Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Two

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Two

Uploaded on 4/11/2009

song - Little White Lies by The Alter Boys

The first few hours of the eighteen-hour flight were spent in silence that seemed absolutely deafening on the Agency jet. Typically agents flew commercially for transpacific or transatlantic flights, but the unit was unable to get anything going out to Hong Kong on such short notice. Due to the nature of the mission, Sin and Boyd were given clearance to fly out on one of the private jets before the small window passed in which their target would allegedly be in the city.

They sat across from each other quietly, Boyd flipping through his outline and occasionally writing notes in the margins and Sin staring out the window at the blackened sky. The silence was uncomfortable, awkward, and despite the fact that Sin had looked forward to seeing Boyd for his entire stay in the psychiatric unit, he now had the desire to be very far away.

His eyes absently strayed over to Boyd and he couldn't feel any distant form of satisfaction that they were near each other, that they were on a mission together, that things were apparently 'okay' between them, or at least that Boyd didn't despise him anymore.

At first Sin had felt so relieved by the embrace they'd shared in his room at the psychiatric center that he'd mistaken it for happiness. But as the days had turned into weeks and Sin went over every word shared between them, every detail of the night of the attack, the relief had slowly faded away and the possibility of happiness had all but vanished completely.

Things had changed; Boyd had said that they could still be friends. Just friends. Nothing else.

And judging by the silence between them, the way Boyd barely looked up at him as he focused on the mission outline, it was clear that even an alleged friendship wouldn't be exactly as it had been before. Boyd wasn't being cold, he wasn't being malicious, but there was a distance between them that had never been there before.

Sin looked away again and tried to ignore the intense feeling of disappointment that weighed on his shoulders.

He wanted to go back to the city, back to his apartment; he wanted to go anywhere but here, anywhere but to the hotel in the Mong Kok district of Kowloon, Hong Kong, where he would have to share a double room with Boyd and be in such close proximity. Especially since they didn't know how long it would take them to track down and talk with Chen Jianjuo, a Dǐ Zhì affiliate from mainland China who did business in Kowloon with the Chinese mafia on Dǐ Zhì's behalf.

The mission was based on intel from Carhart's mysterious informant and Sin wished distantly that the intel was a lie, that Jianjun wouldn't be where it was claimed he was and that this would be discovered early on. That he and Boyd would be forced to return to the compound where Sin wouldn't have to look at his partner, his friend, his former lover, whatever they were now, and be constantly reminded of how badly things had been fucked up, how badly Sin had ruined it all.

It was one of the few times in his life that Sin honestly wish he'd blacked out the entire episode. He wished he'd stop replaying the scene in his mind, the entire night in his mind. He wished he could forget Ann's pale, frightened face, the gratitude mixed with overpowering guilt in her eyes, the mutual knowledge that this was the official end of any correspondence between them. The way he'd mechanically dismembered Philip's body and disposed of it.

He wished he could forget the out-of-control feeling of being in the world but not feeling like a part of it as the shadow in his brain had begun to push him out, out and away, urging him to forget this, not to remember it, not to see what he was doing. The way it didn't quite work as it usually did because as on edge as he'd been when he'd mindlessly and desperately gone to Boyd's house, he'd still been aware. Aware but a thread away from snapping completely; a thread that had unraveled as soon as Kassian had touched him.

Things would be easier if he didn't remember because now he was reminded of it every time he looked at Boyd's face. He was reminded of his hands around Boyd's throat, of Boyd's frightened eyes staring up at him as his face grew pale, lips blue; of Boyd's choked, desperate gasps and his slowly slipping fingers; of the way Boyd's feet had stopped kicking and those golden brown eyes had started to grow distant, glazed.

When Sin looked at Boyd, he was reminded of the horror he had felt as he had come back to himself; of the overwhelming guilt that had burned through him like fire as he'd fled the house and had begged Carhart to just end it all for him.

If he didn't remember, he wouldn't be reminded of the confusion that had raced through him for weeks afterward as he'd wondered just what in the hell Kassian had been doing there anyway...

Sin looked at Boyd again and tried to ignore the desire to touch him, the desire to kiss him and embrace him again, an almost embarrassing desire to beg him to change his mind about all this and just give Sin a second chance. But alongside those almost desperate needs were irritation and suspicion as he asked himself over and over if Boyd had already replaced him so easily-- and with Kassian, of all people.

Sin ran a hand through his hair and masked his feelings, put on the stoic face he'd worn for years before they'd met, and said nothing.

There was nothing to say anyway; he didn't have any ideas to contribute. This mission was more Boyd's than his; it was all talking and negotiation, an attempt to get Jianjun to set up an appointment with the higher ups in Dǐ Zhì, to convince him that the Agency wanted to work with Dǐ Zhì again now that their mutual enemy of Janus had grown so strong. It was all Boyd's department and all Sin had to do was act as back up.

Boyd looked up finally, honey brown eyes calm and unreadable. "What exactly was the connection Carhart mentioned you had with Xu Xiaolian? Is it something we'll be able to use?"

The sound of his voice in the silent cabin was almost startling but Sin just shrugged and continued to stare out the window, "I doubt it. I haven't seen her since she became leader of Dǐ Zhì."

"What was your interaction prior to that?" Boyd persisted. He sat with his back straight and his hands rested on the mission profile in front of him. His expression was mostly neutral but not unkind as he watched Sin. "Would it be better or worse to mention your name?"

"Don't know. She tried to befriend me as a child but the last time I saw her, she gave me this," Sin replied dully, indicating the thick scar that stretched across his throat. "It could go either way."

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly, gaze falling to study the scar on Sin's neck. His eyes narrowed slightly, thoughtfully, and Sin could still read Boyd's expression well enough to see a hint of surprise in his eyes. "Why, what happened?"

"Nothing interesting, it was over a decade ago. I was sent on a mission to collect data from a Dǐ Zhì base in Beijing and Xiaolian found me. She got pissed off, called me a traitor and a spy, and we tried to kill each other. It was a good fight."

Sin thought back to that day and remembered the way he and Xiaolian had taunted each other during the fight, how they'd toyed with each other, drawing out the fight, almost killing each other but never actually doing it. It was almost a fond memory even though she'd nearly cut his throat; she'd always seemed like the female version of him.

"Hmm." Boyd leaned back in his seat and seemed to consider that. He let his legs straighten in front of him and he rearranged the folder on his lap when it started to slip. "How did you meet her as a child?"

"Through my father. Even while in the Agency, he continued to work on the side with his old associates in black market dealing weapons and so on. The Agency encouraged it because he was able to hold ties with people the Agency couldn't get a foot in with." Sin shrugged. "In the past his old organization had weapons dealings with the Triad out of Hong Kong and he continued to hold ties with the Triad, who in turn had ties to Dǐ Zhì. Because of that, I met her when she and I were quite young."

Boyd nodded and briefly dropped his gaze to the mission notes, as if remembering something he'd read previously, before looking at Sin again. He seemed to calmly take in the information and although he looked partially intrigued, it was difficult to tell if it was simply for the mission. His tone remained calm and mostly professional when he spoke. "How well would you say you knew her?"

"She's very similar to myself. I understood her, to an extent. She tried to befriend me in her own way and while we weren't friends ever, there was a mutual acknowledgment of two children in the same situation. I believe she was fond of me because of it and that's why she was so angry to find me stealing intel from her father's base." Sin shook his head and looked at Boyd again. "I don't know how useful this is to you. I haven't seen her in many years. She might not even remember me but if she does, there is a chance that she will be intrigued to learn of my involvement."

"So you don't think she'll have held a grudge?"

"Maybe. I don't know. If she did, she'd be more likely to want to fight me again than ignore my existence completely."

"Hmm." Boyd fell silent a moment as he considered the information and then he simply nodded. "That's good to know. Thank you."

Sin said nothing and just shook his head. The desire to get away from the situation was getting stronger.

The same somewhat uncomfortable silence fell between them and at first it almost seemed like they would go the rest of the trip without either speaking again. But then the sound of paper shuffling against each other broke the moment when Boyd flipped his mission profile closed and set it on the seat next to him. His eyes were mostly calm as he studied Sin but there was something else there as well, something a little deeper and more indefinable.

There was only the slightest hint of hesitation before Boyd said, "Sin, I'm not... trying to pry into your life. But... How are you feeling lately?"

His tone was a little more approachable than before but there was still a faint sense of distance he was keeping, something that made his posture stiffer than usual, his eyes a bit harder to read. Despite that, he seemed truly interested in Sin's response, judging by the way his gaze didn't so much as flicker on his partner's face.

Sin didn't look at Boyd and he shrugged stiffly. Apparently asking how one was doing was considered prying in Boyd's definition of friendship. It was not an optimistic beginning to whatever they were supposed to be now. "Wonderful."

Boyd hesitated again, although this time it seemed as though he wasn't quite sure what to make of Sin's responses. "I mean Doctor Król. How did that go?"

