Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Five

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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-Five

Uploaded on 3/14/2009

"Do you want me to cut your hair?"

Cynthia stared at the man in front of her and eyed him critically, taking in the fall of straight black hair that was now long enough to touch the back of his neck. The look became him but it would have been more attractive if he ever bothered to comb it.


Sin's intense green eyes rose to her face in disinterest. "What."

She sighed and swept auburn hair over her own shoulder, brandishing her trimming shears at him. "Do you want a haircut or not?"


"That's all you had to say," she replied impatiently and worked her fingers into his hair, going about the process of making it look unclean as well as disheveled as she applied products that would take away the natural glossy shine.

Sin said nothing and stared down at the PDA that he held, skimming over the mission outline that Vivienne had just given him. It was an assignment of unknown length although he didn't think it should take more than a few weeks. It wasn't an assassination mission but since it involved snatching a high-ranking political figure's runaway son, it was equally classified.

The boy had no idea that his father was also a benefactor and informant to terrorist groups but the Agency wasn't concerned with the fact that he was an innocent. The Agency was only concerned with the fact that the boy's father, Ernest Wick, would do anything to get him back.

"So you're playing a street kid, huh?" Cynthia queried curiously, massaging something called 'texture dirt' into Sin's hair.

"What makes you say that?" Sin asked dully, tilting the PDA away from her further although he didn't think she'd been able to see the words anyway.

Cynthia snorted and wiped her hands on her apron. "The hair, the earrings, the outfit--" She indicated his undercover attire; ripped and faded jeans, scuffed combat boots with a bandanna wrapped around one of them and a leather jacket that looked like it had survived ground zero of a nuclear explosion.

Sin just grunted and shut off the PDA. He had no interest in discussing his role with her. He had no interest in the role or the mission in general.

The brief time he'd had near Boyd had been such a tease; despite the fact that they'd been fighting, it was as much contact as he'd gotten with the younger man in months and it'd been during a ridiculous sparring match. Sin had deliberately rushed the entire process just so that he could get a moment with Boyd, just to apologize, just to try to make some sort of headway to an explanation, and Boyd had rebuffed him without hesitation.

Ever since then, Sin had very little interest in anything; his life seemed very empty and he felt like he wasn't really living so much as existing.

It wasn't that much different than it'd been three years ago before Boyd had come into his life. It was strange how easy it had been to slip back into that frame of mind.

"You look so much like your father."

The comment was so unexpectedly sudden that Sin's eyes jerked up to the mirror, staring at Cynthia's reflection with narrowed eyes. "What did you say?"

"I said--" Cynthia hesitated when she caught sight of Sin's expression and her hands froze in midair for a moment until she dragged her eyes away from his chilly stare and cleared her throat. "I said you look like your dad. It was just an observation, honey. No need to go on the extreme defense."

Sin stared at her for a moment longer before he closed his eyes briefly, trying to calm himself down. Even though the hallucinations had ceased, the memories were still there and the mention of his father brought to mind the horrifying image of blood, dimming green eyes and the look of stunned surprise in them...

"Not a lot of these new kids remember your father," Cynthia went on, although there was something more careful about her tone and the way she chose her words. "I mean agents don't typically live to old age anyway and even when they do, the Agency retires them once they stop being useful, whatever that means. So people know who your father is but not a lot of people remember what he was like, you know?"

"I don't care," Sin replied flatly, turning his gaze back to his own reflection. "I'm uninterested in speaking to you."


Sin fingered the smooth surface of the PDA idly, trying to push everything else to the back of his mind and just focus on the mission; if he didn't think about his father or Boyd, it was almost possible to do that but it wasn't easy.

Every night he dreamed of his father and even if the nightmares didn't chase him to daylight anymore, the memories haunted Sin. And even though he tried to tell himself that Boyd couldn't avoid him forever, he couldn't just pretend Sin didn't exist, that they had to see each other and be near each other for missions and meetings, the realization that their relationship ended there hurt painfully.

But at least it was something. At least Boyd was still in his life in some way and maybe some day... Maybe Boyd would fo--

Sin cut off the line of thought viciously before it could continue, eyebrows drawing down over his eyes. Wishful thinking wasn't going to get him anywhere. It was obvious that Boyd had no intentions of forgiving him.

"Your hair is almost as long as your partner's now," Cynthia piped up once again. "I could give you a cut like I gave him if you recons--"

"Shut up."

