Afterimage Chapter Eighteen

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Afterimage Chapter Eighteen

Uploaded on 2/16/2009

The day started entirely too early for most of the trainees' preferences; several of them were drooping with exhaustion. Each day that the training progressed seemed to go longer than the one before and seemed to demand more of them. Even Emma had finally caved and was on her second cup of coffee of the morning; she gave Boyd a sheepish look when she glanced past him as if to say she hadn't lied that time in the cafeteria but apple juice would just not cut it.

As for Boyd, as much as he would have loved a warm cup of tea, he hadn't felt like getting up early enough to get one ahead of time. His body ached and he was growing more exhausted by the day.

As much as he tried to concentrate fully on training-- to not let himself get distracted by everything that had happened, by the fall out with Sin and all the doubts and worries that had grown in the week since then-- there was only so much he could do about it at night.

When he laid down to sleep his mind raced furiously; it was always a jumble of second-guessing the actions he'd taken in training along with obsessing over what he could have done better, and repeatedly replaying his break up with Sin. His dreams were chaotic and stressful and he often woke up multiple times in the middle of the night.

To try to compensate he was throwing himself more intensely into working out in the gym for hours even after the late times their training ended. Harriet, Cade and Emma made regular appearances as well but Boyd was the only one who went so consistently. He wanted to increase his stamina, to practice moves he'd failed at during practical exams, to exhaust himself so much that maybe, just maybe, when he laid down he wouldn't think about anything at all, not even training.

On the nights he hurt too much or simply did not have the energy for the gym, he crouched over his book and notebook far into the night while working on the decryption. Sometimes he had to leave the room because Toby wanted to go to sleep and he often found himself in the cafeteria at those times, simply because it was the quietest and most comfortable room that was open.

He'd run into Andrew a few times during those late night study sessions and the other man had looked distracted and worried as he sat hunched over an untouched soda from the vending machine. They'd inevitably drifted to the same table and wound up talking idly about nothing of importance. Boyd could tell that something had been bothering Andrew but Andrew hadn't said what except mentioning once that training hadn't quite been what he'd expected.

That mindset must have been apparent to the instructors as well. During combat training, Andrew had repeatedly hesitated to do the killing blows and as a result he'd ultimately been dismissed from training.

The last time Boyd had seen Andrew was one of those late nights in the cafeteria, the day before Andrew was kicked out, and Boyd couldn't help remembering the furrow in Andrew's eyebrows; couldn't help feeling like maybe it was better that Andrew was gone anyway.

This clearly wasn't the type of position Andrew would have felt comfortable with; Andrew wanted to be the hero, he wanted to save people, not kill them to further the Agency's goals. That much had been apparent since the raid when Andrew had been shocked by Boyd's more ruthless ways.

Even so, Boyd thought it was unfortunate the man was gone. Andrew had been one of the people who was amiable and inviting; he'd often smiled at Boyd and would walk over to say something offhanded or joking. The mission they'd been on in France had gone well; like Emma, Andrew had been an easy partner to be around. They were both professional and knew what they were doing but they were also just genuinely nice people.

And Andrew and Boyd had Ryan in common; even if Andrew and Ryan weren't together anymore, even if Boyd hadn't seen Ryan for months, it had still helped to have someone to talk about it with. Andrew had said at one point that he knew he and Ryan would not be getting back together but he still considered Ryan to be his friend.

In any case, Andrew had left abruptly and with little notice but Boyd knew that he'd make the effort to stop and talk to Andrew if they ran across each other in the future.

The group of trainees was now down to Toby, Cade, Jonathan, Emma, Harriet and Boyd. The six of them were sitting in one of the training conference rooms and watching Doug with varying degrees of impatience and exasperation.

Their Instructor had been fiddling with the computer for the past five minutes, swearing at it under his breath and seeming annoyed as he apparently experienced some sort of unforeseen technical difficulty. He finally seemed to fix it because he abruptly straightened and looked at his gathered audience.

"Consider this a study session before the week's training starts," Doug said as he rolled up the sleeves of his black sweater and nodded toward the projection screen. "We're gonna watch the Agency's greatest hits, if you will. Most talked about assignments and whatnot. It's a shame they never documented older missions-- some of the assignments Carhart and Emilio had together would have been good for this."

"Wait, we're going to be actually be watching missions?" Toby asked skeptically. "How's that possible?"

"The few I have are put together from bits of surveillance cameras and also some from recording devices that they attached to the agent." Doug appeared to have expected this question. "It's not a fluid video-- some parts are grainy and it skips around a bit. It's edited so that you can see parts in the agent's viewpoint but also includes outside surveillance videos so that you're able to see the full scope of the situations and events."

"Why would they have an agent bring a recording device on a mission?" Jon spoke up, one of the rare times that he actually had. He was gazing at Doug quizzically, idly fingering one of the scars on his face.

"'Cause they wanted to see the agent in question in action," Doug said simply. "Two reasons for that. He was new, young, and somehow accomplished things that shouldn't have been possible all by himself. So Connors and the guys above him wanted to see how that could be. They wanted to observe. And they wanted to prove that having someone that young on the team was worth it."

"Senior Agent Vega?" Toby's question seemed more like a statement and he cast a furtive glance toward Boyd.

"Precisely," Doug said with a wink. "I knew you'd catch up one day!"

Boyd didn't look at Toby but his eyes did narrow slightly as he felt his stomach drop. The last thing he wanted to watch right then was anything to do with Sin.

"Do they do that often?" Emma asked, looking intrigued.

"No. It was done specifically for Vega. In the case of a kid being a field agent, they had to prove the pros outweighed the cons," Doug said with a shrug. "But that's not the point of this. The point of this is to show you what's expected."

Cade leaned back in his chair and watched the screen, actually looking interested.

Doug stared at them for a moment before turning off the lights and going to the computer, clicking a few things before an image appeared on the projection screen.

It was a very clear and sharp video recording from a surveillance camera outside what appeared to be a large warehouse or factory. The image didn't move for a moment and Doug took the time to explain.

"This was taken before the war ended, a couple of years before the second major wave of attacks on US soil. The Agency got information that this warehouse was a front for a ring of foreign spies who were staking out a nearby military base. The assignment was to take it out and to try to get a captive."

"Why would they send someone solo?" Toby asked dubiously, brows drawing together.

Doug shrugged. "My theory is that it was a test to see if his previous solo assignments wasn't nothin' more than a string of good luck."

There was finally movement on the screen and a figure appeared from the left, slinking through the shadows so quickly that it seemed to disappear before they could identify who it was. It was obvious that the person, presumably Sin, still had to be in the camera's view but he seemed to have all but blended in with the darkness.

The image abruptly changed as the camera switched to a first person view point. Sin wasn't visible on the screen but every time he moved the camera moved, and it was actually eerie in a sense. Although this had been taken years ago, it felt like they were there with him, sneaking around this large factory without a partner, without anyone to watch his back. It actually caused a sense of tense anticipation to build among many of the trainees.

It was the kind of anxiety someone felt when watching a suspenseful movie except that it was real; this had actually happened.

A pair of skinny arms and hands appeared in front of the camera as Sin pulled himself up effortlessly onto a creaking black fire-escape. Despite the fact that his limbs had the familiar olive coloring, he seemed incredibly thin with hands that looked almost fragile. They were completely different from the powerful, callused hands that Boyd was now so familiar with.

Boyd narrowed his eyes a little further and tried not to be affected by the video as a hint of discomfort grew within him.

