to even want to explain, but since Toby seemed to actually care he made the effort. "They were on heightened patrol and I got caught," he said simply.

Kassian frowned and, finally releasing Harriet's arm, he grabbed Boyd's chin and examined the wounds on his face and head. "It's my fault," Kassian admitted after a moment and he stepped back, satisfied that Boyd wasn't near death. "Cade went somewhere he shouldn't have and I didn't outright stop him even though I knew it wasn't a good idea."

"Good job, retard," Harriet said coldly, glaring at Cade.

"What?" Cade demanded indignantly. "I was just doing what I was supposed to, checking shit out. How was I supposed to know they'd be there? Not my fault Beaulieu's too retarded to avoid them."

"You're that unobservant that you didn't pick up on their patrol patterns?" Toby asked skeptically.

Kassian made a face. "Just drop it. What's done is done." He turned to Harriet and Boyd again. "I'm glad you two are alright. I was worried."

"Me too," Boyd said, leaving it unclear which he meant. "I think we've both had better days but we're fine."

Toby looked like he wanted to say more but before he could, Doug's voice boomed loudly. "Let's go everybody, we don't have all bloody day."

The tall Australian appeared suddenly in the waiting area and paused, looking at Harriet and Boyd evenly. "You made it. I figured you were dead by now."

Neither Harriet nor Boyd had the energy or presence of mind to properly answer and the moment passed easily when Doug turned and ordered everyone to hurry up.

They all loaded onto the plane, a few of them slower than the others, and they settled down after storing their bags; at least, the ones who hadn't lost theirs.

Boyd sat toward the back where it was a little quieter, mostly because there were fewer people. Boyd didn't bother to listen to anyone else's low conversations; the moment he sat down he was finally able to relax, to know he was safe and that they'd made it. The off-compound training was over and that was all that mattered.

Exhaustion weighed on him heavily, enough that even the pain radiating throughout his body was nothing compared to the sluggishness of his mind. He looked around the plane and noted that Kassian was sitting next to Harriet, who was asleep. Kassian was staring out the window for the most part, appearing to have fallen into one of his glum moods once again and at intervals he'd glance at Harriet with a somewhat guilty expression.

Not having the presence of mind to think about anything too clearly, Boyd decided that Harriet had the right idea.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Sixteen...