Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Six

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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-Six

Uploaded on 3/28/2009

It seemed like a lifetime ago when Boyd had sat in his customary space in the conference room as Sin had covertly molested him beneath the table. So many things had happened between that day and the present meeting that it was hard to even think of that moment as something that had actually happened in reality.

The more Boyd reflected on it, the easier it was to realize that the current situation was more like reality than that incident. Monterrey had always seemed like a dream; his entire sexual relationship with Sin had always seemed so unbelievable. The current issues; the tension, the drama and the dysfunction was a lot closer to the reality Boyd had grown accustomed to from the beginning.

Boyd glanced at Sin's empty seat and couldn't help feeling anxious about the idea of seeing the other man and their impending conversation. It wasn't something he was necessarily looking forward to but it was something he knew he had to do.

He looked at Jeffery and Owen but they seemed oblivious to Sin's absence, as if they had never really expected him the be there. It was slightly odd and Boyd wondered if maybe they knew something that he didn't.

After a moment, the door opened and Carhart came in. The General looked weary and aggravated. His black button down shirt looked slightly wrinkled and his hair was unkempt, a distinct difference from the typical way the man carried himself during work.

When Carhart shut the door, it was with a finality that implied the meeting was starting now and he wasn't in the mood to procrastinate.

"This isn't a briefing," he said automatically before even sitting down. "There's no mission at the moment; we're still in a state of purgatory with Janus information which is probably good for all of you considering you've all been busy with other things. But it's lousy for me since I actually care about finishing with them for good."

Carhart exhaled slowly and narrowed his eyes. His tone, his posture, everything about him screamed impatience and irritation even if he gave no indication as to why. His last comment almost seemed accusatory, as if he thought no one in his unit actually took what they did seriously.

Owen's somewhat bleary expression twisted slightly in paranoia, as if he thought the comment was especially aimed at him.

"Anyway, Sin is unfortunately on assignment at the moment so he won't be here for this." Carhart shook his head, eyebrows drawing together and he seemed especially irritated by that.

"I hadn't realized he was cleared for active duty again," Jeffrey commented idly.

Boyd had just been wondering when Sin would get back when he realized what Jeffrey said. "What do you mean?" Boyd looked at Jeffrey initially but when he turned to Carhart it was clear he was really asking his superior. Doug hadn't explained but Boyd thought Carhart would. "When wasn't he active?"

Carhart looked at Boyd evenly for a moment before shifting his gaze, an almost warning stare, to the other two men in the room. "For the past three months he has not been active. It's something that isn't going to be discussed now."

Jeffrey looked like he wanted to say something but he remained silent and stiffly nodded while Owen just stared at them just as sleepily although once again, he didn't appear very surprised.

Boyd looked between the three with slightly narrowed eyes, feeling suspicious and confused. He didn't like being the only one who didn't know a crucial bit of information and for some reason in this unit that only seemed to happen when it was about Sin. It was just like when everyone had known that Sin had killed Jessica and Boyd had only learned of it because of Jeffrey's casual comment.

It was frustrating; people automatically distrusted his ability to function or be professional when information about Sin was presented to him. Maybe it wasn't an entirely unfair assessment given some of his reactions in the past but when there was something affecting the unit then it didn't seem particularly helpful to leave only him out.

And the knowledge about Sin's status just raised more questions for him-- why hadn't Sin been active, what had changed that made him active now and was that what Sin had wanted to tell him? But Carhart seemed far more serious than normal and Boyd knew enough not to ask. He would wait until later, when he could at least get an estimation from Carhart as to when Sin would return.

"If this isn't a briefing then why are we meeting?" Boyd asked instead.

Carhart steepled his fingers together and stared hard at Boyd. His eyebrows were drawn slightly together and he seemed to be picking his words very carefully before speaking. "In the past several months the Agency has begun working with a certain individual and that individual has agreed to act as an informant for us."

Before anyone could speak, Carhart held up a hand to stop them. "At this time I won't be telling you the identity of the individual because this person is currently on the premises, being interrogated thoroughly..." Carhart trailed off for a moment and cleared his throat with a frown.

"The situation is volatile," he said after a moment, choosing a different path of explanation. "And the entire arrangement may fall through for a number of reasons: How trustworthy this person turns out to be, if this person lies and whether or not Vivienne thinks it is worth it to bring them into our unit."

Boyd stared at Carhart in a mixture of surprise and confusion. "Bring into-- Wait, what? Is this person going to be an informant or a partner?"

All their other informants had simply been people they consulted with externally; it wasn't like Warren Andrews ever saw the inside of the Agency. Boyd was caught so off guard even by the implication of someone new joining the unit that it took him a second to realize Carhart had mentioned the person was being interrogated.

That could be any number of people, including probably a staggering amount Boyd didn't even know about-- but it made him wonder if Carhart was referring to one of the three people he did know of: the detainee he'd interrogated, Ethan Bruce, or Thierry. Since Thierry was no longer being interrogated, could Carhart possibly be referring to "Jane Doe" or Ethan?

"It's still up in the air. It all depends on cooperation and it ultimately comes down to what Vivienne thinks is best for the Agency and what makes the most sense for the unit. It's entirely possible that we will work very closely with this person but it's not definite yet," Carhart replied vaguely. He seemed extremely hesitant to say anything specific or to give away too much information.

Boyd watched Carhart seriously for a moment, trying to discern from the man's expression and mannerisms what exactly this was about.

The possibility of an unknown person joining the team was completely bizarre to Boyd, simply because it was so out of the norm. Even just imagining an agent transferring from another unit was strange. It had been clear from the other trainees that even the other Level 9's knew next to nothing about what happened in Carhart's team. For Boyd's mother to be considering something like this, there had to be a lot more going on than Boyd knew about.

What worried him was the timing. Sin had apparently been off duty for awhile and, knowing Sin and the Agency, it couldn't be for a good reason. Boyd still thought it was possible that Sin had been placed on forced leave after going into the medic wing but now he wondered if there was something far more serious going on.

"If this person cooperated fully and worked very closely with the team, if it all went completely smoothly... Would this person be a replacement or an addition?" Boyd asked finally, keeping his thoughts out of his expression and his tone calm.

"If things remain stable, they would be an addition," Carhart replied without hesitation. "But as of now, I'm still not sure how much of one. I'm not sure if they will be inducted as a full fledged agent as you were or if they will just sit in on meetings and help with information."

"Hmm." That made Boyd feel better at least, as did the thinly veiled surprise on Owen and Jeffrey's faces when he glanced at them. At least the two of them hadn't been aware of this either. "When will we know?"

"I'm not sure of that either," Carhart admitted with a grimace. "A few weeks, maybe longer. Hopefully it's sooner. If this person has information on Janus, we need it now. Too much time has gone by and I'm starting to have doubts that they're just off licking their wounds."

Boyd nodded; he had to admit that by now he was feeling that same doubt. Janus wouldn't stay quiet for this long without a very good reason; they were too committed, too organized.

"How did you find this person?" Jeffrey spoke up, his expression tight as he watched Carhart. "And even with interrogation, how can we trust them? I know it will be up to the Acting Marshal, but what if they turn on us?"

Carhart's gaze seemed to unconsciously shift to Boyd before he focused on Jeffrey entirely. "Those are questions I really can't answer at the moment, Jeffrey. I don't know if we can trust this person, I don't even know what their true motives are and really this decision isn't up to me. When I started-- When this all came about, I did not expect that they would become an informant at all."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly. "What did you think they'd be?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Boyd saw that Jeffrey glanced at him before returning his gaze to Carhart, likely having been wondering the same thing. Owen was watching the three of them with a surprisingly alert gaze considering how tired he had seemed before the topic came up. He looked confused but also contemplative.

Carhart shook his head, beginning to look impatient. "That isn't relevant to this discussion or relevant for you to know."

Boyd watched Carhart a moment before he nodded and looked away.

There was something odd about the entire situation, although maybe Carhart was just annoyed because he'd already pointed out he could only say so much and they kept asking questions. Boyd didn't understand what Carhart had expected but Boyd decided not to dwell on it. This would probably all make a lot more sense at a later date and there was no point stressing himself out trying to figure it out ahead of time with little to no information.

