Afterimage Chapter Twenty

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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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Afterimage Chapter Twenty

Uploaded on 2/28/2009

The doors to the Fourth Floor Detainment Center opened immediately when Boyd swiped his ID card and, with only the briefest hesitation, he strode down the hall.

He'd only been on the floor twice; once without permission when he'd rescued Sin from the box and the other when he'd been brought to Shane's room for punishment after Monterrey. Since the last person he wanted to think about was Sin and since he definitely didn't want to remember his time with Shane, this wasn't exactly Boyd's first choice for a destination. But since he was here for his job and he had a lot of other issues on his mind, the location wasn't something that particularly bothered him today.

It only took him a few minutes to arrive at the interrogation room where Detainee #359 was being held. All Boyd knew about her was that she'd been the only person captured during the raid on the Agency and that he was supposed to get whatever information from her that he could using the interrogation techniques they'd been taught in training.

Two guards stood watch outside the room but other than a glance toward Boyd and his ID, they didn't bother to interact with him. Boyd was the second trainee to arrive for the interrogation; Harriet had been there the day before, and Emma, Jon, Cade and Toby would each be coming in that order during the next four days. Intensive weapons training was going on simultaneously so there was never a lull in activity for the trainees.

One of the guards opened the door and Boyd stepped inside.

The room was startlingly white; the walls, floor, even the table and chair that were bolted to the floor... everything was as blindingly white as new snow. A long mirror horizontally lined one wall and as Boyd glanced at his reflection, he couldn't help but feel a sense of anxiety, knowing that Doug was observing on the other side.

After a brief moment Boyd finally allowed his gaze to fully rest on the woman who was slouched in one corner of the room. She was not what Boyd had expected although he realized that he hadn't really known what to expect from the terrorist at all.

Detainee #359, or Jane Doe as Doug referred to her, appeared to be in her early thirties. She had long willowy limbs and appeared underweight which was likely due to the conditions she was kept in or perhaps even her own refusal to eat. As a result of her emaciated state, Jane's attractive face was gaunt.

She had very pronounced cheekbones that stuck out even more because of her thinness and full, bow-shaped lips. Her sandy complexion was pale, peaked and her large brown eyes were dull and uninterested in everything around her although there was still obvious resentment in her stare as she looked up at Boyd.

He couldn't tell her ethnicity immediately and while he wanted to lean towards Latina of some sort, she also looked as though she could be Native American.

Boyd calmly sat down in one of the chairs and watched her. Unsurprisingly, she didn't move or react and at first the two of them sat in silence. After a few moments, Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly. "Aren't you uncomfortable down there?"

Jane looked up at him dully and shrugged. "No. Not especially." She had a very slight accent and although it was obviously Spanish, it was so faint that he couldn't tell which country it would have originated from.

"Alright," Boyd said easily and leaned back in the chair. He kept his expression and body language completely unassuming. "If you're sure."

Jane stared at him blankly and said nothing.

Boyd continued to watch her calmly for a short period of time, seemingly unmindful of any time limits. In truth, he basically had eight hours to work with; a four hour period, an interval of about an hour in which he could leave if he chose, and another four hours if he needed more time. But as far as he was concerned, rushing into this would do him no good.

"I'm sure you don't particularly feel like talking to me right now and I understand that," he said at length, his tone reasonable. "Honestly, I'd feel the same if I were you."

Jane continued to stare at him in the same skeptical and unimpressed manner. He idly wondered if she knew she was the subject of a training procedure or if this whole thing was just incredibly odd to her. "Good for you," she said.

He didn't look away, gauging her reaction and body language. He'd already thought about how he would go about this. In order to complete this part of the training, he just needed to get some sort of information from her. It didn't need to be important but chances were high that she didn't know that.

There was no point in even trying for the bigger questions of who she was, what group she'd been with, what their plans had been, and so on... He knew very well how loyal rebels tended to be and if the Agency hadn't gotten that information out of her in several months of interrogation by people specialized in it, then there was no way he'd get it out of her in a few hours with very little training.

Instead, he looked at it from another angle.

He figured it was very likely that in the course of her time in the hands of the Agency, she'd probably already given away small, what to her was inconsequential information. She'd be much more likely to repeat that information to him because she would feel like it did him no good, that it was already in her file.

But even a small, inconsequential piece of information from her would mean that he'd passed this test and he definitely could not afford to fail this.

He could tell from her attitude that threat and force wouldn't do anything useful and it wasn't his style anyway. He wasn't even going to bother trying the tactic of claiming her people clearly didn't care about her and/or had abandoned her because he had no idea what group she was with and he didn't want to tip his cards, let her know how little he actually knew.

Not to mention she probably felt loyal enough that she'd just think it was all bullshit anyway and that regardless of whether she'd been caught, it didn't change her relationship with her group.

Instead, he planned to draw her into a conversation; to prolong the time she talked so there was higher likelihood that she would offhandedly mention something useful to him. There wasn't much he could comment on about her to start that conversation except, he decided, her accent, which intrigued him anyway. The best way to determine more about it was to get her to speak in Spanish, to show her he was willing to make an effort on his part to connect.

"Your accent is interesting," he idly observed in Spanish.

"Is it?" She replied and although it seemed she was speaking more out of boredom than actual need to carry on the conversation, she at least raised her eyebrows at him. It was better than the non-expression she'd had previously.

"Yes," Boyd said, then paused to consider her.

It was frustrating not being able to translate more complex ideas into Spanish simply because his vocabulary and knowledge of tenses wasn't strong enough but he was hoping to hold off as long as possible before he had to revert back to English. It was a shame she didn't speak French; it would have made it far easier on him.

He considered what sorts of topics he would realistically be able to talk about in Spanish.

"I went to Mexico for a time. Did you go there before?" The question was more rhetorical than anything; he didn't expect her to actually answer.

Jane crossed her legs in front of her and tilted her head back against the wall, eyes rolling up to the ceiling. "You must not travel frequently," she said tiredly. "My accent is not Mexican."

"I know," Boyd said easily. "I went to Mexico City, Monterrey, Tijuana... the people spoke with many different accents but not yours." In truth, he'd only been to Monterrey but he didn't want to narrow it down to a single city.

Jane didn't respond for nearly an entire minute and during that time she continued to stare at the ceiling, although she grew almost unnaturally still. The abrupt silence ended finally as she said calmly, "I wouldn't know. I've never been to any of those places."

As soon as the words rolled off her tongue, Jane gave him the strangest look that Boyd couldn't even begin to properly analyze. It was suspicious and paranoid but there was a slight edge to it, to the way her eyes briefly seemed to drink him in entirely, that he didn't understand at all.

"The city is interesting. There are many people there," Boyd said idly, acting as though he didn't notice anything strange. "The weather is nice too."