The camera angle changed again and switched back to the surveillance tape. It was farther from Sin now but there was no mistaking his scrawny figure, clad all in black and crouched on the fire escape. He couldn't have been much taller than 5'3" at the time, over a foot shorter than Sin stood now. His face was obscured by the shadows but it was obvious that he was quite young.

"How old is he?" Emma asked, her voice quiet but obviously shocked.

"'Bout fourteen," Doug replied casually, not appearing alarmed by this at all.

No one said anything but the trainees, even Cade, stared in a sense of disturbed awe as the child version of Sin fiddled with something. Boyd's was the only expression that remained studiously blank.

It was too dark to make out what Sin was doing and he was so small that he practically disappeared into the shadows several times but then the image changed to the first person view point.

There were loud rustling sounds and the camera abruptly dropped and darkened before an image of Sin appeared above it. He'd taken off his outer jacket and the camera along with it as he unhooked his bullet-proof vest and wrestled it off, leaving himself only in a long sleeved black t-shirt.

Sin tugged his backpack on again and picked up the camera, examining it for a moment. Finally his face came into view and young Sin seemed to glare out at them moodily although he was actually staring at the tiny camera disdainfully. His skin was a shade lighter than it was now which made his jet black hair more pronounced and the green of his eyes more vivid. He was a striking child and it seemed as though the intensity of his stare had been there even fifteen years ago, although seeing it in the eyes of a child was mildly off-putting.

Boyd felt the discomfort grow; it was difficult not to be moved by Sin's youth, knowing what sort of situation he was in. At that same age, Boyd had been quite happy with Lou and had lived a relatively normal life. He'd smiled and joked around and even though life hadn't been perfect, he'd been able to have fun.

Sin, on the other hand, had been working solo on missions that included killing people, and he'd been doing it for years even before this video. It was a disturbing thought to Boyd because it emphasized how messed up Sin's life truly had been.

After a few seconds, Sin's face disappeared and he seemed to attach the camera, a pin as Doug informed them, to his clothing once again. The next several moments of video followed him as he found a way into the warehouse and slunk around noiselessly as he explored.

At one point, young Sin approached a small tidy office. There was a heavyset man inside who swung around as the door opened wider. He began sputtering at Sin in English although he had a distinct French accent.

"What do you think you are doing, boy? This is not a place for games!"

Sin didn't respond and the man swore, reaching for a radio, most likely to berate whoever was supposed to be on watch. Before he had the chance to speak, those fragile-looking hands shot up and Sin broke the man's neck in two clean movements.

The corpse fell to the floor, blank eyes appearing and disappearing from the view of the camera quickly as Sin calmly stepped around him and sat on the chair by the desk. Thin fingers flew over the keyboard as he searched the computer for something. After awhile, he put a memory stick into the computer and began downloading several files.

The scene played out for several moments and the trainees watched as the young agent skulked around the base like a ghost, shadowing behind or alongside the spies and somehow managing to stay completely silent and unseen.

Sin slipped into other offices, downloading information and planting devices, stealing information and obviously planning to destroy all traces of the original copies before the mission was through. Doug explained that they were low grade explosive devices and completely decimated the research and notes that the spies had been gathering, although it hadn't harmed the building itself. It had been done just in case anyone was left alive and uncaptured, someone who could have still used the data.

Sin moved ridiculously fast, somehow getting around the entire warehouse and completing his tasks in the space of a few minutes before someone finally realized that the man in the upstairs office had been killed. Sin was crouched in the corner of what appeared to be an exposed upper level when a man came running down the stairs yelling to his comrades.

Sin crept over like a deadly panther before suddenly moving so fast that the surroundings were temporarily a blur. Sin once again cracked a neck without hesitating but the man's body went tumbling over the side of the railing. There was barely a pause before loud shouting and a confused commotion of sound could be heard. Sin began moving even faster, so fast that the camera spun sickeningly from his view point and made it almost impossible to watch.

Thankfully it switched to another exterior view and they watched as fourteen-year-old Sin ducked out of the way of a hail of bullets. They watched as he whipped out two huge guns that almost seemed comical in his thin hands and began firing them with deadly precision, his accuracy not at all put off by the fact that he was simultaneously running and dodging out of the way.

At one point he jumped up on the railing of the spiral staircase that led to the ground floor, incredibly recklessly considering his lack of a bulletproof vest, and went sliding down as he continued to unload his weapons. A bullet skimmed his arm but Sin barely reacted and sprang off the end of the railing to roll beneath a large table.

His speed was extraordinary and he'd likely removed the vest so that it wouldn't slow him down but even then it seemed almost unnatural. The fact that a child could be capable of such talented killing... it was almost unreal. His speed and accuracy almost made it seem as though this couldn't have really happened; that instead it was a scene from action movies long ago where the scene had been edited to appear more intense.

But in reality, a single teenage boy wreaked havoc on a building full of adults who were armed with weapons that couldn't seem to catch him. The main room was splattered with arcs and sprays of blood and dead bodies littered the floor like discarded toys.

The remaining few people alive abruptly charged the table and overturned it. Sin bounded out of the way quickly but the man lunged toward him with a shout, yanking the scrawny teenager backwards as a knife went plunging toward Sin's face.

There were shouts in the background in French and Boyd translated absently; the men were telling their comrade to save the kid for interrogation.

Sin caught the knife with his bare hand, the edges slicing into his fingers viciously as he reared his free hand back to slam into the man's nose and his knee came up simultaneously to smash the man's crotch. Sin's attacker cried out in surprise and Sin twisted the man's wrist violently, a loud pop ringing through the air as he did so.

One second the man was holding the knife and in the next, it was in Sin's hand as he sliced the man's throat open.

Blood sprayed everywhere and Sin ran at the remaining two spies. Any ideas of taking back a captive had obviously disappeared from Sin's mind, if they'd ever been there at all, as he attacked them ferociously.

"He's a phenomenal fighter," Jon commented idly as teenage Sin destroyed both men with his bare hands, moving with the self-confidence of a veteran killer. His fighting style was hard to describe and likely impossible to emulate. There were elements of Krav Maga in the way he fought but it was more the idea behind it than the actual moves they'd been learning.

Sin wasn't fighting in a textbook style of martial arts but he was definitely using the principles applied in Krav Maga. Fight to completely disable and kill in the quickest and most ruthless ways possible.

After a moment Sin was the only living person left on the camera. He stood there amongst the slaughtered spies and stared at them seemingly blankly for a stretch of time before he looked directly up at the camera. Without warning he raised his gun and shot twice before the tape went white.

The entire mission had lasted all of fifteen minutes.

Boyd looked down at his desk, the discomfort having grown throughout the video, leaving him feeling vaguely sick to his stomach.

He didn't know why exactly that was; whether it bothered him more to see the ruthlessness without immediately excusing Sin as he usually would or, more likely, the obvious reminder of how different Sin really was, of the situations he'd been in even at such an early age. Boyd had known Sin had been killing people since he was young but it was another thing to see a teenage version of his former lover, to see him with the body of a child but with the ruthless eyes of an assassin.

Boyd didn't let the feeling overwhelm him, though. He couldn't let himself. What happened with Sin when he was fourteen was no longer Boyd's business other than how it affected their work relationship.

Boyd did his best to push the thoughts aside; to forget the memory of that blank face splattered in blood and, worse, the distressed expression that Sin had shown before he'd left Boyd's room the week before. Boyd didn't like the feeling that quietly grew inside him at the thought so he cut it off and concentrated fully on the room he was in, the training he was going through.

