Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Four

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Four

Uploaded on 3/14/2009

Boyd hunched against a burst of cold wind, his hands buried in his pockets as his trench coat billowed out behind him. He found himself wishing he'd thought to grab gloves and a scarf before he'd left his house.

At the time, walking around the neighborhood had just been a way to clear his mind but it wasn't working as well as he'd wanted. He found himself second-guessing his attitude toward Sin then defending himself in his mind.

They had a definite history of miscommunication and Sin had claimed Boyd had been misinterpreting everything. At the very least, now that Boyd was out of training, he and Sin were work partners again so they had to be able to get along professionally. With their history, Sin at least deserved the chance for Boyd to hear him out.

Boyd just wanted to make sure he was rational about it, that he didn't go into the conversation already stressed or without an open mind because otherwise they would just end up arguing and probably making it worse than if they hadn't spoken at all.

After receiving a notice that in four days he was to come in for his first Insurgency Unit meeting in months, Boyd had decided maybe it would be best to wait to talk to Sin then. That way it gave Boyd enough time to make sure he was in the right mindset. But another part of him wondered if he shouldn't wait, if it was better to contact Sin sooner.

Boyd shook his head to himself, frustrated with his indecision. He looked up just as he passed Richmond Road and it occurred to him that Harkey Street was just the next block over, that maybe Kassian would know what he should do.

Kassian had so far seemed to be surprisingly objective about the whole ordeal and at that moment, Boyd really needed a second opinion.

Within a handful of minutes he was walking up to Kassian's house, noting that the man's beat up old truck was sitting in the driveway. Keeping one hand firmly in his pocket for warmth, he knocked on Kassian's front door with the other.

The door opened almost automatically and Boyd saw that Kassian was wearing his coat and looked like he'd either just returned home or was about to go out. The taller man raised his eyebrows and gave Boyd a friendly smile. "Hey kid. What's up?"

"Hi, I was just-- Am I interrupting anything?" Boyd asked, distracted by Kassian's coat. He also hadn't thought of how he was going to bring up the question he wanted to ask without seeming completely random.

"I was about to go out," Kassian admitted with a shrug. "It's not a huge deal though. I could wait or you could come with me if you want."

"Where are you going?" Boyd asked curiously.

"Car shopping." Kassian made a face as he said it, obviously not that thrilled with the idea. "My truck is useless. I'm gonna make the switch to electric or a hybrid or whatever."

Boyd hesitated briefly. He hadn't planned what he'd do at Kassian's-- whether he'd just run in and ask the question or if he would've stayed for awhile-- but he did enjoy spending time with Kassian. He had no intention of making Kassian delay his errands to talk to him and anyway this would make it easier to lead up to getting Kassian's advice.

Besides, he'd been thinking about how much money he was wasting on gas and especially after his training with other motor vehicles, he'd come to appreciate electrics even more.

"Actually," Boyd admitted, "I've been wanting to switch too but I haven't had the chance to check the dealerships..."

"Awesome." Kassian stepped out of the door and shut it behind him, his keys jingling as he locked it. "There's really only one dealership in the city that sells new model electrics and I don't want to travel somewhere else so hopefully they have something good there."

"Where's it at?"

"On the outskirts of town kinda, over near the hospital." Kassian went down the front steps and zipped his coat all the way up. "I was actually going to walk or something since I'm not going to bother with trading my truck but I don't know if you're cool with that."

"Are you insane?" Boyd asked Kassian incredulously. "A twenty mile walk in this weather? No wonder you didn't want me to feel bad in Russia; this is apparently a hobby of yours."

Kassian laughed, his light blue eyes twinkling with amusement as he paused at the bottom of the steps. "I like walking. Do you want to take the bus?"

"No," Boyd said decisively, "I want to take my car." He tilted his head as a gesture for Kassian to follow him as he headed back toward the sidewalk. "I won't be able to afford an electric completely on its own so I'll probably trade in my Audi."

"Makes sense," Kassian agreed, leaving the gate and putting on his gloves. "I'm prepared to spend at least 100k to be honest and I don't even plan to get some fancy ass car. They don't make shit cheap for anybody anymore."

"I know," Boyd said. "Especially not electrics. I don't even entirely know what I'm looking for but I'm already fairly certain it'll end in me making monthly payments for three lifetimes."

Kassian arched a brow at Boyd as they made the short walk to Boyd's house. "You have no idea at all? I'm looking for an SUV of some kind although I'd prefer another truck. I can't drive those tiny ass cars they make now. I feel like if I get in an accident I'll be crushed instantly."

"That's why I want one that's fast and easy to handle," Boyd said wryly. "To get out of the way of you crazy SUV drivers."

"Ha! Funny. If you end up getting some kind of sports car I don't want to hear any talk about crazy drivers. I've yet to meet one dude in a sports car who isn't a total hard-on."

Boyd smirked. "You can admit what's really going on here; you're just jealous in advance of how much sexier my car'll be."

Kassian snorted, ignoring one of his neighbors as they turned onto Sixth Avenue. "Maybe if I actually liked the way sports cars were designed, which I don't. I don't like the way SUVs are designed either but I don't know how plausible an electric truck is. It'd probably get no mileage from a charge. Maybe they have a hybrid, though."

