Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Three

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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!


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Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Three

Uploaded on 4/25/2009

Boyd paused after he parked his car in an Agency lot and didn't immediately leave the vehicle. He stayed still for several moments, staring at the Agency buildings before he stepped out of the car and locked the doors behind him. He'd only returned from China the night before so it was impossible to look at the Agency, to look at Sin's building, and not think about the conversation they'd had.

He couldn't help replaying parts of their interaction and, each time, he came to the same conclusion.

He had the feeling that Sin had been negatively interpreting some of the things he'd been saying. Boyd had really just wanted to get them on a level playing field; he hadn't been trying to assign blame or put it all on Sin. All he'd wanted to do was get things out in the open so he could say, "I feel this way," and Sin could say, "I feel that way," and they would know where they stood.

Neither of them had a tendency to be upfront with the other, but that just served to underscore that it was a chronic problem between them.

Precisely for that reason, he'd thought it was so important to be honest when they'd talked. He knew how easy it was for them to miscommunicate, to not say what needed to be said, and he hadn't wanted to take the chance. He'd owed it to Sin and himself to make sure he could get out there exactly what he was feeling and why, with the hopes that Sin would do the same in return.

Given the fact that typically when he was trying to be even-minded about something his automatic reaction was to cut off all emotion, it had been a bit of a struggle from the beginning trying to find a sense of balance.

He hadn't known if he could trust himself to be calm and logical in regards to Sin, any more than Boyd thought Sin had been able to trust him for the same thing for over a year. He hadn't wanted to do Sin the disservice of ruining their chances for a conversation they both really needed, so he'd tried to focus intently on being solely professional as a way of giving them some much-needed distance to properly have the discussion.

Boyd just hadn't realized the way it must have seemed to Sin, especially when Kassian came into the equation.

It seemed to Boyd that Sin and Kassian had the tendency to compare themselves, which frustrated Boyd, who honestly thought the two of them shouldn't. Just because the people in the Agency constantly compared the two didn't mean they had to too, especially since the comparison didn't make either side happy.

So when Boyd had sex with Kassian, he hadn't been looking at Kassian as the man Sin hated or as Senior Agent Trovosky or even as a fellow agent.

He'd been looking at Kassian as the man who had sat there at his side as Boyd had nearly broken down from the aftermath of R2I; the man who had stopped by suddenly with a Christmas present just because it made Boyd happy; the man who listened to Boyd's problems and didn't mock him for them, didn't make him feel like he was inadequate or odd for feeling a particular way. The man who didn't react negatively to Boyd's issues which meant Boyd didn't have to hesitate to bring them up for fear of hurting someone else.

Boyd didn't meet anyone's eyes as he entered the Tower and bypassed the elevator bank. Instead, he headed straight for the stairs, sometimes taking them two at a time. There were a few people in the stairwell, most of them talking to each other or laughing quietly as they walked between a flight or two. Boyd ignored them and seemed to be the only one who was in the stairwell for over a dozen flights.

At this point, Kassian was the only person in the world who Boyd would have even considered agreeing to having a casual sexual relationship with because Kassian was the only person who it would have worked with.

He was attracted to Kassian and he liked that if he wanted to he could just fuck someone and it didn't have to mean anything more, it didn't have to be awkward; it didn't have to make him feel anything afterward. He didn't have to feel like the two of them weren't on the same mindset or feel hurt if he knew Kassian decided to sleep with someone else. He didn't have to worry about misunderstandings arising that conflicted with emotions or everything getting fucked up as a result.

The friendship with Kassian was finally giving Boyd a chance to see that he didn't have to constantly feel so conflicted and upset and introverted-- that he didn't have to think everything through five times over or tiptoe around certain topics because it may make everything fall apart around him.

He could just be himself and that was okay. He didn't have to try to be stronger or better for Kassian and he didn't have to hurt himself or Kassian in the process.

The problem was, just because that was the way Boyd saw Kassian didn't mean it was the way Sin did. Boyd didn't entirely understand the bad blood that existed between the two of them and maybe because of that, he'd never taken it as seriously as the two had.

The only times Boyd ever saw them interact, Sin was lashing out especially harshly and Kassian eventually responding. Even then, Boyd didnt know what had happened between the two of them in the past or when they were alone to make Sin so completely antagonistic and unforgiving of the other man. It was difficult to understand their situation when what he saw of them as individuals or of them interacting never seemed to match up with the way each of them viewed the others' words and actions.

With all that in mind, he'd known that Sin wouldn't be thrilled with the revelation of Boyd and Kassian having sex but he'd never expected Sin to be so betrayed by it. What Boyd had expected was for Sin to misinterpret the situation, to think Boyd was choosing Kassian over him for other reasons.

That had been the only reason he'd emphasized his friendship with Kassian; because he'd been afraid Sin would read into it too much, that he would think Boyd had replaced Sin with Kassian when that was far from the truth. Boyd didn't even look at Sin or Kassian and think of him directly in comparison to the other; he saw and liked each of them for who they were.

Yet at the same time, in his efforts to explain the situation to Sin, to explain to Sin why he'd turned to Kassian during training, he'd ended up comparing to an extent. He hadn't intended to but Sin hadn't been willing to give up the topic and it had ended up happening that way. Although what he'd said had been the truth, he hadn't realized until he said it aloud just how harsh it would end up sounding.

He regretted saying it that way, regretted the fact that Sin had been even more hurt by Boyd's word choice. Despite how it probably seemed to Sin now, Boyd's wish to see Sin happy hadn't changed.

Boyd finally made it to the fourteenth floor, panting a little at first, and headed toward the library. The report room downstairs had better computers but he didn't care; right then, he preferred the solitude.

When he stepped inside the room, he paused briefly in the doorway. Across the room, Boyd had once been shoved against that glass and Sin had arrived at the last second to kill Harry. Boyd took a moment to catch his breath, eyes darkening slightly before he looked to the side.