"If this person ends up working with us, there will be a surge in missions because they have a wealth of knowledge that could help us and not just with Janus, but with Di Zhi. So prepare yourselves." Carhart's eyes flicked from Boyd to Jeffrey to Owen and then back again before he nodded curtly and excused himself from the conference room, seeming to be in a hurry to get out.

As soon as the door shut, Jeffrey, Owen and Boyd exchanged a look.

"What the hell was that about?" Boyd asked them with raised eyebrows.

Jeffrey looked at Owen, who frowned distractedly. "I got nothin'," Owen said, leaning against the table with his head resting on one hand. "He's been like this for awhile. Crankier by the meeting, too."

"We've had a few meetings with minor updates on Janus," Jeffrey explained when he saw Boyd's quizzical expression. "Nothing major has occurred but I did notice about a month ago he seemed to become especially tense."

"Tense?" Owen said incredulously. "The dude's super stressed, man! He's like," he waved his hands around, "up to the ozone, ready to snap."

Jeffrey raised an eyebrow. "If I could decipher that I'm sure I'd say you're exaggerating."

"I'm not talking code here, Mr. Crypto-bot," Owen said lazily. "I'm just saying, he's impatient and things aren't funny to him like they used to be."

"What happened a month ago?" Boyd asked before Jeffrey could respond to Owen.

"No clue," Owen said, drawing his eyebrows down. "One meeting he's mostly normal and the next he's looking at us like we suck for even thinking funny thoughts." He perked up slightly and eyed Jeffrey and Boyd in a mixture of seriousness and paranoia. "I'd lose that game, by the way. Hardcore. If he goes psychic I'm screwed."

Jeffrey rolled his eyes. "I really don't think you need to worry about General Carhart developing telepathic powers."

"Hey, you don't know what they do in the medical buildings," Owen insisted. "It's like sci-fi central over there. I've heard stories you wouldn't believe--"

"Let's not test that theory," Jeffrey cut Owen off impatiently then turned to Boyd. "We don't know. No one does. The only stresser I know of recently was Sin flipping out and that was well before General Carhart acted this strangely."

"Sin what?" Boyd asked sharply. He looked between the two of them; Jeffrey stared at him evenly and Owen seemed confused.

"What, they actually managed to keep the rumors out of training?" Owen looked as though he didn't know whether to be impressed or disappointed. "Crazy. They must've put some force field in place..."

"What happened?" Boyd asked more seriously when it wasn't immediately explained.

"I dunno, man," Owen said with a frown, looking mildly uncomfortable. He waved a hand around helplessly. "He just... snapped. Took a lot of people out but no crazy nasty injuries. Freaked the shit out of everyone. Guess he'd just been on an elevator." He looked pointedly at Jeffrey. "Maybe the music made him nuts. Could've been a trigger for brainwashing..."

"The music didn't do anything, he's just acting exactly the same as usual," Jeffrey said impatiently, then turned to Boyd with narrowed eyes. "I don't know why you always act so surprised when he goes crazy. He's a psychopathic killer and it doesn't matter how many collars and drugs we stick him with, he's always going to be that way. It's mere luck that no one was killed."

Boyd stared at the two of them, his expression blank as he tried to figure out what he felt. He was too dismayed and surprised by the information to know how to react.

He'd thought Sin had been doing better aside from the insomnia. In fact, it had seemed like every time he saw Sin since starting training, the man was looking healthier and more in control. Boyd hadn't suspected that in fact everything was going backward.


Jeffrey and Owen looked at each other as if to help each other remember.

"Probably... three months?" Jeffrey said.

"Yeah, weird," Owen said thoughtfully, looking over at Boyd. "It wasn't that long after you were sucked into the vortex."

Boyd thought about that. Three months? Nearly the entirety of the time he'd been in training?

How had he not heard about it before then? Not Thierry, not Kassian, not anyone he'd overheard talking the times he'd been on compound... It seemed pretty obvious to him that Kassian must not have known because he would have said something but still... How could Boyd have been completely out of the loop on something so important? And what had happened to Sin during that time? What had triggered an episode?

This didn't make sense to Boyd. If that had happened so early and if Sin had really dropped off the radar for a bit, why had he shown up at the training center not too long after that? Whatever the Agency had decided to do with Sin must have worked pretty quickly. Had they used the box?

Had that actually been what Sin had wanted to talk about that first time he'd shown up? That he'd snapped and hurt someone? Or had it been something else, something related to why he'd felt the need to sleep with Ann?

Every time Boyd thought he knew what Sin may have wanted to say, something else seemed to come up. It just underscored to him how much went unsaid between the two of them, how many issues there really were underneath it all.

It shouldn't be this difficult to figure out what Sin would have wanted to say. If they'd been less dysfunctional, if they'd trusted each other properly, if they'd treated each other like equals, if Sin had actually believed in him and hadn't been keeping secrets... then there should have only been one issue this could be. There shouldn't have been a new, plausible answer every time Boyd considered it.

How much more didn't he know about?

"Details," Boyd said firmly. "What happened? Where?"

"Look, we don't know much, seriously," Owen said with a somewhat apologetic expression. "It's all rumors and conjecture and all that jazz. Basically we heard he was on an elevator, he started talking to himself or something? And then he freaked out--"

"Freaked out how?" Boyd persisted.

Owen made a face. "I wasn't there, man, I'm sorry. I just heard he freaked out and then all these people got involved and he took 'em all out before the cavalry arrived."

Boyd felt weary all of a sudden. He tilted his face toward the table and rested his forehead in his hand. "How did he stop?"

"I dunno. Drugs?" Owen offered.

Boyd's immediate thought was, 'I should have been there,' but following that he wondered whether that was true.

He had his own life to live; he couldn't afford to drop everything every time Sin seemed to be having trouble. Not because he thought Sin was unimportant but because somewhere along the line he'd come to think of that as his role when it really wasn't.

At one time he'd thought that was an acceptable way to live; he'd thought what they had between them was important enough to preclude anything else. At one time he may have even felt guilty for not being available this time, for not helping Sin when he'd needed it.

But Sin had been at the Agency long before Boyd had been involved so it wasn't like Boyd's presence was necessary.

Although in the past Boyd had been able to stop Sin from getting too out of control and Boyd thought that if he'd been there this time maybe he could have helped again, part of him felt like it wasn't his problem. There was a lot he didn't understand about what had been happening with Sin but something Boyd had come to realize in the past several months was that the co-dependence he and Sin had started to form between them wasn't particularly healthy on either side.

"Then what happened?" Boyd asked, tilting his hand enough to peer at the two of them.

Jeffrey shrugged. "Who knows? He was taken off active duty and disappeared for awhile, we still had meetings here and there without him, and General Carhart became increasingly irritable. The fact that Vega's on a solo now is news to me. Clearly whatever he's been up to is acceptable for the Powers That Be to return him to duty."

"I just hope he's okay," Owen said with a frown. "Especially if we're getting some new person. Last thing we need is some long drawn out drama as he gets all angry-face at the noob who gets pissed back. No offense," he looked at Boyd, "but it was bad enough with you. I'm not sleeping nearly enough to wanna go through that again."

Boyd straightened in his seat as the topic turned to one he was more interested in talking about right now. As much as it did concern him to find out Sin had had an episode, it had happened months ago and he couldn't do anything until Sin returned. The more pressing issue now was trying to find out what that possibility of a new person had been about, since Owen and Jeffrey were the only two people he could talk to about this.

"Do you have any idea who it is?" Boyd asked them.

Jeffrey shook his head, looking annoyed. "No." He frowned and absently straightened a stray sheet of paper in front of him. "We hadn't heard anything of that either."

"Maybe it's Carhart's arch-nemesis," Owen offered helpfully. "Could explain why he's so touchy. We're about to be infiltrated by a bad guy and Carhart's the only one standing in the way. He'll have to finesse his way around doing his job while keeping our enemy in the dark. It'll be like Lex Luthor joins the Justice League."

"Can you ever be serious?" Jeffrey snapped.

Owen stared at him. "No?"

Jeffrey gave Owen a disgusted look and grabbed his briefcase from the floor to put away the few sheets of paper he'd had in front of him. "This is a waste of time. We don't know anything." He sounded personally affronted that he hadn't known before this meeting about the possibility of a new person.

"Carhart said they'd be an addition," Boyd said contemplatively. "But who has that sort of knowledge on Dǐ Zhì and Janus, and could equally be used as an informant or a field agent? Not to mention who had to be recruited, who wasn't already in the Agency, and who had to be interrogated first?"

