Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Nine

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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-Nine

Uploaded on 3/28/2009

Song: The Killers - The World We Live In.

By the time Boyd fell into a deep enough sleep to remain that way, light was beginning to shine through the windows and it wasn't too long after that, that Kassian woke up.

Kassian's blue eyes cracked open into slits, wincing at what was likely a combination of a severe hangover and a mild concussion, but he sat up groggily and looked around. After a moment his eyes fell on Boyd. A concerned frown etched its way onto his handsome features and he pushed himself off the couch to sit beside where Boyd was sprawled on the floor.

He watched the younger agent sleep for a moment, the guilty expression once again finding its way onto his face before Kassian finally reached out and brushed a hand against Boyd's cheek.

"You okay, kid?"

Boyd jerked at the touch, in his exhausted state thinking for a second that Sin had returned, and blinked his eyes open to look around him. When he just saw Kassian leaning over him, Boyd immediately relaxed. His eyes fell mostly shut against the light but he continued to watch Kassian blearily.

"What?" he asked, voice scratchy.

Kassian shook his head and dropped his hand, although his eyes remained trained on Boyd. "Just seeing if you're okay."

"Oh." Boyd let his eyes fall shut briefly and made a face. "Yes. Not my best night's sleep but I'm fine."

Boyd opened his eyes again and finally pushed himself up, ignoring the aches and pains from everything that had happened the night before along with sleeping on the floor in a rather awkward position. The movement helped him wake up a little more and remove some of the fuzziness in his mind.

He leaned back against the couch once he was sitting up and searched what he could see of Kassian's face and body. "Are you?"

"I'm fine. But if you haven't noticed, the back of your head is all bloody." Kassian reached out again and slid his fingers into the long strands of blond hair at the back of Boyd's head. Kassian's fingers lightly grazed the wound before dropping away. "I wish I'd noticed that before suggesting we get drunk and pass out. Fucking genius that I am and it was so dark in here that I didn't even notice."

Boyd automatically reached up to touch the the back of his head, mildly surprised to feel clotted blood, although that explained why it felt especially sensitive. He continued to watch Kassian and said lightly, "I guess that explains the headache. I just thought I was a lightweight."

"Heh." Kassian shook his head and smiled humorlessly. "I should have known better. Sorry, kid. I'm an idiot. I don't give a shit if I die in my sleep due to my own alcoholic stupidity but I don't need to start bringing you into it too. It would suck if you died."

"Not any more than it would if you did," Boyd said honestly.

Because their whole friendship had started based on the fact that they basically didn't give a damn about each other or have expectations, it felt good to know that Kassian was truly concerned for his survival. The feeling was mutual; the possibility of Sin killing Kassian had been a horrifying one.

Boyd smiled slightly. "Don't worry about it, though. You'd think I would've realized I was hurt but obviously we were both too out of it. You're not an idiot and I'm fine so it doesn't matter."

"It matters," Kassian said with a sigh as he looked at Boyd. "I handled the entire situation wrong, even up to the point where we fought. I was so thrown off guard and, honestly, so hesitant to get in a fight with him that I didn't do all I could in the beginning. Not like I think I could have seriously beaten him, but I could have slowed him down a lot more."

Kassian frowned and touched the side of Boyd's neck, shaking his head at the violent bruises he saw there. "I never expected him to turn on you. I would have never forgiven myself if anything happened to you. And I know you're not some defenseless damsel but I feel protective of you. I'm..."

Kassian's eyes rose and met Boyd's steadily. "I'm becoming really fond of having you around, Boyd."

Boyd met Kassian's gaze and searched his expression briefly, looking for any signs that he wasn't being serious but finding only forthright sincerity. There was nothing hidden in Kassian's eyes; Boyd didn't have to decipher his expression or analyze the other man's body language or tone.

Kassian's words were genuine and honest; this wasn't a confession of love or even an attempt to seduce Boyd. He was simply informing Boyd that he cared, that what had started out as a comfortable acquaintanceship was turning into a real friendship and somehow Kassian's attraction had strengthened.

Judging by the way Kassian's gaze almost absently traced Boyd's features, by the way his eyes narrowed slightly and his fingers seemed to tighten against Boyd's neck seemingly of their own accord, that possibility was very likely. Boyd didn't know why Kassian was making it more obvious now but it was entirely possible that the near death experience had prompted him to be more upfront about things before there wasn't another chance to be.

And in that moment, Boyd couldn't deny his attraction to Kassian. He liked Kassian; everything about him was easygoing and pleasant to be around. Kassian had the uncanny ability to make Boyd feel comfortable and relaxed without even really trying.

Beyond that, even bruised and disheveled, Kassian was incredibly handsome. Although Boyd's lovers had all been far more exotic and striking in their own ways, there was something about Kassian's undeniable masculinity that Boyd found surprisingly attractive.

He thought of what it had been like before Kassian and he realized that he honestly appreciated Kassian's presence; that he didn't mind at all the brush of Kassian's fingertips against his skin.

"The feeling's mutual," Boyd said finally.

Kassian's mouth moved up into a ghost of a smile but then his eyebrows furrowed slightly, the guilty shadow crossed his face, and the moment was broken. He dropped his hand and cleared his throat awkwardly, standing and rubbing a hand along the back of his neck.

"We should contact the Agency."

Boyd glanced toward his phone, still resting on the coffee table where he'd left it earlier. In all the chaos, the thought hadn't even occurred to him; typically when Sin had an episode, the last thing Boyd wanted to do was report it and get Sin in trouble.

"About what happened or the fact we don't know where he is?"

"You should let General Carhart know what's happened-- that Sin is possibly on the loose in a disturbed state of mind and currently a danger to others and possibly even himself." Kassian combed a hand through his short blond hair and frowned again.

Boyd nodded and reached for his cell phone, wincing when a muscle pulled particularly painfully, then sat down on the couch. He flipped the phone open and was unsurprised but disappointed to see that Sin hadn't returned the call in the middle of the night. Part of him had been hoping that he'd missed a response.

