Afterimage Chapter Seventeen

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Afterimage Chapter Seventeen

Uploaded on 2/16/2009

Someone was knocking on the door and Sin's first instinct was to ignore it. He'd started a new trial of benzodiazepines in the past week and both Carhart and Ann were keeping close tabs on him to ensure that he didn't have the same side effects as the last time.

Sin had no real hopes about the drug working; it was just a test to see if it would help with the anxiety he so frequently felt. If it did, there was a chance that in future high stress situations, he'd be less likely to experience a dissociative episode but Ann wasn't even positive about that. She continued to stress that the most important method of treatment was intense trauma-focused therapy, which meant long discussions about his past.

It was not something he looked forward to and frankly Sin was tired of talking about himself. He was tired of Ann's intrusive questions and Carhart's impatience with his slow treatment and Sin really did not relish the idea of seeing either of them at the moment.

But even so, Ann had only come to his apartment that one time and Carhart never knocked.

Sin got to his feet and walked into the outer room, feeling sluggish and cursing the effects of the cocktail of drugs they had him on. He paused for only a moment more before opening the door and when he finally did, he couldn't help the half smile that crossed his face although it quickly faded as the guards looked on. It was strange how quickly his mood and his entire state of mind lifted as soon as he saw Boyd's face.

Sin stepped back so that Boyd could enter and observed the bruises that decorated his partner's pale face. They looked pretty severe and Sin had to wonder how Boyd was faring in the training seminar. Even though Sin had mocked it previously, he knew that for most people it was fairly difficult.

But even as Sin started to ask about it, something occurred to him.

"This is your first break?" Sin asked as the door shut, tone dubious as he took in Boyd's reserved expression.

"No," Boyd admitted. He glanced around the apartment idly before turning his gaze on Sin. He seemed to take in the fact that Sin appeared relatively healthier than he had the last time they'd been together. "It's my second; I had one two weeks ago."

"Well, thanks for the visit," Sin said sarcastically, raising an eyebrow at his partner with a slight frown. Annoyance quickly seeped into the brief moment of happiness he'd felt and Sin remembered how quickly he'd been dismissed from Boyd's bunker all those weeks ago. Even knowing that Sin had wanted to talk, Boyd had chosen not to visit on his break?

"I tried to visit you but you seemed preoccupied," Boyd said, with only the slightest pause before the last word. His tone was conversational and non-accusatory as he added, "You were with Ann Connors."

Sin made a face and stared skeptically. "So what? As far as I remember you get an entire day."

"I do, but I saw something that confused me," Boyd said evenly, although he hesitated for a moment before continuing. "You and Ann hated each other last I knew, but she was touching you outside the Tower without hesitation and you didn't seem to mind, and I didn't know what it meant."

Sin just gave him a blank look, his expression becoming increasingly confused the more Boyd focused on Ann. "I don't understand what this has to do with why you didn't come see me? You knew I wanted to speak to you about something. What the hell does Ann touching me have to do with it?"

"It makes a difference. But, look," Boyd said reasonably, voice determined as he pushed on. "Before we get into all that, and I don't mean to accuse, but I just want to know one thing: Is there anything going on between you and Ann?"

"I've had sex with her a couple of times, if that's what you're asking. Why?" Sin said it so calmly and so nonchalantly that it was almost as if he were commenting on the weather.

There was a long stretch of tense silence before Boyd burst out, "You-- What?"

Sin crossed his arms over his chest, brow furrowing at the unexpected response. He took in Boyd's expression, tense posture and tone, as confusion clouded Sin's face even more. Shifting slightly and running his hand through his hair in a gesture that showed how unsure of himself he was at the moment, Sin repeated himself slowly,

"I said I had sex with Ann."

"Jesus Christ, Sin, what the fuck!" Boyd nearly shouted, looking furious. His expression darkened, golden brown eyes stormy as his hard glare pierced through Sin. "When?"

Sin started to reply but he faltered and blinked at Boyd instead. There was obviously something wrong here, something that he wasn't quite grasping and it made him hesitate. "When... what?"

"When did you sleep with her?" Boyd demanded, eyes narrowing at his partner impatiently.

Sin shook his head slowly, mouth drawing down in a bewildered frown. "A few weeks ago, I suppose. Why does it matter?"

"A few weeks ago when?" Boyd insisted, shoulders tense and tone hard. "When I was in training? Before? When?"

"Well you've been training for over a month," Sin said slowly. "If it was before then, I'd have said a few months."

"Jesus," Boyd hissed, looking briefly as though he didn't know if he was more angry or disbelieving of the situation. He brought a hand to his head almost as if he had a headache and partially turned away. His expression and posture reminded Sin of the way Boyd got on missions when everything seemed to be going wrong all at once, when Boyd continued to fight for control over the situation.

However, Boyd must have been unable to get the control he sought because almost immediately he snarled, "God damnit, Sin-- What's wrong with you? I was gone for a fucking month! How fucking hard is it to keep your dick in your pants that long?"

Sin's eyebrows rose and he stared at Boyd with a baffled expression on his face, genuinely taken aback by the outburst. "Why are you angry with me?"

"Why would I not be? You know how I feel about you, I'm gone one fucking month, and you're already fucking someone else!" Boyd's eyes narrowed, his voice twisting in sarcasm as he added, "What the hell did you expect me to say? 'Hey, no problem, let me know next time and we can have a fucking threesome?'"

There was a brief moment of tense silence and Sin shifted, beginning to feel defensive and slightly aggravated as well as puzzled. "What does the way you feel about me have to do with anything?" he asked blankly. "I don't understand why you're as angry as you are or what that's supposed to mean."

"It has everything to do with it," Boyd said vehemently.

The look he gave Sin was sharp with anger and betrayal. "I've gone through so much shit for you-- I would've done anything for you-- Jesus Christ, Sin, after Monterrey-- After all that bullshit you gave me about needing me, this is the shit you pull? You say I'm so necessary and then can't even wait a goddamn month before you're fucking around? What the fuck am I supposed to take that as?"