Boyd drew his eyebrows down thoughtfully and met Jeffrey and Owen's gazes. "That's not normal, is it? If the Agency recruits they don't typically interrogate before clearing for higher confidentiality, right? They'd just vet the person first and let them earn the chance for a place like this?"

Their silence and even stares was all the answer he needed and Boyd leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed. Although it was possible they would be dealing with the woman he'd interrogated it didn't seem quite right; why they would trust her as an agent? But it did make sense why she'd need to be interrogated first...

And as for Ethan, Boyd hadn't heard anything to imply the man knew about rebel groups; then again, Ethan had been running Terra for awhile now so he probably had some sort of connections. But could he be an agent? The man had held his own against Boyd well enough, he supposed, but it still seemed strange...

"This doesn't make sense," Boyd said.

"Tell me about it." Jeffrey flipped his briefcase closed and stood with finality. "I'm far past the point of trying to understand the Admin or wanting to waste my time sitting around chatting about it. They'll do what they want, we'll deal with it as needed. What we think is meaningless."

He didn't give either of them a chance to respond before he walked out and shut the door a little harder than normal behind him.

Owen looked at Boyd with exaggeratedly wide eyes and raised eyebrows. "Ooh, he's pissed," he said under his breath, seeming a mixture of entertained and bemused. "Taking it personally, our little code collector."

Boyd shook his head with a sigh and grabbed his messenger bag. "I suppose he's right, though. There's no reason to wonder about it when our input is irrelevant at this point."

"Irrelevance shmirrelevance," Owen said dismissively with a wave of his hand. "And you can quote me on that and say it three times fast when plastered."

Boyd felt a faint sense of amusement despite himself. It was good to know some people hadn't changed at all in the last three months; Owen was still as random and unaffected as ever. "It sounded difficult enough when sober so I think I'll pass," Boyd said dryly.

"Exactly," Owen said with a satisfied smirk as he pointed at Boyd. "Imagine the shenanigans a slur would entail."

Sliding his messenger bag's strap over his shoulder, Boyd tilted his head and watched Owen a moment in bemusement before he turned and headed toward the door. "I'll see you later."

"You bet your momma's sweet pie you will," Owen said with a yawn that distorted the last word. He frowned sleepily. "That kinda disturbs me, actually."

Boyd paused at the door and quirked an eyebrow at Owen. "The double entendre?"

"The baking," Owen said and shivered lightly. "The Marshal in an apron is like... Carhart in a tutu. Also, I'm terrified of her pie and I've never even seen it."

"I don't think she makes pie," Boyd said, slightly bewildered as to whether Owen was actually taking this seriously or if he was just going with a tangent like usual.

"Well she wouldn't put enough sugar in it regardless," Owen said decisively then dropped his forehead with a thunk onto his crossed arms on the table, looking as though he was ready to take a nap.

Boyd stared at Owen and had no idea how to even respond to that so he just shook his head to himself and left, quietly shutting the door behind him.

He was alone in the elevator bank as he waited for an elevator to arrive. He'd thought about tracking down Carhart to determine when Sin would return but it seemed pretty clear to him that Carhart wouldn't be very helpful right now given his mood so he decided to wait.

He was idly staring back down the hallway he'd come from when he heard the ding of the elevator behind him and he turned. It was a complete surprise to find the elevator empty except for Ann Connors, who met his startled gaze without much of an expression.

He hesitated briefly, waiting to see if she was getting off on this floor but when she simply held a hand out to hold the elevator door for him he paused then stepped into the elevator, hit the button for the ground floor, and leaned against the opposite corner from her.

Boyd avoided eye contact with her, feeling uncomfortable with her proximity. Although that feeling didn't surprise him, what did was his lack of anger.

With Jessica, even the implication of any intimacy with Sin had made him jealous and irrational. But with Ann the situation should have made him react far worse; he knew for a fact she'd slept with Sin and it had happened after Boyd had acknowledged and confessed his feelings to Sin.

He would have expected to feel furious and agitated right now; to feel jealous and upset. Instead, all he felt was the same sort of vague dislike and discomfort that he would have felt around her regardless of whether she'd ever had sex with Sin and a sense of weariness about this all.

Although he felt mildly irritated, more than anything it was the fact that of all the elevators that had to appear, of all the times for no one else to be in there, it had to be Ann Connors who was there on this day. He would have preferred to avoid her entirely, especially since he hadn't had the chance to talk to Sin about anything yet.

"Hello, Boyd," she said politely, studying him evenly. "I was looking for you."

Boyd blinked and looked at her sidelong, studying her in return. He really hadn't been expecting that response but he couldn't read anything in her expression. "Why?" he asked, mildly suspicious.

Ann raised her eyebrows slightly and opened her mouth to speak but the elevator stopped and several people got in. She pursed her lips briefly, folding her hands neatly behind her yellow trench coat and said, "Would you like to go for coffee? I need to speak with you privately about a mutual acquaintance."

Boyd watched her a moment before looking away. He didn't recognize the other people who had gotten on the elevator and they didn't seem to be paying attention to the conversation but since no one else was talking it would be pretty difficult to ignore.

He knew she was referring to Sin and he thought about saying no; even if he didn't feel outright enmity for her it didn't mean he wanted to be around her any longer than he had to. But he was at the point where he just wanted his questions addressed, regardless of what the answers may be. And given his history with Sin it was possible that despite their best efforts when they talked about this it could turn into another pointless argument.

"Okay," he said simply, keeping his expression unreadable. Hopefully anyone listening would think they were talking about Ryan instead.

She nodded and appeared pleased although it was barely discernible in her expression. When they exited the elevator and started towards the main exit, Ann cast him a sideways glance. "Would you mind going off the grounds? This is an Agency matter but one that would be more likely to be ignored by random civilians than the staff here."

"That's fine," Boyd said, uncaring. He preferred that anyway since regardless of what she had to talk about, if it had anything to do with Sin he didn't want to be discussing it on compound.

They walked into the frigid coldness silently and didn't exchange two words during the five minute walk it took to get to the main parking lot. The silence was awkward and although Ann looked carefully neutral, her posture was very stiff and gave away the fact that she did feel some measure of discomfort.

However, it wasn't until they reached her silver Bentley that she spoke again. "There's a cafe five minutes from here. A lot of agents frequent it but it's also popular with the litigators and CEOs from the financial district, which is likely the reason why it hasn't closed down like most other privately owned restaurants in the city."

Boyd nodded. He didn't feel like having an inane conversation on the way over and he didn't particularly care where they went. He just got in the car when she unlocked the doors and he idly looked out the window during the short drive.

Cafe Milan was a lot nicer than he expected it to be but Ann had likely been right in her assumption that it only survived due to the high-end patronage. Not very many private businesses had survived the economic collapse and restaurants had been one of the largest casualties due to the inflation and rarity of fresh meat and produce.

They were seated in a back corner near the window where their conversation was likely to go unnoticed. The place was half full although there were several people waiting at the counter for orders to go.

Ann and Boyd stared at each other blankly for a moment and it seemed as though Ann would finally speak but the waitress arrived. Neither of them were there for the purpose of eating but Boyd ordered black tea and an English muffin regardless while Ann just got black coffee and a blueberry muffin.

"This is awkward," Ann said finally as she watched the waitress leave. "As much for me as I'm sure it is for you but regardless I needed to speak with you regarding your partner."

"Then talk," Boyd said simply, not wanting to beat around the bush. "I'm listening."

"Well." Ann leaned back in the seat and crossed one knee over the other as she gazed at him critically. "I realize you've been below radar these past few months-- how much do you know?"

"About what? You sleeping with him or the fact he apparently hurt some people and was only recently cleared for active duty again?" There was no cruelty or accusation in his words or expression as he met her gaze evenly.

Ann nodded briefly. "Then you don't know."

It was a statement more than a question and she paused as the waitress returned and set down their orders.

Boyd waited until the waitress left before he asked, "Know what?"

Ann took a sip of her coffee and made a face. Obviously the gourmet wasn't very gourmet but he didn't know why she was surprised about that. "Sin is my patient," she replied. "After his episode at the medical wing, he was put into the Fourth Floor Detainment Center and into the box. Your mother wanted him terminated."