On the off chance that Sin would be better and answer, Boyd tried calling him again. The phone rang until it hit voicemail; he didn't bother leaving a message since Sin would see the missed call and know Boyd tried again. It was probably better to talk to Sin in person anyway but that left the question of what Sin's current status was.

Boyd felt a wave of worry overcome him and although for a moment he wondered if he'd made the right choice by not chasing after Sin, he knew it couldn't have been any other way. With even Boyd susceptible to Sin's attacks, there was nothing he or Kassian could have done that wouldn't have endangered their own lives or any sense of stability Sin may have managed to regain.

Even so, Boyd was very concerned about Sin; his whereabouts, his safety, the safety of those around him... Nothing good would come of Sin having another episode and Boyd didn't want it to be the last point against Sin; the incident that made the Agency give up on Sin for good.

Boyd scrolled through the contact list on his phone until he found Carhart's number and, not even thinking to check what time it was, he hit send. As Boyd listened to the phone ring, Kassian watched him from the side.

Boyd had just given up on the idea and was making plans to go directly to the Agency when Carhart picked up in the middle of a ring and demanded somewhat gruffly, "What is it?"

"I-- General Carhart," Boyd said, slightly taken off-guard, "It's Sin. He had an episode last night and I'm worried about him. I don't know if he's recovered and he may be a danger to himself or others."

"I'm aware of that," Carhart said, his voice flat. "Why didn't you call me last night if you believed that to be the case?"

Boyd didn't think it necessarily boded well that Carhart knew; did that mean something had happened overnight after all, something so bad that the information had already reached Carhart? A flash of guilt made Boyd's eyebrows draw down slightly as he looked toward the pile of broken items in the corner of the room.

"He looked like he was back to himself," Boyd replied, voice heavy with weariness. "I thought it would be best for no one to bother him since I don't even know what started it this time. So I didn't even think of it. But he hasn't answered my calls..." He hesitated, unable to keep the concern from his voice when he continued. "Is he-- What happened, is he okay?"

There was a long silence and when Carhart answered, his tone was stern, almost cold, as if he was displeased with Boyd for some reason although it was also possible that he was stressed due to the entire situation. "He's in the psychiatric building. He came to my apartment last night and begged me to lock him away on the fourth. I took him there instead and that is where he will stay until a decision is made."

"Deci--" Boyd started to say, alarmed. For a moment he couldn't even think about what else Carhart had said, about Sin begging to go to Fourth. "She's not going to terminate him, is she?"

"I don't know, Boyd. I really don't." There was another pause and the sound of something rustling in the background as Carhart sighed heavily. "He's at the end of his rope and she knows that. I don't know what happened to get him to this point, I don't know what made him flip out last night, but he told me flat out that if things don't change he'll go to Vivienne himself and ask for termination."

"What-- He can't," Boyd said urgently, eyes narrowing as the alarm and worry intensified considerably. "I know things changed but if he gets help he has a real shot, doesn't he? I don't-- I may not be able to help much but I'll do what I can if you or he need it. He was already fucked up before he even came over last night; if it wasn't for that, he wouldn't have even attacked us. I know it's only part of the issue but that has to count..."

"Vivienne doesn't know about your or Agent Trovosky's part in this," Carhart said flatly. "I think it would be unwise for you to mention that to her."

Boyd got the distinct impression that Carhart was not only pissed at him, but that the General actually disliked him now. Boyd wasn't entirely sure why and it struck him silent for a moment.

He thought part of it was because he hadn't called the night before but it really hadn't even occurred to him. He'd never been in a situation before where Sin had an episode that Boyd couldn't stop; he was so used to handling the situation on his own that he hadn't even thought to alert anyone.

In retrospect, it had been pretty stupid not to call Carhart right away. It didn't matter that Boyd and Kassian had nearly been killed, that Boyd had almost been unable to stop it all and was shaken by the experience, that the two of them had been off-balance and in pain and not thinking clearly. It didn't matter that Sin had seemed back to normal when he'd left, not when he'd still been obviously extremely upset.

If Sin had gone and killed himself or hurt others, Boyd never would have forgiven himself. If this all resulted in Sin's termination, Boyd still wouldn't.

He'd had the opportunity to help Sin when he'd needed it and Boyd not only hadn't, he'd also stood to the side and let the situation get worse. Although it was true that it wasn't Boyd's responsibility to make sure Sin was always stable, despite any fall out that had happened between them, despite even knowing that their relationship as it had been was unhealthy for the two of them, Boyd couldn't stop his feelings for Sin.

He still cared immensely for Sin, he still wanted Sin to live a happy and healthy life. He was still Sin's work partner if nothing else and it was his responsibility to balance Sin's instability in times of duress or alert the authorities if he couldn't. Sin had trusted him to come to his house when he needed help and Boyd hadn't been there for him.

It felt like no matter what Boyd tried to do, he always ended up being a significant part of the problem when Sin's instability brought him close to death. Boyd had been the reason in Monterrey, when he'd let his jealousy overrun his rationality and he'd left Sin alone to die, and now when he was trying to remove emotions, he still ended up being part of the issue because he didn't react properly. He knew it wasn't his fault but he couldn't help feeling guilty for making the situation worse.

And now even Carhart, who had always seemed so understanding, was angry with Boyd.

Boyd squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head into his free hand, wondering for a moment what the hell he was even doing. He felt conflicted and frustrated, trying to balance his own happiness and health with Sin's, with everyone else's.

Part of him also felt guilty for his time with Kassian, for being interested in someone else even just casually like this. What if Sin had been in trouble or hurt while they were sitting here having a moment?