Jane finally looked at him again, not seeming very impressed although she continued to stare at him with the odd, narrow-eyed expression. "Are you going somewhere with this, kid? I've been here for several months and yesterday I had one pathetic excuse for an interrogation and now I have another. What is the point? To torture me with boredom?"

She scoffed disgustedly. "What's your name, anyway? Are you even supposed to be here?"

Boyd kept his expression and body language perfectly comfortable and calm, not letting on how pleased he was that he'd finally gotten her to say more than a few words. Her accent was heavy and odd in a way; for instance, she pronounced ll differently than the Spanish-speakers in Mexico.

"My name's Jim," he said, tilting his head with a mildly curious expression. "I studied accents and you sound like you're from Spain...?"

Jane just made a face. "Some regions in South America speak similar to people in Spain."

With a shrug, Boyd settled back in his chair and idly watched her. He didn't let on that he felt a sense of thrill at her offhanded comment; the fact that she implied she was from somewhere in that area probably meant he just passed the test. Still, just in case, he didn't stop there. Maybe he could get more out of her.

Silence fell between the two of them briefly as Boyd didn't immediately respond and she felt no need to offer more information.

"You know," he started offhandedly in English, since it didn't matter anymore if she continued in Spanish and he wasn't fluent enough to keep a complex conversation going. He decided to try it from another angle, to see if she'd mention anything about the people she had been with. The best way to do that was to bring up information Sin had mentioned.

"You're caught here for months, random people come to ask all these questions, and you may never get to leave. I'd be pretty pissed if I were you, especially since my partner said the guy you were with bailed without a glance back."

Jane didn't immediately reply, likely having made similar observations more than once since she'd been captured, but after a pause it seemed that something occurred to her. Her eyes narrowed slightly and she sat up straighter, leaning forward with her hands planted against the floor as she stared at him intently.

Boyd could see burn marks on her palms when she moved them and he wondered what kind of torture she'd been subjected to.

"Your partner?" Jane eyed him warily, making no attempt to hide her interest. It was just another aspect of what he'd seen of her personality and mannerisms that made him wonder what group she was actually with. She didn't seem like the hardened and cynical rebels he'd encountered in the past; he didn't really know what to make of her but it seemed clear that this was the first time she'd been captured. "The man who detained me is your partner?"

"Yes," Boyd said, keeping the intrigue out of his expression. Why did she respond so much to the idea of who had captured her? "He is."

"Who is he?" Jane all but demanded, dark eyebrows drawing together. Her voice was so intense, so urgent, that it was obvious Sin's identity mattered to her for some reason.

Boyd considered her thoughtfully. "Hmm."

At first he didn't seem as though he would respond but then he casually leaned forward against the table, his hands clasped calmly in front of him. "How about this? I'll tell you something about him if you tell me something about yourself."

Jane sat back again as she eyed him doubtfully. "Fine."

There was another stretch of silence as they stared at each other. It seemed as though Jane was struggling with what she would ask about Sin, clearly under no delusions that Boyd would give real information about his partner. She stared at Boyd with the same intriguing expression and finally asked, "What's his ethnicity?"

Boyd didn't answer immediately. He thought that seemed like an odd question since he couldn't see how that information was useful to her. At the same time, no matter how he thought it through he couldn't think of a way that giving her the truth about that would negatively affect anything, even if she somehow got free.

"Mexican and Chinese," he said finally.

Jane stared at him before allowing her gaze to drop as she looked at the burn scars on her hands blankly. She didn't immediately move or say anything further.

Having no idea what to make of her reaction, Boyd stayed quiet a moment as he thought about what to ask her. Just as she had with him, he knew she would never answer a serious question that would reveal too much. But maybe he could at least get some information on what sort of background she had.

"So, what do you do for a living other than terrorize places like this?"

The woman scoffed and slowly rubbed her hands together. "I suppose you can say I steal. And that's really all I have to say."

Boyd nodded and didn't press the subject. He ended up spending the next portion of an hour in the room, idly talking just to see if he could get her to say anything further. But it was obvious that she was done giving him any information; long silences passed between them and she barely spoke in complete sentences after twenty minutes. Eventually, he decided it wasn't necessary to drag this out any longer since he already had passed the test and it was just a waste of their time at this point.

He ended up leaving the Fourth floor and returning to the marksmanship training. Boyd felt a definite sense of relief as he walked back toward the training building; he'd managed to make it through the interrogation without any problems that he knew of and he hoped that Doug wouldn't find too much to be annoyed with.

Boyd hadn't seen Doug since the morning of the last break but he knew better than to expect Doug to suddenly stop scrutinizing everything he did. He'd obviously seriously pissed Doug off and it would take more than a successful interrogation to make up for the mistake in Annadale Beach.

The next few days passed rather uneventfully as they trained with Captain Chase, the captain in charge of training. Boyd had never worked with the woman before and it turned out she was curt, to the point, and held the trainees to a high standard. At the same time she didn't exhibit any of the sarcasm or taunting that Doug typically did.

Instead, she would simply point blank say what faults a trainee had, how to correct them and would make the trainee repeat the attempt until they got it right. A few times, that had resulted in someone making a spectacle of themselves when they couldn't quite fix it but she didn't seem to take any pleasure out of it; she simply watched with a critical eye to know where the move was going wrong.

On the seventh day, Doug returned to work with them as all six of the candidates were together for one more day of marksmanship as a group. They used laser guns and interactive holograms for the exercise; the holograms popping up around them at various distances and poses, programmed to react realistically to what happened around them. The idea was to present scenarios which would test the agent's immediate response to different situations and to see whether they could accurately kill only the suspect-- often a terrorist or rebel of some sort-- without endangering innocents around them.

If an innocent victim was shot, he or she would crumple to the ground and the rebel would escalate the situation but if the rebel was shot then the innocent victims would sometimes cheer or flee.

The holograms and their responses were extremely realistic, giving the impression at times that this was really happening. It was a strange experience and for the most part Boyd did well except one point when he realized the holographic suspect he had to kill was a father with a small son. The man's eyes were dark brown and he had a friendly smile; something about the man had made Boyd think of his own father, made him not want to make that child an orphan.

He hesitated only the slightest hint before he pulled the trigger and killed the man in the scenario. The little boy jumped, looked startled, then dropped by his father and started screaming and crying. Boyd watched the scenario play out, his expression turning slightly cold as he refused to let himself feel anything at the sight and when the large green and red target marks finally showed up on the screen he only paid attention to how he'd killed the man in one merciful shot to the head.

It may have been pure luck but Doug didn't comment on the hesitation, which had admittedly been very brief. Boyd expected every small thing he did wrong to be pointed out so he felt relieved and thought that maybe Captain Chase had been monitoring him at that point. They only had two rooms where the scenarios could play out so while two trainees were in the rooms, the other four waited for their turn in the hallway.

The training went into the early evening before Doug and Captain Chase left and the six trainees who remained ended up heading toward the cafeteria. There was now a definite shift in their interaction from the first time they'd sat in a room together.