Sin nearly had the automatic response of, 'Do you really care?,' but he stopped himself. What purpose would it serve to make the already awkward situation even worse? Boyd was distant now but if Sin began being outright rude, would Boyd even bother attempting conversation anymore or would he revert back to the coldness that he'd defaulted to in the past?

None of this was Boyd's fault, anyway; regardless of whether or not Sin liked the way things were going, it was his own behavior and actions that had brought them to this point.

"He's an interesting man," he replied finally.

"Do you feel the sessions helped?" Boyd asked after a moment, as if waiting for Sin to continue.

Sin frowned slightly and really thought about the question before answering. After awhile he just shrugged again. "I'm not sure yet. He's a good doctor as far as I can see and I get along with him generally well. The first thing he did was dispose of my old files. He wanted nothing to do with another doctor's work. But as far as whether or not I'm improving in other ways? I guess we'll see."

"That's good to hear," Boyd said with a nod, watching Sin without any indication of judgment. His eyebrows drew down slightly, contemplatively, before he asked, "Is there anything you need me to know? Something that may trigger an episode or an action I can take to help you if it happens?"

Boyd paused very briefly, looking at Sin with a forthright expression. "And I want you to know I'm not asking this expecting that something would happen, and I'm not bringing it up to assign blame or make anything more uncomfortable. But, honestly, I was completely taken off guard last time and wasn't much help to you or anyone. If anything, I think I just made it worse. But since my usual approach didn't work... I realize trying to understand dissociation is a long process but if you're aware of anything pertinent, then I'd like to know ahead of time what I should do to help if something occurs."

Sin looked away from Boyd once again, this time his expression completely shuttered and the inflection he'd briefly allowed into his tone disappeared. "I don't know what to tell you. I don't know why that happened the way it did. The only way to ensure I don't hurt you in that state is to stay away from me."

"I'm not concerned about you hurting me, I'm concerned about helping you and ensuring the mission goes smoothly," Boyd said honestly. "Assuming you were on medication at the time, I thought if you knew what had triggered that and if it was something that could potentially happen here, and if you'd happened to learn anything new from Doctor Król about what may help you, then it would be good to know. That's all. If there's nothing new to know then that's understandable."

Sin just shook his head, trying to keep his expression blank but unable to stop the way his fingers automatically tightened in a fist. He'd thought about explaining things to Boyd, of telling him about Ann and Philip and that bloody night... but he didn't. He didn't even think at this point that Boyd would have any interest now that it was over and done.

"What happened that night won't happen again," he replied tonelessly. "Your mission will be fine."

Without giving Boyd a chance to reply, Sin stood up and walked to the back of the cabin where he entered the lavatory. He leaned against the shut door and closed his eyes, willing the sudden suffocating pressure on his chest to release.

He wanted this to be over. He'd told himself that maybe things would be okay like this at first, maybe things wouldn't be so bad as long as they could still be friends, but even after realizing how wrong that was, how impossible it was for him to do that, he'd thought he could try anyway. But this wasn't what Sin had had in mind.

Even before Monterrey, their friendship had never been like this. This was something unfamiliar but not entirely so because it reminded him of how it'd been when they first met, before the friendship had existed at all. Except back then the distance hadn't meant anything because he hadn't known what it felt like to hold Boyd, to kiss him, to confide in him, to be with him in every possible way. Back then he hadn't known it was possible to do and feel those things; then, it hadn't feel like such a blatant rejection.

But now the distance hurt intensely.

The words had been simple but the way Boyd politely inquired about his health as if they were strangers, the fact that even then it was partially for the sake of the mission, it was even worse than Boyd not talking to him at all. At least the angry silence that Boyd had graced him with during training had shown that he still cared enough to be angry.

Now it just seemed like there wasn't a point to them speaking at all if there was going to be such a great space between them, a space that made it impossible for Sin to forget the fact that Boyd's feelings for him and Boyd's attitude toward him had entirely changed. It was so disheartening that Sin couldn't help wondering what the point of anything was. He felt misled by Boyd's words in the psych ward and he felt foolish for thinking things could return to any semblance of normality but even so, the disappointment was crushing.

Langham Place had undergone some changes from the last time Sin had seen it. As a child, he remembered the beginnings of talks about the project, an attempt to clean up Portland Street, the well known red-light district of Hong Kong. He remembered how a few years later, after he'd left that massage parlor and the dirty apartments above it, his father had ended up taking him right back to this same street numerous times to do whatever underhanded business he was involved in at the time. Right before Emilio's death was when they'd made their last trip here.

That had been after the grand opening of Langham Place, back when the war first started and people were thinking the mass array of bombings that had crossed the globe a few years prior had been an isolated incident. People were still hopeful, thinking the whole mess would be cleaned up soon, still thinking idealistically about the future, and so Langham Place had been completed and the structure gleamed above Portland Street in all its shining glory.

The luxury hotel hadn't done much to change the environment of the area or budge the sex trade but it'd seemed like a symbol of prosperity and good fortune regardless.

It was still gleaming now as Sin and Boyd entered the hotel, but it was obvious that things had changed dramatically. The hotel wasn't even entirely a hotel anymore; the owners had rented out numerous floors as offices to make ends meet after the clientele of the five star hotel had slowed down to a trickle. The attached mall was now filled with wholesale and bargain stores instead of the trendy shops that had once been there.

Sin wondered idly how much longer any of it would remain running. The idea of such a massive center falling into disrepair like mostly everything else in the area was kind of pathetic but it wouldn't be the first time it happened. He could just imagine all the little shops and stores with their neon signs announcing massages, saunas and one-woman brothels continuing on strongly while a deserted and dilapidated Langham Place loomed in the background like an unforgettable reminder of how nothing would ever change.

The employees spoke English and so Sin maintained his distance as Boyd got their room and key. The staff went out of their way to be overly helpful, as if their good work ethic would ensure that Sin and Boyd would return and bring enough friends to fill all the empty rooms. However, since Sin and Boyd had very little luggage, there was not much for the staff members to do.

The Agency had booked them a room with two King-sized beds and a kitchenette. Sin had no idea why they would have use for such a thing and he hoped that it wasn't a sign that this mission was likely to drag on for an extended period of time.

Boyd paused just inside the room once the door was shut behind them. He looked around with slightly raised eyebrows, seeming impressed despite himself. "Somehow I doubt we'll ever get such nice accommodations again," he observed mildly.

Sin dropped his backpack on the floor at the foot of one bed and walked to the window, looking down at Mong Kok. "I doubt this place will survive much longer anyway."

Boyd set his bag on the other bed and looked toward the window, although he didn't walk over. "Have you ever been here before?"

Sin squinted down at the street that was seven floors below them. "I was conceived and born about two blocks away from this hotel."

Boyd raised his eyebrows in surprise and, after a moment, walked over near Sin to look out the window. His reflection was contemplative and a little pensive as he stared below. "How long has it been since you've been back here?"

Sin looked down at Boyd, thrown off by the question. Whenever he thought he had Boyd figured out, when he thought he understood where they stood, something changed. "I haven't been to Kowloon for many years. The last time I was here I was with my father."

Boyd nodded, still staring at the streets spread out below them. He was quiet at first but then he looked up at Sin, his gaze mostly unreadable but not unkind. "Is it going to be hard for you? Being back here?"

"I don't know." It began to mist slightly outside, the neon lights of Portland Street blurring a little outside the window. "It should be. I thought it would be but I don't really feel anything."

Sin shrugged and stepped back from the window, moving to his bag which he sat on the bed. He was actually planning to visit the parlor his mother worked in but he didn't see the need to fill Boyd in on that piece of information yet. He'd probably think it would endanger the mission.

At first, Boyd continued to stare outside but then he turned, watching Sin from across the room. "Sin..." He hesitated, sliding his hands in his back pockets and looking to the side with a quiet sigh.

"Earlier, you made a comment about how my mission would be fine." He looked over at Sin again, his expression serious and a little uncomfortable. "And I just... don't want any misunderstandings. I do care about this mission but only insofar as it affects us. Even if this is primarily my mission, you're on it; so if something goes wrong..."

Boyd shook his head and slid his hands out of his pockets, crossing his arms at his stomach instead. "I know how precarious your position is. I don't want anything to happen that can negatively affect your status. I don't know what you're thinking, but... before anything can happen like it always seems to, I don't want you thinking I'm asking for the mission. I'm asking for you. We're here in your hometown and..." He trailed off briefly before finishing, "Just know that I'm not here to judge your life based on how it will affect the mission."

Sin stopped unloading his bag and looked at Boyd with a frown. "I don't know what to think about you or the things you say anymore. I don't know what to expect and I don't know where we stand. You said you wanted to still be my friend but then you've been acting like we're barely acquaintances, like I could be any random agent you're on a mission with."

Boyd studied Sin's expression then sighed again, quietly, and walked over to his bed. He sat on the edge, watching Sin with an expression that was forthright yet still seemed troubled. "Look... I really think we need to talk about everything. I know I made the decision to break it off but whatever we had, we were in it together, so we both need the chance to speak. I'm tired of miscommunication between us and I'm sure you are too. Are you fine with talking now? I don't want to suddenly decide we'll talk about this if you don't want to."