But at the same time those thoughts alone frustrated Boyd because Sin and he weren't together so why the hell did he have to think of things like this? Was it really so bad to think of himself once in awhile? To put his priorities above someone else's? How was he supposed to be responsible for his own happiness when that alone could so dramatically and negatively affect someone else's life? He couldn't stop thinking of what was best for him yet no matter what he did, he seemed to make matters worse.

He'd thought he'd been making the right decisions and for the most part he still thought he was, but he wished he could stop the second-guessing, the self-doubt. He wished everything would stop getting so messed up so quickly, and he really wished he'd stop disappointing everyone whose opinion he cared about.

More than anything, he wished his actions and words would stop being involved in the literal life or death of someone he truly cared about.

"I understand," Boyd said finally, his voice turning a little more reserved and professional. "Is there anything you need from me instead?"


The line went dead without another word from Carhart.

"Shit," Boyd hissed, flipping his phone closed and throwing it to the floor. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees as he brought his other hand up to cover his face. His headache intensified dramatically and he almost felt sick from the combination of physical pains, mental exhaustion and emotional conflict.

"What?" Kassian stared down at him, looking genuinely concerned. "Where's Vega?"

"The psych building," Boyd said heavily, pressing his palms against his closed eyes. His head was throbbing painfully and he vaguely wondered if he had any painkillers in the house. "He'll be there until a 'decision is made.'" The way he said it made it clear he was quoting Carhart. "And since my mother was already considering termination..."

"Well, that's just fantastic." Kassian shook his head, looking exhausted and angry and guilty all at the same time. He stood up and crossed his arms over his chest, staring down at Boyd.

Boyd made a noise of agreement and remained hunched over for several long seconds. When Kassian didn't say anything or move, Boyd sighed and dropped his hands, looking up at him. They stared at each other in silence, neither seeming to know what to say, until Boyd finally looked away, perturbed. His gaze dropped to his cell phone and he shook his head to himself.

"I don't know, I'm going to talk to him as soon as I can. See if I can help, or..." Boyd trailed off briefly, frustrated and doubtful. "I don't-- I don't even know anymore. Carhart's pissed and I just..." He sighed again and realized he didn't even know how to finish the sentence. "I hate this."

"It's not your fault," Kassian said again but this time he sighed. "But I wish we'd fucking thought to call last night. I can't believe I didn't even... I don't know, man. It doesn't matter anymore."

Kassian dropped his arms to his sides and shook his head. "There's nothing that can be done now. What happened, happened. Let's just hope the guy gets his shit together and your mom gives him another chance."

"Yeah." Boyd stared down at his hands, feeling incredibly hopeless.

For a moment, he wanted to ask Kassian if he was doing the right thing; he wanted to tell Kassian about his frustration and self-doubt and fears. He wanted to tell Kassian about how much he appreciated his presence yet how even that thought was filled with second-guessing and guilt. He wanted to ask if it was wrong of him to think of himself when things like this kept happening as a result.

A lot of his distress was pretty self-evident but even so, Boyd wanted to say it aloud, to confess all his worries and be reassured that doing his best was good enough. But Kassian didn't know about everything and the man obviously already felt bad enough for the situation.

In truth, the person who Boyd really needed to hear 'it's alright' from was currently in psychiatric care and may not make it out alive.

The thought made Boyd return his gaze to Kassian. Trying to make up for another thing he'd done wrong, he said wearily, "Look, I... I really shouldn't have told you about Sin's hallucinations; he didn't want even me to know. Maybe it doesn't matter anymore and I know I can trust you but still-- don't tell anyone. Please. It wasn't fair to him for me to tell you. Just-- Don't even let him know you know." The unspoken 'if you even see him again' hung in the air uncomfortably.

Kassian's eyebrows drew together and he sat down beside Boyd again. "I wouldn't."

There was another silence and then Kassian lifted his hand to squeeze Boyd's shoulder. "Listen, why don't you just go to the Agency? You can get the details out of Carhart about what happened or even go see your mother and find out the truth from her. It's better than sitting around here assuming the worst."

The suggestion was a good one and something that Boyd had already planned to do. Although Boyd had no intention of seeing his mother after Carhart's comment and he wasn't certain if Carhart would even want to see him right then, at the very least Boyd was going to go to the psychiatric building to see Sin.

Boyd briefly placed his hand over Kassian's and nodded. "I will. I'll go right now." Boyd swiped his cell phone off the floor and stood, glancing around for his keys before looking at Kassian. "My mother's probably awake so if she hasn't made a decision by now, it'll happen shortly."

Kassian stood up as well. "I'm just going to head home. Just give me a call when you find out everything."

Boyd nodded again and grabbed his keys off the table and his coat from the closet. As he was pulling his coat on, ignoring the way his body violently ached in the process, he turned to Kassian. "You should probably get some rest anyway. I can't imagine you slept very well last night."

"It doesn't matter. Just give me a call." Kassian looked at Boyd for a moment before grabbing his jacket and helmet, then turning to the door. "I'll talk to you later, kid," he said quietly and left.

Boyd almost followed him out before stopping when turning his head too abruptly made the bruises on his neck twinge painfully. He brought a hand up to his throat then grabbed a scarf and went into the bathroom to quickly check what he looked like in the mirror. He didn't want to draw any more attention to himself than necessary or, in case the doctors knew Sin had attacked him, give any more evidence toward how dangerous Sin could be.

The bruises on his neck were already turning a dark, angry-looking purple but they were easily covered by winding the scarf over them. His skin was ash pale and there were heavy circles under his eyes, which he couldn't do anything about. His hair was a mess and he'd almost forgotten about the clotted blood until his fingers brushed past it. He didn't want to bother with it so he just went to the closet, grabbed a wool winter hat, and threw that on to cover the wound.

He felt lightheaded, his head pounded so hard that he felt nauseated, and his arm and back especially hurt but he studiously ignored it all.

The drive to the Agency passed quickly and Boyd parked in the psychiatric building's parking lot along the side. Two guards stood in front of the main doors, one short and stocky and the other tall and lean with a permanent look of distaste. Boyd was stopped at the door before he could even get inside.

