Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Eight

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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
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Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Eight

Uploaded on 3/28/2009

"Where are we going, Lee?"

Sin didn't look at the youth to his left and continued to stride up the hill, his eyes narrowed slightly against the blowing wind. The air smelled strange and his eyes burned but he was used to it after spending a little over two weeks in the polluted and radiated landfill that was now New York City.

He stopped walking and frowned slightly, glancing at his watch. It was later then he'd anticipated but there had been complications during egress and now the security of The Bowery had every patrol on the look out for 'David Lee-Chung,' Sin's cover identity, and 'The Engineer' aka 'Engine' or, as the Agency knew him, Gregory Wick.

"Lee, what's the damn problem?" Gregory demanded, wiping a sleeve across his cold face and glaring up at the man next to him. "As soon as we got out you turned into monosyllabic man. If you're worried about having a tail, we don't. Trust me, dude, we mapped this shit out good during the past week. It just sucks that everyone else got left behind..."

Sin grunted and stared at their surroundings, going over his memorized map as he tried to figure out the pick up point. It was going to be difficult to get to the exact spot but he thought they were close enough.

This time Gregory grabbed Sin's shoulder and jerked him to the side. The teenager's ash blond hair was sticking out everywhere under the furry hood of his coat but it didn't cover the obvious anger and confusion in his expressive blue eyes. He looked almost hurt and Sin didn't really blame him.

It had taken several days for Sin to figure out which one of the kids was Gregory but when he did finally put it together, it'd been easy enough to progress with the mission plan from there.

Upon arriving at The Bowery, Sin had immediately been attacked by the ruling authority among the teenage political structure. Apparently the former leader had sensed something about Sin that made him wary of his already precarious position as unofficial leader of the group home. When Sin, seeing no reason to downplay his fighting abilities, had dispatched them easily enough, people had begun to take notice.

It hadn't taken Sin long to meet Gregory, or The Engineer as he was known due to his tendency to come up with elaborate escape plans, as well as a few other kids who wanted to take control. Sin helped them do it easily enough and it allowed him to get into Gregory's good graces.

Sin had a feeling that the kid actually had some kind of ridiculous crush on him but if that was the case, it had worked to Sin's advantage. After Gregory told Sin tales of their many attempts to escape the group home, Sin merely suggested that they try to do it again and used his knowledge of The Bowery's vent system to perfect Gregory's already brilliant plan. Gregory had immediately told his closest friends but it hadn't taken much for Sin to ditch the others at the last minute and it hadn't taken much more effort than that to convince Gregory to leave anyway.

In essence, the mission had been easy. A Level 6 operative could have done it but he supposed that Vivienne didn't want too many people knowing that the Agency planned to torture some poor kid until his senator father decided to comply with the Agency's demands.

Sin had very little doubt that Gregory and Ernest Wick would ever see the light of day again after the Agency got all the information they needed.

"Don't making me fucking regret leaving my friends behind, Lee," Gregory snapped, his face becoming angrier and more suspicious the longer it took for Sin to respond.

Sin finally met Gregory's gaze and although his face remained coldly expressionless, Sin couldn't deny the burning streak of guilt that shot through his body and went straight to his core.

Gregory had never done anything except try to escape his father's world of lies and corruption and now...

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly.

Now he was likely going to die or at least experience the kind of torture that would permanently scar his mind just so the Agency could blackmail his father. The irony of the situation didn't escape Sin and not for the first time in the past two weeks did he wonder how it turned out that a psychopathic murderer was the one bringing an innocent to his death sentence.

"Life is full of regret," Sin responded finally. "And we will both regret this experience."

Gregory took a step back, eyes narrowing into suspicious slits as he stared at Sin. "Lee, what--"

"My name isn't Lee."

The headlights of a car suddenly appeared as a black van took a sharp turn and began moving steadily towards them. Sin didn't even look at it twice; he'd known they would come to him as soon as he was close enough in range.

"You set me up!" Gregory yelled, backing away, hands balled into angry fists. "They all said something was wrong about you-- that you were strange, that I shouldn't trust you so soon, but I trusted you, I wanted to be your friend. You pretended to be mine, you fucking asshole."

Sin shrugged as the van stopped behind him, expression remorseless even as the words ate away at him like acid. "I fed you lines that I knew you would hungrily devour. I knew you had family issues and I played on that weakness by inventing family issues of my own."

"You're with my father..."

Gregory's eyes widened and he turned without another moment of hesitation, sprinting into the wide open space that had once been a park. He didn't even run a yard before one of the agents in the van leaned out the window and casually shot him with a tranquilizer gun.

"Dumb ass kid," the guy muttered and looked at Sin impatiently. "You gonna get him or what? Your priority has already been downgraded and we have another assignment."

Sin grunted and walked over to Gregory's prone body, picking him up and throwing him over one shoulder before stalking to the van. He slid the door open and tossed Gregory inside carelessly, not bothering to cuff him to the side before slamming the door shut with a resounding bang that echoed in his ears the entire ride back to the Agency.

Gregory didn't wake up before they returned to the Agency and as the van went through the gates of the compound, Sin knew he would never see the kid again.

The van dropped Sin off in front of the Tower before disappearing around the side and going to the underground garage. He stared after it for a moment before shaking his head and running a hand through his hair.

He was supposed to go debrief with Vivienne but Sin had no plans to do that any time soon. She would see that the kid was now in their hands and there was really nothing more to say about the mission other than the fact that it'd been accomplished easily. The only thing he needed to let her in on was that even in the end, Gregory had assumed he was one of his father's people who had finally tracked him down; he hadn't thought it was something more sinister. Sin didn't even know if she wanted that information but it was possible she could use it.

Sin shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and began walking to his building.

He felt nauseated by the mission, which was strange considering the fact that it hadn't bothered him during it when he'd conned the kid so efficiently. He'd known all along what was going to happen to Gregory but for some reason it was only hitting him now.

And Sin couldn't help but wonder what Boyd would say about it all; what his opinion would be, whether or not he would agree that Sin was a fucking bastard for playing the kid so badly just to bring him to his death.

Sin's skills at undercover operations had greatly improved during Monterrey but he hadn't expected Gregory to actually like him. He'd expected Gregory to feel a connection because of their fake family similarities and maybe even look up to Sin because he had helped overthrow Gregory's enemies.