Cynthia flicked Sin's reflection an irritated glare and she sighed woefully. "You may look like your dad but your personalities are as different as night and day, junior. That man could talk the ear off a telemarketer."

Sin stared at her stonily and didn't reply.

"Wow." An amused smile tugged at the corner of Cynthia's lips as she used one booted foot to turn the chair around so that Sin was facing her, eyeballing his hair critically. "I sure hope your mission doesn't require too much talking."

"My mission is not your concern," he retorted and stood up, grabbing the pile of clothes that were laying nearby.

"Wait." Cynthia held up a hand to stop him, eyes narrowing as she eyed him critically. "You may want to loosen up," she advised. "All jokes aside, if you're really going to make an effort to pass as a seventeen-year-old punk, that rigid posture and your tendency to speak in formal and complete sentences isn't going to fly."

"Don't tell me how to do my job." Sin gave her a scathing glare before adding, "It's stupid for them to pass me off as a teenager anyway."

Cynthia ignored his first comment and raised her eyebrows. "Well, I don't know about that. You look like you're in your early twenties and most orphaned kids who've lived through this post-war shit of a world tend to look older than they are."

"If you say so." Sin picked up a black backpack that was covered in safety pins and patches; it was carefully crafted to look old and worn. "Are we through?"

With another exasperated sigh, Cynthia waved him off and turned towards her desk with a quiet mutter that he wasn't interested enough in to discern.

Sin stuffed the clothing in his backpack and left the wing that the civvie squad was located in, not intending to change until transport dropped him off closer to the site. Gregory Wick was said to be staying in a youth home called The Bowery, which was government-run and located in the ruins of old New York City.

The Bowery had a lot in common with a place called Brighton Community Prison. Both were located in ruined and abandoned cities and both had become overrun by outcasts that the government wanted to round up before the lawlessness of a ghost town taken over by civilians could get too out of hand.

However, Brighton had become overrun by criminals, drug addicts and people on the edge of society while the homeless, surviving orphans of the five boroughs of NYC had congregated by word of mouth in the area where The Bowery was located. At least, until the government once again swooped in to get a handle on them.

Brighton turned into a living, breathing prison that was nothing more than a severely locked down city. The Bowery became a severely locked down group home for street kids; the place bordered on a juvenile hall due to the strict atmosphere and tendency for the kids to act out.

Sin had no idea how a senator's son had wound up in a place like that but the mission outline stated that the child had run away at the early age of ten years old and his father had been searching for him ever since, apparently desperate to find his only living family member even if the child apparently had no desire to be with him in return.

All Sin had to go on was a seven year old picture and a whisper from an Agency informant inside The Bowery who had heard rumors of Gregory Wick residing there. Although, the information was only 83% substantial according to the Agency's analytic unit.

For all Sin knew, this whole thing was a wild goose chase and he would have to spend weeks searching for someone who was miles away, assuming the kid was even still alive. The tendency for kids at The Bowery to use aliases and refuse to tell the staff their government names would make the mission all the more difficult.

Sin grimaced and took the elevator up to Carhart's office.

The area was emptier than usual considering Carhart usually had a variety of field agents, captains and generals coming in and out for one reason or another, but the people who were nearby gave Sin discreet looks of distaste.

He ignored them, once again numb to the treatment, and opened the General's door without knocking. As usual, it was unlocked.

"--much longer is he to be interrogated? If he hasn't broke by now--" Carhart broke off and his eyes rose to Sin. He froze slightly and his words caught before he frowned at Sin and turned his seat slightly, lowering his voice.

"If he hasn't broken by now, he either won't break or he has nothing to tell. Dragging this out is going to damage him and make him useless to us."

Sin sat down in the chair in front of Carhart's desk, uninterested in the discussion of their newest detainee.

"This is not about-- Listen, I'm being realistic here. My opinion is to make the decision to utilize him or to end this once and for all."

Sin could hear the faint sound of a woman's voice on the other end of the line but his gaze drifted out the window and his thoughts began to wonder so although he could hear what was being said, he didn't really pay attention to the words.

Carhart hung up a moment later. He spun the chair and fixed Sin with an intense stare before saying, "If you're not complying with the agreement, you shouldn't even be on this assignment."

"I'm taking my medication," Sin replied with a flat stare. "They even put me on some new dosing system. Shots that I take every so often instead of pills everyday. I'm fine."