Whereas initially, several of them had sat alone or in groups of people they knew, now they ended up all sitting at the same table. Although their personalities hadn't changed drastically, there were certain shifts in intensity that generally made it easier for them to get along.

Boyd was just sitting down with a mug of Earl Grey tea and a slightly stale bagel when he realized he'd entered into the middle of a conversation.

"Yeah, she and General Carhart are lovers," Toby was telling the group.

"Who?" Boyd asked, mildly startled. He'd never heard of anyone Carhart was involved with.

"Captain Chase. They're involved. Is it surprising?" Toby asked curiously since Boyd was the only one of the group who'd ever had close interaction with Carhart.

Although Boyd hadn't expected that tidbit of information, he contemplated it as he drew his eyebrows down and stared at his tea. When he thought about their personalities it did seem as though the two of them could get along. Captain Chase seemed to be about ten years younger than Carhart but she had the sort of no-nonsense, non-aggressive attitude that he could see working well with Carhart, at least as far as Boyd knew.

"I guess not," Boyd said, looking over at Toby. "They seem like they could be compatible. I barely know her and I mostly just see him in meetings though, so who knows. How long have they been together?"

"Almost two years," Emma spoke up, drawing her knee up between her and the table, with her other leg resting against the seat as if she were sitting cross-legged. She opened an apple juice bottle and raised her eyebrows when a few of the others looked at her curiously.

Boyd especially gave her a strange look; not that it mattered or would have come up but how had he missed that, how had he not even heard a rumor about Carhart and Captain Chase when he was in Carhart's unit?

It really did serve to underscore Toby's point of how little Boyd used to interact with anyone. He'd never sat around with Jeffrey or Owen like this even though he'd worked with them constantly; he'd barely spent much time with Ryan even before the raid. It brought him back to his earlier thoughts of how he'd let himself get too engrossed in Sin to the point that Sin had become everything to him.

"Actually," Emma continued casually after a moment, "there's a lot of women interested in General Carhart. He seems to be a genuinely good guy; he's smart, attractive, and high up in rank. I heard he refused to be in any relationship after his wife died but Morgan-- Captain Chase-- wants more than she's getting, so she's worried about him leaving her and all that. I also heard there was another woman once."

When she realized people were listening, Emma set the juice container on the table and leaned forward to relay more of what she'd overheard. "They said Morgan got pissed about it so she was really bitchy to everyone in training one week and Carhart and her almost ended right there. But then he dropped the other woman and never dropped Morgan so she's still happy but paranoid. Supposedly she sometimes gives the evil eye to women if they get a little too close to him. Some people said they think she's planning to get pregnant to keep him but I think that's stretching it."

Jonathan turned a page in his book and didn't comment but Toby rolled his eyes. "That's ridiculous. I don't see Chase resorting to pregnancy-trapping and even if she did, who says he would settle down and marry her just because they have a baby?"

"Oh, come on, Toby," Emma said with a teasing grin. "Don't you know soap operas and romance novels practically rely on that scenario? And they don't lie."

"If someone that stupid was involved in our training I wouldn't want any part of it," Harriet muttered as she picked up her slice of pizza. "I wouldn't be surprised if one of the General's fangirls tried it though."

"Probably," Cade said as he popped open a can of soda. "Some dumb bitch tried it on me once."

"Someone wanted to marry you?" Emma blurted in surprise before she could stop herself. She immediately looked chagrined, as if she hadn't intended to be offensive.

"No way," Cade said, giving Emma a look as if he was insulted that she thought he slept with women interested in commitment. "She wanted money. Stupid bitch thought she could get it outta me with child support or whatever bullshit. But she was fuckin' five, six other dudes at the same time so who knew whose kid it was." He took a drink of his soda and looked immensely pleased with himself as he finished, "I told her to fuck off and I wasn't giving her shit."

Toby couldn't help but give the man a scathing look. "You certainly have a way with women." He picked up his own slice of microwaved pizza and raised his eyebrows in a mock-innocent expression. "I saw that firsthand yesterday."

"Yeah, how?" Cade asked, looking at Toby oddly.

"I was to interrogate the detainee after you, remember?" Toby replied dryly, putting down the slice of pizza again and wiping grease off his thin fingers with a napkin. He looked up at Cade again before glancing at the others. "Seemed as though you took the violent approach to interrogation. She was certainly beat-up enough to imply that, anyway."

"Oh, that," Cade said dismissively, appearing completely unconcerned with the idea. "Not my fault the bitch wouldn't talk."

Boyd looked over at Cade; although he supposed it was unsurprising that Cade had resorted to violence, he didn't see why it would have been necessary for Jane unless the interrogator just hadn't had the patience.

"Wait, what?" Emma said, looking at Cade. "You hit her?"

"Yeah, so?" Cade said, giving her a challenging look. "You got a problem with it, sweetheart? We were taught we could."

"But did you even talk to her?" Emma pressed, looking as though she couldn't decide if she was annoyed or displeased. "She was pretty reasonable as far as prisoners go."

"Yeah fuckin' right she was reasonable," Cade said in annoyance. "She was a fuckin' bitch who was already pissy when I got her anyway. I wasn't gonna sit around all day taking her bullshit and smug looks."

Jon turned another page and raised an eyebrow without looking up. "I didn't have any problems."

"Big fuckin' surprise," Cade said sarcastically, looking highly irritated now. "You never get called on shit, you never have trouble, and you're always reading a fuckin' book like that shit's more interesting than anyone in the real world. Even Beaulieu's got Doug on his ass now and you're still teacher's pet. It pisses me off."

Boyd didn't say anything but he had to admit that part of him agreed somewhat with Cade, which was surprising to him. Although, on his part, he wasn't angry with Jon; he'd just noticed the same thing that Cade was pointing out.

"I'm sorry," Jon replied calmly, flipping another page. "I'll try to be more inadequate so that you feel more secure."

Harriet snickered quietly but said nothing.

Cade rolled his eyes, looking more irritated than insulted. "That's exactly the shit I'm talking about. You always gotta be better than everyone else."

"Not everyone." Jon sighed and closed his book, finally meeting Cade's gaze with his own serene stare. "You're feeling insecure and so you lash out at me because I've been doing very well during the entire course of the training. I don't boast about it, I don't even comment on it usually. It's just a fact. But if you really feel as though I piss you off that badly, it is probably best if you just pretend I don't exist. That way we won't have to take this disagreement any further than it has to go."

"I'm not fuckin' insecure, I just think it's bullshit. There's gotta be something going on-- no one's that good at everything without cheating or fuckin' some higher up." Cade met Jon's gaze challengingly and raised his eyebrows. "You got something to tell us?"

"You're so stupid. It's really unbelievable," Harriet commented idly. "Don't even answer him, Jon."

"Stay the fuck outta this, Stevens," Cade said, giving her an unimpressed look. "Your opinion means shit. I saw you together on break-- if you're not already boning him you may as well be."