But Sin hadn't expected those genuine smiles and innocent eyes. He hadn't expected Gregory to actually act like a fucking teenager and not some hardened bad ass street kid like the mission outline had implied he might be.

"Damn it," Sin hissed, squeezing his eyes shut as he stopped walking and just stood in the freezing wind and snow that felt like shards of ice against his skin.

Why did he have to care?

It had been so easy in the past to just shut everything away. He'd felt the remorse but it had never plagued him so completely. It was like his ability to wall away emotions and feelings had disappeared along with the doors that had locked away his memories.

Sin turned his face upwards towards the sky and didn't wince as the ice and snow pelted his face or grimace when the wind lashed at his skin like a freezing dagger. He wished it would hurt even more than it did; maybe then he'd feel something other than this horrible aching guilt that made him want to stop existing completely.

It was bad enough that his past haunted him but now he couldn't even function after a mission. Now he couldn't even do the job that they wanted him to do. Now all he could see was the horrendous actions that they were forcing him to do.

Now the bigger picture just didn't matter.

He didn't care that Ernest Wick financed terrorists who targeted civilians. He didn't care that his information would bring down the leader of the organization.

Sin cared about the fact that Vivienne, the Agency, had ordered him to essentially kill a child. A smart-mouthed, jaded child, but a child nonetheless.

Sin began walking again but he didn't see anything around him. Everything looked shadowed, greyed out. It was like someone had drained all the color and life out of the compound and all he could see was darkness.

The walk to his building didn't take long and he didn't look at any of the guards as he passed them at the entrance to the main doors or his apartment.

Sin kept his face expressionless, his posture stiff, and it wasn't until his door was locked and he was alone that he slid into one of the chairs in the kitchen and pressed his hands to his face, biting his lower lip so hard that he was sure it would bleed.

He didn't understand why he kept going. He didn't understand the point when everything looked so bleak, when he so thoroughly and completely saw himself for what he really was.

Carhart had said that he should keep going for Boyd. He said that there could still be a chance, that this was just a low point, that Sin should find someone else and stop obsessing over one person.

But Sin didn't know how to do that. Boyd was all he had, all he knew, and the only person who had ever understood. With that closeness gone, everything seemed pointless.

Shaking his head, Sin inhaled deeply and looked around the apartment. Everything was as sterile as he'd left it; there was nothing to distract him from his self-pitying thoughts and indecisiveness.

Frustrated, Sin's eyes fell on his cell phone and he picked it up, idly turning it on. It vibrated and beeped as it started up and Sin set it back on the table, rubbing his hand over his face again.

It would be wonderful to just sleep...

The phone began vibrating and beeping and Sin opened his eyes, looking down at it again. The display announced that he had several voicemails and two new text messages.

Eyebrows drawing together slightly, Sin picked up the phone and went directly to the inbox. He very rarely received text messages so it was pretty odd that he was suddenly getting two in a row. As he looked at the list, his surprise and curiosity grew.

Both were from Ann and both had arrived less than ten minutes prior to him turning on the phone.

'Call me when you get this. This is serious.'

'Please check your voicemail as soon as possible.'

Sin stared at the phone for a brief moment before shutting it. He had no intentions of--

The phone began vibrating wildly against the table and Ann's name popped up on the display screen. Sin watched it ring several times before it stopped. Confused and somewhat irritated, he pushed back the chair and started to walk away from the table when the phone began vibrating once again.

Sin stopped and looked at the phone, eyebrows drawing together. What the hell could she possibly want? The display announced that he had yet another missed call but immediately after, she called back. Sin finally grabbed the phone and flipped it open.

"What do you want?" he demanded, voice sharp and obviously irritated.

"Sin! Thank God..." Ann sounded shaky; her voice was raw and slightly muffled.

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly and he said flatly, "I told you not to contact me."

There was a long pause on the other end and Ann said finally, "This isn't... this isn't about you. I need your help, Sin. I don't have anyone else I can turn to. I have no protection at the Agency anymore and I have a lot of people who dislike me and, Jesus, I don't know what to fucking do!"

Her words ended on a slightly hysterical note and Sin's expression changed from annoyed to confused.

"What are you talking about?"

A shuddering release of breath was heard over the line. "I don't want to talk about it here. I need you to come to my house. Please, Sin. I'm not playing any games... I'm just in trouble."

Sin closed his eyes briefly, thought about telling her to forget it, telling her to find someone else to help her, but in the end he just set his jaw and asked, "Where are you?"

"West Cunningham. I'll pick you up in the city, by-- by the old hospital." The relief in her voice was nearly palpable.

"Fine. I'll be there in thirty minutes."

Sin left the apartment much the same way he'd entered it, without looking at or speaking to anyone. He shoved his hands in his pockets and kept his head down, walking fast, taking the round about way away from his building and trying to avoid catching anyone's eye. Whatever was going on, Ann obviously wanted to keep it away from the Agency.

There was a surprisingly steady stream of people heading out of the compound and he slipped in with them discreetly, his hood covering his face as the upbeat chatter surrounded him, agents acting like regular civilians, obviously drunk and talking about the coming new year, about the old days when a lit up ball used to drop in the center of New York City.

Sin ignored it all and kept going, detaching from the crowd as they left the gates and heading out into the winding streets that led away from the property.

He didn't know what Ann wanted, he didn't know what could have put that frantic, frightened quiver into her usually controlled and disdainful voice, but it was obviously something she couldn't handle.

There was a part of him that felt indebted to Ann; despite how it had all turned out, she'd been the first one to listen to him without judgment and even if it was her job, she'd had more reason than anyone else on the compound to disbelieve him and think the worst of him. Even if they'd fucked themselves over in the end, even if she'd been using him for her own purposes to an extent, he'd benefited from it at the time even if he regretted it now.

As much as he wanted to just put her out of his mind entirely now, as much as he wished he didn't feel obligated to return the help that she'd given him, Sin couldn't do it.

The bus wasn't running due to abbreviated holiday services so Sin jogged to the old hospital, arriving later than they'd planned. Ann's silver Bentley was parked near a chain-link fence, the lights and engine off. He approached it slowly, eyes narrowed as he looked inside, but sped up when her pale, stricken face came into view.

"I thought you weren't coming," she said, her voice tight and hoarse as Sin got into the passenger seat.