"No idea," Boyd said honestly. "We can ask the dealer. I don't even know how fast they make their sports cars."

Kassian shrugged, looking dubious. "Who knows."

They walked down Sixth Avenue and after only a few moments they turned on Magnolia Lane. When Boyd stopped at his gate, Kassian raised his eyebrows. "We literally live like five minutes away from each other."

"I know; it's strange." Boyd walked up to his house; he'd brought his house keys with him but had left his car keys inside. He paused at the door to unlock it then walked inside, leaving the door open for Kassian. "You're welcome to come in, I just have to find my keys. And I have some stuff in the car I'll have to dump inside too, so it may take a minute."

A mildly disturbed look briefly crossed Kassian's face as he followed Boyd inside, eyes moving over the interior of the house as he shoved his hands in his pockets. He closed the door behind him to keep out the cold air and watched Boyd quietly for a moment before asking, "What made you come over today anyway?"

"Oh." Boyd glanced at Kassian then disappeared down the hallway to grab his messenger bag from his room.

He almost felt hesitant, or maybe embarrassed, to bring the topic up. It seemed like every time he talked to Kassian it was about Sin, which probably made him seem obsessive, especially since Sin happened to be Kassian's rival, for lack of a better term. However, since he had no one else to ask he wasn't about to pass up the chance.

Boyd returned to the entry area near Kassian and distractedly started searching for a pair of gloves. "I guess I wanted some advice."

"Advice, huh?" Kassian made a 'hmm' sound, still watching Boyd move around the room. "Unless you're planning to take up alcoholism and need tips on drink combinations, I'm not the best guy to go to for advice."

Finally locating his gloves somehow buried in the closet under a layer of shoes, Boyd put them on then shut the closet door. He turned around and looked at Kassian in bemusement, hesitating very briefly before saying, "I realize how repetitive and annoying it must be for me to continually talk to you about Sin and I really hope, for my sake as well, that this is the last time. But I don't know who else to ask and I mostly just need a second opinion..."

Kassian tilted his head slightly and gazed at Boyd, seeming half-amused and half-curious. It almost seemed as though he wanted to say something or ask something but instead he just shrugged with a brief shake of his head and a small smile. "What's up with Mr. Vega now?"

"Well," Boyd said slowly as he searched through his messenger bag for his keys. They were in the small pocket he tended to keep them and they jangled quietly as he took them out. He looked up at Kassian again as he held the keys in his hand loosely at his side. "I told you before he wanted to talk to me." He said it as a slightly leading statement, as if wanting to make sure Kassian remembered the conversation.

"What did he say?"

"I didn't exactly talk to him yet," Boyd admitted. "That's the problem. He came to training for our final test. So of course I had to fight him. Doug was just waiting for him to go easy on me, I could tell."

"Did he?" Kassian raised both eyebrows at Boyd and looked genuinely curious about the answer.

"Not exactly." Boyd watched Kassian a moment then turned and opened the front door, walking out into the cold air. He waited for Kassian to follow him before he shut and locked the door. "Actually, he went harder on me than anyone but Jon."

"Really." Kassian looked at Boyd skeptically. "I find that hard to believe. He can tear people apart and there's not a scratch on you."

"I know." Boyd pulled some hair behind his ear and looked at Kassian sidelong as they headed to his car. He dusted off the light layer of snow on his car from two nights before, using his good arm. "Well, my shoulder is sprained and my chest looks like a kid got entirely too excited with purple paint, but I'm fine. He did go harder on Jon because he could handle it, but the rest... Toby froze and Sin didn't even touch him."

"Sounds like he went easy on all of you, to be honest," Kassian said with a shrug, waiting for Boyd to to unlock the car. He ran his gaze over the Audi before glancing at the house again. "But then again when I fought him for my training, he didn't go full capacity either even if he did act like a jerkoff the whole time."

Boyd opened the back door and grabbed the few items sitting inside his otherwise clean car; a black scarf, a half-full water bottle, and a long ice scraper with a brush on one side. He walked around to the trunk and, holding the items in his good arm against his body to balance them, he unlocked the trunk and opened it.

"What did he do?" he asked curiously, looking at Kassian.

Kassian thought for a moment before standing up completely ramrod straight and narrowing his eyes at Boyd in an annoyed expression before saying in an almost perfect imitation of Sin's low, deep voice, "Is that the best you can do, Trovosky? They must be pretty desperate for another Level 10. Watch as I beat the life out of you and then stand over your bruised and bloody body while laughing mockingly. If you notice, I haven't even broken a sweat."

Boyd gave Kassian a startled look then threw his head back and laughed. "That's a disturbingly good rendition," he said with a grin, shaking his head. "He didn't actually laugh, did he?"

"Nah but there was a smirk." Kassian shook his head as he thought about it. "I didn't really have anything against the guy until that."

"Understandable," Boyd said, still smiling faintly to himself in amusement as he dropped the scarf, water bottle and ice scraper into a three-quarters full box he had sitting in the trunk. The only other items he had in the box were parts of a winter kit with emergency supplies, a first aid kit and jumper cables.