"But that's for one thing," Carhart snapped, leaning forward. "Not for the true problem-- not for the way you go batshit crazy and start slaughtering people around you in a blind rage. For that you're supposed to see Ann and I don't care what ridiculous love triangle you got yourself tied up in, boy. This is not something you can play around with."

"Whatever." Sin dropped his gaze and glared at the floor, unsurprised but still angry that as usual Carhart was too involved in his life.

"It's not 'whatever!'" Carhart yelled, slamming a fist on the table and truly losing his cool in a way Sin hadn't seen in a long time. The General ran a hand through his hair angrily and stood up, turning towards the window and staring down at the city, at the wasteland that stretched out beyond the east side of it.

His gaze rested on the destroyed bridge, the completely mutilated military base, the squares of land that had once been suburban neighborhoods in the southeast. "If you think Vivienne is going to go easy on you because of Boyd, you're wrong. And if you think that you're going to get away with the shit you get away with now when the new administration comes in and takes over, you're really wrong."

"Ah. The new admin." Sin raised an eyebrow and began to pick at a loose string in his cargo pants. He had no delusions about Vivienne ever going easy on him. He had no delusions about anyone in the Beaulieu family giving a shit about him anymore.

"When's that whole thing happening anyway?" Sin asked more out of a desire to get off the topic of Ann and Boyd than real interest.

"Within the next few months," Carhart said stiffly, slipping his hands in the pockets of his pants. "And from what I know of the woman who's coming over to run this place, she doesn't take chances for anyone. She is strictly by the book and for the book and she's bringing over a hand selected group of her own people. Don't be surprised if she brings her own super assassin. A real replacement for you. Someone to make you an unnecessary risk."

"Doesn't sound too bad to me."

"This is not a fucking game!" Carhart shouted once again, turning to glare daggers at the younger man. "Why don't you grow the fuck up and stop sulking like a little boy! You made the choice to screw your psychiatrist and now you have to deal with the consequences of that! You shouldn't have done that and you shouldn't be carrying on a relationship with your goddamn partner anyway! As far as I'm concerned all three of you are wrong and I don't want to hear about any more of this foolishness. When we're in the conference room, I don't want to see any traces of a fucking lover's quarrel!"

Sin grunted, eyes narrowing as irritation built inside him.

Carhart exhaled slowly and sat in his chair again but the frustration was still evident in his expression as he changed the subject stiffly, "Do you understand the mission profile?"

"To an extent," Sin replied flatly, gaze fixed on the window. "I want to know how we're going to extract."

"You'll have to get him to leave the facility with you and draw him far enough away so that our movements aren't conspicuous during extraction. Once you figure out a way to do this, use your comm unit to contact us and we'll send transport to a designated pick up spot."

Sin scoffed and shook his head. "How do you propose I get him to follow me?"

"That's your problem," Carhart replied pointedly. "And I would advise against throwing him over your shoulder and making a huge scene of it unless you want Vivienne to terminate you on the spot."

"Heh." Sin stood up, mouth in a tight line as he hefted the backpack over one shoulder. He turned to go but Carhart stood up again and crossed the room, grabbing Sin's upper arm before he could leave the room.

Sin turned and stared at the General, his eyes narrowed slightly.

"I'm not trying to be exceptionally hard on you," Carhart said unexpectedly, his grip on Sin tightening even as his blue eyes dropped briefly to the floor before meeting Sin's steady gaze again. "I know it seems that way but there is a lot going on. More than you know."

"It doesn't matter to me, General," Sin said flatly. "Your treatment of me isn't going to hurt my feelings. I don't expect anything from anyone anymore."

Carhart dropped his hand and stepped back, brow furrowing. "I know I've been impatient with the progress but--"

Sin began shaking his head, scowl darkening.

"--I'm just as dedicated to helping you as I've always been and--"


"--I want you to get through this but--"

"Just fucking stop!" Sin snarled so angrily that Carhart did just that. "I'm so fucking tired, tired, of you people and your fucking explanations and your reasons. I don't give a shit anymore, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of everyone. I don't care."

Genuine confusion clouded Carhart's surprised expression. "What are you talking about? I'm just trying to explai--"

"I don't want your explanation!" Sin shouted. "Fuck your explanation! You think I don't fucking notice how you've gone out of your way to get me to trust you all of these years but when the shit hits the fan and I'm really trying to confide in you, trying to trust you, trying to have someone fucking understand what I'm going through, you backed off? You were all for being my confidant until you realized how genuinely fucked up I am just like your stupid bitch girlfriend said!"