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly and he watched her seriously. He wasn't terribly surprised by what she said about the usage of the box, and although initially he hadn't expected her to say she was Sin's doctor, he supposed it made sense. After all, she was Kassian's psychiatrist and that would explain why Sin had been at her office. It did nothing to explain why Sin and she had slept together but he would wait on that.

What he found somewhat surprising and a little alarming was the fact that his mother had been willing to terminate Sin. When his mother made a decision she kept with it, so obviously there had been more to it; she'd changed her mind somehow before she'd made a final declaration or she'd given an alternative to his termination.

Before Ann could elaborate with the obvious 'but' hanging in the air, he asked, "How bad was it? All I heard was he snapped in an elevator and hurt some people."

Ann pursed her lips again and seemed to consider the question carefully. "It actually wasn't as bad as it could have been but it was a question of whether or not it would matter to continue on with an agent who is obviously so mentally unstable. In the end she agreed to give Sin one last chance before termination. The conditions were that he would undergo extreme psychiatric care and take medication."

"Medication?" Boyd echoed, partially doubtful and mostly confused. "For what? Why would he need psychiatric care for responding to something that happened?"

Ann stared at him oddly. "What do you mean?"

"Well, what happened in the elevator? He doesn't just randomly attack people for no reason," Boyd said patiently. "There's typically a catalyst, many times involving some sort of abuse or threat toward him. He reacts violently because that's the way he knows how to respond and subdue the danger."

"There was no catalyst," Ann replied evenly, eyes focused entirely on Boyd as she seemed to analyze everything from his expression to his posture.

Boyd searched her expression, partially confused by the answer and partially frustrated by the fact that she wasn't explaining this better. "There had to be," he said calmly. "Something happened in there, I don't know what. Maybe it wasn't blatant, maybe it was just his claustrophobia combined with something else. He isn't some psychopathic asshole who just decides to hurt people for no reason. Something made him snap."

Ann chewed a piece of her muffin slowly as she studied him. "That is exactly what happened but it doesn't make him an asshole. It just makes him someone who needs help. Sin has severe psychiatric problems, Boyd."

Boyd was becoming mildly irritated by the way she wouldn't just bluntly explain. "How does he have severe psychiatric problems?" he persisted with just the slightest hint of frustration.

"No psychiatrist has ever been able to help before and every diagnosis I've heard of him receiving has been largely unfounded. DID, schizophrenia... he doesn't fit those categories," Boyd continued. "I'm not saying he's in the same mindset as everyone else but so far it's pretty much seemed like cause and effect with extreme reactions on his part that don't fit with society due to his upbringing. I don't see how nothing at all happened in the elevator and he suddenly had a psychotic break. If you have an actual diagnosis that makes sense or if you know something I don't then tell me because otherwise I'm not going to believe you."

There was a brief silence as Ann studied him clinically before saying neutrally, "I find it baffling that you think him ripping someone's throat out with his teeth because they threatened and mocked him is sane behavior. I'm not excusing the behavior of the captain in question but it was an unwarranted response and even Sin is aware of that." Ann set down her coffee firmly and shook her head. "You've seen him when he has an episode. He told me it's happened in front of you on more than one occasion. Are you denying that the behavior he displays is psychotic?"

Boyd opened his mouth to immediately deny what she was saying. He wasn't trying to argue that it was normal behavior, but rather that humans gauged their reactions based on the society or way they were raised. If, due to Sin's upbringing, his response was to rip people apart when threatened then it didn't necessarily make him psychotic. Or maybe it made him psychotic by a 'normal' person's upbringing but not necessarily to Sin, who knew no other way. It was, in a way, Sin's understanding of the world.

But he stopped himself before he spoke, made himself really think about that argument.

Was it true? Had he ever heard of a society where that example would be accepted?

Boyd had always excused Sin's behavior because he knew how Emilio had raised him. But hadn't Sin told him that he'd had issues even before Emilio had arrived, that he'd thought it was only Emilio's intervention that had allowed Sin to deal with whatever darkness he had inside?

Boyd had always thought that if Sin had been raised in a horrible environment, who could blame him? Yet even the little bit Sin had told Boyd about life with his mother at the prostitution parlor in Hong Kong hadn't involved anything with ripping people apart.

If Boyd's argument was because of how Sin was raised, wouldn't it make more sense if Sin dealt with issues through sex? Which, actually, could have been partially what had happened elsewhere in Sin's life but not related to the incident in the elevator.

Boyd suddenly remembered Sin in his kitchen the night Sin had returned with Lou's necklace; Sin's eyes had been nearly glowing in the dark as Boyd had crouched next to him, not knowing who or what he was dealing with. That had been the first time Sin had spoken while still displaying that rather crazed look in his eyes. He'd told Boyd that he couldn't control himself when it was like that; he'd said he'd felt one step removed.

Boyd brought one hand to his head, lightly putting pressure on his temples.

So many people had been telling him for so long that there was something seriously wrong with Sin but Boyd had never wanted to believe them. Maybe he'd thought that they were just trying to dismiss Sin, that they didn't understand him; that they wanted to label him and shove him away.

Had Boyd been too close to Sin, too defensive of someone he felt was vulnerable? Had he seen himself in Sin? Had he subconsciously wanted to be Sin's Lou, to be the person who appeared out of nowhere as the protector?

His stomach clenched as he realized that he still wanted to believe there was nothing wrong with Sin, but...

But now that he was a few steps away from Sin, now that he wasn't letting himself get carried away by the notion of injustice and mistreatment or even love, now that he was talking to someone who had a background in psychology and who had been in the position to determine what was really happening...

Now he had to admit that through pure textbook definitions, the episodes Sin had could be described as some form of psychotic.

Maybe he'd always been too afraid to acknowledge that, as if he would be giving up on Sin. Maybe he'd been incapable of seeing 'psychotic' as something that was just an illness and not something inherently bad. Which was ridiculous since he'd gone to college for psychology, and yet...

And yet after that, he'd basically had his own psychotic break and his mother had condemned him for it he'd become ashamed of what he'd seen as his own weakness and he'd gone into denial about what had really happened.

Part of him had probably always been unwilling to acknowledge any part of what others thought of Sin because he'd thought he'd be giving up on Sin; that he'd stop being Sin's protector and Sin would stop trusting him as someone who was willing to look beyond instant judgments. But if Sin truly did have an illness, then Boyd's mindset hadn't been any more fair to Sin than anyone else's had been.

In trying to support Sin, Boyd had learned to automatically deny a basic part of Sin; a part that Sin couldn't control.

"Fuck," he whispered, so quietly that he didn't even know if Ann would hear him.

He drew in a deep breath and looked up to meet her gaze evenly. "What's his diagnosis?" He seemed more open-minded this time, less likely to immediately deny her opinion.

"Well there's two," Ann said with a slight frown. "Honestly, I'm having trouble with this discussion and I hope you don't make it public knowledge that I've approached you with the intentions of betraying confidentiality but I felt it was imperative that you know everything."

Boyd shook his head, feeling tired by the revelation. "I won't, I'd never do that. I just... I want to understand." He looked at her more sincerely. "Please. He and I... We're terrible at communicating. We always manage to get into arguments when it's something that actually needs to be said. He's tried to talk to me already and I didn't give him the chance precisely because I knew that would happen. I was going to talk to him today but he's gone."

He leaned against the table, his hands absently wrapped around his tea mug to feel the warmth although he didn't break eye contact with her. "I just want to remove all possibility of misinterpretation and miscommunication. I'm tired of it. And if I tried to ask him what his diagnosis is to try to actually understand what's happening with him, I don't know if he'd even be able to tell me. If you can't tell me the diagnosis then I'd like at least some guidance as to what's going on."

Ann frowned slightly and looked a combination of troubled and disturbed by his sincerity. After a moment she sighed and turned her gaze out the window briefly. "I came to you despite the circumstances because you're his partner and you are the only person who will have a lasting effect on what he does, who will be able to influence him. I didn't want to bring up the other stuff but it's unavoidable. I don't want you to think I have feelings for Sin other than what I would feel about any other patient. I know it's hard to believe given what happened but it's true. Had I known the two of you were in a relationship, it would not have happened at all, not that I'm attempting to shift blame to Sin. If anything the fault is mine more than anyone."