"He does have a way of pissing people off," Boyd continued mildly as he grabbed the box and set it on the driveway near his car's rear tire. His shoulder ached in the movement but it wasn't something he couldn't handle.

"Uh huh." Kassian waited patiently for Boyd to finish with what he was doing, scrunching his face slightly when a particularly strong gust of wind blew by. "Anyway, finish telling me what happened."

"Hold on." Boyd closed the trunk then quickly brought the box into the house, locking the door again behind him when he left. He returned to the car, got in, and waited until Kassian was sitting in the passenger seat and had shut the door before he continued.

"After the test, when Doug dismissed us, Sin stopped me and wanted to talk, but..." Boyd paused. "I couldn't then, I wasn't in the right mindset. He just... He keeps showing up at bad times for me, when I'm far too stressed for that sort of conversation. It's like he wants me to drop everything for him." He shook his head to himself. "I didn't give him a chance to explain anything."

The car roared to life and Boyd backed out of the driveway before turning onto the street. Kassian reclined the seat so that he could lean back further and reached out to turn the heat up. "So what do you need my opinion on then?"

Boyd was quiet a moment as he adjusted the rear view mirror. He knew he had to tell Kassian more in order to get to the question he really wanted to ask. He hadn't thought he'd ever willingly feel the need to tell anyone any details about this but he trusted Kassian with the information.

"When Sin recovered from his coma after Monterrey," Boyd said calmly, "he came to my house. I thought I'd gotten him killed, I thought I was bad for him so I tried to turn him away but he was really upset with me. He said he needed me and when I didn't listen, he tried to kill himself in front of me."

Kassian's eyes snapped over to Boyd and he stared at him in surprise. "That's pretty extreme."

"Yeah," Boyd said soberly. "I wasn't expecting it." He paused very briefly, remembering the desperation both he and Sin had displayed. "He said he couldn't go on without me, that he wished he could hate me for just dropping him when things got too hard. That I'd made him feel things and then just took it away."

Boyd glanced at Kassian. "He'd asked me long ago to believe in him, to not give up, and he was angry, he said I had. At one point he stormed off with the gun and I thought I'd never see him again so I stopped him, said I was sorry, it was all my fault. I was really... upset. I said I didn't know how not to hurt him, how not to fuck up, that sort of thing."

"Uh huh..." Kassian's eyes were trained on Boyd as he waited for him to continue.

"The thing is," Boyd said carefully, "at this point I think it's probably true that he didn't know what he was doing, that he just made a stupid mistake. I do plan to talk to him, to hear what he has to say. But..."

Boyd trailed off briefly and then sighed. "I don't know. I have a unit meeting in four days and I'd planned to talk to him after that, to make sure I have time to be in the right mindset, to be rational. To give myself time to even just de-stress from training. But... Sometimes I think I end up making really selfish decisions, especially when it comes to Sin. It would seem really petty in retrospect if I'm stalling to give myself time and he does something crazy in the meantime. But at the same time, if I go over there earlier than I feel comfortable, it's like I'm still thinking of him first, doing what's best for him and not me. That obviously hasn't worked well for me in the past and it just... Maybe my pride stops me from liking the idea of that anymore. But I'd feel so guilty if something happened while I waited... like it was my fault..."

"Nah, don't think that way." Kassian sat up and adjusted the seat again. "If he was going to kill himself he would have done it already. You're better off waiting until you're not going to automatically get pissed off and not even listen to what the dude has to say, you know?"

Considering that for a moment, Boyd fell quiet. He slowed the car to a stop at a red light and stared at the semaphore. It was true that Sin would have done something long before if he'd intended to. And Sin had seemed to be in a more stable, healthier condition at the test than he had the times Boyd had seen him previously.

Besides, Boyd had just walked away without saying anything so he hadn't told Sin he wouldn't listen to him, he just hadn't at that time. Boyd couldn't quite rid himself of the faint, nagging question of whether he was making the right decision, but he felt better knowing that Kassian agreed with what Boyd had planned: to wait until it was best for him. Any earlier than that and Boyd was worried that his own frustration and irritation over the entire situation would make him unintentionally lash out.

"Yeah," Boyd said finally, turning his attention to Kassian. "You're probably right. And it'll be better in the long run for us both, anyway. Maybe it won't even end in an argument." He said the last part dryly, not expecting that they'd actually manage that.

"You're better off trying not to argue," Kassian said with a shrug. "The reason I divorced my ex is because she was always accusing me of shit and not trying to hear me out. I mean it wasn't entirely her fault but it made me not even give a shit anymore because it was so aggravating. So I say wait until it's more likely that won't happen. If you want things to work out between you anyway."

Boyd made a noise of assent as the light turned green and he started driving again.

"The dealership is at the end of Victory, by the way. Behind the hospital." Kassian gestured in the general direction.

"Okay," Boyd said, thinking of which streets to turn down to get there quickest at this time of day.

There was a brief silence before Kassian glanced over at Boyd again. "So, do you plan to get back together with him?"

Boyd looked over, searching Kassian's expression before returning his gaze to the road. He looked mildly perturbed as he considered the question. He'd been wondering the same thing and he hadn't yet come to a conclusion. He was going to listen to what Sin had to say but he just didn't know if it would change the decision he'd already made when they'd argued in the bunker.