Sin's gaze shifted to his bag again but this time he didn't take anything else out. He didn't really know what else there was to say about everything that had happened but for the sake of understanding the situation and knowing exactly how all of this was going to play out, Sin nodded. "We can talk."

Boyd nodded. "Good."

He paused briefly, as if now that it was time to talk, he wasn't quite sure how to start. He shifted, pushing himself back on the bed a little further to get more comfortable. He crossed his legs and rested his arms at his sides, watching Sin seriously.

"I wasn't lying when I told you I wanted to be friends. But it's really important to me that we do this right. I want the foundation to be strong each step of the way-- otherwise, if something goes wrong, it can all fall apart and we'd have to start all over at the beginning again. We need something we can always fall back on. Before we can even think of being friends, we need to be sure we can function properly, professionally, as work partners."

Sin looked up and gave Boyd an almost incredulous look, eyes narrowing slightly. "So I'm supposed to just pretend other aspects of our relationship never existed and act like we're just partners? It doesn't work that way, sorry."

"I didn't say we had to forget anything," Boyd said, shaking his head. "I just mean that I want to make sure our emotions won't keep interfering with anything. My measure of success for that would be if, despite everything, we can at the very least function as normal work partners while on missions. It doesn't mean we have to be cold toward each other or pretend the last two years didn't exist."

Sin frowned and ran a hand through his hair, feeling agitated by the conversation even though it had barely started. "But you're not behaving towards me the way I've seen you behave with other people. You're friends with Ryan and he's also our partner and you don't talk to him in that tone of voice, you don't act removed and distant to him like you've been acting to me. You're treating me like some distant fucking acquaintance and if that's the way you want it to be then just say that but don't tell me that it isn't so."

"That's because it's not the same with Ryan-- We don't have the same history." Boyd sighed again and looked away with a troubled expression. "Sin, this is really hard for me, as I'm sure it is for you. I'm trying to do the right thing but I've never been in this position before. I'm not trying to piss you off but it's very... difficult for me to not go all one way or the other. So right now I'm erring on the side of caution."

Sin went back to unpacking his bag, removing the few weapons he'd brought. "Then you shouldn't have visited me when I was locked up. Or at least you shouldn't have behaved the way you did. It was misleading, extremely so."

At first, Boyd was silent, seeming contemplative and almost a little guilty as he watched Sin's movements. "I didn't want you to die without seeing you," he said softly. "I didn't..." He trailed off briefly and his eyebrows drew down slightly, gaze darkening. "When I found out you were demanding termination, I just wanted you to know my side, in case any part of your decision was based on me. When you hugged me... I didn't know if I'd ever see you again, I was so worried, I just-- I couldn't not respond..."

"I'm not talking about that," Sin said, raising his voice and briefly looking over at Boyd with narrowed eyes before turning his gaze back to his belongings. "I'm talking about the things you said. When you said them. That we should be friends, that we were okay 'like this,' while you had your arms wrapped around me. And yet I was supposed to be prepared for the way you've been acting on this mission?"

Boyd opened his mouth but didn't speak immediately; the guilt in his eyes flashed more strongly and he closed his mouth, fingers curling briefly and eyebrows drawing down. He was silent for a full breath before he said quietly, "You're right. I'm sorry." His gaze was heavy and pensive on Sin. "I didn't think of it that way."

Sin just shook his head silently and continued what he was doing, his movements stiffer and shoulders becoming more tense.

"Sin..." Boyd was quiet again for a moment before he sighed and ran a hand briefly over his eyes. "Look... I do want to be friends."

He dropped his hand and met Sin's eyes steadily, his tone forthright. "I do. I want to be able to do the things we used to before it all got so complicated. So when I said we were okay like this, I meant it was okay if we ended up as friends. It's just, I'm concerned about going into it too fast, reverting to the way it used to be in ways we shouldn't. I want it to be right every step of the way. I didn't communicate that well in that room, so I'm sorry. I didn't mean to mislead you but I didn't lie-- I do want that again. I just think we should be careful how we go about it in the beginning."

Sin was quiet for a moment, his gaze focused blankly on the bed as his hands stilled. He let the words soak into him, the confirmation that he really had misinterpreted Boyd's intentions in the psych ward and he closed his eyes for a moment, wishing it wasn't so, wishing Boyd wasn't so resolute and determined. "I just don't understand why it has to be that way. I don't understand why we have to start over from scratch when you know that there's no such thing as a clean slate with us."

"Because I don't trust us to make the right choice when the other is involved," Boyd said plainly, watching Sin almost sadly. "Because I really want something healthy and balanced for us and even if it seems impossible, I think it's important to try. And I think our past-- your decisions based on me, my reactions to you, the way we treat each other-- I think it shows we were never strong enough for each other."

"Believe me, I know that," Sin scoffed, not bothering to hide the self-loathing in his voice. He turned away from the bed and walked to the kitchen area of the large room, needing to do something other than stand and stare down at his gun. "I'm not strong enough for anything. That was made blatantly clear in the past several months."

His gaze focused on the mini refrigerator and he opened it to find an assortment of beverages, alcoholic and non; he pulled out a bottle of tequila.

"Yes, you are," Boyd said without a hint of doubt in his voice. "You're an incredibly strong person on your own. But when it comes to us, we both have too many fears and vulnerabilities. As far as that goes, between the two of us, I've probably been the weaker one when it comes to our relationship. So don't think I'm trying to blame you."

"The weaker one?" Sin asked doubtfully, taking a short glass off the wire rack and pouring some of the tequila in it. "You seem to have no trouble getting on with your life and I'm a fucking wreck. I thought I could deal with us being friends but the idea of things never being able to go back to the way they were before--"

Sin stopped talking and downed his drink in one gulp. "Whatever. Just forget it. It doesn't matter anymore."

"It hasn't been easy for me either; I've just been making a concentrated effort." Boyd's gaze was intense on Sin and he seemed to be thinking about something but then he just shook his head again, very slightly. "I think... the problem is we were both thinking of each other as everything in one-- partner, friend, lover-- and we didn't have anyone else, so when that person was gone, suddenly we were at a loss."

"I don't know what you or Carhart expect me to do or how to act. I don't have anyone else and I don't want anyone else." Sin poured another drink, not meeting Boyd's gaze. "You have your promotion and Ryan and Kassian apparently, and I've got a job I hate at an organization that hates me, and alcohol."

"My promotion is bullshit and I only have other people because I've been putting myself out there to them," Boyd said frankly. "I realize you're in a lot more of a difficult position than I am, but it would help you to have some other friends. Ryan would be your friend. I'm sure others would too. It would be good for you to have someone else to lean on in case something happens to me."

Sin gave Boyd a scathing look. "Yeah, I'll jump right on that train."

Boyd sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to make light of your situation or how hard that would be. But I just... I'm trying to help. I don't know what you want me to say. I honestly think that would be good for you." He looked a bit at a loss himself.

"Otherwise... This is just... it's really hard," Boyd continued, tone honest. "If I'm all you have, that's not good for you. It's stressful for you and makes things worse when you're trying to become stable, because I'm not always a stable person myself. And how do you think it makes me feel to never know if something small or large I do will so negatively affect you? I can't keep being the only person you have, not when your position is so precarious, not with the new regime coming. I'm worried... and I don't ever want to be a factor in your death."

"Well it's not going to happen," Sin replied gloomily, swallowing the drink. He knew that the entire situation was his fault but the idea of Boyd wanting him to go out and try to befriend people who despised him just to get him off Boyd's back was disheartening. Was he just a burden now?

"I'm aware of the fact that my issues put pressure on you and I wish it wasn't that way. Maybe it's better for you that you don't be around me at all because of that, maybe you're right and Carhart's right, but it isn't going to make me move on past this any easier and I'm not going to go out and try to find people to be friends with. I thought you understood me and my situation better than that by now."

"That's why I thought it would be easier on both of us to be professional. And you're ignoring the fact that there are some people who are on your side, even if it's not many. Those are who I'm talking about." Boyd tilted his head toward the bed, eyes sliding closed as he rubbed at his temples, as if he was getting a headache. "Look... I've thought about this a lot. But one of the reasons..."

He looked up at Sin again. "For months, you were dealing with incredibly serious issues that could literally be life or death for you, me, anyone around you... Every moment I spent next to you not realizing what was happening, I failed you by not noticing and you failed me by not telling me. The fact that despite everything you didn't trust me with something even that serious, that if anything you specifically hid it from me--"

Sin winced and his fingers tightened around the glass guiltily.

Boyd shook his head again. "I know it wasn't with malicious intent but that doesn't affect our relationship any less. How can we immediately return to the same level of trust as partners, let alone as friends? How do I know you aren't lying to me or hiding something because you've decided ahead of time I can't be trusted with it? And how can you trust me as a partner, let alone a friend, if even in the situation you found yourself you didn't believe you could just talk to me?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry for the way things happened. I don't know what else to say about it." Sin shook his head, wishing he really did have more words, wishing he could say something to make the situation better or more understandable but all he could say was, "I was just afraid of losing you."