There was a breath of stunned silence after the video finished before Emma finally murmured, "Oh my God..." She didn't say anything else but Boyd guessed by her tone that she was thinking a combination of 'that poor child' and 'how did he do that?'

"That was some hardcore shit," Cade said in reluctant approval, although when Boyd glanced over at him he saw that the man seemed a little surprised. "He was really fourteen there? The hell kinda training did the dude get?"

Doug waved his hand idly in a sweeping gesture. "Your guess is as good as mine. He already knew how to do everything when he arrived here. Likely his old man had been training him for years."

"How could you possibly expect us to realistically be able to do what he can do then? The scope of his experience and training is completely different from ours," Toby said with a frown, obviously unhappy with the unfairness of such a comparison. His own abilities lay more in communication, in espionage; if they were expected to become unbeatable fighters overnight Toby may as well start packing his bags.

"You're not expected to be able to do this solo," Doug corrected him flatly. "But you're expected to be able to do the same thing as a team that he can do alone. There will be situations where you'll have to go it alone but I haven't seen very many that involve storming a base. It's not logical except in his case. For Vega, he usually worked better alone."

Harriet glanced over at Boyd curiously for a moment before looking at Doug again.

"I see some of you sighing in relief but let me make this clear. You're expected to be that fast and that fucking lethal. It's harder than it sounds and since you have to rely on other people to have their shit together, it actually makes it even more tricky. But if as a group you people can't measure up to the way Vega was as a child, you're all wasting your time here."

Doug frowned at Toby, blue eyes narrowed as he continued, "And I don't give a shit if you think it's unfair. This isn't becoming student body president or head of some fuckin' school club, kiddo. This is real life, this is fighting for your life, having other people's lives in your hands and if you can't handle that, if you don't got the skill for it, you're useless. And you will have mostly solo assignments as a rank 10 even if they ain't storms so you need to be as confident in your ability to defend and kill as that fucking kid on the screen was. Got it?"

Toby shifted uncomfortably but lifted his chin in defiance. "Yes."


"Why's he even got a partner now, then?" Cade asked, waving his hand toward Boyd and looking at him while Boyd kept his expression completely neutral. "Obviously he can do this shit in his sleep. What's the point of Beaulieu?"

Emma looked over at Boyd thoughtfully but didn't say anything.

"He can wipe out an entire base but that's not necessarily the point of an assignment." Doug shut off the projector and flipped the lights back on. "This video was a case in point of that. What happened to the captive he was supposed to take back to the pick-up spot? He didn't leave anyone alive. Agent Vega is a study in extremes. He seems to either completely eliminate everyone he sees as an enemy or he'll completely botch an assignment that requires actual human interaction because he's incapable of normal social skills."

"How could he have normal social skills?" Harriet asked dryly. "You said he was being trained to become... that, for 'several years' before he even arrived at the Agency and he was fourteen there."

Doug shrugged. "I don't give a shit about how sad his childhood is to you people. I was pointing out a fact and answering a question. He's an extraordinary fighter and assassin but the point of his partner is to handle the areas where he consistently failed. Negotiation, mediating and undercover work."

Boyd's thoughts were still distracted by Harriet's comment-- the idea of Sin being incapable of normal interactions. It was true that Sin had a skewed perspective and, faced with undeniable proof of Sin's extreme differences in childhood, it made it more difficult for Boyd to continue thinking to himself that Sin should have known how a relationship worked.

But at the same time, was that supposed to change Boyd's reaction? Was Boyd supposed to just let everything slide in the face of that and not look out for himself? Were Sin's circumstances supposed to make Boyd's emotions or reaction any less valid?

Tension and agitation built within Boyd and part of him just wanted to stand up and leave, to go into the hallway and take a break. Why did they have to talk so much about Sin? Why did they have to watch these videos after Boyd had just broken up with him; when the last person he wanted to see in any way was his former lover?

He could feel a gaze burning into him and Boyd looked over to meet Cade's eyes evenly. Boyd didn't let even a hint of what he was thinking make it to his face and Cade frowned at him, seeming to be considering something.

Boyd had no idea what was going through the man's mind but he could only assume Cade was either analyzing how well he thought Boyd would do in those positions or he was rehashing his own mission with Boyd in Australia where Boyd had ended up negotiating for them. After a moment, Cade looked away dismissively.

Boyd returned his gaze to Doug and gave the impression of waiting patiently even though he wanted nothing more than to be out of the room.

"The next few days will be spent on group assignments," Doug said, his hard gaze moving between their faces. "There will be six assignments and for each there will be a different team leader. The assignments ain't gonna be staged, let me make that shit clear now. What you do and how you do it will significantly impact the grander scheme of things and how badly you fuck up will impact your career as a whole, not just this training. Keep this video in mind and it will give you an idea on how your performance will be judged. Time is a factor, organization, focus, fighting skills, how well you perform your assigned task-- you should be able to perform better and faster as a team than Vega could as a child by himself and all of you are gonna wear a recording device that will act as a live feedback to headquarters so I can watch you in action."

Jon whistled softly but didn't say anything, looking more challenged than intimidated.

"When's the first mission?" Harriet asked. She leaned forward over the desk in obvious anticipation of being on an actual mission with a real goal.

"Three hours," Doug replied with a cold smirk. He held up a stack of papers and dumped them on the front desk. "Basic outline and objective is here. Carter's the rock star for the day. Good luck." Without another word, he left the room.

Toby gave Cade a withering stare and sighed.

Cade looked mildly surprised but very pleased to hear he would be in charge. He stood to move toward the desk and, in the movement, just caught Toby's expression. Cade rolled his eyes. "Shut it, McAvoy. I do this shit all the time. We're safer with me in charge than most'a you dumbasses."

"Whatever," Toby mumbled dubiously although he didn't really go out of his way to argue with Cade's point.

Apparently feeling as though he'd won the argument, Cade smirked at him rather smugly then moved to distribute the outlines.

Boyd was not a fan of rooftop surveillance.

He had to stay relatively still to avoid detection as he lay under a built-in small tin enclosure so anyone in the taller buildings around him wouldn't see him. The cement roof was uncomfortable and hard beneath his aching body and put pressure on his joints; his elbows already felt like they were going numb. He would have loved to be sitting but that would have given him away.

The binoculars he'd received for his part of the mission were high tech, allowing him to zoom in incredible distances, enough for him to determine from afar whether any of them was the target. But as much as people-watching should have interested him, it didn't.

Part of him wished Cade had placed him on the other team.

The information they'd received was that a man named Ethan Bruce, former research coordinator in a bio-weapons division within the CIA, had turned traitor and formed his own domestic terrorist group, Terra.

Due to Ethan's extensive history with the CIA, he was well-informed regarding how the government worked; he understood where to go to get information he needed and he knew what would hit the government hardest if attacked. He was also brilliant; when working with the CIA, he'd helped fashion a number of ways to make their research more efficient and had seemed to have an innate understanding of the way chemistry and biology worked.

Unfortunately, no one had told the researchers that they weren't just looking for how to protect American citizens; that this wasn't just for defense. The research they were doing was going to be used to fashion new and improved bio-weaponry and when Ethan had discovered this, he'd defected.

Time had changed his efforts from defender to terrorist. He'd become paranoid that the government was building bioweaponry everywhere and had led Terra on a crusade that had already killed hundreds of innocent people. Terra had already been responsible for a number of attacks on CIA facilities-- most incidents of which were kept under the media's radar and the rest of which were blamed on groups like Janus-- and Terra was now expanding to other government buildings.