He felt like overall, since the very first moment he'd met Sin, the two of them went in cycles. Everything was great, everything was terrible, Boyd trusted Sin who didn't believe in Boyd, Sin trusted Boyd who didn't believe in Sin...

Not to mention Boyd had a history of affecting the missions due to his involvement with Sin. The fact that this bothered him wasn't entirely about the missions; he didn't want to do a poor job and of course he didn't want to fail but the far more alarming part was that their missions were often literally life or death.

Even before they'd started sleeping together but after they'd gotten closer, Boyd had made poor decisions on missions because of Sin. At one time the risk had seemed worth it, but now...

How did he weigh someone's life against this? Alexis', Jessica's, Sin's, his own, anyone else's...

Boyd didn't even know if he and Sin were capable of not being dysfunctional around each other, if they were even doing themselves a favor by sticking it out. Sometimes it seemed like they were caught in a self-destructive spiral that did more damage to themselves or others than it did any good.

It made him wonder if it wouldn't be better to back off, to be business partners, to maybe try for friends. Their relationship had been off from the beginning and by now, Boyd almost felt like it was far too tangled to be right anymore.

"I don't know," Boyd said finally, honestly. "Right now..." He hesitated and then admitted, "I don't... know if I think it's a good idea."

Kassian nodded in understanding although it wasn't obvious if he was actually agreeing. "Well whatever you decide, I suggest going in with a decision made. Work it out beforehand, weigh the pros and cons. Don't let the heat of the moment decide for you and all of that."

"Yeah, it's true." Boyd tilted his head and smiled sidelong at Kassian. "Thanks."

"No prob, kiddo." Kassian's gaze fell to the glove compartment and he pulled it open. "You have stuff in here, you know."

"Shit, I completely forgot about that." Boyd looked over distractedly as he turned onto Victory Street. "Can you take it all out for me?"

Kassian nodded and began digging through the glove compartment, setting stuff on the floor at his feet and listing the items he found. "Manual, envelope with... I guess insurance type papers..."

He leaned forward and yanked out a handful of yellowed papers that appeared to be old receipts of some kind. Behind the receipts and another envelope there was a metal CD case that was zipped shut. It was wedged sideways in the glove compartment and Kassian actually had to wrestle it out.

He sat back in the seat and unzipped the case, flipping through the sizable collection of CDs before making a face. "Gross, who likes Incubus? I remember them being terrible back in the day."

"Incubus?" Boyd echoed in confusion.

He hadn't been paying attention to Kassian but when he glanced over, he was truly surprised to see the CD case. It was Lou's old case; Boyd hadn't seen it in years, he'd completely forgotten it had even existed. He felt a rush of mixed emotions at the sight; nostalgia, sadness and regret... Even faint exasperation and amusement at the memory of Lou shoving the case into the compartment behind everything else, threatening to throw out the manual and proof of insurance since he'd said the music was more important.

Boyd and Lou had liked a lot of the same bands, which hadn't been surprising since Lou had liked just about every music genre. Boyd hadn't bothered to keep music in the car but Lou had insisted; he'd enjoyed having a soundtrack for his life. Lou used to flip through the case, finding songs that fit his mood or their situation. He used to sit in the passenger seat, singing along while Boyd had sometimes in exasperation turned the volume down and asked what was wrong with silence.

"Ah. Wow," Boyd said belatedly. "That's... old. It's not mine."

"Whose is it?" Kassian flipped through and raised his eyebrows. "Someone who definitely likes techno. Serious stoner music in my opinion. I can appreciate that."

"It was my friend's."

"Oh." Kassian made a face at whatever band he flipped past. "Are they dead or something?"

"Yeah," Boyd said calmly. He looked at the CD case contemplatively. At that moment, he was almost perversely grateful that, if the Agency had felt the need to force him to watch Lou's death video, at least it had been played so many times in front of him.

The realizations he'd had in that room had given him more reason to try to put the past behind him, to find closure in Lou's death. Being almost desensitized to the murder, watching it so often that he'd finally found a way to distance himself from it-- like that wasn't really him on the screen, like that hadn't really been Lou-- gave him more reason to look at sudden discoveries like the CD case as a way to remember even more good things he'd forgotten.

"He was killed six years ago." Boyd paused then added, "I guess that makes them mine now..."

"Oh, that sucks. I'm sorry, dude." Kassian paused in his search through the CDs to look at Boyd. "I wasn't even being serious. I just said that since you used past tense... I thought maybe you just weren't friends anymore."

Boyd smiled humorlessly to himself. "That would be nice." He shrugged as he saw the hospital loom before them; the dealership had to be in the area so he started paying more attention. "It's okay. It doesn't bother me the way it used to. It's not like being sad ever changed anything." He glanced at Kassian. "Better to remember the good anyway, right?"

Kassian graced Boyd with one of his genuine, kind smiles and nodded. "Right. And besides, you inherited some decent music even if he also owned some terrible shit from the past two decades. Although I guess it's pretty hard to score decent tunes these days. After all of the shit that happened, there's not too many new bands coming out."