"I know you were-- that's the point." Boyd's hands curled, a shift of sadness and resolution crossing his eyes and turning hard lines on his shoulders. "I've been afraid of losing you too, before. That's why I was an idiot with Jessica-- why I didn't talk to you when I should have, because I didn't want to lose what we had. And when things fall apart around us, either you give up and make self-destructive decisions or I react emotionally and do something stupid that could hurt or kill others, especially you. I know now that we just can't be any other way, not unless something significant changes within us individually and together. And I know that I'm not strong enough to stop once I start with you... that if we were together again right now, nothing would have changed; it would only get worse."

It was almost an echo of what Carhart had said to Sin weeks ago and it only served to emphasize that it was probably true. Sin couldn't deny it, he couldn't deny that Boyd brought out the best in him but also had the ability to bring out the worst.

He knew that he depended on Boyd too much; he knew how terrible it was that a cool glance and a distant tone could make him feel like he was falling apart but Sin didn't know how to get past the desire to be with Boyd anyway. He didn't know how to give up, how to move on; he didn't know if he could and Sin wished, not for the first time, that he'd had the foresight of this all in the very beginning; if he had, he never would have allowed himself to get so close to Boyd or anyone at all.

After all they'd been through, after everything that had happened to get to the point of them being together, none of it apparently mattered anymore. They were right back at square one because of his own stupidity and now he was left with nothing. He felt like a poor, homeless kid who'd been briefly taken off the street and given a home, to feel content and secure and connected for the first time in his life-- only to be abruptly thrown back to the streets, told to find that safety and comfort somewhere else.

It would have been easier to have never experienced it in the first place; if so, it wouldn't feel like such a loss to not have it anymore.

"I understand," Sin replied finally.

Boyd sighed again and looked distractedly at his bag, as if he was considering unpacking, but instead he leaned forward, arms resting on his knees as he watched Sin. "For what it's worth, I'm not blaming you that this all happened. I think we both really needed each other in our own way and I think there were some great times. But even if all that hadn't happened with Ann, something else would've occurred eventually with the same result. It was probably inevitable, just as our getting together may have been inevitable as well. And I know you're going to think I'm wrong or only thinking of myself when I say this, but I think it will be better for us as individuals in the end, too, if we don't get dragged down by this and instead use it to grow stronger."

"I'm curious as to how you're doing that," Sin commented evenly, finally looking up at Boyd. "By reaching out to other people? To Kassian?"

Boyd's gaze stilled on Sin and he grew quiet a moment. "Over time, I've become friends with a few people. Kassian happens to be one of them, yes."

"I see." Sin stared at Boyd and thought about that night, about Kassian walking into the house and being obviously familiar with it, being so sure that he belonged there and that Sin didn't. It caused something in Sin to twist and he couldn't help asking abruptly, "Are you fucking him?"

Boyd seemed a little taken off guard by the question. He paused, his solemn gaze shifting across Sin's face to settle on his eyes. When he spoke, his tone was truthful. "We're friends and we have no feelings for each other. I promise you it's pure coincidence that I became friends with someone with such a history with you. But I don't want to lie to you, Sin. Yes, I've had sex with him."

For a moment Sin had to repeat the words in his head for it to really get through. He'd wondered about it since that night, he'd wondered why Kassian was acting so familiar, why he was there so late, why they were together. But even then Sin had never really thought that Boyd would say that it was true.

Sin stared down at the glass and realized that he'd crushed it in his hand. Little pieces of glass stuck to his skin but he didn't even feel pain from it; he was too focused on the fact that Boyd's admission had all but knocked the wind out of him.

Of all people, why Kassian? Why?

Sin looked at Boyd again and for the first time since everything had happened the desire, the longing-- all of it was gone. It was like looking at someone and seeing them for the first time and not really understanding anything about them at all. And he didn't.

Sin kept hearing Boyd's angry words, the accusations, everything that had been said in the argument and he couldn't understand why. Boyd had said that if Sin really loved him, he wouldn't have wanted to have sex with anyone else but now Boyd was fucking Kassian. So did that mean his feelings for Sin had vanished? Gone up in smoke with the relationship that was so unhealthy and bad?

And as much as the idea of that hurt, even though it made Sin's throat tighten uncomfortably, he couldn't help the anger that started to radiate through him as well. Of all people, why did it have to be the person Sin hated more than anyone? The person who made him feel low and stupid and insignificant? If Boyd didn't even have feelings for Kassian, why would he pick him of all people?

Sin didn't reply. He walked to the bed, movements stiff and jerky, not looking at Boyd or the hand that was trickling blood, and began shoving his stuff back into the bag.

"Sin..." Boyd watched him, his eyebrows drawing down, his mouth twitching very faintly into a frown. He watched Sin closely and as his gaze flicked past the blood, past Sin's expression, a hint of disquiet entered his eyes. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know," Sin replied as he shoved his gun into the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. His hands were trembling slightly and he had to make a concentrated effort to not let the anger and resentment into his voice. "Leaving, it seems."

"Where?" Boyd asked, automatically glancing out the window.

"I don't know," Sin repeated, shrugging his bag on one shoulder and striding quickly to the door. "Call me when you're ready for the mission."

"Sin," Boyd said again, starting to shift into a stand. "This was never meant to hurt--"

The door shut before Boyd could finish the sentence.

Sin stared down at the damp ground as he strode away from the hotel. He watched how the neon lights reflected on the wet, slick sidewalks and he didn't look up or meet anyone's eyes as he automatically wound his way through the streets.

He moved past the shops and markets, the brothels with the yellow signs in front of the doors advertising the available girls and prices, his feet moving without him telling them where to go. Even though Sin absently knew where they were taking him, he didn't stop it; he just needed to get away. The idea of spending an unknown amount of nights, of days, in that room with Boyd was too much to bear.

A confusing mixture of emotions clotted his throat and Sin exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself but his hands kept shaking, his heart kept pounding, and he really wanted to hit someone. He wanted to inflict violence on someone, to see them bleed, to see them writhe in pain and just fucking die. His mind automatically supplied images of Kassian as Sin turned down Shantung Street and it only caused the anger to intensify.

He stopped walking abruptly and looked around, automatically recognizing the stores, the shape of the signs, the neon yellow boxes in the windows above the stores that indicated a whorehouse.

Sin looked away from the lit-up stores and his gaze fell on a dilapidated building with fading signs; a building that appeared to have been abandoned for awhile.

The sign in Chinese characters announced a massage parlor and was unlit and filthy but it still crossed the front of the store. The yellow sign indicating available girls still hung outside the door even though it was barely readable. The fact that the building hadn't been resold yet was a sign of the struggling economy or an indication that it'd been abandoned fairly recently.

The kitchen supplies store that had been there since his childhood was next door to the brothel, still open and lit up, and he walked inside before he even knew why.

There was a young girl sweeping the small sales floor and an older lady sitting behind a counter. The woman's gaze fell on Sin as he entered and she raised her eyebrows at him, likely thinking he was a tourist and not a native of the neighborhood.

"The parlor next door," he said in rough Cantonese, hoping he could speak it well enough to make sense. His mother had come from mainland China and had always spoken to him strictly in Mandarin despite the fact that the dialect wasn't largely spoken in Hong Kong. "When did it close?"

"Why do you ask, boss?" the lady asked, not looking very impressed with his language skills. "There's plenty of places around here for you."

Sin looked at the girl who had stopped sweeping and was now watching him curiously. They likely thought he was some tourist looking to get laid, who was too stupid to realize there were dozens of other brothels in the area. "I knew a girl who worked there a long time ago. Her name was Liu Lien."

"Ahhh." The lady shrugged her bony shoulders but gave him a long look. "It closed last year sometime. Cai Zhen died and nobody bought it since. Business is bad lately, you know."

Sin stared at the lady. "Wong Cai Zhen?"

The old woman sat back in her seat and stared at Sin hard. "Yes, that's her."

Sin turned and walked out without further comment. The name Wong evoked something in him, something unpleasant and uncomfortable that mixed with the swirl of feelings that was already threatening to choke him, but even then, he didn't have the same reaction he would have expected.

He looked around briefly before approaching the door at the side of the parlor's main entrance. The massage parlor had been nothing but a front for what the business had really been. Although prostitution had always been legal in Hong Kong, it was illegal for so many women to actually live together in a whorehouse for fear of ties to organized crime and Triad activity. Because of this, there was typically a rotation of different girls at the other brothels in the area.

The girls went to the brothels to work but they didn't live there and the girls who did conduct business from their homes likely put out ads for their services. Ms. Wong had gotten around it, though, by 'renting' the rooms above the parlor to the girls who worked there. It was a brilliant move on her part and had allowed her a steady number of girls who were always available, which opened the door for repeat customers and regular clientele, while still offering legitimate massages to the tourists who didn't actually want extra perks.