Carhart fell completely silent, at a loss of what to say, unable to deny it, and Sin continued angrily.

"You and Boyd are exactly the fucking same. I wish I had never let either of you make me believe that trusting anyone was worth it, that depending on anyone was fucking worth it. I needed you just like I needed him and both of you didn't want to hear what I had to say. But when I turn to someone who actually paid attention, I'm the bad guy, I should have known better, I should have taken societal moral standards and Agency policy into consideration when I have fucking voices talking to me and all I wanted was to forget things in the only way I knew how."

Sin shook his head, seething and angry; all the pent up frustration spilling out of him. "It's so fucking ridiculous that for years he's made ten thousand excuses for my violent behavior but I have a little sex with someone else and he acts like my actions are completely fucking evil and inexcusable and he writes me off completely. After all the times he's said people were stupid for expecting me to react like a normal fucking person, the first time it has something to do with him, he's fucking done, right? But at least in his case, he didn't know what the fuck was going on! You knew and you still didn't want to hear it!"

Carhart opened and closed his mouth a couple times before reaching for Sin again but the other man jerked away violently, his eyes burning like green fire as he glowered at the general.

"I swear to God, Carhart, if you fucking touch me right now I'll rip your arm off."

"Just calm the hell down, damn it!" Carhart exclaimed in aggravation. "You're saying Boyd won't listen to you but now you're the one refusing to listen to me. Just shut up for a minute and cool the hell down before you do something we'll both regret."

"Oh, I won't regret a damn thing," Sin growled. "I don't give a fuck anymore about what happens. If they hadn't switched me to those fucking shots I wouldn't even waste my time with medication anymore because I just. Don't. Care. Fuck everything and everyone. I wish I had never let either of you get to me. I wish I had just stayed the way I was before because then I wouldn't give a shit that people are so disappointing and selfish."

"Sin--" Carhart grabbed for Sin again and this time Sin pushed him backwards forcefully with both hands but Carhart just narrowed his eyes and grabbed the younger man, pushing him down into the chair again. "Sin, calm down and shut up."

"Go to hell."

Carhart ran his hands through his hair and exhaled loudly, staring down at Sin and looking at a complete loss. There was a tense silence between them for several long moments but after awhile, the anger bled out of Sin and he slumped down in the chair; he once again stared out the window in his now-typical empty despondence.

Looking guilty and helpless, Carhart crouched by the chair and forced Sin to meet his eyes. "You know I care about you, Sin. You're like my son--"

Sin glared at him. "Don't say that ever again."

"You can hate it all you want, but it's true," Carhart retorted unflinchingly.

"The only reason you give a shit about me is because of my father," Sin replied coldly. "Out of some ridiculous sense of loyalty to him because you two were so close. Isn't that it?"

Carhart's eyes narrowed briefly. "No. That's not it."


"Don't tell me what the hell I think, kid. You have no idea what you're talking about. You just want to assume the worst about everyone right now because you're pissed off and angry at the world and I don't blame you but don't project your bullshit onto me." Carhart sighed in frustration. "I had a child before I came here and he died. My wife died. I had nobody and yes, Emilio became a really close friend of mine but that has nothing to do with why I want to help you, why I feel responsible for you."

"Oh?" Sin asked scornfully. "Then what was it, Zachary? What made you care so much about some random kid then?"

"Because I knew all of these years that what they did to you, what your father did to you, was wrong. They fucked you up so bad and I feel like I didn't do enough to stop it; if anything, I made it worse. I don't know how else to explain it to you, Sin. I really don't. I just wanted to look after you because I knew no one else wanted to do anything but use you because your father made sure you were such a good killer. And for all you think I worship the ground Emilio Vega walks on," Carhart said acidly, "I will never forgive him for fucking up a young child like that."

"Oh, well then it shouldn't bother you to find out that I killed him," Sin said coldly, eyes drilling into Carhart's in expectation for his response.

Carhart drew back quickly and this time he did flinch. A pained look crossed his face and he stood up, pressing a hand against his forehead as Sin watched him closely.

The General's hand slid down and pressed against his eyes as he sighed low and deep before saying quietly, "What happened wasn't your fault."