"Agent Beaulieu," a voice said suddenly in greeting and he looked over just in time for the man to smile a little self-consciously. "Sorry-- Senior Agent now, I guess."

The man was only a few years older than Boyd, with light brown skin, bright hazel eyes and dark hair that looked perpetually uncombed. Boyd had seen the man in the library before and faintly remembered his name to be Kaspar. For the most part, Boyd had never paid much attention to him but once or twice, Kaspar had rambled on about something while Boyd had taken breaks from researching or planning longer or more intensive missions.

Because of that, Boyd knew that Kaspar was more or less the caretaker of this old library and had been the one to fight to keep the few worndown report terminals that still sat in the corner; remnants of when this library had been the only place for agents to write reports. But that was about the extent of his knowledge of the man, other than that he was one of the very few other people Boyd had ever seen use the room.

"Hello, Kaspar," Boyd said simply.

"It's been awhile, huh?" A smile played on Kaspar's lips as he studied Boyd, his gaze intense. He held himself with slight tension, as if he was trying to hold himself back or was trying to stop himself from saying something more.

"I suppose it has," Boyd agreed with a faint nod, heading straight toward the terminals. He didn't particularly feel like talking right now.

"I have to say, it's just so cool knowing one of the newest 10's," Kaspar burst out suddenly, taking a step forward as if he couldn't stop himself. He was fairly animated and seemed to talk with his hands, as evidenced by the way he moved them around as he spoke. "I mean, that position is like legend... Only the Greats get it. And-- no offense or anything-- but I never thought you'd actually make it first try. And-- Well, I mean-- Congratulations!" His eyes were especially bright with interest as he watched Boyd, who didn't speak at first.

Boyd slid into the chair at one of the report terminals and looked over at Kaspar. He supposed at least Kaspar was looking at this positively and seemed to be assuming Boyd had received the promotion on merit but it didn't make the topic any less bitter for Boyd.

"Thank you," Boyd said, then tilted his head toward the computer monitor. "I don't mean to be rude, but I really need to write my report now..."

"Oh! Of course," Kaspar said, looking as though he was trying very hard not to grin.

"Well, you know-- if you need help or anything, I'm here for you," Kaspar continued, backing away from Boyd and heading toward the nearby tables to collect some books that had been left behind. He glanced rather giddily at Boyd now and then but otherwise did his best to stay out of Boyd's way.

As Boyd focused on writing the report, his mind mostly cleared as he described the interaction with the informant, as he relayed that the mission had been a success as far as they could tell and hopefully they would receive word that Xu Xiaolian, current leader of the Dǐ Zhì, would agree to meet with them.

But as soon as the report was finished, he found himself staring at the screen, at Sin's name so calmly displayed. Staring at his name made Boyd think of Sin, of his deep voice saying, "I didn't live up to your expectations and you aren't living up to mine." It made him remember the disbelief, the feeling of pain and near-regret at Sin saying so seriously that he wanted to leave the unit because of Boyd, because of what he'd done with Kassian.

Boyd tilted his head down, staring blankly at his fingers resting against the keys of the keyboard.

He couldn't deny the truth of the statement.

Regardless of what Boyd got out of his situation with Kassian, it didn't change the fact that he'd never even considered Sin's feelings. And when Boyd thought of it in other terms-- would he have done something like that to Lou if there had been similar circumstances-- he didn't think he would have. He would have stopped first, thought about how Lou would feel.

The fact he hadn't thought about the way it would hurt Sin wasn't something Boyd fully understood. And he certainly wasn't proud to realize just how selfish he could be with Sin-- to know that the person he'd loved more than anyone else in the last few years was also the person he'd hurt the most, the person he apparently felt he could do anything to. That part of him was something he didn't like; something he found distasteful and something he knew needed to be fixed.

It was as if there was a switch in Boyd's mind that said that if Sin was involved, it was alright to do anything he wanted. Boyd felt that either he was too close to Sin and all he could think about was the other man-- but with that came over-analyzing everything and becoming especially sensitive to any slights-- or a wall came up in his mind that made him not think of Sin enough.

He didn't understand why this happened. The only thing he could think was that in some ways his feelings were too strong for Sin-- an obsession he'd had for awhile, an addiction to the first person who'd made him feel in years-- and this triggered something in his mind, like an automatic defense measure. He'd been that close to Lou and when he'd lost Lou, he'd felt like he'd lost everything. Maybe subconsciously he'd understood for awhile now how unhealthy that was, so he'd begun to cope in the only way he knew how-- cutting off emotions or trying to look at things coolly, logically.

Maybe when he realized he was getting too close to Sin, like a moth that could burn from the flame, he automatically snapped himself back-- he snuffed out the fire before it could hurt him. Maybe part of him had always been aware of how precarious this all was-- the emotions, the relationship, the trust-- and he'd been afraid to believe. So when he finally did and everything happened with Ann and all the realizations that came after that-- it made it impossible to ignore that he and Sin were messed up, that they weren't on the same wavelength.

And the part of him that had been nervous and agitated about getting involved with anyone-- about letting that addiction briefly overpower him-- now stood stronger than ever to say, "I told you so."

Whatever the case, it had obviously all come to a head because of Kassian.

It really did seem like their expectations didn't match, that their love for each other was unbalanced.

Sin loved Boyd too much; something unhealthy and sometimes overwhelming; something that made Sin make rash decisions when he thought he was losing Boyd. Something that put additional pressure on Boyd to live up to Sin, to his expectations and needs; to be there for someone who was incredibly strong and in an incredibly difficult position, and who needed someone who could remain steady through all the ups and downs.

And Boyd...