An undercover Agency operative in Terra had tipped them off that some sort of new, improved, and especially deadly virus was going to be released at a research facility on the edge of a nearby city. The vague information claimed that the spores would somehow be released in the form of an explosion.

The virus in question was deadly enough to have immediate effects on anyone who so much as touched or inhaled the spores. The symptoms described had been incredibly disturbing and so was the fact that many people would likely die within an hour of infection.

The responsibility put in the hands of Level 10 agents was made very obvious by this mission. If any of them made a wrong move, the virus would spread to the hundreds of people in the building. With a park nearby and a number of busy streets in the area, there were hundreds more innocent bystanders who would likely get injured or killed as well.

The Agency had decided to intervene for a number of reasons.

Their primary objective was to capture Ethan alive and bring him back for interrogation at the Agency. After all, he had a lot of valuable information and he would be able to give them great insight on a number of issues, the least of which being the new man-made virus he'd created for the bombs.

Secondarily, they were supposed to find and stop the bombs from detonating within the facility before they could kill or harm anyone. Another reason the Agency intervened was likely that Vivienne didn't want to give Terra further chance to spread their propaganda in the media, or allow the regular citizens to lose faith in the government with bombs going off on their own property.

Despite the fact that the information the trainees received had been bare bones, they had been told that Ethan would not be part of the group that was planting the bombs. He preferred to stop by at the end of the attack, to stand nearby and observe the culmination of his efforts, rather like a pyromaniac who came to watch the fire burn.

Cade had split the trainees into two groups; Harriet and Jon were in Alpha Team and were inside the building searching for the terrorists while Emma and Toby were in Bravo Team as they sat in the park pretending to relax and enjoy some time off.

Despite the somewhat chilly day, Emma acted as though she was determined to tan as much as she could with the dim sunlight, wearing a low-cut tank top and a light skirt that was crumpled over her thighs and left the majority of her legs bare. She alternated between lying on her back and her stomach and she often smiled flirtatiously at the men who looked over at her appraisingly.

Seemingly unconnected to her, Toby idly sat against a nearby tree and seemed to be reading a book. He didn't look up or react to anyone in the vicinity, making it appear as though he was so thoroughly engrossed that he had no idea what was happening around him.

Boyd, who was also part of Bravo, was on the rooftop of a five-story building across the park from the facility; he was placed nearer to the two large roads that stretched out from the edge of town into the surrounding rural areas that were filled with a combination of uncluttered, open spaces and forested hills. He was watching for Ethan's arrival and would immediately alert Toby and Emma, who would apprehend the terrorist.

Cade's role as the team leader placed him in a surveillance van so that he could oversee the mission and be readily available to make sudden decisions and give orders. The van was situated with a radio transceiver and a tracking system that he watched constantly; his operatives showed up as tiny dots on the screen as he watched their positions.

Back at the Agency, Doug was monitoring the live feed from the pin-cameras each of the agents had on them.

The trainees had arrived at the scene long before they thought the bombs would be placed; they didn't have a specific time but the insider had given them a range of several hours when he'd guessed it may occur. As a result, Boyd had hours to stare blankly at the breezy port city below him and feel nothing but irritation with the scores of happy and carefree civilians that wandered around.

The mission had taken them over 200 miles from the city and into a breezy coastal town named Annadale Beach. From what Boyd had seen of it, it was largely a university town and had a very urban and laid-back atmosphere. It seemed surprisingly far removed from the destruction that had impacted the areas further inland; the fact that it was virtually surrounded by beach on one end and forested hills on the other only added to that.

Although the city hadn't sustained physical damage, the effects of the economy could be seen clear enough. There were boarded up shops and abandoned homes on every street and the places that remained open were mostly coffee shops that catered to the college-aged clientèle and second hand shops that sold discount items. There was still the occasional big-chain over-priced grocery store or bookstore but most of the young people congregated in the hole-in-the-wall cafes, in the parks and on the beach.

Boyd couldn't help but glare at the happy couples that came and went; the people laughing and smiling and the lovers who leaned against each other and stole kisses when no one was looking.

Agitation began to grow in him and he jerked the binoculars away from the scene to search the surrounding streets.

In the back of his mind he automatically noted the best escape routes, the places to hide, the stupid things people were doing. A woman very obviously put her purse in her trunk after she'd parked her car, not noticing the man across the street who acted as though he was reading a newspaper but was watching her instead. Another man parked his motorcycle and locked it but then put the keys in a back compartment; even if it was in an alley, he hadn't been completely hidden from view. A teenager stopped watching the toddler next to her as she chatted with an older male she apparently thought was more important than the child wandering toward the street.

A shadow of movement crossed between a group of people and Boyd looked over immediately. A short, lanky male with dark black hair easily navigated the crowd and as Boyd tracked the man's every move, for a moment Boyd vividly remembered the surveillance footage of Sin as a child; of his blank expression and those too-old eyes, of the way he'd so casually hidden in the shadows, the way he'd so easily killed everyone.

An emotion Boyd didn't care to name made his heart ache briefly and he looked away with a sense of annoyance when he realized that the person he'd been tracking had been a pale-skinned teenager who'd apparently been looking for his friends.

Boyd cursed himself silently. What the hell was wrong with him? He'd known the kid hadn't been Ethan; the man he was searching for had red hair so he shouldn't be hard to pick out of a crowd. But the longer Boyd watched, the more he saw clips and pieces of interactions that brought all his thoughts back to the one person he didn't want to think about: Sin.

Sin's young face resurfaced in Boyd's mind and he had to set the binoculars down, had to squeeze his eyes shut and tilt his head down briefly, covering his face with his hands as he focused on breathing evenly. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and possibly something else and his stomach felt twisted and heavy with nausea.

Worries and doubts nagged him-- Had he been wrong? Had he judged Sin too quickly? It was impossible to see that surveillance video, knowing Sin's age, and not acknowledge that Sin had been in extreme, unusual circumstances since he'd been young.

Maybe Sin really hadn't known what to do, maybe he really hadn't realized how grave an error it had been to sleep with Ann.

But at the same time, if Sin didn't realize something even as simple as Boyd felt that was, how many other things would Sin never realize? Did Sin even know the meaning of the word love? Was he capable of ever actually feeling it? Had Boyd just been fooling himself all along, reading into Sin's actions to extract the love he was apparently so desperate to have someone feel toward him?

What bothered Boyd more was Sin's comment that Boyd was just running away-- that he said he loved Sin so much but then he shut him out immediately when things didn't go his way.

For all that Boyd wanted to be someone strong, the more he'd thought about it, the harder it had been to deny that running away really did seem to be his specialty. If he didn't physically run away-- which didn't happen often but had certainly occurred after the JKS Convention Center-- then he ran away mentally.

Boyd was torn on the concept of whether he was just running away now. On the one hand part of him feared that Sin had a point, that maybe while Boyd felt that Sin had been using him, Boyd had harbored ideas of what he'd wanted out of the relationship and when reality didn't meet his hopes, he just cut it all off.

But the other part of him was angry and indignant-- didn't he deserve the right to cut himself off when the person he'd cared so deeply for was hurting him? Was he supposed to just let Sin do whatever the hell he wanted and keep forgiving Sin because he had a rough life? Was he supposed to keep giving second chances to a relationship that now seemed like it only hurt him?