Sin stared at him, not really knowing what to say or how to react. It had never occurred to him that this would be a problem or that it was something he wasn't supposed to do. Boyd hadn't seemed to have a problem with all the flirtation and sexual energy at Lunar but now he was hurling accusations and insults. The contradictory responses were completely confusing to Sin and his brow furrowed as he shook his head slowly, trying to figure out what he had done that was so wrong; trying to figure out what Boyd's accusation really even was.

When Sin spoke it was in a calm voice although there was an edge to it. "Why does me having sex with someone else mean I don't care about you or that all of those things were untrue? What does one thing have to do with another?"

"It's about trust!" Boyd snapped, obviously frustrated. "It's about being able to believe in you. If you're involved with someone, you don't start fucking someone else the first time your lover is unavailable. If you actually cared about me you shouldn't even want to fuck Ann, or anyone else, let alone 'a couple of times' in a fucking month."

"But I don't even give a damn about Ann," Sin protested, voice rising in aggravation as he stared down at Boyd.

Sin shook his head and turned away, walking farther into the apartment as he continued to shake his head in denial. The disconnect between his thoughts and Boyd's was so large at the moment that he didn't know what to say to improve the situation. The more he tried to figure out why it was such a betrayal, the stranger it seemed.

Did it really matter so much if he'd physically touched someone else? Sin didn't understand why that would change anything unless Boyd had the impression that he was being replaced with Ann. That point of view would have made sense to Sin; it would have been similar to the one he'd had in France.

When Thierry had been able to get so close to Boyd when Sin hadn't even been able to speak to him, the envy and anger had driven him to entirely uncharacteristic behavior. But this wasn't the same situation and Sin couldn't make sense of Boyd's accusations at all. Sin couldn't help but feel an intense sense of disappointment that after weeks of looking forward to seeing his partner again, this was how it had turned out. He wished he could just understand where Boyd was coming from but as much as he wanted Boyd to stop being so angry with him, Sin truly didn't see what he had done that was so cruel. If anything, he was almost starting to become irritated by the entire conversation.

"Who cares what I did with her? It doesn't change anything between you and I. I don't understand the correlation between the two or why one thing leads to another. You didn't love Thierry when you had sex with him."

A loud buzzing sound interrupted the argument and both of them abruptly looked at the cell phone that was simultaneously vibrating and ringing on the kitchen counter. Sin didn't even make a move to get it, didn't even see who was calling, and Boyd returned his hostile gaze to Sin.

"They aren't the same circumstances at all." Boyd stared at Sin with an expression that was a cross between incredulous, frustrated and furious. "We weren't involved when I fucked Thierry; we hadn't even kissed yet. It's not like we'd been sleeping together for months or you'd told me you loved me; or like I'd convinced you I needed you and kept telling you to believe in me because of course you could fucking trust me. And unless I missed something, it's not like you fucked Ann for work."

Sin's eyebrows drew together at that, still ignoring the phone. "That... is contradictory. Since you're now classified as a homosexual valentine operative, Vivienne or whoever will come calling eventually with an assignment like that and you'll do it because it's for work and that's okay but what I did is a huge betrayal?"

"I didn't even know valentine ops existed when I slept with him," Boyd said in frustration, and the way he glanced in irritation toward the phone showed that the constant buzzing wasn't helping his mood.

He turned his attention back to Sin. "I wish that wasn't in my file. But it is now, the same as assassin's on yours. If they ordered me to? I wouldn't want to. Thierry was my decision, not someone else's to make for me. But if I had no other choice? If there were consequences that outweighed saying yes?"

Boyd shook his head, looking tense and agitated. "I don't fucking know, Sin. Maybe I would. You've done shit on missions you didn't want to either and I don't hold it against you. It's work, it's what we do. But if I was involved with you, I would've talked to you about it first."

The phone finally stopped buzzing which Sin was thankful for; he'd been a second away from smashing it. Frustration was starting to boil over into anger as Sin tried to wrap his mind around everything that Boyd was saying to him but none of it was clicking in Sin's mind and that fact made him even madder.

"So what you're saying is that all of the rules can be remade and retold to fit what you'd do in any situation, and you somehow expect me to be able to go along with it and understand it?" Sin shook his head with a frown. "Sorry but it doesn't work that way for me. I don't know how any of this works, I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing in this situation and your own behavior tends to be confusing on the topic. When you saw me in Lunar with Jessica, when you saw all of those other people touching me and flirting with me, you never said a word about it."

"These aren't some mystical rules I'm suddenly making up, Sin," Boyd said sarcastically but he hesitated for a moment before continuing, eyebrows drawing together slightly. "And I'm not changing them just for me; I'd understand if you were pissed at me if I'd been sleeping with someone for the last month and didn't tell you."

"They're actually pretty fucking mystical for me," Sin snapped finally, getting angrier the longer the argument went on. At this point it was obvious that he'd made an error in judgment but Boyd's complete lack of understanding of Sin's viewpoint and the typically condescending tone Boyd took on when they had a disagreement was completely infuriating.

Sin's eyes swept around the apartment; he was suddenly desperate for a cigarette. "I have no reason to understand all of this shit you're telling me. All of these rules and when they come into play-- why should I understand any of it? How should I know when your mind changes about things-- why it was okay in Mexico but it isn't now? I didn't think it would matter as long as things stayed the same between you and me."

Boyd stared at him incredulously. "It's not like relationships come with a rulebook even for those of us with more 'normal' of childhoods," he said somewhat derisively. "You fucking figure it out, the same as the rest of us did. You think about how you'd react if I did the same shit to you. Like, if I told you I'd been fucking Thierry for the past month, are you honestly trying to tell me you wouldn't care?"

Sin sat down finally on the couch and stared into space. He heard his cell phone beep loudly, indicating a new voice mail but he didn't care. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered right now except for the horrible scene that was playing out.