She picked up her cup again and looked at Boyd. "I came to you because as his doctor, I worry for him and he will not speak to me and has ignored my calls and his sessions since you and he fought. I worry about what that means or what it will mean for the future when his medication runs out and what that will mean for Vivienne if he has another episode. I realize I haven't answered your question but I wanted you to know my reasons for speaking with you."

Boyd couldn't understand how she possibly could have slept with Sin and still considered him to be just another patient, that there was nothing special about him to her that made her go beyond the typical roles. But he didn't know the whole story still and he almost didn't care anymore. What was done was done. He was tired of feeling betrayed by something that was apparently insignificant to everyone but him.

And what was more important at this point was the fact that Sin was potentially in danger. Boyd could be angry or dismayed all he wanted about what Ann and Sin had done but what the hell would it matter if Sin was actually terminated?

Boyd sighed finally and looked away, absently watching a man in a perfectly pressed business suit become increasingly haughty as he demanded a replacement for a drink that he said was made incorrectly.

"I already planned to talk to him but I don't know what you think I'll be able to do," he said evenly. "Of course I don't want anything to happen to him and I'll support him getting help but if I don't even know what his issue is or why exactly he stopped seeing you then I'm not very useful."

"He refused to come in for sessions when it became apparent to him that his actions hurt you," Ann said frankly. "He decided that this entire thing was pointless without you."

The sense of weariness weighed even heavier on Boyd although he kept it out of his expression and posture. So it really did come down to the same thing Sin had concluded after the coma.

Boyd felt almost trapped by the knowledge; he couldn't abandon Sin. At a time when he felt for his own health he needed to distance himself from the source of his former obsession, he was now being told that Sin's life or death could potentially, literally rest on his forgiveness or proximity.

If he had to weigh his own health against Sin's life, of course he would choose Sin's life, but the more he stayed around Sin with everything broken the way it was, the more it hurt him in the long run. Boyd wanted the freedom to be able to move past the rather destructive relationship he and Sin had shared and get back to a point where he could just enjoy Sin's presence and not have to worry about all the dysfunction.

"If he's so concerned about me then what the hell was he doing sleeping with you in the first place?" Boyd asked, not entirely bothering to hide his frustration. "Why wouldn't he explain anything to me?"

"I have no idea why he didn't explain things to you," Ann admitted. "But he doesn't care for me, he isn't even attracted to me. I was merely a distraction that he didn't realize would offend you and when he realized that it did, he cut all ties to me."

"A distraction from what?" Boyd insisted.

He couldn't understand the situation, the reasons anyone had for doing something that to him seemed so stupid and hurtful and senseless, and he felt a surge of frustration that made it impossible for him to stay quiet about the illogic. He needed to understand what was going on or he'd never feel any sense of closure; there would always be part of him that was angry, hurt, and resentful without any chance of receiving an answer of why.

"Ann, this just-- it doesn't make sense to me. You say you feel nothing for him yet you sleep with him and, I'm presuming, no one else. Which in itself is bizarre since you berated me for even having the gall to work with him as a partner and see him as human. Yet you're telling me that of all your patients, of all the people you could have slept with, you choose the one who you have the most reason to hate?"

His tone was reasonable, if frustrated with the lack of sense this made, and he didn't give her the chance to respond because he needed to get this off his chest. "Not to mention the fact if my mother was involved she must have approved you as Sin's psychiatrist and I'm sure she thinks he's high profile. Which means she'd be watching you like a hawk. So first of all you're breaching some serious doctor-patient protocol which, granted, I don't know you very well but seems odd to me given what Ryan said of you. Then, of all your cases to potentially fuck up, you choose the most high profile, with the person who is a reason your sister is where she is now, and also who you used to yell at Ryan for even sympathizing with? That's a pretty long way to go for no reason."

Ann just watched him neutrally, seeming to sense that he wasn't finished and Boyd raised his eyebrows, keeping his voice low; he didn't care if no one around them would know who Sin was, it wasn't their business.

"And suddenly in a month's time Sin needs a distraction so much he's sleeping with you because it's something he felt like he needed do at the time. Yet later on he feels like he had no way of knowing this was a bad idea. He doesn't typically even like people touching him yet he jumps right into bed with you despite your history of antagonism? How could there not be anything special going on? Was there just some strange meeting of extreme desperation? Or did it have something to do with Lydia? It's not even that I necessarily think you do give a shit about him. But I can't understand how the hell this all happened when you both keep saying you don't care about each other yet you chose someone who you'd have to have a damn good reason to sleep with to get past the animosity. If it was just some random fuck then why not choose someone easier?"

"It was a distraction from what is going on with him at the moment," Ann replied calmly, ignoring the last question. "From the things going on in his head that made him snap in the elevator. In the past several months his mental stability has grown progressively worse and right around the time you went for training, it reached its climax. He was beginning to doubt himself and whether or not he deserved to be free, whether or not he deserved to live, whether or not he was really human and not a monster like everyone says."

She sighed and signaled the waitress for more coffee. "In the past few months Sin has been suffering from something called psychotic depression. In addition to depressive episodes it causes insomnia, extraordinary guilt and it can cause hallucinations. He suffered from all of the symptoms in a very intense way."

Boyd stared at her for a long moment and the waitress came and went during the time that passed. Of course he'd noticed Sin's insomnia but how could he possibly not have known about the other issues? Could that guilt have been the only reason Sin had brought up Lydia, because he'd been unable to forget what had happened with her?

But more importantly, hallucinations? Boyd was so shocked by the thought that Sin had been dealing with something that serious and had managed to keep it completely quiet that at first he didn't even know how to respond. Finally, he managed, "He-- hallucinations? What kind, how intense?"

"It was very bad for him." Ann threaded her fingers together and didn't touch the coffee as she maintained eye contact with Boyd. "He saw the people he's killed, people he's hurt. My sister, the civilians and police killed during the melee in the city, Agency staff... the list goes on. He became quite disturbed and even suicidal at times."

Boyd looked down at his untouched English muffin and knew he wouldn't be eating it; he wasn't hungry, especially after finding out how much Sin had been going through. He wasn't even thirsty for his slowly cooling tea.

He almost felt in shock; he couldn't believe that something like that had actually been going on without his knowledge. There had been times when Sin had been in pain or duress and Boyd hadn't initially known, but that had been long ago, when Sin had hidden weaknesses from Boyd the same as he had with everyone else. In the last year, Boyd had thought they were beyond that; even if they had frequent issues with miscommunication, he hadn't ever thought that Sin would hide something so significant.

It was hard for Boyd to realize and accept. Had Sin actually been walking around feeling that way, seeing those things? How could Sin have handled that, how could he have been so composed throughout it all?

It bothered him to know that Sin didn't trust him with that knowledge; especially since in doing so, Sin was stressing himself out even further by struggling to put on a front for Boyd. Was he so untrustworthy that Sin would hurt himself further rather than tell Boyd what was happening?

"Where did he see them? How often?" His voice was calm despite how somber he was, how terrible he felt inside.

"Everywhere I imagine," she replied with a shrug. "That's what happened in the elevator. He saw his fa-- his victims taunting him."

Boyd looked up at her sharply. He knew she'd been about to say something else and the only word he could think of that made sense in that context was 'father.' But what did Emilio have to do with Sin's victims? "What about Emilio?"

"Ah..." Ann began to look truly uncomfortable and she shifted, looking away. A glimmer of irritation crossed her face and she shook her head sharply, perhaps annoyed by her own loose tongue. "We may be going too far here. He had his reasons for withholding information from you and I'm afraid that me telling you everything will cause his fears to come to fruition."

Boyd's eyes narrowed. "What? What reasons? Why?"

Ann exhaled loudly and brought a hand to her forehead. "I'm getting myself in deeper with every word," she murmured mostly to herself before sitting up straighter. "Well, it's too late now. I've started this all, I may as well finish."

She toyed with the sugar packets and met his gaze. "If you think about it, Sin has no reason to trust people. He has no reason to understand people. So when you tell Sin you love him, he doesn't understand what that means. He doesn't understand that if a person truly loves another, they would do anything for them and stand by them through anything if possible. Sin knows he can trust you in a fight, he knows you wouldn't do something malicious to him, but he thinks so low of himself that he can't trust you not to mirror his own feelings. He thinks that if you know all of the things that he's done, if you find out about all of the things that are wrong with him, you will fear him and turn away like everyone else."