Boyd had to smile to himself, looking fond and amused. "Lou liked everything, anyway. He was a pack rat with music. Some of that stuff... I almost think he got it just to annoy me in the car. I'm with you, though. There really hasn't been good music I've heard lately."

"What do you like?" Kassian held up a hand before Boyd could respond. "Wait, I want to figure it out. I'm usually good at reading people's music preference through their personality."

With a bemused smile, Boyd quirked an eyebrow and glanced over at Kassian. "Do you need to see my palm or anything?"

"No, no. I try not to be that mystical about this all," Kassian said with mock seriousness, squinting at Boyd through his eyelashes. "I go purely by personality."

"Right," Boyd drawled, drawing the word out. He tried not to let his amusement show any more than it already had. "Let me know when your analysis is complete."

"Oh I already have it done," Kassian said in a very wise voice, grinning at Boyd knowingly. "Judging by the fact that you're hardcore introverted and probably the type of person to analyze everything three times over because I suspect you spend a lot of time in your head... Which is not criticism by the way so don't take it as that. It's merely an observation."

Boyd didn't respond because it was true so it didn't bother him. Coming from Kassian, he probably wouldn't have been offended by it even if it had been criticism.

Kassian raised an eyebrow at Boyd and held up the CD case as if it was some kind of sacred item as he continued, "And since a person's taste in music can be a window into their personality, I'd say you're pretty picky about what you listen to, you pay more attention to lyrics and the meaning behind songs than whether or not it sounds catchy. But I don't really think you're the type of person to be familiar with a ton of genres or bands."

"Hmm." Boyd saw the entrance to the dealership and pulled in; he parked in the visitor's parking lot then turned his full attention to Kassian. He watched Kassian expectantly without giving any indication as to how accurate he felt the analysis was so far.

"Okay, so this is what I'm going to do." Kassian began flipping through the CD case again. "I'm going to pick out a CD and tell you which one I think is a band you like."

For a moment the only sounds in the car were the sleeves of the case rustling before Kassian made a low 'ah-ha' sound. "Modern rock, pseudo avante-garde, definitely not that mainstream... Awesome lyrics. I'd say this one is one of yours."

Kassian held up a Radiohead CD.

Boyd barely kept the surprise from his expression. Kassian was exactly right with his entire analysis. And he'd managed to choose one of the very few CDs that Boyd actually did own in the case. He studied the Radiohead CD then met Kassian's eyes with a mock intrigued expression.

"Not bad, Mr. Trovosky," Boyd drawled, letting some drama enter his tone. "Not bad at all... But can you possibly find my other CDs before it's too late?"

"Putting pressure on me, eh?" Kassian flipped through the case some more. "Definitely Deftones, has to be. Nice, Static X... but definitely not yours. I don't see you listening to industrial type metal. Hmmm." He glanced at Boyd from the corner of his eye and smirked slightly. "I could definitely see you listening to this one though. Sister Machine Gun. Moody music."

Boyd raised his eyebrows. "I don't know whether I should be impressed or disturbed," he said lightly, then smirked. "Are you sure you haven't been stalking me?"

"Of course I have. That's how I get through my boring days off. Peering through the non-windows in your bunk and hearing the imaginary music you listened to on the imaginary boombox you shared with the Tobster." Kassian winked at Boyd and got out of the car, looking up at the fortress-like building that housed the dealership. None of the cars were on an outdoor lot-- due to the high crime and demand for the overpriced electric vehicles, everything was kept on lockdown inside.

"Aha," Boyd said triumphantly as he stepped out of the car and locked the doors. "I thought I'd felt your presence. And here I was, thinking you'd just been waiting for us to undress..."

"Toby wishes," Kassian replied dryly as they approached the building. "Is it me or does this place look like a prison?"

"That's because it basically is. I'm pretty sure they do a strip search on the way in," Boyd deadpanned. "And we don't get to leave until we buy something. Otherwise, they'd have to kill us. Their inventory is top secret, you realize."

"I don't know who they think is going to buy most of the crap they have," Kassian said. "Only 10% of this city can probably afford the prices car manufacturers charge these days. You'd think they'd lower stuff so everyone could afford it but whatever."

"Yeah but who knows how expensive it is to make anymore. Although I'm sure there's quite a mark-up. They're probably in with the oil companies and make money off the poor people who have to buy the fuel-based in the less genteel dealerships. And for the rich they get to make a few hundred k each purchase." Boyd fell quiet as they approached the main door and were within hearing distance of the two security guards who stood outside watching them.

Kassian and Boyd actually had to show identification and sign something to get in and when they were buzzed into the building, it was an entire process before they were finally admitted access to the actual viewing rooms.

The building was set up like a very high-tech garage. Each floor housed a different manufacturer and the show cars were displayed with only a limited number of each model for sale. Some models were so limited that they were only on display with a hologram.

"First stop, BMW?" Kassian asked Boyd as they got on the elevator.

Boyd nodded. When he'd originally chosen his Audi A4 Saloon, he'd been trying to decide between Audi and BMW models. His tastes had changed since then and he was interested in what BMW's electric choices were.

"So your mother bought you your old car, huh?" Kassian asked as the elevator whooshed up to the third level of the building.