Sin's eyes narrowed into slits and he stared at Carhart suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"

"Your father-- Emilio--" Carhart broke off and looked at Sin finally but his eyes quickly moved away, his hands moving agitatedly through his hair as he struggled with his words, struggled to keep his eyes on Sin but was unable to.

"You weren't there, you don't know what happened," Sin snapped. "Don't try to tell me what happened so it's a version of events you're more comfortable with so you won't have to deal with the truth."

"I do know what happened," Carhart growled back, wiping a hand across his now flushed face. "This is all news to me-- I only found out after the raid... Emilio found out some things that he shouldn't have-- things about Connors. And instead of keeping his mouth shut, he tried to blackmail him with it and Connors sent a hit squad out for him. I don't know what happened after that-- I don't know how you escaped or why Connors still took you into the Agency although it was probably because he knew you didn't know he was behind it and you were too good an assassin to give up. But whatever the case was, Sin-- it wasn't your fault."

Sin just looked at Carhart evenly and didn't seem terribly surprised by the revelation. Ever since he'd remembered that night, the possibility of it having been an Agency hit had made the most sense. Sin just hadn't known why Emilio would have had a hit out on him and now that Connors was dead, it didn't really matter anymore.

"But that's not why he died," Sin grit out finally, shaking his head. "I shot him. I killed him. I went nuts and completely lost control and I killed two of them and him because I was too fucked up to distinguish between enemy and... and whatever."

"It wasn't your fault," Carhart repeated stubbornly as he turned away, tugging at the collar of his shirt and loosening his tie, sweating and red-faced and looking very much like he wanted to be very far from the conversation.

"Are you listening to me!" Sin shouted, jumping up and slamming his hands down on the desk as he glared at Carhart. "Stop fucking making excuses for me just because you don't want to accept the fact that I killed your friend! Why can't you just accept what I am, god damnit?"

"Is that what you think this is about?" Carhart asked with a hint of incredulity in his voice, turning to face Sin again. "You think I'm playing ignorant-- I'm ignoring the facts, because if I don't I won't be able to look at you anymore? That I'll be forced to turn my back on you?"

Sin didn't respond automatically and he averted his gaze, not wanting to admit that yes, those were his thoughts and yes, he did fear that being the case.

After years of not believing in Carhart, somehow in the past two years he'd started thinking of the man as one of the few people he could trust. Sin didn't know when exactly it'd happened or why things had changed, but somewhere around his return from Monterrey and the coma, Sin had come to terms with the idea.

"I told you, Sin. This is all so complicated, you have no idea how complicated it is and I can't-- I can't explain it to you right now," Carhart said, voice heavy with regret and frustration. "But when I say it wasn't your fault, I'm not trying to deny some dark truth-- I'm not looking at you through rose-colored glasses."

Sin looked at Carhart again, brow furrowed.

"I see you for what you are and what you can do and I still love you like my own flesh and blood no matter how much you want to deny it," Carhart continued, his voice raw and honest and determined. "I know you've made mistakes, I know you've killed people and I know you're capable of ripping my throat out right now if you slipped into an episode and it doesn't change a damn thing. I still care for you, I still want to protect you and I'm not trying to make one excuse for you except for the fact that you're a messed up kid."

There was a sadness in Carhart's face, in his clear blue eyes, that made something in Sin's chest twist and ache. He didn't know why, he didn't even understand exactly what Carhart was feeling-- but the words had a profound effect on him and for a moment it was difficult for Sin to speak.

It was difficult for him to understand acceptance-- it was difficult to understand Ann forgiving him for Lydia, Carhart not blaming Sin for his father-- but the expression on Carhart's face made his words undeniable, genuine and even in that moment when a lot of heaviness should have lifted from Sin's shoulders; he still felt low and it all went back to Boyd.

He wondered what Boyd would have said had he found out the truth. Sin wished once again that he'd told him from the start; that at least he'd been able to tell him that day in the barracks. Things could have been so different but now it was just too late.

Sin and Carhart stared at each other in tense silence for a long moment before the intercom on Carhart's desk buzzed and a voice rang out, "They're ready for you in Conference Room 11, sir."

"Damn it all," Carhart swore and the moment was effectively broken.

Sin cleared his throat and was almost relieved by the interruption-- the situation and conversation had gotten too confusing and now Sin honestly didn't know what to think. He ran a hand through his hair and grimaced when it came back greasy from all of the product that Cynthia had put in it.