Boyd watched her, considering that with everything he'd been through with Sin. He understood that fear to an extent; it had been a large reason why he hadn't told Sin about his scars earlier than he had. But he'd also realized that it had been unfounded after Sin had reacted so calmly. After everything he'd learned and had seen of Sin, he knew Sin had to have felt whatever he'd wanted to hide was especially terrible.

There was really only one conclusion to draw; after all, Ann had mentioned Emilio as one of Sin's victims. And if Sin was seeing hallucinations it must have been impossible for him to believe Boyd's theory of everything being based around circumstances.

"He killed his father, didn't he," Boyd said, more as a statement than a question. He met her gaze evenly, his expression and body language completely calm. "He thought that made him a monster or unforgivable, killing the person who he feels saved him. He thought if I knew that, if I knew he had a diagnosable mental illness, I'd leave him."

"Or fear him," Ann replied. "I never knew of your sexual relationship but from the beginning he made it clear that your friendship meant everything to him. He didn't want to change how you reacted to him I suspect. Even a hint of wariness or unease on your part would shatter him."

Boyd made a soft, humorless sound. He knew that, too, from the way Sin had reacted after that first fateful birthday present when Boyd had unconsciously recoiled from Sin's touch. He hadn't realized Sin was in such a perilous state of mind so he hadn't known that those same rules applied to now. There had been plenty of time in between then and now where such minute interactions hadn't seemed to have such catastrophic consequences.

If anything, that actually made him glad that he hadn't talked to Sin when he'd been so stressed out. Even if Sin probably didn't take too well to the fact that he'd jerked his arm away, it would be far better than Boyd having snapped something he didn't mean out of anger or exhaustion.

He briefly ran a hand over his eyes, trying to put this all in context. It was bizarre to be sitting there discussing this with Ann, of all people, but in truth he was glad she'd sought him out, that she was telling him this. The most ironic part of it all was that this entire mess-- Ann and Sin, Boyd breaking away from Sin, all the frustration and resentment and anger-- none of it would have likely happened if Sin had been the one to tell Boyd in the first place.

Boyd wouldn't have feared or condemned Sin for knowing about Emilio. In all honesty, that information didn't mean much to Boyd. He could understand how Sin would be upset about it but Boyd knew there was no way Sin had purposefully murdered his father in cold blood. Boyd suspected that Sin wasn't looking at it that way, thought; that all Sin could see was that he'd killed the person who had saved him and so he had to be condemned.

"Did he tell you how it happened?" Boyd asked. "Emilio?"

Ann tilted her head to the side and poured some cream into her cup as if that would make it taste better. "No. He didn't even say it outright but I'm positive that it occurred during a dissociative episode. He has something called depersonalization disorder; it occurs mostly among people who have been abused, especially sexually."

Boyd leaned back in his chair as he tried to remember if he'd heard anything about either of the diagnoses she mentioned. The psychotic depression was clearly what caused the hallucinations and the dissociative episodes were what Sin must have been referring to when he'd said sometimes he felt like he was watching himself without being able to control his actions.

The comorbidity of those two illnesses must have been making Sin feel extremely desperate, guilty, depressed, and out of control. There was no longer any question in Boyd's mind as to why Sin had slept with Ann, why anything had occurred the way it had. Sin had obviously been feeling so upset that he'd tried to forget his mental issues through something physical.

The same thing had happened with Boyd and Sin in the past, like in Monterrey when Sin had used sex to forget about the questions Boyd had been asking about Emilio and Sin's life. If anything, this made more sense to Boyd now as to why Sin had seemed more frantic or impatient with sex in the months before Boyd had gone to training.

Boyd just wished Sin had told him all of this from the start; if he'd known Sin had been dealing with such serious issues he would have been a lot more understanding about the situation.

But then, that was easy to say. With his own stress and exhaustion to deal with, maybe at the time Boyd wouldn't have been able to properly handle the news anyway. Or maybe in his need to give Sin excuses, he wouldn't have believed Sin that it was as bad as it really was.

"If the depersonalization stems from childhood, what about the psychotic depression? Why did that only start a few months ago? Or," Boyd added, "has that been happening all along?"

"He said it started shortly after the Monterrey debacle. It started with flashbacks and grew progressively worse." Ann shrugged and shook her head. "I'm not sure why."

Boyd was confused as he tried to fit that information in with why Monterrey was apparently the trigger. "What typically causes it?" Boyd asked. "Is it possible extreme duress could cause psychotic depression? Or is it primarily depression with psychotic undertones, so to speak, so the cause could be anything that would cause depression?"

"I can't say for certain," she admitted with a frown, obviously not thrilled with having to admit it. "Studies say that high levels of cortisol contribute to it and his blood tests do back that up but there are likely unknown issues that contribute as well as possible hereditary illness. His mother was quite disturbed and he has a history of mental illness in his family going back to his grandparents on his father's side."

This was news to Boyd and his eyebrows rose. "Who else had an illness?"

"You can look into this yourself if you have clearance," she replied with another minute shrug. "I'm not sure if you do. It's all in Emilio Vega's file which is how I got access to it. Sin's grandmother was schizoaffective. She murdered Emilio's siblings in front of him when he was a child. He only survived because his father proceeded to murder her."

That was certainly a cheerful family history. No wonder Emilio'd had his fair share of issues as well. "Did Emilio have any disorders?"

"Other than the fact that he was a narcissist who cared only for his own desires and needs? Not that I'm aware." Ann took a long sip of her coffee and set the mug back on the table, cradling it with both hands. "But Emilio's issues are entirely beside the point. I don't want you to misunderstand and think that I'm trying to get you to go running back to Sin and forget what he and I have done. I merely wanted you to have knowledge of what was going on with him before you made a decision because then you would be making one based on all of the cards and not just a few of them."

Boyd nodded absently, his gaze dropping to his cold tea. He had no more intention now of just forgiving everything and blithely getting back together with Sin than he had before the conversation. But this had done exactly as she'd hoped; it had given him the information necessary to make an informed decision. And it was doing what he'd hoped; he'd wanted to understand Sin's reasons and now that he did, he was able to let go of some of the resentment and betrayal he'd felt about Ann and Sin sleeping together.

Although it did little to make him feel better about knowing that Sin didn't trust him with such serious, life-changing information, at least the reason for Sin's avoidance of telling Boyd had been fear of losing him rather than simply not trusting him in general.

He hesitated, thinking about what she'd told him about Sin's illness. "He's on medication now, though?" He looked up at her again.

"For the psychotic depression, yes. For the depersonalization? No. It's very difficult to treat that and he needs therapy for it. I'm not even one hundred percent positive that he definitely has depersonalization and not just a form of it or something similar. Typically people who suffer from these episodes don't get psychotic like he does and then there's the fact that he blacks out after a while..."

Ann frowned. "It's impossible for him to be treated for it until he agrees to therapy so I, or someone else if they find someone willing, can properly diagnose him and figure out a treatment."

"Before he stopped working with you, how was he doing with the meds?" Boyd asked. "Obviously psychotherapy is needed along with any medication, but... Was it helping?"

"It was. He cycled between depressive episodes but the hallucinations ceased after a time."

"What does that mean for his future?" Boyd idly rested his hands on his tea mug as he watched her. "For the rest of his life he has to be in therapy and take medication? Will he be dealing with psychotic depression from now on?"

Ann's eyebrows drew together slightly and she narrowed her eyes, deep in thought. "I can't say this early on. For some people it's a lifelong condition but for some people symptoms dissipated over time. Episodes typically don't last longer than a couple of years but at this point it's a wait and see game and he isn't even giving me much to see. I haven't seen him very much since he started the medication." The frustration was evident in her voice.

"To your knowledge, do you think the therapy and medication could help aside from coping?" Boyd absently twisted the mug back and forth between his fingers and he tilted his head thoughtfully as he continued to watch her. "For instance, if he doesn't get regular help, is it possible that would make it more likely it would all have lasting effects or return more frequently compared to if he does? Or do they have no relation?"

"I don't have en--" Ann stopped in the middle of her sentence, gaze frozen over Boyd's shoulder. "You've got to be kidding me," she hissed quietly.

Boyd followed the direction of her gaze and very casually tilted his head enough to see a stocky Caucasian man in a dark suit stalking toward them with an angry look on his face. Boyd shifted his gaze neutrally back to note that Ann looked disturbed. That heightened his curiosity but he was careful to keep his body language unchanged, as if he hadn't noticed the man.