Harriet glared at Cade but before she could reply, Jon did.

"Eating in the cafeteria surely implies a sexual relationship," Jon agreed in what appeared to be his typical straight-faced sarcasm.

"Not funny," Harriet said, making a face. "I doubt he understands sarcasm. He'll think you're serious."

"So?" Jon raised his eyebrows at her with a smile. "You may be offended but I on the other hand am quite pleased that people may think a beautiful woman is interested in my sorry, scarred self. Cade is doing me a great service by spreading such rumors."

Harriet stared at him blankly, clearly not knowing what to say.

"God, you're pathetic," Cade said in utter disgust and seemed to lose whatever interest he had in fighting with Jon.

"Why?" Emma asked, looking at Cade. "Harriet is gorgeous so it's not like Jon's lying." She turned her attention to Jon and Harriet with a tricky little smile. "You know, after training there'll be a lot more time for dating..." She trailed off meaningfully.

Harriet stared at her pizza and looked very mortified. "Zip it, Emma," she muttered but there was no real bite to her tone. Her attitude towards Emma had grown far friendlier in the two months of training. Emma was so genuinely outgoing and sweet that even Harriet couldn't dislike her when they spent so much time in the same room.

"I've thought of that," Jon said in the same serious tone although he gave Emma a mournful look. "But I think she dislikes me because I'm disfigured. Or maybe because I'm Irish."

"Don't be silly," Emma said dismissively. "You're dashing." She raised her eyebrows as she shifted to sit cross-legged in her seat and deadpanned, "It would have to be the Irish. She's very particular about that, you see. Only Scots need apply."

"I don't like Scottish accents," Toby put in randomly, going along with the joke. "They're too much for me. Harriet has odd taste."

"Can we please talk about something else now?" Harriet pleaded finally with a sigh. She truly looked embarrassed now.

"Okay." Toby looked at the others and pushed his empty plate away from him. "Did any of you get anything out of Jane? By the time I got to her all she would do is sit in the corner and stare at the wall. If she hadn't been responsible for all the damage done to the compound, I would have felt bad for her."

Emma gestured to get their attention. "I did, actually. Her dad worked for LITO."

"LITO?" Toby frowned slightly. "Isn't that the name of practically every gas station that's around anymore? I haven't had a fuel-based car in years but I think that's what I see around."

"Yeah," Emma said, pulling some hair behind her ear. "I think her dad must've been someone important because I got the feeling she didn't see him much, so I figured it had to be a pretty big part of the company he worked for. And then when I looked it up, I saw that they're headquartered in Argentina."

"Argentina," Boyd said in sudden understanding, the pieces falling into place. When Emma looked at him in startled confusion, he shook his head. "Sorry. That just makes sense."

"What?" she asked, drawing her eyebrows down. "Why?"

"She had the castilian accent when she spoke Spanish and when I asked if she was from Spain she said some regions in South America have the same accent," Boyd said, turning his attention to Emma. "I just couldn't figure out which area she was from."

Jon looked from Boyd to Emma with an intrigued look. "Impressive work. She told me she was from South America but now I think it's because she already figured I knew. What else did you find out?"

Emma shook her head. "That's all I got."

Boyd paused and then offered, "She also said she used to steal. And she seemed a little odd when I was talking about Mexico but I couldn't tell what she was thinking."

"Maybe she used to steal in Mexico," Toby offered for lack of anything else to say. His mouth was set in an irritated scowl, likely because he hadn't been able to get anything from the detainee at all.

"Could be," Boyd said with a shrug. Mexico was a huge place and it certainly wouldn't be surprising if the woman had stolen in one of the cities; there were plenty of people who did, just like Jorge. "It's unfortunate that she didn't feel like talking by the time you got her. We probably could've gotten more information; she was receptive to Spanish but my ability to speak it is limited so there were a lot of questions I couldn't even ask."

Toby shot Cade another indignant glare but didn't say anything more. Cade simply smirked smugly at Toby, now almost seeming proud of having thwarted the man.

Harriet turned to them again, apparently ready to contribute now that the conversation had turned away from her. "I wonder how much the Fourth's staff already got out of her. Did you see her hands?"

Emma made a face. "Yeah... I don't know. I mean, I understand that she's with the raiders but she seemed like a decent person when I talked to her. I'm not excusing what her people did in here but it sucks that she's taking the fall for all of them. I sort of feel bad for her."

Harriet nodded although she added only hesitantly, "I... kind of agree. I know people who were killed during the raid so I couldn't help but despise her on sight. I actually agree with Cade to a point that her attitude combined with what her people did made me want to just beat the shit out of her. That's probably why I didn't get far. I couldn't not keep it personal. But at the same time, we don't know how involved she was with the planning. She doesn't seem like leadership material and is likely just a lackey. We all know firsthand what it's like to have higher ups ordering us to do questionable things. So at that, I guess I can feel some compassion."

"I fuckin' don't," Cade said vehemently, although he didn't seem to be directing his anger toward anyone in the room. "We lost a lot of good people in that raid; I lost three of my best friends. Those rat bastards are the ones who brought the shit to us; they attacked us, they killed our people-- for fuck's sake, they took out the dorms and that was people just trying to fuckin' sleep! I don't give a shit who ordered her to do what, it don't mean she didn't take part. And don't try to act like if one of us was caught by them they'd be sitting there saying they felt bad we got a boo-boo on our hands. They'd probably say 'burn the motherfucker' and be done with it. So I don't see why we gotta feel so sad for her when we don't even know how many people she killed on the way to being caught."

No one immediately replied because even though they all appeared to have different opinions, it was difficult to argue with Cade's last statement. After a few moments Harriet pushed her chair back with a sigh. "Well, I think I'm going to turn in for the night. I'll see you guys tomorrow."

There was a muffled chorus as they said goodbye to her with the exception of Cade, who looked tense and irritated. It wasn't long before Cade suddenly shoved his chair back and stood so quickly that the chair almost fell over.

"Fuck this," Cade growled under his breath and immediately strode toward the door without saying goodnight. He threw his empty, crushed soda can into the garbage as he passed and shoved the cafeteria door open. He seemed to be heading in the direction of the gym from what they could see before the door slammed shut behind him.

There was a period of uncomfortable silence that followed as the remaining four candidates stayed seated.

Boyd looked down at his tea and after a moment took a sip although it had significantly cooled and he wanted to reheat it. He had to admit that he couldn't decide who he agreed with more; Harriet or Cade. He did feel a little bad for Jane because he knew what it was like on Fourth; he knew how they found a person's secret fears and exploited them mercilessly.

And he agreed with Harriet, that Jane seemed like she was probably a lackey, that she'd probably just been ordered to do it. But he thought Cade had made a few good points and regardless of why it happened, it didn't change what had occurred. Boyd hadn't lost anyone he cared about in the attack but there were plenty of people who had.