An assassin's eyes and a sullen child's face swam before Boyd's closed eyes and he grit his teeth. He hated that he felt so torn about this-- that he was doubting himself, that he was doubting anything. That he was letting this get to him so much.


Boyd jerked his head up, accidentally hitting the binoculars with his elbow. His heart slammed inside his chest as adrenaline spiked within him and he looked around wildly for a moment, thinking someone was there beside him. It took a second for logic to kick in, for him to recognize Cade's annoyed voice, and to realize that it had come over the radio.

"What?" Boyd asked quietly on the radio, not letting on that he was so startled.

"Answer me when I fuckin' call for you," Cade snapped in irritation. "I shouldn't have to yell three times. I'm not gonna ask again-- you see anything?"

This was the first time Boyd had heard his name; he hadn't realized he'd been so lost in thought that he had missed the first two. He picked up the binoculars and peered down at the park but didn't see red hair or Ethan's features anywhere. "No."

There was a beat of silence. "This is bullshit," Cade said in frustration over the radio and Boyd didn't bother responding because he couldn't magically make Ethan appear. "Fuck it-- Emma, go help Alpha. Bravo'll keep watch for the piss ant."

Boyd blinked, confused as to why they needed the change. He swung the binoculars over to Emma and watched as she idly stretched on her blanket.

"Copy," her voice mumbled smoothly over the radio, the movement of her lips effectively hidden by her hair. She casually rolled up her blanket, slid it into a trendy bag she had sitting near her and calmly walked across the park as if she didn't have a care in the world, taking the time to smile at people as they passed.

She didn't make it obvious that she was heading toward the facility but there was no doubt to Boyd as to where she was going. Toby didn't once look up from his book or shift but Boyd knew he was paying attention.

"Get here ASAP," Harriet's voice said seriously over the radio. "We don't know how many there are."

"Found another." Jon sounded calm and collected compared to everyone else. "South stairwell, fifth floor."

"Shit," Harriet hissed, seeming frustrated and annoyed that the mission wasn't working as smoothly as it should.

"ETA five," Emma murmured quietly. "Unexpected security."

"We may not have five minutes," Harriet snapped. "That's the fourth we've found and who knows how many undercovers are in here."

There wasn't an immediate response but then Emma whispered, "I'm trying."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down and was able to gather from the conversation that there must be more bombs than they were expecting, or at least more terrorists.

Part of the problem they knew they'd have was that the terrorists were blending in-- the building was full of people there for a legitimate reason and Terra didn't wear a uniform or arm bad to distinguish themselves. Stopping the bombs was the secondary objective but with Ethan nowhere in sight it made sense to pull Emma to help.

Settling down again to continue searching, Boyd idly scanned the crowd for a man matching Ethan's description. He mostly kept an eye out for red hair but searched others as well since Ethan could be wearing a hat or wig.

Nearly a minute passed before Boyd's thoughts automatically began to wander again.

And what did Sin know about love, anyway? What made him so perfect, what gave him the right to imply that what Boyd felt for Sin wasn't enough; that Boyd was shallow or selfish or completely unwilling to sacrifice anything for Sin?

Hadn't Boyd done everything he could? If he'd made a few stupid mistakes here and there, it was only because he was human. Sin was human too, he also screwed up-- but not like this. This wasn't the sort of thing that could just be pushed away and immediately forgiven.

And if Sin had such a brilliant explanation, then he should have just said something. If whatever the hell had been going through Sin's mind had been what had brought him to the bunkers that first time, he should have just told Boyd instead of acting all indignant when Boyd didn't have time to spare for him. If it had been so imperative, Boyd would have listened.

Sin just wanted to make it seem like he was the martyr, like he'd been trying to say whatever he'd needed to and Boyd had just been completely uncooperative.

But at the same time...

There clearly had been something happening with Sin lately. Maybe he'd wanted to tell Boyd about that? The insomnia, the exhaustion, the nightmares? But what the hell did that have to do with Ann? And anyway, it wasn't like Boyd had no clue those nightmares existed so it wasn't like Sin would have a reason to hesitate to tell him. Although sometimes he almost thought something else was happening, no matter how Boyd thought about it, he just didn't know what it could possibly be.

It was all such bullshit.

The more Boyd tried to work his mind around it, the clearer it became to him that Sin had just been trying to buy time to come up with a believable lie. That he'd been trying to figure out what he was supposed to say to make Boyd say, "Oh hey, that's fine," and let Sin get on to what he'd probably felt was the important part: fucking Boyd or, apparently, anyone who would let him.

Boyd didn't even care about Ann in this-- she was completely unimportant and whatever she wanted to do meant nothing to him aside from how it had affected his life-- but it made him wonder what the hell was wrong with the Connors sisters and why they were so interested in sex with Sin.

If sex was so impersonal to Sin that he could sleep with Ann despite all this-- if he could have sex with someone he didn't even 'give a shit about'-- then it cast even more doubt for Boyd as to what sex had been about between them all along. He could no longer point to sex as an example of how much Sin trusted him.

But it hadn't been about that. It hadn't been about anything except Sin getting off in whatever warm body was there.

Boyd felt sick at the thought-- sick with anger and sick with disgust and hurt-- and he briefly squeezed his eyes shut again, feeling the annoying emotions start to build again.

Sliding his eyes open, Boyd glared down at the people in the park.

He wished he had a way of just shutting his thoughts off. Sometimes he was so good at it but apparently not if the topic was Sin. Boyd still felt lost and unbalanced as to how this had all happened. Part of him even wondered what he'd done wrong-- where he'd fucked up so completely that Sin had thought so little of their relationship.

At the same time... Toby had been right-- Sin really had looked like he was about to cry. But why? What had really been going through Sin's mind-- why would he act that way when everything else was apparently unimportant to him?

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he glowered at a couple leaning against each other and laughing as they walked toward his end of the park. Someday they'd realize it was all bullshit, too. Love and trust and believing in other people-- what was the point when humans were all flawed and fucked up anyway, when they only hurt each other continuously because they were too stupid to do anything else?

He was just about to look away when something caught his attention-- a man who was just getting into a car. The man's presence itself didn't seem sudden to Boyd and he realized that subconsciously he'd seen the man leaning in that area for awhile now but Boyd hadn't paid attention. It wasn't until he focused on the side view mirror and he saw the reflection of the man's face as the car started that Boyd realized with a jolt that it was Ethan.

"Fuck," Boyd hissed without thinking and immediately threw the binoculars to the side as he scrambled to his feet, nearly hitting his head on the small tin roof in his haste before he ran toward the fire escape on the other wall.

"What?" Cade said immediately.

"Target on the move," Boyd said as he sprinted to the edge of the roof and, without thinking, jumped off. The fire escape didn't extend to the roof but it was going to be the fastest way down. His legs jarred with the impact as he hit the uppermost metal grate and he nearly fell over the side, catching himself against the rickety, rusty railing. The entire fire escape groaned with the impact and shifted slightly but otherwise held.

"What?" Cade demanded incredulously. "Where?"

Boyd half ran and half jumped his way down the fire escape and cut himself on the ladder at the bottom as he slid down the last several feet. The ladder stopped suddenly a few feet off the ground and he fell, stumbled, and caught himself. Without missing a beat, he ran straight toward the motorcycle he'd seen earlier.

"Black four-door sedan, Ford Taurus, probably early teens," Boyd reported as he sprinted. "Southbound on Maynard, headed out of town. Partial on the plate, Charlie Zulu Mike one."