It didn't take much effort for Sin to pick the lock and before Sin really even knew what he was doing, he was entering the building and mindlessly taking the steps two at a time as he ascended the grimy staircase that led to the apartments.

The main room looked the same as it had many years ago, even in the dark. It had the same sagging furniture and sad-looking fake plants. The set up had changed somewhat but Sin still remembered sitting in the corner by the window, going over the English his mother insisted he learn as he read the books that had been stacked haphazardly on a side table; reading material for the clients who were willing to wait.

Sin walked slowly down the hallway, dragging his fingers along the wall, and looked into the open doors of what were supposed to be individually rented out rooms. They were empty, deserted and stripped of everything; most likely by the girls who had inhabited them.

He stopped at the room at the end of the hall and walked in without hesitation. It was empty now and he couldn't help wondering if the girl who'd lived in it recently had been told the story of Liu Lien, the young woman from mainland China who'd been sent to Hong Kong by her parents to make money for the family; the girl who'd gone absolutely insane before her short life had ended, often taking out her psychotic frustrations on her young son.

He wondered if Ms. Wong had ever recounted the scene of Lien's death; her pale underweight body looking almost peaceful on the bed as her eight-year-old son sat by her side calmly, not looking at all disturbed or concerned with the decidedly blue tint of his mother's mouth.

Sin stared at the spot where her bed would have been and he expected himself to begin having flashbacks; he expected himself to start shuddering, flinching away from the scene, recalling the way Ms. Wong had dragged him away in horror and locked him once again in the cellar beneath the parlor for lack of anything better to do with him.

But Sin felt nothing.

He felt detached from the scene, unaffected by it, relatively unmoved.

It was surprising, almost startling, and Sin didn't really know what he'd expected to gain from coming here. Maybe to test himself? To see if the medication was working? If his anxiety was under control or if he'd freak out so much he'd send himself into an episode...

But even now that it wasn't happening, he didn't know if it was a sign of his doctor's good work or if it was a sign that he was too preoccupied with Boyd and Kassian to care.

Suddenly, the anger returned with a vengeance, flooding through him viciously and without control, and Sin's fist went flying into the wall before he could stop himself.

"Fuck you!" He didn't even realize the words were out of his mouth as he began shouting over and over, "Fuck you! Fuck you both!"

His hand slammed into the wall repeatedly until his knuckles bled and the wall looked like someone had tried to demolish it. Even then he didn't stop. His breath came hard and his thoughts raced; even though he knew this was stupid and childish, he also knew that if he didn't take out his aggression here, alone and on an inanimate object, someone else would suffer later.

Thoughts ran through his head wildly, angry accusations and questions, and Sin was barely keeping himself from crying the entire time.

Was this some kind of punishment? Would Boyd do that? It didn't seem like something he would do but then why?

Why go to someone who Boyd knew had such a bad history with Sin? Why turn to him as soon as they'd broken up? Was Kassian such a big improvement? Was he so much better? Was he easier to talk to, more adept at understanding, better looking, better in bed? Maybe Kassian didn't have as much emotional baggage, maybe Boyd appreciated someone normal; someone so unlike Sin.

"I fucking hate you," Sin whispered harshly, eyes squeezing shut as he finally stopped swinging and took a few steps back, sliding down the opposite wall.

Was he so much of a failure that Boyd couldn't help going to the person who was everything Sin wasn't? Did he think so badly of their relationship that he went to the person who was the antithesis of everything Sin?

Did he not fucking care how this would make Sin feel or did he not give a shit anymore? Had he banished every fond feeling so thoroughly that it hadn't even occurred to him that fucking Kassian would make Sin feel like someone had just stabbed him through the heart? That he'd feel like Boyd was confirming what everyone else always said; that Kassian was everything Sin was supposed to be yet wasn't, because he was just a fuck-up, a failure.

Sin took deep breaths, trying to calm himself, trying to get control, trying to replay Ann and Król's tips and advice on how to manage his temper.

Minutes went by and although Sin felt the anger begin to dissipate, the sadness and disappointment didn't; he could feel the tears wanting to fall from his eyes but he wouldn't let them. He wouldn't feel sorry for himself and he wouldn't take it all out on Boyd. There was no point to it and it would do nothing but alienate them further. He didn't have answers to his questions and he likely never would.

It didn't even matter anymore. They were finished.

Sin wiped an arm across his face and sat up, finally feeling the pain in his throbbing hands. None of this would have happened if he hadn't fucked everything up so royally. It was nobody's fault but his own.


Sin jumped, thoroughly startled, and had his gun out before he even saw who was speaking to him.

It was the young girl from the kitchen supply shop; she stood in the doorway of the room and looked down at him oddly, not appearing at all concerned about the gun. Up close she looked to be twelve or thirteen and she took a few steps into the room, utterly fearless.

"Are you okay?" She'd switched to Mandarin as if remembering that Sin's Cantonese had left much to be desired. Her Mandarin didn't sound fluent but that was unsurprising; the Chinese government had made attempts to standardize Mandarin as the official language of Hong Kong for years, so although she was likely taught Mandarin in school, her family probably had brought her up to speak Cantonese.

"Are you stupid?" he demanded harshly, also speaking Mandarin and extremely annoyed that a twelve-year-old had managed to get the drop on him. "I could be a rapist or a killer and you follow me up into an abandoned building?" The words rolled off his tongue easily, fluidly, and he was relieved to be able to yell at her in a language he was confident about.

The girl shrugged, unconcerned, but didn't come any closer. She toyed with the corner of her pink sweater and tilted her head to the side, straight black hair covering some of her face. "I saw you break in. I could have called the cops, you know."

Sin scoffed and put the gun away, standing up and wiping the blood from his knuckles on his dark jacket. "That would have been smart but you're obviously brain dead or just plain dumb."

"I guess it's smarter to yell at the walls and beat them up." The girl cocked an eyebrow at him and put her fists on her thin hips. "Don't be a dickhead, Mister. I was just seeing if you were hurt."

Sin shook his head and walked across the room, planting a hand on her shoulder and guiding her out of the room. Despite his annoyance, he felt an odd desire to remove her from the area; as if the history of the room would taint her.

"Well thanks, kid, but you can't help me. I don't even see why you'd want to."

"What's your name? I'm Sunny," the girl went on, undeterred. He found it interesting that she gave her Western name instead of her given name but didn't care to question it. "Are you American?"

Sin scowled down at her, pushing her down the hall and into the main living room area. He stopped walking and took another deep breath. "Go away."

Sunny gave him a funny look and turned away, examining the room. "Are you going to sleep here?"

He hadn't really given that much thought but the idea actually seemed like a good one since he had nowhere better to go and wasn't about to sleep in the same room as Boyd for who knew how many days. "Mind your business."

The girl sighed loudly and threw herself onto one of the sagging couches. "It's not very nice, Mister. I could ask my grandmother if you can stay in our guest room. She kept wondering about you after you left the store."

That got his attention; Sin looked up. "What did she say?"

Sunny smiled and leaned forward as if she was his conspirator. "She's owned that same store for thirty years, you know. She said Ms. Wong told her a story before about a girl named Lien who died here. My grandma remembered the girl a bit and she said Lien had a little son who looked like a gweilo."

"Really." If the lady actually remembered seeing him around it was likely that she'd put two and two together; not many locals had green eyes and olive skin.

"Uh huh." Sunny grinned at him, showing her crooked teeth unabashedly. "Can I see your gun again?"

Sin's glare returned full force. "Get out of here, little girl. I'm not in the mood for this shit. I don't care if your grandmother thinks she knows me, I doubt she'd be happy that you followed me up here."

Sunny scowled and rolled her eyes, obviously not able to argue with that logic, and pushed herself off the sofa, walking sulkily towards the door. "You're not very friendly, Mister."

He stared at her flatly until she gave a long suffering sigh and disappeared out the door. Sin continued to stand in the middle of the main room until he heard her light footsteps running down the long narrow staircase that led out to the street.

He didn't know if the old woman really knew him, he didn't even know if he cared about the possibility; he had no intentions of staying with strangers. The darkened shell of his former home would be good enough; Sin felt no desire to leave the shadows of his past and for once in his life, he didn't feel the need to run from them.

"Who was the informant you mentioned last time?"

The dim lights of the night club cast shadows across their faces, leaving half their expressions unreadable. Loud techno music blasted around them, the pulsating bass thrumming in the air so powerfully that the glasses on the table vibrated slightly.

Boyd studied Jianjuo from across the short table, his eyes taking in everything about the Chinese man. He examined the fall of Jianjuo's jet black hair over half his face and the scar that peeked out from under the straight strands, the way his black leather jacket shone beneath the swinging lights of the club like liquid onyx; the way his heavily ringed fingers toyed nonchalantly with a lighter.

Sin stood to the side, keeping an alert eye on the crowd, although he frequently studied Jianjuo's bodyguards and their movements. There were six of them in total, all of them heavily tattooed and wearing dark colors. Although none of them had a physical presence that would immediately demand submission, Sin could tell by the way they stood and the way they stared at him that they were extremely dangerous.