Emma played with her juice bottle with a slightly troubled expression and after a pause she glanced up at the others. Toby was looking toward where Cade had disappeared to with a somewhat dismayed expression and Jon didn't let his thoughts make it to his face.

"Alright, people," she said suddenly, looking very determined as she leaned forward and rested her forearms on the edge of the table. "Game time."

"What?" Toby gave her a mildly disdainful stare. "Game?"

"Yes, game," Emma said, her serious face firmly in place. "And don't you be thinking about skippin' out, Mr. McAvoy. I know where you live and I'll be sending your roomie after you."

Boyd looked up at her with his eyebrows slightly raised at the idea of playing fetch with Toby. "What kind of game?"

Emma raised an eyebrow. "Something interesting. Something to make you, Mr. Silent Number One," she pointed at Boyd, "and you, Number Two," she pointed at Jon, "interact with us. Something to get us talking."

She straightened her back and seemed to consider this seriously, although it was clear she was planning on something that was at least somewhat lighthearted. "I propose a question game. One of us asks a question, everyone has to answer it, including the one who asked. Then it goes to the next. Everyone asks, everyone answers. You game?" She looked at the others hopefully.

Toby sighed tragically as if the idea of playing such a game was entirely beneath him but he shrugged. "Fine then. I don't want to go to sleep yet so I guess this is preferable at the moment."

Jon fingered the spine of his book as though he were seriously debating returning to his reading but in the end he pushed it away. "It could be interesting."

Emma looked expectantly at Boyd who just shrugged. "Alright."

A bright grin immediately lightened Emma's expression. "Sweet! Okay, since it was my idea, I'll start."

She chewed her lip and looked up and to the side as she seemed to consider what to ask. It didn't take long before she returned her gaze to the others with a pleased smile. "Okay. Who, within the Agency, do you find to be attractive and/or have a crush on and why? My answer is... Hmm. Kassian Trovosky, because he's professional and has a killer body and smile." She looked at Toby. "We'll go in a clockwise order. You're up!"

Toby stared at her in horror for a full moment before shooting Boyd a suspicious glare.

Boyd looked at Toby evenly, subtly getting across in his expression without being obvious that he hadn't said anything. It was pure coincidence that Emma had named Kassian before Toby; to Boyd's knowledge, she had no idea that Toby was gay or liked Kassian and even if she did, there was no way she would have deliberately hurt Toby's feelings.

Even so, Boyd felt a little bad for Toby; the moment must be especially uncomfortable for the man since he didn't want anyone to know his sexual orientation.

After an awkward moment of silence, Toby cleared his throat. "Um. Can I pass or is that not an option?"

"Not an option," Emma said decisively, hitting her fist on the table as if she had a gavel. She seemed to be taking great enjoyment in the idea of getting the others to play this game. "No one gets freebies, no one gets a pass. You can think about the answer for thirty seconds max, that should be plenty of time."

Toby rolled his eyes and sighed heavily once again. "Fine then. I suppose... Morgan Chase would be an acceptable female. Although I'd have to fight General Carhart for her, I suppose."

Boyd glanced at Toby sidelong; an 'acceptable female?' What a way to not sound like a typical heterosexual male... Although maybe Toby didn't care as much in present company, Boyd didn't know.

Emma pointed at Toby with a nod of approval and either didn't notice Toby's wording or didn't feel the need to comment on it. "Good choice. She's hot." She looked at Jon questioningly. "Number Two?"

"Hmm." Jon's dark brows lowered over his pale blue eyes and he rubbed his chin as he thought about this seriously. "Do I only get one choice?"

Emma couldn't help a quick grin of amusement before she tried to get her moderator's face back in place. "One choice is preferable but, you know, if you've already got a Top Five picked out..."

"Brilliant!" Jon enthused and sat back in his chair before ticking women off on his fingers quickly and with little hesitation. "Agents Darlene Fields and Linda Suarez in Espionage, Gwen Jennings in Research and Development, Daniella Cruz in Unit 16 and, of course, my darling Harriet."

"Wow, you really had it ready," Emma said with a laugh, seeming delighted by Jon's participation.

"Which one's Daniella?" Boyd asked curiously, trying to think of all the women he'd seen when he'd visited Unit 16 for preparations for undercover missions.

"The receptionist." Jon leaned back in his seat with a small grin. "You couldn't have missed her. She's tall, graceful, black curls with magnificent long eyelashes and green eyes."

Toby eyed Jon oddly. "I wouldn't have taken you for a pathetic romantic beneath that serious exterior, Jonathan."

"I'm not a romantic," Jon denied mildly. "I just appreciate the female form, that's all."

"Seems like you appreciate every variety of female form judging by the list," Toby said with a snort. "Gwen is short and nerdy, Daniella is tall and graceful, Darlene is blond and voluptuous, Linda is the skinniest stick I've ever seen and Harriet..."

"Harriet is perfect," Jon said seriously. "She's my new favorite."

"Perfect, he says..." Emma drew the words out with a growing smile that made her eyes twinkle. She seemed intrigued and pleased by this development. "Alright, spill. What makes her your fave? And you have to say why on the other girls, too."

"Oh God," Toby groaned.

"I just like strong women." Jon shrugged. "The other women are beautiful but I enjoy Harriet's personality as well. There's not that much to it."

Boyd watched the interaction silently. He hadn't expected Emma's game to work so well so quickly with Jon, who was typically even quieter than Boyd himself. He didn't think he'd heard Jon say so many sentences at once in the entirety of their training.

And the fact that Jon liked Harriet was intriguing, although if Jon's preference was strong women then it made sense to be attracted to her. But judging by Harriet's reaction to the idea and the fact Boyd had never seen her look at Jon the same way she had looked at Kassian-- with that hidden sense of vulnerability and pride-- Boyd didn't think Harriet felt that way about Jon.

Emma grinned at Jon. "Well, speaking as her roomie for the past few months, good choice. She's good people."

Toby made a face. "Okay, moving on-- Boyd, it's your turn."

Boyd gave the appearance of seriously considering the question. He really hadn't thought about who he found attractive and the ones who came to mind were not people he was going to say aloud.

He quickly ran through the men he'd in any way been attracted to or knew well enough to think of them but there wasn't a good choice among them. Mentioning Kassian would be rude to Toby and it would give the wrong impression, he didn't want to think about Thierry and there was no way in hell he was saying Sin's name. Boyd didn't want to mention Ryan who was at least bisexual but in the closet since it could cause trouble and Ryan definitely had enough on his mind as it was. Not to mention he didn't really have a crush on Ryan, he just liked him.

Since it was well known that Boyd was gay he had to at least say a man's name, so he decided to just be completely ridiculous about it and lie.

"I always thought Marshal Connors was rather debonair," Boyd said finally with a quirked eyebrow.

"Is there a penalty for liars?" Jon asked innocently.