He loved Sin, still. He loved his smile, his quiet expressions; his wit and the vulnerabilities he tried so hard to hide. He loved his strength and power and when he was near Sin, part of him still wanted to reach out-- to run his hand through that hair, to touch that skin, to chuckle into his ear the way he used to. He remembered the feel of Sin pulling him close in the medic room; a desperate hug with the harsh sounds of Sin's breath warm against Boyd's ear as Sin tried so hard not to cry...

These things hurt to remember, partially because he still felt the longing for them and partially because he knew one reason it was all that much further away was because of his own actions. It hurt to be drawn to someone he wanted yet at the same time to know that every time he came close, every time he let himself remember it a little more, it was that much harder and sadder to have to pull back.

Because he was finally seeing them for what they were, and in the process he was acknowledging some hard truths about himself.

When he thought back on their relationship, Sin had been the one reaching out first to Boyd intimately-- the first to realize he cared about Boyd, the first to want to kiss him, the first to let it be known that he was attracted to Boyd, even if he didn't know Boyd was watching.

Considering the progression that way, maybe it wasn't such a surprise for Sin to be the first to truly love Boyd unconditionally and also the first to make a resounding mistake. Yet along the way Boyd was right behind Sin in his own progression, echoing the steps Sin had already taken. Attraction, kissing, sex, love, and the inevitable, unintentional betrayal.

Although the capability of a relationship existing was a question of trust and belief, it was also a question of strength and consistency; of stability.

Boyd was in a much more stable state of mind now than he had been even a year ago, but that didn't mean he was strong enough, well enough, balanced enough to be in a relationship with someone else, or that anyone else would be for him. And the trust and belief he and Sin seemed able to gather for each other for certain aspects never quite seemed capable of encompassing everything.

"Is something wrong?"

Kaspar's voice was hesitant and Boyd looked over, mildly startled.

"What?" Boyd asked.

Kaspar stood next to a table across the room, fidgeting with a book, his eyebrows drawn down. He nodded toward the computer. "You've been spacing out for a bit and I thought maybe something was wrong. Like the computer failed and you were really annoyed, or..." Kaspar trailed off briefly and shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't know; or something."

"Oh." Boyd turned back to the screen, to the cursor flashing next to Sin's name, and he shook his head to himself. He quickly saved and sent the report in, hit the print button to bring a copy with him to General Carhart's office, then closed the programs and logged off the computer.

"No," Boyd said belatedly, grabbing his messenger bag from the floor and turning toward Kaspar with a faintly bemused expression. "I'm fine; I just wasn't paying attention. I suppose it was a long flight." He paused briefly then thought to add, "Thank you, though."

Kaspar stared at him a moment then grinned widely even as he tilted his head down a little and looked to the side, seeming strangely shy.

Boyd passed him to head toward the printer where he gathered the report, stapled it, then slid it into his bag. He nodded at Kaspar as he started to walk by the man again, saying as a calm farewell, "I'm sure we'll run into each other again."

"Did they teach you manners in Level 10 training, too?" Kaspar asked suddenly and when Boyd stopped with a blink aimed his way, Kaspar looked at once startled and chagrined. He was watching Boyd with slightly widened eyes and his fingers stilled on the book he'd been twisting back and forth on the table. "I didn't-- That made me sound like an ass, sorry," he said with a grimace. "I just meant you seem a little... friendlier somehow. Or approachable?" He shook his head to himself. "I don't know. But usually you ignore me unless you're asking for reference materials and even then you never really explain anything. It's just strange."

Boyd stared, mildly startled by Kaspar's comment; by the fact that anything had changed enough to be noticeable. For some reason, Kaspar's assessment of how Boyd used to act made him look at Kaspar in a new light, as his own person, and that only emphasized the truth of Kaspar's statement.

Boyd hadn't realized that he'd been so casually dismissing Kaspar as part of the background before but now he could see the difference; he could understand how the reserved and silent way he'd dealt with people in the past probably made them feel insignificant, so now that he was making an effort to change that, his behavior would probably seem especially startling.

He was partially relieved to know that it hadn't all disappeared with training. It was good to realize that some of changes he'd been struggling to achieve during training-- to be more approachable-- were continuing even outside the group of trainees. That at least some of the goals he'd been striving for had remained untouched by the other issues happening in his life.

Boyd smiled at Kaspar lightly. "Not exactly," he said dryly, answering Kaspar's question to show he wasn't offended. "But apparently something good rubbed off on me."

Kaspar grinned back, a little uncertain but mostly relieved, and Boyd reached out a hand. Kaspar stared down at it in confusion and surprise, then looked up to meet Boyd's eyes again, who simply watched him. After a moment, Kaspar drew his eyebrows down then reached out as well, letting Boyd shake his hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Kaspar," Boyd said lightly, as if this was the first time they'd met. In a way it was, since Boyd had barely acknowledged the man in the past. "I'm Senior Agent Boyd Beaulieu; you can call me Boyd or another name if you prefer. I appreciate all the help you've given me in the past with research."
Kaspar's grin brightened considerably and he pumped Boyd's hand more enthusiastically than the situation warranted. "Nice to meet you. I'm Kaspar Çelik-- Level 4 R&D."

"R&D?" Boyd echoed in faint surprise. For some reason, he'd always just assumed the man was civilian staff, not a Research and Development agent.

"Yeah," Kaspar said, seeming half embarrassed and half proud. He dropped Boyd's hand to rub the back of his head. "The freaks and geeks division, I know..."

Boyd shook his head. "One of my good friends is in R&D. That's an important division; I just didn't realize you were in it."

"Well, it's not nearly as exciting as field agent work," Kaspar said, looking at Boyd slightly in awe. "But it has its moments... And I really like working with information, you know? And books. So it's pretty much the perfect place for me."

"Why is an R&D agent keeping track of the old research library, though?" Boyd asked, drawing his eyebrows down slightly.