Sin surveyed her silently, taking in her long black overcoat, the way her fingers clenched the steering wheel so tightly that they were white. He shifted in the passenger seat and looked away. "What's the problem, Annabelle?"

Ann didn't drive and she didn't look at him again. Her hazel eyes stared straight ahead, fingers clenching the wheel tighter. "Can I trust you?"

"I don't know," he replied flatly. "That's a question you should be asking yourself."

She didn't respond immediately and she exhaled in a quiet tremble of breath. "I have no one else. I have no protection at the Agency-- I'm going to be demoted from my position because of what happened with us. There's no-- there's no reason why-- If this gets out, if they find out, there's no reason why... I won't be terminated."

Ann sounded calmer than she had on the phone and this time she looked at him fully, her eyes blazing intensely as she struggled to keep her composure. She kept opening her mouth and closing it, her jaw setting as she shook her head slightly back and forth.

"Are you going to tell me what happened?" Sin asked finally, eyebrows raising although his expression didn't change. "Or are we going to go through an extended precursor and draw attention to ourselves by sitting in an impoverished neighborhood in a luxury car."

Ann immediately flicked her hand, starting the car and nearly peeling out of the area as if the thought hadn't occurred to her before. She peered into the gloom that surrounded them, taking the car on side roads, turning quickly, speeding.

"Don't waste my time, Annabelle," Sin growled impatiently, sliding a glare over to her. "I already told yo--"

"I killed Philip," she blurted out abruptly, some of the calm dissolving, the frantic edge making its way back into her tone.

Sin made a face. "And that's a bad thing?"

"I'm not fucking joking, Sin!" Ann cried shrilly. "He's a Captain, he's of rank, they'll never let me get away with this. I don't have protection at the Agency anymore. I don't have anything useful to offer them-- they can't use me the way they use you!"

He didn't respond immediately and instead looked out the window. They were leaving the city limits and headed out to the county area, which in turn led to the wasteland of the outer suburbs. The blighted concrete city turned into old strip malls and abandoned homes, which finally led to complete desolation and decay.

"You're right," he said after a while. "She'll have you terminated."

Ann nodded, her head bobbing up and down, brown hair catching on her damp lips although she didn't push it away.

They didn't acknowledge it out loud but they both knew why. Vivienne didn't trust Ann's judgment anymore and because of that, she no longer trusted her with highly classified material, with Level 9 and 10 agents as patients. Ann wasn't of use anymore; she was now just a rank and file doctor who could be easily expended, one that wasn't worth fighting for or defying the rules for.

Sin didn't know how Vivienne had found out about everything and he doubted Carhart had been the one to tell her, but now the sense of responsibility, the fact that Sin's actions were once again infringing on someone's life, weighed down on his shoulders. He knew it had been Ann's decision just as much as his, but he'd let it occur.

"What happened?"

"He came to pick up his things," Ann said darkly, leaning close to the steering wheel as if it was her anchor. She wet her lips and let go another ragged breath. "We argued as usual but then he said-- I found out that he was stealing from me. I was furious-- I'd always known that he was just fucking using me but to think he'd have the audacity to steal my father's money, my--"

"Just get to the point," Sin snapped impatiently, narrowing his eyes out the window.

"Sorry," Ann said quickly, eyes leaping over to his side of the car as if to ensure that he hadn't lost interest due to her babbling. "I got very angry-- I started yelling at him, he said I was disrespecting him and I told him that he wasn't a real man, that he was nothing to respect, I told him... I told him I was fucking a real man."

Sin looked at her incredulously. "Brilliant move, doctor. Didn't you tell me he was going to kill you if he found out?"

"I was furious!" she cried in her own defense, pressing her lips together in a white line. In the dim light illuminating from the dash, she looked almost spectral. Her face was pale and taut, her hair surrounding her face wildly, giving her an almost crazed appearance. "I let him... I let him degrade me for so long and to find out that he was stealing from me..."

"So what happened? Did you shoot him? Stab him? Drown him?" Sin demanded, cutting off another spiel. Even in the midst of crisis, Ann still found time to be indignant.

"He came at me-- threw me on the floor, kicked me in the chest but I fought back. I-- in the house, there's a long staircase, it winds up and up-- I pushed him down the stairs. He caught himself but then I kicked him and I shoved him down again until he hit the bottom. There's this mark on his face now-- where I kicked him. I fucked this all up so bad!" Ann finished in a rush, blurting out the words frantically.

"I see."

Sin's mind began moving, trying to figure out different scenarios, weighing options and decisions-- It was self-defense, or at least partially, but that didn't matter at the Agency. Even if local cops would understand, the Agency wouldn't and they wouldn't forgive Ann if she actually got locals involved. There would be too much poking, too much prodding-- matters that involved Agency staff were strictly Agency business.

There was the possibility that Vivienne would take Ann's side, but that was unlikely. Just as Ann had said, Philip had been a captain. He wasn't just rank and file-- his disappearance would be noted, it would be investigated and they would undoubtedly find that Ann had caused his death in the end. They would consider her recent behavior as well as Philip's death, conclude that she was unstable and unfit to be an Agency doctor and likely eliminate her; the Agency saw things in black and white when it was someone expendable and Ann knew too much to simply be let go and put under surveillance.

"I'll get rid of the body," Sin said finally, his tone flat, emotionless. "And you report his theft to Vivienne. Tell her you noticed funds missing and you don't want to go through your lawyer to find out where they went. They might assume he's tried to escape. It's the best you can do."

Ann looked at him, her face drawn and tight. "Get rid of it how?"

Sin continued to stare out the window. "Don't worry about it."

They arrived at West Cunningham Terrace in silence. Sin didn't admire the property or the size of the house; he didn't see any of it, he didn't take any of it in. He just followed Ann to the body which was still laid out on the floor in the foyer.

Philip was crumpled at the bottom of the staircase but luckily there was no blood; just a large indent and gash in his forehead where Ann had kicked him. An examination of the body would make it quite clear to anybody that she had caused his death.

Sin knelt by the body and glanced at Ann. "I need some kind of heavy rubber or plastic," he said curtly. "And a butcher knife. Something bigger if you have it."

Ann stared at him silently, her hands pressed against her chest, fingers tangled together as her mouth trembled slightly. "Sin--"

"Move," he snapped darkly.