Emma looked questioningly at Jon; she'd never met Connors so she didn't know how to judge Boyd's answer. She returned her attention to Boyd and seemed thoughtful as she made a hmming noise.

"Yes," she said decisively. "He has to answer the next question twice and they both have to be the truth or he'll get a noogie." She raised her eyebrows and looked very grave. "A very painful noogie." She glanced at Toby and Jon. "Same goes for anyone."

"This is stupid," Toby told her plainly.

"You have a better penalty idea?" she asked Toby with a raised eyebrow. "I've never had to make one up before."

"Not really but yours isn't exactly going to inspire someone to be truthful." Toby sighed yet again and rolled his eyes upward. "Anyway just forget it, it doesn't matter. Is it Boyd's turn or mine?"

"Then if we think of a better one as we go we'll adopt that instead," Emma said with a shrug. She didn't seem surprised by Toby's assessment; she'd probably been thinking the same thing herself. "Yours, by the way."

"Fine." Toby thought for a moment before asking, "What careers did you hope to have in your adult life when you were a teenager, or just starting college?"

"You have to answer first," Emma reminded him. "Then same circle-- Jon would be next."

"Oh, right. Well, that's easy. When I was in high school and entering college I wanted to be a UN ambassador and do a lot of foreign aid in third world countries," Toby said without hesitation.

That made sense to Boyd, considering their conversation the first day they'd roomed together. He didn't think of anything to say aloud before Emma asked curiously, "Any particular country?"

"My area of interest was mostly Eastern Europe but I also became interested in the Middle East after a time." Toby shrugged before turning to Jon. "Your turn."

"I didn't want to be anything." When Toby gave him a doubtful glare, Jon just shrugged unconcernedly. "Not everyone has long term life goals. I didn't even go to college."

Boyd was surprised by Jon's answer but somewhat pleased; at least he wasn't the only one who had a different background. Although, to be as good as Jon was at so many different things, it made Boyd wonder what Jon had done. Once again before he spoke up, Emma was already asking what he was thinking.

"Really?" Emma asked, looking intrigued. "What got you recruited? Were you in the service?"

"What service?" Jon asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Military," she explained. "Whichever one... Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force..."

"No, I'm not American." Jon idly caressed the spine of his book. "I was never in an official army. I didn't even finish high school, to be quite honest."

Toby looked completely aghast.

"How'd you end up at the Agency then?" Boyd asked, now very curious about Jon. He hadn't realized Jon wasn't American; the man had an Irish accent but that didn't mean much since he could have moved to America long ago and retained it.

"Oh." Jon looked up at them with a smile. "I was in the FFI, or Final Front of Ireland."

"That terrorist group?" Toby's expression was a combination of horror and confusion now, although the horror was likely still aimed at Jon's lack of education. "Are you serious?"

"Very. Does that offend you? I apologize if it does." Jon didn't appear very apologetic but he didn't seem too confrontational about the matter either. "I don't keep it a secret but I don't bring it up for no reason-- it's easier to avoid confrontation with certain people on the compound."

Emma looked surprised by the information and Boyd just gave Jon a contemplative look. He was initially surprised as well but didn't let it show.

He didn't personally care that Jon's background was with a terrorist group or that Jon hadn't finished school; it simply made it very interesting that the Agency had recruited him. They must have seen something important in the man. On the other hand, obviously the Agency was planning to work with Ethan Bruce despite the fact he'd turned into a domestic terrorist, so it wasn't as though they had anything against working with former terrorists.

"That makes sense, actually," Boyd said thoughtfully.

"Why do you think so?" It didn't seem like Jon was disagreeing-- he just seemed curious as to why Boyd appeared to take it in stride.

"Your expertise," Boyd said. "You're very good at a lot of things and you know how to blend in. It's like some of the groups I've worked with; some are so small and disorganized it's easy to stop them, but the ones who have been around longer, the people who have been in it since they were young-- they're far more professional." He shrugged. "Sometimes the only difference between them and me is that I secretly work for the government they're trying to overthrow."

"Well, I was in an organization that hated one of the US's biggest enemies at the time; England. So the Agency saw me as someone who could be a useful tool instead of someone that needs to be interrogated and done away with." Jon gestured vaguely. "Anyway, that was my only real career goal. To advance the aims of FFI."

Emma had listened to Jon's explanation with a somewhat bemused expression, which made Boyd wonder if she hadn't previously known that the Agency recruited terrorists. Since Boyd had only just specifically learned that fact himself, he didn't find the idea to be too surprising. But despite the fact she still looked somewhat taken aback by the thought, judging by her still-amiable expression she seemed intent on treating Jon the same as she had before she'd known his background.

"What are they now, then?" Emma asked curiously. "Like, if you could be anything right now, what would you choose?"

"I'd be Level 10," Jon replied with a wink and turned to Boyd. "What about you, Mr. Beaulieu?"

Boyd glanced at Jon and then the others. "I didn't really want to be anything, either," he said honestly after a moment.

Since Toby had first posed the question, Boyd had tried to remember his goals from that time, from his childhood, but he kept coming up blank. Maybe there had been some dream he'd long since forgotten but everything he could remember had just been related to people instead of careers; he'd wanted to spend time with Lou, he'd wanted to see his father, he'd wanted to make his mother proud.

Boyd couldn't recall ever sitting down, looking at his future, and coming up with a wish as to who he would become in twenty years.

"You two are pathetic," Toby informed Boyd and Jon flatly. "Hopefully Emma at least had a goal in her life."

"No, he has to answer. Two answers or a noogie," Emma reminded Boyd ominously. "Even if you didn't have an idea at the time, there had to be something you were interested in."

Boyd thought about that, trying to come up with what he would have wanted to be. Toby was probably right; it did seem pretty pathetic that he had to think so hard about this. After a few seconds he just shook his head.

"I don't know. There were topics I liked that I wasn't interested in for career paths; I liked psychology but never particularly wanted to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. I guess... I don't know, maybe I would've liked to work in an antique bookstore. Or be an artist."

"Do you paint?" Jon asked curiously, appearing mildly intrigued by the idea.

"Draw mostly," Boyd said with a shrug. "I took a painting class but it's not my favorite medium."

Jon nodded. "Interesting."

"Why?" Boyd asked, now curious himself. "Do you paint?"

"No but I knew someone who did," Jon said vaguely before looking at Emma. "It's your turn."

"Actually... I wanted to be a mechanic," Emma said after a moment, looking mildly embarrassed as she tucked hair behind her ear.

"I give up on all of you." Toby just shook his head with finality.

"What?" Emma asked, seeming mildly affronted. "What's wrong with being a mechanic?"

"Nothing," Toby sniffed. "Blue collar work is marvelous."

Jon shook his head at Toby, a hint of a smile on his scarred face. "You're an amazing man, Tobias. Usually when I meet wankers as big as you I'd have already dismissed him or clocked him one."