"Sort of." Boyd looked over. "It was her money but I chose it from the price range given." He tilted his head and added, "Well, of course she had to give her input so it would meet her standards. Make sure I wasn't getting something that'd look embarrassing in our driveway."

"Pretty nice for a first car," Kassian observed mildly as they stepped off the elevator and into the indoor BMW lot. The room was decorated in silver tones and lined with tinted windows, giving it a sleek, modern style. The car models and holograms were spread throughout the room. "My first car was an ancient El Camino that barely lasted half a year. Although my other option was a yellow Fiesta so... yeah."

Boyd smirked and looked around to determine which area he wanted to head toward. "I can't even imagine the extremity of Mrs. Hensley's duress if we'd actually come home with something like that. Assuming my mother would've ever agreed to a Fiesta."

Kassian gave him a blank look. "What?"

"She's this crotchety old woman who lives across the street," Boyd explained mildly. "When I was a kid, she used to sit there staring at us from the window between the blinds." Boyd mimicked an intense, disapproving glare, his hand up by his face as if he was pushing blinds apart.

"She was dead quiet except when she thought we were doing something wrong, then she'd do something passive aggressive. She used to even criticize my mother... Not to her face, of course. But I'd hear her loudly talking on the phone about this horrible rose bush the neighbor got, or how her neighbor hadn't mowed her lawn, or the nasty looks she got from 'that woman'... She's been quiet lately but at that time? I'm just saying. Yellow Fiesta." Boyd raised his eyebrows.

Kassian snorted and began walking aimlessly through the lot, not really stopping to focus on the sedan models. "Well, not everyone can be spoiled..."

Boyd looked at Kassian sidelong. He'd been joking about Mrs. Hensley and the Fiesta, although he was sure the woman would have had plenty to say about it had they actually bought something like that. He hadn't meant to be offensive but Kassian seemed serious about the comment. In retrospect, it probably hadn't been a good response, rubbing in Kassian's face how much nicer Boyd's first car had been.

There were a lot of people who'd probably had to work quite a bit even just to afford something cheap and half broken but the significance to them would have been far greater than a car Boyd had suddenly had paid for him. Boyd didn't necessarily know if Kassian'd had to work for his car but it sounded more likely than someone suddenly offering him one for free.

"Sorry," Boyd said, looking off toward the rest of the sales floor.

"You should be, punk," Kassian replied amiably, with no real bite in his tone. "Mr. High Maintenance slumming it with working class Kass."

"Fuck you," Boyd said lightly, a grin pulling at his lips.

Kassian arched a brow at Boyd and opened his mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it because he just snickered to himself.

"So, what--" Boyd started to say but then he noticed the coupes in the corner. "Oh."

His attention immediately zeroed in on them as he automatically headed in that direction. He didn't even fully notice Kassian trailing along behind him until he stopped near the coupe that had initially caught his eye. It was silver, sleek, and before he could tell anything more about it a woman descended on them from out of nowhere.

She was tall and slender with pin-straight black hair and startling green eyes that were currently focused very intently on the two potential customers. An automatic smile curved her lips as she absently straightened the purple blazer she wore. "Hi, my name is Christina. Can I help you with anything?"

Kassian automatically gave the woman a discreet but appreciative once-over and smiled politely. "Maybe you can help him. BMWs aren't my thing."

"That's too bad," Christina said with an exaggeratedly disappointed frown although it quickly morphed into another hopeful smile as she turned to Boyd.

"What are the specs on this?" Boyd asked, gesturing to the coupe.

"All of the stats for the Z12 are listed on that kiosk." Christina indicated a small touch screen computer kiosk that was off to the side. "You can view the stats on all of the coupes from it and also you can use it to compare and contrast the different models. It's a new feature and especially useful for the MX80 which we only have on the floor in holographic image."

Kassian walked off a bit to the MX80; it was white and because of the additional length and width to the model as well as the larger wheels, it had a more muscular build than the Z12. Kassian studied it critically before going back to the Z12 where Boyd and Christina were standing. "This one's probably faster."

"Oh it is but that's because the MX80 is built more for performance than high speed," Christina said with a smile and began rattling off facts about the vehicles before Boyd could even get started with the kiosk.

The Z12 was lighter and smaller than the MX80 and had a higher top speed by nearly thirty miles as well as better mileage, getting almost two hundred and twenty miles out of a single charge. However, the MX80 had all wheel drive and more kilowatts.

"But then we have our third model, the M36, which is a slightly bigger but more powerful version of the Z12. Although it's a longer charge with less mileage on a fully charged engine, it has the speed of the Z12 but higher kilowatts than the MX80 while still achieving a sleeker build."

Kassian looked at the comparisons over Boyd's shoulder. "Yeah and a full twenty thousand more than the Z12 for that extra power," he said with a derisive snort. "You people are such thieves."

Christina just smiled at him innocently and Kassian returned the look with a smirk. He obviously had a tendency to be an incorrigible flirt.

Boyd looked between the three models contemplatively, having been listening to their conversation while studying the comparison. He was primarily interested in a car that handled very well, that he knew he could trust to respond to him. But he definitely wanted speed; the Z12 topped at about 20 miles per hour faster than his current Audi A4.