"I have to go-- we both have to go, actually. Your transport leaves in fifteen and you haven't even been down to the supply room," Carhart said distractedly, looking simultaneously embarrassed by his previous words and extremely aggravated by whatever else was on his mind. "Just don't go on this mission thinking the world is against you. Don't deliberately fuck it up like you used to in the past."

Sin's lips lifted in a humorless smile and he shrugged. "I'll try."

"I know self-destructive behavior is your strong point," Carhart replied dryly although his face was still intensely serious. "But things can get better. I really believe that, Sin. Just give it a chance. And even if..."

The General trailed off for a moment before continuing sternly, "Even if this inappropriate relationship between you and Boyd doesn't work out-- maybe you should take into consideration that it may be for the best. You still have to see each other for work-- he can't ignore you forever. I don't believe he will go on pretending to hate you forever if he truly thought of you as a friend and even if he did, the world doesn't end with Boyd. You have more to live for."

"Heh." It came out as a scoff and Sin lifted the backpack again. "I only cared about my life after he was in it. Why should I care now that he's not anymore?"

"Just because Boyd made you realize how life could be if you had a friend, a lover, doesn't mean those things end with your relationship with him. If anything, you're doing yourself and him a huge disservice by using him as your only saving grace. Do you know the kind of pressure that is to put on a twenty-two year old kid?" Carhart asked, shaking his head in disapproval and Sin just looked away again, never having thought of it that way.

"Boyd isn't out of your life. He isn't dead and neither are you. He helped you, you may have even helped him, but don't use that as an excuse to give up. There are other people out there who may give you what he gave you. All Boyd did was show you that it was possible. And the way you two behave together-- the way you think of each other, it's unhealthy. Until things change, until both of you grow the fuck up and stop being so dramatic, you don't need to do more than go on missions together."

Sin frowned slightly, confused and intrigued. "Unhealthy? What do you mean?"

"For God's sake, Sin how could it not be? You're both so dependent on each other, it's ridiculous. The only reason you even think you need each other so much is because when you met, neither of you had anyone else. But you don't need each other. You don't need anyone. You may want each other but you won't die without each other. He's obviously come to that realization finally after all of the shenanigans with Harry and the Canada mission and Mexico-- now it's your turn to wake the hell up."

"But--" Sin gave Carhart a truly hopeless look and clenched his fists open and closed. All of it made sense; it really did. But even so... "But what if I can't? I'm not like him-- I don't know how to move on. He's all I have."

Carhart shrugged and began smoothing his tie and shirt. "You have to try to figure out how to be an autonomous being; until you become someone who can function fully on your own and who doesn't go down a spiral of suicidal thoughts whenever Boyd gives you the silent treatment, you don't deserve to be with him or anyone. It sounds cruel but it's true. If you think your issues are hard for you to deal with, how do you think it feels to be on the outside looking in and having no idea how to help or what to do?"

Sin didn't have an answer for that and if he did, he was sure it wouldn't be one that weighed in his favor.

The intercom buzzed again and Carhart walked out of the door with Sin. Carhart stopped Sin short in the lobby before he could head to the elevator bank.

"Take care of yourself out there. The kids at The Bowery are a product of war. The ones who aren't completely messed up from radiation poisoning are messed up from seeing more death than probably even you have. So watch it."

"I'll be fine," Sin muttered, ignoring the watchful eyes of the people in the area. "I've dealt with worse."

"Still." Carhart looked around quickly and stood up straighter, assuming a more authoritative posture. Despite the fact that everyone knew he was protective of Sin, he typically tried to be discreet about how casual they really could be. If anyone had heard Sin cursing and yelling at the General, they likely would have died of shock that Carhart stood by and let him do it.

But even then, Carhart hesitated and held Sin's gaze. He looked hesitant to let the younger man out of his sight; he appeared almost nervous, anxious, about something. "Will you keep what I said in mind?"

Sin shrugged and looked off down the hall to the elevators. "I guess." Now that the moment between them had passed, now that they were out of the confines of the office, Sin was uncomfortable with the conversation.

He was uncomfortable with the fact that Carhart's confession of caring for him like a son had such a profound effect on him, even more so than Boyd's confession of love had.

When Boyd had said he loved Sin, Sin didn't entirely know what it meant. He didn't know how to reciprocate and he obviously hadn't known what he was supposed to do in response or what Boyd had expected of him. But when Carhart said it... Somehow it seemed more unconditional and the fact that it mattered to Sin at all was startling.