"Shit," Cade snapped. "Toby--"

"I'm on it," Toby said immediately.

"Too late," Boyd said as he jerked open the hatch he'd seen the man drop the keys into and snatched them out. "You'll need wheels." He started the motorcycle and nearly lost control as he gunned it and turned at the same time. "I'm in pursuit."

Distantly, he thought he heard a man shouting, "Hey, that's my bike!" but Boyd paid him no heed. His attention was completely on the street Ethan had been headed down; one that they hadn't expected.

Their information had implied that Ethan would have been on the other side of the park, would have headed in the opposite direction. Boyd was the only one close enough to be able to catch him; Toby, on foot, was going to be unable to provide any back up at all now that Ethan was so far away.

"Any others?" Cade's voice said over the radio, partially lost to the wind as Boyd increased his speed.

"Unknown, one at most," Boyd reported tersely, furious with himself.

After all those thoughts about not letting Sin get to him or ruin anything else, here he was-- destroying the mission because he'd been unable to stop obsessing about his former lover. If he'd been paying attention he could have alerted Toby and Emma, and Ethan would already be nearly apprehended instead of getting away.

There was only one way to fix this-- he had to stop Ethan, he had to finish the mission.

Boyd leaned forward, squinting his eyes nearly shut against the wind that made it almost impossible to see and he accelerated until he was able to see the Taurus ahead of him. Luckily, there was no traffic on the less-used street headed into the countryside. Ethan was driving at a normal rate until he presumably looked in the rear view mirror and saw Boyd closing in quickly behind him.

The Taurus sped up and Boyd set his jaw, ignoring the icy prickling of the wind against his bare face and even the way his hat fluttered on his head as if it was about to fly off.

He didn't care about anything at that moment-- not the idea of the camera being lost and the live feed disappearing, or the fact there was no back up, or the fact that although he'd become pretty good at driving a motorcycle during his training that didn't mean he was accustomed to high speed chases, or the fact that without a helmet or proper road gear he'd probably be killed or disabled if he crashed... The only thing he cared about was catching Ethan alive.

"Status," Cade barked over the radio; Boyd could barely hear him with the interference from the wind.

"Southbound on 95," Boyd replied, ignoring any other chatter on the radio. "Rest of plate is zero nine five. Target's going about 90, 95."

"Can you catch him?"

"I won't stop until I do," Boyd said seriously.

Cade made a noise that may have been approval but Boyd had already stopped listening. It took several minutes for Boyd to catch up to the Taurus but he was finally able to pull up alongside the passenger door.

Boyd was able to see that at least the man was alone; it wouldn't have stopped Boyd from pursuing him but it was going to make it easier to take him down. Ethan looked over at him calmly and suddenly jerked the steering wheel, nearly hitting Boyd with the side of the car as Boyd immediately evaded. Ethan did the same thing two more times quickly, going further into Boyd's space each time and forcing Boyd a few feet away to avoid losing control of the motorcycle.

With one hand on the handlebar, Boyd quickly reached into his pocket for something heavy and nearly lost control of the bike in the process. He caught himself just before he hit the side of an overpass and swerved back behind the Taurus, heart pounding and adrenaline spiking in a way that made him feel more alive, more crystal clear on his purpose.

He needed something to break the passenger window but all he had on him was the radio itself and since it was a small model, that wouldn't work. Luckily, this was one of the few times he actually had a gun with him; Cade had insisted they all carry weapons on the mission.

Boyd sped up alongside the Taurus again and, dividing his attention between staying on the curving, hilly road and not getting too close to the car, he shot at the passenger window, making sure to do it from an angle that wouldn't hit Ethan and was more likely to hit the windshield on the passenger's side instead. Even so, it was a reckless move and Ethan jerked down, automatically swerving the car away from Boyd.

Eyes narrowed, Boyd dropped his speed just enough to shoot at the window a few more times; the glass cracked with the bullet holes and shattered.

Speeding up alongside the car again, Boyd looked in to see Ethan glaring furiously but completely unharmed. "Fuck off!" Ethan yelled angrily as he swung the car violently toward Boyd again.

Boyd swerved just enough to avoid the immediate impact but this time, instead of getting far away, he grabbed onto the passenger window, ignoring the glass that cut his hands. The motorcycle started to jerk beneath him now that he wasn't controlling it and he nearly smashed his leg between the car and bike before he had to let go of the window with one hand just to control the handlebars with the other.

Ethan saw what he was trying to do and slammed the car to the side again. Boyd wasn't fast enough to evade and his leg ached violently with the pressure of the brief second it was pressed between the two vehicles before he was able to get the motorcycle a few inches away.

Before the same thing could happen again, Boyd quickly swung his far leg over the motorcycle and grabbed the window with both hands, letting the gun and bike fall away beneath him as he held onto the passenger side of the car. The motorcycle swerved and clipped the back end of the Taurus. Ethan jerked the wheel to regain control and Boyd nearly fell off, just barely managing to get his elbow inside in time.

Boyd tried to keep his boots off the pavement but he didn't quite have enough upper body strength and the rubber soles of his boots burned hot against the ground speeding below him. His toe caught against the road and he nearly lost his balance again as it jerked his legs out beneath him and slammed him violently against the back edge of the broken window. He felt glass grind into his shoulder, fingers and arm, but at least it was the popcorn glass of passenger windows and not as sharp as it could have been.

"Who are you?" Ethan shouted. He jerked the car again and Boyd just barely got his feet up in time before they could catch against the ground and force half of him under the car or worse.

Boyd didn't answer and instead focused on doing his best to brace his feet against the side of the vehicle as he used all his upper body strength to try to pull himself inside. The soles of his boots kept slipping and sliding against the side of the vehicle and if it weren't for his death grip on the window, he would have fallen off and probably been run over by the back wheels of the Taurus.

Seeming annoyed but unsurprised by Boyd's tenacity and lack of response, Ethan jerked the car back and forth in a rough and quick zigzag movement that caused the tires to squeal against the road and Boyd's lower body to literally fly off the side then slam into the car repeatedly. Boyd grit his teeth and nearly lost his grip again several times before he was able to use the momentum of the car to push himself inside further.

Boyd was able to get his upper body inside when Ethan, eyes narrowed and expression determined, suddenly leaned over and unlatched the handle on the passenger side door before jerking the car to the side again. This time the entire door swung open and Boyd lost his hold on the window briefly. His hands slipped and he hit the side of the door as his heels skidded along the road.

The sudden resistance caused the door to suddenly slam shut and part of Boyd's body was wrenched alongside the car briefly, his fingers sliding across the side of the window and just barely catching in the corner. The side of his leg briefly scoured against the pavement, burning against his jeans in a manner that would tear a hole in the heavy fabric in no time.

Breathing heavily, Boyd painstakingly used all his upper body strength to pull himself up again as he held his feet as best he could off the ground. It took him a moment to manage and if his fingers weren't locked in place, he probably would have fallen. This time, he immediately braced himself against the side of the car, and this time he tried to move faster, hoping that his own momentum would aid him since going slower had been proving futile.

"Who the fuck are you?" Ethan demanded, seeming incredulous and angry that his attempts so far hadn't shaken Boyd off.

Once again, Boyd didn't answer, and this time when Ethan moved to jerk the steering wheel, Boyd paid close attention to which direction Ethan looked like he'd go and Boyd braced himself accordingly. It took another heart-pounding several seconds but Boyd was finally able to get his upper body inside, this time with his hand over the lock so Ethan wouldn't be able to do the same thing again.