Although he liked the specs on the M36, the M36 looked far less sleek than the Z12. The Z12 was smaller, shorter, more sculpted; it looked more like a race car with a longer front than the cab in back. The M36, on the other hand, had a more conventional build; there were still the smooth lines of the BMW brand but it was tempered by the proportions.

The mileage he would get off the Z12 was a little better than the M36; even if it was cheaper overall to charge electrics, that didn't mean it was free. The fewer times he had to recharge the car, especially with the erratic utilities, the better. Then again, if the M36 was more for the money than it may be worth it.

Turning away from the screen, Boyd walked over to the Z12 and stared at it a moment before looking over at Christina. "I can examine the model, right? Open it, get inside..." He suspected he could but he didn't know how strong their rules were in this high security dealership.

Christina nodded. "Of course, but you can only test drive on the indoor track."

Boyd nodded distractedly, already looking at the car again. He opened the door and sat inside, leaning back in the surprisingly comfortable seats. He really liked this car; it was comfortable, the specs showed it should be high performance and he liked the sleek design. At $150,000 it was quite expensive, a little more than he would have hoped to spend, but with his Audi as trade-in that should temper the price somewhat.

He spent some time inside, adjusting the seat and mirror, checking the dashboard, putting his hands on the steering wheel and shift to get an idea of how it would fit. He twisted in the seat to look into the truncated back seat; it wouldn't properly fit a third person unless the person had short legs or sat in an uncomfortable position but how often would he even have one passenger, let alone two?

On the other hand, if he ever needed to haul anything or if for some reason he had to use his car as a stakeout car, the Z12 wouldn't be very comfortable for long periods of time and it would stand out a lot more than the M36 would. Boyd wasn't interested in flashiness so much as he was interested in quality. And even if he didn't foresee having two passengers at once, that didn't mean it would never happen where he'd need them. Not to mention, he'd have to investigate further which one would be better for driving during the different seasons or if they were comparable.

He barely even heard Christina and Kassian talking outside the car; he was so focused on the Z12 that he may as well have been alone. After a few minutes, he popped the hood and got out of the vehicle, walking around front to examine the engine and the inner workings of the car. He was by no means a mechanical expert but he knew enough to like what he saw. Closing the hood, he leaned into the car briefly to open the trunk and walked around behind the car; he was curious to see how much space he'd have.

"You know what the best way to gauge trunk space is?" Kassian asked him suddenly, turning his attention from Christina and their debate about the best truck manufacturer to look at Boyd.

Boyd looked over, startled out of his thoughts. "No," he said, intrigued. "How?"

Boyd's only warning was a subtle eyebrow quirk and a sly smirk before Kassian slipped behind him. Before Boyd could comprehend what was happening, Kassian grabbed Boyd, lifting him off the ground. Boyd twisted automatically to evade but the movement only resulted in his coat tangling between them and Kassian's hands slipping beneath Boyd's shirt as he tried to keep a grip on the flailing younger agent.

The feel of Kassian's strong callused fingers sliding up his bare skin was so unfamiliar that Boyd nearly recoiled from the touch, not because it was unpleasant but because the feeling was reminiscent of Sin's hands. Although a few people had touched Boyd's bare skin since Sin, Thierry's hands were relatively smooth and the man from the resistance to interrogation training had a different feel, not to mention his touch had been completely unwanted. Kassian's hands had the same rough texture and strength as Sin's.

Kassian dumped Boyd neatly in the trunk and grinned down at him widely as Christina stared in horror in the background. Obviously her wealthy clients typically did not behave in this fashion.

"Too small in my opinion. You're a scrawny little guy and I had to practically fold you in half to fit you in," Kassian said with an important nod.

Boyd stared at Kassian in surprise, hair slightly disheveled and clothing askew. That had been so unexpected that he didn't even know how to react at first. After a moment he managed, "Wha-- Do you-- What?"

"What?" Kassian asked innocently, blue eyes twinkling with amusement at his own antics.

Glancing briefly between Christina and Kassian, Boyd tried to regain his sense of composure after a moment. Crawling out of the trunk, he straightened his clothes and said dryly, "That's your scientific method, is it?"

"It's wonderful," Kassian replied with a smirk.

Christina shook her head at Kassian although a slight smile managed to make its way onto her face. She'd been deflecting Kassian's slight flirtations but now she seemed genuinely amused by him although she was obviously trying not to show it.

Christina looked at Boyd and raised a slim eyebrow, obviously intent on pretending the incident had never occurred. "How do you like the vehicle?"

"I like it," Boyd said, studying the Z12 thoughtfully. "But I want to see the M36."

When Boyd got inside the M36, Kassian appeared to have finally grown bored with Boyd's research and started idly conducting his own. It mostly consisted of him frowning at the SAVs and Sports Wagons and despite Christina's attempts to warm him over to them, he denounced BMW as a manufacturer who was not capable of making a decent truck.

"The SAVs--"

"If I had two kids and another on the way I'd consider those SAVs. And also if I grew a vagina," Kassian interrupted with a snort as he eyed the vehicles in question.

Christina looked startled by the comment and a surprised laugh burst out of her. "Are you one of those guys who will only drive an American truck?"