"Oh, that," Kaspar said, waving a hand dismissively. "Well, the official story is it's an internship, sort of, for the lower level agents. Plus, there's some sensitive information in here so they like to keep track. But more than that, this was sort of my mom's pet project so I like to keep it up..."

"She created the library?" Boyd asked, slightly confused by Kaspar's wording.

"Not exactly," Kaspar said with a shrug. "She just built up most of the databases and found a lot of the books that are in here. But then she got sick so she couldn't continue..."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Boyd said but Kaspar was already shaking his head.

"No, it's fine." He waved a hand again as if to fend off Boyd's assumption. "I mean, she's alive still; she was just transferred to another area with less heavy lifting and movement." He shrugged.

"But she'll ask me sometimes how the collection's going so I like to stop in as much as possible and make sure everything's going smoothly. Besides," he added with a sly smirk, "almost no one stops in here so it's nice and quiet. I have to say, though, the other field agents who do aren't nearly as good of customers as you. Some of them act like they've never seen a library before and I swear others are trying to pile whole bookshelves-worth on the tables... It's like they don't know how to treat books."

Boyd smiled faintly. "I suppose I'm at an advantage in that regard. I've loved books since I was a child."

"Yeah, I could tell." Kaspar fell silent briefly and watched Boyd with that same intensity as before, something almost tense and just barely held back-- he looked as though he wanted to say something else but then he stopped himself with a shake of his head. A smile that was half shy and half self-deprecating crossed his features instead and he shrugged a little uncomfortably. "Anyway, sorry. I know you were busy so I don't mean to keep you..."

Boyd shook his head again, gaze calm and not unkind as he watched Kaspar. "It's fine. But it's true that I should leave; I have to hand in my report."

Kaspar nodded in understanding then backed away, already briefly glancing to the side in distraction, gaze darting amongst the piles of books dotted around the tables. He looked at Boyd again. "Well-- Maybe I'll see you again. And I really do mean congratulations."

Boyd nodded and when Kaspar flashed him a smile then turned to gather the books, Boyd left the library and headed toward Carhart's office.

It didn't take him long to get there and when he arrived, he knocked on Carhart's closed door.

"Yes?" Carhart's voice called after a moment.

Boyd opened the door and walked into the office, noting that Carhart looked just as stressed as ever. Boyd closed the door quietly behind him before sliding the report out of his messenger bag. "I have the latest report."

Carhart shut the file he was examining and looked at Boyd. "Sit down. We need to talk."

Boyd hesitated then placed the report on the desk and sat down. That sort of phrase rarely preceded something good and in this case he had a feeling he knew what it would be about. He didn't say anything, though; he simply watched Carhart.

Carhart studied him for a moment and sat back in his chair with a sigh. He looked tired and had abandoned the suit that he'd started wearing awhile ago for a plain white button down shirt that was opened at the neck. He reached up to rub his stubble-covered jaw as he continued to watch Boyd before sighing briefly.  

"How were things between the two of you?"

"Not... great," Boyd admitted, meeting Carhart's gaze. "But not as bad as it could have been, I suppose." He paused very briefly. "We talked."

"It must have been some talk since he wants to leave the unit now," Carhart observed calmly, raising his eyebrows.

Boyd's gaze didn't flicker from Carhart's even as he felt something shift inside him; he hadn't known whether Sin would actually go through with the request or not but this removed the question entirely. They hadn't spoken much after their conversation on the street and even though part of him had hoped Sin had changed his mind, he still hadn't been able to forget the seriousness of Sin's expression...

"I see," Boyd said.

"He wouldn't tell me why," Carhart continued, a frown finally making its way onto his handsome face. "All he said was that it was better that way and that we don't need him anyway now that you've been promoted. And that if I'm still not confident enough in your fighting or physical abilities, I should consider Kassian for a replacement."

Boyd's eyebrows twitched very briefly but he otherwise did not let any of his thoughts make it to his face. "What will happen? Will his transfer actually go through?"

Carhart shrugged, his broad shoulders rustling the stiff fabric of his shirt. "My first response is that I don't want it to go through, that I want to keep him here and that I don't want to bring in a second new person when we're already getting one. But that's likely because I want Sin where I can keep an eye on him."

Boyd inclined his head; he could understand the sentiment, at least insofar as not wanting Sin to leave. At the same time, part of him still had the same thoughts he'd had the night that Sin had brought it up. Maybe...

Maybe in some ways it would be better, easier to deal with the conflicting emotions and history between them if they didn't have to see each other on such a regular basis, in such serious situations where something going wrong could be the end of one of them... Maybe having some space would be the best option for them.

But then he thought about having anyone else as a partner and he knew he didn't want that.

"Has my mother said anything?" Boyd's expression remained largely unreadable and his gaze was steady on Carhart. His posture remained straight and a little tense and his hands remained still on his lap.

"I haven't mentioned it to her and I won't until I think it through. I have to weigh the pros and cons of the situation. Professionally, it may be a good idea. The two of you wouldn't be partners and then you can be free to be as ridiculous as you feel the need to be together and Kassian would likely take what we do here a lot more seriously."

Carhart tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. Despite the fact that he didn't look any less stressed out, he was speaking to Boyd like he usually did and not at all in the strangely hostile way he'd been on the phone on New Year's morning. "On the other hand, I question whether or not you and Kassian would mesh well together as partners or if he'd even want the position."

Boyd studied Carhart for a moment. He tried to imagine himself partnered with Kassian and he honestly didn't know what that would be like.

They had worked together well enough in Russia, but that had been atypical; Kassian hadn't been in his Senior Agent mode. The only experience Boyd had with Kassian when he was taking the mission seriously had been in Monterrey, which had overall been a fiasco. But Monterrey had been a study in extreme levels of stress for both of them...

"Why do you think we wouldn't?"