"I can't say how I would actually feel for sure, but I would probably assume it was in your right to do whatever and I had no real say in the matter. I don't think I would stand there raging at you about morals and common sense unless you suddenly changed your behavior towards me. If you had all of these expectations about things, you should have told me. I've spent my entire adult life alienated and locked up so don't try to tell me I should know how all of this works."

Sin appeared outwardly calm but there was an intense anger in his voice. Anger that was directed at himself, at the fact that he'd apparently messed things up so phenomenally, but also aimed at Boyd for not even trying to understand why he'd made such a mistake, for being so judgmental and accusatory. For playing the victim and making Sin out to be the villain while refusing to see any viewpoint other than his own; that he had been severely wronged and Sin had done it deliberately and with no regard for Boyd's feelings.

Boyd seemed to consider this but his expression was skeptical. "Then why, Sin?"

Sin finally dragged his gaze back towards his partner and this time it was his turn to hesitate.

How the hell could he even explain it in a way that Boyd would understand? It had taken Sin a long time to work up the courage to even attempt broaching the topic and now with this whole other issue in the middle of it... Was it even a good time to try?

Would Boyd ever be able to understand that Sin had just needed something to make him feel human? To make him feel something other than the incredibly painful burn of guilt? Would Boyd understand that Sin never would have done it even then if he'd known that Boyd would consider it a betrayal?


Sin trailed off and looked away again, raking his hands through his hair as indecision and anxiety ran through him. He was more than a little aware of Boyd's impatience, his anger, the fact that he wasn't exactly trying to see Sin's side of this at all. The idea of talking about this now when Boyd didn't seem truly interested in any of his explanations was disturbing. There had been times in the past when Boyd had thrown things in his face during an argument and Sin didn't know what he would do if Boyd chose to do that now.

"It was just something I needed to do," Sin finally answered wearily, only belatedly realizing how wrong it sounded.

Boyd's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Something you needed to do," he repeated flatly. "Why? What made it so imperative?"

"It's not..." Sin broke off again in frustration.

He didn't know what to say, how to convey his thoughts, how to make this better. He wanted to tell Boyd the truth about everything that had happened in the past month and a half but at what cost? Would Boyd even care or take it seriously? There was a chance he wouldn't, that he would respond with the same mocking tone, and Sin didn't think he'd be able to handle that.

After everything that had happened, after everything he'd remembered, after all of the therapy and medication just so he could be someone normal for Boyd, Sin didn't quite know how he'd respond if Boyd ridiculed him for it all. He could almost picture the mocking tone and condescending stares that Boyd would grace him with if he found Sin's response to be unsatisfactory. Boyd had already flat out denied all of Sin's explanation; why would he take this at face value at the moment when he was so determined to be angry?

Sin knew it wouldn't be good if something like that happened; he knew the default destructive behavior he'd automatically resort to and after trying so hard to improve, Sin didn't want that to happen over a stupid argument that could be resolved easily once they were both calmer and Boyd was more willing to listen. It was better to wait a few hours until Boyd cooled down. This was already a bad situation and Sin wanted to avoid adding more fuel to the fire, with more possibilities for unforgivable statements to be made by both of them out of anger and frustration.

"It's not something I feel comfortable discussing now," Sin said finally, not looking Boyd fully in the face. "Let's just leave it at that for now. That I wouldn't have done it had I known this would happen and that it was something I thought I needed to do..."

Boyd gave Sin a look of contempt. "How am I su--" he started to say with an edge, but Sin's phone insistently buzzed again and the incessant sound was finally too much for Boyd.

"Jesus," he growled as he strode to the phone and swiped it off the counter. "Would you fucking--" Boyd looked at the name flashing on the front and suddenly went very still before looking up.

There had been many times they'd argued, many times when Boyd had been angry in Sin's presence, but Boyd's expression had never quite looked like it did then. The usual cold, indignant, or distant aspects were all missing; instead, he glared at Sin with obvious disgust.

His body was so tense that his knuckles were white around the phone and his complete lack of composure made him somehow look more his age and less of the mature, older adult he typically tried to emulate. There was nothing calm or collected about him as he gripped the phone in one hand and approached Sin.

At first, it almost seemed like he was going to walk past Sin but instead Boyd slammed the phone into Sin's chest with all his strength, hard enough to make Sin rock back slightly. "Forget it," he said with quiet fury.

Sin shook his head slowly but didn't respond. There were so many things he could say in his own defense to try to explain but at the moment it was obvious none of it would matter so he said nothing.

Boyd looked up at Sin and even though he was several inches shorter, right then the tenuous control he had over his anger made him seem taller than he was, more intense, like a contained storm. He abruptly let go of the phone and didn't bother to wait to see if Sin would catch it.

Without saying anything else, Boyd stalked past Sin and slammed the door shut behind him as he left.

Sin could do nothing for several moments but stare blankly at the closed door and try to figure out what the hell had just happened. After awhile he finally looked down at the phone, at the message that announced he had two missed calls, and he hurled the device against the wall.

It was a measure of Boyd's state of mind that he didn't immediately hide his stormy expression as he strode across the compound, and he'd never be able to say how many people saw him, or if there were even other people around at all.

All he could see was Ann's name flashing on Sin's cell phone, all he could feel was anger, betrayal and hurt at a far more heightened, agitated level than he'd ever felt before. There was so much going through his mind that he couldn't even sort it out and the disbelief was the only thing keeping the entire moment from feeling surreal.

He couldn't believe it had come to this; he'd actually convinced himself before knocking on Sin's door that he'd probably been wrong. Even when he'd considered that maybe something more was going on, he'd never expected Sin to be so casual about it, to act like it wasn't a big deal. Like it wouldn't matter if Boyd did the same.

Even then, Boyd expected there to be some kind of reason. After years of defending Sin's actions because of his past, even as angry as Boyd had been, he'd made himself pause at the idea that maybe Sin just was that clueless. But it was pretty obvious to Boyd that Sin had just been bullshitting about actually having a reasonable explanation. If there had been a reason, why couldn't Sin just say it? Why did it seem like he was trying to come up with a lie?