"It's because I'm so charming." Toby smirked at Jon before looking at Emma. "Continue with your dream of being a grease monkey or whatever it's called. What sparked this interest in working class life?"

Emma raised an eyebrow and didn't look very pleased. "My father was a mechanic," she said with the slightest hint of an edge, "and he was very a good man. You do realize the blue collar workers are the ones who keep this society going, who've made it possible for the country to get back on track even this much after the wars? If we didn't have people willing to do the lower-paying jobs, we wouldn't have a leg to stand on."

"Save it for someone interested," Toby said dryly. "Your preaching will not change my opinions on anything."

Emma narrowed her eyes and looked like she was going to say something but then she just shook her head and looked away. It was the first time Boyd had seen Emma seem truly irritated with someone; she always seemed so forgiving and approachable that it was an intriguing change.

"Forget it," she said evenly, turning her attention to Jon. "Your question."

"Right." Jon tilted his head to the side as if thinking and suddenly asked, "I'd like to know how you all want to die."

Toby smirked. "Well now, that's a change of pace."

"That it is," Jon agreed, still appearing to ponder his own question. "I'd like to die suddenly, at the spur of the moment, without having foreseen it. Preferably quickly and without the opportunity for medical treatment."

Boyd blinked, trying to figure out his own answer to the question. He hadn't been expecting such an abruptly serious turn. "I don't know how I would..." He drew his eyebrows down thoughtfully. "I guess just not drawn out... Not tortured to death. And not drowned. Any other way is fine."

"The question wasn't how you don't want to die," Toby reminded Boyd.

Boyd shrugged. "I guess suddenly as well, then. A bullet in the head and it's over."

"You're so boring." Toby frowned at him, determined to be nitpicky about everybody and their responses. He glanced at the clock on the wall as if to debate whether it was worth it to stay up with his co-trainees any longer. He apparently decided it was because he simply shrugged.

"I want to die painlessly and in my sleep," Emma said decisively. "But only after I've had an interesting life."

"I actually agree." Toby appeared surprised by this fact. "I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep after I've accomplished everything I'd set out to accomplish in my life."

Emma gave Toby a quick smile that was more subdued than usual, perhaps because she hadn't yet forgotten the blue collar comment. She then turned her gaze expectantly toward Boyd.

It occurred to Boyd that he'd been giving the least informative replies of any of them, although it was mostly because he didn't really know the answers to the questions. But it wasn't really fair or useful to play this game if he wasn't willing to release any information about his life at all. So he tried to think of a question that he knew the answer to and there was only one that first came to mind.

"What's your greatest regret?" Boyd asked. "For me... I think it would be not truly understanding what I had until it was gone. I had a close friend I should've done more with, listened to more, but I didn't and he died. I don't ever want to look back again and realize I didn't give as much as I could have, then regret that lost time or chance."

Emma gave Boyd a sad look. "I know what you mean." She glanced quickly at the others. "My greatest regret is not returning home before my father died. He used to get sick a lot so I didn't really pay attention the last time I was told he was going to the hospital and then the next call I got was about his funeral." She shook her head and shrugged uncomfortably, looking down at her fidgeting hands resting on the table. "I always felt like I let him down the last chance I had to make it right."

"Why would that make you feel like you let him down?" Toby inquired with a raised eyebrow. "Because you didn't go to the hospital?"

"Yeah. And, well, my dad and I didn't always exactly get along," Emma said, glancing at Toby with a slightly uncomfortable look as she started to tear the label off her juice bottle and rip it into pieces. "He was a good man but some things he was so damn stubborn about and when I was younger it used to piss me off. First I couldn't be a mechanic 'cause I was a girl and then when I started going to school for it and realized it wasn't for me, I was a disappointment when I changed my major."

She shook her head. "The last few times we talked I was pretty mad at him and said a lot of things I shouldn't have, and he said some things I'm sure he didn't mean either. So when I got the call about the hospital I ignored it and then he was dead." She shrugged and eyed the steadily growing pile of paper in front of her. "So it was sort of all of it combined, you know? I wish I'd said a lot of things, like I loved him and I didn't actually mean those things I'd said."

"Well," Toby replied in a reasonable tone. "I'm sure he knew. Nobody gets along with their parents but generally both parties still have love for each other. My father died from the lung sickness and we weren't even on speaking terms at the time. I think he understood where I was coming from, though."

"A strangely compassionate speech from Captain Wanker," Jon murmured.

"Yeah, I hope so..." Emma trailed off thoughtfully, staring at the destroyed label, then looked at Toby again with a smile that was partially self-conscious and partially sad. "I also think of it as a lesson, I guess. I didn't want it to happen again so it ended up affecting how I dealt with people. I started looking at things like, do I really want this to be the last thing that person remembers of me?" She shrugged. "When you think that way, it's a lot harder to get pissed off about stupid little things when they really aren't important."

Toby stared at her for a long moment before averting his gaze, lips turning down slightly. "I suppose that's a good way to view things..."

Emma's lips quirked in a quick, slight smile that still seemed a little reserved. "So what about you, Toby? What's your greatest regret?"

Appearing to notice that everyone was looking at him again, Toby jerked out of his brief reverie. "Oh. That's easy. I would have gotten my doctorate."

Emma blinked, apparently expecting a different answer.

Boyd drew his eyebrows down. "Can't you still do that?"

"How?" Toby asked dubiously. "I would never go to one of these pathetic local colleges and they'd never give me leave just to go get a degree they'd likely feel that I don't need. I'd have to resign and deal with harassment and phone taps and shadows for the rest of my life."

Boyd considered that. "What would it be a doctorate in?"

"I'd like to get one in International Relations." Toby shrugged. "Oh well."

Boyd was silent a moment as he thought about it. As far as he was concerned, International Relations was perfectly in line with Toby's job and it wouldn't hurt for Toby to have a doctorate because it could potentially open new doors for him. But the secrecy of the Agency was really what was holding Toby back, so he could see Toby's point about that.

On the other hand, he felt that if Toby cared enough about it he should be able to find a way-- going to a local school in his off time, although that was unlikely due to the nature of a field agent's schedule, or checking if any colleges allowed online doctoral programs. But the problem was ultimately that Toby had too much pride for the solutions that would be readily available to him so it probably wouldn't happen.

"Why do you want it?" Boyd asked instead of suggesting any other options.

"I like school. I like education," was the simple reply. "That probably makes me odd but I don't mind."

That hadn't been the answer Boyd had been expecting; he'd thought Toby wanted the prestige. Boyd shrugged. "It's a good trait to have."

Toby made a noncommittal sound before turning to Jon expectantly but the other agent simply raised an eyebrow and said, "I haven't got any regrets to be quite honest. I don't do anything that I'm not completely sure about."

Boyd gave Jon a doubtful look. "Never? Not even when you were younger?"

