Afterimage Chapter Twenty-One

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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-One

Uploaded on 2/28/2009

The scene was not unlike the last time Sin had sat in Carhart's office with Ann and Schwartz but this time instead of gracing them with his sarcastic repartee he simply stared at the wall in blank indifference.

As far as he was concerned, the meeting was a waste of time. His sole reason for wanting to get better was so that he could be with Boyd. Now that Boyd hated him, there was very little purpose to any of it.

Two weeks had passed since their confrontation and Boyd had made no effort to contact him. Sin knew there had to have been a break in the past week but Boyd never called him, never showed up and when Sin had gone to the training center in sheer desperation he'd run into Doug.

The man had been decidedly more irritable than usual and for some reason it had flared up drastically when Sin had asked if Boyd was around. The brief exchange had gotten Sin nowhere and Sin had wandered back to his apartment where he'd chain smoked two packs of cigarettes while idly wondering if he'd live long enough to get cancer.


Sin didn't even look over. "Yes?"

There was a brief moment of silence and he imagined the three of them exchanging exasperated looks.

"Just making sure you're actually paying attention," Carhart said dryly and Sin could practically see the annoyed expression forming on the general's face.

"Ah." Sin had nothing to say to any of them. He could feel Ann's cool gaze moving over him critically, trying to figure out what had happened to cause this complete about-face, probably paranoid that it had something to do with her, worried about how it would affect her life professionally.

He wondered if it would somehow get back to Vivienne that he and Ann had screwed around. If it did, he wondered if Ann would think it'd been worth it after their actions came falling down around her as they had for him. Sin certainly didn't think it had been. What he'd gained during the brief distraction meant nothing in comparison to the outcome of it all.

Over the past two weeks he'd been able to think a lot more clearly and had been forced to grudgingly accept the fact that whatever Ann had prescribed was actually working. Boyd was the only reason that Sin even cared about his own life and he would have expected to fall apart completely once Boyd walked out of it.

As the weeks had gone by, after the break passed, as things began to look more and more doubtful, Sin kept waiting for himself to just give up. He kept expecting to lose all hope just like he had that night in Boyd's house after he'd woken up from the coma. He'd kept waiting to pick up one of his guns and once again come to the conclusion that it just wasn't worth it. But Sin hadn't and he found that for some reason he was thinking very logically about everything and coming to much less drastic decisions than usual. He just kept telling himself that he wouldn't do anything stupid until he actually spoke to Boyd.

At a time in his life when he really did feel at his lowest point, Sin could only attribute the relatively calm state of mind to the medication. But even though he wasn't rushing off to die, it didn't mean that Sin didn't feel completely hopeless and pathetic.

He'd lost the only part of his life that made it worth living because of a couple random fucks. How ridiculous.

"Well, everything is looking good," Carhart was saying when Sin finally turned to the trio. "I've been sending Vivienne the occasional update and she pretty much stated that she'll clear you for active duty if your doctors okay it."

Sin just shrugged apathetically.

"Dr. Schwartz's report puts your physical health back at 100% and Dr. Connors has stated that you're on a strong combination of medication that will keep you stable as long as you continue to take them regularly," Carhart continued, giving Sin a hard look. His blue eyes narrowed slightly before shifting to Ann, suspicion evident on his face as if he wondered if she had something to do with Sin's sudden disinterest.

Ann just looked at Carhart with calm neutrality and didn't respond to the unspoken question.

"So within the next few days you can expect to be cleared entirely and will be available for assignment again. It's actually perfect timing since you're expected to be there for the final Level 10 training test."

At that, Sin's interest finally sparked and he sat up straighter. "I thought Kassian was doing all of that."

Carhart shook his head. "We want you for the combat test. You're the best person for it. At first Doug wanted Kassian, he thought you might show... preferential treatment for Boyd. But in the end he also knew that you were the best choice."

Sin frowned slightly, lifting one hand to run it through his unruly hair thoughtfully. The only good part of this entire situation had been managing to avoid the training process but if he did the test, Boyd would have no choice but to come face to face with him.

"Fine," Sin said. "When is it?"

"About three weeks from now. Unless an assignment comes up, you'll be informed of the time and day."

There wasn't much more to the meeting after that and Sin started off to his building in a slightly better frame of mind than he'd been for the past couple weeks. With Janus assignments at a standstill and Boyd avoiding him on the training breaks, Sin previously had no idea when he'd get the chance to speak to his partner. The fact that Boyd would undoubtedly be present at the final test gave him a slight glimmer of hope that he would be able to talk to him about the whole fucked up situation.

Sin shoved his hands in his pockets and started to stride away from the Tower when he heard someone approaching. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Ann following him, trying to catch up while buttoning her long black trench coat.

"Can we talk?" she asked when she made it to his side.

He shrugged. "I guess."

"This is only going to work if you talk to me, Sin," Ann said, cutting right to the chase. "The only way Vivienne agreed to this is if you continue medication and therapy because the only way we're going to make progress on depersonalization on a long-term scale is through sessions."

"You already told me that," Sin replied blandly, not looking at her as he continued his long-legged stride.

She hurried to keep up, frowning as she grabbed his arm and tried to force him to stop walking. "Just tell me what the hell happened and stop being so goddamn hardheaded. Don't try to blame me for your troubles, Vega. No one forced you to fuck me. You were using me just as much as I was using you."

Sin finally came to a halt, glaring at her. "I never said I was blaming you for anything."

"Well your attitude says otherwise," she snapped back.

They glared at each other for a moment before he just shook his head and looked away. Ann sighed and buttoned the top of her coat, hunching her back slightly as the wind blew violently. It was well below zero degrees and the courtyard was all but deserted.

"Are you and Boyd in a relationship?" Ann asked finally, looking Sin square in the face. "Is that what this is about? You told him about sleeping with me and he got angry and now you refuse to cooperate?"

Sin made a face. "How'd you come up with that theory?"

"It wasn't too hard," she returned dryly. "There have been rumors around the compound for a long time and I ignored them for the most part but now I'm starting to think that some aspect of them is correct. The fact that you were doing this solely for him made it obvious that you cared for him beyond simply being partners. I didn't think you were necessarily in a relationship or that you were even sleeping together but I never crossed it out as a possibility. After you told me he suddenly wanted nothing to do with you, I guess it just clicked into place. Why else would he get so angry with you when the only things that happened lately were you beating some guys up and sleeping with me?"

Sin shook his head in frustration, crossing his arms over his chest. "I didn't think he'd want me to go around telling people we're having sex. I didn't even think it mattered enough to bring it up to you anyway."

"Well if you'd told me, I would have never come onto you in the first place," Ann said pointedly, narrowing her eyes. "I don't do the whole man-stealing thing."

"Well I didn't even think it'd be a fucking problem. I guess I'm an idiot or something but whatever me and Boyd had going on, we never talked about it, I didn't think he would get angry about any of this. I was just learning as I went. I didn't think it'd be some big betrayal if I slept with you. I don't even like you all that much." Sin started automatically searching his pockets for a cigarette and Ann grabbed his arm to prevent him from taking one out.

"The General doesn't want you smoking anymore, remember?"

"I must have missed that part of the meeting." Sin scowled more deeply, glaring off into the distance. He vaguely remembered Schwartz and Carhart nagging him about cigarettes but he'd ignored it for the most part.

Ann let out an explosive sigh and stared at him evenly. "This is a problem."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

"No," she said impatiently. "I'm not talking about your love life. This is a problem for the Agency. For my job. For your unit. You and Boyd are partners and now the unit is going to be in jeopardy because of a lover's quarrel. It's going to get back to Vivienne that it started because of me."

"Well, I'm sorry but I don't know what to do." Sin growled in frustration, raking both hands through his hair this time. "I wish I would have just fucking mentioned it in the first place and then at least you would have brought the possibility of it being a bad idea to my attention since I'm obviously socially retarded."

"It's not entirely your fault." Ann's gaze strayed in the direction of the training bunkers; the roof of the building was visible in the distance. "He should have told you what he expected of your relationship."

"Well he was making a big deal of the fact that he told me he loved me," Sin admitted with a humorless laugh. "But I don't really know what that's supposed to mean."

Ann looked at Sin again, eyebrows raising. She looked somewhat surprised but not as much as he would have expected. "Do you love him?"

Sin glared at her. "I just fucking told you I barely even know what it means."

She continued to stare at him patiently, used to his outbursts and rude behavior by now. "I've never experienced such an emotion myself but I suppose it means you care about him, that you would basically do anything for him, that he means the most to you out of anyone in the world."

Sin threw his arms up in the air in aggravated exasperation. "I tell him that shit all the fucking time! Just because I didn't consolidate it into a four letter word means I feel less about him than he does about me?"

He'd known that Boyd was the most important person in his life for a long time, long before Boyd had even admitted to being attracted to him. It hadn't been something that was a big deal or something that shocked him; it had just been the way it was. Sin had such little knowledge of normal human interaction that he'd figured the feelings he had for Boyd were a normal part of friendship, not something as profound as Boyd and Ann were claiming it was.

And even if what he did feel for Boyd was love, Sin still didn't understand why doing what he did meant that his feelings were somehow false. It wasn't like he wanted to care about anyone else the same way or be as devoted to anyone else. He'd only had sex with Ann to put everything else out of his mind, to temporarily forget all the bullshit that plagued him, not because she was more important than Boyd.

And that's what Sin thought should have been important. Even knowing that he loved Boyd didn't make the situation any more logical to him. It was obvious that he was missing something that everyone else was in on. Some critical piece of the puzzle that most people were raised to understand and believe.

Ann rolled her eyes at him. "I didn't say anything like that and I doubt you not saying you love him is why Boyd is so upset. He thought you understood what he wanted and now he feels betrayed. If my husband found out I was sleeping with you, he would most likely kill me," Ann admitted bluntly. "Relationships come with expectations but Boyd's only mistake was expecting you to understand what that meant."