Unconsciously, Boyd found himself heading toward his room in the bunkers. He nearly slammed open his room door, thoroughly startling Toby who was sitting on his bed reading. Boyd didn't care that Toby would clearly be able to tell something was wrong. All Boyd wanted was to be left alone but not in an oppressive environment where he'd have to deal with memories that would anger him further, which was exactly what would have happened had he gone to his house or Crater Lake.

Boyd shut the door behind him firmly and, not looking Toby in the eye, threw himself on his bed and buried his face in his pillow. It took every fiber of his being to resist the urge to just shout loudly and furiously.

Agitation built in him until his shoulders were so tense that they started to ache. He wished he could just go to sleep, he wished he could start the day over, he wished none of this had ever happened and he wished he could think about something else but he couldn't.

It was undeniable to him now that his relationship with Sin had grown strained; a gradual regression that had been happening for months but maybe he just hadn't wanted to see. Or maybe he'd been too wrapped up in his own feelings to understand.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized where it had started.

Ever since he'd told Sin that he loved him, it seemed like distance had started to grow between them. It was even worse than it had been in Monterrey when they'd first started sleeping together, long before emotions had entered the conversation; at least then they'd talked. But even Monterrey hadn't been perfect by any means.

At Lunar, Sin had clearly had no problem kissing Jessica right in front of Boyd. Sin had apparently thought as little of that as he had of sleeping with Ann Connors. Boyd now wondered if he should have paid more attention to Sin's behavior at that time.

Boyd had thought that he'd had no right to tell Sin what to do at that time, even if they'd been sleeping together, because they hadn't mentioned feelings. But it was now clear to Boyd that feelings meant little to Sin; that regardless of what Boyd felt, it didn't affect what Sin did.

Sin claimed he didn't care about Ann but he still slept with her; he claimed Boyd mattered to him but it didn't stop him from doing whatever he felt like and expecting Boyd to just blindly agree.

Boyd had struggled against all the walls he'd built within himself, against the fear of believing in someone again, believing in a future the same as he finally had with Lou before everything had fallen apart. He'd fought against his own fears and hesitations to reach out to Sin, to lay himself open and trust someone again, to start to believe, to let himself love.

And this was what happened.

Sin hadn't even been able to think of a believable explanation for sleeping with Ann and expected Boyd to take "just because" and "I wouldn't have done it" at face value. It was the same way the rest of their relationship had been going lately; Sin did whatever he wanted and expected Boyd to be fine with it.

What did that mean when, even after a confession of love, their relationship had been more physical than anything lately? Boyd had been so certain that Sin cared, but had he? Or had Sin's definition of 'care' been so far removed from Boyd's that they weren't even compatible? Had the physical become more important to Sin-- had sex become the greater connection between the two of them? And if so, why had Boyd so easily been replaced?

The entire situation just left Boyd feeling used.

He'd done all that he felt he could do for Sin, given up everything he'd had to give. He'd given more than just sex to Sin; he'd let Sin see and touch his scars, physical reminders of a past Boyd had tried to run from. He'd told Sin things he'd never told anyone else, he'd believed in Sin and through that had started to try to believe in himself. He'd let Sin become a source of strength and security; he'd let himself believe that Sin would be there for him, that no matter what, he always had someone he could rely on.

He'd consciously given more of himself to Sin than he'd ever given anyone before and it apparently hadn't been enough.

Boyd had nothing more to give, nothing more to say.

What Sin had done was more than cheating; it was a betrayal of all the belief and trust Boyd had put into his partner, into the relationship they had. It was a slap in the face after all the times he'd defended Sin, he'd protected Sin, even when Sin wasn't there. After how much Boyd had struggled just to get to where he was, after he had been through so much because of and for Sin, after Boyd had forced himself to get past his deep-seeded fear and let himself go, let himself believe again--

To have this happen felt like Boyd threw himself into open air and Sin turned his back instead of catching him. It was like carving another tattoo of I'll believe on his body and having Sin show up the next day saying there was no reason to believe because it had never been what Boyd had thought it was.

Maybe Boyd's biggest mistake all along was that belief in the first place.

Maybe he'd been a complete idiot to ignore everyone's warnings-- to keep reaching for Sin even after his mother, Connors, Carhart, Kassian, Thierry-- everyone said not to or wondered why he did. After everyone questioned the relationship, his loyalty, his motives. After even Sin himself had questioned Boyd more than once.

If he was being honest-- truly honest with himself, what proof had he ever had that Sin actually felt anything like love for him? Unrelated words and the way Sin had changed. But Sin's progression from being a completely sarcastic asshole to the man he was today could have had nothing to do with any feelings of affection. The change in Sin's behavior could have solely been based on the fact that Boyd was giving Sin a chance to be someone other than the stereotype. And that wasn't affection or love-- that was a sense of comfort and friendship.

Sin had once said he'd liked the idea of Boyd-- had that been all it was all along?

The role Boyd filled for him as a friend and an endless source of forgiveness and understanding-- and nothing to do with what he felt for Boyd?

It felt like Sin didn't care what Boyd wanted, like he was leading Boyd on.

Sin wanted what he could get from Boyd, just as he always had. In the beginning, he'd wanted someone to make him feel like he had a friend. Then he'd wanted someone to keep forgiving him. Then, once Boyd had introduced sex to him, Sin had wanted someone to fuck.

The feeling of helpless betrayal and intense pain heightened overwhelmingly, as Boyd whispered the words in his mind that he didn't want to acknowledge but now couldn't help: Sin didn't give a fuck about Boyd except for what Boyd did for him, what role Boyd filled.