"You can't go in," the shorter guard said and when Boyd glanced down, he saw the name on his uniform read 'Josephson.'

"I'm Level 9," Boyd said, showing them his ID.

The other guard, whose uniform read 'Brown,' raised his eyebrows. "Yeah? I don't care what level you are; you don't have clearance." He seemed to take personal offense to Boyd's presence and attempt to enter the building.

"Look," Boyd said a little impatiently. "I need to get in; it's important."

"It's always important for you big shots but right here, that means nothing," Brown said flatly. "We're in charge of guarding this building and when we say you can't come in, you can't come in."

"What do I need to do to get clearance, then?" Boyd asked, looking toward Josephson since he seemed to be the calmer of the two.

It was Brown who answered first though, looking pointedly with a hint of a sneer toward the ID Boyd had slid back into his pocket. "Why don't you ask mommy to write a note?"

"Nothing short of a General's okay will let you in," Josephson said calmly, not giving Boyd a chance to respond to Brown. "And even then we would need to know which patient you want to visit and it would need to be approved by their doctor."

Brown rolled his eyes. "Like that's hard to figure out. He's probably here for his psycho partner." He raised his eyebrows and gave Boyd a look that showed he was enjoying the power they held over him. "Maybe they'll get rid of him for good this time. Some of us even started taking bets on it."

Boyd watched the two steadily, ignoring the comment. "Which doctor do I contact for approval?"

"Probably Doctor Król," Josephson replied with a shrug, unconcerned.

Staring at the two for another long moment, Boyd finally nodded and turned away, letting a hint of irritation enter his voice as he held himself stiffly. "Fine. I'll get clearance and come back."

"We'll be waiting for you, sweetheart," Brown called after Boyd. "Better hurry or you'll miss the good part."

Boyd didn't reply as he walked around the corner toward the parking lot, looking like he had every intention of getting into his car and leaving. Once he was out of view of the guards, he casually continued to walk around the building. No one else was in the parking lot or within view so early in the morning, which suited his purposes quite well.

He saw no point in trying to contact Carhart for clearance, not when the man was already angry with Boyd, and even if Carhart said it was fine then Boyd would risk being denied by Sin's doctor. If he waited for legitimate approval, it would probably take too long and Boyd didn't want to risk any delays at this point. His only choice was to sneak in.

A quick glance around showed no one was in the vicinity so he studied the building briefly then peered around the corner. Another guard stood alone by the smaller door in back, seeming bored. No windows on the first floor appeared to be open but a few on the second floor and above were. However, there were no trees close enough for Boyd to climb and get inside.

Although if Boyd gave himself the time he could probably have come up with a more elaborate plan, he decided to just keep it simple.

He looked around until he found a few heavy rocks in the landscaping along the wall. There were several thick bushes dotted around the building, with flower beds in between. The bushes the Agency had chosen were heavy and even in the winter were still thick with blue-green needles aimed upward and brown needles on the ends of the branches, making them look rather like wide little evergreen trees. Boyd hid behind a particularly large one, then threw a rock with all his strength at a window a few down from him, but close enough to the back corner that the guard in the rear of the building would respond.

A crash resounded in the relatively quiet morning and Boyd could hear the lone guard curse. Boyd ducked down immediately and waited until he heard the guard come flying around the corner, already demanding, "Who's there?"

When the guard saw the obviously broken window he headed straight toward it and Boyd took the opportunity to quickly duck behind the other bushes and slide around the corner. Once out of sight of the guard, he ran to the door and slid inside before anyone else could see him.

Boyd straightened and walked casually down the hallway as soon as he was inside the building, looking around completely confidently as if he knew exactly where he was going and was supposed to be there. A woman with a clipboard passed him but she barely glanced at him before dismissing him; since she knew the place was guarded and only people with clearance were allowed inside, she had no reason to think anything strange of his presence.

He walked toward the front entrance and waited until the receptionist looked around the empty area with a half-asleep expression and, with a yawn, ducked into a small room behind her to apparently refill her coffee mug.

Boyd was at the desk immediately and quickly found the list of doctors' offices and patient rooms. Boyd saw a 'Dominik Król' listed next to an office on the fourth floor and, in his patient list, Sin's name next to room number 503. Boyd left before the receptionist had even finished pouring cream into her coffee.

He calmly walked up the stairs, thinking quickly. He could try to visit Dr. Król but there was no point; he'd probably be turned away before he was told anything of import and he didn't want to alert anyone to his presence before he had the chance to talk to Sin. So he went straight to the fifth floor and walked down the empty hall.

Room 503 was unlocked so Boyd slipped inside and shut the door behind him quietly before he turned around. The room was surprisingly pleasant, with a small table and an armchair, and the bed looked comfortable aside from the restraints currently holding down Sin's wrists.

At first, Boyd could only stare at Sin. It felt like forever since he'd seen Sin in a moment of relative quiet, when internal or external issues weren't pressing down on them. It was hard not to let his gaze linger on the high cheeks and full lips, on the beautiful features he'd once had a near obsession with. But Boyd pushed all those thoughts away; things were different now and even if they weren't, he didn't know how long he had until he was discovered.

Sin's eyes were closed and he was breathing evenly; he seemed to be unconscious but that was all Boyd could tell. A wave of relief washed over Boyd simply from knowing that Sin was still alive but Sin's current state would mean nothing if he gave up or demanded termination.

Boyd stood next to the bed and quietly said, "Sin," as he lightly touched Sin's arm.

Sin didn't stir and Boyd's eyes flicked over to the IV that was placed in Sin's arm. The man was probably sedated but Boyd hoped that he wasn't too heavily knocked out.

"Sin," Boyd said a little louder while still staying quiet enough that he wouldn't be heard through the door. When Sin didn't immediately respond, Boyd leaned closer to the bed so he could speak near Sin's ear while he carefully shook Sin's shoulder. "Sin, please wake up. I'm sorry but I need to talk to you."