Sin made frequent eye contact with the tallest of them, a man Jianjuo simply referred to as 'Ton' although Sin didn't necessarily think it was the man's real name. Ton wore sunglasses even in the darkness of the club but Sin had no doubts that the other man was staring directly at him and Ton's body language made it quite clear that he wanted to challenge Sin for one reason or another.

Boyd leaned back in the booth with a bemused smile, his fingers loosely intertwined and resting on the table. "You can't seriously expect me to betray the confidentiality of an informant before we've even reached an agreement."

Jianjuo shrugged, flicking the lighter on and off as he flipped it between his slim fingers. "If you cannot provide proof..."

"Oh, I can provide proof," Boyd said idly. His back was straight but he gave the impression of casualness, of being comfortable with sitting there for hours if need be. He seemed entirely unperturbed by Jianjuo's bodyguards and the obvious danger they could be, and his golden brown eyes remained trained casually on Jianjuo. "But I hardly doubt your group wants to work with an organization that so easily gives out such valuable information as a name."

Because they'd only met in public so far, Boyd hadn't once called Dǐ Zhì or the Agency by name and Jianjuo seemed to notice and appreciate this, judging by the way he made no move to leave.

"Then what do you have?"

"Tianjin, Shenyang, Mianyang," Boyd said smoothly, listing the Chinese cities that the informant had said contained some of the original Dǐ Zhì bases.

Jianjuo's expression did not change but his eyes did narrow slightly and he seemed to zero in on Boyd intently. The look was dangerous and intense; Jianjuo's dark eyes focused entirely on Boyd, scrutinizing every minute shift of his expression, and although Jianjuo made no overt moves the tension rose dramatically.

Ton seemed to pick up on his boss's mood change because he glanced down discreetly, moving closer but not making any other motions.

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly but he didn't move. Any abrupt motion could signal a gun fight in the middle of the club; then the mission would fail and Dǐ Zhì would likely never work with them if blood was shed over nothing. They weren't even certain whether Dǐ Zhì would work with the Agency in the first place. It was entirely possible that Jianjuo had only come to the club to draw Sin and Boyd into a trap, that Dǐ Zhì planned to kidnap them and torture information out of them regarding their informant and whatever else they wanted to know.

But the moment passed and Ton relaxed after a short time, his face turning back toward Sin again. He seemed to somehow know exactly what his boss wanted without words having to be exchanged between them.

"Information current as of...?" Jianjuo said at length, trailing off in a leading manner.

"You know as well as I do that's a trick question," Boyd said calmly with the slightest quirk of an eyebrow. Either he hadn't noticed the tension or he wasn't letting it affect his demeanor; his honey brown eyes had remained steady on Jianjuo the entire time and his fingers hadn't so much as twitched as they rested on the table. "Foundation cities don't have dates and anything beyond that would be a subtle inquiry into our informant's identity."

There was another long moment in which Jianjuo scrutinized Boyd before Jianjuo leaned back very slightly in the booth. "And the other?"

Boyd didn't break eye contact as he slipped one hand into his pocket then slid his hand across the table, palm down, seeming as though there was nothing inside. Jianjuo reached forward and palmed the small disc that Boyd was offering before sliding it into his own pocket without looking at it. The disc contained information that proved they were from the Agency and had some additional information that Dǐ Zhì should be interested in.

"Encrypted?" Jianjuo asked casually, one eyebrow raising slightly.

"The validity depends on it," Boyd said smoothly.

"The key?"

Boyd just watched Jianjuo evenly without answering and there was another long, charged silence before Jianjuo nodded curtly, seemingly satisfied for the moment, and stood. "Perhaps I will call you."

Boyd nodded and before he could say anything further, Jianjuo was walking through the crowd with his bodyguards in tow. Ton paused very briefly, appearing hesitant to take his vigilant gaze off whatever threat he assumed Sin held, but ultimately he retreated too.

Boyd waited an extra few seconds after he lost sight of Jianjuo before he let out a low breath and relaxed against the back of his seat, the tension that had been in his shoulders releasing. He looked at Sin sidelong then stood and walked over by him.

"Ready?" he asked with a tilt of his head toward the door.

Sin nodded and followed Boyd to the exit. The loud music and throngs of dancing bodies reminded Sin briefly of Lunar and he couldn't help letting his gaze stray over to Boyd's retreating back, recalling the bittersweet memory of the sexual tension that had sparked between them so prominently at the start of their relationship.

He wondered if Boyd and Kassian shared that same charged sexual chemistry.

The thought stung him and Sin averted his gaze, returning to his vigilant search of their surroundings even as they walked out onto the street.

Boyd was silent at first, looking contemplative, but as they started to take a winding route to avoid any potential tails, he looked over at Sin. "How do you think that went?"

Sin shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and shrugged. "I'm not here to think. That's your job, Senior Agent Beaulieu," he replied tonelessly.

"Ha." The word came out as a short, humorless sound. Boyd's eyes narrowed and tension built in his shoulders. "Not really. My job is to be used like everyone else is." He didn't sound pleased; if anything, something about him even seemed almost agitated.

Sin couldn't help returning his gaze to Boyd. "Meaning?"

"Meaning I should have listened to you about Thierry and Level 10 training," Boyd said, gaze steady on Sin even as some bitterness made its way faintly into his voice.

Sin stared at Boyd blankly. "What are you talking about?"

Boyd sighed. "I found out that Thierry would have given me the information regardless of if I'd slept with him."

"What does that have to do with you being Level 10?" Sin returned his gaze to the darkened streets, scrutinizing every sound, every shadow.

"Because I did that, they made me a valentine op," Boyd explained dully. "Which my mother once basically told me I had to be proficient at if the time comes. In training, I completely fucked up a mission. Our first group mission, Level 10. The guy almost got away..."

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly on a young white man who was lingering across the street from them but after a brief moment, the man turned away with a frown, appearing to be lost.

Boyd's gaze passed over their surroundings, although he seemed less intent about it than Sin was. "Practically overnight, Doug went from not really giving a shit about me to suddenly loathing my existence. When I tried to ask him about it he was very angry; said I was lucky he hadn't recommended me for termination, that he didn't care who my mother was..."

Sin's eyebrows rose slightly and despite the bitter resentfulness that had been raging inside him for the past few days, he couldn't help wondering exactly what Boyd was getting at with this line of conversation. "Are you trying to say he didn't actually want to promote you?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Boyd said darkly, looking over at Sin with agitation tainting his expression. "He tried to kick me out and she told him no. He hated me and mocked me for the rest of training and I didn't know why until it came time to know who was promoted. And why."

"That doesn't seem like something your mother would do," Sin said doubtfully.

"I didn't think so either but it's true." Boyd returned his narrow-eyed stare to search the dark streets ahead of them. "She basically told me the fact that I'm a valentine op made me that much more useful, I'm sure especially because I'm gay. Whatever her reasons, she pushed it, probably to get her way before the new administration arrives and takes away half her control."

"Ah." They turned down a deserted, darkened road. The shops were closed and shuttered and the faint flickering neon billboards didn't cast much light on the road.

"Well, I'm sorry it didn't turn out the way you wanted," Sin added after a long moment.

"Well, I'm sorry I'm a fucking idiot," Boyd grumbled, although some of the tension faded from his shoulders and he seemed to appreciate the gesture on some level.

This time Sin didn't comment and they walked for several blocks in silence. Boyd seemed to be contemplating something seriously judging by the way his expression turned inward.

"What caused your last episode?" Boyd asked, the question seeming abrupt after the quiet. His tone was calm and he watched Sin. "You said what happened that night wouldn't happen again. How do you know?"

Sin's long-legged stride slowed and he stopped walking entirely as he stared at Boyd wearily. "Why are you asking me this now?"

Boyd stopped as well, turning to face Sin and saying simply, "Because I've been wondering about it for awhile and as your partner I feel I have the right to know. Now that we're away from any potential taps, it seemed as good a time as any."

Sin dragged his gaze from Boyd's face and stared off down the street. He stood stiffly, uncomfortably, wanting Boyd to forget about this and move on. But he knew that wasn't going to happen and really, Boyd had a point. As far as Boyd knew, Sin had flipped out for no apparent reason; as far as Boyd knew, Sin was worse than ever and could go off at any given moment.

"Kassian touched me," Sin replied flatly, leaving eighty percent of the story out, although technically it wasn't a lie. "He shouldn't have."

Boyd stared at Sin, unconvinced. "I've only ever seen you in that state once before and I know why. If you don't want to talk about what happened this time-- alright, fair point. But that doesn't answer my question. Kassian touched you so you reacted. I can understand that. But if it were just a question of touching you when you're in that state... How do you know that entire situation won't happen again? Was whatever initiated your first state of mind that unique?"

"Yes." Sin refused to meet Boyd's steady stare, although his mouth turned down slightly at the sides. "I did something that won't need to be done again."