Beyond that, Sin didn't entirely know what to make of Carhart's advice regarding Boyd except to recognize truth when he heard it. How could he expect anyone to go on wanting to be with him when he put so much responsibility in their hands-- when they constantly had to deal with their problems as well as all of his shit? How could he expect Boyd to be happy with him when Sin's entire life was a never ending rollercoaster of unexpected twists and turns?

But even though he knew it was true, Sin still didn't know if he could care anymore. Because he didn't want to get better for anyone else; he wanted to get better for Boyd. It was difficult to see the point of going through with it if Boyd wanted nothing to do with him, if he was going to become cold and silent unless they were forced to speak in meetings or on missions.

At the same time, it was better than nothing and there was still the glimmer of hope that someday their relations would improve through the forced communication...

Sin shook his head, feeling conflicted, and Carhart gave him a sympathetic look. "It's hard for me. I don't think he understands that. I don't know what to do."

"You'll figure it out. Look how far you've come in just a couple of years after fifteen years of living like a caged animal." Carhart raised an eyebrow. "Give yourself credit. You made a mistake. If he really means what he says and your situation isn't as superficial as I make it out to be, he will see that. If he doesn't, live with it, take what you can get from being partners and move the fuck on."

"I guess."

Carhart sighed and clapped Sin on the back. "Good luck with your mission."

Sin watched Carhart walk away and stood in the lobby for a brief moment before turning away from the direction of the elevator bank and moving towards the stairs.

The next several hours passed in a blur.

Sin moved automatically, collecting his comm unit and gear from the supply room and mindlessly putting on his ragged undercover outfit in the back of the transport van. The driver tried to avoid looking in the rearview mirror at the infamous Hsin Liu Vega naked, although he was obviously morbidly curious about the scars and tattoos that the senior agent had.

Before Sin could really even focus on the mission or figure out what exactly his plan was, they were arriving in Brooklyn. The van dropped him off and was driving away in a matter of seconds, leaving Sin to look around at his surroundings blandly.

The last time he'd had a mission in New York City was nearly a decade ago and it didn't look any better now than it had then. The van had dropped him off in a park across the East River from Manhattan and he had a very good view of what had once been one of the biggest travel destinations in the country as well as the shattered remains of what had once been the Brooklyn Bridge.

If he had an aerial view, Sin knew that he would see a large radius of scorched earth in what had once been midtown Manhattan; the damage was wider than the actual island itself. Water from the East and Hudson rivers had rushed up onto the damaged and sunken borders of the island and although uptown Manhattan still existed in mainly one piece, he was sure the radiation damage had been incredibly high.

Sin shook his head briefly and turned away from the view, looking around and shoving his hands in his pockets. This particular area of Brooklyn had also sustained damage during the war and since it had been largely abandoned by the inhabitants, the military patrolled it diligently. The government didn't want another repeat of the Brighton incident; they didn't want bands of criminals taking over yet another city.

He walked down the road and looked around, wondering when the next patrol would come by and idly putting together a cover story although he knew it didn't necessarily have to be a good one. His role was to be a juvenile delinquent drifter and kids like that rarely told authority figures the truth.

His only real goal was for them to pick him up since it was way past the curfew for the area. After they would find his false identification which claimed that he was only seventeen, he would get carted off to The Bowery. He felt that posing as a teenager was a huge stretch but he didn't care too much either way.

Walking in the darkness of a ghost town should have been spooky but Sin just found the eerie silence calming. It gave him time to think back on his argument with Carhart but no matter how closely he dissected Carhart's words and advice, Sin came up empty.

He just didn't know what to do or what to say to Boyd to make the situation better. He didn't even know how to explain everything that had happened now that things were so tense between them. He didn't even know if it would matter anymore.

It was entirely possible that Boyd agreed with Carhart's assessment of their situation and even though Sin had already come to the conclusion that things would never be the same between them again, the possibility that Boyd could think so negatively of their time together made Sin feel even lower than he'd already felt.

Frowning, Sin squinted into the distance and saw headlights of what looked like a jeep coming towards him. Relief flooded through Sin and he continued his casual stroll along the street, waiting in anticipation for the patrol guards. He was quite thankful that the show was about to start and he would have something to distract him from the miserable mess of his real life.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Six...