Sin's eyes moved beneath his lids and he made a low sound at the back of his throat. His eyebrows drew together slightly but he still didn't wake up entirely.

Boyd glanced toward the door briefly when he thought he heard someone walking in the hallway but the footsteps passed by without pausing.

Returning his gaze to Sin, Boyd shook him harder. "Sin," he hissed urgently.

Sin's eyelashes fluttered open slightly and Boyd could see a glimmer of green between them. Sin's eyes were glazed, his eyelids heavy. For a moment Boyd didn't even think the other man recognized him but then Sin's slack face morphed into an expression of distress and his eyes slid closed again although his hands clenched into fists.

"Sin, please," Boyd said quietly but intently. "I'm okay and I'm not angry. I'm sorry to get you like this but it's important we talk and I don't know how much time I have."

Sin didn't reply for a long moment but then he shook his head slightly and rasped in a low, gravelly voice, "Just go."

Boyd shook his head and crouched near the bed, his hands resting near Sin's shoulder. "I'm not going to leave until you listen to me. I'm not angry with you anymore-- not about Ann, not about anything. I just..." He paused and searched what he could see of Sin's expression. "I just want you to get better."

Sin's eyes opened wider and he looked up at Boyd but his expression didn't change. He still looked miserable and depressed; if anything, he looked even unhappier than he had previously.

Sin averted his eyes and stared out the window; his lips parted as if he wanted to speak but nothing came out. He swallowed and wet his lips, seeming to be concentrating very hard on keeping himself composed but Boyd could still see through it. He could see the anguish in Sin's expression, the way his eyes looked red and slightly moist, the way his full lips trembled a little.

"I nearly killed you," Sin said finally, voice even quieter, unsteady. "I know I did. And I remember it. I didn't even block it out. And I wish I was dead."

Boyd watched him, feeling a deep sense of sadness. "Sin, look at me," he said softly.

When Sin didn't, Boyd gently turned Sin's face toward him, leaving his hand against Sin's cheek. Sin shuddered slightly at the touch. "That's why you need help. You're ill, Sin. You can't blame yourself for that, for things you can't control. All you can do is work to make it better; to try to understand how to stop that from happening in the first place."

"But what if I can't?" Sin asked weakly, his mouth trembling slightly when he finally met Boyd's eyes. "What if I kill you when I'm like that? I was afraid to be alone with you when I feel so fucked up and unstable because I feared that I would hurt you and now it's just... I just don't care. I just want you to be safe."

As the words hung in the still room, Boyd finally understood why Sin had stopped spending the night all those months ago; what had seemed like Sin becoming more distant had actually been fear. Boyd let out a low breath and leaned down so he could briefly rest his forehead against Sin's.

How much stress and pain had Sin been living with and how had he kept going, terrified even of himself, of his own reactions? How often had Boyd been right beside him, completely oblivious to the severity of the situation?

Boyd's eyes were a little bright when he moved back enough to see Sin more clearly. "I'm safe. I promise you I'm okay. Just..."

He tried to figure out how best to get this across. He couldn't stop himself from bringing his other hand up to rest in Sin's hair with that familiar silky feeling threading through his fingers. Boyd couldn't help touching Sin when the man was in so much pain and, more importantly, he wanted Sin to feel a connection, to stay in the present.

"Sin... I know about everything-- the diagnoses, the hallucinations, even--" He glanced toward the door again although he hadn't heard anyone in the hallway after the one time. Even so, Boyd briefly dropped his voice so low that only Sin would be able to hear. "Even Emilio."

Sin tensed up visibly and he looked away again, eyes narrowed and jaw clenched.

"We can talk about this all another time; none of that matters now. I'm only telling you because I want you to realize that I'm not saying this all without understanding the situation." Boyd paused but Sin didn't seem to react. "Sin, look at me. Please."

When Sin didn't look back or change his expression, Boyd reached out and gently but more firmly turned Sin's face toward him again.

Sin didn't turn away again but he still didn't meet Boyd's gaze.

Boyd sighed and shook his head, his voice turning somber. "I can't even begin to understand how difficult this all is for you, how horrible and painful. It's... It's your life so you have every right to make whatever decision you feel is best. I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do. But if..."

The idea of Sin giving up after everything, especially if Boyd's past actions or words had led Sin to that conclusion, made Boyd's heart twist painfully in his chest. His voice almost caught and he had to pause briefly in order to retain an even tone. "If my opinion, if my life is already influencing you, please understand that the last thing I want is for you to die. I know that must sound selfish but thinking that you want to be terminated-- I just..."

Boyd shook his head briefly as his fingers strengthened a little against Sin's cheek. "All I can think is I want you to get better. Not for me, not for anyone; just for yourself. You deserve it like anyone else does. I want you to have a chance to feel happy. And I want us to try to be friends again, to figure this all out."

The silence that followed his words was long and charged. For one disappointed moment, Boyd thought that it was too late; that Sin didn't care about what was said; that he was determined to go through with his plans regardless. Heartsick and almost feeling physically pained by the thought, Boyd dropped his gaze and started to back away from the bed. But before he could turn to leave, Sin suddenly surged up, snapping the restraints as though they were nothing.

Boyd barely had time to look at Sin in surprise before he was being crushed against Sin's chest. Almost impossibly strong arms wound around Boyd tightly and Sin's face pressed into Boyd's neck as long fingers dug into Boyd's back desperately.

"Please don't hate me ever again," Sin uttered in a choked voice, his breath warm against Boyd's neck. A soundless sob escaped his lips. "I can't take it. I know it's not good to tell you this but I can't live knowing that you hate me."