Ethan narrowed his eyes and looked to the side briefly; Boyd took that as his chance to jerk himself inside fully, noting as he dropped onto the passenger seat that Ethan was looking down for something. Boyd immediately grabbed the steering wheel with one hand and tried to press on Ethan's windpipe with his other arm.

Ethan immediately slammed his arm around and hit Boyd painfully in his upper stomach then tried again for his throat. Boyd brought an arm up to block and felt a spike of pain from the impact but successfully kept Ethan at bay.

He struggled against Ethan, who was keeping half his attention on the road but seemed more intent on knocking Boyd out, and as a result the car swerved dangerously a few times as Ethan lost control of the wheel.

Ethan tried to hit Boyd again and Boyd blocked it, only then realizing that Ethan had a knife in his hand. Boyd grabbed Ethan's fingers and quickly twisted his wrist back with a snap, causing the knife to clatter to the console where Boyd grabbed it and immediately threw it out the window.

Ethan made a furious noise within his throat and the fight continued.

Boyd used all the combat training he could but he had to be careful how he would knock Ethan out so he wouldn't endanger them both since the car was still speeding. Although they were headed into rural area, with the amount of trees, hills and quick turns, they could easily get into a crash that neither of them would walk away from. At least they seemed to be headed into some more open areas, with only gradual hills around them and fewer trees.

Boyd tried to use both hands to press on Ethan's windpipe, to choke him into unconsciousness, but Ethan just jerked the car around wildly until Boyd had to stop for fear of the car rolling. Boyd tried to grab the steering wheel to steady it with one hand and jerk Ethan out of the driver's seat with the other but Ethan resisted furiously and struck Boyd repeatedly on the head until Boyd was forced to block the punches or risk getting knocked out and probably thrown from the moving vehicle.

The only good news was that they both seemed to be without weapons but that didn't make it any easier to finish the job.

After several minutes of fighting in which Boyd tried to stop the car, tried to gain control of the vehicle, and tried to knock Ethan unconscious, all without success, Boyd finally growled in annoyance, "Stop the fucking car! You'll kill us both!"

"I'll kill you," Ethan said heatedly, expression somewhat crazed.

Boyd had just enough time to realize that Ethan was ensuring that his own seat belt was securely in place before Ethan suddenly slammed the steering wheel all the way to the side, causing the car to squeal as the back tires fishtailed angrily. Suddenly the entire vehicle flew on its side, smashed against the ground, and kept going.

Boyd tried to get his seat belt on but he barely got it hooked before they were rolling violently across the terrain, windows smashing out around them as glass flew everywhere, blood flying in arcs that obscured his vision. The next several harrowing seconds were consumed by the smoke of the vehicle as it crashed against the rocks and the angry squeal of metal as it ripped and broke away around them.

The world spun confusingly around Boyd and the seat belt dug into him so painfully that he knew it would bruise. As the car finally landed on its roof and skidded along the ground, the fact he hadn't quite gotten his seat belt properly latched was apparent as it finally broke open beneath him, causing him to fall down against the roof and just barely catch himself before he broke his neck.

The chaos and violence of the moment was there and gone in seconds but the deafening sound of crunching metal and crashing glass echoed in Boyd's ears even after they rocked to a stop. He coughed violently in the smoke and dust, dazed and in shock, his entire body feeling weak and shaky. He pushed himself up just as he heard movement beside him.

Ethan unbuckled his seat belt and awkwardly fell to the roof, navigating his way around the deployed driver's side airbag and crawling out the driver's side window that had broken in the crash.

Boyd could hear Ethan digging around; a distant sound in the back and the thump of something onto the ground, but Boyd couldn't understand what it meant.

With a shake of his head, gaze blurred and unfocused, Boyd was just trying to figure out how to get out when hands enclosed violently on his legs and he was roughly jerked out of the car. He was flipped onto his back, coughing with the dirt and smoke he inhaled in the process, and a foot came firmly down on his chest and held him still.

Boyd squinted up, trying to understand what was happening, when he recognized the barrel of a gun aimed between his eyes and Ethan's cold face, unfocused in the background.

"I'll ask again," Ethan said calmly, looking far better than Boyd did, which was unsurprising since Ethan had been protected by both an airbag and a seat belt, although he still seemed a little unsteady on his feet. "Who are you? CIA? FBI?"

"Does it matter?" Boyd asked, coughing again as a puff of dust got caught in his throat. He peered up at Ethan with eyes that were watering slightly from the acrid smoke in the air.

"Yes, actually it does," Ethan said as he tilted his head. "I want to know who I'm sending a message to, and the violence of the message depends on the recipient." He smiled pleasantly, seeming as though he enjoyed the idea, and there was more than a little madness in his eyes.

"Hmm." Boyd considered that and dropped his head to the side in a show of weakness, although what he was really doing was trying to figure out where the gun had come from.

His mind was slowly starting to work again as the shock of the car accident wore off and it occurred to him that Ethan must have taken something from the trunk. Sure enough, a duffel bag was sitting nearby and a gun holster was discarded to the side. Boyd let his eyes fall half shut, as if he was struggling to stay conscious, and gave no indication with his body language that he was ready to fight back.

"I'm with the Girl Scouts," Boyd said as he looked back up at Ethan blankly.

Ethan gave him a look that slowly morphed from incredulous to pleased. "A smart ass, huh? I can see I'm going to enjoy this."

He shifted the gun down, apparently intending to torture Boyd by shooting him in non-lethal areas to extend his life, but that movement was all that Boyd was waiting for. Without warning he suddenly jerked and knocked Ethan's leg off him with all his strength, causing the shot to go wide as Boyd rolled out of the way.

The next several minutes were confusing and chaotic as they each fought for control of the situation and the gun. Ethan kept trying to aim the weapon at Boyd, who was trying to keep it aimed away from both of them.

Boyd slammed his elbow into Ethan and tried several of the combat moves he'd been taught but many of them were aimed at killing or permanent injuries and Boyd couldn't risk that. He couldn't hear anything except the scuffling of their feet against the ground, the impact of their fists and arms against each other, the harsh panting of their breath.

When he looked into Ethan's crazed and intense eyes, he knew it was the same for the other man.

Finally, Boyd managed to grab the duffel bag and slam it against Ethan's head, trying to knock him out. But Ethan rolled with the movement and twisted the duffel bag so that Boyd's hand and wrist was caught in the strap. Ethan abruptly stepped down on the strap where it met the duffel bag, wrenching Boyd's arm down and to the side. Boyd was jerked down to one knee, arm caught, and as he worked quickly to unwrap his hand, he looked up to once again stare down the barrel of the gun.

Boyd stopped trying to get his hand away and tried to disarm Ethan but he didn't have near the leverage or reach he needed and Ethan easily evaded him; almost playfully, he put all his weight on the foot holding down the strap and kicked Boyd in the head. Boyd's head snapped back and he was unable to stop himself before he slammed onto his back, arm twisted at a painful angle.

Panting to regain his breath, Boyd stared up at Ethan, who stared back down mercilessly.

"Maybe I don't have time to play with you after all," Ethan observed idly and aimed the gun between Boyd's eyes again.

There wasn't much Boyd could do from his angle and with his arm caught; he wanted to keep fighting but his body just wouldn't let him. He still felt shaky from the accident and his entire body ached-- from his head to the stab wounds where he could feel the leaking blood slowly draining his energy. He felt exhausted, drained, and weak, and whatever adrenaline high had pushed him this far had all but disappeared except for the staccato pounding of his heart.