There was a low gasp below them and both of their gazes snapped to Philip's body. He was still laying there in the same twisted position but now his milky eyes had slid open, now he stared at them both; the recognition and accusation in his gaze were undeniable.

"Fucking... whore," Philip hissed, his voice high-pitched with pain.

"He's still alive!" Ann backed away from Philip, her eyes wide and moist, her entire body beginning to shake. "Oh, God."

Sin stared into Philip's eyes, kneeling over the helpless and broken form of him, and stood silently. There was no way around what would have to happen; if Philip survived, he would report Ann and she would die.

Sin looked at Ann again, his face blank, and his voice quiet when he repeated, "Rubber and a knife."

Philip's gaze didn't leave Ann but Ann's snapped over to Sin. The tears that had gathered in her eyes were starting to spill onto her pale cheeks and she released a low, strangled sob. "Sin, you can't. You'll be--"

"Forget about being my doctor," Sin said in the same tone, his eyes devoid of any emotion as he prepared himself, as he began unconsciously closing off sections of himself. "Do what I say unless you want to die."

Ann stood there for another long moment, her thin shoulders shaking as she sobbed quietly, her face full of apologies, of self-loathing, but in the end she gave a jerky nod and hurried out of the room.

Sin's gaze dropped to Philip and Philip finally looked up at him. There was panic in the Captain's eyes; he was shaking his head back and forth in denial, uttering half-oaths that were incomprehensible other than the occasional swear. He was afraid, obviously so, and as Sin once again knelt by the helpless man, Philip choked out a plea.

"Please, no--"

The sound of a neck snapping in the silent room was resounding.

Boyd carefully hopped off Kassian's motorcycle once it was parked, holding a brown paper bag in one hand as he managed to remove his helmet with the other. He shook his head to get some of the hair out of his eyes and held the helmet between his side and inner elbow, leaving his hand free for the paper bag.

"You're lucky I'm so talented and you didn't take that last corner any faster or there would've been Chinese all over us both," he teased.

"I don't know if talent has anything to do with it," Kassian replied with a snort, yanking off his own helmet and heading towards Boyd's front door.

"Oh really," Boyd drawled as he walked just fast enough to get ahead of Kassian in order to unlock the door. He set the bag inside the helmet so he could pull his keys out of his pocket with the other. "If not talent, then what?"

"Common sense. You assume I wouldn't have known on my own and you know what happens when one assumes, don't you?" Kassian asked, wiggling his eyebrows at Boyd as they entered.

Boyd rolled his eyes with a grin. "Yeah, yeah," he said in a long-suffering tone. "Ass, you, me, got it."

He set the helmet on a nearby table along with his cell phone and keys. Grabbing the brown bag with their leftovers, he headed toward the kitchen. He absently flipped on a lamp as he passed and looked over his shoulder back at Kassian. "Want anything to drink before we start waiting for the countdown?"

"Su--" The word broke off abruptly and Kassian fell completely silent.

Boyd stopped as he was about to enter the kitchen and instead turned fully toward Kassian with an odd look. He was just about to ask what was wrong when he noticed Kassian's disturbed and surprised expression.

Boyd followed Kassian's gaze and nearly jumped when he realized that someone was standing in the far corner where the light from the lamp didn't illuminate them. It was rather disturbing to realize neither of them had noticed the presence but Boyd recognized the height and the faintest glimmer of green eyes in the shadows.

"Sin," Boyd said blankly, shocked by his sudden appearance more than anything. This certainly wasn't the first time Sin had easily broken into Boyd's home without a trace and probably wouldn't be the last but it never made it less startling or alarming to suddenly realize he wasn't alone.

Sin didn't respond at first and Boyd couldn't make out his expression in the darkness although he suspected from the silence that he was displeased.

Kassian's eyebrows drew together slightly and he shook his head in bewilderment. "What the hell?"

Sin didn't move from his position in the corner but Boyd had the feeling that those green eyes were currently trained on Kassian. The feeling was confirmed when Sin's deep voice said flatly, "Get rid of him."

This time Kassian's eyebrows shot up and he threw Boyd a look as if he was wondering whether or not Sin was serious.

Sin's tone had been commanding and allowed no room for negotiation, which irritated Boyd because Sin acted like he owned the house and Boyd. It was especially annoying since Sin had dropped by unannounced and thought he could order Boyd around. At the same time, Boyd had left a message for Sin to contact him and that he wanted to talk to him, so Sin did have a legitimate reason to come over.

Boyd glanced briefly at Kassian then looked toward Sin. It was a difficult situation since he didn't want to alienate either of them but Boyd had already made plans with Kassian to hang out for New Year's Eve and he didn't see why he should abruptly send Kassian home and ruin the man's night because Sin had decided to stop by suddenly. At the same time, Boyd really did need to speak with Sin and he had no intentions of going back on his promise to listen this time.

"Look, Sin," Boyd said in a reasonable tone, "I'm not going to kick Kassian out just because you showed up; he can stay or he can go but it's up to him. But I do want to talk to you. We can go into another room, whatever you want. Or we can talk tomorrow. I can make sure I'm available when it works for you."

"Just get rid of him," Sin repeated in the same flat tone. His voice was devoid of all emotion; there was something about it that was odd, almost familiar, but it was so faint that Boyd couldn't place how.

Kassian dropped his helmet onto the table and walked closer to Sin. "What's your problem, man? We're not at the Agency, you can cut the shit and act like a normal human."

He didn't stop until he was directly in front of Sin, appearing completely unconcerned about whether or not Sin was truly pissed off about him being there. If anything, Kassian seemed almost amused by the situation; there was a hint of it in his voice, as though he was trying to make light of it but also enjoying the fact that Sin was taking it far more seriously than the circumstances warranted.

Kassian stared at Sin and waved his fingers in front of the other man's face when he just got silence in response. "Anyone in there?"

"Leave or I'll make you leave."

The strange quality of Sin's voice was slowly becoming more apparent; it was detached, with zero inflection or empathy but at the same time, it sounded almost unsteady. Boyd stared at Sin intently, almost missing the conversation between the two as he tried to pinpoint the significance of Sin's behavior, his voice, the scene...

"You're gonna make me leave?" Kassian asked incredulously, some of the amusement evaporating from his tone as indignant irritation sunk in. "I don't know if you missed it, Vega, but this isn't your house so why don't you leave?"