Boyd slid his eyes closed and let out a shuddering breath, bringing his arms up to clutch Sin tightly. His fingers bunched up Sin's shirt and he just breathed in Sin's scent, felt the warmth of Sin's body and the pounding of Sin's heart. Boyd hadn't even realized he'd had so much tension and stress in his body until it released. The relief that he felt was nearly overwhelming and he couldn't keep the tears from gathering in his eyes.

"I'm so sorry I said it was all a mistake," Boyd whispered, voice twisting in pained regret. "I was wrong-- I was pissed but that was a horrible thing to say. I don't hate you, I don't regret it all. Maybe it didn't end up the way I thought but that's okay. We're okay like this."

Sin nodded against Boyd's neck but his fingers only tightened, almost painfully so, as he clutched Boyd. Drops of moisture slid beneath the fabric of Boyd's scarf and he realized that Sin was crying; judging by the way he continuously took deep breaths, he was desperately trying to stop.

Neither of them spoke for awhile; they just held onto each other as if silently making up for every hurtful word they'd said, every misunderstanding. As if the longer they stayed that way, the better it would be in the end. Boyd wouldn't have been able to pull himself away even if someone had burst in and demanded he leave.

For too long, the silence between them had been damning, painful, and the distance had seemed larger than the physical space between them.

But now, with those strong arms holding him desperately, surrounded by the warmth and scent of the man Boyd had been closer to than anyone else for years, it was hard not to want to stay like that forever. Part of Boyd wanted to pull Sin down, to kiss him desperately, to drink in every bit of his former lover that he'd missed for the past several months. Part of him wanted to become immersed in Sin again, to hold him close and never let go.

Especially knowing that these could be the last moments he ever had with Sin, the thought felt more urgent, more charged. He wanted to breathe against those lips and taste Sin; he wanted to push all his desperation, fear and passion into something that Sin could feel, something they could share on a basic level. Something that would leave Sin with no doubt that Boyd still cared.

But he couldn't let himself do that.

He couldn't let himself fall back into that mindset; and if Sin lived, he especially couldn't do that to Sin, not with the fact that Boyd's decision hadn't changed. Giving in now would only hurt Sin and himself more in the long run. For all that Boyd still felt an intensity of emotions toward Sin, he had to be strong for both of them, especially when Sin was in such a vulnerable state.

So Boyd held Sin as close as Sin held him. If Boyd never saw Sin again, if it all fell apart around them as it always seemed to, then he wanted this to be the memory he kept of Sin. The thought made Boyd's breath hitch and he clutched Sin even tighter, eyes squeezed shut and face buried against Sin.

Finally, Sin pulled away and looked down at Boyd. Sin's eyes were red and his face was damp but the utter hopelessness was gone from his expression. The sadness was still there but it wasn't as heartbreaking as it had been before.

"You should go," Sin said, voice hoarse. "I don't want you getting into trouble because of me."

Boyd nodded but he didn't move immediately; instead, he studied Sin's face as if trying to burn it into his memory. "You'll tell me when you're cleared, right?" He didn't even want to consider the alternative.

Sin shrugged, dropping his gaze. "You'll find out one way or the other."

Still, Boyd didn't leave; he didn't want to. Part of him had the crazy thought that if he just stayed then he could do something, he could somehow affect the decision. Truthfully, he wouldn't be able to do much of anything. If his mother decided to terminate Sin then it wouldn't matter how much Boyd protested or tried to help his partner-- Sin would be killed on the spot.

Despite that, as Boyd's hands slipped from Sin's arms and he looked back toward the door-- when he imagined himself leaving the building without knowing what would happen and later finding out Sin had been terminated after waiting here alone...

He couldn't do it.

Despite everything, he still loved Sin, even though he knew he wouldn't and couldn't act on those feelings. He couldn't walk away now and leave Sin to sit by himself, isolated from the world as he awaited his fate.

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly as he turned back to Sin. "I'm not going."

Sin looked at him for a moment before shaking his head wearily. "Just go, Boyd. They'll make you go anyway."

"Then I can wait until that happens," Boyd said, his mouth set in a determined frown.

Sin just sighed and hunched forward, pressing his face into his hands. His voice was low, subdued, and heavy with regret and depression but traces of his usual stubbornness shone through as he said firmly, "It's not worth it. They're going to remove you before they say anything to me. And the idea of you seeing them drag me off to the basement... I don't want our last moments together to be like that. I'd rather it be the way it was a moment ago."

Boyd hesitated briefly before he looked away, feeling troubled, and absently watched the wind shift the bare branches of trees in the small courtyard he could see through the window. A few people walked across the snowy area, bundled up against the cold.

With a quiet sigh, Boyd looked back at Sin reluctantly, knowing that he was right. "Okay."

Boyd paused, meeting Sin's gaze and not doing anything to mask the onslaught of emotions that were surely visible in his eyes. He took a deep breath, a shaky breath. "But if I'm going to leave, then... I want you to know that I'm sorry if I ever hurt you. I would never just write you off, no matter what happened between us. I don't want you to ever doubt that again."

Sin looked up at him and it was one of those rare moments when his expression was completely open and Boyd could see every aspect of his humanity, his vulnerability. He could see the desperation, the way Sin looked up with the barest glimmer of hope, the way he seemed to be trying to wall off his feelings, his expressions, but was still unable to do so. Boyd could see guilt and sadness, regret and shame... All of it was written across Sin's beautiful face so plainly that it was almost difficult to take in.

It was hard to see someone so strong looking so incredibly broken.

But then Sin managed to get control of himself again and slowly his face shuttered and all those things that Boyd could read so well were gone. After a moment Sin just shrugged, saying quietly, "I hope you're being honest."

"I am," Boyd said without a hint of hesitation.

Their eyes locked for another moment and Sin's lips turned up into a slight smile before it faded away again. "Thank you."

Boyd watched him, hesitated, then couldn't help pulling Sin into another embrace, an embrace that wasn't long enough, that could never be long enough because Boyd just didn't want to let go. "Just... get better," he whispered urgently, his voice slightly choked as he finally forced himself to let go.