"Because you're both Type A personalities to an extent, and that's not necessarily a good thing." Carhart waved his hand as if to dismiss the comment. "In any case, if I do take this idea into consideration and Vivienne okays it, there would be a trial before anyone is formally moved but I doubt any such thing would happen for the next few months. This isn't a good time in any way, shape, or form."

Boyd didn't have to ask why; he suspected it had a lot to do with the possible new arrival. Instead, he asked, "What would the trial entail?"

"Kassian would accompany you on a few missions and we'd see how things play out. I don't doubt his capabilities but like I said, we'd have to see how you work together. There's no real reason for him to replace Sin other than Sin wanting it so if it turns out that Kassian and you aren't a good match, it won't happen." Carhart paused briefly. "Unless you and Sin are an even worse match at this point."

It was unfortunate that there was the possibility Carhart was right. For a moment, the entire situation felt ridiculous and frustrating. But Boyd wasn't going to dwell on the thought since the reason it had come to this point was almost equally Sin's and his responsibility. The only thing Boyd could do was try to be the best partner possible to whoever he ended up with.

He just couldn't help feeling a sense of disbelief that it had come to this; that the unit was in such a state of transition. With the possibility of Sin transferring out, a new person coming in, Kassian possibly becoming Boyd's partner, and even Ryan talking about wanting to move to Europe-- the entire situation was surreal.

It was especially strange for Boyd, who had only been recruited by the Agency because of Sin. Imagining anyone else as his partner was bizarre.

Boyd sighed quietly and looked at Carhart seriously. "I don't know what will happen, but... I'm sorry it came to this. I never meant for any of it to happen; I'm sure the unit ran more smoothly before I came around. But I do want you to know that regardless of who ultimately becomes my partner, I intend to work with him to the best of my professional ability."

"The unit wasn't stable until you came along," Carhart corrected. "All of his other partners didn't make it past their trials and Sin never wanted to be here anyway. He only was because he was the only one available with high enough classification. He doesn't give a damn about what we do here and I don't blame him. If I was Sin, I wouldn't care about the Agency either."

The General shrugged again and sighed. "In any case, we will see how this plays out."

Boyd nodded, feeling a little better about the situation to at least know Carhart didn't seem to be blaming him for the way it had all turned out. He didn't know what to say to that, so he just stayed quiet, knowing he wasn't dismissed yet.

Carhart looked at Boyd for a moment before giving him a wan smile. "I hope you know the reason I was so curt that morning on the phone was due to my worry for Sin. I did not intend to blame you for any of his issues and I know it's not your fault that he is the way he is. While I don't intend to retract my opinion that you two shouldn't be together romantically, I wouldn't really order you to deny him friendship, especially in the coming weeks."

At first, Boyd thought that was an odd thing to say; what was so significant about the coming weeks? But then it occurred to him that Carhart probably meant all the issues related to the possible transfer and the transitions that were occurring. He nodded again, appreciating the information.

"I don't know what will happen," Boyd said honestly. "But I don't intend to abandon him; not after everything we've been through."

"That's good to hear," Carhart replied quietly, turning his blue eyes back to his computer screen. "He needs at least one person he can count on."

Kassian flipped through one of Boyd's sketchpads. His blue eyes scanned the pages and as he took several moments to turn each page, it really seemed as though he was interested in the drawings and not just looking at them out of idle curiosity. He was slouched in the couch as Boyd sat next to him, hands behind his head as he idly stared out the window, debating whether he felt like grabbing a book to read.

"Have you ever taken art classes or anything?" Kassian asked, glancing over at Boyd after a long examination of one of the drawings.  

Boyd had been half-listening to the pages turning, but at the question he looked over to see what sketchpad Kassian had. He realized it was one of his old sketchpads, back from when Lou had been alive; he'd recently found it and had realized that the last third of the book was blank pages so he'd started to draw in there since the raid.

The earlier drawings in the sketchpad were primarily of landscape and buildings in the city, with the occasional drawing of a person or still life. The drawings that started after the over-six-year-gap were more predominantly of people and occasionally of buildings.

Kassian was currently looking at a sketch Boyd had drawn of Jezebel over the summer; it was a candid drawing from when she hadn't realized anyone was watching. She was sitting in her wheelchair, looking to the side as wind pulled her hair and ruffled the handmade sign proclaiming the ice cream flavors that she'd taped to the front of her cart.

Her expression was more enigmatic than usual; he was used to seeing her with her with large smiles or eyes that twinkled with a faint sense of mischief. That day, her lashes had been lowered over hazel eyes staring into the distance, her lips had pulled down just the faintest bit on the edges. The fingers on her hand had curled within the fabric of the blanket on her lap, while her other arm, which ended at the elbow and that day hadn't been hidden by long sleeves, tilted just slightly inward toward her body.

The blanket had draped over her leg and dipped down to the seat of the wheelchair where her other leg ended a few inches down her thigh. The rustiness of the wheelchair was obvious even shaded in with pencil and, sitting there beneath a dilapidated roof with a rickety little cart next to her, Jezebel looked very alone and almost sad.

Boyd remembered that day; it had been warm and the wind had been light. Boyd had been called in to work before he could alert Jezebel to his presence or show her the drawing but he wondered now what she'd think and whether she would even want to see it.

"I took one in college," Boyd said belatedly.

Kassian nodded. "You must have a lot of natural talent then. You wouldn't get this good from one class."

"Thanks," Boyd said idly as he watched Kassian flip to another page.

A drawing of Sin sleeping covered the page. He was half curled on his side, fingers lax near his face but looking as though at any second they could twitch into fists. The drawing was from an angle closer to Sin's face, with the rest of his body in the background.