Alarm flooded Boyd as he suddenly realized that the entire situation was strongly reminiscent of the night Sin had appeared with Lou's necklace.

Boyd dropped the takeout bag and moved forward. "Kass, wait--"

Sin's hand suddenly shot out and grabbed Kassian's arm. Kassian reacted automatically, jerking back from Sin's iron grip as he simultaneously extended his other arm to shove Sin backwards but he was unable to escape Sin's grasp. Both men seemed to go on the offense at once and before Boyd could intervene, Sin was twisting Kassian's arm behind his back with such a violently wrenching motion that the other man grunted in pain.

The next few seconds happened quickly and chaotically. Sin hauled Kassian around with such force and speed that Kassian seemed unprepared to respond adequately but when Sin intensified the grip on his arm and began dragging him towards the door, Kassian twisted out of the grip and spun around, swinging at Sin and making contact with the other man's face. But Kassian seemed to hesitate after that, his eyes uncertain and brows drawn together, as if he wasn't sure what was going on or how to respond to it.

It was then that Boyd saw the familiar vacantly glazed green eyes that cemented his suspicion that Sin was having a dissociative episode, that Sin was no longer just in the detached limbo that was a precursor of him completely losing it. It was like a switch had been flipped; as soon as Kassian touched him, Sin's vacant expression was replaced by the crazed insanity of the bloodthirsty killer Sin became during the height of his episodes.

The situation went from tense to dangerous in an instant.

There was no hesitation on Sin's part. He responded to Kassian's blow with one of his own, a white-knuckled fist slamming into Kassian's temple before he grabbed Kassian by the neck and lifted him off the floor seemingly effortlessly, squeezing with such force that the other senior agent began gagging.

Boyd was at their side immediately, desperate to get between them and to get the situation under control. He reached out to touch Sin's shoulder; his fingers had barely brushed Sin's clothes and Boyd had just started to say "Hsi--" but he didn't get the chance to finish.

Without looking, Sin's free arm lifted and he threw Boyd to the side with such strength that Boyd literally flew across the room, crashed against a table and slammed into the wall. With the power and abruptness of the move, Boyd was unable to stop his head from hitting the wall with all the momentum he'd gained. His eyes went wide and he let out a startled gasp of pain before he collapsed to the floor, dazed.

"Get th--" Kassian gasped, face pale and turning blue, his eyes meeting Sin's as he stopped clawing at his throat and reached forward swiftly, pressing his thumb into one of Sin's eyeballs viciously. If he'd applied more pressure he could have crushed it completely but once again, Kassian seemed to hold back.

Sin's grip loosened regardless and Kassian leaped backwards, coughing violently. He had no time to recover himself as Sin, even with one temporarily blinded eye, charged at him again and began an onslaught of ruthless attacks that Kassian defended against impressively; his hands and body moved with clear talent, quickly, yet it didn't contend with the near-superhuman speed and strength that Sin seemed to possess during episodes.

Kassian fell backwards at one point, his back slamming against the floor as Sin immediately followed, going to pin the other man down. Kassian's foot slammed into Sin's ankle twice in quick succession, hard enough to break it; although, from Sin's almost complete lack of reaction, it was hard to tell if it actually had an effect.

Sin didn't even wince as his hands shot down to grab one of Kassian's legs, jerking the man up as if he weighed nothing, but Kassian flipped backwards, one foot slamming into Sin's chest before he'd completely landed on the floor.

Boyd dragged himself up and immediately scrambled toward the two of them again, his heartbeat racing with alarm and adrenaline. His attention was completely zeroed in on the violent fight occurring in front of him and his only thought was to stop Sin before anything permanent happened.

Sin was moving like a machine, his face unaffected, expressionless, not even wincing in pain when Kassian hit him. Sin steadfastly and almost calmly attacked Kassian so relentlessly that Kassian was being backed toward the corner. Despite the fact that Kassian was putting up a fight with ten times the skill of any trainee that had faced Sin, it wasn't enough.

Moves Kassian performed that would have incapacitated any other man didn't even seem to faze Sin, as though the adrenaline that roared through Sin, in combination with the removed state of his mind, prevented Sin from even feeling pain.

Boyd scrambled forward and was able to place a hand on Sin's upper arm, already saying in the calm tone he used for these situations, "Hsin, stop."

The response he received was unexpected.

This time Sin didn't pause in surprise; this time Sin didn't hesitate and look at Boyd with that vulnerably confused expression on his face.

This time, Sin turned to Boyd with a vicious snarl and grabbed the arm that was touching him; twisting it just as violently as he'd done to Kassian. Before Boyd could react, Sin flipped him with careless strength; Boyd had barely even realized Sin had grabbed him before he was spinning disconcertingly. He was as powerless and weightless as a doll in Sin's hands and as he was violently thrown to the floor, there was a resounding crack as his head hit the edge of the coffee table in the process.

A shock of white overcame Boyd's vision and he landed like a dropped marionette, pain radiating even down his neck and overwhelming his senses. For a moment, he couldn't even make himself move.

As Boyd lay on the floor in momentarily stunned silence, Sin immediately turned back to Kassian, who was slumped against the wall and doing his best to stagger to his feet. There was blood coming out of Kassian's mouth and despite the fact that he looked unable to even properly stand at this point, his eyes slid over to Boyd's temporarily prone form and he started at Sin again. Kassian's expression was determined, his blue eyes deadly, and he seemed fully prepared to die trying to take Sin down.

Kassian swung twice in quick succession, both fists pounding into Sin's face; one cuffed Sin on the jaw and the other slammed into the side of Sin's neck but Sin barely even blinked. He grabbed Kassian and threw him against the wall so abruptly and with such strength that Kassian couldn't stop himself. Before Kassian could do anything more, Sin once again punched him viciously in the temple. Kassian's head snapped back and hit the wall with a crack as the drywall protested in response.

Kassian's body sagged and his eyes slid closed as he fell unconscious, dead weight in Sin's arms, who pinned him there effortlessly. Boyd was able to stagger to his feet just as he realized in a panic that Sin's hands were shifting and he planned to snap Kassian's neck.

"Sin, no!" Boyd yelled, immediately throwing himself at Sin with all his weight, causing Sin to step to the side as he briefly lost his balance.