"Who's that?" he asked quietly.

Ann gave him a small tight smile and said from between grit teeth, "My husband."

The man came closer and Boyd realized that he actually recognized the man from the Agency although he'd never known his name or rank. This was apparently the Captain Philip Scott that Kassian had mentioned.

Ann stood and stared at her husband without bothering to mask the disdain on her face and he automatically picked up on it.

"Don't give me that haughty Connors look, Ann," Philip sneered at her. "I know what you are even if nobody else does."

Ann just made a face and stared at him from under her long eyelashes, crossing her arms over her yellow trench coat. "What do you want, Philip? Are you following me now?"

Philip glared at her. "Don't flatter yourself, bitch," he said in a quiet but cruel tone, fire in his eyes. He seemed to have the art of discreet meanness down to a science. "I saw your car outside when I was driving to work."

"Okay. So, what can I do for you? I thought I made it clear that from now on we'd be speaking through our lawyers." Ann looked at Boyd almost involuntarily, a hint of embarrassment in her otherwise expressionless face.

Philip followed her gaze and finally seemed to notice Boyd. He stared at him blankly for a moment before his eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here with him?"

"Discussing a private matter," she replied in a clearly uninterested tone.

Philip ignored her and pointed at Boyd, his finger barely an inch from the younger man's face. "What are you doing here with my wife?"

"Don't answer him, Boyd," Ann advised as though she were telling him not to rile up a wild animal.

Philip speared Ann with a long look that undoubtedly promised violence or would have if they were alone. His hand actually jerked as though he wanted to hit her but he managed to restrain himself at the last minute. Despite that, the movement was not lost on Ann and she took an automatic step back.

"Just go," she said quietly, dropping her previous attitude and looking more than a little weary as she stared at her husband. "We can set up a time for you to pick up the rest of your things but I haven't been staying out at the house so it won't be right away."

Philip continued to glare at her with obvious animosity, once again ignoring her words. "Here discussing your little boyfriend, huh?"

"I asked her here to talk about Ryan," Boyd said calmly, watching their interaction with a neutral expression.

Even though Ann had advised him not to speak it was pretty clear she wasn't going to be able to get Philip to leave easily. There was no way Boyd was going to bring Sin into the discussion, especially since he didn't know what Philip knew or even if he was specifically referring to Sin.

Ann looked at Boyd in veiled surprise but Philip just rolled his eyes upwards. "Ah. So maybe you're her faggy brother's little boyfriend then."

"Why don't you just go?" Ann hissed at him, reddening. "If you want to get your crap you can contact me about it later."

"What's wrong?" Philip asked mockingly. "Defensive over asthma boy? Who gives a shit, he'll be dead in a few months anyway."

Ann brought up a hand to her face, massaging her temples as her jaw clenched and unclenched. She was obviously grappling with anger and fighting the desire to lash out at him. "Philip, I will not ask you again to leave. And if you don't, I'll make a huge scene and have my lawyer get statements from the staff here later about how you came in here to harass me. And believe me, I know how to put on a good crying act."

Philip scoffed at her but he looked around uncertainly and backed out of her personal space a bit. "Fine but don't think you can avoid me forever. I know every single place to find you, Annabelle."

Ann just shook her head silently and he finally turned to leave.

Boyd watched Philip as he walked out the door. Although Boyd had been aware that Ann was married, that it probably hadn't been a marriage of love, he was surprised by the fact that Philip obviously abused Ann. She seemed like such a hard-headed, stubborn person that it was strange to think of her ever putting up with something like that.

Even though he didn't like Ann, he could understand why she would want to get away from someone like Philip. Of course, he would have greatly preferred if her breaking up with her abusive husband hadn't had anything to do with Sin but considering the fact she apparently hadn't realized Boyd and Sin were involved and she'd gone out of her way to track Boyd down to give him information about Sin, he didn't dislike her as much as he would have otherwise expected to.

And seeing the crack in her cold exterior and the hint of a more vulnerable side of her made her seem a little more human.

He returned his attention to Ann and asked with an intent expression, "What did he mean about Ryan?"

Ann sat back down and appeared genuinely upset by the entire incident although she was obviously taking pains not to show it. She picked up her lukewarm coffee and brought it to her lips as she tried to gather her thoughts. "Philip knows nothing of Ryan other than what he makes up in his cynical little brain."

She sipped the coffee and put it back down, pushing hair out of her face absently. "Ryan is not in danger of dying in a couple of months. However he did receive news that his illness was no longer responding to treatment so it's unclear how many years he has left..."

"What?" Boyd stared at her in a mixture of surprise and worry. "How-- When did he hear that?"

"A year ago, just about," she replied with an unhappy frown. "He's been doing better lately, though, or at least he seems stronger. He should be out of the medical wing in the next couple of months I suspect."

Boyd looked down at his tea, feeling troubled and wishing he'd have been able to see Ryan. A flash of guilt went through him and he couldn't help but wonder if he and Andrew had worsened the condition by dragging Ryan through Complex C.

"Why did it stop being treatable?" He looked up at her again.

Ann shook her head and sighed. "I don't know. Even his doctors don't know. This sickness... it's still something they don't entirely understand even over a decade after the bombing. There's still a chance that they'll have a new medication discovery in the next few years but I don't know. It's all very frustrating."

Boyd wondered how Ryan had taken the news, how he was feeling now after months in the medic wing. Ryan was going to lose a year of his life to that area and if he already knew he had little time left, that must be devastating for him.

"I want to see him," Boyd said firmly. "I've tried for months and they keep sending me away since I'm not family."

"Oh." Ann stared at him. "I didn't realize you wanted to."

"He's my friend, why wouldn't I?" he asked rhetorically. "Andrew and I were the ones who found him in the raid. He was... in really bad shape. I was worried about him but after he was in the med wing they wouldn't let me see him, they wouldn't tell me anything."

He drew his eyebrows down slightly. "I'm not the only one. Andrew's tried too, maybe others. I'm surprised the staff didn't inform you; I'd always thought they did."

"Since no one asked me to lift the restriction I had no way of knowing anyone really cared to visit him," Ann replied with little inflection.

Her entire demeanor seemed to have changed as soon as the conversation turned to Ryan, as though a defense mechanism switched on and made her more guarded. "Besides, even if I put you on the list, Agent Torres won't be on it. The mention of him just aggravates my brother and Ryan made it clear he has no interest in seeing the man for anything other than work."

Boyd shook his head. "I'm not advocating for Andrew, I was just using him as an example of people who care. I know you want to protect him but... I'd like to be on the list. Ask Ryan first if you want, make sure it's okay with him. If he says no then forget it; I don't intend to further stress him. But he must feel isolated enough on his own simply due to the circumstances. I don't want to be contributing to that feeling if I can help it; I don't want him to think no one aside from family really cares."

Ann shrugged and looked away from Boyd briefly. "I'll put you on the list but don't be surprised if you find my brother to be quite different than when you last spoke with him."

He didn't need to ask why; he imagined getting the kind of news Ryan had, coupled with being holed up in the medical wing for the majority of a year, would change anyone's attitude. Boyd just nodded and briefly stared at his tea.

This conversation was becoming exhausting; he'd just learned that two of the people he'd cared about the most at the Agency both had serious illnesses which, in their own ways, were potentially fatal. Ryan's was an illness that could actually kill him and Sin's was one that could get him killed.

He sighed quietly then returned his gaze to Ann. "I'm sure you want to get back to whatever you were doing but I have two more questions about Sin. My mother... She must have allowed him clearance for active duty. What is her current stance? You said before she wanted him terminated; has that officially changed or is he still in trouble?"

"When he was cleared again, he was officially taken out of consideration for termination but if he continues to be a problem and his condition does not improve, she will without a doubt have him eliminated from the Agency," Ann replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's why it's imperative that he continue to take his medication and cooperate with us. He isn't on anything for depersonalization at the moment but he is for the hallucinations and that was what caused the episode in the medical wing to begin with."

Boyd nodded again; he'd suspected as much, especially since it fell in line with the way his mother thought. That just reinforced his determination to contact Sin, to try to reach some sense of equilibrium between them so he could encourage Sin to continue with his medication and psychotherapy.