Even in sleep, Sin's expression looked wearied and stressed; although his lips were slightly parted, his eyebrows were drawn down as if he were in mild pain and he didn't look as though he was truly at rest. His hair fell against the sides of his face almost elegantly, though, and Boyd's fingers twitched very slightly, feeling the urge to run his hands through those strands the same as he had when he'd drawn the picture.

This drawing had also been from the summer, when Boyd had still felt disbelieving relief that Sin was alive and well and the peculiarities of Sin's actions and distance hadn't yet been explained. At the time, Boyd had thought Sin was just exhausted and maybe having nightmares.

Now, Boyd understood what had really been happening and it made him a little sad to see the drawing; to know the thoughts that had probably been running through Sin's head. This had to have been one of the few times exhaustion had overcome Sin's paranoia of sleeping near Boyd; his fear that he would hurt Boyd if he stayed.

"He's awfully pretty, isn't he?" Kassian observed, tilting his head and looking thoughtful.

There was no sarcasm in Kassian's tone and it made Boyd smile slightly. "That's what I've been saying. And you called him odd-looking..." He trailed off lightly, teasingly.

"He just has an odd combination of features," Kassian replied with a shrug. "And it's hard for me to really appreciate his looks when he always looks ready to punch me in the face. But looking at him like this makes it pretty hard to deny that he's gorgeous."

"Yeah..." Boyd's gaze was a little distant as he absently tracked the lines of Sin's face. "I don't remember the first time I fully appreciated it, either. Maybe it was the first time I saw him sleep or maybe it was when he smiled."

"I've never seen him smile for real." Kassian continued to study the drawing and his mouth curved into the half-smirk that typically meant that his thoughts were turning to a particular direction. "He has nice lips..."

Boyd looked over with a quirked eyebrow, quite surprised to hear Kassian make any type of sexual innuendo related to Sin. Although Kassian was, in general, a lot more open-minded about Sin than Sin was about Kassian, Boyd still hadn't expected there to come a day when he'd hear a comment like that. It was almost amusing that now Kassian was apparently okay enough with the idea of Sin to say that.

"Yeah, why don't you try suggesting that sometime," Boyd said dryly. "See if he doesn't bite you."

"What?" Kassian asked innocently although his eyes sparkled mischievously. "All I said was that they're nice!"

Boyd rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Nice like my lips are nice when I'm sucking you off."

Kassian snickered and he finally turned the page. "It's possible that the thought may have crossed my mind. But does he actually do that?"

"Hmm." Boyd leaned back in the couch and put his hands behind his head, looking at the ceiling with a decidedly neutral, if a little amused, expression. "A gentleman never kisses and tells," he said archly.

"I'll take that as a yes." Kassian looked over at Boyd with slightly narrowed eyes as if he were picturing it. "That's pretty hot."

Boyd looked over at Kassian again, quirking an eyebrow with a small, disbelieving smirk playing at one side of his lips. "For someone with such a negative history with Sin, you're really getting into this..."

Kassian snorted and propped his face against his hand, his elbow against the back of the couch as he looked at Boyd. "Just because I don't like him doesn't mean I don't like the way he looks. I'm just joking, though, so hopefully you're not actually thinking I'm going to go try to hit on him and sign my own death warrant or some odd crap like that."

"I don't," Boyd said with a half-grin. "You wouldn't be one of the longest-living Level 10's if you were the type to actually think that'd be a good idea."

Kassian laughed out loud at that and sat up fully, shaking his head. After a moment, a more serious expression crossed his face and he considered Boyd silently for a brief time. "So speaking of Sin and Level 10 agents, I'm not really into this transfer idea."

Boyd sighed then shifted to look at Kassian straight on. "So it did go through," he said, more to himself than anything.

After the mission in China, Kassian had asked how the talk went with Sin; during the conversation, the possibility of a transfer had inevitably been brought up. They hadn't said much about it because they hadn't known if Carhart would pass it along or if Vivienne would approve the suggestion.

For two weeks there hadn't been word, but now...

"What will you do?" Boyd asked Kassian, watching him seriously.

Kassian shrugged his broad shoulders and frowned, shades of his Senior Agent Trovosky personality showing through. "I'm not quite sure, Boyd. I'm not interested in the idea. While I am curious about what goes on in your unit, I don't know if I'm so dedicated to the Agency that I want to do more for them or be there more often and you spend a lot of time on the compound because of your constant meetings and such. I pretty much get to stay far removed unless I'm needed."

His eyebrows drew together and he shook his head slightly, "And honestly I don't like the fact that I'm replacing Sin. I think he's got the wrong idea about all of this and this is just going to reaffirm something in his mind that isn't even true."

"I know. I tried to explain..." Boyd trailed off and shook his head. He shifted so he could lean against the side of the couch, his legs half crossed along the cushions. His golden brown eyes studied Kassian openly. "I don't know what's best for anyone anymore. Half of me thinks it could be good and half of me think's it's a bad idea."

"Why do you think it would be good at all?" Kassian raised an eyebrow at Boyd. "I thought the mission was successful even if you weren't on the best of terms."

"It was, but..." Boyd frowned slightly, eyebrows drawing down a little as a pensive expression crossed his face. "It's hard being around him and I think it's worse for him being around me. I still want to be his friend and I don't know how easy that would be if we're partners still. So part of me thinks without the additional stress of a partnership, where an issue between us could be lethal or incredibly dangerous, maybe it'll be easier to reach some sense of normalcy."

Boyd shrugged. "But then I also think that avoiding the issue won't make it go away and if his decision is based on a misinterpretation then it won't help anyone. And if we can be good partners first, then if we become friends again in the future it'll be stronger."

"What makes you think it'd be easier to be friends with him if you won't even see him?" Kassian asked with a raised eyebrow. "It's more likely you won't see each other at all if he leaves the unit."