Sin carelessly dropped Kassian, uninterested in the face of a new enemy, and turned on Boyd, wrenching Boyd around by the arm and easily throwing him across the room. Boyd hit the coffee table and slid across it before slamming into the side of the couch and falling to the floor with a pained groan.

He immediately tried to scramble up to get away but Sin was too fast; he yanked Boyd's leg out from under him and dragged him out to a wider area where he flipped Boyd onto his back. Boyd rolled out of the way just as Sin punched the floor hard enough for the wood to splinter where his head had been.

Boyd managed to get to his feet and tried to back away, to get to a safe enough distance to regain his balance, but Sin didn't give him the chance. Within the space of a second, Sin was there. His hands struck at Boyd with lightning-fast speed and with absolutely no mercy; Boyd desperately tried to defend himself, to get away, to do something other than take the hits-- but it was nearly impossible.

No one was faster than Sin; no one was stronger.

Violent pain erupted across Boyd's arms, his chest, as strike after strike battered him like he was caught in a storm, his body jerked from hit to hit without even a breath to figure out where he was or how to get away. It was all he could do to block even the occasional punch.

Sin paused only briefly to look back at Kassian, who had stirred slightly, but Boyd took the opportunity to grab the closest thing to him, a book off one of the shelves, and tried to slam it against the side of Sin's head in the hopes of knocking him unconscious. Sin didn't react at all and grabbed Boyd's wrist, wrenching it behind him so violently that his arm could have very likely been ripped off.

A gasp of pain was wrenched from Boyd and he immediately twisted while elbowing Sin powerfully in the stomach with his free arm. The move did nothing significant except causing Sin to whip Boyd around and throw him against the wall; Boyd flew back and crashed into the shelves next to the entertainment center.

Glass shattered around him, slicing his back and arms as he hit the wall so hard that he almost lost the ability to breathe. He gasped and slumped to the floor, sagging with a groan that turned into a ragged cough.

He was nearly overwhelmed by pain and the speed of the attacks, but he still weakly tried to roll to the side and get away. He'd barely made it a few inches before Sin suddenly appeared in front of him. He kicked Boyd, who tried to dodge and was only fast enough to stop it from being a blow that would have broken bones; even so, Boyd's whole body snapped back with the momentum.

Sin casually grabbed Boyd out of mid-air by the throat and slammed Boyd to his back on the floor, dropping on top of him to hold him down.

Boyd hit the floor with a spark of agony and he was unable to stop himself from crying out in pain. Darkness shuddered on the edges of his vision and his hearing buzzed distantly; for a harrowing moment, he almost blacked out. He forced his eyes open again and willed himself to stay conscious, his body twisting futilely as he automatically tried to get away.

There was no use. He was caught.

Sin's expression was unmoving as he shifted his grip and dug his thumbs into Boyd's windpipe, strangling him. The pressure was painful and immediate; Boyd hadn't had the chance to draw a full breath before the same fingers he used to feel gently run along his body were remorselessly choking him. Boyd gagged as his breath was cut off and his lungs strained furiously; his legs automatically kicked against the floor ineffectually and his fingers scrabbled against Sin's fingers and wrists as he desperately tried to relieve the pressure.

All Boyd could see as he stared in wide-eyed alarm was the green fire of Sin's crazed glare burning into him, the remorseless expression of a killer.

For the first time, Boyd honestly understood why others had been so terrified of Sin.

The only other time Sin had attacked Boyd before Boyd could stop him had been when they'd barely known each other, when Boyd hadn't particularly cared if Sin had killed him. Ever since then, Boyd had never felt truly threatened because he'd always known in the back of his mind that Sin wouldn't really hurt him; that Sin would always stop.

He'd always known he could trust his partner with his life.

But now, after everything they'd been through together, Boyd realized that Sin really could just suddenly turn on him; that Sin really could just go berserk and kill him. For the first time, Boyd truly wasn't safe in Sin's presence and it was frightening to realize.

Boyd's heartbeat skyrocketed and he made a low noise of distress, feeling terrified the longer he tried to draw breath and couldn't, the more his lungs ached and burned, the more he struggled and knew he wouldn't be able to get away. His mouth was wide open as he tried desperately to draw in any amount of breath but he may as well have been drowning. Without even realizing it, voiceless words were formed by his lips-- begging for Sin to stop, that he couldn't breathe.

His eyes automatically teared up and it was sobering to know how powerless he really was, how easily he could lose his life.

It was even worse seeing Sin's remorseless face staring down at him as his vision started to dim and fingers tingled, as his body grew oxygen-starved. The same eyes he'd once gotten lost in were now coldly watching him die; the same lips he'd once kissed passionately were now set in an unsympathetic, straight line. The same body he'd once arched against in ecstasy was a heavy weight that now held him motionless and powerless as his life was steadily drained away.

As Boyd felt his thoughts grow distant and blackness started to shudder and spread along the outer edges of his vision, he realized it was only a matter of seconds before he wouldn't be able to react at all. Only a handful of seconds until Sin killed him.

His mind raced furiously as he tried to figure out how to get out of Sin's grip but his mind just whirled uselessly as he realized that there was really no way out. Sin was too fast, too strong, too efficient; he'd just kill Boyd another way if he didn't kill him now.

The simple truth was that Boyd had to snap Sin out of this mindset or he would die.

If Boyd couldn't stop Sin the way he normally did then his only option was to do something completely unexpected for a fight; something that would force Sin's mind to take a step back and question the killing mode. Boyd distantly realized he was starting to grow too weak to even kick at the floor and his fingers were starting to slip on Sin's wrists.

Only one solution came to his frantic, oxygen-starved mind and, desperately, Boyd used all his remaining strength to suddenly strain forward and kiss Sin.

It wasn't a passionate kiss; Boyd had no idea how Sin would respond to something like that, but he did know that Ann had seemed adamant that Sin responded to gentleness in this state. His lips barely grazed Sin's but even the slight touch caused Sin to freeze, his fingers easing up on the pressure on Boyd's throat.

Boyd immediately coughed and dragged in a few hectic breaths, trying to get some air while he had the chance, just in case Sin started attacking him again.