All the trust, belief, security-- those quiet moments of contentment with the rise and fall of Sin's chest, the feel of Sin's silky hair soft between his fingers-- all the terror and insanity and pain-- blood beneath his hands in Monterrey and Sin's hitched breath in the van before he'd stilled like a broken doll, Boyd chained down and screaming in the Agency as he'd been forced to see the pictures, as he'd been convinced he'd once again killed his lover and partner, the suffocating guilt that had shut him down, that had skewed the world around him and made it impossible to know what had been real, made him feel hopeless for his future just as before--

Everything he'd done for Sin, everything he'd become for him, every moment he'd put himself out there for a person he'd thought he knew-- It was now twisted and strained, and he was finally seeing what he should have all along: From the beginning, he'd only been used.

For a moment, Boyd felt like he balanced on a precipice with two ways to fall.

His head pounded with the pressure of his face buried in the pillow, with the way the position exacerbated the bruises from Venezuela. He let himself fully feel the burning in his eyes, the tension in his shoulders, the angry knot in his stomach, the suffocation of the cloth covering his mouth and nose, the physical feeling of nausea from such intense emotional turmoil, the aches and pains and bruises from being beaten and thrown around the day before.

He could have focused on that, could have lost himself in the discomfort as a way to give himself something to concentrate on. He could have tried to deal with the rest of the emotions later.

But wasn't that just running away? Wasn't that just a distraction, an avoidance of the actual issue? Wouldn't that just make him into the person he'd been struggling so hard to leave behind?

The other side was was facing the situation head-on and finally acknowledging what he should have all along:

That maybe he never should have gotten emotionally involved in the first place. That he'd been fooling himself by thinking that Sin ever actually cared about him the way Boyd did for Sin. That all their problems, all the times they hurt and lashed out at each other, were more true than the times he'd thought they'd been experiencing a sense of peace. That he'd let this attachment weaken him, skew his perception and thoughts.

That he couldn't help that Sin and he would remain work partners once training was over but that he could affect the rest. That the best thing he could do right then-- to protect himself, his feelings, even his career and health as training continued to loom around him and was only going to get worse-- was to cut off all emotional ties.

That maybe he really was a fool for loving someone who would never or could never truly love him back.

Faced with the two options, it wasn't even a question which was ultimately best to choose. He'd let Sin use him for months-- years, actually-- and he wasn't going to let that continue. He'd let Sin upset his emotional balance, let him take his love and throw it back at him, but that didn't mean he had to let Sin disrupt what little else of a life he had as well.

Maybe he didn't have someone to believe in anymore but he still had something he could throw himself into: his job, his training. He had the bet with himself that he could improve, that he could stand strong on his own, that he could be his own person. This just made it even more important that he succeed; if he couldn't rely on anyone else, he had to at least be able to rely on himself.

He had nothing else to fall back on, nothing else to surround himself with. The truths he'd thought he could trust were not truths after all, just misdirection and denial, and the most important relationship in his recent years had probably never been what he'd believed it to be.

Slowly, Boyd let the familiar, all-encompassing feeling of iciness creep in and replace the anger and betrayal, the doubt and disbelief, the pain and hurt so strong it otherwise felt suffocating. He let his emotions snap and break off one by one until he felt nothing but the comfortable, safe feeling of absolute detachment.

Right then, he thanked his mother for the coldness she'd taught him; for the clarity it could bring, for the protection it represented. Because if he didn't do this he knew he'd fall apart; he knew he wouldn't be able to contain the anger and hurt.

He knew he would cry until he had nothing left in him and he knew none of that would make him feel any better, only worse-- that he'd only feel disgusted with himself later for not having moved forward when he'd had the chance. That instead he had let himself continue to be so devastatingly affected by someone who so cavalierly betrayed what he'd thought had been the most important truths in his life right now.

He stayed still for nearly a minute longer before he felt it was safe to move. He shifted and, keeping his expression completely emotionless, he sat up on the bed and decided to work on the encryption he'd been trying to decipher since the first week. He was fairly confident that he'd correctly identified it as a Vigenère cipher and he just had to identify the correct keyword. He'd determined that the keyword was seven letters long and that the first letter was G. He grabbed the code book, his notebook and a pen and focused solely on his work. The cold was like a buffer that let him concentrate on what was important.

He could feel Toby's eyes on him but the other man didn't say anything, continuing to stay on his own side of the room with a book open in front of him. However, after several long moments there was an audible shift as Toby sat up and seemed ready to finally comment. Before he could, there was a loud knock on the door.

"What the--" Toby stood entirely, staring at the door with a look of combined confusion and annoyance. He shot Boyd a questioning glance that Boyd didn't return or acknowledge. Toby crossed the room in two strides, pulling the door open.

Unsurprisingly, Sin stood in the doorway with a deep frown etched into his features. He shoved Toby aside unceremoniously and scowled down at Boyd. "Get lost, McAvoy."

Toby gawked at him uncertainly, struggling to find his voice and making several strange noises in the process. "You probably shouldn't be here, Senior Agent Vega," he said slowly, staring up at the much taller man. Now that they were standing directly next to each other, he realized how Sin really did tower over people. He also looked a lot more dangerous up-close when he wasn't falling asleep on a table.

Boyd didn't even look up at Sin. "Why are you here." It came out more as a statement than a question.

Sin ignored Toby's comment and after Toby's obvious refusal to leave, pretended the man wasn't even standing there, opting to kick the door shut instead. "We need to finish our conversation."

"We did." Boyd checked two separate sheets of paper he had with what looked like a series of grids, graphs, and lists with letters and check marks drawn on them.

Sin exhaled slowly, eyes narrowing slightly at Boyd. "You're not even giving me a chance to fix this."

Boyd made a soft noise in his throat and started drawing a second bar graph, looking between it, an incomprehensible list of letters, and a list of letters with numbers written next to them. The graphs had the alphabet listed below them, starting at different letters, and the bars went up to varying heights with different numbers listed on the side.

After a moment he looked up without expression. "What do you want to say?"

"That you're misinterpreting everything," Sin said, appearing grateful that Boyd was giving him an opportunity to speak at all. "There's some things we need to talk about but you just have to understand that now isn't a good time."