"Maybe," Boyd allowed. He shifted his legs and briefly glanced down at the sketchpad again before returning his gaze to study Kassian as he tilted his head. "But I still see you enough to hang out, enough that we became friends; and you're in a position Sin may be in. Obviously, long missions could mean I wouldn't see him for an extended period of time. But considering the fact we seem to have the worst trouble when missions are involved, even if I'd see him more as a partner, if that time wasn't as well spent or did more damage than good, then it would be a moot point."

"That's not really what I meant," Kassian said with a brief pause. "If he's leaving the unit because of you, I highly doubt you're going to be able to establish a friendship with him when he probably won't even leave his apartment. I bet he'll go back to being the way he was before you came here. Although who knows since they kept him locked up most of the time. It could be different now, I guess."

"That's one of the reasons I don't know what's best-- if he's forced to be around me, maybe it would be better," Boyd said, although he didn't sound entirely convinced. His eyes narrowed slightly and he looked away, gaze absently straying toward the open window. "But I also think that having space may be exactly what's needed. If he doesn't want to see me, then being forced to go on missions and be in the same unit won't help matters or make him any happier."

Boyd leaned back and frowned slightly, thoughtfully to himself. "When I was so pissed off at him because of Ann, the best thing for me was probably precisely the fact that we didn't see each other for several months. I had the chance to cool down, to decide to see him on my own time. It took a lot of the resentment away. So when I say I want to be friends, I want to hang out... I know he doesn't want to see me now but I'm hoping that in the future he will. But I don't know what would happen; for all I know, he'll never give me a chance again."

"I don't know, kid. It could go either way." Kassian rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully.

Boyd opened his mouth to reply but before he could, his phone rang. He glanced at Kassian then got off the couch to grab his phone. He raised his eyebrows slightly when he saw it was Carhart calling him. The conversation was short and to the point and within seconds, Boyd was flipping the phone closed and turning back to Kassian in bemusement.

"So, speaking of meetings..."

Kassian snorted and stood up, grabbing his jacket from the nearby chair and tugging it on. "That's exactly what I was talking about, man."

"I always assumed it was like this for everyone." Boyd slid his hands in his pockets and quirked an eyebrow. "Now I'm a little envious of the idea of not having them."

"Well, it's different for me. I'm not in a particular unit anymore. Before your unit was created, Sin wasn't either. It's usually different for Level 10s." Kassian shrugged and grabbed his riding helmet from the closet as he continued. "I mean, I still get called in on stuff with other units but it's mainly if it's a sensitive assignment so it's not a typical thing that happens really frequently, especially not now that Harriet took over my spot as team leader. Now I'll just get my solo assignments for the most part."

"Well, if I'm honest, it'd be nice to not be on call for meetings all the time but by now I like the unit I work with, so I suppose it could be worse," Boyd said with a shrug, sitting on the couch's arm rest and absently holding his phone in one hand. "It just seems strange to me to imagine all solos with the occasional collaborative. I have no issue with solos but I'm just so used to a partner..."

Kassian put on his boots and tied them quickly. "They didn't really lay it on very thick about me and Sin switching, I guess because they don't really see any dire need for a change. But I guess if they actually care about giving him what he wants regardless of my decision, they might just have you go at it alone since you're Level 10 now."

He stood up with a shrug. "Just throwing that out that as a possibility. And now I'm gonna take off."

Boyd nodded and thoughtfully watched as Kassian left; it hadn't occurred to him that maybe he'd just get solo assignments. For the most part he liked having a partner but he figured that whatever happened, he'd just deal with it. He wasn't going to worry about it and he doubted they would send him after Janus alone anyway if the group started rising up again.

When Boyd walked into the conference room, he was surprised to find only Sin and Carhart there. Carhart had just told Boyd to come in and he'd assumed it was a normal briefing or some other meeting, yet Jeffrey was almost always at the meetings a few minutes early so it was odd that he and Owen weren't present.

Sin didn't look up at Boyd as Boyd entered and although Sin wasn't ignoring Boyd, he wasn't really acknowledging him either. Boyd wasn't surprised by this and simply slid into a chair across the table from him, looking over at Carhart curiously.

It was a good ten minutes before the meeting was supposed to have started but once Boyd settled in, Carhart started talking. "This obviously isn't a normal meeting or briefing-- I just wanted the two of you here for this. I'll inform the others later."

He looked from Sin's indifferent face to Boyd's curious one and then back again before sighing quietly. "There's really no ea--"

Carhart stopped and frowned, eyes finding their way back to Sin's and holding his gaze as he started again, "I didn't say anything before because I wasn't sure what would happen. I didn't know if this was really going to happen or if they would determine that he's useless or untrustworthy and just terminate him."

Sin's brow furrowed and he gave Carhart an odd look before glancing at Boyd in relative confusion.

Boyd returned the glance, also feeling confused. Although Boyd assumed Carhart was talking about their new person, he had no idea why Carhart was starting the conversation this way or why he was looking at Sin somewhat apologetically.

Carhart opened his mouth to speak again but before anything could leave his mouth, the door suddenly opened behind him. Carhart frowned and turned in annoyance but when the intruder stepped fully into the room, the General's face went ashen.

"Zacha-- o...kay then."

The man stopped short of whatever he'd been about to say to Carhart and turned to face the conference room.  

Boyd stared in complete shock as he saw the man fully.

The man was remarkably similar to Sin, with the same olive skin tone and brilliant green eye color, although his eyes were currently dulled and tired and there were dark circles beneath them. His cheeks were gaunt with a layer of stubble; a barely noticeable scar passed through the left side of his mouth and another through his right eyebrow, and his nose was slightly crooked, as if it had been broken in the past. He wore all black clothing-- plain pants and a shirt with the long sleeves rolled up.

At the moment he was almost expressionless but, if anything, he looked slightly startled. It was impossible to tell the man's exact age but he looked at least a few years older than Sin.