He had to acknowledge that Ethan had gained complete control of the situation. Boyd just stared at Ethan and wondered how pissed the others would be when they found out how terribly he'd failed.

A strange thought passed through his mind; all that talk of people dying and here Boyd was, about to become a statistic. Would Doug regale future trainees with the story of his death to scare them away or would Boyd just be a side note?

"Any last words?" Ethan asked, eyebrow raised. "I'll make sure they carve it on your gravestone."

Boyd was too tired to bother with a witty response. His head ached from all the times he'd been hit in the last half hour and, slightly deliriously, he thought that at least once his brains were blown out it would relieve the pressure.

He started to close his eyes but didn't; it was for that reason he saw when Ethan smirked but then suddenly jerked, started to look to the side in surprise, then swayed and abruptly crumpled into a heap on top of Boyd.

He grunted with the sudden dead weight on him and was still unable to get his hand free from the strap since Ethan's leg had fallen over the bag.

For a moment he felt a spike of surprise and fear-- strangely, he was almost more afraid of living and having Ethan suddenly die and the mission failing than he was of Ethan staying alive and killing him because then at least another group could get Ethan eventually. But before he could raise a hand to check Ethan's pulse, the man's body was suddenly lifted easily off Boyd.

"Wait to ask that question 'till it's actually his time," Cade said in mild irritation to Ethan's unconscious body before he unceremoniously dropped Ethan to the side. Looking down at Boyd, Cade raised his eyebrows and gave him a look that was too hard for Boyd's muddled mind to decipher.

"You," Cade informed Boyd as he reached down to grab his arm and yank him to his feet, "are one crazy fucking bastard." Boyd stumbled and almost fell and Cade caught him with a hand against his arm but let go immediately when it was clear Boyd had regained his balance. "You know that?"

Boyd shook his head slightly, one hand going up to his temple as his head throbbed with the sudden change in position. He peered blearily down at Ethan. "What happened?"

Cade rolled his eyes and grabbed the duffel bag off the ground as he held up his tranquilizer gun in the other hand. "Tranq gun, you fucktard. I can't believe you raced off without backup on a no-kill without at least something like that."

"I was in a hurry," Boyd mumbled. He blinked a few times as he tried to comprehend what had just happened; that he wasn't dead after all, that the mission was a success. That Cade, of all people, had been the one to save him. He looked over at his teammate and frowned. "The others?"

Cade gave a rolling shrug and easily jerked Ethan off the ground, throwing the man over his shoulder. "S'all good. They got everything. Didn't you listen to any of the shit on the radio?"

Boyd narrowed his eyes in confusion and looked down, realizing belatedly that his radio had been crushed sometime during his pursuit. "Guess not."

He looked up as Cade strode to the nearby surveillance van and Boyd wondered how he'd managed to miss hearing the vehicle approach; but then, Ethan and he had been focused so intently on each other that if Cade had rolled in quietly it was probably no surprise.

Boyd realized he'd lost his hat somewhere along the way as well and the camera transmitting his live-feed back to the Agency was long gone. He hoped Doug wouldn't be too irritated about that.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Boyd's still somewhat shocked mind. "The transmitter came off. How'd you know...?"

Giving him a seriously unimpressed look, Cade seemed almost offended by the question. "C'mon, man. Even McAvoy wouldn't have missed the screech marks and broken car all over the place, not to mention that trashed bike." He raised an eyebrow. "The hell were you doing, anyway? Trying to kill him?"

"He's the one who crashed us," Boyd said, although somehow it came out slightly sullenly.

"Whatever," Cade said without care as he carelessly threw Ethan into the back of the van and expertly tied his hands and feet, then tied him to a hook in the center of the floor. "Mission accomplished and all that shit. I'm just glad you didn't fuck up my time to shine." He looked over as Boyd swayed on his feet and he frowned. "Jesus, just get in the fuckin' van already. You're bleeding all over hell and look like a fuckin' ghost. We'd better get back before your pussy ass dies on me."

Boyd tried to give him a look but then decided he really didn't care; sitting down did sound good right then. He wandered over to the van and crawled inside, collapsing against the passenger seat and closing his burning eyes as he tilted his head back. A jumbled confusion of echoes of screeching tires and memory of glass breaking all around him greeted him in the darkness and he was too tired to feel any relief that he'd made it through alive.

Almost immediately, he felt the van jerk as Cade dropped into the driver's seat and slammed the door shut behind him. Without saying anything he immediately yanked Boyd's arm over and examined it until he found the cut from the knife.

"That may need a stitch or two," Cade observed, not seeming to care, and Boyd slit his eyes open just enough to give him an odd look. Cade grabbed a First Aid kit beneath his seat and roughly, without bothering to be gentle in the least, wrapped the wound with white gauze that almost immediately stained red. He just glared when Boyd sat there and stared at him blankly.

"Well, Princess?" Cade demanded impatiently. "Where are the other boo-boos the big bad man gave you? I don't feel like dealing with Doug or whoever bitching that we got blood all over this shitty ass van, but you look like you swam in a lake of it."

Boyd frowned and looked down at himself. "It's not that bad."

"You're delirious, possibly dying, and a crazy asshole," Cade said pointedly, sounding more impatient than cruel. "Shut the fuck up and will yourself to stop bleeding or tell me what needs patching up. I'm not gonna undress your faggot ass so work with me here."

"I'll do it," Boyd said, not sure whether he was annoyed or exasperated with Cade at that moment. He grabbed a piece of gauze and some of the tape and looked for the cut he knew would be in his shirt by his upper stomach.

"Fine. Stay here," Cade commanded and got out of the van again.

Boyd glanced at Cade just long enough to see the man head toward the wrecked Taurus before Boyd returned his attention to his wounds.

He was glad Cade left; he had to pull his shirt up to wipe off some of the blood and stick the gauze pad over the wound in his stomach. It hurt but not terribly. Even though Ethan had stabbed him, the blade hadn't been long and in the chaos Ethan had held it at an odd angle that had caused more of a painful, bloody nuisance than anything. He doubted he would even need many stitches. Despite Cade's comment, the wounds were relatively minor and he didn't anticipate them bothering him much even in training.

Boyd finished with the wound and was idly picking glass out of his hands and arms and cleaning the wounds with peroxide wipes when Cade returned to the van and slammed the driver's door shut again. "The car's clean and no one'll give a shit that some crappy Taurus died out here. It's a shame you wrecked that sweet bike, though. What the hell happened, anyway?"

At first Boyd didn't answer but then he looked at Cade sidelong. "I got by him on the bike and crawled in the window. But then I couldn't get him to stop so he crashed us."

Cade stared at him for a long moment, as if wondering whether Boyd was kidding, but he apparently determined he wasn't because he raised his eyebrows and looked grudgingly impressed. "That so," he said simply.

Boyd nodded slightly then turned his head forward again, sliding his eyes closed. They were silent briefly as Cade turned the van around and returned to the road, presumably toward Annadale Beach and the rest of the group.

"You're stayin' in the van when we get to town, by the way. You look like shit." Cade paused, then added offhandedly, "But, hey. Workman's comp, at least."

"Fuck that," Boyd mumbled grumpily, bringing up one foot so Cade could see the way his boots were scratched to hell, the soles ripped away or nearly destroyed in some places. "I want new boots."

Cade snorted but actually smirked in amusement.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Nineteen...