Sin stared at her incredulously. "Why the hell would you sleep with me if your husband is going to kill you because of it?"

"Because I hate my husband," Ann replied blandly. "In fact, I just started divorce proceedings. If anything, our little trysts prompted me to want to get rid of him."

"How is that?"

"I don't know." Ann held out one gloved hand as snow began to fall. A large snowflake landed on the black wool of her glove and melted. "Maybe finally doing something I wanted, something forbidden, gave me the courage to do other things in my life that I've been wanting to do for a long time."

"Uh huh," Sin said doubtfully. He sincerely doubted his dick had such a profound effect on her life. "Or maybe you just want to be able to have sex with whoever you want and not have to worry about him killing you."

"That is also a possibility," Ann agreed with a smirk. She shook her head and wrapped her arms around her torso. "Listen, Sin, I understand that you're in a tough spot with Boyd right now but my advice to you is to work it out before it causes trouble for all of us. If you won't come in for sessions I can't help you and I'm not going to make fake progress reports. I can try to get you another counselor but..."

"No one wants to be bothered with my psychotic ass," Sin finished dully.

"Right." She shivered violently. "I'll give you until after the training to figure out what you're going to do. Try to explain to him that you didn't mean him any harm and that you really do love him. Throw in the fact that you think I'm ugly for all I care. Just get this sorted out before Vivienne comes down on all of us for making such a mess of everything. And if you still think he's going to be pissed off if I stay as your doctor..."

Ann trailed off and sighed, looking discouraged. She frowned and seemed genuinely upset about having to give him up as a patient when she'd finally made a breakthrough in his progress. Sin no longer had to wonder about whether or not she regretted at least partially what they had done. "Well then I guess we'll have no choice but to try to find you a new one."

Sin stared down at her and felt mildly guilty for potentially jeopardizing her career. None of this was really her fault and he knew Vivienne would be unforgiving about another Connors sister getting involved with him. But even then, if Boyd still refused to have anything to do with him, Sin didn't know if he'd want to be bothered with another doctor. The whole thing would be pointless.

He just couldn't imagine a scenario where he would suddenly decide that it was worth it to go through with the therapy and the medication and try to be a better person, a normal person, if Boyd wasn't in his life anymore.

What was the point if everything was going to go back to the way it'd been before Boyd had been his partner? Things would be even worse because now Sin knew what it felt like to have someone care for him, to have someone to talk to and depend on. Before he'd met Boyd it had never even occurred to Sin that he was missing out on those things.

Sin looked away but decided not to go into the details of his thought process with her. "I was going to try to talk to him anyway."

"Good." Ann patted his arm and began backing away towards the parking lot. "For all you know, he'll pass the training with flying colors and be in such a good mood that he'll forgive you without much fuss."

"Heh. Maybe." Sin watched her walk away as the wind began blowing more fiercely.

If only things were that easy.

"Thierry Beauvais is the second."

The man made it a statement; his voice was smooth and calm and still as utterly unrecognizable to Boyd as the first moment he'd heard the man speak.

Boyd slid his eyes closed, not that it mattered, and tilted his head toward the floor. He wished he'd never admitted that he'd slept with three people throughout his life; not if the man was going to figure them out and tick them off one by one.

The terror of being chained in place had faded a little in the past... however long he'd been there; although whether it was due to numbness taking over or if he was somehow getting over his phobia, he didn't know. Naked, chained spread-eagle against a cool wall and with a rough black hood completely encasing his head, he'd never felt more vulnerable or demeaned in his life.

"You don't need to answer; we know all about it." The sound of paper shuffling, muffled and disjointed through his hood. "You slept with him for information and were immediately upgraded to valentine op, homosexual designation." A pointed pause. "You know, most people wait to be ordered before they make that kind decision but you leaped right into it..."

Boyd could hear the man stand, his measured steps as he walked across the room. The silence was as deafening and harrowing as the loud, confusing jumble of techno music he'd been subjected to every time he thought he was left alone. Even though during the music he wanted nothing more than for them to shut it off, it somehow felt worse being left with just the sound of his own harsh, quick breathing caught behind the rough fabric of the hood and the man's questions and calm footsteps.

During those times when the man was just leaving and the silence hadn't yet been replaced, Boyd could hear his own heartbeat too loudly and the disturbing clanking of the metal chains against the wall when he started to grow weak from standing. There had been times already when his knees had buckled and he'd sagged painfully with his arms stretched up at an angle that made it feel like his shoulders would pop out of their sockets and his wrists would become bloody from the biting handcuffs.

He hadn't been able to sleep, hadn't been able to think for days. The terror and uncertainty of the situation was mixed with exhaustion, resentment and numbness, and it all left him feeling weak, demeaned and pathetic.

Even knowing this was just another agent grilling him didn't make it any better; didn't make his vulnerability any less disturbing. And it didn't make him want to talk about this topic any more than he would have with an enemy. If anything, in the darkness when he was alone with his chaotic thoughts, it made it worse to know that every little bit of information the man got out of him ticked him down one point at a time, bringing him that much closer to failing.

He'd known that they'd have training on resistance to interrogation but he hadn't expected it to happen this way.

He hadn't expected to be walking down the hallway in the training compound and for people to suddenly ambush him from behind, one person throwing a suffocating black hood over his face as he'd struggled in alarm while someone else had shoved a needle in his neck that had knocked him out almost immediately. He hadn't expected to wake an unknown time later, stripped naked, chains encasing his wrists and ankles as he was held mercilessly against the wall, a thick hood tight around his head that didn't allow him to see where he was, who was there with him, whether he was even alone...

He hadn't even known he was in an enclosed room for the longest time; he'd hoped, but he'd had no way of knowing except that he didn't feel a cool, open breeze against his bare skin.

They hadn't given him a toilet of any sort and he never would have realized how incredibly humiliating and dehumanizing it was to not be able to hold it any longer, to have to just go the the bathroom at his feet and deal with the mess and smell that came with it. To be fully aware that somewhere there could be a tape recording of this; that someone could be standing right across the room and he wouldn't even know it.

Even knowing it was just normal bodily functions, when he heard his own piss splattering against the floor and he couldn't even cover himself, couldn't even move his feet away to keep it from splashing up against him-- He couldn't help the sharp feeling of shame, of disgust with himself; not just because of that but because of the entire experience.

He felt like an animal that someone had leashed to a tree and periodically forgot about.

He was incredibly disoriented-- from the hood, from the overwhelming techno music, from the entire experience-- and he had completely lost all concept of time.

Sometimes people came into the room and held him against the wall, as if he could move anyway; they pushed the bottom of the hood up just enough for his mouth and nose to be uncovered but never enough for him to see anything, to know who was there with him. They held his nose until he gasped for air and then they forced a foul-tasting liquid down his throat that made him gag and want to throw up. He'd been told it was some sort of liquid diet with all the essential vitamins and minerals but all he knew was that he'd rather starve than be subjected to it.

But he couldn't even make that simple of a decision on his own.

Everything had been taken from him; his sense of dignity, his freedom, his movement, even his ability to choose when and what he would drink or eat. For someone who was usually incredibly controlled, who needed that sense of power over his own life to feel like he could keep moving, this was a devastatingly disturbing experience.

He hated his vulnerability, this feeling of exploitation, and most of all he hated how alarmingly susceptible he was to it.

He wished he could at least know the amount of time he'd been there; be able to judge how many more harrowing days he'd have to spend like this before he'd be released. But he couldn't even judge how much time had passed by going according to the feeding times because he didn't think they were on a regular schedule. That, or his temporal sense was completely off balance; to him, it sometimes felt like just a handful of hours before they appeared and others almost a day.

He never would have realized how vulnerable this would all make him feel; how raw and uncontrolled and terrified. How he felt subhuman, humiliated, worthless and forgettable. Even knowing this was part of training, he couldn't help spikes of fear in the middle of what he thought must be night-- the paranoid questions of, "What if they forget about me here? What if I fail and they never let me go?"

The first time he'd woken, he'd been left completely alone for a full day-- at least, he thought it was a day, but he didn't know anything anymore.

The uncertainty and terror that had built over what felt like long, disorienting hours had inevitably made him relive his time with Shane.

He'd been chained down then too, but at least he'd been able to wear clothing. And he hadn't known at first what was worse -- being able to see but being constantly subjected to what he had with Shane, or being encased in the disorienting, suffocating darkness of the hood; this creation that took away any feeling he had of humanity, any chance of connection with anyone else. That made even the simple act of breathing feel claustrophobic and frightening as the cloth smothered his open lips and blocked any light from his wide, darting, unseeing eyes.

And after those long, hard hours when he'd struggled not to hyperventilate, not to let the intensity of his powerlessness and imbalance make him feel crazed and out of control, when he'd felt on the very edge of sanity, like he hadn't had the chance to prepare himself for this and it was too much at once...

That was when the man had appeared. No name, no face for Boyd to see, no explanation.

Just the questions. The relentless, intrusive questions.

"What I want to know," the man said as he stopped in front of Boyd, "is why."

When Boyd didn't immediately answer, the man stepped closer, invading Boyd's personal space and making him feel incredibly uncomfortable. It was alarming, being naked and blind and immobile in front of someone else; not knowing where they were looking, what they were doing, what would happen next. Boyd unconsciously pressed himself against the wall to get away and curled his fingers uselessly; the handcuffs dug into his wrists at the movement in a sharp reminder of his position.

"Was he that good?" the man asked near Boyd's ear; Boyd didn't know if it was coincidence or if, with the way the hood was fastened, the man could see which direction Boyd's head was facing. "Were you just that hard up?" The man stepped even closer and Boyd felt his own breath automatically quicken, disturbed. "Or was there another reason?"