Boyd's first initial, confused thought was that he hadn't known Sin had an older brother.

But that didn't make sense to him and almost immediately he replayed Carhart's hesitation, his apologetic look toward Sin, his words... The fact that Boyd had assumed they'd be meeting the new informant and all the little idiosyncrasies that now added up; that the person would be interrogated first but then allowed into one of the most highly classified units, and who better for that than a former agent? The fact that the informant knew all this information about Dǐ Zhì and Janus and Sin had mentioned the ties his father had once had to the Triad... The fact the man looked almost exactly like Sin...

It all added up to one seemingly impossible, stupefying conclusion:

Boyd was staring at Emilio Vega.

Boyd couldn't even comprehend how it was possible and even if he'd wanted to say anything, he couldn't; he was struck silent. At the realization that Emilio was alive, Boyd's gaze immediately snapped toward Sin.

But Sin just looked confused. His eyebrows were drawn together slightly and he glanced at Boyd as if to see if they were looking at the same thing, to see if Emilio was really standing there. Maybe Sin was even wondering if he'd started losing his mind again. But when Sin saw his confusion and shock mirrored in Boyd's expression, everything changed.

Sin shot Carhart a venomous look, a look of betrayal, and didn't even glance at his father again before he strode quickly away from the table, shoving past Emilio violently, and disappeared out the door.  

Emilio immediately started to follow but Carhart grabbed his arm.

"Just leave him," Carhart snapped angrily, jerking Emilio towards the table.

Emilio snorted and yanked his arm away. "Yeah, okay." He was out the door before Carhart could protest.

Boyd immediately headed toward the door at almost the same time as Carhart, and the two of them arrived in the hallway just in time to see Emilio following Sin.

"Hey!" Emilio jogged after Sin's long-legged strides, trying to catch up to his son. The people in the area stopped and stared at the two of them, civilian staff and agents alike gawking at the spectacle they made.

Emilio reached forward and grabbed Sin's arm, dragging him to a stop with an annoyed scowl. "Qué te paso, Hsin?"

Sin spun around and shoved Emilio violently, so violently that Emilio actually stumbled backwards. Sin glared at him hatefully and Emilio stared back with an almost bewildered expression.

"What the fuck, kid? This is the reception I get after almost twenty years? I guess no one taught you manners yet, huh?" Emilio rubbed his chest idly where Sin had hit him, green eyes narrowed slightly at his son.

Sin just stared at him, breath coming fast and eyes blazing like green fire, his hands clenched at his sides and shoulders hunched forward slightly. He looked on the verge of a meltdown and the uninvolved staff around them began edging away discreetly, yet not far enough away to lose sight of the two Vegas. It was likely that most of them had no idea what was going on.

Boyd and Carhart watched from the side, silent and knowing better than to interrupt.

"I killed you," Sin said finally, his voice low and shaking with anger.

Emilio looked genuinely confused now and he gave Sin a bizarre look. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Sin shook his head slowly, incredulously, eyes narrowing into slits. "I fucking shot you, and you fucking died!" he shouted finally, taking a menacing step towards his father.

But Emilio didn't back down, he just shrugged calmly at the younger reflection of himself. "Oh, that."

"You-- what--" Sin's mouth opened and closed before he spun around again and started to storm off but Emilio once again prevented him from doing so by grabbing his arm. This time when Sin turned around he did so with a flying fist that raced toward Emilio's face hard enough, it seemed, to break bones.

Or it would have been if Emilio hadn't dodged out of the way before maximum damage could be done. Instead of stopping and letting Sin go, instead of backing off right then, Emilio gave Sin an incredulous glare and immediately went on the offense.

Although Sin had attacked him first, Emilio didn't seem interested in reasoning with his son or simply defending himself. He swung at Sin with his left fist and when Sin dodged with incredible speed, Emilio still managed an almost immediate follow-up strike with his right. The punch made contact with Sin's chest before Emilio immediately jumped back, spinning to the side and out of the way of the flurry of attacks that Sin unleashed on him.

It didn't seem possible but Emilio easily dodged most of Sin's advances and parried the others, fending his son off almost casually. He looked mostly annoyed by the fact that he had to do this and not at all concerned with the deadly threat of his look-alike son, who admittedly didn't seem to be putting as much lethal force into the hits as he was capable of doing.

Sin's movements were quick and furious and more than anything, he seemed angry with his father, seemed like he wanted to beat him up.

Despite that, it seemed quite clear that Emilio was just as skilled a fighter as Sin, if not more so in the way of technique. But when Sin grabbed his father and hurled him across the room, it was obvious that Sin had more strength.

Emilio literally flew across the room and slammed into the wall, sliding down and into a crumpled heap on the floor. He shook his head back and forth for a moment, obviously stunned, before he stared up at Sin incredulously as he started to pull himself up off the floor. "What the fuck, man."

Sin didn't reply and he took the opportunity to finally turn completely and leave the scene, moving so quickly that he was already far down the hallway and disappearing from view before anyone could follow.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Carhart shouted at Emilio angrily.

"Jesus Christ, you people are ridiculous." Emilio stood up straight and rubbed the back of his head with a wince. "I come back to people yelling at me and psychos throwing me at walls. Nice."

Boyd couldn't even comprehend how in the world this had all happened and although he was still in a state of shock over the revelation that Emilio was alive, Emilio's comment caused a spike of anger in Boyd.

How could the man possibly not understand the severity of the situation; how could he so calmly push aside something that had been tearing Sin apart? And how the hell could he so casually call Sin a psycho when Emilio was part of the reason his son was so fucked up?

"Fuck you," Boyd snapped furiously at Emilio with a glare before he briefly shifted the look to Carhart. Without waiting for a response, Boyd immediately half-strode, half-jogged in the direction Sin had disappeared.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Four...