"No," Kassian replied and made a face. "At least I don't think so anyway. The first and only truck I bought for myself was an ancient Chevy but that was just because I liked the look of it and it was cheap. But these aren't even trucks, Christina. Come on now."

Christina shook her head with a grin. "Well let's look at some other stuff while your friend checks out the M36. Give BMW a chance. We've made so much progress with electric vehicles in the past few years..."

The conversation began to fade away as Kassian and Christina moved further away from the coupes.

Boyd spent even longer with the M36 than he had with the Z12; he examined the inside and outside, adjusted the seats and checked the trunk as well. This time he found himself glancing up briefly just before he leaned into the trunk to make sure there wouldn't be another surprise attack.

Kassian and Christina were safely across the room so Boyd returned to his task, smiling to himself now that he no longer had an audience. Kassian's test for trunk space had been pretty amusing, even if at the time Boyd had been so dumbfounded that he hadn't been able to react. Kassian was an odd person; sometimes he was so serious and other times he suddenly showed an almost mischievous sense of humor.

After a thorough examination, Boyd stopped by the kiosk again to check the comparisons one more time. After careful deliberation, he determined that the M36 was actually superior to the Z12. Although the M36 had a shorter charge life so it wouldn't have as good of mileage and it was about $20,000 more, the M36 had more power, it would handle a lot better, and there was a lot more space in case he ever needed it. The Z12 looked far sleeker and more attractive to him but as for performance it wouldn't stand up to the M36 based on the specs.

Boyd decided he wanted to test drive the M36 and looked up to see Christina and Kassian a few feet from where he'd last noticed them. He headed toward them and as he drew closer, he could see that they were looking at the motorcycles. From what Boyd could tell of Kassian's body language from this length away, he thought Kassian was a lot more interested in the bikes than he had been in the trucks.

Walking up beside Kassian, Boyd looked across the motorcycles taking up part of the corner of the floor. "Found your niche?" he asked with a slight, bemused smile.

Kassian's hand was idly caressing a black and silver sport motorcycle and looking a lot like he'd just fallen in love. "This thing is fucking sweet," he said in a low, excited voice, blue eyes glued to the machine as he squatted down and studied it closely. "I've missed having a motorcycle. My wife..."

Kassian glanced up at Christina and winked. "Ex-wife..." She reddened slightly and he continued with a grin. "She made me give mine up. She wasn't even afraid of me crashing. She thought someone would do some kind of running tackle, knock me off it and steal it."

Boyd found himself rather entertained by the mental image that gave him.

"Wow." Christina didn't look too impressed with his ex-wife's concern.

"I know, right?" Kassian stood again, shaking his head. "I'd love to get it but it doesn't make sense for me, really."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

"Because it's not always just me when I go out. Sometimes I go out with people who don't have cars of their own. Also when my sisters visit, I need space for them," Kassian replied as he backed away from the bike.

"I didn't know you have sisters," Boyd said, interested.

"I have three younger sisters so I don't think they'd all fit on the back of a bike. My mother would probably try to kill me if I even put one of them on it." Kassian rolled his eyes.

"Do they visit often?"

"Eh..." Kassian made a vague hand gesture. "Kind of. It's a long story. I'll explain later." He looked at Christina and it was obvious that he didn't want to talk about it in front of her. "So, are we going to look around more before deciding? You may as well since I need to go further up anyway."

"Yeah," Boyd said easily. "I want to compare with other manufacturers."

Kassian nodded and Christina gave each of them her card in case they decided on BMW after all, so she would get commission on the sale. Kassian and Boyd spent the next few hours checking out the rest of the dealership, having idle conversation between examining models made by different manufacturers.

Kassian ended up with a truck after all; it was a GMC Denali XTX Plug-In Hybrid. Kassian and the GMC salesman spent a lot of time discussing the engine; it apparently had once been dual electric with ethanol support but since corn crops were not as abundant as they once were due to the wide expanses of radioactive land, GMC had gone back to gasoline. Despite the fact that it wasn't entirely electric, the vehicle still got triple the mileage of Kassian's Chevy. He got the truck in gunmetal grey with huge 23 inch custom wheels, rims and an extremely expensive sound system that Kassian still claimed he was going to tweak later.

Before Boyd made his decision, he discovered that he was interested in two electric Mercedes AMG series vehicles. The looks were a little too angled for his preferences but he liked the specs. When he was able to test drive both his BMW and Mercedes choices, he determined that the 2022 BMW M36 was better for him.

He traded in his Audi, finding himself almost a little sad when it actually came time to hand the keys over. There were a lot of memories with his Audi and it had been his first car.

But nostalgia shouldn't come in the way of practicality, not if he was going to continue working on living in the present rather than focusing on the past. It had been a great car but letting it go wouldn't mean he had to forget any memories made in connection; it just meant he would be able to focus on saving money in the present and future, hopefully to make new memories.

Maybe it was part of trying to push himself out of his routine and comfort zone or maybe it was just the design of the car, but in a rare decision for him, he chose the silver color rather than black. Boyd was pleased with his purchase and as he drove home he couldn't help a quiet, satisfied smile.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Five...