Boyd could feel the heat from the man's body and the sound of the man's voice was overwhelming. Boyd grit his teeth and tried to focus on making his breath even; as it was, each deep inhale made his chest brush against the man's clothes and this bothered him on a scale he never would have anticipated. It made him almost feel claustrophobic, made the familiar feeling of fright rise at the realization of just how trapped he was; of how he was powerless and completely at a stranger's whim.

With the man so close and the wall unrelenting and merciless at his back, he couldn't help reliving the fear and helplessness of being held down.

"Stop..." Boyd whispered without meaning to, his eyes squeezed shut as he tried to regain some sense of balance, of power.

"Was it because you knew he was a homosexual like you?" the man persisted, shifting his weight just slightly to speak more to Boyd's face. "It gave you the excuse to mix work with pleasure?"

"No," Boyd muttered, although he didn't know if he was answering the question or trying to deny the man's proximity.

"After all, it must be difficult finding a partner here," the man continued as if Boyd hadn't said anything. "Maybe you just wanted to fuck him from the start and the information was a good excuse."

"No, it wasn't..."

"Or maybe you wanted to be a valentine op and Beauvais was your chance." The man's calm voice was growing more intense, somehow closer. In the darkness that the hood provided, it made the man's words seem like they surrounded Boyd. "A well-timed one night stand and you have yourself a new title on your resumé. Quick and easy and you're that much more indispensable, you feel that much more important."

"No," Boyd said more firmly than he'd intended. "I didn't-- It was my job..."

"It wasn't your job," the man said simply. "No one told you to sleep with him."

"The information," Boyd insisted, pressing himself as firmly as he could against the wall as he tried to get away from the man. "We needed..."

"There's always information," the man said pointedly. "You'd been on a number of missions before and Thierry was the first informant you fucked. Unless you haven't told us about others..?"

"No," Boyd said, shaking his head. "Thierry was the only..."

"What made him so special?" The man asked the question intently, nearly cutting Boyd off.

"It was more important this time," Boyd said loudly. He could feel his heartbeat increasing as the questions came quicker, sharper, as the man's proximity continued to eat away at Boyd's resolve. "We only had so much time and we had to get the info-- and Thierry was notoriously difficult..."

"So you thought you'd take the easy route and fuck him." The man said it as a blunt statement.

"It wasn't easy, I just--"

"Had more faith in your skills in bed than in negotiation?"

"No," Boyd said, but even to his own ears the word sounded weak. "It just made the most sense..."

"How calculating," the man observed. "You would compromise your morals for the mission."

"I wasn't comp--"

"What else would you compromise?" the man continued intensely. "The Agency? The safety of your comrades? Your partner?"

"No, I'd never--"

"Wasn't there something else happening in your mind at the time?" the man asked keenly. "You needed that information but you were also frustrated, weren't you? You needed release, wanted someone to fuck and your partner wasn't helping at all. Maybe it really had to do with Hsin Liu Vega."

"No!" The word came out strong and sharp and Boyd tried to calm himself and the shaking of his limbs.

The man was silent for a breath before he said intently, "When did you last see Beauvais?"

"What?" Boyd said, surprised by the sudden subject change. "I didn't..."

"When did you last see him?"

"I saw him in spring, when we rescued--"

"You saw him more recently than that. When?" The intensity only grew stronger and sharper in the man's voice, as if he was digging in Boyd's mind, making it impossible for Boyd to escape the rapid questioning.

"I-- a few months ago I stopped by--"

"What were you doing there?"

"I didn't have a reason, I was just saying hi..."

"Why?" The question was quick.

"I don't know, I just--"

"Why did you stop by?"

"I don't know," Boyd said more insistently, starting to feel frustrated and resentful, and trapped like an animal. "I just wanted--"

"You had a reason."

"I didn't! I just--"

"You just what?" the man interrupted and Boyd felt his frustration rise uncontrollably.

The constant, quick questions and the way Boyd was repeatedly cut off drastically heightened his feeling of helplessness, of absolute powerlessness. Every question drove deeper into him, burrowing into parts of him that he didn't want to see-- didn't want to acknowledge. He didn't want to know his own answers to some of these questions, to have to admit aloud thoughts he'd never meant to feel.

He felt off-balance and raw and alarmed and his breath kept growing quicker, faster-- The hood dragged against his mouth, the cloth rough and harsh against his chapped lips and he felt like he was suffocating beneath the hood, every breath making it hotter, and when he tried to shift to the side the handcuffs dug into him sharply.

The wall was cold and unyielding against his back and he wanted to jerk to the side, he wanted to rip himself free and run away but he couldn't. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, he couldn't see, he couldn't move-- his heart was beating so furiously that it ached in his chest and all he could hear was the terrified hint of his voice in the harsh sounds of his breath and-- no, no, he couldn't move--

"I just wanted him to know he wasn't alone!"

Brief silence greeted his outburst and it took a moment for the heightened feeling of panic to diminish enough for his mind to get back under control, for Boyd to realize his mistake; that in his weakness he'd let information slip out. He squeezed his eyes shut and tilted his head toward the floor, trying to quell his quickened breathing and the disturbing feeling of wanting to lash out; trying to ignore the feeling of shame and irritated disappointment with himself.

"But he is alone," the man replied calmly after a moment. "Far from his homeland. Everyone he's ever known or associated with is either using him or plans to kill him. He has no future and no point to his existence. There's no one alive who loves him and no one who will mourn him when he's gone. He has nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. He's trapped. Do you disagree?"

Boyd remained studiously silent and the man was quiet a moment.

"What part of that do you identify with?"

The question was asked mildly enough but it stung Boyd deeply for reasons he couldn't immediately understand. As if his subconscious felt wounded by the realization that, right then, he identified quite a bit with parts of that description. He refused to answer; he simply drew in a breath that was just a hint shaky and raised his head as if he could look at the man, as if it gave him some sense of strength to stand taller.

"Why did you stop by to see him?" the man continued. "What did you say?"

Boyd shook his head and didn't answer. The cloth of the hood felt constrictive in the movement, as if it could choke him if he did that enough.

"You were in there for over twenty minutes and voices were heard on the other side of the door. You spoke with him extensively. Were you leaking Agency secrets?"

"No," Boyd said firmly, not wanting them to think he was agreeing by staying silent to that.

"Were you telling him how to escape?"

"No," Boyd repeated.

"What did you say to him?"

"Nothing," Boyd said stubbornly.

The man came closer once more, increasing Boyd's feeling of being trapped. The man's clothing was crisp and cool against Boyd's skin as his shirt brushed Boyd's side and chest. It disturbed Boyd deeply, making him feel nauseated to realize that the man was in any way touching his scars. Although Boyd's old phobia of letting anyone see or touch his scars had faded quite a bit in the last year, it didn't make it any less distressful to him in these circumstances.

"You said something to him; you can tell me now what it was or," the man drew even closer and Boyd pressed himself, highly disturbed, against the wall, "we can do this the hard way."

Every quick, staccato exhale made the moisture from Boyd's breath turn to heat, making the hood seem smaller and smaller, more suffocating. His eyes were wide but all he saw was black, like he was blind and would never see again. The feeling of a body against him on one side and the cold, unrelenting wall against the other made his hands automatically jerk and when the manacles stopped the movement he felt even more trapped.

The old feeling of hysteria stirred in the distance and he turned his head to the side, grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. His heartbeat was loud in his ears and he couldn't help wondering what 'the hard way' meant, what they would try to make him do again.

Sometime earlier-- days, hours, he didn't even know-- after he'd been captured and left alone in the disorienting darkness, the man had appeared with his questions. Boyd had tried to resist but in the end the man had gotten everything out of him about Lou, about Boyd's suicide attempts, about his early life.

Boyd had thought it was over but then they'd brought in the chair.

Two men had appeared at his sides, unshackling him from the wall and manhandling him into the center of the room where he'd been thrown onto a chair and tied with his legs spread apart and upper arms tight at his sides. He hadn't understood at first why they'd left his lower arms free until one person had stood behind him and suddenly yanked the hood off to reveal a completely dark space.

Boyd had tried to look to the side but his head had been violently and firmly pushed until he faced forward. Strong fingers had dug into his temples and upper cheek, tangled somewhat in his hair, and he'd been held firmly in place as pale light had stung his unaccustomed eyes, causing him to squint in pain.

He hadn't understood at first what was happening but then he'd heard the scuffing of shoes and with a sinking, terrified feeling, he'd realized they were forcing him to watch Lou's death video again, just like Shane had.

This time they'd had it on a television that had been rolled in front of him; the dim light from the screen had cast relief against the floor before it but nothing else. He still hadn't been able to tell if he was in an interrogation room for sure and he hadn't been able to see anyone; just the television and that same hateful, terrifying scene of Lou on the last day of his life, calmly walking into a trap with a younger, unsuspecting Boyd at his side.

At that time Boyd had felt his breath and heart rate already quicken at the knowledge of what they'd planned to force him to watch again, but he hadn't felt truly overwhelmed or horrified until the man's voice had whispered in his ear, "Now jerk off."

Despite the way Boyd had reacted in shock and disgust at the order, despite how hard he'd struggled and the way he'd shouted and tried to turn his head from the screen-- he hadn't been able to get away; he'd been immobilized. They'd kept forcing his head toward the television and every time Boyd had tried to slide his eyes shut, someone had reached forward and forced his eyelids open; made it impossible for him to even blink as his eyes had burned with shame and tears tracked down his cheeks.

Every time he'd tried to look away despite that, the man's words had been there in his ear, like a hateful, shameful voice in Boyd's mind that whispered luringly that all he had to do was masturbate and this would all end. That Lou had been his lover so why was it so hard to touch himself thinking of him; that they were even providing him with a mental image of his deceased boyfriend to make it easier to recreate the memory of his hands on Boyd.

Or maybe, the voice had murmured sinuously, he could think of a different ending to the scene; a threesome, a foursome-- whatever Boyd's preference was, he could make it happen in his mind.