"Hmm." Boyd considered him a moment then looked back down at the graph, checked it against block of random letters and a separate list with check marks, and drew another bar in the graph. "What reaction are you expecting from me?" His tone was completely neutral, as if he was interviewing Sin for a job.

Sin just stared at Boyd and his expression went from hopeful to weary. "Are we back to this bullshit again?"

"So you're expecting me to just accept you at face value and act like nothing is wrong," Boyd observed, looking back up. There was nothing cruel in his tone; he simply seemed to be verifying the situation as he saw it. "Is that accurate?"

"Don't give me this idiotic Vivienne act," Sin snapped impatiently. "I didn't say for you to accept anything or act any particular way. I'm just tired of always going back to square one with you every single time there's a problem."

Toby's brows furrowed and he looked between Sin and Boyd in relative confusion although he definitely appeared intrigued.

"And I'm not asking you to accept my reaction," Boyd said simply. He set his pen down and studied Sin closely. "I don't understand what you thought you'd gain by coming here. You're telling me exactly what you said before-- I'm misinterpreting and we'll talk later. Maybe I won't always be here for the talk later, Sin. Maybe it's too late for the talk at all."

"Why would it be too late? Because you form your own conclusions without waiting to hear what I have to say?" The irritation and resentfulness was clear in Sin's voice.

"Because you're giving me no other choice. You have some brilliant explanation but won't share it; you don't want me to form any conclusions yet you do what you did and then tell me to wait." Boyd raised his eyebrows. "Wait for what, Sin? For you to feel like it's 'something you need to do?' Why should I put my life on hold for your explanations? It won't change what happened."

Sin stared at him incredulously. "So basically what I have to say doesn't matter. That's what you're telling me."

Boyd looked back down at the notebook and picked up the pen again as he glanced between the graph and another sheet of notebook paper in front of him. "Unless the fate of the world rested on you sleeping with her at that moment, I can't imagine it would," he said simply.

Toby's eyes opened wide and he stared at the two of them in shock but had the intelligence not to say anything.

Sin's eyes narrowed at Boyd and he brought a hand to his temples. He seemed on the verge of completely losing his patience but he managed to grit out, "So what are you telling me then, Boyd?"

Boyd didn't answer at first but when he looked up he was expressionless and point blank. "I'm saying this entire relationship was a mistake from the beginning. And I'm doing the first intelligent thing I've done since I met you: I'm ending it."

"You are such fucking bullshit," Sin practically shouted and without warning his fist slammed into the wall, caving the drywall in easily around his hand. Toby jumped, startled, and backed away.

Sin crossed the distance between the door and the bed and stared down at Boyd, waves of anger and frustration practically radiating off him although his expression was clearly distraught. "Every single time things get hard you pack up and run away and I'm always the one going after you. For someone who claims to be so fucking in love, you're really quick to give up."

"I'm not giving up, I'm being realistic," Boyd said, completely unaffected by Sin's reaction. "What I feel for you hasn't changed your actions at all. If anything, the relationship's been getting worse. Whether I love you or not has nothing to do with whether I should have stayed with you all that time. If you can't even respect me then it's pointless."

"Being realistic?" Sin asked bitterly. He raked his hands through his hair violently, breathing hard and appearing to be taking this very poorly. He was practically trembling, voice shaking with anger or sadness, it wasn't obvious which one.

"No, you're being like everyone else. You're doing what you condemned everyone else for doing all along. You judge me and my actions and don't take anything else into account. Everything is suddenly so black and white when the problem is between you and me but I fucking rip someone's throat out and you go out of your way excusing my behavior because of how fucked up my entire existence has been. But now that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing here or that I made a stupid mistake because I honestly didn't fucking know how bad it was. Now nothing else matters to you but that."

"Do you understand why it matters so much?" The cold detachment cocooned Boyd from any reaction to seeing Sin so upset as he continued; instead, Boyd stated the facts as he saw them. "Because I can't trust you now; I'll never know what to expect from you. You ask me to keep believing but you've given me no reason. You want me to wait for you but you won't wait for me. You say you have a reason but you won't tell me. I told you I loved you and suddenly our only real connection is sex, then even that is no longer just between us. It could go on. This is ridiculous, Hsin. I'm doing us both a favor by ending this charade."

"You're doing yourself a favor." Sin backed away from Boyd until he was near the door, his face downcast, miserable. "Taking the easy way out instead of trying to understand me. I'd gone almost thirty years without sex and you can realistically tell yourself I decided to sleep with her because I had nothing better to do? That the only reason I spent time with you is for that? Bullshit. This is just you turning your back because now you're seeing that I can't automatically be the way you expected me to be. It's easier to write me off and pretend like the last two years boil down to nothing in the face of a couple of quick fucks with someone else."

Toby's mouth actually dropped open slightly.

Boyd watched Sin a moment, expression and posture completely unreadable. Another time he may have felt something at seeing Sin's misery; he would have backtracked, apologized, been patient and maybe even taken the blame. But right then he didn't see it that way. He hadn't come to this decision lightly or without warrant.

Sin could say whatever he wanted but it didn't change the fact that their relationship had almost exclusively been about sex lately, that it did seem like everything else had fallen away. Regardless of whether the sex with Ann had meant anything to Sin, it meant something to Boyd.

"Believe what you want of me," Boyd said finally, "but this has been building for awhile, if I'd only paid attention. Maybe it's just easier for you to think I'm being unfair or selfish than to understand why it's come to this."

Sin released a sound that was halfway between a snarl and a growl and he reached down, yanking Boyd's books off the bed and hurling them violently across the room. Toby had to dodge out of the way to avoid being hit. Boyd's eyes narrowed dangerously, the first expression he'd shown since Sin had entered the room, but he didn't move or otherwise react.

"Fuck this," Sin spat. "Fuck your jealous unreasonable bullshit. I knew I couldn't tell you anything-- I knew you'd never understand anything. You're too wrapped up in what you expect, what you want. All you want to do is focus on your fucking training so when I come to you, when I need to talk to you, you completely dismiss me. You have a certain idea of how our relationship should be, how I should act and think and if anything goes against the ideas you already had, you're done with it all."