"About the depersonalization," Boyd said slowly after a moment, trying to figure this out. "When he's having an episode he can't be reasoned with. But if I say his name or sometimes touch him, it seems to stop him. Why would that be?"

Ann studied Boyd and seemed to be thinking about the question carefully before she asked, "Do you call him Sin or by his real name?"

"His real name," Boyd replied. "Why?"

Ann nodded. "Well, people with depersonalization disorder typically have an episode when they are under extreme stress or duress-- in Sin's case it's when he feels trapped or threatened in a way that he feels he cannot handle on his own, when it takes him back to a time in his life when something unpleasant happened and he couldn't protect himself. He shuts down and it's a form of protection. His mind and body separate so that he can't feel what's happening. His case has very unique aspects of the illness but that's essentially what's going on."

Ann paused for a moment, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "I also suspect that it happens when he is doing something or experiencing something that traumatizes him in some way. Sin's biggest fear is that he will become the monster that everyone says he is, that he will become truly inhuman because of the acts he commits-- that he is forced to commit. I think that when something like that is going on, his mind shuts down so he won't have to deal with it."

Boyd thought back to the times he'd seen Sin act that way; the moment in his kitchen stood out most clearly, after Sin had killed Jared in an especially brutal way. It made sense if Sin would fear becoming a monster if he knew he was capable of doing such a thing, regardless of the reason, such as what Jared had done to others and how much, in Boyd's opinion, he had deserved it.

"So to answer your question, Boyd," Ann started to say as the waitress came over and once again refilled her cup. Ann didn't continue speaking until after the woman had left. "He responds to you when you touch him or say his name because he recognizes your voice and your touch as something nonthreatening, something calming and safe. When you say his name you're humanizing him in a way that nobody ever has. He has been demeaned to the lowest extent at the Agency. When you treat him like an equal when he is in that state, it evokes emotions in him that brings him out of that panicked and frightened place that causes the episode to occur."

Boyd considered that. "So if anyone else did that too, it would have the same result?"

"Not necessarily." Ann finished her newly refilled cup of coffee in a few gulps and set it down on the table. "He responds to you because he trusts you. He doesn't trust anybody else so they wouldn't have that result. Maybe General Carhart but even that's not guaranteed."

Ann raised her eyebrows slightly and looked at Boyd. "But the day you cease to become safe for him, I would run very fast in the other direction were he to have an episode in your vicinity. I'm still unsure of many things regarding this diagnosis and your safety should come first."

Boyd nodded but he wasn't sure how he would know that he was no longer 'safe' to Sin until it was probably too late. Sin had trusted him before and since the next time Boyd planned to see Sin was to talk to him about all this, he could only assume that it would continue.

Ann glanced at her watch and opened her purse, extracting a few dollar bills. "I'm sorry to cut this short and for the interruption from my husband but I need to be getting back to the compound. I have a session scheduled in twenty minutes."

"It's fine; I should get back too." Boyd pulled out enough money to cover his part of the check and tip and tossed the bills on the table. He stood and waited for Ann and the two of them left the cafe.

The ride back to the Agency passed in silence but when she parked and they both got out, there was a moment that was almost awkward.

"Thank you for taking the time to listen to me," Ann said calmly.

Boyd could only think to say in return, "Well, I... appreciate the information."

They stared at each other for a moment before Ann said goodbye and left.

Boyd watched her go before he turned and slowly headed toward his car, his hands slid into the pockets of his coat. The wind was stark, strong and cold and his skin felt chilled within a minute of standing outside.

He didn't know what to think about any of this; it bothered him a little that Ann apparently felt that Sin was her responsibility now. Although he meant what he'd said, he didn't know what to think about her.

He didn't really like or trust her but he didn't think she'd lied to him. Even so, he wondered what made her suddenly care what happened with Sin. Was it because she was his doctor and she took that role seriously? Or was it because she'd slept with Sin that she felt she somehow had more invested in him? Yet she claimed she felt nothing more for Sin than she did anyone else.

At this point he didn't hate Ann or Sin and he was tired of feeling hurt over what had happened, but at the same time when he really thought about the situation, it still bothered him and part of him still felt a little bitter and resentful. A large part of that was because he knew Sin hadn't trusted him with such vital information.

Boyd didn't know if that feeling was likely to completely go away, at least not for awhile.

And despite the fact that he now understood how Sin had come to have sex with Ann, it didn't stop the pain that clenched his heart when he thought about it. He'd completely trusted Sin and that had been turned against him; the love, belief and energy he'd poured into Sin had suddenly been yanked out beneath him, had all been put into question. Even if Sin hadn't realized what it meant, even if Ann hadn't known what she was getting into, it didn't make the feelings magically disappear.

And Ann obviously hadn't really regretted what had happened; she hadn't apologized despite the fact she'd been cheating on her husband and in the process Sin had cheated on Boyd, yet she also didn't try to deny what had happened.

He couldn't feel anger toward her when she'd gone out of her way to help him understand the situation but it was just so... odd. Part of him felt partially possessive of Sin; after all, Boyd had been there for Sin when no one else had, when Ann had been like everyone else in condemning him. But now she was the one who was watching out for Sin, she was the one who Sin trusted to turn to with his darkest secrets?

Then again, as Sin's psychiatrist, there was a legitimate reason for her knowing that. But even if he tried to tell himself that, Boyd felt like Ann hadn't earned that trust the way he had. Another part of him felt like it didn't matter anymore; he and Sin weren't what they used to be to each other and may never be again so what did it matter who Sin told what?

Boyd didn't know what he felt about this all but he knew he definitely didn't like the position he was in. Had Sin seriously believed that Boyd would have abandoned him if he'd found out he had a mental illness? The fact that Sin had honestly thought that was insulting on a very deep level. Boyd had believed in Sin from the beginning, even when he'd had no reason to, yet this made it pretty clear that even after so long, Sin had never truly believed in Boyd in return. That may not have been for malicious reasons but it was a stark reality nonetheless.

But another issue that was nagging at Boyd was the fact that he'd been so blinded by his feelings for Sin that he'd missed a lot of signs, to the detriment of them both. He never should have let himself get so involved that he missed the forest for the trees. In that regard, he'd let them both down.

He'd let himself believe in something that may never have existed the way he thought it did and in the process he'd pulled Sin in as well. Yet he couldn't claim full responsibility for their subsequent attraction since they'd both ended up reaching out for each other without fully knowing why.

Boyd nearly walked past his car, still not quite used to looking for the brand new silver BMW. When he sat in the driver's seat and shut the door, the cold silence of the car surrounded him and he closed his eyes briefly, dropping his head back against the seat and covering his face with his hands for a moment.

He was so tired of this all; he just wanted to tie up the loose ends and move on with his life.

He felt like he'd been precariously balanced since training had started; he'd had so much going on in his professional life and then his personal life had been turned upside down as well. He'd gone through so much emotionally and now just as he was finally trying to gather some sense of normalcy, this conversation turned everything around again. He had to rethink his entire knowledge of Sin and on top of that he learned just how close Sin was to his mother giving up on him for good.

The thought made Boyd drop his hands from his face and dig in his messenger bag for his phone. He flipped the cell phone open in front of him and stared at it a moment. It struck him that Sin's name was still on speed dial and for some reason that seemed at once painful, confusing and sad. The last four months hadn't happened as far as his contact list was concerned; Sin was still the number one name just as it had been over a year ago when they used to have those late night phone calls.

Shaking his head to himself, Boyd pressed the speed dial for Sin's phone and was unsurprised when it went straight to voicemail. He'd doubted that Sin would answer while on a mission but he wanted to leave a message for when Sin would return.

Sin's voice was gruff and familiar as he demanded a message be left and Boyd closed his eyes again as he listened. He felt a pain in his heart that he couldn't fully identify but it was almost a sense of loss at the knowledge that the times in the past when he'd listened to this message would never occur again exactly the way they once had.

After the beep, Boyd spoke, his voice smooth but slightly hesitant. "Hey, it's me." A brief pause. "I know you're busy now, but... I want to talk. I wasn't ready before but I am now. So just let me know when you get back, okay? When you're ready. It's... I know how important it is, so..." He trailed off briefly. "So call me. We'll meet and... I'll listen this time. I promise." Another pause before he added almost awkwardly, "Alright... Bye."

The phone flipping closed sounded especially loud in the cold, silent car.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Seven...