The nausea and horror that Boyd had felt at even the idea of touching himself while watching Lou's blood and gore splatter across the street had been very nearly enough to make Boyd throw up.

Boyd had grit his teeth, breathed heavily through his nose as he'd tried to keep himself from feeling any sense of hysteria every time he'd tried to move and strong hands had held him in place, as he'd had to watch himself on screen get shoved to the ground while the gang members laughed idly and acted bored as Lou was murdered and Boyd's entire life had been wrenched away from him for such petty, stupid reasons.

When Boyd had shown no intention of listening to their demands, the man had started to vary his words. He'd walked back and forth behind Boyd, explaining in great detail exactly what Lou must have felt at each point in the video, asking Boyd about times he'd been similarly hurt as well and in the process forcing Boyd to identify with Lou, to relive the murder from Lou's side; to remember what it felt like to be stabbed and to be unable to forget it each time he saw the knife plunge into Lou's body.

The man had talked about rates of decomposition, of autopsies, of the typical procedure for removing the organs, of how interesting it was to think about how each of those chunks of meat had once been inside a warm body Boyd had pressed up against. Of how a person's mind was what gave them their personality but in a corpse it was just a somewhat gelatinous mass of wriggled, grey matter.

He'd asked Boyd about his memories of making love with Lou, if he'd ever thought at that time about how the parts of Lou's body that he'd run his mouth over, that he'd let into his body, would become just so much rotting meat.

"Just touch yourself," the man had crooned after a pause, one almost gentle hand whispering along Boyd's skin where his shoulder met his neck and Boyd had shuddered deeply, nearly unable to see anything clearly through the tears that had clouded his vision. "Just do it and this will all be over."

The caressing fingertips had trailed along his arm, slid down to his forearm and laced with his fingers, the man's palm against the back of Boyd's hand as he'd gently guided Boyd's hand closer to his genitals. The man's breath was warm and moist as he had whispered intimately into Boyd's ear, "If you don't, we'll play this over and over and over..."

Boyd had shuddered and let out a helpless sound he hadn't been able to stop in time; a low keening moan of distress and fear. Tears had streamed down his cheeks and fell onto his bare thighs and arms as he'd held himself rigidly, doing his best in the weak position in which he was tied to not let the man press his hand any closer.

He'd felt utterly humiliated and vulnerable and everything private had been wrenched from him for all to view-- naked and tied down with his legs spread, there was nothing physical about him that couldn't be seen.

But it wasn't just that.

It was also the fact that his scars and tattoos were visible, physical reminders and representations of the mental anguish he'd once gone through. Being forced to watch the video of Lou's murder showcased in lurid, disgusting detail the loss of Boyd's mental stability-- pulled out into the open one of the absolute worst times in Boyd's life. And being unable to look away or hide his expression as he'd had to watch took away any emotional privacy he'd had in response.

He'd found it difficult to breathe as his lungs had felt clogged and he couldn't even clearly remember everything that had happened. Even then, the man's voice had been there to bring him back to himself; the constant smooth, calm words that painted such horrific thoughts in Boyd's mind.

In the end, he'd absolutely refused to touch himself and they'd done exactly as promised; they'd shown the video repeatedly, so many times that Boyd couldn't even count. The casual, offhanded litany continued of Lou's death, his corpse, questions about what Boyd had been thinking in this part or that, of what he thought Lou had been trying to say to him as Lou had choked on his own blood...

Exhaustion had taken over Boyd's mind and body and the only saving grace had been that as time had passed, he'd finally started to grow numb to the video, to the sounds and sights, even to some extent to the memories. He'd realized that whatever his reaction was here, tied down like an animal and forced to repeatedly watch his childhood best friend and lover's murder, it didn't change the outcome.

Lou was dead.

Every time Lou's body fell to the ground on screen, every time the man murmured details about the autopsy, it was underscored.

Lou was dead and he'd never smile or laugh like he had again, he'd never run his hands along Boyd's arms or face or hair; he'd never show up with a small present that he evaded answering where he got it. He'd never try to protect Boyd from anyone ever again.

He was dead.

Nothing Boyd did or felt in that room could have changed that fact and even though it still hurt to see the video, Boyd had told himself that he had to get over this. He'd been struggling so hard to remember Lou for only the good parts and he'd had to become stronger than this.

So he'd started to try to look at the video a different way and, each time Jared ridiculed them on screen and drove the knife viciously into Lou, it had helped to know that Jared was dead now too; that he'd finally gotten what he'd deserved for that day and for every other person's life he'd carelessly, mockingly decimated.

When they'd finally thrown the hood back over Boyd's head, it had been a welcome respite. He'd almost been glad when they'd shackled him to the wall again because at least it had meant maybe they'd leave him alone for awhile.

But now...

There was no video they could show him of Thierry that Boyd knew of, nothing that could turn his mind as raw and distressed as they had with Lou. At the same time, Boyd didn't think he wanted to know what 'the hard way' could potentially entail. Yet he didn't want to tell the man anything; he didn't want to give away more than he already had.

"Why did you care if he felt alone?" the man pressed.

Boyd shook his head, body tense and jaw nearly hurting from how hard it was clenched. Still, he refused to answer.

"Do you love him?" the man asked quietly.

Boyd only made a soft noise that neither agreed nor denied and for a moment he thought the man wasn't going to do anything, that maybe he'd step away and try it from another angle. But then there was the sudden, unexpected feel of rough fingertips trailing along the scars on his upper left chest, the fingers brushing past the areola of his nipple and down along the scars that wound across Boyd's stomach like angry snakes.

Boyd jerked at the feel, the manacles abrupt and painful against his wrists, and he couldn't help a harsh release of breath. "Don't--"

"Such self-destructive tendencies in the name of those you love," the man was saying softly as he ran his fingertips down the length of each of Boyd's scars one by one, as if he was drawing a picture using only the lines left behind by the strokes of the knife Boyd had turned against himself six years ago.

"Don't touch me," Boyd hissed as he futilely tried to twist away but the man didn't seem to hear him.

"You're a child of war; you've never known anything but this world after the bombs." The man's tone was idle and conversational despite the way his hand rested against Boyd's mutilated tattoo then slid across his belly toward the scars Jared had left when he'd plunged the knife into Boyd's stomach. "You were born within days of the first bombs that hit America and your father and Lou's parents were taken by the second wave."

The man's voice dropped quieter, a tinge of pity sliding in as he leaned forward. "You probably don't even fully remember what it's like to see true, unfiltered sunshine. To feel that heat on your skin." His hand trailed up Boyd's chest and stopped at his throat, resting against the pounding pulse of blood rushing through his carotid artery. "Do you?"

Even though Boyd told himself not to answer or react, he couldn't help a quick jerk of his head as he tried to get the man's hands off him. He didn't like the man's proximity, the rough slide of a stranger's hands along his skin, along his scars.

When it was his own decision he didn't care anymore if people saw the scars but this was taken out of his hands. This wasn't him telling Thierry it was okay while they were about to sleep together. This was an agent he didn't even know reminding him at every step that he was completely powerless and alone, that no one was going to come rescue him, come take him away. That it was just the two of them and the questions in that room.

That the man could do whatever he wanted and Boyd would be utterly powerless to stop him.

"Lou was the same, wasn't he? If he'd lived, you'd have been able to feel like you weren't alone." The man's hand slid down and stopped over Boyd's heart. "But you were." The man said it as a gentle, simple, undeniable fact. "He died and no one cared, did they? No one but you." His voice grew even quieter, more insidious in the way it slid into Boyd's mind. "What if you really had died then? Who would have noticed, who would have cared?"

Boyd let out a lightly shuddering breath and tried not to be bothered by the absolute truth of the words. At that time, there really hadn't been anyone who would have missed him when he was gone. He truly had been alone.

"And if you died right now..." The man's hand slid down and the points of his fingers pressed once again at the scar Jared had left Boyd; it almost felt like the man was mimicking the feel of a knife. "Who would care?"

The question was whispered simply but the gaping hole it left for an answer in Boyd's mind felt almost cruel on top of everything else. Boyd let out a low breath that caught slightly and he tried not to think about it but he couldn't get away-- from the man, from his touch, from his voice... from his questions.

When Boyd tried to think about who would truly, honestly care if he died right then-- he didn't know.

He hadn't been able to see Ryan for months and although he knew it would upset the other man, Boyd didn't know anymore how much. Thierry would lament the fact that someone young and attractive who he'd slept with had died but Boyd couldn't imagine it would bother the man for long.

The other trainees seemed to like him by now but the only person he could imagine actually being upset by it was Emma, and she would be upset by anyone dying, probably even Cade.

Kassian seemed to enjoy his presence but Boyd had very little to do with him. Even though Kassian had apparently been upset when he'd thought Boyd had died after Monterrey, that had only been due to his own guilt and actions on the mission.

And Sin...

"Is that why you felt drawn to Thierry?" the man asked, thankfully disrupting Boyd's thoughts. "Alone just like you, a fellow Frenchman. An orphan of the war as much as you ended up being in your own way, though of course in entirely different manners. Did you feel a sense of connection with him? Or was it just physical-- you wanted him again and you thought if you stopped by he'd give in to you; caught in his position with no alternatives, he'd be an easy fuck?"

"No," Boyd said finally, wanting the questions to stop, wanting the topic to be over. "It wasn't like that..."

"What was it like, then?" When Boyd didn't immediately answer, the man went on. "Maybe you truly do love him after all-- some sort of Montague and Capulet syndrome?"

"No," Boyd said more firmly. "I don't love him."

"But you care about him," the man said calmly.

"I don't-- I--"

"If you didn't care then why would it matter if he felt alone?"

"I don't know, I just..."

"Why would you go out of your way to talk to him if he didn't matter to you?" The man's voice was reasonable and intense. "If you slept with him the first time just for your job, what were you doing at his doorstep without further orders?"