For a moment, Boyd just watched Sin quietly, something almost knowing in his gaze. "Did you kill someone like you did Jared?"

Sin finally looked at Boyd as his hands tightened into fists in his pockets, tension building in his shoulders as he thought about that night. "He was dying already. I just... got rid of him."

Boyd studied Sin solemnly. "Why?"

"Because I was..." Sin hesitated and shook his head, scowling, wanting this conversation to be over. As much as he hated to discuss this, hated to rehash that night, hated to confide in Boyd about something so horrible when their relationship was so precarious-- it was better to be done with it.

"I was helping Ann," he said finally. "Philip attacked her, she pushed him down the stairs but he didn't die. She likely would have been terminated, so I got rid of him for her. She didn't know who else to turn to and despite all that happened, she helped me in some ways so I felt that I owed her that much."

Boyd searched Sin's eyes, his face, and there was something pained in his honey brown eyes. "Sin, you..." He fell quiet for a breath before he asked more somberly, "When you came to my house... was it for help?"


Sin almost said it out loud, but stopped himself.

"It doesn't matter anymore." Sin said quietly. "It's done."

But Boyd seemed to understand the answer without hearing it. He slid his eyes closed and brought his hand to his face for a moment. "Hsin, I'm so..."

His mouth tightened and he dropped his hand, meeting Sin's eyes with a completely sincere expression tinged with weariness and sadness. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that happened and I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me. I didn't understand the situation at first so I didn't react as quickly as I should have."

Sin's eyes dropped and his chest clenched as the feelings he'd tried to repress once again consumed him. All the questions and bitterness that had overtaken his previous longing for Boyd were momentarily forgotten and a small spark of hope fanned like a flame that was trying hard to burn hotter.

At the back of his mind he thought that if things stayed this way, if this moment could be frozen when Boyd was once again open and sincere and looking at Sin without anything hidden away, it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe things would be okay...

"Don't apologize," Sin said, his voice low. "It's not your fault. It's not your responsibility. I'm not your responsibility and I'm sorry that because of all of my bullshit, it's turned out that you feel obligated to look out for me."

Boyd watched Sin seriously and the sadness only seemed to increase as he studied Sin's eyes, his face, his body language. But then he just shook his head with a slightly troubled look and briefly watched the shadows and asked quietly, "Am I not safe to you anymore because I didn't turn Kassian away?"

And just like that, the spark of hope sizzled and burned out. The memory of Kassian standing in front of him, so sure of himself, so confident that Boyd would choose him, flashed through Sin's mind and his face shuttered as he resumed walking stiffly. "I don't know."


Once again Boyd's voice held a mixture of determination and discomfort and he immediately caught up to Sin's side. "I don't want you to read more significance into the fact I've gotten close to Kassian than actually exists. I know you must be thinking there's more because it's Kassian but I meant it when I said it wasn't about you. I'm not friends with him to hurt you, to compare you, because he's your rival, because he's better... Nothing like that."

"Okay." Sin walked faster, once again wanting the distance that Boyd had initiated from the beginning, not wanting to be anywhere near the conversation.

Yet Boyd was undeterred; the stubbornness he typically held for missions was now aimed toward finishing the conversation. "Sin, I'm serious. I know it may seem suspect, but our friendship grew over time. We kept running into each other because of training and when I was fucked up after R2I, I felt like I didn't have anyone else to go to. He was there to help me get through that and we just... we ended up becoming friends."

Sin stopped and turned to Boyd again. "That's bullshit, Boyd. I know I'm fucked up, I know I've made big mistakes, but I've done a lot for you. I've killed for you, I've saved your life more than once, I'd fucking die for you and for you to sit here and tell me Kassian is the only one you could go to is complete fucking shit," Sin exploded, his voice rising as all of the anger and resentment burst out of him at once.

Boyd opened his mouth but Sin continued before he could get out a word.

"None of it matters anymore though, right? Because of what happened, suddenly nothing else good that I've ever done counts, suddenly I'm the last person you would go to if you have problems. So instead you go to the person who I hate more than anyone in the world, who makes me feel like a fuck-up on a regular basis. But that's okay because technically we're broken up yet you still want to be friends? I guess if I wasn't such a stupid fuck-up I'd follow your sense of logic but I don't, so good thing you have Kassian to turn to."

"Damn it, Sin," Boyd burst out in frustration. "This isn't only about you! I needed someone to talk to and Kassian reached out to me during training-- it had nothing to do with you. And I never said anything about forgetting what you've done for me-- but I've done things for you too and that didn't stop you from fucking Ann the first time I wasn't around as stress relief for you. If all that hadn't happened, I would have gone straight to you. But you lied to me for months even when I would have done everything I could to help you."

Sin stared at Boyd and shook his head, feeling his aggravation beginning to rise. "It's not the same thing. I didn't fucking tell you because..."

He looked away for a moment, trying to calm himself before he got truly frustrated and let it turn into anger. "Because you always had a certain perception of me-- you thought it wasn't me, it was the others, how I was treated, the environment." He stopped, and gestured sharply.

"It seemed like you didn't want to believe I was actually fucking psychotic and insane. And I am. I know I am. And I thought maybe you wouldn't want me anymore because you never accepted it. That's why I hid things from you, Boyd. Not because I made some conscious decision that you were untrustworthy. I did it out of stupidity and fear. And I did try to tell you, on more than one occasion, so it's not like I never wanted you to know."

"I get that you were scared and I know you did try to talk to me twice in training," Boyd said. "And maybe I shouldn't have been so impatient with you but I had no idea any of this was happening. You can't put all the blame on me for not taking time during training when you could have told me before then and when you didn't tell me how serious it was at the time." His gaze shifted across Sin's face before he shook his head. "But no matter the reasons, it shows exactly how imbalanced our relationship was if you didn't believe I could overcome any preconceptions-- and now I can't even be sure whether you would tell me if something incredibly important was happening."

"I already admitted I was stupid for doing that and I'm sorry for it. I'm sorry for everything. But from where I stand, you didn't waste any time running to Kassian." Sin didn't try to keep any of the bitterness out of his voice as he said it. "I guess it's a good thing you found an instant confidant in him."

Boyd sighed, crossing his arms. "I already told you it was something that happened over time. It seems like you'll keep assigning the wrong reasons to my actions unless I say more, so-- if you want a reason for my spending time with him, it's because we can be upfront without making prejudgements or constantly ending up in pointless arguments. And I know he will tell me the truth without hiding things from me, whether or not it's something I want to hear. Right now, that's just-- something I feel like I need."

Sin forced himself to look away as his jaw clenched, his teeth grinding together. He concentrated on staring at a parked car, focusing on the rusted paint of it, and tried to make his expression blank, tried to swallow the knot in his throat. Sin didn't even know why he was surprised. Boyd wasn't the lost, emotionless kid he'd been at the start. He was someone else now, so Sin should have fucking expected him to need something other than a basket case. He should have expected him to need someone normal.

But the words still burned.

"You must really not give a shit about me anymore."

Boyd stared at Sin for a long moment before he looked away, arms dropping to his sides. "I do care. I'm not trying to hurt you, I just want you to know where I'm at."

Sin couldn't help scoffing quietly. "I don't think you really care about hurting me. Please stop saying you do."

Boyd shook his head wordlessly and at first he didn't respond although his expression darkened as a flash of guilt and discomfort crossed his face. He studied the shadows briefly, his eyebrows drawn down as tension built in his shoulders. He seemed to be thinking about something seriously and the conclusion he drew must not have been a good one judging by his expression.

"We're fucked up, Hsin." He looked at Sin heavily as he admitted, "I'm fucked up. You're standing there telling me you're sorry for something you didn't mean to do and still... I keep saying this shit, doing this shit that hurts you. I don't want..."

Boyd frowned and he truly looked disturbed, uncomfortable, before he shook his head once more. He studied Sin, not hiding anything he was feeling; the doubt and uncertainty, the guilt and regret, the frustration and sadness. "I don't want you to think I'm blaming you for everything. A lot of this is my fault. I fuck up so much because I get emotional and over-think things and through it all I keep doing these stupid, heartless things."

Sin continued to look away from Boyd, swallowing heavily as he said, "I know what I did with Ann was wrong. I understand how it hurt you now. But I never would have had sex with her had I known how it would make you feel. You stood there and told me that if I really loved you, I never would have even wanted to fuck her yet now you're with Kassian. You had to know how that would tear me apart but since you made your own conclusions about us, since you decided that we shouldn't be together, it didn't matter. If you actually cared about my feelings in any way, you wouldn't have fucked him in the first place."

Boyd's expression darkened and he looked away again. "You're right," he said quietly. "I should have considered what it would do to you."

Sin just shrugged but he did look at Boyd finally. He wanted to feel better about the admission, but in reality it didn't change anything. It didn't change the fact that after everything, Sin truly believed that Boyd didn't really care about him as much as he'd always claimed.