"If I did have some, I don't remember them now so it must have been trivial. My life started when I joined FFI and after that I feel every decision I made was good. Even if it turned out like shite it was the best choice at the time." Jon gave them a small tight smile; a smile that was prone to secrets. "And that's all I've got to say about that."

"If FFI was your calling," Boyd said in confusion, "then why did you join the Agency? Why not just stay with FFI? Why wouldn't that be your regret?"

Toby gave him a long look. "You really are clueless. FFI fell apart a few years after the war. All the leaders were killed and things went bad from there, right?" He looked at Jon for confirmation who just nodded.

"Oh." Boyd leaned back in his chair. "I didn't know."

There was a brief moment of awkward silence before Toby said slowly, "Well, I suppose you were young at the time. I only knew because of a class I took in school about Ireland."

Boyd was surprised by how gracious Toby was being, especially since Toby was only a few years older than him. He nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense. Although it's odd since we were in the middle of the war, we didn't talk about the war much in school. I don't even recall taking any classes in college that touched on it."

"People don't talk much about history until after it's happened. How can they spin things to make the United States look good if they did?" Toby asked rhetorically.

Boyd made a slight noise of agreement. "True."

Jon looked up at the clock on the wall and gestured to it vaguely. Somehow in the past few moments he'd shifted back to his typically stoic self; the change had been quick but it was incredibly obvious when he spoke. "It's nearly midnight. I think I'll go now."

Toby frowned slightly at the statement but after a moment he shrugged in agreement. "He's probably right. Too bad. I'd already thought of a question for the next round."

Emma looked at Toby curiously. "Really? What is it?"

"I'll tell you next time," he assured her, only a little hesitantly, before standing up.

"Alright," Emma said easily and looked at each of them in turn. "We'll all have to hang out again even after the training. No matter who goes 10, if any of us-- sometime after the last test or announcements we should have a celebration. You know, to say we made it through."

Jon looked intrigued by the idea. "It will be interesting to see if we are all nearly as friendly at the end of this thing."

Toby nodded slightly in agreement. "I was thinking about that earlier myself. We're all, well except Cade, amiable now but just wait until results are announced and someone makes it and someone else doesn't. Some people will inevitably think they've been given the unfair end of the stick."

Emma leaned her head against her hand and watched them, an almost serene smile on her face. "You know... I want this promotion as much as anyone, so maybe saying this makes it seem like I don't since I know people get really competitive about this stuff-- we have to be; even a tiny mistake at this point could end our chance. But the way I look at it, there's us as trainees, and there's us as us. If I don't make it, I won't be happy, but I'll chalk it up as lesson learned. I'll know what I need to work on harder for next time and this will all have made me a better 9 anyway. But just 'cause, say, Harriet makes it..."

She shrugged idly. "I dunno, it doesn't mean to me that suddenly all that time we were able to spend together is meaningless. If Harriet goes 10 then she deserves it. I'll still want to hang with her. Maybe I'd get jealous right away, I don't know. But, hey, if nothing else I can just be spiteful later on and have no sympathy for her when a really hard mission makes her have a bad day." She grinned to show she was mostly joking and Toby actually laughed in response.

When no one immediately responded, Emma spoke again as if to explain. "It doesn't mean I'd suddenly hate Harriet as Harriet... maybe I'd be jealous of Harriet the trainee, but that's only one part of her, you know? The rest of her can hang out with me regardless of our scores. For me, same goes with everyone and I hope you'll all still consider me someone to talk to whether or not I make 10."

"I wouldn't have thought so before," Toby replied honestly. He seemed thoughtful and Boyd couldn't help but note that this was the first night that Toby was so candid with everyone. He'd retained his arrogance through the start of the training even though it'd severely dampened over time but he'd never actually talked about himself or his opinions on life after training before.

"But I think I would," Toby continued. "Boyd knows more than anyone what my first opinions of everybody were but now that I've talked to you and spent two months living every waking moment with you all, it's easier to see you as actual people and not just trainees. Besides," he added with a grimace, "I'm not nearly as sure of myself as I was in the beginning so if Jon got promoted and I didn't, at this point I wouldn't be surprised." Toby looked at Jon and rolled his eyes. "Mister Perfect Agent. Kassian Junior."

Jon studied him for a moment before grunting quietly. The chatterbox version of Jon had all but disappeared. Maybe he only got talkative when the topic was women. "Nothing is certain."

Silently, Boyd thought about Emma's offer. Despite how much he wanted this promotion, he liked Emma's perspective that it wouldn't change who they were on their own. He wasn't accustomed to wanting to reach out to other people, to offering to spend time with them just because, but he had to admit that he'd come to appreciate the presence of the other candidates.

Boyd liked that Jon was quiet like him so he didn't feel like he was the only one who spent a lot of time in his head; he liked how accepting and forgiving Emma was which made him feel more comfortable being around her; he'd been getting along better with Toby and Harriet lately and had come to enjoy their company on some level. He wouldn't mind spending time with Andrew and Pat again, either; both had been good men.

Even Cade wasn't as offensive as when they'd first met but Boyd still didn't see himself asking the man to hang out for the evening. At the same time, if Cade happened to be there with everyone, he wouldn't mind. The man was an ass for the most part but when Boyd thought about Cade chasing after him, those strong hands pulling him up and steadying him, and that grumbled comment of waiting until it really was Boyd's time to die... it made Boyd not mind Cade as much as he had previously.

What it really came down to was that when he imagined an evening spending time with all of them after the training was over-- relaxing with these people that he'd sometimes been competing with and sometimes been allied with on missions-- he realized that the idea actually appealed to him. He wanted to know more about them and, to his surprise, to an extent he even wanted them to know more about him.

He didn't want to go back to being completely isolated from everyone; he didn't want to have no one to talk to, no one to smile or laugh with, no one who was interested in him. He didn't want to have worked so hard to get along and then revert to his default behavior; to prove exactly what Toby had said when they'd first spoken, that he was unwilling to reach out to others and it made him seem like he felt he was superior.

Before, he'd felt like he had nothing in common with others. But that wasn't the case anymore with this group-- he'd spent the last several months at their sides, even going around the world with them. Regardless of who made Level 10, he could see what Emma was saying: it didn't change where they'd been together; it didn't change who they were on their own.

"I'd like to," Boyd said, and the brief silence before he spoke combined with the fact that he was typically so quiet and reserved made it seem somewhat abrupt.

Emma looked over at him in mild surprise that quickly changed to a genuinely happy expression that she then turned to the others with as well. "Fantastic," she said with a bright, pleased smile. "Let's plan on it, then. After all, we'll deserve it, right?"

"Yeah." Toby nodded. "We'll deserve more than a night of hanging out after dealing with Doug's shit for three months. We'll deserve a night of getting completely plastered."

Emma threw her head back and laughed. "I know, right? I'll start saving up."

Boyd smiled slightly and looked down at his tea as he finished it. He found he was actually looking forward to that night.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-One...