Sin's hands remained firm around Boyd's throat and although there was no pressure, Sin would easily be able to start choking Boyd again if Boyd made a wrong move-- or worse, snap his neck. Realizing that his attempt had partially worked, Boyd quickly leaned forward and lightly kissed Sin again, hoping it would work, hoping it would cause Sin to recognize his taste, the feel of his mouth-- anything to break Sin out of this violent daze that made everyone look like an enemy.

This time Sin's lips parted and a shuddering breath escaped his mouth. His hands briefly tightened on Boyd before they abruptly went slack. Sin's eyes were glazed, confused, and he still looked on the teetering edge of madness but he was no longer the crazed murderer that Boyd had faced seconds ago.

Sin suddenly stood up straight and turned away from Boyd, his hands rising to tangle in his hair.

Boyd coughed violently and drew in a few desperate, ragged breaths as he rolled onto his side, fingers curled against his throat as if he could help himself breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain reverberating throughout his body and for a few brief seconds he had to just concentrate on drawing a complete breath.

He was too weary to stand up right away so after a moment he slid his eyes open and watched Sin warily. When Sin didn't immediately do anything else, Boyd struggled to his feet and stayed well out of Sin's reach.

"Hsin...?" he asked tentatively.

Sin looked over his shoulder at Boyd for the briefest of moments, his hands still digging into his hair. His eyes were more aware but from what Boyd saw of Sin's expression, he looked horrified and frightened.

Before anything else could happen, Sin all but bolted out the front door and disappeared into the darkness outside.

"Hsin--" Boyd ran to the door and looked out but Sin was already long gone. Boyd hesitated, for a second almost thinking he should follow before deciding against the idea.

He didn't want Sin to do anything drastic but he had no idea where Sin was headed other than possibly his apartment. And realistically if Sin intended to do anything, Boyd wouldn't be able to find him and stop him in time. If anything, Boyd's presence could potentially endanger them both.

Without having a clue what had triggered Sin's episode, there was no way Boyd would know what not to do to start it all over again. And if he could no longer stop Sin then he would almost certainly just get himself killed, especially since he'd barely escaped alive this time and he had no way of knowing whether kissing Sin would work again or if he'd get a chance next time.

Boyd spun around and rushed to Kassian's side; he still appeared to be knocked out. Careful not to move him too much for fear of head or neck damage, Boyd quickly checked Kassian for any serious injuries.

The senior agent stirred at the touch and opened his eyes blearily, staring up at Boyd.

"Kassian?" Boyd said in concern, watching him intently.

Kassian sat up immediately, appearing instantly alert as his gaze swept the living room before falling back on Boyd. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Boyd assured Kassian. "Are you?" He searched Kassian's expression. "How's your head?"

"Where's Vega?" Kassian got to his feet surprisingly steadily considering the fact that he likely had a concussion.

"He's gone." Boyd stood as well, feeling a little lightheaded now that the intensity of the moment was over and all the pains and aches came to the forefront. "Hold on."

Now that he was sure Kassian was alright, Boyd grabbed his cell phone and called Sin's number immediately. The phone rang several times and his eyes narrowed in concern although he wasn't terribly surprised when Sin didn't pick up.

As soon as it went to voice mail, Boyd said urgently into the phone, "Sin, we're both okay. Don't worry about us. Just take care of yourself. Please. I'll see you later."

He flipped the phone closed and tossed it onto a nearby table, his expression troubled.

Kassian leaned against the wall and stared at Boyd with slightly narrowed eyes before lifting one hand and rubbing it over his short blond hair. He winced but didn't complain and his eyes wandered back over to the door before returning to Boyd. "What the fuck was that about?"

Boyd watched Kassian a moment then looked around the living room which had been damaged in the onslaught. He dropped onto the couch and leaned forward to put his face in his hands, suddenly feeling incredibly weary and guilty.

"I don't know for sure," Boyd admitted before looking up at Kassian. "But-- I'm sorry, I should've realized sooner he was having an episode. I should've told you..." He shook his head to himself. "He just-- He didn't know what he was doing."

"I know shit like this has happened before," Kassian, his voice hard and almost impatient as he stared down at Boyd. "But what the fuck was his problem just now? He went nuts for no reason."

"I don't know," Boyd repeated, feeling a little frustrated with the entire situation. "It was different this time, I couldn't even stop him at first. The only time I've ever seen him like that before, something bad had happened shortly beforehand. But..."

Boyd hesitated. Part of him really didn't want to say anything about what Ann had told him because it wasn't Boyd's place to tell anyone. On the other hand, Boyd had never seen Sin snap without provocation.

Even after Sin had killed Jared, he hadn't snapped; but had that been because Boyd had been there, because Sin had thought Boyd was safe? Or had Sin reacted so violently a moment ago because it had been related to everything else that was going on, to hallucinations or something else? There had been a time when Boyd had thought he could read Sin but he didn't know anything anymore, not after months of being deceived in his presence.

Whatever the case was, Boyd felt that Kassian deserved an explanation. Without knowing whether this was all a result of Sin's hallucinations, Boyd couldn't risk Kassian running into Sin in the future and exacerbating the situation unknowingly. Boyd would feel worse about that than betraying Sin's confidence-- both because it could get Kassian hurt, and because despite what Sin felt about Kassian, Boyd was certain Sin would feel some sense of guilt if something went wrong.

"Look, I just found this out recently, but... He's been seeing things lately and it's possible..." Boyd's voice was heavy and tired as he trailed off briefly before he shook his head again. "I don't know, maybe he thought we were someone else."

"He knew who we were," Kassian disagreed with an edge in his voice. "He knew he was at your house and that I was here and he didn't want me to be."

"I don't know what to tell you," Boyd said a little sharper in frustration. Kassian seemed mad but although he didn't seem to be blaming Boyd, it didn't make Boyd feel any better about the entire ordeal. "I haven't seen him since training so I don't know any more than you do. And if he knew who I am, then I'm not safe to him anymore so that's changed too."

Boyd ran his hands over his face, feeling upset, in pain, and completely at a loss. His entire body hurt and he still barely felt like he could breathe properly. His arm twinged and he was going to be surprised if he got away from all this with only bruises.

He didn't know what the hell was happening. Had Sin's mission been so terrible that it had put him in that mindset? The possibility seemed hard to believe; it hadn't even been an assassination.