Sin turned away, jerking the door open. "Just-- just fuck you." He disappeared into the hallway, slamming the door shut with such violent force that the door frame splintered and the top hinge came loose.

Boyd's jaw clenched and he glowered icily at the door, entirely too aware of his books against the wall. For all that he tried to keep the detachment in place, he couldn't help a muffled spike of anger at Sin's parting shot, at the fact that Sin thought he had the right to come in there and blame Boyd for everything then throw all his hard work around.

That Sin thought he could just label this as Boyd being jealous, completely dismissing Boyd's viewpoint as nothing but unreasonable selfishness. That Sin thought he had the right to make Boyd out to be the bad guy when Sin had started this all.

Tension built in Boyd again and he had to resist the urge to slam the door open, to yell, "Fuck you, asshole!" at Sin, to make it clear he didn't want to see him again unless he absolutely had to.

Instead, he stood and, with curt movements, stalked across the room toward his books. The book about codes had a number of pages that were bent and the top several sheets of his notebook were ripped. The separate sheets with the Vigenère square and the frequency distribution graphs were partially crumpled from when they had caught between the pages and had fallen beneath the book. The books cast against the wall were like a metaphor for where he felt his life was like at that moment; messed up, wrenched to the side, and partially ruined but still somehow functional.

Picking up the books and papers off the floor, he tried to straighten the pages out without ripping anything further and was only marginally successful. He strode back to his bed where he placed them firmly in front of him as he sat down. His eyes were narrowed and expression cold as he flipped through the code book to find his place again.

He could still feel Toby's eyes on him but despite a slow exhale of breath, Toby didn't make a sound.

The words jumbled in front of Boyd's eyes and he felt completely on edge behind the cold wall he'd built to block out the emotions. Now that Sin wasn't directly in front of him, it was harder to keep the detachment fully in place. He had no intentions of cutting off all emotions in his entire life; that would serve no purpose and would just make him lose all the hard work he'd been doing trying to be more approachable to the other trainees.

If he let this destroy all that, he'd just let Sin negatively affect even more of his life than he already had. All he really needed to do was cut off all emotional ties with Sin; to turn their relationship back to a business partnership; to be strictly professional around him the way he'd never quite managed to be. And the only way he knew how to do that with Sin was to be utterly cold and detached. Without blanketing his emotions it would be too difficult not to get involved again, even just in pointless arguments that would go nowhere.

However that meant nothing now that Sin was gone. The cool, emotionless demeanor he'd shown earlier was slipping until the anger and betrayal surfaced, until he looked agitated and annoyed.

He refused to look at Toby as he focused solely on the books in front of him, on the sentences that partially made sense then became incomprehensible letters and words, on the attempts to analyze the frequency distribution in order to determine the keyword.

He didn't like that Toby had witnessed the argument; that it was painfully obvious now what exactly his relationship had been with Sin. Given Toby's preoccupation with connections, he didn't know how the man would interpret what he'd witnessed but Boyd doubted it would be beneficial for himself, whatever it was.

Time passed as he concentrated completely on the methodical analysis of the number and type of letters at predetermined spaces in the ciphertext in comparison to a standard distribution of the alphabet. Boyd slowly settled down enough that his expression fell back to something closer to neutral and he relaxed his shoulders a little.

"I hope you know you're going to fix the door," Toby said suddenly from his side of the room. After standing beside the broken door and gaping at Boyd for a long period of time, he'd finally retreated but it was obvious he wasn't going to let the incident slide into oblivion without comment.

Boyd continued writing without looking up, feeling unsurprised but not particularly pleased by the comment. "Alright."

Toby continued to stare at him. "So get up and do it then or do you want me to have to explain how it got that way?"

The quiet scratch of the pen across paper stopped as Boyd looked up at him and then the door. Although Boyd had initially intended to fix it later, Toby had a point. He didn't want to explain the broken door any more than he wanted Toby to; it was going to be difficult enough hiding the hole in the wall until maintenance could fix it, and he could only hope none of the other trainees had been in their rooms and overheard the argument.

He set the books to the side and walked to the door, not looking at Toby as he got closer and examined the door. It was hard not to think about Sin's parting words while he studied a physical reminder, but he didn't let his anger and frustration with the situation resurface.

Luckily, it seemed that all the hinge needed was for the bolts to be re-tightened although Boyd wasn't going to be able to do anything about the damaged door frame. He grabbed the toolbox from the corner it was shoved in and, without speaking, began tightening the screws.

Toby sat down casually at the end of the bed although his blue eyes didn't leave Boyd's back. After a moment he spoke in the condescending tone he'd used on Boyd when they first met. "It was extremely idiotic for you to bring your drama here. Obviously if the argument was that heated and you walked away in the middle of it, he was going to go searching you out."

Once again, Boyd did not immediately respond; he simply finished fixing the hinge, then tested the door a few times to make sure it worked before he left it shut. He glanced past Toby but didn't meet his eyes.

"It won't happen again." Boyd returned the toolbox to the corner.

"Good. That entire scene mortified me and I wasn't involved," Toby said blandly, drawing his thick eyebrows together in disapproval. "Seriously, Beaulieu. I knew you were uneducated but now I think you're just plain stupid. Did you honestly think you could have a normal relationship with that man?"

Boyd's shoulders tensed and he kept his face toward the corner for a moment. He really didn't want to think about this anymore. He could already feel a headache forming and he didn't want to have to deal with that on top of everything else.

"It was poor judgment," Boyd said, then turned and firmed his tone and expression as he met Toby's eyes. "I realize it was my mistakes that got us here, but I wouldn't have chosen for you to witness that any more than I'm sure you wanted to see it. I'll fix the room; that's my fault. We interrupted whatever you were doing; that's also my fault. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you. But I really don't need your commentary right now, Toby."