Boyd moved away before Sin had the chance to respond and made himself leave without another word or looking back.

The door shut quietly behind him and he moved quickly through the building. By the time he got home, he was no less worried than when he'd left. Even though he was glad he'd had the chance to talk to Sin, even though if that was the end of it all at least they had the opportunity have better last memories, the knowledge did nothing to quell his troubled thoughts. He could only hope that his mother would pull through for them; that she'd look at the situation in that same clinical coldness as always and still see some use in Sin that outweighed what she would see as his disadvantages.

Without that, Sin had no chance.

After ten minutes of aimlessly wandering around his home, Boyd finally decided that he had to give himself something to focus on or he'd be a mess. Even though he was exhausted and his body ached, he didn't even consider going to sleep; not until he knew.

With a distracted glance at the clock, he decided to work on the attic for an hour and call if he hadn't heard anything by then. He set his cell phone on the floor near the ladder so it was easy access but so it was far enough away that he wouldn't be tempted to call earlier.

He wasn't particularly productive. Despite his best efforts, he found himself repeatedly checking his watch and more than once he realized he was just standing in the middle of a pile of boxes that he didn't remember pulling out. There were too many thoughts and worries and questions running through his tired mind to be able to fully concentrate on the task.

He'd just checked his watch for the fifth time in six minutes, realizing he still had a good twenty minutes to go before the designated time had passed, when his cell phone rang. He jumped and nearly fell as he climbed over the boxes and swiped the phone off the floor. His anxiety heightened as he turned the phone over and saw Carhart's name flashing on the screen.

Heart pounding, Boyd answered the call, saying immediately and a little breathlessly, "Yes?"

There was a brief silence before Carhart said plainly, "Your mother has given him one last chance. I'm only calling because he asked me to."

Boyd felt such a wave of relief that he sat down, his feet resting on the ladder leading down to the rest of the home, and he leaned forward with one shaky hand pressed over his eyes. He barely stopped himself from saying aloud 'thank God,' conscious of Carhart's disapproval of him lately, and instead asked, "What are the conditions?"

"They're not much different than before but the moment he stops cooperating with his new doctor the way he did with Ann, his termination will be immediate. If his condition does not improve or there is no progress within the next few months, it will have the same result."

Boyd nodded; in truth, that was about the best they could have hoped for. There was no way his mother would have cleared Sin for good and, given the fact Sin had already been in danger of termination before all this, they were just lucky Sin was being given another chance.

"Ann's not his doctor anymore?" he asked, not sure whether he was surprised by the information.

Although he realized that Sin had stopped cooperating with Ann weeks ago, the only reason Boyd had been given for why that had happened had been because of his own reaction. He'd somehow just assumed that after he made it clear to Sin that he wasn't angry about Ann anymore, then Sin would default back to the one psychiatrist who so far had managed to be of any help to him at all. Apparently that was not the case, though.

"He refused to see her anymore and he was assigned a doctor from the European Agency. He's one of the first of our new additions," Carhart replied matter-of-factly.

That explained who Dominik Król was; Boyd had just assumed that was someone who was overseeing Sin temporarily. What surprised him the most was that anyone from the European division would be coming over. "We're getting additions?"

"Yes. He's just the first of many. Before the new Marshal arrives she'll send an investigator who will evaluate the Agency and our people. Sin better get his act together before that happens or he's done. The new Marshal has no reason to give him any second chances," Carhart continued in the same tone.

"When will that happen?"

"In a couple of months. I'm not sure of the exact details." Carhart was silent for a moment before he changed the subject abruptly, "I hope you're aware of the fact that your relationship with Sin is bad for him."

Boyd was caught off-guard by the new topic and Carhart's factual tone. "It was bad for everyone," he said honestly after a moment. He sighed and rubbed at his temples with his free hand. "Look, I don't want anything to get more messed up than it already was. I just want to be his work partner and aim toward friend with him. If you mean that's also bad for him then I don't know what to say."

"I'm telling you to stay away from him unless you're on a mission," Carhart said flatly. "And if you can't comply, there will be problems."

Boyd briefly fell silent; it was clear from Carhart's tone that it was an order. If Boyd didn't listen, Carhart would be angry and would probably consider it insubordination, whatever that would end up meaning for Boyd. Although Boyd could fully understand why Carhart would be against his two agents having a sexual relationship again, he hadn't been expecting to be told not to be friends.

"You think it would affect his recovery?" Boyd ventured, trying to understand the change in the situation.

"He loves you," Carhart said in the same toneless voice. "And he needs you way more than you need him. You're all he has. You have other people. You attempting to have some friendship after everything that has happened is a worthless waste of time and only an attempt to make yourself feel better about the situation. He will just pine for you and be unhappy regardless. Keep it civil, exchange friendly words but stay away from his apartment and keep him away from your home."

Boyd stared at the wall across the attic with a quiet sense of an emotion he couldn't quite name.

Sin loved him?

Obviously Sin cared about him enough to value Boyd's opinion, sometimes even to the detriment of himself, but in all that had happened, Boyd hadn't been sure what exactly Sin felt. However, now that Boyd thought about he realized it was undeniably true.

Months ago, Boyd would have loved to have known for certain what Sin felt. Hearing that Sin loved him would have made him truly happy, would have made his own feelings intensify in return. But now it just made Boyd not know what to think or how to respond. If anything, it was almost worse knowing.

They couldn't be together. Even if Carhart hadn't ordered it, they couldn't. The strength of the feelings they felt for each other was the kind that blinded them, that made them make decisions that hurt one or both of them.

If Sin loved Boyd, then it was that love which had probably made Sin fear losing Boyd; it was that love that had probably made him choose to keep Boyd in the dark and in the process hurt himself so much more. It was that love that had probably led Sin to stop seeing his psychiatrist despite the fact he could be terminated and it was that love that made every minute mistake of Boyd's seem that much more resounding, that much more terrible for Sin. It was that love which had probably caused Sin to want to demand punishment or termination when he realized he'd hurt Boyd.