"I don't-- I didn't think--"

"Sometimes the actions we take when we're not thinking are most telling of what we feel." The man's voice lowered confidentially. "I think you truly care about him."

"I don't."

"I think he means a lot to you."

"No, he--"

"I think when you heard he was still alive and you had the ability to save him, you jumped on the chance because part of you had missed him."

"No, Jesus, it wasn't--"

"I think you can't forget him when he's gone."

"It's not like that," Boyd said sharply.

"Or is it," the man continued astutely, "that he can't forget about you when you're gone and you're just taking advantage of that?"

Boyd was struck silent in guilt for just a portion of a second too long, inadvertently telling the man without words all he needed to know.

"Ahh," the man said knowingly and Boyd immediately shook his head, furious with himself for continually giving information away. The hood rubbed roughly against his face in the movement.

"No, it's not--"

"Are you using him?" the man asked immediately.

"I'm not--"

"Did you go there to get in his good graces? To determine how you wanted to use him now?"

"It's not like--"

"What did you say to him when you were there?"

The man's questions were growing quicker, sharper, and his hand seemed to burn against Boyd's skin over his heart. Boyd knew the man would be able to feel each time Boyd's heart sped as the man grew closer to the truth and as if it wasn't a horrible enough feeling, being naked and powerless in front of the man, now the man was using Boyd's uncontrollable reactions against him too.

"I told you--"

"What did you say to him?"

"That he wasn't alo--"

"What did you say?"

"That he wasn't--"

"What did you say?"

The man's voice was so intent and repetitious that Boyd felt that same frustration and powerlessness rise again and he wanted to lash out. He wanted to give the man what he wanted so he'd go away, so he'd stop touching him and talking and Boyd was tired and exhausted and unbalanced and he couldn't fucking breathe with the hood and he didn't want to think anymore--

"Fuck!" Boyd yelled. "I told him we weren't enemies! I said-- When I remembered Shane and what he'd done to me, I didn't want Thierry to feel alone if the same had happened to him. And-- And I wanted to know..."

Boyd trailed off, almost coming back to himself enough to know to stop talking, but the man's hand dug into his chest and his voice was like a snake weaving through Boyd's mind. "You wanted to know what?"

"I wanted-- I..."

"What?" the man asked intensely.

The man's hand started to slide toward Boyd's scars again, as if he knew exactly how much that hiss of unfamiliar callouses against Boyd's skin unnerved and disturbed him, and Boyd burst out before he could stop himself, "Whether he'd planned from the start to give all that info to the Agency! Why... Why he'd done it then, why so much at once."

"What did he say?" the man asked, his tone casual and digging into Boyd's defenses as Boyd felt weak and pathetic from all the questioning.

"He said he had but not all at once like that," Boyd said. "Not in a way that made it impossible for him to return home."

The man was quiet a moment before he said astutely, "There was a reason you asked that specifically."

Boyd shook his head at first, not wanting to talk about this, but the man pressed on.


Again Boyd didn't immediately answer but the man was persistent.

"Why did you ask that?"

Boyd knew the man wouldn't stop until he got an answer and he felt another wave of exhaustion, of hopelessness; why keep fighting it when the man would get it out of him anyway? "I-- I just wanted--"


"I wanted..."

"You wanted what?"

"I wanted to know if I'd made a mistake," Boyd admitted abruptly, his tone somewhere between lost and defeated. The man was very still as Boyd shook his head and looked away; he couldn't see the man anyway but he felt better if he felt like it was his own choice, like he was just staring off into shadows and it wasn't that he couldn't see anything because in reality he was hidden anonymously within a hood. "If... If he would've given all that information anyway even if I hadn't fucked him in France. If I'd... If I'd fucked up."

"What did he say?" the man asked smoothly.

Boyd drew in a deep breath that, when he let it out, became a little ragged. He sagged against the wall, feeling like it was too much work to keep holding himself up. His head tilted down enough that the hood pressed against his nostrils with a nauseating, sweaty, dirty smell. His eyelashes brushed against the cloth as he closed his eyes and he shook his head, feeling weary.

"He said..." Boyd's voice was heavy with tiredness as he spoke. "He said he would've given it to me anyway, regardless of if I'd slept with him. But that he wasn't always cooperative with any agent sent his way, that he sometimes sent agents away empty-handed if he didn't like them. So because he liked me, that's why he would've given it to me no matter what."

The man hmmed thoughtfully. "How did that make you feel?"

"I don't know," Boyd said automatically but the man made a noise of dissent.

"You know," he said without a hint of doubt in his voice. "It made you feel something."

"Look, I just-- I really don't..." Boyd trailed off, not knowing how exactly he wanted to end that sentence.

"You were informed that you became a homosexual valentine operative for apparently no reason," the man pointed out calmly. "That from that day forward you could be called upon to seduce complete strangers and you would be expected to follow through with it. That the harassment you endured upon the deed becoming public was not, in the end, something inevitable. That any parts of your life that changed in response to the night you spent with Thierry Beauvais could have easily been avoided. That all these events within your life, whatever ripple effect may or may not have started when you agreed to have sex with him, was unnecessary in the end."

Boyd was silent for a long moment but the man was either for once exercising some sense of restraint or he could tell from Boyd's body language that he was thinking about what was said.

What did he feel?

At the time Thierry had told him that, he'd thought it was okay still; he'd thought at least he hadn't known that Thierry would have given the information to him regardless so his actions had made sense at the time.

But he felt like he didn't know anything anymore; like the darkness and disorientation, the exhaustion and rapid-fire questions, the whispers in his ear of things he didn't want to feel or think about... it all added up, piled one on top of the other, until he felt like he was getting pressed down, suffocated with the weight.

"I used to think it was worth it anyway, in the end," Boyd whispered, not entirely realizing he'd said it aloud.

He used to think that even if the repercussions of the night with Thierry had been terrible for the first few months, ultimately the information he'd received had given Sin and him an opportunity to connect. It had given him the chance to get closer to Sin; it had given him someone to love.

But knowing that if he'd just said no to Thierry, if he'd just asked for the information... knowing he and Sin would have still had Monterrey but everything in between wouldn't have happened... The fight in France, the cold silence, Boyd's utter and complete feelings of worthlessness and despair, his provocation of Harry, Alexis...


Someone had been killed because Boyd had been in a foul mood. Alexis had been willing to negotiate, she would have been an ally, but Boyd had shot her straight in the head while she'd held her gun to the side.

How many people had Boyd killed and gotten killed on that mission? How many people had lost loved ones because he'd been selfish and felt sorry for himself, all of which had resulted from his own decision to follow Thierry to his home?

Alexis had been just another Warren Andrews, except in Canada Boyd had been the one in charge. Even Sin had done a better job with Warren by at least keeping him alive for negotiation. True, he'd broken the man's legs and killed a number of his men and threatened the man, but Warren had ended up living despite the fact that he'd had every intention of killing Boyd.

Yet Alexis hadn't and Boyd had killed her for nothing she'd done.

And for what?

Information that had given Boyd the opportunity to start sleeping with Sin, to develop feelings for someone who ultimately couldn't even wait a month before sleeping with someone else just because it was something he 'thought he needed to do?'

At that moment, Boyd felt utterly sick with himself, with the situation. He couldn't say he exactly regretted sleeping with Thierry because it was true that he hadn't known any of this at that time. But if he'd just tried harder, if he'd just asked, if he'd just...

"And now?" the man asked softly.

Boyd's dismal silence was answer enough.

The man was quiet for a moment before he asked calmly, "And your first valentine op mission? What will you do?"

Boyd shook his head but said after a heavy pause, "Don't worry; I won't betray the Agency."

He still didn't know if he'd actually accept the mission but he didn't feel like going into that here. He didn't even want to think about how sleeping with Thierry when he ultimately hadn't needed to would now probably force him into uncomfortable missions in the future. The entire situation just felt so ridiculous and stupid.

Another long pause followed and the man's hand thankfully slid away from Boyd's skin. Boyd let out a quiet breath, releasing some of the tension he hadn't realized he'd been storing the entire time the man had been touching him.

The man walked across the room and silence fell between them, broken only by the man's calm footsteps and Boyd's hushed breathing caught behind the hood. Boyd started to regain his bearings, to remind himself that this was all a test.

He felt like he had the chance to dig inside and try to gather the will to be resistant, even if part of him still whispered hopelessly that there was no point to any of this-- to resisting, to answering, to the training, to his entire situation.

"You saw him again after that." The man's voice was calm and abrupt.

Boyd's fingers curled briefly, uselessly, and the chains clanked quietly against the wall. He wished he could see more than the faint texture of the weave in the black cloth, visible only when the man was there, when Boyd thought the lights may be on.

"I didn't," Boyd lied steadily, choosing to omit the fact that actually Thierry hadn't even mentioned until the second meeting that he would've still given him the disc.

"Don't lie to me. Witnesses saw you both return to his building together. The guard was there when you went in." Silence met the man's observation, apparently prompting him to continue. "What did you do in there?"

Boyd didn't want to admit to what had really happened; he didn't want to give them that information to use against him. "Nothing."

"You were in there for over an hour. What did you do?"

"We talked."

"Talked." The way the man repeated the word, it was clear he didn't believe Boyd. "What did you talk about?"

"Nothing important."

"Oh, but everything's important," the man crooned.

His voice had come from across the room but within seconds the man was suddenly so close that Boyd could feel the heat of the man's breath through the hood, and his clothing pressed against Boyd's bare skin on his side. Boyd jumped, extremely unnerved by the fact he hadn't heard the man approach, by the knowledge that he apparently couldn't rely on even the footsteps as a gauge of where the man may be.

"What did you do with him?"

"We talked--" Boyd started to say, trying to pull away from the man's proximity but he had nowhere to go, no way to give himself more personal space.

"You did more than that," the man said firmly. "Did you fuck him?"