He ran a hand through his hair and sighed, the sound slightly unsteady in the still night air. "I think--" He stopped, frowned slightly, but continued. "I think I'm going to ask to transfer out of the unit."

Boyd looked truly taken aback, going completely still as his gaze snapped to Sin. His eyes were dark with disbelief and thinly veiled surprise as he searched Sin's expression. "You want to leave the unit because of this?"

"Yes," Sin replied without hesitation.

Boyd began to look less sure of himself; his back wasn't quite as straight, his eyebrows drew down. "You want to get away from me that much?" His voice was hushed in the quiet night.

"I can't deal with being near you," Sin admitted. "If it's not one thing, it's another. If it's not the fact that I want to be with you, that I want to touch you, it's the fact that right now it's hard for me to look at you and not feel like shit."

Sin gave a humorless laugh at that although the sound was harsh. "Maybe me coming to that conclusion means I'm finally becoming a rational person since before I was the only one trying to hold onto what we had."

The unhappiness in Boyd's expression was clear. "I can understand needing distance," he said honestly, quietly, and his gaze flickered with a slightly twisted expression, as it was difficult to meet Sin's eyes.

Despite that, Boyd didn't look away and his voice strengthened. "But I don't want you to get the wrong impression from all this. He isn't and never could replace you for me. No one ever could. Maybe it's better anyway if we have some space, even if I don't want you to leave, but I don't want you to ever think I replaced you."

Sin shrugged woodenly. He didn't know what he felt about that; apparently all they did was get into pointless arguments, anyway. Apparently Kassian was easier to talk to, easier to be around. What was there to replace except negative aspects of a relationship that had apparently already been deemed unstable and destructive? What was there to replace except for the fact that now Boyd was spending his time with someone he enjoyed and was getting away from someone who he apparently couldn't trust?

"It doesn't really matter anymore," Sin replied after a time. "But as far as the unit goes, I am going to recommend that he be my replacement."

Boyd was silent at first; his expression became pensive even as he continued to watch Sin. "Is impossible to be friends again?" he asked quietly after a stretched out moment.

The answer was surprisingly difficult to find.

Whereas before Sin hadn't thought it was possible to only be friends with Boyd, to not look at him and desire him and mourn the loss of what once was, ever since that moment in the hotel when Boyd had admitted to fucking Kassian, Sin had begun to wonder if he wanted a friendship with Boyd at all. But that doubt hadn't solidified until the moment when Boyd had compared he and Kassian.

It had been the second time during the last few days that Sin had looked at Boyd and the yearning to fix things had slipped away.

He wanted to ignore the thoughts, he wanted to tell himself that Boyd had probably felt similarly betrayed over Ann, but it didn't really change anything. He was still unsure of what he wanted, unsure of what to do, and the only thing that really stood out to him at the moment was the fact that for the first time he wasn't completely falling apart at the idea of their relationship fading away.

He'd always thought Boyd's feelings for him were as deep as his feelings were for Boyd and it was the sense of unconditional emotional connection that had made him so desperate to hold on even when Boyd had rejected him. He'd still wanted Boyd to love him, he'd still wanted to feel that love-- and now he was realizing that maybe it had never really existed the way he'd thought it had. Now he was realizing that if there was something else that Boyd wanted badly enough, he would choose it over Sin despite how it would effect him.

So what was the point of desperately clinging to something that had turned out to not even be true?

But even then, Sin couldn't look at Boyd and not feel something stir within him. He couldn't not automatically look at Boyd's lips, his golden eyes and the fall of his fine blond hair and not want to close the distance between them; to completely devour Boyd, taste him, breathe him in, feel their bodies crushed against each other and want even more. He couldn't deny that even now a part of him just wanted to beg Boyd to forget everything that had happened and to just let it be like it was before because for a brief time it had been so unbelievably good.

"I don't know," Sin replied after the silence stretched too long. "I don't think it's impossible but I don't know if I can behave the way you want me to."

There was a measure of relief in Boyd's eyes and some of the tension seemed to release from his shoulders. Still, there was a sense of hesitation and uncertainty in his features. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know, Boyd." Sin frowned and dropped his gaze again. "You want me to act the way you were acting on the plane, like nothing ever happened between us, but all of this will effect my interaction with you, my behavior in general, so I can't do that."

Boyd shook his head. "I don't know, maybe I was wrong about that. All I wanted was to make sure we could function properly as work partners without getting distracted with anything else, but it's stupid to add more stress by expecting something unreasonable. If we can achieve the same thing regardless, then that's the way it should happen."

"Well I don't know if it can be achieved. That's why I want to transfer."

Sin turned away slightly, shifting his gaze down the street and into the darkness of the Mong Kok district. Two young women were walking down the street, their faces illuminated by the neon lights that loomed above. "Maybe it'd be better if we didn't even see each other anymore."

"Ever?" Boyd asked uncertainly.

The corners of Sin's full lips turned down slightly and he reached up to press a hand against his eyes, squeezing them shut briefly. It was so hard to make a decision-- every time he thought he had one, it changed. Every time he said something, it was difficult to stand firm on it.

He kept going back and forth in his mind between betrayal and resentment to remorse and depression. The entire situation was so complicated that he didn't know which feeling was the most appropriate one.

"We'd still see each other on the compound."

"Why?" Boyd pressed, his voice growing stronger as he searched Sin's expression. "Because I had sex with Kassian once? I know it fucked things up between us and I'm not expecting everything to be perfect right away, but how does that fix anything? I understand needing distance but just dropping everything because of one thing I did would be like me having decided to give up for good after Ann. I still want to work through things with you, Sin; I don't want to ignore it."

"Well I don't know if that's what I want." Sin shrugged and looked at Boyd directly this time, not allowing his eyes to drop even as Boyd drew back slightly, his eyes widening. When Sin spoke, his voice was dull and tinged with resignation. "And it's not just about the fact that you fucked Kassian or that you continue to fuck Kassian or whatever it is that you want to do. It's the fact that every time I look at you it hurts to think that you never considered how it would affect me. I think it would hurt less if you actually cared for him. At least then it would have meant something and it wouldn't feel like a knife through the heart for nothing more than a casual fuck."

Blond eyelashes lowered, partially covering Boyd's gaze as he looked away. He was silent a moment, hands flexing and weight shifting, before meeting Sin's eyes again. The tinge of sadness in his eyes was accompanied by the way his eyebrows drew down. "I don't know what to tell you. Any explanation I have will seem meaningless in the face of how you feel. I know I hurt you and I'm sorry that my actions made you feel this way. But regardless of what you decide now, I'll still want to work it out with you. If you need time, alright. If you decide you don't want to fix anything but a year from now you do, alright. I can't tell you what to feel or think but I can tell you that I'll be here and I won't change my mind."

A car rumbled by them, the engine clanking loudly as it was obviously in a state of disrepair. Water splashed beneath the tires of the car, splattering dirty water onto the sidewalk where they stood. Still, neither of them looked away from each other.

"I'm not trying to put this all on you. None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for me." Sin combed his fingers through his hair, tangling them in it before he took a deep breath. "But that's why I'm saying now that you're right, Boyd. Maybe it's better if we're not together. I didn't live up to your expectations and you aren't living up to mine."

He stopped briefly, eyebrows furrowing, disappointment coursing through him as he realized that this entire situation was actually and finally coming to a head. This was really happening here, now; on a dreary street in Mong Kok, his relationship with Boyd was coming to an abrupt close. Two blocks away from the place where his pathetic life had begun, his connection to the only person who had ever made that life worth living was being severed.

Once again it made him falter, it made his fingers tighten in the roots of his hair before he released the strands and dropped his arms to his sides again. "For all you know, you may be happier without me in your life. It could be that you're just used to having me around, used to the idea of having a connection with me, and you feel obligated to yourself to pursue it because of everything we've been through together. I just believe that whatever happens... will happen naturally, without me or you forcing it."

Boyd watched Sin for a long moment before he looked away, eyebrows drawn together as he almost absently searched the shadows. "I think you're right that whatever happens will happen naturally. It's why we were together in the first place."

He sighed, briefly running a hand through his hair before he let it fall again, blond hair partially shadowing his eyes when he met Sin's gaze again. "I guess we'll see. But even though you have your doubts about whether I'd be happier without you around, I honestly don't foresee my mind changing. Some things have changed but my promise still stands from the morning when you were locked up."

There was another moment of charged silence as they stared at each other and Sin took a step back. He didn't know if there was anything else to say on the topic and the proximity to Boyd was becoming overwhelming. Sin's mind was spinning in so many different directions that he didn't know which was the best to follow.

It was all too confusing and at the moment his emotions felt like they were overloading; he didn't think he could continue to appear as collected and calm in front of Boyd for much longer. "I'm going to return to my temporary quarters. It's probably best if we don't go in the same direction the entire way anyway."

He turned when Boyd didn't immediately reply and Sin started to walk away. Sin shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and tilted his head down slightly, feeling Boyd's gaze burning into his back. He walked faster and the distance grew between them quickly.

Even though it was only a few blocks, the space between them felt like miles.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Three...