Boyd sighed inaudibly. He wished things were different. He wished he could feel happiness at the knowledge; he wished he could simply act on his own feelings toward Sin, let them intensify again to what they had been and just live out the fantasy they'd experienced in Monterrey.

But they were two self-destructive people who hurt each other and themselves unintentionally; they were the product of what happened when extreme desperation and loneliness met. And until they were both stable enough on their own to be primarily a positive influence on the other and not largely a negative too, then they were worse off together than apart.

But despite the fact that Boyd thought there was some truth and logic to Carhart's order, Boyd couldn't help feeling a spike of frustration. It annoyed him that Carhart thought Boyd was just trying to make himself feel better, because in one way it implied this was Boyd's fault or that Boyd had made the wrong decisions and this was his way of placating himself. Wanting to be Sin's friend had nothing to do with making himself feel better and had everything to do with wanting to give the both of them the chance to move on in a positive way.

At the same time, Boyd had come to this conclusion after months of self-analysis and thought. If Sin hadn't concluded any of this, then it probably would be pretty painful for him to be around Boyd without being able to reach out to him. In that regard, it was probably true that it would be unfair to Sin. Yet Boyd had promised to support Sin and he hadn't lied. As much as he wanted Sin to be able to move on, Boyd wasn't going to abandon Sin when he was at his most vulnerable.

The situation was difficult and the more he thought about it, the stronger he could feel his headache returning.

"With all due respect, Sir, I don't want to be Sin's friend to selfishly fulfill my own interests at his expense," Boyd said carefully. "If it's truly in his best interest, I understand. But if he'll be unhappy regardless and if he doesn't have anyone else, won't denying him even a friend seem worse? Or do you think if I stay away from him for now he'll be forced to move on and he'll find a reason to live for himself?"

"He's not going to," Carhart snapped. "That's the point. He's always going to focus on you and you're not going to give him what he wants so why be around him at all? Your relationship with Sin is inappropriate and whatever friendship you think can exist would be tainted from the start. Just do your job and end it there."

"I understand such a friendship wouldn't work right away-- I wasn't planning to try for that anyway, honestly," Boyd said, trying to keep his tone calm. "And I know the relationship was a mess but if I'm suddenly distant outside work and more formal to him now he'll just take it the wrong way. I know you care about him and I have no intentions of getting in the way of his recovery or putting him in any more danger with the new arrivals, but how is it better to leave him with no one at all without even consulting with him about what he wants? I'm not trying to be contrary, it's just that this involves his life too and I don't see how a friendship sometime in the future is automatically destined for failure."

"I'm not asking you to do something," Carhart replied in the same cold voice. "I'm giving you an order. If you can't remain professional, that's a problem that needs to be addressed. Obviously you feel a need to form relationships with senior agents and I don't know why that is, but in Sin's case it ends now. That's the end of the story."

Boyd fell quiet and his eyes narrowed at the slight toward his relationship with Kassian. It annoyed him mostly because he hadn't been the one to initiate the friendship with Kassian and it wasn't Carhart's business anyway. Even if Carhart probably only knew one small part of it-- that Kassian had been over at Boyd's house at midnight-- the fact that Carhart didn't seem to be even attempting to give Boyd the benefit of the doubt frustrated him.

"Kassian and I were hanging out for New Year's Eve so it shouldn't be such a surprise that we returned late," Boyd said evenly, his tone completely neutral despite everything. "I wasn't aware of a rule stating that agents aren't allowed to spend time with other agents outside of work, but if there is one and I breached protocol because of it then I apologize."

"I didn't realize you thought it was appropriate to have a superior who was actively involved in your training at your house in the middle of the night. Considering the fact that decisions have yet to be made regarding promotion and Kassian's opinions and comments are being weighed into things, I would have thought the two of you would think twice before suddenly becoming such great friends," Carhart replied in the same irritated tone. "I'm as displeased with him as I am with you, so don't think you're being singled out."

Boyd paused; he hadn't thought of that. He understood better now why Carhart had warned against letting Vivienne know about their involvement in any of this.

"I didn't think of that," Boyd said honestly after a beat of silence. "I don't believe any of this would affect Senior Agent Trovosky's opinion, Sir, but I do apologize."

"I don't either but that isn't the point. If other people found out about this you would both look bad and I would look like an asshole for nominating someone who is rumored to be having a love affair with one Level 10 and is now having late night visits with the other. I don't believably think you're out there sleeping your way to the top nor do I believe Kassian would go along with such a thing but other people don't think like me, damn it, Boyd." Carhart seemed genuinely upset about the whole thing.

"I really didn't realize he was involved in the selection process at this point. I thought it was only you, Doug and my mother by now. I can see what you're saying." Boyd dropped his head into his free hand, his headache increasing. He almost couldn't think properly with how hard his head was pounding.

His previous irritation with Carhart was all but gone now that he realized what the issue really was. He knew it was only a matter of time until his mother found out and she'd be furious with him simply because of the implications.

Boyd sighed, rubbing at his eyes. "I'd completely understand if you can't answer this, but do you know how long it will be until the results are finalized?"

"Sooner than expected. Likely within the next week."

Boyd nodded even though Carhart couldn't see it. "I see. I will not visit with Senior Agent Trovosky again until after the results have been announced."

"I'm just advising you to be discreet as far as that goes, Boyd, but I'm telling you to keep your distance from Sin and that's the last time I'm going to say it," Carhart said sternly. "Despite how strong he may appear on the outside you should know as well as anyone how fragile he is on the inside so don't confuse the situation anymore than it needs to be."

"Understood, General," Boyd said calmly.

Without saying anything further, Carhart hung up. Boyd flipped his phone closed, resting it against his forehead for a few seconds before, with another sigh, he dialed Kassian's number to give him the news.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Thirty...