Toby held his gaze for a moment before shrugging casually and scooting back on his bed, crossing his legs. He was silent for a grand total of two minutes, giving Boyd enough time to sit on his bed and start working on the decryption, before Toby spoke again. "For a minute I thought he was actually going to cry."

Boyd kept his gaze firmly on the ciphertext. He didn't want to think about whether or not Sin actually had been, although the man had clearly been upset by the end. Boyd wasn't going to get anywhere if he kept being brought back to the very conversation he was trying to move past.

"He can do what he wants," Boyd said after a moment.

Toby shrugged, unfazed and continued on. "Who breaks a door just by slamming it, anyway?" He frowned at the door frame again. "He doesn't look nearly as strong as he must be. It's disturbing. I can't believe you successfully had intercourse with him."

Boyd didn't know which was worse; Toby's choice of wording or the fact that the man was apparently thinking about Boyd's sex life. "Can we not talk about this?" he asked slightly wearily as he turned the page in his notebook.

Toby sighed and lay back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling in contemplation. He didn't seem condescending now; he seemed mostly curious about the situation and likely thankful to have something else to dwell on other than training.

There was another stretch of silence and then Toby abruptly said, "You know, I'm gay too. I'm not judging you for that, if that's what you think."

Boyd paused, staring at his notebook for a moment before he looked over at Toby thoughtfully. He'd guessed as much before but he didn't know if he wanted Toby to know that. On the other hand, Toby was already privy to some highly compromising information so it couldn't hurt; maybe it would make their vulnerabilities to each other more equal and decrease any possibility of Toby trying to use the information against him. Boyd wasn't trying to be manipulative; he just didn't trust Toby and he didn't want anything else to go wrong.

"I thought you might be," Boyd admitted finally, keeping his tone and body language carefully nonjudgmental.

Toby raised an eyebrow. "Really. How?"

There was a brief pause as Boyd tried to figure out how best to word the reason but then he decided to be forthright. "I walked in on you in the bathroom a few weeks ago, during Krav Maga. I left right away and I don't think anyone else knows, but I thought it may be related to Kassian's one-on-one training."

He tilted his head and added, keeping his tone light, "You may want to go into a stall next time just so it's less obvious. Cade would've probably been an ass to you regardless of who he thought you were thinking of."

Toby stared at him in something akin to horror but after a moment the expression faded and he looked down at his discarded book. It was obvious that he was embarrassed but his reaction wasn't nearly as extreme as it could have been. "Well, I suppose that puts us on an even keel."

"Seems so," Boyd agreed and briefly returned his attention to his notebook and the rips from when Sin had thrown it. He looked back up at Toby with a firm expression. "So you won't tell anyone about this and I won't tell anyone about the bathroom." He said it like a statement, as if that was just the way it was going to be, but there was a hint of a question in it that showed he wanted confirmation from Toby.

Toby nodded briefly, not looking at all angered by this bargain, and dropped his eyes to his book. However, after a moment he added, "I do have some questions for you later, though."

Boyd just shook his head, not even wanting to think about that at the moment, although he was unsurprised. If he'd been sitting in his room quietly reading and Toby had suddenly come barging in with that much drama, he would have had questions too.

He would deal with the questions when they came but for the moment he had a cipher to break.

Sin sat in the darkest corner of his apartment with his head down as he slumped against the wall, gripping the cell phone with enough strength to crush it. Despite the abuse it'd already taken that day, the device was still usable even with the shattered screen.

And this time when it rang, Sin picked up without hesitation.

"I'm done with this," he said immediately, voice rough and quiet.

"Done with what?" Ann's voice queried on the other end. "The medication? Have you had side effects? The General and I have been trying to reach you all day."

Sin stared at the floor as he spoke flatly. "I'm done with this whole thing. I was doing it for Boyd and now he doesn't want anything to do with me so there's no point."

"What are you talking about?" Ann seemed truly confused.

"My statement was fairly straightforward." This time it was said in an impatient growl. "I'm done with this fucking shit. I'm not showing up for any more sessions, I don't want it. I don't want to see you. I don't want to deal with this anymore. I don't care what happens."

There was a long pause on the other end before Ann replied. "That would be a foolish course of action to take."

Sin had to struggle to stop himself from smashing the phone against the wall as impatience and impotent anger boiled within him. Why would no one ever listen to him? "I don't care what you think."

"Well when you stop taking your medication and then whatever happened with Boyd blows over, you'll regret having been sent to the Fourth, won't you?" she asked derisively.

Sin hesitated, eyebrows drawing together. "Maybe it doesn't blow over."

"How can you know for sure?" Ann demanded. "If you got in a fight, things were probably said out of anger. Why don't you wait until you speak with him again before making any drastic decisions that will affect both of you permanently?"

There was another long silence as Sin thought about that. It was possible that the scenario Ann described could very well turn out to be the case. There had been many times in the past that it seemed like he and Boyd's friendship would never recover and then things turned around completely. The thought gave him a small twinge of hope but it wasn't much and it didn't do a lot for the depression that had settled over him like a heavy blanket.

"I'll continue with the medication for now," he finally agreed. "But our sessions are over. We won't be seeing each other again."

"Sin, what is this all about?" Ann asked finally, confusion obvious now. "What am I missing here?"

"Don't worry about it. That's all you need to know."

The only sound was a faint high-pitched whine in the background, likely distant construction work coming through on one of their lines.

After awhile Ann cleared her throat. "Keep taking your medication and continue checking in with Carhart. I'll ask him to report your progress to me. But in two weeks we have a progress meeting which will be submitted to Vivienne and you need to get your priorities straight before it. Don't go in their with your sullen attitude and start muttering about how you don't care because when you make up with Boyd, suddenly you'll care again and it will be too late."

"Fine," Sin said dully.

"Sin, just tell me what the hell this is about," Ann said suddenly, impatiently. "Is this about--"

Sin hung up before she could finish the sentence.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Eighteen...