"Did he fuck you?" the man asked immediately, intently.


"What, so you fucked each other?"

"No," Boyd said loudly. "We didn't do anything-- we just talked--"

"How did it feel?" the man asked smoothly. "Was it the same as before?"

"We didn't--"

"The guard heard loud moans and gasps so you must have liked it."

"I didn't sleep--"

"But when you left, you looked unhappy," the man continued, sounding as though he was idly putting together pieces of the puzzle. "Wasn't it as satisfying as the first time?"

"Fuck," Boyd hissed in frustration. "Stop--"

"Or do you always look that displeased after sex?"


"That must be discouraging for your lovers. Did Lou ever comment on it?"

"Fucking--" Boyd started to say in anger.

"And what about your third lover, did he ever say anything either?"

"Stop it!" Boyd nearly yelled. "We didn't fuck!"

"I can hear the lie in your voice," the man said in a tone that seemed invasive and familiar, as if he knew Boyd intimately. "And see it in the way you're holding yourself."

The man moved back slightly, a hand barely brushing against Boyd's side very briefly. The touch was casual but Boyd didn't know if it had been accidental or not; more likely, it was a reminder that he was at the man's mercy.

He hated this. He hated this, he hated this, he wanted to get away--

"So how did it happen?" the man asked calmly, as if nothing had happened. "Did he come onto you or you to him?"

"Neither," Boyd said firmly, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.

"You admitted you're usually the bottom. And Thierry Beauvais is known for his flirtation and his conquests." The man stepped back just enough so he could walk back and forth in front of Boyd. "But then, you used Thierry for information before. Is that what this was about?"

"No," Boyd said steadfastly.

"Did he have something you wanted and fucking him was the easiest way to get it?"


"Maybe you thought you could gain points with the administration if you got something out of him that all the interrogation hadn't yet," the man observed idly.

"No, that wasn't--"

"After all, you'd done it before. Sex means nothing to you, right? An even exchange. But what did Thierry compensate you with this time?"

A sharp twinge cut through Boyd at that comment. "That didn't--"

"Was he whispering secrets in your ear as he penetrated you?"


"Do you get off on that? The feeling of someone forbidden pounding into you?"

Boyd didn't even realize that his breath was quickening again, that he was growing more agitated by the moment. "That doesn't--"

"Did you agree on a price? A certain amount of information for a certain amount of time?" The man paused briefly each time he turned to walk the other direction in front of Boyd.

"No! We didn't..." Boyd trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.

"Or maybe," the man said thoughtfully, "it's that the amount or importance of the information grows according to how far he can go with you, how willing you are to experiment."

"There isn't some fucking scale for this," Boyd snapped.

"Tell me; I really am curious how this works," the man said, switching topics so casually that it was off-putting. "How did you get Thierry to give you so much information in France? Did you let him do things to you no one had before?"

"No, we just had sex," Boyd insisted.

"He penetrated you?"

"Yes," Boyd said, willing to go with this if it got them off the topic of the second encounter. Besides, he knew a certain amount of the information had been put in the report anyway.

"How many times?"

"What?" Boyd asked in incredulous confusion. "How the hell am I supposed to know? I didn't sit there counting."

"How many times did you have sex that night," the man clarified patiently.

"Oh." Boyd felt stupid for having taken it literally, thinking that the man had wanted to know how many times Thierry had moved in and out of him. "Once."


"His house."

"Where in his house?"

"On a rug in front of his fireplace."

"What floor?"


The man's questions came quickly, one after another, lulling Boyd into a habit of immediately responding with short, simple answers, just to give the man what he wanted, just to make him go away.

"Did he do anything first?"

"Made dinner."

"What was it?"

"I don't remember. Pasta?"

"What position did he use on you?"

"Missionary," Boyd said dully, not even thinking for the moment about why they even needed or wanted any of this information.

"Did you perform fellatio?"


"Would you have?"


"Did he use a condom?"


"Did he say anything to you?"



"That I was beautiful and he wished I wasn't an agent."

"So he had you on the floor on your back."


"In his house on the rug by the fireplace."


"And later, in his apartment?" the man asked, so completely casually that Boyd, lulled into the question and answer game, automatically started to reply.

"By the cou--" Boyd stopped abruptly as he realized what he was doing, but with a sinking feeling in his stomach he knew it was already too late.

"By the couch," the man finished for Boyd, his tone simple and satisfied.

Boyd tilted his head toward the floor, feeling frustrated and impotent.

"What position was it that time?" the man asked calmly. Boyd didn't answer at first so the man repeated more firmly, "What position?"

"He-- behind," Boyd admitted grudgingly, knowing there was little point in holding off with this anymore. The man already knew he'd slept with Thierry; who knew, maybe there were even cameras inside Thierry's apartment so more of Boyd's life could be caught on tape to be forced upon him repeatedly later. "He was behind me... at first..." His voice was quieter the second time.

"Did you perform fellatio?"

"He did."

"And a condom?"


"How many times?"

Boyd shook his head. "I don't-- I don't know."

"You don't know."

Boyd could almost imagine the man raising an eyebrow. "Look, I don't-- It-- He just... he held off... a few times. He... varied it." Boyd's voice trailed off, growing softer bit by bit.

The man hmmed again and started to walk back and forth idly in front of Boyd. "Sounds like he was enjoying it."

"I guess," Boyd said quietly.

"Taking his time, doing it slow and right," the man continued as if Boyd hadn't spoken.

"I don't know, I guess."

The man continued to idly pace back and forth in front of Boyd. "You didn't sleep with him this time for your job," he observed idly.

"No," Boyd agreed.

"You enjoyed it the first time he fucked you, back in France?" the man asked curiously.

"I don't-- I don't know. Yes," Boyd said after a moment. "I guess."

"But you didn't this time," the man said thoughtfully.

"I didn't say that," Boyd said pointedly.

"You didn't have to," the man said and there was shifting of fabric, as if he'd shrugged. "I already told you, you were seen."

Boyd just shook his head and didn't answer.

"Why did you go there the second time?" the man asked after a moment.

"He invited me."

"For sex?"

"Espresso," Boyd said, turning his head away from the man. "Company."

"And you said yes," the man said in contemplation and he paused in his pacing.

"Yeah, so?" Boyd asked, feeling a little defensive about the whole thing. "Is there a crime in that?"

"No, no, of course not," the man said calmly and started walking again. "Nothing wrong with casual sex. Of course," he added thoughtfully, "you went straight for the possible traitor."

"He'd been cleared before I even talked to him the first time," Boyd said pointedly.

"Do you know what many people do on their breaks during Level 10 training?" the man asked in an apparent non sequitur.

"Relax, I imagine," Boyd said unconcernedly.

"That they do. Many of them go straight for comfort, for their vices." The man's measured footsteps back and forth was constant; the tempo of Boyd's interrogation.

"Some like to just rest all day and of course there's always the occasional hardcore nut who spends all day training just in case," the man said, his voice smooth and calm. "But the stress of that schedule puts the fear of God into most of them, makes them realize the next day they go back to training may be their last on Earth."

The man slowed his steps until he stopped right in front of Boyd. "Fear of death and extreme duress do strange things to a person; make him desperate for some sort of connection. Make him go straight to his loved ones first chance he gets."

Boyd didn't answer and the man seemed to anticipate it. He just asked quietly after a short pause, "Other than Thierry's, where did you go on your breaks?"

"Just-- around."

"It's interesting to note," the man said a little louder, talking over Boyd, "that on your second break, you were seen going into Hsin Liu Vega's apartment."

"He's my partner," Boyd said, as if the explanation should be obvious. "I was just checking up on our unit."

"And leaving," the man continued as if there had been no interruption, "looking a lot worse for the wear. The guard said you looked pretty hesitant before you went in and when you came out... Well. There are witnesses across the compound who could swear to just how angry you seemed."

Boyd felt his stomach clench, not wanting this to be brought up too. "I was stressed out from training, that had nothing to do with Sin."

"Quite a coincidence that it all hit you so clearly inside his apartment," the man observed contemplatively.

"Sometimes coincidences are just that," Boyd said steadily.

"And then your next break," the man continued calmly, "you went to Thierry's for company. Espresso. Sex. And left looking troubled, dissatisfied."

"I wasn't dis--"

"Why was that, I wonder," the man said, as if thinking aloud. "You liked it just fine when Thierry had you on your back in France. Maybe you just don't like the angle from doggy style? You'll have to excuse me; I don't have gay sex so I don't know, maybe one is better than the other."

"Look, I liked it just fine at Thierry's," Boyd said a little impatiently. "I don't know what that guard thought he saw but I was just stressed--"

"I hear your story and you know what I think?" the man asked idly. He actually waited for Boyd to give a mumbled 'no' before he continued. "I think all that time Thierry was taking his sweet time with you, making you really feel it, really know it was him-- you wanted it to be someone else."

Boyd felt his heart clench at the words, his skin go cold, and he stayed very still in order not to betray any emotions with his body language. "I don't know what you're--"

"Are you fucking Hsin Liu Vega?" the man asked casually.

"What?" Boyd asked, trying to get an incredulous tone into his voice despite the shakiness he was starting to feel inside. "No."

"Were you?"

"No, never. Look, he's just my work partner. All those rumors--"

"Many times, rumors start with a bit of truth," the man pointed out.

"And sometimes the truth is so far from the end result that it's not recognizable anymore," Boyd said firmly, setting his jaw and gaining some strength in his posture as best he could in his position.

His fingers curled into fists and he stood with his back straight against the wall. His eyes narrowed even though he knew the man would never see it through the hood but he knew that the sentiment would get across in his body language.

He was damned if he was going to let the man trick him into spilling information on Sin like he had with Thierry.


Boyd wished he could see the man, wished he knew what that simple, calm syllable meant, why the man had gone completely quiet and what the man's expression was. But Boyd had absolutely no way of knowing what was happening; whether the man was coming closer on silent footsteps or whether he was still standing in the same area.