Boyd didn't understand any of this, including why he wasn't safe to Sin anymore. Had he ceased to be safe to Sin long ago, from the moment he'd broken up with him? Or was it something more recent, even as simple as refusing to send Kassian away?

He couldn't believe it was something like that, but then, Ann had said even small rejections from Boyd could seem resounding to Sin. Had Sin taken that as Boyd rejecting him? And if so, was that enough for Sin to no longer respond to Boyd's voice or touch?

Could something that small have gotten Kassian and Boyd killed?

Words muffled by his hands, Boyd muttered, "I don't know what the fuck is going on."

Kassian stared down at him at length before he walked over to the front door and pushed it firmly shut, locking it. He stood facing the door for a long moment before he returned to Boyd's side and sat down next to him.

Kassian wiped blood from his busted lip and shook his head wearily before he placed a hesitant hand on Boyd's shoulder, squeezing it. "If I'd known, I never would have provoked him. I don't want you to think I deliberately taunted him. I honestly didn't even think I said anything too bad."

Boyd remained still for a moment before he sighed and dropped his hands, looking over at Kassian. Boyd's face was pale and drawn and he was holding himself carefully so as not to exacerbate any of the aches on his torso. His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat and his throat was starting to turn red from when Sin had choked him.

Kassian didn't look much better off although Boyd suspected most of his injuries were beneath his clothing. But Boyd was just thankful they were all alive and in one piece.

"You didn't," Boyd said heavily. "Normally, it wouldn't have been a problem; I'm sure you've said worse to him before. What happened was probably either inevitable or happened because I didn't send you away or catch it in time."

"Don't start blaming yourself," Kassian said gruffly, leaning back on the sofa and closing his eyes when his head rested against it. "It's not your fault he's insane."

"I'm not," Boyd said honestly. "Not really. I know it's not my fault that he's ill but I've always been able to de-escalate the situation before. The fact that I couldn't this time means either this all would've happened regardless of what I did or that I did something different that failed to stop it. He probably came to my place for a reason; maybe he wanted me to help him. I know it's not my responsibility to always do that for him but... I just think I could've made it all end better."

"It doesn't matter. It's too late for that kind of thinking. I mean you must have gotten him out of it some kind of way in the end." Kassian looked over at Boyd and shook his head slowly. "What happened, anyway?"

"He attacked me and I just forced him to realize I wasn't his enemy and didn't want to hurt him," Boyd said with a shrug. "He only positively responds to kindness in that state." He didn't want to tell Kassian exactly how; it would sound too odd.

"I wish I'd have known that," Kassian said with a frown. He still looked very much on edge but there was something about his expression that made it seem as though he felt guilty over the entire event.

He wiped blood from his face and stared into space for a long moment, not at all appearing concerned with whatever injuries he may have although it seemed that nothing too serious had occurred. If Kassian had been a less skilled fighter there was no denying that he would have been torn apart during the fight.

But now he just looked strangely distant, thoughtful, and almost reflective as though he were replaying the scene again in his mind. The guilty expression never quite left his face during the stretch of silence and after another moment he stood up and walked over to the bag Boyd had dropped on the floor.

Boyd blankly watched as Kassian pulled out the bottle of high-end vodka they'd bought to celebrate the new year with before Kassian looked over at Boyd. "If you still want any of this, I suggest you get a cup. I could just down the whole fucking bottle on my own right now, otherwise."

Boyd nodded and wearily stood, heading toward the kitchen.

Kassian trailed after him, casting a look back at the destroyed living room, before entering the kitchen and dropping the bag of takeout on the counter. "Where did Sin go?"

"I don't know," Boyd said, worry in his voice. He paused only to put the takeout in the fridge before he walked over to a cupboard. "He ran out but I'm hoping he just went home..."

"Should we... do... something?" Kassian asked, obviously not knowing what that something would be. "I mean-- was he normal when he took off?"

"Yeah," Boyd said, then looked over his shoulder with a sigh, hand pausing just before he grabbed a glass. "I thought about going after him, but I don't know where he went and I don't want to run after him if I don't even know why he was like that in the first place. We could accidentally trigger it again somehow. Hopefully he'll get my message. If we come at him now he may think we're enemies again or we may risk him losing whatever stability he's regained. I don't want to add more stress for him so I think it's just best to wait."

"I guess," Kassian said doubtfully, watching Boyd rummage around.

Silence fell between them as Boyd grabbed the two glasses, shut the cupboard, and together they returned to the living room. Boyd felt so many emotions that it was too difficult to sort them out, to think clearly about anything, and he found that he needed the alcohol to dull his thoughts as well as something tangible to occupy his mind.

He'd been hit in the head so many times that, combined with the distraction of a body that was a mess of bruises and strained muscles, even just trying to string together a coherent thought felt like working on a thesis in physics.

The next period of time was spent in somber silence as they tensely cleaned up the mess in the living room to the best of their ability, drinking along the way. Several items were broken beyond repair and others were salvageable but not something Boyd felt like dealing with at the moment so they just made a small pile in the corner.

Although Boyd stopped at two glasses of vodka, by the time they finished cleaning, Kassian had finished the rest, drinking straight from the bottle.

Kassian ended up passing out on the couch and Boyd hovered near him uncertainly before he turned off all the lights and sat on the floor beside the couch. His body and head continued to hurt but at least the vodka had taken most of the edge off, making him feel a lot calmer about the whole ordeal.

He was still worried about Sin-- whether he was okay, whether he'd return, whether it would all happen again-- so he didn't want to leave Kassian alone when he was now likely very drunk. Boyd figured that if he left all the lights off, his eyes would adjust to the darkness so Sin wouldn't have shadows to hide within if he did return and was in that state of mind again. Not to mention that there were plenty of exits in the living room for them to try to escape if need be.

Boyd settled against the edge of the couch as comfortably as he could, watching Kassian and the surroundings until exhaustion pulled at him so heavily that he passed out as well.

The night was spent restlessly and Boyd jerked into a half-awake state on more than one occasion but he was so mentally and physically exhausted with the effects of the alcohol intensifying it that he could never pull himself into full consciousness. The end result was a confusing slumber of half nightmares and half reality, where it was impossible to distinguish between the two.

Several times Boyd swore Sin was in the room watching them, advancing on them, but when Boyd looked around and saw no one, he was never able to tell which part was truth and which had been a dream.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Nine...