It felt like a fair portion of a minute passed before the man finally said simply, "Sweet dreams," and, without another word, walked out of the room and shut the door behind him.

Boyd stayed perfectly still, his heart thundering in his chest. What had that meant? Why did the man give up on the topic so easily? Boyd didn't dare believe that he'd actually managed to evade any questions about Sin like that but he couldn't help hoping that he was lucky after all, that maybe they'd let it go at that.

Just as Boyd was starting to feel some of the tension leave his body, as he was starting to think that maybe he actually would be able to get some rest after all, the techno music suddenly blared so loudly in the room that it was all he could hear, all he could think about. With a helpless, hopeless feeling, Boyd slid his eyes closed and dropped his head back against the wall, preparing for another long, uncomfortable, sleepless 'night.'

It was impossible for Boyd to sleep chained standing up like he was, even without the horrible techno music in the background. Every moment that passed made him feel that much further from reality, that much less in control. Even so, exhaustion had made him black out for periods at a time. And each time when he woke it was to the painful, stretched feeling of arms at an angle insufficient for holding his dead weight; of wrists slick with a fine line of blood and fingers that tingled and jerked.

Even in the jumbled chaos that passed for dreams, he had no respite. The constant feel of the manacles against the wall, the knowledge that he was held still with nowhere to go, caused his sleep to be plagued with fear; stunted nightmares of him trying to escape while something terrible moved closer and closer and he knew with ice cold certainty that he'd never get away.

He dreamed of Shane and Lou and dead bodies around him; Alexis walking closer with a bullet in her head and the haunted, ghostly question of 'why' shifting around him like currents without her lips ever moving. He dreamed of a bed beneath him and whispers surrounding him and the insanity that had once taken him over; his own raw-throated screams as he arched off the sheets and black eyes glinting in the darkness, watching impassively as he nearly tore the limbs from his body trying to escape.

He dreamed of the suction-cup sound of blood sliding along the floor and marionette lovers moving with jolting, empty-doll movements; eyes rolling over first before their heads followed, blank mouths held in place with stitches and blood that painted their lips red. Brilliant arcs of gore and blood, splattering across the room, the floor, the buildings, the ground; paintbrushes across the sky and the clouds were turning crimson, vermilion, and it wasn't the sunset that made it that way, it was the blood-red rain falling heavily and nauseatingly against his skin.

And through it all, the thump, thump, thump of heavy bass resounding in his chest, shaking his internal organs and rattling his ribcage. The noise became a monster's footsteps in his dreams, a creature that he never quite saw but he knew wanted to suck the meat off his body and splay him, naked-boned skeleton flat against the sky for all to see and laugh at.

Boyd was in the middle of a restless nightmare when his knees suddenly slammed onto the floor. He jerked his head up, exhaustion and confusion combining with a just-woken feeling and he couldn't understand what was happening. The world blindly tilted and twirled around him and he felt like every open-mouthed breath he tried to take filtered through the hood was harsh and filled with half the oxygen he needed to stay alive.

He'd barely registered that his knees felt bruised and pained before strong hands gripped his arms mercilessly and he was twisted up off his feet, delirious and weak and not even certain he was awake.

He couldn't even understand that someone had unshackled him until he felt a new surface slam against his back; something flat, rough and hard. He just started to try to move when he was held down mercilessly as something was wrapped around his waist, like a belt that was cinched tightly and uncomfortably. Before he could do anything, his arms were pushed against his sides and new manacles snapped into place; when he tried to move, he felt his wrists tug at the belt as if they were connected.

He made a noise-- a question, a sound of alarm and confusion, but it was drowned out by the music resounding painfully in his head. A thud, thud, thud that threatened to drive every sane thought out of his mind.

Within seconds, the hands holding him down had secured him mercilessly to the new, slanted surface that placed his head lower than his heart. Something scratchy was wound around his ankles, his legs, his upper chest, his waist... He struggled but was caught like a fly in a spider's web.

The music was gone as suddenly as it had been turned on and in the painfully resounding silence, Boyd became aware of other noises below it bit by bit; the sound of footsteps around him; his heartbeat heavy and racing in his chest; the confused, frightened noises emitting from his own throat; the sound of water sloshing in some sort of container. The hood was on his head as securely as ever and now it made him feel vulnerable all over again, terrified by how quickly the little black world he'd just grown accustomed to had changed.

"Wh-- What?" Boyd gasped.

"We're going to try something new," the man's voice said calmly at Boyd's side as rustling of cloth and the thump of items against some sort of surface alarmed Boyd even more.

Before Boyd could speak, the extra footsteps grew closer and suddenly something heavy was placed directly over his face and pulled down tight, forcing his head in place as he stared upright. Boyd jerked, his heartbeat skyrocketing in fear, and he automatically tried to struggle, tried to get away but he was caught absolutely immobile with nowhere to go. He could barely keep his eyes open with the new pressure pushing the scratchy hood against his face and he felt like he couldn't breathe, like they were trying to kill him.

"I'm going to ask you some questions," the man said conversationally, "and you're going to answer them. The longer you take, the longer you lie, the more we do this. Now," the man continued calmly, "are you sleeping with Hsin Liu Vega?"

Boyd didn't answer, eyes as wide as he dared without scratching them on the hood's fabric; he tried to tell himself he was okay, he was okay, this was just a test and he didn't need to answer that, he didn't need to compromise everything about his relationship with Sin. He'd become alert enough to know what they were going to do; he knew what was coming and he told himself to ignore the panic that was clawing its way up from the very depth of his being, to calm his nerves and just hold his breath and he'd be okay.

He'd just drawn breath before he could feel water pressing against his nostrils; the slow, torturous feel of that relentless current against his face. He immediately let out a distressed noise deep in his throat, tears already gathering in eyes that he squeezed shut against the thundering of his heartbeat and the sharp clutching of his throat in terror.

He was okay, he was okay, but the water wasn't stopping and his lungs burned with sharp wildfire that spread through his body, starting in his chest and quickly sliding along his nerves to the very ends of his fingers, his toes. He desperately tried not to let it bother him but he suddenly tried to gasp in a breath without his brain okaying it and the wet cloth sucked up against his face like a vacuum and oh God, oh God, he couldn't do this--

Boyd threw himself against his restraints blindly, gasping and choking and letting out utterly petrified noises. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe, he was drowning and held down at the same time and he'd never in his life felt anything so absolutely horrifying, so gut-wrenchingly terrifying that he lost all sense of thought, all ability to think, and he simply became a creature that struggled and screamed and cried against his restraints.

He couldn't understand or care about anything except getting away-- he didn't care that this was a test, that he would fail, that he'd barely lasted a handful of seconds, that he would be compromising himself or Sin, that he was showing exactly how terror-stricken and susceptible he was to this. Nothing was as important as getting away, as making them stop, as making the claustrophobic feeling of drowning disappear.

The extra heaviness over his face lifted just enough for him to draw frantic, hitched breaths through the hood and he didn't even care anymore if it felt like he was only getting half the oxygen he needed; at least it was enough to bring frightened and thankful tears to his eyes. Every time he exhaled he felt a moment of paralyzing fear that he wouldn't be able to inhale, that it was all going to end like this, strapped naked to a table and drowned by water from a jug.

"Please," Boyd pleaded, completely uncaring about how desperate and afraid he sounded, of the way he shook along the entire length of his body as he choked and coughed between gasping sobs. "Please, no..."

"Are you sleeping with Hsin Liu Vega?" the man asked again calmly.

In his absolute terror, Boyd couldn't get his mind together fast enough to answer the question and the heavy cloth was pushed down on his face again. Boyd screamed and struggled immediately, tears pouring furiously down his face, staining the hood as he tried to get away.

Water poured over the towel again and this time Boyd hadn't even had the chance to take a breath before the damp cloth pressed against his nostrils and his lungs ached like they were being sucked out from within him and he couldn't breathe-- he couldn't move and he couldn't breathe and he was going to die--

The cloth was removed again in the middle of a frantic, choked scream from Boyd, who barely even gave himself the chance to catch part of his breath before he cried out desperately, "I was! I was! Please, God, don't...!" He cut himself off with hitched coughing.

"When did you stop?"

"Before training!" Boyd said immediately, frantic to keep them from doing that again.

"Why did you stop?"

"I-- We couldn't while I trained," Boyd said, his mind working chaotically as his words almost fell over each other to get out.

"Why didn't you spend time with him or sleep with him on your breaks? Why did you go to Thierry instead?" The same calm, casual tone that did little to quell Boyd's terror.

Boyd hesitated just a moment too long and the cloth was immediately over his face again. He tried to scream no; he tried to get away, causing rope burns and abrasions on his bare skin as he struggled violently against his restraints, but there was absolutely nothing he could do.

The water came again, longer this time even as he choked and tried desperately to breathe and even if he hadn't had the hood on, even if there hadn't been cloth over his eyes, he wouldn't have been able to see anything through the tears cascading down his cheeks. His lungs burned hotly and his heart was beating so fast that it felt like it was going to rip itself out of his chest and destroy him from the inside out.

There were no words for the hysteria that overtook him as he was subjected to his two greatest fears at the same time, as he felt like each time they pressed that cloth against his face and with each breath he couldn't draw, a little more of his sanity was forcibly wrenched from him like the oxygen he so desperately craved.

The cloth was pulled away and Boyd, shaking and crying and choking on every frightened breath he managed to draw, answered immediately. "He slept with someone else! Please," he gagged on an inhale and for a moment all he could do was sob uncontrollably. "Please stop, please..."

There was a brief moment of silence that greeted that revelation before the next question was calmly asked. "Who?"

"Ann-- Ann Connors." Boyd nearly stumbled over the words.

"Anyone else?"

"No, just-- just her, I swear I don't know of anyone else..."

Another brief pause followed by the smooth question, "When did you start?"

"Monterrey," Boyd hissed almost before the man had finished. He didn't want to seem like he was hesitating again, giving them the excuse to start it all over again.

"Who started it?"

"I-- I don't," Boyd stammered in urgent fright, not knowing how to answer the question. He heard them shift toward him and he threw himself violently against the ropes, already screaming, "No! No, no, please! I'll tell you anything, please!"

"Then who--" the man started to ask but Boyd was already thrashing his head back and forth.

"I don't know, I don't know!" Boyd moaned. "He kissed me first, he tried to have sex with me in France, but we didn't, I swear to God we didn't! I was the first one to come onto him in Monterrey but it was only after I knew he wouldn't turn me away!"

"How did you know?"

"I saw him jerking off and he said my name," Boyd admitted with a hitched breath.

He shuddered and couldn't stop crying; he felt weak and pathetic and utterly ashamed for giving away all this information, for giving away anything about memories that had been private and special for him.

But he couldn't go through the water again-- he couldn't let them place that cloth over his face and he couldn't let them steal his breath away again. He couldn't, he couldn't, even now he could barely keep his thoughts together with the restraints holding him down. Each hitched breath from crying drew the hood up against his mouth and if they tried to drown him again--

"Why didn't you in France?"

"I-- I was afraid!" Boyd tried to talk through his gasps, through the terror that still made his heart pound so loudly he could barely hear his own words. "He-- He was drunk and he didn't stop when I wanted him to slow down and he was holding me down..."

"How many times have you slept together?"

The question was simple enough but once again Boyd hesitated as he tried to think of the answer and before he had the chance to react, the cloth was over his face and water was blocking his breath. He didn't know anymore if he was breathing out or in, if he was screaming or choking, if his eyes were wide open against the black nothingness or if they were squeezed shut in denial of what was happening. For a moment, he lost all sense of dignity, of his own sense of self, and he was nothing but a hysterical mess once they pulled the cloth away again.

"How many times?" The question was sharper this time, more intense.

"I don't know!" Boyd practically screamed as he threw himself against his restraints. "I don't know, I don't know, I swear to God, please!"

"Give me an estimate," the voice demanded, and Boyd was so far gone he couldn't even recognize anymore that this was the same man who had been talking to him for days.

"I don't know a number! A lot! Sometimes several times a day-- Please," he shuddered violently from head to toe, shamelessly sobbing, "please stop. I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

"Who's usually the instigator?"

"Both of us! A lot of times it's him but-- but the last time was me."

"Who penetrates who?"

"I was always bottom at first but it changed a few months ago," Boyd hissed immediately between gasps. "Sometimes I top."

"What did you do to seduce him in Monterrey?" The same calm, clipped tone to the question.

"I-- I read from an erotic book, I... I teased him, I gave him a blowjob." Boyd rambled frenetically, trying to get as much information out as possible so they wouldn't come at him with the cloth again. So he couldn't accidentally freeze up again at a question. "We kissed, we... He was afraid of hurting me but I said I wanted it. He-- he said--"

Boyd had to stop himself as the memory swept over him; as he recalled that first confusing, hot morning when they'd run hesitant hands over each other, when he'd begged Sin to let him touch him. When the kitchen floor had been cool against their knees and it was the first time he'd felt like he could kiss Sin with all the passion that had been growing inside him.

"What did he say?"

Tears welled in Boyd's eyes for a different reason this time; he felt a sharp twinge of shame for disgracing that quiet moment between the two of them by speaking of it aloud to strangers. At the same time, he felt a profound sense of loss, reliving a memory that reminded him so cruelly of what it had once been like between them, of when he'd felt like there had been more than sex between them. When he'd felt like there had been emotions and conversations too.

"He... He said he'd wanted me since November," Boyd murmured with a quiet sort of sadness tingeing his urgency.

"What else did he say?"

Boyd slid his eyes closed and thumped his head back against the board, feeling broken and lost and utterly, completely alone. The tears wouldn't stop streaming from his eyes and a distant, delirious part of him thought that maybe if they tried to drown him again he could just cry out all the water in his body to save himself.

"He said he'd been intrigued by me from the start." Boyd's voice was subdued as the memories overwhelmed him, somehow growing strong enough to even overcome his immediate fear of being tied down. "He said-- he'd become possessive of the idea of me. He said... he'd never had sex with anyone before."

"What did you say to him?"

"I-- I said I'd been attracted to him for months, I said... I'd assumed he'd been with his other partners before or, or at least someone. I said I knew he'd never hurt me on purpose."

"Then what happened?"

Boyd's breath quickened as part of him wanted desperately to stop talking, to stop betraying the relationship he'd had with Sin, to stop giving them so much. Even if everything had fallen apart lately, even if he was furiously upset with Sin for what he'd done, that time in Monterrey had been special to Boyd. Those feelings had been powerful and unique and had driven him to greater heights as a person and... And here he was, saying everything, telling them--

The feeling of Sin's hands through Boyd's clothing, against his skin, and that sexy voice whispering, "Do you like when I touch you?"

Boyd made a noise of distress and hesitated too long before answering. The cloth closed over his face again and the way his heart spiked and skipped a beat was an aching pain that resounded throughout his entire body. Boyd was immediately crying-- desperate and terrified and caught between loyalty to something that didn't exist anymore and mind-numbing anxiety. He struggled and screamed and coughed and couldn't breathe--

The water was there even longer this time and he surged against his restraints like a body jerking underwater as the water threw it about playfully, dragging it under. Boyd's eyes were wide open, blind, and he was reliving the water, reliving half-hidden memories of currents snatching him under and the blue sky too far above and that terrible, horrifying feeling of burning lungs that forced his body to breathe when his mind screamed no, no, you'll kill us--

Of his eyes wide open and hair everywhere as rough fingers held him down and of bubbles heading toward a surface he'd never reach again. It was all there so fresh and violent in his mind. Only this time, this time he couldn't move either; he couldn't even flail his limbs as if to gain purchase, as if to tell himself he still had a chance, he still had hope, he could still make it through--

He didn't even realize at first when the cloth was removed; his lungs kept freezing in paralysis when he exhaled and a few times he forgot to breathe in or maybe he just couldn't.

He was hyperventilating and each frantic, quick breath brought the hood closer to his face, reminded him that much more that any second now he could suffocate, he could lose all chances he ever had at living through all this. Muffled, terrified noises drew themselves out of his half-filled lungs and his face and nose tingled and burned with the lack of proper oxygen.

It was a long time before he came back to the moment enough to understand that he wasn't being drowned anymore, that he wasn't underwater, that even though it was scratchy and difficult he could breathe through the fabric over his face. He was shuddering and shivering constantly now, unable to control it, not even entirely aware it was happening. He was so frightened that he felt it as a physical ache in the very core of his being and at that moment he wanted to die just to make this stop.

"Then what happened?" The voice was so calm, so conversational; completely unaffected by everything Boyd was going through.

Boyd shook his head and shuddered so violently that it almost made his teeth clack. "I..."

He had to stop because for a moment he couldn't even understand the question, he couldn't even remember what he had been so unwilling to talk about. He felt several steps removed from his life, from any understanding of who he was or what this was or why anything had ever mattered to him more than keeping that suffocating water from drowning him again.

"I-- We went to the couch," Boyd said hoarsely as soon as he could, shaking so much that it made it into his voice as a frightened tremble. "We kissed and we jerked each other off. We fell asleep against each other."

"Hmm." The same simple, monosyllabic sound Boyd had heard before he'd fallen asleep, before he'd been woken to this terror, and Boyd shuddered deeply in response.

The interrogation continued for some time after that; increasingly invasive questions were asked about his sex life with Sin until finally, at a point when Boyd felt like he was barely holding his sanity together by a few frayed, breaking threads, they suddenly released him from the restraints and dragged him, unresponsive and willing, back to the wall.

Time passed as Boyd sagged against the wall, shuddering violently; a frightened, fragile mess that couldn't seem to stop spontaneous tears from rolling down his cheeks. The music had returned, chaotic and loud and forcing all coherent thoughts from his mind. He eventually fell into an exhausted half-sleep again and in a terrifying, disorienting display of déjà vu, he was woken the same way.

Realizing where he was being dragged, he screamed and pleaded and cried uncontrollably and couldn't even care about his complete lack of dignity. They grilled him again-- question after question, and each time he hesitated just a hint too long, each time they thought he was lying, the cloth was smothering his face and he was sobbing and struggling and absolutely terrified and it never got better, it never got easier, it only got worse.

It felt like forever was caught in that schedule of waterboarding and being chained against the wall; like time slowed and stretched just to throw him off balance, just to keep him there in that horrifying nightmare for as long as possible. Sometimes he awoke screaming and struggling and crying only to realize he wasn't on the board. He never would have thought he'd feel such relief from knowing he was chained to a wall.

When they started interrogating him again, they varied the questions-- asking about everything from his mother to even more detailed questions about his past and his life.

When the topic turned to his relationship with Sin, the questions became harder for him to answer. Why had he been nice to Sin in the first place (he didn't know, it'd just seemed right), were Sin and he actually together as a couple (no, he'd broken it off), had his relationship with Sin ever affected the missions (yes, in Monterrey and Annadale Beach), what would he do for Sin (he didn't know, he didn't know, he used to think he'd do anything but now he knew he wouldn't let himself be used)...

And when that smooth, conversational voice had asked if he loved Sin, he shivered and cried pathetically and said yes, yes he had. And when that same voice asked if he still did, he hesitated too long and the water was there, torturing animalistic screams and sobs out of him and he wasn't able to recognize himself anymore, not this utterly pathetic, broken creature that would do anything to avoid pain and fear.

And when the cloth was finally pulled away, he was only able to drop his head against the board, tears clogging his voice and eyes, heart heavy as he whispered in defeat, "I think I do."

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Two...